Rebecca was on her way to school, her school bag over her back and her owl on her shoulder.
"Do hurry up," she scolded as Sally the horse plodded along. "I'll be late. Why are you so slow this morning?"
"I'm tired," Sally whinnied. "Didn't get any sleep last night."
"I was too scared," Sally admitted.
"Scared?" Rebecca repeated.
"Be thankful that they weren't interested in you," her owl and once upon a time guard Lord Be Thankful, hooted.
"They eat animals don't they?" Sally said crossly to Rebecca's owl.
"What eats animals?" Rebecca demanded.
"Dragons were flying over our paddock most of last night," the owl hooted.
"Dragons!" Rebecca asked. "Why?"
"If you had attended your lessons when you were in fairyland..." the owl said.
"I would know all about them," Rebecca finished. "So what about dragons?"
"Be thankful that I saw them," the owl hooted. "A female is about to hatch and the dragons are gathering to court her."
"Do they eat animals?" Rebecca asked.
"Be thankful they don't in this world," the owl said.
"I'll make sure all our animals are locked away every night," Rebecca said.
Sally moved a fraction faster. "You won't forget?" she whinnied. "I don't want to be eaten by a dragon."
"Wish George hadn't left," Rebecca said with a sigh.
"Even George would have trouble fighting off a dragon," the owl said.
Rebecca's father George had left to work in a mine for the winter. Before he went he had ploughed and sowed the paddocks and vegetable garden and stacked up enough firewood to last until his return. Rebecca's cousin Lianna had also left for the big town near the university as she wanted to be closer to her boyfriend Will Prince.
"You will try to be a big help to your mother Miranda and keep an eye on your little brother Willyum," George had asked. "You are such a sensible little girl that I depend on you."
Rebecca of course promised to help with the milking and cheese-making as much as she could. Miranda sold or exchanged her weaving for food that they didn't grow, so she spent a lot of time weaving rugs and shawls. So far nobody wanted to buy Rebecca's weaving.
"I didn't know that dragons came to mortals' country," Rebecca said.
"If you had attended your lessons when you were a fairy," her owl hooted. "You would know that the hatching of a female dragon brings them from everywhere."
Rebecca reached school just as Tam was ringing the school bell. Miss Emmy, their teacher stood at the door smiling as she waved everyone inside. Rebecca sprang down, opened the gate to the paddock for Sally and sprinted into the one room school house as her owl flew up into the tallest tree.
It wasn't until morning playtime that everyone heard Tam's startling news.
"One of Mr Hickson's steers was snatched last night," he said.
"Bit hard to snatch anything as big as a steer," his little sister Janine said.
"This morning I had to take around some medicine Aunt Molly made for Mrs Hickson," Tam continued. "Mr Hickson said there was a great pool of blood but no steer. He went out during the night because the herd was restless. There was one steer missing and lots of blood where it had stood."
"A wild animal," little Janine said.
"What would be big enough to snatch up a steer?" little Jeremy Bidwhite asked. "Maybe it was dragged out of the paddock."
"Without leaving trails of blood?" Tam asked. "Mr Hickson said the herd settled down again so whatever took the steer was long gone."
Rebecca shivered and again reminded herself to lock up the animals before dark. A dragon taking the odd animal was one thing, but more and more dragons flying over raised the odds of other animals going missing.