Molly let out a long breath, squeezing every bit of air from her lungs, and wriggled forward another inch under the boulder blocking the mouth of the dragon’s cave. She carefully, silently pushed her bone cloak and her pouch ahead of her. This was a tight squeeze, but she’d gotten through tighter. She rested a moment, took a sip of sour sharp dragon-smelling air, then blew it all out again and edged herself forward with fingers and toes.
It took a long time, Molly didn’t know how long, but she was patient. At last, with her hips bruised and her hands and knees scraped, she pulled herself out from under the boulder and slid beneath her bone cloak. With her pack clutched to her chest, she crept forward, her eyes wide to see in the dim slivers of light that came in from the cave entrance, around the fat boulder that Mother Dragon had used to block it while she slept.
Molly skirted the treasure pile and went straight for the pit that Mother Dragon lay draped around like a half-moon of terror, smoking like a furnace. Sweat dripped down Molly’s back and plastered her grimy hair to her face. Moving on all fours, silent as a ghost, Molly stole up to the edge of the pit and looked down.
A piercing scream ripped through the air.
Startled, confused, Molly flattened herself to the cave floor under her cloak and held her breath. There was someone in that pit!
“Quiet,” Mother Dragon grumbled. Molly heard a grating sound, as if maybe Mother Dragon were stirring her eggs with one sharp claw. “No use in screaming. There’s no one can hear you.”
Molly heard a sob and a soft wail from the pit, and then silence.
Mother Dragon shifted herself around the pit, and for a moment Molly thought for sure she would be discovered, but then the rumbling dragon snores began again.
Molly knew the smart thing would be to wriggle herself right back out of the cave. What did she care if some idiot had got herself caught by a dragon and got left in the nest to be the hatchling’s first meal? It happened. None of Molly’s business. The eggs was her business. And she couldn’t very well get out alive with one of them eggs if someone screamed again and woke the dragon.
Just to see who it was, Molly carefully peeked her eyes over the rim of the pit again.
It weren’t no ragamuffin egg poacher like Molly. This was a girl in a tattered satin gown with long, dirty, bedraggled curls of gold. A nobleman’s daughter, maybe even a princess. She looked awfully well fed, and Molly wondered if she’d even be able to fit her under the boulder. There was a reason Madame Grindy kept her poachers half-starved. A fat princess wasn’t going to be able to wriggle back out of the cave.
The girl saw Molly again, but this time she didn’t scream, just looked up with big pleading eyes.
Molly took her rope out of her pack and lowered one end to the girl, putting her finger to her lips. The princess nodded her head. Molly cursed herself for being so stupid, but she held tight while the princess struggled her way up the side of the pit.