The Open Place
The eagle circled in the clear sky. It was late spring and her fledglings were hungry. Her eyes scanned the glen, alert to movement, searching for rabbit or hare. On a hillside half a mile below she spied a mouse, darting through the heather clumps; too small to be of interest. She wheeled away, widening her search.
The mouse travelled a well-known trail, every sense on full alert to warn of danger. He was young, which wasn’t unusual. When you’re bottom of the food chain, old age isn’t a killer. He kept to the shelter of the heather, stopping regularly to check out the path before him. Only when he was sure it was safe would he move forward. In truth, the heather clumps were so close together that he was in less danger than he believed, but soon he would come to the open place.
The bottom of the hill was a rock ledge where nothing grew, a natural separation between the shelter of the heather and the haven of the glen floor’s gorse and grass. The mouse stopped under the last heather. His previous vigilance paled before the sinew-stretching tension filling him now. This was the place of greatest risk and he knew it. After an eternity of checks he left his shelter and ran out on to the rock.
The adder rose before him; lidless eyes caught and held him.
She had been waiting among the grass on the other side. For her, patience was more than a virtue; it was an essential tool of the hunt. She had smelled this particular mouse on the rock while she basked and knew that eventually he would pass. Her ambush had worked and now the foolish thing was helpless under her gaze. She danced the dance-that-heralds-death, each undulation taking her ever closer to her transfixed prey, bringing him within range of her fangs.
The strike was perfect. Sharp talons tore through the flesh at the back of the neck. The adder writhed and coiled but she was already dead when the eagle’s beak ripped off her head. Strong muscles powered mighty wings into flight as the eagle made her way back to the hungry mouths waiting at the nest. Released, the mouse ran. There was no sense of relief, no prayer of thanks. He was alive, that was enough.