The walls of the shanty trembled anew, shaken by unearthly gusts. Geoff paced, circling. He clutched the pendant about his neck, eyes darting between his family and the open window. “It’s breathing...” Pitchers fell from their pegs, shattering into fragments on the dirt floor. “…coming closer.” He hastened to the ragged shutters and fastened them, blocking the vision of the beast that perched on the mountainside above.
Shadows consumed him.
“This isn’t real.” Dalliance huddled with their mother beneath the scarred table, face pale, fingers clutching at the dust. “Dragons belong in nightmares.”
Geoff spun about, sweat beading his temples. “And what do you think this is?” He wiped a palm across his frayed tunic. “It’s real enough. Father and the other men are about to find that out.” He clenched his teeth, the muscles on his jaw distending, and looked at his mother. “I’m sorry.” He grabbed his father’s cloak from the heap in the corner. “I can’t stand by and let them all die. I need to help.”
She reached, as if hoping to reverse time, trying to cuddle him once more on her lap. “No, son! Wait.” Her mouth opened and closed. “You’re only a boy. You can’t—” Her voice became lost in an echoing bellow that surrounded the house and caused the ground to quake. She screamed and covered her ears, laying with knees to her breast.
Dalliance began to cry.
Geoff’s chest pounded, the reverberating fierceness pressing the breath from his lungs. “What will you have me do? Stand by and let my own father be burned alive? Or eaten?” He combed his hand across tangled red locks.
“My baby, my baby.” His mother’s words were ardent behind a dirty shawl, accentuated by distressed eyes.
He knelt, brushing the wetness from her sunken cheeks. “You always said my visions meant something, my birthmark set me apart.” Drawing open the laces of his tunic, he revealed a purple spot resembling the risen sun. “What if I was sent here for this moment? To protect the village? My family?” He waved an arm toward the doorway and the mountainside. “To save Father?”
Dalliance touched his leg. “Are you sure you can? Have you seen it?”
He scowled in the deepening gloom. “You know the visions are never about me.”
“No. I can’t lose you.” His mother’s words were adrift in the blackness of cold resignation. “You’ll be killed.”
“Maybe.” He stared at the ground, the cracks in the compacted dirt. Amidst the earth and grime he saw the image of Dalliance, older, with children of her own, in a field of daffodils. She was praying. “Maybe.” He shifted, studying the fear clouding his sister’s countenance. Reassurance flickered the corners of his mouth. “But you won’t.”
The world about them thundered. Wind tore at the thatched roof in bursts matching the beat of massive wings. An eruption of flames filled the gaps in the shutters with orange and red. Familiar voices screamed in the alleyways, their terrified cries tainted with suffering as if hope had abandoned them during their moment of greatest need.
Geoff closed his eyes, brow furrowed, seeking direction and strength. “I can’t turn my back on them. Pitchforks against the beast from hell? I‘ve been called for more.” His mother‘s hands were gnarled and birdlike in his own. “I promise to be careful. I’ve got the talisman.”
Her movement was nearly imperceptible. She nodded, faint, trembling, as if the very motion was an epitaph to a life of promise cut short. She crumbled, toppling into a shuddering heap.
He stood. The cloak fit well about his shoulders. A dagger lay among the broken accoutrements, a birthday gift when he’d turned fifteen. Almost unused. He brushed it off and handed it to his sister. “You might need this.”
Dalliance hesitated, then grasped the hilt. “But what will you fight with?”
“The only thing I hold in abundance. Faith.” He backed from her, feet unwilling to turn away.
She blinked. “And courage.” A crystal tear fell past her quivering lips, moistening the ground below.
He yanked the door, letting in a surge of heat.
“Geoff?” Her tone was questioning, sodden, unsure. She placed tremulous fingers to her mouth then stretched her hand across their mother’s sobbing frame. “May angels guard you.”
“Trust in that.” The light about him seemed to shimmer. “Good will prevail. It must.” He winked and ran from the shelter into a flaming world.
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