“We have to help him!” the child exclaimed.
“We can’t,” was her mother’s stern response. “Now come!” She took the girl’s hand and pulled her.
“No!” the girl cried. She pulled hard enough to free herself from her mother’s grasp and ran over to the boy on the side of the road, taking hold of his arm and not letting go. “I won’t leave him!”
The child she had latched herself to was small and frail. He was covered in mud from head to toe. He was only half-conscious, gazing at them uncertainly. He was young, too. Close to the girl’s five years of age, to be sure.
“Amice!” her mother cried, turning and giving her a stern glare. “Come. Now.”
Her mother sighed and rolled her eyes. Amice’s own brown eyes were defiant as she stubbornly sat in the mud beside the boy.
“You horrid creature,” her mother said. “Fine!” She stepped over to them.
Amice gasped. “Really?” she asked, her eyes brightening.
“Yes,” her mother sighed. She took the boy in her arms as he finally passed out. “The last thing we need is another mouth to feed,” she said. Nonetheless, she began walking with the boy towards home, Amice refusing to release his hand the whole way.
Ten Years Later
“Blake!” Amice called as she raced up the path towards him. “Wait!”
The tall young man paused and turned to see the teenaged girl approaching. She was carrying an empty wicker basket. He grinned at her and waited. “Going to the market?” he asked when she had caught up.
“Yes,” she said as they fell into step together. “Mary needs more vegetables for dinner tonight. What about you?”
“We just need something for dinner,” he replied with a chuckle. He glanced over at her and admired her long, brown hair. It was braided front to back and tied up to keep it all out of her way as she worked. She looked over at him curiously.
“What is it?” she asked, reaching up to feel her braids. “Do I have something in my hair?”
“No,” he said quickly. “Sorry. I was just thinking.” He shook his head. What was that feeling he’d just had?
“Oh,” she said, relieved. She brought her hand back down. “About what?”
Shoot. He ran his fingers through his ashy-black hair as a stall as he thought. “What to get for dinner,” he lied. “Miss Leah told me to get whatever I wanted, so long as it was affordable.”
She grinned. “You’re so lucky the blacksmith and his wife are so kind to you,” she said.
“Yes, I am,” he agreed with a matching grin. “But no one will ever compare to your kindness.”
She shook her head. “All I did was ask Sir Byron to give you a job.”
“You took me in when I was sick and alone and you nursed me back to health,” he pointed out. “Then you begged Sir Byron to give me a job.”
“I was young,” she said.
“Are you saying your heart of gold has withered?” he teased.
She laughed. “If only,” she said. “It still gets me into far too much trouble.”
“Trouble?” he asked. “You? Nah.” He laughed.
She laughed and lightly punched his shoulder. “I’m lucky Lady Byron is just as kind as I am,” she replied.
“Almost as kind,” he corrected her. “I do remember her telling you ‘no’ once in awhile.”
“Only because she cares about everyone in the house. I still have to learn…about that…” She shifted her eyes to the side as she confessed.
“You will,” he said with a shrug. “It takes time.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “And how exactly would you know?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Just seems to me like something experience teaches you.”
She laughed. “Like you’ve had so much experience?”
“More than you.”
“In your dreams.”
They shared a laugh together as they arrived at the marketplace and wove through the merchants and artisans selling their goods. The two stayed together as they bought the food they needed, chatting about this and that. When Amice’s basket was quite full, he asked, “Can I carry that for you?”
She scoffed. “I’m not some–”
She was interrupted by a commotion going on not far off. Looking over, the two soon discovered the cause.
The white dragon was breathing fire as it began to fly in circles all too close to the marketplace. People ran, but the fire didn’t actually catch on anything.
Blake tore himself away from glaring at the white dragon to look at his frightened friend, pulling on his arm. He obliged her, struggling to act scared as he followed her in search of cover.
The event only lasted a few minutes. As suddenly as the dragon had come, it left. There was silence in its wake. The marketplace occupants afraid to say or move too much in case it might bring the dragon back.
Blake was the first to move. Certainly, nothing they did now would make the dragon come back. It had been a warning, nothing else.
He took Amice’s basket that still rested upon her arm. Gladly, some of the vegetables were still inside it. “Let’s hurry home,” he said gently. Wide-eyed, Amice nodded. She clung to his free arm as he walked her back to Sir Byron’s castle.
“Stay inside,” he told her as he left her at the door. He turned.
“Where are you going!?” she asked breathlessly.
“I’ve gotta go check on Carl and Leah,” he said over his shoulder.
That made him pause and look over at her.
“Come inside,” she told him. “Now. Please.”
He grinned and faced her fully. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “Don’t worry.” Before she could respond, he turned and raced away. She called his name, but he didn’t even hesitate. She took a step out of the doorway.
“Amice!” her mother cried, grabbing her arm. “Inside, now! There’s a dragon!”
The dragons stared each other down. The pure white dragon with golden talons against the black dragon with ashen-grey talons. It felt like an eternity later when the white one finally spoke.
“You are far too young to claim an entire town as your own. And it’s not like you’re doing anything with it. These people are thriving.”
“It doesn’t matter what I do with my town or how young I am,” the black one argued. “It is mine and I demand you leave. Now.”
“Sorry, boy,” she replied, “but I will do nothing of the sort. This is my town, now, and I shall do as I please. Now shoo, child. I need my rest.”
“No,” he replied. “You will leave.”
Now the white dragon was growing angry. Smoke drifted up from her lips as she stood tall. “Leave my dwelling!” she cried, blowing fire at him. He had no choice but to leap into the air and fly off. He was no match for this dragon. He needed to think of something else.
The townspeople gathered in the square. Lady Byron was usually the one to manage the town in her husband’s stead, but Bishop Cooper beat her to the square. He stood at the raised dais, holding his hands out to calm the crowd. “I have heard the word of God,” the Bishop cried. The people gathered began to quiet and listen. “The Lord our Father has spoken to me,” he said again. “This dragon has been sent by Satan himself. We must atone for our sins by killing it. Gather all the metals you own! We must make weapons!”
“No!” came a young woman’s cry. Everyone’s head turned to stare at meek little Amice. Despite her nervousness at the attention, she spoke strong and loud. “The dragon has not hurt anyone else yet, has it? Perhaps it just…I don’t know! Maybe it’s hurt or scared. We should try to see what it–”
“She speaks lies!” the Bishop cried. The heads swiveled back to him. “She must be working with the Devil! Do not listen to her!”
“Speak no more, witch! Or you shall be burned at the stake!”
Whispers began circulating around her as her face went red with embarrassment. She heard the word ‘witch’ more than once. She covered her face and ran.
“Amice!” She recognized Blake’s voice, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t bear to face him. She couldn’t face anyone.
Hours later, he found her at the ruins just outside of the town’s borders that they used to play in all the time as children. Only they knew of their existence. He approached her where she sat hugging her legs and crying into her knees.
“Amice…” he said softly, kneeling down beside her. The wild honeysuckle vines entangled themselves within her hair and limbs. She looked so much a part of the scene that Blake had to remember that this was real. That this was his friend. And she needed him.
“I’m not a witch,” she choked out, her voice barely audible.
“I know,” he said. Without thinking, he reached out and took her into his arms. “I know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Sir Byron is out to war. There are no knights nearby!”
The people of the town crowded into Lord Byron’s castle. It was the safest place anyone could think of with its tall, stone walls and barricades. Their weapons had been useless against the fierce dragon. Seven people had died. Amice and the other servants struggled to accommodate everyone while Lady Byron tried to calm them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please!” she called from the doorway. She weaved her way to the center of the room. “Ladies and gentlemen!”
Blake searched the crowd for Amice, not really sure why it was such a big deal to him to see her. Though, they were very close friends. That was probably why. Things like this never happened much.
He paused when he saw Lady Byron in the center of the room, sighing in frustration before trying to call everyone’s attention once again. He blinked and looked down at the sword he was carrying. He didn’t exactly know how to use a sword, but he had figured it would be best to bring. Just in case. And now, it looked like it was needed to be used in a non-typical way.
He gazed around the room. Sir Byron always had–There! He went to a corner of the room and approached the suit of armor. He stepped up on its raised dais and drew his sword, slamming it against the suit. The suit smashed and banged to the floor.
The noise sounded like it lasted for an hour. But when it finally stopped, everyone was silent and staring at him.
“Lady Byron wishes to say a few words!” he announced to the crowd. Obediently, the townspeople turned their heads to see and listen to their Lady.
She let out a breath. “Thank you, Blake,” she said with a nod to the teenaged boy. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she went on. “Please remain calm. We will decide how to combat this issue of the white dragon. In the meantime, please feel welcome in the castle where it is safest.”
“We need a maiden!” a man cried.
“Yes, a maiden!” another one called.
“Please,” Lady Byron said. “I will discuss the issue with the other leaders of the town in my husband’s absence. Bishop Cooper, Father Took, please come with me.”
The crowd began to mumble with each other and settle in as Lady Byron and the two religious men left the room.
“Blake!” Blake blinked and looked over to see Amice approaching. He gave a small grin and stepped off the dais, sheathing his sword. “That was brave!” she told him.
“What, knocking that down?” he asked, looking down at the suit of armor’s clattered remains. “I was just helping Lady Byron is all.”
She grinned at him. “Well, thank you,” she said. “It’s been hard since everyone started showing up.”
He nodded. “I’m sure,” he said. “What can I do to help?”
Blake fell back into his old role as another servant in the house as he helped his old colleagues settle the townspeople in. After supper, Lady Byron and the men still had not come out, and everyone was on edge.
“You don’t really think they’ll offer up a maiden, do you?” Amice asked Blake as they rolled out cots. She had tried to sound casual, but he could hear the edge in her voice. The nervousness.
“Lady Byron would never allow it,” he replied. “That never works.”
She gave a small grin. “You’re right,” she said. “I just–”
She stopped when the door to the room Lady Byron and the men had shut themselves away in opened. The room felt silent and the tension grew as the men walked out, heads high and looking quite proud of themselves. Lady Byron came out last, downcast. Blake and Amice gazed at each other, fearing the worst, as the men made their way to the center of the ballroom. Lady Byron, however, stayed by the door.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” the Bishop called out, though it was so quiet that all his voice did was echo throughout the room. “We have come to a decision. –The dragon is undoubtedly in need of a maiden tribute!”
There were a few gasps in the crowd. Amice was one of them. She held her hands to her mouth. This couldn’t be happening.
“We must offer it a maiden with the purest of souls!” he went on. He pointed a finger in the air. “And we know exactly which one!” His arm came down, his finger pointing directly in Amice’s direction. Blake held his breath. “The servant of this house, Amice!”
“NO!” Both Blake and Lady Byron called out against this choice.
“You did not clear this with me!” Lady Byron cried.
“We did not need to!” the Bishop called back to her. “You are but a woman and know nothing of these things!”
“We can’t sacrifice her!” Blake cried.
The Bishop turned to glare daggers at the insolent young man. “And why not!?” he demanded.
“Sacrificing maidens never works!” he called. “Dragons don’t care about them! It’ll eat her and keep up with whatever it’s doing here!”
The Bishop walked over to him, standing tall. He and Blake were the same height. “And what makes you think you know so much about dragons?” he asked quietly.
Blake faltered. After a moment, he let out a breath and stuck his hand out to the side protectively, knowing she was standing right there. “I won’t let you take her,” he said.
“I must go,” came her soft voice. Again, Blake faltered. He looked over to see her with her head down, hands clasped in front of her.
“It’s worth a try!” she said, looking up at him. There were tears upon her cheeks. Fear behind the determination in her eyes. “If it’s for the safety of everyone, I’ll be glad to do it.”
Blake frowned and looked over at the Bishop. “What made you think she’s the one to be offered, anyway? Why not someone else?”
“Because ‘twas the word of God,” the Bishop said. “He spoke to me as we discussed the issue in the other room. He told me she would make the dragon quite happy.”
“Take her!” someone cried.
“Hold him back!” another person called.
The crowd surged. They grabbed at Amice and pushed Blake away. Someone even managed to get his sword away from him.
He had the power to save her. Had the strength to knock them all down and take his friend and bring her to safety. But it would just cause more problems. More unnecessary deaths. He needed to be smart about this.
Amice allowed herself to be taken by the crowd. To be pulled and pushed through the ballroom. There was nothing she could do to stop this fate of hers she did not choose. But if it could possibly be of any help to the townspeople, she was glad to do it. She hoped Blake was wrong. She prayed that her sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain.
They wasted no time. Two big, burly men–local farmers–took hold of each of her arms and half led, half dragged her out of the castle. The entire town followed as she was taken away from her home, her family, out of the town. They took her to an open field quite a distance from town that contained but one tree and a view of the mountains not far off. She gazed about the crowd as they tied her to the lone tree. She couldn’t see Blake in the sea of faces. She wasn’t sure if this made her disappointed that he had given up on his fight for her so easily, or relieved that he wasn’t going to see her tied up so. Like a witch.
The Bishop gave Amice her Last Rites. He and Father Took performed a short ceremony before the sun began to set. As the darkness began to settle in, people began splintering off and going home.
Lady Byron, the Bishop, and Father Took were the last ones to leave.
“Go on, gentlemen,” Lady Byron said. “I would like a word alone with my servant girl.”
“I’m sorry, My Lady,” the Father said, “but we cannot leave you. We cannot risk your freeing her.”
“And where would she go!?” the woman demanded. All she got in response was silence as the men refused to leave. Finally, she let out a sigh and stepped close to Amice.
“I wish I could stop all of this,” she told the girl softly. “I’m so sorry.”
“I do not hold any anger or resentment towards you, My Lady,” the teenaged girl informed her with a soft grin. Lady Byron blinked and lifted her head, looking the girl in the eye for the first time since she had been condemned. “I know how much you want things to be done another way,” she went on. “I will watch over you from heaven.”
She couldn’t help herself. Lady Byron began to tear up. Which made Amice’s eyes begin to well with tears. The woman reached out and embraced the servant girl. Both were openly weeping by the time she pulled away.
“Come,” Father Took said with a bow. “The dragon will be here soon.”
There was nothing else to say. So Lady Byron wiped her tears as the Father led her away.
The Bishop stayed behind, lighting the torches that the townspeople had stuck into the ground. When all of them were lit, he approached Amice.
“You filthy witch,” he said, his voice low. “Your sympathy for the dragon is now your downfall. Do you really think this foul creature will spare your life?”
“I don’t know,” she said simply. “But I’m going to try to reason with it, yes.”
His face went dark. “May God have mercy on your soul.” With that, he turned and left her. She was now completely and utterly alone.
The white dragon sought the black one out that evening. She found him in a cave in the mountains, pacing. She approached him with an arrogant grin. “I saw the child being tied to the tree,” she informed him. “It seems they are offering me a little snack before I terrorize them. How sweet.”
“Leave her alone,” he growled, only just now turning to face her.
“Why?” she asked. “Is she special to you? How ridiculous. A dragon caring for humans.”
“Ridiculous or not, she’s on my land. So she’s mine to care or not care about as I please.” He hated to think of anyone–especially Amice–as a piece of property he owned. But it was the way dragons were. At least, the way they were with humans and other animals.
She merely grinned at him. “Then I suggest you just try to stop me from taking her.” Before he could respond, she turned and flew out of the cave.
“Dammit,” he muttered as he extended his wings and flew after her.
She was sure she dozed off every now and then. It felt like she was standing there forever. She thought she was dreaming when she heard the pounding of the dragon’s wings approaching. She blinked her weary eyes and looked up, seeing the stark white against the midnight sky. The dragon was here.
The dragon landed in front of her, its golden eyes staring at her. Amice couldn’t help herself. She was too scared to speak. She could see the malice in those eyes. She closed her own and braced herself as the dragon let out a cry.
Then there was another cry.
And a growl.
But still, she had not been touched by tooth or talon.
Slowly, she peeked open one eye.
There was another dragon! And it was…fighting the white one? This new dragon was so dark that it almost melted into the sky. Sometimes she could only tell where it was by its silver talons. No, not silver. More like grey.
The black dragon was also much smaller than the white one. But it fought ferociously. And…Amice realized there was something familiar about it.
She had never seen a dragon in her life until the white one had shown up. How could he–for she knew from the feeling of familiarity that the black dragon was male–possibly be familiar to her?
Soon enough, the white dragon found an opening and took it, charging right at her. The black dragon let out a cry and shot for it, positioning itself between the white dragon and Amice. Was he…protecting her?
The dragons stared at each other, a growl emanating from one or the other’s snout every now and then. Smoke curled out of the black dragon’s nostrils and began surrounding the area.
Wait… Were they… Communicating? Something about the intensity in the air–or perhaps they way they were standing and looking at each other. It seemed that there were words being exchanged that she could not hear.
Eventually, the smoke began to burn Amice’s eyes, and she had to close them. She prayed and prayed for her life as she waited to see what would happen. She could feel the smoke growing thicker and thicker. But she realized that somehow she was not choking on it. For that, she was very grateful.
Then she heard the white dragon give another cry.
And she felt her bonds being cut.
She tried to open her eyes, but the smoke was far too thick. She covered her face with her arms to save her burning eyes as she stumbled about. She had to get out of this smoke!
She gasped as she felt sharp talons enclose around her waist. But they did not puncture her skin. The grip was gentle, though strong. She was lifted into the air as a voice in her head begged her not to scream.
Why wouldn’t she scream?
But she didn’t.
As her captor flew through the air, the wind forced her to still keep her eyes closed. Her hair whipped out of its braids as the parts of her dress not held by the talons threatened to rip off. Luckily, the flight wasn’t long. Just as suddenly as it had begun, the flight ended. She could feel the wind slow to a stop and she was gently placed back on the ground.
Finally, she was able to open her eyes. In front of her, the black dragon was setting its feet on the ground and folding in its wings, facing her. He gazed at her with his silver eyes. Those warm, inviting, familiar silver eyes.
She reached up for him and he brought his face down, allowing her to cradle his head in her tiny, little hands. She rested her forehead between his nostrils. She could see it in his eyes. He wasn’t going to hurt her.
“You saved me,” she whispered to him. “Thank you.” She gazed up into his eyes again. The drew her in. All she could do was stare. They seemed to be searching for something in her. Then she saw the hope inside them rise. Before she realized it, she was no longer holding a dragon’s snout. Rather, it was Blake’s face in her gentle grasp. She gasped.
“Please don’t be afraid,” he said, quickly bringing his hands up to hold hers to his face. But his touch was not forceful or demanding.
She just grinned at him. “I’m not,” she said softly. “I always knew there was something special about you.”
The grin he gave her was one of relief and pure joy.
“We can’t go back,” he said somberly. “The ruins are nearby. They’re far enough from the white dragon’s territory that she shouldn’t find us,” he said. “And my smell is much fainter when I’m human. So that should throw her off our trail.”
“You’re coming with me?” she asked, eyes wide.
“I could never be anywhere without you,” he replied.
She gave a smile that brightened her entire face. He loved that smile. She lifted her face and brought his closer. Their lips touched. Their kiss was deep and passionate. They both knew, now, that everything was going to be just fine.