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            I went to bed without cleaning up. I stoked the hearth, curled up in my blankets and pulling the shawl over my head to hide. I had really no idea what had just happened and I was overwhelmed with Grandmother’s passing, the visit from King Saerus and Raziel! Why was he haunting me? I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. I found myself trying to focus on Ezekiel with his kinder blue eyes, his young face, and he was handsome, but there was something drawing me back to Raziel. Was it because I was afraid of him the most?

            When I did drift off to sleep I had nightmares I couldn’t recall exactly. I dreamed of a dragon, and of Raziel, Ezekiel and Hammael. The morning sun began to beam through the crack between the shutters of the windows waking me. I felt stiff and achy, I noticed bruising around my wrist where Raziel had held it when he twisted me arm.

            “Jackass, I hope you face your worst nightmare,” I whispered angrily under my breath as I rose from the floor and tried to stretch away the stiffness. I began the letipa first thing, filling the large cauldron with water, adding rosemary and sage, and a few pinches of other items. I noticed the tea cups and tea pot on the table where I had left them. I sighed and carried the kettle outside to the small creek that ran behind the hut and filled the kettle. I stoked the coals and added more wood.

            Out of curiosity I picked up Ezekiel’s tea cup and looked inside. Raziel had not taken tea. I looked at the tea leaves and the tea. He had declined sugar or milk. Grandmother’s finches were awake and peeping happily but suddenly I wasn’t hearing them anymore. The sunlit hut seemed to go dark, and all I saw was Ezekiel. I heard a pfft! sound and watched a feathered dart strike him in the neck. He removed it, staggered and fell to his knees.

            “Zeke!” I heard Raziel’s voice shout, the sound shocking me back into reality. I’d never experienced anything like that before. The tea cup had fallen from my hands and shattered on the floor. Craving more I picked up Hammael’s cup, this time careful to keep the cup over the table. I looked at his leaves, closed my eyes and waited. I only saw my mental image of myself, a small girl with messy red hair and pale brown eyes in skirts and blouse too large for her. I sighed, perhaps Hammael had no fortune to be read. The kettle was whistling and I poured the water in a basin, where I washed the tea set, now minus one cup.

 

            I was tending to the herb garden, several weeks later, Hammael, his sons, and the king, now just a memory. I did not think I would ever see them again, and had hoped never to. I was concerned about Ezekiel, but I’d heard no gossip about one of King Saerus’ bodyguards being wounded. I heard a heavy flap, like leather above me and a massive shadow flew over the land. I looked up, blocking the sunlight with my hand.

            “As I live and breathe,” I whispered gaping at the massive gray dragon that flew over the forest. The sea was beyond the village, and the dragon had flown in from that direction. I had never seen a dragon before. Grandmother had spoken of them, telling me tales of how the first king was a great warrior having defeated a dragon and the peasants made him their monarch for saving them. The dragon circled and landed in the village. The ground shook under its weight but I was up off my knees and with my skirts in one hand was running towards the village. I may not be able to do anything about the dragon but I knew I could help with wounded. All women, not just soothsayers could bandage wounds.

            The dragon was larger than houses, nearly as large as the entire village. It could not move down the streets without destroying buildings on either side with its enormous shoulders. Its massive tail whipped back and forth, smashing homes. Villagers were running, screaming, but the dragon didn’t seem to be interested in the villagers, just destroying the buildings. As if hearing something the dragon stopped, cocked it head, looking much like my Grandmother’s finches when they hear a noise. The large wings suddenly began to pump, the air and sand blown down from them made me shield my face as the dragon began to raise into the air. It flew away, bellowing a roar that made my knees tremble.

            The wounded were surprisingly few, just some injuries from the debris of the collapsing houses. The dragon itself had not harmed anyone. It was several days before the decree reached the village. We were one of the furthest from the capitol. Soldiers arrived, everyone was gathered into the village square around the well. I was in the village checking on Dynill. Her baby was due any day now. I had suspected that perhaps my meeting with the King and his bodyguards had made me a stronger person if only that I believed having survived the encounter was the worst thing I’d ever have to face. I had not feared the dragon the way I feared Raziel.

            “Here ye! Here ye!” The soldier on a small crate shouted over the throng of people. “By order of King Saerus Dragonthorn all able bodied men between the ages of 15 & 50 must report to the capitol for immediate enlistment in the Athdyn army to slay the dragon menace!” My jaw fell, which meant Dynill’s husband would not even be here for the birth of their baby!

            “Sir!” I caught myself saying to the guard who had read the decree to the town. Other soldiers were starting to round up the menfolk, they were gonna escort them to the capitol. “Please, do not do this! Our village needs its menfolk.” I protested. A silence fell across the town square, everyone was suddenly looking at me. I felt the blood rush into my face making my ears and cheeks burn.

            “You would defy the orders of your king? That is treason!” The guard shouted and before I knew it he had his sword from his hip and pointed at me.

            “Kolin, put your sword away before you hurt someone.” My heart fell and splashed into innards. I knew that voice, the one that belonged to the gods. Raziel was here! He approached from the direction of the soldiers’ horses. At Raziel’s command the guard sheathed his sword and stood at attention but I could see the dislike in his eyes. He apparently was as fond of Raziel as I was. “She’s just a scared little girl.”

            I was going to say something to him, something sharp, something to wound him, something about how I could handle myself. I was a soothsayer, to be feared and respected. I. I was not my Grandmother and my mouth knew it. I couldn’t even manage a greeting past my lips. I just sort of stared dumbfounded at him, half afraid, half bewildered. Why was he here?

            “Are your father and brother here?” I managed to croak at him. I had a feeling he was enjoying watching me squirm or trying not to squirm in his presence. I had a white knuckle grip on Grandmother’s walking stick. I forced myself to breathe, to inhale, exhale.

            “No,” his monosyllabic reply spoke bounds. There was no one to rescue me from him. There was a small scratching in my brain, a small idea moving around trying to get my attention. It blossomed in my brain but only for a moment, Raziel had just saved me from the guard, but was quickly drowned because Raziel was talking again. “I’m tracking the dragon, and reports say this was the first village attacked. Did you see it?”

            “I, uh, I was in the herb garden, it destroyed some buildings, came from the sea,” I babbled at him. I didn’t want to take my eyes off him, and yet I didn’t want to look at him. He was dangerous, and angry, even now, I could feel it. I’d never met someone who was so consumed by anger and… hatred.

            “Which way did it go?” He asked, his voice was even, but it seemed like he was fighting to control himself, but why? Did I make him this angry? Was he still upset over my blow to his shin?

            “That way,” I shook my head and pointed trying to focus. Every part of me was telling me to run, run away from him, Raziel was dangerous and deadly. He gave the slightest of nods and turned away from me, walking back towards the horses.

            “Round up the menfolk and get onto the next village,” Raziel ordered the soldier he’d called Kolin. He mounted his horse, a massive black thing that looked as evil and cross as its rider. I breathed a sigh of relief. Once again Raziel was leaving my village and I had the feeling that it was with minimum damage done.

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