“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.