Photo by Dan Circa (dailymail.com)
B’frona picked up a book and caressed it. Gina sensed that he, like she, had books for friends. Perhaps only books. She sat down beside him on his rag-filled pallet; the little dragon stood staring out the open window.
“How long have you been alone?” she asked.
The boy did not answer. Instead, he thumbed the pages of the exquisitely crafted book, Tales for Mothers to Tell, and, in a barely audible voice, said, “She read this to me. It is all I remember of her.” On the title page were the carefully calligraphed words, “To my darling boy.” The volume was filled with wonderfully illustrated children’s stories. B’frona ran his thumbs over the cover.
Gina’s eyes moistened. She fought the impulse to stroke his hair.
The Miller’s son picked up a large rust-red leather tome entitled Of Knights and Dragons. “And this one was given to me by my father just before his…accident.” He opened it to a page with a rendering of a full-grown Frengan dragon. Even in woodcut, Gina could see how beautiful these creatures were.
But opposite, as if in contrast, was an etching of the Ismaran world’s most hideous beast, a Hadessian dragon. Ancient Holosian guards were depicted lowering a man into its thousand-toothed maw. Gina shivered. It suddenly struck her that B’frona’s family had begun like a beautiful Frengan dragon, full of love and tenderness, but then, at some point, changed into a Hadessian monster, full of anger and pain.
She was about to ask B’frona what had happened when she saw Puff unfurl his wings. He’s going to try to fly out the window! “Puff, no!” The hatchling turned at the sound of her voice. A shadow crossed his face. He ran and lay down next to Gina, placing his long neck across her lap.
Answering her unspoken question, B’frona said, “My mother and newborn sister died when I was in my third cycle.” Gina nodded silently. “The people of Rennou flooded the Millhouse with food and drink. They wept with me, like the sympathetic strings of a Kellish harp.”
Gina nodded: They were happy to give something to a family that had never needed them before.
“But the kindness stopped when, three days after my mother’s death, my father shouted, ‘Go back to your pathetic farms and stupid shops, and do not return unless you have grain to grind and money to pay!’ He was drunk. But it was the same when he was sober.
“He never healed from my mother and sister’s deaths. By the time I was seven, he could no longer operate the mill: he swilled nectair all day, and was forever in danger of crushing a hand or foot. But then, suddnely, he began to change. He stopped drinking. Told me about my mother. Bought new tools and loupp oil to dress the stones. And brought me this.” B’frona stroked the book of adventure stories. “He said we would read ‘every book in the world together!’”
Gina let out a sigh, remembering the hours she and Zack had spent listening to their own father read aloud.
“But one evening the water wheel stopped. My father never went to the wheel because it is where my mother and sister are buried. I said I would go, but he said no and took a bottle with him. He did not come back. Two hours later I found him pinned beneath the wheel. I do not know how—” B’frona stopped abruptly, as if he too were pinned beneath the wheel. Gina tried to take his hand, but he pulled away.
“I buried him next to my mother. And so you see it is better that he died.”
“What? B’frona, no!”
“Everyone thinks he is still alive, and that he only avoids them because he hates them. They think I feel the same way…which I do.”
Gina touched the orphaned millboy’s hand, wondering what she’d gotten herself into…
Thoughts: If we don’t share one another’s burdens, are we ever truly alive?
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