There were dozens of people packed into the dark, low-ceilinged tomb. A long central corridor led to a large round chamber with an altar and several small flickering candles. Small chambers were cut into the earth along each side of the corridor and each one of these contained dozens of smaller cavities either cut into the earth, carved from stone.
Every one of them was filled with bones.
Bones upon bones.
The Midwinter Druids had come here for sanctuary. Relying on their ancestors to protect them through the night.
Few had slept.
Instead, they had spent long hours awkwardly huddled together on the stone floor.
Once they had sealed off the entrance, only the light of a few candles kept them company in the home of the dead, and a hush had fallen over them.
As dawn broke, shafts of light appeared through stone channels in the walls, and murmurs of life had begun.
Breanna found it difficult to breathe. Hiding while the fight continued outside reminded her of that day back in the forest. The attack on the day of her father’s funeral. So many more had died that day. She’d thought she’d lost Broc, and had sat, much as she did now, huddled in the dark listening to the whimpering of children and the worries of the mother’s who’d helped them to escape.
The talk started with many asking ‘what now?’, ‘Who brought food?’, ‘When do we return?’.
A young woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Rozenn that Breanna felt was more than tribal, spoke. She bounced as she talked, rocking a red-cheeked, white-haired infant on her hip. “There’s forty of us, we can’t stay here, no food, nor water. They already want feedin’.”
“We should be off sooner not later, Etain, Fisher’s Pond is not a bad walk from here.”
“What about Woodfalls?” Etain asked.
“That’s a few miles of good walking,” said another voice in the dark, shouting over the crying of a hungry child.
Breanna curled her knees up under her and buried her head under her arms. She wanted this to be over. She wanted to be outside in the fresh air, she wanted to eat, and sleep, and take a long cool drink of water… and she wanted to sit with Leasha, perhaps to lay down with her, and be held by her, and perhaps one day that Elf Princess would make the same mistake again and place her lips upon Breann’s own.
But even as she thought of escaping their hideaway the memory of that woman from the clearing came back to her. And suddenly she wanted to bury herself and hide as far as she could from that rage and those eyes and the power of her.
“Aye, but it’s bigger, they’ll have more food to spare, and after last night we’ll want a place to rest that more an’ a barn.”
“But we’ll be wantin’ to get back soon enough-“
“Get back?” Etain asked incredulously, “Get back to what, Morag? They won’t be nothing to get back to.”
“They’ll be gone by now, surely.”
“Gone? They won’t be gone, they was here for war, what did you think they was doin’?”
“But why, we’ve done nothing? Got nothing?”
“They’ll be back, you mark my words. They’ll be comin’ after us and takin other places, Midwinter Down won’t be enough for them, but we’ll show ’em what’s what.”
“What are we gonna do?”
“Spread the word for starters, let people know what’s happened. We’ve lost Midwinter Down, but we haven’t lost Midwinter.”
“And what are we supposed to do? Fight? With infants clawing at our heels?” The woman who spoke did at that moment have a small squalling child in her arms and an older infant pawing at her legs. Breanna wondered if there was any point to any of them fighting, surely nothing could stand against that woman?
“If you won’t fight for your children what will you fight for?” Etain was fiery, her hair was a dark reddish-brown and her eyes had a touch of green. Breanna wondered if there was Elven blood in the woman, her spirit reminded her of Leasha.
“And what? We just go up against that army ourselves? In-between feedin’?”
“We have a Wizard-“
“No.” Mim had remained silent, Breanna hadn’t even been sure if she was awake, but now she intervened, “I must return to the Wizards Tor, I have a duty,” She looked to Cassian who had opened his mouth to speak, “we all have a duty.” Mim scrambled to her feet and despite an outpouring of protest, she made her way to the entrance.
Not wanting to stay amid their anger, especially as she felt she owed them her life for giving her sanctuary, Breanna decided to follow Mim. Her goal was, and always had been, defeating the Dragons. If they had a chance of that then Breanna had to Master her powers.
Broc turned to her questioningly, she knew he would want to stay and fight. She couldn’t look the Druid, Etain in the eye and lowered her voice before saying, “We should go with Mim.”
Broc furrowed his brow, and she didn’t want to wait for him to argue with her. They were going to the Wizards Tor. Even if that meant they had to leave these brave women to their fate.
She headed out of the temple. Three great monoliths marked the entrance, two either side and one above.
The tomb itself was cut into a mound on the crest of a hill. As she left the safety of the sanctuary, the wind bit at her and she pulled her tunic up and around her neck. Out over the valley, she could see distant villages and farmsteads. The day was bright, but dark clouds promised rain, and the bitter wind promised the chill of winter.
As Mim headed off down a path, Breanna hung back. She wanted to gain her bearings and see the destruction of the town they had left behind. On the horizon was a single grey smoke cloud rising in the morning air.
She followed the path around the tomb and before her, across the valley, she could see the outline of Midwinter. The wooden palisade surrounding the settlement was burned black and in the valley below was an army.
She stood gaping at the sheer numbers, like insects going about their business. A screech made her turn. A black silhouette was chalked in the sky. Fear hit her stomach, and her wound twinged in pain at the memory of her last fight.
But she was wrong.
It wasn’t a Sycorax.
This creature was huge. A giant winged beast. It was a Dragon.
And it wasn’t the only Dragon swooping towards Midwinter Down.
She saw another to the east and two more to the north.
Mim came up beside her as she gaped at them.
“She’s gathering them,” Mim whispered.
“But what for?” Breanna asked.
“I do not want to wait to find out.”