I feel as though my ears are still ringing. I’m glad there was no border-crossing into Lao-Khulmin… any stop could have been the death of us.
We managed to get Intimara back on Tipsy, but today it took a bit of persuasion – the words we resorted to were something like “Meramon wants you to ride there”. She is thin, but it is impossible to make out exactly how she looks because of the huge brown cloak she wears. She looks like a dark ghost.
And then… of all things… a dragon was on us. People scattered in every direction, and our horses almost did as well. I shouted at Eliana to flee, to go east toward the forest and wait for me there. The dragon mauled and toyed with the trader’s donkey. I knew it wouldn’t be distracted for long. I rode to Time and told him to get out, to go. He said he wouldn’t leave without Reyla, and she was with others. I looked him square in the eyes and told him to go after Eliana. He did.
Reyla was with a little family. They were only slightly scattered; the father had them running east, in the direction I had sent Eliana and Intimara and Tim. I rode up beside Reyla and told her to climb up. The father looked up at me and begged me to let his wife and daughter ride, too. Gaunt couldn’t carry four of us… Something kind and gentle and foolish came over me – I dismounted and had let Reyla, the girl, and the man’s wife clamber up in my place. Reyla sat at the front and held the reins. I don’t know whether she knew how to ride or not, but she was certainly too small to kick Gaunt forward. She was crying, in little sobs and hiccups. I told her to be strong for me, and steer Gaunt toward the sunrise and follow Tim, then I smacked Gaunt hard on the rear and he took off. He seemed itching to leave anyways.
Then the father and I ran for our lives.
The dragon killed so many of the refugees. It leapt from victim to victim, snapping at heads or slashing bowels open with its claws. Screams rent the air. The stench of split intestines and vomit clawed its way down my throat. I just kept running and running, and the father beside me. I tripped on a root, or a rock, or something; he sacrificed a precious moment to pick me up. We kept running. I tasted blood in my breath, and my legs burned. I ran faster. I saw the horses reach the forest and felt better; if I died, at least Eliana and the others were safe.
I didn’t look back. I didn’t need to; the shrieks told me all I needed to know at the time, and when we regrouped in the forest I learned the rest. Scant few made it to the forest, fifty-five of the group that was once more than twice as big. None of them are injured. Any that were must have died.
I found Eliana and the others, safe and huddled together. The father thanked me for saving his family again and again; Eliana wrapped me in a hug and said how silly and good it was of me to have done so. Her eyes were moist.
We have to be much more careful.