We met with more refugees on our trip north from the forest. With them we found some of the people who had scattered two mornings ago. The dragon hadn’t devoured everyone. Now I wish it had.
One of the people pointed at Eliana and said “Witch! Gypsy witch, friend of the dragons!” Others took up the cry. The words changed to “Burn her, burn her!” I tried to shout her defense, but the crowd drowned out my voice, and the spinning, glowing orbs around Eliana made my words seem false. Her evident association with magic drove the people into a frenzy; she was positively dripping with it, even though she couldn’t control it. Reyla looked around with wide eyes, but Eliana’s were pure terror. The orbs around her multiplied and whirled frantically around her, but sputtered and flickered out quickly as well, like last night. Something was wrong with them… they should have been able to protect her, like Jenna’s magic had protected her from the lurkers in Jarbia. The refugees became a stamping mob. The chants turned to snarls. Teeth gnashed and snapped.
I tried again to shout over the rabble. I stood in my stirrups and raised one hand. Then my other hand was jerked downwards. That man was there, the one who had claimed he could hunt deer with sword and horse. He pulled again, harder, and I started to fall. I tried to catch a glimpse of Eliana as I toppled off Gaunt. I slammed into the ground, and had to cough air back into my lungs. The man tried to mount Gaunt; Gaunt reared and shied away. I struggled to my feet, shook my head to clear my vision, and ran at the man. I probably couldn’t have brought him down alone, but Tim had wrapped himself around his legs. I knocked the would-be thief with the handle of my dirk.
Tim remounted behind Reyla, and I pointed him to leave. The mob had eyes for Eliana alone. As I struggled to reach Gaunt, the people pulled Eliana from Tipsy and tied her hands; they found oil, wood from crates of pieces of carts, straw, and other things to burn. I mounted Gaunt, drew my sword, shouted to clear the way, and rode forward. My bared steel opened a path for me, and some of the curses turned to gasps or stares. I rode to Eliana, cut her ropes, and helped her onto Tipsy. We rode through and away from the mob before it could change its bloodthirsty mind.
I will not lead those arrogant idiots. I will have nothing more to do with them. I wish I hadn’t saved them; I wish I hadn’t even seen them. How dare they accuse Eliana? What right had they to cast stones at her? If the dragon was anyone’s fault, it was theirs. They were fools not to see it. They are a pack of savage animals out for bloody retribution for the dragon-forced exodus – and when the scent snatched at their noses, they would not be swayed for the world. No, I will not lead them.