The night my father died, I awoke to the sound of screaming. It was the first time I saw The White.
My mother rushed into the room, a long fur coat wrapped around her night garments. She had a lantern in hand. “Quick, Sienna,” she called in a rushed, frantic voice. “Downstairs! We must go underground!”
Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I stumbled from the bed. My feet hit the cold stone floor. My mother dashed across the children’s quarters to gather my night robe. I saw others being ushered from their beds. Then my eyes focused outside the window.
The children’s ward was in the the North tower of the fortress. I had a clear view of the fortress walls. The green flag of Glenhold flapping haphazardly in the wind.
Then a burst of flame lit up the sky, a fountain of fire blazing against the night. And in that fire, I saw wings wider than the fortress' gates, taller than the battlements--a pure, fluorescent white against clouds of dark smoke. I thought, for a moment, that I was dreaming. Dragons don't fly this far inland. They stay on the coast. And yet there it was—its neck long and sloped, like a fierce swan. It reared above the battlements and roared angrily. The wings moved again, creating winds as strong as a hurricane. I watched our flagstaff shiver, sway...and snap.
The giant, forty-foot pole smashed to the ground.
The window shattered from the force of the wind. I screamed, falling back, suddenly all too awake. A shard of glass cut a long streak on the side of my face. I reached up a hand, shuddering, and pressed it to the wound. Blood leaked between my fingers.
Then I couldn't stop screaming, my young voice lost in the howl of the wind. The stench of smoke and burning flesh stung my nose, making my eyes water. My mother grabbed my arm, dragging me from the room as she bundled me up in my night robe. She pressed a cloth against my bleeding cheek.
We ran into the hallway, joining the crush of women and children who swirled in panic, like a tumultuous river.
I don't remember how we made it down so many flights of stairs, through the main hall and into one of the many passages beneath the fortress. All I remember was shivering in the darkness of the cellars, the ceiling groaning and creaking with the horrific roars of the beast outside. Flecks of mortar rained down, showering us with white dust. We all held each other, the children huddled close together, the women clasping hands in silence. We waited for the ceiling to cave in.
Countless hours passed. It seemed like an eternity, the fear throbbing inside of us.
Finally, long after the building had stopped shaking, a man came down the stairs. One of the cooks, not a warrior. He walked on crutches, his leg in a splint.
The dragon had flown away at dawn. No one knew why. Our spears and arrows hadn't even dented its scaly armor.
The main hall was scarcely touched, except for the glass windows, which had shattered across the stone floors. Outside, however, was a different story. The walls of our fortress were scarred black along the Southern front. Giant stone blocks were cracked down the middle, broken in two. Our wagons, harvesting equipment, and storage sheds were nothing more than splinters and ash. The grass was scorched. It cracked beneath our feet like paper.
The bodies of the dead were lined up against the North wall. Many were burned beyond recognition. We didn't know which one was my father, only that he was not among the living.
We all mourned that day, wrapping our uncles and cousins and brothers in white linen, folding them into burial crafts and floating them down the river. My mother screamed and cried, unable to stand, lowering herself to the grass like a bent reed.
But I had shed my tears during the night, and I had nothing left to give. Thirteen, and I could not cry for my father's death. I watched the bodies of the dead float away, remembering The White, the great wings and fire.
Why did it come? So many asked. Dragons do not fly this far inland. The war is over a hundred miles away.
Why had it come—and where had it gone?