It was well after dark when Baltron awoke from his unconscious state. As he took in his surroundings, he realized he was in the woods, lying against a tree trunk, and completely naked. He jumped to his feet cursing, What has happened to me? He had no memory of what had happened to him. He remembered walking through the village that morning on his way to his shop, but he could not seem to remember anything else. He hurried through the woods toward the village, but when he reached the edge of the woods, he was shocked at what he saw. The village was nearly destroyed. The dragon must have appeared! Gaylora, the children! Baltron quietly made his way around the small creek that separated the village from the woods. He found a robe lying among the debris and put it on, then he quickly made his way to his hut, praying that he would find his wife and children safely inside.
“Oh, Father! It was horrible!” cried Narposon. “I watched many of my friends die today!”
Keith nodded, “Yes, Zalton and I stood together in the center courtyard when the dragon ran Zalton through with its claws, lifted him in the air, and dropped him over the mountain!”
Gaylora drew her children closer, holding their one-year-old son, Ned, in her arms, as she stared at her husband. “I barely escaped a fiery death, as my sister Lakin was trampled beneath its clawed feet.”
Baltron shivered as he listened to the horrific stories of the carnage, and he was thankful to Felix for keeping them safe.
A knock at the door brought them from their grief. When Baltron opened the door, he found his father in-law, Boto, standing there.
“The elders have called a meeting. All able bodied men are required to attend.”
Baltron nodded then turned to Gaylora. “I want you all to stay here. I’ll return as soon as I can.”
Once they arrived to the meeting, they saw Ackorton, with Delkon standing next to him, already addressing the group. “I say that tomorrow we should send the women and children to the royal city. It is a day’s journey; we’ll send some men to protect them on the trip.”
“I agree,” Delkon nodded. “Unless someone else here has a better idea.”
No one among the group uttered any opinions, but only nodded their approval.
“Then, let us do this first thing in the morning,” Ackorton said lowly. “Now, Constable Delkon wishes to speak.”
“I want each man standing guard at his own hut this night to keep watch. I have placed soldiers in certain locations to keep watch as well. I must say you all did well this day in battle. We lost many, but we still have many left to fight, so fight we shall!”
“So shall we fight!” the men cried out in unison.
Suddenly the door burst open. “My daughter, Ceska, and her new husband, Roth, have come down with a fever and boils have appeared on their bodies! Thea cried.
Delkon, Ackorton, followed by the group of concerned men rushed to the newlywed’s hut. When they arrived there, they found the couple lying on their bed, their bodies covered in boils. Ceska’s father, Walter, looked up from the bedside and groaned, “They are dead.”
Everyone gasped at seeing Walter’s face covered in boils. Thea ran to her husband, and then fell onto the bed of her dead daughter, weeping.
“How long had it been since they first received the fever?” Delkon asked, pulling a handkerchief from his cloak to cover his face.
Ackorton mimicked Delkon’s actions with his own kerchief. “Everyone outside, let’s give them some privacy!”
“We have a right to know what’s going on!” someone from the back of the group called out.
“And you will!” shouted Ackorton. “But, I am insisting you exit at once!”
Everyone quieted down as they exited the hut, with Ackorton following them in anger.
Ackorton stepped back inside the doorway, but stayed back away from Walter. He noticed Thea now had small boils popping up on her.
“It had not been too long ago, it was just after dark. First Roth succumbed to the fever, then Ceska.”
“I don’t feel so well,” Walter gasped, as he fell to the floor, unconscious.
Thea stretched out her hand to Walter then collapsed on the floor next to him.
Delkon and Ackorton shared concerned looks, and then backed out of the hut. They closed the door and stood there, unsure of what to say and staring at the night sky.
“What do we do now?”Ackorton asked nervously.
“Pray to our gods, Felix and Andria, and hope help reaches us soon.”
“Do we have a healer here?” Delkon asked.
“He is Sandoh; I saw him at the meeting.”
“Let us get him here.”
“What is happening in there?” someone asked.
“The young couple is dead. Now, the girl’s mother and father have fallen ill,” Delkon, said with dread in his voice.
The crowd began to murmur, and then someone shouted above the crowd. “What must we do?”
“Go to your huts and pray to the gods for mercy. Has anyone seen Sandoh?”
“I am here,” Sandoh stepped forward from the crowd. “But I’m not going in there.”
“Why not, man? You are a healer!”
“That is a sickness which can only be stopped by burning everything it has touched. I believe they have been cursed.”
“But, Walter and Thea are still alive!” Delkon exclaimed.
Ackorton took a deep breath and stood his ground alongside Delkon. “Yes, they are still alive! No one is going to burn them.”
“Arrgh, they’re already dead! We must save ourselves!” screamed a woman.
“Yes! Save ourselves!” the crowd murmured together. “Burn them! Burn them!”
Delkon and Ackorton each pulled their swords, waving them in the air.
“We will not give these people to burn!”
A rock slammed into Delkon’s head as someone hit Ackorton from behind. The two men fell to the ground, unconscious. The crowd rushed to the hut with their torches and lit the grass and clay roofs on fire.
From somewhere in the middle of the crowd, a man’s voice screamed, “Another one has been afflicted! Burn him too!”
“No! No!” the man cried, as he was pushed toward the fiery hut. “Please don’t do this,” but his words were drowned out by the chants of the crowd. The man fought to free himself, but one of the men in the mob thrust a sword into his belly, and then kicked him into the fire.
“They are afflicted!” a woman cried aloud from the right of the hut. Several men ran and grabbed a man, his wife, and child, slit their throats, and pushed them into the fire.
Screams erupted throughout the village as more people became sick. The people began to fight and kill one another, as fear gripped the village.
Baltron and Boto ran swiftly through the crowd, as the fighting worsened. Baltron paused when he heard his father in-law call his name. He turned to see that Boto now had boils spreading across his face. Then to Baltron’s horror, two men grabbed Boto, and began to beat him.
Baltron turned away, realizing there was nothing he could do and ran as fast as he could to his hut. Once inside, he bolted the door behind him and leaned against it, breathing heavily.
“What’s wrong, Father?”
“What is happening out there?”
The children ran to Baltron with tears running down their faces.
Ceska looked him in the eye, “It sounds as if the dragon has returned.”
“It’s worse than that! There is some sort of affliction now passing through the village. Everyone is getting a high fever with boils quickly spreading all over their bodies. It’s horrible how quickly death comes to them! The healer says it’s a curse!”
Ceska gasped, as the children wept. Baltron wrapped his arms around them, pulling them close, “You are to remain in the hut. We shall see what the morrow brings.”
Baltron opened the door slowly and peeped out. The fog was still thick in the village, and things seemed calm after the night of carnage the night before. He covered his face with a rag, stepped outside, and shut the door then waited for Ceska to bolt the door behind him. As he walked through the village, he saw smoldering huts, and the stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils. He stumbled, and then looked down to see that he was walking on the bones, flesh, and bodies of the slain villagers, this causing him to vomit repeatedly. So many dead, he thought to himself, recalling the terror-filled screams that lasted throughout the night.
“What is that?” he pulled his head upright, and listened. He heard voices coming from the central hut. He made his way toward the voices, and stepped inside, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
Every person inside the hut was covered in puss festered boils, including Delkon and Ackorton. He swallowed hard, recalling how thankful he was this morning that his children and wife had escaped the ravages of this horrible curse brought down upon the village.
“I find myself hard pressed to remain with you all after last night’s events. I understand your fears, but you acted as barbarians. This will be reported to King Nathaniel when I next see him,” Delkon said with disdain resonating in his voice.
“You won’t see him, you’ll be dead, just like the rest of us!” called a man from the crowd.
Sandoh made his way past Baltron and to the front of the room where Delkon and Ackorton stood.
“It’s a curse, it’s the only explanation.”
“A curse?” Ackorton coughed, as blood poured from his mouth.
“Yes, do you not recall the curse the great god Felix put on the dragons?”
“Yes, yes, of course!” Delkon nodded his head. “That dragon wasn’t supposed to be here. For it to be so, only means that someone who recently traveled to Aspella or Eloweena has defiled themselves by either bringing back a magical object from the land…”
“Or slept with a dragon or hellavey while there,” Ackorton interjected.
Sandoh nodded, as he pointed to Delton’s bloody arms. “And these boils! I have seen things such as this before, but never has it spread so quickly! It is a curse I tell you! A curse!”
Baltron shielded himself in the corner, afraid of what would come next. Why did I flaunt that damn crystal around the village? They will surely kill me, and my family, the words burned into his mind, as he thought of the law concerning this matter. Death was the punishment for anyone responsible for such an atrocity, as well as his or her entire clan!
“How are we to know who has traveled there? It’s not like we keep records of such things, though maybe it would have been an exceptionally good rule,” Ackorton groaned.
“I know of at least three people who recently returned from those lands!” called a woman from the crowd. “Titus the mute, with his daughter, Makru, and Makru’s daughter, Basmure.
“They were on the side of the road just the other day, trying to sell the wares they brought back from Eloweena! They have to be the ones!”
“Yes, that Makru looks like a witch to me!” screamed a man.
“And Titus is always giving me looks that haunt my dreams,” replied a woman.
Delkon and Ackorton shot each other pitiful looks.
“I will not allow you to kill another innocent!”Delkon cursed.
“You all must not turn on one another!” Ackorton warned.
“There is nothing you can do. They have become mad with fear. They will murder you if you stand in their way. The gods must be appeased for our sins. It is the only way to stop the disease among us. We who still live, will be healed of the disease the moment the ones guilty are dead,” Sandoh explained.
“And what of the dragons?” Ackorton asked.
Delkon shook his head. “I’m afraid there is no hope of holding back the hellavey, or the dragons of Eloweena and Aspella. Someone from our land has broken the sacred law and now the dragons and hellavey shall have free reign in our country, just as they have in Eloweena and Aspella.”
Ackorton frowned at realizing what this meant. “We will have to now keep our children close at hand; no more carefree days for any of us.”
“We have them! Come see, we have the sinners!”
Sandoh placed his hand on Ackorton’s shoulder, “With your permission, I’ll handle this for you.”
“You must. Titus and I were friends,” Ackorton bowed his head. He knew in his heart that if Titus and Makru had brought back a magical item, that it was done purely by accident, but alas, the gods did not make any exceptions. Accident or not, it did not matter. If you had in possession a magic object from the kingdoms of Aspella or Eloweena, you had to pay the ultimate price, you, and your kin.