Smoke rolled over the farmlands that early spring morning as Julie walked, head bent to the oddly warm wind, toward the barn. The sun attempted to stream through the haze but only succeeded in painting the land with a sickly orange light. The frigid atmosphere of the spring day mixed with the heavy smoke made Julie cold and hot at the same time. She shook her head and focused on the path before her. Unlatching the great barn door, she set her back to it and heaved it open.
“Good morning Becker, morning Chief!” Julie called to the horses, who had walked to the front of their stalls at the sound of the door opening. They pressed against the stall gates, nickering and pawing the earth in greeting. Julie smiled. Walking to each one, she rubbed down the hair on their powerful necks and kissed them just above their eyes. She proceeded to go about her morning chores, feeding the animals and cleaning the barn. The water bucket slipped from her hand once, spreading water over the straw-littered floor.
“Blasted smoke,” Julie mumbled under her breath. Her arms felt as if her sleeves had been packed with lead, and her nose could smell nothing but the rancid odor of ash.
Heading back to the house, Julie glanced down at Riley, the family’s Asradin-Sheperd dog who joined her, panting all the way. She gave her a good scratch behind the ears. “Come on, Rye. Let’s get some breakfast.”
The air was clearer inside the farmhouse, and Julie inhaled as she entered, shutting the door behind her.
Mother looked up from the kitchen counter where she was bent over a dozen frying eggs and slices of bread being toasted. “Good morning, Julie. How’s the smoke out there?”
“Bad,” Julie replied, kicking off her mud-caked boots and walking to the fireplace on the other side of the room.
Mother leaned over to peer out from behind the partition that separated the kitchen from the dining and living room. “That’s not good. I just…I don’t know what we’re gonna do with Hampton Village gone. The next town is several miles away. And I do hope the people who lived there are all right.”
Julie bit her lip. “I don’t know…dragon attacks are bad.”
Mother nodded. “I know. We can just thank the Creator that we live too far away for the fire to get to us.”
Julie bobbed her head in agreement. The door’s squeaking hinges caused the two to glance up. Reeking of smoke, Father and Quinn tromped into the house.
“It smells amazing in here!” Father smiled as he kicked off his boots and peeled off his coat, but Julie could see the dull sadness in his eyes and the worry wrinkles on his forehead. They had never left since the dragon attack began three days ago.
She closed her eyes as the memories poured in—memories of the dragon roars they could hear miles away from the village. The flames that lit up the night sky, and the heavy smoke that had rolled in and never left. For two days and nights, the horror had continued. The family had only left the house to take care of the horses and nothing more. Then the noises had faded. Julie’s neck was still sore from keeping it tense for the two days, her ears constantly berated from the horrible noise.
“We saw a dragon in the distance,” Quinn announced as he sat down at the dining table. “It was headed West. We think they’re leaving for good.”
Father nodded in confirmation. “The village may be nothing more than ashes now. I’m sure most of its food and gold have been plundered—I just hope that everyone was able to evacuate.”
The rest of the family sat at the table as Mother set out the large pan of eggs and toast. “Do you think we should . . . go help? See if we can do anything?”
Father glanced at her and nodded. “Yes, I think that would be a good idea. You, me, and Quinn could probably go there today—Julie could hold down the farm.”
Julie’s eyebrows knitted together as she glanced up from buttering her toast. “I want to come too. I could help!”
Father sighed. “Julie, dragon attacks are not pretty sights. I’ve seen more than a few in my years. And besides, we need someone to stay here.”
“Riley would do just fine keeping watch over the farm. It’s just one day,” Julie protested. “We’ve done it before when we needed all of us for the harvesting season. I’m fifteen, Father. I won’t get scared at some charred buildings and injured people.”
Father let out a long sigh and looked at Mother. They seemed to have a thirty-minute conversation in that five-second stare before he looked back at Julie and nodded. “All right. We can all go. But we’ll have to get back before sundown—and there will be extra chores tonight.”
That was all Julie needed. She bobbed her head and finished buttering her toast, not daring to say anything more lest her parents change their minds.
The walk to the village was harsh. The smoke in the air made it hard to breathe, and ash on the road caused every treacherous step to kick up dust.
The smoke grew thicker the closer they got. Julie could see the village ahead. No fire remained, but fumes curled up from every charred piece of housing that remained. The entire village was black. The charred dirt underneath the wreckage was stained with water spots, where soldiers, farmers, and merchants alike dumped buckets of water to stop the flames.
As the family walked through the mess, Julie’s heart began to race. She could see books, apples, candles, children’s toys, and every other common item in peaceful villages burned to a crisp in front of her. Then she began to notice the bodies on the ground, blackened by flame, now stiff and lifeless. Her stomach flipped, and she struggled to keep her breakfast in her stomach.
Father spotted a knight standing in the wreckage, speaking to some merchants and shop owners, whose clothes were torn and caked in ash and filth. A few other people wandered around, but they didn’t seem to have a direction they were trying to follow. Father approached the knight and began speaking with him. A sigh escaped Julie’s mouth and she turned away, examining the hazy orange sky. A light clatter of wood caught her ears, and she turned toward the noise.
A boy, no older than seven years old, locked eyes with her from where he sat underneath a blackened board. His mouth was pursed, and his icy crystal eyes never moved, except to blink. They shone out from his face like stars in the night. The only other thing that wasn’t completely covered in ash was his blonde hair, which hung over his face.
Julie crept toward him and extended a hand. “Hi there . . . What’s your name?”
The boy made no reply, his eyes continuing to bore into Julie’s. She let out a light sigh and knelt next to him. “Where are your parents? Are you okay?”
Again, no reply was uttered from the boy’s mouth.
Footsteps sounded behind Julie, and she turned to see Mother kneel beside her. “Oh, the poor boy!” Mother gasped. She reached out a hand and took the boy by the arm, helping him out of the wreckage. He stood before them, eyes staring forward. No trace of tears could be seen on his ash-covered face. No emotions at all were expressed.
“Oh no . . . ” Mother shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. “I think he’s been dragon-silenced.”
“What’s that?” Julie whispered.
Mother looked at her. “The roaring of a dragon at close proximity can cause such stress to the ears that a person can start to shut down. No one knows how, but those affected are no longer able to speak or socialize normally. It’s sad for anyone to deal with it . . . but for a boy so young . . . to go his whole life silenced . . . ”
Father and Quinn were now approaching them, both with grim looks on their faces.
“The knight said there wasn’t much for us to help with . . . The village is unsalvagable. The kingdom will be sending out a support crew to help salvage and rebuild, but that will take months at the least. We should head home.”
He stopped talking when he spotted the boy who stood in front of them. After a few long moments, he whispered, “Dragon-silenced.”
Mother nodded. “I think so.”
“Mother . . . ” Julie whispered. “Can we take him home with us? We could help him . . .maybe he isn’t dragon-silenced; maybe he’s just scared.”
Mother and Father exchanged another look. Now Quinn agreed with Julie. “Yes! We could take care of him, at least for a little while. Maybe we could look for his parents too.”
For the second time that day, the parents nodded.
“Yes, it’s the least we can do,” Father smiled down at the boy. “Would you like to come with us? We have a spare room in our loft—you could rest and regain your strength.”
He extended a hand to the boy, and he took it. The family exchanged glances and walked back down the ash-stained road.
Riley greeted the family at the front door. Whining, she leaped onto each of them. While Julie knelt to scratch her ears, the rest of the family stepped into the living room. Everyone looked down at the boy, who now stood surveying the house with wide eyes.
“I’ll show him his room,” Father said, leading the boy to the ladder in the far corner of the living room which ascended to the loft. It was directly next to the hallway that branched off the living room and led to the bedrooms of the family.
The boy, at Father’s prompting, wrapped his fingers around the rungs of the wooden ladder and shuffled up into the loft. His blonde hair vanished from everyone’s view behind the wall, and they waited for a moment. At last, the boy returned and slipped back down the ladder. He stood before them, but no emotion flickered across his dirt-smeared features. Julie exchanged glances with Quinn, then Mother. They both lifted their shoulders in tiny shrugs.
Mother’s breath left in a woosh. “I’ll go set a bath for him and find him some of Quinn’s old clothes. Julie, will you start on dinner?”
Nodding, Julie spun on her heel to head toward the kitchen. As if snapped into action, Quinn and Father started for the door. “We’ll handle the chores for tonight. Julie, just focus on dinner; we’ll cover your share.”
“Thank you,” she called over her shoulder. Her mind raced as she set pans on the stove top and began to light the fire underneath. The dragon-silence was such a horrifying thing . . . A shiver scuttled up her spine. No emotion. No feelings of joy or sadness. A life of dragon-silence would be so . . . pointless. Julie’s memories flew back to her younger days on the farm. The steaming breakfast Mother set out every day that tasted so good. Father’s warm hugs that smelt like hay or dry firewood. Playing with Quinn in the barn. The moment when Father brought Riley home as a puppy. What if . . . what if none of them held any emotion anymore? What if all the joy, warmth, and connection were gone?
Shaking her head, Julie bit her lip. Focus on dinner. Her eyes locked back onto the work in front of her, and she busied herself making sausage and potatoes.
When she set them out in front of everyone, along with applesauce that had already been made and warm tea, everyone expressed their gratitude . . . everyone but the boy, that is. He had been washed clean of the dirt and ash that had covered him from head to toe, and Mother had found some of Quinn’s old clothes that fit him reasonably well. Now he sat beside Mother at the table, hands dangling like dead fish at his sides, his lips a flat line and his eyes staring into space.
The family set to eating, and Mother placed half a potato filled with butter, along with a sausage, on the boy’s plate. He looked down, his eyes focusing on the food. The family paused, holding their breath. Even Riley, burrowing under the table for scraps, stopped moving. The only sound that could be heard was the whistling of the wind outside as it continued to blow the heavy dragon smoke away.
The boy wrapped a small hand around the fork beside his plate, lifted it, and buried it down into the potato. Oblivious to the many eyes watching, he raised the potato and sank his teeth into it, chewed and swallowed. No sound came from his mouth. No emotion ran through his face. He continued to eat, however, one bite at a time, slowly and surely making his way through the meal. The family joined him after a couple more bites, starting up a quiet conversation. Julie’s eyes continued to turn every once in a while to the boy, but his expressions never changed.
When everyone had eaten their fill, Quinn and Julie offered to do the dishes and set to washing them. Mother and Father moved to the rocking chair and old leather couch that stood in the living room, cradling cups of tea and talking quietly. The boy followed them, sitting on the edge of the couch one seat over from Father. He rested his face on his hands and stared into the flames.
When Julie and Quinn walked to the living room, the boy shuffled to the ladder, where he climbed into the loft and disappeared from view. The family watched him go before the children sat down.
Mother sighed. “Well, I’m glad he seems to trust us . . . He ate dinner all right.”
“I think it went well,” Julie smiled. “Perhaps he’s not dragon-silenced . . . Maybe he just needs to rest for a few days. Get away from the memories of the village.”
Father turned his deep brown eyes toward her, sadness painted across his face. “I’m afraid it looks very similar to dragon-silence, Julie. Don’t get your hopes up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone recovering from it.”
A deeper level of sadness filled the room, and Julie nodded. “I know . . . but I guess . . . shouldn’t we try?”
“We’ll feed him and give him a place to stay,” Mother said, leaning across the living room to clasp Julie’s hand. “We can only hope that he will recover . . . but again, don’t put all of your hope on it. He may live like this the rest of his life.”
Julie lowered her head and stared at the floor for several long moments. The fireplace crackled and sent shadows scuttling about the room, illuminating the dark wood walls with shifting light and darkness.
When the family stood to set down their empty mugs and head to their rooms, Julie stopped by the ladder under the loft entrance. She looked up and could faintly hear the sound of a child’s soft snore. She smiled, but a single tear welled up in her eye.
“I’m not giving up on you,” she whispered. “Everyone deserves a life with emotion. Everyone.”
It was early the next morning, just after the family had finished eating breakfast and Julie was about ready to begin her second round of morning chores, that the idea floated into her head. She looked down at the family guest, who was just finishing up his eggs and bacon and wiping his lips with a napkin. Leaning down next to him, she set a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, do you want to come with me and see the horses? I could use a helper while I do my chores.”
The boy didn’t turn when she spoke, but when she straightened back up, he rose from his seat and followed her out the door into the spring sunlight. Just before the door closed, Riley slipped out to join them. The heavy winds from the day before had blown the majority of the haze away, and the color of the sky was beginning to return.
At the barn, Julie introduced the boy to Becker and Chief. The boy’s crystal eyes stared up into the horses’, and he reached up to touch their noses and necks without hesitation.
Julie went about with her chores, keeping an eye on the boy, who never left the horses. They seemed to bond with him right away and nickered every time he scratched their heads.
Riley walked over to the boy and sat at his feet, staring up at him with bright, playful eyes. The boy looked down at her and crouched down to give her a pat on the head.
As Julie watched, the boy’s lips curved up into a slight smile. Julie closed her eyes and looked again, but it was gone. It may have been her imagination . . . but had it? Julie felt her heart miss a beat. Perhaps . . . perhaps it had been real. She walked over and crouched down next to him. “Do you like the horses?”
The boy turned at her voice, but any spark of life in his eyes had vanished as soon as she spoke. She sighed and nodded. “Right . . . I’m gonna go draw some water for the horses. You stay here.”
As soon as she was out the door she stopped. With her heart fluttering like a trapped butterfly in her chest, she crept back to peer into the barn through the crack between the wall and the doors.
The boy stood in the middle of the hall between the rows of stalls, Riley at his feet, but he wasn’t moving. He now stood staring at the wall, eyes blank and lifeless. His hands dangled by his sides, and once again, he appeared to be dragon-silenced.
Julie felt frustrated tears filling her eyes. She had been so close . . . it had felt like the animals and the peaceful nature of the barn had at last broken the spell that seemed to cover the boy . . . but no. He had returned to his silenced state. Biting her lip, Julie walked to the well to draw water.
Julie woke early the next morning, her mind just as fuzzy as the night before. She moaned as she rolled out of bed. Complete silence reigned in the house, and the landscape outside of her window was still dark. Only a faint glimmer on the horizon promised the coming of the sun. She dressed and shuffled out of her room, arms crossed over her chest.
After starting a fire in the living room to warm the house, she walked to the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast.
Quinn woke next, only minutes after the smell of frying bacon and freshly baked biscuits wafted through the house. He left the house to get an early start on his chores, just before Mother and Father walked out from their room and greeted Julie.
It was only when Julie was just setting out breakfast on the table when the boy climbed down the ladder. He skipped the last two rungs and dropped to the floor with a thump. The family turned to look at him as he trekked across the living room and sat down at the table, eyes large and staring.
Julie dished up a heaping plate of steaming eggs, bacon, and biscuits sprinkled with cinnamon. She set it before him and turned to dish up her own plate.
It was at that moment when the door opened and Quinn stepped through, that the entire family heard a soft, cracked, “Thank you.”
Everyone froze, their eyes turning to the boy in unison. Quinn clasped his hands behind his head, his jaw dropping open in shock. Julie just cracked a wide smile as joy bubbled up from deep inside her heart. What had happened the day before hadn’t been for nothing. The boy really had woken up.
Ignoring her urge to laugh, cry, and throw her arms around the boy, Julie laid a gentle hand on his and looked deep into his crystal eyes, which flickered with gratitude and perhaps just a hint of happiness.
“You’re very welcome. I’m Julie. What’s your name?”
The boy turned to look at each of the family members in turn, then his gaze fell back on Julie. “My name is Silas.”
Julie smiled again. Sitting at the table, she gestured to the food. “Well . . . shall we eat?”
And there we have it! I had an incredible time writing this story of pain, darkness, but light ultimately breaking through and ending the story with a heart-warming finish! Did you enjoy this story? What was your favorite part, and your favorite characters? Let me know in the comments! I would love to talk.
I really really hope this story gave you at least a hint of joy and hope. Thank you for taking the time to read my little story.
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