Something was wrong. A something you could feel, even in the middle of the night, fast asleep. Shay felt it and woke rising to her feet, blinking in the soft amber light. She was moving before she understood that she was awake. She reached for her rapier, her battle sense burning, ready to react to any danger.
Rapier drawn she scanned the room looking for the source of the wrongness. She could clearly see her husband asleep. He purred like the cat cuddled at his feet. All was well there. She quickly and quietly moved to check on the children in the next room.
In the gentle glow she easily made out that both kids were safely asleep. Their limbs akimbo, pillows askew, blankets wadded in knots. All perfectly childlike and innocent of harm. She could easily see their lovely sleeping faces in the glowing light.
The other cat looked up from the foot of her son’s bed and yawned in the dismissive way that cats in the night have uniquely perfected. Shay could see each white tooth before the yawn closed with a ‘click.’ The cat turned in a circle and tucked her head under her paws, going back to sleep instantly. All was well, except for the sense of dread.
More awake now, but none the wiser as to the cause of her waking, Shay moved into the bakery silently, to check the prisoner, Blackkoven’s Captain. His name, they had learned, was Nevin Westmont. He was fast asleep on a pallet on the floor. Shay could easily see his chest gently rising and falling. Seeing him asleep like that, it was easy to think he was a good man.
A chain, plainly visible, still linked one Nevin’s feet to the mill stone. Another chain, about three feet long, linked the manacles on his wrists and lay strung across his stomach with enough length to spare so that Nevin could rest his hands on the pallet.
With her free hand Shay reached for the leather cord around her neck. The key to his locks was still there. All was well, but the persistent feeling of something terribly wrong was growing ever stronger.
She scanned the rest of the room looking for the wrongness but everything was in its right place, lined up with military precision, clean and waiting for the morning shift of bread making. Shay could see it all. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Thinking that perhaps she was making up the feeling.
Her eyes fell on Westmont again, this time, he stared right back at her. He had gone from a dead sleep to wide awake for the same reason as Shay. His soldier sense had alerted him to danger he couldn’t yet see. He reached for a weapon that wasn’t there, before rising up to one elbow. Despite his own sense of alarm he quietly and casually commented,
“Something is wrong.”
“I know that!” Shay snapped, “I just don’t know what.”
Once more she looked around the room. She could clearly see everything. Everything. That was wrong. It couldn’t have been more than midnight, and it was a new moon out. It should have been dark as the deepest sea. Shay looked down at the blade of her sword. A glowing, flickering orange, reflected back.
“Fire” she breathed out. She checked her ceiling but there was no smoke there. The fire was outside the bakery. She jumped to the baker’s window and threw back the curtain that had been diffusing the incoming light. The fire was so near it looked like the whole forest was burning.
“Fire!” She shouted. “Fire, fire!”
Westmont was on his feet and moving as near as the length of chain allowed, to look out the window too. Sensing him behind her Shay turned to see that Westmont was considerably closer than she thought him capable of being.
He looked past her out the window concern clearly visible on his face and confirmed what she had already shouted. “Fire,” He bellowed. “FIRE!”
Shay’s husband came bursting into the room holding a book over his head like a club.
“The trees! The the smithy stable! They’re on fire!” Shay yelled.
He stared back at her not comprehending what she said.
“Woodland is burning!” Shay shouted at him.
He dropped the book on the baker’s rack and they both ran for the side door. “No! Get the kids, get your shoes and get out!” Shay commanded. “Go to the river!”
He quickly turned and ran for the family entrance. Shay could see his untucked shirt whipping behind him as he ran for the children. She hung her rapier on a coat hook next to the door and threw the door wide open. Even though the fire was around the corner from the door intense heat rushed in staggering her. Westmont stopped her before she headed out.
“Lieutenant Locke! Don’t leave me chained here with nothing!” He yelled.
She looked at him unsure what to do. In the harsh light, the flames made shadows dance around him. He looked like one of the condemned souls trapped in Dante’s Ring for the Violent. ‘sunken into a river of boiling blood and fire.’
“Lieutenant, let me help!” He exclaimed.
“Keep yelling!” Shay said, then she turned and ran outside for the bucket hanging from her well. Westmont continued shouting behind her. She reached the well and dropped the bucket into the water. She pulled it back out as fast as she dared trying not to lose a single drop. She carried it to the stable, and threw it into the burning hay. The one small bucket had little effect. She ran for the well again.
As she reached the well she could see other Swordsmen racing from their homes towards the flames. Westmont’s calls had brought them. Kane came dashing into the yard seemingly from nowhere, a bucket in one hand and sword in the other. Evanlyn and Edward closely followed him having run in from the perimeter guard post. Miren came sprinting from behind the bakery, wild Irish hair flying behind her. She held only her sea knife but quickly took in the situation, and ran for a bucket from the coopers shop.
By the time Miren returned with all the buckets she could carry Veron, Zarka, Laddy, Ja’ika, and Tilly had all heard the cries along with a dozen villagers and younger members from the Order. Kane was organizing them into bucket lines and water was being rushed from wells and troughs around the blaze to put out the fire.
The Swordsmen had almost all come armed, having suspected an attack. But with no enemy to be seen they had stacked their weapons at the corner of the bakery and set to putting out the blaze with a united will.
Hearing the panicked whinnying of the horses trapped in the smithy stable, Damian rushed in to rescue them by turning them loose. They ran through the yard and into the woods away towards the garrison. Damian followed them close behind dropping to the dust to roll out the flames on his shirt sleeves.
As more members of the Order came to help Don, Draco and Tsyng organized small groups to cut back the branches and small trees nearest the flames. Sedos, Martin, Rasputin and Illidan organized other groups to find all the blankets and rags they could and soak them in the river. They then moved in coordination throughout the village beating out sparks as they fell from the trees.
Within minutes the whole village was roused and the non-combatant women and children were being shepherded to the river by Ul’vade, Ladrona and Lady Rhiannon. The rest of the able-bodied were conscripted into fighting the flames as they sprung up on roofs and in surrounding trees.
It was frightening and the temperatures were extreme. Commands were being barked out in rapid succession under a haze of eye searing and lung burning smoke. Animals whined and howled. Children cried in the cold stream as adults constantly doused them with the chill water to keep falling sparks from lighting their clothes on fire. The heat, and noise, the awful stench, and choked back fear, combined into a whirl of apocalyptic horror. A horror that was slowly being contained by the persistence of the Order of the Rose and the people of Terrasylvae. Slowly but surely they beat back the flames.
However, an unseen spark managed to land on the roof of the bakery. And for several minutes was allowed to burn unnoticed. There was so much shouting going on that it was several more minutes before Shay heard her name being called frantically by Westmont.
She turned to see that nearly the whole front of the bakery roof was on fire. Westmont was screaming her name.
She left the bucket line and ran around the corner of the bakery, leaping over the pile of weapons, and headed for the side door. Behind her Kane barked commands to form a new bucket line to save the bakery. As she neared the entrance both her cats came tearing out of the door and fled into the night. As she rushed through the door she found Westmont straining at the chain linking his foot to the millstone. He was alternated between cursing loudly and screaming her name.
“Language!” Shay hollered at him as she ran up to him.
“Where have you been?” He responded. “This place is up in flames woman! Let me out, I can help.”
Smoke filled the room and sparks cascaded from the ceiling like burning snowflakes. There was little time to make decisions. The roof was groaning and ready to give way. Shay didn’t want to let Westmont loose, but she couldn’t let him die in a flaming inferno either.
The only option she could think of under the time constraint was to undo one of his hands and lock her own hand into the manacle linking them together so he couldn’t run without her. She quickly accomplished this and linked his right hand to her left against his loud protests. Only then did she unlock his foot. Fettered together they made a break for the door.
At the last moment as Shay crossed the threshold Westmont retrieved her rapier from the coat hook and they burst into the pathway as a beam of the roof collapsed behind them sending a spray of angry red sparks into the night sky.