The Dream Comes
The acrid smell of smoke stings my nose. I glance to my brother. His body is tense, his eyes closed. He smells it too.
“Fire”, I say. He nods, his head swiveling like a hound scenting a rabbit. I watch him closely and his eyes snap open, wide with fear. He breathes a word, “Mother”, and bolts in the direction of our home, his bow and quiver forgotten in his flight. I, too, sprint through the forest, trying to regain ground on my brother’s head start.
The scent of smoke becomes heavier; the air murky and hot as we reach what is left of our home. I notice another smell, one I’m sure has not escaped my brother’s keen senses. It underlies the burnt timber and straw, reminding me of bad eggs. My eyes search for my brother, but the brilliance of the conflagration and the thick smoke make it difficult. I try to call, but find myself choking instead. I drop to one knee below the billowing clouds of ash and call, this time more quietly, not to my brother but to the little ones. I tell them our need and I hear the whispers spread among them faster than any light. I try again to look at the fire consuming our home and I find myself standing, my thoughts on my brother and my mother. I cannot see and it is difficult to breathe, but I know I must find them.
Through the roar of the fire, I hear a voice. I think I am hallucinating, perhaps from lack of air, but it calls again more clearly. “Mount up on the wings of eagles”, it tells me. I am afraid. Mother told us not to reveal ourselves for what we were, but I am no use down here. I cannot see, cannot smell, cannot hear anything but the fire. I nod, resolved, and leap into the air. My wings spread behind me, catching the updraft of hot air caused by the fire. I fly out of the smoke and see the river spirits on their way. I circle the burning house and catch a glimpse of my brother trying to push his way past the flames. I swoop down on him, knocking him back. He is angry that I’ve tried to stop him from entering. He pulls his lips back in a feral snarl and rushes me. I step to the side and put my fist in his gut as he passes. I cannot allow him to continue. He is already burnt badly.
While he is winded, I hoist him over my shoulder. I cannot fly well with the both of us, but I manage to get him away from the heat. As I try to put him down, he kicks me hard in the stomach as he spreads his own wings and takes to the sky. I lay on the hillside trying to breathe properly for a moment, when I realize that it is raining.
A moment later, I am sitting upright, looking down on the smoldering remains of our home. My brother lands beside me, shaking droplets of water from his hair and wings. He shoots a hateful glare at me, though we both know he isn’t angry at me. I look him over; his skin is blistered and peeled in several places. I shake my head and place a hand on his shoulder. He pulls back and snorts at me gesturing in my direction. I look at myself covered in ash and soot, my skin too is blistered and peeling in places. I wave my brother’s concern away and place my hand on his shoulder. The healing doesn’t take long. He gives me a brief smile of thanks, then a serious look. “Don’t forget yourself, brother.” I smile and close my eyes, using the same magic to heal my own wounds. I open my eyes.
My brother is staring intently at the ruins of our home. “Perhaps, she was out when it happened”, I tell him, though we both know better. He stands, his wings no longer visible, and starts down the hill. I follow. We should at least find mother’s remains. I remember to thank the river spirits and the little ones for their help.
We sort through the sodden remnants of the blaze. My brother reminds me of a wolf snuffling along the ground, searching. He calls to me, urgency in his voice. He points to the ground, where his boot has broken a circle of some kind enclosed around the charred remains of a skeleton. I touch the material and on an idea, place a small bit of it on my tongue. “Salt”, I say, spitting some grit, “and sand.” I take a closer look at the skeleton. Its arms have been bound to its sides by three different metals. My brother’s eyes are on me. I reach out to rub the soot from the metal bindings and the knot in my stomach grows tighter with each that I uncover: Silver first, then gold. I recoil at the third binding; its coldness scorches a black mark on my thumb. By now, my brother’s eyes bore into my back. He does not know much about the workings of this kind of magic, but he knows enough to understand what has happened here. Where I am numb with shock, he burns with rage, and I know he can think of only one thing: vengeance.