The night vibrated with activity as people fled their homes in fear. The streets were lit in a blue and orange hue as fire crept from one building to the next destroying everything in its path. Ash fell from the sky like the winter snow and littered every surface it could reach in a layer of grey.
A maid from the castle sought shelter in the empty stables a distance from the chaos and watched in horror as the town was turned to ruin. The life she started in this kingdom seven years ago quickly became home in the maids heart, the warm welcoming people and the beauty of the kingdom become something she held dear. Now she watches on as the beauty is tarnished and the once kind people flee, some abandoning their wife and child, others falling victim to the flames.
Movement to her left caught her eye. A hooded figure approached with their cloak waving behind them as the chilled wind picked up, in their arms cradled firmly a bundle of blankets to their chest. The maid left the safety of her shelter and moved to help the stranger; as she got closer she could make out clearer observations of the person before her: their limp with every step they took- along with the torn cloth of their dress from waist to thigh, drenched with a distinctive shade of red. When they met neither spoke, but the silent plea for help was heard louder than words. Careful not to jostle the already unsteady woman, she ushered gently, with the support of her hands on the persons shoulders, to the stables.
A muffled whimper sounded from the blanket in the woman's arms as they rested against the stable wall. Peering down, the maid could see the top half of an infant's head, peeking out barely from behind the fabric.
"The Prince," She whispered, in shocked awe.
"No one must know the Prince is alive," her voice hoarse from the ash they breathed. Maneuvering so one arm supported the boy, the stranger moved her removed her hood with her free hand letting it fall to her shoulders. The maid slightly gaped as the queen stood before her. Her long blond hair lay ungroomed half tucked in the pouch of the hood and the rest riding on her collarbone, her green eyes speckled with blues and orange from the burning buildings outside and the dark wash of eye bags standing out on her worryingly pale face. The queen took one of the maids hands and extended it out, than mirroring the other. In fluid motion, the maid found herself holding the child delicately like he was made of glass that would shatter with too much pressure.
"Please, look after him. Never tell him of me or the king." She begged.
The maids mouth gaped as her brain struggled to catch up with reality. The prince was to be left in her care? "Your Majesty, I," mouth opened and closed, objection on her tongue. What was she going to do with a child? A prince at that? With the child in her arms, she took in his blonde hair laid neatly, apart from the sides where his head brushed against the maids chest; his tiny body, dusted in light freckles, wrapped in a beautiful green blanket decorated with blue and silver swells, snuggled him tightly as he slept soundly. He looked so peaceful despite the devastation occurring around him. It made the maid smile sadly. She let out a even breath into the silence.
"I've prepared food and water," she said finally, giving a curt nod and looking back to the queen. "There will be enough for the three of us until we part our ways. There are a few of my clothes at the bottom," She said, taking off her satchel and holding it out toward the other women.
The queen smiled and took the satchel into hand, swinging the cord over her shoulder. It looked out of place with the rest of her garments, "Thank you, Riley" Gratitude in her every word. She reached down and picked up a long item wrapped in a brown cloth, "When he is older, give this to him. It has been in our family for generations and is beyond any value. I must stress that this stays hidden until he is of age. I cannot trust anyone else to protect the two most precious things in my family more than you, Riley," The Queen pulled back the top of the cloth to reveal the beautiful handle of a sword. It had a wavy polished black hilt, the pommel was in the shape of a silver crescent with unidentifiable markings written in the center, two finely detailed dragon wings made of gold made the crossguard, and a single blue gem sat center on the rainguard. The blade was hidden but the maid already knew this was one of most beautiful craftsmanship she's ever seen. The Queen placed the cloth back over and tied the end with a single piece of leather to hold it in place.
The BOOM of an explosion echoed throughout the kingdom, startling the two and frightening birds from their sleep and into the night sky. Both the Queen and Riley looked toward the castle, their wide eyes watched in horror as blue flames licked up the walls of the structure, shattering the glass windows and eating away the royals' home. On top of the battlement perched proudly a dark figure, wings spread wide and golden brown eyes roaming over the it's work as people scattered in fear.
A loud cry erupted from the prince as he woke from his slumber and the dragon looked in their direction from across the field. Neither moved as the boy continued to cry and sharp eyes looked between the three assessingly. When eyes landed on the clothed sword in the Queen's hands the dragons body went rigid, brown and gold scales rippling as its face contorted into a snarl. The dragon turned it's body fully towards them and let out a loud earth-rattling roar,
"Riley, GO!" Hands gripped the maids arm as the Queen pulled them in the opposite direction. Blood pumped into their ears as their legs carried them, the maids arms and chest aching with the struggle of holding her burden and lack of oxygen. Heavy beating of leather wings got louder as the dragon neared. They exited the clearing and into dense trees, dead leaves and twigs snapping under their weight as they clumsily dodged nature in their haste. As they ran, a loud roar washed over them from above the treetops and reverberated through the forest. The beast flew over and off a distance before making a sharp bank and heading back their way.
A hand stopped Riley in her tracks just before she toppled over the ledge of an dried up deep riverbank. Too far down to climb with a child and an injury and not enough time with a dragon; going around will take too long with the three of them. The maid looked up at the Queen with sad resignation with the Queen mirroring. However, it didn't last long as she set her features and took off her brown coat. She looked around for a second and picked up a long thick stick and wrapped it in the coat and placed it under her arm and looked at Riley dead in the eyes with sheer determination. She held out the covered sword for Riley to take and placed the satchel over the maid shoulder, exhaling when she had a firm hold of the sword. A gentle smile brushed her lips, "Take good care of my son".
Understanding dawned on Riley's face as the Queen turned and took off in the opposite direction of the old riverbank. Sacrifice. She's sacrificing herself for her son and his protector. "Your Majesty! Wait!" The queen pushed on without looking back and the maid now saw clearly how bad her injury has gotten. Her limp more pronounced and movements forced, the amount of blood soaking her dress eliminates all possibility of her survival. She would have died from blood loss. "Mary!" The maid, yelled.
The deep rumble in the sky signaled for her departure if the child and herself are to survive. Forcing her body to turn and head West, the maid set ahead with anew found motivation: protect the child, to see the boy grow into a strong kind-hearted man his mother would have loved to see him be. She dodged past trees and kicked through undergrowth to get as far as possible. A blood curdling scream pierced through the dark dense forest causing her to stagger slightly. Tears poured down the maids face as she sobbed quietly, the reality fully setting in. The boy in her arms began to toss and whimper almost reacting to the maids distress; she gave a kind smile and gently hushed the infant, patting his side as his watery eyes stared back up with unshed tears, bottom lip protruding from his mouth.
Daylight broke slowly across the sky allowing small amounts of light to seep in through thick patches of leaves overhead. The maid carried on on shaking legs, bags under her eyes and dehydrated, but doesn't dare rest with the fear of the dragon and child on her mind. The boy thankfully has slept most of the night, waking only for nutrition that she packed earlier. Her arms shook from the consistent weight but had stiffened from the long held position; even if she wanted to put the child down, she fears her arms will not allow her to pick him back up. She would need to rest soon and feed herself, but what if the dragon comes? She'll need to find shelter, but what if she runs out of food? Who will look after the child while she looks?
Riley was broken out of her musings as noises up ahead caught her attention. Fear washed over her as she retreated behind a group of trees bundled together with undergrowth littering the base. She breathed quietly almost holding her breath as the noises got closer, her heart raced. Child laughter and murmurings was like a bucket of cold water dumped on her body as it sagged with relief. She jumped out from her cover and dashed as quickly as she could towards them, her blistered feet having a mind of their own as they take her to salvation. A loud whimper fell from her lips, waking the boy, as sight of the gravel road came to view, large logs neatly stacked along the other side. The prince wined at the top of his tiny lungs signaling to the world his demand for attention.
A large bush rustled up ahead and a tall broad man appeared, light stubble dusted his cheeks and a small leaf hung just inside his short dark brown hair. He rested his eyes on the woman and child and worry dawned his face. He rushed toward the two and took the child from Riley's arms, the joints cracked as they screamed in a mixture of relief and sudden pain as her burden was removed, then dangled uselessly at her sides. She cried into the man's chest, her tears soiling his beige shirt, as he held her tightly, the child safely in between and let exhaustion drown her as the adrenaline left her body.
A soft 'shhh'-ing noise was whispered into her hair for a long while as she soaked up the warmth of another human as she calmed and the tears crusted on her cheeks with the occasion hiccup escaping her.
The man pulled back and took her face gently into one calloused hand, brushing the dried tears with his thumb, and spoke to her in a deep but soft voice, "What is your name?" He asked, his hazel eyes showed nothing but warmth.
"Riley," the maid replied, her voice hoarse from crying.
"And what about this little guy?" He asked, looking at the bundle in his arms staring back at him curiously, tears long gone but still sparkling with extra moisture.
Riley looked at the boy in mild panic. She couldn't use his name and the Queen specifically said to keep his identity hidden. With a sudden thought, she smiled and let out a quiet "Dean", a name she'd always wanted to name her child if she ever had a boy.
The man smiled and removed his hand from Riley's cheek to tickle Dean's chest lightly with one finger, "How about we get you and little Dean-o here somewhere warm," he said, worry not completely gone but overshadowed with calm. He looked back to the maid with warmth, "My name is Adam. My brother and younger sister are back there on the road, and our place isn't too far from here if you would like a place to stay?" Adam said, questionably with a hint of hope in his voice.
Riley almost broke into tears again with the man's hospitality and eagerly nodded her head. He broke into a grin and helped her out from the woods and onto the road where a man and a child waited worryingly. After a briefing to the two, they made their way back slowly with Riley's body weighing her down, but with the promise of food and shelter, they eventually reached the premises. The house was small and further away from the main part of the village but the land was big and was able to supply the occupants with plenty of food and other easy necessities. The maids body was singing as she laid on the bed as all of the muscles holding her up finally melted into the covers. Not too long after with Child in good hands, she let go as her body succumbed to sleep.
Over at the table Adam sat there with Dean in his arms watching over Riley sleep soundly, a smile graced his face, "Don't worry, Dean," he said, turning his attention back to the cleaned and wrapped bundle in his arms, "I'm going to take real good care of you and your mom, for as long as I can." A bright toothless smile spread across Dean's chubby face as he gave a quiet garbled giggle, squirming slightly in the blanket. Adam smiled back. He sat back and continued to watch Riley sleep as he wondered about the two of them, it wasn't the right time to question her of their situation but the look in Riley's eyes.. whoever they were running from he was sure to protect them, however he can.