Stormclouds lowered, grumbling in a bruise dark sky as lightning speared downwards in multiple branches, its violent tracery throwing the scene before him into stuttering relief. A wide circle of stones towered up from the wind-lashed plain, standing against the storm like a shaman’s raised fist; fingers stiff and slightly curled, cupping energy ready to hurl it back to the sky, either in answer to its challenge or for the sheer exuberant exchange of power.
Another flash - they called it Dragons’ Tongues - seared the looming columns into Sam’s eyeballs, but not before he spotted the movement at the base of the henge. Something was happening down there, between the rough hewn bastions of granite. He peered through the night and his wind-whipped hair, forced himself not to blink when the Dragon spat, the storm both assisting and assaulting his vision.
A figure, slight between the stones, was struggling in the grip of something… too dark and nebulous to make out against the shadows of their surroundings. Nevertheless, a spear of dread pierced him through like ice, as though one of the bolts of lightning had struck him to the core. Whatever it was, was evil, wrong; he knew it as instinctively as the rabbit fears the striking snake; it did not belong here, and its presence was what brought the storm, as the world howled its affront. And whoever it grappled was human, and clearly in need of help. Sam wasted no more time on thought; he ran towards the circle, his bare feet thudding into the wet earth with each powerful stride. His lungs sucked in air sharp with the storm’s ozone and the cleansing melancholy of rain, and the Dragons’ Tears lashed his bare skin like a whip of icy needles, goading him on.
Closer now, he could make out the human figure between the stones, though not as yet its shadowy assailant. It was a woman, her blonde hair loose and whirling wild about her head in the stormwind, her soaked skirts clinging to her legs. She was screaming, he could hear her now, not in terror but in fury. Her thin cries pierced the darkness as bright in sound as the lightning’s flare, as she railed helpless curses against her captors. For there were two of them, he could make it out now; they ebbed and flowed around her, curiously unformed and almost merging into one menacing figure. They had her by the wrists, her arms stretched out to the sides, and she twisted back and forth but could not break free.
Sam felt the berserker rage descend, the Dragons’ Wrath that tinged his vision with blood and pounded in his ears louder than the snarl of thunder overhead. He leapt forward, putting forth a renewed spurt of energy to reach the shadow-creatures, and let loose a bloodcurdling war cry as he pulled his knife from its leather sheath about his thigh. The woman looked up sharply and her own cries silenced for a moment as she stared at him through the pelting rain and the flickering stormlight. Then,
“Sam!” she called out to him, the love and longing in her voice clear even through the blood mist of his rage, the howling of the storm, and suddenly he knew her, even though she had been gone for as long as his living memory.
It was his mother. He didn’t know how he knew, but he was utterly certain, and the shock pierced the battle fury and drew him up short, only a few strides from the edge of the circle. He stood there, staring in wide eyed incomprehension and mounting fear, not for himself but for her. He had the strongest sense of déjà vu, though he could not possibly have witnessed this scene, he had been but a babe in arms when Maire was lost to them; and besides, nobody in the tribe knew what had befallen her, only that one day she was gone, vanished without a trace.
She left behind a grieving, newly-wedded husband and a son too young to have formed any lasting memories; and yet, here she was, standing before him in peril, and he knew her as surely as he knew the face of his own father. Could she be trying to come back to them somehow...? But no, she looked too young, Sam had passed his first-score count of years several seasons ago; but the woman before him looked little older than himself, just as he imagined she must have looked when they lost her, long ago. He couldn’t grasp it, the incongruity slid over his brain like an evading eel. All he knew was that his mother was here somehow, in the grip of some powerful force for evil, and he was here too, and old and strong enough to save her. The Dragons’ Wrath boiled up within him once more and he threw himself toward the stone circle and the dark beings pinioning his flesh and blood.
It all happened so quickly, between one flash of lightning and the next, so that he seemed to be caught in time, frozen mid-stride even though he never stopped moving. The shadow creatures surged upwards at his renewed approach and pressed close about his mother. Their touch seemed to hurt or alarm her, as she cried out again, this time in pain. Still, she did not take her eyes off him; eyes as green as the new grass of the plains in spring, he noted abstractedly; and she smiled tremulously, mouth set bravely against the pain.
“Sam, my little Sammy!” she said then, and her voice flowed with love like a well of sunlight. “Remember me, my love! All will be well.”
The shadows were wrestling her forwards, trying to force her out from between the stones but she resisted, pulling back into the heart of the circle. Sam was running, he was nearly upon them, but still not quite close enough to reach out…
His mother’s foot came down on the grass on the inner side of the stones and she erupted into flames, as though she had been doused with a bucket of oil and set alight. His first stunned thought was that she must have been hit by lightning, but when the skies next flashed, he knew that there had been no lightning in that moment.
“NOOOOOO!” he howled, and hurled himself towards the stones, though the heat of the flames beat in his face and scorched his skin. He came up against an invisible barrier as though hitting a wall, squashing his nose painfully against thin air. Frustrated, he could only stand before the framing pillars of the ancient dolmen, watching in horror as his mother burned up before his eyes, a flaming pillar that lit up the night around him in crimson and orange, blotting out the stabbing spears of lightning all around.
And yet… she did not burn, the flames only rose around her, engulfing her but not consuming, as she continued to smile at him through the veil of fire. The shadows at her side melted away at the flames’ touch, crisping black like charred wood and scattering on the wind like so much ash. Still she burned on, brighter than any fire he had known, and still she smiled, her face tranquil and unhurt. She raised an arm, now freed, towards him; beckoning, pleading, or bidding him farewell, he could not be sure. Then suddenly, she was gone; the flames winked out and the night pressed against his eyes like a blanket until one last stab of lightning revealed the empty circle of stones and the charred ring of grass just beyond them. The barrier holding Sam back dissolved and he pitched forward, falling to his knees inside the circle. He remained there, shocked and silent, staring into the space where his mother had been while tears coursed down his cheeks, mingling unnoticeably with the rain, and the storm died down overhead, the thunder retreating with a last few growls to which he paid no heed.
As dawn crept imperceptibly through the henge, its light seemed unusually great; it pulsed through the air as though the whole world was shining, sparkling unbearably in each crystal droplet that hung from the grass blades, until he had to throw his arm up over his eyes to shield them. Brighter than the lightning, brighter than his mother’s flames, brighter than the sun, it enveloped him in a blinding whiteness that yet shone with every colour of the rainbow. When at last it ebbed and he cautiously lowered his arm, he was no longer kneeling within the circle of stones, out on the storm-drenched plain; he was lying in bed, at home in his yurt of stretched hides and woven blankets, and the morning sun was fingering the open flaps of the doorway.
He knew, then, that it had been a dream; but more than any simple dream of night’s passage. It was a vision dream, a true seeing, what his people called the Wisdom of the Dragon; and he jumped out of bed and ran from the yurt without stopping for breakfast, pausing only to grasp up his knife and fasten the sheath about his leg (the same knife he had wielded in his dream, now lying ready to hand by his pallet of furs where he had placed it last night before sleeping). He ran through the camp, clad only in a loincloth, his unbound hair streaming behind him like the mane of a wild horse, and his father’s startled call fell on deaf ears.
Sam had only one thing on his mind and that was to seek guidance for his vision. He was going to see Misoori, the shaman of the tribe, and ask her counsel.