Ezra sat in the front room of the cothold - his cothold - and stared at the fire flickering in the hearth. Repaired, rather than re-bricked, the smooth river stones gleamed and glistened, and if he squinted he imagined he could see flecks of red staining the mortar. Though that wasn’t true. They’d gone over all of those marks. But they were still there. Beneath. It was all beneath. Just like in him, healing, being covered over, being painted over, being pushed aside Beneath.

It was seven turns later, to the night. He’d never been here on this night before. The next morning, certainly. He’d come since he was 11 and placed flowers beneath the tree outside. Wandered around. Stared vacantly at things. But tonight…tonight he was here. Here to face the echoes of the slain. Here to face his memories.

He shifted in his chair. It was his father’s, repaired and reupholstered, but it was still his father’s. The man who once held his name. Ezra felt small in it, whereas he remembered his father filling it after a hard day’s labor in the mines, in the fields, in the barn. Ezra had had a hard day this day as well, in the empty rooms and in the barn. Not in the mines. Those still had to be checked for soundness from Minecrafters.

He watched the fire shift and glanced at the clock over the mantle. It was the same. His booted feet shifted against the black and turquoise rug. It was new.

He looked towards the door. It was new. And it was locked. Twice. The windows closed and locked. He had food for days, even though a dragon was coming to pick him up in the morning. Old habits and old fears died hard. Especially ones as haunting as these.

Pushing to his feet, he glanced around, automatically looking for Zoi before he remembered she was back at the weyr, heavily pregnant with puppies. He was alone, except for the animals in the barn. The beasts and the runners, the few chickens. He thought about going out there to be among living things, turned towards the door. He’d have to unlock the door. Step outside.

An irrational fear gripped him as he adjusted the sword on his hip. It was awkward. Felt awkward, hung too low, kept banging against his knees when he moved. But he felt more comfortable for it. That night all he’d wanted was a sword. Well now he had one. With no enemies to face and no one to protect, he was finally, much belatedly, armed.

He moved back to his chair and sat, staring again into the flames. His eyes flicked up to the clock.


In his mind’s ear he heard the shouts. Heard the talking which had swiftly turned angry. Bitter. Panicked. Felt the fear rising, both within and without. Winter’s chill crept into their hearts, the fear of the cold, the gnawing hunger.

Then they returned with steel.

Ezra was on his feet again, his hand on his blade as he stared at the door, his heart hammering. To the clock again.

They had broken down the door. They’d take what they needed to survive, by slaughtering those who had denied them and turned them away. Ezra felt the bile rise into his throat, the fear grip his limbs and the searing fury clench his every muscle.

Stonehaven had turned them away and they’d returned with steel.

To this day Ezra didn’t know why they’d been dismissed, back into the snow and the cold. He imagined his father had not liked the look of them, or maybe their food stock was dangerously low. He never knew. He would never know. Would never know if his family would still be alive if his father had made a different decision.

Because then the killing began.

Chaos and broken things, broken bodies and broken treasures. A broken cothold and a broken home. The shouts echoed in his ears. He heard his mother pleading. His father yelling. He’d hidden. He heard death. He smelled it. Nothing smelled quite like the death of man. Nothing sounded quite like the screams of the dead and the dying.

He’d run. He’d hidden even as he’d wanted to help. He felt a coward. Then Rayathess found him. Grabbed him. Made a run for it.

But Ezra had turned back. And when he turned again to follow, his siblings were gone and he had to hide again. Had to listen to the rest of it. All the rest of it. Their voices still burned in his memory. He still heard them at night. Still awoke in fear, shaking, trembling, starving. Zoi was a comfort. As was the weyr and the locks on his door deep in the lower caverns.

He had none of those things here. He gripped his sword hilt more tightly and stared at the door. They’d taken everything. Broken what they didn’t take, and then they left. Left him without knowing it. Left him to hide and to die.

He still didn’t know how long he was there before the dragonriders came. He knew the date of the slaughter, but not the date of his rescue. He could look it up no doubt, but he had no desire to. No desire to put such a simple number on the days of terror and hunger, of waiting for them to return and waiting to be rescued. Of trying to eat anything and everything. Of going deep into the mines for water because he was too terrified to go outside to the blood stained snow.

He looked at the clock again, coming back to himself. It was over. Slowly, painfully, he released the sword hilt. He relaxed his shoulders, He stared at the door again. It was over. His family was dead once more. Laris had defeated Stonehaven and moved on. His brother and sister were trying to escape, his mother was nowhere to be found, his father and the rest of his family and friends piled outside beneath the tree.

He always wondered why they did that. Piled them that way. He’d never know. Didn’t really want to know.

Flexing his hands, he moved to the door and put his ear to it. Listened. Another old habit. Hearing nothing, he carefully opened the locks and pulled open the door, peering into the dark night. The clouds covered the moons and the stars, but what light there was gleamed off fresh snow. No red. All a virgin blanket of white.

He looked to the barn and was comforted knowing the animals were within, safe and warm and well fed. He looked to the tree, bare in its winter garb but without the gruesome pile beneath.

He let his sword hilt go and took a few deep breaths of the clean winter air. Imagined it cleansing his soul, imagined it removing the memory of those scents from his nostrils so he could breathe easy again on winter nights without the tinge of blood and fear in his every breath.

But how he wished Zoi were here.

He backed into the main room again. He couldn’t help himself, he could not turn his back to the night. Closing and locking the door, he circled around the room before returning to his father’s chair. Picking at half a sandwich he soon fell asleep, plagued by his normal dreams. But this time he had a sword in hand.

And when he awoke to meet the dragon come to take him back to Fort Weyr, the clock had run itself down and needed another winding to get it moving again.