Dragon+ 9: A Man and His Dog
A dark line flowed from Beliard mirroring the tendrils of smoke rising above—a steady flow of refugees traveling from the village toward Amphail and from there on to Waterdeep. Judging from the jumbled possessions they hauled—by draft horses and mules, milk cows and even goats, or upon their own backs for those souls whose animals hadn’t survived the giant’s fire—they represented all stations and professions, now alike homeless and with faces dirty from soot.
They made a truly forlorn parade. Gibbet had witnessed more of their kind in recent days, sadly. While the rest of his patrol dealt with incursions further south, the ranger had been sent as an advance scout to Beliard; so now, only Gibbet and his own animals walked alone against the exodus, keeping to the side of the road away from the wheels of their carts.
He’d made the same walk from his own village. Just a child then, the only survivor of the giant’s destruction of Catherine’s Crossing. His heart now went to the children he passed, confused and huddled atop of carts; or for those old enough to walk, bent under small, desperate packs, filled with whatever clothes and prized possession they had enough time to grab before their village fell. One small boy, the sooty limbs of a stuffed owlbear poking out from his pack, stared over at Gibbet.
With a whistle, Gibbet had his dog blink through the air; Blencan appeared a few steps back down the road, running to catch back up. The trick earned a hint of smile from the boy.
Only a few of the refugees Gibbet passed bothered to call out: “Don’t go back. Nothing’s left,” they said, if they mistook him for a fellow villager. Or: “It’s all burned. Nothing for you to steal,” if they took him for an earlier looter. Or, if they caught sight of the green brooch fastening his cloak with its emblem of a stag, and took him for a hero: “No one left for you to save.”
As for the dog at Gibbet’s heels, the refugees paid it little mind. Blencan didn’t bother any of their animals walking past, and a man could make good use of a dog out here by himself, whether he be villager, pillager, or hero (or as the ranger had otherwise heard it said: displaced, disgraced, or true); even a dog that took to blinking in and out of the world. The birds, however—Gibbet’s birds were far more noticed, landing everywhere along the ranger’s shoulders, even along his dog’s back when he blinked back in: sparrows, swallows, even a hawk with red-tipped feathers.
“Why so many birds?” they asked. “Even Bahamut stopped at seven.”
I had initially been invited to contribute a piece by Adam Lee on the Dungeons & Dragons story team after submitting past writing samples to him; my enormous thanks to him for his substantive edits and helping crafting the story into its final form.