A fire hose was hastily hooked up to the well down the street. I grabbed the T handle and pumped with Mr. Fletcher as hard as we could.
The Devils Fire would burn until it had exhausted all its oils, but we could fight the secondary fires. Thankfully it looked like the firebomb’s glass had broken a split second too late and had splashed on the cobblestones in front of the boarding house. Nana’s flower beds however were a complete loss, the Skaji were in trouble now. She might single handedly bring their Despotism to its knees.
Men and women I didn’t know held the hose as its tight nozzle fired bursts of water on every upstroke. Eventually we extinguished the blaze. Timbers had been blackened, and walls were charred through in places. The stench of smoke lingered like poison in the air.
The hose was moved on to the next building and we continued to pump. Many homes had become completely engulfed. My arms gave out and a stranger relieved me at the pump. I collapsed on the curb and leaned against a brick wall, my hands shook of their own volition.
Movement in the sky caught my eye; a falcon flew low over the rooftops carrying something in its talons. As it came closer I realized it was a canvas bucket. As it passed a flaming house the rider pulled a cord and the bottom opened, pouring water in a thick stream to land amid flames.
I stood up and craned my neck; the sky was full of them. They had fought off a massive Skaji attack yet they were water bombing the city trying to keep the fires under control. My arms and hands still ached but I knew if they were not done, I wasn’t done.
I heard a shrill scream a three story home was burning a short distance away. A woman holding a bundle of cloth yelled for help. Smoke poured through the window. I grabbed a few youths, standing around gawking. One was wearing a blanket over his shoulders.
“My baby!” The terrified mother shouted above the crackling noise of the flames.
“Help me spread this out!” I shouted at the stunned kids.
In moments we had a blanket stretched out ready to catch the child.
“Throw it! Throw the baby!” I yelled.
Marinda appeared grabbing handfuls of blanket across from me. She and others joined in the encouragement.
She didn’t have much time, the mother and baby would be overcome by smoke if they stayed in the window much longer.
“Throw the baby!” We began chanting.
The bundle of cloth fell, my heart stopped for a moment as it plunged toward the pavers below. The child hit the blanket and bounced, I pushed forward, Marinda did the same and the baby came to rest among the blankets.
She picked up the child and pulled back its swaddling clothes. “Victor! He’s not breathing!”
“Wyvern take me!” I cursed. “Hold on!”
I told the remaining blanket holders to stretch it out again for the mother. They began yelling for her to jump.
Marinda’s cheeks were streaked with tears. “What do we do?”
I stared at the purple infant; if he didn’t start breathing soon he would die. “I don’t know.”
She looked back at the dying child, “Victor you must know. We can’t let… him… Please! Not again!”
I looked from the young woman and back at the infant. Something whispered in the back of my head, a memory. “What do midwives do when babies are born?”
“What? No what are you saying?” She turned away from me.
“He doesn’t have time for me to explain!” I uncovered the little boy’s bottom and struck him. I felt sick when he didn’t respond. I slapped him again harder. A weak cry escaped his lips.
She turned him over; the infant boy only a few weeks old began to cry in earnest. “Take care of him Marinda.”
“Me, but I…”
“You’ll do fine. Get him out of the cold, wrapped up and find an unscathed home.”
“Victor… I don’t think I…”
“Find Nana, then she’ll know what to do.” The young woman nodded and left.
I looked up, the mother stood in the window clinging to the frame staring at the blanket below. A chorus of people called for her to jump but she stood paralyzed. She didn’t have much time before the smoke and flames would take her.
A pair of raptors carrying empty fire buckets approached. I waved my arms and yelled. It was no use. I realized I still had my pistol. I fired it in the air. One of the Riders noticed, he banked the bird around and saw me. I waved toward the window.
The bid flapped his massive wings to slow his descent. He dropped the bucket as the mother fell headfirst toward the ground. A talon lashed out catching her around the waist.
They landed in the street to applause. I looked up at the rider, it was Rowen Bowen! His bird, Strongbeak released the unconscious mother into the arms of the blanket holders. He saw me, saluted, fist to chest and was in the air again.
The rest of the night continued in much the same manner. We put out countless fires, the city watch was overwhelmed, and it was up to us to help each other. By mornings first light I found myself lying on the floor of the Velder Lords chapel. Some of the windows had been blasted out but the building as a whole was sound.
Marinda, lay in the pew above me cuddling the baby to her chest, Nana was somewhere nearby. The child would need to eat soon; if the mother didn’t recover we would need to find another woman to be a wet nurse?
I drifted off into a short uneasy sleep. The floor was cold and hard, the thin blanket did little to cushion me from the unforgiving stone.
Some time later the thick wood door at the end of the chapel opened, rousing me from my half sleep. A young boy carrying a stack of sheets entered. I noticed from his embroidered sash he was a delivery boy from the Velderland Air News.
I staggered toward him, and he handed me one of the sheets. I looked down at the headline.
It was about time. Had the Doves in Senate believed the Skaji would stop at Tent City and leave the rest of the Republic alone? Fools, how many deaths were on their heads because of their inaction? The Doves had been too preoccupied with preventing a repeat of the last war to realize that the Skaji didn’t care much for negotiation.
I made my way toward Sam’s Ye Olde Rifle Works, to find it had burned down in the attack last night. A charred shell of a building was all that remained. I didn’t find the owner or any of the journeymen. So I returned to Nana’s boarding house. It had weathered the firestorm fairly well. A couple of walls would need to be rebuilt, and some furnishings replaced but our quick response had saved it. I made my way up to my room. The stench of smoke was thick, but bearable.
I grabbed a few wood working tools and started repairing the boarding house. I pinched a bit of day old bread to help fill the hole in my stomach and began cutting away charred shingles. Nana showed up with a cart load of boards and shingles drawn by a couple of workers. By the end of the day we had closed up the holes and made the boarding house livable, if still smelling of smoke.
Come nightfall the parlor was filled with guests, people whose homes had been destroyed. Nana only turned away people once every foot of space was occupied. My room was filled by a little family with small children. I groaned as I ended up “making camp” in the hall.
Marinda came out of her room holding the miracle baby, all but asleep in her arms.
“What’s his name?”
“Jorgen?” Why was that name familiar?
“Yup, his mother is resting in my room; she breathed in a bunch of smoke, but seems to be on the mend. She nursed him a little bit ago.”
“Does the father know where to find them?”
Marinda looked away, “He perished in Tent City.”
We were silent for a while. A moment or two later I spoke up, “Many good people died there. Did she say who he was?”
“Yes, he was a Raptor Rider.”
I closed my eyes.
I felt the emptiness again, “Jorgen was the man who held Windrider’s bond before I.”
“How’d you know that?”
I sighed, “Windrider grieved for his former master. I had the privilege of sharing his dreams while we were bonded.”
“What was it like?”
“Sharing dreams with a falcon?”
You seem to sigh a lot don’t you.
Come now, Reader I had a hard day. Sighing is something we humans do when we’re tired and dealing with difficult emotions.
Wait a minute, are you implying I’m not human?
You’re a Reader aren’t you? Readers come from another dimension. How am I to know what you are? You could have three fingers, green skin and one eyeball for all I know.
Can you get back to the story?
I thought you’d never ask.
I sighed, “Marinda, it was incredible. Have you ever dreamt you were flying?”
“Yes, hasn’t everyone?”
“Well picture if you will instead of dreaming of flight, you dreamt you were a falcon, soaring on the wind, looking for prey.” A tear came to my eye.
She nodded as she rocked the baby boy back and forth. “Sounds like it was magical. Goodnight Victor.”
“Sweet dreams.” She said as she disappeared back into her room.
A pang of loss gripped my heart as I knew they would be empty again.