16. Maidens of Dale
'Later [Smaug] used to… come by night to Dale, and carry away people, especially maidens, to eat…' The Hobbit, ch 1.
At the cut straw, it was not real. At the midwife's fingers, it was not real.
And now the birds are shrieking southward. Now the wind is hot. Now the man and woman who have her arms tremble as they thrust her over the cobbles. And she is outside the gate, her feet numb on the bare rock.
Behind, she hears them scatter into doorways.
Her hands are only loosely bound, but there is nowhere to climb to save the spine of blackened granite curving up into the mountain.
And now a shadow limned in fire tears open the sky.
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