Another Mother's Son

"Mama - I mean, Mirial - scratch back?"

It was a plea she heard every night, yet she did not mind. It was a daily reminder of how much she meant to him, this foundling son of hers, and she was grateful. His mother had been counted among the missing, a euphemistic term if ever there was one. In the aftermath of the burning of Lake-town by the firey dragon Smaug, there were dozens who fell into that category. Though there had been great rejoicing in the firedrake's ruin, it had not been equal to that of the mourning of those who had been lost in the destruction of the lake town.

She had been there, on that dread night. The foul band of dwarves had passed through in late autumn, emerging from wine barrels sent down from the Elven-king, looking like large, soaked rats to her eyes. And just like rats, they had been fattened up and preened themselves nicely after living off of the goods of the town and the Master's generosity for over a fortnight. She had not been sorry to see them go, them and the other, less hairy little one with the always-darting eyes. Mirial had been a lesser servant-girl in the Master's household, and so had kept watch on these interlopers' comings and goings. And eatings. And drinkings. She had been grateful that she wasn't the wine steward, as he seemed to be kept in a continual loop from cellar to guest to cellar and back again.

Then they were gone, and things had returned mostly to normal. More barrels came downstream, without sodden dwarves, and Mirial had been relieved. There was still plenty to do in the Master's house, what with beating the rugs, sweeping out the hearths, and making preparations for winter. The bottled goods needed labeling, as the cook continually reminded her, and bedding to be changed, and a constant emptying of chamber pots.

But then, the dragon had returned. It was early winter, and bitterly cold. Mirial had been warming her hands at a small brazier outside of the Master's house when the cry went up, "The King beneath the mountain!" All through the town, people opened their windows after seeing such bright lights in the sky, believing wonderful portends were to come as the dwarves had said and the Master had echoed. Who would not have believed?

And then… it had turned to ruin. It was not the king under the mountain. It was Smaug. To have lived through it was both a blessing and a curse. It was almost unspeakable, the horror he had induced. Women flinging themselves from burning windows, screaming as they tried to get their children to jump into their arms so they could run to the prepared boats. Men, escaping the burning city, throwing themselves into the lake, only to be surrounded by burning flotsam and jetsam, unable to grasp at anything, and succumbing to the frigid waters.

Mirial had only glimpsed this as she ran through the streets, seeking only to save her own skin, desperate to find her way to a boat. As the dragon made its second deadly circle above the city, he breathed fire, lighting up with a ghastly light the devastation he had previously dealt. She would never forget that image: thatched roofs in flames, stone walls crumbling under the force of the hot wind, any organized plan of evacuation long forsaken as panic reigned in the reality of the situation.

Self-preservation kept her running, until she heard the wailing. "Mama! Mama!" Mirial stopped and taking precious seconds, established that the cries came from a doorway she had just passed. As the dread dragon circled again, she took a deep breath, and dashed into the house, flames licking out into the night from the windows on the upper floor.

Inside was a young child, maybe seven, clinging to the doorframe, seemingly unwilling to move. She ran to him, grabbed his hand, and kept running, dragging him behind her. They made their way to the end of the road and got into a boat pulling away from the shore. There they had huddled on the lake, Mirial holding his hands and head as he wept, both in fear and pain, his singed eyebrows evidence of his narrow escape.

Just at that moment, a miracle occurred. The hell-creature had fallen from the sky onto the city on stilts, the force of impact such that timbers and rubble were thrown impossibly high into the air. The waves that rushed outward were so strong that Mirial and the boy almost fell out of the boat. Mirial grabbed ahold of his narrow shoulders as the the lake calmed. In the relative quiet that followed, Mirial slowly shook her head. "He's… dead." Some cheers went up from other boats, but they were still mingled with the wails of those who had lost much that was dear to them. The boy in her lap burst into tears.

The days that followed were a blur as Mirial and the other survivors decided what to do. Thankfully most of the inhabitants of Lake-town had come through the attack unscathed, but that was little consolation to those who were now alone. The boy, named Dothan, would not leave Mirial's side. Neither his mother nor father could be found, and so she became his family. Unexpectedly, many Elves from Mirkwood came down the river to the refugees, and Mirial and Dothan spent the next several months very busy with these odd people and the citizens of Lake-town as they rebuilt the city.

That was two years ago. Now Mirial found herself almost falling asleep herself as she lightly ran her fingers up and down across the young boy's back, his breath becoming deep and regular as sleep overtook him. He is another mother's son, she mused, but I love him. As she drifted between sleep and wakefulness, an unsettling thought came to mind. Some day, she thought, another woman will stroke his back. It will be wide, and strong. She pushed the uncomfortable thought of Dothan's future adolescence and maturity away, and willed herself back to the present. For now, anyway, I can enjoy the fact that it is me who rubs his back, and in that I am content. She drifted into sleep herself, curled up behind him.


Dedicated to my dear stepson, who inspired this story.

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