Smoke. Heavy, acidic, dry smoke that smelled of sand and rocks and burnt animal skins. His lungs constricted. He knew this smell. Smoke billowed around his face, his arms, his torso. He tried to move. He had to get up. Only a Fang raid produced this smoke. The fire would come next. The fire, the screams, the cries of the children, and the strangled choking sounds that his flock made when frightened.
Get up! He yelled to himself. But he could not move. Something held him down, something heavy and hot pressing against his body, burning into his legs and abdomen. He choked and struggled. He gasped for breath. He began to scream.
“Aeland! Wake up! Wake up!” Someone was shaking his shoulders, startling him awake. “You were screaming again, Aeland.”
“What? The smoke! The smoke is here, the Fangs, they are raiding, the screams…” Aeland trailed off, confused. He looked around him. The tent walls around him were moving gently with the desert breeze. The air smelled of incense from the small shrine on the table and wax from the flickering candle his sister had lit. He was safe. “I’m sorry, sister. I woke you again.”
“It is alright Aeland. I was not sleeping.”
“You were. I am sorry. It was…it was the dream again. That night, I can’t get it to leave my mind,” he whispered.
“Nor I,” she replied. “Do not worry. We are safe here. This caravan is larger than the last one. We will be protected.”
Aeland nodded. He did not believe her words. The Fangs attacked ruthlessly and without warning, and in numbers that were impossible to count. He saw their faces when he closed his eyes—angry and scaled, their long, dirty hair hanging limply down to their waists, and their bright blue eyes that looked straight through you with such coldness. He could not sleep any longer.
He rose from his bed and picked up his staff from the floor. He used to value his staff as a most precious tool, one to guide his flock and defend them from danger. Now its primary use was to aid his walking. He winced at his stiff leg as he limped toward the door of the tent.
“Where are you going?” His sister asked.
“To check on the herd. I can sleep no more tonight. I’m sorry again for waking you.” He walked into the open air, onto the sand that still held some heat from the day’s sun. The breeze was cold, but it cleared the memory of smoke from his mind. He walked slowly towards the pen where the flock slept.
“Animals must not dream,” he muttered as he approached his small flock. Their scales glistened in the moonlight and their quiet snuffling breaths calmed his nerves. This flock was all he had left, just twenty, underfed and scrawny, but still precious. They had survived all the attacks. Some had been scarred beyond use, but he didn’t have the heart to leave them behind. So he continued to care for them all, even when the rest of the caravan mocked their appearance. Aeland knew that his patience and care would pay out eventually. And these twenty were all that was left of his home. He smiled and climbed over the rough fence to sit down amidst their legs and snouts and tails. He leaned his head against the smooth skin of the belly of the sleeping lizard closest to him and closed his eyes. No more smoke, no more fire, no more screams. Just the snorts of sleeping animals, the smell of their dry breath, and warmth of their bodies around him. He breathed deeply and fell asleep.