Orion padded along through the dense undergrowth, his leather-coated feet silent as death's cruel hand as they compressed the damp soil. His mother, Selena's, words, clear and simple as a raindrop, echoed through his head, "I need you to fill this basket with ashberries." Orion nodded, forgetting that his mother's words were only a reverie.
His elf eyes scanned the bushes, searching for the berries with the gray pallor. These berries were essential if he was to hold up his mother's reputation as the best healer in the Dawn Woods. Ashberries, his mother had only used them once in his presence. It was also the only time she had ever failed.
His father had gone out to hunt, a simple hunt out in the fairly safe Dawn Woods. No one knew that a young male dragon had made a home in a nearby cave where the deer had often lodged for the night. For all that was known, as his father had gone alone, he had entered the cave hoping to find the deer, there was something quite different waiting for him. The dragon had appeared in front of him out of nowhere like a specter and unleashed a ball of burning hatred of all creatures at him and his horse.
Hours later his horse limped up to the small cottage and began to neigh. This awoke Selena who came warily outside to a gruesome sight. The beautiful white horse was filthy with ash and soot, its right flank was a different sight. A curling pattern of blood arched down its right flank. Wasn't white the color of life, not death? Dragging behind it was Orion's father holding on only by his foot, caught in a stirrup. His body was completely disfigured by oozing burns.
Selena had heaved him inside and into the room where she treated her patients. Orion had been out behind the house at the well, getting a drink of water. He was pouring the water into a cup when he saw his mother dragging the body through the house. "Who's that, Mommy?" he had drowsily questioned, staring at the unrecognizable body.
He had just barely been able to make out his mother's words, her voice was choked with tears, "Your father." It took a moment for his child's mind to register Selena's words but when it did the effect was devastating for him. He broke down in silent tears at first; giving way to sobbing on the floor and wishing his father had heeded his words, begging him to stay home.
Selena had made a mush out of ashberries, the only known cure to dragonfire burns, and she began pasting her husband's figure with the bland-colored paste. Her tears were flowing freely now and were dripping on the raw-skinned body. Orion's father had then regained consciousness and the pain had driven him back into dreamful infinity. After hours of grief, the sun had risen, birds were tweeting, bugs were buzzing, but in the little operating room there was no life. The man's family came in full of hope, only to be sent back to the abject misery that had lasted the nearly endless night. Orion's father had been buried in the woods, as was custom, for elves' home is the forest and to be sent off in any other way or buried in any other location would be obscene. There had been no one but his own family to mourn his horrible demise and Orion's home became a place of silent suffering.
Since then Selena had striven harder than ever not to let death arrive at her doorstep again. That morning it seemed that the fateful night had occurred again. A lone stranger arrived at their door in the same bedraggled condition as Orion's father had. Orion was surprised that the man was even conscious after his exhausting ordeal. He had brought the man in and Selena set to work. Selena opened the drawer labeled Ashberries. It was empty. In her franticness to save her husband, Selena had ravenously used up her entire store of the rare berries. In her grief over her beloved husband's death, she had not wanted to even look at the berries again, never mind refill her stash. Anyway, what were the chances that she would have to treat someone with dragonfire burns again? Orion was sent to retrieve the final but most important ingredient to the poultice that would save the man's life.
Now he was searching as best he could to keep the stranger from having the same fate as his late father. Finally, after what seemed like years of searching compacted into about an hour, Orion found the ashberry bush. Letting out a sigh of relief, he began to fill his basket.
When the basket was overflowing with the gray spheres, he began his trek home with celerity He scampered through the door to the house, slamming it hastily behind him, and bore his precious cargo to his waiting mother. She dismissed him to his room at once, and Selena began crushing the berries with a pestle and mortar. Orion thumped onto his bed, exhausted after his long journey, and instantly fell into a dreamless slumber.
When he awoke, he immediately remembered the stranger and hurried into the kitchen. There, sitting at the table and tightly wrapped in bandages, was the man, smiling and happily conversing with Selena, who for the first time in years was truly happy. The happiness that had hidden from sight for years in the midst of her sadness was finally showing itself, a light shining out of the darkness.