The youngest son of Flinthammer Hall hiked up the small hill outside town, using the gun his father had given him as a walking stick, and took his post.
Bael Flinthammer did this every day, trailed by Lucky, the black lion his father had tamed to serve as his guardian. The residents of Thelsamar were bemused by a child standing watch alongside the mountaineers, and Bael didn’t have the vocabulary to explain why he did it, even to himself.
He wasn’t like his father — even at his young age, that fact tickled the back of his brain and made him sad when he let it. He couldn’t command animals the way his father could: Ringo Flinthammer could summon Lucky to his side just by rubbing his calloused fingers together and summon up very undwarflike snarl to get even the massive polar bear who followed him everywhere into line. Bael could do none of that, although Lucky seemed to like him, and certainly put up with the boy attempting to ride him the way he’d seen elves ride their nightsabers.
Bael couldn’t even fire a gun, although his mother had hidden all of the ammunition after she’d found him trying. Instead, he just used the shotgun as a club, wielding it with two hands and hammering foes real and imaginary.
He’d had occasion to chase off a very old and blind kobold who’d wandered up to his post a few weeks ago. The beating had been accompanied by a chorus of barking kobold laughter from the intruder’s fellows.
Even his mother didn’t understand why he came up here, but Bael felt compelled to, standing on the little hill and watching, eyes straining, for the beating of dragon wings. His eyes weren’t as sharp as his father’s, which sometimes seemed almost supernatural, but his eyes were new and sharp and he could sometimes see wings flying around Blackrock Mountain, although it had been about two months since he’d seen the great black dragons whirling around the peak.
But … he could hear them.
Bael spun around in place until the young dwarf spotted the source of the sound: A dragon, heavily beating the air as it flapped toward Thelsamar not from Blackrock Mountain, but from Ironforge Mountain instead.
“Dwagon!” he yelled, causing Lucky to leap to his feet in concern. “Dwagon!”
The boy and the great cat half-ran, half-tumbled into Thelsamar, racing for the Stoutlager Inn.
“Eh?” Beli Flinthammer dropped her paintbrush on the table — she had been commissioned to paint a portrait of some lady who always pinched Bael’s cheeks — and reached for her warhammer. “Deathwing? Is he back?”
She shoved past her son and headed out onto the main drag of town.
“Ah’ll die with a war cry on me lips, ye bastard …”
“Would nae ye’d rather a kiss, Beli?”
For a moment, the speaker was invisible to her, hidden by the dragon wings silhouetted by the sun. Then Rusty shook the snowfall from his neck and settled down, and Beli could see before her, at long last, her husband had returned.
Ringo caught his son in mid-leap, twirling him around.
Widge Gearloose appeared at his side, pulling out a wrapped package from beneath his cloak.
“Er, Ringo, did you want to give Bael this gift you bought for him in Ironforge?”
“A present?” Bael leapt from his father’s arms and plucked the wrapped package from the gnome’s hands, sending wrapping paper flying. “Look!”
“Ah see,” said Beli, taking the toy robot from Bael and examining it. “Made in Da- … It’s very nice. Give yer Daddy a big hug and a kiss!”
“Stay here!” Bael urged Ringo’s beard. “Stay here!”
“Ah’m no’ goin’ anywhere,” Ringo said, reaching out with an arm, pulling Beli into a three-person embrace. “This is where Ah belong.”