This is the first page of the short story that I’m about to finish (in draft form). It looks to be about 4000 words, maybe a bit more. I like it, but I’m not sure I’m getting the point across.

Dorlé awoke to a rumbling chorus of dragon whimpers.

As he opened his eyes he had to shield them from scabs of mud that were flaking off of the hut wall next to his cot. The ground trembled like a rapped drumhead and sent a quivering melody through the stances and framework of the little shelter. Dorlé pulled his thin blanket over his head and buried his face into the bundled old deerhide that was his pillow, and waited for the shaking and flaking to stop.

After a few minutes quiet returned to the hut. Dorlé slipped out of his cot and right into his sandals. He looked around as he rose; the other two cots were empty, one neatly covered with a threadbare quilt, the other bereft of bedding. Two cups and plates sat on the only other piece of furniture in the shelter: a high, three-legged table with a round top, like an ogre’s barstool. A breadbox was between the plates, and a single bowl, crudded with soup stains. Near the table was a small fire whose thin smoke wound up to the smokehole in the roof, and through a few other holes near it.

This hut would be poor shelter if it rained much here. Dorlé went to the fire and opened the small stewpot that was hung over it on a rickety tripod. A burst of steam rolled out of it and he turned his head away so fast his ‘prentice lock whipped around and snapped its small iron burr into his forehead. He yelped and skipped away from the fire entirely. He stood rubbing his temple for a moment, swearing in his mother tongue. The dragons didn’t seem to know Kharutun, so he felt it safe to question their heritage and the gods they had served in the language’s harsh vowels and sighing suffixes.

He turned back to the fire and sniffed the steam curling over the stewpot. Old meat and sickly broth fought over the honor of making him gag. He coughed and snorted, and this time skipped away from the fire to the back door and pushed through the stiff goatskin cover into the morning.

He emerged into the beigeness of another day. The sun was filtered through clouds the color of trail dust and worn saddle leather. A few tints of gray delineated cloud banks, but the light that reached the ground was the kind that muted brightness and washed out dark tones. Sky and earth were the same color, except that the earth had slightly more vegetation. Dorlé walked to the small garden plot behind the hut and surveyed its lack of bounty. When they had first arrived, they had planted herbs, medicinals, wonder-leafs, and even some flowers. Bristletack had been coaxed to form around the plot to keep out vermin and a night-singer had been granted a home in the middle of the plot to call out when unfamiliar people came near.

Now it was little more than several disheveled rows of withered shoots and petals. A few things flourished, like the garlic and the pepperleaf. The toughest herbs and tubers stood out amongst the clusters of limp stems and frills. Dorlé walked up and down the rows, toeing a few plants, then he shrugged and bent down to pull what he hoped was some sort of onion. “All dying,” he muttered as he dug at the ground, which actually seemed quite black and moist.

“Not dying,” a dry voice said behind him. He tilted his head backwards until he could see the speaker, who stood with a slight bend on the roof of the world to Dorlé’s overturned eyes. “Not dying at all, pupil. Just. . .” the man sighed, his thick master’s braid, weighed down with silver stars and small wire-bound rubies, swaying next to his downcast face. “Just. . . bereft.”

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