I saw it streak across the sky above the farm. Red fire and black sky. No moon. I was out there to calm Bonny. She was restless that night, whinnying and fearful, clattering the stable door. I was the best one to still her. The others were impatient, but I knew how to lay my face close and breathe over her.
When I told Grandad, he was beside himself. “A firedrake, you say? Where? Where did it land? Tell me.” He shook me as he grabbed both arms and pulled his face into mine.
“Don’t pay no heed to his old talk,” said Mam, but he was scaring me and no mistake.
“Up the hill beyond Briggs’ farm. In his cow pasture.” I added the detail for good measure.
“A rake. There’ll be a rake there. I’ll find it.”
I looked at Mam.
“He means lead,” she said. “He’s still back in the old days. Now you get off to bed.”
Next morning, Grandad was up and doing at first light. He’d found an old kibble hanging on the wall in the barn. It didn’t matter to him that the straw was perishing and breaking into holes. He slung his pick over his shoulder. He loved that pick. It stayed by his chair, and he used to stroke the haft till the wood shone in the firelight.
“You can’t just go progging in Briggs’ meadow,” I said. “It’s his land, not ours.”
I was in a sweat. I had lied – I had no idea where the firedrake had fallen. I caught his sleeve.
“Leave me be, lad. I know what I’m doing.”
Miserably, I followed him up the lane towards Briggs’ farm. “He’ll be after you with a stave,” I said.
“Not him. The lazy sack won’t be up yet. You’ll see.”
He climbed the field gate. It wasn’t easy for an old man with bad knees, but his dream pulled him over.
“It’s a big field,” I said. “How will you know where to start? Mam will have made breakfast.”
Grandad stared at me as if I had lost my wits. “You look about for grass that’s poor, for stunted flowers. And his cows are never up to much. That’ll be the lead run-off in the stream.”
It looked quite good pasture to me. Green, anyway, and the flowers all looked the same. Nothing sick or dying.
Grandad was pointing ahead. “Look there. That line, you see. Blighted as far as that line of trees.”
I don’t know what he could see, but I could hear Briggs’ dogs barking in the farmyard, so I turned for home and breakfast. “Come on, Grandad. Let’s get back.”
“You go. I’ve got work to do.”
And that was the last time I saw him alive.
We found him later. Stretched out in the grass, kibble filled with clods, pick stuck into a shallow hole, his hand still gripped round the haft.
A firedrake of blood had scorched a rake through his brain and felled him at a stroke.
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