Yes. This is the moment you have all been waiting for. More lameness.
(SEE, luke? Told you NaNo didn’t get to my head. The horse is explained perfectly well, thankyouverymuch. -_-)
The Wings Of Death
“Thalon, who was that man?” Netya asked at last, her voice breaking the exhausted silence that had fallen between us. “He had Pethnor’s coat of arms on his tunic. But how can that be? None of Pethnor’s men are left in the kingdom. They were run out by the Castle Guard.”
Thalon nodded slowly. “They were run out. And like you said when we first saw the man in the ravine, Pethnor was in the deepest dungeon in the land…” He trailed off, looking into the fire.
“Was?” I asked, hesitant. “But…isn’t he still?”
“No. He is not. Pethnor has escaped.” Thalon’s words cut off the heat of the fire with an icily ominous breath.
I shivered, and drew closer to Netya. “When? How?”
“It has been nearly a month, now,” Thalon replied. “He broke out the first night of the new moon, and now the moon is waning again. We don’t know how. One evening he was there in his cell, scribbling his coat of arms on the walls to blot out the sun, and the next morning…he was simply gone. They say he must have had inside help.”
“Didn’t they find anything? Any evidence?” Netya asked, wide eyed.
“No, Netya. All they found was a scrap of paper…a note. It was on the floor in the center of the cell. It read, ‘Blood for blood. Mine you have destroyed, and so I shall take yours in a golden chalice as recompense. The riches of your life are forfeit for the destruction you have made of mine.’ I saw the note, and it shall ever be burned into my memory. It was addressed to the one who had managed his capture and imprisonment at long last, so many years before. It was addressed to my father, the Captain of the Guard.”
Thalon fell silent. He sat, deep in thought, running his fingers down the curved wood of his bow. Such a silence permeated the small room that I could hear the restless movements of the horse in the stable behind the cottage. I lay wearily back, resting my head against the stone hearth. Netya curled up beside me, leaning against my shoulder. After a few minutes, I spoke again, softly. “…Thalon?”
He looked down at me, smiling slightly. “Yes?”
“Where are we?”
The smile left his face, and I almost regretted asking. “This is an outpost for the Captain’s Rangers, men hired by my father to patrol the forests and the borders of the kingdom. That is why it is kept stocked with provisions. Someone must have been here recently, despite all appearances, because of the horse. Not all the outposts have stables. The ones that do are the most frequently used. If we stay here, someone is sure to come by within the week. Assuming they can get here.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean they may not be able to. If Pethnor’s men have already ventured into the forest again, all the Rangers will be gone. My father will have pulled them back to guard the inner fences of the forest, and ordered the Castle Guard to prepare for combat. The Rangers are all well and good, but they really serve as no more than spies. They can pick off or capture a few men, stand up to a small skirmish maybe, but no more. They are no army. Woodcraft is their specialty, not fighting. They can travel through the woods with the speed of a hart, making no more noise than the slightest breeze through the leaves, but they cannot hold back the forces of Pethnor with mere stealth. No, Pethnor must be met with a greater strength.”
“What will we do, then?” I asked, looking up uncertainly into Thalon’s face. “How can we escape? Surely we can’t stay here until Pethnor is driven out again. That could take months, years. And…you’re hurt.” My voice faltered, and I looked down. “I’m sorry Thalon,” I said quietly. “If I hadn’t lost my head, we wouldn’t be in this mess. We could be home, with Mother and Father and the rest. You wouldn’t have been hurt.” I looked up again, tears trembling on my lashes and threatening to fall, staining the front of my already torn and battered dress with dark streaks. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, and turned away, easing Netya’s now sleeping head from my shoulder and settling it softly on one of the rough blankets from the chest. I pulled my knees up to my chin and sat facing the dying embers of the fire, letting their heat dry the moisture from my face. Behind me, I heard Thalon stir.
“No,” he said softly, standing stiffly and kneeling beside me on the hearth. “It’s not your fault, Alasse. I should not have taken you two so far into the woods. Especially with Pethnor free. It is not your fault…it is mine.” He reached out and turned my face gently towards him, until I looked once more into his eyes, so full of the weight of abused responsibility. “Don’t blame yourself. It’s me who should be asking forgiveness, not you. It was my duty to keep you safe, and I’ve failed it.” He sighed. “Please, Alasse…I like to see you smiling. Don’t fall under self-blame. We’re in this together now, like it or not. And I will see you and Netya safe home again, or die trying. Keep your chin up, little one. It was just a shallow wound. I will be alright.” He nodded decisively and smiled, then turned away so I could not see his expression. But it was too late. The uncertainty and desperation I saw in his eyes startled me, and when I woke up hours later in the night, I saw him still, sitting awake, staring into the glowing, new-tended ashes of the fire. His face was a mask of dread and fear.
I awoke to Netya shaking me, her voice urgent in my ears. I jumped up in alarm, seeing Thalon fall again to the forest floor, the air still singing from the arrow. When I realized where I was, I sighed in relief. Then, “What is it, Netya?” I asked, realizing that the urgency of her voice was not fabricated in my mind.
She pointed to where Thalon lay before the now cold hearth. I looked questioningly at Netya, and she sank down on one of the bunks, pulling me down beside her. “Alasse…It’s Thalon. He won’t wake up. I woke up this morning because he was moaning and talking in his sleep. I tried to get him to wake up, but he wouldn’t! Something’s wrong.”
Instantly concerned, I knelt down on the floor beside Thalon, shaking him gently. He had tossed his blanket off in the night, and it lay crumpled beside him on the hearth. I picked it up, pulling it over him. He moaned and rolled over, pulling the blanket off again. I touched his brow, and pulled my hand back again quickly. His skin was burning, and his hair damp with sweat against my palm, although the fire was nearly out. Only a few coals still glowed beneath a thick layer of grey ash. I stood up quickly.
“What is it?” Netya asked. “What can we do?”
“He has a fever,” I said quietly. “A bad one.”
“What can we do?” Netya repeated, kneeling beside Thalon herself.
“I remember once when mother had a fever like that, when I was very young,” I said, going to the chest with the food and opening it. “The court physician was afraid she would die. I remember I was afraid because she did not recognize me, and she would lay awake far into the night, moaning and talking. It was all gibberish, though. None of it made sense. I can’t remember what the doctor did, though,” I said, in agitation, drawing the bag of herbs from the chest and opening it. “I know there was a fire lit in her room constantly, even though it was summer, and warm out. I was afraid to go in, because it was so hot,” I broke off, handing the bag to Netya. “Do you remember what Thalon said these were good for? I tried to keep them straight, but I can only remember a few. Maybe there’s something here that can help him.”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember him mentioning anything good for fevers,” Netya said, looking through the herbs. “We should try to build up the fire, if that’s what they did for your mother. Help me get him onto a bunk.”
I nodded, and we slowly raised Thalon from where he lay on the hearth. It took us several minutes to get him onto the bed, for he thrashed when we tried to lift him. Once we finally got him settled, we covered him with all the blankets from the chest. Then we looked to the fire.
Netya carefully blew the ashes to life, coughing in the smoke they created. I laid the smallest piece of wood on top, but it was still too big, nearly smothering the coals. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting the fire to light, I took Thalon’s knife from his belt and went outside, cutting several dead branches off the nearest tree and breaking them into small pieces. We had better luck getting these to light, and slowly managed to build the fire up to a blaze roaring brightly up the chimney.
As the small room grew warmer, Thalon began to toss again in his bed, mumbling incoherent words through lips trembling with fever. Waking suddenly into consciousness, he sat up, throwing off the blankets and struggling to stand. Jumping up from where we sat by the hearth, Netya and I struggled to push him back down, our fear giving us strength. Finally, Thalon lay once more restless on the bunk. Suddenly he began to speak, his voice wild and strange. “They’re coming, aren’t they? My bow, my bow…no! Father…Father, look out! A golden chalice. I can’t…It’s thin, she said. They come…Father, my bow! Not meant to kill…my bow, my bow…my bow…It is the golden cup. He came for me, get away. No! To late…not them too. They don’t know! Must keep them safe, away from harm. Why into the forest? My bow…” His voice faded slowly to a restless moaning and he struggled, as though warding off an unseen foe.
Netya sat beside me, her face hidden in her hands. “It’s horrible,” she said, voice muffled.
I reached out, putting my arm around her shoulders and pulling her gently against me. “I know. I don’t know what to do. But we have to help him somehow…he will be alright, Netya.” I had to believe it.
She nodded slightly. “I’m sorry. It’s just…it doesn’t seem like there is anything we can do. I don’t know how to help. There’s nothing here…we need someone who can help us, but there is no one.”
Suddenly, I remembered what I had seen the night before, when Thalon had crushed the strange herb into the water to clean his wound. Standing up, I went to his bedside and stood looking down on him. He had fallen into an uneasy sleep, hands moving fitfully. “I wonder if he has something that would help,” I said, and related what I had seen to Netya.
She frowned in puzzlement. “But…if there was something else, he would have told us. Unless…unless he thought it would scare us. Alasse, what if he knew this would happen? But…he said it was just a small wound, and should heal quickly and easily.”
“He did say that…but did you see him? He was acting strange…I woke up in the night, and he was still awake. He looked…terrified,” I said slowly, remembering. “And the way he asked about the arrow…the arrow that wasn’t designed to kill. Or…was it?” I said, a chill of fear running like ice down my back. “Netya. The arrow. Remember how strange it looked? Too thin and fragile to kill, and the tip so wide and shallow. Maybe that was on purpose. Maybe…maybe the arrow itself wasn’t meant to kill, but…” I trailed off, springing up in alarm.
Netya looked at me, wide eyed. “Maybe the arrow itself wasn’t meant to kill, but the small wound it gave was? If it was not one of Pethnor’s men, I would say that is impossible. But Pethnor…He would fall to such methods,” she said, eyes sparkling in anger. “Pethnor would do that.”
I nodded slowly. “Yes. It has to be the answer. And yet…that makes it harder than before. Netya…what shall we do?” I asked, my voice breaking in despair.
Netya shook her head slowly. “I don’t know. Is there anything we can do? Is there anything…anything at all that we can do against…poison?”
The word seemed to stick in the air, burning into our minds as we stood, watching Thalon fall deeper into a terrifying unconsciousness.
(EDIT: Oh by the way. I’m extremely disappointed. I really DON’T get five free copies of my novel if I finish. I have to actually PUBLISH the book with a self-publishing company, and THEN they send me free books. So lame. And that is SO not happening. O_O)