Over the next several days his father was laid in state at the temple of the Fates in Hallow Hill. Nobles and commoners came to pay respects to him before his bones were carried beneath the castle to rest with other heroes and noblemen. Paul rode with Jack down into the depths of the Hill’s catacombs, bearing his father’s body on a cart. They laid him to rest on a stone slab that bore his name, title and deeds and lit three candles. Paul said the words of blessings to the Destroyer to carry his father safely to the Halls of Valor.
For three nights he sat in vigil, and each night he extinguished one candle until Paul’s father was left in darkness forever. It was in those three nights of silence that Paul decided what must be done. Continue reading
He woke in a soft bed with warm, woolen blankets pulled up to his chin. The mattress was made of feather and seafoam, or so Paul gathered by its softness. Somewhere he heard a fire blazing and felt its heat on his face. The dark began to peel away and he saw movement, an old man bent over with a cane for support. He wore the blue robes of a physician and knew instantly where he was. “Thegn Urval?” he croaked to his father’s personal physician.
The old man turned then and gave a wide-eyed look at him. “Oh my, Paulin!” he said and drew near, a potion bottle in his hand. “You are awake, then? Can’t say I’m surprised. That girl… she has the Talent, yes.” Continue reading
The farmhouse was ablaze, fire sprouting from the thatch roof and billowing dark clouds into the gray sky. By the well, Tani stood with a broken spade haft in her hand. Blood ran down her temple and pooled in the hollow of her shoulder. Sitting astride Rock, Paul’s great destrier still in its raven barding, was the Bearkiller. In his hand was Paul’s sword. When he saw Paul, his grin was immense.
“Raven boy!” he shouted. “I thought I kill you!” Another great guffaw and he kneed Rock so the horse moved to face him. One of the destrier’s eyes was gone and dried blood crusted the raven helm. My brave horse, Paul thought. Suffered because of me. “Nice horse,” Bearkiller said, patting Rock roughly on the neck. The destrier bit at that hand but Bearkiller snatched it away and hammered the horse on the nose with a mailed fist. “But mean horse!” Continue reading
It was on the morning of the twentieth day on the farm that Paul woke and sat up, rubbing his face with an arm that barely hurt. In the other room the grandmother was coughing horrendously and he could hear Tani try and coax her into taking a potion. Sighing, Paul glanced over at the silk doublet Tani had repaired for him. It lay folded on a chair with his boots, which were brushed clean. I don’t belong here any longer, he thought. I don’t belong at home either.
He crossed the distance to the clothes and picked up the doublet, looking hard at the black raven on the shoulder. His father once told him that they bore the raven because they kept watch for the dead, the bones of nobles were to be stored in noble graves, and those noble graves existed beneath Hallow Hill. The catacombs delved for miles beneath the earth, the bones of heroes both old and new lay silently there, a reminder of what nobles were to be: grand in life and quiet in death. Their stories were written in stone beneath their deathbeds. Already one awaited his father. But none will wait for me, the coward of King’s Road. Continue reading
At first the bath was an unpleasant experience. The tub was a metal and sized for a smaller man than Paul, a child maybe. She filled it with water drawn from buckets that were held over a small fire to warm. When asked if she had fetched all of them herself, Tani shrugged and said that no one else would do it. He undressed carefully, blushing the whole time as he ordered the girl to at least turn around. She insisted on helping him bathe though, saying his arm could not support the bending and movement required.
As he lay soaking in the warm water, his eyes wandering over the wounds on his arm and chest, he marveled at how well they were healing. The girl’s poultices had done amazing things towards removing the hideous gashes and scars. She knows her trade, he thought as she knelt behind him to scrub at his back. Continue reading
The farm house was a simple affair with only two real rooms. Directly through the door was a small pantry that held hanging herbs and other things used for common poultices and potions. That must have been where the smell came from. His father had an herbalist and they made him keep his roots and plants in a building separate from main Hall. He glanced at the girl and paused her here. “Your grandmother was an herbalist?”
Tani would not look at him. “M’lord need not concern himself with that.” He frowned. Paul always despised it when people hid things from him. It made him feel like he wasn’t worthy of knowing it. His grip on her arm got tighter and she squirmed. “Tell me,” he insisted. She looked up at him, eyes suddenly fierce. Her jaw worked like she was chewing on her words. Finally she exhaled and looked away. Continue reading
On the day he could stand he crept out of his bed and felt the sores on his back and legs from the mattress. They were raw and itchy and he desperately desired a bath. Tani washed his upper body when she thought he was sleeping. The water always woke him and she scurried off instantly.
His stink was unbearable and he hobbled to the water bucket she fetched for him and knelt, slowly, to rinse off his hair and splash it on his arms and chest. He looked about for a bar of lye but found nothing. He’d go ask for some, and perhaps a tub if they had one. Perhaps she can fetch hot water too. Delighted by the thought of a hot bath, he walked gingerly to the door of the house and opened the latch. Continue reading
He woke some time in the night to the sound of thunder and rain as it poured down on the thatch roofing and sprayed the stone walls of the house. He discovered he was naked beneath the wool blankets. The cot he lay on was stiff, the mattress thinly stuffed with straw. Alarmed, he worried the girl robbed him and left him in some abandoned farmhouse.
He sat up and immediately regretted it. The pain in his left arm was excruciating and he lay back down. It was bandaged and a makeshift sling held it across his chest. The bandage was fresh linen and smelled of herbs. When he peeked beneath the bandages he saw that his wounds had been cleaned and even sewn shut. No thief would tend me so, he realized and lay back down. When lightning crashed and lit up the room, he realized he had not been moved very far from where he’d passed out. His mail hung on the spade handle and his tunic – the sigil of his house sewn on the left breast — was tossed across a bag of feed. The rest of his clothes were nowhere to be seen. Continue reading
They walked in silence as the trees began to thin and a modest house came into view. There was a low barn that could house a cow or two and maybe a horse. As they passed by it, he saw there was no horse. There was very little hay too and from what little look he got inside, there was barely any in the loft. She caught him looking. “The cows graze. Easier.”
There were two cows and they walked untethered across a great, overgrown green surrounding a well. Paul saw other houses in the distance but most were in disrepair, their thatch roofs gone or collapsed while the stone and wood walls crumbled. He saw no other life.
“Where are the other villagers?” Continue reading
Paul landed on his arm and he had the breath driven from him. He coughed and sputtered, struggling draw air even as the pain in his arm curled him into a fetal ball once again. The girl was at his side then and he felt her rip open his sleeve at the stitching down the side. There was a small gasp and she pressed warm fingers to his arm. “What be your name?” she asked. It seemed an absurd question while she was kneeling there, his pain making any attempt at speaking nearly impossible. He had to concentrate, drive away that pain in order to form enough coherent thought to answer her. “Paulin,” he begain. “Son of Ga—“
A terrible wrenching pain overtook him as she pulled a large piece of wood from his bicep with a sharp, swift tug. He howled in anguish, turning his face into the ground and crying out that he wished he were dead, anything but that pain. “Your arm is bent up,” she said coolly and then the pain was nothing to the sickening sensation of his shoulder popping back into proper alignment. He retched where he lay and had to pull his head back in order to not swallow it again. His head swam and the world went white with pain. Hoping he would slip into unconsciousness, he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Continue reading