Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Three, Part One

“… and finding himself alone, the bastard god turned back to the woods again. Cool breezes guided him to the northern places where there the land mourned in its emptiness. The breezes became great sweeping winds that haunted the barren lands where the trees no longer spread their wide arms. Between the rocks was no hiding place from the winds. The rocks were small and the winds were great. But the One Who Was Still There, sometimes called the Lone One, understood the wind and the land, and he embraced them both. And out of their new love came a trembling as the ground rejoiced. Eruptions of stone made the mountains to the North and the Lone One walked their high places loving the ground and the dancing wind where they met.”

The voice was like warmed honey. A poet’s voice. A story teller’s voice. Orrin, she thought with a smile. But nothing on her face moved. She was asleep and awake at the same time.

“Another… but I might have told you this one. Perhaps even in the last few days, I lose track.” There was some weariness in the music of his voice. “But this next one, the story of the Shadowed One told to me by an Ireblade, is a curious tale. Perhaps it’s intriguing enough to bring you back to us to discuss it, my lady.” There was sadness in that honey voice. But he went on. “The Shadowed One was the first bastard god to hide from the light. She can hide us if we ask, she can take us into shadow and peace if we ask her too…” His voice faltered, “Don’t think on that, you can’t go… you can’t. But before that she was a taker of things that weren’t hers. Trinkets and coin, aye. But the Shadowed One also knew how to take other treasures as well. Dancing one day by the foundation stones of the first temple, she is said to have stolen the first stone, the foundation key stone. It was made of pure gold and worth more coin than you or I will see in our lives. Now, carved into the first stone were the words telling of the priest’s worst sin. The temple all taken together was his own repentance for his sins; all the white and shining stones were placed there from his own coin and gems. But the Shadowed One took away that one golden block and danced it into darkness. Away from the light the sin could not be forgiven. And the Shadowed One hid his sin. What does that mean do you think? For the men of the Light of Lios tavern in Bara, at least those there after the bell, being hidden meant being safe. But peace can also mean death. Some ask the Shadowed One to lead them to a quiet death. Although, the priests say that bastard god followers become Lios cursed ghosts, always in torment… And in the story she took the priest’s sin and she hid it away. For the god-king’s followers that would be a horrific idea. The Light should shine on all our sins.” An awkward cough and then a soundless smile she could only imagine; her eyelids were like two small weights on her eyes. “Of course, that’s what they would say in the temple. I had that drummed into me enough. It bears no meaning for me now.”

Movement. Was he getting up from where he was and walking about? She struggled again with those little weights on her eyes. Her mother had told her once about how the priests calculated the amount of repentance for sins. The words would be written on parchment and placed on scales opposite weights, larger even than the ones on her eyes. The worse the sin, the more weight that was needed. The more weight, the more coin. How bad must the priest of the foot stone’s sins have been?!

He was close again, that warm rich voice nearer her ear. “You will wake, won’t you my lady? The days are too long without you about to tell me I’m being a fool. And I cannot bear to see the mourning of the rest of your people. Pierson is near gone grey in the time you’ve slept. And while you sleep the babes and Redril’s girls have not settled even once for a long night of their own rest. And Sarai and Callia have gone near feral in the woods, dragging back this or that herb to try to heal you.”

Nemnir, she whispered in her mind. Is Nem safe? Something concerned her about Orrin not saying the mountain-voln’s name and she fretted in her sleep, not entirely knowing why.

“My voice is hoarse.” He seemed to say ruefully. “And I only have so many stories. Pierson demands I allow others to speak with you while you sleep. But I am your priest.” There was some indignation and pride in that last statement. “I should be the one to beg you to return.” The pride was gone, the sadness flooding in instead.

Well, this was simply ridiculous! There were things to be done, and people were missing her, why could she not just wake up?! She searched her memories for reasons why she slept. A punch to her chest… snicket snicket. Blood on the earth and the leaves.

She had been stabbed!

And dratted Hui Fives had done it! Anger flushed into her veins. She’d tried to help the poor broken minded man and he’d stabbed her! The anger in her blood became the stirring of her wyrd power. She’d tried to heal herself after it’d happened. Tried and failed as the shock had stopped her from focussing, the hole in her chest stopping her breath. But now… with nothing to see and only Orrin to hear, she could concentrate fully.

Sutith, she called.

Too much. She called too much. She could feel the wetness coming from her eyes as it had done in the beginning. But this time her skin also glistened as the sutith came from her.

“Eris?” Orrin must have noticed. She opened her eyes, blinking as sutith flowed from them as tears. She could just see him through them. He usually kept his beard neatly trimmed but it seemed to have been ignored for a long while, and his grey eyes were deep and dark with shadows.

“How long?” her voice was thick and slow.

“Near a week.” He was close, his hands nearing her own but not taking them from where they lie at her side. “You near bled out before the few woods-voln here who know of some healing balms could stem the flow. You were white and pale.” His eyes were frantic, his worry clear.

“Verla?” She knew a few things; she must have helped with the patching of the wound.

Orrin lowered and shook his head, the lengths of his hair falling down over his eyes for a moment.

“Verla? Hui got Verla too?!” She tried to sit up, struggling against the tightness of the bandages. She wore little else under the sheets, but she didn’t care. Orrin looked away, preserving her damned modesty instead of answering her question. “Orrin?!”

“We think Verla released Hui.”

She was punched in the chest again. The woman had certainly been a prickly old bitch, but to send Hui after her with a blade in his hand and murder on his mind?!

“And Nem?!!” She was frantic. She heard others coming into the tent they had her in, but her green eyes were glued to Orrin’s grey, demanding an answer.

“Poisoned, but…”

She was trying to get up. Callia and Sarai were there, pulling her back to the bed, keeping the sheets about her as she tried to push past them.

“He lives, Eris! He lives! Damned woman forgot the constitution of the mountain-voln. Forgot, or didn’t know. Size alone likely means they need more to take them down…”

“No” Eris muttered hoarsely as she allowed herself to be led back to the taut leather stretched on a wooden frame to lie down again. “A greening took Nem down when we travelled together. Mountain-voln or not, he would have died. She didn’t want to kill him.” Just me, she thought vindictively.

Eris lay down, closing her eyes and hoping the room would stop spinning. There was no pain in her chest, the sutith had taken care of it. But everything was upended and she didn’t know what to think. “Is she still alive?”

“Pierson has her under guard.” There was anger in Callia’s words, and Sarai’s eyes shined evilly too. “If you died she was going to die too. But we want her hung high from her scrawny neck in a tree anyway.”

“And Hui?”

“Some of the city-voln lads hunted him down in the woods. He slashed his own wrists rather than come back.” Sarai sounded proud of her students.

“She needs to rest. Leave her be.” There was another shape at the entrance to the tent. Pierson. Orrin might well be right about him looking greyer. Bastard gods, with Nem at death’s door as well, he must have been going out of his mind.

“Pierson” She looked at him, ignoring the concerned faces about him. “I have to see Nem. I can heal him!”

“You’ve only just-” Orrin this time. Gods damn them all! She was strong enough!

“Faithful.” She addressed the story-teller, and he was startled by her naming of him. “Take me to him.”

Orrin nodded obediently, and carefully picked her up, making sure she was covered. It felt strange to be in his arms. Only Nem had carried her before, back before she’d grown her wyrd foot. Back before she’d been lengthening her limbs in secret. Orrin was of average size for a city-voln, and she was still smaller, but in comparison with Nem she felt far too large for him. But soon they were at another tent. Inside was the largeness of Nemnir, swamping his woods-voln sized bed. The air in the tent reeked of sweat and also of something stomach churningly sweet. The poison Verla had used was working its way out of the man, but slowly, and likely doing some lasting harm to his internal organs.

“Put me down by him”.

As Orrin did he own bandages came away from where they covered the wound. There was what she thought at first was a dark scab in the shape of the blade. But then she realised it was dark flesh. Her own wyrd flesh. She had healed herself and the mark of it was on her. Her foot was like this, but more bone like. Were her bones inside, the bones she’d been reshaping, dark and different like this too?

She pushed her concerns aside and put her hands to the sides of Nem’s face instead. He was sweating and frowning as the poison ran through his veins. Seven days or more of this! Perhaps Orrin was right; a weaker man would have died! Eris began to hunger for her inevitable confrontation with Verla!

She concentrated, bringing the power out of herself again and channelling it into the large man. Slowly his breathing eased and the furrow of his brow smoothed out.

She stayed there for a while longer, sitting on the floor of the tent and just watching the now easy in and out of his breathing. She knew she was only wearing sheets and bandages, and she was chilled, but she barely cared. Orrin stayed with her, protecting her from other prying eyes while making no excuses for his own adoring looks. Eris knew she would pay greatly for this healing later. She expected that hours of words of praise would follow her as he did. No doubt he’d also be coming up with a lyrical way to tell this story, the same way he told the tales of the bastard gods he gathered where he could. But she didn’t care. She’d had to help Nem.

“My lady? Eris?”

She looked back at him.

“I’m sorry” He said the words simply and without embellishment, unusual for him. “For the silence between us. After Jayk left.”

“I assumed that you blamed me. But I didn’t want him to go either.”

Orrin nodded. “I know. He came to me before he went. He went to all the city-voln. Me last maybe. Pierson… likely he didn’t go to him, to be fair. But he certainly wanted the lads to go with him. Perhaps if they had he’d have felt more like he was making the right decision. But when he came to me I could see he wasn’t sure. He was hurt about being rejected and he wanted to be away from the pain. Away from you.”

Eris closed her eyes and focussed on Nem breathing in. And out. And then in.

“And I… I didn’t blame you. I just. I don’t know. I could see you were upset by his leaving and I didn’t have the words to help.”

“Orrin Storyteller didn’t have the words?”

He smiled shyly and he looked much younger suddenly. “Ah, yes. Yes, well…”

“I’ve dreamt of Jayk. I was dreaming of him the night Hui attacked me. I saw him wearing the coat of a button man, walking on a road surrounded by starving lions.”

“Is that a prophecy or a truth?”

“Maybe neither. Could he be made a button man within months of leaving us?”

Orrin thought for a moment. “Button men are normally of high born or wealthy families. I can’t see how he could be. Perhaps it was just a dream. Although, the dreams of gods are a mystery to us mere voln.” There was a smile on his lips, but there was something else as well. Ah, thought Eris, there’s hours and hours of praise still to come…

You called me Faithful.” He said almost accusingly. “Don’t be surprised when I try to live up to that name.”

She looked at Nem sleeping peacefully, and finally removed her hands from the sides of his face. “When I meet with Verla you might need to.”

He looked confused, but she smiled it away. “I think I can walk back to my tent. Perhaps I should be dressed before that meeting happens.”

Orrin’s eyes went to the falling bandages still lightly about her, and the sheet she was wrapped in. The edge of her new flesh was visible and she watched him looking at it in wonder.

“Does its still hurt…?”

“Orrin. Faithful. Clothes?”

He thought, “No, I will fetch them for you!”

And he was gone before she could respond.

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