10 June 2009

Stone Lord part 2

Stone Lord part 2

By Brenna Lyons

Brand hardly remembered rising that morning. He ran. All that was left was the steady burn of his moving muscles and the sweet voice calling to him.

He stopped short, his mind clearing. It had released him...yet not. Brand couldn’t feel the bone weariness he knew was to come.

The cave he’d stopped at was deep and dark, even in the low sun slanting into it. A shiver worked down his spine at the thought of entering it.

{Come, Brand of the Sword. I protect you.}

He nodded numbly, staggering into the darkness, his legs quaking.

The smell brought him up short, and he gagged.

Beast. Surely, that stench could be nothing less.

{No, young one. There is no beast.}

His thinking mind--what little was left of it, in his exhaustion--cautioned that it was a trick...a trap of some sort. Something deeper won out. Without reason or explanation, Brand trusted the voice.

His eyes adjusted to the semidarkness, and shapes stood out from the rest. His eyes watered, and his nose and throat burned. With every step, it got worse. At last, he turned and emptied acid from his clenching stomach.

Brand wiped the back of his hand against his cracked lips. His legs protested rising again, but he managed it.

A lump of fur and rags took shape into a fallen Warrior, sacred weapon in hand. The scream of horror he wanted to vent caught in his throat.

It is the life we lead, he reminded himself.

{Take his weapon.}

Brand shook his head, his voice rasping out. “I am not permitted to. Not for three more years.”

{Take the weapon.}

His blood mark heated, searing his flesh. Was it the Stone commanding him? Why would the Stone speak to an untrained child? His hand shaking, Brand complied.

{Dig his rest at the mouth of the cave, young Warrior. Return my son to me.}

He turned, picking his way to the entrance. The first thrust of the blade into the soil met with resistance. Brand wrenched it free and attacked again...and again.

As when he ran, his mind deserted him, retreating from the pain and fatigue.

Brand came to consciousness over the open grave, the sun a distant memory, bowing his head. Sleep. He begged for it, sure that he would see none of it until the Stone allowed it.

{Soon. For now, we must lay your brother Warrior to rest.}

He groaned, hoisting himself up and stumbling into the cave. The Warrior was a large one, larger even than Brand’s father was. How was he supposed to move him?

{You are stronger than you think, Brand of the Sword. You use my strength well.}

The first tug succeeded in toppling the foul bulk against him. The second moved them both half an arm’s length toward the grave.

There was no retreating from this unpleasant task. Brand felt every tearing pain in his muscles, suffered every frustration, when the body caught on rocks and roots.

He certainly suffered the smell. Twice, he had to turn his head and bring forth whatever his stomach would release, trying desperately not to lose his grip on the Warrior.

It was all he could do to fall atop the body instead of beneath it at the graveside.

{Remove his packs and belt. You will wear them now.}

Beyond the idea of arguing, Brand did as the voice commanded. He donned the weapons belt and sheathed the sacred weapon reverently. He left the rest on the ground, so as not to burden himself until he’d laid the Warrior to rest.

He rolled the body into the grave with a grunt of pain. Then he lay on the ground, begging silently for rest.

{Soon. Finish the task, young Warrior.}

Brand let loose a string of curses worthy of his father or oldest brother. He started pushing piles of soil over the body.

A poke at his ribs reminded him that he still wore his wooden weapon. Weapon. Warriors were buried with their weapons, when they fell in battle.

But the voice had ordered him to keep the weapon. Torn, he considered it. A Warrior was buried with weapons. His hand shaking, hoping it wasn’t sacrilege, Brand dropped his wooden weapon into the grave.

{Well met, young son.}

He nodded and went back to filling in the hole. He knelt wearily on the loose-packed soil. Please...may I sleep now?


Fury lit in him, and he cried out in anger.

{Open the pack but do not touch the object within.}

Brand stomped to it and fumbled the ties open. His breath caught at the sight of the Stone, the blue glow radiating out in warming waves.

He glanced to the grave and swallowed hard. The Warrior had been the old Stone lord. Ready or not, trained or not, Brand was next in line.

{Draw your blade and touch it to me. Quickly now. There is much to do.}

His hands trembling, Brand did as the Stone bid. His head rocked back at the connection, and his mind went numb at the knowledge coursing through him.

{Remove your amulet, young Warrior. You must protect me, as a Warrior would.}

I do not know how. He had no training. Even if his curse was upon him, Brand had only seen his brothers train and played at battle with wooden weapons. He couldn’t protect the Stone that way.

The flow of information increased. Snips of strategies and battles fought passed by him.

{Remove your amulet, Brand.}

He reached up with his free hand and snapped the thong.

The flow sped past, so quickly he couldn’t focus on single items in it. At last, it ended, and he slid to the ground, his breathing harsh. There was blood in his mouth, and his jaw ached. In the distance, the first rays of rosy dawn were breaking.

{Collect what is yours. Go into the cave...and sleep.}

* * * *

“Nothing,” Tel complained. He’d hoped he’d find Brand in Sun range, catch him crossing the border between their lands and those of Ice range.

As if Alreed had heard his internal musings, he nodded grimly. “He is a boy on foot. Perhaps he will not arrive for days.”

“If he lives that long.”

“He has protection of the Stone.”

“It did not save your father.”

Alreed sucked in a breath, averting his eyes at the sacrilege. “I cannot speak for the Stone, but I would wager your son will be safe. At the very least, he still carries your amulet.”

But the amulet wouldn’t save Brand from more mundane beasts. He nodded. “What if he has already passed us?”

“A boy...on foot?” Alreed scoffed. “How would he?”

“How did he travel more than a league in the moments it took his brother to realize he was missing? How did he disappear with the gods’ stealth, when he is not yet cursed?”

There was a moment of silence. “A fine point,” he conceded. “There is a hut in the area where my father was lost. We will search from there.”

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