10 June 2009

Stone Lord part 3

Stone Lord part 3

By Brenna Lyons

{Wake, young Stone lord.}

Brand shivered. His body felt too hot, the air too cold and moist. His clothes chafed at his skin, pulling as if they were too tight.

There was little light coming from the mouth of the cave. Either it was darkly overcast, or he’d slept the day away. It was hard to say with certainty. He didn’t feel like he’d slept that long. Then again, he’d never exerted himself as he had in the last few days.

{Come, Brand. We have only to reach your father.}

He groaned at the thought of another three days of travel. Peering at the darkness, he revised that. Three nights of travel.

{Not so long.} The voice was lyrical...soothing. {He searches for you.}

That sent Brand to his feet. He wavered a moment, his balance uncertain. Then he checked his belongings: pack containing the Stone, weapons belt and weapon, the old lord’s pouch full of amulets, including his own. Content that he’d forgotten nothing. Brand set out.

There was no harried pace this time. Brand stumbled along, his arms wrapped protectively around the pouch that held the Stone. His mind was muddled, and he was only half aware of the Stone’s directions.

{Move, Brand!}

He dodged the blow instinctively. Before his mind cleared, the weapon was in his hand.

The beast stared at him with hot red eyes, hate radiating off of him. “Give me the Stone, boy.”

Brand shook his head, his heart hammering alarmingly. His brothers’ training and the Stone’s echoed in his mind. “What is your name, beast?”

His voice was deep and even. Brand almost looked around in search of what Warrior had said it, but he knew he’d done so.

The foul creature laughed. “Where is your lord, boy? How old are you? Surely not more than sixteen. I can smell the Krankheit upon you.”

Brand’s musing that the beast must be comparing him to human children if it thought him as old as fifteen or sixteen died at the realization that it had said it smelled the sealing sickness. His rational mind confirmed that he’d never been sick...that Warriors--even young Warrior-born sons--never got sick, save Krankheit.

Gods, I’m changing.

{Yes, you are. Now, attend, Warrior!}

The beast was moving closer, scenting the air. “Did you escape your keepers, child? Did you think yourself Warrior enough to fight your betters?”

His fury rose at the condescending tone. He could feel Blutjagd. Brand savored it.

{Good. Very good.}

“How precious,” the beast taunted. “A boy’s Blutjagd.”

“What is your name, beast?”

It launched at him without answering.

Hundreds of computations rolled through Brand’s mind, moves that had been taken before, moves that he might take. He chose one that appealed to him and struck it, opening a long bleeder on the beast’s chest.

Brand jerked away from the flashing claws, hissing at the line of blood winding down his arm from the one that caught. He glared at the beast. “Name. Yourself.”

It looked up, a calculating look on its face. Then it came for Brand again.

The next bleeder was easier to strike, and he didn’t take an injury in return. His fury burning hot at the beast’s continued refusal to answer him, Brand strode toward his enemy. “Name yourself!”

The beast made a swing for him, and Brand ducked it. He buried the blade in the beast’s chest, twisting as his father had taught his brothers. Then he ripped it free.

“Then die without a name to console you,” he growled.

The beast fell to its knees then pitched forward, landing at Brand’s feet. For a moment, Brand didn’t move. Then he started walking, leaving the slain animal far behind. A nameless beast deserved no better, and Brand had neither flint nor kindling to destroy the beast by fire.

He didn’t sheathe the blade. There might be more beasts about. Moreover, if he sheathed it without cleaning it, he would smell like beast until he could replace the weapons belt.


The Stone’s voice came without warning, shocking Brand back to realization of his surroundings.

The hut was most likely a Warrior refuge. Whether it was or not, the Stone was directing him there.

His arms and legs trembling in a mixture of exhaustion, nervous energy, and the sealing sickness, Brand made for the door and fumbled the latch open.

* * * *

“If it is one of yours, why has he not appeared yet?” Tel grumbled.

“Probably destroying the beast.”

Something worked at the latch, and Tel ground his teeth that Alreed had been correct again. Where was Brand? How long would it take to find him?

“Ah, this would be--”

Alreed pushed to his feet, his eyes going wide. His jaw dropped, and his face paled.

Heart skittering, Tel snapped his head around.

What he saw made no sense. The Warrior was a young male, perhaps a trainee or first night. He was tall and lanky, not yet grown into his adult muscle mass. What was such a young man doing without an older Warrior? Young ones never hunted alone.

The rest took a moment to sink in. He was unwashed, and his clothing was ripped and stained in blood, vomit, dirt, and beast blood. Even the smell of the beast couldn’t cover the smell of sweat, sickness, and death...human death, decay, rot of the body.

And his clothing didn’t fit. It almost seemed the Warrior had stolen the clothing of a much smaller man...or bartered for it, but nothing about him spoke of enough honor to barter for anything.

A half-mad laugh escaped the man’s mouth. “She was correct. You are here.”

Scenting danger in the air, Tel pushed to his feet. He rested his hand on the hilt of his dagger, waiting for the Warrior’s next move, if the man could truly call himself a Warrior.

He took an unsteady step into the room, and Alreed curled his lip up in disgust. Tel agreed with his assessment.

His breathing rasping, the intruder took a second step. He cocked his head to one side. “Father?”

Tel was about to make a sarcastic remark, but he met his opponent’s eyes...and went still. Beneath the filth and disuse was the pleading expression he knew so well. When Brand misbehaved, that was the look he adopted.

He examined the clothing closer. It was the same tunic Gia had lovingly stitched for Brand only months earlier. He’d lost his boots, but the tattered remains of his leg wraps were right.

But how had his son aged years in days? Such things did not happen. This young Warrior had the shadow of a beard, when his son had a babe’s face at their last meal together.

“By the gods,” he breathed. “Brand?”

A smile stretched cracked lips, and a low rumble that sounded of pleased laughter shook his chest.

Alreed shot a look of disbelief at Brand and then Tel. “But...your son is--”

“I know.” Tel circled the table and headed for his son.

Brand tried to meet him halfway, but his balance deserted him. He landed in a heap on the floor just before Tel reached him.

The heat radiating off his body could only be one thing. Tel cursed aloud and shouted for a fur to wrap him in. Whatever the Stone had done, Brand was caught in the sealing sickness and suffering harder than most did.

He moaned, pitching his head back and forth. The language of the ancients left his lips on gasps. Tel listened in rising awe. Brand was reciting the rules of sanction, rules he’d only heard snips of before.

Alreed returned with the furs, then left again to attend to some other task. Tel set about the odious work of cutting off the foul clothing; they were too tight to remove any other way.

Brand didn’t react to it, until Tel tried to cut the pack from his shoulder. His son’s hand came up and circled his wrist, muscles like iron. A warning not to proceed left his lips in the language of the ancients.

“It stays, Brand,” he conceded. “The pack--”

“Pack?” Alreed barked from the fire pit. “It is the Stone. It is no wonder he refuses to relinquish it.”

Tel nodded and pried his son’s fingers loose. Then he went to work on the leg wraps.

Alreed didn’t wait for orders. By the time Brand was stripped bare, there was a basin of water, warmed with the pot of tea they’d made. Tel looked up at him, questioning that last silently.

The Warrior raised one shoulder in a shrug. “The tea contains willow bark and lavender flower. It will be soothing and healing.”

“My thanks.”

Together, they scrubbed Brand down, washing away days of dirt and death. They cleaned the beast blood from his hand after the rest. Before they did, Tel used it to draw the seals. His son had killed a beast in battle; he deserved nothing less. The seals would have to be washed away before they placed Brand in a bed, but they had been drawn and witnessed.

My son is a man...a Warrior sealed in battle.

One by one, the healing wounds of his flight and fights appeared from beneath the grime. It had been a hard road, but Brand had weathered it well, perhaps better than a full-grown Warrior would have.

Tel wrapped the furs around Brand and lifted him to the bed Alreed had prepared. It wasn’t a proper bath, but it was the best he dared do; dunking Brand in the stream while he fevered was likely a poor choice.

The door moved again, and Tel turned toward it. Beside him, Alreed did the same. Alreed’s younger brother stepped inside, stopped, and scrunched his nose with a growled curse.

Tel didn’t give him time to complain. “The Stone lord has returned to us. Call in the men and send word to my mate.” Gods, but Gia would insist on coming immediately, and how would Tel explain it to her?

Alreed issued orders of his own. “You burned the beast?” At his brother’s nod, he continued. “Take those ruined clothes and burn them as well. Send out word. The Stone lord suffers his sealing sickness. I want the best Warriors at his side until this passes.”

In the next instant, the young man was in motion, carrying out the orders he’d been given.

Silence fell around them, and Tel stared at Brand, questions tumbling in his mind.

“Your son is safe,” Alreed assured him. “You have my vow on that.”

Tel nodded. Yes, but is he still my son?

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