Elisabeth’s hair floated behind her, mesmerising Luthar as he chased after her down the hill. The smell of grass and wildflowers floated through the air and tickled his nose as the summer sun beat down on them both. She turned to him, that beaming smile of hers outshining even the sun itself.
‘Luthar watch out!’
The world turned upside down as Luthar realised he was weightless, trees, buildings and roads all spun in and out of his vision as he careered through the air. His arms flailed, trying to grab something, anything to stop his flight.
He opened his eyes, gasping for air as the sweat dripped from his forehead. He was laid on a delicately carved wooden bed, with a soft feather mattress sinking under his weight. He tried to raise his head but the muscles in his neck wouldn’t comply, they just screamed in painful protest. Desperate, he wiggled his fingers and toes, testing his body as much as he dared. At least they work, he thought grimly, might be all I can manage now.
Ignoring the pain, Luthar edged himself up inch by inch, and tried to sit up, leaning against the pillows. Thick linen bandages were wrapped around his chest, brown blood thick and crusted spread about his ribs. He looked around the room he was laid in, a bedchamber grander than any he’d ever seen. By the dim morning light that crept in through a gap in the velvet drapes he could just make out the outline of a matching wardrobe and chest of drawers. A mirror hung on one wall, reflecting the light upon a colourful painting of some king or other, sitting proud upon a rearing horse as men fought in the background. In one shadowy corner snored flint, draped over a plump armchair as if he were a melting candle.
‘Flint!’ Luthar’s throat was as dry as the desert. He nearly choked as he tried to get Flint’s attention. On the nightstand to his right was a pitcher of water, after a few mouthfuls he tried again. ‘Flint! Wake up!’
‘Huh, what?’ Flint’s hand automatically went to his belt as he jerked awake, searching for a blade that wasn’t there. ‘Luthar?’
‘Aye it’s me. Or what’s left of me at least.’
‘Wait here.’ He scrambled to his feet and burst through the door. Luthar could hear his thumping footsteps as he sprinted down the corridor.
‘Wait here? Where else would I be going?’ Luthar replied to the strange comment with no small amount of amusement.
Not long after he’d left, Flint reappeared followed by Edryg and a woman who Luthar had never seen before. Draped in dark green robes, and carrying a discernible air of authority, Luthar knew she was accustomed to being obeyed. The old mage bustled to Luthar’s bedside and placed his hands on his cheeks, eyes closed.
‘How are you feeling Luthar?’ He asked, slightly predictably.
‘About as well as I look.’ His throat had dried up again, turning his voice to a harsh crackle.
‘That’s to be expected. You took the full force of the explosion, Flint and Connell were lucky they were a pace or two behind you. I couldn’t have saved all three of you from that.’
‘From what? What actually happened back there?’
‘Allow me to catch you up, you’ve been asleep a while. Them things that attacked you, we’ve found them to be the work of a necromancer. For the life of me I don’t know any powerful enough to raise men strong enough to fight, but I digress. When they attacked the three of you, there was no way any of you would have lasted more than seconds against them. I fought them the only way I know how.’
‘I’m a world mage Luthar. I had to use my power against them. Had I not, you three would have been a job for a priest.’
‘Is Lucas all right?’ Luthar suddenly remembered his squire had been injured in the fighting.
‘Both the boys are fine. They’ve been training with Connell the last few days. He’s a talented boy that Lucas, I’m sure you’ll train him well when you get back up and about.
‘How long will it be before I can get back out on the job?’
‘At least another week, maybe two.’ Cut in the woman, frowning at the apparent disruption to her duties. ‘Now get out all of you, this boy needs to rest.’
Luthar could feel the heat rise in his face. Boy? Who did she think she was? He was a man of the warrior’s guild who had fought in battles and taken lives. Just as he opened his mouth to argue, she forcefully shoved a wooden cup between his lips.
‘Drink this, you need to sleep.’
So much for a bedside manner thought Luthar, as his lids began to close.
He was sitting in Lord Wedderburn’s high chair, looking down at his hall, crowded with loyal subjects who raised their cups in toast to their beloved lord. Luthar grinned back, raising his own cup in reply. To his left, Elisabeth did the same, her smile warming every man who gazed upon her. As the noise died down and men took their seats, Elisabeth leaned in close to whisper to him.
Her tongue was a snake, black, slimy, and thick like a rope. It coiled around Luthar’s neck, choking him. He fumbled, trying to release its grip on him as he gasped for air. Its face hissed at his, only an inch away, forked tongue flickering. He sunk to his knees, grabbing the tablecloth and pulling down silverware and plates on top of him. A glass smashed to his right, tiny shards showering his struggle.
A sharp piece of glass glinted in the candlelight, he flung his hand towards it. If only he could reach it. No sooner had Luthar closed his fist around it, then a boot descended from nowhere, crunching flesh and glass into the wooden boards. The heel twisted side to side, crushing his hand and slicing it on the sharp pieces of glass. Luthar looked up to see Chadwick staring down at him, a bitter smile curling on his lips.
‘Chadwick.’ Luthar croaked with his last breath of air.
The pain around his neck was unbearable, his lungs empty and his strength draining away. He slumped down onto his back, head hitting the boards with a thump. Through a gap in the legs, Luthar spied his mother and father leaning casually against the wall, laughing at his struggle. His brothers, Joseyr and Berron joined them, pointing at Luthar as everything faded into blackness.
Again, he woke in the same room, this time Lucas sat in the chair watching him closely. He sprung forward to Luthar’s bedside as he struggled again to sit up, his heart pounding its familiar beat against his ribs.
‘Can I get you anything?’ He asked, concern flashing across his young face.
‘My clothes, my swords and my bags. We’re leaving.’ Luthar tried in vain to inject an air of authority into his voice. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake that wheezing rattle that entered his speech.
‘Are you sure? You still don’t look very well.’
‘Yes, I’m sure. It looks worse than it is.’
Luthar swung his legs over the side of the bed and planted his feet on the soft rug that covered the rough wooden boards. As he forced himself to stand, every part of his body fought against him with punishing agony. Each joint in his body cracked with the effort, as though stiff from months of inactivity. He steadied himself by leaning on Lucas’ shoulder as he passed him his shirt.
Minutes later, Luthar half walked, and half hobbled down the corridor. Men and women in the strange dark green uniform frowned and shook their heads at him as he passed, but none challenged him. He clutched at the banister as he descended the grand staircase and into the lobby. Two stone statues gazed longingly at each other from across the marble floor, each clutching a rose in their huge hands.
‘And where do you think you’re going?’ A voice called from behind him. He turned and saw the owner of the sharp, severe voice was the same woman who had been in his bedchamber a few nights previous.
‘I’m going home. I feel much better now, thank you for your care.’
‘Pah! Feeling much better are you?’ She strode right up to Luthar and jabbed a sharp finger into his chest with considerable force.
Luthar rocked back, putting pressure on his painful left leg. Lucas thrust out an arm and caught his shoulder, saving him from toppling over into a side table.
‘Even an old crone like me can nearly knock you over. What do you think will happen if someone swings a sword at you?’ Without waiting for an answer she ranted on, flecks of her spit flowing into Luthar’s eyes. ‘My guess is you’ll be dead in seconds, for what? Your own stupid pride no doubt. You know, it’s a miracle you can walk. Hell it’s a bloody miracle you’re even alive. A miracle! Yet you want to go back out there and get yourself killed. Well go ahead, I won’t stop you. Damn fool man!’
When the tirade was over, the woman stuck her nose in the air and stalked off. Dark green robes billowing behind her. Lucas looked at Luthar, Luthar looked at Lucas and they shared a stunned look, not quite believing the dressing down he’d just received.
The amusement faded and the pain returned as Lucas opened the door to the murky grey morning. Dry leaves swirled in the sharp wind that cut through Luthar like steel through flesh. He pulled up the hood of his cloak and followed Lucas to the stables, keeping his back to the wind.
A familiar grinning face appeared at the door to the stables, saddlebag over his shoulder and good humour oozing from every pore. Flint had foiled Luthar’s plan to slip away unseen.
‘You thought you could get away, didn’t you?’ He asked, his mouth half full of apple.
‘I’ll admit, I was trying to.’
‘That’s not very civil is it Ed?’ Flint looked over at his squire who was saddling his horse. He didn’t speak, just answered with a shrug of his shoulders. Flint swallowed his mouthful and tossed the core onto the floor of the stable. ‘Well I don’t think it is at least, anyways, where are you headed?’
‘To the guild? A long way back and plenty of coin to be made on the way!’
‘Not the guild. Home. I think it’s time I made peace with my parents.’
Flint let out a whistle. Luthar had never spoken of his parents to Flint, much less why he’d left. ‘It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?’
‘More than ten years since I last cast eyes on them. Doubt they’ll even recognise me.’ Luthar felt suddenly ashamed. Flint had spoken of his own childhood once, abandoned by his mother, and never knew who his father was. He could tell Flint would trade anything he had to be in Luthar’s shoes, at least having a chance to see them. It only added fuel to the fire that he must set things right with them.
‘I hope you find what you’re looking for from them Luthar, I really do.’
‘Thanks. I’m surprised you’re not trying to talk me out of it actually, persuading me to follow you on some mad scheme you have cooked up.’
‘Friends don’t tell you what to do. I’m reliably informed that they have an obligation to make sure you don’t get yourself killed though.’ He sprung onto his horse like a smiling acrobat at a fancy circus, his dexterity brought up a well of jealousy in Luthar. ‘We’re headed for near Whitestar I take it?’
Luthar couldn’t bring the words to his mouth. Mind clouded by gratitude for his friend, and sheer disbelief that he’d stuck by him through everything. He managed a nod, neck bones scraping against each other with the effort.
‘Well lead on then, we don’t have all year!’ He steered his horse out into the yard and towards the road. ‘Anyway, Edryg tells me it’s a miracle you’re alive. Luthar the miracle, got a nice ring to it I think!’