The Price of Freedom-Part 3
The Trass boy skid gently across the moistened earth as he meandered his way outward toward the courtyard. Large patches of grey cloud signed what was to be the beginning of a heavy fall of rain. Pacing forward into the oncoming sleet, he halted only to observe the palms of his hands; they were bloodied, and quivering, though the droplets of rain quickly removed the oozing red from his skin. A festering smell drew his attention to his left, where a hand reached from the ground only to tug at the end of his britches. It was a Dervion man; his body limp and hewn, and with a last passionate ounce of strength, he reached out for aid only to drop his arm and breath his last. He joined his place amongst the dead that already surrounded him. Through frightened, the Trass boy gathered the energy to stumble on. Smog and ash began to hit his eyes like fire. The tips of his fingers bled; the hard ground was unforgiving as he stumbled, the quickness of his scurrying brought him to his knees several times. Whereas before the young boy planned his movements, every turn of Zidain’s was as reckless as it was blind. With his eyes held firmly shut, he could feel himself colliding with the moving bodies of men around him, sudden groans and cries of anguish attacking his ears as if they were atop him, and yet somehow he found his strength to carry on. The descending rain had conveniently morphed into a lasting downpour; it quenched much of the fires surrounding the courtyard, yet inevitably only adding to the rising clouds of floating ash. Trumpets rang out from the mountainside. The beating of the horns was all the closer now, the trembling in the earth felt throughout the stone cobbles as a distant yet rising rumbling was heard from the mouth of the hillside way—the thundering of horses was nearing; the Dervion cavalry had arrived.
Zidain fell to the earth once again. He coughed, followed by a splutter, followed by the loud familiar voice of Chisel booming in the foreground. Quickly Zidain circled about a fallen beast. His fingers twitched across the tips of a nearby blade, aching yet hesitantly restraining himself to lung forward. Strengthening the gaze of his eyes, he remained still and steely for a time. The Dervion was no doubt drawing closer. His pacing was slow, but in Zidain’s mind, his senses were sharp and aware—clearly far from the startled, embattled state of his fellow men. Yet the wound to his hand was too severe—his glance passed by the boy as his towering figure scanned the area, only to continue on at a snail’s pace, desperately bleeding while searching for the one who had maimed him. Zidain waiting for a long enough time until Chisel’s growl-like roars were no longer heard, or at the very least were of a safe enough distance. He released his breath, having just realised his body lay pressed against that of a fallen horse, while at his feet two Wild Men sombrely awaited the release of death. Then he noticed it; the wagon by which he had concealed his cousin Tomas—it was burning mere feet to his left, and through a lazy, disorientate stare, he continued to watch horrified as it spread its blaze. He remembered the site well—there was little doubt in his mind that it was indeed the spot he had left his cousin, and crawling steadily with only the power of one arm, he began to search for the leather trunk in which he had sealed him.
“Tomas?” he cried, his vision blurred by the high reach of the growing flames. He called his cousin’s name once more, knowing full well he may not hear him through his confines, or worse; he was already dead. Nonetheless he cried Tomas name for a third time, desperately throwing his bloodied face left and right for the faintest of responses. Again at his hands lay several slouched-over bodies, most without life; others soon to get there. Arrows lay erect from many parts of the earth while idle weaponry and scattered pieces of timber carriages completed the clutter of the cobbles. As he drew nearer to the intense heat of what was becoming a monstrous blaze, Zidain gathered what energy he felt remained and pulled himself onto his knees. Everything was quite around him now but for the almost tranquil sounds of burning—it easily silenced the banter of the Wild Men nearby as they struggled to regroup in the final moments of the conflict. Zidain threw his hand to the earth, and yet there—hidden under several pieces of splintered oak—his grasp found what was the handle to the leather trunk. He seized hard, desperately pulling the large trunk to the visible surface only for the handle strap to snap, tumbling him to the ground. “Tomas?” he cried again, swirling onto his knees “Tomas? Can you hear me? Tomas? Answer me!”
His grimaced face met the seemingly barren chest with shock—Tomas was gone, and all that remained was a heavy smouldering front cover where the young boy had clearly managed to squeeze himself through. Its edges still stunk of the overbearing burning must, and what little remained of its shattered latch held several largely smeared bloodstains, all of which were clearly fresh and recent. Had Tomas been injured? Zidain’s frantic nerves drew to an alarming panic. Heaving the oversized trunk to his left, and still on his knees, he began to shout out with as much power as his voice would afford him. “Tomas!” he repeatedly called until to the back of his throat quickly grew numb. No matter how hard he cried, it always seemed that the roaring fire, or the embattled men about him silenced what seemed like his timid screams. “Tomas!” he continued, staring left and right for the small boy who remained nowhere to be seen.
The last of the Wild Men were fleeing the courtyard. There remained only a handful now, and those not cut down in the act of fleeing managed to make it to the forest walls, where as quickly as they had once arrived they vanished into the thicket. Few were lucky enough. A mighty barrage of Dervion men on horseback had entered the courtyard sometime during Zidain’s desperate search. They came bellowing their trumpets, diverging left and right about the open courtyard with the intent of blocking any means of escape for the Wild Men, before the riders converged yet again toward the northern entrance, and began slaughtering those who remained. On a quick glance, Zidain counted twenty odd men on horseback, perhaps more, bearing both sword and spear and moving with unrelenting speed and unyielding mercy, battering down their fellow man with such little consideration that it brought the Trass boy to shiver.
A dizzying frenzy of movement now emerged from the central courtyard. As the down pouring of heavy rain continued, Wild Men emerged leaping through distant clouds of ash and smog, appearing about Zidain as if from nowhere. Many burst by him while ignoring the sheer sight of the boy. Others, in their confused haste, had slowed and stared, and were sometimes skewered by whizzing spears precisely cast through the air. A Dervion rider would hastily charge by in the aftermath—having counted one less Wild Man to worry over.
Zidain quickly stared upward on his knees, toward the central area of the courtyard where the largest of the fires were quickly starting to fade away in the showering rain. The Dervions were gathered there now, the leaders of the pack—he could make out the image of the largely built blonde haired man, and he appeared injured, but was still mounting a horse and preparing to leave. Quickly the sight of him was lost in the passing movements of men once more, mostly Dervion but now and then a single panicking Wild Man found within the heard of Dervions to fend for himself in the confusion. Amongst the many riders, the passing Wild Men and the gathering Dervion servants, Zidain saw one clear image he knew had no place there—toward the far side of the courtyard, near where he had left Chisel and wandering between the flustered Wild Men escapees he spotted Tomas, cowering, scampering and weeping forlornly to himself. His hands were visibly bloodied, his face also but with slight yet obvious marks of burning upon his skin. In that moment, every great urge of Zidain’s sought to cry out the young boy’s name, but at the tip of his tongue, he refrained through fear for Tomas life. He somehow managed to silence his desperate plea to his cousin, and instead began raising his weary frame from the ground, finding strength in places he no longer held any. He came to his feet, hoisting himself on a hardened inhale of breath, and proceeded to charge forward. In that moment, a vast shadow emerged before Zidain’s eyes. Sweeping to his rear, a Wild Man—already pierced by two separate Dervion arrows—dived aimlessly through the dying flames of the burning carriage. He came to his feet, having sprung the height of the wreckage, only to take a third arrow to his chest as he landed, ultimately colliding with Zidain in his forceful bid to escape. He breathed his last even before his body met the earth. Zidain found himself thrown to the cobbles, his temple colliding with an overturned piece of charred timber that struck with far more force then he would ever remember from the blow. He felt blood as he lay across the earth, it was warm, very warm like fire, or perhaps it was the pain after all. He wasn’t sure, but the same heat was oozing across his face, down his horizontally placed cheek and over the tip of his lips. Soon he could taste blood, and he knew he had to open his eyes once again. The same sight greeted him. Though blurry at first, he could still see the faint image of Tomas in the distance; sheltered but bitterly weeping in terror. Yet now, as Zidain’s sight grew clearer with time, he could see Tomas was staring back at him, wide eyed, startled but in part relieved. His mouth was ajar, clearly shouting something as he could be seen beginning to rise from his hiding spot.
“No...” Zidain struggled to cry. There was no power in his voice, or his body. Not yet. He blinked, and it was unintentional as he sensed his weary head once again begin to feel faint, and in part nauseous. It drove him to stir all the more, which he managed for a time as he raised his head, only to fall back once again on his left arm. The wound on his head continued to feel ‘warm’. His eyes drifted shut, and it felt peaceful, but with a burst of energy they shot open once again as Tomas could be seen in full view—amongst the men, amongst the riders, and fleeing amidst the Wild Men in the rain.
“No...Stop!” Zidain cried again, in his head his voice so loud and overbearing, and yet like a whisper from where he lay upon the ground.
“Don’t, go back! Go back...”
His vision flickered. With a final flash of Tomas stumbling between the legs of men, he could keep his eyes open no longer, as his consciousness drifted off, and was gone.
Thurdred cried out to the nearest of his men: “Riders about the courtyard, block off their escape and get me my damned horse, now!”
His men scurried to oblige him, sensing the battle to be over at its heart, but what was sure to be a scornful reaction from Thurdred still lay ahead. “Did you not send scouts ahead before passing through the forest?” cried the Dervion Lord to his brother Argatus, who still ached and complained of the lifeless feeling throughout his left arm wound. “Surely such a simple measure wouldn’t have slipped your mind now would it have, or have I overestimating your intelligence once again?”
“Of course I did!” cried the younger of the two “Don’t take me for a fool! Scouts were sent but heard no such word by the time we caught sight of the courtyard, and when this close to the Hall I figured—”
“You figured wrong! Have the scouts found as soon as possible. If dead, bury them. If alive...give them no lesser treatment. Someone must pay for this mistake!”
“Someone has!” cried Argatus. The mighty build of man was reduced to a knee, his shoulder swollen and split from the jagged Wildman arrow, with little but a tickle of feeling upon the tips of his fingers. “I can’t move my bloody arm here, and have to close my eyes tonight seeing myself bested by that filthy animal of a man! It’s an embarrassment and an insult!”
“And you paid accordingly for said embarrassment brother,” said Thurdred, remorse being the last thing on his mind. “Now get up, we’re leaving!”
With heavy angst in his movement, Argatus stirred from the earth. Rain pelted across his leathery skin as two servants emerged from the crowd of men bearing a brown steed. With little thought for the poor beast, the giant of a man collapsed like a timbered oak onto its hide, gathering his weary head as the wound upon his shoulder refused to close though the showering rain. It made him weak, but through a dramatically difficult challenge—and some help from the men about him—he ascended the animal and thought only of returning to the Hall.
Thurdred scanned the surrounding scene. The Dervion men were still gathering from the courtyard and had now encircled their Lords within the centre—and rightfully so Thurdred felt, these men knew their place. Wild Men still sprung and leapt about the makeshift arena, though they were scattered and few, desperately trying to escape. The encircling riders made sure very few would return to their mountain caves. The evening grew heavier and merciless. Smoke filled the air like an extension to the fine morning clouds, descending upon the earth, though the smell was murky, and tainted with the stench of blood and filth. Sweeping aside the fur of his cloak, he dashed to his rear to be greeted by a waiting white stallion and two obliging servants. “Gather the dead,” he told them as he grasped the reins, “and burn what remains of the Wild Men, leave nothing”
“Yes my lo—...”
The servant fell silent. A small knife jutted from the rim of his throat, having suddenly emerged through the crowd from an unseen assailant. The second of the two came to his flank, sword drawn, eyes cocked. A second knife came through the air, yet the servant dodged what was a poorly aimed throw, and spun steadily to his left. A single Wildman—perhaps accepting of his fate—danced violently amongst the Dervion men, moving and battling with an admiral passion as if it were to be his last. Two of the unsuspecting Dervion men fell by his feet. A third rushed the wild one, but he was slow and unprepared, and the Wildman quickly slit his throat as his line of sight approached Thurdred. The steely Lord sat perfectly upright atop his horse, perfectly still and perfectly calm. The Wild man took to the air. With an almighty force of a roar, he cast what remained of his spear, seemingly piercing the droplets of rain in its pace, only for Thurdred to give a slight lean to his left, before the spear passed safely beyond his ear. The Dervion Lord smirked accordingly, before turning to his men. Quickly the Wild man was set upon, and silenced.
“Between this and the rain, I think it’s time we left!” cried Argatus.
“Riders on me!” he growled, and the cavaliering horsemen were quick to return to the courtyard, to where Thurdred suddenly rose high upon the beating two legs of his stallion, and with a sturdy bark directed them north. A second cry was heard. The Wild Men weren’t silenced yet, with few stragglers remaining through the crowds. They spotted the Dervion Lords high atop their kingly steeds, and through sheer desperation alone, made every attempt to halt them. A short sword flew before Argatus eyes. He cried out, startled at first, before demanding his riders gather about him as he took off with frightening speed through the forcefully dispersing crowds. “About me!” he cried “Riders to my rear!” He charged forward to where his carriage still burned, and the smoke still blinded his eyes, before circling about, and headed north toward the mountain road.
Thurdred followed steadily by his side, albeit in a more subtle stride then the frantic pacing of his brother. From his perch, he observed the courtyard, and the handful of Wild Men still staking a claim to his life. He looked to his left, throwing a quick glance to signal riders to his side, and without order they approached and surrounded him, before the Dervion Lord eased out in front of them, and circled about north.
A cry came from his stead. The beast suddenly stumbled to a slight halt before it recklessly continued its gallop. Thurdred felt something also. He looked to his tight. A stray arrow had grazed his leg—a minor wound, bloodied but nothing he wouldn’t ignore, had the arrow not pierced the horse. The beast flailed out its legs as Thurdred seized the reins and tugged mercilessly on the steed’s restraints. It kicked, and struggled for a moment, before Thurdred again had control and the white horse steered left toward a smouldering amass of carriage debris. Smoke struck his eyes. With a snarl, he gathered the reins once more and spluttered a heavily resisted cough. As mighty as he was, even his eyes watered from such bitter smog. Rain pelted against his face. His vision became dull and hazy, but the carriage’s sizzling embers were still clear before him, and with a thug, forced a sharp and hasty turn from his still near-violent stallion. The thundering power of the mighty beast’s legs was not easily halted or subdued. A thud was felt from the earth, a slight obstruction that seemed to falter and get brushed aside by the rampaging frame of the Thurdred’s stallion, though it felt sickly, and strange. Through the misty veil of fog, little remained in view, especially that upon the cobbles before the Dervion Lords eyes, where the charred rock and smouldering timber appeared the same sooty black. The horse leaped toward the air as its master signalled for it to cease, and a bellowing neigh soon followed. Scanning the earth by his feet, Thurdred saw nothing for a time, before shortly the image of his obstruction became clear to him, lying motionless in the gravel of his wake.
Zidain’s eyes came to an abrupt open. Too abrupt almost, fast and sprightly like a man rising from a seat too hastily, with his eyesight quickly going hazy and dull, blinding him for a moment. The agonizing heat remained upon his forehead, and yet as he woke from the ground he had no memory for many moments of what had happened, or where he currently was. He just longed for his sight to return, or perhaps the smell of fresh air over such musty timber smog. A voice was by his head.
Zidain...” it said, and he knew it to be Tomas, albeit in a whisper, and shy. The sounds of Dervion men still rang out about the courtyard—Tomas clearly knew to be quite it seemed.
“Thanks heavens you’re alright!” cried Zidain, his eyes still flickering in a daze. He tweaked his head, but it was heavy and still, like a bucket filled with rocks that was just too awkward to move. It wasn’t pleasant, and yet neither was the heavy droplets of rain pelting of his skin and eyes. It was slowly turning to sleet—a sure sign of a bitter night ahead.
“Zidain?” Tomas whispered once again
“It’s ok, I’m here now...just give me a moment!”
The small boy fell quite once more.
“I think I’ve hit my head again...”
“Don’t worry, I’ve hit mine too! But we’re both here now, and we’ll be back on our feet in no time...”
Tomas did not replay; only the sound of heavy rain greeted Zidain’s ears. Even the Dervion servants had gone quite.
Zidain reached out his arm. It ached, like every part of his body, but he managed to get a grasp on the debris around him and free his stiffened legs. His sight was still dim, but images of glimmering flame and floating ash greeted him once again, and he remembered full well where he was once more.
“Tomas? Can you hear me?”
His wandering hand found Tomas leg. The young boy lay next to his cousin, perhaps having curled into him in an effort to remain hidden. And yet his leg remained lifeless, and didn’t move to the jabbing of Zidain’s hand. Zidain hurled his body onto his side. Pain rushed to his head, almost blinding him once again through the shock but he managed to ascend onto his shoulder, where he made out Tomas lying by his side, his eyes staring upwards toward the cloudy, ash-ridden sky. The faintest of breaths could be heard from his slightly ajar upper lip.
“We need to get up,” Zidain told him “The fighting is finally over Tomas, it’s time for us to go!”
He reached his hand toward Tomas dirt-stained cardigan; it was wet, and warm, with a familiar feel that Zidain recently felt trickling down his forehead. Zidain’s vision slowly came too. Blood covered the length of the small boy’s chest, and stretched as far as his right cheek in places. His face, still and appearing soft and tranquil, was pale and ghastly to Zidain. His eyes were motionless bar a single sudden flicker, though they did not move, and saw nothing. Zidain responded with silence, his quivering hand slowly brushing over the battered state of his cousin’s body—his left arm and leg both looked to be broken; his cheek blackened on one side, and the back of his head bloodied and moist. And yet the boy never flinched once, never cried, nor shook in fear. He blinked once again for a second time, before yet another soft exhale of air came from between his lips.
“Oh Tomas, no!” cried the elder of the two, fear settling within his mind, and confusion within his words. Taking Tomas cold hand, a tear fell to the small boy’s ghostly white cheek, to which Tomas eyelids only wavered and grew dim.
“No, no you can’t be like this, you can’t! We have to get home cousin, you have to get up and go...they’ll be looking for us!”
His seizing grip over Tomas hand tightened. The palms of his hands, though clammy, quickly grew cold and of an odd colour. The grip on the tips of the small boy’s fingers began to loosen; his arm quickly turning numb, and limp.
“And I promised you I’d get you home; I told you we’d be alright. I told you I’d protect you. So you see you see you can’t be hurt...you can’t be....now get up Tomas!”
Tomas remained still.
“Please get up...I need you to get up!”
Brushing the faint strands of wet hair from the boys hands, he looked upon Tomas fragile white face; gently wiping the blood from his cheek, caressing the cold skin as his own tears quickly overwhelmed him. A quiver of movement came from Tomas. His hand jolted, like a last gasp of energy that quickly tugged on Zidain’s hand, if only for a second. Without hesitation, Zidain held his cousins hand ever tighter, and prayed. Tomas eyes came about once more. A faint breath emerged. It was cold and weak, but came before a slight and peaceful smile. For a moment, colour seemed to enter his cheeks once more, if only for a moment.
“I’m sorry I got us in trouble...” his words whispered. Zidain came in close over his body, his hand still vigilantly placed across the boy’s face. It too was cold, though the boy noticed little.
“I didn’t mean to. Please don’t tell anyone when we get back; they’ll be very angry when they find out where we’ve been...”
“Shhh, it’s ok!” cried Zidain, his voice quivering, his hands shaking, and his eyes forcefully struggling with his own sense of loss. “They won’t be mad. They love you, they love both of us. And they care about us very much Tomas, and always will. Remember that”
“Zidain?” said the boy “I’m cold...”
Rain continued to pelt off the boy’s skin. Oozing red quickly washed from his side, while the stain of his cloth continued to grow. Checking the wound, Zidain knew full well the gash continued to bleed. Taking every breath with great difficulty, Zidain watched as the small boy’s chest rose in and out, improperly and awkward and with the utmost of effort. A faint dragging was heard in the trail of his breath, and it became rusty and faint. He grew worse.
“It’s the rain,” Zidain answered him, taking Tomas hand all the tighter in his grasp. “It’s quite cold!” He wiped the droplets from his cousin’s eyes, and with that they closed, yet remained in a slight flicker. Again Zidain caressed the side of his cheek—he could feel the open wound on the far side of the boy head; it was warm, and no doubt numb to Tomas, who was once again smiling.
“Can we have our chicken dinner soon?” he said “You’ve been promising me all day...”
Zidain threw his glance to the earth. Rain trickled down his eyes, but with a groan he overcame the more aggressive urge to weep. He sniffled, and coughed, before raising his tired puffy eyes to the tranquil image of his cousin once more, and said; “Soon...it’s almost time for us to go now. Do you remember earlier, when I asked you to picture it for me? The taste, the smell? Can you picture it for me now...can you see the stuffing?”
Again a flicker of strength arose in Tomas body. His stiffened hand tickled with a jolt. The tips of his fingers slowly tightened as Zidain felt the gentle effort of an embrace from his cousin. His smile grew. “I can smell it,” he said, his eyes beginning to open. The sight of descending rain greeted him as he stared upward unto the skies, ignoring all around him in favour of the gloomy, cloudy scene above his head, where water cascaded upon him, drowning his body, blinding him—and he smiled. In his mind, at that time, all he could see was his mother working hard on a Sunday evening in their kitchen. He was there, as was his father. And the room filled with a familiar scent—it was herbs, and roasted chicken adorned with many golden potatoes, and gravy. His favourite, and it never smelt better than it did in that time. It was easily the most beautiful image the boy had ever seen. Now it was time for him to go there; he was happy, and decided he would like to sit at the table and eat.
“The stuffing smells the best,” he told Zidain, staring upon his cousin more wide eyed then any time the elder of the two could ever remember of him. He appeared content, and hopeful. Again he smiled, as the weight of his head grew heavy, and he eased slightly onto Zidain’s hand, feeling comfort and exhaustion, finding only the strength to whisper; “It’s my favourite part...”, and closed his eyes.
With that, the faintest of sounds signalled the boy’s last aching breath. His eyes no longer flickered. His hand no longer twitched. Rain struck him now as if he were a part of the earth itself—hollow and lifeless to Zidain’s ears.
“Tomas?” he cried, knowing full well that his cousin would never answer him again. And yet he called his name for a final time, again receiving no response from the boy, and at last the much struggled urge to weep finally overwhelmed him; crying bitterly as he took his cousins body gently into his arms.
“Please forgive me,” he whispered. Tomas rested peacefully in his grasp now; his arms neatly tucked to his side like that of a sleeping child, his face still adorned with the slightest of pleasant grins. “I thought I could save us! Itold youI would get us home, and I promise you I did my best...and I still failed you. I wish you could hear me right now, I wish you could open your eyes one last time and know that I’m sorry, and know that I’d give anythingto take this back...just let me take it back and I’ll do better, I’ll do better I promise! Just give me another chance!”
A moments silence followed.
“Please open your eyes... Don’t leave me here alone...”
The darkly ominous sky remained in that moment. Grey clouds swarmed over head; unearthly wind whistled throughout the tree branches, and the rain—as heavy and treacherous as ever—continued its relentless downpour on the courtyard cobbles. And yet through it all, through the unending bitterness of the weathered conditions, Zidain felt nothing as he lay across the courtyard, nothing bar the soft touch of Tomas brow as he held him close to his chest, gently weeping as the drizzle seeped across his eyes.
“Goodbye Tomas...” he softly spoke, once more wiping the blood from his cousins pale skin, before a faint noise drew his attention to his front. It was distant, or so it seemed to his ears, when in truth his mind had blocked out all other sounds for too long. A horse stood before his eyes—a mighty build of a white horse, a stallion amongst stallions no doubt, vast and powerful, and coasted in a finely soaked grey mane that flailed wildly in response to the steeds aggression. With a stomp, it dug into the earth once, before its hind leg sprung in a sudden jump and the best galloped into a spin. It was injured—its thigh noticeably stained in oozing red from an arrow that remained lodge within its thick skin. It angered the horse, and in its anger it proved difficult tame. Then he noticed further stains of blood upon the beast—its powerful, clay ridden legs smeared in a filthy dark red upon the right side, extending as far as its underbelly, with splashes upon the base of its neck.
A man sat upon the mighty stead. Although he struggled to control his animal at first, his aggressive and responsive chocking of the reins brought order to the temper of horse, and now he sat calmly upon the back of his ride, returning an equally curious stare toward the young boy bearing his dead cousin in solely in his arms. Although not by name, Zidain knew this man. He remembered his distinctly serpent like face, his tall slender frame, and the sweeping brown cloak of fur that his servants so carefully placed upon his shoulders. Yet mostly he remembered the way this man had spoken to his men not long before the arrival of the Wild Men, with a strong voice of conviction, deep, booming when required of him, but dark and treacherous even to a one who claimed to be of the Dervion family. He was the one they referred to as Thurdred no doubt, lord of the Dervion families.
Thurdred remained steely and still upon his high stead. He matched eyes with the boy—for a moment, confused as to who he was, where he had come from—but quickly gathering his thoughts as to the situation about them. Unaware to Zidain, the remaining servants of the Dervion family had gathered about him, and peering out through the soppy hair between his eyes, he saw many hardy, embattled faces staring back at him, having formed a tight circle about the two fallen boys. At last the Dervions had noticed their presence. Swords still clung within many of their hands; bitter looks of angst lay on the faces of many—their hands, their bodies still scarred and stained with blood. The horse riders circled about as Argatus rode his stead gently behind that of his brother, staring outward upon the fallen Tomas, before throwing the sharpest of glances toward the earth, a look of disgust, but one he would quickly hide. And yet, his facial expression and what he felt in his heart was the common sickly feeling amongst all those gathered about the fallen child. They looked on, as Zidain sat weeping in the rain, cherishing the lifeless body of his dead cousin, gazing much as they did moments ago as Thurdred’s stallion cut down Tomas mid stride, breaking the small boy’s body and casting him to the earth. They watched, having been already surrounded by death, as a child before their eyes was brutally struck in such a sickeningly hasty manner, and it horrified them. Each man present gave a quick look to his left, then to his right, and every one of them quickly held the same look of silent grief within their eyes. They were bad people doing terrible things, but they were never monsters—they knew well when something shouldn’t be, and right now they watched as a four year old boy died in the arms of his older cousin, and all they could do was to remain silent, remain obedient in the presence of Thurdred, who continued his sombre staring, with little in his eyes bar rain.
“What is your name?” he cried out toward the remaining boy, the clearly older of the two.
Zidain slowly peered up, his face paler then a ghost; his eyes a sea or red, tired and puffy. He refused an answer but remained still in his slouch, scanning the gathered audience of men, gazing at the blood upon the shins of the white stallion before him, and he knew all too well what hadbefallen his cousin. He continued to deny Thurdred an answer, gently wiping the rain from his own cheek then Tomas, before he embraced his cousin one last time, and sat quietly in the rain. Thurdred looked on. He could sense the gathered eyes about him, the look of shock and disgust in the faces of his servants, and although he could not see him, he could sense the cowardly hiding of his brother to his rear, no doubt afraid to reveal his true feelings. It mattered little to him. He stared once again toward Zidain, now more sointrigued then before—he had spotted the ripped cloth upon his back, where by chance, he noticed the distinctive burn mark that came only from the hot iron brand of the Quigladh Q,carefullyengraved between the boy’s shoulder blades.
“So you’re one of Hammen’s are you?” he cried, his baritone voice struggling to match pace with the wind.
Again Zidain refused to oblige him. His eyes drifted upward once more, but his jaw fell slack, his face expressionless and numb. Perhaps he wished to speak, or perhaps he had no words to say, yet inevitably he remained silent in shock, in grief. The last of Tomas blood quickly washed off his hands in the easing rain, and once more it brought him to weep. The gathered Dervions looked again to Thurdred, expecting something from their Lord, sympathy, an apology, or the simple manner of leaving. Many could no longer stare at what was before their eyes. The sky was indeed clearing; the sun light at last starting to creep through with the heavy rain dying into a drizzle. Yet still, the courtyard seemed no brighter. Again they turned to Thurdred, where he sensed their unrest and hinted subtly for their departure. They obliged with relief, and slowly the encircled men began to break away in a sombrely fashion, the sounds of footsteps plodding through the fresh puddles going unheard to Zidain. A whistle soon broke his concentration. He looked up, and Thurdred remained before him—Argatus slowly moving off to his rear, but not without one last solemn glance toward Tomas, before he too longed to be elsewhere. Thurdred reached to his pocket.
“Go home boy,” he told Zidain, his voice bearing as much emotion as a stone. From his pocket, he took a silver coin which he quickly threw to the earth. It landed at Zidain’s feet, sending a slight splash of murky water to his face, though perhaps not through intent. It was gleaming on its face-up side, and bore a distinctively engraved D resting upon two heather flowers. “Take it...” cried Thurdred “Then leave here. There’s nothing left for you now in this place”
Moments later Thurdred was gone. The last sounds of the dying storm were of trumpets in the wind, horns of the Dervion name bellowing throughout the forest trees as the roar of thundering horses departed for the mountain hall; their exodus a choir of seemingly coordinated rumblings cascading through the earth, before eventually the sound was gone, and all became quite and still once more, leaving Zidain to find himself alone.