Bearers of Bronze is a Fidelyon short story introducing Ethaniel, Keros, Drexin, and their world of messenger lines, prejudice, and medallions. Check out the first four parts below.
The last section left everything seeming pretty much finished. Which is a horrible way to end a section in a serial story. As you’ll see today, Ethaniel’s night isn’t over yet.
Welcome to the last part of Bearers of Bronze. Catch up on the story through the links above if you’ve missed it.
*rolling of drums*
Keros gnawed on his lip, pacing from one end of the Outpost to the other. Outside, the horizon was aflame with the dying sun. Ethaniel would be fine. Drexin was with him. He bore silver, at least. They’d not do anything too terrible to one who wore silver.
Something thudded dully in the distance, like rapid footsteps but—wrong. A handful of horses drew up outside the outpost and a cloak the color of blood fluttered around a tall figure. Keros drew a soft breath and pulled further into the shadows as the Outpost Captain started to his feet.
The door crashed open.
“Councilman Kavon!” The Captain inclined his head. “I didn’t expect you back so soon.”
“Well, I’m here,” the man growled. He shoved a thinner figure in front of him.
Keros took an involuntary step forward. Those bruises hadn’t been on Rance’s face back in Erathrane, had they? And what had happened to the sling Ethaniel made? The fabric was half-torn and the messenger’s arm twisted at a weird angle. Dried tears streaked the young man’s face.
“R…Rance?” Keros reached out.
The messenger flinched, staring at him for a long moment, his eyes glittering. Then he choked back a sob and shoved past, slamming the door of one of the smaller rooms behind him.
Kavon frowned, his gaze skimming the Outpost. “Has Keraz got here yet?”
“Your son?” The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t seen him since he left with you earlier today.”
The Councilman scowled and propped one leg on a bench. “He’ll be here soon enough. I’ll wait. You might need to find someone to tend to him.” He jerked his head toward the room Rance had entered.
Keros hesitated, then crept forward. “My lord?” he managed.
The man’s gaze snapped to him, his lip curling in distaste as his gaze drifted over Keros’s black hair and pale eyes. “What?”
“Y-you came from Seven?”
“Did…” Keros bit his lip.
“There was some treason that was dealt with.” Kavon flexed his hand. “The general’s son will pull through it well enough.”
“And Ethaniel?” Keros demanded.
The man studied him again. “The Yathome? You’ll not need to worry about him after tonight.”
Keros froze, his stomach twisting.
The man turned away. “Captain, some wine would you? If I have to wait for my son, I can at least do it in comfort.” He sank down at the table as the door behind him thudded back open.
A messenger caught the door frame with a deep breath. “M-message to travel to Seven.”
The Captain nodded, pointedly ignoring Kavon. “Keros, find Eimhin. Tell him—”
“Let me run it.” Keros sprang forward. “Please.”
The Captain frowned as the new messenger pulled off his the leather pouch. “You just ran earlier. Surely—”
“I’ve rested the last two days.” Keros snatch up the pouch, his hands trembling as he forced himself not to look at the Councilman. “I can do it.”
The man hesitated.
Keros’s fingers clenched, his lips drawing tight.
The Captain’s gaze flickered to Kavon, then back. He jerked his head. “Go.”
“Thank you.” Keros flung the messenger pouch over his shoulder and sprang out the door. The Captain’s voice drifted after him—something about a cloak, but he ignored it, focusing only on the path that gleamed softly in the gathering gloaming.
Ethaniel… he had to get to Ethaniel before Keraz did.
Pale slivers of early moonlight lanced across Drexin’s face.
Ethaniel bit his lip, watching his friend. He’d sleep for some time now. The exhaustion and pain would have been enough even without dreamroot, but better to be safe.
Ethaniel rolled his shoulders, testing the stiffening aches encasing his whole back. He winced. Calendula could only do so much to ease that. Served him right in any case. He rubbed his eyes and muffled a sigh, pushing to his feet. He’d do the same again of course, except find a way to drug and force Drexin to stay behind.
Ethaniel pushed from the room. Warm light spilled from several lamps and cast long shadows about Ard as he stood on the hearth. The rest of the room was empty—Zevlin had taken Ard’s room. The rest of the men had passed on.
Ard’s forehead was wrinkled, his lips curved in a troubled frown. Ethaniel took a step toward him, then hesitated.
“Ethaniel!” Ard started. “You ought to be resting.”
“I can’t sleep.”
The Captain raised an eyebrow. “I believe I know something that can help with that.”
“Don’t you dare.” Ethaniel retreated a step. “I’m almost out of dreamroot anyway.”
“More’s the pity.” Ard snorted softly, then clasped his hands behind his back and studied Ethaniel. “Well?”
Ethaniel bit his lip. “I… I’m sorry.” He lifted gaze. “Not for what I did. I couldn’t…” He glanced away. “But it wasn’t supposed to end like that. Drexin…”
“He made his choice, same as you.” Ard crossed the chamber in a few swift strides. “Surely you’d not begrudge him that?”
Ethaniel squeezed his eyes shut, Drexin’s pale face wrapping around each thought.
“Come now.” Ard gripped Ethaniel’s shoulder gently. His hand shifted to the base of Ethaniel’s neck and he pressed Ethaniel’s forehead against his chest. “Was it worth it? Answer me that. Whatever you left for, I know it wasn’t a whim.” He pulled back and met Ethaniel’s eyes with steady gray ones. “So?”
Ethaniel drew a deep breath, blinking against tiny pinpricks in the back of his eyes. “Yes.” He exhaled. “It was… it was worth it.”
Ard gave a small nod. “Then let that be enough.” He pressed one finger against Ethaniel’s lips. “It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. But it can’t overwhelm you.”
Ethaniel’s throat tightened. “It won’t. It… just…” his shoulders slumped.
“Oh, Ethaniel.” Firm arms wrapped carefully around Ethaniel.
Ethaniel buried his face against the Captain’s shoulder, his fist closing around the man’s tunic. A silent sob shook him and he let himself sink into the strong embrace. Shadows crept along the corners of the Outpost, but here it was warm, protected by an immovable shield. Ard’s hand drifted to the base of his neck, the fingers tangling in his hair and pressing him close.
Here it was safe.
Ethaniel finally pulled away and dashed one hand across his eyes. “Y-you’ll need a runner for Drexin for a week or two at least.”
“You let me worry about messengers,” Ard said. “You need to rest.”
“I will. Soon.” Ethaniel stepped toward the outer door. He fumbled at his cloak and dragged it across his shoulders with a shiver. “I want to see the stars first.”
Ard grunted. “Fine. But only a few minutes.” He clasped his fingers around his wrist. “Otherwise I’ll drag you back in myself.”
Ethaniel ducked his head with a faint chuckled and pushed outside.
A cool breeze whispered in his ears, teasing at his hair and cloak. Ethaniel tilted his head back and closed his eyes, drawing the night in with a deep breath. Overhead stars glimmered, pale pin-pricks struggling against the moon that hung like a great white medallion. Ethaniel tugged his cloak tighter with one hand and stepped toward the south side of the Outpost. The shutter to his and Drexin’s room still rested half-open. Ethaniel leaned against the cool stone next to it, gingerly allowing some pressure against his back.
Wind and moonlight danced with sharp shadows and the rustles of grasses. Slowly Ethaniel sank to the ground, drawing his knees to his chest. He rested his head back against the wall, staring upward. The very stars seemed to thrum with silence. Almost Ethaniel thought he could hear the faintest echo of boots pounding along the path.
Movement flickered in the corner of his sight.
Ethaniel jerked, his breath hissing as the aches on his back protested the sudden movement.
A young man leaned against the corner of the outpost, burnished hair framing his face. The cloak was gone, but the uniform was as sharp as earlier. The moonlight and stark shadows set out the similarity of his features to Kavon without doubt.
“Keraz!” Ethaniel stumbled to his feet, his mouth dry. His fingers clenched beneath the shelter of his cloak and every muscle tensed.
“I do believe there should be a title in there, Yathome,” the man flexed long, pale fingers at his side. He took a step forward, his eyes glittered like pools of black ink and his lip curved in the faintest sneer. “What do you think?”
Ethaniel’s breath quickened and he sidestepped swiftly.
Keraz was even faster, both hands closing about Ethaniel’s shoulders and hurling him against the Outpost. A knee drove into Ethaniel’s stomach, cutting off his breath before he could scream at the explosion of agony across his back.
Ethaniel doubled over and an elbow smashed into his temple. His legs buckled. Ethaniel twisted, struggling to rise, but Keraz yanked the shutter to Drexin’s room shut then collapsed on top of him, one knee pinning him to the ground. Ethaniel gasped for breath, but Keraz’s hand pressed against his mouth.
“He told us, you know.” The Councilman’s son leaned close, his breath pricking Ethaniel’s neck. “Father made him tell what really happened.” The fingers constricted, the nails digging into Ethaniel’s cheek. “You dare to touch the son of a lord, Yathome?”
Ethaniel wrenched against the iron grip. It loosened for a moment and fresh air flooded his lungs, then a rag was shoved into his mouth. He gagged, trying to roll away. Keraz slammed Ethaniel’s head against the side of the Outpost. Something crushed against the small of Ethaniel’s back. Tears of pain mingled with white flashes behind his eyes and his face ground against the stone wall. One arm was trapped awkwardly beneath him and the other was caught in a strong grip, twisted behind his back.
“Injury for injury is only just, don’t you think?” Keraz asked. His hand rotated, forcing Ethaniel’s arm up. Shards of pain tore through through muscles and strained against bone. The night blurred.
“Except perhaps a bit more, seeing you carry no more than bronze,” Keraz added. He continued twisting. Ethaniel’s shoulder wrenched out of place and he screamed against the gag. The pressure only increased, flashes of heat and agony churning in the pit of Ethaniel’s stomach. The aches of earlier faded dully in the distant, mingled with the thud of his heart and another rhythm… slower, less steady, yet still somehow frantic.
A cry drifted as if from a long corridor, followed by a closer, muffled oath. Movement flashed, a thin figure springing from the faint ribbon of the path, hurling himself toward them.
The fingers released Ethaniel’s wrist and the weight on his back fell away as Keraz spun to meet the newcomer. Ethaniel spat out the gag, choking and coughing through his tears. His left arm hung limply and fire raged along his shoulder, but he shoved himself unsteadily to his knees as Keraz hurled his rescuer back. For a brief moment, the lad’s pale face was outlined in the harsh moonlight.
Zevlin paced to the end of the small chamber, hesitated, then yanked open the door.
Ard was still staring into the fire with that worried frown of his. He cared too much for his charges. He and the ranger had both suffered worse during the wars when they were only a few years older than the messengers. The lads would be fine.
Zevlin suppressed a grimace and slipped across the narrow hollow to the door of his son’s room.
The young idiot.
Drexin lay on his back despite the wounds from the beating—probably for the sake of his ribs. He breathed softly, his face almost peaceful now. Zevlin took half a step toward the lad. His face was pale but clean now, the tears washed away. There was still a faint smudge of blood just below his ear.
Zevlin’s cheek twitched.
Did Drexin think his father completely heartless? Was it so much to understand, the honor of a family and of a name? Did he think he must suffer what no general would ask of even a traitor to gain it?
The General muffled a faint groan and brushed a strand of hair from the lad’s face. Barely more than a child, yet already so strong.
A cry filtered through the shutters, followed by the impact of something against the stones and the curses of a detested voice.
Zevlin’s fingers clenched and he strode across the room.
What had Keraz done?
Ethaniel tried to roll free of Keraz’s legs as the young lord staggered upright. Too slow. Something crashed against his injured arm and he crumpled with a strangled scream. At least tripping Keraz had given time for Keros to regain his feet. The messenger swayed, his fists white.
Keraz sprang at him. Keros ducked, evading one arm and slamming his elbow into Keraz’s gut. The man gasped but barely stumbled. He snagged the neck of Keros’s tunic and slammed him against the Outpost. Metal glinted from his other hand.
Keros’s eyes widened.
“Well now.” Keraz pressed the dagger against the messenger’s throat. “I think they’ll miss a half-blood even less than a Yathome, don’t you?”
Ethaniel staggered to one knee. The ground swayed, blazing and freezing all at once. “Keraz…” his whisper rasped and he almost pitched forward.
Something dark dropped from the Outpost and a tall figure seized Keraz by the back of the neck, shaking him violently then hurling him to the side. Keros slumped to his knees with a ragged gasp.
A voice rose, furious, snapping with lightning. Was that… was that Zevlin? The general stalked toward the fallen figure, but Keraz shoved to his feet with a cry, stumbling back and almost tripping. Zevlin sprang at him. The man turned and fled. Shadows wrapped about Keraz, about the Outpost, about Keros who’d dragged himself to his side.
“…if you dare show your face, wolf-born coward!” The general’s shout followed him. Zevlin paused, then slowly turned. For a moment, his eyes locked on Ethaniel, but the shadows crept about them as well. Thin arms caught him, lowering him to the ground, cradling his head.
“Ethaniel?” Keros’s voice broke. ”Ethaniel!”
His lips parted. Fine… just needed rest… the words faltered away, unspoken.
“Ethaniel.” The voice was sharper, rougher. Molten blue eyes hovered, inches away from his own. Not Ard… Ard’s voice was more distant. This one dragged at him, forcing him to attend. “Erathrane’s shadows, was harming my son not enough?” Swift hands probed his shoulder then gripped his elbow and forearm. They pulled.
Ethaniel grew rigid, choking back a scream as his shoulder snapped back in place.
For a moment the fingers tightened firm and almost… comforting. Tight lines traced creases around the general’s eyes. “You don’t need to kill yourself.”
The words swam without meaning, jumbling with Ard’s voice. Ethaniel’s eyes slipped slowly shut. Ard could deal with it now. Could…
Arms slid beneath his knees and shoulders. Somewhere there was sudden warmth, then lights and steps, voices and something forced between his lips. All of it chaos. Senseless. Part of something… something else.
There was nothing left now.
Nothing but darkness and sleep.
Ethaniel woke to the peppery-cinnamon taste of dreamroot. Mottled light flickered across the rafters overhead. Pale blue eyes watched him steadily.
“Keros!” Ethaniel drew a sharp breath and shoved up on one elbow, then fell back with a groan. His head spun and for a moment the bed rocked as if in a high wind. Slowly it steadied into dull aches massing across his whole body. He closed his eyes. “How… how much dreamroot did you give me?”
“Eh…” Fabric rustled. “There might not be any left.”
Ethaniel groaned, then pushed himself more slowly into a sitting position. “There were at least two doses left.” He tested his left arm. It was sore and stiff, but at least he could move it. “Way too much…” his took the cup Keros offered and gulped down the fresh water. His hands trembled and he blinked. “Too much…”
“Zevlin said it would keep you from getting up right away,” Keros said.
Ethaniel blinked, forcing his eyes to open wide. “Zevlin said what?”
“He’s gone now.” A new voice offered across the room. Drexin sat against the wall on his bed, one knee drawn carefully up to his chest. “Told him he’d best leave before you found out.”
Ethaniel shook his head, struggling to clear away the web of sleep. “He ought… to know better.” He fumbled for his herbal pouch and pulled out a plug of ginseng root. Ignoring the bitter, earthy taste, he chewed on it several times, then glanced at Keros again. “How are you here? I thought…”
Keros shrugged rose to his feet, shoving the chair aside. “Messages, of course. Someone has to stay here for a few weeks until you both can run again.”
“I can run.” Ethaniel shoved to his feet then collapsed to one knee. He gritted his teeth and pulled himself upright.
Keros planted a palm against Ethaniel’s chest and shoved him backward.
Ethaniel sat down hard. “Why you—”
“Rest.” Keros raised one eyebrow. “You’ll thank me eventually.”
Across the room, Drexin chuckled. “He’s been looking forward to you waking up just to say that.”
Ethaniel tried to scowl, but already his eyes were drooping despite the ginseng. “I’m going to get you for that. Both of you.”
Drexin laughed and Keros grinned. “I’m sure.”
“You… you…” Ethaniel sputtered. He bowed forward, pressing his palms against his eyes. Shadows, he was so tired…
A hand pushed him over.
“Rest,” Keros’s voice was firm despite the smile. “A certain messenger showed me how to deal with… how did he put it, stubborn idiots who refuse to sleep? We’ll still be here when you wake up.”
Still be there…
Ethaniel exhaled softly, but he was too weary to struggle against the webs in his mind any longer.
Slowly, he slipped back to sleep.
*slow, epic drum roll as curtain falls*
There you have them. Ethaniel, Keros, and Drexin, three years before Fidelyon starts. I’m looking forward to when I can present the whole book to you, but for now this will have to be enough.