You’ve probably heard of Fidelyon, by now. That novel I’ve been working on for years and am currently trying to trim to a manageable length.
While writing a prequel short story.
I say short. It will probably be novelette length. Regardless, after much (like, a whole five minute’s worth) deliberation, I thought you might enjoy seeing how some of the main characters in Fidelyon first met. Just keep in mind that it is currently a work in progress and I’ve not polished yet. Basically, there might be some typoes…
But without more ado, here is part one of Bearer’s of Bronze, an account of events that happened four years before the novel, when Ethaniel was fifteen.
Bearers of Bronze – Part 1: Healer and Half-Blood
Keros staggered, crashing to one knee on the stone path. He couldn’t… he… when had he stopped running? He was supposed to be running. He shoved himself up and swayed. Green turf swelled like the waves of a mythical sea, edged in rims of shadow. He dragged a hand across his face and blinked. The path was still there, writhing in a dozen contorted curves.
Keros forced himself forward. Running. He needed to run. Three leagues. Why was it so hard this time? He ought to be almost there now. Almost there… He was so thirsty; so tired. His stomach twisted into burning knots. Run. Just keep running.
There was a message…
First run… First run down the line. He had to make it all the way. He couldn’t remember why anymore. It didn’t matter. Just run… Keep running.
The shadows were growing thicker, darker, ahead of him now, not just on the sides. A short, squat wall… No, more than a wall. It was a stone building; he’d seen them before. It was…
He stumbled, collapsing against the wall. His fingers dug against the stone and he shoved himself upright with a ragged gasp, dashing his free hand across his eyes. The door stood half open, only paces away.
Shaquille be praised.
An Outpost; the Outpost.
Maybe… maybe this time they would let him rest.
Ethaniel’s fingers froze over the quill as something thudded outside the Outpost. Who…? A choked pant rasped, then white fingers gripped the door frame. A narrow, lithe figure stumbled against the shallow steps, crashing to his knees at the threshold. Sweat plastered black hair against tanned skin and salty streaks stained hollowed cheeks. The messenger’s eyes were squeezed shut.
“Ard!” Ethaniel over his shoulder as he jerked to his feet and threw himself over the table, scattering parchments in all directions. Prince above, why would anyone run in such a condition? He’d not seen this one before. The messenger’s fingers slipped and Ethaniel skidded to his knees, catching the figure. Footsteps thudded from the room behind him. He paid them no heed as he pressed the back of his hand against the messenger’s parched skin.
The young man’s lips moved soundlessly, one hand fumbling at the pouch at his side.
“Hush.” Ethaniel grasped his wrist as Ard’s shadow fell over him from behind. “We’ll get the message, never fear. You’re safe now. Relax. We got you. You’re safe.”
The words drifted through a haze.
Keros trembled. He was so cold; so hot. A distant voice murmured, steady as the rain on a summer day. He blinked, peeling back his eyelids. The shadows were still there, thicker now. Green eyes stabbed through them as a pale face bent over him. Anxious, worried eyes. Why did they worry?
How… why were the eyes over him? He’d fallen, somehow. He needed to get up. He needed… an arm wrapped tightly around his shoulders, sheltering him; shielding him.
Fingers twisted around the chain about his neck.
Heat stabbed through Keros’s chest.
He tried to twist away, but he couldn’t move; couldn’t even see now. The heavy weight of his medallion slipped from his chest and somewhere a voice muttered a slur of derision.
The arms about him didn’t flinch. They only tightened, holding him closer as all faded into blackness.
The messenger trembled in Ethaniel’s arms. The lad couldn’t be older than himself. His tunic stuck to his chest, drenched in sweat. How had he even made it this far? Ard crouched on Keros’s other side and fumbled with his pouch.
“Your run, Bryce.” The older man didn’t even glance up.
A figure behind Ethaniel snorted. “What is a half-blood doing with a message in the first place?”
Ethaniel stiffened. “At least he got here, no matter his condition.” He peered brushed the matted hair back. The lad’s face was finely shaped beneath the pallor of his tanned skin. Dark lines traced hollows beneath his eyes. “I’ll wager a month’s wages this is more than a sudden sickness.” He twisted open the messenger’s waterskin and tested a tiny mouthful. An acidic bitterness lingered on his tongue. Ethaniel choked and grimaced. “Blood-fennel. The monsters.” He pulled the strap over Keros’s head and tossed the skin away. “Drexin?” Where was that messenger? “I need—”
Keros shuddered, then gagged.
Ethaniel jerked, supporting the messenger’s shoulders as he bowed forward and vomited. Probably for the best, all considering. Prince only knew how much of the blood-fennel he’d ingested already. Ethaniel wrapped an arm around the young man’s chest, keeping him from pitching forward. The messenger’s bronze medallion swayed in the open like an ancient pendulum. Ethaniel gritted his teeth. “Drexin—”
“Got him.” A figure flickered Keros’s opposite side and another pair of arms gripped the limp messenger. Blue eyes twisted with concern under a thatch of straw-like hair. “To a bed, then?”
Ethaniel raised an eyebrow and met Drexin’s gaze. “What do you think? Come on and help me.”
Keros staggered. Strong arms on either side kept him upright. The shadows swam in vague outlines of doors and windows. The sunlight was bright; much too bright. He squeezed his eyes shut. The darkness shifted. He was falling, falling…
He landed on a bed.
The light dimmed. An arm slid beneath his shoulders, then something cool pressed against his parted lips and liquid splashed into his mouth. The water was strange, with a cinnamon-peppery taste. But his tongue felt bitter and he was so thirsty. He drank eagerly until the cup was pulled away.
Somewhere a voice murmured and another replied, followed by fading footsteps.
The arm beneath him shifted and a tremor shuddered through Keros. It paused, tightening as if in a protective shield. A voice whispered; he couldn’t make out the words but the tone wound through webs of sleep like that of a father to a young child or a rider to a wounded wolf. Keros relaxed with a ragged breath, releasing the last desperate grip on consciousness.
He was safe, now.
He could sleep.
Ethaniel settled the half-blood on his bed and retreated a step. He stretched his arm and grimaced. At least the messenger was sleeping now. He’d sleep till evening at least, hopefully longer. Ethaniel didn’t dare give him more dreamroot in his condition. Blood-fennel aside, how long had it been since Keros got a proper rest?
Ethaniel rubbed the back of his neck, then bit his lip and stepped from the room.
Drexin was shoving to his feet, a rag in one hand, a bucket of water in the other. The messenger raised an eyebrow. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were using your skills as an excuse to escape the less pleasant duties accompanying those who are sick.”
Ethaniel snorted. “Lucky that you know better then, isn’t it?” He shoved up his sleeves and pulled a second rag from a shelf at the back of the room. “And if you even consider this floor to be clean…”
Drexin chuckled. “I’ll get fresh water.” He shook a finger at Ethaniel. “Don’t you dare go anywhere.”
Ethaniel leaned against the door frame, peering into the darkened room. It was afternoon already and the lad had barely moved. Good. He needed the rest.
Bells jangled from the main entrance and Ethaniel jerked. A messenger shoved into the outpost. Sweat matted dusty brown hair as he gripped the edge of the door. “Goes to Eight.” He yanked the messenger pouch from over his head and tossed it on the table. “I suppose that will be your pleasure, Yathome?” His lip curled into and he threw back his hair, jutting out his chin as he met Ethaniel’s gaze.
Ethaniel raised one eyebrow. “Good afternoon, Rance.”
“A very good one,” another voice muttered. Drexin brushed a scattering of parchments into a pile and snatched for the messenger pouch as Ethaniel stepped forward. “Take care of those for me.” He jerked his head toward his scribblings. “I’ll run it.”
“Like Solbane you will.” Ethaniel snorted. “You just ran last night.” He reached for the pouch, but Drexin pivoted out of reach and slid it across his shoulder.
The messenger laughed. “You more important matters to tend here, as I’m sure Ard will agree.” Drexin glanced past Ethaniel. Ard leaned against the door frame of a second chamber.
He nodded. “If you’re willing. You’ve four minutes.”
Drexin chuckled and slid past Ethaniel into the sleeping chamber.
“So now the Yathome gets out of running,” Rance grumbled. He stepped fully into the outpost and poured a mug of water, sloshing it over his hand and the table. “What do you do?”
“You might be surprised.” Ethaniel snatched up Drexin’s parchments. Fragmented bits of speeches and legend mingled with rough sketches of landscapes, twisting symbols, and scenes Ethaniel didn’t recognize.
“One of these days you’ll be grateful you know a healer.” Drexin stepped from the room, sliding a sword across his shoulder. “Trust me.” He took a swift drink and swept a quick salute to Ethaniel. “I expect you to have Keros back on his feet by the time I return.”
“Never you fear for him,” Ethaniel said.
Drexin sprang from the door.
Rance frowned. “Keros? The half-blood moving down to Six?”
“Got a problem with that?” Ethaniel asked. He lay out Drexin’s quills and fastened lids to the ink. Rance’s footsteps thudded across the room. Ethaniel wiped the quills clean, then straightened as Rance ducked into the chamber where Keros lay sleeping.
“Would you just…” Ethaniel sighed, tucked Drexin’s work in a waiting box, then caught up a staff that leaned against the wall. He rounded the corner and stepped into the dim chamber. “Rance.”
The messenger ignored him as he bent over the sleeping figure. He dragged the bronze medallion into a glimmer of light, then scowled.
“Rance!” Ethaniel tossed Drexin’s box on his bed and rested both hands on his staff.
The messenger glanced at him, then paused, his gaze resting on the staff.
Ethaniel sighed. “Get out.”
Rance released the disc. “You really want to spend your time tending a half-blood who has even less a name than you?”
Ethaniel’s jaw clenched. “There are some who care less for such things, messenger. But if you think I’ll abandon anyone who has been poisoned and tormented by your kind—”
Rance’s breath hissed and he covered the space between them with a quick step. “Careful, Yathome. A healer knowing poisons will only do so much good after they take effect.”
Ethaniel lifted his chin, staring into the older messenger’s eyes. “Just get out.” His fingers tightened around the staff.
The messenger wavered.
Ethaniel pressed his lips tightly, without looking way.
Finally Rance gave a scoffing laugh. “As if I plan to spend my time in a sick room.” He shoved past Ethaniel. “Have fun, Yathome.”
Ethaniel sighed and watched the messenger shove from the door. He raised an eyebrow and stared down on the sleeping figure. “It’s going to be a long night, isn’t it?”
He was drifting in an endless sea of stars. Keros reached out, but they hovered just beyond his fingertips; each one a tiny storm of light contained in a single crystal drop. Thousands of sparks, each suppressing a flame that could range destruction to the edge of the universe.
A breath waft across his skin; a cool draft of air. The wind wrapped around him, whispering in his ears. He felt… cold, almost. Yet it was a pleasant, fresh kind of coldness. He exhaled softly. A faint rasping echoed from star to star, except the lights were flickering out, one by one. He pivoted, stumbling first in one direction, then another.
The last spark sputtered and died.
Keros gasped, his eyes flying open. Walls rose on four sides and dim beams loomed overhead. The rasping continued, like the gnawing of teeth on wood.
A glimmer of light seeped from a shadow lamp and reflected from the wall back into the room. A lithe figure sat on the bed across from Keros. Both his hands were clenched around a staff, his head resting against the wood. Keros blinked groggily. The room was blurring again, the web of shadows drawing him downward.
The rasping grew louder and the figure across from him lifted his head. Clear eyes glinted like flecks of crystal, then the young man stood and stepped softly across the room. A fresh breeze swept across the room as a shutter eased open. A strangled exclamation cut through the night, then the shutters thudded shut. A bar rattled across them, fastening them tight.
Footsteps mingled with grumbling as the figure stepped back into the center of the room. For a moment, the other messenger’s eyes sliced the shadows, then Keros’s eyes slipped shut and sleep swept over his mind once more.