Friday, May 01, 2015

Bonus Scene 5 - The Restorer

After Chapter 15

How Nolan came to be assigned to be a messenger to Braide Wood


I grabbed the edge of the jagged wall and skidded into a quick turn on my way to the messenger’s gathering room. The polished stone floors of Zarek’s palace didn’t provide much traction. My feet slipped, but I ran faster. Late again. My mother had been in so much pain that I’d risked an early morning errand to the market to bargain for a few drug patches. I had to slip into the room before Keeper Fentick began handing out the day’s assignments. Maybe today would be one of the days he lumbered in late nursing a headache from a night of drinking.

Slowing to quiet my breathing, I ducked into the door and wedged myself among a group of other messengers. The mountain gods had deserted me today. Fentick was already dispensing assignments.
His bloodshot eyes found me instantly. “And finally, the generals have requested a messenger for a special task.”

The smirk that spread on his jowled face chilled me more than his usual snarls. “Nolan, pack two day’s rations and report to the lehkan division. They’re assembling at the gate.”

My eyes widened. A military assignment? I was a city messenger.

“But his mother…” Arvon piped up from one of the tables. He was a young boy, recently sent from the Grey Hills province. I’d brought him home for a hot meal. He knew how hard I’d worked to protect my assignment in town so I could care for my mother. But he was too new to understand the danger in questioning Fentick.

“Yes, sir.” I jumped forward, hoping to deflect attention.

Too late. Fentick trudged a few steps closer to the table and cuffed Arvon hard across the face. Arvon hit the floor and wisely stayed down.

Fentick looked around the room. “Any other questions? Good. To your places.” He lumbered away without a backward glance.

Most of the messengers scattered. A few glanced my way as they sped out of the hall, but no one spoke to me.

I offered Arvon a hand. “Didn’t I tell you to keep your head down and your mouth shut?”

He rubbed his chin. “So you did. I just thought if he knew about your mother he might keep you in the city.”

I used to find the new messengers from the outer provinces a source of humor. All cheerful ignorance and belief that if they did their job well, they’d be rewarded. I smiled bleakly. “Nice try. But there is something you can do for me.”

He nodded eagerly. “Glad to.”

“If I’m not back in a week, let my mother know where I was sent.”

He frowned. “A week? But Keeper Fentick said you’re bringing two days’ rations.”

As soon as the keeper had barked his orders, I understood the implications. The cold knot in my gut threatened to unravel, but I couldn’t let Arvon see my fear. “It’s two days’ ride to the mountain border. They’re using me in a military campaign. That’s two days to arrive and no days to return.”

Arvon scratched his head. “They have food at the outposts?”

I sighed. “No. I won’t need food. I’m not meant to return.”

Comprehension dawned slowly across his face. “But you can’t… Your mother… You…”

I clapped him on the back as we walked to the door. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back before she has time to notice I’m gone. Now get to your assignment.”

He nodded and tore off down the hall, but cast one last worried look back at me. I shooed him away and ran the other direction, choosing the shortest route to the city gate. I was tempted to detour past my mother’s home, but I didn’t dare keep the army waiting. Besides, worry would only worsen her health. I’d managed to hide my fear from Arvon, but I wasn’t sure I could keep up my courage if I saw her.

Outside the gate, lehken pawed the rocky ground, some weighted down with armored soldiers and others carrying bulky loads of what looked like minitrans strapped to their backs. I wove through the men and reported to the general, who sent me to march with the foot soldiers.

By the time the afternoon rains cooled us, we were deep in the dark mountains. I’d never traveled this far from the city.

A strange howl from a distant cliff set my heart pounding, and I edged a bit closer to the soldiers I was keeping step with. One of the men chuckled. “You think this is bad? Did they tell you where we’re heading? Braide Wood.” The hardened soldier shivered.

The name was the stuff of nightmares. The enemy so close to our border, stubbornly in the way of Hazor’s expansion. Backward. Barbarian. Why would the general need a messenger at the borders? I scuffed along the rain-soaked slate on the trail. Maybe he needed me to send reports back to the king, and the two-days’ rations was Fentick’s idea of a bad joke.

Another howl rent the air, closer this time. Around me, the men’s faces turned grim. A trickle of cold rain found its way past my collar, and I rubbed my arms, trying to warm myself.

When the sky darkened and we made camp, I resolved not to guess about my role anymore. I’d be given my orders when I was needed, and my imagination would just make the suspense worse. I only hoped Arvon would help my mother, because deep in my heart I knew that there wasn’t much chance I’d survive this assignment.

1 comment:

Nina Ruth Bruno said...

Love this! Thank you!