Northern Heart, Home

Chapter II

The infirmary was a section of the Guard wing that often received outside visitors. It provided a double function as a healing ward and as headquarters for the Guard physicians and a storage area for their supplies. There was the obligatory long chamber filled with beds, but at the moment it was only occupied by Kilin and Jaella. If a war or some disease came to Rylar, the room would become a hot spot of activity.

Priests and priestesses of Anya were habitually attached to the legions as physicians and field medical officers, setting up infirmaries within the legions’ temporary and permanent camps. They did what they could to support and accelerate the body’s natural healing processes through the powers granted to them by their Goddess, and they were skilled as well in the more mundane use of herbs and bandages. Each priest’s ability varied, but the best of them were able to save a man’s life and repair his body even if most of the bones in his body were broken and the arteries ruptured, provided that they got there in time to halt the bleeding. That skill was of dire importance to the Legions, and it was the most basic of the healers’ gifts from their goddess.

Kilin and Jaella had not yet woken. They were resting on two beds near the front of the long room, and once in a while a physician would bustle in to take a look at them and listen to their heartbeats and breathing. The bruises on their bodies had slowly faded until only faint yellow and brown discolorations remained, and within an hour, or two at most, those too would be gone.

It was near midnight, and Allen sat brooding on a bed nearby. It had been hours since he carried them back to the palace with the aid of stretcher-bearers, and the physicians had looked them over, poked and prodded them, and then nodded their enigmatic healer’s nod and left.

Allen had answered briefly the questions of the officer of the watch, who would report to the Captain of the Guard in the morning. He had told the officer a condensed version of the story, leaving out the way the air had seemed to twist around him. He had waited for Kilin to arrive at the pub and when he was late, he had gone in search of him. He saw the darkened alley and heard a noise. So he went to investigate and found the two lieutenants under the crates. It was a straightforward account.

He also mentioned Count Thaesil’s pursuit of the woman at lunch, but had left out his personal involvement, simply saying that Thaesil had gone away in a temper. Captain Terosin had recorded it in the watch ledger along with the other details of Allen’s report, but Allen doubted any investigation of Thaesil would be undertaken on that tenuous connection.

It did not make sense that Thaesil would have ordered his men to attack her. It didn’t make sense that someone had attacked Kilin and Jaella at all. The King’s displeasure would come down heavily on anyone he found to be involved with an attack on his Guard. The attack was an act of insanity for any normal thief or brigand.

Even if Thaesil had been angry after the incident at lunch, surely he would have been angry at Allen, not Jaella. Allen had interfered and insulted him. What man, however arrogant and self-centered, attacked the woman he was pursuing and had her beaten? It was ridiculous. It should have been Allen who was attacked in the alley. Not Jaella and Kilin. He was better with a blade and at brawling. He would have fared better than they had.

And it would have assuaged his guilt at not having been there for his friend.

He still wondered how the two of them knew each other. He felt a vague sense of jealousy over his friend’s ability to talk to anyone and get them to like him. But he figured the two of them had been on the way to the King’s Mead when they were ambushed. They had only been a few blocks away.

As Allen sat there trying to put the pieces together and figure out why they had been attacked, Kilin finally stirred. He had been quiet since they’d brought him in. He shifted in his sleep and muttered something that Allen couldn’t make out, and then drifted off again with a snore.

Allen hopped off the bed he was sitting on and looked down at his friend. That movement seemed like good news. Maybe he would wake up soon. The physicians hadn’t found any broken bones or soft spots in his skull. Just the bruises. They had said that if he woke up, he would be fine. Or as fine as he ever was at any rate.

There was a table near the head of each bed that held a platter of cold food, so the lieutenants could replenish their energy when they woke.

After that one movement, Kilin went still again, and Allen walked around the bed to check on Jaella. Her dark hair was pushed to one side of the pillow and fanned out across her shoulder and the bed. Her face was still, and her breath came slow and steady. Her cheekbones were two golden arches beneath her skin, framing her face. Even with her eyes closed, hiding the life in her emerald eyes, she was beautiful. She looked like something out of a children’s story: the sleeping princess.

Allen watched her for a moment, but other than breathing she didn’t move. He went back to his perch on the bed, drawing up one knee and planting his elbow on it so he could rest his chin on his fist.

A few minutes later, he heard a commotion from the hallway outside the infirmary, and a moment later three people entered the room. When he saw who the first figure was, Allen’s eyebrows shot up for a moment, before he schooled his face to calm.

He slid off the bed, came to attention, and crossed his right fist over his chest in salute to the King of Aciel, called the Granite King, Duke of the Northern Territories, Hammer of the North, and Lord of Griffins.

A thin silver coronet held back dark hair lined with grey, a combination of colors that nearly matched the silver and black of Aciel herself. He was a tall man, spare in his clothing and habits, with a strong, thin nose, and proud features. His eyes were storm grey. It was said that the line of Aciel’s kings could be told by their hair and eyes, for the king and his rightful heirs all bore the coloring of the land herself. His court and his Guard knew to watch his eyes for signs of the anger that his body refused to display. For when his wrath was provoked the color of his eyes darkened to the charcoal grey of brooding thunderclouds.

His eyes were currently dark grey. Looking down from his half-head advantage in height over the rest of the men in the room to study the two forms lying in the infirmary, he frowned. The lines of his brow creased and dark mist spiraled in his eyes.

The first of his companions was the Captain of the Guard, the commander of the King’s Griffins and himself a Knight of the Griffin, whose uniform and bearing were precise. There were dark circles beneath his eyes. Allen suspected he had been awoken by the king’s order.

The second attendant was the King’s Secretary, Baron Juslir. The secretary was the nominal head of the king’s household, although his stated tasks were to serve as the king’s personal attendant rather than control the affairs of the palace, a task in the hands of the Steward and the Seneschal, whose two duties were intertwined among domestic and political responsibilities. It was rumored among the Guard that Juslir was the man the king trusted most in all the world, and that there was no royal secret to which Juslir was not privy. It was a common rumor, but it was nearly impossible that it had been started by Juslir himself. His taciturn nature was easily his most discerning feature.

Both the Captain of the Guard and the King’s Secretary were of a similar age to the king and in that indefinite period of life after a man’s hair begins to fade to grey but before time has damped the fires of his life. They were all three strong and proud men, and in their combined duties lay the responsibilities of the nation, her armies, and her secrets.

He could think of no reason why a random attack on Kilin and Jaella would have drawn their attention, especially not in the middle of the night.

“My Liege,” Allen said, and bent forward in the short military bow that was a royal dispensation from the king to his Guard. Only when they were off-duty did they bow to the king, and then only a short arc forward from the waist. Unless they were to be knighted, they never kneeled to him. On duty, or when drawn up for battle, a salute or shouted acknowledgement of his presence was all that was required. In battle itself, no acknowledgement was made, both to better hide his presence from the enemy and because the king did not care to interrupt his Guard at such a time with irrelevant formalities. They fought and died for him, and that was worth far more than a salute.

“Lieutenant,” the king acknowledged as he turned his gaze to Allen. “You are the one who found my two Guards in the alley?”

Allen returned to attention. “Yes, my liege. It was an alley off of Crown Street, only a few blocks from the King’s Mead, where a few other Guards and I were going to celebrate this morning’s promotion of Senior Lieutantant Kilin.”

“I’ve heard the report you gave to Captain Terosin. But tell me again.”

“Yes, my liege. I was at the inn that evening, and went to look for Lieutenant Kilin when he was late arriving. I checked the officer’s quarters, and when I was returning to the inn I heard a noise from the alley. I had not expected to find Lieutenant Jaella there. There was a pile of crates stacked atop the two of them, in such a way that it could not have been random. Their weapons were with them, but their coins had been taken. The weapons were not drawn or bloodied. They appeared to have been badly beaten, but I was unable to determine how much damage had already been healed.”

The king interrupted. “How long had you been waiting at the inn for them?”

“A bit over an hour, my liege, before I went to check. Lieutenant Kilin is often fashionably late, so I was not concerned at first. As the first hour approached, I became edgy, and a bit later I went to look for him. It took me perhaps twenty minutes from the time I left the inn to the time I found them in the alley.”

“Hour and a half, maybe two hours at most.” The Captain interpreted. It was a fair guess. If Kilin had been on time, it would have been accurate, and it included a bit extra in case he had been early in heading to the King’s Mead.

“Not enough time for bones to heal, if they were unconscious.” The Secretary added.

“Agreed,” the King replied, unperturbed. Allen was surprised that he seemed to welcome his advisers unsolicited opinions, but it was the first time he had talked to him face-to-face. He had seen him so close only once before, when he had given his oaths. The formality of that ceremony had prevented him from seeing this kind of interaction between the king and his advisers.

“Was there anything else in the alley? Clothing, a weapon, a stick of any sort, strange rocks, dead animals, feathers?” The king asked.

“No, my liege, not that I saw. But the alley was dark and it was difficult to see; it looked as if the lanterns in it had been extinguished deliberately.”

The King turned his head to the Captain. “Search the alley tonight. Extensively.”

The Captain rapped his fist against his chest in salute, pivoted, and left the infirmary at a rapid walk.

“Was there anything else?” the king asked. “Are you absolutely certain?”

Allen hesitated for a moment. Should he tell the king about the strange feeling in the air, and the connection to the mark? Was it important?

The king noticed his delay, and looked into his eyes intently. “Whatever it is, tell me. It is important.”

“Ahh, yes, my liege. It will sound strange.”

“Tell me,” the king said again.

Allen nodded. “When I was in the King’s Mead, and waiting, I told you that I felt edgy. It was a strange feeling, not one that I’d ever felt before. It seemed as if the air were twisting around me, and I thought I could feel blades passing near my skin. It was disconcerting. I could not sit still, and Lieutenant Kilin had not arrived, so I went in search of him. When I found him, I thought that the feeling might be connected to the attack on him.”

The king listened silently, and nodded when Allen paused. “Have you ever felt like that before?”

“No, my liege. Not like that. But I thought it might be connected to the mark I bear. Once before I felt a strange sensation, and it saved my life.”

“A mark?” the king pondered. Allen wondered if he had seen the mark above his eye in the light of the lanterns that were hung in the infirmary.

“Ahh, now I connect this lieutenant to the stories of the marked lieutenant that I have heard around the palace and city,” the King’s Secretary said. “He is fairly popular for blessings among the servants and the other Guards. There is only one other mark currently in the Guard, and she is stationed along the Kestrel.”

“Hmm. Perhaps a sign from the gods. We will ask the priests.” The king looked down at Allen. “Do you know what god gave you that mark?”

“No, my liege. I have looked, and asked at a few of the temples in the city, but I have had no luck in finding that answer.”

“Perhaps the priests will look more diligently in their tomes if I ask them.” The king chuckled softly. “But it doesn’t do to wake up the priests in the middle of the night. You never know if their ramblings will be coherent at the best of times, and a lack of sleep is unlikely to help. In the morning, alert your usual commander that you have special duties.” The king nodded to the Secretary. “Tell him that the Secretary has detained you for further questioning. He will understand. Report to the Secretary’s offices, and he will send you with a message to the College.”

“Your name is Allen Delais, is it not, Lieutenant?” the Secretary asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” the king said. “We will hurry them along and see if there are any results. If we can find what god gave you that mark, we might understand better the cause of the attack. Each god supports different arts and different nations, and the priests tell us that they seldom agree with each other in their affairs in this world. If the attack was against the wishes of your god, perhaps that is why you received a warning about it.”

His god? The king seemed to expect that Allen would worship the god who gave him the mark. Others had thought the same before, especially when he gave a blessing, but Allen had never felt an attachment to any divine being. The god had given him the mark without him requesting it, and so he felt no inclination towards prayer or thanks. The mark had been a strong factor in his favor and had led to his position on the Dhara and in the Guard, but it also constantly brought him to the attention of curious people and those seeking a blessing and left him with barely a moment to himself. It was why he did not often walk through the town idly. On official business, he had an excuse not to stop and offer a blessing, since inevitably a crowd would gather around him whenever he stopped and he would eventually have to beg off, unable to spend the days required to please them all.

He understood why holy hermits lived in caves on mountains.

“Good night then, Lieutenant Delais. Thank you for your help.” The king took a long look at the lieutenants lying in bed before he turned and left, already beginning another conversation with the secretary as they passed out the door of the infirmary and into the hallway beyond.

After they left, Allen returned to his perch on the bed, watching the two lieutenants, and wondered what the priests might discover, and how it could possibly relate to the attack. Did the king really think that the gods had something to do with the attack on Kilin and Jaella, or was he just grasping at whatever straws came his way? It would satisfy his curiosity if the priests could give him a definitive answer, but he didn’t see how it would help.

Thaesil was the more likely cause of the attack. But he still couldn’t think of a good reason for Thaesil to have done it. It would have served no purpose for him to attack Jaella. Perhaps it had truly been a random attack, by a gang of thieves who had been angry at the guard. But why would any thieves have attacked the Guard? The city watch dealt with theft in the city….

The ivy-tangled hawk that was always in his dreams flew that night over trees that whispered questions and names. Gods, Thaesil, thieves…an owl hooted, a hunting call as she searched in the darkness….

Be Sociable, Share!

This entry was posted on Monday, June 9th, 2008 at 10:33 pm and is filed under A Northern Heart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Chapter II”

  1. nabi al-raml Says:

    Only caught one error so far:
    He still wondered how the two of them new each other
    new ->knew

    Then again I am speeding through the story tonight so I can get my fix before I have to sleep before my own summer job. I’ll go back over it tomorrow and savor it. I really liked this chapter, but I’m not sure I can narrow down why that is. I do however, love royal (and other) epithets. The king’s list of things that might have been found (and his personal concern) makes me wonder if there’s been a rash of such incidents. Maybe I’m just too suspicious.

  2. Gudy Says:

    One more error:
    there was no royal secret that Juslir to which Juslir was not privy.

    Hmm, the plot thickens, and yes, some of the items on the king’s list seem to hint at some kind of ritual magic instead of a straightforward ambush.


  3. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Fixed those two. Thanks for pointing them out.
    I’ll give this chapter a good revising when I get back from work tonight. Usually I spend an hour or two revising once I’ve posted a chapter, and I tweak sentences and word choice along with checking for typos.

    Glad you liked that list of titles, Nabi. The king here is an interesting fellow.

  4. anon y mouse Says:

    YAY! I love this story!

    M*A*S*H units! (or at least the equivalent)

    King’s kith or kin?

    (I was annoying)

  5. Ryan Says:

    This is a really great chapter. Allen’s speculations on things and the depth of characterization breathe a lot of life into the world and its politics, and the titles of the king and these bits on the gods give hints of deeper mysteries that the reader wants to uncover.

  6. MeiLin Miranda Says:

    Very good chapter. One typo: “Leige”–

    “My Leige,” Allen said, and bent forward…

    I’m enjoying the story a great deal now that we’re out of that darned forest. 🙂

  7. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Haha. But think of the poor forest, so lonely now!

Leave a Reply