|The Oath of The Black Rose
Author: Ian McF PM
When the young Prince Jhonen falls mysteriously ill, the ranger Grayson Illiorn strikes out from his home in the North Reach to find the only cure: the Black Rose, a powerful artifact believed to be lost to the ages. But neither he nor the companions he gathers along the way know the true nature of the Rose, or the oath which its prisoner took milenia ago.Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 7 - Words: 22,833 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 08-25-12 - Published: 07-12-12 - id: 3041350
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter Three – Timeless Night
In his dreams, he saw a giant heart, taller than three men and wider than seven. It was unlike anything he'd ever seen before, red and glistening and throbbing. It beat so violently and so quickly that the entire chamber, an enormous chest cavity bearing massive rib bones, shook. As the image faded and melted before his vision into the swirling snow storm that was raging outside of his small bedroom window, so too did the rapidly beating heart become the hectic poundings of a mailed fist on wood. Grayson shot upright in bed, startled from his dreams and brought into focus with all of his years of honed experience. He was on his feet, crouched for combat, with a long knife in hand, before the third rattle of knocks came. He always slept with such a weapon under the pillow.
All of this happened in but a few heartbeats. Then Grayson was running for the stairs, still pulling on a pair of woolen trousers, his thoughts turned to attack. Were they under siege? If so, how long had they been under attack? Was it bandits, or a rebellion, or an unseen army? And why did this person keep pounding on the door? Some people had no patience.
As the ranger grew closer to the chamber door, he could hear frantic calls from beyond it.
"Sir Grayson! Sir Grayson, wake up! The king needs you – he has sent me to get you."
Grayson threw open the door, and the guard behind it nearly knocked on his bare chest before pulling the mailed fist up short.
"What's this about?" Grayson asked.
"The king – "
"Yes, yes, he sent you. What for?"
"It's Prince Jhonen, Sir." The guard looked breathless and frightened. He was young, with a rough patch of beard just growing on his chin. His nose was still red from crossing the outside bridge. "He has become very ill. Our King Redard bids you bring all manner of medicines you have and come to the prince's room immediately."
Grayson froze in his doorway, his breath caught in his throat. So the worse is happening, he thought. Another sickness. The gods really do hate me. The ranger stoically straightened himself and looked the guard in the eye.
"I'll gather my things. Go tell Redard I come."
The guard nodded, snapped a fist to his chest, and jogged off down the stairs. Grayson shut the door and leaned against it, taking a slow and steady breath. Outside, thunder smashed through the raging blizzard as lightning raked its claws across the black sky. The hour was unknowable. Grayson felt cold deep in his stomach, despite the rooms relative warmth. He clenched his jaw and set off to find his things. He would deny the gods another child, if he had any say about it.
Grayson wasted no more time in self-pity, instead sprinting to his workshop. He quickly scanned the shelves, mind far outworking his body, calculating supplies, measurements, temperatures, and every other variable he could think of. He found his satchel and began filling it with the various items he needed. He didn't know exactly what Jhonen had suddenly come down with, but if it was part of the cold he had before, there could be vomiting – he grabbed an herb for that – and breathing could be limited by mucus or (Grayson begrudgingly admitted to himself) blood – he knew of a mixture to make that, when boiled, gave off vapors to fix that as well.
The satchel filled as well as Grayson could fill it, he shut it and passed through his kitchen. Noticing the potion he had already made for Jhonen just a few hours before, he took it and added it to the bag. It would help with a headache, at least, and any aches of the limbs as well. With everything he needed in the bag, he sprinted for the door, and ran down the tower's stairs, holding back just enough so he didn't lose control and pitch forward to his death.
It wasn't until he was halfway across the bridge, the frozen wind and furious snow pelting him viciously, that he realized he was only wearing pants. Cold and slightly numb, yet those feelings completely unnoticed, he sprinted the rest of the distance and entered the castle proper.
The hub room above the throne room was bustling with people. Servants, mostly, going about with water and food and other things, while a few soldiers barked orders and took positions by doors and passages. Commander Therald gave Grayson a relieved smile when the ranger entered with his bag of cures – Grayson was a renown healer, and many of the castle staff and dwellers had been treated by him before. Grayson could solve the problem and put Jhonen back to health, Therald knew. Grayson hoped so, anyway, but no one else had to know about the tension in his gut, or the hard lump in his throat.
Grayson swept into the bedroom, striding past both a very pale King Redard, still in his night clothes, and an uneasy Sylvias, similarly dressed, to stand beside Jhonen's bed. The boy lay awake, and looked up at Grayson weakly.
"Yes, my friend?"
"I don't feel very good."
Grayson laughed, hoping to sound comforting but coming closer to hysterical. Nonetheless, he quickly stepped up to a nearby table and began unloading his bag, his back now to the boy. The hearth was blazing to his left, and the door to his right had shut, like the door to a tomb, letting the air grow still and quiet. The sound of jars and vials rustling was all there was to be hear beside the crackling of the fire and the roar of the storm.
"He's burning up, my lord," a servant said to Grayson from the other side of Jhonen's bed. He hadn't even noticed her when he entered, he noted in his mind. That alone unnerved him. He was far too distracted. "And he's having trouble breathing."
"Has he vomited?" Grayson asked, falling back into the routine of a medical man. Ask for all symptoms, examine patient, diagnose. Easy. Except the symptoms were frightening and horribly similar to Samuel's, the patient was his truest friend, and the previous diagnosis had told them Jhonen was fine – which was obviously not true. Grayson felt anything but ease in that moment.
"No, nothing yet," said King Redard, his eyes never leaving his child's pale face.
Jhonen coughed, leaned over the side of the bed, and retched up his dinner. The servant gasped a little, and the king and the steward winced. Grayson shut it out. No distractions. He had a job to do.
"I misspoke," Redard sighed. He turned to the servant. "Go fetch a bucket and some water for this."
King Redard drew a wet cloth rag from a nearby bucket of water and began applying the cold water to the boy's face. He looked at the nearly empty bucket and frowned.
"More cold water," he muttered. Sylvias nodded and took the bucket, heading for the door. Grayson caught his arm as he passed by.
"Did you tell Redard about the results? About the Arcanus?"
"This may still be a flu," Sylvias replied, shaking his head. "I'll need to conduct a few more tests before we can say anything's definite."
"Then go fetch your tools as well. I can try to break the fever, but if this is an unnatural sickness, I'm not sure what it will do."
The faerie nodded and hurried from the room. Grayson returned to his ingredients. If it was magic, regular herb-lore may not work at all. But alchemical cures might.
"We have to settle his stomach first," Grayson told the king, uncorking a vial of white powder. "Or he'll never keep the other medicines down."
The king nodded, but he seemed to have hardly heard the ranger. Grayson poured the powder in an empty turtle shell bowl, and reached for another vial, this one holding a bit of wine and salt.
"Our tests didn't foretell of this," Grayson said, mixing the new ingredients in. "I'm hoping these alchemical cures will be quicker than herbs alone. Either way, we'll try both. We must hope that this is the worst of it, and that tomorrow he'll awaken feeling better."
"Is this what it felt like, my friend, watching Samuel?" King Redard whispered. Grayson clenched his jaw and grunted. Words would drag tears close behind.
"Feeling so powerless, unable to help the one family you have left, and having to watch them as they suffer."
"But unlike my brother, Jhonen will not die. This is indeed a strange sickness, to have set on so quickly, but there's no reason to believe it will be fatal." Even if it has struck so violently, so swiftly, and in the dead of winter, Grayson thought but didn't say. "And I'm not going to let Jhonen befall Samuel's fate, no matter what the will of the gods may be."
The king met Grayson's gaze and smiled. Grayson saw in it genuine hope, and wondered if he deserved that trust just yet.
"I'd call any one else but you a liar, to say so. This sickness cannot be natural, Grayson. Yet I see you are sincere when you speak. If this is the will of the gods, I'm glad to know someone has the courage to be blasphemous."
Grayson realized tears were falling down his face, and he quickly brushed them away. No more distractions. He had several cures to make yet. The servant from before returned and began cleaning the floor, and Grayson realized the warmth in the room was stifling. The smell of vomit was making him gag in the heat.
"Open the window."
"There's a blizzard out there," Redard reminded him. As if he could forget.
"Just a crack. This stale air isn't helping your boy's lungs."
Grayson set the stomach settling cure aside and began working on the vapor for the boy's breathing. Sylvias strode in with his box once more under his arm as Redard cracked the windows to the chill wind – Grayson was right, however, as the air began to clear much faster. The odor of bile fled to the windows, thankfully.
"My King," said Sylvias. "I'd like to conduct a few follow up tests, to see if this sickness will show itself more clearly now to my device."
"I hope it does better now than before," the king sighed, stepping aside. "Where's that water?"
"I sent a servant to get it," Sylvias said, placing the light black cube against Jhonen's side and pressing one of the boy's sweating palms against it's shining side. The door flew open then as a guard led in two servants, both holding one side of a tub full of cold water.
"You don't fool around when I say 'get me water'," King Redard said, chuckling. Grayson was glad the man's mood was no longer so dire. It was just a sickness. It happened all the time, and children survived just fine.
In the south, Grayson thought. They survive in the south. Here in the north, sickness is nearly synonymous with death.
"Nearly," Grayson muttered. "Not always."
"Did you say something," Redard asked.
"Yes. Come and give him this drink. It'll be bitter, but it should calm his stomach."
Redard nodded and took up the shell bowl, carefully bringing it over to the bedside. Grayson waited until the current mixture before him turned suddenly blue, and then added the powdered dragon bone. The surface of the liquid ignited suddenly, and Grayson smiled. The aroma was pleasant, and helped one breathe particularly well. Grayson set it by Jhonen's bedside so the boy could inhale the fumes. King Redard began slowly prompting Jhonen to drink. Sylvias was on one knee, reading the device's symbols and looking very grave indeed.
Grayson let it go, needing to focus. He began concocting a final potion, one to break the fever, and when it was done, he gave it to Redard.
"This is for the fever. But leave the rag on his forehead. It will only help."
The king nodded and returned to his son's bedside. Sylvias stepped up beside Grayson.
"Jhonen's asleep. I'm not sure if he feinted or simply grew too weary, but he's out now."
"I think you were right."
"The Arcanus we found. I think it's the cause."
"What are you two whispering about?" King Redard asked, handing Grayson the empty bowl as he stepped up beside Sylvias. Sylvias turned to Redard.
"In the first test I conducted, Grayson and I found a small trace of Arcanus inside Jhonen – I had believed it to be an echo from the device. Residue, if you will. I fear I was wrong."
"The little spot of Arcanus has grown slightly, but more frightening, it has become stronger – in terms of its physical properties, it would be glowing if we could see it through Jhonen's body."
"You're telling me there's something inside of my son," the king said, "And that it's – what? Feeding on him or something?"
"Quite possibly. It's sprouting branches, like roots. I fear it will only grow with time, and Jhonen will get slowly, but surely, worse."
"But why has it suddenly struck him ill?" Grayson asked, fighting the growing tension in his stomach. His words were choked past the lump in his throat. "It was in him before, and he was only slightly affected."
"I believe the Arcanus moved to his spine, right behind the heart. From there, it appears it will grow. Until when, I know not. But the movement seemed to set Jhonen into this sudden fit of illness we see now."
"You don't even know how long it will take to kill him?" Redard growled. The word 'kill' made Grayson wince.
"Weeks, left on its own," Sylvias estimated. "Its growth is very slow – which leads me to my next concern. I believe it's so slow because it's supposed to look like regular sickness from the outside."
"Supposed to? This was done on purpose?"
"And that it why I fear Grayson was right."
The three were silent as the wind screamed outside the cracked window. The room felt immensely cold now, despite the roaring fire nearby.
"So my son is going to die?" the king finally choked out. Sylvias shook his head.
"No, not if we can help it. Grayson's cures will stall it a bit, and we have Archmage Myrus. If anyone can remove that blight, it's the Archmage."
"The steward is right," Grayson said. "Fight magic with magic."
The king nodded. "Whoever did this..."
"I will tear him apart," Grayson agreed, scowling away into the darkness of that timeless night. "With my bare hands."
"And I will bear witness to the deed," Sylvias said. "My King, shall I send for the Lore Tower?"
"Yes, My King." Sylvias bowed and left the room. King Redard fell on his knees beside his sleeping – or unconscious – son. Grayson dropped a hand on the king's shoulder.
"Who would do this to a child?" the king whispered. "Am I not enough of a threat to strike at that they must attack my only son?"
"I believe they see him as the hole in your armor, and are trying to drive a spear into it. They've chosen a death which they hoped would be traceless. Be glad we caught on, so we may find the solution."
"A slow, painful death," the king said. "One by sickness."
"I vowed when Samuel died to never see another suffer as he did. I keep all oaths, King Redard, my friend."
Jhonen groaned, and both men shuddered.