Hand Of Sorrow
He stands there, roped and trembling, each blow magnifying an excruciating burning under his skin that would never extinguish. Held by his oath, but wanting to run. Needing to run. But still he stands there, waiting for the next blow to tear him apart.
He is growing weaker, his mind clouded by agony and a will that he knows will see him stand there until the beating ends.
Or until his tortured body gives out from the pain.
He looks up into the eyes of the man who wields the slender whip against him. The Guard flinches. He thinks this is fitting and gives a bitter laugh. Once he had been just like him. Once he had outranked him.
He stands there, hardly an inch of his naked body not covered in welts, torn fleash and blood. The Guard before him moves. He grits his teeth. He is determined not to cry out, determined to hold on. But it is hard, and he knows he cannot hold out for much longer, not without some respite.
He feels the lash hot against his back, ripping away skin, letting his lifeblood flow. Again and again and again. He screams and gives into the pain. His mind wanders…
He is fifteen years old and all alone. It is a terrible day, a wonderful day. It is the first memory he has of his life and he holds it precious.
It is the day he realises he is different. The day he realises he has no mother, no father and no name. He is told he has no family, no one that loves him, no history to tell him who he is.
All he has is the barracks. All he has is the Lady's assurance that he was a good boy, a boy that always did what he was told. She was sorry, she said, that he remembered nothing of his life, but perhaps that was for the best. It had been so terrible, so messy, so perhaps he should not try to remember. He agrees with her, wanting someone on his side, wanting to not to feel so alone. But he is scared and he feels strange.
He asks about the feeling that will not go away, he asks about the dark power he feels slowly draining away from within. He asks why he feels he should be trying to halt it, to draw its strength back into his body.
She slaps him. He feels like crying, the colour of his shame unable to hide the shape of her hand clearly defined on his face. But he doesn't cry. He does not want to show weakness. He is too scared of the mix of fear and fury barely concealed on her face.
He never asked again, had instead thrown himself into his training and ignored the power held in his body that had, at times, threatened to consume him. And he had succeeded, the memories of magic fading into the whisper of a dream. He had forgotten something he should have fought to understand. He had forgotten something that should have been remembered.
It is the first day he met her. She couldn't have been any older than ten. She was to be his charge, he was to protect her with his life. He had sworn to the Lady to do so, though unable to understand why she had chosen him.
'Here,' the girl says. She looks at him with wide eyes, her hair framing her face in ridiculous curls.
He reaches out and takes the flower from her outstretched fingers. He holds it, not knowing what to do with the blossom he could so easily turn to pulp in his killer's hand.
She smiles at him. He pockets the flower.
He is only 19. Others were better trained, others were better qualified. But the Lady had chosen him, and he knows he will not let her down. He would never cause the Lady who had taken him in to think less of him. He knows he will protect this child with his life, oath or no oath.
It is three years ago. He had come back to the Keep, soul destroyed and exhausted. He had murdered, killing on a scale he could never have imagined.
He unsaddles the horse that had carried him through the battle he had waged, rubs the beast down and feeds it. He turns towards the door. A beautiful young woman stands there, framed in the days fading glow.
He stands frozen as his charge comes towards him, stands unmoving as she reaches a hand up to caress the hard plains of his blood-blackened face.
He pulls her to him. She does not cringe, she did not recoil. She stands there and embraces him just as fiercely.
It is two years ago. He is the best there is. He is better qualified and better trained than every man. He is worthy of the Lady's trust.
But there is something wrong with him, something that keeps threatening to consume him. He feels he knows something that could help him if only he could remember, but the memory remains elusive no matter how hard he pushes himself. And the more he struggles to remember, the more the dark power manifests itself within him, using his body as a vessel. This scares him.
But there is one who keeps him sane, one who holds the leash on his tenuous grasp on a world that both fears him and holds him in awe. And he knows she will not willingly give it up. He loves her for this. He loves her for a great many things, but they pale in comparison to the emotion he feels for her unending faith in him. Without her he would long ago have embraced death.
It is one year ago. He wakes to find everyone around him dead, their bodies torn apart by some unimaginable evil. He walks from the barracks where he sleeps, sword in hand and looking for an enemy he cannot find. Will not find.
He walks and finds more dead. Walks and walks, searches and searches.
The Lady meets him. She has an escort and her sick expression tells of the fear within her. Fear of him. This puzzles him. It scares him. He thinks he has failed her, he thinks his charge is dead. He thinks the woman he loves is gone forever.
He falls to his knees, head bowed, tears sliding silently down his cheeks. He stays like that for an eternity.
Firm hands tip his chin up. The Lady looks down at him. Fear no longer rules her, instead there is determination and something else. Something unrecognisable. Something cruel.
She tells him that those of magic came, that they who must be feared tried to harm her daughter, tried to harm his charge. Hope flares within him. She is alive, she is safe. He has not failed.
He begins to hate magic, begins to hate anything so powerful as to take out half the men under the Lady's command. Begins to hate those who wield the power that threatens the Lady's daughter, the charge he loves.
It is yesterday. It is Darknight's eve, the night in which a magician's power is at its height. He is worried, but stands ready. He knows he would protect her with his life. He knows this both scares and warms her heart.
He sees the Lady come into the room. She says something to her daughter who argues but leaves, shooting him a last glance before she disappears. The Lady comes closer to him. She tells him he has the night off, she tells him to go.
He stares at her, hoping it is some kind of bad joke. He says no, he tells her he cannot go. He tells her something awful is coming, tells her he can feel something dark coming fast that threatens her Court.
She stares at him. And then orders him gone.
He steps back. He doesn't understand. He is the best, and her daughter is his charge. He tells her and she laughs at him.
Something in him changes. He knows he will not leave the woman who holds his heart, knows that he will, for the first time in his years of service to her, disobey and ignore the Lady's commands.
He goes to walk away, moves to follow the woman he shields forever and always, moves to stand between her and any threat.
But the Lady says something, something that makes him stop and turn, something that makes his legs weak and his muscled body collapse to the floor in a heap. He does not want to believe her, but he remembers well the day he awoke to find his mean ripped apart by a force no normal man could control.
He has magic, she tells him, and he must leave. If he has any honour he should go so that his power cannot threaten the one he is sworn to shield.
Her words ring true.
He is torn. He knows his presence threatens her, but he knows something terrible is coming and he does not want to leave her alone to face it, to fight it. He does not want to leave the true love of his life.
He gets to his feet. He stands straight and tall, every line of his body speaking of his unchanging will.
"I will not leave her."
He walks out of the room. He has not warning when the Guard's at the door grab him. He had not expected this so soon. But he should have, could have if he had ever given breath to the niggling doubts about the Lady that had crawled into his mind over the years. But he had not. He had not wanted his life, already harsh and unforgiving, twisted again into a truth he might not have been able to stomach. And so had trusted the Lady, had followed her blindly.
He fought against the men who held him. Some fell under his force and skill and he broke free, but was all too soon again constrained. There were too many and he was only one. They knocked him unconscious.
He raises his head groggily. It is quiet and he is alone. He whispers his thanks to the darkened room. He knows he is going to die. He accepts this. But he knows he will fight till his last breath to make sure the woman he is sworn to remains safe on this night. And he knows this fight must mean his subjugation, must mean his being here hanging from these ropes and awaiting another beating. He knows he must bide his time, for he knows his patience will be rewarded and the Lady he had so long ago pledged to would come.
And so he waits. He waits, knowing that when she showed her face, her sneering fearful face, he would kill her. He had to. It was the only way to save the one he held dear, because now he knows that the warning within him is to do with the Lady. She was the threat.
He hears the door and his pain-wracked body stiffens involuntarily. All to soon he knows he must suffer through another beating, and he prays that he can survive it, for he knows that he must.
Female. He finds it hard to think, but he recognises that much. The Lady had finally come.
He shifts his wrists in the rope bindings he has slowly been weakening. He gathers his strength and plants his legs firmly on the ground.
The Lady comes closer.
He pulls hard on the tether that holds him, the frayed rope letting go under his strength. He swings around towards the table where the Guard had kept the weapons he had wielded against him and grabs the dagger resting there.
He feels her behind him, hears her speak but does not understand her. He rushes towards her on rapidly weakening legs and pushes the dagger just below her rib cage, twisting it and forcing it up hard. He falls back then, exhausted and out of breath, and stares at the woman slowly dying in a pool of her own blood.
He stares and stares at her.
"Denewen… no, no… no… what have I done?" his broken whisper echoes through the dark room. He reaches out to the woman bleeding beside him, reaches out to his charge, to the one who holds his heart.
"Oh Denny… I thought…."
He gently lifts her dying body and cradles her in his arms. He does not feel the pain of his own body anymore, his heart is screaming with another pain, a darker pain, and he is keening for his loss.
His tears fall wetly, landing on the closed eyelids of the woman he holds.
"Not your… fault… love…you…" he hears her gasp out painfully. His heart breaks as the woman who is his salvation tries still to save him from drowning. He clutches her tighter to his wretched body.
He understands now. The Lady had gambled, and gambled well. She had chanced that moulding a boy once her enemy into a man to protect her daughter would ensure her safety. She had gambled that if he ever found out the truth, his love for her would win out. And it had.
He knows he was right now, knows the feeling within him that had acted as a warning had proven true. Something terrible had been coming. Something terrible had threatened his charge. And he had not heeded the warning. He had thought it was the Lady. But it had not been her who had killed the woman he loved.
His heart hardens in agony and grief. He could have saved her, could have prevented her blood from being spilt. But instead he had stayed. Instead I had killed the only one he held dear.
His fingers curl tightly around the dagger he had used to murder, used to butcher the woman who had thought only of him. He brings it to the place just below where his ribcage joins, he points its sharp blade to the place on him where he knifed her. He forces the blade in. He tilts it up and drives it in harder.
His life flows from him, mingling with hers in a red pool around them.
He holds her. His strength fades quickly, but still he holds her. He does not want to let go of her, does not want to give up her light. He pulls her closer, pressing his face into her neck. This costs him. His vision blurs and darkens, Denewen, his love, falls limply to his lap. She is smiling at him and she raises her hand towards him, to show him something, but she too is fading fast.
The last thing he sees is her hand fall, and a pressed flower he had for so long cherished fall from her cold lifeless fingers.