Ravens hand, p.9
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       Raven's Hand, p.9
 

          
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  I was immediately drawn to an unfolding scene inside. The hour being late, there were no patrons in the taproom. The person I saw might have been the proprietor, or simply the barkeep. He was on his knees, pleading quietly with another man wearing an eye patch. Eye Patch happened to be holding a young woman on her knees before him. He held a knife to her throat. No, I was wrong about that. The knife was his hand.

  A barmaid perhaps? I had no way of knowing until the man’s pleading gave me the clue. She was his daughter. He didn’t want her to die. He was willing to do anything to prevent it happening.

  A band of rogues, clustered around them, laughed quietly, as though they had no desire to wake the patrons who were sleeping peacefully upstairs. All of the men had weapons on their persons ready for use at the slightest hint of provocation. But there was only the man and his daughter here now.

  The man gave up the number seven. I could only assume that this number corresponded to one of the rooms upstairs. Eye Patch motioned for his men to move off. Half a dozen left the main tap room, heading upstairs with their weapons ready to draw blood.

  The man asked for his daughter to be released.

  “I can understand your concern, Yeager,” Eye Patch said. “With men like me and mine roaming about, you worry that your young daughter will fall prey—that we might abduct her and ravish her before your eyes.”

  The other men chuckled at the idea. However, I could see the lust in their eyes. They would have approved of that plan.

  “But don’t worry yourself,” Eye Patch said in consoling tones. “She won’t be ravished by any man ever again.”

  I gasped in unison with the girl’s father as the man said the words. A moment later, the knife was drawn across her pale, exposed throat. Crimson splashed across the front of her dress and onto the wooden floorboards. Her father wailed for only a second before the same was done to him by one of the other men.

  They left the bodies beside one another, bleeding out onto the floor. Eye Patch and the few remaining rogues followed the others up the stairs toward the guest rooms. I remained for a moment, staring down at the bodies, lamenting the cruelty I had just witnessed. I could not help but be reminded of Celia’s recent death at the hands of the Cinderman leader, Judah.

  I felt the urge to follow these men up the stairs toward room number seven. I left the bodies of the young girl and her father and followed Eye Patch. He wiped the blood from the girl’s throat onto a cloth found on a table as he passed and then discarded the stained thing. He then removed his sword from the scabbard on his back, giving him two edged weapons to work with.

  The entire band, plus me, skulked along the lamp-lit corridor where adjacent rooms held the sleeping patrons of the Mangy Cur. Little did they realize the dangerous pack of villains that were stalking just outside their doors. Yet, Eye Patch and his crew appeared to be interested in only one particular room and its occupants.

  The men ahead of the leader—assuming Eye Patch was their leader—waited outside room number seven. The one-eyed man gestured with a nod of his head for his men to enter. The door apparently had no lock. They stole inside as quietly as mice on a midnight cupboard raid.

  My incorporeal body glided inside behind them. None of the men noticed my presence. The room was sparsely furnished; nothing fancy by any means. A single table with a chair stood next to the wall opposite the bed. Upon the chair, I noticed a sword and scabbard slung over the back.

  The hilt was made of silver bound with a very dark green cord. The craftsmanship was exquisite. The leather bound scabbard complimented the design perfectly. The weapon looked so out of place here in this upper room at the Mangy Cur that I couldn’t help but wonder who this man was that these rogues wished to kill. The sword could have belonged to a nobleman, or even the king himself.

  Eye Patch’s men fanned out in the room all around the bed of the sleeping stranger. I could see from my place standing near the table that this was a young man. The men in the room hardly breathed as they raised their weapons in readiness. Eye Patch licked his lips and grinned. In a moment, they would fall upon this young man and slice his body to ribbons with their swords. Eye Patch had both his sword and his knife hand ready for blood.

  I had no way to warn the sleeping young man. No cry from me would do the least bit of good, nor did I have any power to stop these men from their ruthless deed. I did not know why they meant to do him harm, but I did feel drawn to look upon the young man more closely.

  In an instant, I came to his bedside. His back was turned to me momentarily. Then the young man became restless, causing Eye Patch and his band to halt upon the precipice of action. Had he woken to their movements? No, he was simply turning in his bed due to some dream in the night.

  As he rolled in my direction, his face happened into a shaft of moonlight coming through his window. My heart nearly stopped at the sight of him. He was beautiful; the child of a god dwelling among men. If my ghostly form could have breathed, that respiration would have halted upon the instant as recognition dawned upon my mind.

  This was no stranger that Eye Patch and his band of villains stood ready to slaughter upon his bed. He was a vision; no more than a dream. But this was impossible. This was one of the visions I had from time to time. They always showed me truth; never fantasy or fancy. Still, how could it be true?

  The young man upon the bed inside room number seven at the Mangy Cur was my own love from my dreams. Killian slept here under my gaze. He was the man these others meant to slay.

  It wasn’t until I heard the order from Eye Patch that I snapped back to the reality of this situation. My mouth opened and I screamed to warn the man of my dreams of his impending doom. Yet, I knew that warning couldn’t be heard.

  I started awake back at the makeshift camp that Kane had setup before I fell asleep. I was still screaming, and my voice was very real here. As I realized where I was again, my cry faded away. Kane’s black stallion was still grazing nearby, but the assassin was nowhere to be found.

  Unwelcome Guests

  Killian couldn’t help but be charmed by the beautiful young raven-haired girl every time he found her in his dreams. She was rapturous to his soul. If only such a girl truly existed! He would have given all that he had to make her his own young bride.

  Another night, and she had come to him again, beguiling him with magical eyes. They changed color, matching whatever color gown she happened to be wearing upon her visit to his mind. Her smile ensnared him—he was caught like a trout upon a fisherman’s hook. There was no getting away, neither could he muster any desire to leave her.

  The touch of her skin was like silk beneath his calloused fingers. Hands that worked at shaping wood and steel caressed her face, but she did not recoil from his touch. Instead, she swooned beneath his fingertips, trembling in his arms.

  They danced together in a ballroom adorned by stars and night sky. Together, they floated upon a cloud, turning to music that had no discernible origin, yet it filled every space. They had only one another in this place. One another was all either of them desired.

  However, something in the atmosphere between them suddenly shifted. The music in the air became dark and dissonant. The raven-haired girl looked suddenly distressed. Killian held her at arm’s length, examining her face.

  Her expression was puzzled and unsettled. She looked into his eyes, just before those eyes grew wide with sudden horror. A scream ushered from her lips, startling him from their revelry together.

  “Killian, wake up!”

  Killian heard the voice in his mind, shouting for him to come awake. There was danger around him. The girl of his dreams was definitely trying to warn him of something.

  Suddenly, he was sitting bolt upright in his bed at the Mangy Cur. The room was dark, but another voice still resonated. Those words conveyed an intention that forced Killian into action.

  “Kill him,” he heard that voice say in the dark.

  There came movement from every direction at once. Kil
lian scrambled among the covers of his bed, trying to extricate himself from the tangled web of sheets and blankets threatening to bind him for his enemies and make him easy prey. Blades flashed in the dark as shafts of moonlight from the single window glinted upon steel.

  Killian’s hand stretched out unconsciously, almost as if under its own compulsion. He felt a pull upon his arm and then a release of that pressure, like something suddenly giving way. He realized something—a knife perhaps—had lacerated his flesh. A single moment later, the blade fashioned by his father for their future king flew across the room, landing in his outstretched palm. He pulled the weapon from its handmade scabbard. The sharp burn upon his arm was immediately lessened greatly by the sword in his hand.

  He gripped the weapon gratefully and then surrendered to his instincts. Killian was a fighter. He had trained with the weapons in his father’s shop since he was old enough to bear their weight. He had never killed a man, but he certainly knew how it was done.

  The sword moved almost of its own will, yet his body felt connected to it. It seemed to Killian like his mind was joined with the mind of the sword—they two had become one in movement, one in purpose. He became aware of his own hot blood running down his arm, across his hand, onto the sword. He panicked inwardly at this revelation, knowing the ritual and what might happen.

  A tingle ran up his arm when his blood fell upon the steel. The arm became suddenly numb, yet the blade was still moving against the men in the dark room, battling them despite Killian’s present preoccupation with his arm. A moment later, another man was dead upon the floor, and the feeling in his arm returned.

  The burning pain of his wound was gone. His arm felt whole again; unmarred and stronger than ever. Killian could only attribute this to the sword’s influence.

  Another man cried out in the dark and fell to the wooden floor. Throughout the melee, no one else came into the room. Surely, Yeager could hear all of the commotion. Considering the fear upon the faces of the Mangy Cur’s patrons earlier this evening, Killian was not surprised to find a lack of help from any people staying in the other rooms. But Yeager would have been a different matter.

  Orders were shouted, and Killian wondered who these men were. Another fell. Only seconds had passed since the girl in his dream had screamed out a warning to wake him from his slumber.

  Steel struck steel again and again. Two more men went down. Killian leaped over one of the bodies, heading for the last moving shadow in the room. The floor was littered with corpses. The man hurled his sword at Killian, but even in the dark he batted it harmlessly away.

  The man hulked in the doorway, but his face was hidden in darkness. Killian turned his blade in the moonlight shining through the window, casting a beam of moonshine upon the man’s face. Besides the ugly visage, Killian was struck by the clearly defined eye patch the man was wearing.

  “You!” Killian shouted.

  Eye Patch growled at him, but then turned from the fight and crashed through the meager door to Killian’s room, charging into the hall. Killian ran after him, but the man was surprisingly agile. Eye Patch descended the stair in two bounds and raced out across the taproom and through the Mangy Cur’s front door, nearly knocking it off its hinges in the process.

  Killian paused in his pursuit at the base of the stairs. A trail of blood was clearly visible, leading back behind the bar into the kitchen area. Killian swallowed against the lump gathering in his throat, knowing he must investigate. He feared what he would find.

  Tenants in the rooms upstairs began to stir, causing the floorboards above to creak and moan. They had heard most of the noise subside and were coming now to investigate the scene. Killian ignored them, instead following the crimson trail before him.

  Walking behind the bar and into the kitchen, he stopped when he saw the bodies of his dear friends. Both Yeager and Wendy lay dead upon the floor with their throats cut. Killian sank to his knees, the sword digging into one of the floorboards. He gripped the pommel tightly as tears welled in his eyes.

  His breaths came in gasps through gritted teeth as his fury gathered within him. Behind him, tenants appeared behind the bar, looking into the kitchen. Exclamations were made and then accusations.

  “He killed Yeager and his daughter!”

  Killian whirled round on them. “I did nothing of the kind.” He stood to his feet, holding the sword forth. “The blood on this blade belongs to the mercenaries who threatened Yeager’s daughter earlier. Their bodies are upstairs, but the leader—the one with the eye patch and one hand—has escaped.”

  Nods of ascent came from a few of the patrons who happened to be in the taproom when Killian had challenged the mercenaries and Yeager had ordered them to back down. “I saw those men earlier bothering Wendy,” one of the men said.

  Killian walked through the half dozen men and women gathering at the bar. “See to their bodies,” he said. He assumed they would do as he commanded. “I’m going to make sure their leader pays for this.”

  Killian walked through the taproom in a daze—his rage burning hot within him, tears streaking his bloodstained cheeks. He pushed the door open and walked through into the street beyond. There was no sign of Eye Patch. He was probably long gone. Still, someone had to know where to find the man.

  A siren call issued forth from the Mangy Cur. Every business and many well-to-do homes had these installed in case of emergency. The king’s guard patrolling the streets of Rainier would respond within minutes. It was their sworn duty to the king and his citizens. Because of this procedure, Rainier had one of the lowest crime rates in any of the cities of the great houses.

  Killian did not wait for the soldiers. He ran to the horse stalls behind the inn, finding Esmeralda now awake and agitated by the siren wailing from the top of the Mangy Cur. Killian made haste. He still carried the leather bound scabbard in his other hand and now sheathed the sword again. As the blade went in, he noticed by the lamplight that the blood of the mercenaries was now gone from the steel.

  With no time to solve such a minor mystery now, he slung the scabbard over his shoulder, found Esmeralda’s saddle and prepared her for their departure. Moments later, he heard the sound of soldiers approaching the inn. As they piled into the Mangy Cur, he and Esmeralda tore away through the street, parting an increasingly growing crowd of concerned citizens who had gathered at the alarm call.

  He had no time for questions from soldiers. He could not be detained. He still had Eye Patch to find and other matters to deal with before delivering this blessed sword to Prince Nathan. The chief problem now was how to unbind a sword blessed by Eliam after his own blood had bound the blade to him.

  I had no idea what had become of the assassin, Kane. Surely, he wouldn’t have left his horse behind. That he might actually have been killed seemed the most impossible thing of all, especially when I had been left unharmed sitting in this clearing. So, where was he, and what should I do now?

  Killian was real? This astonishing thought broke into my mind, overriding my present predicament. It was impossible, and yet my visions had never lied to me before. I couldn’t understand it. Had I been dreaming of a real young man all this time? What if he also had been dreaming of me? It seemed preposterous, but I couldn’t let go of that thought.

  And what of his dilemma? If Killian was real then he was in terrible danger. Men were trying to kill him. I had to do something. I had to try. The man of my dreams—the only love I had ever known, even if it was in a dream—might die tonight. I could not stay there.

  Moments ago, I had been resigned to my fate. I would have become the bond of Prince Nathan; a slave to him and his queen for life. I would have been used for my abilities as a daughter of Eliam and, at his discretion, for my body. A concubine—unloved, a pawn, a toy, a possession—but nothing more. I had been resigned to my fate, but now I had seen Killian alive in the real world facing real danger, possibly in the city of Rainier.

  But what could I do to help him? My resolve hardened withi
n me. I had power. I was a daughter of Eliam. He had given me my power and my visions. Surely, it was his will that I not only understand that Killian was real, but that I also try to save him. And, if it was the will of Eliam for me to try, then I would also succeed.

  I took a last glance at the black stallion. It raised its head to me from the tufts of grass it had been grazing greedily upon. My eyes narrowed. It cocked its head, almost as if it couldn’t believe my attempting what I was about to do. I did it anyway, bolting out of the clearing through the bushes and away into the night as fast as my legs would carry me. I heard equine protests following me, but I ignored the animal. If I had my way, I would be far away before it could alert the assassin of my escape.

  The moon lit my way, but my path took me through brambles and briars and trees of various sizes—all of them attempting to bar my escape. I realized that I must be making a terrible ruckus in the process, but I didn’t care. Killian was real and he needed me.

  I paused, exhausted, and took stock of myself. My clothing was torn in places, and my hair was pulled and tangled. My breathing was rapid; my heartbeat racing.

  I realized now that, in my panic, I was doing this the hard way. I slowed my breathing and attempted to calm down. I was a Daughter of Eliam, after all. I had abilities that most people did not. It was time to remember who I was.

  When I became more at peace with my surroundings, I raised my eyes and focused. My sight began to lighten, as my eyes took in the moonshine and illuminated my surroundings. A useful trick—something we girls of the abbey called Cat’s Eyes, since the ability gave us excellent night vision.

  A path of thick brush remained to bar my way. I extended my will toward the vegetation, calling for its compliance. A moment later, the briars and bushes parted before me, leaving a clearly defined path for me to follow. The new path extended into the distance, curving in certain places, giving me the advantage I needed in order to escape Kane and the horrid life awaiting me in Rainier with Prince Nathan and his mother, Evelyn.

 
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