Time is a Fierce Adversary
I remember thinking to myself that Rexom has a pretty good head on his shoulders. I’ve known Wraith and Sterling for a long time – damn fine men both – and if they’re to be put in charge of the Trinsic watch, I’m content with barracking in the town a little longer.
It was about that time that another wave of little spots appeared in front of my eyes. The whole damn affair started earlier in the morning. I was in Despise cleaning out another nest of those bloody ogre lords when I nearly passed out. I figured at the time that it was just a gas pocket released into the deep caves, so I flew home and got cleaned up for the Council meeting.
I’m not terribly sure what happened after everything went black. But the events upon my waking were notable.
When I woke I felt I had been run over by a stampede of crazed mongbats. I was lying naked in a soft bed in a tidy little cottage. There was a woman in a pauper’s dress patting down my forehead with a damp cloth, and there were armed men in the room. There were four of them, dressed in Turon violet, talking quietly in the corner. I had thought perhaps Alex had responded to the call and had me hauled off to the healers, but none of these men were ones I recognized.
I wanted to ask them who the hell they thought they were, where I was, and what in the hell was going on. I managed to ask, “Who’re y…awww damn…” before I passed out again.
The second time I woke I felt much more lucid and able to give these blokes a piece of my mind. They beat me to it. One of the four men was hovering over me and pressed a finger to my lips when I tried to speak. Bastard got the drop on me cuz I couldn’t summon the strength to swat his hand out of the way.
“You’re safe,” he started. I managed to roll my eyes as derisively as I could. “You’re in Stormstone Sound.”
Now that caught me a touch off-guard. I think I raised an eyebrow.
“Yes it’s still here…somewhat. We remember it anyway.” The man pulled a seat up beside the bed and sat in it, leaning over so I could see his face without turning my head too far. “You’ve had an attack of the heart, Lord Duke. One of the Society men was taking you to the healers in Trinsic. We prefer to trust ours.”
I suppose my vexation at the whole thing finally gave be the strength to speak, “What was it, “ I asked, “poison or magic?”
The man looked uncomfortable then, and glanced across the room to his companions, who stood in uncomfortable silence near the door.
“Ahem…,” he started, apparently wanting to crawl in a dark hole and die, “we …ehrm…found no evidence of toxins in your blood…nor do we think you were affected my any manner of spell. “ He ran his fingers through his hair uncomfortably before continuing. “Our healers believe it was a symptom of stress and old-age, m’lord.”
Now let me tell you, that was easily the most depressing thing I’ve heard my entire life. I promptly put the whole ordeal out of my mind and changed the subject.
“So who the hell are you anyway?” I asked.
“We are the Storm Guard, sir.”
“I don’t remember approving any of you…is Saben recruiting people without my knowledge?”
The man shook his head slowly. “No m’lord,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “The Guard is…bigger…than the network you have endeavored to build. We here, “ he said, motioning to his three companions, “ are descendants of those chosen by Jakob the Steadfast to watch over the family.”
I blinked a few times incredulously before I responded. “So then why haven’t I met any of you, eh?”
The other man shifted a bit. “Well m’lord…we never really felt you needed it before now. We knew that one day you or your inheritors would come back to this place to take back what was promised you by Lord Jhel. We have waited for that day.”
I was about to produce a scathing comeback that I’m sure would’ve dashed his arguments to the winds, but I was interrupted – this time by four more violet cloaked men bursting into the room in a flurry of flesh and steel. The four men already in the room were armed and at the ready in an instant, and after a loud clatter of armor and weapons being skinned, it fell quiet in a momentary standoff. It was about then that I managed to see that Alex and Tiberius were in the lead of this new bunch. Both sides were looking at each other incredulously.
The fruit of my loins did a fair job of picking his jaw up off the floor and getting the first words out.
“Who in blazes are you?” he asked, trying to get that calm spooky sound in his voice that he always proffers. He failed miserably of course, but the lad tried.
The man who had taken it upon himself to inform me that I wasn’t nearly as young and spry as I would like finally realized who it was who had barged into his cottage. The man dropped his sword and put his hands in the air in quite the display.
“M’lord!” he exclaimed in a squeak, “my sincerest apologies!” He motioned to the other men to drop their weapons. Alex glanced around the man to shoot me a questioning look. I just shrugged and tried not to be amused by the whole thing. The three men Alex had brought with him – who were not amused, not even a little bit – backed the four men into the far corner of the room while my son rushed up to the bed.
“You okay?” he asked. I responded with the most withering look I could muster.
“Alright fine,” he continued, “who’re these jokers?”
“I’m still not entirely sure…”
He nodded, already working on getting my weakened form out from under the tangle of blankets and herb pouches and whatnot.
“What the hell is this thing?” he asked, staring at my left wrist dubiously.
Now, I consider myself a fairly perceptive chap. I can see the subtle ripples in a battle to determine where the enemy’s weak-spot is, I can see the look that men get in their eyes when they prepare to kill, hell, in my prime I could get a sense of danger before any real clues were present…I apparently can not, however, notice a twenty-stone, glowing, bracelet-like apparatus attached to my own wrist when it is carefully concealed by a wool blanket. Alex and I both looked to the leader of the men for an answer.
The man once again looked like he wanted to crawl into a dark hole and die. When he didn’t immediately answer, Tiberius pushed his dagger a touch further into the man’s ribs, eliciting a squeak and a reply.
“It’s an old thing, lords, “ once again the man was choosing his words as if his life depended on them, which I suppose it did, “it is used to stimulate a still heart into action.” That certainly didn’t sound good. “When we first brought you here, your heart was irregular and weak. Shortly after it stopped altogether. Instead of allowing you to pass, we used this device.”
I stole a glance to Alexander, who had his head cocked to the side slightly as if he were listening to someone. Gods, I wish I could have that kid’s eyes and ears for just an hour. He finally stood up and started moving purposefully across the room to the man. He must have had a nasty look in his eyes because the poor sod just kept getting smaller and smaller as Alex approached him. As he moved, he spoke to me over his shoulder.
“He’s telling the truth, “ ahh…the lad found his spooky-mean voice, “Mitarin used the things for battlefield triage. He even gave a few to Jakob, which is likely where these fellows got them.” He was standing inches from the leader of the men now, and the poor guy was white as a sheet, probably noticed the black swirls in Alex’s eyes. I continued to fight my amusement as my son’s voice continued to get meaner and meaner, “what they may not know, however is that the device is meant to start the heart from shock and then be removed…keeping it active for any length of time tears the heart to ribbons.” He grabbed the man’s chin then and forced him to meet his gaze. “You’re a…fisherman…no…dockworker?” The man nodded nervously. “And you’ve taken it upon yourself to try to heal an old man having an attack of the heart?” Alex leaned even closer to the man, from where I was laying it seemed their noses would touch. “Do you have any idea whatsoever how much training my people go through? Don’t you think they’re trained for just this type of emergency? That they drill for it?”
They drill for my having a heart attack? My amusement was fading.
The leader of the band sputtered once or twice but finally got a touch of composure.
“We knew the risks in using the device, but you must believe me, m’lord, we had no other choice. He would have died had we not!”
“And now,” said Tiberius quietly, nudging one of the men a tad higher on his tiptoes with his poison-coated kryss, “you’ve made it an unavoidable certainty. Bad form for a sworn bodyguard wouldn’t you say, Alex?”
Alexander nodded severely. He turned back to me and started helping me out of the bed and into a robe – a fairly complicated endeavor when one has just had an attack of the heart as well as having a twenty-stone deadweight attached to one’s left wrist. As he was getting me in order he leaned close as to speak with me without the others hearing.
“Mitarin,” he whispered, “had only seen these things used like this once before. A much younger and hardier man than you lasted just under two weeks before his heart tore itself asunder.”
“Grand…” was my response.
When we were finally up and on our way out the door, I took a moment to turn to my hopeful saviors.
“I’m afraid I never caught your name,” I said.
The leader of the men straightened, trying to look proud while at the same time trying not to provoke the circle of assassins around him.
“My name is Artin, son of Roerke, son of Ben, son of Kailin who was the Protector of the Lady Jessica Turon, “ all four of the men bowed deeply, I wonder how many times they had practiced it. “My ancestor allowed the blood of your line to be spilled, and I shall give my life to cleanse the dishonor from my family…I do so deeply-”
We were long gone by the time those men rose from their bows.