Seventh Son: Chapter 21

“He’s not waking up.”

It was evening again, and the company still hadn’t moved from the clearing where they’d camped overnight. There’d been a few mutterings about setting off later into the day, when they’d recovered enough to start making plans, but the light had gone faster than they’d anticipated and Dana had point-blank refused to drive Rethan’s wagon until he was conscious again.

Kala and Tam had got a fire going, with Caleb’s help, and Alak’d set a pot of stew cooking over it, but the cold darkness around the camp seemed to press in closer than it had before, stifling the laughter and companionship of the previous evening’s meal. They’d eaten in near-silence, broken only by muttered conversations, and it hadn’t been until Talan had stepped out of their wagon and addressed the assembled company that anyone had raised their voice.

Dana was the first to reply, getting to her feet with hands clenched tight against her sides. When she spoke, there was a low, growling tone to her words. “What d’you mean, ‘not waking up’?”

“Just that.” The apothecary ran one hand through their short, fair hair, and sighed. “He’s stable, and not likely to get much worse, but he’s still unconscious. And I’ve not been able to remove the blade.”

Alak frowned. “It’s just a stab wound, ain’t it? Through-an’-through? Even if it’s barbed, it should be comin’ out.”

“It’s not that.” Ariane stuck her head out of the doorway of Talan’s wagon, brushing strands of her normally-perfectly-tamed hair out of her face. She looked tired, and there was something odd about the cast of her face which made Caleb wonder suddenly if her magic extended as far as illusions, and, if so, exactly how much of her usual impeccable appearance was constructed from them. “There’s dark magic in every inch of that thing, and it’s… To be entirely honest, I’m not sure what it’s doing. There are tendrils of it spread out into his flesh – I don’t think they’re spreading any further at the moment, but it’s impossible to tell without opening the wound more than either of us are comfortable doing, and they’re certainly not showing any signs of receding any point soon.” She caught Dana’s expression, and winced. “I wish I had better news, I really do. If we had a library, I could-”

“We don’t.” Dana cut her off, curtly, but there was a sudden light in her dark eyes. “But I know someone who might.” She turned, looking around at the assembled younger members of the company. “Any of you remember Aster, or was he before your time?”

Caleb shook his head, as did the twins, but Tam frowned, looking as though she was searching for a memory. After a brief moment her face broke into a slight smile. “The mage whose husband you decked on account of thinking he was the sneak-thief who’d made off with Ariane’s journal?”

Dana nodded, fighting back a grin of her own. “That’s the one. Last I heard he’d settled somewhere near- ah, what’s the city called? You’d know, farmboy.”

Caleb blinked, suddenly finding himself the centre of attention. “Um. Which city do you mean?” he asked. And then realising that that was an utterly useless question, added “If you can remember a landmark, I might be able to tell you.” Assuming it’d been in one of the stories he’d heard, that was. He’d never been near a city in his life, and, before he’d made up his mind to go adventuring, hadn’t ever expected to either.

Dana, judging by her expression, was drawing a blank, but it was Ariane’s turn to start looking somewhat less like an attendant at a funeral. “There was a lake!” she exclaimed, brushing more escaping hair back from her eyes. “At least, I’m fairly certain there was. Large, and deep, and there were stories about something living at the bottom of it – though Aster always said he was almost certain they were folktales brought about by the fact that the middle of it was so deep you couldn’t see the bottom even if you were diving, and no-one was quite sure how far down it went and-”

“Glimmerglass!” Caleb cried, louder than he’d intended. “It’s Glimmerglass,” he went on, in a somewhat more subdued tone. “South-east of here, if we’re close enough to my folks’ farm still, and not too many days travel. At least, that’s what the players said, when they came through.” And then, belatedly realising that he’d cut Ariane off mid-explanation. “I’m sorry. I should have waited until you were finished.”

The mage shook her head, eyes sparkling. “Don’t worry. You can interrupt me as much as you like if it’s going to give us information like that.” She grinned across at Dana, who, while still obviously worrying, was now looking distinctly less like she wanted to kill someone. “Glimmerglass, south-east, not too many days travel. I told you he’d be worth it.”

“Aye, I owe you a drink,” the other woman admitted, though she didn’t seem to be taking the loss too hard. She ran one scarred hand over the other forearm, suddenly almost vulnerable for a moment. “Know he’s not awake yet, but…”

Ariane looked up at Talan, who nodded. “Come on up, Dana. Kitten’s been asking when you were coming in to visit.” They stepped aside, allowing Dana to vault up onto the step of the wagon, then followed her and Ariane inside, leaving the younger members of the company sat round the fire in a silence which suddenly seemed a whole lot more comfortable.

At least, for a moment.

Why did no-one think to tell me the Phoenix was active again?

Caleb cringed, slamming his hands uselessly over his ears as the Captain’s voice tore through his mind. Beside him, Tam swore violently under her breath, and across the fire from the two of them, the twins winced and exchanged matching looks of mingled pain and exasperation.

“I’m sorry!” Tam was shouting, as though trying to make herself heard over a gale, and there was a trickle of thick blood dripping from her nose. Caleb realised, belatedly, that while he and the twins had been partially the targets of the comment, the Captain’s ire had in the main been reserved for her. “I was trying!”

Silence, for a moment.

Then Tam again, quieter and more desperate now. “No, they must’ve been tracking us. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.” Another pause. “They didn’t want to kill him. The blade’s dark magic.” Her head rocked back, as though she’d been slapped, and she made a slight sound of discomfort in her throat, but her voice stayed level. “He’s not a mage, you remember that. He’s not a mage, and she knows that. It’s not the same. You’re not there any more. Please.” Her composure cracked on the last word, something that sounded almost like a sob breaking through. “Please, Jeshanah. Please.”

Another pause.

Then, quietly, without a word to the others, Tam got to her feet. For a moment she stood there, swaying slightly. Then she smiled – a small, sad smile that was like none Caleb’d ever seen on her face before – and walked away, into the darkness, heading towards Rethan’s wagon.

I am sorry, the Captain said, her voice ragged. To all of you, and Tamarind especially. And Rethan, if he can hear me. And Kitten, if she is awake. This should not be happening. To any of you. Another pause, and then, in a tone that fully implied she was trying to distract herself: Caleb. Tell me what you know of this Glimmerglass. 

Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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