Seventh Son: Chapter 23

“It’s nothing bad,” the apothecary added, hastily, as Kitten ran towards them. They crouched down, picking up the child and swinging her up onto the footboard of the wagon with a slight hiss of indrawn breath. “Ariane and I need to borrow the fire for a while, and I’d be happier if the two of you were inside while we do.”

This didn’t make all that much sense to Caleb, but then again, he was neither an apothecary nor a mage. And, he realised, getting to his feet, he had been sitting in the same position for most of the evening. It wasn’t nearly as cold as it could have been, but his knees and hips were still locking slightly, and getting inside was starting to sound more and more like an appealing proposition.

“Thank you,” Ariane said, stepping out into the night air and offering her own hand to pull Caleb up. She was stronger than he’d expected, easily taking his weight, and her slim fingers were warm and rough with callouses.  “We’ve had an idea on something that might work to alleviate whatever’s going on with him a little – I’m almost certain it won’t actually cure or reverse it, but if we can at the very least get him conscious again then we might be able to find out a little more about what happened when he was attacked, and whether he recognises the type of blade. I think it might be a curse-blade, but there’s precious little about those in any of the books I actually have with me, so I’d have to raid Aster’s library when we get there.”

Caleb nodded, though between how fast Ariane was talking and his own tiredness, he’d caught all of about one word in five of the explanation. “Why do you want us to be inside, if it’s alright to ask? Is it dangerous?”

“Of course not!” Ariane said, rather too quickly. Then, catching Talan’s expression, she amended, “Probably not. Only if we get it wrong. Or slightly not right. Or we’ve made a mistake in the calculations. Or- It’s probably not going to be dangerous for anyone other than us, but we’d be happier if nobody else was likely to be caught in the very unlikely possible explosion.” She pulled a face. “Sorry. That could probably have gone better, couldn’t it?”

Talan laughed. “Your heart is in the right place, even if your words aren’t.” They turned to Caleb. “It is very unlikely anything will happen, but Ariane’s right about our reasons for wanting the two of you inside. That, and we’d rather someone was keeping an eye on Rethan while we were experimenting.”

“Isn’t Dana still in there?”

“She is. She is also asleep.” They nodded back towards the body of wagon, and Caleb suddenly realised the source of the slight buzzing sound he’d been hearing since Ariane’d helped him up onto the step.

Ariane smiled slightly. “I’ll apologise for the snoring, since she won’t. She’s had a tough day.” She dropped down lightly onto the grass, reaching up to help Talan down. “The two of you should be fine on your own, shouldn’t you?”

Kitten signed something, and the mage laughed. “I’m sure you will.” She pulled down her bag from the footboard, heading towards the fire.

Talan followed, rescuing their staff from its position by the side of the wagon as they did so. Caleb took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and pushed open the door.

The colours of the inside of the wagon were as jewel-box bright as ever, but the air felt heavier somehow, thick with the smell of herbs and sweat. The lanterns had been partially covered, and the dim orange glow made the whole place feel smaller and closer, at the same time more homely and almost too confining.

Rethan was lying on a pallet that had been made up at the back of the wagon, head turned towards the door. He was still wearing his mask and his trews, but the rest of his clothing had been stripped away, revealing the extent of the damage the blade had done. The shard of metal was still embedded in his abdomen, the edges of the wound red and ugly, and black tendrils spread out from it across the sweat-slick skin of his torso, tracing through and over a mess of old scarring that covered most of the left side of his chest.

His left forearm and hand appeared at first glance to be covered by armour of some kind, but as Caleb moved closer he realised with a jolt that what he’d first assumed to be leather plates was in fact wood, shaped and carved into an almost perfect replica of human flesh and musculature.

Dana was sitting on the floor next to him, head tipped back against the wall of the wagon, fast asleep. Someone – probably Ariane – had taken the time to cover her with a blanket, and the bright colours of the weave stood out oddly against her plain jerkin and rough brown hair. As Caleb approached she stirred slightly, muttering under her breath, and then settled back into sleep, turning slightly so she was facing towards Rethan.

Kitten had already pushed past him, clambering over Dana’s legs to curl up on the pallet next to her father’s still form. For a moment or two she was still – then, with a small whimpering sound, she reached out, tracing one small hand along the path of one of the tendrils marking Rethan’s skin. His breathing hitched, a slight groan of pain emanating from behind the mask, and a small trickle of blood seeped from the wound as he twisted away from her touch.

The girl shivered, pressing closer against her father’s side, and her other hand brushed, just for a second, against the dark metal of the blade.

The temperature in the room seemed to plummet suddenly, driving the air from Caleb’s lungs. He bent forward, hand pressed against his bruised ribs, and through the tears in his eyes saw the tendril of darkness twist under Kitten’s fingers, moving snakelike under Rethan’s skin, blindly questing towards-


She looked up, golden eyes wide, and he reached towards her, grabbing her around the chest and pulling her away from Rethan (for the second time that day, he realised, with a sick sense of deja vu). But this time she didn’t fight – instead, she collapsed back against his chest, staring in horror at the thin, dark tendrils spiralling up across the fingers of her right hand.


Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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