Luckily for you, or you'd never know what happened. I guess it's like one of those books "we need her alive."
Anyway, Queries and Questions ended up with the most votes for option one. So basically one won (and one must wonder whether I'm actually fifteen or just pretending).
And since you're all dying to know how Gypsy Boy is after a week of being mostly-dead* I'll stop talking and let you start reading.
*There's a big difference between mostly-dead and all-dead.
“It’s Altin. He wants you, Louise.”
Warin lifted me to my feet before I fully realised what he had said.
Altin. He’d jumped in front of the sword.
The crew of the Rift had fashioned a sort of stretcher from two staffs and a tunic and jackets, binding it together with a length of rope to ensure it stayed firm.
He lay on the ground, the gold light of the watchtower glowing off his black hair, every breath came in a gasp.
How much longer would he still be breathing?
Two men lifted him onto the makeshift stretcher, their movements slow and cautious. My feet were frozen to the ground.
I just wanted to run from it all.
Then I was on my knees next to the panting form, his hand gripped between mine.
“Altin—” The word choked in my throat. “Altin, why?”
His dark eyes met mine, half fogged over with pain. “I couldn’t let you...give up now.”
“But why?” I didn’t understand.
Why would he do it for me?
“You aren’t finished yet.” His breath jerked and he squeezed his eyes shut.
Someone knelt on the other side of the stretcher, pressing a wad of fabric against the wound. My stomach heaved and I swallowed hard, keeping my eyes on Altin’s face.
“You can stop all this and...all I could do was...” His hand tightened momentarily.
His face blurred in my vision and I blinked back the tears, unable to speak around the lump in my throat.
Altin had bested me.
He looked like a sulky, unfriendly boy, yet when it had come to it he had risked his life.
Would I have done the same?
I didn’t think so.
“Don’t forget me,” his words came out in a shuddering breath.
“Altin no! Stop talking as if you were dying—” I broke off as the man on the other side of him laid his hand on my shoulder.
“My lady, if we don’t get him to the town soon, to a healer, he’s not going to make it.”
“Please...no.” I heard the sob in my voice.
The pirates lifted the poles of the stretcher and I scrambled to my feet after them.
“Fare you well, Louise Conwell,” he breathed. “Fair winds.”
I lifted his hand to my wet cheek, struggling to get the words out past the tightness in my throat. “Goodbye, my Gypsy Boy,” I whispered.
“Fair winds.” The words slipped between his lips like a shadow, his eyelids slowly closing.
Pain crushed my chest tighter, and I couldn’t follow as the pirates stepped away, toward the distant light of the town.
Altin might die because of me.
He might have given his life for me.
And what had I done?
Accusing thoughts swirled through my mind, battering from every side.
What had I ever done?
I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I ran from everything, bitter tears tracking down my cheeks.
Warin caught me before I could lose myself.
“Louise. Louise please. I know it’s hard, but you can’t just run.” His arms around me kept me from escaping again.
“Just let me go. I don’t care about any of this. I never wanted it.” As soon as I spoke the words I hated myself for the selfishness in them.
Had I thought about the people who were risking themselves for this?
Yes. Yes I had.
And that’s why I wanted it to stop.
I couldn’t be responsible for something like that.
“Louise!” Warin shook my shoulders, glaring into my eyes. “Don’t give up. You can’t. Not now. The time for giving up was before, you’re too late for that.”
My heart dropped. “I can’t do this.”
He shook my shoulders again. “Yes you can. It’s hard, it was always going to be, but you just need to keep going.”
Jerking backward I hugged my arms around my stomach. “You never even liked him,” I let the accusing words slip between my teeth, tasting bitter fury.
Warin’s eyes reflected a deep pain. “I’m sorry. It’s not—not because of him. It’s…” He stopped, drawing the back of his hand across his forehead.
“What?” I demanded.
“He reminded me of someone.” Warin’s voice croaked strangely.
A distant echo of pain hissed through his lips in a sigh.
The anger and hurt seeped from me, leaving behind only the lump in my throat. “Who?”
Warin raised his eyes from the ground, his tormented gaze meeting mine. “My brother.”
I couldn’t speak, not sure what to say.
“I couldn’t save him, Louise. I tried.” Warin stopped, turning away. “That’s why I know you have to keep going. Giving up never helps, it just hurts even more.”
“I need to find him then.” I stared numbly at the ground. “I need to find Marius.”
Warin’s hand touched my shoulder. “Yes. But just now we need to get to the town. Food and a healer will do all of us some good.”
I nodded, glancing up at the town and feeling the distance yawning wide ahead.
After all I’d done, walking to a town would be easy.
I took five steps before Warin started carrying me.
Warin couldn’t find a healer.
The tavern had closed after Marius’s appearance and none of the remaining wanderers in the streets wanted to speak to a group of strangers.
Even strangers with a dying Gypsy Boy.
I collapsed against a wall as Warin started pounding on the tavern door, yelling for the owner.
At this rate, we’d never find help in time.
Gypsy Boy was still, unmoving on the stretcher but for the faint flutter of a breath every now and then.
He was alive, but it wouldn’t last much longer.
“Please. Someone, anyone.” I found myself whispering under my breath, unsure who I was hoping would hear.
“Please. We need help.”
Perhaps the Light would hear.
Not that it had any of the other times I’d called to it.
I sighed, burying my face in my hands.
A door creaked beside me and a swish of fabric made me look up into a dark brown face of a woman. Scrambling up, I grabbed her arm.
“Please, we need help,” I gasped, desperate.
A moment passed and then a white flashing smile broke across the shadowed features. “It is you! The girl without a sword.” Two arms spread and pulled me forward. “Help? I give help. Perhaps you been in more battles, yes?”
I gaped. Who was this?
Why was that voice familiar?
“Louise!” Warin was beside me, hand on my shoulder. Eyes falling on the tall woman, he stepped forward. “Can you help us? One of my...men is sick, and we need to find a healer. Do you know where one lives?”
“A healer? That is easy, Captain. I am healer. Come inside, I will look at him.”
Warin spun on his heel, beckoning to the crewmen carrying Altin. They stepped forward, the healer holding the door open and standing back for them to enter.
“Please come in. All are welcome. Friends of my friends always have room here.”
I stumbled forward numbly, searching my mind for an answer.
Someone who is my friend.
My thoughts collapsed in on themselves and I allowed myself to be led into a warm room, slumping down against the wall, the warmth of the fire seeping into my frozen fingers.
Brains are better.
The healer from the palace.
What was she doing here?
I drifted into an exhausted sleep.
When I woke, light sifted through the window and danced off dark brown hair as the healer crouched in front of me, studying the palms of my hands, brows creased into a frown.
She was meant to be healing Altin, not me.
“What about Altin?” I asked, blinking the sleep from my eyes.
A smile broke across her face once more, seeing me awake. “My friend!” she said in greeting, “You have slept long and are looking much the better for it.”
“Altin? Is he alright?” I pushed into a sitting position.
She leant back on her heels, lips pursed, eyes sorrowful.
Dread settled in my stomach.
“He made it through the night,” she said.
“But...?” I almost didn’t want to hear her next words.
“The wound is not normal. It...” she trailed off, white teeth biting against her lip for a moment. “...It is Dark. The sword that did it must be bad sword. Dark. I am trying everything, but it might not help.”
I curled my hands against my legs.
I couldn’t live with the responsibility.
“If there’s anything that would make him better that you don’t have, we’ll get it.” I swallowed back the desperate lump that rose in the back of my throat.
“He need Light.” The soft words pushed the panic aside.
I’d asked for help, and someone had come.
Maybe Light was real after all.
But if it was, why would Altin be hurting so much?
Who would let something like that happen if they had the power to stop it?
“But no worry. Elva will do her best.”
“Elva?” I frowned.
The bright smile widened. “Me. I am Elva. You are Louise. The Captain is Warin Wielder, I think.”
“But—how do you know Warin’s name?”
Elva’s eyebrows raised in amusement. “Much talking in sleep. A room of pirates. Many sailing terms.” She half turned and glanced around at the crew, awake and talking together in low voices.
Turning back to me, she took my hands again, the intent crease between here brows returning. As she ran one finger across my palm I realised with a shock that there was no pain. Pulling one hand away, I flexed my fingers experimentally, only the slightest echo of hurt.
I could see why she’d been made the Royal Healer.
“How come you’re not at the palace?” I asked.
Elva looked up, releasing my hand. “The King gave me leave to visit my family.” The wide smile returned again. “Very good thing, too.”
I nodded. “Yes. Very good thing.”
Very good coincidence?
Or was it something more than that?
1. If Altin needed Light to heal the Dark wound, surely the Light could defeat Dark itself then. And surely Dark would know where his arch enemy was.
2. If I could find Leonora and Eumin, they’d know what to do about all this.
3. I steeled myself, facing the thought that battered for attention. I needed to dream again.
As you can sort of see, these options are pretty important basically because I have no clue what in the world in going on and I need your help.
Also, there's the letters X and Y left for the titles and I am not looking forward to naming next week's. Or the week after. Speaking of weeks-after there's going to be an important announcement on Monday so be ready for that.
|| Jane Maree ||