“Hold him down!!!”
“I’m trying…He’s like a mad man!!! I can’t…”
“Get the other arm! Watch it! HOLD HIM!!! He’s trying to…”
“I can’t !! I can’t keep him…!!”
“Guards! Guards come in here IMMEDIATELY!!! HELP ME!!!”
“Quickly hold his legs! Watch his fee—“
“He just kicked one of the guards!”
“Is he alright?”
“He’s unconscious, and by the looks of it, his jaw maybe broken…”
“…By the Gods…Well, you there, by the door! Don’t just stand there, help us! And you, let the soldier be, don’t touch him, I’ll tend to him as soon as I finish here.”
“Come here and help us. Yes, yes, that’s it grab his feet. Careful!
That’s it! Now, good. I’ve got it again. Your majesty, hold that arm down!!”
“Can’t you see that’s what I’m trying to…to…do!!!
But…he’s …like…sssome demon from hell with thissss…strength…He’s as thin and pale as death itself but as ssstrong as an ox!!” he said straining to hold the Stranger down.
“Hurry…up I can’t hold him much…” started the King.
“GOT IT!!, shouted the royal physician triumphantly, ripping the jagged arrow head from the Stranger's raw, blood soaked shoulder.
The Stranger sank back onto the crude operating table, soaked in sweat and congealed blood. His head thudded on the table like a ripe melon and he drifted off again into unconsciousness…
The King was sweating profusely. His royal garments now no more than bloody royal rags.
The royal physician sat down heavily on an oak stool next to the frail looking Stranger. Though sweat-soaked and exhausted, he began to bandage the bloody wound after cleaning it as best he could.
“Is he going to be alright Arlan?”, inquired an equally exhausted King.
Arlan looked at him wryly as his sweaty fingers continued to work.
“Well sire, if this rather strenuous demonstration is in any small way an indication, me thinks he’ll be just fine and--, Here, finish this for me while I tend to this soldier. He’s beginning to come round and I’ll need to set his jaw—
“Quite a ‘kick’ your friend has there, my lord.”
The King now returned the wry smile and set about attempting to make a bandage.
“I see why the brigands call him… What was it again?”
“Xazal Tak, sire”, said a soldier righting several chairs turned over in the melee.
“And it means?”
“The Killing Demon, or something there abouts, sire.”
“Hmph. A lot of strength for one so near to death.”
“Aye my lord. Look, he struggles still, though not as fiercely.”
“He’s dreaming again. Another torturous one too, judging from the looks of him...”
The physician finished working on the groggy guard, resetting his jaw and returned to help the King finish his bandage. Amused, he nudged the King aside and said jovially,
“Richard, leave. Get back to the affairs of state. If our friend here awakes and sees this 'thing' you call a bandage, he may chase us all out of here.” He said smiling.
He awoke to blinding sunlight. His upraised arm was a poor shield against the piercing light. The covers fell from his bare chest as he sat up to collect his thoughts.
Where am I? What happened? I’m home…
“Arzana?”, he called. There was a shuffling of feet along the living room floor toward the bedroom were he lay. Old, arthritic feet scraped their way toward him. He fell back on the bed, dejected. They were not the youthful steps he’d hoped to hear. So it was all true , and not some awful nightmare after all…His wife and child, were dead…
And he, was totally, utterly, completely…alone.
“Yes, Theron, did you call?”, said the old woman from the doorway.
“…No..no, I said nothing…” he said quietly staring at the bowed and cracked ceiling.
Samsa came in a short while later and Theron listened stoically at first to how his wife and young son had contracted the plague a quarter moon after he and Silvari had left for the wars. He listened, tight-jawed, as he learned of their suffering in the final stages. He thanked them as he learned the old man and woman had put themselves at risk by taking the two into their own home just across the valley when Arzana had become too weak to care for herself, much less the boy.
“Mother and I figured that our lives were nearly over anyway, and that if Eloah wanted to take us by plague, then so be it. But we would give our lives in preserving those of Arzana and the boy…”
It wasn’t until they recounted to him how she use to call out his name in the early predawn dark, that the tears flowed. He fought to hold them back.
“It was in the wee hours nigh dawn that the pain was the greatest…and that’s when she would call, nay—‘scream’ your name. It would echo throughout the valley. So loud, I thought that you would hear it for sure where ever you were...”
“I felt it…” he said solemnly,
“Near the Battle of Yors, I felt her scream...” he said, wet faced,
“…But I passed it off as superstitious…”
Ola reached out and took her husband’s hand as she felt his pain in having to relive these tragic moments.
He watched them.
Our love had been like that, Theron thought to himself. Caring, supporting…
Suddenly he sobbed as memories flooded his consciousness of their time together and his heart was a broken cistern from which gushed tears, wails and tremendous pain…
“We sent messengers to try and summon you, but they were all killed by the Quillmarians and we didn’t know what else to do…” volunteered Samsa.
“They lingered on in anguish and passed, only yesterday…”said Ola.
“My God…” Theron gasped and buried his face in calloused hands.
“…If only you could gotten here sooner, maybe…”
“Mother,” cautioned Samsa, and silenced her with a look. He knew the boy was suffering enough, and didn’t need the added weight on his heart of—
Theron looked up, and wailed.
“You mean, I missed seeing her alive by only a few hours! A day???!!”
He rose from the bed in anguish, his hands to his head, his fingers locked in his midnight hair, wailing.
Samsa rose to comfort him.
“I know you loved her boy, more than life, but she’s gone and there’s nothing to be done, perhaps—“
“Let the boy grieve, Father.”
“--if you visited the place where we buried them you could make your peace with them there and—“
“It’s too soon for that Father, let the boy settle it in his own way, maybe he…”
“Mother, hush!” Samsa said curtly, “I know what I’m, doing. The boy needs…”
“…Would you both please leave…”
Dead silence filled the cabin.
They both looked at each other and then back to Theron.
“Now…Please…” he said firmly.
“But…” began the old man.
“…Please…” more tenderly this time, his back to them, face to the wall. Almost imploring.
“Alright son. Well, if you need us…”
“I know…I know…”
“Oh, and here’s a letter that she wrote you just before she…”
“Put…put it on the bed…I’ll…I’ll…read it when…” his shoulders heaved as he once again became the broken man, and less the stoic warrior.
Ola touched his scarred and tanned back with a motherly concern that replaced the need for words, and then turned and left. He waited till they were out of sight of the cabin, then put on his Savak, gathered his sword, his signet ring, and the letter, and left.
He burned the cabin to the ground and everything in it…
Samsa and Ola, curious, crested the hill separating their cabins a short while later only to find the cabin ablaze and no sign of their young friend…