The villagers milled around the injured young traveler. None rushed to aid him, nor did they speak to him or otherwise acknowledge his existence. He called for help, and they ignored him, save to watch his blood slowly leave his body. He reached to grip at his bleeding hip and snarled. He held it tightly as he slowly rose. Every move sent ringing shocks through his body.
There was regularity, as though a town smith was working his craft on the traveler’s very bones.
The young man, finally standing, roared his anger to the skies. “Curse you helpless lot.” he spat as he trudged toward a local monastery for aid. These people were useless, or perhaps wanted him to die. He might be in better hands if he was bleeding near some priests, he decided, rather than these overly-suspicious bumpkins.
This only served to remind him that Icesog truly was the most miserable place to travel.
He looked up toward the monastery. He felt like he had been walking for an hour, but he barely made it twelve feet. He wiped his hand over his forehead. Why was it so wet? He forced himself another step forward. Fresh pain shot through his hip.
“Priest! I need a priest!” he called as loudly as he could. The doors of the monastery didn’t open. He looked around at the villagers. They were following him. Rage like lava burned through his veins, and his face became red. His blood came faster from his wound, despite the harsh pressure he put on it. The hot liquid slowly forced its way between his fingers and around his hand.
He stopped a moment. How many steps had he taken? He couldn’t recall, but sanctuary was closer. He was at the door. He extended his sweat-stained hand forward as he forced another step out of his weak body. For a moment, he saw only white, and something cold in his hand awoke him. It was the door handle. He pulled at it, and the door opened with ease. He stumbled inside, and the door closed with a slam behind him.
Two priests looked down at the injured man. “This is why you never tell that sort who you are.” the older of the two announced. She forced a smile. “Heal him. He has balls enough to come in here after nobody else would take care of him, and walked here on his own.” With those words, the old woman walked away, leaving a younger woman with long ears to tend to the traveler.
The young priest knelt beside him and pulled a book from her pocket. It was small, and held only the most basic version of the spell needed.She allowed the book to fall open to its only page, and began to read the words inside. A black, delicate-looking finger slid along the page. Sparks of light wrapped around her flesh, just under the skin, as the air became sweet and heavy. She extended her free hand over the man’s head, and released the magic.
The spell was relatively ineffective, but the traveler would survive the night. The novice priest looked around, then called two strong-looking men over to carry him to a bed.
“Manric.” called a familiar voice through the darkness. “Manric. It’s time to wake up. I made a present for you, Manric.”
The young traveler stirred as his name was called. “What?” he asked quietly as he forced his eyes open. The scene before him was far beyond what he could register. His eyes stared blankly ahead. Tears slowly burned at his eyes, blurring his vision.
“Manric, isn’t it wonderful? They heard you were hurt, and let me bring them here to see you one last time. Of course, I didn’t tell them that you were going to recover fully.” The black-clad male laughed softly and waved a hand before the bound family members of Manric the traveler.
A child, no older than three, was the only member of Manric’s family missing. His mother, his father, his brother, and his wife were all present. His mother’s ears were missing, as were her fingers. Her arms were broken in various places, and bound to ensure the bones rubbed together each time she breathed. The elderly woman’s face was stained in tears, and her breathing was ragged. She stared at the ceiling above, as though the rest of the world did not exist.
Manric’s father had no arms, nor any legs. He leaned against Manric’s mother, in a similar catatonic state. Manric’s brother was nude, and lacked nipples, groin, and thumbs. The man would never be able to enjoy a woman’s company again in the same way.
Manric could not bear to look at his wife until she called to him softly. As his eyes fell on her, and he blinked away the worst of his tears, he saw something that shocked him. She was untouched! He looked fearfully at the man in black. “Where is my daughter?” he asked after several moments.
“Feel fortunate. She is a very observant girl, and ran away when she saw me.” The man in black chuckled softly. “Perhaps if your wife is good enough to tell me her name, I will seek her out next.”
Manric jerked his face to his wife. “Don’t tell him. Don’t!” he ordered, terror in his gut. “Even if he threatens to destroy any of us here, don’t tell him. I’d rather she be orphaned than at that man’s mercy!” He trembled as a cold breeze blew across his chest. He looked for the source, and saw an open window. The man in black was gone.
Manric held his arms out for his wife. The young woman rushed to him and began to sob as Manric called for a priest as loudly as he could. How he wished he had said nothing to he black-clad stranger at the bar. How he wished he was not so friendly with him. He wished the most that he had never left home.