VII. Macknemir

VII. Macknemir

A Chapter by D.S. Dirck

VII. Macknemir

Year: 643ALD


The cold morning air felt like a slap in his face. The first fingers of daylight crawled over the camp, as droplets of dew accumulated over everything, leaving him wet and frigid. A blanket of smoke hovered in the air from the smoldering embers of last night’s fire as he awoke, beaten, bloody and bound to the rotted-out stump of a tree.

They'd used several layers of saddle straps and rope, binding him in a seated position. He wriggled around, finding the more he moved, the tighter his bonds became.

Strangler knots…

A hidden dirk still resided in his right boot, which his captors failed to find, but with his legs bound so tight, it was unreachable for the time being. Still, there was hope he might get to it one way or another.

One of his captors sat nearby, chewing a piece of burnt snake. The man was tall and broad, with a scraggly black beard and empty brown eyes. Most of his teeth appeared stained or rotten.  As Macknemir awoke, he found the man’s cold gaze looming over him.

“He’s wakin’ up,” the man muttered in a gravelly voice. “Them’s strangler knots behind your back, elf. Keep struggling like that and they’ll crush your chest. Not that I give a s**t; saves us the trouble of having to kill you ourselves.”

The fifth member of the group appeared noticeably absent, as Macknemir evaluated his situation. He mulled over the events of the previous night, desperate to make sense of things.

How did he disarm me like that? How could anyone move with such speed? I stabbed him in the belly and he merely laughed at me.

The previous night, the raiders had interrogated him harshly. The hooded man watched from a distance as three of them asked his name, where he came from, and how many more Reysians were scouting the plains. He remained stalwart and silent, and in return was stripped and beaten with a crude switch made from weaved thorn grass. The pain was excruciating, but he gave the men nothing.  

When the raiders grew tired of torturing him, they debated cutting his throat or hanging him, but the hooded man would not allow it. “We don’t take prisoners,” the oldest of the four men argued. “This was not part of the deal.”

Mercenaries… Someone is paying them to terrorize the highways. But why?

Every little crumb of information spilled left a dozen more questions. Random attacks in the grass plains made little sense. The roads through Dura Tel Mar saw little traffic. A traveller could ride an entire day without seeing another soul, and coupled with the hostile climate, attacking innocent travellers would serve only to garner the attention of Elytia, Reysia or both, not to mention the wrath of the merchant masters in the Freelands.

High risk and low reward. There is more to this than simple robbery.

The eldest of the armored men was distinguishable by a thin grey beard and dark grey pony tail. His face appeared weathered like a sailor's, leading Macknemir to reason he must have spent considerable time on the open water as a pirate or marauder.

The notion harkened back to Macknemir’s sailing days, when he fought against pirates and slavers during the Great War. Slavers had struck the southern sea coastal villages on both sides of the border. The High Council had given Macknemir command of a five-vessel fleet and commanded him to patrol the seas as the war raged on to the north. It seemed every vessel he captured was filled to the brim with women and children of all peoples. He remembered the cragged, sun-bleached faces of the slavers and pirates. The sun seemed to age Reysians and men faster over open water, and he recognized the marks instantly.

You’re a long way from open water, old man.

The first name Macknemir gathered was that of the youngest, Tom Tom. He appeared innocent enough for being eighteen or twenty years old. He still retained most of his teeth, and he smelled the least offensive by comparison.

Perhaps if I break free, I may spare him, assuming he yields.

Another was tall and gaunt, with a short beard and crooked nose. Dirt caked his face, making his yellow eyes appear like two setting suns. He seated himself next to the larger man and scowled at Macknemir, stuffing a piece of meat into his mouth, never taking his yellow eyes off their captive.

The hooded man appeared again at midday, his face partially hidden by his cowl. Thick leather gloves concealed his hands, and it seemed every inch of his skin was covered, leaving only his brilliant green eyes exposed. He strolled through the camp with a strange swagger.

He fears his face to be seen. But why? Why hide from me? Or is he hiding it from them?

The hooded man approached, grabbing Macknemir by the throat and lifting him off the ground. He scrambled for a moment to gain his footing, as the other men stood and walked away.

“Tell me, elf,” the man said in a soft, seductive voice. “Are you sure there aren’t more Reshlar out looking for you?”

Gasping for breath, he squirmed around in a vain effort to gain his footing as his consciousness slipped. The hooded man laughed for a moment, and then dropped him to the ground.

“You are defiant, no? Even in the face of certain death. I can respect that.”

On his back, gasping, Macknemir glared back at the hooded man. “Kill me, and be done with it, but you’ll get nothing from me. Why keep me alive, when you butcher innocent people?”

Innocent people,” the hooded man said with a scoff, cocking his head to the side. “I suppose we could kill you now and bury you somewhere off the road. Lord Byron would surely love that. No one would find you, save for a scavenging fox or sandworms. But do not fear, Reysian. Your time will come, one way or another, but not before I’m done with you.”

Sensing a twisted humor behind the hooded man’s words, Macknemir pondered whether he was being ransomed. Bandits and slavers were known to take hostages, but despite his rank in the Reshlar, it meant nothing in the field. Neither the Reshlar nor the Legion ever paid ransoms. Ever.

The hooded man walked off with the older man, referred to as Lord Byron, presumably to talk away from Macknemir, but Reysian ears were keener than any man’s, and he heard the pair arguing over his fate.

“We should kill him now, bury the body and move on. Every second he breathes, we risk getting caught,” Byron argued. “They’re probably out looking for him already. We can’t head south anymore.”

“We’ll continue on northward to the crossroads,” the hooded man replied. “Reshlar scouts often stay in the field for months at a time. They may not even know he is gone. But, if you are correct, word has probably reached Tyrie or Ciromar by now, and sentries could be sweeping north as we speak. We’ve done what we came to do.”

“All the more reason to end him now,” argued Byron. “He’s of no use to us, aside from the weapons and coin we took off of him. We’re not getting paid to carry prisoners.”

“No, but you are getting paid to do what I tell you, Lord Byron,” the hooded man replied with a stern voice, “Unless you don’t want to get paid?” The conversation ended the moment terms of payment were mentioned.

Typical mercenaries…

The four men gathered their camp and prepared to head north.  A strong pair of hands grabbed Macknemir, tossed him over the back of a horse, face down and tied him to the saddle. With his view obstructed by the rear end of the horse, he could only guess who was riding in the saddle, but by the smell, he assumed either the big man, or Lord Byron. Twisting his neck around, he spotted Tom Tom in the rear, riding the pack horse.

Throughout the day, he attempted to make eye contact with the young man, staring at him with intent. Yet the boy looked away every time their eyes met.

There is a sliver of innocence left in the younger one. With enough time, it will be replaced by cruelty and malice, like the others.

Mile by mile, the group rode northward along the highway. The ride was bumpy, and the rear end of the horse bounced Macknemir up and down. His dislocated shoulder throbbed in excruciating pain with every movement of the horse. Adding to his discomfort, the motion of the horse served to tighten the strangler knots on his bonds, leaving his  forearms numb.

Hours dragged on as the hot sun burned his neck. He became drenched in a sea of sweat, while the foul smells of the other men grew more pungent. The man he rode behind farted repeatedly for several hours. As Macknemir’s head was directly behind the man’s rear, he desperately tried to bury his nose into the hair on the horse’s hind quarter to escape the foul smell.

By late afternoon, a strong thirst had taken hold of him. As time passed, his thoughts slowly shifted from death to water. He envisioned himself swimming in the rivers of the lake country with its cool water�"soothing to the touch.

Just one drink. You can kill me. Just give me water. Just one drop…

“There’s a caravan up ahead!” Lord Byron announced, bringing his horse to a stop.

“First one all day,” muttered the big man in front of Macknemir.

He stirred from his dreams of rivers and waterfalls, as he discerned which rider was which.

So I’m riding with the big man.  

“Wallace. Ride ahead and scout them,” Lord Byron commanded as the thin man galloped ahead.

Wallace… Now I have a third name.

Wallace returned a short time later. “It’s a mixed group. What do we do?”

“A mixed group, you say?” Byron confirmed.

“Aye, two Reysians, a man, and I think a Dur,” Wallace replied. “Do we let 'em pass, then?”

“Aye,” replied Byron.

Why let this group pass? Are they commanded not to harm Reysians or Durians? What sense does that make?

The group trotted slowly along the road as the caravan approached. Macknemir looked in time to see two Reysians in plain clothes on horseback, along with a wagon driven by a man and a Dur, all dressed in plain tunics and cowls, shielding themselves from the sun.

“Cover him, Bruce,” Byron commanded to the man riding with Macknemir. “Don’t let them see him.”

His face became shaded as Bruce threw a horse blanket over him, quietly muttering, “Make a sound or cry for help and I’ll cut your f*****g throat right here. I don’t give a good gods-damn what the monster says.” The blanket reeked of sweat and horsehair.

“Good day to you,” greeted a Reysian voice. “Such a lovely day for travelling.”

Byron sighed, “Aye, a nice, hot, sticky day on the plains.”

“Where are you headed?” the Reysian asked.

“We’re heading to the crossroads, then off to Sunterland.”

A measured reply…

Macknemir knew the roads were a common route for merchants and travellers. Men in armor, carrying no wares, looked suspicious.

“We’re heading south to Dunesvale. Be careful. We hear that raiders are out and about on the highways.” Macknemir felt a sharp point of a dagger poke him through the horse blanket in his shoulder.

A warning…

“We too have heard the rumors,” announced Byron. “Thank you for the warning, and travel safe out there. We’ll be sure to keep a lookout. Ain’t that right, boys?”

Wallace chuckled, “That’s right.”

There was a long pause then, and though Macknemir could not see, he knew the merchants were seconds from death, should they say or do the wrong thing. Yet fortune smiled upon the travelling band of merchants and they passed on without incident, leaving Macknemir to ponder why they were spared.

In time, the sound of wagon wheels clacking over rocks faded, replaced by the sound of horse hooves. The group soldiered on, as Bruce either forgot or refused to remove the blanket, leaving Macknemir sweltering in the heat and drowning in sweat.

Hours dragged on in the heat, and without water, the last threads of his consciousness frayed. Death was beginning to seem more and more appealing, like a sweet reprieve from the awful discomfort.

The light piercing through the horse blanket dimmed as the sun moved closer to the horizon. Not long after, Byron ordered the group to stop and make camp.

Dehydrated and in delirium, Macknemir found himself thrown from the horse into a patch of thorn grass. The blades of grass snapped and shattered, cutting into his clothing and skin like paper knives, yet the cool air outside of the blanket offered a much needed relief.

“Don’t you go running off on us, elf,” Bruce laughed, looming over his prisoner.

The distinct sound of slicing caught Macknemir’s attention and he glanced to see Tom Tom cutting away at the thorn grass. The boy peered over to him every so often, trying to hide the stares.

The boy is curious of me. Bruce will surely beat us both if I speak to him.

An hour passed before Wallace returned with an armful of sticks and kindling, and Byron appeared with a dead fox and two snakes. The conversations were short until Byron brought out a skin of spirits and passed it around. Macknemir could smell the alcohol on their breaths as he lay sideways in the thorn grass.

“This here’s some strong s**t,” Wallace remarked with a wince. “I’ll bet our old pal is prolly’ thirsty after a hard day’s ride in this hot-a*s sun. What say you, elf? Wanna drink?”

Macknemir lay on the ground motionless, half conscious and unresponsive.

Bruce pushed off the ground, rising to his feet, drunk and stumbling. “Seems our friend here is too good to have a drink with the likes of us. F****n’ fairies, they all think they’re better 'an us.”

The monster wants 'im alive,” said Wallace, trying to stand and falling back to the ground. “Bruce, give the elf something to drink. I bet he’s thirsty.”

Macknemir stirred.

Water…   

Barely holding himself up, Bruce displayed a look of cruel mischievousness. “Oh, I got something for him.”

Water… Please…

A warm stream of water rained down on the Reysian’s head, and Wallace howled in drunken laughter when the pungent odor of urine arrived.

He closed his eyes and held his breath.

“Drink up, elf. That’s good stuff right there!” Bruce and Wallace roared in laughter, while Tom Tom and Byron sat in silence.

Beaten, bloody, broken, and now pissed on, neither thoughts of pity nor revenge entered Macknemir’s heart. He closed his eyes, retreating deep into his memories for some relief or reprieve from this hellish situation.

Recalling his time spent at the healing houses of Serendell, the healers taught him the ways of meditation to relieve pain and suffering. All he must do is recall a memory of comfort and embrace it like a mother would a child.

Delving deep into his subconscious, the image of cascading waterfalls and lush foliage appeared before him. The pain from his dislocated shoulder eased and the anger in his heart evaporated, as the grass plains of Dura Tel Mar faded from existence.

His leather bonds became a soft hammock swaying in the breeze, and the pungent, hot urine transformed into a warm summer rain, as the acrid smell gave way to an aroma of Wisteria and Lily-of-the-Valley. He breathed deeply and smiled, as the birds and butterflies hovered around, welcoming him to the one place Wallace and Bruce could not follow. He clutched the dream with all his heart, tighter than a child to its mother.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself at the healing houses of Serendell, a fortress city made entirely of wood, built high in the clouds of the skywood forest of El Astria. Decades earlier, he had found himself there, suffering near fatal wounds from an incident on the northern border, which had left him and another the only survivors.

He recalled waking naked, believing himself dead and asking to see his ancestors. A young Reysian woman in white robes, with long blond hair and soft hazel eyes, stood before him.

"The wounds to your body are healed,” she said in a soothing voice, “but the wounds to your spirit require more time.”

As he lay, the woman shed her robes and mounted him. She gracefully rode him while massaging his neck and chest, whispering strange words in his ear. The words were of the old tongue, and he understood none of it, yet he felt the words wrap around his heart in a warm embrace, foreign but soothing.

Years spent in the eastern outlands, patrolling the borders, had left his soul weathered. Violence and cruelty were a part of everyday life for the average soldier, and many Reysians found their spirits tainted black because of it. Macknemir was no exception. Were it not for duty and honor, he too would have succumbed to what was referred to as, ‘corruption of the heart’. There were stronger and braver Reysians who could not escape it, and for them, the only way out was death. Suicides were commonplace, while a small number simply shed their names and fled into the Freelands, never to be seen again.

Macknemir suffered those days without complaint, yet the scars hung like chains around his heart. It was not until this healer woman from Serendell, with her magic words and soft touch, managed to wipe away the sludge which had accumulated over his heart. His eyes brightened, and he breathed easy for the first time in years.

Her name was Aleesha… She came from Raylion…

For five days she tended to him, until he was able to walk again. Each night, she comforted him with songs and sweet words. Her kisses danced over his cheeks like butterflies as he slept, and every morning she greeted him with an embrace of wetness.

By the time he was well enough to leave, her eyes had become shadows, and wisps of grey had sprouted from her hair. Her once beautiful smile was reduced to a melancholy grin, and he knew her soul had somehow become darkened in the healing process.

The last night of his stay, she came to him and embraced him inside of her for the last time. “Do not fear for me. It is my duty to bear the weight of your suffering.”

“The pain I carried has darkened you,” he lamented.

“Do you feel it?” she said. “You are now bound to me, and I to you. When you leave, no matter how far you go, I will be a part of you.”

�"and you a part of me…

“You will come back to me. Someday. Somehow. When we are both very different people.” Her final words were bittersweet.

But how different? Would you recognize me now? Would I recognize you? I still feel you. But not in Serendell. I feel roses, a void, greyness, swirling all together. I see grey when I search for you. Why? What do you see when you search for me in your heart? Do you even still search for me? Why did I leave you? Why did I wait so long?  

A sudden cold force clutched him, and the pain and suffering of the world bled back to him like black fingers crawling over his skin. Aleesha’s perfect soft skin turned grey and brittle as cracks appeared, running across her face. The Reysian healer shattered like ashes and scattered in the wind, and the soft summer rain turned hot and yellow and pungent once more.

The hooded man returned.

“You are all drunk,” he said with disdain, leaning down to examine the prisoner.

Bruce looked back. “What of it?”

Fully awake and determined to take action, Macknemir glanced around, searching for anything that might help him escape.

The hooded man removed his gloves and his hood, carefully unwrapping  the shroud around his face to reveal skin whiter than winter. He reached behind his head, untying his blond hair and letting it fall to his shoulders. His gleaming green eyes stared at Macknemir as he bent down, inches from the Reysian’s face.

“Get a good look, elf.” Two elongated canines flashed through a smile that could only be described as demonic.

“So it is true, then…” said Macknemir.

“So it is,” he replied. “I am sure you have questions. Rest assured, we will have plenty of time for talk.”

Byron rose from his seat, nearly sober. “What do you intend to do with the Reysian? I want answers. Are we dragging him to Durmont?”

So they’re going to Durmont…

The white-skinned man glanced at Byron, seemingly perturbed at the interruption. “Do you want to be paid in gold? Or would you rather be paid in answers? Will answers untarnish your family’s name and restore you to glory?”

Byron bit his tongue, glaring back with scorn.

“A wise decision Lord Broomhowre. You are not as stupid as your brother Clathis, after all.” His mouth wrinkled into a crooked smile.

Macknemir felt a sudden force gripping his throat, jerking him upwards, as the sharp point of a blade pressed into his neck. A bead of blood ran down, with Bruce standing behind him. The man’s hot breath still reeked of liquor.

“F**k the monster! F**k his gold! F**k the Reysian! And F**k you!” Bruce roared at Byron.

In a panic, Tom Tom fell back, as Byron and Wallace stepped forward in an attempt to calm the situation.

“Bruce!” Byron stammered. “Put the Reysian down. I command you!”

“F**k you, Byron. If you had half a mind, you’d know he ain’t paying us s**t, unless there’s a bag of gold hidden up his a*s.”

“Kill him and you die,” the now-unhooded man warned.

“You think you can kill me?” mocked Bruce. “F**k you, too!”

Wallace unsheathed his sword, looking frantically at Bruce and Byron, unsure whose side to take.

Byron unsheathed his own sword, taking a stance towards Bruce. “Don’t be stupid, Bruce. You know what he can do. You’ll get us all killed.”

“So it’s gonna be like that, eh?” Bruce seethed, throwing Macknemir to the ground behind him. “You wanna suck his c**k for coin, that’s your f*****g business. But I ain’t doing it!”

Landing hard on his shoulder, Macknemir writhed in pain for a moment as the arguing ensued. Composing himself as best he could, he knew now was his chance. He wriggled as hard as he could to break free from the rope and leather bonds. With all his might he sucked his stomach in, exhaling all the air out of his lungs and pulling with his arms, yet nothing happened. A cufflink on the wrist of his leather tunic felt somewhat sharp. He strained, cutting into his bonds, taking several minutes before he realized the effort was futile.

He swung his head around to find Tom Tom. The boy was on the opposite end of the camp, on his back, crawling away from the argument. He glared at the boy, who was too fearful to notice.

Look at you, stupid boy!

A noise grabbed the Reysian’s attention, and he turned to his backside as a small, shadowy figure appeared. Two beady eyes reflecting the glimmer from the fire stared back at him. The shadow bobbed up and down, and strafed from side to side as it inched closer. Amidst the darkness, a silhouette of a bird took shape.  

What the hell is this? A vulture? The vulture…

The bird cautiously waddled closer, cocking its head to the side as it slowly opened its beak, making the faintest of cackling noises.

“Down…” the bird said. “Down. Down. Down.”

The men seemed oblivious to the bird’s appearance as their argument intensified.

“Put the weapon down, Bruce!” Byron commanded.

“You throwing in with him, Wallace?” Bruce demanded to know. “Are you really his b***h?”

Looking deep into the vulture’s eyes, Macknemir focused all his thoughts to bending the bird to his will, shaking and straining. “Friend, I am in great peril. Go and get help.”

The bird carefully stepped closer and whispered, “No.”

“No?” Macknemir answered. “I have no food to give you.” The bird looked down, examining the bonds.

“No.” The bird put its head on the ground. “Down. Down. Down.”

Macknemir stared back, puzzled.  “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t think we’re just gonna let you walk away, Bruce,” said Byron.

Crossing his arms, the pale man rested a hand on his chin in a peculiar stance. “If we let him go and the Reshlar catch him, he’ll tell them everything.”

“Well, I guess we got us a problem then, don’t we?” spat Bruce.

“I never pegged you for a bright fellow, Bruce,” remarked the pale man.

“Come and get some, then. Your teeth don’t scare me,” Bruce growled as Byron and Wallace stepped back.

The vulture then burst into flight, with feathers exploding in all directions, startling everyone. Bruce turned to see the commotion, and the figure lunged forward, knocking him over as he shoved a long dagger deep into his foe’s chest.

The figure laughed, spitting black blood in Bruce’s face and knocking his weapon away. Bruce responded with several hard punches to the figure’s face, none of which seemed to faze the white-skinned man.

A flapping noise like running water interrupted the fight . Everyone stopped and looked upward into the blackness of night, seeing nothing.

“What the f**k is that?” yelled Wallace.

The noise grew louder, sounding like a wave breaking on rocks, only much longer and much louder. Fear took hold of everyone as the noise came from every direction.

The blossoming static of noise then morphed into flapping and cawing. Thousands of vultures descended in a black rain of rage over the camp. Macknemir buried his face in the dirt as he heard the horde of vultures screaming, “Die! Kill! Die! Die! Kill! Die! Die!”

The men flailed their arms about, trying to knock the birds away, but there were too many. Shouts of rage quickly became screams of agony as the birds went to work with their sharp talons, tearing flesh and gouging eyes.

Down’ he said…

The maelstrom of screams and flapping coalesced as the men, one by one, collapsed to the ground, still thrashing about. One bird landed on Macknemir, sniffing him and jumping off, seemingly uninterested. Amidst the chaos, the Reysian arched his back and rolled into the darkness, away from the screaming men. The thorn grass sliced and cut him even more, yet he continued to roll, despite the sharp stinging cuts. He opened his eyes, to see the light from the camp’s fire a distant glow, as the sound of the feral birds seemed safely distant.

Delirium had set in, when strange hands grabbed him.

“He’s here! I can’t believe it!” cried a familiar voice. “Stuart! A knife! I need a knife right now!”

Convinced he was hallucinating, Macknemir struggled to choke out the words, “Water… Water…” A young boy appeared, holding a skin of water to his lips, and he drank deeply, feeling his life return to him with every sip. “Rudd?”

“Aye,” the boy replied, turning back toward the bloodcurdling screams as the vultures continued to mutilate the raiders.

Several minutes passed before the commotion died down and stillness took hold over the camp. An occasional flap and caw were the only sounds to be heard, as the mutilated corpses of the raiders lay silent and still. The largest birds held strings of flesh in their beaks, which the smaller birds fought over.

“How did you find me?”

Lem looked over Macknemir’s shoulder as a large shadow loomed over and licked the Reysian’s face. Stuart held a torch high as the spotted brown courser lowered its head, nudging its injured master.

“It’s good to see you, friend,” Macknemir replied. “I cannot ride you. I am too weak.”

The horse neighed, and in a whisper Macknemir heard the faintest of words. “I found them. Like you said.”

“He wandered over to our camp and woke us up,” Rudd said.

“We knew something was wrong,” Stuart added. “We spent all day searching the roads, and then a vulture appeared and nearly landed on Lem�"“

“�"It was the damndest thing,” Lem nearly laughed. “We tried shooing it away, but it wouldn’t go... and in the back of my head I thought, ‘maybe this stupid bird is trying to get our attention’.”

“I can’t believe it led us to you,” Stuart said in astonishment. “The gods must surely favor you.”

“Get me up,” said Macknemir, and Lem pulled him to his feet. “I’m not finished with them yet.”

With one arm around Lem, the pair lurched towards the camp.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Lem asked. “What if they turn on us?”

“They won’t,” Macknemir replied.

The vultures parted as the group approached, paying little attention elsewise. The birds had badly mutilated the faces of Byron and Wallace, who lay motionless. With his lower jaw ripped off, blood spurted from the shredded mass of flesh that had been Bruce’s face.

“By the Gods!” Stuart gasped, turning away to wretch in disgust.

Leaning harder on Lem to gain his footing, Macknemir put a hand on Stuart. “Take the boy. He doesn’t need to see this.”

“So these are your raiders, eh?” muttered Lem. “All those people died for these pieces of s**t?”

Macknemir balanced himself as Lem pulled away, unsheathing his dagger.

Bruce’s shredded tongue flapped about as he coughed up blood and chunks of flesh. “Can’t believe those birds did all this. The gods are certainly looking out for you.” Lem quickly ran the dagger across Bruce’s already-lacerated throat, cutting all the way to the bone. Bruce choked for a short moment as blood seeped out from the kiss of the cold steel, and he died.

Byron and Wallace were already dead, with neither one being identifiable, aside from a wisp of grey hair dangling from a scalp. On the other side of the camp, they found the boy, Tom Tom. His face was mauled, his nose gone and his eyes gouged like the others. He heard the sounds around him and stirred in agony.

“Stupid f*****g boy,” said Lem. “He’s barely older than Rudd.”

Macknemir released himself from Lem, kneeling to the wounded young man. He then grabbed the boy’s hand and squeezed it tight. The young man, dying and afraid, squeezed back, unable to speak.

“You deserved better than what these men gave you,” he whispered to the boy. “May Ura walk with you through the shadow of death to whatever afterlife awaits. May you find the peace in death you could not have in life.”

The young man’s breathing slowed a bit, as the words appeared to be a comfort to him.

Macknemir took the dagger from Lem and quickly pulled it across Tom Tom’s throat. The boy choked and gasped in a panic, squeezing Macknemir’s hand to the  point of nearly breaking it.

“Find the light. Seek it out. Go to it. Don’t be afraid.”

A moment passed before the shaking stopped and Tom Tom let go.  

A minute went by with nothing said. Lem reached out a hand, pulling Macknemir back to his feet. The Reysian shuddered and sighed. “We’ll bury the boy. The rest can rot out here.”

“Wasn’t there another?” Lem asked.

Macknemir spun around, searching the camp in a panic and nearly falling, as Lem caught him. “Easy there, fella.”

“There was…” Macknemir pushed Lem off, snatching a bloodstained b*****d sword off the ground. Lem followed and drew his own blade. “He’s here somewhere.”

Stuart brought a torch over as the campfire dwindled to embers and they searched amidst the sea of birds.

“There! Over there! Look!” shouted Rudd. The boy pointed to a crowd of vultures who formed a circle around what appeared to be a body. Macknemir and Lem hobbled over as the vultures moved to let them through.

“Well I’ll be gods damned,” gasped Lem.

The figures’s face appeared even whiter in the torchlight, as he lay semi-conscious with his eyes gouged and still hanging from the sockets. Deep cuts and scratches covered every exposed part of his body, yet it seemed the vultures had spared him the worst of their wrath.

“Is that a�"?” Lem stuttered.

“�"Yes,” Macknemir replied tersely.

Lem took a moment to let it sink in. It was a difficult truth to realize he now existed in a world where sundowners were still alive. Macknemir found himself struggling with the notion as well, but being beaten bloody and starved for water can make anyone accept the harshest of truths.

“I guess sundowner must taste like s**t,” Lem mumbled.

Stuart and Rudd came over to have a look as Lem pointed. “You see that, boy? Was that the hooded man you saw back there?”

Rudd looked at the mauled figure for a moment, then jumped back in fear as Stuart clutched him, nodding.

Lem unsheathed his dagger and moved to strike, when Macknemir put his hand out to stop him.

“No,” he said. “He paid the others to terrorize the highways. I need to know why.”

“Who cares why?” Lem argued. “They’re dead, and so is this one if we kill him.”

Stuart agreed, “These were bad men. The world is safer without them, and him.”

Macknemir signaled for Rudd to fetch some rope.

“What are you planning?” asked Lem.

“We’re going to Durmont,” Macknemir replied. “That’s where they were going.”

“Durmont?” Stuart said, surprised.

Rudd appeared with a pile of hemp twine and several leather straps, handing them to Macknemir.  “I’m afraid these attacks were part of some larger scheme. This one knows who is behind them.”

“Well, we’re going to Loder, and you’ll have to go through Loder to get to Durmont. We might as well ride together.”

“Bugger that!” snorted Lem. “I ain’t riding with a bloody sundowner!”

Stuart took the ropes and straps and knelt. “Don’t just stand there Lem, help me tie him up.”

The rope served to bind the prisoner’s hands and feet, while the leather straps held his arms in place. Macknemir cut away the remains of his once brilliant green eyes and wrapped a bloodstained bandage around his head. They covered every part of his skin and fashioned a makeshift cloak out of a horse blanket, covering him from head to toe.

Though his skin was colder than a normal man’s, a heartbeat could be felt, and a faint breath revealed him to be very much alive. A gag was stuffed into his mouth at Lem’s insistence before being hoisted over Macknemir’s horse.

The vultures flapped their wings, squawking in protest as their prize was hauled away. Once Tom Tom was properly buried, Lem stripped the armor and clothes from the other corpses, and the vultures swarmed over the bodies once more.

Upon leaving the camp, Macknemir turned back and said goodbye to the birds. “Thank you my friends. I owe you my life.” A few of the vultures looked back for a brief moment before resuming their fight over scraps of meat.  

Fumbling through the darkness with only a dim torchlight, the group finally found the road. A short walk south revealed the wagon, which they had stashed behind a tall patch of weeds.

Stuart and Lem helped Macknemir into the wagon and then lifted the unconscious captive into the back with him while Rudd crawled up the side and untied the horses.

A nice outcropping of rock was spotted far from the highway, which seemed a safe enough place to make camp.

Lem yanked the prisoner from the back of the wagon and tied him to the wheel so he couldn’t wriggle away. “Can’t be too careful.”

It was decided they’d sleep in shifts, with Macknemir volunteering for the first watch. He was weak and exhausted, but unable to sleep. The time was well spent, as he fashioned a sling for his injured shoulder while sipping the remains of water from a pig bladder canteen.

All the while, their pale prisoner lay still, taking slow, deep breaths as Macknemir watched.

The world tomorrow will be a very different place than the world today, for now I know sundowners are a part of it.



© 2016 D.S. Dirck


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Added on March 24, 2016
Last Updated on April 4, 2016
Tags: Fantasy, Fiction, Novel


Author

D.S. Dirck
D.S. Dirck

Fort Wayne, IN



About
I am an unpublished author searching for a literary agent and eventually publication. In the mean time, I'm here to network with other like-minded (and even non-like-minded) authors. I'm by no mea.. more..

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