We’re back to Rowan in this one. It might be just a tad disturbing, so proceed with caution.
Oh, and this is the first time we meet Rheadwyn, too! 😀
That much said, enjoy!
Bound to the Flame
He was burning up with fever, sweating and shivering at the same time. He tried to move, in order to get into a more comfortable position, but as he did so a terrible pain shot through his leg and up his back. He screamed in agony. White-hot lances ran, tingling painfully, through the broken leg and around his spine. Strong hands pinned him down. Panicking, he struggled, regardless of the pain it caused. Where was he? What was happening? He fought the hands that held him down. Why… why was this happening?
Shadows coalesced in the angle beyond his mind’s reach, pain splintered the visible spectrum into red and black. Horrible light, too bright and yet unilluminating, pierced his eyes. He cried out, twisting his head away, trying to keep the light from piercing his head. That sent the agonizing spikes up his back again, and he gasped. He was trapped in a long dark hall of jagged shards of red, black, and torment. Slowly, he wandered deep in the shadows, wondering if he could ever return. Dimly, he remembered other things, when pain was only a dark dream, a mere terror of the night to be dispelled in the light of morning. It was his only reality now.
Could he ever come back?
“Keep him still! Keep him still!” Rheadwyn, a knight and healer, shouted over the racket in the sickroom, as she wrung out a damp cloth that she was using in an attempt to clean the injury. Her assistants pinned down the writhing boy to the pallet as she dabbed at the multiple cuts on Rowan’s broken leg. Rowan was crying out in pain, shouting out things that made no sense in his delirium. His breath came in ragged, shallow, painful gasps; he seemed unable to claim enough oxygen.
Melilana placed a hand on her son’s forehead, her lips moving in a prayer, then a spell. “Isn’t there something we can do about the pain?” she cried out over the cries of pain and shouts of the healers.
“We’ve tried willow, motherwort, mint even,” Rheadwyn said. “It’s not working. There’s nothing more we dare do, or we risk poisoning him.” Melilana wiped Rowan’s forehead with a clean, damp cloth, in an attempt to bring down the fever. She dabbed at the cut in his cheek that looked like a cross between a T and a backwards J. The injured child gave a low moan of pain. Melilana had to struggle to keep the tears from spilling out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. It pained her to see her much-beloved, only son so broken, so weak and ill.
Rowan’s tawny dark hazel eyes opened momentarily. They were distant, unfocused. Melilana reached out and found the long, slim, elegant hand, now flaccid and feeble, that was draped like a sad pennon over the side of the bed. Rowan’s large, dark, tawny eyes were limpid, deep, unfocused, undirected, chill pools that led to unknown depths. Rowan drew in a sharp breath and moved restlessly. “Hold him! Keep him still! Don’t let him injure himself further!” Rheadwyn shouted. Melilana gripped her son’s limp hand and gazed him in the eyes. She saw only fear, terror, confusion, pain. While Rowan’s broken body lay in one place, his mind was in another entirely, walking dark avenues where no one else could follow, distant, far away, alone, struggling to comprehend. Rowan gasped out several more prhases and words that didn’t make sense. He writhed in pain, shuddering as if he was enduring more torment than simply that of his injured leg and broken body. Melilana was suddenly, sharply and horribly reminded of the scare stories she had heard from time to time. Mind torture! But of course, that was impossible, beyond imagining. Mind torture came under the label of dark magic, the occult, no matter who exercised it, how, or for what reasons; no matter the circumstances, it was always morally wrong, and as such, it was banned. Melilana banished the unpleasant thought from her mind and returned her attention to her ailing son. She felt for a single, strange moment as if she was drowning in the boy’s eyes—eyes eerily like her own. Melilana pushed the feeling away and turned her full attention and focus toward helping Rowan.
“My lady,” Rheadwyn murmured, sotto voce, edging a little closer to the queen, “may I have a word, please?”
“Of course,” Melilana replied, her lips scarcely moving, sensing that Rheadwyn meant a word that was at least reasonably confidential.
“Please, I want you to feel Rowan’s injury out. I’d rather not rely on simply my own judgment alone in in a matter as grave as this.” Melilana nodded. She lifted her hand above the boy’s ailing body and murmured a spell under her breath. She was hard put to effectively contain and hide both her shock and horror. “It feels as if there’s some sort of dark magic ‘shroud’ that’s repelling our best efforts at healing magic. It’s almost as if the injury itself is resisting our healing.”
Rheadwyn nodded, grimly. “That’s the sense I was getting, too,” she said. “Now, if only we knew how or why… if this had been a wound I would have almost said he was attacked with a weapon that had had his name tied to it…” Melilana shuddered as she thought of the dark magic ritual, in which the evil magician would call on the name of the Evil One, cursing the weapon to be the bane of their worst enemy, and whispering the enemy’s name to the blade six times to bind the charm. “It seems too directed for a simple curse, generalized curse,” Rheadwyn mused, rubbing her chin. “And yet, from what Julian said, the injury was likely caused by a fall from his horse, and possibly the horse also falling and landing on him, or rolling onto him. I don’t know how a healing-resistant injury could be caused in that fashion.” She glanced down at Rowan. “He’s fortunate that it wasn’t his back that was broken, and it’s a mystery to me how he traveled anywhere on his own in that condition.”
“Guardian angels,” Melilana said succinctly, eliciting a wan smile from her friend’s face. Even though she was a powerful enchantress, Rheadwyn often confined her active beliefs to what she could see and hear, and though she did believe in the supernatural she didn’t remind herself of the fact very often.
“Indeed,” the healer, Ranger and knight murmured in reply.