What better day to post a new slice of this story? ;)
I don't know what it is about high fantasy, but this one has my writer's juices a-rollin'. It'll need a lot of re-work, but who cares? Let the good times flow!
Inside the small cell there was no way of telling the time. Niro woke up with a thundering headache and prickling, uncomfortable tightness all across his back, still shackled to the bed in a spread-out fashion. He had no inkling of an idea how long he had been out, or why he still wasn’t dead, but the itching around his chest and stomach hinted that somebody had stitched him up and bandaged him with a vengeance while he had been out. The room was still the same, filled with the scent of burning torches and processed herbs, but additionally there now was a note of stale male sweat to be found.
Somebody had putt a wool-knit checkered blanket over his feet, legs and behind, keeping him warm in his dreamless sleep. The scratchy wool also hinted he wasn’t wearing any pants beneath it.
It was a distressing idea to think that someone, probably Gusmerja, had taken off his clothes while he had been totally helpless. They had seen him naked, and he hadn’t been able to shield himself from their glances as they examined him inch by inch. The thought made him shudder violently. The movement triggered a series of painful, tight tugs all across his back, reminding him that all those stitches needed care and minding. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from tugging at the shackles keeping his arms stretched to the top end of the bed. They were cast iron, but mercifully wrapped with thick linen to keep them from rubbing his wrists raw.
Niro frowned and turned his head just enough to look at the contraptions. His master wouldn’t do such a merciful thing, as he firmly believed that those who deserved being shackled, also deserved being in pain to remind them of the errors of their ways. And the Earl had a well-known dislike for Lamias, talking often about the depravity and beastliness of those blood-sucking creatures. One such as the Earl would never pay a healer like Gusmerja to take care of a slave, he’d find it distasteful.
But then, who else would give a horse’s shit about a broken human man and his well-being?
Niro pondered this for a while, feeling the calming effects of the poison root drift through him. Maybe his master had finally relented and sold him to a gladiator’s school or some other business where he’d do manual labor without the danger of screwing important things up. The thought of being sold hurt his heart, which was strange, for he had never loved his master or the estate. He had loved having a home though, and knowing how things worked there. Everything would change with a new master, and change was not something Niro embraced easily.
As he lay there, he got restless and disheartened. The healing woman, Gusmerja, seemed nice enough despite the things Niro had heard about their race, so maybe her master— and through that, his master— would be as likable. If he was Lamia too, Niro would have to cope with that. Maybe he had been bought as a light snack, for all he knew about the blood drinking snakepeople, they liked the taste of pain, or fear, or hatred like some people preferred special brands of wine. He had quite a lot of those feelings coursing through his blood stream, and this would make sense.
The Ailill, on the other hand, liked him for being human. They didn’t like the whole species of humans, they actually looked down on them quite blatantly, but they liked humanity’s disconnection from the earth and the circle of life. As Ailill, Fae people, they were tightly bound to the rules of life and death, to powerful, overwhelming magic, that affected their life quite strongly in a multitude of ways. Humans were not so influenced by the forces of fate and earth, and they could murder and lie and infiltrate to their heart’s content, making them prime candidates for any dirty work a nobleman might think of.
The Pander wouldn’t have fixed him up. They were as gruesome as the Lamia were bloodthirsty, living off the dead flesh of living things like ghouls, but calm, wise and even-tempered with a strength to be revered. Still, a Pander master would have simply eaten his rotting body, no healing required.
And lastly, the were the Nightgigers. No, there was no possible way a Nightgiger had bought him, not even the Ailill had ever been able to truly contact them, let alone find out who ruled them. There was still quite some uproar about the idea of Nightgigers even being sentient, intelligent higher life forms, and in some parts of the world they were still called animals. On the surface, they actually acted like animals, like an ancient cross between the Pander and the Lamia, only much more terrifying. They were said to hunt for children reckless enough to leave their homes at night, but in truth they took any warm flesh, any blood available, as long as it was that of a humanoid creature. They didn’t like the taste of the Pander people, and they usually went after weak, frail, hurt, dying or freshly dead victims, always outside, never inside a building. All of this made them bogeymen for every defiant or nagging child, a natural threat for travelers, and in the end, not much of an enemy for the war-wise peoples.
‘An Ailill noble, or a Lamian noble,’ Niro decided. The stitches on his back itched a bit, so he tried to wiggle on the bed in hopes the bandages would help ease it. This was how he found out that another strap of leather fixed his hips and behind to the bed, making it impossible for him to move from his resting site.
Against his better knowledge, Niro had to smile. Whoever had bought him, they weren’t stupid. Shackling him like this could only mean they knew how capable he was when it came to breaking out, and this could only mean they had talked to the Earl earnestly enough to get him to admit to all the shenanigans Niro had played on him in the years. The Earl hadn’t sold him as a pig in a poke, which surprised him just a little, mostly because he wouldn’t have believed anyone would want to buy someone so troubled as him. It didn’t bode well for his future, too. Troublemakers weren’t bought to keep for long.
The door opened and Niro instinctively tugged at the shackles and straps, but to no avail.
“Stop squirming, little one. If you tear your stitches I will be mad,” the wizened voice of Gusmerja scolded as she shuffled into the room. She came to his side, leaned over his back and prodded at the bandages, looking for signs of blood at the white cloth, but found none.
With a satisfied click of her tongue, she turned away and walked over to the side table, where a few dozen trinkets, flasks, stacks of paper and bags sat. Picking up a brownish, wooden quill with no feathers, she unplugged a small, earthen firkin and dabbed the tip of the quill into blackish ink, writing down this and that on the top layer of one of the paper stacks. “I will give Count Greyfell a list of medicines and salves to cure your back and keep the fever at bay, but I will tell you this too,” she explained, her voice trudging behind as she concentrated on writing. “If he offers you medicine, and if he tries to apply a salve, you are to obey. Not only because he says so, but because I do, and I, my dear boy, do not care for politics, just for your health.”
Niro’s instinct was to resist the order, just as he had resisted almost any other order of those who treated him like an unruly child. He thought better of it though. The Lamia healer had no interest in controlling him, no gain from his obedience other than his health. There was no small triumph to score by ignoring her words, and now that he was not on death’s door anymore, the old need to survive flared to life. Medicine, salves, those things he could cope with. A Count on the other hand…
“Who is this Count Greyfell, Gusmerja?” he asked with a low voice, still unsure what to make of her.
She halted her writing at the sound of his voice, turned her wizened head and smiled broadly, showing her long, pointed canines blatantly. “So you remembered my name, very good. Not everyone could resist the effects of the poison root like this, impressive.” Then she turned back to her writing, once more ignoring his question until she was finished.
At last, she cleaned the quill with a small wad of cloth, put it away and rolled the finished paper together. It went straight into a leather sheath and was put away, but her hands kept busy. This time, she grabbed one of the satchels sitting at the back of the table, put it in front of her and opened it to examine the contents. Whatever was inside that satchel, made her face look worried, but only slightly.
“You must be one bag of worries for the Count to be restrained with instruments like these,” she huffed after a moment of shock, then put her hand inside the satchel and pulled out for rings of some kind of metal. It had a blueish tint to it, not shiny like a polished armor, but dull and glittering like the front of a storm cloud, and he could make out small blackish bands of what looked to be writing. Runes maybe, or just decorative symbols, one could never know.
“What are those?” he asked, worried by her worry, more than by his own knowledge. Those rings were too big to be meant for fingers or ears, or toes at that. They were wide enough to fit around his wrists and ankles, though.
His question seemed to be inside of the range of topics Gusmerja was ready to answer. “Those are Mithril spell bracelets, very rare, very expensive,” she explained as she stepped closer. “And since I have strict orders to put those on you before I hand you over to the Count, you’d better be wary of what you say in his company. He is known for his effective handling of unruly children, and with those magic trinkets he won’t need to touch you.”
Suddenly, Niro didn’t want those things anywhere near him. Tugging at the shackles and straps, he gasped for air, growling, “don’t you put that spellwork on me, woman! I will hurt you if you do!” The movement made his back hurt, but this time he didn’t stop.
Unfortunately, neither did Gusmerja. Clicking her tongue in disapproval, she first gave him a slap on the back of his head. “Stop your struggling, I will do as I was told, and so will you,” she growled, and then proceeded to speak soft words of magic to the metal bracelets. They opened to her bidding like flowers to the sun, breaking on one side as the other side just bent to the force of her will.
“Don’t do this!” It was all Niro could do, beg her, hiss at her, order her, but none of it worked.
One after the other, the Lamia put the bracelets first around his wrists above the shackles, then around his ankles where they tightened just above the protruding bones.
“See,” she finally said, stretching her back until her old bones popped, “it didn’t hurt the least. And as soon as you have calmed down enough, I will untie you and bring you to your new master.”
“I am calm!” Niro roared, only to realize this wouldn’t get him free anytime sooner. He tried again, this time with a calmer voice. “I am calm, really.”
Gusmerja just laughed with that kind of humor only the wizened folk had, and turned away. “Sure, sure. Calm as the River Dauntess at spring,” she scoffed, and turned to leave.
Once more, Niro couldn’t do anything but lay there and wait.