In The Broken Staff II, Bren kel Tomis arrives in Dargon after exile from his homeland. He finds employment with Qanis Jetru, a merchant, as a bodyguard. Jetru has a precious stone which he has sold, and is waiting to deliver.
Several days after the incident in the alley, I was escorting Qanis back to the office as day wore into evening. The day had been warm enough for me to forget about being cold, at least for a while, and I had thrown my cloak back over my shoulders to enjoy the sun while it lasted. Qanis had assured me that the weather in Dargon was mild, compared to other places, and that I’d soon become acclimated. I wasn’t so sure.
We walked down Main Street, heading in the direction of the docks. Qanis was in a jolly mood, having just concluded a deal to supply the Duke of Narragan’s household with candles for the next year. Since Qanis had managed to buy up most of the beeswax in the duchy the day before, he was quite pleased. Personally, I was astonished at the number of candles the household was expected to use.
My work was undemanding, and the merchant was a pleasant enough fellow. In the past few days we had walked the length of most of the streets in this small city. With all the walking, and observing Qanis in his negotiations, I was beginning to feel like I could learn to live here, and possibly enjoy doing so.
As we crossed another street something in my mind whispered for my attention, and I stopped in the middle of the street. “Qanis,” I asked, “Isn’t that Ramit Street we just crossed?”
Qanis looked around, slightly puzzled. “Why yes, it is. I’d meant to turn sooner.” He looked uncomfortable. “Maybe we should turn back.”
I turned, and about twenty paces back stood a scruffy man. At least his fingernails were clean, or they were if the dagger he was cleaning them with was sharp enough. I grabbed Qanis’ right arm with my left hand, turning away from the dagger, but stopped again. Twenty paces in front of us stood the deranged mugger from the alley, along with another friend who seemed fond of sharp instruments.
I thought quickly, then spoke to Qanis in a low, urgent whisper. “I am going to turn and charge the man behind us. I don’t think he will be expecting that. When I charge, you follow me, running as quickly as you can. I will engage him, while you keep running.”
“But I can’t leave you here to –”
I interrupted Qanis harshly. “You are no soldier, you are a merchant. Dying here will not serve your purpose, and your escape will certainly serve mine.”
“Merchant!” The madman was trying to attract our attention.
“Now!” I screamed, then I turned, and smoothly drawing my sword, charged at the startled man, who dropped his dagger and reached for his sword. Obviously rattled, and not used to facing a victim with a blade of his own, he had barely gotten his sword out of its scabbard by the time I reached him. A quick slash at his head was distraction enough to let Qanis get by, and I kept the man occupied so that he could not chase Qanis down.
A scream of outrage came from behind me, and I heard their boots slapping on the cobblestones as they ran towards me. The man in front of me relaxed, seeing his comrades on the way. I reached down to my left boot and pulling my hidden knife, threw it hard at him. The blade didn’t rotate far enough to penetrate, but the handle, sharp enough in its own right, stuck in the mugger’s right eye. He dropped to the ground, screaming and clutching at his face, while I spun to face the other two attackers.
The short one had a long straight blade … He slashed at my head, and as I parried I could feel the strength in his wrist. Then the other man came at me, two blades style, and I silently hoped that Qanis could run as fast as he could talk.
The only factor in my favor was that it didn’t appear as if the two men had fought together before. A good swordsman can defeat two, or even three others, of average ability, but the chances become negligible if they work as a team.
I struck at Two Blades, then parried a thrust from the short one. Then they spread apart, preparing to come at me from both sides. I charged at Two Blades, then darted forward into a doorway. I was now trapped, but at least my back was protected.
I could hear the shrieks of women coming from the other side of the stout wooden door. The short one chuckled a bit, but Two Blades just grunted and attacked.
I managed to hold the two men off for a mene or two, but then my bootheel slipped on a wet cobblestone. I flung my sword arm up in a desperate attempt to stay upright. As I fell Two Blades lunged, and I felt a fierce pain as his blade ripped into my abdomen. I tried to rise, but a boot came from nowhere, and I collapsed to the ground.
As I lost consciousness I heard the madman speak.
“See if you can find the merchant. I’ll deal with this one.” A low cackle was the last thing I heard.
Dargon, Layman Street
Wern sat, huddled, in the corner of his room. Likewise, the mental half of Wern was huddled in a dark corner of his mind, trying to keep out of the way of the Voice, which roared through the battered corridors of Wern’s fragile psyche like an enraged animal. Wern had failed to provide a victim, and even worse, had not regained the Eye. Wern had not expected the Guard to respond so quickly, and lost not only the merchant, but the black-haired one as well.
The Voice seemed to thrive on the fear and death of those that Wern killed, but when Wern failed, the Voice took his anger out on Wern. Never so far as to damage him, at least not physically, but always more than Wern felt he could endure. Wern had resisted, once. In quiet times, Wern would look for ways to escape, but there was no way, not even total madness, for the Voice was too powerful, and would not allow it.
Then the pictures started, and Wern sat bolt upright. The pictures, and the sounds that accompanied them, were hard to understand, and very difficult to decipher, sometimes taking days of repitition and effort. It had always been that way, and Wern had long given up trying to understand why such a powerful being had such trouble making itself understood.
Slowly, painfully, the images came, and Wern trembled with near-orgasmic ecstasy, for he knew now that the Eye was almost within his reach.
Dargon, Atelier Street
I was lashed to the whipping frame that stood on the parade ground of the College of Heralds. The midday sun beat down, and I could taste the saltiness of the sweat that ran down my face. It was silent; I seemed to be alone.
Then came a voice, one I knew well.
“This is for impersonating a knight of honor,” said the King of Mandraka. The whispering sound of the whip was followed by an incredible searing pain across my shoulders. A low moan escaped my lips.
“The herald has been judged and found wanting,” came the voice of Lord Skel, First Herald. The second bow seemed even more painful, for now I knew what to expect. I bit my lip open, but no sound betrayed my pain this time.
The next voice cut me as deeply as the lash had. “My dear boy, believe me, this pains me more than you know.” In my mind’s eye I could see Kira, my noble temptress, raise the whip. I could see the cruel smile playing on her lips as the whip flew forward …
“Kira, noooo …”
I sat bolt upright, feeling a slight pain near my stomach. A light sweat covered me, but it had only been a dream.
Before I could shake the sleep from my head and wonder where I was, the door opened.
A woman, bearing a shielded candle, entered the room. Her face was puffy from sleep, and she wore only a loosely belted robe. She held a hand up to forestall me, and spoke.
“I am a healer, my name is Raneela S’Dun. You were brought to me two nights ago. You seem to have had a bad dream.”
“I apologize for awakening you, healer,” I replied.
“There is no need,” she said. “It has been some time since I had a patient wake me in the middle of the night. Actually, it is some time since I had a patient here for this long.” She moved towards the bed, and set the candle on the bedside table. “While I am here, let me examine you.” She leaned closer, looking intently at the scar on my right side.
As she examined me, I did the same to her. Her hair was beautiful, a golden red, cascading over her shoulders, but her face was too somber for my liking. I glanced down into the parting of her robe. If ever she gave birth, I mused, it seemed likely the poor babe was to die from lack of milk.
Of course she looked up at that moment, catching me staring at her breasts. Without haste she pulled the robe a bit tighter.
“I apologize if I embarrassed you,” I said quietly.
“I am a healer,” she replied. “The body holds no embarrassment for me.” The tightness in her lips belied her, but I did not dispute it.
“Where am I, by the way, and how did I come to be here,” I asked.
“You were brought by the guard. I have told your employer that you will be released in the morning,” she answered. “Apparently your friend is performing your work while you are here.”
I began to ask another question, but again she held up her hand. “Hold your questions, sir,” she said. “We can speak again in the morning. Good night.” With that, she picked up the candle and left the room.
It seemed to me that I had offended her in some deeper way than a cursory glance at her bosom. As I had no way of knowing what that might be, I laid back down and returned to sleep.
In the morning I woke suddenly, with the feeling of being watched. I opened my eyes, and saw the healer, seated near the bed, watching me. When she saw I was awake, she averted her eyes. By the light from the small window, I could see that her eyes were green.
“Excuse my rudeness,” she murmured. “You remind me of my husband.”
She looked at me, but I said nothing. She continued, reluctantly, as if I were drawing a confession from her.
“He served as a Ducal messenger. During the war, a group of Beinison soldiers caught him with a message for the King. They tortured him for a very long time before he died.”
“My sympathies, lady,” I said. “In war, men often commit acts that most reasonable folk find detestable.” I did not think it prudent to mention that I had done many things in the service of my king that I found distasteful. On a number of occasions my vow of knighthood had been forced to accede to the demands of my vow to the Crown.
She turned to face me again and said, “I promised myself that I would never heal another who bore arms for his livelihood. I treat merchants, children, nobleman’s wives, but no soldiers. Not until you, that is.”
She looked closer, inspecting me. “In the light I can see how I was fooled. He had long black hair. His skin was not as dark as yours, but you have the same build.” She paused for a moment, seeming to be on the verge of tears.
“When the guards brought you, I was too shocked to say anything. By the time I realized you weren’t my husband, it was too late.” She turned to me and glared, “I would not be fooled the same way again.”
I had heard enough. It was obvious to me that this woman was blaming me for her emotional state. This is ever the way of women, creating difficulties for themselves, accusing a man, and then expecting him to support and lead her through the crisis.
I rose from the bed and stood naked before her. “I feel only sorrow for your loss, healer,” I snapped. “It seems to me, however, that you lost more than just a husband.”
Her eyes came alight with anger, but I spoke before she could. “Now, lady, if you would be so good as to have your servant bring my clothes, I will leave you in your misery.”
“You listen to me, sirrah! I have good reason to behave as I do.” Her mouth open and closed several times, so overwhelmed that she couldn’t speak further. She put her head in her hands and began weeping.
I was to play my proper role in this little drama, now was the time to comfort the bereaved widow, and reap my manly reward for doing so, but I declined the part. Instead I began searching for my clothes.
When she heard me opening the cabinet she jumped up, opened a drawer, and flung a pile of clothing at me.
“There are your things, soldier,” she hissed, flinging the word “soldier” like an epithet. “Your clothes were not salvageable, so I have given you some of my husband’s. You are of a size.” Her anger then drained from her in a rush, and she sat limply on the bed.
I dressed without another word. Her husband’s clothes were all black, like the ones I had worn. As I picked up my cloak, my pouch of silver fell out, onto the floor. I picked it up and finished donning my cloak.
I walked to the door and stopped. Over my shoulder I asked, “Has your fee been paid, healer?”
“I asked for no fee,” she replied between gritted teeth. “And I will not accept your coin.”
“I would not have it said that Bren kel Tomis did not pay the healer who saved his life.” I tossed the pouch at her, and heard it hit the floor as I closed the door behind me. The next thing I heard was a scream of outrage, followed closely by the loud clink of the pouch hitting the door.
Two days and several bells later, Qanis, Toran, and I left the office and headed towards Commercial Street. Kultris had sent word that the exchange was to be made at a derelict house there. As we approached the area, I could see that it was very run down. This area of Commercial Street seemed abandoned by business, but probably still saw use by the poorer inhabitants of Dargon who had not yet drifted towards Layman Street.
I had brought Toran along because my instincts told me he would be useful. Qanis was not unduly upset; apparently his clients were a nervous lot, and often requested meetings in strange locations. I was still worried about the mad stranger who seemed able to locate Qanis so easily, and I did not trust Kultris at all.
As we approached the house, Toran hung back, then slouched in a doorway across the street. Kultris would only allow Qanis one guard, but Toran would come at my call.
The house was situated slightly off the street. It looked to have been the home of a wealthy man some time in the past, but for once, Qanis had no pertinent story to tell. I entered first, my senses scouting for danger, but there was no one in the entranceway. Narrow hallways led right and left, but I saw before me two sets of fresh footprints leading straight ahead, through another exit. We stepped carefully through the exit into a large courtyard which was open to the midday sun.
“Do you have the stone?” The harsh voice I recognized as belonging to Kultris came from our left.
As Qanis moved to the center of the courtyard and started to remove the Eye from its container, I examined Kultris and his guard closely. The buyer was a small man, going bald, but flipped the rest of his hair over the bald patch in a vain attempt to hide it. He wore an expensive cloak, hanging open, and the front of his shirt was filthy with food. His face was thin and pinched, his beard was straggly, and his long nose added to the impression that he was a buzzard waiting for his next meal of carrion.
His guard was a huge hulk of a man, easily four hands taller than me. He carried a club instead of a sword, but I did not doubt that the club would do as much, if not more, damage than a blade.
Kultris noticed me looking at the guard, and laughed, “Pay no mind to Clod here, he is as thick as a post, and nearly as deaf. He does scare away the ruffians, which is why I keep him around.” He then made a gesture at the giant, who retreated to the corner, and stood there, with a blank look on his face.
“Now, let me see this stone,” Kultris said, pulling a jewelers glass from a pocket in his cloak. He returned to his corner and removed several items from a bag there. While he was using these instruments, I moved to the center, near Qanis, awaiting the results of the inspection.
Suddenly, Kultris stood upright, and shouted, “What is this, trader?”
“What is the problem?” Qanis asked.
Kultris held up the Eye. “This stone has a large flaw inside, which would reduce its value radically. What kind of trick is this Jetru? You didn’t think to fool me with this imitation, did you?”
Qanis was nonplussed. He was speechless for several heartbeats, the longest such span since I’d met him. Finally he spluttered out a denial. “Master Kultris, this is the same jewel that Corambis examined. There is no foolery here.” At the same time, I moved forward, to place myself between Qanis and the giant.
“This for your tricks!” shouted Kultris. He then raised the Eye above his head and dashed it to the stones. To my amazement, the stone shattered, spraying red glass everywhere, and a smaller jewel rolled out onto the tile floor. It pulsed with a deep red glow, and the sense of voices that I had heard in the inn was much stronger now.
“Ah yes, now I see,” said Kultris, the first to react. “The real Eye was inside the other stone. It seems I will have the jewel after all.” Kultris then made a gesture in the air, and the giant grunted and moved towards us.
Pushing Qanis back into the corner behind me, I drew my sword, and bellowed, “Toran, come quickly!”
Clod swung his club at me, much faster than I would have believed possible. I jumped backwards, rolling as I fell, and felt pain as the club grazed my left arm. I tried to flex my left hand, but there seemed to be no feeling in it.
As the brute stepped towards me for his next blow, I saw Kultris heading for the Eye. I was not sure what kind of power Kultris possessed, but I did not want him to reach the Eye. I moved to the right, dropped my sword, pulled a knife from my boot, and threw it at Kultris. The dagger stuck in his thigh, and he dropped to the ground, screaming in pain.
I turned back to the giant, then ducked and rolled, as the club whistled by, only fingers over my head. The big man giggled like a child as he stood on my sword, ready to make a killing blow.
Behind Clod I could see Toran sprint into the courtyard, and taking in the situation with a glance, lunged at the bodyguard. Toran’s sword pierced the behemoth’s vitals, and Clod let out a shrill, girlish, scream. Spinning around, he swung a fist the size of a ham, catching my friend on the head, and knocking him across the courtyard where he slammed into the wall and fell in a crumpled heap.
The giant threw his hands up and roared in triumph. The roar turned to another scream, as I had leapt up, and plunged my remaining dagger into the base of his skull. penetrating the brain. Slowly, the huge man fell, toppled like a tall tree. I remember a very long instant in which I watched the dust raised by his fall sparkling in the sun. Then I turned towards my friends.
I picked up my saber, and moved towards Kultris, who was trying to reach for the Eye. “I’d love to cut your head off, you maggot,” I said, “So please continue to reach for the jewel.” For I moment, I think he was actually tempted, but then he pulled back, and sat against the wall, glaring at me.
“Qanis, how is Toran?” I asked.
“I think he needs a healer, right away,” came Qanis’ worried response. “I can’t wake him up.”
“Let’s go then; I’ll carry him,” I said. ‘You get the Eye, and then run ahead to alert the healer.” My left arm was now tingling with the return of feeling, but was still effectively useless. I would need Qanis’ help to get Toran on my shoulder. I sheathed my sword and started towards my friend.
“Stay where you are, unbeliever, or I will kill you right now.” I groaned as I recognized the voice even before I turned around. As I thought, in the doorway stood the madman. A loaded and cocked crossbow was pointed at my chest.
The wild-eyed man stood as tall as he could and spoke, “I am Wern, disciple of Amante. He has spoken to me, told me where to find the sacred stone, and said that I will grasp it in all its power.”
Wern stepped towards the Eye, but Kultris had crawled towards it while Wern was speaking. “Now the power will be mine,” screeched Kultris.
Cooly, Wern brought up the crossbow, and put the bolt through Kultris’ head. The force of the bolt flung the body against the far wall, where it slowly slid to the ground, leaving a slimy trail of blood and brains.
Now, Wern hooted wildly, and took up the stone. It looked as if his mind had gone completely now. I stood in front of Qanis, who was giving Toran as much aid as possible. I didn’t know what I would do if Wern could harness the Eye’s power, but at least I would die with my sword in my hand.
“Now the Power is mine,” crowed Wern, flinging the now useless crossbow aside. He clasped the Eye tightly and held it high. For a moment his whole face, then his whole body, seemed to glow with the same demented intensity of his eyes. Then smoke came from Wern’s clasped hand. Suddenly, his whole hand took flame.
“No master, please!” he screamed. “You said I would have the power!” Something Wern had said a moment ago came back to me. He said that Amante said he would ‘grasp’ the stone in all its power. He was surely doing that. Such trickery is why I worship no gods.
Wern seemed frozen in place by the flames that now consumed his entire body. We watched as the madman’s life passed is unspeakable agony, while he was unable to even scream out his pain. Finally the corpse was released, and it crumbled into a small pile of ash. The Eye was nowhere to be seen among Wern’s meager remains.
“Bren.” Toran’s voice, weak as it was, brought me back to my senses. I rushed over and crouched at his side. “I must get you to the healer, old friend,” I said. “We’ll have you mended in no time.”
“You never were a good liar,” Toran replied. “I don’t think the healer will be able to mend my shattered insides. I want you word on something.”
“Save your strength, you fool,” I said.
“Listen to me,” Toran hissed, flinching as a wave of pain hit him. “Promise me that you will forgive yourself. Regain your honor, my friend.”
“I have no honor, and I don’t want to lose my brother. We go now,” I said. There was no response from Toran, whose eyes were now shut. My left arm was usable now, if very painful. I hoisted my friend up, and started jogging through the streets of Dargon, almost oblivious to the stares of those that I passed. I was heading for Atelier Street, where Raneela practiced. She probably would not help, but she was the only healer I knew.
When I reached her house breathless, I pounded frantically on the door with my foot. In a short moment the door opened, and I brushed past a startled apprentice, and strode into the house, shouting, “Healer, come here, I need you.”
“What is it?” said Raneela, poking her head out of a door down the hall. “What is all the shouting?”
“Mistress — ”
I cut off the apprentice sharply. “It is my friend, healer. He is gravely wounded. Help him, please.”
Raneela started when she saw me, but seeing Toran in my arms, apparently decided to help. She waved the apprentice away, and led me to another room, where I laid Toran on a table. She quickly stepped up, and started to examine him, but then stopped.
“Why are you not doing something? I asked.
“There is nothing I can do,” she said, looking away. “Your friend is dead.”
I could not accept it. “No, it cannot be,” I pleaded. “You are a healer, you must do something.” I reached out and grabbed her.
“I am a healer, not a god!” she screamed . “I cannot help him. Now leave me.”
“Help him!” I roared, shaking her back and forth.
“He is *dead*,” she shouted in my face. “Dead, dead, dead!” With each repetition, she pounded her fist on my chest. “Go!” She pushed me away easily, for now I had no more strength. She shoved me from the room, and shut the door.
With my back to the door, I slid down to the floor. My world was shattered. Not only had I lost my honor, but because of that, I had lost my only friend. I turned and sobbed, leaning on the door, shouting my blood brother’s name, over and over. A part of me could hear the healer, weeping, as the wound of her husband’s death was ripped open anew, and the knowledge that I had caused more pain only made me cry the louder.