Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Runaway - Part Two

Hello again, fellow digressors. So you may have noticed that while you've been seeing a bit more of me lately, it's mostly had to do with Jill Williamson's new eBook, 'Darkness Reigns' and how much you need to check it out. Hopefully that's settled well with you, but just in case, I'll post something that's been a long time in coming... 

......Writing music recommendations! 

No, not really. But since I mentioned it, I did purchase a couple of albums of orchestral/trailer music over the past several months, and they're both amazing. The first is 'Magnus' by Audiomachine and the second is 'Classics: Vol. 2' by Two Steps From Hell. I also have 'Classics: Vol. 1' and it is an equally worthy offering, and I would very much like to buy Audiomachine's 'Phenomena'. Here are their lovely album covers for your consideration. 

Y'all who are writers or just like awesome orchestral music to make your brains work better or make your day feel more epic should check it out. There are one or two tracks that aren't my favorites, but considering how many tracks there are in all four put together (ninety, in case you were wondering), for all of them to surpass my expectations would be quite a remarkable feat. Overall, I'm in love with the albums and have found them very useful in making my brain work and getting the inspiration going for me to write. 

Hang on -- you say you were expecting something else from the post's title? What, my music recommendations aren't good enough for you? You don't like epic orchestral scores that get your blood pumping and brain cells firing? 

Well, phooey, then. I guess I'll just get on to the point of my post: A while back (a long while, I'm afraid) some of you voted in a poll regarding which short story/novella I should keep posting on the blog. The choice was between 'Street Rats' (the protagonist being Talsyn Lethar from 'The Merchant's Son') and 'The Runaway' (the protagonist being Jorthen Lavahr from 'The Follower'). And the winner was... 

The Runaway.

Never fear, those who were gunning for 'Street Rats' -- it's entirely possible that one of these nights, I'll get tired of my main projects and, in a fit of rebellion, write another installment in that story and post it here. I can guarantee that my brain will keep plotting it and imagining how I would introduce it to you and explain it on the back cover of the paperback and conduct my author interview on television... 

Wait, I'm getting sidetracked again. You really should warn me when I start doing that. I get little enough done as it is. I haven't even addressed the lovely people who have at some point nominated me for blog awards (Annika at Writer And Proud and Adriana over at The Librarian Files, who are both more faithful bloggers than I am; you should check them both out right now, if you haven't already). I do desperately want to catch up on all that (and also on the stuff my best friend Sierra over at Words on My Page has tagged me for). I just need to track down all the places where they linked me to details about the awards/events, then follow their instructions. Maybe I'll do it all in one big post... The hard part will be in tagging other bloggers; I guess I know a few, but I tend to forget their addresses when it counts. 

Anyways, without further ado, I shall end your long wait (for a continuation of the aforementioned story, that is)... 

The Runaway - Part Two
It took four men to haul the stranger into the building, two to catch his horse, and yet another to fetch the base physician, but within the space of half an hour, all was accomplished, and Jorthen stood by as the physician, Geram, bent over a musty cot and examined their runaway's injuries. Jorthen flinched at the sight of some of the burns, but the greying man before him remained stoic and steady as he checked the boy's breathing, his pulse, and, for whatever reason, his teeth. The gangly stranger before him did not stir for any of it. 
Jorthen held his tongue for a few minutes, then cleared his throat. "What do you think?" 
"Eh?" Geram glanced at him, then waved a hand dismissively. "I've only just begun my examination. I have nothing to report as of yet." 
"Nothing?" Jorthen frowned and stepped forward to get a better look. "Can you at least tell how severe his wounds are? Will he live?" 
"I've seen nothing to warrant either a yea or a nay on that subject, Master Lavahr. I'll thank you to wait outside while I examine my patient." 
Jorthen worked his jaw and fought to keep his tone neutral. "He may be injured, but for all we know, he could pose a threat if he woke and didn't understand what was going on or what your intentions were. If need be, I can speak to him in his own language." 
"Don't see how you couldn't keep watch from just outside the door," Geram grumbled, shaking his head. He sighed heavily. "Fine, then. If you must be here, you can at least make yourself useful. I need his tunic removed so I can check for burns in more vital areas than his face and limbs." 
Jorthen nodded. He had assisted physicians in such tasks before, but as Geram used a knife to cut the boy's tunic free from his body, Jorthen's flight instincts threatened to carry him out of the room. Hardly an inch of the boy's body was not bruised, cut, or burned, but his back was the worst. A large portion of the flesh was branded varying shades of red, purple, and even black where something must have struck and charred him. Jorthen glanced away to compose himself, then took a deep breath. "What should I do?" 
"Just get me the burn medicine from over there." Geram nodded towards a shelf on Jorthen's far right where a myriad of bottles sat. 
Jorthen walked over to the shelf and examined the bottles, but the harder he stared at the scrawled words on the labels, the less he was able to read them. He found one that he thought said something like 'Burns' and carried it over to Geram. 
Geram took a look at the bottle and grunted. "Give me that," he said, snatching the bottle from Jorthen. He strode over to the shelf and started searching for the burn medicine himself. 
Jorthen swallowed his frustration, then forgot it entirely as he looked again at the boy, who now lay on his stomach, still unconscious, tortured back exposed. He noticed a set of strange, claw-like scars running parallel to the boy's spine, all of them darker than scars would normally be and shaped as though they were new, though he could see no other sign that they were. He frowned. "Those marks along his spine... Did those come from the fire?" 
"Scars and birthmarks don't concern me," Geram said, pushing past Jorthen with the proper medicine in hand. "Only the wounds that still stand to cause trouble." 
"But these," Jorthen began, then trailed off as he remembered that Geram likely wouldn't listen anyhow. He glanced down at the Shamindo boy again and took a deep breath. "You know, maybe I'll just step outside after all. Call me if you need anything." 
"Go, then," Geram said indifferently, and popped the cork of the medicine bottle without so much as glancing at Jorthen. 
Jorthen hesitated a moment longer, then glimpsed the boy's injuries again and found his motivation to leave renewed. A moment later, he was out in the hallway with the door shut behind him. He nearly collided with a small band of male recruits who tried to peer through the doorway before he shut the door. "Back to your duties," he said. "There's nothing to see here." 
"Is it true they caught a Shamindo spy?" A dark-haired, light-eyed boy at the edge of the group stared wide-eyed at the door as if the injured runaway might leap out at him with his teeth bared. 
Jorthen resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "No, it is not true." 
"How do you know?" One of the taller boys crossed his arms defiantly. "You only just found him, didn't you? Everyone knows Shamindo strays aren't to be trusted." 
"There are no spies here," Jorthen said. "Your superior officers will conduct an interrogation as soon as possible, and then we'll decide what to do with him." 
A chorus of protests broke out at his words, and more recruits joined the group either to protest or simply to watch the spectacle. "But how do you know he's not--" 
"Is it safe?" 
"Maybe he's an assassin, here to take out our alchemy instructor." 
"No, he's a horse thief, didn't you hear? He's here to steal our animals." 
"Maybe he's here to steal our secrets." 
"Or our lives." 
Jorthen clapped his hands hard, and the sound echoed through the hall. "That's enough," he shouted. Once the chatter had died down a bit, he scanned the crowd. "The situation is being handled, and I will update any genuinely concerned parties later when I have some actual information to give them. Until then, back to your training, or patrols, or whatever you're scheduled to do at this hour. Go." 
A discontented murmur spread throughout the crowd. but one by one the recruits dispersed and resorted to whispering their suspicions between themselves. 
Any thoughts of returning to his room to retreat from the stress of dealing with people were forgotten now as Jorthen centered himself in front of the door and clasped his hands behind him to keep a lookout. Perhaps none of the recruits meant any harm, but if Geram had been frustrated by one lieutenant captain hanging about while he worked, the fallout from several curious teenagers and twenty-somethings milling about watching him would be nigh on unimaginable. 
Whoever this boy might be, whatever reason brought him here, he deserved treatment from a focused physician, not one who turned away every few seconds to order people to back away. 
Jorthen stood still at the door for a quarter of an hour with little disturbance, and he considered turning back to check on Geram's progress. Footsteps echoed down the corridor, and he groaned inwardly. Why could the recruits not mind their own business for a few hours longer? 
But then he recognized the steady strides, measured, calculated, moving at a peculiar but repetitive interval, setting the bearer apart while still marking him as someone who knew exactly where he was going and why. 
Jorthen fixed his gaze on the wall directly across from him and instinctively tipped his chin up a fraction of an inch as a cold, familiar numbness crept into his fingers. 
Atrin Lavahr strode into his line of sight and brought his hands behind his back, icy blue eyes narrowing beneath dark hair carefully styled to fall over the faded scar on the right side of his forehead. "And just where have you been?" 
Jorthen swallowed and glanced off to the side before meeting Atrin's eyes. "Something came up. I had to help." 
"You were expected at a meeting regarding the age of recruitment and whether or not it should be lowered in the near future. It ended twenty minutes ago." 
Had it? Jorthen had no memory of such a meeting on his schedule, but then, the entire day been a blur since he'd woken up that morning with aching limbs and a fog in his head. He nodded once. "I apologize. The situation was... rather urgent." 
Atrin studied him for a long moment, mulling over his excuse. "And that situation is?" 
"A Shamindo boy showed up half-dead on a horse. I had to get him to Geram and ensure that no-one got in the way." 
"You had better concern yourself with more important matters than a thieving foreigner and his ailments, Lieutenant," Atrin said, then sighed and looked down the hall to his right. "I have another meeting to attend. We'll discuss your failure to fulfill your duties later." 
"I may be busy later," Jorthen said. "We still don't know who the boy is or what's to be done with him." 
"Fine, but get that all handled soon so you can get back to the work you're supposed to be doing. Understood?" 
Jorthen nodded. "Understood, sir." 
Without another word, Atrin turned and strode off with his usual gait in the direction he'd chosen. As usual, he did not bother looking back, and Jorthen did not bother trying to bid him farewell. With Atrin's absence, the feeling had begun to return to his fingers, and he found it easier to breathe without aggravating the old pain in his chest. He had been stupid for neglecting his duties without permission, but it might have been equally stupid to attempt to deal with a crowd of officers and dignitaries on a day like today, when neither his mind nor his body seemed willing to work the way they should. 
No sooner had he gotten used to the near silence than he heard a crashing noise behind him, followed by a thud against the door and a raspy voice screaming in Shamindo between hacking coughs. 
Geram's voice called over the chaos, "Lieutenant, you're needed in here!" 
Of course he was needed now. When else? 
Jorthen grabbed for his shakahn, then thought better of it and left the shortsword sheathed. If he was lucky, he would not have to draw it. He gripped the door's handle and ducked defensively as he pushed the door open and entered. A bottle flew past his head and smashed against the doorframe. 
As might have been extrapolated from the sounds he'd heard a moment before, the Shamindo boy had awoken and was less than calm about the situation. 
Jorthen grabbed Geram by the arm and pulled him out the door, then closed it quickly behind them and held it shut. The boy on the other side banged on the wood and tried to pull the door open, but a coughing fit stopped his efforts mere moments after he'd begun trying. 
"He tried to bite me," Geram said indignantly. 
"Come again?" Jorthen said, keeping hold of the door handle just in case. 
"I was tending the boy's wounds, and I'd nearly gotten far enough to come out and call for you, but no sooner than I'd turned around, he woke up and started hurling things at me. When I tried to sit him down again, he lunged at me and showed his teeth. Look what he did to my arm!" 
Jorthen glimpsed a row of scratch marks on Geram's arm, not very deep, but certainly recent. "Do you have any sedatives we could use to subdue him?" 
"Aye, but it'll be a miracle if he hasn't hurled it across the room by now." 
The sounds within no longer consisted of screams or pounding, nor even of bottles crashing against the wall. Instead Jorthen had to press his ear to the door to hear a series of gasps and coughs, along with a rustling sound he couldn't place. 
He glanced at Geram and straightened. "I'm going in there." 
"Suit yourself," Geram grumbled. "I'm going to call for more men to subdue him." 
"Hopefully it won't come to that," Jorthen said, then took a deep breath and slowly opened the door. 
The rustling stopped as he set foot into the room, and he halted. "It's all right," he called in. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you understand me?" 
No answer came, but the gasping reduced volume to an uneven wheezing punctuated by the occasional light cough, and the rustling resumed. 
It was better than having a bottle thrown at him, he supposed. Jorthen stepped carefully over a pile of glass shards and turned with his arms raised in a peacemaking gesture. "We met earlier. I mean you no harm." 
He spotted the boy in the corner beside the examination cot, knees drawn to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, wild green eyes staring up at Jorthen as their owner continued to gasp for breath. He looked even more defenseless with his tunic gone, and from this angle Jorthen could see marks on his head where either the fire had caught him or something else kept his hair from growing normally. But however harmless he appeared, provoking him could be dangerous, as recent events proved. 
"It's all right," Jorthen repeated, slowly moving his foot to push the door closed. He stepped forward and lowered his hands to his sides. "Take slow, deep breaths, all right? Cough if you need to. There's plenty of air in here." 
The boy's eyes flitted towards the floor directly in front of Jorthen's feet. Jorthen looked down and found a rather large shard of glass right where he would he stepped had he moved forward again. He swept the glass off to the side with the side of his boot. "Thank you. I almost missed that." 
The boy tensed as the glass shard collided with the leg of a nearby table, and he rocked more fervently, creating the rustling noise Jorthen had heard from outside. 
He wanted to give the boy more space, but he had no idea how long it would be before Geram returned with men who would not be so careful about dealing with him. He shuffled forward another step, swept aside another set of tiny shards, and knelt carefully, resting his hands on his knees where the boy would easily be able to see them. "...I'm Jorthen Lavahr. Can you tell me your name?" 
The boy looked at Jorthen's hands, then at his face, then at his hands again, distrust in his eyes. 
"Look," Jorthen said. "I don't know if you can understand me, but..." He hesitated. "...Sal treyn? Sri treynin Jorthen Lavahr." 
The boy's throat bobbed, and at last he spoke, his voice faint and excessively raspy. "Heard you the first time." 
Jorthen sighed, checked for glass behind him, then shifted to sit in a cross-legged position. "So you can answer me, right? Can you tell me your name?" 
The boy tucked his chin behind his knees and shook his head, dropping his gaze to stare at the ground. 
"All right, then. Can you tell me how old you are? Are you fifteen, sixteen?" 
"Seventeen," the boy rasped. 
Jorthen nodded. "Good to know. If you can't tell me your name, is there something I should call you?" 
The boy tried to speak again, but his words were lost in another hacking fit. Jorthen waited until the fit subsided, and at last heard the boy whisper, "San." 
Jorthen managed a faint smile. "Good to meet you, San. You can call me Jorthen." 
If San heard him, he didn't acknowledge it before Jorthen heard footsteps outside the door behind him. He tensed and called over his shoulder, "Don't come in." 
San flinched at Jorthen's volume and pulled his knees more tightly to his chest. 
"Sorry," Jorthen said more quietly. "Listen, San, I'm just going to get up and tell the people at the door that we're all right in here. I'll move slowly so you can see everything I'm doing. Deal?" 
San didn't look up, but his head bobbed briefly in a nod. 
Good enough. Jorthen stood carefully and made his way to the door, then opened it a crack and spoke softly to the people on the other side. "You can go back to your posts. I have the situation handled." 
The soldier directly on the other side looked baffled, then irritated. "You sent old Geram halfway across the base to summon us just to tell us to leave?" 
It was just like Geram to shift blame, Jorthen thought, but he overlooked the fib for the moment. "I apologize. If you want something to do, inform my father and co-instructors that I won't be part of the sessions this afternoon. Send them my apologies." 
"Lieutenant," one of the other soldiers said reprovingly. 
"If you'd rather come in and deal with the boy I've only just succeeded in appeasing, be my guest." 
The men on the other side of the door went silent, then one of them muttered, "Apologies, sir. We'll be leaving now." 
Jorthen rested his forehead against the open door and allowed himself a moment to relax. He heard shuffling and opened his eyes to see Geram's withered, wary face peeking into the crack. "Is he tamed?" 
"He's calm," Jorthen said. "If you want to come in, give me time to warn him first." 
Geram nodded and took a step backwards. 
Jorthen shut the door quietly and turned back to the figure huddled in the corner. "San, the physician needs to come in to clean up and finish treating your injuries. Is that all right?" 
San's eyes flickered and widened slightly, and he shook his head wildly, then sped up his rocking. 
"Hey, hey." Jorthen approached him and knelt again to match his eye level, then forced himself slightly lower. "I'll stay right here the whole time, all right? I'll make sure he doesn't hurt you." 
San gulped again, and in the same faint, raspy voice as before, he said, "Not a baby." 
Jorthen's mouth twitched to the side. "I know you're not. But I also know you're nervous and in a foreign environment. It's understandable not to trust anyone. But do you think you can trust me enough to let the physician in?" 
San's eyes rose briefly to meet Jorthen's, then dropped again, and he nodded almost invisibly. 
Finally, Jorthen thought, then turned his head to call just loudly enough to be heard by aged ears, "Geram, you can come in now." 
Now if they could just get through the rest of the day without anyone getting bitten, scratched, or hit by objects being flung through the air, the day would be at least a marginal success. 

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