The first novel-length story in my Fae-Born Narratives sequence is due out in a couple of days. I thought you might like a taste. 🙂
“What is your talent?” the woman demanded. She brandished her glaive as if he had threatened her. Before he could answer, she glanced at the man with the crossbow. “Corwin Druss, move!” she shouted at him. “You can’t shoot him from there!”
Marin didn’t know what to do. He tried to think of some way to gain an advantage, but the man with the crossbow—Corwin Druss—was too swift. Already he’d reached the woman’s side and his crossbow was ready.
Marin glared at them both with resentment, and said nothing.
“What is your talent?” the woman demanded again.
“I sense things,” Marin admitted. “Like the fact that there is someone injured among the rocks.”
Neither the woman nor Corwin Druss responded. Yet his words reassured them, somewhat, as if he had proven to be less dangerous than he might have been.
Marin didn’t care either way. He’d thought of something. “I’m also a healer. You can’t have my horse or my supplies or my coin. I need them. But if you offer me safe passage, I’ll do what I can for your friend.”
The idea of helping these people was repugnant to him, but it was the only thing he could think of that might allow him to keep to his quest.
There was a moment of silence. Marin felt waves of uncertainty mixed with hope from the woman, and mostly anger from Corwin Druss.
Then the woman nodded. “I grant you safe passage,” she said.
“No!” said the man. “You cannot!”
“It is already done!”
Corwin Druss snarled in anger. His crossbow wavered, but Marin knew it would take less than a moment for him to aim it again.
“You are too soft!” Corwin Druss raged. “You care too much for Urdan! It clouds your reason! This fool has both a horse we can sell and supplies we can use! And Urdan is far beyond any aid we can give!”
The woman gripped her glaive more tightly and glared at him. “Watch your tongue before I cut it from your face!” she said. “Remember what Urdan did for you—you would be dead many times if it weren’t for him! You owe him! We all do!”
She shot a glance to the shorter man with the club, who nodded his agreement.
“And while he may be beyond any aid we can give, this one is Fae, and a healer. We owe it to Urdan to see if he can help.”
She said the last without shouting, but with a calm vehemence that somehow carried more weight.
Corwin Druss oozed anger and hatred. But the man with the club was also on the woman’s side, and Corwin knew it.
“Phah!” he exclaimed. He turned back to Marin, his expression murderous. “You!” he said, his crossbow shaking in rage. Marin could sense that he wanted to threaten or hurt, but in the end he just shook his head in disgust and spat.
Without waiting, Marin looped his mount’s reins around a dead-looking bush and checked his satchel. “Lead the way,” he said to the woman.
All of them made their way through the rocks. Even Corwin Druss, although he continued to exude fury and hate. He followed Marin closely, as if wanting to make sure that he knew he was there.
Marin didn’t care. He’d got what he wanted, assuming that these bandits were as good as their word. Corwin’s hate didn’t matter at all.
They came to a broad clearing among the rocks that looked as if it had once been the bandit’s camp. But it had been ravaged. Shelters made from timber and cloth had been broken and scattered, the ground had been torn up and it smelled of blood and entrails. Marin paused at the edge of the clearing to take it all in.
“A wyvern did this,” he said. It looked worse than the store. And unlike with the store, there were scorchmarks here. Had the dragon been part of this attack as well?
Carwin Druss cursed and spat. The smaller man said nothing, and Marin wondered if maybe he had lost his tongue.
“Yes,” said the woman. “It came from the sky and murdered one of our men and two women.” She gestured over to one side and Marin saw a small pile of bodies. “It also took poor Luto into the sky when it left Urdan wounded.” She made no mention of the dragon at all.
Then her tone hardened. “He is there. See to him. Make him live.”
Marin looked at her.
“Where did the wyvern go? In which direction did it fly?” he asked.
“What does that matter? You are here to keep him alive.”
But Marin shook his head.
“No. I’m here to find the wyverns.”
He felt the woman’s anger. She let go of her glaive with one hand so that she could grip him by the tunic and drag him close. “You are here because I said so!” she said, her face hard and grim and only inches from his own. “You are here to keep Urdan alive! Do you understand?”
Marin said nothing. He should have feared her, but his grief dampened such feelings and his hate for the wyverns left no room for much else. But he did grip his staff more tightly, just in case he might need it.
Finally, she pushed him away from her.
“I will do what I can for him,” Marin said. “But whether he lives or dies may depend on things I cannot control.”
Perhaps he shouldn’t have said the last. Not when she was already so angry. But she just repeated her words.
“See to him,” she said.
Urdan was resting next to a boulder. Marin approached him, his senses filled with the man’s pain and fear. He’d felt such a combination many times before, with Arlius.
Sometimes the townsfolk who were afflicted would come to the apothecary store. A man might arrive with a wound that had started to rot. Or a woman, bleeding heavily, her belly large with a baby that had stopped moving inside. Or a child, suffering pains to the head with no obvious cause.
And sometimes Arlius and Marin had been called to visit those who were too sick to move. He’d known men and woman suffering chest pains and cancers and strokes to feel this same combination of feelings.
There was a flavor to them that he’d learned to recognize. A tinge of hopelessness that appeared when the person was convinced that they were going to die.
It was the same feeling that Urdan exuded.
The man was of medium build and dressed, like the others, in mismatched pieces of armor. Like Marin, the man had red hair, although his beard was darker. He was conscious, but his eyes were closed. He was gritting his teeth against the pain and Marin could see sweat beading on his brow.
His left arm was gone. Just gone, right up to the shoulder and a little beyond. And while some attempt had been made to staunch the flow of blood from the wound, Marin could see that it wasn’t working anywhere near as well as it needed to. Blood continued to flow, not in spurts, but not slowly.
He knelt down beside him and opened his satchel. But he already knew that there wasn’t much he could do. The man had already lost too much, and the wound was too great.
“Well?” said the woman.
Marin flinched. He hadn’t noticed that she’d joined them. Hadn’t even sensed her, although now her anxiety was plain.
Urdan’s eyes flickered open. He looked at the woman. Marin sensed a tendril of joy from him, although that was quickly overwhelmed by the pain.
“Who’s this?” he grated.
“This is Marin. He’s a healer,” the woman replied.
“Hmmph. Too late for that,” Urdan said.
Surprisingly, the woman crumpled. She collapsed next to the man, dropped her glaive to the ground and held him, awkwardly, so as not to increase his pain. “No,” she said. “Don’t say that. He can save you.”
But Marin knew he could not.
Urdan returned the woman’s embrace one-handed, as best he was able.
“I can give you something for the pain,” Marin said, his voice catching in his throat. He couldn’t help but think of Arlius. The specific wounds were different; Arlius had been clawed or bitten, where it looked like this man had lost his arm and shoulder to acid. But the situation was the same. Urdan had been attacked by a wyvern. It was killing him, and there was nothing that he, Marin, could do about it.
And while Marin didn’t know Urdan beyond this moment, the woman did. She cared for him, as he plainly cared for her.
Marin searched in his satchel for the same vial of milky liquid that he’d given Arlius as he’d breathed his last.
“Drink this,” he said.
The woman took her cue and moved out of the way. Marin noticed no tears. She was too hard, too inured to pain for that. But he sensed a grief in her that matched his own of Arlius.
“What is it?” the man grated, his teeth still firmly clenched.
“An extract from the seedpod of a desert flower. It numbs the pain.”
“Will it help regrow my arm?”
Despite his condition, despite the pain he was in, Marin caught the man’s humor.
He found himself almost smiling. And though Urdan was a bandit, Marin found that he actually liked him.
It was a pity he was going to die.
Urdan drank from the vial. Almost immediately, Marin sensed the man’s pain start to fade. And then he couldn’t sense anything at all. His unpredictable talent was gone.
“You can save him?” the woman asked.
“I can make him comfortable,” Marin said.
The woman’s face became a snarl. She looked like she wanted to attack, but Urdan stopped her with a word.
“Lyra, it isn’t his fault,” he said. “It is my own, for thinking I might best the monster. I should have just hidden, like Corwin did.”
Marin didn’t need his talent to read how angry she was. But her words didn’t express that anger. “You chased it away. If you had not, Relk and I would also be dead.”
The dying man’s pain had faded to the point where he could offer a grin. “Then it was worth it,” he said.
Marin closed his eyes. All his anguish and hurt had come flooding back. He saw Arlius Chorster again in his mind, dying and afraid, but also proud and content. And now this man, just the same.
And once more he found himself hating the wyverns, and the dragon that they had been with.
“When the wyvern left, which way did it go?” Marin asked.
Lyra snarled at him again. But the effects of the milky liquid made the man more amenable. He blinked slowly and turned his head to look at Marin.
“Do I know you?” he asked. Then he gave a half-shrug and said, “West, I think. There were others—that’s the way they were going.”
Marin breathed a small sigh of relief. But he had one more question. “How did you chase it away? What made you think you could best it?” he said.
The dying man grinned. “Because I am Fae-born,” he said.
Marin was shocked. He’d seldom met others like him before. Or if he had, he didn’t know it; those who were Fae were often scorned, and so tended to hide that part of who they were.
But what the man did next was even more of a surprise. He made a gesture with his remaining hand, and a flame appeared at the tips of his fingers. The flame was feeble and flickered out within moments, but Marin had no doubt that it had been real.
“I can make fire,” Urdan said. He even laughed a little, although it looked painful. “Bigger than that, usually. And hotter. And I can cast it about like I was throwing a stone. The wyvern didn’t like it that much.”
It was a talent the like of which Marin had never heard of before. He now understood both the scorch marks he’d seen and the wariness of the bandits when they’d learned he was Fae. If he’d had a talent like that, he would have been dangerous.
But as amazing as Urdan’s talent was, it didn’t help with Marin’s quest in the least.
It took nearly half an hour for Urdan to die. Marin did what he could to keep him comfortable, but beyond the milky liquid and smearing another painrelieving salve on the parts of the wound he could reach, there was little that he could do.
And everyone knew it. Lyra stayed with him and even Corwin Druss and the smaller man—had Lyra called him Relk?—had come to stand close.
But nobody said much.
And then it was over. Urdan cried out in pain and stiffened for a moment, and then he relaxed.
He was no longer breathing.
Lyra stared at him in shocked disbelief. Even though Marin barely knew him and remained overwhelmed by the death of Arlius, he still felt a new sadness. Urdan had been a bandit, but a likeable one. And they’d had a surprising amount in common.
But where anyone else would have just died, for Urdan, that wasn’t the end. His entire body burst into spontaneous flames, quickly filling the air with the smell of burnt flesh and hair.
Lyra gasped in shock and lurched backwards, away from the burning body. Marin scrambled to keep the supplies that he’d used away from the flames. He heard Corwin start to curse, and Relk uttered a vowel-less gasp.
They all watched Urdan burn. Even Marin, who wanted to continue his quest for the wyverns now that he had confirmed their direction. He owed these bandits nothing, but it seemed fitting to stay for a time. He just covered his nose against the smell.
They were still watching when more than a dozen Battlemen emerged from the boulders with their glaives at the ready.
Stay tuned for the next snippet!