“You don’t have to fight for them,” she said.
The man sitting at the desk before her continued to write his letter. They were in an empty basement that was lit by candlelight. The man was in his prime: solid strong face and statue and crisply dressed as a commanding officer. He paused in his writing but didn’t look her way.
“Yes, I do,” he said with a voice rich and deep. “They will change many things for our people and need someone who can lead well and has the knowledge of battle.”
“But they’re the ones who invaded us!”
“They are invading because they see the mistakes of our administrations, leaders, and justice systems. If they overthrow the ruling power we will be free.”
“We are already free.”
The man sighed, softly closing his eyes.
“You won’t understand… and I don’t expect you to…”
He opened his eyes some staring at his letter in a silent grief. “I have to do this… It’s for your mother,” he said quietly. “You don’t remember but she was taken because of the very system we think serves us justly. If I didn’t hide who you are, they would have taken you too. We shouldn’t have to hide.”
“But we don’t hide. We have friends and people who help us. Why can’t you see that? Why do you have to–”
Startled, she took a step back.
“I must do this, and I will.” He resumed scribbling his letter. “You will understand when you’re older.”
She backed from him, tears welling in her eyes, and took off up the stairs of the basement.
Rebekka opened her eyes to the ceiling of a tent. Where was she, she didn’t know, but became aware of her numb yet gently throbbing arm. She sat up, with much effort, and examined her arm. It was bandaged neat and securely all the way up past her shoulder to near her collarbone. And she couldn’t have done a better job if she had done it herself.
“Can’t say I didn’t tell you so,” someone said from the far dark corner of the tent.
Rebekka’s eyes adjusted. The tent wasn’t exactly large as she had thought it–one could cross it in just 6 steps–but it contained a very low rectangular wooden table and a small fur rug. The person who spoke was at the table and that person was Jude.
He was on his knees using a mortar and pestle centered among a collection of dried herbs. His blue hair was out of its usual twin pig tails, flowing down near his mid-back. He paused for a moment to cut his eyes at Rebekka.
“It didn’t end well at all,” he said.
“I’m still alive, aren’t I?” she replied.
“But to what end?”
Rebekka didn’t answer. Instead, she tried her arm, willing it to move even if it refused to. Hopelessly, she abandoned all effort. Her arm still had much healing to do. Meanwhile, Jude had continued his work at the table. A few moments later, he was making his way over to the mat Rebekka sat on.
“You are right, you know,” he said placing the poultice he held down beside her. “You are still alive. I don’t doubt that you accomplished your goal, though I thought it was messily designed. But your very slim success isn’t what interests me. It’s how you survived. Lend me your hand.”
“I need to unravel your bandage.”
“I can do that myself thank you.”
“Yes, you can, but I’m your healer.”
Rebekka sighed and gave him her hand. It was a custom of the midlinds to have one’s healer tend to their every need, even if they were capable of doing it themselves.
“Anyway,” he continued beginning to unravel the bandage of her arm, “The moment I saw your wounds, I knew you would live. They were shallow and non-fatal. However, I had my doubts upon realizing there was a venom in the creature’s saliva. The venom should have killed you within the hour, but it did not. I wondered to myself why and soon found my answer.” He finished removing the bandage uncovering a nasty array of punctures along her upper arm and shoulder. With a finger he also moved the part of her undershirt near her collar bone exposing a small red glyph there.
“Care to explain?”
She flicked his hand away from her.
“Do not touch my person,” she said with a winter’s chill in her voice.
“Is that a permanent request?” he asked turning back to his herbs. “If it is, I do recall saving your life fairly recently, and that involved touching your person.”
He slightly looked over his shoulder with his unchanging frown of indifference. She looked from him. He was right and she knew it. After several moments of silence, she allowed her anger to drift from her.
“You weren’t supposed to see that.”
“And I wouldn’t have.”
“But how did you?”
“Who I am allowed me to know. I knew exactly what you were when we were grouped together in this transfer… though not exactly.” He returned to her side. “I can see certain things about people. Lie back.”
“I rather stay up.”
“*sigh* You were so much more placid while sleeping. Very well.”
“Are you a wizard?”
“No… Are you a witch?”
She stared at him as he applied his poultice to her wounds. He didn’t even glance back.
“I take that as a yes. Question I have is whether or not you know what faction you are from.”
Rebekka’s eyes widened. “You know of the factions?”
“Yes, seven in all and the long ended eighth sect.”
“So, the one who told you didn’t mention the eighth?”
“It was my mother, and yes she did, but I was told it was only a myth.”
Jude nodded. “It is possible that she did not know herself, or she was trying to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?”
Jude waited until he was finished with her new bandage to answer. “The other factions. Do you know what faction you are?”
“Not so. The fifth glyph is of a blood red rose with black thorns. ‘Poison to become of such beauty’ is their creed. Your glyph is of a blooming rose bud. ‘Life is such that is fragile and dear.’ I think it means. You are a medium; a very powerful witch, but,” he lifted a finger for emphasis, “only when the flower of her glyph blooms. Mediums weren’t exactly common to all faction and mainly belonged to the eighth, but you can’t be certain which you belong to until your glyph blooms.”
“So, I belong to no faction…” Rebekka said thoughtfully. “How do you know of all this?”
Jude sat back on his calves. “I was there when the factions created and had elected the very first council.”
“Impossible! That was–”
“Hundreds of years ago? I know…”
Silence filled the little tent for several moments.
“You will not tell anyone else this?” Rebekka asked. “Of me? It is dangerous for others to know.”
“I believe they already know, but no I will not.”
It looked like he wanted to say more but he didn’t. Instead, he moved to begin taking off the upper part of his tunic.
“What are you doing?” Rebekka asked.
“A secret for a secret,” he replied turning from her. He slipped off the upper and what Rebekka saw made her gasp. Along his back where the seven glyphs of the magic factions arranged in a circle, with an unfamiliar eighth in the center. Jude moved his hair around to place it in front of a shoulder.
“What is this?” Rebekka asked.
“A long story…” he replied sadly. He paused before continuing.
“Five hundred years ago, I was a simple farmer. I had a wife and three children. An army was invading, but we lived far from civilization, so I thought we were safe. One day… a platoon stormed into the farm. They demanded I give them all that we had produced. And I did. I gave them all of our stores and harvested crops, but they demanded for more. If I couldn’t give it to them, I would watch my family die and they would burn everything I owned. Their blood would be on my hands, they told me.
“I begged that I couldn’t give them anything else and for them to have mercy, but war drains men of their compassion. When they burned my house with me and my slaughtered family inside, death didn’t visit me. Vengeance took its place.
“I escaped and searched for a wizard. When I found him, I made him make me stronger that I may have my revenge. To make me as the undead so that no arrow or sword would bring my end. That I would be the very fear men choked upon in death……
Jude became silent once more, sighed, and continued again. “When I found the platoon, I did have my revenge. I killed them all. Every… single… one… And I killed those in a nearby village… And an entire city five miles away. Women, children, and innocent men.
“What I hadn’t realized was that the wizard I had taken counsel from exchanged my soul with that of a demon. A demon that is a fiend of blood and terror. It gains its life force from the souls it consumes. Blood lust.
“When I kill, I cannot stop until there is nothing left. Through vengeance I was cursed, and that curse brought me before eight witch and warlock elders. They were the first council, elected to try and rid the world of the demon, but could not.”
He slipped the upper of his tunic back on and looked at Rebekka.
“The demon is bound to this world through the wizard that brought it here. Only he can send it back to the underworld where it belongs. The eight elders placed the seal on my back to ensure the demon would never physically take over my being, but I cannot take a life, or it will be temporarily freed to fulfill its lust of blood.
“A vow was made to find the wizard but…. many years have passed since then. Many councils have been elected. Problems arose, feuds were fought, the eighth faction fell, and I was long forgotten in the time….”
Rebekka thought over his tale. It was a sad one, but also a dangerous one to know. “Why do you tell this to me?” she asked.
(to be continued…)
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