a start, Ryce came out of his reverie. For too long he
had been sitting, head in hands, his thoughts trapped in
the darkness of his mind. Blinded by grief, he had
failed to notice something. Silence! The childish
shrieks, chatter and endless questions from which he had
taken refuge, had fallen silent. It was much too quiet.
He hastened towards the doorway.
one side of the walled garden, he could see his
daughter. This week she had celebrated her third
birthday. From over her eyes, she flicked away a strand
of long dark hair. Her usual happy smiling face was,
instead, a study in concentration. Something in her
right hand held her attention. Ryce went cold. He
realised what the object was - a dagger. Terrified to
shout in case she panicked, he knew one slip and her
injuries could be severe.
kept his pace steady as he moved towards her. Not
wanting her to think she was in trouble, he forced a
smile. The knife was one he recognised; it was
razor-sharp. It belonged to her older brother, Peter.
Once again, the lad had failed to keep dangerous
weaponry out of his sister's reach. Five paces from his
daughter was a target, mounted onto the stump of a tree.
Earlier, Peter had been using it to hone his
Ryce could reach or speak to her, she looked up and
smiled at him. It was an impish smile, which cut
straight to his heart. It reminded him so much of her
Dada," she called.
turned away, holding the weapon near to its wicked
point. The child was too quick for him. Her arm moved.
There was a flash as the sun's rays caught the steel
blade. It hurtled through the air. Thud! The knife
quivered as it plunged into the centre of the target.
She clapped her hands in delight.
cwever! Kariwyn cwever! Isn't she Dada?" she said,
as Ryce reached down and scooped her into his arms.
Yes, you are," he said, holding her to his chest,
his heart racing.
was no denying it, Karilyn was smart, too damned smart.
It thrilled and saddened him at the same time. He had
hoped the legacy would pass to his son. At thirteen,
Peter was already big and strong. Soon, he would become
a man. To be the one - that required something extra.
When first Ryce thought of training Peter, in the skills
needed to carry out the duties of the Bearer of the
Scraufin, he had decided to wait a little longer. As
Ryce had only the one child, it was a strange decision
to make. Later, when he and his wife believed that fate
would not allow then to conceive again, he continued to
a few months after Peter's tenth birthday, Karilyn had
been a much-cherished surprise. Within eighteen months,
her gifts were apparent. Quick and bright, her strength
and agility were unusual for one so young. She displayed
all the potential he had hoped for in Peter. Ryce's
affection for his son remained undiminished; it was
Karilyn who was something else, something special. She
was the one who had inherited the traits to continue her
weeks ago, her mother had taken ill with a fever. A week
later, Ryce had buried her. Since then, locked in a mire
of despair, he had spent hours on his own, mourning her
loss. Because of this, Ryce had no knowledge of how long
Karilyn had been playing with the weapon. A rickety
stool stood beside the target. It terrified him to think
how often she must have thrown the knife, each time
clambering onto the precarious platform to retrieve the
weapon. Thoughts of the consequences, had she had
slipped and fallen onto the blade, made him shudder.
would have been his fault. Karilyn's nurse was ill in
bed. Ryce had promised to watch the child until she
recovered. Instead, he had allowed his own misery to put
her precious life in danger. He must never let that
happen again. It was unfair to blame Peter. He had been
irresponsible with the knife - Ryce would speak to him -
but the boy was not the one elected to keep watch over
Dada," Karilyn said, struggling in his arms.
walked across to retrieve the dagger. With gentle hands,
he placed her on the ground. He taught her the correct
way to hold the weapon, then worked on her stance and
throwing technique. She was a quick learner. Soon,
Karilyn could hit the centre from many angles. Her age
and strength limited the distance from which she could
throw, but, within her range, the child was deadly.
brother had practised for many months to reach the level
of proficiency his sister now displayed. This would be
something best kept to themselves, Ryce told her. He
wanted Peter kept in ignorance of how adept his sister
was. If possible, Ryce would prefer her talents to stay
hidden from everyone. Karilyn nodded. Handle first, she
handed him the dagger. Her wooden dolls were nearby. She
skipped over to play with them.
were no doubts in Ryce's mind she would keep silent
about the matter. The ability to keep a secret was
another one of her inherent qualities. Whenever she
displayed something that demonstrated her rapid
development - talents that Ryce considered best kept
from others - he had only to warn her once to keep them
private. Even her brother could not bully information
duty was something Karilyn would grow into and bear
until her dying day. For her to achieve some level of
normality in life, and keep safe, her special talents
must stay hidden from outsiders. If called upon to
perform her duty, so be it. Ryce prayed fate would spare
her from this destiny.
tenderness, he gazed towards his daughter. As he watched
her play, his heart filled with pain. He knew nothing
about rearing children. How would he cope without his
wife? Karilyn looked up at him. She seemed to sense his
inner turmoil. With her dolls abandoned, she walked
round the garden and took his hand.
Dada," she said. "Kariwyn show you how make
the lateness of the afternoon, the sun's rays remained
intense, burning into Amron's back. Distant objects
danced and flickered in the haze. The hot air sapped his
energy and dried his throat. Throughout the day, the
breeze had been absent. For a moment, he stopped work.
He leaned on his pitchfork. In contrast to the glorious
weather, his sour expression was an ideal match for the
darkness of his mood.
another day's hard toil in his father's fields, the
young man's resentment at the unfairness of his life was
close to breaking point. While he laboured, others
prepared to celebrate the end of harvest. That night,
his friends would be having a riotous time in the
tavern. He swore as he kicked the ground in frustration.
For Amron, there would be many more days of labour
before his harvesting was at an end - much longer if the
period of settled weather ended.
of why Tamin, his father, refused to take on extra help,
intensified Amron's temper. Tamin's interference in
Amron's life was deliberate. Although unable to put a
complete stop to Amron's association with his drinking
companions, his father put as many difficulties in the
boy's way as he could. Had Tamin been capable of easing
Amron's workload, the boy's grievance about the lack of
seasonal help might have been less. Sometime before his
son's birth, Tamin had suffered a serious injury. With
age, his body had weakened. This affliction compelled
him to leave most of the heavier work to Amron. His
mother was little better. Her body, twisted by
arthritis, meant she struggled now to move around the
only child, Amron looked forward to his evenings away
from the farm, drinking and womanising. He had no wish
to spend his whole life tilling the soil, as had his
parents, or so he believed them to have done. They had
never mentioned any other former lifestyle. On an
evening, his parents retired early to their bed, leaving
him to sit alone. With only the fumes and dull light of
a tallow lamp for company, such time alone afforded him
yearned for companionship and excitement. He wanted a
life, yet his parents insisted on putting obstacles in
his way, the most recent of which was to ban his friends
from visiting the farm. 'Idle troublemakers' was one of
his father's more repeatable descriptions of the gang of
youths and young men, who, most evenings, used to ride
to the door. It was Tamin's belief, several of these
'friends' were behind a spate of petty thefts in the
area. Two, who were newcomers to the district and
somewhat older than the others, always had a regular
supply of gold and silver coins with which to impress
his son. It was strange that, since the pair's arrival,
neither of them had done a day's work.
father had great sympathy with his son's aspirations.
The old man had come late to farming, only after an
eventful earlier life. Trapped in the hills, working the
land alone, while looking after infirm parents, was no
life for a nineteen-year-old. Although it was doubtful
Amron ever noticed, Tamin did what he could to help. He
was aware his son needed the company of people his own
age - apart from the group of wastrels who frequented
was no fool. He knew why they sought-out his son. Over
the years, rumours had spread that the family had hidden
wealth. Stories persisted that, somewhere on their land,
treasure lay buried. Denials did nothing to stop the
gossip. Instead, to many, they served as confirmation.
If he and his family maintained their simple life, Tamin
hoped the tales would die. This was not because they
were lies, rather because they had some foundation.
his hoard, Tamin was no miser. Neither did the treasure
consist, in its entirety, of the precious goods that
others so desired. The reality was much more dangerous
than most people could have imagined. This was not
knowledge he was ready to entrust to his son. If there
was one thing Tamin had in common with his son's
friends, it was his belief that Amron, when drunk, was
incapable of keeping a secret.
stabbed a bale of hay with his pitchfork. He tossed it
high onto the back of the wagon. This time, he misjudged
the angle. The bale bounced off, to hit him full in the
face. He went sprawling to the ground. In fury, he threw
off the bundle. As he sat up, he spat out a mouthful of
dried grass. His pride hurt more than his body. He
stood, spluttering and coughing, the slight taste of
blood salty on his tongue. Angered, he lashed out with
his boot at the bale. He abandoned his task for the day,
swearing and cursing; although few bales remained to
stack on the wagon.
of the village girls considered Amron handsome. Six feet
in height, his tanned, muscular body carried no excess
fat. His long flaxen hair, bleached paler by the
summer's sun, had a covering of hay from the bale. He
shook his head, then brushed away the debris. As usual,
his face, flushed with anger, carried a petulant
expression. Dust from the bale stung his blue eyes,
making them water. He rubbed them, only to wince as he
caught the bridge of his long nose, made tender by the
swearing, Amron pulled on his tunic. The rough material
chaffed against his broad back. The tavern beckoned him,
as did the folk within. Amron blushed as a feeling of
guilt came over him. Back at the farmhouse, his mother
would be warming a meal over the coals. Tamin would be
standing in the doorway, waiting for the first sight of
his wayward son. Amron could picture the disappointment
in his father's expression as, once more, he realised he
was waiting in vain. His body would slump and his head
appear to sink lower into his shoulders. Tamin needed no
telling where his offspring might be.
village glowed in the warm, reddish light, which
emanated from the setting sun. Amron approached along
the winding dirt track towards the tavern. He pushed
hard against its weathered door. Leather hinges creaked.
He ducked his head as he stepped through the low
entrance, onto a straw-covered, stone-slabbed floor.
Acrid smoke, rising from the many lamps placed at random
round the room, filled the air. The fumes stung his
eyes. The tavern was full. Inebriated, villagers and
local farmers jostled, laughed and shouted over the
clamour as they celebrated the bringing-in of the
wove his way through the crowd, tables and packed
benches. The floor was awash with beer and mead, spilt
from a large array of overflowing drinking horns and
glass vessels. Loud cheers erupted from his friends when
they spotted him. Within minutes, he was quaffing from a
horn filled to the brim with ale. He had let down his
father again; the knowledge filled him with shame. This
spurred on his drinking until, for the moment, he cared
no longer. He became drunk, much drunker than anyone
could remember. Urged on by his companions, he sang and
drank away the evening. His tankard never seemed to be
later, as the party became more raucous, Amron became
unwell. He collapsed onto the end of a nearby bench. As
he tried to steady himself, his free hand grabbed for
the nearest tabletop. He missed. His balance gone, he
crashed to the floor where he retched, much to the
amusement of his friends. Their mocking laughter
attracted the tavern-keeper's attention. His attempts to
throw out Amron met with determined opposition from the
boisterous group. Tonight, they wanted him near them.
intervention was unusual. Most nights, they would have
relished his humiliation. They would embellish details
of such an incident, then use them to embarrass him at
every opportunity. Amron was too drunk to care. He
passed out. The tavern-keeper shrugged his shoulders.
His friends were spending good money, ordering flagons
of beer by the dozen. To upset the group might have an
adverse affect on his takings? Let the lad sleep it off
under the table. The tavern-keeper sent a serving maid,
with a bucket of water and another of sawdust, to clean
up the mess.
she forced her way back through the crowd, towards the
bar, Amron regained consciousness. He was lying on the
floor, his head beside a pool of foul smelling slime
created by the mop. Now he did feel ill. He struggled to
focus. The room revolved, ever faster. Underneath
tables, benches and between people's legs, he crawled
towards the edge of the room. Nearby, a stick propped
open a small side-door.
Amron crept along the wall-side towards the gap. Once
outside, as the cool night air hit him, he vomited again
and again as his body rejected the drink. This was worse
than anything he had experienced. With the aid of a
wall, Amron pulled himself to his feet. He staggered
along the road, away from the tavern and its commotion.
For the moment, nobody realised he had gone. A thin
layer of cloud filled the sky. Without the stars to
guide him, and his senses befuddled by drink, Amron lost
all sense of direction. Confused, he took the wrong
the village, Amron fell over a low hedge into a
hayfield. He clutched his stomach. A spasm caused him to
double-up in agony. The pain eased. He stood. With eyes
half-closed, he wandered across the open ground. A dip
in the land caused him to lose his balance. Head first,
he stumbled into a hayrick. On hands and knees, he
crawled round it. He made contact with a ladder that
rested against its side. Somehow, without toppling, he
clambered up the rungs.
climbed above the height of the stack. The balance of
the ladder shifted. Its base slid away. Amron fell. As
he landed on the mound, his legs knocked the ladder
sideways. With a thud, it hit the ground. His body sank
into the hay. He stretched-out. Within seconds, he was
afterwards, a large party of horsemen rode by, on the
road into the village. In the early hours of the
morning, from the direction of the settlement, came
sounds of a violent struggle. Frightful screams floated
across the night air. Amron stirred but didn't waken. He
slept, too, as the smell of burning drifted across the
broke. Still he slumbered. Mid-morning and the sound of
horses, moving towards him, brought him to
semi-consciousness. Amron tried to move. His head
pounded as his hangover took hold. He sank back into his
bed of hay. His stumbling gait of the night before was
over sun-baked ground and stubble. He had left no tracks
for anyone to find.
jingled as the noise of the hooves grew louder. The
sound of voices reached Amron. He was too ill to pay
attention. He wanted to be alone, allowed to die in
peace. Nearby, the horses halted. A man spoke, his voice
sharp and loud. The speaker was someone Amron knew, his
friend Talon, the elder of the newcomers against whom
Tamin had warned.
Amron could call out, something in the tone of the
rider's voice cautioned him to stay silent. There was a
chilling edge to the man's words. He spoke with an air
of authority and command. Such traits, Amron had never
associated with Talon. The man had worked hard to give
everyone the impression he was a happy-go-lucky wastrel.
An instinct for self-preservation caused Amron to bury
himself deeper into the hay.
the hell's that pathetic, drunken idiot gone?"
Talon said in frustration.
don't know, Captain." The
new speaker was on the defensive.
when had anyone addressed Talon as captain?
accounted for everyone else," the speaker
continued. "There's no-one left alive in the
village, nor in the surrounding area. We've scoured the
land around the village. In the state he was in when he
disappeared, he can't have wandered far."
was a moment before Amron realised the second speaker
was Egesa, Talon's friend and fellow newcomer. He too
had thrown off his casual persona.
a loose end." Talon sounded angry. "I hate
those. We've no idea how much he knows. I would prefer
to be certain of the boy's death. The amount of poison I
slipped into his last drink would have killed a horse,
but he threw up most of it inside the tavern. Now we
have what we came for, we can't stay here much longer.
If the stupid oaf's father had told us where the object
we sought was, he might have saved himself a few hours
still can't believe how big a fool the boy was. So eager
to please and fit in, like a child, he fell for
everything we said. He told us all we needed to know
about his parents and their routines. His father! He
showed true courage. His wife threw him a sword and,
despite his lameness, he held three of our men at bay
with it. He killed two of them, and would have done the
same to the third if the rest of us had not arrived to
overwhelm him. We questioned him for half the night,
without learning anything useful. It's a pity the men
killed his wife when she attacked them. We might have
been able to use her to persuade him."
he dead?" Egesa asked.
should be by now," Talon said. "Nobody could
survive what we did to him. Once we found the casket, we
left. I suppose, I should have killed him outright. With
the courage he displayed, he'd earned a quick death,
but, in the excitement, I forgot he was there."
did you find the casket?" Egesa sounded excited.
"I was elsewhere. By the time I arrived you were
tore apart the house and outbuildings but found nothing.
Then I remembered, years ago, soon after he'd taken
flight, we traced the old man to Sumrania. He'd lived
there for a while, before he disappeared after a fight
with our men. It's taken Betlic all these years to find
him. There is a Sumranian trick, where they set loose
stones into the linings of their wells, with a cut-out
behind to store their treasures. We lowered Slean into
the old man's well, where he found such a place, a few
bricks above water level. The casket was inside the
you open it? Was the object there?" Egesa said, his
voice rising with excitement.
it was in the box. We can go home at last. Our master
will reward us well for these past few months'
Betlic will rule the world. He'll reward us well for our
part. Everyone will acclaim us as the men who brought
him the final piece. Because of our efforts, he will
become Master of the Talisman of Grebarta."
fool, never mention that name again," Talon
snapped, "not until the casket's back safe with
Betlic. No-one must know what it contains. The men
believe we've been seeking a trinket that Betlic
coverts. If they find out its true worth, they'd slit
our throats and try to ransom it."
me," Egesa said, chastened. "I won't mention
you do, believe me, I'll be the one who slits your
it possible the boy tried to cross the river by the
stepping-stones?" Egesa was quick to change the
subject. "He's fallen in before, several times. He
uses them most nights as a shortcut home from the
tavern. The bridge is out of his way, it adds too much
distance to his journey. Unlike here, the mountains have
seen plenty of rain this past week. The water's running
deep and the current's treacherous. There might have
been too little poison left inside his body to kill,
but, combined with the drink, it must have left him
confused and unsteady. If he slipped, there's every
chance the current swept him away. He has to have
might explain why we can't find him," Talon said.
"Although I would have preferred to see a body, we
don't have time to search downstream, it could take days
before the remains come to the surface. We have to move
out. Round up the men, we leave as soon as
was a moment's silence. Amron sank deeper into the hay.
He struggled to comprehend everything he had heard. His
stomach knotted in agony, the after effects of the night
before combined with a deep sense of fear. He must have
misheard them. The village, and everyone in it, could
not have gone. The tavern had been full last night,
filled with dozens of happy villagers as they celebrated
another fine harvest.
idiot boy they were talking about, who was he? From out
of his addled senses, his random thoughts came together.
A chill ran through Amron. It was he. He was the target
of their search. It was he they had tried to poison and
now wanted to find and kill.
became clear to Amron. The old man and woman Talon and
Egesa had discussed were his parents. If Talon had
spoken the truth, then his men had killed them both. His
father tortured. For what? A casket, what casket? Amron
had no memory of his father mentioning such an item. A
hiding place in the lining of the well was news to
overtook him again. If only he had taken the time to
listen to his father. In recent years, whenever Tamin
tried to talk, Amron ignored him. Because he expected to
receive another lecture on his lifestyle, he would turn
away. It was sad, but Amron knew little about his
father's past. He was a simple farmer. Yet, Talon had
said, with a sword passed to him by his wife, Tamin
killed two of his attackers. What sword? Amron had never
seen one at his home. When did it come into his mother's
possession and, of greater importance, when had his
father learned to use it?
felt a violent urge to leap from the hayrick and kill
his murderous 'friends'. Self-preservation dictated he
refrained from such action. He was no match for the
pair. They talked in the manner of seasoned warriors,
skilled fighting men. Amron had no experience of war
and, apart from a small knife, neither did he carry a
sound of horses, moving away, was a relief. He remained
where he was, frightened and forlorn. Many times he was
ill, until he could retch no more. This was much more
than a hangover. The small amount of poison he had
absorbed was still enough to affect Amron. It was
fortunate for him that its symptoms were short-lived.
Tears rolled down his face. Tormented by his thoughts
and fears, he dared not make a move until nightfall.
clouds cleared and, after a final flare of brilliance,
the sun faded. Darkness spread over the land. It was
time for Amron to leave his hiding place. Several hours
earlier, a large party of horsemen had ridden along the
roadway at the edge of the field. Since that event,
apart from the overwhelming sound of carrion crows as
they descended on the village, and the wind blowing
through the hay, there had been little noise.
clawed away the layer of stalks that concealed him.
Moments later he slid down the side the hayrick, to land
with some force on the warm earth. He stank of stale ale
and vomit. Pain pounded behind his eyes, he felt dizzy
and his mouth was dry. By the light of the three-quarter
moon, he worked out his position. He headed towards a
nearby spring. With cupped hands, he scooped the cold
water. He splashed it over his face, then drank a
capacious amount. After he had slaked his thirst, he
stripped and washed before soaking his soiled garments.
The wet clothes were icy cold when he pulled them on
again. He shivered. Hesitant and fearful at what he
might find, he turned towards the road that led back to
from The MAstig Copyright Brian R Hill 2017