DARK MAGICK RISING (Part 6)
Copyright 2016 by M.L. Rhodes
Gods, make it stop! Please!
He thought maybe he’d cried it aloud. Or…maybe it was someone else’s voice he heard? Someone calling his name?
He couldn’t lift his head to see if anyone was there. But then he heard the voice again, louder this time.
Scuffed brown boots came into view in the snow a short distance away from him. Boots that could have belonged to anyone. But the voice was familiar. Jarrad.
“Bloody hel!” The boots came closer at a fast clip, and then Jarrad was crouching in front of him. Wesley felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. “Wes, what is it?” Jarrad asked urgently. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t…know…” Wesley’s eyes watered from the pain, and his voice sounded hoarse from the effort it took to speak.
“Are you injured?” Jarrad’s tone grew even more urgent. “I know you and Wen went hunting for Byram’s soldiers last night. Did you get hurt?”
“No,” Wesley gasped, still fighting for words, but the pain and nausea at last seemed to be easing. He reached for Jarrad, and the lean, blond draegan braced him up with an arm around him.
“It’s…it’s okay. I’m okay,” Wesley said with a groan.
“You don’t look okay. Not at all.”
Wesley was finally able to lift his head. And when he did, he found green eyes, startlingly like Wen’s, staring back at him. They were flooded with concern.
“I…I’ll be all right.” Slowly, as he continued to feel some relief, and the dizziness cleared, he managed to sink into a sitting position in the snow. “I’m…probably tired. And I think…I think maybe I just haven’t had anything to eat or drink for a while.”
Even as he said it, he knew now the explanation was too simple. He’d gone stretches before without food or water but had never felt like this because of it. And he was exhausted, in ways he couldn’t even express. But pain and dizziness and the struggle to breathe seemed wrong for something like lack of sustenance, or from tiredness. Yet, he didn’t know what else it could be.
“Well, it’s a good thing I happened along then,” Jarrad said, pulling a water skin from his belt and handing it to Wesley. After Wes had accepted it, Jarrad dug in a leather pouch and also produced a small hunk of dried meat. “I just raided Mum’s fresh stash this morning before the younger boys had a chance to gorge on it all.”
“Thanks,” Wes said gratefully. He tore off a piece of meat and slowly chewed, hoping it would stay down, then took several sips of water.
It did seem to help a bit—his gut felt a little more settled, though he wasn’t convinced it would stay that way. But as he glanced once more at Jarrad, who still watched him with a worried look, he knew he had to get control and not give his friend any more reason to be anxious.
“Is it helping?” Jarrad asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” Wesley took another sip of water, then swiped his hand over the back of his mouth, which still felt dry even after the liquid.
“I told you, I think maybe I just—”
“No, Wes, I mean what happened last night?” Jarrad’s expression had turned intense.
Again, it reminded Wesley of similar expressions he’d seen on Wen’s face. The brothers were so alike in looks, yet so different in personality. Actually, all four brothers—Wen and Jarrad, Allend and Edric—had their mother’s sandy blond hair, green eyes and freckles. But where Wen, as the oldest, was serious and loyal with a natural gift to lead, Jarrad was impulsive and competitive, as if he always felt he had something to prove. Both had a mischievous streak that snuck out from time to time, but Wen’s showed up in light, good-natured teasing, followed by a smile that could warm even the hardest heart, while Jarrad’s teasing of his brothers tended to be more pointed and reflective of his competitive streak. Allend, a few years younger than Jarrad, was tall and gangly and didn’t seem to have quite grown into his body yet. He had a hot head but a tender heart. And Edric, the youngest, was the quiet one of the bunch, minding his own business and working hard with the camp blacksmith since his sole fascination in life was designing and forging the weapons the draeganjhere carried.
The one thing all four had in common, however, aside from their fair looks, was a strong sense of family and friendship, and Wesley knew every one of them would give his life for the others. There had been days, in the past, he’d been jealous of them having such a close bond when he’d always lived such a solitary existence before moving here. It had always been only him and his mother, in order to protect his secret. But very quickly, the Daneson brothers had taken him into their trust and lives and become his friends…and in Wen’s case, so much more. So Wesley knew he wouldn’t be able to lie to Jarrad. Not outright anyway.
“Look, I can tell something’s wrong, Wesley. Something’s got you shaken, and it’s not just because you haven’t eaten. What is it? What’s going on? And where’s Wen?”
“Why does the way you say that scare me? What in all of hel happened?”
Sighing, Wesley knew he was going to have to divulge at least part of the night’s events. “We found some of Byram’s soldiers last night. They were staking out the magick boundary as we suspected—one of them had seen someone entering it and then disappearing from sight, so they were watching, hoping to find the camp.”
“Did you and Wen…”
“We confronted them and stopped them. There was a fight.”
“Shit. How many?”
“I’m not sure. Ten, eleven, twelve maybe?”
Jarrad’s eyes widened and he whispered a curse. “You two…against a dozen of them?”
Wesley nodded and took another drink from the water skin, then handed it back to Jarrad. He was afraid if he drank too much his stomach would rebel. He didn’t go into detail about how he and Wen had thought there were only two soldiers, but the rest had been lying in wait and it had been a trap. Somehow he knew that would only upset Jarrad more.
Jarrad capped the water skin and hung it back on his belt as he spoke. “How many got away?”
Wesley wouldn’t have thought Jarrad could look any more shocked, but he did, his eyes gone wider still and his body tense.
“None that we know of anyway,” Wesley added. “But I don’t think any did.”
“You and Wen,” Jarrad said slowly, his voice tight, “took out a dozen of Byram’s soldiers…alone?”
“It might have just been ten or eleven.”
“Wesley! Missing the point here.”