I’m participating with a small writing group sponsored by acclaimed author Michael Dellert. The free writes are set in the world Michael crafted for his epic series and he assigns each member a character. Here is what I’ve contributed thus far…
Cathal Manor, Bántobar, Duir 1
Eranna wiped her hands on her apron and glanced across the larder at the hulk of a man balanced carefully on a stool that was more tar, sinew and rag twine than its original Alder wood. Dor, eyed her careful and then continued, “Please Eranna, I wouldn’t ask this of you if there was a better way. I know you,” Dor struggled for the right word, “I know Lord Cathal’s,” Dor was nearly mumbling now as he tried to cobble words together, “actions may not seem to you to be fitting or proper…” Eranna interrupted him, “Enough, Dor. You really should stop talking before you commit treason. You may be Captain of the manor, but in my kitchen you are no better than that headless scullery boy. I’ll get the Lord and his guests,” Eranna shook her head at the thought, “put to right and sent along to see the new summer foal. You keep him busy until I get them fed and properly retired to their homes or wagons or where ever he found them this time. I want no repeat of the last event such as this. As if we need the ghost of another ‘soldier’s marriage’ pining at the stoop and watering the garden with swooning tears all the while hoping, to no avail, to become Lord Cathal’s true first. Get you to the stables while I get the house to order, I’ll send the sir along to you shortly.” Dor winced at Eranna’s sharp reprimand, but smiled as he rose and engulfed Eranna’s hands with own hard-calloused hands, “Thank you! I will owe you, my dear woman, I will!” Eranna pulled her hands away and swatted his rigid bicep. “Get out of my kitchen, Dor, before I change my mind!” Dor bolted, ducked under the doorway and vanished down the hall. Eranna shook her head at his retreat, “For a man the size of an auroch, he’s agile as a Red Deer when he needs.”
Eranna headed to Lord Cathal’s room. She stopped to right a tumbled table and chair beside his door and settle a decorative bowl back in place. Glancing up, she noticed a flagon hanging precariously balanced between the antlers above Cathal’s door. “Good grief, I haven’t seen this level of trickery since solstice!” She carefully retrieved the bottle and placed it on the table. She listened for a moment at the door, hearing nothing, she entered the room. She immediately regretted the decision. Cathal’s room smelled much like the tavern on the wharf at low ebb. She moved to the window and stumbled on another empty bottle. The glass clattered across the stone floor before cracking against the large boar’s skull that generally resided above the mantle. Clothing was strewn about. Eranna picked up items as she moved to the window. A corset, a headband, hosiery, more hosiery. Eranna stopped, there were entirely too many items for it to simply be Lord Cathal and a guest. Her eyes widened for a moment before she regained her set and unceremoniously opened the heavy drapes. The sunlight sliced into the scene like a sabre and multiple groans sounded from the bed. Eranna didn’t miss a beat, she placed the clothing in a pile on the nearest chair and opened the last of the drapes. The summer sun drove all shadow from the room and was met with new pained groans. “Lord Cathal, good day, Dor has pressing business with you in the lower stables. Something about your prize mare and a late foal. He asked that you join in post haste.” Eranna continued talking loudly about the schedule of the day, the upcoming hunts and moving about, organized clothes and collected bottles and platters as she made her way back to the master’s door. She rattled and clattered every item she retrieved. “I’ll be up shortly with strong tea and herbed water, M’lord.” Lord Cathal groaned loudly from the confines of his draped bed. After a couple of tries he croaked, “Fine, fine. I’m awake.” He coughed and cleared his throat again but couldn’t bring himself to draw down the coverlette and face the sunlight, “Thank you, Eranna. Please bring some of those wonderful biscuits of yours as well.” Eranna pushed the door open with her toe, “Yes, M’lord. I’ll return shortly.” She emphasized the last word hoping his guests would at least be clothed when she returned.
As soon as Eranna left I tried to stretch, only to discover lithe arms encircled my right arm. I lowered the coverlette only to find the room ablaze with light. The pain washed through my head and it took many tries to finally open my eyes. I lifted the sleep heavy limbs from my arm and wiggled my arm free. It was at that moment I realized another set of limbs were tangled around my thigh and that the head resting on my groin was not attached to the limbs I first escaped. I lay back and moaned as fresh pain lanced my head. I began shaking a smooth shoulder and kicking my feet. “Ok, everyone up, I’ve got to move.” Nothing. I cleared my throat and tried again, “Get up! By the Word, get moving!” Groans and motion rewarded me and I was able to free my torso enough to sit up. The room swam and dimmed. A sweat broke across my skin and I pulled at the fabrics trying to escape the heat. When my vision cleared, the tan, sheepishly smiling face of Erik appeared at the foot of the bed. “Urgh. Erik, blessings of the morning. Now, would you please get off my leg? Now.” Erik laughed, “Aye, m’lord,” He tossed aside the cover and stretched like a great cat before standing. The sun glimmered off his skin as he began the hunt for his clothing. I watched him for just a moment. A handsome man indeed, at least I didn’t regret his company this morning. The thought made me blanche and I turned to the body beside me. Sierre turned toward me and I sighed in relief. “Blessings of the day, m’lord. Last night was quite…,” she paused dramatically, “unusual. Enjoyable though can’t say I’d done some of that before.” She traced her nails along my arm and across my chest. I took her hand and kissed the palm, “Blessings, Sierre. I’m glad we all had fun. Now, get up.” Sierre sat up and shook her dark hair. She was beautiful in her contrasts. Dark hair, pale skin, pale blue eyes, no dreams of Manor life. I sighed in relief. Neither of my guests would be presenting me an unexpected heir and both knew these trysts had little meaning come sunrise. Sierre swung herself out of bed and my attentions stirred as I watched her tussle with Erik over a pair of leggings. “Oh no you don’t, get your own clothes, Erik.” The two were long time companions and lovers. Erik apprenticed with the jeweler and Sierre was a middle daughter of one of Bantobar’s miners. At least my ale sotted mind had chosen wisely in indulging my body’s desires. I stood and waited for my mind to clear before striding across the cold stones to grab my breeches. Just as I tied the laces, Eranna returned with tea and biscuits. “M’lord, Dor waits for you in the stable.” Eranna was prim and cold. I knew I was in trouble. “Thank you, Eranna. You remember Erik and Sierre.” I waved to the now clothed pair. Eranna nodded in stiff propriety, “Blessing of the day to you both.” I did catch a flicker of relief on Eranna’s face. She was as relieved as I that I’d not terribly erred last night. Eranna lay the service on the table and poured strong tea. I knew she was annoyed though as there was butter but no fruits for the biscuits. I knew better than to mention it. It was a small price for her service over the years. I’d make it up to her later. She retrieved steaming herbed water from the cart and lay washing clothes beside the bowl. The scent of soothing flowers and mint wafted through the room. Eranna handed me a cloth, “M’lord may wish to bathe before heading to the stables.” The implication in her voice was clear, I smelled worse than the horses. I laughed only to incite another flash of pain. “Aye, Eranna, thank you. Would you send the boy to tell Dor I’m alive and will join him shortly?” Eranna nodded curty, “Yes, m’lord.” She eyed my guests. “I’ve food in the kitchen. I’m certain you remember the way. Be welcome when you are done here.” She spun on her heel and left. Sierre laughed, “She really does care.” A cup of tea, biscuits, a dalliance with the sensual pair while we were trying to wash had me further delayed. I kissed them both deeply. “Enough you two, get to your homes and work.” They smiled, “Aye, m’lord, as you command.” It was unmasked prodding but both knew the ways of the world enough to know my tolerance didn’t leave this room. I dressed quickly and headed to the stables.
Dor stood at the rock wall that separated the 10 stall stables and the paddock area. Beyond the paddock lay the pastures and a 20-member herd of powerful horses. The mares and foals grazed quietly. Their long manes and tails flowed, the breeze floated the long feathers of hair that encircled their lower legs and hooves. Dor watched as a lead mare, some 13 hands tall and 100 stone, tipped her head up to eye him. Her coat was a sleek black and white. A new foal at her side bore the trade mark tawny dappling of Lord Cathal’s oldest stallion. She nudged her babe and the pair slowly meandered toward the fence. The horses, chargers and palfreys, were a specialty of Cathal; intelligence, power, beauty, and a tolerant disposition. Even his culls were prized as carthorses. Cathal described them as loyal dogs with muscle and hooves. Dor glanced toward the manor. Cathal was finally on his way toward the stable. Dor smiled to himself, Eranna was one to be counted on, no matter the delicate nature of the task. In the distance, clouds built heavily, he would move the mare and new foal inside before the rains began. He climbed over the wall easily and reached back for a ratty, time-worn basket. He whistled sharpy and the herd turned to him. He shook the basket of carrots. “Come on ya nags, come and see ol’ Dor for treats.” The lead mare was already near and she nipped at any horse who attempted to overtake her. Dor patted her softly and gave her a couple of large carrots. He slipped a lead on her and let the tail drape over the rock wall. He knew she’d stand fast until he came back to her. He walked down the line, feeding each mare and the older foals a carrot, patting them and talking to them. As each got the treat they moved back to the open grasses. All save the mare, she stood fast with her foal nursing. Last to approach him was the resident stallion. Cathal named him Stone when he’d seen the dabbled colt a few years ago. Time tricked him though and the horse matured a dark dabbled brown with a black mane and tail. Stone was smart, protective, a charger in size and build, more than 15 hands and 150 stone. His hooves were the size of plates. More than once, Dor had found the well pounded carcass of a wolf in the pasture. He’d no doubt the cause. Dor fed the animal the last of the carrots and scratched his withers. The big animal nudged Dor, nearly knocking him over. “Aye, settle down ya brute.” Dor patted Stone’s soft nose and cheek, “Get back to work before the boss catches you lazing about.” The animal snorted and trotted away into the herd. Dor returned to the mare and foal, he led them into a freshly lain stall just as Cathal arrived.
Lord Cathal, Duir 9, Manor
I watched as Dor hopped over the stone wall and whistled sharply. The herd was out of sight but certainly within earshot. Sweat trickled down my spine. Gods I hate this weather. Dor whistled again, “Come on ya nags! Dor’s got treats! Come on now, dun make me the fool in front of the boss!” narrowed my gaze at the man, Dor knew I hated when he called me that. I smile though when I feel the telltale vibration stir up through the dirt and into my legs. The herd crested the far hill. I love the sight of them in full glory, manes flying, the rumble of their hooves scattering quail and hare. I scan the colors; mentally checking each mare and foal. I notice immediately that Stone and another of my young mares are not with the herd. “Dor, do you see Dalia and her foal. Or Stone for that matter?” Dor shook his head, “Nay, m’lord. I don’t see them.” The man again whistled long and sharp. The main herd arrived and he began doling out carrots and a few of the withered apples. I turned toward the stable, “Boy! Get the grey saddled, NOW!” The stable boy jolted into action at my hard tone. Dor looked up from the herd, “I’ll get Toad and join you.” Toad was a seasoned gelding from Dor’s warrior days. Much like the Grey, his age kept him from the glories of war or the hunt. Neither were shy from a hard run and both knew the smell of a fight. Ten minutes later Dor and I both were well armed, mounted and turning reins to the lower pastures. I turned back to the stable boy, “get stalls newly lain in case we need them and open the upper pasture gate. I want the herd here for the night.” The boy nodded and bowed before bolting. Dor and I moved to canter as one and it was only minutes when we passed the lower gate. Dor dismounted to close the wooden bars that blocked the opening in the stone wall. The lower woods were eerily quiet. “Something doesn’t feel right, let’s find these horses.” Dor nodded and swung easily into the saddle.
An hour on, I heard Stone neigh from behind a rocky outcropping. “Dor, that’s Stone.” I pointed and we both turned and Grey nickered low, his ears swiveled back against his head. “Grey’s got something scented.” Dor nodded, “Toad, too. He’s jittery.” Toad snorted heavily as we rounded the edge of the outcropping. Stone reared and bellowed a challenge as we came into view. I quickly shouted to him, “Hold, Stone, settle boy, we’re here.” He immediately stood fast and I dismounted to approach the nervous, wild eyed stallion. As keyed up as he was, he let me approach easily and I talked smoothly to him as I put a lead on him. I realized he was matted with dried blood and a large tear in his foreleg was bleeding heavily. “Dor, bring a blood-stop salve, Stone is torn open.” Dor dismounted and dropped Toad’s reins with a sharp “Hold”. All the animals were skittish and on high alert but I knew none would bolt. I ran my hands over the damaged stallion, nick and tears covered his flanks. “This looks like the work of those damn wolves!” Dor approached, “M’lord, can you move him forward a bit, let’s see if he can walk.” My anger boiled inside and I could only grunt. “Come on boy, step to,” I clicked my tongue at him, Stone took half a step and stumbled. “Ho, boy, hold.” I ran my hands down his leg to find a set of gaping tears that went to the bone. “Dor, his leg is mauled but it doesn’t feel broken. Hand me a water skein.” I tended to Stone’s leg as Dor worked on stopping the bleeding tears. Grey nickered low and Stone went rigid, his breathing huffed in and out as he scented the air. Dor and I both stopped and stepped back, scanning the tree line and tall grasses, I slipped short sword and dagger from their sheathes. Dor’s voice was barely audible, “Tree line, just past the wall.” I scanned the area and then caught a brief flash of yellow eyes and glimmering fangs. The wolf was just past the wall, and as I watched, 3 more drifted past the mottled black beast and vanished into the shadows of the forest. I swear the animal glared right back at me before following its pack and vanishing. Dor and I moved quickly toward where the predators were. Just before the wall, I halted short. “Dor.” I held up a hand to stop him. The ground was shredded, soaked with blood and strewn with bits of hide and bone. I used the tip of my sword to turn a chunk of hide and immediately recognized the remains of the vivid hue of Dalia’s coat. Another few steps brought me to her nearly devoured carcass. “Damn. Damn! Damn!” I roared angrily at that sky in a useless display. Dor had continued toward the wall then paused. “I’m sorry, Cathal, the foal’s here, too. Looks like they tried to pull it over the wall.” I fumed and raved all the way back to the horses. Stone stamped and limped and shuddered. “M’lord, please, hold fast, we need to see if we can get Stone back to the stables. He’ll be a wreck if you don’t calm.” I knew he was right and that infuriated me more. I sneered at him, “Then get t’ work and see to my still living stock, man at arms, maybe with me here you’ll do better at protecting what’s mine!” As soon as the words let my moth I regretted them. Dor, moved to continue working on Stone and I kicked rocks while retrieving another water skein from my saddle. Dor was talking quietly and soothingly to Stone, working on the numerous gashes. I handed the man the water and he took it nodding. “Cathal, I think he can get to the barn if we move him slow. If the wounds tear open though he will lose too much blood and he’s already weak.” Dor’s tone was stiff and measured, “If you think it best, I could head back to the stable and bring the large hay skid, we could blindfold and secure him then pull him home on the skid.” Dor was so smart and calm, I hated that my temper got the better of me. I looked from him to Stone. “Aye, that’s a good plan. I’ll try to get him to the top of the rise while you’re gone.” I kicked another stone, “Dor, I’m sorry for my words, you know I’m an ass.” Dor looked me in the eye, “Yes, m’lord, I’m experienced with your temper. Let’s just focus on the 4 legged animals, eh?” I caught his meaning. He turned on his heel and handed me the salves and rags from his saddle pouches. He didn’t say another word, mounted up and kicked Toad into a hard run toward the stable. Grey neighed and nudged me, “ok, ok.” I turned back to Stone and began the task of getting the injured animal up the hill without him gushing streams of blood in our wake.
Hinterlands, south of Bántobar, Tinne 23
I thought to myself, “ah the glories of being Lord of the Manor.” I huffed at the ill humor and turned onto my back and tried to settle back into sleep. My shoulders ached and Dor’s snoring on the other side of the dying embers would ensure any predator within a league would know we were here. I stared into the night sky, the new moon had provided us with opportunity to hunt the wolves that had killed my horses and injured my prize stallion. Next to Dor, the oldest of the stable boys lay sleeping. I could never remember his name. He was some headless lad that Eranna had taken underwing and Dor put to work in the barns earning his keep. I tried to remember how long, it seemed he could nearly walk under the horses when I first saw him. He had the vacant stare, starved body and soul of a child who’d been on his own. Now he was a muscled, lanky boy, probably 10 summers old. Dor had him along on this hunt to test his mettle. Plus, we could use the extra hands to tend to the camp and horses. My mind still couldn’t come up with his name.
I sighed and shifted again on the hard packed earth. I turned my gaze back to the stars. It was then I heard the faintest rustle. I let my breathing remain calm, perhaps it was a hare or some other small creature. I waited, it was some minutes before the sound came again, the slightest hint of a noise just past the sleeping boy. I closed my eyes more and let my head loll softly, mimicking the movements of sleep. Through my hooded gaze, I watched a dark shadow pass silently just beyond the sleepers. My nerves sharp, I took in the size of the shadow, the wolf sized shadow. The beast was experienced with men and horses both to be able to so easily enter camp without alerting either.
As the shadow moved I waited until it Dor’s hulking form separated us and I moved my hand to the blade beside me. As Dor had taught me when I was a boy, the weapon lay atop its sheath. Dor’s voice echoed in my mind from his early lessons, “Never sleep wild with your blade encumbered. Night does not favor men.” My grip tightened on the hilt and I waited as the beast reappeared near Dor’s feet. Thinking again of the man, I realized his snoring had stopped. Just as my muscles tensed to move, Dor flashed into action and drove a long dagger into the side of the evil beast at his feet. The animal screamed and the night exploded into fury. Another wolf leapt across me and snapped at Dor’s back. I forced my blade awkwardly up into the belly of the passing wolf. I didn’t have full strength at such an angle but it was enough to turn the beast from its mark and Dor rolled over the stable boy, grabbing the lad mid move and pulling him with him to the edge of the grasses.
The horses joined the chaos having pulled loose from the tethers. I sprung to my feet just as the wolf I’d grazed regained his paws and lunged for me. I had the sword tip just in time to catch the weight of the animal and it crashed us to the ground beneath the momentum of his charge. Hot blood gushed over my blade and forearm and I kicked hard to free myself from the wheezing and bloodied animal. The angered neighs and snorts of Toad and Grey preceded Toad hammering his fore hooves into the wolf Dor had stabbed. A final yip and the beast was dead. From behind me, I heard the stamping and power of Grey. He spun and kicked the wolf that was snapping at him. He hit the mark and the wolf slid backward nearly into my lap. I couldn’t free my blade from the downed wolf and I cried out as the new threat came at me. Dor was back on his feet and he lunged forward toward me but his feet tangled in the blankets and he fell short.
The horse-kicked wolf scrambled around and snapped down on my forearm. I punched it in the snort as hard as I could, it released me and spun away with a yelp. From beyond the fray, a series of short barks and yips sounded. The stable boy appeared out of the darkness and his blade struck true into the wolf that had torn open my arm. The wicked beast collapsed in a bloody heap at my feet. The boy’s eyes were wide as an owl’s as he thrust out a hand to help me up. Dor roared and kicked himself free of the fabrics, he bolted after another animal that had turned tail when the yipping in the distance began. Dor was seasoned and he only went a few yards away from the camp before ending a futile effort. Toad was in hot pursuit of the wolf and Dor whistled and called at the angry horse to no avail. I gained my feet and immediately worked my blade free from the carcass. Dor approached, huffing with the battle fury, “Damn horse went after the last one! But there’s more out there!” Grey was stamping and snorting, wide eyed from the battle but not going anywhere. I turned to the boy, “get Grey saddled, I’m going after Toad.” Dor’s hand on my shoulder brought me around. “Cathal, you’re injured, Toad will tire and turn from the chase. He’s smart and experienced with wolves.” Dor was winded from the fight, and I looked down at my bloody arm. “Aye, you’re right.” The boy was frozen, still wide eyed and panting. I stepped across to him and stuck my hand out, “You did well, tonight. That pelt’s a fine trophy for any man.” The boy shook my hand, his trembling with the energy of a first fight. He met my eyes briefly before finding his place again, “Thank you, M’lord.” Dor smiled at me then clapped the boy on the shoulder, “You did well indeed, Tomas. I’ll have that hide tanned and the teeth strung in honor of your work tonight!”
Tomas! That was that boy’s name. “Yes, Tomas, I owe you a debt. I’ll think on how best to repay it once we are safe on our own hearth.” Just then, a sweaty, snorting, winded Toad wandered back into camp. Grey nickered at him and the horse returned the greeting. Dor strode to his mount and patted him, soothing him and then led both horses back to the tether. “Come on boy, these animals need rubbing down and some sweet grain.” Dors usual gruff tone had a softer edge to it but it awakened the boy back into action. I called after them, “I’ll skin the wolves.” Dor leveled a hard look at me, “M’lord, perhaps it would be best if you let me do that after I tend that bite. You don’t want to end up with a foaming pox.” I met his gaze, “Fine. I’ll reset the fire and put some water on. Is that a maidenly enough task for my weak talent, man-at-arms?” Dor snorted and turned away to not laugh, “As you wish, m’lord, as you wish.” I curtailed my too-quick tongue. Grumbling, I dragged the carcasses, one-handed to the edge of the camp, and then turned my failing strength to the fire. Dor fished the pot and water skeins from the wreckage of the gear. He addressed me quietly, “Sit and let that wound bleed a bit more, Cathal. You need to milk any of the sickness out of it. I’ll get the water going.” He handed me a clean dagger from his pack. “Thanks, Dor.” He just nodded. I used the blade to scrape the blood from the bite and open the wounds a bit more. The pain was sharp and my body tired. Dor and Tomas had tended the horses and fixed the camp. Dor sent the boy back his blanket while he gathered supplies to tend my arm. I let the blood flow freely into the crackling fire and watched the sky lighten.
Cathal Manor, Coll 7
I woke with a start, sweat drenched and sweltering beneath the heavy blankets. My arm throbbed and shot pain through my shoulder. I closed my eyes and moaned. “What in the,” My voice ground heavily, and my tongue felt swollen from thirst. I coughed heavily, pain shot down my back, coppery phlegm adhered in my throat and I turned my head trying to take a clear breath. My whole body hurt. The worst was my arm. Gingerly I extracted it from the blankets and saw that blood had soaked through the bandages and into the bed clothes. Eranna was going to be upset. I kicked off the blankets and tried to reach the war on the stand beside my bed. Every motion made my body scream in pain. My arm throbbed beneath the bandages. My clumsy motions knocked the pitcher and cup to the floor, shattering the vessel and spilling the precious fluid. In my effort to capture the falling items, I tumbled from the bed. My vision swam with the pain and I struggled to right myself. My breaths came short and the air felt like fire. A moment later a calloused hand came to my aid. I grasped it, and felt the strength pull me to a sitting position. “Dor,” my voice was barely a froggy whisper. The solid baritone that then acknowledged me was not a familiar one. “Nay, I am not your lackey man at arms.” The shock of the unfamiliar did little to boost my abilities and I simply shock my head. “Relax, Cathal, I’m no enemy.” The man handed me a cup, “drink, sit, others will come soon.” I drained the cup he offered and held it back to him. Coughing wracked my chest and my vision blurred as I struggled to breathe. When I finally settled I wiped my lips to find them coated in blood. “I’m dying.” The baritone voice scoffed, “Nay again, Cathal. You have too much to do to dye yet.” My vision swam again, the air around me became bracingly cold, I saw windows open and the wind whip the curtains. With a fatherly pat on my head, the man slid his arm under my shoulder and hefted me to my feet. “Come on, boy. There is something to see.” He guided me slowly to the open windows, the ground outside was covered with a new frost, the sky clear. I blinked as the bright sun pierced my eyes. Between the manor and stable four beautiful bay horses stood. They were dressed for pulling and as I watched a fine carriage, gleaming with gilt and filigree rolled forward. He horse’s tack matched the leathers of the carriage. Fine fabric graced the interior seats, the colors mirrored on the banners draped over the animals. “What importance is this? A lady’s carriage?” The man beside me shook his head, “Cathal, again you are wrong, this is the carriage fit for a king. These horses the finest blood. Cathal blood.” His voice warmed my thoughts. I looked again and watched as the coach and four pulled away from the manor. “I don’t understand.” He looked down at me, again with that fatherly patience. “Cathal, second son, use your brain, your hold and your skills to become known for something other than failing on the battlefield.” I looked again, shook my head, “to what end?” The man smiled at me, as he did, his voice deepened, his eyes brightened. Brightened so much I had to look away, “Cathal blood, silly foal!” His voice shook my soul, “Cathal blood!” My head swam and I began coughing again. Blood foamed on my lips as I tried to breathe, I scrabbled, flailing, grasping in the frantic fight to breathe. I felt the curtains in my fists tear away as my vision blackened and the world dimmed.
Eranna and Dor burst through the door followed by the stable boy. Cathal lay crumpled by the bed, blood on his lip and soaked from sweat and spilt water. The dark room smelled sour. Eranna was fuming as she knelt at Cathal’s side. “By the Gods! That’s what the noise was about! Dor, get him back to bed. Boy, get clean water and rags, and bring my herbs, quick now!” The boy tore out of the room and Dor carefully lifted the frail body of his lord back to the bed. He righted the table and kicked the porttery shards to the side. Eranna parted the heavy drapes and opened with windows to allow fresh air into the room. The pale light of the early morning barely penetrated the room but a sweet summer breeze drifted into the room. Dor stepped back from the bed as Eranna approached with the tail of her apron to wipe the blood from Cathal’s mouth. She peeled back each eye lid and watched his chest rise and fall with each inhalation. Dor watched then placed his hand on the woman’s shoulder, “Eranna, is he dying?” Eranna slapped his hand away, “Don’t invite the demons of death! He is weak but the fever has broken, look at the sweat. He is not dying!” Dor nodded sheepishly, “Sorry, Eranna. He’s ust so pale, and his breath rattles.” Eranna nodded, “Aye, but he’s survived the worst of it, the wounded is healing and the blood fire is gone. Most don’t get through that, so he’s on the mend.” Eranna seemed to be talking to herself more than Dor. When the boy returned with the supplies, Eranna busied herself with herbs and salve while Dor cut the bandages from Cathal’s arm. The wound bled but no longer stunk of death. Dor let himself hope that Eranna was right.