“Healing isn’t working on him, no matter what I do”
The knight showed a face of bewilderment for a moment. Bran widened his eyes, various thoughts racing through his head. Elea lifted her head from his chest and looked at the priest, taking some moments to gobble the situation. Sir Hadrin’s voice rang again:
“What do you mean?”
“You can try and see if it would work for you. I weaved many spells in different manners, but they always fade away upon entering him”
The priest retracted his hands, the frown not leaving his face. He looked dumbly at the situation and then approached them quietly.
Bran looked at the knight. The man gripped his sword, and the gem encrusted into it shined intensely. Sir Hadrin’s face showed more surprise. After some moments, the light died out. No change happened over Bran’s wounds. Elea looked at Bran, numerous feelings appearing in her eyes. The boy could feel her worry for him.
He tried to calm the panic in his mind. The knight and Elea may be surprised about the oddity of this situation, but to him, that didn’t matter as much as another pressing matter. The bone of his leg was fractured, and he couldn’t heal it with magic. Panic took hold of him again. He wouldn’t be in optimal form in a month and half.
He cursed in his head. Why couldn’t he get healed? He had a suspicion it was because of his curse. He tightened his lips in frustration. It was definitively because of it. There was no other thing that could be the reason. His hate for the god of death Ayleth grew more intense. Meaningless questions started flooding into his mind, even though he knew he wouldn’t find an answer. Why him? Why did the god want to play with him? Why didn’t he just outright kill him? Did he find pleasure in his current suffering?
The priest came up to them. He started talking about something. Bran ignored him. The knight turned toward the boy and said something. Bran ignored him. Elea just kept looking at him, worry apparent in her eyes. Bran ignored them all. Worried voices reached his ears.
He let his head fall on the grass. He felt scared of what was to come. The bone of his leg was cracked. Surviving through the fifth tribulation was already close to impossible even in his optimal state, let alone now. He looked at the sun, a sudden fatigue overwhelming his mind and body. He always kept struggling to survive, and a small spar made all his desperate hard work go to naught.
The sun was rising in the sky. Rays of its light were falling on his face. They held no warmth. The world seemed very peaceful. If only this moment could go on forever.
He felt something heavy on his body. He raised his head slightly to look. It was Elea. He felt slightly guilty for worrying her. She was hugging his body tightly. He patted her head. He was tired.
He let his head fall on the grass again, and closed his eyes. Thankfully, the knight and the priest noticed his mood and became silent. He knew his behavior was extremely disrespectful to them, but he was too tired to care. He would apologize later. Shock was still numbing his mind for the moment.
He had to survive. He couldn’t let this stop him from going on. The situation was indeed hopeless, but it had always been that way. He refused to give up. He could still continue. He remembered Celek. His uncle may know some way to get himself into top form. There was some hope. He cursed this situation, his fate and life. Looking at it in the long term, there was no escape from death, even if he survived his upcoming tribulation.
It wasn’t as cold as in the morning, or maybe he was just still hot from exertion. He felt Elea’s heart beating. Following its rhythm, he felt his own breathing become steadier. His mind followed suit. He would rely on his uncle about this. No need to overthink. He opened his eyes. As his eyes settled on the girl, he felt guilt in his heart. There were tears in her eyes, and she was whispering something. He couldn’t hear it, and he didn’t understand why she was like this, but he knew it was related to him.
He looked up. The knight was frowning pensively, the gem in his sword shining sometimes. The priest was pacing around. The knight, seeing Bran becoming focused, said:
“Bran… Do you have any idea why healing doesn’t work on you?”
His tone seemed hesitant, like he was suspicious of something. As Bran was about to answer, the priest interjected, his voice full of anger and disgust:
“There is only one way that would happen. He is a spawn of evil! A creature that lost the grace of the true god Azelf!”
The knight lifted his hand, stopping him. His frown got deeper. Bran was surprised, his mouth agape, and then a laugh erupted from him. He forgot about his predicament for a moment. He had heard a few stories about spawns of evil, but he never knew that they couldn’t be healed. Elea tightened her hug around him, confused about his reaction. It was starting to hurt him, but he said nothing about it. He fixed the knight with his eyes. The priest seemed to be seething from anger, waiting for any opening from Sir Hadrin to attack the ‘heretic’.
Bran understood. This must be what worried Elea. Most people heard gruesome stories about the so called spawns of evil, and Elea must be one of them too, and yet she remained by his side. It made him feel warm, but also worried.
He certainly knew more than most people about the evil spawns, and he knew how much people exaggerated about them. He didn’t know if them not being to heal with Azelf’s magic was real, but he was sure he wasn’t one of them. They were mostly followers of Ayleth, but sometimes they didn’t belong to any god yet were still called evil spawn. He cursed Ayleth again in his mind.
The boy slowly shook his head. The priest glared at him harder, but the knight kept him from doing anything foolish. Bran was thankful for that. He didn’t want to fight any other magic user right now. His hand went to Elea’s face. She was still clutching him tightly. He touched her chin with his fingers and held up her face. Their eyes locked into each other for a moment. He saw numerous emotions in her eyes. He had expected at least a tiny bit of fear in them, but he was surprised there was none. She was genuinely worried about him. He sighed in his heart. The girl was too naive. She trusted in the good of people too much. He had to leave her; else he would only hurt her and make her lose this innocence later.
He patted her head. He would think about that later. He would have to deal with this current situation first. He pushed Elea slightly away, and with huge effort, he got up unsteadily, using his sword as a makeshift support. Her whispers were slightly louder now. He could hear some of them. She was firmly saying he wasn’t one of them. He looked at the knight. The man was still frowning, but not as hard as before. Bran said with a firm voice, looking straight at his eyes:
“No, I am not”
“Lies! What are you if you aren’t a spawn of evil!”
The boy ignored the priest’s outburst. He waited for Sir Hadrin’s answer. The man kept silent for a moment, his eyes not betraying his inner struggle, and then sighed. In a defeated voice he said:
“I believe you. You don’t feel like a spawn of evil, and I won’t point a finger of distrust at you just because healing doesn’t work”
The priest seemed taken aback by the knight’s words. He opened his mouth, wanting to protest, but as Sir Hadrin fixed him with one of his intense stares, he closed his mouth without saying a word. He kept glaring at the boy though. Bran didn’t care much about the priest. At most it would give birth to some unpleasant rumors about him at town. It was nothing but a small pebble compared to his current problems. He had to be careful nonetheless, a pebble could still hurt him in some situations. He racked his brain for a way to deal with this predicament, but he found nothing. His mind still felt some panic about the upcoming tribulation, and it couldn’t work properly.
He smiled at the knight. It was a weak smile, but it would do for now. The man didn’t smile back. Just as they were becoming closer, this had to happen. He offered his hand for a handshake to the boy and said:
“I apologize for wounding you. It was a good duel young man”
Bran shook his hand and said:
“You have nothing to apologize for. Even I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to be healed. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to fight with you”
It felt a bit weird to wrap things up this way, but Bran wanted to get away as fast as possible. The knight seemed like he didn’t want to keep conversing too. The boy looked at Elea. She was glaring at the priest. He put a hand on her shoulder to support himself, and then held the sword toward the knight.
“You have my gratitude for letting me try this sword. It is a good one, although a bit weird”
The knight finally showed a small smile, and he pushed the sword back toward the boy.
“You can keep it” Bran opened his mouth to refuse, but the knight continued “Think of it as another apology. I messed up your face and leg very badly, so this should be the least to give in compensation”
The boy smiled and took back the sword. It certainly didn’t compensate the amount of problems he would have in the future because of this spar, but it was still a really good gift. He didn’t think he would find a smith here that was good enough to forge such a durable and sharp sword. He thanked the knight again. He didn’t meet a lot of such men in his life.
A young man approached them. He was dressed poorly. The knight recognized him and said:
“It seems your horses are ready. I bid you farewell, young man” Sir Hadrin looked at the still glaring Elea “If Celek is willing, tell him to train the girl hard, and give him my greetings”
Elea looked quizzically at the duo, before widening her eyes in realization. She tried to protest, but a stare from her mentor pinned her down. Bran sighed. He had to learn how to do that from the knight. The girl was proving to be his biggest weakness.
The knight’s smile got a bit friendlier as the boy bid him farewell. The priest this time tried to interject, but Sir Hadrin stopped him and a heated discussion broke out.
Bran ignored them. By interjecting, he would just make more trouble. He kept his hand on Elea’s shoulder, and sheathing the sword into its scabbard, he used it like a cane. He turned around and started following the stable boy. The girl followed him. She must be still bewildered by this turn of events. He too still felt a bit overwhelmed. He took his ripped cloak he had left on the ground earlier.
The stable boy laid them toward three horses attached to a poll. They were straddled and properly equipped. He recognized Mara, Eleanor’s horse. She was brown, close to red. A white and a brown horse were near her. As he got closer to the horses, Elea suddenly stopped and said:
“I forgot to bid farewell to my father”
Bran sighed. He nodded at her, as she made it back toward the manor.
Bran rode his brown horse down the Bourg, his sword sheathed at his side. Elea was riding silently at his left with her head hanging down. Their pace was slow enough that it seemed that were taking a stroll. The white horse was reserved for Celek, and was being led by the other two.
Some people were looking at him. He wasn’t surprised. He had a broken nose. At least Elea had wiped the blood from his face. She had asked some servants to some basic first aid to his wound, but he didn’t agree. His leg bone was only cracked, not entirely broken, and Celek has been waiting too long for him already.
The girl near him didn’t talk at all. He had thought about bidding farewell to old Will, but he remembered his situation. He wasn’t guaranteed to be alive after two months, and he didn’t want to give him farewells in such a situation. The same was for Elea. He had to find a way to make her stay. Even his survival was impossible, let alone hers.
He thought about something else. He never noticed until today, but behind her usual facade of a dominant girl, she was just a naïve kid. That would be normal. She grew sheltered under her father’s wing, in a land that relatively faced no danger. She must know about people’s viciousness, but knowing about it was different from living it everyday and dealing with it. He suspected the lord sent her with him on this trip for this reason. She had to learn the world’s cruelty first hand.
He cursed the lord in his head. Bran wanted her to remain innocent, untainted.
They soon reached the gate, and went out of Terrowin. Her voice, faint but decisive, reached his ear:
“Bran, you aren’t an evil spawn.”
He smiled at her, and his hand shot up in a dismissive gesture.
“Of course I am not. Evil spawns are merely legends”
“But… Why couldn’t you get healed?”
Bran remained silent for a second. He considered lying to her, but he opted against that. She deserved better than that. She stood against her mentors earlier to support him. He would never be grateful enough. He gave another question back:
“What do you think about the future?”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. It was an odd question, and it seemed like he wanted to avoid answering. She still answered though:
“What is there to think about? I will simply take up the lordship of this land from my father”
Bran was thankful she didn’t make any allusion about them getting married. He still felt some melancholy in her voice. He decided to push further:
“That’s what is supposed to happen, but is it really what you want to happen?”
Elea stopped and looked at him, her brows furrowing deeply. Her eyes seemed in a daze, like she was hesitating, struggling against herself. For long moments she remained silent. He was about to tell her to forget about his question, but she opened her mouth slightly and whispered:
“I want to…”
He concentrated on her words. She looked slightly embarrassed, frowning and averting her eyes. She took a deep breath and said in a barely audible voice:
“I want to see and explore the wide world”
Bran’s mind paused for a moment. He didn’t expect such an answer. He quickly regained his senses and blurted:
“That’s weird. Why such a thing?”
The girl sent him a glare, and he knew he messed up. Before he could say anything, she said:
“You are the weird ones. Such a wide world and yet few show interest in exploring it! I saw a world map in my lord father’s room once, and it’s huge. I must find a way to show it to you in the future”
Bran smiled, seeing her talk so vehemently. He had already seen a world map, and has memorized most of it. He remained silent though.
The girl thought for a moment, and then said:
“We shouldn’t always remain caged here. I envy you for always traveling around with Celek”
He remained silent for some moments. He wondered how she thought about such a thing. Did she also say she envied him? He inwardly laughed. His travels were nothing that enjoyable. It was always practical, always in order to look for more ways to survive. His face turned grim.
“Don’t stay silent…”
Her faint, embarrassed voice shook him out of his thoughts. Some red had crept into her neck. He sighed and said:
“By becoming the ruler of this land, you’ll often travel around to sign treaties and such. Isn’t that good enough?”
He certainly had no thoughts about traveling around for enjoyment. Maybe he was shallow, but survival was the most important thing to him, and he would keep trying to stay alive, even if the situation was as grim as now. Enjoyment was meant for people who didn’t have to see death everyday. He gritted his teeth.
“The position of a noble wouldn’t let me enjoy it properly”. Elea mumbled. “It can never compare to true freedom”
He frowned and started organizing his thoughts. He had been merely asking to satisfy his curiosity, but now he felt guilty for being an obstacle that would hinder her from reaching her desire. Each three years a tribulation that only got exponentially harder as he grew older awaited him, and he had no means to protect himself.
She faced a greater obstacle though, being her father. She was an only child, and as the lord showed no desire in marrying again, she was destined to be his sole successor. He may be lenient and let her learn swordsmanship, but he would never let her abandon her future position.
Her next words confirmed his thoughts:
“All of these are just dreams. My lord father would never allow such a thing”
Her horse started walking forward again, her back carrying intense melancholy. He followed her. They had chosen to go on the main road instead of the forest. It certainly made the travel longer, but with his wound, and knowing his bad luck with beasts, going through the forest would be suicide.
He loved Elea, but he couldn’t stay with her. He would destroy her future. He cursed himself. He was too much of a coward to firmly tell her to leave him, and he knew she wouldn’t comply. The only way to push her away was to hurt her, and he would never do that. He cursed himself again. He needed to become more decisive. Each step they were taking at the moment was making her dream more difficult to achieve.
“Bran, don’t try to make me forget”. Her voice woke him up from his reverie. She pleaded : “I answered you, so please answer me, why couldn’t you get healed?”
He gritted his teeth. After some hesitation, he said:
“I… I don’t know, really. I am sure though that I never did anything against Azelf or anyone following him”
He didn’t lie. He didn’t know why he couldn’t get healed. He only had a suspicion it was because of the curse the god of death Ayleth put on him. He had thought a three year tribulation, and a permanent bad luck were bad enough as results, but he was proven wrong again. Magic couldn’t even heal him because of it. He would have to find some way to break his curse someday, though he knew it was impossible. His family had looked at over thousands of ancient rare books, without understanding anything about it. It was odd he survived till now.
Her voice came out dispirited and disappointed, almost hurt. It stabbed at his heart. As she averted her eyes, he understood what she must be feeling. It must hurt when your loved one hid things from you, but he could do nothing about it.
He didn’t know what would happen if he told her about his curse, but he knew he shouldn’t tell her. He was strictly forbidden to tell it to anyone. He couldn’t predict what would happen if the population or the numerous cults would do if they heard about it.
He sighed. He could feel a lot of pain in his leg, but he was used to pain. He decided to ask Celek about everything. He relied too much on him, but he could do nothing about it.
Bran knew he was weak. He didn’t even have the strength of pushing his loved one away.
With a defeated spirit, he walked forward. The red mountains were as tall as ever, and the road was still long.