Chronicles of the Martlet Book 2
A cottage in a wood, somewhere in the Realm of Daouail
Kian only needed a mouthful of wine. Just the dregs at the bottom of a carafe would stop the pounding in his head. The thick red liquid in the bottle was too salty to be wine, but the pressure on his lips echoed the memory of it.
Poison. Kian had tasted this blood and chemical mixture before: Master Candlewick’s healing potion. His brain screamed at the betrayal, but his mouth could not form the words. He wanted to drink. If he couldn’t have wine, poison would do. Anything to stop the burning memories.
Above him, three faces blurred. He was back where he started in the unending nightmare of slavery. This place was a trap. The witch, her handsome nephew and the man who claimed to be his lost brother would sell him again. He would rather die than live as a slave. He wouldn’t let the witch sell him. He would kill her if he could.
The poison burned his throat and pooled into his gut. Heat rose from the center of his being and raced through his veins. Night wind whistled through the cracks in the cottage’s stone walls, sweeping a deathly chill across his skin, but Kian was on fire.
He screamed until his voice grew raspy. A cooling hand rested on Kian’s brow. He observed it was small, mostly ivory with ruddy and wrinkled knuckles.
Larger hands gently smoothed blankets over him and bound him to the mattress with layers of rope across his chest.
Eohan, if you really are Han, don’t sell me, Kian wanted to cry, but darkness took him utterly. His last sensible thought was that he would like to bite his brother and taste his blood. Maybe then he would know if Eohan was real or not.
Watching Kian’s head loll back onto the mattress, Eohan worked to ensure his younger brother’s comfort. He slipped his fingers between the thick wool blanket and the ropes. The binding wasn’t tight. It would allow Kian to easily roll over but would stop him if he tried to rise.
Eohan tucked the blanket over Kian’s pronounced clavicle both for warmth, and so he didn’t have to witness the birdlike fragility. Kian’s scrawny chest was thinner than Eohan’s thigh. Of course, Eohan was seven years older, but had he been this small at eleven? He couldn’t remember. The brothers’ late-mother’s hazel eyes and scarred backs were the only resemblances. Eohan received his raven hair, considerable frame, and darker skin from his biological father. Though Kian was still growing, he barely brushed his brother’s massive shoulder. Kian always looked like their Pa, a lanky man with strawberry-blond hair and fair complexion. Now Kian looked half-starved, in some way stunted.
Alana forced open the boy’s mouth. The coating of white disappeared, and the flesh became pink. Kian’s flaking lips healed. His pallor went from a sallow sickly gray to the blush of health before their eyes.
The thick creases on the lady’s face relaxed into wrinkles; tears sparkled in her blue eyes as she wiped the sweat from Kian’s brow.
Eohan’s heart swelled with gratitude for her compassion. He couldn’t have asked for a better master and friend. After the strange string of events that brought them together,
Alana had taught and protected him. She treated him as she treated Roark, her own nobleborn nephew. She had searched the Realms -- and found -- his little brother who had been sold multiple times. She fed, clothed him and even gave the last of her healing potion. Eohan wanted to thank her for the sacrifices she made, but the words in his head sounded stupid, trite, and unworthy of the noblewoman.
He was still figuring out what to say when Roark said, “We have a problem.”
At the window, a gull squawked; a Guild mission scroll tied to its leg.
“Hopefully, it’s a small one.” Alana wiped her eyes on the edge of her nightdress’s sleeve and went to retrieve the scroll.
“What do we do, my lady?” Eohan asked, feeling an ache in the back of his throat. “I can’t leave him again.”
As was the War Ender’s habit, she did not look up from the parchment. “I wouldn’t expect you too. Corwin wants a favor from me.”
“But we did everything legally,” Roark said, tossing a crust of bread to the messenger-gull. “Who is Corwin to ask for favors?”
“He’s the Guild House Master of Olentir and will be for many years yet,” Alana replied in her “don’t be a cumberworld” voice which she saved for the rare moments when she was irritated with one of them.
Eohan winced, but Roark remained beside his aunt and studied the scroll.
“Why in the lowest Realm would Corwin care about this?” Roark asked.
“I doubt he does. I’ll learn what he cares about on the job. Keep the other two safe.”
Alana wrote a short message on a piece of parchment, tucked it into the gull’s scroll tube. The bird squawked and side-eyed the bread. Roark tossed it another morsel. The gull flipped its head toward the ceiling and swallowed, bobbed its head and flew out the window.
“Yes, Auntie, I will, but you aren’t waiting till morning?”
Eohan hid the roll of his eyes. He hated when Roark called the great lady by a silly endearment -- though he only ever said it in private.
“I should leave immediately.” Alana put an overtunic over her nightdress and gathered her saddlebags. “There’s enough food in the safehouse for a week, but keep your snares set to extend it. Once Kian wakes, he’ll need meat … I craved meat and blood after I took the potion.”
“Yes, my lady,” Eohan said with a painful lump in his throat.
She stretched woolen socks over her feet and laced up her boots. “I’ll return as soon as I’m able, but don’t wait for me. If you aren’t here, I’ll meet you in Eyredeir. If Kian could travel, I’d send you now.”
Alana grasped her nephew by his elbow and whispered something else. She kissed his cheek and passed him a small bag of coin. By the roundness of the bag, Eohan did a quick mental calculation -- easily enough for travel and lodgings to Eyredeir.
“Be well, Eohan, and keep your brother under a watchful eye.” She hurried out to the stables.
Roark leaned against the door frame. Eohan came beside him and watched their master lead her horse into the darkness. The moonlight caught a flash of Alana’s silvery braid before she disappeared into the wood.
“If I could kill him, I would,” Roark said.
“What did Corwin ask?”
“You won’t believe. She needs to rescue some slaves from her list and bring them to Sildeir instead of Eyredeir.”
“Why?” Remembering how Corwin looked down upon him, Eohan felt a sour taste in his mouth. “Corwin doesn’t care about commoners much less slaves.”
Roark shrugged. “Maybe for House Silba, but I don’t know. He’s up to something.”
“Why does Corwin hate her?”
“He doesn’t. He hates she chose to stay on the job when House Eyreid was under attack.” Roark’s eyes shut and shook his head as if he were trying to dislodge the memory. “And he hates that if he had been in Alana’s shoes, he would have made the same decision. I wish I hadn’t read his mind. It was easier to loath him before.”
Eohan thought it was still pretty easy to dislike the House Master but didn’t say anything. “Did Lady Alana tell you anything more?”
“She just said, ‘Only the potion is dangerous. Kian might struggle with the bloodlust. He’s still so pale.’”
“I hoped she whispered the answer to our problems.”
Roark shrugged. “Well, she told us to ensure Kian eats meat. I’ll check the snares in the morning. Maybe we caught a rabbit or something.”