Thursday, September 20, 2018

Flash Fiction #321 -- Connor of Northgate/5

Lord Northgate did as she ordered, letting his mind clear as he accepted that he had survived to make it home.  He recalled everything, and the anger must have shown in his eyes, though he hadn't the strength to make any other show.  Magra gave a grim nod, though, as if understanding his mood. She said nothing.

He sipped tea imbued with herbs and magic.  They'd taken him to his own rooms, and he looked about the tapestry covered-walls and at the window thrown open to the warmth and bright light.  He had expected a storm still, and that made him wonder how long he'd lain here, senseless. He didn't worry about himself, though.

"The woman -- Clarice," he said softly.

Her eyes told him the truth before she spoke.  "The poison got into her system, Lord Northgate.  We've done our best to keep it from the child as well, but she cannot live much longer.  The healers say it is best if the child is born within the hour.  A little young to be brought into the world, but the healers will keep him safe.  No, be still.  The poison, Lord Northgate -- the healers even from the Queen herself could not get it from your system.  They've found a way to hold it at bay.  It will not kill you.  Not yet."

The news sent a chill through him, but he still moved to sit up.  Magra clucked her tongue in protest but finally helped him.  The room spun, and he gasped, but he stayed conscious.

"I must see Clarice before she dies," he said; horrible words.  Humans lived such short lives, and that always bothered the fae, but to have the lives cut short by foul magic, and to have lost those precious years to help protect him was a heavy weight on his soul.

Magra went to the door and called others.  She might have used magic, but they were used to doing things for themselves here at home.  Magic was for other places; to use it too often made a fae lazy and eventually deadened his very soul.  They were not merely creatures of magic, the fae.  They were bodies as well, which Lord Northgate knew too well as he tried to stand.

He tottered to his feet before Godewyn and Tage arrived.  Both looked ready to argue, but Magra silenced them before they began to protest.

"He needs to see the fine lady who helped save him.  There will not be another chance."

So they gathered him up, Magra adding a little magic to help him as he moved.  They went through the dark, cool halls of Northgate Keep, a place of loss and sorrow today.  He would have to ask about all those who had died here.

He would have to find out how and why this had happened.  This had not been merely an attack of trolls, a random outbreak of their old hostilities.  They had poison and needles to deliver death that could not be countered, and trolls would not have managed that subtlety on their own.  Something had set the trolls on this path and given them the power to arrive on the wind.

He would find the answer.

They arrived at the door to a guest suite, not very far from his own rooms though it had felt like miles.  A soft knock brought Isole out, tears in her eyes.  She bowed her head to Lord Northgate and took one ragged breath before she spoke.

"The child comes now, my Lord.  You cannot go in to see her until this is done.  She is courageous, is Clarice.  Calm.  She knows she will die, but the child will live.  Sit here. This will not take long."

With a wave of her hand, she made a bench for him; a kindness and he settled there, trying to calm the hard beats of his heart and the dread that came over him, knowing death lingered only a doorway beyond.

Isole went back inside the room.  He caught a glimpse of a bed, of several healers, of Clarice's dark hair falling across a pillow.

They waited in silence.

Not long.  He heard the cry of the child, a quick protest at being born.  A good cry, for all the trouble that came with this birth.  He sounded strong.

Isole arrived almost immediately at the door.  Her eyes were dry now but her face bleak.

"Quickly, sir.  There is little time."

He stood without help, the others hurrying to keep up with him as he crossed through the door and into the room.

Clarice looked to him and gave a little nod, as though she had no more strength.  He could see her eyes fluttering and felt the magic that kept her from the pain that would have dragged her down and made this moment anything but calm.  He gave a grateful nod to the healers, all of whom stood in a solemn array to the far side of the bed now.  One of them held the baby, wrapped in a blanket of spring green.  The child moved.  The healer laid the bundle upon the bed, nestled in the woman's weak arm.

"You -- you will take care of him?" she whispered, looking to Lord Northgate.  The words were bare sounds, her eyes flickering.  "Promise you will --"

"I give you my promise that I will do all to keep the child from harm," he said.

Magra and Isole both took startled gasps.  He had put power into those words, and such a promise meant more than words to a fae.  He had taken the child fully and completely into his care.  He thought that somehow Clarice might have understood as well.

"What will you name the child?" he asked, fearing each breath would be the last.

"Chad liked Connor," she whispered, tears of loss in her eyes.

"Connor," he said with a bow of his head.

By the time he looked up, she had died.

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