Author’s Note: This is the conclusion of Part 2 of the prequel blog serial entitled “What is Needed”. Click on these links to read Part 1, Part 2 (first section), Part 2 (Conclusion), Part 3 and Part 4 This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga). The events of the blog series pre-date those of The Bow of Destiny by several hundred years but include several long-lived characters who appear in the forthcoming novel. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent.
What is Needed (Part 5)
by P. H. Solomon
Their chains clanked and scraped the stone floor as the three of them shifted.
Zelma’s resolve slipped into weeping while she clung to Hastra’s hand. “How are we alive?”
“I don’t know.” Hastra touched her blood-stained dress and the hole where the Kregen stabbed her. She ran her finger along the line of her mortal wound but found no blood. Best not probe that further. She withdrew her hand and squeezed Zelma’s with the other.
Howart cleared throat. “It’s the prophecy. We live because of it.”
“Why not the others then?” Hastra chewed her lower lip.
Beyond Zelma, Howart’s chains rattled. “What is needed is given.”
Hastra mumbled the response with Zelma. “But what has been given besides life? We are chained in darkness and useless here.”
“We must wait and see.”
“Perhaps.” He had a better grasp of the moment than she. They might be waiting for the rats to chew them to the bone. She shuddered. Did my heart beat? Would she live through the pain of rat bites? She squeezed Zelma’s hand again. Best not mention anything to her.
The time passed and Hastra dozed. She awoke to rat’s fur brushing her ankle. She kicked with both feet. The rat squealed and it pattered away.
Zelma gasped at Hastra’s commotion. “What’s that?”
“Nothing, just woke from a dream.”
“I heard something running on the floor.”
Hastra jumped as Howart’s deeper voice boomed in the silence. “There are rats in here.”
Zelma’s chains rattled as she pulled her feet closer.
After that Hastra sat awake and waited for the rat to return. Teeth gnawed on boards in the darkness and matched her hunger pangs. At least she still got hungry. She rubbed her raw wound inside her dress. Better than the alternative.
Later, the door’s lock snicked open and woke Hastra. Light shined around the edges of the door. Trolls with food or they’ll drag us before Kregen again. It wasn’t a flickering torch. She stirred and her leg-irons scraped the floor. A rat squealed as it scrabbled away.
Howart and Zelma woke with groans as the door opened. Hastra squinted at the glow and her eyes watered. A silhouette stepped into the doorway. Her chains clicked and fell open. She gasped as the figure with the wide-brimmed hat waved them to the door.
Zelma leaned close grasped Hastra’s arm. “What’s going on? Who’s that?”
Hastra patted her sister’s trembling hand and opened her mouth to speak. The hat – he’s the one who healed me. “I think we should follow.”
Howart kicked his chains away. “Who is it? Why should we follow.”
“First, he’s got a light. Second, he let us loose and third, he healed my leg several months ago.” Hastra struggled to her feet and her knees wobbled.
The stranger moved into the passage beyond the room and the light faded as he walked away.
Howart stumbled to the door. “Hurry, he’s leaving.”
Hastra and Zelma leaned against each other and followed. They stepped into the hall as their rescuer turned a far corner. The three Withlings hobbled after the light past broken doors and intersecting passages that stretched into brooding darkness.
They arrived at the stairwell out of the lower cellar and Howart paused. “This isn’t the way out. It’s back up to Kregen and trolls. Should we risk it?”
Zelma climbed a few steps before she turned back. “Maybe they are gone and this man came to free us.”
Hastra followed her sister. “Stay in the dark but I think we have no other choice.”
They gained the upper cellar and drew near the stair to the keep when the noise of trolls echoed from above them.
Howart stretched his thin arm in the sisters way. “Still here. Where’s he leading us, back to them?”
The man’s light faded and then grew brighter. He waved to them. “Come, it’s safe. There’s food for you.”
Hastra shrugged to Howart and pushed past his out-flung arm. “Think how he set us free without keys. I’m following him. Anyway, he says there’s food.”
Hastra scurried on the stair and the other’s feet scuffed on the stone behind her. They needed the food soon. She’d faint without it. She touched the rent in her dress where Kregen’s knife-blade killed her. There were too many miracles in this since that moment.
The Withlings gained the main level and hustled after the man in the wide-brimmed hat. Lumps lay in the shadows of the unlit main hall.
Hastra’s gaze touched the hand at the moment Zelma gasped and wept. They’re dead, all the Withlings were dead. Fixed stares greeted Hastra wherever she whirled.
Zelma covered her mouth with her hands. Howart gaped and his eyes bulged from their deep hollows. They wound through the hacked bodies until they stood by the door to the dining hall where trolls hooted and snarled.
Their rescuer waved his arm into the room. “Eat, take what you need. When you finish I will show you out.”
Hastra whispered in spite of the din from the trolls. “But we’ll be seen. They’ll kill us.”
The man in the hat pointed to a table where no trolls sat. “I have everything you need prepared. Go on.”
She glanced at her companions and their doubtful expressions. He had set them free without keys. Hastra peeked into the dining hall. The trolls fought and laughed, their tusks and fangs flashed in the light. She’d run if they noticed her. She held her breath and stepped through the doorway.
The trolls never noticed her. Hastra lowered her head and scurried toward the table laden with food. Around her trolls howled their vile glee but none of them even glanced her way.
At the table Hastra snatched food without thinking and shoved it in her mouth. She chewed and groaned. Howart and Zelma joined her and they ate their fill. Howart found sacks into which they shoved the excess for provisions. They returned to the doorway and the man in the hat.
Hastra bent and cocked her head as their rescuer strode past her. She never quite saw his face. She hefted her bag and walked behind the sight of his brown coat and hat.
The man in the hat led them to the chapel. Benches and chairs lay overturned and they picked their way through the ruined room.
Their rescuer kicked a pile of broken wood and pointed to a leather-bound book lying spine up and open. He cocked his head to Hastra. “You must take this burden. Write the prophecy in it and all your visions.”
Hastra stumbled through the refuse, knelt and gathered the book to her breast. She blinked tears and nodded. She knew him now. She wiped her sorrow from her cheeks.
“Time to leave.” The man in the hat turned the wreckage. The three surviving Withlings trailed after him.
They followed out the front door but turned to a postern gate down the wall.
Hastra blinked under the gray sky and the brushed her hair across her face. She sucked in a long breath. Clean air. At the gate Hastra paused with her companions.
The man in the hat pushed the gate open. “Go to the old tower if you still serve as Withlings.”
They shuffled out the gate. Here the chill wind snapped their tattered cloaks and bit their faces. Hastra hobbled on the narrow trail beyond the walls of Withling’s Watch.
Zelma’s voice rang in the gusts. “He’s gone. Who was he?”
Hastra cocked her head at the gate and motioned to her sister and Howart. “Come, we’ve a mission to fulfill now. Maybe we’ll see him again.” It’s just us now. “What is needed is given.”
End of Part 5 (Part 6 will be re-posted on 12/20)
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