Posted by DarthKrzysztof
A vicious beating had left the prisoner’s face a bruised, bloody mess. The man in the cage posed no apparent threat, but Fingal kept his eyes locked on him while speaking to Quinn and Callum. ”’E told us redcaps killed all ‘is bodyguards,” Fingal said.
Callum scratched his head and asked, “But left him alive?” before Quinn could. Callum was the same age as Quinn’s older brother, Tormod, with long black hair and the beginnings of a beard. Callum knew he performed a great service for the clan in training Quinn, and his tolerance for Quinn’s eccentricity made the two young men a good match.
“Aye,” Fingal replied. “Because ‘e’s a wizard. Like I told ye.”
Quinn’s nerves jangled. He’d never dared to think that a wizard would pass through Invershire. He’d certainly never seen one… had he? Quinn had some idea of what a wizard was supposed to look like, after all – and the man in the cage, younger than Quinn’s father, with his clean-shaven face, earth-colored tunic, and breeches, didn’t look like that. “Did he…” Quinn began. “Did you seem him cast any spells?”
Fingal laughed until he coughed, then sketched a rough wink at the boys. “Nae, lad. ‘E told us ‘e were a wizard, and warned us not tae interfere with ‘is business in Faerie. When a man tells ye ‘e’s a wizard, ye dinna give ‘im the chance to cast a spell at ye.”
Faerie, Quinn thought. This man has business in Faerie.
Callum drew himself up to full height, saying, “The chieftain wants yer help with the pyre, Fingal. We’re here tae relieve ye.”
“That is a relief.” Fingal hauled himself to his feet and dusted crumbs from his chest. He favored the boys with a wry smile. “Ain’t been a witch burned in Invershire in all yer lives, I dinna think.” When the boys nodded, Fingal’s smile reached his ears. “Oh, you won’t forget it.”
“Any advice?” Callum asked as Fingal headed for the door.
“Aye. Dinna talk to ‘im. If ‘e says anythin,’ hurt ‘im ‘til ‘e stops. I’ll be back for ‘im at dusk.”
The prisoner never budged or made a sound. Quinn made small talk for an hour, trying to keep his anxiety in check. Finally, when the time came, he asked, “How’s Skye?”
“Well enough.” Callum glanced up at Quinn before returning to sharpening his knife. “What do ye care? I thought ye didn’t like her.”
“Nae, it’s she who dinna like me. What’s the difference? You like her.”
“Aye,” Callum grunted. “That I do.”
“So? How is she?”
“In trouble. Her Da caught her sneakin’ out tae see me, and now he’s lockin’ her in the house a’night.”
“Sorry tae hear it.” The thought of someone else touching Skye didn’t bother Quinn like it used to; he was just too odd for Walkinshaw women. If he was lucky, he might find an equally odd bride among the neighboring Dalelands. Relations between the clans always needed improving…
Callum glanced down the length of the blade before snapping the dagger back into its sheath. “It’s been nigh on a week since I saw her last, Quinn.”
“That’s rough. Ya know, she is doon by the river right now…”
“Aye?” Callum said at once, nearly leaving his seat before slumping back down in a huff. “Nah, her Da’s like as watchin’ her down there, too.”
“He’s a woodcutter, Callum. He’s out gatherin’ wood for the pyre. Dinna ye see him?”
“Aye, that he was. Still.” He jerked a thumb at their prisoner. “What difference does it make? We’ve got tae sit here an’ watch him.”
Quinn waved a hand, trying to look casual. “He’s not makin’ trouble. Why dinna ye go and see Skye? I’ve got this.”
“Are ye sure?”
“Suren I am. If Fingal or someone comes by, I’ll tell ‘em ye’ve gone to the privy. And maybe when ye get back, I can slip off for a bit.”
Callum grinned like a fool and clapped Quinn on the shoulder as he got to his feet. “Ye’re all right, Quinn! Ye’re all right.”
“It’s nothin.’ What are friends for?”
Once Callum was gone, Quinn counted to a hundred, then stood up and moved toward the cage. “Hey,” he muttered. When the prisoner didn’t reply, Quinn shouted “Hey! You!” Still nothing. He thought about harassing the man with a stick – or a bucket of water – but that didn’t seem like the best course of action. Finally, he said, “Do ye want tae get out of here?” The prisoner’s head twitched, but he said nothing. Quinn moved closer to the cage. “I can see ye breathing, ye know. I can help ye, sir. And I will. But ye’ll have tae talk tae me first.”
With great effort, the prisoner pulled himself up in the cage, squinting at Quinn through swollen eyes. “Quinn,” the man wheezed. How does he know my name?
Because he heard Fingal and Callum using it, ya daft eejit. He’s been listenin’ all along. “Aye,” Quinn managed.
“If you want to… help me… don’t have long.”
“I know. But ye’ve got tae tell me some things first. Are ye really a real wizard?”
The prisoner nodded. “If you kill me… you’d be a hero.”
“Nae, I dinna want that. What’s yer business in Faerie, then?”
“Can’t. Secret. Swore.”
Quinn sighed. “All right, then. Where did ye come from?”
“Mystral. Island… island of mages.”
A whole island of mages? Quinn drew in a sudden breath. “And when ye’re done with Faerie, ye were going back there?”
“Was. The idea.”
“Right,” he said. “Then I have an offer for ye. I know how to get to Faerie. And I’ll take ye there.”
“Won’t let you in,” the prisoner groaned. “Secret.”
“Fine,” Quinn said quickly. They were running out of time. “I’ll wait for ye at the border, then. But, when ye’re done, ye have tae take me back with ye tae Mystral.”
Quinn thought the prisoner would need a moment, but he said “Done” at once.
With a shrug, he reached for the ring of iron keys. “Done and done,” Quinn said, completing the accord. “Now, I dinna ken the worth of a wizard’s word, but a Walkinshaw’s oath is his life. I’ll ask ye tae keep that in mind.”
Quinn unlocked the cage. With some effort, he hoisted the prisoner, bearing most of the man’s weight on his back, and sneaked him out the back door, into Cashiell Forest.
They made excellent time, and Quinn finally stopped to catch his breath as daylight began to fade. “What are you doing?” the wizard gasped, as Quinn lowered him onto a boulder. “They’ll be after us by now!”
“Got your breath back, then.”
Indeed, the wizard’s vitality seemed much restored, but more by fear than by rest. “We’ve got to keep moving!”
“Nay. We’re too close tae the Faerie border. No one ever comes doon here. Well, no one else but me.” When Quinn realized that the wizard had pulled himself up on his elbows for a better look at him, he asked, “Somethin’ on yer mind?”
“You’ve never left Invershire, have you, Quinn?”
The wizard seemed to be waiting for more, but Quinn had nothing to add. Finally, the wizard asked, “Do you ever expect to come back here again?”
“I only ask because I doubt you took time to say any farewells.”
Quinn shrugged. “Nah. I dinna want anyone guessing at what I was doin’. What business is it of yers, anyhow?”
“None. I’m sorry. I just assumed that you… that your family was more important to you than this.”
Quinn looked down at the fist he didn’t remember making, and willed his hand open. “Then ye’re wrong, wizard. My family’s all that’s ever mattered tae me. But nothin’ I ever done’s been good enough for them, or – or the clan – so I’m leavin’. Runnin’ away, like a coward. Before I make things any worse, for them or for me.”
“The place where you’re born isn’t always the place where you belong, Quinn. I’m willing to bet that you’ve never felt like you belonged here.”
Quinn shrugged. “I ne’er thought so, nae. But it’s the only place I’ve ever known, so it’s hard tae say.”
“Then it’s good that you’re leaving. A young man needs to see the world.. but someday you may regret skipping your goodbyes.” The wizard hauled himself off the rock and brushed dust from his clothes. “If you’re feeling rested, I must insist that we continue. We shouldn’t be wandering these woods after dark.”
“Fair enough.” Quinn realized that he still didn’t know this man’s name. “Um… what should I call ye, anyway?”