By Darkness Hid, Chapter 21

This chapter was posted for teaching purposes to go along with a blog post on Go Teen Writers

 

 

Chapter 21

Scene one, Achan’s POV

 

Achan Cham.

Achan lay on his stone bed, staring at the cobwebs hanging down from the ceiling, and trying to ignore Sparrow. The runt was sitting outside his cell, picking at his mind with some strange trick that penetrated his walls and drew a headache.

He was still mad at the boy. Bran had asked him to deliver Achan’s stuff, not ransack it. The whelp had no business snooping. Achan sighed. He should’ve read Gren’s letter.

He lifted his head and thunked it down gently on the hay-strewn stone bed again and again. Everything looked the same in his cell no matter the hour. He had no idea what time it was. Late. Sparrow had brought him dinner hours ago. The prisoner down the hall had stopped moaning.

So many times since leaving Sitna, he’d meant to read Gren’s letter. He didn’t want to admit he hadn’t done so because he was afraid of what it might say—but what else had stopped him? He’d likely never see Gren again. Probably he didn’t read it because her words would’ve felt so final. Like she’d died somehow. In a way, Achan guessed she had.

Still, that Sparrow read Gren’s words when Achan had not… It was like the runt held a secret that wasn’t his. Something about that bristled the hair on his arms. Now he wanted to know more than ever what Gren had—

A crash in the corridor outside Achan’s cell shot him to his feet. He darted to the door and peered outside. A man with shaggy, blond hair and a black cloak bent over an unconscious guard and pulled the keys from his belt. Achan flattened against the wall behind the door and waited. The bolts on the lock clicked, the door swung open, and the man stepped inside Achan’s cell.

Sparrow’s voice broke the silence. “What are you doing?”

“Where is the squire?”

“Who are you?” Sparrow asked.

Then came a scuffle, and the lad screamed like a girl.

Achan jumped out from behind the door. The man had pinned Sparrow to the floor. “Hey!” Achan kicked him in the side. “You looking for me?”

The man sprang up and elbowed Achan in the temple.

Achan went down, head throbbing. He rolled, trying to stand. He could hear Sparrow struggling and whimpering, but everything blurred before his eyes. He focused on his breathing, trying to clear his head.

The man’s blurry form leaned over him. A finger wormed between Achan’s lips and a woodsy liquid dribbled into his mouth.

Achan tried to spit the substance out, but a hand covered his mouth and held him down until he stilled, his eyes drooping. The man hoisted Achan off the floor and slung him over his shoulder. The door slammed shut and the lock clicked into place.

“No!” Vrell’s voice. Pounding on the door. “Guards! Help!”

Where were the guards?

Achan’s captor ran through the maze of dark corridors and down a flight of stairs, making Achan’s head bounce with each step. Achan wanted to protest, but words wouldn’t come. Blackness shrouded his vision.

The bouncing stopped. “Inko!” his captor said. “Help me.”

Achan felt his body lowered onto an unstable surface. Pale, yellow light danced over a dark, craggy ceiling. A cave?

“Did you be giving him the soporific?” a low, raspy voice asked in a jilted accent.

“Aye,” his captor said.

Achan felt like he was falling. He gripped the wooden edge of something, which caused the bed he lay in to rock. A boat! He was in a boat in some underground canal. The motion made him queasy, and he focused again on his breathing until the pale light faded to black.

Over the next period of time—minutes? days?—he jerked in and out of consciousness, only to feel lost in a dream. Had he been taken into Darkness? Had they crossed over to the other side of the Evenwall?

Eventually they stopped. Someone lifted him out of the boat and tried to help him stand, but Achan’s legs were as faulty as his vision. Cool air gripped his pores. Water sloshed against a wall of some sort. A single torch burned to his left but did not shed enough light to help his cause. Footsteps clunked over hollow-sounding wood. A drawbridge? A dock?

Again he was tossed over someone’s shoulder and carried up several flights of stairs. A door creaked open. His captor brought him inside and lowered him onto a firm surface. Achan wanted to wake and see where he was, but sleep won out before he could focus.

 

*                *                *

 

scene two, Achan’s POV

 

Achan awoke on a straw bed. He swung his legs off the side and managed to sit.

He first noticed a small fire burning in a smoke-stained hearth. It brought the only light to a small room. He blinked. Bare walls, the ceiling dripping with cobwebs. A scuffed wooden floor. Achan turned to the other side of the room and jumped.

A man with grey skin stared at him. He sat in one of two mismatched chairs at a battered table on the other side of Achan’s bed. His white hair grew straight up off his head like a round hedge. Like his abductor, this man wore a black cape.

“Who are you?” Achan asked.

“You may be calling me Inko.” The man nodded, eyes fixed past Achan’s shoulder. “He is being named Sir Caleb.”

Sir? Achan swiveled his head back past the fireplace. His wild-eyed kidnapper sat on the wooden floor beside his bed, leaning against the bare wall. His chin-length hair was frizzy and light, maybe blond. He looked to be middle-aged. The firelight darkened the weathered lines on his cheeks and forehead. “You’re a knight?”

“Aye. We both are.” Sir Caleb smirked. “Or were.”

Were? “What do you want with me?”

“Only to hold you until our master arrives.”

Dizziness washed over Achan. He propped a hand on the bed to steady himself. “Who is your master?” Achan blinked fast to regain focus. His voice sounded far away and hollow. “And what does he want with me?”

“All in good time.” Sir Caleb stood and pushed Achan back down to lie on the bed.

Sleep, lad. Sleep.

Achan’s eyes fluttered closed, then snapped open. He bashed a fist into Sir Caleb’s jaw, hopped off the bed, and managed to run to the door before crumpling to the floor in a haze.

Inko swept him up and tossed him back on the bed. Sir Caleb grimaced and massaged his jaw.

Achan glared. “Don’t play with my mind!” He tried to focus on the allown tree but his head merely throbbed.

Sir Caleb’s wild eyes grew wider. “It’s true? You can bloodvoice, then?”

Achan feigned ignorance and scooted back on the bed until his back touched the wall. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Those who can sense it have the power to do it themselves.”

Achan remembered Sparrow’s warning that some would seek to abuse his power. Playing the fool was his best defense for now. “What power?”

“Bloodvoices.”

Achan forced a cynical laugh. “You speak of kingly fables. No such ability exists in the real world of flesh and blood. Besides, I’m not a king.”

Sir Caleb leaned over the bed, his shaggy hair framing his face like a sunflower. His bulging eyes glistened in the firelight. “The gift runs in royal blood. You do not have to be a king to have it, although you may be.”

 

*                *                *

 

Scene three, Vrell’s POV

 

Vrell banged on the door of Achan’s cell and called for help until she lost her voice. Finally, one of the guards regained consciousness enough to stagger to the door and let her out.

She ran to Master Hadar’s chamber to report. She found him sitting at his desk, writing. She sucked in a long breath. “Someone has taken the prisoner, Achan. He’s gone.”

Master Hadar bolted to his feet. “Who?”

“I know not,” Vrell said, her heart still beating wildly from her run up eight flights of stairs. “He locked me in. I—”

The door flew open and banged against the interior wall. Lord Nathak strode into the chamber. “You!” He pointed at Vrell. His eye was bloodshot and bulging. “You were left to watch him and warn your master of any complications. Where is the stray?”

Vrell shook at the volume of his voice. “I-I am sorry, my lord. I-I do not know.”

Lord Nathak seized Vrell’s shoulder and held a dagger up to her throat. “Where?”

Vrell choked back a sob. “Please, my lord! I-I do not know!”

Lord Nathak gripped the side of her face and stared into her eyes.

Master Hadar hurried over. “Lord Nathak, please allow me.”

Lord Nathak released Vrell with a slight push and she stumbled.

Master Hadar’s sunken eyes drilled into hers. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Vrell explained how the man with the wild hair had attacked her and carried Achan away.

“Can you sense the squire?” Master Hadar asked.

Vrell shook her head.

Lord Nathak pointed the dagger at her throat again. “Try.”

“Seek him out, boy,” Master Hadar said. “You’ve spent enough time with him. It shouldn’t be difficult.”

Vrell did not want to. If someone had rescued Achan, he was better off not being found. But if she did not try, she could face Lord Nathak’s blade. Yet even if she reached out, Achan could block her. He had been blocking her all day. She was too good a teacher, it seemed.

Vrell closed her eyes. She cupped her hands over her face and breathed in the smell of the clove and calendula ointment that lingered on her hands. She thought about Achan’s scruffy face, dark hair, and grey eyes.

Images of a dark chamber grew in her mind.

“He is close.”

 

*                *                *

 

Scene four, Achan’s POV

 

Achan Cham.

Achan lifted his head off the straw mattress. Sparrow?

Are you safe?

He wasn’t certain. He lay on his side on the straw mattress, hands bound behind his back, ankles bound too. But he sensed no hatred or hostility from his captors. Both men sat at the table mumbling to each other. He certainly didn’t want to go back to Lord Nathak. I don’t know. They’ve bound me.

Lord Nathak wants me to locate you.

“No!” Achan thought of the allown tree, and Sparrow faded away.

Sir Caleb was at his side in an instant. He sat on the bed beside Achan, a fresh bruise swelling on his jaw. “I’m sorry for the restraints. You left me little choice.”

Achan’s heart thundered in his chest. Who to trust? He sighed heavily. He’d take his chances with these men over any life with Lord Nathak. He decided to confide this truth. “Lord Nathak is looking for me.”        

“How do you know?” Sir Caleb asked.

“He’s using Sparrow.”

“A bird?”

“A boy. The old man’s apprentice.”

Inko jumped to his feet and bounded to the bed. “Be blocking it, quickly!”

“No. Let’s see what they know.” Sir Caleb nodded once. “Tread carefully.”

Achan pictured Sparrow’s small, ever-blushing, round face and narrow, green eyes. Voices from that targeted location flooded his mind, and he cringed as his head filled with pressure.

You must be patient, Lord Nathak, Hadar said. The boy can do it. The old man stood over Sparrow, sunken eyes like stone caverns. He wanted Sparrow’s secret.

Achan frowned. What secret?

The boy is too slow, Hadar! Lord Nathak screamed, pushing the old man closer. Do it yourself.

I cannot, Hadar said. I’ve spent no time at all with the squire. Leave it to Vrell.

Vrell? Achan frowned. Oh, right. Vrell was Sparrow’s first name.

Lord Nathak pushed the old man away and seized Sparrow by the hair. Something sharp bit into the boy’s throat.

Coldness flashed over Achan. He clutched the stinging tickle at his neck but found no weapon. All he could feel were the prickles of his own need to shave. Sparrow? I feel pain at my throat. What are they doing to you?

Achan heard Sparrow speaking aloud to the men. He rambled, sobbing, hysterical. He’s in a dark room… Two men are with him… The one who attacked me is there. I cannot— Sparrow sobbed, then quietly, like a whisper, Achan, do you want to be found?

Achan glanced at his captors. No. I don’t think so.

I cannot see anything else, Sparrow said aloud to Lord Nathak.

Lord Nathak slapped Sparrow with the back of his hand then pressed the blade to the boy’s throat again. Find him! Your life depends on it.

No, Lord Nathak, Hadar said. You must let me do this.

Sparrow gasped and broke into a long sob. The boy’s pain and regret seeped into Achan, bringing tears to his own eyes. He could hear Sparrow’s feelings.

It is too difficult to keep up this charade, the boy thought. I cannot pretend any longer. I want to go home to be with—

Sparrow let out a high-pitched scream. Achan winced as an icy vise gripped his head. Only it was Sparrow’s head that was hurting. Sparrow’s ears that were tingling.

Sparrow?

Hello, young man, Hadar’s cold voice rang loud between Achan’s ears. Vrell is helping me to reach you. Aren’t you, Vrell?

Achan heard Sparrow whimper.

What have you done to him? Achan asked.

He’ll be fine. A little weak, perhaps, but he’ll recover. Lord Nathak cannot hear us, gifted one. So listen carefully. I have a proposition for you that does not involve him.

I’m not interested in your propositions.

Is not Vrell your friend?

Achan paused, thinking of how Sparrow had taken care of him, maybe saved his life. But the little snoop had read his letter. That’s debatable.

Sir Caleb prodded Achan’s shoulder. “What do you hear?”

Achan ignored him. He needed to know what Hadar wanted.

Your bloodvoice is very strong, Achan. I can mold you into a powerful man. Meet me at dawn tomorrow behind the tavern called Mig’s Pit.

Why should I?

I hold Vrell’s life in my hands.

There was a long silence and the pressure from the old man’s mind lessened its hold on Sparrow. Achan heard the old man speak aloud. I can see no more than Vrell, Lord Nathak. A dark bedchamber and two men. I don’t recognize either and now the squire has—

Achan regretfully pulled back and closed his mind. Goosebumps broke out on his arms at the sudden warmth. Or was that the lack of coldness? The gods had truly forsaken him, if there were any gods. The moment he was free of one crazy, manipulative master, he was forced into the service of another.

He looked at Sir Caleb, who was staring intently at him. “What do you want? Do you want to teach me too?”

“Teach you what?”

“How to use my oh-so-powerful gift?”

“I don’t give a pig’s eye about your gift.” Sir Caleb got up and stoked the fire. “I just do as I’m told. What did you hear?”

But Achan wasn’t sure he trusted these men any more than Nathak or Hadar. His wrists chafed against the rope that bound him. He inched around until he was on his side and could see Sir Caleb. “What’s so great about bloodvoicing anyway?”

“Well, for me and Inko, bloodvoicing is one of the reasons for our recruitment and quick promotion in the Kingsguard. The ability makes us better soldiers.”

“You’re both Kingsguards?”

“Old Kingsguards, in case you were not noticing,” Inko said.

“At least I still have color in my hair,” Sir Caleb said.

Inko snorted. “Very little of it.”

Achan lifted his head. “You’re Old Kingsguards? Do you know Sir Gavin?”

Sir Caleb smirked. “Aye. The name sounds familiar.”

Achan’s head turned between the two knights, studying their expressions. “Well, why should Lord Nathak care so much about me?” Achan asked. “I’m nothing to anyone.”

Sir Caleb blinked his wide eyes. “The question itself should lead you to some conclusions.”

“It does not.”

A pounding rattled the door. Achan pushed himself into a sitting position, hoping this might be his chance to escape. Though how far he could get with his ankles bound, he didn’t know.

Inko’s eyes glazed slightly and he broke into a narrow smile. “What has been taking you so long?” He unlocked the door and pulled it open.

Sir Gavin bounded into the chamber.

Achan broke into the first true smile in days. His stomach filled with light, joyous air.

Sir Gavin was a mess. He looked like a hunchback with his red cape jutting out over a massive backpack. The cape was soiled with dirt and as wrinkled as his forehead. His beard braid frizzed out so much that Achan almost couldn’t see the braid.

“Did you come on foot?” Sir Caleb asked.

“The forest is vast, my friends. Still, I made a two-weeks’ journey from Tsaftown in five days. Was that not fast enough for you?” Sir Gavin looked to Achan and bared his wolfish teeth in a wide smile. “Hello, Achan.” Then he frowned at Inko and Caleb. “Was it necessary to bind him?”

“Yes.” Inko shut the door and settled back in his chair. “He is otherwise being a handful of ants.”

Sir Gavin dropped his pack and crossed to the bed.

“Careful,” Sir Caleb said. “He’s gifted strong. He comes into you with massive force.”

Sir Gavin smiled and winked his brown eye. “Aye, he does.” He sat on the bed and loosened the bonds on Achan’s wrists. “I’d expect nothing less from this one.”

“You sent them to free me?” Achan rubbed his wrist, then the other. “Why didn’t they just say they were with you?”

Sir Gavin shrugged and looked to Sir Caleb. “Why didn’t you just say so, Caleb?”

“I barely understand this mission, Gavin. You expect me to spill my guts to a stranger? I left the business of talking to you. He has been bloodvoicing with a boy in Lord Levy’s manor. Lord Nathak seeks him.” Sir Caleb sat on Achan’s other side and put his elbows on his knees. “Tell us, boy, what did you discover?”

Sir Gavin looked at Achan, his mustache curling up in another smile. “You’ve learned to bloodvoice?”

“Sort of. Sparrow taught me some.” Achan paused, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “He says I’m strong, and his master wants to take me as an apprentice.”

“Wait.” Sir Gavin put a hand on Achan’s shoulder. “Who’s this Sparrow?”

“Lad who was with him in the dungeon,” Sir Caleb said. “Pudgy little thing. Screams like an old hag.”

“A criminal?”

“Macoun Hadar’s apprentice,” Achan said. “Sparrow took care of my wounds. Used to apprentice for an apothecary before the Kingsguards took him.”

He’s the one who called out to me then!” Sir Gavin reached down and untied Achan’s ankles.

Achan’s eyes widened. “Sparrow called out to you? When?”

“Two nights ago. He said your life was in danger and gave me the location of your cell. Freeing you couldn’t wait until I arrived, so I sent Inko and Sir Caleb.”

Sparrow had called Sir Gavin? Then he had saved him. And now he was suffering at the hands of Nathak and Hadar. He had to try to help his fellow stray, this Vrell Sparrow.

Sir Gavin tugged on his beard braid. “You say the boy is Macoun Hadar’s apprentice?”

Achan nodded. “Who is Macoun Hadar, anyway? Some royal cousin?”

“He’s King Johan’s illegitimate son.” Sir Gavin slipped off his boots and stretched his legs out. “Which makes him King Axel’s uncle, of sorts. He’s not to be trusted, Achan. Macoun Hadar operates on his own agenda. And his age drives him to desperation.”

“What do you mean?”

“He goes through several apprentices a year, uses them to do what he cannot. He spies on people. Knows more secrets than Arman himself.”

Achan smirked. “Can’t be that bad, then. Arman knows nothing compared to Isemios.”

Inko sat straight up in his chair. “What? Isemios? The boy is not already believing in the Way?”

“Why would he?” Sir Gavin said. “Who in Sitna would have taught him right? They worship Cetheria there.”

Inko shook his head. “I am being much hesitant, Gavin. Are you having certainty about this—absolute certainty?”

Sir Gavin yawned. “I am, old friend. But even if I’m wrong, his character speaks for itself. And anything would be better than what we have now.”

Achan kept trying to follow, but could not understand this thread of conversation.

“But there is Prince Oren,” Sir Caleb said. “He is a believer, at least.”

Sir Gavin folded his arms. “We shall take it before the Council and see if the truth will set us all free.”

“Wait!” Achan yelled. “What are you talking about?”

Sir Gavin patted Achan’s shoulder. “Nothing to worry yourself with today, lad. Did you learn anything from this Sparrow?”

Achan reluctantly let his confusion go. “He could sense this room, but not its location. He sensed two men with me. Then Hadar used Sparrow to speak with me.”

Inko sucked in a sharp breath.

Sir Gavin’s eyes zeroed in on Achan’s. “What did he say?”

“He wants me as his apprentice. He said he has a proposal for me that doesn’t involve Lord Nathak. And he said if I don’t meet him at dawn, Sparrow will die.”

“Fire and ash!” Inko jumped from his chair and paced to the door. “I am telling you, we should not be mingling with this man.”

Sir Gavin turned to Inko. “We’re not mingling with him. We’re avoiding him.”

“But he will be sitting there to be hearing it all. To be knowing our plans.” Inko motioned to Achan. “It could be that he is listening right now.”

Achan scowled. “I know how to block.” Thanks to Sparrow.

“Don’t worry,” Sir Gavin said. “He’d find out soon enough regardless. It’s in Arman’s hands. He’ll see justice done.”

Achan grew ill of this coded banter. “What of Sparrow? Can’t we help him? He’s a smart little twig. And he’s helped me more than once. Maybe you could use a healer like him on your assignments.”

“We don’t get assignments anymore,” Sir Caleb said. “We’ve been banished.”

“By who?”

“The Council of Seven,” Sir Gavin said. “I’m the only one who still gets to serve, though even I am not considered an active Kingsguard. I don’t know how much longer they’ll use me at all. Over the past few years, Lord Nathak has corrupted several Council members. As have Macoun Hadar, Lord Levy, and a dozen others. They all seek to fulfill personal agendas.”

Sir Gavin sighed. “When Prince Gidon takes the throne, the downward spiral will happen quickly. All who seek truth are being banished or killed. Their false gods have corrupted their minds. They’ve all lost their way and will drag Er’Rets into chaos and war if something isn’t done.”

War? A chill ran over Achan. “What can be done?”

“You’ll soon see.” Sir Gavin twisted his beard. “Now, tell us where you’re to meet Macoun Hadar, and we shall try to save your little friend.”