The gloom of the stone-walled space in which Gareth lay, suited him. He was deep inside Guardian Mountain, the twists and turns of the tunnels leading to this small cave were confused in his mind. He had no idea how he would get out. That is, if he had any desire to get out, which he didn’t. His only desire was to lie here and suffer. He deserved it. He was a failure as a protector. The only thing he had ever really cared about in his life and he had failed miserably. He turned his face toward the wall and saw only grey stone, flecked with black. Perfect, he thought.
Gareth heard scuffing footsteps enter through the cave opening at his back. He recognized the light steps as the Healer Deoren, who visited each day to change the wraps on Gareth’s leg and tend his wound. Gareth knew his leg wasn’t healing as it should. He heard the inhalations of distress and softly voiced exclamations as Deoren unwrapped his leg, inadvertently jostling the painful appendage and causing him excruciating pain. Gareth gritted his teeth and bore through it.
He didn’t know what the healer looked like. He never turned over or engaged her in any way. He listlessly tolerated her ministrations and waited for her to go away. But he couldn’t avoid her voice, low, melodious and calming. Deoren chatted as she worked. Over the days she had told Gareth all about Guardian Mountain, and how it was honeycombed with openings small and large, housing the Guardian’s Contracteds, as well as an enormous community of Flier Folk. She waxed eloquent about her own Guardian, Del, going on and on about how beautiful, wise and brave he was. She more than once made the point that Gareth should get well so he could get up and view the wonders of Guardian Mountain for himself.
The chatter only served to drive Gareth deeper within himself. He didn’t want to hear about the other’s in Guardian Mountain. He didn’t care about the wonders of the light- filled spaces . He especially didn’t want to hear about her brave Guardian. They all deserved to be here. He didn’t, lying abed, wounded even before the fighting began.
His mind looped back over familiar, painful territory. Three times Ell was in terrible danger, three times it was Terris or Moss who saved her. How was that even possible? Tiny Moss? And how about Terris? When Gareth first met Terris he was a cowardly, greedy little man, hoarding food like a tree climber. Then he changed. Gareth had to admit to himself that Terris had changed. So much so that Gareth considered him to be a friend, a man Gareth respected and trusted. Terris has done better protecting Ell than I have. I’d choose him at my back any day.
A dark, provoking voice insinuated itself into his thoughts, slithering and cold. Would Terris choose you to guard his back? Would Lisle? How about Ell or Moss? Why would they? You’d just get yourself shot and be useless to them. You are pathetic, a useless worm of a man.
The voice chilled him to the bone, and a feeling of horror shuddered through Gareth’s body. The inner voice had a creeping quality, entwining itself into his awareness so cleverly that Gareth never suspected the thoughts were not his own.
Mind wandering, Gareth remembered his childhood and growing into a young man. He had never had reason to question his abilities. He led and others followed. That’s just the way it was for him. As a boy, the other children looked up to him. They sought to earn his friendship and respect. He had never questioned the fact that he didn’t have to earn their respect. It came naturally.
But not anymore, said the voice, turning his attention away from the memories of self-respect as if they had never happened.
No, thought Gareth. Not anymore. How can I face Terris or worse, Lisle or Ell, even Moss? What must they think of me, always wounded, useless? I am pathetic.
It’s that Guardian’s fault. She thinks she’s so special. She’s not.
The idea stunned Gareth. It appealed to him, even as his logical mind objected. Maybe it was the Guardian’s fault, he thought. He’d never have been shot if not for her. He’d have been sitting in a tavern with Lur, enjoying himself. Then he’d never have felt this pain.
It’s her fault. She’s to blame.
Yes, thought Gareth. It’s her fault. Anger sparked, burning away at the grey folds of depression wrapped about him.
The following day, Healer Deoren found Gareth in the same position she always found him in, lying on his side, back to the door, staring at the greystone wall. He had been withdrawn and sullen ever since they brought him in. She unwrapped Gareth’s leg, noting the sudden grimace of pain on his face. He surprised her by turning his head and staring at her, dark eyes hard. He said nothing, his eyes piercing her.
Deoren didn’t like the looks of those eyes and she didn’t like the looks of Gareth’s leg. The area around the wound was hot and reddened, swollen, obviously painful. The wound itself oozed a yellowish fluid, the edges white, un-healing. No, she didn’t like the looks of this at all. Deoren looked back at Gareth’s face. The man still stared at her. Unnerved, Deoren checked her own inner responses, an integral part of her healing practice. She felt a creeping sensation, something revolting spreading within him. It felt like infection, but none she’d ever encountered before. It worried her considerably.
She rewrapped Gareth’s leg with fresh herbs and bandaging, her increasing anxiety driving her to work as quickly as she could. She didn’t want to be there any longer than she had to. There was something wrong here and she needed to find out what. She left Gareth’s bedside deeply concerned for the young man. What was preventing him from healing? What was that awful creeping sensation she felt inside him?
Deoren looked up and noted gratefully, the carefully tended lanterns hanging at regular intervals along the passageway deep with Guardian Mountain. The light reflected back from the walls in countless tiny sparkles. So beautiful, she thought, then shook her head and sighed deeply as her thoughts strayed back to the angry, young man she’d just left. Dispiritedly, she traced the long, familiar route to the Cavern. There, she would immerse herself in the loving wisdom of her Guardian, Del. Maybe together they could find an answer.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28
Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37
Chapter 38 Chapter 39
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