Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 11)

Halthor took the bowl of soup that was offered to him. The long silence that came after the elder priest, Moridan, told his tale had made the builder uncomfortable. "What becomes of me?" he asked when the younger priest, Mavora, refilled his cup of ale. Halthor took the cup and ran his thumb along its side, worn smooth by countless hands holding it. The young man pushed the bits of fish and tubers around in the bowl with his spoon.

Mavora noisily slurped the broth from his bowl. Ewen gave his uncle a look of mild annoyance as he chewed on the tan bear root and wondered if the tuber should have cooked a little longer to be less tough. As the ferryman considered if the toughness of the predominant vegetable in the soup was due to preparation or the fact that it was from a dried bit that was a few months old, he looked at Halthor. The builder's hands seemed too large to hold the horn spoon that was perhaps as long as his ring finger, at best. The dark colored horn seemed worn and possibly discolored. Ewen idly wondered if the spoon was a tooth gift to the man from the north.

Moridan watched Halthor eat slowly with a look of gloomy exhaustion. "You carry your father's blessing," Moridan said, "And that of he who is father of the fair ones. I doubt that an evil fate awaits you." At Moridan's words about his father, Halthor abruptly straightened and looked over at him in surprise. For a moment, a queer expression crossed Halthor's face as a thought passed through him. Though Moridan was skilled in the art of reading men's expressions and actions, he wasn't sure what went with the look that passed over his foretold guest's face.

"My father cursed the day I was born," Halthor said, "He murdered my mother. He would not bless me even if the Light Father appeared before him and commanded it."

Moridan set his bowl aside and leaned towards Halthor. As he did so, he peered intently into his eyes. A curious sensation came over Halthor, as though a long thread was being pulled from within him. Halthor shuddered and looked away. Moridan, however, did not need to see more. The visions that filled his mind as he looked into Halthor answered his questions, revealing scenes from Halthor's life, including those that it would be impossible for him to remember, such as his conception.

Moridan picked up his bowl and considered how to state what he learned. He knew clearly the anguish that Halthor suffered over the rejection from his mother's husband. If he wanted, he could touch where each bruise had been left and name the reasons why. "Halthor Sigridsonne," Moridan said solemnly, "the man that murdered your mother was not your father. It was the man who raised you." Halthor looked at Moridan in disbelief.

"Your mother married Kori Blackheart because of a prophecy she heard the day you were planted in her womb. The Good Mother's babbling daughter told Sigrid that your father would die an evil death the day you reached manhood. She turned her eyes upon Kori to spare Aleric Builder that fate, for her bones told her that you were within her fair field," Moridan explained, "Your red hair does not come from Kori's bloodline. Your mother's grandmother had hair like yours, even with the elf locks that come at dawn."

"How..." Halthor started. He looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling vindicated in the thought that he had since a child that his hands were like Aleric's. "How do you know this?" Halthor asked as he raised his eyes, "How did Aleric... My father, how did my father die?" Moridan looked at his bowl of soup. Halthor leaned forward and set a hand on Moridan's knee. His eyes silently plead for some sign that he was wrong, that Aleric still lived. Moridan's expression turned uncomfortable. "Please," Halthor plead in a voice that was almost lost in the pop and crackle of the fireplace.

"The black priests will send their dogs back again at dawn," Moridan said briskly, picking up his bowl and seeming to study its contents, "You should eat and make ready to leave at the first signs of gloaming. Ewen will see you to the traveler's rest. Davian should have all things ready for you when you get there. He has a sense about these things, like his brother." Halthor didn't move. Moridan glanced over. Pain shone in the young man's eyes. Moridan closed his eyes in an attempt to hide the surge of shame that rocked him.

The image of the fevered priestess babbling at Sigrid as the woman did her best to help break the fever with her poultices even as the other priestess plied her efforts in prayer assailed the old man. "The fickle child of the Light Father will take away the father of your child," Moridan said. Halthor went still. Moridan opened his eyes. Halthor's attention was caught by the snapping of a knot of resin in one of the pine logs. "The fickle child," Moridan started to explain in an apologetic tone when Halthor turned his attention back to Moridan.

"Fire," Halthor said. He looked over at the fireplace, haunted by the scene from his nightmare. "They burned him alive," he stated in a hollow tone, "He was sleeping but he didn't wake. The guild thought he was dead because he didn't stir when they pricked his foot with a pin or shouted in his ear. So they wrapped him in his shroud and burned him." Halthor found his taste for food fled him. He moved to set the bowl aside when Moridan stopped him.

"The sleeper who has the sleeping sickness does not feel pain," Moridan said, "It was all but a dream to him."

Halthor looked down at Moridan's hand on his wrist. The old man's skin seemed some odd cross between leathery and papery. Beneath it, he could see blue veins. He saw old scars across the back of his arm and the stag tattooed on the inside of Moridan's wrist. Halthor thought of the tattoo he saw on the inside of the king's wrist. A stylized lily was hidden within the antlers of the stag on the king's wrist. The priest's wrist, however, bore a simpler stag and something like a spear woven through the antlers.

"I am caught in the stag's crown," Halthor said. Moridan gave Halthor a sympathetic smile.

"The stag shall bear you to safety, if you do not fight him," Moridan said, "And his children will aid you."

Halthor looked from Moridan's wrist to his face. "As they aided my father?" Halthor asked bitterly.

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