Highshield Book I is available for preorder right now through all but Amazon, but it will be there soon. Thank you for taking this journey with me, I hope to revisit this.
Highshield Chapter XXIX
© 2017 Randolph Lalonde
There was a school of perch nearby, so many that he wondered if they’d be impede the broad riverboat’s passage as it moved through them. He could feel the life around him in the river as the boat moved on, from the bottom feeders, and crabs to the ancient sturgeon that gave the boat a wide berth.
He was faintly aware that he was waking up – slowly, hesitantly – and his senses were more open than ever. He merely thought of the children and he could sense Tadrin and Oria above. They were healthy, happy, watching crewmen lower a net into the water. The moaning of a man next to him woke Rendiran completely. He couldn’t help but ask himself if it really was a dream – being so well connected with nature was something some Ondi were known well for – and he tried to reconnect with the creatures he’d sensed before he roused from sleep completely.
Just as he thought he was about to manage it, he heard another person nearby groan, and he opened his eyes. He was in a pile of furs in the dimly lit hold of what must have been a large river boat. “That’s why I must have felt the fish, we must be under the waterline,” he muttered to himself as he looked around. There were dozens of refugees, many of whom were injured.
He was still dressed, the toes on his right foot were still missing, as were all but his index finger and thumb on his right hand, well, he had a knuckle left on his middle finger, but that barely counted as half a digit. The nubs were healed over, there was no pain, so he crawled out of the furs and stumbled to his feet. He moved to the nearest moaning commoner, he leaning against an older woman. It was surprisingly difficult to keep his balance with no toes on his right foot, but he managed a little grace as he knelt down in front of them.
His energy had returned, and other than a dry throat, he felt better than ever. Even with missing pieces, he’d never felt so alive, and there was something else, something new that he couldn’t name just yet, but he didn’t want to lay around any longer. “I’m a healer, and would like to help if you’ll let me,” he said.
“My Bruun got his leg gashed and burned,” the woman said. “They gave him something to make him sleep, but he’s still half waking.”
“Let’s see,” Rendiran said as he lifted the rough blanket off the young man’s leg. The burns were severe, and the cut was worse. “Tousled with an Ember Knight?”
“Nail on a board as we left our home,” the woman corrected. “I would have died in the flames if he didn’t pull me out.”
Rendiran didn’t attempt to heal the boy using his old practices, with song and prayer and ceremony, but tried the practical method of restoration that he learned from Drikson. With only a little energy the wound was closed, the burnt skin was healed, and the corruption coursing through his blood was purified. “He’ll wake soon,” Rendiran said. He noticed a burn on the back of the woman’s hand and healed it as easily as he might have brushed a fly from his arm. “You should get some sun if there’s room out there.”
“Thank you,” she said, astonished. “We don’t have much, but...” she attempted to hand her a few iron and copper coins hanging on a string.
Rendiran smiled and pressed the coins back into her hand. “You’ll need those.”
“Healer? Can I have help, healer?” asked a young man with a thick accent. Rendiran followed him to a man who was doing his best not to cough. The stench of corrupted flesh and a pierced bowel hung around him in the dark, and Rendiran didn’t wait for an explanation as to what happened to him, or offer niceties. “Hold him still, and put this back into his mouth,” he said, picking up a finger length stick from where it lay with the man in his hammock. Rendiran leaned against a post for stability and closed his eyes. This was a real challenge, but he’d mended worse. All his life he primarily trained as a healer, and with more power, a better understanding of magic than ever, he put his knowledge and experience to work. Rendiran corrected the man’s ruined flesh as he felt his way through his body mentally – there was no need for the laying of hands, cutting or any of the other things a Bright One healer might do.
There was a great deal of dead material, and its removal caused incredible pain, but the relief followed only a few breaths later as Rendiran forced new flesh to grow in its place. In only three screams the man was whole and healed. The piece of wood fell from his mouth, and Rendiran found himself drawn into an enthusiastic embrace. “I thought I’d leave my boy alone today,” his patient said to him. “Thank you for keeping us together.”
Rendiran was thankful that the refuse from healing the fellow had fallen on the other side of the hammock, and returned his smile. “You’re welcome,” he said. “You should go clean yourselves up and get some air.”
After realizing that he didn’t feel fatigued in the least, Rendiran went on to hobble his way around the large hold, healing every injury he found. After he’d mended more wounds than he could count, he heard the running of little feet. “Rendiran!” cried Tadrin, who was only a step ahead of Oria. Rendiran tried to kneel gracefully, but ended up half falling to his knee as he lost his balance on the way down, but he managed to catch Tadrin and Oria in his arms as they collided with him at a full run. Crista was behind them, smiling and watching with crossed arms. “We thought you left us,” Oria said.
“I had to make sure that trouble didn’t follow you,” Rendiran said.
“It didn’t, we’re on a boat!” Tadrin exclaimed cheerily. “They’ve caught perch with a big net, we’re going to have fish for breakfast.”
“That sounds wonderful,” he croaked, his throat was still dry. “I’m so glad to see you’re both safe.”
“Do you think you could fetch Rendiran a cup of water?” Crista asked the children. “We’ll be up soon.”
“Don’t leave us again, okay?” Oria asked as the pair set off on their mission.
“Now, where would I go?” Rendiran asked, gesturing to the cargo hold. He noticed that it was much emptier than it was before he started healing people.
“When I heard a young man missing a few fingers was healing people in the cargo hold, I couldn’t believe it,” Crista said as she closed the distance between them. “You slept for an entire day then through the night, it was as though all but the very last of your energy was spent. Just enough to keep you alive. Whatever you did, it cost you all most too much. I didn’t expect you to wake up and start all over again.” With a gentle touch, she lifted Rendiran’s right hand and looked at the perfectly healed nubs where his fingers once were. “You’ll heal everyone else before completing yourself,” she said.
“Other than an itch on my little finger I can’t scratch, I feel fine. I’m far from exhausted, don’t worry.”
“How bad is your foot?” she asked. “You stumbled.”
“Toes are a nuisance, they get stubbed all the time, and I’ve never been very good at keeping my toenails trimmed, anyway. How did I get to the boat?”
“Heath, a blacksmith you told about the boat and several of his neighbors went back for you. He saw what you did, opening the heavens.”
The memory of that battle was immediately sobering. It was as though the air thickened, and a weight pressed down on his shoulders. “Combat Priest Drikson guided me, no, took control and made that happen. Haffor? What happened to him?”
“The Morning Guard, the Bright One’s paladins got him. When Heath last saw, Haffor and the last of his paladins were in chains,” Crista said. “I’m sorry.”
“What was it all for?” Rendiran asked, lowering his head.
“You saved thousands of people,” Crista said.
“Haffor, his paladins fought without consideration for themselves. Drikson continued to fight even after he was killed. I was only the vessel.”
“If you weren’t there, if you weren’t willing to make the same sacrifice, this boat would be nearly empty. There’s a chance – a good one – that Tadrin and Oria wouldn’t have made it either. I won’t let you believe that you didn’t make a difference. If the undead defeated Haffor, they would have been sent down the road and the children would be in enemy hands. I’m sure of it. You gave us the time we needed to get away, gave Haffor a fighting chance, and even if you say Drikson was in control, you still made a miracle happen.”
“There was so much death, so many people who never had a chance. I’ve never seen such disregard for life. You read about war, the number of people who died, and it’s all academic. The horror we survived brings all that to life, but it doesn’t make any more sense to me than it did before. How could anyone murder so many innocent people? Most of the bodies on the field were just people who wanted to get away. With all this new power I still couldn’t help them.”
“You have to let them go,” Crista said. “They move on to another life, and you will go on to heal people. Despair will only get in the way.”
A prayer recited by servants of Miradu came to him then, and he tried to say it aloud, “When light fades, and darkness descends,” he hesitated, remembering the Immortal Ember Knights with their black smoke filled helms and flaming swords.
“I will not give in to despair,” Crista continued for him. “For I carry the light. Come to me,”
“And I will shine on you,” Rendiran added. “Keep the darkness at bay.” His spirits didn’t lift, all he could think about were the people he saw killed, whether it was by fire, explosive magic on the field, or at the hands of decaying abominations.
Crista wrapped her arms around him and clutched his head to her chest. “You did more than anyone could have imagined.”
“The waste of it,” Rendiran said. “People who trusted their church and their Lord were cut down, mutilated, and murdered by the thousand. I can’t believe we couldn’t have done more.”
“This boat is full, thanks to you,” Crista said, stroking his hair. “You’ve healed almost everyone here.”
“Just a broken foot here, I can wait,” a young man, who was in surprisingly good humour, said.
“I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be the light,” Rendiran said, pulling away a little and raising his head.
“You were, you definitely were,” Crista said. “We saw the lights in the sky when you defeated the army of the dead.”
“More of a large militia of the dead, really,” Rendiran corrected with a crooked grin, wiping his eyes.
“All right,” she replied. “I didn’t know you could do that, even with the direction of a Combat Priest like Drikson.”
The fellow with a broken foot was trying to stand, possibly to avoid bothering the pair. Rendiran felt for the injury mentally, located two broken bones and mended them using quick combat healing. The fellow cried out in surprise at the sharp pain of rapidly knitting bone, then stopped and tested his foot. “Like new, thank you, Resurrector,” he said. “I feel like dancin’,” he took one dance step and bounced his forehead off a beam.
“Outside, perhaps?” Crista said.
“I do feel like a stroll,” he replied, rubbing his forehead.
There would be a bruise, but the bump wasn’t enough to warrant healing magic, so Rendiran left it alone. “I never thought I’d be able to heal without the ceremonial component supporting it. Combat heal, I mean,” he told Crista. “It requires a detachment I didn’t think I could accomplish, and more power than I thought I’d have.”
“I have a theory about that,” Crista said. “If you’re interested.”
“There are other people in need,” he replied.
“No, only people sleeping,” she said, gesturing to the quiet cargo hold. “Maybe you should heal yourself?”
Rendiran attempted to focus on his hand, and began to force a new finger to grow. To his surprise, there was no progress at all, he felt as though he was trying to add knuckles to a hand that was already perfect. Instead of taking another approach, he surrendered. “I don’t think I could focus enough to do that right now,” he told Crista. “What’s this theory?”
Rendiran got to his feet, and Crista put his arm across her shoulders. “Well, the Temple, the orphanage you grew up in, even the holy caravans you travelled with were all heavily warded. Not just against what might attack from the outside world, but against all but divine and certain types of human magic on the inside. So, weaving is possible, but very difficult, casting spells of harm or magic made for combat is nearly impossible unless it’s divine, and most conjurings don’t work either.”
“True, but how do you know my orphanage was warded?” Rendiran asked.
“I’ve seen a few Miradu orphanages,” she replied. “I just assumed. Anyhow, since you’ve been under these wards your whole life, you’re finding that you can control more than you ever thought possible now that you’re free of them.”
“Free,” Rendiran said as they started up the stairs to the main deck. It seemed like a strange word to use, he never felt like he was a captive, but it was the best word. “Like the staff head. That kind of artefact wouldn’t work inside the temple.”
“Right. So, you’re discovering all this untapped potential. Without knowing it you’ve been preparing to wield that kind of power all your life, reading about it constantly. Well, whenever you weren’t helping people.”
“Thank goodness I did the reading before the lesson,” Rendiran said. “Sorry, academic humour, not very funny to anyone outside a library. Speaking of surprises and power, you were a fox.”
“I was,” she replied. “Something I couldn’t do in the temple.”
“Shape shifting isn’t something most people there approve of, especially the priests.”
“What about this priest?” Crista asked.
“I think it’s amazing,” Rendiran said. “I didn’t know you had so much talent.”
“You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn if you look up from your books for a while, explore a little, starting with what’s right in front of you,” Crista said, pinching his side.
Tadrin and Oria met him at the top of the cargo hold stairs, each with a cup. He accepted one from Tadrin, drank it, then took a second from Oria. “I’m glad you both brought be a cup, I was very thirsty.”
The deck of the ship was broad, it was made for hauling bulk cargo from farms and mines in the north. Most of the people he’d healed and their families were lining up in front of a grill. Crewmen were filleting perch and other fish with expert efficiency. “Maybe you should line up for breakfast,” Rendiran told them. They ran the few steps to join the growing line. “No running please,” he called after them.
“Awake at last,” Heath said. It was the half dwarf that helped him get away from the city. “I didn’t know priests slept in this late.”
“Thank you for saving me,” Rendiran said.
“Figured it was the least I could do, since I invited most of my neighbors to the boat after you told me about it. Speaking of which, we worked on your staff yesterday while you slept through morning, noon and evening,” he gestured for three humans with calloused hands to come forward. “This is Berko, Vickin, and Cary from Dower Street. Carpenters, except for Cary who’s a jewler. It’s nothing special, but we put your staff back together with a sturdy pole the right height for someone your size.” Cary pulled a burlap cover off the staffhead with a flourish and presented it to Rendiran.
He accepted it, looking into the gem in the middle of the staff head, where milk-white smoke slowly swirled within. The jewels and metal had been polished to gleaming, and the pole was simply carved with non-descript grooves that made it easy to hold. “Thank you,” Rendiran said. “This is good work.”
“It’s the least we could do for a young hero such as yourself,” Berko said.
“I’m no hero,” Rendiran said. He could see the mood around him begin to sink. “I’m a survivor who’s lucky enough to have a craft, much like you.”