Chapter 11: Visits
Will groaned as he regained consciousness. Every part of him hurt, not the least of which was his head, and he shook slightly as he remembered the way that Morgarath had attacked him. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and he panicked for a moment when all he could see was darkness before common sense took hold and he realized that he must be back in his cell.
Very cautiously, Will sat up, trying to move as little as possible so that he didn't hit any of his new bruises. He was feeling very tender and to make matters worse the wound in his shoulder was throbbing slightly. Propping his back up against the cold stone walls, Will cautiously ran his hands over the parts of him that ached the worst, trying to access the damage. There were small cuts on his skin from the chain mail on Morgarath's gloves, his bottom lip was swollen to nearly twice its normal size, and there was a nasty cut on it from where he must have bitten it. Experimentally, Will poked the cut with a finger, and winced at the sudden spike of pain.
His pained lip now throbbing in time with his heartbeat, Will admitted that perhaps poking the injury hadn't been the smartest idea, but he hadn't been able to resist; the sheer size his lip had swollen to was fascinating. He'd had swollen lips before, of course, but never had they felt as if there was a lump the size of a walnut wobbling near his chin.
For the first time since he was captured, Will felt slightly grateful for the lack of light in his cell, as it prevented him from seeing exactly how bad he looked. He was sure to panic if he could see the mass of bruises that were sure to cover his skin, but right now he was feeling rather pleasantly out of it. He supposed that Morgarath must have given him some rather strong blows to the head.
Thinking through the fuzz in his head, Will felt the floor around him, frantically hoping that he had been left food, or even a drink of water. Giving a small groan of despair when he couldn't find anything, Will slumped against the wall, and felt his elbow connect with something hard and made of metal. After giving a pained yelp of shock, he ran his hands over the offending piece of metal and discovered that it was the stupid metal ring his leg was chained to. Will swore softly under his breath, and shuffled to the side as far as he could from the ring, not wanting to risk banging into it again; he didn't need any more bruises, after all.
As he rested his pounding head back against the cool stone wall, Will felt his emotions seesaw again, and somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that his head had probably taken a harder hit than he'd originally thought. Then, he felt helplessness overtake him.
Morgarath could do anything that he wanted to him and there would be no way that he could stop him. Every part of him ached, and he was physically exhausted. He had been given very little food and although there was very little to do in the small cell except for sleep, Will hadn't been able to rest. He was plagued by nightmares every time he closed his eyes.
He wished that he knew what had happened to Evanlyn and the outcome of the battle of the plains. Surely if Morgarath was back in the Mountains of Night and Rain, it meant that the battle was over, didn't it? Will hoped desperately that Morgarath had lost, and that no one that he knew was injured, or, God forbid, killed.
Crowley trotted his horse, Cropper, towards the small cabin that he knew resided in the trees. He had spent the past couple of weeks roaming the country, trying to regain order and helping to track down various criminals in various fiefs. He was currently in Redmount and on his way to see Halt. He felt guilty about not allowing his old friend to go and chase down the bastards that had killed his apprentice but deep down he knew that refusing Halt's request was the only reasonable thing he could do. Halt was needed here, in Araluen. He just hoped that Halt was able to understand that too.
As Halt's small cottage came into view, Crowley's well-honed instincts flared. Something was wrong and it didn't take much thought for Crowley to recognize what was missing. There was no whinny of greeting from Abelard, Halt's horse, and no smoke emerging from the chimney. Both could undoubtedly only mean one thing; Halt wasn't at the cabin.
He had just been to see Arald and the Baron had told him that Halt was home, having just gotten back the day before from chasing down one of the more notorious criminals that had made their way to Redmount. So if Halt wasn't here, where was he?
Frowning, Crowley dismounted and looked warily around the small clearing, trying to spot anything out of the ordinary. When his keen eyes were unable to spot anything to be worried about, he stepped onto the porch and pushed open the cabin door, saxe in hand.
Nothing attacked him as he pushed open the door, but instead of putting his worries to rest, this just agitated him even more. Everything felt too peaceful. Despite himself, Crowley found himself hoping that the inside of the cabin showed signs of a fight that meant Halt hadn't left voluntarily. Halt couldn't have just walked out. He wouldn't have. Would he?
As his eyes rested on the empty coffee cup on the table, his eyes narrowed, becoming dangerously thin. Halt never left dirty dishes lying around. Instinctively, he knew that he wasn't going to like what he saw next. He was right. He didn't.
Halt's small silver Oakleaf amulet was sitting on the table next to the coffee cup, and Crowley drove the tip of his knife into the table with a thud, swearing as he did so. He had. Halt had left, gone to chase Skandians.
Even as he gathered the small amulet up into his hands, Crowley tried to ignore the part of him that said that he really shouldn't be surprised. Ever since Crowley had first seen Halt with Will together he had known that they shared more than just the normal bond between master and apprentice. He hadn't recognized what the bond was at the time, but as he sat now in an abandoned cabin in the woods, he couldn't believe that he had missed it.
The panic and desperation that he had seen in Halt when Will was missing, the sheer depth of the despair that Halt had shown when Will had been killed, and the sense of misery surrounding Halt when he had returned, exhausted and bleeding, to the plains of Uthal suddenly made a whole lot more sense. He didn't know why, or how it had come about, but Halt saw Will as his son, and as he remembered the blind trust and love in Will's face every time he saw the boy looking at Halt, he knew that the boy felt exactly the same way.
He didn't know much about Halt's life before he came to Araluen, but he did know that there wasn't anyone that the grim man called family. To finally find someone that he could feel that with, and to then have that ripped away from him in such a violent manner must have been heartbreaking. Crowley felt a fleeting moment of pity for the Skandians that had killed the apprentice, because Halt surely wasn't going to rest until all of them were dead, but then the smiling visage of Will rose before his eyes and the pity was gone. Those bastards deserved every bit of pain Halt was sure to inflict onto them before he killed them.
Clenching the silver Oakleaf tightly in his hand, Crowley rose and left the cabin, slamming the door loudly as he did so.
Sometime later, the sound of footsteps approaching his cell caused Will to freeze instantly, thoughts of Morgarath plaguing his mind, but he relaxed when he realized that the footsteps belonged to only one man. When they had taken him to the throne room before, there had been at least four men, and even though Will was in no state to resist, he doubted that Morgarath would be so careless as to only send one man to move him. Most likely, the man was here to check if he was awake yet or he was the relief for the current guard.
Will had no idea how long he had passed since the beating, but judging from the throbbing in his head and the empty feeling in his stomach, he guessed that it had been quite a while. As Will thought of food, his stomach gave a loud grumble and he quickly pressed his hands to his stomach and hunched over in a desperate attempt to silence it. He may have been weak with hunger and pain, but he was still determined not demonstrate to Morgarath or his men the extent to which his life was in their hands.
There was a dull, unmistakable click of a lock and Will looked up, startled, visibly wincing as the light from a torch invaded the previous darkness, aggravating his headache. Closing his eyes tightly and cursing Morgarath under his breath, Will vowed that he would set something on fire the first chance he got. As Will had literally sent Morgarath's plans at the bridge up in smoke, he knew instinctively that if he was able to set something else on fire it would vex Morgarath more than anything else he could possibly do. While provoking his captor might not be one of his smartest ideas, Will couldn't help but feel that a little mischief was exactly what this morbid black castle needed. The throbbing in his head seemed to agree.
Opening his eyes slowly and being careful not to look directly at the light, Will watched as a guard set a tray of food down in front of him. It took all his willpower to not start wolfing down the food immediately and to wait, silent and unmoving, for the guard to leave. He had learnt this lesson the hard way. When he had first arrived at Morgarath's castle in the Mountains of Rain and Night, they had given him very little food and when he was fed, more often than not, his food would be dropped all over the floor and trampled on by some very 'clumsy' guards. If he tried to interfere he would be beaten for 'disobedience' so Will had swiftly discovered that the wisest thing to do was to wait patiently for the guards to leave and then to eat whatever food was salvageable.
Watching the guard warily out of one eye, Will studied the food sitting in front of him longingly. It was an admittedly bland looking meal of stale, almost moldy bread, a rotting apple and a cup of water, but despite its unappetizing appeal, Will couldn't wait for the guard to leave so that he could eat it. He decided that he would drink the water first; it was too valuable to leave sitting around, and besides, Halt had told him that you could last a lot longer without food than you could without water. So far, Will's experience as a prisoner was agreeing with Halt.
As soon as the guard reached the doorway, Will grabbed at the food, knowing that the guard was too far away to stop Will from putting what little there was into the relative safety of his mouth. After he had gulped down the water, he grabbed the bread in his right hand and the apple in his left, clutching onto them as if they might disappear any second. It wasn't until he took a bite from the stale loaf and the taste filled his mouth that he regained a sense of his surroundings. The piece of bread still in his mouth, Will froze. The guard hadn't moved and was watching him from the doorway.
Frowning slightly, Will put his back against the wall and drew his knees up as tightly as he could, clutching the food to his chest. He swallowed the piece of bread in his mouth and took another bite, never removing his eyes from the guard. Despite Will's near all-consuming survival instincts screaming at him to guard the food, his brain recognized the guard. It was Owen. He was hunched over slightly, as if his back pained him, and Will wondered for a fleeting moment what had happened to the man, before recalling that Owen had watched Morgarath attack him.
Will tensed, remembering the cold, detached expression that had been on the man's face, but as he studied the old General now, he couldn't see any trace of the man he had seen standing in Morgarath's throne room; he was back to being the concerned, tough, but well-meaning guard that he had been when he brought Will to the castle. He could have sworn that he saw pity in the man's eyes.
Frowning slightly, Will wondered about the apparent changes of heart. Why did the man keep changing how he acted around him? None of the other guards had shown him any empathy and he knew that most of them enjoyed tormenting him. So why did Owen seem to care now? Even before his mind had finished asking the question, Will realized the answer. It was a trick.
Will reacted the exact same instant Owen moved, diving to the left as Owen reached inside his jerkin, wanting to be as far away from the man as physically possible and knowing at the same time that any attempt to defend himself or to avoid the blows would be useless. Eyes closed tightly shut, he curled up into a ball with his hands still clutching tightly to the pitiful morsels of food, Will waited for the first blows to fall.
There was a soft thump beside him, and Will couldn't help opening his eyes to see what the sound was. He looked, disbelieving, at the second loaf of bread that lay net to him on the ground of his cell. His shocked eyes met Owen's and the man spoke. "I told you not to piss him off. You'll find that things get easier if you just play along."
Owen turned and walked out of the cell the door banging shut behind him, the lock clicking back into place as if nothing had happened.
Gently, Will picked up the bread, as if afraid that it would somehow vanish, and broke it in half, inhaling. The bread was fresh! Despite Owen's words echoing thorough his brain, Will began tearing off hunks of bread and shoving them hastily into his mouth. He would ponder the mystery that was Owen and what he had meant later, after he had eaten.
Opps, I kind of forgot all about this chapter... I had it written 3 weeks ago, and forgot all about it. It had been betaed and everything. *Facepalm*
Anyway, thanks to my beta, Eques Pirate, for helping me with this chapter, and reminding me that I hadn't uploaded it.
I feel this chapter is a bit of a filler, but i couldn't add anymore without doubling the length, and then you'd have to wait even longer for an update. The story should pick up after this, and I'm rather excited.