Our knight and rogue have traveled to a different realm. Fisk set up a card sharping, against Michael's better judgement, and got into a fight when the person accused him of cheating. Someone was killed in the brawl, and Fisk was imprisoned.
It turns out that the person killed was the nephew of a man who was recently made baron. The baron passed sentence that he would engage in mortal combat with the accused, for he saw this as an opportunity to prove himself in the faces of the people, being middle-aged and yet untested- also because he was sure he could win against the non-swordsman.
Michael, however, arranged that he take his friend's place in the tourney, explaining that, as Fisk was his squire, the knight errant was responsible for his actions. The laws differ in this country, so Michael's unredeemed status took no part in matters.
Where this story begins, Michael has just won the fight- but the baron's next in command refuses to allow the knight and the rogue their freedom.
…Okay, I'm less than proud of this meager plot- what can I say? I was fourteen or fifteen years old when I thought it up- but hopefully the story you're about to read isn't badly done. Either way, please tell me what you think! Criticism, complaints that something makes no sense, and compliments are all welcomed! ;D
A Curse and a GiftMichael
When Captain Baldric told me I would be punished for killing the new baron in this, their staged fight, I braced myself for the sword. But he'd far more severe a punishment in store for me.
As his glare left me and fell upon my squire, I really hadn't time to feel fear before Fisk's cry made my heart jump. I could swear that it stopped beating altogether when I looked over and saw that a guard's dagger was buried in his back. The man twisted it cruelly before Fisk fell forward, gasping in pain.
I only numbly remember that I screamed as they made me watch this, bucking like a wild horse to free myself. Baldric came over when the grip of the two guards holding me had loosened. He didn't bother grabbing me himself, but knocked me hard over the head with his fist.
I wasn't easily taken down, but I was tired from the fight and panicked for Fisk's life. The captain was also about twice my size- made mostly of muscle-, so his single blow brought me to my knees, stunned.
Was it the hit or my concern that had brought those tears to my eyes? I knelt, blinking at blurry ground. Baldric was talking, saying something I ought to listen to, but all I could manage to think was that, standing in front of me, he blocked my view of Fisk.
He finished speaking. I knew this was bad, although 'why' didn't register. My dazed imagination supplied that they were going to take me away and lock me up again. I shook my head to clear it. This couldn't happen- if it did, no one would look after my squire and friend, he would be left alone here to die…
Through my own torso went a searing pain that rivaled the anguish I was already experiencing. 'Twas a death blow, this much I realized, with strange detachment.
Already bent over on my knees, I now fell upon my side and rolled onto my back in the grass. My physical pain, if not my heartache, was beginning to subside.
'Tis the end, I thought, for surely it couldn't be anything else.
While unbearable in a way of speaking, the pain only kept me from thinking for a few seconds at first. After that I was able to realize the noises around me, for my face was mostly in the dirt, and it would have taken more effort to turn my head than it did to push past the sound of my own panting.
Michael had screamed. I could only vaguely remember the sound now, though a minute couldn't have passed. Maybe the reason I hadn't really heard at first was because I wanted to block it out.
Little luck there.
It was more concerning that afterward all I could hear was that bastard Baldric's voice. Everything in me that wasn't crying out in pain burned with a desire to help Michael. Were they going to kill him? If that was their plan, I certainly wasn't in any position to stop it from happening. Perhaps they would keep him alive to watch me die.
The thought terrified that distant part of my mind that realized I was dying. Strangely, my first other thought was that death by backstabbing must be the worst way to go, in terms of embarrassment. I'd always fancied myself clever. Now I was just proven wrong, for no sane man could have wound up where I was.
No sane man would ever have voluntarily thrown his lot in with Michael, but I couldn't bring myself to regret that.
I started when Michael let out another cry, and smothered an undignified whimper when the action made my wound hurt worse. Just my luck that the man who'd stabbed me didn't know what he was doing- or maybe he'd cut there, inches below my heart, to prolong my pain while preventing any recovery.
The sound coming from Michael trailed off. I needed to know what was happening to him; had to see what they'd done…
I hadn't the strength to be ashamed of the pained noises I made as I lifted my head, pushing myself up just enough to look over my shoulder to where Michael was.
He lay sprawled on the ground, too still to be in pain, his face too peaceful to be aware. Red stained his tunic. I felt I was using the last of my strength to hold myself up, but I had to know…
He wasn't breathing. The seconds passed slowly, yes, but I didn't once see him take a breath and whatever had stabbed him had gone through his heart- there was no possible way he'd survived.
I let myself go. The small impact seemed much harder than it was.
Michael was dead, and it was my fault. I couldn't remember why very clearly anymore, but I knew it should have been me who paid for my mistake instead of him.
Well, I was paying for it, but he should never have even been involved. It had always been too much to ask of the noble fool that he mind his own business. I would never even have the chance to miss him, I thought, though tears were managing to sting my eyes now.
I could hear Baldric's men mounting their horses. Instead of relief that we were finally free from them, I was more worried because they didn't feel the need to finish us off. Michael really was dead.
I knew that sobbing would only hurt me worse. I was aware of warm blood spreading over my back and dripping down my left side. This would only speed up my death- but wouldn't I welcome that? Freedom from this pain- the sooner the better? It didn't matter. My tears were involuntary, and I really couldn't stop those broken, pathetic sobs from shaking my body.
I wanted to push myself up- just enough to crawl over to my friend's body. I would die, and I wanted to die beside him, in part because I knew he would appreciate me spending my last strength for something so… poetic, but even breathing was a struggle. Moving was out of the question. And Michael wouldn't get the chance to appreciate it.
Some time after Baldric's men had gone I heard something move behind me. Crying had gotten to be too much effort and I wasn't sure whether the sky had grown dark or my vision was starting to go.
Whatever had moved was coming closer. It was strange that it had come from where Michael's body lay. I didn't realize why until I saw his face- sideways from where I lay, and out of the corner of my darkening eye, but clearly enough.
It would have been logical to assume that I'd died- that Michael was here meeting me in the afterlife, having not been far ahead. But instead, what I tried to say when I saw his anxious face was the otherwise obvious statement "You're alive."
What came out was small sob of relief.
The first thing I became aware of was a sense of renewal, and my second realization was that I had caused it.
Magica. I was dying- had died, I thought- yet my freakish condition had managed to cure me. It didn't seem possible, and yet it could have been nothing else, though this was unlike any of the strange incidents it had already brought about.
When I'd gotten past this fact, I thought of Fisk. I couldn't be sure how much time had passed, but the guards were gone, and after the injury he'd suffered…
Sitting up after being unconscious for so long was easier than it should have been. I found that not only had I been cured, I felt physically better than normal. 'Twas especially strange after what little sleep I'd caught the night before.
I didn't want to turn my head, however, for fear of what I would find. When I did finally, and saw Fisk lying there with a widespread bloodstain on his shirt, but still breathing, I hurried over to him.
My squire is a brave man. I've seen him face down threats armed with nothing but sarcasm, and swords with nothing but a knife- but he's come to care as deeply about me as I have of him, and I couldn't hold his tears against him when he saw me alive. I too felt the urge the cry for relief that he'd survived, but could see he'd grown weak from the injury. While it hadn't immediately killed him, 'twas not any less lethal than it would have been if it had.
I gently laid a hand on his head, shaking my own with determination. I could not let him die. As far as I was concerned, this whole 'tourney' had been to keep him out of danger. 'Twas unfair that I should come away whole, and not be able to help him.
When I thought harder about that, what feeble hope I held spiked. If I could cure myself, why not Fisk? Any time that I'd used magica like this had been when I'd not only wanted it, but needed it so badly that it seemed to have no choice but to come to my aid.
For my own survival, I didn't need Fisk to live. Would the magica respond to my wishes anyway?
"'Tis going to be all right," I told Fisk, stroking his hair once before moving my hand to his injured back. 'Twas horrible to feel his wet, warm blood against my fingers. Fisk jerked when I touched him.
"Micha- that hurts!" he ground out, his voice weak but desperate.
My free hand held his shoulder to keep him from moving. "Shh," I whispered. My voice shook. "I'm sorry," I told him. "I've got to help you, Fisk."
I forced my eyes to return to his injury, waiting for something to happen, wondering how to make something happen. Why wasn't this working? I wanted it badly enough.
When I looked back, Fisk was staring at me, distant, but also frustrated. Possibly more frustrated. "You think you can cure me. With magica."
I wasn't sure what he'd said at first, so quiet was his voice. I nodded in response. 'Twas my intent to cure him this way, for nothing else would save him. Not that my efforts were doing any good. I tried to blink back tears but they fell in spite of my efforts. "I can do it." I sounded as defensive as determined and nodded again to reassure the both of us.
Fisk let his eyes close but wore an annoyed frown. I knew he was recalling one of the many names he'd ever given me. 'You idiot' or a sarcastic 'Noble Sir' would have been especially appropriate just then. But he kept it to himself- mayhap because he feared it would be the last thing he ever said to me, or because he hadn't the will to argue.
As for that, 'twas about as normal for pigs to fly. I knew he didn't have long.
I pressed my hand harder against his back. Fisk gasped and then clutched my arm painfully tight, but I didn't let up. I could hear myself crying, whispering "please" to whatever unseen force would listen. Only when his grip on my wrist relaxed did I pull my hands away.
My world stopped for a moment, but then I saw that he was still breathing, and returned myself to the task, more urgently than before.
With Fisk unconscious, I no longer had to hold him down, but used both hands to find the tear in his shirt where he'd been stabbed, and ripped the cloth enough that I could view the wound. I saw 'twas still bleeding and laid my palm over it again.
Who was I kidding? The pulse that caused the bleeding grew weaker every moment, and the damage inside of him was the biggest concern. I could only fix that with magica.
When I looked at the blood on my hand, an idea came to me. 'Twas crazy, I thought, insane, even, but hadn't Fisk always told me I'd a knack for such things?
No weapon had been left with me, but Fisk always kept a knife hidden in his boot. I pulled it free now and ran its blade across my left hand. I'd always wondered if I could knowingly inflict pain upon myself like that, but I acted too quickly to hesitate, and I was too worried to feel it consciously. I laid my bleeding hand over my friend's injury, hoping that somehow whatever strange power ran through my veins would be able to reach him better this way.
Nothing happened. Why? I wondered desperately, before realizing that the panic was no longer upon me. I was numbly afraid of failure, but my heart and mind were retreating from the thought of life without Fisk. The injustice of his dying in this horrible, cruel way was unbearable to willfully consider.
I forced myself to focus on it, how much I wanted him to live. All the funny, irritating and annoying things about him, as well as our arguments came to my mind. A sob rose in my throat, but I dug deeper.
I remembered my squire's face when he first saw me, the way he'd shied away from me at first, resented me for the debt he owed, only to later rescue me at the risk of his own life and then stick by me through all our misadventures. How he snored, how he chased True around though by a certain point, he really ought to know better. The way he saw the worst in people because I always saw the good- how we balanced out each other's quirks and traits.
The way he was willing to leave behind his old life and habits to look out for me.
Then I felt it, that foreign rise of magic inside, and saw the blood around my hand glow. In the past, I hadn't experienced much besides horror at my freakish ability, but I never felt happier than I did just then.
I was warm, if not comfortable. The sound of approaching rainfall cautioned me, but there was no shelter near the old tourney field, so getting away from the rain would have cost far too much effort.
Eventually I realized that, while I'd been hearing the near rain for some time, I still wasn't wet. It was about that time that I remembered everything that had happened.
I wondered briefly why I was alive, but decided not to question it for now. It wasn't as if the fact bothered me.
I slowly opened my eyes against the light of a campfire that seemed over-bright, and groaned when my head hurt from the small movement.
Michael's voice hurt my head worse. I was trying to determine whether he was close enough to be whacked- as if I had the energy to do it- when he spoke again, more softly this time and much closer to me.
"You are okay, aren't you? Fisk?"
He sounded so unlike himself- scared, helpless even- that my anger melted a bit. I resigned myself to tell him (in as quiet a voice as I could manage), not to talk so loud. I could feel his quick, worried breath on my face as he leaned toward me where I lay.
"What?" he asked. When I didn't answer- why should I waste energy to repeat myself?- he shook my arm. The motion brought to my attention the fact that, not only did my head ache, but my whole body. "Fisk, what did you say?" Michael seemed to think it very important that I answer, so I exerted significant energy to reply.
"Too loud!" I told him, and squeezed my eyes shut against the wave of dizziness that followed. I wouldn't complain for surviving the un-survivable, but what under two moons had happened to me?
"I'm sorry," Michael whispered. He wasn't just saying it, either. He really sounded apologetic, as if he personally held himself accountable for my pain.
Stupid, but beautifully alive Michael.
I felt that I'd woken up too soon, and made amends by phasing in and out of sleep for a while. I felt a lot better when I woke up the fourth time, and by then I'd gained a knowledge of my surroundings. Michael had gotten us into a cave- how far were we from the tourney ground?- he'd set a nicely sized fire going, and he was worried about me every time I opened my eyes.
The storm had darkened the sky when I woke the first time, but at the fourth, it was definitely nighttime dark. Michael sat there beside me, watching me wake again.
"Are you going to stay with me this time?" he asked, smiling just barely. He had eased up some.
There were a few more clever responses I could have used, but instead I told him, "I always stay with you." Dull, but essentially true, and Michael of all people had to appreciate that, no matter how uninspired it was.
I held my eyes open long enough to see his smile twist painfully. I understood that he'd been worried about me, but I wanted him to forget any of this had happened. I could do (and was already doing) a great job of blocking out the memory.
Michael just isn't that kind of person. I couldn't explain that our near-death experiences should serve solely to grant us more caution of foreign countries, most taverns, all people, and… well, bloody everything. Not to him. He would never come to show a reasonable amount of caution if it meant assuming that any person didn't have a moral code. He feels his shortcomings and grievances strongly- brooding on occasion- but scarcely does he just learn his lesson from the incidents that cause them. Without direction, that is. It's just the way Michael is. And why he needs me.
Now was a feeling-his-grievances-strongly time, and I laid a hand on his arm, just to remind him I was still there. He took it and rubbed it between his own. His hands were cold, despite the warmth of the fire.
My eyes had shut again, of their own accord, but I remained conscious for a while. I heard Michael breathe harshly, and worried for a moment before I realized it was because he was crying. He lay down beside me on the hard ground, pushing his face against my shoulder. I made a mental note not to accidentally hit him in the face while I slept, and drifted off again- more peacefully this time. Maybe it was childish, but with Michael so close, I could finally feel that we were both safe.
Kicking dirt over our campfire fire to extinguish it, Michael looked down at me. I guess it was my hesitant voice that caught his interest as well as his attention. "What is it?" he asked.
I'd not wanted to bring it up, but curiosity had the better of me. Also, conversation had been lacking all morning and there was little else to do, for we'd decided to wait until tonight to move somewhere safer. I saw the need for darkness to avoid recapture by Baldric's men (suppose they went into the field to not find our corpses?), and Michael wanted us both to rest before we risked our necks by coming into the open again.
There were a couple of obvious flaws in his plan. Neither of us had eaten since yesterday, and I wasn't sure I could rest on a growling stomach- but as he pointed out, it was either this or risk being murdered. Again. I chose temporary hunger, though I doubted I would build much of the required strength for traveling. Perhaps it was a bit of frustration with his contentment concerning our lot that pushed me over a boundary I would otherwise not have crossed.
"It was you that saved us?" It wasn't a real question. We'd both have died on that plain- we were beyond a physician's help, had there been one. I'd have been content in my assumption- but I knew that not discussing it was getting to Michael. Every time he stared at nothing, or- worse- his wrists, I knew he was thinking about it. I needed only to bring it up, and I was sure he'd react as a river to the breaking of a dam.
Instead he answered with a shake of his head and a quick "Yes."
I wondered if he realized his contradiction, but ultimately, I understood that he did want to forget the matter- this aspect of it especially.
His strategy of making only curt answers to my questions and now stamping out with fire with a vengeance wasn't working so well.
"Michael," I said, choosing my words carefully, "don't you think it's good that you were able to keep us alive?"
"Yes," Michael told me, a bit snappishly.
"Did it… affect you in any way? Healing us?" Sometimes I wondered.
"No," he replied, banishing that fear.
I plowed on. "So what's wrong?"
He ceased stamping and came to sit down next to me, pulling his knees up to his chest while releasing a troubled sigh. "It does affect me," he said.
The breaking of the dam. I waited for him to continue.
"It frightens me, Fisk," he admitted, in a voice so overwhelmed that it frightened me, too. "That these things can just happen, and that I have no control over it."
"You do have control- of a kind," I told him. He looked at me sharply, as if expecting some solution to his problem. The only answer I had for him was quite basic, however, and sure to be unhelpful. "It's only happened when you were in danger- it reacted to your feelings."
Michael shook his head slowly, and let his eyes slide closed. "It only worked for my danger, before. Getting you to be healed, Fisk, was…"
His eyes didn't open. He seemed to be reliving whatever memories these were that I wasn't conscious for, and I now saw that they had indeed affected him. I placed my hand on his shoulder. "It worked, didn't it?"
When he'd been silent for another few seconds, I worried that this had upset him again. He was perfectly composed when he replied, but his voice was a whisper. "It just scared me, that's all."
This time I let the silence drag- and it was silent, but for the dripping of raindrops at the mouth of the cave. The storm had finally stopped just a while before. At least for now we could rest without the close thunder to keep us awake- not that it had bothered me until this morning, when I woke to find myself much less tired.
The pleasant silence was now lulling me again, despite my painfully empty stomach. I patted my friend's shoulder. "Come on, Michael," I told him. "We should get some sleep while we can."
He ignored me and I saw that he was staring at his wrist. I quickly laid my hand over it.
"Michael, stop it," I said with much more determination than before. He responded to it but when his eyes met mine, I saw in them the same lost look that was present after he'd first been given those tattoos.
I'd hoped never to see it again.
"What if I couldn't have saved you, Fisk?"
The question took me by surprise, but after I'd heard it, I wondered if I shouldn't have known that was what had been on his mind. "I'd be dead," I replied, unable to resist making so simple a conclusion in spite- or perhaps because- of his sobriety.
He ignored my wry humor. "I'd be so worthless if I could save my own life and not yours," he told me.
In my opinion, the ability to cure oneself is far from worthless, but I knew how he felt about such things. I suppose it was the 'honorable' way of looking at his ability.
Honor be screwed for all the trouble it's caused us.
"You could never be worthless, Michael," I found myself admitting. "It… it's just not possible."
He looked at me then, not fully in belief, but grateful for me pouring my heart out to him like that. "Thank you, Fisk," he said gently.
"Now let's please get some sleep?" I pressed, eager to change the subject.