A/N: This is a continuation of "Village of Stone", a fic started by Once Upon a Faerytale, and now continued by Aereal, who decided it was unthinkable to leave Karigan stuck in a nasty situation, so... the story continues =)

Enjoy!


Village of Stone, chapter 6

Karigan awoke with a start, instinctively trying to sit up but a sharp pain shot up her arm and she gave up with a groan. She focussed on the gloomy stone above her in an effort to focus her thoughts, her eyebrows knitting together in a frown as if to physically force her thoughts into shape.

She had been in the middle of a dream, but it was important somehow, a dream that felt so familiar but… she didn't think she had actually dreamt it before. She grimaced and forced herself to try to remember it, but it was falling through her mind like water through a sieve, like water upon stone…

Stone. That was it. She had clung to her stone-grey trews, her hands by her side, clenching the coarse fabric. Around her stood a crowd of the other caretakers of the village, their expressions stony. Not with the granite-like strength she saw in Fastion's face. Pale and empty-eyed. Their averted faces were loud in their silent condemnation. Her eyes darted back to the object in front of the group, the carved likeness of Queen Estora. She could not tell how long they stood silently like this. Then she glimpsed a flash of movement to one side, and King Zachary appeared, pushing his way through the colourless crowd, dark tendrils coiling around him like smoke and then dissipating. Her heart sank like a pebble. He had come to visit his beloved Estora's tomb. But she realised his gaze was focussed on her, not the tomb, and he reached out towards her with a cry. Suddenly Agemon next to her grabbed her wrist in a vice-like grip; he hissed in her ear "If you try to leave, both of you will die". No, she couldn't let her beloved Zachary die. She would rather stay down here forever. She stepped back, her eyes blank. I can't leave now, I never was yours anyway…She hoped that would make him leave, hurt him enough to send him safely away.

But no – he was pushing his way past the stone tomb, and continued making his way towards her, elbowing roughly through the crowd; it seemed to take him a great effort, as if some invisible force and not merely the people's bodies barred the way. Finally he broke through to her. He was so close now; he lifted his hand and hesitantly touched her face. Lightly, reverently. I won't give up, Kari. I will find a way. I will find you. Her heart leapt in her chest. And then the brightness exploded.

That must have been when she woke up.

But what did it all mean, if anything? She lay there staring at the stone ceiling above her, but no answers came. Her head hurt, and as she came to realise that, she then realised that the rest of her hurt too. She let her eyes close again, exhausted from trying to make sense of it all. After a while she gave up and decided it must be a product of her overactive imagination, of the stress of everything that had happened and being away from home and loved ones for so long, and of her wishing for things that could never be. A single tear slipped down her cheek and she pushed the dream angrily out of her mind, before gingerly rolling onto the side with the undamaged leg and drifting back to sleep.

It could have been hours or minutes later when she heard Brandin come limping into the room, addressing his older son over his shoulder. "—and the other herb stock needs to be checked and the stores replenished, tell Martra that she can—", he broke off as he saw Karigan watching him. "Ahh you're awake", he smiled at her. The healer's voice was gentle and soothing, and he moved to help her get comfortable as she sat up. "There now, let's just check on these bandages, shall we," – she winced as he peeled back the covering on her thigh. "This wound is healing a little slower than I had hoped, probably because of your over-exertion yesterday, but luckily there is no sign of infection, and I daresay it will knit together best if you don't walk on it for a couple of days. So, bed rest for you, Caretaker." She grit her teeth as he continued prodding cheerfully at the various bruises and lacerations on her legs, torso and arms. She couldn't be stuck in this room – she needed to find her way around, to see how things worked down here, so she could plan her escape. Her eyes smarted with tears as he reached her wrist, gently undoing the bandages. "This wrist here is healing as well as can be hoped, I'll just replace the bandages again, a little tighter this time to aid with the compression, and then I must keep going. Madden will be in shortly with your firstmeal, and then perhaps Martra can lend you one of her books on Queen Isen to keep you occupied."

He nodded in satisfaction as he secured the cloth holding her splint in place, and waved his finger at her in warning. "Now stay put, you hear—if you want to get better you must stay in bed". She said nothing but he seemed satisfied that she had got the message, and he turned and went out again, the corners of his long apron flapping at his ankles as he went.

Karigan frowned at his retreating back. She could hear him talking to Martra as he went down towards the storeroom, and she caught the words "expedition" and "supplies", but then they moved further away and out of hearing range. Her curiosity got the better of her – but she needed to be closer. Gingerly she grabbed her bad leg with her good hand (not that any part of her was good, exactly), swinging it off the bed and then moving her other leg down so both feet touched the floor. Once upright it was only a half-dozen quick steps to the door, clutching at the side table on the way as she wobbled precariously. She reached the doorway, forcing herself to breathe quietly and listen.

Ah, that was better. She could hear the voices now, Martra's voice saying something about "such a long way to the village" and his deeper reply about travelling more quickly with only half a dozen of them going this time. "…can watch your patients but are you sure it will be only a few hours", was his wife's reply, and then came Brandin's voice again, reassuring her "Agemon is certain that…" – his voice became softer and Karigan strained to hear –"but it will be the last time we go. We cannot risk any further disturbance—"

Suddenly a young boy appeared in the doorway, causing Karigan to jump back painfully, and the boy to start in fright and nearly drop the tray he was carrying. "Sorry miss", he said, recovering himself and smiling shyly. "Didn't mean to frighten you but I wasn't expecting, I mean, father said you would be in bed."

Karigan forced herself to smile back, despite her hammering heart and the throbbing pain now coming from her leg again. "That's okay Madden, let's forget about it alright?" The boy nodded eagerly, following after her as she shuffled back to the bed and sat down, placing her legs out flat and leaning against the wall. He was about 10 years old she guessed, about the same age as Iris, but more well-built than most of the children she had seen in the village, who tended to be thin and pale like their parents. She supposed there wasn't much room for running about down here, and there were none of the wonders of nature to entice them to frolic about as most young children did.

Madden carefully placed the tray on her lap once she was settled. She could tell he had had careful instructions from his father not to disturb the new patient, but his bright eyes held a curiosity that no one else in the village bothered – or dared – to show.

She smiled at him in thanks, then bent her head to survey the contents half-heartedly. There was some sort of coarse bread, a cup of milk and a couple of slices of cured ham. Even the food down here made her feel dull and restless. After a few moments staring at the food, she realised Madden was still looking at her, now somewhat thoughtfully. She smiled at him encouragingly, wondering if he wanted to tell her something, but suddenly he turned and ran out of the room. Karigan shrugged to herself and turned back to the tray, picking up the bread and holding it up to the dim lamp-light suspiciously. Perhaps the boy was shy around strangers. She took a small nibble of the bread. It was hard and rather bland but not too much worse than some of the travel rations she had experienced.

That made her think back to the conversation she had overheard between the healer and his wife, something about rations, and a journey that he was going on, and visiting a village. That last part didn't make any sense to her; as far as she knew all the caretakers lived in one village, which unfortunately was where she was stuck. And not wanting a disturbance. She scowled to herself. Just more things to think over that didn't make sense, although the last part could possibly refer to her. She didn't want to cause a disturbance though, she wanted to slip out unnoticed. However that was virtually impossible in such a confined space, with the healer and his family nearby, let alone the confusing maze-like arrangement of the village, should she manage to actually get out unseen.

She sighed to herself and moved the tray to the side table before drifting back to sleep.

She awoke again with a jolt some time later and opened her eyes cautiously, unsure of what had caused her to wake. As she stretched minutely she realised there were strange sounds coming in from outside the walls of the healer's home. Strange sounds for down here, but she recognised them from her childhood in Corsa, when she used to run off down to the wharves and soak in the kaleidoscope of sights and sounds – boats big and small, burly sailors and ladies in bonnets, rag-tag children that ran in and out of the crowds, strapping lads with barrows of produce, calling people to come and buy. Every now again there would be trouble (part of the reason her father and aunts tried unsuccessfully to keep her from going there alone), either a fight between some ship's crew in varying states of intoxication, or a scrap between a few of the dirty street boys bored of picking the pockets of passers-by. This was the sound that reached her ears now – the jeering and shouting of several boys, and a few echoing slaps and thuds, then whimpering. The voices continued for a short time before a man's voice could be heard, ordering them to stop and go home. The whimpering came closer though, until it was right outside her room, and she realised it must be one of the healer's boys.

"Maddon?" she called gently, guessing it would be the older boy. She heard a loud sniff and then he entered the room, his face blotchy and one eye turning a nasty shade of purple. "What happened to you?"

He lifted his chin, looking resolute. "The older boys from the village, they were… teasing, miss, they said you were brainless to want to go back above, that you were only with the black shields before because they took pity on you, and that Father should not be wasting time healing you. They—they were daring each other to steal your sword so they could play with it. I told them they were wrong and that it's bad to steal, and that you are a hero and very pretty and brave. I think I broke Jibb's nose," he finished with a proud grin, seeming to forget his earlier discomfort.

She held his gaze, pondering this. The childish jibes did not hurt, but the healer did not seem to be one to gossip about his patients so she wondered how they knew about her, and about the sword.

After a moment she returned his grin. "Thanks for coming to my defence, hey?" He blushed scarlet. "And you don't think I'm brainless?" The boy shook his head and stepped closer. "I wish I could go up above too," he confessed in a whisper. "But we're not allowed to even talk about it, or ask questions… If I said it to anyone they would think I was mad too, and father would give me a right hiding."

She looked at him speculatively. This was what she needed – an ally. "Maddon, you know you can trust me, right?" He nodded slowly, despite having revealed his secret to her. "You know I need to get out of here, to get back to report to the King, and get my wrist"—she held up the rough splint for him to see—" healed properly with magic?" He nodded with more certainty this time. "I need your help Maddon, do you think you can help me? I promise not to tell anyone what you said. And I think I can help you in return."

He looked at once nervous and excited and moved closer, his light brown mop of hair falling forward over his eyes. "But—don't you have special magic powers?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Iris said—" he trailed off. Ah yes, she had forgotten for the moment about Iris, who would probably know about her broach, and her ability to disappear. Suddenly realised she had not even thought once about her broach; in pondering her dire situation she had completely forgotten it. Raising one hand to her shirt she realised it was missing, gone along with her clothes.

She took a deep breath and tried to assess the situation. She didn't know if she could trust this boy completely, but surely things could not get any worse, and she didn't have much time before her wrist would heal the wrong way and render her right hand useless. It also seemed to be the perfect opportunity to escape the healer's house, while he was gone, and his wife somewhat preoccupied with the other patients; she may not get another chance like this.

"Maddon, it's true I do have some magical ability. But for it to work I need my things back, and then I need your help—perhaps Iris can help too—to get to the outskirts of the settlement, and point me to the right corridor. If you can do this for me, I will promise to get the King to talk to Agemon, and persuade him to let you come visit us up above."

The boy's face positively glowed, and he nodded eagerly. "Ok," she said smiling at his enthusiasm. "This is what we need to do…"


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