Authors: Nathan Hawke
And each man stands with his face in the light of his own drawn sword. Ready to do what a hero can.
he man on the table in front of the Aulian was dying. The soldiers with their forked beards crowded around, full of anxious faces, but they knew
it. He was past help.
‘I’ll do what I can.’ The Aulian shook his head. ‘Leave him with me.’ When they did, that too was a sign of how little hope they had. A prince of the Lhosir left
alone with an Aulian wizard. The Aulian opened his satchel and bag and set about making his preparations.
‘Who are you?’ The dying man’s eyes were open. The skin of his face was grey and slick with sweat; but there was a fierce intelligence behind those eyes and a fear too. A
forkbeard prince who was afraid to die, but then who wouldn’t be when dying looked like this? The Aulian didn’t answer, but when he came close the Lhosir grabbed his sleeve. ‘I
asked you: who are you?’
‘I’m here to heal you. If it can be done.’
‘I will try, but I am . . . I am not sure that it can. If you have words to say, you should say them.’
The Lhosir let him go. He was trembling but he seemed to understand. The Aulian lifted his head and tipped three potions into his mouth, careful and gentle. ‘One for the pain. One for the
healing. One to keep you alive no matter what for two more days.’ Then he unrolled a cloth bundle and took out a knife and started to cut as gently as he could at the bandages over the
Lhosir’s wound. The room already stank of putrefaction. The rot was surely too far gone for the Lhosir to live.
‘I left him. I left my friend. I abandoned him.’
The Aulian nodded. He mumbled something as he cut, not really listening. The Lhosir was fevered already and the potions would quickly send him out of his mind. Soon nothing he said would mean
very much. ‘Even if you survive, your warring days are over. Even small exertions will leave you short of breath.’
‘I was afraid. I am Lhosir but I was afraid.’
‘Everyone is afraid.’ The Aulian lifted away a part of the bandage. The Lhosir flinched and whimpered where it stuck to the skin and the Aulian had to pull it free. The stench was
appalling. ‘I’m going to cut the wound and drain it now. This will hurt like fire even through the potions I’ve given you.’ The Aulian dropped the festering dressing into a
bowl of salt. As delicately as he could, he forced the Lhosir prince’s mouth open and pushed a piece of leather between his teeth. ‘Bite on this.’
The Lhosir spat it out. ‘The ironskins took him.’
The Aulian stopped, waiting now for the potions to take the Lhosir’s thoughts. ‘Ironskins?’
The Aulian looked at the knife in his hand, razor sharp. ‘Then tell me about these iron-skinned men, Lhosir.’
So the Lhosir did, and the Aulian stood and listened and didn’t move, and a chill went through him. ‘There was another one like that,’ he said when the prince was done.
‘Long ago. We buried it far away from here under a place called Witches’ Reach. It was a terrible monster. Its power was very great, and very dangerous.’
The Lhosir started to talk about the friend he’d left behind, the one he said the ironskins had taken. The Aulian listened until the Lhosir’s words broke down into a senseless
mumble. The potions were taking hold. He turned his knife to the wound. The Lhosir screamed then. He screamed like a man having his soul torn out of him piece by piece. Like a man slowly cut in two
by a rust-edged saw. The Aulian worked quickly. The wound was deep and the rot had spread deeper still and the stink made him gag. He cut it out as best he could, drained the seeping pus away, cut
until blood flowed red and the screaming grew louder still. When he was done he tipped a handful of wriggling creatures onto the dying Lhosir’s bloody flesh and placed their bowl over the
The door flew open. Another Lhosir, with the dying prince’s bodyguards scurrying in his wake. They ran in and then stumbled and turned away, hit by the reeking air. The Aulian didn’t
look up. He wrapped cloth over the wound as fast as he could, hiding what he’d done. The first of the soldiers was on him quickly, gagging. The dying prince was quiet now. Fainted at
‘Wizard, what have you done?’
The Aulian cleaned his knife and began to pack away his bags. ‘If he lives through the next two days he may recover. Send someone to me then.’ He looked at the forkbeard soldier.
‘Only if he lives.’
But the Lhosir wasn’t looking at him; he was staring at the hole in the dying prince’s side – at the blind thing wriggling from under the cloth. The Aulian frowned. He’d
been careless in his haste. He turned back to the soldier. ‘It will—’
‘Sorcerer!’ The forkbeard drove his sword through the Aulian. ‘Monster! What have you done?’
The Aulian tried to think of an answer, but all his thoughts were of another monster. The monster with the iron skin. And, as he fell to the floor and his eyes fixed on the dying Lhosir’s
hand hanging down from the table, how the Lhosir seemed to have too many fingers.
ddic stopped. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together and took a moment to look at the mountains behind him. Hard to decide which he liked
better: the ice-bitter clear skies of today or the blizzards that had come before. Wind and snow kept a man holed up in his hut with little to do but hope he could dig himself out again when it
stopped. A clear day like this meant working, a chance to gather wood and maybe even hunt, but Modris it was cold! He stamped his feet and blew on his fingers again. It wasn’t helping.
They’d gone numb a while back. His feet would follow before much longer. Cursed cold. He looked back the way he’d come, and it felt as though he’d been walking for hours but he
could still see the little jagged spur that overlooked the hut where he’d been hiding these last few days.
Up on the shoulder of the mountain beyond the spur a bright flash caught his eye, a momentary glimmer in the sun. He squinted and peered but it vanished as quickly as it had come and he
couldn’t make anything out. The snow, most likely, not that snow glinted like that; but what else could it be so deep in the pass?
Snow. Yes. Still, he kept looking now and then as he walked, until a wisp of cloud crossed the mountain and hid the shoulder where the old Aulian Way once ran from Varyxhun through the mountains
and out the other side. The Aulians had fallen long before Addic was born, but that didn’t mean that nothing ever came over the mountains any more. The winter cold was a killer, but
shadewalkers were already dead and so they came anyway.