Read Warden Online

Authors: Kevin Hardman

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Horror, #Coming of Age, #Myths & Legends, #Greek & Roman, #Paranormal & Urban

Warden (4 page)

BOOK: Warden
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Chapter 6

 

Warily, Errol took back his arrow.

“Uh…thanks,” he muttered unsurely.  Now that it was closer, he saw that the thing was actually dressed like a human.  It wore boots, black pants, a white shirt with a vest, and a full-length black duster. It also wore gloves and a hat.

“What is that thing?” Gale asked urgently, still behind him.

“Some kind of ghoul, I guess,” Errol said over his shoulder, afraid to take his eyes off the monster.

“Actually, I’m a zombie,” the creature interjected.

“Aren’t they the same thing?” Gale asked.

“A common misconception,” the zombie said, laughing. “A ghoul is a living creature that eats human flesh. A zombie is a deceased person who has been reanimated through some means - black magic, in my case.”

“Black magic?” Errol muttered, going back on the defensive. Bringing a corpse back to life by black magic was rarely ever done for a
good
reason.

“Never fear,” the zombie chuckled. “My master, the magician who brought me back, was killed by a Warden - your grandfather, in fact. With his death, I became free, and no longer subject to his evil will.”

“You knew my grandfather?” asked Errol incredulously.

“Forgive me,” the zombie said, extending a hand. “I’m Dorsey Carroll. I should have introduced myself at first, but I guess I was distracted - getting shot with a crossbow will do that to you.”

“Wait,” Errol said, confused but shaking the proffered hand. “You’re Dorsey Carroll? My brother’s friend? My
father’s
friend?”

“Yes, although now you can see why they never made any introductions. And why I never come into town.” He chuckled again.

“So what are you doing here?” Gale asked.

“Tom was supposed to come see me the other night. He never showed.”

“Hold on,” Errol said, suddenly concerned.  “Tom never made it to your place?”

“No, that’s why I’m here. Tom’s never been a no-show before. I came to see if something had happened to him.”

“Any chance we could take this conversation inside?” Gale asked, cutting off Errol’s next question.  “Fine with me,” Dorsey said, then walked inside without waiting for any further invitation. Gale and Errol followed, and all three settled down at the dining table.

“What do you think could have happened to him?” Errol asked.

The zombie shrugged. “Hard to say. It’s the Badlands; anything could happen. I mean, there’s all kinds of magic and mayhem that goes on out there. Back during your grandfather’s time, there was a guy who went hunting one day and disappeared. Twenty years later, he walked out of the woods, looking like not a single day had passed. Moreover, he swore he’d only been gone a few hours.”

“What happened to him?” Gale asked.

“He had trouble readjusting,” Dorsey said. “Lots of friends and relatives had died while he was gone; his kids were all grown and didn’t know him. In the end, he just walked back out into the Badlands and disappeared again - this time, for good.”

Errol asked the obvious question. “Could something like that have happened to Tom?”

“Possibly,” Dorsey answered, “but I doubt it.  Tom knows the Badlands too well, knows what can happen. There’s very little out there that he can’t handle.  Now that I think about it, I’d give it a few more days before I started to worry.”

“Here’s an idea,” Gale said, as Errol reflected on Dorsey’s comments.  “Why don’t you take three or four days to search the area near where Dorsey lives?”

“What about the problem you’re having in your fields?” Errol asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” she answered, pooh-poohing the notion with a wave of her hand. “It won’t kill us to have to deal with it for a little bit longer.”

Errol contemplated the idea. In truth, Tom would have hated it. In Tom’s mind, the people he protected came first.  He would probably go into conniptions if he knew that Errol was willing to put off the needs of the community to search for his older brother. In the end, Errol settled on a compromise.

“I’ll tell you what,” Errol stated, “I’ll give it two days. If I don’t find him by then, I’ll come by your farm to deal with your issue, and then go on with the search.”

That seemed agreeable to Gale. At this juncture, Dorsey cleared his throat.

“Well, if that’s settled,” the zombie announced, “I’ll be getting back to my place. I assume, Errol, that you’ll be coming with me.”  Following Errol’s nod, the zombie continued, “Then there’s just one other thing.  I have certain, uh, dietary restrictions, which is the thing that Tom usually helps me with.”

“What exactly do you need?” Errol asked guardedly, unsure of the response he’d get.

“Salt.”

 

Chapter 7

 

Errol was packed and ready to go in short order.  For food, he took about four days’ worth of dried meat, biscuits, and cheese. (He also pulled a sack of salt from the pantry for Dorsey, as it was apparently a very important part of the zombie’s sustenance, although he didn’t explain how.) For weapons, he took along his mainstays: the one-hand crossbow, his warding wand, his throwing knife, and his dagger. He also brought his axe and his staff, although the former was primarily for chopping firewood should he have to spend the night outdoors.

Finally, almost on a whim, he decided to take the miniature blowgun. It was a small weapon - the entire thing could almost be hidden in his hand - and the tiny darts it fired were far from lethal. However, having been dipped in a paralytic ointment, the darts did occasionally come in handy.

As soon as he was ready, he and Dorsey got under way - the former on horseback and the latter on foot.  (Dorsey, being undead, apparently had a great deal of stamina and could walk at a rather fast clip almost indefinitely. Moreover, horses found his presence unnerving to a certain extent, so he couldn’t have ridden anyway.) Despite a full moon, it was still too dark to see very much unaided. Thankfully, after uttering the proper incantation, the end of Errol’s warding wand glowed with bright luminescence.

Gale, it had been decided, would spend the night at the Station House (after, of course, sending a raven with a message to that effect to her family’s farm). Errol felt bad that she had to stay there by herself and that he didn’t have time to escort her home, but there was very little chance of anything happening to her. In uncharacteristic fashion, she had given him a hug before he left, and two words: “Be safe.”

 

**********

 

Two days of searching blazed by amazingly fast.  Using Dorsey’s small cabin as a base, Errol had searched the surrounding area in exceptional detail and found no trace of his brother.  No campfire, no latrine…not even a hoofprint from his horse.

Unfortunately, he had his promise of visiting the Beverly farm to fulfill, so on the third morning he reluctantly packed up and prepared to leave.  As he climbed up into the saddle, he extended his hand towards Dorsey, who was seeing him off.

“Thanks for your help,” Errol said.

“No problem.  Your family’s been helping me for decades now.”  Errol smiled at that as Dorsey continued.  “One last piece of advice.  Keep your eyes and ears open more than usual.”

“Why’s that?” Errol asked, frowning.

“I don’t know exactly. Just a feeling. Being undead, I’m attuned to certain forces, and the past few days I’ve been starting to get an odd feeling, like something new and malevolent has arrived.”

“Does it have anything to do with Tom?”

“From the feeling I’ve been getting, I hope not.  I hope, wish, and pray not, because I’m not sure that even Tom could stand against whatever this thing is.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Errol gave serious thought to Dorsey’s words as he made the trek to the Beverly farm - a trip that would take almost the entire day.  The Badlands were dangerous enough at the best of times, and even that was putting it mildly.  The thought of some new peril adding to what already existed kept him on his toes for the first few hours of the journey, although he encountered nothing more than minor weirdlings that he was easily able to ward off.

Around midday, he noticed smoke rising above the trees. 
A campfire!
Assuming that it might be Tom, he headed towards it, only to be disappointed when he arrived.

He didn’t even have to get down from his horse to see that this was someone else’s camp.  First of all, although he didn’t see anyone, he saw their gear spread around, and none of it was his brother’s. In addition, their equipment appeared to have been tossed about willy-nilly; Tom kept things well-organized at his campsites.

Errol sighed in disappointment and prepared to leave, when it occurred to him that the camper might need assistance. Looking down at the ground, he could track where it appeared someone had gone off into the underbrush.

“Hello?” he called out, loudly and clearly, in the direction of the tracks. His voice echoed slightly through the trees. He waited a few minutes, then called out again. This time, a nearby voice answered in response.

“Hello? Who’s there?” someone - a male - called out.

Errol squinted, looking into the dense shrubbery and saw a darkened form moving towards him. He checked to make sure his crossbow was ready and held it inconspicuously at his side as he answered.

“My name’s Errol Magnus.  I was just checking to see if everything was alright.”

“Everything’s fine,” the voice answered, and a large man stepped from the woods into the campsite. He was tall and rather rotund, but Errol got the distinct impression that his portliness consisted of more muscle than fat. Obviously middle-aged, he had salt-and-pepper hair that ran neatly down into a matching moustache and beard.

He carried a broadsword in a scabbard at his side.  Around his neck he wore multiple necklaces made of various metals - gold and silver among them - as well as bracelets on his wrists and armbands inscribed with odd symbols. Finally, numerous tattoos covered almost every patch of visible skin except his face. All in all, his was as curious an appearance as Errol had ever seen.

“Forgive me for not answering immediately,” the man said, “but I was…indisposed.  My name is Jarruse.”

He extended a hand, which Errol shook before asking, “What are you doing out here?”

“Gathering herbs, my young friend. I’m an apothecary. I make medicines, elixirs, and such.”

“You do know you’re in the Badlands, right? That all kinds of things live out here, and a lot of them consider human beings a delicacy?”

Jarruse smiled at that. “I’m aware, but much of what I need only grows here. I had hired a group of guards to accompany me, but they deserted me in the middle of the night after receiving their pay. I don’t have the funds to pay again, so it was either continue alone, or go back and face economic ruin.”

“Hmmm,” Errol groaned. “If I had a business that required me to go into the Badlands, I’d give serious thought to doing something else.”

“That’s a surprising point of view coming from a Warden.”


Deputy
Warden,” Errol corrected.  His profession (to the extent it could be called such for him) wasn’t difficult to guess; the all-black uniform - black shirt, black trousers, black boots, black hat - was a dead giveaway.  “My brother Tom is the actual Warden for this region.”

Jarruse frowned.  “Did you say ‘Tom’?”

“Yes,” Errol answered, his interest now piqued.  “Do you know him?”

“Well, I met him.”

“When? Where?”

“Maybe a week ago, not too far from here.  It was at night - some of the herbs I use only bloom in darkness - and he was headed to see a friend, he said.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I saw that he was a Warden, and I told him about my men deserting me.  I also told him about some weird creature I’d seen the previous night.”

“What kind of creature?”

“I don’t know,” Jarruse said in agitation. “Just something big and probably dangerous.  It was dark and I only saw it for a few seconds, moving through the trees, growling.  And it walked on two legs.”

“Two legs?”  Errol was surprised.  Only a handful of weirdlings were bipedal, although a number of them - like dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals - could rear up on two legs when it suited them.

“Anyway, he went to investigate.”

“And…?”

“And what? That’s it. I didn’t go with him, so that’s the last I saw of him.”

Errol groaned in frustration as he swung down out of his saddle. He opened up his saddlebag and removed a map, then asked Jarruse to try to pinpoint the area where he’d seen Tom and the direction he’d pointed him in.

BOOK: Warden
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Stranger by K. A. Applegate
Perfect Strangers by Tasmina Perry
Three the Hard Way by Sydney Croft
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Waiting for the Violins by Justine Saracen
Spell of the Crystal Chair by Gilbert L. Morris