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The farmhouse had seen better days. One side of the roof sagged precariously and the front door sat slightly askew. Only the lower hinge still attached it to the door frame. The ground surrounding the house was choked with weeds and appeared not to have been tended by anyone for quite a while. Behind the house sat a barn in slightly better shape, though still appeared to have fallen to disuse.
Despite the look of abandonment, a small plume of smoke made its way from the farmhouse's chimney. The faint sound of horses could also be heard from the barn. James quickly returned back down the hill until he no longer cast a silhouette against the afternoon sky. He kept low as he carefully made his way around the farm, doing his best not to be observed. As he circled the farmhouse, he watched the compass. As he moved, so did the compass, continuously pointing toward the structure.
Satisfied that he knew where Perrilin was, he found a safe place amidst tall grass where he could keep an eye on the house. The sun was low in the sky. He hadn't realized that his trek had taken so much time, but it seemed that sunset was not far off. He settled into his hiding place and waited for dark. When darkness came he would see what he could do. Guards on legitimate business of the city would have taken him to the jail. The fact that he was taken here could only bode ill.
He kept an eye on the farmhouse for the next hour until the sun set and the light faded. Just as the sun dipped below the horizon, a man emerged through the front door and made his way toward the barn. This was no farmer! The man had the look of a street tough and carried a sword at his hip. James watched through the tall grass as the man entered the barn. Before he could make up his mind whether or not to investigate, the barn door swung open and the man headed back to the farmhouse.
What is going on? he wondered. And should he even get involved? If it wasn't for his need to enter the Royal Archives, he would have turned around and gotten out of there. But he needed information, and it appeared Perrilin might be his only avenue through which he could get it. Plus, he liked the bard. During the evening they spent together on the road he found him to be friendly and good-natured. He couldn't leave without finding out what was going on. Things did not feel right. He settled down in the grass once more, and waited for the night. In darkness he could find out what was going on. He made himself comfortable, and waited.
Now dark, the barn was quiet as he approached. He peered through an open window and discovered six horses. Leaving the barn, he carefully made his way to the side of the farmhouse, doing his best not to stumble over anything in the dark. He carefully looked through one of the windows where light emerged.
On the other side he saw an empty room with a single doorway on the opposite wall. The light coming through the window originated from the room on the other side of the doorway. It looked to be the main room of the house. Four men took their ease on a couch and a couple of chairs. A fifth man stood in the middle of the room with his back to James.
The man stood there for several seconds before he stepped to the side. James gasped in shock to discover the man had been standing in front of a chair. And bound to the chair was the object of his search. Perrilin.
The bard looked the worse for wear. His left eye was swollen shut and his torn shirt was red with blood. James watched while the four men joked and laughed but he could not make out what was said. The fifth man returned to stand before Perrilin and said something. Perrilin didn't respond, he simply sat there and stared with a defiant look. The man said something else. Then he struck the bard across the face, snapping his head to the side.
Perrilin brought his head back up and continued to stare defiantly at his tormentor while blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. The man who struck Perrilin walked over to the fireplace and pulled out a red hot poker. He then stood in front of Perrilin where he held the poker a few inches from the bard's face. He gave Perrilin a moment to contemplate the red-hot poker, then the man spoke once more.
James hurried to the front door and picked up several stones along the way. Steeling himself, he paused a moment as he reached the door. Taking a few deep, calming breaths, he laid his hand upon the door. Words issued forth as he cast a spell, and at the utterance of the final word, the door exploded inward. Wooden shards flew everywhere.
The men turned to see James standing in the doorway. He cast another spell and two stones flew with magic-induced speed, striking captors in the chest before they had time to react. The stones exploded through their backs in a grisly display, embedding into the wall.
The one who had threatened Perrilin reacted first and threw the hot poker at James. He then drew his sword and advanced upon him. The remaining two fled and were soon out of sight.
James dodged to the side in order to avoid the thrown poker. He took his last stone and cast his spell, throwing it at the approaching man. By a stroke of ill-fated luck, the man moved his sword at just the right time; the stone struck the blade and snapped it in two. He threw his broken sword to the ground, drew his dagger and charged.
James did not want to withstand the charge of this bull of a man as he came straight at him. Instead turned and ran outside, into the darkness. Once beyond the reach of the light and into the shadows, he turned abruptly and quickly made his way back toward the side of the house.
He reached the side of the house just as the man raced through the doorway. The man tried to determine where James had gone, but his eyes had yet to adjust to the dark. James' breath froze in his lungs as the man's eyes roved over the very spot where he hid. Then turning abruptly, he headed for the other side of the house.
Not able to believe his luck at not being seen, James backed away from the door, all the while keeping against the side of the house. He planned his next move. To cast a spell would require him to give away his position as he spoke the words. But he might not have much choice if he wanted to survive this encounter.
Suddenly, the sound of footsteps came toward him from out of the dark. He held still against the side of the house and remained absolutely quiet, hardly daring to breathe.
Not more than a foot away, he discerned a shadow in the form of a man's silhouette. The shadow slowly made his way past where James hid in the dark. The light from the stars reflected off the bare blade of a sword. The man came to a stop, his head cocked first to one side and then the other as he listened to the night.
Without warning the sword struck. James dodged the blow and jumped to the side as the blade came within inches of where his head had been only a split second before. Losing his balance, he hit the ground and rolled quickly away. The man turned toward the sound as he rolled, advancing quickly, sword poised to strike.
James rolled several more times, and then came to a stop on his back. Looking up, he saw the man almost upon him. The moonlight glinted off the bare metal raised to end his life. In a moment of panic he thrust his hand toward the man, and a mental picture flashed of the man flying through the air away from him. He shouted, “Away!” Feeling a surge of power, the man was picked up and flung away. He struck the side of the house and smashed through to the other side. The force of the impact shattered bones and pulped flesh. The man was not a pretty sight.
The jagged hole in the side of the house spilled light onto where James lay on the ground. Getting to his feet, a crossbow bolt embedded itself in the ground where his chest had just been. He looked around and saw the man who had been interrogating Perrilin framed in a window, winding a crossbow to fire again. Placing another bolt in place, he once more aimed it at James.
He pictured the crossbow in his mind and envisioned its crosswire snapping. Without even vocalizing the words of a spell, he let thought guide the magic. He let loose a surge of power. Twang! The crosswire broke. Snapping back, it caught the man across the right side of his face. He cried out in pain, and the crossbow fell as he disappeared back into the house.
A quick scan revealed no other men in sight. Moving stealthily, James made his way over to the hole in the wall and peered in around the edge. Only the dead man was visible. Ever so carefully he climbed through the hole and made his way into the room. There he came to the dead man's side and took his knife. Now with the added confidence of having a blade in hand, he cautiously approached the doorway which led to the main room wherein Perrilin was being held.
Perrilin was still bound in the chair. Head lolled forward, the bard looked dead but for the gentle rise and fall of his chest. James waited for a second and made sure the last two men were not around.
A noise caused him to turn. One of the captors climbed in through the hole in the wall, sword at the ready and coming at him.
James visualized the knife flying and striking the man. He let loose with the power and threw. Guided by magic, the knife sailed through the air and struck the man in the center of the chest, puncturing the heart. His sword fell from his lifeless hand as his body lurched backward through the hole, and came to land on the ground outside.
On the brink of exhaustion due to all the magic he'd thrown around, James leaned against the wall for a second to catch his breath. He kept an eye out for the remaining captor. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a galloping horse. Rushing to the hole in the wall, he looked outside just in time to see the remaining captor. As he rode past, their eyes locked and James saw a red welt oozing blood running from his hairline to his jaw, crossing over the right eye. Their gazes held for a moment longer before the man was swallowed by the night.
--Brian S. Pratt
"The Morcyth Saga-The Broken Key Trilogy-and more..."