Thursday, September 8

Chapter IV (Second Book)

Damus would have cried out for help, but there was no strength left in his voice, just a mere whisper. His breath involuntarily quivered in short gasps every time he tried to inhale. Worst of all he couldn’t stop shaking either. Whenever he managed to open his eyes, he could only briefly make out the straw walls of a hut. 

Adam has never heard of anyone living past four days with such a high fever before. The most he could be is hopeful and tell himself that everything was going to be alright.  

“Right... right..?” He whispered softly while brushing Damus coarse hair aside. Then he placed another damp cloth on his forehead. 

The layers of fish-wire decorated with beads dispersed right above the hut’s entrance. A glisten of silver and black marinated in the sunlight when the old herbalist limb into view. She looked as if though she had been crawling around in the dirt all day. Sweaty, smelly - not to mention her white unkempt hair sprawled across a lemon colored cowl that’s starting to brown. 


“The longer you stare, the older I’mma gonna get.” She gave him a gap-toothed smile. 


Adam immediately diverted his eyes like a child that’s been caught red-handed. 


“And I thought I told you to give up? I prefer not wasting my ingredients on those who aren't guaranteed of survival.”


“How can I give up on him!? I told you! It’s - it’s my duty.” Adam began to say.


“Your dedication is quite admirable. I’m sure you’ll get reassigned to someone else. Simple.” 


Winifred set her weaved basket onto a table which has various of objects, such as a mortar and a pestle. The long sleeve of her dark green robe slipped down her arm when she touches some wild tassel which hung from the ceiling. 



“Reassigned?” Adam paused between thoughts, “No - No... he’s - he’s... my friend. I know he would do the same for me. Winifred please... you’re the only one in Redhorse who’s familiar -” 


“Boil twenty basil leafs together.” 



“W-what?” He spoke up. 



“Boil twenty basil leafs together with a piece of ginger and add some honey. Then strain it. Make him drink it once every three hours until there’s a sign of improvement.” 


Adam nearly tripped when he rushed over to Winifred side. He didn’t know how else to express his gratitude so he took her hand instead and earnestly looked her in the eyes. “Thank you, thank you.” The phrase was repeated countless of times before she gave him an approving pat. 

Adam grabbed a bucket and hurried off to the well. Despite the circumstances, he couldn’t deny such a beautiful day. Clear skies, no wind, soft grass with a hint of blue. If he hadn’t been in such a hurry, he would have enjoyed the bird’s banter. Whiling raising the water, he paused only to glimpse at the ogres in the near distance. Helping to repair the damages that have been done on their behalf. It was quite a sight to see them side by side with us - (humans). 

The realization of not knowing where to find basil leafs finally settles in.  Of all things to forget - he forgot to ask Winifred. And to make matters worse, she wasn’t there upon his return. However, he discovers there were leafs inside of the basket she had left behind on the table. A smile slipped briefly before he decided to prep the fire. In the middle of the hut lies a tripod (that has three legged poles with a hook in the middle. It raises the cauldron above the fire he started.) The rest of the ingredients were scattered along the table in what he considered to be an organized mess. First, he ground down a piece of ginger then sprinkled it into the water. Next - a few drips of honey from a jar. Lastly, the basil leafs fall as if they’ve been snatched by gravity.

 From time to time, he stirred the broth with a wooden ladle. Cooking wasn’t something he did very often since his father forbids him from entering the kitchen. But when given a chance he basks in the task. Eventually, curiosity led him to taste what he quickly deemed too bitter so he added more honey. When he’s finally satisfied with the flavor. He scoops out enough to fill a bowl. 

Adam elevates the upper part of Damus body to adjust him as close as he could in a sitting position. He swung Damus arm around his shoulder to prevent him from slipping down any further. Afraid of the possibility that he may choke. Gradually, Damus head comes to rest just a little below his chin. 

Adam gently cools off the broth before attempting to feed him.  Damus easily took the first three spoonfuls but from that point on he refused. The more Adam struggled to get him to eat, the more aggressive Damus would respond. Was it because of the fever? Or perhaps a nightmare? Whatever it was had left him hysterical. Everything that came from his mouth sounded animalistic and deranged. 

Between all the madness, Damus shockingly had enough strength to shove Adam straight into the cauldron. Scorching fire splashed across his back, leaving behind an exquisite pain he had once felt in the past. Light lashes brimmed heavily with tears that wouldn’t stop no matter how hard he tried. Raspy breaths escaped in form of a silent cry, while those shaky hands of his clenched; demanding to steady them. He bit his tongue after he embraced the floor on all fours. Momentarily he looked away from Damus in shame. A distraction - that’s all this is. A very nuisance which couldn’t be comparable to his - for he can still die. 

He stood up after ignoring the waves of heat coursing through his skin and faced Damus gaunt features which now glistened in a cold sweat. Unexpectedly, his sunken eyes focused on Adam tear streaked face. 


Before Adam knew it, there was shouting again, but he could barely recognize it was his own voice repeating, “Why won’t you accept my help!?” 


“It’s strange... frightening even. How did you go from being a complete stranger to someone pure, unselfish, and undemanding...” Damus quietly said. 


Adam's mouth gaped opened in surprised by his statement; knowing it was out of character. He didn't have the chance to let his brain registered what he just heard because he felt a pair of arms wrapping around his body. 


The tip of Damus nose dragged lightly across his collarbone, "You make me feel at peace even after all the terrible things I’ve done." He whispered into the nape of his neck.


Adam had been hugged before and yet it's never been quite like this. He struggled to get a single word out. The very moment he managed to do so, he's pulled in even closer when Damus buried his face against his shoulder. Despite the burn, he endured it as long as they stood there together. 


Damus heavy eyelids fluttered open violently. Quickly he sat up like he had been caught off guard by an opponent. However, his movement was very rough and stiff. Wincing, he brought a hand to his forehead while glancing around the unfamiliar surroundings. All was black expect the candle’s light that seemed to dance across the dimly lit hut. Then he felt something rather soft brush up against his side. A muscle twitched involuntarily at the corner of his right eye when he saw auburn red hair. There’s no doubt in mind who it was. Without question, he raised a hand high and brought down a fist. When Adam’s peaceful face turned over in sight, he stopped just inches away from his temple. 

Similar to the sun; Adam’s chest rises and falls in rhythm. The upper part of his body was sprawled out on the bed while the lower portion was neatly resting upon bent knees. Quietly he murmured a few words that couldn’t be identified between his gentle snuffles.


Damus bare skin laminated in goosebumps after he’s started by a croaky voice. Which he soon deemed to be most likely from somebody old. He didn’t know what was worst. Someone watching him this entire time without letting their presence be known or the fact that he’s this vulnerable. 


“Who are you to be sneaking around like that!? Show yourself!” 


“You’ve sure got a tongue. For a man a dead man that is.” Winifred coughed between every other word. 


Damus sunk back into the covers once he realized the old woman was all bark but no bite. 


The coughs eased in intensity then slowly passed when Winifred spoke once more, “You’ve been asleep for over a week. The boy has been at your beckon and call. The least you could do is allow him a full nights rest.”


Intentionally Damus didn’t mean to but his mouth formed a rigid grimace. The lecture sounded more like empty rambles of someone nearing their senile prime. Changing from one subject to the next at a moment’s whim. 


“And I couldn’t believe how much ointment that pregnant woman used on her feet. Sore feet!?  She doesn’t know the meaning of sore feet! I’ve walked up and down this mountain I don’t know how many times. If only I could afford a horse. You know how expensive those bloody things are? But going up a hill would be such a strain on my frail body. I'm not getting any younger these days. Anyway, I won’t be here until noon. So don’t forget to tell the boy to find some snails in the morning. When the grass has a wee bit of dew is the easiest way to spot them.” 


Damus mind was still a surging perplexity even after she had left. Eventually, he rid all the confusion by simply shaking his head. Carefully he climbed out of bed to avoid disturbing Adam’s slumber. 


Like a naked jaybird, he wandered the hut in search of something to wear. Upon approaching the table, he bent down to peer at the glossy armor which rests beneath. It looked almost anew expect for the dents that couldn’t merely be rubbed out. Beside his chest plate laid trousers and a shirt. At first, he thought they might’ve been clothing Adam had borrowed from one of the villagers. However, with a closer examination, he realized it’s actually his. They’ve been scrubbed nearly to perfection and yet, he knew it wasn’t Adam’s intentions. He over does any task whenever he’s stressed out. 


Slipping the shirt over his head, he pulled down before adjusting the drawstring and eyelets in the front. Once dressed, he returned to Adam’s side with a blanket to drape over his shoulders. 


Softly he ruffled Adam’s hair then said, “You’ve really outdone yourself this time kid.” 


The next day, Adam’s brows furrowed when the morning’s light struck his face. Groaning, he rolled over to bury his face into a pillow. Groggily, he tried to ignore the voice which kept insisting on snapping him out of relaxation. The thought of getting up seemed out of the question until he recognized the tone. His eyes flung wide open in sheer panic of the strong silhouette. Immediately he reached out and placed a hand on Damus forehead. 


However, Damus leaned back out of reach then tapped his own chin to persuade Adam to wipe the drool away from his face. Once Adam realized what he was referring to, he obliged by embarrassingly swiping a forearm across. 


“I’ve heard you’ve gotten yourself into quite the predicament with the ogres.” Damus mentioned, “Promises...? In exchange for fixing up the village?” 


Adam wearily smiles, “You think Acran can restore their size?” 


"Either that or we're gonna have a lot of blood on our hands." Damus sighed, "We’ll figure something out.” 


“I hope so.” Adam quietly replied. 


“Quit being mopey and pull yourself together already. You’ve got some snails to catch. Don’t look at me. It wasn’t my idea. That old woman acted like it was urgent. And don’t even ask me what’s so useful about a snail.” 


“A snail mucus can be used to treat pain, abscesses burns - Oh...” He stopped in mid-sentence.” 


“If snails are good enough payment for our stay then its fine by me.” 


Adam doesn’t know how much Winifred knew but regardless he's thankful that she didn’t say anything to Damus. 


Outside; all is quiet as if the world had ended during the night. The sun still resides below the horizon while the dawn lingers on. And every single blade of glass seemed to twinkle from a tiny speck of water. Staying low to the ground, Adam carefully uncovers small patches of leaves until he discovers a shiny trail of slime. 


“You’ve done this before?” Damus questioned him. 


“No, I’ve read half of the archives in the library.” 


“Who made you do that?” He couldn’t help but frown. 


“Nobody.” 



Damus caught a slight sadness to his tone. Just when he felt bad for him. Adam’s emotion soared to new heights. 


“Look! I did it!” 


Adam proudly waved the snail by its thin shell for him to see. 


“Beginners luck.” He sneered. 


“Oh? You think you can do better?” 


“Twice as much.” He boasted. 


“You’re on!” 


Never did Damus imagine he would be childishly searching around for snails and having fun while doing it. Mostly because it was nice to see Adam being a kid. He never gets along with anybody his own age. He’d rather fill his head with knowledge instead of experiencing days of youth. A lifetime he’ll never get a chance back. 


“D-Damus!” 


Looking down, Damus eyed a peculiar pile of mud. Strangely enough, the location was right on the tip of his boot. 


“Don’t move!”


Ignoring Adam’s plead, he tilted his boot sideways to rid himself of the grime. Although he wasn’t sure what to think, considering it didn’t react to any movement at all.The mud began to bubble three openings, creating an appearance of hollow eyes and a mouth that kept expanding in size. 

Adam grabbed a fallen branch and thrust straight into its largest hole. Holding on tightly, he twisted and turned until the devourer became entangled. Then he flung the branch far behind a pair of wild berry bushes. 


“You need to be more careful!” 


“I never thought I would hear you say that.” Damus laughed. 


“Be more serious, won’t you!? You could have been immobilized and suffocated to death. They don’t have a specific name but the given one is commonly described by how it devours victims. They’re created from failed magic. Whether it's light or dark - nobody is quite sure. But I believe they may both attribute to this atrocity. Or perhaps the factors are based on what it comes into contact with.” 


Damus snapped his fingers to divert Adam from bookworm mode. All he received in return is an aloof gaze that wouldn’t waver because he wanted an apology for being treated like some kind of mongrel. Although it wasn’t intentional to offend Adam, but he secretly felt proud of his new developing backbone. 

Adam wasn’t sure how to react when he was tossed a gift of moral guilt. It was a small musical instrument made from a variety of short pipes that were aligned together at the top. 


Damus grabbed the bucket of snails and said, "Let's head back before the crow starts cawing." 


"If it wasn't for her -"


"That doesn't mean I have to like the crazy old bat." He butted in. 


"I wonder if she will only extract the slime or use the whole snail. They're not hard to keep in captivity, considering how little of an amount is needed to sustained one. I've heard some thieves use the shells by grinding them up to create a blinding powder for as means of escape." 


"You're doing it again..." His voice trailed off after he noticed Adam examining the panpipes more closely. 


"Where did you get this?"


'Where did I? ' He asked himself. 


"The pipes are be made out of bones. Seems awfully too small to be human."


"You're late." Winifred sneered while crossing her arms, "You would think the young would be more capable of completing a task under a reasonable amount of time."


Damus tossed the bucket to Winifred. She barely caught the thing and stumbled back like it could have knocked her completely down. He could see the regret when she had sunk to her knees, but she kept eye contact, rather than stare into the void. 


"Great to see you too." He waved slightly with a lack of enthusiasm before he pushed through the hut. 


Adam words were unwilling to spring and his limbs moved as if some inexperience master is trying to puppeteer them. The most he managed to do was lay a comforting hand upon Winifred's shoulder. She placed hers over his to show reassurance.  It was the first time Adam could deem there might be more to the rumors than he suspected. Despite the fact he still wanted to take account of all the trauma Damus had encounter recently. 


"I don't know your situation." Winifred began to say, "But.. if you ever find yourself with no other place to go. You're always welcome here. " 

Inside the hut; Adam closely watched Winifred's extraction method. However, he looked away whenever she broke a shell and removes the intestines. Then individually she would take a snail and rub salt till it begins releasing foam. Afterward, she gently squeezed the slime out into a small bottle. The whole process would have been more fascinating if it weren't for the awkward tension of silence. Damus never once made eye contact with either one of them. He just sat there impatiently tapping his foot. Eventually, he excused himself and waited outside instead. 


Winifred sealed the top with a cork then gave the bottle to Adam. She instructed him to apply the treatment twice a day for two weeks. However, the burns were the last thing on his mind. He scowled slightly, trying to figure out a way to explain the situation that was forced upon her. The look in her eyes made him keep his mouth clamped shut. Winifred so willingly to help them without receiving anything in return. Perhaps she could see the years of hardship in others. Adam gave her a long hug goodbye. 

After he gathered the rest of their belongings, he pushed through the beaded doorway and met up with Damus by the well. A whimsy mane brushed up against Adam as the horse nuzzled against his side. He smiled some, although he kept it mostly inward. 



"I've decided you're going off duty for a couple of days when we return," Damus tells him. 


"What?" Adam exhaled, "You need me." He reached for the leather reins but all he felt were blisters. 


"Nonsense, I was doing just fine before you came along." Damus protested. 


Adam's heart sunk into his shoes. Why didn't he just come out and say it? He's not needed. Maybe he never was. The thought is painful but yet it's something he's come to known oh so too well. 

The trip had taken quite a toll on Adam, ever since the incident. He spent most of the time buried in his thoughts. All the while avoiding Damus frigid eyes. Regardless he was excited to sleep in his very own bed again. That's when he realized something...  Home, that's what the barracks had become to him now. And the one thing that could jeopardize it all was nestled inside a vase; an orchid. The radiant color has faded to a repulsive brown. The curled petals which stiffen had fallen. Slowly beginning to wilt away from its siblings who bloomed in the lush evergreen. 


"What woman courts a man with flowers?" Damus asked. 


Adam raised his hand up enough to let the drooping head rest in his palm. He knew very well this was no gift of an admirer, it's a declaration of war. 

Hours passed while Adam wandered from person to person. Asking if they know who made the delivery. Of course nobody seemed to know or frankly, some were just too scared to speak to him. Because he would glance at an individual without getting a response. His suspicion of Garret was even greater than before. 
Determine to take a calm approach, he went to the dining hall since it's more common for him to run into Garret there than anywhere else in the barracks. He poked gently at his meal since honestly, he wasn't hungry. How could he not feel this way? His lively hood has been threatened and there's no telling how much more Garret knows. Worst of all what will he do with all this information? Blackmail comes to mind, but what would he have that Garret would want so badly in exchange for silence? Whatever he planned on using him for, he had better do it sooner rather than later. 


"I've heard you've been looking for me." A voice crept up from behind. 


"Hello, Garret..." Adam said without taking one look. 


Everyone else who was seated got up and changed tables when Garret sat right beside him. Playfully he laid his head down sideways, causing his dark entanglement of wavy hair to sprawl over the stained wood. Olive green eyes leered at the uneaten porridge. He stood straight up when Adam slid his bowl on over to him. 


"How generous of you!" Garret scooped a lumpy spoonful. 



Adam pressed four digits to his forehead and momentarily closed his eyes when he asked, "What do you know?" 


"I was right. Constantine Benedictus is your father, but that's not even the most interesting part.  Who put you up to it? You've made a fool out of everyone, including me. After the fire, how long did it take for your uncle to realize once you moved in with him?" 


"What will keep you quiet?" Adam interrupted. 


"Half of your earnings."


"HALF!?" He nearly choked on his own spit, "What do you need the money for?" 


"You don't get to ask the questions, I do.  And hey - It's only a few silvers. You won't miss them, trust me." 


"I still have to eat!" He argued, "That'll barely even cover the cost of bread!" 


"It's too late to grow a pair now. And might I remind you. If you bring this attitude around me again you'll regret it." 


Adam obediently placed three silvers on the table. 


Garret delightfully snagged them with a smile, "Good doing business with ya." 


Adam felt like a worm struggling to reach the core of an apple. Whenever he's about to reach the center, someone just takes a bite. Just one after the other, until there's nothing but a stem left. 


Everywhere Adam looked - everyone was staring at him and whispering. All of them might as well have been maggots eating away at every remorse etched in his heart. Did he really deserve this? Will he have to pay for one mistake for the rest of his entire life? He should have never agreed to help that strange child. If he hadn't... his family would still be alive today. If only he could go back to rectify the mistake. He would have cried right there and then, but he ended up breaking out into a hysterical laughter. His change of heart is met with blank expressions. Sadly, there's no difference between now and when he lived with his father. Every failure came with a great price which was shared by his mother and sisters. 

He blinked, feeling the sensation of his eyes open, but everything remained black. Momentarily he remembered the feeling of the hands wrapping around his throat and forcing him into the wall.  He repeatedly put pressure on both sides, just enough to cut Adam's oxygen off for a millisecond. Honestly, he didn't care how bad he got beaten up. Nobody else would have to get hurt as long as he's willing to take all the punches - even if he turns up dead the next morning. Nothing could properly explain father's reasons. He couldn’t blame everything on him because, in his mind, he felt this was right - that's this is the only way to make us behave like we should.  Besides his slight lack of self-control, Adam saw nothing wrong with him, and father said himself that he still loved him. So why would he bother to run off if he didn’t have something better waiting? Back then he didn't.... now he did. If he had known Damus then - maybe he would have stood up for himself. A painful intake of breath brought him back to where he actually was; standing in the dining hall once again. 


"This time it's for me and nobody else."  

The soreness of his feet kept him at reasonable pace along the way to the market. Since - where else would Garret have gone with that type of money anyway? Many bystanders ignored him as usual. Well, expect the ones he had accidentally bumped into. 

He offered apologies one after the other, "Excuse me. Pardon me. Coming through. Excuse me. Pardon." 

Up ahead, Garret disappeared into a crowd of eager consumers. Carefully Adam followed him to the poorest district in the kingdom.  He barely could keep himself contain. For all he wanted to do was to vent and let everything out once and for all. He took a deep breath and held it in. Everything he wanted to say to Garret ran through his mind right before he released the trapped air. However, a single syllable never left his lips after he saw Garret offer a helping hand to an elderly woman. Immediately Adam dove behind a smelly stack of barrels. The odor was a distinct smell of fish, which probably have sat out in the sun for way too long. Holding his nose, he quietly watched Garret.  Although he couldn't make out the conversation. It's obvious Garret has known her for awhile. He suspects it might be a relative or perhaps a close friend to the family. From what he observe, her ability to get around wasn't the only thing going these days. Those blank expressions was also a clear indication of an absent mind. 

Garret led her into an old house which might as well had been ramshackle that's barely suitable for even for a rat - let alone human life. When the door closed, Adam scrambled up to the nearest window to peek inside. 


"Here have a seat." Garret guides her to a chair. 


"Thank you." She patted his arm. "Such a good boy." 


Garret knelt down right in front of the chair with a weak smile and said, "I almost have enough to get you out of here." 


"Thank goodness you got that promotion when you did." She praised him. 


Adam has been exploited a lot throughout his life, but it's never been quite like this. He wasn't sure if he should feel mad or have sympathy. Whatever he felt... it doesn't change the fact that Garret was doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Tears welt up in his eyes, blurring the lines between the past and present. He could hear laughter right outside his father study. Lilly and Penelope were always the loudest while playing in the garden. Sometimes he secretly wished he could remove their voices from his daily life. Only then he wouldn't know of the fun he's been missing out on. 


THWOP! 


Adam nearly crawled out of his skin when his father slammed the book in his hands closed. 


"You must learn the fundamentals! Who else is gonna be the breadwinner in this household after I'm gone!? You don't have time to be diddle-drawling around!" Father was brutally honest, he had no patience for someone who is willing to waste all his valuable time. 


"Father I just was -" 


Deliberately he threw the book straight at his face and shouted, "What did I tell you!? I am to be addressed as "Yes sir" or "General." I've raised you with morals and above all respect! And yet you dare not to me show any in return?" 


Adam couldn't grasp how long the beating had gone on for. All he could remember is the face his mother made afterward. Those guilt driven eyes wouldn't divert away from his. Her bottom lip trembled, trying to find the words to say, but none ever came. 


An elegant awareness distorted the memory. A long black feather had landed softly on the middle of his face. Gradually Adam reached up and took the feather for a closer look. He examined it carefully in his palm before a caw redirected him to the roof. The crow fidgeted and puffed out its wings in between calls. 

Adam decided to head back to the barracks. There was no point of lingering around any longer. He overheard an altercation further behind him, but he thought it was best not to intrude with whatever was going on. When he passed by some children, he smiled to replace the previous solemn expression. The pair were sneaking off from their parents for an adventure of their own. It seemed like everyone else in the world had one friend that dragged them into doing something stupid. Adam slapped his cheeks trying to straighten out his attitude right before he entered Damus room. 

"Back already kid?" Damus rolled over in bed to greet him. 


"Yea -" 


"You didn't last very long out there." He made no effort to hide his amusement. 


Adam ignored the statement and continued to his room. Once inside, he stood there lost in thought. He wondered if Damus should be notified of the circumstances. Maybe it wouldn't be the best thing to do. Well - at least until he can fix the first problem he created with the ogres. 

Eventually, he knelt beside his bed and reached underneath to remove something he kept hidden. It was a leatherbound book which is buckled closed with his father's belt. Although the journal was light in weight, it still felt heavy in his hands. For each day of his life has been written page by page. Every entry was a different time and place. Featuring his absolute worst memories, but lately, they've all become adventurous chapters - thanks to Damus. 















































© Tiffany Ann Adkins 2015 - 2019