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Part 3! This is beginning to set a disturbing trend... I might actually write something of length! Anyway... this part is a bit short, but that's because I just decided that everything up 'till now is the prologue, and having the first chapter start halfway through the page would just be too confusing, so I just chopped it here and posted it. Ha! And I spell-checked it this time! :P
Well... spell checking doesn't catch everything I guess... fixed it anyway, so there.
Storthen's eyes flickered open as the sun burned at his face. Squinting, he looked up. Almost noon. His body ached, complaining as he crawled to his feet. He limped over to his sword, forcing his stiff fingers to pick it up and put in back in his belt. He looked up at the ridge high above him. He could see no movement up there. Storthen didn't even consider trying to climb it. Instead, he turned and began walking, following the ridge. Every muscle he had hurt, he was covered in bruises, and a gash in his arm was burning in the sun's heat.
He would have muttered curses as he walked, but he did not want to spare the energy even for that. There was a camp two day's march away he could go to get supplies and refresh himself. His only thought was getting to that camp before he died in the wastelands, but somewhere in the back of his mind he burned for revenge.
The next day, as Storthen was limping along singlemindedly, he heard hoofbeats thumping along the ground. Turning, he saw a group of riders approaching him. He cursed his lapse in awareness; they had undoubtedly seen him, and he would be unable to hide from them now. He turned to face them, hands away from his sword. First rule of war. Don't fight if you don't have to.
As the riders closed on him, he recognised the uniform of the Queen's guard.
"Halt!" The lead rider shouted unnecessarily. Storthen had already stopped. The guardsman looked at him from under his helmet, narrowing his eyes to slits. "State your name!"
"Storthen." The guardsman looked back at the others, his expression unreadable. He lowered his spear at Storthen, pointing it at his chest.
"I arrest you in the name of the Queen. If you resist, we will not hesitate in killing you." Storthen looked at the guardsmen assembled in front of him. They were a little nervous, but obviously well-trained. He couldn't win against them. "Put your sword on the ground." Storthen drew his sword, taking pride in the nervous flicker in the eyes of some of the guardsmen. Word of him must have reached the Queen's guard. He threw it on the ground. The lead guardsman motioned to another, and together they held him and placed shackles around his wrists and ankles. Before long he was slung across the back of a horse, and the guardsmen led him away.
As Lithanna came to, she found she was shaking. She was outside, the cold mountain sun doing little to warm her even at its zenith. Her wrists and ankles were raw and painful, and she could feel bruises across her body where the straps had been. Every bone in her body ached, but the headache was the worst. The pain in her skull drowned out the lesser complaints of the rest of her body. She couldn't feel her hands; she could barely open her eyes. She sat up, dimly hearing a scraping sound as she put her hands down to steady herself. She stood up slowly, and bent to hold her head in her hands. She pulled her hands away sharply when a stab of pain shot through her head as her hands touched.
She stumbled forward, into a solid, wooden door. Peering around, she realised it was Masmed's house she was outside of. She banged on the door.
"Masmed!" She stopped as she caught sight of her hands. Wicked-looking, foot-long steel claws had been screwed into her fingers. Dried blood encrusted her hands, but it could not hide the ugly lumps where the ends of her fingers had been. Lithanna whimpered in horror, staring at her hands, as she collapsed against the door. Her hands lay in front of her, useless, as she sobbed into the shoulder of her dress.
She sat there, crying, until the sun went down. Exhausted, miserable and cold, Lithanna stood up. A sharp stab of pain reminded her she could not even wipe her tears away. She set out down the stony path, back towards home.
In the state she was in Lithanna had forgotten about Thredakir and the other bullies until she saw them, waiting by the low wall around the village. Thredakir sprung to his feet when he noticed her.
"Hey, look who's back? Thought you'd run away on us, did you Lithy?" Lithanna kept her head down and didn't look at them. Thredakir walked towards her. "What's that you've got?" He grabbed her hand, hurting her tender fingers with his rough grip. He yelped and drew his hand back, looking with surprise at the blood there.
"Please leave me alone." Lithanna's words barely came out as a whisper.
"Look what you did to my hand!" Thredakir shouted at her. With a snarl of anger he pushed her. She fell backwards, biting back tears when pain shot through the hands she used to break her fall. Thredakir looked back at her, his face a scowl of hate, before stalking off, the others following him.
Lithanna got up and continued home. She was thankful that the village square was almost empty this late in the evening. She reached her aunt's house and stood on the doorstep, trying to work out how she could knock without hurting her hands more. The door opened as Merrith rushed out, gathering Lithanna in a hug.
"Oh, Lithy, I've been so worried about you!" She cried. "Where have you been? I thought those boys had done something. Why didn't you come home last night? What happened?" Tears welled up in Lithanna's eyes.
"My hands..." She said, holding them before her. Merrith's eyes went wide when she saw the cruel claws, the blood on her hands. She swallowed.
"My poor child." Merrith said. "We'd better get those hands clean. Come here."
Merrith gently cleaned Lithanna's hands, wiping away the blood as Lithanna told her between sobs what had happened. Merrith finished her hands, and cleaned Lithanna's face too, for good measure. Then they both sat back, looked at Lithanna's hands. Now the blood was cleaned away, Lithanna could see there was no hope of getting the claws off. The steel drove deep into her fingers, and even a tentative tug at them made her cry out in pain. Tears ran down her face freely, and just as Merrith moved to comfort her they heard a loud banging at the door.
"Open up Merrith!" Came a gruff voice. The door rattled as it was thumped on again. "Open up!" Merrith went to the door and opened it. She was startled to find most of the village gathered at her doorstep, many carrying torches in the dark. She recognised the bulky, bald-headed man in front of her as Thredakir's father, Norrik. His red face was twisted in a grimace of rage, and his son stood stooped behind him, holding his bandaged hand.
"Where is that niece of yours, Merrith! She has always been trouble, but she has gone too far now! Where is she! I know she's in there!" Standing on the doorstep, Norrik's head was below Merrith, and she looked down at him disapprovingly.
"What business is that of yours, Norrik?" She said in a steady, level voice, holding back the urge to scream at him.
"Look what she has done to my son's hand!" Norrik grabbed Thredakir's hand and hastily unwrapped it, shoving it right under Merrith's nose. "My son was to be a soldier in the Queen's guard, but do you think they will have him with his hand like this!" Thredakir winced.
"It's just a cut, Norrik. You're overreacting."
"I demand to see her! She must be punished!"
"You have no right, Norrik." Merrith's voice quivered with anger.
"There she is!" Lithanna had come to see what was going on, and held her hands in front of her face as Norrik charged past Merrith.
"What abomination is this!" Norrik demanded. He grabbed Lithanna by the wrist, despite her cries, and dragged her out to the doorstep. He grabbed a torch from one of the villagers and thrust it close to Lithanna's hands. A collective gasp rose from them as Norrik spoke.
"Look at her! I told you she was trouble, and now look! She is cursed, a demon, a vile wretch sent by the lord of shadows to kill us all, no doubt!" His roaring shout drowned out Merrith's attempts to speak. "Will we let this craven thing abide with us!" Shouts of support for Norrik rose from the crowd. He dragged Lithanna across the village, to the wall surrounding it, ranting all the time. Lithanna struggled against him, lacerating several people who came too close to her flailing arms.
At the edge of the village Norrik thrust her away.
"Don't come back here ever again!" He shouted. "It will be your death if you do!" He picked up a stone from the ground and threw it at her. Many of the villagers followed suit, and Lithanna scrambled off into the night, followed by a hail of stones. Merrith screamed, held back by some of the villagers, as Lithanna disappeared into the darkness.
Norrik turned to Merrith, almost a note of pity in his voice. "It's for the best, Merrith. We won't hold you responsible for this. That devil-child had you under its spell, is all."
"You bastard!" She screamed, struggling against the two men who still held her. Norrik breathed a heavy sigh.
"Take her back to her house." He instructed the men. "She's obviously still irrational."
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