After entering the village of Kervale, Carvesh politely excused himself from Lord Carwell’s men and rode hard towards Quelana’s home. His horse had not yet come to a full stop when he leaped from the saddle and raced across the yard, up the steps and through the front door. His head felt as though it was on a swivel. His eyes bounced back and forth, scanning the room full of strangers.
It was full to overflowing.
Wounded men were laying on cots, on tables, even on the floor. Others were moving back and forth, checking bandages, applying salves or pouring water or wine across thirsty lips. The entire room reeked of blood and flesh and the scent of fresh death. In several places, Carvesh saw what appeared to be bodies covered over with blankets. Quelana herself stood at the center of it all, barking orders, even as she busied her own hands with stitching closed a particularly gruesome wound.
When she saw him, she quickly finished what she was doing, spoke a few words to an assistant that Carvesh did not recognize, then walked over to greet him.
“Your alive!” she said, taking his arm and pulling him back outside. “And unhurt by the looks of it. Thank the Nine. When these men started arriving, we… well we didn’t have much hope. Jadoc and Madik?”
“They’re fine and helping some soldiers we met along the road. I expect they’ll be along shortly. Where’s Anya?”
“Upstairs with Jayne, tending to some of the more minor wounds.”
“With Gregor. I think they’re over at the Inn… Lord Carwell is here.”
“So I’d heard.”
“Carvesh, I…” When he raised his hand, she trailed off.
“We’ll talk later, I promise. Right now I just need to see my family.”
“Of course.” The healer nodded. “They’ve been worried sick about you.”
“And I them,” Carvesh responded. He rushed back into the house and, after stepping carefully around those laying on the floor, he bounded up the stairs two at a time. “Anya!” he bellowed. “Jayne!”
“Father!” he heard his daughter cry. A moment later, she appeared, her large brown eyes brimming with tears. She ran to him. As he bent down, she threw her arms around his neck, buried her face in his chest, and began to sob. “We thought you were dead! We thought…”
“It’s alright, starlight,” he said, holding her tight and smoothing her long, black hair. “I’m alive. Where’s your mother?”
“Here.” He looked up to see Anya gliding towards him. She did not say another word, but merely knelt to join her husband and daughter in a long silent embrace. While, Jayne continued to sob, her mother remained calm and collected, though Carvesh could see the faintest shimmer of her moistened lashes. She looked worn and haggard, with deep lines beneath her eyes. It was almost as though she had aged ten years in a single night.
In that moment, Carvesh did not think that she had ever looked more beautiful.
“Jayne,” whispered Anya, “would you please help Trent with the other patients? I’d like to talk with your father alone for a moment.” The girl simply nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes. Then she bent towards Carvesh and kissed him softly on the cheek.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too,” he responded softly, rising back to his feet. “More than all the stars.” She smiled, lingering for one brief moment before turning and walking back into the room from which she had come. As Carvesh watched her go, he felt his heart fill with a mixture of pride and sadness. He was pleased to see her helping where she could, but he also knew that she had lost some of her innocence because of it. She would have seen greusome wounds and come face to face with harsh cruelty of death. She may even have seen it bear men away.
“Come, my dear,” said Anya. She took him by the hand and lead him into a small room at the end of the hallway. It was little more than a closet, lit only by a single small window. As he closed the door, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. Her sudden affections caught him off guard, but only for a moment. He quickly found himself pulling her close, returning her kiss as a deep longing began to stir within him.
“Later,” she whispered, pulling gently away from his crushing embrace. “For now, just tell me what happened. Tell me everything.”
He did exactly that. He told her about the nightmarish battle at the Great Oak and of the shadowbeasts that had nearly killed them all. He told her about how the lone swordsman had arrived just in time to save them, about the stranger’s mysterious words, and his warning that the shadowbeasts continued to cross over from beyond the Stonewall. He even told her about the sword he still wore at his side, about his decision to stop running and face whatever destiny awaited him.
“It warms my heart to hear it,” said Anya when he was finished. “You were not made for this life of hiding, my love. But these wounded men, you know where they’ve come from, don’t you?”
“Sharenden,” replied Carvesh with a nod.
“It’s Lord Carwell himself who leads them.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“He was your father’s friend, wasn’t he?”
“His closest friend. They loved each other like brothers.”
“Will he recognize you?”
“I have no doubt.”
“What will you do?”
“Stay exactly where I am, at least for the moment. Stay and fight. I can’t let what happened to Hendrick and Connie happen to anyone else. Not if I can help it. I just… can’t.”
“No,” replied Anya. “Of course not. And that’s why I love you, my dear Carvesh. But tell me more about this Lord Carwell. If he was a friend of your father, perhaps he’ll support you.”
“Maybe. It’s one of the reasons that I decided to settle here. If any province in the Realm would be safe for our family, I have to believe it would be here in Nevhen. From the stories I’ve heard, Aurin was one of the few who stood by my father before my exile. For his sake alone, it’s possible that he might help us. On the other hand, he is still a Lord of the Realm. He’s bound by the same laws that sent me away. Helping us would be a significant risk on his part.
“Still, either way I think we’ll have some time. Unless he’s changed from the man I knew as a boy, I expect Aurin’s first concern will be the defence his lands and his people.”
“And you’ve survived two encounters with the shadowbeasts already.”
Carvesh nodded. “And spoken with the stranger who tore through the beasts as easily as we cut through the autumn wheat. There’s a good chance that Aurin will see me more as a valuable source of information than as an exile returned without consent—at least for the time being. But enough of that. Tell how Jayne’s holding up.”
“Well enough, I suppose. She has something of my mother’s touch I think. Quelana’s been very impressed with her composure and poise. She has gentle, steady hands and doesn’t shrink from the sight of blood.”
“No,” Carvesh said. “She was the only one anywhere near Dane when I found him. Where is he, by the way?”
“With his aunt, Chara. I think they’ll be taking him in now.”
“Good. The Nine only know what that poor boy’s been through. To be honest, I still can’t understand how he managed to survive. From what we saw…” He shuddered, unable to complete the thought. “It was horrible, Anya…” She could only nod in response, wrapping her arms around him again and pressing her cheek against his chest.
“I heard you mention Trent,” he said after a moment. “He’s up and about then?”
“Yes, and on light duty. His arm is still bound up in a sling, but you know how he is. Even with just the one good hand, he’s doing whatever he can to help.”
“I think I’d better talk to him.”
Carvesh kissed Anya once more before opening the door and following her out into the hallway. They were nearly at to the room into which Jayne had returned when they heard footsteps on the stairs, together with the rhythmic clank of light armour. Carvesh stopped mid-stride, even as the cold shiver of certainty crept down his spine. Very slowly, he turned towards the sound of the approaching stranger, already anticipating who he would find.
As expected, the man who crested the last step was short, with a lean and compact frame that hinted at both strength and grace. His thinning hair was cut short and was silvering at the temples. He was clad in rich maroon, with the twin rockcats of Carwell emblazoned into the steel of his dull and tarnished breastplate. As the man’s emerald-green, Flameborn eyes came to rest on Carvesh, the colour drained from the his face and it took on an uncommon expression that was a blend of both wonder and fear.
“Merek?” he asked. “No. The eyes are wrong, and you’re taller than Merek ever was. But by the Nine, you could be his son…” Lord Carwell trailed off. His eyes grew wider, and his look of wonder deepened. “Carvesh?”
“Hello, uncle. It’s good to see you again.”