Chapter The Second
I was thinking of posting it in two parts to make reading it nicer, but tell me what you think; the usual disclaimers apply, see chappie 1.
Into Your Hands
Chapter The Second
The port city of Nazradei, was a large commercial society, in which, many merchants travelled to fro distant lands just to trade, sometimes only to catch a glimpse of it giant pillars and many domes before being swiftly turned away. This was not a city for the poor, yet many street rats and scavengers roamed, dressed in pitiful garbs to beg with equally pitiful mannerisms. Nazradei was the beacon of hope for many in the country of Korinth, bringing to the people stability, economy and most of all travel.
Markus stood at the wide gates of Nazradei, taking in the workmanship of the metal gates with a calm eye. He patted his left breast pocket as if to reassure himself all was well. Although merchants were welcome, all merchant travellers were required to carry with them, papers of identification. The tall iron gates were shut. They stood several meters high, intricate designs of flowers, and majestic beasts seeming weaving in, out and around iron bars. It was impossible to open, requiring large mechanical wheels to part the gates wide enough for a cart to pass through and no more. In winter, the city gates tended to remain closed alter all who would travel in blizzard and ice; thus Markus stood before the wide gates of Nazheradei, tired, cold and frustrated waiting for a sentry to take notice of him. After that everything would be a breeze, he was surprisingly well known among the sentries, having spent long stays within the city walls and many frequent visits, most of them knew him by name.
The city itself was enclosed on all sides, by a sea to the south and tall well built walls. It was at the same time protected, yet vulnerable to penetration. Someone called out to him from above, a deep bass voice which rumbled and was easily distinguishable from the noise of the city begin him.
The man was thick set, not with fat but muscle, his uniform tight around the chest and shoulders. He waved, the uniform shirt stretched taught across his shoulders and chest, so tight they should have ripped at the seams. Markus waved back just as enthusiastically happy to be out of the snow soon and into the warm embrace of city life. He watched, Jafar disappear of the edge of the wall and soon the wheels came to life with a week groan. With every crack of the turning mechanics the gate opened inwards a fraction, moaning as the frozen hinges were forced into action. When they finally stopped moving Jafar’s face appeared before him, grinning from ear to ear. It hadn’t be so long since they last saw each other, only two moths at best, however in that time his wife had given birth to the twins.
He patted Arid’s mane, though the horse did not need any encouragement, himself, eager to be out of the knee deep snow. The men met with a tight hug, patting each other on the back in a manly gesture to ease their embarrassment. Jafar quickly pushed him away and held him at arms length, surveying the dampened furs and tight features.
“You fool,” he scolded, “what in Semira’s name are you doing here, not that I don’t welcome you but in this weather, are you mad?”
“Yes.” Markus replied, his tone taking on a snappish and curt manner. He sighed and shook his head to be rid of the fatigue, the hood partially hiding his features falling to reveal dark circles on browned skin and an ugly looking scowl.
“I’m very tired Jafar, right now all I can think of is sustenance and sleep, preferably somewhere warm.”
Arid voiced his agreement, drawing a weak chuckle from both men. Jafar, once more carefully took in the appearance of his brother, the cloths were of good quality furs, meant to keep out any chill; however, his face had not been so well protected. Markus’ lips were chapped and blood crusted in some places, patches of skin were dried and blistering and for all his happiness at being reunited with his elder brother again, his eyebrows were drawn into a vee and he looked altogether either disturbed or troubled.
“Come let us be away then, I’ll tell Nishi it’s his shift anyway.”
Markus nodded and made his way to Arid. The body was still in the back, the cold taking care to preserve it; he couldn’t bring himself to think of it as a person let alone a child, the dark thoughts such thinking led to were what had tormented him on the remaining part of his journey, the flood of whys and hows, giving him no rest. The gates began closing with the familiar clicks and groans of hinge and mechanics, until they shut with a resounding thud, the vibration running along his spine. He always hated that part.
Jafar returned and herded the Markus and Arid through the city to his home. The house was not very tall, but neither was it very wide, the streets in this area of the city were narrow, not designed for carts as they were not quite home meant for the residence of merchants. Many similar homes were packed together, hardly any space between each house; row upon row of identical architecture, uniform to reduce building cost, low to reduce building cost and narrow to reduce building cost. It was no surprise that they were plain, rectangular shaped, the only identifying marker the colour of each door. Numbers were painted in by hand, on each door; on the left were even numbers on the right odd numbers. Jafar’s home was the last one, at the end of the cobblestone road, only door with out any colour.
He turned to Arid and said, “You know the drill.”
Arid, hrumffed in answered, slowly navigating the rocky road around the corner of the house to the back, where a small stable was located, built just for occasions such as this. He’d go settle Arid in before doing anything else; the house stood on the left of the road and prominent one hundred painted into the wood of the door in black. The path to the house was well tended; a small fence erected to separate it from the road and what in the spring would be flowers were now covered thickly in snow. Jafar pulled out his keys from a dark pocket of his uniform trousers, carefully rifling through them. Finally after a short knock the door was opened. He pushed it open and ushered Markus in. A blast of heat burnt the skin of his face, forcing him to close his eyes shut in protection.
“Hot, init?” Jafar grinned at him, pushing him through the threshold and calling out to his wife.
A tall woman appeared from behind a curtain of beads, she was one of those women that upon first glance demanded another; her frame was full and curving; the last time he’d seen her she’d been bulging with twins and confined to a bed. For the mother of newborns she looked surprisingly alert and refreshed, her hair was cropped to her ears, a style that drew many disapproving looks; her cloths were far from elegant, dressed in a mud coloured tunic and black breeches. Although she was fair of face, her style of dress and speech were what drew astonished second glances, even in a city as diverse and supposedly open minded as Nazradei.
“Mark!” She enveloped him in an embrace; one of the benefits of being quite tall were that she could glare down anyone who challenged her authority, but for today her shoulder made a comfortable pillow.
“Let, the boy go. Can’t you see he’s falling asleep were he stands?”
“I’ll be fine; I need to settle Arid in…”
“You need sleep. Travelling in this weather, I’m surprised you’re still alive. I’ll deal with Arid.” He looked to the woman, then glance pointedly at his brother
Kirsi patted Markus’ head in a motherly fashion and drew him to a red door; it was the only door at the front of the house which led into a small modestly furnished room. The room was clothed in shades of tans and maroons, a threadbare rug sat at the foot of a narrow bed. The bed was shoved into a corner beneath the only window. The straw mattress had been slept on countless times, so that even now, he could trace the outline of his body with his hands. Jafar’s wife dumped him onto the bed, shoving him down in order to take of his wet boots.
In all his furs and travelling gear, the heat was getting to him, causing beads of sweat to form and evaporate instantly, providing no relief. He groaned and batted Kirsi’s hands away from the buttons of his overcoat.
“I don’t need you undressing me. I can do it myself.”
However, any further protest was stopped with a sharp know to the head. “Shut up, it’s not like you’ve got anything I haven’t seen before,” followed by a frustrated sigh, and the removal of several layers of cloths.
She stripped him until his skin was bared to the heat of the room, eliciting several groans and shivers; the skin which had paled from the cold now flushed pink and sweaty.
“Don’t fall asleep yet.”
She disappeared for a moment, yet it seamed like an eternity, in whose time Markus edged slowly to the precipice of oblivion, exhaustion from cold and stress creeping upon him. His eyelids shut slowly; his skin was too hot when compared to the frozen depths of his core. There was a clatter as clay ware was placed on the floor beside him; a cool hand was placed on his forehead, drawing out a pained sigh.
“Fool boy, look at you, all sick.” A sigh, “you’re running a fever, drink this then; swallow you idiot, I won’t have you dying in my house.”
You’re wrong, he thought; he had never been sick before, his immune system ran too high for any nasty bugs to succeed in poisoning him. The bitter aftertaste of medicine made him gag, the texture thick and slimy as it slid down his throat, but she pinched his nose and angled his head up. Sweet water pushed at his lips and he drank, frantic to get rid of the taste.
“Good boy, now sleep.”
He awoke to the smell of brewing chai, and baking bread. The bed sheets stuck clung to him like a second skin, glued to his body from a night of perspiration and restless movement. He made a low sound of disgust; peeling the sheet of cloth from his front, now that he was bare again he shivered. What day was it? After a few minutes of calm thinking he had recognized the room he was in, the bed he was sleeping on, but could not comprehend his state of undress. Markus pushed himself into a sitting position, having to use force of will to swing his legs around, he ached, everywhere. Lethargy seeped into his bones, making him feel like gelatine; he tried to stand but the world wobbled a little and he fell back onto the bed, gripping his head between his knees in an attempt to halt the motion of the room. Shit! What was wrong with him? He was never sick.
“Awake are we?”
Jafar was leaning against the door frame, dressed casually in a cotton blue tunic and navy breeches. Although he meant to be teasing, the concern etched into his features and leaking into voice betrayed him.
“I’m sick.” Markus announced, glancing up at his brother through a curtain of stringy hair.
“I know, unbelievable… Guess it proves your humanity after all.” He added as an after thought.
Markus sent him a withering glare, it intensity undermined by the load rumble of his hungry stomach; he groaned, as if the act of feeling hungry was painful.
“You don’t have to get up; I can bring you something to eat.”
“I’m not helpless,” he snapped, the foreign feelings making him suddenly short tempered.
Jafar narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips at the display, silently making his way to a small chest, pulled out cloths and laid them on the bed. He pinned his brother with a disapproving look.
“I expect you dressed, and at the table within ten minutes or I’m tying you to that bed.”
Markus snorted at the threat and started to get dressed.
It took more than ten minutes for him to dress and slowly but steadily make his way to the kitchen, where the sounds of crying infants and general chatter held supreme. Jafar made it a point to keep his gaze off his brother, not seeing the slight smirk twisting Markus’ lips, though, Kirsi sent him a knowing look, carefully adjusting the babe suckling on her breast. The twins, were a new addition to the growing family, their first born, a dark haired toddler with is mother’s violet gaze, sat staring awe struck at his new brother’s, his hands tucked beneath his bottom as he hopped in his seat with partially contained excitement.
“Can I hold him, mama?” And the inevitable reply, “No.” He smiled, happy for his brother and Kirsi; a chair had been placed at the table for him. He sat down with some relief and tore into the breakfast of warm bread and broth, sipping at his chai between mouthfuls.
The suckling newborn released the nipple with a wet suction sound before he was burped and laid down by his brother in a cot; they gurgled and drifted to sleep. Little tufts of downy hair were scattered across their scalps, their skin pink and flushed with satisfaction, he moaned in agreement, the food was good. Slowly, with every bite and swallow the fatigue faded from his muscles and some of that lost energy returned, he was so hungry that he ate seconds and after seconds he ate his third and fourth serving, only then did his hunger abate. The nausea passed quickly after that and everything felt much better. Kirsi leaned over to place a cool hand to his forehead, seemingly happy she patted his head gently.
“Wow,” Jafar intoned, astonished at the shear volume of food. “Didn’t you eat on your way here?”
“Did you use any spellwork or sorcery, I’ve only ever seen you like this once before.” He gripped Markus’ chin in a strong hand and turned his face from side to side. “You look a bit off, though you don’t feel as shaky as before.”
Markus pulled his brother’s hand away, “A little magical expenditure won’t turn me into an invalid and it’s not like I used any; I guess I was just genuinely ill.”
Kirsi stood from her seat and walked around to stand behind Markus, wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders and resting her head on his shoulder.
“You’ve recovered too fast for it to be a normal illness, if it had been me like that yesterday I would have been in bed for a week, it’s something else, I felt it when you arrived and its still here.” She placed a chaste kiss to his cheek before returning to her seat.
Markus trusted Kirsi’s senses, she was after all the daughter of a powerful sorceress and though lacking her mother’s talent she carried a certain aptitude for the art.
“What ever it is, it’s acting like a leech.”
Markus waved away their concerns, the previous night now coming back to him, as the aches became non existent. He had forgotten all about him.
“Arid...” he began, his tone serious and handsome features scrunched into a look of severe seriousness.
“Is fine, now talk to us, we haven’t seen you in so long and you’re already eager to be away.” Finished Jafar, slightly irked with his brother’s abrupt change of topic.
Before Markus could answer him, a dull crash sounded from behind the house and the sound of a startled horse. He shot up, thinking the worst, thieves out to steal his merchandise, yet Arid was an intelligent horse, intruders were no match for his horsy cunning and aggression.
The cart contents were strewn across the muddy surface of the back yard, Arid paced in his enclosed space, pawing at the rough earth beneath his hooves. The stable was sturdy and compact, though not quite attached to the house itself, the roof above the stable was an extension of the house’s roof, concrete stretched across the remaining land behind house, held up by pillars of stone and cement. The pillar worked to section the stable into a narrow cubicle and an adjoined storage space, where bales of hay and the cart were kept. The men stopped outside, Jafar having followed Markus out and stared at the car, but more specifically at the little boy who laid sprawled and shivering beside it.
The boy with the soft face and downy hair, in the light he was still pale, though no longer deathly pale, colour now back in his skin. His cheeks and lips were pink in the early morning light, his hair the colour of coal, long about his face. It was his eyes which stopped Markus’ heart in its track. They were slanted, now in real light the thickness of his eyelashes could not be mistaken as they framed his eyes like a dark ring of kohl, but the colour was an intense yellow-green, his pupils oddly slanted like a feline, they were dilated with a feverish panic.
Jafar the least affected by the boy’s appearance stepped cautiously towards him, hands splayed in a gesture which he was meant to equate to harmlessness, but the boy flinched and whimpered, wrapping his bony arms around himself.
Markus could not believe it, no one came back from the dead; he had checked when placing the boy in the cart, he had pushed a little of himself into him and felt no answering flicker in return, he was dead, if so then how could he be alive before him; pining him with such frightened eyes. It didn’t make sense. He shook himself out of his stupor and just as cautiously stepped towards the boy. He looked up at him from beneath the fringe of black hair, looking very much like a lost child but with every step Markus took towards him, those chartreuse eyes regarding him filled with slow recognition. The boy whimpered and sniffed holding out his arms in a gesture universal among all infants, hold me.
As he bent down to pick up the boy, all he could feel was relief, relief at not having to place a child into the cold earth, alone and afraid. The child was lighter, as if now the heavy burden of death was removed from his shoulders. Jafar watched him warily from where he stood next to Arid, a broad hand absently stroking the beast. Kirsi stood at the door a blanket in hand; ready to wrap it around the child and behind her skirt little Hani carefully peeked out attracted by the loud noises and his mother’s sudden flurry of movement.
“Quickly, inside.” She whispered, aware of the effect of her voice. Wrapping the blanket awkwardly around the boy, she nudged her son back with a steady hand. Markus, stared down at the child in his arms, confused, even as he lay him on his unmade bed and sweat soaked sheets.
Kirsi shared a glance with her husband, unsure of what was happening yet her motherly instinct itched to snatch the child out of bed and into her arms. However there was something strange about him, it made her feel shivery and weak.
“Markus?” she whispered
He looked up at her, eyes wide and filled with confusion. “He’s real right? You can see him too?”
“What nonsense, of course.” A tense silence followed, broken only by the excited whimpers of Hani and the teeth rattling shivering of the boy. Kirsi ignored the tugs on her skirt; stepping close to Markus, she bent to press a hand to the boy’s forehead. The boy’s shivering ceased as soon as her hand made contact with his cool skin, the flesh beneath her hand heated while her own seemed to grow cooler. She smiled at the child’s wide eyed look, understanding slowly dawning yet the train of reasoning itself did not make sense.
“I found him but not like this, he was… but that can’t be, because he’s not…”
Markus tripped over his words, unsure of what he meant to say and what he wanted to say, however Jafar made it easier.
“You found him? When and where, how, then why you didn’t tell us.” Jafar’s tone was coloured with rising anger, a look of indignation plastered across his face.
So he told them, intervals of his tale punctuated with sharp gasps and childish giggles.
Hani, overcoming the barrier his mother and father posed had finally made his way to the bed; he stared at the dark haired child with the pale skin, his own features were a combination of grey and tan, to him the child was an interesting oddity as in Nazradei black hair was uncommon, the citizens of the kingdom were of many colours, yet black was reserved for nobility and those in higher places. A child of his age, only five summers did not grasp such things, except that the new boy was different with his pale pale skin in a country where everyone was bronzed by the intensity of the sun. He stroked a pale cheek with a stubby finger and laughed, the sound pulled the adults out of their heated discussion, Hani placed both hands on the boy’s cheek and splayed them out so that the tips of his fingers reached towards the corners of the boy’s eyes.
“Hani, leave him alone.”
“But mama….” He whined, sure that the new boy had been about to smile at him.
Kirsi made to unfasten his hands, but pale hands shot out and grabbed hold of Hani’s pressing them close in a covetous manner.
“Mmmm,” Hani moaned, slumping over the bed, “I don’t feel so good.”
The little boy held on tightly, reluctant to let Hani go. Kirsi gently pried the pale hands away and pulled her son against her.
“He’s too dangerous to be around. I don’t even think he knows what he’s doing, that makes it worse.”
To the other men she didn’t make sense, Markus stepped towards him and brushed some hair out from the child’s face, the boy drawn to the warm of the other man snuggled close, nuzzling the hand.
“Ah, yes. I see.”
Where his hand touched the boy, the skin heated and filled with a flush of blood while his skin grew cool and pale.
“So it was you.” Markus admonished gently, his only answer a whimper and grunt from the boy.
Jafar stood by the door, feeling extremely left out in the ensuing wave of epiphanies.