The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie

Part I - Awakenings

Chapter 2


The rain continued, although it had turned to a fine and gentle mist. Sitting quietly with the dog’s head in my lap, I was roused from my thoughts when the dog suddenly lifted his head and looked intently at the mouth of the alley. Straining my ears, I began to discern voices – voices that grew louder with every passing second.


Seconding the dog’s intent stare on the far end of the alley, I waited to see if anyone might round the corner. As the voices got louder and more raucous, my anticipation ended as I caught sight of a solitary figure standing at the entrance of the alley. The figure was joined by another, and then another. Quickly spying me, they halted and became quiet. For a few moments they stood silently staring at me as I returned their gaze.


There were four of them – all men, or at least older boys. Their clothing was worn and frayed. All of them were thin and looked as if they’d been living a meager existence. They didn’t appear dangerous, but they didn’t look friendly either.


The youngest appeared to be sixteen or seventeen, the eldest possibly twenty-one. They continued to stand and stare. I also remained silent – not sure if I should call out to them. The standoff finally ended when the tallest boy turned toward the others and whispered to them, then he broke away from the other three and slowly approached me.


“What’s this?” I heard him say.


His pace quickened as he drew closer and on his face I could see a look of curiosity, but quickly his expression changed from cautious interest to obvious surprise. When he finally reached me, he stood over me and looked down. I tilted my head to stare up at him, but remained silent. He stood perfectly still and I could see his eyes carefully examining me. The moment lasted only a few seconds and then he began to circle me with great interest.


“By the prophet,” he barely whispered, “how can this be?”


I was surprised to see that even though he’d approached me with a swagger, he seemed to be a bit fearful, although I wasn’t quite sure what he had to fear. I considered myself quite harmless and in no position to a pose a danger to anyone.


During the boy’s examination, the others caught up with him and their faces also showed expressions of puzzlement and surprise. The youngest in the group gingerly reached out a hand to touch me, but before he got too close, one of the others grabbed his arm and pushed it away.


“No, don’t touch it,’ he shouted. “It might hurt you. It could be evil.”


I shivered, and my heart began to pound when I heard this. While I was harmless and in no position to hurt anyone, I had the sense to realize that things perceived as evil or dangerous are sometimes hurt or killed. To allay their fears, I looked up at them and started to speak.


“I’m not….”


But before I could get out another word, the dog jumped up and began growling. The animal I’d earlier feared would kill me had once again become a wild creature, ready to attack.


The dog, acting as my defender, lowered his head as a low, warning growl rolled from deep within his throat. The boys quickly backed away as the dog – his growl now a snarl – advanced on them. Wide-eyed and afraid, they continued their retreat.


The animal, by now wild and barking, succeeded in backing the boys up against the wall of one of the buildings, and I could sense that he was ready to lunge at anyone making a sudden move. Trembling with fear, I was powerless to do anything.


Although the boys had appeared to be slightly dangerous, I was terrified that they might get hurt. Such an incident would be much harder for me to explain or defend. Even if I wasn’t responsible, I knew that it wouldn’t go very well for me if someone’s son or brother was mauled to death by a half-wild creature in my presence, fairly sure that even an honest explanation would probably not be convincing.


“No. Stop. Please!” I pleaded with the animal.


Halting his advance, he turned to me. Looking into his eyes, I sensed a heroic resolve and purpose. It was as if he were trying to reassure me he would do what ever he could to protect me. Then as quickly as it formed, our connection was broken and he turned back to the boys, resuming his defense. Knowing what was about to happen, I turned my head and started to close my eyes when I heard a whizzing sound and to my surprise out of nowhere an arrow appeared and flew by me. There was a dull thwack followed by a shrill yelp, and I watched in shock as it entered the scared place where the dog’s missing eye had been.


The force of the projectile drove the dog’s body to the ground. My eyes widened when I saw its head pinned to the ground – the arrow protruding from the opposite side of its skull. Blood spurted from the wound and I jumped when some splashed on me in a spray of wet warmth. My stomach churned as I watched it flow out onto the ground, forming a bloody pool under the animal’s head.


I could do nothing but stare at the dog as its blood poured from the fatal wound. Although in shock, a deep sadness came over me. The abused and tortured creature dead at my feet had given his life to protect me. Tears came to my eyes and I was about to cry when a harsh shout replaced my grief with terror.


“Does that take care of your problem, boys? Or do you need me to kill anything else for you?”


Turning toward the direction from where first the arrow and now the voice came, I could see a man framed in the entrance of the alley. In his hand was a bow; slung over his shoulder was a quiver of arrows, all similar to the one pinning the dog’s body to the road.


The man began a slow walk toward us. Although older than the boys, he wasn’t an old man. He took the bow and slung it over his shoulder. His pock-marked face was red with anger. As he closed the gap between us, he began to shout.


“You witless idiots, I turn my back for one minute, only to find you don’t have the brains to keep out of trouble.”


“But we weren’t in trouble,” the oldest boy quickly replied.


“Is that so? Well, if you’re so clever, then tell me how much time it would have taken for that thing to rip out your throats?”


“We were fine,” the boy said, although I noticed he replied with hesitation.


You fool!” the man shouted. “Do you have the brain of a pig? Are you too stupid to see when you’re in danger? Oh, I’m sure you fools would have been perfectly fine right up to the moment that thing ripped into your bellies and tore out your guts.”


The man continued his advance, barking out his anger at the boys. When he reached the body of the dog, he stopped and looked down at it. I winced as he bent over and put his foot on the dog’s head. Grasping the shaft of the arrow, he began to pull on it.


“I had things under control,” the boy said.


The man gave a few quick twists and a strong tug and the arrow finally dislodged itself. After it was free, he appeared to ignore the dog and the fact that he was standing in a large pool of its blood. Coldly examining the tip, he wiped the bloody shaft on his pants, and returned it to the quiver. Once finished, he walked over to the boys.


Nose to nose with the boy who’d appointed himself the group’s leader, the man sneered, “Under control eh?” And suddenly he gave the boy an angry shove. Falling backward, the boy landed ass first on the ground. “Just like you have everything under control now?” he shouted.


“But we didn’t notice the dog….” One of the other boys started to say, but was abruptly cut off.


“Shut up fool, you and….”


He was ready to continue his tongue lashing, but stopped mid-sentence when his eyes fell on me. The look on his face scared me and I quickly turned away.


“By all that’s unholy! So, this is your little prize?”


“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” the boy sprawled on the street cried out.


Getting to his feet, I could see he was seizing the opportunity to direct the man away from himself and on to me. It wasn’t a difficult task because the man, ignoring everything else, quickly focused all of his attention on me. I swallowed hard and any sadness I still felt for the dog quickly turned to fear as he advanced on me.


“By the blood of Sarjanus, I always took this for a child’s tale – something mothers told their misbehaving children to scare them, but I guess that crap the Holy Office has been feeding us all these years is true after all.”


He began smiling at me – not a friendly smile, but an evil and cunning one. He bent down and tried to look into my eyes. I turned away, but not before I got a glimpse of his rotten yellow teeth and a whiff of his foul breath. Reaching out, he gripped my face tightly with one of his hands and held me firmly until he was able to jerk my head upward, forcing me to look at him. His grip was strong, and my cheeks hurt as he applied a strong and steady pressure.


Releasing his hold on my face, he gripped one of my arms and roughly pulled me up to him. As I rose from the ground, I could see he was dressed as poorly as the boys. His worn clothing was thin and patched in places, and I could tell from the odor rising off him that it had been a long time since he’d bathed. His hair was greasy, and a scruffy beard covered his chin.


As he reached out to touch me, I instinctively flinched. The instant I did, he released his grip on my arm, lifted his hand and slapped my face. I reeled backwards as pain exploded in my head and the salty taste of blood filled my mouth. He grabbed the front of my ragged garment and jerked me up closer.


“You’re coming with me,” he hissed. “And don’t try anything. That little smack is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you if I really want to hurt you.”


Although his voice was harsh, I was surprised that I sensed fear behind it, as if something about me scared him and he was using violence to mask it.


I shrank back, but he reached out, grabbed me tighter and pulled me closer. Now nose-to-nose, I found myself helplessly looking into his red-rimmed eyes.


“You’d better not try anything. If all these fairy tales we’ve heard from the Holy Office are true, I don’t want you to breathe unless I tell you. Do you understand?” he shouted in my ear.


I looked at him in terror; I was aware of the rapid pounding of my heart. Pushing me backwards with a mighty shove, he released his grip on me and I tumbled to the ground like a doll tossed aside by a disinterested child. I reached out, trying to catch myself but cried out when a sharp pain shot up my shoulder as I reopened the wound that I’d received earlier. But that pain was quickly forgotten when he again brought his hand crashing down across my face in a brutal slap. The blow was strong enough to push me to the edge of consciousness. White lights flashed before my eyes and I staggered – dizzy and disoriented.


“Obey me, or I’ll kill you right here,” he shouted.


I was dazed and in pain. I’d done nothing, yet found myself a prisoner threatened by punishment and death by a group of strangers, who were both fearful and disturbed by my existence. The man moved away from me and began to address the boys.


“Come on you worthless little bastards, get him up. We’re going to pay a visit to his lordship. I think we’ve found something of great interest. I can already hear the jingle of gold in my pocket.”


“We found him first,” The oldest boy called out. “Any reward is for all of us to share,” he said, looking to his friends.


The other boys gave him looks of surprise and backed away when they saw the man approach him.


“Yes, of course,” the man said, giving the boy a wicked grin. “Certainly we’ll share. Starting with this!”


Suddenly he gave the boy a swift and vicious punch in the stomach. The boy cried out in pain and doubled over. Before I could blink he landed an even stronger blow to the boy’s face, driving him to the ground. Towering over the boy, he glared at him. When the boy looked up, a trickle of blood oozed from his nose.


“We share what I decide to share. Is that clear enough?” he snarled, and I watched his face turn an angry shade of red.


The boy didn’t reply; he simply looked at the man, as stunned and disoriented as I’d been when the monster brutalized me, but after a moment he appeared to gather his senses as he slowly rose to his feet. Once he was standing, he wiped his bloody nose on the sleeve of his coat and simply glowered at the man.


         After his display of authority, the man spun around, gave me an angry glare, and began shouting at the boys. “What are you idiots waiting for? Get him up. The sooner we get him to his lordship, the sooner I’ll get my reward.”