Previous subchapter here.
I walked the castle grounds with care, concentrating on how to move around outside without my sight. Seeing-eye dogs and white canes didn’t exist here. A couple of steps behind me I came the heavy tread of the bodyguard assigned to me. I hadn’t bothered to learn his name.
I walked in silence, the sounds of birds singing in the trees, the gentle breeze wandering through the grass, and the smooth conversation of a nearby river flowed over my mind. Wrapped up in my thoughts, I almost missed these things.
‘What are we going to do?’ I thought.
‘Continue on, dummy,’ I answered myself.
‘We’re fucking blind!’
‘Big deal! We can still think! Maybe that is how we are meant to help.’
‘Fine. Now, about Lady Orwen.’
‘We just met her.’
‘She’s treated us better than any woman ever has from our first meeting. Other women waited until we made ourselves useful.’
‘Good point. So? The plan?’
‘I don’t know.’
Thus my thoughts went, over and over. At times, I wondered if events had driven me crazy. A light touch on the shoulder made me pause.
“Lord Blake,” the bodyguard said.
“We are at the river’s edge. A bridge is several paces to your right, milord.”
With that, I turned ninety degrees in the specified direction, and took eight calculated steps. Even without sight, I sensed the subtle change in sound and wind temperature that indicated I was next to the bridge. I rotated left and stepped on the connection with care. I felt the cobblestones through the thin leather soles of my new BattleHammer shoes. I counted my steps as we crossed. When the sound changed and the sensation of the ground differed, I ceased counting and came to a halt. Seven hundred forty-eight paces. I cover around a meter with each stride. This meant the span was about 683.97 meters from one side to the other. The calculations served to distract me from being blind. At least for a while.
I resumed hiking, hearing the crunch of hard packed earth beneath my feet. I noticed the birds had stopped their twittering. Somewhere ahead, I caught the hot coppery scent of lifeblood. I came to a stop and signaled the bodyguard forward. He stepped to my side and I signed for silence.
“Yes, milord?” he whispered.
“I smell blood up ahead,” I breathed.
A faint hiss as he drew his sword. He bade me to wait and crept along the path. I have no idea how much time passed. Then, an ungodly cry and my guardian screamed in anger. The ire became a shriek of agony. Running footsteps came.
“Run, milord!” he shouted. “Werewolf!”
Before I could respond, I perceived what my nose told me was the metallic odor of blood splashing upon the ground. A sudden rush of air and a light thud indicated something landed near me. I no longer detected my bodyguard’s footsteps. I assumed he was dead.
The howl I’d sensed moments before erupted again, closer now. A rush of pounding feet as the creature raced towards me. Adrenaline dumped into me as I prepared to die. Off to my left, I swear Godzilla roared. A wave of intense heat flashed past. The werewolf bellowed in pain. I scented burning hair and roasting flesh, as the monster was consumed by the inferno. Overwhelmed by sound and odor, I dropped and vomited. When I had no more to disgorge, I sat back on my heels, and listened, intent on gauging my surroundings. Snuffled breathing sounded in front of me. I stood, movements tentative, and reached towards its source.
“I don’t know who you are, but thank you for saving me,” I said.
I touched a scaled muzzle with long whiskers. The scales were like small interlocked plates. Hot, sulfurous breath caressed my face.
“Angriz?” I asked in a low voice. ‘I so hope I’m not wrong.’
The creature crackled and I caught a brief whiff of ozone. A sudden gust of wind slammed into me from behind. From all around came a burst of energy like thunder, but without sound.
“What happened? Last thing I remember, we were being attacked by the Crimson Walker.”
“Well, the machine flipped a guard’s bloody head into your mouth. An angel named Azriel locked the Engine away. I became blinded. Lady Orwen was abducted two weeks ago and you were banished as a mindless beast.”
Angriz growled his displeasure. “That explains the blankness. How was I saved? When the blood of an intelligent being touches the tongue of a half-dragon, we are rendered senseless; wild and volatile. Nothing has ever brought one back from Bloodtaste before.”
I shrugged. “All I know is: my bodyguard and I were walking along the castle grounds. As you may imagine, I was making some attempts to deal with my blindness and the fact that I’d be that way forever,” I paused. The memory stung. “Anyway, after we crossed the bridge, I recognized the metallic scent of blood. I informed my guard and he had me wait, while he investigated. I think he went into the woods and was attacked. He ran back to warn me and was killed moments after. I was to be next, but you incinerated the thing before then. You approached me, and I reached out and touched your face.”
I said the last, and we burst out laughing. He had a pleasant laugh, not at all what I’d expected, more melodious than rasping. We laughed long and hard as the giddy might after finding themselves safe from a dire threat. Our laughter died away, his large clawed hand grasped my shoulder.
“Carter, I have no way to repay you for what you’ve given me. Words of thanks are inadequate.” He paused. “Come with me, I know of one who might help you regain your sight.”
“Mordecai said I’m immune to the magic of this world.”
Angriz snorted, “Lord Mordecai isn’t aware of everything, powerful as he is. A Weirdling lives a few days from here. She does not deal with rakshasha or wizards. She only deals with those of dragon blood. Also, she may be able to tell us where Lady Orwen might be.”
“Alright,” I said. “I suppose we should return to the castle and let everyone know we’re leaving.”
“That wouldn’t be good. None ever came back from the Bloodtaste before. You must understand, they’d kill me without hesitation.”
“Fair point. Let’s go then.”
I can’t say why I chose to trust and follow him at that juncture. Maybe because he gave me the hope of being able to see again. Maybe it was a way to piss off Mordecai for tearing me from my home. Petty? Good chance of that. I didn’t care, though. His choice caused me to be blind.
Without further words, Angriz took me by the wrist and led me into the woods. I sensed the transition from bright, warm sunlight to cool shade as we passed under the forest canopy. I perceived the soft swish of grass; I smelled the musty, damp scent of trees—pines, cedars and soon, willows. Life in the woodland became accustomed to our presence and resumed their usual activities: the thrum of the woodpecker as he hunted his dinner and the skitter of clawed toes as squirrels chased each other through the trees. In the distance, beavers chewed on trunks of pines as they built their dams. I both smelled and heard the brook as it meandered by the path, a small splash as a fish leaped into the air and fell back. I was delighted and amazed at all I was able to distinguish. For a city boy like me, it was wonderful, because I’d never spent any time outdoors. The adage about losing one of your senses and having another sharpen seemed to be true.
After hours of travel, we stopped for the night. Angriz gathered wood, explaining that he would build a fire once he finished getting camp set up. I didn’t want to be a burden, nor to feel helpless, so I began to gather the deadfall into a pile for the blaze. My fingers became host to many splinters, and I cursed each that punctured me.
When Angriz returned, he gave a gentle laugh as he pulled them out for me. “Thank you for your efforts, but you should have waited. The splinters would not penetrate my scales.”
I growled in response. Within moments, he had a warm bonfire going. I listened as he prepared his kills. Soon after, the tantalizing aroma of dinner roasting made my mouth water.
I felt him wrap my fingers around something rough and rounded.
“A sword. I will begin teaching you how to use and care for your new blade tomorrow.”
“A blind swordsman?”
“Have faith, my friend. You will not be sightless for too much longer.”
Angriz then handed me a cold metal cup filled with icy water from the brook.
“What were you like as a kid, Angriz?” I sipped from the chalice.
The log I’d been leaning against shifted when he sat. Angriz took a deep breath. I wondered what expression crossed his face.
“My earliest memories,” he began, “are of laughter and happiness. My parents loved each other and me a lot. Father was a ranger. His job was to track and capture deadly animals and villains, to keep our village safe. Mother was the community teacher. She taught all children how to read, write and do numbers.
“Though both were important to the community, our home had been built near the outskirts. We had a sheltered area nearby which allowed Father to transform to his true shape, hidden from prying eyes. One of my fondest childhood memories was flying through the air on his broad back.
“The first time I witnessed his transformation, I was only eight summers. Rumors of a red dragon lairing nearby had my father away almost all the time. I was playing with friends when I noticed it was near dusk. I bade them farewell, and trudged toward home.”
Angriz hesitated a moment. I heard his breathing change as he visualized whatever he was about to tell me. “Not far from our abode, I knew something wasn’t right. Smoke should have curled from the chimney as mother cooked dinner. On that day, none rose to the sky. I sprang into a run. I quickened my pace as I spotted the door dangling from a hinge. Blood traced a delicate path along the grain of the portico down the front. I flew into our home and … saw….”
Pain and sorrow in hung in his voice which had dropped to a thick, husky whisper. I had goose bumps both from anticipation of what I imagined would be a hideous sight, along with sympathy for his distress. After several moments, Angriz took a deep breath, and resumed.