The Last Lantern

Chapter 39 - Fevered Dreams

 

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010

 

There was nothing regarding death itself that could scare Vaal, or any other Black Brother, into revealing any secrets. Torture, on the other hand, was still fairly effective. Pain and suffering didn’t change. Starvation and thirst worked as well. But having been dead once, Vaal could merely endure, hoping for the peace and nothingness that awaited him when his captors realized they would gain nothing from it.

He had no idea how long he'd been held already. It could have been days, or merely hours. He was locked in a cell with no light at all, an overflowing chamber pot and what seemed like an army of rats. He could hear things. Mostly the skitter of the critters and once in awhile the sound of footfalls on stone. Once he’d heard a man screaming. Once there’d been a blindingly brilliant light. It apparently had come through a grate in the door that was the only entry into his cell. By the time he'd come to his senses enough to realize what it was it was gone, even before his eyes could adjust to the sudden brilliance.

When they’d first taken him, there had been a long ride, torture when they stopped for the night, mostly centered around the wound in his leg. From there they’d gone on to other sorts of painful methods to try to extract information. Vaal had passed out at one point and when he'd awakened he’d found himself in this cell. He had no real memory of the trip in-between. Now it seemed he’d simply been forgotten, left to die alone in the dark.

HIs hope was that Molly and Phillip had somehow managed to escape. The fact that no one continued to torture him, or even ask him any further questions, however, made him fear his hopes might be in vain. If they had the children already no need of him. So why was he still alive? Why were they continuing to hold him? HIs thoughts, in his few rational moments, revolved around those questions and the other, regarding where the Bastard was and why he hadn’t intervened. Although, if armed murderers were disguising themselves as Black Brothers and murdering people, that was surely far more important than one priest held hostage. Vaal just prayed that his God’s attention was on preventing Vaal’s worst fears from coming true. So long as the Guardian protected Molly, he wouldn't mind being left to die.

The festering sword wound in his leg, the smell told him that, periodically sent him into fits of shivering and gave him fevered dreams. He had no way of judging how much of the time he lay there he was coherent, how much he spent unconscious from pain, and how much of the time he was out of his mind from pain and the poison coursing through his body from his rottening wound. He once awoke thinking the Bastard had appeared in the cell with him, but he wrote that off as a wishful hallucination. Maybe the Bastard had only ever been a fever dream, existing only in his head. Maybe he merely imagined he had died once, so lost to reality he imagined an entire life for himself. Perhaps he'd been locked in the cell for decades.

His dreams were unsettling, particularly the ones that revolved around the life he remembered (or perhaps imagined) from before he'd died. His loves (a laughing woman with dark flashing eyes and hair the color of coal), his hopes (love, family, honor), his family (a stern and unyielding father, demanding and implacable), his ... All lost, all lost. He cursed the Bastard: that he’d been resurrected, that the Bastard had chosen him, that he still was forced to struggle in light of the silent alternative of dark nothingness without pain or care or joy or sorrow. Nothingness, darkness, aloneness seemed like a boon now: a temptress calling out to him, welcoming him into her arms. His spirit or soul or whatever you wanted to call what animated him, was fading. His body was failing, and he yearned for the peace Death promised him.

So it was that anger flooded through him when he heard a key turning in a rusty lock. The cell door was thrown open and lantern light blinded him. He lashed out with what little strength he had, driven by a deep dark fury. He struggled to sit up, to find a way to his feet, to fight... But he was weak and failing and could barely even croak a word through his dry throat and parched lips.

He felt men grasp him by his arms and he screamed from the pain shooting up from his wound. After that he felt nothing, until he came reluctantly back to his senses. He was lying on a stone floor as someone dumped a bucket of icy water over him. He opened his mouth to drink some as it poured down over him. Cold sweet water. Nothing had ever tasted so good.

He must have passed out again for the next thing he knew he was squinting up at a bright light, still too blinded from constant darkness to manage to see much beyond confusing shadows and painful brilliance.

Then someone was kneeling down beside him, saying “Cut off those filthy rags.”

He screamed again when someone tried to remove his leathers from where they had become glued to the wound on his leg. After a moment of absolute agony he sank thankfully back into unconsciousness.

When next the world intruded on his blessed unconsciousness, or perhaps his consciousness intruded on the world, he opened his eyes to a dimly lit room. His leg was throbbing. Someone was using a sponge to give him some sort of liquid. He sucked at the sponge eagerly.

“Not too fast. There's plenty where this came from. I’ve dressed your wound and I think I can save your leg.”

Vaal fought to make his eyes focus on the person bent over him. It was a woman. She was middle-aged from what he could tell. She wore the dress of a healer. “I’ve no more need of it,” he croaked.

“Your leg?” she asked, frowning at him. “I hate to disappoint you, priest, but you’ll live. They want to keep you alive.”

He cursed then, and used his arm to swipe at her to push her away. “No!” He tried to sit up but found he was far too weak to move more than an inch or two. And the world spun at his least movement.

“You’re heavily drugged,” the healer explained. “Be still. Lie quietly. Husband your strength. You’ll need it.”

He groaned and turned his face away from her, hating his helplessness and ignorance of what it was they wanted, what it was that had happened to his charges. And where was the Bastard? Where was his Order?

“You heal me so they can torture me?” he finally croaked. “Let me die.”

“Would that I could,” she replied angrily. “It is your God who orders we save you. Take your anger out on him.” She stood then and marched off, leaving Vaal where he lay, helpless.

 

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