“Chosen? What on earth are… Telfor, what is she talking about?” Rubin asks, turned away from Zsófia in exasperated fury.
“How in the hells shoud I know?” Telfor says, “Zsófia, you need to make some more sense girl?”
“Rubin was visited by the Horned God. My God. The God of the forest. He demanded Rubin’s worship and took it. He’s branded now, like I am, as His servant.”
“Nonsense! I am a scholar of the Weatherford University. I am faithful to the Pantheon, not some pagan heretic god!”
No sooner had the words left Rubin’s lips then his scarlet skin began to lose its depth. His eyes widened in horror and mounting pain. Mouthing a silent cry trapped deep in his throat, he buckled under an unseen force. His body snapped in half at the waist and he crashed to the ground, eyes rolled back in his skull.
Taken by surprise by the dramatic break by their companion, the mercenaries froze in place. As the others failed to respond, Zsófia lept forward. As Rubin writhed and flailed, she threw her weight on top of him, holding him down.
“Help me! Hold him still before he hurts himself!” She cried.
Shaking off their initial shock the three much larger men took over restraining Rubin’s mad struggles.
“Rubin, you need to recant! Please. He’s punishing you for denying Him, but He will stop if you just recant!”
Sweating and shivering from the torment Rubin silently moved his cracked and bloody lips to mouth the words. Moments pass and the worst of the tremors have passed from the scholar, the men stood from holding him down but Zsófia remained and took his weakly shaking hand in hers. The usually brilliant scarlet of Rubin’s skin was a weak, faded pink that left him looking as frail as a bedridden grandfather. He looked up at Zsófia, his eyes met hers for the first time without hatred instead they were wide with a mixture of wonder and fear and shimmered with tears.
“What is happening to me?”
“I’m so sorry Rubin,” She answered, voice thick with emotion, “I never thought this could happen to anyone else, He has only ever claimed the first born of my family. I never wanted this, I swear.”
Seemingly unable to answer, Rubin simply gasped his mouth moving like a fish on land as he stared at her, his eyes screaming what his words could not before finally they closed and exhausted sleep took him.
Telfor took Zsófia and Pan away while Vahkragg carefully carried Rubin back to his bedroll. The two men watched the Zsófia with the caution she had originally expected from them. That hurt more than any of Rubin’s accusations had.
“Zsófia,” Telfor states quietly from the shade of the tree he had choses to stop beneath. The word seemed at first to have been the start of a longer thought, but soon revealed itself as a completed thought inviting her to explain herself.
“I don’t know. This has only ever happened once in my life and that was when I was claimed to take over from my mother. I don’t know what this means, I don’t know why it happened, I’m just as confused as you.”
Telfor answered with contemplative silence. Zsófia crossed her arms across her body and gripped her sleeves for comfort under the weight of the silence when Pan spoke up.
“I believe her, Tel. You can’t deny this sounds just like every story of the Gods ever.”
Answered with a single grunt, Pan stepped in close to Zsófia and wordlessly offered his arm for comfort. She sensed that he was still cautious of her after the shock, but that just made the gesture more meaningful. She accepted and curled under the profured arm and rested her head against his chest.
Moments after Vahkragg returned to their company. Like a mountain, the giant conveyed only stalwart resolve as he passed Pan and Zsófia to where Telfor sat in deep thought.
“The lad’s feverish. I wouldn’t want to make the journey directly to Capital with him in this state.”
“God’s Blood.” Telfor cursed quietly beneath his breath before raising his voice to address the group, “Alright. Plan has changed again. According to the maps, the nearest settlement is Verwich which should be less than a day’s walk north-east. It’s out of our way, but Tassholm is almost a half week’s journey, and I’m not gambling Rubin’s life on the difference. We’ll give Rubin a couple hours to recover, and then if there’s no change we’ll start moving. Zsófia, can you do anything to help Rubin?”
“I think so, but I don’t have many healing herbs.”
“What do you need?” Vahkragg says, startling Zsófia by breaking from his usual silence. She answered with a short list and some descriptions of the few plants he didn’t know by name and he vanished into dark the forest.
For the next few hours Zsófia stayed by Rubin, channeling the ambient energy into him. It was clumsy work, the body is a complex thing and the energy she gave him also fueled his fever so she had to be very cautious. Before much time had passed Vahkragg returne with herbs. Zsófia wished she knew more of herblore, but ministered them to him as best she knew how.
But in spite of her skill with magic and potion, when Telfor came to check on the scholar’s progress at the end of the hours he had set aside for him, there had been no discernable change. As consequence the old soldier ordered they pack up camp and prepare to move. He and Pan secured Rubin to Vahkragg’s back as securely as they could and in unhappy quiet, the group started the march again. Barely a handful of hours passed before the reached the edge of the forest. This momentous milestone in Zsófia’s life, who had never even seen the edge of the forest, came and went without ceremony or almost any recognition. As the others passed without comment, Zsófia paused a moment to place her hand on the tree she chose to symbolise the forest edge. Eyes closed, Zsófia inhaled deeply her last breath before crossing the threshold and with no time to linger in the thought or marvel at the wide open spaces, she hurried to catch back up with the group as they marched along the road to Verwich.
Featured image found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecramermadison76/72717375/