A Cure For Ardry
Upstairs in his room
Ardry McClain lay his bed. The pain had worsened that day, a dull knot
in the pit of his stomach. And he felt so tired. Even reading was an
effort. Because his illness confined him to bed for long periods of time
his mother and Aunt Margaret had taught him to read and made academics
the center of his education. Much as he loved reading, Ardry often
wished he could join the other boys who rode, jousted, and dueled in the
courtyard below his window. Some times he would watch them enviously
during the long afternoons. After a while, he would return to his best
friends, his texts, often reading late into the night, illuminating the
scroll beneath his pillow with the soft blue-green glow of handfire. He
had discovered this trick several months ago and now used it often,
particularly when reading forbidden texts. The texts his mother and
tutors provided bored him, so he often sneaked into his father's library
to find more interesting scrolls. As often as he could find the strength
to walk downstairs, he took his nightly prowls in the library.
"Ardry, are you awake?"
Ardry rolled over and smiled as a boy about his age approached. "Always awake to chat with you, Kendric!"
Although his mother felt it somewhat inappropriate for Ardry to spend large amounts of time with the cook's son, Ardry considered the boy his friend. Besides he had few friends since most of the boys around the castle preferred outdoor activities and Ardry could not join in those.
Kendric scrambled up on the bed, pushing tousled russet hair out of his eyes. "Your uncle Michael arrived a short while ago. He brought some intriguing scroll that everyone wants to read."
Ardry's pleasure at his uncle's arrival turned to disappointment as he realized that Michael found the scroll more interesting than visiting him.
Then his own curiosity became aroused. What made that scroll so interesting? "I'd like to see that scroll, myself," he said, winking at Kendric.
Kendric chuckled. "I thought you might. I'll see what I can do."
Kendric often helped Ardry borrow scrolls when Ardry felt to weak to walk downstairs himself. Sometimes Ardry read to Kendric and he had begun teaching the boy letters and simple words, although he knew his mother would not approve of that either.
"I hope my uncle comes up to see me." Ardry sighed and glanced back at the rain streaked window. "I didn't seem him arrive." His room overlooked the main courtyard so usually he could observe arrivals and departures. He rubbed the steamy window and peered into the darkness. "Not that I can see much of anything in this storm."
A crack of lightening punctuated his words and thunder rumbled ominously. Kendric shivered. "I don't like this storm." He paused. "What's that?"
"What?" Ardry turned to face him.
"I thought I saw something moving in those trees. Now it's too dark."
They waited for a few moments, hoping another flash of lightening would illuminate the courtyard. When it did, they both caught the swift motion of a shadow beneath the trees.
"Something...someone..." Ardry began.
"You should be sleeping, young man," his mother interrupted from the doorway. "And you, Kendric, have work to do. Run along now."
Kendric nodded wordlessly and scuttled off. Vera and Margaret approached the bed and studied Ardry with worried expressions on their fair faces. Vera reached out and ran a hand over his forehead. "How do you feel, Ardry?"
Ardry shrugged. Just now he was more interested in hearing about his uncle's visit and the mysterious scroll and in whatever lurked in the wet courtyard than in discussing his health. "We thought we saw someone or something in the courtyard."
"Lightning creates strange shadows," his mother replied. "But how are you feeling?"
"The same. Tired but not sleepy." Ardry noticed that Margaret glanced out at the rainy courtyard for a moment before turning to leave the room.
"Have you eaten anything?" His mother perched on the edge of the bed and continued examining him. Ardry sighed and submitted, hoping she wouldn't find the scroll he had hastily stashed under his pillow.
Downstairs the men had just unrolled the scroll and begun exploring the ancient letters when a scream rent the air. All three leapt to their feet and raced in the direction of the noise, daggers and swords silently slipping out of their sheaths and into their hands. Candles flickering in their wall sconces provided scant illumination in the dark passageways.
Another yell came from the direction of the stairs, followed by a heavy thud, and sound of running footsteps. Kevin gasped as he reached the stairway a few steps ahead of Michael and Dhugal. He dropped to his knees beside the inert form of Margaret. She lay sprawled, one leg twisted at a grotesque angle, in an ever-increasing pool of blood.
Michael felt his throat close. "Is she...?" The word "dead" stuck in his throat.
Kevin shook his head. "Her arm's been cut...a dagger slash, I'd say. And her leg needs attention. I think I can Heal her, though it may prove a bit tricky."
"I'll help." Dhugal ran a hand over Margaret's tangled hair.
"But who would attack Margaret?" Michael shook his head disbelievingly.
"And why?" Almost as he said the word, a possible reason occurred to him. It made sense, although he could think of no one who knew about the scroll who wished him or his family harm. He turned and raced back to the dining hall where he had left the scroll lying on the oaken table.
Darkness cloaked the room although Michael felt certain they had left candles burning. He took a deep breath, then conjured a silvery ball of handfire. It seemed colder too. He could almost feel a chill, damp breeze. Shining his handfire in the direction of the open window, Michael caught a rustle of dark silk as a shadowy form stepped from beneath the stone arches framing the embrasure and placed his feet on the Portal.
Michael lunged at the intruder and grabbed at his cloak. He caught a faint hint of iridescent green as the material slipped through his fingers and the intruder disappeared. Turning back to the table, Michael realized that the intruder had not disappeared alone. Both the scroll and its leather case were gone!
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