Aufora: Icebound Keep, Chapter 3

Lord Halmar heard the shriek of metal as it was pulled from a scabbard. On an instinct, he quickly reached down to his side, unsheathing the dagger he held on his side, stumbling towards the rough stone wall with surprise. He hit the side of the building with a surprised grunt, falling to the ground ingloriously as he landed in a dirty puddle. His dagger fell promptly from his hands as he contacted the wall, and the blade of his attacker hissed overhead where his body was just mere seconds ago. The attacker took the opportunity of his disarming and aimed another stab at Lord Halamr, who quickly crawled to one side past the darting blade. As he hung his head in an attempt to make himself smaller, a rough sensation played on the back of his neck, unnoticed by him in his current predicament. The twine necklace he had been wearing promptly slipped from its resting place and clattered to the cobbled ground with only a minute click. Meanwhile, Lord Halmar felt the ground around him blindly as he searched for his only weapon. He pulled the dagger towards him, rolling towards one of the exits of the alleyway in a bid to escape. When space was available, he pushed himself to his feet with a grunt and fell back into a defensive position. He spared a quick look behind himself, preparing to run out of the alleyway and onto the main street. Before Lord Halmar could tense his legs to run, the attacker skirted around him and blocked the exit he was peering towards. This forced Lord Halmar to turn, maintaining his defense as the attacker aimed a skillful strike at him.
Although he couldn’t see much in the dim light of the alley, the attacker was a man of medium height. From the small bit of light that did penetrate the overlapping rooftops, Lord Halmar could see that the man wore an undyed cotton shirt with brown pants, and a small scabbard was attached to the side. Lord Halmar dropped to the ground once more, extending his right leg out towards the feet of his assailant. Before he could react, the attacker tripped over his foot and fell to the ground with an enraged grunt. Lord Halmar glanced over his shoulder at the road and began to run towards the road. Before he reached the corner that would bring him into the sunlight, a knife flew past his legs not even a foot away. With a yelp, he jumped to the side. It was a late action, but simply instinct to Lord Halmar. He stopped for a moment, looking over his shoulder at the man who still held the dagger he had been attacked with earlier. It was obvious the man had throwing knives tucked away beneath his cloak. With his recent distraction, the man charged at him again. Lord Halmar knew that an escape may be possible, but he didn’t know how many knives the attacker had left or how skilled the man was in the practice of knife throwing. Lord Halmar considered the possibility that the attacker’s aim was poor due to his initial missed throw, but it could easily be a fluke. He thought better to attempt another escape. His best chance would be to come inside the range of the man’s knife throwing and continue his hand-to-hand combat. The man was a tough opponent, even with the training that Lord Halmar had put himself through. Unlike most other noblemen, Lord Halmar insisted on learning weapons skills. Daggers were his weapon of choice seeing as they were easy to conceal, giving attackers a false sense of security. If they saw no obvious weapons, they instantly assumed that a nobleman would make an easy kill due to their privileged upbringing. Selecting his best option, Lord Halmar ran back into the darkness of the alleyway. The man had another throwing knife out and was aimed at the sunny exit, assuming the city lord would attempt an escape. His surprise was evident when Lord Halmar began sprinting towards him once more, and he hastily readjusted the knife’s angle to throw at him. As he threw, Lord Halmar made a small move to one side, although it was too little. The knife sliced past his left leg, leaving a small cut as it clattered to the cobbled ground. Lord Halmar stumbled with the slash of the knife, screwing up his face in pain. He would not give the man the satisfaction of hearing his yelp of pain as his sprint turned to a hobble as he attempted to hold his body up with only his right leg.
Unbeknownst to the advancing nobleman, the attacker had an angry grimace on his face, annoyed that such a seemingly easy target was so hard to kill.
When Lord Halmar got closer to the man, he lowered his body and completed a joint check of his body and slash of his knife. In the collision of the two bodies, the secondary slash of Lord Halmar’s weapon missed the target. One thing that the castle lord noticed with some curiosity was the odd way the man held his weapon. It was a dagger much like Lord Halmar’s, although it was shorter and more elaborate than the practical weapon that was held by the city lord. But, the inconsistency was in his stance. As opposed to holding the weapon with the point upwards, he seemed to hold the weapon with the blade pointed down, with the arm movement in stabbing and slashing being more obvious, yet quicker. The type of strategy to make a quick kill and not one to engage in a battle. Lord Halmar felt as if he had seen the stance somewhere, but he frowned as the memory couldn’t be recovered. Without warning, The seemingly winded man darted forward like the tongue of a snake, moving his arm across his chest in a slashing motion aimed at Lord Halmar. The nobleman turned to the side, but the shock of the movement gave the attacker and advantage. Although he prevented the attack from slashing across his chest, his left arm took the brunt of the blow.
For a moment, he lowered his guard as he slapped his knife hand over the cut in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood. A hole had been torn in the expensive fur cloak he wore, and blood stained the normally white fur of the seams. The red of his cloak seemed to turn a darker, more sinister color. Although he tried his hardest to keep his vow of not yelling in pain, he lost the battle with his mind and gave a low grunt, his eyes squinted painfully. Lord Halmar shrank back instinctively. The attacker jumped forward once more, and Lord Halmar backpedaled towards the exit of the alleyway, the idea of escape becoming suddenly more appealing. He knew that although he would most likely escape the encounter, there was a high chance that the knifeman would throw their weapon in one last attempt on his life. The attacker gave a smile, the effect proving to be quite disconcerting under the current circumstances. Lord Halmar took the opportunity to go on the attack, jumping forward as a cry of defiance and pain slipped past his lips.
The attacker was surprised at the sudden rush and stood wide-eyed for a moment before regaining his wits. He hastily brought his dagger up from his guard position, blocking the worst of the blow. But, as Lord Halmar rapidly retracted his hand for another blinding attack, the hilt of his dagger made contact with the man’s side, giving him nothing more than a bruise. In an instinctive movement, he placed his fighting hand to the bruise, but it was too late. Lord Halmar took the chance, drawing his dagger up into the air and bringing it down on the head of his attacker. From the dim light, Lord Halmar could see the attacker suddenly attempt to duck under the blow with no luck. He saw the man go cross-eyed and fell to the ground with a dull thud, then a crash sounded next to him as he dropped a glass bottle he had been carrying, the content of wine spilling into the cracks of the cobbled road and running between the stones like a field of streams. Lord Halmar panted heavily, sliding down the wall into a sitting position. He yelled unintelligibly at the pain and looked at the man on the ground. Just moments ago, the man had been trying to kill him. Now, he was nothing more than a harmless figure sprawled across the ground. He screwed his eyes closed as moved into a kneeling position and then pushed himself up off the ground with his uninjured right arm, albeit painfully. His left arm hung to his side, and he made any effort he could muster to not move it and send the shooting pain through his body once more. Needless to say, he failed at this task. Lord Halmar knew that medical attention was something he needed desperately, and he began limping back the way he came to meet up with the street that led to Kingsridge Square. He knew that there was most certainly somebody trained in the medical field there who wished to get on good terms with him.
He trailed out of the alleyway and onto the main thoroughfare, his right arm now switching between cradling his left and pushing his cloak onto the wound in an attempt to quench the blood that flowed freely from it. As he moved out of the alleyway, there were large groups of people who stood staring at the castle lord. A select few took notice of his bloodied, torn fur overcoat and surrounded him quickly, shouting out questions such as ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘Are you hurt?’ while some jumped straight to the point and were yelling for a medic. Although Lord Halmar was in pain he still managed to snap the words,
“Do I look fine?” The crowd, seeing the senselessness in their speech stopped their frenzied questioning as Lord Halmar was led to a stone step by a small group of the more active townsfolk. He took the opportunity to sit graciously, and he slumped as soon as he touched the stair. The door behind him opened, and a small woman looked at the crowd afront her house in an attempt to deduce why there was a mass of people gathered on her front stairs. Then, she looked down at the injured nobleman with surprise. It took her a moment, but she quickly retreated inside with a call of,
“I’ll get some water for his wound!” He gave a slight nod to the woman in the house they had just intruded upon and would have waved as well if his arm hadn’t been attempting to stop the bleeding. Many of the citizens began to dissipate, considering they had no expertise in the field of medicine. Then, a feeble voice came from the back of the crowd that was still gathered.
“Make way, everyone. I can help him.” Lord Halmar looked up from nursing his wound and saw the head of an older woman bobbing towards him in a slow yet still hurried manner, “I’m an herbalist. I can help him. Stand back,” She said once more, and the crowd parted easily. The woman stepped from the crowd and her clothing was simple, yet elegant. She wore a deep green cotton dress and held a wicker basket that Lord Halmar assumed was filled with herbs as her occupation suggested. She ambled closer to Lord Halmar and crouched next to him, letting out a small groan as she held her back. She then put her forefinger and thumb on his fur overcoat.
“May I?” She asked politely, and Lord Halmar nodded drowsily. She pulled off his overcoat, just leaving his thin cotton undershirt as she pushed the left sleeve of the shirt up to his shoulder to access the wound more easily. Lord Halmar sucked in a deep breath, clenching his teeth together in an attempt to shift his focus from the pain. With his teeth still clenched and his eyes screwed shut, he took his hand off the wound for a moment and placed it to his throat. His smooth skin was the only feeling that greeted him. He felt around his throat again. Still, there was nothing. He glanced down. His necklace was missing. With an effort that must have caused considerable pain, Lord Halmar shot to his feet.
“My necklace! Where is it?” He cried, hobbling back towards the alleyway that he had just emerged from. The herbalist simply stood there. Some of the townspeople who remained in the group ran towards Lord Halmar, stepping in front of him in an attempt to stop him.
“You need to get that wound cleared! You’re going to bleed out over a necklace?” came the voice of one member of the crowd, and another voice agreed.
“You need to sit back down! Just buy yourself a new one if that one’s missing!” Lord Halmar paid no heed to these voices as he limped back towards the alleyway before he fell to his right knee, defeated by the process of moving. He reached his right arm forward as well, as if willing the unseen accessory towards him. Blood still coursed from his arm, and the herbalist moved towards Lord Halmar.
“Back to the steps you go,” she said, taking Lord Halmar’s hand and attempting to pull him up. Lord Halmar looked towards the alleyway with his face a mask of defeat but complied with the herbalist. As much as he cared about his necklace, he knew his injuries could be life-threatening if he did not get them fixed up. But he knew his first act when he was clear to move would be to find the precious white stone that he held so dear. As he fell back onto the step, his defeated expression turned to a realization.
“The man who attacked me! He’s still on the ground in the alleyway,” he paused, reconsidering his plan of action. “So is my necklace! Someone get me that as well!” About half of the crowd turned towards the small road, and Lord Halmar hastily added in an afterthought. “Try to leave him alive. I want the guards to question him.” A few members of the crowd looked crestfallen, and Lord Halmar sighed. Some who remained next to the nobleman jogged into the alleyway, grabbing assorted pieces of trash and other items from the ground to use as makeshift weapons. There were only a few people left watching the proceedings, but they continued to drift away as they saw the city lord would get the help he needed. Lord Halmar seemed to relax considerably once the townspeople left, relieved at the promise of his necklace being restored.
“So, how are you feeling?” Said the herbalist, and Lord Halmar glanced between her and his arm.
“How do you think I’m feeling?” He asked, trying to make his voice sound neutral and failing, allowing a drop of sarcasm to squeeze into his voice. The herbalist either didn’t notice or care and spoke without a second thought to his words.
“Hm, well, my name is Alania Rosemary. And you are Cameron, correct?” Lord Halmar glanced at the woman for a moment raising an eyebrow at the disuse of his title, something that very few dared to try, even if he only corrected them.
“Lord Cameron. Or, considering I’m the only Lord Halmar in Carteria, that is what most call me.” He said, and Alania nodded slowly.
“Halmar, then. So–” she was cut off as the door behind Lord Halmar opened again and the woman came outside with two wooden bowls of water and glanced around at the sudden emptiness of her front step. Alania quickly stepped in, grabbing the two bowls of water. The woman did not protest as the herbalist set them down. Alania tested each bowl with a finger. One she frowned distastefully at and as she placed her finger in the other bowl, she hastily withdrew it. “This will do…” She said, more to herself than anyone else. For a brief moment, Lord Halmar wondered why she had withdrawn her finger from the bowl so quickly, but soon found out himself. Alania poured a small portion of the water onto the wound, and Lord Halmar screamed hoarsely. The water was boiling. The woman on the front step looked at the screaming nobleman, shifting her feet as the water she provided was poured atop the cut. Although the crowd had filed away some time ago, others stopped and quickly walked towards Alania, attempting to deduce if she was helping or hurting the city lord. Lord Halmar didn’t seem to know himself, either. Alania stopped pouring for a moment, and Lord Halmar panted raggedly.
“Are you trying to scald to death or help me?” He asked in an accusing tone as he regained his breath. Alania shrugged, a smile on her face.
“Why, I’m helping you of course! Wounds like this can be infected easily, and we wouldn’t want to cut off your arm now, would we?” She phrased the last part of her statement as a question, and Lord Halmar glanced at her for a moment before muttering a reply.
“If we do have to cut off my arm, get me someone other than yourself to do it.” Alania seemed to hear the statement and chuckled before replying.
“Why, of course I wouldn’t do it. I’ve only done so once!” Lord Halmar thought it best not to reply to that statement, and Alania pulled a cloth from her basket, pressing it against his wound. Lord Halmar hissed once more as the pressure caused him another bout pain, and Alania administered a command to him.
“Hold the cloth there. Make sure there’s enough pressure.” Lord Halmar begrudgingly pushed the cloth to his cut skin, attempting not to yell out as he did so. Alania had gone back to her basket and grabbed a wooden mortar and pestle from within. She then picked out a selection of what Lord Halmar assumed to be healing herbs, as they all looked like the simple plants you’d see in the forest that surrounded Carteria. She began to place the herbs in the mortar when she stopped for a moment and chuckled. Lord Halmar glanced at her quickly as she spoke.
“Sorry about that!” She said cheerily. Lord Halmar’s curiosity was peaked.
“About what?” He asked, and Alania smiled as she replied to his inquiry.
“I almost used the wrong herbs! Who knows what could have happened to you then!” Lord Halmar narrowed his eyes at the grinning herbalist, but her smile just seemed to tire him. He noticed Alania reach into her basket and pull out another bundle of herbs that looked the same as the small handful she had just withdrawn. Lord Halmar audibly groaned as she placed the new herbs into her mortar and raised her pestle to crush them.
“Wait!” Lord Halmar said, pointing at the remaining herbs before speaking in a tired tone, “Can you triple check that the rest of those plants won’t poison me?” Alania glanced through the herbs without a touch, shrugging.
“The rest of these look fine,” She commented and began to crush them without a second thought. And this is who my life is entrusted to thought Lord Halmar as Alania continued to crush the herbs.
= + = + =
After a few minutes, the seemingly random assortment of plants had turned into a sickly green poultice. As Lord Halmar glanced at the unknown green formula, and he took a moment to consider who he trusted more; Alania or the man who stabbed him in the alleyway. He grimaced. It was about an even bout. As the old herbalist took her wrinkled fingers and dipped them in the green substance that had formed, Lord Halmar watched a woman run around the corner of the alleyway, a white stone necklace toted high above her head. Lord Halmar’s eyes lit up at the appearance of his necklace, and the woman ran up to him. She was quite beautiful with a smooth face and elegant dress than could only be afforded by those on higher tiers. She wasn’t exactly part of the gentry class, but it was obvious her family had money.
“My Lord… Is this the necklace you are after?” She asked hesitantly, her eyebrows contorting as she looked at Lord Halmar. She expected the castle lord’s jewelry to be far more expensive than the homemade bauble she had picked up in the alleyway, but it was the first necklace she had laid eyes on. Lord Halmar held out his uninjured hand to her, resting the cloth on his wound and the woman cautiously placed the necklace in his palm with a graceful touch. Lord Halmar felt the scratching sensation of the twine on his skin and smiled contentedly. Alania looked somewhat stumped at the interference of her healing but stood by as Lord Halmar admired the necklace for another long moment. The white stone seemed to bask in the sunlight as if becoming more pure with each ray. The woman seemed to play with her hands as she looked to see if she had upset Lord Halmar.
“This is the one– Thank you… What’s your name?” The woman looked surprised at both Lord Halmar’s open attitude and at the fact that she got the correct necklace.
“Martia, My Lord.” She answered, and Lord Halmar smiled at her kindly.
“Well Martia, I cannot thank you enough. Here.” He said, and Lord Halmar set the necklace to his side and scrabbled for the pocket in his discarded overcoat. It took him a moment to get his hand into the pocket as it lay flat, but he withdrew it with a golden coin between his fingers. He offered it to Martia, and she shakingly began moving her hand towards it. Her hand met his as she grabbed the coin, rapidly stuffing it in one of the pockets in the dress she wore and looking down to Lord Halmar with an excited grin on her face.
“Thank you, My Lord! I will use this money well!” She said happily, curtsying to the nobleman before she ran back towards the center of town, her job done.
“If you’re done flirting now, I’ll need you to keep some pressure on that cloth.” Alania gestured to the cloth that lay atop his arm. Lord Halmar forced the cloth back into place with the flat of his hand and waited for Alania’s next set of instructions. Her clean hand pushed Lord Halmar’s sleeve farther up above the line of the wound, and she spoke.
“Remove the cloth now, please,” she said, and Lord Halmar glanced at her with surprise.
“But I just put it back on!” He protested, and Alania smiled.
“I needed you to keep it on the wound for five minutes. It had been four and a half by the time the ‘Martin’ woman got here.” Lord Halmar considered correcting and arguing with Alania but silently took the cloth off his wound. Arguing with Alania would get himself nowhere, he knew. He pulled the cloth off the wound. It was wet with blood, although the pressure succeeded in preventing the blood flow from becoming too great. Some blood still seeped from the wound, but Alania placed her fingers on his arm, rubbing the green poultice into the large cut. He clenched his teeth, once again trying not to scream as Alania continued to apply the medicine. Eventually, he couldn’t bear the pain anymore and let out a yell. Once more, others on the road looked towards him to see if he was being helped or hurt, and the small group that still stood by Lord Halmar saw his yells are ordinary with the proceedings of Alania. The woman smiled as Lord Halmar stopped screaming, but he continued to breathe heavily as the pain did not recede. Instead of simply feeling like he had a stab wound, Lord Halmar now felt as if somebody was rapidly punching the cut with as much strength as they could manage. Although he felt pain, he was happy that something had been done for his wound. Without a second thought, he began to stand.
“Where are you going?” Alania asked him curiously, and Lord Halmar turned back to her slowly before he spoke.
“Why, back to the Carterian Keep of course! Don’t I need to rest?” He turned away again and began to walk away, but Alania stopped him.
“But your treatment is not over yet!” She said cheerily, and Lord Halmar spun on her.
“What?” He asked in more of a hostile tone than he would have liked, but Alania smiled apologetically.
“That–” Came her feeble voice, “Was the salve to reduce pain.” Lord Halmar stood very still for a moment before the thought struck him.
“The ‘salve to reduce pain’? It was more painful than the knife wound itself! You must have used some–” He paused, attempting to formulate an argument, “–faulty herbs!” He said, not fully knowing if faulty herbs existed. The old herbalist shook her head.
“I’m sorry, but if you want any chance of healing you’ll have to wait until I apply another poultice! We wouldn’t want you to get an infection!” Lord Halmar stood silently, unsure of whether he should make a run for it or comply with the words of the herbalist. Eventually, he sighed and let himself be led back to the steps. Alania had poured the other bowl of water into the mortar, cleaning it of the painkiller and placing another handful of herbs into it, crushing them as well. She spoke once more, the same smile still plastered on her face.
“Now, just hold still. This might hurt a bit…”

The man sat up groggily in the same alleyway where he had attacked the nobleman. He felt at his side for his dagger and didn’t feel it there. He simply assumed he had dropped it. He was vaguely surprised he hadn’t been killed by the city guard or even the city lord himself. His head had a large lump on it, and he shook himself wearily and began to sit up. As he tried, a rough hand pushed him back to the ground. When he looked up he cried out in both surprise and fear. Two dozen townspeople crowded above him, many holding makeshift weapons. As soon as he caught sight of them, he was hit in the head once more. He cried out, looking for the source of the blow. A middle-aged woman with a broom was standing there, holding their cleaning device in the most weaponly form that could be thought of.
“Nobody likes you,” she said in a grandmotherly tone before hitting him with the broom once more. At that, other townspeople also joined in as they tried to score a hit on the helpless assassin, and he was out cold once more just seconds later. The only thing was, nobody truly searched him. Nobody noticed the faded patch he wore under the battered and torn shirt he had donned. It was a red and yellow rising sun. The insignia of The Grand Order of Pelegrin.

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