Found – Part Eleven
Parts One through Ten can be found on my author’s page
“We should get some real rest,” Calum said after a long session the next day. I’d begun to master channeling Magic through my walking staff. After having done the first time, it became easier and easier each time. We started slow, and I was able to enhance the protective enchantments around Calum’s cabin. If only just a little. He was right. The Magic was within me. My body needed to relearn how to use it. I was born into Magic but was never given a chance to choose how to wield it. Instead, I was forced to use it for purposes against my natural alignment, and do things I did not want to. Calum said that’s why the strength of my Affliction was beyond any he’s ever heard of. That’s also why it may kill you. He never said it. He was hoping I’d be strong enough to travel soon, and that I would find a good healer. But I knew he thought about it that same way I did. If the Affliction didn’t get me, the Curse would.
“It would be wise not to push your limits yet,” he teased.
“Yet?” I asked as I limped in behind him.
“You’re still healing from your wounds, and you’re still Afflicted. We mustn’t forget that.”
“And Cursed,” I replied.
“That too,” he said as he went about gathering items. He walked over to a large wardrobe next to one of his many bookcases. It was wooden, like much of his furnishings. It was imposing, spanning from floor to ceiling. Its doors were adorned with elaborate metal handles, far too large for their actual purpose. What does he keep in there? I wondered. Maynard had one like that. It was wider, with gilded handles. When he opened it, he would take his time, relishing in the mystery of his choice. He would take his time, ensuring his selection suited his immediate needs. Its hinges would groan with the weight of the doors. It was one of the sounds I hated most in the world. He kept all sorts of things hidden in that wardrobe—things I wished I could erase from my memory.
“This is for you,” Calum’s voice freed me from my dark reverie. He was handing me a thick blanket. “You can sleep on the bed.” I shook my head.
“I won’t put you out of your bed again. I can sleep on the floor.”
“You’ll do no such thing. You are still healing, Nox. Take the bed,” he insisted, thrusting the blanket at me again. I conceded and took it with my free arm.
“And where will you sleep?”
“In the chair by the cauldron. It’s where I prefer to sleep. Now get to bed. We’ll have an early start tomorrow.”
I relented and hobbled towards the small bed, setting my staff on the floor beside it, and settled in for the night. I listened to the sounds of Calum winding down: books closing, jar lids twisting, candles blown out. A gentle fading of light marked each time another went out. Another, another, another, but the blaze under the cauldron was constant.
“Calum?” I asked while I stared at the ceiling
“Yes?” The sound of movements halted.
“Tell me about Haven’s End.” I turned my body so that I was facing him. He wasn’t looking at me. His hands were gripping either side of the table beside the cauldron, the whole of his weight leaning against them. His head hung low, heavy with his thoughts and memories.
“I, uh…” he stammered. I sat up in surprise. I didn’t know him, and yet I knew it was wrong for him to be unsure. His body was tense with hesitation; his voice quivered with uncertainty. “I didn’t think you’d ask so soon.”
“I’m sorry,” I answered. But I wasn’t sorry. I was confused. Had I upset him?
“Don’t be. It’s just not a story I ever thought I’d share,” he answered, straightening up and facing me. He stepped over to the chair by the cauldron, the one where he slept and sank in. His movements became slow, stiff and wooden. At that moment, he wasn’t the man that saved my life. He was an elderly man, doing more than he should. He should be resting, caring for his garden, perhaps even living among the people of Haven’s End. He could have been someone’s adopted grandfather. I could see him surrounded by the town children. But no. He was stuck here with me. Burdened and tired.
He turned to sit, and as he lowered his body into the chair, he went limp and collapsed.
“Calum!” I scrambled to get up, but he put his hand up to stop me.
“No, I’m fine. It’s been a long day and I’m an old man.”
I let my body settle back into the bed, never taking my eyes off of him.
“Was it because of—”
“No. This has nothing to do with you. I’ve just overexerted myself. That’s all.” I don’t believe you. “So Haven’s End,” he began. “I haven’t been there in several years.”
“Are there Magical beings there?”
“There weren’t at first, but I suspect a few may have found their way.”
“How did it come to be?”
“When my friend and I found this place, Haven’s End wasn’t there. There was naught but a small clearing in that valley. He often liked to go out to that cliff, and be alone. He’d be gone from dawn to dusk on days he felt up to it. I should have stopped him, but he begged me not to. As the Affliction began to take hold of him, he brought me out there with him one day—said he had a gift for me. He took me out to the cliff, and in that clearing in the valley, I saw a small village. He told me he enchanted a tree in the middle of that clearing, to attract those that had been displaced by the King’s malice. He said it was his gift to me so that I wouldn’t be alone when the Affliction took him. I became angry with him for being so reckless. That was a lot of Magic for him to use in his condition. I was also angry because bringing people so close to our location could be dangerous. The truth is, my anger was a mask to hide my sorrow… because he seemed so ready to give up, so ready to leave me. We fought, and it triggered his Affliction. I tended to him the best I could, but he always sent me away, begging me to look after the people in the valley. They had named their settlement Haven’s End, and the enchanted tree was the center of their town. They were happy to see me whenever I did go.”
The pain in his voice stung me.
“Do you hate them?”
“No,” he said. “I wish I did. I’d have somewhere to lay blame and guilt. But, no. The people of Haven’s End are innocent. They are only guilty of trying to make a life in the madness. It’s the true reason I didn’t stay. I couldn’t face them because of how much I wanted to hate them.”
“No. He did not. Those who are Afflicted never do.” He looked into my eyes as if to tell me that I wouldn’t either. “As you know,” he continued, “enchantments die with those who cast them. After he perished, I went back, and recast his enchantment. He would never have forgiven me if I let Haven’s End die with him,” he finished. He was wringing his hands together, as though he was trying to crush something between his palms.
Haven’s End. A refuge for those whose homes and lives had been destroyed, and a constant reminder of Calum’s loss. He’d never be able to see those townsfolk and think of them as people who needed help and asylum. They’d always be a memento of grief and a source of pain.
“They are safe, and the town is thriving. That’s what matters,” he said looking at his hands.
“It’s hard to believe that many people can be safe here. Somewhere he hasn’t reached? I don’t understand how a place like that can exist.”
“When you’ve strengthened up, that’s where you’ll go.”
My blood chilled in my veins. No.
“You can’t send me there,” I said, sitting up. Calum turned to face me.
“No. You can’t. They’re safe. Safe from him. You can’t send me there.” Icy dread pervaded me. It became real that I would leave Calum’s home. The first place I’d ever known safety, the only sanctuary I’ve ever had, and I had to leave. But the greater fear still was the fear for the people in Haven’s End. It was the last place free from his tyranny—the last shelter for the Magical world. I would bring ruin to them. That’s right. You aren’t safe anywhere. He’ll find you here, he’ll find you at Haven’s End. You’ll never be free of him. You belong to him. I could feel my chest begin to tighten, a vice grip around my rib cage, and I knew I had to get out of the cabin. Air turned to fire in my lungs, my limbs to lead as I scrambled for my walking staff. I threw my weight against it and moved as fast as my body would allow.
“Nox!” Calum jumped after me. He reached out to stop me.
“No!” I yelled before he could touch me. “Don’t.” Words became trapped in my throat as my body became less mine. I could feel the heat searing on my skin while my blood ran cold. Outside. Away, was all I could manage to think. The threshold which was mere steps away earlier was now another world away. I could feel Calum close behind me, despite all the warning signs to stay away. He’d get hurt if he stayed close to me. My dependence on him was harmful to him. And it was starting to show. I stumbled and staggered towards the doorway, fearing I wouldn’t make it. Inches away from the door, pain lanced through me, robbing me of will and movement. I threw my head back and released a scream that shook the cabin. Something pulled on my body, and I was thrust outside. My body fell to the earth, but I did not feel the impact. I felt a liquid fall into my mouth, and the fires were quelled down to dull embers. I took a deep breath, and the world went black.