The Balance of the Rose - Cover

The Balance of the Rose

Copyright© 2014 by R22CoolGuy

Chapter 11

There was no change in status for either Karith or Mann by the next morning so the respective parties involved set their plans in motion. Maria called for the recluse woman that the healer spoke of be brought to the Bürgermesiter's residence, while Tarn kept Karith isolated from Galt and made preparations for an audience with Prince Shadac, Lord of Shadows. Maria sat in a chair at Mann's bedside and watched over the unconscious man, while Tarn had Marianne do the same for Karith.

"My Lord?"

"My Lord!"

"My Lord, answer me!"

It was Maria that first noticed one of the marks on Mann's right forearm glowing with a golden light. They had all been taking turns as a nursemaid, watching Mann throughout the night and it was her turn. She had been quietly sitting by his bed, alert for any sign of movement. She stood up and backed away from the bed. She turned and saw an even stranger sight, a glow coming from within the scabbard of his sword!

"Benito, come quick!" She called out toward the open doorway.

She could hear her command being relayed until finally Benito, followed by Alexander enter the room in a hurry. Maria's pointing to both phenomena was all the explanation the two men needed for the summons. Alexander crossed over to the bed while Benito crossed over to where the sword stood leaning up against the wall. It was Benito's drawing of Mann's sword that caused the biggest ruckus in the room. The sword blade burned in a golden fire as its runes were bathed in silver light. Benito could feel the sword vibrating as it fairly hummed with power. He thought he could almost hear silent whisperings coming from all around him. Everyone else in the room gasped and moved back from Benito. Contrary to what Mann had said earlier, this was no parlor trick, this was a manifestation of something powerful and more importantly, unearthly!

"By the Maker, the portents are true!"

All turned toward the voice and saw a cloaked woman standing in the doorway. She was old, that much was certain, since she was hunched over a walking stick, the hood of her cloak obscuring her facial features, except for her rather large and hooked nose.

"What portents, Grandmother?" Maria asked, addressing her in the term of respect for elderly women.

"Hmm, put that thing away, Captain, before you hurt someone with it," the old woman admonished Benito. "Why, the portents that foretold his arrival. What has happened here?"

"What is your name, Grandmother?" Maria asked. "He fell unconscious and other than some trashing about has not moved since last night."

"I am called Brunhilda," she replied pulling back her hood and smiling a smile bereft of many of her teeth.

She was not attractive. Well, if truth be told, she was quite ugly, a hag in every sense of the word. Her eyes were the green of the forest and her hair, fine and stringy, was the color of grey moss, loosely tied at the nape of her neck. Her dress, the color of mud, was homespun and thread worn. For all of her haggard looks, she was clean and smelled like a spring field freshly cut after a rain. She seemed powerless and old, worn from years of strife and toil, until you looked into her eyes. There was strength there, and power as well.

She moved with purpose to the bed and sat on its edge and began to examine Mann. She checked his pulse, held a mirror to his nose, and opened his eyelids and looked deeply into his eyes. She leaned over and placed her ear against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. Finally she lifted his right wrist off the bed and examined the marks on his arm, specifically the one glowing, the one that looked like balanced scales.

"The marks on his arm tell a tale, oh yes they do," she muttered, almost to herself and then withdraw a small pouch from her cloak and held it out. "Have the contents of this sachet infused in boiling water, strained and the resulting tea brought back here, quickly now."

"You there," she commanded, pointing toward Alexander. "Prop him up so that the liquid will not choke him. Hurry everyone; there is little time to spare!"

"What is wrong with him?" Maria asked.

"His malady is not physical, Your Highness," Brunhilda replied. "He is sick in heart and soul. Some event has caused him to flee inward and we need to help to guide him back, before it is too late."

"Too late?" Alexander interjected.

"Yes, Your Highness," she nodded. "If we do not force him to come back, he might stay where he is forever."

"My Lord, help is on the way, hold on!"

Mann could barely hear the nagging voice in the far recesses of his mind. He was lost, without knowledge of a way back and yet he did not mind. He knew this place, this sanctuary, and had spent time here before. He remembered being in this exact place and having a conversation with Karith when she died as Tanith and again when she was Karith. He knew where the door was that kept his personal beast at bay but did not have the will to find his way back. Speaking of Karith, it was weird that he could no longer sense her presence linked with his. Perhaps that was the cause of his current predicament. He took the time to search out the bond, the invisible but tangible link he shared with her. It was there, strained and stretched but still whole and when he followed it to the other end he found nothing but emptiness. Karith was gone! That realization drove him further inward, until he entered a new place, a place that he had never been to before.

The servant returned with a steaming teapot of the brew made from the herbs that were given to him by Brunhilda. She took the pot and poured some of its contents into a cup. She then had Benito open Mann's mouth and slowly dribbled the warm fluid into his mouth. She slowly massaged his throat to help him swallow the liquid. After getting the unconscious man to take the entire cup she nodded to Benito, who slowly lowered Mann back down into bed. Brunhilda got off the bed and handed the cup to the servant.

"Now we wait."

"Wait for what?" Maria asked, moving toward the bed. "What exactly did you give him?"

"We wait for him to find his way or not," Brunhilda replied with a shrug. "I have done all I could. Either he will or he will not."

Maria gently placed her hand on Mann's forehead and flinched back.

"He is burning up! What did you do?"

"I gave him a potion that will make him uncomfortable and hopefully drive him to consciousness. We must wait for it to do its work. Do not fret, Highness, I know what must be done."

They waited with bated breath for some sign or change that foretold that the brew had done what Brunhilda had intended it to do. Several moments passed, and nothing; Mann lay on that bed like the dead. Brunhilda looked up, almost in prayer, and sighed, and then a small smile showed on her face.

"Captain, draw his sword and place it in his hands. That might just do the trick."

The Captain nodded in agreement to Brunhilda's request and drew Mann's sword, which was still glowing with that ethereal fire. He placed the sword across Mann's chest and then wrapped his hand around the grip and stood back. The intensity of the light increased until the entire room was bathed in a golden light. The occupants could actually feel a charge in the air, the energy was that palpable. The intensity increased until they had to shield their eyes from the glare of the light.

Mann was at peace with the universe and felt that he could stay that way for all of eternity. There was no strife, no pain, no hurt. None of that existed where he was. True, it was not actually living; it was more existing than anything, but it was quiet and reflective.

He began to feel a warmth growing in intensity all around him, to the point that it began to feel uncomfortable. The warmth began to feel almost unbearable, as if it was forcing him to move. At the point that he knew he needed to move away from the warmth, he saw a bright pinpoint of light at the edge of his vision, well, vision was not correct since he did not actually see. A pinpoint of light at the edge of his essence, of his consciousness. The light grew in size and intensity until it stood as a beacon in the night, a light at the end of a tunnel or hallway.

"My Lord, follow the light."

He finally recognized the voice as belonging to the Runesword, Caledor, his Runesword. He willed himself to move until he was facing the light and began to move toward it, leaving his sanctuary behind.

Mann struggled to full consciousness and felt the Runesword in his hand. Gripping it tighter and drawing power from his sword, he opened his eyes and blinked from the intensity of light that Caledor was giving off.

"Caledor, that is enough."

"Yes, My Lord," the sword replied and the golden fire faded away.

"Mann, are you alright?" Maria asked, moving toward the bed.

"How long?" He rasped, his voice parched from the heat of the brew and resulting fever.

"Since last night," Maria replied and helped him to sit up. "You fell forward on your horse, unconscious. We moved you to my carriage and brought you straight here."

Alexander handed him a cup of water and Mann sipped it slowly, taking in his surroundings. He handed the cup back to Alexander and then looked at Maria.

"Where are we?"

"In Sterzing," Maria replied. "In the home of the Bürgermeister, Herr Friedrich. This is Brunhilda, she helped you return. Do you know what happened?"

Mann turned inward in reflection upon hearing Maria's question. What exactly did happen? He remembered a pain and nothing. He remembered Karith's scream of pain. Wait! He remembered Karith's scream of pain! He searched for the bond between them and almost could not find it because it was barely there, but it was there. He followed it to Karith and felt nothing, no response. He sent power down the link wrapped in love and comfort and still felt no response. Something must have happened to her.

"I need to get up," Mann declared as he tried to rise and fell back down weakly. "Caledor, give me strength!"

Everyone in the room stepped back as Mann was once again bathed in a golden light. The light was a physical manifestation of the power flowing into his body, rejuvenating him. Brunhilda was the only one not standing in shock of the display of unearthly powers. In fact, she was reveling in the excess energy in the room. When the glow dissipated, Mann looked as refreshed as he felt. He got out of bed and stood looking for his clothes, since he was only dressed in a simple loincloth.

"What happened to your back?" Maria asked in a hushed tone, looking at the crisscross of old whip marks.

"Old wounds from an unpleasant stay in captivity," Mann replied absently. "Where are my clothes?"

Benito handed him a folded pile of clothes. Mann laid Caledor down and proceeded to get dressed. Benito handed him his scabbard which he buckled into place and then picked up Caledor and sheathed it.

"What are you doing?" Alexander asked. "You should stay in bed to rest and recover from your ordeal."

"There is not time for that," Mann countered. "We need to push on. I need to get to my ultimate destination."

"Mann, it is too late in the day to start over the pass," Benito interjected. "To do so would be suicide and I will not put my charges in jeopardy. Take the rest of the day to rest and we will set out tomorrow at first light."

"Listen to the Captain, Harbinger of Change," Brunhilda added.

"Who are you and how do you know that?" Mann spun toward her and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"I am Brunhilda, a healer. Summoned to aid you in your time of duress," Brunhilda smiled and curtseyed.

"Summoned by whom?" Mann asked menacingly.

"By neither Powers nor Principalities," Brunhilda replied. "The Neutrals, and specifically the Earth-Mother, have a vested interest."

"Brunhilda told us that your coming was foretold in signs and portents," Maria began hesitantly, with a trace of trepidation in her voice. "Who are you, and what have you come here to do?"

"I am just a man," Mann replied.

"No mere man could be involved in what I have seen this day," Alexander added and cocked a brow.

"I will explain it as briefly as I can," Mann began with a sigh. "There are two realities that exist in harmony. The first, the material or physical world, is the one you and most everyone else is familiar with. It is where every day living is the norm. All of this around you is the physical world, but there is another world. Some call it the supernatural world, others by different names. To those who understand it, it is simply known as the 'Elder World'. Understand, it is no different than the physical for those that reside there. Now, these two realities coexist in harmony with only a veil that separates the two. Most people in the physical never get a glimpse of the other. For some, like Brunhilda for instance, the veil is drawn back and they can see into that otherworldly realm but cannot actually interact with it. For a small few there is no veil and they can, and do, move back and forth between them. And then there are the ones born to the Elder World. I am one of the later and I have come here to correct a problem in your reality."

"Are you an Angel?" Maria asked, as she dropped to her knees with head bowed and signed herself with the cross. "Is that angelic script on your arm?"

"Ahh, no, nothing like that," Mann chuckled and reached down to pull her up. "Certainly not an angel. Truth be told Maria, I am not exactly good, more evil than anything, but I am not a demon either."

"You are not evil," Maria countered. "Evil does not do the things you have done; the things you have done for my brother and I."

"Nevertheless, I am," Mann replied with a shrug. "I am a thief and an assassin and Brunhilda is right, although I am at a loss to know how she would know, I am the Harbinger of Change."

"The Earth-Mother enlightened me," Brunhilda replied. "I have been watching the signs and portents for some time. My coming to your aid at the request of the town healer was just chance, or perhaps it was not, now that I think upon it. The Captain is right, you should spend the rest of the day resting, getting your strength back."

"Mann, get back in bed!" Maria commanded. "We will not leave until tomorrow. Brunhilda, who is the Earth-Mother?"

"As Mann explained about the two realities, well, there are entities that are the manifestation of the various aspects of good and evil. The Earth-Mother is the manifestation of the Neutral entities. I name them entities, but in truth they are Gods. I just did not want to offend your understanding of religion."

"So they are the Pagan Gods?" Alexander asked.

"No, that is the ignorance of the priests' teachings," Brunhilda replied, shaking her head.

"I will concede the need for resting and recuperating, but I need no more time in bed," Mann stated, turning toward Maria. "Thank you for looking out for me in my need."

"Your thanks are not necessary," Maria smiled but shook her head. "I could spend the whole of time 'looking out for you' and it would be minuscule as compared to what you did for me in Milan."

"Is anyone hungry? Because I sure am." Alexander asked. "I will have Herr Friedrich have breakfast laid out. Brunhilda, you are welcome to stay and eat if you so desire."

"Yes, do stay, I have questions for you," Mann looked at her intently.

Brunhilda accepted the invitation from Alexander but was not looking forward to the questions from the one they called Mann.

Tarn was actually concerned about Karith. She should not have reacted the way she did to the potion. He checked on her again after a quick breakfast and her condition was unchanged. He decided that there was not going to be a better time to contact Lord Shadac, so he left Karith's room and returned to his study and shut and locked the door.

Retracing his steps back to his audience chamber he lit the candles throughout the room. He replaced the candles around the pentagram before stepping into its center and lighting them one by one until the only one left was the one at the top of the symbol. After lighting the last candle, the black personal candle of Lord Shadac, a silver beam of energy appeared from one candle to the next, highlighting the lines of the symbol. A shimmering dome of energy encompassed the symbol on the floor, sealing Tarn within its protection. Tarn knelt and his vision blurred for a moment as he was plane shifted to the hall of Lord Shadac.

Tarn reappeared, within his symbol of protection, in the hall of the Prince of Shadows, which resided on the Shadow Realm. A low moan increased in intensity until it began to grate on his nerves. Shapes moved within the mist surrounding the symbol of protection and Tarn could feel it being tested at multiple locations and added more power to his defenses. Tarn could see silver sparks of energy leaping off of the shield when the creatures touched it, driving them back.

"Prince Tarn, how can I be of service?" Lord Shadac asked, irritation evident in his voice. "Have you already procured that which I desire?"

Mann had just finished breakfast when the ring on his right hand began to glow. He began to feel waves of different emotions flowing over him: uneasiness, agitation, anger, and finally out-and-out rage. The ring glowed brighter as if it was trying to tell him something. He concentrated on the ring trying to understand, or perhaps remember, when a scene began to play itself out in his mind's eye...

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