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After the Sword

By Teri White
Page 4 of 11

At least there was a certain constancy to his life.

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Simple.

Avon huddled as best he could under the stone over-hang, trying to keep dry. The rain continued to fall, heavily and steadily. It did not help that Vila was huddled next to him, complaining loudly. They had both long since given up on trying to raise the Liberator; the ship was simply not out there. All they could do was hope that it was still intact and would, sometime in the not-too-distant future, come back for them.

"It's cold," Vila whined for the hundredth or so time.

Avon shifted position a little and felt the ground begin to crumble beneath his feet. With no time to think, he shoved Vila to the left and attempted to jump after him.

They both heard the sound of his bone snapping, even over the noise of the storm.

"Ugh," Avon grunted, as the pain stabbed through him.

Vila was crouched next to him, panicked hands groping for whatever hurt. "Avon?" he said.

"It's my ankle," he said in a tight voice.

"Can you walk?"

"Yes," he said, although he was far from sure of that.

They managed to move from the treacherous ledge and then had the first stroke of luck. Someone, sometime, had constructed a rude shed of local wood and stone. It was almost hidden by the gloom and low-hanging branches, but Vila spotted it and half-dragged Avon toward the building.

Inside, Avon immediately collapsed on the dirt floor and swore at the pain that was shooting up his leg.

Vila was bent over him. "What can I do?" he asked.

"Fire," Avon said through chattering teeth. "I'm cold."

Vila collected several pieces of old wooden furniture and managed to get a fairly good blaze going in the stone fireplace. He pulled Avon over close to the warmth and tried to take his boot off to examine the ankle, but Avon swore again and shoved him away.

"Leave it," Avon said.

"But shouldn't I at least--"

Avon stabbed him with a glance and Vila shut up. They sat in silence, listening to the continuing violence of the storm.

Avon didn't even realize that he'd fallen asleep until he had the usual dream and awoke in the usual panic. Vila was watching him warily. "It was only a dream," Avon said by way of explanation.

"You don't look so good," Vila said.

Avon realized that he was drenched in sweat and also in real danger of throwing up. "It was only a dream," he repeated foolishly. His thoughts were disjointed and heated.

"More like a nightmare, you ask me." Vila scooted a little closer. "Whattcha dreaming about?"

"Blake," he said immediately, and then wondered why.

Vila chuckled.

"What's funny?" Avon asked him.

"Funny that you're dreaming about Blake."

"Maybe." Avon was hot and cold at the same time. He tried to focus on his ankle, but his eyes wouldn't work right. "I have to find him," he said.

There was a long pause.

When Vila finally spoke again, his voice was not the whining tone that he so often affected. "You will," he said firmly.

Avon flickered his gaze toward the other man. "You think?"

"I know." Vila sighed and stared off into empty space for a time. "It is...ordained."

That was a very strange thing for Vila to say.

Avon wanted to ask him about it, but before he could frame the words, another wave of pain swept across him and he gave into it. Vila patted his arm uselessly.

It was several hours later when the Liberator finally contacted them.

#

He was in Blake's quarters again.

His ankle was healed, but his mind was in a turmoil. In a few hours, he might find Blake, if the message he'd received was genuine.

If.

He picked up a book, turned it over in his hands for a moment and then threw it against the wall. "Damn you, Blake," he said. "Damn you for trusting me."

Avon felt his shaky control slip even more and knew that he was on the edge of something very bad. Maybe insanity. He looked around the room desperately and then picked up another book and threw it as well. That was joined by a water pitcher, a rock, a small hand-held game of some sort, a stylus, a boot, and anything else he could grab. He ripped the blanket from the bed and then kicked over a small storage chest.

He kept up a low keening sound as he methodically tore the room apart.

Finally, exhausted, drained of every emotion but weariness, he collapsed in a heap on the bed and buried his face in the mattress. "Are you happy now, Blake?" he whispered hoarsely.

Oh, the idiot that wore his bleeding heart on his damned sleeve would love this. He would love to see the rational, logical Avon in this state. He would feel victorious.

And at the moment, Avon didn't even care.

He was willing to be vanquished. Which only proved how far gone he was. He was sliding down a slippery incline and there was only one being in the galaxy who could save him.

He closed his eyes and dreamed of finding Blake on Terminal.

#

They took care to avoid the small villages and farms that dotted the path of their journey. Geraint insisted, probably correctly, that the plainfolk of the countryside supported him and would offer no threat to their King. His people loved him, he insisted.

Well, Bedwyr could not disagree with that. But he still would not let Geraint show himself to anyone. You could never be sure.

They stopped at midday for a light meal and to water the horses. Geraint removed his boots and leggings to dangle his feet in the cool stream. "I should have paid more heed to your wisdom," he said.

Bedwyr tore a hunk of bread from their last loaf and tossed it to him. Geraint caught it with one hand. "What particular wisdom, my King?"

"About my cousin Griffin." Hatred dripped from the name when Geraint said it.

"I should have killed him years ago," Bedwyr muttered. He chewed the stale bread fiercely.

"I should have allowed you to do so."

"Perhaps His Highness will remember that the next time."

"If there is a next time." Geraint seemed lost in a black mood from which not even the beauty of the landscape could save him.

"I have hope," Bedwyr said.

Two thoughtful eyes fixed on him. "That surprises me a bit. You have not shown much optimism in your nature over the time I have known you."

Bedwyr considered that for a moment, his brow furrowed. "Yes," he finally agreed. "It is rather surprising." He glanced upwards. "Perhaps too much sun has muddled my brain."

At last, Geraint chuckled a little. Finished with the meager meal, he stretched out in the grass and closed his eyes. Bedwyr ate the last of his bread as well, then rested his back against the broad trunk of an oak. He did not intend to sleep and, indeed, did not think that he had, but when he opened his eyes and saw the old woman, he was entirely startled. Her approach had gone completely unnoticed.

In truth, she looked harmless enough. Just an old woman, none too clean, in a voluminous skirt and a much-patched shawl drawn over her head. Bedwyr straightened and, reflexively, reached for his sword.

She seemed amused.

Feeling somewhat sheepish, Bedwyr stood. "You creep very quietly," he said.

"I was not creeping. Merely walking. And how much noise should one old woman make?"

There was really nothing that he could say in response to that, without looking even more foolish, so Bedwyr just shrugged. "Then please keep walking."

She glanced at the man sleeping in the grass. "May not a loyal subject greet her King?"

"And are you a loyal subject?"

She laughed, a rusty, rattling sound.

Geraint stirred and his eyes opened. Bedwyr moved to stand beside him. "What is it?" Geraint said in a voice still thick with sleep.

"This crone desires to greet you, sire," Bedwyr said in the tone he always used when speaking to the King in the presence of others.

"Well, she may certainly do so." Geraint rose and managed to look properly majestic, even with bare feet.

The old woman gave a respectable curtsey. "Highness," she said.

"Good day to you. And to whom am I speaking?"

"My name is Chwimleian."

Bedwyr eyed her. "What word have you of the recent troubles afflicting the King?"

She gave a dismissive shrug. "I do not concern myself with such matters. All of those things are fleeting and unimportant."

"Indeed?" Bedwyr said bitterly; what right had she to dismiss their lives and troubles as unimportant?

She took a step toward Geraint and stared into his face. "I think that you should go back to your castle, King."

Geraint shook his head. "I cannot until I have found the--" At the look from Bedwyr, he caught his tongue. "--until I find what I am seeking," he said instead.

Again, she laughed. "Ahh, yes, the Taf Gleddyf."

Bedwyr frowned, displeased. "How do you know that?"

Instead of answering him, she moved still closer, until her face was scarcely a breath's distance from Geraint's. "There is danger in the magick of the Black Sword," she murmured. "Great and terrible danger."

Bedwyr put a hand on the King's arm and moved him back a step, then interposed himself between the two of them. "What danger?"

Her eyes, very black and too small within her nut-brown face, pierced him. "Ahh, foolish Knight," she whispered. "Your arrogance will be your downfall."

He glared at her. "What danger to the King?" he insisted.

She raised a hand and touched his face. A shudder seemed to seize her whole body, and she dropped back from him quickly. "Bedwyr," was all she said.

And then she turned and walked away.

#


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