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By Helen Parkinson
Page 1 of 5

Avon looked doubtfully through the gloom up to the house Blake indicated with such enthusiasm. A light showed through one of the lower windows, but, although Avon was prepared to concede that it was the first sign of life they had found since leaving the city, it was so unlike anything he had seen before he found it unnerving.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" He asked finally.

"No." Blake replied, "But you need to rest.

Avon bristled, ready to argue.

"Damn it Avon, It's true. So do I for that matter. Come on we have to stop the bleeding and we are not going to be able to do that while charging about the countryside." As he spoke Blake bent and pulled Avon to his feet. The other man winced as the movement jarred his shoulder. Then, with Blake supporting most of Avon's weight, they walked up the narrow path to the door.

It hadn't looked to be a long walk from the road, but by the time they reached the door it was almost full dark and getting cold. Avon leant against the wall to the side of the door to watch Blake. A single lamp hung from a blackened hook embedded in the wall, it's flame was yellow and guttered slightly. By this fitful light Avon looked pale and drawn, certain now his decision to stop here had been right Blake turned his attention to the door. With his left hand he searched for a bell right hand resting on his gun.

The door was wooden Blake was surprised to note and he stared for a moment at it's dark, carved surface. Even here on this largely rural world wood was prohibitively expensive. Avon shivered. Recalled to himself Blake knocked on the hard surface. "No bell." He explained to the clearly startled Avon.

"They won't have heard that." Avon replied. Then he pointed to a metal shape that decorated the centre of the door. "Use that."

Blake reached for the shape and found that the lower half pulled away from the door and, when released, made a loud and satisfying noise as it hit the metal plate that lay beneath. The sound echoed deep in the house, then died. Blake repeated the motion as Avon winced at the noise.

"Loud enough to wake the dead." Blake said. He raised his hand again, then dropped it back to his side as the door began to open.

Light and warmth flooded out of the house and for a moment Blake was blinded, the figure that stood framed by the doorway was just a dark shape.

"Good evening." The voice was cultured and polite. Gradually Blake's vision cleared and he found himself facing a man at least as tall as Gan but incredibly thin.

"Good evening." Blake managed finally. The man's face was pale, devoid of expression. The eyes, which bulged slightly, were of the palest blue. "I wonder if you could help us? My friend is hurt and we have no shelter."

The man's expression did not change. "My Master is sleeping at the moment, but he will most readily offer you both shelter and medical aid." As he spoke he stepped out into the night, Blake took a step backwards as he realised he would have to reprise his guess as to the man's height. He was at least a foot taller than Gan. A faint smell hung about the man, an earthy, musty smell Blake couldn't quite place. "Come in." The man intoned.

Blake turned to help Avon whose eyes were closed and in the light from the door he was for the first time able to see just how heavily blood stained the other's blue jacket was. Gently Blake pulled Avon's arm across his shoulder, Avon winced and tried to pull away.

"Permit me." Their host said and, pushing Blake aside, gathered Avon in his arms, lifting the injured man with ease, even though Avon tried to resist what he no doubt saw as a great indignity. Holding his less than willing and deeply embarrassed guest in powerful but gentle arms the big man entered the house. Blake, following on his heels, swallowed his amusement at Avon's all to predictable reaction to being helped in this way and tried not to laugh.

The door opened into a large room the like of which neither Blake nor Avon had seen before. The floor was tiled, white and black squares, like a chess board. The walls were half wood panels, then plaster to the ceiling and hung with pictures framed in gold. A number of doors led off from this room which Blake identified now as merely a hallway, and a wide staircase led up to a balcony and, Blake assumed, the sleeping quarters. The hallway was warm and lit by thick white candles. Still carrying Avon their host led the way through one of the doors into a smaller, book filled room.

Blake's eyes had widened in appreciation at the sight of so many real paper books. A fire burned in an arched stone alcove and facing it were a sofa and two chairs, which appeared, to Blake's admittedly inexpert gaze, to be covered in blue velvet.

The big man lowered Avon, who was, Blake noted, as fascinated as he by the books, onto the sofa. "If you gentlemen would wait here I shall fetch my Master."

"If your master has just gone to bed..." Blake began, his voice trailed off when faced with the other's blank, polite stare.

"My Master will be rising shortly sir. He will be most eager to meet you and your companion." He nodded towards Avon who had struggled to sitting position, knees drawn up to his chest, injured right arm clutched to his side.

"My friend needs medical help."Blake said."Is there a doctor nearby?"

"My Master is something of a physician. I shall bring water and bindings for your friend's injury." The man answered as he left the room. Blake went to Avon's side and began to remove the other's jacket

Avon winced. "Be careful Blake." He hissed, "It hurts."

"Sorry." Blake muttered deeply concerned. The shirt beneath the jacket was wet and sticky with blood. He helped Avon remove it but left the rough bandaging in place for the moment. It was sodden with blood, but did appear to have stopped the the flow.

Avon settled back against the cushions and closed his eyes, his mouth drawn to a thin line in pain. Blake watched him for moment then looked about the room.

"This is some house." He said finally.

Avon opened his eyes. "Yes. Somewhat technologically backward however."

"Backward or not, this is a beautiful room." Blake insisted as Avon closed his eyes once more.

"Thank you Sir. You are most kind." A deep cultured voice replied from the door.

Blake spun round, coming to his feet. The man who stood in the doorway was tall, about Blake's own height, but very thin. His hair was dark, almost black, brushed straight back from a high, pale forehead. His eyes were dark, long lashed, the face pale, intelligent looking. He reminded Blake of Avon. He was dressed in a dark jacket and trousers of a style with which Blake was not familiar. He was urbane, sophisticated and totally at ease, even with armed strangers in his house. Blake suddenly felt scruffy and clumsy.

The man smiled. "My name is Vamesh." As he spoke he stepped into the room holding a long, slim hand out to Blake. "My man did not know your names."

Blake took the proffered hand in his own, surprised at the strength of the other's grip and the coldness of the fingers. "I am Blake." He answered, then, releasing the hand he stepped back. "This is Avon."

Vamesh turned to greet Avon smiling. His smile vanished at the sight of the injured man. A look of hunger flashed in his eyes quickly turning to concern. "I apologise," He said going to kneel beside Avon. Avon did not stir, having finally surrendered to exhaustion. "I had not realised your friend was so badly hurt. We must tend the injury soon. I shall take him to one of the bedrooms." He moved slightly, clearly it was his intention to carry Avon, Blake got in his way.

"It's all right, I'll carry him." Something in Vamesh's reaction to Avon worried Blake, he wasn't sure quite what. Vamesh stepped to one side and Blake lifted Avon who moaned softly, but did not regain consciousness.

Vamesh led the way up the stairs and into one of the upper rooms. Blake followed, grateful when Vamesh indicated the bed. Avon was not really that heavy but Blake was tired too.

The bedroom was as stunning as the rooms downstairs. The walls were wood panelled all the way to the carved, panelled ceiling. A vast window dominated one wall, looking out onto the night. Vamesh moved to pull dark red curtains across it as Blake lay Avon on the huge bed. The bed was also hung with dark curtains, the sheets were white and a heavy red blanket lay across the foot.

Avon opened his eyes as Vamesh moved to stand with Blake. He focused on Blake's face with difficulty. "Blake?"

"I'm here." Blake replied, touching his hand lightly. "Avon we're going to have to look at the wound." Avon nodded his understanding.

Vamesh taped Blake lightly on the arm and handed him a glass of milky fluid. "It will kill the pain." He said. Blake took it from him and Vamesh produced a pair of scissors. He bent over Avon to cut away the crude bandage. Avon jumped as cold metal touched his flesh. Vamesh drew back and smiled slightly. "Perhaps you should do it." He passed the scissors to Blake. "I will have Sando bring some water."

As soon as Vamesh left them Blake helped Avon to sit up and offered him the glass. Avon drank obligingly. Once he was finished Blake lowered him back to the pillows and began to cut at his earlier first aid. Avon's left hand clenched into a tight fist as Blake worked.

Their host was back at Blake's side as the injury was uncovered, using the water provided Blake cleaned the wound. He knew he was hurting Avon and so was gratified when Vamesh's potion took effect. Avon's fist relaxed and he lost consciousness. Examining the wound Blake confirmed his earlier fears, Avon's arm and collar bone were broken and the flesh round the injury, slightly charred by the blast, was still bleeding. Blake, using the things Vamesh provided, padded the wound as best he could, then rebandaged it trying to immobilise Avon's arm as much as possible.

"What happened?" Vamesh asked.

"We were ambushed in Lacon City." Blake replied. "We were looking for someone and fell foul of some..thieves."

Vamesh nodded. "Lacon City is always full of thieves and such like. It is a dangerous place for off worlders, even our own avoid it." He paused, " your friend is lucky to have survived."

"No." Blake shook his head. "I'm lucky. They were shooting at me." He had finally sorted out the chaotic shambles in his mind. The crowded square, Darren's failure to arrive, then being recognised by that bounty hunter. The bounty on his head had definitely attracted the bounty hunter's attention and he had closed in with a colleague, Blake hadn't seen them. Apparently deciding a dead prisoner would be easier to handle than a living man, their leader had fired with no warning, but Avon had seen. He seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to spotting danger. He had knocked Blake aside and given them a chance to fight back. It hadn't been a long fight. The bounty hunter appeared to have enemies in the small, crowded market place and Blake and Avon had found unexpected allies. However the help had faded as soon as the shooting was over. The remaining thugs fled as soon as their leader went down and unwilling to offer help to off worlders and thus draw attention to themselves the villagers had withdrawn. Avon and Blake were left left with no option but to run. Even here the authorities would have questions to ask and Federation advisors to draw upon.

"Off worlders?" Blake asked.

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