Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 96

wherever it was they happened to be. ‘Speak when spoken to’ was one of his father’s rules. He’d enumerated a great many more before they set out. # Andarta was drunk, not falling down, throwing up drunk but definitely drunk enough to get in trouble. She would have thought twice about insulting Sabor otherwise, Sabor who had once boasted of strangling a bear. Still, she thought, she could beat him, if she wasn’t so drunk. It didn’t look like he was going to give her a chance to sober up though. As Sabor drew his sword Andarta noticed, in the gathering crowd, a man and a boy, struggling to become a man, watching with intense interest. As she pulled her own sword free and Sabor charged she realised she’d seen the man before. In the King’s court. Now I’m in trouble, she thought as she parried Sabor’s first wild swing. Her full attention switched to staying alive as the two warriors traded a series of blows. Sabor was strong but without imagination, and she soon saw he had a series of well-learned manoeuvres. After a parry that left her arm tingling, she neatly stepped inside the big warriors reach and cracked his temple with the hilt of her sword. As he toppled, she saw plenty in the crowd exchanging money from the bets that they’d made. The man and boy came over to talk to her. “I have need of a strong and clever arm,” the druid, who she realised was one of the four Great Druids, said. “I’m not for hire,” she countered. Druids and their ilk, ovates and bards, were trouble. Bards not least for wanting to immortalise you, ovates not least for their delving into powers men were not meant to know, and druids for their traffic with the Fair. “Indeed?” said the tall druid. “Yes,” she said and turned away, stalking back to the Inn and to her wine. The truth of it was that she wasn’t for hire. That the fat fool of an innkeeper had already hired her to keep the inn safe. That even if he hadn’t she wasn’t free to go gallivanting off around the coun- tryside because of her sick partner, who needed medicine, which needed money, which called for her to sell her sword in the first place. She made a sour face at her wine and took another gulp. Free wine being a perk of the job she had become, perhaps, a little too fond of. “It is going to kill him,” the deep voice of the druid said. She looked up startled, she hadn’t heard him approach, not the best advert for a warrior’s instinct she thought bitterly. “I’m sorry, what?” she said, distracted. She could see the boy walk inside the inn. “The cough.” “What?” “Your partner’s cough. Sean isn’t it?” the druid said, no trace of sympathy existed on his craggy face. “How did you—” “It will kill him,” the druid interrupted. “Within a month. Two at the longest.” Andarta found herself standing up. “Who do you think you are? Sean is NOT going to die. Take that back. Take it…” She trailed off in horror as she realised what she’d been doing—jabbing her finger into the chest of one of the most powerful men in all the Four and One. “I can alleviate the pain, but I cannot save him. I can give him a faster journey to the Wheel and the promise of a better next life.” Andarta sat like a puppet with its strings cut. “He’s going to die?” She said in a small voice. “I knew he was ill but…” She looked up at the druid. “You can spin the Wheel for him?” The big druid nodded gravely. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the boy approaching. He stopped a polite distance away. “Well?” the druid said. PAGE 95