Haines stood there. He had been telling Durmas something, and from the look on their faces, it was something very serious. They both looked at me when I rose from beside the sleeping Carm.
When they said nothing, I asked, “What’s wrong? Where’s Patricia? She’s all right, isn’t she? You were supposed to get her out of town immediately; not wait for the last minute. If something has happened to her…”
“Calm down, Liam,” said Haines. “She’s fine. She’s with Larak. We found him shortly after we left the house the first time so we went back to tell Durmas, but what’s-his-name showed up, so we had to leave again; we didn’t get the chance to tell anyone. After the battle, I came back to find you, but you weren’t there any more. I had a heck of a time finding you.”
My mind was still operating a little slow. “You found Larak? Where is he? Is he all right?”
“No Liam, he’s far from all right. He’s been imbedded into a tree not far from the edge of town. He’s barely alive. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen,” said Haines.
My mind reeled. Who could have magic powerful enough to override the most basic instinct of physical isolationism? The few times the subject came up, Larak had always said I was stronger than he was, but I’m not sure I was strong enough to do such a thing to another magical creature. Then again, it would take something like this to give me the idea. I shuddered and goose bumps ran up my spine and made the hair on my neck stand up. “Where is he? Show me?”
“Liam, you’re exhausted; there’s nothing you can do,” said Haines.
I waved a hand at Carm. “I know more about anatomy than any other person on this planet. Don’t tell me there’s nothing I can do. I have to try.”
“What about him?” asked Durmas, speaking softly of Carm. Indicating without saying it that I might have to choose.
I looked at him. He looked much more tired than I felt, then I looked at the sleeping form of Carm. He looked infinitely better than when I first found him at the inn. “He’ll be fine for a while. I’m not done with him, but I’m done enough for now. Let’s go.” I refused to choose.
The farmer’s wife came up to me with a large package wrapped in waxed paper. “Eat this. You must be hungry.”
She faded shyly back behind her husband as I opened the package. It was a meat pie. My stomach wouldn’t let me refuse the offer. It barely allowed me to utter my heart-felt thanks before I dug in.
My mouth being inadequate to the demands of my stomach, I headed out the door nodding for Haines to follow me. Durmas and Oskan followed a few seconds later; they also each had a meat pie or maybe it was their second.
On the other side of town, a few trees into the edge of a forest, I saw Patricia and Lloyd Hanley. Mrs. Hanley was not in sight, but when I saw Larak, I could imagine Lloyd sending her away to spare her the sight.
Before I saw the man, I saw his hand protruding from the tree we were approaching. It was strangely lit by the dawn sunlight and I could see that it was all black and blue, but it still loosely gripped the bent bow whose tips were also imbedded in the same tree.
Rounding the tree, I saw Larak’s head where it sagged against the other side of the tree. I had to look again before I could identify exactly what I was seeing. Apparently, he had been aiming his bow at some target in or near the town and someone had simply moved him over into this tree.
I reached up to touch his face. It looked for all the world like he was dead; he just hung there. His left arm and shoulder, half of his left ribcage, his left hip and all of his left leg were out of sight in the tree.
He slowly raised his head and looked at me. His face was covered with sweat and his eyes were bloodshot. I could tell he was having a lot of trouble breathing and his circulation had to be all screwed up.
“I knew you would be able to beat him,” he whispered. “I’m glad I lived long enough to see it. I wish I could have seen it.”
“Don’t waste your breath,” I said. “Let me see what I can do.”
“You can’t do anything. I’m a dead man.”
“Shut up,” I said. I reached up and wrapped my fingers around his neck. “Help me.”
“I can’t.” He laid his cheek against the tree and closed his eyes. A drop of blood fell from the corner of his mouth.
“Yes you can. Just think about it,” I insisted. I don’t know if he did, but that’s what I did; I let all the memories I had of him flip through my mind like a slide show, sparring with him, hunting with him, a kaleidoscope of our training exercises, anything I could think of where he was involved. Then, with a gut-wrenching jerk that threatened my newly eaten meal and dropped me to my knees, I made it happen. Something heavy dropped nearby.