What day was it? What time? As he pried his eyes opened, Tanis did not have an answer to these questions floating through the pain filled haze that permeated his mind. He did not even know how long he had been unconscious. Minutes, hours, days. What he did know was that once again he was lying on the filthy floor of his cold dark dank cell.
At least the pain has subsided, for the most part, he thought, his body screaming in agony when he tried to move. Panting Tanis decided he did not have the energy to move. Did not have the energy to chase the rats away that scampered over him, or even the energy to wonder for the thousandth time why he was here in the first place.
The queen definitely had not been forthcoming with answers. Instead, she took a great deal of pleasure torturing him. Endlessly. Before this last session she seemed anxious about some piece of news she had just received. Something to do with him. Whatever it was, she had stepped up her attempts to break him. When her own exhaustion finally set in and she ordered him back to his cell, Tanis was not sure he would survive the night. There was nothing left in him to heal himself, and to be honest he did not want to. He had done that once. Once was enough. When she had found out what he had done, she took great pains, mostly his, to make sure he did not attempt to heal himself again.
Every once in a while, when her anger was high and she had been particularly vicious with her torturing, she would force some sort of sleeping draught down his throat so she would be sure his magic would heal him while he slept, like it had since the day he had been born. How she had known this piece of information was lost on Tanis. It was something only his parents and his wife knew about him. If the villagers knew exactly how powerful he really was, then he would have come to the attention of the queen far sooner than this. Queen Maura was a jealous queen. Anyone she felt was a threat to her reign or would be useful she either killed or forced to serve her. Maybe that was why he was here. Someone had figured out his secret and told her.
Groaning, every muscle screaming as he carefully rolled over onto his back, Tanis wondered vaguely how his family was fairing without him, or if they even knew he was still alive. Usually when someone was dragged off to the castle they were never heard from again. The thought that his wife and child would be left alone to fend for themselves with no place to call home tore at his soul.
Why. Was. He. Here?!
The Queen’s Guard had come into their small village mid-afternoon looking for The One of the Prophecy. A man of great power, whoever the hell that was. Saying that their mistress had determined he resided in Amulree. Since magic was not uncommon on Krynn, no one knew what the soldiers were talking about, and as far as the villagers knew there was no one of great power who lived in their small village. When they had called out Tanis’s name everyone had stood in shock. Luckily his best friend had retained enough wits to run to Tanis’s office where he was busy healing a broken bone and warn him of the danger. The friend had just taken his wife and two year old daughter out the backdoor into the forest when the guards broke through the front door.
Maybe that was when they figured out his secret, when he stepped out of his house and saw what was waiting for him, something inside of him shifted. As if another consciousness that he did not know existed within him took over. With a wave of his hand he had leveled most of the guard the moment they rushed him. The ones who were still standing took a moment to gawk before they rushed him. Then he had done something that even surprised him. He fought them hand to hand. Being a healer, Tanis had never practiced hand to hand combat. It was against his beliefs. But on that day he fought as if he had years of practice. It was disorienting while at the same time familiar. It wasn’t until someone had managed to come up behind and hit him in the back of the head that they were finally able to subdue him. It left Tanis barely conscious, bound and gagged on the ground outside his house while the guards took great pleasure in burning it to the ground. Then everything faded into darkness.
The next thing he remembered was being woken by a bucket of cold water thrown onto his half naked body as he hung in chains from the ceiling by his wrists. When he focused on the queen who stood before him, his fear grew tenfold. She told him of a thousand year old prophecy that depicted two powerful beings separated by time and space, each living their lives not knowing who they truly were. Once brought together, everything would become clear and their powers would rival that of the gods. She informed him he was one half of that pair, and once he gazed into the eyes of the other he would be lost to her forever.
Tanis had tried to tell the queen that she had the wrong person, that the magic he wielded was nothing compared to what she had described. He was a small town healer, not some prophesied demi-god.
The queen had asked if he was as he said, a small town healer of no consequence, then how had he knocked six men unconscious with a wave of his hand? How had he fought like a warrior as if he had spent his life training as one? Tanis did not have answers to her questions. That whole episode seemed like someone else’s memory, not his.
The queen had not allowed him time to think about it any further because she had brought out a strange device made of a shiny black metal and started to explain what it did. It was about twelve inches long, thick on one end so it fit comfortably in the queen’s small hand, narrowing at the tip like a wand certain witches in their world used to wield magic. He had never seen anything so beautiful, nor had he been so afraid. When the tip of the metal wand touched his skin, it felt as if every muscle tore into a thousand pieces at once. When she took the wand off and the screaming stopped, he realized that he was still in one piece. That his muscles in his fingers, his legs, his neck had not shredded. That he could still move. With a delighted giggle, the queen began to…experiment with the wand. First it was with range, finding she could shrink the area of pain down to a pinprick before slowly radiating it out until it encompassed his body then back again. Then there was intensity. From a small hum that grew into that muscle tearing searing, not stopping until one of his bones broke from the tension.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, he was not sure how long she had tortured him that first night, throwing more water on him when he passed out from the unbearable pain. When she grew tired of the game, she left him hanging, barely conscious, only to come back far too soon for Tanis’s sanity to start the cycle all over.
He wasn’t sure how long he had hung in that accursed room before her guards had thrown him into this dark rancid cell. When he finally fell into a fitful sleep, it had only seemed like he had just closed his eyes before the door opened again, streaming light onto his face. Two guards hauled him off the floor and dragged him out of the cell, laughing at him as he cried out in pain, so the nightmare could begin again, and again, and again.
Blinking up at the dark ceiling, he tried to breathe through the pain, to relax so he could assess the latest damage the queen had done to him. Tanis was sure a couple of ribs had been re-broken and maybe a couple of the bones in his feet. Not as many as last time. Tanis did not know whether he should be grateful or worried that she had gone easy on him. The moment he thought that he began to laugh, which turned into a cough that left him groaning in pain.
As his body finally settled down to something more manageable, a sudden sharp pain sliced through his head. A voice that sounded far away cried for help. Holding his head between his hands, Tanis grimaced. This was not the first time in the last hours he had felt something…someone pushing against his mind. Even though he had never felt anything like it before, the presence felt somehow familiar. It had been curious before. As if it was not sure if what it felt was real, like he felt. This time the presence was in distress. There was a part of Tanis, that part that he did not recognize, that desperately wanted to find that presence and save whoever it was. It was overwhelming. So much so that he was starting to rise off the floor, the pain forgotten when the when the door banged open again. Blinking against the sudden light, the confusion of what was and what was going on in his head left him unable to fight as someone grabbed an arm and dragged him into the light.
“You’re to be cleaned up for some special guest Queen Maura is expecting,” the guard Tanis had learned was named Tenan announced in his gravelly voice as he and his flunky dumped Tanis into a tub of cool water. Tenan’s voice was due to an injure that left a nasty scar across his neck. It looked like the thirty something warrior had his head almost decapitated, but with the help of a healer, the only tell-tale signs were the scar and his voice. The injury was enough to grant him the privilege of becoming one of the dungeon guards. Something he was not too happy about. That sour mood translated in the treatment Tanis received whenever the man had drag him from his cell to the throne room.
The second guard was very young. Tanis thought he had heard someone call him Reyal, but he was barely conscious at the time so could not be sure. Barely twenty, if Tanis’s assessment of the boy was correct, being a new soldier, Reyal won the luckily detail of being down in the bowls of the castle until he proved himself. Like Tenan, he was unhappy about his lot in life.
Eyes lowered, two barely clad slave women stepped next to the tub and began to remove what was left of his pants. Quickly and methodically they scrubbed his body and hair clean, being extra sure to clean any open wounds. When they were done, Tanis felt even more battered and bruised, even though they had been as careful as they could. At the nod of one of the women, the guards hauled Tanis out of the tub setting him down on the cold stone floor. The guards continued their conversation, ignoring them as the women dried and dressed Tanis.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Tenan sneered. “The only power I’ve seen this lowlander do is basic healing. You should have heard the queen when she found out he had been healing his own wounds.” His laughter filled the room, grating on Tanis’s nerves and making the women cringe in fear. “She almost killed him then forced him to heal himself so she could do it all over again. I’ve never seen her so angry.”
“I don’t understand the interest in this one either. Healers are a dinar a dozen, and from what I’ve heard he’s not anything special,” Reyal scoffed from where he sat with his arms crossed, tipping the chair onto its back legs. “Have you heard of him doing anything else?”
Tenan regarded Tanis. The women were combing out the snarls in his shoulder length brown hair. Tanis did not dare look up to meet the guard’s eyes, knowing it could earn him a kick in his already sore ribs.
“There was something when they went to get him. I guess he leveled a half a dozen guards with just a wave of his hand. Then he fought the rest with moves I had never heard of.” Tenan walked over to the group huddled on the floor, shoving one of the women away so he could grab Tanis by the hair, yanking his head back, sneering at the defeat in his dark blue eyes. “Rendering three more useless until someone managed to knock him out. Now he won’t even heal his own wounds without queen Maura’s permission.” With a shove, he pushed Tanis face first into the ground.
“Doesn’t sound like someone who can defeat our best warriors,” Reyal sneered. “Maybe that’s why he allowed his family to burn with his home. To scared to fight for their lives, only concerned with his sorry hide. Selfish bastard.”
“After today it won’t matter,” Tenan said, stepping towards one of the women who sat trying to be invisible. “He’ll be out of our hair and someone else’s problem.”
Someone else’s problem? A scream broke through Tanis’s puzzlement. Looking up he saw Tenan had grabbed one of the women by the hair and was dragging her over to the only table in the room. Reyal was chuckling that masculine chuckle when they are thinking sinful thoughts as he watched the woman struggle, a gleam in his eyes that said he was more than willing to join Tenan in his fun.
When Tenan slammed the woman’s upper body onto the table hard enough to stun her, leaving her legs over the edge, and ripped what little cloth covered her body, something in Tanis broke. That other foreign consciousness that Tanis now realized had resided in the back of his mind for as long as he could remember boiled to the surface. Along with it came an emotion his gentle heart had never felt before. Hate. Hate because he was tired of the pain, tired of the abuse from people he had done nothing to. Hate because he did not know if his family was alive or dead and their lives were worth much more than his. Hate because there was nothing left in him to feel anything else.
Suddenly he knew that if he could heal, then he could kill. It wouldn’t take much. A bit of concentration and he could mend a broken bone or steady an uneven heartbeat. It would stand to reason it would only take a thought to stop a heart from beating, or lungs from breathing. One thought, one flick of his finger and the bastard that had tormented him and these women would be on the floor dead, but Tanis did not want it to be that easy. He wanted the guard to suffer as much as they had. As Tenan began to work the ties on his pants, Tanis struggled to his knees, leveling his gaze at the unsuspecting man.
Suddenly Tenan clutched his neck, his pants falling to his ankles as he struggled to breathe. It took a moment for Reyal to realize something was wrong, then another to realize who it was that was slowly killing his comrade.
With a yell, Reyal jumped to his feet, closing the distance between him and Tanis in two strides, the woman beside him scrambling out of the way. With a vicious backhand, he knocked Tanis onto his back, breaking the eye contact. Tenan dropped to his knees gasping for air.
“Are you all right?” Reyal asked kneeling down next to Tenan. All Tenan could do was nod his head. “I’ll kill him!” Reyal hissed, grabbing the hilt of his sword as he made to stand. Tenan grabbed his arm stopping him.
“No,” he ordered hoarsely. He swallowed hard a few more times before going on. “The queen said not to harm him. Whoever is coming wants him in one piece or the alliance will be broken. She dare not anger this person or he will destroy our world.”
“Is he that powerful?” Reyal asked, eyes wide, his voice barely above a whisper. Everyone knew Queen Maura was the most powerful sorceress on their world. To know there was someone even more powerful, even more dangerous, was frightening.
“Yes,” Tenan answered as his friend helped him to his feet, pulling his pants up as he went. “Now help me drag him up to the throne room. Whoever is coming is supposed to arrive any minute.”
They walked over to where a dazed Tanis lay. Each grabbed an arm, pulling him to his feet. The world spun around him, leaving him unsure which side was up. Tanis had not missed a single word of their conversation. Evidently his predicament was about to become worse, if that was possible. What he wasn’t sure of was what frighten him more. This new threat he was about the face, or the fact using his magic for something he considered evil had felt good. So very good.
Copyright © 2018 Heidi Barnes