Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

Chapter 14

            "Well," Rebekah sighed, sinking to the floor, "that's something of a key change, isn't it?"

            "Don't worry," Daniel said, kneeling to put his hand on her shoulder.  "I'm not sold on these men or their prophecies.  Nobody's going to die tonight.  Even if it happens, there's no reason to think it will be you."

            "Really!?" Rebekah argued, her fire quickly returning.  "Just how many of us did somebody try to kill today?  Oh, that's right.  Just me!"

            Now it was Reuben's turn to be stunned.  "Try to kill you!?  Daniel, what's going on?  I told you to keep her safe!"

            "And what do you think I did?  She's not dead is she?  I didn't get this blood all over my clothes running the other way!"

            "Even still…"

            "Leave off Daniel, Sir Reuben, it isn't his fault."  With help from Daniel, Rebekah explained to Reuben all that had happened since they parted company.

            "And you have no idea why your troupe leader might want to take your life?" Roland questioned.

            "None," Rebekah answered.  "I won't pretend he's an honest man, and I've spoken more loudly than I should against some of his underhanded methods, running pickpockets through audiences and that kind of thing.  But until now I never would have thought him capable of murder, and I have no idea what my death would be worth to him."

            "Now that everybody knows how everybody spent their morning," Roland interjected, "I suggest we return to the discussion of how we will spend our evening."

            "I told you my mind was made up in that, Roland," Reuben answered, "and it is that this perilous story only redoubles my intentions.  If Rebekah or Daniel's life for sooth is in danger, then the Lord Aidan's manor is surely the safest place in which we might spend the night."

            "Very well," Roland assented, "but I will accompany you.  I must carefully watch the signs, and warn you if the omens grow more dangerous by your actions, instead of less."

            "As you wish.  Between then and now, we will have need of your help.  The younger members of our band, you may well have surmised by the bloody stench, are in need of fresh clothes.  Rebekah, things being as they are, cannot show her face, and William is too large and conspicuous, especially in that he must have been missed by the other players by now.  Young page Daniel must remain with his sword to help protect them both, so it is that you and I must go into the shops.  Stand you prepared?"

            "As prepared as one gets."

            "Very well.  Let us make haste."

 

            After the pair left, William looked at Rebekah.  "Your new friend uses a lot of extra words."

            "Yes, he does," Rebekah replied absently.

            "Sometimes I don't understand what he's talking about," the giant rumbled.

            "You and me both," Daniel mumbled."

            "Me throth, er, threeth…whatever," Rebekah stammered, her eyes still distant.

            "Stop worrying," Daniel tried again to reassure her.  "If you want to worry about something, worry about Roland and Reuben going off together.  I'm not sure I like it.  All these secrets may breed quickly without anybody watching their conversations."

            "I'm not sure I like it either," Rebekah agreed, "but you do at least need a change of shirt.  My stockyard tale might have convinced the baker, but I doubt the lord or his guards would be fooled…or amused."

            "I suppose that's true.  Speaking of convincing Lord Aidan…what do you suppose I'm meant to do tonight?  With the sword, I mean.  Aidan will get thrown across the room if he tries to handle it.  How do I prove it's real?"

            "That would be enough proof for me."

            "I've already been accused of witchcraft once this week thanks to this blade's sense of humor with noble types, and that's once more than I like.  I'd rather not try it again surrounded by courtiers and guards."

            "Fair point.  Maybe Reuben will have an idea."

            "Because his ideas have been working out so well thus far?"  The sword's call had been quiet, but now it took on a more forceful flurry of strings that reminded Daniel of the chirping of a nest of baby birds.  He shuddered at the thought of the sword being 'hungry' but nevertheless lifted it from where it still stood, driven into the floorboards.  "What am I going to do with you?" he asked, his voice a rhetorical murmur.

            Suddenly a vision flashed in his mind.  He saw himself with the blade, slicing through the back of his arm, the pain so real he could all but feel it burning.  He cried out and dropped the blade, then, as his vision returned to normal, realized what he'd done and reached out instinctively to catch it before its unforgiving razor edge might strike Rebekah, who still sat on the floor nearby.  The weapon tumbled as it fell, and Daniel over-reached in his haste, clasping the blade just below the hilt.  The edge was dull near the guards, but farther down it bit deeply into Daniel's little finger and the heel of his hand.

            He cried out in pain, dropping the weapon again, since in the moment that had passed Rebekah had scrambled away.  Daniel squeezed his hand to his chest, and droplets of blood spattered the floor.  Even still the vision fought for his focus, an image of blood coursing down his arm from a cut he could feel as acutely as the real slices on his hand.  Then he saw the flat of the blade being held over the wound, felt a sudden flash of heat and pain, and the grievous cut was gone, not cauterized, as the sensation suggested, but healed, mended back together as though the wound was never there.  The pain faded almost as quickly, and he flexed his forearm experimentally, assuring himself that no damage remained, real or imagined.

            Haltingly Daniel reached for the sword with his left hand, the undamaged one, and firmly grasped the hilt as William and Rebekah looked on, their brows furrowed in confusion.  Daniel winced as he opened his hand, letting the blood course freely for a moment, and placed the flat of the blade over his cuts.  In his mind he sought the feeling from the moment just before the pain in his vision, struggling to recall and hold onto that fleeting emotion, to force that sensation into the blade.  He squinted, his face taught with concentration, as blood dripped once again to the floor, but the harder he tried, the more the feeling eluded him.

            "Daniel," Rebekah called softly, "please put down the sword so I can bandage your hand."

            In his state of concentration, by then nearing a trance, Daniel heard not only the words but the heart behind them: Rebekah's deep concern for others, a trait she must have poured into her every song to spellbind her audiences, an empathy made all the more precious for her direct, sometimes blunt, manner.  Her caring soothed Daniel, and a subtle smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

            Instantly the pain flashed hot through his cuts as the sword flickered with an inner light.  Daniel removed the blade from his palm and wiped the bloody hand on his shirt, already ruined by the rust-colored stains of battle, then turned the hand outward so that William and Rebekah could see it was restored.

            "A miracle!" William gasped, crossing himself.

            The sword's music swelled with proud horns as Rebekah rushed toward Daniel and grabbed his hand for closer inspection.  "How did you do that!?"

            "I don't think I did.  Well, not really.  The sword, though, it showed me how.  I think…  I think I'm learning to understand it better…or maybe it's the other way around.  It's always been just music and instinct before, but just now I saw a clear vision of what to do."

            "That's good, isn't it?  I mean, it showed you another power, a power to heal.  Would it do that if it just wanted to kill?"

            It still got a taste of blood, Daniel thought, but he didn't want to disappoint Rebekah's hopes.  "I suppose," he replied aloud.  "Whatever it means, it's certainly a way to convince Lord Aidan.  I don't look forward to the pain of it, but it passes quickly enough.

            "We should get some rest," Daniel continued.  "I'm in agreement with Sir Reuben that we need to keep tonight's audience, but we also need to be on our guard, prophecies or no.  You two take your ease; I'll handle the first watch."

            Daniel settled down in front of the door while his companions stretched out and closed their eyes.  He wanted to believe Rebekah's assessment of the sword, but his recent nightmare kept replaying before his mind's eye.  In a few moments Rebekah and William, used to catching sleep when and where they could in their travels, had slipped into a doze, leaving Daniel alone with his thoughts and the constant music of the sword.