Knock. Knock. Knock.
Lorcan let the iron knocker fall form his hand, clanging against the heavy oak door before him. It sat there, staring despondently back at him, it’s unpolished, rusted surface glittering dimly in the rising sun. Shalemont was as dead as a town could be. Last time he had visited, people had been scarce, just a few sparce homes with small flickering lights dancing in the windows. Now, there was nobody. No bustling about in the town’s square, no trudging grim-faced miners, no scolding mothers calling dirty children. Only the wind called in Lorcan’s ears. Wind, and dust.
Lorcan turned away from the decrepit remains of his hometown, and back to the sullen gray knocker beside him. He knocked again, three heavy thuds echoing into the entrance hall of MacBroin Manor. Had that knocker always been so heavy? His father had insisted on large, dramatic knockers that would make a large BOOM inside the mansion, but they had never seemed so…oppressive. He couldn’t recall. Perhaps it was just his arm; he felt extraordinarily heavy today, and each step he took seemed to be burdened as if with lead. His conversation with Dyn Hysbys had been yesterday, with the old man’s declaration of Lorcan’s quest. He was to return to the one place in his life he’d sworn he’d never return, to meet a goddess he knew nothing about. Why? What could she possibly want from him? Why did she-
Lorcan’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of hurried footsteps inside the mansion. The front door was flung open revealing Lorcan’s elder brother, Lucan MacBroin. His clothing was wrinkled and disheveled, as if he’d just gotten out of bed, his long hair unkempt and partially covering his face, which was thinner than Lorcan remembered, and sported dark bags under his brother’s eyes. Despite all this, his face lit up when he saw Lorcan.
“Brother!” cried Lucan. He grabbed Lorcan’s shoulder, and pulled him into a tight hug. After a few moments, they separated, Lucan ushering his brother inside, and closing the door behind them.
MacBroin Manor looked more or less the same as it always had. With no more servants to care for the place, there was a heavy helping of dust on the floor. However, the room was even emptier than it had been before. No ornate wooden tables with gleaming candlesticks sat in the entrance hall, no tapestries hung on the walls, and the brass candelabra sat barren and dark. Lorcan looked down at his feet, where he saw that his steps had already kicked up a cloud of dirt around him. He imagined that no one really came to this house anymore.
Lucan noticed Lorcan’s wandering eyes, and nodded solemnly. “We sold the last of the furnishings a week ago. There was just one other family here besides us, and they needed the gold to leave and start somewhere else.” He smiled slightly. “Good people, the McLaughlins. Didn’t want to go until everyone else had. It’s…just us now.” He stared off into the distance for a moment, as if forgetting Lorcan was there.
Lorcan laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I’m glad everyone left alright. I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner.”
Lucan shook his head, dismissing Lorcan’s apology, though he looked away quickly. “We…” he began, faltering a moment, “we weren’t sure when you were coming. Adeline wanted to leave, but I kept telling her you’d arrive, take us all away…” He looked at Lorcan hopefully. “You’ve still got that ring of yours? The one that can-” he motioned a little with his hands, as if trying to open a portal.
Lorcan smiled, and held up his right hand, where the Yggdrasil ring sat, glowing.
“Ah, right, ‘course you do.” Lucan relaxed a little. “I…I don’t suppose that’s what you’re here for, is it? To take us away from here?” He smiled, a hint of desperation in his expression. “We don’t have much to bring with us, just clothes and a few other things. It’s…it’s the boy I worry about.” His face fell, and he began staring off in the distance again. “Adeline wanted to leave before he got worse, but I didn’t want him to be on the road as he is. I knew you’d come for us anyway, and I’m glad you did. It’s just…he’s…” Lucan’s voice got softer and softer until he completely trailed off. He fidgeted as he stood there, not looking at anything in particular.
Lorcan stiffened, fear seizing him. He gripped Lucan’s arm tightly, spinning him around, and forcing his brother to look at him. “The boy?” he asked. “What’s wrong with Lysander?”
Worry filled Lucan’s eyes. “Follow me.”
The brothers hurried through the halls of the manor, the sound of their footsteps clattering off the barren walls. The ran up a flight of stairs, and down a long hallway, following it to the last room on the left. They stoped outside the door, catching their breath a moment. “Last you were here, you saw how Lysander was. He’s…he’s gotten worse. Adeline’s been taking care of him for the most part, and refuses to leave his side for longer than a few moments. She didn’t want me to get sick. I just…” Lucan looked away, tears welling up in his eyes.
Lorcan looked to the door, tensing his body for the worst. He laid a shaky hand against the wood, and pushed it open. The room was dark, a sheet covering the window, a few stubby candles providing the only illumination available. Adeline sat on the edge of Lysander’s bed, her red hair falling around her in loose strands despite her bun, a piece of coarse cloth tied around her mouth and nose. She held a thick handkerchief and a basin of water in her lap, slumped over them, watching the child in bed before her with unwavering, baggy eyes.
Lysander looked even worse than his parents. His face was terrifyingly thin, his eyes sunken, more haggard than even his mother. From what Lorcan could see, the child was breathing shallowly, his tiny body shivering slightly. Lorcan’s heart shattered, staring at what was left of his dear nephew.
Adeline turned at the sound of Lorcan’s entering. Her eyes widened in recognition, and she whispered. “Lorcan.”
At his mother’s voice, Lysander’s eyes opened slightly. His eyelids flickered as he woke from a doubtlessly troubled sleep. His bright blue eyes shined in the darkness, focusing on Lorcan. The boy smiled widely through cracked lips. “Uncle Low-sin,” he whispered, his young mouth still not able to fully pronounce Lorcan’s name. Then, he was seized by a sudden fit of violent coughing, his body convulsing as he began to hack and desperately try to breathe in. Adeline leapt into action, putting the handkerchief over Lysander’s mouth, holding him tightly for several moments until the coughing subsided. She lay the child back down, brushing away his tears of pain as she whispered in his ear.
Adeline pulled the cloth away from her son’s mouth. She hurriedly put it away, but not before Lorcan saw it. His mind froze, a chill running down his spine, stopping his breath in his throat. On the gray handkerchief sat several large drops of blood.
Lorcan’s horrified whisper seemed to ring through the room, echoing in his head over and over. Not the boy… Please, not the boy…
Lucan pulled him out of the room, shutting the door softly as they left. The brothers stood in silence for several minutes, before Lucan finally spoke. “We thought it was just a bad cough. Dust, or something like that. But…” Lucan’s voice trembled. “He didn’t get better. It was only recently we found a surgeon to look at him, but it doesn’t look good. He said… he said that this far along…” Lucan’s voice broke, and he turned away, weeping silently.
Lorcan stood stock-still, shock gripping him tightly, completely unsure how to act. His mind whirled with thoughts and emotions. Why? Why did Lysander have to suffer? Why did he have to go to the place his friends had been murdered? Why did this happy family have to go through this? Why did he have to meet some goddess at this time?
Why did everyone around him have to die?
Anger burned in Lorcan’s breast, bleeding into his his head, his arms, and his legs until he was filled with it. His despair turned to indignance, and he looked back at the door beside him with scorn. Was this all some cruel game? Was there some kind of plot in place to set him up, and take everything away from him? His home, his friends, his very soul, and now…Lysander.
Lorcan bent over, gripped Lucan’s shoulders, and hauled him to his feet, forcing him to face him squarely. He set his jaw. “I don’t know why any of this is happening. I don’t know why that wonderful boy has to go through this, but mark my words, I WILL find a way to fix this.” He pointed directly into Lucan’s face for emphasis. “Lysander will NOT die.”
Lucan looked into Lorcan’s face, tears still staining his own. The hardness and determination in Lorcan’s face seemed to transfer a little over to Lucan, for his face brightened slightly. He wiped his face on his sleeve, set his jaw, and stared forcefully back at him.
“Aye then, we’ll keep hoping,” said Lucan, his shoulders lifting, his posture straighter than a moment before. “A few weeks ago I discovered we live in a world of magic, and I figure there are dragons and demons, fae and spirits and who knows what else? Who’s to say the battle’s lost?” He eyed Lorcan, his face full of resolve. “I don’t suppose you have a plan though?”
“Yes. Well, the makings of one.” Lorcan shifted uncomfortably. “There is something I cam here to talk to you about.”
Lucan nodded, and steered the two of them away from Lysander’s room. They walked to the end of the hallway and paused, sitting down facing each other, backs to the wall. Lucan spoke first. “I realize you didn’t come here with the purpose of taking us with you to that Woodland Village of yours,” he said. He raised his hand to stop Lorcan’s protest. “That’s alright, we can figure that out later. But if you don’t mind me saying, you looked a little sick yourself when you came to the door. You’re carrying a bit of a weight, aren’t you? Out with it then, and don’t hold back any details now.”
Lorcan sighed, collecting his thoughts. “Alright. Alright then. It started months ago. I began having these visions…” In a few minutes, Lorcan described his visions of the goddess in red, and his dreams of the monastery. He told Lucan of his mentor Dyn Hysbys and how he had explained to Lorcan that he would need to visit the old fortress once more.
“And…I don’t want to. I swore to myself that I’d never go back. I’m being forced to, and I didn’t want to go alone. I wanted to know if there was any way you could come with me, but…” Lorcan looked down the hall to Lysander’s room. “I suppose now’s just not a good time, to say the least.”
Lucan sat in silence for a moment, staring solemnly at Lorcan. “Brother, of course I’ll go with you.”
Lorcan started, jolting upright. “But, Lysander.”
Lucan held up his hand again. “I know. Believe me, I know. I don’t want to go, but my son isn’t going to get any better, and I can’t stand by and lose my wee boy. If this…woman summoning you really is a goddess, I would think she has some power to work miracles, maybe stop disease and death. I know that’s a longshot, but it’s the only hope I have right now. And, you’re family too, and I can’t let you face something like this alone.” His eyes looked pleadingly at Lorcan. “Do you think, if we do what she wants, we can make some kind of bargain?”
Lorcan opened his mouth, a pained expression on his face. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. Even if we can, bargains with beings like this rarely work in mortals’ favor. But, we’ll try. Whatever she asks, we refuse to do it until she promises to help us save your son.”
They stood and clasped arms. “Thank you Lorcan,” said Lucan. “When do we leave?”