AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry about the delay. As some of you may already know, my computer crashed and I almost lost a few dozen hours worth of work on my stories. Took a little over 2 weeks, but I haven't felt so grateful to anyone for a long time as I was towards the guy, who managed to retrieve all my data.
Gonna do regular back-ups from now on... at least until I forget to do them again...
Anyway, a lot of plot-points in this part, a few new plots, a few new-ish important characters. Basically, read very carefully, cause I'm not sure if there's a single sentence in here that's for decorative purposes only. (Seriously, the plot is so thick it took me two more months to just put it all together and make sure I didn't mess anything up).
Eleasis, 5th – about an hour before midnight
„What's the rush, Captain? What's going on?”
Liam was ushered by the chief of Bunetta's house guard to the barracks. The villagers in the fields around them were still busy burying the ashes of those lost to the undead that day. Other than the sounds of mourners' praying and gravediggers shoveling, the night was pretty quiet.
„Well, as Lord Bunetta put it... A window of opportunity may have just opened itself to us. The problem is, we're not sure how long it will remain open.” the head of guards replied, quickening his pace. „We might have a chance to find out the current whereabouts of the book you are supposed to procure... maybe even obtain it, if we're lucky. You must leave without delay however, sir Payne.”
„Why? What happened?”
„I'm sure Lord Bunetta mentioned that the new captain of the Seafarer started picking fights with the Luskan navy. Well, it turned out, the pirates might have bitten a bit more than they could chew. From what we've found out, the Seafarer had been damaged after its last skirmish. Our scout reported, that the ship made port in Highcliff around noon this day.”
„Highcliff? That's Neverwinter territory!” Liam exclaimed in shock.
„Yes and half a day on horseback away from here. Our scout rode tirelessly to bring us this news. I'm afraid the Seafarer and its crew won't stay there for too long though. As you pointed out, it's part of Neverwinter sovereing territory and even though there's probably no troops garrisoning there at the moment due to the turmoil in the capitol, the pirates won't risk remaning on land longer than they have to. After all, their power is on the seas... a grounded pirate is an all too easy target.”
„Well, how many of your men are uninjured and ready to move out? You should probably leave some of the more experienced guards here to protect the estate in case something happens. It's gonna be tough, splitting your troops, especially now after the battle, but...”
„All my soldiers are staying. Most of them require a lengthy recovery, the rest are needed to maintain peace in the area.” the Captain replied with a grim sigh.
„You told Harry, I wasn't going alone.” Payno said, stopping in his tracks.
„You're not. I would've accompanied you myself, but after the recent events, morale is at an all-time low. I'm afraid that without me, even Lord Bunetta's charisma... and his wealth... wouldn't be enough to keep these soldiers in line and prevent desertions.” the chief guard exclaimed, shaking his head. He never expected the day would come, when he would doubt his own men and their loyalty.
„I'm sending my second-in-command. He may be young and seem inexperienced, but he's a fierce fighter. You might not remember him, but during yesterday's battle, he was leading the charge against the undead in the village. You basically saved his life, by thinking of destroying the necromantic circles first. He was also very impressed by your leadership abilities and strategic mind even in the midst of fighting. He would have volunteered for the job, if I didn't already choose him for it prior.”
„I'm grateful for all the praise and I'm sure he's an excellent warrior, but... how am I supposed to get a crew of pirates to cooperate without proper backup?” Liam asked, visibly disheartened. „Not to be disrespectful, but I doubt he's ever had to deal or negotiate with anybody, let alone corsairs. And that's assuming things don't get violent. Sending in two men, one of whom is only used to fighting with troops by his side, against a mob of cutthroats, who managed to challenge the Luskan navy? I don't like these odds, Captain.”
„I undestand that perfectly, sir Payne. You have to remember though, that the leader of these pirates, this Cockless Charles, has some sort of vendetta against Lord Bunetta. Send in the House Guard and that suffices for a declaration of war. Two freelance adventurers flying no banner however, might have a chance to get on their good side... at least long enough to find out all we need and maybe even to obtain the tome.”
Payno sighed, but continued towards the barracks, figuring the Captain was right and it was their best, if not the only chance to get their hands on the book. To be perfectly honest, Liam was more concerned with how well he would fare in this situation. He was never good at diplomacy, not even under Sir Cowell's tutelage. He never learned the proper way to haggle or how to convince people to his way of thinking.
„Is there something else, I should be made aware of, before we depart?” the knight asked, turning once again to the chief of guards.
„Not so much crucial information, as a personal favour, sir Payne.” the Guard Captain replied, his expression somewhat abashed and uneasy. „I would appreciate it, if you returned with my second-in-command in... reasonably good health. At least as good as possible, given the perilous nature of your mission.”
„I comend you for the care with which you treat your soldiers. I will do my best, not to unnecessarily endanger him, Captain.”
„That's... all I ask for.”
As the two men reached the barracks, they found most of the preparations for the journey already completed – a bag of provisions for two days, a pair of well-rested horses and a map of the surrounding area with the quickest path to Highcliff marked on it.
Payno's old armor was still being repaired in the smithy. Unfortunetely, the blacksmith himself claimed, that the chestplate sustained too much damage and it might not be possible to fix it, although he did promise to salvage what he could. The soldiers at the barracks had to make-do, with what resources they had and managed to find a leather cuirass of a similar size. It didn't provide as much protection, but Liam was used to using lighter armor since the day he had to escape Neverwinter and quite frankly it was still better than nothing.
Having checked twice he had everything he would need on the road, the warrior turned to the Guard Captain.
„And my companion?”
The Chief of Guard led Liam to another room, where a well-built, clean-cut brunnette was removing Bunetta's coat of arms from his armor and weapons. The soldier seemed vaguely familiar, although the warrior couldn't quite remember, where he might have met him before.
Noticing the two men entered, the young male stood up and saluted.
„It breaks my heart to do this, Captain. But... an order is an order.” he replied grimly, even though a radiant smile adorned his handsome face. He was still clutching a knife and Lord Julian's crest on a ripped piece of cloth in his hands.
„At ease, soldier. It's for both your safety.” The Guard Captain replied, then turned to Payno. „Here he is, sir Payne. My second-in-command, Lieutenant...”
„I'm Mathew, but you can call me Matt, if you wish, sir Payne.” the young officer interjected, his face beaming with confidence, as he quickly discarded his knife and extended his hand, shaking Liam's almost too enthusiastically.
„Not that much at ease, Lieutenant...” the Captain said, glaring at him with furrowed brows.
„Apologies, Captain.” the young man replied with a polite nod, though both his tone and persisting smile did not seem apologetic in the slightest.
„I am terribly sorry for his behaviour, sir Payne. As I've mentioned before, my second-in-command is a bit too excited about your mission. He can be a bit headstrong at times, but he's a good lad. Just be mindful of everything I've said earlier and the two of you should get along just fine. If not... just remind him, who the royal knight is.”
„Annointed knight” Liam corrected the Guard Captain, though the man dismissed it.
„I wish there was more time for us to prepare, but I'm afraid you must go. I don't think pirates accept night time as an excuse for taking a break in fixing their ship. Stay safe and gods be with you!”
With that, Liam and Mathew said their goodbyes and headed westwards, where the coast, Highcliff and the Seafarer could be found.
Eleasis, 6th – just before the break of dawn
The two men allowed themselves a break only after several hours of ceaseless riding. They tied their horses to a tree next to a riverbank and left them some feed, before starting a make-shift fire. Liam began roasting some sausages, while Mathew brought out a flask of wine. He took a few sips, then passed it to his travelling companion.
„I've never had the chance to properly thank you, sir Payne.” Mathew started, as Liam downed a few gulps of the beverage.
„It's no big deal.” the knight chuckled, wiping his chin with the back of his hand and putting the flask away. „Your Captain told me, you were leading the charge and was almost overwhelmed by the undead... You did quite well back there, you've managed to hold on and keep your men fighting despite the odds.”
„I'm grateful for the praise and for saving me and my men, but... that's not what I meant.” the other brunette replied bashfully.
Mathew took a large bite of bread, chewing it, while seemingly mulling something over in his head at the same time. Finally, he swallowed and carried on with a heavy sigh.
„I am... well, I used to be... a member of the Royal Guard in Neverwinter... When I heard that my former brothers-in-arms were slaughtered, when the Cult of the Dragon and their Netherese allies sent shadows to attack the throne room, I... well... I'm glad you managed to save King Uther's life.”
For a moment Liam was speechless, gazing at his companion in shock. Then, a thought hit him.
„That's why you looked so familiar. I must have seen you in the palace at some point or another.”
Mathew smiled with a chuckle. „I wasn't going to bring it up, in case you didn't notice or remember me. I have only been sworn into service a few months prior to sir Cowell's death. And then the allegations against you arose and... well, you know the story better than I do.”
„How did you end up here?” Liam asked inbetween chewing his food. „I thought being a Royal Guardsman was a lifelong commitment.”
„It is.” the young soldier sighed, drinking some more wine and gazing up at the night sky, starlight glistening in his eyes.
The first rays of dawn started shining over the canopies of trees in the east, turning the slow moving clouds a bright pink colour. The wind gently rustled in the leaves, mixing with the chirping of birds waking up. In spite of that, the air seemed tense.
„When sir Cowell died and my father realised, how dangerous the Cultists were, he pleaded with Lord Bunetta to intercede with the King on my behalf. Thanks to his influence, I was relieved of my service and transferred to serve as Bunetta's House Guard. We left Neverwinter shortly after... neither of them told me why... neither of them gave me a chance to warn the King or my fellow Guardsmen of the looming danger.”
„Mathew, I'm sure your father...”
„Had my best intentions in mind? I'm sure he did.” the soldier interjected with an agitated smile. „He never asked what I wanted though.”
Liam decided it was better to keep quiet and let Matt speak his mind.
„The King himself may have relieved me of my oath, but I never gave up on my vows. I would have never forgiven myself or my father, if anything happened to King Uther and I weren't there to fight for him. Even if it meant giving my life for him, like... like my friends did. That's why I'm grateful. You fulfilled my duty, when I could not... and I'm sure you will avenge my fallen brethren in time.”
Solemn silence befell interrupted only by the ever more lively birds chirping away in the warm, morning sunshine.
„Your father only wanted to keep you safe.” Liam finally exclaimed, knocking a few breadcrumbs from his leather jerkin as he stood up. „That's what parents do... regardless of anything or anyone else.”
„I know.” Mathew replied with a wistful sigh. „But it keeps me wondering, whether my military career had anything to do with my skills and achievements... or was that simply my father, pulling whatever strings he could to move me to ever safer positions. After all, it doesn't take a genius to figure out, that the only reason I was sent with you, was that staying on the estate after the recent attack was the more perilous option.” he finished with a bitter chuckle.
„Hold on!” Payno stumbled a bit, his eyes wide open in shock. „That means, that...”
„I'm the Captain's son? Yeah, I am.” Mathew said, picking up his things and heading over to his horse. „I'm surprised he didn't tell you. Was almost sure, he'd get you to keep an eye on me or something.”
Liam wanted to reply, but stopped himself. All of a sudden, the Captain's 'personal favour' seemed even more personal and made much more sense. Regardless, mentioning it to Matt and reaffirming his doubts about himself was definitely not a wise course of action.
„Let's go. We still have a few hours of riding ahead of us.” he said, untying and climbing his horse.
Eleasis, 6th – early morning
Harry woke up with what felt like a hangover. His entire body seemed to point out how much he overused his magical powers, to the point where the magical energies he commanded started feeding on his life force in order to work. Barely able to move his aching legs, he got up from the bed and shuffled to the commode to freshen himself in the water basin. Even though weak, the wizard still felt a lot better than yesterday.
And infinitely better than Niall.
The blond still haven't regained consciousness since the battle with Abvie. All throughout the night, Nialler kept muttering to himself, occasionally bursting out with a sudden cry and blindly reaching out with his hands, as if trying desperately to grab something, before falling back down on the coushions into an uneven sleep. The only improvement in his condition that Hazza was able to see, was that he looked much more peaceful now and genuinely resting.
Harry dressed in his robe and left the room. He went downstairs and past the dining hall, not having apetite for anything to eat. He decided to have a stroll around the estate. Leaving the mansion, Hazza let his feet guide him absent-mindedly. His thoughts kept drifiting to Abvie, what she had done and where she might have gone to.
So lost in his thoughts he was, Harry never noticed when he left the beaten path and ventured into the fields. He bumped into a tool cart and tipped it over, nearly falling to the ground himself. The ruckus he made scared some of the nearby livestock, forcing the farmers to drop what they were doing and hurry after the animals to calm them down and guide them back to the grazing fields.
„Sorry... I didn't mean to...” the wizard said, looking around bashfully.
Only now did he notice, that the villagers were avoiding his gaze. Some were even backing away, trying to keep their distance. Harry scratched his head in confusion, but understood the reason for their behaviour, when he realised, what they've actually been working on.
The entire field was littered with craters from magical explosions. The fences, that were supposed to keep the cattle contained were either in pieces or still smouldering. The farmers were doing their best to fix the pens and pastures as soon as possible, so that life in the village could resume like normal. Throughout their work, they were eying him warily, their expressions full of fear.
Harry didn't know what to say, so he simply returned to the road and continued his stroll, trying to keep out of sight. Even so, the few townsfolk he met on the way either went around him or froze in place, waiting for him to pass, before continuing with their errands. Sighing heavily, the wizard headed for the grassy hill, where he battled Abvie the day before.
He sat on the ground, closing his eyes... He could feel the arcane residue still lingering in the area, being very slowly swept away by the currents of magic coursing through the countryside. Taking a deep breath, Hazza began contemplating his ties to those energies and how they in turn bind the world together and help shape reality.
Oblivious to the passage of time, the wizard was startled out of his meditation by the sounds of footsteps and clanking of armour coming up the hill. He opened his eyes to see he was surrounded by Bunetta's House Guard, the Captain taking a few steps to approach him.
„Is everything okay?” Harry asked, looking around slightly surprised.
„I wad going to ask the same thing, Master Styles.” the Guard Chief exclaimed, his brows furrowed. „What are you doing all the way out here, by yourself?”
„I was meditating... getting in tune with my magical powers... replenishing some of my spells.”
„Well, I would appreciate, if you wouldn't do that.” the Captain replied sternly.
„Why? I mean, it's a morning chore for me and...”
„Some of the villagers are... getting worried... can't say I blame them.”
„Well, nothing bad is happening. You can tell them, they can be at ease.”
„I'd still appreciate it, if you stopped and came with us, Master Styles.” the Guard Chief continued, his tone firm. „The last thing we need right now, is provoking a riot.”
Harry wanted to say something, but he noticed several of the soldiers had already placed their shaking hands on their sword hilts. Their eyes were twitching nervously, beads of sweat forming on their temples.
The wizard sighed heavily. Even the guards felt uneasy. Terrified of what magic users are capable of using their powers for. Ready to break down at any moment.
„My apologies, Captain. Of course, I will cease my meditation immedietely and return to the mansion under your escort.” Hazza replied, slowly standing up, trying not to make any sudden moves.
„I'm relieved to hear that, Master Styles.”
By the time they arrived at the manor it was already past noon. The soldiers escorting Harry left him at the door and returned to their posts. The wizard entered and was about to head for the dining hall, feeling slightly more peckish than in the morning, when a servant girl approached him. He recognised her as one of the housemaids, who have been assisting Lord Bunetta throughout their stay here, a persistently sad woman in her late teens, that barely ever spoke apart from acknowledging orders being given her.
„Excuse me, Master Styles?”
„Yes?” Harry turned to her with a gentle smile.
„I've been told by the healers, that Master Horan has woken up and was asking for you and sir Payne.” she said bashfully, averting her eyes.
„That's wonderful news. I'll go see him right away.” Hazza replied, smiling broadly. „Thank you. Thank you very much, miss... um, now that I think about it, I never really caught your name.”
The girl's cheeks flushed bright pink, as she muttered something under her nose.
„Come again?” Harry asked, leaning closer with a slight smirk.
„It's Doris.” the housemaid blurted out somewhat louder.
„Well, thank you so much Doris. You've just made my day a lot better.” the wizard replied, patting her head gently.
She braved a faint smile and was about to turn around and leave, but stopped mid-step.
Harry quirked an eyebrow as he turned back to look at her.
„He... I mean, Master Horan... was asking how both you and sir Payne were feeling... if you were hurt, even though... even though he was badly hurt and very weak himself. You're... you're like brothers to him, aren't you?” the girl exclaimed, her breath hitching, almost as if she herself was surprised by how much she was talking.
She raised her head to look straight at Hazza's face for the first time. Her expression, though seemingly content, had a strange sadness about it. There was a look of longing in her eyes, as if craving for something, she's remembered only from her dreams.
Harry thought for a moment, brushing his long hair back, then replied. „We've been travelling for quite a while now. When people face perils and strife together on a daily basis, they form a bond together akin to friendship, even if they don't know one another for very long. In a certain way, a companion is the closest thing to family we can have on the road, sharing eachothers joys and cares, living and working together, fighting to protect one another, if needs be.”
„Yes... closest thing to an actual family...” she muttered.
For a single moment, Harry could have sworn she started tearing up, but then the housemaid suddenly smiled and nodded courteously and hastily departed.
Eleasis, 6th – midday
Liam and Mathew arrived at Highcliff just before noon. They slowed down, entering the town almost casually, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. Even before they saw the port, they heard the sound of carpentry work mixed with waves lashing against wood and stone, the occasional squawking of seagulls overhead nearly drowning in the noise.
Nearing the cliffside the village was famous for, the two companions peered down onto the docks. Several small sailing boats were tied to the jetties, but the vessel that caught their attention was anchored at the farthermost pier in the harbour.
The ship wasn't a large one, with two masts – one at the fore and one at the aft – and set of two sails each, but still managed to make the other crafts look more like fishermen's dinghies. Engraved in gold lettering on the bow of the ship was the name Seafarer. The masts were decorated with Neverwinter flags and banners, though both Liam and Mathew could tell, that the coat of arms was somewhat off, definitely not made in the royal heraldry department – a crude attempt at disguising the vessel as a Neverwinter merchant ship at longer distances.
There was quite a commotion as some workers were fitting boards and nailing them down, while others were loading provisions. It didn't seem like it would take them long to finish the repairs and for the pirates to be able to set sail. Liam and Matt knew they had to formulate a plan fast. With that, Mathew guided them to the only place they could get some quick information – the local tavern.
They found the place quite packed, with nearly all tables taken by sailors, locals and merchants unwinding before the afternoon. They slowly made their way through the crowd towards the bar, where they took a seat by the counter.
„What will it be for you, lads?” the elderly bartender asked with a smile, limping their way.
„Two pints of ale, please.” Liam said, passing a few gold coins to the proprietor. „And an answer or two.” he added, lowering his voice.
„Ooh, haven't heard that one in a while, boys. Reminds me of the last war a bit.” the bartender replied with an awkward cackle. „Tell you what, I'll just finish getting my patrons their drinks and I'll be right with you.”
The man filled two mugs with beer and passed them to the companions, before grabbing a tray of beverages and hobbling into the room to the other customers. Matt took a sip of his drink and smiled.
„They've got some nice stuff here. Much better than the provisions we get at the barracks.”
„That's all good, but try not to mention you live in the barracks.” Liam replied, keeping his voice down. „We don't want to let slip any affiliations we might have.”
Payno chuckled as he saw his companion's frightened expression.
„Don't worry, I doubt anyone heard that. Just keep in mind that... hold on...” the warrior stopped mid-sentence as a particularly loud conversation at a nearby table caught his attention.
Two merchants, apparently quite drunk, were talking about their recent trade ventures up north.
„... took quite a bit of trouble, but I made quite a profit there. But that's Luskan for ya, you either win big or you die in a gutter.” one of the traders said.
„Still prefer doing business there, than in Mirabar.” another one butted in.
„What, the Dwarves giving you a hard time?”
„Haven't you heard? Someone's laying siege to their capitol.”
„Laying siege to the Dwarves? Someone's out of their bloody mind.” the first tradesman chuckled, spilling some of his drink.
„Apparently, the Dwarves don't take it as a joke. The entire kingdom is on lockdown. No one in or out. And they've called for reinforcements. A whole battalion all the way from the Earthspur Mountains.”
„You don't say? Well, all the more proof, that whoever picked a fight with the Dwarves wasn't in their right mind... still... that battalion won't make it there for at least two or three tendays.”
Liam turned back to the counter and took a large swig out of his mug, sighing heavily as he put it back down.
„That must be Nak-Varr attacking the Dwarves. It's a good thing they still keep him occupied and at a stale-mate, but... I can't imagine he's gonna let that carry on for much longer... definitely not for two more tendays for that extra battalion to make a difference.”
„And I gather, that if the Dwarves can't hold against the siege... that's bad for us?” Mathew asked.
„You boys talking about the smallfolk from Mirabar?” the bartender interjected, having just returned behind the counter. „Can't say I know anything on the subject apart from rumours, if that's what you wanted to ask me about.”
„No, no, we're... actually looking for someone.” Payno exclaimed, leaning towards the proprietor. „You know that ship in the harbour, the Seafarer... we need to find it's captain... goes by the name „Cockless Charles” I believe.”
For a moment the proprietor seemed surprised to say the least, if not completely taken aback. He was trying to find the best way to reply, when his gaze fell on two men, who have quite abruptly stood up from their seats and hastily left the tavern.
„Oh, dear.” the bartender muttered as he turned back to Liam and Matt. He scratched his balding head, letting out a sigh. „You lads seem like good folk, so I'll tell you this. There are two types of people in the world – those you search for and those that seek you out, if they want to be found. Now, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to finish your drinks and leave. I... don't want any furniture broken inside.”
Payno looked at Mathew uneasily. The soldier placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, as if to reassure the knight he was ready for anything. They stood up and left the tavern.
Waiting outside was already a small mob of armed sailors, with more still coming from different parts of town, mainly from the docks. Looking around, Liam easily counted up to nearly two dozen men surrounding them. Fighting them all wasn't an option. Fleeing didn't seem possible either.
„We've heard you're looking for someone, travellers.” one of the pirates exclaimed, stepping forward from the crowd.
„Indeed.” Payno replied, mustering the courage to take a step forward himself. „We're looking for the captain of the Seafarer... you must be Charles, I presume? We want to talk to him.”
Cackling laughter errupted in the gathered crowd. As it quieted down, the man in front spoke.
„ Well, I've got bad news and bad news for you, kiddo. Firstly, I'm not Charlie. And secondly, whether you get to talk with the captain depends on what you want to talk about.”
„It's about a job.” Liam said, knowing fully well he had to be careful with his words and opting for being as vague as possible.
„Sorry, not hiring at the time, if you wanna sign up!” someone shouted from the crowd and bellowing cheers followed.
„Perhaps I misspoke. It's about a job the Seafarer and it's crew had already done. We... need to know what happened to a certain piece of cargo.”
„And why would you want to know that?” „I don't trust them.” „They do look a bit like Neverwinter dogs, snooping around here and all.”
More and more voices errupted from the mob, each angrier than the last. Payno tried his best to keep his hand away from his sword hilt, so as not to encourage the pirates to a fight.
„I do admit, that we are from Neverwinter, but we did not come here on behalf of the Crown.” Liam exclaimed loud and clear, raising his hands slightly. „If it's any comfort at all, the job I am referring to happened under your previous commanding officer, captain Raegar, so your current captain would never be held accountable for...”
Before he could finish, some of the pirates reached for their cutlasses. Mathew reacted on instinct, drawing his own sword. At that point, the entire mob was up in arms and unsheathing their weapons. As they were about to attack, a shrill shout came from behind them.
„Hold your fucking horses, men! You lot are nearly as impatient as you are fucking stupid. Have none of you thought, what killing two fucking Neverwinter dogs on fucking Neverwinter soil would do to our reputation? Neither of you thought of what would happen, once we've fingerblasted both Luskan's and Neverwinter's fat arses at the same time? The nearest safe haven for us would be in fucking Baldur's Gate and even then, they'd probably try to hang us the moment we made port!”
Instantanously, all pirates calmed down and sheathed their weapons. Liam and Matt were shocked. Not by their sudden salvation or the corsairs' obedience. What really surprised them was the voice of the one that saved them.
A female voice.
Even though technically it was his room as well, Harry knocked on the door before entering, deciding to give Niall a warning. As he heard the blond's voice allowing him to come in, Hazza slid the door open and peered inside with a smile.
„Hey, Niall, how's it going?”
The Cormyrean looked at him from his pillow, pale with an almost vacant expression, but slowly a faint smile graced his face.
The wizard entered and closed the door behind him. Sitting down at the edge of Nialler's bed, he closely examind his friend. His pallor was almost unnatural. His left hand was covered in bandages that still carried signs of bleeding. Apart from that, the only noticeable feature was a slightly crooked nose with a few dried blood clots in the nostrils – something that didn't take away anything from Niall's usually handsome face, but was still something to get used to.
„It... gives you character.” the brunette said, poking his friend's nose gently with his fingertip.
Niall chuckled, but the laughter seemed forced and emotionless.
„How do you feel, Ni?”
The blond thought for a moment, his brows furrowing as if he was intently searching for a right word.”
„Empty.” he finally replied with a slight nod. „Empty, but okay.”
„Um... you mean hungry? I can bring you something to eat, if you want...”
„No, I don't want to eat.”
„Now you're just scaring me, Niall.” the wizard exclaimed, wide-eyed. „Are you sure, you're fine?”
„I... I think so... that's what the healers say at least.” the blond replied. He lifted his left hand and looked at the dressing for a moment. „They said that my hand will fully heal. I'll still be able to play my lute.”
„That's good. Very lucky.” Harry smiled, though in his head he mulled over, whether he should talk to Niall about what had happened during the battle and how he got his injuries.
„Yes... lucky.” Nialler muttered, suddenly more solemn.
„Do... do you have any recollection of our fight with Abvie?”
The blond looked at his friend, trying to remember as many details as possible.
„Pretty clearly, yes. Up until she bound me and her wraiths attacked. I must have passed out somewhere around that point.”
„Ah, I see.” Harry nodded and bit his lip. He didn't think it wise, bringing it up in Niall's current state. „You sure, you're not hungry?”
Nialler chuckled, this time more sincerely, before letting out a sigh. „Maybe a bit, but... I don't really have the apetite, you know. It's like when you're sick and food is the last thing on your mind?”
„I guess you're right. I wasn't in the mood to eat in the morning either. Tell me when you do want something though, alright?” Hazza said with a gentle smile, ruffling up his friend's hair. „Now, need something I can get you?”
„Nah, probably just some sleep.”
„Sure, want me to read you a bedtime story, haha?” Harry laughed.
„No... yeah! Yes, actually.” the blond exclaimed suddenly, lifting himself up from the bed and nearly instantly falling back down, too weak to sit.
„Okay, okay. Take it easy!” Harry said with a worried look, reaching for the book of fables on the bedside table. „Want me to read a favourite of yours or something new? Though I highly doubt there's a story here that you wouldn't have heard at one point or another, being a bard and all.”
„No, not that book.” Nialler shook his head fervently. „Check my bag, belongings... anywhere... yes, that's the one!”
Harry pulled out a tome, that's been loosely placed among Niall's personal things in his bag. He looked at it, his eyes getting wide with shock.
„Niall, this is one of Lord Bu...”
„Shhh!” the blond silenced him. „The servants must have packed it with my things when they moved me here from my room, without checking what it actually was. Thankfully... otherwise I'd be in even deeper shit now, than I already am.”
„We should give it back. Apologise. I mean...”
„No.” Niall objected, shaking his head. „Read it. The pages are marked.”
Still unsure about it, but trusting Nialler to a fault, Harry opened the trading log on one of the marked pages and started skimming it. Halfway through, he looked up at his companion, his mouth half-open.
„This... is this...” he muttered, showing the book to Niall as if to make sure it's actually real.
„Read.” the blond replied, staring at his friend sternly. „Quietly.”