Monday Fiction: The Making of Talon
I am doing a little more planning about my blogging and what I’ll offer when. At this point Monday will be devoted to my fiction. This is rest of day one when Ludwig and his parents arrive on Heartshorn and day two in The Making of Talon. See part one here.
Day Two – Coming to Heartshorn
Six foot six inches tall, thin and dressed in the green tunic and trews that were the uniform of the elven border guard, Druce waited for the boy. He’d already sent his son for the healer Altha and to inform Ubel Wainwright at Nornford to be ready for another fosterage. The boy had looked healthy, if thin, but from what the child had told him of the parents, it didn’t sound good. People from Earthside had a hard enough time with the manna-fever without additional injuries. That last drop from the dark sphere killed more people than it allowed through.
“Herr?” Ludwig said, “Vati said to come in. Please come now.” Ludwig grabbed at the elf’s hand and started dragging him in the cave.
Druce allowed himself to be pulled into the cave, his eyes easily adjusting to the dimness. He saw, at the back of the cave, the crumpled form of a man and, nearby, another plump form that must be the boy’s mother.
“Come, tend to Vati first, he is hurt worse,” Ludwig said, “He has a broken leg. I can see the bone. And he’s bleeding.”
Druce knelt for a moment beside the woman, taking in her pallor and the way her breathing was already labored. Then he turned to the man.
The fall had split the thigh bone driving it through the flesh. The shin looked broken as well.
Then the man opened his eyes. “I’ll not last long,” he said, “take care of the boy”
“Perhaps you will last longer than you believe,” Druce said, “You are strong and your boy has the will for you to live. But it will be painful and you may never walk again. We’ll know soon. A healer comes.”
“No,” Friedrich answered, “I can feel other injuries, inside. Already it is hard to breathe.”
“That may have nothing to do with the fall, your son’s breathing is labored as well. He has manna-fever. It comes upon all people who come from Earthside.”
“I am not sick,” Ludwig said, “only worried. You make Vati better. And Muti, too.”
Just then a shadow fell over the party. Druce looked around to see Altha approaching and a dragon’s tail leave.
“Boras made good time, I see” Druce said.
“No, I didn’t see Boras. Damsel was flying over and saw the boy come out and you send Boras off. She knew from that you’d be calling for my services. She found me and brought me.”
“Good, the father is in bad shape. His leg seems broken in two places and he thinks he has internal injuries. I believe he has manna-fever. The woman is unconscious; she hit her head when she fell. Her color is bad and, she too, has labored breathing.”
“What about the boy?”
“He fights the fever to see his parents well.”
Altha took the pack from her back, took a small bottle out and handed it to Druce. “Get the child to drink this while I tend to his father.”
Druce nodded and touched Ludwig on his shoulder. “Come with me. We must let Altha work.”
Ludwig tried to shrug off Druce’s hand, but the elf was stronger than the boy suspected. “Let me stay. I can help,” he said.
Druce knelt down and faced the boy, “You must be thirsty,” Druce said staring into the boy’s eyes.
Ludwig saw only the elf’s green eyes, green as the canopy of trees just out side and just as enchanting.
“Yes,” he said, “I am thirsty.”
Then he blinked, “but after that I come back here.”
Druce nodded and stood up, “of course.”
As Druce walked with Ludwig he worried, the child had shaken off the compulsion Druce had put in his voice with unusual ease.
A stream flowed a short walk below the cave. It hid beneath the fronds of several kinds of ferns, cool and pure. Druce knelt down before Ludwig and pulled up a full skin. He opened the skin and emptied the contents from the bottle in. Then he squeezed the bag to mix the fluids turned and gave the skin to Ludwig.
“Drink up, child, you’ll not have tasted anything this fresh on Earthside.”
With a suspicious look, Ludwig took the skin. He opened it and sniffed inside. It smelled only of the leather the skin was made of. Then he took a cautious sip. He swallowed and waited a moment. Then he took another sip and swallowed it. When nothing happened then, he drank fully.
Druce smiled. “Now, what should I call you? I don’t believe boy or child will do. Do you have a name?”
“I am Ludwig, Ludwig Zimmerman.”
“And I am Druce. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Where do you come from, Ludwig?”
“We live in Baden. And when Vati and Muti are better, we will return to Baden.”
Druce shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, “or maybe not. It takes time for broken bones to heal. And by then, maybe your family will want to stay here. Come, let’s go see how Altha fares with your parents.”
Druce stood and they walked back to the cave. At the cave entrance Ludwig stopped.
“You put something in the water, didn’t you? Why?”
Druce scooped the boy up before he fell, “Because already the manna-fever has you. You must rest if you are to survive it. Sleep Ludwig, soon you will be better.”
Ludwig squirmed in Druce’s arms, “No, I can’t, I have to take care of…”
Druce carried the boy away from the cave toward his camp. The boy would sleep, but maybe not as long as he’d need to. Druce hoped Boras would return soon to watch over the boy.
After making the boy comfortable in the small camp, Druce returned to the cave. Altha had already set the man’s leg; he appeared to be awake and in pain. Altha was bent over the woman.
“How are they?” Druce asked.
Altha stood and faced him, “The leg is set and may heal even as bad as the break was. He is awake and in pain. The woman has a mild concussion, the bone isn’t broken but there seems to be some swelling inside. Both have manna-fever.”
Druce nodded. “How long?”
“I don’t know. He’s a fighter, and she would be strong but with the fever, it could be as little as one day or maybe as long as a sen-night. But, they won’t make it.”
“Talk to me,” Friedrich called from where he lay, trying to sit up.
Altha quickly knelt beside him, “Please, lie still. You’ll only make it worse. You need to rest.”
“No, I need to see to my wife and my son. Where is my son?” Friedrich said trying to look beyond Druce.
Druce approached and stood behind Altha. “Ludwig is safe. He is resting at my camp. As you should rest.”
Friedrich tried once more to sit up then fell back in pain. “Please, I need to see him, to talk to him.”
“Soon, mein Herr, soon.” Altha said, “soon you will all be together.”
Friedrich sighed and frowned.
“How is it,” he asked, “that you speak German? I didn’t think we were still close to home.”
Druce nodded, “You were correct, you are not close to your home. But we have had others come from near your home so we learn your language.”
“You learn it very well. And I think you do not tell all.”
“I will explain further, but first, we must get you to a place where we can take better care of you and your wife.”
“To your camp?”
“No, we’re going to our compound by Hoffnung Lake. But we’ll stop and get Ludwig along the way.”
Altha took another bottle out of her pack and gave it to Druce. “For the man,” she said.
While Druce went again to the stream and got another skin of water out, Altha pulled two small pads out of her pack and lay them down beside her patients. Then she packed her bag, set it by the entrance and waited for Druce to return.
It was a short wait.
As Druce handed her the skin she asked, “The boy? How is he?”
Druce glanced back at the man. He seemed to be sleeping but Druce lowered his voice anyway. “When I left him, he was asleep but not as deeply as I’d like. He’ll wake soon, almost as soon as a Heartshorn-born would. He’s very strong.”
Altha nodded, “He’ll have to be.”
They walked back into the cave. Altha helped Friedrich to raise up enough to drink from the skin. He took a few swallows, then refused more.
“No,” he said, “give the rest to Ingrid.
“Shh,” Altha said, “she already sleeps, to give her this would do more harm than good. This is for you. It will dull the pain and make our journey easier for you. When you wake, you should see your son.”
Friedrich gazed at his wife, then drank the rest of the water. Within moments he was asleep.
Altha gave Druce the empty skin, then laid Friedrich down. Then she place her right hand over the small pad beside him and made a small movement while saying ‘grow’. A light sprinkle of golden dust fell from her hand and covered the pad like snow settles on the ground. Then it melted into the pad. As she watched, the pad grew until it was of a size to hold an elf.
“Help me,” she said to Druce as she moved to Friedrich’s head.
Druce took his place by Friedrich’s hips and between them they lifted Friedrich on to the pad.
Altha held her hands over Friedrich and murmured, ‘Fit’. The pad shrank in length and expanded in width until it lay perfectly under the man.
In only a few moments they were ready to leave. With a final lift of her hands, Altha commanded the pads to ‘follow’.
It had been early morning when Ludwig and his family had arrived on Heartshorn. It wasn’t even mid-day when Druce and Altha approached the camp with the pads and their cargo following behind. Boras was sitting beside the boy who lay on Druce’s blanket. A quick check of the boy convinced Druce that the boy would wake soon if he wasn’t already awake.
“Altha,” Druce said, “please watch the boy while Boras and I go get the rest of the skins. We’ll need them on the journey to Hoffnung.”
Altha nodded, took up Boras’s position by Ludwig and waved as father and son walked back toward the cave.
“Boras,” Druce said, “the boy, Ludwig he’s called, will need a friend and guide. Especially a friend. His parents are not going to survive, but he will. He is already processing manna and I suspect he will be very strong. Are you ready for this?”
“For how long?”
“For many years.”
Boras thought for a bit, He was young, only twenty-five. He thought of Mirin and how he wanted to court her but had to wait at least ten years. The boy, no Ludwig, appeared to be about ten and would be old enough to learn a trade before then. By the time Mirin was old enough to be courted, Ludwig should be on his own and not begrudge Boras the time he spent with her.”
“Yes, Father. I will do it.”
They quickly reached the stream and gathered the remaining six skins. They returned to the camp talking along the way.
“Ludwig will need a friend, more than most who come from Earthside. He will be strong in magic and will need a guide as well. It won’t be easy. And the next few days will be very hard on him,” Druce said.
“I know. He was already awake when you came back with his parents. I sensed that he felt you return. He doesn’t know how to shield yet, but already he is trying.”
“This will not be an easy task for you and I would not ask it, but Ludwig would not trust an adult. As it is, he may not trust you. I don’t think he trusts many.”
As the pair approached the camp they saw Ludwig stretch and sit up. The two looked at each other and nodded. Yes, the boy was strong. Hopefully he’d have a conscious as well.
Ludwig was tired and hungry as the party came out of the woods just as the sun touched the mountains. Before him a large lake spread out, small wavelets wrinkling the surface. On the right side of the lake stood several buildings shimmering in the fading light.
A narrow road ran from four buildings towards the path he was on and continued around the top of the lake before heading away.
Ludwig turned to Boras who had been walking next to him. “Is that the compound?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s where we’ll stay for a while.”
“What will happen to Muti and Vati?”
Boras pointed to the largest and closest building. “Do you see that building? We call it Hospiz. That’s where there are more healers. They will take care of your parents, make them comfortable.”
“I want to stay with them.”
Boras looked to Druce. Druce nodded.
“If you wish, you can have a room in there. But you must not get in the way of the healers.”
It was not full dark when they reached Hospiz. Altha guided the pads with their burdens thru the doors into a large room with many empty beds while Boras took Ludwig off to one side where another elf waited.
Boras nodded to the elf and said, “I am Boras and this is Ludwig. We just brought his parents in. He would like to stay with them.”
The elf looked at Ludwig and took in his size and bearing. Then his eyes widened a little as he noticed the manna moving to and from him, like it did Boras. He looked up at Boras saying, “I am Galin, apprentice Healer. Did he arrive with his parents? He seems – well. How long has he been here?”
“They arrived this morning.” Boras said his hand on Ludwig’s shoulder.
“Do not talk as if I am not here,” he said, “Ask me the questions”
Galin nodded to Ludwig, “Forgive me, I did not realize you could understand us.”
“Why would I not? I have been speaking with the others all day. We all understand each other. Boras – what is going on?”
Boras knelt to Ludwig’s level. “When you first came out of the cave, you could not understand what we say but we could understand you. Over the day you have learned to understand and make us understand you. You have started to process Manna like everyone on Heartshorn does.”
“You use strange words. What is Manna and what is Heartshorn?”
Suddenly there was a cry of pain from behind them. Ludwig turned and ran to his father with Boras fast on his heels.
“Vati, what is wrong?” he asked pushing past the healers. “What have they done to you?”
Boras tried to pull Ludwig back but the boy was too strong.
Altha touched the boy and sent a wave of calm over him. “We did nothing, Ludwig. Your father tried to move his broken leg in his sleep. It hurt him so he cried out,” she said.
Just then Friedrich groaned and opened his eyes. He reached for Ludwig’s hand. “She is right, Liebchen. I have a broken leg and am in pain. Altha, you gave me something to drink earlier. Have you any more?”
“Yes, Mein Herr, I can get you more. But maybe you should talk with your son for a moment. He is worried for his Vati.”
Friedrich smiled weakly then looked at Ludwig. “Son, you must not worry so about me. I will be fine. Now please, let me rest. I will talk with you in the morning.”
Ludwig squeezed his father’s hand. “Yes, Vati. You rest.”
Ludwig turned from his father and walked back with Boras to Galin. They passed Altha returning with a cup for his father.
“He is not fine,” Ludwig said. “He will die. I can feel it. And I can’t stop it.”
Boras and Galin looked first to each other then at Ludwig.
“How would you know such a thing?” Boras asked. “What do you mean you can feel it?”
“There is a wrongness about him. It wasn’t his leg that hurt, it was something inside. His leg is already mending but he fills with something and it smothers him.” Ludwig said.
Boras turned to Galin and asked if there was a room where he and Ludwig could sit and talk. Galin led them to a small room next to a kitchen. Inside were three cots, a table and four chairs. A curtain served as a door.
Ludwig and Boras sat at the table while Galin left and returned a short while later with cups of water and plates with steaming stew and a loaf of fresh bread. Then Galin returned to his post out in the main room.
The two ate in silence for a few minutes before Ludwig pushed his plate aside.
“Now, tell me. What is wrong with my Vati. And Muti,” he said.
Boras took a deep breath. “They have what we call Manna-Fever. Everyone who comes from Earthside gets it.”
“But I didn’t get it,” Ludwig said.
“Yes, you did. But you are young and very strong. While you slept this morning you started processing Manna. You are still a little sick but by morning you will be over it.”
“And Vati? Muti? When will they be better?”
Boras looked down at his unfinished stew and pushed the plate aside.
“I’m sorry, Ludwig, but they won’t recover.”
Ludwig was very quiet, his eyes wet with unfallen tears. “Why?” he asked.
“Because they can’t process Manna. It is filling them but they can only hold so much. Then they have to release some. But they don’t know how to release it.”
“Then teach them!”
“It’s not something that can be taught, Ludwig. A person has to figure it out by himself. You see, Manna is everywhere even Earthside. But on Earthside each person is born with a certain amount of Manna already in them. It’s enough to last all their life. When it’s gone, they die. But here, on Heartshorn, each being takes in Manna and either uses it to do things or gives it back to the world. If we try to hold more than we can, it burns us, hurts us until we let it go. Your parents can’t do this.”
“But I can? Why can I?”
“I don’t know why you learned so fast, but you did. Maybe you’re a mage.”
“A mage? You mean someone who does magic?”
“Yes, but there’s more to it than just working magic.”
“So my parents have to give back the Manna they’ve taken in to live.”
“It’s more complicated than that. Please Ludwig, it’s too soon for you to learn this.”
“I don’t care! I need to learn it. Why is it more complicated? Tell me.”
“Okay. It’s not just that they have to give back what has already filled them, they must give back their Manna from Earthside. It’s deep within them, probably in their heart and they have to release that to Heartshorn before they can release what has already seeped in them.”
“You mean like emptying a pot of grain before you can add fresh grain. If you don’t then the old grain can taint the fresh. Is that right?”
Boras looked at Ludwig, his eyes wide in shock. “Exactly. You understand exactly.”
“Take me to my father,” Ludwig said rising, “I must help him. He cannot die.”
Boras started to object but Ludwig had already left.
Boras caught up to Ludwig just as the boy reached his father’s bed. He pushed between the healers. Then he saw, his father was gone. The shell of his body was there, but his life was gone.
Ludwig struck out at Altha, punching her and the other healer beside him. “You could have saved him but you didn’t!” he cried. “You should have told me what to do. I could have saved him, I know I could have. I hate you!”
Altha endured the pain of Ludwig’s fists and tried to hold the boy close. She whispered words of comfort and willed the comfort and peace into the child. Suddenly she was thrown back to land on the bed behind her.
“No!” Ludwig said in a tight voice, “do NOT try to comfort me. You failed to save my Vati, you have no right to comfort me. Leave me or I’ll do worse next time.”
Altha rose from the bed and walked quickly out of the Hospiz. Druce followed her out.
Boras grabbed Ludwig’s arms and looked the boy straight in the eyes. “That was mean, Ludwig,” he said, “Altha did all she could. No one can make a person exchange the Manna, no one. Not the greatest healer or greatest Mage. Many have tried but all have failed.”
“She could have done more, I know it,” Ludwig said, “Now where’s Muti? I must help her?”
Boras held Ludwig’s arms and would let him leave. “Wait Ludwig, wait. Your mother is hurt worse than your father was. She has a head injury. Not only is she fighting the Manna-fever but she also has a brain fever. If you try to do anything you’ll only make it worse, maybe even kill her before her time.”
Ludwig quit trying to pull away from Boras.
“When will her time come?” he asked quietly.
Boras looked at the other healers around. None spoke.
“We don’t know,” he said, “maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.”
“May I see her?” Ludwig asked, defeat weighing him down.
Boras smiled and stood, “Yes, you can see here, but you must not touch her. She needs her rest to fight.”
Boras took Ludwig further into the room to the other occupied bed. Ingrid lay still on the bed, breathing shallowly, pain etching her face.
Ludwig stood for a moment in front of his mother then closed his eyes. He focused his thoughts on her head and what might be inside behind the face he loved. He pictured brains like he’d seen of sheep and cows during slaughter, with the funny ridges and crinkles looking like a nest of fat grey snakes twisted together. Then he pictured his mother’s brains fitting easily within the skull.
Boras and the two healers working on Ludwig’s mother watched the boy, shocked to see manna flowing from him to her. After a few minutes, her face cleared of its pain and her eyes fluttered open.
Ingrid saw her son, swaying beside her, “Ludwig? Is that you son?”
Ludwig smiled then slipped to the floor.
Boras scooped up Ludwig and placed him in the bed next to his mother’s. He turned to Ingrid and said, “He’ll be fine, Frau. He was just worried for you. Go back to sleep.”
But Ingrid was already asleep.
Boras turned to where Ludwig lay asleep in the next bed. “He cannot be here when she wakes,” he said. “It’s too dangerous and only The Lady knows what he will try to do. I’ll take him to the hostel. Then, when he wakes, I’ll talk with him.”
Galin said, “but how much good will it do to talk to him? He is strong in magic and his intention is good. Before you bring him to see his mother, you must take him to the wounded ones. Show him what happens if another tries to force the change. Maybe that will dampen his fire.”
“You’re right, Galin. If only I can keep him in the hostel with me. Do you know if my father has left?”
“No, he is still here. The boy hurt Altha and he’s been trying to soothe her. They’re at the hostel as well.”
Boras nodded and picked up Ludwig. He carried the boy out of the hospiz and down to the end of the path to the hostel. As he entered he looked for his father and found him sitting with Altha in the dining room. He started toward Druce but Druce signaled Boras to stay put. Druce leaned over to Altha then rose and came over to Boras and Ludwig.
“How is he?” Druce asked.
“His father is dead and he healed his mother’s concussion. It took almost all his manna to do it and he passed out. With any luck he’ll sleep tonight. How’s Altha?”
“She is hurt, but she says the child is correct, she also lied to him. She is not sure if she can still heal.”
“Why? The boy did not attack her or take away her talent.”
“She said that little lies are all a part of healing. Healers always minimize how bad a wound is which is a lie of omission. And there are the lies about how a medicine will taste or how bad it will hurt to sew up a cut. She says she’ll always hear his voice when she tells one of those lies.”
“I see. I hope, though, that she won’t let that make her deny her talent. We need healers; there is never enough to go around.”
“True. Now, what about the boy? What are you going to do?”
“I’d like your help. He is very strong in magic but also untrained. I need you to put a spell on the door and window of our room that only I can open from inside. He may wake before me and I don’t want him to see his mother before he has seen the wounded ones. Otherwise he’ll try to force the change upon her and may injure her further.”
“Of course. Your room is at the top of the stairs on the left. Have you eaten?”
“Yes we were eating when his father cried out from pain when he moved. By the time we got to him he was gone. I don’t believe I could eat anything now and, as you can see, Ludwig is still out cold.”
“Fine, I’ll walk up with you and spell you in.”
The next morning Boras woke to find Ludwig sitting at the foot of his bed staring at him.
“I can’t get out,” Ludwig said, “let me out so I can see Muti. She needs me.”
“We will see your mother in a while. But first, you have to learn some things and meet some people.”
“So you don’t cause your mother any more pain than she has to endure on her own.”
“I wouldn’t hurt Muti. I love her. And you’re hateful to say such a thing!”
Boras sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “I know you wouldn’t hurt her deliberately. But you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re in a different world than the one you’ve always known and things don’t work quite the same way. That’s why you have to learn before you see her again.”
Ludwig dropped his eyes. “But I want to help her.”
“I know. I would too, if I were you. But you can’t. She has to do this on her own. Now, let’s go downstairs and get something to eat. Then I’ll take you to meet the wounded ones.”
Downstairs in the dining room they found rolls, meat and cheese laid out on the sideboard along with pitchers of water and apple juice. They served themselves and sat at one of the many empty tables.
While they ate, Boras told how the compound came to be over 500 years before when more people came through the dragon trail than did now. How it was a place for those who suffered from the manna-fever could fight their battle to live without worrying about bears or lions in the forests or worse, the goblins and harpies making the battle harder. He told Ludwig that the elves of Dragonrede had pledged themselves to see that the newcomers had the best care they could get and that he was proud to finally be allowed to serve here as well.
Finally, Ludwig grew restless. “I want to see my mother. Who are these wounded ones I have to see and why do I have to see them?”
Boras took their plates and cups up to the bar and left them. Then he walked out with Ludwig.
“The wounded ones,” Boras said, “are those people who can’t use manna as we can but who can use it enough to live. But something in them is broken and our best healers cannot heal them. It is like a tear in their spirit. And it’s what happens when the manna-fever doesn’t kill.”
The two walked back towards the hospiz but Boras stopped at a building two doors short and across the path. It was a one story building with an enclosed yard in the back. Boras knocked on the door. The door was opened by an older elf, a lady who had obviously seen a lot of sorrow. Where Boras had clear eyes and a friendly face, this one’s eyes looked almost dead and her face seemed to be in constant danger of crying.
“Lydi,” Boras said taking her hands, “how are you today?”
“Boras, I heard you’d come. It is good to see you. And is this the young newcomer? I think I heard he is called Ludwig.”
“Yes, this is he. We’ve come to see the wounded, if we may.”
Lydi’s eyes welled up with tears. “Yes, of course, come in. They are out back getting some sun. We only have four now. Yesterday two died, Greta and Jacob.”
“I’m sorry, Lydi. How long had they been here?”
“Less than a year. But that is longer than most. But come, the others will be glad to see a new face.”
Lydi led them through the house and showed them out to the back yard.
The yard was small, only ten feet by ten feet. There was a table and two benches to one side and two other benches on the other two sides nestled in the flowers under two tall trees. A bird bath stood in the middle of the yard and where flowers weren’t planted a smooth grass grew.
Seated at the table were four people, three women and one man all about the same age, a little younger than Ludwig’s mother. As they drew closer to the four, Ludwig noticed a fine yellow dust swirling gently about them, never touching them but never leaving either. Then he notice other things. Each one had a tremor or tic of some sort. One of the women shivered constantly like she was cold but she had a fan she was using and was sweating. Another’s right eye drooped and the right side of her face seemed to sag. The man had one shoulder higher than the other, as if he was holding a pain on the opposite side. The last woman looked normal to him but when he approached he couldn’t understand what she was saying as her words were slurred and she seemed to have trouble even thinking of what she wanted to say.
Ludwig tugged on Boras’s arm. “What is wrong with them?” he asked.
“When they had the manna-fever, they were almost dead when they suddenly figured out how to release their old manna from Earthside. But it had built up inside them for too long and it damaged them inside. They can barely feed themselves now and have to be led and helped with anything they do. These four have been here for less than a year. The man will die before the next full moon.”
“Why is Lydi so sad?”
“She used to be a healer. One day a young man came through and she felt attracted to him. So she tried to help him with the manna-fever. You see, we can see where the Earthside manna is stored in a person’s body so she tried to help it out.”
“What do you mean?”
Lydi walked up behind them. “I reached with my mind and pulled on the manna. It resisted and I pulled harder. I heard a tearing sound and suddenly saw I had pulled out my love’s heart. The manna is threaded into the heart and only the person himself can untie the knots that bind it. I killed him. And the strands of manna that I’d pulled out of him needed a place to go. They found it. In me. So I killed a man I loved and now I carry his manna in my heart. He hadn’t let it go and it couldn’t go back to him and Heartshorn wouldn’t take it. So I carry it until I die.”
Ludwig looked at Lydi in shock. “But how can that be? And what does it do to you?”
“It curses me in the same way humans on Earthside are cursed. It is the only manna I can use and when I use it up, I will die.”
“You mean you can’t take in any more?”
“That and I can’t do the little magics that all who live on Heartshorn can do. I have to reserve this manna to live. If I try to use it for magic, it tears at my heart just as I tore it out of his heart.”
Ludwig looked up at Boras. “That’s what you wanted me to know before I saw Muti this morning. You wanted me to know what would happen if I tried to help her.”
Boras nodded. “Yes, because if you’d not depleted yourself last night you would have tried then to help your mother and you both would be dead.”
“But Lydi isn’t dead.”
Lydi put her hand on Ludwig’s shoulder. “I might as well be,” she said, “I can do nothing an elf should be able to do. And I’m dying. I can feel each grain of manna as it is used up. It burns and tears then lays in my heart like ash from a fire. I’m choking on it every day.”
“How long has it been?” Ludwig asked
“He was young when he came through, only twenty. He would have lived another forty years. It’s been 39 years now.”
“I’m sorry,” Ludwig said knowing as he said it that it was little consolation.
Ludwig and Boras left the house of the wounded and made their way to the hospiz.
Inside, Boras asked the healer on duty how Ingrid was. She was conscious but her breathing was labored and she seemed to be in pain though no one could find anything to be causing the pain.
Ludwig immediately went to his mother’s side.
“Muti,” he said, “you must release it. Let the pain go. When it goes you’ll feel better.”
“Liebchien,” Ingid said grasping his hand, “What is this foolishness you talk of? I cannot let go of pain, it just is. Oh my son, my love, why did we follow your father? He is gone now and soon I will be too. You’ll be alone with no one to care for you.”
“Muti, stop. You must listen. There is this dust called manna. It’s in you right now but it’s the wrong dust. You have to let it go and breathe in the good dust of this world.”
“Ludwig, stop your nonsense. If I breathe in dust I’ll cough and choke. And what do you mean this world? There is only one world. Now just sit with me son. I’m tired. It feels as if a great weight is upon my chest.”
The boy touched his mother’s hand and concentrated on seeing the manna pressing on her chest. He let his eyes unfocus and thought he could see golden dust falling on her. He blew across her chest and saw the dust swirl and blow away, but immediately more dust came to take its place. He blew again and again, harder and harder until he realized that what took the place of the dust he’d blown away was more and heavier. He was suffocating her even as he tried to help.
Desperate, he breathed in the manna and pictured his mother in a wooden box that no manna could get through, yet it seemed to drip down from the top and sides of the box, covering her even deeper.
Behind Ludwig, Boras watched in fascination. The boy created a box around his mother, then took it away. Everything the boy did called more manna into the room and around the boy, yet he didn’t see it.
Boras touched Ludwig’s shoulder. “Ludwig, stop. Look at what you do.”
Ludwig tried to shrug Boras’s hand off. “Go away,” he said, “I have to help her. She can’t do it herself.”
Boras grabbed Ludwig and turned the boy around until he faced the elf.
“Ludwig, look, really look,” Boras said, “There is more manna here than is normal and it’s you. You’re drawing the manna in. The more you try to drive it away from your mother, the more that comes in. Open you eyes before you kill her.”
Boras shook Ludwig until the boy focused on him.
“Did you hear me, Ludwig?” Boras asked.
Ludwig blinked and looked around him. It was true, the golden dust was thicker than when they had come in. And on her bed, his Muti struggled more with each breath. Even as he watched she took another shuddering breath then she let out a cry of great pain and sank deeper in the bed, limp and unresponsive. His Muti was gone. Ludwig was now alone, in a different world, with no one to take care of him. Suddenly his future looked very bleak.
Ludwig turned to Boras. “I am alone. I killed my mother. I should have been stronger. If I was stronger, I could have helped. I will get stronger. No more will manna kill people. I will control it.”
Then he threw himself into the arms of his only friend in Heartshorn and cried.