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The Way of the Hunter - Facing the Past (Chapter Thirty-Eight)

Alya Elvawiel
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The old man sprinkles the crushed herbs into a small clay bowl and shakes it gently. Picking up a glowing incense stick, he places the burning end into the desiccated mixture. The dried spices catch alight, and they start to smoulder, releasing a curling wisp of purplish smoke.

Lifting the unconscious man’s head off the pillow, the old man places the bowl of burning herbs under his nose, and watches as he slowly breathes in the pungent vapours.

When the bundle of herbs have burned itself out, the old man sets the bowl aside.

That should help with the pain.

He puts the man’s head back down, and produces a long, slender tube made of clear crystal. It is hollow, with one end tapering to a needle-like point. Pulling the bandages on the younger man’s chest aside, he places the sharpened end of the tube over the entry wound, and presses down, piercing the hollow point through the man’s skin. Holding the other end to his mouth, he starts to suck slowly, and watches as the crystal straw fills up with dark red liquid. When the tube is nearly full, he pulls the needlepoint out from the wound and replaces the dressing. He then blows gently into the straw, forcing the blood out and collecting it in a small vial, which he corks and holds up to the light, inspecting its contents.

There should be enough there for him to run his tests on.

The old man shuffles to his workbench, and begins to mix reagents in a shallow dish, muttering some incantations as he goes along.

He hears a whine and turns. The grey wolf that had accompanied the man has padded over, after having kept its distance while the old man was treating its master. Now, the creature lies down on the furs beside the injured man, snuffling softly. The unconscious man has begun to writhe again. His chest heaves as his breathing quickens, and he starts to toss his head from side to side. He keeps clenching and unclenching his hands, and his teeth are being ground together so hard that the old man could see his jaw muscles flexing. He hears the man’s ragged breathing, and detects a hint of fear in them.

With a sympathetic shake of his head, the old man calmly returns to his work, ignoring the commotion behind him as the man continues to thrash. He hears a distressed bark from the wolf, and sighs sadly.

He can easily relieve any physical pain the man may be suffering.

But any mental anguish he has, he will have to bear alone.

* * *

Bishop sits at the far end of the bar, merely watching as the duergar gets increasingly drunker and rowdier with every shot of rum he knocks back. Knowing Garrick, he’d probably get in a bar brawl later on, beat a couple of people to within an inch of their lives, fall asleep on the floor, and wake up the next morning with a splitting headache.

And an awful temper.

He knows better than to mess with the dwarf at times like this.

As he nurses his own drink, his mind wanders back to the first time he had ever seen Garrick stinking drunk, back when he was still young and naïve enough to harbour childish fantasies of running away. It was one of his first excursions with the duergar, having been locked up in a cold, dank cellar for a few months after the raid for the purpose of “acclimatisation”. The dark dwarf had downed an entire bottle of firebelly whiskey, and was sprawled on the countertop, muttering gibberish. Bishop was seated next to him, fletching the duergar’s arrows as commanded, when Garrick started throwing insults at a nearby group of sailors. The men, three of them, seemingly as inebriated as the dwarf, converged on Garrick, surrounding him threateningly.

“Care to put those words into action, duergar?” one of them asked menacingly.

The dark dwarf had merely laughed, grabbed the boy by the collar, shoved a skinning knife in his hand, and plonked him down between the duergar and the sailors. With an amused gleam in his red eyes, Garrick had told the child to defend himself.

Bishop was confused and scared. Was this the dwarf’s idea of fun? Pitting him against three full-grown, burly men? Credit to the sailors, they seemed hesitant to fight a child, and were standing around uncertainly when the boy glanced back at his captor. The duergar was swaying unsteadily on his stool, his eyes unfocused. He was roaring drunk.

How fast could Garrick run in this state?

Especially if…

Gripping the knife handle tightly, he plunged the blade into the dwarf’s thigh, all the way up to the hilt. He had pushed past the startled sailors and was halfway across the tavern floor before the duergar could let out a scream.

He spent the next three days running and hiding, trying to put as much distance between Garrick and himself as possible. Unfortunately, he got himself so hopelessly lost in the forest, he ended up wandering around in circles.

That was when Garrick tracked him down.

And dragged him back to the dark cellar for a whole week of torture and punishment.

The fact that Bishop can’t recall exactly what the duergar had subjected him to is probably a good thing. His mind has blocked out the traumatic memory of that week, and all he remembers is the dwarf’s taunting words:

“You know, boy, if you had fought those seadogs, you would’ve been brave, but stupid. If you had started crying for your Ma, I would have killed you myself. I have no use for cowards. But for you to do what you did? Man!” Garrick had chuckled amid the sound of a cracking whip. “That takes both brains and balls! You have some potential there, so I may not kill you just yet.”

And so, they had come to an ‘agreement’. Garrick would show Bishop all the tricks of his trade, and in return the boy would do all his “dirty work” for him.

“But if you pull another stunt like that again,” he warned, “I will make sure your death is slow and painful.”

Since then, Bishop has never gotten lost in the woods ever again.

Garrick pounds the counter with his fist, hollering at the barkeep for more rum. Bishop watches the dwarf from a distance with thinly veiled disgust. For the first couple of years, every time the duergar got drunk like this, he had briefly entertained the notion of slipping away. But as the months wore on, he had started to learn more and more from the man – and he was picking it up fast. After all that had happened to him, it felt satisfying to be good at something. Besides, if he were to run away, where would he go? He doubts he has much of a home to return to. He does think of his Pa sometimes, but after what happened, after how he had just stood by and watched while his wife got raped and killed, and while his only son was snatched away from him…

Bishop pushes the thought away as he takes another swig of his ale.

Well, it’s not like he’s bound in chains at the moment anyway. In fact, he can go wherever he pleases now, even disappear for days on end on a hunting trip. Garrick lets him go, because he knows that he will always come back. Not that they have developed any kind of friendship, far from it. Call it grudging understanding, perhaps. As long as he continues to do the duergar’s odd jobs, he gets the freedom to do whatever he likes.


Bishop snorts derisively at the word as he fingers the hem of his Luskan army uniform. Ah yes, there are some drawbacks with being the dwarf’s ‘apprentice’, aren’t there? Fighting for a cause he didn’t believe in was one of them. The training is difficult, to say the least, and on more than one occasion, he had barely managed to return from the front line alive.

Plus, he hates the fact that the dwarf has such a psychological hold on him. He could go anywhere he wants, for as long as he likes, but sooner or later he would come crawling back to Garrick, knowing that he has no other future to speak of, save for learning from, and working for, the duergar.

With self-disgust, he likens himself to a scared, whipped dog, forever tied to its master.

But what is the point of even considering leaving? Where would he go? What would he do?

How long before Garrick would hunt him down?

He rubs his chin absently, feeling the soft fuzz of his first growth.

This isn’t freedom…

He no longer sees the chains around him, but they are definitely still there, binding him to the duergar.

He wonders what it would take to finally break them.

A string of profanities and the sound of a tankard smashing tell him that the barkeep had unwisely refused the duergar more alcohol. He ignores it as he smirks into his own mug.

Well, at least he has developed a knack for killing people. Like all things, the first time was the hardest, and it only got easier.

After all, he is learning from the best.

“This seat taken?” a silky voice asks, interrupting his thoughts. He looks up to find a woman smiling at him coyly, a slender finger trailing around the rim of her glass.

He tries not to stare.

She is tall and slim, and the armour she is wearing hugs her womanly figure in all the right places. Her long, lustrous black hair falls carelessly around her shoulders, so shiny that it resembles a star-filled midnight sky. It is a stunning contrast to her porcelain pale skin. Her features are sharp, without being unpleasant or seeming too severe: high cheekbones, a slightly aquiline nose, a pointed chin. Her lips are bright red, full and sensuous, and she has hypnotic grey eyes, so light and shiny they almost seem silver.

But she must be at least a few years older than him.

Maintaining a casual composure, he motions for her to sit. She shifts her stool closer to his.

“You must be Garrick’s protégé,” she purrs in that velvety voice of hers. “I have heard a lot about you.”

He cocks an eyebrow. “Not all bad I hope…”

She laughs, a deep, throaty laugh. “Well, the fact you have a smart mouth is true, at least,” she teases. She pulls her seat even closer, until her knee brushes his. “I’m Calyx,” she says, eyeing him unashamedly up and down.

“Calyx…” He lets her name roll on his tongue, savouring the sound. “Nice name.”

She smiles. “I hear you’ll be the latest addition to our little troop.”

He assumes she means the Luskan assassin squad. Garrick has finally felt that he is ready to join the duergar’s elite group. At least it’s a definite step up from being a lowly soldier.

He shrugs in response.

“Lovely,” she remarks, as she lightly traces a finger on the back of Bishop’s hand, her touch leaving his skin tingling. “That means I’ll be seeing much more of you.”

He smirks. “I hope you’re not content on just seeing…” and he lets his sentence trail off.

He hears her seductive laugh again. Leaning forward, she whispers hoarsely in his ear, “I’d like to know if that mouth of yours is good for anything other than wisecracks…” she licks her lips suggestively.

He eyes her challengingly.

“Care to find out?”

* * *

The tavern is quiet except for the muffled sounds coming from the darkened room at the end of the corridor. Inside, the bed creaks noisily as the two figures on it writhe beneath the sheets, moaning in pleasure. The blanket falls away, exposing the graceful curves of a woman’s silhouette, as she straddles the man beneath her. Her ebony mane falls down her back and over her shoulders, tickling Bishop’s face, the floral scent of her hair making him giddy. She pants as she moves, sliding herself up and down his entire length. His hands grab her firm buttocks, and he pushes her down as he thrusts his hips up, feeling himself going deeper into her inviting embrace. The hot pressure in his loins builds as they move faster and faster, until with a carnal scream, they climax, and the pressure is released in a flood of ecstasy.

With a shudder, she collapses on top of him, both of them breathing heavily. Bishop wraps his arms tightly around her, his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of her body pressed to his, and the smell of spring blossoms in her hair. It has been a couple of months since they have gotten together, but no matter how many times they do this, it amazes him that each time seems to get better and better.

There have been times when he wonders why she is even interested in him. She could have any man she wanted, and yet she chooses a mere boy like him. Somehow, after all the crap he has been through, he finds it difficult to accept that it was just a matter of luck.

But Gods, every time she does this to him, he is willing to believe anything.

Finally, she rolls off and lies beside him, one hand rubbing his chest. Bishop watches her through heavily lidded eyes, relishing the feel of her fingers playing across his skin.

“Love?” she murmurs.

“Hmm…?” He turns his head to look into her pearly eyes.

“Have you thought much about your…induction…next week?” Her hand moves lower, settling on his hard stomach.

He shrugs lazily. “What about it?”

“Well…” she starts to trace little circles on his abs with a fingernail. His core muscles tense in response to the ticklish yet pleasant sensation. “Have you chosen a village yet?”

He stares at the ceiling. “No,” he replies simply. Choosing a village to burn down, with all its inhabitants in it? He would never admit it, but he finds the idea disturbing. Killing a few people at a time is fine, but a whole village? With women and children? He wasn’t at all keen on the idea, and the fact that he has to select a village to burn, as if singling out a cow for the slaughter…

“I think I’ll just pick one randomly off a map.”

Calyx is silent for a while, her finger continuing to draw shapes on his torso.

“What about Redfallows Watch?” she suggests finally.

He props himself up on his elbows, and frowns when he looks at her.

How much does she know about his home village?

She appears unfazed by his discomfort. “Why not?” she goes on. “What better way to get them back for what they did…or rather, didn’t do?”

Sounds like she knows a lot.

He curses Garrick for his big mouth, and rolls over, turning his back to her.

“I don’t really want to go back there.”

He feels a hand round his waist. “Think about it,” she insists. “They’re weak. They couldn’t even stand up for one of their own.” She whispers in his ear, “Not even your own father.”

Bishop shuts his eyes at her last sentence, as he swallows the lump in his throat.

Calyx starts to brush her lips over his shoulder blades, gradually moving to the nape of his neck, tickling him with her warm breath.

“Bishop, love?” she says in between her kisses. “Do you love me?”

He rolls around again to face her.

Does he?

He knows that no other woman has ever made him feel this way. He knows that he does care for her, that he is probably willing to do almost anything for her.

He knows that she is the only thing that is going right in his life.

“Yes,” he whispers, as he gently caresses a porcelain cheek.

She smiles as she nuzzles her face into his palm. “Then you would know that I want what’s best for you.” Putting her own hand over his, she presses it into her chest. “It hurts me to see you like this, always so bitter about the past.” She reaches her own hand towards his face, and rubs his developing stubble.

“The only way to let go of the past is to go back and face it.”

Bishop is still mulling over what she said when Calyx suddenly mounts him again and starts to kiss him fiercely. Her hands are all over his body, and she presses herself hard into him. Once again he feels a stirring in his loins.

And he decides that he would do whatever she suggests, as long as she doesn’t stop doing what she’s doing to him…

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 38 - Facing the Past © Alya Elvawiel

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