YA parallel world historical fantasy
He came back to himself again, growling through the gag and flexing his wrists against the straps pinning him down. The men standing over him had argued, then forced something down his throat. There’d been pain and more shouting; then a blazing blue light and, at last, blackness.
His wrists came free. He sat up, blinking and disoriented. He was alone in a different room and both hands and mouth were unrestrained.
He was in a four poster bed with a red and gold canopy, adrift in a vast room with crimson walls and a ceiling covered in complicated mouldings. Only the weight of the richly brocaded bedding had been holding down his hands. Heavy curtains hung the full length of one wall and a nightlight burned on a silver tray at the foot of the bed. The back of his head hurt. He reached behind it and found a bandage. His hair was shaved almost down to his skull.
The nightlight blurred and doubled and he lay back down, waiting for the dizziness to pass. He dimly remembered a journey and someone important to him in danger. But who? A friend? Someone in his family?
He put his hand to his head again. He must have been injured in some kind of accident or attack but it was worrying how he couldn’t quite bring it to mind. He tried to recall if his parents had been with him, then realised that he couldn’t remember their faces.
Or even their names.
That wasn’t right, that couldn’t be right. He tried again, imagaining a face, any face, and telling himself that this was his friend, this was his mother but the faces dissolved and disappeared as if there were nothing to remember. He began to sense a hole in the centre of his head, a hole full of darkness trying to drag him in. He attempted to say his own name out loud but no words came. His stomach began to twist and knot and bile scorched his mouth. He turned over, pounding his fists slowly into the pillow, struggling to think of something, anything - a voice, a profile, a touch of a hand. Nothing. He felt a scream beginning to grow.
A key rattled in a lock and hinges squeaked.
“Good morning, Master Jerald. Time to be up and at ‘em.”
He froze and the scream grudgingly receded. He forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply, aware that the panic was still there, ready to swallow him whole if he lost control for a even a moment. He needed to be calm. He needed to find out who he was, what had happened to him and who he could trust.
“Jerald?” he said out loud.
“That’s your name, young master. It’ll all come back to you, bit by bit, they tell me.”
So they knew something was wrong and he had just confirmed it. He had to be more careful. He heard the clink of a glass set down on the tray, then the sound of the man stamping around drawing curtains and pulling open drawers and cupboards. He took another deep breath and sat up, pushing the weight of the thickly layered bedding off his legs and swinging his feet towards the floor. The man was gathering an armful of clothes from a long wardrobe set into the far wall. He marched across the room, dumped them on the end of the bed and picked up the glass.
“Your drink, Master Jerald.”
“What is it? It stinks.”
“For your health and well-being, young sir. You’ve been through quite an illness and the quack - begging your pardon - the pharmacist says it’ll rebuild your strength.”
He drank it down, aware of the man watching him closely. It tasted of earth, with a trace of honey, and left grit on his tongue. He winced and the man chuckled.
“Time to get into some clothes,” he said. He seemed old, at least in his forties, and wore a drab, grey uniform with a white sash threaded with red. A broad black belt held a hefty wooden and leather object. A holster.
I can remember things but not people, he thought.
“You’ve got a gun. Why?”
“I’m here to protect you. You may be in danger from the same people who attacked you and your family. Can you stand up yet, sir? Easy now.”
Jerald - if that was really his name - stood up and swayed. The man took him by his elbow and Jerald resisted the temptation to shrug him off. So something had happened to his parents and he’d been injured - had his parents been hurt too? Or even killed?
“Attacked us? Who attacked us?”
“Rebels, we reckon. Ne’er-do-wells and Shapers. Scum from the Black Mountains or worse.”
Jerald began to fumble at the neck of his nightshirt and the man helped him draw it over my head. He handed Jerald stiff black clothes frogged with braid. Jerald’s legs wobbled and he almost lost his balance pulling on the black trousers. The man steadied him.
“So are you a soldier?”
The man chuckled.
“I’m just a servant, sir, name of Sardis. There are quite a few of us - you’ll see us hanging about here when you need us. You’re quite an important young man. Now, the finishing touch.” Sardis handed him a red sash threaded with purple. Jerald tried to drape it over one shoulder and somehow got it tangled up. The man gently helped him sort it out.
“Thank you,” Jerald said.
“We live to serve.”
Jeald looked at him but there was no trace of sarcasm on the weathered face. Was he someone Jerald knew? He tried to recall the faces of the men he had remembered tormenting him at the moment he had woken up but they were already fading. Sardis certainly acted like someone who knew him well, who treated him with some deference.
“My sash is different from yours.”
“Because you’re the Regent’s son, sir. Like I said, an important young man.”
He touched the purple threads. The Regent’s son. He liked the idea of that.
“I’m feeling much better now. If my parents are here, I think I should see them,” Jerald said.
Sardis coughed and looked at the floor.
“I’m sorry, sir. That’s probably all the answers as is good for you, begging your pardon. Keep him calm, that’s what the pharmacist said. Maybe your tutor will explain more.”
Jerald wanted to argue but a wave of nausea left his head spinning and he had to sit back down on the edge of the bed. He tried to think of the attack and, again, a dark, blank space reached out for him. He opened his eyes and touched the bandage. That and the ache in his head was evidence that something had happened to him. For the moment, he needed to do what he was told until he knew who his enemies were, until the memories that seemed to be missing began to return. But what if they didn’t? He thrust the thought away and sat down to pull on the socks and boots Sardis had set out by the bed. The servant was over by the windows, opening one wide and breathing in theatrically.
“Lovely day, Master Jerald. You should see if you can get outside for a bit. Do you a world of good.”
Jerald walked carefully over to the main window and looked over Sardis’ shoulder. Beneath them, a wide lawn covered in snow and dotted with frosted shrubs sloped down towards a high stone wall. Beyond the wall, woodlands. Beyond the woodlands, white fields. Mist fringed the trees and the distant meadows, and a steam tractor clanked noisily towards a gate in a wall. The air was freezing and he shivered. His stomach rumbled.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
Sardis led him out of his room and along a wide, dusty corridor lined with sombre paintings and door after oak-paneled door. Opposite the doors, deep set windows letting in shafts of pale light alternated with dusty alcoves edged with dirty white paint. Draughts rattled the the old, loose window frames and he was soon grateful for the thick cloth of the uniform. They took a narrow, winding staircase down to a broad landing. It was hung with a huge tapestry of a city tumbling into an abyss as mountains crumbled in flames and waters thundered in. The population were no more than tiny motes of two or three stitches - all the weaver’s craft had gone into the flames and clouds of ashes. Jerald stopped in front of it. It seemed significant to him but he couldn’t place why.
“Is this a story?” he asked. Sardis shook his head.
“It’s the end of Old Galla,” he said. “You’ll remember, by and by. When the old Shapers tried to break the world apart and do for us. Some of our cities fell, Angle broke off from the mainland and the sky was black for a decade but the Society held things together. Well, the Society and the Empire. One and the same, really.”