In a small alcove, almost hidden from sight behind a collapsed staircase, lay a crumpled heap of charred clothing. Smoke and ash floated up from it and a distinctive odor—sulfur, charcoal, tanning leather, burning meat, a smell so thick it was almost a taste—permeated the dry, crackling air. Rivens, an old man ten minutes ago but an ancient one now, stood over the heap with an empty bucket, cursing the minutes it had taken to gather enough life-giving water. It was a sin, a horror, a shock and shame that such a thing should be. And yet it was.
His first urge was to stay, but he knew that there were others who needed to know. He walked back the way he had come, his feet dragging as if made of lead, unconsciously wiping his nose on his sleeve as if to get rid of that smell. Granton had calmed down a bit by this time, it was relaxing, though still on edge. There would be no sleep tonight for many but thank God there was no more danger of the entire castle crumbling in flames. The Western Tower was gone—the stone walls and a staircase were all that remained. Destruction had seethed into the Great Hall, but had not gotten far past the industrious cottagers.
In quiet tones Rivens asked information of those he passed and went on to the courtyard where he finally reached his goal—Lord Geoffrey and Lady Mallkyn sitting on two crates looking dazed and bewildered. The humbled gardener gave them a bow and cleared his throat. “Errr, milord there is something I think you must see.” In response to Geoffrey’s glazed silence, “It’s important, your lordship.”
“If you have business with my husband you have business with me.” Mallkyn stood, regal and imposing despite her sooty gown.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, milady, but ‘tis no sight for a woman.”, The earl followed his wife’s example and Rivens led them both back into the castle.
The heap of clothing had not been moved but seemed smaller and more pitiful than ever. At first the lord and lady looked at it blankly, turning to Rivens as if to say, “What on earth did you bring us here for?” The gardener stooped and picked something up from the rubble. A beautifully decorated dagger sheath. Mallkyn began to scream—the kind of scream that makes ice under your skin and pierces your ears. The faintest moan was heard from the heap of clothing. Geoffrey fell against a charred wall for support. Mallkyn continued to scream.
“No! No, no, no, no, no….”
It was more than a heap of clothing after all. There was a face in there, a face with red flesh that had melted, dripped, twisted and deformed. It stared straight ahead, but all one could see of eyes were the whites, sheathed in a greasy film. It was a travesty of a face.
Mallkyn’s own eyes were shut tight, but as if that were not enough to block out the sight she was digging her fingernails into her eyelids, her screams coming through the palms of her hands. Rivens was standing by the body, rigid, like a guard on duty. When the screams finally died away and were replaced by violent sobbing he dared to speak, “The boy is not dead, milord. He needs a doctor though, as soon as can be. If he lives it’ll only be by a miracle.”
Geoffrey thrust a shaking hand into the inner pocket of his velvet robe and brought out a bulging bag. He tossed it to Rivens, who caught it up and knew the contents immediately. “There, that is enough gold to get him the best care you can. And take him away. I can’t have that creature here in this castle.” Mallkyn let out a strangled wail.
Rivens, noble and erect, stepped closer to the body. “I will do as ye wish, milord. I will do all I can for Lord Auvray, and serve him with my life.”
Geoffrey gave a frantic nod and laid a hand on his wife’s arm. “Come, dear, let’s go to your solar and see—” Mallkyn did not stay to hear the rest but flew back down the passage.