Liam pounded up the stairs with thunder in his feet. The exuberant force that his bulk took with each step nearly shook the foundation of the Inn. He still felt the dull insistent pain of the wounds he had endured in The Cage earlier but it was much less noticeable after his meeting with the local apothecary. As soon as Liam had his battle souvenirs mended he all but threw the remaining coin in the champion’s purse at the man who had treated him. The healer that Liam had patronized was not the closest to the Blackcould underworld area but he was by far the most experienced and revered medical men that he could afford. Liam would spare no conceivable expense for his dearest friend, Amurai.
Liam glanced back over one of his mammoth shoulders to make sure that the healer was still following him. On the way from the apothecaries’ shop Liam had nearly lost the man twice with how fast he was traveling thru the swirling paths of Blackcloud’s cityscape. It was the fasted that Liam had moved in many years. The brown robed healer was huffing and puffing as he made his way up the stairs behind the warrior from Rayward.
“Come on then. There is no time to dawdle,” Liam barked at the healer.
“You paid for my services as a man of medicine. Sprinting thru the city is not something that I normally do for my patients,” grumbled the man as he wiped a few drops of sweat from his brow.
“Just do what you have been paid for and spare me the excuses,” Liam groaned as he lumbered down the cramped hall to the door of his room.
“You should also know that I don’t normally treat her kind,” said the smaller man.
Liam shot an angry stare back at the healer. The displeasure in the Rayward man’s eyes was clear to see and it instantly put the Blackcloud man in a more subservient state. The healer was done voicing his objections and silently followed the former Master of Arms into his room. As Liam entered the cramped quarters his usual dour expression was removed from his face and replaced with the rare sight of a smile. Liam saw, her and his spirit was instantly warmed.
“Here I am, old girl. I told you I wouldn’t leave you for long,” Liam said with a heartbreaking gentleness in his words that juxtaposed the masterful killer who he was. He moved across the room with tender steps and sat in the chair next to the nest of blankets he had assembled for Amurai.
The old hound did not open her eyes when the men entered the room. She scarcely had the energy to even lift her head in acknowledgement of her master’s return. She panted and sighed with labored breath. The brown and black dog sniffed Liam’s hand as he reached down to pet her. Amurai licked the hand of her caregiver and let out a small pitiful bark that gave Liam wings and shattered his spirit at the same moment. The monstrously big Rayward man began to pet his dog along her aged weary back while she punctuated each breath with a small whimper of pain.
“I’ve brought a friend. He will have you feeling better. Then I you and I will have ourselves a fine dinner,” Liam said with a voice that was scarcely more than a whisper to the hurting animal at his feet. Liam cut his eyes back to the healer who was standing in the doorway. “So get to it,” Liam addressed the healer in a stern tone that befit his usual manner.
The apothecary let out a deep breath and willed himself not to say anything harsh under his breath. It was not easy for the man to hold his tongue as he ever so wanted to take a verbal jab at his current employer. The healer pulled down the hood of his brown robe and placed his medical satchel on a wobbly table nearby. He spent a few moments rooting thru the contents of his bag and then withdrew several vials of various colored liquid and a few odd looking instruments. Liam knew some of the tools from his own experiences under the care of a healer, post battle, but he could only guess as to the function of most of the objects.
“Very well let’s have a look at you,” said the healer as he knelt down next to Amurai with a chorded device that was used for listening to breathing. The man placed the long flat metallic end of the tool against the hound’s chest and placed the other rounded end of the device into his right ear. The dog continued to breathe shallowly as the man thoughtfully diagnosed the animal. He moved the flat end of his device to a different place on the dog’s core with each exhale. All the while Liam sat with a clear expression of anticipation carved into his aged and battle worn face. The apothecary grunted and snorted during the examination as he made mental notes and postulations.
“Come on then tell me what you have discovered,” Liam said with a flurry of excitement that he was no longer able to contain. The large man shot out of his chair and the sudden movement conjured a small reflexive “yip” from the man who was treating the ailing canine.
“I’ve only just started my diagnosis. Give me some proper time and don’t rush me,” chirped the healer to the looming Rayward giant. The brown cloaked apothecary stowed the listening tool and took up a hollow glass needle with a plunger on one end. “I need to take a small sample of her blood. I will only be a little prick and she should not feel a thing,” assured the man. Liam said nothing in response but nodded his head in an approval. The healer returned his focus to the dog laying on the floor. “All right there, just a pinch,” spoke the healer calmingly as he drew a sample of Amurai’s blood into the reservoir of the glass needle.
Liam waited with a taught jaw and clenched fists as the healer busied himself with his potions and tonics. The Rayward man felt Amurai nuzzling his boot with her snout. His apprehension remained but he returned to petting the loyal hound and whispering sweet comforting sentiments to her. “You are a strong old girl. Strong like me. We are ever the pair aren’t we? Nothing has ever stopped us and nothing ever will,” murmured Liam. He words were spoken to the sickly dog but they served to reassure himself more than her. Liam glanced up to see that the apothecary had stopped his tinkering and work with the items from his satchel. “Well…” Liam said to the healer with a hopeful uplifting lilt in his voice.
The man in the brown robe looked at Liam with a critical eye and spoke quietly. “I can tell you with almost absolute certainty that what afflicts her is not the rain sickness that has stricken many of the animals in the realm,” he said as he began to return his assorted items to his travel satchel.
“That is good isn’t it? You can heal her then, right?” Liam said. He was unable to remove the sinking doubt that he felt from resonating in his words.
The only sound that filled the dirty little room for several moments was Amurai fighting a losing battle for each breath. The healer looked down at the poorly dog and shook his head with regret before he spoke next. “How old is she?” asked the healer with a mournful sound.
“Thirteen…no, fourteen years old,” responded Liam.
The apothecary took his time preparing his best bedside manner before next speaking. “It is as I thought. Amurai here is long lived. That is the source of her ailment. I am sorry to say that there is no medicine or magic that I possess to treat what afflicts her. It is just her time,” said the brown robed man with as gentle a voice as he could.
“No…no…she still has time. She is just ill,” Liam said defiantly. He mustered what dignitary he could so that his nest words did not sound like a desperate plea. Liam knew what the other man said was true but he just did not wish to accept it. “I know this sort of game. How much more will it cost me for you to save her,” said the Rayward man with a wavering voice.
The apothecary knew of the sort of healers that Liam referred to. They were disgusting men who preyed upon the sick and desperate. That sort only cured the ill after taking every last coin from their patient’s pockets. “I do not deceive men like that. When I say there is nothing to be done for her that is fact. Any worthwhile medical man will tell you the same. It is just nature at work here,” The healer said in defense of the blow he felt to his pride. “I am not of the way but I do have the book of The Inferno with me. If you would find comfort in its text, I could…” continued the healer but he stopped his words when he say Liam glaring at him with ruthless distain.
“Get out,” Liam said with ice in his voice.
It did not take the man in brown more than a pair of heartbeats and he had snatched up his satchel and bolted out of the room. The Rayward man slammed the door behind the healer with enough force to pop several of the bolts in the hinges. Liam turned back and looked at Amurai. He felt his heart bleeding in his chest. Liam knew that that it was time to say goodbye to his oldest remaining friend. He did not wish it was so but time was one enemy that he had never been able to defeat.
“It’s all right, girl. It’s all right,” Liam said to Amurai with grief, as he pet the dying animal along her side. Liam had walked many battle fields, killed hundreds of enemies and buried countless friends over the years. He had done all of this and more with a heart of solid stone. Now he felt the burden of his years of resolve weigh on him with full measure. It was when Amurai opened her cloudy greyed eyes and met Liam’s that the former Rayward Master of Arms lost the last of his resolve. “Don’t’ leave me, girl. I don’t want to be alone. You are all I’ve got now. Please don’t leave me,” Liam wept with heaves of his massive shoulders. Liam stayed at Amurai’s side for hours shedding tears freely and comforting his dearest companion.
For hours still after Amurai had stopped breathing and her hear stopped beating, Liam still held her close in his muscular arms. Liam’s tears had dried with the breaking of the morning. When he had himself better composed Liam wrapped Amurai’s body in a blanket, gathered his few possessions and left the miserable bedroom. The Rayward man walked until the sun was at its zenith and he could no longer see the smog and filth of Blackcloud. Where the travelers path came to its first fork, he found a picturesque bluff that overlooked a sweeping green field. He felt a sense of peace standing there, feeling the breeze on his face and being free of the pungent aroma of the city. He took his time to bury Amurai. He did not mark the grave but he knew that he would always remember how to find it.
When the body of his loyal hound was covered in earth Liam said one last silent farewell to his friend. The massive Rayward man turned back and made his way towards Blackcloud once more. He would be in the city by nightfall. He meant to find the closest tavern and douse the grief he felt in spirits. At the bottom of a tankard of hard cider Liam would reunite with the last source of comfort that he had in this world.