by VJ Miller, Sr.
When we left off last time, Ronal defeated the Agga-Seer and made off with Ur Soola and reclaimed his belongings, but all is not right with him. And what of Barney. Can he survive?
If you missed Part one
The respirator squeaks and hisses, laboring to support what is left of Barney’s life. Tubes run into and out of him carrying various fluids. Doctors and nurses work frantically to keep the man alive. His heart rate flatlines, paddles are reached for and he is shocked twice to get his heart beating again.
Jenny, sleepless, distraught eyes wet, stands at the door to the ICU staring through the window
A young nurse standing beside her seeks to give her words of comfort
“We’re giving him the best care there is. There’s nothing you can do here. Why don’t you go home and get some rest.”
“I can’t leave him. He’s all I have.”
“The doctors are doing everything possible.”
“But… Is he… is he going to die?”
The young nurse takes a long slow deep breath. “If anyone can pull him through, those people can.”
Jenny nods and turns from the window. “What am I going to do now?”
“You’re going to go home and get some sleep before you end up a patient here,” said the young nurse as she put her arm around Jenny. “I’ll see about getting you something to help you sleep.”
“O-okay. Whatever you think best.”
They walk slowly away along the dimly lit corridor.
Keys rattle in the lock before Jenny let’s herself slowly into her apartment and turns on the lamp. She lets her coat and purse drop on the arm of the sofa then goes to the kitchen. She takes a small envelope from the pocket of her dress, dumps two pills into her hand while getting a glass of water. Hesitant, then quickly swallows the pills. She drops the glass incautiously into the sink then stands crying head in hands. A deep breath then she walks erratically to the bedroom.
She picks up the framed picture of Barney on her dresser.
“It’s not fair. How can you leave me… I’ve given you the best years of my life.” Her demeaner takes a bad turn. “Damn you and your stupid adventure books. You love them more than me.”
She flings Barney’s picture across the room but is too weak to throw it more than a few feet. She gasps and crawls on all fours to retrieve the picture. Holding it to her chest she drags herself up on the bed, rolls over on the bed still clutching the picture to her chest.
She whispers, “Don’t die on me, don’t die on me, don’t die on me.” Her voice trails off while she falls into a fitful sleep.
Early morning sunlight creeps into the room where Barney lies deathly still. Several IVs drip slowly into his veins while a doctor and nurse stand by his side.
“Is he going to make it?” says the nurse.
“It could’ve gone either way for a while but these new drugs seem to be having a positive effect.”
“He’s so frail, I’d have bet against his making it.”
“He’s not out of the woods yet. For now, he’s stable. The next 24 hours will let us know what to tell his family.”
The nurse adjusts the drip on the IV, “That woman, Jenny seems to be all the family he has.”
“If Mr. Fitzer can muster up the will to live, we may have good news for her.”
It’s dawn at a makeshift desert camp. The sandstorm this past night had caused them to set up before they had gone any father. It was too difficult to know where they were.
Ronal and Ur Soola have just finished mating. She is pulling on her clothes He is looking more like he lost the battle instead of being its victor. The scratch on his chest has become a swollen, fiery red trail across his chest.
“When you’ve dressed, woman make me something to eat.”
“Only if you find some wood for the fire.”
Ronal shakes his head. “You are a cruel taskmaster.”
“And you are a poor slave.”
Ronal pulls himself up, takes a half step, then falls back against the wagon, dropping slowly to his knees then crashes down onto his face.
“Ronal!” She rushes to him dropping to her knees then rolling him over on his back.
He is still awake but delirious. “I’m fine. Leave me be woman.”
“You are NOT fine. Your wound has become much worse. We should not have stopped.”
Ronal tries to push her aside but is now so weak he passes out and slumps to one side. Using all her strength it is all she can do to get him to the back of the wagon. Half lifting half dragging it is all she can do to get him onto the back of the wagon. Climbing to the front she cracks the whip, spurring the horse on toward the rising sun.
A half hour later they are approaching the hillside village of Xan. The village is composed of huts made from sticks, straw and animal hides. Various fires dot the hillside and the desert floor. Women and children heat water from a well for cooking or doing laundry. The sun is climbing and is searing the land again.
Ur Soola spurs the horses through the village, scattering women and children while she passes then pulls up at the largest hut. An Elder sits while poking his fire with a walking stick.
“Ancient one, Do you have a medicine man in the village?” says Ur Soola.
The Elder rises and approaches the wagon. “The Demi Seer is away searching for fresh herbs and will return soon. Are you ill?”
It’s is my master hear in the wagon. He has suffered a deep wound on his chest.”
The Elder hastens to the rear of the wagon followed close behind by Ur Soola. A few nearby curious villagers huddle near the wagon. The Elder checks over Ronal quickly.
“This is quite serious. How did it happen?”
In his duel with the Agga Seer.”
The onlookers murmur loudly, the Elder retracts abruptly. His voice is grim.
“I’m sorry. You cannot stay here.”
“By all that is holy. WHY?”
The elder pulls her aside while the growing crowd presses into the wagon to get a glimpse of Ronal, all the while chattering to one another.
“Bad news travels quickly. We heard of the battle hours before you arrived.”
“Then you know the Agga Seer is dead.”
Dead he may be, but there are those who will want to avenge his death on your champion and any who help him. The people here in Xan are not warriors.
“Are you such cowards you will not help the man who has freed you from the tyrant.
“Can you protect us when the Palace Guard seek retribution? No. You must leave us immediately.”
The Elder symbolically wipes his hands of the affair while turning his back on Ur Soola. Then a middle-aged woman and others step in front of the Elder.
“Elder, we can NOT turn our backs on this man, this warrior. Why cannot we hide them in the caves in the hills?’
“NO. My decision is final. Be off with you all I have decided.”
The growing crowd grows louder in protest. They will have none of this.
“Silence,” demands the Elder. The crowd quiets quickly, but there is much grumbling among the villagers. I cannot put the welfare of any one man above the entire village.”
The older village woman turns to face Ur Soola. “The Elder is right. We cannot take you and your champion into any one of our homes, but we will not turn you away. The caves will hide you from any who seek your death.”
The Elder is adamant. “So, this is how you respect my authority?”
The villagers implore the elder en masse to relent.
“We must do this,” says the old woman. “Or the entire village will know lasting shame.” The villagers nod on agreement; they are as one in this.
The Elder scoffs and walks away a few paces while he ponders and then returns. He is doubtful. “Very well. If this is what you all wish.” The villagers nod and murmur in agreement.
“But heed my warning that no good shall come from this… Now, lead them to the caves. One of you hurry quickly to fetch the Demi Seer.”
Ur Soola and the wagon with Ronal who is barely still alive are led to a cave where the village women take over to carry him and placed on a bed of hastily arranged furs. “You will be safe here for now, says the old woman.
“You are most generous,” says Ur Soola. “And I thank you for myself and my master.”
“It is the least we can do for such a warrior,” says the old woman who then turns to a few men. Take their things from the wagon and bring them into the cave. The rest of you bring wood for a fire and hide their wagon from prying eyes.
Torches are lit and placed around the cave. Water is drawn from the well and brought in.
“You will be safe here,” said the old woman.
“We took that wagon from the Citadel and it might be recognized.” Said Ur Soola.
“Be not concerned. It will be hidden well.”
The woman and the rest of the villagers leave the cave to their fires as if nothing is untoward/
Meanwhile, back at the citadel that has been returned to some sort of order notwithstanding. The Captain of the Guard is astride his horse and is giving orders to his mounted troops.
“Now that we have seen to what remains of the Agga Seer it is our duty to keep the peace from looters who would take advantage.”
“What of the mangy cur who slew the Monarch?” said one of the troopers.
He is surely dead by now, and the woman, Ur Soola cannot hide from us for long.”
“What are your orders, Captain?” said another.
“The sandstorm last night has obliterated and tracks. We will split up into four groups and search in each direction, “said the Captain. “You have your assignments now move out.”
The troop of guardsmen move out of the Citadels walls at a fast gallop and peel off in the four directions.
Night has fallen at the cave dwelling hideout. Torches light up the bare walls, a cook fire burns slowly in the middle. To one side, on a bed of furs, Ronal lays unconscious and un-responding. Ur=Soola paces nervously back and forth from Ronal to the cave entrance.
“Where is that medicine man? He was supposed to be here hours ago.”
She takes a cloth soaked in the cool water and wipes the brow of the deathly still, Ronal who is barely breathing; the gash on his chest an ugly red color, swollen and oozing. Ur Soola gets up from the edge of the bed abruptly.
“It may be unwise to go out into the night, but I cannot wait any longer.”
She takes the scabbard with Ronal’s sword, slings it over her shoulder and proceeds to head out. “Hang on, Ronal, I will return as soon as possible.”
The amulet, still on Ronal’s chest glows softly then stops.
When Ur Soola gets to the cave entrance, she is halted by the Demi Seer coming in. A wizened old man of many years, those years etched on his face. He is frail looking but it’s deceiving; he is stronger and more able than he appears. His long hair and long beard are grey and streaked with white.
“Were you not warned it is unwise to venture out at night,” said the Demi Seer.
“I must find the Demi Seer old man so step aside.”
“It seems I have found you. Now where is the warrior who slew the Agga Seer?”
“My apologies, but you were supposed to be here before the sun had set.”
“Your champion is not the only one who needs my help. Now where is he?”
“This way.” She leads the old physician back into the cave where Ronal is barely hanging on. His breathing is now only a rasp.
The Demi Seer sits down by Ronal and begins his examination checking his eyes and heart and the horrid gash on his chest. “The fever of death rages within your champion. I fear I may be too late. He applies a poultice to the oozing chest wound.
“Will he live.”
The Demi Seer is pouring a greenish- yellow potion from an earthen bottle into Ronal’s mouth. I do not know. “The Agga Seer is not an honorable Monarch. He is known to dip his blades in deadly poisons that inflict a slow, agonizing death. Better he should have been run through and met a swift end.”
“Thanks to Ronal, the Agga Seer will butcher men no more.”
“I hope that is true,”
She crouches down to look directly into the Demi Seer’s face. ‘How could he be anything else. I saw the bastard die from a disemboweling.”
The Demi Seer has been rubbing an herb paste on Ronal’s forehead and face.
“He has dabbled in the Dark Magics and the ways of herbs and roots. He may return reborn if you have not removed his head and thrown it into the sea.”
She scoffs. “Old wives’ tales’ old man.”
“Who is to say what can and cannot be done by dark magic?”
“I have just —”
“Enough woman, leave us while I attend to this man.” Then he begins to chant, “Enna wanna noblic chun…”
The Demi Seer lays his hand on Ronal’s forehead. Ur Soola backs away slowly, eyes wide and in turmoil darting about while the Demi Seer begins to chant almost inaudibly. She waits by the cave entrance for a breath of night air, stares up at the starry heavens then leans back against the hillside. Eyes wet she is frustrated and vents that frustration on the hillside with her fists.
It is another cloudy day this afternoon as Jenny sits by Barney’s bed where he lies deathly still. She holds his hand while laying her head on the mattress, sighing.
It happened so abruptly that Jenny stood erect and nearly stumbled back into the chair. Still unconscious, Barney begins to softly mumble, “Enna wanna noblic chun,” repeatedly over and over.
Jenny is filled with shock and alarm. She goes to Barney’s side placing her hands around his prone body. “Barney. What is it?” She rings for the nurse then rushes out to the corridor to see what’s keeping her. She runs to get the duty nurse who intercepts her halfway.
She grabs Jenny by the arms to steady her. “What is it?”
“It’s Barney. He’s awake and talking,” comes out breathless.
They hurry back to his room where the nurse checks on Barney who is still mumbling and shakes her head slowly.
“NO, honey. He’s not awake>”
“But he’s talking.”
“No. He’s in a delirium. It’s not uncommon for fever patients to hallucinate.”
Jenny slumps back into the chair. “But he is getting better.”
“Only marginally. But at least he isn’t getting any worse.”
Back at the cave dwelling two days have gone by and drifted back into night. Ronal tosses fitfully while Ur Soola looks on. The Demi Seer returns to the cave and is beset by and anxious Ur Soola.
“Thank the deity that you are here,” she said
“Has he worsened?”
“No, but he gets no better. Look at him. He thrashes about but does not waken.”
The Demi Seer sits by Ronal and lays hand on the warrior’s brow. Ronal stops thrashing while Ur Soola paces. For several heartbeats the Demi Seer remained in a trance-like condition doing things that Ur Soola could not fathom. Soon, he came away with a look of despair on his face.
“Well, old man?”
“Ronal is no longer here.”
“Are you blind or mad, old man? He is right there before you.”
The Demi Seer slowly shakes his head while he lays a hand on her shoulder.
“I have saved his core but that which is Ronal no longer exists. His mind is wiped clean.
She pulls back, turns, bites her thumbnail then turns back to the old man.
“You are mad! How can a body live and yet not live?”
“The workings of the mind and body are yet a mystery. And there is something mystic about the amulet he wears. I cannot fathom what, but one cannot deny what is, is what is.”
Pushing the old man aside she sits by her champion, not allowing herself to believe. She strokes his brow and speaks to him softly not only to comfort him but herself.
“You must prepare for what is to be,” said the Demi Seer.
“I will not while he lives.”
“Which may not be for long.”
There is welcome news this day at the hospital. Barney has rallied somehow. He continues to grow stronger and the support machines have been removed. Only the IVs remain giving him nourishment.
Jenny has returned with renewed vigor, stroking his brow and talking softly to him. “Once you’ve regained your strength, we’ll make plans for our future together.
Barney’s eyes flutter and open blankly. He gazes with cloudy eyes at the gaunt, stringy haired woman before him, trying to comprehend His vision blurs then fades, then the hazy figure before him begins to coalesce…
…to form itself into a moist eyed, raven-haired beauty speaking with a strange accent.
“Ronal. I I knew you would return to me despite that old man’s ravings,” said Ur Soola.
The smell of dung, of salty musky air assails his nostrils. Ronal is puzzled or is it someone else.
“Ronal. You have returned to me.”
“Ronal? My name is Barney,” comes out in Barney’s accent. Again, he is confused by his usually squeaky voice now a rich, full baritone. Ur Soola recoils in astonishment and confusion.
“What is a Barr nee my champion”
He tries to get up. “Where the Hell am I?”
She restrains her champion lest he accidently harms himself. “You talk strangely my champion. Please wait here. I must fetch the Demi Seer to see this strange happening.”
She hurries out as Barney, now Ronal nods but only because he is so disoriented. Alone, he tries to fathom this incredible hallucination. He holds up his arms and is dumfounded at their huge size. He runs his giant hands through his thick mane and down his robust chest. He breathes in deeply of the musky air and feels his pulse pound in his temple. His first attempt to stand upright almost causes him to fall back on the bed. He takes his first cautious steps with almost cat-like grace while he flexed muscle and stretched.
“This dream is fantastic — It is a dream, isn’t it?” In a highly polished bronze shield he sees the powerful Adonis he has become and is taken aback and nearly stumbles. “Good Lord. Is that me?” He examines himself closely in the mirrored bronze. “Oh, wow,” comes out softly.
Disoriented and confused his head begins to swim and he is about to stumble just when Ur Soola hurries in with the Demi Seer. She and the Demi Seer lead him back to the bed.
“Ronal. You should have stayed where I told you,” she said.
“This is beyond all reason, woman. I would have sworn this could not be.”
“He lives in spite of you, old man.”
“So, it seems.”
“Wait.” says Ronal. “Who the hell are you people? And who is this, Ronal you keep calling me and where the hell am I?”
“See,” says Ur Soola. “He speaks in a peculiar tongue as I told you.”
“Leave us, woman,” said the Demi Seer. “I would examine this man more closely.”
The Demi Seer attempts to lays a hand on Ronal’s forehead but is stopped by his potent hand grabbing the Demi Seer’s forearm.
“Stop!” says Ronal. “What are you doing”
“Have no fear, my son. I mean you no harm and only wish to examine you.”
“Well… okay but no funny stuff.”
The Demi Seer is patronizing. “No funny stuff as you wish.”
Barney/Ronal felt a pinch is his mind when the Demi Seer laid hand to his brow. The old man gazed deep into his patient’s eyes as if searching for what cannot be found.
“You are not, Ronal.”
“That’s what I been tryin’ to tell ya.”
The Demi Seer is stern. “Speak not stranger but listen to what I have to say. The spirit of Ronal who used to house this core has gone on to the misty lands of forever. How you come to possess him I do not know.” Ronal attempts to speak but is waved off by the Demy Seer.” But I have seen you are a good man else I would have driven you out… Now you must rest. We will speak on the morrow.”
Obeying meekly Barney/Ronal lays back on the furs and drifts off into a deep sleep.
Summoned, Ur Soola returns to the Demi Seer.
“He has been nearer to death than was thought possible and fought to return,” say the Demi Seer
“But he speaks so strangely.”
“He is weak from his travel and speaks of things we may not see in this life. Soon he will regain his strength. He just needs time. I will return on the morrow. See that he is not disturbed.”
“As you wish, old man. But if I find you have done this to him, I will cut out your filthy heart.”
Alcohol and disinfectant permeate Barney’s nostrils. The tone of the pager assails his ears. Stiff, bleached sheets meet his touch. His mouth tastes of bile. Pristine white tiles confront his fluttering eyes. He raises an arm high up to his face, the IV pinches his flesh.
“Christ, it was all a dream,” says Barney. “But it was so real…so… wonderful.”
The nurse is shining her penlight in Barney’s eyes. “Mr. Fitzer. Do you know where you are, Sir?” Barney nods. “You’ve been here for over a week and were quite close to death. You’ve been mumbling for hours.”
“Oh? What did I say?”
“Mostly gibberish, but one thing was quite clear. You repeated it several times.”
“What… Was it?”
“None of us could figure it out, what an Err sula was.”
Barney lays back with a wry grin on his face while he recalls the voluptuous young creature he imagined. The nurse notices his expression. “What?”
“Oh it… it’s nothing. Just some more vibrant than usual dreams I guess.”
“Must have been some dream?”
Jenny thought she heard Barney’s voice and hurries to the open door, a vase of flowers in her hand. “Barney! You’re awake. Oh, thank God.” Elated to see Barney finally awake she puts down the flowers, and goes to Barney to give him a big hug.
“What the heck happened?”
“Don’t you know?”
“You got sick at the party.”
“That I remember.”
“They found you unconscious at your house after you called for help.”
Barney searches his memory. “It’s all a blank. Do you know what made me sick?”
She takes off her winter coat and tosses it on the back of a chair.
“Food poisoning as far as they can tell, but they never saw it so severe in anyone. They did pump your stomach but the lab never found anything.”
Barney runs his hand through his hair and lets out a deep breath. “I’m never gonna eat shrimp again.”
Speaking of eat,” said the nurse. “It’ll be dinner time soon. Would you like to try something?”
“I don’t know,” he said, rubbing his stomach. “Maybe not.”
“You should try, sweetie,” said Jenny.
“Good,” said the nurse. “I’ll order you something light.”
While the nurse leaves the room, Jenny sits back on the edge of the bed. She reaches for a tissue on the stand next to the bed and dabs at her moist eyes.”
“Sorry, Barney. I thought I’d lost you. I wish the hell I had never talked you into going to that party.”
“Me too, but there’s no sense crying over spilled milk.”
“You have no idea how guilty I’ve felt ever since…”
He takes her hand in his. “Let it go, Jenny. It’s over and done with… And I don’t blame you for this.”
She throws herself on him and kisses him profusely. She retracts quickly when the nurse comes in with Barney’s dinner.
“Here we go.” The nurse sets the tray on his table then presses the button that raises the bed. “I managed to get you some chicken soup and some saltines and some nice lime Jell-O for dessert>”
After the nurse has gone about her duties Barney looks down at the tray, the food is unappetizing.
“Now don’t turn your nose up,” said Jenny. She takes the bowl and spoon in her hand and begins to feed Barney. “Here,” placing the spoon in his mouth. “There, that’s not so bad, is it?”
He shows his distaste for it. “I don’t know which is worse, hospital food or airline food.”
She smiles while she continues to fee him.
All too soon the P.A. announces that visiting hours are over. Jenny had stayed until long after dark. “So Soon?”
“I hate to see you go but I am getting a little sleepy.”
She puts on her coat and bends to give him a kiss. “I’ll see you tomorrow… I’m so glad you’re gonna get well.” She stands after giving him a last hug, then hands him the controls for lowering the bed.
“Be careful out there.”
“I will. Bye.”
She gives Barney a light kiss. Pausing at the door for one final look, blows him a kiss and is gone.
Barney looks at the vase of flowers next to the bed, touches the petals, yawns largely then lays back to drift off to sleep.
Barney blinks his eyes and is wide awake again but this time back in the barbarian reality.
Ronal’s eyes dart about trying to fathom where he is.
Ur Soola has her back to him while she is preparing food for breakfast.
Ronal speaks softly to no one. “I’m dreaming again…but why does it feel so real?”
He inhales in short sniffs then deep breaths when the cooking aromas reach his brain. He sits up slowly and stretches, drinking in the luscious woman making the meal.
Checking in to see how Ronal is faring, the Demi Seer enters the cave and is greeted by Ur Soola.
“Good morning, old man.”
Both notice that Ronal is awake and sitting up.
“Well, my son, I see you are once more awake and feeling much better I presume.”
The Demi Seer turns to Ur Soola. “Go to my horse and fetch my medical bag where I left it.”
She is indignant, hands-on hips. “Are you so old now you can’t remember to bring in your bones and rattles?”
With a disdainful look the Demi Seer waves her off. She sneers then whirls about gracefully and stops out of the cave.
“I left my bag as a ruse to send her away while I warn you.”
“Do not at any time tell anyone who you think you are. As far as they are concerned You are Ronal, their champion. Wisdom decrees you do not say anything to make them think else.”
Nodding. “This dream is a pip.”
The Demi Seer is scornful then grabs and twist hard Ronal’s ear. “Tis no dream.”
“See. Is that not real.”
“Good. Now how do you feel?”
“Very well, thank you. But I’m hungry as hell.”
“That is a good sign. But I would suggest you speak little until I can educate you.”
Ronal is hushed by the old man when Ur Soola reappears with the medical bag.
“Here are your toys, old man.”
The Demi Seer pulls from his bag a potion for Ronal to drink. The taste is bitter and causes a scowl from Ronal who remains silent.
“I’ll leave you to your meal,” said the Demi Seer. He leaves, motioning Ur Soola to come with him and gives her a stern warning.
Ronal was given a large wooden bowl of fish, meat and cooked eggs and yogurt. After several minutes he is surprised at how much he has eaten then emits a long deep belch.
“Ronal,” says Ur Soola. “The Demi Seer says I should not question you too close at this time. But I am curious. What is a… Jen nee?”
Ronal gives her a perplexed look. “Do not worry, woman. It is nothing.”
Ronal stretches and yawns. Drowsy from a full stomach and the potion he was given, he lays back to take a nap. Ur Soola runs her hands through his dark mane. Gives him a peck on the forehead then picks up the empty bowl and leaves him to sleep.
Before he nods off completely, he whispers, “Crazy. A dreamworld curious about the real one.” He yawns broadly again then drifts off to sleep.
End of Part Two
Part Three in One Week
This story adapted from my anthology
If you have any thoughts on this series if you liked or didn’t please feel free to comment
©2023 VJ Miller, Sr. Fair use rights with attributes are implied