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Chapter 15

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Chapter XV

An Oath Sworn

 

A month had pasted since the raiders had returned to the mountain, and for most of that time both Martin and Jimmy had been confined to the medical bay under close observation, Codsworth having been discharged a few days after the kings visit. And Herfouck’s original estimate for the kid’s recovery of a week, having been blown out of the water.

Having spent the better part of a month inside the medical centre, Martin was now bored stiff of it. However, he was also terrified beyond his wits to leave the safety of its walls. He had been cleared to leave the medical centre a few days prior, the doctors having done their best to fix his hands. His arms were still bruised beyond belief, and there were a few remaining burn marks from his most recent encounters with the electric rods. He was at least now looking less like a dead kid walking now. But, despite his boredom and the assurances that it was safe out of the medical centre, self-preservation always kicked in and he insisted on remaining in this place of safety rather than risk going outside its walls.

 

It had been a few weeks after the last surgery by which time Martin had turned eight, a number he honestly thought he would never have lived to during the past few months in prison. Before venturing out first into the corridor outside the medical bay, which had gone alright until the walls had started to close in around him, forcing him to return back to the safety of the medical bay.

However, that had been the easy part, once he had managed to gain enough courage to leave the corridor, it had taken every fibre of his being to not retreat once in the entrance hall and more importantly its crowds, he had hidden behind Vernon when he first saw the onlookers, it didn’t help that the story of the raid was on the minds of most of the occupants of the mountain. With most regarding it as a miracle that it had even succeeded, which meant that both Dwarves and Mountain-Men initially stopped what they were doing to look over at him. They hadn’t, much to Vernon’s relief come over toward them, as he thought that that would have freaked out Martin to the extent that it would be difficult to get him to leave the medical bay for a decade, let alone within a few weeks.

But mercifully the crowds had dispersed to return to their original labours, allowing Vernon and Martin to return to the Wolfrick quarters unhindered. Once inside they found the room deserted with only Dave, Nick and Codsworth waiting for them, this was another part of Vernon’s plan, as to bring Martin back to the quarters when most of its inhabitants were away on jobs or hunting in order to prevent the kid from feeling crowded. As Vernon was about to speak a sharp rap on the door stopped him.

Turning around to face the solid wooden door, that he cursed for not being soundproof right at that instant. Vernon put a hand on Martin’s shaking shoulder as the door opened to reveal a stout dwarf standing in the doorway. The dwarf looked around the room before locking his eyes on Martin, who in response took a few paces back, hiding behind the tall figure of the old butler.

“Your presence has been requested in the throne room this evening lad.” The dwarf said brusquely at Martin who did not respond. “By the request of King Fierhand VI of Normanguard, King Under the Mountain, Lord of the Dwarves and Mountain-Men and Shield of the North.” The dwarf finished. Martin looked up at Vernon at this, who turned to the dwarf.

“What is the intention of this summons.” Vernon asked, although he was ultimately powerless to stop it, but if it was something simple, it may be possible for him to convince Martin to go willingly.

“It’s for the lad to swear the oath of allegiance.” The dwarf said looking at Martin. “If he wishes to remain here its required.” The dwarf finished. The look on his stony face broke no argument.

Vernon sighed to himself. ‘Damn these dwarfs and their traditions.’ Vernon thought to himself before responding as he doubted very much that the kid was going to speak to this stranger.

“He’ll be there.” Vernon said. Martin looked up in shock, but the dwarf, satisfied, nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him. The look on Martin’s face clearly showed his feelings about this, he had hoped to just have this one night to get used to being around people that he knew.

“Don’t worry little bro, it’s a simple thing to do.” Nick said looking down at his younger brother, trying to reassure him as he could see the look in Martin’s eyes.

“Really.” Martin asked looking up, Dave nodded before kneeling down to get onto Martin’s eye level. The sight of this was a real flashback moment to many years ago when Gerrard and Alan were boys, and remembering this Vernon smiled.

“It’s a few words that allow you to remain here little bro, that’s all.” Dave said a grin on his face. Martin nodded before looking up at Vernon and agreeing to go along.

 

That evening, Martin knelt in front of the large throne surrounded by what it seemed like to him, everyone who lived inside the mountain. There were in fact about two hundred individuals there both men and dwarves watching the scene unfold.

“I, Martin Wolfrick, in the presence of these witness’s, do solemnly swear, to follow the laws and customs of the mountain and the north, I swear to defend her in her time of need, I swear upon the honour of my ancestors and in the presence of the gods.” Martin said before looking up at Fierhand, who sat on his stone throne observing the scene from a plentiful height. The king smiled down at the boy, he got up and began walking down the stairs of the throne room to join him.

Martin who was still twitchy at people coming to close to him refrained himself from running away and simply resolved to stare wide eyed at the king as he reached him. It took a lot longer than Martin would have guessed for the king to reach him, but Fierhand looks down at him for a fraction of a second, before helping Martin back to his feet. Of all of the Wolfrick brothers, he was the only one not taller than the king.

“Well lad, you’re officially one of us now. Welcome to your new home, so long as you should want it. Be welcome in my mountain and at my table.” Fierhand said slapping Martin on the shoulders, the only member of the group that he could do this to. Before addressing the room at large. “Now let the drinking begin!” Fierhand shouts and is greeted by a cheer from the crowd.

 

The king proceeds to walk Martin over to the high table and instructs the boy to take a seat next to his own. As Martin hesitantly sits down, Fierhand grabs a horn of ale and passes it to Martin, who takes it cautiously looking nervous.

“Really?” Martin asks looking at the horn, he had had booze before, back with his brothers at Bergskort, but this seemed like it was an entirely different matter.

“How old are you boy, eight?” Fierhand said sitting down in his own chair and taking a gulp from his horn. “By that age I’d had my first horn. Now drink.” Fierhand finished, wanting to see if he was like his brother. To which Martin slowly did drink the ale and smiles for the first time in as long as he could remember. Martin looks around the room and notices that from across the room Vernon and Charlie were watching him closely leaning up against a wall.

 

“Eight years old and already drinking. What would Master Alan think about that then.” Vernon said taking a sip of his own drink, he highly doubted that it was the first that the lad had had, but all the same.

“Times change Vernon, besides this is the happiest I’ve seen Martin in a month.” Charlie replied looking at the young boy who was smiling and talking with Fierhand about the gods only knew what.

“I know.” Vernon said turning around at the sound of footsteps as Doraghek approaches the two of them. “Any news?” Vernon asks hoping beyond hope that there was. They had sent scouts to the mountain passes when they had learned about Eugene’s work at the prison but so far there was no new sighting since he had fled during the raid.

“Still nothing our scouts lost the two black figures as they crossed the Bartazer boarder. And that was weeks ago.” Doraghek said looking slightly nervous. The news and then sudden lack of such news of black riders shook him to the dwarf to his core. Before looking over at Martin with a small grin on his face. “The lad drinks like a true dwarf. He’s only missing the old whiskers.” Doraghek said taking a drink out of his own horn and smiling.

“He’ll feel it in the morning.” Vernon said, looking at the youngest Wolfrick drinking like there was no tomorrow. He remembered his own first drink and how he had woken up, face down in some poor sods front garden. They had threatened to kill him if he didn’t get of their property.

“Oh aye, but it’s an unofficial rite of passage. The kid finishes his horn and he’ll be looked on as a man by all in attendance.” Doraghek said, it had been something that had shocked their guests on their first evening here, but everyone had passed the test, and so they were treated as equals here. Both the kid’s brothers had, as had their father when he first came to the mountain.

 

Back at the high table Nick approaches to where his younger brother with a smirk on his face. “You haven’t finished your drink yet.” Nick said teasing Martin as he often did, at which the latter gulps down the ale and puts it back down on the table.

“Have now.” Martin said smiling up at Nick, noticing this Fierhand smiles, the rite now complete, albeit unbeknownst to Martin.

“Not bad kid didn’t quite beat you’re here brother’s record, but not bad all the same. We’ll make a dwarf out of you yet.” Fierhand said smiling down at Martin before taking another gulp of his own horn as he continued on. “If you’re anything like your brother here, you’ll do fine. First time I met him, he talked back to me like it was nothing. Kid must have had balls of steel.” Fierhand said slapping Martin across the back. Martin smiles at this, although he makes sure to see where Nick was and once, he found that he was out of ear shot he spoke, and his smile faulted.

“I’m not like him.” Martin said looking down at the table so no-one could see his face. “He wouldn’t have let himself get caught, like me.” Martin finished and Fierhand looked at him concerned for the first time since meeting the kid in the medical bay.

“Let me give you some advice m’lad. Use what happened to you to your advantage in the days to come.” Fierhand said looking down at him, he put his thick arm around the boy’s shoulder and continued. “You’ve had more life experiences at eight than half my advisors do at a hundred. From what your friends told me when they swore their oaths, you were one of the few in that camp that stood up to them guards.” Fierhand said and Martin nodded looking up from the table. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get myself another drink.” Fierhand boasted loudly, returning to his usual tone and left leaving Martin alone. That was apparently all it took, as the young boy looked around the room, the noises starting to get too much, the voice of Eugene comes to the forefront of his mind, not only that images of the camp, in particular of room ninety-nine also flashed in front of his eyes as the voice spoke from out of thin air, coming at Martin from all around him.

“It is a pity that you did not see the light, Mr Wolfrick. I had… Such high hopes for you.” The voice said before disappearing, he could feel the sweat running don hi face, as well as his heart seemingly trying to break out of his chest. At which point Fierhand returned with more drinks.

“Are you alright m’lad?” Fierhand said looking at Martin placing the new drinks onto the table in front of them. Martin didn’t speak for a few seconds but eventually managed to get in control of himself enough to answer.

“I’m fine.” Martin said taking his drink and gulping it down, trying to forget the voice and the images, no matter how futile that was.

 

Later that night when everyone in the quarters was asleep, Martin lay wide awake staring at the ceiling, not that he wanted to be awake, he had tried almost every trick in the book to try and get to sleep, but it would not come no matter how tired he felt. As Martin resigns himself to another sleepless night, he gets up to look out of the window, he had half expected it to be barred, and couldn’t believe it when it simple opened and closed, he was then disrupted when there is a knock on his door causing Martin to spin around, his heart racing once more. But it was only Vernon, who walks in looking concerned.

“Can’t sleep?” Vernon asks and Martin simply shakes his head in response, as if the old butler had guessed what was on his mind. As Martin walks back to his bed and sits down on it, as Vernon does the same. “Too much to drink.” Vernon asked smilingly slightly.

“Yes.” Martin said. His head did feel a little light, as it had done after the night in Bergskort, but that wasn’t the real reason, as to his conscious state. Not the main reason anyway “But also no.” He finished.

“What is it then?” Vernon asks looking slightly concerned at this answer, as he had been led to believe that the kid was ready to re-enter the world. Martin doesn’t speak for a few moments, as he tries to formulate his next words as to not make him sound like a complete lunatic. Eventually though, he was ready.

“I… I keep seeing stuff. Stuff that the Doctor and Eugene did to me. It happened again, during the celebration.” Martin said his voiced choking up slightly as he recounted what had been happening to him. Vernon watches the clearly traumatised child for a few moments, before trying to explain his own thoughts on the matter.

“Martin. You went through a very traumatic experience less than two months ago.” Vernon said putting his hand over Martins shoulders and looking at him. “From what both Codsworth and Dave told me, you were at death’s door by the time they got you out. These episodes are natural, you understand.” Vernon said looking down at Martin as the boy’s eyes begin to water up.

“I can still feel what… What Eugene did to me, Vernon. It’s like he’s still inside my head.” Martin said, as the tears begin running down his face as he continued. “I just want this to be over.” Martin finishes and holds tight to Vernon hugging him for a few moments, tears streaming down his face. Before the old butler pulls away slightly so he can look Martin directly in the eyes.

“Listen to me Martin. We will never let anything bad happen to you again.” Vernon said looking down at Martin. “We’re here for you.” Vernon finishes and allows the boy to return to his arm. After a few minutes Martin looks up at Vernon once more.

“Can you stay here… A while longer?” Martin asked lying down in his bed, he wanted someone here in case the visions returned to him and luckily Vernon agreed.

“Sure kid.” Vernon said as he got up and sat himself down in a chair as Martin tries to fall to sleep and, after a short time he manages it, resting properly since his first night here.

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