The Heir of Milar - Part 2 - by L.G.A. McIntyre

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                                                                                  Part 2

Ironfist slogged through the endless, sucking, quagmire; flat and still and uniform in colour. Sometimes the muck was as shallow as his ankles, sometimes it rose to encircle his neck. The only thing that differentiated the track he trod from his surroundings was the fact that he could feel the bottom with his aching, lacerated feet. Soon after entering the swamp, he had been forced to slow his pace. One false step had almost sent him into a bottomless hole of liquid earth.

   A coating of hungry insects attacked the exposed parts of his body and he had to stop every few paces to peel off dozens of leaches before they could suck him dry. The bleeding wounds the leaches left behind excited more insects to attack him. Sinjin figured he would be dead by nightfall from loss of blood - if the stench didn’t kill him first.

   The burning hatred for Zagoda and the lust for revenge that had sustained him through an eight month imprisonment in the dungeons of Guidion and his three day run to freedom finally started to wane, replaced by exhaustion and despair. Ironfist could not think of revenge when he knew he would never survive to see it come to fruition. The hatred that had kept his spirit unbroken would not sustain him through the swamp.

   He stopped in his tracks.   ‘In fact, why should I even continue?’ he thought wearily, ‘I am going to die. Why torture myself further?’ With an exhausted groan, he sat with a splat in six inches of watery mud. ‘This is as good a place as any to await my fate.’ Half-heartedly, he picked at a leech that was gorging upon his emaciated shoulder.

   A soft whisper touched his mind. It had been there for some time, he realized, but he had not really been listening until this moment. He strained to hear what it said.

   “Sleep... rest... sleep,” it cajoled.

   “Yes,” Ironfist slurred, “sleep.” That was what he needed most. His head began to descend upon his bony chest.

   Something large moved in the water off to the left of him, flashing a sleek green fin.  The water quieted to a standstill once more. “Sleep,” the whisperer murmured insistently, compellingly.

   “So sleepy,” Ironfist agreed. His body, mind and spirit yearned for an uninterrupted rest. In the dungeons he had been allowed no more than a few hours sleep at a time. It was one of the tactics they had used to break his spirit.

   One of the guards’ favourite sports had been to lock Sinjin into a room filled with rats. If he had stopped moving for more then a few moments, the rats had taken his flesh.  How Sinjin had preyed for death. But Zagoda had needed him alive, to cement her claim to the throne with an heir to thwart the imminent civil war. And she had needed him broken - so that when they were wed, he would be no threat to her power.

   If nothing else, at least he had thwarted the bitch! "I win, ha! Ha-aa," he mumbled brokenly, his laugh cracking to almost a sob.

   Sinjin’s eyes dipped, closed, then fluttered weakly open again. The ripple in the water grew nearer. Some sixth sense alerted him to a danger, but the effort to raise his eyelids and deal with it was too much. ‘What does it matter anyway?’

   Something massive rose from the water in front of him. The jaws of the thing gaped open and rows of sharp teeth glinted white in the setting rays of the sun. Sinjin blinked drowsily. ‘So this will be my fate?’ he wondered bemusedly. The massive head descended towards him.

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