As the sun peeked over the horizon to the east, a solitary figure on horseback watched the last traces of the night mists borne away. The strident cries of gulls seeking their food were swallowed up by the crash of waves against the rocky cliffside far below the rider.
The figure, a young man barely beyond his teens, tilted his head back and allowed the burgeoning sunlight to warm his smooth cheeks. His long chestnut hair blew about in the wan morning breeze, stray strands here and there on his face like spider silk. A broad smile graced his handsome face, thin lips parting to reveal his strong white teeth.
Atop the dappled gelding, he was a striking figure. Obviously tall of stature, he had broad shoulders, tapering to a narrow waist. His tensed leg muscles were equal to the task of restraning his spirited mount. He sat his steed like one born in the saddle.
His general mien was that of a man confident in the power of his youth and prepared for anything the twin specters of Fate and Caprice might cast in his path. Far more than youthful braggadocio accounted for this self-assured aura he projected.
The breeze gave way to the prevailing westerly trade winds and swirled the man's heavy cloak back and away from his muscular frame. Beneath the cloak, he wore riding leathers of the darkest black, studded and adorned with gleaming silver. The same motif was common to his light breastplate, broadsword and poignard....the Dragonshead Mark.
The Dragonshead Mark was a singular distinction bestowed upon a very select few and, most commonly, took the form of a posthumous honor. It denoted one who had engaged in combat with a Dragon...and won. Understandably, it was a fraternity with few members and fewer still who survived the experience.
In the case of Trystane, the singular young man sitting his horse atop the cliffs, the Mark decorated his entire panoply in one form or another. Bejeweled and etched in to his weapons and armor the Mark was clearly evident for any to see.
Trystane, for his part, recalled little of the deeds that had made him the first Bearer of the Mark of his generation. The chirurgeons avowed that, given the severity of his injuries, it was unlikely he ever would. He had been found in his father's fields beneath the gargantuan beast's lifeless body. His crude shephard's spear had transfixed its soft palate and lodged in the brain, killing it instantly.
Young Trystane's unconscious body was so broken and bloodied that few doubted he would long survive his Pyrrhic victory. The lad proved more resilient than any could have expected and made a full recovery. The chirurgeons declared him so, but warned that he would always suffer periodic pain, beyond their skills to banish. To a strong, young man, such effects were endurable.
He had scarce believed when the Herald had arrived at his family's modest home bearing a summons for Trystane to appear before the King and his Council for consideration of investiture into the Brotherhood of the Mark.
Whispers of such a thing had buzzed about but he had never imagined such a thing happening to the son of a commoner.
At court, Trystane was unsurprised that he had no advocates amongst the Royal Council. One after another they voiced their disapproval of his investiture. That he had killed a dragon was, certainly, not in question. Their contention lay in that his actions had been the result of sheer luck as opposed to any demonstrated puissance or skill at arms.
The King had driven them all to silence with a roar of regal laughter. If, he chuckled, this were true, then it bid fair to say that he could use far more younglings with sheer luck amongst his retinue than he could men with "demonstrated puissance". The men who had chased the damned creature all about the land without so much as putting a scratch on it, he laughed, might fare better with more of this lad's "sheer luck".
With the bestowal of the Dragonshead Mark, the future and security of, not only, Trystane but of his family as well was assured. He had been granted a captaincy in the Kingsguard as well as a considerable stipend that guaranteed a better life for his aging parents and his young siblings. Yes, indeed, his life was good.
A snort from his mount brought Trystane back from his reverie to the present. A slight frown marred his features. Life would be better if the fits would go away. Trystane had no delusions that his grave injuries could have been survived with no consequences. He had been told as much hadn't he??
A year later, he suffered little more than occasional stiffness of his joints during particularly wet weather. It was disconcerting but hardly noteworthy. Then the fits had begun. He shivered, remembering the first time it had happened.
He had awoken early that day in excruciating agony. It felt as if molten metal spikes were being driven into his arms and legs. The pain washed over him in wave after wave after wave of sickening intensity. He had no way of knowing how long it had gone on before ceasing abruptly.
Upon examination, the chirurgeon was at a loss to explain the seizure. He, freely, admitted that such an occurrence had no precedent in his records. While Trystane had no idea upon what the wizened old man based his contention, he has reassured by him that it was, most likely, an unfortunate aberration unlikely to happen again. The chirurgeon could not have been more wrong.
Trystane sighed softly, reflecting that not only had the incident happened again, but that the fits were happening more often and with a disturbing regularity. The chirurgeon had, as yet, found neither an explanation or a treatment for the syndrome. He assured Trystane that he WOULD discover the source and that he would restore him to full health.
To say that the young man was not disconcerted by the mysterious ailment would be an untruth. In defiance of the unknown, Trystane had been up and astride his horse well before dawn. If the fits came as had been the pattern, today would see another such. He refused to live in fear, and so off he had ridden. Noting the position of the rising sun, he allowed himself a satisfied grin. There! If the fit were coming it would already have -
With a strangled gasp, his limbs stiffened and Trystane fell from his horse, landing on the rocky ground with a sickening thud. As the now-familiar agony wracked his frame, his horse shied nervously away. Shuddering and twitching uncontrollably, Trystane's sanity slowly eroded away as he screamed inside of his head for the pain to stop...stop...STOP!!
Dr. Malcolm Langer, Director of Services for Placid Glen Hospice, released the button of the controller he held in his hand. He made notations on the chart that lay to his right. Checking the positioning of the electrodes, he made slight adjustments to the settings on the machine that they connected to.
Sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, the elderly woman there cleared her throat softly, "Umm..excuse me for asking again
Doctor, but are you absolutely sure this isn't causing my son any pain?"
Dr. Langer sighed at the interruption of the procedure. "Madame, I have tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to explain to you what is going on here. Your son...ahh..Tristan...is in what we call a persistent vegetative state from which he will NEVER emerge. The brain damage he sustained as a result of the automobile accident was correctly classified as permanently debilitating. Such damage is both irreparable and inoperable. He will remain in an unresponsive and unconscious state for the remainder of his life. The electro-stimulus treatments I have been administering are intended to prevent his muscles from atrophying any further than is to be expected in a patient with his diagnosis."
The woman shifted uncomfortably, "I know. It just...it seems....I mean..." Her voice trailed off as she was unable to find the right words to properly voice her concerns.
The doctor shook his head with obvious disdain, "Madame, I think that I have been more than patient with your unfounded doubts but, rest assured, that patience is nearing its limits. I have several more patients to minister to today...none of them with any better an outlook of recovery than your son. Please believe me when I tell you that Tristan is no more capable of feeling pain than he is of...well...of getting up out of that bed and going for a horseback ride!!"
With a dismissive gesture, he turned his back on her and depressed the control button, administering an additional dose of electrical stimulation.
This is the seventh story recycled for Vault Cleaning. It was originally posted Sept. 3, 2011. The picture has been added as part of the cleaning process.