The Shadow Across The Water
Jack sat up abruptly. The wind was howling outside. The house held the deep chill that seeped into it before dawn.
"No...I won't do it...it's evil..."
Jack threw back the covers and stumbled to the other end of the house. The Bard's bed was shaking. He saw the old man thrust up his hand as though warding something off. "Sir! Sir! Wake up! Everything's all right." He caught the Bard's hand.
"You won't bend me to your will! I defy you, foul troll!"
Something -- some terrible force -- flung the boy back. His head banged against the stone, and his ears rang as though a blacksmith were pounding on an anvil. He tasted blood.
"Oh, my stars, child! I didn't know it was you."
Jack tried to speak, choked on blood, and coughed instead.
"You're alive, thank Freya! Stay here. I'll build up the fire and make you a healing drink."
The ringing in Jack's ears died down, but he felt violently sick to his stomach. He heard the Bard move around, and presently, the hearth burst into light. In a very short time he was handed a cup of hot liquid. It hurt his mouth and he recoiled.
"You bit through your lip, child. It isn't as bad as it looks. The drink will make it better."
Jack managed to swallow, and the sickness went away. He found himself trembling. Perhaps he'd been trembling all along. He couldn't remember. "Is that -- is that how -- you destroy your enemies?" he stammered.
The Bard sat back. "One of the ways," he said.
"So that was...magic."
"Some call it so," said the Bard.
"Will you teach me how to do it?"
"By Thor's bushy beard! I almost killed you, and the first thing you want to know is how to do it."
"W-Well, sir, I am your a-apprentice."
"And a right cheeky one too. Most boys would have run home to their mothers after what you just experienced. Still, curiosity is a great thing. We two might just get along."
Jack felt a kind of warm sleepiness pass over him. The pain was still there, but it seemed unimportant. "What happened to you, sir?"
"That was a Nightmare, lad. Pray you never meet one."
"You mean, a bad dream?"
"I mean a Nightmare. It's far worse."
Jack wanted to ask more, but he was too comfortable. He yawned broadly, stretched out on the floor, and fell asleep.
When he awoke, he was lying outside on a bed of heather. He struggled to get up. "Rest a while, lad," said the Bard. He was sitting on a stool next to the door. His white beard and cloak shone against the weathered house. "Ah, sunlight," the old man said with a contented sigh. "It heals the terrors of the night."
"The Nightmare?" Jack said. His mouth hurt, and his speech was oddly slurred.
"Among other things," said the Bard. Jack felt his lip and found, to his horror, that it was as swollen as a mushroom after rain. "You wouldn't make a bad-looking troll at the moment," the old man remarked.
Jack remembered the words the Bard had cried out in his sleep. "Have you truly seen one, sir?"
"Oh, yes. Dozens. Most are quite pleasant, although they take getting used to. The ones you have to watch out for are the half-trolls. There's no describing how nasty they can be. Or deceitful. They're shape-shifters, and when they appear human, they're so beautiful that you can't think of a single sensible thing around them."
"Did one of them send the Nightmare?" said Jack.
"One of them rode it. Look, my boy, I was trying to protect you from certain things until you were older. But I may not have the time. Lately, I've felt a darkness over the sea. She's searching for me, you see. I can hide from her in the daytime. At night my guard is down, and she knows it."
Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Farmer
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