A response to Deb Markanton's "Saturday Story" in Flashy Fiction.
Photo from pixdaus.com.
Merph propped himself with a wooden splint as he walked across the ice towards the salt-rimed tower. A canvas bag filled with medicines and elixirs hung from a strap around his neck and he gripped a second bag. Carrion vultures flew like a cloud of fleas around the tower.
"I'm too old for this," muttered Merph.
Whitey's tail wagged and the mutt yipped at his old friend's words.
"Don't like the looks of that, I'd wager." Merph placed the cloth bag on the ice to scritch Whitey behind the ears.
The fires in Mortok's war camp burned to embers as Merph continued. The vultures flew sated from their meal on the remnants of the King's army and waited for the final skirmish to begin. Whitey yowled as he tilted his head sideways. Merph saw the question asked.
"Sorry, boy. I know the ice is cold on the pads, but the king needs us. Can't go by land with that army."
Whitey nuzzled against Merph's leg, his pointed black ear bent as he ducked under the bag.
"You're right. I'm too old for this."
Merph shuffled across the ice until he struck land close to the tower's gate. Merph shook his head, the bony tower was too small, only the king's personal guard -- and likely only half of them -- would fit in the tower. He rapped his splint against the door. Muffled voices spluttered but the door didn't budge.
With a sigh, Merph juggled the lidded jars in the bag until he found a squat one filled with a powdery substance clinging to the glass sides. Removing his mittens, he took a pinch of the powder from the jar and inserted the grains into a narrow straw which he held against the crack beside the door and blew.
Light flashed from a crack in the wall and the bar inside the tower -- the only thing keeping Mortok's army from skewering the remnants -- clanged as Merph's powder exploded and Merph pushed the door open. Whitey barked as one of the king's guard grabbed Merph and held a sword to his neck.
"Easy," said Merph. The sword nicked him drawing blood. "I'm a healer, loyal to the king." _And too old for this._
"How did you get here? Mortok's troops guard all approaches," said the guard.
"Except the sea."
"The warlock holds the far coast and besides the water is too brackish to ice over." The guard lowered the sword from Merph's throat and pushed the old man towards an arrow slit. Outside, waves lapped against the edges of an icy path no wider than a man that stretched like a white scar. "Who are you?"
"Just an old man," said Merph.
Whitey jumped to stand his white legs on a Merph's thigh.
"And Whitey, of course." Merph patted the mutt's head. "Now, the king needs me."
"I don't trust you," said the guard.
Merph handed the guard his bags. "I'm unarmed. You can search me."
Upstairs, the king sprawled across a makeshift pallet with other wounded propped against the walls. Merph held a hand to the too-white face and felt the king's fever before he'd touched the skin. "I need some water."
The guard called downstairs. Merph motioned for the bags and scoured through them until he found the two he wanted. He dropped a pinch from each into his pestle with a splash of water. He poured the chalky liquid through the king's lips.
Creating more of a paste, he wrapped bandages around wounds in both the king and his men.
A cough forced itself through phlegm. "We live," said the king.
"Yes, your Majesty," said the guard.
"Who?" asked the king.
"He never said," replied the guard.
"A friend," said Merph. He would've said an old man and that he was too old for this, but he had accomplished much. One thing left. "I leave across the ice and you must come with me."
"He can't travel," said the guard.
"No." The king sat up. "He is right, we must go. I feel strength returning."
"Follow me." Merph grabbed freezing dust from his bag and shuffled down the curved stairway.