Tostig collapsed beside the trunk of a tree, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. Night was closing in, the sun sinking, drinking in the blue sky and leaving behind a blazing red.
Dying in defiance, Tostig had always thought, only leaving because she has to.
Tostig sighed, fatigued, and slid down into a sitting position. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the tree. Mary slipped into his mind, and he looked around warily – wondering if Mariqah’s sword was coming for him. He continued to panic for a while, before calming down and reassuring himself that Mary was fine.
He’d left her at the Guild, in the care of an… acquaintance. Tostig had reassured her that she was granted his protection and the people of the Guild would take care of her. His reputation was known and he was relatively feared. Mary hadn’t wanted him to leave, but Tostig had insisted. He promised her he’d be back soon.
Tostig, of course, couldn’t know that for sure.
The Witch-Queen wanted to see him again. If it wasn’t her that wanted someone dead, then it was one of her friends. Tostig shrugged off his cloak and then pulled his tunic over his head – casting them both away and sighing with relief as a gentle wind blew against his bare torso.
He rubbed the back of his neck, and looked at his left arm, scowling at a name he didn’t recognise and a crime he doubted was true.
It didn’t matter to him.
But something, just something, was gnawing at his mind. It had begun as soon as he’d met Mariqah. The things she’d said stuck to him, and played over and over again. He couldn’t remember any of his other victims that had made such an impression.
Tostig touched his cheek, reminiscing how hard she’d hit him. He smiled, oddly.
Then he looked higher up on his arm.
A black stain sat just below his shoulder. It was a thing that scared him everytime he looked at it, and crept into his dreams when he slept. The mark would swirl and form a shape, before distorting and moving and forming a new evil shape. It never settled. It always stung.
Tostig threw it from his mind, not wanting to think too hard about it. Mariqah had not been the first to force him into her service. But at least her intention was clean: she only wanted to protect her niece, and she’d intended for Mary to go home. It wasn’t Mariqah’s fault, the way things were currently playing out.
But this curse… it was–
Tostig bellowed in pain, a white light flashing before his eyes, and racking his body with agony. His sight poured with read and he shrieked as pain pounded in all his muscles, scraped at every bone and boiled every drop of blood in his body.
He writhed and screamed and cursed, nearby wild-life fleeing in fear of the sound.
I take it back! I take it back! he thought frantically.
The agony ceased immediately, and he breathed heavily, grasping the ground for support. A pounding throb echoed in his mind.
The curse was not something to be thought about, or defied, just simply something to submit to.
He pulled his tunic back on, covering the mark, and screwed up his face. He opened his pack and chewed on a few dried fruit – his appetite stolen by the pain that had visited him.
Tostig was surprised to find tears in his eyes.
The realisation on led to more tears, futile cursing and muttering, and a moment of hollow moping. He could do nothing about the curse. Not yet. And weeping like a child certainly wouldn’t help him. He sighed, throwing the mucus from his nose into the grass. He picked up his cloak and climbed into the tree, resting his head on the branch as the sun sank deeper into the horizon.
Tostig couldn’t hate the Witch-Queen. The curse robbed him of that liberty, along with many other things. But if he could, Tostig would have wished the Witch-Queen dead.