My first novel.
|The dagger is light in my hand, as I wait in the muted moonlight, a thin fog surrounding me. I hear crunching footsteps on the crisp, leaf laden ground behind me. I spin on my heel, my skirts twisting and twirling around my legs. As they settle, I take a deep breath and close my eyes, centering myself. The man,who has been following me since I left the tavern, is closing distance between us, fast. The crunching is growing louder by the second. Within seconds, he breaks through the clearing from the right side, following the trail I'd left just minutes before. His large build lumbers through the clearing, scanning for my tracks as his labored breath creates clouds in the chilled air.
His eyes skip over me, drawn instead to the obvious strip of torn cloth I've left as a false trail. I take a step forward, carelessly, onto a twig. He turns toward me, pulling his dagger free from its sheath with his left hand. He turns toward me, pulling his dagger free from its sheath with his left hand. His muscular legs push off the ground as he rushes towards me, making the first move. Waiting until the last second, I dodge to the right, my attacker stumbling as his tackle meets air.
Pressing my advantage, I stab down towards his exposed back, however my dagger buries itself into the dirt as he rolls to avoid it. As I free my blade from the soil, the attacker scrambles to his feet, dropping into a fighter’s stance. He lunges again, stabbing towards my chest, his dagger held in a reverse grip. Knowing I’d have no chance to stop the impact head on, I instead push forward, sliding low past him and slashing at his ankles, forcing a loud cry from him as my blade cuts through the lightly protected flesh. Quickly rising to my feet, I pivot to strike him again with my blade, taking advantage of his off balance state to bury my dagger into his side.
Another yell from the man as he whips around, catching me in the head with one of his bulky fists, dazing me. He pulls the dagger embedded in his side, tossing it away from him. He kicks me in the chest, the air leaving my lungs as the force knocks me into a tree. As I attempt to recover, the attacker presses against me, pressing his dagger to my throat and bringing his face close. “That man was worth a lot of money to me, you li’l bitch”, he screams, spittle flying from his lips. Recognizing this as my only chance for escape, I slide my other dagger from the sheath at my wrist and stab it into the side of his neck, again and again. As blood rushes from the wound, my attacker makes a sickly, strangled sound, crumbling to the ground, clutching at his throat.
I press off from the tree, holding my side, and nudge him with my foot. He makes one last strangled sound before he dies. I wipe the blood off of my dagger, using the man’s tunic, and slip it into the sheath between the layers of my skirt. I stand and try to wipe the grass and dirt from my skirts, my attempts only managing to create barely visible smears on my dark clothes. I turn away from the body of my attacker and look toward the tree line, trying to make out shapes. Pulling the hood on my cloak up over my head and take off in a slow walk towards the trees.
As I step out of the clearing, the oppressive darkness seems to push against me, making me shiver with unease. I focus on my hearing, listening for any strange noises. You never know what walks the dark in the woods surrounding. You never know what is in the dark of the woods surrounding Gaulton. Watching my step, I carefully begin navigating the roots and fallen trees on my way back to town.
After hours of trekking through the dense underbrush, I finally reach town, covered in leaves and fresh scrapes. “No one will give me lodging in this condition,” I mutter to myself as I pull the leaves from my plaited hair and try to dust off as much of the dirt as possible. I walk along the rows of buildings, looking for an inn. After a long walk, I finally stumble upon one. After a long walk, I finally stumble upon one. It appears run down and disused, almost deserted with the vines growing up the front. The only sign the inn is still in business is the candlelight shining through the windows and some sounds of laughter from inside.
As I push my way in, struggling slightly with the old rusted hinges of the door, the room goes silent. A few men sit around the room, and the smell of firewood and ale permeates the room. The inside smell of firewood and ale. In one corner is a fireplace that burns hot and bright. The wooden walls have a few weapons hung on them as decoration. Several tables and chairs sit haphazardly around the room. I take a seat at the bar and wait several minutes, happy for the warmth, before a middle-aged man appears. He is tall with broad shoulders. If I had to guess, his fiery red hair would fall to his shoulders if it was not tied back.
“What in the…” he blurts out causing the men to laugh. I bow my head and try to look as if ashamed of my appearance. Letting my voice wobble I say “Might I have a room for the night?” I look up and try to look scared. “I don’t have much but I can buy a room, for the night.” I say letting tears form in my eyes.
“What in the blazes happened to you, miss?”
“I was bucked off my horse on my journey to Adria, andI lost most of my things when the horse ran off into the woods. “ I tried to go after it….,” I say with a wave to indicate my dirty dress and scratched face. He gives me a once-over taking in my black dress and cloak. When he reaches my shoes, he sighs.
“My rooms are as cheap as they come, given we don’t get a lot of outsiders, but tonight I will give it to you for free. Seeing as you appear to have lost everything but the clothes on your back.”
“Thank you, kind sir, but no, I couldn’t possibly accept such a generous offer. I can at least pay for the room for one night.” I reply, hoping refusing his act of charity will help prevent the innkeeper from remembering me too well.
“If you insist it, it will be three silvers.” he states matter of factly.
“Thank you.” I say as I pull my purse from my cloak pocket. Hearing the coins clink together, the innkeeper's face lights up. He walks over to the bar and pours a drink, then pushes it toward me. “Come have a drink on the house, after chasing that horse you’ll need it.” I look around as I walk toward the bar for my drink, pulling out my three silvers. All of the men look me up and down, a few with interest, others with disgust at my appearance. When I reach the bar I pick up the drink setting the three silvers on the table. I take a few drinks, doing my best to blend in and look normal. Well, as normal as can be, all things considered. After about several minutes of mindless conversation with the innkeeper, I take one last drink and place the half full mug on the bar, sure that I have been stayed long enough.
“I thank you for the drink and the bed for the night, it has already made my journey less tiresome.” I turn and make my way down a candle lit hallway, only to realize I don’t know which room is mine. Before I can even turn to ask, the innkeeper shouts, “It’s the last room on the right, best I’ve got.” I wave my thanks behind me as I continue down the hallway.
The door swings open softly as I enter my room, a small fire warming the room from the fireplace in the corner. I scan the room, checking for any extra doors or ways in. Seeing none but the windows, I push the door closed behind me and latch it. Finding none I push the door closed behind me and latch it before I walk over to the window and look into the night. I stand there for some time, watching the sun begin to rise.
Suddenly, I walk to the fireplace realizing that I am cold on the inside. As I stand there I only feel colder and colder, I’m soon cold to the bone it feels. I know this feeling all too well, from feeling it many times over the years, it is the feeling of one that is dying. I have been known to be able to sense when someone is dying, if they are close enough to me. With how fast I have grown cold, this person must be very close to death. I stand before the fire for some time, before I begin to warm again, meaning this person has passed into death’s realm.
I can’t help some curiosity at whom I had felt die. With my curiosity piqued. I walk to the door and unlatch it opening it quietly. I start to take a step and stop. We are not taught to be overly curious at the sanctuary, unless need for a task, because it can lead you to make deadly mistakes. I put my foot back down and quietly close the door, again, latching it.
I walk to a chair that is by the wall, and begin to take off the many layers that I wear. First, I unhook the clasp of my cloak, secured around my neck, pulling it off and setting it on the back of the chair. Next, I remove the sheath at my hip and pull the knife out laying it on the bed. I loosen the ties on the front of my bodice and pull it off, causing my ribs to protest painfully. I pull my wrinkled and torn black dress over my head and drop it on the floor. Then come by grey skirts, they join the gown on the floor. Standing only in my shift, I give my body a quick for any signs of serious injury. I find scratches decorate my arms from the trek through the forest. There is a sharp stabbing pain and throbbing in my side, likely a broken rib.
Standing there in nothing but my stark white shift and boots, I turn to the bed. The fire light illuminates all of the small scars that are all over my arms, shoulders, and back. I take a moment to look at them as I sit down on the rock hard bed. The scars are hardly noticeable, some bigger than others, but none so big as to be be noticed if I had to show a little skin. They are proof of the warrior I have been trained to be.
I pull thin strip of leather that secures my hair in its plait, letting it fall in heavy, curly waves down my back. It falls in a heavy, curly waves down my back. thin strip of leather that secures my hair in its braid, letting it fall in heavy, curly waves down my back. I run my fingers through my hair, brushing out any leftover leaves or dirt and letting the debris fall to the floor. I kick off my shoes, letting them fall with a soft thump on to the floor at the side of the bed. Leaving the fire to die down on its own, I pull back the covers and lie down, breathing deeply for a few moments as I start to relax. I drifted to sleep quickly in the light of the fire.
I awaken stiff from sleep.Warm, golden rays streaming through the window rouse me from my sleep. I throw off the blankets and slowly sit up, in a now cold room. I adjust my stockings, straightening them out, before slipping my feet into my cold boots. With my body protesting the whole way, I walk to my clothes on the chair and begin to dress. I loosen the leather strap from my wrist and set it on top of my cloak, then pull my black hair over my shoulder and begin to plait my long hair, using the strap to secure it. I flip my hair over my shoulder and let it hit midway down my back. Next I step into the grey skirts tying them at my hip. Picking up the dress from the floor I slip it on and fasten the ties.
I walk to the door, unlatch it and pull the door open wide, only to be brought up short by the scent of death. I think back to the night before and remember the cold I had felt. The scent of blood and death grows strong as I creep down the hallway. Reaching the end of the hallway I see the innkeeper, laying on the cold floor. I wrestle with conflicting feelings, not wishing to linger and be caught with a dead body, but also curious as to what has transpired. After a brief moment of internal debate, my curiosity wins out and I approach him. I kneel down and look him over to examine his injuries.
He has severe blueish black bruising around his throat as if he has been choked, which lead to his death. This would explain why I heard nothing the night before. This hold is a fast way to cause one to lose consciousness and possible die. Based on him having few defensive wounds, it doesn’t look as if he had a chance to fight back. There are no knocked over chairs, no signs that he even got off a single hit during the attack. On the table in front of him lies a towel, and bucket of water.
In my mind the scene unfolds. The fire lights the room in a warm orange glow. Perhaps a man enters after the others have left for the night. Maybe one of the men from the night before hangs back waiting for a chance to strike. Either way, the innkeeper is caught by surprise while cleaning the tables, by the man snaking his arm around his neck, holding him tight. As the innkeeper starts to struggle, the man holds tighter, until he passes out. Soon dying from the lack of air or blood to the brain. When the innkeeper is dead the attacker lays him on the ground quietly.
What he does next is a mystery given nothing appears to have been obviously disturbed. Glancing around I walk around the bar and inspect it closely, looking for the coin purse. I don’t find one anywhere after several minutes of searching. Walking toward the door I shake my head at the senseless violence.
I push the door open and walk out into the warm golden midday light. As I exit, someone brushes past me and into the inn. I hear an exclamation of surprise just before I take off at a sprint, headed west. Ignoring the screams of agony from my ribs, I push myself until I have foundAyla, my horse from the night before.
I had left her tied to a tree on the outskirts of town, waiting for my return. When I come to a sudden stop against the tree, she gives a high pitched neigh of surprise. I collapse to the ground, my hand clutched to my side in agony, gasping loudly as I try to catch my breath. I lie there a few minutes before my breathing becomes regular and even. I stand, wiping the sweat from my hot brow. My horse eyes me suspiciously, I hold out my hand to reassure her, then let her come to me. She looks at me one last time before nuzzling my hand against her reddish brown cheek. I untie her and take her by the reins from the tree, leading her towards a nearby stream I spotted the day before. After a long drink for us both, I climb into the saddle on her back. Once seated as comfortable as one can be on horseback, I urge her forward with my feet, staying in the shadows and off the beaten path, setting a steady even gallop back to the Sanctuary.