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Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Ten

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
So it’s Wednesday on Thursday. The Independence Day holiday yesterday destroyed my mind and I completely forgot about doing anything important, like getting you your the next chapter of Moony.

We had some good fun, though, and the weather was nice, too. Blue sky for what seems like the first time in weeks.

So here it is, Chapter Ten of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. A day late, but better than forgotten until next week.

If you need to start from the first chapter, you can find it here. If you need to read the rest of the book right this minute, there are links to purchase it in a variety of formats at the end of each chapter.

 


Ten

 

The inn that Henrietta led them to looked old and weather-worn to Mendleson’s eye. Like the rest of the buildings in this strange city, it leaned out over the street, giving him the impression that it was near to toppling over on him.
When they climbed down from their horses, a dark-haired young boy, perhaps twelve, ran out from the inn and reached for the reins. “I’ll take those,” he said.
Mendleson looked to Henrietta, and saw her give the horse over to the boy. “You’ve grown, Perry.”
“Ma’am?” the boy asked, his voice breaking as he spoke.
“You don’t remember me? I suppose it has been a long time, then. Is your mother here?”
“In the kitchen,” the boy said, clearly confused by Henrietta.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling a coin from her purse and handing it to the boy, who smiled.
Mendleson handed the reins of his horse to the boy, and got a frown when he did not produce a coin, too.
“She has all my coins,” he said.
The boy glanced at Henrietta, and when she nodded, his frown flattened, but did not entirely go away. The boy led the horses away, leaving the two of them standing at the doorway.
“You’ve been here before?” he asked.
“His mother was a friend.”
“Was? Are you worried that she’s not anymore?”
Henrietta’s shoulders came up, and she raised her head and began to walk into the building. “There’s no reason she shouldn’t be a friend.”
Mendleson reached out and tried to grab her arm, but she walked forward with a purpose, and his hand slid down to touch hers.
She stopped and gasped.
Mendleson knew what he’d done wrong before she told him, and he tried to let go, but she grasped his hand tight and wouldn’t let him pull free. She turned to face him. Her eyes were open, the irises rolled back into her head far enough that he could not see them. They stood that way for only moments, though it seemed he could have planted next year’s crops in the time it took her to come out of it.
Her eyes closed, and when they reopened, he could again see the dark of her eyes. She glanced down at his hand, which still held hers, but she made no immediate effort to pull away. He was glad of it. Her hand felt small and warm in his. Soft.
“What did you see?” he asked.
She blinked, then looked out to the street. Mendleson followed her gaze and found people were watching them. Not many, but enough.
She dropped his hand. “Nothing new,” she said. She pushed open the thick wood door of the inn and stepped inside.
“Are you coming?” she asked, her back still to him.
Mendleson quickly stepped through the door, and she let it shut behind him.
Inside, he found the interior of the inn in much better shape than the outside. The wood tables were polished, clean, and in good repair. The floor was clear of debris, and the walls, where they were lined with wood, were varnished and free of the soot he’d become used to in the more run-down inns they had stayed in. It felt like a home. He wondered at the clash between the run-down exterior and the well cared for interior. Why would the owner not take care of the outside, too?
Henrietta strode through the main room, past the few patrons who had risen so early. Most of them looked well off, and certainly not the kind of patron he’d expected from the outside. It baffled him.
When Mendleson caught up to her, she had stopped just outside the kitchen door. The smell of morning cakes and sausage seeped through the door, giving Mendleson’s stomach cause to rumble. “This place is so well cared for on the inside…” he said before being interrupted as the door swung open.
A woman, a head and a half shorter than Henrietta, stepped through the door carrying a tray with the cakes and sausages he had smelled piled onto it. She looked very much like the boy who had come to take their horses.
“Out of the way,” she said, her voice powerful and commanding.
Mendleson stepped aside and let her pass. Henrietta had done the same, and the woman swept between them, leaving the two of them to look at each other. A fleeting emotion, irritation, or perhaps surprise, passed across Henrietta’s face as the woman passed without so much as a greeting. Whatever emotion had overcome her control for the moment was buried before Mendleson could say for sure what it was.
Mendleson turned to watch the woman as she moved through the common room, setting food out in front of several of the early morning patrons. She had words with each of them, but didn’t linger long with any particular patron.
After she emptied her tray, the woman returned. She kept her face free of emotion, but when she said, “Into the kitchen,” he could hear the conflict within her.
Once the three of them were inside the kitchen, she set the tray on a free table top, and then went to Henrietta and gave her a hug. Then she stepped back and said, “How dare you come back here.” Her voice seethed with anger and fear.
“I had to,” Henrietta said.
“You had to do nothing of the sort. You know what will happen to you if they find you.”
Henrietta nodded. “I know, but I truly have no choice. I’m going home, Tara.”
Tara put a hand to her mouth, and then stepped forward and gave Henrietta another, much longer hug. “Surely not so soon,” she said.
Henrietta patted the shorter woman on the back. “Weeks at most, if not days,” she said. “It is the way of things.”
Tara stepped away from the embrace. “But how can that be? You’re still so young.”
“I’ve known for a long time.”
Tara turned to face Mendleson for the first time. She looked him up and down, seeming to appraise him like she would a cow, or perhaps a side of beef. “So who is this?” she asked once she finished.
“I’m Mendleson,” he said, even though she hadn’t directed the question at him. “I’m helping her.”
Tara turned back to Henrietta. “Since when did you need help?” she asked.
Mendleson found Henrietta’s eyes looking at him now, though her appraisal was different. He thought he saw sadness in it, and something else he could not quite make out. “I didn’t ask for it,” she said. A chill had crept into her voice that he hadn’t heard for days.
There. She was still trying to push him away, still trying to protect him from whatever fate she saw for him. But I can’t let her push me away. I can’t let her die. I promised.
Henrietta turned back to Tara. “But, he has been useful.”
Useful! Anger boiled up in him, causing him to clench his fists. His fingernails bit into the palms of his hands. “I’ve saved your life more than once.”
She stepped into him, and looked up, just a little. “How do you know, Mendleson? How do you know that your interference saved my life? Until you became involved, I knew my fate, and it was not at my front door, or in the hallway of that inn, or any other place on this journey.”
“My interference? You came to me at the festival. I didn’t set this course. Before that moment, I had little interest in you.” Even as he said it, he found himself wondering how it had happened. He couldn’t keep his curiosity contained. “Did you do something to me? Did you put some sort of spell on me?”
Her hand rose up and slapped him, almost before the last word had left his lips. “How dare you.” Her voice raised only a little in her anger. “I am not a witch, Mendleson. You know that.”
“Do I?” He thought back to that moment at the festival when they had touched. His life had changed in that moment. From that point, all he’d wanted to do was protect her. “I thought I wanted to protect you because I’d failed with Mirrielle, but now I’m not so sure. We touched and my life changed because of it.”
“Keep your voice down,” Henrietta said.
“Why? You keep trying to push me away. It’s all you’ve done since that night, yet you tied a rope to me that even a typhoon couldn’t break.”
“Just how did I tie a rope to you? You’ve been free to leave me alone since that day at the festival. You’re free to go even now. I don’t need your help, Mendleson.” She was staring right into his eyes as she said it.
He tried to probe their depths, but whatever warmth he’d thought he’d seen growing there was gone. He didn’t even know what he’d done to bring about the change in her.
The thing that really surprised him was how his anger turned to ashes as she spoke. She seemed to truly mean what she said. She didn’t want him. Why am I here?
The answer that had brought him to Berelost, that he was trying to save her, no longer felt like enough.
A silence stretched between them for long moments. Tara looked back and forth between them, but said nothing. The tension Mendleson felt between Henrietta and himself seemed to hold the brash woman back.
Henrietta reached into her pack and her hand emerged with the purse. She held it out to him.
“What’s this?” Mendleson asked.
“For your trip home.” Her hand shook.
“But…”
“Don’t worry, Mendleson. I have means.”
He reached out and took the purse from her, taking care not to brush her hand again. He reached in and pulled out a silver durin, turned away from Henrietta and handed it to Tara. “Could you find me a room? I need to rest.”
As she put the coin into her pocket, Tara said, “Of course.” Her eyes still flicked toward Henrietta, as if she were asking permission.
When Henrietta said nothing, Tara said, “Come, follow me,” and then stepped out of the kitchen.
Mendleson turned to follow her, then looked back. “I’ll be here until tomorrow, if you change your mind.”
“Take care, Mendleson,” she said.
Mendleson stepped out of the kitchen and let the door shut behind him. He’d thought closing the door might cut the rope that tied her to him, but he could still feel it pulling at him. He wanted to rush back in, tell her he wasn’t leaving her, no matter what she said she wanted.
But as he followed Tara up the stairs at the back of the inn, he resolved that he would try to forget her. He hoped it would be easier than trying to forget his failure to save his family.

 

* * *

 

Henrietta watched him walk out the door, the money purse in his hand, his pack slung from his shoulder, and felt a void envelope her. She felt a desire to reach out and stop him, pull him back to her, take back every word she’d said. She didn’t want him to go. She wanted him near her.
But she steeled herself. She had to make him leave in order to protect him. She’d brought him into her fate somehow, and it was her responsibility to get him out of it. She couldn’t let him die to save her when she knew there wasn’t a chance his sacrifice would save her. The vision hadn’t changed. The wraiths would still come for her, even as he lay dying at the top of that foggy plateau.
She wanted to touch him, one last time, to see if she had changed his fate. She’d hoped their hands would meet when he took the purse from her, but he had been careful not to touch her. I should have reached out for him, she thought, then chided herself for thinking it. If I reached out, he wouldn’t have left. “Better to let him go and not know the answer,” she said aloud in an attempt to convince herself that she had made the right choice.
It didn’t work. She could almost feel the rope Mendleson described, stretching out through the closed door, pulling at her to go to him. But she stayed in the kitchen, out of sight of the patrons of the inn.
“Why are you crying, Ma’am?”
Henrietta looked around and found Perry standing there watching her. He’d snuck into the kitchen without making a sound.
“I’m not crying.”
“But the tears,” he said.
“Tears?” she asked, while moving a hand up to her face. “There aren’t any…” She stopped when her hand discovered her cheek was wet.
She scrambled to come up with an excuse while she wiped the tears away. “Oh, I’m just so happy,” she said, trying to smile. “I haven’t seen your mother in such a long time.” She hoped Perry would believe her.
Perry looked around, and then came back to her. “My mother’s not here,” he said.
“No, dear. She just stepped out to take my friend to his room.” My friend? When did that happen?
“Do you need breakfast? I can help you find a table. Mother doesn’t like customers in the kitchen.”
Henrietta did smile, this time for real. She hoped it meant the end of her tears. “I’m not exactly a customer,” she said. “I’m a friend, and I need to speak with your mother. I would like something to eat, if you have it. I’ve been on the road a long time.”
Perry smiled and went to work, gathering up a plate and dishing up pork and bread. Henrietta watched him work, remembering back to when the boy had been mostly a nuisance, getting under his mother’s feet. He’d grown up quite a bit in three years.
Tara entered the kitchen just as Perry handed Henrietta the plate. The smell of the food caused her stomach to rumble in anticipation. She hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. She went to reach into her purse to get Perry another coin, only remembering at the last moment that she’d given it all to Mendleson. “I’m sorry, Perry. I seem to have misplaced my purse. I’ll have to get you another coin a little later.”
“No you didn’t,” he said. “I saw you give it to that man.”
“So I did,” she said, surprised he’d seen that. He’d stabled their horses pretty quickly. “I promise I’ll get you another coin before I leave.”
Tara took Perry by the shoulders and pushed him out into the common room. “Go clean those tables,” she said.
Perry turned a bit to look at Henrietta, and smiled at her before leaving the kitchen completely.
“It seems he likes you,” Tara said when the door had swung shut.
“What? I hadn’t even thought of that,” she laughed. “He’s grown so big.”
“It’s been three years,” Tara said. “Boys grow like weeds.”
“Yet it seems you’ve managed to tame him.”
Tara laughed. “Mostly. He still has his days where I’m lucky to get him to feed the horses without a struggle. Come, I’ll get you something to wash down that pork and we can talk.”
Henrietta took a seat at a small table in the back of the kitchen that Tara reserved for eating quick lunches out of sight of her customers. “But it’s still near breakfast. Don’t you need to watch the room?”
“Perry’s out there. He’ll let me know if someone needs help, and I’m not letting you out of this kitchen without knowing the real story behind this man you brought with you. Water, or wine?”
Henrietta sat her plate on the table and took one of the chairs. There were only ever two chairs. “Wine, I think. I need to calm myself so I can sleep.”
Tara stepped away for a moment, which gave Henrietta time to sample the food on her plate. The bread was warm and soft, the pork, not too salty. She wished for a moment that Tara would take her time so that she could eat more of it before having to talk about Mendleson.
Unfortunately, after Henrietta had only put a few bites into her mouth, Tara returned carrying a goblet that contained a dark red wine. Tara set the wine on the table in front of Henrietta, then took a seat across from her.
“Tell me about him,” Tara said.
Henrietta swallowed the food that was in her mouth before speaking. “He’s just a farmer that lived across the road from me.”
“Just a farmer? I know you, Henrietta. You wouldn’t drag ‘just a farmer’ along behind you.”
“I didn’t drag him. Not intentionally, at least. I haven’t been able to get rid of him.”
“Until now.”
Henrietta nodded, then put another bite of pork into her mouth and ate it before continuing. “I’m close to my time, Tara. A couple weeks at most before I lose my life and my gift to another. I’ve known since I can remember how it would happen. The details have grown clearer over time, but I had always been alone when it happened.”
“You saw this in a vision?”
“Yes. Every Seer knows their end.”
“There’s no way to avoid it?”
“I tried. I came here, first, thinking that if I wasn’t where I saw the vision happen, it couldn’t happen. Others can change their fate, why can’t I?
“But then, you remember what happened. I left and went west, to a small town on the coast. Still, the vision never changed.”
“How often do you see these visions?”
“Every few months or so. They’ve grown more numerous as my time grows short. I’m seeing it every few days now, if not more often.”
“So your vision hasn’t changed?” Tara asked.
“It did about two weeks ago, right after I met Mendleson for the first time.”
“I thought you said he lived across the road from you.”
“We never talked. Before I became his neighbor, his wife and child died in a fire while he was away. He has hardly been off his farm since.”
“How did you end up meeting?”
Henrietta paused to eat another bite of pork and followed it up with a sip of wine. “The Fates brought us together at the local summer festival. I had a vision that showed me meeting someone there, though I couldn’t see who it was. So I went. He was sitting on a bench near the area I had seen in my vision, and we struck up a conversation.
“When I went to leave, he reached for my hand and touched it. I had the vision of my end again, only this time, he was in it. I tried to run away from him, tried to change it back, but I couldn’t get him to leave me alone.” And then, a little softer, she said, “He just kept saving me from them.”
“I don’t understand,” Tara said. “If he keeps saving you, why do you want him to go?”
Henrietta felt her tears start to come again, and she wiped at her eyes to forestall them, with little luck. After a moment, she gave up. “In my vision, he dies, Tara. He dies, and he still doesn’t save me.”
Tara stood up and stepped around the table to give Henrietta a hug. It felt good to have the comfort. It didn’t stop her tears, but her muscles relaxed a bit in her friend’s embrace.
“I just wish I knew why I’m crying,” Henrietta said.
Henrietta felt her friend chuckle before Tara pulled away to look her in the eye. “It’s obvious to me, Henrietta. I think that rope he complained about is tied to your heart. You don’t really want him to go.”
“That can’t be it,” she said. “The Fates couldn’t be so cruel as to give me something like that so close to my end.”
“Of course they could be so cruel. You told me long ago that it’s not in the nature of the Fates to concern themselves with the fairness of their designs.”
“I can’t…” Henrietta began.
“You don’t know what you can do. I think it’s funny, in a way.”
“Funny? How?”
“You’ve known your whole life how it would end. You’ve spent years preparing yourself for it. Now, they’ve turned your plans, whatever they may have been, upside down and you don’t have any idea how to handle it.”
Henrietta picked up the goblet from the table and finished off the last of the wine. She wished she had another full goblet. She’d drink that down, too. Her friend was right. It had a certain sort of humor to it. “It’s a cruel joke, if you ask me.”
“You don’t have to let him go.”
Henrietta’s eyelids felt heavy. She stood up and felt the weight of her travel trying to drag her down. “I can’t let him stay. I can’t let him die.”
“You once told me that the future is uncertain, that fates can be changed.”
“Not the fate of a Seer.”
“How can you be sure? You’ve already seen a change in your vision. How do you know it won’t change more?”
Henrietta shook her head. I’m not really considering letting him come along, am I? But she was. She wanted him with her. “I don’t want him to die.”
“Maybe he won’t.”
What am I thinking? I’ve seen it? “Tara,” she said, “I appreciate your ear, but I think I’m just too tired to even think right now.”
“I should stick you in his room.”
“Please, no. I need time to myself.”
“A room to yourself then. It’s the least I can do for you. I’ll put you across the hall, though, in case you decide you want to visit him.”
Henrietta felt herself grimacing. She had forgotten how forward her friend could be. “Don’t tell him.”
Tara laughed. “I promise he’ll hear nothing from me.”

 


 
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Read Chapter Eleven of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony!

Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Nine

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
I am slowly becoming resigned to the fact that I will never get these up early. Especially during the summer. I have the kids home all day, now, and I have to get new writing done (I’m about to finish up another SF story), and I just forget until the afternoon.

If you aren’t sure what the heck I’m talking about, each week, I’m uploading a chapter of my novel The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony for you to read, free. You can read all of them, starting from the first chapter if you wish, and it won’t cost you a dime. After I’ve finished putting them all up (I’m not doing the math today), you’ll be able to read the whole thing for free.

If you can’t wait that long, or if you would like to support my writing, you’ll find links to the various stores where you can buy The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony or any of my other titles.

 


Nine

 

Over the next three nights, Mendleson could feel he was getting better. The minor cuts and scrapes had ceased to pain him. Only the major ones, the large tear on his side, and two others on his back, caused him any discomfort.
Henrietta had to apply the herbs to at least one of the three each morning after they’d come to a halt. Despite the pain it caused him, he found he didn’t mind her ministrations. He didn’t know if she was aware of what she was doing to him, but each day, he found it harder and harder to remain stoic while she attended to his wounds, especially during the moments when she was unwrapping the bandages.
One of the days, they’d found another inn to sleep at, but it had been full of rats and had an underlying musty smell, even in the heat of the summer. He hadn’t slept well at all. When he mentioned to Henrietta that he wished they’d slept outdoors, she had agreed.
The other two days, they’d had to find spots deep in the forest and away from the road to sleep the day away. He had worried about bandits, but she told him not to worry. His worry, it had turned out, had been for naught. No one came and stole their things or accosted them while they slept.
So when they reached the border city of Berelost a couple hours before sunrise, he had hope that they could find an inn that would allow him to get a good day’s sleep.
They emerged from the forest into a large clearing that surrounded the city. It was dotted with darkened homes. In the distance, lamplight lit the thirty foot tall city walls. They were a relic of the distant past when wars raged across the lands and each city had to look to its own protection.
Mendleson had never seen the city before. “I would have thought they would have abandoned the walls long ago,” he said to Henrietta.
“The memories in Berelost are long, and they do not look much to the future. The wars were hard on them.”
“You know this place well?” he asked.
“I spent a year here, before I moved to Porthead.”
“Why did you leave?”
“They asked me to,” she said.
Mendleson thought about asking her to elaborate, but decided against it. She didn’t sound like she wanted to talk about it.
As they approached the walls, they found the immense gate shut.
They sat atop their horses and waited at the gate for several minutes, but the guards were either asleep, or ignoring them in the hope they would go away.
“Do you want to see if they will let us in?”
Henrietta pulled at the reins of her horse. “No, there are only a couple hours at most before they open the gate. No need to bother them.”
Mendleson followed her, while wondering at her quick dismissal of his idea. He couldn’t imagine that asking would cause that much trouble.
Henrietta found a place away from the wall that was sheltered by a hedge. It had a nearby fence where they could tie up the horses.
Mendleson couldn’t contain his curiosity. “Why didn’t you want to ask them to let us in?” he asked while they tied their horses to separate fence posts.
“First, we’d have to tell them who we are, and then somehow convince them our mission was urgent.”
“It is urgent,” Mendleson said. “I need to find a bed.”
Henrietta finished tying her horse and went to sit up against the hedge. Moments later, Mendleson finished with his horse, and he walked over and sat next to her.
“Do you need a bed so much that you’re willing to risk getting tossed from that bed?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?” Mendleson ran his fingers through the grass.
“Remember how I told you that they asked me to leave? They warned me to never come back.”
Mendleson looked up. He could see the outline of her head against the glow created by the lamps along the walls. She was looking at those walls. “What did they say would happen?”
“They accused me of inciting lawlessness.”
Mendleson laughed. “You?”
“As I said, they prefer to look to the past. Their current status as just another city eats at their hearts.”
“Let me guess. You told someone important of their future, and they didn’t like it.”
Henrietta laughed for the first time since they’d left Gretta’s. Her laugh had a musical quality to it that warmed him and, for a moment, reminded him of better times. “Hardly,” she said. “I told an unscrupulous street vendor that I saw him in prison in the not too distant future. I had no idea what would land him there. I assumed it was his various tricks that would find him a free bed. Instead, he decided to try to kill the magistrate.”
“He didn’t succeed?”
“No,” she said without the laughter, “which is how he only ended up in prison, and I ended up leaving with the gate shut behind me.”
Mendleson looked out over the darkened landscape and contemplated what happened to her. After minutes of silence, he said, “You don’t think your vision for his future prompted him to fulfill that destiny, do you?”
“Are you asking if I think I should have withheld that particular future from him?”
“Do you?”
“The Fates are fickle and hard to decipher, even in the most obvious situations. If I had withheld that future from him, would I have caused him to do something else that landed him in prison? By telling him, I gave him the opportunity to change his ways and perhaps avoid prison. He made a different choice.”
“But if you hadn’t told him,” Mendleson said, “you might not have had to leave Berelost. You might not have come to Porthead.”
“But the Fates might have found another way to drive me toward my destiny. The vision I’ve had of my death since I was six has not changed in all these years—not until I met you. Even then, all I managed to do in my effort to avoid my fate is put you in the middle of it with me. My fate hasn’t changed, no matter what I’ve done.
“Are my visions given to me in order that I may try to change them? Or are they given to me so that I may tell the person involved so that they can try to change things? I can’t make that decision Mendleson. It’s not my decision to make.”
Mendleson looked at her again and saw she was staring straight ahead. He could see the slight crook of her nose as a silhouette. He found himself watching it, hoping she would turn it in his direction, hoping she would look at him. You confound me, Henrietta. You do everything you can to push me away, yet I’m drawn to try to save you as if you were family.
He didn’t even want to think about what that meant for his memory of his wife and son. He’d hardly thought of them in days. Upon realizing it, he felt his spirits sink, but they did not sink as far as he thought they should. Some other spirit buoyed them against the weight of his wife and his son.
For a moment, he felt like reaching out and hugging Henrietta to him. He needed her contact, but he refrained. It won’t do to get involved with her in that way, Mendleson. If she’s right, you’ll be dead in a few weeks or less.
But what if she’s seeing it wrong? What if she’s misinterpreting it like she did with the street merchant?
Mendleson couldn’t come to any conclusions while they sat next to each other in silence. After an hour or so, the sky grew lighter, and in the distance, he saw the gates to the city open.
“This will be my first time in a city,” Mendleson said as he untied his horse.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll only be here a day.”

 

* * *

 

Henrietta told herself, over and over as they entered the city, that she would make it through without any trouble. She felt confident they would make it through. In order for her vision to come to pass, they would have to. It was the “without any trouble” part that she worried about.
She’d lived within the stone walls, thicker than the length of a horse, for a year. She had to work to hold back those memories as she passed through the gate in the early morning light.
Berelost lived in its memories of previous glories. It had stood for centuries, dividing the kingdoms on either side, standing apart from them, until the day those two kingdoms became one. That new, unified kingdom spent all its might for three years on Berelost, and finally cracked it. Even now, a lifetime later, they remembered what they had been.
She led Mendleson through the still shadowed streets. She looked back over her shoulder and saw that his mouth hung open and his eyes constantly moved from one sight to another. She caught herself smiling and turned away, hoping he didn’t see it.
She did look around herself. The two and three story buildings loomed over the street, closer than she remembered. She knew people lived in them, above their shops, and that they weren’t really trying to crush her, but she couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that the city knew who she was and it didn’t want her there. Even after three years, her memories of this place clouded her perception of it.
She quit looking around and concentrated on her path through the maze of streets. The main road they had entered on did not drive straight through to the heart of the city. It meandered about, visiting many of the burroughs, until it finally reached the river that separated the eastern half of the city from its western half, and gave Berelost its reason for being.
Buildings could not be built out into the road at ground level. The law required that builders had to leave enough room for carriages to pass each other at any point. Above the ground floor, the builders were allowed to build as they pleased. As a result, the buildings hung out over the road, almost like their purpose was to block out the sky.
Henrietta looked up through a gap above her and saw that the morning was not dawning blue and bright, but cloudy and gray.
“Mendleson,” she said.
He stopped his gawking and pulled up next to her. “I don’t like this place,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m in a barrel.”
“You might have to get used to it,” she said.
“Why?”
“The sky, it has clouded over. There’s a storm coming, I think.”
“A vision?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No vision, just experience. They sometimes get late summer storms here that last for days. The year I lived here, rain fell and the wind blew for nearly a week. I couldn’t go outside for fear of losing my footing.”
“What should we do then? We can’t stop moving, can we?”
“I don’t know. We might not have a choice.”
She watched Mendleson rock his head back and yawn. “Should we just push through?”
“You’ll fall asleep on your horse. No, we need to rest.” She patted her pack. It was almost empty. “We need to purchase more supplies, too.”
She kept them moving, passing denizens of the city as they stepped outside their doors to head off to work, or to open their shops. The streets grew more and more choked with people as they drew close to the river.
When they reached the mall along the riverfront, it was already crowded, making it difficult to maneuver their horses with any speed. Over the top of the crowd, she could see the three bridges that spanned the murky channel of water. North of them, the docks were already busy with people readying their boats for trading voyages up and down the river.
She looked back and caught Mendleson looking that way, an expression of longing on his face.
“Do you miss it?” she asked him. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the noise of the mall.
He turned to look at her. “What?”
“Do you miss your boat, miss going out on the water?”
He stared at her for a moment, then glanced back over his shoulder at the docks. “No,” he said, finally, shaking his head. “It was another life.”
To Henrietta, he sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
Then he changed the subject on her. “Where are we going?”
She wanted to ask what he meant about it being another life, but decided to let it lie until later. “An inn on the other side of the river. I have a friend there.” I think.
“Then lead on,” he said, a hint of anger in his voice.
She couldn’t figure out what she’d done to upset him, but decided the mall was not the place to ask. It probably didn’t help matters that they were both tired. She wasn’t meant for traveling at night and sleeping during the day. She almost hoped they’d have to stay in for a couple days due to the storm. But then, she didn’t want to risk having the wraith appear. She didn’t want to risk having Mendleson foolishly try to save her again.
As she rode through the crowd and brought them across the middle bridge, a solid stone monstrosity wide enough for an army to cross, her thoughts turned to ways she could prevent Mendleson from helping her. Not one of the ways she could imagine had a real possibility of working.
Trying to leave while he slept seemed possible, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. The only way it could succeed is if she left him without his horse and without the money to purchase another. The problem was that it would leave him stranded, far from his home, with possibly no way to return.
It didn’t help, either, that she liked having him around. Except for the times when his mood grew sour after she brushed up against his previous life, either intentionally or on accident, he was easy company. He didn’t talk too much, didn’t press her for visions about his future. Of course, she’d already told him of his future.
She looked back at him. He had his head down, letting his horse follow hers. He’d stopped looking around and appeared to have sunk inward. She wanted to reach back somehow and put her arm around him, help him deal with his past. If only I knew how.
A man shouted at her. “Watch where you’re going!”
She turned around to find that she’d almost ridden her horse into a portly man dressed in a black suit, the jacket of which strained against the man’s middle. Streaks of gray ran through his dark hair, and he wore a mustache, the ends of which hung down below his chin.
She recognized him and her heart skipped a beat. He hadn’t changed much in the three years she’d been absent. Fates! Why do I have to run into the Magistrate? “I’m sorry,” she said, turning her head away slightly, as if ashamed. She hoped it would be enough. She hoped three years was enough.
His eyes searched her. Please don’t recognize me. She hoped the dirt of the road, the unwashed nature of her clothes, the undone state of her hair, would be enough to make her unrecognizable. She felt Mendleson come up beside her.
“Do I know you?” the magistrate asked.
“No,” she said, trying to act meek.
Mendleson leaned out in front of her. “Excuse my wife, sir. We are just passing through, and she is new to riding.”
The Magistrate’s gaze drifted to Mendleson as Mendleson spoke, but as soon as Mendleson finished, it flicked back to Henrietta. “Well,” he said, his eyes not leaving her, “perhaps you should lead her through the city, then.”
“Yes, yes,” Mendleson said. “I shall do that.” He took the reins of her horse from her, and started to lead her on. “Let’s go, Mathilda.”
She kept one eye on the Magistrate for as long as she was able, while trying to hide her relief and surprise at Mendleson’s quick thinking. The Magistrate turned and watched them go. He clearly recognized her, but couldn’t place her face.
She waited until they were around a corner before she pulled her reins back from Mendleson’s grasp.
“So who was that?” Mendleson asked.
“The Magistrate.” She watched alarm grow in his face.
“Should we just leave the city?”
Henrietta thought it over, and realized this might be her chance. The wraith would come for her wherever she was. She could save Mendleson this way. If only I’d thought of it while the Magistrate stood right next to me. “We could leave, but by nightfall, we’d be exhausted. The horses need rest and feed. We still have to purchase supplies. I think we have to risk that he won’t remember me.”
“But he does remember you,” Mendleson said. “It was clear from the way he couldn’t stop looking at you.”
“He remembers my face. He didn’t connect it with who I am, or he wouldn’t have allowed us to ride away.”
“But what if he does figure it out? What if he has already and is looking for us? I think we should go, now.”
“Mendleson, Berelost is a large city. Even if he makes the connection, he will have difficulty finding us before we leave.”
Mendleson turned away from her for a moment. He had to go along with it.
When he turned back, he said, “Only for the morning. You’re right, of course, we do need sleep, but I don’t think we should stay any longer than we have to. This place feels dangerous to me.”
That’ll be long enough. “This way, then,” she said, pulling her horse back into the lead. “We’ll go to the inn, sleep until midday, then pick up supplies on our way out.”
A gust of cold wind blew through the street, whipping her hair about her head. She looked up and saw the clouds above them had grown thicker and darker. If only the storm will stay away.

 


 
If you’ve read this far, and you just have to read the rest right now, you can get the eBook or a really awesome paperback from the following retailers.
 

E-Book Paperback
Amazon
BN.com
Sony
Kobo
iBookStore
Smashwords
DriveThruFiction.com
Amazon
CreateSpace
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Read Chapter Ten of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony

Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Eight

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
Every Wednesday, I’m uploading another chapter from a novel that I’ve written, in order, so that eventually you will be able to read the book for free right here on this website. Today, it’s Chapter Eight of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony.

It’s going to take another fifteen weeks for the entire thing to be posted here, so if you just can’t wait to read the rest (or if you are enjoying it and want to support me), there are links to purchase the book from different places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble at the end of each chapter.

If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here.

Enjoy!

 


Eight

 

Mendleson thought it fortunate that they were taking the trip in the middle of summer. They could travel light without the need for tents and heavy blankets, and the sky stayed clear, allowing the stars and the moon to light their way.
They followed the road out of town, still continuing south along the coast. He knew they would have to turn east at some point, as he was vaguely aware that Arabeth lay in that direction.
But he’d never been so far from home. Riding along the coast, it didn’t look much different from his home. The moon reflected off the sea whenever it wasn’t blocked by dunes or bluffs or the trees that grew on them.
The trees were the biggest difference. There were so many more of them dotting the hillsides. He didn’t think there was room for farmland in any direction for miles.
On occasion, they passed a solitary home, the windows dark while its occupants slept.
Most of the time, when not keeping an eye out for wraiths, he watched Henrietta’s back. He wondered what she was thinking, and he pondered the possible reasons she had grown so angry with him.
She couldn’t possibly have feelings for him. Not after three days. She kept trying to get rid of him. She’d even tried to leave while he slept.
Even if she did feel something for him, his memory of Mirrielle would come between them, wouldn’t it? But when he thought about it, he realized he hadn’t dreamed of Mirrielle since meeting Henrietta, and he only thought of Mirrielle when Henrietta brought it up.
Are you telling me something Mirrielle? I’m not ready.
“Mendleson.”
“What?” He looked up and found that they had come to a road that lead east, and Henrietta had turned down it while he’d been… What was I doing exactly?
He brought his horse around to follow her, and waved a mental goodbye to the sea.
“I hope Paulus came looking for me and took care of my animals,” he said.
“What?”
“My animals. My horse, the sheep. I hope someone found them and took care of them. I feel like I won’t see them again.”
“You’ll see them again.”
“Will I? Will I even go back there again?” He thought about Paulus. Hugh. “Damn.”
“What?”
“They’re probably all looking for us.”
“They’ll look for you. Me, they’ll assume I got on the coach.”
In the starlight, all he could see of her was her silhouette.
“Why are you so melancholy of a sudden?” she asked.
He looked back over his shoulder, and the sea had disappeared. “I’ve always lived near the sea, even as a boy. It’s a part of me, and I’m leaving it behind.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, and Mendleson began to think she wouldn’t say anything at all. The only sound was the thud of the horses hooves on the packed dirt road.
She surprised him when she spoke again. “When I left my home, I think I felt much the same as you. I feared I would never return. I feared I would miss the trees and the stone.
“And, for a while, I did miss them. But I found new things to see and love. The sound of the waves as they break upon shore, the view of the sea, the sound of the wind as it roars off the water.
“You will find new things, too, if you choose not to return. Do not mourn your past. There is always a future.”
Mendleson liked listening to her, even if the last bit sounded like rote Seer wisdom. Her voice had a soothing quality to it, when she chose to use it.
“Do you believe that?” he asked.
“Believe what?”
“That there is always a future.” As soon as he finished, he wished he could have the words back. He knew the answer she would give, and he felt like fish guts for making her think it.
Before she could respond, he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“No, it’s all right,” she said. “You weren’t asking about me.”
“No, I wasn’t.” he said.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He thought back to the memory, the days after, the years since. They still hurt, even though he now felt like he had a purpose for the first time since the moment he’d discovered Mirrielle and Josua dead at the center of his burnt out house.
“Not right now,” he said, and let his horse drop back behind hers. He hadn’t thought about them deeply for days, but the night-time ride gave him ample time to think.

 

* * *

 

Henrietta called a halt to their ride as they entered a small village just after dawn. Children were already up and playing in the gaps between the houses. Men readied themselves for the fields and other professions.
It had a small inn, and she found herself knocking on the door while Mendleson tied up their horses. She looked back at him while she waited for the proprietor to open the door. He hadn’t said a word since she asked if he wanted to talk about his future. She suspected, however, it wasn’t his future he mulled over, but his past.
That question had somehow caused him to revert to the man he’d been for the four years prior to the festival.
The door opened, and she found herself confronted by a man that appeared to be three times her age. His head grew only a white fringe of hair around its crown, and his nose hooked down so that it nearly obscured his upper lip. His bones looked ready to split his skin if he sat or moved the wrong way.
“What’s this, you bothering us so early with your bangin’?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to look contrite. She had thought he would be up and about with his guests already. “My…” she looked at Mendleson, “husband and I need a room for the day.”
“For the day? What sort of folk are you that you need a room for the day?”
“Just travelers. Please sir, we’ve been riding all night, and just need a safe place to sleep.”
A hand reached around the door and pulled it open wider, revealing a stout woman that stood more than a foot shorter than the man. Her girth more than made up for the difference.
“Give the dears a room old man,” she said. “They look exhausted. Have your husband…” Henrietta heard a cough behind her, but didn’t turn around, “…take the horses around back to the stable.”
“Thad, go take care of those horses,” the woman said. She reached out her hand to Henrietta. “Come in, dear. He’s just ornery in the morning.”
Henrietta took her hand. As the woman pulled her into the inn, Henrietta looked over her shoulder and saw Mendleson leading the horses away. I hope he has the good sense to play along.
The woman led her into a dining area that looked to take up most of the first floor of the inn. It was empty of patrons.
“Do you not have many guests?” Henrietta asked.
“Some days, we have several, other days, none. Last night was one of the latter. Those days makes Thad testy. Here, sit a moment.”
She pulled out a chair for Henrietta, and Henrietta sat in it, despite not having much desire to sit. She hadn’t ridden a horse so far in years, and she felt sore all over, but mostly in the parts she was sitting on.
“Would you dears need to eat something before I show you a room?” the woman asked.
“What do you have?”
“I could heat up bread and broth right quick. We weren’t much prepared for guests this morning.”
Henrietta sighed. She’d much prefer eggs or salted pork. “That’ll be fine,” she said.
Mendleson came into the room from the back carrying their packs. He set the packs down next to the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down much like Henrietta imagined Thad would sit. “Why are we sitting? I just want to lay down and sleep.”
“She’s making us something to eat.”
“A slab of roast?” he asked.
Her mouth watered. “Bread and broth.”
“That’ll do,” he said, crossed his arms on the table and laid his head on them. Henrietta had an urge to reach out and run her fingers through his hair, but she kept her hand to herself.
They waited that way until the woman came out with a tray. On it rested two steaming bowls and a plate with bread. Mendleson lifted his head up.
She set the tray on the table, placed a bowl in front of each of them, and set the bread plate in the middle.
“Let me know when you dears are ready for your room, and I’ll take ya up.”
“Thank you.”
The woman walked away and left them alone.
“So,” Mendleson said in a low voice, “why did you tell them I was your husband?”
“I thought it would forestall strange questions.”
“You could just as easily have said I was your guardian, like we did last time.”
“I didn’t want to let them know what I am, and I wanted us in the same room.”
“Why?”
“In these small towns, Seers can be overwhelmed with requests for visions, if they’re not run out of town. You never know what will happen.”
“No,” he said. “Why did you want us in the same room?”
“To save money,” she said, not wanting to examine her motives. She didn’t want to admit to not knowing why she did it. She didn’t want to admit to the possibility that she did.
“We have plenty of money,” he said.
“Just eat. We’ll discuss it in the room.”
He stared at her. She stared back, and for a moment, she thought she could see into his mind, and into his past. Then he broke eye contact, picked up his spoon and scooped broth into his mouth.
They finished their meal in silence. When they were done, the woman appeared out of nowhere, as if she had been watching them.
“Are you ready for your room?” she asked.
“Please,” Henrietta said, and stood.
Mendleson stood, too, then picked up their packs.
They followed the woman up a stairwell near the back of the inn and then down a hallway until she reached the end. She opened a door on the right, then stood there while they entered the room. It looked nice for a room in a village this small. Henrietta suspected it was their best room.
It had a bed, a wash basin, and a rocking chair. A poorly executed painting of the Fates hung above the bed. Henrietta looked back at the woman. Does she know? But the woman wasn’t looking at her. She was instead engaged in getting payment from Mendleson.
“Ma’am, would you mind waking us just before dusk,” Henrietta asked.
The woman closed her fleshy fist around the coin Mendleson had just placed in her palm and looked up. “Of course,” she said. “Just before dusk. Will you want something to eat before you leave?”
Henrietta looked to Mendleson, who was looking at her. She couldn’t read his expression. “That would be nice,” she said. It would certainly be better than eating on the road.
“I’ll see to it, then,” the woman said. “Have a good rest.” She turned and walked down the hall.
Mendleson closed the door. She saw him eye the bed, then the window. The window had curtains, but they weren’t at all thick. She watched him go to the bed and pull a blanket off.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He took the blanket to the window. “I’m going to cover the window.” He hung the blanket up on the curtain rod, and the room grew much darker.
He went back to the bed, took hold of the other blanket and pulled it off.
“What are you doing now?”
In the darkness, he looked puzzled. “I’m going to lay this out under me so that I don’t have to sleep directly on the floor.”
Henrietta felt her heart beat a little faster. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor. There’s room for both of us on the bed.”
She could see his head turn as he looked between her and the bed.
“Are you sure?”
She imagined laying next to him, feeling his body against hers. What will it feel like to touch him? To feel his warmth so close? It was possible he would be her last chance to find out what a man felt like so close.
“I’m sure,” she said. Really? But she wanted it. She wanted to know.
He put the blanket back, then went around to the other side of the bed, putting it in between them.
He unlaced his shirt, and she found herself watching him. As the shirt came away, it exposed the bandages he wore underneath. A stray sunbeam caught one of them, and she thought she saw red where blood had soaked through.
Damn. She had forgotten about his wounds. “I should not have let you carry those bags,” she said. “Sit down.”
“What?”
“I think you ripped open one of the wounds. Come over here and sit on the bed next to the lamp, and I’ll tend to it.”
She went to the nightstand and lit the lamp, bringing the light up enough to see. He came around and sat down. Up close, she saw that two of the bandages were red with his blood.
She searched through her pack until she found the herb packages Gretta had stowed inside. She took out two of them, and brought them to the bed. Gretta had thought to wrap the packages in additional bandages, for which Henrietta silently thanked her.
Looking at the wounds, she decided the worst one was the one on his side. She reached around him to get at where the bandage had been tied off, which brought her face close to his chest. She could smell him, and far from being unpleasant, it made her want to lay her head on his chest.
She almost did before she remembered what she was doing and untied the bandage. She had to reach around him more than once to unwrap it, and every time, it brought her in close to him.
When the bandage was completely free, she looked down and saw the damage the wraith had done to him, and she hissed. It was far worse than she had imagined. There were cuts all over his torso. “How did you even manage to ride today?” she whispered.
“I didn’t ride on my belly,” he said.
She found the wound that was bleeding the most. It was a six inch gash on his side, just below his ribs.
She went to the washbasin, which she found full of water. A couple cloths were next to it. Henrietta silently thanked the woman for seeing to their needs. She picked up one of the cloths, dipped it in the water, then went back and knelt down in front of Mendleson.
She wiped the blood away from the wound and saw that it had only pulled open enough to bleed a bit and make a mess. Mendleson didn’t move under her ministrations.
“Doesn’t this hurt?” she asked.
“Of course it does,” he said.
“Then why don’t you move?”
“If I moved, everything else would hurt.”
Henrietta laughed, and she had to pull her hand away from him until she could stop.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “You’re just so contradictory.”
“I don’t understand.”
She looked up into his eyes, and they were watching her. “You sit here, not moving, in order to avoid additional pain. Yet you insist on coming with me wherever I go, knowing that my vision says your path will end in your death.”
His eyes kept watching hers, but he didn’t open his mouth to say anything. She wondered what he was thinking. She wondered if, perhaps, he was thinking about his wife.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away. “Maybe it isn’t that funny.”
She reached over and grabbed a packet of herbs. She pinched some out, and then began packing them into his wound. He did flinch, then. After she finished packing the wound, she wrapped the bandage around him again.
His closeness seemed different this time. More comforting, less exciting.
“No,” he said. “You don’t have to be sorry.”
“But…” she tried to protest.
He put his fingers to her mouth to stop her. “We’re both tired. And you are right. It is a contradiction, but it’s not one I’m sure I can explain.”
He stood up, walked around to the other side of the bed, then climbed on it, and lay on his back.
Henrietta took the bloodied cloth to the washbasin where she set it to the side. She picked up the other cloth, dipped it in the water, and wiped her face.
The washbasin had a mirror above it that let her see Mendleson lying in bed while she cleaned up. With his wounds and the long horse-ride, she realized she’d have to wait before she could discover what it meant to be a woman. I wonder if Gretta was laughing when she told me he had to avoid anything strenuous. Did she know what I might do?
She searched through their packs until she found a nightgown. She looked at Mendleson and saw he had his eyes closed. She stripped off her clothes as quickly as she could and slipped into the gown.
She climbed into bed, blew out the lamp, then lay her head down. After a moment, when Mendleson hadn’t moved, she rolled to face him, and she moved in close enough that she could breathe in his scent while she slept.

 


 
If you’ve read this far, and you just have to read the rest right now, you can get the eBook or a really awesome paperback from the following retailers.
 

E-Book Paperback
Amazon
BN.com
Sony
Kobo
iBookStore
Smashwords
DriveThruFiction.com
Amazon
CreateSpace
Barnes & Noble

 
Read Chapter Nine of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony

Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Seven

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
This is Chapter 7 of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. I’m putting up a new chapter of the book for free each Wednesday, and after another sixteen weeks, you’ll be able to read the entire book for free.

If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here. If you just can’t wait to read the rest, there are links to purchase the book in many different formats at the end of each chapter.

 
 
 
 


Seven

 

Henrietta felt much better now that she had confessed her weakness to Mendleson and Gretta. To have her fear and frustration out in the open seemed to have lifted a burden from her, or at the very least, made it lighter. She didn’t have to carry it alone anymore.
She still couldn’t sleep. Instead, she spent the night worrying the wraith would come for her. She had thought herself so composed, back in her home, when she had planned to travel to the mountains alone. I wonder if I would have made it. Would I have turned tail and run again? Is that why the Fates brought Mendleson into my life?
The thought only gave her another topic to keep her awake. His plan sounded good, but how would it really work out? Was there a way to change her fate? Was there a way to change his?
But what really bothered her was that she couldn’t keep the picture of his face out of her mind. The way he looked at her, concern without reverence or fear. He cared about her, and she knew he thought it was an opportunity to correct for not saving his wife. Henrietta didn’t care why, though. For the first time since her Gran passed away, someone cared, and it wasn’t because of what she could do.
Henrietta was surprised at how long the morning took to come. She had thought it late when she tried leaving him, and with all that happened, she imagined the morning sun couldn’t have been more than an hour or two away.
When it did come, she still hadn’t slept, and felt so weary that she didn’t want to get out of bed.
But she forced herself out anyway. She dressed in her other change of clothes and stepped out of her room. She smelled eggs and biscuits cooking, and followed her nose to find Gretta in the kitchen, humming.
“Have a seat,” Gretta said, pointing to the table.
Henrietta took a seat, and moments later, Gretta put a plate and a fork in front of her. Henrietta loaded her fork with eggs and stuck them in her mouth. She felt them slide down her throat to warm her up.
“You look like you didn’t sleep,” Gretta said while sitting down across from her with her own plate.
“I didn’t.”
“Any particular reason?”
“First, I worried the wraith would show up here, but later, I started thinking about Mendleson.”
“He cares for you.”
“Does he? It seems that way, even to me. But I wonder if he’s just helping me because of his wife.” Henrietta took a bite of her biscuit. Gretta had buttered it for her already.
“He’s married?”
Henrietta shook her head while she tried to swallow the biscuit. “No,” she said once the biscuit was down. “Not anymore. His wife died in a fire a few years ago, along with their son. I’ve heard that he blames himself for not being there to save her.”
“Where was he?”
“He was a fisherman. I think he was out on the water fishing.”
Gretta looked thoughtful. The two of them ate in silence for a bit.
“So tell me about the festival,” Gretta said, breaking the silence. “Why were you there? I’ve never known you to attend those things.”
“I don’t, usually. But I had a vision of myself going to the festival, so I went.”
“What happened there?”
“Some women wanted me to see for them right then and there, but I couldn’t see anything. I managed to escape and found myself next to Mendleson. We struck up a conversation, and then he asked me if there was any way he might have saved his wife.”
“That’s why you think he’s helping you.”
Henrietta nodded. “I moved to leave. He reached out and grabbed my hand, and I had the vision. I’ve tried everything I could think of to get him to leave, but he’s so stubborn.”
Gretta chuckled. “Henrietta, you had a vision of yourself going to the festival. You were supposed to meet Mendleson. You were supposed to have that vision. Why are you so certain your vision means doom?”
“The wraiths attack him, and when they come away, he’s motionless on the ground. What else could it mean?”
“Henrietta, you’ve been alone your whole life.”
Anger welled up within Henrietta. Why would Gretta say that? “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you know what love is?”
“It’s what happens when two people like each other so much they can’t bear to be apart.”
Gretta laughed. “Love, Henrietta, is when a man drags a woman halfway across town to get help for her while he nearly bleeds his own life onto the street.”
No. “But we hardly know each other.”
“And what makes you think knowledge is a requirement for love?”
How can this be? I don’t believe it. “If love is involved here, it’s the love of his wife, not of me.”
“It may have started that way, but I can only tell you what I saw. I saw a man who had more concern for you than for himself. He may not even know it yet. Most men are too thick-headed to understand what’s happening.”
“But…”
“Don’t argue with me just for the sake of arguing. I’m an old woman, Henrietta, and I’ve seen the many relationships people have when their loved ones are dying. Listen to your heart, not your Sight. Try to understand what it’s saying to you.”
Henrietta finished the last of her breakfast. Could she be right? What does it matter if she is? There’s not enough time. I can’t let him die for me.
She stood up. Her legs felt stronger from the food, but still weary. “Thank you for the breakfast, Gretta.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to wake Mendleson. We should be on our way.”
Gretta came around the table and gave Henrietta a hug. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Mendleson won’t wake for hours, not after the draught I gave him finally took hold. And you need sleep, too.”
Henrietta yawned. She did need sleep. “What about my things? Are they still at the inn? I should go get them.”
“I’ll have Brode retrieve them.”
Gretta couldn’t be right. It’s only been three days. Love doesn’t happen that fast, does it? And what does it matter? I don’t love him.
Then she thought about the kiss in her vision that had seemed so real. Maybe there’s something to what Gretta says. But how do I listen to my heart?

 

* * *

 

Mendleson found Henrietta sitting at the end of his bed when he woke. He had no idea how long she’d been there, but it felt good to see her. He remembered a conversation taking place at some point. He had a vague memory of convincing her to let him protect her, but he couldn’t quite figure out if it had been a dream or not.
Seeing her sitting there watching him indicated that maybe it had been real, after all.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
Mendleson hadn’t even noticed, but after her question, his aches impinged upon him.
“I’ve felt better. That wraith nearly got the better of me, didn’t it.” It certainly felt like it. If he didn’t remember the thing going up in flames, he wouldn’t have been surprised if it had won their battle.
“From what Gretta tells me, you’re lucky to be alive.”
“It’s not luck,” he said, and chuckled a little before the pain of it stopped him.
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s fate, isn’t it? I can’t die until your vision says I do.”
Henrietta shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“It is dead, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It won’t matter. Like I said last night, there are others that will come for me.”
Mendleson sat up, despite the pain, and swung his legs out of the bed. They were bare. He silently thanked Gretta for not removing his underclothes. “I guess I’m not going far without my clothes.” He looked at her. “Don’t let that give you any ideas. I’d follow you without them.”
She laughed, which brought his spirits up. He could not remember hearing her laugh before. “I’m sure you would. I’ve done everything I could to get rid of you.”
“You haven’t tried to kill me yet.”
Her smile fell. “I’m trying to prevent your death, Mendleson. Not hasten it.”
Mendleson looked down at his feet and flexed his toes. They were about the only part of him not bandaged. “I’m trying to do the same for you.”
“Why? Because of your wife?”
“Partly,” he said. “but I’m not sure anymore. I’ve saved you twice already. Why can’t I just get on a horse and head home?”
“Why don’t you?”
He looked back at her, saw her hair, her eyes that seemed so open, yet hid so much. Why don’t I? She was at once, so strong, yet so vulnerable. “I don’t know why,” he said. “It just feels like I should stay with you.”
“At risk of your life?”
“I made a promise to myself, Henrietta. I promised myself I wouldn’t let you die.”
Henrietta stood up. “You shouldn’t have made that promise, Mendleson. You should have left well enough alone.”
“Maybe I should have. But it’s too late now, isn’t it? We’re on this course, and we have to sail it.”
Henrietta sighed, then walked to the door. She opened it and made as if to step out, then turned to face him.
“You know what Gretta said?”
Mendleson shook his head.
“She told me she thought you were in love with me.”
“How is that possible?” he asked. “We’ve known each other three days.” It’s not possible is it? Could I love her? No.
“That’s what I told her, but she seemed certain.”
They stared at each other, he sitting on his bed, covered in bandages, her standing at the door, beautiful as ever.
“It doesn’t matter, does it? Even if I was in love with you, you can’t say the same thing about me, seeing as how you’re always trying to get rid of me.”
Mendleson watched her for a reaction, but she held her face still. “Of course not,” she said. “You’re too bull-headed for me. You should get ready to go. We have a long ride.”
She turned and walked out the door, shutting it behind her with a loud bang.
“Wait! Where are my clothes?”
She didn’t come back to answer him.

 

* * *

 

Henrietta did not know how he had just made her so angry. I’m only trying to protect you, you oaf. He’s right anyway. How could it be love after three days of running and sleeping. I hardly know anything about you, either.
She let herself fume in silence until she ran into Gretta. “Do you want to see if that fool is ready to go? I don’t think we should stay another night.”
“What’s wrong, Henrietta?”
“Nothing.” Apparently, she hadn’t quite controlled her anger yet. “If we’re going to do this, I think we need to get moving, and he’s sitting around in there without any clothes on.”
“You didn’t tell him where they were?”
“I’d like you to examine him first. I don’t want him dying on me.”
“Oh, he’s fine, as long as he doesn’t exert himself too much for a few days.”
“A few days?” What if we’re attacked again?
“He should be good to ride. Just don’t make him carry you to any more healers. I’ll let him know where his clothes are. Brode has the horses out back.”
“Thank you,” Henrietta said.
Gretta left, and Henrietta made her way to the back of the house where Gretta had a stable.
Henrietta found Gretta’s husband in the stable grooming horses, only they weren’t the horses from the coach. The coach was missing, too. “Where is the coach?”
Brode made Mendleson look small. Henrietta could imagine he would appear to be a giant in the right lighting. Which made it all the more amusing when she talked with him. “I haven’t seen you in a while, Brode.”
“I saw you,” he said, and rushed over to envelope her in a hug. His voice sounded like a child’s. “You’re lucky your friend brought you here, I think.”
“What happened to our horses?”
“Gretta had me sell them, and the coach, too. She said where you were going, you might be better off with more speed, so we bought these.”
Henrietta didn’t have any eye for horses. They all pretty much looked the same to her, but she nodded anyway. “She’s probably right.” Though I’m not in any hurry to hasten my death.
Brode dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a purse that jingled. “This is yours, too. Leftovers from selling everything.”
She took it and found it was heavy. It would probably be more useful than the coach.
Besides, this way, you won’t have to sit next to him and talk for the whole trip. She couldn’t decide whether that was really a benefit.
Mendleson stepped outside, a bit gingerly. Gretta followed him, carrying a pair of packs. Henrietta found herself wondering if leaving right now was a good idea. Perhaps they could wait another night.
“Are you sure you can do this?” she asked as Mendleson and Gretta entered the stable.
“Gretta assures me they’re just flesh wounds, and that now they’ve scabbed over, I’ll be fine as long as I don’t exert myself too much. I’ve had worse injuries.”
He looked around, then out through the stable door where dusk was just beginning to arrive. “We travel at night?” he asked.
“At least tonight,” she said, feeling defensive.
“It’s probably a good plan. At least we’ll be awake when they attack us.”
Gretta handed the packs to Brode, who draped them across the horses. “There are a few packages of herbs in your pack,” she said to Henrietta. “If any of his wounds break open, pack the herbs in the wound and dress it again.”
Henrietta nodded.
“He should be mostly better in a few days. Today and tomorrow will be the time to take the most care.”
“Thank you, Gretta, for everything.”
“I appreciate the thanks, but there is no need. You helped me long ago,” she said, looking at Brode who was helping Mendleson into his saddle. “I am only returning the favor.”
Henrietta leaned in and hugged Gretta. “You deserve my thanks anyway,” she said. Even if you’re wrong about love.
Henrietta mounted her horse without too much trouble.
She looked at Mendleson, wondered if she should say anything, then decided against it. Putting her heals into the horse, she directed it out into the early evening. She didn’t wait to see if Mendleson followed.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the smells of salt air, knowing it would be the last time she smelled the sea.
Mendleson rode up next to her. “I’ll miss that smell,” he said.
She surprised herself. For the moment, she felt content. She was on her fated path with her fated company. It felt right.
Until she remembered where it lead, and her contentedness fell apart to shatter on the road.

 


 
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Read The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Chapter Eight

Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Six

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
This is Chapter 6 of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. I’m putting up a new chapter of the book for free each Wednesday, and after another seventeen weeks, you’ll be able to read the entire book for free.

If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here. If you just can’t wait to read the rest, there are links to purchase the book in many different formats at the end of each chapter.


Six

 

Henrietta’s eyelids flipped open and she found herself staring up at a ceiling that looked familiar.
“So, Henrietta, it seems you’ve found a savior.”
She absolutely recognized the voice. “Gretta.”
Henrietta brought her elbows underneath her and pushed herself up. The room was exactly as she remembered it. When she looked at Gretta, she found the older woman hadn’t changed much either. Her hair still hung straight and shoulder length, though there was a little more silver above her ears. Her smile was as welcoming as ever.
“How is it that you didn’t come stay with me instead of at that awful inn that Rupert runs?”
“You know the innkeeper?”
“Of course, dear. He sends me work at least twice a week. Can’t seem to keep his customers from getting hurt. Now answer my question.”
If there was one thing Henrietta remembered about Gretta, it was that Gretta could badger information out of a stone. With her, it was usually easier to just spill the seeds. “I didn’t want to bring my trouble on you.”
Gretta laughed. “Nonsense. You didn’t want me getting my fingers on that man of yours. He’s something special.”
Henrietta shook her head. “He’s just a friend…Wait. Is he here?”
“He’s in the other room, sleeping off the draught I gave him.”
“Sleeping off the… Gretta. How did I get here?” Henrietta remembered a wraith coming for her. It had her in its grip. It was pulling something out of her. Then nothing. Her memory ended.
“Your friend brought you here, strapped across a horse. I’m not sure what happened to either of you. A knock on the head for you, perhaps, but he had gashes all over him, and he lost a lot of blood, I think. It must have been some fight.”
Worry overcame her. “Is he alright? He’s not…”
Gretta reached out and patted Henrietta’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry. He’s fine. He’s got me to look after him.”
Henrietta relaxed. She wished she knew what had happened. But as long as he didn’t die because of her.
“How long will he be out?”
“A few hours, I should imagine. Enough for the salves to do their work.”
Henrietta tried to push herself up. “Time to leave, then,” she said.
Gretta held her down. “Woah, not yet. Not until I know you’re recovered from that knock on the head. Besides, like I said, your man won’t be awake for hours.”
“He’s not my man,” she said. Why does it feel wrong to say that?
“I think he would differ. He seemed far more concerned with you than with himself.”
“He thinks he can save me,” Henrietta said softly.
Gretta’s eyes went wide at that and she sat on the edge of the bed. “It can’t be your time, can it?”
Henrietta nodded. “I can’t see beyond the summer.”
Gretta leaned over and wrapped her arms around her. Henrietta closed her eyes and tried not to cry. She felt just like when Gran had wrapped her up as a child, before Gran’s time had come.
“I can’t believe the fates would be so cruel,” Gretta said as she sat back up.
Henrietta shook her head. “They aren’t cruel, Gretta. They just are. Every person, every living thing, has their part to play.”
“But we can all change our part. You’ve told me as much yourself.”
“Not us. Not me.”
“I don’t understand,” said Gretta.
Henrietta took a breath. She’d been told by her Gran not to reveal the secrets to any who weren’t Seers, but at the moment, she didn’t care. She’d tried to accept what she knew would come, but Mendleson kept interfering.
There was an attraction between them that could perhaps grow into more, given enough time. The kiss in her vision. Is that all she would be allowed?
She needed help, and Gran was long dead.
“What my Gran told me is that there are a limited number of Seer’s at any one time. Their gift is that they can see the possible futures. They can see the fate of people so that they might change it.”
Gretta nodded, but did not speak.
“Gran told me there are two prices the Seer must pay for her Sight,” Henrietta continued. “The first is that the Seer learns of her death on the day she receives the gift. The second…”
“The second is what?” Mendleson’s voice came from the doorway.
Henrietta turned and saw him leaning against the door frame for support. His face looked whiter than normal, and he seemed a little wobbly. “Mendleson…”
Gretta said at the same time, “You should not be up.”
“What is the second price, Henrietta?” he asked. As wobbly as his body was, his eyes were steady.
“Seer’s can not change their fate.”
Gretta stood up and went to Mendleson. She led him to the bed and forced him to sit. This allowed Henrietta a chance to study the man that brought her here.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt, but with the number of bandages Gretta had applied, he didn’t need one. He was more bandage than skin.
Once Gretta had him sitting, he asked, “Then what is it that I have done these last three days? Haven’t I changed your fate?”
Henrietta didn’t know what to say for a moment. He had changed her fate. Just talking to her on the festival night had changed it slightly. It put him in the middle of it. It changed his fate more than hers.
Or, was it the other way around? Was it I that changed his fate? Am I responsible for this?
“I wish I could talk to Gran.” she said.
“Why?”
She hadn’t realized she said it aloud. “She had more time to learn. She had more knowledge about the gift than anyone I knew.”
“What would she know that you don’t?” he asked.
“She would know whether you are correct. Did you change my fate already? Or is it I that changed your fate? Is the vision I had of your death due to my attempt to change my fate?”
His eyes grew soft with concern for her. “Don’t you even think that. I didn’t have to reach for you. I didn’t have to follow after you. How could your vision of my death be your fault?”
“I came to your town to try to avoid my fate. I thought that if I stayed away from anywhere that remotely looked like my vision, I would be safe from it. Why is it that Gran got to live to be an old woman, yet I must die before I’ve even had a chance to live? I hate my gift.”
The tears came. She hadn’t meant to say that. She’d never told anyone how she felt. She had never before come close to saying it aloud. She’d kept it from herself for so many years.
Gretta bent down to give her a hug and comfort. “There, there,” she said. “We’ll figure this out.”
Henrietta wished she believed her friend. She wished it was Mendleson that had put his arms around her.

 

* * *

 

Mendleson felt awful. His head was woozy from either the tea the healer had dosed him with or the blood loss. He ached everywhere.
But it was good to see that Henrietta was awake and that she appeared to be much better off than he. He’d silently congratulated himself as he stood in the doorway, nearly falling over, for keeping her alive for another day.
Of course, he’d then made a fool of himself by practically falling onto the bed when Gretta had pulled him over. She apparently expected him to be asleep. He took a little pleasure in frustrating her.
He hadn’t quite managed to follow all of the conversation, but he’d followed enough. He couldn’t accept that she had put him in danger. I made choices. My fate is my fault.
He couldn’t accept that he hadn’t changed her fate. If he hadn’t stepped in, she would be dead now. Not sometime in the future.
When Gretta hugged Henrietta, Mendleson found himself wishing that it was he providing her comfort. Whatever she thought, he had made her his responsibility. Of course, he could barely keep upright at the moment.
“What’s there to figure out?” Henrietta asked, after she pulled away from Gretta’s embrace.
“Yes,” Mendleson said, remembering the burning lump he’d left on the floor of the inn. “What is there to figure out? I killed that thing. I know I did.”
“You can’t kill them, Mendleson. I told you that.”
“It was a burning lump when I left it. There was hardly anything left.”
“Even if you did kill it,” Henrietta said, “There are more than one. Another will be sent, if they aren’t already on the way. That might not have even been the same one.”
“Then what do we do? How do we change your fate?”
Henrietta pounded the bed. “By the Fates, Mendleson, don’t you get it? My fate can’t be changed! This,” and she waved her arm around the room, “you sitting here hurt, this is all part of it. I’m not supposed to die in this town! I wasn’t going to die that first time! You have to get away from me!”
He thought of another tack. “What if I can’t?”
She calmed down a bit. “What do you mean?”
“What if I can’t leave? What if I try? Won’t something bring me back? What if it’s too late?”
“How can that be? You just have to go.”
“Really? Like you tried to do last night? Like you tried in Porthead?” Mendleson watched the color drain from her face. “Both times you’ve tried to leave me out of it, events conspired against you to bring me back into it. Did those wraiths show up to kill you, or to keep me with you?”
No one spoke while Henrietta digested what he said. He didn’t believe it true, but he was sure she would. I’ll use anything I can in order to keep my promise.
“Wouldn’t it be safer for both of us,” he said, “if you just accepted that I was coming with you while we figure out how to change your fate?”
“I’m so sorry, Mendleson. I never meant to do this to you.”
“Why are you so sure it was your fault?” he asked.
“You were never in my vision of my end until that night at the festival.”
He wanted to reach out and wipe the tear from her eye that he saw there. “I still don’t believe that means it was your fault.”
They fell back into silence again. Gretta stood between them, looking first at one, then the other, apparently waiting for something.
“Now that’s settled,” she said, “would you allow me to give you some advice, Henrietta?”
Henrietta nodded.
“I may not be a Seer, but I am an old woman who happens to be a healer. I’ve met quite a few people and learned quite a few things. I had the opportunity, once, to treat a man that was on his way to visit the Oracle of Arabeth.”
“Who is that?” Mendleson asked.
“When he told me, I had no idea who he was talking about, either, so I asked him the same thing you just asked me.”
“Arabeth is near my home, but I haven’t heard of this Oracle,” said Henrietta.
“He told me that a Seer in his village had told him to seek out the Oracle for an answer to his question. I can’t do anything but imagine that this Oracle is a Seer.”
“Henrietta,” Mendleson said, “Maybe this Oracle could help us find a way to change your fate.”
“What about your fate?” she asked. “Aren’t you worried about it?”
“My fate, too,” he lied. He wasn’t worried about his fate at all. If he died saving her, it would be a fair price for his atonement.
“But, Arabeth,” Henrietta said. “The mountains. We’d be traveling directly toward where my vision tells me I will end.”
Mendleson hadn’t realized that. “It seems there is little choice. We either continue as we have, fighting it all the way, and find ourselves forced there, or we choose to go and hope we find help before the end.”
More silence followed as they mulled it over in their heads. Eyes met, glances were exchanged. Mendleson hoped she’d decide soon. He wanted to lay down and go back to sleep.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Henrietta asked.
Mendleson nodded. “I’ll fight to keep you alive as long as there is breath in me.” It sounded silly to his ears, but he’d said it, and meant it.
“Will he be ready by tomorrow, Gretta?”
Mendleson didn’t give Gretta a chance to answer. “I’ll be ready.”
Gretta sighed. “Then you’d better get back into your own bed and sleep off that tonic I gave you.”
Mendleson tried to stand, and had to wait for help from Gretta.
“Tomorrow,” he said as he left. “And don’t try leaving without me. I can’t fight another one of those things right now.”

 


If you’ve read this far, and you just have to read the rest right now, you can get the eBook or a really awesome paperback from the following retailers.

E-Book Paperback
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BN.com
Sony
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Amazon
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Read Chapter Seven of the Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony

Free Novel Wednesday – The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony: Five

The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony Cover
And late again, although this time, due to the Memorial Day holiday, I spent most of today thinking it was Tuesday until my son informed me otherwise. One of these days, I’ll figure out that I should prepare the chapters ahead of time.

This is the fifth installment of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. I’m putting up a new chapter of the book for free each Wednesday, and after another eighteen weeks, you’ll be able to read the entire book for free.

If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here. If you just can’t wait to read the rest, there are links to purchase the book in many different formats at the end of each chapter.

 
 


Five

 

Clouds hung around her, blocking her views of the other peaks. She looked out over an abyss from her perch on the edge of the plateau. Behind her, she knew, stood the monolith. She didn’t have to turn around to know it was there. She could feel its energy reaching for her, beckoning her to come closer.
She knew she would give in, eventually, but she would put it off as long as she could. She’d seen this vision a hundred times. She knew how it ended.
But she felt something different. Another presence. An arm around her waist.
She looked to her left, and found Mendleson standing next to her, content, a smile on his face that held no hint of sadness.
She, too, felt content. This was how things should be.
No.
He turned to look at her. His sun-darkened face gave her hope for the first time.
No!
Something was wrong, though. She knew what was coming. Why was he so happy? Didn’t he know?
She opened her mouth to tell him, but she couldn’t. The words wouldn’t leave her lips.
He leaned forward, taking her partly open mouth as an invitation, and kissed her. It was the first time. Her heart exploded in her chest.
And she started to cry. She knew it would be the last time.
She tried to push him away, but he held her tight, and in truth, she didn’t want it to end. She wanted the kiss to last forever. She felt connected to him, a part of him.
No! Stop! Run away!
She felt them before she saw them. Wraiths. They had come for her.
She pushed Mendleson away and ran for the Monolith.
The wraiths appeared from the mist surrounding the mountain top. They circled around her and the monolith. The circle closed on her.
She was ready—and sad.
Mendleson stood, raced toward the wraiths. He swung a sword among them, knocking them down.
Run, Mendleson!
The wraiths turned away from her to deal with the threat. They converged on him, ignoring the sword. There were so many, she couldn’t see him through their black cloaks.
They came away from him, and returned to circle her. Through the cracks in the circle, she could see him where he lay, prone, not breathing. Dead.
“Noooo!” Henrietta shouted, waking herself from the vision. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest, and her muscles were tense, ready to fight. Ready to fight for him.
“Are you alright?”
His voice comforted her. He was still with her, still alive. She looked to where she knew he had been sleeping. The moonlight pouring through the window showed he had propped himself up with an arm, and the blanket that was draped over him had slipped down to expose his chest. She had a fleeting desire to climb out of bed and put her fingertips on his chest. After the kiss… Could it really be like that?
She wanted to find out, but resisted. It would only make it harder to do what she knew she had to do.
“A bad dream,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Right,” he said, and continued to look at her for a bit, before resting his head on the blanket he had rolled up into a pillow.
In the dark, she couldn’t see his eyes, but she imagined them looking at her like he had in the vision. She wanted him to look at her that way. Wanted to feel his lips on hers.
But the vision seemed clear. He would die if she remained with him. She couldn’t let him continue on with her.
But how to make him go? How do I escape him?
They’d driven the coach hard through the night, taking turns resting. It hadn’t been nearly as good as a real sleep, but it kept them going.
It was near morning when they reached the town. They had argued again when she told him he should leave. He refused, again arguing that they were nowhere near the mountain she saw in her vision, so there was little danger for him.
Once she had given up arguing with him, they decided to continue on through the day and get as far as they could from the wraith. He suggested it might look for her in the next town. She thought it might not matter where she was, but didn’t push it. Distance might help.
So they continued on through the day, passing through a couple smaller coastal towns until they came to a significantly larger town that had more than one inn.
The only money they had on them was hers, and it wasn’t a lot. They decided to share a room to conserve her money, and when they entered the room, he immediately took two blankets and made a place for himself to sleep on the floor.
Where his breath had now slipped back into an even, quiet rhythm.
She waited a bit longer, making sure he had fallen asleep. While she waited, her thoughts drifted back to the vision, and how it had changed since she’d first had it as a little girl.
It had frightened her, then. It brought her awake, crying. But back then, it was only her, surrounded by the wraiths. She didn’t even remember the monolith appearing in that early vision.
She had talked with her grandmother about it. Her grandmother had seemed both joyous and sad at the same time, and Henrietta had picked up on it.
“Why are you both happy and sad, Gran?” Henrietta had asked.
“Ah, Henrietta, so perceptive. I am happy because you are like me, a Seer. You will know the ways of things before they come to pass.”
“But why are you sad?”
Her grandmother had bent down then, and hugged her while whispering into her ear. “I am sad because you have seen the end of your days, as it is with all Seers. Do not tell others, as this vision is yours alone. Others will not understand.”
“Is it a long time away?” she had asked, suddenly more frightened than when she thought it was just a dream.
“I cannot tell you. Your time is your time, and it is given only to you to know.”
“Gran, do you know when you will die?” Henrietta had asked, then.
Gran had pulled away from her, and looked her in the eye. There were tears dripping down her weathered cheeks. “I do, child,” she had said. “I have known since I was about your age.”
Mendleson rolled over underneath his blankets and broke her out of her reverie. She had thought then that she would live as long as Gran, for her vision of herself had seemed so much older. She hadn’t understood, when she was six, how quickly time sped along.
Henrietta forced herself out of bed and put her feet to the floor as gently as she could. She didn’t want to wake him.
She looked at her trunk, which Mendleson had carried up the stairs on his own. There’s no way I’m carrying that back down. She’d have to leave most of her things here, but her time felt so close, she didn’t think she’d need them anymore.
She opened it, and one of the hinges squealed. She looked at Mendleson, fearing she’d wake him again, but he didn’t move. Thank the Fates.
She dug through the trunk and pulled out two sets of clothes. She also withdrew her purse. She removed enough money from the purse for Mendleson to pay for breakfast and a ride home, and put it next to the wash basin. He wouldn’t need any for the room. The proprietor of the inn had required them to pay for that up front.
She took the pillowcase off her pillow and stuffed one change of clothes into it. She changed into the other, a violet dress that fit her well, but was loose enough to allow her to run. The money purse, she stowed in one of the dress’ inner pockets.
She looked through the rest of her possessions, and could not think of another item that she must take with her. Then she looked at Mendleson.
A desire to kiss him for real flared up within her, but she tamped it down. She couldn’t afford to have him wake. She couldn’t afford to tie him to her further. It wasn’t fair to him.
She picked up the stuffed pillow case from the bed, turned one last time to Mendleson, and whispered, “Thank you.”
She opened the door, and stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind her as gently as she could.
She shivered. The hallway felt cool, colder than she would have expected.
She turned down the hallway, took three steps, looked up, screamed.

 

* * *

 

Mendleson didn’t dream like he’d grown used to over the past four years. His dreams were blissfully free of the fire, of finding his wife and child crushed and burnt under the center beam. Neither did he dream of the dark thing coming to kill Henrietta.
Instead, he dreamed of Henrietta in his arms, he dreamed of holding her tight, caressing her hair. He dreamed he was the wall between her and a world that wanted to take her away from him.
Until she screamed and jolted him from his sleep.
“Are you all right?” he asked, turning to look at her. She was sitting up in the bed she had to herself.
He had thought about sharing the bed with her, when they first saw the room. It was large enough. But he decided against it. He hadn’t wanted to give her another reason to argue with him about whether he would stay or go.
“A bad dream,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Right,” he said. He watched her for a moment, hoping she might say more. But when she didn’t say anything else, he put his head back down on the rolled up blanket that served as a pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
When sleep finally came again, his dreams had changed. The dream of the dark thing, the wraith, had come back. The wraith chased Henrietta, and Mendleson couldn’t catch it. He couldn’t stop it. He raced as hard as he could, but it was faster. He caught up with her, and Henrietta turned and screamed.
Mendleson woke again, breathing hard. He looked up at the bed, wanting to reassure himself that Henrietta was safe, but the bed was empty. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her trunk. It stood open.
He heard her scream again. Not a dream.
He jumped up and ran for the door, shedding the blankets as he went. He ripped open the door and looked down the hallway. A lamp at the end of the hall lit Henrietta and her attacker enough so that he could see the wraith.
It had Henrietta on her knees, its left hand about her throat. Its right hand hovered above her head, separated only by a couple inches and a ghostly light.
Mendleson didn’t stop to wonder what it was doing to her.
“Leave her alone!” he yelled, and launched himself at the wraith.
The wraith looked up just as Mendleson crashed into it, and the two of them fell to the floor. The wraith plunged its claws into his side. Mendleson could feel the fire of them, but he ignored the fire, and punched it in the face as best he could.
It felt like punching mud. Every strike sunk in, but didn’t seem to do much damage. The wraith struggled under him and tried to free itself. It disengaged its claws from his torso and tried to bring them up to his neck.
Mendleson caught them and pinned them to the floor before they could tear out his throat.
The two of them were stuck there for a moment, neither having an advantage they could press. Mendleson stared into its face for a moment, but in the near dark, he could see little of its features.
He looked for Henrietta, hoping she might be able to help him, but he saw her shadow slumped on the floor.
Rage and loss overcame him. “Not again!” he yelled. He looked up, saw the blackness of the stairwell. He kicked himself over, pulling the wraith with him, and threw the wraith down the stairs in one motion. He followed it down as fast as he could, taking the steps three at a time in the near dark, and slamming into the wraith at the bottom.
He threw the wraith out into the common room, which was mercifully empty of patrons. Mendleson picked up a chair, and was about to swing it at the wraith when the wraith came at him in a rush of cloak and shadow.
It knocked him down, and he dropped the chair. It reached for his throat, but Mendleson kicked out again, throwing the thing off him.
How do I end this?
They both got to their feet, and Mendleson found himself circling the wraith.
“You won’t have her.”
It hissed at him. “You can’t thwart fate.”
Their circling brought the wraith in front of the fireplace. The low glow from the still hot coals gave the wraith an orange aura. It also gave Mendleson an idea.
“I can certainly try,” he said, then rushed the wraith.
It stuck its arms out, claws extended. Mendleson crashed into it, shoving it back. He ignored the arms and just kept pushing it backward, backward, and into the open fireplace.
Its cloak caught fire immediately, exploding in a huge burst, encasing the wraith in flame. It let out a high pitched wail that hurt Mendleson’s ears. It spun around, trying to put out the flames but it was already too late.
The wraith dropped to the ground and writhed in decreasing movements until all that was left was a burning mass.
A man rushed forward carrying a bucket of water, and in the orange light, Mendleson recognized the innkeeper.
The innkeeper doused the flaming mass with water, and the fire went out. He stamped on it with his foot, extinguishing the last of the flames, then turned to confront Mendleson.
“What in the Seven Hells was that?”
“It’s a…” He remembered Henrietta. “Henrietta!”
Mendleson pushed the innkeeper aside and rushed up the stairs.
Henrietta still lay slumped on the floor. He rolled her over so that she lay face up and saw that her chest still moved as she breathed. In the dim light, it was hard to tell, but her face looked pale.
He ran back to the room, found his shirt and put it on, ignoring the blood that dripped from the rents in his skin. He found the money she had left for him, and pocketed it. “You won’t be free of me that easily,” he said under his breath as he went back into the hall.
He bent down, and picked her up, slinging her over his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re not very heavy,” he said. He picked up the pillowcase that held her belongings and went down the stairs.
At the bottom, the innkeeper confronted him again.
“You owe me for the damage in there,” he said, pointing to the common room.
Mendleson dug into his pocket and selected a coin at random. He didn’t want to argue, and he needed information. He held the coin up. “Tell me where I can find a healer.”
The innkeeper looked at the coin for a second, then rose up on his toes. “That’s hardly enough.”
“We can stand here arguing about whether it’s enough, or you can tell me where a healer is and take the money. I don’t know if that thing has friends.”
The innkeeper looked at him for a moment before worry overcame him. His eye twitched, and he jerked his head to look at his common room, then back to look at the coin.
“Fine,” he said, and reached out for the coin.
Mendleson held it out of his reach. “The healer?” He wished he felt up to punching the man for wasting his time. As light as Henrietta was, he couldn’t carry her forever. Especially not with his blood leaking all over.
“Down the South road on the left. Her name is Gretta.”
“Thank you,” Mendleson said, and dropped the coin into the man’s outstretched hand.
He carried Henrietta out to the stable and found the horses, but they’d been unhitched from the coach.
He didn’t think he had time to get the coach ready to go, so he draped Henrietta over the back of one of the horses, then lead it out of the stable. He found the South road, and followed it. As he lead the horse, he grew more and more tired and a bit dizzy. He knew he was losing blood. He hoped he would manage to keep enough in him to find the healer.
A great deal of time passed, he thought, before he found the healer. His vision had grown blurry. He knocked on the door, then sat down to wait. He heard footsteps, and the door opened.
“Who’s there?” he heard a female voice say. “Oh, I see.”
She reached down and pulled him up. “You’ve been in some trouble,” she said.
Mendleson couldn’t respond. He was too tired.
“Brode! Brode! Come here, I need your help.” Then quieter, to him, “Come on in, and we’ll get you fixed right up.”

 


 
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Read Chapter Six of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony