With another Wednesday comes another installment of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. This is chapter eleven.
I owe my then nine year old son some thanks for helping me out with this chapter, chapter ten, and chapter twelve. I was struggling with this section of the book. I was writing the book from an outline, except for about four chapters (which turned into six) where I had written “stuff happens here.” When I got to this point, I had no idea what happened, and I asked my son what he thought should happen, and he told me I should put a storm in it. When he said that, my brain started percolating and the empty chapters filled themselves.
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.
Mendleson lay on the bed, his eyes shut against the stray rays of light that made it past the curtain’s defenses, and tried to sleep. Sleep eluded him, however, as his mind wrestled with his abrupt departure from Henrietta.
He repeatedly tried to tell himself that she was right, that he was better off not helping her. If her vision was true, if his fate, were he to remain with her, meant he would die, then he would certainly be better off. He’d be alive.
But fates could be changed. She’d said so. That he was now in her vision, where he had not been before, meant that his fate had changed, at the very least. Of course, if he didn’t go with her, that would change his fate.
And she would die.
If that was her fate, if she was supposed to die, was it his responsibility to save her? She didn’t seem to want him to save her. But at times, it seemed like she had no desire to die.
His eyes popped open. “And I don’t even understand why it matters to me,” he said to the wood-beamed ceiling and the memory of Mirrielle. “At first, it was atonement, Mirrielle, but now? Now, I don’t want to leave her, and I don’t even know why.”
He slammed his fist into the mattress and sat up. As tired as he was, he would never get to sleep.
He slipped out of the bed, dressed, and picked up the purse Henrietta had given him. He shoved it in a coat pocket before slipping out his door and into the hallway. He went down the stairs and into the common room, half hoping to see Henrietta, and half hoping to avoid her.
He looked around, and didn’t see either her or her friend Tara. He discovered that not seeing her disappointed him a little. The feeling didn’t stop him, though. He went out through the door and into the streets of Berelost, hoping to walk off his restlessness.
The wind had picked up a bit while they’d been inside the inn. Alone, it wasn’t enough to make him think of a storm, but a glance at the sky showed the cloud cover had grown angrier and darker. It did look like rain would begin to fall soon.
He walked, letting his feet carry him wherever they might. He didn’t really see much of the city as he walked. His thoughts remained focused on his strange relationship with Henrietta and his desire to risk his life for the woman who he’d known for so short a time. He found himself wishing Paulus was along for the trip. His friend would have advice for him. He always had advice.
But talking to Paulus was impossible now. He had to figure out whether to leave Henrietta to her own devices, or not, without the help of his friend.
He chuckled quietly to himself. It’s all Paulus’ fault I’m here in the first place. If Paulus hadn’t dragged me to the festival that night, I’d never have met Henrietta. I’d never have touched her hand.
After a short time, he found himself near the river again. The fishing boats had tugged at him when he and Henrietta had first come this way. He had wanted to go and visit them, visit the fisherman, see what fishing a river was like. One thought had led to another, though, and he found himself remembering the last time he’d docked his boat.
When he looked toward the boats, he expected them to be gone, but instead, he found the fishermen tying them up, lashing them tight to the docks. The water in the river looked rough, where earlier it had been fairly placid. The wind must be whipping down that passage at a good pace.
He looked across the river to the market and found that people were closing up shop. The square, where before it had been packed with people, had emptied. Perhaps a storm is coming, he thought.
He looked around one more time and decided it would be prudent to return to the inn. He hadn’t come to any conclusion regarding what he should do about Henrietta, or why he was so reluctant to leave, but he didn’t want to be caught out in whatever storm the citizens of Berelost thought was coming.
As he walked back to the inn, the wind pushed at him from behind. Leaflets and other bits of trash flew by him, and he picked up his pace. The storm was growing in strength almost as quickly as some of the storms that came up out on the sea where it could be sunny one moment, and an hour later, you could be hanging on to the rails of your boat for your life.
He turned the last corner before the inn, and came to a stop.
Six guardsmen stood outside its door, and a seventh man stood in front of them, issuing instructions. This seventh man, he had seen earlier that morning, and his being here could only mean that he had eventually put Henrietta’s real name to her face. This time, her life hung in the balance, and her fate had nothing to do with it.
* * *
Henrietta woke to the sound of someone pounding on her door. Mendleson, why don’t you just come in?
After a moment, and a few more thumps, she realized he couldn’t. She’d locked the door. She tried to blink the sleep out of her eyes. She still felt exhausted. She couldn’t have been asleep long.
She wondered, as she swung her legs out from under the one blanket she’d left on the bed, how she felt about Mendleson choosing not to go. A part of her wanted to sing, but another part was still terrified of taking responsibility for his death.
“I’m coming,” she said, loud enough she hoped, to be heard over the incessant banging.
She didn’t have to get dressed. She had slept in her clothes.
That’s not Mendleson. “Perry?” She unlocked the door and opened it. Tara’s son stood there. His eyes were wide, and he quickly glanced down the hallway toward the stairs. “What are you doing waking me up?” she asked.
“Mama told me to come get you and hurry you out the back. The magistrate is here for you.”
Henrietta held onto the door as she swayed a bit. What now? What do I do? Mendleson? “Where’s my friend?”
“He left. Mama says we have to hurry.”
Left? She looked around her room and spied her pack at the end of her bed. “Where did he go?” You weren’t going to leave until tomorrow! She left the door and went to get her pack.
“I saw him walk out the front door. I don’t know where he went.”
“He didn’t take his horse?”
“No, Ma’am. Hurry, please!”
She slung her pack over her shoulder and raced back to the door. Where did you go, Mendleson? Why did you leave me?
She knew why. She’d pushed him to go. Now was not the time to cry about it.
She moved toward the stairwell, but Perry reached out and pulled at her shirt. “No, this way.”
He started down the hallway toward the back of the inn. “We have another set of stairs back here.”
Henrietta tried to think back to when she’d spent considerable time with Tara. She had never seen a staircase back here, and Tara had never mentioned it.
Henrietta followed him, and when they reached the end of the hall, Perry pulled open a closet door, and stepped inside. She entered behind him and found that it wasn’t a closet door at all, but a tight set of stairs. Darkness filled the stairwell, though there was a bit of light at the bottom.
“Shut the door,” said her guide.
She reached back and pulled the door closed, enveloping the top of the staircase in complete darkness. The only light was the light at the bottom.
As they descended, she kept her focus on that light, occluded now and then by Perry’s bobbing head. She felt out each step with the toe of her shoe before taking it.
As they neared the bottom of the stairs, she wondered what she’d do next. Take the horse, ride east out of the city. Go home.
Home. A word, a place, she had tried not to think about in the years since she’d left. The monolith she saw in her vision, she knew it was supposed to be only a couple day’s ride into the mountains.
Why am I even going home? Why am I not riding away from it?
She reached the bottom step. Perry had stepped out from the hidden staircase and around the corner, out of her sight.
She emerged into a small room. It had two doors, not counting the stairwell. One that led, she thought, into the kitchen. Another, she guessed, led out back to the stable. It was how Perry had managed to surprise her in the kitchen.
A hand reached out and gripped her arm as she took her second step into the room. She looked and found the hand was attached to a guardsman, one of the magistrates men.
“There you are, witch. You’re not going that way.”
She tried to pull away, but she was so tired, she barely had the strength to make the man move even a step with her.
“No, none of that. The magistrate would speak with you.”
“Just let me go. I’ll leave. I was only passing through on my way home.”
The man laughed. “Now, I can’t do that. The magistrate says to bring you to him, and that’s what I’ll do.”
She tried to pull away again, but the guardsman’s grip on her arm only strengthened, causing pain to explode from the area.
“Don’t do that again, or I’ll break it.”
She gave up her struggle and let him drag her through the door and into the kitchen, where she found Perry in the grasp of another guardsman. She could see Perry trying to fight the man.
“Let her go,” he said. “She didn’t do nothing to you.”
“Quiet, kid. It wasn’t me she did something to. Be good, and your Momma won’t get in trouble for harboring a fugitive.”
Henrietta reached out and patted Perry on his head. She wanted to tell him everything would turn out fine, but she didn’t believe it.
The guard marched her out through the kitchen and into the common room where the rotund magistrate stood waiting with Tara.
“There you are,” said the magistrate. “Your attempt to fool me earlier didn’t work, as you can see. Where is that man you were with? He’s not a very good liar.”
The magistrate laughed. “Why am I not surprised?”
Henrietta wanted to reach out and hit him in his mustache, but the guardsman still held her arm tight. “Why don’t you just let me go? I’m only passing through on my way home.”
“You were warned to never come back. Now, here you are. You knew the consequences, yet you flouted our laws to sew more discord among our people. If I were to let you go, how can I know you just wouldn’t try to return again?”
“Because I’ll be dead in a couple weeks,” she said under her breath.
“I said, because I’ll be dead in a couple weeks.”
The magistrate’s eyes lit up and he smiled. “If I have my way, you won’t live even that long.” He looked at the guardsman who held her. “Take her outside. I’ll be there in a moment.”
The guard pulled at her arm and forced her to stumble as he set out to follow the magistrates orders.
“I’m sorry,” said Tara. “I…”
“It’s fine, Tara. You did what you had to.” And Henrietta meant it. Tara had risked her livelihood to send Perry to try to help her escape. It might still be at risk, since Perry had been caught.
The guard pulled her along and out the door into a blast of wind and a darkened sky. The first big drops of rain began to fall. She couldn’t take any satisfaction in being right about the storm.
Why did I think coming back through this place would be safe? Why did I go this way?
* * *
Mendleson waited inside an alcove he found and watched while the magistrate and two of his guardsmen went inside the inn. The other four stood just outside the door. He had little illusion that he could take the guardsmen by himself, but he thought if he could follow them, find out where they were taking her, he might be able to do something.
He was having trouble figuring out what that something might be.
Minutes passed while very little changed. Maybe she’s not there. Maybe she left already. He didn’t put much hope in that thought. She had to have been as tired as he was. No, she was there, and she was probably asleep. They’d find her in bed, helpless.
Unless Tara lied to the magistrate and said she wasn’t there. Would Tara do something like that for her, for someone she hadn’t seen in three years?
The door opened, interrupting his thought, and Henrietta stepped through it, propelled by a guard. She had her pack on her shoulder. They hadn’t taken it from her.
He felt a drop of water fall on him and focused his eyes closer. It had started to rain. He hadn’t noticed while he watched, but it had grown dark enough that it looked like early evening. He looked up, and saw the clouds had thickened, grown angrier, and were black with moisture.
Moments later, the magistrate walked through the door, followed by the last guard. He had a look of glee on his face. He gave instructions, and one guardsman took Henrietta’s pack while another placed her arms in shackles. The guardsmen surrounded her then, and the magistrate led them away from the inn. Their path would take them right past his alcove.
He slid back as far into the shadow as he could, hoping they wouldn’t see him.
As they passed, he saw that Henrietta had her head down. She must think I left her. He wanted to call out to Henrietta, to tell her he was coming, but didn’t. Instead, he worked furiously on a plan. He’d have to hurry, once they were out of sight.
When the procession had turned a corner, he ran out of the alcove, ignoring the rain that was now coming down even harder. Puddles were already forming where the cobblestone lay unevenly.
He burst into the common room where he found Tara standing with a look of despair in her eye.
“Mendleson,” she said. “I tried to get her out, but they were too quick.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter now. I need my pack and the horses, and something I can use for a club.” A sword wouldn’t be any good. He’d never trained with one. An axe would work, but he doubted they had one here.
“You’re going to try to save her?”
Her question made him stop to consider, but only for a moment. He knew what he had to do, whether it was because of his earlier need to redeem himself, or from his other surprising feelings for the Seer. “I’ll do what I can,” he said.
“Good. She loves you, you know.”
“I’ll worry about that later. I don’t have any time to waste.”
He ran up the stairs to get his pack. He heard Tara call out to Perry.
She loves me? He thought as he opened the door to his room. But all she does is push me away!
The pack was in the middle of his bed where he left it. He stared at it for a second, lost in thought. Figure that out later, you oaf. She won’t live long enough for it to matter if you don’t get moving.
He grabbed his pack, then ran out of the room and down the hallway toward the stairs and the horses. He hoped he was making the right decision. He hoped she wouldn’t hate him for it.
* * *
Henrietta could not remember a time when she felt more miserable than she did right at that moment. The shackles on her wrists chafed. The rain, while not seriously cold on its own, had soaked her through, allowing the beating of the wind to chill her to the bone. Her hair hung, wet and matted, into her face. Through it, she saw flashes of lightning light up the sky, followed soon after by the sound of thunder that crashed down and echoed off the walls of the city.
The guardsmen kept to a circle around her, but only touched her to push her along.
She wished she’d had visions of this moment, visions that might show her how she would escape to meet her fate at the monolith. Please, show me a way, she thought, but nothing came to her. She wished she had touched the hands of the guardsman that had put the shackles on her. She might have seen something that could help her.
Though, with her end so near, she might have seen nothing at all.
And with Mendleson gone, the chances of anything happening to save her were slim. No. I’ll have to figure this out for myself.
Unbidden, a snort erupted from her. What does it matter? I’ll die either way. Why did I ever come this way?
“We must hurry,” she heard the magistrate say, though his voice sounded far off through the wind. “This storm is picking up quick.”
She felt a hand push her in the back, forcing her to quicken her steps.
Another lightning flash. Thunder exploded overhead and through the streets.
She looked up and off to her left. Another lightning flash lit up the area, except for a tall, dark figure.
When the light faded, it was gone. She thought she heard one of the guards start to say something before the thunder crashed over them.
She reached up to try to brush the hair out of her face. I saw it, right? She proved only partially successful at clearing her face of hair, but it was enough to get a better look. She strained to look into the storm darkened streets as they walked.
This time, two figures, walking with them.
Crash. The thunder rattled her while fear settled into her belly. They had come for her again, after all this time. Why?
The answer eluded her. She could feel the shape of it, could touch it, even, but she was too tired and too scared.
“I’ve got two weeks!” she yelled.
The guard pushed her from behind, and she stumbled, only half on purpose. She fell to her knees. Anything to get the guardsmen to stop for a moment, so she could be sure, so she could figure out a way to run.
Why are they waiting?
A guard kicked her. “Get up!”
She looked up. They weren’t all paying attention to her. They were looking around.
She was looking another direction this time, and saw two more black shapes. She didn’t think they were the same ones.
For a half a second, she thought she heard the sound of horseshoes striking the cobblestone. The thunder obliterated any chance of knowing for sure.
Another kick to her back, harder this time.
She stood, but not because of the kick. The time had come. She would run, if she could. The next flash of lightning.
She didn’t have to wait that long.
“We’re surrounded,” she heard a guard cry out.
The guardsmen drew their long-knives and turned away from her to face the dark.
She wanted to run, now, while they were turned away, but she knew that wouldn’t work. She might run right into the claws of a wraith. Patience. Wait until they are fighting. She could feel it coming.
The sound of horseshoes echoed down the street, unmistakeable this time.
A strong gust of wind tore through the group, almost blowing her over, and then it was time. In silence, the wraiths set upon the guards, trying to reach her, trying to retrieve the gift.
The guardsmen slashed out at the darkness, sometimes hitting their targets. Only the men screamed. One by one, they started to fall to the claws of the wraiths that they couldn’t see.
A horse bore down on her. It crashed into the melee, trampling guards and wraiths alike. She couldn’t see the rider, didn’t know who had come to save her, if they had come for that purpose.
The horse slowed beside her, but only slowed. A hand came down to reach for her.
Another hand reached for her from behind. A shadow of a club came down on the person, or the wraith, behind her and the hand released her.
The man on the horse was strong and pulled her up behind him with little effort. He spun the horse around and urged it to gallop down the dark, storm-washed streets.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
Mendleson. He’d come back for her. He hadn’t left after all. And despite the conflict she felt over her responsibility for his impending death, she realized she was glad he had returned.
She put her head on his back and rested it there while they raced their way out of the city. It felt right.
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Read Chapter Twelve of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony