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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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!