Every Wednesday, I’m putting up a chapter from a novel that I’ve written. I’m calling it Free Novel Wednesday, and for the last twelve weeks, I’ve put up chapters of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony, a fantasy romance novel that came from a proposal I wrote in 2011 that I fell in love with.
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 lifted Henrietta’s arms over his head and pulled away from their embrace. It felt good to get rid of the cold damp from the clothes that were still stuck on her shackles, but he missed the closeness of her almost immediately. He got one last peek at her breasts before she covered herself with the blanket again. He could still feel them against his chest. It had been a long time since he’d been that close to a woman.
“What do we do now?” Henrietta asked.
He looked at her wrists where they held the blanket up close to her. In the orange of the firelight, it was hard to tell, but they looked like they were starting to rub raw.
“I think we need to find a way to get those shackles off of you. I wish we had the key.” He stood up.
He almost felt dizzy. His mind raced in at least three directions. How to save her from her fate, how to get the shackles off, and how to get that close to her again. But for the last, those shackles had to come off.
“How do we get them off?”
“If there was a forge here, with tools, I could get them off. But the tools are gone, and I haven’t looked outside to see if they had a forge.”
“Couldn’t you just pick the lock on them?”
Mendleson laughed. “Of course.” What can I use? He bent down to his pack and rummaged through it. The blade of his knife was too big to fit. Everything else, flints, extra clothes, was useless for the job. He looked around the stable, but he’d already searched most of it. Whatever had been of use here had already been taken.
“What about nails?”
That kiss must have addled my brain. “Good thought. There should be some around here.” Unless they shod the horses elsewhere.
A quick search of the stable turned up three nails of different sizes. There were probably more, but he thought he’d give the three he’d found a try first.
He sat down next to her, and she laid her hands in his lap. He turned the shackle on her right hand so that the keyhole was visible to him, and then he went to work with the nails. After several minutes of fiddling, he managed to slip the nail into the mechanism so that the bar of the shackle popped free.
Henrietta immediately pulled her hand free and used the other to rub at the wrist. “That feels so much better,” she said.
“Let me see the other.”
She gave it to him and it went much quicker this time. In only a minute, he got that one to pop open also. She rubbed at her wrist a bit, then reached over and hugged him properly. “Thank you,” she said into his ear.
The blanket started to slip down again, but she stopped it with one of her newly freed hands and sat back.
Mendleson fished the shackles out of her clothes, then hung her clothes up on the line next to his own. When that was done, he patted his own shirt and found it dry. He put it on. Away from the fire, and away from Henrietta, the stable was still cold.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said, about the need to move on.” He had only just started thinking about it since he stood up, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. “I think I’m going to go look over that house.”
“You’re going out? In this storm?”
With everything that had happened, he’d nearly forgotten the storm. He had still heard the wind, the rain on the roof, the drips where it leaked into the stable, but the closed door had kept most of it out and Henrietta had kept his mind occupied. “Yes. I won’t go far. I need to look at it. I need to confront the memories. I think you’re right.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
He shook his head. “No, I think I should do this on my own. You stay here, tend the fire. Check on the horse and see if you can find more oats or something for him to eat.”
She looked up at him with big eyes that reflected the firelight. “Don’t be long,” she said.
“I won’t be,” he said as he turned and went to the stable door.
He opened the door a crack. Wind and water rushed in. He slipped through the opening and shut the door behind him. Within moments, he was soaked and chilled. He thought about putting this off until the storm stopped, but for the first time, he wanted to be free of the pain his memories had given him for the last four years. He wanted to be able to give himself completely to Henrietta, now that she would no longer try make him leave.
He hunched over as he walked the distance between the stable and the house. He had to negotiate the soup of mud that the stable yard had become. It sucked at his feet and made the going slow.
The burnt out house loomed in front of him, and the memories of his own home, the smoke rising from its shell, the cinders falling from the air, came back to him. He made his way to where the door of the building used to be. A stone arch surrounded it.
A strong gust of wind blew and pushed him sideways, but he refused to let it knock him over.
He stepped through the arch. Inside the stone, there was little left. Burnt timber, the broken bones of the house, lay where it had fallen, spread out on a stone floor. Fired pots lay smashed and shattered among the wreckage of the house. He stepped over each shattered bone with reluctance, expecting to see the charred bodies of his wife and son as they were when he’d found them, Mirrielle clutching Josua in a final, protective embrace.
But he never did see them. They weren’t here. This wasn’t his house. It wasn’t his life. He looked up into the rain falling from the cloud blackened sky and let the drops fall on his face. The wind couldn’t move him. The rain couldn’t beat him down.
He reached back to that day, when his boat sailed into the harbor, its belly full of fish. He’d seen the smoke. He’d known, even then. He realized, as the rain pounded on him, that he’d lost two loves that day: his family and the sea. The one would never come back, not as it was, and it wasn’t his fault.
“It wasn’t my fault!” he shouted into the fury of the storm.
But the other, the sea, he had given that up to tend his memories. I gave up the sea for something that was already gone.
He thought of Henrietta, back in the stable, waiting for him. Am I doing it again? Am I giving up my life for something I can’t have?
That he even asked the question bothered him. He pulled his eyes from the sky, wiped them free of water, and looked around the house. It was empty, burnt out, ruined. There are no ghosts here to answer my questions.
Off in the corner, where the kitchen might have been, he saw something on the floor. A ring of iron. A panel of wood that was charred but not burnt through. A large beam lay atop it. He ran over to it, and saw that with some effort, he might be able to move the beam.
It was an answer, of sorts.
* * *
When the door opened again, a blast of cool air caused the small fire to sputter. Henrietta had to dive for her blanket to cover up. She made it just before Mendleson stepped through the door carrying a large, nearly full, burlap sack. He shut the door behind him, and the fire returned to its natural dancing self.
“Look what I found,” Mendleson said as he came to the fire bearing his burden.
As he approached, the light of the fire showed his clothes covered in soot and charcoal. His hands were black with it, too. “What were you doing?”
“The place had a cellar filled with food. Much of it spoiled, but there were still some treasures. Salted meats, and a bunch of potatoes that don’t look too bad.”
“But you’re covered in soot.”
“A large beam had fallen across the cellar door. I had to lever it out of the way.”
“Let me see what you found, while you dry yourself and change.”
He handed the sack to her, and then started to strip off his clothing. She looked through the treasure he had found. It wasn’t a lot, and in the light of the fire, she could see a few of the things he had found had spoiled more than he thought. However, there was enough to last through the storm for them, if they were careful.
“I wish there was a pot to cook these potatoes in,” she said.
“Look in the bottom,” he said.
She looked up from the sack for a moment and saw him kneeling at his pack, naked but for his small clothes. She admired his shoulders and chest for a moment, until she saw his hands again, still covered in soot.
“Go wash your hands,” she said.
“Go outside and wash those hands before you get your other clothes dirty.”
He looked at his hands and grinned. “Right.” He left for the door, and she watched him walk away. The farm work had been good to him.
She pulled her eyes from him and delved into the bottom of the sack. She reached a hand down to the bottom and found, to her delight, an iron pot. The idea of hot potato soup warmed her stomach without having even cooked it yet.
She had found a workbench in the corner while Mendleson was away. She took the sack over to it and emptied its contents onto the bench, setting things in order as she did. Once that was taken care of, she went back to Mendleson’s pack for his knife. She stopped by her clothes and tested her blouse. It was still damp. It would be so much easier to cook without this blanket.
Mendleson came back in, his hands, and most of the rest of him, clean. This time, she got to admire the front. And then she thought of the pot.
“I saw a well outside,” she said.
“Let me guess,” he said.
She ran to the bench to get the pot. She took it to Mendleson, and he sighed. Henrietta laughed. “You’re not even going to ask me what I want?” she asked.
“I know already,” he said, taking hold of the pot and turning back to the door.
She went back to her makeshift kitchen and began to slice up the potatoes. She looked at the other things he’d brought and decided adding salted beef might flavor the soup a bit. She cut up a portion of the beef into tiny bits. Enough to flavor, but not enough that they’d run out before the storm abated.
She turned around when the door opened again and saw Mendleson enter with the pot of water. She smiled. It looked like he’d also managed to find a couple metal rods that might serve to hold the pot off the fire. For a moment, she wondered at her earlier desire to make him leave. Of course, thinking that brought the vision to her mind, her fate, and now his. Her smile faded.
He brought the pot to her and set it on the bench. She shoveled the potatoes and meat into it while he went to the fire and worked the rocks around to support the metal rods.
She carried the pot to the firepit and the blanket gaped open, but she decided to ignore it. Mendleson was practically naked, and he’d already seen her. He’d already lain next to her, their skin touching.
She felt her skin flush as she thought of it and hoped he didn’t see. She looked up at him, but he wasn’t watching. He was using a piece of cloth he’d found somewhere to dry himself.
She set the pot on the bars, then sat down in front of the fire and closed the blanket around her. She watched him dress, and found herself wishing he wouldn’t.
“The other thing you were doing at the house,” she said. “How did that go?” She wasn’t sure what she wanted to hear.
He finished putting his clothes on and sat down next to her before answering.
“I’m not sure how to answer,” he said. “I still feel a hole within me that I don’t think can ever be filled. It hurts.”
She found herself holding her breath.
“But I think I know now that you are right, that Paulus was right. It’s time to stop blaming myself for it. It’s time to stop punishing myself.”
She let her breath out. Please don’t say that you’re leaving. “When I was young,” she said, “having just come into my sight, I would see things, and then they would happen. For the longest time, I remember thinking that what happened was my fault. No matter how many times my grandmother told me that it was not my fault, I couldn’t believe her.”
“How old were you?”
“I came into my sight when I was six.”
“You couldn’t know,” he said.
“You’re right. I couldn’t. I had to learn. But a couple years passed, I think, before I had a vision and saw a future that didn’t happen.” She looked away from him and into the fire.
“What was it?” he asked.
“A friend of mine, a young boy. I saw him crushed under falling rocks. There is a cliff near where I grew up. A lot of the children liked to try to climb it. That’s what I saw him doing in my vision.
“So I told him… I told him to do anything else in the world, but please don’t go climbing the cliff.” Talking about the memory brought back the hurt that she had buried so long ago.
“And he did, didn’t he.”
She nodded. “He stayed away from the cliff face. The rocks fell, just as I saw in my vision, but no one was hurt.
“That day, he chose to go swimming in the river. He lost his footing, his head hit a rock and split open, and he drowned.”
“You must have hated yourself.”
She reached out and stirred the soup with Mendleson’s knife. “For a while, I think I did. But I was confused. I believed what my grandmother said about the visions I had before that one—the ones where I did not intervene. They weren’t my fault. But after my friend died, I had to decide if I was responsible.
“It’s the basic philosophical problem that all Seers face. Do you tell the subject of your vision about the bad things so that they can avoid them? Do you encourage other actions? If something happens because of those other actions, are they your fault? If you don’t tell the person, do you share responsibility for what happens to them?”
“Is there a right answer?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. My grandmother told me I had no responsibility for the visions, but I had a responsibility for what I did with them. I decided that my responsibility extended only to telling the subject what my vision of their future was, and that the choice of what to do with their knowledge was their own.”
They sat in silence together for a moment. The wind outside, and the lesser sound of the crackling fire were the only things she heard.
“If that’s what you decided, why did you keep pushing me away?”
“I don’t want you to die, Mendleson. Not for me. For the longest time, there was no one in my vision but me, and then we touched at the festival and you were in it. Somehow, I had changed your future. I am responsible for you being here.”
He moved closer to her and put his arm out, as if he would put it around her. She leaned into him, and he did put his arm around her shoulders. It felt good, and comforting.
“I don’t believe you are responsible for my being here. My actions are my own, and you’ve said yourself that fates can be changed. That I’m here is proof of it.
“And if you think about it, if we can’t really change our ultimate fate, perhaps the Fates manipulated you into meeting me. Couldn’t they have left me out of your vision so that you would try to change your fate and take your journey to find me? Didn’t you say that you had a vision where you saw yourself meeting someone at the festival?”
She nodded. Could it be possible? Was I supposed to find him? Have I ever been given the complete vision at any time before I met him? Do I even have it now?
She stirred the pot a bit more and decided it was done. She would reserve those thoughts for another time.
She remembered their bowls had been in her pack. “Did you happen to find bowls on your search?”
“No,” he said, but he reached into his pack and pulled out a spoon. “I’ll share my spoon, though.”
She laughed. “It’s going to take us a long time to finish this soup.”
He put his hand to his ear and made a show of listening to the storm. “We’ve got time.”
Yes, she thought. But how much?
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.
Read Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony!