This week, you get a bonus, sort of. You get chapters fourteen and fifteen for Free Novel Wednesday!
Why two? They’re both a bit shorter than average (fourteen is quite a bit shorter than average), and I didn’t want to leave you with a five minute read.
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 storm raged on another two days. Mendleson was more than happy to spend the time with Henrietta, huddled around the fire, keeping warm. She’d put her clothes on once they were dry enough, and he lamented silently that she had done so. They never quite approached each other so intimately during those days as they had the first night and morning, and he yearned for another kiss.
But they each had their vulnerabilities, and they tiptoed around them while they talked. She didn’t push him away, like she had before, but she didn’t bring him closer, and he feared to push too much lest she change her mind. He satisfied himself with the little touches: putting his arm around her, rubbing her back, sharing their one spoon.
He’d gone looking for other utensils in the house, but could find nothing left that was useful. Anything that had survived the fire had been taken.
On the third day of their stay in the stable, the rain let up, and the wind ceased to howl. He peaked outside and found that, while the sky was still filled with clouds, they had grown light and thin.
“Do you think we should wait a day for the road to dry up some?” he had asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. The wraiths seem to stay away if we are moving toward the monolith.” He knew she was thinking of her vision. “I don’t know if they will hold off another day.”
So they let the horse graze on what he could find while they packed their few things into Mendleson’s pack. They still had a bit of salted beef left, and they packed that too. When the sun had risen to its highest point, they set off, once again, toward the fate Henrietta envisioned for them.
The road turned out to be fairly solid, despite all the rain. There was a layer of mud on top, but it was only a few inches thick. Mendleson dug down at one point and found a layer of stone underneath. It had been paved at one point, long ago.
They took turns riding the horse. They didn’t want to tire him, in case they needed to ride quickly.
They didn’t bother to travel at night anymore, either. Henrietta expressed enough confidence in her theory that the wraiths would not harm her as long as she was moving toward her fate that Mendleson agreed when she said she’d prefer to travel when she could see.
The next day, Mendleson caught his first glimpse of the mountains where, if Henrietta was right, they would meet their end. Mendleson still thought there should be a way to change it, and he kept trying to get Henrietta to work with him at trying to find a way, but every time he came up with an idea, she pointed out why it wouldn’t work.
As they grew closer and closer to the mountains, Mendleson found himself growing more and more worried. Whatever had happened between them in the stable seemed less and less real. Their impending doom cast a shadow that Mendleson believed had come to dominate Henrietta’s thoughts. As the miles disappeared behind them, Henrietta spoke fewer and fewer words, and would not talk about what was ahead of them at all.
By the time they rode into Tearing Falls, three days later, Henrietta had not made a sound for hours.
Mendleson was leading the horse, and Henrietta was riding it, when they entered a small town at the foot of the mountains. A small decrepit sign declared the name of the place in burnt script to be “Tearing Falls”. Dusk was upon them, and it would not be long before they would need to find shelter.
All of the buildings had stone walls and wore steep roofs covered in wood shingles. They lined the road like they were watching a parade. Children played in the street, despite the late hour. Men and women strolled the road, directing guarded looks toward the two strangers.
“Have you been here before?” Mendleson asked Henrietta.
“Years ago,” she said, but she didn’t elaborate.
“Is there an inn or somewhere else we can stay?”
She said nothing for a while, but just about the time Mendleson was going to try and ask someone, she said, “There’s someone at the far end of the town that might take us in, if he still lives here.”
Mendleson looked up at her and found her staring off into the distance, up somewhere into the darkening mountains.
Mendleson led the horse on through the town. It didn’t take them long to get through it. Mendleson guessed fewer than a hundred people lived nearby.
When they reached the far edge of the town, Henrietta pointed him toward a home that was a bit larger than the rest of them.
“Who lives here?” he asked.
She didn’t have time to answer before the door to the house opened and an older man stepped out, his balding head bare to the night air.
“Henrietta,” he said. “Good to see you.”
Mendleson saw as the man walked toward them that, despite his age, the old man was still in strong health. He stood straight, his shoulders back, his arms still wrapped with muscle.
“Hello, uncle,” she said. “Do you think we might stay the night?”
“Of course,” he said as he reached up to help his niece from the horse. When Henrietta was down, he gave her a big hug. “I haven’t seen you through here in years. I thought you had…”
“Not yet uncle. Not yet, but soon.”
He gave her a more tender hug. Mendleson realized her uncle knew about her future.
“It’s a shame it must come so soon,” her uncle said. Then he stepped back and turned to Mendleson. “Are you going to introduce me to this man you’re with, or do I need to run him off.”
She laughed, a sound Mendleson hadn’t heard in days. “You don’t need to run him off. Uncle, this is Mendleson. He’s my…” She stopped.
“Your what?” He stepped over and shook Mendleson’s hand, clapped him on the back, and pulled him close. His grip was strong enough, Mendleson wouldn’t have been able to resist. “I don’t care what you are,” he said. “If you hurt her, you’ll have to answer to me.”
“I’m actually hoping to prevent any hurt to her,” Mendleson said.
Her uncle clapped him on the back one more time. “Good. I’m Karl. Nice to meet you.” Then Karl stepped back. “Give me the horse and I’ll stable him. You two head inside and get cleaned up. You look like you’ve had a long road.”
Mendleson handed him the reins, took his pack from the horse, and followed Henrietta through the open door.
Inside, the home looked well kept. It had a front room that shared a kitchen area. A painting hung on one stone wall, and a pair of swords held a place on the mantle above the fireplace.
“Come,” Henrietta said. “Follow me.”
She led him through a door at the back of the room that opened into a short hallway. She led him to the end, past a pair of opposing doors, where he found a third door. She opened it and the entered a small room that had a tub. It had a water pump.
“A well inside the home?” he asked.
“The well used to be outside, but in the winter, it gets cold enough that my Uncle decided to build a room around it. The house grew from there.”
She started pumping water into the tub. Mendleson tested it and found it nearly ice cold.
“You’re going to get in there?” he asked.
“No. This is for you. I’m going to talk to my Uncle while you clean up. You smell like a pig.”
He put his hand in the water again. “I’ll freeze.”
“Look behind you. There are washrags on the shelf. Just wipe yourself with them.”
She stopped pumping, then squeezed around him so that she could leave. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to have her touch him.
“Don’t take long,” she said, and then she left.
Mendleson kept watching, hoping she might poke her head back in. When she didn’t, he stripped off his clothes and resigned himself to another cold bath.
* * *
She was sitting in one of her uncle’s soft chairs, resting, when her uncle came in from stabling the horse.
“You’re not cleaning up?”
“Mendleson is going first. I’d hoped you could start the fire so I could have a warm bath.”
He laughed. “Of course. You’re going to make him suffer the cold?”
Henrietta smiled. “I guess it isn’t very nice, but he has a musk about him right now that needs removing.”
He sat down across from her. “So tell me why you are here. I had thought you left so that you might avert your fate, that you might change your vision.”
“I did. I didn’t intend to come back, but I think the fates have conspired against me. Everything I do leads me back.”
“Your grandmother told you this might happen.”
“I know. But she… she lived so long with her sight. Why am I given so little time?”
“Hen, that’s not for us to know. You know that.”
She couldn’t respond to that in any way that didn’t sound like she was a little girl again. “I met someone who told me that there might be a way.”
“A way to avoid my fate. She told me of the Oracle of Arabeth.”
Her uncle sat back in his chair and rubbed at his bald pate for long moments without saying anything.
“Do you know of her? It sounds like she might be a Seer, too.”
He sat forward, and leaned toward her. “Look at me. That woman is no Seer. I’ve heard a great many strange tales about her. Some say that she’s been hidden up in the mountains for hundreds of years, that she’s not even human. It is not safe to go to her.”
“Uncle, how can it be any less safe than my current fate?”
He sighed. “I don’t know. I only know that the help she offers is supposed to carry a price that is often heavier than the petitioner is able to bear.”
A silence hung between them, until he said, “Even if I knew where she could be found, I wouldn’t send you to her.”
And then he stood, looking weary for the first time. Henrietta suspected he knew more than he was telling, but she knew once her uncle decided something, it stayed decided.
“I’m going to get some wood for your fire.” He walked out and left her staring into the empty hearth. If he won’t tell me how to find the Oracle, did I come all this way for nothing? Did I drag Mendleson this far to die?
And when she thought of him, all of her worry that she’d been feeling since they left the safety of the stable came to her. She knew he was confused because she had stopped talking to him, stopped touching him, and erected a barrier that he hadn’t been able to scale. But she’d decided that, even if he would come along, and even though she wanted him with her more than just about anything else, she wouldn’t be a party to his death. She wouldn’t encourage him in any way.
If only the sight of him didn’t make my mind lose all semblance of reason.
But if I can’t find the Oracle, what then? Will all of it be for nothing?
When Mendleson emerged from the short hallway and interrupted her thinking, she almost smiled before she remembered herself. He had even shaved the beard he had grown over the last two weeks. She wanted to go to him and touch his face.
No. Not until I know he’s safe.
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 Chapter Sixteen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony