This chapter didn’t turn out at all like I’d originally planned. Things happen in these three scenes that were either planned for elsewhere, or not at all. It’s the fun part of writing for me. I like it when my characters choose to go their own way.
So here’s chapter sixteen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony.
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 felt put out when he discovered he could have had a warm bath instead of the practically ice cold wash-down he had suffered through. He didn’t understand. Back at the stable, she had been so warm and comfortable to be around. Now, while she wasn’t pushing him away like she had before, she wasn’t letting him close to her, either.
While Henrietta took her bath, Karl gave him a mug of mead to sip at, and then left Mendleson to sit by the fire that was now burning in the hearth while Karl prepared a meal. Mendleson had asked if Karl needed help, but Karl declined any assistance. It didn’t stop Karl from striking up a conversation, though.
“Mendleson, how did you meet my niece?” Karl asked.
“She lived across the road for about three years.”
“But that’s not how you met her.”
Mendleson took a sip of his mead. “No. The town festival, three, maybe four weeks ago. She came over to me. We struck up a conversation.”
“Did she say why she came over to you?”
“Not then, no. But later, she told me she’d had a vision of herself meeting someone there.”
“You?” Karl asked.
“She never said.”
“It must be you, if she didn’t meet anyone else.”
“How can you be sure?”
Karl laughed. “Has she not told you of me?”
“No. She never mentioned you.”
“Strange.” Mendleson heard Karl stirring something in a metal pot. “Well, I can be sure because my wife was a Seer, as was Hen’s grandmother. It sort of runs in the family.”
Mendleson stood up and went to stand next to Karl. “She’s not here?”
“She passed away at the same time Henrietta’s mother did. They were close.”
“No need to be sorry. It was a long time ago, and we knew it was coming. I’ve made my peace with it.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how long did that take?”
“Years.” Karl turned to look at him. “Why do you ask?”
Mendleson peered into the boiling pot, avoiding the Karl’s eyes. “My wife and child died in a fire. It still…” He trailed off. He’d thought the pain would go away after he had disavowed responsibility, but it still lingered.
“Yes,” Karl said. “It still hurts. And it will. It’s no easy thing to lose your love.”
They stood in silence while Karl stirred the stew.
“Enough of this talk. I’ve banned melancholy from my life. Tell me, how did Hen manage to drag you along on this trip.” His voice hadn’t regained much of its enthusiasm.
“She didn’t drag me along. Not on purpose, at least. Something happened, I touched her hand on accident while we were talking at the festival, and she pulled away from me and fell. She got up and ran away.”
“She had a vision.”
Mendleson nodded. “I didn’t know it at the time. I thought I had offended her. When I went to apologize, I found a wraith at her door, trying to kill her.”
Karl’s eyes widened and he stopped stirring the stew. “She’s closer than I thought.”
“I stopped it and made her take me along. I wanted to protect her. I didn’t want to let another woman die because of my inaction.”
“You can’t stop it, son. Hen’s time is her time.”
“Trust me, I know.”
“I don’t believe you do. Hen’s mother tried to help my wife. They both died.”
Mendleson heard footsteps behind them. “That’s not what you told me, Uncle. That’s not what Gran said.”
Karl and Mendleson turned to face her at the same time. Henrietta was cleaner than he had seen her in weeks. Her hair had become silk again, her face had lost the smudge marks. But her brow was furled, her jaw set.
Karl took a short breath, then said, “You were so young, Hen. We didn’t want you to be afraid of your gift any more than you already were. You blamed yourself for the things that happened in your visions. We didn’t want to add the death of your mother onto that burden.”
“It might have changed some things if I had known.” She looked at Mendleson.
“I don’t think so, Hen. It can’t be changed. Your mother tried. No matter how many of those things they fought off, there were always more.”
“Why didn’t you help them?”
“I tried, at first.”
“And then you gave up?”
“What was I supposed to do? They just kept appearing. Night after night. More and more of them.”
Mendleson could feel the anger, frustration, and pain radiating from Henrietta, and he understood it. She seemed to recognize it, too. She looked at him, caught his eye. I’ll never stop, Henrietta, he thought at her. He hoped she could hear it, or at least feel it. He didn’t want to say it aloud. Karl didn’t know about Henrietta’s vision, and now did not seem the best time to bring it up.
Karl turned back to his stew, apparently unable to face Henrietta any longer. He stirred the pot a bit, and then said, “It’s done. Perhaps some food will help us all calm down.”
Mendleson didn’t think food would help at all.
* * *
Henrietta tried to decide who she held more anger for: her uncle, or her grandmother. In the dark of the night, alone in her uncle’s bed, she pondered whose offense was worse, and could not come to a conclusion. All she could think was that her grandmother, long dead, was beyond her reach, and her uncle was asleep in a chair in the front room.
Her uncle had given her his room and Mendleson the other room. Mendleson looked like he wanted to argue against it, but after learning what happened to her mother, she didn’t want her uncle to know how close she felt to Mendleson.
She had two minds on that topic, as well. She wanted him to leave on his own, she wanted him to decide it wasn’t worth it, and she wanted him to decide to save himself. He deserved to live, to find love somewhere else where that love wouldn’t die in a week. After all the pain he had suffered, he deserved better.
But, she also wanted him to stay, to protect her, to sleep beside her like they had in the barn. She wanted more touches, another kiss. She craved them every night since, but the vision stopped her. If she gave in to her desires, she knew there would be no way to save him.
What was worse, she suspected her uncle knew how to find the Oracle. She only wished she knew why he wouldn’t tell her.
Her options were growing few in number, if indeed she’d ever had many options. She wanted to talk to someone about them. She wanted to talk to Mendleson about them. They hadn’t been able to talk over supper. Despite her uncles hopes, there was too much tension, mostly from her anger. Few words were spoken at all.
The idea of sneaking into Mendleson’s room and laying down next to him crept into her mind. It excited her, and she sat up in her bed.
“No, Henrietta,” she said. “If you go, you go to talk. Not to lay next to him.”
She ran her hands down along her body over the nightgown her uncle had given her, and imagined they were Mendleson’s hands.
She stopped herself. “No. Just to talk. To figure out what to do next.”
Henrietta reached over, and turned up the lamp a bit so she could see. She swung herself out of bed and crossed the room to the door. She pulled it open with care. She didn’t want her uncle to hear, though with the amount of mead he had consumed after supper, she thought he might not wake to an earthquake.
The door at the end of the hall was shut, the hallway dark. She stepped across the hallway, her bare feet making little sound, and tried the handle on the door. It was unlatched.
She opened it and stepped through, shutting the door behind her.
“Who’s there?” Mendleson’s asked from somewhere in the dark.
“Henrietta,” she said.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I need to talk.” I need you to touch me.
“What about? You should be sleeping. We have a long day tomorrow.”
She moved toward the bed. “That’s what I wanted to talk about. Do you mind if I climb under the covers with you? It’s cold out here.” What am I doing? I’m just going to talk, get answers. But her body wanted more, and she could feel it.
She heard him move in the bed. “Climb in,” he said. He sounded nervous. She wished she could see his face in the dark, but all she could make out was a vague shadow.
She slipped in next to him, and felt his warmth. Her hand accidentally came to rest on his chest. She left it there.
“What are we talking about,” he asked.
“My uncle. I think he knows how to find the Oracle, but he won’t tell me.” Her fingers idly traced a pattern in the hair on his chest.
“Why won’t he tell you?”
“He fed me a story about how she requires payments for her advice that are often greater than the advice is worth. It seems he thinks she is a witch or something.”
Mendleson rolled to face her, even though they could not really see each other in the dark. Her hand fell from his chest, but she made sure it was still touching him.
“If he won’t tell us, then we’ll have to find someone who will. There’s got to be someone else around here who knows.”
His hand idly took hers and rubbed it.
In front of them, stood a monolith. Ancient and implacable. She walked toward it, but Mendleson pulled away. He looked around in a terrified movement. He pulled out his knife.
The wraiths descended on him like a flock of crows on carrion. Soon, he was smothered, and she could not see him. Her feet were stuck to the ground. She couldn’t move. The wraiths stood, leaving Mendleson’s body crumpled on the ground, the life gone from it.
They came toward her. She backed up, and backed up, until her back came to rest against the monolith.
The wraiths spread out around her. Trapped. They closed in, until she could no longer see anything but their hungry eyes.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she heard him say as she came out of the vision.
“No, don’t be sorry.”
“But I know it’s painful for you.”
“No,” she said, trying to comfort him. “I’ve seen it so many times. I just don’t like seeing you…”
She reached out and put her arm around him, careful not to touch his hand with hers again. “Come close,” she said.
And then, with him so close to her, she decided she wanted to know, had to know, before the Fates brought her end. For the moment, she didn’t care what Mendleson would think. They hadn’t been able to change that vision. Not yet.
She pulled his head to hers and kissed him. This time, their bodies were warm, and she could feel him along the length of her body. She wanted the nightgown off.
She pulled her mouth from his. Her heart raced. She didn’t know if she was doing the right thing, but it felt right. Her body wanted it, ached for it. “I want to lay with you, at least once,” she whispered to him. “I want to know what it would have been like.”
“But you’ve been so distant these last few days.” He sounded confused.
She moved her hand down his back. She felt his creep tentatively on to her hip. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve just been confused—afraid.”
“Please, Mendleson. Isn’t this what you want?”
She slipped her hand farther down, and discovered he wasn’t wearing anything at all. She pulled herself closer to him, so that she could feel his hardness against her.
His tentative touch grew stronger, slipped around to her backside, and he pulled her tight to his body. His mouth came down on hers again, insistent and probing. His free hand tangled itself in her hair. Her body tingled in anticipation.
His hand on her backside started pulling the nightgown up. She lifted her body a bit from the bed to help him, while their tongues still explored each other’s warmth.
Their lips parted for a moment as the hem of her nightgown slipped past her hips, and the hard length of him had unhindered access to her.
“I do want this,” he said.
She brought his head back down to hers. He slipped his fingers down from her nightgown, slipped them between her legs. She opened herself to them, and they touched her gently, and rubbed until she felt her moisture come through and his fingers grow wet.
Then, he rolled her onto her back, put himself between her legs, and slowly slid himself into her. At first, she felt pain, and she wondered for a bit if it would last, but she soon forgot it as he moved within her and other sensations spread throughout her body.
They moved against each other, and she grasped him, pulled him deep into her, again and again, until lights flashed through her mind and her body spasmed like nothing she had ever felt before. She almost didn’t feel his own spasms through the sea of pleasure that enveloped her.
He came to a rest on her, his body somehow not crushing her beneath it.
She held him close when it seemed he would roll off. She wanted him to stay there forever.
But she knew it wouldn’t last, and probably wouldn’t happen again.
And then she allowed him to roll off, and they both lay there gasping for a moment.
Tears came to her, and she had to choke them off. She couldn’t let him throw away his life for her. I have to do something.
She slipped out of the bed.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to my bed. I don’t want Uncle to find me here. It’s best he not know, I think.”
“Right,” Mendleson said. He sounded disappointed. “I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
“Goodnight,” she said.
She went through the door and shut it behind her before she whispered, “Goodbye, Mendleson.”
* * *
At first, he thought the words were part of his dream, the nightmare that he slipped into after Henrietta left his room and he fell asleep.
He had felt so good after she had opened to him. He hadn’t wanted her to leave, but he understood. After what she had learned from her uncle about her mother’s death, she hadn’t wanted to tell him anything more about the relationship between her and Mendleson. When Karl had tried to probe, Henrietta shut him down every time. Mendleson couldn’t tell if she was angrier at him for lying about her mother, or for not helping her. Mendleson had come to the conclusion that, despite the man’s strong appearance, he was a bit of a coward.
And then the dream came as he slipped into sleep. Henrietta running, then laying on the ground, then Henrietta limp in his arms while he searched through a dark forest for something he couldn’t find.
“Mendleson! They’re here!”
Henrietta’s voice, screaming.
Mendleson fell out of bed, then raced for his door. Instinctively, he knew why she was screaming. The wraiths had come for her.
He yanked the door open and looked down the hallway. He couldn’t see anything.
But why did they come for her? We were going where they wanted!
He ran across the hall and opened her door. There was no one inside.
That sounded like it was coming from outside.
The hallway door that led to the front room opened, and Mendleson saw Karl standing there looking at him.
“She’s not here. I think she’s outside,” Mendleson said.
“Fool girl.” Karl ran back into the front room, and Mendleson chased after, ignoring his nakedness.
He ran into the room to find Karl pulling the swords from the Mantel. He looked Mendleson up and down once, but said nothing and handed one of the swords to him. “Do you know how to use that?”
Mendleson shook his head.
“Well, don’t stab me with it. Come on.”
Karl led Mendleson out the front door. It was cool outside, but not nearly as cool as it had been during the storm.
Mendleson followed Karl around the side of the house. Fortunately, the moon rode high in the sky, bathing the landscape in enough light to see Henrietta, her back up against a tree, and the three wraiths that surrounded her.
Karl shouted at them. One of the wraiths turned to face him. The others closed on Henrietta.
Mendleson raced along the uneven ground, holding his sword high. He hoped to get to Henrietta before they could hurt her. When he saw he couldn’t, he shouted like Karl had, and another wraith turned to face him.
The wraith came at him swiftly, its arms held up. Mendleson brought the sword down on its head, knocking it sideways, but it was not enough to stop them from colliding. The sword hadn’t killed it, either. The wraith clawed at him, tried to bring him to the ground.
Mendleson felt the claws tear his skin, just like the last one had. But this time, he had the sword. He pushed the thing off him, turned the sword in his hand, and swung. By luck or fate, he would never know, his blade severed the wraiths head from its body.
The body fell to to the ground and continued to twitch and writhe.
He looked at Henrietta and saw the third wraith had its hand on her forehead. Mendleson yelled, but it ignored him. It had what it wanted.
Mendleson ran toward it, sword extended, and ran it through the neck from the side. It fell away from Henrietta, and Henrietta slumped to the ground. Mendleson turned to the wraith, which was trying to get back up, and chopped at its neck until the head rolled away.
The night fell quiet. Mendleson looked for Karl and found him sprawled out on the ground, covered in blood. The wraith he had fought lay near him, twitching, but dead.
Mendleson dropped his sword and checked on Henrietta. She was breathing, but her breaths were slow. She felt cold to his touch. A pack lay near her. She had been leaving.
But he knew why. She was trying to save him. But if you were trying to save me, why call out? Why call for help?
It didn’t make any sense to him at the moment.
He picked her up and took her over to Karl.
When he got closer to Karl, he saw that Karl’s wounds were worse than he thought. Karl lay gasping, his head turned to the side, his mouth leaking blood.
Mendleson set Henrietta down and went to Karl’s side. “Karl?”
“I’m still here,” Karl croaked. “They all dead?”
“I don’t know. She’s breathing.”
Karl coughed, spitting out more blood. “You must take her to the Oracle.”
“What? She told me that you wouldn’t tell her how to find the Oracle.”
“She didn’t tell me…”
“Tell you what?”
“About you. Take her… Across the river. Find the path. It leads to a ravine. The ravine will lead you to the Oracle.”
“What about you?”
“But she talked of a price…”
Karl hacked up even more blood, then spit it onto the ground. “There is always a price. I wasn’t willing to pay. But you…”
A spasm ran through Karl’s body, his eyes rolled back, and then a last bubble of blood escaped through his lips.
Mendleson looked around at the carnage, wondering what he should do about it, if anything, but he decided helping Henrietta was more important.
He picked her up again, said a silent prayer for Karl, and went back into the house to dress his wounds and clothe himself before trying to search out the Oracle.
He hoped he could find her in time.
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Read Chapter Seventeen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony