Below is Chapter Seventeen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony, my fantasy romance novel. I remember this chapter being difficult to write. I think I tossed one of the scenes and wrote it again because the first attempt wasn’t working for me.
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.
Inside the house, Mendleson laid Henrietta on his bed while he took time to bind his own wounds. They weren’t nearly as severe as the ones he had received in his last battle with a wraith.
When he finished, he checked on her and saw that she was still breathing just as shallow as she had been outside.
He dressed, gathered their things and stuffed them into his pack, then scoured the house for things he might use. A rope, light cooking utensils, heavier clothing. The trip into the mountains was bound to grow colder the farther they traveled.
He took the pack out to the stable, stopping to pick up the sword that he had used against the wraiths. He saddled the horse, and then hung the pack from the saddle. He strapped the sword against it, too. When he was done readying the horse, he went back in for Henrietta.
He lifted her off the bed and carried her outside, then put her on the horse, leaning forward, her head off to the side so that she could breathe. The horse seemed curious as to what Mendleson was doing, turning its head to watch him.
“I should have asked about your name,” he said. “Now you’re all I’ve got to talk to.”
He tied Henrietta down so that she would not fall, and then lead the horse out of the small stable and into the night.
“What do you think,” he asked the horse. “Is there a bridge across this river? I really don’t want to swim.”
When they reached the river, Mendleson was disappointed. It wasn’t much of a river. Only a few paces across at best. He’d also hoped for a bridge right behind Karl’s home, but he didn’t have that much luck. He found a stick and poked at the river bottom with it. The bottom fell away only a couple feet out, and the current tugged relentlessly at the stick.
“More deep than wide,” he said. “Which way, do you think?” he asked the horse.
The horse looked at him, blinked in the moonlight, as if to ask why Mendleson didn’t know the way himself.
“Fine. Upstream,” he decided, thinking that at least they’d be heading into the mountains and closer to the Oracle, and that maybe, nearer the falls the town was named for, the river might grow shallow enough so that he could cross without swimming.
He assumed there had to be a crossing close by.
After a short time, he did find a foot bridge that spanned the river, but he didn’t think it would be strong enough for the horse. Below the bridge, the current ran swift between the banks.
He stared at the bridge for a while before deciding he’d have to carry Henrietta across himself. He’d have to hope the horse would swim across to him.
He took the pack off the horse first and strapped it to his back, then untied Henrietta and brought her down into his arms.
His first step onto the bridge told him he had been right about the bridge’s ability to carry the horse. With each additional step, the wood creaked and groaned, and he worried that the next step might be the one that broke through and carried him into the river.
When he was about half way across, he heard a splash behind him. He spun around and saw that the horse had jumped in the river and was now swimming across.
“I wish I had something for you, horse,” he said as his fear about not having a horse to carry Henrietta dissipated.
He continued on to the other side and said a silent prayer, thanking the Fates for not dropping him and Henrietta into the river.
Soon, he had Henrietta back on the now wet horse, and the three of them set off to find the trail that Karl had said would lead him to the Oracle.
* * *
Mendleson found the trail with ease, even in the fading moonlight. Traveling it was a little more difficult with Henrietta on the horse. More times than he could count, he had to hack away with the sword at low hanging branches that prevented the horse and its unconscious burden from passing.
At one point, after hacking through a branch that was as big around as his arm, he turned to Henrietta and said, “I’m beginning to wonder if carrying you would be easier.”
But he had no real idea how much farther he had to travel.
The trail began to climb, only making the going harder. It switched back on itself more than once, and sometimes thinned to the point that the horse barely fit through gaps between trees, or between a tree and a rock outcropping.
Mendleson checked on Henrietta often, hoping she might wake. But always, she continued her shallow breathing and her eyes did not flutter and open.
“Why did they come this time?” he asked her silent figure. “And why were you outside, looking like you were leaving?”
He led the horse around a large outcropping of stone. He worried that soon it would grow too difficult for the horse to walk.
“Did they come because you were leaving, Henrietta? Or did you decide to go somewhere else? What hurts the most is that you left so soon after I thought we had finally understood each other.
“No,” he said. “What hurts the most is that you’re hurt.”
He almost ran his head into a tree that had fallen across the trail. He could climb under, or over, but the trail had ended for the horse.
He wanted to yell, scream, and hurl invective at the Fates, but he kept his most angry thoughts to himself, asking only, “Why does this have to be so hard?”
No answer came to him.
He took everything off the horse, then brought Henrietta down and set her next to the fallen log. He went to the horse and patted it on the neck. “You’ve been good to us. I wish I didn’t have to leave you here, but you can’t go where we’re going.”
Mendleson slung his pack over his shoulder. He picked up the sword and slipped it between the pack and his back.
He squated down and squeezed himself under the tree, then reached back for Henrietta and pulled her under with him.
Henrietta was light enough that he could carry her and his pack, but he hoped the Oracle wasn’t too much farther.
I wonder if I should rest before continuing on. He decided against it. He had no idea if Henrietta would wake on her own, or if she would need help, or could be helped. The thought that the Oracle might not be able to help almost brought tears to his eyes, but he fought them back.
This is not going to be like Mirrielle! This is not going to happen again!
Those thoughts pushed him forward and up a trail that grew more and more treacherous to his footing.
When the moon set, he wondered how long he had until the sun rose. They hadn’t been traveling at night the last week. He had little sense of its journey anymore, and this close to the mountains, he had little idea when the sun might rise above them.
When he stumbled over a stone that he couldn’t see and nearly dropped Henrietta, he decided it was time to rest until he had more than just starlight to guide him.
He felt around until he discovered a patch of ground that seemed less rocky, and set Henrietta down there. Once her weight was gone from him, the built up ache that he had been ignoring asserted itself as cramps in his arms. He spent a few minutes rubbing at them until he could get the pain to subside.
He sat down next to Henrietta, put his head near her mouth, and listened to her breathe.
“I hope morning light will reveal good news,” he said, and then lay back himself and stared up at the stars.
* * *
Mendleson didn’t feel like opening his eyelids. The sun warmed them. Opening them meant he would have to move.
But resting wouldn’t get Henrietta to the Oracle any sooner.
He rolled so that he faced Henrietta and opened his eyes. He couldn’t tell if she was getting better or worse. Her chest still rose and fell slowly. Her skin was pale, but he hadn’t seen it in good light the night before.
He turned over to reach into his pack and got his first good look at where he was. Stones and rocks littered the trail, making it almost more rock than dirt. Trees surrounded him and Henrietta, tall and thick with age. In the direction the trail would lead them, it looked like the trees were thinning out.
He reached into his pack, pulled out the remaining dried pork, and quickly ate it while wishing that he had more of Karl’s stew to eat instead.
When he finished, he stood, strapped the pack to his back, and then bent down to pick up Henrietta. She seemed lighter than he remembered, but still substantial enough that he couldn’t carry her forever. It wasn’t quite like lugging bags of feed around, either.
“This hike had better not take much longer,” he said, stepping out onto the trail to resume his journey.
After a mile, perhaps a little more, the trail led him to a small stream. The trail turned to follow the stream toward its source. He looked upstream, and saw that the trees thinned out even more.
His legs ached. He thought about setting Henrietta down and taking a rest. A look at her caused him to choose otherwise. Her breathing had slowed, and where she had been pale before, her skin now looked nearly translucent. It didn’t take much on his part to deduce that she might die on him if he couldn’t get her to the Oracle. He hoped the Oracle could even help. Seers weren’t known for their healing powers.
He turned upstream and picked up his pace as much as he could on the uneven trail. It grew more and more difficult to traverse the farther he went. Larger stones, less soil. He had to keep his eyes on the trail right in front of him to find the best route.
His legs grew tired from the uneven footing. His arms and back grew sore from carrying Henrietta. The stream next to him bubbled along, not caring that he hurt.
A stone Mendleson stepped on slipped under him and rolled. A sharp pain ran through his ankle as it turned from exhaustion and the weight he carried. He fell to the ground, adjusting his fall so that Henrietta would land on him. She came down on his chest, driving the air from his lungs.
After several gasps, he got his wind back. “Why!” he shouted. His shout echoed back to him.
When he looked about, he found that he the ground had risen up around him while he concentrated on the path in front of him. He was in a ravine. Is this it? Am I here?
He hoped so.
He gently pushed Henrietta off of him, then reached down to his ankle to check it out. He prodded at it, but the prodding didn’t produce any sharp pains. The ankle was just sore.
He got to his feet and tested it out a bit, walking around. He could put weight on it. It hurt, but he would live.
He bent down and picked up Henrietta. His ankle shrieked at the additional weight, but after a moment, it subsided enough to let him try a few steps.
The first step was the most painful. He grimaced and clenched his teeth. He couldn’t put all of his and Henrietta’s combined weight on it for very long. He had to adopt a hobbling gate that was sure to slow him down, and every step on that ankle caused his body to shake.
But he didn’t give up, he didn’t set her down. He’d committed to saving her, and he wouldn’t let her down.
Step after painful step, he muddled his way through the ravine, hoping to find a cottage and an Oracle at the end of it.
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Read Chapter Eighteen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony!