Today’s chapter of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony is chapter nineteen. There are three more weeks after this week. I’d really like to hear what you think of Free Novel Wednesday. The only thing that will keep me doing this after Moony is over are your comments. Otherwise, I’ll find something else to put up here on a weekly basis, like pictures of cats.
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.
“She sleeps,” said the witch.
Mendleson lifted his head from the table where he had been sleeping. “Is she all right?” He looked to where Henrietta rested across the room. He started to get up to go to her.
“Sit, do not go to her,” said the woman, motioning for him to stay seated. “She is out of danger, for now.”
A wave of relief swept through him, until the last part of her statement reached his ears. “What do you mean?”
“Only that she will wake, and she will be fine, until the wraiths come for her.”
“I don’t understand. You said they wouldn’t come here.”
“And they won’t, not while I am here. But I cannot stay here forever, and neither can the two of you.”
Mendleson had no desire to stay near this woman. “I had only thought of staying long enough to see her well and to ask for your help.”
“I have given help, have I not?”
“You have, and I am thankful. But that was not the help for which we sought you.”
The witch turned her head a little, and the obsidian raven in her ear sparkled in a stray shaft of light. “Then why did you seek me?”
“We hoped you might tell us how she could avoid her fate.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Avoid her fate? That is not something easily done.”
“But she’ll die,” Mendleson said.
“We all die. Now, later. Death is not something one can avoid.”
“But she’s still young. Isn’t there something we can do?”
The witch stood and went to the fire pit. Mendleson noticed for the first time that it was lit, and a pot hung over it. It smelled like a spicy vegetable soup.
The woman bent down to it, grabbed a bowl from a pile of them that lay nearby, and ladled soup into it until it was full.
“Aren’t you going to answer me?” Mendleson asked, indignant at being ignored.
“It is not something that can be answered until I have talked to her.” She came back to the table and set the bowl in front of Mendleson.
Mendleson stared at her. “But you can help?”
“Eat up,” she said and wandered back across the room.
“Please,” he said. “Tell me you can help.”
The witch turned around and looked at him, her eyes gold in the light of the fire. “What makes you think you need help? You young people fight and fight and fight your fate. You do not seek to understand it. You do not think to ask why. Eat your soup.”
She turned away from him, ending the conversation.
He sniffed at the soup and his stomach rumbled. “I’ll try to understand, if you’ll help me,” he said before he stuck a spoonful of soup into his mouth.
It felt warm and soothing to his tongue, and it had just enough pepper to bring it to life. He swallowed and let it slide down his throat to his empty stomach. The tension in him left as the soup found its destination. Quickly, he spooned more of it into his mouth. Before he knew it, the bowl was empty.
He glanced at Henrietta. The witch hadn’t yet removed the mud from Henrietta’s face, and it gave her a look similar to the primitives he’d seen on the slave ships that occasionally stopped for supplies back home. They never stayed long. He’d wondered where they came from, and where they were being taken, but he had never had the opportunity to find out. He didn’t think anyone in town had ever asked.
“When will she wake?” Mendleson asked.
The witch was sitting by the fire, knitting something from a dark red yarn. It was too small, yet, to get a sense of its ultimate shape. “Soon, I should think,” she said without looking up from her work.
“Thanks for the soup,” he said. “It was delicious.”
“You’re welcome. It seems to have helped your mood, too.”
It had. Mendleson felt much more content with the situation. The witch would tell him what he needed to know once Henrietta awakened.
“Tell me of your wife,” said the witch.
“My wife,” he said, reflecting back. “She was beautiful. Auburn hair, a freckle to the right of her right eye. She was everything to me. We’d known each other from childhood. Her mother died when she was young, and for a long time, her father tried to keep us apart.” Curiously, Mendleson did not feel sad as he thought back to that time.
“He didn’t succeed,” she said.
“No. Well, he did succeed, until he too passed away just about the time Mirrielle came of age. I asked my parents to take her in, but they would have nothing of it. They said they could barely feed us. I didn’t realize until later that was the reason behind her father’s attempts to keep us apart. He wanted her to marry into a wealthy family.”
The witch grunted, but said nothing.
“So I went to Mirrielle with a plan, and we ran away down the coast to where I learned to be a fisherman. It wasn’t easy at first, but I seemed to have a gift for it. Eventually, I was able to purchase my own boat, and then my own land.”
The witch looked up. “You’re telling me about you. I want to hear about her.”
Mendleson nodded, wondering what exactly the witch wanted to hear.
“She cared for our land, a small farm, while I was out fishing. I didn’t see her as much as I would have liked. Especially later.”
“Was she happy?”
Mendleson thought back to the times he would see Mirrielle. She always had a smile on her face when she saw him. But when it was time for him to go to sea, she sometimes urged him to stay, to help her on the farm. “She seemed happy. We loved each other.”
“She didn’t want you to go fishing.”
Mendleson shook his head. “Sometimes she begged me to stay.”
“Why wouldn’t you stay?”
“The sea called to me. I made a good living from it.”
“Yet you gave it up when she died.”
Mendleson stood up, knocking against the small table. “How did you know that?”
The witch kept knitting. His outburst did not even cause her to flinch. “It is my business to know.”
“How is it a witch’s business to know something about me that I haven’t told you? And if you know that, then you know what she was like and you don’t even have to ask me.”
She slowly turned her head to face him, and she set her hands in her lap. “First, Mendleson, I am no more a witch than you. Witches deal in nature and how nature can be used to corrupt or cure the ailings and failings of men. I am altogether different.”
“What are you?”
“She is one of the Fates,” said Henrietta. Her voice was week, but she was sitting up. “Lindyral, I think.”
“Hen,” Mendleson said, forgetting the conversation.
He ran to her and knelt beside her. “How do you feel?”
“I ache, I’m hungry, and my face itches.”
* * *
Henrietta suffered the cold damp cloth without complaining. The woman, the Fate, had put mud on her face which had dried and caused it to itch. Henrietta didn’t complain because she was alive, and Mendleson was with her.
While Lindyral ministered to her, Mendleson filled her in on how she had come to be cared for by a Fate.
A Fate. Henrietta had never thought to meet one. They were beings of myth, hidden pullers of strings, legends in stories handed down from one Seer to another. It had to be more than coincidence that the only one she had ever cared to learn about was Lindyral, who was said to be the caretaker of the Seer’s Gift. She had never learned that Lindyral was any more accessible than the rest of the fates.
When Mendleson told her of her uncle’s death, sadness superseded her wonder at finding Lindyral. She remembered the times she had spent with him after her mother had died, after his wife had died. They hadn’t been completely happy times, but they had been better than the alternative.
And he had been the only man in her life since that time, or even before that time. She couldn’t even remember her father.
She had guilt, too, that she was responsible for his death. If she hadn’t come this way, if she hadn’t involved him in her troubles, he would be alive right now.
She had to close her eyes. She could feel tears trying to come, and she didn’t want them. She didn’t want Mendleson to notice.
He noticed anyway. “Are you alright?” he asked, interrupting his story.
She shook her head. Lindyral pulled away from her.
“Don’t blame yourself, Henrietta,” he said.
She opened her eyes, and saw him looking at her. How does he know that I’m blaming myself? “I’m not,” she said.
He put his hand out and ran it through her hair. His strong fingers on her scalp soothed her. She wanted him to pull her close. “Good,” he said, “because you’ve been telling me the same thing for weeks. You didn’t make his decision to come to your rescue for him.”
“But I didn’t have to bring them here,” she said, unable to keep her thoughts from escaping. “I could have gone somewhere else.”
Lindyral dabbed at her face with the cloth again. “Don’t be so sure that you could have done anything else, young Seer. You have long sought to avoid your fate, yet you are still here.”
Henrietta pushed the woman’s hand from her face. “What would you know about it?” she asked. But she knew as soon as she said it how foolish the question was. Of course Lindyral would know what she had done. Seers were her responsibility.
Fortunately, Lindyral didn’t answer her directly. “Be assured, Henrietta, that your uncle had his chances to avoid his fate, and he made his choices.”
Henrietta hated having to be told that. If what Mendleson said were true, Mendleson and her uncle did not have to risk their lives at all. They could have let the wraiths take her sight and her life. Mendleson could have saved himself by doing nothing.
She examined him, the gray-green flecks in his eyes, the sun-browned skin that was now covered in dirt, the slightly flared nostrils, the way the corners of his mouth now seemed to want to turn up where they used to lean down.
“Mendleson hasn’t had choices to make,” she said.
“He hasn’t? He’s been making choices since he met you, dear. You’re so wrapped up in your need to suffer alone that you can’t see that others want to help you.”
“But I’m going to die in the next few days!”
“Are you so sure? Can you see past the loss of your sight?”
“Of course I can’t see beyond it, but I have never heard of any Seer surviving the loss.” Could it be possible? No. It can’t be. My mother, my aunt, my grandmother, they all died.
“And because you have never heard of it means it can’t happen, so you gave up on your life and never let anyone get close to you.”
And now, she felt tears on her face. “I didn’t want anyone to feel like I felt after my mother died.”
“Don’t cry, dear,” said Lindyral. “It’s admirable to want to spare others the pain you felt. But what was the price of your desire? How would your life have been different if you had made different choices?”
Henrietta wondered what would have happened if she’d never left her home, never stayed in Berelost, never went to the edge of the sea. Would her fate have changed? Would Mendleson’s life be in danger now?
“I tried to make different choices,” she said, “and it didn’t get me anywhere.” Her hands were trembling. She put them to her knees in an effort to still them, but it didn’t help much. She looked to Mendleson and sought out his eyes. “All my efforts at making choices only served to drag Mendleson into my fate.”
“Would you trade what you have known with him for the knowledge that he would be safe from sharing your fate?”
Henrietta looked deep into her heart, and it didn’t take her long to know that she would not trade those moments, the shared closeness that had developed between them. They were a part of her now, and she couldn’t imagine giving them up. “Yes,” she lied, knowing she wouldn’t ever have to make that trade.
Mendleson’s eyes narrowed, unhappy with her response.
“Look at him, Henrietta,” said the Fate. “Could you really trade the moments in the barn, the night you shared, knowing that he would have had a different fate, knowing that he might now be dead had he not gone with you?”
“What?” she and Mendleson asked at the same time. They had both turned to face the Fate.
She smiled, causing the raven in her ear to shift. “Only speculation on my part. I am no Seer. But you are so sure that the fate he now shares with you is worse than the one he would have had if you had never met.”
“No, do not question me on this. You can only see the branch of the tree as it stands. It is all the power a Seer has. Once a different branch has passed, it is unknowable. If you had never met with him at the festival, he might still have been home when the storm that overtook you at Berelost knocked his home to the ground and nearly washed the whole town from the coast.”
Mendleson gasped, and Henrietta felt shivers run through her limbs. “It’s gone?” he asked.
The Fate nodded. Mendleson’s skin went white. “My friends…”
“I would not tell you, even if I could,” she said. “I should not have said as much as I have. I will pay for that.”
Henrietta’s heart went out to him. She knew he had friends there, and he’d left them for her.
And now, her mind rebelled at the possibilities. If she had left him there, he might have died, but he might have lived and might have helped his friends. But she had taken him from that fate, just by following a vision she had been given.
“Who gave me the vision?” she asked. “Which one of you are responsible?”
“Don’t play coy,” she said, standing up. “The vision that led me to meet Mendleson at the festival. Who gave it to me? Was it you?”
“I do not give visions, child. You know that.”
“I only know the stories. If it wasn’t you, then who was it?”
“Why does it matter? Your meeting likely saved his life.”
“You don’t know that.” Henrietta was truly angry. “He might have saved other lives. He might have helped his friends. Whoever sent me that vision robbed him of that possibility.”
Lindyral shook her head. “He still had choices, dear. He could have chosen differently.”
Henrietta stamped her foot on the packed earth floor with a less than satisfying thud. “Did he really have a choice?” she asked, then she turned and left the one room hut. She couldn’t handle being near that woman any longer.
* * *
Mendleson watched Henrietta’s exit in a state of shock. He knew he should go after her, keep her from wandering too far, but he had his own questions for Lindyral.
“Were you telling the truth, or just making a point? Would I have died?” he asked her. His legs wanted him to stand up, to follow Henrietta, but he refused to give into them.
“Like I told the Seer, once a branch has been followed, there is no way to know for sure what would have happened had the other paths been followed instead. Could you have died? Yes. Would you have? There is no way for me to know.”
“What about my friends?”
The Fate chuckled. “You are not my charge, and I am no messenger. I do not know the fates of your friends.”
“No,” she said, standing and turning to confront him, all traces of chuckle gone. “I am not all-powerful. I am a single Fate, not all of them. My charge is to see that the Gift is passed on from Seer to Seer. What happens to you is none of my concern.
“If you wish to see her live beyond the taking, you should go to her.”
Mendleson turned to go, frustrated that she wouldn’t answer him. He seethed inside. He wanted to rush home to help his friends, to find out whether they even lived, but his need for Henrietta had grown, and his desire for her to live pulled at him with equal strength.
Something else bothered him, and he turned back to face Lindyral. “But aren’t you the Oracle of Arabeth?”
The flames in the fire-pit flickered as a great rush of wind entered the hut, causing strange shadows from the Fate to flash across the walls. She rose up, almost floating, and for the first time, she did not seem even remotely human. “Leave this place!”
Mendleson stumbled backward, fell through the door and out of the hut, to land on his back amongst the stones that littered the ground. His heart pounded in his chest, and his limbs trembled. He looked up to the stars and took a few deep breaths while he pondered what had just happened.
He couldn’t make any sense of it at all. He hadn’t thought much about what might happen when he left to follow Henrietta, but he never imagined that he wouldn’t be able to go back to his home, to his friends, after it was over.
It hurt, but not nearly as much as he thought it should. And even though Henrietta had said he could be there helping people, when he thought about it, he didn’t feel like that’s what he should be doing.
No. I should be with Henrietta. That’s what feels right. I just wish I knew how to help her, and that Fate, the Oracle, doesn’t seem like she’s interested in helping at all. In fact, he thought, it seems our being here might be just as much her doing as anything else.
Which frightened him. He knew why he tried to help Henrietta initially, and he thought he knew why he hadn’t given up trying to help. But now, I can’t even trust that my feelings for her are my own.
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