This is Chapter 7 of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. I’m putting up a new chapter of the book for free each Wednesday, and after another sixteen weeks, you’ll be able to read the entire book for free.
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Henrietta felt much better now that she had confessed her weakness to Mendleson and Gretta. To have her fear and frustration out in the open seemed to have lifted a burden from her, or at the very least, made it lighter. She didn’t have to carry it alone anymore.
She still couldn’t sleep. Instead, she spent the night worrying the wraith would come for her. She had thought herself so composed, back in her home, when she had planned to travel to the mountains alone. I wonder if I would have made it. Would I have turned tail and run again? Is that why the Fates brought Mendleson into my life?
The thought only gave her another topic to keep her awake. His plan sounded good, but how would it really work out? Was there a way to change her fate? Was there a way to change his?
But what really bothered her was that she couldn’t keep the picture of his face out of her mind. The way he looked at her, concern without reverence or fear. He cared about her, and she knew he thought it was an opportunity to correct for not saving his wife. Henrietta didn’t care why, though. For the first time since her Gran passed away, someone cared, and it wasn’t because of what she could do.
Henrietta was surprised at how long the morning took to come. She had thought it late when she tried leaving him, and with all that happened, she imagined the morning sun couldn’t have been more than an hour or two away.
When it did come, she still hadn’t slept, and felt so weary that she didn’t want to get out of bed.
But she forced herself out anyway. She dressed in her other change of clothes and stepped out of her room. She smelled eggs and biscuits cooking, and followed her nose to find Gretta in the kitchen, humming.
“Have a seat,” Gretta said, pointing to the table.
Henrietta took a seat, and moments later, Gretta put a plate and a fork in front of her. Henrietta loaded her fork with eggs and stuck them in her mouth. She felt them slide down her throat to warm her up.
“You look like you didn’t sleep,” Gretta said while sitting down across from her with her own plate.
“Any particular reason?”
“First, I worried the wraith would show up here, but later, I started thinking about Mendleson.”
“He cares for you.”
“Does he? It seems that way, even to me. But I wonder if he’s just helping me because of his wife.” Henrietta took a bite of her biscuit. Gretta had buttered it for her already.
Henrietta shook her head while she tried to swallow the biscuit. “No,” she said once the biscuit was down. “Not anymore. His wife died in a fire a few years ago, along with their son. I’ve heard that he blames himself for not being there to save her.”
“Where was he?”
“He was a fisherman. I think he was out on the water fishing.”
Gretta looked thoughtful. The two of them ate in silence for a bit.
“So tell me about the festival,” Gretta said, breaking the silence. “Why were you there? I’ve never known you to attend those things.”
“I don’t, usually. But I had a vision of myself going to the festival, so I went.”
“What happened there?”
“Some women wanted me to see for them right then and there, but I couldn’t see anything. I managed to escape and found myself next to Mendleson. We struck up a conversation, and then he asked me if there was any way he might have saved his wife.”
“That’s why you think he’s helping you.”
Henrietta nodded. “I moved to leave. He reached out and grabbed my hand, and I had the vision. I’ve tried everything I could think of to get him to leave, but he’s so stubborn.”
Gretta chuckled. “Henrietta, you had a vision of yourself going to the festival. You were supposed to meet Mendleson. You were supposed to have that vision. Why are you so certain your vision means doom?”
“The wraiths attack him, and when they come away, he’s motionless on the ground. What else could it mean?”
“Henrietta, you’ve been alone your whole life.”
Anger welled up within Henrietta. Why would Gretta say that? “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you know what love is?”
“It’s what happens when two people like each other so much they can’t bear to be apart.”
Gretta laughed. “Love, Henrietta, is when a man drags a woman halfway across town to get help for her while he nearly bleeds his own life onto the street.”
No. “But we hardly know each other.”
“And what makes you think knowledge is a requirement for love?”
How can this be? I don’t believe it. “If love is involved here, it’s the love of his wife, not of me.”
“It may have started that way, but I can only tell you what I saw. I saw a man who had more concern for you than for himself. He may not even know it yet. Most men are too thick-headed to understand what’s happening.”
“Don’t argue with me just for the sake of arguing. I’m an old woman, Henrietta, and I’ve seen the many relationships people have when their loved ones are dying. Listen to your heart, not your Sight. Try to understand what it’s saying to you.”
Henrietta finished the last of her breakfast. Could she be right? What does it matter if she is? There’s not enough time. I can’t let him die for me.
She stood up. Her legs felt stronger from the food, but still weary. “Thank you for the breakfast, Gretta.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to wake Mendleson. We should be on our way.”
Gretta came around the table and gave Henrietta a hug. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Mendleson won’t wake for hours, not after the draught I gave him finally took hold. And you need sleep, too.”
Henrietta yawned. She did need sleep. “What about my things? Are they still at the inn? I should go get them.”
“I’ll have Brode retrieve them.”
Gretta couldn’t be right. It’s only been three days. Love doesn’t happen that fast, does it? And what does it matter? I don’t love him.
Then she thought about the kiss in her vision that had seemed so real. Maybe there’s something to what Gretta says. But how do I listen to my heart?
* * *
Mendleson found Henrietta sitting at the end of his bed when he woke. He had no idea how long she’d been there, but it felt good to see her. He remembered a conversation taking place at some point. He had a vague memory of convincing her to let him protect her, but he couldn’t quite figure out if it had been a dream or not.
Seeing her sitting there watching him indicated that maybe it had been real, after all.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
Mendleson hadn’t even noticed, but after her question, his aches impinged upon him.
“I’ve felt better. That wraith nearly got the better of me, didn’t it.” It certainly felt like it. If he didn’t remember the thing going up in flames, he wouldn’t have been surprised if it had won their battle.
“From what Gretta tells me, you’re lucky to be alive.”
“It’s not luck,” he said, and chuckled a little before the pain of it stopped him.
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s fate, isn’t it? I can’t die until your vision says I do.”
Henrietta shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“It is dead, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It won’t matter. Like I said last night, there are others that will come for me.”
Mendleson sat up, despite the pain, and swung his legs out of the bed. They were bare. He silently thanked Gretta for not removing his underclothes. “I guess I’m not going far without my clothes.” He looked at her. “Don’t let that give you any ideas. I’d follow you without them.”
She laughed, which brought his spirits up. He could not remember hearing her laugh before. “I’m sure you would. I’ve done everything I could to get rid of you.”
“You haven’t tried to kill me yet.”
Her smile fell. “I’m trying to prevent your death, Mendleson. Not hasten it.”
Mendleson looked down at his feet and flexed his toes. They were about the only part of him not bandaged. “I’m trying to do the same for you.”
“Why? Because of your wife?”
“Partly,” he said. “but I’m not sure anymore. I’ve saved you twice already. Why can’t I just get on a horse and head home?”
“Why don’t you?”
He looked back at her, saw her hair, her eyes that seemed so open, yet hid so much. Why don’t I? She was at once, so strong, yet so vulnerable. “I don’t know why,” he said. “It just feels like I should stay with you.”
“At risk of your life?”
“I made a promise to myself, Henrietta. I promised myself I wouldn’t let you die.”
Henrietta stood up. “You shouldn’t have made that promise, Mendleson. You should have left well enough alone.”
“Maybe I should have. But it’s too late now, isn’t it? We’re on this course, and we have to sail it.”
Henrietta sighed, then walked to the door. She opened it and made as if to step out, then turned to face him.
“You know what Gretta said?”
Mendleson shook his head.
“She told me she thought you were in love with me.”
“How is that possible?” he asked. “We’ve known each other three days.” It’s not possible is it? Could I love her? No.
“That’s what I told her, but she seemed certain.”
They stared at each other, he sitting on his bed, covered in bandages, her standing at the door, beautiful as ever.
“It doesn’t matter, does it? Even if I was in love with you, you can’t say the same thing about me, seeing as how you’re always trying to get rid of me.”
Mendleson watched her for a reaction, but she held her face still. “Of course not,” she said. “You’re too bull-headed for me. You should get ready to go. We have a long ride.”
She turned and walked out the door, shutting it behind her with a loud bang.
“Wait! Where are my clothes?”
She didn’t come back to answer him.
* * *
Henrietta did not know how he had just made her so angry. I’m only trying to protect you, you oaf. He’s right anyway. How could it be love after three days of running and sleeping. I hardly know anything about you, either.
She let herself fume in silence until she ran into Gretta. “Do you want to see if that fool is ready to go? I don’t think we should stay another night.”
“What’s wrong, Henrietta?”
“Nothing.” Apparently, she hadn’t quite controlled her anger yet. “If we’re going to do this, I think we need to get moving, and he’s sitting around in there without any clothes on.”
“You didn’t tell him where they were?”
“I’d like you to examine him first. I don’t want him dying on me.”
“Oh, he’s fine, as long as he doesn’t exert himself too much for a few days.”
“A few days?” What if we’re attacked again?
“He should be good to ride. Just don’t make him carry you to any more healers. I’ll let him know where his clothes are. Brode has the horses out back.”
“Thank you,” Henrietta said.
Gretta left, and Henrietta made her way to the back of the house where Gretta had a stable.
Henrietta found Gretta’s husband in the stable grooming horses, only they weren’t the horses from the coach. The coach was missing, too. “Where is the coach?”
Brode made Mendleson look small. Henrietta could imagine he would appear to be a giant in the right lighting. Which made it all the more amusing when she talked with him. “I haven’t seen you in a while, Brode.”
“I saw you,” he said, and rushed over to envelope her in a hug. His voice sounded like a child’s. “You’re lucky your friend brought you here, I think.”
“What happened to our horses?”
“Gretta had me sell them, and the coach, too. She said where you were going, you might be better off with more speed, so we bought these.”
Henrietta didn’t have any eye for horses. They all pretty much looked the same to her, but she nodded anyway. “She’s probably right.” Though I’m not in any hurry to hasten my death.
Brode dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a purse that jingled. “This is yours, too. Leftovers from selling everything.”
She took it and found it was heavy. It would probably be more useful than the coach.
Besides, this way, you won’t have to sit next to him and talk for the whole trip. She couldn’t decide whether that was really a benefit.
Mendleson stepped outside, a bit gingerly. Gretta followed him, carrying a pair of packs. Henrietta found herself wondering if leaving right now was a good idea. Perhaps they could wait another night.
“Are you sure you can do this?” she asked as Mendleson and Gretta entered the stable.
“Gretta assures me they’re just flesh wounds, and that now they’ve scabbed over, I’ll be fine as long as I don’t exert myself too much. I’ve had worse injuries.”
He looked around, then out through the stable door where dusk was just beginning to arrive. “We travel at night?” he asked.
“At least tonight,” she said, feeling defensive.
“It’s probably a good plan. At least we’ll be awake when they attack us.”
Gretta handed the packs to Brode, who draped them across the horses. “There are a few packages of herbs in your pack,” she said to Henrietta. “If any of his wounds break open, pack the herbs in the wound and dress it again.”
“He should be mostly better in a few days. Today and tomorrow will be the time to take the most care.”
“Thank you, Gretta, for everything.”
“I appreciate the thanks, but there is no need. You helped me long ago,” she said, looking at Brode who was helping Mendleson into his saddle. “I am only returning the favor.”
Henrietta leaned in and hugged Gretta. “You deserve my thanks anyway,” she said. Even if you’re wrong about love.
Henrietta mounted her horse without too much trouble.
She looked at Mendleson, wondered if she should say anything, then decided against it. Putting her heals into the horse, she directed it out into the early evening. She didn’t wait to see if Mendleson followed.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the smells of salt air, knowing it would be the last time she smelled the sea.
Mendleson rode up next to her. “I’ll miss that smell,” he said.
She surprised herself. For the moment, she felt content. She was on her fated path with her fated company. It felt right.
Until she remembered where it lead, and her contentedness fell apart to shatter on the road.
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