Every Wednesday, I’m uploading another chapter from a novel that I’ve written, in order, so that eventually you will be able to read the book for free right here on this website. Today, it’s Chapter Eight of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony.
It’s going to take another fifteen weeks for the entire thing to be posted here, so if you just can’t wait to read the rest (or if you are enjoying it and want to support me), there are links to purchase the book from different places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble at the end of each chapter.
If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here.
Mendleson thought it fortunate that they were taking the trip in the middle of summer. They could travel light without the need for tents and heavy blankets, and the sky stayed clear, allowing the stars and the moon to light their way.
They followed the road out of town, still continuing south along the coast. He knew they would have to turn east at some point, as he was vaguely aware that Arabeth lay in that direction.
But he’d never been so far from home. Riding along the coast, it didn’t look much different from his home. The moon reflected off the sea whenever it wasn’t blocked by dunes or bluffs or the trees that grew on them.
The trees were the biggest difference. There were so many more of them dotting the hillsides. He didn’t think there was room for farmland in any direction for miles.
On occasion, they passed a solitary home, the windows dark while its occupants slept.
Most of the time, when not keeping an eye out for wraiths, he watched Henrietta’s back. He wondered what she was thinking, and he pondered the possible reasons she had grown so angry with him.
She couldn’t possibly have feelings for him. Not after three days. She kept trying to get rid of him. She’d even tried to leave while he slept.
Even if she did feel something for him, his memory of Mirrielle would come between them, wouldn’t it? But when he thought about it, he realized he hadn’t dreamed of Mirrielle since meeting Henrietta, and he only thought of Mirrielle when Henrietta brought it up.
Are you telling me something Mirrielle? I’m not ready.
“What?” He looked up and found that they had come to a road that lead east, and Henrietta had turned down it while he’d been… What was I doing exactly?
He brought his horse around to follow her, and waved a mental goodbye to the sea.
“I hope Paulus came looking for me and took care of my animals,” he said.
“My animals. My horse, the sheep. I hope someone found them and took care of them. I feel like I won’t see them again.”
“You’ll see them again.”
“Will I? Will I even go back there again?” He thought about Paulus. Hugh. “Damn.”
“They’re probably all looking for us.”
“They’ll look for you. Me, they’ll assume I got on the coach.”
In the starlight, all he could see of her was her silhouette.
“Why are you so melancholy of a sudden?” she asked.
He looked back over his shoulder, and the sea had disappeared. “I’ve always lived near the sea, even as a boy. It’s a part of me, and I’m leaving it behind.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, and Mendleson began to think she wouldn’t say anything at all. The only sound was the thud of the horses hooves on the packed dirt road.
She surprised him when she spoke again. “When I left my home, I think I felt much the same as you. I feared I would never return. I feared I would miss the trees and the stone.
“And, for a while, I did miss them. But I found new things to see and love. The sound of the waves as they break upon shore, the view of the sea, the sound of the wind as it roars off the water.
“You will find new things, too, if you choose not to return. Do not mourn your past. There is always a future.”
Mendleson liked listening to her, even if the last bit sounded like rote Seer wisdom. Her voice had a soothing quality to it, when she chose to use it.
“Do you believe that?” he asked.
“That there is always a future.” As soon as he finished, he wished he could have the words back. He knew the answer she would give, and he felt like fish guts for making her think it.
Before she could respond, he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“No, it’s all right,” she said. “You weren’t asking about me.”
“No, I wasn’t.” he said.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He thought back to the memory, the days after, the years since. They still hurt, even though he now felt like he had a purpose for the first time since the moment he’d discovered Mirrielle and Josua dead at the center of his burnt out house.
“Not right now,” he said, and let his horse drop back behind hers. He hadn’t thought about them deeply for days, but the night-time ride gave him ample time to think.
* * *
Henrietta called a halt to their ride as they entered a small village just after dawn. Children were already up and playing in the gaps between the houses. Men readied themselves for the fields and other professions.
It had a small inn, and she found herself knocking on the door while Mendleson tied up their horses. She looked back at him while she waited for the proprietor to open the door. He hadn’t said a word since she asked if he wanted to talk about his future. She suspected, however, it wasn’t his future he mulled over, but his past.
That question had somehow caused him to revert to the man he’d been for the four years prior to the festival.
The door opened, and she found herself confronted by a man that appeared to be three times her age. His head grew only a white fringe of hair around its crown, and his nose hooked down so that it nearly obscured his upper lip. His bones looked ready to split his skin if he sat or moved the wrong way.
“What’s this, you bothering us so early with your bangin’?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to look contrite. She had thought he would be up and about with his guests already. “My…” she looked at Mendleson, “husband and I need a room for the day.”
“For the day? What sort of folk are you that you need a room for the day?”
“Just travelers. Please sir, we’ve been riding all night, and just need a safe place to sleep.”
A hand reached around the door and pulled it open wider, revealing a stout woman that stood more than a foot shorter than the man. Her girth more than made up for the difference.
“Give the dears a room old man,” she said. “They look exhausted. Have your husband…” Henrietta heard a cough behind her, but didn’t turn around, “…take the horses around back to the stable.”
“Thad, go take care of those horses,” the woman said. She reached out her hand to Henrietta. “Come in, dear. He’s just ornery in the morning.”
Henrietta took her hand. As the woman pulled her into the inn, Henrietta looked over her shoulder and saw Mendleson leading the horses away. I hope he has the good sense to play along.
The woman led her into a dining area that looked to take up most of the first floor of the inn. It was empty of patrons.
“Do you not have many guests?” Henrietta asked.
“Some days, we have several, other days, none. Last night was one of the latter. Those days makes Thad testy. Here, sit a moment.”
She pulled out a chair for Henrietta, and Henrietta sat in it, despite not having much desire to sit. She hadn’t ridden a horse so far in years, and she felt sore all over, but mostly in the parts she was sitting on.
“Would you dears need to eat something before I show you a room?” the woman asked.
“What do you have?”
“I could heat up bread and broth right quick. We weren’t much prepared for guests this morning.”
Henrietta sighed. She’d much prefer eggs or salted pork. “That’ll be fine,” she said.
Mendleson came into the room from the back carrying their packs. He set the packs down next to the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down much like Henrietta imagined Thad would sit. “Why are we sitting? I just want to lay down and sleep.”
“She’s making us something to eat.”
“A slab of roast?” he asked.
Her mouth watered. “Bread and broth.”
“That’ll do,” he said, crossed his arms on the table and laid his head on them. Henrietta had an urge to reach out and run her fingers through his hair, but she kept her hand to herself.
They waited that way until the woman came out with a tray. On it rested two steaming bowls and a plate with bread. Mendleson lifted his head up.
She set the tray on the table, placed a bowl in front of each of them, and set the bread plate in the middle.
“Let me know when you dears are ready for your room, and I’ll take ya up.”
The woman walked away and left them alone.
“So,” Mendleson said in a low voice, “why did you tell them I was your husband?”
“I thought it would forestall strange questions.”
“You could just as easily have said I was your guardian, like we did last time.”
“I didn’t want to let them know what I am, and I wanted us in the same room.”
“In these small towns, Seers can be overwhelmed with requests for visions, if they’re not run out of town. You never know what will happen.”
“No,” he said. “Why did you want us in the same room?”
“To save money,” she said, not wanting to examine her motives. She didn’t want to admit to not knowing why she did it. She didn’t want to admit to the possibility that she did.
“We have plenty of money,” he said.
“Just eat. We’ll discuss it in the room.”
He stared at her. She stared back, and for a moment, she thought she could see into his mind, and into his past. Then he broke eye contact, picked up his spoon and scooped broth into his mouth.
They finished their meal in silence. When they were done, the woman appeared out of nowhere, as if she had been watching them.
“Are you ready for your room?” she asked.
“Please,” Henrietta said, and stood.
Mendleson stood, too, then picked up their packs.
They followed the woman up a stairwell near the back of the inn and then down a hallway until she reached the end. She opened a door on the right, then stood there while they entered the room. It looked nice for a room in a village this small. Henrietta suspected it was their best room.
It had a bed, a wash basin, and a rocking chair. A poorly executed painting of the Fates hung above the bed. Henrietta looked back at the woman. Does she know? But the woman wasn’t looking at her. She was instead engaged in getting payment from Mendleson.
“Ma’am, would you mind waking us just before dusk,” Henrietta asked.
The woman closed her fleshy fist around the coin Mendleson had just placed in her palm and looked up. “Of course,” she said. “Just before dusk. Will you want something to eat before you leave?”
Henrietta looked to Mendleson, who was looking at her. She couldn’t read his expression. “That would be nice,” she said. It would certainly be better than eating on the road.
“I’ll see to it, then,” the woman said. “Have a good rest.” She turned and walked down the hall.
Mendleson closed the door. She saw him eye the bed, then the window. The window had curtains, but they weren’t at all thick. She watched him go to the bed and pull a blanket off.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He took the blanket to the window. “I’m going to cover the window.” He hung the blanket up on the curtain rod, and the room grew much darker.
He went back to the bed, took hold of the other blanket and pulled it off.
“What are you doing now?”
In the darkness, he looked puzzled. “I’m going to lay this out under me so that I don’t have to sleep directly on the floor.”
Henrietta felt her heart beat a little faster. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor. There’s room for both of us on the bed.”
She could see his head turn as he looked between her and the bed.
“Are you sure?”
She imagined laying next to him, feeling his body against hers. What will it feel like to touch him? To feel his warmth so close? It was possible he would be her last chance to find out what a man felt like so close.
“I’m sure,” she said. Really? But she wanted it. She wanted to know.
He put the blanket back, then went around to the other side of the bed, putting it in between them.
He unlaced his shirt, and she found herself watching him. As the shirt came away, it exposed the bandages he wore underneath. A stray sunbeam caught one of them, and she thought she saw red where blood had soaked through.
Damn. She had forgotten about his wounds. “I should not have let you carry those bags,” she said. “Sit down.”
“I think you ripped open one of the wounds. Come over here and sit on the bed next to the lamp, and I’ll tend to it.”
She went to the nightstand and lit the lamp, bringing the light up enough to see. He came around and sat down. Up close, she saw that two of the bandages were red with his blood.
She searched through her pack until she found the herb packages Gretta had stowed inside. She took out two of them, and brought them to the bed. Gretta had thought to wrap the packages in additional bandages, for which Henrietta silently thanked her.
Looking at the wounds, she decided the worst one was the one on his side. She reached around him to get at where the bandage had been tied off, which brought her face close to his chest. She could smell him, and far from being unpleasant, it made her want to lay her head on his chest.
She almost did before she remembered what she was doing and untied the bandage. She had to reach around him more than once to unwrap it, and every time, it brought her in close to him.
When the bandage was completely free, she looked down and saw the damage the wraith had done to him, and she hissed. It was far worse than she had imagined. There were cuts all over his torso. “How did you even manage to ride today?” she whispered.
“I didn’t ride on my belly,” he said.
She found the wound that was bleeding the most. It was a six inch gash on his side, just below his ribs.
She went to the washbasin, which she found full of water. A couple cloths were next to it. Henrietta silently thanked the woman for seeing to their needs. She picked up one of the cloths, dipped it in the water, then went back and knelt down in front of Mendleson.
She wiped the blood away from the wound and saw that it had only pulled open enough to bleed a bit and make a mess. Mendleson didn’t move under her ministrations.
“Doesn’t this hurt?” she asked.
“Of course it does,” he said.
“Then why don’t you move?”
“If I moved, everything else would hurt.”
Henrietta laughed, and she had to pull her hand away from him until she could stop.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “You’re just so contradictory.”
“I don’t understand.”
She looked up into his eyes, and they were watching her. “You sit here, not moving, in order to avoid additional pain. Yet you insist on coming with me wherever I go, knowing that my vision says your path will end in your death.”
His eyes kept watching hers, but he didn’t open his mouth to say anything. She wondered what he was thinking. She wondered if, perhaps, he was thinking about his wife.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away. “Maybe it isn’t that funny.”
She reached over and grabbed a packet of herbs. She pinched some out, and then began packing them into his wound. He did flinch, then. After she finished packing the wound, she wrapped the bandage around him again.
His closeness seemed different this time. More comforting, less exciting.
“No,” he said. “You don’t have to be sorry.”
“But…” she tried to protest.
He put his fingers to her mouth to stop her. “We’re both tired. And you are right. It is a contradiction, but it’s not one I’m sure I can explain.”
He stood up, walked around to the other side of the bed, then climbed on it, and lay on his back.
Henrietta took the bloodied cloth to the washbasin where she set it to the side. She picked up the other cloth, dipped it in the water, and wiped her face.
The washbasin had a mirror above it that let her see Mendleson lying in bed while she cleaned up. With his wounds and the long horse-ride, she realized she’d have to wait before she could discover what it meant to be a woman. I wonder if Gretta was laughing when she told me he had to avoid anything strenuous. Did she know what I might do?
She searched through their packs until she found a nightgown. She looked at Mendleson and saw he had his eyes closed. She stripped off her clothes as quickly as she could and slipped into the gown.
She climbed into bed, blew out the lamp, then lay her head down. After a moment, when Mendleson hadn’t moved, she rolled to face him, and she moved in close enough that she could breathe in his scent while she slept.
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 Nine of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony