So here we are. It’s the first installment of what should prove to be a 12 part short story. I spent most of the month waffling on ideas for this, which has made things exceptionally difficult. In retrospect, I should have outlined the entire story in 12 distinct segments before even committing to such a challenge. However, to be completely honest, if I would have waited to do that, I would never have written this first chapter. I am the king of procrastination and, this time, it worked out for me. Now that I have a foundation, I have a good feeling as to where the story is going. I will be very clear that this is a first draft of the story. My writing group has not looked at this. The only editing that has taken place came from me reading it out loud to myself one time and fixing a few obvious flaws. I am sure there are many still lurking within, but I ask you to forgive me for that. Just remember, I warned you all on my very second post of the year that I write as a stream of consciousness most of the time, so this is how you get it. Please remember to follow along by subscribing with your email and I would LOVE to hear your feedback (constructive, of course) in the comments below.
Raven and Bluebird Feathers
Whendra’s irritation began to grow irksome. It had taken her a day or so to catch up with Torlan, his track having gone cold several times. She was close to giving up at one point, not a single sign of Torlan’s activity to be found, when a dark movement stalked between two trees to her right. She had spun low and nocked an arrow without hesitation but the figure had vanished. When she made her way to the two towering oaks, there were no tracks. After a few more minutes of searching, she found a patch of moss that was torn apart and she was again back on his trail.
It had been a long day, and as night grew near, Whendra knew she had a choice to make. Risk injury to continue through the night, or try to get some rest and regain a bit of strength for when day would break. Her frustration festered into carelessness and, after tweaking her knee, she decided to stop. A night in the woods was commonplace for her, but she did not enjoy the idea of it. Her path was usually tough, as those she typically tracked down were desperate men forced to abandon caution in their flight. Torlan had been different, but a girl has to eat, right?
She decided to hold up for the night under the roots of a fallen tree and fell asleep with a jagged dirk in her hand and the hope that Torlan would do the stupid thing and run through the night. With any luck, she thought, he would break his ankle in the darkness.
Whendra had no problem picking up his path the following morning and, within a few hours, could tell Torlan had stopped for the night. He was too well trained and she was an idiot for trying to convince herself otherwise. The hair prickled on the back of her neck which told her she was close – she must have gain a lot of ground since dawn. The woods had grown still earlier but figure it was due to making too much noise in her aggressiveness to find him.
Torlan’s path led to a stream – water being the great lifesaver and trail-hider and all. It was the obvious path, and that thought put Whendra on edge. Downstream, Whendra knew, led deeper into the woods. Upstream was a harder track but would bring them out to the open much quicker.
She had just knelt to take a drink when the creak of a branch betrayed his position. He was behind her, a flare of anger burned at her cheeks and ears. How had she missed him? She must have walked right under him without a clue. She leaned forward in a steeper angle towards the water and allowed her bow to roll over her shoulder and head. In one motion she spun, pulled and nocked an arrow, and aimed for the first set of branches in the extra wide tree behind her. A streak of brown fell downwards as she aimed up. She tried to stop the arrow from taking flight, but the whole maneuver was so ingrained in her that it let loose. A streak of black and blue arced towards her target.
The arrow had yet to strike the trunk of the tree before she had a new one in her fingertips. As she brought the new one to the string for a second shot, she caught sight of Torlan rolling up to his feet near the tree. Her aim was true and the twang of her bowstring was followed first by a sharp gasp of pain, and then, total darkness.
— — — — — — — — —
Her steps were drowned by the rustling grass. The slight schk schk schk as small fingers gently swiped through the wind-bent heather was dry and intimate. She giggled and startled a flock of birds, sending flutters of cream and ash to the wind. Her shirt, pure cotton homespun, kept catching on some of the more zealous stalks around her.
Torlan had been resting against the remains of a pasture wall. He had not moved since collapsing. A sticky brown spill surrounded the arrow shaft in his side. The shaft was broken, splinters of wood splayed and twisted outwards, resembling the husk of the lighting tree from his village. A slight tug bit at the wound as he twisted to get a better look at it. A brilliant fire licked his insides near his liver, as it had earlier. He had not been able to bear the sight of the fletching one moment longer, so he snapped the raven and bluebird feathers away. It sickened him to know whose arrow brought about such a slow death.
His eyes were clouded reflections of a clear blue day, and they tightened to see her silhouette against the brightness. A cough racked his body, cracking his throat and feeding the infernal burning in his side. He tasted blood, the metallic taste reminded him of tucking a copper piece under his tongue as a child – Ma taught him that trick to keep the Underman away. He was terrified to see her face again. He was sure it would be unbearable this time around.
She giggled again, creating a warmth in Torlan’s cheeks as if she kissed him. The realization that this was not Whendra approaching released a constricting tightness in his chest. It granted him the resolve he lacked and a peaceful acceptance washed over him.
“Thank you.” His words withered through a parched throat.
She was there in an instant, sitting on the rubbled wall beside him. She swung her bare, ivory foot through a cluster of hearty dandelions, sending spiny dander to the wind. The breeze carried most of the fluff into Torlan’s patchy scruff where it clung like frost in a snowstorm.
She giggled feverishly and nearly lost her perch on the rocks.
“You’ve come for me.” Resignation etched his voice. “I’ve been waiting.”
Her chin, soft and round, cast a shadow across his eyes when she turned to stare at the sun. Her shoulders popped in a shrug as her head swayed from side to side.
“No, silly. I’ve come to you, not for you.” Her eloquence belied such an innocent, juvenile voice. “I’m Lloraya. Do you want to guess how old I am?”
The question caught Torlan off guard and he chuckled. Again his wound erupted in searing pain. He bit his lip in an attempt to stifle the outcry of pain, but a growl escaped him. He squinted to see her again, and a rogue tear spilled from the welling pool in his eye. Its path followed one made by numerous others before it, washing more dirt from his face.
“Lady Lloraya, must you ask trick questions? I’ve heard tales of you from my Grannie.”
Her face puzzled itself in concentration. She slid down from the wall and rested herself on both knees next to him.
“Your Grannie told you about me? Was she really old? Did she smell funny?”
He nodded slowly to her questions. There was a fog of vague amusement creeping about her.
“I’ve been sitting here, waiting to die for most of a day now. Why have you come if not to usher me on?”
Her hand reached for him, and perfectly clean, delicate fingers began picking the dandelion fluff from the scruff on his face. A gentle warmth radiated from her fingers and felt like more kisses upon his skin. She leaned in, and Torlan was able to see, for the first time, her eyes. They were abnormally large for such a small child, giant eyes with liquid amber irises. They were pools of joy and curiosity.
“Why are you waiting to die silly? If you really wanted to die, you would have done so. You do not need anyone’s permission but your own.” Her thumb wiped at his cheek. “Do you really want to die?”
He shook his head. “No, of course not. I have accepted my fate is all. I can smell the wound already, so I know infection has set in. I’d rather just go quickly if it’s all the same to you.”
The girl reached for his hand and brought it to the splintered shaft.
“I’ll help you with this. It will sting a bit, but we can do this.”
— — — — — — — — —
Whendra awoke to numerous raindrops splashing across her face. Her head throbbed. There was a wretched ringing in her left ear and a tight, pulsing numbness in her left jaw. Her mouth tasted of blood and her tongue stung. She tried to push herself up but nausea twisted her stomach and the ground spun out from under her. Her face landed in the dirt as her arms splayed out from under her.
Her stomach gave out and sickness spilled weakly onto the carpet of leaves and earth. An acidic burn caught in her throat and she sputtered to clear it out.
“Okay Whendra, you can do this. Get to the creek and get a drink.” Her voice was weak and she was thankful no one was around. She crawled and rested several times before she reached the creek. The coolness of it helped calm her stomach, and she rested the left side of her face in the frigid mud for a while.
Some time passed before Whendra could regain her feet. She did not remember if it was minutes or hours. Her headache grew into a pounding staccato and her right ear began to ring as well. It took a while longer before she could remember what brought her to the middle of the woods. It was Torlan. She had shot him. What happened to her after that? Things had gone dark.
She returned, slowly, to where she had been sick. There was a rock, roughly the size of two large fists, sitting near where she awoke. She bent down, fighting the vertigo, and picked it up. A small smear of blood was trickling down from a sharp edge on it. She turned the rock over, found the flattest side, and pressed it against the same spot on her left jaw that it previously struck. The coolness was an ironic relief to the pain.
The foggy cloud of the attack began to dissipate as she drank some more water and ate a few bits of bread she pulled from the center of a loaf tucked in her pack. Her teeth felt as though they were twice their normal size, but she forced herself to chew through the enlarged feeling. She decided to use her bow as a walking stick, and made her way to the base of the tree where Torlan had landed. There was an obvious trail of blood, and Whendra said a silent prayer to Catharsys, The Lady of Two Faces.
By high sun, Whendra had made her way out of the woods. Torlan had gone upstream in an attempt to get out. She figured he was trying to find a village and cursed him for the tactic. If he found one before she could catch up with him, he would be able to spin a very convincing tale to the locals, and she would not be able to get anywhere near him.
Her fortune continued as the woods had given way to rolling hills of golden grass and purple heather. She could tell Torlan was desperate – his blood was still running freely and he made no effort to skirt the field. A clearly trampled path led her over a few hills and into one of several small stands of trees. As she made her way to the other side of the patch of trees, excitement overcame her.
At the bottom of the hill was a crooked, crumbling rock wall. Her eyes followed the darker brown path of the trampled heather to where it ended. A large figure was slumped there, back against the wall, motionless. It was Torlan and he was dead.
The heat had been working on her more than she realized and, without thinking about it, she fell backward from her kneeling position onto her ass. The air was heavy and warm and it clung to everything. She was sweaty and clammy and felt nauseous once again. She knew she was too weak to finish the job, so she decided to stay in the copse of trees, out of sight, until nightfall. The tree next to her beaconed and Whendra immediately rested her bruised and swollen face against it.
A flight of birds startled Whendra, and the immediacy of her headache and nausea confused her. She just rested her head for a nap. Why did she feel so awful? She tried to stand, but her legs went alight with an electric fire that was all at once tingling and tickling and agonizing. Her feet and legs had fallen asleep as well, and she found herself unable to move them.
Her eyes caught sight of the stone wall and the figure who still slouched there. A sickening feeling crept in, completely different than the nausea which tumbled in her stomach. This was a gut-lurching, breath-stealing punch which spun her head and made her face feel as though it were on fire. His head had moved. He looked directly towards her. His mouth had moved. The pleasure she had in watching Torlan die abandoned her.
Whendra began to flex her toes in desperation, trying to fight through the ridiculous feeling of tickling pain. She wanted to get up, stride down to Torlan, and put her knife in his eye. It was futile though as her feet and legs would not do anything besides course with the horrible sensation.
He was talking, she realized. Full on talking. She remembered how much blood he had lost since the morning and understood that he must have grown delusional. He had to be close to dead by now. Whendra cringed as the croaked sound of his laugh carried up the hill. She gasped as he reached for the arrow shaft. She cried out when he ripped it from his side.