Author Topic: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP  (Read 161 times)

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Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #30 on: Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 08:14 AM »
 Chapter Fourteen
The next morning, refreshed, I had a very substantial breakfast in an empty common room.  Solomon was not in attendance, but his wife and son were, and they provided me with eggs, roasted potatoes, bread, and fruit.  I had tea this time, and it was a blend similar to the Toadstool Tea I had had with Alistair at The High Heel House.  I wondered if she sent out her blends to this Inn, or if each had their own flavors.  I decided not to ask.  It might have been considered an insult.
The young stable hand had Snapdragon groomed and saddled for me.  She appeared to be in good spirits, and her saddle and bridle were oiled and their fittings gleaming.  I bid Solomon’s family good bye, and set off down the road toward Dorae.  I was pleased that a sign right outside the Inn pointed the way for me, so that I did not have to expose my lack of knowledge by asking.
The morning was fine and fair, with little wind stirring the cool, crisp spring air.  A few fluffy clouds were scattered in the deep blue sky.   Flocks of birds wheeled overhead and butterflies flitted between nodding flower heads in the grasses to either side of the road.
The road here was not cobbled, but was well packed earth.  Ruts along one side showed clearly where wagons had been pulled along.  I kept to the left of those, in the smoother dirt, to avoid having Snapdragon step in a hole and stumble.  Or, worse, injure or break a leg.
I came across a couple other cross roads as the morning wore on, but each had a large sign declaring which way to go.  The first cross road was empty of any buildings, but the second had another large inn on the corner.  This one was not, I was surprised to see, in the shape of a shoe, but looked like a regular house as one might have seen in a village in England or Ireland on Earth (only much larger).  The sign posts here directed me to bear to the right, and so I did.  It was still not noon yet, and I did not feel hungry enough to stop. 
Snapdragon did not seem to want to stop, either.  She seemed to be enjoying the trip.  As I got more used to riding her, I occasionally guided her off the packed dirt road and onto the soft green grass.  There I let her pick up speed; I had moved onto the grass as protection in case I fell off – the grass would be softer than the hard road.  But I grew more confident when I stayed mounted with ease, and soon we were cantering along the road itself, moving quickly.
I was just beginning to get hungry as the village of Dorae came into view up ahead.   I slowed Snapdragon to a quick walk, not wanting to go galloping into a strange town.    I passed small houses, built of stone and thatched with rushes.  Small plots of land near them grew a variety of vegetables, and every now and then I would see a small pen with a goat, or a few chickens. As I continued into the village, the houses became larger.  Instead of goats, now there were cows.  And even a horse at one house.  The larger houses had gardens, but they were larger, too, and contained flowering plants as well as food crops.  Clearly these people were more well to do.  I wondered again if this was simply how it was, or if they were unconsciously mimicking Earth and its socioeconomic classes.
I came upon a woman outside one of the houses, tending to a flower bed that was a riot of spring color.  She looked up when she heard my horse, and stood up straight to greet me cheerfully.
“Good day to you!” she called out.
I reined in Snapdragon.  “And good day to you,” I replied.  “I am a visitor here, and seek food for myself and care for my horse before I conduct my business.  Is there an Inn here that you would recommend?”
The lady nodded and pointed up the road.  “Take the second turning to the left, and follow it down to the center square.  There the Lady Morgan holds fast at The Sleepy Sheep.”  She smiled, as if amused.  “An odd name, but it is the best Inn in the village.  There you will find good care for your horse, and food and drink for yourself.  And, if you business takes you over long here, she has good rooms for hire.”
“Thank you,” I replied, and urged Snapdragon off down the lane.
“A pleasant day to you!” she called after me.
I waved back, and turned my attention to her directions.   I passed the first crossroads, which had a small inn on one corner.  I was not tempted to stop.  It was a small building and did not seem to be very well kept.  What I would have called a “hole in the wall” back in Colorado Springs.  Though doubtfully some of them had some of the best food to be had, this was definitely not Colorado Springs, and so the same “rules” probably did not apply.  In any case, it certainly had not been recommended to me, so I continued on.
By the time I arrived at the second crossroads, I was ready to find the place and stop.  The morning of steady riding was making my muscles ache, and I did not figure a hot bath with Epsom salts was something I would be able to provide myself with at the end of the day.  Solomon’s Slipper did not even have bathing rooms; my room held a chamber pot and a small sink, but that was the limit of the hygiene that was available to me.
I turned down the lane, which grew wider as I approached the center of the village.  Up ahead I could see a large square, with a fountain in the center.  The buildings on all sides were taller than those along the roads, and I could see their tops, decorated with filigreed railings, rising up ahead of me.
I rode into the square and immediately located The Sleepy Sheep.  A large wooden sign hung outside the door, in the shape of a wooly sheep.  The letters painted on it were red, though somewhat faded.  The building itself was impressive: a stone foundation, rising just one story.  Above that were four wooden stories, with windows facing over the square.  Little flower boxes hung outside the sill of each window, in which bloomed purple pansies, or something similar.  Two small flowering trees flanked the entrance door.   There were clusters of low buildings behind the inn itself, and I presumed these were the stables. 
I was sore, and so I dismounted in the square and led Snapdragon around to the other side.  Just as I expected, there were rings for tying up horses along the side of the inn itself, and the stables stretched out along the road behind.  These were in much better condition than the ones at Solomon’s Slipper (and I had thought those were fairly decent as it was).  Two smartly dressed young stable hands were waiting for me at the stable entrance.
“Stable your horse, Lady?” one of them asked.
“Yes, please,” I said, and the one came forward to take her lead reins from my hand.
“Will you be staying the night?”
“I do not know yet,” I replied, “but if I do, I will certainly stay here.”
The young man tipped his hat at me, and led Snapdragon away.  I turned to go back into the Inn itself.
I stepped into the doorway and was surprised.  I had been expecting décor similar to that of Solomon’s Slipper: dark wood, paneling, and a stone hearth.  Instead, I was greeted with a bright, airy room, with the walls painted a pale blue, with small white flowers in decorative rows.  The wooden trim along the floors and ceilings was painted white as well, and the hearth was fashioned from smooth, round, pale gray stones.  Blue flowers sat in white vases atop the hearth, and on the ends of the long counter that ran the length of the far side of the room.  The tables were fashioned of a lighter wood, with white table clothes and small vases of white and blue flowers. 

A woman with deep brown hair, tied back at the nape of her neck with a pale yellow scarf, stood behind the counter, wiping down white plates with a cloth.  There were several people already in attendance, eating by themselves or in pairs at the tables.  There were two serving girls weaving their way through the tables, bearing trays of steaming food, pots of tea, or mugs of ale.

The woman looked up and saw me.  She smiled.  “Welcome to The Sleepy Sheep!” she called merrily.  “Sit down, I will attend to you in a moment.”

I chose a small table, with just two chairs, and sat with my back to the wall, so I could observe the entire room.   The woman came out from behind the counter, carrying a tray that held a silver pitcher and a mug.

“Welcome!” she said again.  “I am Dahlia, proprietor of The Sleepy Sheep.” She set the tray down, and I saw that in addition to the pitcher and mug, there was also a plate with some bread and cheese.  She placed each item on the table.  “How might we serve you today?”

“Just lunch, at the moment,” I replied.  “My horse is in your stables.  I may need a room later, depending on how long my business takes in the village.”

“Excellent,” she said.  “Would you prefer lamb or chicken for your lunch?”

I blinked.  I had not expected a choice; Solomon’s Slipper had only one meal option available.  I considered my choices.  “I will try the lamb, I said.”

“A wonderful choice,” she said.  “I am quite proud of our lamb roast.  I think you shall enjoy it.  Can I bring you tea with your meal? Or ale?”

“Tea, if you please,” I replied.

Dahlia left with her tray, and I availed myself of the bread and cheeses.  They were of a milder, more delicate sort than the ones I had been served at the previous inn, but still amazingly delicious.  The pitcher contained just clear, cool water, which was very welcome after my warm morning of riding.  I made a mental note to look into purchasing a thermos – water skin – for future traveling.  It would not do for me to become dehydrated while out in the middle of essentially nowhere.

One of the serving girls came over, instead of Dahlia herself, with my lunch.  My mouth began to water at the aromas rising from the platter.  There was a generous serving of meat – lamb – accented with fresh vegetables and small potatoes.  The tea was much different from the kinds I had tasted previously as well – a lighter, more flowery bouquet.  Just as before, the quality and flavor of the food was beyond anything I would have expected, or had ever eaten while on Earth.   I was seriously considering just abandoning Earth and Colorado Springs and moving here permanently. 

Then I decided to wait and see what else happened here in Dorae.

After I had eaten, I settled my bill with Dahlia herself.   I decided to go ahead and secure a room while I was here – the proprietor offered me a deal if I made my decision now.  For three silver coins, I had myself a room for the night, plus care and feeding for Snapdragon, and lunch today, dinner this evening, and breakfast in the morning.   Dahlia had one of her serving girls – who were not her daughters, but actually her nieces – take me up to see my room.  The décor was similar to the common room – light, airy, and feminine.  I stowed my small saddle bags in the room, and then went back downstairs.

“I have come to town to visit Alessandra’s farm,” I said to Dahlia.  “I have seen examples of her work, and seek to purchase a shawl for myself.  Can you give me directions to her farm?”

“I can do better than that,” Dahlia said.  “Alessandra has requested some food to be delivered to her.  It is not far to walk, but when I send her food I usually use our pony trap.  If you would consent to deliver this for me, I will allow you use of the pony and cart, and also give you an extra night here for yourself and your mount, for just a half a silver penny.”

That was a deal I was not going to turn down.  Dahlia packaged up some meat and potatoes – both the chicken and the lamb – and packed it all into a small wooden box.

“Laurel,” she called, and the eldest of the girls came out from the kitchen.  “Look after the inn,” she instructed.  “I must show Rebekah to the pony trap.”

She led me out to the stables, where she had the boys bring the small cart around while she showed me the pretty white pony that would pull the harness.  She led the bright animal out to the front, and let the boys harness it into the carriage.  She herself loaded the box of prepared food. 

She pointed down the road, the opposite direction from the crossroads.  “Go down this road until you see the chapel on the right – you can’t miss it, it is a white building with a bell tower on the roof.  Turn right and follow that lane.  It will wind a bit, do not worry about that.  Eventually the houses will end, and you will begin to see farms.  Alessandra’s farm is on the left, there is a sign by the entrance lane.”

I smiled and climbed up into the pony trap – it was a little more than a small two person carriage.  The box of food sat by my feet.  I took up the reins.  “Thank you,” I said.  “I will deliver the food, conduct my business, and return your pony and carriage by this evening.”

“I appreciate it,” Dahlia said.  She stepped back.  “Good journey, and I will see you later tonight.”

I clicked my tongue at the pony and gave the reins a little twitch.  The pony moved out eagerly, clipping along quickly down the cobbled road.  The buildings here in Dorae were quaint and very reminiscent of little English cottages.  It was about five minutes before I noticed what must have been the chapel that Dahlia had mentioned.  I could see the steeple rising above the roof tops of the other houses, with a pretty silver bell hanging in the center. 

The front doors were open, but I decided against popping in.  If I had not been delivering food, I might have considered it.  Surely a minister or priest might have some insight into any scandals that were dirtying any of his (or her, I did not want to be gender-ist) flock.

I turned the pony to the right on the lane just past the little church, and we turned off cobbles onto an earthen road again.  The houses along this lane were larger, with more yard space and grander gardens – more flowering bushes and roses than vegetables and similar food crops.  Many also held small flocks of either sheep or alpaca.  And by flock, I meant anywhere from three to five individual animals.  These were not the large herds I expected.  It was obvious, though, that these people were also dealing with wool or cloth, and many had signs advertising their wares.

But soon enough the houses started to drift back from the road, with longer lanes between the road and their door, with fences and gates.  And larger flocks – up to about twenty animals in each.  The quality of these animals was superior as well – their coats were thick and heavy, and most were of a solid color, rather than spotted or speckled.

After a few more minutes, however, a fence line appeared on the left side, and it stretch on into the distance, not broken up by other cottages or lanes.  I wondered if this was Alessandra’s property.  Ahead, I could see a large arch fashioned of white painted wood.  Two large rose bushes, one on either side, twined and wove their way up the wooden trellises and up into the arch.   The gate under the arch stood wide open, and a sign on the fence, painted in gold filigree, proclaimed “Alessandra’s”.  There was no other name on the farm; it seemed the famous weaver did not need another.

I guided the pony through the gate and up the winding lane, which was lined with small trees and short hedges.  Up ahead, the lane broadened out into a large lot.  There were two other pony traps tied up to one side, along with another horse, unburdened with any carriage. 

A smartly dressed young man appeared.  “Take your carriage, Lady?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “I have a delivery for the Lady Alessandra from Dahlia at The Sleepy Sheep.  She asked me to deliver it, as I was coming here to see the Lady myself.”

“Oh, yes,” the lad said.  “Let me take it out and get another stable hand to help carry that in for you.”

He reached into the carriage and set the box at the edge of the lot.  He then took the reins and led the pony over to a spot at the railing on the right hand side.  I could see that there was a shallow trough for water underneath the rail, so the horses tethered there had access to fresh water.  It was a nice touch. 

Soon, another young man arrived.  The lad attending to my borrowed horse nodded toward us.  “The Lady has a box for Alessandra, from The Sleepy Sheep.”

The lad came over and picked up the box.  “Come with me, Lady, and I will take you inside.”

I followed him into the building, I was not sure what I expected to see, but I stopped inside the door, rooted to the spot.  Inside, the room appeared to be a cross between a tea shop and a store.  It looks like a Cracker Barrel, I thought to myself.  Shelves and cabinets lined the walls, filled with a random selection of objects, such as candles, in a variety of colors, and small carved figurines.  Trivets, decorative plates, tea cups with matching saucers and tea pots.  In the center of the floor were racks lined with a selection of what I took to be pieces from the principal herself, Alessandra.

“If you would wait here, Lady, I will summon the Lady Alessandra.”

The boy ran off, and I took the opportunity to wander about the little shop, looking at the merchandise.  I fingered one of the scarves, a finely woven garment dyed in fading tones of purple and blue.  I was surprised again by the quality.  It was finer than anything I was wearing, and anything I had seen others wearing.

My musing was interrupted by a man entering the room from a back hallway.  “Did I hear correctly?” he said.  I turned, unsure if he was speaking to me.

Apparently he was.  He was standing just a few feet behind me, staring at me impatiently.

“I am sorry,” I said.  “Did you hear what correctly?”

“You brought something from The Sleepy Sheep?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied.  “Dahlia packaged up some food and asked me to bring it here.”  I looked around.  “A young boy carried the box in for me, but I am not certain where he went with it.”
Before he could reply, a voice sounded from behind us both.  “Giles?”

We both turned to look.  A woman stood there, elegantly dressed in a pale blue gown that fell in graceful folds down to the floor.  This was not the same, practical wear that I had on, or that the other denizens of the towns of Sixshire or Dorae.   Her dress and manner of bearing were like to that of Princess Estrid.  I wondered briefly if there were other lords and ladies in this world who dressed as royalty but were not. 

“Giles, dear, there is food in the great room, delivered from the Sleepy Sheep.”

I tried to keep my expression blank.  So this was Giles, absent husband of Ramona Travers.  I was a little surprised it had been so easy to locate him.  Now, the only remaining question was: what to do with him?

Giles did not spare me any further looks.  He swept out of the room, leaving me alone with Alessandra.

I looked at the woman.  “Are you Alessandra?” I asked.

She nodded.  “I am.”  She gave me a quizzical look.  “Are you employed by Dahlia?  Usually orders are delivered by one of her nieces.”  She looked somewhat uncomfortable, but I could not fathom the reason why.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I am not an employee of The Sleepy Sheep.  I am just a visitor to Dorae, and when I questioned Dahlia on how to find your establishment, she asked if I would take the food with me, and loaned me her pony and carriage to do so.”

A flicker of something – was it relief?  Or something else? – passed across her face.  “I see,” she said.  “May I ask why you were coming here?”

That seemed like an odd question.  The woman owned and operated a profitable business, and sold a very high quality merchandise, that seemed to be in great demand as a luxury item, and she had to ask why I was coming here?  I would have thought it was obvious.

“I wished to see your merchandise,” I said simply.  “I had seen samples of your wares, and was impressed, and came to see for myself.”

That fleeting expression crossed her face again, and this time I rather thought it was dejection, rather than relief.  That was puzzling. 

Alessandra showed me around the little shop, describe the different types of shawls, throws, doilies, and head scarves available.  Everything was beautifully crafted, and I was again struck by the attitude of the woman.  If I had managed to produce such wonderful products, I would be proud of my achievements, and it would definitely show in my manner and bearing.

What was going on here?

I stopped paying attention to what Alessandra was saying, and started paying closer attention to Alessandra herself.   In addition to her dress, her face was heavily made up.  I could see the caking of some sort of foundation makeup on her skin, which was obviously used to hide the dark circles under…

Under only one eye?

No, that was not a dark circle.

That was a black eye.

Just then, Giles came back into the room.  “Alessandra,” he snapped, “I need to speak to you.”

She glanced over at me, a look filled with meaning.  Then turned back to Giles.  “In a moment, Giles.  I have a customer.”
 
Giles took a step forward, and I watched as Alessandra shrank back towards me.  I quickly intervened.  “Alessandra, I am content to wait for you here.  Finish your business with the gentleman, and I will look around by myself for a time.”

Now the look of relief was genuine on her face.  “Oh, thank you,” she said.  “I will not be but a few minutes.”

The woman followed Giles into one of the back rooms.  I looked around, but did not see any of the young stable hands or serving boys anywhere in the vicinity.  Then, making a decision, I slipped my boots off, tucked them underneath one of the display racks, and on bare feet silently followed Giles and Alessandra.

I heard voices, and stopped just outside a doorway.  Giles was yelling.

“I told you what to order!  You know I wanted roast from the Sleepy Sheep!”

“I am sorry,” Alessandra was saying, in an obvious attempt to calm the man.  “But Dahlia had not prepared any roast beef today.  She only had lamb and chicken.  Josef delivered my message, but did not return with any message about what food was available.”

A blow.  A soft cry from Alessandra.  Then I heard Giles speaking again, so low that I could not make out the words.  Then I heard footsteps.

I quickly retreated from the door, and returned to the display rack where I had hidden my shoes.   Giles stormed out of the building. Fortunately, I was behind the rack, and nobody could see that I did not have my shoes on.  I stepped into my boots, and was walking slowly around the shop when Alessandra came back into the room. 

There was a definite puffiness to one side of her face, just below her left eye.  She was walking very straight and proper, and lifted a hand to adjust her hair.

“I apologize,” she said.  “I had to clear up a matter with my… business partner.”

I made a snap decision.  “Alessandra,” I said quietly.  “I am an associate of Alistair Carruthers, the Emissary of King Robion.”

Her eyes widened for a moment, and she flicked her gaze toward the door which Giles had exited.  Apparently, she did not see any sign of him, and then relief flooded her features. 

She squared herself, and looked me directly in the eye.  “Help me,” she whispered.

So.  Alessandra was a prisoner of Giles.  She was not a willing accomplice.  And apparently Giles was a bit of an abuser.

I nodded.  “What would you like me to do?  Go to the King?”

“Yes.”  Suddenly, she abruptly changed her tone.  “This particular scarf is a very popular style.”  She reached out to handle the beautiful purple toned one I had noticed earlier.

The reason for her sudden redirection was apparent as Giles came back into the building.  He strode past, into the back room, and did not look at either one of us.  Alessandra tracked his movements out of the corner of her eye, and I found myself doing the same.  I certainly did not trust him.

“I will take this one,” I said, reaching out to touch the scarf that Alessandra held.  “It is a beautiful scarf, even more so than the one I saw previously.”

She looked around again.  “Take it, with my compliments, for your assistance,” she said in a low voice.

“I have not done anything yet,” I reminded her.

She smiled, and this time, it touched her eyes, and I could see the hope dancing there.  “But you will,” she said.  “And you will not only protect me, but… others, as well.”

I wondered who she meant by “others.”   Ramona?  Her children?  The stable hands here at her farm? 

 Alessandra took the scarf and wrapped it carefully in paper, and slid it into a small paper bag, which she handed to me.  “I hope you enjoy your scarf,” she said. 

“Thank you,” I said, “I am certain I will.  I will definitely be back,” I promised.

She smiled her thanks, then walked out with me and summoned one of the stable hands to bring around my pony and carriage.   I climbed into the cart, with my scarf safe beside me on the seat, and guided the pony back out into the lane.

I looked back and saw Alessandra standing in front of her home, hands clasped tightly, as she watched me depart.

Offline Montgomery Burns 13

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #31 on: Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 01:23 PM »
Love your detailed descriptions of the villages, the people, and the landscapes Rebeka passes through.

The story takes an interesting turn in this chapter.  I hadn't expected Alessandra to be a victim here.  Actually, I had figured her as a good looking, successful business woman who knows what she wants, and who doesn't mind taking a married man as a lover.  As for him—I hadn't expected him being violent, just the usual asshole who cares only about number one.

And what's the matter with those missing boys?  Please update soon, I can hardly wait to find out where you're taking it.
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Offline Silsin

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #32 on: Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 01:33 PM »
What a wonderful story! I love the way you are describing everything, all of the details - and then such a twist and suddenly not one but a whole bunch of mysteries! Awesome!

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Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #33 on: Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 03:01 PM »
Chapter Fifteen

The trip back to The Sleepy Sheep was quicker than the journey out, since I knew where I was going, and I felt an urgency to resolve this case – not for my sake, but for Alessandra’s.

As I drew near the Inn, I noticed one of the young serving girls standing out on the porch.  She watched my approach and as I pulled up outside the stables and handed the reins over to the stable hand, she came running up to me.

“Lady!” she called breathlessly.  I turned toward her.  “Are you… all right?” she asked.

That was an odd question.  I had not gotten any sort of feeling from Dahlia that I was in any danger, and while Giles was an abusive man, his anger and wrath had never been directed at me.  I had not felt in any real danger.  But…

“I am fine,” I replied.  But then I dropped my voice.  “Is there a reason you were concerned for my safety?”

The girl’s eyes widened.  She nodded, but did not speak.  Then, seeming to think she maybe had given too much away, she turned and ran back into the Inn.

“Do not mind her.”  I turned back and saw one of the stable boys standing there watching me.  “The girls do not like going to Alessandra’s.  They have been in a right state since you left.”

“Why do they not like going there?” I asked, feigning innocence.  “It was a beautiful farm, and Alessandra has such lovely scarves and shawls for sale.  I should think young girls would love to visit such a place.”

He shrugged.  “They say they are scared of Giles.  But I have been there, both alone and with the girls, and have never seen anything that they should be worried about.”  He shrugged.  “When Alessandra orders food or supplies from us, the girls beg one of us to go with them.”

I considered that.  “Does the Lady Dahlia know?” I asked.  “That the girls are scared to go?”

The boy shook his head.  “I do not think so.”

“None of you have told her about the concerns?”

The boy shrugged again.  “Not me, because as I said, I have not seen anything to be worried about. And girls are girls – they like to pretend they are helpless, just to get a boy to do the work.”

I frowned.  That sounded like a bit of gender stereotyping.  If all they were doing was being lazy, or simply trying to flirt with a handsome young man, then there would have been no reason for one of the serving girls to watch for me, out of concern for my safety.”

There was definitely more going on here than just a man leaving his wife and kids.  I retrieved my package from the cart, and let the boy unharness the pony and lead him away.  I went back into the Inn.

Inside, the common room was now empty, except for the young girl who had spoken to me, and another.  Both were busy polishing silver trays behind the counter.  Dahlia was nowhere to be seen.

I went in, and walked up to the counter.

“Girls,” I said.  “May I ask you both a question?”

The girls looked at one another, then turned back to me.  “Yes, Lady,” one of them answered hesitantly.

I focused my attention on the older girl, the one who had spoken to me outside.  “What is it that frightens you about Alessandra’s farm?”

Their eyes widened.  “Do not tell!”

“Do not tell what?” I asked.  Both girls looked terrified.  I leaned forward.  “Girls,” I said.  “If something has happened to you, I need to know.  I am an associate of the Emissary.”

That was the magic word.  Both girls nearly fainted with relief.

The older girl nodded.  “We are scared of Giles.  When we go to Alessandra’s by ourselves he… touches us.”

I raised by eyebrows.  “Touches you… how.”

The older girl blushed and lowered her eyes.  “Like… like a boy touches a girl.  When he likes a girl.  But Giles… he threatened that if we told Dahlia, he would tell her that he found us with one of his stable boys and…”

What I wanted to do was go back to the farm and beat Giles senseless.  This was far worse than just abandonment.  I looked at the older girl.  “Would you be willing to come with me, back to Sixshire, to speak before King Robion?”

The girl was silent for a moment.  “Will the King be able to do anything?”

I decided to be completely honest.  “He knows I am here, and what I am doing. I was originally coming to see if Giles was here, because he left his wife and children in Sixshire.”

The older girl looked at me strangely.  “Wife and children?  Giles has a wife and children? In Sixshire?”

“Well, so they say,” I said.  “How long as Giles been living here, at Alessandra’s farm?”

“A year or so,” answered the girl.

That seemed to match with the timeline of his disappearance from Sixshire. 

But the girl continued.  “But he was always in and out of the village for years before,” she said. 

That, too, made sense.

“Well,” I said. “I think that something needs to be done.  Will you come with me?”

“I Lady Dahlia will let me go,” the girl said uncertainly.  “I do not think she will give leave willingly.”

I smiled.  “Oh, I think I can make her agree,” I said.  “Can you tell her I wish to speak with her?”

The younger girl nodded and jumped down from the stool upon which she was standing.  “I will fetch her,” she said, and dashed off.

I reached out and patted the hand of the older girl.  “Do not worry,” I told her.  “I am here to help you.”

She still looked uncertain, but nodded anyway.

A few minutes later, Dahlia came into the room.  I rose from my seat.  “Dahlia,” I said.  “I need to speak privately with you.”

She looked a little taken aback, but recovered and nodded.  She beckoned to me.  “Come with me, we will meet in the study.”

She led me back through a maze of rooms into a small furnished sitting room.  A small fire burned on the hearth.

“Would you care for tea?” Dahlia asked me.

“No, thank you,” I said.  “I have a serious matter to discuss with you.”

Dahlia, looking concerned, sat down in a chair opposite from me.

Rather than jump right into the heart of the matter, I asked, “What do you know of a man named Giles, who lives at Alessandra’s farm?”

Dahlia appeared to consider that.  “In truth,” she said, “I do not know much.  All in the village know of Giles, he came here often over the years, but only started visiting Alessandra regularly about two years ago.  We were not sure if he was courting her, or simply doing business.”

“Are you sure of his motives now?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  They do not act like a courting couple, or even an old married couple, except that he lives in her home.”

I cocked my head.  “Is that not a bit of a… scandal?” I asked.

“A bit,” Dahlia admitted.  “But, as I said, nobody in town really knows exactly what is going on there.  To me, he appears to be more of a business partner than a romantic one.”

I nodded.  “Is there anything about Giles that… concerns you?  Aside from the fact that his situation with Alessandra is a bit unusual.”

Dahlia looked at me strangely. “Not that I am aware of.”

“Then you do not know that your serving girls do not like to deliver to Alessandra’s farm, because they are afraid of Giles?”

Dahlia appeared shocked. “Afraid? My girls?  Whatever for?”

“Your eldest girl says that Giles has been very… inappropriate with  her.  One of your stable boys says that whenever you send the girls on an errand there, that they beg one of the boys to go with them, to protect them.”

The woman looked completely stunned.  She really had no idea.  It occurred to me that things like this really did not happen on a regular basis here.  She and the other residents here were not as jaded as I was, or as those in most American cities were, either.

Dahlia did not answer immediately, but appeared to be thinking very hard.  She rose from her chair, and walked across the room.  She stood before the hearth, studying the flower arrangements on the mantle. 

She turned to me.  “How do you know all of this?”

“I am an associate of Emissary Alistair Carruthers, on business here on behalf of King Robion.”

Dahlia took a deep breath.  “You should speak to Friar Busby, at the Chapel.  If anybody in town may know the truth, it is he.”  She gave me a meaningful look.  “If you are an agent of the Emissary, then he may have knowledge that will prove useful to you.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I looked at her again.  “So how much do you know about what the Emissary does?”

She shook her head.  “Not so much, but I know that he and his agents are responsible for resolving issues that are uncommon or unusual in the land.”  She looked at me.  “If you are here, asking questions about Giles, and tell me that my girls are afraid of him, then there is probably something to your questions.”

She led me back out into the main room.  “Girls,” she called loudly.   “Come to the common room, please.”

The eldest was still there, behind the counter.  The other three girls came in from various rooms at the back, walking in hesitantly.  Dahlia beckoned them to all gather around.  “Girls,” she said, “dear nieces.”  She looked at all of them gravely.  “Tell me true: are any of you scared to run deliveries to Alessandra’s farm?”

Slowly, all four girls nodded, even the youngest, who could not have been more than eight years old.

Dahlia looked at all of them again.  “Has Giles ever done anything to you that you have been afraid to tell me?”

The two youngest girls did not respond, but looked at one another uneasily.  The older two, after a moment, both nodded very slowly.  The younger of the two, especially, appeared on the verge of tears.

Dahlia opened her arms and gathered the two girls to her.  Both started to weep quietly, and Dahlia, too, shed tears.  She looked up at me.  “Go to Friar Busby,” she said, her voice husky with sadness.  “Speak with him.  Help my nieces.  My girls.”

I nodded.  “I will go now,” I said.  “I will be back shortly.”

I decided against riding Snapdragon to the chapel.  It was not that far, and I did not want to delay by waiting for saddling and bridling.  I walked quickly along the lane, and in about fifteen minutes, I saw the chapel up ahead.  The front doors were still open. I reached the white picket fence that surrounded the property, and paused to catch my breath.  Then I pushed the gate open, and walked slowly up the path toward the chapel.

I stepped quietly through the door, in the small anteroom.  Off to one side, a small table held a few flickering candles.  They were the only illumination in this room, but ahead was another set of double doors, but both were closed.  I slowly pulled one of them open, and peered inside.  There, before me, were two lines of long pews, on either side of a central aisle.  The floors were dark wood, the same as the pews, and all were polished to a high shine.  Candles burned brightly in sconces that were hung along all of the walls.  At the opposite end of the room, three raised steps led up to a small altar, with a pulpit off to the left.

A short, rotund man was walking along one of the walls.  He looked to be checking the candles in the sconces.

I cleared my throat.  “Friar Busby?” I asked.

The man turned.  He was wearing a long, brown robe, tied at the waist with a cord of a light brown fibers.  A wooden cross hung from a thong around his neck.   He beamed at me, and hurried over to where I stood.

“Welcome, pilgrim,” he said by way of greeting.  “What do you seek?”

“Dahlia, at The Sleepy Sheep, suggested that I come and speak with you,” I said.  “I am Praetor Rebekah, an associate of Emissary Alistair Carruthers.”

“Ah,” the man said.  “Come, let us go into my study, where we can speak comfortably.”

He led me to a door set in the wall behind the altar, which concealed a narrow , twisty corridor that eventually opened out into a small room, furnished with a small wooden table, two wooden chairs, and a set of shelves built into one wall.  Many books lined the shelves, thick books, with dark leather covers and metallic painted lettering.  But one shelf held a small, rustic tea set – ceramic, glazed but unpainted and undecorated.  A tea pot, a sugar bowl, a creamer, and several stacked pottery mugs of a similar design.

The Friar seated me into one of the chairs, and went over to the sideboard.  “Would you care for tea?” he asked.  “I had planned to take some after finishing with the candles, but you arrived before I had completed my task, and so I do not mind starting a bit earlier.”

He brought the small tray over, put some tea into the pot, and then poured hot water from the kettle over the fire. 

“Now, while our tea steeps,” he said, settling himself into his own chair, “how can I help you, young lady?  You mentioned the Lady Dahlia, and also Lord Alistair, with whom I am certainly acquainted.  If you are one of his associates, then you must have some dealings with the same sort of matters he and his other fellows have been looking into.”

“That is correct,” I said, “though I fear that my original investigation has been turned upside down.  I do not know if this line of questioning is directly related to my original investigation or if it is something else entirely.  For now, though, I will content myself with this question: what do you know about the man who is living at Alessandra’s farm, a man by the name of Giles?”

Friar Busby nodded.  “Yes, Giles.  I recall him as a boy, him and his twin brother.”

I blinked.  “Twin brother?”

“Oh, yes, the two of them were so difficult to tell apart by looks, but vastly different in their manner.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Giles was always a polite and proper lad,” said Friar Busby.  He reached over to pick up the tea pot and pour tea into two mugs.  He looked up.  “Milk?  Sugar?”

He added lumps of sugar from the bowl into one of the mugs and passed it over to me.  “As I was saying, Giles was a good boy.  Always polite, always eager to help.  His brother, Gessup, not so much.  He was a rude boy, always running wild through the village and causing trouble.”

“Well, let me tell you what I know,” I said.  “In the village of Sixshire, a woman by the name of Ramona has been upset by apparent abandonment by her husband Giles.”

The Friar nodded.  “I recall when Giles married Ramona.  I understand they have quite a few children.”

“Yes, a lot of children, to say the least.  One day, about nine months ago or so, Giles disappeared.  There has been no report of him, no confirmed report at least, but gossip in Sixshire said he was living here with Alessandra.”

Friar Busby frowned.  “Giles is here, living at Alessandra’s farm,” he said.  “He told me that his wife had moved south to Peremor, to help care for Ramona’s mother, and that he was earning money to send to them.”

“So you have spoken to him, then,” I observed.

“Yes,” he said, nodding, and taking a sip of his tea.  “Only once or twice, once when I saw him on the lane, and also once when I paid Alessandra a visit.  But as a boy, Giles often came to services here at the Chapel, and since he returned here, he has not come once.”

“Does that strike you as odd?” I asked. 

“It did, somewhat,” he admitted, “but at the time I dismissed it as him possibly traveling to Peremor, and simply being too busy.  But now, I wonder.”  He frowned, staring down at his mug.

“Why do you wonder now?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “The story you tell, about Giles leaving Ramona and his children behind, that does not fit with the Giles I knew.”

“Well, let me tell you what else I know.”  I proceeded to outline what I had witnessed while at Alessandra’s shop, and also the stories relayed to me from Dahlia’s nieces.  Friar Busby looked graver and more serious, the longer I spoke.  Finally, when I was done, he sighed heavily.

“The tales you tell, those most definitely do not fit with Giles as I knew him.  However,” he sighed again, “they do fit with his brother, Gessup.”

“Do you know where Gessup is now?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “No.  He ran off before his sixteenth birthday, and no one has heard from him since.”

“You said they looked exactly alike.”

“Yes, but there was one difference,” he said.  “Once, when the boys were about ten years of age, Gessup thought it would be amusing to hitch up a team of horses to a plow and run them through Farmer Abram’s fields before harvest.  It was just at dusk, and he got the team hitched, but one of the horses spooked and Gessup was knocked down by the plow.  The blade caught his foot, and he received a deep cut across the side of his left foot.  It tore off the smallest toe.”

“So Gessup has a missing toe, but Giles does not.”

“It is the only way I can think of to tell the boys apart,” he said.  He looked up at me.  “Are you thinking that perhaps Gessup has come back and taken Giles’ name?  That perhaps Giles did not abandon his family after all?”

“After talking to you, that is exactly what I am thinking,” I replied.  “Nobody else in the village had mentioned that Giles had a twin brother.”

Friar Busby shrugged.  “That does not surprise me,” he said.  He gave me a sad smile.  “Giles and Gessup are not from this village, nor am I.  We grew up together in the village of Arkney, which is on the eastern border of Seolan.”

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #34 on: Sat, Nov 29, 2014, 08:01 PM »
Chapter Sixteen

By the time I returned to The Sleepy Sheep, the sun was already dipping toward the horizon.  Dahlia estimated that if I rode hard, I would arrive at Sixshire just as night fell.  Since I was by no means a “hard rider,” I understood that I would not reach the village until well after dark.  Still, I did not think something as important as this could wait for me to start in the morning.  I accepted a packet of bread and cheese from the worried proprietor, as well as a small water skin.  The stable boys had Snapdragon ready for me, and I mounted and rode away, but not before I cautioned Dahlia to not let the girls take food to Alessandra’s by themselves, and also to speak of our conversation to anybody else.

I urged Snapdragon to a gallop as soon as I was out of the town limits and kept it up for as long as I could, finally slowing down to a canter about a half an hour into my journey.

In the west, the sun slipped closer to the horizon, painting the sky with deep hues of purple, blue, and orange.  As twilight drew near, the light dimmed, until finally we were trotting along in almost complete darkness.  The only light came from two moons, both in their quarter phase, and a brilliant spangling of stars overhead.

I stopped after about two hours or so, to take a break.  I had come upon the stone bridge that spanned the narrow creek, and on impulse I stopped, dismounted, and led Snapdragon down for a drink.  While she quenched her thirst and cropped some of the rich grass along the water’s edge, I took a deep drink from the water skin, and ate one of the bread farls and a piece of cheese.   I stood there, holding Snapdragon’s reins, gazing overhead at the display of stars.  Not so the occasional points of light that I was used to seeing in Colorado Springs.  No, this was as if an entire galaxy spread out from one side of the planet to the other.  Off to the east, what appeared to be bands of gaseous matter, golden in the night sky, swirled between the brilliant spots of starlight.

As I stood there, Snapdragon suddenly lifted her head and twitched her ears, and gazed toward the road, back towards the village of Dorae.  After a moment, I heard it too: the distinct sound of hoof beats and the clatter of a wagon on the road.  Another horse was coming along, pulling a cart.

I was immediately suspicious.  Perhaps it was just my nature as an inhabitant of the planet Earth, and all of its problems.  The people I had met so far in this world had far more trusting natures – part of the reason why something along the lines of this Giles situation had gotten so far out of hand, and gone uninvestigated.  In short, it was because nobody could believe anybody else could be so cruel.

But I was not a trusting individual.  I was suspicious and cynical and because of that, I was not the type to reveal my location, alone, in the middle of Trucaster, with nobody to back me up and no way to defend myself if necessary.

Quickly, I led Snapdragon along the bank of the creek and right up underneath the bridge.  Here, we could not be seen unless somebody came right down to the creek and actually up under the bridge itself.  There was no light here in the shadow of the bridge, and no way we could be seen.

The horse and cart drew nearer.  The driver was moving along at a very quick pace.  If he was a skilled driver, he might have been able to overtake me, even though my mount was not burdened with a drawn wagon.   I held my breath, praying silently that Snapdragon did not stamp or neigh.  She must have sensed my fear, for she stood quietly and made no noise.  The horse and cart clattered over the bridge, and disappeared into the night.

I took a deep breath.  I might have just avoided certain trouble.  Then again, I might have just been hiding from a traveling doctor, or just a farmer or dry goods dealer, trying to hurry to his next client. 

I waited about ten minutes, before leading Snapdragon out from underneath the bridge and back up the bank to the road.  I held her to a canter, not wanting to inadvertently overtake the mysterious cart and its driver.

Eventually, though, I could see the outline ahead of the shoe shaped buildings of Sixshire.  Finally, I thought.

I slowed as I approached the village, and held my horse to a walk as I entered the town.  When I arrived at Solomon’s Slipper, there were lights still in the window, but no horses tethered in the front.  However, when I rode around to the stables, there was a cart, but no horse, sitting outside. 

I suddenly felt uneasy about staying at Solomon’s Slipper.  I rode off, going through the town, until I reached the office where G. R. I. M. M. kept The Gateway.  I hated to do it to Snapdragon, but I was fearful and could see no other way.  I tied her up behind the office; at least there was plenty of grass back there.  I took off her saddle, and left it in the grass.  Then I slipped around to the front of the building and quietly unlocked the door.

There was not a bed in the office, but there was a short bench, with cushions.  I pulled the cushions off and put them on the floor, then I laid down, covering myself with a long cloak I found in the closet.

The next morning, I resaddled Snapdragon and rode her up to the castle.  I hoped that the castle folk would have stables to care for horses, even for those of guests, and I had guessed correctly.   Advisor Perrin was there, and he instructed one of the Pages to fetch the stable master, to care for Snapdragon while I was in consultation with the King.

King Robion and Princess Estrid listened gravely as I outlined all of the information I had gathered: from the man abusing Alessandra, to the fear of the serving girls at The Sleepy Sheep, to the news about the twin brother from Friar Busby.  I also included the gossip from Solomon about the missing boys, but admitted that I was not sure if it had any bearing on what I was currently investigating.

“There is one last thing,” I admitted.  “Last night, I left Dorae rather late, and was on the road when night fell.  Somebody driving a horse and cart overtook me on the road.  I was off the road at the time, unseen.  It might have been nothing, and maybe it was just unfounded worry because of the things I uncovered in Dorae.  But I did want to let you know.”

The King nodded gravely.  He glanced at the Princess, then turned back to me.  “What would you ask of me?”

“Do you mean, what would I like for you to do, to resolve this?” I asked.  I wanted clarification.

He nodded.  “Yes.  I have an idea on how to proceed, but I would hear your thoughts.”

“All right,” I said.  “I would like for you, or a representative of your court, to come to Dorae with me and uncover the truth about whether it is Giles or his twin brother Gessup who is living with and abusing Alessandra.  The nieces of Dahlia at The Sleepy Sheep have agreed to testify, if asked, and Friar Busby has given us a way to positively identify Gessup.”

The King sat thoughtfully for a moment.  “I cannot leave the court,” he said at last.  “I must stay here, to deal with routine business at hand.  Normally, I would send Advisor Perrin, as the official adjunct of the Royal Court, to act with my authority.  However, I believe it is time for Princess Estrid to take some initiative in cases such as this.  So, I will command her and one Advisor to accompany you back to Dorae to take statements and make observations.  Then, regardless of whether the man going by the name of Giles, who is living at Alessandra’s farm, is Giles or Gessup, I would like for him to be returned to this court, to have judgment passed.  If it is indeed Giles, he shall be held responsible for his wife and children.  If it is Gessup, then he shall be questioned as to why he is masquerading as his brother, and shall certainly answer for his treatment of Alessandra, as well as the nieces of Dahlia of The Sleepy Sheep.”

The Princess turned to the King.  “Father,” she said, “I would like to take at least three men at arms with me, in case this man should become violent.”

“Take five,” King Robion said.  “I have some concerns about this situation, and would like to see it fully resolved, with no danger to yourself or to Praetor Rebekah.”

Princess Estrid rose.  “By your leave, Father, I will go and select the men who will accompany us, and discuss with Advisor Perrin which Advisor will go with us as well.”

“Very well, Daughter,” King Robion said.  “I entrust the details of this to your care.”

The Princess left, and then King turned back to me.  “I trust you will keep an eye on my daughter at all times,” he said.

Surely that was a job better suited to the Palace Guard, those who would accompany us back to Dorae.  But then I realized he was asking me to ALSO keep an eye on her.  He understood my skepticism, cynicism, and paranoia.   He was expecting me to watch out for the things that the more trusting residents of Sixshire might not notice.

I did not pursue the matter, but simply nodded seriously.  “I will, Your Majesty.  May I ask, how will we travel to Dorae?  Will all ride horses, or will the Princess ride in a carriage?”

He smiled briefly.  “Estrid does not like to ride in carriages.  She has a natural horsemanship, and rides daily.  She will ride with you, at your side.  The men at arms will ride as well.  However, I will send an additional two men behind you, in a carriage.  Then will arrive after you, but will not be necessary for you to complete this mission.”

“What are they for, then?” I asked.

“They will provide secure transportation for Giles – or Gessup – Travers.”

I grimaced.  I should have known that.  I should have thought of that.  It would be better to not allow the guilty man – accused man, I corrected myself; even if this was not the United States, I wanted to still stand by the “innocent until proven guilty” adage I had grown up with – accused man, ride on a horse with the rest of us.

The King walked me back to the doors to the throne room, and I left with Advisor Perrin.  We waited in the Advisors’ Chambers for Princess Estrid to arrive.  We had time enough for Advisor Perrin to send one of the Pages to the kitchens to bring food – when he learned that I had not eaten anything except for a bit of bread and cheese since the afternoon before.  The Page returned with a tray, laden with an omelette, cold meat, bread, cheese, and fruit, plus a pot of tea.  I was hungry, and applied myself to the food with relish.  While I ate, I informed Advisor Perrin of all that I had told the King and the Princess, and he scribbled a few notes in a leather bound notebook with a quill pen. 

He nodded gravely when I spoke about the fears of the serving girls at The Sleepy Sheep.  “Regardless of who this man is,” he said, “if he is behaving so as to frighten young girls, then something needs to be done.”

Just as I was finishing my meal, Princess Estrid arrived in the Chambers.  She had abandoned her gown in favor of pale brown riding trousers, a fitted blouse, and a blue vest.  She greeted me soberly, then turned to Advisor Perrin.  “Perrin,” she said, “I would like to request that Advisor Tors accompany us.” 

“An excellent choice, Your Majesty,” Perrin said, giving a slight bow.  “With your leave, I will summon him to speak with you here.”

“Please do,” she said. 

Perrin left, and Estrid turned to me.  “Tors is second only to Advisor Perrin, yet he is much younger, even younger than my father.  But he has a keen intellect, and is completely loyal to my Father and to me.  He will be a stalwart addition to our crew.”

“That sounds good to me,” I said. 

“I understand that your horse has been given care here at our stables,” Estrid said.

“Yes,” I said. “I left  Snapdragon with one of the Pages when I arrived.”

“Good, she should be rested and ready for when we depart.”  She started to leave, then turned back to me.  “One last thing,” she said.  “Go down to the kitchens and request some rations.  We will take rooms at The Sleepy Sheep when we arrive in Dorae, but you may want water and food for the journey there and back.”

“I will, thank you.” 

“I must go attend to some details,” she said.  “But one of the Pages will take you to the kitchens.”

Outside in the hall, I found  Squire Abraham waiting for me.  I smiled at the eager young man.  “Princess Estrid said I should visit the kitchens, to secure some supplies for our journey.  Will you guide me there?”

“Yes, Lady, with pleasure!” the young squire said.

He led me through the castle, and I had the opportunity to see the more common areas of the royal castle.  At the kitchens, one of the cooks wrapped up bread, cheese, and some strips of dried meat, as well as several small apples.  It fit into the small bag that I had from Dahlia. 

The Squire led me back to the Advisors’ Chambers, where Princess Estrid waited for us, with another man who was also dressed for riding.

“Praetor,” the Princess said, “this is Advisor Tors, who will accompany us to Dorae.  I have given him a brief description of the conversation we had with my Father, but I would appreciate it if you would go over the rest of the details with him.  I need to look over the Men at Arms and ensure we are ready.”

She left, and Advisor Tors and I sat down in the comfort of the chamber and I went over everything I knew.  I gained some insight into the reason why Princess Estrid wanted him to come along, when he asked several pointed, yet specific questions, which showed his intelligence and keen insight.

We had finished up, and I was giving some very limited background about myself, when Advisor Perrin returned.

“The Princess and Men at Arms are ready to leave,” he said.  “Tors, your horse has been prepared for you and yours, Praetor Rebekah.  Both await you outside.”

I thanked the advisor, shouldered my food supplies, and we went out into the courtyard.  The Men at Arms were assembled, wearing uniforms that consisted of dark brown pants, white shirts, and vests of a deep burgundy red.  White sashes with the royal crest were fitted across one shoulder.  The Men at Arms stood waiting, each holding the reins of a solidly built war horse.  These horses were larger than my light limbed Snapdragon. 

Advisor Tors’ horse was a black charger, with black leather saddle and reins.  It was a spirited horse, and tossed its head against the hold of the stable boy who stood nearby.

Princess Estrid stood in conversation with one of the Men at Arms.  Her horse was a Palamino, its coat a beautiful rich butterscotch, and mane and tail of purest white.  I was suddenly intensely jealous, even though Snapdragon was no ugly horse.

The Princess turned towards me.  “Praetor,” she said, “this is Captain Barda.  The other four are Jordan, Raol, Jocet, and Symon.  Men, this is Praetor Rebekah, an associate of the Emissary.  We go to Dorae based upon news she has brought from that village.”

The men all saluted, and then as one they mounted their horses.  Advisor Tors mounted, and a stable boy assisted Princess Estrid.  I spent a moment greeting Snapdragon, then packed the food supplies into the saddle bags.  I then mounted, and at a nod from the Princess, our entire party moved out.

We cantered down the castle lane, then onto the village roads.  Captain Barda set a good pace, but not one that was necessarily beyond my measure.  Not normally.  But I had a full day yesterday, and a night spent not in a comfortable bed, in an inn, but on the floor of the office.  And so by the time we were half way back to Dorae, I was already sore and in pain, and very, very tired.

We stopped around noon, to take some refreshment and discuss our plan.  We picketed the horses in the grass, and sat around just off the road.  The Captain and Advisor Tors had been in conversation while we road, and they seemed to have come to some sort of consensus.

The plan was for two of the Men at Arms to ride off just before we reached the town, and gallop across country to watch the road on the opposite side of the village.  This would be to prevent any attempt by Giles – or Gessup – to flee the town, if he heard of our arrival.

Princess Estrid, however, did not want to just go by their judgment.  She looked at me.  “Praetor, what is your opinion?  Is this a solid plan?”

It was honestly not far off of the plan I was planning to put forth.  The only difference was I would have sent three men cross country, not just two.  I said as much, but added, “In truth, there is probably not much difference.  The plan is fine, and probably covers any contingencies we might encounter.”

Princess Estrid and Captain Barda shared a glance, then the Princess declared.  “We shall use the Praetor’s judgment, and send three men.  Captain, select which three shall be sent, and then we shall be moving on.”

Captain Barda decided that Jordan, Jocet, and Raol would be the three to go, apparently because they were among the swiftest riders of all of us.  We continued down the road, meeting no other people.  Another hour, and ahead we could just make out the first buildings in the town of Dorae.  At a word from the Captain, the three soldiers turned off the road and set off across the fields, galloping quickly to circle around to the southern side of the town. 

We slowed our horses to a quick walk, so as to give time for the three riders to reach their position.  We did not want to tip our hand too quickly.

We rode into town, with Captain Barda in the lead, and the remaining soldier and Advisor Tors riding behind, with Princess Estrid in the center.  It occurred to me, then, why the Captain had originally suggested only sending two men – so that the remaining two men would be free to protect the Princess, without having to rely on the protection of Advisor Tors.  I made a mental note to remember that, just in case I found myself in the company of a member of the royal family on future assignments.

We did not stop at The Sleepy Sheep, but instead proceeded down the lane toward Alessandra’s farm.  People began to peep out of doors and windows, probably at the sight of the soldiers.  I was not sure if they would recognize the Princess or not, but certainly the sight of the uniformed men at arms and the proud bearing of Advisor Tors was enough to make them take notice.

When we reached the chapel, Friar Busby was out in the yard, tending to a small herb garden planted at the side of the building.  He looked up as we rode passed, then dropped his gardening tools and ran around to the back.

A few minutes later, I looked back and saw that the Friar was bobbing along behind us on a fat little donkey. 

“Captain,” I called.  He looked back, and I nodded back toward the little figure.  Advisor Tors looked as well, and both of them looked at me and nodded.  I agreed, it would be good to have such an upstanding member of the community along to witness for us.

We reached the little trellised arch that marked the entrance to Alessandra’s property, and there we halted, allowing Friar Busby to catch up.  I looked at the end of the lane, down by the chapel, and could see another party of horsemen coming along.

I point it out to Captain Barda, but it was Friar Busby who answered the question for us.  “That is the Lord Mayor of the village,” he said, puffing a little.  “Somebody undoubtedly informed him of your arrival.”

Barda nodded.  “Good.  It will be good to have him here, as it will be good to have you witness for us.”

The Captain and the remaining soldier strode under the arch and toward the house.  Advisor Tors, Friar Busby, and I trailed behind a bit more slowly.

Suddenly, from the back of the property, a shout went up.  Captain Barda and Symon broke into a run, and dashed around back.  Presently, they came back around to the front, frog marching a man between them.  Behind us, the mayor’s party arrived at the entrance to the lane.  It was three men, one of whom I took to be the mayor himself.

He was richly dressed, with a blue velvet vest over a shirt with ruffled cuffs and collar.   It was just myself, Estrid, and the Friar.  “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

The Princess stepped forward.  “Lord Mayor,” she said, “I am Estrid, daughter of Robion, King of Trucaster.  I am here with a party of five men at arms, Advisor Tors, and Praetor Rebekah, associate to Emissary Alistair Carruthers.  We have come in response to complaints by citizens of your village against the man living at this property, known to some as Giles Travers.”

The Mayor blinked.  Captain Barda arrived, just ahead of the others.  “Lord Mayor,” he said.  He turned to Estrid.  “Princess, are you all right?”

“I am fine, Captain,” she replied.  “I was just providing an explanation as to our presence to the Lord Mayor.”

The Captain did not respond, but he eyed the Mayor and his retinue with a narrow glare. 

Princess Estrid gestured toward me.  “Praetor Rebekah,” she said, “please inform the Mayor as to the nature of the complaints that led us here.”

I outlined the situation with Ramona and her children, the judgment that King Robion had pronounced against the absent Giles, the rumors of him living here with Alessandra, and then everything I had uncovered during my time here yesterday.

The Mayor glared at the man who was still securely held by Symon and Raol.  “You.  What is your name?”

“Giles,” the man said, sullenly.

Just then, Alessandra herself appeared in the doorway and came toward us.  She was just as richly dressed as before, but this time she had made no effort to disguise the rapidly spreading bruise on her left eye. 

When she reached us, Giles glared at her with pure, undisguised hatred.  She stepped around them, and came toward me.   The Mayor turned his attention to her.

“Lady Alessandra,” he said.  “Who is this man?”

“Giles Travers,” she said.

“Is this man responsible for the damage to your face?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  He hit me when he saw your party coming up the lane, before he fled out the back.”

Then Advisor Tors stepped forward.  “If you do not mind, Lord Mayor, allow me to continue this line of questioning, to be witnessed by yourself, your men, and the good Friar.”

The Mayor nodded slowly.  Tors turned toward Alessandra.  “Lady,” he said.  “You have indicated that this man, whom you know as Giles Travers, hit you today.  Has he hit you in the past?”

“Yes.”

“Why did he hit you?”

She looked aside.  “He would hit me when I would not do what he wanted.”

“Why do you allow him to live on your property, if he hits you?”

Alessandra swallowed.  “He… threatened to harm my younger sister and my mother if I did not comply.  He has held me hostage with these threats for almost a year.”

“Why did you not go to the Mayor, to seek his protection, or his assistance in this matter?”

She swallowed again, clearly uncomfortable with the line of questioning, but determined to continue, to free herself and her family.  “He told me that the Mayor would not believe me, that he was friends with the Mayor, and friends with other powerful people, both in Dorae and in other villages.  He said that I would be disgraced, and he would remain free in order to exact vengeance on my sister.”

I was watching the Mayor, but he was obviously horrified and indignant at the story that he would protect a man – friend or otherwise – who was harming innocent villagers.  His attendants were aghast at the allegations.

Advisor Tors turned to Friar Busby.  “Good Friar,” he said.  “You have heard the Lady’s story, and you knew the boy Giles Travers when you were young.  Do you believe this man to be Giles Travers?”

Friar Busby shook his head.  “No, good Advisor, I do not.  Giles was a good man, a kind man.  He would never hit a lady, not even if provoked.  I believe this man to be Giles’ twin brother, Gessup.”

Giles snarled, “You can’t prove that, stupid fool!”

Symon shook the man roughly.  “Do not speak so to a man of the cloth!” he snapped.

Giles – or Gessup – subsided, but still glaring at both Alessandra and the Friar.

Tors said, “You said that Gessup was Giles’ twin brother.  So you knew both of them in the days of your youth?”

“I did,” affirmed the Friar.  “I knew both of them well, when we were boys in the village of Arkeny.”

“Is there anything about this man that could tell you whether it was Giles or Gessup who stands before us.”

The Friar smiled.  “Yes.  As a young boy, Gessup suffered an injury to his left foot.  He is missing the smallest toe on that foot.  If you remove his left boot, you will be able to determine if this is, indeed, Giles, or if it is Gessup, as I suspect.”

The man struggled wildly in the grip of Symon and Raol, but the Captain strode over and gripped the shoulder of his shirt. “You will stand still and comport yourself as a man,” he hissed at him, then bent down and forcibly removed the man’s boot and his stocking.

The left foot only had four toes.

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #35 on: Sun, Nov 30, 2014, 05:46 AM »
Nasty creature.  Now, the question remains: where is Giles?  And is the boys' disappearance related?

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #36 on: Sun, Nov 30, 2014, 12:08 PM »
Love it!  Please keep up the good work.
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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #37 on: Sun, Nov 30, 2014, 12:40 PM »
Chapter Seventeen

I took a sip from my cup of tea.  It was not a pottery mug, but a real, delicate, china cup, with red roses painted around the edges, and a tracery of gold leaf around the rim.  It had a matching saucer, too, also with roses and gold.   Small, hard baked crackers and slices of pale cheese sat on a plate nearby.

We were in the Mayor’s building, in his office.   We had left Alessandra’s farm, taking the man we now knew as Gessup Travers to be judged before a village court.  When we had arrived, the soldiers had taken Gessup to a heavy wooden chair, with thick arms and a solid back.  They had tied his wrists to the arms and his ankles to the legs, so that he could not escape.  He had made a couple of attempts, which were quickly squashed by the strong men at arms, and now slumped in the chair, sullen and angry, and not in any mood to talk.

The Mayor had summoned Dahlia, as well as her nieces, to speak before him and a man who was referred to as a Judge.  Advisor Tors had told me that he was actually the Deputy Mayor, who held judicial powers in the village.  We had all repeated our stories, and the eldest of Dahlia’s serving girls had told the tale of how they were abused and treated, and Alessandra accused Gessup of threatening her and her family.

Now Princess Estrid, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Advisor Tors were off in a corner, talking quietly, trying to come to some decision as to the final judgment.

Gessup had not been very forthcoming.  He refused to explain why he was using his brother’s name, where he had been for the years since he ran off from Arkney, or tell where his brother Giles was, or even if he was alive or dead.

“I would guess he abducted Giles,” I had told Advisor Tors and the Princess, “probably while he was on his way to Dorae, as he had told his wife, on business.  Then Gessup simply took his place, but returning to Sixshire was out of the question, because surely if anybody would realize it was not truly him, it would have been Ramona or one of the children.”

“And he used his brother’s name to get into Alessandra’s good graces – for Giles used to do business with Alessandra – and then to move in and try to take control of her fortune.”

“As well as Alessandra herself,” I added.

The Princess had nodded.  “He is indeed a wicked man.  Praetor, we must discuss amongst ourselves what is to be done with Gessup.  If you would wait on us…”

And so I was still sitting, waiting on them, and sipping my tea.

Some activity on the other side of the room caught my attention.  The little meeting had broken up; it seemed they had reached an agreement.    They all walked over, coming to stand in front of the bound man as he glared at them from his seat.

Princess Estrid stepped forward.  “Gessup Travers, you have been accused of causing harm and fear of harm to citizens of Dorae, of laying a hand on the Lady Alessandra, and on two of the nieces of the Lady Dahlia.  We have heard their accounts, and find you guilty on all counts.  Of your brother Giles, we have no proof of harm done to him, but you were using his name, and there is fear that he has befallen tragedy at your hands, which will also mean tragedy for his wife and children, who sit at home in the village of Sixshire, hungry and alone.  And so our judgment is this: you shall be taken to Sixshire, to the court of King Robion.  Ramona Travers and her eldest son shall speak before the King, and you will be asked once again to tell of your knowledge of the whereabouts of your brother Giles.  After that, you shall be confined to the dungeons of the castle, for a period of not less than ten years.”

Gessup did not react, nor did he speak.  He just turned his glare from Alessandra to the Princess.

The Mayor said, “He shall be held in the cells beneath this office until you depart on the morrow.  I shall provide one guard, to be set on his watch.  And, if you so desire, I will send two of my guards with you on your journey back to Sixshire.”

Princess Estrid nodded.  “That would be wise.  And your guard can then bring word back to you of the judgment at the King’s court.”

Two burly guards came, then, and untied Gessup and roughly hauled him from the room.  Princess Estrid turned to Captain Barda and said, “Captain, I leave the details of the watches to you.”

He bowed to her, then motioned for his men to follow, and they strode from the room.  Advisor Tors looked at us.  “We should go and secure lodgings for us, and for the men not on watch.”

“Yes,” the Princess said.  “Advisor, if you would attend to that for us, I would appreciate it.”  The man bowed and departed.

The Princess turned to the Mayor.  “I thank you for your assistance in this matter today, and for your loan of men to accompany us back to Sixshire.”

“You are indeed welcome, Your Majesty,” the Mayor replied.  “My only regret is that I did not uncover the unsavory activities of this man before your intervention.  Or yours,” he added, with a nod in my direction.  “I only made the acquaintance of the Emissary once before, years ago.  I did not think your services would be required in my formerly peaceful village.”

“If you have suspicions or rumors of future troubles,” I said, “please dispatch a runner to King Robion.  He will get word to us, and one of us can come to assist you.”

“One last thing,” the Princess said.  “Lord Mayor, Praetor Rebekah has brought word of children, young men and boys, going missing.  There have been at least two in Sixshire.  Have you any news of this in Dorae?”

“Yes, it has happened here, but only once, and previously we simply assumed that the boy had run away.  His family is poor, barely able to keep food on table, and so many, I among them, thought he had sought to try his fortune elsewhere.  But now, with the tales you tell, I wonder.”

Princess Estrid turned to me.  “Will you be looking into this for us, Praetor?  If there is something more sinister going on, than just boys running off to seek something better, I would rest easier if somebody so adept and investigations were taking the lead.”

I nodded.  “I will need to report this to the Emissary.  It may be that he has already heard tell of this, and has assigned an Agent to investigate, and already they are hot on the trail of the answers.  But if he has not, and he allows, I will certainly turn my attention to it.”

Estrid nodded.  “Thank you.  And now, Lord Mayor, I will bid you farewell.  I must consult again with Advisor Tors and see if the carriage transport my father was sending has arrived.”

The Princess and I left the Mayor’s office and walked down the road toward the square where The Sleepy Sheep stood.  Advisor Tors should have rooms for us there, and I was feeling in need of a nap before dinner.  So much had happened, and my back and shoulders still ached from my poor night of sleep and the hard riding this morning.  It had been a tense day.

Tors indeed had rooms for us, and Dahlia herself showed me to my accommodations.   As she opened the door for me, she said, “I want to thank you for intervening on behalf of my nieces.  The girls are like daughters to me, and more so since their mother passed, rest her soul.”

“I am just pleased I was able to put the pieces together.  In truth, it was your eldest who hinted to me that something was amiss – apparently, when she learned that I had gone to Alessandra’s with a crate of food from you, she was in a right state, concerned for my safety.”

“Anything you wish from me,” Dahlia said, “just ask.”

“Right now, I think, I need a bit of a rest.”

“Dinner will be served at dusk,” she said. 

I laid down on the bed, and slept deeply until a knock on my door awakened me.  “Praetor,” came the voice of Advisor Tors.   “Do you wish for supper?  It is being served in the common room.”

“I will be along in a minute,” I called.

Dinner was just as delicious as lunch had been the other day, and it was different to eat with Tors, Estrid, Captain Barda, and even Alessandra.  She arrived just before dinner, wanting to thank us for our assistance.  She offered two of her beautiful scarves to Estrid, who accepted them graciously. 

I slept deeply that night, and the return journey to Sixshire was at a more leisurely pace, as we had the carriage that King Robion had sent with us, and it could not go as quickly as a group of riders.  Gessup was tied securely in the carriage, with one of Estrid’s men and one of the Mayor’s men riding in the carriage with him. 

When we arrived back in Sixshire, we went straight up to the castle.  I wished to see the judgment of Gessup before King Robion before I returned to Earth and Alistair.  I was wondering where I was going to house Snapdragon, when Captain Barda approached me as we were dismounting in the courtyard.

“Praetor,” he said, “I have left instruction with the stables here.  If you need boarding for your mount, we are willing to house her here.”

“Thank you, Captain,” I said.  “I may take you up on that.”  It was obvious that the Captain, at least, understood that in order to report to Alistair that I had to go somewhere, and where I went, I would not need a horse.  I was pleased that she would be in such good hands.

“Excellent.  When you have need of her again, simply come and ask for me.”

“I will.”

Gessup was not much more cooperative with King Robion than he had been with the Mayor of Dorae, or even Captain Barda or I.  But at least he was not shooting daggers at him when the King confronted him. 

He still, though, refused to tell of the fate of Giles.  Ramona and her eldest son, Danus, stood quietly in the hall of the King, while judgment was read.  She looked relieved that the man she married had not intentionally abandoned her, but also distressed that he might actually be dead, and at his brother’s hand.  In any case, she was not going to be receiving any assistance or support, since Giles was not available to pay the allowance, and nobody knew what, if any, monies Gessup had.  He had been searched after he had been taken into custody, and he had about five gold pieces tucked into a pocket.  Captain Barda had confiscated them, and given them to me to give to Ramona.

King Robion affirmed Estrid’s judgment, that Gessup would be held in the dungeons.  “You shall be held for no less than ten years,” King Robion said, “as Princess Estrid decreed.  However, you shall be sent out, in shackles, to work in the fields, and by that you shall prove to be a useful and productive member of society.  But the wages you earn, for your work, shall be given now to the wife of your brother, Ramona, in order that she might provide for herself and her children in his absence.  For even though we have no proof that you caused him harm, you were living under his name, and committing crimes under his name, and as such you will work to repair the damage you have caused.”

He looked gravely at Gessup.  “You may, at any point you choose, reveal what you know about the fate of your brother.  If, based on your information, we are able to locate Giles and bring him back to this village, safe and whole, that he might return to caring for his family, we will at such time reduce the garnishment of your wages.  Half will still go to Ramona, Giles, and children, and the other half will be held in escrow by the crown, until such time as you are released from our custody.  If you have proven to be a willing worker during your time with us, we shall choose to release those funds to you, that you might be able to build a life of your own, one not dependent on the hard work of others.”

Gessup did not appear to be moved by that, an after a moment, the King signaled for the men at arms to take him away, to the dungeons.

One of the soldiers who had accompanied us back from Dorae bowed to the King.  “Your Majesty,” he said, “we have witnessed your interrogation of the prisoner, and have heard your words of judgment.  By your leave, we will return tomorrow to the Lord Mayor of Dorae and report to him on what we have seen.”

“You have my leave,” the King said.  “Safe travels, and send our royal greetings to our cousin, Mayor Pellit.”

Both soldiers bowed, and then departed the hall.   Then the King turned to me.  “I am grateful for your attention to this matter,” he said, “and am suitably impressed with your abilities.  Might I ask a service of you?”

I bowed.  “If it is not contradictory to the orders of Emissary Alistair,” I said, “I would be delighted to assist you.”

“You have not met my younger daughter, Princess Elsaflor.”

“I have not,” I said.  “Is she not betrothed to Prince Kinled, of Seolan?”

“She is,” the King said.  “Advisor Perrin and I have been discussing sending her to visit her betrothed.  I would ask that you accompany her on the journey, and stay awhile by the grace of King Bale.  And while you are there, if you would look into the rumors we have had here of men and young boys going missing, and see if there is any of the same sort of trouble there.  And also observe the people there.  I wish to ensure that if I send my dear daughter into their family in marriage, that she is going to a place where she will be welcomed and loved as one of their own.”

“Is there any reason you have to distrust King Bale?” I asked.

“No,” Robion said, “but of late I have found that putting trust in things and people I have trusted for years has been a poor decision.  You have proved to be more adept at seeking out truth than any of my own people, or even myself.”  He looked at me. “Will you go?”

“I must speak with the Emissary.  If he gives his leave, I will accompany Princess Elsaflor to Seolan.”

“I thank you, Praetor,” he said. 

After I took my leave of the King, I went down to the stables, to see for myself the care that Snapdragon would be receiving.  I was pleased to note that she had a large loose box to move about in, and plenty of good quality hay and alfafa, and clear water.  Her coat had been groomed and curried, and she faintly gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the high arches just below the stable roof.  I spoke with some of the stable hands, and when they learned I was her owner, they assured me they would care for her no less than Princess Estrid’s own horse.

I walked back through the village, toward the office.  Once there, I carefully locked the door, then changed out of the clothing I had been wearing.  I checked them over, and decided they could use a good cleaning, and packed them all into a leather bag, to take back with me.  I would wash them at my apartment, and bring them back with me the next time I returned to Ionus.

I activated the Gateway portal, set the programming for Earth, and stepped through.

The next thing I knew, I was opening the door to the Colorado Springs office, and seeing Alistair seated at this desk.  Outside the windows, I could see it was just twilight.  Alistar looked up, and smiled.  “Well, Rebekah!” he said.  “I expected you back days ago.  I take it you opted to stay on Ionus?”

I nodded.  “Yes.  My investigation took off rather quickly, and it was easier to stay there and see it through to its conclusion, than it was to come back and pick up again later.   I noticed that the days do not run quite the same in Ionus as here.”

He shook his head.  “No, they are a number of hours ahead of us.  Similar to Great Britain, as far as time of day goes.”  He gestured toward one of the chairs opposite his desk.  “Sit down, sit down, I would like a full report, if you do not mind.”

I was not as tired as I should have been, even though it was dark out.  So I sat down and reviewed everything that had happened since I had arrived in Sixshire.  Alistair nodded gravely as my story went on, and finally he heaved a sigh.

“I admit,” he said, “I did not expect you to run into such a complex matter!  I figured the man had just run off – but no!  And you were not able to find out any information about his current location, or even if he were still alive?”

I shook my head.  “Not this time, but Gessup may speak, in time.  But there is more,” I said, and continued on with the information about the disappearing men and boys.  “It is possible there is a connection, and in any case, Princess Estrid asked if I would be willing to look into the matter.  I wanted to get your opinion, before I undertook such a thing.”

Alistair nodded.  “Thank you for checking, but I do want you to look into that.  As you say, there might be a connection.   There are other cases to be handled, but since you have done so well in Ionus, I would rather send you back to deal with that, then go on to a completely unrelated issues.”

“Also, King Robion has asked if I would accompany Princess Elsaflor on a visit to spend time with Prince Kinled and King Bale, in Seolan.  I thought if I did that, I could also seek out news while there about the disappearing people.”

“An excellent idea,” said Alistair.  “Do so with my blessing.  But take a day or two off; I am sure you  have things to take care of here in Colorado Springs, before you go dashing off to another world again.”

I smiled.  “Yes, I do have some things, and I will tie up loose ends here before returning.”

I had almost forgotten how to drive my car, after my days of horseback riding, but I figured it out and soon I was walking back into my familiar apartment.  How different everything seemed, after my few days in Trucaster!

Providence about knocked me over in her exuberance, and I felt immediately guilty because her food and water bowls were empty.   I should get her some auto-feeders, I thought to myself.  I got her food and water, then scraped together a meal for myself.   Tomorrow I would do some shopping, and prepare for my return to Ionus.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #38 on: Sun, Nov 30, 2014, 04:19 PM »
Hey, I made 50K! I won NaNoWriMo!  I am having fun with this story, so I do plan to continue.  But I don't know if I will keep going now, or wait until next November.  This is a nice stopping place, and I could easily start the next part next year.  In any case, we shall see.


******************************************************

Chapter Eighteen

The air in Sixshire was fresh and pure, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon, when I stepped out of the Gateway office.  My two days back on Earth had been filled with shopping and errands – auto feeder and water bowl for Providence, to ensure she had care while I was out of town, and a leather backpack, which was actually a sort of a purse type thing, but it had straps to wear over my shoulders, and I thought it would do well as a sort of travel luggage.  It was also a dark tan color, which I thought would blend well with the fashions of Ionus.  Or at least Trucaster.  I had no idea what Seolan would be like.

I also had a stroke of good luck – I noticed that a Renaissance festival was happening in Colorado Springs, and since I was in town (literally), I made the snap decision to go and check out their vendors.  As expected, I found plenty of costumes at the little tent shops, designed for people to wear at other fairs and conventions, but just perfect for me to wear to work on Ionus.

I had intentionally gone through the Gateway at about 3:00 a.m., so that I would arrive in Sixshire in early morning.  This way I could get a start on things, rather than showing up sometime after mid-day.  My new purchases were rolled up in my purse slash luggage, which was strapped on my back, and after I locked up the office, I started walking up the road, toward the castle.

I did not get far before I was greeted by Cassandra, proprietor of The High Heel House.  She was already up and opening her shop for the day, so I decided to pop in for a cup of tea and perhaps a pastry or something.   I was the only customer in the tea house, but that was probably not unusual for so early in the morning.  Cassandra obliged me with a cup of my favorite (Toadstool Tea) and a pastry with a sweet fruit filling.  Today, I would be going to see King Robion, to offer my services as a guide and chaperone for his younger daughter, Princess Elsaflor.  But at least I could do a little side work on my other line of investigation, the strange disappearance of young men and boys in some of the villages.

I asked Cassandra if she had heard of any of the rumors.  She nodded gravely.

“Yes, indeed,” she said.  “I have heard of the young boy from here, Carthey I think his name was.   But it is not just in Sixshire.   I have family in Seolan, in a farming town called Southborne.  My cousin’s boy, a lad of about twelve summers, vanished last year.  None in the town knows where he is, and my cousin has been frantic.  But they are now resigned to his absence, and do not believe they will see him again.”

“I may be going to Seolan myself,” I confided in Cassandra.  “Perhaps I shall look into this while I am there.  Where is this village?”

“In the southern part of the land, near the border to Peremor. “

“What is your cousin’s name?”

“My cousin is Emme, Emme Sweetline.  And her husband is Noy.  Their boy was Gabel.”

“I will go to visit them, then.”

“Will you take a message to them, from me?  I should like to have word of them.”

“Yes,” I said.  I finished my tea and rose to go.  “I will stop by before we depart to take your message.”

I left.  I had one other stop to make, before I went up to the castle.  I had not had the opportunity to take care of this before I left, and wanted to do so now, before I forgot.

It was not far to walk to Ramona’s little shoe house on the back lane.  I found her in the back yard, with her three eldest children, tending to their vegetable patch.  I called to her as I drew near, and she turned, smiled, and came over to invite me in.  The children continued their work.

Inside, I declined her offer of tea or other refreshment.  This was a business call.

“I have something for you,” I said.  I opened my pack and pulled out a small leather pouch.  I dropped it on the table, and it made a clinking sound.

Ramona started at it.  Then she shook her head.  “Oh, no, no,” she said.  “I cannot take your charity.  You have done enough for me.  This is too much.”

“This is not my money,” I assured her.  “It comes from Alessandra.  She gave this to me before we left from Dorae, to bring Gessup here before the King.  She wanted me to tell you that she has enough and to spare, and wished you to have this, that you might be able to care for your children.  She knows this situation is not your fault, nor hers, but she feels responsible.”

Ramona tentatively picked up the little bag, and weighed it in her hand.  “Fifty five gold pieces,” I said.  “It should be enough for now, until Gessup begins to work and earn money for restitution.”

Tears appeared in the woman’s eyes.  “I… I cannot…”

I took her hands in mine, folding them around the little pouch.  “Alessandra also says this.  That if you wish, you and all of your children may come to Dorae and live with her.  She has room enough, in the house on the property, and work enough for you and your eldest son.  The rest of the children would be free to attend the village school.”

Ramona sat down in her chair, stunned.  “Really?  She would do that?  For me?”

I smiled and nodded.  “She would.  I take Alessandra to be a very nice woman, but also a very lonely one.  She would enjoy your company, and you would not lack for shelter or food.”

“I will consider this,” she said.

I bid Ramona farewell, then went on to my next stop, the castle.

Now the sun was high enough above the horizon that I assumed the King would be up and about.  At the very least, I could pay a visit to Snapdragon, and see how she fared.

The King had not yet come down for breakfast, but Advisor Perrin admitted me to the Advisors’ Chambers and bid me wait while he took word to King Robion.  There was tea and fruit available, and I enjoyed another cup while I waited.  Presently, Perrin returned, and said the King would see me in his study. 

Robion was not dressed for court, yet, but wore a long robe of a soft, white material and woven slippers. 

“I came to tell you that I have spoken to the Emissary, and he has agreed to let me accompany your daughter to the land of Seolan.  I will be able to stay with her, but will also need to be looking into the situation regarding the missing boys.  I have rumor of this happening in their land as well, and this will be an opportunity to check into those tales as well.”

The King smiled.  “That is good.  I will send a messenger bird to King Bale, to inform him of the impending visit.  This is something we have been in talks for, so I will expect an affirmative response by tomorrow morning.  If it is then acceptable to you, you can leave the next day.”

“It is,” I said.  “I have some business in the village to attend to, but I should also like to meet with Princess Elsaflor.  If I am to accompany her, I am sure she would prefer to be introduced to me before hand.”

“Indeed,” King Robion said.  “I suggest you return here for the noon meal, and eat with us, the royal family.  We will be able to discuss the upcoming trip, and afterwards perhaps you can go with Estrid and Elsaflor in the afternoon.  I believe they plan to go hawking.”

Hawking?  Ah, falconry, I realized.  I did not know the first thing about falconry, but I could surely go along, and let the girl get to know me.  I had no idea if she was resigned to her fate or eagerly awaiting her marriage to the Prince. 

I thanked the King, then went down to the stables in order to see Snapdragon.  She greeted me with a neigh and a jubilant tossing of her head.   I patted her neck, then left the castle.

The rest of the morning, I spent poking around into all the corners of Sixshire.  I visited the butcher shop, the herbalist’s store, viewed the cobbler’s wares, and made apparently casual conversation with all of them.  I heard another rumor of a missing boy, from the butcher – apparently this one was in another town in Trucaster, a little village called Bromwich, near the Peremor border.  This was two boys, brothers, ten and fifteen years of age.

“Bromwich raises fine cattle for beef, and I had gone down to look at purchasing a bull.  The farmer there told me the story – it was his neighbor’s boys who vanished.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“I heard tell of it just two months ago,” was his reply, “but it happened nigh on four months before that.”

“Thank you,” I said. 

I arrived back at the castle just before lunch was to be served.  Advisor Tors was expecting me, and had instructed the Pages and Squires to conduct me to him as soon as I returned.  He led me through castle, back up into the living quarters of the royal family, and ushered me into a well appointed dining room, with a long wooden table, covered with a snowy white cloth.  Big, heavy wooden chairs were placed at intervals.  It was clear the table was set for four of us: the King, his two daughters, and myself. 

“If you would just wait here,  Praetor,” he said.  The King will be along shortly, and the daughters not long after.  I will inform him of your arrival, and then instruct the cooks to complete their preparations.”

It was not long before I was seated at the table, being served a thick, rich stew with tender bits of beef, and chopped root vegetables.  There was bread, butter, and cheese, and a delicious red wine to drink with it.

Princess Estrid greeted me warmly, and then her father introduced his youngest child.

“This is Princess Elsaflor,” he said.  The girl, who could not have been more than twelve years old, curtseyed deeply and gave me a shy smile. 

Conversation over lunch was wide ranging.  Elsaflor – who was called Elsa by her immediate family – was excited about the prospect of the trip to Seolan, which apparently she had not visited before.

“I have been to Peremor,” she said, “but it was just after my mother died, and I do not remember much of it.  I do remember the beautiful horses, though.   I would like to go back and see them again sometime.”

“They have horses aplenty in Seolan,” Robion said.  “And that land is known for its talented artisans.  I recall, Elsa, that as a child you enjoyed painting on canvas.  Perhaps you will be inspired to restart your art.  You will have no lack of paints, brushes, canvases, and other supplies.”

“Will I have money with which to purchase supplies, if I so desired, Father?”

The King nodded.  “Yes, daughter.  I will entrust an allowance for you with your chaperone, the Praetor Rebekah.”

I smiled conspiratorially at Elsa.  “I used to paint, too, when I was younger,” I said.  “Perhaps we could both take up the practice again.”

The girl clapped her hands, delighted. 

As soon as the meal was over, the King asked if the girls were still planning to go hawking, and Estrid stated that they were.  He instructed them to take me with them, as well as two men at arms, for guards. 

“Do you do much hawking?” I asked Elsa as we walked back to their chambers.  The daughters were going to change into more appropriate riding clothing. 

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “Estrid likes to ride, to travel, but I enjoy hawking much more.  I have my own falcon, and he is a far better hunter than Estrid’s, or even Father’s.”  She smiled proudly.  “He told me so himself.”

“Well,” I told her, “I have never gone hawking before.”

The girl gasped.  We had just arrived at her bed chamber, and she was tugging on the door.  “You have not?” she asked.  “Why not?”

I shrugged.  “It is not a very common activity in my land,” I said.

Elsa ran across her sitting room and opened the ornate armoire  against the other wall.  “Well, I will teach you everything you need to know.  I will even let you hunt with my boy Sky.”

The young princess quickly pulled off her gown, and pulled on a sturdy pair of riding pants and a plain, form fitting shirt.  Her slippers were replaced with boots with little silver buckles.

We met up with Estrid in the hallway, and she led us down to the place where they kept the birds.  Elsa informed me they were called “mews” and that each bird had its own enclosure, with both covered and open areas.   They also had perches on which to sit, tree branches wedged between the walls.

Both princesses donned vests, which had many pockets and hooks.  Elsa said the pockets were to hold things that they needed, but it was easier than putting them all into one bag, and then have to dig around to find what you needed.  I watched as she placed a variety of items into her pockets: long, braided leashes, strips of leather, metal hooks and clasps.  A whistle, carved out of wood, hung on a thong around her neck.  She put a belted pouch around her waist, into which went a supply of chopped, raw meat.  Finally, she took up a leather glove, obviously well worn, with scratches and other marks deep in the grained hide.  This glove fitted on her left hand.  Her right hand was bare.

“Our horses should be ready in the inner courtyard,” she said.  “I think Father told the stable master to have your horse prepared as well.  So now we just need to get Sky, and wait for Estrid to get Piper, and then we can go.”  She looked back at me.  “Since you have not been hawking before, I will not give you a bird.  This is not a thing to take lightly.  I would not risk injury to you or to the bird.”

I appreciated her concern.  I was not sure I wanted to run around holding something with a sharp beak and even sharper talons.  I had enough trouble just keeping my seat in the saddle, without adding the care of a bird to the mix.

Sky turned out to be a beautiful pale gray falcon, with a bone colored chest and dark markings under his eyes.  His yellow eyes glared balefully at me from inside his enclosure.  His mew.

Elsa unlatched the narrow door, and slipped inside.  She held up her left hand and tapped her hand.  “Come on, then, Sky.  Let’s go hunt.”

The bird looked at her for a moment, as if debating whether or not to obey her command, then hopped over and gripped her wrist firmly. 

“Good boy!” she said.  I saw now that he wore leather straps around his legs, which hung down about six inches below his feet.  Elsa took these straps in her free hand and tucked them into her fist.  Then she came out.

“I am holding his jess straps so that he does not fly away,” she said.  “He cannot go if his feet cannot go.”

We arrived at the inner courtyard well before Estrid, and I found Snapdragon already saddled and bridled, and ready for me.  The stable hand held her head while I mounted, then handed the reins up to me.  Elsa was up on her mount, with the falcon on her wrist, and she easily and confidently maneuvered her mount around until she stood next to me.

“Now we must wait for that slowpoke, Estrid,” she said with a sigh.  She looked over at me.  “Her Piper is nowhere near as well mannered as Sky.  I told her she should have taken a boy, and not a girl, but she did not listen.”

I did not even know there was a difference.

Eventually, Estrid made an appearance.  I was expecting a bird similar to Sky, but instead I found that Estrid carried a much larger bird, at least half again as large as Elsa’s, and instead of slate gray, this bird was a deep brownish red, with a cream colored breast.

“Hers is much bigger than yours,” I observed.

“Piper is a hawk,” Elsa told me.  “Hawks are larger than falcons, and females are always larger than the males.”

Another thing I did not know.  “So how is Sky, a smaller bird, a better hunter than Piper?” I asked.

Elsa laughed.  “He can fly faster, and make sharper turns.  The boys are always the better hunters, but the girls are the stronger and more aggressive.”

Estrid was now mounted on her horse, and the two men at arms that she had selected were ready and waiting, and so we moved out.  It was fun to actually ride for pleasure, instead of on a mission or deadline.  I just allowed the Princesses to lead the way, as I felt they knew where they wanted to go, and just followed along.  We rode down, away from the village, into the rolling fields.  In the distance, I could see a line of trees.

Elsa hung back a bit until she was level with me and then pointed. “That is the Timberland forest,” she explained.   “We often hunt along the fringes.  There is a sort of swampy area there, and it attracts a lot of animals.”

“What do you hunt?” I asked.

“Piper likes to hunt rabbits, groundhogs, and gophers.  Sometimes she goes after waterfowl, but she is not fast enough to catch them.”

“But Sky is?” I guessed.

She grinned.  “Yes.  We go after ducks, geese, and grouse.”

“What do you do with the animals they kill?” I asked.  “Do they eat them?”

“Some of them,” she said.  “But usually we hunt for ourselves.  I would like to get a nice, fat goose.   The cook makes the best roast goose.”

I blinked.  It occurred to me, then, that despite the fresh food, and the delicious tastes, the food safety rules were probably close to nonexistent in this world.  I wondered if anybody here ever got food poisoning, and, if so, how did they treat it?  I made a mental note to go back to the herbalist tomorrow, to ask about remedies for upset stomachs.

We drew close to the line of trees that marked the forest.  I could see the wetland area, ahead and to the right, the only obvious sign of it the tall, waving cat tails and reeds. 

Elsa sat back.  “I will let Estrid go first,” she said.  “Now just watch.”

Estrid, will still astride her horse, threw her arm in the air.  The bird launched from her wrist and flew straight toward the trees.   The forest appeared to be mostly pine trees, but just outside the closely growing evergreens was a tall, thin aspen tree.  Piper dipped down, then rose up to perch in one of the tallest branches.

“Sometimes we bring dogs,” Elsa told me, “to flush out the game.  But this time of year there is so much activity, it is not really necessary.”

It did not take long for Piper to spot her first prey item.  I had expected her to launch into the air, but instead she just leaned forward and dropped off the branch, her wings angled back as she hurtled straight toward the ground.  Just as she reached the tips of the tallest grasses, she spread her wings to slow her fall, then dropped, hitting the ground, hard.  A brief scream from whatever it was she hit was the only evidence that she had achieved a kill.

Estrid trotted over to where the bird had landed.  She dismounted, walked over, and bent down.  She straightened up again, with Piper on her wrist, and a large, plump, thick furred animal in her right hand.

“Oo!” said Elsa.  “A nice fat groundhog!”

Estrid dispatched Piper again, and the performance was repeated until the men at arms had the groundhog, two jack rabbits, and something I at first thought was a skunk, but later learned it was a badger. 

Estrid came over as Elsa rode out to let Sky hunt.  But to my surprise, Sky did not perch in the tree, but instead rode air currents high into the air, where he floated, serenely, barely a pinpoint in the blue sky.  As his shadow fell over the marshland area, a panicked flock of geese and ducks rose up, wings beating strongly as they took to wing.

Sky folded his wings, and arrowed straight toward the panicking birds, which were flying in all directions.  I had no idea how Sky was going to managed to catch anything in all the confusion, but as he hit the flock there was a squawk and a blur of feathers, and a grayish white form fell limply from the air, and hit the ground on the other side of the marsh.  Sky fluttered down to land on it, while Elsa galloped over to retrieve her kill.

“I got my goose!” she called, as she came riding back triumphantly with Sky once again perched on her wrist. 

“The water fowl are all gone now,” said Estrid.  “But that is a fine, fat goose,” she admitted.

“Your Majesties,” said one of the men at arms, “further out from the forest, is a part of flat plain where red grouse like to feed.  We could try there, and give the falcon another attempt.”

It was agreed, and we rode together until the man at arms who had mentioned the red grouse pointed to a flatter area up ahead, and to the left.  Elsa let Sky go, and again he soared up high, the sight of his hunting form in the sky flushing about a half dozen fat birds with reddish wings and feathery feet.  Sky plowed into the center of them, and this time actually knocked two out of the air. 

We returned to the castle with quite a haul of food.  I had to admit that I was impressed with the ease and speed with which the birds hunted and dispatched their prey.  It was certainly an efficient means.  Elsa told me that the goose would grace their dinner table, and the rest would be portioned out to feed the captive birds of prey.

“But the badger,” said Estrid, “now that is a prize, and I have never caught one before.  I will show it to Father, but then I will take it to the tanner, and have it skinned and the hide cured.  I will take the tail and attach it to my saddle.”

When we got back to the castle, I declined Elsa’s invitation to dinner, but promised I would return tomorrow to see if there was word from King Bale.  I did not want to admit it to them, but I was a bit uneasy about eating something that I had watched being killed, regardless of who killed it.  I had never been much interested in hunting, and this was a new experience for me.  I much preferred to eat something that I was not aware of its source.

I realized then just how odd it was that I would be concerned about food safety, and willingly eat something cooked and served to me, but not want something that I had watched being killed, dressed, and prepared.

I also declined boarding for Snapdragon, as I had planned to take a room at Solomon’s Slipper, and Snapdragon would be comfortable there.  This would also mean that I would not have to walk everywhere tomorrow.

Solomon was just as welcoming as before, though he did seem a bit preoccupied, and established me in the same room I had been in before.   There were quite a few people eating in the common room that evening, and as I sipped at my tea, I recalled the incident during my night travels the last time I had been here, and wondered if the mysterious cart and driver were still in the vicinity or even if it had been anything to be worried about.

Dinner was a portion of roasted bird (which Solomon told me was pigeon – after I had eaten it), mashed potatoes, and peas.  It was as delicious as I remembered, and I lingered over dessert, fortunately not being in a hurry this time.

As the room began to empty out, and I had scraped the last of the fruit pie out of my bowl, I was ready to retire to my room, to relax a bit.  Solomon came over to clear the plates from my table, and he leaned down.  “Lady, if you would not mind, I would have a quiet word with you, before you return to your room.”

“Of course,” I said.  “What about?”

“About the same thing we discussed when you were last here,” he said in a low voice.

That did not sound good.  “Here?”

“No, not here.  Give me a moment, and let me clear out the last of the guests.  Then I will have you come into the back, into the sitting room.

My thoughts again went back to the mysterious horse and cart.  I wondered if perhaps another boy had gone missing.  The King had not said anything, but perhaps he had not been made aware yet, though that seemed unlikely.

The dining room was finally empty, and Solomon had banked the fire so it would burn all night, then he beckoned for me to follow him behind the counter.  He took me through a door, passed the kitchen, and into a small room, furnished as a sitting room or study.   He showed me to a seat, then took one for himself.

He did not waste any time of niceties or preamble.  “We have had another young boy go missing,” he said. 

“Oh, dear,” I said.  “Who was it?”

Solomon sighed.  “My nephew, Baynard,” he said, and I sucked in a surprised breath.  “He was just ten summers old,” he said.  “Just a lad.”

“When did this happen?” I asked. 

“Just five days ago,” he said. 

Wow.  That was…. Recent.

“What can you tell me about it?” I asked.  “Were there any witnesses?  Where was he last seen?”

“I believe he was taken from his home, late at night,” he said.  “But perhaps you would do better to speak to my brother and the boy’s family.”

“I will,” I said.  “But before I get that from you, I have a question to ask you.  A few days ago, two days before we returned with the prisoner from Dorae, I was riding at night along the road toward Sixshire, when a horse drawn cart overtook me.  I was off to the side of the road, and hidden, so whoever it was did not see me, but I was not able to see it very well either.  When I arrived in town, I saw a cart, without a horse, parked in front of your stables.”

Solomon nodded.  “Yes,” he said, “I remember.  That was the night before Baynard went missing.”

I narrowed my eyes.  “Who was the driver of the cart?” I asked.

The man shrugged, but did not seem concerned.  “A merchant,” he said, “by the name of Lorich.  He is often here in Sixshire on business, and is well known to me.  He takes a room here when he stops by – usually once every month or two.    I have been serving him for a number of years.”

“Was he still here when your nephew was found to be missing?” I asked.

Solomon thought for a moment.  “I think so,” he said slowly, then snapped his fingers.  “Yes, yes he was.  He slept late that morning, and was actually eating an early lunch when my brother came to tell me that he was missing.”  He shrugged.  “He seemed sympathetic, offered condolences to me and to my brother.”

“So nothing about his behavior seemed odd or unusual to you?”

“No,” said Solomon.  “He finished his meal, settled up his bill, and the stable boys hitched his horse up to his cart, and he left at about mid day.”

I frowned, considering.  Perhaps it was just a coincidence.  If he was a merchant, and was a frequent traveler, then perhaps he was just a bit behind schedule, and hurrying along the road to Sixshire. 

I patted Solomon’s hand.  “I am actually investigating these disappearances.  I promise you that if I find out anything, I will send word to you, if I cannot come myself.  And I will do everything to bring your nephew back to his family.”

He gave me a tearful smile.  “Thank you, Lady.  It means the world to me, it does.  I will tell my brother.”

I tossed and turned that night, unable to get comfortable.  I could not stop thinking about the missing boys, wondering if the merchant Lorich was involved, or if he was just an innocent bystander.

The next morning, I was tired, and so did not get up as early as I had planned.  I slept in a bit, and when I finally came downstairs, there was only one other guest in the common room, an older man sitting at a table near the hearth fire.

Solomon served me breakfast, and I arranged with him to keep my room for at least one more night.  I needed to go see if we were leaving tomorrow.  I mounted Snapdragon and rode off toward the castle.  I had news for the King that I wanted him to hear.

Apparently, word had been sent to keep a watch out for me, for as soon as I rode up the castle lane, Advisor Tors was waiting for me by the draw bridge.  A stable hand took my horse’s reins as soon as I dismounted, and Tors led me into the castle.

“The King awaits you,” he said.  “He has had a response from King Bale in Seolan.”

I met with the King in his throne hall.  “King Bale is agreeable to hosting Princess Elsaflor for one month,” he said.  “I do not need you to stay there the entire time – unless you wish, of course – but I would hope that you would at least stay a few days in the castle with Elsa, to ensure she is in no danger.”

“I may need to return to my own land before the month is up,” I warned him.  “I cannot promise that I can stay the entire time.”

“That is fine,” he said, “as long as you have no concerns for her safety.  If you must leave, send word, so that I will know to send a garrison of soldiers to ensure her safe return.”

We spoke for a bit longer, discussing how many soldiers would accompany us, the food stores we should take, and other matters.  It seemed the journey would take about four days, if we had no delays.  He was pleased to hear that I did not require a carriage or litter for such a trip, which would make the journey faster than if we had used a carriage.  He gave me suggestions on what clothing I should take.

Then I said, “Your Majesty, I have some news for you.  I have learned of another disappearance, right here in Sixshire, the day before I told you what I had learned in Dorae.”

The King frowned as I related the tale of Solomon’s nephew.  “This is of import,” he said.  “I have not heard of this, but then tomorrow is the day I take petitioners from the village.  It is likely they were waiting until then to bring it to my attention.  I will issue a proclamation that news of disappearances or any information regarding them to be brought to a representative of the crown immediately.”

He rose.  “I thank you for informing me, and for looking into this matter.  And I greatly appreciate your willingness to chaperone my daughter.”

Offline Montgomery Burns 13

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #39 on: Wed, Dec 03, 2014, 01:30 PM »
Quote from: Rage
Hey, I made 50K! I won NaNoWriMo!

How cool is that!  Congratulations!  But then again, it's no wonder you won, because your story is really awesome. :ggrin

I love these last two chapters.  It's nice to see that Gessup got his comeuppance, and that Alessandra is offering to put up Ramona and her children on her farm, and give her and her oldest son work to do.

I thought the part about falconry was pretty interesting.  Can't wait to read more about the missing boys, prince Kinled, and about Seolan.


Quote from: Rage
I am having fun with this story, so I do plan to continue.  But I don't know if I will keep going now, or wait until next November.  This is a nice stopping place, and I could easily start the next part next year.  In any case, we shall see.

 :shock You can't keep us waiting till next November!!!  Please, you have to keep on writing! :prayer
Who needs love when you've got a gun, who needs love to have some fun. Black Flag
Feelings are overrated. Dean Winchester



my fanfics

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #40 on: Thu, Dec 04, 2014, 11:27 AM »
completely agree, Monty!  must find out about the boys, the Prince and everyone!

Kudos on a job well done!

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #41 on: Sat, Dec 06, 2014, 04:16 PM »
Congrats for wining!! :D

Quote
wait until next November

You know that I'll bug you until you continue writing, don't you?!

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Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #42 on: Fri, Apr 03, 2015, 03:42 PM »
OK, I have decided I'm going to continue on with Reaper - possibly during Camp NaNo in July, but if not then definitely in November.  But in the meantime, I think I need to do some polishing on the first bit - in other words, the bit here that I've posted.

So I'd like to ask for some feedback or suggestions as to how to make this a little smoother - plotline ideas, that sort of thing.  One of the first changes I had in mind was to move the portal from inside both Colorado Springs and the village on Ionus.  Putting it outside the city/town limits would allow for better surveillance and security, and greater resources for the agents on Ionus. 

Please let me know your thoughts on that idea, and also any other suggestions you might have. 

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #43 on: Fri, Sep 04, 2015, 11:22 AM »
Update for Reaper readers:

1. Will be reworking this for possible publication.  Working title: Grimm's Reaper: Shoe Business

2. I intend to work on the 2nd novel in this series in November.  Working title: Jacked Up  (3 guesses as to what fairy tale this will be based on).

3. If you like, I will post #2 progress here. :)

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #44 on: Fri, Sep 04, 2015, 11:53 AM »
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If you like

Are you kidding? It was difficult enough to be patient till now ...
Looking forward to an update on this for sure!!! :happydance

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Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #45 on: Sun, Nov 01, 2015, 06:10 PM »
GRIMM's Reaper: Jacked Up (GRIMM's Reaper #2)

As I knelt over the lifeless body of the young girl, it occurred to me that perhaps I needed to consult with Alistair again.

After wrapping up (or at least partially wrapping up) the situation some months ago, which had essentially been tracking down the estranged husband of the old woman who  lived in the shoe, for non payment of child support (yes, you read that right), I had spent a couple of months slowly tracking down leads in the strange missing persons cases which kept cropping up everywhere I went.  I had anticipated that my next line of investigation would be finding those missing kids (and the old woman’s missing husband, who wasn’t estranged so much as kidnapped). 

But, no.  Instead, I had found myself going to yet another planet, and now I was looking at a dead body.

I suppose I should give you a little background information.  I used to be a fairly reputable person.  Had a good, steady job in corporate America as a Human Resources Professional.  I drove a Toyota Camry.  It got good gas mileage.  I had an apartment and a cat.  I binged watched Netflix.  Just a regular old human being doing regular old human being things.

Then one day I got laid off from my job and, adrift and unfocused, unsure of what I wanted to do next, I was approached in a coffee shop by one Alistair Carruthers.  He offered me a job.  I took it.  Still trying to figure out if that was a good move or a bad move.  Anyway, from corporate America I went to being a bounty hunter for nursery rhyme characters.

I work for an agency called G. R. I. M. M. – the Galactic R Industry for Magical Management.  Yeah, it’s a good pun.  Or maybe a bad one.  It was formed about eighty years ago or so as a joint effort between some of the larger powers on Earth and a host of other planets in alternate universes – they are commonly referred to as the Allied Worlds.

Anyway, our job is to prevent too much cross cultural contamination between Earth and the other worlds.  It’s not that easy.  The planets have been connected for centuries, and over that time many of the aspects of each have, shall we say, rubbed off on some of the other worlds.  It’s a big job, and I’m questioning again my ability to be a part of any of this.

I thought back to many of the fairy tales I’d read as a child.  I did not recall that many nursery rhyme characters ending up dead on a hillside.  But this one was, and I was the agent on the scene.

G. R. I. M. M.’s Reaper, that’s me.  It is not that funny anymore. 

I’d gotten word of troubles on the planet of Oslora just a week ago, when I had returned to the village of Sixshire.  It’s a quaint little town – all of the buildings are shaped like shoes – in the land of Trucaster, on the planet Ionus.  I had spent quite a bit of time in some of the other nation states nearby, gathering leads, piecing together rumors, talking to some of the nobility.  I’d barely ridden into town when one of the royal guards spotted me and galloped toward me on his big war horse.

My horse was swift, but I was not what anybody would call an expert rider, and I was sure that even if I’d felt like fleeing, a member of the royal guard could have ridden me down easily.  I reined in and waited as he approached.

“Lady Rebekah!” he hailed me as a he drew near. “The King has set us to watch for you.  He has news, and bids you come immediately to the castle.”

Oh, good.  I wasn’t in trouble.  I still had concerns about working on this planet, where I was not one hundred percent certain of the rules and regulations.

“Lead on,” I said.  “I will follow.”

The guardsman set a good pace, but I had gotten enough experience riding of late that I was able to keep up with him without falling off Snapdragon, my pretty gray mare.

We rode swiftly through the town, and turned at the crossorads to take the Royal Highway up to the castle.  The guards on duty at the drawbridge saw us coming and stood aside as we both clattered up.  My guide has dismounted and was halfway across the drawbridge before I was even half way out of the saddle.  Maybe I was not as experienced as I would have liked to think.

By the time I had both feet on the ground, a stablehand had come to take both of our horses away to the stables, and I hurried through the arched entry way and into the stone anteroom.   There, Advisor Perrin, whom I had met on my second day on this planet, was waiting for me.

“Come, Praetor,” he said, using my formal title as a colleague of the Emissary Alistair, “I will take you to King Robion immediately.”
We were admitted to the throne room without delay.  This time, the King was alone – his daughter and heir to the throne, Princess Elstred, was not with him.
I bobbed a quick curtsey as the King rose and Advisor Perrin withdrew.  “Praetor,” he said, “thank you for coming so quickly.  I had sent messengers to the neighboring kingdoms asking for your whereabouts just yesterday.  I gather you were already on the road.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” I replied.  “I was in Seolarn and departed two days ago.  What need have you of me?  Has something happened?”

“I do not know, Lady,” he said, his handsome features creased with worry.  “I have a message from the Emissary, he wishes you to attend with him immediately at his home.”

By this I deduced he meant his office, in Colorado Springs.  I had never been to his personal home before.  In any case, if he was searching for me, then I needed to go to him immediately.  It was not like he could simply call my cell phone; this planet was not that technologically advanced. 

I nodded.  “Then I had best leave immediately.  Thank you for sending word, your Majesty.”

“It is no trouble,” King Robion said, rising from his throne.  I did the same, and he walked me down the plush red carpet toward the huge double doors at the end of the throne room.  “I only hope that whatever it is can shed some light on these missing persons, these young boys who have been taken.”  His concern for his subjects was obvious; he was deeply troubled.

“Perhaps,” I said, as the king knocked on one of the doors, and the guards on the other side swung them open silently, “it will bring me one step closer.”

“I can only hope so,” he agreed.  Advisor Perrin was waiting there for me.  “Advisor Perrin,” King Robion said, “the Praetor Rebekah has ridden hard from Seolarn and her mount is wearied.  Please summon a stablehand to prepare a carriage to convey the Praetor back into town.  She must return to her fortress immediately.”

He turned to me.  “Your horse is welcome to stay at our royal stables for as long as you need.  She will have the finest of care, and I daresay Elstrid will take her out occasionally in your absence.”

I smiled.  It was good to know I would not have to pay to have her stabled in Sixshire.  I could not be sure that I would be returning immediately – and, in any case, I had not been home to my apartment in Colorado Springs for several weeks.  I likely had some things to attend to there.  “Thank you, your Majesty,” I said.  “Your offer is generous, but welcome none the less.”

Advisor Perrin led me back through the castle.  A squire had already been dispatched to the stables, and so that I did not have to wait much longer before a coach pulled up in front of the draw bridge.  The driver helped me up into the coach, then took his place outside and whipped up the horses.

The fortress that the King referred to was a large complex outside of Sixshire, a good twenty minutes on horseback.  This coach was pulled by two swift steeds, so we made the trip through town and out to the complex in about a half an hour. 

We did not have guards, but there was an older man at the gate who opened the small postern gate as I got down out of the coach and thanked the driver.  He was already moving off as I went in through the small door and hurried toward the large mansion (which was NOT shaped like a shoe, thankfully) which was the heart and soul of our presence on this planet.

I hurried inside, up one flight of the carpeted staircase in the main hallway, then turned left and followed the corridor toward the back of the mansion.  I took out a small set of keys and unlocked one of the doors, went inside, and locked it behind me.  This room was furnished like an office, and there were two closed doors: one off to the right, and the other in the center of the back wall.  I went into the side room first, which was not locked; it was a changing room, with two large armoires on either side.  I changed out of the riding shirt, ruffled sleeve blouse, vest, and leather boots, and put on jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and sneakers.  I also grabbed a heavy coat – it was late winter in Colorado Springs, and was likely to be very cold, if not snowing.

I left the changing room and went to the second door in the room – this one was locked, and as before I carefully locked it behind me once I was inside.  In this room was a secret that the people of the little town of Sixshire would have been shocked into silence.  It was a large rectangle, made of a pale golden metal.  Lights and dials shone out vividly against it, and it made a faint humming noise.  It was known as The Gateway, and it was a portal between universes.  It was how I was going to get off this planet and onto Earth, and Colorado Springs, and Alistair.
I pressed my palm on the scanner box and activated the device.  I keyed in the code for Earth, and watched as the inner part of the door frame flickered and then glowed with a steady light.  I took a deep breath and stepped through.
The office in Colorado Springs was dark and quiet.  It was late at night – nearly eleven o’clock in the evening – and Alistair was undoubtedly at home.  Probably in bed.  Ugh, it was barely five o’clock as far as I was concerned.  Alternate universe lag was way worse than jet lag.  I debated on whether I should call him or simply meet him the next morning.  Whatever it was he wanted, it must have been important, for him to contact King Robion and have messengers sent after me. 

I felt a little odd after several weeks in what amounted to sixteenth century Europe to pick up a phone and dial a number.  Alistair answered on the second ring.

“Ah, Rebekah,” he said after I had identified myself.  “Thank you for returning so quickly.”
“I thought it must be important,” I said.

“And it is.”  He paused.  “Would you mind coming to my home so we can discuss this?  I have only just sat down and am reluctant to get back up again.”

I chuckled.  “Not a problem,” I replied.  “What is your address?”

My Garmin got me there easily enough – it was a rather modest house for such an upscale neighborhood, but there was a wall around the entire property with a remote activated gate blocking the drive way.  It slid open as soon as I’d pressed the call button, so I knew Alistair was waiting for me.

I parked in the circle drive and walked up to the front door.   Before I could knock, Alistair had opened the door and was waiting for me in the foyer.  He was wearing slippers and a bath robe – so that was it, he had already been in bed when I’d called. 

“Rebekah, come in,” he said, stepping aside.  “I started steeping some tea when you called, it should be ready.  Sit with me, and we will talk over a cup or two.”

Alistair led me into his sitting room, which would probably have been my “living room” if I had owned the house.  It was furnished almost as a study, however, with floor to ceiling book shelves crafted of dark, polished wood.  Deep chairs, a rich plush carpet, and small tables of the same dark wood completed the effect.  On one of the tables stood a silver tray, with a silver tea pot and two china cups, a creamer, and sugar bowl. 

I sank into the chair that Alistair indicated, and accepted a cup of the fragrant liquid.  Despite the opulence of the setting, the tea was nothing fancy at all – I could see the tag hanging out of the tea pot, and it read: Lipton Decaf Tea.  Huh.  Go figure. 

It was quite cold outside, after the warmer climate on Ionus, and the hot tea soothed my chilled muscles.  I looked at Alistair over the top of my cup.  “So, what news do you have?” I asked.  “I assume it’s something pretty serious.  Is it about the missing persons?  Have you found anything?”

Alistair shook his head.  “No, it actually does not have anything to do with that.  At least,” he amended, “I do not think it does.  On the surface it appears to be something else entirely.”

I blinked.  Something else? “What is it?” I asked.  “I certainly had not come across anything major other than missing persons over the last few months.”

He shook his head again.  “Oh, no, you would not have; this trouble is not on Ionus.  The troubles I am referring to right now  are happening on Oslora.”
Oslara was one of the other Allied Worlds.  I had skimmed over the information earlier – it was all in the dossiers that Alistair had given  me on my first day with G. R. I. M. M. – but I had not paid close attention, and it was difficult to pull up any details in my mind.

I blinked.  “Oslara… they are sort of similar to Ionus, aren’t they?”

Alistair sort of nodded his head from side to side.  “Well, somewhat,” he said.  “They are primarily agricultural, but they have recently had an industrial breakthrough, and so their technological capabilities are advancing.  I would probably place them at close to seventeenth century Europe or America at this point.  You will likely find them very similar to Ionus in many respects, at least at first.  But they do have some larger cities closer to the coasts, and it is there that more advanced metal working has been developed, and – within the past decade or so – steam power has started to become more common.”

I nodded. “So what is going on with them?  Pollution?”

“No,” he said.  “The initial reports that were brought to me by Aesop – you remember Ava, do you not?  She has been investigating something there, and as I say, her initial reports seem to  indicate a plague or outbreak of serious illness of some kind.”

I frowned.  Medical science was not exactly one of my fortes, and I was pretty sure that researching a disease and developing a cure were so far out of my area of expertise that they may as well have just sent in a bunch of kindly grandmothers, armed with bowls of chicken soup.  They would probably have more success.

But Alistair was apparently reading my thoughts.  “I do not mean for you to actually attempt to cure this disease,” he said.  “We are not even sure that’s what it is.  It just sounded like it might be.”

Well, that made me feel a little bit better, but not much.  “Perhaps I should speak with  Ava – sorry, Aesop – and hear her accounts first hand,” I suggested.

“An excellent suggestion,” Alistair agreed, refilling his cup.  “But not tonight.  Ava is currently still on Oslara, and it is too late for you to go traipsing off there right now.  The location of our installment there is almost completely synchroneous  with Colorado Springs, so it is close to the middle of the night there.  I would not suggest going over until tomorrow morning.  So go home, get some good sleep in your won bed, and go on over tomorrow.  I will be arriving at the office first thing in the morning, and will give you the Gateway code for Oslara.”

I finished my tea and Alistair showed me out to my car.   I drove home slowly, mulling over what he had just revealed to me.  A mystery illness.  A plague?  Or just a nasty strain of the flu (assuming they had influenza virus on Oslara)? 
When I got back to my apartment, I spent a few minutes doing the usual “I just got home from an extended vacation” tasks – flipping through a pile of mail, checking on food and water for Providence (and giving her the attention that she clearly felt she was due), peeking in the fridge (and pouring out some two week old curdled milk).  Despite the late hour, I was not tired at all – it was, after all, barely twilight in the world I had just left – and I was woefully unprepared for setting foot on Oslara.  I needed to read up on it, but if I did that, then I would have hardly any sleep before I had to get up and actually go there.

In the end, I decided to have a glass of wine (that, at least, had not gone bad during my absence), take a hot bath, and hit the hay.  I hoped that I would at least awake refreshed in the morning.

Next morning found me at the G. R. I. M. M. offices (quietly masquerading as Mordant Consulting), with Alistair showing me the access code to travel through The Gateway (which was the portal between worlds that allowed us to do business on all of the Allied Worlds) to Oslara. 

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #46 on: Tue, Nov 03, 2015, 07:11 PM »
 I stepped out of the Gateway on the world of Oslara – stumbling just a bit because, let’s face it, traversing the space time continuum does generate a bit of vertigo.  I steadied myself and moved out of the device room into the office. This office looked pretty much like the room in our complex on Ionus, and the Earth office in Colorado Springs: polished dark wood, a desk, chairs with leather upholstery and brass fittings, a book case.  The door to the main complex was locked, of course. 

I had dressed in my standard off world Renaissance period clothing: a full green skirt, white blouse with puffed sleeves, and a fine woolen vest dyed a deep maroon color.  But I had also brought along with me a small bag of other supplies: my weekly stipend in the local currency (again, copper, silver, and gold, but in different denominations than Ionus), a split riding skirt, and a long brown cloak with a hood.  I wore my new favorite boots, a pair fashioned of supple yet sturdy leather that I had acquired in Seolan, when I had accompanied the Princess Elsaflor to visit her betrothed some months earlier.  These were a far better fit than the pair I had picked up at the Ionus office on my very first visit (and I thought THOSE had been nice shoes) – they were actually custom made for me by one of the tailors in Seolan (the King had recommended him to me, and I was very impressed with the quality and fit). 

Everything fit into a small leather backpack that I used for these assignments.  I adjusted it on my shoulder and opened the door into the main complex.   I found myself in a long hallway with dark wood paneling on the bottom and a pale yellow paint on the top part of the walls.  A brown hall runner ran the length of the floor.  Looking to the right, I could see that the hall turned to the left and vanished; to the right, I could see a short flight of stairs going up.

Since apparently I was below the main level, I opted to try the stairs.  I emerged into a large entrance hall which was opulently furnished with rich fabrics and exquisitely detailed carvings and accent pieces.  Seated in one of the chairs, reading a book, was a woman I had met once before.  She looked up as I reached the top step.

She beamed at me.  “Rebekah!  Or, should I say, Reaper?” 

I chuckled, remembering Alistair’s insistence that we use our code names during official business.  “Whichever you prefer to use,” I replied.  I sat down in a chair across from her, and looked around.  “Are we alone here?” I asked.

She shrugged.  “For the most part.   There are two stablehands that take care of our horses and function as drivers if we need a coach.  And two duty cooks.  But they don’t often come into this part of the house.”  She nodded toward a set of double doors at the end of the room.  “Those doors lead to a small anteroom, but there is a wall and gates that surround this building, and there is a guard in the guard shack at all times.  So we are afforded quite a bit of privacy inside.”

I considered that.  The complex on Ionus had a wall and gates, but no guards, and only one cook and one stable hand.  “Why so much more involved here?” I asked.

“Oslara is a bit more advanced that Ionus – people are not as open and trusting as they are in Trucaster,” she explained.  “We need a bit more security here.  We’re about a day’s ride from the capitol city of Itari, and delegations do come out here on occasion.”

I frowned.  “What happens if a delegation comes and nobody is here?  None of us, I mean,” I asked.

“The two gate guards are actually G. R. I. M. M. employees,” Ava said.  “The Gateway has a communication feature, they can use it to alert Alistair.”

“Does Alistair usually greet these delegations?”

“Usually,” she said.  “He holds much the same title here as he does on Ionus, and accords a similar respect.”

I nodded.  “So,” I said, steering the conversation to the reason I was sitting here, “what is going on here?”

“What did Alistair tell you?” she asked.

“Not much,” I admitted.  “He said that you had uncovered a possible plague or outbreak of some illness, and asked me to come and investigate.”

“That is about it,” she said.  “I am not a general investigator; I specialize in animal related issues.  So what is going on here is a bit out of my league.  I only stumbled upon it while I was checking out something completely unrelated.”

“What were you investigating?” I asked.

“Livestock disappearance,” she said.  “Honestly, that sort of thing usually just makes me groan and roll my eyes.”  She did what I considered to be an excellent demonstration.  “I mean, really,  consider the level of technological advancement most of these worlds have.  What do YOU think would make random livestock disappear?”

I blinked, then thought about it for a moment.  “Wow, I do not know….predator attacks?”

She nodded, beaming another huge smile at me.  “Yes, exactly!”  She seemed pleased that somebody else had understood it right off.  “Normally that is precisely what I find.  And it is just really annoying to have to traverse space and time and then get there and find out that it is nothing more than a pack of wolves or a lone coyote.”

“I take it you are not finding packs of wolves or random coyotes here, then?” I asked.

“Well, I do not know what I’m finding,” she said, clearly exasperated.  “Instead of missing sheep or cattle, this one is exclusively fowl.”

I blinked, confused.  “Foul?” I asked.  “How is it foul?”

“No,” she said with a chuckle, “I mean fowl like a bird.”

Oh.  Oops.  Animals were apparently not my forte.

“Yeah,” she went on, “missing fowl.  Ducks, geese, that sort of thing.”

I did not recall seeing much in the way of ducks or geese while on Ionus (other than the wild ones that I watched the Royal Sisters hunt in Sixshire).  The domesticated animals I remembered were mostly sheep and cattle, and horses.  And, of course, the big flock of alpaca that Allesandra owned.

“Ducks and geese are missing?” I asked, just to clarify.

Ava nodded.  “Yup.  And it’s weird, because I CAN’T find any evidence of predation in most of the cases.”

Huh.  That did sound a bit odd, but I was not sure what to make of it.  Then again, investigating disappearing animal claims was not my gig; investigating disappearing people WAS.  Or, rather, in this case, investigating disappearing healthiness.

Was that even a word?

“So,” I said, trying to get the discussion back to the reason why I was there, “why do you think there is an outbreak of illness or a plague here?”

“Ah, that,” she said.  “Yeah, it’s weird.  In every little town and village – and they are pretty spread out here, sometimes only four or five farm houses clumped together with their fields and pastures on the outer edges – anyway, in every little village where I have been looking into cases of vanishing animals, one or more of the townspeople reported that some of their older children and young adults have fallen ill with mysterious symptoms.”

Hm.  That definitely sounded odd.  “Only older children and young adults?  No young children or infants?  No older adults?”

She shook her head.  “Not that they told me, and not that I saw.”

“How many of these did you see?”  I asked.  “How many affected individuals, and in how many places?”

She paused to consider that.  “Enough,” she said at last, “that I felt it necessary to alert Alistair and have you brought in.  I’ve been checking into this waterfowl business for about six weeks now.  I started hearing reports of sick kids, oh, maybe three weeks ago.  Since then, it has steadily increased.   This last week, I visited three different villages, and there were at least two affected individuals in each one.”

I frowned.  “How far apart are these villages?”  I asked.

“They are not exactly close,” Ava replied.  “I would say at least a day’s ride between each of them.”

I made a mental note to binge watch episodes of Mystery Diagnosis when I got back to Earth.  “Is there a lot of trade or commerce between villages?”

Ava shook her head.  “Not really,” she said.  “Around midsummer there does tend to be a bit of back and forth, but mostly they keep to themselves.  Even during the harvest, the only real back and forth seems to be between each individual village and the bigger cities, which send convoys to purchase supplies for the winter months.”

“How long ago was the harvest?”

Ava blinked.  “It is spring here,” she said. “Late spring, to be sure, but still spring.  There has not been much in the way of trade between the villages.”

“Well,” I said, standing up, “it sounds like I have got my work cut out for me.  I had better get started.”

Ava snorted.  “Well, sit back down and let me show you a map of this place.  Things are a lot more spread out here than on Ionus.”

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #47 on: Fri, Nov 06, 2015, 08:29 PM »
Ava spread a good sized map out on the table.  It was drawn on what I took to be parchment, but it did not curl up at the edges as much as I expected.  I fingered one of the corners.

“It’s vellum,” Ava explained, running her fingers over it.  “Sort of like leather, but thinner and finer in quality.  They make it out of goat skin here, by the way, rather than cow.”

She pointed to a square with a small drawing of a house inside it.  “This is where we are right now,” she explained.  She then tapped an area toward the lower right of the map.  “This is Fieldcross; they have a lot of orchards down there and it’s one of the larger farming communities in the region.   They were the first to report the illness to me, the day after I arrived.”

She then tapped another area, further north. It was labeled “Eastbridge” on the map, and was near what appeared to be a river, named The Candlestick.  “This was the second community to report to me; they informed me when I arrived several days later, the symptoms had appeared the day before.”  She frowned.  “However, I had passed through Southbridge on my way north, and they did not have any reports of illnesses.”

She pointed to two more of these little scattered communities.  “I then found victims in both Langsen and Waalfort Town.  Since then, I have pretty much had reports from all of the farming communities in the region.”

I pointed to a large block of decoration on the far right of the map.  “Port of Charssis,” I read out loud.  “Is that the capitol?”

She nodded.  “Yes, of the Emerald Province.  This map does not show the entire island – but it is divided into two provinces.  The western most province is ruled by a different king, and I have not ventured into their lands as yet.”

“Are they friendly?”

She shrugged.  “As friendly as anybody is,” she replied.  “No more, no less.  But I have not had reports of anything unusual happening in that area, so I have concentrated my efforts here.”  She looked up at me.  “Do you think I ought to go and check them out?”

I blinked; I really had no idea.  “What about your investigations here?” I asked.  “Have you reached any conclusions, or discovered the source of the disappearances?”

“No,” she said, and she sounded both frustrated and annoyed.  “I have not.  I do not know what the heck is going on here.”  Then she sighed.  “But I also do not have any other leads to follow right now.  I feel like I am just going through the motions; I show up, look around, interview witnesses, and set a watch, but I come up empty handed every time.”  She shrugged.  “Maybe I need to start looking elsewhere.”

I studied the map, mostly for time to sort out my whirling thoughts than to commit it to memory.  Maybe I was searching for inspiration.  My eyes finally rested on the capitol: the Port of Charssis.  I looked up at Ava.  “Charssis,” I said.  “Have you been there since this started?”

She shook her head.  “No, there are not exactly a lot of domestic waterfowl to go missing in the capitol, and since I had no direct report of any issues, I have not bothered.” She held me with a piercing gaze.  “You think I should go there,” she said.

“I do,” I said, “if only to see if there are reports of illness there.  As a port city, and a large one at that, I would think that there would be cases there.  It is easier in a large city for a disease to spread, especially if it is air borne.”

She nodded excitedly, her face animated.  “You are right,” she said.  “Even if they had not sent word to us, it might be so early on in the game that they do not have so many cases that they are overwhelmed.”  She snorted.  “Typical men, they do not ask for help until it is too late.”

I chuckled, then steered the conversation back toward the original question.  “Okay, so you will go to Charssis and check in with the …  what?  King?  Emperor?”

“King,” she said.  “King Aldred.  King Aldred Barcroft.  And yes, I will go and check in with him and let you know what I find out.”

“How will you let me know?” I asked. 

She pointed at the map again.  “Each community has a pigeon cote for sending messages across the region.  It is typically managed by the individual who owns the local tavern or in.  And see these two markings here, at these crossroads?  There are large Inns there, and they also have pigeon lofts for messages.  I will send birds out with a report after I have been in the city for a few days – I will send you what I know, whether there is anything or not to report.  The birds will go out and home to the towns nearest the city; if it is the right kind of message, they will re-send it out to the other ones nearest, who will also pass it on, and so on and so forth, until all of the communities have been notified.  When you arrive at a community, they will pass the message on to you.  You can then send one back to me at Charssis directly.”

I nodded. 

She pointed at one of the lone inns that was closest to our current location (though there was not a direct road to it).  “This is The Holey Ear,” she said.

“The HOLEY EAR?” I repeated.

“Stay with me,” she said.  “The proprietor is Zak.  Tell him I sent you, and he will take good care of you.  He is a good man.  You can trust him.”

I nodded.  I would remember that.

“And,” she said, “you might leave him a message for me when you pass through, telling me what you have found.  Because I will likely pass through there on my way back to here, and I will certainly stop in to see him.”

“OK,” I said.  “One last thing.  What symptoms were you seeing with this disease?”

“Ah,” she said.  “Yes.  Symptoms.  Kind of vague, really.   Most were almost delirious, like they had a very high fever.  They felt like they had a fever, too, very hot and flushed.  Confused, too.  Barely conscious in some cases.  Sweating.”

“Any respiratory symptoms, like coughing or labored breathing?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “No, not that I recall.  No stomach issues, either, no nausea or vomiting or diarrhea.”

“What about motor skills or neuromuscular issues?”

“I did see that,” she said.  “When I was in Waalfort, there was one who was probably in the recovery stage.  They told me he had been ill for about two days.  He was much more coherent than the others, but he had difficulty standing and walking, he was very unsteady.  Staggered, almost like he was drunk.”

I mentally filed all of that away.  I really needed to re-watch those Mystery Diagnosis episodes.  I was no medical expert, but I knew enough to know that those symptoms did not add up to anything immediately recognizable.  Plague?  Rabies?  No, rabies was fatal.  At least, I amended, rabies is fatal on earth.  Maybe they are more resistant here.

Well, it was my job to find out.  I slapped the table and stood up.  “Well, I think that is enough for me to start on,” I said.  “I will head out, and you will go to Charssis and see what you can find.”

She nodded.  She rolled up the map.  “Take this with you,” she said.  “I do not need it, not anymore, I’ve been back and forth over this damned place so much over the past month that I know it better than I know Colorado Springs.”

I started to roll up the map, then realized that I had no idea how I was going to get to wherever I was going first.  My horse, Snapdragon, was safe and secure in the royal stables near Sixshire on Ionus.  And, knowing what travel through The Gateway was like, I suspected that just popping over there and dragging her over here was probably not a really good idea.  I did not need my horse panicking and killing me inside the portal chamber in this mansion.

“I assume I will need a horse,” I said to Ava.  “How would I go about getting one?”

“There are horses for our use in the stables here,” she said.  “I will take you down there to pick one out.  Then you can grab some rations and be on your way.”

I reopened the map and set it back down.  “Where do you think I should go first?”

“Holingsworth,” she said, pointing at a small spot on the map just south of our location.  “It is the closest, and only about a half a day’s ride from here.  And it is on your way to Waalfort, which I would say is a good place to visit early on.”

“Sounds good,” I said, rolling up the map.  “Let’s go.”

Ava led me down to the stables. One of the stable hands was on duty, a young man named Colton.  Ava greeted him, but did not ask him for advice.  Instead, she led me down the rows of stalls, many of them empty, toward the end, where a gleaming black horse stood proudly in a loose box.  It tossed its head as we approached.  I eyed it apprehensively.

“This,” Ava said, “is Starfoot,” she said. “He is a wonderful horse, absolutely crammed with personality.”

I peered cautiously over the half door of the box.   He was solid black in color, except for his four feet, which had a smattering of little white spots at the bottom.  Almost like socks.  Star foot, indeed.

I stepped back, startled, when I felt his soft nose brush my hair.  I looked up at him.  He was taller than Snapdragon, and looked a bit wilder, too.  I wondered if I could handle him.

“He is a bit…” I hesitated.  “… intimidating,” I finished lamely.

Ava shook her head.  “He is the perfect horse for you,” she insisted.  “He is spirited, but he is an excellent horse for a novice rider.  He is incredibly well trained, and has a very soft mouth.”

“A soft mouth?” I asked.

“That just means he is very responsive to your reining,” she explained.  “I ride him myself a lot when I am out here.”

“Do not you want to take him, then?” I asked.

She laughed.  “I can ride any horse in this country,” she said.  “I am a Master horseman.”  She looked at me.  “You bought a horse in Sixshire, did not you? Did you buy yours from Julian Staddle?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied.

“Did you see a horse called Snowbolt while you were there?”

My eyes grew wide at the memory of the gigantic white stallion Julian had showed me, and told me he would not sell to me.  “Yes,” I said.

She said, simply, “I have ridden Snowbolt.”

I knew then that I could trust her assessment.  “OK,” I said, “I will take Starfoot.” I looked around.  “Where is the tackle?”

She led me to another stall which had been repurposed for storage, and soon had helped me select an appropriate saddle, bridle, riding blanket, and halter rope. 

“I will have Colton get him ready,” she said.  “While he is doing that, we need to go up to the kitchens and get you some traveling food.”

I left Starfoot in the capable hands of Colton, and followed Ava back into the mansion.  We went into the kitchens, which were oddly deserted.  I had brought the set of saddlebags with me, and Ava showed me where the different food stuffs were kept: cheese, wrapped in cloth; rolls of hard bread; small apples; and a waterskin.  Then Ava showed me some pieces of what looked like fruit cake.  But surely I was mistaken.

“These are leaguecakes,” she explained.  “The perfect traveling food.  They are made with grain flour, honey, molasses, and dried fruit.”

Great.  It was fruit cake.

She was wrapping individual pieces in cloth, as she had the cheese.  “You need to take some of these with you,” she said.  “A little bit really goes a long way.”  She looked over at me, and grinned.  “Lembas bread!”

I snorted at the Lord of the Rings reference.  It seems I had found a kindred spirit.

I loaded all the supplies into one of the saddle bags, and then put my money and spare clothes into the other side.  “OK, all set,” I said.

“Great, let us go,” she said.

“Wait,” I said, “aren’t you going to get anything for yourself?”

She looked a bit confused.  “For myself?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I remember enough of the map to know that my route is pretty much the same route you would likely take on your way to the capitol,” I said.  “I figured we would be traveling together.”

“Oh!” she said with a laugh.  “No, I will leave tomorrow morning and go straight through to Waalfort,” she said.  “I have no desire to stop in Holingsworth for the night.”

I eyed her suspiciously.  If she did not want to stop there, would I want to stop there by myself?  Would it be safe?

“Why not?” I queried.  “Is it not safe?”

“Perfectly safe,” she said, “for YOU, at any rate.  But not for me.”

I folded my arms and waited for further explanation.  It had better be good.

She grimaced.  “The proprietor of the inn in Holingsworth – it is called The Vagabond, by the way – anyway, the proprietor, a man by the name of Sherwood Nowles, he has a … thing for me.  Whenever I am there, he is constantly talking to me, flirting with me, hinting that he needs a wife.”

I snorted.  Ava glared at me.

“It is not funny,” she said.

I collapsed into giggles.  “Yes, it is!” I insisted.

She stared angrily at me for a few more seconds, and then cracked a smile, and finally started laughing.  “All right, it is comical, I will grant you that.  But it is also annoying.  I can’t get anything done.”

After my giggling fit was over, I considered the seriousness of the situation.  Perhaps Ava did not feel safe with this Sherwood character, and the only place she would likely be able to stay in the little village would be his inn.   I said as much.

She grimaced, then shook her head.  “No,” she said, “I do not think he is dangerous.  Not even to me.  But he is … persistent.  And I just do not have the patience for him, especially when I am on a case.”  She smiled.  “So, you are completely safe with him.  In fact, tell him you are my colleague, and he will give you a good price for your room and board.  For the discount, he will likely give you a message to pass on to me.”

“If he does, what do you want me to do with it?”

She shrugged.  “It is your call.  You can keep it to give to me when you next see me, or you can throw it again.  The choice is yours.”

“What will YOU do with it?” I asked.

“Throw it out,” she replied shortly.

Made my decision a lot easier.

We walked back out to the stables, where I discovered that Colton had Starfoot saddled and bridled and waiting in the stable yard for me.    I attached the saddle bags to the saddle, and allowed Colton to give me a leg up onto my new horse.  I felt very, very high up in the air.

“Good luck, Rebekah,” Ava said, patting my leather boot.  “I will be in Charssis in about five days, depending on weather.  I will notify you on what I find, and wait on your report as well.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “Good luck to you as well.”

I kneed Starfoot out of the yard and around the front of the mansion.  I had not paid much attention to the architecture, but as I moved down the lane toward the main gate, I looked back toward the mansion.  From out here, it looked more like a castle than anything: three main floors, and a single large turret on the front left corner that rose up an additional two stories.  It even had the classic pointed roof top and the rounded top windows cut into the stone all around the sides.

As I approached the gate, a man emerged from the little gate house off to the right of the lane.  He nodded to me, touched his hand to his forehead, and quickly unlocked the gate and pushed it open for me.

“Safe travels, agent!” he called as I walked Starfoot through the gate.  I did not offer a verbal reply, but smiled and nodded in his direction as I passed.  I still was not fully comfortable with my new horse and worried about losing control of him.  It would not do for me to be tossed from the back of a horse mere minutes after I had arrived on this world. 

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #48 on: Sun, Nov 08, 2015, 04:56 PM »
 Starfoot walked out of the gates and continued to walk forward along the path.  The property for G. R. I. M. M. was located at the top of a small rise, and I could see ahead to where the path joined the main road, which was probably just half a mile or so of a gentle down grade slope.  I could just make out a sign post standing tall by the intersection.   I kept Starfoot to a walk as we went along, but I did notice that Ava had been right – he was incredibly easy to guide, with just the lightest touch of the reins enough to maneuver him from side to side with ease.  Maybe he would not be too bad after all.

We reached the sign post in about five minutes.  I looked up at the markers: the one pointing to the right read: Holingsworth and Waalfort Towns.  To the left, was the marker for Langsen.  I decided that it was a good idea to take Ava’s advice anyway and head toward Holingsworth.   The map said it was about 4 leagues from the G. R. I. M. M. complex to Holingsworth, and I guessed that I could get there before night fall.  It was almost noon, but the sky was mostly covered with high puffy clouds so it was not very easy to judge the position of the sun.

After a bit of walking, I urged Starfoot up to a trot, and then to a canter, as I began to get more comfortable with my new mount.   I silently blessed Ava’s ability to know and judge animals well enough – and to be knowledgeable enough about my own skill to be able to match me perfectly with an animal that would not throw, kill, or maim me within minutes. 

As we went on down the road, I observed the world around us.  The road was well maintained – even better than the packed earth roads I had found on Ionus.   These seemed to be done in a similar fashion, but they just looked better.  Neater, maybe?  The edges were definitely more sharply defined, and there were bricks of a white stone placed at intervals which I assumed would serve to mark the boundary on dark nights. 

The land on either side of the road was beautiful.  It was very green – I recalled the name of this region as The Emerald Province, and assumed the name had something to do with the abundant color.  I wondered vaguely if this world would be anything similar to Ireland, the Earthly realm that shared both a nickname and apparently an ecology.  The empty green fields undulated slowly on either side of the road, not flat, but covered with gentle rolling hills that extended out to the horizon.  I saw few large trees, but there were some stunted trees or large bushes in rows that marked small waterways that criss crossed the plains.  The bridges that went over the occasional stream that happened to intersect the road were so uniquely designed that when I came to the first one, I stopped and dismounted to examine it.

It was made not of stone, as most of the bridges were in Ionus, but of wood.  Instead of being held together with nails or nuts and bolts, the wood had been carved or cut with different types of joints – one was clearly called a tongue and groove (if I remembered any of my Do It Yourself classes at The Home Depot), but the others were unusual and I could not bring to mind a name.  But it had pieces that were cut in the shape of a triangle, which was fit into a triangle shaped hole in the matching plank.  Very interesting.  And sturdy; it did not creak or groan, or even shift, when I walked Starfoot across to the other side. 

When we had been going on for about two hours or so, I started to see lines of trees on either side of the road.   As I drew closer to them, I realized that they were placed as wind breaks for the fields which had recently been planted.  The shoots that were coming up were too small for me to easily identify most of them, but one field was clearly corn rather than a variety of grain, and several had something that was more bush like than a tall plant.  I tried to think of what types of bush shaped crops we grew in the United States – soybean?  Maybe even peanuts?  I remember being taken to tour a peanut farm when I was in Georgia for a human resources conference some years ago; I had been ashamed to discover that they were grown under the soil, like potatoes or carrots, rather than in runners along the top of the ground.  That embarrassment was likely why the memory had stuck with me for so long.

The road rose up a bit as it climbed to go over a small hill, and as we reached the top I could see what I took to be the town of Holingsworth in the distance.  Also, between me and the town, I could see a horse drawn cart moving along the road in the same direction I was going.  Perhaps it was a farmer, returning to town from work in the fields? 

They were moving rather slowly compared to me, and I guessed I would overtake them in less than half an hour.  I kept Starfoot to a canter and we did over take the cart relatively quickly.  The cart was being drawn by a fairly old pony, which was likely responsible for its slow pace.  The cart was loaded with a variety of farming implements, including a large iron plow, shovels, and hoes.  There were two people in the cart: an older gentleman, who was perhaps the grandfather to the other, who was a young man probably in his early twenties. 

The older man held the reins and wore dirt stained coveralls, a shirt of dull white linen, and a straw cap.  The younger man wore similar clothes, those his were probably even dirtier and dustier than the older man’s.  The younger man obviously heard Starfoot’s hoof beats as we came up behind them, because he turned in the seat to look back at me.  He saw me, smiled, touched the brim of his hat, and then put his hand on the other man’s shoulder.

“Aye, Da, we are bein’ hailed by a fellow traveler, so we are.”

An Irish brogue.  I resisted the urge to face plam.

The old man tugged once on the rains.  “Steady, now, laddie,” he called to the pony, which stopped obediently at the request.  The old man then also turned in his seat to face me as I drew level with the cart.  He was not quite as old as I had thought from my initial impression.  His hair was snow white, but his face was only slightly lined around the forehead and mouth, but his eyes were clear blue and sparkled with life and intelligence.

He, too, smiled broadly at me, and tipped his straw hat to me in a courtly gesture.  “And a good afternoon to ye, Lassie,” he said.  “A fine day it has been indeed.  Might we be askin’ where you be travelin’ to?”

I nodded politely.  “It is a nice day,” I agreed.  “I am headed toward the village of Holingsworth.”

“Well, and so we are,” he replied.  “My son and I farm these fields to the north and east of the village and are headed home, so we are.   There is a fair bit yet to go, but company shortens the road, so they say.  Would ye care to join us?  Ye can sit up here in front with me, and your bonnie beastie there can tie up behind us and walk along.”

I decided to accept their offer; it was a good opportunity to ask some pointed questions before we arrived at our destination.

“Thank you,” I replied, gratefully.  “I would be delighted to travel with you.”

“Now, then, Bran, won’t ye help our fair friend down from her mount and hook that fine horse up to the back?”

The younger man – whose name I now knew was Bran – helped me down with the ease of years of experience, and affixed the reins to a hook on the back of the wagon.  He then assisted me into the front of the cart, where I settled down next to his father.  Bran, for his part, hopped easily into the back of the cart and perched easily on a wooden crate.

The older man clucked to the pony and flicked the reins, and the pony took up its plodding pace once again. 

“Now, then,” he said, turning to me, “ye’ve met me son, Bran.  Meself, I am called Eamon, and our family name is Cavanagh.  Our kin have lived and farmed these fields in and around Holingsworth for over two hundred years, since me great – great – great – grand father came to this land from Joria.”

I had no idea where Joria was – it was probably one of those other large islands that Ava had mentioned, but I decided not to reveal my ignorance.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I said.  “Thank you for the ride.  My name is Rebekah Black, and I am an associate of Alistair Carruthers.  I do not know if you are familiar with that gentleman.”

Eamon nodded.  “Ah, to be sure, all in our village be knowin’ Constable Alistair.  Himself has not visited in some time, but his Lords and Ladies do attend us on occasion.” 

Interesting.  It appears that instead of a Praetor, I was now going to be a Lady.  I made a mental note to see if I was gaining or losing status.

He paused for a moment.  “Are ye yourself knowin’ a young lady, who goes by the name of Ava?  She were in town some weeks ago, and I know she also associates with the Constable.”

I nodded.  “Yes, I know Ava, and in fact I spoke with her not long ago.  It is on her suggestion that I am coming to Holingsworth.”

Bran spoke up from the back of the cart?  “Are ye also looking into the missing geese?” he asked.  “It is more of a problem than it was, to be sure, Lady Rebekah.”

I looked back at Bran.  “No,” I answered honestly.  “The Lady Ava is continuing with that line of investigation.  I am here to look into something else entirely.”

“And what might that be, Lady?” asked Eamon.

“Have you had any cases of a strange illness in your village?  It seems to be hitting older children and young adults, but not any young children or older adults.”

Bran spat and said what I assumed was a Gaelic swear word under this breath.  “Bloody fools,” he said.

This surprised me.  These two individuals did not seem like uncaring people, but to cast aspersions on the victims of a random disease seemed a bit harsh.  I turned to Bran.  “Why do you call them fools?  Did they eat something that made them sick?”

“Me son meant no harm, so he did not,” Eamon said calmly.  “But it is a sore spot, with us, these people who fall ill.”

“How so?” I asked.

“They are not sick,” Bran said.  “They are lazy and they do not wish to put forth the effort that is needed in order to maintain their family’s fields and farms.”

I frowned.  This did not seem to add up.  “But the Lady Ava told me that people in other villages are falling ill as well, and with similar symptoms.  I could understand a few lay abouts turning up in a farming village – the place where I live certainly has its share of lazy people.  But this would need to be a coordinated effort for some of the villagers in all of these towns in the region to do this just to get out work, don’t you think?  Might there not be another explanation – like a real sickness?”

Bran sat silently for a moment.  “We had not heard this news, ‘tis true,” he said after a moment.  “Ye say that other town have had sickeness too?”

“Yes,” I said, “if Ava’s report is correct.  That is why I have come; to find out what this disease is, and hopefully help find a cure.”

Eamon turned to me, his face wreathed in a smile.  “Well, then, to be sure, we are lucky then to have met up with you by chance this day!  It hurt me deep in me heart, so it did, to think that the fine people of Holingsworth had raised such slovenly offspring!  But if it were a sickness, now, that be a different story.”

“I, too, am glad to hear this news,” added Bran.  “Indeed, I shall have to watch me tongue in the future, so as not to lay false accusations of laziness at the feet of these young people.”  He paused again, and his face grew even more sober.  “But it has been difficult,” he said.  “Their illness has left us short of hands, and I fear that if it goes on longer, then harvest will be a sore trial, so it will.”

“I understand,” I said.  “I will do my best, and hopefully this situation can be resolved before the end of the summer season.”

After that, we rode along in silence for a time.  Eamon occasionally spoke up and pointed out either a natural landmark out in the fields, or related stories about his ancestors, and some funny anecdotes about some of the other families in the communities.  A couple of hours later, we topped a small rise and saw below us that the road ran into a collection of quaint houses and buildings.  There was a windmill, too, off to the north, and a larger building in the center of the square that I took to be the local Inn.  The Vagabond, as Ava had named it, with its lovesick proprietor. 

“And there is our town,” Eamon said.  “Soon we will be home.”  He looked at me.  “I would offer you the hospitality of our house and kin,” he said.  “We be havin’ a spare room that ye could take, and yer braw horsie can kip down in our stables with Dug here.” He nodded toward the plodding pony.

I considered the offer.  I had grown fond of both of the men during our journey; their willingness to listen to new information and immediately adjust their viewpoints warmed me to them.  But I had some concerns, and thought that remaining separate, at least for the time, was the best approach.

“I thank you for your offer of hospitality,” I said honestly. “But I do not know what I will encounter during my investigation, and I may find that I need to leave with little notice, and I would feel terrible if I inconvenienced you for the sake of my work.  I think for now I will take a room at the Inn; but the next time I am in town, if I am not on immediately pressing business, I would be honored to join you for dinner.”

“Ah, yer a smart one, so ye are!” Eamon said, cackling in mirth.  “We will miss having ye, so we will, but I at least will settle for your promise of a meal later on!”

“And I,” Bran said. 

With that, we rode past the sign with the name of the village and the name of the Lord Mayor, Conor Corraidh, and entered Holingsworth proper.  Eamon guided the pony and cart through the wide streets, past what appeared to be mostly farm houses.  As we drew closer to the center square, however, I started noticing business fronts, with their upper stories obviously done up as residences: a cobbler, a dress maker and tailor, a butcher, a dry goods store, and the Cote (which I assumed was where the messenger pigeons were kept).  The square had a pretty little circular garden in the center, which at this time of year was a riot of color with daisies, snapdragons (which made me miss my horse in Ionus), lilies, sunflowers, and blue forget me nots.    We rode around the garden, as if it were a traffic circle, and Eamon pulled Dug to a stop in front of a large establishment with a sign over the door: The Vagabond by the Nowles Family.

“And here ye are, safe at the Inn,” Eamon said.  “Do stop by anytime, do ye hear?” he reminded me.  “Just ask anyone to direct ye to our home.” 

Bran had hopped out of the back and assisted me down from the front of the carriage, untied Starfoot’s reins, which he handed to me.  He clapped me on the shoulder in a friendly fashion.  “Save travels to ye, Lady Rebekah,” he said as he swung back up beside his father.  “And best o’ luck on yer investigations!”

“Aye,” said Eamon, “and from me as well.”  With that, he clucked to Dug, who moved off at the same slow, methodical pace. 

I turned away from my new friends and looked at the building in front of me.  It looked homey enough.  I walked forward to tie Starfoot’s reins to one of the railings that lined the front of the inn to the right of the front door.  I took off the saddlebags, thinking that this was the Renaissance equivalent of putting your valuables in your trunk and locking your car, and carried them with me inside.

The door opened smoothly when I pushed on it, and above a little brass bell tinkled merrily to announce my arrival.  The common room here was completely empty, which surprised me somewhat; but perhaps this early in the season there was little reason for travel.  The ringing bell brought an incredibly handsome man out from the back of the Inn.  He saw me and came forward, a mouth full of pure white teeth showing in a smile.  He had a shock of golden blond hair on his head, and his eyes were a vivid green.  He reminded me immediately of the actor who portrayed Thor in the Avengers movie series back on Earth.  Damn, he was a good looking man!  I wondered why Ava wasn’t interested.

“And a grand welcome to ye, Lassie!” he cried, coming forward.  “This is The Vagabond; I am Sherwood Nowles, Owner and Proprietor.  What can I be doin’ for ye on this fine evening?”

“I need a room for the evening,” I replied, “and stabling for my horse.”

“Indeed, yes, I can help ye out there, so I can.  Come in, come in!” 

He led me over to a small corner table near the fire place and pulled out a chair for me.  “Sit ye down, I shall fetch ye some food and drink.  Have ye traveled far, then?”

“No, not very far at all,” I replied.  Sherwood nodded and hurried away.  “Just a sec, then, and ye’ll be fixed up in no time!”

After he had dashed off, I took a moment to look around the room.  It was sparsely furnished, yet still managed to feel comfortable.  There were no flowers on the tables, or table clothes.  No pictures on the walls, no curtains over the windows.  But the floor and tables were clean and the bar area was polished to a high shine.  I got the idea that perhaps these little communities were not exactly wealthy and mostly kept to themselves.  This seemed to fit with what Ava had said, about minimal travel between the towns except for during harvest time.

It was not long before Sherwood returned with a tray laden with all sorts of delicious food.  He placed the platters on the table in front of me: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, roasted corn ears.  My mouth was watering; I had not realized how hungry I was. 

“An’ what would ye care to drink, me dear?” he asked.  “I have water, coffee, wine, and ale.”  I opted for water this time. 

The food, just as I had found during my time on Ionus, was beyond delicious.  Both meat and vegetables were rich with flavor, like nothing I had ever tasted on earth.  I was not even certain that any of the dishes had much in the way of seasonings: not that they needed them.  Even the water had a fresher, sweeter taste. 

While I ate, Sherwood bustled about, doing various minor chores: stacking clean dishes on the shelves behind the counter, dusting about the corners of the room, wiping down glasses.  I applied myself to the food and paid very little attention to anything else.  Just about when I finished, he brought out a bowl of berries and cream (the cream was Oh – Em – Gee – AMAZING) for dessert, while he cleared off the table and took the dishes back to the kitchen.

When I was done – and completely full and content – Sherwood returned and sat down across the table from me.  “Did ye enjoy the meal, Lady?” he asked.

“I did,” I replied, “it was absolutely delicious.  Best meal I have had in a while.”

“Glad ye liked it,” he said, obviously pleased.  “Now.  Ye say ye be needin’ a room for yerself and stablin’ for yer horse?”

“That is correct,” I said. 

“Will ye just be stayin’ the night?”

Now things got tricky.  “Well, I do not know,” I said.  “I should think I would be here at least through the day after tomorrow.”

“Ah, so it is not just travelin’ through for ye, then, is it?”

I shook my head.  “No, not exactly.  I do have some business here in Holingshire.”

“An’ what business might that be?” he asked.

“Are you familiar with the Lady Ava?” I asked, deciding to go ahead and drop her name now to see what happened.  If his reaction was in any way negative, I might take up Eamon on his offer of a place to stay.

Instead, a dream look suffused Sherwood’s face, and a faraway look crept into his eyes.  “Ah, the Lady Ava!” he sighed.  “Aye, I be knowin’ her, and such a braw lassie is she!”  His gaze sharpened.  “Are ye an associate of the Lady?” he queried.  “Do ye work along side her an’ the Constable?”

I nodded, slightly relieved.  “Yes, I do.  In fact, I spoke with the Lady Ava earlier this morning, before I made my way south.”

“Ah, so ye came from the Constable’s mansion, then,” he said, almost as an aside.  It was clear he was aware of where the complex was in relation to the village.  “So ye have not been on the road long, as ye said.  Might ye be lookin’ into the same thing as Ava?  The ducks and the geese?”

“Not exactly,” I said.  “Ava uncovered something else apparently unrelated to her original line of investigation, and asked me to check it out.  She is still working on the missing waterfowl, and will be headed east to continue her own searches.”

Sherwood nodded.  “What did the Lady discover?” he asked.

“A possible outbreak of a disease,” I answered.  “Have you had any sickness or illness in the village?  I spoke with Eamon and Bran Cavanagh on my way into town, and they said that some of the older children and younger adults had been stricken by something.”

“Aye, so they have,” replied Sherwood, “and the talk about the town was that ‘twas just laziness.”  He cocked his head to one side.  “But how would the Lady Ava be aware of that?  The last time she were in town was before it struck, and we have sent no word to other villages, so as not to shame our townsfolk for having such lazy young ones.”

Sherwood apparently possessed an excellent memory.  Or, was he possibly somehow involved in this bizarre situation?  Or was it just because he was – clearly – besotted with Ava and had perfect recall for the last time he saw her?

“She is aware of it because she has found other cases with similar symptoms  in other villages in the area,” I told him.  “She did not know that it had happened here specifically, just suggested that I check in here first on my way to Waalfort.”

Sherwood frowned.  “I do not be likin’ the idea of some sort of sickness,” he said.  “It scares me, so it does, and Holingsworth has no proper healer.  We have to be sending for one from Waalfort.”

“You said you did not send word to other villages,” I said, “and so I assume you did not ask a healer to come from Waalfort in this case, either.  Is that correct?”

He shrugged.  “Bein’ the only Inn in town, it is hard to hide visitors from me.  People bein’ people and talkin’, don’t ya know. And even if only one family is makin’ the request, if ye understand me, usually the healer will take a room here at The Vagabond.  So I canna say for certain that no healer was summoned, but I certainly heard no tale of it.”

That was helpful.  And also seemed to corroborate Ava’s story that nobody seemed to have died from this.  That was some good news, I supposed.  And in any case, a death would have made at least somebody realize that it was not simple laziness – nobody ever died from playing hookey from work. 

I glanced through the window to the street outside.  It was almost fully dark now, though I could make out the crescent moon rising above the roof tops across the street.

“It is probably too late to start asking questions tonight,” I said.  “Perhaps you could show me to my room.  In the morning, I will ask you for the names of the people who have been stricken.”

“Aye, Lassie, a good idea it is.  Villagers not be too keen on openin’ doors after dark to strangers, don’t ye know.”  He rose from his chair and extended his hand.  “Come wi’ me.  But before I take ye to yer room, I’ll show ye the quarters I have for your horse.”

Sherwood was quite taken with Starfoot; it seemed that black horses were very rare and considered very beautiful in the Emerald Province.  I was quietly pleased; perhaps I could turn such a thing to my advantage during my investigation.  The stables at The Vagabond were small (only 4 loose boxes, one of which was already occupied by Sherwood’s own personal horse, a chestnut mare named Bramble), but roomy and filled with fresh, clean straw.  There was also plenty of baled hay and alfalfa. 

The proprietor gave Starfoot a final pat and turned him into one of the stables, and latched the door behind him.  “I will come back and see to him and Bramble before I take to me own bed,” he informed me.  “Let me show ye to yer quarters, then.”

He took me back into the Inn, where I picked up my saddlebags from my chair, and led me up a twisty and narrow flight of stairs to the third floor, and unlocked a door.   He ushered me into a surprisingly large suite of rooms: just inside the door was a well appointed sitting room, with a large stone hearth, a goodly supply of firewood, and a red plush settee and footstool.  Off the sitting room was a bedroom with a large bed and dresser with mirror, and then a separate bathroom with a huge claw footed tub in the center of the room.  To my surprise, brass piping ran up from the floor below to shiny fixtures on the tub, and a crude wooden commode on the corner had a metal water container on top with a pull chain – this world had running water and plumbing! 

Sherwood busied himself with lighting a fire in the hearth while I unpacked my saddle bags and put my clothing and other supplies in the chest of drawers in the bedroom.  “It still be a bit chilly in the evenings, Lass,” he said when I came back out into the sitting room.  “So I would advise ye to not keep the windows open.”

He stood up and dusted off his hands.    A small fire crackled merrily in the fire place.  “This will keep ye warm, ‘tis a bit drafty up here at times, when the wind is from the north.  I will leave ye to yerself for the night, Lady.” He pointed to a woven pull cord hanging near the door.  “If ye need anythin’ during the night, just be pullin’ on the cord to summon me.  Then, in the morning, if ye please, when ye are ready for breakfast, give a pull and I will serve you up here meself.”

“Thank you, Sherwood, this is lovely,” I said sincerely.  “Ava told me your Inn had an excellent reputation, and I see she was absolutely correct.”

That dreamy look came across his face again.  “She be givin’ me a compliment, so she did!  Ah, I will not be needin’ any wine tonight, so I won’t!” He grinned at me, and held out the door key.  “A pleasant night to you, Lady.” 

After he left, I took off my boots and sat on the couch, propping my feet up on the cushion and extending them to the warm fire.  If the bed was as comfortable as the sofa, I would definitely sleep well.  But first… I went into the bathroom.  There was another surprise awaiting me – they did not just have running water, they had hot water!  I figured there must be a large cistern downstairs with a fire to heat the water.  I resolved to find out more about their sanitation advances later.  For now, though, I was going to take advantage of this.  I ran a hot bath and soaked luxuriantly for probably an hour. 

I dried off, pulled on my pajamas (I had remembered to bring some from home this time), and crawled into the bed.  It was more comfortable than my own in Colorado Springs.  I was asleep in minutes.

Offline NorthernLights

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #49 on: Fri, Nov 20, 2015, 07:46 PM »
I should be concentrating on my writing but here I am, reading this one again.
Loving it.

Offline Silsin

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #50 on: Thu, Nov 26, 2015, 01:05 PM »
Wish I had time to read ... :( It's past 10 o'clock and I still didn't get to have a look at all of my emails from today - not to mention the ones I didn't answer yesterday...

There is no reason not to follow your heart! Steve Jobs

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #51 on: Thu, Nov 26, 2015, 04:55 PM »
I'm having a LOT of fun with this one.  Into the 40Ks and nowhere near the end; which is fine by me LOL.

I'll post more in a bit.  I'm a bit behind in keeping this one updated.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #52 on: Fri, Nov 27, 2015, 12:09 PM »
I awoke the next morning when the sun peeked in through the window curtains.  I stretched luxuriantly; I could get used to food and accommodations like this!  I was sure the hot water had helped.  I got up and went over to the window and peered out over the rest of the town.  It was not all that large – maybe fifteen buildings all together – but the planted fields spread out in all directions.  I could already see some villagers out in the closer fields, and on the road to the more distant crops.

There was a soft cotton dressing gown hanging on the back of the bathroom door; I pulled it on over my pajamas (Sherwood had not lied; it was a bit chilly this early in the morning) and slid my feet into the fur lined leather slippers that were sitting next to the bed.

The fire had burned low, but had not gone out, and I knelt at the hearth and jabbed at it with the iron poker until the flames grew a bit higher.  I tossed on another small piece of wood, and once it had caught, I stood up.  Then I yanked on the pull cord to summon my breakfast.

I could hear the bell jangling somewhere in the Inn below me.  I did not know how long it would take Sherwood to arrive, so I sat down on the settee and, in the warmth of the fire, contemplated my next move.

I was going to have to start asking questions; Sherwood would be a good source of information, and he could certainly identify the affected families in the village.  I would just start with one of them and then move on.  After that, I had no idea what my next move would be; it all depended on what I found out, really.

It was not long before I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and, seconds later, a polite knock at my door.  I rose and opened it, and Sherwood came in with a large tray covered with a silver lid, which he set down on the low table by the couch.  He pulled off the lid, exposing a plate piled high with fruit, pastries, slices of ham, and rounds of warm bread.  Also on the platter was a steaming tea pot with a china cup and saucer.

“An’ a pleasant mornin’ to ye, Lady,” Sherwood said.  “I hope the accommodations were to yer likin’?”

“Yes, Sherwood, everything was wonderful,” I said.  “I had a very restful night.”

“Ah, ‘tis good,” he said.  “Now here be ye breakfast, be takin’ yer time, and I can come clear away later, when ye are out for the day.  Is there anythin’ that I can be doin’ for ye?”

“Yes, Sherwood, there is,” I said.  “Can you give me the names of the people who had family members afflicted with this disease?  Or, laziness, as most of the village thinks?”

He nodded.  “Indeed I can, Lassie.  Why don’t ye wait until ye have broken yer fast and have dressed?   I will summon one of the local lads to take ye around the town himself.  How does that be soundin’ to ye?”

“Sounds wonderful,” I said.  “Thank you.”

Sherwood bowed and left the room. 

The breakfast fare was, if anything, better than the dinner I had eaten the night before.  The fruits were sweet and delicious, the bread fresh and warm (with sweet cream butter to put on top – oh, I was in heaven).   The tea actually held coffee – I remembered now that he had offered me that the night before, and now I was glad I had opted for water, because this stuff had a jolt of caffeine to rival any energy drink on Earth.  It had a richer flavor than Earthly coffee, too – smoother, with a hint of toffee.  I could get to like this drink, I thought, pouring a second cup.

When I had eaten my fill, I went into the bathroom.  I washed briefly in the sink (again grateful for the hot water) and then pulled on my spare outfit: a dark maroon dress with three quarter sleeves and embroidered flowers along the collar and hem.  I paired this with a black vest and my leather boots.

I went downstairs and found that Sherwood had another customer: an old man, far older than Eamon, grizzled and bent.  He was sitting at the bar, nursing a mug of what I assumed was the delicious coffee like drink.  Also in the room was a young boy, about eight or nine years of age.  He wore knickers that ended just below the knee, and long stockings, and a white linen shirt.  His shoes were worn but not dirty or falling apart.

“Ah, there ye are,” Sherwood said as I came down the last of the steps.  “This here is me nephew, Ronan.  He will be takin’ ye around the village as ye need.”

I smiled at the young lad.  “Thank you, Ronan.  Are you ready to go?”

“As ye wish, Lady!” he replied promptly, touching his finger to his forehead in a polite salute.  I could see Sherwood nodding in approval.

“Very well, young man,” I said, gesturing toward the door.  “After you.”

We went outside.  “Where would you like to be seein’ first, Lady?” he asked.

“I need to speak to some people in town, but I do not know their names.  But I am sure you know who they are; they had one or more of their children taken ill recently, or were considered lazy by some.”

He nodded.  “I do know them,” he said.  “Does it matter which one ye speak with first?”

I shook my head.  “It does not matter.   I guess pick the one closest to the Inn.”

The boy started off, beckoning me to follow.  “If ye do not mind,” he said, “I’ll be takin’ ye to the one furthest away.  Then, by the time evenin’ be here and your questions be done, ye shall not have as far to go when ye are wearied.”

That sounded like a good idea to me.  We set off down the street, to the left of the Inn door, and soon came to an intersection, where we turned right.  Ronan led me to the last house on the right, a tidy little cottage with a white washed fence around the yard.  He said to me, “Niall lives here; he was the first to be claim he was ill.  His mother’s name is Dana; she should be in the house now.”

He knocked on the door.  After a few moments, a plump little woman in a flowered dress and woven shawl opened the door.  “Well, if it isn’t Ronan!” she said.  “Why are ye not in the fields, lad?”

“Me uncle had tasks for me today,” he said, gesturing back to me.  “This Lady be a guest at The Vagabond, and she would have words with ye, Missus Dana.”

Dana looked at me and stepped aside while she held the door open.  “A good morrow to ye, Lady,” she said.  “Come on in and sit, and we will talk for a spell, so we will.”

I went through the door, and Ronan followed me inside.  Dana led us to the kitchen, which was flagged with great pieces of stone set into the floor, and unstained wooden cabinets held an assortment of implements and dishes.   Dana took a scone off a baking tray and handed it to Ronan.  “And here ye go, young man, for a job well done.  Take that outside into the back and keep the geese company.  I’ll be callin’ ye when our business be concluded.”

Ronan touched his finger to his forehead again.  “Thank ye, Ma’am!” he said, then bolted outside with his pastry.

“Ah, and sit ye down here,” Dana said, pulling out a wooden chair from the table and setting a cushion on the seat.  “How, pray, might I be of service to ye?”

“I have come to ask about your son,” I said.  “Ronan said his name was Niall?”

Her expression became guarded and closed.  “What business do ye have with me son, Lady?”

“Well, if he is available, I would like to ask him some questions, but I have some for you as well.”

“What manner of questions might they be?” she asked, still wary.

“Perhaps I should explain myself first,” I said.  “My name is Lady Rebekah Black, and I am an associate of Constable Alistair and Lady Ava.    It was the Lady Ava who suggested I visit here first.  She has received numerous reports, from many of the other villages in the region, of older children and young adults who exhibited symptoms similar to the ones your son apparently suffered.”

Her closed expression suddenly became confused.  “Symptoms?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Lady Ava suspected that instead of simple laziness, this was actually a disease that was spreading amongst the towns.  She asked me to investigate.”

“Oh!”  Relief flooded the goodwife’s face.  “An illness?  He truly was ill, then, and not just bein’ the idle lay about that everybody said?”

“Well, I cannot say for certain,” I said. “I have just begun my investigation, so I have no clear answer as yet.  But I can say that it is likely; far more likely than just a few kids who did not want to work the fields one day.”

Dana took a small folded fan from a pocket in her dress and swept it across her face a few times.  “Oh, mercy!  Lack a day, what the world is a comin’ to!” she said.  “An’ here I thought that I had failed at bringin’ up me own sons!”

“I cannot imagine anybody truly thinking you had failed at your duties as a parent,” I said kindly.  “You seem like a hard working and decent woman.”

“Ach, away wi’ yer blarney!” she said, but she grinned and her eyes twinkled as she said it.  She folded the fan and put it away.  “So.  How can I be helpin’ ye?  What answers do ye seek?”

“Tell me about the day he fell ill,” I said.  “When did his symptoms first appear?  What had he been doing before he got sick?  And what symptoms did he have, and how long did they last?”

 “It were just two weeks ago,” she recalled.  “The men were all in yon fields, tendin’ to the early crops: cabbage, mostly, and spring peas.  We had sent some of the younger ones west of the village; there is a pond there and ‘tis a nice and easy task for those youngun’s, to collect the arrowroot, cat tails, and also rushes for basket weaving.”

“How many did you send?” I asked.

“Oh, six or seven, if I recall,” she said.  She paused for a moment, tapping her chin.  “I think it were Charlie and Brenna Fain, Darby O’Connell, and the twin Fallon girls: Birgit and Moira.  Was there one more?  I cannae recall now, but I am for certain those were there.”

“Do you happen to know which of those others also had symptoms?” I queried.

She nodded, “Aye, it were Darby and Brenna.”

“And they are not related, are they?”

“Nay, but Darby been seen a courtin’ Brenna since midwinter.”

Hm.  That was interesting. 

“Tell me more,” I urged.  “What else happened that day?  Did they return as expected?  Was there anything unusual?”

She shook her head.  “Nay, they return in the afternoon, just like any other trip they be makin’ out there.  They had a goodly supply of what we had asked ‘em to bring: rushes and all.  And I remember now that the Fallon girls had also found some water chestnuts, which they brought back.  Their ma do nae care for them, so they split them between meself and Brenna Fain.”

Ah, that was interesting.  Perhaps I had my first lead: two of the three who fell ill had access to the water chestnuts.  I suggested that to Missus Dana, but she shook her head. 

“Nay, it cannot be,” she said.  “The Fallon twins picked and touched them, both of them, so they did.  But I set my share out to dry, so we did not have them to eat that night.”

Now that sounded down right odd.  So that lead was out.

“All right,” I said.  “Tell me about Niall’s symptoms.  When did he fall ill?  What did you see?”

“We had dinner, Niall did his chores around, as he does, and then we all went to bed.  It were next mornin’ when Niall was not up when I had our breakfast set out that I went to his room.  He was all a sweaty and red in the face, like he had a fever.  And he were moanin’ and cryin’.  I called his father in to help and when he tried to stand him up, he staggered and fell over.”

“How long did this last?” I asked her.

“It were two days before he were able to stand up and walk about.”

I asked, “How did he act after he recovered?  Was he weak, unsteady?”

“A wee bit,” she replied, “but he seemed to get stronger as the days went by.”

“And where is Niall now?” I asked. 

“He be out in the fields today.”

“And when will he return?  I may wish to speak with him, as well as the others.”

“Just afore night fall,” Dana replied.  “’Tis usually when the men folk return.”

I stood up.  “Thank you, Dana,” I said.  “You have given me some good information to start.”

Dana also stood, and reached out to grasp my hands.  “Tell me true, Lady,” she said earnestly.  “Do ye think ye can prove it were a disease?  And not just my fine son bein’ lazy?”

“That is my goal,” I answered honestly.  “In truth, to me, it does sound like he had caught some sort of illness.  But I really will not know until I ask around a bit more.”

“Bless ye, child,” she said.  “It has been weighin’ on me heart, so it has.”

“I will do my best, Dana,” I told her.  “Now just to make sure I heard you correctly: you said that Darby and Brenna were the other two who had the same symptoms as Niall?”

“Aye, it were.”

“Do you remember when they got sick, in relation to when Niall did?” I asked.

“I think it were Darby who were found out the same morning as my Niall,” she said.  “I do not rightly remember about Brenna, though; she might have been a day or so later.”

“And nobody else since then?” I asked. 

“Oh, well, Darby had it twice, so it he did.  ‘Tis only been a few days that he has been back on his feet.”

 Oh, now this was interesting.  A recurrence?  Or was he not fully recovered before he went back to normal activity?   I knew that some illnesses – especially upper respiratory types – were prone to cropping back up shortly after you started feeling better.   I remembered my own situation in my early twenties when I was struck down with a horrible bacterial bronchitis that had me in bed for over five days… and just when I thought I was better and was back at work, it came back and threw me back under the covers for another three days.  It had been rough.  It was also, then, quite possible that this young man had succumbed to it twice.

I resolved to speak to his family next.

Dana showed me outside, where I collected Ronan from his spot on a tree stump in the yard.  I thanked Missus Dana, and the boy and I headed back toward the town.

“Where do ye wish to go next, Lady?” Ronan asked. 

“I need to speak to the family of a young man named Darby O’Connell,” I said.  “I presume you know where he lives.”

“I do an’ all,” he said, “but their home be on the far side of the village.   The Fains live on this side, but further east.  If ye go there first, and to the O’Connells  last, that will put ye closer to the Inn by the time ye are done.”

I considered this.  I had spent less than an hour with Dana, it was not yet noon, though the sun was climbing higher in the sky.  I looked at Ronan.  “Will the men and boys return from the fields for lunch?”

“’Tis not likely, Lady,” he said.  “Most are sure to stay out and have taken rations with them for their meal at noon.”

I considered this.  “Niall was apparently out with the men,” I said.  “Would Darby also be likely to be out there?”

“Aye, Lady, I know that he went; I saw them leavin’ from his house, so I did.”

“Would Brenna Fain be home, do you think?”

“Brenna is a sometime apprentice of Aliss, the town dress maker.  If she not be at home, she will be there at this time.  Though she is likely to return home for lunch.”

I looked at the sky.  “How long until lunch?” I asked. 

“A good two hours yet, Lady.”

“All right,” I said, making a decision.  “Take me to the Fain house.  I will speak with her mother first.”

Ronan led me back up the lane.  The Fains had a good sized house, and their yard had several apple trees in the back yard, and a handful of nanny goats tethered amongst them.    This house was set back a bit from the road, and I stood on the little walking path while Ronan mounted the porch steps and knocked on the door.  A woman very similar to Dana answered, and greeted Ronan with courtesy.  He introduced me, and she invited both of us in. 

Inside, a boy a year or two younger than Ronan was churning butter in the kitchen.  Brenna’s mother – whose name was Caitlin – checked the inside of the churn, and then sent the boy and Ronan upstairs to play while we spoke. 

I accepted her offer of tea and “biscuits,” and we sat not in the kitchen, but in what I would describe as the “drawing room.”  My reception here was a bit more formal than at Niall’s home.

“Is that tea to yer likin’, then, Lady?” Caitlin asked.  “I can fetch ye a spot o’ cream if ye need.”

“No, no,” I said, “this is fine.”

“Well, ‘tis good, then.  Now, what brings you to my humble home?”

I introduced myself and explained that I was working with both Constable Alistair and his other associate, the Lady Ava.   “It has been brought to our attention that some of the older children and young adults, including your daughter, here have been afflicted with a mysterious set of symptoms.”

Before I could continue, Caitlin bristled angrily.  “Are ye from those pompous fools in Waalfort, then?” she cried.  “Have ye come to ruin our reputation among the farming clusters here?”

“You misunderstand me,” I said, deliberately remaining calm and not taking offense at her accusation.  “The symptoms and behaviors that were seen here have also been seen in other villages.  Including Waalfort.”

Caitlin blinked. “In Waalfort?” she seemed confused.

“Yes,” I said.  “The Lady Ava began to suspect that this was actually a disease – a sickness – and not simple laziness or sloth.  She asked me to investigate.”

“Can this be true an’ all?” she whispered.  “Might my Brenna have truly been ill?”

“That is what it looks like,” I said.  “I spoke earlier with Dana, Niall’s mother.   Her report does sound like it could be a sickness.  And with similar reports coming from all over the region, I need to track down the truth, before it gets worse.”

“Worse?”

“Well,” I said, trying to explain what little I knew of pandemics, “the other young man who fell ill – Darby – he was apparently sick twice, if Dana’s memory is to be believed.  If this is a disease, and it can recur, then people could become sick very quickly indeed.”

“Aye, ‘tis true, we do not often see sickness this late in the season, and what we do see during the winter months is mostly in the chest.  None of us has seen a sickness like this before.  And since they seemed to be better within just a day or two – and after such a high fever – many thought it must be a ploy to lay about idle, while others did the work.”

“You say you get a lot of lung diseases in the winter.  Do those who are sick often have high fevers?”

“They do get fevers, ‘tis true,” she admitted.  “But those are fevers that last for days on end.  These fevers were over before the first day was out.”  She lowered her eyes.  “All, including my Brenna, had their fevers gone by the time the men had returned from the fields.”

Which certainly made it look like they were just playing hookey.

“Caitlin,” I said, “where is your daughter today?”

“Brenna is apprentice to Aliss, the town dressmaker.  She be at the shop until mid day.”

“I would like to speak with her,” I said.  “Is it all right with you if I wait until she returns?”

“Nay, ye be welcome to sit here,” she said.  “I have chores that need a doin’, but ye can bide here.”

I considered whether I wanted to sit and wait or make myself useful.  “Is there anything I can help you with?” I offered.  “It will make the time pass quickly.”

Once Caitlin realized I was serious, she happily accepted my offer of help.   I finished churning the butter while she rinsed and wrung out the clothes and bed linens she had been laundering, and then we both went outside to hang them on the lines strung between the house and the trees.  I could easily hear the voices of the two boys, still upstairs, playing in her son’s room.

As we hung up the laundry, Caitlin told me a bit about the history of the village.   Holingsworth had been founded about a hundred years before, when three families from Waalfort felt their community was getting too large, and wanted something more rural.  Caitlin herself was directly descended from one of the families that originally settled here; it seems that the good people at Waalfort did not take their departure well, and there had been a bitter rivalry between the two villages from the beginning.  That seemed to explain her anger at the possibility that I was in “league” with the town of Waalfort. 

Just as we finished with the laundry, the back door to the house opened and a young girl looked out at  us.  Caitlin looked up.  “Ah, there ye be, Brenna.  Into the house with ye.  The Lady here has come to speak to you, so she has.”

Brenna looked at me warily, but went inside obediently enough.  I followed her mother into the kitchen, where Brenna stood uneasily by the hearth.

“I’ll busy meself with preparin’ some food,” Caitlin said.  “Lady, will you take your noon meal with us?  I would be honored.  We will have fresh salad and cold goose.”

“I would love to eat with you, Caitlin,” I said. 

“While I am busy here, you and Brenna can speak in the sitting room.   Brenna, girl,” here she caught her daughter with a look that only a mother can give, “ye be tellin’ her the truth, now, ye hear me?”

Brenna nodded, and reluctantly followed me into the sitting room.  I sat in the same chair I had sat in before.

“Brenna, please,” I said, gesturing to the chair Caitlin had originally claimed, “sit down.  Do not be scared of me.”

She did so, rather slowly, and looked up at me rather sulkily.  “What is it they say I be doin’, Lady?” she asked in a low voice.

“I am sorry,” I said, “but I am not sure I understand.  I have not accused you of anything, nor do I intend to.  I have come to ask you a few questions.”

“About what, Lady?”

“You were taken ill a couple of weeks ago, were you not?”

She looked scared, but did not reply.  After a moment or two, she gave a quick, jerky nod.

“I understand that there are some in this town who have said you were not really ill, that you and the others were just making it up, and you were lazy and idle.”

She looked down.  “’Tis true,” she said.  “Many in the village said so.”

“But that is not true, is it?” I asked gently.  “You were not lazy, nor were the others.  Am I right?”

To my surprise, her head jerked up, her eyes wide and panicked.  She looked ready to bolt. 

“Brenna,” I said, hoping to calm her, “just relax.  I am not accusing you.  My colleague and I think you actually were sick, and not just faking.  I am trying to figure out what illness you may have had, how you contracted it, and how to keep others from getting it.”

She seemed to relax a bit, but still was not offering up any good information.  Her reaction seemed similar to her mother’s – but instead of anger, she had fear and panic.  I decided to push her a little bit more. 

“So, Brenna, I need you to tell me about your symptoms: how you felt, when they started, when they ended, and what was happening the day before you got sick.”

She licked her lips, and finally started to speak in a low voice.  “I had gone with some others to the water meadows, to pick rushes and herbs.   It were mornin’ two days later that I felt ill.”

“What were your symptoms?” I pressed.  “Did you have a fever?  Did you feel sick to your stomach?”

She took a deep breath.  “It started before mornin’,” she said quietly.  “I remember feeling… like I was dizzy.  I were feelin’ very hot, and I tried to push me blanket off, but I could nae do it.  I could nae move at all.  I were very scared.”

“Did you call out to your mother or father?” I asked.

“Nay, Lady,” she admitted.  “I… I hoped it would end quickly, and so I waited.”

“What happened when your mother came into your room the next morning?”

“She come in, and see me a layin’ in the bed, an’ when she saw plain that I were ill jus’ like Darby and Niall, she start a yellin’ and callin’ me names.”

“How long was she angry with you?  Did she ever realize that you really were sick?”

She shook her head.  “I do nae know,” she answered.  “I felt… I was nae able to… to tell… I were so dizzy and confused.”

I felt pity for the young woman in front of me.  It seemed apparent that she had somehow managed to pick up some random, short duration virus, and then be accused of lying and (essentially) cheating or stealing – and by her own mother, none the less!  What she needed was a good therapist to help her through the trauma; but she was unlikely to find that here.  All she had was me.  I had to uncover the truth.

“That must have been terrible for you,” I said, reaching over to pat her knee gently.  “To be so sick, and not have your own mother believe you.”

“She might have,” she said timidly, “if Niall and Darby had not been ill the day before.”

“Perhaps,” I said.  “Tell me more,” I urged her.  “When did you start to feel better?”

She shrugged.  “’Tis hard to say,” she admitted.  “I could nae tell the time of day.  I do remember Ma comin’ in to try to get me to take some soup; I think by then she really did think I were sick.”

“Were you able to eat anything?”  I was looking for signs of gastro intestinal upset.

She shook her head again.  “Nay, I were not hungry.  Not even at eventide, when Ma had supper on the table.”  She gave me a little sad smile.  “She had me favorite supper, so she did: hot pot pie and creamed potatoes.”

“You did not even want to eat your dinner?” I asked.  “You had no appetite?  Or did the thought of food make you feel ill?”

“I were not hungry,” she said, “so I dinnae eat.”  She gave a little pathetic laugh.  “Not even me favorite food.”

“How long was it before you felt… better?  Stronger?”

“I were able to get up and walk a bit around dusk,” she said.

“Can you remember when your fever broke?”  I asked, remembering that all of them improved before dinner time. 

“Maybe… I remember that I stopped sweating not long after noon, but then I were feelin’ very cold and shivery.”

That was probably all I was going to get out of her.  It seemed pretty straight forward: these kids were somehow susceptible to this virus, and they’re getting railroaded for it.  But there was still something a bit funny about the whole thing.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, though.    My gut was trying to tell me something… but what? 

Maybe I had not thoroughly investigated.  After all, this was just my first stop on a brand new world – there were still a dozen or so other communities to check out, not to mention the capitol city.  And I had spoken to  just two people out of all of the entire possible victims and witnesses in the town.  I really needed to not be making any judgement calls just yet.

I smiled at Brenna, who was still sitting stiffly in the chair.  She had calmed down a bit, but had not relaxed much.  “Well, Brenna, you have been very helpful,” I said.  “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”

“Do ye…” she started.  She hesitated, licked her lips again, and said, “Do ye think that it were just… we were just sick?”

“Well, I can’t prove that just yet, but it certainly does look like it could be.”

Brenna looked like she wanted to say something else to me, but at that moment, her mother appeared in the doorway.  “I have lunch ready for the both of ye,” she said.  “Have ye finished yer talk yet?”

I stood up.  “We have, Caitlin, and thank you.  Now I think I would like to have that lunch you have ready.”

Offline Silsin

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #53 on: Fri, Dec 18, 2015, 01:21 PM »
Ahh - lovely story so far! I surely love the way you are writing. I didn't realize how much I missed reading - I surely have to make more room for it!
Are you probably going to continue before next year November?

There is no reason not to follow your heart! Steve Jobs