Lady Red vs The Great Beyond

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Chapter 3

Chapter III

As I set out on my adventure to find Papa, I had no idea where to start. The Lords would certainly give me sympathies, but I doubted they would offer any real help now that their Inquisitors had declared Papa dead. I decided to keep heading north, away from the Landing, until I got off our little peninsula and into Angland proper. Maybe there I would find some fate or else make some for myself.

Travel was never easy. The Lords were supposed to be responsible for keeping the roads free from highwaymen and bastard bandits, but a lone woman riding as fine a horse as Master was bound to draw the wrong kind of attention. I stuck to the major road and tried to tag along with any merchant caravans or traders; safety in numbers and all that. The main roads were usually clear; some places had dirt tracks that were worn down to the broken concrete rock, which used to serve as roads a thousand years ago. Papa said that way back when, people used to ride in autocarts down smooth roads made of ashfault. He said the roads were very tiny cobblestones; all mashed together and rolled flat to make a smooth surface and those autocarts could drive three or four times the speed of a fast horse. I never called him on his history because there was no way to disprove it. If he was a liar, he was a clever one.

I’ve seen the old hulks of autocarts in the forests and cart roads all over Angland. Why, Ginny and I found one that was just perfect for making into a little fort when we were younger. Ginny dressed it up and we even camped in it during the summer. There were thousands and thousands littering the highways and the smaller kept roads. Most were rusty hunks of garbage if you ask me, but Papa admired them. He showed me pictures on a paper book he called a periodical that he kept in a glass cabinet in his den. It was very old and yellowed, but much of the colour was intact. On the cover it showed a picture of a girl with a huge snake tattoo up her leg—a very unlady-like display of whorishness, said Mama, but I liked it. She was standing next to, and partly overtop of, a bright blue autocart that had white stripes down its middle and a big chunk of shiny metal right in the middle of its hood. Papa read some of the words on it and he said the autocart was called a Mustang, but I could read none of it; the letters made my head hurt.

Now a mustang is a horse, but Papa said it was always a horse and the autocart was named after it. I was glad the horse outlasted the autocart, but I tried my best to take an interest in the periodical. Papa was so curious about the machine and how it worked; he was curious about every kind of machine, even though they were forbidden.

I kept running through our old trips in my head, looking for some clue; someone he mentioned or some safe place he spoke of where I might start my search. Unfortunately, the stories I recalled best were the ones where I got into trouble and Papa fetched me out of it. There were many, many of those.

I'd never been alone on a trip before and my time was dominated by feelings of loneliness and fear. For the first few days, I didn't see hide nor hair of any living soul. I almost forgot what a human face looked like and the worst part was, at first, I had no idea where I was going. Not only did I have no particular destination, but I hadn't thought to bring a map so I didn't even know where I was in Angland, hardly.

I don't mean I was afraid of what I might meet. I wasn't, mostly. But I had left the Landing out of fear. A fear that I would be exiled for shooting Billy, a fear that my papa was somewhere and needed me to rescue him, and a fear that I would have to go through life without him. That thought buzzed around me as I rode. Like a horsefly it would land and sting me and I would feel the ache of loneliness again. Then it would take off and leave me be, only to land again when I least expected it. When I would reminisce, it always made me feel sad, but for some reason I did it anyways, and often. I would sometimes try and think about the saddest thing I possibly could. I would imagine that I would take a boat to the Beyond and battle scores of lawless brutes, only to find my papa strung up by his skin in some tree. I would cry and wail and bury him in some foreign hole and cover him with foreign dirt. Then I would get all sad and choke up and heave once or twice before the image would disappear from my mind. Now, why would I think of something like that?

To keep myself distracted, I worked out a little routine that Papa and I used to do when we took trips together. Papa is a thin man, but Gods did he have an appetite. We woke up each morning at dawn and he would cook up bacon, and the smell of it mixed with camp smoke always reminded me of him and those mornings.

We’d break camp and ride all morning and Papa would gab away about the Old World: about science and religion and the Old Gods and such. He was very smart. We’d stop for lunch and let the horses graze. We’d pick berries for our meal and Papa would make me recite the names of the berries before picking them so I would know not to eat the poison ones. S. Gigantus anglandus, for instance, was a large, red berry with a bright white seed, and if you ate it you would have diarrhea for a week; important stuff for a young lady to know.

After lunch we’d ride for a couple of hours in the afternoon before stopping to make camp. Papa hated to press the horses more than this. They probably could have gone on ‘till nightfall, but he truly cared about his animals. His favourite was a roan mare named Tinker. She was awkward and bony, but he still loved her. He loved every kind of working animal. They'd graze and we'd eat and wait for the stars to show. Papa loved the stars. He would point out the shapes they made: great beasts, animals, hunters, kings, queens, gods, and devils and tell me their legends. I can still name fifty or more, but the stories of how they became enshrined in the sky have escaped my memory.

So I stuck to the routine. Morning to night, keeping occupied. I reckon, like a horse swings his tail without thinking, keeping a routine helped me keep my own horse-fly away.

A quarter league from my first town, Gatewater, I was trailing a merchant caravan of three wagons loaded with farm tools, ploughs, barrels of salt, and the like. The caravan was led by a man named Nault who asked a lot of questions. I kept my hat low and my coat buttoned over my gun, just in case anyone got nosy. Nault had a slim guard of two men and told me he was happy to have the extra body along. Nault’s guards eyed me without shame and made me re-think my decision to cover my gun. Fortunately, we rode together for only half a day. Nault was a decent man with a happy disposition. He chattered on about farming and the various implements related thereto. He was absolutely ecstatic about ploughs and he said he had just bought three from a town in the north and was delivering them to Gatewater, Westchurch, and beyond. He told me, if I wished, he would have a word with the master of the Wounded Hound in Gatewater and he was certain I could get a free night or two. I politely declined and I was glad when the town finally came into view.

As we rode up to the place, there was a wooden palisade with a small gate. This sort of fortification was only for bigger towns. The Landing had no walls, no gate, no nothing protecting us from outsiders. Papa said if a threat came from the sea we'd go inland, and if it came from the land, we'd go to the sea. As I marveled at the pointed logs lining the wall, the diurnus custos, the day keeper, out front hollered, “Hullo! Mortalis es?”

“Mortalis sum!” cried Nault, giving the traditional response. This manner of asking whether a stranger is mortal is common in Angland. There’s the belief that a copperhead cannot answer that he is mortal, but instead must give the truth that he is a copperhead. Papa said that it was just a silly superstition, but superstition gave people a 'fool's comfort'.

When we got to the gates we were greeted by three custos, armed with spears and dressed in plastick armour covered with yellow frocks. They stopped the caravans for a standard artifact inspection. Caravans were always ripe pickings for the inspectors as they often carried goods from far-flung places. Any new device, invention, food or good that was ever made or dreamt of had to go through the Lord's Council for approval, and nothing was ever approved. This meant there was money to be made in the underground Tech market.

Nault half-fell from his seat on the lead wagon and rambled out a big speech about loving the Lords and obeying their perfect laws. I began to sweat as I suddenly realized I was carrying a pretty big piece of Tech strapped to my chest. How could I have been so stupid? I thought. I was heiress to the Governorship of Hudson’s Landing, but this was not Hudson’s Landing and the custos would never believe that Governor Stanton’s daughter would be out travelling all on her lonesome. I shifted in my saddle and Master shifted underneath me, feeling my nerves. Two of the town custos began searching Nault’s caravan, poking around in the back of his wagons. The third, the man who had called out, turned toward me and asked, “Miss? Been with this caravan long?”

“No, sir. Just the day, sir.” I replied.

“Any Tech on yer person?” he asked, reaching for Master’s bridle. He said Tech by pronouncing the ch together, which sounded funny to me.

“No, sir.” I said, keeping my hat low and not looking at him in the eyes.

“Mortalis es?” he asked in a friendly manner. That gun felt like it was sticking ten feet out in front of me. He can’t miss it!

“Yes, quite, sir.” I tried to say, but my tongue was a snake in a desert and I only croaked an answer. The guard smiled up at me and gripped his spear tightly with his big right hand.

“It’s a fine day to be wearing such a heavy coat, Miss. Is there something under there you don’t want me seein'?” He had such a big smile and I thought he was being the fool; he must have known what I was hiding and was toying with me.

“No, sir.” I managed. “Just my journal. I want to keep it out of the sun.”

“Let’s have a look then.” He reached up for my arm.

A thundering voice from behind drew the man's attention away. “Hey! What’s this?" Followed by a, "Sergeant! Come take a look at this!”

My guard gave me a wink and said, “Be right back,” before he walked to the back of Nault’s rear caravan. I overheard Nault pleading in a high voice with the sergeant.

“It’s just a new type of buckle, sir.” Said Nault.

“Well, if we ain’t seen it before then the Governor will have to look at it.” The sergeant calmly replied.

“But it’s the same old plough! This way the straps won’t rub and break so easily!” Nault whined.

The sergeant calmed his voice and quieted Nault and I could no longer hear their voices. A few moments later the sergeant emerged and again strode up to me. He wore the same wide smile with his crooked teeth on display.

“Now dear, where were we?” He deftly poked open my coat with the tip of his spear, revealing my leather journal tucked up against my chest. It slid down my lap and I caught it. He looked up at me a little dumbfounded as I passed it to him and he opened the journal to its creamy blank pages.

“It’s empty.” He said, chuckling. “Haven’t been on the road long, eh?”

“I keep meaning to start.”

“Well, when the time’s right, you’ll know.” I actually began to like him for his insight. The philosopher custos.

As he waved the gates open and I began to ride away, I dared not turn around for I was certain it would have given away the tremendous bulge that now sat squarely in the center of my back.

I chose to wait for Nault at the Wounded Hound where he had arranged two rooms for himself and his guards. He came in looking haggard and shaking his head. The custos had confiscated his ploughs, he said, but it could have been worse. True to his word he spoke with the master about a room for me, but the inn was full, so I was out-of-luck. Nault suggested that I share a room with them, but I had no interest in sharing a room with any of the broncos that travelled with him. That was no place for a lady. Instead, I found a stable that would keep Master for the night, for a good price, and I figured I’d just sleep there. When we got there, I hid the Professor in the straw, but I decided to keep Prick slung over my back. Most people carried a sword or a long dagger, just as a tool or for self-defence, and it wouldn’t bother the locals to see a young woman with a sword. I whispered for Master to protect my gun and he nickered a reply as I tossed him a couple forkfuls of hay and set out.

I wanted to see this little town to figure out if Papa had passed this way. The local Governor would know, but meeting him would be tricky without arousing a heap of suspicion. I was naïve to the worst dangers, of course, being as young as I was. I figured the biggest danger was someone finding my gun and charging me with harbouring Tech. Turns out, there were much worse dangers for a young lady with no friends in a small town.

I tried the saloon, which was the biggest and busiest building in town, and it was also right next to the stable. It was a two-storey building with an old barn door on the side that acted as the front entry; the whole thing was oak and well-kept. Inside, someone was playing a guitar and the music was very slow and sad. I peered in one of the windows and saw that it was open. I bet half of Hudson's Landing could have fit into it. There was more than one poker table and one long bar across the back, and about a hundred heads on the wall above the bar: a snarling wulf (which gave me a shiver), a gray boar, two cougars, a morse, and a few I didn't recognize. Most people don't hunt morse since it's basically a docile horse with horns. The crown of the collection was a worbear head that was so massive it was used as the entrance to the kitchen. The bartender didn't even have to duck to pass through its gaping mouth and easily strode between the great tusks that flanked its jaws. Papa said he met just one worbear and it was the only thing that ever scared him. Of course, he was just foolin’, nothing scared Papa.

After standing outside for a few minutes, trying to look casual, I finally summoned the courage to walk in. I tried to do it quietly, but that door wanted oil and it screamed like a pair of bats was stuck in its hinges. Everyone stopped and looked over at me as blood rushed to my face while the guitar player continued on; his eyes closed and lost in his song. I pulled my hat down and strode as quickly as I could to the bar.

I found a stool at the far end that was next to a large man whose back was hunched over so much that his coal-coloured beard touched the top of his mug. He stared so intensely at his mug of pink water that he didn't notice me sit down. The bartender, who resembled a rat, and who I named in my head as the Rat, gave me a smile and asked if I would like the house special.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a secret recipe Miss, but one you shan’t forget.” He replied.

Now, I did not want to seem out-of-place, so I was about to nod my acceptance of the Rat’s offer, but just as I opened my mouth the big man beside me spoke up.

“I wouldn’t if I was you.” He had a very practiced accent that sounded regal and upper class.

Both the Rat and I turned to him; the Rat stared down at him with an annoyed expression. “Come on Bernard, it was just a joke. I wouldn’t have served it to her.”

I sat in silence, looking one to the next between the Rat and Bernard. Finally, Bernard leaned over to me and said, “If you drink the special, you’ll be on the floor in three sips. No one can drink a whole glass and stay awake.” He turned to the barkeep and said, “Bring her wine, watered, and don’t muss around.”

“How does he get customers with that nonsense?” I asked Bernard when the Rat had left.

“This town is not particularly friendly to outsiders, especially young ones with inexperience in their eyes.” Though he spoke gently, his deep voice made him sound severe.

“I’ll cut that rat’s throat!” I said. Bernard began to quietly vibrate before chuckling, and then he began to laugh deep and long. I flushed again, this time with anger.

“I could do it!”

“Oh lass, I have no doubt that you could, no doubt at all.” He winked at me and I found myself smiling despite my anger. “You could take the barkeep’s head clean off with that dagger on your back.” He leaned in close and whispered, “But probably not the best idea.” And he laughed again, as loud as he did before, but now I was laughing too.

The Rat returned with my wine and I sneered at him, which Bernard must have liked since he produced a quint and paid the barkeep for my drink, but only after promising to let me buy the next round. I tried my best to befriend Bernard. I was desperate for someone to cling to and he had already saved me one headache and possibly more, especially if I had passed out and been robbed… or worse.

Bernard Garrett, as he introduced himself, was the local beekeeper and wax merchant. He had an apiary of several hives and produced the finest honey in the region, as well as the firmest wax for candlesticks. Bernard had quite an affinity for the little insects and he told me all about them as we shared a bottle of wine. He claimed, though I didn’t believe him, that he had never used cloth to keep the bees away, as was the manner of the apiary in Hudson’s Landing. He said he only used smoke and soft movements, which I giggled at because imagining this big, bearded man with the deep voice doing a bee dance with a torch in his hand seemed ridiculous.

Bernard had a wife and three grown children. His wife was a seamstress and he showed me a little wallet she made; leather with small stitches that had a little pattern of a bee and a sword on it. The bee was obvious; the sword, he said, represented his two eldest sons who served in the 1st Coventry Regiment of the Lord’s Army. He seemed immensely proud of that fact and beamed with glazy eyes when talking about his boys. The third son, he said, he could not solve.

“He’s about your age.” He said.

“And what makes you puzzle over him?” I didn’t know that I was being forward. We were into our third cup of wine and I was feeling light-headed and unencumbered.

“Well, he takes after his mother. He is old enough to take a job in town or the army, or he could come on full-time at the hive, but he’s a dreamer. He spends his time reading books about anything. At first, I tried to help him along, but books are bloody expensive and I can’t afford to buy more than one or two a year.”

I almost piped up about Papa’s enormous library, but I thought better of it as it was sort of a family secret. I felt a little sad, thinking of home, and thinking about how Bernard’s son would probably die if he saw all of Papa's books. I never read more than two or three of them without being told to, and of those only the action ones. In all honesty, Ginny and I sometimes read the dirty one’s too, but just a couple.

“I feel guilty, wishing that he was more like his brothers.” Bernard played with the handle of his cup as he spoke.

“I don’t have any brothers or sisters.” I said.

“No? My brothers are pricks.” He laughed again, deep and clear. I laughed along, helped by the wine and my own nervousness. It felt good. It had been a long time since that sound left my lips.

“So," he barked, "where are your parents?”

I looked at him for a second, probably with a dumb look on my face, and stuttered something under my breath.

“Yes, I figured as much.” He lowered his voice. “Runaway?”

It must have been the wine, but suddenly I blurted out my entire story inside of half a minute; about how Papa was Governor and had disappeared and I had shot a boy, probably no older than his younger son, and how I fled. How I was trying to find Papa and I had no idea where to start and almost no money, and I had Papa's gun hidden in the hay next door and I was certain that the Lord’s Inquisition was after me and probably the custos too.

“Slow down lass, slow down!” he said and I shut up. “When you leave here, go gather your horse and tell the stable master to put it on my tab. He’s a friend. Then ride up the hill towards the cemetery and wait for me there.”

My mouth had decided to trust this man before my brain could mull it over, so if he planned on turning me over to the town watch for having a gun, or if he called the Inquisitors for shooting Billy Brown, well, I was all-in now.

I fished for a couple of quints in my pouch to pay for the wine, but Bernard put his hand out and said, “Don’t bother.” Then he leaned in and whispered, “Besides, if you’re really a governess I want you to be indebted to me.” He gave me a smile and raised his eyebrows, and I wondered if that was a look all Father's possessed; one that said how did you get yourself in this much trouble.

I thanked him and I excused myself loudly and awkwardly. I cut a poor schemer, that was certain, but Bernard thanked me graciously for the wine and company as I made my way out those awful screeching doors.

I tried to settle up with the stable master, who refused to charge me without any mention of Bernard. I was very eager to get into the stall to make sure my gun was still there, but the stable boy was mucking out the other empty stalls and I had to busy myself tacking Master. When that was done and the stable master was still there, I started checking Master over for ticks. I fidgeted in his coat for a time and kept looking over my shoulder. Finally, when I was back to Master’s haunches for a third time, the stable master wished me a good evening and left, asking that I lock up after him.

Eagerly, I fell into the hay and threw it aside. The Professor was right where I left him and I heaved a sigh of relief, clutching him to my breast. I stood up and swung the belt back over my shoulder and told Master it was time to leave. He looked at me, bored, and nudged my hat off my head. I gave him a little smack on his nose, which he ignored, and I led him out into the gathering darkness. I swung myself up onto his back and then fixed my hat back onto my head. My hair was getting greasy and tangled with the last couple of days riding and I hadn’t thought to bring a hairbrush. What kind of lady leaves home forever and doesn’t bring a hairbrush? I thought.

I quietly rode from town towards the hill that Bernard mentioned. I could hardly make out the cemetery as the sky was dusky gray and the world had lost its colour. I rode with my pack sitting in front of me to obscure my gun, which was a mistake, as I had no access to it when I was suddenly, and cowardly, smacked from behind with the shaft of a spear.

The blow knocked me forward and I tumbled out of my saddle, landing flat on my chest with a grunt. I recall straining to look up and I saw Master stare down at me with a puzzled expression. My head was singing and I rolled over onto my butt. I tried to extricate myself from my pack and jacket, flinging mud and limbs about, but no sooner had I began when that same spear’s pointy end was jabbed near my face. In my confusion, instead of freezing like a proper person should, I tried to swat it away, which caused the spear holder to curse, and he said, to some unknown person in the dim gray light, “Bind her up then. Be quick!”

At once there was a weight upon my shoulders and I went from seated to flat on my stomach again, this time with my face pressed down in the mud. I fought like hell, trying to swing my elbows back at my heartless attacker. I tried to reach for Prick or the Professor, but I had a hard time seeing and breathing with my face still square in the mud. Someone grabbed hold of my wrists and pulled hard as they tried to get them behind my back. I kept struggling, but I wasn’t strong enough. I hollered, but it came out like a toad’s bark from all the mud I had eaten.

I felt a rope wrap around my wrists as a heavy knee pressed into my back. I hollered again, “Cowards!” and didn’t recognize my own voice. I kept trying to wriggle free and I heard a thwack sound, like a melon cracking open, and the weight was suddenly off my back. I rolled over and found my hands were still bound behind me and my vision was all a messed up, but to my left lay a large form, unmoving. Two other forms were circling each other a few feet to my left and I pulled and pulled at those bonds, desperate to get out and fight. I tried to make out the shapes and one seemed familiar; a large man with an almighty sledgehammer who circled a smaller, hunched over man who was spitting through his teeth and jabbing a spear here and there towards the man with the hammer.

The spear feigned low and struck out, thrusting, and the hammer parried too late. The man howled and grabbed at the spear, stuck deep in his right shoulder. He tried to raise the hammer with his bad arm and only made it halfway. The spear was wrenched free and drawn back to strike home, leaving the wounded man utterly defenceless.

One moment the wounded man, my saviour, was as good as dead. In the next, my hands were free and an instant later there was a crash and an echo of gun-thunder rolled up the hill and over the town, echoing back in pulses of sound. The spear man arched his back in a horrible spasm as his limbs flailed over his head. He tried to reach the middle of his back where my bullet had entered and turned in stutter steps, facing me with wild, terrified eyes. He spat blood in a jet towards me, trying to say something. I cocked the Professor again with my thumb and aimed it, waiting to see if he would realize he was dead. For several seconds we stared at the man, Bernard and me, not knowing what to do. The man stared back at me, then through me, as his eyes became vacant and rolled back into his head like a horse in mortal terror, and he pitched forward and died with a shake in his legs. Death is terrifying and ugly, and I had never been so frightened in my life.

Rain began to fall, not the slow droplets of a normal summer shower, but with the sudden intensity of an all-out downpour. I looked away from the dead man to my right and saw that large man, the man who bound me, lay before me with his head split open. It could have been the rain, my blurred vision, or the sudden shock of barely escaping a ravishing and murder, but I swear the inside of that man’s head was a jumble of wires. It was the queerest thing I had ever seen and it gave me great pause. Bernard ambled over, dragging his hammer with his bad arm while pushing on his wound with his good hand. I came to and pointed at the dead man’s broken head.

“Can I keep it?” I asked Bernard, but he only reached down with a bloody hand and pulled me up out of the mud.

“We must quit this place immediately, my dear.” He whispered.

I must have looked at him like he was a half-wit because he shook me and repeated, “Lady Samantha, get on your horse, you must fly!”

Master wandered over and sniffed at the dead man with the broken head and I ambled over, not watching where my feet were going and I stepped right on the dead man’s crown. I felt it crack and give way, and I uttered something like, “Whoops,” but it didn’t feel quite appropriate.

“Up you go, Lady Samantha,” and Bernard gave me a boost as I mounted Master. He then turned to Master and said, “Up the hill to the cemetery.”

Why is he speaking to my horse? I thought, but he slapped Master on the rump and we took off like a shot. I wasn’t prepared and barely had time to grab the pommel and lean into the gallop as my horse and I fled my second murder scene. The rain was torrential and I was all over soaked as Master wound his way into the woods, towards the hill that bore the cemetery and my meeting place with Bernard. I finally recovered my faculties and I began to feel a dull pang in my guts, deep down in a place you can’t grab when it hurts. I pulled at Master’s reigns and he skittered to a stop on the muddy road. Had I any wits at all, I would have never left my friend behind. Now, I’m no hero, and I did not weigh the dangers at the time as I was filled with fear, but a new feeling gripped me like my old nightmares of Billy Brown. A feeling that I would return to find the poor bee man, who took a spear for a girl he barely knew, face down in the mud, dead for want of blood or set upon the by the friends of my attackers.

I imagine that a hero is someone who makes the right choice in the face of danger. I always seem to do the right thing, but usually it takes me a few minutes to gather up the courage; courage born of the fear that if I take no action, I will regret it forever. That is courage as men mean it.

I slowed Master as we turned back and rounded the bend before town. The gates were open and I wondered why they were not closed at nightfall. There, just ahead of the gates, were two dark lumps, lying still, but no sign of Bernard. The rain was so heavy I could barely keep my eyes open and Master stepped up and down, angry about his hooves being sucked into the mud. I could hear nothing over the rush of the driving rain and the huff of Master’s breath. I crept him forward and heard voices around the side of the gate. Someone was yelling, but it came through the storm as whispers.

I slipped my hand into my coat and gripped the heavy butt of my gun as we leaned and peered around the corner of the gate. There was a heap of clothes in the dark mud that I scarcely recognized as Bernard and a tall figure in a custos' yellow frock, standing over him with a spear and yelling something I couldn’t make out. I unsnapped my gun and was getting ready to skin it should the custos draw back to deal a killing blow.

“Don’t miss.” I whispered to myself.

To my right, from the main street of town, I saw shadowy movements. Spear tips gleamed in the torchlight and I knew the custos were coming. I had no wish to meet them; knowing that their trials were brief and justice short anywhere in Angland. Most nocturni custos were drunk and were more likely to kill first and ask questions second. The custos’ ran closer and I could make out the lead guard; the old sergeant who I met at the gate. I had no time and only five rounds as there were a dozen or more men.

I kicked Master as hard as I could and he leapt forward, straight for the custos standing over Bernard. Master covered the distance in only a few seconds and the guard popped his head up with a look of shock; he did not have enough time to raise his spear at me or my horse. Master crashed into him and he tumbled backwards into the brush and lay snoring.

I leapt from my saddle and grabbed Bernard by his coat. I tugged hard, but he was a big man and he was not overly helpful. I yelled his name and told him we must fly, but he barely moved and I feared the worst. Suddenly, he spun and swung a little dagger with such speed that I had no time to react. It slashed an arc close to my face, but I didn’t feel it touch me. Bernard looked wild and mean for a moment and then recognized me and grabbed my arm.

“Begging your pardon, Lady Stanton!” he cried. With the rain pouring down, making talk difficult, I told him more men were coming and that we must make haste. He nodded with difficulty and I helped him up. His shoulder was a mass of clotted blood and his arm hung useless and swung with the movement of his body. It was unnerving to look at, but I helped him as he threw his leg over Master’s saddle with surprising dexterity. I leapt up behind him and Master took off like a shot, out of the gates, and not a moment too soon. A spear flew by me on the right and crashed into the underbrush. An arrow struck one of my saddlebags and another clattered off my sword on my back. I felt the impact, but I felt no pain, so I knew the arrow hadn’t penetrated. As we rode, the custos slowed behind us, unable to keep up and not willing to waste more arrows at such a distant and fast moving target.

We rode like that for perhaps an hour. Master kept up a steady run, snorting hard and breathing through his mouth, which was a sign that he was almost run out. Many horses’ hearts give out if they ride past their limit, and I tried to reach around Bernard for the reigns, yelling that Master needed to stop. Bernard pulled up on the reigns and Master slowed to a walk. The bee man reached forward gave Master a hard slap on his neck and petted him nicely. He was an expert rider, and I found out later that he spent his youth breaking horses for his uncle before getting into the bee business.

I was getting so sleepy and I wondered if such exhaustion always followed after a battle. The great armies of Lords must fight in the morning and then sleep through the next week.

“We’re here,” he said, and I thought his voice sounded rough and far away. I couldn’t tell where here was as it was so dark, and though the rain had let up the moon was obscured behind the clouds and the world was black—too black. Turns out that it was me and not the world that went black, for I remember only flashes of what happened next.

I remember Bernard yelling and me not being able to answer him, even though I wanted to. I remember the sensation of being lifted and jostled and Bernard yelling again, though this time not at me. Then blackness.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.