The After Effects

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The Royal Horse

Rolling over, my hand brushed over the dagger I always kept under my pillow. A safety net, you could call it.

Now, most people would assume you to be crazy for keeping a dagger under your pillow whilst you sleep. And they're probably right. But for as many times that I've cut myself in my sleep, its also saved me.

When someones sneaking up on a sleeping girl they expect begging and crying, not a dagger to the throat, so it's inherently a smart idea.

I cracked my eye open and peered at the curtained window. No light shined through, instead, darkness was already settled outside.

Figuring I should go check on Ragnar, I slowly got out of my bed and dragged myself into the bathroom.

The bathroom was actually nice considering it had survived through the craziness that the Plague brought. A shower that could run cold water for close to five minutes and a toilet that was barely holding on filled most of the bathroom along with a sink.

A cracked mirror greeted me as I paused by the stained porcelain sink. Through the larger pieces, I was able to see the mess that I looked like. Red stained my hands, forearms, and chest while dirt coated every inch of me. My red hair, which was supposed to be braided, was filthy and knotted.

I peeled off my old and gross undergarments. Ugh I need new clothing and soon. I sighed while looking at the disgusting clothing.

Deciding that I needed to clean the clothing, I filled the sink as much as I could. Digging through my bag, I found an old bar of soap and threw it in the sink. Then I got all my clothes and put them in the sink. After some much-needed scrubbing, I let the clothes sit in the filthy brown water.

Before jumping in the shower, I set out my extra set of clothes that were hardly any better. I also searched through my bag to find a small travel size shampoo and conditioner along with another small bar of soap. I took my hair out of its braid as best as I could and got in the shower.

The cold water that the shower provided made me shiver, but I didn't want to waste precious time, so I immediately began scrubbing at my head.

My hands got stuck in the giant knot that was my hair, but I scrubbed as much as possible. Once done with that, I rubbed the soap bar all over me until it was as big as my fingernail.

The water cut out just as I finished washing my skin off. My body shivered again as I got out of the shower, the cold-causing goosebumps to spread all over my body.

After drying off with a provided washcloth, I put on my extra set of clothing. Dark washed jeans and a black-long sleeved shirt covered my body.

Once again, I found myself looking at myself in the mirror while I was brushing my hair out with an old hairbrush that I kept in my backpack. My pale skin was clean and dusted with freckles. My hair red because of its natural pigment, not because of some other organisms blood. A scar along my jaw bone caught my attention, although I've had it for three years I'm always a little shocked when I see it.

I paused as I stared at my left hip bone in the mirror. Although it was covered by my jeans and shirt, I still could picture what I knew was there. A beautifully inked tattoo that would always alert people of who I belong too. Scars across my back would always serve as a reminder too.

With my hair all brushed out, I decided to leave it down, instead of braid it.

I retrieved my old clothes from the sink and hung them up in the window, hoping they'd be dry when I return in a few hours.

Then after making sure my backpack was completely packed, excluding my drying clothes, I left my room and headed to the front desk of the Lodge.

"Lady Bjerke, I hope your stay was well." The women at the front desk greeted me as I descended the creaky stairwell.

"I'd like to pay for another night if that's okay," I said by way of greeting. This woman can talk for hours if I don't get straight to the point.

"Of course. Would you like to keep your key here for safekeeping?" She asked sweetly.

"Ah no. I think I can manage to keep track of it." I kept a polite look on my face, even though I was antsy to go see Ragnar. I dug in the secret pocket of my bag and pulled out seven coins for the lady.

A coin extra for her silence.

She noted the extra coin and nodded her head.

"Anyone particular?" She asked as she grabbed up the coins.

"The king." I huffed as I left the lobby of the lodge. If you could even call it a "lobby". A couple of torn leather chairs were positioned around the area along with an old piano that was only played for special occasions. A few tables were scattered around, the chairs thrown around the room haphazardly.

I looked back briefly to see the women staring incredulously at the extra coin, her jaw dropped. I chuckled as I left the lodge. Like she'd ever be able to talk to the king, let alone lie to him for me.

I made my way quickly through the gravel streets of Everest. The town was a lot quieter when the sun was down, at least it seemed like that on the surface.

I passed by the bar where loud singing and some scattered yelling could be heard. Besides the bar, most of the old buildings around the capital were dark. A few homes had their fireplaces going. The only light was from the few and far between street lamps that lined the gravel roads.

Main street started at the front gate and would lead you directly to the King's Castle. Yes, castle. Everest was built around the Castle hundred of years ago. Though some parts of Everest were added after the Plague hit eleven years ago, which were meant to help people. For example, the many farms that laid in and outside of the walls of Everest were built around eight years ago. Most of the solar panels that power the capital of the south are also in the farms. Others are scattered around the southern territory.

I turned off of the main street and picked up my pace a bit as the stables came into view. A street light was set up outside the huge barn doors that did well at lighting the paddock that the horses can run in during the day.

I opted to sneak into the barn through the smaller, human-sized door opposed to rolling back the massive barn doors.

The owners of the stable always keep the barn unlocked when Ragnar is here, because they know I sneak in to see him all the time. But for some reason, both of the doors were locked. I debated for a few seconds before the second-story window on the side of the barn caught my attention. My options were to pick the lock on the door or scale the building. And since I was feeling antsy and wanted the exercise, the choice was easy.

It looks like I'm climbing tonight.

Thanks to my years of climbing monster-sized, ancient, trees, I find scaling and climbing most stuff pretty easy.

Cracks in the wood of the barn made for easy foot holes and it took me barely two minutes to climb up the side of the stable. The window was, thankfully, unlocked and I easily climbed through it.

A small platform full of hay greeted my feet.

Ragnar whined a greeting as I climbed down the ladder and dropped two stalls away from his usual stall against the far wall of the barn. I made to go right to him, that was before another whiny caught my attention.

Ragnar huffed as I turned my attention from him and slowly circled around to face the rest of the barn.

I gasped as I saw another horse in the first stall of the barn. A pure white horse that had the fluffiest looking mane I had ever seen.

I ignored Ragnar's jealous stomp and approached the horse.

"Hey boy....girl?" I asked hesitantly before peering into the stall. "Definitely a girl." I grinned as I reached into the stall and pet her nose. "You're a beautiful creature."

The mare's beautiful dark eyes watched my every move. She sniffed my hand and, deeming me safe, stepped closer, pushing her nose more into my hand.

Ragnar kicked his stall and whined again. "You're fine, you big baby." I glared at him from across the barn. He huffed before turning around in his stall and ignoring me entirely.

I turned back to the mare and smiled. "I'm sorry you're stuck in here with him. Just ignore him, that's what I do.." I searched the mare's stall for signs of who her owner was. My eyes snagged on her bridal hanging up on the side of her stall.

A beautiful black bridle hung on the hook. Red gemstones decorated the headpiece and nose piece, making the bridle almost sparkle.

"Well, that answers that," I smirked at the horse. "You're a royal horse. You must be why the barn doors are locked." I tilted my head at the mare, who seemed to understand what I was saying just like Ragnar did.

I looked around her stall again and caught sight of something shiny lying in the bedding.

Glancing at the mare, I read her calm appearance, so as carefully as possible I opened the door to her stall and entered her area. Thankfully, she seemed completely cool with me. Not wanting my luck to change, I quickly made my way to the shiny thing laying in the bedding.

Bending over, I picked up a beautifully crafted royal ring.

The black obsidian of the ring was centered by a red ruby. The southern crest of a Celtic origin was branded on the inside of the ring and my heart increased as I thought of the value of this ring.

Why is a royal in the capital and not their precious castle?

I pocketed the ring and left the mare's stall. After leaving her with some goodbye pets, I turned and walked back to Ragnar's stall. Where he was still pretending to be ignoring me.

"If you're going to be like that, then I'll just leave." I threatened the stubborn stallion.

He huffed a dramatic sigh and turned around. I opened the door to his stall without any hesitation and he pushed his nose into my stomach.

"You're a brat you know that? This is the first horse we've had the chance to meet in at least a year and you're chasing her away." I petted the stallion as he snorted, keeping his nose pressed to my stomach like he always does when he wants attention.

I rolled my eyes at his behavior before finding a comfy corner in his stall to lie down in. Ragnar watched me lay down before he went back to munching on some hay.

Figuring the Royal Horse could keep Ragnar company well I catch up on some sleep, I slipped to sleep in the corner of the stall...


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