“So long as the ring is never crossed, Haven remains the safest place for us.” Instructor Weiss was saying.
Morwenna lurked at the back of the group, along with the other chaperones. Her younger sister, Alice, stood at the front, watching Instructor Weiss with wide eyes, like all the other eight year-olds.
Safe so long as you ignore what goes on in the dead of the night. The thought rose in Morwenna’s mind, unwanted and uninvited.
“Touch the stones if you’d like,” Instructor Weiss said. “Careful not to reach beyond.”
Morwenna and the other chaperones came forward, watching the children closely to ensure none reached beyond the thick, smooth, grey stones. She joined her little sister in a crouching position, running her fingers over the segment of the ring. Trying to ignore the whispers of the forest beyond.
“Wen, what happens if we reach beyond?” Alice whispered.
Morwenna froze for a moment. “Nothing good, Aly. Better to not find out.”
Alice rested her head on her shoulder. “I don’t like it out here.”
“Neither do I, Aly.” Morwenna said, ruffling her sister’s dark curls.
“Do you think that night guards get scared?” Alice asked.
“Everyone gets scared sometimes.” Morwenna said. “It’s just their job to be less scared.”
“I don’t want to be a night guard.” Alice said.
“Are you kidding? You’ll be a weaver for sure.” Morwenna snorted.
Me on the other hand…If I don’t find a profession or a husband soon it looks like I’ll end up a night guard. Or something equally distasteful.
“Come along children!” Instructor Weiss called.
Alice rose, and skipped back to the rest of the group. Morwenna followed more slowly, legs aching from crouching for so long. A blood-curdling shriek sounded from the woods.
Morwenna jumped, looking around wildly. The motion threw her off balance, and she slipped, flailing wildly for balance. She stared in mute horror at the stone she’d just shoved out of place.
She glanced around. Instructor Weiss and the other chaperones were hurriedly shepherding the children back to the center of the village, and the day guards had not yet arrived on the scene. No one was looking her way.
Morwenna reached over the barrier, and nudged the stone back into place. Heart hammering in her chest, she dashed after the group.
Fog blanketed Haven as night fell. Morwenna only caught a glimpse of it as she drew the thick curtains over all the windows. In the kitchen, Mama cooked porridge over a dying fire. Papa and Alice sat at the loom, carefully guiding new threads into the half-finished fabric, heedless of the growing dark.
“Morwenna, come help me set the table.” Mama called. The glossy dark curls she shared with Alice and Morwenna shone faintly in the firelight, deep-orange light trapped within their strands.
“I talked to Jess today.” Mama said as Morwenna placed the wooden bowls. “Apparently you ‘don’t fit the criteria of the day guard’.”
Morwenna stifled a sigh of relief. Hopefully this doesn’t mean being a night-guard is my future.
“I don’t know what I’ll do.” Mama sighed. “I’ve used up almost all my connections trying to find a profession for you.”
“Stop worrying so much, Lorie.” Papa called from the loom. “She’ll…”
“I’ll handle it.” Morwenna said. “Just quit worrying so much, both of you!”
Mama nodded wordlessly, and they sat down to eat.
Morwenna woke up, just past midnight she thought. She wasn’t sure why. Everything is fine. She was safe and warm under her pile of quilts, with Alice nestled next to her. No orange light bled through their thick curtains.
Everything is fine. Morwenna wriggled free of the nest, pulling off the topmost quilt as she went and wrapping it around herself. She unbolted the door.
Everything is fine. The frosty ground burned at her bare feet. From a few houses over, she heard the low hum of conversation, accompanied by dull torchlight.
Everything is fine. Morwenna peered around a corner. Behind a wall of night guards and elders, a corpse hung on the side of the house. Wormlike entrails dripped from a rip in its stomach. Blood glistened darkly in the torchlight.
Whatever had killed the woman on the wall…still lurked within Haven…
Morwenna fled back to her home, bolting the door behind her. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. She crawled back into bed, snuggling back up to her little sister.
Everything is fine, she told herself, as she drifted back into sleep.
Fists hammered at the door. Once. Twice.
Papa stirred in the other room. She could hear him scrabbling for his club as he stumbled to the door. Morwenna snuggled deeper into the quilts, and squeezed her eyes shut.
Low voices spoke in the other room, but Morwenna couldn’t make out what was being said. She didn’t want to know.
The door banged shut.