Acharius - In My Trap and a Track
Merwood, Dread Hideout
“Ye’ve an awful look on yer face. As though ye need some ale.” Mardichi offered Acharius the alehorn. The very familiar alehorn. Acharius noted the jeweled inlay.
Good that he still has it.
“What you drink is not ale.” Acharius gave him a withering look.
“That,” Mardichi turned up his nose. “is a matter of opinion.”
No, it’s not. Acharius turned again, tilting his large head to listen.
“What are ye listening for?”
“Not for. To.” Acharius corrected.
“I hear nothing.”
“Because you’re too busy talking.”
“Generally!” Mardichi lifted his alehorn as though to toast the comment. Freezing when he caught the faint whispering of a little girl’s voice. “What in the devil is that?”
“I’d gathered it was a wee bairn. But what in Ardae is she doing out here?”
“She’s living with the women.”
Mags and Agatha.
“Yer Old bawdys?”
They’re not bawdies.
“My friends, yes.” He corrected.
“Poor wee Dear!” Mardichi proclaimed.
“They’ll take care of her.”
“They’ll raise her for a convent. They’re sad, lonely women who need men in their lives.”
“You think every woman needs a man in their life!” Acharius gave him a blue-eyed glower.
“Only if I’m the man!” He declared with a cheeky grin. “Every woman should have me in their life!”
The Hell they should.
“How much of that have you had to drink?” Acharius gave a half-smile at the idiocy of that thought.
Mardichi turned it to look at it. Frowning in confusion. “Not nearly enough…I’d wager…”
“You’re a drunkard.”
“But damn fun to be around.” He pointed out.
“No. You’re not.”
Mardichi gave a slight shrug. “That too, is a matter of opinion. I’d stay away from that girl. Little girls are nothing but trouble.”
“What if she’s in trouble.”
“Then your old bawdys will care for her. They’re plenty vicious. Recall tha’ day they wouldna lemme in the house? I asked plenty nice and they…” He gave a low whistle.
Acharius smiled fondly at the memory. “They were quite ready to fell you.”
“I think they may’ve tried, too!” His voice rose slightly as he responded to Acharius’ comment regarding them killing Mardichi with the tiny daggers they’d wielded.
“You were demanding to know if they had drink in the House.” Acharius defended.
“Twas a fair question…It’d been a long morning.”
And night, I’d bet.
“They thought you were a thief.” Acharius commented. “Shouldn’t you be out strolling Mane Country for cimmerii?”
“Ye mean hunting?”
Acharius nodded absentmindedly. If that’s what you call it when you’re too drunk to swat a beetle.
“Of course, I should be. But I killed a fair number last sennight and deserved me a warrior’s drink.”
All seven nights?
“That there is horse piss.” Acharius nodded disgustedly to the alehorn. Catching the stagnant whiff from where he was.
“And fine horse piss, ’tis.” Mardichi said cheerfully before partaking of another liberal sip before Acharius bid him rise and chased him from the caves.
“Ye should go live with those old bawdys. Ye’re practically one already!” Mardichi grumbled as he lumbered out.
Acharius strode Merwood, examining his traps. When inspecting one nearest the House, he glimpsed a familiar spined tail protruding from the big leaves of a bush. His heart sunk.
No…He prayed. But he lifted the leaves over it, and his fears were confirmed. A cimmerii noni.
Radix’s rodent was dead in the trap, smashed under a strung boulder. Damn it all to hell. He drew close to study the thing.
Why so near to the house? Are cimmerii hunting the women…Or the child.
I’ll have to stay close until I know what they’re after. Especially at night, when cimmerii favor hunting. He felt the same settling in his chest as when he’d looked at the two dark eyed girls all those years ago. Two girls which grew into the sweet old women living in Meredith now.
Drawing near the house, he sat out front. Near the gate. Hearing the girl’s whispering from the North side of the house. The voice stopped.
He realized grass turned green. The moonlight was brown on the wooden fence and tree leaves near him were dark green.
She’s close. She’s coming out. He retreated around front and leapt into a tree, catching the branch and hefting himself up. It was a warm spring night. Trees dripping with an earlier rain and mist.
She passed below him. Stepping tentatively across the grass in the direction of the front gate.
“Where are you going?” His voice stopped her.
You can’t go out there!
She doesn’t know any better. He reminded himself.
She turned. Red hair moved. The flash of color made him shift at the blinding brightness. It sent a ripple over his vision. Even in the dark he suddenly detected subtle green tints in everything. The blue shade of the sliver of a moon. Colored flowers muted in the dim moonlight.
“Where are you?” She asked.
He tossed his voice in several directions to make it impossible for her to distinguish him crouched above her. “Go back inside.” He urged. “It’s not safe out here.”
“Why isn’t it safe? Who are you?”
“Please just go back inside.”
Before something hears you.
Sighing her head fell. She went back in on leaden feet. Pouting.
After a moment, he dropped from the apple tree. Mesmerized by glistening fruit dangling near his shoulder. He pulled it down. Gazing at its various shades in awe.
He heard the click of a shutter opening a moment too late.
“So, there you are.” She murmured from the low second level window.
His fingers imbedded in the apple as he spun from her. A cloak forming around him as he gave her his back, concealing his features.
Despite his lack of response, she doggedly continued. “Don’t go!”
How do I get out of this without her waking the house?
“I’ll go inside if you will talk to me from out here.”
“You’ll go inside?”
She nodded. Going inside and taking the stairs up to her chamber at a run. Taking for granted he was agreeing.
I suppose I was.
Sighing, he summoned fog as he crossed the garden to a tree a bit away from the window. His back to the corner of the house. She won’t be able to see me if she does peek.
He drew his knees up and rested his elbows on them. Tossing the gleaming apple from one hand to the other.
“I won’t talk about who I am.” His apple stopped. As he heard the floorboards creak near her window.
“Can you hear me?” She whispered.
“I can. Even without you calling so loud.” He inspected the apple. Realizing he was hardly hungry. Merely fascinated with it. “You wish to tell me of those you talk to?”
“How’d you know that?”
“Hard to explain.” At his prolonged silence she changed the subject.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“I’m an expert.” He bit into the apple and settled in.
“I haven’t told Miss Margaret and Miss Agatha much about my sisters.” She said.
“Sisters? Why haven’t you told the women?”
“You know them?”
He drew a quick breath. “I-I’ve seen them.”
He hissed an indrawn breath. Damn. She’s quick-witted.
“Of course not.” He winced. Holding his breath on the lie.
Her yawn saved him.
“You’re tired. Rest.”
So, I can leave. Before anything else falls out my giant mouth.
“Why is the House suddenly so warm?”
“Because I’m leaning on it.” He said absentmindedly. Knowing his body would heat the wood, stone and mud to a red glow without ever catching fire. Warming everything along that side of the house.
He sensed her nod as she mulled that over.
“It’s time I must go.”
“Thank you for talking with me…”
“Don’t tell anyone we’ve spoken…Please.” He said as an afterthought.
They’d worry I put you in danger. He listened to the far-off sound of crickets and the whistle of night birds seeking prey. Took in the moist smell of a mist clinging to everything green.
Green. He savored the color.
Even when he’d been mortal, he’d only seen black and white. Not understanding what he missed until other knights mentioned the red cross on their cloaks. A cross I’d only known as black.
Color meant very little to me when I was hungry on ships. Captaining starving men to raid others to feed our young. Rising he dusted off his pants.
“Goodnight.” He strode the fog. Horrified to find as he distanced from Meredith House, the green of trees darkened to black. Silver moonlight turned white.
Shoulders slumping, he eyed the gaping mouth of the cave he called home.
He entered gloomy darkness. It’s never seemed so bleak...He sighed.
For a flash of time, there’d been a lovely splash of color in his world.
The next afternoon, Acharius lay in his bed, staring at the stone ceiling, turning his face to avoid drops of water. He craved seeing colors again.
He sighed and sat up, giving up on sleep for the day, he went to work tying pieces of wood and twisting metal into coils for traps.
I don’t have nearly enough…He dimly registered he worried more about protecting the odd child than he did the artifacts.
When he took the traps out to set them, he looked up to see Karina going through the gate. Groaning inwardly and rolling his eyes in annoyance, he waited until Karina emerged with a basket brimming with plush fruit. Ducking behind a tree to evade her gaze.
Blowing a relieved breath, he found the trail back to his caves. Intrigued by the tantalizing aroma of succulent rabbit, he veered in that direction, licking his lips. Lowering as his back twisted and blue eyes turned yellow. Glowing in falling darkness.
“Are-are you out here?”
Acharius stopped in his tracks. Chastain? Her voice came from the garden. Out alone after dark again?
I warned her!
Turning stiffly, he crept closer to the gates. Hearing her call a few more times. She’s going to summon every cimmerii for miles! He snarled. I’ll be stuck guarding the house all night because of this. Annoyance flashed through him as he saw his meal disappearing further into the brush.
I was hungry too.
“Who are you trying to summon in the middle of the night?” He growled through the fence.
She ran to the gate and it creaked as her hands pressed to the other side of the wood. “You!” She huffed. “Why didn’t you come back?”
He balanced it enough it couldn’t swing open for her to slip through the crack.
He heard a rustle deeper in Merwood. Something small scurrying.
“For what? I’ve no need to sit and chat.” He glared at the wood before him. Sensing her ear pressed just beyond.
Go inside. Before you become something’s dinner.
“Come talk in the garden. As you did.” She urged.
“Go in.” He grated out.
Stop this foolishness.
“Come talk with me.”
“Will it send you in and out of this darkness?” His tone was sharp as he heard leaves brushing again.
Could be a noni.
He heard her heading back to the house.
Something tried to rush past his leg, pushing through the unlocked fence, but he caught its movement in his peripheral and was fast enough to stomp on its tail. It spun and sunk teeth into his boot. Giving him time to pull an arrow, load his bow, and let it fly in a smooth motion. Pointed tip imbedding in its torso.
It slumped instantly. Heart ruptured.
Hissing in pain, Acharius’ lip curled. A canine growl rumbling from his throat. It bit through my boot and well into my foot. His shoulders slumped. He tread carefully through the gate. Favoring the foot. Glancing over his shoulder, he assured he wasn’t followed.
Damn the stubborn girl!
As he entered the garden, he noticed the flourish of flowers already opening tender petals where she’d walked. No wonder this garden now looks a meadow of wildflowers.
Everywhere she goes…His irritation abated a bit at understanding she didn’t know what hunted her.
Chastain told him of her ‘sisters’ until her voice faded into sleep.
Finally. He rose and aimed for the cave. Unaware he still bled. Blood which filled the sole of his boot and seeped through the puncture to roll down the side and into the dirt. Leaving a trail a blind man could follow.
Shortly after Acharius was swallowed by the woods another black silhouette emerged. Kneeling to press his fingers to the bloodied ground. Dual sword hilts glinting in the meager moonlight.
His head tilted in the direction Acharius left. His expression interested.
Where are you going? He wondered. Watching Acharius limping off the trail toward his caves.
You’re going far to protect the child. His black hair glinted in moonlight as he glanced back toward the fence. Seeing the black lump of the dead noni just under the shrub near the gate.
A gate which still swung forward and back. Unlocked. Unlike Acharius.
It swayed open again, giving Chavias a clear view of the House beyond. Where the little redhead is fast asleep.
He walked over and flipped the latch on the outside of it. Securing it.
Inspection of his traps yielded another dead noni.
Why are they here? They’ve not been here in ages. He gnawed his cheek thoughtfully. Still crouched near the animal he turned to study the underbrush until spotting a track. The clawed print of the noni.
Once he saw it, he perceived the other tracks like a splash of deeper black against the moonlit white of the woods.
Looking at it the way Rhyers taught him. Seeing how something moves by the tracks it leaves…
The trail was vivid to his sight, he envisioned the animal moving backward from the fate it met in his trap. Watching the path it took, each leap and skittering step before veering under the bushes where it died. He assessed its originating direction down the trail. Following until spotting a human track deeper in the woods.
A dark boot print that brought him to a dead stop. Deep. Heavy.
Acharius swallowed. Hard. Suddenly leery of his surroundings.
“Chavias…” His stomach sunk. Rising he limped back to his cave to heal. To make sure the artifacts are still there.“Yes, Old Friend. It appears we now track each other…” Chavias’ tall frame watched as his back rolled against the thick trunk as he strode from the Merwood.