Chapter 4: Destination

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 54

Destination

Fortisa focused her thinking upon the parcel wrapped in her supplies. She rode until the radiant sun shown high above the pines.  Her thoughts shifted.

How am I going to do this?  I know Frior Andrew can read symbols.  Can he read...the chain?  What if...Fortisa stretched then jumped down from William.  William grazed in no particular hurry.  She plucked a handful of nuts from the trees as she strolled about.

Frior Andrew was in the village in the opposite direction...if he’s still there.  Another day’s ride, at least. I don’t know what to do.  Dragon needs help, but…I have to deliver that package, too.

"I don’t know what to do.  William?  What would you do?"

At the sound of his name, William nibbled closer to her.  She smiled watching him.  

“You’re a good horse.  We’ve traveled many, many roads together, haven’t we?”  

She reached out to scratch his neck.

“I wish you could talk. What would you do?”  

Fortisa pulled out the leather parcel.

“We need to be paid for this delivery.  I wish I knew how important...maybe a day or two longer wouldn't hurt.” 

“Let’s go, William.”

She hoisted herself onto his back. 

“Dragon was able to manage for 700 years without us. I guess he can manage another day or two. Just hope he isn't crying.”

As the afternoon sun cast long shadows in the woodland, Fortisa and William finally reached a familiar path.  However, sometimes all the paths in Spicewood Forest looked familiar.

“I don’t understand why we couldn’t find this yesterday.  If we continue, we’ll arrive just before dark, and hopefully, get our money. Then you can sleep in a stable, and I, I don’t know where I’ll sleep.  Nowhere is safe for me.  We’ll see.”

Just as the sun turned the sky shades of red, orange, purple, and blue, Fortisa entered the hamlet of Paetrous, bordering Spicewood Forest.  She dismounted before a thatched-roof structure where men and women attired in everyday farmer’s garb forged about their errands.  

The aromas of food and ale enticed her.

Let’s get this done quickly-I’m hungry.

Seeing a short, thin man, balancing a steaming bowl of something smelling delicious, she shouted to him, “Looking for the home of Segard Tibbold.  Know where I can find it?  Him?” 

“Ask my wife.”

He nodded in the direction of an apron-clad, red-faced matron delivering two mugs of brew to a table.

Fortisa stepped close to her.

“I’m looking for the home of…”

“I heard.  What business do you have with them?”

“I have a parcel to deliver.”

“You can leave it here. One of us can deliver it.”

“No…thank you, though. I was instructed to place the item in Mr. Tibbold’s hands.”

The woman plunked the mugs on the table.  Foam spilled over the rims.  She wiped her hands upon her soiled apron.

“Step outside.”

Fortisa followed her.

The woman spat in the dirt and stretched out a thick hand.  She pointed to a hill in the near distance.  Fortisa stepped back from the greasy-looking woman, as she became aware of a foul odor.

“Over that hill. There’s a farm on the left.  That’s Tibbold's place.”

The woman shuffled one foot to the other, as if directed for motion at all times.

“Look, busy time, missy.”

The woman pushed her way passed Fortisa slamming the door behind her.  Fortisa stepped to William.

“What do you make of that? I had hoped to grab a warm meal and a place to sleep for both of us tonight. Looks like that won’t happen.”

They set out towards the distant hill the woman pointed to.  Fortisa glanced behind her.

Maybe the Tibbolds will offer us a meal and a place to rest when we arrive.  Fortisa sighed.  Never can tell about people, William.  Nope, never can tell.  I hope Dragon hasn’t drowned himself.

“I hope we don’t pass any other travelers, William... almost dark.  I don’t like meeting strangers in the dark.”

Officially, Fortisa and William had crossed the boundaries separating Spicewood Forest from surrounding locales.  The road curved through pastures.  To pass the time Fortisa began singing one of the melodies she learned at the Nasterium.

The winged-ones they fly, 

Praising him on high,

Their protection they share, 

For the Healer does care.

Oh, little lambs!  Oh, little lambs!

To wandering souls

He beckons, “Come home.”

Oh, little lambs, oh, little lambs!

The last rays of sunlight disappeared from the area.  Fortisa approached a farm, just as the offensive woman said.  All looked in good shape, however, too quiet for a farm.

Where are the animals?

“This must be the place, William.”

Fortisa expected to see smoke swirling from the chimney.  None.  She expected to see chickens.  What farm doesn’t boast chickens and a rooster or two?  None.

She tugged on William's mane to stop.  She dismounted, drawing her sword.  She glanced around. No one.  Nothing.  Fortisa tip-toed towards a window of the cottage.

Too many shadows to see anything.

She stepped towards the door.

“Hello?  Anyone here?”

Fortisa waited for a response.

She pushed on the door and to her astonishment, it opened.  She gripped her sword hard, raising it to a striking position.

She pushed on the door again, fully opening it. The odor…waste…she gagged.  She squinted to see better in the shadows.  A straw bed held a figure.  No, two figures.

“Hello!  Hello!”

Fortisa’s heart beat so fast and hard she thought it would pound itself out of her chest.

I hope you are not dead!  What curse is this?  I need light. 

Alert to the sounds of anything...snapping twigs, branches...Fortisa back-stepped out the door, sword still raised in striking position.  Looking all around her, she reached with her free hand to her belongings tied up upon William, into a pouch, and pulled out a small tinderbox.

Satisfied that only she and William crept about, she lowered her sword to the ground, yet, keeping it close to her.  Fortisa gathered what dry twigs and hay she could see.

She carried her brush pile and tinderbox into the cottage and dropped it into the fireplace.  She retrieved the tinderbox and pulled out the steel and flint.  After several fervent whacks, sparks flew into the brush pile.  The small flames quickly grew brighter, stronger. The one candle she could find, she lit.

She cupped the flame as best she could with one hand to protect it from any rogue breeze.  The light from the candle cast formed huge shadows on the walls.

Creepy.

She shuddered.

This time she could see a woman lying on the straw bed.  Someone lay next to her, the blanket covering the form. She crept towards them.  Fortisa held the candle up above the figures.

“Hello? Hello?”  She called.  Her voice cracked in squeaks.

The woman groaned weakly. The other did not respond.  Fortisa searched for more candles and lit them.

The woman’s countenance...pale...not even the slightest tinge of pink.  Fortisa pulled back the blanket from the head of the other body.  She gagged at the  stench.  

An urge to run welled up inside of her.  Her feet felt heavy.  Her hand shook as she lifted the blanket away from the man.  Dead.  His eyes, open and glazed. His palor, ashen and gray.

Fortisa's resolve caved.  She couldn't run fast enough from the room and threw up the moment she opened the door.

“Oh William, what have we stumbled in upon?”

She sobbed. She clutched her chest.  Shooting pain crushed her breathing.  Fortisa stumbled towards William.

“What do I do?” 

Fortisa wrapped her arms around William’s neck and for several moments drenched him in tears.  An image of Dragon popped into her head, slowing down the tear-flow.

I hope Dragon isn’t crying! 

William nuzzled her sleeve. His tenderness comforted her.  She kissed him and wiped her nose and her mouth on her sleeve.

“Can’t leave.  Have to help her, and do something with that man’s body.”

Fortisa squared her shoulders, took several gulps of air, placed her sleeve over her nose, plunged into the room.  The woman weakly groaned again.  Fortisa swallowed hard. 

Have to get his body out of here!

She drew back the covers and with both hands now, she grabbed the man’s feet. Even through his socks, she felt the cold and stiffness..  Fortisa had never touched a dead person before.  

She cringed.  She pulled him.  His body moved a little.  Fortisa shook her legs trying to shake the heaviness from them.

I can’t do this. How can I do this? I have to do this! He’s heavy! 

She took the blanket from off the bed and lay it out on the floor.  With all her strength she pulled the man out of the bed and onto the blanket. His head hit the floor with a sickening...clunk.  Fortisa felt another stomach eruption about to burst.  She couldn’t hold it down.  She ran to the door and threw up again.

William looked up at her. His ears perked, alert.

“I’m trying, William, I’m trying!”

She stepped inside once again.  She searched for a rope, trying not to look at the dead man on the floor. In the next room, a storage area, she found one.  She tied one end of it to the man's feet and the other...

There was a saddle in the storage room.  Fortisa pulled it out and put in on William.  He laid his ears back. 

"Please, William.  I know.  Be good.  Just for a few moments.  Good boy, good boy!"

She tied the other end of the rope to the saddle, then ran back into the home. She pushed the table and chairs out of the way.

“Walk, William!” 

Obediently, William stepped backwards dragging the dead body out of the dwelling.  The horse snorted and whinnied, his ears flat back now.

"Good boy, William, good boy!"

Fortisa tried not to look at the body as William pulled it across the floor.  She ran to William to steady him.  She faced William...then she heard it.  The sickening thuds as the man's body thumped down the stairs.  Her stomach turned.   She wretched.  Nothing came up this time.  Her tears fell like a monsoon.

“I don’t know where to drag him.  What do I do, William? I can’t just leave the man’s body there, outside the door?”

Running back inside, she found a large stick and lit it from the fire.  She plucked up her sword, too.  

The barn stood behind the home.

I wonder if there are animals in there...they must need help, too.

She gulped in air.

“Come, William!”  William obeyed, pawing the earth as he dragged the body along behind him.

The barn door hung slightly off a hinge.  Fortisa held her sword in striking position in one hand and the burning stick of wood in the other.  She stepped inside.

Empty stalls.  She fought back another urge to throw-up and cry.

“Come, William!”

William dragged the rotting burden into the barn.  Fortisa slashed the rope from him with a swipe of her sword.  She ran out of the barn. William followed. The moment William’s tail was out the door Fortisa slammed the door shut.

“Poor William. Your'e such a good boy!  I know you don't like saddles.  We'll have to work on that, some day."

Sniffling, she walked with William back to the open doorway of the cottage and removed the saddle from him.  Hot, angry tears drenched her face again.  She held out her hand to her horse.

“What would I do without you, William?  I'm sorry.  I bet you're hungry and thirsty.  Me, too.  But I have to help that woman, next.”

William's ears perked forward at the change in Fortisa's tone.  She hugged his neck.  He snorted.

Out of the black of the evening, a firm hand touched Fortisa's shoulder.

 

 


Submitted: August 27, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Elise Pannon. All rights reserved.

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