Sparrowhawk

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

Chapter 14 (v.1) - Chapter Fourteen

Submitted: December 02, 2019

Reads: 15

Comments: 2

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Submitted: December 02, 2019

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The spring air was cool and sweet, and the ride to the military camp where Quinn had served for the last two years passed quickly. By the time Alina reached its borders, the sun was high in the sky and her shadow stretched out behind her like a flowing cape. She steered Calcifer up to a large gate where two guards stood watch. Their steely glares were enough to make her stomach twist, but she pushed her shoulders back and forced herself to sit up straight.

“I’m here to see my brother,” she called, hoping her voice didn’t tremble too badly. “Quinn Fletcher. He’s being released from service today.”

The guards exchanged glances. Alina tightened her grip on the reins and curled her free hand into a fist to keep it from shaking. She did her best to smile.

“Quinn Fletcher?” one of them said finally. She managed a nod. “What’s your name?”

“A—Alina Fletcher.” Alina realized she had been holding her breath, and she let it out in a sigh. “I mean, Katalina Fletcher. He should be expecting me.”

The guard stared at her for several seconds, then stepped back and swung the gate open.

“You can tie your horse here,” he said, pointing at a hitching post a few feet away. “You see that man over there in the gray tunic? His name’s Rex. Go talk to him, and he’ll take you to your brother.”

“Alright.” Something about the guard’s tone made her nervous, but she tried to shake the feeling away. Soldiers always made her nervous and right now, she didn’t have time to worry. She had to find Quinn.

She dismounted and secured Calcifer to the hitching post, then gathered her courage and marched over to where the guard had pointed. She was halfway there before she realized she should have asked for clarification. There were two men standing there talking to each other, both dressed in gray tunics, and she hesitated, wondering which one was Rex. Both men fell silent as she approached.

“Can I help you?” one of them asked.

Alina swallowed hard. “I— I’m looking for Rex.”

“I’m Rex,” the other soldier said. “What do you want?”

“I’m looking for my brother.” She took a deep breath to steady herself, forcing herself to look up and meet his eyes. “Quinn Fletcher. The guards at the gate said you could help me.”

“I don’t know why they would. I don’t keep track of every—” He stopped suddenly and frowned at her. “Wait. Did you say Fletcher?”

The hair on the back of Alina’s neck prickled, and she nodded uncertainly. “Y—yes, sir.”

He looked her up and down. “You’re the sister.”

“Yes, sir.” Now Alina was certain something was wrong. She took a step backwards, preparing to run, but Rex suddenly gave a nod.

“Your brother’s this way. Follow me.” With a wave to the other guard, he turned and started off down a nearby path. Alina was left with no choice but to follow.

They walked through the camp until they came to a building. While most of the rest of the camp was comprised of large canvas tents, this was a tall, stone structure, with slightly-cracked walls and a solid wooden door. A guard stood just outside it, hand on her sword. She stepped aside as Rex approached.

“Are they still in there?” Rex asked.

She nodded. “They’ve just gone down. Better hurry, though.”

“Come on.” As the guard pushed the heavy, creaking door open, Rex took hold of Alina’s arm and pulled her into the building. Immediately, Alina was stuck by the thick stench of must and mildew. The inside of the building was chilled and eerily quiet, except for a soft drip, drip, dripping noise that echoed in the stillness. As she glanced around in the faint yellow torchlight, she could just make out the outlines of hallways branching out around her— hallways with walls made of cold, metal bars.

Not hallways, she realized, as her heart began to pound.

Cells.

This was a prison.

“Wha— what are we doing here?” she whispered, pulling free of Rex’s grasp. She stepped backwards, though the door had closed behind her, shivering. “What’s going on?”

“You asked to see your brother, didn’t you?” A sick smile spread across Rex’s face as he showed his yellow teeth. “Well, this is where your brother is, and where he’s been for almost two weeks.”

“No.” Alina crossed her arms over her stomach and shook her head. “No, he’s not— there’s no one in those cells!”

“No, there isn’t. Not anymore.” Rex smirked. “They’ve been emptied. All the prisoners are down in the basement, because today is the day we execute deserters.”

As the meaning of his words finally washed over Alina, a horrible chill swept over her. She jerked backwards in fear.

“No!” she shouted, the cry echoing through the empty hallways. “Quinn wouldn’t desert! His tour with the army is over! He’s free, and he’s coming home today—”

“I’m afraid he’s not, Miss Fletcher.” Rex tsked softly. “No use screaming at me. He made his own choice—”

“I don’t believe you.” Alina glared at him. “You’re— you’re lying. I don’t believe you.”

“Call me a liar all you like,” he said evenly. “Come and see for yourself.”

He took hold of her arm once more and pulled her through a hallway, then down a steep, winding flight of creaking wooden stairs. Alina had to run to keep up with him. It took all her concentration to keep from slipping on the steps, and only a few scattered thoughts coursed through her mind.

Quinn wouldn’t desert!

He’s free, and he’s coming home today!

And then the guard’s voice echoed in her memory.

Today is the day we execute deserters.

It wasn’t true, couldn’t be true.

Quinn wouldn’t have deserted.

Would he?

At last, they reached the base of the stairs, and Rex pushed open yet another door. As soon as they stepped inside, Alina was struck by the urge to vomit. She staggered against the wall, struggling to hold herself up, gagging on the stench of blood and urine. The cold, smothering feel of death filled the room.

Three people.

Three people had been killed already.

Alina could feel their last moments, as they struggled and writhed against their bonds, before the razor-sharp blade of an axe crashed against their necks, and they knew nothing more. She shuddered, closing her eyes to shut out the memories of the dead. She tried to focus on the living, on the heartbeats. There were four of them still in the room.

Alina forced her eyes open once more and found herself staring at two figures, both of them hooded, their faces masked from view. One of them stood with his back to her, fingers curled around the handle of an axe. The other knelt, hands shackled behind him, crouched in front of a bloodstained wooden block.

Quinn.

Alina recognized his heartbeat. It was calmer, steadier than the frantic pounding she had felt from the other victims. That was like her brother, she realized, a sick feeling stirring in her stomach. He wouldn’t have the courage or the will to fight his death— he would be resigned to it. He was resigned to it.

Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. She felt the executioner’s muscles tighten as he gripped the axe and raised it. She felt his feet slide a little, slipping on the slick blood that coated the floor. And through it all, she felt the soft, steady thump, thump, thump of her brother’s heartbeat, as the axe lifted above his head.

“No!” she shrieked, finally finding her words. They came out in a whisper, and she tried again. “No. No!” She rushed forward, but Rex caught her arm. “No, stop! Quinn—”

The axe came down.

White-hot pain ripped through Alina, and she felt her knees buckle as she screamed. But it lasted only a moment, and then there was nothing.

Only the cold, still feeling of death.

The sun was just beginning to set as Nell stepped outside to tend to the garden. Crouching in the rich brown soil, she set about pulling up weeds from amongst the radish sprouts and watering the tall, flowering pea plant. Then she began to dig up the newest crop of carrots, feeling the tops that peeked up from the soil to select the roundest ones.

She was so intent on her work that she didn’t hear the hoofbeats until they were almost right in front of her. Calcifer came thundering up the path, clattering over the bridge before galloping up to Nell’s front yard. She leapt to her feet.

“Whoa!” she shouted, throwing out her arms. He skidded to a stop, tossing his head and chomping the bit. Sweat steamed from his flanks, and his heavy breaths made white clouds in the chilly night air.

“Easy,” Nell whispered, reaching for the reins. She took hold of his bridle and stroked his head, murmuring softly. “Easy there, Cal. Good boy.” Then she turned to look Alina. “What happ—”

The question died on her lips as she realized Alina was slumped over the saddle, eyes closed. Calcifer’s mane was twisted in her hands, curled tightly around her fingers, which was probably the only way she had even stayed on him. As Nell moved to the side to get a better look, she gasped. A dagger, plunged deep in Alina’s back, glittered in the moonlight. As Nell reached to touch it, she felt a sharp, burning pain, and she jumped back in fear.

“Nell?” Her mother Fern opened the door and stepped outside. “Nell, what’s going on? Is everything alright—” She stopped short at the sight of Calcifer and Alina. “What on earth— is that girl you loaned Cal to? What happened to her?”

“I don’t know, but she looks hurt, bad.” Nell untangled Calcifer’s reins from the saddle horn and slipped them over his head. “I’ve got to get her back to her family. She needs a doctor!”

“She’s the older Fletcher girl, isn’t she?” Fern moved forward and took Calcifer’s reins, stroking his muzzle to soothe him. “Her family lives next to the Yans. We’d better hurry.”

Alina didn’t move as Nell and her mother hurried down the road, leading Calcifer to Alina’s house. The night air grew chillier, and Nell pulled off her cloak and wrapped it around Alina, careful not to touch the dagger in her shoulder. Alina didn’t seem to notice. Her breathing was labored, her face paler than Nell had ever seen it. She shivered as she clutched at Calcifer’s mane.

At last, they reached the Fletcher’s house. Fern handed the reins to Nell, then ran up the steps of the porch and pounded on the door. A tall woman with sleek black hair answered. Nell could hear her mother murmuring an explanation, gesturing backwards towards Nell. The woman clapped a hand to her mouth.

“Nathaniel!” she shouted, turning and calling to someone inside the house. “Tony! Dee! Come quickly!”

A man appeared beside her in the doorway. She said something to him, and suddenly he was thundering down the steps of the porch and towards Nell.

“Alina!” he shrieked, stumbling up in front of her. “Alina—”

With shaking hands, he untangled her fingers from Cal’s mane and lifted her from the horse. Nell stepped to the side, stroking Calcifer’s cheek, trembling.

“I don’t know what happened to her,” she whispered. “She said— she said she was going to get her brother—”

“Her brother?” The man was staggering under Alina’s weight, but he turned to stare at Nell. “No, that can’t be right. He’s coming— he’s coming home next week.”

“No, he was released today.” Nell leaned against Calcifer and buried her face in his neck. She felt sick to her stomach. “He and Alina wanted to surprise you. They thought— they thought it would make you happy.”

Alina gave a soft whimper as the man shifted her in his arms. Her eyelids flickered.

“Da—Dad?”

Her voice was thin and weak.

“It’s alright.” He kissed her forehead, pulling her closer to him. “I’ve got you. You’re safe.” He turned back to the house and gave a frantic shout. “Tony! Tony, I need your help!”

“So—sorry,” Alina whispered. She let her head drop limply against his shoulder. “I tried to get Quinn.”

“It’s alright. You did fine.” But the man’s smile was strained, and he hesitated. “Alina, where is Quinn? Is he—”

“What happened to her?” Another man had come running from the house. He started at the sight of Alina. After a moment’s hesitation, he moved to stand beside her. Pushing her hair away, he peered at the knife embedded in her shoulder. As his fingers brushed over the hilt, he did not shy away in pain.

“Get her inside,” he said authoritatively, turning to head back to the house. “I’ll get my bag. That wound is already infected. I don’t know why it hasn’t started healing—”

“It’s mijan,” Nell realized suddenly. The men turned to stare at her, and she ducked behind Calcifer. “The dagger— when I touched it, it burned me. It’s mijan. That’s why she can’t heal herself.”

The first man’s face went pale. The other nodded grimly.

“I might not have magic, but I can stitch a wound.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “She’ll be alright. Just bring her inside.”

Alina’s father nodded, though his eyes were still wide and vacant. As Tony ran back to the house, he turned to follow, Alina still motionless in his arms.

“We should go.” Nell jumped. She hadn’t seen her mother approach. Fern put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek.

“She’s with her family now,” she whispered. “Let’s leave them be. You need to tend to Calcifer, anyways.”

Nell nodded and reached up to stroke her horse’s neck. His breathing had slowed, though his eyes were still wild and sweat dripped down his sides. Taking his reins, she turned and started to walk back towards her house.

“Quinn—”

She stopped as she heard Alina’s voice, hoarse and trembling.

“What about Quinn?” Her father had stopped as well. His voice grew soft. “What happened to Quinn, Alina? Where is he?”

“Come along, Nell.” Fern took Nell’s hand and stepped away, but not before Nell caught Alina’s final words, whispered in her father’s arms.

“He’s dead,” she murmured, the words and breaking. “They— they killed him. Quinn is dead.”



© Copyright 2019 KathrynAcacia. All rights reserved.

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