As mentioned before, this is my non-traditional NaNoWriMo project… just writing every day…
Seven Part 2
© 2018 Patrick Hester – All Rights Reserved
At the sight of Seven and Julian riding into the village, mother’s clutched their babes and ran for the safety of their homes, men abandoned their wares to join them, children scattered into the shadows of bushes, buildings and such. This was a very different reaction from the first time they’d rode in. Then, people had waved, smiled, offered to sell them food, clothes and anything else they’d needed or wanted. Children squealed in delight, calling out for stories or coins in equal measure.
Unlike that first time, Seven did not rein in her horse and walk him to the center of town, letting the beast gallop all the way to the communal well before pulling back just enough she could swing a leg over the saddle and drop to the ground. She let the reins fall and drew her swords while Julian, less used to horses, slowed and began extricating himself from the saddle with far less grace than she’d managed. She would need to train him better. He actually walked to a hitch and loosely tied his reigns to it.
“What’s going on?” called a voice from inside the nearest building, a single-story brick structure with iron bars on the windows that served as the gaol. The heavy door swung open on hinges that shrieked in protest. A well-fed man with silver hair brushing his shoulders stepped out and stared at Seven, mouth agape. “You?”
“Us,” Seven said. “Why did you send us into a trap?” She punctuated her question by stabbing him in the stomach. He fell to his knees and she spun, bringing her other sword around and lopping off his head.
It rolled and tumbled until Julian’s booted foot stopped it by perching atop it.
Dead men cannot answer questions.
Seven snorted, but flushed. “I got…excited.” Waving with a bloody sword, she said, “He deserved it. Who knows how many he has sent to their deaths?” Frustrated, she added, “He has subordinates. They are still alive and can answer questions or join him.”
In response, a younger man poked his head out and said, “It wasn’t our idea! We were just doing what we was told!”
“Why?” Seven asked. “Why send us there to be killed? And come out here where I can see you.”
“You’ll murder me!”
“I won’t. Not if you answer my questions.”
“It will be worse for you if I have to come in and drag you out.”
The man stepped into the doorway, hands up and open. “Please! You don’t understand.”
“Then explain it,” Seven said. “Quickly.”
“There’s a bounty,” he said, and words began tumbling from his lips. “Sheriff said if we didn’t give over your like, they’d take townsfolk. We had to do it! What choice did we have? The bounty!”
“What sort of bounty?” Seven asked. “And who ordered it?”
“You ain’t gonna kill me?”
Seven eyed him, then her sword. “Keep talking. I’ve yet to decide.”
“Lord Ciiserk,” he said. “Wanted twenty people every month.”
“Twenty dead every month?” Seven asked, brow furrowing. “Why?”
“Not dead,” he said. “Wounded was fine, knocked out was better, but not dead. Said he needed them alive.”
“Conscripts?” Seven asked, and he shook his head.
“Told us we could keep the weapons and armor.” He swallowed and went a little pale. “Said we could sell them, use them, he didn’t care. Only wanted the people.”
“And the soldiers?”
“When we started sending him regular people,” he said. “The Lord sent the soldiers to help. Said they were better at sending people whole than we were.”
“But why? What does he need them for? As slaves? He could just take all of you any time he wanted for that.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
She lifted her swords and glared. The man shrank back.
Behind her, Julian snapped his fingers and she moved to where she could see him and keep the other man in her sight.
Ask if this Lord uses magic.
“Is your Lord a Sorcerer?” she asked.
The man backed up a step, swallowed and nodded. “Yes. Everyone knows, but no one talks about it.”
It’s a ritual, Julian said. He needs them for the blood.
“Ritual?” Seven asked. “You mean magic, don’t you?”
“So, he’s like you?”
At that, the man screamed, spun and slammed the heavy door behind him.
No, Julian said. Not like me. He doesn’t have the Voice, so he is forced into a different kind of magic. A Dark Magic.
* * *