Winter Wanderer (Part 4)

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Beck shifted slightly from his stretched out position on the floor. He twisted his head up and looked over at the arrow slit. A thin trickle of yellow light was leaking in. He glanced down and saw that Olwyna’s head was on his lower legs. Her blonde hair was cascading around her and her high cheeks were flushed rosy with sleep. He felt a half-forgotten excitement inside of him and the urge to sweep her hair back grew.

Instead he moved slowly, took her head in his hands and lowered it to the floor. She moaned, making him pause. Her eyelashes fluttered and she stirred, coming awake. Beck took his hands away and shuffled across the floor. Leaving Olwyna to sprawl out as she rolled over and began moving her stiff limbs, Beck tossed the blanket away and got up.

He crossed the floor and tried to look out of the arrow slit, but it offered no view of the outside. Checking his weapons then seeing that Olwyna was dozing, he went to the staircase.  He headed down and as he passed the quarters a soft, sleepy voice called his name. He stopped and peered into the first room almost as if he expected the ghosts from his past to be beckoning him. He heard his name again and this time realised it was Olwyna.

‘I’ll be back in a moment,’ he called out and carried on down the stairs.

Beck found Nightstorm on the ground floor nuzzling at his saddle.

‘Morning. You want some oats?’

The warhorse neighed and Beck dug the sack out for him. Leaving the horse, Beck went to the door and pulled it open. A winter blanket greeted him and the early morning sunlight shone down on frosty snow. Beck squeezed his way out and his feet sink into the crunch snow. He made his way around the back of the tower, his breath misting in front of him. The young trees surrounding him were dripping icicles from their snow topped branches. He watched the sunlight glistening off them and marvelled at the silence of the forest.

Reaching the back of the tower, he dug a small hole and relieved himself. Keeping alert, he shot looks through the close trees and listened out for approaching footsteps. No one, not even an elf or fairy could move silently on snow like this. Finishing, he kicked the dug out snow back and walked in his trail of footprints. Beck went back inside and fixed the door to try and keep some of the cold out. He went over to Nightstorm and patted the horse’s side.

‘It’s cold out there, but at least the storm is over,’ Beck said, ‘looks like you’ve had enough oats.’

He slowly pulled the sack away from the warhorse then tied a knot at the top. Whilst he was putting it away and straightening the tack out, Nightstorm went to the door. Beck heard an iron hoof scratching against the wood. He looked over his shoulder and saw Nightstorm trying to move the door with his head.

Stilling a laugh, Beck went over and slipping under the tall warhorse, helped him to open the door. Nightstorm stepped carefully out into the snowy banks. His nose flared and breathes misting before him as he scented the air. The frosty packed snow crunched and moved under his heavy weight, causing him to sink a little.

‘Don’t wander too far,’ Beck called after him.

Leaving the door, Beck went back up the spiral stairs. At the top he found Olwyna folding the blankets up. Her head shot up towards him as he appeared and fear sparked then faded from her tried eyes.

‘Morning, I was just sorting out Nightstorm,’ he said.

Olwyna nodded and turned back to the blankets.

‘The storm seems to be over, so I’m setting out soon,’ he added.

‘What about me?’ Olwyan questioned as she handed him the blankets.

‘I would not recommend staying here,’ Beck answered.

He went over to the fireplace and picked up the lantern. The candle inside had pooled into a circle of wax. Tucking the blankets under his arm, he picked up the water skin and dried meat leather bag with his other hand, before walking over to Olwyan.

‘I guess I can’t leave you here….but I cannot take you to Ravenglass.’

‘There’s no point in going there now,’ she muttered, ‘can you take me to Breland?’

Beck thought about it, ‘I’ll take you as far as I can,’ he stated then went to the staircase.

‘How far is that?’ she called after him.

He shrugged in the doorway, gave her no answer and started downstairs. He heard Olwyan muttering behind him, flapping out her skirts and pacing around. The notion of why he decided to be alone entered his mind and for a few seconds he thought about setting off without her.

‘But then what would she do?’ he said in a low voice, ‘she won’t get far without a horse and a guide. If she stayed here she would not survive. Even if a few a locals did know about this tower, they would not come. They would think she had been kidnapped or buried in the snow. Looks like I do not have a choice.’

Beck sighed as he reached the bottom of the staircase. He glanced upwards and his darker side questioned leaving her to die. He shook his head, the last remaining shreds of honour would not allow him to do it.

He put everything away in the saddlebags then went outside to look for Nightstorm. The warhorse was easy to track in the snow. Beck found him, drinking out of a small stream which he had broken the ice away from. Nightstorm raised his head as Beck joined him. Patting the horse, Beck crouched down and cupped some of the freezing water in his hands. He sipped it and decided the sweet, piney taste was fine.

Nightstorm nuzzled him and they walked back together, the snow crunching loudly underneath them. The tower appeared between the trees, snowflakes crystallised on the freezing stones. Beck lead the horse back inside and began putting on the tack.

Olwyan appeared at the bottom of the stairs, arms crossed in front of her small chest.

‘I’ll only come with you on one condition,’ she stared.

‘You do not have much of a choice,’ Beck pointed out without turning to face her.

Olwyan huffed, ‘I need to know. Are you an elf or not?’

Beck spun, closed the gap between them in fast strides and grabbed her wrist. She cried out, but didn’t twist away from him as the sliver bracelet jingled down her arm.

‘Only if you tell me about that bracelet,’ Beck growled.

‘All right,’ Olwyan snapped.

Beck dropped her wrist and took a deep breath, ‘I’m only half.’

‘But…’

‘My father was or so my mother used to tell me,’ Beck spoke bitterly, ‘do not tell anyone or…’ his hand closed around the grip of his short sword.

Olwyan followed the movement and nodded with a small gulp.

‘Now you.’

‘It is a long story. Can I tell you on the way?’

 

To Be Continued…

Winter Wanderer (Part 3)

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Beck reached the ground floor and found Nightstorm nibbling at some dark green moss. He went over and patted the warhorse’s long neck. He received a welcoming whine then kept close to the horse as Olwyna came down the last of the steps.

‘I’m grateful you are not a goblin or something,’ she declared,

Beck glanced at her with raised highbrows and stroked Nightstorm’s shoulder.

‘It’s cold down here,’ she added and began rubbing arms, ‘nice horse. Does he have a name?’

‘Nightstorm,’ Beck replied gruffly.

Olwyna whispered the name but didn’t move any closer to the horse.

Beck went to the saddle bag and drew out two folded grey wool blankets. He held them out to the woman alongside the lantern and nervously, she came forward. When she could just about reach, she took the blankets and lantern from him and hurried away.

‘You do not like horses?’ Beck asked a flicker of a smile on his lips.

‘Not really,’ Olwyna said trying to sound confident.

‘He won’t hurt you, he’s old.’

She shook her head and backed up to the staircase. The light thrown off by the candle shrink as she moved and pooled around her instead, casting Olwyna in a warm glow. She clutched the blankets to her small chest and watched Beck taking off Nightstorm’s saddle and bridle.

‘Do you really think we are safe here?’ she finally whispered.

‘Goblins have not been in this forest for years. Once they finished destroying the elven city they left. Only ghosts haunt this place now,’ Beck stated.

‘And highway men,’ Olwyna said under her breath.

Beck turned having heard her words, ‘is that how you ended up here?’

‘I’d rather not talk about it,’ she shot back, ‘have you finished?’

He turned from her piercing eyes and placed the horse tack in the corner. He dug out a small sack of oats and gave Nightstorm two handfuls. Then he grabbed a water skin and a leather bag before saying goodnight to the warhorse. He turned and went to join Olwyna at the base of the staircase.

‘Is he going to be safe down here? What if something gets in?’

‘He’ll be fine. He can look after himself,’ Beck replied.

He took the lantern from her slightly shaking hand and started up the stairs. He heard Olwyna following close behind. They passed the smaller rooms and went back to the kitchen space. Beck went to the fireplace and put the lantern down before him. He then folded himself to the floor and uncorked the water bag.

He took a few mouths of cold stream water as Olwyna came slowly to his side. He offered the water and she sat down next to him, placing the blankets in her lap.

‘It’s only water,’ Beck told her as she took the goat skin bag from him, ‘not like the fancy wines of Breland.’

‘Thank you,’ she said and took a few small sips.

He pulled open the next bag and selected some strips of dried dark meat. He began chewing on one as Olwyna recorked the water bag and put it down. She then unfolded one of the blankets and wrapped it around herself. She looked at the nearest arrow slit on the wall before them and listened to the wind howling in.

‘Here,’ Beck spoke and held the leather bag before her.

‘What is it?’ she asked.

‘Cow, I think.’

She shook her head, ‘I can’t eat meat.’

Beck stared at her and slowly took the bag away. He carried on eating and when he was done, drank some more water before setting both bags aside.

Olwyna give him the other blanket and as he pulled it across his knees, he felt a trace of warmth from her body. Tucking it around him, he wrapped himself in his damp cloak and shut his eyes. He listened to the woman’s soft steady breathing and wondered how long it had been since he had been this close to another person, let alone a female.

‘Where are you from?’ Olwyna’s gentle voice called him out of his thoughts.

‘Nowhere,’ he replied.

‘Everyone is from somewhere,’ she pressed.

‘It’s not important.’

‘Why are you here then?’

Beck opened his eyes and stared at her, ‘why are you here? Breland is a month from here.’

‘I was traveling to Ravenglass. I was going to be married,’ Olwyna stated, though her voice cracked over the last word.

‘And you’re running away?’ Beck suggested.

‘No! We were attacked on the road,’ she gushed, ‘they came out of the forest, riding large boars. They had a warlock and he set fire to everything. I got out of the carriage, somehow and fled,’ Olwyna broke into a sob, ‘I tried to go back to them, but I got lost. Then I found this place…’

‘Boars,’ Beck grumbled, ‘and a warlock. What did they want?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, it’s lucky you made it this far, better then freezing out there.’

Olwyna nodded and dropped her head, tears trickled down her cheeks.

‘Get some sleep,’ Beck suggested.

She wiped her face and sniffed, ‘I do not think I can. Every time I shut my eyes I see the flames and hear the screams.’

‘Then rest as best you can.’

Olwyna looked at the floor. A tear drop fell from her face and landed on a cracked board.

Beck arranged his clock again and shut his eyes. He heard her shifting to lie down and half opened one eye to look down. She had curled into ball with the blanket tucked around her.

Her hair was almost touching his knee and she had folded her hands together and was resting her head on them. A thin sliver bracelet had slipped to her wrist. Beck reconsider the curling words and pattern on its’ surface and felt his heart sink.

 

To Be Continued….

Winter Wanderer (Part 2)

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Beck’s leather boots shuffled up the stone steps, scrapping against small stone. He clutched his short sword in his right hand and held the lantern handle in his left. He controlled his breathing and prepared to face whatever was at the top. The candle light cast upon a wooden plank and Beck stepped on to it.

Looking around he found himself in a small room which led off into others, the quarters of the elven guards and their captain, possibly? He crept forward, being aware of the soft creaking boards under him. He stepped into the room that had been ahead of him and found a broke desk and chair. The wall beside them was streaked with red.

Beck walked out and tried the other four rooms. They were all empty. He went back to the spiral staircase and up another floor. Perhaps it had just been the wind or some animal taking shelter like he was? He passed an arrow slit and felt a brush of icy wind on his hand. Tightening his grip on the short sword he felt the pommel digging into his wrist. The wind whistled behind him, calling him back.

He stepped onto the next floor and saw that it had been used as a kitchen, eating area and store room. He went to the large fire place and toed a shard of wood. His eyes looked into the ash pile inside the fire place and saw a little collection of sticks. Someone had been trying to build a fire – recently. Beck spun and cast his eyes around the room. An old black pot lay in the corner and a row of hooks hung on the wall to his light.

He listened and thought he heard a muffled breathing. Shinning the light over to the store room door, he stayed quiet. He counted, listening to his heartbeat in his ears and small breaths. A soft rustle as if someone was moving clothing against skin.

A flicker of a smile curled Beak’s lips and he went over to the store room door. He placed the lantern at his feet and flung the door open, sword slicing through the air on the other side.

A female scream rang in his ears and he stilled his hand. In what light the candle cast inside the small room, he could see a dress wearing figure curled up at the back. He half lowered his sword.

‘Who are you?’ his gruff voice spoke.

‘Are you going to kill me?’ a softer voice whispered.

‘Depends…’

‘On what?’

‘On who and what you are,’ Beak explained.

‘Who are you?’

‘Come out of there and let me see you.’

‘No!’ squeaked the female voice.

Beck nudged the lantern away, slipped his sword into his belt and entered the store room.

‘Keep away from me!’

‘Why?’ Beck growled.

‘I’m not coming out!’

‘Then I’ll have to kill you then.’

A loud gasp came from the shadows and Beck heard the rush of someone standing up. He reached out, felt his hand touched some soft fabric and fisted it. Yanking it, he heard the same scream again, then he grabbed with his other hand and pulled the female out of the room. She tripped on his feet and tumbled to the floor before him. Beck’s free hand shot to his sword and pulled it out in a smooth motion. He aimed the tip just below a gold belt buckle which was catching his candle light.

He looked and saw the young woman- for it was a human woman he could see that now-, throw back her loose dark blonde hair from her face. She looked up at him with small sharp blue eyes and an anger expression covering her pointy face. She put her hand down on the dirty wooden floor and shuffled into a sitting position.

Beak noticed that she was wearing a simple green cotton riding dress, matching cloak and high leather boots. Around her neck was a thin sliver chain dangling an amulet that was in the shape of a long diamond. It was inlayed with small white stones at the edges and had a large oval blue stone in the middle around which green vines and leaves were coming off. He stared at it and recalled it to be the representation of a large and rich city.

‘You are from Breland?’ he asked.

‘What would you know it?’ she snapped back without losing eye contact.

He give a gentle shrugged, ‘you are wear it’s symbol. I passed through there once.’

‘What are you? An elf?’

Beck stepped back and sheathed the short sword, ignoring her question. He glanced over to the fire then back to her, ‘did you try to get it going?’

She followed his gaze, ‘the wood is damp. And you didn’t answer my question.’

‘What’s your name?’ he shot back.

‘Olwyna. What’s your’s?’

‘Beck.’

He caught the frown on her face as he went to pick up the lantern. He shone it inside the store room, but saw it was empty.

‘Is that short for something?’

He turned, ‘no,’ he answered and began to fully inspect the room.

‘I won’t tell anyone…’ Olwyna said in a low voice.

Beck tried not to pull a face and made himself look busy turning over the black pot.

‘If you are an elf,’ she finished.

‘I have left my horse downstairs and must attend him,’ Beck cut in.

He went to the door and heard the woman stand up behind him. Ignoring her, Beck walked back down the spiral staircase.

 

To Be Continued…

Winter Wanderer (Part 1)

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Beck kept his head down as the snow storm whistled around him and urged his black stallion, Nightstorm on. Grabbing the reins tighter with his numb leather gloved covered fingers, he prayed the old warhorse didn’t stumble. Breathing deeply, Beck risked peering out of his dark green cloak’s deep hood and took in the winter swept forest around him.

Trees were frozen above him, their branches clawing at the dark grey sky in desperation. He couldn’t help but think that they were praying the winter to be over, just like he was. To the left of them the river was iced over and snow covered. Deadly treacherous for man and beast.   Beck blinked away snowflakes and looked down at the edge of the river. He could hardly see it, but worried Nightstorm might get too close, he steered the horse away and closer to the trees.

The warhorse snorted and stomped off to the side as he carried on forward. Beck patted Nightstorm’s long neck and tried to search through the trees. He couldn’t see anything but white peppered tree trunks and freshly falling snow. The forest offered them no protection at all, but Beck knew that somewhere close by was an abandoned elf outpost. He urged Nightstorm on and tried to spot any arrows sticking out of trees or anything else that would signal the way.

The snow crunched loudly under the heavy horse and Nightstorm came to a sudden stop. Beck rose up from the saddle and looked around, but he couldn’t figure out where they were. He swing down and threw the reins over so he could lead his only friend through the blizzard. Nightstorm neighed softly and nuzzled into his leather padded shoulder. Beck patted the horse’s nose and tugged the reins as he started walking.

‘I know it’s around here somewhere,’ Beck mumbled and the wind snatched his words away.

Easing his hood back for a clearer view, he regarded the forest once more. Frowning, he slowly looked in all directions, but the snow blocked his keen eyes and ears. Nightstorm breathed a hot breath on him and Beck rubbed the warhorse’s forehead. He moved up and scratched his ears, Nightstorm’s long black mane tangling around his fingers.

‘Good horse,’ Beck breathed, ‘come on.’

Tugging the reins again, Beck led Nightstorm into the trees, hoping they were going in the right direction. A few feet in and the trees thinned and shorted a little. A smile crept onto Beck’s face and he urged his warhorse on. Something flapped from a tree in the distance and Beck almost slowed Nightstorm down, but then he saw it was only the tattered remains of an old flag.

They walked under it and Beck saw the elf outpost in the distance. Pushing through some struggling saplings that were being dwarfed by their parents, Beck picked up his pace and hurried to the neatly hidden stone building. As he came closer and even through the snow, he could see how hard the elves had tried to hide the structure. Of course that hadn’t worked thirty years ago when goblins had raged in the forest and taken over.

Beck brought Nightstorm to a stop outside the broken wooden door. He tried to listen to see if there was anything hiding inside, but the wind was too loud. Pushing against the heavy door, Beck led Nightstorm inside then tried to fix the door back into place. A soft crying sound made Beck stop and he peered through the darkness of the open ground floor room.

‘It could just be the wind,’ he muttered.

In the gloom, he patted Nightstorm and ran his hands down the side of the saddle. He felt his wrapped up great sword, bow and quiver then a large leather satchel. Beck dug through it and pulled out an old lantern. Next he found his flint and lit the candle inside. Holding up the small flicking light in front of him, Beck caught sight of the blood splatted walls. Pulling out a short sword at his belt, he made the light dance off that instead.

‘Hello?’ he called.

He heard a small female gasp and the crying stopped.

‘Who’s there?’ he called.

Shuffling in the darkness then nothing else, except his and Nightstorm’s breathing and the snow storm outside. Beck waited then moved slowly across the stone floor. He searched the room but found nothing. He came back, checked the horse was well then climbed up the worn stone steps in the corner, knowing he wasn’t alone.

To Be Continued…