Firstly, thank you to everyone who voted in my poll. Every story got at least one vote, so thank you for showing all the ideas some love. Unfortunately, there could only be one winner, and it was…
True Love’s Last Kiss!
I actually wrote the first scene in an exercise book, and hoped to show you earlier today as a teaser… but I was thwarted by not being able to upload the photo! Not. Happy. Jan.
Another quick aside. I asked my wife to vote, and she voted for The Divorce Force. Hearing that it lost out, she has demanded that it be the next story I write. So fear not, disgruntled minority voters, the runner-up will receive its due time in the Sun =)
Enough stalling! Without further ado…
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True Love’s Last Kiss
The winter’s frigid touch reached into her marrow, despite her furs and leathers. She continued down the well-worn road, the surface indented with cart tracks and muddy potholes, tempting the fates to place her into their murky depths.
Grace pulled the cowl of her cloak over her head, submerging her features within its shadowed interior. Her single braid of brown hair sought escape from the darkness, draping itself across her chest, while her misty breath billowed into the early night sky.
The wandering mercenary did not wish to entertain the thought of another night in the woods. The pervasive damp made it impossible to build a serviceable fire, and midnight calls from hunting animals scared away her chances of restful sleep. The one time she had managed to snare a rabbit, a pack of wolves stalked her as she returned to her fire. Not content with the scraps she threw to them, the scavengers forced her to abandon both nourishment and warmth. A single wolf she could handle, but not a pack with just a dagger.
She disconsolately continued past the sparsely spaced houses that followed the road, the buildings little more than huts. Those she had requested shelter from had flatly refused her, demanded a ludicrous amount of coin, or lecherously requested other favours. Her pride would never fall far enough for the latter, and the clinking of her pouch had silenced over a week ago.
The bald oak trees that had stood silent sentinels to her trials had begun to dwindle in number, while the road had thankfully changed from pot-holed mud to stonework smoothed by regular usage. To her delight, the clacking of cartwheels accompanied a growing orb of orange light. Using her remaining strength to subdue the chattering of her teeth, she walked towards her hope of salvation.
“Give way,” a gruff voice bellowed. She did not do so, forcing the driver to rein in his horses. “Do you wish to be trampled?”
“Please, good sir.” Grace’s voice barely carried to the impatient man. “I have walked the road for almost a month, with food and fire as rare as the buildings. Would those three be found behind you?”
In the torchlight, she could see the man was of modest wealth. His furs were bulky but of coarse grain, his beard trimmed to a thick carpet covering his face and neck, and his hat had folds that covered his ears. His cart’s contents were covered by a tarpaulin, with a small door behind his seat granting access to the items contained within.
“Continue for a time, and you will reach a fork in the road. Your best choice is to head north, and you will find the lakeside town of Trinaze. Rough place, but you will reach it quickly; heading south to Berrys will take all night.”
The thought of a night under shelter was heavenly to her. “My thanks. I shall head for Trinaze.”
“I would advise caution. Someone in town is recruiting mercenaries, and all manner of unsavoury have headed in to heed the advertisement. I think I have a copy somewhere.”
Her chest swelled with excitement. Shelter, and the chance of employment. She could not have dreamed for such an opportunity.
He reached inside his furs, fishing out a folded sheet of paper. After unfolding and inspecting it, he handed it down to her. As she reached for the proffered item, her stomach grumbled with dismay. Considering her briefly, he slid open the access door and reached inside, pulling out small packages of bread and cheese.
“It would not do for you to faint from hunger before you reach the town. Take these.”
Grace gratefully accepted the gifts, her belly grumbling its own appreciation. “You are far too kind. May your good earn top price.”
After a tip of his hat, he flicked his animals into action. In the fading light, she considered the leaf of information. With new purpose stirring her into action, she headed to the lakeside, savouring her first proper food in over a fortnight.
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