Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Handmaidens of Petra: Escape

The Beast Man roared, sinking its fangs into her neck. She felt it tearing at her arm, felt bones crack under its grip as if they were no more than matchsticks. She had no breath to scream--
Jasna gulped for air, kicking, only to fling her blanket off. The sudden chill raking across her sweat-drenched tunic did more to awaken her than the terror of the dream.

The tent was very nearly dark, the brazier only a dull reddish glow on the other side of Petra’s cot. Jasna fumbled for her blanket, then froze as the shadow by the camp bed moved, sniffled.
“Bad dreams, too?”
 Jasna gave a start, tugging the blanket closer about her shoulders. She'd expected it to be Katarin, sitting next to the camp bed.
"What are you doing on this side of the tent?" she whispered. "Where is your sense of... off propriety?"
“It’s dark,” Justin whispered back. “Not like I could see anything. Not that there’s anything to see.”
“Why aren’t you on the other side of the tent with Halav Red-nose?”
As if cued by the mention of his name, the big man drew in another snorting breath, to release it just as loudly.
"She was coughing,” Justin said. “And Katarin has finally fallen asleep. I... I didn't want to wake her. I was already up."
"Bad dreams." It wasn't a question, but the young man nodded anyway. "Gnolls?"  Jasna asked.
"You are such a--"
Petra coughed, again, the sound thick, rattling.
Justin made to turn the girl again, but the fit subsided, her breathing evening out, with only the slightest of whistles. He sniffled.
"It's not that bad," Jasna said, keeping her voice low. "Katarin says another days' healing and she'll be good as new."
"This is all my fault," he said. "If I hadn't insisted we explore that place. Or... followed your instructions. I got us dropped into the pit, and now... this."
"I hope you're not looking for pity," Jasna said. "This is your fault. Just as much as it is mine." She smiled, giving a little laugh.
"How can you laugh at a time like this?"
"I was going to say 'it's no use dwelling on it since we can't change the past.'"
Justin managed a chuckle. "They really are the real thing, aren't they? The Three?"
Jasna nodded. "It would seem so. And look around you. No fogs over the lake. No screaming ghosts roaming the shoreline. No fishing village. No Threshold."
"No Baron to go to to help her."
"We're on our own," Jasna confirmed.
Justin gave another laugh, this one edged in bitterness. "All my fault," he repeated.
"You need to stop saying that," Jasna said.
"But it--"
"You what?"
"I did this. This. It's my fault. She wasn't supposed to change back. She was supposed to heal it quickly."
Jasna sat up straighter. "Wait... what are you saying?"
"Petra's wound. She must have changed when... whatever happened, happened. And then I woke up, and Halav and his men were there and they were going to kill her! I couldn’t let them do that, could I?"
“So you did the job for them?”
“It was supposed to look like it. You said it yourself, that she can heal twice as quickly as a-- in her other form. I told her to play dead, to stay still while I led the men away.”
“What was your backup plan?” Jasna asked.
“Well, I thought the Baron surely would--”
“The Baron? Rely on the Baron? What if he was busy? Or recalled to the capital? Or two thousand years in the future? Didn’t you even think?” Jasna took a deep breath, as Halav snorted and rolled over. Brynne stirred, too, mumbling something in her sleep.
“We cannot rely on these people,” the girl whispered.
“But they are--” Justin began
“They are fighting a war. They do not care one whit about us. Red-nose over there is only interested in your sword and armor. What do you think he’ll do with you once he finds out you don’t know how to craft it?
“Come on,” Jasna said, standing up. She gripped a corner of the cot. “Help me with this.”
Justin frowned. “What are you--”
Jasna prodded Brynne with a toe. “Hey!” she hissed. “Wake up! We’re leaving.”
Brynne groaned, blinking through her mass of hair. “I had the strangest dream that we--” She sat up, looking around. “Oh. Never mind. It wasn’t a dream.”
“Wake up your girlfriend and grab a corner. We’re getting out of here.”
Brynne looked up from pulling on her boot. “What? But they--”
“I just don’t have a good feeling about this,” Jasna whispered.
The brewer’s daughter gave Katarin a jab with her elbow. When the weaver just mumbled and turned on to her side, Brynne gave her a swat on the rear.
She covered the girl’s mouth as she gave a yelp. “Shhh! Boots. Then make one of those rings of silence around us. Jasna says we’re leaving.”
Katarin gave a nod.
“You could have been nicer about waking me,” she grumbled as she slipped on her boots.
“We don’t have time for that,” Jasna said. “Come on, already!”
Brynne nudged Jasna away from the cot. “The stableboy and I can handle this.”
Jasna glanced over the tent. She piled their bedrolls over Petra, then picked up her spear from where it leaned against one of the benches. She crept up to the opening in the tent, listening. She gave a nod and a gesture, stepping through the entrance.
The others approached, silent. Katarin held open the other side of the tent’s flap, and Jasna’s ears popped as the shell of Katarin’s weaving passed over her.
Two guards slept to either side of the tent, their snores muted by the changes Katarin had made to the air around the group. They squelched through the mud as quickly as they could.
“Wait, wait wait!” Jasna whispered, flapping a hand behind her.
Brynne and Justin slowed, setting down the cot, each of them gulping in the cold night air.
“She’s just a little thing,” Justin huffed. “How can she weigh so much?”
Brynne glowered at the boy, then looked over to Jasna. “Why are we stopping?” she whispered.
“Because--” Jasna whispered back. “Why are we whispering? Nobody can hear us.”
“Nobody is here to hear us,” Katarin said, her voice soft and distant.
“That’s right,” Jasna said.
“But we’re nearly out of this camp town,” Justin said. “What happened to the-- oh….”
Jasna gave an exaggerated nod. “Very good!” she said, her enthusiasm just as exaggerated. “Be careful,” she cautioned.
They began forward again, Jasna slowing them even more as they reached the corner of one of the last ramshackle buildings. Another thirty yards clumped with tents and lean-tos stretched here and there around the main bulk of the town.
Jasna waved them forward again, took two steps away from the building, and ran headlong into a brick wall covered in fur.

No comments:

Post a Comment