Now that Sherdan’s Prophecy has all been blogged I’ll be returning this slot to sharing something I’ve been working on in one of the many different creative fields I like messing around in, so here’s a sample from my most recent release, Wandering to Belong.
The flickering lanterns and torches of the small village caught Aneira’s eye. Her stomach rumbled as her mind associated the warmth and comfort of the place with good food. Over the last few weeks she had struggled to hunt enough to feed herself, and a village would have crops and potentially other necessities she could trade for.
Making her mind up on that thought alone, she changed direction and trudged over the rocky grass land. As the evening darkened she lowered her head. The lights from the village would taint what little she could see in the dark of night if they were in view. If she also concentrated on each step at a time it helped to keep her feet going when all they wanted to do was rest; something she had learnt long ago.
Sounds of the village soon greeted her ears and she allowed herself to look up at the hopeful sight. There were a few stone built houses, not many, but enough to show good masonry, and another handful of wooden houses along the edge nearest to her. She imagined there would be a similar number on the other side of the village.
She looked for the shields of a chieftain or warrior’s hut as a few people scurried here and there, eager to be indoors rather than out in the night. No one noticed her approach and she kept it that way, sticking to the shadows and hedges until she’d checked out the shield’s design, if one existed.
As she snuck up into the shadow beside one of the pale stone houses she noticed what she sought. A shield hung on the building opposite, just below a lit torch. The pattern wasn’t one she recognised which meant that this village didn’t submit to any Lords she knew of.
She slunk back the way she had come to double back and enter into the village along the dirt track. Coming into the centre of the village in full view would make her look less like a threat.
Previously, she’d walked straight into any civilisation but she’d soon learnt to be wary of certain Lords. When she crept in she found people were suspicious. And being driven off when she was this hungry didn’t appeal to her.
Once she was out in the open she lowered her hood from her smooth black hair. She kept it short to help keep it neat and tidy but strands still framed her thin face. Once she’d patted down her hair to neaten it, she stowed her bow on her back and rearranged her small pack of belongings, to make sure straying hands couldn’t get into it without alerting her.
With slow, deliberate steps she made her way into the village. The first woman who saw her didn’t even acknowledge she existed and this helped Aneira feel more at ease. The next nodded briefly, before continuing with her business.
So far they looked like a busy, but fairly poor, farming community with not much to worry about in terms of safety. There wasn’t even a small jail or military type building. Just the chief’s house, an inn and a few other slightly smaller stone houses for the richer of the people, probably the actual land owners. She’d not seen any cattle, and there didn’t appear to be any horses in the two berth stable.
Most people had shuttered up their houses already and light only leaked out around older windows in need of maintenance, but the tavern had a few windows open and the noise of laughter and conversation greeted her.
As she reached the door she sucked in her breath, tried to look as harmless as possible and pushed into the tavern. Immediately the room went quiet and all eyes turned her way. She did her best to appear calm as she walked up to the bar and the man who stood behind it, drying some metal tankards with a dirty looking cloth.
“Good evening,” she said, breaking the silence.
“Evenin’ stranger. What can I get you?”
“I’m afraid I’ve not got any money. I’ve been travelling a long while but I can work hard. Do you know of anyone here who might need some work doing in return for some food, and a bed for the night?”
The bar keep looked thoughtful while the whole inn around her remained silent. She knew everyone had heard her words but it seemed none of them were going to help. Just as she was about to tell him not to worry and that she’d move on, he put his tankard down and walked through to the back room.
“Darlin’ do yah want some ‘elp with the dishes? Got a whelp ‘ere who wants to do somethin’ fer a spot o’ food and a place to kip.”
Aneira couldn’t hear the reply as the door swung shut behind the bulk of the owner, but it seemed like they were going to take pity on her anyway. Still looking young had its benefits. While she stood waiting for the Landlord to come back, conversations around her started up again and people went back to their drinks. So far so good.
The door swung open again and the tavern owner stepped out. He held the door open and motioned with his head for her to go through. She smiled as she rushed around the bar to do as he asked.
As soon as she stepped through into the kitchen the smell of hot food assaulted her senses. The woman at the stove was almost as large as the tavern owner himself. They all obviously ate well and with any luck would treat her to a similarly sized meal. She nodded at the middle-aged woman as she was looked over.
“I’m Aneira. What would you like me to do?” she said after a moment’s wait.
“The dishes need doin’ fer starters, then we’ll see what else there is.”
She nodded and looked over at the sink. It was stacked full of pots, pans, dirty plates and tankards; eating would have to wait.
Aneira sank into the wooden chair, not sure if the creaking noises were the wood as she sat down or her knees, from standing so long. It had taken her several hours to battle through the mountain of washing up, especially as every little thing that Heulwen thought might need cleaning had been put into the sink at some point. Her fingers were wrinkled and her nails had never looked so clean, but she had finally finished and the couple had seemed impressed with her work.
While she waited for the food she’d been promised she had a proper look around the inn. Now that it was later many of the villagers had gone to their homes but some remained and continued to chatter. Most of them were considerably less sober than they had been when she’d arrived but a few were still steady on their feet.
The Landlord made her jump as he put a plate down in front of her.
“’Ere you go lass, tuck into that.”
She needed no second encouragement and bit straight into the hot pork pie, following it with several shovellings of creamy mashed potato and gravy. Within minutes the slice of pie and mash had gone and before the owner could return with a drink for her she’d started on the bread and butter beside.
“Thank you, Merrion,” she said around a mouth full of bread dipped in the gravy. She picked up the tankard and almost downed the sweet liquid. It wasn’t something she’d ever drunk before, but it didn’t have the bitter aftertaste alcohol did, so she figured it was safe to guzzle.
“Well that didn’t take long. Will you be wantin’ some more?” Merrion said as she wiped the plate clean with the last hunk of bread. Her eyes went wide and she stared at him for a moment. The plate had been a feast to her and here he was asking if she wanted more. She nodded her head vigorously in case he changed his mind. The man just chuckled and she found herself grinning at how much of his body wobbled up and down, even after he’d stopped.
Once he’d returned with a second plate filled with an equal portion as before, he left her to eat and went back to his bar and customers. She took her time with the seconds, noticing an unfamiliar feeling of fullness in her stomach. It didn’t stop her demolishing the food again, however.
The tavern soon closed and Merrion came and sat down with her, bringing her another drink at the same time.
We’ve got a spare bed, up in the loft. You can kip in it when you’re ready, then you’d best be on your way tomorrow and get as far from ‘ere as you can.” The tone of his voice peaked her curiosity. It had been a while since she’d heard fear in a grown man’s voice. Especially one who didn’t seem to have anything to fear.
“What if I want to stay a bit longer?”
“You’d be a fool. You’ve got sense, I can see it behind those eyes of yours. Get yourself up and gone first thing in the mornin’ and make sure you’re as far away as you can get by the followin’ day.”
“Why, what’s going to happen?”
Whatever it was, the inn keeper wouldn’t say any more about it, and before she could think of another way of asking to get him talking again, Heulwen came out of the kitchen and ushered them both upstairs to sleep.