Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: The Inkweaver Returns!

No, it's not a sequel... I mean I was finally able to finish that chapter that I've been poking at for a really long time! Read and enjoy!

The Four Travelers

There were once four simpletons who decided to take a journey.

“My friends,” said the first, “beyond this city there is a large forest. No doubt on the other side of this forest, our fortune awaits us. Let us therefore depart thither, that we may partake of it!”

The other three agreed with the first, and so they departed.

When they arrived at the forest, the four simpletons were met by a Raven.

“Where are you going?” the Raven asked.

“We are going to seek our fortune,” declared the first simpleton.

“We are certain it lies just beyond these woods,” said the next.

“All we must do is keep to the path, and it will lead us right to it,” explained the other.

“Riches and ease; that is how it is done!” trumpeted the last.

“Riches and ease come best and last longest when achieved through toil and honest gain,” said the Raven. “There is a path that runs straight through these woods; do not leave it, or it will be worse for you!”

“We are men in search of fortune, what could possibly go wrong?” scoffed the first simpleton.

“Never trust a Raven, for he will always bode ill,” sneered the next.

“It is only a wood, where is the harm?” taunted the other.

“Nothing can stop us!” maintained the last.

“If you will not heed my warnings, you have only yourselves to blame,” croaked the Raven.

The four travelers continued on their way. Presently, they began to get thirsty.

“My friends,” said the first, “let us find water, ere we die!”

So they left the path through the woods, so great was their thirst, and they came upon a little spring. The Raven followed, and lighted on a boulder.

“Do not drink from this spring!” said the Raven. “It has been enchanted by a witch who lives nearby. All who drink of it are her slaves for life!”

“Isn’t that just like a Raven, to say such wicked things about an innocent little spring!” sneered the first simpleton.

“Can’t you see we are suffering? Let us drink in peace!” said the next.

“Foolish Raven! Don’t you know that modern folk do not believe in old wives’ tales of witches and sorcery?” sniffed the other.

“It is a free country, we may drink where we wish!” huffed the last.

“If you will not heed my warnings, you have only yourselves to blame,” croaked The Raven.

So the four traveling simpletons drank their fill from the spring. When they had slaked their thirst, they grew very hungry. Having no food of their own, they set off still further from the main path to find something to eat. Not far from the spring they discovered a grove of apple trees. One of them said, “These apples look good, and we are famished; let us eat some of them!”

The Raven followed, and lighted upon a branch.

“Do not eat of these trees!” said the Raven. “They are tended by the witch who lives nearby. All who eat of her trees are her slaves for life!”

“Oh-ho! I see how it is! You would have us starve, then!” trumpeted the first simpleton.

“These are public lands; no one owns anything, and everything is free for the taking!” stated the next.

“Where is this witch you speak of? Shouldn’t she put a fence around the trees if she did not want passersby to eat of them?” asked the other.

“Leave off telling us what to do!” cried the last.

“If you will not heed my warnings, you have only yourselves to blame,” croaked The Raven.

Once they had eaten their fill of the apples, the four travelers continued even further into the forest, until they came upon a clearing full of thick, soft grass.

“Friends,” said the first traveler, “we have come a long ways, eaten, drank, and it grows dark. How will we reach our fortunes if we are over-weary from journeying? Let us rest ourselves in this meadow, that we may pursue our riches with full strength.” His companions agreed with him, but the Raven again flew among them, croaking, “Do not lay down in this meadow! It is covered with the enchantments of the witch that lives nearby. She will surely have you in her power if you remain but a moment longer!”

“Here now! We have had quite enough of your dolorous prating!” thundered the first traveler.

“Since we are weary, do we not rest?” demanded the next.

“A little slumber never hurt anyone; it can only do us good,” asserted the other.

“Be quiet, Old Crow!” chimed the last.

“If you will not heed my warnings, you have only yourselves to blame,” croaked The Raven.

They had not rested very long when a beautiful voice filled their ears with a lovely song. All four travelers immediately sat up and rose to their feet as a ravishing young maiden approached the clearing, carrying a jug of water and a basket of apples as she went. She stopped when she saw the four men standing in the field.

“Good morrow, gentlemen!” she called. “What brings you so far into the forest? Do you not know of the witch who lives nearby?”

“We have heard something of her, fair maiden,” said the first traveler, “but we do not believe in such fables.”

The maiden shook her head, and trembled with fear. “Oh no! It is not a fable at all! The hour grows late; soon she will come, and any she finds in this very clearing, she will indeed kill and eat!”

The four travelers began trembling also, and the next traveler asked, “What can we do?”

“Follow me,” said the maiden. “I will lead you to my house, where you may stay until it is safe for you to leave this forest.”

“Thank you, indeed,” said the other traveler.

“What would the world be like without such kind people as yourself?” wondered the last.

The four men followed the young maiden to a small hovel nearby. When all four of them had got inside, the maiden locked the door and barred it. Then she turned around and snapped her fingers, and pop! The four travelers found themselves locked in enchanted cages, for the young maiden had been the witch the Raven had warned them about.

“What is the meaning of this?” asked the first traveler.

“Did you not drink of my spring?” asked the witch.

“But we were thirsty,” protested the next simpleton.

“Did you not eat of my trees?” asked the witch.

“But we were hungry,” objected the other.

“Did you not sleep in my meadow?” asked the witch.

“But we were weary,” complained the last.

The witch clapped her hands, and her true appearance was revealed—an ugly old hag. “You have done all these things, so you are mine!” she said, and with that, she snapped her fingers and disappeared, leaving the four travelers as prisoners in the dark hovel.

The four travelers heard a flurry of wings, and the Raven perched on the windowsill of the hovel.

“Good Raven, tell us what we must do to escape!” begged the first simpleton.

“You had spoken the truth, if only we would have listened!” wailed the next.

“Oh, woe to us! Please help us, dear Raven!” pleaded the other.

“How could we four have been so foolish as to fall into such awful circumstances?” mourned the last.

“You have only yourselves to blame,” croaked the Raven, and he flew away.


“Help! Oh, someone help me quick!”
The cry came from the left branch of the fork. Still Belak hesitated, his dark eyes shifting back and forth between the two paths.
“Please! Is anyone there?”
Before the person—a woman, by the sound of it—could call again, Belak led us down the path.
“Wait!” I called after him, even as Larryn, Greyna, and I fell into step behind him, “How do we know this is the right path? For all we know, the other road is the one we should have chosen!”
Belak didn’t change his pace. “No, it makes sense: there is a person who is stuck here, on the only road that leads into the forest from the side by which we entered. She never passed us, which means she entered the forest from the side we want to reach. She only just began calling for help, which means she must have only recently broke down, and not that she is lost on a road that heads deeper into the forest. This is the right way, Shereya, I just know it!”
I just know it. How I despised that phrase; how can one “just know” anything? I had always been taught that conclusions are the result of careful study and accurate observation and experimentation—none of which Belak had attempted before we went charging down this path.

We had not gone more than a dozen yards down the path before we came to the scene of the accident: a woman sat upon a stump, crying, next to a wagon with its traces snapped and the front smashed as if by angry hooves. She wore a dark dress of fine, shimmering material and dabbed her face with a lace-trimmed silk handkerchief. Her dark hair had been twisted up around her head in true aristocratic style. She looked up at us, and I gasped at the sight of her icy blue eyes and delicate features. If anyone looked like she should be a Wordspinner, it was this woman.
“Oh, praise be!” she sighed when we gathered around her. “I did not know if anyone else used these woodland roads. I have never been to this area before, myself. I was on my way to visit a friend who lives not a mile from here, and my horse suddenly took fright, broke his harness, kicked the wagon, and very nearly killed me before running off into the forest. Tell me, the horse didn’t happen to pass you on the road, did it?”
Belak shook his head and—like the true gentleman he was, offered his hand to help the lady stand. She glanced over the damaged wagon sadly.
“Oh dear, whatever am I going to do? I must reach my friend’s house—but how will I do that with no horse?”
I surreptitiously glanced at her feet as she inspected the hemline of her skirt for mud. She wore a lady’s heeled shoe—completely unsuitable for walking through the mud.
Larryn nudged me from behind. “Should we trust her?” she murmured in my ear.
I carefully watched the lady while Belak inspected the damage to the wagon. There was something familiar about the whole thing that I couldn’t quite place, until I remembered that one of the scenes from my dream last night might have involved a woman and a wagon very like this one. There was just one detail, according to the voices, that would confirm our involvement. The nagging whisper coalesced into a single word that I took to mean some sort of sign that we were on the right path. Onica… Veron…Ca…Ronic… Ver...Ica…
“Pardon, Madam,” I said, “What is your name?”
The dark-haired lady smiled at me. “I am Lady Veronica. What is your name?”
There it was: confirmation. “My name is Shereya. We are here to help you,” I added, for Larryn’s benefit.
Lady Veronica’s blue eyes sparkled. “Thank you!” she said.
Belak turned to her. “Well, if your friend cannot know that you are stuck so nearby, I believe I could pull the wagon myself and get you there safely.”
“Could you?” Lady Veronica blinked in surprise.
In answer, Belak lifted the struts protruding from the front of the wagon and rolled it a few inches to test its weight.
The Lady clapped her hands, “Oh, how lucky I am to have met you all on this road! But what are four youngsters like yourselves doing in this forest?”
Before anyone could spill our entire mission, I answered, “We set out from Aberon yesterday morning and were just on our way to—“
“Carden,” Belak supplied the name of the next town.
Larryn was still glancing at me uneasily. I stepped close to reassure her.
“Don’t worry, I think I saw something like this on the tapestry. If there's any danger coming, a raven will serve as our warning. Just as long as we don’t leave the path, and go straight through the forest without stopping to pick anything from it, we’ll be fine. Lady Veronica is someone we’re supposed to help.”

Belak pulled the wagon—with Lady Veronica riding inside—up the road a short ways, and the road we were on turned right into the doorway of a small mansion situated in a wide clearing. It seemed to be a cross between a small castle and a large house, with wide, ornate walls of stone and many windows to let in what light shone through the trees. No raven had appeared yet, so I believed we were safe.
Lady Veronica alighted and said to Belak. “Thank you, young man; I don’t know what I would have done without your help. Please, if it will not be too much trouble, I would love for you to come in and meet my friends! They will be so glad to meet you!”
Belak glanced at me, and I felt Larryn nudge me again, but I nodded. She wasn’t anything like Morgianna—we had nothing to fear.

A burly man answered the door when Lady Veronica knocked. He was tall and swarthy, with many scars and tattoos, but his face broke into a silver-toothed grin when he saw the Lady.
“Ronni!” he cried roughly. “Good ta see ya! I was beginning to think I wouldn’t lay eyes on you till kingdom come!”
We had all entered behind her. A change came over Lady Veronica. She visibly relaxed as she stepped over the threshold and into the house where she would be safe.
“Ah, don’t worry your poor old head about me, ya great lump!” she suddenly burst out in the same tone he used. “I’ve got me some friends—lonely travelers, they are—and always willing to help poor folk in a jam!”
The burly man closed the door behind us, and I realized only then how incredibly dark the house was, in spite of all the windows we saw.
“Pleased to meet you all,” said the man who had called Lady Veronica “Ronni.”
“My name is Kirk, and any friend of Ronni’s is a friend of mine!” He took each of our hands briefly in his large, rough one—and one by one, as he pulled away, clapped manacles on each wrist before we knew what was going to happen.

I lifted my hands. How had he bound us so quickly? My feet felt weighed down with lead. While Kirk had been “shaking” our hands, “Lady” Ronni had gone and shackled our feet in the same moment! She joined Kirk and surveyed their handiwork: four lonely travelers, trussed up like animals for market-day!
Ronni (I could not even think of her as Veronica anymore) laughed at my dumbstruck expression. “Well, ain’t we so fine now! How lucky I am to have met such fine folk as yourself!” she parodied her own words.
I knew there was something to be said—but I couldn’t think of anything to say. “You—y-you’re no lady!” I spluttered.
Ronni cackled again. She reached up and removed the pin that bound up her hair, letting it fall in stringy waves over her shoulders. “No, but I can do a fair turn, now, can’t I? You’re looking at Ronni Darque, Queen of the Harbor!”
“What do you want with us?” Belak demanded. Larryn and Greyna were both too terrified to speak.
“What do I want?” Ronni spat in his face. “Gold! I want gold and silver! And you lot are going to help me get it!”
Kirk grabbed Belak and Larryn and began dragging them away.
“We will never work for you!” I shrieked. All the dreams—the raven, the name, the wagon—what were they for, if not to deter me from situations like this? Why couldn’t I have foreseen the betrayal! And now we were all going to be killed or left to die in the bowels of this house. How long would it be before my family ventured outside Mirrorvale to look for us? Would they ever suspect that we had gone off and gotten killed?
Ronni fixed me with her ice-blue stare. A malicious grin spread across her face. “Oh, dearie,” she purred, “if I play my cards right, I won’t have to make you work for me. Tomorrow is market-day at the harbor-town; do you know what that means? Do they have market-days in your precious Aberon?”
Market-day… “You mean to sell us?”
Ronni laughed and spread her arms wide as Kirk returned empty-handed. What had he done with my friends?
“That’s what Queen Ronni does, girlie! I recruit strong young bodies like yourselves—and I must say, it’s been ages since I met such strong souls—and sell them to the highest bidder!”
Sold—we were going to be sold! Something within me shriveled as Kirk grabbed my manacles and dragged me down the hall with Greyna. As we passed a window, he paused to fumble with the key to the lock on the door, and I distinctly saw the black shape of a raven landing on the branch of a tree just outside.

Ravens have despicable timing. I hate ravens.