Today was a bit of a toughie for me. I hardly slept at all last night so I’m pretty darn tired right now. Still, got my words down, so I guess there’s always that.
I got about a thousand words in to the story today and realized I didn’t like it. So, instead of pushing on I decided to try something a little different and just started over. I kept the old stuff, and just wrote the same thing in a different way. Obviously things changed, but I think the second part is a better beginning to a story (one I’ll probably never finish, but whatever). It’s nice to be able to do that, admit when something is working and be able to change it.
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 2008
It was fully dark by the time Otto finally made it to the edge of Hemmsbrooke. He rode a finely bred stallion, black as the night around him, and would have made better time had he not been leading a thin whip of a mare beside him, devoid of it’s rider but not the contents of it’s saddlebags. A normal man would have stopped and made camp as the light began to fade. Otto had been called many things in his forty two years, but normal was not one of them. He had never let the darkness give him pause, and tonight was no different.
The town was quiet, the only sound was the sound of the horses’ hooves clopping along as the dirt road of the countryside gave way to the cobblestone of the town’s main street. This early into the autumn most of the townsfolk were in their homes, asleep after a long day bringing in the harvest. Even the town’s inn was silent as he came upon it, but a torch burned brightly beside the heavy oak door, a welcome sign to a weary traveler. He dismounted and walked the final few feet, leading both horses by their reigns to a long water trough and tying them there as they drank.
The inn was a small one, and once inside he saw that it was fairly standard as far as small inns went. There were a few battered tables scattered around the common room, each with it’s own set of spindly chairs. On one side of the room was a huge stone hearth, it’s soot blackened interior cold and dark. Directly across from the door was a bar, behind which was a set of swinging doors no doubt leading to the kitchen, and from beyond them someone shouted when they heard Otto enter.
“Welcome!” came the cry. It was a man’s voice, deep and clear, and Otto was surprised when the doors swung open and a small, pale looking man appeared. He beamed brightly and wiped his hands on his apron. “What can I do for you?”
Otto walked up to the bar slowly. He was not, by nature, a superstitious man, superstition being a hazardous trait for someone in his vocation to have, but his mother had been. Among other things she had often said that it was bad luck to stay at an inn run by a thin man. On this, though, he felt comfortable enough ignoring her advice, since she’d never left the hamlet where he grew up in all of her life. He pulled a small purse from his belt and laid a coin on the bar. It was gold, and if he could have, the innkeeper would have beamed even more.
“I would like a room,” he said.
“Very good,” replied the innkeeper. “Got lots of those this time of year.”
“I also have a pair of horses,” Otto continued, laying out another coin. “I should like them stabled and the contents of their bags brought up to my room.” He paused for a moment, then laid a third coin on the bar next to the others. “And some food, if you have any.”
“Right you are,” said the innkeeper brightly, scooping up the coins and sliding them into a pocket in his apron. “Got a pot of stew in the kitchen. Won’t take long to heat her up. And I probably
got a few rolls what ain’t gone stale yet.”
“Don’t bother,” Otto said. “Please have it brought to my room with my things.”
The innkeeper shrugged but the smile never left his face. He reached under the bar and grabbed a candle, lighting it on one of the ones already burning around the room. Then he led Otto to another door in the corner of the room and up a flight of stairs. They passed several doors before finally stopping at one at the end of the hall. The little man opened it and stepped inside. He busied himself lighting a few more candles with the one in his hand as Otto looked around. It was well furnished, and was probably the nicest that the little inn had to offer. A small, but clean, bed was pushed up along one side of the room, and at it’s foot lay a large trunk. The rest of the furniture included a short dresser, a nightstand atop which sat a clay jug and a tin mug, a wooden chair, and a faded tapestry on the wall opposite the bed. There was also a window, which probably had a decent view of the town square but it was hard to tell at night.
“There we go,” said the innkeeper as he lit the last candle. “I’ll go and find my son, have him see to your horses, and I’ll be right back up with your food..”
“Thank you,” Otto replied.
While he waited he inspected the trunk. It was large and well made and had a sturdy looking lock, though it opened easily enough when he tested it. He was in the middle of inspecting the rest of the furniture when a boy came in carrying a load of items. He was scrawny and pale and Otto had no trouble believing that this was the innkeeper’s son. The boy laid the items on the bed, and made to turn away but stopped. His hand strayed to the middle of the stack, to something thick and wrapped in animal hide. In a moment Otto was across the room. He grabbed the innkeeper’s son by the wrist and yanked his hand away, spinning him around so that they were face to face.
“Thank you,” Otto said with steel in his voice. “I think I can manage from here.”
The boy cowered under Otto’s glare. He tried to pull his hand away but Otto held it for a second. When he finally let him go, the boy jerked back and stumbled out of the room, nearly crashing into his father as he went. The innkeeper arched an eyebrow but stopped just short of voicing the question in his head.
The coming of the Witch Hunter happened suddenly, as such things often do. One moment the night was silent, save for the drone of the countryside’s insects and the faint rustling of a single, crook backed rag and bone man rustling through a heap of refuse, and the next it was full with the thundering of hooves, the cries of a man urging his horse to greater speed, and the hissing, spitting chatter of the thing he from which he was fleeing. The beating of the hooves turned into a clatter as dirt gave way to wood and then to cobbles, the old bridge over the little brook on the east side of the village being it’s official border. The Witch Hunter slowed then, and turned in his saddle to peer into the darkness. The stream beneath the bridge was small, and this late into the summer it was nearly dry, but water still flowed. The thing that had been chasing him skidded to a halt. In the darkness, all that could be seen was a general shape of the beast, lanky and elongated, but its pale skin glistened in the moonlight like scum on a pond. It croaked and hissed and clawed at the ground in anger, but for all it’s fury it could not cross the running water beneath the bridge, and moments later it slunk off into the night.
It took less than a minute to reach the center of the village, but even by then there were faces at windows. The Witch Hunter was a tall man with lean, almost wolf-like, features, long blond hair that flared around him like a mane, and whenever he turned his cold blue eyes on the windows of the town, the faces disappeared. He dismounted in the center of passed for a town square and led his horse to a low wooden trough. Then he tied the reigns to a wooden post, pulled two bundles from the horse’s saddle bags, and made his way towards the largest building in the town which he assumed was the inn.
The sign above the door was crooked and named the place “The Sleeping Watchman”. Inside was a small common room littered with a few tables and chairs and a long bar along the far side of the room. Behind the bar was a set of swinging doors through which came a voice.
“Just a second,” it called. It was a man’s voice, and it grumbled as groaned as it made it’s way towards the doors. When they swung open, they revealed an elderly man with wispy grey hair and wrinkled skin. He squinted and looked at the Witch Hunter over the top of a pair of small, round glasses, and then his eyes widened. “Oh, you the Witch Hunter?”
“Looks like you’ve been doing a little hunting already.”
The Witch Hunter grimaced and set his things on one of the tables and pulled a small purse from a loop on his belt. “I’ll need a room,” he said, placing a pair of large, gold coins on the bar. “And my horse is tied up outside, I’ll need him stabled.”
The man nodded and took the coins. “I’ll see to the horse,” he said. Then he took out a candle and lit it on one of the others glowing along the wall. “Up those stairs, first door on the right. Anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
“Alright,” said the old man as he made his way towards the door. “Well, I’ll be heading off to bed myself after. Name’s Greene.”
“Otto,” replied the Witch Hunter and nodded at the old man as he left. Then he picked up his things and trudged up the stairs to his room. He closed the door and was relieved to find a bolt on the inside which he quickly slid into place. Then he dropped his things at the foot of the bed and fell into it, asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.
The next morning Otto awoke to find himself stiff and in pain but otherwise well rested. He lay there for a minute or two before memories of the previous day began running through his mind. It had been stupid to come through the marshes, he knew that, but the road that wound it’s way south, avoiding them altogether, would have added days to his journey, and he’d reasoned that he gain a little first hand knowledge of the area on his way through. Stupid. Foolish. Never go charging in. Set up a base, learn what you can from the locals, and plan accordingly. That was how you did things. That was how you survived.
Well, he thought as he got up and stretched, at least now I know the rumors are true. It had been dusk when the creature attacked. A boggart. A malevolent spirit. And someone had given it a body. Now the ravenous meat puppet was rampaging through the countryside, killing livestock and apparently attacking travelers on the road.
Downstairs Otto found Mr. Greene in the kitchen. He had a fire going and a kettle of porridge was already bubbling above it. Suddenly, Otto was very aware of how hungry he was. The old man waved in greeting and scooped a ladle full into a bowl.
“Here you are,” he said, handing him a spoon. “Want some honey to go with it?
“Thank you, no,” Otto replied. There was a little table in the corner and he sat down at it and began to eat, barely taking the time to blow on it as he did. He could feel the old man’s eyes on him, but he held his tongue as the Witch Hunter ate. When he was done he handed the bowl back and said “Who is in charge in this town?”
“Ah, you’ll be wanting to talk with Elder Hart,” said the old man.