Seven Hundred Pounds and Possibilities

Jodhin wants nothing more than to live a simple life as one of the Lady’s Shepherdesses.  But her plans are interrupted by a dying Guardian who imparts to her his unfulfilled mission: to save King Leyon from an assassin.  If she fails, the price will be her life.

Seven Hundred Pounds and Possibilities was originally published in the June 2005 issue of the now-defunct ezine, Deep Magic, under the title, Jodhin.   Jodhin went on to win Deep Magic’s 2006 Lamp Post Award for Best Fantasy Short Story.

Seven Hundred Pounds and Possibilities will appear in an upcoming print anthology (along with The Quest) from The Cross and the Cosmos.

An excerpt is below….

*****************************************************
The long, mottled thorn pierced Jodhin’s palm as she pushed aside the thick leaves of the thornberry bush.  With a hiss, she shook her hand free of the crimson drop that welled against her skin.  Some in the village would say the thorn prick heralded ills to come.  Of a custom, she decried all such nonsense, but this day marked the beginning of her new life, and she misliked even the hint of woe.  Glaring at the offending bush, she resumed her task.

At twenty-three, she no longer hoped for an offer of marriage.  Of a truth, she’d relinquished that expectation seven years ago—the fire that had killed her parents had marred her beauty and consumed her dowry, leaving her to the care of Karah, whose sisterly affection had languished with the waning moon and given way to demands of service that absorbed most of her days.

For the past week, she had gathered dried fruit and meat, and once she filled her sack with berries, she would make the two-day journey to Ishsha, the largest town in the shire.  There she would take Vows at the Temple and enter the service of the Lady as one of Her Shepherdesses.  She would care for the weak and needy.  Her work, at last, would make a difference.

The crashing and snapping of tree branches behind her ripped her from her reverie.  She whirled about to see a great, black shape violently invade her quiet wooded copse.  With a shriek, she stumbled backward, nearly falling into the thornberry bush.  As the shape settled itself, she made out its dark form against the shadows.  A stallion.

Atop the stallion sat a young man dressed in linen and leather as black as his mount’s coat.  He bent over the pommel of his saddle, and as his horse sidestepped into a beam of sunlight, she saw numerous arrow shafts protruding from his back.  She drew a swift breath and clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a cry.  As if in response, he lifted his head to meet her gaze.  She stretched a hand toward the pain she saw in his eyes, but the pounding of her heart rooted her feet fast to the ground.  The young man opened his mouth as if to speak, but only a strange, gurgling sound came forth.  His eyes darkened and he slumped over, sliding from the saddle to fall to a heap on the ground.

She circled herself with the holiest sign she knew.  She gathered her courage and took a tentative step forward.

Lady.

She recoiled at the sound of the strange, masculine voice in her head.  Circling herself once more, she fell to her knees, trembling.  Blessed Lady, defend me from evil—

Lady. The voice interrupted her prayer.  Jodhin.

She looked to her left, her eyes drawn to the bracken.

An enormous black cat with soft, rounded ears and a long tail crawled from the dark shadows of the brush.  She scrambled back, prepared to bolt.

Don’t be afraid.  I won’t hurt you. He began to purr, a calm solacement that sounded quite out of place at that moment.  My name is Alcuin.  I am a Guardian.  My Defender, Daran, lies slain before you.

She drew in a soft breath and relaxed tense muscles.  “Of course.”  If the stallion’s distinctive black-and-silver tack hadn’t enlightened her, the large cat, with his striking silver eyes, should have.

But her kingdom’s protectors seldom visited her small village, and on those occasions when they had, she had always been hard at work and had missed their coming.  Guardians lived in Talithia, on Shansor’s northern border where the Defenders were schooled and trained at the Acadium.  Most led peaceful lives—or so she had heard.

Staring at the fallen form of Daran, she reconsidered all she knew of his kind.

She turned her gaze to Alcuin.  “What happened to you?”

We were ambushed. He shuffled closer to her on his stomach, and she could see arrow shafts jutting from his body as well.

“You’re hurt!”  She scurried to his side.

I am dead.  My Defender has gone to the Nine Realms, and it will not be long before I join him there.

“But . . . your wounds . . . they do not appear mortal.”  She rose—she could fetch the wortmistress from the village and return with all haste—but Alcuin shook his head, arresting her in mid-motion.

There are no herbs that can heal a broken Bond, and it is past my time to join him.

Sinking to the ground, she released a slow breath and blinked back sudden tears.  “Then why do you remain?”

Because, I— He jerked his head and looked over her shoulder, past the stallion, past the body of his Defender—past, it seemed, the woods itself.

“What is it?”

They’re coming.

They? She followed his gaze, narrowing her eyes, but saw nothing.  As she turned back to Alcuin, she heard the faint cry of horse and man alike, and felt the distant thunder of hooves in the earth beneath her.  “Who are they?”

Baron Sedric’s men.

“He represents our shire at the King’s Council.”  The village leaders spoke of him with respect.  “Why has he sent his men here?”

Hurry!  Quickly!  Go to the horse and take out the scroll you will find in the nearest saddlebag.

She rose and dashed to the stallion, stumbling over her long skirt.  She found the promised scroll and returned to his side.

We must retreat as far as possible into the brush. With great effort, he crept into the security of the shadows.  Come.  You must join me.

She grabbed her sack and followed him.  She stifled a cry as the thorns bit into her flesh.  If one thorn prick bespeaks ill, the entire bush must portend doom. She glanced at him.  “What’s happening?”

His body lay stiff as if in expectation.  We have long suspected that Sedric was behind the attempt to assassinate King Leyon two years ago, but we did not have proof until yestermorn.  Daran and I have been in flight, trying to reach the Portal in Ishsha.

“Of course.”  She pulled from her memories what she knew of the invisible gateways of the Guardians and Defenders.  “You could step directly to Atalar through the Portal.”

And thus bring the proof straightway to Leyon, yes.  We had two days’ lead on Sedric’s men.  They should never have caught up to us, unless— He broke off, his gaze fixed through the underbrush to the trees beyond.

“Unless what?”

A dozen horses crashed through the copse.  Daran’s stallion reared, screaming an alarm.

Unless Sedric is using magic.  Do not speak again.  They will hear you.

 

 

Seven Hundred Pounds and Possibilities is available from Marcher Lord Press in The Cross and the Cosmos Anthology: Year 1


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: