Heart of Ice and Fire Part 3 of 4

Fire

Welcome back for the next part in the Heart of Ice and Fire story!

If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here. Or, here’s the quick recap.

Recap: Em traveled to snow troll territory to find a man named Jimmy Wilkes. She presented him with a green debt gem that her mother earned by saving his daughter years earlier. Now, in calling in the debt, Em is asking for a snow troll’s heart to save her mother from the poison she got from being scratched by a troll. The poison is driving her crazy. Mr. Wilkes has agreed to help if Em is willing to hunt for a troll with him.

However, when Em agreed, Mr. Wilkes used her as bait and let the troll take off with Em. Now Em is being held hostage by the troll in her cave.

Let’s see what happens next =)

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 3

Fire - Globe Hunters StoryFilled with roasted rabbit and pleasantly warm from the fire, Em curled into a ball with her back against a large rock and passed out. It might be unwise to sleep in a troll’s cave, but Em didn’t see an alternative and, well, her day exhausted her. If Ms. Troll was going to enjoy her as a snack, maybe it was better if she didn’t see it coming.

Something jerked her awake. Em’s eyes snapped open only to find the cave in complete darkness. She couldn’t immediately place what startled her but her nerves warned her something was amiss.

A foul wave of air hit her face and Em gave an, “Ugh!” before rolling away from the spot.

Ms. Troll chuckled. Her dark shape leaned over Em’s small rock enclosure. Em couldn’t say how long the troll had hunched there just watching her.

“That’s creepy, you know,” Em scolded.

The dark shape shifted backward like the troll settled to sit on her haunches.

Ms. Troll huffed but it wasn’t an angry sound. Em cocked her head sideways.

“Are you apologizing?” Mama, I’ve gone over the edge. I’m talking troll.

Ms. Troll huffed again.

“You understand me?”

The dark, hulking shoulders rolled in a motion Em could only believe was a shrug.

“You gonna eat me?”

Ms. Troll’s snort came out so powerful that snot hit the floor.

“Ugh!” Em stepped backward out of the range of any more snorts. “Then what you gonna do with me?”

Large claws reached into Em’s enclosure and wrapped snugly around her waist. Em froze. No scratches, no scratches! She chanted in her head. One crazy in the family’s more than enough. But Ms. Troll’s touch was gentle. She set Em down beside the debris of human belongings.

As Em stood uncertainly in the dark, the troll riffled in the ashes of her fire and withdrew a smoldering log. By blowing air through her long fangs, the troll brought the end of the log to life again. In the flickering light, Em scanned the broken pieces of furniture around her.

“I’m not a collector’s item,” she protested.

The troll growled and turned Em around with a claw on her shoulder. With the same claw, she pointed to the remains of a wooden chest. It sat on its side on the floor with the upturned end smashed open. A peek inside showed a few bits of clothing, probably a girl’s considering the lace on the rotted edges, and a small jewelry box engraved on the top with a dancer’s silhouette.

Em stretched on her toes to reach inside and retrieved the box. Ms. Troll squatted beside her, almost trembling with some emotion Em couldn’t guess at.

LocketShe flipped the latch open with a thumb and stared at the contents. A single necklace rested in the bottom, its tarnished silver leaving smudges on the dried out felt lining the box. A locket.

“This,” Em pointed at it, “looks very familiar.”

Ms. Troll crooned deep in her throat, almost as though she were holding back a sob. Em exhaled, sat down and leaned against the troll’s furry leg.

Gently pulling the locket from its home, she popped the latch and flipped it open.

Ms. Troll finally hiccupped her withheld sob. A tear the size of Em’s hand landed on her arm.

“That’s you?” she pointed at the girl in the locket’s picture. A small, dark haired child who held the hand of one Jimmy Wilkes.

Ms. Troll, errr, rather Miss Wilkes touched the picture with one long claw and emitted another hiccupping sob.

Em’s brain finally kicked in.

“That’s you—which means Mama didn’t actually get you safely through troll territory way back when.” Em retrieved the green jewel from her pocket. “Irony indeed,” she muttered. “Is this what happens when the poison’s allowed to run its course?” Em gestured at Miss Wilkes hulking form.

The troll huffed.

“Mama’s going to become like you?”

A croon, deep and sorrowful, was her answer.

“I take it troll’s heart doesn’t actually work?” Em couldn’t imagine Ranger Wilkes not trying everything he could to cure his daughter. He might actually be bold enough to hunt troll alone.

Miss Wilkes only confirmed her suspicion by shaking her shaggy head side to side and slumping her shoulders.

“Then Mama’s crazy is just the beginning.” Em slumped with the troll, letting her shoulders sink into the heavy fur against her back.

Miss Wilkes grunted a negative. When Em didn’t respond, the troll stood and backed away a step, letting Em tumble backwards onto the floor since her leg backrest moved.

“Hey now!” Em protested.

Miss Wilkes scooped her up again without responding. The troll’s long strides took them from the cave out into the bitter night. Instantly the air in Em’s nose started sticking her nose hairs together. A bout of shivering overtook her, so much so that she couldn’t fully voice her protest.

Perhaps noticing the violent shaking in her body, the troll shifted her into the crook of her arm. The heavy stink of troll surrounded Em but she gratefully burrowed into the long white fur. No wonder trolls didn’t mind the cold. They didn’t even feel it. The only not crazy ones to live here.

Moon

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

With the cold held at bay, Em relaxed with the swaying stride of Miss Wilkes. The sky above was cloudless and filled to overflowing with sparkling points of light. No moon showed its face but there wasn’t a need for one. Em blinked, and sucked in a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her reaction wasn’t due to the troll smell. The velvet sky held her gaze. It was so clear she wanted to reach out and touch it. Mama, you’d love this. It’s like a sea of gems.

Gems…Em slid her fingers into her pocket and carefully withdrew the deep green debt gem. Its rough edges stuck out at angles like it was half planned, half cut, and then abandoned in the making. The shape had always fascinated Em but it never made sense to her why someone would only half cut such a beautiful thing.

The swaying stride slowed, and Em tucked the green gem away.

“You have her?” came a voice from near the troll’s feet.

“Wilkes?” Em called. “You stinking liar!”

Miss Wilkes huffed fish breath into Em’s face as she set her down onto the snowpack.

“Uck!”

Jimmy Wilkes grinned from beside the mouth of a cave. It was the only break in an otherwise pure white field of ice. “She’s got a wicked sense of humor, my Marie.”

Em wanted to spit at him, but he held out to her a fur lined cloak and a pair of heavy boots. Reluctantly, she shrugged into the garments and then glared at him from the hood. His one white eye crinkled at the corner as though he appreciated her spunk.

“Follow me,” he said.

“Where?” Em didn’t move.

“You wanted troll’s heart, right?”

Em tilted her head to look up at Marie. “Doesn’t look like that’s happening.”

“Depends,” he shrugged and started into the cave.

After a moment of stubborn silence, Em followed. Marie’s heavy steps brought up the rear.

“You put up with this man?” Em asked her over her shoulder.

Marie harrumphed.

“You have my sympathy.”

To Be Finished Next Thursday…

Thanks for stopping by =) Hope to see you next week!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 2 of 4

Snow

Welcome back! =)

This story started last week. If you missed the beginning, you can read it here, or here’s a quick overview.

Recap: Em traveled to snow troll territory to find a man named Jimmy Wilkes. She presented him with a green debt gem that her mother earned by saving his daughter years earlier. Now, in calling in the debt, Em is asking for a snow troll’s heart to save her mother from the poison she got from being scratched by a troll. The poison is driving her crazy. Mr. Wilkes has agreed to help if Em is willing to hunt for a troll with him.

Let’s see what happens next:

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 2

It hadn’t crossed her mind that whatever needs to be done included burying herself in the snow up in the mountains. Not only did she have to be out in the frigid cold, she had to bury herself in it.

Wilkes insisted this was the best way to catch and kill a troll. It would smell her beneath the snow and hunch down to dig. With the beast focused on digging, Wilkes could sneak up on it with a barbed spear. An arrow would only lodge in the heavy skin and a sword could be pulled free too easily.

Because of what she wanted, he couldn’t puncture the heart, he had to take out an artery or puncture the lungs. A risky venture due to the time it would take the troll to collapse.

The old man gave her two long daggers to hold while waiting as bait. He instructed her to stab at the sensitive insides of the paws if the beast got too close.

“Why do I have to be bait?” she’d asked.

“Snow trolls eat humans,” he answered.

“What about a horse? It’d make a bigger meal.”

“They dislike horses, and donkeys, and cows and even chickens. They’ll eat a cat or dog, but you won’t find such creatures around here. We need a human for bait. Know anyone else willing to fill your shoes?”

Em couldn’t think of another option. She shuddered and tried to still her out of control heart. Mama, you’ve rubbed off on me.

***

Snow with Sun SettingSnow crusted around her mouth where her breath hardened it to ice and a ringing settled into her ears from the silence. Wilkes assured her this wouldn’t take long but now she had no way of estimating the time and the press of snow seemed to grow against her body.

A concussion to the snowpack brought a groan from Em’s throat. The snowpack tightened around her and then a scratching sounded above her.

Em tightened her hold on the daggers. Wilkes buried her deep but a troll’s claws measured somewhere around five inches long. With that kind of digging power, it wouldn’t take long for the beast to reach her.

Come on, Wilkes. Em waited for the troll’s scream, waited for any sign of Wilkes attacking the beast digging for her. But the scratching continued. Light appeared in the crust above her and with it came frantic movement. Long paws pulling at the layers of snow. Still no scream. Where was Wilkes?

The troll’s claws dug deep. Then it hesitated and, instead of digging like a dog, it sank its claws in from the side, shoving them past Em’s torso in the snow. She tried to twist, to bring the dagger around at that paw, but the snow still held her tight. Then the claws closed around her, pinning her arms to her sides, and the troll lifted her completely free of the snow.

A scream struggled in Em’s throat but those claws held her tight and air just wouldn’t move in her lungs. A long snout greeted her with teeth the length of her fingers. White fur framed the drool hanging from the beast’s red lips.

The teeth didn’t bother her so much. One bite and she’d be done. But the claws holding her were another matter all together. Within those sharp daggers waited the troll’s poison. One scratch and she’d be climbing the curtains with her mother, raving about the deep blue ice and fire within every soul.

She met the troll’s eyes. They held her gaze with intelligence as deep as the sea they resembled. Huge irises constricted and then widened as she didn’t look away.

The troll harrumphed, showering Em in a cloud of breath that stank of rotten fish.

“Ugh,” she coughed. “Ever think of brushing your teeth?”

The troll pulled back its red lips, displaying said teeth in a wide grin. And then it harrumphed again and Em gave an “ah, yuck!”

A deep rumble started in the troll’s chest and then escaped its throat in a gargling laugh.

Then it started running, with Em still firmly held within its claws.

Two things rattled Em’s brain as she bounced with the troll’s long, heavy strides. One, the troll understood and had a sense of humor. And two, she spotted Wilkes standing within the trees where he was supposed to be laying in wait for the troll. A grin split his wrinkled face as he watched her being carried away.

***

Howling Maw Sketch from The Adventure BookNo good, low-life Jimmy Wilkes.

Em wanted to spit. Spitting was Mama’s crazy thing when she got pissed. She spit on the mirrors and the windows. Never the floors for some reason but any reflective surface suited her just fine. Em wanted to spit bad but she couldn’t find a reflective surface and spitting on the wall or floor felt wrong, rude.

The troll had carried her back to a cave in the mountain pass. It stank of fish and troll but blocked the wind from the outside. Em figured she’d adjust to the fish and troll smell for a chance at some warmth.

After surrounding her in boulders too big for Em to move herself, the troll disappeared. The boulders didn’t meet perfectly around their edges, so Em could make out the cave beyond, but the troll had done its job well. She couldn’t fit through any of the cracks.

Em spotted the faint flicker of a fire deeper within the cave. It cast dancing shadows on the far wall. Trolls making fire? She’d never heard of such a thing.

Just beyond her prison lay a jumble of artifacts. Clothing, jewelry, crushed furniture and pottery. Em shuddered to think of who those items used to belong to. Would her clothes join that pile soon?

A thudding announced the return of Ms. Troll. Em decided it had to be female. She saw no indication of male parts, thus female troll.

The beast sat on one of the boulders and set a dead rabbit into the prison with Em.

Ms. Troll grinned, dripping saliva onto the floor, and pointed at the rabbit like she was giving Em her prized toy.

“It’s raw,” Em said. Then, “Are you trying to fatten me up?”

Ms. Troll snorted and sent snot flying. Em reconsidered spitting on the floor. It might not be so rude considering her hostess.

Ms. Troll didn’t take the rabbit away. She reached for the pile of human debris and gathered the remnants of a chair. Placing those into a neat pile within Em’s cage, she meandered away only to return with a small flaming brand from the fire deeper within the cave.

That brand flared so hot that simply laying it on the gathered wood made it all burst into flame on contact.

Em jumped back and then, realizing the warmth radiating from the fire, she moved forward with glee.

Ms. Troll grinned and wandered away, satisfied with her accomplishment.

DaggerEm waited for her to disappear into the cave before skinning the rabbit with one of her daggers. The small weapons didn’t even give the troll pause. She simply eyed them before placing Em into her cage earlier and shrugged when she pricked her paw with one while she inspected it.

So much for having a weapon against the beast. No good, low-life Jimmy Wilkes. Em spit into the corner and laid pieces of the rabbit onto a rock beside the fire.

To Be Continued Next Thursday….

Thanks for reading this week!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 1 of 4

Ice

It’s been some time since I posted a short story. If you know me at all, you know ‘short’ and ‘story’ are hard for me to put together. But sometimes I try.

Due to some things happening in life right now, an adventure just wasn’t plausible, so I figured I’d pull this story out of the mental archives and finish it. It’ll span the next several weeks. Let’s dig in and see what happens =)

Heart of Ice and Fire

Frost covered the edges of the glass window until there was only an oval in which to look through. If Em touched the corner, she’d leave a small fingerprint in the otherwise unbroken edge of the opaque white.

Em tried it and now the tiny ridges of her index finger stared back at her. She ignored the print. If anyone asked, it wasn’t hers.

She stared instead at the people bustling around the street outside the inn, bundled like hunched, furry animals. They were crazy people, every one of them. As the glass attested, even the fire in the hearth wasn’t warm enough to contend with the bitter cold outside.

And these people wandered around in it. A man passed her window, his beard iced over from his breath. Crazy. Certifiably crazy.

“Got parents?”

Em spun in the booth. A woman stood by her table. Her shoulders hosted a wool sweater that about doubled her size.

“Maybe,” Em answered.

“All’s I want to know,” the woman leaned against the table and posted a hand on her outside hip, “is can you pay?”

“Yes.”

“Good. What’ll ya have?”

“Cider.”

The woman lowered her head and looked at Em from the tops of her eyes.

“Not hard cider,” Em said, “just cider.”

“Hmm.” The woman wandered away.

Em shook her head and went back to staring at the crazies outside. Out of everyone on this trip, this woman was the easiest to deal with. Hadn’t even slowed her down that Em didn’t have parents with her. Most Inns insisted to see an adult, like Em could produce one out of her pocket.

Guess she couldn’t blame them too much. Seeing a young girl traveling by herself wasn’t common. And the closer she’d gotten to the mountains, the more suspicious people got. People in general just didn’t travel alone near the mountains.

Em finally joined a small trading party to get to Warren. They didn’t ask why she wanted to go to the last town before Summit Pass, and she hadn’t offered the information. It was the only town within fifty miles of the Pass, and she wasn’t sure she could technically call it a town. Just a group of people hardy enough, and crazy enough, to live in snow troll territory.

Mug of Cider - Set Up Adventure StoryA mug clanked down onto the wooden table. “That all for ya?”

“Where can I find Ranger Wilkes?” Em asked.

The woman snorted. “Ranger Wilkes?”

Em just stared at her in the best imitation of her mother she could muster.

The woman snorted again. “He be crazy, you know?”

Seems to go around. Em raised a brow.

“Try at Zander’s shop. He likes the smell of tobacco.”

Em waited just long enough for the woman to disappear into the back before pulling the mug of cider close and taking a deep sniff of the crisp drink. The warmth of the wooden mug tingled against her chilled fingers.

Mama, this place be crazy, she thought in an imitation of the Inn woman.

***

Zander’s was a smoke shop right on the edge of town. It hunched low, letting the snow slowly creep off its eves in long sheets. Em eyed the icicles edging those sheets and imagined teeth. She shuddered.

A bell tinkled with the door but, because of the dim interior, Em didn’t see the two men sitting in the back of the shop until she made it to the cash register.

“Don’t sell to youngin’s,” one man said past the pipe in his teeth.

“Not looking to buy,” Em answered. “Looking for Ranger Wilkes.”

The other man burst out with a laugh that rocked him forward in his chair. He slapped his knee and rocked backward again.

“I’ll be,” he said, “haven’t heard that name in eons.”

Considering his mass of wrinkles, he might not be lying.

“Ranger Wilkes?” Em asked him.

He sobered. “No Ranger here. Just Jimmy Wilkes.”

Em digested that. Ranger implied honor. Jimmy Wilkes was a complete unknown. She’d come all this way, though; so backing down just wasn’t an option. Her Mama would tan her hide for this venture anyway, may as well make it worth her while.

EmeraldsShe approached on soft feet and held out her hand to show him what she held. A tiny, deep green jewel nestled in her palm.

Wilkes grunted, and then eyed her with different eyes. This close to him, she could see the one white eye and the one brown one. She got the gut queasy feeling he saw her with both.

“Martha’s daughter?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

“What’s she calling me to do?”

Em hesitated. Her Mama didn’t know she’d come. She wasn’t asking Wilkes for anything, not knowingly. But she needed the old man’s help, even if her pride wouldn’t let her ask for it.

“Troll heart,” Em finally answered.

Wilkes froze, the other man let out a low whistle.

“That’s some debt,” he muttered, and then pushed up from his chair and left Em and Wilkes alone. He moved to the register and began unpacking a satchel the trading group brought him.

“She infected?” Wilkes asked.

Em tried to meet his eyes but couldn’t hold that strange gaze for long. She dropped her eyes to her feet. The gem, clutched now tightly in her palm, bit into her flesh.

“She’s not asking,” Wilkes said. Not a question. “You know what she did to earn that gem?”

Em shook her head. It was just below a blood gem. Martha couldn’t have saved Wilkes himself or the gem would’ve been ruby red. Whoever she did save, though, had to have been his family.

“Then you’ve no idea the irony in this.”

Em glanced up through her lashes.

“My daughter,” Wilkes said, tapping a silver necklace with an oval locket around his neck. “She smuggled my daughter through troll territory. Got scratched in the process.”

Em shuddered, and then understanding washed coldly from her head down her spine. Wilkes nodded as he saw the horror overtake her face.

“Yeah,” he said, “I couldn’t turn you down if I wanted to. Martha’s infected because of what she did for me. Surprised she’s lasted all these years without the madness affecting her.”

Em didn’t respond. She hadn’t lasted all these years. Mama raved and tried to climb the curtains on her good days. The only thing that seemed to make her sane was when she taught Em her lessons. A stark, frightening clarity overtook her for those brief hours like she lit a fast burning candle to illuminate the whole areas of her brain.

Wilkes nodded again. “Can’t do this alone,” he said. “You up for hunting troll?”

This was the first hint she’d seen of the crazy the Inn woman spoke of. Her, a thirteen-year-old girl, hunting a troll?

She lifted her chin. “Whatever needs to be done.”

To Be Continued Next Thursday…

Thank you for stopping by. We’ll see you next week =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

Hunter Option Aa2: Threaten

This vote did not go as I thought it would. I love it when readers surprise me.

Let’s see how this story ends.

Hunter Option Aa2: Threaten

Usually the less aggressive option appeals more to you but the man’s still keening on the ground, in obvious distress over his wolves, and his eyes seem sharpened with something just that side of insanity.

Master Finn stands at your shoulder watching as well. He fidgets from his left foot to his right and back. “He’s an awful liar,” he informs you after a moment.

“Wouldn’t trust a trade?” you ask.

Master Finn shakes his head.

“Then we’ll try something else.”

You walk to the box wagon and the giant man goes still, watching you with his chin resting on the ground. The position, since he’sdsc_0059 still hobbled with hands and feet tied together, contorts his spine into a spiral, but this doesn’t seem to disturb him.

“Thing about this box wagon,” you say over your shoulder, “is it’s got barred windows.” You climb onto the wagon’s seat and slide the panel off the front window. It shifts to the side with a cringing wood on wood creak.

You brace your feet on the wagon and hold your bow out for the man to see.

A wolf barrels its body against the open window, rocking the wagon. Next you see teeth through the bars but none of this breaks the wagon and so you rock with the motion and continue talking to the man.

“You’ve got three chances with this,” you continue. “Tell me where the boys are.” The arrow rests against the string, and its broad tip is clearly visible to the man in the street.

He howls and rolls, almost slobbering now.

“Right then,” you say, “two chances left.” And you pull back the arrow.

“NO!”

It’s the first clear word from the man since you captured the wolves.

Holding the arrow ready, you pause, “boys?”

“They’re that way.” He points.

“We know that,” you continue to hold the arrow ready although the tension’s starting to ache in your shoulders. Soon you’ll start to shake.

“Follow the deer-trail-behind-the-mill,” words tumble from him. In great detail he outlines the trees and the small, dry creek bed the deer trail meets. He tells of the wolf den beside that creek bed and gives the distance, in exact time, to the den. He even layers on the smell of the snow sitting on the needles around the den and the must of wet earth when you crawl inside.

It could all be made up but you doubt it.

archer-1578365By now the bow rests against your leg and the arrow hangs from your fingers. “Put him in the jail,” you instruct Master Finn, “while I check out his directions.”

Later, while crawling into the den, you’re a bit amazed at how accurate the man’s description of the smell is. It wafts around you, earthy and damp. But then you’re distracted by the sight of two boys, maybe four and six, huddled in the tight confines of the wolves’ home.

***

You bring the boys home and stay in the village until a messenger fetches several lawmen from the closest city.

Then, with some relief, you watch the lawmen haul the giant and his wolves away while the villager’s payment for your services rests comfortably in your pocket.

The End

Congratulations on your success!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Hunter Option Aa: Bait Them

Welcome back, Hunter. Let’s go bait some wolves.

Hunter Option Aa: Bait Them

Now that the village center stands empty, the giant man grins and holds his hands out with a questioning raise of his brow like you might release him.

“Ha,” you laugh. “The wolves didn’t take your boys by accident.” This is a statement, not a question, and the man doesn’t deign towolf-2-1568458 respond other than to lower his hands again.

It’s your turn to grin and you push him to the center of the village square. Straight ahead the road runs out of the village and into the forest that hems it on the far side. That’s the way the wolves went. You have the man face that direction and tell him to sit.

When he’s lowered his considerable bulk, you hobble him there by placing bags over his hands and then tying his hands and feet all together.

“You move, I’ll shoot you,” you warn before turning to survey your options.

The general store sits, broad and low, to your right. Since it’s a single story building, the roof presents itself as a good vantage point in which to see the road. Across from it faces off the tavern, double story but with a balcony on the second floor. Also a good vantage point but more exposed.

“You’ll never catch them,” the man says.

“Who says I’m going to catch them?” you ask.

He straightens and, in the dark, his eyes glint as he leans toward you, perhaps trying to see your face better.

“You rightly called me a hunter,” you remind him.

He grunts but there’s a strangled quality to it. He truly cares about these wolves.

If you were just trying to rid the village of the beasts, you wouldn’t hesitate, but with the boys the wolves took, there’s an unspoken assumption that you’ll get the boys back.

Perhaps capturing the wolves will give you leverage to find the boys.

You spin on a heel and go to the door of the general store.

“Master Finn,” you call. He’s the general store owner and the man who contacted you in the first place.

After a brief pause, the door cracks open to show Master Finn’s broad nose and dark eyes.

“Got anything that might work as a cage?” you ask.

After a bit of explaining, you recruit three of the villagers to help you and they assist in turning the lawman’s box wagon into a sturdier cage to house three large wolves.

Then you send two of them to gather baskets of sage and the third you inquire about the availability of raw meat.

Once all is set, you perch yourself atop the general store roof with your bow. In the village square the big man still sits hobbled but you added a gag to the ensemble as well to prevent him giving the wolves orders.

Behind him on the side of the street, the box wagon rests with its back door wide open. You can’t see it from where you sit, but several large chunks of raw beef stain the floorboards of the wagon.

In the side streets your recruited villagers wait, out of sight and down wind.

Now all you have to do is wait. If your theory about the big man is correct, it shouldn’t take long for the wolves to come looking for him.

Your theory’s correct.

They’re silent shadows framing the street. Slinking from one building to the next with a fascinating, smooth grace you truly appreciate as a hunter. They’re wary, with good reason, but finally one creeps into the center of the square to sniff at the big man. With him sitting, the wolf’s head could rest on top of his own.

He struggles against his bonds and the wolf growls low, surprised.

But one of the others gives a soft huffing sound as it comes close to the wagon and sniffs inside.

dsc_0059It disappears into the dark box wagon.

The third wolf takes a step to follow but the lead one, the one by the big man, growls and backs away.

Time to push them.

In a single, smooth move, you rise and draw the bow. The string twangs softly in your ear with the release of the arrow.

Barely a moment later, the arrow thuds into the hind quarters of the wolf. You blunted the tip but the wolf jumps with a yelp and runs. It aims to go around the wagon but one of the villagers runs at it with a flaming torch of sage. The smoke coming off the torch billows into the wolf’s nose and it backs away, chuffing with distress.

You have to give the villager credit. Running at a wolf that size isn’t typically a person’s first instinct.

But the beast backs away, and finds another villager pushing it from the side.

It takes another several arrows and the villagers not backing down, but within five minutes, all three wolves have been pushed into the box wagon and the door bangs shut under the hand of Master Finn.

The broad nosed man grins and giggles. You suspect it’s because if he doesn’t, he might cry in sheer relief.

Everything quiets except for one harsh noise. The big man has canted onto his left side and is wiggling and half screaming in an attempt to get to the caged wolves.

The beasts respond with their own keening.

Now that you have them contained, you have to decide, do you offer the man a trade. The wolves and his life, and them to never return to the village, in exchange for the boys. Or do you threaten the wolves to get the man to give up the boy’s location?

Aa1: Trade?

Or

Aa2: Threaten?

Well done so far! Now how would you like to proceed?

We’ll finish the adventure on Thursday.

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Hunter Option A: Capture the Man

Now that the election craziness is done, let’s breath for a moment and explore some fictional adventure in which you’re trying to save a village from its menace.

Here we go…

Hunter Option A: Capture the Man

The gloating tone of the man is not that of an underling. It’s the assured sound of someone who thinks he’s got everything figuredthumb_dsc01579_1024 out. So whoever’s in the village, if you’re right, is acting on his orders.

“Villagers definitely left out some details,” you say.

“They always do,” the man says. His voice has moved. It’s closer and more directly in front of you.

“I’m pretty sure they knew a man was the one haunting the town,” you keep talking, waiting for him to reveal himself. “In fact, I’m pretty sure they know who you are.”

That deep, confident chuckle answers you. “You might be right.”

There. A slight movement behind a large fir finally reveals his location.

You hug your coat tighter and slip a hand into the pocket under your left arm.

“It’s annoying,” you say. “They expect me to take care of their problem and yet, they can’t give me all the details.” You take several steps down the trail and wave one hand with your frustration. “What do they expect but failure from the hunters they hire?”

Again the man chuckles.

You take two quick steps and fling your hand out to the side. The knife leaves your fingers and a moment later there’s a satisfying thud as the hilt strikes the man’s head.

The chuckle gargles and then dies. The man stumbles against the fir, holds himself for a second, and collapses to the forest floor.

He’s a giant of a man. Before he turned to mush, he stood probably six foot six. A beard sprouts from his cheeks and chin to wash over his chest. His face is not one that graces your wanted fliers. So who is he?

“Guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” you tell his silent form. Rolling him over, you tie his hands behind his back and hobble his feet together so he can walk but not run. Then you settle in to wait until he comes to.

It doesn’t actually take that long before his eyes flutter and then deep green eyes are watching you from atop that impressive beard.

“Well played, Hunter,” he grumbles and winces. The knife probably left him with one very noticeable headache.

“Time to visit the village.” You haul him to his feet and have him walk in front of you back to the village.

It’s dark by now but the village is well lit with torches and lanterns. No longer are the doors and windows shut tight. In fact, everyone seems to be gathered in the central square, all clamoring to be heard at once.

Like a wave, they fall silent as soon as they notice you and the giant man.

“Your own boys!” a woman breaks the silence. “They took your own boys.”

The giant man grins. It reveals two broken teeth and a dark spot where one tooth is missing altogether.

“Who took his boys?” you ask, tired of being kept in the dark.

No one answers.

You single out a boy maybe ten years old. “Who took the boys?”

The boy swallows, glances at his mother and then back at you and apparently decides you look the scarier because he mutters. “Wolves. Wolves took Malcolm and Ethan.”

“How many?” you press.

The boy shrugs. “Three maybe.”

“All right,” you tell the villagers in general. “Back inside. Lock up doors again.”

“It doesn’t help. They went right through my door!” A man points to the building behind him. The front door hangs in shreds like the wolf’s claws found it no harder to slice through than cloth.

“Imagine how much easier they’d find this group of people in the open,” you say.

At this, the villagers mutter a bit and back away to hide in their homes.

wolf-1357366After a moment, you’re left with the giant man in an empty village square. You still believe the man’s the leader. You’re not sure how that’s possible, but the wolves didn’t take his boys by accident.

He’s still grinning that manic grin.

Using the man, you might be able to lure the wolves back to the village and dispatch them.

Or, you might be able to force the man to take you to their den. Between the man and your tracking abilities, you might be able to find the lair. He won’t be cooperative either way, but you don’t see any other options.

So…

Aa. Bait them?

Or

Ab. Track them?

Please vote in the comments for how you’d like to proceed. We’ll return on Tuesday to see what happens next

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Hunter

It’s that time of year when the leaves are falling and there’s a decided chill in the air. That chill may have influenced this adventure a bit. Hope you enjoy =)

Hunter
A wind, scented with snow and sage from the fields surrounding the village, blows against your face. It chills your skin until a
smile feels brittle in your cheekbones. But you smile anyway, because if you don’t, you’re afraid you’ll give in to the sense of foreboding creeping up your neck and run.

Everyone knows running is the worst thing you can do in such a situation. Whether it’s a wolf or an ogre behind you, running simply encourages it to chase you, and then eat you when it catches you.

So you focus on the wind painting your cheeks with cold and take deep breaths of the winter. Those breaths coat your throat with the chill too and settle into your chest with a dull ache. It would hurt to run because of that ache. It’d turn from a chill in your throat to a burn, which tastes like copper. You know this from past experience.

No one walks in the street with you. All the doors and windows are closed, bolted tight against the world. That’s good. The villagers are doing exactly as you asked of them.

wolf-2-1568458When they hired you, they couldn’t say exactly what plagues their village. All they know is something is stalking people; always at dusk there’s that sense of foreboding and some of the people report growls. From your experience, you guess it’s a wolf, an ogre or a man. There’re several wanted men supposed in the area. Their wanted fliers crinkle in your bag.

You continue down the road, your coat pulled tight across your shoulders as though you’re warding off the chill. Beneath your coat hide several daggers of varying size. You’d keep a bow or sword, but they’re harder to conceal and you want the threat to think you an easy target.

So you wander to the edge of town, humming low to lend a relaxed feel to everything, and head out toward the sage fields.

The hairs on your neck tickle with attention. Good. Whatever’s behind you is following you out of the village.

The road takes a sharp turn north after leaving the buildings. Directly in front of you rolls a field of solid sage coated in frosty snow. For a brief moment, you consider just wandering into the sage, letting the frost show your footprints, but any unsuspecting person would follow the road, so you turn with it and head north. The last rays of the sun extend skyward with a hazy hue of fresh snow just as you reach the trees on the northern hills.

Your skin still prickles with unease. This is where is gets dicey. The trees offer concealment with their shadows growing darker by the minute.

Someone laughs just after you step into the trees. It’s a low chuckle, full of amusement and darker malice.thumb_dsc01579_1024

“You’re not the first, you know?” a deep male voice asks.

Where is he? You turn to the right, turning your ear up to hear better, trying to place his location.

“The first?” you ask.

“Hunter,” the man says.

You stifle a growl. The villagers lied to you. They promised they hadn’t hired anyone else to handle their problem. Since they had, of course the menace knows your purpose. It changes the whole dynamic of the hunt.

“Didn’t tell you that, did they?” the man guessed. “So helpful of them.”

A cry carries on the chill breeze. At first you think it a bird but then the cry’s joined by another and it dawns on you, something’s still in the village attacking the people there.

“Yes,” the man confirms. “I’m not alone. Just one cog in the wheel.” He chuckles again. You still can’t see him but he obviously can see your face to recognize the realization there. “So what’s it to be, Hunter?” he asks. “Are you going to capture me or run to the villager’s aid?”

It’s a good question. What do you do?

A. Capture the man?

Or

B. Aid the Village?

In the comments, vote for whichever choice you’d like to explore. On Thursday, the adventure will return with the choice that gets the most votes. Good luck!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Witness Protection

I’m loving the snow on the ground. To me, it just epitomizes this time of year. So, even though I posted this story a while ago, I figured it might be fun to revisit it.

I hope 2015 has kicked off to a fabulous start for everyone=)

Witness Protection

Wind howled around the eves from the time the sun went down to just before it rose. The cabin was solid enough to take the beating but Gwen lay awake listening to the banshee scream.

Then it went still and left her ears ringing. She stretched, groaning as the chill sept into the covers.

Get the fire going. Awe no! I forgot the water. Gwen rubbed her forehead as she slid out of bed. She pulled on her wool socks before touching feet to floor. Even still, the cold bit through to make her toes ache. Donning more layers than just her wool underwear, she even added her cloak after watching her breath cloud around her face.

Then she set to lighting the kindling she’d prepared the night before in the hearth. Sweet warmth built from the small flames. Gwen sighed with an ‘ah’ as she held her hands close. She rubbed her fingers until they turned red and then shoved them into her mittens. Last she wrapped her scarf around the lower portion of her face.

Water. 

Leaving the cabin exposed Gwen to the brutal cold but she’d forgotten to fill the water the day before. Brant left her oatmeal. She needed water to eat. He hadn’t apparently considered how cold the next month would be when he set her up at the cabin.

Making her way to the river was a slow process. The wind pushed the snow into drifts and each step sunk Gwen up to her knees in the crusty white.

Snow was supposed to be powdery. Gwen had always thought so but not here. Here it froze so solid that each step dented in a small crater with a crunch.

Nearing the river, she slowed and tapped the snow ahead with the water bucket. After three taps, the snow slid and was swept away by the river.

She learned her first day at the cabin that the wind shoved the snow-turned-solid-ice into a berm over the river. She’d fallen through the berm into water so frigid it’d taken her a good thirty seconds to convince her lungs to draw breath. Then it’d taken a whole day to warm herself by the fire in the cabin.

She’d used too much wood that day. Now she was rationing it. Curse Brant for not educating her on the dangers of the mountain cold. She would just melt snow for water instead of going to the river but melting snow required more wood. Curse Brant again. One mistake and now she feared freezing before Brant returned for her.

He had to return for her. No one else would look for her here. That was kind of the point. But now she feared being left, forgotten. She was just an asset to Brant, nothing more. If, for some reason, he no longer needed her to testify, would he come back for her? She couldn’t say. She didn’t really know the man.

Drawing water, Gwen set the bucket on the bank beside her and watched the horizon as the sun peeked over.

That was the one thing she loved about this place. Those first rays of sun touched the snow with gentle fingers, making it sparkle, pristine and untouched. It made her heart ache that something so beautiful could exist without being seen by most souls.

She’d never seen it herself until Brant left her here. He’d acted like this place was the most natural, common place in the world. Perhaps, for him, it was. He was, after all, the King’s ranger.

The King tasked him with hiding her, the only witness to the theft of the crown, until the man she’d named as guilty was found. Brant guessed it’d take a month, at most.

Gwen sighed. This was her fourth week. She’d marked out the days on a piece of firewood.

Being a noblewoman, she’d never spent so long with only her thoughts. Her thoughts scared her. Was she always so superficial?

Probably. After a month to consider, she could admit it. At least to herself. Sighing, Gwen started and scrunched her face.

“Not again!” Her breath had frozen to her brows and lashes. It was the one drawback to covering her face with a scarf. If she sat too long, her breath was directed up against her face and froze to any exposed hair.

Picking up the water, which had already formed a fine crust of ice, Gwen rubbed her face with one mittened hand to break the frost from her brows as she retraced her steps to the cabin.

It probably wasn’t much warmer inside but to Gwen it felt like a toasty bath, just lacking steam.

Breaking the crust of ice, she poured water into the kettle and added a piece of wood to the fire. She warmed the water just enough to make the oatmeal bearable and then sat back to eat breakfast.

When she went home, she swore she’d never touch oatmeal again.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGwen added her cloak on top of the bed that night. Two more days. She’d give it two more days. If Brant didn’t return by then, she’d head out on her own.

The wind started its howl just as sleep was pulling her under. She started at the shrieking and then flopped back, groaning. After a month, she should be used to the high keening around the eves. She wasn’t, though. It made her ears ring something fierce every morning after listening to it all night.

Finally a light sleep pulled her under but the howl crept into her unconscious mind.

A banshee chased her through the snow, hissing and spitting as it clawed its way closer. Snow, crusted hard, crunched into deep craters beneath her running feet. Crunch, crunch, crunch, thunk.

Gwen bolted upright.

The door.

She rolled just in time to avoid the man who’d barreled into the cabin.

She knew who he was without seeing his face. She’d never seen another person with ears like his. Floppy lobes due to gauging, which elongated his already long ears. They framed his face like he was part elephant.

She’d described all of that for the King but apparently it hadn’t been enough for here was the thief, not the ranger.

Hitting the floor on hands and knees, Gwen darted for the hearth where a metal poker leaned. She didn’t make it.

The thief caught her ankle and yanked her back. Digging her nails into the wooden floor, she reached, while twisting and kicking, for something to fight with. Her fingers latched onto cold metal.

Swinging with all her strength, Gwen slammed the water bucket against the man’s head. The water sloshed across the floor and the bucket hit with a crunch. Thudding to his knees, the thief groaned. He released her ankle to hold his head. Gwen snatched her cloak from the bed, shoved her boots on and raced out the door as it swung in the wind.

He’ll kill me.

But so would the cold.

As soon as Gwen left the cabin’s walls, the buffet of wind almost knocked her over. It whipped her hair across her face in angry gusts from the east.

Can’t stay exposed.

One hand to the cabin wall, she struggled around to the west side. Stepping into the windbreak from the cabin, she glanced back. Even with the dark and the blowing snow, she could tell her foot prints were gone. One plus to the insane weather.

But the windbreak of the cabin wouldn’t keep her from freezing. Already her fingers were numb to the point she could barely hold her cloak around her shoulders.

She couldn’t wander out from the cabin either. Between the dark and the snow, she’d be lost and dead long before morning.

Bury myself it is then.

She’d heard of people surviving storms by digging snow caves and hiding inside. She’d scoffed at the stories. A snow cave couldn’t possibly be warm enough to keep a body alive, could it?

Hopefully the stories were true. They were her only option unless she wanted to go back and face the thief. She’d broken his nose. She was sure of it, but that hadn’t knocked him out. He’d be after her soon.

Kneeling, Gwen dug into the drift of snow at the corner of the cabin. She used the edges of her cloak to protect her hands but even still, the exertion warmed her and it was enough to tell her hands were taking a beating.

Finally, having a large enough hole to fit her body into, Gwen packed the walls until they were slick and then curled into the small cave.  It wasn’t comfortable or warm but in comparison to the outside, it was protected.

Gwen’s hands throbbed. Folding her cloak and hood tight to her skin, she tucked her hands into her arm pits where her core could keep them bearably warm.

She lay shivering as she tried to gauge how late the night was. How long before morning? She didn’t really have a way to tell although the wind always died down before sunrise. She hoped it’d died down soon.

Something dripped onto her cheek. Gwen frowned and touched the roof of her cave. Her fingers came away wet. The roof was slicked with a fine layer of water from her body heat. As her hands searched, she found a point where the water was collecting. Packing the point smooth, Gwen shifted her cloak some to keep her dry.

Brant gave her the garment when he left her. He said at the time that a water resistant cloak lined with fur could mean life or death out here. She’d chuckled, thinking she wouldn’t be here long enough to need it. Now she could kiss him for it…or stab him for not catching the thief.

Shivering continued to rack her body. She clamped her teeth closed but that only kept her teeth quiet. It didn’t keep her body from shuddering.

Curse men altogether.

It was a man who stole the crown. Then it was a man who ordered her ‘kept safe.’ Then a man who dumped her out here and called it good.

If a woman had been the thief, she would have had the courtesy not to be seen. Or if the Queen decided on ‘safe,’ if would’ve involved joining her ladies-in-waiting, not trudging to a cabin in the middle of no where.

Her thinking wasn’t fair but while she shivered in the night and listened to the wind, she didn’t care.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wind died down and the silence woke her. It was that time of morning just before the sun rose when the air was brittle with cold and eerily quiet.

Crunch.

Gwen sucked in a breath and held it.

Crunch.

The sound of a slow step in the crusted snow. The thief was up and moving.

Crunch.

He wouldn’t know she stayed by the cabin, would he? Perhaps he thought the night and cold killed her. It should have. Her, a noblewoman, with no knowledge of the frozen mountains.

Crunch.

The sound was way too close. Gwen couldn’t move.

Her cave crumbled as he pulled on her cloak. The thief had the edge of the garment in his hand. He yanked again and Gwen cried out as he reached for her.

Her arms and legs ached, screamed at her as she flailed after being curled in a ball for hours.

He yanked a third time and the cloak slid from her shoulders.

Gwen stood and spun away but had to brace a hand on the wall when her legs protested. Bloody hand prints trailed the wall, leading right to her spot.

She shoved away and tried to run toward the river but her steps sunk her up to her knees until she was crawling and scrambling instead of running.

The thief yelled but she couldn’t, and didn’t really want to, hear his words. He was chasing her. With his longer legs, he was gaining fast.

Seeing the river ahead, Gwen stopped and crouched, turning as the thief reached for her.

She grabbed his extended hand and pulled. Caught off guard, he stumbled. He stepped once, then twice to regain his balance. Gwen braced her legs and shoved him past her.

He stepped onto the ice berm over the river. It held for a second before crumbling and then he disappeared into the river, windmilling his arms on the way down. He bobbed to the surface farther down with his mouth open in a silent shriek.

Gwen could relate to that feeling.

The thief caught on a rock down mid-stream.

“Now I’ve got to fish him out.”

Gwen shrieked and spun.

Brant stood there eyeing her.

“He’s your problem,” she said and then clamped her teeth together. Her body was still shivering. She couldn’t feel her feet and her hands felt like she’d grated them on a wash board. She flexed her fingers and finally figured out why she’d left bloody hand prints. She tore several nails in her struggle with the thief. Probably left grooves in the cabin floor.

“That he is. I’m glad he finally took the bait.”

“Bait? I was bait!” Gwen wanted to scream and yell and maybe hit him but all that came out was a lot of half words. “yo–cruel–why-” She gave up. She was railing at him in her underwear and shivering so hard she couldn’t keep her teeth quiet.

Spinning, she trudged back to the cabin for her clothes. She didn’t offer to help him retrieve the thief.

***

By the time Brant came in, he and the thief were both drenched and shivering with ice forming in their hair.

Gwen had built up the fire to thaw her frozen limbs and the cabin was toasty warm. She found the sled Brant must have hauled in. Half of it was covered with wood. The other half more food stuffs. He would have left her here as long as it took to lure the thief in apparently.

But he brought firewood, for which Gwen could almost forgive him his plans. Almost.

Seeing both men come back crusted with ice cooled her ire even more. They deserved the experience, both of them, and it was satisfying to see, but she didn’t begrudge them the warmth in the cabin either. It wasn’t like she wanted them dead.

The thief now had a crooked nose to add to his elongated ears. He sat in the corner of the cabin with his shoulders slumped and head down.

After a silent breakfast of oatmeal, Gwen helped Brant clean the cabin.

“Time to go,” he announced and then frowned at her. “Where’s the cloak I gave you?”

“Out under the snow,” Gwen announced, “where I spent the night while this man enjoyed the cabin.”

Brant finally had the decency to look sorry. “He was here all night?”

“Duh genius. Your master plan had a few glitches. Although I could kiss you for the cloak. It saved my life.”

He looked flabbergasted. Gwen’s day was looking up. She turned away to go find the cloak. She planned to enjoy one last morning of the sun sparkling off the snow before she returned home.

The End.

Blessings,

Jennifer

 

The Smell Of…New Years Resolutions?

It’s that time of year again.

That time of year where we review what we’ve done over the last twelve months like we can lay out our lives into neat little calendar boxes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe rue our failures, cheer at our successes, and plan for the next twelve months. We often call this planning “New Years Resolutions” but these resolutions, for me at least, tend to be revisions on my past year’s failures and the stench of such failures tends to cloud my thinking. There’s that niggling doubt in the back of my head that questions, if all of 2012 wasn’t enough for me to succeed, what’s to make 2013 any different?

Such doubts make us reach farther, thinking that maybe I just didn’t have a big enough target last year and so I missed the mark. Last January I planned to finish writing my book. That’s such a tiny bulls eyes, so maybe if I plan to write three books this year, I’ll get somewhere. Now I can see the gigantic red dot. I’ll finish the books and send them to agents and I’ll go big! Just like that!

Gung ho and three days in I beat myself over the head for not having written anything yet.

Now I’m not saying don’t have big dreams. Don’t get me wrong. Big dreams are what make people stand out, they’re what give us passion.

As Daniel Lee Edstrom once wrote: “The smell of frustration cannot compete with the stench of non-creation.”

In other words, frustration is much better than nothing. If you’re frustrated, at least you’re trying, you’re moving forward, learning and active.

What happens, however, is we see the big dreams and forget all the small steps required in between to achieve those dreams. January 2nd rolls around and we sigh, well the big resolution was a good idea, but it’s just too big. Can’t eat the whole elephant so I won’t even try.

Here’s the trick though, you don’t have to eat the whole elephant, you just have to pick a piece to start. How about the tail?

My tail? Focusing on the senses in writing. Once I spend a while on those, maybe I’ll move onto a toe. I’ll call that toe Close Point of View but I won’t look too closely at that now because the senses is my start. Breaking that down even more, I’ll focus on smell. Why? Because smell is powerful.

Helen Keller once wrote: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousand of miles and all the years you have lived.”

I smell the perfume I wore on the day of my wedding and all the emotions of that day come rushing back to me. What magic!

So to put smell into writing is my challenge. I’ll dig into it and see what I can come up with.

For instance:

Nate and I were hiking in the fall when the aspens were dropping their leaves. Our path was so covered that I termed it the ‘yellow brick road.’ As we moved along, the crush of the leaves and their slow decay filled the air with that pungent oder so distinct to aspen groves in the fall. I began, like a first grade lesson in word association, to describe that smell.

Nate just called it the decay of leaves, which is true, but the word ‘decay’ sounds so gross for a smell that’s quite wonderful.

My Dad called it the smell of bitter tea. I like this better because the smell is indeed bitter but I like tea in a warm, ‘umm’ type of way. The description ‘rings true’ for me and, I suspect, rings true for a few others too.

How would you describe the fall of aspen leaves? The scent of snow? The smell of home canned peaches? These are my small steps to start the year.

Maybe you plan to start a business or learn to sing or stop smoking or loose weight or…

Whatever your resolution, what’s the first small step you can take to make it a reality?

Blessings and Happy New Year,

Jennifer