Fan fiction:The Key/Chapter 2: Flight
The Key is a fan fiction piece by Tamrend, originally posted in the Diii.net Fan Fiction Forum. The fiction series has been going since February 2004, and still see the occasional update with more chapters or parts of chapters. You can find more information on The Key article.
Chapter 2: Flight[edit source]
"You'll meet me at the edge of Graegor’s estate," Shael said, putting a hand on Kelsia's arm. The light from the tavern cast her face half in light, half in shadow. Her tone suggested that she thought Kelsia might try to leave without her.
“I’ll be there,” Kelsia promised. She was anxious to be off. They were each going to warn their families about the possible attack.
“See that you are, and stay out of trouble,” Shael admonished as she shouldered the satchel of food scraps they had weaseled from the tavern cook. She started away towards her house, the satchel bouncing against her side as she ran. Kelsia turned and set off with a brisk stride in the opposite direction, alone in the deepening darkness.
As the walked, the staff struck the road with a hollow thump, a constant reminder of its presence. She flinched at the distant sound of a dog’s barking. For one terror-stricken moment, she thought that the attack had come, but then the noise quieted once more.
Her family’s farm was close by the edge of town. She heard rather than saw the pond that marked the land's boundary near the road, the frogs greeting her approach with a riot of croaking. She turned off of the road and followed the cart trail through the tall, close stalks and sweet, musky scent of the cornfield. The smell of home.
A strange, sudden longing lent urgency to her steps. She leapt up the stairs to the porch and flung open the door. The interior was black but for the shapeless patches of color conjured up by her own eyes. “Hello?” she called. After a few moments, her eyes adjusted to the darkness. The front room was empty. She went to the kitchen, really just a corner of the same room. The stove was cold when she put her hand up to it.
She went to the room that she and her brother, Matias shared. The bed was empty, the rest of the room very tidy, the way he always kept it. Her mother's room was last. The floorboard in front of the door creaked when she stepped on it, just as it always did. “Matias? Mama?” No one answered.
She knew that they had planned to go into town that day, but it was rare for her mother to stay out after dark. At a loss, Kelsia stepped back out into the night and closed the door behind her. Her feet felt heavy as they carried her back to the road and toward the village. Her choices swam through her head, slippery, ephemeral. She had committed herself to a quest, a purpose she knew nothing about, but she sensed its importance. What would happen, though, if she didn't find her family and warn them to get to safety?
The staff suddenly grew warm in her hand.
No, she had to go on. She couldn't even begin to know where her family might be. She would have to trust that they could take care of themselves. Whatever the staff represented, it was too vital to risk.
Shael was not there when she arrived at the place they had agreed upon. Kelsia sat down to wait, her back against the fence. Soon she began to grow worried. Graegor's estate was close enough to the village that she should be able to hear if a battle had started, but it remained quiet. At last, Shael's diminutive figure came running across the field from the direction of the town. Kelsia stood up and waved and she corrected her course to meet her.
Shael came to a stop and hunched over, her hands resting on her knees while she regained her wind. "Sorry. I'm. Late," she said between breaths.
"They weren't home," Kelsia told her, knowing she would be able to appreciate how strange that was.
"Women had a meeting," Shael said, now beginning to get back her breath. "My ma was there. Maybe yours, too."
It was a hopeful thought. If here mother had been at the meeting hall, Graegor would get word to them quickly. Shael began speaking again. "I almost didn't make it. My da told me to stay put when I told him. I had to sneak away. Here." She held out one of the two bows that hung over her shoulder.
Kelsia looked at the weapon dubiously. “I don’t know how to use one of those,” she protested.
Shael took hold of her hand, put the bow into it, and closed her fingers around it. “I’ll teach you how. I’m nearly as good as any of my brothers. This one was made for a child, so it will be an easy draw.” She then handed Kelsia a quiver of arrows.
"Is this your old bow?" Kelsia asked.
Shael's expression looked pained. "I had to take my chance to slip away from the house, and I couldn't risk trying to get my bow. I took them out of Master Keese's shop. The latch on one of his back windows is loose."
"You stole these?" Kelsia demanded.
Shael put out her hands in a placating gesture. "We're borrowing them," she said, "just like we're borrowing Master Graegor's horses."
She did have a point, though at least Graegor would probably realize who had taken the horses and why, once he noticed that the staff was gone. The bowyer, Master Keese, was like to believe that he had simply been robbed. Kelsia would rather leave the bows behind and hope they would not need them, but Shael would not be dissuaded. “If you’re a damn fool enough to want to do this on your own, at least have the wits to bring some protection,” she retorted. In the end, Kelsia had to accede that she was right. Even if they weren’t being chased, there were enough dangerous animals in the wild to warrant bringing weapons.
The entered the mayor’s pasture land by squeezing through the wooden post and rail fence. Kelsia was thankful that she and Shael had chosen to wear tunic and breeches for their hike earlier in the day. What they were doing wasn't the kind of thing to attempt in a dress.
Light shone from the house on the hilltop, but the field through which they trudged was empty and quiet but for the sound of night bugs. The large, open space made Kelsia feel exposed. She was glad when the stable loomed before them in the darkness, providing some amount of cover. They crept along the wall of the long, low building until they found a door. At a push, it creaked inward.
“We’re going to have to do this in the dark,” Kelsia whispered. “Try to find a horse that looks like it will stand up to a long ride. This door is too small, so I’m going to open the main doors. Once we’re out, we’ll turn west and head for the road.” Shael nodded her agreement and followed her inside. Kelsia found the huge double doors at one end of the stable. She heaved upward on the thick wooden beam and it gave grudgingly, pushing up out of the bracket that held it on one side. Grunting with the effort, she swung the beam on its hinge until it locked into another bracket on the other side. At a push, the doors swung outward and she hurried back to look for a horse.
Many of the horses were asleep in their stalls, but one snorted at her and lifted its head through the slats of its gate. Kelsia stopped and put her hand out, letting the animal sniff her. She opened the latch and swung the gate out. The horse stepped out through the opening, stamping a hoof and tossing its head at finding sudden freedom. Kelsia checked the animal over quickly. He was a gelding and seemed to be in good health. She couldn’t tell his color without light, but he was a dark shade and had a pair of light spots on his head below his eyes. “Are you sure you want to go with me, boy?” she asked him, stroking his mane. His ears perked up and rotated to follow her voice. “It’s a long way.” For answer, he nuzzled her hand.
She found riding gear stowed on a shelf and saddled the horse as quickly as her limited experience would allow.
A voice sounded from another part of the stable and Kelsia froze, thinking a stable hand had entered and spotted her. In a way, the thought was strangely a relief, that the burden of responsibility might be taken from her by circumstance. But then she heard Shael’s answering voice. She followed the sound of the voices towards the far end of the barn and saw what had happened. Shael stood before an open stall with a bridle clutched in her hands. Facing her, and with his back to Kelsia, was a young man with a crossbow pointed at her chest.
“Do you want to tell me what you’re doing, then?” he demanded
Kelsia’s heart pounded furiously in her ears. She set the staff on the ground. Taking a step forward took all of her will.
“Master Graegor wants me to deliver something for him,” Shael answered. “I saw him tonight, at the tavern.”
The man took one of his hands from the weapon for a moment to scratch his jaw and returned it quickly. “No. He pays me to gaurd his horses. He would have told me. Why are you doing this, Shael? Are you trying to run away?”
Kelsia crept closer, step by careful step. Shael must have noticed her by now, but mercifully had not looked her way and alerted the man. “I’m just borrowing the horse, Edwin. I swear it.”
Kelsia knew that name. Edwin was a few years older than her, but they had played together as children. Whatever he thought, Kelsia couldn’t imagine that he would actually try to kill either of them. Somehow, that thought didn’t do much to make her any less afraid. She was just a step or two behind him and had to make a decision. Steeling herself, she threw her shoulder against him, knocking him into the side of a horse stall. A thwap sounded as the string released and the crossbow bolt skipped off the ground and clattered against the wall. She wrapped her arms around him and tried to drag him to the floor, but he stubbornly kept his feet. His elbow jabbed into her ribs and she fell off him, gasping for air.
Edwin raised the crossbow over her like a club, ready to bring it down on her head.
“Stop!” The command was hissed with enough force that Edwin paused in his swing. Shael stood five paces away, bow in hand, with an arrow drawn back against her cheek. “Put it down, Edwin.”
He lowered the crossbow and let it drop to the floor. Kelsia stared at her friend in amazement, feeling as though she had witnessed a transformation. Shael glanced at her. “Are you alright, Kelsy?”
Kelsia had managed to get her wind back and wheezed a “yes.”
Edwin squinted at her. “You too, Kelsia? Why are you doing this?”
Kelsia looked at Shael, who still had the arrow pointed and half-drawn. There had to be a way out of this without resorting to violence. “Edwin, you know us," Kelsia pleaded. "You know we aren’t thieves. Shael wasn’t totally honest with you. Graegor doesn’t know that we’re taking his horses, but we need them for something very important. If you tell him we went to Dalmers Ferry, he’ll understand. And we’ll bring them back when we’re finished.”
He looked at the bow in Shael’s hands. Kelsia could tell he was weighing his duty against his life. Suddenly he didn’t look as old as he had at first, nor as threatening. “Do I really have much choice?”
Shael flashed him a wry, confident grin. "No, not really. Would you saddle her up, Kelsy?"
Kelsia moved to do as she asked. She attached reins, headstall and bit and tightened the strap of the saddle to fit the mare Shael had chosen.
"Stay where I can see you," Shael commanded Edwin once she had finished. Kelsia took the reins of her own horse and led them both toward the doors, stopping only to retrieve the staff. Shael backed up next to her, arrow still trained on Edwin. Once they were outside, Shael plucked arrow from bow and ran to her horse. Kelsia got her leg over on the second try and spurred her mount to a gallop, sparing a glance back to be sure that Shael wasn't far behind. It took most of her concentration, though, just to keep her seat while hanging onto the staff and keeping her bow from slipping off her shoulder. She had ridden bareback a few times on the old mare her mother had bought a few years ago, but that was nothing like trying to stay on the wildly bouncing back of this powerful horse. When she felt they had reached a safe distance, Kelsia signaled Shael and they slowed to a brisk trot.
"That was amazing," Kelsia remarked, tipping her head back the way they had come.
Shael shook her head ruefully. Her voice was hoarse with emotion. "You can't see it, but I'm still shaking. I was terrified. What if my hand had slipped?"
It was a sobering thought. Their encounter at the stable, though successful for them, had not been what she had in mind. How much might this quest cost them before they were finished?
They joined the main road and turned north, the ground taking on a gradual upward slope on its way up and over the highlands. They stopped for a brief rest to stow their possessions in the saddlebags. Also to give Shael some time to calm her nerves. As soon as Shael was ready, they were off again. Kelsia hoped to put a few hours of distance between them and the village.
They came to the top of a bare ridge and Kelsia glanced over her shoulder, back the way they had come. She gasped in horror. Far below in the valley, yellow flames leapt upward towards the sky. She called for Shael to look, but her voice was cut short by a sob.
The village was burning.
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