The sun rose in a blaze, blinding her as she made her way up the hill. She crested the top of the hill and stared at the monster of a town below her. She held her hand up to block the light so she could see into the distance. Her long black hair blew in to her eyes and she shoved it behind her ears in aggravation.
Below her she could see that the buildings were crammed tightly inside the walls. People milled around like ants. Wagons full of breads, cloths, silver and other finery to be sold at the market pressed into the crowds pushing people out of the way. You could hear the sounds of people shouting and metal clashing even from where she set atop her horse about a mile away.
With a deep breath Renee urged her horse forward. She needed supplies. She would have to be picky as her gold was low. Right now food and clothing were her main concerns. She would have liked to have gotten a room and a bath for the night but her meager supplies had to last her all the way to the capital. Her trip had barely begun three weeks ago and this was the first time she had stopped for supplies. She had supplemented her meager food supplies with what game she could catch. The woods near her home where almost empty of wild game the past few months. Everyone was suffering since King Aryan died. Without an heir the country was in turmoil trying to keep its boarders intact.
The fighting had pushed into the area around her home many months ago. The soldiers were cruel to the villagers. It didn’t matter whether it was your own country’s troops or not. They burned and pillaged just like outsiders and robbers. They took food, money, livestock, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. The rumors of a rebellion in the capital had reached to her village. Rumors of people fighting back and trying find the rightful heir to the throne.
All this evil was done in the name of Ker the all mighty. Renee spit in disgust. The people in the capital called him the mighty one true god. After King Aryan died it had become a crime to worship anyone but Ker. Renee had always feared a raid on her small hut back home. Her shrine to Airmida was small and hidden in the back of her supply room. Airmida was the goddess of healing, medicine and spring. She was just one of many great gods and goddesses in their world. Renee was a healer in her village and had been raised with Airmida as her main goddess. She wouldn’t forsake her for anything. Her mother had trained her in the ways of Airmida and whispered of a great heritage.
Renee sighed as she thought of her parents. She had lost them both at a fairly young age. It had been a bad winter and they had sent her away for her healing training. When she had returned home to train with the local healer her parents were gone. They had died in a freak winter storm. Her father’s body was found in the snow when the weather cleared. Her mother’s body wasn’t found but many of her things had been recovered. Renee had never found out what the heritage was that her mother whispered about. She shrugged off the memories as she worked her way down the hill.
She had left her home when the soldiers had gotten too far out of control and smashed up her salves, potions and medicines. She was headed now to the capital. To help this rebellion in any way she could. The thought that the rebellion was just a rumor never crossed her mind. She would cross that bridge when she came to it.
She traveled carefully and tried not to draw attention to herself. She mostly stayed in the edge of the woods shadowing the road. Any time she heard horses she hid, fearful that it might be soldiers. She had means of protecting herself but she refrained from using them if possible, for she was a healer and devoted her life to healing people not hurting them. The soldiers had gotten a bad reputation for treating women roughly and having their way with them. She had treated several of the women in her village after such attacks. The women never once said a word to the village constable. Even when Renee said she would go with them and give witness to the things she had treated them for. Their fears of retaliation and death at the hands of these men were too great.
Her horse began to shake when she lead it into the press of people near the town gate. She eased through the pedestrians carefully and made her way into the line waiting to enter. She watched the people ahead of her as they dealt with the gate guard. Each one was asked a series of questions then given a parchment of one type or another. She could feel her hands sweating as she twisted the reins nervously. Her turn finally came around and she tried to calm her nervous hands.
“Name?” the guard asked.
“Renee of Watergrove, sir”
“Purpose for visit?” he asked in an impatient tone.
“To buy supplies, sir.” She smiled trying to be confident. But something about this town made her unnerved.
“Length of stay?”
“Just for a few hours. Long enough to buy the things I need. Can you tell me how to get to the market?”
“Here are your papers. Follow the crowd. Be out of town by sunset. After sunset your papers expire and you’ll be put in jail for curfew violation. Move on.” He turned without thought to the next person in line.
She moved quickly into the flow of people headed into the city. She had never been in a city this big before. People practically swarmed over each other, yelling and screaming. Trying to sell or buy their wares. She ducked into a side street to catch her breath. This was impossible. Hours? To fight through this crowd? What had she been thinking? Her heart was racing a mile a minute. She stood up in the stirrups and surveyed the area ahead of her. On the left were the food vendors, on the right was a mix and match of clothing shops, healers, priest, and some shops the priest might frown upon.
With great ease she moved back into the crowd on the right hand side and made her way down to second hand clothing stand. She tied her horse up and ducked inside out of the press of people. On each side of the small stand were tables with piles of shirts, pants, and other various types of clothing.
She took a deep breath and dove into the table nearest her. After several piles had been discarded she was left with a rose colored shirt with a small rip in the side that she could very easily fix, and a beautiful blue shirt with some light stains on the sleeve. With a little embroidery or even removing the sleeves since it was warm the blue one would be presentable easily. The pants she found where a soft brown with a little fraying around the edges and she even found some womanly garments that where hardly touched. She made her way to the front of the shop and paid for her purchases. The girl behind the counter was barely old enough to see over the top of it. She smiled and gleefully took Renee’s money.
“Thank ye. With me Pa off in the capital lookin’ fer airs there’s naught but slim pickin’s ‘round here.”
“Looking for airs? What are you talking about little one?” Renee asked quite confused.
“Ya knows airs to the big chair in the big city. Somebody that’ll makes it all better.” She smiled and went behind the curtain to hide the money away.
Renee took her packages and strapped them to her other packs. She was still going over what the girl had told her when she practically got ran over by a cart of ale. The driver cursed her for not paying attention as she ducked back into the alleyway. More carefully she stepped out into the street. She put the information she had learned into the back of her mind and head for the food vendors across the square.
She found several stalls that offered the dried meats and herbs she was looking for. The first stall was way out of her price range with only prime cuts to be had. She slowly made her way down the row of vendors and finally found one that was reasonable. She picked up several herbs she was low on and several large dried chunks of meat. The meat was finely cured. It would be great for jerky or softened in a stew. She purchased several days worth of the meat and loaded them on her horse.
She was just barely going to make it out of town in time. She didn’t relish the idea of spending the night in jail. She made it to the gate just moments before they began to close them. There was an older man at the entrance now.
“Cutting it close child.” He laughed.
“Hard not to with that mess of people. Any news of how things fair in the capital?” Renee asked as the younger men shut the gate behind her.
“No good news. More fighting, and more people yelling about an heir to King Aryan’s throne. Hell, everyone knows he was childless. As was his only sister. Sad thing really. You’d think the government could keep everything in order but they’re too busy fighting amongst themselves to do anything. Wish there was an heir. I’d sit him on the throne me self. Enough of this war talk. You be careful tonight young one. There’s a mean storm brewing. Make sure you’ve got strong cover.” He nodded as she urged her horse forward.
She headed down the hill away from the town with thoughts heavy on her mind. Rebellion, it was a strong word and a strong idea. How could she help? She was nothing more than a healer. She’d never studied at the temple to learn more. Her teacher had always said she could do more than he could teach. But she had been scared. Afraid to leave everyone she knew and loved. Now because of the rebellion she was being forced to do exactly what she dreaded, leave everyone she loved and knew. Except that know she was alone and then she could and would have had all the help she needed along the way.
She had to be strong. If there was an heir and they could end all this fighting then she had to help. How could she stand by and watch the innocent people around her be abused and killed? That would be against all she stood for as a person and as a healer
A loud rumble of thunder brought her out of her thoughts. She was nowhere near the type of shelter that type of sound said she needed. She urged her horse into a run. She was just about to worry when she topped the rise in front of her. Below her was a thick group of over grown trees. She let the breath that she didn’t know she was holding out. It was just starting to sprinkle when she lead her horse under the trees.
When she entered the woods fully she was surrounded by darkness. Like the sun had gone down the moment she set foot in trees. Thoughts of childhood stories came to her mind as she walked through the tangle of branches. Elves, dwarves, goblins and all sorts of monsters meant to keep children out of the woods.
These woods had a different feel to them. They were completely silent. The only noise was the sound of her feet and the leaves beneath them. She found a sheltered spot big enough for her, her horse and a small fire. If she could get one going before everything was drenched. By the time she had her fire going good true night had fallen and fear was eating at the edge of her mind. The thunder grew louder and she could hear the rain start to hit the leaves above her.
She had never liked the woods, at night especially. She was always sure someone was there watching her from the shadows. She was beginning to feel that now. She pulled her cloak tighter around her as she looked around the edges of her shelter slowly. Almost afraid of what she might see. There it was! Movement off to her left.
She grabbed her pack and set to making wards around her camp. She cast as many of the spells that she could remember as fear gripped her. Her fear was like a lump in the pit of her stomach. She could hear it now. The leaves were rustling under the creature’s feet. She finished her wards and went back to the shelter of her fire. Renee was shaking hard as she sat and tried to warm herself. She heard a hiss off to the right as it touched one of her wards.
“Leave me be creature! I mean you no harm! I just seek shelter from the rain. Let me be and I’ll be gone by morning.”
She cried over the rain as panic took her. The wards were being weakened where the creature had touched it. She quickly tried to cast more wards as the other ones failed. She whispered a prayer to Airmida in between her spells. Her panic made her stumble over the spells as she worked. She managed to get one more up before she heard a rustle behind her. She tried to turn to face the noise. Renee felt something hit her solidly in the base of the skull. She screamed as she fell. When she hit the ground she reached up to feel of her head. She tried to see if there was blood but everything went black before she could.