Author’s Note: This is the conclusion of Part 2 of the prequel blog serial entitled “What is Needed”. Click on these links to read Part 1, Part 2 (first section) and Part 2 (Conclusion). This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga) as expanded writing samples originally published for the closed Indiegogo campaign for the novel. The events of the blog series pre-date those of The Bow of Destiny by several hundred years but include several long-lived characters who appear in the forthcoming novel. Please read this post and consider supporting the fundraiser. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent.
What is Needed (Part 3)
by P. H. Solomon
The bell clanged and jolted Hastra from sleep. Screams, shouts and snarls echoed from the lower levels. It’s a dream like the others. She clutched her blanket at her chin and waited.
Zelma lit a candle. Light flared and illuminated her wide-eyed face and disheveled shocks of flame-red hair. “Is that what you heard in the first vision?”
Hastra groaned. It had come. No, it had been here all along. She swung her bare feet onto the frigid floor. “Get dressed in something warm. The snow’s melted but nights are still cold.”
Zelma’s mouth remained open as she twisted in her bed with a nod.
Hastra swirled into a dress and sat on her bed while she tugged wool stockings on her feet. “Shh.” She waved a hand and they sat silent. Ominous sounds rose and fell beyond their door. “Put that candle out, someone’s coming.” She snatched her walking stick, hoisted it at her shoulder and stood by the door.
Quick footsteps stopped at their door. It creaked opened. Lamp-light bloomed. Hastra withheld her swing at the sight of Howart’s gaunt face. His eyes blinked in the shadow of their deep hollows.
The tall Withling swung the lamp in the room. “Come with me. I’ve expected this and made preparations in the cellars if we can get there. I’ll get anyone else nearby while you finish here but hurry. No shoes from here, they echo.” Howart paused for spare moments, pulled shoes off his feet and then went tapping on nearby doors.
Zelma lit the candle again.
“Don’t bother with that, sister, we can see enough to gather what we need.”
“I’ll leave it lit when we leave so they’ll have to search the rooms.”
Hastra nodded and grabbed their winter cloaks as Zelma finished with her stockings. They left with their shoes in hand and found wide eyed, trembling Withlings gathered with Howart in the passage. Just ten of us? So few. Hastra pushed hair out of her face. Better than none.
Light flickered in the near stairwell.
Howart shuttered his lamp and lowered his voice. “This way to the cellars. Run!”
The knot of Withlings scurried along the hall. Their legs pumped as they navigated the far stairwell in near darkness. They reached a landing and crowded out of sight. Pig-faced bugbears smashed through barred doors at the far length of the lowest apartment level. Crashes and growls sounded from the level above them.
Howart pulled his hood onto his head and he murmured into their knot. “Follow me. Stay in the shadows. We can’t wait or they will catch us here.” He held the shuttered lamp away from the wall. The skinny Withling pressed against the stone wall and slipped into the deeper darkness gathered below them .
The others took their turns as the trolls ravaged rooms and drug out other screaming Withlings.
Hastra pulled on her hood. She slunk after Howart and schooled her attention away from the trolls. She held her breath and crossed in the shadows. She ignored the screams. But her eyes flicked toward the movement. A bugbear stabbed feeble Durna. Tears pooled in her eyes at the sight of blood. She was so kind and now gone. Hastra rubbed her damp cheeks and faded into darkness.
They plunged into the upper cellars.
Hastra inhaled the mustiness as they descended. She winced at the destructive clamor and she blinked back tears for lost friends. Why couldn’t she find their betrayers sooner. She bumped into someone with a grunt as they halted in the cellar passage. “Sorry.”
Dim light glowed on Howart’s face and everyone crowded close at his whispers. “I’ll chance a little light here. I’m not as familiar with this area. We need to go to into the lower cellars. Put on your shoes.”
Hastra slipped on her shoes and pushed closer to the skeletal Withling. “Those cellars aren’t used anymore. It’s dangerous with rats and decay.”
“I’ve been preparing for this. I’ve mapped a way out from there.”
Tenelle, the pudgy Shildran woman from the end of Hastra’s hall frowned. “Preparing? You’ve known about this and told no one?”
“We’ve only suspected based on visions Hastra had all winter without instructions from Eloch.”
Faces turned to Hastra. They were confused and angry with her. Torchlight flickered above and the sound of chaos rose.
“We’ve no time to discuss this. Follow me or perish.” Howart trotted away and passed closed doors to storage rooms.
Hastra hurried after Howart with the others but endured uncertain murmurs until Howart shushed them. They thought her to blame. Maybe she should have spoken out. Crashes echoed from the dark passage behind her. It wouldn’t have made a difference.
Howart led them through several turns until they reached a stairwell to the lower cellars. Their leader huffed with sweat beaded on his brow. “I’ve hidden a few supplies below that may help us. This is a maze and I don’t know my way well at all.”
Water dripped in places and the slick stair slowed them. Hastra held her skirt high and felt for each step with her foot. Dust tickled her nose. She covered her lower face with her sleeved arm and stifled a sneeze. If the trolls didn’t get them the foul air would. She exhaled, gasped for air and held it. What’s rotted down here?
They gained the lower cellar level and kicked up more dust. Howart risked more light.
Grit on the stone floor scraped under their feet. There’s Howart’s footprints from his earlier forays. Where’s he leading us? Their guide turned several times and Hastra lost her sense of direction. She pulled her skirt higher as she traipsed through a shallow pool of discolored water.
Howart opened a door and stepped into a room. Instead of darkness they met light as their knot of Withlings pushed into the room.
Kregen wheeled from shelves packed with supplies. The position of the Rokan’s light cast an shadow across half his face. “So you’re the one who left all this here.”
Howart’s voice rose in spite of the danger. “What are you doing here? Weren’t you at the gate? Didn’t you ring the bell? How did you escape the trolls?”
“Zeld had the gate tonight.” Kregen’s thin lips spread into a smile beneath his hooked nose though no friendliness rose in his eyes. “And I didn’t escape the trolls.” He snapped his fingers. Snake-faced hobgoblins and tusked bugbears stepped from behind old crates. Curved blades whispered from sheathes as the trolls drew their weapons.
Hastra wheeled toward the door. A sword-point rose to her throat. The mirthless grin of a hobgoblin revealed yellowed, broken teeth. They were trapped! She held her breath.
“You see, Withling’s Watch is mine in the name of Magdronu.”
Hastra gasped. The Hidden Dragon has destroyed us. The fetid stench no longer bothered Hastra as their captors snorted and snarled laughter.
End of Part 3 (Part 4 will be re-posted on 12/6)
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