The following is the next section of a short story entitled, For No Reason. I hope to include this story in an anthology in several months. The main character, Dax, is stuck in a magical rut that’s not headed toward a good ending…
Starting within the cabin, Dax chose no particular task first but worked with steady movements interrupted by fits of weakness. He swept dust into a choking cloud so he opened his windows and doors to the forest breeze. Dax cleaned his dishes, bedding, and clothes. He gathered the shattered mirrors into a stack that he laid in a corner like a shrine to his suffering.
Afterwards, he leaned back in his chair. He exhaled without the ragged grunts that plagued him. The room shone brighter even in spite of the dim hollow. Better though his sores ran and the beast’s devouring urges loomed. Dax rested his hands in his lap.
Later, Dax found the mule staring in the door. “I don’t know if it does any good but here it is all clean.” His cantankerous companion chewed on weeds growing around the porch. The animal snorted. Dax left oats by the steps in a pail and soon after the metal banged on the rail as his only companion ate.
A coughing fit woke him that night. A new symptom? His eyes watered as he realized smoke drifted through his open windows. Dax stumbled out the door and expected the sight of fire from the cabin. He grabbed a pail and headed for the water trough. There’s no fire here. He blinked sleep away.
Dax halted at the glow lighting the night sky from several wooded ridges away. The village was on fire. His brow pinched. The mule stomped, sides twitching away flies. “That’s big. I wonder if it’s the forest.”
The pack animal snorted and wagged its head.
Dax paced between the cabin and the shimmering light that waxed and faded beneath the stars. He’d go see them burning in the night. His lips curled into a grin as he hunched with fists clenched at his side. No, not a concern of his. They hated him so he didn’t care. Dax wended away from the sight. His feet shuffled with several turns until he gaped at the glow.
Dax’s hands clenched and opened. He whirled to the cabin and seized his gloves, hat and coat. Spittle gathered at the corners of his lips and his stomach rumbled. The mule let him climb onto its back without a balk. He kicked the mount into a trot and slapped the animal with the reins. “Let’s go see if they need–if anything’s left for us.” His lips curled into a grin followed by a frown.
He held a lantern as the mule stumped along the hard-packed road. “Might be I do all the burying or gnawing.” His stomach growled and then flipped. His jaw clenched at his beast-like urge. More likely he and the mule would make a pyre and then be moving on. The glow climbed higher. This fire won’t end this curse.
Smoke hung thicker each time he topped a rise. Dax coughed when he paused atop the final ridgeline and pulled a handkerchief over his nose. Distant shouts echoed amid the trees as he glimpsed buildings ablaze. A growl rumbled in his chest and he groaned. He reined the mule off the road among the trees where grey billows rolled among the trunks.
No one’s working at the fires? Dax chewed his lower lip. That’s strange.
A woman’s scream carried over the noise. “No! Not her! She don’t know nothing.”
Smoke cleared for spare seconds but in those moments he spied strangers with weapons who threatened the villagers. Bandits! His eyes narrowed. None of his business. Best not be caught by the rascals. He tugged the reins hard and guided his animal toward the road and his cabin. Maybe if they killed them all he wouldn’t–eventually. Maybe he’d be free of them and this place.
A higher, child’s squeal sounded amid the commotion.
“Tell us what you got or she’s really going to screech!” A raider yanked Elon’s girl by the hair. Scoundrels laughed as the villagers cringed or swore while cinders floated among them.
Dax halted the mule. His lips twitched into a curl. Best he looked into this–no. He sighed and reined the mule for a closer look. His hands trembled while the mule shuffled in the woods behind houses.
Twenty or more outlaws, by his count, guzzled ale from the tavern. Some ransacked the store but most held the captives tied and cowering before the leader who brandished a rusted sword.
“C’mon, chop her fingers.” One of the men guarding the people spat and swore. “We’ll be here all night.”
Elon’s girl wailed with the knife poised at her hand.
The mule edged toward the scene, hidden in smoke.
Dax grinned. He’d grind those fingers. He swayed on his mount and held his belly while his lower lip quivered. “No. I won’t.” Dax rubbed his face where the tomato struck days earlier. If only he could help. Her face bore fear as henchman grasped her by neck and arm.
He bared his teeth as drool trickled on his chin.
Dax dropped the reins and held his head. “No.”
The end of part 4.
Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. The next part of the story will be posted on 3/9/2016. Sign up for my Archer’s Aim Digest mailing list to receive notification of these posts and those for other upcoming fiction projects to appear on Archer’s Aim as well as news about the upcoming release of An Arrow Against the Wind, the second novel of The Bow of Hart Saga due out later this year.
Prequel short stories to The Bow of Hart Saga: