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Here is the first two chapters to my book “Choosing Thorns.” Enjoy!

Part one

The Capture
She sat on the rough stone window ledge gazing some what vaguely out a blue and green painted window towards the Greater Sea. The rain was falling hard enough to mask the water in the distance, but she knew that it was there beyond the smaller sea of golden lights that flooded the slope to the shore; tossing and turning in its bed the way her nerves were turning underneath her skin. Despite the weather a carriage full of tardy party goers was pulling into the drive. She watched it until the curve of the house hid it. She wondered if it were full of more suitors or, with a bit of luck, simply father’s business partners here for a night on the town. She bit her painted lower lip and slid off the ledge the short drop to the floor. She was trying not to think about her father Carlin too much. He’d been absent a lot recently and when he thought she and her sister Faylith weren’t looking a worrisome crease would form on his brow.
Foot steps echoed up the stairs near her hide-away and she waited tensely for the sound to fade. Once they did she gave a sigh and walked after them anyway. She’d been gone long enough and there would be more people looking for her soon. She made her way carefully through the hall and down the curving tower stairs, feeling for the familiar steps with her toes in the absence of a candle. Once she reached the ground floor sconces lit the way and she hurried to a side door of the grand ball room. Sliding in quietly she made her way along the fringe of the guest nearly making it all the way front of the room when Faylith came up and gripped her elbow in what was to any observer a gesture merely to grab attention, but to her was rather painful and whispered in her ear.
“Little darling of a sister. Papa went to a lot of trouble to put this on for you. You’re lucky he hasn’t noticed your disappearing act or you’d be in real trouble.” Briar could barely help rolling her eyes at that.
“Worrisome that bit, isn’t it Faylith, since he’s going to a great deal of trouble to hide his troubles lately hm?” Faylith let her go and wrung her hands slightly before catching herself and stopping.
“If he hasn’t chosen to tell us what’s going on then it isn’t worth worrying over at all. You should go find a gentleman to dance with so father can at least see you having fun.” Faylith pushed her way through a throng of gossiping guest with a smile, leading her by the hand towards a group of laughing peers. Briar wasn’t really ready to give in yet though.
“I’m not a good dancer anyway, might as well just go step on someone’s foot and get the offense out of the way.” Faylith turned her head around to face her and slowed the pace a bit as some spinning dancers careened past them, keeping a smile on her face so as not to alarm anyone close to them.
“If you dare go out of your way to offend anyone tonight I’ll kill you myself.” Briar gave her, her most winning smile and swiftly kicked the closest young man in the shin. He grunted and awkwardly tried to turn while doubled over rubbing his leg. Briar let her eyes go big and round, offering a shocked little unintelligible sound of apology as comrades and fawning ladies in her victim’s circle burst out into laughter at his misfortune. One chided him as Faylith dragged her off to give her a real scolding.
“Careful, you’ll never marry a real lady being that clumsy you oaf…”
The back of Fayliths neck was bright red as she pulled her under to one side of a wine laden table and her face all the redder as she spun around. Briar let out a squeak as she jabbed a finger into her ribs.
“I mean it, you’re seventeen now, legally an adult and if you can’t manage for one measly evening to act like it even though the whole point of this gala is to showcase your maturity…”
“You mean my availability.” Briar interjected, it didn’t slow down her sister one bit though now that she was on a role.
“…then you might as well go off and join a cloister because you have no hope of a good marriage, and yes it is important because it’s what mother wanted for us.” Briar felt cheated of a good argument now that Faylith brought mother into it. She was the most lovely memory that either of them had of their childhood, cut short by her death. Faylith sensed she might have gone a touch to heavy with her and twisted her own engagement ring on her finger in angst. “I’m sorry, I know your future must be difficult to think about, but it’s true none the less.”
“What would you know, it took you less then three months to become engaged to Edwin, speaking of which have you even told him you love him yet?” Faylith let her hands drop and her shoulders slumped just the slightest in defeat.
“That’s not fair, he is a good man from a good family and I’m sure that, I’m certain…” She cleared her throat and regained her posture. “I will come to love him eventually, A woman my age shouldn’t be picky and I was lucky he’d have me.” Briar scoffed and didn’t bother to keep the disgust out of her eyes.
“You’re only nineteen, the king would lucky if you’d have him for a husband and I do not think you believe a word that just came out of your mouth for a second. Why should I settle for a shiny man with a title I don’t love just because you did?” Faylith shook her head slowly and pursed her lips together tightly.
“You haven’t a clue how the world works at all do you? Don’t you think it’s strange how father has spent the last year doing everything in his power to ensure suitable husbands for us when once he couldn’t have cared less if we wanted marry street cleaners and live off father’s dime if it made us happy? Didn’t you notice how it started at the same time as the little creases of worry appeared around his eyes?” Briar took a step backwards bumping into the wall and knocking the back of her head slightly as Faylith’s face became even harder and near to anger. “You’d better find a ‘shiny’ one and be glad for him while you can, because the day may come when you could be forced to take the beastly ones out of need.” Faylith turned her back on her and disappeared back into the crowd leaving her with mouth parted in an objection that she could really put words too.
“A fight with your sister?” Briar startled, spinning around too quickly at the voice and knocked her wrist into the wall she’d already connected with once. The gentleman she’d kicked earlier stood with two glasses of wine in his hands and a confused smile on his face. “I’m sorry I scared you, I didn’t mean too. I hoping to offer a dance, I want to offer amends for tripping you earlier, prove I’m not quite the clumsy oaf I’ve proved so far to be.” Briar regained her composure and gave a rushed curtsy.
“How kind of you, though you shouldn’t feel the need to after all I kicked you on purpose. It’s indeed somewhat the reason for the argument you apparently witnessed the end of.” He lost some of the confidence in his eye and gave a flat, dejected,
“Oh, I see.” In response and was about to turn away when Faylith’s advice rang in her ears and after a split second of internal hesitance Briar rushed forward, gracefully snatched a glass out of his hand and gave him the brightest, most apologetic smile she could muster.
“You really must let me make it up to you. My abusive use of your proximity, at the time, to make a point was in no way your fault nor a reflection of any opinion I may have of you.” She took a sip of the wine and waited. He brightened up once again and held out an arm.
“May I have a stroll about the room Miss Briar.” She took his arm and nodded,
“You may, though you shall have to introduce yourself in the process, Lord, Sir, Duke’s uncle’s nephew..?” He shook his head and chuckled,
“Gavin will have to do. Gavin Ushhold of Tarny. I won’t inherit any title until my father passes, which I hope is a long time from now, and I have yet to earn any of my own. You are right about the nephew part though. I’m attending with my Uncle, an associate of your father through some way or other. I’m not quite sure, I’ve not been in this particular social circle for very long as I’ve only just enrolled at the Queen’s University…” Briar sipped from her glass slowly and listened to Gavin talk for most of the evening, he even talked through the dancing, which they did quite a bit of. He had a pleasant voice and if he was a little chatty at least he wasn’t vain or arrogant. She wasn’t particularly drawn to anything he said though he did manage to make her laugh once or twice and she found she didn’t really mind being the quiet one.
As the evening turned around the clock to morning the party drew to a close and most of the guest took their leave. A few close business friends remained behind as well as Edwin and his brothers. Gavin stayed as his Uncle turned out to be one of Carlin’s closer friends and one of the few business partners Briar recognized by face if not by name. The small gathering was entertaining, if a bit subdued though no once minded overly much, and Gavin hit it off instantly with Edwin and Carlin, proving himself just as capable of listening as he was talking.
Faylith kept giving her little knowing looks across the room that Briar did her best to ignore, but she was glad that at least they meant they were no longer at odds with each other. By the time Gavin left she was too tired to put up any resistance to Fayliths silent but prominent promises to pick her brain to pieces the next morning. Her last waking thought before she finally tossed herself across her bed was ‘how did her sister manage to relay entire sentences with just a timely squint across a lamp lit room?’

“Well?” Briar looked over her delicate tea cup at Faylith’s insisting face. She’d barely been in the kitchen for a whole minute before Faylith took her absence in the dinning room as sign of noncompliance and had come looking for her. The small table the sat at was meant for the servants to take quick meals at and was shoved under the row of tall windows with sills full of cooling fruit pies. Briar contemplated being obstinate, but could not follow through. Even behind the tea cup her sister spotted her small smile and came rushing around the table to kneel by her chair. “Tell me everything immediately.” Putting down her tea and slouching back in her chair Briar shrugged.
“I don’t know. He’s nice, he’s pleasantly boring? He’s…” The crunch of wheels on the drive interrupted her thoughts. A tall black carriage came charging up the drive, the horses lathered and a little frenzied as they pulled their charge around the house and disappeared, heading not for the front doors, but to the side entrance of Carlin’s study.
“That’s Lord Ushhold’s carriage.” Faylith murmured. The sisters looked at each other briefly and with swift, silent agreement got up and hurried to the other end of the house to eaves drop with tense butterflies swarming in their stomachs. By the time they arrived outside the door and crouched down to listen at the keyhole Carlin and Lord Ushhold were already in a heated conversation. Their fathers voice carried an almost fearful edge to it.
“I just need more time for the Horizon’s Eye to return to port. There is still a chance she’ll make it back. Even if she’s lost half her cargo there’s still enough collateral in her to save us. Surely there must be something else you can do.” They heard a stern cough and then Lord Ushhold’s tired reply came.
“Bantum, I have done everything in my power to leverage Sir Richard’s company around this, but there is nothing left I can do. I took an incredible loss on the first two ships myself and if it was not for my brother’s generosity I would be in the same straights as you are now. Until this years market returns on the investments his money funded I have nothing I can lend you and you know if I had it, I would.” The sounds of a chair being pulled along the rug and of glasses being filled were the only sounds for a minute or two, then finally their fathers voice again.
“I know you would Travis, you’re a wiser investor then I and a better friend. I just don’t know how I’m going to tell the girls what we’ve lost. My only consolation is that Faylith is engaged already and that Briar has hope through Gavin, should their fates pan out, to live comfortably. I will need to contact Edwin’s father to see if they will take Faylith into their home before the wedding…” Ushhold’s spoke again.
“My daughters are summering in east Cabiinlar right now, Gavin and a few of his university friends will be accompanying them under the chaperonage of my wife and her sister at the end of the week. Briar is more then welcome to join them for as long as need be regardless of what may be with Gavin, though the thought of her quirky nature in my own household one day is a pleasant hope to be sure.”
“I can’t thank you enough. Once the girls are taken care of I should be able to rely on my late wife’s sister for time enough to get back on my feet. As a widow though she wouldn’t be able to support all of us on her husband’s meager estate.”
“I have an appointment at the magistrates office I need to leave for now Carlin, I would recommend going over your books and lose anything the collector’s don’t have documentation on, and send those things to your sister-in-law’s home tonight. I can’t verify it, but whispers are that Sir Richard himself will be out here to assess your home and belongings as soon as tomorrow noon.”
“Thank you again Ushhold.” Footsteps and the sound of a door closing signaled Lord Ushhold’s departure. Briar felt a lump in her throat as she let everything they’d heard sink in. There was small hushed sob from Faylith that prompted her to turn and reach out for her sister’s hand. Faylith gripped it tightly closing her eyes and taking a few slow breaths to calm herself down. She opened them again her shaking her head in disbelief.
“I cannot believe it, we’re ruined. Ruined.” Briar grabbed her other hand.
“It’ll be alright, Edwin will take care of you and father’s made plans for me and himself already. We’ll be fine.” The door to the study opened and they both looked up with teary eyes at Carlin. The creases were deep and his clothes disheveled. His hand dropped from the door and he sighed.
“Well, I take it you heard enough of that to know.” Faylith nodded, her hands trembling slightly under Briar’s own. “If there is anything of your mother’s you wish to keep find it now so I have time to send it off tonight. Keep it small, there won’t be much I’ll be able to hide.” He stepped over them with hunched shoulders and walked off down the hallway the same way Briar remembered him being the day they buried his wife. Despite the reassurances she spoke to Faylith she felt her own fingers begin to shake ever so slightly.

Chapter Two

Two days later found them in a bare house emptied of all but the basic furnishings and days away from auction. Briar sat in the hallway outside Faylith’s room with a wooden mug full of tea on its third steeping and day old bread. Faylith was inconsolable and had locked herself in her rooms since the previous night. It made Briar angry to think about it. Edwin had learned of their trouble yesterday morning when Carlin met with his father. He was heard out and then excused. No one heard from them until later that evening when Edwin came to their estate which at the time had been full of Sir Richards underlings all assessing and packing off their possessions.
Faylith had rushed into his arms weeping expecting comfort and was instead met with a very stiff embrace and a blunt, “We have things to discuss.” He refused to come into the house and while she hadn’t divulged to any of them what he said exactly it amounted to basically, ‘You’ve lost your substantial dowry and have fallen from a family of standing to the daughter of a disgrace.’ He had demanded the engagement ring back and once he had it he left. Briar had watched it from one of the entry way windows, hiding herself behind a linen curtain deemed to old and worn to warrant removal for auction.
She shifted her feet out from under her and stuck them straight out in front of her, wiggling her toes to get the blood flowing in them again. Leaning her head back against the wall she raised her left hand and rapped the door with her knuckles for the 12th time in as many minutes. “You still have to eat. Heartbreak is like a cold, you feed it and something about starving a fever…” She was rewarded with a sound thud, against the top of the door. And the sound of Faylith shrieking in anger at her. She didn’t really feel bad about it, she’d never like Edwin and while she hated to see her sister hurt it wouldn’t matter what she said. Faylith wasn’t really mad at her anyway, she just didn’t have another way to lash out.
“Is antagonizing her wise?” Briar jumped a little where she sat and then saw that it was Gavin. He was standing at the top of the stairs with a basket full of flowers and a mug of tea in his hand. He noticed her gaze and shrugged. “The flowers are for Faylith a gift from my sisters in condolence. The mug was given to me by a short balding man that smelt like hay when I came in.” He sat down across from her stretching his own legs out, though the hallways wasn’t wide enough to accommodate him and he had to bend his knees a little.
“That would be John. He’s our stable man, the dear thing. He refuses to leave us be until we’re out of the house, but they took the horses straight off so he’s tending to us out of lack of anything else to do since the rest of the staff was dismissed. I’m not antagonizing her, I’m just letting her be angry, it’s good for you, you know, every once and awhile.” He nodded his head solemnly.
“Like a good cry, but more violent.” She laughed despite herself. Then wrapped on the door once more.
“Faylith, I’m leaving dinner here for you.” She moved the food along the wall where it wouldn’t be knocked over by chance and stood up. They walked around the empty house and Gavin listened as she remarked on memories the rooms gave her. It was heartening to be able to talk about them with someone who wasn’t hurting from having to leave it behind. She found that the memories made her smile more because of his honest ability to listen without having to input and he didn’t mind laughing at her when she confessed to child hood blunders, like the time she had dumped a bucket of lye out of a window onto her mother’s flowers during a tantrum over having to wear shoes to chapel and blamed it on gremlins later, much to the horror of the chaplain and her mother both. His ability to have just the right amount of joy to pick her up during everything awful that was happening was tremendously bitter sweet in light of her own decision and it was hard to find the voice to bring it up. Gavin saved her the necessity by as they came round the front of the house.
“When will you come my uncles house Briar? We’ve readied everything for you and your father said they must leave tomorrow.” Briar hooked her arm firmly in his to shore up her resolve.
“Gavin.” She began suddenly doubting herself. “You know that since Faylith must now still be dependant on father, my aunt can no longer house them both in her city house.” He nodded and the inner corner of his eyes knit up in concern for her.
“Yes, I’d heard, I know it must be hard on you. I’ve run into the same sort of misfortune being at university, my brothers and parents are to far away to visit during term.” She nodded and continued
“I can’t bear to think of them so far away and on their own. Father is broken in spirit and I worry about him and Faylith is not the adventurous sort and she bears her own sorrow because of The Rat’s disgrace.” Gavin scowled not needing to ask to know who The Rat was. “I have decided to…” Her voice faltered thoroughly. Gavin raised his hand to her chin and tilted her face up to his own.
“You’re going with them aren’t you?” She felt tears fill her eyes. To be honest she hadn’t thought she would be all that torn up about it, Gavin had not even officially begun to court her and she was far from in love with the boy. She was however at just that moment realizing she could easily learn to be if the circumstances were different.
“I can’t leave them Gavin, I couldn’t live with myself if I did.” He didn’t push her away, as she was half afraid he would, instead he turned from her side and hugged her fiercely. Her face was tucked into the shoulder of his tunic and she could smell soap and the warm hay like scent on his horse on him. He pulled away and was smiling at her the way she imaged a soldier smiled at his comrade, mostly hope and assurance, but tinted with grim of the unknown.
“I half expected you to decide that the moment I heard of Fayliths plight. You are far to loyal and strong willed to sit in a rich man’s house while your family is in turmoil.” He said. She found herself smiling back. He took her hands and kissed her forehead. “I wish we had met earlier, or later, or whatever circumstance would allowed me time to sweep you off your feet while you charmed me in love with you by stepping on my toes every time Faylith made you angry.”
It all seemed drastically unfair to her right then, in a way it hadn’t been until that point. She let go of his hands, which she had been holding and undid her necklace. It was a silver coin that had been stamped with roses and oversized thorns a birthday present from some childhood friend long passed now, but still one of her favorites. She placed it in his palm and closed his fingers over it.
“To remember me by though it’s not worth very much.” He looked it over then tucked it carefully into his pocket.
“You leave tomorrow?” He asked. She nodded. “I won’t be able to leave classes to see you off, I skipped two speeches on philosophy to come today actually…” The look on his face told her exactly what he thought of the class. “But I know my father will be here to say farewell to yours, I’ll send a farewell gift with him.”
“You don’t have to do that Gavin.” She protested. He shook his head.
“You can’t stop me either, take that as you will.” She snorted at that, but didn’t argue. She reached up on her tippy toes and kissed him on the check.
“It had better be the most fantastic gift I’ve ever been given then.”
“Duly noted.” He was the serious reply.
They walked around the grounds until the sun set and then with a few more tears and long looks of “oh why couldn’t it have been different,” Gavin left. Briar watched him ride until the road hid the last sign of him then went back into the house.
She found Faylith up and about and infact nearly finished with the final chores and followed her around the house jumping in when help was needed and staying out of the way when it wasn’t not wanting to spark any sort of emotion that would send her back into her room. The news at dinner that she was not going to be staying behind with Gavin’s family was barely enough to pull Carlin out of his dazed slump over his soup and Faylith just smiled the same smile Gavin had given her at the news. It was evident that she was as predictable as she was loyal, which in any other circumstance might have annoyed her greatly, but at the moment she was just glad it meant there would be no fuss.
By near midnight Pelkon had finished and the staff that hadn’t left outright had been dismissed by Faylith who was doing her best as the oldest to take as much of the burden off of their father as possible. It was evident by then that Faylith was really truly recovering from the broken engagement. They were doing a final walk through of the their rooms when the act of being busy when Faylith stopped and grabbed the tip of Briars left hand lightly in her right.
“I keep thinking, you know, that I never thought I could be so glad I wasn’t really in love with my fiancé. It seems now that I’ve got all the crying out and most of that was humiliation, that it’s not so bad and that as long as we are together as a family it’s going to be okay. I’m going to wake up a week from now in a strange place, but everything will be fine.” Briar grabbed Fayliths hands and drew her in for a hug, wrapping her arms solidly around her shoulders.
“It will turn out all right. It will be different, but it will be all right.”
The next morning Briar roamed around the house one last time saying her final goodbyes to rooms full of memories and found her father sitting at a table in his now empty study talking to a tall sandy-haired man with a familiar face. She hadn’t meant to interrupt. but once Carlin noticed her he ushered her in.
“Briar darling. You remember Daniel, our carriage driver. He is going to be driving our wagon to Pine Village.” Briar hastily gave a clumsy curtsy, feeling silly for not recognizing a man she saw every day simply because he was out of uniform. Faylith came in as she straightened and Carlin reintroduced Daniel again. Her sister gave much more refined curtsies and allowed him to grasp the tips of their fingers in a very feminine handshake.
“I’m very sorry for your loss my ladies, rest assured I will do my best to keep you safe and on track for as long as I travel with you.” It was just enough chivalry from a handsome, familiar face to bring a small smile back onto Fayliths face. Briar had a suspicion that falling in love might be how she chose to deal with being dumped by someone she hadn’t loved at all, which she thought ridiculous, but seemed to be a theme with most other girls her age. She excused herself quietly to prevent from saying something judgmental to her still emotional sister and wandered out into the yard, where she found Lord Ushhold just arriving in his usual plain carriage, though this time there was a spare horse tethered by it’s bridle to the back wearing a saddle and saddle bags. A dark bay of mixed heritage, to small to be a charger but sporting the feathers, crest and barreled body to muscular to be a warm blood. The carriage rolled to a stop and Lord Ushhold stepped out with a look of pleasant surprise on his face.
“Briar dear, just who I was looking for as it happens. I suppose your father is in his study still eh?” She curtsied a greeting belatedly but didn’t get so much as a hello out before he continued. “I’ll show myself in to say my own goodbyes, though I had hoped it wouldn’t be to you as well, but, well, if you ever change your mind dear write us. He was halfway in the door now and hollered back with a wave of his hand as he disappeared inside. “The driver has a note for you dear.” With that he was gone and his driver was standing in front of her a letter in hand. She accepted it with a nod and opened it quickly.
‘Briar,’ it started,
‘I hope you find your present useful. He is a reject from my fathers herds, an accidental breeding between a race mare and a war stallion and not useful to sell as either. This will be his second summer, so it may be he will get a bit larger yet, depending on how much draft blood he has felt in him and he is broke to ride and carriage. He was sent with me to be rid of him because he does have somewhat of a temper, but I think you will have more luck with him, you’re of the same temperament. I hope you know that that is a compliment. I’ve been calling him Bear, as it suites him I think, but feel free to change it if you like. Cranky he might be but he’s sound as they come and has endurance and strength to rival his pure breed parentage. You may find it interesting to know that I received cleaning the slate boards in my philosophy class for a month my punishment for skipping classes and want you to know that every time my lungs are full of chalk dust I shall think of you fondly. Sincerely your friend, Gavin Ushhold of Tarny.’
By the time she finished reading the letter the driver had untied the Bear from the back of the carriage and was standing as far away from the pawing and obviously agitated gelding as the lead would let him. Briar noted that he already sported a red mark on his forearm that looked suspiciously like a horse sized bite mark. She walked forward and accepted the lead from the poor man, who dashed aside as quick as he could to the safety of the carriage. She stood there looking Bear over while he snuffed at her dress front, decided if he would bite her or merely bolt. She wished she had sugar for him, but after digging in her skirt pocket a little while she found a heel of bread that was the leftovers from her own breakfast. She offered it on a flat palm and let him lip at it awhile. Finally he took it and stopped pawing long enough to eat it, staring at her out from behind a wind whipped mane. Once he finished it he decided that maybe the small human holding him wasn’t so bad and only danced a little as she led him around the back of the house, being mindful of his hooves as she did so. He only tried to step on her once and failing that, settled into a calm walk by the time the reached their wagon, now sporting their every worldly possession.
She smiled widely to herself. Gavin was right. She loved him and there was no better gift she could have though of for herself, besides a matched pair that is, but she’d forgive him the oversight this once.

Three weeks worth of southern travel later found them all under a summer sun far hotter then it ever had been in the northern most city they had left. Briar was more thankful for the light breeze that was gentle plowing across the prairies they now traveled upon in a way that she never thought she could feel about wind. She walked along side of their wagon, one of five traveling in the small caravan. Daniel drove, if you could call it that, the horses did nothing but follow the one ahead of them anyway. Faylith and Carlin were inside the wagon. The call to halt the wagons reached her ears and she looked ahead. There was a wide stream in front of them still mostly hidden by the tall grasses. It looked shallow to her eyes, but the last stream had been smaller and they had still lost a whole day’s travel when the crossing snapped a weak axle on one of the wagons and had to be repaired. “Daniel” Briar asked, “Why are we stopped?” it wasn’t even an hour past midday and they had eaten the noon meal on the go.
“I’ll go find out” he set the brake and hopped down from the drivers bench. Faylith peeped out of the wagon
“Briar! Where is Daniel going? Is there trouble?” Faylith and Daniel had hit it off nicely and were quickly becoming more than friends. Faylith was always worried about him in a way that Briar found to be increasingly annoying.
“No trouble Faylith, Daniel just went to see why we’ve stopped.”
“Oh” was the only sound that came from inside the wagon. Briar busied herself by walked around stretching out her tired muscles. She stopped to give Bear a pat in his harness of the wagon behind her. The wagon master didn’t look kindly on laziness in anything, so the spare horse was put to work so that all the horses could stay a little fresher. She was in charge of harnessing him though because he would bite any one else that came near him with a bit and no apple, most of the time even with the apple. That had been a challenge at first but Daniel was a good teacher and by the third day she could do it without his direction.
They had been on the road, if it could be called that, for three weeks and had two weeks left to go before they split up with the main group and headed towards Pine Village. Faylith was constantly fretting about what would happen when she must part from Daniel though she never said anything aloud to anyone, whenever the subject came up she would glance at him and then her face would take on a sad look, similar to the one a lost puppy gets when you feed it and then send it back outside in the cold.
Briar was sure that Daniel thought about it more than he ever let on as well. Briar saw him coming back to the wagon and called inside
“Faylith, Daniel’s back and he seems to have news to tell us.”
“We’ll be out in a moment.” She yelled back. By the time she had ushered Carlin out of the wagon Daniel had reached them and was ready to tell them the news.
“Well, we are about to enter the Black Ridge Forest and the wagon master stopped to let us know that these woods are full of bandits around this general area so we should be on our guard and should all be armed until he says that we are out of harms way.
“Armed?” Faylith asked. “I’ve not used a knife for anything but to eat. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to use it, even If I did. I don’t think the father will be able to use one properly in his…condition either.” Briar poked her sister in the ribs with her finger.
“I’ll show you how to use one properly. John use to let me sneak into to the stable yard to watch our guard practice and they even taught me a few thing. You probably won’t need to use it anyway, it’s only a precaution.” Faylith tried her best to look optimistic and climbed back in the wagon. Briar climbed in as well as Daniel jumped up into the drivers seat and unlocked the break. The wagon master gave the call to keep moving.
Carlin was sitting in the back of the wagon as usual. It was getting harder and harder not to worry about him. He was depressed all the time. Losing his business, his ability to support them they way they were use to and his home was harder on him than Briar or Faylith could have realized. Faylith spent the ride small talking at him in hopes he would respond with more then single unintelligible syllables. Briar found it hard to look at him because it made her feel like crying.

Faylith shifted uncomfortably and moved closer to the fire.
“It’s so creepy in here at night.” she commented mostly to herself. She squinted into the forest trying to make out shapes but the trees created a gloom that swallowed up the small campfire then leaned back and rubbed her eyes as Daniel came and sat down. Briar shifted closer to Faylith, her own imagination playing tricks with the shadows as well. “How’s father doing?” She asked looking down into the fire because she new the bland answer.
“I think he’ll be alright.” Faylith answering for Daniel and leaning over to hug her. “Things will be all right soon enough! You’ll see, less then two weeks and we’ll be safe and sound and living in Pine Village with all of the new people we are going to meet.” Briar smiled at her. Faylith was proving herself shockingly resilient and adaptable as the journeyed. She had even learned how to start a fire with flint and irritatingly enough could do it faster then Briar or Daniel could every time. Daniel poked at an ember that rolled out to far from the fire.
“You girls should head to bed, It’s my shift for watch.”
“I know.” Briar replied. “but we want you to wake us up to take our fair share. Father is so languid that we thought engaging ourselves in, well, life would help him engage himself more though so far it doesn’t seem to be working.” He shrugged a little.
“He’ll come around. Don’t worry about the watch.” There wasn’t anything really to say to that, so the two sisters went to their sleeping pads on the wagon benches and were soon asleep.

Briar woke to the confusing sounds of fighting and yelling.
“Fight on men, theirs loot a’pleny’ ta’ go aroun’!” a strange voice hollered. Briar’s head cleared the last of sleep away. She got up and peered around the back side of the wagon.
Men in dark, patched clothing were everywhere. Their own men from the caravan were wielding what weapons were to be had against them. She ducked back inside and dug frantically in her bedding searching for the knife she’d been given. Carlin wasn’t inside, but Faylith was awake now as well and huddled against the front of the wagon under the drivers seat gripping her own small knife to her tightly. Finally Briar found her dirk and drew it from its sheath.
“Briar look out!” Faylith shrieked and lunged at her managing to grasp the hem of her sleeves while the rest of her was grabbed from behind around the waist and over the mouth by a gruff pungent man. Briar tried to bring her knife in her right hand around to stab his side, but her right arm was pinned to her side by his own and she couldn’t. She instinctively tried to scream, but the grip on her mouth was too tight. The attackers grip shifted as he pulled her left arm out of Jewels grasp and shifting his grip to cover her nose as well, she couldn’t breath. She was close to passing out, when she felt more then saw another body lunge against her own followed by a low moan, her attacker shudder then fell backwards out of the wagon onto a heap on the ground dragging her with him. Briar rolled quickly off of his chest onto her hands and knees, gasping for air.
“Are you all right Briar?” Faylith hoarsely whispered from the wagon above her. Briar shuddered and then timidly looked at the man who had attacked her. “Is he dead?” Faylith asked, her voice even quieter.
Briar got up and looked at the body, he had a beard that was unkempt and he was dressed in brown and green, colors of the forest so that he would blend in with his surroundings. He was dirty from head to foot and definitely dead. The knife Daniel had given Faylith sticking out of his neck. Briar leaned back against the wagon wheel and breathed deeply to keep the wave of nausea at bay.
“Yes he’s dead.” She finally managed. Faylith came down to sit beside her and hugged roughly.
“I can’t believe you did that.” Briar whispered. The noise had died down so Briar crawled to the front of the wagon to peek out at the rest of the camp.
The site was grim, bodies lying on the ground, tents over turned, the fight had been short with the remaining bandits deciding the armed group was not worth more losses.
“Are you two alright?” Daniel came around the side of a nearby, partially collapsed tent. He was bleeding from his side a little. He stared at the body at the back of their wagon and Briar could see he was visibly shaken as well. Over all he looked unharmed, but Faylith was shaken at the sight of the blood. Her voice shook a little as she asked,
“Daniel, are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine.” He said as he grabbed the arm of the dead bandit and drug him far enough away to be out of sight then rummaged through his pack in the wagon, pulling out an old shirt and he tore into strips and Faylith began to help him bandaged himself up. “At least I made it out in one piece. Two of our people didn’t.”
“Five of the bandits are dead, we think.” Came a voice from behind them
“Father” Briar cried when she saw him “You were out there fighting?”
“Now, don’t worry. I’ve not a scratch on me.” he said wearily “But I am tired. I’m too old for such things.” Briar went to her fathers side and helped him sit down against the wagon wheel.
“Are you truly all right?” He smiled up at her and pat her cheek.
“I’ll be fine , but I shouldn’t really be resting, there’s a lot of work to do cleaning up, some of the others will need help sorting out their trashed belongings. I don’t think they really got away with much though.” Daniel was looking off at the bush the bandit was behind but Faylith and Briar both didn’t want to talk about it and delicately chose not to ask.
Briar and Faylith decided that they would go help others where they could. One of the men on watch was dead and his brother, the other on duty was missing. They had a sister who was inconsolable; Faylith sat next to her and silently kept her company while Briar did her best to gather her belongings though that didn’t take long, most of what the thieves got away with had been in their wagon. There was a short torch light search for the missing brother, he was found dead a little ways into the trees.
The next morning they gave the dead men a road side burial in shallow graves. Afterwards the wagon master took the sister aside and after awhile she agreed that the next town would be her stopping point, Brockton, her families original destination, was to far away for her to travel on her own. Faylith and Briar spent time riding with her in her wagon, which the girl drove rather well, giving her what comfort conversation and company could manage. Briar was glad when she finally left the caravan, it was a terrifying thing to think of losing your family and her haunted face gave Briar the chills.
The next few weeks came and went quickly, thankful they also progressed smoothly and there were no more troubles or losses for the group. It was apparent however, that Faylith and Daniel were going to shortly come to troubles of their own. He seemed to have fallen for her as much as she had for him , but whether or not he would continue on past Pine Village, as he had originally planned, was still up in the air.

Briar and Carlin were waiting impatiently a distance from the wagon. Daniel and Faylith were talking about their future plans. There was only one week until the caravan reached the cross roads that would separate them from the rest of the group.
“Have they reached a decision yet you think?” Briar asked for the fifth time.
“No” Carlin replied, “and they never will at this rate! I can’t stand not knowing what is going on.” Briar stood, impatiently looking towards the wagon and was rewarded with the sight of them both walking over.
“Here they come.” she squealed back at her father as Faylith ran up to them.
“Well?” Briar asked stomping her foot like an indignant child. Daniel looked at Faylith with a big smile on his face. Carlin looked ready to wring it out of him.
“Carlin, with your blessing I want to stay with you in Pine Village, as your son-in-law.” Faylith squealed and hung on her fathers arm in a silent but brash plea for him to say yes, which he did with the ridiculous grin fathers get when they are happy for their daughters. Faylith started crying happy tears and hugged her father fiercely with one arm, the other latching onto Daniel. Briar latched on to them all as best she could, just as pleased. None of them bothered to regain their composure for quite awhile.

*****
As long as the horses could go they traveled and at night the two sisters worked hard to finish the wedding dress that was soon to be worn in their new home. It was dawn the day they were to arrive in Pine Village, the had chose to travel through the night since the road was sound and the moon was full enough to give light.
“There at last!” Faylith’s shout woke Briar from her sleep. She sat up and asking through blinking eyes.
“What’s the matter?” Faylith smiled and yawned a little.
“I couldn’t sleep last night so I worked on the dress and now it’s finally done.” The dress had been simple from the start, originally blue with a bit of lace on the sleeves, but they had worked on it placing careful designs on the cuffs and redoing the collar and now, while still simple, it was gorgeous.
“Really? Oh you should have woken me up! I would have helped you.” Faylith shook her head a rebuking look in her eye.
“And have to rip out all your messy stitches? Thank you, no.” Briar did her best not to take offence at the truth but lost her dignity completely when she fell into Fayliths lap as the wagon came to a jerky halt.
“Oh Now what!” She huffed as she scrambled very unladylike out the back of the wagon. “Why on earth have we stopped?” she demanded as she came around the corner of the wagon, but her father and Daniel were not listening. They were looking down the road in the valley before them. Briar stopped her badgering and gazed down towards where they were looking and jumped in the air, letting out a shout for joy. “Wahoo!” That of course brought Faylith quickly out of the wagon to see what was going on.
“Briar what are you doing yelling about like some savage? Are you ever going to act like a lady?” She scolded. Briar didn’t stop shouting and only stopped dancing around long enough to point down towards the valley.
Faylith looked and they saw an old and weatherworn sign along the side of the road. In faded yellow painted letters it read “Pine Village”
Faylith gave her own, much more decorous squeals of joy as their father climbed back into the wagon seat.
“Alright now back in the wagon! It’s time to go see our new home.” Daniel climbed up next to him and Briar and Faylith happily clamored back into the box spooking Bear, who was once again tethered to the back. As the wagon jolted its way down the valley, Briar stared out the back up the path they had been traveling and as she watched her horse trot briskly along side the wagon, for small second, had the strange feeling that they were being watched.

The Shadow watched as the wagon made its way down the valley. No human eyes could have seen it from the distance it was across the valley, but then again, He wasn’t human. He never had been, even before the changing. ‘Must go back.’ it thought to itself, ‘here was the cause of the disturbance in the air the Beast had been feeling.’ He didn’t know what it meant, or who caused it, but he did know that at last it had arrived. He must report to the Beast.

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2 Comments

  1. Nice. Though I can't say much more because I've already read it! You all are going to enjoy it!

  2. Want to read more? Follow me on twitter, if you aren't already, (Twitter bar is on the right side up top.) or make follow me here on blogspot! (don't worry, you don't actually have to be a blogger to follow.)


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