The Blacksmith - Reaconia Chapter 6

The Blacksmith - Reaconia Chapter 6

A Chapter by Aleks Edwin
"

A young blacksmith's life crumbles as a series of events drastically unfolds and a once renowned father abandons his young child to take the blame. Will life ever be the same?

"

 

Six: The Blacksmith

It’s light outside’ was her first thought of the day. An aching in her head the reason she woke, the past nights wine the cause of the morning’s misery. Her stomach swirled and churned about and the thought of retching became a possibility. Over the years, though, she had trained herself to overcome the sensation; instead, she rolled over in bed and stared at the ceiling, wrapping a thin wool blanket around herself. Her whole body ached, especially in the arms and back, and her forearms throbbed with every movement. All she could do was lay as still as possible, to avoid any more protests.

Her bloodshot eyes searched the room. The walls were covered in armor and weapons that her, her father, and her father’s father had created from scratch; swords and shields, axes and hammers, gauntlets and helms. A sense of pride filled her when she admired the quality of the work, the impeccable detail and craftsmanship passed down through the family line for generations. The midday sun reflected off the large collection of metal, making each piece dazzle brilliantly.

She stood from her bed slowly, avoiding the glass jar of northern red that sat near her feet; she picked it up and took a swig, hoping a little more wine would calm her headache. She went to the chamber pot in the corner to answer a call of nature as she took another sip, tossing the contents out the window when she was done, followed by a mouthful of spit. A whiff of smoke caught her nose as she looked onto the street below.

Father’s got the bellows going already.

She knew he was going to be angry for her late start, and felt the sting on her side from the lashes of his most recent disappointment; they only appeared when he had no other way of expressing his anger. A long piece of clean linen served as the perfect bandage for her wounds and she wrapped it up and down her torso, making it difficult to breathe. She stumbled over to the wooden dresser and picked out a green and yellow rough-spun tunic and white undershirt and layered them on, wincing when her arms raised to high. Her favorite dagger sat on the windowsill above her bed; it was a magnificent silver blade, a little longer than the length of her shoe, with notches along its refined edge showing signs of extended use. Tightly woven green rope encircled the handle in elaborate designs; beads of iron, copper, and even gold embellished the tip. The blade was one of her first works, perfectly balanced, and she favored it. It felt wonderful to have it in her grasp, and she felt fearless whenever it was near. She knew with her father around, she needed it with her, and she strapped it around her waist with a knot of tough leather and proceeded down to the shop. Grabbing the iron ring handle of the trap door, she lifted up, revealing an old ladder that receded to the dirt floor below. A billow of smoke filled the air.

She descended the rungs in a few steps and leapt down, making the dirt swirl around her feet. The hearth along the far wall was already filled with coals that had a red-hot glow to them. Her father was at the billows, pulling down on a rope that hung from the ceiling, contracting the airbag which expelled stale air onto the coals, making them shine even brighter. The room was humid and sticky.

Neither her or her father said nothing as she walked by, out onto the street, avoiding the puddle she had made earlier. The morning was the cloudiest she had seen in a while, though it was nothing to complain about. It would be a relief to have a cool day. A smile escaped her lips. It looked like a slow day was ahead of her, not many people around. My aches will be glad for an easy day.

The town of Knoll hill, a small town to the east of Cardal Plains, was very peaceful. There was never a doubt in her mind that this was home to her. She knew these streets like the back of her hand and thoughts of her family flooded her mind as she looked down them: She had a relatively fair upbringing, her mother was always very kind, and even after she had passed, her father had respected her more, he saw his daughter grow up faster than most other children her age and entrusted her with the responsibility of carrying the family trade.

She turned and looked at their home. The main level housed the shop they strived to maintain, ‘Harper’s Smithing’ it was called. The living quarters inhabited the upper floors, which towered nearly thirty feet above the streets. The outside of the building was black from smoke and embers. She opened the door to the front of the shop, propping it open with a rock. She did the windows next, giving the smoke a greater chance of escape, and walked inside and prepared for work.

“Nice of you to join me, Talia. You’re always so punctual,” her father said.

She responded with a punch, “Nice of you to notice today, da.” She wrapped her hand in her tunic to grab a piece of metal that simmered on the forge, then turned around to the anvil and picked up a hammer with her other hand. The metals touched and hissed. Ignoring the pain in her side, she brought the hammer down repeatedly with all her might. The metal sang. It was one of the great feelings she got from being a blacksmith, that, and the pride of a finished project.

Repeated blows on the anvil left a stream of metal as slick as a stone in the rain. She plunged the new blade into the cooling tank and hot steam filled the air with a hiss, rivaling the clouds rolling off of the hearth. Sweat already collected on her brow, and ran down her chest, collecting in the hidden bandages. A swipe of her sleeve across her face revealed a surprising amount of dirt and grime that had already accumulated. She walked over to one of the finished blades with a chisel and hammer and carved the Harper seal into the hilt, below the handle, where it would barely be seen.

“Better pick up the pace, Tal. We’ve got that army’s order to complete before too long.” Her father said.

Talia’s heart sank. So much for an easy day. She realized that there was still much to do; a very large order to complete. A messenger had arrived a few days past and informed them of an army in need of new weapons and armor, enough of each for one hundred men. The price they offered was more than enough to get them by for years. It was impossible to refuse, despite the fact that it went against everything their family believed in. Her grandfather had always told her and her father not to get involved in the political affairs of the realm. But, he was gone now, and they used the supplies and materials he left them to defy him.

A cauldron of molten metal burned above the fire; it was almost ready. Talia caught herself staring at the bright red glob, her mind never failing to wander as she waited, dreaming of where she would be if life had taken a different route. She grabbed a pair of tongs from the tool rack and clasped it around the neck of the cauldron, and began pouring the fiery liquid into a mold, the stream of fire leveling and pushing itself into every crease and corner. Then it was another short wait before the mold hardened, and she used the time to think of her father. Does he even appreciate my help?  He most of all should acknowledge all that I have done for this family, taking on more than I should at too young an age. Putting my own life on hold…

Talia felt that she had become terse in the way she viewed things, becoming as cold and to-the-point as the weapons she made. Long moments of silence filled the room between the two, and after a few blows with the hammer, she dropped the blade into the cooling pot and bustled out the open door.

Her bow, which adorned the post at the edge of town, jumped into her hands as she strolled through the gate, ignoring the gossipers and stares she passed on her way out. The wind tossed her short red hair into her eyes and she brushed it away; and it was cold where the wind pressed her sweat-soaked clothes against her skin.

The sky was still gray and the clouds moved slowly across the horizon. She put the bowstring over her head and nestled it down around her shoulders. It seemed that the farther she got from town, the easier it was to breathe; she could say what she wanted to say without anyone hearing, especially the things she wanted to say to her father, who probably did not even notice she left. He had changed as well when her mother died, but not for the better… he was a different person. One who could hardly be tolerated.

The coastline appeared on her left, the sea stretching out beyond where she could see, the gray sky and water met at an invisible line and blended together to create a colorless wall. To her right, hills and flatlands covered in grass spanned the horizon. An endless plain. She went right, going farther inland with every step. She had never been passed these hills around her, only going as far as two days ride in every direction. Her whole life, she had known nothing but this town and these hills.

Her mother had come from Greenfield, a peaceful town from across the sea in the Woods. She had shared her stories of what was beyond the grassland, and deep inside, Talia had always wanted to go. She had a few friends growing up, but had never gotten along with any of them, most of the boys in the town were privileged and rotten. They knew nothing of hardship. When they fell, their mothers would wrap their scraped knees and give them a sweet, and Talia had a burn on her left leg from when she tried to sear a wound shut. All she could remember about that moment was the pain, she had never felt so dim-witted than she had in that moment, and her father only scolded her, telling her to deal with her mistake.

“When life makes a change for the worst, change yourself to be stronger,” Talia said to herself, reflecting on one of the few lessons left in the back of her mind; though the lesson quickly fled when movement caught her eye, and she saw what she came out here for. She expertly drew the bow and pulled a quiver from the bolt hanging at her side, dropping to one knee. She felt a vibration in the string as she placed an arrow to it and pulled it taught, aiming. The whole process was simply a routine that she had learned to perfect. There was the movement again. Her whole body reacted, shifting position to follow the small object bounding across the field.

Breathe.

Time seemed to slow; her right hand pressed against her cheek, her arm tensed, ready for the release. She aimed just ahead of the small grey animal, predicting where it was going to be next.

Breathe.

The hare continued running, afraid of her, not knowing its demise was only a few feet in front of him. Silly creature, any brave soul would turn and confront their attacker. You are pathetic.

Breathe.

The arrow loosed with an exhale. She released her fingers and watched the wooden stem flex and sway into the distance. It sliced the air like melted butter with its extreme precision. The next thing that could be heard was a high-pitched raspy scream. She walked up to the animal, reveling in the sound, taking her sweet time. It twitched on the ground, spinning in circles, the arrow jutting from its hind leg, a trail of blood staining the grass behind it. Talia bent down and grabbed it by the ears and the animal writhed in her grasp. In one swift moment, her emerald-lined blade was unsheathed and flashed across the animal’s throat, and she looked into its eyes as it sighed its final breath.

She wiped the blood of the dagger onto the greaves around her wrist, and tied the creature to her belt, continuing on her journey, happy to know that she would eat well today.

Her destination came into view before her, a secret haven out in the middle of nowhere. A field of small, beautiful white flowers bloomed all around her and she found a spot to sit in the tranquility, the buds dancing around her, swaying in the wind. After a while, she relaxed to the ground and laid on the earthly bed, watching the blooms bob and shake in the corners of her eyes. She plucked one from the grounds clutch and swirled it in her blistered, soot-covered fingers; the white flower a complete contrast to her coaly skin, with green veins creeping up its five delicate petals, a yellow bunch of pollen gathered in the center.

How could my mother ever have been named after such a boring little flower?

“Bryony...” The name rolled off of Talia’s tongue without any emotion attached to it, having become accustomed to the word and the memories that came with it. She recalled many of them now, inspired by her surroundings. This field was where she did all of her best thinking.

I should get back to the shop, the hundred axes and hammers need to be completed soon. What am I going to say to father? When am I going to leave this place for something more? A thousand other things flew through her mind that told her to get up and get on with the day, but her body refused, wanting to lie in the field until her questions answered themselves.

A droplet of water threw itself onto her forehead, followed by a few more, threatening a rainstorm. Talia grabbed her things and stood, tossing the flower onto the ground, and headed back for home, her victim bouncing off of her leg with every step.

The coastline came into sight when she reached the top of a hill, and she saw the rain-soaked city of Knoll hill ahead of her, and could spot the smoke from her shop billowing over the rooftops, fighting to rise against the falling rain.

Still hard at work I see.

The rain was coming down harder by the time she got home, and her feet sank in the mud, making them cold and wet; her red hair clung to her forehead and her shoulders were drenched. At least I can skip a bath now.

She turned the corner and was surprised to see her father standing outside the shop, staring up into the rain.

“Tevin?” The man did not even bother to move at his daughter’s call, and stood in silence.

“What are you doing, father?” she tried again.

“Letting the sky wash the soot from my being. Inside and out.” He said, opening his mouth for a long while, collecting rain like a bird’s bath. Then he swished it around his mouth and shot a string of thick, black soot water onto the street, “Now that’s better.”

He noticed the dead animal hanging at my side. “What did you bring home today, Tal?” he asked.

She followed his example and said nothing until she was done rinsing her mouth out as well and spat in his direction. “Just some supper… Sorry I left for so long.” She unhooked the rabbit from her belt and handed it to him; he grabbed it and went inside.

One of the cauldrons on the hearth was empty, so Talia set it outside the door to collect rainwater while her father bellowed the coals, making them shine again. The pot filled quickly and it took all of her strength to lift it onto the stand above the fire. As the water started to simmer and churn, she tossed the animal inside and went back to work while it stewed.

Three flattened bars of metal later and her arm began to cramp; the rabbit’s odor filled the room as it cooked in the boiling water, she used a hook to stab the animal and pull it out of the cauldron, tossing the steaming animal onto the stone. Her dagger sunk its teeth easily into the creatures hide, cutting under its skin, the flesh peeling easily off the small creature.

Pale muscle sat exposed to her and her father handed her a butchering knife. She licked the blood from her red-stained fingers before grabbing the knife; clenching it with a strong fist and slamming it down on the animal. In the quick motion, a limb was lost; the satisfying crunch of the blade into flesh lobbing off a limb. Once the rabbit was severed, she peeled the meat from the bone and tossed the chunks to her father, who cut them further for the stew, stealing a morsel of raw meat for himself every now and then, chewing the gristle between his rotten teeth.

            “You should eat the meat raw, Tal. It’ll put hair on your chest.” her father said, to which she rolled her eyes, always ignoring those comments. When the stew was cooked, she scooped a steaming ladle of some into a wooden bowl and eagerly started to eat. She watched her father get up, grunting as he went, and go for the liquor chest, pulling out a bottle of red, from which he took a swig, and headed back to his chair. He’ll end up there tonight.

            Once her father chose a spot for the night after supper, he usually never left there, unless to relieve himself, or get more to drink, or both. She found it enjoyable to watch him drink himself to a stupor, watching him swirl in his chair, mumbling some incoherent babble to himself; Talia stopped trying to decipher it a long time ago. This is how Tevin Harper spent almost every night, leaving Talia every night to clean up dinner and the consequences of the day’s work. It took her little more than an hour to re-rack the tools and wipe the pots and ashy sills; finishing the night, she grabbed a blanket off of the wall and tossed it across her father’s shoulders. He snored a response as he laid with his head against the back of the chair rail, his mouth agape.

            Talia gave one last look about the room, making sure everything was in order. When she spotted an empty glass jug at her father’s feet, she purposely kicked it across the dirt floor, listening to it jingle and clang loudly, getting no reaction from her father. F*****g idiot. Talia smiled to herself.

            The wooden ladder up to her room was an easy climb and she hoisted open the door above her, relieved to be done for the day. After letting the wooden flap clash down again, she slid her clothes bureau on top of it, making sure that nobody could disturb her. It had stopped raining outside and the moonlight washed in when she propped open her window. She took a moment to breathe in the cool night air, watching the puddles of water sparkle in the streets below.

“I better get some sleep,” Talia told herself; she left the window open and laid back, relaxing completely into the straw-and-feather mattress. She struggled to pull her tunic off over her head tossed it to the floor when she did, revealing the bandages around her torso; they had remained fairly clean, so she left them bound tightly to her skin.

The bottle of wine from the night before called her name, and she drank from it, swishing the warm, bitter liquid in her mouth. She choked down the last swallow and held the bottle upside-down over her mouth to catch the very last drops. When she was sure there was none wasted, she tossed the bottle out of the open window, hearing it crash on the street seconds later. One final stretch, ignoring the pain in her side, and she closed her eyes, drifting to sleep in the silent night.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

 

A loud bang woke her from her sleep, it was light out, but she had no recollection of what time it was. She lay facing the wall, the sound coming from behind her. It was urgent and Talia sat up in a hurry. The dresser she placed on top of her door was rocking, a muffled shout coming from under it. “Tal!”

It was her father, angrily beating on the floor. “Talia!”

A sharp pain jolted through her side, a reminder of her father’s last tirade; the pain becoming more apparent with every knock.

Tal!

She leapt off of her bed and jumped on top of her dresser, which shook below her; her weight not enough to quell the rage of her father below her, who kept screaming. Talia was becoming desperate as her efforts to refuse her father’s entry were failing.

It will all be over soon. It always is.

And with that, the rumbling below her stopped. The floor beneath her relaxed, but Talia remained tense and her breath strong, unsure of what was happening. She felt goose-pimples form all down her spine as she sat there listening. After a moment, she placed a foot to the floor, stepping off of the wooden stand. She darted to her bed and grabbed her shirt and dagger.

In the blink of an eye, the trap-door to her room lifted, and the bureau crashed to the floor on its front. Talia twisted around startled when her father exploded through the floor. He was not a big man, but could not be stopped when he was like this; he lifted himself up, ignoring the broken splinters of wood, his face wet and his eyes red and wild.

This is different, much different. Talia thought, she held her dagger close.

He revealed a long, braided whip from behind his back and untied it, sending instant panic shooting through his daughter’s body. Talia cowered to the floor and backed up to the foot of her bed. This was not going to be any different.

“Please, father, do not do this!” she pleaded.

“How could you let this happen, Tal?” was all he could say; his voice was weak and a tear fell down his cheek. Talia looked at him, confused. In his right hand, the whip hung limp at his side, and in his left, she saw a crumpled piece of paper, the royal seal among the folds.

He tossed it to her feet, and she reached for it. Before her fingers even touched the parchment, he pulled his right arm back, making the whip fly behind him. Talia brought her arms up to shield her face as he struck; the end came into contact with her back, which arched in protest. A scream caught in her throat and her tears welled instantly. The pain was so severe. In her mind, she gave a prayer of thanks for the bandages that she left on, providing some form of protection. He drew back again, and Talia recoiled more. The next lash connected with her exposed shoulder, cutting her skin and instantly burned to a welt. A scream escaped her lips then and she started to tremble.

Do not cry. She told herself. He got your voice, but the monster does not deserve a tear.

He threw his arm back for the third strike. It was as if he was not breathing; his face purpled and the veins in his forehead bulged as if they were about to burst. He was untamed as rage consumed him. The whip whistled through the air before it bit her again, this time above the left knee; she still had to grit her teeth against the pain, though this strike was the least severe.

Talia prepared for the fourth blow, she grabbed the bedpost with all of her strength to ground herself, this strike would not have the same result. Her father hurled the whip in her direction once more.

 

Breathe.

The whip came at her, like lightning flashing through the sky.

She needed to react quickly.

Breathe.

Without looking, she raised her arm behind her, controlling every muscle in a precise movement. The whip landed in her hand and she grabbed it in a clenched fist, the remainder of the rope coiling around her forearm.

Tevin was shocked as his daughter turned, twisting on her feet in a swift movement  as she brought her other hand down with her unsheathed dagger, shining brilliantly in the morning sun, and cut the whip like a simple string. A defiant gaze filled her eyes as she glared at him, breathing heavily.

“That is enough.” She never took her gaze off of him as she spoke, her green eyes locked into his, that quickly turned from anger to fury.

“Why Tal?” he screamed, a sobbing, guttural, raw sound that made her bones shake. She had never been more afraid of him than she was now, though she tried not to show that on the outside.

What could be infuriating him like this?

Her father drew his arm back for the final stroke and swung the severed end of the whip to her harder than she had ever seen him work a hammer. Pain like one thousand daggers erupted on the right side of her face, splitting her cheek into a deep red gash.

After the effort left him exhausted, her father crumpled to the floor, crying and helpless; the whites of his eyes returned as he shrunk into the corner.

Talia spit a stream of blood onto the floor beside her. It landed next to the forgotten crumple of parchment and she strained to bend over to pick it up. With one eye closed in a stinging pain, she scanned the corner where her father pathetically cowered in a pool of his own hot tears and wails. She peeled back the folds that held such supposed grave news; her eyes carefully scanned the beautifully scribed words on the first page that simply stated:

‘Royal message of utmost importance.’ With the king’s crowned-sun seal formed in wax. She turned the page.

 

We, the company of your majesties,

King Drom Averus Sease and Queen Romay Beauvoir, et al,

Hereby accuse the following:

 

One Harper, Tevin, of Knoll Hill, Cardal Plains of rebelling against the church and crown, of providing weaponry and armor to the clan of Pyron, of associating with a known and notorious enemy of our Sovereign Prince and Lord, and of the assisted murder of a realms-man here on capitol grounds.

Thus, without trail, you will be put to death as punishment for your crimes and lack of admiration and decency to us, the accusers, and to our Beloved Royals, and to this realm.

 

The factions and the fighting that were done in this court linked to your name, indeed, will not be tolerated.

 

More so; any persons or affiliates associated with you and your work will be found out and charged for their crimes. Herein, do not fail to cooperate.

 

                By order of the President of the Council, and Lord Great Master in the kings absence,

Sir Byron Beauvoir, father of our righteous queen.

Talia read the script multiple times before truly understanding its content. Her father was to be put to death. All she could do was stare at him, drowning and choking in the corner, so pathetic and sad. She saw him now for what he really was: a coward and a cheat, but above all, this was one of the first times she saw honesty from him.

Is this who my father really is, was everything else a lie? All she could do was read the letter again.

‘Any persons associated… will be punished…’

…Me…

She stood, her left leg trembling beneath her, matching the shaking parchment in her fingers.

“How could you let this happen?” She yelled back at him, feeling the pain in her cheek. Ignoring the gash in her leg, she flew to him with a clenched fist and struck him once on the side of the head, wincing when her knuckles absorbed the contact. Talia fell to her knees and hit him again, the pain less noticeable; then again, putting her whole weight behind her swings. For the first time she could remember, she lost control, releasing out all of her anger and aggression onto the crying who laid whimpering before her, taking every blow.

After the eighth blow she stopped, exhausted; she fell to the floor next to him. She flinched as a drop of water ran over the cut on her face, not able to tell if it was sweat or a tear. For a long while she sat, thinking, as her father laid there, facing the floor with his hands over his head. She realized her window was still open, and wondered how many people heard what had happened.

“What are we going to do?” she finally said.

He said nothing, but composed himself and stood up, wiping the tears, sweat, and blood from his brow. Calmly, he walked to the ladder and climbed down. After he was out of sight, she heard the panic build up in him again; he was rummaging around, gathering things.

None of this is my fault. Talia pounded an angry fist onto the floor. What is going to happen to me?

Curiosity got the best of her and she crawled across the floor, looking downstairs. Her father was in a craze; he scrambled around, grabbing all of the swords and weapons they had been making and throwing them in piles.

“What are you doing?”

“We must get rid of it all. Everything. I will take it all away and bury it. There must be no evidence when they come for us. You must help me, Tal. Grab what you can from the wall and go fetch a cart from the town square. We must make haste.”

“There is no use to any of that. They know what we have done.” She told him.

“Do not deny me again. You are my child and I command this of you.”

He took a drink from a bottle half gone. It was no use to fight with him anymore… Talia threw on a tunic that hid the bandages and a few of the new scars, which burned where the fabric made contact. She stepped over the broken pieces of her floor and jumped downstairs, grabbing a handful of water from the cooling pot to scrub her face; being careful around the torn and exposed flesh. She ran another handful of water through her hair before heading out the door, debating whether or not to come back.

I could just head south, over the hills and away from this place; or north, get on a ship and look to new lands...

Those thoughts would have caused more harm than it was worth though, and she knew she was in a great deal of trouble as it was.

A number of people had gathered outside of the shop, desperate to involve themselves in others business, their noses high in curiosity. When Talia came out, they turned away, pretending to go about their daily lives, but she saw the stares of judgement and wonder; especially at her cuts and bruises. She stepped over a broken bottle in the street, continuing on, not once looking up from the ground. She saw a simple blue dress come into view and Talia had to stop abruptly to avoid running into the woman wearing it, who lifted Talia’s face by the jaw and stared at the gash on her cheek.

“Are you well, my child?” she asked, genuinely concerned. Talia only tried to step around her, but the woman countered her steps, “you really must have someone stitch up that cut. Let me"“

“I am not your child and I will be just fine. I would be pleased if you kindly got out of my way.” Talia barked.

“How sad,” the woman backed away, “if only your mother was here to teach you some kindness. You could have used a proper up-bringing.” She turned her back and continued walking.

Talia ignored her comments. She had been listening to them since she was a little girl, and had grown immune to them.

The houses along the streets became much larger and more elegant the farther she went into town, and she tried her hardest not to make eye contact with any other townsfolk. She felt like a dirty, unsightly villain amongst the wealthier people. Down the road, the market came into view; Talia prayed for there to be an empty cart available, so she could grab it and leave, wanting nothing more than for this day to be done with. And for my father to be gone...

To her, the morning’s thrashing between the two ended any sort of relationship she had with her father, and now she wished him gone with all the might she had left. She knew that the wait for the imperial soldiers would become too much to bear as they waited for their sentencing. His sentencing? She had no idea what tomorrow would hold in store for her. Will I be killed as well? Imprisoned, or exiled, branded a traitor and forced to live a shamed life? Her head started to spin at the thought.

An empty wheeled cart stood in the corner of the market square and she went to retrieve it, marking the half-way point in her journey. She lifted the wooden handle over herself and pushed; all of the muscles in her body complaining at the strain. Her sides burned as they never had before, and the cut on her shoulder reopened itself and proved evermore painful. In her haste of leaving the shop, she had chosen the worst of shoes, and her feet where already starting to blister.

“It is going to take me a long time to recover,” she said to herself, grimacing through her teeth as she pushed on.

Thankfully the journey home, slightly downhill, seemed to go much faster. As she rolled up to her family’s shop, she saw smoke billowing out of its windows once again, and more commoners had come to join the fray. Talia had to fight to push her way through the people; men, women and children alike. Her father came into view as she cleared the mass; once again, he was fanatical and enraged, yelling out to his audience.

“Come to see a show?” he hollered, “nothing to see here! Look away. Leave.” He gestured to a man whose name Talia could not recall, “especially you, ya gorbellied jack-a-nape!” He threw one of their swords in the townsman’s direction, people spreading from where it landed.

A woman ran up to Talia, she was the bread-maker from down the road. “Your father has gone mad, child. Whatever is the matter? Is it the feve"“

A flash of metal interrupted her as a blade came into contact with her leg. Talia jumped back in horror. The woman let out a horrific scream and blood flowed from under her, staining the hem of her skirts a bright crimson.

“Do not talk to my child, knotty-pated giblet,” her father said. A group of people hurried to her side, an elderly woman quickly pulled the sword that pinned the bread maker to the ground, which resulted in more screaming. The crowd revolted, a roar of insults directed to her father, who seemed to revel in it, a smug grin creased his face in a wicked smile.

“Tal, inside.” He called. She rushed to him and grabbed him by the shoulder, attempting to pull him inside; he smelled of stale wine and smoke.

Will tomorrow never come?

Talia pulled him again and he stumbled back, losing his footing. He looked at her, his eyes wild. He threw a drunken arm back and bludgeoned his daughter in the side of the face, making her spin and fall to the ground; the cut on her knee made contact with the dirt and she flinched in agony. She heard some gasps from the crowd.

Enough of this.

Without looking back, Talia stood and walked into the shop, disappearing out of sight for a few glorious moments. A pile of metal things had formed in the center of the room, and she started to rummage through it, looking for any blunt object. A cat’s-head hammer revealed itself to her; she grabbed it by the handle and for the second time today, she stepped out into the light with a bounce in her step. People backed away when she came out; her father remaining completely oblivious to her. He kept shouting to the crowd as Talia walked up behind him. Without hesitating, she swung the hammer into the side of his head, right at the temple and he dropped hard to the ground. Standing above him, she could hear his ragged breathing, so she knew she spared him any real harm.

The air around her became so silent that she could hear the waves crashing on the shore hundreds of feet north of town. Everyone watched intently; out of amusement or horror, there was no way to know. After a long pause, it was Talia who spoke first:

“Apologies for what you have witnessed this morn. Some unfortunate news was revealed to my father… there are imperial soldiers coming to Knoll Hill and I am sure all will be explained.”

Before another word was said, Talia awkwardly bent down and grabbed her father just below the arms and tried to pull him inside, without much success; Tevin only dangled in her arms with his face towards the ground. As she struggled, she saw another person dart out of the crowd to come and help her. He was a younger man, one of the only in town that she could tolerate; Alyn Mandalay came up and relieved her of the heaviest lifting, grabbing her father around the torso.

“Pick up his legs,” he said to her, and she did. The two waddled with her father in their arms back to the shop. Talia’s arms burned by the time they were inside; they set him down immediately on the dirt floor.

“Ta very much, Alyn.” Talia said, wiping sweat from her brow; she scrambled around, opening more windows to air out the place.

“Mind tellin’ me what all that was about?” he asked back.

“No bother, it will all turn out for the best.” She hoped that she was speaking the truth and fought back the worry with all her might.

He stopped her with an outstretched arm that landed at her waist. “But are you in any trouble, Tal?”

Years ago, she would have told him everything, she shared everything else with him, but their relationship became too serious for her too quickly and she slowly broke that bond they shared; though he still held on to it.

“I will manage just fine on my own. I always have.”

“I know that, but please let me know if I can help you with anything... Anything, Talia.”

“Things were bad today, Alyn, but I know they’ll only get better from here.”

He dropped his arm. “Well, it’s hard to see it getting any worse,” he waved to her, walking to the door, “I see that you have a lot to take care of. I’ll leave you to it then.” And with that, he was gone.

Talia froze for a moment, reflecting on his words, she knew very well he was not referring to her situation, but to theirs, and felt a pang of pity for him. But she had other things to worry about at the moment, and went to the cooling pot.

The things that her father had set nearest to the hearth had caught on fire, and she dumped the water, sending more smoke into the room. Some of the ashy clouds were escaping up through the hole in the floor, and she climbed up after them, taking one more look at her father, who laid passed out in the dirt, before going up to her room.

She rolled over onto the floor, watching the smoke billow out of her open window. The walls were empty now, her father must have thrown them down when she went to get the cart, she thought. A tear welled in her eyes; All that work, destroyed. All of my beautiful things.

Though she was sad and exhausted, she was relieved to be out of sight from prying eyes, and allowed herself a moment to think.

Will this be the last day I spend at home?

She laid there for a long while, staring and whispering to herself into the empty room like a lunatic. Perhaps she was pretending to have a conversation with her father, or simply ranting about the horrible day, even she knew not was she was saying. The longer she talked, though, the heavier her eyelids became, and she drifted off into much needed rest.

 

A groaning coming from downstairs woke her and she sat up abruptly, the back of her head throbbing where it rested on the wood. Her father was stirring. Talia crawled to the ladder, trying her hardest not to make any noise; she cautiously looked down at him. She saw his wits slowly come about him, and he grabbed his head where she had hit him, yet, he still laid there. Then the sobs came again and he started to tremble, blubbering and shaking in the dirt. This time, Talia started to feel sorry for him. Glancing out her window, she noticed the sun was beginning to set; this would be one of his last nights in the realm of the living. She wondered what he must be thinking.

Her eyes wandered towards the window again. How long was I out? The nerves in her body were starting to wake as well, and she became aware of every wound that she had.

In her pain, she never noticed her father get up until she heard the strikes of a flint and saw the glow of a candle. She watched him rustle about, gathering some more of his things. He glanced up to her when he felt her gaze.

“It is in your best interest to stay upstairs, ya red-haired s**t.” He was red-faced and crying, like a baby.

Her fists hardened at his words. The moment of pity she had for him died instantly. She hated him and wanted him gone. Let him scramble.

“What are you doing?” she questioned.

“Leaving.”

A panic coursed through her veins. He must not leave, if he goes, he cannot die! The floor disappeared below her as she leapt to the ground, her body instantly regretting it, nevertheless, she bounded to him. He looked back to her in a threatening manner, to which Talia gave no reaction.

“I told you to stay upstairs,” he said through clenched teeth. He was putting clothes and belongings into a gunnysack.

“Father, you cannot just leave,” She said, trying to come up with some excuse to keep him there.

“And why not?” he snapped, “As of today, there is nothing for me here, and even less for me if I am dead.” He put a shirt in the bag with a trembling hand.

“And what about me? With you gone, they will kill me in your stead. Your daughter, your only child! The future of this shop and your trade.”

He gave no response.

“You are a coward! A heartless monster!”

He closed his bag and without saying a word, barreled out the door and into the night. A moment passed in shock. Her father was an ungrateful coward, running away into the night like a frightened rabbit. If only I had my bow.

Suddenly, the silence hit her and she understood its meaning. “I need to bring him back.” She jumped out the door and looked down the road, gazing into the night, right and then left. He was nowhere to be seen. Still, she gave chase, her instincts told her to go right, so she went east, out of town.

Moonlight illuminated her surroundings and she clearly saw the hills in front of her. She was happy to see that she made the right choice when she saw her father stumbling in the dark. Talia started running, as fast as her suffering body could take her, the muscles in her chest pumping her arms as they swung at her sides; her feet landing carefully on the uneven ground. She was so focused, one goal driving every stride; I have to bring him back. My life depends on it.

The ground between them was closing as she gained on him. Her father was never a strong man, and his baggage slowed him down. Talia reached in front of her and grabbed a strap bouncing behind him on his pack. She pulled, opening the bag and sending a few linens to the ground. Her father barreled back, not aware she was just behind him.

“There’s nothing you can say to me anymore.” He huffed, still running.

“Come back and face your sentence like the man I thought you once were!” She screamed, almost not having enough air to complete the thought.

He stopped in his tracks and Talia almost ran into him, he turned and grabbed her by the face. “Give it up, Tal. I may not be the man you think, but you are certainly not the child I wanted. A good child listens to their father. You betrayed me the moment you were born, and if you had not done your part in your mother’s death, I would have sired a son more worthy of me to stay.”

The truth is out. Those last words hurt her, but once again she did not show it. He started running again and still she held onto his pack, dragging behind him, desperately trying to pull him back.

Let go!” Tevin yelled, and without warning, he swung his foot back, coming into contact with the cut just above her left knee. She lost her breath as a jolt of pain shot through her entire body, her vision blurred and she dropped to the ground, clutching her leg, gasping for air.

Tevin turned on her and continued on, leaving her lay there in the night.

Once the stars in her eyes disappeared, and she was able to breathe normally, she tried to stand; putting all of her weight on her right leg, she rolled upward, her body creaking and groaning in the effort. She stared out in the direction her father went, and a sob caught in her throat. She had failed. He was worth far less than the effort of chasing him, and quite frankly, she could go no more as it was.

Instead, she walked south, finding the familiar route that led to the bryony field, wanting to see it again for fear that she might never see it after tomorrow. One thought tugged at her mind the entire way: Should I run too?

The white flowers seemed to glow in the moonbeams and they spread in front of her as she came over the crest of a hill, washing over the ground like a radiant ocean. Talia peeled off her worn shoes and waded into it, feeling the soft petals beneath her feet. A gentle breeze rocked the buds to and fro, much like the tides; it looked so inviting.

Carefully, she got to her knees, falling over onto her back, sprawling and stretching onto the ground. She never appreciated this place as much as she did at this very moment. It was an earthen bed, providing her with the only comfort she had since that day.

For the first time in the longest time, Talia closed her eyes and prayed, the words coming to her as she thought.

“Oh Trea, Lord above, bringer of night and day, death and life, sun and rain, please keep me in your thoughts. Judge me accordingly. I am pleading for mercy in a time when I need it most… though I should have asked many times before. It has been much too long, and I know above all that I do not deserve your grace and kindness…” She was not tired, but she felt herself drifting off as she spoke, “As of tonight, I am alone in this world, a humble servant, who could use some advice and guidance"“

The cool night air enveloped her senses and her mind went blank, the pain of her body overtaking her as she passed out.

 

The next time Talia saw light, she was face down on the ground, a little flower tickling her nose. She awoke slowly, feeling nauseated; the taste of blood in her mouth. Swiping the hair out of her face, she ran her hands along her cheek and brow; her skin was tender to the touch and she was sure that, if she had a looking-glass, she would see dark bruises that looked much like the ones dotting her arms. She perched herself onto her elbows, unable to comprehend how she could spend the whole night on the cold ground.

And then the realization came to her.

It’s morning.

The thought of running away still burned in her mind and she looked to the hills; so welcoming and warm. Then she glanced in the direction of the town. Do I run like the coward my father is, or face my fate?

Her body in even more pain from sleeping on the hard ground, she stood, and followed her gut instinct, back to town; to her shop and her fate.

She saw the smoke clouds spiraling into the sky before she saw the town, which appeared to her after she came over the last hill. Her worries made her heart beat faster than ever, and her mouth was dry as a desert; she still tasted blood, too. Seeing the townsman and waiting for soldiers to come and decide her outcome was the last thing she wanted, and the thought made her nervous, though she knew it was the right thing to do. Running into the hills like her father would not solve anything and only put a price on her head. If there was not one already.

Closer to the city, she saw a large group of people forming in the streets in front of her shop, which still smoldered. Have they found him? She became more excited at the thought than she should have. Oh, I pray they do not think deserter as well.

Her breathing became staggered and her chest thumped as she made her first steps inside the gates. She heard voices coming from the center of the group, announcers, who stood on top of a platform. Their words became clearer as she got closer.

            Remaining at the outer edge of the crowd, she repositioned herself until she could clearly see the men talking and was shocked when she did. Imperial Soldiers. So soon? Her heart skipped a beat

One of them stood, looking regal in a silver breastplate, whose detail Talia respected, and a blue cloak; he had an unrolled scroll in his hands and was reading from it. There were two other men on either side of him.

“…if any person has news of the whereabouts or well-being of the deserter Tevin Harper, or of his child, Tal Harper, of ‘Harper’s Smithing’, it is the wishes of this land that those people speak now as to apprehend these traitors. Being conspirators against the crown, it is in all our best wishes to detain them and bring peace and justice to our beloved nobles and to this realm. In the name of His Majesty, Drom Sease, our high King, Prince of the People, First of his name and Master of the Realm, and his Queen, our Lady, Romay Beauvoir, the beauteous Royal Descended.” He snapped the scroll shut.

Talia looked amongst the crowd listening as the man addressed them. She could see the woman who was struck in the foot by her father’s blade; she had the same dress on, and was showing off her bandaged foot and blood-edged skirts, obviously seeking some personal gain. She was surrounded by ladies who felt pity for her. The look on her face told everyone that she was reveling in the attention.

Alyn was standing not far from her; he seemed to be the only one who noticed her presence. Talia must have looked scared, because he gave her a look of pity and, being discrete as possible, he tried to signal her to leave. A voice cut him off.

“Sirs!” a woman yelled, Talia followed the sound and saw the woman that had stopped her while she was getting the cart, the one who showed her kindness that Talia had ignored. The woman’s gaze met Talia’s and her eyes went wild.

“Sirs! I have found your child! Sirs!” She caught their attention and pointed. “There is the one called Tal!”

Fear struck her harder than her father’s whip. The armored men on the platform followed the woman’s finger and they looked, scanning the crowd. Talia was not looking at them, though, for she spotted a curved block of wood that sat at the edge of the platform. It was stained a deep red where other men’s necks had once rested. The fear remained fixated in her mind.

The men jumped from the platform and ran in her direction, their magnificent blue cloaks flying after them and their armor shimmering in the sun. Talia noticed the golden crest of the crowned sun emblazoned on their breastplates. They were members of the Kings own personal envoy. “Do not let him escape!” one of them shouted.

People around her backed away and she stood alone, frozen in place. Are they going to kill me? She swallowed hard and stepped towards the soldiers, hoping the punishment would be less severe if she surrendered.

“No need for a chase or restraints,” she said. “I come to you on my own free will.”

The men stopped dead in their tracks and snickered at her. “You?” one mocked. “You are a blacksmith’s apprentice? That is impossible.”

“I am no blacksmith’s apprentice. As of last night, I am a blacksmith. When my father fled, this building and trade became mine.” She looked at her shop, whose roof had caved in, and had beams that glowed red in the ash.

“You are coming with us then, Harper. You will give us any information on your father and your discrepancies.” One of them said as he bound her wrist, locking them tight in a heavy, forged handcuff.

“You’re not going to kill me?” she sighed.

“No. There would have been bloodshed only if your father had been here. You will come with us to answer for your crimes.”

Talia looked up at the sky, and, though she was arrested, a giant wave of relief washed over her, for she would live to see another day. Her eyes fell upon the crowd and hundreds of faces looked back at her, some full of hate, others of disbelief, curiosity, doubt and pity.

“I had no fault in any of this,” Talia said aloud, as she was led to the wagon. “And I am no traitor. If you are desperate to find one, he went running that way when the moon was high.” She gestured to the east with both bound arms. She heard a few sighs and whispers in the air, a few of the faces turning sympathetic. One of the soldiers grabbed her by the arm and spun her around.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked him.

“To the capitol until we find your father. You are to be imprisoned for the wrong you have done.”

Talia felt weak; she was now a prisoner, condemned… humiliated. Being the focus of hundreds of eyes in her worst time mortified her and she felt their chastising gazes, making her feel small and ashamed. A shamed, puny convict.

She looked back at all of them; some started to disperse, and others kept their steely eyes fixed on her.

Talia tried her hardest to keep her composure stoic, and she succeeded up until she saw the wooden jail cart that was to take her away; her eyes welled instantly and her wits flew into hysterics.

Days ago I dreamed of leaving here, but this is not what I had in mind; locked in a cell… taken as a prisoner. 

Her father’s face popped into her mind: smiling, running free, not a hint of remorse in his green eyes.

“F*****g idiot.” She murmured to herself.

The soldier gave her reins a quick tug and Talia tripped; she lost her footing and fell to the ground. With all of her might, she tried pulling herself back up, but with her hands bound it proved impossible. She hung there, like the dying rabbit with the mortal wound that bounced at her side, and was pulled along, her feet dragging in the dirt.

The men heaved her up and tossed her into the wagon. Her scraped knee took the blow of the fall as she landed on the wooden floor, and she let out a cry.

“Quiet, girl!” one soldier demanded. He slammed the gate shut behind her and the whole carriage rocked, making Talia fall forward onto her face, her red hair tumbling into a tangled mess around her. She used every muscle in her to sit herself up, and desperately she looked around. The wooden wagon was a small cage with benches lining the walls that had small windows with iron spindle bars on each side. Talia glanced out front and saw two great black stallions as equally adorned as the envoy they came with. They whinnied as they cart they were bound to moved and the soldiers came up to them.

One of the soldiers addressed the crowd one last time, and a cheer resounded when he was finished. Talia strained herself up to the window to look out. The soldier was facing away from her and she could not hear what he said, but the happy, condemning faces of the crowd gave her an idea of what he told them. She felt more pathetic than ever. There was still a great amount of people in the road, and they all looked to her. The smoke in the air had dissipated some, and she knew that once this day was over, and her shop was destroyed, every one of those faces would forget her, including Alyn’s, and they would all move on with their lives. She did not want to be forgotten. She looked down and the sobs began.

More words were spoken from the soldiers in front of the wagon and the floor jerked below her, signifying the start of her journey. She fought to keep her feet under her as the carriage bounced along the road; she watched outside, seeing the houses and people become smaller in the distance, and once she saw the gate of Knoll Hill for the last time, more tears welled and fell, some of them landing on her chest, absorbing in the linen cloth that bound her breasts. Talia shrank into the corner, and despite the rocking of the wagon, she was frozen in fear, stunned in disbelief. Another tear threatened to drop from the corner of her eye and she reached up her arms to brush it away.

Not knowing why, she began to think where she would be at in this moment if she had been born a boy.

“You are not the child I wanted.” Her father’s words echoed in her head. She had always suspected that he resented her, but she tried her hardest to please him. All for naught it seems… If she was his son, she would have been loved. Worthy. One able to carry the family name and trade. Her father would have stayed then; it was not fair. Why should I be blamed for being a girl?

Their family was a long line of sons, her father Tevin, her grandfather Talebot before that, and Thorlan before him… all boys until she was born; a screaming, crying baby girl. Perhaps he blamed himself, siring a daughter after generations of Harper men?

As it was, she would probably never find out, and she could not change what has come to pass. Flicking her hair out of her face, she dried her eyes, deciding that enough tears had been shed. Talia knew that she was stronger than her father, stronger than all of them before her, and she would not be the crying baby that he resented. She had already proved herself more of a man than her father, coming back to town and facing her fate; she would use that same strength during her trials ahead, and prove herself worthy. 

Not another tear will fall on these cheeks. It is me against myself now. The days to come will be difficult, unrelenting… Trea watch over me. I will not let you down. 



© 2015 Aleks Edwin


Author's Note

Aleks Edwin
I completely re-wrote this chapter because I had originally wrote it in first-person perspective, but none of my other chapters were, so it bugged me, lol. Now everything is the same!

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Reviews

The first person worked well for me. it led me to view her as a very observant girl and a compelling character to whom I can easily relate

Posted 6 Years Ago


Aleks Edwin

6 Years Ago

Cool! Thanks for the review! I have a question for you, too. I wanted it to be kind of a shocker whe.. read more
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

6 Years Ago

The summary spoke of her as a she (:
Aleks Edwin

6 Years Ago

...I should change that then, haha.

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Added on October 17, 2013
Last Updated on January 11, 2015
Tags: fantasy, trouble, family, strength, uncertain future.


Author

Aleks Edwin
Aleks Edwin

Lakewood, CA



About
Hello everyone! glad to meet people here :) I recently started writing again after (too long of) a break, and it is again a great hobby of mine! Not many of my friends are writers, so it's great to.. more..

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