Post by themirrorthief on Jul 10, 2018 23:57:55 GMT -5
He felt wet, incredibly fatigued, and on the verge of wishing for his own death. Kaddimnj trudged on foot since his mount had died. Kaddimnj had little choice in the matter. He had ridden the animal to death and then proceded to run until he dropped. The rain woke him and he wearied on. The King's men were a stubborn group of thugs. Their own lives might well be forfeit should they return without Kaddimnj's head.
At the present that knowledge mattered little to Kaddimnj. He was finished, used up. He had literally been run to ground. His only hope was the weather. It waxed terrible and perhaps even the King's best would find a warm dry place to take shelter for a few hours. If they had found the dead horse, and it was likely they had...in their minds the end was assured.
Kaddimnj staggered on, what else could he do? His weary eyes stared through the rain and dark and finally fell upon a bit of light. For what tiny bit of hope that offered he struggled on. He neared a structure that loomed before his tired eyes as near phantom-like. It appeared to be a ruin or at least a mostly ruined ancient stronghold. Half of the thing was little more than a pile of old stones. A goodly portion remained and stood eerily and forboding. It was not a welcoming site but the light promised warmth, perhaps even a hot drink or a crumb. A man without hope could not be blamed for grasping at flimsy promise.
Kaddimnj had chuckled at himself and his misgivings. If anything, he would be the one perceived as a threat. Trudging forth in the middle of night, haggard and heavily armed. Regardless he pounded upon the massive oak door that appeared to be the only thing more or less new about the ancient building. He waited for a long time and rapped again. On the verge of turning away he perceived the sounds of turning bolts and creaking wood. The face that appeared stunned him. The woman was beyond beautiful, her smooth flesh and huge dark eyes peered at him nervously.
"What business have you here, speak or begone at once, we have scant use for beggars."
"I apologize for my appearance, my mount has perished in the storm...it fell into a ravine and shattered a leg. I barely escaped the same fate. I can pay well for a meal and a drink...and a short while beside a fire."
The woman hesitated, "if you can pay, perhaps I shall accomodate you for a short while but you must be on your way before dawn...bad weather or not."
Kaddimnj was surprised at her offer but then, there was something he had glimpsed in her eyes. Was it fear, yet not a fear of the soaked newcomer? Something else. Kaddimnj was no stranger to the look of need and dread in the eyes of a woman misused. He entered the keep and paused to shake the water from his clothes and body. There was an old cloak hanging by the door. "Put that on before you catch your death," the woman stated flatly. "Come and sit by the fire in the kitchen and I will fetch you a bit of stew...but don't expect the King's fixings."
"From the King I only expect the headsman's axe."
The woman eyed him curiously but said nothing. Then she spoke dismissively, "I have scant worry about the affairs of court. Still, I would prefer you leave within the hour for my troubles are plentiful and I need no more of the same. Still, you have the eyes of an honest man but perhaps my judgement is clouded."
"I am an honest man," as if to emphasize the point Kaddimnj placed a gold coin on the table beside his meal. The woman picked it up, nodded and disappeared into another part of the keep.
Kaddimnj ate quickly for he was famished. The meal was a simple one but he did not complain. Finished, he sat close to the fire and within moments he had dozed. It was foolish but he was exhausted.
Screams wakened the fugitive. He raced with sword drawn into a nearby room and witnessed a rogue attacking Kaddimnj's lovely benefactor. "Stand away," Kaddimnj demanded.
The dirty rogue wore a heavy beard and his clothes bore many stains. He drew his sword and uttered a guttural threat, "I will do no such thing stranger, I know not who you are but I suffer no insults lightly."
Kaddimnj knew well the look in the man's eye. He wanted blood and he carried a heavy frame with powerful arms. Kaddimnj was not a large man. The fugitive watched with keen attention as the woman's assailant waved his blade about with the confidence of a man much used to combat.
Their steel clashed and the sound reverberated through the stones of that ancient keep. The rogue was strong and skilled. He pressed the attack and scored a nick on Kaddimnj's arm. The combat continued for some time. Although he was tired from his flight, Kaddimnj's stamina was near legendary. His heavy opponent had expected a quick victory, angry that such had not developed...he pressed the attack with renewed fury.
Kaddimnj blocked his thrusts easily and he perceived his opponent commenced breathing most vigorously. The dirty man dropped back and paused to catch his breath and Kaddimnj waited. The fugitive smiled at his opponent and the man's face drew into an ugly rage. He charged forward with renewed energy but Kaddimnj knew the end was in sight.
The fugitive danced about his adversary on nimble feet. He waited, almost with mercy for the man but at last his blade flashed and the filthy would be rapist was served a serious wound. "Leave here and I will spare you, you great buffoon."
The man considered for a moment only to roar loudly and hurled forward as if to crush the quick footed cavalier with his huge bulk. He tried to turn Kaddimnj's blade but it slipped away easily and the beastly fool received another serious wound. His eyes glowered but he turned and raced to the door. He left his blood behind. Kaddimnj heard the tramp of a horse momentarily. The fugitive sighed with regret, he could have used that animal for himself. His mistake might well prove fatal.
"My name is Adora, and I thank you greatly stranger...let me return your gold. I would be ashamed to accept it now." With that simple speech the beautiful dark haired lady pressed the coin back into the hand of Kaddimnj.
He looked at the coin and shrugged. "Take the gold, I have more...though I am not a wealthy man by any means."
"He will be back with his three brothers. They are a curse upon my peace of mind. My husband is away, and to make matters worse, their mother is a witch...and a bad one at that. But she has healing potions that are very powerful."
"I must be off regardless, the King's men search for me as well. I thank you for your kindness."
Adora took his hand lightly, "but I know of a place where you can hide, its just an old cave but its clean and warm. I was born there and my father had a shack nearby until he died. Allow me to take you there."
"Is it far, I have no mount?"
"I have a good strong horse, he is old but very sound. Let me gather a few things for us to eat and drink. The horse is stabled in the rear of the keep. Make haste to saddle him, I will fetch what we need and we'll be off"
Kaddimnj nodded and quickly made his exit. In less than fifteen minutes the two were mounted and off. For many miles they traveled down a worn lane. However, Adora pointed to path that was little more than a rabbit trail. "We walk from here I'm afraid," the girl said. From that point it was tough going but they progressed. After hours of struggle, they arrived at a yawning chasm. It was hopelessly remote, Kaddimnj felt himself relax a bit. No one would likely find this place, and at the very least they could not do so quietly. All Kaddimnj ever really asked of the world was a chance to run like hell if need be. That being impossible, he would fight like all the demons of the abyss rolled into one. It was a philosophy that had stood him well for all of his 26 years.
They dismounted and prepared the campsite for the night. Kaddimnj made a very small fire, one he hoped would not be easily detected . The girl prepared a simple meal of bread and butter. To Kaddimnj it tasted delicious, almost as delicious as the lovely treat with huge eyes that stared so soulfully into his.
"Do not concern yourself so overly much. I have seen signs and I believe there will be a heavy snow some time tonight. It will cover our trail if that is what worries you," Adora stated simply. "I can tell by the bark on the totol trees. It turns very dark when a snow is imminent."
Kaddimnj wasnt sure he believed the girl but he he made haste to gather a large store of firewood and then he dragged it into the cave to keep dry. Later, totally exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep. Someone nudged him and he woke instantly as he was wont to do. "The snow is here," his fair companion declared.
It was very true, the snow fell in huge drifts. Kaddimnj watched it for awhile and then he added much wood to the fire. The blaze would never be noticed amidst such a snowstorm and besides his first concern was freezing to death. Also the fire was located a good distance away from the cave entrance. The smoke dissipated into the high ceiling of the caverna and Kaddimnj suspected there existed a number off holes that provided exit for the twirling gasses.
At some point near dawn Kaddimnj dozed off again. He woke once to feel Adora's slender body pressed against his. "I'm very cold" she said, "I don't meant to bother you." The swordsman muttered something unintelligble and dropped back off into a deep slumber.
The next few days were actually very enjoyable for the fugitive. He trapped small animals to add to their rations and he gathered more wood. In the evenings he watched the fresh snow fall while Adora prepared their simple meals and later she settled back to play her flute and sing. Her voice was beautiful. The more time Kaddimnj spent with the lady the more he found himself enjoying her company. He had known more than his share of beautiful women but Adora seemed different somehow. He felt glad that circumstances had drawn them together. He watched mesmerized as she combed tangles from her long brown hair every morning.
"Don't you want to return to your keep?" the swordsman asked abruptly one evening.
"I was born in this cave, and later my father constructed a small shack where we dwelled for many years. My husband employed my father, that is how we met."
"What happened to your husband?"
"He went on a long trading journey and never returned. That was well over a year ago. He would have returned much sooner had he been able. I had servants but they deserted one at a time because I could not pay them. What money I had I needed for food. One man brought me wood out of the kindness of his heart. Its almost all gone now, I would freeze to death at my crumbling old castle. I doubt I ever see my husband again. A wife just feels things you know. He would have returned long ago if he possibly could. I have no doubts of that. We were happy together. Now I can barely recall his face." The girl put her face in her hands and began to weep. Obviously the poor lass had suffered much and long.
Kaddimnj tried to encircle her trembling form with his arm but she pulled away. He understood in a way, not every woman was a trollop, eager to bed the next man that catches her eye. Still, he wanted her and badly. He went out to watch the snow and cool his fevered brain and pounding heart.
The next day the sun came out and the snow ceased. "Come walk with me," Adora said. He followed her about one hundred and fifty yards where they came upon a small clearing. It contained three graves. Each had a stone marker with nothing carved to identify the dead.
"My father and mother and a sister who died when she was twelve. She was older than me and I loved her very much. I loved them all...we used to play in this glade and pick berries. Now it all makes me so sad. I have returned here only rarely. This place breaks my heart."
Kaddimnj felt something soft touch his hand. It was the hand of the girl. He took it and for a few seconds she was content. Then she pulled away and they returned to the cave. Kaddimnj went to see to the horse which they had stabled in the ruins of the old shack that once was Adora's home. There remained enough of the walls and a bit of roof to provide reasonable shelter for the animal and keep him dry. The weather was cold but Kaddimnj had witnessed much colder. He fed the horse some grass and then went to look to his traps. His efforts were rewarded with a fat rabbit. Tonight they would dine well indeed. One must eat well during cold weather, a bit of fat on the frame served nicely to help battle the chill.
Suddenly Kaddimnj felt somehow that he might be observed. His instincts were correct as always. He glanced about quickly and noticed a man half hidden in the brush. He was unlike any man the swordsman had ever seen. The intruder was a savage in all respects. His hair was thick and unkempt. The man's chin bristled with a straggly beard. He was more naked than clothed. He wore a heavy fur loincloth and another fur was draped over one shoulder and secured with a piece of dried animal tendon.
The savage wore heavy fur shoes and in one hand he grasped a stone ax, and in the other a spear tipped with a crystal that appeared razor sharpe. The man yelled defiantley and charged, his face a horrible grimace.
Kaddimnj, hardly a stranger to conflict, hurled the dead rabbit into the face of his attacker. This momentarily distracted the savage. Kaddimnj drew his long dagger and charged his opponent. He crashed headlong into the barbarian and knocked the fellow to the ground. The stunned man let his ax fall from his grip and Kaddimnj, displaying amazing quickness and dexterity, snatched the weapon off the ground. The fugitive stomped hard on the hairy arm that still grasped the long spear. Then the fight ended abruptly as Kaddimnj brought the stone ax down with savage force. The blow left the half naked man's face and forehead a bloody disaster.
"You were going to do the same for me...but some snakes strike rapidly my strange sir. Unfortunately the lesson is wasted now."
Kaddimnj tensed, where one existed, more were likely to be about. He dragged the deceased savage beneath some heavy brush. He smoothed the disturned snow with a leafy branch. Then he took up the man's spear and the slain rabbit before departing to find the warmth of the cavern. It was time to take their leave if not already to late, he ran like a madman, fearing the worse. His brain burned with horrible, fantastic images. He must reach Adora in time.
When Kaddimnj at last reached his temporary shelter he realized instantly that the girl was gone. The fire had been extinquished and the ember scattered deliberately. The warrior felt a wave of numbing shock sweep over his slender frame.