Just wrote those words on the Emaculum manuscript a couple days ago. The final volume of The Scourge trilogy is off for editing this week and should be released toward the end of July! To say I’m excited is an understatement. It was a bittersweet moment finishing this series. Thank you, to everyone who helped make book 3 a reality.
To celebrate, I’m posting an appetizer from Episode 1. Happy reading!
I hold out a hand to stop Tristan and we listen. The hoofbeats grow louder. I can hear voices in the distance, and then, much closer, the sound of weeping.
Cold water spatters my cheek as I sweep away a leafy branch and scan the forest. A figure stumbles through the brush and nearly falls. It is she who weeps.
The woman glances back toward the road as she walks, then scans the forest floor, her gaze sweeping wildly among the hawthorn and gorse. Someone has tied a cord around her waist and attached a fox tail that dangles from her backside.
A maiden walking alone, looking frightened, and weeping. I want only to reach Elizabeth, but how can an honorable man ignore such a scene?
Tristan and I rise and push through the wet sprigs toward her. I give a whispery shout: “Do you require assistance?”
She shrieks and backs away from us, thick tears tumbling from her dark lashes. The perpetual drizzle has soaked her clothing. She is young and dangerously thin, her black hair unbound. The thin chemise she wears is wet and torn. It clings to her and hangs off one shoulder, revealing smooth skin on a bony frame.
“I haven’t found it yet!” she screams. “I need more time!”
I hold a finger to my lips and make calming motions with my other hand. “What haven’t you found?” I take a step toward her and she backs away, shaking her head.
“The arrow.” She pants as she speaks, the panting of someone about to fall into desperate sobs. The white chemise is soaked through, revealing every feature of her reedy figure. I wonder when she last ate. “I can’t find it,” she continues. “You arrived too soon. I didn’t have a chance.”
I glance back at Tristan, who sneers at me. “You couldn’t give the poor maiden more time, could you?”
“That’s not helping, Tristan.” I take another step toward her, pull my cloak off and place it over her shoulders. “I know nothing about an arrow. Why must you find it? Are you in danger?”
She stares at me, tilts her head and sniffles. “You’re . . . you’re not part of the hunt?”
“I’m just trying to get home,” I say. “Which hunt do you speak of?”
“Witch hunt, indeed,” Tristan says.
A horn sounds, loud and very close. Men shout. Boots crash through the forest. The woman flinches at the sounds, the tears flowing again. “Please, help me.”
I look toward the road. At least five or six men. Tristan and I glance at one another. He raises his crossbow as I draw my sword. No knight with any honor could do anything else.
“Thank you, sirs.” She lifts her skirt and walks away from the road slowly. Her shoulders hunch as she scans the forest floor. Tristan and I look to one another, then back at her. She scowls at us. “Hurry! We must find the arrow. Red fletching and stripes painted on the shaft. Anon! Anon!”
“What fun,” Tristan says. “I hope we find it.”
“What game is this?” I ask her. “Are you in danger or not?”
“There! Is that it?” Her voice rises, then strains with anguish. “No! It is a branch!”
I look back toward the road. Shapes plunge through the mist-drenched scrub. They will see us soon, if they have not already. I take hold of the woman’s arm and turn her to face me. “Are those men going to harm you?” She shakes her head and I sheathe my sword. “Let’s go, Tristan.”
He lowers his crossbow and we crash through gorse, northward away from the men.
“They will take my maidenhood,” the woman cries. “They will fill me with their seed and leave me to starve.”
My sword flashes out from its sheath and Tristan’s crossbow rises. We lurch back toward her.
“Perhaps,” Tristan says to me, “you should have been more specific in your question.”
“Rape is harm, maiden,” I mutter. “In case this sort of thing comes up again in the future.”
The first two men push through wet leaves, laughing, but what they see is not funny, and their humor dries up. Tristan and I stand shoulder to shoulder. My sword is pointed forward in mid-guard. His crossbow is strung and loaded and aimed in their direction. We are not thin, we are not dainty, and neither of us wears a fox tail.
“We can’t seem to find the arrow,” Tristan says. “Care for a war-bolt instead?”