I’m starting to get the mental gears greased for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and decided to try to write improvised stories of varying length and likely questionable quality as part of the process on a daily basis for the days remaining until NaNoWriMo starts in earnest. The inspiration for each piece will come from scrolling through my Home page on Pinterest until I find a picture I feel (for whatever reason) to be inspirational as my prompt. The length may vary, but each piece will have a target length of at least 1700 words, as that is near the minimum required on a daily basis to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. Only minimal edits are done with the results below and the work is the effort of a single writing session.
I always welcome people who want to be “buddies” on the NaNo site. My user name is Michael_Raven, if you want to link accounts.
[Length: 1729 words]
Trigger Warning: Graphic Violence, Fictionalized Suggestions of Sexual Assault
“We should have waited for the others, Van,” Lars said under his breath, afraid of drawing attention to the two men following the trail of footprints in the deepening snow. The white flurries fell hard, big fluffs of cotton that swirled in the eddies of wind created by the old growth trees. Miraculously, the they still had the light of the moon to see by, a pregnant, pockmarked mistress hovering just over the horizon where the clouds full of snow had seemed disinterested in venturing. “They had warned us before we’d left that these were no ordinary witches.”
Less careful about detection, Van tromped through the woods, careless of the branches hidden by the snowfall that snapped like winter-brittle bones in the cold air. “They say that every time they send us out,” he said, not looking back at Lars. “Rumors of witches in such and such place. If reports are true, be careful because if you find any there is a good chance these are no ordinary witches.” He snorted in derision.
“Truth is, Lars,” he continued in his booming voice, “I have yet to run into any real witches on any of my assignments. Sure, the villagers call these women witches, but more often than not, they are just jealous of the local cunning woman’s beauty and mystique as the older healers die off and are replaced by the next generation. If a girl is too pretty, the village womenfolk are willing to give up their healer to stop the lingering gaze of their men on her. Can’t say I’ve seen any magic or devils my whole time with the Order, which I might say I find to be mighty disappointing. I was promised evil and glory; I get mendacity and mundane instead.”
“What about Ira? Ira disappeared from the camp.”
Van let out a hearty guffaw, and whether it was coincidence or because of it, branches of snow-heavy boughs decided at that moment to release their load, causing Lars to jump. Van didn’t seem to notice to connection.
“Well, let me tell you about Ira… Ira is one of those enthusiastic type who has his own ideas on how to test the magical skill of the witches we hunt. He probably head out early to start his own trial. A trial between her legs, if you know what I mean. He probably wanted to see if our quarry could stop whatever test conditions he wanted to apply. As I said, it is almost all young cunning women we get called to investigate and Ira is a selfish lad.”
Lars was disgusted by the idea. The members of the Order of the Rose were supposed to be paragons of morality and virtue, not rapists and murderers. Knights protecting those who could not fend for themselves. And witch hunters. But he’d found the past few months of training that what the Order claimed and what the reality of the field were two different things entirely.
“Ira. He’s not one to share if he don’t hafta.” Van laughed again. “I only hope he doesn’t have an ‘accident’ with his sword if she fights back. That looked terrible in our last report because we didn’t bring her back for questioning by the randy goat himself.”
Lars thought Van meant the Cardinal. He started to really reconsider his role in the Order at that suggestion, but the pay was good. He didn’t have any other skills aside from making threatening gestures with his sword or working the slaughterhouse as he had before joining the Order: how would he pay his debts? Go mercenary? Mercenaries died eventually and Lars wasn’t ready to die yet.
“Well, shouldn’t we wait until Owen can return with the rest of the –“
Van stopped short and Lars stumbled into the man’s fur-covered back.
“Oh, fuck,” he breathed out without emotion or force.
Lars followed Van’s gaze. His eyes found the blood-soaked ground first, and then followed the path of blood to the place where it had painted the forest a dark scarlet, staining the snow and tree trunks beyond recognition. He wondered how that much blood could come from anything. It seemed like an impossible amount to store in a pathetic sack of flesh.
It was only then that he saw the strange fruit hanging from the elderly trees. Bodies. Not just a few bodies, but easily a dozen, perhaps more. Men of all occupations by the clothes that still hung from their limp forms.
Then She walked out from between the trees, naked and covered in blood as if she had just gotten done feasting on bloody rare beef, blood dripping from her mouth, running in drying rivulets down her chin and over her breasts.
“You trespass, men,” her voice was venom and acid. “You will not be given another chance to leave. You are not welcome in this place.”
Lars backed away, not wanting to catch his heel on the fallen branches and fall, but unwilling to turn to away from the woman. As a result, he noticed other women walking out of the shadows behind the woman. More women, equally naked and covered in gore and Lars wondered madly how it could be that they were not cold in their nudity.
Van’s infectious confidence left his voice, leaving it sounding small and a desert-dry wisp of what it had been just minutes before.
“We’re looking for our friend… We’ll leave if –“
“You’ll leave or you will suffer his fate,” she interrupted and turned to nod at one of the the others. The other woman tossed something in the direction of Van’s feet which , when it rolled to a stop, was clearly recognizable as Ira’s head in spite of being covered in snow that clumped to the face as it rolled to them. “He unwisely rejected our offer to leave.”
Lars choked back a shriek of horror while Van stared at the knight’s face, a gave sadness raining over his features which soon became a stormy tempest.
Van’s hand went to the hilt of his sword as he started to march towards the blood-soaked women wearing only skin.
“You… Fucking… Bitch..,” were the measured words he said as he unsheathed his sword and raised it to cleave the woman from head to ass. “You’ll regret killing one of the Order, whore! I’ll see that you burn in –“
Lars closed his eyes and covered his ears with his cold hands, not wanting to see, not wanting to hear the sounds, not wanting to know what would happen to Van or the naked woman covered in what must be Ira’s blood… Not wanting…
He felt something warm and wet rain on his face. It wasn’t much, but it had the copper smell of the slaughterhouse he’d worked in before he’d joined the Order to try and make a difference in this world, away from the slop and slime of humanity.
Lars felt a hand on his head and, with a slowness like honey in the winter, he opened his eyes, reluctant to witness what Van had done to the woman. Ira had probably earned his fate, if what Van said was true about the man. Lars didn’t think that the woman deserved such violence in kind, especially if she warned Ira against trespass. Lars was already convinced she held the right to this place, legal or otherwise. He didn’t much care either way, but he didn’t see why Van had to kill her for protecting her territory.
When his eyes opened, eyelashes covered in the falling snow, it was not Van’s eyes that bore into his own, but that of the woman of the forest. The other women gathered behind her, coming closer and Lars felt his bladder relax as he pissed himself.
“You must choose,” she said with a firmness the brooked no argument, acid gone from her voice. “You may fight us and join your companions, or you must leave. You are not welcome in this place.”
Afraid the women would kill him if he walked away, he just wanted to stay there a while, let his piss freeze to ice and wait for these women to leave so he could crawl his way back to the inn the three of them had stayed the night before. Crawl back, lose his sword and going back to the slaughter houses to earn an honest wage, however poor.
“What… what if I can’t… leave…? I… I… don’t know…. if I can move,” he said with a shudder not borne from cold.
She pointed to the trees and the men hanging from them throughout the area. “Then you will join these men who also could not bring themselves to leave,” she said, sounding sorrowful, though Lars could not see why.
With numb hands, Lars lifted the his baldric over his shoulder and laid both scabbard and baldric on the stained snow in front of where he stood. He backed away slowly, eyes locked with the eyes of the women standing around him so that he wouldn’t have to see what they’d done to Van. Something told him he might never stop shrieking and he’d end up joining the hanging men if he lost that much control. The women returned his stare without emotion in the depths of their eyes.
“I’m… I’m going to leave. If you’ll let me.” He pointed to the sheathed sword on the ground, already getting buried under the falling snow. “I’m leaving my sword. I’m not a threat. Please don’t kill me as I leave. I promise not to ever come back.”
The dark haired woman’s only response was to stare coldly at Lars as he spoke. The others, they turned away and walked back into the shadows of the trees, but the woman who spoke watched as he eventually turned, praying that she wouldn’t change her mind and walked away.
Though it seemed unwise, after a few hundred steps Lars looked over his shoulder to see if she had gone her own way as well. Unsurprising, she still stood there, a warden against his return, should he be foolish enough to change his mind.
He turned his eyes back to the path in front of him, making his plans for a return to his old life, One without false morality. One where he would never again have to worry about bringing a witch to justice.