Welcome to The Amulet Saga! Please see the bottom of this post for links to the other stories in this series (listed in chronological order of events, not of writing). And without further ado, I give you the latest installment.
Rina sliced a knife across her palm and squeezed splatters of blood along the trail, drops every few feet on either side of the path. She could only hope it was enough to ward off the creatures and allow for safe passage through the forest to her camp.
It had worked around the campsite, at any rate. Creatures had come near, sniffed the outer edge, their violet eyes glowing in the dim light, then wandered away.
She and Troy had been hiding in the forest for two full weeks, safe, but Rina knew she couldn’t stay ensconced in her hideaway forever. She began making the trail, a little more each day, so she and Troy could travel safely between the forest and the village.
Ahead, she could see light through thinning trees. Close enough that she could run that far without much risk of being eaten by a monster, but far enough that a casual observer wouldn’t be able to see the trail head from the field.
She bandaged her hand, then set up a pillar of rocks as a guide for herself and Troy, to mark the entrance to the safe trail.
Taking a deep breath, she bolted the last few yards to the safety of open air beyond the forest’s edge. She stopped in the field, panting. The trees looked so peaceful and inviting from this side, giving no hint of the horrors that lurked beneath their shadows. Looks could be so deceiving. Like the palace on the far hill. Its stone walls looked safe, a beacon of security, but inside a raging dictator spewed forth his demands, enslaving the people, enforcing his will using a swarm of sorcerers.
When she’d caught her breath, Rina made a small stone marker so she’d know exactly where to enter the forest to reach her path. She pulled her hood up over her head and made her way to the village, ducking behind buildings and into alleys in order to be seen by as few people as possible, until she arrived at the tavern where Margaret worked.
She slipped in the back.
The cook dropped his ladle in the pot of stew he was stirring. “Rina! We thought you was dead. Last we heard—”
“Shh!” Rina warned. “Is my mother here?”
“Aye. Waiting on a bunch of merchants.”
“Of course. No one else can get through the king’s blockade.”
Rina squeezed the cook’s hand. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw me. It’s best if they believe I was eaten by monsters.”
“Of course, child.”
“Thank you.” Rina pulled her hood a little lower and stepped out of the kitchen to the area behind the bar.
Margaret appeared a moment later carrying a tray of empty tankards. She almost dropped it when she saw Rina.
Rina caught the tray and set it on the bar.
Margaret embraced her. “My girl. My sweet baby. I feared…” Her voice broke as she trailed off.
Rina held her as quiet sobs shook them both. “I’m fine. I have a safe place in the middle of the forest. Troy is with me.”
“We found a way to keep them from attacking.”
“I can’t explain now. I just wanted you to know I’m safe How is everyone?”
“The king found out about Eli. He was hanged four days ago, and the sorcerers scattered pieces of him on all four sides of the kingdom as a warning.”
Rina shuddered. “And Shyla?”
“Still in the palace kitchen. She brings us news when she can. The latest is that the king seems to be amassing an army. We believe he plans to expand his rule beyond the borders of Evintide.”
Rina felt as though an icy claw gripped her heart. The poverty, the famine, the fear that any perception of dissent would result in an unimaginable curse…. “I have to stop him. I won’t let him take any more power than he already has.”
“How will you stop him?”
“I don’t know. I’ll let you know when I have a plan. In the meantime—”
“Wench!” A voice from the far table hollered. “More ale!”
Margaret jumped. She grabbed a pitcher of ale. “I’ll be right back.”
Rina stepped back into a corner to wait.
“Pardon me, miss.”
A man in a dark cloak stepped forward. “Are you ill?”
She couldn’t pretend she didn’t see him. She smiled. “What can I do for you?”
Rina had helped Margaret often enough to bluff her way as a serving maid. She handed him the mug.
Their fingers brushed.
A jolt of something shot through her, some sort of magic passing between them.
Was he a sorcerer? Did he do something to her?
But he seemed as surprised as she was. He stepped backward, the hood of his cloak falling back, revealing his face.
Rina couldn’t help but stare at him. He was older than she by a considerable margin, but still very handsome, but that wasn’t why she couldn’t draw her gaze from his face. Something in his eyes captured her, held her.
The world seemed to spin around them, a centrifuge of confusion tossing reason and faith, anger and love, passion and death, into a mixed jumble of emotion and insanity. They stared at each other, just they two in the center of a swirling storm, at odds with each other and yet somehow in perfect harmony.
She knew he must be a sorcerer to have this kind of power over her. Years of caution and training told her she should kill him then, before he had a chance to do more harm, but she couldn’t move.
Something jolted her, breaking the spell that kept her looking into the stranger’s eyes.
It was Margaret, yanking her arm, pulling her back toward the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Margaret hissed.
Rina looked between Margaret and the door that swung closed, blotting out her view of the man.
“Go, now!” Margaret stuffed a loaf of bread and a chunk of dried meat into Rina’s arms as she pushed her out the back door. “I’ll leave more supplies for you under the tree where you and Troy used to play behind the cottage. Hurry! And pray he didn’t recognize you!”
“Why? Who is he?”
Margaret brushed Rina’s face with her fingertips, agony filing her eyes. “He is the king’s head sorcerer.”