Appendix A: Chapter 5

[Editor's note: Chapter 5 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

In the morning — which, he was relieved to find out, actually was morning this time — Roland gathered his things and left his temporary accomodations. After a quick breakfast in the mess hall of runny eggs and something with the consistency of paste, and a brief discussion with the encampment’s commander about a few proposed revisions to the guards’ emergency response directives, Roland passed through the gate for the last time and, out of curiousity, headed back to the Iron Flagon.

The still-smoldering but largely burned out mound of black ash proved that, despite its name, very little of the Iron Flagon had in fact been made of iron. The walls of the neighboring buildings were charred, and a thin haze still lingered in the air, but overall the damage appeared to have run its course. There was a small crowd gathered in front of the wreckage as passersby stopped to gawk for a few moments before continuing on to the marketplace or wherever else they were headed. Life went on.

Roland worked his way through the series of side streets until he reached the shrine. He circled around to the back and knocked at the door. As before, an eye peeked out from a crack before the door swung open fully.

“Ah, Roland, sir, a pleasure to see you today!” the acolyte greeted him.

“And you as well.” Roland paused a moment to consider how to phrase his question, and not finding any elegant way to do it, simply asked, “How is she?”

“I haven’t a clue,” the acolyte replied. “She knocked on the door here in the middle of the night, and said something about you telling her she could spend the night here. I led her to the guest room and she promptly flopped herself on the bed and fell asleep.” He gestured towards the closed door of the guest room. “I haven’t seen or heard anything from her since then. I presume she’s still in there as we speak, but it would be improper of me to check for myself, and she seemed such a mess last night that I fear I shouldn’t wake the poor thing until she’s ready. What pray tell happened?”

Roland explained about the fire that night, and how he had rushed in to the burning building with little regard for his safety on the mere suggestion that someone might still be trapped inside, and how he had pulled her from it moments before the entire thing crashed down on itself. He struggled to recount the tale with the appropriate level of modesty, but as he mentally replayed the events for the first time, he couldn’t help but to be impressed at what he had done.

When Roland had finished, the acolyte remaked, “Quite amazing, sir! Truly the blessings of the Lady Yssindria were with you in that ordeal!”

“Yes, truly,” Roland agreed quietly. Changing the subject, he added, “One of us really ought to check on the woman and make sure she is well.”

Roland rose from the seat he had taken, walked softly to the door of the guest room, and rapped lightly on the door, barely loud enough to be heard. A few moments passed without a sound, and he tried again, a little louder this time.

“Mmmm?” came a voice from the other side.

“It’s Roland, the man who, um,” Roland paused. Saying “who saved your life” didn’t sound quite right, so he tried instead, “the man from last night. May I come in?”

“Yes.”

Roland slowly opened the door, just wide enough to slip himself through. The woman was sitting on the bed, hugging her knees. She was wearing the same dress from last night, which at one point had probably been pink, but was now smeared with soot and maybe even singed in a few places. She was staring through the tiny window near the ceiling on the far wall, at nothing in particular. She looked at Roland as he stood half inside the doorway, then turned her head back to the window.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

“I’ll be fine.” Then, a little more emphatically, “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? I can’t imagine what it must have been like, being in… going what you’ve been through.”

She shrugged. “I’ve been through worse, and I made it through that OK. I figure this isn’t going to be any different.”

“What are you going to do now? You said last night you’re not from around here. Do you have someone you can stay with until you can get things sorted out?”

“Same as I was doing before, I guess. Working odd jobs, busking, whatever, earning enough money to pay my way to the next town. It’s just going to take a little longer before I can get moving again.” She bit her lip, and added, “Hopefully not too much longer.”

Roland furrowed his brow. “‘Busking?’ What’s that?”

“You know, street performing. People do it in the marketplaces all over. It doesn’t pay all that well, but between that and getting tips working at taverns, I get by.”

Roland studied her face more closely, trying to remember something. Suddenly the association clicked. “You were the magician yesterday, right?”

“Hmm? Yeah, that was probably me. You know what they say, ‘do what you’re good at.’ Besides, you don’t too many other people doing that sort of thing around here, so there’s not too much competition. I wasn’t so sure about it at first, what with what I’d heard people are like here, but actually it hasn’t been that bad at all. Sure, you get the occasional crazy guy who tried to make trouble, but as long as you don’t let yourself get flustered they’re pretty easy to handle.”

“You mean like if they start calling you a witch?”

The woman’s head jerked up at that, and she turned to look at him again. Her gaze moved down to the leather armor vest he wore, and her eyes widened in something like recognition. “Oh, you were the paladin who was there at the end, weren’t you?”

Roland nodded.

She chuckled softly. “Sorry, it’s just that a paladin’s the last sort of person I’d expect to see watching me perform. It’s, well, you know.”

The woman’s demeanor seemed a bit more relaxed now that the discussion had moved away from the events of the previous night. Roland wasn’t sure whether that was ultimately a healthy thing for her or not, but erred on the side of letting her enjoy at least a little reprieve from things.

“Well, to be honest, the crowd didn’t give me a whole lot of choice at first, but from what I saw of it you weren’t too bad. Not that I’ve seen much to compare it to, of course.”

“Thanks. I’m Annabel, by the way, but everyone calls me Anna. Except when I’m performing, in which case I’m the Amazing Annabel. And you were… Roland, right?”

“That’s right.”

Anna looked down at the floor for a few moments, lost in thought. She then raised her head back up and asked, “This might sound like a weird thing to ask, and you’ve already done more for me than I could ever repay, but… you’re just passing through here, right?”

Roland tilted his head to the side slightly.

“I mean, I’ve been working the main street here all week, and I only saw you that one time yesterday, and it’s kind of hard to miss someone stomping around in a gold suit of armor, right? So, you’re not from here, so you’re probably going to be leaving here soon too, right?”

“Right….” he ventured, not sure where this was leading.

“And you’re pretty good at rescuing damsels in distress, right? And those skills probably work even on people who aren’t damsels, right?”

“Um….”

“I mean, I’m not an expert on it or anything, but I imagine it doesn’t matter too much who you’re trying to rescue, right?”

“Maybe you could just skip to what it is you’re asking for?” Roland suggested, hoping he didn’t come across too curt.

“Oh, sorry. I don’t know how you ask someone for something like this, but….” Anna stared at the floor again. She took a deep breath, held it briefly, and blurted out, “Could you come with me to Castle Helioth and help me rescue my little brother?”

Roland stared at her, not sure what to make of that. “Help you…?”

Anna turned back towards the window. The tone of her voice became much more somber, even more than it had been originally. “I said how last night wasn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me? Well, that happened a few months ago. You’ve heard about Doomhammer, right?”

Everyone had heard about Doomhammer. Word travels quickly when a third of a town burns to the ground.

“That’s where we were from,” Anna continued. “Last night was nothing compared to that. It was…. A lot of people gave up hope and abandoned the town when it looked like it couldn’t be stopped. Everyone else fought to save whatever they could, at whatever cost. When you’re at risk of losing everything you have, everything you know, well, sacrificing only most of it to save the rest suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.”

Roland opened his mouth as though to speak, but coudn’t think of anything to say.

“Our parents fought the fires until the end. They didn’t….” Anna brushed something from her cheek. “When it was all over, nobody knew what happened to Derek. I searched everywhere I could, but he wasn’t there any more. But over the next few days, as the shock wore off and us survivors started thinking about what to do now, I heard something from one of the villagers about how he thought he saw someone who looked like Derek on one of the wagons that fled the town. I don’t know why he would’ve been there, or who would’ve taken him, or why, but it was something.”

“But then, why…”

“I’ve been following the rumors ever since, and they’ve led me here, and they point to Castle Helioth. I don’t know if he’s still there, or if he ever was there, or if it’s even him, but I have to try. I’ve asked the local guards, everywhere, even the knights, but none of them are willing to do anything. You’re probably my last chance at getting help with this.”

She looked at Roland again.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “Really, it’s all right if you say no. I know it sounds ridiculous, or foolish, or whatever. I’ve heard it all before. But I’m not going to give up on everything until I see for myself, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. I just figured it was worth a try. You’ve already done more than anyone else has for me in a long time.”

Roland thought. “Well, my duties take me to Derinham next. If you’re really headed to what’s left of Castle Helioth, I imagine that’s where you’ll be going next. You can accompany me that way if you like. As for the rest…”

Anna smiled. “When can we start?”

Chapter word count: 1,863 (according to wc)
Total word count: 9,460 / 50,000 (18.92% complete)

Comments Off