Spirit of the Aspens
All he’d known was in a furious blaze. Narrow streams crept towards him, making a slow journey through narrow gaps between the floor stones, turning the mortar nearly black in the flickering, dancing lights. He was familiar with the iron smell. The crimson fluid had been on his hands many times before. He was numbed by that fact, observing the fascinating way in which the spilled intestines of his old nursemaid resembled those of all the furred creatures he’d disemboweled.
The heathens had done a sloppy job of it, the ropey contents of her belly had been sliced open, emitting a foul smell in the rising heat. Though she was beginning to roast so near the fireplace, her clothes ablaze, he couldn’t help but think she needed to be properly gutted to make a decent meal. With a shake of his head, some part of him realized it was a horrible, shameful thought, but it kept him from staring at those glassy, wide open eyes and seeing the woman he’d loved so dearly.
She’d sacrificed herself for him, he reminded himself, hid him away when the shouts and screams had started. Now, he only had to escape through the hidden passageways of the tower, provided he was not roasted alive in the process. He climbed to his feet, gathering up the bundle of food and his hunting knife as if he were simply sneaking out for a bit of mischief.
For the most part, the journey was hot, the stones of the wall at times painful to touch. But there was no smoke, and as he neared the bottom, the stones had cooled to their normally icy temperature. He ended up at a crossroads in the passage, with the choice to find his way to the stable, or down deeper into the dungeons. He considered, long and hard, wishing desperately for his horse.
With the flames, smoke and plundering hordes, the fine beast was surely taken or had escaped long before he had. His decision was made for him when a voice echoed down the corridor.
“Roldan?” He turned at the sound, his name, so clear on those beloved lips.
“Mother?” he managed to squeak out, betraying his youth.
Her face was smudged with soot, her night garments only barely concealed in a cook’s apron and a heavy worker’s jacket. Her feet were the biggest giveaway, shod in delicate slippers. They’d not last a day on the journey they’d have to make if they were to survive this ordeal.
“Oh, Roldan!” she exclaimed, her voice tremulous and soft as she rushed to him, gathering him into her arms. “We must escape through the dungeon. The stables are too dangerous.”
Roldan nodded, thankful for her confirmation. “Come then, mother,” he urged, taking her hand and tugging her down the darkened corridor. “We cannot assume this passage will stay secret forever.”
She nodded, obeying her child as the young lord he was. The dungeons were dark, dank and horrible, and thankfully, mostly empty. By the time they’d reached the farthest end, there were no malicious eyes to observe their final escape. Lady Dulcina carried a small torch, collected from from a wall sconce. It was a dangerous giveaway of their position, but with the dark so thick it was a risk they’d decided to take.
With luck, they’d soon be in the tunnel, the final leg of their journey to forest just outside the castle walls. There was a tiny outpost not far from there, in which they could find supplies and hopefully a few of the Lord’s men, or so his mother promised.
Roldan had been through the escape tunnel once before, shown when he was old enough to learn the secret and keep it safe. At the time, it has been a delightful game, played in the summer’s warmth in the light of day. The secure outpost was a hidden hunting lodge, dug into the side of a hill, used by generations of Dwennon men.
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...