Performers and Bounty Hunters

Welcome to a whole new adventure! Read on and, in the comments, vote for how you’d like to proceed. Choose wisely, for there are all sorts of unsavory types in the world. =)

Performers and Bounty Hunters

The night chirps with the familiar sounds of crickets and frogs. You lay on your back enjoying the cloudless expanse of stars winking at you like they’re old friends.

To your left, Lenny snores softly under his wagon. You can tell by the gentle rumble of it that he didn’t drink tonight. It wasn’t loud enough to be his drunken snore.

wagon-wheel-343204-mOn your right, Mira shuffles around putting everything away before she settles in for the night. Except for her perpetually hunched form, Mira’s ageless and her movements are sure and subtle, quiet enough not to wake Genna and Roy with their newborn.

Genna and Roy sleep in their wagon across from where you lay. In about an hour or so, Regan, the newborn, will start to fuss but this is becoming a common sound for everyone and only Genna tends to wake to it anymore.

For the moment, the world slumbers peacefully. This is the most relaxed you’ve been in a long while.

You met the traveling performers six months before in a small town outside the capital. When you asked to accompany them, they didn’t question you or treat you with suspicion although traveling performers are looked on as the dregs of society. No one asked to join them unless something was wrong.

But they never pried, never asked about your past, never looked at you with speculative eyes even when the king’s soldiers passed through every town they performed in passing out fliers with your likeness drawn on them.

Instead, they painted you like a performer, gave you small tasks in each of their acts, and paraded you around in front of the soldiers like one of their own. If you hadn’t been so tense the whole time, you would have found it funny.

The soldiers slowly faded the farther you got from the capital. At first, you planned to leave the performers once you thought it was safe to be on your own, but you’ve come to feel at home with them and each day you come up with an excuse to continue on with them.

A rustling in the trees disturbs the night’s chirping. The crickets fall silent. Mira goes still with the teakettle midair in her hand. She hisses and pitches the kettle into the trees. There comes the clank of mettle on mettle.

This wasn’t just Mira being eccentric, there was someone out there. You roll to your feet, shoving free of your bedroll as you move.

The night erupts into the rough shouting of men and the startled cries of those suddenly wakened. Regan’s pitiable cries pierce the night above the other sounds.

At first you fear it’s the King’s soldiers but as one of them lifts a lantern to view the small clearing, you see the men surrounding you wear a mismatch of armor and carry everything from short swords to axes to bows.

Not soldiers. Mercenaries?

The man with the lantern spies you and holds up a sheet of paper. His lips split in a grin that displays his stained teeth.

“You’re gonna make us a pretty penny,” he says.

Bounty hunters, you realize with a sinking in your stomach.

The man gestures and one of his men grabs your arms and ties your wrists behind you.

Lenny steps forward and hesitates. He’s a big man and, for once, sober, but he’s no match for five at once. He gives you an apologetic grimace.

Several of the bounty hunters laugh at him and then they shove you into the forest away from your friends.

“Wait!” Mira calls. She runs toward you, stooping more than usual and twisting her face to make it look like that of an old hag. It’s one of her performance faces.

The bounty hunters are caught off guard enough that she crashes into you and gives you a hug. “Safe travels.” She sniffs and steps away just as one of the men moves to grab her.

He misses and, before he can try again, Mira’s moving back toward her wagon with an exaggerated shuffle.

***

It’s a long night. Finally, at sunrise, the bounty hunters stop for some breakfast and tie you to the trunk of a pine. You’re bemoaning that the princess’ cruelness has caught up to you when one of the bounty hunters approaches and drops a chunk of bread by your knee. He unties you and gestures at the bread, then he sits back to watch you eat.

The bread’s hard and, although you’re hungry, the knot in your stomach makes the little you eat roll in your stomach like a boat bread-1426350-mtossed at sea. You hold the rest of the bread up for the man to see and then tuck it into your pocket.

Your fingers encounter something other than the bread there.

You keep a smile from bursting across your face. Good old Mira. From the long, cylindrical shape of the object, you can tell it’s her penknife.

Before withdrawing your hand, you slide the knife into your sleeve, trusting your leather bracelet to hold it against your skin.

Not long after, the bounty hunters tie you to the pine again and lay down to catch a few winks.

One stays awake and finds a large rock to sit on to keep watch. His back is to you but you’re sure any sound and he’ll swing around to check on you.

You could cut the ropes now and try to slip away but admittedly, your woodcraft isn’t great and it’d be a bit of luck to escape without the man hearing.

Or you could wait, hoping for a more opportune moment, maybe at night, to slip away.

Do you attempt…

A. Escape now?

Or

B. Escape later?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option B: Escape Later

The thought of sitting still and simply waiting for a better moment sticks in your throat like dry bread you can’t quite swallow. However, the sentry keeps stirring like he’s fighting to stay awake, which means he’s looking you’re way more often than you’d like.

You decide to bide your time even though every day of travel brings you closer to a very angry King.

You thought working in the palace would be the perfect job for you. However, when the princess lost her tiara and blamed you, itwedding-tiara-894085-m turned into a nightmare. Now, the King won’t stop until you’re found and punished. You don’t even want to guess at the reward these hunters were in for when they returned you.

But there’s at least a week in between now and when you reach the capital if you head directly there. That should be more than enough time to find a different escape.

You relax against the tree, letting the press of the penknife against your skin reassure you.

After a while, the sentry stands and wakes another. They switch places, barely glancing your way to make sure you’re still where you should be. You relax back and eventually drift into a light sleep.

You wake to the soft tread of booted feet near you. Squinting up, you see it’s another of the bounty hunters. A quick glance around tells you he must be the current sentry, which means you’ve slept for at least a few hours and missed the last change over.

The man’s heavier than his companions and carries double swords over his shoulders. His mouth droops and his face is soft, reminding you of the few dimwits you’ve met. But the likeness stops there. His eyes glitter with an intelligence that’s more than a little frightening.

He crouches beside you so you’re eye to eye. Then he holds up the wanted poster with your likeness drawn in the middle. With a
thick finger, he points to the word tiara.

“You give me this, I let you go,” he whispers so softly you barely pick up his words.

You don’t have the tiara but he doesn’t know that. Can you play it off long enough to escape?

Do you…

Bb. Nod agreement?

Or

Bc. Shake You Head in Refusal?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option Bb: Nod Agreement

Escaping one man will be far easier than five, you decide, although this man’s hard eyes make you want to shiver.

You nod agreement and a toothy grin breaks out on his rough face. He places a finger to his lips for your silence, and then slices through the rope that holds you to the tree. He leaves your hands tied behind your back.

The two of you head off quietly into the trees. When you think about taking a moment to breathe, he points for you to keep going. The corners of his mouth turn down and his eyes sparkle dangerously. You keep moving.

Finally, after what must be about an hour of hiking, he places a hand on your shoulder for you to stop.

“Where we headed?” he asks.

You’ve been thinking about this the entire time you’ve been walking. Under no circumstances do you want him headed toward the performers. They welcomed you in and helped you every step of the way. You’ve no desire to bring this type of danger to them.

“Didn’t feel safe carrying the thing,” you answer. “Found a good spot to stash it in the last town we performed.”

“Hayden?” he guesses.

You nod.

Without further conversation, he pushes for you to lead the way to Hayden.

***

It’s just after dusk when you reach the edges of Hayden. The town’s small and the only noises along the main drag come from the one tavern on the far side. Everything else sits still like the sidewalks rolled up after dinner and the inhabitants turned blind eyes on the night.

You couldn’t ask for a better situation.

The town’s folk set up a stage in the main square for the performers when they passed through. That was only two days ago and the stage still stands like a skeleton in the gathering shadows.

lantern-1165222-mThe bounty hunter gives you a questioning look and you nod toward that hulking structure.

He grunts and shoves you forward. In the dim light from the street lanterns, you catch the dangerous narrowing of his eyes. He’s starting to suspect you. Perhaps it’s because the stage comes apart and, if you hid the tiara there, the chances of someone finding it would be high.

“Old stages like that,” you say, “always tend to have hidey holes. Little boxes tucked into the planking where performers can pass news to other troops without the town’s folk knowing. Handy when you want to hide something. Especially when there aren’t many troops in these parts.”

The man grunts again. You’ve no idea if you allayed his fears or not but you don’t want to press your luck, so you keep your mouth shut.

The bit about hidey-holes isn’t entirely untrue. However, you could care less if this stage actually has one. What you care about is the stage is broken…kind of.

Lenny found the default in the wood in the middle of his juggling act. He went straight through the flooring. He didn’t break it. He fell through because two of the boards were set on pivots for some long forgotten magician’s show. The great part about it though, is there wasn’t a way to escape from under the boards without an assistant on the outside.

You reach the stage without running into anyone. On the way, you slide Mira’s penknife into your palm. If something goes wrong, you’d prefer to have your hands free.

The knife’s tiny and cutting through the rope makes for slow work but you can’t make large gestures without the Hunter noticing knife-1390018-manyway, so you keep at it until you feel a slight give in the tension around your wrists.

The planking of the stage thuds softly under your boots. The Hunter, although he’s got heavy boots on too, moves silently. You try to ignore how disturbing this is.

“Where’s this hidey-hole?” he asks.

You tilt your head toward the back of the stage where there’s a slight roof to allow for props.

He takes five steps until he’s at the corner you just indicated.

You stomach hits your throat. He just walked directly over the spot Lenny fell through. With sinking realization, you conclude the town’s folk must have fixed the stage. That’s why it hasn’t been taken down yet.

He’s looking at you, waiting for further instructions. The glitter in his eyes tells you he’s seriously starting to suspect you’ve been lying.

With little time to consider, you see there’s a stage chandelier directly above him. If you move fast enough, you might be able to drop it on him. Or you can run. There might be a few places you can hide if you get a big enough lead on him.

Do you:

Bb1: Drop a stage prop on him?

or

Bb2: Run for your life?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option Bb1: Drop a Stage Prop on Him

The Bounty Hunter’s a hard built man. One of those people who, just by looking at him, you know he’s lived a hard life and hasn’t complained about it. Without something to slow him down, you highly doubt you’ll be able to outrun him.

Penknife in hand, you lunge for the rope holding the chandelier in place.

One slice and the rope pops, but it’s not enough to drop the stage prop.

Behind you there’s a grunt of surprise or perhaps rage but you don’t look back to see for sure. You slice at the rope again and it chandelier-1324178-msnaps like a violin string.

Then you look to see what you’ve accomplished.

The chandelier drops with a crash of splintering wood. It catches the Bounty Hunter by the legs and sinks him through the floor.

But he’s not out of the game. With a beast like growl, he pulls one of his swords free and starts to cut himself loose of the wreckage. The intense determination on his face convinces you, you shouldn’t be around when he gets free.

You bolt, jumping off the stage and hitting the ground running in a plume of dust.

Not long after, there’s a thud of feet behind you.

You dart down the next road and randomly start zigzagging your way through the streets.

No matter how sporadic you are though, you can still hear the Bounty Hunter closing on you. The one time you glance back, you see he’s got both swords out now, held in such a way that they aren’t slowing him much.

If he catches you, he’s not going to wait for you to say something. You’re sure he’ll use the swords and gain the bounty with your dead body.

ForestYou reach the edge of town sooner than you wanted. There’s a stretch of open ground between the buildings and the trees. By now, though, you doubt even reaching the trees will save you.

But you’ve got to try. You’ve always been a fighter. So you put everything into reaching those pines before the Bounty Hunter catches you.

Breath heaves in and out of your chest and your legs start to shake in exhaustion. You reach the dark trunks just as your legs give beneath you. A few feeble attempts to get to your feet tell you, you’ve got nothing left.

Huddling, you wait for the bite of those swords.

There’s a whoosh…and a heavy thud.

Nothing touches you.

Startled, you look over your shoulder to see a heavy shouldered man standing there. He doesn’t have swords but a heavy cudgel.

“Lenny?”

At Lenny’s feet lays the Bounty Hunter. Out cold with a rapidly growing welt on his left temple.

“Felt good,” Lenny says, giving you a hand up. Then, more serious, “looks like we should find different ground to perform on for awhile.”

You’re so shocked to see him, you just grin wordlessly. He offers you a drink from his flask as he turns you into the trees. You shake your head and he gladly takes a sip for you. “Rest of the troop’s that-a-ways,” he gestures. “Let’s go home.”

You just grin even wider in agreement.

The End

Congratulations! You not only survived but it looks like you’ve got a new family =)

Thanks for joining in the adventure. If you enjoyed this one, look for a whole new adventure starting on the 3rd of February.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Witness Protection

I’m loving the snow on the ground. To me, it just epitomizes this time of year. So, even though I posted this story a while ago, I figured it might be fun to revisit it.

I hope 2015 has kicked off to a fabulous start for everyone=)

Witness Protection

Wind howled around the eves from the time the sun went down to just before it rose. The cabin was solid enough to take the beating but Gwen lay awake listening to the banshee scream.

Then it went still and left her ears ringing. She stretched, groaning as the chill sept into the covers.

Get the fire going. Awe no! I forgot the water. Gwen rubbed her forehead as she slid out of bed. She pulled on her wool socks before touching feet to floor. Even still, the cold bit through to make her toes ache. Donning more layers than just her wool underwear, she even added her cloak after watching her breath cloud around her face.

Then she set to lighting the kindling she’d prepared the night before in the hearth. Sweet warmth built from the small flames. Gwen sighed with an ‘ah’ as she held her hands close. She rubbed her fingers until they turned red and then shoved them into her mittens. Last she wrapped her scarf around the lower portion of her face.

Water. 

Leaving the cabin exposed Gwen to the brutal cold but she’d forgotten to fill the water the day before. Brant left her oatmeal. She needed water to eat. He hadn’t apparently considered how cold the next month would be when he set her up at the cabin.

Making her way to the river was a slow process. The wind pushed the snow into drifts and each step sunk Gwen up to her knees in the crusty white.

Snow was supposed to be powdery. Gwen had always thought so but not here. Here it froze so solid that each step dented in a small crater with a crunch.

Nearing the river, she slowed and tapped the snow ahead with the water bucket. After three taps, the snow slid and was swept away by the river.

She learned her first day at the cabin that the wind shoved the snow-turned-solid-ice into a berm over the river. She’d fallen through the berm into water so frigid it’d taken her a good thirty seconds to convince her lungs to draw breath. Then it’d taken a whole day to warm herself by the fire in the cabin.

She’d used too much wood that day. Now she was rationing it. Curse Brant for not educating her on the dangers of the mountain cold. She would just melt snow for water instead of going to the river but melting snow required more wood. Curse Brant again. One mistake and now she feared freezing before Brant returned for her.

He had to return for her. No one else would look for her here. That was kind of the point. But now she feared being left, forgotten. She was just an asset to Brant, nothing more. If, for some reason, he no longer needed her to testify, would he come back for her? She couldn’t say. She didn’t really know the man.

Drawing water, Gwen set the bucket on the bank beside her and watched the horizon as the sun peeked over.

That was the one thing she loved about this place. Those first rays of sun touched the snow with gentle fingers, making it sparkle, pristine and untouched. It made her heart ache that something so beautiful could exist without being seen by most souls.

She’d never seen it herself until Brant left her here. He’d acted like this place was the most natural, common place in the world. Perhaps, for him, it was. He was, after all, the King’s ranger.

The King tasked him with hiding her, the only witness to the theft of the crown, until the man she’d named as guilty was found. Brant guessed it’d take a month, at most.

Gwen sighed. This was her fourth week. She’d marked out the days on a piece of firewood.

Being a noblewoman, she’d never spent so long with only her thoughts. Her thoughts scared her. Was she always so superficial?

Probably. After a month to consider, she could admit it. At least to herself. Sighing, Gwen started and scrunched her face.

“Not again!” Her breath had frozen to her brows and lashes. It was the one drawback to covering her face with a scarf. If she sat too long, her breath was directed up against her face and froze to any exposed hair.

Picking up the water, which had already formed a fine crust of ice, Gwen rubbed her face with one mittened hand to break the frost from her brows as she retraced her steps to the cabin.

It probably wasn’t much warmer inside but to Gwen it felt like a toasty bath, just lacking steam.

Breaking the crust of ice, she poured water into the kettle and added a piece of wood to the fire. She warmed the water just enough to make the oatmeal bearable and then sat back to eat breakfast.

When she went home, she swore she’d never touch oatmeal again.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGwen added her cloak on top of the bed that night. Two more days. She’d give it two more days. If Brant didn’t return by then, she’d head out on her own.

The wind started its howl just as sleep was pulling her under. She started at the shrieking and then flopped back, groaning. After a month, she should be used to the high keening around the eves. She wasn’t, though. It made her ears ring something fierce every morning after listening to it all night.

Finally a light sleep pulled her under but the howl crept into her unconscious mind.

A banshee chased her through the snow, hissing and spitting as it clawed its way closer. Snow, crusted hard, crunched into deep craters beneath her running feet. Crunch, crunch, crunch, thunk.

Gwen bolted upright.

The door.

She rolled just in time to avoid the man who’d barreled into the cabin.

She knew who he was without seeing his face. She’d never seen another person with ears like his. Floppy lobes due to gauging, which elongated his already long ears. They framed his face like he was part elephant.

She’d described all of that for the King but apparently it hadn’t been enough for here was the thief, not the ranger.

Hitting the floor on hands and knees, Gwen darted for the hearth where a metal poker leaned. She didn’t make it.

The thief caught her ankle and yanked her back. Digging her nails into the wooden floor, she reached, while twisting and kicking, for something to fight with. Her fingers latched onto cold metal.

Swinging with all her strength, Gwen slammed the water bucket against the man’s head. The water sloshed across the floor and the bucket hit with a crunch. Thudding to his knees, the thief groaned. He released her ankle to hold his head. Gwen snatched her cloak from the bed, shoved her boots on and raced out the door as it swung in the wind.

He’ll kill me.

But so would the cold.

As soon as Gwen left the cabin’s walls, the buffet of wind almost knocked her over. It whipped her hair across her face in angry gusts from the east.

Can’t stay exposed.

One hand to the cabin wall, she struggled around to the west side. Stepping into the windbreak from the cabin, she glanced back. Even with the dark and the blowing snow, she could tell her foot prints were gone. One plus to the insane weather.

But the windbreak of the cabin wouldn’t keep her from freezing. Already her fingers were numb to the point she could barely hold her cloak around her shoulders.

She couldn’t wander out from the cabin either. Between the dark and the snow, she’d be lost and dead long before morning.

Bury myself it is then.

She’d heard of people surviving storms by digging snow caves and hiding inside. She’d scoffed at the stories. A snow cave couldn’t possibly be warm enough to keep a body alive, could it?

Hopefully the stories were true. They were her only option unless she wanted to go back and face the thief. She’d broken his nose. She was sure of it, but that hadn’t knocked him out. He’d be after her soon.

Kneeling, Gwen dug into the drift of snow at the corner of the cabin. She used the edges of her cloak to protect her hands but even still, the exertion warmed her and it was enough to tell her hands were taking a beating.

Finally, having a large enough hole to fit her body into, Gwen packed the walls until they were slick and then curled into the small cave.  It wasn’t comfortable or warm but in comparison to the outside, it was protected.

Gwen’s hands throbbed. Folding her cloak and hood tight to her skin, she tucked her hands into her arm pits where her core could keep them bearably warm.

She lay shivering as she tried to gauge how late the night was. How long before morning? She didn’t really have a way to tell although the wind always died down before sunrise. She hoped it’d died down soon.

Something dripped onto her cheek. Gwen frowned and touched the roof of her cave. Her fingers came away wet. The roof was slicked with a fine layer of water from her body heat. As her hands searched, she found a point where the water was collecting. Packing the point smooth, Gwen shifted her cloak some to keep her dry.

Brant gave her the garment when he left her. He said at the time that a water resistant cloak lined with fur could mean life or death out here. She’d chuckled, thinking she wouldn’t be here long enough to need it. Now she could kiss him for it…or stab him for not catching the thief.

Shivering continued to rack her body. She clamped her teeth closed but that only kept her teeth quiet. It didn’t keep her body from shuddering.

Curse men altogether.

It was a man who stole the crown. Then it was a man who ordered her ‘kept safe.’ Then a man who dumped her out here and called it good.

If a woman had been the thief, she would have had the courtesy not to be seen. Or if the Queen decided on ‘safe,’ if would’ve involved joining her ladies-in-waiting, not trudging to a cabin in the middle of no where.

Her thinking wasn’t fair but while she shivered in the night and listened to the wind, she didn’t care.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wind died down and the silence woke her. It was that time of morning just before the sun rose when the air was brittle with cold and eerily quiet.

Crunch.

Gwen sucked in a breath and held it.

Crunch.

The sound of a slow step in the crusted snow. The thief was up and moving.

Crunch.

He wouldn’t know she stayed by the cabin, would he? Perhaps he thought the night and cold killed her. It should have. Her, a noblewoman, with no knowledge of the frozen mountains.

Crunch.

The sound was way too close. Gwen couldn’t move.

Her cave crumbled as he pulled on her cloak. The thief had the edge of the garment in his hand. He yanked again and Gwen cried out as he reached for her.

Her arms and legs ached, screamed at her as she flailed after being curled in a ball for hours.

He yanked a third time and the cloak slid from her shoulders.

Gwen stood and spun away but had to brace a hand on the wall when her legs protested. Bloody hand prints trailed the wall, leading right to her spot.

She shoved away and tried to run toward the river but her steps sunk her up to her knees until she was crawling and scrambling instead of running.

The thief yelled but she couldn’t, and didn’t really want to, hear his words. He was chasing her. With his longer legs, he was gaining fast.

Seeing the river ahead, Gwen stopped and crouched, turning as the thief reached for her.

She grabbed his extended hand and pulled. Caught off guard, he stumbled. He stepped once, then twice to regain his balance. Gwen braced her legs and shoved him past her.

He stepped onto the ice berm over the river. It held for a second before crumbling and then he disappeared into the river, windmilling his arms on the way down. He bobbed to the surface farther down with his mouth open in a silent shriek.

Gwen could relate to that feeling.

The thief caught on a rock down mid-stream.

“Now I’ve got to fish him out.”

Gwen shrieked and spun.

Brant stood there eyeing her.

“He’s your problem,” she said and then clamped her teeth together. Her body was still shivering. She couldn’t feel her feet and her hands felt like she’d grated them on a wash board. She flexed her fingers and finally figured out why she’d left bloody hand prints. She tore several nails in her struggle with the thief. Probably left grooves in the cabin floor.

“That he is. I’m glad he finally took the bait.”

“Bait? I was bait!” Gwen wanted to scream and yell and maybe hit him but all that came out was a lot of half words. “yo–cruel–why-” She gave up. She was railing at him in her underwear and shivering so hard she couldn’t keep her teeth quiet.

Spinning, she trudged back to the cabin for her clothes. She didn’t offer to help him retrieve the thief.

***

By the time Brant came in, he and the thief were both drenched and shivering with ice forming in their hair.

Gwen had built up the fire to thaw her frozen limbs and the cabin was toasty warm. She found the sled Brant must have hauled in. Half of it was covered with wood. The other half more food stuffs. He would have left her here as long as it took to lure the thief in apparently.

But he brought firewood, for which Gwen could almost forgive him his plans. Almost.

Seeing both men come back crusted with ice cooled her ire even more. They deserved the experience, both of them, and it was satisfying to see, but she didn’t begrudge them the warmth in the cabin either. It wasn’t like she wanted them dead.

The thief now had a crooked nose to add to his elongated ears. He sat in the corner of the cabin with his shoulders slumped and head down.

After a silent breakfast of oatmeal, Gwen helped Brant clean the cabin.

“Time to go,” he announced and then frowned at her. “Where’s the cloak I gave you?”

“Out under the snow,” Gwen announced, “where I spent the night while this man enjoyed the cabin.”

Brant finally had the decency to look sorry. “He was here all night?”

“Duh genius. Your master plan had a few glitches. Although I could kiss you for the cloak. It saved my life.”

He looked flabbergasted. Gwen’s day was looking up. She turned away to go find the cloak. She planned to enjoy one last morning of the sun sparkling off the snow before she returned home.

The End.

Blessings,

Jennifer

 

The Season

I hope everyone is having an amazing holiday season! May this day be blessed with family, friends and hot chocolate=)

After a year of massive change for my husband and myself, we get to spend some precious time with those we love. So off we go to enjoy good conversation and delicious food.

Many blessings to all. May this season be filled to overflowing with the people we hold dear =)

JenniferScan 3

Poison Inn

Welcome back to a whole new adventure! The changes in my writing schedule so far have helped immensely in helping me focus and enjoying the writing process again. So I’m rather excited to start this week’s adventure.

Let’s get started=)

Poison Inn

You’re sitting in an inn well off the beaten path enjoying a hot beverage that wafts the scent of cinnamon under your nose and warms your hands through the wooden mug.

You were on your way to the capital to buy supplies when the storm hit. It started out as sleet but as the

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

day grew later and the temperature dropped, the sleet shifted to snow. Beneath the growing layer of white, the sleet turned to ice and it was all you could do to keep your feet to get to the next town.

Once you reached the town, however, you found the main inns were already full from travelers like yourself. So you were forced to move deeper into the town to find this run down place that boasted only a few rooms above and a stable for four horses out back.

It wasn’t the safest part of town either.

Since you sat down, you’ve kept your eye on a pair of men next to the hearth. Their heads are bowed over a chess table but you’ve yet to see a piece move. One of them, a great bearded fellow whose shoulders remind you of a troll, fingers an axe that hangs by his side. The other strokes his ragged goatee with one hand while tapping his nails on the table with the other. From his belt also hangs an axe. It’s double bladed. Not a woodsman’s axe, but a war axe.

They’re not the only ones that give you pause. At the bar sits a woman with high-topped black, leather boots. This wouldn’t give you cause for alarm except, when the woman shifted on her stool last, you spotted the tops of at least three knives sticking out of the right boot cuff. One, maybe two, would make sense for safety, but three?

Lastly, at the far end of the bar sits what appears to be an older couple. You’d think them sweet with their holding hands but the woman’s shrill voice hasn’t stopped since you entered the place. Every once in a while the man’s gruff responses cut her off but it doesn’t stop the woman’s tirade for long. You’ve been questioning their age for about five minutes when the serving woman approaches your table. It takes you a minute to respond to her because you’re staring at the older woman. Her glasses slid to the end of her nose and when she moves to push them back up, you could swear her hand looked like that of a twenty five year old, not an eighty year old.

“We’re out of beef stew. Want mutton?” The serving woman asks again. Her voice is flat.

Mutton’s disgusting unless cooked right but you’re hungry, so you nod and say, “that’ll do.”

She thumps a small plate with bread, butter and a small square of cheese onto the table and moves away toward the chess players.

All you want is to get a decent night’s sleep and leave for the capital in the morning. Behind the bar stands the bar keep. He’s a giant of a man with flaming red hair. Over his shoulder, held on the wall by two iron hooks, is a club he must use to keep the bar peaceful. It’s only a little reassuring.

The serving woman’s half way across the room, headed back toward the kitchen, when it happens. She catches herself on a table’s edge but it’s a pedestal table and the weight on only one edge serves to flip it. She hits the floor and doesn’t move.

There’s a moment of shocked silence before the bar keep’s over the bar and kneeling beside her. He leans in and sniffs. The look on his face when he raises his head makes you shrink back in your seat.

“One of you low lifes poisoned her!”

Another man appears from the kitchen at the bar keep’s bellow. He’s an exact match to the bar keep with flaming red hair. You guess he’s the cook due to the apron he’s wearing. He scoops the woman off the floor and heads for the stairs, saying over his shoulder, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Once he’s up the stairs and out of sight, everyone moves. They don’t get very far.

“No one leaves!” bellows the bar keep, “until I know who’s responsible.”

You sink back into your chair.

“You!” he points a finger your way, “Wallin will need his bag,” he points to a bulging sack just behind the bar by the kitchen door. “Take it to him.”

You nervously move across the room with all eyes on you, guessing he picked you because, one, you’re alone, and two, unlike the woman at the bar, you’re not heavily armed.

It’s this thought that makes you look twice at the knife sitting on the edge of the bar. Everyone watched you reach the bag but then looked away when the bar keep pointed at the goateed chess player and started asking questions.

As you pass the bar again to head up the stairs, you might be able to slip the knife into your hand and up your sleeve.

Do you…

A.Take the Knife?

or

B.Leave the Knife?

Poison Inn Option A: Take the Knife

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

Without a weapon, your stomach knots with anxiety. You slide past the bar and palm the knife into your

hand and up your sleeve. No one cries out at your move but your back itches as you head up the stairs, just waiting for someone to point you out.

At the top of the stairs, you pause. You’ve no idea which of the two rooms Wallin took the woman to. Then you hear a muffled step from behind the right hand door.

You knock softly and hear a deep “come” from inside.

The room’s so small you almost stumble into the foot of the bed. The giant Wallin kneels on the left side close to the serving woman’s face.

He sniffs and then glances at you. “Come here,” he beckons toward the right side of the bed.

You hold the bag up so he can see why you’ve bothered him but he simply waves for you to set it down and gestures toward the side of the bed again.

“Smell her breath,” he says and tilts the woman’s head your way.

It’s only then you realize she’s still breathing. It’s shallow, not enough to raise her chest, but enough to be felt on the skin of your face when you lean close. The faint scent of almonds tickles your nose.

“Sweet or sour?” Wallin asks.

“Almond,” you answer.

He scowls. “I know that. Sweet or sour?”

You take another sniff. “Sour.”

Before he can respond, there’s a thumping on the floorboards from below. You jump and Wallin cracks a smile.

“Marl wants you back down there,” he says. Your hand’s on the doorknob when he speaks again. “Leave the knife with me.”

He must have noticed the bulge of the knife beneath your sleeve. Even still, you turn, trying to keep an innocent but confused look on your face but he just shakes his head.

“You’re not the poisoner,” he says. “I would’ve known if you were.” He gestures at the woman on the bed. “You could have tried to mislead me here.”

“I’ve no weapon,” you admit, “and, well—“

“The room’s full of them,” he finishes for you. “I get it, but if Marl finds you with his prize knife, he’ll slit your throat, poisoner or not. Take this,” he holds out a round stone. When you hold out your hand, he drops it onto your palm. It’s satiny smooth and ebony in color.

At your questioning look, he explains. “Marl will know I trust you because of that. Let his club do the rest.”

You nod and hand over the knife you took from the bar.

As you leave, the stone feels cold in your palm. Compared to the knife, it offers scant reassurance but you didn’t want to argue with Wallin.

In the room below, Marl’s got every one sitting at the bar now, lined up like school children. There’s one stool left.

The club’s off the wall and swinging in Marl’s hand, its round head whistling through the air as he twirls it.

You take the last stool and Marl points at you. “Occupation?” he demands.

Considering the situation, saying Apothecary’s assistant could be the worst thing you could do. You could shorten it to simply Master’s assistant but he might dig more and then it’d look like you were hiding something.

Do you say…

Aa. Apothecary’s assistant?

Or

Ab. Master’s assistant?

Poison Inn Option Aa: Apothecary’s Assistant

No matter how nervous it makes you, being honest has always helped you in the end.

You swallow hard and answer, “Apothecary’s assistant.”

“What!” Marl’s got ahold of your collar before you have a chance to react.

“It’s got to be that one!” The old woman screeches, pointing at you.

Marl lifts you so you’re eye to eye with him. Your feet swing free of the floor and the bar hits you in the back of the legs.

“Why poison the serving woman?” Shouts the goateed chess player. His axe is free and in his hands like he wants to take your head off.

“I—“

“Who hired you?” Marl growls, cutting you off.

Everyone’s shouting. You try to speak again but it’s cut off by someone else. This time, you can’t pinpoint the speaker.

You look around helplessly. With Marl still holding you eye level with him, you’ve a good view over the room. Movement catches your eye just as the old woman slips out the door. No body notices the gust of cold wind she lets in on her way out.

You look frantically for the old man, wondering where he’s gotten to.

You’re just in time to see him head for the kitchen. Thankfully, you’re not the only one who sees him. The woman with the knives steps in his way before he ducks through the swinging door of the kitchen. They face off.

Still unable to be heard over the other’s shouting, you struggle to get a hand in your pocket. You almost drop the ebony stone when Marl shakes you like a rag doll. Clutching at it desperately, you finally get the stone up where the bar keeper can see it.

He goes still, staring at the satiny stone. “Oh,” he says, dropping you back onto your stool none too gently.

Everyone goes silent, surprised at his sudden release of you.

“The old woman’s gone,” you point out in the quiet.

The old man tries to bolt. The knife woman catches his jacket in one hand and his hair in the other. The hair comes free in her hand but the jacket pulls him up short.

“By golly,” the heavy shouldered chess player exclaims, “you can’t be older than twenty!”

It’s true, without the gray hair, the man’s blond locks stick out in disarray for all to see.

“Wait now,” the axe man steps closer to him, “I’ve seen you before. Hey Alex, hand me my bag.” He holds out his hand to his goateed partner. When the bag’s handed over, he rummages inside and pulls out a badly crumpled flier. “That’s it.” He holds the flier up for all to see.

Wantedwanted-poster-1207509-m

Bradley Couple Assassin Team

20 silvers reward for their capture

Below the words is drawn a likeness of two people, a man and a woman. The man matches the blond haired man so closely you’d think he sat for a portrait.

Hired assassins come to kill a serving woman? Somehow that doesn’t quite fit.

You look at Marl with his club and massive stance. Between him and Wallin, you’d think they were the world’s most capable Inn owners. Not only were they able to attend to a poisoned woman, they’d kept, mostly, everyone in the Inn from leaving when everything went south. It reeked of soldier material more than Inn keepers.

Perhaps the serving woman’s not as she seems.

You want to ask. Knowing who she is might lead you to the ‘old’ woman…and gain you a portion of 20 silvers.

Asking might just get your head bashed in though. Particularly if Wallin and Marl are the woman’s protectors, as you suspect.

Do you…

Aa1: Ask?

Aa2: Keep quiet?

Poison Inn Option Aa1: Ask

It does you no good to remain quiet, so you gather your nerve and force the words from your mouth.

“Who’s the woman upstairs?” you ask. “People aren’t hired to assassinate someone without a reason.”

Marl eyes you darkly for a moment but everyone’s looking to him for an answer and finally he grunts and answers, “she’s Count Lassetter’s daughter. If she’s killed, he’ll have no chance to marry her off and save his house.”

The chessmen nod at each other like this makes perfect sense. The knife woman huffs.

“Who stands to gain if the Count can’t marry her off?” you press on.

“Baron Emry. He’s been promised the land and title if something were to happen because of a distant kinship.” This was Wallin answering from the bottom of the stairs.

Everyone jumps at his voice as no one heard him come down the stairs despite his size.

Although he startles you, you have the good fortune to be watching the male assassin when Wallin speaks. At the mention of Baron Emry, he looks down, trying to hide the recognition on his face. But you clearly see he knows the baron.

“Won’t the female assassin return to the Baron for her pay?” you ask. The male refuses to look at you.

Wallin and Marl look at each other as though they’re conferring silently. Then Wallin says to you, “if you watch Miss Lassetter while we check the Baron’s estate, we’ll give you a share of the reward for the Bradley Assassins.”

This one’s a no brainer for you. As an Apothecary’s Assistant, you have plenty of experience sitting with ill people.

You agree and watch, a bit surprised, as the two chess players join Wallin and Marl in their venture. The knife woman offers to sit with you while you wait.

This catches you off guard more than anything else because the woman hasn’t seemed all that friendly but finally you agree and the two of you sip on drinks while the others catch the second assassin.

When you leave in the morning, you leave with the knife woman, who’s also headed to the capital, and have three and a half extra silver pieces weighing down your purse quite nicely.

The End

Yay! Being bold in this adventure has paid off. Hope you have a wonderful weekend =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

Going Forward

November marked two years for Adventure Awaits You. My brain’s still doing a ‘wait, what?!’ I’ve no idea where those two years went.

Anniversaries kind of require a hind’s sight 20/20 review. At least, that’s how it seems. Like an unwritten rule somewhere.

Looking back, I wonder who took over my brain. I was terrified to share my writing, so may as well leave the gate running, right? I got the idea of adventure stories and started writing out all the choices before they posted (that’s 15 possible posts at about 500 words each).

Then I had the brilliant idea that I needed a week in between adventures for writing them. Sounds perfect, right? Except, every blog-advice-thing I could find said the more I posted the better. So I decided to fill the in between weeks with short stories…that added another 1,000-3,000 words.

Yup, somebody took over my brain and then vacated just as suddenly at about the year mark. I woke up one day to realize I was running at breakneck speed without an end in sight toward no actual goal.

I was writing, producing stories, but the longer stories I desired to write fell by the wayside somewhere in the chaos. With them went my passion. The adventures that started out being so fun became the goblins chortling in my mind telling me I needed to write more.

Ugh.

All this rambling to say the past two years have been a wild adventure but it’s time to rework the system.

I can’t stop writing the adventure stories. Perhaps it’s stubbornness (or insanity), but I truly do enjoy testing my brain coming up with all the different endings. You’ll probably not notice the behind the scenes difference but I’m shifting from writing everything out to simply outlining until I know the direction each adventure takes.

As for the short stories. Yeah, those are taking a hike for a while so I can edit Dryad.

This is my goal. Over the next year I’d like to get Dryad ready for publishing. Traditional or self-publishing I haven’t decided but it’s time to make this blog only one part of my writing, not the only writing I do. Oh, and I might look at self-publishing the adventure stories. What do you think?

So for now, thank you to everyone who participates in the adventures! You totally make them worth the time. I’ll see you next week.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Man Down

So I had an adventure ready to post today and when I reviewed it last night, I detested what I’d written. That doesn’t happen very often. ‘Not satisfied’ happens all the time but detestation…well, I couldn’t present that to the world.

Which left me floundering for a new adventure. My husband and I have been watching a survival show lately and it just rolled from there. I’ve no idea where this is going since I didn’t plan it out like I have with all the others. We’ll see where this takes us, I guess.

Thanks for joining the adventure. Let’s have some fun=)

Man Down

All you remember comes back in snatches of images and feelings. The dials of the plane spinning and your stomach feeling like an elevator dropped from cut cables. Freefall without a parachute. Your stomach trying to climb out your throat.

You never should have taken the plane without your instructor but he didn’t show and you drove two hours for the lesson. After five lessons, you figured you could handle an hour flying by yourself but something went horribly wrong.

The plane lies in pieces strewn throughout the trees in a mile stretch behind you. The pack you brought is now lost along with it. Looking around, you’ve no idea how you survived the crash, much less survived it with only a few minor scratches.

But now you’re in the middle of the jungle with only the clothes on your back, the large knife your instructor always strapped to the back of the pilot seat and your metal water bottle that you found tossed with the wreckage.

Trees obscure your view of the sky but from where you stand, the light’s fading fast. Birds chirp incessantly although you can’t see any of them. As night falls, though, those sounds will change to tell of darker things, you’re sure of it.

Water roars somewhere to your right but you’ve no gauge on where. You might have enough time to construct a small shelter, something that’ll get you off the ground and help keep you away from all the crawlies but it’s no guarantee against larger predators.

Or you can try to build a fire but you’ve never attempted making one without a lighter, so you might not succeed, especially before nightfall.

Do you…

A.Build a Structure?

Or

B. Attempt Fire?

Man Down Option A: Build a Shelter

With your inexperience making a fire, you don’t want to chance being caught in the dark without something to protect you. You start searching the immediate area for a good spot to get off the ground.

Not far from the wreck you find two large trees that might work. They have parallel branches bigger than your legs that, if you can find a few small logs to lay across them, will work as supports for a platform.

Your knife’s not big enough to chop down a tree so you start looking for already downed trees. The thick foliage snags on everything you find and you use up the remaining daylight hauling four logs over to the trees, hacking at vines along the way.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

As if you’re not already winded, you find getting the logs up over the shoulder height branches an even more difficult task but finally, heaving air into your lungs, you have the logs lined up side by side. You lash them to the support trees using vines and then climb your way onto the small platform to see if it’s steady. It’s barely wide enough for your shoulders but it works.

Not thirty seconds after laying on the your back, the wind kicks up and starts to chill the sweat you built up while making the platform. This galvanizes you to keep moving before the gray of dusk totally disappears.

Now your knife comes in very handy. You chop as many branches off the trees near your platform as time allows. Then, exhausted, you create a tiny ‘cave’ by lashing them to a branch slightly higher than your platform to create an A-frame. It’s not great but, considering it’s completely black out, it’ll have to do.

You settle into your tiny shelter with a sigh and drink from your water bottle. The liquid hits your empty stomach, which reminds you dinner passed while you were working. Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t notice until now. Your stomach rumbles, so you drink a little more and roll over to sleep.

***

The wind howling through the makeshift roof wakes you. Darkness obscures everything, even the branches only a few inches above you. A flash of light highlights the branches and then it all goes black again.

Moments later thunder rumbles like you’re inside a drum. You peek out just as another flash highlights the night. The string of light jumps across the sky like it’s chasing something. And then the rain comes.

You withdraw into your shelter and curl up tight. The rain’s relentless. It seeps through the shelter and denies you sleep for the rest of the night.

***

Morning drives the storm away. Stiff and cold, you crawl into a small patch of sun that sneaks through the trees. After maybe thirty minutes of warming and drying, you decide you’ve got to move, to do something. First step’s to thatch your shelter better to keep out wind and rain but then…

Do you…

Aa. attempt a fire?

Or

Ab. Look for food?

Man Down Option Ab: Look for Food

With the sun warming you after the drenching from the night, the gnawing in your stomach demands attention.

You find a little water still in your water bottle. It tastes glorious and hits your stomach like a water balloon exploding. Before you know it, all the water’s gone. Your skin’s puckered with goose flesh still but you figure looking for food might help warm you up. The jungle’s thick and you hack your way toward the sound of the river. With the rain from the night, the dim roar the river made the day before sounds more like thunder now.

You hack away more vines and stumble backwards. Directly on the other side of the foliage, the ground drops away. With cautious steps, you move forward and peek down into the ravine. The river froths at least twenty feet below.

The vague idea of using the river to get water turns to dust. From where you stand, there’s no way down into the ravine. Neither would this be a good place to fish or find wild game.

You backtrack through your hacked trail to the shelter. With your efforts, the hunger returns in full force but you tell yourself it hasn’t even been a full day and a human can survive for a while without food.

The shelter’s a welcoming sight but there’s nothing around it to eat as far as you know with your small knowledge base of wild edibles, so you head out again. This time you follow the destruction the plane made when you landed.

Already the forest is overgrowing the damage but there’s still enough that you find another section of the plane. One part has dials and when you flip it over, there’s a red light flashing.

This brings back your hurried mayday while the plane spun you in circles. You crashed almost immediately afterward and hadn’t heard a response but this light means someone might have heard because it’s broadcasting the location.

You heave the chunk of plane into your arms and head back toward your shelter. You’re about half way back when you see it. Fruit. At least you think it’s fruit.

Lowering your burden to the ground, you approach the tree and give a cry of relief. A bunch of tiny bananas hang under the leaf of a tree. You hack the bunch free and turn back to retrieve the plane beacon.

Settled into your shelter a bit later, you contemplate the flashing light while your eat a banana, spitting out seeds as you chew. (You never realized wild bananas had so many seeds.) The dilemma now is, should you stay put or try to hike out of the jungle?

There’s a chance someone’s picked up the beacon and will find you in a day or two. However, the jungle’s thick and finding people can be difficult.

Or you can try to find help and not rely on the beacon although it’d be difficult to carry. You saw a village just a few minutes before the dials of the plane went haywire. If you can find it, maybe the people there can get you to a phone.

Do you…

Ab1: Stay Put?

Or

Ab2: Search for Help?

Man Down Option Ab2: Search for Help

You can’t sit still with the possibility that no one’s picked up the beacon. Night’s falling, so you decide to curl up and hide out in your shelter until the morning. Then you plan to head in the direction of the village you saw.

No storm haunts the night but you still find sleep impossible. Your tongue feels sticky and swollen and your eyes feel like they’ve had sand poured into them. Finally, a little before sunrise, you drift off.

Birds wake you with their incessant cawing. Your entire body aches and your tongue sticks to the top of your mouth. With a groan, you crawl from your shelter. Water’s a necessity. You decide to head toward the ravine and follow it in the direction of the village in hopes there’ll be a place to get down to the water.

Before you go, you fashion a basket out of vines to carry the beacon. It’s heavy and weighs you down but, with the chance that someone might be tracking it, you’re unwilling to leave it behind.

Armed with your knife and empty water bottle, you hack your way back to the ravine. In your disheveled, achy state, the walls look shiny with mud and seem like they’ve become steeper.

You turn to head up river, scanning for any possible way down as you go. The sun climbs up over the canopy and sneaks through the trees. Sweat pours down your back. You feel the loss of water like you’re in a dehydrator.

You know you’re in trouble when the sun starts toward the western horizon and you still haven’t found a way to reach the water or found any sign of the village. With heavy steps you trudge on. You hack at vines and branches aimlessly now, expending energy but not caring.

At some point you fall down and spend several minutes trying to convince yourself to get back up. You loose track of time and become aware again when something rolls you over. A thrill of fear hits you and your mind races with all the different predators that might be about to eat you.

The predator starts jabbering at you in a language you don’t understand.

***

Several days later you wake up to find a thatched roof over your head. A bronzed skinned boy yells at you from the door and a moment later you realize there’s the chop of helicopter blades over his voice.

The searchers finally found you in the village. One of them comments on how lucky you are. If the boy hadn’t found you, you would  have died of dehydration. The crew transports you to the local hospital where your flight trainer locates you. Unfortunately you now owe him a plane but he’s kind enough to help you get home.

From there you determine that, once you’re fully recovered, you’d like to return to the village to thank the boy.

The End

Yay, you survived! Thanks for joining the adventure this week.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Attention of a Gold Fish

I admit, my allotted month for finishing Dryad passed a while ago. But, after 40k+ words, I now have a finished rough draft and you better believe I’m doing the happy dance! It’s not pretty (the draft or the dance) but one’s done and the other’s happening. Don’t mind me while I frolic around my humble abode.

Ahem, anyway. My hat’s off to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo. Writing that much in such a short time is a sure challenge. You learn some things about yourself with such a challenge. Here’s a few things I learned.

1. I’ve the attention span of a gold fish- Doesn’t matter how motivated I start out, if the coffee beeps, I’m up to get a cup. Then it goes from there like the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” book.

2. Speaking of Coffee… The consumption of more than two cups in a morning makes my hands shake. When writing, this equals an odd form of torture.

3. While we’re on torture, without fail, the writing starts flowing two minutes before my husband arrives home. That’s my ‘End of Work Day.’ It’s like my muse likes to see how much I can fit into 120 seconds. It’s never enough to finish the scene. So then I’m talking to myself for the entire evening to finish the scene in my head.

4. I might be crazy ’cause my characters talk to me. It’s okay, though, my husband expects this.

Overall, it’s a good thing I write at home. Nobody sees me wandering the house with coffee in hand and talking to thin air.

Next week the adventure returns but, in the meantime, what’ve you learned about yourself when you push to write more than usual?

Blessings,

Jennifer