Friday, August 5, 2016


Frostfall Inn
First Summer

For a time, the inn is full.

Snow melts, Mother Sun shows her glowing face, and a young green sprouts about the old building.

The sky is red this morning. Red as the sun rises slowly, it's face invisible against a crimson sea. I'm not sure if I'm the first to stalk downstairs, sleep blinding me as I rub my eyes. Vena woke up last night and pressed her nose to the window into the tiny hours of the morning as a horde of men marched by carrying this bright flame that glinted upon a sea of silver armor. She heard them scream—bellowing commands as men from the front plunged head first into the Wilds.

“Why are they going there?” I heard Vena wondered aloud, and I groaned that she should get back to sleep.

When I woke, her side of the bed was cold. The covers were tucked, and her clothing was gone, along with her slippers and her pack of tarots she keeps in our room now—under close watch in case someone decided they were of enough value to steal. The inn sleeps as I take a turn for the stairs that lead down into the storeroom. Natural light makes the room bright enough to see without flame, and I do not see her. I check the bar—the hearth. But Vena is no where to be found. I decide to rush upstairs to dress before anyone else wakes. I slip on a clean chemise and a loose overdress before sliding skirts beneath the thick cotton fabric and a pair of leather boots. I take my red cloak and hood.

“Vena?” I call — not too loudly. “Vena — are you here?”

I call down the stairs and into the hearth and the door to the outside opens a bit.

“The bird's are flying, sis.” She whispers through the crack. “I'm going to go see what they've done to the Woods.”


“Hold the door or come on!” And she is off. And I'm begging her not to run off like this—not with those men occupying the Wilds. Not right now! But she is off, and I watch her skirts trip her and force her to tumble — but she still runs. She's got a whimsical way about her that I can't understand— but today—that I have an urge to protect.

I rush to our rooms and open the lower drawer of our ramshackle vanity. Snatching a large key ring from it. I lock our door and rush down the stairs and into the outside. I saw her run towards the trees—that way—I hope I'm right about where she's gone. I sprint towards the path I believe she took and my eyes climb the towers of large oak trees and stooping ones with green fans for arms. At the treeline, I breathe and plunge in just as she would. Those soldiers have done something alright—I realize as a path has been cut through the Woods. Viciously. Like they were giants instead of little men wielding fat blades attached to strong arms. I'm sprinting—following their path because I know that's what she would've done—and as I follow it and follow it I have to ignore the voice in my head telling me to turn back. There is a screaming is connected—a loud crying—a miasma of voices that reach heaven and make the gods look down in confused terror. They're a collection of trolls—of men but they sound like monsters as I run closer and closer and I realize—I need to hide. A mass of bodies ends the trail and they're all armed. They're all cawing and yelling up at these house like structures built high on the trunks of trees and there's these people looking down on them—silent—scared—wishing these invaders would leave them alone and allow them to continue living.

Vena is nowhere, so I tip toe closer. They are human, alright, in their hot silver armor and with their huge weapons that clang against that hard protection of silver plates. Their staring up at the elves in the trees—yelling, stirring up noise and throwing it back at this silence they don't like. They're calling for them to leave—I realize—and a man stands tall against the fray, before the elves as their leader but his ears are too small. He doesn't jump from the pathway strung between two trees, but he wouldn't be afraid to. He stares each and every man down, his voice quieting the fray with his deep baritone.

“Leave.” The man commands. It is his only remark and the men below are forced into a hushed silence dripping with hesitant determination.

Flame juts from the horde and the man who holds it is immediately alone as his men part away. He holds the flame up for all to see and—with a pointed look at the stalwart man above—places it to the largest tree holding the wooden pathway up.

The screams. Oh, the screams.

On the wooden pathway, the elves scramble as the single man who lent them their courage dives into the men below and a war cry ensues as every man diverges on this one guy. If they come any closer I'll have to move away—without Vena. Where would she be? I watch the people above scramble as if I am a tree myself—frozen in time and useless in this space—until a hand settles on my shoulder and whirls me around.

“You found me.” She breathes, panting as if she'd been running. “We have to help them!”

Vena. Oh, thank the gods—it's Vena.

“How?” I hiss, shielding my eyes from the building flame. “We have no water and the snow here is sleet at best.”

Her hands are suddenly full of the stuff. “The dirt's wet too.”

They're dying and I want to move no closer. A lot of the men are dying against the one man—this better than human—man. I plant my hands in the mud below and come up with handfuls of the stuff. Eyeing the twister of limbs and—oh—blood, Vena places me behind her before whispering—go— and we're off. Rushing towards that single tree holding a whole village of tree houses up. They're elven, I decide as we sprint closer, but the man fighting for them

My hands burn as I place the mud into the fire and it does a little to stop it. Vena rushes off to get more as I barrel back, watching the flames burn and expand. A loud snap vibrates above and the bridge is coming down. Vena returns and we pat more mud into the flame and it still does too little to stop it. There's a woman trapped on this side of the bridge, she's too afraid to attempt crossing it now as it snaps and hisses from the flame. She's screaming and I want to block it out but as her eyes connect with mine, and I know I can't. She's gotta remind me she's still there. She's gotta do something.

“More mud” Vena mutters before rushing off to find some more. I begin patting dirt to it—anything to get this poor woman from the burning tree. We pat and we dig and we jump back from the flame.

“That's as good as it's going to get.” I finally tell Vena. I look towards the crying woman. Her face is blackened with soot. She looks to me, the elf breathing heavily as I open my arms. “You'll have to help me catch her.”

The woman looks from her left and right. She shakes her head and comes to the edge of the wooden platform. She looks over to the burnt bridge, it's hanging by a literal thread and she knows her best bet is jumping. But if she'll break her leg or her neck—it's a guess she'll have to take as she backs up and runs at the platform. Her eyes close and for a second, I see the wings of a white bird as it flaps by—avoiding this fire and this fight as men howl at being cut down. Blood smacks dirt and flesh smacks my face and throws me into the dirt. I hear something crack and I know it's my shoulder as I grit my teeth and fight the urge to heave. The elven woman pulls me up and thanks me in a foreign tongue—a lyrical language I can't understand. I ignore the burning in my shoulder and nod before Vena takes both of our hands and moves us into the bushes just beyond as the fighting careens our way.

“Terragon.” I mutter as I catch his face—those familiar cold eyes. “It's Terragon!”

The woman becomes a statue at the mention of that name.

A head rolls as steel slices through flesh and bone like paper—and before I force my eyes to close, we see his face painted with a brush of fresh blood; his eyes are a bloodshot crimson and forced wide as the head of a bold spear projects through the side of his chest. Ripping through chain mail. Ripping through ropy white sinew and veins. Blood — it's everywhere as I turn to heave up last night's dinner. It's pink and red and gooey as I cough more up and wipe my mouth of it. Vena squeaks, but says nothing as she watches the elven woman with the sooty face stand as if she were a snake forced from her basket.

He rears on the spear thrower and forces his sword through the man's neck.

The woman is on her feet now, flame erupting around her palms. Her shouts are the cry of a river as she breaks through the brush and commands lengthening ribbons of licking flame. The men cry out in rage—in a rumbling thunder of fear. Black smoke slithers from blackened earth and the ground shivers as she rears the ribbons of red back and repeatedly lashes them—again, and again and again. Vena forces her face into the dirt—her hands over her head and I mirror her—terrified. Fear prickling my flesh, creating goosebumps. Frightened that those whips of ember and flame might whirl our way. The soldiers' screams turn to stabbing screeches and I try to block it out—I clamp my hands to my ears and I try.
“I've brought you enough time!” We hear Terragon cry. “Now—run!”

It's not to us—it can't be—but we hear stampeding feet and open our eyes only to watch elves rush by in a haunting army of white.

And then she's gone too—the ribbon woman—along with her kin and what is left of the army licks their wounds. Vena grabs my arm and I wince as she pulls—my shoulder's bad—but this guy's worse. Terragon lays there—dead—as what is left of the armored men regroup, pick through their dead, and make a sharp right towards the city of Vrosa. As they leave, Vena pokes her head through the foliage. I follow, and we see that they've left his body alone.

Vena comes to standing and pulls me up by my waist. Her grin is all determination as we take cautious steps towards the fallen man.

“He's familiar.” She muses, squatting down. She places two fingers to his neck. “And also alive.”

“Terragon.” I tell her. “Remember him?”

She shakes her head as she takes one arm and motions for me to take the other. “Think you can pull him on home? With them gone I'll gather some stuff. We can patch him up and he can owe us later.”

“My shoulder's busted.”

“Then use the other one.”

We hoist him up and he's heavy weight—dead weight—and Vena positions him on my good shoulder so that I can balance and drag him.

“I won't be long. Maybe I'll catch you on the way.”

I nod as his head lists to the side. Blood flecks his face—his leather coat—everything and it smells awful. It's like I'm bringing back a dying animal as I drag him away from the place that should have been his death bed. A patch of wet dirt, a circle of men burned or beheaded—

“What a place to die.” I tell him. “You must be either very stupid or very courageous.”
He doesn't respond, and I take his silence as him having a little bit of both. I remember him cutting down those people in the woods. Just thinking of how close those bodies came to me makes me want to vomit, yet today—after seeing so much death and smelling flesh burning—I think, well maybe I'm a little hungry after all of this. It's really very tiring. Carrying a grown-dead man and all. And suddenly I breathe in sharp and there's the kiss of cold steel at my throat. I don't even dare to swallow.

“Put 'em down, dearie. You don't know what this monster has done.”

My eyes dart around—looking for a face to add to the hand that holds my life. “He looks p-pretty human to me.” I stutter in my attempt to have some courage. “Sir.”

The man gurgles a chuckle but presses the steel to my throat and I swear a droplet of blood poked through skin. “Put 'em down...”

With a hiss and a whistle, the steel is away and the man who held the knife dances before me as he avoids a stray arrow. I see this as my chance and knee him in the codpiece before sprinting away as best I can with this dead weight slowing me down. I hear panting and I think—oh, he's got me, this is it! But the weight of this guy lightens and I see Vena's grin as she throws a long bow to the ground and helps me speed up.

“Did I take too long?” She teases.

“No.” I chuckle. “Not long at all.”

We set him up in the only free room in the inn in a little truckle bed, sitting him up a bit just in case stuff comes from his mouth when we aren't looking. Vena went to work mashing this and burning that, creating salves for all his wounds. She cut his shirt away once we laid him down, and we traced his scars like rivers on a map. A crossing here and a trail there. She took the salves and the mashed up creams with a horsetail brush—the instrument soft and kind of warm—and patted the stuff to his open wounds. He made no move to wake up—even when we did hear a harsh hiss come from his skin. He made no move to cry or to curse—it was like dressing a body for death, but healing it instead. For life. There's a loud rap at the door below this floor and I rushed downstairs to see what all the fuss was about. Our two patrons from last night have gone and left a bit of silver on the bar counter. I swing open the door and see a parade of elves in white, the woman from before leading the group.

I count them. “We might not be able to house all of you.” I tell her and I am met with a sly smile.

“We've come for the wyvern slayer.” She drawls in a feathery accent. “Not to sleep.”

And they are the first of many that come to this man's aid.

I bring them upstairs to his rooms and she is the only one who enters. She breaks into elvish and I attempt to ignore the conversation the woman and Vena share as if I don't stand here listening. She hovers over the man's broken body and brings a white light from her hands that swirls and shifts like living art.

“She's healing him?” I blurt. And Vena simply nods with a wide, dumb, smile on her face.

“An elven shetani.” The other girl whispers—awed by this beautiful display of white magic. “One of the few in this world, at least.”

There's a low hum as she brings her hands to rest on every part of his body. The door to his room slowly opens as more elves from that burning tree city poke their heads in and leave boxes or trinkets at the open door.

“He is like a god to them.” Vena muses, never taking her eyes from the shetani's beautiful hands. “He's helped them in more ways than one, in more lives than one, and they have watched over him ever since.” She turns to me. “We have watched over him.”

So she did remember him, I think as I nod at her words. But she lied.

The healing continues well into the night as Vena and I find our bed and fall into a dreamless sleep once again. We wake to noise downstairs and rush down the stairs to find a jar filled to the brim with silver and a couple pieces of gold. Necklaces, bracelets—gowns and slippers—drape from the bar and the hearth is full with elves, horn heads—even Arguntites go from bench to bench, talking and laughing with each other. We take to the store room and return with cheese and bread. We search for ale—hot—and hand out vodka on the house. They all wish to stay—and the elves who came yesterday—they've all gone just as the shetani woman promised. But when we go to bring soup to the injured man upstairs, the shetani and an older looking elf have both laid hands to Terragon's body and are muttering in Vena's language as a white light ensnares them in a rose embroidered circle.

“They're finishing up.” Vena narrates, squeezing my shoulder. “With their magic he'll heal up to what he used to be, for sure.”

I nod, and I go back downstairs to attend to our sudden flood of patrons.

The word has spread that Terragon the Wyvern Slayer sleeps here. Heals here. And they bring exotic meats and cheeses, seeds to plant fruits and even a full grown apple tree. They bring newly made benches to make up for what was broken, and blankets made of unique fleeces and cotton to replace the old bedding with. New patrons come—workers that live in the Wilds but are forced to work in Nauvire or Nouis—to populate the inn. They don't come begging to see Terragon as though he were some piece of work in a gallery, but they offer their respects in items given to us or left on the counter of the bar once they leave.

And then it happens again one night—angry soldiers drunk on rage and vodka decide to maul another family, another father and scare children—but the other patrons won't have it. A horn head stands in the elves' defense and the rest of the hearth stands with him. Instead of roughing the guys up, the group forces them out into the warmth of the summer night and the guys are gone. Only to come back in the morning with a larger group to threaten us with rocks and mean words. They protect us again—the horn heads and others—by chasing them away with their own horses and war cries. Vena holds my hand as we watch the soldiers being chased away and she smiles, asking if this isn't the best feeling ever. And it is. A warm heart. A full hearth. And people willing to stand up for that one piece of hope in a dying world. It is a great feeling. A wonderful feeling.

One morning, the shetani finally leaves Terragon's bedside.

“Take this.” she tells me, taking a necklace from her drop sleeve and holding it out to me. “It will give you the power to control wind—for a time.” And I cup it in my hand.

She is a harp sweetly strummed as she stands tall and fluid. “Thank you.” I tell her before pocketing the trinket.

To Vena she offers a ring with the power to control fire. Vena curtseys low to the woman and as she comes up the shetani presses a light kiss to the shorter woman's forehead before muttering her goodbyes in that fluid language of hers. Vena mimicks the words and shows them out.

They are gone before I can even reach the third stair.

We take up watch next to his bedside once the elves leave, bringing him food three times a day—usually soup so we can make sure he doesn't choke.

“They said he'll be asleep for a few days—maybe weeks.” Vena tells me one night.

“We just have to take care of him like they've taken care of us.”

“Exactly.” Vena nods. “Exactly.”

Skin changers give us a dog.

“A mastiff.” The one with colorful drawings on his face insists. “Tis a special kinda dog, girl!”

I scoff but the thing's taller than me when it gets on it's hind legs.

“I'll call you Bunny.” And they laugh at that.

Vena doesn't really like dogs, but she makes an exception for Bunny. He's a big old softie—licking the faces of every person in the hearth, but when it comes to a stranger hitting on the door his bark is deep and powerful. It silences the room before he bounds up and greets the stranger if I greet him nicely. He's a nice pet to have around. A guard dog, the skin changers told me.

“Just tell 'em—tnang! And he'll go crazy on whoever you point at.”

Tnang. I'd have to remember that.

When Vena goes to the storeroom downstairs, she trips over old furniture. Broken furniture. She comes up bleeding and I decide it's about time we either threw that stuff out or fixed it.

“With what?” she grumbles, cleaning her wound outside. “I don't have glue or magic, so I don't suppose we'll be able to fix anything.”

“How about we repurpose it?”


I drag a broken bench up and clean it off a little—there's dried blood on the rough wood and I scrub it best I can before leaning it up against the side of the inn.

“What's it's purpose now?” Vena smirks.

“We'll grow flowers on it. We can use this to guide the stalks away from the shade of the roof.”

Vena nods, her eyebrow raising. “And the rest of the broken stuff?”

“Leave it all to me.”

And I use the broken chair legs as kitchen utensils, forcing bread and dough flat. The backs of the chairs are useless so I burn them in the hearth and the wood burns hot for a couple nights before it dies down. I take passion fruit seeds and plant them near the broken bench outside and watch as the vines lift themselves onto the wood of the bench and constrict it—using it as a lever to reach more sun and they flourish into beautiful reds and rosy pinks.

I find that I sleep less and less as I watch over Terragon or the plants. The moon shines silver when it's Vena's turn to take watch and I don't wake her up—not this time. I let her sleep and when she wakes in the morning to find me staring out Terragon's window, she crosses her arms.

“You didn't wake me up.”

“You were tired.” I tell her.

“And you aren't?”

There are birds outside and I watch their little blue wings take flight. I turn to Vena with a soft smile. “I'll take watch from here. You're a great hostess, sis. You watch over the inn.”

She flushes pink for a short while before bounding up to me, placing a kiss on my cheek, and nodding before she finds her way out. I snap to Terragon as I swear I heard a hum, but decide it's my crazy head running on no sleep making up sounds—wishing he'd wake up already.

Nights pass and I sleep sitting up or on the hardwood floor. It's nice—sleeping without Vena—but nicer when I feel the sun kiss my cheek when I wake up. Or when the door behind me opens and in saunters Vena with a bowl of hot soup and a chicken leg for me. I barely leave that room, reading things Vena brings in to me in silence for a while before opening my mouth and speaking what I read just in case he can hear me. Just in case my words bring him home and that elven shetani is somehow watching. I look at pictures sometimes too, or simply out the window. Sometimes I watch how the sunlight hits his square face and the growth of ashen blonde whiskers on his chin and face. His hair is long and growing longer as he stews in that bed all day. His muscles don't seem to flatten, but I'm sure they do. And there's marks all up and down his grizzled chest, bite marks and claws that've cut deep. Sometimes I wonder if those are all from wyverns and dragons. Sometimes I wonder if those are from women he's held too tight, or children he's been afraid to let go. But I stop my wondering when I hear a chorus of chairs hit the floor downstairs.

Almost jumping down the stairs, I run to see a group of humans wearing matching sigils and colors standing toe to toe with a horn head—and there's Vena attempting to get between them, but she can't. The horn head isn't letting her.

Within a moment I am by her side and tugging at her arm. “What's happening?”

“They're from a group in Nauvire—extremists that want all non-humans purged.”

I scoff. “Then why come here?”

He's a red head with an eye missing and a tuft of flaming hair jutting from his sharp chin. “Because we heard this used to be an upscale establishment.” He spits, crooking his head at me. “Until these non-human shits took it over!”

The man's companions cry out at that, backing the man up as he attempts to stand against the brawny mass of a horn head leagues taller than him.

“You're the first human we've seen all night.” The red head snaps. “Why ain't there more of you? Why's you got this bug eyed bitch manning the bar when there could be respectable humans doing her job?”

Behind him, his men hum their agreement. And I've had enough. I've completely and truly had enough.

“You need to leave.” I tell him, locking eyes before bringing mine to the door. “Door's right there.”

The man's chuckle is dark and deep as he brings his eyes back to the horn head.

“You heard her.” The taller man growls. “Leave. Or you'll have to deal with me

“With all of us!” Our patrons chime in, and once again I feel big—gigantic as this mass of power cheers us on.

The men gather themselves together as they realize that they are severely outnumbered. They clamber towards the door, blades drawn, back to back in a circle.

“Hear me!” Snarls the red head. “This won't be the last of us—not with this inn of filth festering on our soil. The Sons of Freedom ain't friends of non-humans, and if this inn sides with our blood born enemiesHe spits onto the stones as the door swings open with a slam. “—then rest assured that we'll be back—with heat.” He turns to his brothers. “Get the horses.” Three horn heads follow, watching the men as they stalk back to the stables.

“Why even allow their kind in anymore, sis?” I snap, rearing at Vena. “They're nothing but trouble.”

“Oh.” Her head cocks. “Oh—you mean, humans. Your race?”

I open my mouth to speak, but I don't have the words.

“We're open to anyone who needs a warm bed, sis. Anyone.” She crosses her arms. “With what I described to you in Nouis, I'd think you'd understand that.”

I'm shocked and I sputter, but I nod. I don't know if she's right—but something will prove her right or wrong in due time. Something always does.

Vena's made chickpea soup this morning and I'm waiting for her to finish adding her little touches of magic and herbs. It's been some time and finally she ladles it into a nice porcelain bowl and I bring it up the stairs to Terragon's room. Pushing the door with my healed shoulder, I open my eyes to an empty bed and a naked man with his hand and weight leaning against the far wall. He's looking out the window when I drop the bowl and destroy my slippers and feel my heart give way as his blue eyes snap to me. His face is a mask—blank and faraway. I don't even think he sees me.

Footsteps fall and Vena and Bunny are up there in a second. Vena's cleaning up the mess and rushing clothes to Terragon and pulling me away and out of the room.

“I—I didn't think he'd wake up.” I tell her, truthfully. “I saw him as a doll—a doll we cared for.”
Vena slightly cocks her head at this, her smile is sweet. “Well, now you see him for what he is.” She tells me. “A breathing, living—killing, thing.” And her voice is harsh at the word, killing, before her tone reverts back to its usual sweetness. “Let's leave him alone for a bit, yes?”


And she drags me downstairs to clean. Bunny stays, guarding the door. That big floof of a tail wagging as if his best friend waits behind that door.

Terragon is a ghost for a while. Listlessly stalking around the inn at night—opening and slamming doors when we attempt to sleep. When the patrons are up and the hearth is full, he is nowhere to be found, hiding out somewhere with Bunny—that dog relentlessly follows him. It's almost as if he's forgotten about me and thinks Terragon is a better buddy than I.

Weeks pass and he attempts to look normal. He takes it upon himself to wash clothing and bedding—without telling us, I might add. Making Vena and I look like fools when we think the bedding has been stolen only for it to reappear the next day with a strangely fresh lilac scent. We find out it's him when we spy him dragging a bundle of it down the river bed not so far from us. He cleans nice, scrubbing at counter tops and table tops when everyone's gone to bed or gone out. I've caught him a couple of times snatching old food from the table tops and feeding it to Bunny as he cleans—so that's how he stole Bunny from me! Old food—why didn't I think of that? He quickly becomes a welcome addition to the inn and we are grateful for him—he's earned his keep, yet he stays. He hasn't said more than a few words to us—yet he stays.

I catch him on the porch one evening combing that ashen hair. It's gnarled and I can see the knots from here.

“Stop.” I tell him and he looks to me, slowly. Grumbling. “I can fix it without ripping half your hair out. Would you like me to?”

He looks down at his hands. Hair gnarled knots of hair cover both palms. It's like straw.

“Fine.” He grunts and I go to find that jam Vena uses in my hair. Along with a comb and maybe a brush.

Finding it, I come back to the porch and see him staring towards the bright horizon. It's fading from yellow to orange now as it slowly darkens. I sit down behind him and rub the jam into my hands. It smells tart like beeswax, fighting his musky scent. My fingers bend through his hair and immediately I'm stuck. With a comb, I play the tangles in his hair gently like the strings of a harp and make it through the first of many tangles. Rubbing the jam through his scalp and the rest of his hair, I take the brush and begin to work my way through it when he snorts as if he's sighing the wrong way. It happens again and I stop to peek around to his face.

He's asleep. A snort comes from me this time as I force back a chuckle. He's asleep!

The comb finds it's way back to my hand as I pull my fingers through the straighter parts of his hair like the fine strings of a long and slender lute.

The sky is a purple vat of daisies when I finish for the night, and he sleeps like an overgrown child not wanting to get up.