TAB Chapter 3
Quest For a Dying Ember
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four
I like to keep to myself.
It’s my nature to be this way, alone and closed off from the world. The Bowman family is like that. They wear a mask of professionalism and well-mannered personalities when in reality they are nothing more than stone-cold killers. Many people know this on the outside too, but due to their proximity to King Cassius, very few are able to spread the message along before they mysteriously go missing.
As a Bowman myself, I would know exactly how cruel and vile they truly are.
I left the Bowman family and the life of glamour when I was 13. One would think that with a family of intuitive assassins, they would have seen it coming. Maybe they did and they just let it happen. No one has come out to look for me since I left those five years ago, not that I have any problem with it. It allows me to lead a somewhat normal life. Well, normal if one counts stealing and getting into bar fights.
On this particular morning, the sun had barely risen by the time I left my small campsite in the woods outside of a village. My nose tells me that the baker has just finished making a fresh batch of bread. My stomach growls as I leap from tree to tree, the vapors of the freshly baked goods wafting through the leaves. My nose makes a trail to the large oak that looms just over the baker’s house.
Slowly, I lower myself onto the ground, shimmying down the trunk. With a hand over my dagger, currently sheathed in my belt, I shuffle towards the front display. I glance around the corner and just as I suspected, several large loaves of warm sourdough just came out of the oven. There are very few people here, so I assume that this will be an easy steal. I come around the corner walking casually, nodding towards the woman and her small child shopping next to me. The baker is not inside. In one quick movement, I snatch two loaves of bread and knock down an empty croissant stand. I run back into the forest, stuffing the loaves into my bag as I go. The baker bursts through the door immediately, yelling for me to stop. I keep running.
I breach the large trees of the forest again and begin my ascent. Climbing trees has always come naturally to me. Maybe that’s why Mother named me Gecco. The baker unfortunately got a good look at me a few days back, so I am certainly looking forward to seeing the wanted posters tacked onto the trees I love to climb. The artist always manages to get my hair wrong. It’s always drawn up to my shoulders or shorter, when in reality I just have most of my long straight hair tucked under my cloak. I wonder if the mistake will be enough to let me stay another month in this village.
The baker is far behind me now. He stopped running a while ago , and I can’t see him anymore through the trees. However, just to be sure, I take the long way back to my campsite.
Calling it a “campsite” is a bit of an overstatement. It’s really just a fallen tree covered with moss, along with a large stack of firewood and flint. The fallen tree has a large enough trunk that I can comfortably rest on it and the thin layer of moss makes it feel like I am back in my soft bed at the Bowman Estate. Luckily, this forest is littered fallen twigs and branches which serve as superb firewood. Along with stealing bread, I was able to snag a few chickens earlier in the month. Those combined with some herbs I found in the forest and mushrooms made a very good stew that has been keeping me going for a week or so now. I really hope that the wanted posters look nothing like me.
I remove my large thermos, a well crafted one I stole a few years ago, from my bag with some stew and place it on the ground, rip off large chunks of the bread from my bag and enjoy my breakfast. The bread is just as tasty as it smelled. Maybe I’ll try and make more frequent trips to the baker’s to get more bread. The risk may be high, but it may be worth it for how filling the meal is.
I eat my fill and am left with one and a half loaves of bread and most of the stew left in the thermos. I cork my thermos and tie my bag close. Looks like I won’t have to do much work for dinner. I lean against the log and close my eyes for a moment. I have food for the night, but I have been running low on salve. I’ll have to return to the village to get more today.
I open my eyes and pull up my pant leg. The burn that I got from a forest fire a month or so ago glares angrily at me. It has scabbed over by this point, but it still stings whenever I touch it or if I bump into something. The thick salve available from most healers has been my savior since it removes most of the pain, takes away the swelling, and has sped the healing. I trace my fingers over the scar, ensuring that it is still healing properly. Once I decide that it is in the best shape it can be, I pull down my pant leg and secure it in my boot. I don’t want any dirt to get on it since that creates an influx in the stinging. I stand, putting my thermos in my bag and re-tying it before slinging my bag over my shoulder and tying its two straps around my waist. It has fallen off my back in the past and I want to make sure that I don’t lose another bag full of supplies.
I start climbing the trees again, leaping from tree to tree. The branches overlap each other so the movement is a lot easier and more graceful that one would think. When I get close to the village, I don’t approach it from the north side where the baker’s shop is. Instead, I enter from the south towards the healer, hopefully avoiding the baker and that customer I met earlier today. with any luck she will be busy and make my theft harder to track.
My feet hit the ground with a thump and I blend into the growing crowd of villagers seamlessly. I start to look for the healer’s shop, but before I realize that I passed it a loud horn rings from the center of town. The king has a message.
The flood of villagers that was wandering aimlessly now pushes me forward with it. Everyone drops what they are doing and starts to wave towards the center of town. I let the villagers push me to the center of town, where a large fountain featuring a sculpture of King Cassius himself stands. A man with a thick beard dressed in velvet stands on the rim of the fountain. He is obviously a messenger directly from the castle. The people around me listen intently as he reads the text off of the scroll in his hand.
“King Cassius is on his deathbed,” he states, receiving a loud gasp from the crowd. “And to decide the next monarch, he has put in place a competition for only the mightiest and most worthy of candidates! The sole person who can survive the quest will be bestowed the Crown.”
The Crown?! I am suddenly very interested in what this man has to say. A quest sounds very challenging, deadly, and not to mention super fun. The crown is just a bonus. I know immediately that I will be going on the quest.
“For those who are brave enough to take on the challenge, the King has released a poem for the first step of the quest. Come forth to me in the square at this time if you believe you are brave and intelligent enough for the challenge.”
Immediately, many in the crowd begin to push forward, hoping to get their hands on a copy of the proclamation. I join them, weaving under a few arms and around a few torsos to get to the front of the group. I stick my hand out and blindly grasp at a piece of parchment, closing my fist around it before looking for an escape as the crowd closes in. I duck under a buff man before sprinting into an alleyway. The clamor of the crowd is only a light thump of noise in the background. After making sure the coast is clear, I smooth out the parchment that is crumpled in my fist. Black ink stands out boldly against the page, the letters crisp and clear as I read:
The King is in search of an heir. Any person of sound mind and body may compete to win the throne upon his majesty’s death. We must warn you it is a treacherous journey not for the faint of heart. All wishing to compete must appear at the palace by sunset on the first day of summer to receive their instructions.
Duty, honor, justice
So it is true. The Crown is up for grabs.
Before I know it, I am grinning from ear to ear. This sounds like the perfect challenge for me. “Treacherous journey”? I’m already at the starting line.
I sigh and fold the parchment nicely before placing it into a waterproof pocket in my bag. Things were getting too calm around here anyway. I needed something different to do other than stealing bread for the baker. A journey that could end in death sounds way more fun!
I recall from the announcement that I must be at the palace by sunset on the first day of summer. I do some quick math. It will take me about two weeks to get to the palace, one and a half if I can stow away on a wagon. The first day of summer is a month from now. If I can get there early, there is a chance I can scope out the competition. I think about it for a moment, before deciding that I shall leave for the palace today.
I have enough food and water to last me until the next village over. I can camp there for a night and restock before I get on the move again, maybe steal a horse as well.
Before I have time to doubt myself, I am tightening the laces on my boots and heading for the trees, a spark of excitement in my chest as the dull life of stealing from a village is left behind me.