First Monday Free Fiction: The Forest of the Hanged

The Forest of the Hanged by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertWelcome to the May 2021 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

This month’s free story The Forest of the Hanged is a sword and sorcery story from my Thurvok series. The Thurvok tales are usually more humorous than my other sword and sorcery series, Kurval. However, The Forest of the Hanged is one of the grimmer Thurvok stories. It’s also the story where what had up to then been a trio of adventurers becomes a quartet.

So accompany Thurvok, Meldom and Sharenna as they venture into…

 

The Forest of the Hanged

 

The trouble started, as it sometimes did, with a message. It was delivered to Meldom, cutpurse, thief and occasional assassin, at the breakfast table at the Long Drop Tavern, though Thurvok the sellsword had no idea how the messenger had even found his friend and companion here. After all, very few people were supposed to know where they were staying. It was simply safer that way.

While Thurvok nibbled on a joint of ham, Meldom broke the wax seal — plain candle wax and not proper sealing wax — with his dagger and read. His expression darkened.

“Business?” Thurvok asked between two bites.

Meldom shook his head. “No, private.” The dagger was still in his hand, clutched so hard that Meldom’s already pale skin become even paler.

At this moment, Thurvok’s other travelling companion, Sharenna, the flame-haired sorceress, appeared, carrying a jug of milk, a basket of fresh bread and a chunk of cheese. She set down her burden on the table, flashed Thurvok a private smile and settled down on the chair opposite the two men.

Sharenna filled up her cup with milk and helped herself to some bread and cheese. It was only now that she noticed that the normally chatty Meldom was uncharacteristically quiet. For once, he wasn’t plotting grandiose plans for making ridiculous amounts of money. Nor was he making pointed remarks about sleeping arrangements.

Of course, eating normally shut Meldom up, but then he wasn’t eating either. He was just staring at that letter and clutching his dagger, clutching it so hard Thurvok briefly worried that the hilt would shatter.

“What’s wrong?” Sharenna asked.

Meldom looked up, his grey eyes troubled. “Nothing. Just a message from an old friend. I’ll have to leave for a while, though. I have business in Greyvault.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t go back to Greyvault, because you’re wanted for something or other there,” Thurvok pointed out, still gnawing on his joint of ham.

“Well, in theory I can’t go back,” Meldom snapped, “But in practice, I’ll just have to risk it and hope that the constabulary doesn’t catch me.”

In response, Thurvok laid down the joint of ham or rather what was left of it. “We’ll come with you then.”

“It’s private business,” Meldom replied.

“We’ll still come with you,” Sharenna said, her voice softer than usual, “After all, we’re friends. And friends help each other when they’re in trouble.”

“How do you even know I’m in trouble?” Meldom snapped, “Are you using your magic to read my mind or what?”

Sharenna sighed. “For the last time, I can’t read minds. Not that I need to, considering you’re making a face like soured milk.”

Meldom finally put the letter down, though he still clutched the dagger in his hand. “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just…”

“Bad news?” Thurvok suggested.

Meldom nodded. “Very bad. An old… friend of mine is in trouble. The sort of trouble that tends to leave you swinging on the end of a rope.”

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in The Forest of the Hanged. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

 

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