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.”

Thurvok patted his friend on the shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“You want to help your friend, don’t you?” Sharenna asked.

“If I can.” Meldom replied. “I have to try, at any rate. I owe her my life, after all.”

Across the table, Thurvok and Sharenna exchanged a look. For though Meldom talked a lot, he rarely spoke about his life before he became a wandering mercenary, selling his skills to whoever was willing to pay him. Still, whatever was behind this message had left Meldom rattled, more rattled than Thurvok had ever seen him.

“Then it’s settled.” Thurvok rose to his feet. “We’ll go to Greyvault and save this friend of yours.”

Meldom shot him a warning look. “It’s going to be dangerous.”

Thurvok sighed. “Isn’t it always?”

***

So Thurvok, Meldom and Sharenna set off for the city of Greyvault, a three days’ journey to the northeast. And on the first night of that journey, while they sat huddled around a campfire by the side of the road, Thurvok and Sharenna finally got Meldom to open up.

“So this friend of yours…?” Sharenna, who was better at this sort of thing than Thurvok, began.

“Lysha, yes, Meldom said, reaching for the silver amulet he always wore around his neck.

“So what’s the story there?” Sharenna wanted to know.

There was a long pause, then Meldom took a swig of brandy from his trusty hip flask and began, “I was fifteen, when I met Lysha. I was a street kid running with a gang of thieves on the streets of Greyvault. I was young and fairly slight then and could squeeze even through the smallest openings…”

Thurvok refrained from pointing out that Meldom was still rather slight, at least compared to Thurvok’s muscular frame.

“…so my specialty was burglary. If there was a window left open in a house, any window at all, I’d climb in, sneak around and rob them blind. It always went well, too. Until the night that I broke into the home of Kereban Vandor, a wealthy silk merchant…”

Thurvok leant forward, for this was getting interesting.

“I’d climbed in through an open bedroom window. But I was stupid and bumped against a table, which in turn knocked over a vase. The vase shattered and woke up the occupant of the bedroom. Lysha, Vandor’s only daughter. For the space of a few heartbeats, we just stared at each other in the moonlight that streamed in through the open window, each more scared than the other…”

“And…?” Sharenna asked, clearly intrigued.

“Then someone started banging on the door. Vandor himself. ‘Lysha, are you all right? Open up!’ I decided that whatever there was to steal in that house wasn’t worth getting caught over and was about to jump out of the window again, when Lysha suddenly said, ‘No, not that way. They’ll catch you.’ Then she opened the door of her wardrobe. ‘Come on. Hide in here. I’ll hold him off’.”

Meldom stared into the flickering flames of the campfire, as if there was something in those dancing flames that only he could see.

“So I was hiding in her wardrobe, stuck between silk gowns that cost more than what I could steal in a year, while the banging on the door got louder. And then Lysha opened the door and said, ‘It’s nothing, Papa. I just broke a vase. I’m sorry. I must have been sleepwalking.’ And just like that, she saved my life.”

“How so?” Sharenna wanted to know.

“If they’d caught me, I would have been hanged. And if they’d suspected that I’d as much as touched Lysha — not that I did — they’d have cut off my prick first. Cause she was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and I was just a street kid, gutter scum. But not to Lysha.”

Meldom took another swig of brandy from his flask.

“After her father had gone back to bed, she let me out of the wardrobe. Asked me if I was hungry and gave me something to eat. Biscuits that were so much finer than any food I’d ever had…”

Meldom reached for his necklace again, touching the silver pendant like a holy relic.

“We became friends after that. Whenever she could, Lysha would leave her window open for me. I’d visit and we’d talk…” Meldom shot Thurvok a dirty look. “Yes, really just talk. I was fifteen and had no idea what else to do with a girl…”

Thurvok grinned. “Well, you sure learned fast.”

“Hush,” Sharenna hissed, “I want to hear this.”

“Lysha gave me food and sometimes, she’d even slip me a coin or two. If they’d caught us, both our lives would have been forfeit, for in Greyvault those sheltering thieves are punished as harshly as the thieves themselves and family connections won’t save you either. We were risking the gallows, both of us. But Lysha did not care…”

Meldom took another swig of brandy.

“And then, when I had to leave town in a hurry or face the gallows, Lysha gave me her jewellery to pay for my escape. I used up all of it except for this.”

He reached for his silver necklace again.

“I’ve been wearing it ever since to remember her, to remember the girl who looked at a street kid and thief and saw something worth saving in him.”

“That’s a lovely story,” Sharenna said, “And this Lysha sounds like a very sweet girl.”

Meldom nodded. “She is.”

“So what did she do to get herself in trouble?” Thurvok wanted to know, “Cause the daughters of rich merchants normally don’t find themselves facing the gallows.”

“If you’re a woman, you don’t need to have done anything,” Sharenna pointed out, “Just spurning the advances of the wrong magistrate can be enough. Or the wrong priest king. All it takes is one trumped up charge…”

A few moons ago, Thurvok and Meldom had saved Sharenna from execution at the hands of the priest kings of Khon Orzad.

“Yeah, but you really are a witch,” Thurvok pointed out.

“I still didn’t do anything,” Sharenna countered, “The priest kings just don’t like anybody who’s not them having power, least of all a woman.”

“Does it matter what Lysha did or didn’t do?” Meldom asked testily, “After all, we’ve all done things that would get us sent to the gallows or the scaffold or the stake, if we ever got caught.” He turned back to the fire. “And besides, Lysha really didn’t do anything.”

Sharenna moved closer to Meldom and briefly squeezed his hand. “So what happened?”

“The Rhadur happened,” Meldom said grimly, “The conquered Greyvault last year.”

The Rhadur were a warrior nation from the Far North. Ice and cold had driven them from their homeland to conquer city after city in the realm. They were fearsome, true, but normally content to let commerce and crime continue unabated in the cities they conquered. As long as tributes and taxes were paid on time, they did not care where the money came from.

“You know what the Rhadur do when one of their number is killed in a city they’ve conquered?” Meldom asked.

Thurvok nodded. “They execute twelve random locals in retribution.”

“Yordirr, the Rhadur governor of Greyvault was murdered five days ago. Everybody knows that it’s Khureim, his own second-in-command and successor, who did it. But the Rhadur don’t care who the real killer is or that it’s one of their own. They just want to have a bloody spectacle. And so Khureim has ordered that twelve maidens from Greyvault’s most respectable families be hanged instead, for a crime that he himself committed.”

Even by Rhadur standards, hanging twelve girls from the city’s best families seemed excessively bloody. Mostly, they contented themselves with hanging vagrants, prostitutes and criminals, the sort of people who wouldn’t be missed, as well as the occasional respectable burgher, just to show they meant business.

“And Lysha is one of those twelve maidens who are to be hanged?” Sharenna asked.

Meldom nodded. “When I fled Greyvault, I asked my friends in the city to keep an eye on Lysha, because she’d been good to me. One of them sent me the message that she’ll be hanged on the night of the blood moon in retribution for the murder of the governor.”

Thurvok scratched his chin. “I’ve seen Rhadur mass executions,” he said, “They’re heavily guarded, lest the conquered people get any ideas. Rescuing someone from the Rhadur’s gallows will be difficult. So would your friends in Greyvault be willing to help us?”

“I don’t know,” Meldom admitted, “I hope so.”

He looked straight at Thurvok and Sharenna. “Look, if you want out of this, I… I understand. It’s a huge risk, after all. But I have to do this. I owe Lysha my life after all, so I have to save her or die trying.”

“Don’t worry, pal.” Thurvok patted Meldom on the shoulder. “We’re still in. After all, we’re a team.”

“We need a plan though,” Sharenna pointed out, “Cause like Thurvok said, Rhadur mass executions are too heavily guarded to just barge in there.”

“Don’t look at me,” Thurvok said, “Meldom’s normally the one with the plan.”

“I’m thinking, okay. And besides, we’ve still got time. It’s still a two days’ journey to Greyvault and another night to the blood moon.”

***

Two days later, as they closed in on Greyvault, Meldom was no closer to a plan than he’d been before. Or if he had a plan, he did not share it. And Meldom normally shared every stupid half-baked plan that came into his head.

The road to Greyvault led through a dense forest. And as they travelled through the forest, Thurvok, Meldom and Sharenna came across a hanged man. He was dangling from an oak tree by the side of the road, gently swaying in the wind. Judging by the condition of the body, he’d been here awhile.

Sharenna turned away and muttered something that might have been a prayer, a blessing or a curse in a language that Thurvok did not understand.

Meldom pretended to study his feet. “Oh yes, I probably should have warned you. This is the Forest of the Hanged, the place where Greyvault executes its criminals and leaves them hanging as a warning to others. This is the first body, but it won’t be the last.”

As Meldom had said, there were more dead bodies, swinging in the wind from various trees by the roadside. Most were barefoot, dressed only in plain white shifts. Their hands were bound and around their necks, they often wore placards that detailed their crimes. Thief. Forger. Con man. Bandit. Rapist. Murderer. Assassin. Traitor.

The heads of the dead were mostly covered by burlap sacks or plain white linen hoods or fine silk veils, depending upon the wealth and position of the condemned. Though once in a while, there was a body who’d been hanged bareheaded. Those were the worst, the sight so grisly that even Thurvok and Meldom, who were both not unused to death, averted their eyes.

All three of them had fallen silent by now, speaking only when it could not be avoided. It was as if the constant presence of the dead had settled down like a grey blanket upon them, leaving them tongue-tied and contemplative.

Thurvok wondered just why so many of the so-called civilised cities tended to display corpses outside their walls and by the side of the road. Thurvok’s people burned their dead — whether they’d died peacefully in bed or violently at the end of the blade or by the noose — and did not put them up as signposts and road decorations, because that would be uncivilised. And yet the people who’d created something as abhorrent as the skeleton road of Khon Orzad or this Forest of the Hanged had the nerve to call Thurvok’s people barbarians.

As they passed yet another tree from which the bodies of two young men, just boys really, were swinging gently in the wind, Thurvok broke the silence. “Will the Rhadur be hanging your girl here in the forest, too?”

Meldom shrugged. “I don’t know. I think so, cause that’s the way things are done in Greyvault. Why?”

“Because it makes things easier for us. Cities have walls and gates and the streets are cramped and narrow. But the forest is big and wide open and offers more escape routes. It also makes pursuit more difficult.”

Meldom said nothing. He just touched the amulet on his neck, lost in thought.

“So have you come up with a plan yet?” Sharenna wanted to know.

Meldom turned to her. “That depends. When you reanimated those skeletons in Khon Orzad, was that just a one-off spell or could you do the same with the hanged bodies here?”

Sharenna shot him a calculating look. “I could. But the spell only works on those who died violently and prematurely.”

“Well, hanging is a violent and premature death by definition,” Meldom pointed out.

“The spell doesn’t last very long either, only as long as a short oil wick burns, then the dead crumble into dust again,” Sharenna continued.

“We don’t need a whole lot of time. We only need enough to rescue Lysha and get the hell out of there. And walking corpses make for an excellent distraction.”

“It’s not so easy,” Sharenna insisted, “The spell takes a lot out of me and besides, I cannot control the unquiet dead once I’ve raised them. They will attack those who’ve wronged them, particularly those who’ve caused their death.”

“Well, we should be quite safe then, cause we haven’t killed any of them,” Thurvok said. He shot a questioning look at Meldom. “Unless there’s something you’re not telling us.”

Meldom ignored him. “Well then, listen up, people. Cause I’ve got a plan…”

***

The blood moon was already rising above the horizon, hanging red and bloated in the sky, when the execution procession passed the gates of Greyvault and headed for the Forest of the Hanged.

The progress was slow and measured, so every single person in the crowd that had gathered by the side of the torch-lit road — a larger than usual crowd, for the hanging of twelve young maidens was a rare spectacle — could get a good look.

The bailiff came first, clad in his blood red robe of office and bearing his staff of justice. Next came Khureim, the current Rhadur governor, clad in black robes richly embroidered with silver. He was followed by a squad of Rhadur soldiers in their black and silver armour. They were bearing a pall upon which lay the body of Yordirr, the recently murdered previous Rhadur governor.

Thurvok scoffed as the body of the dead governor was carried past him, the flickering torches highlighting the murdered man’s ghastly featured. Did no one properly burn their dead anymore or even bury them in the ground? Truly, the customs of these supposedly civilised men were most barbarian. Though Thurvok suspected that no one would accuse the Rhadur of being civilised. Which was still no excuse for carting corpses about.

“They bring the body along, so his spirit can watch how his death is avenged with the blood of innocent maidens,” Meldom whispered to Thurvok, clearly just as disgusted by the spectacle as Thurvok himself, “And also because it amuses Khureim, the real killer.”

Once the corpse of Yordirr had been carried past, more Rhadur soldiers followed. Then came a cluster of robed priests, mumbling prayers for those who would soon be put to death. The executioner and his assistants followed, all clad in black. And then, finally, came the twelve maidens who would be hanged this night.

They were young, more girls than women really, the youngest about fifteen or sixteen, the oldest maybe twenty-five. They were all clad in execution gowns of plain white linen. Their feet were bare and their hands bound.

Some of the girls were mumbling prayers, their heads downcast. Others cried and yet others carried their head held high, as they were marched towards the gallows to be hanged for a crime none of them had committed.

“Which one is Lysha?” Thurvok whispered to Meldom.

In response, Meldom pointed at a willowy girl with long dark hair that fell down her back in gentle waves. She held her head high and faced her fate unafraid.

Thurvok briefly squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “We’ll save her,” he said.

Meldom nodded grimly. “Or we’ll die trying.”

It was a distasteful business, Thurvok reflected. Not that the Rhagur’s bloodlust when one of their own was slain wasn’t understandable. But vengeance should be taken on the guilty, not the innocent. The Rhagur, however, did not care who really killed their own, they didn’t even investigate. They just grabbed random citizens and executed them, which was bad enough. But to execute twelve totally innocent girls, put them to death in public, that truly was inexcusable.

Among Thurvok’s people, when it was unavoidable that a woman be put to death, it was custom to lead her to the scarlet execution tent, where she would be quietly strangled or beheaded far from prying eyes. And afterwards, her body would be wrapped in a shroud and consigned to the cleansing flames. That was the civilised way to do it, if it had to be done. Not like this barbaric spectacle.

Worse, the people seemed to be enjoying it. Not just the Rhagur soldiers — no one expected anything but bloodlust from them — but the people of Greyvault as well. Sure, some of them were crying and sobbing, the parents and friends of the condemned girls most likely. But most of the spectators were just here to gawk. Even though these were their own people, daughters of their own city, who would be shamefully hanged like common criminals.

Thurvok shook his head. Sometimes, the so-called civilised people of the western city states were worse than those they called barbarians.

In spite of the large crowd, it did not take long for the procession to reach the execution site, a particularly old and large oak tree. A collapsible platform had been erected around the tree and twelve nooses had been tied to its sturdiest branches, swaying gently in the night wind.

Governor Khureim settled down on a raised chair, from where he had an excellent view of the gallows tree. The bailiff took up his position at his side.

The Rhadur soldiers bearing the body of the dead governor set down their burden in front of the gallows, so that the spirit of Yordirr might watch and enjoy as twelve young women were put to death in his name. Then, the soldiers fanned out, surrounding the gallows tree and forming a cordon to hold back the crowd.

“There’s a whole lot of them,” Thurvok whispered to Meldom, “This is not good.”

“Well, you’ll only have to take out some of them, not the entire squad,” Meldom whispered back, “Just remember that I can’t kill any of the soldiers, because I am still a son of Greyvault and if the blood of a Rhadur soldier stains my hand, twelve more innocents will die.”

The cluster of priests positioned themselves around the gallows tree, mumbling prayers and sprinkling incense and blessing each girl as she was marched past and forced to ascend the platform by the hangman and his assistants. Some of the girls cried out and panicked at the sight of the tree and the nooses swaying in the wind. One even fainted and had to be picked up by a soldier and carried to the gallows, where the man set her on her feet again and rudely revived her with a slap to the face.

When it was Lysha’s turn, she mounted the gallows bravely, her head held high, and even whispered words of comfort to her fellow sufferers as she was marched past them.

On the platform, the hangman’s assistants positioned each girl underneath a noose, six on one side of the stem and six on the other. The hangman went from girl to girl. He gently pulled a white linen hood over the head of every one. Then he placed the noose around their necks and adjusted the knot, so they would not suffer too much.

“I’m sorry, girl,” the hangman whispered to every single one of the maidens before the hood came down, “But there’s naught I can do but make it quick.”

And so the twelve maidens stood shivering under the gallows, hooded and noosed and awaiting their fate. Some of the girls were crying gently into their execution hoods, while others were quietly mumbling prayers and yet others stood straight and defiant.

Khureim, the Rhadur governor, stood up. “People of Greyvault, you have flagrantly abused the mercy of the Rhadur and cowardly murdered my predecessor, Yordirr the Just. For this despicable crime you shall pay dearly. And so twelve daughters of your city, daughters of your best and most respectable families, shall be hanged by the neck like common criminals in front of the eyes of all. This is my decree and cannot be appealed. May the execution commence.”

Khureim nodded at the executioner. “Hangman, do your duty!”

The hangman placed his hand on the lever that would cause the platform to drop away, leaving the girls suspended at the end of a rope. It wasn’t a long drop, not long enough to break the neck. The girls would strangle and suffer.

But before the hangman could pull the lever, a clap of thunder and a blinding flash of lightning split the night sky, which had been clear only a minute before. Everybody — the soldiers, the spectators, the priests, the hangman and his assistants, the bailiff and even Khureim himself, cowered in fear. Only the girls stood upright on the gallows, shivering from the cold and from fear.

Once the lightning faded, Sharenna loomed before of the gallows, looking taller and scarier than she normally was. Her eyes were fire, her hands were glowing and her flame coloured hair was blowing in the wind.

“Vengeance,” she declared, her voice thunder, “I have come to bring vengeance. Vengeance for a murder unatoned.”

She hurled a fire ball at the soldiers, who scattered in panic. At the same time, Thurvok launched himself at more of the Rhadur soldiers, swinging his mighty blade and cutting down two with one stroke.

While everybody’s attention was focussed on Thurvok and Sharenna, Meldom slipped through the disordered ranks of the soldiers and clambered onto the gallows platform. Within a few steps he had reached Lysha.

“Hush, my love, it’s me, Meldom,” he whispered, as he slashed the noose and her bonds with his dagger, “I’ve come to free you.”

He yanked the execution hood off her face, planted a quick kiss onto her lips and proceeded to free the next girl in line.

“The dead shall rise,” Sharenna intoned and as she stood there with fire in her eyes and her robes flapping in the wind, she looked terrifying indeed, “The dead shall rise and avenge the crimes of the living.”

“Hang them,” Khureim exclaimed, terrified, “Hangman, pull that lever now.”

The hangman, however, did not pull the lever. He just cowered under the gallows platform with his assistants, clearly having decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

And then the dead appeared. The bodies of the hanged, many still wearing a noose around their stretched necks, staggered down the road and fell upon soldiers, officials and spectators alike. One corpse chased the bailiff across the execution ground, while several others closed in on the hangman, who cried, “I didn’t pass the sentence, I just executed it,” over and over again before the dead dragged him down.

The body of Yordirr the Just rose from his pall. He advanced upon Khureim, wrapped his bony hands around his killer’s neck and wrung the life out of him.

Up on the gallows, Meldom had just freed the last of the girls.

“Run,” he cried, “Run for your lives.”

In response, the girls jumped from the platform and ran for the woods, still dressed in their execution gowns, their bare feet pittering and pattering upon the mossy ground.

Meanwhile, Thurvok grabbed Sharenna, much weakened now and barely able to hold herself upright, and hustled her away.

Meldom swept up Lysha in his arms. “Come. I’ll take you away from here.”

***

When the blood moon had sunk beneath the horizon and the first rays of the sun were reaching for the sky, Thurvok, Sharenna, Meldom and a shivering and terrified Lysha were clustered around a campfire at the edge of the wasteland called the Bleak Heath, well away from Greyvault and its Forest of the Hanged.

Meldom had wrapped his cloak around Lysha, while Sharenna handed her a cup of herbal tea brewed over the fire.

“Here. This will calm you and help you rest.”

“Thank you,” Lysha said and took a sip of tea.

Sharenna swayed and Thurvok caught her by the waist. Her skin was paler than usual and dark rings had formed under her green eyes. By now, Thurvok knew the signs well. It was the toll that using her magic always took on her body.

“You should have some tea as well,” he said quietly, “And something to eat.” He reached into his pouch and gave her a few dried grapes.

In response, Sharenna flashed him a grateful smile and briefly allowed herself to lean against him.

Meanwhile, Sharenna’s brew seemed to do its job, for Lysha indeed stopped trembling. She turned to Meldom who hadn’t taken his eyes off her for even the space of a heartbeat, ever since they’d rescued her, and touched his face, as if she still couldn’t quite believe that he was real.

“I… I never thought I’d ever see you again,” Lysha said.

Now, Meldom did lower his eyes. “I never wanted to come back either,” he said, “But I couldn’t let them hang you.”

Lysha cast a shy look at Thurvok and Sharenna. “And who are these people?”

Meldom gave her a lopsided grin. “These are Thurvok the sellsword and Sharenna, sorceress and occasional necromancer.”

“Only when I cannot avoid it,” Sharenna said.

“I know they look scary, but they’re my good friends,” Meldom said, “We travel together and work for whoever will pay us.”

“So you’re a mercenary now?” Lysha asked.

“Aye.” Meldom nodded, though Thurvok could not help but notice that he was still unable to meet Lysha’s eyes. Quite probably because he had done things that would horrify the girl who’d hidden a scrawny thief in her wardrobe all those years ago.

As he moved, the silver amulet that Meldom always wore around his neck gleamed in the light of the flickering flames. The glimmer caught Lysha’s eye. She reached out and touched the amulet.

“You still have this?”

Meldom nodded. “Always, my love.”

He wrapped his arms around Lysha and pulled her close, for this one moment keeping her safe from the world and all its dangers.

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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