An excerpt from this year's NaNoWriMo story. See if you can spot one of lostsatyr's old characters!
At sunrise the next morning, four riders rode out from Rowantree Manor. They had packed lightly, for the journey to the village of Summersisle would take only about three days at a good pace. Aidan set the pace on his bay stallion, letting the animal have his head as they rode down the track. Ciara and Dylan followed on a pair of gray saddle mares, while Amalia brought up the rear on a roan gelding that had a remarkably sensitive mouth. He needed little prompting from the reins to go where he was supposed to, which helped Amalia enormously, for she had never had much occasion to ride before.
Toward evening, they stopped to camp for the night. While Dylan and Amalia built the fire, Ciara produced journey cakes and small beer from their saddlebags while Aidan kept watch.
The next morning, Amalia roused to find Aidan and Ciara already awake, and looking amazingly fresh after having spent the night on the hard ground. Ciara handed her a square of linen and a comb. “Here. Wash your face and comb your hair, but then we have to start out again.” After Amalia finished putting herself in order as best she could, Ciara passed her a chunk of bread and a waterskin. “Here; you’ll need to eat and drink on the way.” Nodding, Amalia mounted, nibbling on the bread and taking sips of water as she rode. Her gelding was very cooperative, and after a little while she got used to the rhythm of his gait. When she dismounted later, she found she was much less saddle-sore than she had been during her ride to Rowantree Manor months ago.
When they stopped that evening, Aidan caught a pair of rabbits, and a stew Ciara made from them made a welcome supper for the four of them.
On the afternoon of the third day, they rode into the village of Summersisle. Amalia could not help but notice how the people of the village were thin and frightened-looking, or how some of them looked with undisguised envy at their fine horses and gear. She kept her gaze straight ahead, watching to see what Aidan and Ciara did.
Ciara got the attention of one of the women. “Where is the mayor of this village?”
The woman’s eyes were red-rimmed from crying. “My father was one of the first ones the monsters took. We buried him in the churchyard.” She pointed to the place in question; even in the daylight, the place did not look welcoming. A number of the stones were overgrown with moss, and the iron gate was rusted in places. Ciara’s brows drew together in a worried frown. “How many of your people were taken?”
“Nearly eight,” the young woman returned, her eyes starting to fill with tears again. “They took my sister and her whole family - even her little son and daughter!” She sniffed and wiped at her eyes. “Please, help us!”
Ciara nodded reassuringly. “Of course; we’ll do everything we can.” She resettled herself in the saddle. “We will need a place to prepare, and somewhere to stable our mounts; can you provide them?”
The young woman nodded. “You can use my sister’s house; the farrier is not far from there, and he will be able to take care of your horses.”
“Thank you very much,” Ciara replied. “Can you show us to your sister’s home?”
The woman nodded. “Come with me.” She led them to one of the larger houses in the village; the farrier was only a few buildings away. A tall, broad-shouldered man was standing in the farrier’s; when he saw them leading their horses over, he came out. “Sir Aidan? Lady Ciara?”
Ciara looked amazed. “Yes; how did you know who we were?”
The large man grinned. “Lady Isolde has spoken of you a number of times; she described you both so well that I feel as if I know you already.” He offered her his hand. “Randwulf of Midvale at your service.”
Aidan returned the grin, clasping Randwulf’s forearm. “I am honored.” He gestured to Dylan and Amalia. “The young woman is my student, Amalia de Salazar, and the youth is Dylan mac Rhiannon, my brother and Ciara’s student.”
After the requisite greetings were exchanged, Ciara queried, “What can you tell us?”
Randwulf frowned. “About a week ago, the baker was found dead, without a mark on his body. They buried him in the churchyard. The next day, the miller and his wife were struck by a mysterious illness; they died the following day, and were also buried.” He gave the four of them a long, measuring look. “I think that you can guess what happened next.”
Aidan nodded grimly. “Let me guess - they returned, and attacked the rest of the villagers?”
Randwulf’s nod was just as grim. “Already, they have taken nearly a third of the village; each night, it is a struggle to protect those remaining. Many of the poor victims were lured to their deaths by the apparently miraculous “return” of a loved one at the door after sunset. I have warned them to lock their doors after dark, but even then, some of them succumb.”
Ciara looked thoughtful. “How many of them have returned?” she asked. “If they have transformed all of the villagers who went missing into undead like themselves, we need to act quickly.” She looked over at Aidan. “I hope you brought enough stakes to finish the job.”
He gave her a hard look. “This isn’t funny, Ciara.”
She sighed, turning back to Randwulf. “Make certain that all the villagers remain indoors tonight, and do not come out until morning.” When he nodded, she turned back to her companions. “We have a hunt to prepare for.”