I’m doing a blog challenge put on by Amanda McCormick. She gave this prompt: a stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger. I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I thought this blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to write a short story from the universe in which my upcoming novel takes place. I offer it to you here, for free. Sort of to give a taste of the kind of writer I am when I’m not cramming ideas into a hundred words.
All she could determine about the shrouded figure in the corner was that he was a man. She considered her options. The ring she’d pilfered from her lady’s coffer was in a pouch tied to her garter—the garter she’d taken off so she could sleep comfortably.
Stupid. On the run from the duke’s guards and she thought of comfort? She shouldn’t have dreamed of being comfortable until she was over the border into Amerilis. What kind of thief was she anyway, to have fled only two town over before stopping to rest?
A piss-poor excuse of a thief, even if she’d only even taken the job out of desperation.
The ring, rumored to be magic and protective against liches, was the only target of her caper. First, she’d been instructed to take a job working for Duke sil Varstra’s daughter, his heir. The sil Varstra child had the ring, although to Molly’s reckoning she’d had no idea of its power. She’d be off to university soon, and Molly hadn’t had time to grow attached.
She was an odd child anyway. Fourteen and colder than ice, and she always peered at you so strangely, glancing above your head before she’d answer any questions. It gave Molly chills just thinking about it.
So she’d taken the ring. She made it two villages over, with barely ten miles to the border of Amerilis, and she’d stopped. She’d stopped! What kind of fool was she to think she could steal from sil Varstra and get away with it? An uneducated girl like Molly could have married a farmer boy and lived life in blissful peace, but no.
No, for the sake of her piece of shit brother, she’d taken this gamble. Her once-in-a-lifetime gamble to square all his misbegotten bets. And based on the way the stranger in the corner was watching her as she pretended to be asleep, she’d lost.
The man wanted the ring. Molly was sure of it. If it came down to it, if she could just get to the window across from the ring, she could throw herself out of it. She’d break a bone or two on the way down, but she’d come away with her life. More than she could say if the man had his way.
Dressed in only a pale pink shift, Molly quietly took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, landing on her feet in a crouch on the left side of the poorly stuffed mattress. She lunged headfirst toward the window open to the summer night.
The wind was knocked out of her as someone grabbed her shift from behind, pulling the collar tight against her throat. She reached for the window in desperation, her eyes watering.
Now she’d face her doom.
Instead of a knife to the throat, the hooded stranger tossed her back onto the bed. “Where is it?” a smooth, deep voice asked.
This wasn’t Molly’s fight. She knew not why the yellow priest from Amerilis wanted the ring, and she wasn’t about to die for his chance to have it. She gestured to the foot of the bed. “On the floor there. In a pouch. You can’t miss it.”
The man moved so smoothly he seemed to shimmer as he took two long steps to the foot of the bed and bent down. He held up her garter with one black-gloved finger. She blushed. “Just take it,” she said urgently. “I’d rather not die for it. I won’t say anything, I swear.”
The man deftly untied the pouch from the garter and pulled out the ring. Content that it was the same ring as the one she’d stolen, he looked back at her. He watched her for a long moment, as if he were deciding whether or not to kill her.
“Please,” Molly begged. Her fists tightened, clenching the threadbare quilt covering the mattress.
The man reached one hand up and pulled his hood off his head, exposing a familiar face above a glowing pendant shaped like a tarantula.
Molly’s jaw dropped and she frantically scooted back on the bed against the headboard.
“Why did you take it?” Duke sil Varstra asked. His salt-and-pepper hair gleamed in the moonlight.
“Someone paid me to do it. They said they’d get my brother out of jail and pay his debts. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I don’t want to die. I just wanted to give my brother a chance to see his family again, though I curse him for his sins,” Molly said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
The duke would kill her now that she’d seen him. There was no doubt about it.
“Is your brother so good to you, that you would risk your life for his?” the duke asked, having dropped the garter and was tying the pouch to his own belt.
“It doesn’t matter. His family needs to eat and without him, they’ll starve,” Molly weeped. “Please, I can find another way, but they’ll die if I can’t find a way to feed them, either by getting him out or by sending them my wages.”
“You’ll never get any wages from my House,” sil Varstra said plainly. Molly’s face fell. A thousand crowns for two months work—gone.
The duke turned squarely to face her, taking one step toward the bed. Molly flinched.
“Who was it who hired you?” he asked. Molly couldn’t find a reason to lie.
“Some priest in yellow and blue robes. He was Amerilian. He didn’t offer his name,” she spat desperately.
Duke sil Varstra nodded and untied a pouch from the other side of his belt, opposite to where he’d tied the ring. He tossed it onto the bed, where it clinked. It was practically overflowing with crowns. “Feed your brother’s family. Find work. Don’t step foot in my duchy again,” he said, his baritone voice dripping with disdain.
With that, he left.
Molly let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and began to weep anew. She’d escaped with her life, but at what cost? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dressed quickly, tying the new pouch to her garter.
She had a second chance. She wouldn’t waste it.
©2018 Heather Stephens