Defiant: Chapter Eleven
This week was crazy with a wedding and work travel, but I pondered my next novel while driving. I have the basics of the characters, setting, and conflict. The plot is sketchy at parts, but my characters don’t know how to solve the conflict yet either, so I have some time.
The second novel is still in progress, don’t worry. I’m letting it rest for a bit, and then I’ll go back for another revision and a third draft. I expect this will happen sometime in September or October, all around the fantastic writing cruise. We’ll see how it goes.
We are in Chapter 11 of Defiant! This chapter is readable, but… not my favorite. I can tell my writing skill has improved quite a bit since this first novel, and that is a beautiful thing! Regardless, Aida and friends move forward on their quest to find information and safety, and some very misinformed youngsters attempt to stop them.
Aida ate the last of the bread and frowned as Luca snored lightly on the floor next to Sienna. Both had finally stopped tossing and turning, the lingering effect of their battle against Ferran and his ikast. Luca appeared to be recovering, but Sienna had not spoken of it since before the beast attacked. She pretended it had not happened.
Waning orange light leaked into the hut around the shutters, and the small space grew colder without a fire. They had passed the afternoon hours sleeping and eating in turns, and she appreciated the opportunity to rest after the last few days, even if she couldn’t sleep much.
She was rested enough for her mind to churn. One of her knees bounced; Dominic had said once extra energy caused her to fidget. Aida had no way to expend it here, and she had only grown in anxiety as she considered their situation in the silence.
It took at least two weeks for a fast courier to travel from their home to the Temple on the main trails. They were farther east now than when they started, but also south. They would need to head north to catch the main road, and then east to find the Temple. It was likely the fastest way to their destination, but also heavily trafficked and where the Kort would hunt them first.
She considered heading east from the village. Dominic had told Aida the steep hills extended east for a while before growing in size. Dense woods covered most of the land south of the main road to the Temple as well, which would slow any travel if they didn’t take an established path. Beasts, like the one they’d encountered earlier, went unchecked in the wild.
The trail they’d taken to the village might continue, but she didn’t know if it led to the Temple. Were there other villages along the way?
Aida thought about leaving her friends at Kian’s hut. She could go while they slept, and be miles away before they realized it. They would no longer be attached to a hunted woman.
She shook her head and sighed. Even if the Kort only searched for Aida, they would kill Sienna and Luca if they found them. Two of their Warriors lay dead, and Aida remained free because of the siblings. Her friends were not safe.
Aida tensed as she felt a Calas approach the door. Kian pushed it open with his shoulder. Arms full of several pieces of wood, he nodded to Aida and knelt in front of the hearth. “There’s more outside, to the left.”
She rose and stepped out into the crisp evening air. No villagers were around Kian’s hut, and the nearby shrine was silent. The village remained full of tension, though, and Aida was on guard as she selected several logs from the pile. It was still too early in the evening for everyone to be as quiet as they were, and it seemed to her danger lurked all around. When she returned, Kian left again with a torch.
She arranged the wood in the hearth and waited. He returned a few moments later with the torch lit, and used it to light the fire. With the room brightened by the fire, she could see his worn expression. “I don’t know how tonight will go. Some of the younger villagers are too interested in your arrival.”
“They are fascinated by the Kort. Many want to join their army. A few believe they can become Warriors.”
Luca rolled over in his sleep, and she remembered the same desire he held, just a few days earlier. Now he could barely open one eye and would never forget he killed a young man he thought his friend. Centuries of distance from the West had made the Calas forget the dangers. They had lost their wisdom.
“How do they even know about them?” Aida had heard rumors of Warriors from the west entering Calas lands, but they seemed so distant to her village. This village, even farther from the mountains and the pass, seemed too far removed to know so much.
“Traders. They’ve been acting as emissaries for years.”
Aida stuck her hands out toward the fire’s warmth, though she wasn’t cold. “How would your villagers know about us? We left only a few days ago.”
“I think our scouts communicate with them in the woods.” He rocked back on his toes and stood. “The Kort may be more active than we expected.”
“We saw some of your scouts today. A young man with a girl.”
Kian took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “Connor. He’s talked about becoming a Warrior.”
Aida shook her head. “He can’t.”
“Who was the girl?”
“She’s Morgan’s daughter.” He looked over as Sienna stirred. “We shouldn’t go there for dinner tonight if she’s been spending time with him.”
“We’re not safe here then.” Aida leaned against the wall.
“No,” Kian agreed. “You’ll need to leave. I have some others collecting supplies for you even now.”
Aida had not anticipated the Kort’s influence extended to other Calas villages. If they had spies in a small village like this, they could receive information from anywhere in Calas lands. They likely had spies at the Temple. Nowhere was safe, for Aida, or her friends.
“How far are we from the Temple?” Sienna yawned and stretched her arms above her head slowly, so as not to aggravate her bruised ribs.
“At least thirteen days; maybe longer. You are farther south here than you are in your village, so it will take more time to get to the main road running east.”
“Do we need to take the main road?” Aida crossed her arms as she thought. It was easier to find the Temple if they followed it, but they would be easier to track as well.
Kian nodded. “I think you must. There is the trail that runs east from here, but I don’t think it goes all the way to the Temple. The distance may be shorter, but the travel will be more difficult.”
The road offered more danger of getting caught but was faster. The other might work, but also might not even go all the way to the Temple. Aida didn’t want to get lost in the woods and also had to think of her friends. They grew cold and tired long before she did, and neither was accustomed to staying outside. Getting to the Temple faster seemed the better plan. “We’ll go north and then take the main road.”
“Do you think we’ll be safe there?” Sienna rolled to her knees and folded her blanket.
“I think so. There will be more protection than here, at least.”
“Can they protect me from the Kort? Will they?” Aida already had her doubts.
“That’s a different issue.” Kian looked at the ground in his hut for a moment. “The Temple Guard isn’t what it once was. Their might has diminished over time. With no threat from the West, there has been little use for them besides policing.”
“And I am not a Calas.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I am sorry. Perhaps I am wrong.”
A knock on the door caused Luca to wake and sit up. He grabbed his sword as he stood. Sienna rose to her feet as well.
“That won’t be necessary.” Kian rushed to the door and allowed two men entrance. He scanned the area outside, and then shut the door.
The men carried three, large leather packs inside. They glanced at Aida, but nodded to Kian and set the bags against the wall. “Just as you asked. Food for over a week, fresh clothes, and blankets.”
“Thank you,” the priest said. Both men departed without further comment.
“These are for you.” Kian gestured toward the bags. “Many in our village don’t want the Kort to come here and want to avoid trouble. They were happy to contribute.”
Aida studied the packs. They were all similar, of quality design; in some ways better than what Zara had sent. Her heart hurt at the thought of the woman. Aida hadn’t expected to miss the village but wished she could return and see Zara again.
“I think we should leave now,” Sienna said. “Let’s not risk confrontation.”
Luca laid his sword against the wall and reached for a bag. “Would it be better to wait until night? When it is darker?”
When did her friend develop an eye for strategy? “He has a good point,” Aida said.
“Besides,” Luca grinned as he pulled out more fresh bread from the top of the pack, “that gives us time to eat again.”
Something beat against a house or fence in the distance; perhaps a gate left open to sway in the wind or a loose shutter. Inside Kian’s hut, it was the only thing Aida heard. There was fear in the village, even as the villagers settled for sleep.
Their new supplies were sufficient for at least a week of travel in the rough woodlands. Kian had tied two extra blankets to Aida’s pack before he added more food. “You can carry more than them.”
After darkness fell and the sounds of the villagers silenced, the three prepared to leave. “Thank you for your help.” Sienna bowed to the priest after she loaded her pack.
“May the gods bless your journey.” Kian opened the door, and the three strode out into the night with the priest following.
Aida drew her sword as they left the house. Luca also pulled his from its sheath. Both shone under the moonlight as they stood on the trail.
“Is that necessary?” Kian glared at the weapons.
“Hope not.” Aida looked up and down the path outside the shrine. Not all the villagers slept that evening, and the sense of danger deepened.
Sienna said, “It could make us look suspicious.”
“Anyone out here is already suspicious,” Aida whispered.
Sienna pulled out her sword as she nodded. They turned right from the shrine and then made another right to turn north. As she suspected, the village paths were arranged almost exactly like at home. They were easy to follow.
“I will go with you to the tree line.” Kian shuffled behind them, and the sound of his robes against the ground reminded Aida of Nathan.
The beating noise continued, giving the night its only sound other than the three travelers and the priest as they walked. It was too quiet. They passed dark huts on either side of the path, and Aida focused again on her breathing to settle her mind and seek danger.
They walked by the last hut, and Sienna and Luca let out a breath of relief. Aida tensed as she felt Calas in front of them. “Someone is ahead.”
Kian stopped, and Luca and Sienna halted with him. “Now what?” Luca asked.
Aida continued forward. It was a small number of opponents, and none would be as strong as a Warrior Youth. Unlike her encounter with the Warriors, she was not afraid. “Show yourselves,” she commanded.
Figures appeared from the tree line before them on the trail. Faces were difficult to discern, but as they approached the moonlight made them more clear. Six young villagers blocked the trail. None could have been older than Sienna. Connor was on the left. Aida finally stopped, sword point down and forward.
“You need to stay here.” A brawny youth in the middle of the five opponents twisted a ring on his finger.
Aida shook her head. “I don’t know you, but we’re leaving.”
“Kent, what would your wife say about this?” Kian asked from behind the three friends.
“She’s dead, so I wouldn’t know.”
Five against three. Connor shifted from side to side. Three more young men, armed with swords, anxiously looked to Kent. The leader stood firmly in the middle of the path, and his hand rested on the knife at his belt.
Luca and Sienna stepped beside Aida. Luca took another step forward, to block her from the villagers.
Her friends thought they needed to protect her after the fight with Ferran when she froze. That wasn’t necessary. She could kill all the Calas by herself if she wanted. She hoped she wouldn’t need to, but she also wanted to keep her friends out of a fight. “I have this one.” She stepped forward again. “Let us pass.”
Kent shook his head. “No. You need to stay here. Just for a few days. Your friends will be safe.”
“And then I can go with the Kort?”
“It would be best.”
“Kent, this isn’t the way.” Kian glanced at each of the men.
“What do you know of the way? We stand around all day, worshipping your gods, listening to your frightened speeches, and what does it get us? The village almost burned.”
“Jamilla protected us,” the priest said.
Aida took another step forward, which put more space between her and Sienna and Luca. She wanted her friends out of this fight. Tymon, protect us.
“Jamilla didn’t protect us,” Kent said. “People just got out of their huts. Which all burned to the ground, in case you didn’t notice.” The other men let out grumbles of approval. “The gods don’t care about us. We’re going to the Kort.”
“I know you’re angry,” Kian said, “but the Kort are not a solution.”
Aida realized none of the men would leave as long as Kent led them. She held none of the indecision that had frozen her in the fight with Ferran. She strode forward toward Kent.
Connor and the other man to the left took several steps back as she approached, but Kent remained defiant. “You’re not going to get us to -”
Aida flipped her sword to her left hand and used her right to grab Kent by his throat. She lifted him off the ground so that his head was higher than her own.
Connor yelped at her side as Kent grabbed her hands and kicked wildly. His feet made contact with her thighs and stomach, but it didn’t hurt. She had to concentrate to avoid crushing his neck. The two men to her right exchanged glances before they advanced, swords raised.
“We are leaving.” She threw Kent into one of the two men. Kent and the man went down in a heap of arms and legs. The other man stopped.
“Weren’t expecting a fight?” Aida took three more strides toward him as she glared at the man standing. “Did the Kort tell you that I was a Warrior, or only that you needed to stop the three of us?”
The men had come to this fight unprepared. A Warrior youth carrying a heavy pack could defeat all of them, without ever using her weapon. Connor and the man behind her scurried back a few more paces as she glanced over her shoulder. The man in front of her remained still for another moment.
“I could kill all of you. The Kort could kill all of you. And they would.” Aida tossed her sword back to her right hand. “They threatened our village just a few days ago. That’s what Warriors do. We threaten and kill and get our way.”
The man looked to his side where Kent coughed. He dropped the point of his sword some and took a few steps back. The other man on the ground with Kent crawled away, off the trail and into the safety of the shadows.
Aida sheathed her sword. “We’re leaving, and you’re not going to stop us. You should stop courting the Warriors from the West and just be happy you’re alive.”
Although the other men continued to back away, Kent rose as he coughed. He drew a knife from his belt as he moved toward Aida. “I don’t care who you are; you need to stay here.”
“What do you get if I do?”
He didn’t answer as he lunged toward her.
Aida’s feet never moved, but she grabbed Kent’s wrist and twisted. She felt a crunch, and then she flung him to the side of the path again. He rolled away as he clutched his arm.
“This is what Warriors do, Kent. They’re not as kind as Kian’s gods. You would never make it in the Kort army. And you’ll never be a Warrior.”
The other men fled into the village, leaving their leader as he screamed on the ground. The scuffle had made enough noise to awaken some of the villagers, and doors opened and slammed behind them. Torchlight appeared.
Aida turned to Sienna and Luca. She ignored their stunned faces. “We’re leaving.”
They couldn’t trust any of the Calas. The fastest way to the Temple was the main road, far to the north. The three friends needed to move quickly to escape.