I've missed a few days due to being busy but had opportunity to catch up a little today by having two posts in one day. Today's challenge - a snippet from a novel you want to write - gave me a chance to revisit the same world that we met in the challenge from Day 8 as they are both excerpts from the first draft of a novel I am currently working on...
Militza Tio knew she had, at best, eight hours before her unwitting part in all of this came to light; eight hours before the trail of scattered fragments and loose clues led them, inevitably, to come for her.
She stood and stared out of the small slit window of her quarters; her vantage point giving her a good view of the eastern quarter of Top Side, its sprawling and chaotic landscape of houses and shacks, bars and warehouses, market stalls and bazaars spreading across the grey metal skin of Trinity and haphazardly piling up against the soaring heights of The Spinnacles, like fungus growing against tree trunks. The cityscape was bustling with life and activity, even at this early hour, but she looked over and beyond it, instead taking in the sun as it began to peek its way over the hills on the distant horizon, a ruddy orange ball obscured by the morning mist. She knew that Trinity would have reached those hills by tomorrow morning, would already be grinding its way through the muddy valleys that lay beyond. And, if she wanted to live, she must be long gone by then.
For the second time that morning, she picked up and read the handwritten note that had been left on her pillow; its meaning was unequivocal. She had been betrayed, utterly.
She had woken briefly in the night when he left their bed, but she had been too tired and her head too dulled by the wine she had drank at the party to wake up properly and so he had hushed her with a kiss and she had let her head again find the pillow and slept on for another hour, maybe two, before finally stirring as dawn began to break grey outside her window. The bed beside her had been empty; the sheets still bore his impression, were still fresh with his scent, but she had known immediately that something was wrong. She had felt a sudden anxious coldness that caused her skin to prickle with goosebumps even before she had noticed the ivory note that he had left for her on the pillow.
She had looked at it. A small paper square, a piece of folded paper upon which he had written her name in black ink. Frowning, she had reached across the bed and plucked it with her fingers and opened it to read the message within.
There is something you need to know it began and she had only reached the second sentence before she let the paper slip absently from her fingers and slid, naked, from between the bed sheets and walked to the bathroom. She padded barefoot across the cold metal floor and looked inside. There was some small part of her that clung to the belief that he was going to be standing there when she opened the door, that she would find him standing there and awkwardly shaving himself in the small mirror on the wall as he had done each morning for the three months that they had lived together, that she would meet his jade eyes in the mirror and sneak up behind him, slip her arms beneath his and encircle his chest, hold him pressed tight to her and tell him about the strangest dream that she had just woken from. But it was empty, and she could cling to the belief no longer.
She had returned to stand by the bed and read the note from start to finish. It ended with I hope you can find it in your heart to, one day, forgive me.
She had stood there, frozen beside the bed, for a few minutes, the note clasped tightly in her hand as she tried to make sense of the thick knot of emotions that had instantly gathered in her stomach; the pain, the anger, the disappointment, the fear; all curled up and bound together in a tangled mess. A few minutes of confusion and doubt, a few minutes of wanting to believe that what she was reading couldn’t possibly be true, and then her training kicked in and her instincts took full control of the situation.
Placing the note back on the pillow, she had dressed swiftly but calmly; picking out a beige cotton shirt and a pair of green trousers with utility pouches that would be suitable for travelling before lacing up her black leather boots and fastening a black sword belt at her waist. She then moved to the set of wooden drawers beside her bed and opened the lower drawer, pulling out a set of rough brown fabric robes, a fadwar, from its place beneath a folded blanket. The fadwar was a common sight in Trinity, it was a nondescript robe worn by any number of traders and merchants and was large enough that she could simply slip it over the top of her other clothes. She found the robes uncomfortable, the coarse material scratching at her exposed skin whenever she moved, but she knew that wearing it would allow her to more easily blend in with the crowds and its hood would serve to hide her colourfully braided hair which would otherwise easily identify her.
Gathering her belongings had proved to be easy, she owned very little that she truly cared for but was still surprised to find that her entire life here in Trinity could be so rapidly condensed into a single shoulder bag. She gathered two fresh sets of clothes and stuffed them into the bottom of the bag before opening the upper drawer and examining its contents; finally taking a black firesteel, a bundle of folded maps, a small brass compass, a hunting knife and a green box that contained some basic medical aid. There were a few additional items that she would have liked to have gathered from the general supplies area; some tinder, some candles, a sleeping bag; but she knew that to do so would likely raise awkward questions and arouse unwanted suspicions with the guards in charge of the provisions. No, she had decided, it was better that she make do with what she had and minimise the risk of discovery than have her escape attempt end before it had even begun.
While packing had been a relatively simple task, following her instincts without question and making the commitment to run was proving to be more difficult; there was a large part of her that wanted to stay and face down the gathering storm; that wanted to try to prove her innocence and preserve her honour; but she knew, logically, that this could not happen. They would discover the evidence and they would assume she was somehow complicit in all of this; they would come for her and they would take her inability to meaningfully answer their questions not as innocence, but as obstinacy. Then they would work hard to extract the truths they would be certain that she possessed and, by the time that they realised that she truly knew nothing, it would be far too late for her.
Militza knew that Aron Tarvis would not let whatever feelings he held for her impinge, in any way, upon the duty that he was sworn to perform; the same man who had treated her as something close to a daughter during these last seven years would take little pleasure, but have no qualms, in doing whatever it might take to loosen her tongue. He was honour bound to serve the interests of the Regent and the City and she understood that there was nothing more important to him than the blood oath which he had sworn upon entering the Shield Guard. It was the same blood oath that she was now about to break and it made her ache to think of how disappointed he would be in her, how disappointed they would all be, when everything finally came to light. But she knew that their disappointment could not be the equal of her life.
She had delayed looking through the other set of drawers, the ones that lay on his side of the bed, but finally opened them and poured over the contents. A pair of trousers and some socks, a bracelet, a blue fountain pen and a bottle of black ink; she wondered whether he had composed the letter while she slept or whether he had written it the day before while she had been too busy getting ready to notice. She wondered whether, as they had looked into each other’s eyes only twelve hours earlier, he had already written the letter that he knew would break her heart.
There were no clues waiting for her in the few possessions that he had left behind, nothing that might suggest where had gone. She had expected nothing less from a man who had so seamlessly slipped beneath her radar, a man who had fooled her into believing that he loved her and failed to arouse even the slightest of suspicions until the moment he disappeared, like a ghost, from her life.
And so, for the second time that morning, she picked up and read the note, as if in the hope that doing so would change the words on the page. But of course it did not. The message of betrayal remained the same and she committed the message’s contents to her memory, searing every single word deep into her brain, before crumpling the ivory paper into a tight ball and bringing it to the flame of the solitary candle that burned in her room.
The edge of the paper curled and charred brown for a moment before finally taking light. Militza held it between her thumb and forefinger, fire licking painfully hot and yellow at her flesh, until the paper was nothing more than a blackened ball and the skin of her fingers and thumb was red. She welcomed the pain, even in the knowledge that it was temporary and that her body would have repaired the damage to it within minutes; she welcomed anything that, even briefly, loosened the hold that the pain in her heart had over her. Finally, she closed her fist tight around the remains of the paper, opening her hand to allow a shower of black ashes to spill to the floor.
The final item remaining for her to take was the sword in its scabbard. It was held, horizontally, between two clasps on the wall; dull grey and absent of any kind of markings or ornamentation. There had been a time, when she was much younger, that she had hated how mundane the Shield Guard looked in their plain armour and drab swords; one of her earliest memories had been of seeing Baron Caruthers arriving in Trinity with a retinue of his personal guard, clad in ornate silver armour embossed with the sigil of the City of Ironcloud, and she had felt sure that this was how soldiers should look. But, over time, she had come to appreciate that aesthetics did nothing to sharpen a dull sword or to strengthen one’s armour against a foe. In combat, purpose was everything.
She walked across the room and took the scabbard and sword from its fixture on the wall; the feel of it in her hand so natural, so light and well balanced, that it sometimes felt that she was only truly whole in those moments when she was holding it. In a way, she supposed, it was her, or she was it.
Militza hefted the fadwar in folds up around her waist with one hand and, with the other, slipped the sword and its scabbard into its place on her belt, tightening its mounting and then letting the robes fall back into place. She examined herself as best she could without a mirror; the outline of the sword seemed to be well disguised by the flow of the material but she was certain that it would be easily spotted by a trained eye. It would be vital that she avoided as many trained eyes as possible.
Being separated from her blade like this felt unnatural to her; she felt almost naked at the thought of her sword lying beneath this layer of fabric, so near yet out of her reach. With a soft sigh to herself, she rummaged in her bag and removed the hunting knife, using its tip to make a small incision in the material of the fadwar a few inches above her right hip. If things should go badly she would, at least, have some way to get access to her sword.
She took one last look at her room, at the bed still unmade, and fought back the hot flood of anger that tried to well up inside her. This had been her room for the last three years, their room for the last three months, and she was being forced to leave it all behind. She had to leave everything behind; every person she knew or cared about, every place she was familiar with, all needed to be excised from her life if she was to survive. She put the anger away, compartmentalised her feelings as she had been taught to; she couldn’t afford to waste even a moment on a pointless outpouring of emotion; if she wanted to get out of Trinity alive then she needed to make every single second count.
She had been betrayed by Jude Anstra. She had been betrayed by the man she loved, betrayed the very morning after she had celebrated her wedding to him. She was being forced to desert the city that had meant everything to her, forced to dishonour herself and bring shame upon the Shield Guard and those in it that she would have counted as friends. All that was left to her now was to find the trail that he would have left, to find it and follow it. She must flee Trinity and its Caravan, must abandon its protection and follow that trail, wherever it might take her.
And when Militza Tio found Jude Anstra, she would make sure that he paid for his betrayal in blood.