Dawn brought with it a chill that had Matthew rethinking his plan of walking into town early. But seeing as he was already out of bed, and staring at the thirty minute long route that awaited him, he decided it best to follow through.
When he arrived the town seemed empty. Only a few vendors had started packing up their merchandise and some shops were only just opening. Late hunters trickled in from the mountains with carriages carrying less deer than they should have been.
One sad looking feline didn't even pull a cart. He just had two rabbits slung up on his back and walked mindlessly past Matthew, whistling a tune that complimented the blacksmith's metallic hammering that echoed in the distance. Thinking it best to get to this Barry before people woke up and he realized that demand was in his favor, Matthew hurried on and followed the town's winding dirt paths.
As he passed the vendors, he picked up some rye and a wheat that the merchant claimed was from the human city, along with a few herbs that would become invaluable when the winter colds brought the coughs to torment them. With his sac full of herbs and vegetables, he turned to seek out the butcher.
After several twists, Matthew finally came face to face with the butcher's store. A wooden sign hung on rusty chains, swaying in melancholy.
Bob, the Butcher, it read.
Oh, so it's Bob.
Before he could walk in, a strange sight caught his eye. There, in front of the butchery, leaning against the hard bark of its walls, was a girl. She wore a dress so white that even though mud soaked, still gave a near-blinding glow when it caught the morning sun. Her long and curly jet-black hair covered most of her face, but Matthew could still see her oval ear protruding on one side, and her prominently pointy nose.
"A human," he whispered in surprise.
She looked up at him, fully exposing her human features. But when her eyes met his, he lost interest in all that she was. He saw the fear and pain that stained those beautiful sapphire gems and his heart lurched within him.
"Who are you?" he asked. She gave him a quick scan with her eyes and hesitated to speak. Seeing her mistrust, he chose another approach.
"What are you doing here?"
"Ca...Can you spare a coin?" she asked back with an uncertain voice.
"Straight to the point, eh?" He reached into his pockets and retrieved a gold coin, masking the pity he felt for her when he spoke.
"Here, that should be enough to buy you supplies for your journey back home...and you probably want to leave before the streets are filled. We are not too fond of your kind here," and with that, he left.
"Give me one whole deer." Matthew threw nine silver coins onto the counter.
"Sorry son. You'll need to add one more silver to that. It's a gold coin a deer now," the butcher replied plainly, wiping his hands on an apron that had likely been white, once.
"Since when?" Desperation lingered upon Matthew's angry words.
"Since the animals started retreating back into the mountains. It's hard enough to catch a rabbit as it is."
"Please sir, just this once. We need the meat for winter," Matthew pleaded.
"I also need the coin, so add a silver or bugger off!"
There was not a grain of sympathy in the butcher's voice. Matthew knew he was not about to convince the man to change his mind, so instead, he took back five coins.
"Can I have three of those rabbits then?"
The butcher raised his brow. Matthew sighed, but added a silver anyway.
"There you go."
The butcher unhooked three fat rabbits off one of the hooks behind him and handed them to the boy. Matthew held them by their front paws, slung them over his free shoulder and left.
Just as sunlight washed over his face when he walked out of the butcher's store, a shout burst through a gathered crowd and hit Matthew's ears by surprise.
"Get away from my inn!"
A chubby man was shouting at the human girl whom Matthew had just met.
"Go back to your big cities and luxurious lives. Is it not enough that you chased us from your lands? You greedy barbaric-"
Anger fully possessed the man and before he could finish his sentence, he was throwing the cloth he held at her. The man's feline ears stood on end, his eyes turned completely black and his nose twitching violently.
If it had been any other object, the girl would have suffered considerable injuries. Instead, the cloth floated harmlessly onto the ground, not covering half the distance it had been intended to.
The girl noticed Matthew among the other onlookers. His face, unmasked by hate, was like a flame in a sea of darkness. Some of the onlookers spat onto the ground to emphasize their disgust at her presence. It wouldn't be long until one of these people decided to act and incited some violence. Concerned as he was, Matthew avoided the girl's gaze and walked away, angry at her for not leaving when he had told her to.
As Matthew hesitantly strolled back home, he wondered how he would explain the missing gold coin to his mother. He could lie and tell her he had been robbed. Surely she'd be too worried about his well-being to even consider the loss, but winter was still coming. A full deer was hardly going to get them past it and three rabbits...well.
He stopped just before the road forked into two. He looked to the easterly route that lead to the mountains. He could go and hunt there himself. He'd have to, before the deer were gone altogether. He briefly wondered why the animals were disappearing into the mountains, and not migrating lower as in past years. Before he could shed another thought on the matter, the sound of snapping twigs stole his attention and he spun back.
Nothing seemed out of place. Dense shrubbery surrounded the thin dirt path that led up from the small town, with long grasses poking out from every crevice they could find in the thick brush.
He realized that if anything, the oddity should have been in the silence itself and not the snap he'd heard. He was used to a few birds startling him as they chased each other or tried get away from him. For an early afternoon, it was oddly silent. So silent that he nearly jumped when a second snap broke the echoes of his thoughts.
Had someone recognized him as Lillian's son and decided to tail him? He was used to a certain amount of vehemence that some of his folk treated him with. On occasion, a boy or two from the palace, too full of ale, would find it quite amusing to tussle him about, knowing that the chieftain would hold back a measure of his justice if it was Lillian who suffered. Not that they succeeded much in making sport of him. Despite his lack of training, Matthew had grown to be quite competent when it came to defending himself.
After looking back and trying to peer behind the bend the path had taken around a little hill and resolving in that most drunks would still be in bed, he decided to ignore it and continued his walk home. All the while fighting an illogical instinct that told him someone... or something, was following him.
So yeah. Some of my chapters are a bit lengthy and so I've broken them into parts. I'll be posting a part a day every weekday so stay tuned and enjoy the adventure. Don't forget to leave a rating and an honest review.
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