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    mcarss
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Deeds of Their Past - 1. Chapter One

Faded hues of twilight painted the sky, casting its dim light over a well-travelled road that cut through open grasslands. A hooded traveller urged his galloping horse west, and in the distance, the small farming village of Summerton came into view. The Willow Inn, a sizable building in comparison to the rest of the village, sat on the outskirts. Journey’s end in sight, he slowed his frothing, tired horse. He’d pushed the beast hard over the past four days, yet it’d stayed the course without complaint.

 

As the rider approached, the murmur of folk talking and laughing told him the inn was packed. He dismounted and led his horse to a wooden stable nearby, meeting a young man who took the reins.

“Be sure to feed and water him,” the hooded man said, patting the horse’s neck in silent thanks for its hard work. “And give him a good brushing.”

“Yes sir.”

“Good lad.”

He tossed a coin, deftly caught by the stablehand. A sudden gust of cold wind blew by, causing the massive willow tree nearby to rustle loudly. A shiver ran up his spine and he peered about in curiosity, yet as quickly as it came, the wind disappeared.

Entering the tavern, none of the patrons noticed his arrival. A rowdy bunch, but not completely out of control. Some were eating, but most were enjoying their drink.

A loud belly laugh filled the room, coming from the owner behind the bar. He was a large jovial man with ruddy cheeks, wearing a dirty apron with a towel over his shoulder. The hooded man approached the bar, away from the others, and signalled inconspicuously to him. Nodding, the barkeep excused himself from the conversation and walked over, leaning close to speak over the noise.

“You’re late,” he grumbled. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you our clients pay good money for prompt service.”

The man pulled back his hood, revealing a calm face. “Samuel, as soon as I received your message, I left straight away,” he said in a hushed tone.

“That was close to a fortnight ago. I’ve had two visits since the original arrangement, and they’re not happy. To appease them, I offered a twenty-five percent discount.”

The traveller looked displeased. “You couldn’t come up with an excuse?”

“Gods, I can’t lie to save my life. You know that.”

The man grunted and shook his head slightly, his mouth twisted in the slightest grin. Samuel dropped the towel onto the bar.

“Come on back, and I’ll fill you in on the details for the job.”

“Can’t we do this in the morning? I haven’t eaten all day, and my back is killing me.”

“No, I’ll give you the details first, then you can eat. I want you out of here before dawn.”

The man sighed and followed Samuel into the kitchen. The cook was tending to something in a large pot, and it smelled delicious. Arriving at a back room, Samuel invited him in and closed the door. A single oil lamp lit in one corner provided adequate illumination for the small room.

“I’ll be honest. I was worried something happened to you,” the barkeep said as he sat behind his desk and gestured toward a chair opposite.

Removing his rucksack and dropping it nearby, the man sat down and offered Samuel a sly smile. “I can’t imagine what force of man or nature that could take me.”

Samuel laughed. “That smug attitude will be your undoing, my friend.”

“Should we get down to business?”

“Right. It seems there’s been an embarrassing situation involving the son of Lord Helmsley and some peasant girl who lives outside his keep. The crafty bitch wooed the boy into divulging some delicate information, and is now trying to blackmail them for some coin.

“Of course, Helmsley can’t trust that she’ll keep her mouth shut even if he does pay her, so he’d prefer a permanent solution to his problem.”

“Did they have a preferred method?”

“They want it to look natural.”

“Poison then.”

Samuel nodded and handed the man a silver signet ring. “You’re to wear this ring as proof you’re the man for the job. Show it to the guards once you arrive at the keep.”

The man slipped the ring on his finger and examined it closely. “Looks to be quality silver. Do I get to keep it after the job is done?” he asked with a smirk.

Samuel rolled his eyes. “You can ask him when you get there. The keep is two or three days northwest, depending how hard you ride.”

“I’m familiar with its location, but I’ve heard the road past Remich can be treacherous.”

“Given your tardiness, I’d suggest you be there in two days.”

The man sighed and offered a tired smile. “You’re a slave driver. Fine, two days. I’ll leave just before dawn as you asked.” He stood up and turned to leave, picking up his belongings. “Now I’m begging you, feed me! My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut—”

“Nathan . . .”

The man glanced back at Samuel.

“Be careful. I have to admit something didn’t seem right about the whole affair.”

“Could you be more specific?”

Brows knitted in worry, Samuel laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s just a gut feeling. Promise me you’ll watch your back.”

“I haven’t lived this long by being careless. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

Nathan walked out of the kitchen with a steaming plate of roast pork and vegetables. Finding a quiet corner, he sat down with his back to the wall and tucked into his meal. Samuel arrived soon after, offering a loaf of bread and a tankard of ale, and pulled up a chair to sit at the table.

“So tell me, what were you doing that was so important that you missed your message pickup?”

“You’re prying,” Nathan said between mouthfuls of food.

Samuel smiled. “We’ve known each other for too long to keep secrets between us. You’re always so distant. Don’t you trust me?”

“I trust you with my life. But I’ve told you before. The less you know, the better.”

Samuel sighed. “At least tell me a good excuse, and I’ll use it next time you’re late for a job.”

Nathan didn’t miss a beat. “I was on another assignment, and my mark wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Needless to say, it took extra time to track him down.”

“I like it. Simple and believable.”

Nathan winked as he tore a chunk of bread and dunked it into the meat juices. “That’s the idea.”

“I’ll let you finish. Come see me when you’re heading up, and I’ll get some hot water to your room so you can clean yourself up. You smell like a horse.”

Nathan stopped chewing and sniffed loudly. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Samuel chuckled as he walked away. Nathan pondered what he’d said about being distant. A rule he’d made for himself years ago was to always keep those he cared about at bay. Samuel was one of very few he opened up to, but Nathan saw him more as a business partner than a friend. Yet as the years passed, the line between partner and friend blurred, and that terrified him.

The boisterous laughter of drunken patrons broke his thoughts, and he suddenly realized he was very tired. His meal finished, he started his way up the stairs leading to the rented rooms, and caught Samuel’s attention.

“Mary’ll get hot water for you,” he yelled over the din.

Nathan nodded and headed to his room. As part of their deal, Samuel gave him free board and permanent quarters. Pulling an iron key from his pocket, he unlocked the door and entered the stuffy room.

After tossing his cloak onto a chair in the corner of the room, he swung open the window, welcomed by a prominent chorus of crickets. Stumbling his way in the dark to a short dresser, he felt for the tinderbox there and lit a candle. A knock came from the door while he was unbuttoning his doublet.

“Hello?” Mary’s muffled voice came from the other side.

Nathan opened it and ushered the young woman in. He knew that the shy girl found him attractive, and while he had no interest in her, he enjoyed making her blush.

“Hello Mary, how are you this fine evening?” he asked with a roguish smile.

Noticing he was in the process of undressing, she nervously stared down at the floor. “I’m well. Th-thank you, sir.”

She offered a small towel, rough cloth and soap, then poured steaming water from a jug into a large bowl sitting on the dresser.

He stepped toward her, standing closely beside. “Thank you, Mary.”

She glanced over a moment, flustered, as he took her hand and placed a coin on her palm.

“For your troubles,” he whispered in her ear.

Her face flushed beet red. “Thank you,” she managed to blurt out before bolting out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

With a chuckle, he finished undressing and walked over to the bowl to wash himself. Although what he really wanted was a proper bath, scrubbing his skin with the warm, soapy cloth was adequate enough. Water streamed down his lean muscular frame, yet he managed to catch it with the cloth before it hit the floor. Dunking his short brown hair into the bowl, he scrubbed out the dust from the road.

After drying himself, he wandered over to the window to gaze out at the moonlit countryside. He began to yawn as another mysterious icy gust of wind blew into the room across his naked body. The flame blew out, leaving him in the dark, and shivering from the sudden cold.

As before, the wind subsided quickly and all was calm again. He latched the window closed, quickly padded over to the bed and slipped beneath the sheets. The din from downstairs was still audible, but offered a drone that he found soothing, allowing him to fall asleep almost immediately.

* * *

The sun, sitting just above the horizon, warmed Nathan’s back as he hit the road west. To reach Helmsley Keep within two days, he’d have to make it to the town of Remich by nightfall, nearly ten hours away.

The morning passed uneventfully, aside from crossing a few riders and a travelling merchant. The flat grasslands allowed for easy travel, and he was making good time.

As the sun reached its peak, he stopped at a lone oak tree, and ate a simple meal of biscuits and salted beef given to him by Samuel. After a quick stretch, he wasted no time and continued west toward Remich.

The easy ride carried on through the afternoon hours. He enjoyed it, knowing the next day would be slower in the mountainous terrain that surrounded the keep.

An hour before sunset, the walls surrounding the town of Remich came into view. An overweight guard stood at the open gate, leaning on his pike, clearly bored. Remich was a bustling town, but violence and theft were a rare occurrence—a surprising fact given the seedy characters who lived there. He pulled back his hood halfway, so not to look suspicious, however the guard didn’t notice his arrival or give him a second glance. Nathan chuckled inwardly, wishing it were always so easy to pass guard posts.

While the few main roads were wide and well kept, most of the town consisted of narrow, haphazard streets and alleyways. After a short trot, dodging other riders and townsfolk, Nathan arrived at The Black Lamb, his usual haunt. The inn also had a particularly large stable, which he used to rest his horse for the night. After a chat with the stable master, he drew his hood forward and headed north down a crooked street.

Golden streaks of sunlight streamed between buildings, and the clamour of the busy main road slowly diminished. Children playing games ran past Nathan. Their laughter echoed among the ramshackle buildings and houses, joining in the hum of the town.

Turning down a narrow alleyway, now deep in shadow as dusk was nearly upon the town, he arrived at a rough, wooden door and knocked.

No answer.

He knocked again, harder this time. Still no answer.

Nathan peered both ways to make sure nobody was coming, and then tried the doorknob, but found it locked. Giving up, he turned back the way he came.

Suddenly, a man hidden in the gloom of a small alcove appeared from behind. Before Nathan could react, the attacker grabbed his cloak and threw him off balance, holding a sharp knife to his throat. The man reeked of alcohol.

“Knockin’ on wrong doors can get you kill’t, friend.”

© 2013 Mike Carss
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Chapter Comments

Good start. What has Nathan really got himself into? He has a knife to his throat. Is he to be a killer or be killed?

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15 minutes ago, akascrubber said:

Good start. What has Nathan really got himself into? He has a knife to his throat. Is he to be a killer or be killed?

I'll be adding chapters as quickly as they can be approved, so you shouldn't have to wait long to find out. 😅
Thanks for reading.

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A great start, what has Nathan gotten himself into and not so much a cliffhanger but a knife-hanger....

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I have a feeling this is going to be a good read. And I like that this is greatly edited, which shows quality.

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13 hours ago, LJCC said:

I have a feeling this is going to be a good read. And I like that this is greatly edited, which shows quality.

You're not the first person to comment on the editing, so I'll take that as a win. Thanks! 😄 I hope you enjoy the story.

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The odd gusts of wind appear to presage an ill and uncertain future.

For a man in such a dangerous profession, letting someone get the drop on him so easily seems unusual. Though if you intend using a knife on a skilled man, it's better to start carving than talking.

 

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1 hour ago, drpaladin said:

For a man in such a dangerous profession, letting someone get the drop on him so easily seems unusual.

Maybe Nathan's not the pro he thinks he is. 😉

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Hopefully, Nathan is a pro or this story may be short. However, after 10 hours on horseback I suspect he was just a little tired.

The ill winds, seems to suggest some magic is in the air.

As I picked this up after it was well along, I'm off to the next chapter!

 

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23 minutes ago, Daddydavek said:

Hopefully, Nathan is a pro or this story may be short. However, after 10 hours on horseback I suspect he was just a little tired.

The ill winds, seems to suggest some magic is in the air.

As I picked this up after it was well along, I'm off to the next chapter!

 

Me too, Daddy!

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3 hours ago, Daddydavek said:

As I picked this up after it was well along, I'm off to the next chapter!

That's the benefit of finding it later. No need to wait for the next chapter. 😄 That said, while the story is complete (I wrote this over a decade ago), I'm still in the process of posting chapters. I hope you enjoy it.

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