Okay guys, this is exciting. I’ve got two parts written, but I don’t have the third written. This is part one. Are you excited?! I’M EXCITED!!!
Inspired by A Well Laid Trap by GaryLaibArt.
Anselm had crawled out of the swamp. He hadn’t bothered to scrape the mud off of his face, or rest. The crack of snapping rock as the troll chewed and swallowed had driven him on, far longer then the noise itself had carried. When he had had to sleep, more often then he would like, he crawled up into the moss-covered trees, and pressed himself into the branches.
Needless to say, when he reached the raggedy edge of the swamp several long days later, he was in an ill mood.
The ground rose under him. (Not in because it was lifting, but because there was a hill. Although the alternative would have been more dramatic. The thought was enough to put a bit more fire in Anselm’s dragging pace. He hadn’t seen the first troll either, after all.) The sun was setting behind the hill, and the evening breeze flicked around him. It took with it the smell of the swamp, as the darkness took the sight of it.
That just left him with the mud. And the exhaustion.
Anselm crested the hill and listened, leaning on his knees. Close by, a night bird whistled and creaked. The late spring air was warm, and bugs began to chirp. The latest layer of mud was drying on his once-white sleeves and trousers. He had lost all notion of the road.
Below, in the valley before him, a house lit. Others became visible as the sun sank, a scattering of homesteads. Anselm felt the cold, grinding its slow way through the mud and into the damp below.
He needed to change his socks. His feet were probably rotting in his shoes. He hesitated, watching the sky a moment longer, as the last of the sun brought out the deep red in the clouds. Then he paced down, thick grass hissing on the mud-caked fabric of his clothes.
The sun was well down, and the sliver of a moon hiding behind slowly thickening clouds, when he found the edge of the first field. By running into the low fence marking off the hacked down portion. It had looked freshly tilled from the hilltop. Anselm put one hand on the dark wood and walked, pacing the round.
When he reached the house it was dark. The shutters were clenched tight, and only the barest sliver of warm firelight slipped out. But it was enough, and he stepped silently up to the door, raised a fist (shaking with exhaustion) and knocked.
“Ho, the house!” His voice came out rough and hitched.
There was no motion in the house. Not the no motion of the dead, but the sudden and breath holding stillness of the startled and afraid. He waited another moment, and the rank smell of swamp grew stronger about him.
“I’m a traveler. I badly lost my way. May I stay the night?” The words came out more smoothy this time, just. He kept the exhaustion out of them, but he felt his strength leaving him, and he rocked back and forth gently before the door.
There was a quiet conversation. The hissing sibilance of whispering reached him, although the words themselves did not come. Then there was movement, the heavy clunk of the latch being lifted.
The door opened, letting light and warmth out into the spring evening, swirling and dancing like delighted dogs. Anselm smiled.
A man stood in the doorway, at least six feet and some, taller then him. His face was shadowed by the light behind him, his beard thick and black, his shoulders broad. He was carrying an iron poker like he wasn’t afraid to use it.
Anselm didn’t let his smile falter, but he did lift his hands slowly, glad that his sword was tucked behind him and would be difficult to see in the dark.
“Good evening, goodman.” Anselm said, wishing his whites were still white. He shifted his weight. The mud that had soaked in between his toes squelched. He’d forgotten how cold wet cloth could be.
“Who are you then?” The man asked, still blocking the doorway. The light streamed orange past him, lighting a thick flower bush by the door. Dark green leaves, and flowers yellow and blue.
“My name is Ansehelm.” Anselm said, keeping his voice clear of the exhaustion that was pulling his eyelids down and his shoulders in. “I’m a messenger from-” He stumbled momentarily, realizing that he had no idea what country he was in, or who these people thought they paid taxes too. “Morocratia.” There, the city would do. “I am trying to reach Hartholm. I was lost in the swamp.”
The words hung there for a moment, and Anselm found them ringing in his head. Lost in the swamp, like lost at sea. As if he were dead. But the man didn’t seem to notice.
“You went through the swamp?” He asked, incredulity coloring the tone.
“Yes.” Anselm said, making it clear that he’d thought better of the plan since then.
The man moved the poker. A moment later Anselm realized the man was holding it out to him, and he relaxed.
“Take it.” The man said, firmly.
Anselm did. It had been near the fire, and the iron was warm on his fingers.
After a moment the man nodded. “Well, why don’t you come in. We’ll take a better look at you, decide then.”
“Thank you kindly.” Anselm said.
The man pulled aside, and Anselm stepped up onto a stone cobbled floor. The walls were golden wood, and rugs were strewn about before the hearth on the right. A young woman sat on a chair in front of the fire, her skirts spread about her. She was sewing something, and watching him with hard eyes.
Anselm looked back to the man, handing the poker back.
The man was still standing in the open door, although he was now staring at Anselm. Staring was too passive. Inspecting him, inch by inch.
“You have trouble with wrights in these parts?” Anselm asked calmly, more to take the awkward out of the inspection period then any real concern. Wrights were annoying. But not so much, he’d learned, as rock trolls.
“Aye.” The man said, and Anselm caught sight of his daughter nodding out of the corner of his eye. The inspection continued unabated, and no further information appeared to be forthcoming.
Anselm shrugged and lowered his arm, still holding the poker.
“You sure you went through the swamp?” The man asked, eyes on the mud, “You didn’t mean to say you’d brought it with you?”
Anselm laughed, and the man chuckled. He shifted and shut the door.
The young woman spoke, her voice sharp but not unwelcoming. “You take all your clothes off right there. I don’t want any of that mud getting on the furs.”
Anselm nodded, and began to strip.