I’m so happy to have Dylan J. Morgan here today, and the next few days too. His witches are totally awesome. I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I do. As always his links are at the bottom.
Dylan, Thank you so much for being a part of this series.
Here’s the first part of his story, come back tomorrow and the next day to read the rest.
In the high tower of his castle, the king had an excellent view of expansive woodland that stretched to rolling hills in the distance. The vista had once enthralled him—a vast sea of greenery that he and his wife controlled, he and his daughter explored. But now it held an air of intense foreboding, and the woodland appeared dark and infected even when the sun shone on its brightest days.
And for years it seemed as if the infection had crawled from the forest and begun to contaminate his castle.
His wife had succumbed, and now the woods had taken his daughter. The time for action had come, and he’d summoned the bravest men from a nearby village. The king didn’t even glance over his shoulder as he addressed the men behind him. “It’s a simple request: I want you to travel into the woods and return my daughter to me. Unharmed.”
“Yes, my lord,” one of the men said.
The king sensed a pause and quickly became irritated by it. “Was there something else?”
“Forgive me, my lord, but there was mention of a gracious reward for the man who returns your daughter to this stead. I wondered if I might be so bold as to ask what that reward might be.”
The king smiled. Such men were only really interested in payment at the end of a task, but he’d found over the years that those were the men who often got the job done. Besides, if he found them unworthy he could always manufacture some crime to have them hanged by.
The king’s gaze never left the slit window in his castle tower and the sprawling forest beyond. “The reward is my daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“Very good, my lord.”
Excitement in the man’s voice disgusted him. Waving a hand over his shoulder, the king dismissed the men. How many were there; three of them? They’d probably end up killing each other for the chance to bring his daughter home, but he didn’t care providing his child was safe.
Taking a step closer to the small window, he focused his attention and thoughts back to the forest where the girl had last been sighted. Fractured clouds filtered moonlight which shone in strobes across the green canopy that dominated the southern lands of his vast kingdom. A breeze played over the trees, drifted to his room, and brought with it the sounds of monsters.
* * *
The cabin had seen better days—rotten, infested with moss, the roof timbers splintered and loose. Smoke seeped from a collapsed chimney, churning lazily in inert air as it drifted towards the forest canopy. Torchlight flickered within the building, the light visible through damaged shutters and cracks in the timber walls.
Guy watched the smoke and swallowed hard to fight a rising nervousness. Clouds were gathered overhead—they always seemed to gather over this forest—and yet this part of the woodland held no breeze. A wind had chilled them on the way here, even Barnard had remarked upon its freshness, but now the forest had become still. And that was something else he’d noticed: the woods held a muted silence around the cabin, as if every critter had no desire to come near the place. If truth be told he had no wish to be there either, but the lure of the king’s daughter had proven too much.
For a decade he had plied his trade in that stinking village and had nothing to show for it. Sure, his vegetables sold well, so he should have had plenty of money, but the taxes levied by the king were always too high, and what little coin he had left would go on maintaining his farmstead or drinking ale. This was his opportunity to alter the course of his life. If he could rescue the princess and win her hand in marriage he would finally be able to provide for himself.
And his daughter, too.
She’d always wanted to go the castle, had been enthralled by the place ever since her mother told her fairy stories at night in order for her to sleep. Imagine what she’d think of him if he came home and told her to pack what little belongings they had because they were moving into the castle. At last, he would be able to look her in the eye without the fear of shame crippling his emotions.
The bulky form of Barnard stumbled beside him and all thoughts of his daughter evaporated.
Guy had travelled swiftly through the forest, not sticking to the paths, taking a more direct route to where he knew this cabin to be located. He’d discovered it years ago as a child, but his mother had scolded him for going near the place, reciting a tirade of stories about how the building was haunted, or cursed, or bewitched, or any other tale she could think of to dissuade him. It had worked, and the sight of the cabin alone sent a wash of fear rippling through him. His best friend had tried to convince him to join on a trek through the woods to the cabin and explore its rooms, but Guy hadn’t gone. No one ever found his friend’s body.
Yet now here he was, less than fifty yards from the place, squatting behind a fallen oak watching a building his long-dead mother had forbidden him to set eyes upon again.
Barnard breathed heavy in his ear. Guy had been impressed that the overweight man had been able to keep pace. He’d tried all he could to leave Barnard trailing in his wake, wanting to get to the cabin first and secure the safety of the princess. Of course, there was every possibility the girl wasn’t anywhere near the cabin, that she might have become lost in the woods like his best friend, never to be found again, but Guy had a hunch she was here. If nothing else, it was the best place to start.
“I called you twice to slow down,” Barnard panted. “Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“I didn’t hear you,” Guy lied.
Glancing up at the man beside him, Guy decided he didn’t have to worry about Barnard taking the princess’s heart as someone of royal birth couldn’t possibly want to wed a man like that.
“Where’s Ralf?” Barnard asked.
Guy had scarcely noticed the younger man not being with them. Thin and not yet out of his teens, Ralf should have easily kept pace or possibly even gotten to the cabin first. It surprised Guy not to see him around.
“Maybe he got lost.”
“Easily done, we didn’t keep to any of the paths.”
“Quickest route to this place.”
Barnard looked at him, and even in the forest gloom he noticed the man’s brow furrow in confusion. “How do you know she’s going to be here?”
“I don’t, but where else could we start? You’ve heard the stories about this place?”
Barnard nodded. Of course he had, everyone had been told the tales of monsters and witchcraft; everyone knew of the travelers and huntsmen who ventured into the woods never to return. Everyone blamed a malignant evil for the reason why the forest was dying, why the trees were rotting and the flowers no longer bloomed.
Guy believed the stories, but after the death of his wife he now had an obligation to improve his life and that of his daughter’s. No amount of tales about an invisible malevolence would deter him from this quest.
Stalk, I mean follow Dylan here.
Official website: http://www.dylanjmorgan.com