Ok, I know this is rather long…but I would greatly appreciate it if people would read it and tell me if it sounds realistic. Especially the dialogue…=) Thanks!
Chapter Summary: Ada tries to get a closer look at the brooch, having no idea why it is so attracting her. She becomes obsessed with it. With Lora’s hesitant help, she steals it at last.
The days passed, each one colder than the last. The few trees that dotted the foothills where the band traveled began to lose their leaves. Ada struggled on, the wind causing her to cough harder than before, blowing through her thin dress and keeping her perpetually cold. The raiders began to complain among themselves, wondering loudly when they were going to reach Mandor, a small town situated below a mountain pass and composed mainly of cutthroats, thieves, and raiders like themselves. Although it was small and insignificant, Mandor attracted criminals of all kinds. The pass it stood near twisted up and through the Revlis Mountains that bordered Nalednem, eventually leading into the neighboring land, Eventrium. Eventrium was a rich, fertile kingdom, and its towns were prey to many looters. The raiders were making their way to this pass, hoping to winter over in Mandor and then begin the dangerous journey over the Revlis Mountains as soon as the way was clear.
Day by day, as the caravan snaked its lonely way along the foothills toward the ever-distant town, Ada grew more and more immersed in the brooch she had seen. The single glimpse of gold still fascinated her, and she constantly thought of it. She longed to break away from the chain that bound her and take the shining thing up in her hands, hold it, feel it, caress it. Her obsession, which had originally frightened her, grew stronger, until all other thoughts were blocked out. She no longer sat staring at Lora each night as she slept, wondering what her own childhood had been like and who she was. She no longer thought of her unknown family, no longer imagined their faces or guessed at their names. All those thoughts were pushed to the back of her mind, and she seized instead on the brooch. It shadowed her every move, floating like a phantom in her sight, filling her with an overpowering desire for something, she knew not what.
Every moment, it was in her thoughts. She must have it. Must hold it. Must look at it closer. But why? Why did it haunt her so, grip her in such an intense, unbreakable trance? Why could she not shake the thing from her mind, forget it, move on? She had seen Morald playing with his loot before, seen the silver slip through his fingers like a quickly evaporating stream. Seen the gold fall, brilliant and cold, into his sack. Seen the jewelry, each gem hard as a nail head, coiling around his thick fingers. Why did the sudden sight of a single oval brooch fill her with such inexplicable expectation and eager desire? Ada shook her head for the hundredth time, trying again to break the hold the brooch held over her mind.
~ ~ ~
Ada stood huddled beside Lora, trying to keep warm in the cold autumn night. The raiders had pitched camp below a rocky outcropping from the mountain cliff they now traveled beside, and they sat grouped around a smokeless fire discussing the remaining distance to Mandor. Morald poked the fire, sending sparks up against the cliff face.
“I’ve been this path a hundred times,” he spoke. “This cliff will lead us directly to Mandor if we follow along the edge.”
One of the men grumbled, saying, “Yea, maybe. But how long’ll that take? The mountains curve west’rd here before coming back to this line. We follow the cliff face, we’ll be leagues out of our way ‘fore we can reach Mandor! It’s shorter to cut straight south of here, not follow the cliff west and back ‘round. We’ll save us a good seven days’ travel.”
“Oh most certainly we will!” Morald cut in. “We’ll save us seven days of travel all right! We’ll save us a life of travel if we go south. You know those lands are uncharted. There’s not a path in sight for leagues, and it’s all marshland. Don’t be a fool, Goran. You want yourself killed I can do it for you now. No need to go seeking out death in the swamps.”
“Calling me a fool? Look who’s talking,” Goran spat back, fingering the knife in his belt. “I ain’t the one leading us on a stupid raid in which we’ve only done one sacking! I ain’t the one carrying two good-for-nothing wenches with us slowing everything down! And I ain’t the one who’s gonna catch a knife in the gut when we don’t get paid what you promised.”
“That’s enough out of you, Goran!” Morald growled, standing up. The firelight cast shadows over his huge bulk, creating a sinister effect. “One more word and I’ll skin you alive, you good for nothing, mangy, worthless scum!” He swore angrily. Then, sitting slowly back down, Morald spoke, his voice icy. “We follow the cliff face. We reach Mandor in a fortnight. Anyone who takes issue with that will stay behind. ‘Cause they’ll be rotting in a ditch,” he added, growling at Goran, who still fingered his knife.
~ ~ ~
As the raiders fought, Ada stood frozen, her unseeing eyes fixed on the spot where the packs lay piled, taken from the backs of the ponies. She shivered slightly, the cold night seeming to press in around her. The clouds that had so long covered the sky were flying in ragged strips way, torn back at last by the wind. The black sky was studded with millions of hard stars, like chips of ice in the darkness.
Ada jumped and stiffened as she felt a hand brush her arm. Looking down, she realized it was Lora, looking up at her with a strange expression, almost like concern. Startled, Ada stepped back.
“Are…you ok?” Lora asked hesitantly. “You’ve been…kind of…weird these past few days. …Ada? What are you looking at?” Lora followed Ada’s gaze to the packs, then looked quizzically back up at the older girl.
“Lora. Did you see it too? The brooch in the sack of silver. When the pony fell. It was golden…it shone…” Ada said softly without taking her eyes from the packs. “The brooch…” she whispered. “I…there was something…something about it…Like something I used to know, but have forgotten…Something strange…Lora, I’m afraid!” she said suddenly, turning to look at the child.
“A brooch? What…why are you afraid? It’s just another of their trinkets,” Lora said, confused and alarmed by the sudden flood of words from the usually silent Ada. “I didn’t see it…but why does it matter?”
“I need it. I have to see it. I can’t get it out of my head. I don’t know. It scares me. I have to have it! Lora, I have to have it. I have to get a closer look…I have to hold it. I can’t stop thinking about it. Lora, I…I am going to take it.”
“Are you crazy?” Lora hissed, motioning at the raiders still arguing by the fire. “What about them? What do you think they’ll do when they find it gone? They are like the dragons my…my mother used to read to me about,” Lora said, a catch in her voice. “So greedy and cruel and heartless…killing for the feeling of power it gives…and not needing any of their wealth because they have so much! But as soon as one bit goes missing…Ada, you can’t do that. They’ll do something horrible…” Lora’s eyes widened with alarm.
“I have to see it…” Ada whispered. “I have to know why it is…haunting me so. I am going to take it, and you can’t stop me,” she said in a fierce whisper.
~ ~ ~
The raiders had finished their argument and settled slowly into discontented sleep. The fire burned low, the red coals setting the cliff face aglow like the interior of a vast underground hall, the lair of the dragons Lora had spoken of. Where the packs lay, however, the darkness was thick and concealing.
“Ada, why are you doing this? You’re insane,” a soft voice hissed.
“If it’s insane, why do you help me?” The answer came, barely above a breath but still filled with desperate emotion.
“Because I don’t care to have to watch while they kill you, idiot,” muttered Lora.
In the cover of the darkness, Ada had torn strips off the bottom of her already ragged dress, stuffing them carefully into the gaps between the chain links that encircled her wrists. The raiders did not bother to chain Ada any more securely than a simple manacle around her hands when they were so far from any civilization. She had nowhere to run to, and they knew she realized how quickly she would die, alone, already weakened by her perpetual cough, and without a way of gaining sustenance in the wilderness. The raiders assumed she had no reason to steal from them either, since she would have no use for any of the gold or silver, and knew all too well the power to kill that lay hidden within the cruel whip. Lora had a strong length of chain connecting her to Vance, one of the larger raiders, however, allowing her only minimal movement. So young, strong, and valuable, she must not escape.
A few feet away from Ada, Lora lay beside the packs piled against the cliff. Vance slept deeply beside the fire, his face hidden beneath thick, stained blankets. Lora, careful not to move the chain that bound her to him, was slowly easing the leather straps of one of the packs open, her lips moving as she worked. Doubtless she was silently berating Ada for her reckless decision.
As Lora opened one pack, Ada worked on a second, unsure which of the four contained the sack of silver with the single golden brooch. A slight jingle sounded in the darkness before Lora, and she froze, staring at the raiders. They slept on, and Ada slipped quietly beside Lora, reaching into the now open pack. Her hand encountered the rough fabric of an unused blanket. Sliding her hand under the fabric, Ada soon pulled it out, shaking her head slightly. The pack contained only more rough blankets and food supplies. Despite her hunger, she knew that any stolen food would be noticed instantly the next morning and she and Lora would both be searched.
Moving back to the other pack, Ada pulled the last leather strap loose, gently pulling back the top of the pack to reveal the contents. In the darkness she could not see what it contained, but reaching her hand inside she felt many bags filled with cold, hard objects. Hands trembling in eager desperation, she loosened the string holding the first one shut and shoved her hand inside the black opening. Her fingers were met with a coil of cold snakes writing up to her wrist. The bag contained necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry, and she drew her hand quickly out again, re-tying the opening clumsily.
“Ada, look. Is this the thing you want?” Lora whispered. She had opened the third pack and was examining a small object in her palm.
Ada drew in a sharp breath, fairly diving on Lora and ripping the thing out of her grip. Feeling it hungrily, she soon dropped it in disgust. “No. It was oval, and thicker than that. That one is round and thin. Too small. That isn’t it,” she said, disappointment clear in her voice.
“Keep it down, will you?” Lora breathed, putting the thing back in the sack she had taken it from and tying it shut. “I don’t want to get killed too. If you’ve got to shout, I’m pretending to be asleep. Maybe that way they’ll only kill you and I won’t have to get dragged into it.” Lora moved on to the next sack, opening the strings and slipping her hand inside. “Or maybe I should just wake up this hulk and let him deal with her…” she added as an afterthought, glancing back at Vance. “No coins…Ada said there were coins…” She re-tied the bag and moved on.
It seemed the two girls worked for hours, opening each sack with painful caution, jumping at the slightest whisper of sound and peering fearfully at the bandits every few seconds. Opening the last bag in the pack she worked on, Ada thrust her hand inside and froze, feeling at last the thin round coldness of silver coins. Trembling in anticipation, she thrust her hand deeper.
A sharp edge poked into her hand and she drew it out slowly, trying to keep the coins from sliding. The thing in her hand startled her. It was a comb, thin and dainty, and seemingly adorned with small jewels that sparkled in the darkness. She shuddered slightly wondering who the unlucky woman was whose hair it used to adorn, and what her fate had been…and why the raiders had dropped the comb into the bag of coins rather than the one containing other such items. Placing the comb back into the sack, she reached in again, searching. Something twined about her fingers as she scraped the bottom of the sack. Pulling it out, she felt the long thin chain of a necklace, a teardrop-shaped pendant suspended at the bottom of the chain. Confusion flooded her as she realized that there was yet another item in the sack which seemed out of place. Again she reached in, and again felt a shape different than the coins. Carefully removing her hand, she turned the object over in her fingers and gasped.
It was the brooch. She knew it was the same one, even though she could not see it. The thick, light oval shape lay cool in her shaking hand, fitting snugly into her palm. Turning it over and over in her hands, she felt the thin scalloped edges and a thrill ran up her arm. Standing slowly, shakily up, she turned to Lora, who had finished searching both packs within her reach and was in the process of fastening the leather straps on the second one to close it again.
“What? Did you find the stupid thing?” Lora questioned in a whisper, evidently still angry with Ada.
“I…yes. It’s here. Th…the brooch…I have…yes…” Ada breathed, her eyes fastened on her hand as though she could burn through the darkness and examine the golden shape.
Lora rolled her eyes, not understanding Ada’s fascination. “How can you even see it? It’s too dark. Maybe it isn’t the right one…I found about ten of them over here, and you rejected each one. How do you know that one is right? And close the pack. If you leave it open we’ll both be left ‘rotting in a ditch,’ or whatever he said,” she said, glancing at Morald’s sleeping form. “Ada! Come on, close the pack!” she added more urgently as Ada did not move.
Moving as though in a trance, Ada slowly placed the brooch on the ground and reluctantly tore her eyes away, closing the pack securely again. Then, picking the brooch back up again she turned away from Lora, pulling the muffling strips of cloth out of her chains. Wrapping them tightly around a small stone, she threw the small bundle away, out into the blackness of the plain that stretched away from the cliff.
Shaking her head, Lora slowly pushed herself away from the packs, laying down again a little ways from Vance. As sleep closed at last over her exhausted body, she saw Ada, still standing a ways away, turning a small dark object over and over in her fingers, eyes wide and sleepless.