The Terrapenta Project

This is the 1st novel in the new series I have written. I am currently working on the 2nd novel, but for now I will be uploading The Terrapenta Project one chapter at a time. Each will remain on this page for a few days before being replaced by the next. I am always open to comments via the contact page concerning my work, and I will gladly reply to any questions. I hope you enjoy the book.

30th May 2020

Chapter 31 - The Stalker

Shanree had been given a particularly large load to deliver by an apologetic Baker, although his wife was less than sympathetic and told her to get back all the quicker as there was much to be done. She’d taken her deliveries up to the castle for a few days since her first trip, but she was still looked upon with distrust by the superstitious Keduans. She was met with a mixture of awe and fear, most people preferring to turn away or hide indoors when they saw her coming.

Since the King’s Guard had arrived on the day that she was accosted by Drake, she’d had larger loads to deliver. She’d heard the gossip of the disastrous attempt to free Lady Ester from the rebels on the mountain, but it wasn’t her concern. She was just glad that over this period there were fewer City Guards around and she’d had no sightings of the captain. She was getting on well with the castle cook, Mrs Raschid, and even with the grumpy old odd-job man, Jake, the simpleton who spoke very little but was always doing something around the servants’ yard.

Shanree’s bruises were fading, no lasting damage had been done, and no further incidents had troubled her for a few days, but that was about to change. Pulling the empty cart back down the winding narrow streets between tall overhanging buildings, she ignored the glares from many of the citizens, but she was getting a sense of being followed. At each turn she believed she saw a dark shadowy figure out of the corner of her eye. The person, tall and hooded, was always stationary when she caught a glimpse, but there were still many people around, and she felt she could always drop her cart and make a run for it if she needed to.

Passing through the gate to the lower reach, she was aware the figure was getting very close to her and just as she was about to panic, she heard a rumbling sound ahead. The noise quickly grew louder as it approached, but so too did its clarity, and it soon became apparent it was the sound of horses’ hooves and the shouts of angry voices. Shanree was still near the gate where the street was a little wider, but with the stalker behind and riders ahead, she didn’t know what to do. As best she could, she pulled the empty cart to the side and hoped the horses would create enough confusion for her to escape the figure she was convinced was following her.

From the narrow gap ahead, the horses emerged, with the riders angrily shouting abuse at the citizens to get out of their way. A woman was knocked to the floor and Shanree only just avoided being hit by a passing horse and a soldier’s boot, but the cart she was pulling wasn’t so lucky. Heavy hooves hit the back end, pulling it violently from Shanree’s clutches. She watched helplessly as the cart smashed against a low wall, splinters and chunks of wood flying everywhere as it broke into pieces like a child’s toy.

As the steaming horses continued past her and through the gates, the dark figure seized his moment and moved quickly towards Shanree. Before he could get close enough to make a grab for her, she was already running for her life through the crowd of people who were picking each other up and assessing the damage. She didn’t look back, lifting her thin dress so she didn’t trip on it as she ran awkwardly over the hard, uneven cobbles. Fortunately she was nimble and fit, and more than a match for her pursuer. She reached the main street where the bakery was and burst through the door into the shop.

“Slow down, girl,” Gretta shouted in shock from her position seated behind the counter. “What have you come in this way for, you should have gone around the back?” In front of the counter, a thin old lady with a sunken, wrinkled face glared at her with disapproval.

Gretta’s look of shock turned to suspicion. “You’ve not brought the cart back with you. What have you been up to, girl?”

Seeing the look of accusation spread across the woman’s face, she began her protest loudly: “It was the soldiers, they just rode through the main street smashing into everything.”

“You’ve lost the cart?” Gretta’s voice was raised.

“I couldn’t do anything about it,” she insisted.

Baker strode in from the bakery. “What’s going on, all I can hear is screaming and hollering?”

Gretta nodded towards Shanree. “Your little gift from the Gods has lost the cart.”

Baker turned to Shanree, a questioning look on his face.

“It was the soldiers.”

“I heard the racket, they must be back from the mountain and it sounds like the gossip was true, they failed to rescue Lady Ester.”

“Who cares about rescuing Ester? You’ve no cart to carry the bread thanks to her.” Gretta’s pointed finger accompanied the accusation.

“I couldn’t get it out the way quick enough.”

“You managed to get yourself out the way without a scratch though, I see.”

Shanree could feel anger and frustration building inside her, as grateful as she was to Baker, she was beginning to hate Gretta and she wanted to lash out verbally to express what she felt. At least she was developing the strength to fight back the tears that tried to flow.

Gretta gave a derisory laugh and shook her head as she turned to the old lady.

Baker moved tentatively towards Shanree, mindful of his wife watching. “It’s only a cart, we can replace that quickly enough. At least you got home safely.”

“Oh, this is her home now, is it?”

“I’ve an old cart around the back you can use until I get a new one.” Baker ignored his wife’s harsh words.

The thought of pulling a bread cart through the streets again with that stalker out there didn’t give Shanree any comfort. He’d definitely made a lunge towards her, but she’d been ready. She knew, whoever it was, wanted to get her.

Much to Gretta’s annoyance, Baker kept Shanree at the bakery for the rest of the day cleaning the ovens and work tops. Whenever she went into the yard, she kept her eyes and ears open for the stalker, and hoped he wouldn’t risk being seen climbing over the wall to get to her. Still, she stayed outside as short a time as possible, despite Gretta constantly criticising and making sarcastic comments to her inside the bakery.

As the afternoon wore on and evening approached, she went outside into the yard to stack away some mop buckets. She heard a low whistle from beyond the wall.

“Hey, Offering,” a voice called in a whisper.

Shanree gasped, the cold air bit into the flesh of her arms and legs, and she felt a tightness in her throat and chest.

“Offering, are you listening to me?” the voice whispered again. Shanree stayed silent, but she waited. “I haven’t forgotten about you.”

The voice belonged to Garret, the slave dealer, she was sure. It would make sense he would have a grudge against her for escaping from the market.

“I lost money on you and I want it back.”

“I have the protection of the priests.” Shanree sounded weak and unconvincing.

“That means nothing, Offering. Words spoken by old men in fancy robes won’t stop me getting back what’s been robbed from me.”

Shanree’s knees were almost giving way when Gretta’s voice suddenly stabbed into her ears from the doorway. “How long are you going to stand out here for, letting the freezing air inside?”

For the first time, Shanree was glad to hear the voice of Gretta, and she quickly ran inside, closing the door and putting the bolt on.

“And you’d better get started on making supper, you’ve a lot to make up for, girl. You’re not getting a free ride in this house. My house, not your house, my house.”

For a couple of nights, Shanree had gone outside and climbed onto the roof for a few hours and enjoyed the peace looking up at the stars in the night sky. It was the best time of the day, an opportunity to escape from Gretta and the terrible world of Terrapenta. But after the traumas of the day, she decided to stay in that night and sleep on the mattress of straw within the cold sheets in the tiny room she’d been allocated. She feared Garret would be watching and waiting, and if he was outside and saw her climb onto the roof, there was a good chance he might climb up after her.

She lay awake for hours into the night listening to every creak and crack of the house settling, so warm with the ovens during the day, but cooling during the night. She eventually dozed off and drifted into confused dreams in which looking up at a full moon, with people she once knew, played a part.

*

It turned out the old cart was unusable, so Baker had to entrust most of his deliveries to the pauper boys who constantly hung around looking to earn a penny coin for any work on offer. Gretta insisted Shanree went with the boys to ensure they didn’t sell the bread themselves or steal it for their own families. She also gave Shanree the largest bags to take up to the castle. With the King’s Guard having returned along with the City Guard, the castle kitchen had need of many supplies. Baker promised to find a cart as soon as he could, but with a heavy workload of baking, it was to be a few days before he could do anything about it.

Shanree hoped the two boys assigned to carry bread to the castle with her would stay close by, thus putting Garret off from accosting her, but they had other ideas and ran up the hill to get the delivery done as quickly as they could. At her own pace, Shanree struggled on with the larger load ever watchful for stalkers. She was pleased to see the return of the two City Guards at the gate that led to the upper reach of the city and felt more at ease that Garret wouldn’t try anything up there.

“Long time, no see,” Josiah said happily when he saw Shanree approach.

Despite most of his face hidden by the metal helmet that covered his cheeks and nose, Shanree had easily recognised him. She was even happier speaking to him today than on their first meeting.

“Back from the mountain so soon,” she said, paying no attention to the other soldier who stood apart, showing no interest.

“Heavy fighting, but not a scrape on me,” he boasted. His friend gave a derisory snort and Josiah frowned at him. “A vicious lot them mountain slaves. The King’s Guard tried to throw some of us to the slaughter, they did.”

“You came back without Lady Ester.” Shanree looked at him quizzically.

“I reckon the king himself will have to come and get her. Killing one of the wives of the kidnappers in front of him didn’t work.”

“What?”

“She was one of the king’s guests,” Josiah explained. “The slaves’ families are kept in the dungeons to make sure …”

“I know who the king’s guests are.” The anger in Shanree’s response was more to do with shock at the murder of an innocent woman, rather than being told something she already knew. “Did they really have to kill someone?”

“I must admit, it took me a bit by surprise. But don’t concern yourself with it, just be thankful you don’t live in the capital.”

“It does concern me, holding innocent people like that to make the men work in the mines, and then to murder them in cold blood.” Her anger against the king seethed.

“Don’t forget, women and children work there, too.”

Shanree noticed Drake across one of the lawns ordering some of his soldiers around. “I’d best get going, your captain’s over there.”

When she reached the servants’ courtyard, she noticed a Gor-Eagle perched high up on one of the towers. Its fur was dark brown and it had a bright yellow beak. Feeling much more confident in the friendlier atmosphere among the servants of the castle, she gave a shrill whistle she knew would attract the attention of the eagle.

Its sharp hearing picked up the call straight away, and with a quick tilt of its head towards Shanree far below, it pushed itself from its perch and opened its dark, wide wings. The servants in the yard looked up in surprise and wonder as the great bird glided downwards in the confined space, swooping over their heads in the direction of Shanree. It dipped its beak almost to Shanree’s head before pulling upwards and soaring away into the sky.

Mrs Raschid came bustling out of the kitchen into the open space and surveyed the servants standing open mouthed in surprise at what had just happened. “What in the name of Tanrilla is going on out here?”

“Sorry, Mrs Raschid, it was my fault,” Shanree volunteered, dragging her pack of bread towards her and the kitchen. “I called the Gor-Eagle.”

“You called one of those eagles?” She put her hands to her wide hips and looked doubtfully at the girl.

“Better folk than you struggle to command any sort of control of those wild creatures.”

“I don’t know how, but I whistled to it, and it responded to me.”

“Anyway, I haven’t got time to talk about Gor-Eagles, and neither have you lot.” She directed the last comment to the handful of maids listening in to the conversation instead of hanging out washing in the yard. They quickly got back to what they were doing. “Come on, get that bread inside, those boys brought two bags just before you arrived, let’s see how much there is with your load. I don’t trust the boys Baker sends, steal half the bread, they do.”

“The soldiers’ horses smashed the cart yesterday when they rode past.”

“And they’ll be the first to complain when they don’t get fed.”

“Baker had to use the boys to deliver today and probably the next few days.”

“Tell him he’d better get something sorted soon because it sounds like the king is coming in person, and he’s someone to avoid displeasing.”

“One of the soldiers said that might happen.”

“There was a lot of shouting and arguing upstairs last night when His Lordship found out what had gone on at the mountain.”

Shanree’s eyes widened “How could the king’s own army fail?” Another surge of hatred for the king she’d never met welled up inside her, just as it had done earlier while talking to Josiah. She was curious why she reacted in such a way to him.

“It was mostly our City Guard that made up the numbers, which probably explains why they failed. They’re more suited to picking on drunkards in the taverns.”

When Shanree set off back to the bakery after finishing her usual hot drink supplied by Mrs Raschid, she did so with trepidation. First of all, she took care to avoid Drake, then she had to keep alert for Garret in the lower reaches. She moved quickly, even to the point of getting abuse for bumping into people in the busier streets as she rushed by. Passing through the bustling market place with its stalls set up selling various cheaper food goods like pigeons and fruit birds, a man stepped out in front of her completely blocking her path. It was Garret. At least there were plenty of people around to act as witnesses. She knew the man was evil enough to kill her whoever was there watching, but with the threat of the priests’ protection, any act of violence against her would be met with the justice of the Gods.

Nevertheless, there she was, face to face with the almost insane looking man. As quick as lightning his arm shot forward, and a large, heavy hand wrapped around her throat. “There was two hundred king’s coins on your head at market, tell Baker that’s what I want, and I want it before the sun sets.”

Shanree had hold of Garret’s arm trying to do something to relieve the pressure on her throat, but her efforts made no difference, the man was too strong. Her voice croaked as she tried to answer him. “The highest bid was one hundred and fifty.”

“The bidding hadn’t ended.” Spittle sprayed into Shanree’s face. “If Baker wants to keep you, he has to make a higher bid. I’ll take two hundred, not a penny less.”

“The priest declared me free anyway.”

Garret let go of her and she staggered back, but remained on her feet facing him. Those around paid little attention to what was going on, merely stepping aside so they didn’t get involved.

“Tell Baker, I want my coins by nightfall or I’ll be taking payment another way, and that’ll be a lot more costly than gold.”

Copyright © 2014 Kevin Fleming

All rights reserved. Kevin Fleming has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. This is a work of fiction. Any names, places, events or happenings in this book are a product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons either living or dead are purely coincidental. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Chapter 32 will be uploaded on Friday 5th June

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