Genesis Scrolls Round 1: Something More than Loot Itself (Part 2)

PART 2/2 !!

‘No, later today only.’
Before setting off for the modest market of the village and gathering the marks needed for the bag, Muirin had taken the time to craft a note. She knew of one person, and no more than that, in the surrounding areas that might both know about these strange items and be interested in buying them. A man on the outskirts of two towns over that made a modest living selling weapons. Muirin had met him before, many times, all on occasions when she had a need to sell things quickly. They both knew a coded language, as was the way, and this was how her note was written. In it, she had described what she had found, even going as far to list the individual items with modest descriptions, and what she think they might be worth.
The merchant took a look at the note, which would appear meek in his eyes, and slid it into his pocket. ‘I’ll see it done, if ya get me one more bag.’
‘I will,’ she promised.

Once again, Muirin had relied on the kindness of a stranger to look after her children as she made another foray into the woods. Again, they had been left to play with the baker’s own children, and she knew they would be well looked after until her return, which shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours later. The day was still bright, just past midday, and she’d marched off at about this time purposefully to keep within the sun’s light.
It wasn’t difficult to find the strange bag of treasures in the woods. Muirin slid, more than fell, down the bank this time and discovered them exactly where she had found them. Sighing with something of relief for fear of the bag being found, she brought a rope to it and fastened it tight. The rope, something she had brought hidden in a sack of her own, was tied to a tree at the top of the bank and would provide the right leverage for the sack to be lifted without outright relying on her tired strength.
As she pulled, she once again thought about the collection and how it had come to lie here. The most reasonable explanation she could muster was that someone must have dropped it here along the path above. The why of that though was difficult to comprehend. Perhaps it was a stranger on the run, which seemed likely, a thief who had thought to drop off the bag of loot before they were caught with it. Little good that would do them around here with laws not stretching further than a town’s boundaries.
Inside, on the second glance, she had found both plate mail and a heavy looking set of greaves that seemed to radiate with holy light. Two items that, on their own, would make the bag impossible to lift, even with the aid of a pulley. Yet here she was, lifting it. They must be magical then, was her only thought on the matter, to be as light as they were now. It probably wouldn’t be a hard task to get them home either, especially if she made her way there through the beach.
She had opted for the daylight over the night, as if she were found carrying the sack in the darkness, that would do nothing but rouse suspicion. At least in the day, coming from the woods she had once frequented, it might look a little more innocent.
Once satisfied that the dragging bag was sitting comfortably at the top of the bank, Muirin decided to go and join it.
Something was waiting for her at the top though, sitting on the edge of the bank and tentatively sniffing at the bag. Muirin saw the fir first before she knew the creature by name. It was a brown bear, a resident of the woods no doubt, and it was sitting lazily near the bag as if it thought there might be food inside. Not daring to move an inch, for fear of stirring the creature, Muirin kept her hold on the rope and hovered just a little below the creature’s eyeline.
It was a curious animal. It would paw at the bag, every now and then, as if trying to guess what was inside. The minutes though paced on, and Muirin was beginning to grow more anxious about the time. The bear and the bag were sat right off the path. Any stranger walking by would have a hard time not seeing them.
Suddenly, as if encouraged into motion, the bear took the bag up in its maw and began moving further into the woods. With no other choice, Muirin forced herself up and towards it. There she started shouting obscenities, screaming towards the thing, and it became confused. The bear arched its back like a scared dog, looking around for something that could explain why this fearful woman had appeared.
Muirin casts her arms wide, trying to make herself as large as possible.
This though seemed only to agitate the bear. It dropped the bag from its mouth and stood to its full height. There came a roar then, a deep bellied roar that would strip the skin from a stranger, but Muirin stood taller against it. She roared back, though not as loud, but enough to make the creature question her.
It came upon her, and she had no choice but to run. Fortunately enough, she had a good spot to run to. Muirin backtracked towards the sloping bank, rushing towards it, as the bear paced after her on all fours. She slipped down and the creature slipped after her. Then, in the way each villager is taught from a young age, she ran down the slope while crossing over her feet, moving over one way and then the other, trying to cause the bear to spill.
The wild bear tripped over its clumsy feet and fell forward into a roll. It was exactly as Muirin had hoped, but there was something wrong. She had failed to estimate her own position and found herself running in the path of the sudden furry boulder. In her younger days, she could have simply dodged to the left, roll out of the way, and probably laugh at the asinine bear as it slammed into a tree. These days though were different. In trying to jump out of the way she felt her left ankle twist in a painful way, not enough to sprain, but enough to lose her precious seconds.
The pair tumbled together.
Muirin hit the ground first and the bear tumbled after her. They both landed within ten feet of one another, each groggy in the head and slow to realise what had happened. Luckily, it was Muirin that came to her height first, pulling out the dagger and eyeing the bear very, very carefully. The creature came to next and gave her an equal gaze of contempt. She stared at it, and it stared at her. There’d be nowhere to run, not now they were in the thickets. If the bear chose to fight her, Muirin would have no choice but to do the same.
There was a moment of silence between the pair as calculations were made and muscles were braced.
The bear charged first, drawing to its full height and striking out at Muirin. Three dagger-like claws dug into the side of her head and sent her to the ground. It was like getting hit round the head by a boxer on their best day, the strike knocked the sense from her, made the world dizzy and blurred, and left her with just enough reason to brace herself after she hit the floor.
Muirin brought the dagger up, knowing what would happen next. Her head was bleeding, it was coming down into her eyes, and the bear had finally decided that she wasn’t a threat, no, she was a meal. It pounced on her, maw first, and Muirin brought the dagger down.
Men, woman, bears, they all could die the same ways. The point of the dagger went into the bear’s eye first, then penetrated right through to the creature’s brain. It let out a wounded howl and retreated a little back. Muirin had the sense of mind to pull the dagger with her hand as it moved away. It’s not that easily to kill a bear though, and even more enraged now, it came back upon her.
Muirin brought the dagger through the other eye, which both stunned and blinded the beast. She had just enough mind left to bring the dagger to the creature for a final blow. This time through its thick skull. The dagger didn’t do much though, it couldn’t pierce the bone of the thing, and simply bounced off. It flew from her hand and into the wilderness around them. The right damage had been done though regardless. A moment after the dagger had disappear, the creature slumped and found its way on top of her.
Under the weight of the dying bear, Muirin allowed her injuries to guide her into unconsciousness, sure that in addition to the blow on her head and the cuts on her face, the bear had just broken a few of ribs when it collapsed on top of her.

It was night when she finally opened her eyes. She couldn’t see much of it through the trees, but the shadows were enough for her to be sure of the fact.
The bear was dead, but she was far from danger. Every inhale of breath was accompanied with a sharp pain in her chest, it hurt to breath, squashed underneath this thing, and her head was thumping like a hammer against an old board.
Using her hands to help move the dirt around her, Muirin managed to pull herself out from underneath the beast. She stared at it once before struggling back up the slope. It seemed smaller than the thing she had fought somehow, more a baby than a bear. Grimacing, with her lips tightening into a thin line, she whispered, ‘Three hundred and fourteen.’
The bag was miraculously still waiting for her at the top of the slope, but the combination of night and the rasping of her breath would need to change her plans completely. Muirin couldn’t carry the bag, not in its entirety, and she had to be very careful heading back to the village so as not to be seen either. Then there were her children. Whatever would they be thinking now with their mother gone so long? They’d be sick with worry, although she was sure that they were still safe with the baker. The baker was good like that.
The bag would need to be taken in multiple trips, she decided reluctantly, and perhaps the next trip would need to be a few days away. Muirin’s chest was in shambles and her head was still buzzing from the bear’s mighty blow. Not to mention the blood now soaking her dress. She’d just have to risk the rest of the bag’s contents being discovered.
From the assortment of items, she took the lighter items, which included a strange hood, a ring, a necklace, a sash, and finally the falchion, which she wove into the belt of her dress. Muirin kicked the rest of the bag down the bank, hoping it would roll far enough not to be seen by strangers, and then steadily made her way back.
She found a large branch and fashioned it in a crutch, which she leaned on for the rest of her journey. It took her an hour to move through from the woods to the comforting sight of the sea and the sand. The sea air seemed to soothe her somewhat, but it was still a while to her cottage over the treacherous rocks.

Muirin didn’t go to her children. She found she couldn’t. They were safe enough, she reasoned, and she needed a moment to rest and to clean herself. Just as soon as the items were pushed beneath her bed, just as soon as the bloody gashes down her face were stitched, just as soon as her dress was off and thrown into a bucket of water, she allowed herself to fall into the folds of her welcoming bed and sleep.

There had been ten men with her, she remembered, and not one of them had brought a present. They had gathered about in her quarters, her most loyal servants, but they had guessed ahead of time what she was going to tell them. That’s why she was taken aback by their reluctance to bring a gift. It felt appropriate they bring a gift. Muirin couldn’t remember what had been said, but she could remember the swaying of the ship, mixed with the fresh sea air, and the sounds of the lapping waves against the bow. It was a good time to be on the sea, but a better time to leave it for the news.

Muirin woke with a start and breathed through the pain of her chest. She winced. The ribs were definitely broken and seemed unsettled. She found that she couldn’t breathe deeply without letting out a groan of pain, which meant the bones were digging into her lungs. Or at least she reasoned they were. She’d have to take it slow and make sure she bandaged the area well, which she did shortly after rising, and keep as much heat there as possible to ease the pain.
With a struggle, as she found herself so weak now, Muirin placed herself in another dress and made sure she was presentable. Her wounds were still bleeding, she’d never been very good at dressing wounds, but she found that a change in her cloth bandages were enough to quell it for now. She’d need the right stinging ointment.
Without even struggling through her breakfast, Muirin anxiously paced towards the baker’s house, just a little down the row, so she could retrieve her children.
There was a darkness on the village today, she saw, in the form of storm clouds on the horizon. There was something else too. Something old, but familiar. Suddenly she was picking up her pace and rushing to the bakers. Muirin hurried past the intoxicating aroma of new loafs, still in the oven, and pastry goods, and rushed inside of the house attached to the shop front.
She was met with an empty home. Muirin called after her children, sudden fear rising in her gut, but there was no answer. Not even the baker, who should be spending the morning preparing the meals, or even her children, answered their names when called. There was something in this, Muirin realised, but she didn’t know it for what it was until she checked the back door.
A note was stuck to it with a dagger.
The dagger was bloody and was hers.
The note was familiar, scribbled in her own handwriting, and written in a code.

The bell rang shortly after, calling the villagers to the square. For the most part, Muirin ignored it, instead electing to go back to her home and keeping a careful watch over her back. At about the last twist of the road before she came to her cottage, she saw him, peering out from around the corner. The man who had been following her. How she hadn’t noticed him before she could only ascribe to her being sloppy.
Keeping natural, Muirin entered her home, ignoring the still ringing bell, and went straight for her room. There she thought for a moment on where she’d choose to hide if needing the choice. Quietly, she reached under the bed, wincing at the pain it did her, and pulled out the falchion. She examined it only for a second before, just as quietly, climbing out of her bedroom window.
She found him lurking around the corner, his eyes were square on the front door with no clue as to her approach. When she pushed the tip of the blade into the small of his back, he let out a short yelp before raising his hands like a sheepish child caught in the act of something vile but innocent. He was a tall man, gaunt, with fading hair and a smell of putrid onions. It was a wonder she hadn’t noticed him before.
‘You’ve been following me.’
‘I was told to,’ came his reply. ‘She told me to.’
‘Why?’ Muirin asked. ‘Why me and why now?’
‘The farmer’s widow went to her, told her about you.’
‘What about me?’
‘About your former life.’ He shrugged. ‘She thought the widow was desperate, wanted proof, but had me follow you to make sure.’
‘The widow met me in my house, and I killed her.’
‘I know, I saw you bury her.’
‘Why did nothing come of this then?’ Muirin teased the blade in a little more. ‘When you had a reason to suspect me?’
‘I told her, I did, but she said it was fair,’ replied the man. ‘The widow had gone to you, no doubt to cause trouble, and you’d killed her out of justice. She wanted me to keep an eye on you, to see what you would do next.’
‘You followed me into the markets, didn’t you?’ said Muirin. ‘You saw me hand the note to the merchant.’
‘He was easy to get the note off, when you didn’t show up with the rest of his marks.’
‘You got the note after then,’ Muirin realised quietly. ‘And then you followed me into the woods.’
‘I saw your horde of items; you must’ve been squirreling those away for years.’ He turned then, slowly, so as not to awake her falchion’s anger. He had something of venom in his voice. ‘It’s true, ain’t it? No one has a horde like that except for—’
In one swift motion the falchion met his throat, strangling the next words from out of his mouth. Muirin, with no sense of sympathy, moved past him as he struggled and fell to his knees, all the while trying to hold back the tide of blood.
‘Three hundred and fifteen,’ she said as she wiped the blood of the blade. Muirin turned her attention back to the village, she knew exactly where she would find children now.

There was no line of villagers patiently waiting to pay the tithing. The local guards had moved them all aside, so that the street was clear for Muirin’s entrance. She came like a legend, the sea at her back, taking each step without a single betrayal of her true condition. The village green was ahead of her, and although none of the villagers truly knew the circumstances, they seemed to know it revolved around her. They were, after all, the ones that had shared the rumours.
Muirin saw them and knew them. Each of them. There was the baker, whose children played with her children. The merchant, who sheepishly looked away from her. A man she had sold apples to in the market. A teacher who taught her children. A woman who had sold her the dresses she wore every day. Men who had helped to build her cottage. A community of people that she had come to know over the last decade of her time in the village. All of them, living for the past few years, under the thumb of a cruel hag who wouldn’t even let them flee from their predicament. Not even send a note.
Tayv was waiting in the village green on her gnarled throne, a grin sprawled between her ears.
‘How did you manage to escape my notice?’ She said to herself, leaning forward with interested as Muirin entered the green. It was empty, except for the two of them, unless of course you counted the many statues still frozen in place as recompense for past debts. ‘How have you avoided recognition for so long?’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Muirin replied, pointing her falchion squarely towards her. ‘Where are my children?’
‘You’re not looking too good.’ Tayv stood up from her throne, moved a few graceful steps towards her. She moved rather like a puppet that had lost its strings, it was unnerving to watch her. ‘Do you think you have the strength for this?’
‘You know who I am,’ replied Muirin. ‘Or at least know what I am.’
‘I’m starting to believe it,’ said Tayv. ‘Where do we go from here?’
‘Where are my children?’
Tayv clicked her fingers. Only once, but that proved to be more than enough. A guard stepped forward and revealed her boy and her girl, both tied up with rope and kept on leashes like dogs. They looked scared, Muirin noticed, they had been crying. Her falchion wavered a little. Tayv approached closer, a matter of six steps away now.
‘Should I turn them to stone first?’ She asked, politely. ‘Or I guess what I’m really asking is this, would you like to watch or be watched?’
‘Neither.’ The falchion dropped to the floor with a rattling clang. Muirin went down to her knees slowly but shortly after. ‘I’d prefer to make a deal.’
‘A deal?’ Tayv half-laughed, almost a cackle. ‘From what I’ve heard about you, you don’t make deals.’
‘Times change.’ Muirin took a deep breath. ‘Turn me to stone and let them go. I’ll go without a fight.’
‘Now, isn’t that interesting?’ Tayv came closer, even beginning to pace around her like a tiger on the prowl. ‘Has motherhood really changed that much? I’ve heard things about you that make even my stomach turn. The things you’ve done for gold and treasure go beyond what earns a person an eternity below.’
‘Please, just spare the children, they can’t do anything against you.’
‘I’m touched.’ Tayv reached out her hand towards Muirin and she didn’t struggle against it. Her creeping fingers burned, like a scorching hot pan against her skin, and she fought the urge to shriek. Instead, Muirin shouted, screamed, towards her, as her skin began to stiffen and crack like worn stone. ‘SWEAR IT!’
Without a sense of hesitation nor intention to succumb to the burning sensation writhing across her skin, Muirin took a hold of the falchion before her knees and still within reach. It all came down to speed in the end and she found herself drawing on a past life then. Her muscles, though aching, remembered her years spent swinging the sword in a flash and a flurry. Of killing hundreds before they even knew what had happened.
Tayv had seen the deception but had little time to dodge it. The falchion went up and through her chest as easily as a knife through butter. It all happened in the instance of a second and the stone veil followed after it. It crept up Muirin’s skin, flowed across the blade of the sword, and into the witch that had first summoned it. They were, both of them, becoming nothing but rock, unmoving ornaments like the others.
‘What have you done!?’ Tayv squealed, her fingers grasping the blade.
Muirin wasn’t concerned with her though, she was too busy looking over towards her children. The stone claimed her, as it did the witch stuck on the length of her falchion, but she had enough strength to utter one thing more before her eyes became like rocks and her smile caught in shimmering grey. ‘Three hundred and sixteen.’

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