Each and every step Sparks Clearpath took ended with an icy crunch. Each and every movement forward through the calf-high snow that had blanketed Cagleton was its own little struggle. To pull a leg free. To keep herself and her bulky traveling gear steady and upright. To let her boot sink back down halfway into the snow. To make sure she didn’t end her step on an unseen rock or root that would cause her to twist an ankle or break a leg. And to repeat the whole process over again, with each and every step.

A particularly strong gust of wind buffeted Sparks and kicked up the snow around her as she turned a corner causing her to pause in the swirling breeze so she could re-secure her burnt orange cloak tight around her sturdy leather and fur outfit. She struggled a little against the wind before she managed to tug her hood back over her pointed ears and tuck her long, silvery-white hair back away from her face.

The scene around her was almost surreal. Cagleton was not a small town. Most any other day, a main road like this would boast its fair share of folks coming and going. There’d be sounds of horses and carts heading out of town or to nearby stables and barns. There’d be the friendly banter of travelers saying farewell one another and the loud murmur of vendors and buyers haggling over end-of-day prices. And, of course, there’d be the laughter and scuffle of children darting playfully through the foot traffic as they raced home for their suppers. Instead, with most everyone huddled inside away from the sudden bitter cold, an odd stillness had descended on the city, leaving Sparks feeling very much alone in a place she more often than not felt was just a little bit too crowded for its own good. 

It struck Sparks that she might never see this street so empty ever again, so, despite the wind and the cold, she stilled herself and took a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of it all. It was like being back home in some distant section of her familiar woods, except here, the trees had been replaced with buildings and lamp posts reaching up into the snowy sky. For a short moment all was calm and peaceful. But then, another gust of wind kicked up around her spurring Sparks back into reluctant action. She might have paused longer in the middle of the snow-covered road, but with the shadows stretching long around her and the sun dipping low in the gray, stormy sky, she really could not afford to stand still any longer… not unless she wished to risk the unpleasantness of frostbite. So, with a lurch and a heave, Sparks made sure her treasured longbow was still strapped securely across her back, then pulled her right foot free of the snow and ice and began trudging forward once more. 






Traveling up one of the cobblestone streets of such a large trading town during the final days of autumn was not normally so difficult, but this year the icy storms that signaled the onset of winter had appeared far earlier than was typical. And that was… deeply inconvenient… for the tall elven maiden. No… it was not just inconvenient. Having to turn back when she’d just begun was frustrating. And infuriating. And heartbreaking. 

 Sparks’ plan had been to leave Cagleton near the beginning of winter after stocking up on a few last necessary supplies. Then, after nearly four weeks of continuous outdoor travel, was to pass south through the Ko’tooth Mountain Gap just before the first snows fell. The more temperate climate beyond would have allowed her to travel in relative ease throughout the long winter after which she would have turned back north to the cold riverside town of Tiu Nanaze. There, Sparks would finally have been able to fulfill one of her longest held dreams: To catch glimpse of the unruly, elemental sprites that danced among Tiu Nanaze’s melting ice floes as winter’s freeze came to an end. She had always marveled at the bedtime stories her mother had told her of her own journey. She’d last listened to those stories many, many decades ago, but Sparks had always promised herself that she, too, would make the journey someday when she was able. 

It had taken Sparks more than two years and no small amount of luck to prepare for the trip once the opportunity finally arose. It had been something of a minor miracle that she’d been able to end her autumn near Cagleton with coin to spare, supplies on hand, and with no pressing debts or duties to speak of. But, if this premature snowfall held—as it seemed it would— it was now highly doubtful that she would even make it out of Cagleton at all again this winter. And come spring, her responsibilities and commitments would return and it might be another decade, or perhaps several more decades, before she’d be able to consider such a journey to Tiu Nanaze again.

Sparks could have continued on, of course. She had lived practically her entire life outdoors in the large forest her parents still called home. Having experienced well over two hundred winters, the snow and the cold were as familiar to her as any other season. If she’d needed to, she could have drawn on her experiences and special talents and pushed her way through to Ko’tooth despite the early snow. If there had there been report of some emergency—an outbreak of sickness or rumors of raiders down south, for instance— she might have done just that. Risking her life for others was her calling. It was what she did. But putting her life at risk for her own delight and amusement? When she knew there were places and peoples who would need her come spring? No. She simply could not justify it. Though still considered somewhat young by her fellow elves, Sparks had learned well to bide her time and to know her limits. Especially when it came to going against nature’s will.

And so, only two days after striking out on the first leg of her long, exciting journey, she had turned back to Cagleton with a heavy heart. The push back into town had been slow and sorrowful, with few people to see or greet or talk to on her way in. Someday, she would try again. But right now? Right now, she was cold and tired, and still another good thirty minutes away from her resting point, with the day far too close to being done. So, of course, that’s when the storm decided to once again make its might known. 

Sparks braced herself against the icy gusts and gritted her teeth against the freezing cold as she crunched ever forward. In the dimming dusk light, she could barely see her hand held up in front of her face what with the heavy snowflakes filling the wind around her. But finally, up ahead, there was hope. At the very edge of her vision, she could just make out the flickering lanterns and large, golden lit windows of Pillory’s Pub, the same inn and tavern she had set out from two days before. Inside, she knew she would find warm food, friendly faces, and a place to sleep and plan her next move. It wasn’t the legendary enchanted ice flows of Tiu Nanaze, but it was something.

And for now? It would do.

A rush of warm air and a cacophony of familiar sights, smells, and sounds greeted Sparks Clearpath as she pushed her way past the heavy wooden doors of Pillory’s Pub. Glad to be out of the freezing storm, she stepped clear of the doorway and took a moment to loosen her scarf and knock the last of the ice and snow off the bottom of her boots. 

It was crowded inside, to say the least. Nearly all of the two dozen circular oak tables that filled the pub’s main floor were packed with travelers trying to carve out their few inches of space. Aside from a single small, empty table set furthest from the large roaring fireplace to her right, there was hardly a spare seat in the house. A handful of waiters and waitresses hurried here and there to bring patrons their food and refill their drinks. When Sparks had left two days ago, the pub had only been a third full at most. Now? The low murmur of conversations that usually filled the room had grown so loud she was sure she could shout and very few would even notice!

And that presented a problem.

Yes, the warm air and ample oil lamps on the walls and in the center of each table and absolutely mouthwatering aromas that wafted out from the kitchen made her wish she could stay, but with so many visitors, Sparks was certain all of the rooms upstairs had already been booked. She teetered shivering in the entryway for a moment, unsure of what she wished to do. A hot meal before she had to venture back out to find some other place to sleep would be welcome, but the longer she delayed, the harder it would be find a place with rooms to spare.

A pair of grumpy looking men forced Sparks to move aside as they pushed their way past her and back out into the storm. Sighing again at the inevitable, she tugged her scarf back up over her face and turned to follow them, but before she could take more than a step, a strong arm spun her round and pulled her back away from the door. 

“Oh, deary! You look half froze to death!” said one of the plump proprietors of Pillory Pub as she maneuvered Sparks further inside. “Come, let’s get you warmed up before you catch ill! Don’t you worry, there’s plenty of room by the fire and still seats left at our tables,” Mrs. Pillory said reassuringly. 

Though she stood a good two heads shorter than Sparks, the middle-aged, red-headed woman was certainly not lacking in strength as she had no trouble angling the elven maiden towards the fireplace set along the right hand wall. The Pillorys always kept a large fire going in the winter to comfort travelers coming in out of the cold. It was a house rule that you spent a few minutes getting warm and then made room for newcomers when your time was up. Sparks rarely followed that rule, however, but not for a lack of grace or kindness on her part. Rather, she’d had an all too close and painful encounter with fire once, long ago. And, where for most, it was a treat to bask in the thawing heat of the Pillory’s roaring fireplace, for Sparks, she’d… well, if forced to make the choice, she’d far prefer to step right back out into the winter storm.

“Not by the fireplace,” Sparks rasped, her voice still weak from the cold. She coughed to clear her throat then tried again. “Please, not by the fire,” she said more clearly this time as she began to feel the uncomfortable heat upon her face. 

“Hmm? Oh!? Oh, Sparks!” Mrs. Pillory said excitedly as she recognized just who she was dragging about. “I’m sorry, we’ve gotten so many tonight I did not even notice it was you! Why, I’d not expected to see you again for some while. That storm out must have been very bad to see you back here so soon!” 

Without a moment’s hesitation, the woman altered their course and lead Sparks back left past her pub’s many patrons all the way to the single, unoccupied table. 

“Here, you sit and give me that cloak of yours. Coat too,” Mrs. Pillory commanded as she pulled Sparks free from her frozen outer layers. “I’ll set these up by the fire to thaw and have one of my girls bring you something warm to drink. A cider would be all right?”

“Wait… I mean… yes, that will be… thank you,” Sparks replied, reluctant to be parted with her things, but also glad for the help. There were not many who could fluster her so, but Mrs. Pillory constant decisiveness and uncompromising kindness made her one such person. 

A short while later Rashel, the older of the Pillory’s two daughters, stopped by to place a tall, steaming mug on Sparks’ table. The dark haired girl was in her late teens now, and had grown beautiful in the few years since Sparks had last seen her. She was smart, too. One of the benefits of waiting on and chatting with so many patrons whilst growing up, Sparks imagined. She and Rashel had shared a wide ranging conversation about a good many topics before she had set out two days before. If nothing else, Sparks hoped they might pick back up that conversation.

“I’m sorry you did not make it far on your trip,” the girl sympathized. “I’ll be free later if you’d like to talk,” Rashel added before calls of ‘miss’ had her hurrying back across the room to tend to a pair of patrons. 

“I’d like… that.” Sparks said in reply, but Rashel was already gone. The mug full of warm cider she had left was still there, however, and it felt sooo good in Sparks’ cold hands. She lifted it to her lips and very nearly purred in relief as a trickle of the hot, cinnamon-tinged drink made its way past her chapped lips and down her parched throat where it pooled delightfully warming the pit of her stomach. 

Sip by sip, little by little, Sparks began to thaw. Over the next hour, she ordered a warm meal, finished off two more mugs of the Pillory’s delicious cider, and confirmed what she had already suspected: That there were no rooms left unrented at Pillory’s Pub. 

“I’d surely love to rent you a room. You know I would. For all you’ve done me and Higgs o’ver the years. But I had folk lining up a day before you even got back, and you know how that is,” Mrs. Pillory said sympathetically, when asked. Sparks nodded, glad for the woman’s commitment to her guests, but not so thrilled the result that commitment currently brought. 

As the evening wore on and the fire across the room dwindled, more and more of the pub’s patrons finished their meals, buttoned up their coats, and ventured back out into the cold stormy night. Sparks watched them leave and gave a little prayer for the safety of each even as she slowly prepared to depart as well. She was just about to go search for her coat, bow, and cloak when a man with dark curly hair and even darker robes pushed in through the pub’s front door… and all the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.


Sparks did not recognize the dark-robed man who had just stepped in to Pillory’s Pub. He was not some friend or foe who she had cause to greet or avoid. And none of the dozen or so remaining patrons scattered about the tavern seemed to give him much attention. Maybe she was just tired? Maybe all of it… the cold, the storm, the disappointment, the fire… maybe it had all worked to make her… jumpy?  

Sparks had just about to shrugged off her premonition as nothing more than a false alarm when a sudden clatter to her right did cause her to jump. She turned from the dark-robed man to see Rashel kneeling in the kitchen doorway attempting to pick up a dropped tray. But the waitress wasn’t looking at what she was doing. Instead, she was focused solely on the newcomer, with her mouth hung open and her eyes wide with worry. Across the way, another of the Pillorys had noticed the man’s entrance. One of Rashel’s youngest siblings, eight year old Sopha, had approached the man and was in the process of leading him towards the fireplace as if nothing were the matter, but a quick glance back to Rashel told Sparks that something was very wrong indeed. 

The girl’s shocked expression turned to a grimace as she spotted her young sister interacting with the man. At first, Rashel looked back over her shoulder to the kitchen as if she were going to retreat back through the door to get help or maybe to hide,  but then she stood, took a moment to collect herself, and proceeded towards the man and her younger sibling with a pleasant smile forced upon her face. 

“I’ll tend to him, Sopha,” Rashel called from across the room, keeping her voice even and in control so not as to frighten her sister. “You go tell mother Don’ven is here.” Little Sopha, unaware of her sister’s worry,  was all too happy to do so. 

With her sister safely out of the room, Sparks half expected to see Rashel confront the man and demand that he leave. She had twice seen her do just that to patrons who, on the face of it, had seemed far more intimidating than this newcomer. But, surprisingly, Rashel did no such thing. Instead, she approached the man and performed her best curtsy before guiding him to an empty table near the fireplace. There, she spoke with him briefly then turned back toward the kitchen as if having taken some food or drink order from him. Sparks looked to Rashel as she passed by for some sign as to what was the matter, but the girl was too busy chewing worriedly on her bottom lip to pay much attention to anyone else. 

For the next few minutes, the man relaxed at his table and did little more than gaze at the lamp sitting in its center with a serene smile on his face. It was only now, after observing him as he sat across the room, that Sparks was slowly able to piece together why this man’s appearance had so completely and unexpectedly demanded her attention. 

For one, he was happy. Her own source of sourness was one thing, but even discounting herself, every single soul Sparks had seen since being forced back into town had been miserable in some way due to the sudden shift in weather.  Even the loudest and most energetic of the patrons from earlier had been busy complaining about the storm. But this man? He’d already had a happy smile even when he’d first entered in from the cold. And even now, that little, ever so slightly off-putting grin was still there. 

Then there were his dark robes. At first, from a distance, they appeared black, but upon further inspection Sparks determined them to be a very rich dark blue. And now that he was closer, Sparks could also detect fine shimmering patterns covering the man’s clothing. The artistry was… exquisite, but, worryingly, the shapes stitched from some sort of fine golden thread had an orderliness and complexity about them that Sparks had seen may times before. Anyone possessing experience with protective magic would recognize that the man’s robes were covered in spell equations of abjuration. The expense alone of such robes was more than enough to draw Sparks’ attention, no matter the person wearing them. 

Abjuration spells made sense, though, as the man seemed remarkably unaffected by the storm he had just come in from. His face was too rosy. His short combed hair too neat and too untossed by the heavy winds. And there was not so much as a single flake of snow to be seen anywhere upon his person. Even his gleaming black boots were perfectly clean of dirt or ice. It would take anyone else several minutes in front of the fire to recover so thoroughly from the storm, but this man look as if he’d walked in from the most perfect of spring days. Clearly, the man’s robes were permanently imbued with a spell that protected him from the elements? Did they do even more than that, Sparks wondered? 

What it all added up to was that the man was clearly a wizard or sorcerer of some amount of wealth and or power, and it was just as clear that Rashel, at least, had some reason to be worried by his arrival. Thoughts of finding a place to sleep now long forgotten, Sparks knew that she would not be able to leave Pillory’s Pub now that it was clear that friends of hers were possibly in danger. But, there was also little for her to do at the present time, so she took in and released a long slow breath to calm herself then began to nibble at what little bit of a roll she had left on her plate in hopes she might not stick out too much until she could find some better reason for remain. 

Soon, Rashel reemerged from the kitchen, though this time she was following close in behind her much shorter mother. Whatever trouble this man represented, it was surely quite serious as the usually jovial Mrs. Pillory now had that same worried look in her eyes and a forced smile on her face as her daughter had worn just a few minutes before. She moved quickly across the room towards the newcomer’s table with a full plate of meat, mashed potatoes, and bread in one hand, and a cloth napkin, silverware, and a large froth-topped mug in the other. 

“Miss, do you have more cider? And perhaps another roll if it is not yet too late?” Sparks asked as mother and daughter walked past her table. 

Mrs. Pillory nodded to her daughter who quickly made her way over. 

“What…?” Sparks whispered only to be cut off by Rashel’s hushed words. 

“Father owes him money,” she said quickly, before she hurried off back to the kitchen with Sparks’ mug. 

“…and we’re so glad you have returned.” Sparks managed to hear Mrs. Pillory saying as she delivered the man his food on the far side of the room. That was a lie, of course, but Mrs. Pillory at least told it well. 

Rashel returned a few moments later with more cider in hand. She was about to deliver it to Sparks’ table when the man spoke up. And asked for her by name. 

“Rashel, come, let me inspect you,” he said. His tone was friendly, but there was something just ever so slightly disturbing about the way he delivered his words. 

“Yes sir,” Rashel replied. She placed Sparks’ drink on her table  before turning to move swiftly over to the man. He did not hide his interest in her as she approached. In fact, he almost made a show of looking her body up and down. Then he made a little twirling motion with his hand and Rashel straightened her back and began to slowly turn in place with her arms held down by her sides. This sort of thing had happened multiple times before, Sparks judged, given how automatic Rashel’s reaction to the man’s small, circular gesture had been. Her mother took on a troubled, defensive posture as she was forced to watch this man look her eldest daughter over. Once again, it was clear to Sparks this man was not considered a friend. 

Sparks’ attention was drawn back to the kitchen door as it slammed open once again. Out came Mr. Pillory all in a huff. He was not exactly a tall man, but his every morning spent cutting wood and ever evening maning the stoves and managing the kitchen had made him into a man that very few were prepared to cross. And, unlike his wife and daughter, his angry scowl made it clear that he seemed to have no plans to placate this Don’ven… except, Sparks noticed,  he also carried a sizable purse of coin held tightly in one hand. 

When he reached Don’ven’s table, Mr. Pillory took one angry look at what was going on and quickly ordered his wife and daughter back to the kitchen. Only when there were both out of Don’ven’s sight did he unceremoniously drop the coin purse onto the newcomer’s table. The man  looked at it for a long moment. He then picked the coin purse up and seemed to weight it in his hand only to set it down and push it back towards Mr. Pillory with a shake of his head. 

Mr. Pillory said something Sparks could not make out. The man replied. And then the two began to argue openly over the contents of the purse causing the other patrons scattered here and there to look up and take notice. They were still a bit too far away for Sparks to make out more than a few words or phrases, but she didn’t need to hear the exact words to understand that things were not preceding well. And then, Don’ven suddenly stood. His chair scarcely had time to clatter to the floor before he all but shouted, “We had an agreement, and if you refuse to fulfill it then I shall burn this entire place to the ground!” 

Sparks could not help but cringe as the man’s threat sent a shudder through her. Mr. Pillory, too, seemed to finally deflate. Sparks was sure this Don’ven had won the argument, but then one of the hearty looking travelers seated nearby took to his feet as well. 

“Now, you listen here, sir. I do not know what…” he began, intending to help bring the argument to a more dignified end, but the man in dark robes did not even give him the chance to finish his sentence. Don’ven raised his hand and spoke a few quick unfamiliar words and sent the capable looking traveler flying back through the air with enough force to smash the sturdy table and chairs behind him. 

For a brief, uncomfortable moment, no one moved as the injured patron writhed on the ground. The sorcerer just stood and looked from person to person as that grin of his widened. Finally, a woman and what looked to be her husband stood and made their way towards the injured man, but the sorcerer glared at them.

“Leave. Him. Be.” He demanded, causing them both to shrink back. 

 By now, Sparks was standing too, her focus drawn to the injured man and flow of blood slowly pooling beneath his arms and back. If nothing was done for him, he might be dead in minutes. That was something Sparks would not allow, not if she could find some way to help it. 

Her first instinct was to retrieve her longbow from where it rested at her feet. The distance to the sorcerer was good, and if she had been in the woods, or even out in the open, engaging him might have been feasible. But inside the pub which this sorcerer had already threatened to burn to the ground? And with multiple bystanders around, some of whom were between her and her target? She might still win in a fight, but the cost would likely be much too high. Certainly, the one injured man would lose his life, and others in the room might as well.

That being the case, Sparks thought for a moment then nodded to herself as she settled on an alternate approach. She quickly threaded her way through the tables and patrons in front of her until she was almost close enough to help the injured man. A few more steps and she would be able to care for him, but, as she figured he would, the sorcerer took note of her before she got the chance. 

“Did you not hear me? I said leave him,” he called threateningly. 

“No,” Sparks replied firmly as she continued forward. 

The sorcerer’s eyes burned with anger as he turned to fully face her, but Sparks spoke again before he had the chance to do more anything more.

“What ever debt you are owed here, I will pay you double if you refrain from harming anyone else.” 

You have the coin for that?” The sorcerer scoffed, clearly amused by her sudden offer. 

Good, he’s talking,’ Sparks thought. 

“Try me,” Sparks countered aloud, as she knelt down by the injured man’s side. The would be hero’s eyes were clenched shut and his breathing was shaky and labored in a very bad way. 

“You expect me to believe you have five hundred gold coins?” The sorcerer demanded. 

“Ha! Five hundred? That’s far too much,” Sparks replied as if the dangerous man in front of her had just told a bad joke. As she did so, her experienced hands quickly felt along the dying man’s head, neck, and back. Midway down her fingertips found a nasty puncture wound where a large splinter from the smashed table had pierced the man right between his shoulder blades. 

“I decide what is too…” the sorcerer began again, but Sparks cut him short once more.

“That bag there has only what? Fifty gold? One hundred at most? And you tell me you are owed another five times as much?” Sparks asked incredulously as she jerked a dagger-sized piece of wood out of the wounded man’s back. With the wound as clear as she was likely to get it, she sealed her palm over the gaping hole and made use of the healer’s touch her mother had taught her so long ago. “If that were the case, this place would already be in flames.” She noted as she gave the sorcerer a disbelieving look. With any luck, her defiance would distract him long enough to not even notice what she’d really done.

The dying man opened his eyes and looked up at her in wonder as much of the sharp, debilitating pain coming from his back cooled then melted away. For just the briefest of moments, Sparks allowed herself to believe in her own cleverness. She’d done it. She’d crossed the room and distracted the sorcerer and successfully healed the man on the floor before her. But no. He noticed.

“What. Did. You. Just. Do?” The sorcerer demanded.

“Two hundred gold!” Sparks offered quickly as she backed away from her patient and held her now bloodied hands up in front of herself. “Pl…please sir, two hundred is all… it is all I can afford…” she said, intentionally stuttering a bit as she played up the twinge of very real fear she felt. 

“You have that much here with you?” He asked after a long, worrisome pause. 

“Y… Yes sir. With my bags at… at that table, sir,” Sparks answered. She was almost in the clear now. All she had to do was keep stroking the man’s ego to keep him from retaliating. More often than not, ones like him lived for that feeling of power they could get by holding their strength or their special talents or their influence over those they considered lesser than themselves. The maiming and killing usually only happened when the other party failed to properly play along. This man would be no different… Sparks hoped. 

“Go on and get it,” the sorcerer ordered, even as his cruel smile returned to his lips. 

Sparks nodded and made a show of fumbling her way back to her table. She kept in clear view as she retrieved first one, then a second, and finally a third coin purse from her pack. Each held a different amounts and types of coins according to what she had expected to need over the course of her now aborted journey. The smallest one held the type of currency favored by the soldiers who guarded the Ko’tooth Mountain Gap, while the largest, heaviest one only jingled so loudly because it was filled with many dozens of nearly worthless copper coins. Its sole purpose was to be given away as a seemingly lucrative prize in case some group attempted to rob her along the way. The middle-sized one was just regular spending money, but only a small amount of it to make it seem like she had nothing else left.

With all three bags in hand, and a fourth and fifth still safely concealed down in her pack, Sparks carefully circled around the far left side of the room as she returned to the sorcerer, in an effort to keep his attention away from the man she had just healed. The look the sorcerer wore was of someone in complete control. It was frightening and well practiced, so much so that Sparks had no trouble at all getting her hands to tremble as she handed over each of the three bags in turn. She was brave, yes, but not so brave to not feel a proper amount of trepidation at being so close to such a dangerous man. 

The sorcerer weighed each bag then set them down beside the large sum that had already been delivered to him by Mr. Pillory. He held Sparks’ gaze for another long moment, only for his features to soften as he broke into an mirthful smile and nodded for her to return to her table.

“Mr. Pillory,” he called with a bit of dramatic flare as he picked up his chair and sat back down to his meal, “I simply cannot believe you allow your fine establishment to remain in such an untidy condition. Kindly clean it up at once, and send that shapely daughter of yours back out here with another ale. Mine seems to have spilled in all the excitement.” 

“I will… see to it at once, Don’ven,” the pub’s owner replied as he began straightening chairs and righting tables. Sparks cautiously moved to help him. When they were done, they carefully lifted the wounded traveler and, together, carried him back towards the kitchen. The man tried to voice his thanks partway there, but Sparks quieted him with a stern look and a firm shake of her head. 

“Higs!” “Father!” “Daddy!” Came three worried shouts as she and Mr. Pillory pushed their way through the kitchen door and leaned the injured man against the low cabinets.

“Thank you, miss,” the injured traveler said as if it were the most important thing he had ever done. Looking up to Sparks and then over to the Pillory family he began to babble, saying, “I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have made more trouble for you… if I’d known…I just…” 

“It’s all right. What you did, standing up as you did, it was noble. Your actions speak well of you. But now you need to rest,” Sparks said to him. 

“He wants us to send Rashel back out, to bring him an ale he says, but I won’t do it,” Mr. Pillory was telling his wife at the same time. 

“Yes. You will,” Sparks interjected, causing all in the crowded kitchen to turn towards her. “You cannot risk angering that man again,” she explained. “Do as he asks as long as it is within reason and I will take my place back at my table and keep an eye on you all. Your daughter especially.” 

“Sparks… I cannot send my girl back out to be gawked at by that.. that villain.” Mrs. Pillory complained. 

“I know it is hard not knowing what he might do, but it is our best chance to get through this without further violence. I will go out with her and keep watch on her. I promise,” Sparks reassured Rashel’s mother. Then, turning to Mrs. Pillory’s daughter, she asked, “Rashel? I need you to be brave for me. To help me protect you and your family. Can you do that for us?”

The girl… no… the young woman pulled herself free of her mother’s embrace and nodded. “What would you have me do?” She asked, her voice full not of fear, but of resolve. Sparks gave a little sigh of relief. At least she had someone determined to see this through. 

“Bring the man his ale. I’ll follow you out after a moment and sit back where I was so I can watch over you. If he should do more than look at you I will have my bow and I will protect you.”

“I can do that…” Rashel said as she moved to fill a mug. Everyone in the kitchen stood still for a moment, awkward and agitated, until Rashel pulled the heavy stein back away from the tap. “Ok, I’m ready.” 

“Ok…” Sparks echoed her before taking in a deep breath. “This will work,” she assured the room… and herself. 


To Be Continued…