Sometimes when I’m writing, I come up with ideas for scenes or characters that I think will work, but then find out that they don’t quite have a place to go yet. So, I have a file folder labeled Dump to drop these pieces into. Maybe later they’ll be added to another scene or chapter, or I’ll end up doing something with them, but I don’t delete anything if I can help it.
This little blurb came from my Dump folder, and I’ve spent today cleaning it up and making it pretty enough to share. I plan to put this into my novel, and I even know where I plan to insert it, but I haven’t gotten there yet so being kept in cold storage until my plot reaches that point.
The razorbark’s branches rustled, shaking more of the crisp, speckled autumn leaves loose as little Tollen climbed higher. Below, Renthon Forester looked around, licking his lips and wiping clammy sweat from his brow, “What can you see? Are we far from the tower?”
“I can’t see the tower from here, papa. The trees are still too thick and it’s too dark. Can I come down now?”
“No, not yet. Look for the light in the window. Your mama always makes certain the lamps are lit for us.” He lifted the lantern higher to bring his son into his view, but the boy had already vanished into the canopy. Before this, he never would have considered letting Tollen climb a razorbark and he knew he’d have to swear the boy to secrecy, lest his mother learn of it and rip off his head. But for hours now, the forest had felt… wrong.
Renthon came from generations of woodsmen and knew these trees not only by sight, but by their scent and touch. Thirty years of playing, growing to manhood, and working in the forest gave everyone who knew him the assurance that he could find his way into the deepest reaches of the Greywood and out again without incident.
Except for tonight.
For the first time since his childhood, he’d become lost among the familiar trunks, stumps, and shrubs. He had no bearings; not even the stars were visible. The pair had passed the same clutch of ash and felmars at least three times, despite keeping the setting sun to their backs.
The chill of this new, unfounded disorientation gripped his heart in a vise, not because he feared to be out in the forest at night, and not even because his eight-year-old boy was with him—as the two had spent more time among the trees than a cat spent sleeping— but because when he sniffed the air to find which direction would bring the sharp scent of pine and fir resins, the thick fragrance of moss growing on oaks, the earthy aroma of stream-soaked loam, or even the lingering hope of catching the chimney smoke of his lord’s keep, all he smelled was the sour, metallic-tinged wetness he first noticed while putting the final pieces of lumber into his cart. The bitterness had been in the air for hours, or for what had to be hours now that it was dark, and he had intended to be home before sundown. That was when he started to look more carefully at shadows as they walked; when he was quicker to hush his boy’s chatter and play— and that was when he determined he’d send Tollen up the first sturdy razorbark they came across.
More of the branches groaned under Tollen’s weight as he climbed higher.
Ren stepped to the side, turning his back to the tree and stretching his arm out to shine the light on the forest floor as more dead leaves showered him, but the hazy glow didn’t reach far before the moonless night swallowed it.
“Please, papa? My legs hurt. It’s cold and I can’t see anything anyway.” Tollen climbed down, little by little. One of the branches that he reached for snapped and bounced, tumbling through the boughs until it crashed into a scrubby bush a few feet from where his father stood.
Ren jumped, focusing instantly on the noise, peering hard into the darkness, and waiting for something he didn’t want to discover. A louder rustle came from the bushes a little way to his left. “No, I say. Keep up there.” He leaned to the side and raised his lantern again, “We can’t be far from the tower. We’ll be home soon and your mother will have a big meat pie waiting for us…” He took a single step towards the bushes. “A savory pie, dripping with gravy…” the more he talked, the more his words wobbled and his throat tightened. “Vegetables spiced with peppersauce, ale brought in from Longmarch. It’ll be a fine meal for his Lordship’s return and that means we’ll eat well too, son.” By then, Ren’s voice was barely above a whisper and the child couldn’t possibly hear him.
Not until Renthon screamed.
“PAPA!” Tollen cried.
Six pairs of sulfurous eyes glowed through the murk and shadows at him. Renthon heard them now, hissing and growling in a way no human could imitate. They no longer cared about hiding and circled their chosen prey with confidence, cracking fallen branches and noisily pushing aside the undergrowth. The woodsman gripped the haft of his axe in one hand and held up the lantern in his other. “Stay back!” He commanded the glaring darkness, hoping he sounded braver than he felt.
“Papa? What’s happening?”
He turned his attention to the branches above, “Stay up there. Do not come do– AHHH!”
The boy looked down and saw the lantern light struggle through lower boughs where it dropped and rolled. The tree shook as Ren slammed against it. Tollen saw the scale-covered hand holding his father’s throat lift him off of the ground. He clutched the trunk and pressed his cheek against it, squeezing his eyes shut and ignoring the sharp edges of the razorbark as it sliced into his sleeves and face.
More grunts and hisses gurgled through the branches, followed by heavy footsteps through crunching leaves. Eventually, they stopped and the silence from before reached his ears.
“Papa?” He croaked. But no reply answered him. He leaned back and rubbed the back of his hand against his cheek, wincing slightly at the sting of the razorbark’s scratches mixing with his tears. He sniffled, then slowly began to climb down, listening between each rustle and creak for his father or one of those things. He dropped the final six feet to the ground, stumbling over the axe that was laying there among the roots. The lantern sputtered, tipped onto its side, the glass case broken and letting a cold wind threaten the weakened flame. He picked it up and held it out as he looked around.
“Papa? Where…” He looked around and wiped his eyes again, clearing the tears from them to see now that he was alone.