“NO!” Norice screamed, waking himself from his hellish nightmare.
He lay with cold sweat trickling down his face for what seemed like an eternity until his wife, woken by his sounds of distress, spoke.
“What’s wrong? Was it those dreams again?”
“Yes, but it was far worse. This time the beast came for you and the children, and I was powerless to stop the fiend.” Norice hurriedly got out of bed and headed over to his closet, where he began rifling through his belongings.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I have to find a way to stop the madness.”
“Don’t leave us. It’s too dangerous.”
Norice ignored her and quickly got dressed, grabbed his hunting dagger, and left the room. He walked down the hallway, to the bedroom of his children, and stopped just short of entering. He stared at their sleeping forms, tucked snuggly under the covers, for a few minutes before saying his silent goodbye. Before turning away, he wiped the tears of sadness from his eyes, then proceeded down the stairs. He’d just grabbed the door handle when his wife appeared from out of their room and said, “Norice, please don’t go. I fear that I’ll never see you again.”
“I have to do this,” he responded without turning around. He opened the door and stepped out into the night.
Crying, his wife sank to the floor.
Cool air embraced Norice as he left the house. He was determined to put an end to the nightmares that had been haunting him over the last several months. At first, they were mildly disturbing, but with each passing night, they intensified to the point where he’d hit his wife’s face, thinking he was fighting a creature who was about to devour his eldest child. Some of the dreams were the same, while others were totally different, but each one held a connection to the other, and it was on this very night that he finally pieced them all together and knew exactly what he needed to do.
Carefully walking in the snow, with his head down, he avoided the guards patrolling the town and moved swiftly toward the stables. As he came upon the barn, he saw the shadow of someone moving to the rhythm of the lantern’s light from within. Being that it was late, whoever was inside would question his sudden appearance, so he carefully crept closer until he saw Tay, the stable boy, cleaning out the stalls. He knew the boy very well and entered the barn.
“Tay?” Norice called out, startling the boy, causing him to drop his pitchfork and turn around.
“Who is it?” the boy nervously asked.
“It’s me, Norice. What are you doing here this time of the night?”
The lad relaxed a bit after recognizing Norice and said, “I have to catch up on my duties, because Lord Wellington offered to train me personally as a sentry of the Helix Guard if my duties were finished by morning. He says I have great potential.”
“That’s great. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
Tay picked up the pitchfork and left the stall, approaching Norice. “What are you doing here, sir?” he asked.
“I have a nighttime hunt and need a horse.”
“Sorry, but you know I’m under strict orders not to allow any horses out at night, unless Lord Wellington says so.” Tay grew suspicious.
“Oh, I see. When should I return?”
“First light, but you still better get permission from him, because the epidemic claimed a few more mares yesterday.”
“Thanks, I’ll do just that. Have a good night, young Tay.”
Norice’s eyes narrowed as he turned and walked toward the door. He needed to leave tonight, and there was no way he was going to let a child stand in his way. He exited the barn and hid off to the side. After the boy started working again, he snuck back inside and hid in an empty stall. His original idea was to wait until the boy left before stealing a horse, but his plans took a turn when the mare in the next stall became restless, drawing Tay’s attention.
“Who’s there?” the boy called.
Norice drew his blade, intending to scare the boy, if need be.
Tay nervously gripped his pitchfork with his trembling hands. “Norice?” he called again. When no one responded, he walked toward the entrance of the barn. Norice watched him as he walked past and stopped in front of the stall next to his.
“Raven, what’s wrong, boy?” Tay asked the mare as if the mighty stallion could actually answer. The horse snorted in response and moved around. Tay placed the pitchfork against the stall. “It’s okay, boy,” he said and took out an apple from a nearby bag.
He was about to feed it to the horse when he noticed the unlatched stall door beside Raven. Immediately, he knew something was wrong, because he always secured them. Tay dropped the apple and started backing away, then realized he didn’t grab the pitchfork.
“Who’s in the…”
Before he could finish, Norice ran at him, intending to seize the boy, but instead tripped and accidentally stabbed him in the chest. Tay’s eyes widened in shock and his legs buckled. Horrified, Norice let go of the weapon and backed away. Tay thrashed about, coughing up blood until he died seconds later. Norice gazed at the boy’s lifeless eyes. This innocent boy, no older than his eldest son, was robbed of life, and he was to blame. He stared at the boy for what seemed like an eternity, and was only brought back to reality when he heard people speaking outside.
Norice quickly removed the jutting knife from the boy’s chest, grabbed a saddle, and entered Raven’s stall. The mare was restless by the sudden entry, but calmed after Norice placed the saddle onto his back and buckled the cinch. Fear and despair welled up inside of Norice, and he knew that if the guards discovered what he had done, they would either throw him in prison, or worse, kill him on the spot. With one last look at the boy’s lifeless body, he galloped out of the barn and into the night.
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