Posted by: Caitlynn | February 15, 2010

Excerpt Monday — Voices of Penance

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(The following is a random excerpt from a random chapter of the novel I worked on over NaNoWriMo, Voices of Penance.)

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Penance ran as fast as her feet could carry her, fixing her gaze upon the palace. She didn’t know what she might do upon arriving there. Could anything even be done at all? Still, curing Sarah was the task at hand, now. And if there were any antidote to the poison, it would be there at the castle.

Yet, for all her efforts, the palace still seemed so far away, and her feet were already weary and aching. She began to despair when, suddenly, she heard the sound of hooves rapidly galloping from behind her.

“Whoa!” the voice of Daegan cried out as he galloped ahead and turned the horse in front of Penance. “Easy there,” he said, patting the horse. Then, looking down at the girl, he said, “If you mean to go to the palace, you’re insane.”

Her eyebrows knit together, and she attempted to move around the obstacle, only to be blocked once more.

“Do you even have a plan?” he prompted. After a moment, she hesitantly shook her head no. “Who do you even plan to meet with? The prince?”

She would not budge; would not look up at him.

Exasperated, he continued, “I suppose he’d be the one most likely to have it out for the minstrel. And I can’t imagine there would be anyone out for the life of an innkeeper’s daughter, after all.”

Penance blinked rapidly, giving a small sort of nod to affirm his suspicions.

“You won’t be able to see him so easily, you know,” Daegan cautioned.

She continued to stand still, still refusing to make eye contact.

“And even if you do manage to get an audience with him tonight, how do you propose to explain the situation to him?” His tone was sharp. “It’s not likely he’d be able to understand a mute, you know. Even we couldn’t, not with Sarah unable to interpret.”

Her fists clenched tighter.

After another moment or two, Daegan sighed. “Well then. At the very least, have the sense to travel there more rapidly than by foot.” He extended his hand down to Penance. She looked up at him, startled and suspicious, but grabbed his hand nonetheless and allowed him to lift her up onto the horse.

“Good. Now then, off to the palace,” he said, prompting the horse to gallop once more.

Together, the two raced off. Daegan could feel Penance tense up against his back; the moment she did, thunder rumbled in the near distance.

“I don’t suppose you had anything to do with that…?” he questioned, glancing back to the girl.

She made no response, however. She merely clung to him tighter, hoping that the horse would go faster. In a short time that seemed like forever, the two arrived to the palace, darting past the relaxed outside guards and barely giving them any time to react.

“Hey!” the voices from behind shouted out, but Daegan did not stop the horse. Together they rushed into the palace, only abandoning the horse when they could ride him in no further, and running faster than ever before once they did.

Surprisingly, they managed to evade most of the guards, but with every movement they made, they alerted someone new to their presence. It was only a matter of time before they were surrounded by armed guards. The two were very near the Prince’s quarters. So close, and yet…

“You!” one of the guards stepped forward. “What is your purpose here? What mean you by barging in like this?”

“We need to speak with the prince,” Daegan said matter-of-factly though out of breath.

“What?” the guard questioned.

“Oh, right,” Daegan added snidely. “Prince Silas. I suppose you have more than one prince, hmm?”

“That’s not what I meant, you fool,” the guard said, drawing his sword and pointing it towards them.

Penance gasped a little, and Daegan gently pushed her behind him. “Now, now…no need to get so agitated…”

“You raced in here on horseback. You have no permission to be here what so ever. And you, complete strangers, are rushing off towards the prince’s quarters as though it were nothing at all.” The guard glanced at Daegan’s belt, noticing the scabbard. “And what do we have here, then? A sword? Just what were you planning on doing once you reached his majesty, aye?”

“I’ve not drawn my sword in a very long time,” Daegan began as the point of the other man’s drawn blade crept closer. “I am prohibited from doing so.”

“Then why keep it?” the guard prompted.

“As a reminder,” Daegan said solemnly. “A reminder of who I’ve been, and who I need to be.” He swallowed hard and thought a moment before adding, “And part of who I need to be includes seeing the prince now. Please. I am unaccustomed to begging, however…however, it is a matter of life and death.”

The head guard looked over at Penance and nodded to some of his other men. “Search the girl. Make sure she doesn’t have anything…hidden…anywhere.”

A few of the men moved in closer. Penance inhaled sharply and tried to back away. One of the guards grabbed at her roughly, though, and pulled her away, causing her to yelp.

“Don’t touch her!” Daegan shouted. In one swift movement, he drew the still-sheathed sword from his belt and knocked the weapons from the nearby men’s hands.

“Stop him!” he heard the head guard shout. The two were quickly rushed and completely surrounded.

“Stay low,” Daegan instructed to Penance. “And whatever you do, don’t let anyone grab you.” He grunted as one of the men grazed him with a blade. “Hide if you can.”

Penance wavered, unsure of what to do, but was soon forced to comply and move away. She watched as Daegan was rapidly overwhelmed by the guards. Skilled as he was, there was only so much he could handle, especially when only armed with a sheathed sword. With some reluctance, she darted off in one final, desperate attempt to make it to the door of the prince’s quarters. It was within sight when, suddenly, she felt a tug on her hair.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” one of the guards asked her gruffly. “Off to see the prince on your own?” He twisted her hair tightly, causing her to gasp in pain. Glancing back, she could see Daegan, badly beaten and quickly losing steam. The words caught in her throat, and yet…and yet, the words were there, that close to the surface…

“Well then?” the guard prompted as he dragged her back into the midst of chaos. “Have you no words, no defense for yourself?”

She closed her eyes tightly, willing herself to break free…not from his grasp, but from something far more ancient, more powerful. A sudden roar of thunder cracked right above the palace, the lightning being so near that the ground itself seemed to shake. The moment it passed, Penance screamed out in a loud, clear tone, “Help!”

Daegan looked up towards her, bruised and bleeding though he was, in utter amazement. “She spoke…” he murmured.

“Help! Help! Help!” she continued shouting, her eyes welling up with tears. Daegan tried to break free to reach her, but the other guards held him back.

“Can’t you say anything more than that?” the guard who held her asked in aggravation, pulling his hand back as if to strike her.

“Stop,” came a new voice, prompting all the guards to stop and come to attention. Looking up, Penance saw a familiar face – youthful, with blue eyes, and framed by golden locks.

“Your majesty,” the head guard addressed the man, bowing deeply. “These two broke into the palace. We have reason to suspect that they posed a threat to you.”

He looked them over. First, he turned to Daegan, who was now held in place by several guards, yet still clung to his sheathed sword. Then he turned to Penance, and his eyes widened in immediate recognition.

“Oh yes,” he replied sarcastically. “A man who refuses to draw his sword and a girl whom I have already befriended during a previous meeting.”

“…Befriended?” The head guard’s face went pale. He motioned to the guard who was grasping onto Penance’s hair for him to release her.

Upon being let go, Penance wobbled a few steps towards Prince Silas, before falling to her knees. He moved over to her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Please, forgive my men,” he started. “They acted a bit rashly, I’m afraid. But you must admit, if what they say about you and your friend rushing into the palace unannounced is true, then they did not act without some merit.”

She panted heavily, squeaking out with no small effort, “Help…please…help…”

His eyes grew wide with concern. “What’s wrong, my dear?”

“Help…Sarah…Sarah is…” she choked out, her eyes welling up with tears.

A grim, knowing look passed over Silas’s face. “Ah…that’s right, you were friends with Sarah…” He stood up and looked around, adding in an embittered tone, “Well then, where is she? Surely she should be here with you? Unless, of course, she chose the other alternative?”

“She lies dying in her bed,” Daegan retorted, finally regaining his breath. “Dying from a poison she took from vial with the royal seal on it. Tell me – for Penance will not, nor could not, prior to this moment – why might that have happened?”

The prince started. “Sarah…is dying?” He gulped. “But…the poison…there was no poison meant for her…”

“She loves him,” whispered Penance, the coming more easily with each passing one. “She could never…never betray him…”

Prince Silas stumbled back a few paces, running his hand through his hair as a look of utter confusion crossed his face. “I don’t understand.”

“Is there an antidote?” Daegan prompted. “That’s all we require now. Your understanding, and your acceptance, are inconsequential.”

The prince stood still a few minutes longer, struggling to make sense of the scenario.

“My liege?” one of the guards finally interrupted. “What would you have us do?”

He blinked a few times more.

“Please,” Penance begged one last time. “Sarah…”

Looking at the wearied girl, Silas finally managed to shake off his confusion. “Release them. Both of them,” he ordered. “And send the fastest rider to the Smiling Raven Inn. There is a very ill patient there. The palace physician will have a challenge on his hands tonight.”

“Aye, sire,” the head guard replied. “You heard his majesty!” he said, turning towards his men, who promptly released Daegan and followed the prince’s orders.

“Come,” Silas told the two after the guards had scurried about. “It seems we’ve some preparations to attend to at the moment. That is, if we intend to save your friend.”

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Responses

  1. Love the name “Penance!” How Robin Hobbesque!

    • Thanks. 🙂

  2. Wow intense at the end. I love the name Daegan. Awesome!


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