The raven spoke true. There was a town merely a half mile from the road. The smells of food and the thought of a warm bed sent Gloria dashing towards the inn. A few of the villagers going about their daily business pursed their lips at her, but she was too famished to notice.
The innkeeper paused in his sweeping when she entered. He looked her up and down, a sour expression on his face. This too, Gloria ignored.
"I will have anything you have prepared, just bring it to me quick!" Gloria told the innkeeper. She then walked over to the neatest looking table she could find and looked down her nose at the seat and dusted it off with her hand before setting herself upon it.
The innkeeper arched a brow. He then rushed into the kitchen.
Gloria sat, alone in the common room. She looked about the inn. Hungry as she was, she couldn't quite settle her curiosity. She had never been to a simple inn before. It was musty and not well dusted, but it had a kind of hominess to it. By the time her food arrived she decided it was cute.
A young maid set a steaming bowl of soup and a platter of bread before Gloria. "Can I get you-" but the maids words were lost to Gloria. Forgetting the manners drilled into her since childhood, Gloria scarffed down the soup and bread.
"More Please," Gloria said, dabbing her chin with a napkin.
The woman stared, but took the bowl from Gloria and quickly returned with another.
Three bowls latter, Gloria decided it was time to clean up. She sent the maid to prepare a bath, the innkeeper to prepare a room, and a boy, who had just entered the inn, running for the town's herb-woman.
"Your bath is ready, my lady," the maid said.
Gloria snapped her head at the maid. "Why do you call me lady? Do I look like a lady?" she gestured to her manly attire and cloth-wrapped-shoes.
The maids eyes widened and she shook her head.
"And don't go calling me princess either, because I'm not!"
"Why are you still standing there? Lead me to my bath!"
The maid clamped her mouth shut. She nodded and turned on her heel. "This way, my la… ah… this way."
Gloria followed. For the first time since her entire engagement she felt in control. She made to lift her dress to keep it from dragging, then remembered she didn't wear own. She scowled. "When I am done with the bath, send for the seamstress," she told the maid.
The maid's lips thinned but she nodded.
The bathing chamber was less than adequate, but it was all that could be expected of common folk. The water was nice though. She remained in the water till she pruned and scrubbed herself clean.
She sent for the maid to bring her a clean gown to wear while the seamstress took her measurements. As the seamstresses worked, Gloria was reminded chillingly of the day before her kidnapping. "Leave," Gloria told the seamstress.
"But, I have not finished, my lady."
"I am not a lady! Now leave, before I have you beaten! I do not require a dress!" Gloria bellowed.
The seamstress fled.
Nice and snug in her room, Gloria sat before a tall dresser and made to comb out her hair. She froze, little comb in hand, and starred at her reflection. She looked horrible! Her hair looked as if someone had simply bunched it all up and cut it off with a knife! It took Gloria a moment to remember that was exactly what had happened. She blushed. How could anyone confuse me with a princess with my hair in such a state? Gloria thought as she ran her fingers through her tufted head. She winced at the tangles.
She sighed, staring at herself for a time, truly missing her long golden locks. Finally, she was able to bring herself to comb out her short hair. Just as she finished, there was a knock on her door.
"Come in," Gloria said, recovering her demeanor.
An elderly woman entered the room, looking frightened. She carried a basket of herbs. "You wanted to see me, my… ah…" she trialed off.
"Yes," Gloria said, standing up and walking over to her bed. She sat down upon it and showed the woman her cut up arms and slightly infected feet. "These need to be tended."
The woman bobbed her head and addressed Gloria's cuts.
The woman's hands were gentle as she worked. Something also in the woman's bearing helped Gloria to relax.
"May I ask you something?" the old woman whispered.
"Who are you?" There was something odd about the woman's tone. When Gloria looked to the herbalist, the woman averted her gaze.
"My name is Gloria. I have come a long way and need to return to my kingdom," Gloria said, despite her earlier denial of nobility.
The herbalist hands froze for a moment. She then dipped her head in a bow as she continued to work. She said no more, and Gloria didn't bother to ask why. She was exhausted. By the time the woman had finished, Gloria was nearly asleep.
The herbalist left without a word, leaving Gloria to doze in her bed.
Kindrick was a small city, as far as cities went. It was not a well popularized place and not known for any special feet or structure. The city was ordinary, not ordinary enough to be considered different, just ordinary to the point of being boring and inconsequential.
Within a properly furnished, but not in any way ostentatious, inn that was decorated for the mediocre lords and ladies of the city of Kindrick, was a man who, at that moment, was not garbed in black with a veil over his face. He did look as if he'd been running for days, which wasn't entirely true. In fact, the once black garbed man had only been running for twelve hours, a feat accomplished with the use of two well-constructed potions of haste.
Beside the once black garbed man, who actually went by a far shorter name, Zith, was a long faced noble. The lord was a bit of a sneak, a well informed and educated sneak, but a sneak none the less. The long face sneak didn't like to be referred to as such. He considered the word demeaning. He much rather be called 'the informant,' which made little difference to Zith. He would have called the man 'Lord of the Flying Farts' if it'd speed things up.
The informant lifted the diamond studded crown that Zith had stolen from the princess. It glittered beneath the candle light, throwing out sparkles onto the noble's long and pointed face. Word of the princesses kidnapping would not have spread so far as the city of Kindrick. If it had, Zith would then know that the knight was still on his trail, but he sincerely doubted that. It was the dragon the knight had wanted to murder not Zith and, if luck was on his side, the knight might not know of him at all.
In any case, he was far from where Gred, the dragon, had been slain, farther still from Ralf's fallback hole. It was a hard day's travel, even with the use of two potions of haste, it had been hard and Zith was beyond exhausted. But he was alive, and clear of the Raven's trail, and for now that was good enough. By the time the Raven realized Zith had never set foot in the Enchanters Plains he would be halfway to the Green Lord, that is if he ever found out where the dogs rotted teeth was the Disemboweller. As for ripping out its eye, well… he'd work that out when he came to it.
"This is indeed a valuable object," the informant finally said.
Zith had quite a time of getting in touch with this particular man, who was well acquainted with beast lore. He would have preferred to read the Book of Beasts and Gods than to rely on anything spread by word of mouth, but Zith had little time, and he would take what information he could get. He couldn't afford to doubt the source.
"Well?" Zith prompted irritably. It was clumsy, but he really had no time to delay.
The long face informant arched a brow and Zith cursed himself. The man would ask for more now, luckily Zith still had the princesses jewels.
"I'll tell you what I know of the Disembowller, but as to her location," the informant flicked the crown. "I'm not sure this would quite cover it. She's moved you see, and quite recently. "
Zith kept his face smooth, but he was shocked. The Disembowller was a she? "Tell me what you know, and we'll see if the crowns worth that."
The informant dipped his head and told Zith of the legendary beast, the Disembowller, and by the end of it Zith didn't know whether to laugh or swallow in disgust. What a strange creature, if she could really be called that. And since the information had indeed been helpful, Zith tossed over one of the princesses earrings. He waited impassively as the informant inspected it, and this time he did well to control his impatience.
"East," the informant said after he'd deemed the earring worthy payment. "You will find her dwellings near a small village by the name of Vill."
Zith cursed. You have to be bloody kidding me! That town was practically where he had just left. He was so angry that, despite his exhaustion, he stormed out of the private room, forgetting to threaten the informant against lying.
People stared at him as he bustled through the common room and out of the upper class inn. By the time he was halfway down the paved streets, Zith realized his mistake and kicked the bricks, which completely failed to move and he nearly tripped over his own feet. It doesn't matter, nobles don't lie anyway. They have too much honor for that.
After fuming down three streets, Zith managed to calm down enough to think. Okay, it's not as bad as it looks. At least she's not very far, and isn't some seven-hundred foot tall troll or anything. The Raven is probably a good deal away from Vill by now. Zith slowed his pace, composing himself, and he became aware of the ache in his legs once more. What he needed was a good rest and he'd set off in the morning. The very thought of moving again made Zith's legs groan in protest, but his legs had little choice in the matter, so they settled for being sorely sore.
He chose an inn well reputed for its cheapness, and thick walls. He hardly spoke two words to the innkeeper, and was so exhausted that he barely noticed the young serving girl leering at him.
He stumbled into his room, locking the door shut behind him, and clumsily placed the warning bells about his bed, which would go off if any living thing, besides himself, came within four feet of them. At last, he fell into the soft matters, closing his eyes drifting, but not quite asleep.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The window shattered, glass spraying across the floor. The warning bells immediately and uselessly went off. Exhaustion completely forgotten, Zith sat bolt upright. His heart leapt into his throat at what he spotted thrashing across the floor.
Zith did not shriek, did not cry out, did not pause to even gape at his shock. He threw himself out of bed, across the room, and by the time he'd wrenched the door open, the Raven had rightened itself and was now diving towards him, wings pressed against its sides. Like an arrow loosed, it shot for Zith.
Zith dodged out into the hall. He saw the Raven fly out of the doorway and smash into the opposite wall. He might have laughed at the situation not been so dire, but he did not even hang around to see if the wretched thing had knocked itself unconscious, or better yet killed itself. He pulled out a potion of haste from his bag of holding. He downed the bottle, and was now racing out of the inn faster than any human had a right to.
He knocked over anything and everyone that came in his path, whether he meant to or not. He was simply moving too fast that by the time he saw anything he'd already hit it. But the obstructions did not slow him, and did not harm him beyond bruising.
The potion of haste was no witching product.
The potion did have its drawbacks however, and one would be a fool to use it more than twice in a day, maybe even not more than once. The potion could last up to six hours and after the first use you'd be sore for days, and tired just as long. To take the second consecutively after taking the first, you'd feel sore while running, and when the potion wore off you'd be in a perpetuate state of exhaustion for no less than two weeks. And to take it a third time… well… of those who did their legs had never quite been the same.
This was Zith's third potion.
And he was not, in that moment, worried about what his future fate might hold, for the Raven had found him and that fate was far worse than any potential state of permanent exhaustion, at least then he'd be alive.
In less than a minute, he was out of Kindrik, and in two he was three miles away from the city. His legs were screaming with every strep, but he dared not stop. He did not think he could have stopped even if he wanted to. Just how the dogs beaten breath did it find me?
Gloria woke in the middle of the night, needing to use the privy. The room was dark and unfamiliar and for a moment Gloria panicked, thinking she was still kidnapped by the thieves, but then memory returned and she drowsily rose. She blinked sleepily, wanting to go back to bed. A full minute passed before she forced herself off the mattress. She knelt on the floor, looking under the bed for the pissing pot.
There was none.
She blinked stupidly for a few minutes, wondering where poor people went to the bathroom. When she finally recalled a revolting story she'd once overheard one of the palace guards tell, she rose to her feet and did her best to forget the story once more. It had involved three men, a rabbit, and a latrine.
The door creaked as she opened it, and part of her was shocked to find no one standing outside. She really shouldn't have been shocked. She might not even be a princess and this wasn't the sort of place any proper nobility would stay.
It took her a bit to find the latrine once she'd left the inn and her experience within the three by three foot building was so horrifying that she immediately forgot it once she closed the door. She was fully awake when she returned to the inn, and as such she noticed something that her sleepy mind had overlooked; there was light and hushed voices coming from behind the kitchen door.
Cautiously, Gloria approached the door. She peaked through the key whole, which was a large enough lock that even she wouldn't have had trouble picking it.
Within the kitchen was a bustle of people, all speaking in harsh but quite tones, but not so quite that Gloria could not hear what was said.
"Maud says she's noble and I believe it," a large, burly, sweaty man said, thick arms crossed over his chest. His brows were drawn together in what seemed like a permanent frown. In fact, everyone in the room was frowning, though none of them sounded particularly angry.
"She could be her," a pump woman whispered and a few other people nodded their heads in grim agreement.
Gloria blinked. It was obvious the people were speaking about Gloria, but what had they meant 'her' just who was this 'her?'
"I don't know. It wasn't really her kind of humor," the burly man said.
"She could be trying something new," a younger man piped in. He seemed to be the youngest there, older than Gloria herself, but young compared to the rest of the furrow browed brigade.
"Could be," someone Gloria could not see said. It was a woman's voice. "But I think we should tie her up, just to be safe."
"Are you mad?" said another voice. "If she is her, the dogs will be on us and I don't want a repeat of what happened yesterday."
More grim nods of consent.
"If she is really noble maybe she can help us," the plump woman said. "People will listen to a Lady."
"Are you sure she really is a Lady? She didn't seem to think she was," it was the serving girl who spoke. Though Gloria could not see her, she recognized the voice.
"I think she might have been a little confused," the innkeeper said. Just who all was in there?
"Well, she can't stay here," the woman who had suggested to tie Gloria up butted in. "The way she eats, we'll be out of food within a week!"
"Shh!" half the room hissed. "You'll wake her."
"I'm just saying that we don't need a spoiled little princess right now, we have enough to deal with as it is," the woman hissed.
'"Do you think she is a princess?" the youngest man asked.
"She might be," the buff man mused.
The bitter woman snorted. "A princess with clothes and hair like that, ha!"
There were several gasps and three people darted towards where the woman's voice had come from. Half the room swerved towards the back doors to the kitchen, and the other half swerved towards…
The looks of controlled horror broke out into total panic as the people who had swerved to look at the door, behind which Gloria hid, spotted a single eye peaking through the huge lock.
"It's her!" shrieked the plump woman.
Gloria threw herself from the door, just as it was wretched open by the burly man. She had not quite managed to fully rise and froze at the huge mans furrowed brows. His expression relaxed at the sight of her, and Gloria slowly straitened.
The rest of the room was now letting out breaths of relief, though some were eyeing Gloria suspiciously.
"I'm not her," Gloria said quickly. She didn't know who this 'her' was, but Gloria was fairly certain it was not her.
The burly man nodded. "I see that you are not. You might as well come in."
Sleep completely forgotten, Gloria slowly entered the room. The burly man shut the door behind her.
"If you are not her, than who are you?" it was the voice of the bitter woman, and when Gloria looked to her she saw that the woman's features were just as bitter as her voice. She was thin, pointed faced, and had permanent frown lines spread across her forehead.
"I'm," Gloria's voice faltered a moment, but then she straightened. She would not be bossed around by a mere common woman, no matter how angry she looked. "Why should I tell you who I am? I do not know who you are, and all I have heard from you is ill will towards me."
"Yeah, she is most definitely a princess," the youngest man said, and most of the room nodded in grim agreement.
"So what if I am?" Gloria said, and turned to face him instead. She seemed to have properly quelled the bitter woman. "Why should it matter to any of you who or what I am? I will be gone in the morning."
"Oh, please don't go," the plump woman begged. "Please, your majesty we need your help." She wrung her hands, tears brimming her eyes. "Please, noble lady, do not abandon us."
"It is not my place," Gloria said, some of the authority had left her voice. It was true, this country was not under her father's rule and should this king learn Gloria was here… she was quite finished with being kidnapped!
"But you must help us," the serving girl pleaded.
"How can I help you when I don't even know what it is that ails you?" Gloria asked, and immediately wished she could take her words back. Hope sparked in the young woman's eyes, and Gloria had no way of fulfilling whatever hope she had sparked in the girl.
"A witch!" the serving girl said. "There is a witch of the most horrible nature-"
"She is not a witch," the pump woman broke over the girl. "She is a powerful, evil sorceress!"
"No, she is an enchantress of the deepest despair!"
"She is a demon from the darkest pits of the underworld!"
"A creature cast off from the temple of Mashok!"
"The daughter of a thousand horrors!"
"Stop!" Gloria shouted, cutting off the rampage. She took a breath, to calm herself before continuing. "Never mind who or what she is tell me what it is that she has done."
Everyone within the room shared a significant glance that Gloria completely failed to understand. "Well?" she said, and started tapping her foot to drive the point home.
"Don't laugh," the plump woman said with complete seriousness. "Whatever we say, you must not laugh."
Gloria blinked. "What?"
"Just, please, lady listen and don't laugh, don't even smile." The pump woman went on.
"Okay," Gloria said slowly, and adjusted her features to an impassive look. "Go on."
The pump woman took a deep breath, and, watching Gloria wearily, said, "She makes people laugh to death."
Gloria blinked again and the pump woman's features fell.
"Majesty, you must believe us," the serving girl pleaded. "She has already killed fifteen people, some of them children."
Gloria only stared. She'd never heard of someone actually laughing to death. "How can she do such a thing?"
"We do not know how, majesty, but she comes to us and says and does the most crude things that some cannot help but laugh," the pump woman said.
"Sometimes she whispers in the ears of men and then they start laughing and cannot stop until… until…" but the young man could not seem to finish. He looked hopelessly to the others.
"Until their insides fall out their mouth," the bitter woman finished.
It took Gloria a moment to process that. "Their insides fall out of their mouth?" she repeated in disgust.
The people nodded.
"And then," the young man went on, voice quivering. "She calls her dogs, who play with the body in the most ludicrous way that more people start laughing and then…"
Gloria held up a hand to keep the bitter woman from finishing the story. She really didn't want to know.
"If anyone laughs at a joke that is not hers she comes, and demands to know what it is that was so funny and will not leave and will not stop being ridiculous until someone is laughing at her," the burly man said soberly.
Gloria stared at the lot of them. She couldn't believe it. It was just ridiculous. Surely they were all joking. In a skeptical voice, and an expression to match it, Gloria said, "Just what name does this insane woman go by?"
Sorry, fictionpress is being a bit silly, but his is an authors note.
I'd like to thank Happy Reader for their review it was very heart lifting. I might not have otherwise updated in a long while. I didn't think people were all that interested in this story, so I've been casting my attentions elsewhere. Anyway, thank you all for reading. Hope you enjoyed this chapter.