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Blood of the Bellflower: The Sifting: Book 1: The Trace Hunter

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(Hild's perspective: Leading male protagonist)





Hild still couldn’t comprehend why they were hunting him - a young indentured servant, glorified horse hostler, and fence mender. Nonetheless, his parlous escape from the obscure mining village had flared an uproar with the Segaeta guards.

Now, he lay stunned and spread eagle in the hot sand, breathing heavily and blinking against a sticky trickle of blood from his brow bone.

Three things tumbled through his mind: First, this new life of running and fighting was unsustainable. Second, Razzia was somewhere – on a horse – being hunted by an assassin. She couldn’t stay on a fence to save her life. Third, what the devil were those beasts being used to track them?

Nothing about Hild’s life was remarkable: wake up, wish he were somewhere else, grit his teeth, and work. Hild felt like he had been birthed into the wrong body and the dullest life imaginable – until yesterday.

Despite Razzia’s efforts, they had managed to get lost on a hunting trail, stalked by an assassin, and attacked by Segaeta guards by ten a.m. Hild had thrown Razzia into a saddle and watched her tear through the south forty – her long dark hair in a tangled mess behind her. His concern now overshadowed any pride gained from fighting off two guards and successfully escaping a Trace Hunter.

Razzia liked rules, bossy cooks, and her boring life choices. Of course, she was far from dull beneath her outward composed exterior and stubbornness, but she would never forgive Hild for what happened.

Partially obscured by a few bedraggled date palms and a broken-up cornice, Hild groaned, rolling onto his stomach, reached for his scattered bow and quiver and aligned an arrow with blood-gummed, trembling fingers.

He glared with his peripheral at the two-year-old mare, who, a minute ago, had halted at the cornice, flung Hild haphazardly into the tangled vegetation bed, and then lurched into a trot toward the clump of date palms. “You’re lucky I don’t beat the devil out of you.” He growled, “And that’s better than you deserve.”

His eyes narrowed toward a dozen mounted soldiers charging toward the oasis fringe, a plume of sand and sage in their wake. Three guards on horseback following two high-ranking warriors astride the enormous, muscle-endowed cat beasts that, until today, Hild had believed were from legends! Fit with claws like scythes and skulls the size of breastplates, their jaws could engulf a human head. Hild had already envisioned many creative ways he might meet death – like having his throat ripped out by razor-sharp teeth or being tenderized by kneading claws and a sandpapery tongue.

He followed their trail with the quavering arrowhead, calculating a half-mile distance in the fading light – too far for Hild’s bow, the wind, and blurred vision from a split and swelling brow.

He released an arrow that fell short and to the south by fifty yards. As he aligned a new shaft, wincing at the pain in his shoulder, a long shadow shaded him from the low sun. Alarm momentarily vanquished fears of giant stalking cats as Hild flipped on his back and aimed toward a tall, blurred silhouette.

A man stood over six-and-a-half feet tall, armed with an enormous Scythian longbow –  black with glossy, flawless curves and arrows protruding from his quiver with blue-tipped fletchings. Hild recognized the middle-aged man as one of the distinctive Tuscarora tribe with naturally bronze skin and shiny black hair tangled into a long braid.

“I’m Creet.” The man said in a laggard tone. “Welcome to the wilderness.” He retrieved a girthy arrow from his quiver, and in one fluid movement, he set his bow, locked aim on the heaving chest of a charging cat, and released. Hild watched, doubtful that any marksman could hit a moving target at a quarter mile in this wind.

The arrow hardly began arching before he had strung his second arrow and released it. Then the third, and so on. Each succeeded in planting into their targets with exactness.

“Amazing!” Hild breathed.

The first arrow sunk into the rutty ribcage of a cat, who lurched forward, colliding with the sand and crushing the helpless rider beneath him. The second wounded cat stumbled in a clumsy mass of fur and limbs, engulfing his rider, plus a fallen horse and horseman. The two remaining horsemen caught up to the scene, swerving around bodies and urging their mounts toward the cornice.

Hild’s avenger shot two successive arrows that stopped in the leather-and-chain armored chests of the two remaining guards. The wounded men fell sideways off their horses, arrows jutting from their armor.

Hild gaped at the trail of strewn bodies among heatwaves. He turned to face Creet, who stared, too, clearly not experiencing the same exultant feelings as Hild.

Instead, Creet frowned and pursed his thick lips over crooked teeth as his eyebrows pinched, “Well,” he sighed, staring with a plaintive look at the scene, now silent except for the ceaseless wind. “That’s a shame.” He said each word thoughtfully.

“What?” Hild stared at the tall, droopy-eyed man in a tattered tunic, who had just saved his life and now seemed steeped in regret.

Creet continued his self-directed musings, “Perhaps Kasyl forgot to tell him to go west. Could have saved lives. Horse lives, lentor-cat lives, man lives.”  

Hild got to his knees, stood, and straightened to his full height, but still half a head shorter than Creet, “Kasyl did tell me to go west! But I was starving! So, logically, I stopped!” Hild paused, then said sheepishly, “It was a brief stop.”

“Brief,” Creet said, still staring at the defiled scene. Then, he smiled with a corner of his mouth and said, “Seems logical to follow instructions, Hild.”

Hild just stared. He had been scolded by Razzia for breaking the rules yesterday, too. His chest tightened. His choices had cost more than himself. What if Razzia hadn’t made it home? What then?

“Well, young warrior, “Creet said, “You’re west now. West is your first destination.”

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