Tuesday 26 – Wednesday 27 July 2011
The smoke haze hung in the air like a thick blanket enveloping all the fragile bodies that dared to call the village home. Winter was always brutal, and many lives were lost each time the season visited. It was always the same: the very old and the very young were those most likely to suffer at the hands of the winter season. This was the way things went every year. This was life in Carter’s Common.
Through the low hanging haze, Alden Carter wandered aimlessly around the village. He’d never minded the cold. There were far more insidious things in the village and surrounding area to be concerned with, mostly of the human variety. It was normal for Alden to be making his rounds at this time of the morning. He enjoyed the quiet repose that it brought him. Everyone else was still sleeping at five a.m. The village was his.
Carter’s Common, as the village had come to be known, was founded on the backs of Alden’s ancestors some two hundred years previous. As far as he was concerned, this really was his village because of the ancestral link. Other residents saw things differently, of course, and Alden was really only a token head of the village. The village council, a group of thirteen men, including Alden Carter, made all of the important decisions. It seemed to Alden, though, that decisions never fell his way.
He was simple, both in intelligence and of means, but he was fair, and empathetic. His solid built disguised a soft nature, and an easy humour. The young of the village adored him, as he was the only adult who would drop everything in order to entertain them. Nothing was ever too much for Alden where the children were concerned. He and his wife, Rosie, had none of their own – not since the storm that hit the village five years before. Their six-week-old son, William, had been taken in the flood that was brought by the storm. Rosie had not spoken a word since.
Ever alert to things that were unusual or different, Alden was shocked to find someone else roaming the village streets. He did not recognise the woman approaching him, and identification was made even more difficult by the cloak and hood shrouding her face, despite the fact she carried a flaming torch in front of her. What was she carrying by her side? He vaguely recognised the instrument, but it wasn’t until she raised it to eye level that the terror shot through his body.
Considering his options, Alden Carter, head of the village, stopped dead in his path. Literally. The woman, watching Alden drop to the ground, continue to move effortlessly by, turning her head minutely to glance at the corpse to her right.
‘And now,’ she whispered as she gazed upon his body, ‘your kin shall know Goody Ford.’
She looked around, trying to ascertain if there had been any witnesses to the deed she had just committed, knowing that it was highly unlikely. Stomping her foot on his chest, Goody Ford wrenched the arrow from his body. She examined the head in the torch light, spinning the arrow around in all directions.
‘Good enough to use again. Waste not, want not,’ she said as she wiped Alden Carter’s blood on her cloak, and continued on her way into Carter’s Common.
They would smell her coming now. The blood on her cloak would give her away. She had to act quickly and stealthily. Her village had argued whether she was a suitable assassin for the job. Richard Smith had said it was stupid to send a woman to do a man’s work, but in all honesty, the man couldn’t shoot to save himself, and had given up the fight pretty promptly when confronted with the fact. Goody Ford was, after all, the most accurate with a bow and arrow. No one in the village, or the surrounding hamlets, was as skilled as she.
That skill had been born out of necessity. Her husband had been slaughtered some years ago, by one of Alden Carter’s kin. Goody Ford had found his body just outside of her village. He had been ripped to shreds, and save for the amulet he’d always carried, he was utterly unrecognisable. She had then take it upon herself to avenge his death, and had trained for long hours every day. In a few short months, she was without a doubt, the best archer amongst her people. Her enthusiasm to reap her revenge had scared some of the other villagers, but it mattered little to her.
Seizing the moment, and utilising the cover of darkness, Goody Ford crept deeper into Carter’s Common. She knew she would have to work fast, and was only now beginning to doubt that she could take them all.
‘It’s too late now, lady. You must steel yourself, and go on. For James, and for the children,’ she whispered, hoping to bolster her confidence a little.
Leaving the torch on the ground by the main entrance to Carter’s Common as a marker for her return, she readied her bow and arrow. None of them were stirring yet, but it would only be a matter of time before they smelled his blood on her. She moved quickly through Carter’s Common, firing bolts into every one she saw, including the young. They had to be stopped. This was not their land; her village now owned this land. And sooner or later, the wolves that roamed Carter’s Common would have to learn that. Today was that day.