The Road Not Taken – Yuri Webnovel Chapter 0

This is the first chapter in a book I am writing, among other things, for this years’ NaNoWriMo.

We have already met Runo the necromancer as co-protagonist (together with her raven) of this completed novella.

Artumes had been guarding her prisoner for a few days now, but nothing could prepare her from her request when they set up night camp next to the riverbank. 

“Can I take a bath?” Asked the redhead. 

Artumes’ sable-skinned hands froze in mid-air. She turned away from the log she was chopping into firewood and leered at the other woman.

“At once, Your Majesty,” she replied with a sneer, turning back to lower her hatchet onto her log in a clean cut, cleaving it in two with one single swing. 

The chain connecting her left wrist to her prisoner’s ankle tinkled.

She picked up the two halves and cut it again, nary breaking her breath as she hewed away and talked. 

“Anything else this humble servant could help you with? How about dining on a bed of roses? And a bottle of the finest Iskalnari wine from the cities of the south. Perhaps a new pair of silken robes and a silver crown, and a hair from the heads of the Three Wanderers as well!”

The redhead chuckled. It was not the first time Artumes had listened to her laughter, and she wondered if she’d ever get used to it. She had often heard the cackling sound of Marrowers such as she was, going mad in the heat of battle, feverish from the foul power they wielded over the life of others. 

As ironic as it may be, it was usually the last thing she heard as well: before her battle axe cleaved through their iron masks and split their skulls in two like an apple. 

But this young woman’s chuckle was different from the others – it has a smoky quality to it, similar to her voice, spinning silk with every word. Her laughter seemed to wrap around her like the finest shawl, to then settle in Artumes’ stomach with a pleasant and warm glow.

In short: yet another trick the captured Marrower was trying to pull.

And if only she had not been more useful alive than dead, Artumes would have already snipped her neck and her shoulders with great relief.

“I would take all those and more,” the girl groaned, putting her arms behind her red mane as she lay on the brown grass. “But please: it has been a week since I last washed myself! You and your lot may live in the forests for months on end and think little of it, but I do mind.” Artumes ignored her, but she could feel her grey eyes following the line of her shoulders as she rose the hatchet in the air once again to chop more firewood. “And are you not bothered? With your Anthilian senses, wouldn’t you prefer to carry around a prisoner who doesn’t reek?”

“I’d very much prefer a prisoner who does not talk,” she replied as the hatchet hit the ground once again. 

Artumes stopped to think for a moment, looking at their surroundings., then sparse beeches already turning red, their grey trunks standing like mute witnesses to the unhappy conundrum she found herself in. 

The road has brought them further south than she had expected or hoped. They would have to turn westward soon, lest they found themselves lost in some no man’s land between warring hives. She could deal with a couple of Elves, but she was not keen to measure her axe’s bite against an entire colony of them.

Trying to make it look like it she was stretching herself, she set her face against her left armpit, and cringed. 

Perhaps taking a bath wouldn’t be the worst idea this day could bring.

Still, the thought of doing something like that next to.. no, with, for she would be laying with her in the water, never would she allow her prisoner to sit unchecked in the camp, set a strange feeling right into her gut. She felt like a novice scout again, wondering if the game she brought back to camp for the nigh would be enough to guarantee her another day of training. 

It was far from the most pleasing sensation. 

But it was not the time to ponder over her feelings. If ever a time like that could ever come. 

She picked up the firewood and the hatchet and poured it all next to the circle of stones where she would light the fire – as she walked, the thick chain connecting her dark left wrist to her prisoner’s dainty ankle tinkled. It was long enough she could get enough room if she wanted, but she would never be able to escape. 

Still, Artumes had seen Marrowers such as this one display feats of foul spells far superior to those needed to snap a ring of iron in two.

She could not trust the redhead, but perhaps she could trust her goals. She had been on her best behavior so far… as much as it could be expected of a lowly Tuonelian such as her. 

“Seeing something you like, my keeper?” She smirked, her grey eyes looking up. 

Artumes blinked and the sneer came back with a vengeance. 

“Yes. How much I would enjoy to snip your head right off your neck and kick it all the way to the Burning River.”

“I am of the idea your King would be not quite appreciative of your efforts then.”

“That,” Artumes warned her, falling down on one knee, “will depend much more on your behavior than mine.” She held out a hand. “We will take a bath, the two of them. I am not letting out of my sight.”

The Marrower’s forehead creased. Had she truly managed to shock her?

“I will try to consider it an honor.”

Artumes gripped her robes and pulled her up in one fluid movement as the redhead stumbled to find purchase on the ground again. Her grip tightened and she loomed over her. Even if her prisoner was quite tall for a Tuonelian woman, Artumes towered over her by at least two heads. And as the blood of the Land Under the Tide ran true in her veins, she was also much stronger then she appeared. She pulled her up with ease, until their noses were so close maybe a hair’s breadth was between them, and her prisoner hung in the air. When she saw a flash of uncertainty in those silver eyes, Artumes allowed herself a grin. 

“I am sure you will your very best not to waste my generosity.”

And without even putting her down, she carried her towards the river.

“Do you display the very same care with all your prisoners?”

“You would not like to find out otherwise. Now, do me a favor, Marrower.” She pulled her close once again, standing right on the river’s bank, as the clean waters rushed below. It was already late autumn, so they wouldn’t be warm at all. Artumes was used to it. 

But she was ready to be such a high-ranking servant of the Iron Crown would not be used to a freezing bath. 

Besides, the chain still linked them.

“Check on the water temperature for me, will you?”

“Wait, y-” the redhead let out the most delightful shriek as Artumes opened her hand and she fell right into the river, raising a sharp splash. 

Author’s Notes: hope you liked this first chapter. As I am publishing what I am writing for the NaNo, many things strike me as not completely satisfactory. I will try to fix what I don’t like before next update. At any rate, thanks for reading!


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