“Ah, here we are. Come in, come in,” Little Whipple said, snapping her hand through the air.
So they wouldn’t be alone on assignment. That was disappointing, but Macy wouldn’t let that bother her. If there was one thing in which she had confidence, it was her ability to be charming. There wasn’t anyone else at this school who could diminish this experience for her. Not even, she decided, if it were a Lady of the Ax.
She turned. Saw the red cloak and the plain face above it. And wanted to vomit.
“And here is the Lady of the Ax who’ll be joining you,” Little Whipple continued. “Lochlin Cowle.”
The Ladies’ post was a Grandmother’s cottage in the heart of Cutter Wood. Lochlin and Macy, being both Ladies of the Fray, were to share this cabin until their assignment was complete. Clever Hale would be somewhere close by, perhaps in a Wood Cutter’s cottage.
Macy woke to find two letters placed upon the table in the modest little kitchen. One addressed to Little Bridges. The other, Little Cowle. The cottage was quiet, as Lochlin Cowle had already donned her red cloak and set out to find breakfast. A do-gooder, Macy thought. Perhaps she should’ve been a Lady of the Brown Nose, if there were such a title. Though Little Red would not approve, Macy snatched up Lochlin’s letter, and read.
There is a fox in cutter wood. You are to slay it, and return with it’s tail.
Slay a fox? Such a terribly easy assignment. A smile slid across her lips. Perhaps being a Lady of the Ax was not all it was thought to be. Iconic, yes, but nothing more than a slayer. She opened her own letter, the red ink a familiar and exciting find. The sight of it made her pulse pound.
There is a fox in Cutter Wood, much larger and more cunning than the wolves of the Mimic Ring. You are to assist in the capture of this fox.
Macy’s smile fell. Assist in the capture. The words made a vile sound in her head and laid heavily on her tongue. Assist. She was to assist the Lady of the Ax. Macy tossed her letter into the fire, watching flames consume the red ink.
The door opened and Little Cowle stood in its frame with two squirrels and a basket of robin’s eggs. “Is that my letter?” she asked, in her meek, quiet voice.
Macy stood, knowing she was taller than Little Cowle. She wouldn’t be looked down upon by such a girl. “Of course it is.” Macy’s arm extended only half way, and Lochlin had to cross the room to take the letter. Macy pretended to watch the fire as the other girl read her simple assignment.
“Right then.” Lochlin folded the letter and tucked it inside her cloak. “Can you skin a squirrel?”
Her breakfast was terrible. Gamey and wild, with bits of missed fur still attached to the meat. She had never skinned a squirrel, but she couldn’t have asked Lochlin for help. Macy Bridges was every bit as capable of wielding a blade.
“We should start with the eastern portion of the wood and sweep to the west, following the sun,” said Clever Hale. Macy wondered if his assignment was to assist the Lady of the Ax as well. Such a handsome and talented boy, wasted on a peasant’s task.
Macy’s eyes followed a murder of crows through the eastern sky, their black feathers nearly blotting out the early morning sun. “I agree with Clever Hale,” she said, hoping to be rid of Lochlin and alone with the boy.
“As do I.” Little Cowle fastened her ax at her hip.
Macy’s own hips felt bare, with nothing but a small blade dangling from her belt. Cutter Wood was cold beneath the trees and a light frost, the first of the season, covered the ground. Dead leaves coated in delicate ice crunched beneath her boots.
“Perhaps we should split up,” suggested Clever Hale. Little Cowle nodded, and Hale set off toward the North East alone, making it clear he did not wish to be followed.
Before Lochlin could speak, Macy said, “This way. I saw tracks.” Of course the only tracks Macy had seen belonged to the three of them. As she watched Hale walk away, something tickled the back of her mind. Instinct, maybe. Something about the way he slipped between trees, silent and swift. She remembered his easy grin and realized his movements were just as a Clever’s should be. Still, there was something there that she couldn’t ignore.
“I don’t see tracks,” Lochlin said, breath rising from her lips. “Where did you spot them?”
Macy scanned the ground hoping to find tracks of any kind, so that she could say she’d mistaken them for a fox. The group hadn’t come this way, but there was a boot print in the mud, half hidden by twigs and leaves. If Hale had gone the other way, who did this print belong to?
“I don’t see them here,” she said. “We must’ve passed them.” She covered the boot print with leaves, wondering if this weren’t some sort of test. Little Whipple would have known if there were anyone else in the wood today. She would have told them to be watchful. No one enters Cutter Wood without an assignment. If this were a test, Macy would surely pass without the aid of the Lady of the Ax.
Visit us on Friday for the conclusion by Valerie! And for more fiction from this world, check out the tag "Lady of the Ax"
Photo via weheartit.com (If this is yours, please let us know so we can credit you properly!)