Sunday, October 12, 2003

Today’s Word: Ambit

John had crossed this bluff twice in three days of riding a two mile interlocking circuit. Not once had he seen the castle; not until this morn.

It was an ugly thing, having been constructed of some black stone unnatural to this land. Dead vines clung to its walls, writhing about it like skeletal fingers. From the single high tower a pennant flew. It was tattered and sun-bleached, but John could see the sigil on its broad surface: a raven winging over a field of light blue; the crest of family Corvidae. Corvidae the cursed.

The huge front gate was closed, but John found a postern door banging its frame in the stiff breeze. He unsaddled his horse and tied her to the steel gate, then entered the castle.

He had expected a tunnel, darkness, perhaps even bone-numbing cold, but the door opened directly into the castle's ample bailey. Sunlight splintered on the leaves of a towering oak and the needles of several ancient pines. The air smelled of turf and root and old rock. This place was definitely not the gods-bleeding terror John had heard about in all the tales. He only hoped the treasure rooms beneath the main floor were not old smiths' tales like the horrible giants that supposedly guarded the gate. John turned his feet toward the main hall, striding with confidence.

So much confidence that when the oak grabbed him about the middle, pinning his arms at his sides, John took several wild steps in the air before he fully realized he was no long land bound. He rose up and up, into the furthest reaches of the old tree's canopy. When finally he stopped, John saw that there were many bodies hid up among the oak's highest branches. Across the way he could see a near equal amount hanging within the pines. Most were rotted to skeletons, the bulk of their bones long dropped away to the ground, but several were quite fresh. One dead man, very close to John, still had eyes in his head, though birds had pecked away much of his cheeks and upper lip. His grinning teeth were a disgusting mix of brown and yellow.

John struggled against the thick branches wrapped round his body, trying to shift his right hand to the hilt of his sword. But as he struggled, more branches snaked upward, binding his legs so tightly that his knees and ankles ached from the pressure. Air squeezed out of his lungs in an audible sigh, and his fingers and head felt bloated with blood.

In the old tree's full ambit, there was no chance for breath or life, but that both should be snuffed like flame and warmth.

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