Speakeasy #140: Her Majesty’s Ranger

John Everett Millais: Isabella, 1848-49..

Isabella by John Everett Millais

I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees. My hand caressed a solitary salmon thread, ripped from its owner. My hound, Keats, growled as Lorenzo’s scent grew ever stronger. “Go, boy.”

Keats bounded away in the winter twilight, a silent messenger of savagery for whatever filthy kidnapper crossed his path. Fingers tightened on my most trusted friend, Tabanca, riding low at my side. Hardened muscles, honed from years of training and patrolling with the Rangers of Artemis, exploded into motion.

Keats’ prints dimmed as the gloom grew, but the further into the forest we traveled, the more sign I discovered. A broken branch here, a dangling cobweb there, all processed automatically as I ran in the easy rhythm pounded into me by Ranger Mallais. My focus narrowed as visions of justice gaoled my thoughts.

Like the rankest amateur.

A low growl broke free my foolishness for the Goddess to gaze upon. Keats circled a badger-like creature with golden fur, silver eyes, and eight viciously clawed paws. An aurumvorax. Tabanca filled my hand, ready to strike for the glory of the Goddess, the Queen, and the Rangers.

As I crept closer to flank the beast, a whiff of smoke performed its own assault on my senses. Taboo and decree declared this wood off-limits to all but Rangers, punishable by death. I reasoned my quarry lay near, which cast my current battle in a new light. I could not risk the sounds of dispatching so dangerous a beast reaching my true prey.

Tabanca disappeared back into her sheath, replaced by several golden coins all Rangers carry for emergency purposes. Fortunately, gold served as a delicacy to the aurumvorax, and my dilemma certainly qualified as an emergency. The Goddess’ light twinkled off the flying treasure as it scattered in the snow.

The creature hesitated, torn between fresh meat or that which made it so deadly. In the end, the promise of increased power won out and it started rooting through the banks to find its metal muse. I grunted at Keats, and that faithful hound and I resumed our hunt.

The stench of unwashed villains soon mixed with the ever-increasing smell of smoke. Voices, borne upon Aeolus’ grace, reached my straining ears. I communed with Keats and we slowed our advance, seeking refuge behind a rivenoak. Shadow became our ally as we darted from tree to tree. A quick flick of my fingers sent Keats slinking off so we may encircle our game.

I peeked around the great bole, my gaze falling upon a large, bearded ruffian gnawing on a piece of meat, drippings matting chin-hair into a tangled mess. His companion, a thin, pinch-faced fellow, guzzled wine from a leather bladder, red rivulets echoing his nature.

I saw no sign of Lorenzo.

A small subsonic yip vibrated in my cyber-ears. Tabanca rang with joyous abandon as concentrated plasma burst forth, exploding the fire and sending the fiends scrambling. Keats cybernetic legs propelled him onto the back of the fat one, chromed teeth rending flesh. I pointed Tabanca at the drunkard. “Where is Lorenzo?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed as I watched lies race through his eyes. A quick glance to the side of the clearing bespoke cruel truth, but I reined my fury and did not kill him.

Yet.

“Who hired you?” I gestured to his unmoving companion on the ground, swimming in a pool of crystallizing red. “Before you speak lies, know that you have only two choices. A quick, painless death,” I lifted Tabanca, “or death by poet.” I pointed at Keats, tongue lolling and Hades own grin on his face. “He will make your death a work of art to be marveled at by enemies of the Crown for centuries. What say you?”

After I garnered what information I needed, a blast to his head fulfilled my bargain. Keats sniffed out Lorenzo’s shallow grave, and I reclaimed my lost love’s head, as custom demanded.

***

“Thus is the testimony of Isabella Florentine née Boccaccio, Captain in Her Majesty’s Rangers of Artemis, independent planetary kingdom of Gliese, year of our lord 2343. I serve the Goddess and Her Majesty at their pleasure.” My face is expressionless as I shoot my lover’s killer in the stomach and leave him to die slow, writhing like a worm.

“And that pleasure is your doom, Giovanni Boccaccio, former head of the Bardic Society and former beloved brother.” I pat Keats on the head as we walk out the door and back to our duty.

Word Count: 750

Genre: Sci-Fantasy

Speakeasy time again! This week’s prompts: The painting Isabella by John Everett Millais, based on a poem by John Keats, who based it on a work by Giovanni Boccaccio. Get it? Got it? Good.

Our sentence, to be used in the first line, comes from the very talented winner of last week’s Speakeasy, EA Wicklund. The sentence: I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.

Head over to Speakeasy and check out some very good writers as they all put their own spin on the prompts. Entries are posted on Tuesdays!

The rules:

  • Your post must be dated December 15, 2013, or later.
  • Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
  • Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
  • Your piece must include the following sentence as the FIRST line: “I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.
  • The Speakeasy is for submissions written specifically for the grid. Please don’t submit an entry if you intend to showcase it to another blog link-up. Such posts are deleted without notice.
  • Please don’t post long explanations before your post. We want your writing to be the star of the show. If you need to clarify anything, feel free to do so at the end.
  • The badge for your speakeasy #140 post is found in the sidebar. Add the code to the html view of your post before publishing.

Hope you enjoy this week’s offering.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn