A perk of living alone was that it was alright to cry as loudly and messily as you wanted; nobody was around to ask if you were alright.
Another upside was you'd get to talk to yourself in privacy, nobody was there to call you crazy, though Hannah didn't think it was that.
Sat by the fireside, Hannah wiped her forehead before noticing her long, brown hair was dangerously close to the flames. She whipped her head away and her eye caught the deck of cards she had glued above her mantle.
People had always asked Hannah why she had hung the strange work up, but she never could answer them.
People did funny things in the midst of a war, but that was one of many thoughts Hannah didn't particularly enjoy to mull over.
Finally sweaty from the heat of the fire, Hannah stood up and put on her gloves, coat, and scarf before heading on to the porch of her small, two-roomed house.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the chilly, fresh winter air. The villagers in her small town didn't give her a second glance but they seemed to hurry by without meeting her eyes. Hannah watched them, not even bothering to hide her stare that was combing the small throng of people.
It was quiet and calm, though there was a tension in the air and Hannah knew it wasn't from herself, the people were scared of the Guardians.
Hannah hated them. They were assigned by the royal family to protect small villages from harm but they were the ones causing harm with their late night drinking and harassing people for money. Their intoxicated laughing had scarred Hannah.
Before focusing her mind yet again, Hannah heard a girl's scream pierce the air, the sound of fear. There it was.
Hannah started walking toward the noise, as if by instinct. Her feet were crunching under the snow as she followed the crowd of people in dark clothing, all heading toward the same noise, identical looks of terror on their faces. Who was next? The horror of Ryn's Guardians didn't stop people watching their every move.
"Daddy, where are we going?" a small girl in front of Hannah said to her father.
Hannah looked up from the dirty snow, eavesdropping on another family's conversation.
"To watch as they finally convict that criminal who has been stealing my food." the man replied, his booming voice too excited for Hannah's comfort.
She stopped listening and looked ahead. Hannah sort of knew the ranks of the Guardians but wasn't too sure of her knowledge.
Her heart beat quickened as she approached as the herd of sheeple came to a stop. Hannah stood on her tiptoes and pushed through the crowd, scared of what she might see, but wanting to know all the same.
A girl was in town square, sobbing as her whole body violently shook; she was knelt on the ground, a male Guardian holding her white hair to keep her gaze up. Her nose was bleeding.
Hannah noticed the round drops of blood scattered on the snow, which reflected in the moonlight; she must have put up a fight, it was clear from the scratches on her bare, shaking arms.
Hannah already knew the punishment, and a sick feeling leaked down her throat and into her stomach. She didn't want to watch but she couldn't take her gaze away from the terrified woman. She couldn't have been older than fifteen, Hannah judged.
"Your crime." A Guardian shouted, staring at her. She bit her bloody lip. "You stole from a stall."
He threw a hunk of bread and it landed with a patter in the ground; like a small dog's footsteps. The poor girl looked stricken and she tried to scramble back, whining in fear. The Guardian who was holding her hair let out a cold laugh that sent shivers down Hannah's spine.
She held her breath as the Guardian grabbed the girl's hand, she flinched and squeaked.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her body trembling as her tears hit her dress, her voice soft.
"No, you're sorry you got caught." the Guardian smiled and drew a knife, she flinched and shook her head as Hannah's breathing quickened.
He grabbed a lantern and set it near the woman, casting eerie shadows on her face and making the sober scene more realistic. Hannah could see the sweat on her face and the fear in the poor girl's eyes.
The Guardian pulled out a knife.
Hannah told herself to close her eyes, but she couldn't, she guiltily watched; she wasn't new to this punishment.
He lifted the knife and brought it down to a bloodcurdling scream.
Hannah knew it had been coming but she still gasped and folded her arms, hiding her palms from sight. She wanted to close her eyes but felt glued to the scene as she shivered in fright.
Tears wet her eyes as she saw the wound.
The girl was minus one hand. She gasped and croaked, holding her stub of an arm to her chest. There was blood, melting the snow with it's warmth as she screamed and cried in pain.
Several people winced as the girl choked. But nobody helped her, and Hannah was either too much a coward to try, or she valued her pitiful life.
The Guardian grabbed the left and repeated the punishment, the girl screamed so loudly Hannah's heart felt broken.
A scarlet waterfall flowed from left hand as well, the smell and sight made Hannah's stomach and she gulped back the nauseous feeling in her chest.
The blood decorated everything, making the snow an ornamental red.
The Guardian stood up, stepping on the severed hands and surveying the onlookers.
"It's almost curfew and I'll happily poke out a few eyes for your entertainment."
Hannah turned and ambled home, keeping her head down and her eyes on her feet; the villagers of Ryn left the girl to bleed out. Hannah already knew that would be in tomorrow's newspaper, and she made a mental note not to read it.
"Be careful!" one teenage girl called out to Hannah. "I hear the Guardians don't like animals. I bet you're next."
Hannah didn't even bother to look up; she sighed and her breath rose in the air like fog.
She saw the full moon through the forest surrounding her town and bit her lip, remembering when she was bitten by a werewolf. Her eyes changed color with her mood, a side-effect if being part werewolf. It served as a reminder that she could never be the same. How her parents died at her hands. How if the Guardians could get a hold of her, if they got the chance...
They'd kill her.
Being a baker, Hannah was up at the crack of dawn every morning; on this one she was decorating a chocolate cake. The sight of it made her mouth water, she couldn't eat it though, it was for a client. She might have dog blood in her, but she could luckily still eat chocolate.
Hannah tried not to yawn as she added sugar to the top of the cake. She wasn't a morning person by choice, but she needed all the money she could earn. The people of the town may have disliked her, but they'd willingly do business with her; as long as that was the extent of their interactions.
The cold business of the world used to send shivers down Hannah's spine, but she had stopped caring long ago. Her parents were dead so it was her one way to respectably earn money.
Old Hank was the only other person in town who had been bitten and the Guardians had forced him to live in the streets.
Most people in Hannah's village hated difference.
Hannah noticed a tier was leaning ever so slightly and she added more chocolate icing to the top, making a more elaborate design to make it look more even. She may not have been close to flawless with her image, but she could try to be with her art.
"Perfection," Hannah muttered to herself. The cake was three tiers tall, chocolate icing, and sugar on top. Hannah found baking calming, for there were no surprises; cupcakes never became pies in the oven.
It was also a welcome distraction from the news of the war. All the dead Guardians, Legendaries, and Epics, made her sad. She didn't like them but she knew, or at least hoped, that some of them were decent.
A knock at Hannah's solid oak door made her jump, for she got scared easily. Having only two rooms, a bedroom and kitchen, she was at the front door quite quickly.
Hannah opened it and the sun hit her magical eyes, making her squint. "Hello, my name is Charlotte. It is such a pleasure to meet you," a girl said. She was unusually happy for that early in the morning. Way too joyful, in Hannah's opinion.
She was quite small, had amber eyes, red hair, and a green velvet dress. She looked slightly familiar and Hannah guessed she had seen her around the village before. She looked a bit younger than Hannah, who was eighteen.
Hannah barely had time to process this girl. "Hi, I'm Hannah." she replied, sticking out her hand, but Charlotte dropped into a low curtsy. It was so formal that it was sickening.
"Can I help you?" Hannah asked. She knew it came out bluntly but she was tired.
"I'm here to purchase a cake; I will compensate you, of course." Charlotte declared. She had clearly noticed how small Hannah's house was. Hannah noticed she had an eyebrow scar on her left eyebrow.
Charlotte pulled a bag off coins out of a hidden pocket in her emerald green dress and shook it in Hannah's face. She was wearing a purple ring.
All witches wore purple rings. Witches. Hannah took deep breaths, trying to focus on the current moment, trying not to faint or run away or cry. She ended pinching her elbow, her fingertips cool.
"Earth to Hannah. Are you alright?" asked Charlotte. She looked sort of worried. Whether it was for Hannah's mental health or her safety, Hannah couldn't tell.
"Are you a witch? Why are you wearing that ring?" Hannah demanded. She was usually a shy person who beat around the bush, but she didn't appreciate this unexpected visit, and it was all over her face.
"No, I am not. I'm just fortunate enough to own a ring for every color of the rainbow." Charlotte laughed, wiggling a finger in a way Hannah felt taunting.
"Then come in, please. Tell me what you want!" Hannah exclaimed, completely changing her attitude and plastering a fake smile on her face. She needed money and business. She ignored her sick, overwhelmed feeling and let Charlotte in, closing the door on the busy town.
Hannah told the odd girl she could sit down at her two-chaired, wooden table.
Once they were seated, Hannah got down to business. She wasn't here to make friends. "What kind of cake can I get you and when do you need it?"
"For tonight. I want that cake." Charlotte said, looking at the chocolate cake. It was on Hannah's counter-top.
"I'm afraid it's for my client. Sorry," Hannah said. What was this girl playing at?
"I'll pay you double; when does your customer need it?" Charlotte asked. She looked starstruck at the cake. Hannah didn't blame her, for it looked beautiful.
"Tomorrow," muttered Hannah. She thought it over, more money and plenty of time to recreate that one for her client. Hannah felt sweaty and she knew she was shaking, but she didn't dare bring attention to herself.
"Sure. Are you going to take it now?" asked Hannah, trying to be polite.
"Yes, it's for Mother's ball. She told me I could leave the castle but I must come back with a cake, or she'll know I've been too busy exploring this village, Ryn!" Charlotte smoothly explained, a blush on her pale cheeks.
Hannah was stuck on the words ball and castle. Was Charlotte royalty? Then it clicked. Charlotte Heath was King Radix's niece.
"You're Lady Charlotte Heath! Your mom is King Radix's sister!" Hannah practically screamed. She had never catered for Nobles, or royalty. She was a small town baker. (Nobles were people who were related to a King or Queen, but not directly in line for a throne. There were only four noble families in Uliaria.)
"Yes, but just call me Lottie, because that's my nickname and it's easier. Please do come to the ball tonight. I'll have a carriage pick you up at six o'clock! No talk of politics, dress appropriately, and do bring a partner, for it shall be such fun." Lottie declared with a slight smile. Her eyes were bright.
Hannah could see why Lady Heath most likely wanted to keep an eye on her daughter; she looked too curious for her own good.
As the red-haired girl stood, a question tickled Hannah's mind, wondering if she should risk asking.
"Um, will there be Guardians there?" Hannah asked shakily, readying herself to decline the invitation.
"Darling, do you even know how the ranks work?" Lottie laughed.
"Sort of," Hannah muttered.
"No, they'll stay outside to guard us, I'll explain everything when I see you tonight."
Hannah said nothing as Lottie gave all the coins in the bag, carefully picked up the plate the cake was sitting on, and left Hannah with a smile. Hannah held the door for Lottie and watched out a window as she disappeared down the cobblestone street path.
Hannah didn’t have an exactly happy memory of parties with Charlotte, for they had seen each other before, Hannah had just forgot. But that was a memory for another time.
She was still shaking from the unexpected memory the princess had jolted, so she let herself relish in it for just a minute.
She was thirteen years old. From across the street she saw three Guardians picking on a little girl. Two men and a woman. Hannah crossed the cobblestone street and yelled at them to cut it out. The girl was only seven.
"Look, the wolf girl wants to tell us off," the female Guardian snickered.
"What's she going to do? Howl at us," the Legendary said, and he mimicked a wolf howl. The others laughed.
"Just leave us alone," Hannah snarled. The Guardians and Legendary laughed harder. The seven-year-old girl slipped away, mouthing a thank you to Hannah.
"Listen here, mutt," the Legendary started. He bent down and shoved his face way too close to Hannah's. His breath stank of beer. He grabbed her arm so she couldn't get away and said, "Let me tell you something. Before any of us were born, back in the good old days, hundreds of years ago, they burnt anyone who was the tiniest part werewolf at the stake. Maybe we should bring that back."
He dragged her to the metal stake on the other side of the village. It was used to burn witches when the villagers manage to catch one. The man called out to his friends, "Edith, bring me a rope and some flint and steel. Charles, drum up a crowd. People are going to want to see this filthy beast get what it deserves."
The two Guardians left but were back in an instant. Hannah screamed and kicked in protest as they tied her up; but she was no match. A crowd of curious villagers stood around, watching the action with a mix of amusement and fear on their faces.
"BURN 'EM ALL! OLD HANK, YOU'RE NEXT," a man screamed. Some villagers clapped in agreement while others screamed out protests. Nobody could look away.
A woman ran up, she was the town baker before Hannah. She was usually so tame, but now she was red in the face; she was always nice to Hannah, the odd, friendless and parent-less part-werewolf.
"Stop that you vile people! If it were up to me I'd burn the lot of you and be done with it. I'm surprised the King ain't heard of how nasty you are. Actually, the only reason you're still here is because King Radix and his men are too fat and lazy to do nothing 'bout it," Elizabeth yelled. She ran up, slapped the Guardian around the head, and quickly untied Hannah.
The Guardians just stared at her in shock. They looked frozen, with their jaws on the floor and their eyes wide.
"Stay a far ways from this lot, darling." she muttered in Hannah's ear as she pushed her away from the stake. Hannah ran into the crowd to watch in fear as the Guardians came back to their senses. The old town baker was grabbed and tied up.
That night she was burnt instead of Hannah. She gave her life to protect the little orphan-misfit she barely knew. That was the reason Hannah became a baker. To honor her without having to think about that day.
That was the main reason Hannah hated the Guardians. She shakily went into her small back-garden and collected three eggs that her chickens had laid. She needed to make another cake before tonight.
Though she wasn't exactly looking forward to it, she had something to distract herself. Tonight, it didn't matter if she was part-werewolf or not; if there was or wasn't a war nearby, remember that tomorrow.
PART TWO: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=145785