The Yard At The Inn
There was blood in the dirt. A lot of it had belonged to soldiers, though a few farmers, as well as a man who repaired engines, had kept the dust sticking to itself and out of the air.
The chickens scrabbled fowl runes in the yard and clucked with irritability. The girl watched them from the window. She counted them, one by one, mentally marking off favorite traits of each until she arrived at one with less desirable qualities than the others. She did not hate the bird. She merely loved it the least. Taking hold of the cleaver, she went outside to the pen.
The birds paid her no mind, even when she suddenly grabbed the bird she had marked with her eye. Gripping it tightly by the throat, she took it to the wooden stump.
While it was not a proud tradition, it was tradition nonetheless to prey on travelers. The war had given her and her mother plenty, in exchange for taking her father. As soldiers grew sleepy off the wine they had graciously been given, the girl’s mother would relieve them first of their troubles, followed by their valuables and their lives.
She held the bird fiercely and began to squeeze. She found that breaking the neck helped her make the cutting blow with more finesse. The bird made no sound, but the others had begun to congregate near the gate, and were clucking and cawing.
There would always be wide places on the road not safe for passage. In the aftermath of battles the girl and her mother had slowly turned their house into one such place. She didn’t hate her mother for it. This was the only life she could have been given. The road was covered in dust, and beyond the dust was sand as far as the eye could see. She could have been a whore in a town on the far side of the sand, but she had seen men hit her mother, and had decided that was not her calling.
A tired dog had approached the gate, its tongue lolling with exhaustion in the midday sun. A stray, probably feral, possibly rabid, the girl thought. She slowly set the chicken down and it trotted over to its brothers and sisters, voicing its curiosity at the newcomer. The girl edged toward the door as the first shriek pierced the quiet. The dog yelped as a chicken lunged at it, talon flashing. A bold bird, thought the girl and the dog. The dog puffed itself up. Another cock lashed out with its beak, drawing blood from the dog, who was now unsure about the possibilities of a meal.
A third bird battered the dog with its wings while its feet flailed furiously in the mutt’s face. A fourth leaped into the air and pecked at the dog’s ear. The first and most daring of the birds snapped its beak shut on the dog’s eye. The dog squealed and tried to turn away. It made it no farther than the gate, shaking birds off as it went. Every feather thrown into the air was replaced by another bird’s-worth. The weight of the birds was causing the dog to stagger, and it was bleeding from a dozen cuts and gashes. The smaller animals showed no mercy, even when the dog had finally stopped moving.
The girl stood transfixed in the doorway, and decided she could no longer wait for her mother’s sickness to worsen. She would move to a town on the far side of the sands.