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EPISODE 5: THE COMPASSION OF A BELOVED
I open my eyes. The first thing I notice is that I am indoors, a white painted ceiling above my head. The next thing I notice is how comfortable I am. I’m lying in a bed with white sheets, and a pillow is under my head. For a few moments, I consider closing my eyes again, since the bed is so warm and soft, and I feel so exhausted. I feel like putting questions and curiosity aside. Few people almost die twice in only a couple of days. I don’t know why, but I honestly feel impressed with myself. My reasoning and mind dull from weariness, I plan on slipping back into my quiet, dreamless sleep.
Then a thought strikes me; what if I am in a room in Tarsh’s house? What if I am some sort of captive of his? I grunt with determination, fully opening my eyes and rising from the bed. “Ah!” I say to myself as my back seems to light up like a torch.
The room is simple. There is a dresser in one corner to my right, and a lamp sits on top of it. In the opposite corner of the room there is a strung bow and a full quiver of arrows. Directly in front of me is a table with a loaf of bread and some fruit sitting on it. In front of the table is a doorway, closed with heavy curtains, and on the either side of the doorway is a window from which light flows through.
I get off the bed and stand. As the sheets of the bed leave me, I look down and see that my torso is bare, as are my feet, but I still have my breeches. I note with gratitude that someone has bandaged my back, having wrapped a tight cloth around my torso and tying it at my left hip. I frown and grunt, pain racking my body.
“Where’s my sword?” I suddenly think. I look about the room, not seeing it anywhere. Then I turn around to search on the opposite side of the bed. I flinch in surprise. There is a girl sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the bed. She is sitting erect, resting her head against the wall, and when our eyes meet she smiles.
She raises my sword from her lap and says, “Looking for this?”
“How long have you been watching me?” I ask, still surprised.
“Pretty much the whole time,” she replies. “I thought you would be waking up soon, so I wanted to be here when you did.”
“Why?” I ask suspiciously. Could she be a friend of Tarsh’s?
“To help you if you needed anything,” she says simply.
I am confused, both by her kindness and in general. “Why? Were you the one who bandaged me?”
“Yeah, I did. And you were lying half-dead in the middle of the street. Of course I was going to help you.”
I swallow, and I don’t know what to say. I know I should be outrageously thankful to her; she saved my life. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to repay her for all that she’s done. “Well…thank you,” I say.
She nods her head once in acknowledgement.
There is a moment of silence, and then she asks, gesturing at my torso with her head, “How did it happen?”
I raise a clenched fist and lower my gaze. “It was a guy named Tarsh Landid, and some of his scumbag friends,” I answer. “They’re a real group of bastards. They ganged up on me.”
Her eyes squint, “I’ve heard of Tarsh; almost everyone knows him. Yeah, he’s not very nice.”
I snort at her mildness.
Looking up at her again, I say, “You’ve been really kind. I wish I could repay you, but I really need to be going.”
“But you can’t just leave!” she exclaims, leaning forward in her chair. “You need to get some rest.”
“You’re probably right, but I need to see if I can get answers from the sheriff about something.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she objects, “what is so important that you would leave in your current state? If you ran into Tarsh again, you’d be helpless.” Her eyes become soft and attentive, and her voice becomes suspicious, but also concerned. “You know, by the looks of that wound on your stomach, I’d say this wasn’t the first time you’ve been in such a situation like this before.”
I frown. I don’t deny what she says, but however kind she’s been to me, she’s still a stranger. I don’t need to explain anything to her. “Look,” I say, “thanks for everything. But can I please have my sword so I can be on my way?”
She sighs, standing and approaching me with my sword. “You can have your sword and leave,” she states, “but you really should get some more rest. Will you at least eat some of the food I got you?”
I look at the food on the table and sigh. I know she’s right. “Okay,” I nod. I extend my hand, “I don’t think you’ve told me your name.”
She shakes my hand, “Faith Pinck. Yours?”
I pause. I have not said nor heard my true, full name in a long while; years, in fact. “John,” I say, “John Hedekira.”
I draw the table over to the bed so that I can sit on the bed while eating at the table and Faith draws her chair over from the opposite side of the bed. We sit across from each other, and as she distributes food to me and herself, I study her. She has longish, dirty-blonde hair and round blue eyes that give her a friendly appearance. Her build denotes that she is frequently physically active. Her skin is slightly darker than mine, but my skin is very fair. She’s a pretty girl. “Do you hunt?” I ask, eyeing the bow in the corner of the room to my left.
“I do,” she answers. “That’s how I get most of my food.”
“Do you live alone?” I am curious to know what a girl my age is doing out in the world seemingly by herself. I silently wonder if she has had the same trouble with parents as I have had.
“Yeah,” she says, simply, “but by choice. My parents live in a town west of here.”
“Why’d you leave?”
She pauses and averts her gaze. I look away, and my cheeks sting; I didn’t mean to pry. It seemed like a fair question to ask. “To make a difference,” I hear her say.
I look up. She now looks pensive. Still looking away, she continues, “I’ve noticed that people lead boring, unfulfilled lives. I wanted to find something better, and maybe help others to look too.”
I nod and say thoughtfully, “Well, I can’t argue with that.” I think for a moment while we are quiet, when suddenly I realize something: Faith is a huntress. Maybe she has seen the Evil that took my siblings. And if not, maybe she would be willing to help me track them too. I have to ask. “Faith,” I say, “you haven’t by any chance seen a group of Evil in these parts, carrying with them two children?” My heart jumps when I realize that the Evil may have already eaten or killed my siblings, but I hold my tongue.
Faith’s eyes grow wide, and her expression serious, “I did! Two days ago, while I was hunting, I saw a band of Evil run through the forest with two kids tied up with them. I ran back to Aran to ask if anyone would help me hunt them, but they all laughed at me and said that Evil didn’t exist around here. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a group of Evil in the forest. It kind of scares me.”
“Yeah, me too,” I say grimly. My face has grown tight and I stare downwards angrily.
I hear Faith breathe, and I can tell she’s watching me. “What do you know of this band of Evil?” she asks in a cautious, quiet voice.
“They’re cowardly, ruthless bastards,” I say through my teeth, all of my rage returning. “They stabbed me while I wasn’t looking and left me to die slowly.” Then I add more simply, “And the two kids are my younger sister and brother.”
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs.
I grunt. It’s not as if Soror and Frater deserve to be saved. I’m just doing it to get back at the Evil for stabbing me and because I know I ought to rescue my siblings. “Let me help you,” Faith suddenly says.
“Why?” I question. Not every person, let alone a Beloved, would want to hunt a group of savage beasts. “I thought you came here to look for something fulfilling, and to make a difference.” Almost immediately as the words leave my mouth, I wish I wouldn’t have asked such an honest question. If she’s offering to help me, why would I say anything that would discourage her? I want her help, after all.
“Well, this is something fulfilling,” she replies. “Saving two children from a band of Evil is definitely fulfilling.” She pauses and then adds, “I feel bad for them.”
I admire how caring she is, but I have to ask, “Are you sure? You just met me.” It’s only right that I question her integrity, and I don’t want to seem too desperate.
She smiles softly, “I could always use a friend. And besides, this isn’t about me, it’s about your siblings, and making sure this band of Evil never does something like this again.”
I find her motives cute. “Whatever,” I say, “thank you, then. I don’t know how to repay you. But if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to get moving.”
“Of course,” she says, rising from her chair.
She begins packing food while I retrieve my sword from where she placed it on the bed. I behold the blade with an air of dissatisfaction; my sword is a mere double-edged piece of metal with a brown oaken handle. It has no cross-guard, no name, and it’s probably not as sharp as it should be. While I am staring at the blade, I think, “I could’ve sworn that sometime ago, this sword had a cross-guard, and even decorations.” This sword was my father’s before me, and he must have forgotten it when he left, or whatever happened to him. All grown Knights are supposed to have a sword, whether it’s handed down to them or they find a way to have one made for themselves. Why every man needs a sword, I don’t know, but I guess that, in my case, I should be thankful to have one at all.
Next, I properly dress myself, garbing myself in my shirt and cloak, wincing as I irritate my wounds. Traveling, I realize, is going to be much harder now, let alone fighting. Once I’m done dressing, I leave the house through the curtain door so Faith can change into more athletic attire. I wait in the bright sunlight outside, enjoying its heat, all the while looking into the deep, dark blue sky.
A minute later, Faith emerges, her bow and arrows on her back, and she says, “Ready?”
I reply, “Yeah.” Hefting my sword, I say, “Faith, is there anyone you need to say ‘goodbye’ to? This is going to be dangerous, and you’re leaving on such short notice, you might never see any of your friends again.”
She pauses, deliberating, and then she nods, “Yeah, if you don’t mind, I will say goodbye to some people.”
We leave her small dwelling and visit two houses, where Faith says “goodbye” to two of her friends, each one residing at a different home. Both her friends are girls, and they seem to be unaware that Faith is about to do something dangerous. They don’t ask her where she is going; they just hug and say goodbye.
Then we stop at a third house. Faith knocks on the door from where she is standing on an elevated wooden porch, and above her is a wooden roof. I stand off the porch and to the side.
The door opens and a teenaged guy steps out onto the porch. He smiles and says cordially, “Hey!”
“Hey,” Faith says in response.
“What’s up?” asks the guy.
“I’m leaving to help a friend with something,” she answers. “I just wanted to say ‘goodbye’.”
“I see,” he nods. Watching him closely, I see him frown, and his eyes assume a suspicious glare. “Who’s this?” he asks Faith, gesturing with his chin at me.
“Oh,” says Faith, “this is John Hedekira, the person I’m helping.” I nod at her friend as she introduces me.
Her friend looks at me and then back at her. “Okay,” he says, squinting at Faith, “what’s really going on? Where are you going? And don’t lie.”
Faith looks at me and frowns. I can tell she’s asking if she can tell her friend the truth. “Listen, Bernard,” she begins, stalling, still waiting for me to answer. I nod, and then she continues, “John’s younger siblings were kidnapped by a band of Evil. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’m going to help him rescue them.”
Bernard opens his mouth in protest and says, “But—”
“We don’t have time to waste,” Faith cuts him off. “We’re leaving. If you’re worried about me, I’m sure John wouldn’t mind if you came with us.”
“Not at all,” I add. I can tell that Bernard would be very helpful in fighting the Evil we are tracking, based upon his size.
Bernard frowns, “I can’t. I still have to work for Old Man Vinny to pay off a debt. I’ll be about a week. But I’ll come after you after I’m done.” Faith and Bernard hug, and Bernard adds, “Be safe.” Then looking at me, he adds, “Don’t let anything happen to her.”
“I won’t,” I say firmly.
Bernard nods, seeming satisfied, and then he says, “Good luck.” And turning away, he walks back into his home and shuts the door.
TO BE CONTINUED…