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EPISODE 6: A KNIGHT’S RAGE, A BELOVED’S MERCY
“What direction again did you see the Evil heading in?” I ask Faith once we are outside of Aran, entering into the woods.
“North,” she answers. She walks to a tree that is surrounded by several fallen trees. Hopping on top of one, she points, “I was standing here when I saw them.” I turn around and follow her finger. Together, we rush to the area where she said she saw the Evil. We look around, searching for trampled weeds, broken twigs, or footprints. After a few minutes, Faith calls to me from where she is crouching on ground. “Here,” she says. She points to a cracked branch atop a clump of fern. She slowly raises her hand, keeping it low to the ground, and she indicates a nearly imperceptible path. But I can tell she’s right in believing she’s found the trail left by the Evil. The direction she’s pointing in contains plants, soil, and brush that I can tell has been disturbed.
“I’m glad I brought you,” I say. Hefting my sword, I start down the path left by the Evil, growing grim as I think to myself, “We’re not too far behind. Ready or not, here we come!”
For three days, I follow Faith as she uses her knowledge of hunting and tracking to help me, or both of us, catch up to our prey. She’s very good at noticing things that I’m sure I would have missed. Not only do her skills of tracking prove invaluable, but her companionship also means a lot to me. I’ve never had a friend. I’ve never known someone who cares to listen, or who trusts you enough to tell you things. Faith and I are not at this level yet, but at least I can feel an underlying desire to reach that point.
My wounds have begun to heal quite nicely by the end of the third day. That sunset—since it is cold—, we make a fire, and as usual, position ourselves on opposite sides of the flames, so that we are facing each other, but there is a boundary between us so as to permit privacy for each other. In the fire, Faith is cooking a squirrel, an animal I am very used to eating. That’s another reason why Faith is so helpful; she is good at procuring and cooking food.
When she sits back down, I comment, “You’re pretty good with that bow.”
Her mouth twists and she says, “Not really. I can only hit things if they’re standing still or not moving very quickly.”
“That’s better than I could do,” I snort.
“Hah, maybe,” she replies. Then looking at the ground, she frowns and says, “I don’t know why I’m not as good as I think I should be. I’ve been using my bow for years now, so I know it as a tool really well, and I’ve had so much practice, but I still struggle.”
I grunt thoughtfully, and then suggest, “Maybe you just haven’t had the right kind of practice.”
“Maybe,” she concedes.
After a pause, she asks, “Do you think you’re a good swordsman?”
“Well,” I chuckle, “I don’t think so, considering how many times I’ve almost died in the past week.”
“How many times?” she inquires.
“Twice,” I say.
“Oh,” she nods. Then she adds, “That’s not too bad…”
My eyebrow twitches and then I yell, “What the heck does that mean?”
“I’m just kidding!” Faith says over and over again, laughing. Eventually, I start laughing too. Maybe it is funny.
We eat the squirrel and then put out the fire. I fall asleep gradually, watching the rays of the sun grow dim.
The sound of a cracking branch wakes me. I push myself up into a sitting position and look around. The light is very gray and the air is very cool. I can tell that earlier it was misty out, because the air seems to be shimmering and the ground and trees are damp. I stand up and stretch, seeing nothing among the woods, and I go to grab an apple from one of the bags Faith brought. Then I hear a crack again, and footsteps. My heart starts beating faster, and I clench my fist. “Should I wake Faith?” I think. I listen to the footsteps, and I can tell that whatever or whoever is making them, they are not small in number. Crouching next to Faith, who appears to be sleeping quite peacefully, I give her a gentle shake. She stirs, and then opens her eyes. She looks up at me, seeming sleepy and confused, and I raise my finger to my lips and say, “Shh!”
Then I can tell she hears the footsteps. Her eyes widen and she rises from where she slept on a blanket. She slips on her boots and gently picks up her bow and arrows. I also slip on my boots and grab my sword.
Together, we walk quietly in the direction of the footsteps. Ahead of us, the ground slopes steeply to a part of forest where there are only trees, and the woods are spaced very tightly. When we reach the edge of the slope, we both separate and position ourselves behind a tree. Then, we slowly peek down towards the cluster of trees.
I gasp silently and feel a wave of fear wash over me. It’s hard to tell how many there are, the way they move through the closely-knitted trees, mere black shapes disappearing and then reappearing within the thicket of woods. I try to count; ten, twenty—“No,” I think, squinting, as I stare furiously at them. “Thirty. No less.”
“John,” I hear Faith’s shaking voice. I look over at her, and she is breathing heavily. She is scared. So am I. But as I watch them, my anger, my past feelings of depression, of uselessness, all come back to me. The way the Evil made me want to die, to give up, and left me to die—it all makes my blood boil. And if they have anything to do with the disappearance of my parents—
I remember Tarsh’s taunts concerning my parents. At least for the moment, I don’t want anything he said about my parents to be true. And if my parents didn’t walk out on me and my siblings as Tarsh endeavored to claim, then the possibility of the Evil having something to do with their disappearance would have to be greater. And that means they deserve punishment. For all they put me through, they deserve pain!
“You take the ones on the right,” I say to Faith. “I’ll come around from behind. Just stay focused on your Evil; I’ll take care of the rest.”
Anger making me confident, I turn away to proceed with the plan. I pretend not to hear Faith’s hushed protests. I rush as silently as I can down the left side of the slope, stopping behind a tree every few seconds and peeking out to see if I have caught the attention of any of the beasts. The contingent of Evil are moving to the right of the slope, opposite of me, and so far I have gone unnoticed. I am already sweating, and I am struggling to control my breathing. And my grip on my sword is so tight, my palms are wet with perspiration, and I can feel the handle of my blade grow slick. I keep moving though.
Finally, I reach the trees that the Evil are moving through and approach them from behind. I pause behind a tree and stop, staring at one of the bulky beasts thudding ahead of me. Do I really want to do this? Is it really worth it to risk my life to kill these Evil? I feel so small next to them. My fear is growing, pounding away at me like my heart is pounding. I am shaking.
Then I hear a high-pitched scream behind me. Whirling around, so tense and tremulous, I move quickly enough to block the knife that would have pierced my back. I cry out, thinking, “So once again you tried to land a cheap-shot on me!” I strike without cease, backing the Evil up against a tree, and he holds his arms up in a pathetic attempt to protect himself. I knock his arms away from his face and batter away, glaring with hatred as I land blows on his head. The beast falls to the ground, and when he stops moving, I stop attacking. I don’t have time to delight in my victory.
I turn around, seeing four Evil rushing after me. I shout, my own anxiety and erratic fear driving me, and I knock one of them into a tree. The next one runs into my blade, and pulling my sword free, I cut the next one across the throat. The fourth Evil swings his blade at my face, and I block, shoving him back, and I return with an under-handed slice that severs the beast’s throat. The Evil I knocked into the tree runs at me, but my sword flashes as I cut, and his arm falls from his body. Around me, the cries of pain, along with the cries of battle, ring in my ears.
As I engage more of the beasts—most of which have noticed and located their attackers—, I see a group of them commence running up the slope towards Faith. She shoots and reloads with decent speed. I only hope she can be fast enough. Her aim, I note, is very good; none of her arrows miss their mark.
I am forced to look away as I begin fighting an Evil with a tall, thin neck, and a long, bony face. The fingernails of the beast are noticeably sharp and bizarrely red. Without hesitation, I step forward and slash through her chest. Her blood sprays and she seems to pause in the air, shocked at the feeling of my sword slicing through her.
That’s when I pause too. This is the first female Evil I’ve seen, and my heart jumps. As I stare into her queer, disoriented eyes, an image of my mother as an Evil—the one from my dream—flashes in my mind. This Evil looks so much like her. I have to stop and think, I have to stop and consider—
A beast lunges at me without warning, shattering the focused, confused, and uncertain disposition of my mind. The Evil tackles me to the ground, and I feel his sweat and grime begin to soak through my clothes. I grunt as the impact of landing on the ground causes my wounds to ache, and then my eyes widen with alarm as I feel the Evil bite my left shoulder. Shouting in pain, I clench my sword, driving it into the beast’s side. He tenses and grows motionless, and I pull myself out from underneath him.
I expect a great multitude of Evil to be upon me, but instead I am only faced with six beasts. They growl and thrash as they rush at me, but in the moment I have before they reach me, I look up to see if Faith is okay.
She is not. A weaponless Evil has her by the arm and swings her into a tree. She grimaces at the impact but quickly turns around and faces her opponent. Her bow is not with her, and I see that she only as a few arrows left. The Evil charges her and I’m afraid he’s going to grab her throat, when she suddenly pulls a dagger from her quiver and ducks under the Evil’s hand, stabbing him through the chest, the tip of the knife sprouting from his back.
That’s all I can see before I glimpse a sword coming for my head. I franticly duck down and to my right, and bite down hard as I feel the inside of my shoulder get cut. I leap back, putting distance between myself and my attackers. I glare at them, and one of them laughs, “Too slow!”
My breathing becomes unsteady, and it grows harder to grip my sword. I feel warm blood run down my arm and drip off my wrist. Scowling, I think to myself, “I have to end this quickly!” I take a deep breath, “But there are so many…” I see a group of four Evil running toward me, about a hundred yards away. “Time to get started!”
I attack ferociously, hitting again and again at the first of the beasts. Two more swing at my right, another at my left. I jump away from the sword coming for my left, my injured side, and block both attacks coming from the right. I uppercut, cutting off the hand of one Evil, and then stab another under the arm when he raises his sword to attack. The remaining four drive me back. Behind them, the other four Evil coming this way flinch as one of Faith’s arrows strikes the ground in front of them. She did say she struggles to hit moving targets.
I stab one beast in the throat when it comes after me and block another two blows. I duck and cut another across his stomach, and next I meet the club of an Evil. My sword vibrates when it meets the Evil’s wood, and I’m surprised when my sword strikes my head consequently, forced into me by the strength of the beast’s attack. It was only the flat side, but my head aches, and my vision blurs. I see the beast raise his club—
Faith appears beside the beast and shoves her knife into his side. The Evil falters and falls. Relieved and grateful, I take a moment to endeavor to restore my vision, shaking my head. My eyesight slowly returns. I crouch on the ground to steady myself, feeling dizzy, and I look up at Faith. “You okay?” I ask. I notice that she has recovered her bow.
She frowns and says in a strained voice, “Mostly. I got a cut on my leg. How about you?”
“Shoulder has felt better,” I say. I nod at the dead Evil in front of us, “Thanks by the way.”
“No problem,” she says.
I look behind her. Five of the Evil are running away into the forest. The four Evil that had been charging me are nowhere to be seen. I stand. “We should follow them,” I state, indicating the five Evil fleeing into the woods, “they need to be killed, or maybe they’ll lead us to the Evil we’re after.”
“Right,” she agrees, a bit reluctantly. I would almost be of the same mind, but my anger is too great, and I know better than to let the monsters escape.
We start moving after the beasts who are now vanishing within the trees, when Faith stops beside me. “Wait,” she says, drawing her bow and placing an arrow to the string—she only has four left.
She faces a beast on the ground, the one whose hand I cut off. She aims her arrow at the Evil when I say, “What are you doing?”
Faith looks at me, “He’ll die a slow, painful death. I’m finishing him off.”
“No!” I retort. “He deserves to die slowly. And besides, you only have a few arrows left.”
She frowns at me and cocks an eyebrow, but ignores my words and starts to pull back her bowstring. An image of Soror flashes in my mind when I asked her to get me a pot for supper. “Who cares?” I say, raising my voice, frustrated. “He deserves to die like his kind kills. And you need your arrows.”
She looks at me and sighs, and I think she might concede. Then she shakes her head and seems frustrated but grimly amused with herself. Drawing her dagger, she walks up to the Evil, who is moaning and breathing hoarsely, and she cuts his throat. She steps back and says, “Should’ve thought of that sooner.”
I roll my eyes as she turns to continue in the direction of the fleeing Evil.
TO BE CONTINUED…