1989 Words
The man is quite nude I'm afraid, laying face down at the bottom of the hill. At first, I am certain he is dead, but as I crouch on his level, I notice the very shallow movement of his ribs and the red still bubbling on his lips with each feeble exhale. I decide to go further with my recklessness and push at him until I get him turned over. And there, confirming my suspicions, is my knife, stuck between his ribs. I give the blade an almighty yank, holding his body down as I do and it pops free as though it was intending to do so on its own if I gave it time. Not ready for the blade to come free so easily, I topple over yet again onto my rear, and skitter sideways, landing nearly eye level with his wound. To my amazement, it is beginning to close right before my very eyes. It begins slowly at first, but then more quickly, as if the skin suddenly realized it is free of the blade. As I'm staring in astonishment, a single, pale, well-toned arm snaps out and grabs my wrist, trapping the hand with the knife in it. I jerk and drop the blade-my eyes racing to the face of what I was sure to be a near deceased person, considering at least one lung had to have been punctured and who knows what other organ damage had occurred. I scrabble for the blade with my other hand while brown, earnest eyes meet mine. A moist cough comes from his cracked lips as he mouths two simple words. “Thank you.” And then he loses consciousness in another fit of coughing. Stunned, I back away, uncertain of what new thing life had dropped into my path. Inaction solves nothing, so out of decency, I remove my red cloak and drop it over the faintly breathing man. Nudity doesn't bother me. It scarcely could have, being raised as a soldier, in essence, to lead my father's army. And while there were some men who took the time to try to “preserve the Princess' delicate sensibilities”, most of my father's other men seemed to make a point of trying to embarrass me, or run me off. How many times the men had jeered that if I couldn't handle a little nudity I couldn't handle blood, I'll never know. Sadly for them, I never let them under my skin. And the first time on a long campaign that I joined in the bathing in a stream, it was the men who left first with flushed cheeks, not I. However, not everyone was as relaxed about such things. And I already heard a babble of voices, most raised excitedly, headed our direction from the village. The red cloak covers the man's waist, but his ribcage remains exposed. I watch as the wound seals itself, an angry red scar forms, then fades to pink, then to white, and then the voices reach the drunkard's body and become fearful. I start back up the incline towards the commotion, and the words begin to untangle themselves into snatches of conversation. “...another one dead! I can't believe..” “..will be bolting doors for sure after this..” “Well I won't let my children play out of doors these days and..” “Ayuh, I knew him..” “..heard he stayed drunk, alas...” “Wasn't there a girl?” “Search party, better wait until it's light..” “Never did like him anyway!” “Hey look, over there!” It appears I finally have the crowd's attention, as they rush towards me, all babbling at the same time. “..all right?” “Are you hurt?” “..who..” “..what..” “..why..” The questions fire at me rapidly. “I'll tell you who.” A strong voice rings out. “And I believe I know why.” “This young lady is the very Right Hand of our War-Lord King. She who stands before you is his one and only child, the Lady Warrior. And if I'm not wrong..” A large dark haired huntsman/lumberjack type strides his way out of the crowd. “..she's here because of our little beasty problem?” His voice has softened at the end of his question. All eyes are riveted to either his or my face. I stare at them all as they carefully watch me, and wonder how to respond. I notice someone has had the intelligence to bring out lanterns and torches, which now casts a lovely, cheery circle around the group. It could have been great fun, under different circumstances. Electing to just go with the truth, I incline my head slowly at the man. As one, the group audibly takes a breath and begins to chatter. “Did you find it?” “..caught the thing?” “Your ladyship, please..” I raise a hand in the air to ask for silence. I'm not known for my great speeches, so they quickly quiet, knowing I will get straight to the point, not wanting to miss a thing. “Please, I will answer all of your questions, and many more, as soon as is possible,” Which is royal speak for probably never. “But first, if you will, I could use some assistance. There is a man, just down this slope. He is nude and unconscious. He needs to be dressed if any of you can find any clothing of his size, and please be very careful with him. Unfortunately, he is our killer..” An audible gasp from the crowd. “ he is very dangerous, quite possibly mad, and should be handled only by your bravest and strongest men.” Another outbreak of babbling occurs. “Please, please, calm down. I will explain as soon as I can. He is unconscious now, but we don't want him to slip away again, do we?” I say sternly. Scattered remarks to the negative. I nod as people begin to slip away from the group. “You rendered him unconscious Lady?” A man asks, though not impolitely. “I'm quite sure she did. You must not have seen this one in action!” The tall huntsman/lumberjack's eyes twinkle. “But first, you, you and you, come with me-we'll keep an eye on our guest. Has someone gone to fetch a spare cloak or a nice big tunic to cover this fellow? Oh very good! Hey tell them to make sure it's long!” Some rather burly fellows separate from the crowd. “We're off to find the chap. I think we can handle him, but a lookout would be welcome!” A few more people separate from the crowd, some heading towards the village, the other with the group of men intending to guard the prisoner. Meanwhile, I try to organize the remaining villagers. One villager eagerly offers his wheelbarrow to help cart the deceased drunkard back to the village, and dashes towards the village himself to retrieve it. “I also need one of your swiftest runners to take a message to my father's men at the edge of the village. They are awaiting word and we could use their help with the prisoner.” I call over the remaining crowd. A young boy volunteers himself, and in the company of several of his friends, all shouting excitedly, races off to the village as well. A group of people begin returning from the village, all carrying clothing in various styles, colors and sizes, rushing their way forward, all eager to be the one to be known in the village as volunteering clothing for the killer in tonight's rowdy events. I divert them towards the incline and my new found friend the hunter or lumberjack or whatever he is. There is an excitement of people in that direction. Everyone who is not otherwise occupied wishing for a glimpse of either the naked murderer, or wishing to find out who to gossip about when their clothing got chosen. Meanwhile, the wheelbarrow has arrived, along with its owner, slightly flushed and puffing from the effort. A cloth is spread on the ground, and the deceased drunkard carefully lifted onto it using shovels, sticks, rakes and pitchforks. To say the body was a bloody mess would be a vast understatement. I turn away. I feel like I'm standing still, watching the world suddenly speed up and leave me behind. Around me, I note my father's men have arrived and the corpse has been covered. The villagers are trying to maneuver the body into the wheelbarrow as best as it will fit, my dear lumberjack/hunter friend has found the prisoner some clothes that fit reasonably well. I note with wry amusement that someone has brought some chains and the prisoner is currently being led, or rather marched, half-conscious towards my father's men, followed by a small group of villagers. The killer doesn't make even the most feeble attempts at escape, and seems quite exhausted, stumbling and losing his footing often. His feet, I see, are still bare. At one point, he trips and almost falls. As he braces himself for impact, one of the men with the lumberjack yanks on the chains binding him ruthlessly to hurry him along. “Ho there!” Yells the lumberjack/hunter. I make a mental note to ask him which. I have floated closer to my father's men and the group surrounding the prisoner. Seeing the cruelty of the man yanking the chains, I feel I need to speak. “That was wholly unnecessary.” I say quietly. Though my voice is calm and quiet, it carries over all the other din made by the villagers. The man pulling the prisoner along looks up, mouth agape. “But, Lady, this man is a murderer!” He exclaims. “Are you not better than him then? Surely since you insinuate you are, you should learn to treat people with more respect and dignity than 'any common murderer'.” Again the eye-twinkle from the lumberjack as I say this, plus an unexpected look from the prisoner. One of gratitude from under his long, disheveled hair. I shiver, what has he to be grateful to me for? I just tried to kill him, or it? And what exactly is it? Not wolf, or bear, but some large animal. I shiver again. A large, heavy cape is draped over my shoulders. “Not only cold and strong, but beautiful and wise. I assume the red cloak belongs to you?” I nod, turning to see, once again, my new lumberjack friend, who has removed his own cloak and placed it around my shoulders. The question of his occupation is on my lips when I'm interrupted by my father's men. “You men! We will take control of this prisoner now!” I hear the yell and suppress an eye-roll. Instead I close my eyes briefly and turn. “Ah cool it Reg.” Another soldier pipes up, addressing the first. “Has the prisoner given you any problems yet?” The second soldier asks the villagers, who look at one another, bewildered for a moment, and then one by one begin to shake their heads 'no'. The lumberjack/huntsman guffaws, a big, loud sound and the second soldier, grinning himself, says “Then he probably won't give us any trouble yet either.” My father's men surround the villagers and prisoner, weapons drawn and pointed at the killer. They arrange the transfer of the prisoner to their care, telling him in no uncertain terms he will be executed if he tries to flee. I wasn't sure we would even know how to execute such a man, but I felt that information was better revealed somewhere out of the villager's earshot.
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