WARRIORS OF THE WAY
BRIDE TO BE OF A HUNDRED MEN
We both stood frozen where we were and then the man motioned for me to get up into the bunk and hide myself but I had no intention of doing anything of the sort. They were asking, nay, demanding, me, were they not? Why should I hide and wait for them to come get me? I shook my head and the man grimaced and motioned again. Again, I shook my head. He threw up his hands and began to make his way toward the arbor. I stood defiantly with sword drawn, back straight and eyes blazing. "Vaangeli....." he hoarsely whispered and I threw my hair back and challenged him, "I am not afraid to fight! I have fought many men and conquered quite a few." He looked at me with a mix of admiration and frustration and put out a hand to me but I stepped back. "Did you not hear them? They have come for me, not you! They want to take and kill me, not you! Dost thou think I will stand still and let them do that?" "I will not allow them to do that, Little Flower but I think you do not understand." "I understand!" I said angrily, though not at him, but at the intruders. "Are these the WereMen you spoke of?" He shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Would that they were! I have silver daggers and fire to keep them at bay! No, these sound like....men. When they show themselves, I will recognize them, I'm certain, but for now, you must hide yourself in the skins under the arbor here by the pale trees. You will be safe here."
For a moment, I was tempted to do as he asked but my pride would not allow it. "Art thou afraid?" I asked, locking my eyes on his. He did not answer so I surmised the worst. "Then I shall defend you!" I cried and readied my bow and sword. The man gave a sigh then cried out and made to pick me up and throw me into the bunk. I resisted and fortified myself against the ledge and he could not budge me. "Please......" he begged but I would not be moved. "Your time of decision has come to a close, Blue Eyes!" the deep voice boomed again and I faltered for a split second and then encouraged myself. "It is only one man." I whispered but the man shook his head. "One man with a hundred horses?"
We stood there silently, each wondering what we should do and totally divided in thought and plan. We had no idea where the intruder was and could not determine his whereabouts by the direction of his shouts, for they echoed around the camp and off every rock and boulder. My heart raced crazily but I was determined not to show any fear. I was a skilled warrior and intended to prove that to our foe and to my companion, for I was still reeling from my defeat at the brook. Pride sometimes makes us do foolish things, I knew, but pride also makes us do things to ensure our survival. I had learned that from the shepherd boy in the village. My pride burned in me now and I calmed myself with words from my teacher and lessons taught in the training fields. The man tried again. "Listen, little warrior, you do not know what you are up against! Let me defend you! I have much experience in these situations." "So do I!" I insisted, "You do not know the things....." But we were interrupted by the unmistakable sounds of many men on horseback riding through the dark forest, shouting unintelligible words and making more noise than any army I had ever witnessed. My knees threatened to buckle at the sound but I held myself up and tried to think of a strategy. "Stay here!" the man hissed and ran away from me towards the boulders and the horses.
Throwing a saddle on Redemption's back, he mounted the silver horse and stood in the middle of the camp, sword and bow at the ready. Keeping my eyes on the opening in the forest some distance away, I threw on my garnet cloak, adjusted my weaponry and made to advance towards the campfire and to my new horse, as yet unridden. Before I had made three steps forward, the man waved me back and shook his head violently. Out of the black trees came a sight I never dreamed I'd see, not even in a nightmare. A huge man sat on a huge black horse, legs as large as tree trunks, red eyes flashing and snorting what seemed to be smoke from it's nostrils. Behind the first, rode so many more that I could not count them and did not try. Fast as lightning, they issued forth and filled our camp and lined themselves up on either side of the man and his horse in front of the tall gray stones. They were hideous. My stomach churned and I tried to look away but could not.
Wordless, they remained there in formation, looking toward the forest in anticipation, and despite my courage, I drew myself back into the shadows of the waning daylight. The man with sky colored eyes showed no fear and gave no indication that he had noted the fact that he was surrounded. "What is his plan?" I murmured to myself, hoping that he did, indeed, have a plan for I surely had none. Would he give me over to these creatures in return for his own safety? That had been the bargain put forth. Let them take me and ride off on his journey none the worse for wear? I became furious at the thought even though my heart knew that he would never agree to that. One minute I trusted him with my life, the next, I thought he was probably the one to take it! Why could I not feel totally comfortable with him or trust his words? Was it because of his eyes?
Before I could formulate an answer for myself, there rode out of the forest, the largest and most fearsome looking beast I had ever seen. Black as midnight and garbed in black and silver studded bridle and saddle and over-blanket. He wore silver studded decorations on tail and mane and had horrible blazing eyes and steam issuing out of gigantic nostrils. A man, (if he could be called that,) a man larger than the Hajvonis and proceeded by a cloud of pure evil, sat upon his back. Bald, he was and clothed only in a loincloth, with bows strapped around his back and swords as big as me hanging from his waist. A studded choker encircled his huge neck and spiked bracelets enclosed his wrists. Black knee length boots and dangling silver earrings that hung from nose and ear completed his wardrobe. Huge black eyes he had, and a mustache and pointed van dyke beard. Silver rings flashed on every finger and tattoos covered his shoulders and legs and a large stone the color of a ruby protruded from the middle of his forehead like a unicorn's horn.
I swallowed loudly and tried to still my trembling. But that was not the most terrible thing about the gigantic man on the gigantic horse. His appearance by itself would have been fearsome enough but that devil from a dream presented itself in a form no man could ever have made me believe in the telling! My very mind reeled at the sight and I fought to regain my senses. For there, perched upon the giant man's shoulders, nay, growing out of the man's very shoulders, with little arms and hands and bald head and earrings and tattoos of his own, grew a little man, almost identical to the other! A twin being! Without legs or lower body but emanating the same kind of evil and to my eyes, almost more frightening than his larger counterpart. I shook my head to clear it and then looked back but alas, the vision was still there! "How can this be?" I groaned within my heart. "Oh, please, tell me this is not real!"
At the approach of the monstrous man, the other men bowed their heads and their horses bowed unto his horse. He acknowledged them with a laugh and the small man on his shoulders laughed a hollow laugh that sounded childlike but rang out in the growing darkness. I shivered and hid myself farther back into the shrubbery. "Where is the pretty maiden, Blue Eyes?" the leader growled and the small man growled, "Yeah! Where is she, Small Man?" Redemption's rider made no sound and kept his eyes upon the ground. "He's afraid!" I observed and my heart began to sink at the observance. "Give us the woman!" the giant demanded and shook his mighty fist holding a long silver sword. The twin man shook his own fist and sword then the other men shook their fists into the sky and brandished many long silver swords. They began to scream loud, obnoxious screams and their horses stamped their powerful feet and it seemed the very earth shook.
Redemption backed up and bravely issued a warning to the demonic horses there, sensing, I am sure, that these horses did not belong to his equine brotherhood. They blew their smoke and steam at him and made threatening motions with their huge black heads. Redemption moved forward again and reared up on his hind legs and kicked at them with his front legs, shouting loudly in horse tongue. The black horses all took a step back until their riders urged them forward again with whips and chains. But Redemption stood his ground. Never had I witnessed such a brave act! My heart burst with pride for the horse. I heard Snow call out from behind the boulders and I wondered if she would free herself and rush to Redemption's defense. I wished with all my heart that I could be upon her back at that moment, for I had always felt safer on a horse. It gave me leverage, gave me more courage than I could exhibit standing on two small feet, no matter how big my sword. And if that horse was my Starshine, then I felt no fear at all, for he was the bravest, most cunning animal I had ever known. He knew how to dodge and defend and sway and persuade the enemy, pursue and defeat and lead me into victory every time an adversary had presented itself. How I needed his courage and cunning now!
I did not know Snow's mindset yet or how she carried herself in battle or defended herself in danger. There had been no time for that. And the battle was here upon us. "Why don't you ride back into the forest and back up to your Meerjok Mountain and leave us be?" the man with blue eyes said at last and lifted his eyes unto the giant with no fear showing in them. The two stared at one another for a long time and then the giant sneered and turned his head to look at the twin upon his shoulders, "Do you hear that, Little Brother? He wants us to ride away!" The small man sneered and laughed and beat his little hands upon the huge man's head. "But we won't do that, will we, Skaarkap, will we? We've come for the pretty girl and we'll have her, won't we?" And all the men shouted their affirmations and roared and pumped their dirty fists. "Ot-tay, what do you suggest we do to this obstacle? Shall we tear him limb from limb or hang him from the black trees? Shall we cage him in the forest for the WereMen or burn him with his own campfire? What say you, Little Brother? Hmm?" "He doesn't look like he'd be much sport, BrotherKing, why don't we just kill him and take the maiden and be gone before the Wolf Men awaken and chase us through the darkness?"
The bare chested twin looked darkly toward the forest and I detected that he was afraid of the creatures that lived there despite the fact that his brother was the size of a tree. Playing with a chain around his neck, he said, "Remember when the werewolf grabbed Ot-tay's head as we rode through the forest on our way home that night of the full moon? He took you by surprise and hurt Ot-tay's little...." "Silence!" ordered the king and the twin cowered and hid behind his brother's head. "We are the men of Meerjok! We fear nothing! The wolves howl and run from us in terror! Never forget that, Brother Ot-tay! Now, hush your whimpering and tell me what to do with this puny example of a man!" At his words, I noticed a change come over the man and a fear come into his eyes and a paleness to his face. I went pale myself but I watched as my companion held up his black and silver sword and shouted, "You will never take the maiden! I will kill you all! Now be gone!" And the camp exploded into riotous laughter and jeers and the men began to ride around the man on the silver horse, enjoying their sport and reaching out to touch him with their hands and swords. He did not move but stared stonily ahead, grasping Redemption's reins tightly in his hand. I did not see a way of escape. He was totally surrounded.
Counting quickly, I saw that there were a hundred of these filthy beasts and just how could one man defeat a hundred? The horses alone were dangerous enough, but the men with their powerful arms and long knives.......how could it be done? "Be still." the voice said in my heart. "Move only when I tell you to move. Strike only when I tell you to strike." I had not heard the voice in so long now that it startled me and I almost fell backwards in fright. "I will do as you command." I whispered and waited for it to continue. "Come out, little bride!" the giant called Skaarkap called, turning to look around the encampment. "We know you are here! We've been watching you all day! Come out now so we can ride away home and prepare for the wedding! Are you not excited? It's a great and glorious honor for you to be chosen by the men of Meerjok to be our newest bride! Come now, little beauty, and let us be gone. I grow weary of this trifling encounter and wish to be close to my own campfire in the mountains!"
With that, my heart fell to my stomach and out of my body and crashed to the ground. "Br..br..bride?" I stuttered, shaking like a windblown leaf. These creatures wanted to marry me? Not kill me? They intended a wedding and me as their unwilling wife! It was inconceivable! The thought had never even occurred to me. It was the most repulsive thing that had ever entered my mind. I would die first! I would kill myself first! I began to look around wildly at my surroundings and I looked to find my music box and held it with trembling hands while I tried to formulate a plan. "Be still." the voice came again and a strange calmness came over me and my heart rate slowed and my breathing became normal. I leaned there holding the gold box and waiting for what, I knew not.
The men were singing now and some had jumped down from their horses and were dancing around the campfire, kicking at the fire with their feet and drinking from flasks and toasting their leader and one another. It was complete bedlam. The king and his twin brother were prancing around on the black horse and laughing and urging them on. They were celebrating, I thought, but they had nothing to celebrate yet and if I had my way, they would never have cause to celebrate again! I watched them, holding the music box to my heart and waiting for the voice to tell me what to do. Suddenly, I felt something nudge me in the back as I leaned against one of the pale trees and I jumped and cried out, almost dropping the box.
Turning, I could hardly believe my eyes and I rubbed them hard but there the vision stood. Snow! Gleaming brightly in the darkness and looking at me as though she was agitated. How had she gotten there? How had she made her way from the arbor across the camp and found me? "Art thou a vision?" I asked her and the snow white head shook no in answer and she began to turn away as if to lead me through the trees. I froze in consternation. "Where are you going?" I whispered loudly and she made eye contact with me and motioned with her head for me to follow. I only had a moment to decide and did so and put the music box back into the parcel and covered it with blankets, grabbed up my sword again and followed her into the forest. I walked silently and with an odd kind of trepidation, feeling somehow, that the white horse knew more than I did about the outcome of this adventure and that I could trust her. That somehow she, too, could hear the small still voice in my heart and would obey it.