WARRIORS OF THE WAY
RESCUING THE RESCUERS
Snow walked quietly behind the pale trees and into the dense forest beyond them. How she moved so silently, I didn't understand and I fought to keep up with her and and walk as noiselessly as she. The sun had set in the west and filled the sky with a blood red stain as it dropped toward into it’s resting place. I dreaded the total darkness that would soon descend and didn't want to be in the wood when it did. The purple twilight gave the trees an eerie, shadowy outline but to my surprise, the tall pale trees behind us began to give forth their unearthly glow and I found that I could see the trail that Snow was making for me to follow. We were circling around the camp and back behind the boulders, that much was evident but what we would do when we got there, I had no idea. The white horse was in charge, not me. I was grateful for the noise of the intruders for I tripped and fell a number of times and groaned out loud before I could catch myself. Snow looked back at me chidingly and motioned for me to keep up. “Won’t you let me ride you?” I asked her in a loud whisper and she stopped and considered the question and shook her head. Stung, I followed her through the thick growth, looking around and behind me for signs of the beast men. It occurred to me then that there was not room for me here in this part of the forest to safely ride upon her back. There was barely enough room for her to push her way through with her head bowed low against the tangled brush. I would be caught up in the vines and low hanging limbs if I were that high off the ground and I was startled at the wisdom of the animal.
I tried to peer to the left of me and see the camp and the man as we hurried eastward but the sight of him was blotted out by the trees. What were they doing to him? I wondered. I could hear them shouting now and beating drums and chanting in an unknown language. Savage creatures! Did the man know them from the past? He had spoken of the mountain they called home. Were he and Skaarkap old enemies, perhaps? And if so, how had he eluded them before? We came into a small clearing of sorts and Snow stopped by a rock and turned to look at me. I saw her intention and nodded. She wore no saddle or bridle and there was nowhere to hang my sword but I climbed up on the stone and laying the sword across her back, swung my legs over and took my seat. She took off immediately, almost upsetting me and I grabbed her snowy mane and held on as she picked up the pace and trotted quietly through the woods.
Darkness fell quickly and we were far from the pale trees now with their comforting lights and it was hard to see. Somewhere out in the density of black trees to my right, I heard a snarl that made me jump and I felt Snow tense her muscles beneath me. I patted her reassuringly and touched my heels to her flanks to hurry her along. Soon, the glow of the campfire began to pierce the darkness and though the trees hid us from sight, I could see the scene off to my left. I gasped. The man was lying on the ground with a sword pointed against his throat and a fat ugly man with long grey hair was tormenting him with a blazing stick of firewood and laughing in a shrill, almost feminine voice. His audience was greatly entertained as they shouted out grotesque suggestions to him.
Three men on horseback were surrounding Redemption and holding him by the bridle as he tried to rear and kick them. I saw a stain of red upon the man’s right forearm where his tunic sleeve had been torn away but I saw no indication that he was fighting back. Not with the sword at his throat, anyway. What could he do? He was staring up into the faces of the savage king and his brother without flinching as the flames were held closer to his face. Was he buying time to allow me to make my escape? Was that his plan? Was he sacrificing himself for me? Did he think I would just ride away and leave him there to die at the hands of these monsters? I pondered that question briefly but knew I could do no such thing. “Snow, help me. What should we do?” I asked softly and leaned down close to her ear. She stopped abruptly and listened to something beyond my range of hearing, her ears moving wildly back and forth. “What is it?” I pleaded in fright, now hearing the sounds coming from the forest for myself. The WereMen? Here? Now? Oh, why now!? I moaned. I didn’t know how to defend myself from them and wasn't convinced that I wouldn't faint dead away at the sight of them. My new teacher had not yet schooled me about their traits and habits. I was on my own.
Snow shook her head and began to gallop down a trail that wound it’s way out of the wood and around the encampment, still shielded by a thick stand of trees. Rushing towards us off to the right, there sounded the thud of fast, heavy feet, a horrible cry and the sensation of inhuman fear. I held onto the horse’s mane for dear life as she flew down the trail like the wind heading straight for the camp. “What are you doing?!” I cried into her ear, not understanding. She was surely running now in blind panic and I wanted to stop her but didn't know how without bridle and bit. Louder and faster came the sounds from the forest, closer now and gaining on us. A horrible growl filled the deepening of the night and I saw the man lying on the ground turn ever so slightly and peer in our direction. The others seemed not to notice as Redemption reared and broke away from his captors.
At the last minute, Snow stopped short and pulled behind a thick tall tree, breathing heavily, and looked back around at the trail we had just galloped down. Almost at the same moment, out of the darkness bounded a deer with large antlers and terror in it’s eyes, running straight for us. Behind the animal ran a creature from a nightmare, half upright and half upon all fours, huge and shaggy and brown, with gleaming white teeth and fury in it’s eyes, howling an unearthly cry. I drew my sword back and made ready to attack but at the sight of the campfire and the many men, it fell silent and slowed it’s chase and then stopped some distance away on the other side of the trail. The terrified deer, not knowing what to do, ran towards the camp and straight into the circle of men surrounding the fire. Everything happened so fast then, I could hardly recall it all later. Chaos ensued.
The appearance of the deer so startled the intruders that they yelled and ran and those on horseback began to race away in fear. Redemption quickly made his way to the man and lowering himself on his front legs, he urged his friend to climb into the saddle and he grabbed his lost sword and did so. Ignoring the creature that watched us with hungry eyes shining in the darkness, Snow swiftly moved out of our place of hiding and flew down the trail behind the fleeing deer and took us down into the circle and to certain death, I was sure of it. She carried me to the side of a horse and rider who had hurried to the outskirts of the camp but I caught the man off guard and ran my sword through him and knocked him from his mount. Snow neighed her approval and we caught up with another fleeing horseman. I knocked the curved knife out of his hands with my sword and he looked at me with a mixture of delight and fury as I carved up his bare chest and kicked him off the black horse with my foot. I didn’t look back.
There was no time. My mind shifted into battle frenzy now and I thrust the sword into it’s sheath and grabbed the bow. Four arrows flew through the air and caught four unsuspecting would-be bridegrooms in the throat and they fell on top of one another. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man topple three men from their horses with his long sword as Redemption swerved in and out of their unorganized formations just like Starshine used to do. Seeing a huge man with braided hair coming up on the blind side of the man, I let go of an arrow and caught him in the ear, my arrow flying right below the blue eyed man’s chin. His eyes widened and he looked at me in shock and gratefully nodded his head, smiling.
The deer could not find his way out of the camp and ran wildly back and forth in the melee, rearing up and thrusting out with panic stricken legs. I saw the fat man with long grey hair make the mistake of getting in his way and though he threw the burning torch in defense, the deer’s hoof caught him on the side of the head and felled him then and there. “Good for you!” I said aloud as a younger attacker came upon me and I barely had time to draw my sword and meet his with a loud clang. Snow danced away from his horse and he followed us and tried to force us back against the boulders. “Come now, Little Warrior Bride,” he cajoled me and laughed, enjoying the battle. “Why don’t you save your strength for our wedding night?” “I’ll never marry you!” I spat in his direction and jabbed at him but he swerved away and laughed louder.
“You’ll marry all of us!” he smirked. “Our King Skaarkap, first and then me, his son and Prince! And then of course, the rest of the men of Meerjok Mountain! You are our chosen one and soon to be the mother of our children!” His dark eyes devoured me with longing and confidence and I caught his sword with the tip of mine and threw it into the darkness. “You are mad!” I screamed at him, “You are all mad! One woman cannot be wife to a hundred men! I will see you all dead!” And I kicked Snow with my heels and she fled back toward the fire. The man raced after us and crowded in on Snow until she was hemmed in by three men on horseback. They pushed us close to Skaarkap and his hideous twin and at that close proximity, my stomach churned to lose it’s contents. The monsters grinned down at me, the twin rubbing his childlike hands together and gyrating wildly upon his brother’s shoulders. “Our bride, my BrotherKing!” he cried and reached out for me as I desperately tried to move away.
Before I knew what was happening, Skaarkap’s huge right arm swooped down and scooped me from my horse and into the saddle in front of him and he raced away across the camp as I screamed and fought. “Help me!” I called to the man as we flew by him in the midst of his own battle and his eyes met mine and his foe’s knife caught him unawares and sliced him across the cheek. The giant horse rode right through the campfire and scattered the burning pieces of wood here and there, never slowing down. The black pan that had held our fish dinner went flying and the leftover potatoes were thrown from their skewers and grabbed up by a tall, thin man with bulging dark eyes and strange markings on his face. He looked up at me crazily while gobbling the potatoes down, with a lusty, sick grin spread across his comical face. Just then, the panicked deer cut back towards us from the horde of men and horses and knocked him into the fire. I heard his head hit the black pan and he screamed and tried to beat out the flames that ran up his shabby shirt and into his hair. I didn’t have time to see what happened next but I hoped the deer would knock down a dozen more before making his escape.
Reconsidering, I thought he probably had no desire to go back into the forest with the wolf on the prowl and felt safer in the company of these dirty men. I tried fiercely to wrestle the horse’s reins out of my captor’s hands but he just laughed at me, squeezing me tight against his chest and put his hideous head down to breathe in the fragrance of my hair. “She is fresh!” he called back to his brother and the horrible little man reached down and twisted his horrible little hand in my hair and pulled it up to his face. “May I kiss her, Brother?” he asked and at that, I decided that I would rather jump off the horse and die. I elbowed the man in the ribs and bit the hand that held the reins and as he yelped and made to strike me, I quickly twisted around with my dagger and lopped off the ruby stone that protruded from the center of his forehead. He screamed in agony and grabbed the wound with both hands while his twin screamed twice as loud and reached to comfort him.
Almost at the same time, Redemption raced up beside us and the man yelled “Jump! Quickly!” and reached out to help me as we continued to race through the camp. Blood ran down his face from the attacker’s knife but he paid it no attention. I nodded and reached for his arm but then swung back on the black horse’s neck and drew my sword while holding on the best that I could. Skaarkap and his twin were so intent upon the forehead wound that they did not notice until I roared in my loudest warrior voice and swung the sword in fury and supernatural strength, slicing off the top half of the giant’s head and completely lopping off the head of the tiny brother. Neither of them had had time to scream but as the little head hit the ground and went bouncing off under the hooves of the horses, I saw that his ugly little mouth was frozen in a silent scream and his eyes were wide with disbelief.
The man grabbed me from my perch and deposited me upon Redemption in front of him and off we flew toward the boulders. I could feel his heart racing against my back as my own thudded violently in my chest. I held out the bloody sword in my right hand and whilst we fled past two of the Meerjok men, I sliced through them and dispatched them to the ground in shock. As we made for the opening of the gray stones, I saw many dead and dying men lying about the camp, some groaning, some shouting hysterically and some running towards their king and his dead twin. “King Skaarkap!” they cried and shook their heads, not believing what their eyes told them. His huge body still sat on the horse’s back, his hands hanging limply at his sides, his mouth slack and his eyes closed and full of blood. The headless twin on his back slumped over him and his tiny hands were around his neck in a gruesome kind of embrace. I could hardly look away.
We flew to the boulders and hurried behind them. Snow and the frightened but heroic deer ran after us and sprinted into the arbor that had been built for the horses. The deer was panting so hard he could barely stand and finally just collapsed on the ground and lay there shaking and hiding his great head in the grass. Snow went up to him and nudged him with her nose. It seemed to me that she was attempting to calm him and tell him everything was going to be alright. I watched them in fascination until the man pulled me down off his own heroic horse and gave me a quick embrace. “Are you alright?” he asked, looking me over, “Did they hurt you? Are you wounded?” Smiling, I dropped my sword on the ground and said quietly, “No, the blood on me is not my own but the blood of our enemies and some of thine.” He reached up to touch his cheek and grinned, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbling at the cut. “I’ll live.” he said rubbing his wounded arm from which the sleeve had been ripped. “You are quite the warrior, Little Flower.” he murmured to me. “Never have I seen a maiden fight like that. You surprised me.” “And... I saved thy life!” I exclaimed with twinkling eyes. “And I saved thine!” he exclaimed back and I nodded and embraced him. “But what do we do now?” I asked. “Not all of the villains are dead. They will recoup and attack us again, I know it!” He looked deeply into my eyes with a hesitant and forbidding look on his face and opened his mouth to speak but stopped and sighed then gripped my shoulders with his hands.
“Vaangelika...... I know you’re not going to want to hear this but you must listen! These men are not dead! At least they won’t be for long. I know it looks like some of them are dead but even the leader with half his head gone and his completely headless brother….they will soon have their heads again and they will surround us and try to take you again.” I stared at him in disbelief and whimpered, “But how can this be? How can one come back after one is dead?” He shook his head and shook me. “Listen, these men are Replicators! They have the ability to rejuvenate themselves and replicate their damaged parts! I know it sounds insane…but you must believe me! These men cannot be killed!” My heart sank in my chest and my legs gave way and I slumped to the ground with his hands still holding me. Looking up, I shook my head slowly and then wildly. “No!” I protested, weeping, “It can’t be true! If this is true, they will take me away to their horrible mountain and make me be wife to them and have their babies! I will not do it! I will fall upon my own sword first! Please! Please, tell me, it’s not true!” I began to cry helplessly and all the strength drained from my body.
The thought of it was more than I could bear. If they could not be killed, then they would kill him and do with me what they wanted. It was hopeless! He pulled me to my feet and into his arms. “Shh.” he comforted me, stroking my hair, “It is not hopeless. There is a way. You must not lose hope. Never lose hope, Vaangelika. Do you not remember the words of your father in the mouth of the hawk? There is always a way out.” I wanted to believe him but could not see the way myself. I just stared into his blue eyes and forced myself to stop crying. I had just cut off the head of a monster, how could I babble like a mindless child and drown myself in tears? Why did I give up so easily? True, I had never faced an enemy like the one I faced now but I also had never lost a battle. Why concede now when I had three, no, make that, four brave friends who would fight to the death for me and with me?
I inhaled and pulled myself up by the boots and tried to appear taller than my 5’6″ height. The man smiled and kissed my cheek. “That’s my brave girl! Now, listen to me. You must do exactly as I tell you and you must not be stubborn. Do you agree to obey me?” I nodded and waited for his next words, wondering what he possibly planned to do in light of his revelation. “First, look out and see what is happening in the camp.” he said and turned to see about the horses and their charge, the trembling deer. I went to an opening and peered out at a scene that was beyond my comprehension. All of the men who were not wounded or dead had surrounded their leader and had taken him to the edge of the forest and laid him on the grass. They began chanting in an guttural language, strange and demonic sounding. The horses gathered together in the grass nearby and began to graze, keeping their watchful eyes upon the men and upon the forest behind them, looking I’m sure, for signs of the wolf creature still out there.
No one seemed to be paying us the slightest bit of attention until one huge man stood up and looked right into my eyes and roared, shaking a fist in my direction. I jumped back, startled, and hid myself behind the rock. “They are….waiting...for something, it appears.” I told the man. “They are very angry now.” “Waiting for their king to find his head.” he answered sarcastically “And for their brothers to rejoin them in the fray.” “But they are just lying there in their blood.” I protested, not wanting to believe his tale of rejuvenation. “Ten minutes.” he warned me. “I give them ten minutes and then you will see that I am telling the truth. I have never seen this myself but I have been informed of it by my adoptive father.” I rubbed my forehead and sighed, turning back to peek out at the camp.
Someone had rebuilt the fire and it was blazing up in the darkness, illuminating the encampment. Men took burning torches in their hands and bent low over their fallen comrades and over their king. The loud chant continued and the sounds of the horses’ hooves and the rush of smoky vapor from their nostrils made the scene one of unbelievable vision. I thought I saw one of the still forms begin to move but I could not be sure. One of my daggers protruded from his chest and was hardly visible except for the hilt. I did not see how he could recover from that wound! The man whistled for me and I turned to see him walking away behind the boulders. “Stay here!” he ordered.”Do not follow me. I must be alone now.” And he walked out of my sight, leaving me mystified and with fear returning to my heart. Snow came to my side and leaned against me, buffeting me with her head. I rubbed her white coat and patted her head wishing I had an apple to give as a reward. How human she seemed! How protective of me she was. She barely knew me and yet she had bonded with me even more quickly than Starshine had. I was amazed at her mannerisms.
Redemption stood watching us near the deer who suddenly decided to stand and join us and we all stood in silence and wondered what terrible thing would befall us next. They seemed to be asking me with their big liquid eyes to please share the escape plan and I shrugged and put my arms around Snow’s neck. When several minutes had passed and the man had not returned, I began to worry and without one thought to his command, ran in the direction he had gone. As I passed the eleventh boulder, I saw him kneeling there upon the ground and heard him speaking in a strange voice, words I did not know. I gasped and stopped short in my tracks and he turned and jumped to his feet.
“You said you would obey me!” he reminded me angrily and grabbed my arm and began to hurry me back towards the horses. “You promised!” “No, I didn’t.” I said, trying to think of an excuse. “I only nodded in agreement.” He groaned aloud and pushed me ahead of him. “Curious, impudent girl! Your curiosity will get the better of you one day!” “B…b..but..” I started to explain, ” I thought you were not coming back!” He groaned again and went to pat Redemption’s head and whispered into his ear. Then he stroked the deer’s face and nodded at Snow who nodded back at him. “We haven’t much time.” he finally said to me. “So listen carefully and do exactly as I tell you! Do you hear me?” “Yes!” I said petulantly and watched in amazement as he removed his sword, bow and arrows, his daggers and whatever else qualified as a weapon. “What art thou doing?” I questioned him reverting back to my native way of speaking. He ignored me and finished his task and patted Redemption’s head a final time.
“Lay down thy weapons, Vaangelika.” he said softly and I started to refuse but silenced myself at the sight of his uncompromising face. “Now.” he commanded and I complied, removing every weapon that I had upon me and feeling naked with the compliance. “Shhh!” he warned when I opened my mouth to protest, putting his finger to his lips and taking my hand. “Now do as I tell you and the enemy will be scattered before us. You will see. But do only as I tell thee. Promise or remain here alone.” My eyes widened at his words and I fell speechless and let him lead me out of the opening of the boulders, followed by the horses and lastly, the deer. The deer looked as bewildered as I, but followed his new found friends out into the clear and present danger before us.
The man led me out of our only protection and towards the campfire. At the sight of us, the huge men and would-be kidnappers turned from their brothers and stared at us in surprise. But the great surprise was all mine for I no longer saw one slain or wounded man among them. In fact, they were all mounted now and they parted at our approach and made way for the most truly terrifying sight that my eyes had ever seen. On the gigantic black horse, bathed in the steam issuing from his demonic nostrils, sat the leader of the Meerjoks, Skaarkap and there upon his back, sat the hideous twin with a brand new head, exactly like the one I had chopped off! I gasped in shock and the giant laughed and all the men laughed with him and the sound echoed throughout the camp and bounced off the boulders.
Raising his hand to quiet them, Skaarkap shouted, “It has been great fun playing with you, Blue Eyes, but now we must take our new bride and be on our way! The WereMen have informed us that they plan on eating you and the deer for supper and we must not delay their feast! Now give us the woman and prepare for your last meal!” The intruders laughed uproariously at his joke and I felt myself grow pale and tried to pull my hand out of the man’s hand and run for my sword. He held me fast and whispered, “You must do as I say or all is lost!” “Alright!” I acquiesced and stood by his side gritting my teeth. “What must I do? You said they cannot be killed. How can we fight them?” “The battle is not ours nor any mortal’s.” he said softly and with a calmness and a peace that I had never witnessed on any man’s face. I could only stare at him.
“When I say “Now!” I want you to drop to your knees and cover your face with your arms and do not look up no matter how curious you become or how frightened you might be. Do you understand? Swear this to me!” I looked at him in disbelief and could not find my quick and eager tongue. “Swear it!” he cried and shook me. “There is no time to dally!” “Yes!” I promised him, terrified at the thought of cowering before an approaching enemy. I was halfway thinking that he meant to let them swoop me up and take me away with them. What else could he do in that position? There was no way out! “Yes, I swear it!” I gritted my teeth, not at all resigned to this unthinkable fate. I would simply make one of the giant men kill me whether he wanted to or not. We readied ourselves as they began to move towards us in the firelight. Somewhere in the forest, the wolfman bayed a long and harrowing howl and the hair stood up on my neck and forearms. I swallowed hard and gripped the man’s hand tightly. “Be strong, Vaangelika.” he said to me and quickly kissed my forehead and pulled his hand out of mine. I cried out as he walked some paces ahead of me toward the approaching horde. What was he thinking? Was he going to sacrifice himself for me and what would that possibly accomplish? Nothing made any sense to me. All seemed lost.
I closed my eyes and thought about my father and my teacher and my nurse and of the mother I never knew. Of the shepherd boy and of Starshine and Snow and the eyes of the frightened deer. I saw the golden viper and the wondrous hawk and the knowing eyes of the white bird. But of all of these that I thought of and cared for, only the man who walked before me, made the heart leap out of my breast and reach to hold him in desperate hands. I had never felt this way about anyone. I didn’t know what it was but I didn’t want to let it go. To let it die. I wanted to hold it forever and be held by it. “Please!” I called to him as the tears flowed down my cheeks, “I don’t even know thy name!” He turned to look back at me and saw my arms reaching out to him and said, ” I do not have a name. So thou canst call me anything you like, little warrior.” And he smiled a sad smile that pierced me like an arrow. We were some distance from the boulders and he was even farther away and getting closer to the horsemen all the time. They began to march and chant and to scream out their horrible greetings to me, anticipating their victory and our inevitable defeat.
“Our murderous bride, Brother!” the little man exclaimed, waving his fat little hands at me and pounding them upon his brother’s head. “She hasn’t been very nice to Ot-tay and Skarrkap, has she, BrotherKing? We’ll have to punish her, won’t we?” And he rubbed his hands together and whispered into the ear of the giant all manner of horrible things that concerned me. I wondered how close the man intended for them to come to us before he did anything. I could almost feel the heat from the horses’ breaths. They raised their newly formed arms and hands and legs and heads and bodies and prepared to charge at us and end the one sided battle and be done with it. The man looked up at the boulders and looked back at me and the horses and back to the onrushing tide of regenerated dead men. “Get ready!” he said. “Almost….almost…” And as they prepared to rush to the campfire and cast him aside and take me, the man screamed, “Now!!” and motioned for me to drop as he had instructed. The horses and deer fell to the ground as though dead and lay silently with their eyes tightly shut as if they understood what I did not.
I balked for a moment and then dropped and curled myself up, covering my face and body as best I could with my arms. “Keep your eyes closed and do not look up!” he cried out to me and he turned to the row of boulders and nodded and fell to the ground himself and prostrated himself in front of the enemy. “We are doomed.” I said to myself under my breath. “We are not doomed!” he shouted back at me and dared me to uncover my face. Within seconds, we began to hear a loud noise coming from behind us, from the area of the gray boulders. I had never heard a sound like that before and cannot describe it. It was almost like an army approaching. An invisible army. “Do not look!” he cried again and I didn’t mean to. Out of the corner of my eye, I began to see a golden glow fill the whole atmosphere and bright and incredible lights appear all around. The brutish horde in front of us gave forth loud and frightening cries and began to rush us in their madness. I couldn’t bear to see but I was terrified not to. It was like we were crouched in the middle of two approaching armies and I had no idea what to do but crouch there. Suddenly, behind us, we heard the sound of horns and heavy marching and the sound of swords being drawn. Just as the band of marauders seemed within mere feet of us, they began to look up into the sky above where we knelt and their eyes widened in disbelief. They screamed and began to back up and look for somewhere to retreat to but there was no where to go. The noise of that great army seemed to fill up the world, and without effort, encompassed the entire camp. They seemed to my frightened ears, more gigantic than the Meerjoks and with no sounds of retreating, but pushing forward, united as one.
I could have sworn then, that I heard the mighty rush of beating wings like that of great birds, but that couldn’t be real, I told myself. As the army grew closer to where I lay, I began to feel extremely odd. It was almost like the heat of the blazing sun fell upon me. Then a soft glow enveloped me and soon the sensation of being covered in warm honey from head to toe. I could not grasp the meaning of it nor raise my head to see the source of the sensation. I fell into peaceful, ecstatic surrender and floated rapturously in a state of joy I had never known. My surroundings fled away and I saw only a golden glow, so bright, that I could see it even from behind my hands and closed eyelids. I began to laugh softly, in a sort of delirium but a madness I did not fear. From a million miles away, I heard the horrified roar of the enemy and heard their monstrous horses trample over one another, attempting retreat. Skaarkap’s unmistakable loud voice cried out “Run! Run, My Brothers for your lives! We cannot defeat this foe!” And I heard them running and screaming through the forest and over the hills and for many miles, screaming and screaming in abject terror.
The glow kept shining for some time. As the quiet fell around us it faded into a dim light and then disappeared altogether and the warmth left my body and the bliss, my soul. I lay there in a fetal position until I felt the hand of the blue eyed man reach out and pry my fingers apart and caress my shoulder and brush back my hair. “It’s alright, Little Flower, we are safe now. The Meerjok have gone. They will not return.” I stiffly tried to sit up and looked blankly into his eyes, silently asking a thousand questions. He pulled me to my feet and held me tightly in his bloody arms and together with the horses and the deer, we looked around us in astonishment at the deserted and silent camp, peaceful and dark now except for the glow of the dying orange fire.