WARRIORS OF THE WAY
MOON LIGHT MADNESS
I could not say how long we stood there. He appeared calm and pleased but I was trying to comprehend what had just happened to me, to us. There was no reasonable explanation for any of it, save for miracle or (delusion). Snow and Redemption waited patiently for us to pull apart and when we did not after ten minutes or so, they snorted, touched noses and turned back for their arbor. The deer followed them and soon we were standing alone in the night. I could no longer hear the snarls of the wolf creature and the forest seemed to be asleep but watchful. Within the camp, the atmosphere seemed changed completely. It was not a feeling you could
describe but one that no mortal being could ever forget, even after long passages of time. I didn't want to let go of the moment and held tightly to the man, fearing that if I let go of him, the wondrous, magical...what? Thing? Rescue? Dream? What could I call it? Event.....would evaporate into the realms of imagination.
Remembering the golden glow and the sweet ecstatic warmth pouring over me as I lay helpless in it's presence was too precious to lose. I didn't want to speak and spoil the sacred silence. So I held him and waited. Finally, he pulled back and looked into my eyes, then kissed my forehead and let me go. Caught off guard, I lost my balance and struggled to keep myself upright. He turned back to catch me and we both tumbled to the ground, peals of helpless laughter erupting from our mouths and lastly, from our souls. It was cleansing laughter, joyful laughter, the laughter of awe. We laughed until tears streamed down our dirty faces and catching sight of one another, laughed all the more. "Don't laugh at me!" I scolded breathlessly and threw a pebble at him. He ducked and pretended to throw a handful of dirt my way."Don't laugh at me!" he warned and collapsed upon the ground, giving in to the exhaustion and release. I looked up to see the deer peek his head out of the boulders and broke into fresh gales until the pain in my side bid me stop.
Suddenly aware of the wounds on the man's cheek and arm, I sobered and looked around to see if there was any un-spilled water or provisions with which to nurse him. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "There's some containers of water inside the horses' arbor and some cloths and ointment in my deerskin bag. The arm is giving me some pain now but the face will be alright. I needed some scars to give it character." Pain flashed in his eyes and I smiled at him and rushed to get what was needed. I didn't want to leave him there alone in the dirt and walked backwards to keep my eyes upon him. He did not know I watched him and slumped lower on the ground and gave a small groan."He's hiding his pain." I thought and wondered if there had been another, unseen wounding. I gave no thought to my own bruises and scratches, blood stained my shirt and hands and my head throbbed but I didn't care about myself but thought only of the man with no name and how I might relieve his suffering. It was best not to think too hard upon things, the mind could only stand so much trauma. I could feel already feel myself trying to process the strangeness and terror, knowing it was a futile effort. No, I would go over it all later and try to draw a logical conclusion.
I stoked the fire and threw more wood into it's flames and hurried to my companion's side. "Let's get you out of this dried mud, shall we?" I said and attempted to pull him to his feet. I could not budge him. He lay so un-naturally still that I feared that he was dead and a pain like I have never known ripped through my heart. "Come back!" I pleaded, dropping to my knees, almost overturning the water pot. "Thou cannot leave me! Please! Please! Thou mustn't be dead! Thou mustn't!" Panic overtook me and I dissolved into wails and weeping when he opened his eyes and smiled a small and wonderful smile. "Why, Vaangelika, you sounded as though you......cared."
I wanted to strike him then and forgot my mourning. "Why did you frighten me so? I thought you were dead!" And the tears streamed down my face and I made no attempt to stop them. He reached and caught a falling tear with his finger and staring at it for a moment, kissed the tear and left it on his lips. I was stunned. "Your tears are precious." he murmured and sat up stiffly. "I don't know that I've ever had anyone weep for me before." "Were you unconscious or sleeping?" I asked, trying now to hide the emotions that undid me. "A little of both, I suppose." he smiled and stood to his feet. "When I was knocked from my horse, the ground did not cradle me tenderly." We walked to a softer spot on the grass and he dropped heavily like a stone and a groan escaped his lips. "Sing to me, Vaangelika." he said as I began to wash the blood away and dress his wounds. I looked at him in amazement, frowning. "Sing?" "Yes. Sing to me. It will take my mind off of the pain."
I searched my mind for a song, wondering if it was, indeed, possible to sing in this madness. "Wait here." I said quietly, laying down the wet cloths and hurrying to the arbor. I fetched the music box and wound it and opened the lid. The haunting melody of my childhood filled the night air and took me back to safer and happier times. I began to sing the words that went with the music and continued my work upon his painful gashes. The arm wound was deep and frightened me but I did the best I could in washing and applying healing balms then wrapping it with clean white cloths. "Though I am crippled, lame and halt. Though all my dreams have come to naught. Though I was blinded at my life's start. I'm ever dancing.... in my heart." I sang and let the memories that the song evoked take me over and lost myself in it's words and melody. I sang every verse and chorus and when I'd finished, the music box continued on for a few seconds and then fell silent. The sudden quietness made my heart ache and I thought to rewind the box but could not find the strength to do it.
I sat looking at the fire, lost in my memories and feeling the heartbreak and lonely joy expressed in the song. How strange it made me feel now. Cy-nithia's Song. My crippled, blind nursemaid. Unable to see a rainbow but somehow always joyful. And always diligent in her care of me until the day of her departure. I replayed past recollections of her, humming the melody under my breath until the man reached out to touch my arm and startled, I looked to see tears shining in his eyes. "What a sweet soul you are, Little Flower. What love issued forth from your tongue. That song stirred something in me....that I cannot speak...or recall properly. Some long ago memory, I think, or remnant of thought or........something. Thank you for the gift of your song." I shook my head and my unkempt hair tumbled into my face. "It is not my song. It was given to me." "And now you have given it to me." he said "And I shall never forget it."
Handing me a clean cloth dipped in water, he motioned for me to wash my own face and hands and I did so absently and winced when I touched a bruise on my cheek. I didn't want to think about the horrible blood that stained me and my garments. The blood of the Meerjoks. The unthinkable giant and his tiny repulsive brother. What act of unnatural, unspeakable...I could not find the words...and shook my head again and rubbed my tired eyes. "Do not think about it, Vaangelika." he cautioned and dabbed at my face with the cloth. "Pretend it was all a bad dream, like you often do, and put it from your mind. We have come through the experience relatively unscathed and you have another adventure to add to your repertoire." "They wanted to marry me, for the love of.....!" I groaned, " To have their monstrous babies!" "Yes, they did but they have gone home empty handed and failed in their quest." he observed, lying back down on the grass watching me. I turned to look at him, a sudden thought racing through my mind and asked, "If these men can replicate themselves, then why do they need to produce children with females?" I did not understand the whole idea of it. He was quiet for a few minutes then said in his patient and gentle way, (not unlike the manner of my old teacher) "When once I realized who these men were, I was afraid that we were doomed. My first impression was that they belonged to the tribe of Maarraks residing at the foot of the mountain who are more human than the Meerjoks and could be defeated and sent away. They are not a very intelligent lot, the Maarraks, and can be outwitted by one as cunning as the man you tend to and I was not that concerned, though certainly disturbed."
He paused to smile at me teasingly and continued when I lifted my eyebrow in response. "The Meerjoks have struck fear into the hearts of men and beasts hereabouts for many years. True, they have the ability to regenerate themselves but I suppose it gets tiresome watching one's self reform again and again and again and so they find themselves longing for new additions to the clan." "But where are the women of their clan?" I interrupted and he held up his hand and went on. "I have heard it said that there never were any female Meerjoks. That they have always had to raid other peoples for wives and that all of those wives eventually escape or die or.....worse. I don't recall the entire legend but evidently, they have plundered all of their neighbors' bounties and have come at last to sharing one solitary wife among them."
"Meaning me." I sighed and shuddered. "One wife and a hundred men." My stomach turned and I put my hand to my mouth. "You do realize that I was prepared to die before that happy occasion, do you not?" "Yes, I was well aware of your plan." he said, "And I cannot say that I could blame you. Death would be preferable to Skaarkap and Ot-tay, that is certain. And the Prince who failed miserably in his whirlwind courtship of you.......now, that was a nasty brute! I must say that you left a lasting impression upon them all! Especially the little fellow. You should have seen your face when his head went flying at the urging of your sword! I don't know who was the most surprised!"
"Oh!" I chided, "I don't know. I'm used to that sort of thing. Did you see Skaarkap's face when I chopped off that odd jewel in his forehead? I don't understand the purpose of that. Was the jewel actually part of him when he was born or was it inserted...later?" The man did not answer me for some time and then stated, "Come to think of it, I don't believe the jewel replicated itself. I seem to recall that it was still missing when his head grew back. I shall have to think upon the matter." "I think you're right." I said standing to my feet and picking up the music box. "The ruby was not there. I wonder what it means? Not that I care. But I wonder what it means." And I left him and walked back to the arbor and hid the box in my belongings. Returning, I asked, "Is it alright if I retrieve my weapons now? They are far away from me and I feel the need to have them near. When you told me to lay my weapons down earlier, I thought you had lost your senses." I stopped to look down at him and he gave me a crooked smile and softly said, "I was thinking the exact same thing at the time. It made no sense whatsoever to me. But I was not the one in control. And look at the magnificent way it all turned out!" "Yes, indeed." I agreed and made my way towards the tall gray stones where Snow eyed me with a very human expression as her white face appeared in the opening. "Thou art a very wise horse." I said throwing my arms around her neck in greeting. "And a very brave one." And she nodded up and down and neighed to show me that of that fact, she was already aware.
I made sure that there was water still in it's container for them and found a bag full of apples and poured them out on the ground for the horses and gave one to the deer who lay there staring at me like I was his mother. He didn't seem to have any intention of leaving our company and the horses seemed to like him rather well which was an odd thing but in this place, oddities appeared to be normal. I shrugged and bid them all a goodnight and gave them all heartfelt hugs of gratitude. Gathering up the weapons, I went outside and picked up all of the discarded weaponry there where the man had dropped them and made my way back to where he lay. He stirred as I approached and asked, "Everything proper and in order?" "Yes." I answered and laid his sword and bow beside him and looked around the camp for any arrows that had survived their usage. I saw several and went to pick them up. They looked in relatively good shape despite the fact that they had pierced the flesh of monstrous men. (If they could be called that.) I had a supply in the arbor and I supposed the man did too but there was no need to let these go to waste. "You're thrifty." he called out to me, sitting up. "I like that in a woman." "Waste not, want not." I called back and spied two arrows close to the entrance of the black forest. Well, those two would certainly be wasted! I wasn't venturing close to that hellish place again! I filled my sheath with all of the arrows that I recognized as mine and took the remainder to their owner.
"Hmmm." he marveled, taking them. "None the worse for wear, I see. Interesting." "I wonder why the blood is still there?" I thought out loud. "Why does the blood not disappear?" "I don't know." he said frankly. "Honestly! I do not know everything, no matter what you believe!" "I don't believe that." I said and turned away so that he could not see me smile. I gathered up plenty of firewood and found the scattered cooking pots and pans and the water flasks where they had been flung. "Art thou....you... thirsty?" I asked and handed him a full flask. I was tired. And sleepy. Almost too tired to be afraid or concerned about any other intrusions or adventures. My mind was numb and my body was craving the relief of sleep. I vaguely wondered what tonight's sleeping arrangements were and was not surprised when the man said,"I shall sleep here by the fire and keep it burning. You'll be safe in the arbor. I don't require much sleep and you look dead on your feet. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine here. Just bring me a couple of skins and a cloak or two and I'll make my bed here. I don't anticipate trouble but one never knows. The Weremen are still out there and the moon is.....full." And at that, I looked up to see the moon rising in the sky, covering the ground with an eerie light.
"I think I'd rather have another thunderstorm." I muttered and he laughed softly, "Vaangelika! I thought last night was the worst night of your life! You hardly slept a wink between the lashings of rain and the playing with my hair!" I blushed and waved my weary hand at him and he chuckled as I walked away. I hurried to fetch the skins and cloaks and took and deposited them near the head of the reclining man and made my retreat. "Goodnight, Little Warrior. Sleep the sleep of the innocent and the brave." he said softly, getting to his feet. I nodded and stumbled with half closed eyes to the bunk and jumped up into it. Pulling the covers up to my chin and looking again in wonder at the pale glow of the trees before my eyes slammed shut, I made a wish and prayer that the night would be uneventful and that the man would sleep in comfort and wake renewed. And then I fell into deep dreams. I dreamed of Cy-nithia and of her sightless pale brown eyes and soft hands. She was singing to me and her song made me feel like a child again. And then the tone of the song and of the dream changed and a sense of urgency filled my heart. Cy-nithia's mouth was moving and she was still singing but I could not hear her. I could not hear anything. Not a sound. I ran towards her and grabbed at her with my desperate hands but she kept on singing and singing and did not acknowledge me. I raised my hand up to her face and cried as loud as I could but no sound issued forth from me. I screamed her name but she could not hear me. In a frantic state of terror, I swung my arm back and hit her in the face as hard as I could and her face shattered into a thousand pieces. Except for her mouth which kept on singing and singing it's silent song.
I began to scream and in the screaming woke myself up from the dream and sat upright to find myself tangled in the covers and soaking wet with sweat. "It was just a dream!" I told myself and tried to laugh, brushing back the hair from my damp forehead. I don't know how long I had been asleep. Hours, perhaps. Minutes? I didn't know. I looked to see the position of the moon to discern the time of night but could not see it through the tent of skins over the ledge. A noise caught my attention then and I froze and peered through the darkness toward the campfire. The fire was burning low now and I saw the feet of the man sticking out of the cloak and blankets of skins thrown over him as he slept. His back was to me and my heart pained me at the sight of it. Had it really been last night that I had feared and loathed that back? It seemed like a lifetime ago. So many things had changed in in one day's time. My whole life had changed! And I did not know what road it would take tomorrow. In two days time, he said, he would be leaving. Leaving me. Maybe for forever. And if not, how would he ever find me again if I left this place? How would we ever find one another again? The thought of it made me want to cry but I blinked back the tears and started to straighten my bed when I heard the sound of something moving towards the camp on stealthy feet.
I drew myself up and moaned, "Oh, no. Please! No more tonight! I can't stand anymore! I'm so tired." I thought for a moment to cover my head and pretend that I had not heard a thing, to just go back to sleep. And so I did for twenty seconds. Then I peeked out of the blankets with just my eyes showing and looked across the way. In the firelight's reddish glow, I watched as three tall shaggy creatures walked upright like men to where the man lay sleeping. My heart almost stopped in my chest! I held my breath and closed my eyes, hoping that when I opened them, there would be nothing there to see. Needless to say, it didn't work. It never did. The creatures were probably six and a half feet tall. Dark brown fur, with man like arms and hairy hands with long vicious claws hanging at their sides. At least two of them were brown. One was different with silvery white fur that glowed in the moonlight. On huge feet they crept silently up to the sleeping form and surrounded it. Making motions to one another, they seemed to be planning something and I could only imagine what. The larger of the three, the silvery white creature, leaned down very close to the man and breathed in his scent. His great head went up into the air and he lifted up his giant paw like hands and shook them above his head. Two terrible, glowing red eyes made my body tremble in fear and I shrank back involuntarily, wondering if he knew I was there, watching. Long, sharp white teeth he had and a huge mouth and tongue. I could see saliva dripping from his mouth at the sight of the prey and he exhibited a kind of wild anticipation. The other two motioned for him to hurry and snatch up the meal so that they could be on their way but he stopped in his tracks as his arms reached for the man.
His head turned in my direction and I gasped as his horrible eyes scanned the trees and the darkness beyond. The pale light from the trees blinked off and disappeared! I could hardly believe my eyes! I was plunged into total darkness. I swallowed hard and began to shiver in fright. My hands shook so hard that I could scarcely hold the blanket together over my face. I lowered my eyes so that he could not see them peering out and hoped that I, too, had disappeared from sight. I did not know what to do. Still the man had not told me about these creatures. There had been no time with the Meerjok battle. I had no idea how to fight them. I frantically tried to recall what little he had told me. In the full moon, he had said, they were undefeatable. Or practically. Was that what he had said? What about the fire? Something silver. What was it? Oh, I didn't know what to do! I needed him to tell me! But how could I get to him? How could I warn him without alerting the Wolfmen to my presence? Would they slaughter both of us here in our beds? Devour us like rabbits? This had been the longest day of my life! I had dreamed of adventures as a girl sitting in my teacher's school room as he droned on and on about mathematics and history and spelling and reading but this? I had never imagined this! Maybe I should just run out and let them eat me and get it over with!
Everything was going from bad to worse. Why prolong the agony? But I didn't want them to harm the man. I couldn't stand the thought of it. Where was Snow when I needed her? Did she not know the situation out here like she did before? There had been not a sound from the horses. Not even the thud of a hoof. Were they sound asleep? Was the whole world sound asleep except for me? I could not do this alone. I tried to gather up my bow and arrows silently in the dark and pulled the weapons close to me and slung them over my exhausted shoulders. I pulled on my boots and slipped a dagger into each of them, into the special sheaths that were made to hold them. Keeping my eyes on the campfire, I slid down to the ground and almost fell in the darkness. Groaning, I put my hand to my lips and muffled the sound. The eyes of the great Wereman kept looking in my direction and he held up one long clawed hand and bid the others to be silent and wait. Then he took three giant strides that covered a great deal of ground and drew close to the place where I stood frozen in fear, my knees buckling at his approach and my heart beating like the heart in the breast of a dove about to die.
To be Continued in Episode 17.................