When Skedesa and Zipper got back to the settlement, Terks was already there. He met them, looking alarmed, and asked:
“Zipper, what happened? I was scared, I thought you fell in the precipice and we lost you! I was just telling my father and gathering people to go back and look for you.”
Zipper felt like stabbing him there and then, but he mustered his strength of will and said he got hurt and went along the way back, then he met Skedesa who was hunting.
“What a despicable hypocrite and bastard,” Skedesa thought to herself. “I would gladly strangle him.”
:I suddenly lost sight of you, and then there were stones falling from the top,” Terks said. “I went on and climbed almost to the top to be able to catch sight of you, but I only saw that the path was covered in stones. I called and called, but you didn’t answer.”
“You did not call at all, you brute!” Zipper thought.
“Liar and wretch,” Skedesa thought in turn.
“Zbelsourdos was merciful towards you, Zipper,” Augur the priest said. “Let the healers take care of his wound.”
Then he left.
Skedesa accompanied him to his stone home covered with a wooden roof, but when the healers came, she sent them away.
“The wound is not deep. It will heal in a day or two. I will take care of him,” she told them.
“She’s right, I have no pain at all,” Zipper confirmed.
“These servants, the priest’s people, they can cover your wound with poisonous plants and kill you. I don’t believe them,” she told him when they were gone.
“So you suspect them too!” Zipper remarked.
“Sure. Terks may have given them orders. From now on, we will have to be extremely careful. Anyone can be a hidden enemy. Even our nearest and dearest ones.”
After a while Skedesa left. Her aunt had been feeling unwell for two days, and she was confined to bed in her home.
“What is it, aunt? Does your stomach still ache?” Skedesa asked when she saw her.
“Yes, it aches a lot,” the woman replied in a weak voice.
“Tell me, do you remember what meal you last had?”
“A bit of dried meat and mushrooms,” the woman replied.
“Yes, mushrooms. You know that I dry mushrooms to have some supplies.”
“Haven’t they put some poisonous mushrooms among them others, on purpose?” Skedesa asked herself. “Perhaps the priest wants to kill her. Hasn’t he been scheming of getting rid of all my nearest people, so that I have no one to rely on?”
Skedesa went out at once. She went to pick some blades of pointed grass and small green fruit from a sort of bush. She returned. She mashed the grass and the fruit in a stone bowel and she poured goat’s milk over the mixture. Then she gave the bowl to her aunt and urged her to drink.
“Drink this, it will help you,” she said to the sick woman.
Her aunt drank the potion up, and before long she said she was not in such pain as before. Then she threw up. In another couple of minutes she said she was feeling much better.”
Skedesa was almost convinced her aunt had been poisoned.
So they should be on the lookout, be careful what they eat and where they go, in a nutshell, they should be constantly on the alert.
She shared her apprehensions with her aunt.
“It cannot be!” the sick woman exclaimed. “Why do you suspect the priest?”
“I have many reasons. He wants to force me to marry his son,” Skedesa replied. “If he does away with my nearest people, I will be left without support from anyone, and then he hopes I will seek protection from his son.”
“But the priest was your grandfather’s most trustworthy person!” Her aunt sounded astonished.
“Perhaps he was?! And perhaps he wasn’t?! He might have pretended he was his most reliable person? But grandpa has gone. Be careful from now on, watch out what you eat and drink.”
Dusk had fallen outside. Skedesa decided it was time to go to Zipper. She set off. As she was approaching his home, she noticed some shadow moving nearby. It seemed that someone was following her. She turned towards the forest, and when she entered the darkness she quickly ran towards a tree and climbed up.
In a couple of minutes there were quiet steps, and the outline of a man, sword in hand, was seen. He was moving haphazardly. He was clearly looking for her.
“The priest must be planning to intimidate me,” Skedesa thought.
Then she saw her persecutor. He approached the tree on which she had climbed, and he stopped there. Skedesa bid the right moment, and she jumped on him. She hit the sword so that it fell off his hand, and she punched him hard on the chin with her fist. He was dizzy, but he wasn’t unconscious. She helped him to sit up.
“Who are you, and why are you following me?” Skedesa asked him.
“I ... I ... I ... am a servant of Augur, the priest. I was ordered to find you and take you to him,” the man said, struggling for words.
“And why are you carrying a bared sword?” she asked.
“I am scared. Wolves attacked me.”
She was on the point of taking his sword, when there was a swish in the air, and an arrow pierced her attacker. He gasped, his eyes went wide with pain, and he dropped on the ground. Skedesa sensed some confusion and astonishment in his eyes.
Terks emerged out of the darkness, running towards her. He was holding a bow and he was breathing fast.
“Are you OK?” he asked Skedesa.
“I am,” she replied and looked at him in surprise. “Why did you kill him?”
“Because he wanted to hurt you,” Terks said.
“That’s not true! He told me he was looking for me, because your father ordered him to find me and take me to him!”
“He lied to you,” Terks said with confidence. “I heard how my father ordered him to find you and wound you, but slightly only.”
“And you, why are you rising against your father’s will and helping me?” Skedesa asked.
“You know why,” Terks replied, feigning slight embarrassment. “Because I want you to be my wife.”
“Well, thank you for the care, but I do not need it. And I want you to know that no matter what happens, I will not be your wife,” Skedesa said in a short and final tone, and then she went away.
“You never know,” Terks murmured quietly after her, and the malicious flames reappeared in his eyes.
But the truth of what had happened was entirely different.
After nightfall, Terks had called the servant he had shot with the arrow, and had ordered him to go and find Skedesa, and tell her that his father was summoning her. He had chosen the servant as he knew his habits and his fear of beasts. He knew that the servant went round the settlement with a bare sword in hand after nightfall. It was exactly that Terks relied on. He had followed the servant, and he had decided to shoot him with an arrow just when he approached Skedesa, and then tell her the fabricated story of how his father had ordered that she should be wounded and intimidated. His goal was to make her regard him as a hero who was helping her and rising against his own father for her sake.
That was how Terks had intended to overcome the formidable wall of indifference she had built to separate herself from her.
A cunning and mean plan; however, it did not manage to alter any of her mood and attitude. Just the contrary. It intensified the resentment she had for his family.
“Like father, like son,” she said to herself. “Terks is hardly saying the truth. He cannot be helping me out of real, genuine feelings?!” She had realized long before that it was highly likely when someone insistently helped you and extended his hand and wants you to take it, that person was doing that to be able to get you nearer to his sword!
And as for Terks, she was almost certain he was playing the game for her to make her like him.
It was a pity the innocent servant was gone. Often such innocent people fall victims to the ambitions of vile and perfidious people.
But the schemes and baseness of the priest and his son were soon to pale away, as a couple of days later they were attacked by the Romans.