1645 - Little Mags and Agatha
1645 Merwood, Dread Hideout (one hundred sixty-three yrs later)
Acharius emerged from his lair, the cave deep in Dread Hideout Country. A lumbering shape unfolding in daylight. Brown doeskin breeches and lawn shirt covered by a thick green tunic. An oversized leather hood drawn up to shadow his features, should anyone see him. Bow in hand and quiver at his back he walked cautiously. Always ready.
Without being able to perceive color, he had to study the black and gray shapes more carefully to notice movement. The afternoon light was merely blinding white. He’d no idea the particular hue.
Tipping his head, he sniffed and caught the stink of Cimmerii. Not uncommon for them to occasionally pass through here heading to Battling Territory.
He meandered the narrow trail he’d worn through the Netherwoods’ thick trees. Ducking vines and pushing huge curling leaves from his face.
He caught the first scent of human blood and jerked upright.
The Netherwood was not an uncommon place for dark Dreads to make their sacrifices in the name of demons.
Like Radix or Nierwae, the Firoque King. The black demon who ruled in Battling.
Acharius cautiously jogged in the direction of the smell. Rounding the bend, he found a man leaned over two little girls, which huddled together whimpering. He roughly pinched the hand of one. Having already drug the blade along her tender palm, he now squeezed it so roughly blood streamed to the dirt and moss. Searing it in black ash.
“Stop!” He barked at the stranger.
What fool mission is this?
The man in the black hood turned. Beady onyx eyes trimmed in orange, set on the mighty blonde giant. His face was mottled with black blotches and a scatter of moles. Skin already withered as though he were much older. The man’s dark grin revealed pointed teeth, as he assessed Acharius’ massive size.
Stop staring at me like a prized horse. Acharius’ jaw ticked.
“You’re one of them. One of those he seeks.” The man cackled shrilly. “He’ll delight in hearing of you.”
But he won’t.
“I’m certain he would.” Acharius cocked his large squared head. “But you’ll not speak of me.”
“I will.” He said gleefully.
You won’t have time.
Before the man blinked, Acharius pulled his bow and planted three arrows in the man’s withered torso.
The cimmerii firoque fell. The markings on his face receded and darkness seeped from his eyes.
Looking down at him, then to the cowering girls, Acharius saw the resemblance.
God, I hope not!
“He-he wasn’t any-anymore.” The wounded girl said. Cradling her hand.
Acharius nodded quickly. Now what the Hell do I do?
Standing over them, his shadow enveloped them as they stared up his towering height. Peering at his face.
Shock was written over them.
He met their huge eyes and witnessed the terrified vulnerability in their faces. If I walk away, they’ll die in these woods.
He warred with himself. I’ve no time to tend little girls! What in bloody hell do I do with them?
They’ll starve-or freeze if I do nothing. He was still sorely tempted to walk away and hope a villager happened on them.
But looking at the dual pairs of dark eyes, he was convinced they’d not make it hours. Much more, days.
He groaned, relenting. I’ll wish I’d kicked my own tail, one day. He was certain.
“Stand children.” He barked.
The two girls eyed him warily. “Tis safe. I won’t harm you.” He softened his voice.
“You’re huge.” The older of the two whispered. “Like a bear.”
Same disposition, I suppose…
“I am a large man.” He acknowledged.
“Where will we go?” The younger one peered around her sister. “Are you going to eat us?”
“I don’t believe in eating…children.”
The girls gasped.
He turned to hide his grin as he gestured for them to follow. “I’ll have to build you a house.”
“What will we do to repay you?” The older asked.
Not starve to death whilst I try to figure out how to deal with you.
He scowled. “There’s no payment for saving children. Come!” He ordered. Seating his bow back over his shoulders.
“How do you let arrows fly so fast?” The younger asked skeptically. “How do you hold that thing? It’s as tall as me!”
Not very damn tall. He thought in aggravation.
What the hell am I supposed to do with…children. His nose wrinkled in disdain as he turned his back and expected them to follow.
That night Acharius worked to build the girls a shelter in the woods. Somewhere hidden and-with any luck, safe. Before reinforcing the structure, itself, he built a high wooden fence. That ought to deter most Cimmerii.
When he came to check on them the following morning he came with gifts. Kneeling before them he handed them a tiny bag with seeds he’d collected during the night.
The girls sat on the grass before him.
“Plant trees here.” He pointed to the grass below them, surrounded by the tall fence. “Fruit will keep you fed. And hide the structure from the woods.” He pointed beyond the fence.
“Thank you.” The younger one whispered.
Don’t thank me. You still might die out here.
The older one stepped forward. “She’s Agatha and I’m Margaret. We’re daughters of Igonox. That means we pay our debts.” She formally announced. “How do we repay you?”
“You repay me by living here safe, until you’re old enough to leave. And by planting these trees so you may eat well. I’ll not always be able to find meat for you.” He warned.
“All of which helps us.” The older said.
In theory. He eyed their tiny frames askance before nodding to himself. Ye, they’re going to perish.
“How do we help you?” The younger insisted.
“You may watch the ridge,” he pointed to the hilltop where there was a break in the trees. “up there in the evening before you rest. And if you see something unsettling you blow this.” He lifted two tiny wood whistles he’d painstakingly carved for the girls.
“If anything tries to harm you. Blow into them.”
“What’ll happen when we blow them?”
My ears will split in me skull.
“It will make a noise so horrible it’ll wake me from any slumber.”
The girls nodded.
“Today you’ll weave some baskets from the wide grass. Do you know how?”
Please bloody well know how.
The older sister nodded.
“In the afternoon I’ll return and show you where to find berries to eat.”
The older girl impulsively lurched forward to clutch his neck. “You’re a savior.”
He reared back but she hung on. Bloody Hell. He’d never been good with touching. Not how I was raised.
“I’m just a man.”
There was a long silence as he set her back from him. “You’ll have to be careful in these woods, do you understand me?”
They blinked at him.
They’re going to die. He frowned.
“There are things like what your father was becoming, out here.” He gestured to the woods.
“We understand.” The younger girl of perhaps eight years, said solemnly.
No, you don’t. They will eat you.
“You’re going to protect us.” The older girl said slowly. “We understand. Someday, we’ll protect you.”
Oh…Now that’s simply nonsense. He felt awful. Looking from one face to the other he sighed.
Lips moving into a faint smile. “There’ll never be a need for that.”