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The Hermit

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Darkness fell, obscuring the land like a thick blanket, so thick it was almost tangible. No one in sight, not even the stars dared shine this night. The moon hid her face, cowering behind venomous storm clouds. Lighting crackled with vengeance while her twin, thunder, shook the earth with a rumble. Frightened beasts knew better than to be out and about. Although, one stubborn being, a giddy old hermit, prowled the forest despite nature’s kind warning. His beard, white and scraggly, fell to the tattered belt looped around his waist. The hermit learned heavily on a wooden can and despite the rags worn for clothes, he seemed a cheerful being. The hobbling old man sang to the force of the howling wind,
“The end is near, so near. Hold those dear, so dear. A monster takes his place, sacrificial blood on lace. Answer the beast’s call; face your fears for all. River red, river red. The beast, he triumphs.” The hermit’s ominous notes clashed mightily with thunder. Under a mop of unkempt gray hair, beady black eyes gleamed with pure menace. The bent, hobbling frame straightened as he sidled forward. “They be knowin’ not to get in milord’s way.” The old hermit chortled, “What silly mortals they be.” A toothless smile spread across the wrinkled face. “And o’course, they know not to me own path. Show them good, I will. Use u all me strength, I would.” The hermit cackled madly. “Lord and lady will crush’em all!” lightning blazed in the sky, casting shadows.
“Puny man will have no chance. Ol’ Ezekiel has seen it himself. Yes, I have.” Ezekiel grinned broadly, exposing blackened gums. “Time to go,” he told himself. He fellow hobbled off and sung once more to the roiling sky, “Darkness we seek. The future is bleak. Rigid bodies. Winter’s coming, coming. An end of time. Pitiful. Separate night and day…” A wrathful wave of thunder boomed just as the sky wept for the past, present, ad future.
•••

Ground split and parted; violent tremors rocked the earth, causing fissures to open wide. A female figure tore free. Dust settled as she sputtered and coughed dirt from her lungs. Uttering a curse, the female muttered, “Da** it! We lost him.” Locks of deep brown feel to her shoulders. Her face was harsh and it bore scars, obviously gifts from previous enemies. Underneath it all, the face had once been beautiful. Even now it was beautiful with sculpted lips, a hawk-like nose, long, luminous eyelashes, and eyes of violet.

The ground lurches beneath her feet and, for an instant, she wobbled. Her clothes were worn b the elements and at her belt she carried an array of weaponry. A long sword in its sheath on her left hip, small daggers, and even an ax yet still the female managed to move with the grace and agility of a feline. “Princess,” came a gruff voice.
The woman’s hand twitched, itching to grab the sword’s hilt. “Hakul,” her voice was low, “nice of you to join me.” Abruptly, she surveyed the surrounding area. Determination churned with those incandescent violets. “We’ve lost his trail, princess.” The female turned to assess the male. With eyes as sharp as talons, she gazed on his profile. Stubbled cheeks were the homes of jagged twin scars. Each started at an earlobe and ended near his bottom lip. The irises of the male were such a pale blue that, at first glance, they were white.
“I know that, Hakul.” Again, her hand itched toward the sword. Careful around this one, a faraway voice cautioned.
Hakul growled, “This is the third time, princess. Obviously, you are not worthy of this task. Your father…” She gazed into the distance, lips quirking.
The blade of a dagger pressed firmly against Hakul’s throat, slicing delicate skin. Blood trickled slowly downward. “Do not forget, Hakul, that, whatever the situation, I am your superior.” Her voice lowered an octave, “I can dispose of you at any moment.” Leaning in, she told into his ear, “Never forget this, warrior: you are dis-pos-able.” The princess hissed each syllable and then turned away. The dagger clattered to the ground. “Be gone from my sight, worthless beast.”
Hakul, indignant, grunted. The male turned away, glancing over his shoulder at the formidable woman. Very soon, princess, I will have revenge. Hakul returned to his companions and fellow hunters, simmering beneath the surface.
A balding man cleared his throat, standing no more than three feet away. “Princess, where do we go from here?” The woman glanced around, relaxed. A forest to the east, mountains to the west, plain lands to the north, and to the south a barren wasteland where, it is said, no creature can hope to survive. “P-princess?” stammered the balding one.
“Patience, old friend, she whispered. A ghost of a smile floated to her cherry lips and she gestured to a trail of hoof prints. “Look, Rafael, at where these go.”
The nervous creature shifted and straightened his spectacles, squinting. “Toward the GreT Forest. But,” he objected, “those could be any animal’s prints.
The female moved forward, lithe. She followed the trail with her eyes. “Yes, Rafael, they could be but are not.” She pointed. “Look, the third pair show a change. They deepen and then, the next shift into human tracks.” The princess allowed herself a triumphant grin s she turned to her servant.
The fellow cleared his throat, “Well done, princess.” He praised. “Brilliant, as usual.” She winked and grinned again. “They’re fresh. No older than a day. Tell the huntsmen we depart soon.”
He bowed and turned to go. “Of course, princess.” The thrill of the chase hummed through her veins as she watched Rafael scurry off. The pleasure of the hunt captured her soul. Soon, she thought and turned, disappearing into the throng of warriors.



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