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Outling the Foray
Life is almost meaningless. Everything just lives to reproduce and survive as long as possible, no matter what the costs or boundaries. The world is absolutely enormous in all aspects. Some people say that it is flat, and that there is an edge where we should all fall off if we go past it. My culture never believed such nonsense, but, because of the rumors, I think that every soul is scared to try to see if there is an edge; if there is a limit. What would happen if one were to fall off the edge of the world? People would tell stories about it. They would say that, after the ancient flooding, that’s where all the monsters and demons and dragons and lost souls went. They say even the devil himself is perched below the world, waiting for someone to fall so that he can devour their souls. It never scared me to have my soul devoured. I always looked down on us humans as if we never deserved to live.
We were bandits; rogues, merely. Some of the most dangerous warriors around were rogues, or started out as such. It was a way to live our meaningless lives, and hope to find joy somewhere along the tragic road. We stole from people; many people. We would burn small villages and kill or slaughter people who wouldn’t hand us what we desired. It wasn’t power we were after; it was meaning. Blood and life was nothing compared to finding purpose. I hate what we did, but this whole world is in competition. We wanted to be the last to fall. I was the first to lead. I was the first to fall.
We all had stories. Benjamin watched his parents and two sisters get slaughtered by either ruthless rogues or monsters. His stories were never clear, but you couldn’t help but find sympathy for a man who lived doing what caused his nightmares, spreading the curse. Othaos and Ibsul were part of a scouting party that got discovered and ran from the Green Torrent—a dangerous group of malnourished cannibals—and were the only two of seven to escape. Too many men had the same story, and too many had the same reason to do what we were doing.
My story started when I was of eight years. My father had passed away from a strong fever after working the field for too long. Mother worked in the mill, but she grew weak. What she had, no one could cure, and she had it for too many seasons. She died before I was fourteen and I stayed in our hillside dwelling with her limp body for almost two days.
Men came along from the outskirts of the city and saw her death as an opportunity for sick and disgusting things in mind. I ran from them until the sun was setting; when I was in the forests running from them even after they had stopped chasing me. I looked back to see if they had given up. When I turned back to continue my insanity, I was stopped by a man in bearskin with a broadsword strapped to his back. He must have been at least as tall as the tallest stock of corn in the field. He had long brown hair like mine, only shaggier. His face was innocent and understanding, and the random sheets of armor (like the one left gauntlet and right shoulder brace) seemed to make him a defender of right. He knelt down and asked me from what I was running.
“Those men were after me.” I sobbed.
“What men, girl?” His soft and deep voice will always be comforting.
I pointed behind me, back at the evil village where my family tried to find peace.
He stood tall and proclaimed, “Come with me.”
His outstretched right hand was dirty and covered with oils, earth, and possibly blood. He was stronger than the usual men you would find in the village, even the ones who claimed to have fought in battles. He needed his muscle to swing his broadsword from side to side at incoming foes that sought to end his life. His hand was all I needed to start a new. That night, I watched my village burn. The man’s hand that I took was the hand of a rogue leader who was looking to loot the village and leave no trace.
“Maybey you shud take uh break frum duty with all da’ hard earned money ya’ gout. Ooh knows, ya’ might be able ta’ stay out fer da’ ‘ole month with uh bottle O’ spirits in yo’ ‘ands, wanderin’ da’ streets look’n fo’ yer’ ‘ome. Sides, ooh wouldn’t like ta’ pick up a drunken pretty like yo’self, eh?” He said that all the while drinking the spirits in his hand.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m no simpleton of that sort.” I responded.
The pub was probably the biggest I had seen, but of course the town basically lived off of alcohol and spirits production.
“Well, maybey you ought ta’ try it some time, eh?” He took another swig. “Ah, you wouldn’t bother froms the sounds of yuh. But, tell me’. If yuh don’ drink’n ‘ave some fun ‘round ‘ere, why’re yuh in ‘ere?” He was referring to the pub.
Another man, with much better grammar for a drunkard, to my left of the counter joined him and said, “Yeh. Why, you should at leas’ try’n have some fun. Cut back, that’s what we’re all ‘ere for, isn’t that right Berny?”
The man making all the money behind the low counter spoke up. “Why, cutting back is what I do best. And sides, when you cut back, ya’ can know that yer’ providing fer’ me’ family.”
“Yep. He’ gots nine children,” said the man to the right, “oldest one’s tweny, if I ain’t mistaken.”
“Thank you, but I just come here for the talk.” I said.
“Oi, she’s one’r those fellars. Well, if it’s talk you’ve come fer, you’ll find lots O’ that ‘ere, or least til’ yer’ back on shift”
I didn’t stay much longer. I walked out around town in my night-watch disguise—a blue overtop covered with chainmail, a nose-guard helmet (which concealed the waves of my long, brown hair and eyes), hard leather boots and gloves, a short sword and buckler, and a bit of smell from the bar and grime on the face—and passed the small, neglected church, guardhouse, and smithy, all of which were surrounded with small one story edifices, storage houses, and possibly a flophouse farther west past the pub. The smithy was best cared for; a two story shack with probably the best thatched roof I ever saw. It was probably four or five horses long, and three horses high and even had wooden-hatched windows. At the corner, a fourth of the shack was open for the man to do his work and his bidding. The top and part of the bottom floor must have been where his family lived. He, also, was working in the late hours of the night to make sure he could support his family tomorrow. It was almost a shame that he wouldn’t be able to.
I was hoping that the guards beyond the gates were mostly asleep. They were the only ones that I was worried about, as it would be rather strange for a woman to leave town in the middle of the night. The guards on the walls—which were probably just a little taller than the smithy—didn’t even pose to me as much of a threat with their bows because they carried torches instead using beacons to show what was beyond the walls and at the edge of the thick forest. The whole town was the most stupid pile of vile grunts I’d ever seen; mixing their stupidity and all the business they would usually get, we assumed they wouldn’t suspect anything.
I pushed open the dark, splintered, wooden gate door that was ragged—due to lack of care and just having old wood walls—with high regard to sound. Despite its appearance, it was still rather strong because it was so thick. Opening the door was like opening the gate to hell; it was pitch black as if you were entering an endless void, like the night sky without stars or a moon. The only light not from the stars was far to the right and left of the door from the torches that the sentries carried. It was so dark because it was a night with no moon and mountains surrounded the north and northwestern side of the town (or, so I remember from scouting the city during the day), blocking part of the sky. My hands guided the door back to the same position I had left it but, as I was doing so, I noticed two guards on either side of the full gate. The gate was wooden, made of thick logs that were hoisted up from the inside with thick ropes, and the width of the gate protruded from the rest of the wall at least two steps.
I threw my back against the wall and stared at the guard at the right. After a quick glance, I could saw the guard at the left leaning against the wall, asleep. My full attention was then set on the guard to the south, who stood upright. I could not let him see me escape. Remembering that I was disguised in the town’s guard uniform, my slender body eased from its tension and casually inched its way towards him on the soles of my dark leather boots, as if I were not the one in control. From his angle, if he were smart enough to look, he would have seen a smaller bodied sentry coming to change shifts with him or to keep him company.
A sword was too ruthless; the dagger strapped on the right of my guard’s belt was the best choice. My right hand, slightly sweating from the heat of the gloves and my anxiety, grasped the leather-wrapped iron blade, which was, estimated, two and a half index fingers long. It broke loose from the strap and—
“’Eh, mah shift’s not done til’—” He spoke too soon; much too soon.
Hastily, I brought the dagger’s butt level with my breasts and bound toward the guard with my upper body leaning forward, aiming for his heart. I always see the same eyes, even if it happens at night. The pupils go from normal to almost completely dilated in less than an instant. The eyebrows raise in the middle to form a sudden “why me?” expression. And as you let go of your death-grip, you stare into those empty, glossy eyes that change your hate to sorrow. Turn away from those eyes as fast as you can so that they only scar you for while. The vacant body fell to the ground.
I quickly darted to the east, off the weather-beaten trail towards the thickets, running from the death I had caused and the death I could gain. The forest was mainly oaks, but you could see a maple or a group of pine trees here and there. I rushed past three or five lines of trees before I rested on the back of an oak to regain my strength, and my sanity.
The noise of crickets could be heard nearby, but there was a distinct and abstract one that made a sound as if it were dying. I responded, making a light and prolonged whistle.
Ibsul unconcealed himself from one of the bushes deeper in the undying trees, came up to me leaning against the tree, and knelt down. He motioned for me to join him closer to the ground.
“Were you seen?” he whispered, quietly.
“No. The guards should all be sleeping, spare the few blind ones on the walls. The villagers don’t suspect anything, but they could bare a small resistance. I had to kill one of the gate guards.”
“Alright. Madison’s group is already in position, wait’n for the signal. Me thinks, since you ‘ad to take one out, we’ll have to act now.”
“Aye, but ‘tis best if the southern group with Janson moves in first. I want them to get to the walls unseen. The guards are trouved only by the gate, as I assumed they would be.”
Ibsul turned his face to his left and cupped his hands over his mouth to make a louder, rough sounding impression of a cricket. To me it was a somewhat decent mess of a racket that Ibsul needed to practice many more times. In response to his raucous, a much clearer sounding impression of an owl was heard. They got the message.
“Now we wait.” Ibsul said, still facing the direction he projected his hoarse sound.
I drew his attention, saying, “No. We never wait. I will not let my mind rot in silence. We move now. Where is the squire boy?”
“Aye, ‘he’s behind the line, not far off.”
By ‘the line’, he referred to the line of men waiting for my signal to lead. All of them were brave, trustworthy men. Some deserved to see their families again. Others deserved to find reason. Even others deserved to find love. What we were doing, in my heart, was not the right way to find these things. It was, of course, the only way I knew how; the only way I was taught. We passed that line formed from men lying, leaning, and crouching behind trees, bushes, and in the trees, most of them looking at us or the town. As I passed the edge of fifty men strong, I looked at some of their readied faces. They were waiting for the moment, memories lying in the depths of their eyes; memories that made them drive past their limits. I was half proud, half ashamed.
The squire boy held my weapon in the darkness. He was hardly in sight, but I could make out the figure leaning against a tree. He was just a lad of fourteen who lost his father who had helped in one of the raids. Ever since then, we called him the squire boy because he would not even speak to tell his name. He would only hustle weapons he cared for to their owners who might use them once again to split the skin against the flesh or thrust the tip into the breast. I was almost afraid to use mine, for the squire boy had a small trouble carrying the trifle. It was an oversized claymore meant for a giant.
They came to me then; the memories of slaughtering the innocent—not truly innocent—without reason. The blade must have been as tall as a full grown man and capable of taking the lives of countless. I remember a man charging at me from a distance with a floret of sharp metal raging in his hand. I swung the blade twice and just it into the ground, throw myself at least my own body length ahead, pulled with the charged momentum in my body, and obliterated his saber and lacerated his body in half. I saw his face, the depthless eyes, fall to the ground as his body separated in two.
How many more must I kill? When will I understand why and what is happening? How am I supposed to live with myself? How am I still alive!? I knew more would come; I knew it. When we would break into the village, any guards, villagers, shopkeepers, farmers, travelers, or even children who resisted would be killed mercilessly. The other side of my mind was coming in, forcing me to accept their fates and forcing me to accept that we would thrive for at least a week off of their livings, and then forcing me yet again to accept that we would take whatever would be spare and burn the rest, seeking the next deficient town that waited for us or others to take advantage of it. I still cannot fix myself. Every time I see those eyes gaping at mine, trying to take me down as well, my thoughts wonder. Maybe they’re finally winning.