20. Caught

The sun shines brightly, golden rays stretching invitingly through the warm blue sky. The harrowing night is passed, and the children of the village pull off their shirts to drink in the life-giving light. The troubles of the beast disappear, its terrifying nightly howls forgotten in the breaking out rough and tumble play. Adults too, losing their adornments and unveiling their heads, let the reassurance of day touch their skin. Yet, upon some heads veils remain.

Tachi walks through the village cowled, and before her the shepherd leads with his thin woolen veil disguising his features. Adopting this precaution upon hearing of her death at the hands of the wolf, Tachi passes for another unfortunate shepherd divested of a flock. This apparent fashion faux pas proves its merit as the objectionable Daniel runs past them in terror.

His shoulder, bumping her as he flees the terrible old man with glowing eyes, knocks the priestess back a moment, and she lets out an unwary, an undeniably feminine, complaint. The sound escapes her before she can think to stifle it, and though he does not pause to consider, Daniel hears.

The two walk on, entering the town’s center where an old priest and a spear-bearing hunter sit side by side. Tachi, frozen a moment upon seeing this wizened member of her order, stares mutely. The shepherd continues toward the hill, unmindful that his companion lags behind. She feels his presence retreating from her; yet she cannot move, nor take another step.

Half filled with joy, she thinks to call out toward this elder, but stifling her cry, the other half with guilt smothers. Unwashed, she feels the dirt of her enslavement cling to her skin, and thinks she still smells the pigpen’s odorous stench emanating through her clothes. The disgrace of the past three years falls over her like thick smoke filling the air, surrounding her in an unbreathable morass.

Suddenly alone, Tachi finds she has lost sight of her shepherd. That shepherd, on the other hand, turns, and weaving through the crowd he had just passed, searches for the straggling sheep. Finding himself at the other end of the town, Daniel halts, considering the pair of shepherds he had passed.

Hints flood the pig farmer’s mind: the small stature, the feminine voice, the continually veiled head, and finally, the time of the second shepherd’s arrival, the day he lost his slave. Catching his breath, Daniel leans over, and placing his hands upon his knees, pants like a hunted deer. Turning toward the hill he grins, realization dawning upon his face. With a snort, he heads after the faux shepherd Tachi.

Stanley, hiding in the shadows of an alley, watches Tachi as she wavers in the middle of the street. Grinding his teeth, the last swordsman waits for his unwitting guide. She takes a dumbfounded half step, and then halts, gazing at her own outstretched arms. Unable to see her dilemma, Stanley with bated breath stays crouched and unseen. The young shepherd shrinks into herself, as if wishing to disappear within the folds of her clothes.

A voice shouts, “Hey!”

Stanley, along with the rest of the town, swivels his head toward the wildly gesticulating pig farmer. With nothing but a small cloth around his waist, over which a grandiose gut hangs, the long armed Daniel points at the cowering shepherd. In one brief moment she turns toward him and then flees, running for the hill.

“Catch her,” Daniel screams at the top of his lungs.

Around her the crowd condenses, imprisoning the hunted Tachi. She struggles, and the more she struggles the more certain the farmers become that she is the one to stop. Encased in a wall of flesh, she tries to push her way out, but arms extend from every corner, snatching at anything they can grab. Eventually, her veil is ripped off.

“That’s her,” Daniel squeals, “That’s her! I told you, I told you all. She’s a witch. She’s working with the monster.”

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