21. Rescue

Tachi hangs her head, recaptured, found out, once again a slave. Distracted, she lets the furious ramblings go unanswered, Daniel’s charges, thus unmet, growing to outstrip his earlier mumbling accusations with which he assaulted the wearied audience of his local haunts. Holding the now discovered runaway, the pig-wanting pig farmer’s acquaintances find a cure for their deafness of late toward this bore.

Not uninterested—his pity awakened toward the poor girl—the old priest stands, walking some halfways toward the commotion so not to join and yet take part. Tarrying there, he watches the busy crowd, missing, as all did, the body circling the throng. As if from a distance, Tachi hears a hollow, almost toll-like, ring, marking the termination of Danial’s frothing rant. Around her, the mob stills.

Slicing through the pandemonium, the shepherd’s voice shouts, “Let her go.”

Raising her head, Tachi sees the collapsed accuser lying face first in the dust, her shepherd standing over him pointing the bloody end of his staff at the mob. He had thrown back his cowl, and it hung about his neck like an oversized scarf obscuring the lower half of his face. But over it, the eyes, the dark eyes like knives, hold all the rage and fury of a storm.

Silence envelopes the crowd in a winter snow, freezing everyone in place. Shattering this icy state, the shepherd lets loose a blood curdling scream. Leaping over the fallen Daniel, his staff lands upon the head of the man holding Tachi’s left arm. Without further discussion, the man quietly lets go of the limb in question. With a sudden twist and an upward thrust, the shepherd continues the motion of his attack, and the man on her right crumples to his knees, emanating a high pitched moan.

The priestess makes to run, but two massive hands perch upon her shoulders. Tossing his captive into the dust of the road, this giant of a man interposes himself between Tachi and the rescuer, stepping over the fallen woman with one long stride. His weapon already in motion, the shepherd swings for the extended leg. Striking the knee before the foot finishes its course, the shepherd sweeps the man off the ground. The staff flattens the fallen man’s nose, finishing the job.

With these four so thoroughly and succinctly dispatched, the particles of the mob dissipate in a worried backwards motion. Planting his staff in the earth, he squats down next to the priestess, offering her his hand. As they rise together, the staccato of wood hitting wood sounds, a solitary note. Turning, he sees the spearman withdrawing his pole from striking the shepherd’s now leaning rod. Plucking his staff from the dirt, he pushes Tachi back.

“We just want to leave,” he tells the hunter.

Pointing the tip of his spear at the rescuer, the man in black insists the two stay. The shepherd’s heavy breaths punctuate the calm before the mounting storm as the men circle away from those already fallen. The spear-point darts forward in an instant, and in reply, the staff parries across its wielder’s body, knocking the thrust from its mark. The battle met, the contenders debate their positions.

With practiced speed and grace, the hunter sends a ceaseless volley of jabs toward the shepherd, who standing his ground, twirls his staff in a blur of motion, redirecting every attack. The man in black smiles at the wild movements of his adversary, watching as the staff’s motion slows, until a little sluggishly it meets his spear, and the point draws blood.

Without letting up, the spear comes again, and before the shepherd knows the cut received, comes to gain five more. The battle barely lasting a minute ends as the bleeding body of the rescuer collapses backward, his trusty pole fallen to the ground. Darkness grows in his periphery as above him his adversary prepares the terminal thrust.

A calming melody, sung by a voice rich as honey and soft as silk, echoes in his ears. All fades as that sublime lullaby carries the shepherd to sleep.

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