Chivalrous Intentions, by James Fadeley
Sara practiced every day.
If it was the morning, she rehearsed her footwork and tried to round her imagined foe such that the rising sun was in his eyes. In the afternoon before dinner, she focused more on swinging her father’s rusted blade, trying to build further strength in her chore-tired arms and shoulders. And during the warm summer nights that it didn’t rain, she rehearsed putting it all together in what was almost a dance of thrusts and feints.
“Sara, enough,” her father would say during those nights, and she would obey and come back into their cottage. But on every night, Sara dreaded another argument with her mother over their meagre meals. Such discussions happened no less than once a month.
“Sara, I’ve told you before that I don’t like you playing with your father’s old sword.” Her mother Annabel began again one night over a bowl of turnip and carrot soup, made with salts they had traded for in the town market some few miles east. “When are you going to give up and do as I ask you?”
“I don’t want to be a victim,” she insisted to her mother. “Like you and da were when you were younger.”
Sara’s words caused Annabel to stare hard at Branden, who refused to look up from his meal. “Are you going to let your daughter just talk back to us like that?”
“Do you really want to have this conversation again,” Branden said as he slurped mouthfuls of the soup. Hunched over his bowl and exhausted from the summertime harvest, he did not meet his wife’s glare. “The world’s a tough place, and the only difference between men and women is that while both get stabbed with steel, women get stabbed with flesh too. And if that’s how it has gotta be, then I’d rather our daughter be doing the stabbin’.”
Annabel’s hands slapped against the table. The wood bowls jumped and soup sloshed against the surface of the furnishing. Her tone was all but hysterical. “Don’t speak that way around her!”
“Sit down and shut up!” He growled, and was up in a flash. The fury clear on his face as he gritted his teeth and jutted his jaw out like some enraged animal at his shocked wife.
A chilling silence passed over the family as husband and wife squared off. Scared as she was, Sara wanted to come to her father’s side but chose her words poorly. “Da’s right mum! I want to protect people! I want to be a knight so nothing like what happened to y—”
At this, both parents turned furious eyes upon the girl. And Sara felt very, very small.
“You’ve been telling her more of those stupid stories again.” Annabel sneered. “Do you remember what happened the first time you did that?”
Annabel would never let Branden forget. One night while Annabel was asleep, Branden had half a flask of wine. Sara had woken up and innocently asked her father about her mother’s scar.
And he told her.
It was not long after Sara was born that their home was attacked by raiders. He told his daughter of the fires and the screaming. The anguish of those violated. The armoured figures who slew left and right and took as they will from the living as well as the dead. And the blood that sloshed against the cobblestone streets. Sara had been born earlier that week, and they had been forced to run.
But in the streets, they were surrounded by three men. Annabel was stabbed in the stomach by a spear, leaving a scar to remind her that Sara would be an only child for the rest of her life. Branden too had been injured, but held off his attackers long enough for the watch to arrive and drive their assailants off.
And for such a bed time story, Sara rewarded her parents with nightmare-born screams in the mornings. When Sara told Annabel about her father’s story, she was furious.
Annabel smacked Branden. “More of your stupid stories? What was it this time? Trolls? Sprites or gnomes? You put these stupid ideas of knighthood in her head!”
He grabbed her wrist, and raised a clenched fist. Annabel winced, raising a hand to her face defensively. But the blow never came.
“If you hit me again,” he growled dangerously. “I will pound you purple, woman. Now sit down and eat.”
He threw her wrist away and sat down. She stared at him a minute before doing the same. And the three ate in total silence.
Sara just wanted to burst into tears. It was true. Branden had taken to telling his daughter of the old folklore tales to soothe her and help her sleep at night. Such stories of brave knights and warriors, and supernatural creatures had put an end to the nightmares. They had made her believe that there was good in the world, that things can be secure again someday. It was something her parents had seemed to forget.
When they finished dinner, Sara dutifully took the dishes and dropped them in a bucket of water to be cleaned tomorrow morning. Then all three went straight to bed without another word. And only when she could cover her head in the scratchy sheets near the fire did Sara permit herself to cry.
Gentle motion woke Sara. Someone was holding her by the shoulder. She pulled the sheet off her face and looked up at her mother.
“There’s some bread on the table and jam preserve. Your father and I are going to town today and won’t be back until dusk. I’ve washed the dishes but I want you to feed the animals,” her mother said. She reached down and stroked a strand of hair from her daughter’s forehead.
Sara rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “What about the rest of the harvest?”
“We got lucky with the produce this year and plenty was ripe for the picking.” Her father explained as he strapped on his belt. “But the other vegetables aren’t ready yet. Another week or so and they’ll be good, but we have enough to take to market for now. Make sure the plants are watered. And make some preserves once you’ve finished everything else.”
“Can I practice my swordplay once I’m finished?” Sara sat up.
Annabel said nothing, though her face flashed of the same irritation as last night. But her father shook his head and replied, “No. If you get cut, we won’t be around to help you.”
“But how will I get used to the weight of the sword?” She protested.
“Go cut some firewood if you must, but only after everything else is finished.” He stepped out. Her mother kissed her forehead, then followed him.
Sara went back to sleep for a few moments before getting on with her day. She put on a jumper and some clogs, and tied her hair back with a slim red ribbon her mother had given her as a birthday gift. She was not hungry yet so she tended to the animals, pitchforking hay to the mules and fetching buckets of water for them. She also sprinkled seeds for the chickens and collected a few morning eggs that would likely find their way into dinner tonight, if not breakfast the next morning.
Then she checked the rows of plants that she and her father had planted. The tomatoes were coming along well, as were the onions. But something was attacking the leaves of the carrots, and the fennel sprouts were shriveled and in dire need of water. Sara raced to get them some, but poured it carefully upon the base of the plants, as to not weaken the stems.
Only after she had finished did Sara turn her thoughts towards the bread. She returned to the cottage and set to ripping herself a chunk and dipping generously into the strawberry jam. Her father had flavoured it with a touch of honey, but it was still a bit tart. She did not eat the whole thing, wanting to save some for lunch.
When she had finished cleansing her hands of the sticky jam, Sara glanced at the waiting pile of produce and jars and felt her nose wrinkle. She hated pickling. Sores and cuts were common from farm work, and the brine mixture they used contained enough salt to sting horribly.
“Forget it,” she declared to herself. “I’ve earned a break.”
And with that, Sara slipped out the door and into the fields.
Plains of grass swept in all directions, though the horizon was dotted by the occasional tree. Not far from their home, the grass disappeared into more barren soil before rising into the base of a mountain. A stream trickled across rocks not far away, and the woods were beyond that. Sometimes, Sara and her father would catch fresh water fish from the flowing water or pick wild blueberries from the nearby shores.
None of that interested Sara, who sought and found her favourite stick hidden under a pile of rocks. The end was wrapped in a cloth handle that kept her from forming excess callouses. Sara smiled. On occasion, she had been punished and her sword practice denied her, so Sara turned to using a stick instead to keep her skills up. But she hid it, fearing her mother’s reaction would be to break her mock weapon over her knee.
In truth, the thought of simply disobeying her parents and getting her father’s sword from under their bed had crossed her mind. But after seeing his ardour yesterday, how he nearly struck back at her mother, she thought better of risking his fury.
A smile creased her face as she began the familiar dance again. In her mind’s eye, she could see the shape of some warrior, dressed in armour. She smiled as she spoke to herself, “This time, I think I’ll fight one using a spear.”
She had never fought a spear user, nor anyone else in her entire life. But she knew from the occasional lessons her father had given her that a spearman was a dangerous foe. Capable of striking beyond the reach of axe or sword, the difference of a single step changed the dynamic of combat so drastically.
She would not let what happened to her mother befall her.
“Deflect and lunge,” she told herself. She swept her ‘sword’ aside as though parrying the shaft of the spear. Then she dashed forward with a riposte meant to end her foe. But her imaginary enemy stepped back just in time.
She turned about, staring beyond the stream. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard something. She abandoned her make-believe spar and took a step towards the water. “Hello?”
There was no sound but the stream cascading over the rocks. And then she heard it. The faintest cry for help she had ever heard in her life.
Part of her wanted to run back to the cottage to fetch her father’s sword. But she refused, thinking whoever needed her aid could not wait. She dashed over the grass towards the stream. “Where are you?”
“Here!” A child’s voice replied.
Sara leapt over the stream and almost slipped upon a bed of moss while landing. Her clogs clunked against the stones as she made her way back to firm ground. She peered into the outcrop of large stones at the base of the mountain with her blue eyes and called out again. “Where are you?”
A soft light from below drew Sara’s attention. And she saw the source of the clarion for assistance.
It was half as high as Sara’s shin, shaped like a man but with disproportionately long limbs. It was naked save for a forest green cap upon its head, from which pointed ears poked out. Wide slit eyes matched an expansive mouth that looked benign almost to the point of being sinister. A soft lambency came from its flesh, and when he waved his arm at her, a bangle charm seemed to jingle from nowhere.
Sara knew she was gawking but she could not help it. Her mind raced through all the stories her father had told her and matched the creature’s appearance to a few tales. “You’re…” She swallowed. “You’re real. You’re a pixie.”
“That’s right,” the pixie replied. “My name is Neign. You look big and strong and my friend is in trouble! Please help me!”
Sara felt a smile cross her face. It’s just like in one of dad’s stories, she though. The hero is asked for aid because no one else can or will, and in time and by deed becomes a respected knight. A flicker of doubt crossed Sara’s mind and she looked back at the cottage for a moment. She was supposed to be making preserves. She looked back at Neign, “Do I need a real weapon?”
“No! There’s no fighting or danger. I will keep the bears and wolves away, but you must push a boulder to free my trapped friend!” Neigh insisted as he stepped forward and grabbed the hem of Sara’s jumper. He shook it with anxious concern. “Please help me! You’re the only human on this side of the mountain! It’s not far!”
Sara bit her lip and bent down, extending an open palm towards Neign. He climbed into it and she placed the glowing creature on her shoulder. “Which way?”
“Up the goat path there,” he replied. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
And she began her climb.
Frequently she used her stick as a walking cane to leverage herself up. The path gently sloped the side of the mountain, but there were points where Sara had to walk carefully, either due to groups of gravel or ditches that threatened to snag her foot. And between bouts of heavier breathing, she peppered the pixie with questions about his race.
“How long have your kind lived here?” She asked.
“Since the day the first trees bloomed. Although my grandma says that back then, we were one race.”
“Men and pixies?” She asked, incredulously.
That chime jingled again as Sara saw him shake his head out of the corner of her eye. “Men arrived on ships from the sea, reeking of iron and animal furs long ago. We pixies were once one race, then we split. Man split us, as he fashioned homes from the trees, many pixies changed and adapted to new homes in the streams and rivers. My kind came to prefer the mountains and hills.”
“Neign, I’m…” Sara swallowed and wished she had brought a flask of water. “I’m sorry my kind pushed yours here.”
“Oh, it’s alright,” Neign replied. Sara wasn’t sure what to make of his tone. It seemed too whimsical before her apology. “Up that path. We’re just about there.”
The next part was very steep. An incline between two jagged rocks that required both hands and feet. Sara pulled herself up and after some effort, emerged on a thin path that led around the mountain. She could see the blue skies of the horizon, speckled with a few clouds, and followed the path until she saw a large boulder that ended the path abruptly.
“That’s it!” Neign replied. “Please! You have to push it! My friend is under there!”
Sara gently picked the pixie up and set it upon a rock near the boulder, and then stepped towards the roadblock. It was a full head taller than her, and wider than if she stretched her arms out. She appraised at the gigantic stone nervously and then back at Neign. “And your friend is under here?”
“Oh sure,” the pixie said. “Please push it!”
Something is not right, Sara thought. He was so anxious to be here before…
But the pixie must have seen some of the doubt that flashed over Sara’s face. He lifted his hands to his mouth and cried out, “Lango! Can you hear me? I brought help!”
Things were silent a moment, until a tiny voice that seemed to come from beneath the boulder replied. “Neign! Hurry!”
Sara panicked and put her shoulder to the boulder. She pressed and pushed, trying to angle the stone towards the cliff. Except for a tiny bit of scratching, the rock barely gave. Neign was bounding up and down, cheering Sara on. “You can do it! Push! Push! Lango needs you!”
Someone needs my help, Sara thought. And an idea crossed her mind. She stepped back and raised her stick. She shoved the tip underneath the boulder and angled the shaft over a smaller stone to create a lever. Then, she pushed down instead of over, her mass aided by gravity.
The boulder, massive as it was, began to give.
“You’ve almost got it!” Neign was screaming almost hysterically now. “You’re as strong as a knight!”
As strong as a knight, the words echoed in Sara’s head, becoming a mantra. She smiled as she exerted herself. As strong as a knight. As strong as a knight.
“Yes!” Neign cried out, punching the air and laughing with strange, wicked sounding triumph.
Sara looked up at him, before she turned her attention back to the rock. The boulder was tipping over the edge, dust rising from the scratched path. And for a brief moment, she could see underneath it. She saw another pixie. Only, he had clearly not been underneath the boulder, but on the other side of it and unharmed.
A sinister smirk was on his face.
The boulder fell. A thunderous crack sounded as it smashed and rolled down the side of the mountain, trailed by a cloud of dust and smaller rocks that cascaded with it. Sara was awed by the destruction, as the rolling boulder curved the base of the mountain into a forest and disappeared. Birds burst and scattered from the forest trees, followed by the crack of shattered wood.
Sara glanced down at the scratched trail and saw nothing. The pixie, whom she guessed to be Lango, was not there. When she turned around, Neign was gone as well. She panicked and glanced about. But except for the faintest chime lost in the wind and the hint of laughter, the pixies had disappeared.
Have I been tricked? She asked herself. She looked about the path for them but found no traces. They left no footprints in the dirt. Frustrated and tired, Sara looked down at the fall the boulder took and began to wonder.
And then she descended the mountain.
It was past midday when she finally reached the base again. As she did, she turned and crossed the stream, away from her cottage. Nagging doubt pushed her towards the forests. She knew her father’s warnings about entering the woods, but she would not venture far nor deep enough to draw the attention of the more dangerous animals.
She paused and reflected the damage she had wrought.
Many saplings and smaller trees lay in bent ruin, their trunks twisted by the violence inflicted by the massive stone. The grass between the mountain base and trees was flattened. But the boulder had rolled far before slamming into the network of roots of a huge, gnarled tree that Sara knew was at least two centuries old.
She approached the scene of devastation. Until she stepped in something slick and sticky. She glanced down, fearing she had found the fresh dung of some animal.
It was blood.
Something, perhaps a mouse or rabbit, must have been crushed here by the boulder. But when Sara moved her clog, she found what looked like the wing of a butterfly, translucent and beautiful if not for the torn bit of viscera at the end.
Sara’s brows knitted in confusion. “Butterflies don’t ble—”
She gasped. She covered her mouth and felt a chill spread from her stomach throughout her entire body. With wide, scared eyes, she slowly looked up from the tiny kill. And she found another.
This time, there was a tiny, human-looking arm against reddened grass. Another blood spot and shredded wings. And another, and another.
Slowly, Sara approached the boulder. It was trapped and nestled against the crisscrossing roots. She suppressed a shudder and forced herself to look behind the rock.
It was a scene of carnage. Dozens of tiny bodies were smashed and bodily liquids dripped into the soil below. Sara could not identify much, but from what she could tell they were tiny and human-looking, about the size of the pixie. They had insect wings and tiny antennae that came from tiny heads of hair.
And she had killed them. Or so she thought.
One lived. It was injured, its tiny leg torn away, which it cupped and held to slow the bleeding. Trembling, it managed to look up with reflective, red eyes at Sara, eyes that seemed to glow softly. It mouthed something, and Sara swore it said ‘help.’
She sprinted over the massacre site, the stick flying from her hand and abandoned. She flew over the stream and crossed the plains to her cottage in what felt like record time. She shut the door and only then thought to breath. She collapsed in convulsions, cradling her knees to her chest as she swallowed air.
“What have I done?” She asked herself, almost hysterical as she realized her actions. Her eyes stung from tears she couldn’t control. “What have I done?”
She didn’t go back. Shock overtook her, and Sara decided to pretend that nothing had happened. She went to work pickling the vegetables and did not complain as the brine stung her freshly roughened hands. She felt like she deserved it.
When her parents finally returned, they were chipper. Her mother kissed her forehead and set to sautéing some vegetables and a sausage they had brought home. He father put a hand on her shoulder. “Good work on the chores, Sara.”
She said nothing. Not even when the steaming plate was set before her of pan cooked onions and sizzling summer sausage. She picked at her food as the images of the carnage passed her eyes. Rather than eat, she wanted to wretch.
“The market was good to us today,” her father said between mouthfuls. “Ol’ Gregor passed in the winter, real gentle. He was the only other farmer who grew onions near here, and talk of plague got lots of folks payin’ top coin for onions. People think it’ll hold the sickness at bay.”
Sara just stared at her plate and said nothing.
“So your ma and I were talkin’. We were thinking of having the sword taken to the blacksmith for your birthday. Rust cleaned off, sharpened. Maybe look around for a new blade next year.”
Her ma took her hand. “Your father is right. It’s good that you learn to protect yourself, as you have no brothers. But no more talk of becomin’ a knight, you hear?”
Sara offered no resistance. She just nodded slowly.
“Look Sara. I was drunk that night I told you that bit o’ history of your ma and I. That night, the raiders were knights themselves. Armoured and with coat of arms. Knights have some reputation of protecting the innocent and weak. But it’s an ill founded one.” He speared the last of his sausage with his dining knife and placed it in his mouth, chewing. When he finished, he went on. “Truth is, knights just enjoy fighting. They claim they want to protect us from war. And so we give them a tithe and pay our taxes. But the truth is, they are war. We pay in silver and wheat, or we pay in a pound of flesh. But either way, we pay.”
“And we don’t want you to become that, darling… why aren’t you eating?” Her mother asked.
“I’m not hungry. I don’t feel well,” she replied.
Annabel put the back of her hand gently against her daughter’s forehead. “You feel a bit cool, but I guess you can lie down. Your sausage’ll keep until morning for breakfast, thank you Branden.”
Branden grimaced at his wife and pulled his dining knife away from the plunder on Sara’s untouched plate.
Sara got up went straight to bed without saying anything. But from beneath her sheets, she could hear her mother fretting over her child. And Branden assuring his wife that Sara would tell them when she felt ready.
Sara did not sleep.
She tried, but it just did not come. Whenever she did, she saw the tiny, torn limbs and splotches of viscera on the forest floors. She heard a pixie’s laughter. Then her visions mixed with the knights that assaulted her parent’s home town. And the spearman she had ‘fought’ earlier that day plunging his weapon into her own stomach.
So she stayed awake. She could hear her mother’s snoring in the other room. And the soft chirping of distant crickets from outside their cottage.
She sat up.
She swore she saw something. Night had long fallen and the moon was a quarter full. A faint light through the cracks of their window shutter. Had Neign or Lango returned? What would they want now? Sara drew the sheets off to get up, when she saw a tiny figure on the dining table.
The instant she saw it, Sara froze. Like the pixie, it was a tiny, naked human figure which gave off a faint glowing aura like a lantern. But unlike the pixie, its proportions were more human, its limbs normal in length. Insect wings sprouted from his back, while twin antennae popped from the bush of brown hair upon his head. Red eyes stared at her, beneath a small wood crown that rested upon his forehead, marking him as some king or lord. Sara knew from her father’s tales that it was a sprite.
She also knew it was the same species she had slain that morning.
“No,” Sara whispered. And her voice grew with every repetition of it. “No! No! No! Ma! Da!”
Her shrill voice must have surely awoken them. But when her mother’s snoring continued unabated, she turned around. Her parents were asleep in their bed. Several sprites were gathered about her parents’ sleeping forms. A female sprite gave Branden a smack across the nose with her tiny fist, but Sara’s father just snorted and turned his head, asleep. Sara realized that the sprites must have cast a spell to make her parents sleep harder than normal.
Slowly, she turned her head back to the sprite lord on the dining table. The tears forming in her eyes turned him into a blurb of light. He kicked off the table, wing aflutter as he bounded towards her and landed on the bed.
He did not speak with his mouth but through his hands and body. He rolled his wrists over one another, then drew a hand across his neck, a teensy tongue sticking out as he did. Finally, he pointed an accusing finger at her.
“I… I did it.” Sara started. And hiccupped. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. This morning, I went out to swing my practice sword some. And this little man ran up to me. He said his name was Neign. He was as tall as you are, but he didn’t have wings. And he wore a green cap. He said he needed my help…”
The sprite lord crossed his arms and tapped his foot. And waved gestured to her with an open hand to continue.
“Neign said his friend was trapped beneath a boulder. So I climbed the mountain and found it. I pushed it for him. I thought something was strange when he acted uncaring about his friend, but I didn’t listen. I just wanted to help people, to be chivalrous as a knight. I didn’t know he wanted to inflict harm or mischief and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I hurt so many of your kind.”
Warm tears ran down her cheeks. “Please leave my parents out of it. Just punish me. I’m responsible.”
The female sprite flew from her father’s chest and landed next to the sprite lord. She leaned into him and whispered something into his ear. The sprite lord scratched his chin, and then pointed at Sara. He wrung his hands as though holding a handle, and swung an imaginary sword left and right.
It took a moment for Sara to realize it was a question. “Yes, we have a sword. Under my parent’s mattress.”
The sprite lord pointed to a few of his underlings. They fluttered and landed on the edge of the mattress, grabbing it, and collectively they began to fly. The side of the mattress lifted, and the handle of the sword was revealed.
The sprite lord waved both hands towards Sara, pointing to the sword.
Slowly, she got up and slipped to her father’s bed. Her mother snored like a lion’s roar as Sara plucked the blade. Sara felt her eyes widen as she glanced at the sprite lord again. “You’re, you’re not going to have me kill my parents, are you?”
The sprite lord shook his head, and beckoned for her to come.
“Can I dress first? Please?”
The sprite lord nodded, and Sara swiftly slipped into her jumper and clogs. She then opened the door to their cottage and slipped out with all the sprites surrounding her, sword in hand.
A sense of dread spread over her. The sprites, like the pixies, had some plan they weren’t telling her. She was grateful at least that they left her family out of their vengeance. The sprites fluttered towards the mountain side, where the boulder had landed. Their lord beckoned her to come.
She followed them under the light of the crescent moon. Over the stream and back into the woods. The thin moon light was soon lost to the canopy of trees, until the only brilliance she could see was that of the sprites themselves.
The sprite lord’s minions disappeared amongst the trees. The lord himself fluttered before Sara and rubbed his hands together. Sparkling dust seemed to sprout from his hands and he flung the golden substance in Sara’s eyes.
She winced instinctively, but it didn’t hurt. It took a moment, but she could feel some change overtaking her sight. For a moment, things blurred. Then the night seemed lighter somehow. The only light came from the sprite lord himself, who hovered before Sara’s face. He pointed into the trees, jabbing twice to tell Sara to go. As she began to walk, he landed on Sara’s shoulder. His glow seemed to dim, and Sara realized he was draping some of her dark brown hair to hide himself.
Her vision shimmered softly, and Sara could make out the roots that threatened to snag her. She ducked the spider webs, and avoided low hanging branches. And soon she realized that there was a blue light coming from somewhere within the forest. And the soft jingle of bangles.
She walked towards it. The sprite lord didn’t stop her, so she guessed it was his intention.
“Look! A child!” Sara could hear a high pitched squeal of a pixie’s voice somewhere ahead.
“Don’t worry, she can’t hear us, or see us or the fire,” another voice assured the first. And then Sara realized that the sprite lord had somehow given her the ability to see the folk of the forests. Only they didn’t know that.
Sara felt a tug of her ear and turned her head towards the sprite lord who hid in the strains of her hair. Once again, he wrung his hands as though holding a sword, and swung them left and right. He then pointed to the blue fire ahead of her.
Sara stared at him, her mouth slightly open. “No…”
The sprite lord’s face was angry. He bared teeth, small pointed fangs like some predatory insect. It took all of Sara’s self-control not to wrest the sprite from her shoulders and run.
The sprite lord fumed a moment. And then pointed back, towards the cottage. Then he tilted his head and put two open, tiny hands under his cheeks, eyes half closed as though asleep. Then he stood tall, and ran a finger over his neck.
Sara understood him. She understood him very well.
Her arms were shaking as she walked towards the little blue flame ahead. She could see tiny human shaped figures about it. They wore caps in the colours of tree leaves, though their pale flesh turned a shade azure in the ghostly firelight. They were drinking from miniature cups made of nut shells. Laughing and giddy, they pranced about in some celebration, jingling rhythmically.
“What a great idea Neign! The sprite bastards never saw it coming!” One of the pixies laughed. “How many you think were killed when that boulder struck?”
Sara felt her eyes narrow when she saw Neign reply. “At least forty. It’s better than that. It was their lord, his family and his personal guard! This war is as good as over! Right Lango?”
Another pixie next to Neign burst into tittering. “We cut the snake’s head off!”
“But his son is still out there,” another said. “Hey, that girl is getting awfully close.”
Sara kept her sword at her side and made her eyes face forward. The pixies stopped dancing and watched her nervously.
“She can’t see us, can she?” Another asked. “She’s heading right for us…”
“Hey Neign. Is that, is that the girl you used?”
Sara was almost there. Some of the pixies were beginning to step back. Sara felt her jaw jut outward, the anger boiling within her. If no one else, I’ll get them. I’ll get Neign and Lango…
The pixies cleared the way, stepping just outside her supposed path. Then Sara’s eyes went directly to the one named Lango.
It didn’t dawn upon the pixie until Sara’s sword was mid-chop. “Ru-”
Blue blood splashed the trees.
The sprite lord flew out from behind Sara’s hair, pulsing a furious crimson aura. He was enraged at the pixies for what they had inflicted upon him. He said nothing, but swung his arms wildly left and right, commanding Sara to do the same.
The truth is, they are war.
Sara paused as her father’s words echoed in her mind. The pixies gapped at her with those tiny faces, frozen with fear. Sara looked at them and felt the tears welling again. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want to do it. She could see her mother running, screaming as the spear wielding knight ran his weapon through the woman’s stomach. She could see the fires of her birth village. She had become the very thing she had wanted to stop. The knight her parents dreaded her to be.
Then she remembered the pile of dead sprites. And the vengeful sword came down.
And again. And again.
Blueberry coloured blood slapped the ground as tiny limbs flew. Childlike though their voices might have been, their wails of agony and anguish were real as Sara mowed them down. Every slash effortlessly snuffing out their lives.
Neign was one of the first injured, falling to the ground with a stump for an arm. He clung to it, staying beneath the swing of the blade. But when enough pixies had died or ran, he was the last left alive. He cried for aide. And Sara sneered at the irony that no one came this time.
Neign looked up with her, tears in his eyes as she raised a clog covered foot. She paused.
Then she remembered that victorious punch he made when the boulder began to fall. That cry of “Yes!” And the laughter that followed as he and Lango disappeared after their murderous conspiracy. How they had tricked her, and abused her chivalrous intentions to a hateful end.
Sara’s foot came down.
Dawn was breaking.
Sara stumbled from the forest at last. After Neign’s death, the sprite lord bowed to her and simply disappeared. But the coming sunlight had revealed the slaughter she herself was responsible for. Dozens of butchered pixies laid in the dirt and tree roots. They had been shredded to pieces, the ground slick with limbs and puny organs. Blue blood had coated everything, even her skirt of her jumper.
Her sword still dripped of it.
She dragged it with her, tired in a way that no farm work or practice could inflict. As she passed over the stream, she stopped to look at her blue covered reflection. She didn’t look or feel like a knight. She felt revulsion at her image. All she wanted to do was protect herself and her family. And what had she become for it?
“I don’t want to be a knight.” Her lips trembled as she said it. “Ma and da were right. I don’t want to be a knight…”
The family sword splashed into the stream, which swept tendrils of pixie blood from its rusted, dull edge. And Sara was content to leave it there for the rest of time as she ran home to her waiting parents.
James Fadeley is a nerd and proud of it. Aside from professional writing, he is a gamer and a programmer. Fadeley has published a number of pieces, check him out on his author page on Amazon.
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Tags: fairy tales, family, fantasy, gender roles, James Fadeley