Why did it have to be this way? The child did not understand. He picked up the heavy sword and took a step back. Why was a fifteen-year-old carrying a two-handed sword he could barely lift? For no particular reason, except that he had to defend himself. The sword was his father’s, a sword intended for a strong adult, but the only such person around lay slain beside him. The sword was, after all, too heavy even for his father to properly use against three outlaws. Even so, after his father’s death the boy felt he had to defend himself and the household. He was left with no choice. Not much of a last stand he was, but he had to try. He was no coward. He wanted to be like his father, a simple but honorable farmer, husband and father of two. The boy had to do something, anything. In a rush of adrenaline he rushed towards his doom, towards the marauders who brutally killed his father seconds before.
As soon as he reached the three ruffians, he began slashing at them, left and right, up and down, chaotically, no style, no technique, nothing. He used all the force he could muster, but not much came of it. He had had no training, even if his father had been, in his youth, a pretty handy swordsman. In those times a farmer had to know the basics of combat, especially one who lived isolated on the edge of a dense, sprawling forest. Why then the father did not teach his son the art of combat? That was a total mystery. A fatal mystery, a fatal omission. Because of this “omission” of his father’s, the boy was now faced with an impossible task. How was he to defeat three grown ups who looked quite hardened in battle and intend on killing? Without the proper training, there was no way he could come out of that skirmish alive.
And besides, even if he had had the required training, that monolith of a sword was too heavy for him and on top of it he was facing three opponents! One would have been more than enough, but three at once? That was utter madness. His chances of success or at least survival where very, very slim. But he did not give up. He had to fight for his mother and his little brother hidden up there, inside the house overlooking the edge of the forest from atop the hill.
The three brutes – three good-for-nothings in their forties, three men with nothing else better to do than killing farmers, burning houses and raping women – were playing with the boy. Word spread about such bandits, but nobody ever survived to describe them or identify them. Not that they were all that skilled in the art of combat, but they were cowards enough to challenge only those who could offer but little resistance. They had found a form of entertainment, basically, with no charge and free of perils. Faced with a farmer’s boy, the challenge seemed like a piece of cake for them, so they welcomed the encounter. They regarded the boy’s offensive as just the right opportunity to play around and show off “in style”. To hone their skills. Of course they could end the boy’s little “charade” any time they wanted, but it was much more fun this way. in response to the boys attack they were designing a charade of their own, a dance of swords and not a little one at that! Blood rushed through their veins much faster than usual. Everything about them started gaining pace. Moreover, apart from their fighting game, upon hearing the screams of the woman barred inside the farmer’s house they became aroused; they barely could abstain themselves from getting rid of their distraction and climbing up the hill for another one of the usual ways they enjoyed spending their time. However, they had too much fun with the current game and decided to play some more before moving on to the second part of their “venture”.
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother was screaming like mad, her lungs feeling like bursting and blowing up from all the inner pain. She could not stand idle and watch her eldest son share the fate of his father. She kept kicking the door with all the (little) force that she had, she kept kicking like possessed, like a maniac, but to no avail. Her martyr of a husband shut her well inside the house… for protection, he though at the time. Little did he knew what faux pas had he done. His wife was now doomed to watch her lad play at fighting. She knew he’d lose, it was inevitable. Their doom was inevitable, not just his. But she’d rather she died with both her sons in her arms.
On the narrow path leading to the house up the steep hill, the house at the end of which all this gruesome actions were taking place, the four “men” were continuing their “activity”. Despite appearances, none of them were men: three such villains surely could not be called humans – they acted sub-humanely, at best – while the little boy was… well, just a sprout, nowhere near a man. Even so, despite his age and his lack of training and strength, the boy acted as a proper man and in fact was much more of a man than his insane opponents, the lowest of cowards in the way they chose their helpless targets. The four “men” continued “fighting” in spite of the desperate screams coming from inside the house… Their confrontation probably was a sublime sight for any cold-blooded brute out there, just not so for the locked-shut mother who was witnessing a most callous deed.
The altercation came to a sudden halt as soon as the three outlaws got tired of their amusement. The biggest of them, “the butcher”, as the other two called him, a horse of a man, finally ended the whole farce: he raised his sword up high and with all his strength he brought it back down, in the process slaying the child in two. The blood bath that followed made the woman drop to the ground, instantly losing all her senses. As she fell, the mother hit a half-rotten chair, which in turn crashed right onto the edge of the fireplace. Sparks started jumping around gleefully, as if their sole purpose in life was to get the house on fire. As if bewitched, a leg of the fallen chair caught fire; with grim determination the fire instantly started spreading further on, eating away at the wooden chair as if a devastating hunger haunted it. Before long the chair was completely lit up and because the fire would not stop its crusade, soon the whole chamber was on fire. Huge pillars of blazes, ash and smoke had nothing to stop them in their rage; the wooden house welcomed the fire, brought nourishment to it and in the end sacrificed itself to the flames.
A two-year old boy stood there, inside the scorching house, on the most basic of beds, and wondered why his mother had no reaction whatsoever to the engulfing flames around her. What exactly he must’ve felt, nobody could imagine, but he must’ve realized the danger. His eyes sparked in rhythm with the spreading blazes around him. He gradually started crying, yelling, punching the pillows and in the end rolled right off the bed, hurting himself. His fall and his pain were nothing compared to the death awaiting him, yet they served one purpose: the mother came to her senses, woken up by her son’s body hitting both the floor and her body. But it was too late; even if she were to wake up sooner, escaping the scorching house would have proven just as impossible as her attempts to exit the house while her husband went to meet the rogues. She was trapped, doomed to burning alive, but she cared little about her own life. She cared about her boy… her boys. Because of her fainting she did not even wholly realize one of them was already slain outside the house. It was as if her brain had erased that event altogether from her memory.
She lifted her little boy up and held him to her breast, as if intending to give him one last meal. Then, in a moment’s time, she brought her sight towards the front of the house. It was getting more and more difficult to breathe as the smoke was rapidly spreading and becoming denser and denser by the second. She could barely see anything at all. She felt that all her senses were losing in the fight against the inferno which was unleashed in the house. But she had to see what’s happened to her boy outside. She moved towards one of the windows (in fact just a tiny hole in the wall, as nobody dared to build houses with bigger windows in such a place and such a time) and with great difficulty she saw her boy; he lay gruesomely slain on the path leading towards the house, three-soulless creatures around him, desecrating the body. Three murderers, three animals, three… , she thought. She wanted to face them, a foolish undertaking, for sure, but the only logical action she would have taken, if she could. But she couldn’t. Her rugged dress caught fire. She knew those were her last moments; she even stopped fighting it. She accepted her fate, but not before murmuring a curse with one last breath (while suffering immense pain, while she saw the child in her arms catching fire). Her muttering grew into a scream so maddening and so true in its purpose that the whole forest heard it; the screech reached every rock, every blade of grass and every creature. She screamed like a siren of legend, she poured in her shriek both her immense pain and all her fury, all her rage towards the savages who brought this onto her family.
The ruffians, disappointed that they had missed the opportunity to rape the poor woman, watched the house burn, laughing savagely. Though when they heard the woman scream, their reaction to it was nowhere near as they expected it to be: they started shaking, as if the mother’s curse immediately came into effect. They had never before felt like that, that much was sure and because the feeling was much too intense, the brute who killed the boy suddenly yelled that the three of them should retreat, lest someone came and discovered their… wonderful achievement. The excruciating pain of the mother reached their innermost sanctum, the very core of their miserable beings. And in doing so the ghastly high-pitched sounds left them disoriented and defenseless.
On their way to the main road, the murderers noticed a party of riders approaching. Three chevaliers, three redeeming souls, clad in leather and iron, were hurrying towards the house. Wondering knights who had heard the woman’s cry for help and immediately acted on it. The knights spotted the savagely murdered corpses and the burning house; then their sights fell upon the criminals. Guilty, they looked, sin written on their faces and scribbled in their eyes. The fact that they were soaked in blood did not help their case either. In a moment’s notice the knights descended upon the murderers, who where taken by surprise and could do little to defend themselves. There was no need for a trial, witnesses or concrete proof, in the rider’s minds everything lay crystal clear. Like a hurricane the troop rained down upon the unexpecting souls, leaving behind three mangled up bodies. A minute ago murderers, the outlaw’s corpses were now nothing more than carrion for the predatory birds of the area. They posed no danger to anyone anymore, that much was sure, though nothing could be done about the house and the two innocents inside it and that greatly saddened the knights. They had swiftly and mercilessly administered justice, but they could only achieve so much. And they always felt that mere revenge was never enough, never a satisfactory outcome. Nevertheless, that is what they had managed to achieve that day: just revenge.
One of the wondering knights, a kind man who always gave his best to defend those who needed help, shed a tear for the slaughtered family. He knew the farmer and had often bought provisions for the road from him. If only he and his companions had come by the farmer’s house an hour sooner! If only their horses were not so tired! If only fate had allowed the family to live longer! But life was cruel…
The knights made camp near the farm, extinguished the fires which sprouted up all around the farm and buried the victims. They said a prayer for the departed and, after two days spent in the area, they packed up and continued their never-ending journey through the land, in hope of maybe, just maybe, being able to help some poor defenseless souls in need of all the pity in the world. All they had with them, except from the most basic equipment which ensured their survival, was their chivalry. And that had to suffice.