Amid the Green Corn: Part Thirteen
by V Rose Dahrke
He ran for three days.
Star Between the Peaks hadn’t pursued him far. It had been impossible for him to outrun her, but dodging among the hills in the fast-falling dark he was able to lose her for longer and longer intervals until, after several hours without sight of her or any other Rilikan, he collapsed beneath a clump of pampas grass and slept until morning. He supposed that at some point grief had overcome anger and she had turned back to take Lord in Battle home.
When Saturn High woke he wove his way southwest, as had been his original intent. He moved as quickly as he could, but his tangent was drastic enough to cost him considerable time. The land was barren, and though the autumn rains had made thirst no concern they had fallen for the most part on soil made toxic by the the Bond decades ago. Saturn was hungry.
Saturn was also worried.
If Fire in the Field had heard what happened, there was a good chance he’d already told Saturn’s wife of his affairs. Delia–fragile Delia–might already be dead of the shock. He’d considered the possibility that he might never see her again when he left camp, but in that scenario he’d seen himself dead in the fields. He never foresaw ruining his mission so badly that he’d murder his wife while still three days journey from home.
No, he thought some hours later as he turned his mistakes over and over to fight his building hunger. Fire wouldn’t have told her. He would want him to see her face. He would want him to try to explain. He’d want him to watch her die.
This, he reflected, could be a good thing. If she was still alive, there was a chance to fix this.
There was no undoing what he’d done, of course–not what he’d done to her and not what he’d done to Fire in the Field–but there was a chance to make it right. Once the idea had come to him, he wondered how he hadn’t thought of it before. He could accept fault. He could apologize. He could beg for mercy. He could grovel. Surely all these years of faithful service would count for something.
Not to Fire. The man was a psychopath. He saw that now, apparent in his own fear. Sometime just before nightfall on his second day of flight he stopped questioning how he had gotten himself into this mess and started questioning what kind of leader–what kind of human–would put someone else through this just for vengeance. And vengeance for what? For some little slight his father had caused? For a few undermining words that no one took seriously? What sort of man needed that strong of a grip on his followers?
It was obvious. He was mad.
Delia was a sensible woman. If he could get to her before Fire saw him, if he could confess himself and break that lunatic’s hold on him, maybe this could all turn out alright. Maybe she’d accept that it had all been in the past. Maybe he could change.
Three days on the run gave him ample time to examine his life.
When he finally did reach the village it was early evening, but he waited until it was dark to leave the cover of the surrounding trees. He didn’t dare let anyone see him before he spoke to his wife. He had no doubt his mistake was public knowledge. No one had seen him do it, but he knew that Fire’s cast of puppets included members of the Rilikan–and those puppets hadn’t had to stumble hungry and horseless across no man’s land. From the trees he could see another of his chief’s bonfire meetings, and though he couldn’t hear what was shouted the tone was that of a lynch mob working its way into frenzy.
He hesitated then. If they were going to kill him, perhaps it would be best if he just disappeared, at least for a while. He had no where to run, of course–any other mistake might have earned him sanctuary with his cousins, but not this one–but he could live alone in the hills until this was done with. Maybe in six months to a year…
When the fire had burned low and the Men of March had returned to their huts, Saturn High broke into his own home. He crawled in through the back window. His wife would have been asleep hours ago, but he intended to wake her, confess, beg for mercy, and run before dawn. Fire would hunt him with even greater fervor when he found out, but at least Delia would be safe. He could deal with Fire.
He struck a match to light the lamp, and saw an enormous pool of blood on the packed earth floor.
There was a figure sitting on the edge of the bed. It rose, and Saturn stood frozen as Fire in the Field turned to face him.
“I….” He trailed off. The hate in the man’s eyes was beyond anything he had expected, even knowing his temper. It was beyond anything rational, beyond apologies or excuses. It was a hate beyond thought.
But that hate served only as a beacon, drawing his attention to those crazed eyes–to their color and to their shape. They were eyes that had once been unfamiliar, but that had become branded on his mind’s eye over the last three days.
For a single instant, he understood.
There was a flash of light and nothing more.
A Note: Sorry. Life, you know? If you’re ever curious why a post is missing or late, you should try my twitter account. I make most of my excuses there, and I try to lie as infrequently as possible.