[Author’s Note: Playing catch up. Finished this late tonight, so now I’ll start tomorrow being ‘only’ one day behind. Fingers crossed for me, True Believers.]
Day 3 – Moxie
It was a slightly rough way to wake up, but the breakfast was good, and I was ready before everyone else, which was kinda nice. When we started moving down the road though, I found myself a bit worn at the edges.
By the time we took our first break, I really wanted to wander off, find a tree, and sleep in its shade.
I’m sad to say that wasn’t to be the way of things.
The day passed slowly and tediously. Mile after mile of grasslands. I was beginning to wonder why I’d chosen to go on this trip. I mean, there was the thing I’d said earlier, but I also wanted to see more than the open grassy fields of my childhood, and here we were – in open grassy fields. There was a few copses of trees to the north, and I could see more beyond them in the distance, but we were headed away from them. Out into more open plains.
It only made sense, really. The Grand Franchiser would have to pick the safest route possible. Even if it took longer. The number one priority had to be the safety of the caravan. After all, it doesn’t make sense to transport goods if all your people die along the route and the goods never get where they’re going.
And what did that mean for me? It felt like a disappointment, but it also felt strange to wish for danger. Was that what I actually wanted? To go into a dangerous area? Surely not. I just wanted different. I wanted new.
So what should I do about this? I need to see this adventure through. I made a promise, and I mean to keep it. But what comes next?
Well, on the plus side, I’ll be in Queensguard. I’m certain there’s plenty of ways to go from there. They say all roads lead to the capitol, and I’m thinking that if they all lead to the capitol, then they must also all lead away.
It felt like an eternity passed before we stopped for the mid day meal. For the past two days, that break seemed to last a bit longer than others. Presumably this had been because people needed to unpack and possibly even prepare their food and that took time. I planned to take full advantage of that.
I moved towards the front of the caravan, and then out away and to the side a bit. I tossed my pack on the ground lay down, and thought I would just doze briefly. Surely the sound of the caravan moving would be enough to wake me up and I could be up and moving in mere minutes. I’d eat something later while walking.
I sat upright with a start, and I wasn’t the only one I surprised. The dog jumped from where she’d been – apparently laying beside me – to the safety of a few bounding steps away from me. The caravan was just starting to move again.
“Oh, you’re a brave one when I’m sound asleep, I see.” I playfully admonished her. “Well, it looks like you’re sticking around, so you’ll need a name. Something worthy of your grand courage. Moxie, I think. What do you think?” It was the longest I’d spoken at her, and she was clearly confused by it. She cocked her head to one side as she looked at me and then barked a single time.
“Right. Moxie it is.” I quickly got a very small piece of jerky from my pack and held it out. “We’re almost out of this already Moxie. I’ll get some more as soon as I can, but we may have to go without for a bit. Here, Moxie.” I knelt down and extended the hand, but she wasn’t willing to get close enough yet. She moved in, and whined slightly, but then paced perpendicular to me.
“Oh, fine. Be that way, Moxie.” I tossed the meat to her and she snapped it out of the air and moved a few paces further out.
Her fur was matted in a few places, but aside from that, and the fact that you could see her ribs clearly, she looked to be in fairly good shape overall. I wondered where she’d come from as I walked. She might belong to someone in the caravan, but if so, I figured she’d be hovering around them more than me. Well, unless they didn’t have jerky, I supposed.
We eventually stopped for the night, and the camp began to unpack and prepare evening meals. I wasn’t all that hungry, and I really did need more rest, so I lay down against my pack for a bit more rest.
I’m not sure how long it was, but I snapped to alert when I heard Moxie yelp not too far from me. I sat up and looked at her and then my eyes moved to some feathers sticking up out of the tall grass. But they were strange looking feathers. And they were dirty. And clumped strangely against a stick.
All at once, my mind caught up with what my eyes were seeing. Those were fletchings on a crudely made arrow! At the same time, a voice called out from a dozen paces to my right.
I clamored to my feet and grabbed for my sword and shield as I heard strange, gibbering yips and howls coming towards me from out of the darkness.
The first I saw of the creatures were dozens of sets of eyes bounding towards me. They reflected light in a strange way that reminded me of cats and other nocturnal predators.
They seemed like they were crawling over one another to get to us faster. Rushing like a wave on the coast.
Arrows rained down on either side of me and one or two bounced off my shield. I held it up in front of me as I screamed.
In that short a span of time, they were on me. Tiny creatures – none of them taller than my thighs, but the swarmed like locusts. I felt them trying to climb up my body. Pulling themselves up onto my limbs in an effort to bring me down.
Teeth bit. Claws raked.
There were just so many of them. I was in a blind panic. I thrashed and spun.
I dropped my sword at some point when sharp little teeth bit into the meat of my forearm.
That was when a thought occurred to me: “I’m going to die here in this stupid fucking grassy field.” I’d been so indignant. So sure that there wouldn’t be anything ‘interesting’ to happen on this trek. And I was sure I was going to die.
But there’s something that happens when you think you’re going to die. The world comes into a kind of focus. Kill or die is a pretty simple debate.
I smashed the skull of one of the horrid little creatures into that of its neighbor. I flung them from me like they were rats. I found my sword when they drove me back and onto one knee.
And I fought.
I fought with everything I had in me. I roared out and my sword arm swung and cleaved limbs and I rose to my feet. Somehow I knew that if I went down, it would be all over. So I rose.
I kicked. My blade slashed. My shield crushed.
And all at once, it was over.
I chased after fleeing goblins because I had none of my senses. I was in a strange kind of battle lust and didn’t understand the idea that we’d won. And if I’m honest about it?
I still wanted to kill.
It scares all of the nine hells out of me to think about it even now, as I write these words. I was a strange and bloodied monster chasing other monsters back into the night.
I think I was laughing.
They disappeared into the darkness as if the night somehow absorbed them. I stood there a moment, spinning in circles and expecting them to come charging back at me, but they didn’t. They were really gone.
So I made my way back to the caravan. Or, well, I made it most of the way. I think I collapsed about a dozen or so paces from the nearest wagon. I think I mumbled something really brave and warrior like – something like “I could use some waaaaater…” as I fell face first into the grass.
I woke a couple hours later on a cot near a fire. I saw Moxie not too far away crouching under the safe covering of one of the wagons and watching every passing person with trepidation.
I noticed that my wounds had been wrapped in clean cloth.
“Leave those be.” came a stern, confident voice. “You’ll need to change them in a day or so, but for now, just leave them be.” The woman was in her middle years, had a sturdy frame, and moved like a dancer from cot to cot. I only now realized how many of us here around the fire and out of commission from the fight.
“Thank you for taking care of me.” It came out sluggishly. Like my mouth didn’t want to work quite right. I decided that I should let her focus on the others. I was sure I would be fine. So I sat up and immediately realized the extent of my folly.
The world spun, my head felt like it would split right down the center, and every part of my body just plain hurt.
“Don’t be stupid.” managed to make its way into my ears past the pounding of my heartbeat. “By all the good gods, boy. If I didn’t know better, by looking at you I would say that you were actually trying to feed the damn things. You’re hurt. Rest.”
I decided to take her advice. “I think that’s a great ideaaaa…” and I was sound asleep.