The pain recedes after what feels like a long time but likely wasn’t because I couldn’t have survived the intensity of the pain. A pain whose echoes I still feel like a strain shaking my heart’s every beat.
I wait for a while, resting my cheek in the dust and snow. I split a third of my healing and strengthening construct to add a nourishing construct to my heart. All my muscles hurt, it feels like I was just ran over by a carriage.
I plant my right hand in the snow and push with my trembling arm, struggling up to my feet to start walking away towards the north-west forest. I can’t let Leomi see me in this state.
She’s overprotective and it’s possible that she’ll really try to lock me up in a cell at the cost of our relationship if she thinks it’ll save my life. I need to get stronger but the state I’m in is going to put harsh limitations on what I can do.
Two weeks to settle for a path, she said. I sigh at my old self’s, my inability to realize that the life I want isn’t one I can achieve any longer. A single arm with an unstable personality, those aren’t suited to farming.
I reach the foot of a hill and recognize it. I’m about a half-hour to an hour away. I don’t try to accelerate my pace, knowing that I’m low on endurance and that I would need all my energy even if I was in my best shape.
I keep walking, advancing as the sun goes down the horizon. My sight doesn’t diminish very much even with the lack of light, I barely even notice a change until I arrive at the edge of the forest.
There is a small path leading to the depth of the woods. There are droppings and traces that vegetation was cleared which indicated that it is used by both humans and animals.
As I make my way, I seek three things. First, a straight branch to cut and make a disposable spear, second, a branching path that a medium or small animal would use, third, a tree along that path to make a trap.
I find a straight young tree and cut it at the base before sharpening the tip and using a small amount of flow to harden the tip with fire. I then keep walking along the path with the improvised spear in hand.
After a while, I hear the sound of flowing water and decide that it’s even better than finding an animal’s tracks because I’m far from experienced enough to tell how old those would be.
I head out towards the sound, finding a small stream which reminds me of Teva. I sigh in regret at how I behaved at the time. I acted like a wounded animal, unable to recognize good will when it figuratively struck me in the face. I even owe her my life. Ulf and her got me through that dark period of time.
I shake my head to focus. I walk along the brook until I find two centimeter thick droppings lying atop the snow, meaning it’s relatively fresh. I make a grimace at the smell as I stop there to search the area. I test the trees around and stop at one that is supple enough for my use.
I lay my spear down and take the roll of cord I got from Ms Conner’s store. I unroll five meters to make sure I won’t run out and cut it with my hunting knife, tying the middle of the cord to the center of the highest branch I can reach.
With that done, I make a large slipknot at one end, which is now a lot easier to do now with Leomi’s tips. I then dig around the roots with my hand to uncover a thick one, passing the other end of the cord under it.
I pull the rope taut to lower the highest branch down to the level of my waist and tie it to the root. Then, I enlarge the slipknot until there isn’t any cord hanging uselessly before spreading it out on the ground.
I’ll either bait or chase an animal into it and then cut the rope at the root, it should be able to catch most of anything there is in the woods. Bears would be pushing it but there shouldn’t be any around, especially in winter.
I sit down to rest and catch my breath. I take the chance to clean myself up of the muddy mixture of dust and snow that dried a little since I fell. Now that I’m not making noise, I can appreciate the sound of water flowing along the stream, the wind blowing, and the trees creaking.
I smile, finding the moment enchanting. I should bring Leomi here, it’ll be a good gift until I make enough gold to buy her a ring. I’ll go back to Meria and do what I should have done when I returned, perfect and sell the plow.
Perhaps I needed to be reminded of what my life as a peasant was like. The village treats me better, mostly because I’ve changed, but even with all I’ve learned, the loss of my arm is making the work harder.
Crack. I tense up at the sound of a broken twig. I seize my spear and jump up to my feet. I scan the area without success until a flicker of silver in a bush warns me of my opponent’s location.
Crr, crr. It seems like the animal is scraping the ground. I scrutinize it the shadows under the leaves but it seems like it’s too dark even with my eyes to catch the creature.
Suddenly, the branches bristle and a flat snout with two yellowish tusks arcing up from its mouth emerges. Crr, crr. I hear the sound of its hoof scratching the dirt again just before it charges with a lowered head.
I drop my spear and draw my hunting knife, swearing because it attacked before I could think my plan through step by step. I quickly move back and to my left so that the slipknot on the ground rests between us.
The boar closes the distance in moments, seeming without fear. It barely reaches up to my thighs but its tusks are intimidating enough on their own. I cut the cord with a swipe of my knife as soon as it takes a single step into the slipknot.
The high branch I lowered immediately snaps back up but the animal was so quick it almost charged past the trap in the short moment it took for me to trigger it. The cord wraps around its hind legs, tripping the boar and giving me just enough time to dodge backward and avoid the tusks.
I sheathe my hunting knife and grab the spear while the animal fights against the cord, kicking the air while making rough angry breathing noises. The branch isn’t strong enough to lift its weight so it isn’t fully suspended, in fact, its hooves hang just barely above ground.
I try to take aim at its flank with the spear but the boar keeps its head aimed at me with its tusks lowered, apparently too furious to understand its predicament. I change tactics and align the blackened point at its black and yellow right eye.
It furiously pushes with its forelegs to charge again, managing to bend the branch towards me which forces me to step back once more. If I had two arms, or even only the Little one, it wouldn’t be difficult to kill it, but I don’t so I decide not to take any risks because I only have a single shot with the spear.
The weapon is liable to break if I don’t hit a weak point like the belly or an eye. The black fur covering the boar is thick enough to be difficult to pierce by itself, not to mention its thick hide.
I pull a tenth of a portion from my constructs to assemble a lion strike, waiting for an opening while the animal tires itself out fighting against the branch. It takes a few tens of seconds but the boar finally slips.
I lash out with the lion strike towards my target. Unfortunately, the animal isn’t stupid enough to let me stab its brain through the eye socket. It lowers its head and the black tip of my spear catches on its bony forehead.
The shaft bends and the point breaks. The wood shaft slips on the hide and slides over its skull without doing any damage. I groan in disgust and smack the animal’s head with the now near-useless stick in an attempt to knock it out.
The wood breaks after two swings so I throw it away and draw my hunting knife. I’m damn lucky I set the trap up before this thing found me in its territory. I shift to a backhanded grip for power and let it settle into my palm.
Then, I swipe the air a few times to make sure that I’m in shape and that the darkness isn’t affecting me too much. Convinced, I raise the weapon up and lower my stance, preparing to leap when I see the chance.
After a minute, the boar starts panting and its movements grow weak, clearly exhausted. I kick the ground and stab at its neck with all my strength. The blade penetrates deep but I don’t waste any time, I press down hard to enlarge the wound.
The boar jerks and hits my chest with its head, the side of its hard tusk hits my ribs, cutting my breath and likely leaving a bruise. I retreat, pulling the knife out of the gaping wound from where the animal’s dark red blood pours out.
The boar doesn’t struggle for long, it soon stops moving so I proceed to untie the cord from the branch to lift the boar higher up in the tree to completely drain it of its blood.
I use my long knife to cut the head off and then start skinning it while the red liquid seeps out of its neck. I don’t do a great job because I can’t see all that well but I manage to cut a good piece of hide that I set beneath the body.
I cut the belly open and carve the organs out to gather them inside the large piece of skin, adding the hooves as well for the Little one. With that done, I clean the hunting knife in the white snow, turning a small area pink, and then wipe it with a discarded strip of fur.
I smile, quite happy about myself. This represents a lot more food than I would have been able to gather a mere few months ago. We won’t even be able to eat it all before it spoils unless I ask the butcher to smoke it.
I set one foot on the boar’s skull and break the tusks off its jaw with a couple of kicks, not as a trophy but because they could be useful as a material or sold at the very least.
A chilly wind blows through the forest and convinces me that I should hurry up. I chop two long crooked but solid branches off a sturdy tree and a much smaller one. I then tie them together in a triangle, creating a very rudimentary travois.
I tie the boar up to the branches and proceed to add a length of cord around the triangle’s point so that I can pass it around my neck and shoulder to easily drag it. I make my way back home, grunting from the effort of pulling the forty kilogram boar behind me.
This whole hunting trip took at least four hours, if not five or six, from traveling to the forest, setting the trap, killing the boar, and then carving it. The trip back takes me a good two hours, which is more than twice what it took me to reach the edge of the woods.
I engage on the road home so late at night that it could almost be called the morning. I feel embarrassed at the fact that I was so foolish and excited that I focused on the task of showing off my capability rather than how appropriate the moment was to do so.
It would have been better to serve her a meal and sleep before going hunting rather than making her wait for hours on end for me to come back. I clearly have a long way to go to learn not to act on impulse.
As I reach a turn in the road, I spot Leomi standing a few meters in front of the door with a torch in hand and a glowing golden jay on her left shoulder. The tiny construct critter is staring straight at me while Leomi is searching the night in the same direction.
The way she’s frowning makes it clear that she doesn’t see me. But, she still has no trouble following me between the sound I’m making and the direction that the bird is looking towards. Also, she can probably spot my flow in the darkness, I can see hers if I focus.
I worry that the construct reappeared because of what it seemed to do to her but I quickly dismiss the thought. Leomi is the one who taught me to be careful about flow after all. My biggest concern is that the jay seems able to find me, I don’t think I like that very much.
I suddenly recall what Yvonne told me about my eyes, that they give off a sort of glow in the dark. I lower my chin to watch my steps and raise my hand to cover them, aiming to make it seem like the torchlight is too bright.
“I’m back, I didn’t think it would take so long.” I call out.
Leomi doesn’t answer, she takes a deep breath and sets one of her hands on her thighs, remaining where she is but clearly communicating her disapproval. I close my eyes as I approach, unwilling to take a risk.
“A boar? Really? Are you crazy?! Do you have any sens…” Leomi cuts herself off by snapping her jaw shut. She takes a minute before continuing. “I was very worried.” She simply tells me with an inward frown, looking regretful about her outburst.
“My bad.” I apologize. “I did not think it through.”
“It’s okay.” Leomi says, exhaling loudly.
“Are you hungry though?” I ask.
“Starving.” Leomi nods. “I’ll start a fire.”
She sticks the torch between the stone wall and the roof before stepping inside. I open my eyes and pull the travois’ cord off my neck to set the wooden structure against the wall before cutting two slabs of meat from the hind legs.
I step inside, finding Leomi busy making a complicated fire construct where my stove used to be. Most of the segments seem to be there to guide the heat out of the house by the chimney.
She points me to a plate to leave the meat and then to a log where she stacked my change of clothes. Next to the log, that she likely used as a chair, there is a sowing kit and a single sleeve.
There are now two camp beds in separate corners of the room, with mats and two blankets each. It surprises me that she didn’t make a single one, no matter what she says about taking our time, Leomi would be definitely be tempted to take advantage of me a little, as would I for her.
I pick the shirt up, finding that she has sown the left shoulder off. I smile. It was worth it to go out to hunt if only to come back to this, I never would have thought she would have just made herself useful like it’s natural.
I start grinning like an idiot at my shirt. I brought an amazing Lady back home, Mother, Father. Now, I just have to somehow destroy Nobility and she’ll be perfect… or as perfect as Leomi Lance can become considering her personality.
I catch a movement from the corner of my eyes. I spot Leomi watching me holding her work with a thoughtful look. She’s likely dissatisfied with the shoddy clothes. I shudder, aware that the time where I could just dress randomly is going to end.
“I’m going to clean up.” I tell her.
“Please do.” She replies with a sparkle in her eyes.
“No peaking.” I add. Leomi makes a vague movement that could be interpreted as an agreement. “Kitten.” I insist.
“I will not.” She agrees, pursing her lips in a mischievous way. “But bring me water first.”
She hands me a cooking pot. I quickly step outside to the well and bring her what she needs. I gather my clothes and move outside. I keep my back turned to the house as I clean myself up, checking once in a while to make sure she isn’t cheating.
After all, she could try to step around her promise not to peak by blatantly stepping outside to directly check me out. I doubt she would, the promises we give each other have taken an insane importance in our relationship.
I agree with her when she said we’re past apologies. It means that we can break our promises without consequence other than hurting each other. But that in itself is the best guarantee that we won’t.
I wouldn’t be able to handle breaking her heart in the way I did if it wasn’t to take my revenge. I went too far, but Leomi’s limits aren’t normal so I probably didn’t even come close to crossing them.
The problem is that when it comes to Celyz, it isn’t a line but an entire subject that I can’t broach unless I’m prepared for violence. I look down at my body, the innumerable white scars carved in my flesh look the same as they did a few days ago, the mending process has long been completed.
This isn’t something I can show her, is it? I shiver in apprehension and dress up in a snap. I throw my wet hair over my shoulder and try to tie them back up, only to fail because it’s difficult to keep track with only five fingers.
I prepare to fight her help off and walk inside while trying once again. Leomi throws me a quick glance of appreciation and returns to the cooking pot which is hanging in the air above the blaze. I blink, surprised and a bit disappointed.
“You could offer to do it.” I grunt.
“Wouldn’t you refuse?” Leomi questions, looking back over her shoulder.
“Yes, but still.” I reply.
“Hm.” Leomi ponders my test. “How about I show you again?”
“Alright.” I agree.
I walk over to the log and sit down. Leomi walks around me and takes hold of my hand to start guiding me into tying my hair step by step. She tries to explain in simple terms and gestures.
I don’t even try to pay attention as I enjoy the simple sensations of her hands leading mine. Her experienced touch makes me feel all tingly inside like I’m cared for, loved, safe.
Unsurprisingly, the thought of safety brings back memories of bloodshed, broken necks, and torn limbs. Yet, at this moment, these images hold no ground in my feelings, they simply can’t overwhelm this peaceful moment and soon fade back into the dark recesses of my mind.
I hang back, resting my back against her long legs and my head on her belly. I feel tears of happiness sneak out of my eyes to roll down my cheeks. Leomi stops talking and reaches out to embrace my neck in her arms, hugging me tightly as she lays a gentle kiss on my forehead.