THE PRINCESS, HER maids, and their guardsmen escorts walked to town to buy fabric. As they passed by the butcher’s shop, one of the chickens got loose. The butcher’s son raced after the frightened squawking bird, but he did not catch it until after it had become entangled in the lace at the hem of the Princess’ dress. The boy prostrated himself on the hard ground as he disengaged the unruly chicken.
“My Princess, the chicken has ruined your dress. What do you wish me to do to make this up to you? Please do not be angry with me.”
“Rise, boy, there is no harm done. The dirt will wash out.”
The boy stood holding the outraged chicken under his arm. The chicken’s wing smacked him in the face, and he sputtered, completely embarrassed.
The Princess laughed. She held out her hand for him to kiss.
The boy gently took her hand with the one that was not holding the chicken and bent over to kiss it.
As soon as the boy’s lips touched the Princess’ gloved hand, one of the guards yelled, “Mind your manners, boy!” and hit him on the back of the head with his whip handle.
The boy spun around, pulled the dagger he kept to ward off thieves, and tossed the chicken at his assailant.
The boy did not know who shouted for him to run, but he suspected it was his father. He heard the whip crack once near his head and bolted for the city gates.
The boy ran as if his life depended on it. He knew that the dagger half the length of his arm he carried in his right hand was no match for the pointed, metal-tipped whip twice the length of his body repeatedly cracking behind him.
He knew these woods well, having spent time here hunting small game. The path he followed ended in a cliff as high as a hundred men. He could jump over the cliff and hope to catch one of the trees that grew out of the sandy face of the cliff, but then, he would only have to face the metal-tipped whip again some other time.
The whip cracked less than a stride-length behind him. He needed a way to rid himself of this threat forever. Spotting a sturdy tree about his thigh’s diameter with smooth bark, he reached out with his left hand and hooked it on the tree. His motion carried him around the tree without slowing him down. His feet flew out from underneath him, but his hand and arm held firm as he slid on the smooth bark.
His pursuer was too surprised to stop. The hunter became the hunted. The boy grabbed the man’s long greasy hair with his left hand, and with his right, in a single, smooth, practiced move, drew the dagger across the throat of the man who would have killed him. Not wishing to cause a death that was any more painful than absolutely necessary, he finished the job and removed the man’s head.
Even a person this evil should not be made to suffer in death. Death should be as swift and as efficient as possible. The boy knew that had he been caught, his death at the hands of this criminal would have been slow and painful. He did not wish such a thing on his worst enemy, who this was.
The boy stood gasping for air as the body followed its head to the ground. He did not know how long he stood there, frozen in fear. The boy knew he could not return to his home, but he had no idea what he should do now. He heard a branch snap in the woods beside him. He turned to look around.
A woman wearing clothes that blended into the forest stood with a crossbow pointed at him. The bowstring was tense, the bow ready to send the bolt into his chest. Less than two stride-lengths away, there would be no way to evade the arrow. She was almost as tall as he was, although she was slender and graceful of bearing. She wore her long hair tightly braided in the manner of the noblewomen of the city. Only the noblewomen could afford a servant who could take the time to weave such an intricate arrangement. The braid formed a crown on the top of her head. The noblewomen of the city would adorn the braid with pins mounted with gems. This woman’s braid was unadorned.
Clutching the bloody dagger, the boy put his hands in the air and backed up. A noblewoman in the forest with an unadorned braid holding a crossbow pointed at him made no sense. Commoners did not approach noblewomen unless invited, much less ask why they were alone in the woods.
The woman smiled. “Nice piece of work. You have done well.”
The boy realized that she was not about to kill him quite yet, but he did not relax. He nodded as he trembled.