Het and the Three Companions

Part 3

The golden-haired woman had no fear in her heart at all, and so her feet were quick and true. Bellowing a mighty cry she raised her gleaming blade to strike. But since she had no fear in her, her blow was rash and prideful and full of none of the self-preserving wisdom of longer-lived warriors. The beast was a twisted and hateful thing, and it took the blade upon its flesh and hacked up bloody spittle as the cold metal dug deep into its shoulder. But there the blade lodged, and as the golden-haired warrior struggled to pull a new weapon from her collection, the beast shrieked and lifted her into the air with unholy strength, and cracked her rib cage and sucked her guts out in a second, and that was that.

The priest gave out a cry, and swung his lantern at the demon, for dogma had taught him that such creatures hated light above all things. And indeed, dogma had taught well, for the beast spat a frothy spittle and recoiled from the lantern, and the priest struck out with his preaching rod, as he was taught to do. But while confidence guided the priest’s blow, it was an illusory confidence, driven by his refusal to accept fear. The shaking of his limbs that he had so long ignored turned his blow, and it struck wide. The sweat of his palms greased his grip and his weapon flew from his hand. He tried to utter a prayer, but found to his surprise he could not speak a single word. He cried out as his head was split and devoured, and his lantern was knocked aside and snuffed, and that was that.

With the other two dead, and having little regard for Het, the beggar had absolutely no reason to continue to appear brave, and ran shrieking into the pitch black, where he was set upon and torn apart as he tried to scrabble over a low wall. And that was that, and only Het remained, quaking with terror, unable to see beyond her nose, and clutching a torn shred of the beggar’s cloak.

The demon ceased its screaming, and prowled in circles as it licked its gory chops, for Het was surely easy prey. Het could scarcely control the shaking of her limbs as she heard the click-clack of its nails, and felt the charnel heat of its breath staining the night. Finally, tired of toying with its prey, it fell upon Het all at once with its limbs splayed out, and its eyes all aflame, and its lips ripped open in an awful shriek.

But it what it could not have known (and neither could Het) was that Het had not denied fear a place in her heart of hearts. It was an uncomfortable guest, but a familiar one. Unlike the golden-haired woman, fear quickened Het’s step and pumped through her blood, refining her purpose. Unlike the priest, she knew the ways in which it tugged at her, and contorted her senses, and so she made extra effort to straighten her back and steady her hand. And unlike the beggar, Het cared little for the appearance of bravery, for she did not think herself brave. Lacking an audience to impress, her resolve had not wavered in the slightest, for Het was an aspirant to Royalty, and her mind was as a mighty Tower, with walls a hundred thousand paces high.

So it was that as the monster dove at Het, and reached out with all its hooks and nails and instruments of death, Het struck out with her eyes and limbs all filled with lightning. She swung with a purpose sharpened by fear into a perfect cutting edge, and smashed the demon’s brains out with a single fantastic blow. So powerful was the impact of Het’s stave upon the demon’s skull that the earth itself shook and the villagers who huddled inside their low and lonely dwellings thought the end of the world was upon them.

The demon was flung fifty paces, where it shrieked and died in spurts and spasms. And that was that.

After some pains, Het re-lit the priest’s lamp, and waited and shivered there until morning as the corpse of the beast cooled and froze, and the faint warmth of the sun bled over the horizon. Then she dragged it to the town square, and made to take down the skins hung on the great tree.

When at last the curious villagers emerged, they were exuberant, and lifted Het upon their shoulders, and spat upon the corpse of the great beast. A party was sent to find and bury the three other travelers, and the rest of the grisly display was taken down from the old tree. Het was fed thick gruel with honey, and the light and heat of the town grew in strength with the day, so that by noon, the fires in hearths were roaring, and the houses steamed in the cold, the dogs pranced in the streets, and children emerged to goggle at and pick at the monster’s corpse with sticks.

For her part, Het was happy to see a little life return, and relieved for the light of the day. She slept much of that afternoon, and through the night, and in the morning set again upon the road, glad to be rid of that place. But she took its memory with her, and kept fear a close and intimate friend. Later it would serve her well on the road.

But that is another story.