Something Born from Something Lost
Prudence sat in the woods, sharpening her blade with her skeletal hand. The rhythmic shhking of the sword on rock soothed her while she waited for her quarry—a man by the name of Thierry. She had set numerous traps for him—trip wires and pit falls—and was now waiting for him.
Her grip on her blade was tight; she dug more into the rock than necessary. Her teeth were gritted, her frantic energy could barely be controlled or contained.
I’m going to cut his head off and throw it into the sea. Then, I’ll finally have my revenge.
Her ears perked up. She lifted her eyes from her blade. In the distance, she could hear horses tramping. She licked her lips, catching the image of her half-fleshless face as she sheathed her blade. She climbed up into a tree and began hopping from tree-to-tree in the direction of the tramping of the horses.
The fresh, cold night air dug deeply into her exposed bones, rustling through her hair as she went. Crickets were loud in her ears, as well as the cooing of birds, but her ears zeroed in on the one sound that mattered; the approach of Thierry.
Eventually, she spotted him down below. She retrieved a bow from her pack, and then nocked an arrow to it, training it on him. Her rage nearly compelled her to loose the arrow for what he had done to her, but she decided to save it as a last resort. First, it was prudent to let him fall into her traps. After all, it would be best if she could escape the situation alive and letting him die by her traps would allow her to get away unscathed.
She watched with almost manic eyes as the man approached the first tripwire with his contingent of soldiers from the kingdom of Aru in tow.
Despite the fact that he was now forty-five-years-old, he was still as handsome as ever. His hair was as bright as the sun, and the white streaks running through it only gave him more character and made him look brighter. He still had piercing, blue eyes, and full, youthful cheeks, making him look like he was in his early thirties rather than his forties. His nose was the only sharp thing on him—resembling a hawk’s beak. Even his crow’s feet gave him more character, and added a maturity to his handsomeness that was missing when she first met him years and years ago.
Her eyes narrowed. She thought to herself, he took everything from me, and it shows. He’s never suffered a day in his goddamned life.
When he was only inches away from the trip wire, Thierry halted his horse, staring ahead curiously. He held up his hand, indicating that he wanted his men to stop marching, too.
“I informed you all that a woman by the name of Prudence is stalking me.” Thierry examined his surroundings with sharp eyes. “We have to be careful wherever I travel. She has set numerous traps for me before.”
His soldiers chuckled. “This woman must have no life if all she does is stalk you.”
Thierry glanced at the soldier who said it, shooting him a glare. “It’s not that simple. I wouldn’t be surprised if Prudence is listening to us right now… she might make of you a target if you keep talking.”
Thierry finally saw the trip wire. He signaled his men to back up, and they obeyed. When they were far enough away, Thierry retrieved his own bow and arrow and loosed an arrow, cutting the wire. Two heavy pieces of woods came swinging down from tree branches—chunks of wood that had been sharpened into sharp pikes—and slammed together. Thierry grinned. “Still the clever woman I loved.”
He signaled his men to keep moving, and they obeyed.
His mentioning that he loved her only served to anger Prudence. She continued tracking him—careful to conceal herself in the leaves of the trees. This didn’t stop Thierry from constantly glancing up at them, looking for her.
Thierry somehow had a sense for where all her traps were. He noticed every pitfall and every trip wire. He evaded every single one and when he was about to leave the woods, Prudence was furious. Her hands shook on her bow.
Nothing for it now. Time to kill him, even if it kills me in the process. She trained her arrow on him. She was an excellent shot; she knew she wouldn’t miss.
She pulled her bow taut. It made the smallest of noises.
Thierry looked in her direction. He launched himself from his horse just as an arrow hissed through the air. The arrow missed his head, but pierced his shoulder. Thierry yelled, “There! She’s up in that tree! Grab her, and try to bring her to me alive!”
A dozen arrows were loosed, zipping toward her all at once. She grunted, keeping her head low. By some miracle, only one had grazed her. Two of the soldiers climbed the trees, chasing after her on foot. The rest continued to unleash their arrows, staying atop their horses.
Her body was overwhelmed with adrenaline; her only thought was to escape, and her muscles felt electric with energy—her mind white with fear—as she tried to keep ahead of the arrows. Unfortunately, her hasty speed did not allow for secrecy, and the leaves of the trees rustled with each new tree she hopped, giving her away.
The men who were trying to climb the trees quickly gave up—their heavy armor was preventing it. “Sorry captain! We’ll have to get her with arrows instead!”
Thierry, who was grabbing his wounded shoulder, replied, “Very well! But if you hear her scream, stop firing!”
Two or three arrows had just grazed her skin, and one had flown through the hoop in her left, skeletal arm. She panted as she went—she was beginning to tire, despite her great stamina that had been built up during the years.
An arrow whizzed through the air, plunking into her thigh. She yelled.
“Stop firing!” Thierry told his men.
Unable to keep her balance, Prudence toppled from the tree, thankfully falling into a pile of leaves. Thierry grinned. “There you are… after dozens of years, I’ve finally caught you. Now I will no longer have to suffer your obsessions.”
Prudence lay there with tears in her eye. I’ve failed. I’ll never avenge you now, Helvius.
The men hauled her to her feet, her frazzled, long, chest nutty brown hair nettled with leaves. “What should we do with her, sir?”
Thierry, leaning his wounded shoulder on one of his men, approached Prudence. He looked at her and tsked. “You’ve only become more skeletal over the years… but… you’ve still got that specialness I fell in love with. Tie her up. We’ll take her with us to the castle.”
Prudence sat on the back of one of Thierry’s knight’s horses, and Thierry did, too. Their wounds had been wrapped in dressings and treated after the arrows had been removed. Prudence glared at Thierry the whole time while they rode. Thierry noticed, but didn’t comment on it for the longest time. Prudence saw him grinning of all things at the sight of her dagger eyes, which only served to anger her more.
Her old husband spoke of practically anything but her anger toward him.
“After we return home, I’ll most likely be deployed on the war front again. I know most of you are new knights, but are any of you willing to go with me?” Thierry asked.
A dozen of the knights spoke up, wishing to accompany him. Thierry smiled. “I knew you’d want to come. I can tell you’re a great batch of recruits. You should be warned that the battlefield is much, much different from slaying beasts or putting down riots, however. It’s… being on the battlefront can affect you in very deep, personal ways…”
It affects you in ways that turn you into a monstrous, soulless, killer. Yes, I know you, monster. Prudence thought to herself. I wish I had known better when I married you.
After about an hour, the castle of Aru could be seen in the distance. Prudence still said not a word, but Thierry finally paid her attention. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself, Prudence? I’ll have the king lock you in the dungeon, and then you’ll finally be out of my hair after all these years.”
Prudence continued to glare at him.
Thierry chuckled, looking down. “Such fire, that one.”
One of the knights asked, “Who is this woman, Captain? You seem to know her very well.”
Thierry looked at Prudence—an almost regretful look in his eyes. “Oh, we used to be married…”
The knights glanced at each other in shock, and then back at Thierry. “We didn’t know you were married, sir. We always assumed you were just married to the job.”
Thierry’s blue eyes, swathed in even bluer moonlight, seemed to light up for a moment as he continued looking at his old wife. “Oh, I was… but when I met Prudence, here, well… I couldn’t help myself.”
One of the knights cleared their throat. “Has she always been… so skeletal?”
Thierry finally took his eyes from Prudence—turning them toward the knight who spoke—and shook his head. “No. She has made many bargains in the past, and has bargained away much of her humanity in the process. I feel bad for her; she sold her very skin to achieve her revenge, and it’s come to nothing.”
“How could she have bargained away her skin? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” The soldier answered.
“Oh, it’s a long story…” Thierry murmured.
“Well, we have some time before we arrive at the castle. I’d love to hear the story.” The soldier asked.
Thierry shook his head. “No… let’s just keep going. I might tell you someday, but it’s personal business between me and my wife.”
Prudence finally spoke, “I’m not your wife.”
Inside the castle, Thierry addressed his king, kneeling before him. “My king, I have returned after stopping the rioting in Pintro. I feel it prudent to inform you that I have thought hard on whether I would like to return to the warfront, and I have decided to do so.”
The king smiled. “Such a momentous occasion. Your return to the battlefield can only mean good things for our situation. Right now, the Ariskrans have the upperhand, but once you return, I’m sure they won’t. I will of course make sure you are well compensated for returning to the warfront. And who is this woman you have brought?”
Thierry looked at Prudence, who was still tied up. Thierry was holding the end of the rope that bound her to ensure that she couldn’t escape. “This is the legendary Prudence, my king.”
The king laughed loudly. “So here she is!” He exclaimed. “It’s good to meet you, Prudence. After so many years of stalking your husband, we’ve finally caught you! Goodness, I thought you were joking about her being more dead than alive, but now that I see she is mostly a skeleton, I have no choice but to believe you! Well—what should we do with her?”
Thierry looked at Prudence, and then back at the king. “We should put her in the dungeon. But first, may I talk to her alone in my quarters?”
The king nodded. “Of course. You may have something to eat and then go about your business.”
Thierry did exactly that; he took a meal in the mess hall—still hauling Prudence along with him—and then finally returned to his quarters with Prudence still in tow. Thierry removed his armor and cloak with a sigh, and then sat on the bed, facing Prudence thoughtfully.
Prudence merely continued glaring at him.
Thierry remained silent as well, wondering if his former wife had anything to say. When it appeared she didn’t, Thierry spoke. “Well, I’ve caught you after twenty long years. After twenty long years, I’ve caught you. Is there anything you have to say for yourself?”
Prudence’s brown eye was judging him harshly. Even her skeletal eye seemed to be accusing him. Under her gaze, he felt horribly ashamed of himself. He looked down. “If you promise to stop trying to kill me, I will let you go. I promise.”
The woman he once loved more than anything was never a great beauty. Even when he first met her, her skin was tanned and rough, and her hair was messy and uncared for, because she was not a woman who took pride in appearances.
She was a woman who took pride in accomplishments.
When he first met her, only her arm was skeletal. It had only gotten worse over the years due to her determination to kill him.
“I will never stop trying to kill you.” Prudence replied. “Not after what you did. So you might as well kill me here and now. If you put me in the dungeon, I’ll escape and continue trying to kill you.
Thierry gasped in annoyance, standing up and stepping toward Prudence angrily. “I don’t understand you! What happened in the past is in the past! You knew what would have happened if I hadn’t acted! Why can’t you let it go? Why can’t you start living your own damned life! You’ve wasted twenty years trying to kill me! You could have had a family by now! You could be happy right now!”
Prudence did not flinch or cower when he came closer. The only thing she had to say was, “I had a family. I had a husband and a son, and my husband killed my son. Now, my only wish is for you to die.”
“And what then?” Thierry challenged her. “What will you do with yourself afterward? You will have no purpose once I’m dead because you’ve never bothered finding one.”
Prudence said nothing else.
Thierry gasped in annoyance. “At least you’ll be out of my hair now.”
Prudence was locked away in the dungeon after that, where she immediately began plotting her escape.