With loads on their arms and backs, the five companions set out from Rebmevon. The four teens had had a difficult time; everywhere they went while exiting the town they were mobbed by people expressing their thanks and appreciation. They enjoyed the attention their fight had gotten them, but they were not permitted to enjoy it for very long, as their mission called them away.
“I must’ve said ‘no problem’, or ‘glad to do it’ a thousand times,” Matt commented with an amused smile when they were a good ways away from Rebmevon.
“My back’s gonna hurt after all the slaps I got,” Jeff groaned. The others, excluding Hawkins, laughed at his expense.
“But really,” Mark said, turning serious. He glanced at Hawkins who was several yards in front of them. “wasn’t our fight incredible? We never held a sword before, much less fought with one, and we defeated three notorious thieves.”
G agreed. “That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking.” He lowered his voice. “It must be this world. It’s changed us. We can do things we couldn’t’ve done in our world.”
Just then, Hawkins looked back at them over his shoulder. “Go ahead and waste the whole day,” he said sarcastically.
“Shut it, Hawkins,” Jeff shot back.
“No, you shut it,” Hawkins snarled angrily, turning towards them and almost dropping his load. “If you hadn’t been so high and mighty and gone to fight those raiders, we wouldn’t be traveling this slowly!”
“It’s not G’s fault!” Matt snapped, his hand almost instinctively moving toward his sword hilt.
“Not the way I see it!” Hawkins retorted, his hand also going to his hip. “I personally blame all four of you!”
Mark stepped forward and thrust a sack containing food against Hawkins’s chest. “Take the food to Lovanic then,” he said, his eyes flashing and his tone like ice. “Give us the tools and we’ll get there later. You won’t have to waste time anymore.” Every bit of him wanted to punch Hawkins in the jaw.
Hawkins scowled and, to their surprise, put the tools on the ground and grabbed the food. With one last look of contempt in their direction, he stalked off. They watched him go, glad to be rid of his company.
G sighed with relief and involuntarily fell onto his good knee, exhausted and weak with the pain.
“I knew it wouldn’t be good for you to be walking yet,” Matt said, worry in his voice.
G shook his head, embarrassed because of his weakness, and tried to stand, but ended up landing heavily on his right knee again. “I was gonna say I was ok and we’d better go on,” he said, giving his best friends a small smile. “But I’d be lying not only to you, but to myself when I said it.” He sat down on the ground completely, stretching his left leg cautiously.
Mark put his load on the ground and sat down beside G, flexing his arms. “I don’t mind the break,” he remarked.
Matt and Jeff followed suit and soon the four of them were lounging on the hard ground.
Everything was peaceful. The gray clouds from the previous night’s storm were long gone and sunshine and blue skies were the replacements. Birds twittered cheerfully in nearby trees. A few bold rabbits and chipmunks ventured out of their little holes in the ground. Bees buzzed from flower to flower, collecting pollen, their legs coated with the sweet powder. A turkey buzzard soared overhead, casting a large shadow on the ground.
Jeff was the first to break the silence. “You know,” he said. “I think we should stay and help rebuild Lovanic.”
Mark stirred. “My thoughts exactly,” he agreed. “Besides, I don’t think I’m quite ready to leave yet.”
“Neither am I,” G said quietly. “I’m willing to stay, but I just don’t know what this is doing to our family.”
They all fell silent. Their minds were so filled with thoughts of their duel with Jenson they had forgotten all about Snowflake, Arizona, the House on Paris Hill, and their family members. All thoughts of home had vanished completely from their memory, but now they returned at full force.
* * *
Evening was approaching by the time the four teens reached the ruins of Lovanic. Most of the charred wood left by the fire had been put in a large pile and was blazing even as they advanced. The women were bunched in small groups, watching over fires started to cook some of the meat purchased in Rebmevon. Children were playing in the hills, chasing each other about, while the men went through the ruins of their homes, searching for any thing not much damaged by the flames.
Sir Anton came to meet them. “Ahhhh,” he said, smiling. “So you’ve finally arrived, eh?” He chuckled. “I was about to send Hawkins back out to look for you.”
The four teens glanced at one another. They were glad it hadn’t come to that.
Sir Anton continued. “I don’t know how we can thank you enough for your help in all this.”
“It’s nothing really—” Jeff started, but Sir Anton cut him off in mid-sentence.
“No, son,” he said. “We are complete strangers to you, and yet you volunteered your time and efforts into helping us get the supplies we needed to rebuild Lovanic. And for that we are extremely grateful.”
The cooking meat soon sent whiffs of delicious air their way. Sir Anton took a big intake of breath before he resumed speaking. “Of course, I’m sure you all have your own families and village to which you must return. Every person here would understand if you left now.”
“Are you kidding?” Matt asked, smiling. “Of course we’re not leaving. We want to help you rebuild your town.”
“Besides,” Mark added hastily. “Our town is very far away. We don’t need to get back anytime soon. We’ve discussed all this before we got here.”
“Well, I’ll admit I’m glad to hear it,” Sir Anton said. “But enough of all that. Let’s go enjoy the food you brought back for us.”
“Did you all actually go without food all that time?” G asked as they started walking toward the campfires. He was trying his best not to walk with a limp.
“Well, no,” Sir Anton replied. “One of the men here had some fishing rods hidden by a creek nearby. He and a few others caught many fish and we roasted them over a fire. And it was a very good thing, too,” he added, glancing at them out of the corner of his eye. “The children could not have gone for a whole day without food.”
Sir Anton led them to a campfire tended by a couple women. Five plump fish were hanging over the flames. Sir Anton had obviously been planning for their arrival.
Once they were settled, the old man said, “Hawkins told me you dueled Jenson and his men and defeated them. Did he speak rightly?”
The four teens looked down, embarrassed.
“How much did he tell you?” G asked finally.
“Oh, not too much,” Sir Anton said casually. “Hawkins didn’t seem to want to say a whole lot about it. He just said you’d explain it all when you arrived.” He stretched and crossed his legs. “I’m ready to hear it if you’re willing to tell it.”
The guys looked at each other.
“Who should talk?” Jeff asked.
The other three shrugged. “Go ahead, Jeff,” Mark urged.
So Jeff, along with short inputs by the other three, told Sir Anton about their fight with Jenson and his cronies. Throughout the tale, Sir Anton eyed them curiously, and his questioning stare reminded them of how he had looked at them when they first met. In the middle of the story, the fish were cooked through. Over plates of steaming bass, Jeff continued and eventually concluded their adventures in Rebmevon.
“Fascinating!” Sir Anton murmured, picking at his fish bones. “And you say you’ve never actually fought with a sword?”
“Remarkable,” he said, pulling at his gray beard. He started to lean back, but, realizing he didn’t have a backrest, he swiftly moved forward before he could lose his balance.
Many people started gathering around the single campfire. What they, but not the four teens, knew was whenever Sir Anton began pulling at his beard, he was going to delve into his vast knowledge of legends and tales and produce one of them. The children sat on the ground in front of the old man, knowing they were about to be entertained, while the adults gathered logs for seats.
“You know, boys,” he started, looking each of them in the eye. “When I first saw you yesterday morning, I was immediately reminded of something I had totally forgotten. I figured it was just a coincidence, and I let the matter slip from my mind. But when you were telling me of your fight with Jenson just now, and how you won without even knowing how to use a sword, I was almost sure that was had happened in the past was happening again. Now, I’m going to tell you the true story of boys just like you and what happened to them.
About one hundred and fifty years ago, four lads from right here in Lovanic discovered they had unusual talent with the sword. They decided to use their abilities for the good of the people, and every time there was trouble in town, you can bet everything you have they were there, fighting robbers, murderers, and all other sorts of low-down villainy. I believe they were only a little older than you boys.
These four lads had a bond unable to be imagined by anyone but possibly married folks. Every time they fought evil, they became even closer to each other than before. They were the best of friends, and because of that friendship, what happened next was all the more tragic.
At that time, there was an evil count named Zanius. Now Count Zanius wanted total control of lands from the North to the South and East to the West. More simply put, he wanted everything. But he knew he had no chance of fulfilling his plans as long as the four were alive. So he hatched an evil scheme. In the deep darkness of the night, he kidnapped one of the four. Most people think he did that to lure the other three into his clutches so he could kill them all.
The other three, steadfast and loyal that they were, set out to rescue their friend, which, of course, was exactly what Zanius wanted. They traveled for many days, hoping they could catch up to Zanius before he reached his stone fortress. What they didn’t know was there was a secret route and Zanius had reached his stronghold days, even weeks, before they did. Finally, the three arrived at Zanius’s home, only to be captured immediately, surrounded by Zanius’s men. A little while later, they discovered their friend had betrayed them and was on the side of Count Zanius. Outraged and devastated, they fought the Count and their previous comrade. All five of them died that night from either a direct stab or from wounds. The evil count was dead, but so were the four defenders of justice.” Sir Anton finished his tale.
No one spoke. The four teens sat and listened to Sir Anton, fascinated.
Sir Anton added, “Of course, even if you four are replicas of the four in the past, that doesn’t mean you will have the same fate. In fact, it is most unlikely.”
People were starting to disperse, returning to their previous fires. Fire: the thing that had brought them so much pain was now their only comfort on a cold night. The flames that had destroyed all they ever knew were now a source of heat and their friend in the deep darkness.
* * *
The four teens slept on the cold, hard ground that night. They huddled close to the fire, occasionally stoking it or adding more fuel. The night passed slowly, and it seemed as if dawn would never come. But, as always, the sun peeked over the horizon and its rays brightened the sky.
Fires were restarted to heat cold figures and some leftover food from the previous night. The teens remained at their fire, not having an appetite. They kept close to the flames, warming their hands.
Jeff crawled over to G. “How’s the leg, man?”
G moved his left leg slightly and let out a small groan. “There’s no way I’m going anywhere or doing anything.”
“Traveling yesterday didn’t help,” Mark said, yawning. He poked G in the chest. “You, buddy boy,” he said. “are not going anywhere. That leg needs to heal, and if you’re up and moving, it’s only going to make it worse. If you have to go somewhere, you’re gonna do it with help, got that?”
Jeff and Matt chuckled at Mark’s authoritative tone.
G said meekly, “Yes, sir,” then laughed.
Just then, Sir Anton came over. “Well, boys,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “did you sleep well?”
Jeff glanced at his three friends with an amused look on his face. “No, sir, not really.”
Sir Anton chuckled. “Glad to hear it.” He sat down beside them and turned his gaze toward the ruins of Lovanic. “We’re going to start rebuilding today. Almost all the debris has been moved away or burned. We’ll start chopping down trees shortly. It will be a lot of work, but with all our manpower, it should only take a few days.”
“I hope we brought enough tools back from Rebmevon?” G asked.
“Plenty,” Sir Anton affirmed. “Enough for almost every able bodied man.”
A that moment, Hawkins came over to them. He ignored the four teens, who gave him a hostile look, and addressed Sir Anton. “The men are ready to start chopping,” he said. “They’re waiting for orders.”
“Alright,” Sir Anton said, heaving himself to his feet. “I’m coming.”
Mark, Jeff, and Matt slowly got to their feet to follow, but Sir Anton waved them back. “You’re not going to be doing any work today.”
“But we want to help,” Jeff protested.
Sir Anton shook his head. “You’re still too sore from your fight and return journey. Rest now and you can start helping tomorrow.” He and Hawkins walked away and the three teens offered no more arguments.
After they had left, Jeff sat down with a sigh and scooted closer to the fire. “I’m glad we don’t have to work today.”
“Me, too,” Mark agreed stretching his legs. “My muscles still hurt way too much to start working.”
G nodded, then changed the subject. “I don’t think we’ll ever be on Hawkins’s good side again.”
Matt frowned. “I know what you mean. It’s like he thinks fighting Jenson was the wrong thing to do.”
Mark shook his head. “It wasn’t, so who cares what Hawkins thinks? Who cares about him at all?”
The other three nodded in total agreement. Just then, the sounds of chopping filled the air.
G sighed contentedly. “I think we’re in for a long adventure, you guys.”
Part II: Rebuilding Lovanic
“I’m surprised it only took four days to cut down enough trees for rebuilding,” Matt said as he and his three best friends, Mark, G, and Jeff refreshed themselves by a stream.
“I am, too, but I guess it doesn’t take very long when you have twenty-some guys chopping down trees nonstop.” G said. He straightened without grimacing. His leg was almost completely healed, but he would have a scar on his left thigh for life.
Mark stretched his tired arms and legs. “I’m just glad the chopping part is done. The rest of the work should be easier.”
Jeff pushed some sweaty hair out of his eyes. “I certainly hope so.”
Their work done for the day, the four teens relaxed by the bubbling brook. The sun was starting to set in the west, so the sky was changing hue. In the South, the Ukodus Mountains caught the sun’s remaining glare. The snow-capped peaks glimmered as the landscape below them darkened. Only the tips of the trees in the North held on to the swiftly vanishing sun.
Mark broke the silence. “I’ve been thinking about that tale Sir Anton told us.”
“Me, too,” G said, plucking at a blade of grass. He tossed it into the water. “It sort of freaks me out.”
“Me, too,” Jeff admitted. “I mean, logically, stuff like that doesn’t happen twice, but here in this world, who knows?”
“The part worrying me the most is the betrayer stuff,” Matt said, frowning. “I just can’t imagine betraying you guys are one of you being the betrayer.”
“Me neither,” G agreed, “but I bet you the four dudes in the past couldn’t have imagined it, either.”
“What a big disappointment that must’ve been,” Mark said softly. He looked at his three best friends. “I can’t even picture what it would be like for me personally if one of you three was the betrayer.”
The others nodded solemnly. They silently watched as the sky grew darker. A few bats soared overhead, plucking mosquitoes out of the air for their evening meal.
“Wherever we are,” Jeff said, “Venus is still in the sky.”
Even though it was wasn’t very dark yet, planet Venus shone brightly. Gradually, stars became visible. The four teens didn’t move from their spot by the small creek, infatuated with the view above them.
“It certainly is a lot different from Snowflake out here,” Matt commented, swatting at a mosquito.
“All those lights in town do block all this, don’t they?” Jeff said. “We can’t see half this much in the sky.”
The moon was only a sliver. Occasionally a wisp of cloud would steal across the earth’s ceiling, blocking the moon’s faint light. A cool night breeze blew, and the sound it made rustling through the long grass was strangely relaxing.
“Alright, alright,” Sir Anton said, raising his hand for quiet. The group of twenty-four immediately ceased their chatter and fastened their attention on their leader.
“Congratulations, men. The first phase, cutting down trees, is complete.” A few cheers went up and everybody laughed. Sir Anton chuckled with them. “As I was saying, phase one is complete. Phase two will be more challenging. The logs need to be divided among each family to their specific needs. The logs also need to be prepared for stacking. Mud paste will be needed in the near future, but not quite yet. We also need some more supplies from Rebmevon. Clay needs to be gathered from the creek banks so the women can make dishes and such. Carts need to be built for hauling, as they will be most necessary in the tasks to come.” He paused as an early morning breeze blew.
The sun had barely passed the horizon, but every able-bodied man and boy, including the four teens, had already been awake for almost an hour, preparing for the day ahead. The air was cool, and everyone knew fall was approaching, which meant winter was not far away.
The breath of wind subsided and Sir Anton continued. “I’m going to split you all up into groups of three, ten, and two groups of five. The three will be gathering clay for the women. For this job I have chosen Mark, Jeff, and Hawkins.”
Mark and Jeff glanced at each other, both thinking the same thing: Great. Just great.
“But, Sir Anton,” Hawkins protested. “I don’t want to perform an easy task. I want to work alongside the men.”
“In my opinion, Hawkins,” Sir Anton said sternly. “Jeff and Mark are men. They fought Jenson while you would not.”
Mark wanted to slap his forehead. “Great,” he thought. “Now Hawkins is going to hate us more than ever.”
Sir Anton continued. “Also, gathering clay is very much a man’s job. You’ll see why once you get started.” He then turned his attention to naming the members of the other duties. Matt and G were to be building carts, much to their relief. They had no desire to push and haul logs or return to Rebmevon.
“I just feel bad for Jeff and Mark,” G muttered to Matt. “They have to be stuck with an irritated Hawkins, not to mention Sir Anton practically just called him a wimp in front of all these guys.”
Matt nodded in agreement. “He certainly won’t be very polite, that’s for sure.”
Sir Anton finished splitting the men into groups. “Now away to your tasks,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Work hard yet swiftly. Winter is nearly upon us.”
Twenty volunteers dispersed, each heading toward their designated jobsites. The four teens remained where they were.
Jeff groaned. “Anybody, anybody but Hawkins.”
Mark sighed long and loud. “Today’s gonna be rough, guys.”
“Especially for you,” G added. “You’re stuck with a crabby Hawkins.”
Matt smiled sympathetically. “Let’s just hope the day goes by fast.”
“Can’t you move any faster?” Hawkins grumbled.
Hawkins, Mark and Jeff were working on a creek bank in the Northern Woods. The sun was almost at its highest peak, but the trees kept its scorching rays from hitting the three teens while they performed their task. The air in the woods was thick, making breathing difficult.
“I’d move faster if carrying this clay was any easier, Hawkins,” Mark retorted angrily.
Because they had no shovels or buckets, they were forced to use their hands. Creating a basket-like container with their shirts, they were able to carry small amounts of clay from the stream to a pile they were forming. The going was slow, as they had to use one hand to create the bucket and the other to scoop up the clay.
Jeff put some clay in his shirt. He and Mark had removed their vests and sleeves and were working in just their white shirts.
“I wish we had removable pant legs, too,” Matt had remarked two days before when they had been chopping down trees.
Jeff had agreed. “Shoes that let your feet breathe would be nice, too.”
Mark and Jeff now wished they had sneakers instead of their Han Solo boots. Just like in Snowflake, August was pretty warm in the world they had entered. The sun was harsh, especially late in the afternoon.
Mark groaned as he forced his knees to straighten from his crouched position beside the stream. His legs ached and his back ached. With every trip he made to the pile, the clay in his shirt became heavier. It started taking longer and longer to travel from the creek to the pile of clay.
Finally, the day of work was over. The clay pile was as high as Jeff’s waist and as wide as an adult bicycle. The three of them had worked continuously that day, stopping only to eat lunch and dinner.
“Boy, am I tired,” Jeff moaned, landing heavily on his backend as he sat down beside the pile.
With a sigh, Mark joined him. “Tell me about it,” he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Aww, you guys are just a couple of wimps,” Hawkins sneered, kicking some dirt at them as he walked past.
Mark spat some soil out of his mouth. “If I wasn’t so tired, Hawkins,” he growled. “You’d be getting a good sock in the mouth right about now.”
Hawkins snorted. “You? I’d like to see you try!”
Mark and Jeff struggled to their feet.
“Two against one, eh?” Hawkins leered at them, clenching his fists. “You shouldn’t be too hard to beat, seeing how you’re both such weaklings!”
Mark and Jeff balled their fists, but before they could exchange any blows with Hawkins, G’s voice broke in casually, “How about four against one, Hawkins? Are you game for that?”
Hawkins turned swiftly. Behind him stood G and Matt. Their hands were on their sword hilts.
Hawkins spat at their feet, dropping his arms to his sides. “Someday, you rats will pay for all the humiliation you’ve caused me.” With that, he stormed away.
Jeff and Mark greeted their friends with a grin.
“Thanks, dudes,” Mark said, slapping Matt on the back. “I didn’t want to fight him. He would’ve pulverized us.”
“I have no doubt about that,” G chuckled, releasing his sword hilt. “Then we would have had to save your backends.”
“Or maybe we would’ve just let him beat you,” Matt joked.
“You? You’re too soft for that!” Jeff laughed.
Matt growled. “Want to take that back, buster? I suggest you do.”
Jeff smirked. “What could you possible do to me? I’m as solid as a rock. You’re just hot air.”
Matt did his best to hide his amused countenance behind a scowl, but the corners of his mouth kept twitching. “Hot air, huh? You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?”
Jeff pretended to lunge at Matt, but started stuttering and coughing, landing on his knees. “Can’t… move!” he gasped dramatically. “Too… tired… from lifting… clay!”
Mark and G burst out laughing. Matt smiled, and, walking over to Jeff, proceeded to help him up off the ground. “Don’t worry, pal,” he said as the four of them started walking back towards Lovanic. “Someday you’ll be as tough as I am.”
“Wow.” Mark was impressed. “That’s a lot of wheelbarrows. You certainly did a lot in one day.”
“There are fifteen, to be exact,” G said. “We could’ve made more if the wood had already been sawn off the logs.”
“How many guys were in your group?” Jeff asked.
“At first, five, including us,” Matt answered. “Then some guys from the log separating group came and helped.”
“It took half a day just to saw the logs into pieces,” G added. “We wouldn’t have been able to get fifteen done if it hadn’t been for the other dudes who came and helped us.”
The four of them found a log that hadn’t been cut up yet and sat down on it. Their limbs hurt and their muscles ached. All they had accomplished that day, however, made up for all their discomfort.
Once they were settled, Matt asked, “How many days have we been here now?”
Jeff started calculating on his fingers. “Eight days,” he concluded. “A little over a week.”
Mark shook his head sadly. “I can only imagine what our parents are thinking right now.”
Matt frowned. “They probably think we’re dead.”
“I know we’re gonna stay here until Lovanic is rebuilt, but once it’s finished, we have to go back to the House on Paris Hill to see if we can get to Snowflake,” G said quietly.
The others agreed.
“I want to go back home,” Jeff said, pulling a bit of bark off the log. “But I want to stay at the same time.”
“Going back would mean there’s less of a chance of one of us being kidnapped,” Mark commented.
“Our parents would find out we’re alive,” Matt added.
“And we could watch the Eagles against the Rams in their first season game next Sunday,” Jeff said with a smile. “I wish we knew if they beat the Jets on Thursday.”
G laughed. “You sure are making it harder to stay.”
Mark chuckled along with him. “But seriously,” he said, stifling his laugh. “We told Sir Anton we’d stay. We can’t go back on him, or the people of Lovanic, now. There’s a lot of work to be done, and winter’s coming. They need all the help they can get.”
They fell silent. The day was coming to an end. The sun was sinking in the west. Campfires were being lit on the hillsides to cook the dinner they had been eating since day one after the fire: fish.
“I’m getting tired of fish,” Matt groaned as the smell drifted their way.
Jeff agreed. “I’m glad those dudes left for Rebmevon today. I heard Sir Anton tell them to get raw meat like beef and chicken.”
“Unfortunately,” G said. “they had to wait for us to finish a few carts first. They helped a little, but as soon as three wheelbarrows were done, they were gone.”
Mark sighed. “Well, it will be nice to eat beef again. I wonder how they cook it here. I don’t know if they could roast it.”
“They’ll cook it on a spit just like the fish, I bet,” Jeff remarked, standing. “Come on, guys. It smells like the fish is almost ready.”
“Boys,” Sir Anton said to the four teens sat over their lunch of steaming bass the next day. “The group sent to Rebmevon is a couple hours late. I’d like you to go out and look for them.”
“Yes, sir,” they all said at once. They quickly finished their fish and prepared to leave.
“Gotta have the sword, just in case,” G said, strapping his sword belt around his waist.
“Ever since we fought with Jenson, I’ve never wanted to be without it,” Matt agreed, adjusting his belt strap.
Jeff made sure his knife was secure in its sheath, then looked at his three best friends. “Ready? Let’s move out!”
“Man, they really are late,” Mark commented. “We’ve been walking for at least three miles now.”
“I hope they’re just slow and nothing’s happened to them,” G added.
The four kept trudging. The weather that day was cooler than the day before, a sure sign that fall had arrived. Indeed, the leaves on Maple and Oak trees were already changing to colors of orange and yellow and red. Grass was starting to switch from a glorious green to a faded yellow.
After traveling for another mile, the party sent to Rebmevon was spotted. The guys from Snowflake, Arizona, were standing on a hill and could see the road ahead for a good distance.
“There they are,” Mark said, an amount of relief in his voice.
“And the carts are loaded to the brim. That’s good,” Jeff added, shading his eyes from the sun.
“Come on,” G said, starting to head down the hill. “Let’s go meet them.”
They descended the knoll swiftly and began advancing toward the group. The leader of the party saw them coming and raised a hand in greeting.
When the distance between them was only about a football field, Matt said, “Hey, who’s that behind them?”
“Behind them?” G asked, confused. He looked past the group and saw what Matt had already spotted.
“Thieves!” Mark spat. He broke into a run, drawing his sword in a single swift motion.
“Look out behind!” Jeff shouted in warning.
Just then, thirteen thieves gave a yell and charged at the unexpecting travelers. Most of them waved swords in the air; others were in the process of drawing theirs. They were dressed in dark shades of yellow and brown; a few were dressed totally in black. They looked desperate, as most thieves did, determined to get what they wanted no matter what.
Most of the men from Lovanic had swords; only three did not. Upon hearing the warning from Jeff and the shout from behind, they had drawn their weapons. The men who did not own swords took charge of the food and supplies, quickly pushed the carts off the road where the fighting would take place.
The thieves had tried to take their targets by surprise, but their plan failed. Even so, they charged toward the party, determined to gather what loot they could.
The four teens knew they couldn’t possibly reach the group before the fighting started.
“I hope we still know how to use these,” Mark thought as he brandished his sword.
Once again, instincts seemed to take over. The four teens felt a burst of confidence shoot through them as they neared their opponents, as if they suddenly knew exactly what to do. Courage seemed to flow from their sword hilts into their bodies, giving them the boldness they needed to fight.
The brawl was already intense as their bodies seemed to collide with their adversary’s. Sword met sword in loud clangs, flashing in the afternoon sun.
The thieves outnumbered their opponents by two, but they were unused to being opposed with such fervor. They started exiting the fight in a hurry, clutching at wounded arms or legs. Some even lost hands or fingers, citizens of Lovanic included. But most of the Lovanites were doughty fighters, though one wouldn’t know it just by looking at them.
Jeff, who was battling the leader of the villains, felt the exhilaration of the skirmish rushing through his veins. He even laughed as he exchanged blows with his opponent. Jeff knew his fight was won when he saw his foe weakening, and, as he raised his sword to deliver the crippling stroke, his blade slipped in his hand and, instead of creating a minor cut on his opponent’s hip, was driven through the man’s stomach. The man looked shocked, and that expression remained on his face as he fell to the ground, dead.
Jeff recoiled in horror as the body hit the earth at his feet. His sword fell from his right hand, striking the ground with a sound that seemed loud in his ears. Every other noise was drowned out; all he could hear was his own heartbeat and feel the revulsion that gripped his stomach. His eyesight started to blur and his head felt as though it was a large beach ball. Jeff was suddenly aware of Mark standing in front of him, his lips moving soundlessly, just before blackness swirled in front of his eyes, blocking the dead man’s expression from his mind for a sweet moment.
Mark caught Jeff right before he hit the ground. “G! Matt!” he shouted, fear tinting his voice as Jeff’s head lolled to one side. “Jeff’s passed out!”
Matt gave his opponent a severe slash on the lower arm before heading over to Mark. G was already there, his sword showing traces of blood.
“What happened?” G asked, greatly concerned. He started to sheathe his sword, but, realizing it was slightly bloodied, pulled it out again.
“I don’t know,” Mark answered. “I came over to him because he looked a little weird. He looked at me, but I could tell he was seeing right through me. Then he fainted.”
“I wonder if it had anything to do with that dead dude,” Matt commented quietly, gesturing at the body.
“Maybe,” G said. “But he can tell us himself. Right now let’s get him off the road and lay him in the grass.”
They waited for over half an hour, sitting Indian style on the ground beside Jeff. His breathing was a little abnormal, but besides that, he looked like he was just in a deep sleep.
“If only we had some cayenne,” G muttered while he cleaned his blade.
“Cay-what?” Matt asked with a short laugh.
“Cayenne,” G repeated. “My mom’s really into natural healing and herbs and stuff like that. Cayenne is good for keeping people from fainting and getting them out of a faint.”
“How does it work?” Mark inquired, shifting his weight.
“You stick some on their tongue. It burns, that’s what it does,” G answered.
“I’m glad you don’t have any on you, G. You’d probably burn my mouth off.” Jeff’s voice was raspy. Sweat was pouring down his forehead as he struggled to prop himself up on one elbow.
The other three’s faces broke into relieved smiles.
“You had us worried there, my man,” Mark said with a chuckle.
G let out a long sigh. “Too worried. You were out for a long time.”
“Really?” Jeff asked. “I wouldn’t know. It doesn’t seem like I was passed out for too—” he suddenly broke off. His eyes were focused on something, and when the other three followed his gaze, they saw it was the dead man. A look of pain crossed his face and he gave a low groan, lying back down as he did so.
Matt put a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “What happened, guy? How could that dead dude make you pass out?”
Jeff swallowed and stared up at the bright blue sky. His voice was barely audible when he replied, “Because I’m the one who killed him.”
Mark, G, and Matt looked at each other, unsure of what to say.
“Don’t you get what I just said?” Jeff stopped staring at the sky and looked at them. “I…killed…a…man. I didn’t try it. I didn’t want to kill him.” He closed his eyes, continuing. “My sword slipped. I don’t know how it slipped. It just did. I’ll never forget his face when he died.” He clutched at his stomach. “I feel so sick just thinking about it.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Mark asked.
Jeff looked at him. “Get rid of the body,” he answered immediately.
“Of course,” Matt said, jumping up. “Duh. I should’ve thought of that myself.”
G stood also. “I’ll go along. Mark, you stay with Jeff.”
Mark nodded as they walked off to find the leader of the small party, Ferdinand. He watched them go, then turned to see Jeff sit up with some difficulty and twist around so he was facing away from the road and the body.
“What happened to the rest of them?” Jeff asked quietly when Mark had changed his own position so they were sitting side by side.
Mark knew he was referring to the other thieves. “They got away,” he answered. “One by one they got injured and began to escape. We considered going after them, but then you fainted and everybody was distracted so they got away.”
Jeff shuddered. “Did anyone else…you know…”
“Die?” Mark finished. “No. No one else died.”
Jeff looked a little relieved. “I’m glad.”
Just then, the sound of shovel meeting earth fell upon their ears. They knew the men were burying the deceased. Jeff winced as one of the shovels hit a rock, creating a sound similar to nails being scraped down a chalkboard.
Matt and G came up behind them.
“Ferdinand wants to move on so we can get to Lovanic before dark,” Matt said. He looked at Jeff. “Are you gonna be ok if we leave now?”
Jeff struggled to stand. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” He looked at his three best friends. “Thanks, guys.”
“Hey,” G said, slapping him on the back. “What are friends for?”
“So, why are you guys so late?” Matt asked Ferdinand once they had resumed their journey.
“We were on schedule until a couple miles out of Rebmevon,” Ferdinand answered, curling and uncurling his fingers around his sword hilt. “Then a wheel broke on one of the carts. We saw it was not fixable, so a couple of us went back to Rebmevon to buy a new one.” He paused and looked at the four teens. “We only had been traveling for a few more miles when you came on us.” Ferdinand smirked. “It’s a good thing, too. I doubt we could’ve defeated those thieves without your help.”
“Let’s not talk about the fight just yet,” Mark said quickly.
Ferdinand shrugged. “As you wish,” he said carelessly.
They continued on in silence, the only chatter coming from the men in the rear.
“I did sort of suspect a group of men while we were in Rebmevon,” Ferdinand said. “Turns out they were the same men that attacked us. I felt like we were being watched. I’d walk into one store and buy something, and there would be this guy there. I’d walk into another store and see the same exact man. I think they sort of wanted to see how much money we had on us.”
“Is there any cash left that they could’ve stolen?” Matt asked curiously.
Ferdinand pulled three small coins out of his pocket. “This is all that’s left,” he replied with an amused smile. “They would’ve found their attack to be useless and a waste of energy and time.”
“Do you know who they were?” G asked. “I mean, Jenson and his minions were well known.”
Ferdinand shook his head. “I don’t have any idea who those men were,” he replied. “Of course, they could be from far away and be well known where they come from.”
“They certainly knew how to use a sword,” Matt remarked, flexing his right arm with a grimace. “It took me a little while to cripple my dude.”
Mark agreed. “But it felt good to fight again. It was almost like we had energy stored up in us just waiting to be let out.”
The four were talking among themselves, so Ferdinand moved farther back to talk to someone else.
“It happened again,” G said quietly once Ferdinand had left. “I felt like I didn’t know how to use my sword at the beginning, then suddenly I knew.”
“It’s really, really weird how that happens,” Jeff concurred. “It’s almost like the sword has a mind of its own, going where it wants…” he broke off, a wave of horror coming over him, horror at the fact that he had killed the man buried a good ways back. A queasy sensation swept through him and he staunched the urge to hurl.
Matt took him by the shoulders and gently shook him. “Hey, man, snap out of it. You’re looking like you’re gonna pass out again.”
Jeff shook his head, trying to clear it of all his unpleasant thoughts. “Sorry, guys,” was all he said.
The other three knew he needed a distraction and he needed it fast.
“I wonder how the Eagles played against the Jets on Thursday?” Mark mused, knowing none of them could answer the question.
“I hope they beat them, of course,” Matt said.
“I don’t know,” G said doubtfully. “The Jets got Favre this season. They might be a hard team to beat.”
Jeff smiled as he realized his friends were trying to cheer him up.
“You know, I think they have a good chance of going to the Super Bowl,” Matt said with a grin.
“Dream on, buddy,” Mark chuckled. “I don’t know if we’re that good.”
“Oh, ho, no faith in the team, eh?” G teased. “Want a bet?”
“He’s got a lot of loyalty to the Eagles, doesn’t he?” Mark asked, nudging Jeff in the shoulder.
“Maybe too much,” Jeff replied with a small smirk.
* * *
Finally, Lovanic was in view. The sun was sinking low in the western sky, purple and pink already starting to coat the clouds, giving the ground below a warm tone. Fires had by then been started the unpleasant aroma of cooking fish wafted toward the returning travelers.
Matt coughed as some smoke hit the group in the face. “Blasted smoke,” he muttered. Only G, Matt, and Jeff heard him. “Blasted fish,” he added.
“I’m with you on that, pal,” G replied under his breath.
Just then, Sir Anton came hurrying toward them as fast as his old legs could take him. “Here you are at last!” he gasped as soon as he had reached them. He panted for breath, a relieved smile on his face. “What happened?” His eyes quickly took in the blood that dotted their clothing and bloody bandages on some of the men. “Was there a fight? You’re all here, so obviously it wasn’t deadly.”
“There was one fatality,” Ferdinand said. “But it wasn’t on our side.”
Sir Anton motioned for them to come and join all the other citizens who were gathered around the campfires. “Let’s go over there so everyone can hear your tale.”
Once everyone was seated, Ferdinand began telling them about the day’s adventures. He told about the broken wheel and the suspicious characters in Rebmevon. He recounted when the four teens had come upon them and warned them about the thieves. He informed everyone about the fight and how only one man was killed, by Jeff, though it was accidental.
A few people gasped when they found out who had killed the only one to die that day. Many looked at him reproachfully. Others looked at him sympathetically. Hawkins tried to hold back a sardonic smile.
Jeff perceived the look and placed a restraining hand on Mark and G’s knees. He could feel them tensing with anger. He gave Matt a warning glance, for Matt’s face had hate written all over it, and his hands kept clenching and unclenching.
When Ferdinand had finished, the crowd started dispersing toward their own fires. Soon the only people left were the four teens.
“Oh, that little jerk,” Matt growled.
G stood up and started pacing around the campfire. “I’m about ready to smash his face flat,” he remarked with an angry scowl.
“Better not,” Jeff said quietly, staring at the crackling flames in front of them. “We’d lose everyone’s trust.”
Mark reluctantly nodded in agreement. “Besides,” he said. “We’ve only been here for nine days. Hawkins has lived here his whole life. People would probably be more likely to take his side.”
G sat down with a long sigh. “I just don’t like seeing you treated like that, Jeff,” he said in a calmer voice. “Killing that dude wasn’t your fault. Now Hawkins will probably try to make you feel miserable.”
“Concerns appreciated, G my man,” Jeff said, slapping him on the back. “But don’t worry. I’m not gonna let Hawkins get through to me.”
“Most likely easier said than done,” Matt commented. “But enough of this chit chat. It looks like our tasty fish is done a-cooking.”