The clopping sound of horse’s hooves upon the road alerted the farmer to an armored rider approaching. He was a knight errant from the center-lands, a herald of the court of Mount Valissia, judging by the dragon depicted on his kite shield. The farmer, sickle in hand, departed from his task in the field and met the knight near wooden fence.
‘Hail,’ spoke the knight beneath iron visage. ‘Are you the owner of this land?’
‘I am,’ replied the farmer, true.
‘I have learned much about your tale, good sir. You are of much renown in the underbelly of the centrelands. Though most know not your name, I believe I have finally found the Whisper.’
‘Would that you spoke true, good sir knight. The assassin known as Whisper has already been hung and his body rots at the bottom of Traitor’s Gulch.’
‘Lies. Yet, I cannot blame you. You were a devious legend and wanted for many crimes. I know not which bargain you struck with the king to lend you exile to till this desolate land. I wish to strike another.’
‘I see how your ears perk at the thought. Aye, an exit to this torture no assassin, especially of the Iron Snake’s caliber should ever know. Your hands are adept at taking life, not preserving it, judging by the ill-state of your farm.’
The farmer turned and scowled. A fact not very well hidden from the knight struck home like an arrow to its target.
‘I would have you spill your purpose knight. The hour grows dark, or would you prefer to enter my home so that my wife would prepare us a warm meal?’
‘I have not the time to tarry. I traveled this way to hear the answer in your words and nothing more. The lord of the lands of the east, your liege lord Targwin, is an old and stubborn man. The king of the centre-lands would be rid of him. Yet he does not die. Attempts have been made on his life, poison and blade, only to end in discovery and execution. When I learned of your sealed fate, I seek to free you from it.’
‘You would unsheathe me, but for what purpose? I kill Lord Targwin but what’s in it for me, a humble farmer?’
‘Humble farmer? You are no farmer and further yet from humble. You would have release from this exile. From this lowly land and tainted blood. The one who would end Lord Targwin’s life would receive his land and title with ear to the king’s voice.’
‘I would inherit all these lands?’
‘They would be yours for the taking, should you choose it. I care not what the fate of these lands would be, so long as they are relinquished from Lord Targwin’s grasp.’
‘What of my wife and child?’ asked the farmer.
‘Their fate would equally be in your hands. You could give them to a new husband to till these lands in your stead or leave them to ruin in the wake of the plague.’
‘And if I refuse?’
‘I come with a proposal alone. No threat to you or your land. Lord Targwin is a piece of a puzzle stubborn to take purpose in a grander canvas. As such, I would have him carved into shape with you its deadly blade. Should you decline this offer, I shall be on my way to find a different edge and leave you to the tilling of your field, meager though it be.’
The farmer once again gazed across his land. The truth was bare for all to see. The farmland was barren and dry, unsuitable for farming. It was his personal purgatory and his fate was sealed along with a dull wife and sickly child.
‘You could get a new wife of your choosing from a high family to bear you children devoid of sickness and slow mental state. Aye, I even know of the ailment that terrorizes your child. ‘Tis a pity.’
The words tilted the farmer from his thoughts and he dropped his sickle to the ground. ‘You have shown your purpose true, good sir. Return my tools of death to me point me to a target. None can survive in my wake.’
It was then the farmer chose his fate. The hunger of blood spilled by his blade was too much for him to resist. He climbed onto the knight’s horse and stared at his home as it faded in the distance.
Doubt clouded his mind. Would he still be able to wield the blade as he had in his youth? The farmer quickly found his killing spirit and before too long ushered Lord Targwin to the underworld.
For years after, the farmer, now Lord of the Eastlands, forgot the edge of the realm he ruled over submitting to indulging women, drink, and coin. He never saw the knight who requisitioned him again and after a while sleep evaded him. He would often be found riding his horse in the night. He said the movement beneath him was the only thing that could lull him to sleep. The truth of the matter was he could see the stars and look up, attempting to emulate gazing across the empyrean standing on a field.
The feeling began to eat at him so much so that one night he found himself on the farmstead he once tilled land on. It was strange seeing a place so familiar and unchanged. A shadow on the barren field caught his eye and he saw a sickle raise and fall into the ground.
Aroused by the neigh of his horse, the figure was alerted to his presence. Clouds gave way to the bright rays of the moon to reveal a woman, the one he once called wife.
He brought his steed through the broken gate and approached her.
‘Hail,’ he said, raising his hand.
‘I never thought to gaze upon you again, my dear,’ said she, wiping sweat from her forehead. Her breaths were quick, a result of hard toil.
Silence permeated between them. The former farmer could feel her intense gaze harden.
‘You should not have come here,’ she said through clenched teeth.
‘Are you fed?’
‘As much as I can be.’
‘Are you warm?’
‘What urges this sudden intrusion to question me on my well-being? You cared not three years past.’
‘My son? Is he well?’
‘He is lying sleepily at Hollows Grove. He succumbed to the plague last year.’
‘I am indeed sorry.’
‘Is that all you are?’
‘The truth is, I cannot sleep.’
‘And somehow this is my concern?’
‘I wish to make things better. I wish to purchase sleep and I only ever dreamt when I was by your side. It took your absence to show this to me.’
The woman sighed and the rays of moonlight seemed to grow brighter. He saw scars running down her cheek and her left eye was swollen.
‘You are beaten?’
‘The man who took over these fields after you left has a hard fist and soft cock. He is there right now, drunk and sleeping. He will wake soon however. His booze has all but run out.’
‘I shall speak with him and perhaps soften the blows.’
‘Pray, do not approach him. Instead, let us move out of eyesight. If he were to see me speaking to you, he would kill me.’
He agreed and brought his horse to the edge of the fields beside a tree-line. They walked in silence but the weight of guilt lay heavy on his shoulders. He stopped suddenly.
‘Come with me. Let me show you the palace I now call home.’
‘So you can discard me once more? How long would it take for you to grow bored of me? What would you do then to get rid of me? How dare you?’
‘Must I beg for what is mine? A a second chance, I pray. Things will be different, I promise,' said the man, his voice nearly a whine.
‘I don’t give second chances. This you know well. The moment you stepped from the threshold of our home, you gave your place as head of my house forfeit. Never again will I allow the one I love power over me. Never again will I leave my fate in the hands of another.’
Anger flashed over him. He was not used to being told no. I sinister thought pierced his mind. He knew what he must do to assuage his past and perhaps gain purchase of sleep. He dismounted and pulled a dagger from his belt, careful to hide the glint of his blade.
‘I am sorry, my dear, to have abandoned you. The only way for you to see release from this abuse is to be free from this world. If I can’t have you, no one will-’
He turned but the sharp point of a sickle pierced his neck stopping his words.
‘Then, no one will,’ whispered the woman with a blazing fire in her eyes. She pushed the end of the sickle deeper into his neck causing blood to gurgle from his lips. He fell to his knees and grabbed the wooden end of the sickle in an attempt to pull it out.
She slapped his hands away and pulled the sickle from his flesh. He put his hands over the wound to stop the bleeding but his once-wife was not finished. She swung the tool in a glistening arc at his chest and, in a fell swoop, pierced his heart as he had done to her in abandonment.
He grunted once, twitched twice, and lay still, blood pooling beneath him.
She gasped, the rage in her eyes giving way to pulsating roar of panic in her ears. The trees of the forest seemed to groan as witness and she heard the burst of trumpet behind her. She was a fool to think he came unattended without guard. They would hang her from a tree for her murderous crime.
She picked up the sickle from his chest and ran wildly deeper into the dark forest. The breaking of brush behind her and the heavy footsteps of armored men in pursuit rumbled beneath her feet. Yet, as her pursuers gained ground on her, a smile spread on her lips as a vast weight of desire was lifted from her shoulders and the sweet taste of revenge danced upon her tongue.