We were twelve when we first met, when her widow mother sought help in our small village. Thirteen when I gave her my first gift. Fourteen when we sneaked away from our respective houses so that we could watch the men and the boys while they enjoyed a night out. We were fifteen when the witch arrived, told us that we were destined to kill each other. Destined, such a dramatic word, one that forced us to be apart. I was sixteen the last time I saw her, being carried away by a horse, her belongings in a donkey, needing no help. She lifted her hand in a small wave and wiped her tears with that same hand.
My father trained me after that, sixteen to seventeen to eighteen to nineteen, to the day when I was better than him and could knock off his sword with a small movement of my wrist, to the day when our climbs were too exerting for him, to the day when my limbs demanded something more challenging. I was twenty when I was sent away, to get more knowledge, to get more training, tot a place that promised more and nothing else.
I was tired when they showed me to my room, a small cell with a window, a bed and a wash basin. They let me sleep undisturbed that night but in the morning they took away my clothes and gave me ones that felt stiff and uncomfortable. Training clothes. I was twenty when I learned the true meaning of the word exhaustion.
I was twenty two when I had become the best of the class, told so by my trainers, as our life there was one of solitude and I had to trust their word that other people were living and training there as I heard no one at any given time. I also had to trust their word on the passage of time as I was not allowed to go outside. My small window was blocked against the outside, and all the lights inside the place were artificial; torches made to continually shine at every hour of what I assumed were days but could have been hours.
I was twenty on the last day I saw the sun. I never thought that I should have said goodbye, I too, would have lifted my hand and then wiped my tears. I was twenty five by their count when I saw the sun again. It was brought on in small portions, in the opening of my window, slit by slit, in the feel of my hand as I pulled it outside, and finally in the sting in my eyes as I was led outside by the high trainer. I was then pulled back inside to the darkness and the cold.
I was twenty six when I knew I wanted to leave and twenty six when my request to do so was denied. I was still twenty six when I decided that they could not stop me. In the time I had had eight training sessions I had my plan ready. It was night in my room when I moved out, although when I stepped outside the torches burned as bright as ever. As I neared the door the sun shone through, and I had to let my eyes readjust, just for a second to the blinding light. I stepped forward into freedom.
I was twenty six when I learned that fending off in the wood with only physical training was only useful when there was game around and I could run after it and kill it when I was near. I learned the meaning of hunger and cold and a different kind of exhaustion. I was twenty six when I learned the true meaning of the word alone.
I was twenty seven when I last saw my father, seconds before they put him inside the ground and covered him with dirt and tears, next to my mother. It was then that I learned that I had brothers and sisters, ones that had married, ones that knew more than swinging weapons and killing. It was then that I learned again to trust, and then that I learned that I had a place among them.
I was twenty eight when my body had grown accustomed to the hardships and beauty of life. I picked vegetables, I haggled for prices, I hunted with the men and became a respected member of their group after a while. I learned how to speak with women again, learned again to care for conversations that were not grunted instructions. I learned to do more than adapt and adjust. I was twenty eight when I learned to live.
I was twenty nine when I learned that I was still being hunted. I was twenty nine when I learned who was in charge of the hunt. I was twenty nine when I decided to keep my family safe and leave. I was twenty nine when I turned my back on their raised hands and not wiped tears.
I was twenty nine when I decided that I was tired of being hunted. I was twenty nine when I saw my reflection change in the mirror, when I saw my eyes harden, when I saw my hair fall, strand by strand, when I stopped recognizing myself in the reflection of the water.
I am thirty when I see her again. It is a few minutes before I realize someone has blinded her, slashes crisscross across the voids that used to be her eyes, her brown warm eyes, now milky white. It is another few minutes before she senses me, or smells me, or hears me, whatever they have taught her to do. It only takes minutes for me to realize that she won’t stop, can’t stop hunting me. It takes me another few seconds to decide. I am thirty when her swords pierces me. I am thirty when she recognizes me. I am thirty when she whispers one word; please. I am thirty when I put my sword through her chest. I am thirty, and happy when I embrace my friend one last time, our pooling at our feet. Together at last.