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Paul of the Ax (Three)

Three: Farewell, Mother  

It was dusk by the time I neared the clearing around the cabin. I approached cautiously, listening for any sounds, wanting to stash my gold – if that’s what it was – in a safe place before I got too close. There was no telling what my step-father would do once he saw me, and I didn’t want him to get his hands on my prize. Seeing and hearing no one, in the dim light, I chose a tree that I could later confirm the location of, and I located a hollowed-out space under the gnarled root. There I stashed my find, covering it over with soil, but not leaves, as their crackling would cause too much noise.

There was dim light emitted from the cabin. As I approached, it suddenly occurred to me that my step-father – though I am loath to call him any kind of ‘father’ – would be angry for more than time of lost work. I had very nearly cloven his skull. Therefore, I approached cautiously, listening for sound inside the cabin, for my – no – from now on I’ll just call him ‘Nyles’ – for Nyles would often rant and rave loudly in drunken bad-temperedness. But all was silent.

I approached the door carefully and knocked lightly, hoping that if the man was asleep, that my light knock might alert my mother to my presence, but not awake the fiend. Open the door my mother did! Her name had been Sally Dryden – now Sally Harwood.

“Paul!” she exclaimed, emerging from the doorway and warmth of the interior to grasp my arms and then embrace me, looking up at me. She was a short and frail woman, with wide glassy eyes and long brown hair that she attempted to keep combed although it flowed and frizzed as she moved. She had once been happy, when my father was alive, but now her face was a constant mask of stress and concern – because of him.

“Paul, thank Shen you’re all right!” She looked up at me. I was not much like my mother in appearance or character, although perhaps in the aspect of perseverance. Why she persevered for that man, Nyles, I would never know. They were both short and intense looking, both having wide, shining eyes, although his eyes were also reddened from drink. Those two had a similarity in appearance although they were by no account related, and perhaps that is what drew them to each other – for people are often drawn to one another because of similar appearances, although often subconsciously. Another fact, or theory, I had picked up from my constant reading.

“Yes, mother, fine,” I replied, putting my hands on her arms as well, and looking down at her sternly, for I had to be my mother’s strength, although it always rankled in my heart that I could not be her protector – against the pickle-brained but skilled fighter who maltreated her. Some things you could learn from books, but fighting was not one of them. That, I would have to learn person-to-person, man-to-man, and Nyles would certainly not teach me.

As I looked at my mother, I was tense, listening for sounds of the man stirring inside the cabin. But no sound came.

“Where is he?” I asked, looking down sternly at her but speaking gently.

“Oh, Paul!” she replied. “He’s taken the Mule to the stage stop south, with a chord of wood, and means to bring back some men to help – handle you!”

I raised my head, thinking.

“You’ve got to go, son! I’ve prepared you a cloak and a scrip satchel for the road with food, flint, steel, and a skin of water!” After looking up at me for another moment, she turned back into the cabin and I followed.

The flames of the fire in the hearth were low, but mother had also lighted a taper on the table in the main room, which cast a gentle, flickering light. The door to the bedroom in the back third of the cabin was ajar, but no light or sound came from therein. My mother came back to me quickly, a cloak in one hand and the strap of a scrip satchel in the other. I took the cloak while she slipped the strap of the scrip over my neck and under my arm, so that the strap was across my body diagonally.

“There’s yet another thing I would have you take with you, son. Wait here a moment!” She made her way outside for just a couple of fen before returning with an oil-skin wrapped object, not much longer than a man’s forearm.

“Your father’s hatchet!” mother said, unwrapping the bundle to reveal the aged but quality tool. It had a leather strap hanging from it, similar to that of the scrip, which I could hang from my shoulder diagonally across strap of the scrip. “Your father said it was forged of the best iron from the distant mountains of Black Iron in the northwest. It needs sharpening much les often than common axes…”

I hefted the weapon, finding the balance to be the best I had ever felt, and swung the tool, and potential weapon, through the air. Then I slipped the strap over my head, and slid the handle of the small ax through the loop at the bottom edge. Thus, the hatchet hung on my right hip and could be quickly drawn, while my scrip satchel was on my left side.

“Thank-you, mother!”

“I’ve kept it hidden since your father’s passing,” she said. “When preparing the things for you just now, I thought to give you his long hunting knife, but Nyles has been using it, and he would miss it in an instant! Then he would no doubt spread word about you, alleging you to be an even greater danger than he’s already claiming you are!

“It’s terrible, son, but you must leave! I would desire nothing more than to fix you the bread and gravy that you are keen on, before you go, regardless of Nyles, but there’s no time, you’ve got to go!” She looked up at me imploringly.

“Go north, son, away from here and away from that man!” That man she loved, regardless of his harsh treatment of both of us. Love was a strange thing, that for all my reading I could not understand. One great book, called the Book of the Old Covenant, had stated it aptly –

‘There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.’

I loved my mother deeply and she me but of course it was not that kind of love. Love between mother and child had to be the purest, most selfless kind of love, unless of course, Ye-he-hua Shen was real and loved people as a mother loved children. As parents loved. Certainly my father had loved me, and I hoped he still did, wherever he – his spirit – now was.

“I know, mother, I know,” I said, looking down at her. Then I ground my teeth. “I’ll come back, mother, and I’ll protect you, and take you away from this!” my eyes blazed with adamant resolve.

We embraced long, although while embracing my mother, I could not help listening intently to the sounds or lack of them in the night. Lest he come upon us suddenly.

“I know, son! But now you have to go!” she said, pulling away from me, but still gripping my arms and looking up at me with urgency. “Go! And Shang-di be with you! You can find work along the way. A hard worker like my ‘Paul of the Ax’ will never lack work or bread!”

I embraced her once more and as tears came I turned away, not even daring to wipe my face, not wanting to show my feeling. As I turned away and headed towards the high road, I heard her suppressing sobs as well, and my heart ached and the adrenalin of wrath against injustice pulsed in my veins.

I agreed with my mother about getting away, but not about going north. I had to head south, not only because what I most needed was that direction, but because Nyles would not expect it. Still, with my mother watching, I made as if I was going north, planning to circle back, get my stash of – yellow metal – and my silver hidden nearby, then head south carefully. That would be better for her safety, and mine. For though she was full of love for me, she was weak towards her man, and would eventually tell him where she thought I had gone. Such was – that kind of love.

Within half-a taper I had done as I had intended, and was on my way along the Bei-nan road, heading south in the darkness. Thankfully, there was a half-moon out as well as stars, and my soft, woodsman’s boots made no sound as I made my way south. I had rigged my scrip and other gear for silent moving as well. Seeing that Nyles had taken the cart-and-mule, and was supposedly to be returning north soon with other men, I would doubtless hear him – them – before they heard me. All the same, I proceeded with caution. Although I doubted Nyles was of a stealthy mindset just now, regardless of being a former soldier, I knew there might be other people – or things – on or near the road.

Continued here:  https://simily.co/all-stories/cvpetrere/paul-of-the-ax-four/ 

End Chapter Three, Copyright (c) 2021 by Conan V. Petrere

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