One Year Ago
Everin hurried down the dirt path that led to Greenshadow Village. He’d spent too long gathering mushrooms from the surrounding countryside. Now, the sun was quickly falling, and his parents would be furious if he were outside the village after nightfall. Everin’s sandals padded anxiously down the path, crunching the earth underfoot. He was making good time, once he was over this final hill, the village would be in sight.
Suddenly, a voice called out from a somewhere off the path.
Everin stopped and turned to see two men approaching. They both wore dark blue cloaks and stood a few inches taller than him. The shorter man had a thick beard. Everin didn’t recognize either of their faces, and he knew every inhabitant of Greenshadow Village. These men were strangers. Everin stayed where he was and let them approach.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
The taller man spoke up. “Why yes, you can. We’re two fur traders looking for a place to stay. We’d heard there was a village nearby.”
“You mean Greenshadow Village?” Everin said.
The man nodded. “That’s the one. Can you take us there?”
Everin paused, thinking. Finally, he said, “I’m sorry. I’m not supposed to bring strangers into the village after sundown.”
The bearded man stepped forward. “Please, kid. We don’t have anywhere else to stay.”
“I don’t think…” Everin began, but he was cut off by the taller man.
“You’ve got a family? Why don’t you take us to your parents? They’ll know who we can talk to in order to get some food and lodging.”
When Everin still looked doubtful, he added, “don’t worry, we can pay.”
He reached into his bag and fished out a pair of silver coins.
“They’re all yours if you can help us find a place to sleep tonight.”
Everin eyed the currency. His family wasn’t wealthy. While two silver coins weren’t much, it seemed foolish to pass up even a moderate sum of money over some dumb rules. “Fine, I’ll take you to my parents, and they’ll know what to do,” he said.
“Excellent!” The tall man grinned and dropped the coins into Everin’s hands. He pocketed the money and proceeded to guide the two merchants over the small hill and into Greenshadow village.
The sun had nearly set by the time the trio arrived in front of Everin’s home. It was a modest structure with walls of wood planks and a thatched roof. Everin pushed open the door and led the two men inside. The candles that lit the main room quivered as the door shut behind them and pushed a gust of wind into the chamber.
“Mom! Dad! I’m home!” Everin called out.
“About time. You’re cutting it awfully close to nightfall,” his father’s voice called from the kitchen. Grey Thornwood’s lanky frame emerged a moment later. “And I see you’ve brought some guests,” he added, eying the two fur traders.
The taller man stepped forwards, extending his arm to shake Everin’s father’s hand. “Hi, you must be the lad’s father. The name’s McCarthy, McCarthy Loxborne. This is my partner, Murrow. We’re passing through the area and are in search of a place to stay.”
Hesitantly, Everin’s father shook the man’s hand. “I certainly sympathize with your predicament; however, we’ve had problems recently with bandits in the area. I can take you to the innkeeper, but he’ll want to confiscate any knives or other weapons you have for as long as you’re in our village.”
Everin waited for a response, but the man, McCarthy, gave none. Instead, there was a flash of movement so fast that he didn’t realize what was happening until McCarthy had a knife pressed into his father’s throat.
“That’s alright. I think we’ll be keeping these on us,” he grinned.
Everin’s father froze.
“Everin! Run!” His father’s words were cut short as the man pressed the blade even harder into his neck. A few droplets of red began to form underneath the sleek metal.
“Don’t move,” McCarthy snapped at Everin. “You need to see this.”
The man nodded to his partner. Murrow, the short, bearded man slunk off into the kitchen.
Everin was frozen where he stood. His heart pounded furiously, and panic coursed through his system. Finally, he managed to stammer, “Who are you? What do you want?”
McCarthy grinned. “I want you to find out what happens when kids like you decide not to follow the rules.”
Everin’s looked into his father’s eyes and saw that the man was pleading with him to run, but Everin stood rooted in place.
“What are you going to do?” Everin choked out the words, pleading with the man.
McCarthy chuckled. “This.”
Before Everin’s father could react, the man swiped the blade across his neck. Blood gushed everywhere as Gray Thornwood crumpled to the floor. Everin screamed. He ran towards his father, but McCarthy turned the blade in his direction, and Everin backed away. His father clutched at his throat, but the blood couldn’t be stopped. He gasped for air unsuccessfully before quickly rolling over and becoming still.
Everin’s knees shook. He was panting hard despite not having run anywhere. His head felt like it what about to explode. This couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be happening. The scene before him began to blur, it all seemed surreal.
“Hey, listen up.” McCarthy’s voice cut through his shock.
“What’s your name, kid? Your full name?”
Everin gaped at the man, who jabbed the knife closer in his direction.
“I said what’s your name? Don’t make me ask again.” His voice was hard and urgent. The man that stood before him was completely different from the one who’d introduced himself outside the village.
“E-Everin Thornwood,” he finally managed to say.
Murrow emerged from the kitchen. He stood behind Everin’s mother and guided her forward, knife blade held against her neck. When she saw her husband lying facedown in a pool of blood, Everin’s mother screamed. A jostle and press of the blade against her throat by Murrow was enough to make her quiet down.
“What’s happening? What have you done?” she begged.
McCarthy didn’t answer her, instead he turned his attention back to Everin.
“So how about it? You want a chance to save your mother’s life?” he asked the boy.
“Everin! Don’t listen to him!” his mother shouted from across the room.
McCarthy pretended not to hear the woman. He reached into his belt and pulled out a second knife. It was about the same length as the knife that had just killed Everin’s father, except the blade was clean of any blood. It glinted in the candlelight. The metal was spotless. McCarthy was clearly a man who took meticulous care of his tools.
The man dropped the knife to the ground and kicked it towards Everin. The weapon slid smoothly across the wooden floor and came to a stop just in front of Everin’s feet. McCarthy bent his knees and raised his knife to point it towards the boy.
“Here’s your one opportunity. Murrow here is only hired muscle. If I die, he’ll take off. You can kill me right now and save both yourself and your mother. What do you say, Everin?”
“Everin, don’t do it! Run! Get out of here!” his mother sobbed from the back of the room.
Everin looked at his mother. The bearded man still held the blade of his knife against her neck. McCarthy stood between Everin and his mother, but there was nobody between him and the front door. Everin could have tried to make a run for it, but he knew that was out of the question. He didn’t take his eyes off the tall man as he carefully bent down and picked up the knife from the floor. His palms were slick with sweat, and his hand shook so much that he nearly dropped the blade as he raised it towards the murderer.
McCarthy’s grin widened. “I knew you’d make the right choice. Now, fight me!”
Everin had never trained for combat before. From the low, balanced stance that McCarthy had taken, Everin could tell that this wasn’t the man’s first fight. The boy took a few deep breaths as he looked his opponent up and down. Every lungful of air was ragged and fearful. Everin’s heart felt like it was about to hammer through his ribs.
“Come on! Save your mother and kill me already!” the man egged on.
With that, Everin took a bounding stride towards the man, closing the distance between them. With a yell, he swiped at McCarthy with the knife. The tall man easily stepped out of the way of the blade and lazily swung his weapon at Everin’s head. The boy saw the knife coming at the last second and jumped backwards to avoid the attack. He lost his balance and stumbled, falling and landing on his backside. Everin dropped the knife in order to cushion his landing with both hands.
McCarthy gave a wicked laugh but didn’t make a move to strike him while he was on the ground. Everin scrambled to pick up his knife and climb to his feet. He charged at the man a second time. He grunted as he blindly swung his blade back and forth trying to land a hit on the man who’d killed his father. Fear, rage, and desperation added their combined weight to the attacks, but none of the blows found their target. McCarthy swiftly dodged the swipes of Everin’s blade or would use his forearm to block Everin’s arm as he tried to slash his knife towards him.
After several seconds of avoiding Everin’s strikes, McCarthy deftly took a step towards to boy. Everin was off balance after one of his swings had met nothing but air. The man rammed his shoulder into Everin’s chest, knocking the boy backwards. Everin stumbled for several steps but managed to stay on his feet.
“Alright, that was boring. Let’s get this over with.” McCarthy declared.
Everin felt an awful sinking feeling in his stomach. The man had been playing with him this whole time. He’d never had a chance. Everin took one last glance at the door behind him and to his mother. There were tears in her eyes, but the message etched on her face was clear.
Leave me. Run.
Everin shook his head. He turned back towards McCarthy and raised his blade. Everin pushed his long, dark hair away from his eyes. Desperation gave him courage that he didn’t know he possessed as he charged at the man one more time. He stabbed with the knife towards the man’s chest, but McCarthy was too fast. He stepped around the point, and in one smooth motion, flicked his blade across Everin’s forearm.
White-hot pain raced up Everin’s arm. He cried out and dropped the knife, which McCarthy then kicked across the room, far out of reach.
“Everin! No!” His mother cried out.
Everin groaned and clutched his arm to his chest. He backed away from McCarthy, but the man didn’t make a move towards him.
“You’ve failed, Everin Thornwood. Murrow, you know what to do.” McCarthy issued the command in an emotionless monotone.
Before Everin could react, Murrow ripped his knife across Everin’s mother’s throat. She choked out a quiet cry before collapsing to the floor.
“No!” Everin’s voice cracked as he screamed.
Both men turned to face the boy. Tears ran down his cheeks and began to blur his vision. His entire body shook. He kept waiting to wake up from the nightmare that he must have fallen into but release never came.
“What do you want?” he sobbed.
Murrow turned to his partner. “That cut you gave him isn’t lethal. Want me to finish him off?”
McCarthy shook his head. “No. Let him live.”
Murrow shook his head in wonder. “If it were me, I wouldn’t want to be alive after tonight.”
McCarthy grinned. “Exactly. Now, hurry up and grab the valuables so we can get out of here.”
The short man disappeared into a room. McCarthy turned his attention back to Everin. The boy had moved to where his mother lay and sunken to his knees.
“Mom? Mom…please. Open your eyes,” he whispered in shaking breaths.
“It’s no use. She’s already dead.” McCarthy’s voice rang matter-of-factly through the room.
“Then why don’t you kill me too?” Everin turned and shouted at him.
The man laughed. “Can’t do that. My work here is done.”
“What are you talking about?” cried Everin through choked breaths.
Before McCarthy could answer, Murrow reappeared with a large sack slung over his shoulder.
“There wasn’t much here, but I grabbed a bit of silver and some household items.”
McCarthy nodded. “That’s about what I expected. Hang onto the silver. That’s your bonus for helping me with the job.”
He turned to look down on the boy. Blood was smeared over Everin’s hands and forearms. Some was his. Most of it was his mother’s. There were tears in his eyes but a numbness in his face, as if the boy hadn’t processed what had just happened.
“Go outside,” he told Everin.
When the boy stared blankly at him, still in shock, the man grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him across the floor towards the front door. Everin didn’t fight, there was no point anymore. Something had broken within him.
McCarthy heaved Everin onto the grass that lay in front of the home. He disappeared back inside for a few moments and then re-emerged.
McCarthy gave the boy lying on the grass one last look and said, “Remember, Everin, this is all your fault.”
Then, the two men took off at a run. Everin started to push himself up to a standing position to chase after them when the whiff of smoke touched his nostrils. He turned and saw flames beginning to rise through the windows of his home.
By the time the residents of Greenshadow Village had finished putting out the fire, hardly any part of the house remained. From what they gathered from the blood-spattered boy, his family had been attacked by wandering bandits. When the boy insisted that the men weren’t ordinary bandits, the villagers shook their heads.
“What else could it have been?” they asked.
The boy had been through a lot, they figured. He’d come to his senses soon enough. In the meantime, the village now had an orphan on their hands. After a long discussion, the widowed farmer, Margoline, volunteered to take care of him for the next three years until his seventeenth birthday, when he’d come of age.
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-3-cora/