“Tell you what,” his new voice announced, “Why don’t we just settle this nice and easy? Just you and me.”
He was offering me the chance to fight to the death, knowing all along that he would win. Superior strength would always win; that’s what he thought. He lumbered himself up to his full height and dropped Rebecca’s head carelessly to the ground. He was too full of his own self-confidence to believe that he needed the protection of the girl. First me and then her; at his leisure.
I watched his heavily muscled body move towards me. He made a point of moving from foot to foot showing just how nimble he could be. He crouched and shimmied, his knife hand making short yet elaborate movements in the air. Everything he did was for show. He was making a drama out of this and playing on the belief that I would be too frightened to take a full part in it.
“If you’re lucky, I’ll make this quick,” he said.
“If you’re lucky, I’ll only let you experience your death just the once,” I replied.
He looked at me quizzically as if he was seeing something that was not really there. His mouth opened as if to answer before his body took over. Red rage suffused his face and, snorting, he ran at me with his knife out before him, but no longer dancing through the air so dramatically.
He never expected my response, never envisioned my evasive movements nor saw the way that he was destined to die.
This is how the big ones go.
There were things out there in the margins that had made that leap from prey to predator. They were usually the dogs who hunted in packs. As a rule of thumb, and a way of not getting it bitten off, such creatures were to be avoided. Other ones preferred to hunt alone. I had seen huge brown bears, dark shapes that moved along the forests edges, bringing down deer. Their sheer force of savagery bringing about a wide-eyed surrender even before the attack was anything like as confirmed. Smaller animals recognised the danger, understood their desperate position, but did not move; they merely stood in acceptance of the events which were to follow. And the bear knew this. That was part of his plan; fear as a weapon.
But the bear had not reckoned on the stag. He was big too, but a stag against a bear? Nobody told the stag. He just raced on and into the flanks of the great beast. I watched as his menacing antlers sliced into the shocked creature and saw that look, the look that comes with sudden uncertainty, the one that washes away all previous assurance and exposes the rawness of not knowing.
The stag backed up quickly and ran again, the sound of its impact thudding across the landscape. And the bear was beaten. It’s undisputed magnificence and threat completely usurped. That was when it backed away, growling into the darkness from where it came.
I didn’t know if that was something that had actually taken place or a dream I had enjoyed. Whatever it was, its mark stayed upon me and told me what I should do next.
The beast that had attacked my little friend lumbered towards me with all the darkness of my dreams and I could have feared it. Instead, I attacked.
My assault was low and fast, running and rolling beneath the sweeping arcs of the hunter’s knife. I had been in situations like this before and knew how effective I could be. Rolling past the leg of my attacker, I struck out and sliced the hamstring with power and precision.
A grunt and a scream told me all that I wished to know about the effectiveness of my assault. Nevertheless, I turned to finish the job. My blade thrust deep into the hunter’s neck, a spurt of living blood giving way to death.
“Rachael, are you alright?”
She was weeping silently, her eyes transfixed on the twitching body before her.
“Did he hurt you?” I asked. “Did he hurt you?”
Her reply was a scream. It was the sound of desolation. The inarticulate expulsion of rage and despair. The response of a small girl to the inconceivable.