Min Lee pulled the bowstring back to full draw, concentrating on his target, a blackened X scrawled on a dead oak tree some fifty yards from the door of his hovel. He had worked on the bow for months, learning patience in his first two failed attempts. Lacking the tools of Master Ong’s workshop, with only his knife to work with, this bow was long in coming.
Since leaving Shan Shiaw in disgrace at midwinter Min Lee had lost considerable weight. While he found periodic work based on his purple sash, the symbol of an Adept, it was never enough to buy more than bare essentials. The coppers he earned for blessing homes, finding lost objects, or tending to sick children came few and far between. He was an unknown entity, unproven, therefore unable to command much in remuneration. He dare not stay in one area long enough to build a reputation. He decided hunting might serve him better than his skills as an Adept.
He closed his eyes and called up the image of the charcoal X in his mind’s eye. He let the world around him flow in, let his ears hear, his nose smell all that surrounded him. The dead oak tree seemed to call his name. He let the arrow fly.
His eyes sprang open before the arrow struck. He heard something, a horse, not far off.
The arrow landed true, dead center in the blackened X.
He ignored the twang of the vibrating shaft, concentrating on the sound of the approaching horse. A road ran nearby, just over the hill behind his home.
Had they found him?
He rushed into his hovel, emerged with a rough hide blanket. He tossed it over the entrance then hurriedly scattered leaves and bracken over it. His home was carved into the very hillside – concealing the entrance concealed his home.
He glanced at the oak tree. The arrow and foolish black X stood out like beacons for any passersby. He went to the tree. The steady clop of the horse’s hooves changed to a gallop, then stomping. It began to neigh frantically. He heard someone cry out.
He paused, hand on arrow, listening. There were thrashing sounds, screams from the horse. Min Lee dashed up the hill.
On the road below he saw a bear mauling a prostrate horse. A man on the ground was trapped under his mount, struggling to protect himself from the blows of the bear. Min Lee ran forward, waving his arms and shouting.
“Oy! Oy! Look at me!”
The bear swiped at the man, landing a heavy blow on his arm.
“Oy!” Min Lee stooped, picked up a stone, and threw it at the bear. That got her attention. The bear reared up, then dropped down to all fours and charged toward him.
Min Lee stood his ground, looking directly at the bear as it charged. He cleared his mind, concentrating on bear, on cub, on honey, on home. The bear paused, then reared again. On cub. On home. The bear shook her head. Cub. Home. The bear dropped down, shook her head, then shambled off into the woods.
Min Lee rushed to the horse and man trapped under it. The horse was broken, bleeding, rocking and kicking in agony. Its movements ground down on the man, threatening to kill him. Min Lee laid his hand on the horse’s head. “Sleep, friend.” He slowed the heart of the beast, calming it, stroked it with his free hand. The man beneath the animal passed out from the pain. “Sleep.” The animal’s heart slowed further, then stopped. When he was sure the horse was dead he turned his attention to the man.
It took three days for Min Lee to drag the one-man litter to the outskirts of Noat Dol, the closest village. While his broken bones were set properly, or at least to the best of Min Lee’s abilities, the man was growing feverish. The gashes inflicted by the bear were festering. He needed the attention of a proper healer.
On the rise of a hill Min Lee stopped dead in his tracks. Noat Dol lie before him, a small but bustling village. A market was underway. The colors of the Emperor flew above the town hall . The traveling Prefect was in town.
Min Lee saw some farmers working the fields to his right. He called for them.
“I can go no further,” he told his charge. The field workers set their tools aside and began toward them. “These men will take you the rest of the way.”
“Thank you, my friend. You saved my life.” He pressed a bag of coins into Min Lee’s hands.
Min Lee opened the bag and withdrew three silver coins, then handed the bag back.
“I want you to have it,” the man protested.
Min Lee shook his head. “Use it to pay the healer who actually saves your life, saves your arm, your leg. I simply staunched the bleeding.”
The man nodded his head.
As the farmers approached Min Lee stood and prepared to leave.
“I don’t even know your name,” the man said.
“Wen Ho,” Min Lee lied.
The farmers came up and looked at the two of them as if awaiting instruction. “This man was attacked by a bear. Take him into town, to your healer.” The two men looked back toward their field. Min Lee pressed a piece of silver into the hands of each man. The farmers agreed. One moved forward, the other to the rear, and stooped to lift the litter.
“So tell me, Wen Ho, why didn’t you simply shoot the bear?” the man asked as the farmers hoisted him up and adjusted to his weight.
Min Lee looked off toward the horizon, toward the home he would not be returning to. “She had a cub.”
With that Min Lee walked away.
© 2010 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.