Across the clearing, I could see him coming. A large man, with thick, twisted, sinewy muscles, brandishing a busied and bloodied sword and covered in hard, dark armor. His eyes were black as coal, his hair sweaty and matted with dirt and war. It was clear that one thing was on his mind. My demise.
It’s strange the strength you muster in those moments. Fear gives way to the inevitable reality that you will fight this battle whether you want to or not, and that you either must rise to the challenge or face death. I saw him approaching from a distance, and knowing he was on his way to me, made the preparations I would need to address my foe. I decided that to simply wait would be weakening to my own heart, so I began to move forward as he advanced across the field.
We stopped about 10 yards from one another, walking to and fro in the dimming daylight, sizing one another up. He made no sound, I returned the favor. I had chosen my broadsword to clash with his axesword, and resolved that in this moment he would only see my grim determination to silence his steel. He started this confrontation; I did not. He would have to make the first approach in this unwelcome battle.
In slight steps he came toward me, back and forth, and then, took his first lunge. While I doubted I could slay this brute, I was resolved that I would utterly exhaust him and spend his strength. Our swords slammed full and strong together, and their brittle clanging rang out across the clearing. I could sense my wife and children looking on from hidden places, hoping and praying that I would pull through, and knowing that their own lives may depend on it.
I spent all of my might in that first meeting of blades, hoping that my stamina may in the end prove stronger than his own. We finished our clash with nothing more than sweat profusely pouring from our bodies and a sense of ominious partnership – we had both seemed to have met our match.
Prowling in sure steps like two big cats eyeing one another, we both caught our breath. He would, again, have to make the next move. Steps toward me, then away, only heightened the drama of our awaiting deathstruggle. Then, with a bloodcurdling scream and a wild lunge, the beast roared toward me in full fury. I instinctively met this advance with a gutteral yell of my own, somewhere from deep inside, sounding a tone that seemed utterly human, yet otherworldly, even to me.
We slammed swords again, only this time he caught the shoulder of my arm with his blade on a backswing, and weakened my shield bearing limb for the moment. I then spun with a carrion thrust and caught the front face of his thigh as he sought to pull away. With every stroke, we wore each other down again, only surface wounding flesh, but utterly entangling our souls in a bloodier contest of spirit.
Never did our eyes stray from one another; never did our gaze move to the surrounding scene. Many times I parodied the dance of my attacker with voiced proddings such as “C’mon, do it; let’s get this over with.” Most of the time, he did not respond to my taunts, but seemed to wait for his own moment of chosen attack.
After a few moments of what seemed to be vibrant, considered activity behind his eyes, he moved toward me in a slowed, tired jolt as if to strike, but instead pulled back in reconsideration. I could not let on that I had little strength left, and one more bout like the previous ones would surely sink my strength into the ground.
Slowly, his mind seemed to come to a resolve that softened his black, bloodshot eyes. No longer did I see the hellish hatred I had seen there before, but rather, a defeated antagonist. Slowly, he backed away, and I stood still on my ground. I had no desire to taunt him into another match by gesturing toward him. I allowed him to leave, slowly as he did, and stood alone in the clearing by early morning’s light.
Now, I write this as I rest, and allow my dispirited body to recover from its physically and emotionally expensive fray with this shadowed stranger.
Such was my battle with the stomach flu last night.