Ogg could not remember anyone crying who wasn’t getting a strapping. And that was a long time ago. The crying, not the strapping. He remembered Queedle crying when Daddy was whooping him and Daddy saying, “If you don’t shut that up, I’ll give you another smack.” That was the last time there was crying. Till now.
“Are you hurt?” This was all he could think that might be the reason for the crying. Children cried when they were hurt. After you were grown you didn’t cry. You might feel like it, but you didn’t or you would get a smack.
She shook her head “no.”
“Then you better stop that crying.” This was bothering him and he didn’t know why.
“Okay.” She wiped her tears on her shoulders. Her face was red now and her eyes were sad.
“Stay right there.” Ogg pointed with the axe. “This is your part, and the rest is mine.” He made a line in the sand with his foot. “You can’t cross this line.” His voice was stern. He watched her face for crying, but there was no more.
Ogg’s stomach was now churning. He decided what must be bothering him was the worry about her taking his chicken in the night when he slept. Then he had an idea. He stopped himself and considered his plan. Often his plans were not helpful. Daddy or his brothers would snort or laugh when he would propose some plan or the other for working or hunting, but sometimes they just nodded their agreement. Was this a good idea? He had no Daddy or Queedle or Bosco to sound it out on. The woman was not one he could ask. Not about this plan.
He turned away from her and went back to his fire. He took the string that secured the bundle and tied it to his wrist. He turned back to the woman. He held up his arm, the chicken in the bundle hanging and dripping, the string now tied to his arm. He stood there until he was sure she was looking at him. He caught her eye and cocked his head, so she would know that his plan was in place and that she could not bother his chicken while he slept. Not without him knowing it.
She nodded back at him. Her eyes were still sad, but the nod meant that his plan was a good one and she knew it. He settled down by the fire. The axe and the chicken were making it difficult to get comfortable, but he felt good about his plan. The thought of chicken in the morning made him happy. He put the sad eyes of the woman out of his thinking and focused on the chicken as he drifted off to sleep.
. . .
It was past daybreak. He heard the noise at the edge of wakefulness. Down the creek. Something, someone working up the creek towards his camp. He sat up, focusing on the sound. Not an animal. More than one. His chest was pounding. He tried to calm himself. Was someone after him? He couldn’t think who would want to bother him. The farmer. After him for stealing the chickens. He stood and listened. He could hear three separate areas where the brush was giving way to someone pushing up the creek. Not trying to be quiet. Not hunting, just walking. Like he had done when he found the creek and walked up to what was now his camp.
He remembered the woman. Glancing over he saw her curled on the sand still asleep on her side of the line. He hefted the chicken, still tied to his wrist. It was safe and his plan had worked.
Should he stay? Maybe it was Box and Spar, come back to look for him. After a moment’s thought he decided “no”. He could call out their names to be sure, but it did not feel right to shout out a name and break the quiet of the morning.
He concluded that these were more travelers, like the woman. Maybe hungry and wanting to share his morning meal, like she would be when she got awake. It would be best if he just headed on down the road. But the way down the creek to the road was blocked.
He turned upstream, walking carefully so as not to wake the woman. He stepped past her and into the brush where she had come from. Unlike those coming up the creek, Ogg was quiet. He was a big fellow, but he knew how to be quiet like Daddy had taught him. He stepped through the brush, following a sort of path, avoiding sticks on the ground or limbs that would snap back as he passed. Once he had gotten a ways into the brush he stopped to listen. Voices now.
“Why, there she is.”
“Well, well, sleeping like a princess.”
Splashing, Voices. Sounds, not words. A woman’s voice. Not words. Now sounds of a struggle. Someone falling in the creek.
“Damn.” The angry voice of a man. A laugh from a different man. A shout of anger. Splashing. Someone into the brush, then the sound of someone falling heavily.
“Get her.” The angry man.
A crashing through the brush, headed his way and moving fast. Who was it? He decided not to wait and see. Ogg turned to run. As he turned, the chicken on the string caught a sapling and looped around it, tying Ogg securely to the small tree. He tried to unloop the chicken, winding it back the way it had come. Then the crashing was on him and with an impact as solid as Daddy’s backhand the woman ploughed into him. He was rocked back as she bounced off of him and she fell into a patch of sticker vines at the side of the path. She clawed crazily to regain her feet, sticker vines catching at her clothes.
More crashing through the brush from down the creek. Then a man appeared, pushing branches aside, hurrying along the path. He was able to stop without smashing into Ogg.
Ogg knew this guy. The chairless man! He might have recognized him anyway, but the blue and black bruise on his face and cut on his forehead cleared up any doubt. He stopped and looked at Ogg.
Ogg wasn’t sure how to answer. Was he coming after Ogg for what he had done there in the yard at Keeper Flak’s? But after just a small hesitation the man turned his gaze to the woman and dove into the sticker vines.
“Oww, oof.” She scrambled to get out of his grasp but the vines seemed to want to hold her as much as the chairless man did. Ogg tugged at the tree holding him and his chicken. He just wanted to get away from the battle going on in the sticker patch.
Then another man appeared from downstream. A wet man, moving slowly. He stopped to survey the scene. The woman was not fighting very hard any more and the chairless man had her pinned in the vines.
“You!” the wet man said. Same thing the chairless man had said. Ogg figured he must have been one of the chairless man’s friends from before. The wet man then pulled a knife out of his belt and lunged toward Ogg.
“Whoa.” Ogg was surprised by the attack. He sidestepped, pushing at the knife with the hand that was shackled to the tree by the chicken. The tree bent easily and slapped the man in the face. Ogg stumbled back, now with the tree between him and the knife, but Ogg was now wrapped even tighter to the tree. The wet man lunged with the knife again, through the branches toward Ogg’s chest. Ogg turned away, stepping backwards and tying himself even tighter to the tree. He had coiled himself now around the sapling and the wet man was gathering himself for another lunge.
Ogg uncoiled from the tree and the axe became a counterweight as he spun and the blade of the axe sunk into the thigh of the wet man. He screamed. He dropped the knife and stepped backwards grabbing his leg where the axe blade was still imbedded. Ogg pulled at the axe, but it was now hung up in the man’s leg. The bit had cut deep. The wet man screamed again and fell. The axe blade pulled free. Ogg swung the axe again, this time at the base of the sapling. The tree separated from the earth and hung at his side, with the chicken. The chairless man had by now extracted himself from the vines and made a rush at Ogg, head down arms extended, just like before. Ogg swung the axe at the man’s head just as he had done that time in the yard at Keeper Flak’s. But this time the blade hit the chairless man, not the handle. It caught him where his head and the neck and the shoulder joined, biting deep into the muscle there. The chairless man’s rush ended as it had before and he fell heavily face first at Ogg’s feet. There was a lot more blood this time. And no moaning. Not from the chairless man anyway. The wet man was making a hell of a lot of noise though. Ogg turned the axe blade to the string at his wrist and cut himself loose from the tree and the chicken.
The wet man was bleeding a lot and was holding the cut on his leg, trying unsuccessfully to keep the blood from coming out so fast. He was making less noise now though.
The woman had managed to gain her feet and was pulling free of the vines. Ogg bent down and, holding the axe handle near the blade, cut the chicken free of the tree. The woman looked at Ogg and at the two men. One dead, the other dying.
“Come on.” she said to Ogg and started up the creek.
Ogg hesitated, looking at the wet man.
“Help me, I’m hurt bad.” he said, looking at Ogg, then at the woman.
Then another voice from down stream called out, “What’s going on? Got her?”
“Come on.” The woman’s voice was insistent. She made a motion with her arm to Ogg and turned her back on him and the wet man and the third man, whoever he was and started off up the creek.
Ogg followed shaking his head. Daddy was right. All he did was hurt people.