I rinse the blade in the stream. Blood clouds the water.
I always return to the stream. When His man pitched me over the bridge, so long ago, these rocks broke my fall, broke my body. I still dream of that flight from bridge to stone.
As the sunlight fades I walk the mile to the woodcutter’s shed. I must sleep before mother comes. She told me He will be feasting in Dormsmort this evening. She said she knows a way in where the guards will not see me. He escaped again last night. Somehow.
Even before I see the shed I can hear the woodcutter hunting for the axe. It is no longer his, if it really ever was. As I walk up, the last of the purple light fades from the sky.
I shout to him: “As I tell you every night: I have your axe. I will cut the wood. Rest.”
He still smells of rot. He sees the axe, grunts, and sits down next to the shed. He leans against the wall and closes his eyes. The blood washed away a long time ago.
I go inside. I return things to their shelves, right the table and cot. When I hear the woodcutter’s snoring I lift up the loose board in the floor and put the axe beneath. I replace the board.
I sleep. I dream of the axe. I dream of that first night in the woods.
Rocks slip under my hands as I crawl from the stream. Bloody hair splits my vision. I head towards the sound of wood being chopped. My neck aches from keeping my face off the ground. The smell of rotting leaves fills my nose. It takes hours to get to the shed.
His hearing must have been poor, yet he hears me crawling in the brush. He splits a final log and walks over. He looks me over, grunts, and gently picks me up.
I awake sometime later on the cot. In my arms is the axe. There is blood and some sort of gray flesh on the blade. Hair is caught where the head meets the handle. I feel whole. I feel strong.
It is daytime. When I step outside the sky is steel gray. I walk around the shed. The woodcutter sits on the ground, leaning against the shed, a huge V splitting his skull.
I do not scream. I return to the shed, find some salted fish, and eat. I sleep again.
I awake to my mother calling me from outside. I get up and step outside. My mother is nothing but a moonlit outline some ways ahead. The rest is shadow. A breeze carries a sickly-sweet scent past me, a scent I will later come to associate with lust and rage and sheets when older, but now is new to me.
I begin to walk towards her but she tells me to stop. She says I must avenge her. She says He dishonored her.
Something twists in my gut. Something draws me back to the shed. I feel my name being sung by a nameless tool left in that shed.
I wake. The moonlight streams through the doorway again. My mother’s scent comes to me on a cool breeze from the doorway.
I feel the axe. It wants to be in my hand. It wants to cleave arms from their sockets, cave in skulls, and quarter bowels. My heart begins to pound. I remove the floor board. I take the axe follow my mother. Mother is always ahead of me, whether I walk or run.
Hours later we reach Dormsmort It looks much like the other forts we have visited over the years. She leads me to an overturned cart some yards from the fort. She retreats as I approach, but continues to point at it. I quietly crawl under the cart, finding stairs going into the ground.
I follow the steps with axe in hand, blindly making my way down a long hallway. As I walk, the sounds of feasting get louder. Music plays, dogs bark, cups shatter.
Ahead, a line of light slowly comes into focus, revealing itself to be a slit between two small doors. I move to the slit and peer out. I am in a kitchen. Heat hits my eye and I blink, tearing up.
A voice shouts for a toast, tables are pounded, and legs rush past the slit. I wait, slowly open the doors, and enter the kitchen. Something falls to the ground behind me. I turn to find a young man with His face about to scream. I hurl the axe, His face splits in two.
I walk back, pull it out, and see I was mistaken. He did not have His face. No matter. He is here somewhere. Mother is certain this time.
I carry the boy deeper into the kitchen and take his uniform. After stuffing his body into a cupboard, I dump flour over the blood stains. I put on the boy’s uniform, smile, and head towards the hall. I look for His face and find it everywhere.
Somewhere, my mother is laughing.