FHoJ: Chapter 26 - Self Appointed Guardian

It would be a whole week  before the mists came again. During this time of waiting there was much  work and preparation done, both personal and for the cause, and Cole  surprised the bucks by the device he had built in hopes of entrapping  the beast. It was simple too: a rope snare held in a type of tension  around pegs beaten into the ground to encircle the baiting point; the  pegs serving just to keep it on mark and aiming upward, the true point  of action was a long pole made from a flexible sapling that was affixed  out of sight and pulled back over itself as tight as possible till the  release line was pulled, closing the rope around the legs of the beast  in a flash. The hope was to keep it tethered long enough to be  dispatched, and Cole was still armed with the bow as a secondary line.

Much happened over the  last seven days yet nothing of true importance. Market day rolled by,  and the Bucks came down off their hill to mingle, but nothing came of it  in regards to the charcoal being reclaimed. It was also the first time  in weeks that Cole had a chance to wander about in his normal routine at  a reasonable pace. And because of the extended time of entrapment and  nothing but waiting, he had worked a great deal of the sharp-stones that  Mr. Rwout always was eager for. Cole had also worked some other carving  projects and was in need of oils and wax for finishes, things Mr. Rwout  had or could get easily.

Unfortunately the  storyteller did not pay a visit this week, made obvious by children  running underfoot everywhere he went– Cole would have liked to listen to  someone sensible that did not use a profane word every possible  sentence.

Lately the thoughts of  leaving the forest were getting heavier upon his mind, more reasons  stacking up to finally push him off, and to keep from being idle Cole  spent much time pulling out the broken and loose posts from the garden  fence. No repairs were made however. Sure, he would greatly miss the  Farrens' and some of the other families he had worked with, but he  wrestled with a plan that he had yet to complete or let go. These  dealings with this monster were further incentive that he needed to go  as far as he could from this country. He would see this extermination  through, but then he was his own.

Something else was the  cries started up again. They were not every night but each night Cole  heard them they started to sound worse, lasting longer and sounding more  desperate. And as before he started to venture out to listen and see  where they may have been coming from, but thus far there seemed to be no  telling. Last night was the worst to his ears, and fueled the dreams  that haunted him.

Would tonight be the  night? The night where they finally end this hunt? There had been three  raids since Western's eye opening experience, though Batseye was spared,  so it was now a matter of time and patience. This time they had a  minimal amount of bait set in the form of a single hanging line  suspended from the back of one of the large storehouses. Cole was  positioned so to see and shoot from from safety, the Bucks were  stationed on the edges of the village to watch elsewhere.

It was four days from  the full moon so it was easier to see, Cole was having a good feeling  about this setup. His biggest concern was their scents would alarm the  monster of danger, especially since he noticed both Jane and Marin were  taking their horses into the hovering haze, patrolling its depths and  occasionally coming to check in on him.

"Why do you keep going out there?" Cole asked Jane.

"To make sure I can and to check surroundings," came the reply.

"Must I remind you, we want it to come out to us, not us after it."

"Yeah yeah... It sure is  taking its fucking time though. If you see it just hanging out there,  I'm going to run it out, so get that shot ready."

"If you are going to bother sneaking around in search, then we all might as well go in looking for it," Cole remarked.

"NO! You keep your ass  out of those mists!" Jane shot back. "Stay here, where we know to send  it, and where you won't get lost again!"

It was irritating.  Neither of them would talk about what lay beyond the mists, only that he  was better off not tempting fate, and they were not accepting that  their movements were keeping the monster away. It was not like Cole to  feel envy, but he could not help but feel a bit jaded by their actions  versus words, that they were not hiding the fact they had no fear of the  mists but denying him reason for why he should. He felt as if they just  continued to feed him the same stories as everyone else in this forest,  falling into the very same hypocrisy they complained often about!

Time went on. Night  creatures came and went from the mists as their noses told of a free  meal just out of reach. The men all grew tired and bored. Then with the  pink hue chasing away the stars above they called tonight a fail, each  gathered everything back up according to what they brought or moved, and  returned to their respective homes to sleep.

It was starting to feel  like a huge waste of time. Something Cole started to think he had little  of. Each evening was growing closer to the full moon, each time it saw  it in the sky he started to think more upon that dreadful dream. No. It  was just trick, something his mind made up. For as long as they were  staying in Batseye there was no reason to be anywhere near the lake or  its cliffs. He would have to race Gale on for some hours up twists and  turns before he got up into the cliffs – that or he himself climbed up  sheer cliff side.

This erratic sleep  schedule was not helping at all. Before this there was many nights he  naturally could not sleep no matter how tired he was, but to try and  prepare for all night watches was starting to eat away at him. Cole  slept a fair number of hours that Monday morning but the heat built up  to where it was suffocating inside, forcing him up into a grog that  would persist until he got a nap later that afternoon. And if there was  no signs of mists, like tonight, then trying to sleep at all was near  impossible, or so light that any sounds to be heard would shock him  awake. It was not always the damned cries either but animals doing their  normal prowl. He could not wait for this to be over.

* * * * *

It was very late in the  morning by the time Cole got to Batseye, around the time most people  were packing up to return home, so other than locating Mr. Rwout he was  hard pressed to trade for his weekly provisions. Although with how  overworked he felt from not actually working, he was growing very  tempted to get some cheese despite knowing he should not. Or maybe some  honey. Honey was much safer.

Cole felt someone come  alongside and nearly elbowed them as he flinched. It was Violet giving  him a hug. "Hi, Cole! Did... I startle ya?"

He was poised like a  crippled scarecrow at first, taking a moment or two before he released  his breath and stance. "Hello, Violet. Please be careful, I cannot see  past my hood. I would feel horrible if I had hurt you."

"Why would ya have hurt me?" she asked looking up at him. Cole licked his lips as he found himself unsure how to answer that.

"I... I would just appreciate it if you would announce yourself first," he then said.

"Oh... okay, sorry, Cole."

It was nice to see her  and receive the unwarranted affection, Bailey and Wendy were doing a  wonderful job raising their children into kind and reasonable  individuals with such defined personalities. But something was wrong...

Normally Violet would  have been talking his ear off right away and going on about how much he  was missing while off the farm, putting her full attention to him. But  she was looking around more, was quiet and seemed a bit distant. "Um, I  can't find Papa. Can I keep ya company?"

Cole did not have an  issue with this, besides finding the family was also on the list. But as  the minutes went by he found her almost clinging to him, keeping a hold  of his arm and pressing closer than he was comfortable with. "Should  you be this close?" he asked, which startled her. It was after he spoke  that he realized she was trembling.

"What?" She snapped her  attention to him then seemed unsure as to what to do. "Oh... I'm  sorry..." She backed up a little, growing distant and only being drawn  back as he said her name.

"Violet, is something  wrong?" His voice was much stronger and clear than normal, snapping her  attention to see his blue eyes searching her with intent. She had to  look away and started to wave the problem off.

"N-no, no..." He just  watched her more, she looked to him but could not take the weight of his  stare. Again, she looked about more and timidly back the way she  initially came from. She sighed and muttered under her breath. "Deryl is  so weird..." That said it all.

"Did he touch you?"  Everything Violet knew about Cole changed just then. He was direct and  serious, taking her shoulders and stooping to make her look at him – he  was not soft spoken or timid at all in these moments and it scared her a  little.

"N-no, Cole. I-I'm  okay... really... I didn't even let him get close..." she said, trying  to wave the problem off, but she could not keep silent as the troubles  weighed upon her. "...for long..." she whispered in after thought.

What the hell did that  bastard think he was doing? Cole hardly looked at her now, his  expression growing harder as he seemed to have laid eyes on Deryl  wandering on through the streets. Cole was already putting his arm  around Violet's shoulders when she had followed his gaze, hiding  suddenly into his protection as she spotted the broken man.

"Please, Cole! Don't  bother with him!" She took a gentle hold of his side when pulled closer  and made to look ahead. "I don't want Garrin to make ya leave..." she  breathed. "I don't want ya to get into trouble..." She looked and  sounded ready to cry. "...Not for me..."

"No one is going to be made to leave," he replied. And with that they started to walk on.

Alas, it was not soon enough and Cole's presence was not enough to detour the deranged man who came right up to Violet.

"Ey! What do ya think ya are doing running off?" Deryl asked with a rather annoyed tone as he reached out to stop her.

Cole looked him dead in  the eye as they stopped, making Violet pass around to his other side and  out of reach. This confused Deryl, which then turned into anger.

"Da hell ya think yer doing?" he scoffed suddenly and began to puff up, sizing himself to Cole and feeling superior.

To Cole, it did not  matter that he was not at all tall, he was use to being overshadowed by  other men, especially those thinking it did matter. Cole just continued  to look right at him, turning his body to face him while letting the  pack in hand drop to the ground alongside Violet. She was now directly  behind and deliberately blocked off from Deryl as Cole would shift with  the man to keep it that way.

"Ya should mind yer own business," Deryl said, a crazy look in his brown eyes.

"I am," Cole growled,  showing no sign of backing down. It was easy to read the broken man: a  bully child in a man's body, use to getting his way, unsure what to do  now that displays of threat were not working. Even what was going  through Deryl's mind was written on his long face, torn between  frustration and uncertainty, and trying to learn Cole.

"T'sk-! The mute  speaks!" he spat suddenly, trying to look strong lipped. Was this really  been the first time Cole spoke to him? Most likely, seeing as any  response just fueled his brash nature.

"Cole's not mute!" Violet suddenly replied.

"Quiet," Cole harshly stated. He did not take his eyes off Deryl but it cut Violet down and forced to hide further.

"Look at ya," Deryl chided, continuing to try and puffed up, even daring to grow closer into Cole's space.

"You stay away from Baliey's children." Cole's eyes did not waver nor did he budge an inch. "Now leave."

"Are ya threatening me?"  Deryl said with a bit of a squeak. "Do– do ya even know who my father  is??" His pathetic line of false power used all too often.

"Do I look like I care?"  Cole's voice had dropped considerably as his patience was at its limits  for this type of crap. "Move along."

"You should, points,"  Deryl replied. Cole only narrowed his eyes when Deryl got further into  his face, but the moment he laid a hand upon Cole, even just a finger's  poke, it was no longer about intimidation. Cole reacted justly by  shoving Deryl back and took more ground. This started to set Deryl off  more.

"I said, leave."

Not to far off Jane had  his shoulder clasped by Marin and made to see the scene unfolding, it  was serious when Cole would remove his hood and he was not standing  normally. "Oh... shit..." It did not matter who said it. They both  exchanged looks, sharing a similar curiosity as to what exactly would  happen as Cole and Deryl exchanged further words. They also were both  scared to find out.

Then Jane saw who it was being guarded. "Mother fucker..."

"Jane!" Violet shouted  when she realized her cousin was inbound. The name caused Deryl sudden  distress and forced him to back off with an impressive change of  attitude. He then started to put distance down when his eyes fell upon  the furious man.

"You best not be messin'  with my cousin, you little cunt!" Jane shouted. The scene exploded,  causing Cole to back up out of the street, letting Jane takeover as he  was the well established threat against Deryl's well-being.

"You– you best keep away from me, Jane!" Deryl whined. "You can be sure Father will hear about it!"

"Go ahead! Run away and cry!" Jane jeered.

"Y-you'll regret this!" Deryl pouted.

"Just get the hell out  of here!" Jane shouted with a fling of his arm. "Go away and fuck yer  goat! Hopefully it will kick your balls clean off."

The gross insult caused a  sudden reaction in Deryl, but one of horror and not offense. "How...  how did ya know..?" he whimpered. Cole was outwardly disgusted as the  statement made it a true fact.

"Every one knows, ya pervert!" Marin barked. "Ya inbred fuck-up!"

"And if you get near my family again I'll fuck you!"  Jane added. Deryl was already keeping as much distance as he could from  them, nearly 20 feet, as he was at least smart enough to know he was  out numbered.

"Now that's just disgusting!" Deryl threw back.

"Get outta here!"  Marin shouted and looked as if he was going to give chase, which put  the broken man's feet to flight and he left entirely. The two friends  were now both worked up, Jane might as well have been foaming at the  mouth as he stamped about in fury, cursing up a storm and scaring  onlookers as he called them out with shooing.

When the backup arrived  and the threat diverted away, Cole had put his concerns back to Violet.  There was no real way to protect her from the shouting and eyes of the  onlookers, but he did his best by keeping her reassured that all was  well with an arm around to keep her close and at least hidden from  Deryl. She never pulled away until Deryl actually left, breaking away to  embrace Jane when he tempered down, getting a tight hug and kiss as he  put his attention to her.

"Did he touch you?" Jane asked.

"No," Violet squeaked  and let out a sniffle. "Cole wouldn't let him..." She could not seem to  let go so Jane held her longer and pet her long hair.

Jane lifted his eyes to  Cole and let out a sigh with the last of his anger, extending a hand.  "That's two of my girls now, Cole. Thank you..."

Cole shook Jane's hand but only replied with a nod.

"Two?" she asked between controlled breaths. Cole's good deed for Lyzule was still unknown it would seem.

"Nothing," Jane replied. "But where's Bailey? I got to give him a hard time now for letting you out of his sight!"

"I... I'm not sure anymore..."

"Alright, let's go find  that gimp ass of his." Jane then looked at Marin before throwing his  head towards Cole, getting a solid nod in return.

With that Violet let  herself break away from Jane long enough to give Marin a hug and thanks  for stepping in, then nearly knocked Cole over as she tackled him. He  could not help himself by hugging the poor thing back and giving the top  of her head a kiss.

"Next time, just tell me  that there is a problem," he said, his voice soft and gentile once  more. She nodded with a smile, and he sent her off with Jane holding  hands while they sought out Bailey.

"Ya did good, Cole," Marin said once Jane and Violet were gone. Cole was already picking his pack back up.

"I certainly was not going to stand by knowing that man's reputation," Cole replied.

"Ya really are good  people compared ta most." Cole knew it was a compliment but it actually  made him sad. "So, got some news ta share," Marin went on to say,  something Cole was dreading. They then took a walk to clear the air of  onlookers.

Apparently the mists  were already showing signs of their coming tonight and Cole felt a pit  grow in his stomach. Tonight was the full moon. While they talked he had  to convince himself again that he was not going to go running off a  cliff. Cole was also not sure how he felt about the other news Marin had  in regards to the recent black meadow. Apparently they went and  checked, it was cleaned out much like the one near the hunting grounds.

"We dun get it!," Marin  said. "No one's said d'ey worked on it, we've gone n' checked in on it  often n' found no one, but huge portions were go'n miss'n when our backs  were turned!"

"This is disconcerting," Cole replied. It was about the only thing he could reply with.

"Yeah! Any ideas?" Marin then asked.

"No. Nothing beyond anything mentioned before. But if for sure the villages are not responsible, then something is very wrong."

"Aye. Bandits perhaps."

"Which would make it a  matter that may be beyond us," Cole added looking at Marin. "The  guarding soldiers for this territory should be informed."

Marin started to laugh. Yeah... Cole expected as much.

The matters involving  the black meadows would have to wait however, it was roughly 1 o'clock  and they had about six hours to prepare for tonight.