The Bandit

As he followed the deer trail out of the village where he had grown up, Grzegorz thought on his new predicament. So blinded was he by his thoughts, that he failed to notice a hunting party from the village until he had almost walked directly into the leader “Woah, man. Are you blind or did you…Grzegorz, by God man, what are you doing out here, you’ll die of cold in this storm, where’s your coat?” The downtrodden teenager simply shook his head and fought to hold back tears. “They kicked me out Vanya, I brought a knife to the ritual and…” Vanya looked on in shock. “Don’t tell me you killed someone” Grzegorz shook his head, it was all he could do to keep from crying. “Here, sit down, we’ve got some of our lunch left and I know you’re gonna need it more. Konrad, give him the squirrel jerky and some pear cider if we’ve got any left. Come now, tell us what happened.” Grzegorz sat on a large stone at the edge of the path as Vanya gave him his cloak and Konrad gave him their food. He wasn’t exactly famished, but he really wasn’t in a position to turn down help from anyone. “I brought a knife to the gathering where my job was to be selected, the elders said I had brought the tool of a criminal, and without a job I could not stay.” He washed down the dry, stringy meat with a gulp of the cider. That didn’t help all too much, as it managed to be both overly sweet and incredibly bitter at the same time. “Gah! How do you drink that, it tastes like rot.” The hunters laughed and this time it was Konrad who answered him. “It’s still a work in progress. I brought a wine skin to my rite of passage because I wanted to be a brewer, the elders associated it with travel and made me a hunter instead. Glad to hear you like it, though.” Konrad took the wine skin back and tasted a gulp for himself. “Yeah, that’s pretty bad” He said with a cough, this time the laughter was directed at him. “Well, Grzegorz, if you don’t mind me saying, it sounds like you were set up on a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re gonna have to fight for everything you want now, but we know a good place to do that. Wait here for two days and we’ll lead you there.” Grzegorz shook his head, he knew what happened to people who helped outcasts, and all these men had families. “I’m not gonna have you risk your homes on my behalf, just point me in the right direction.” The hunters conferred for a few moments and, deciding that if he did not want their guidance, then they would allow him to be on his way with only directions and a bit of food. “Follow the sunrise for two days, you’ll come across a more established trail after that. If you’re lucky, you will run into someone else who can direct you to the next town or village.” Vanya told him. They shared a hug and parted ways. Vanya let his old friend keep his hunting cloak, it was probably the last bit of kindness Grzegorz would see for quite some time.

Now alone, Grzegorz followed the trail. He drank the rainwater out of flooded streams and ate walnuts and berries, though this left him sick and weak before he reached the trail. By the time he got to it, he was filthy, exhausted, and a day behind schedule. Worse still, the travelers he did see took him for exactly what he was at this point. Two nights of sleeping in a muddy ditch and he was about to give up, then one night he was awoken by the toe of a boot in his ribs. “Alright lad, on your feet.” Having been in the middle of a dream where he was allowed to return home, the inevitable return to reality disappointed him. “I said on your feet” This time it was closer to a shout, and a pair of calloused hands dragged him up by his shirt. “What do you want from me?” He stammered, pushing the assailant away. “Your cloak would be a nice start. Take it off and give it here” The man demanded. “What? No, are you crazy? This cloak is all I have.” The stranger hit him on the side of the head, hard. “It was all you had, now you have nothing, give it here or I’ll take it off you.” At this point, the cloak was all Grzegorz had to lose, aside from his knife, and he didn’t want to part with either. Given the situation, he drew the latter and swung it wildly, nicking his attacker’s cheek. “You just cut me.” The stranger stated, more than a little surprised. He hadn’t needed to fight in years, at this point he relied on reputation to get his way. The pain rekindled a fire in his veins, though, and he lashed out again. His clenched fist collided with Grzegorz’s cheek and he went down. “I’ll have that knife, too. If you’re lucky, I’ll let you walk away” As he crouched down, it was luck, rather than skill that saved Grzegorz’s life. He struck his attacker’s leg with the tip of his knife, and this gave him enough space to make a break down the path. Tired, cold, and slowed by hunger, he barely made it to the next town. He collapsed outside the gate and was found the next morning by a priest.

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