Why a field? Johnathan asked himself, out of breath, with his legs burning from exhaustion. Experience alone had formed him into a fast runner, but the two men chasing him rode horses, and the sounds of hoofbeats behind him were drawing ever closer. A field. He cursed once more, his breath coming out in white jets.
It was a clear night, and Johnathan could swear the only sounds were his breathing, and the horses drawing ever closer behind him. However, there was fortune in this dire situation. Barely 200 yards away a thick line of trees formed. A forest, a place where he could lose the horsemen. However, 200 yards was a long way, and he was running out of time.
He tried to push his legs farther, move them faster, but they only replied with pain. He was at his limit. Still, the distance was closing fast. Johnathan dared to look behind him at his pursuers. One wore a suit of mail, a guardsmen. The sound of the chain links clicking against each other had finally reached his ears. The other was an innkeeper, no doubt riding the horse of one of his customers. That was the man who had picked out his face among the crowds at his inn. Both of the riders held a club, and both were gaining on Johnathan.
He turned his gaze back to the line of trees, only a hundred yards away now. He wouldn’t make it. It dawned on him then that he shouldn’t have made it this far, the men behind him were riding slow, giving him false hope. It was the type of cruel treatment Johnathan had grown used to. He looked at the riders once more and saw that he was right; they were riding much more quickly now. A look of rage plastered on both of their faces.
Johnathan was only 60 yards away from the tree line when the first blow struck him, in the small of his back. The force of it blew the air from his lungs, and knocked him off balance. As he was falling the second blow fell, clipping his shoulder, sending a second explosion of pain through him. As he hit the ground, cutting is lip, he knew it was only the beginning.
The beatings always took time.
Fourteen blows fell on his, none striking his head however. When the two men had finished they both spit on him, throwing curses at him. Then came the part that always hurt worse than the beatings, than the exile, then the utter rejection of a society who had held him in as high a regard as the king. It was the names.
“That was for my daughter, Julia, you bastard!” Shouted the innkeeper, kicking Johnathan in the ribs before mounting his horse.
“Aye, and for my wife, Isabell.” Said the guard more calmly, giving Johnathan a look of disgust that lasted until he and the innkeeper turned their horses away, back to their village. Leaving a broken Johnathan to crawl into the forest.
The sun had begun showing itself on the horizon when Johnathan finally managed to light a fire. The night had been spent, for the most part, inching his way across the forest floor. Distancing himself from the village whose name he had forgotten. It wasn’t uncommon for a second, and third group of men to come searching for him, to beat him themselves. It must frustrate them to no end… Johnathan began musing, while watching the flames, that they cannot kill me, after all, breaking a royal decree means death. It always amused him, the most hated man of the world, even by the king, could not be killed because the king commanded such. Of course, Johnathan had welcomed death at times, an end to the exile, the beating, the hate, the names of those his actions had indirectly killed and made suffer. It was actually surprising that someone had not taken the risk, broken the law, planted a dagger in his heart, or ran a blade across his thought. Admirable restraint on their part.
As the fire finally began to warm him, Johnathan took a clump of moss from his pocket, and began to chew it, slowly. It was hardly filling, and less than hardly tasteful. However, he had come to realize over they ears that food was food. Soon an hour had passed, and then two. As the sun climbed higher into the sky it brought little additional warmth though. The cold season was beginning, and the chill blocked the sun’s heat like an invisible shield stretching across the sky. Of course, the numbness would be welcomed by him to ease the pain of his wounds, but there was a stubborn part of his mind telling him to stay warm. It was the defiant part that said everyday; “That’s right, you may beat me, shun me, and treat me as something less than a man, but I will live!”
The strength of such defiance, such willpower, shocked Johnathan sometimes. It is what kept him from placing his head in the path of a falling club, arching down to strike his back. It is what kept him warm, and feeling his pain throughout the cold season and what kept him chewing moss that tasted like dirt. Survival could be worse than death at times, but it meant the possibility of seeing a better day. At least, that’s what Johnathan told himself day by day.
As the sun began to reach it’s zenith Johnathan finally stood. His joints cracked loudly against the still silence of the forest. As much as Johnathan hated to admit it, he was aging. He was beginning to near his mid forties, if the date he heard yesterday had been correct. He had once been a tower among men. Over six feet tall, and well muscled from his career of blacksmith gone-soldier, and soldier gone-general. However, in the past few years his body had whithered to a shell of it’s former self. It was a struggle just to cover a few miles in a day. His body would easily be able to take such work not ten years ago.
He sighed, grabbing a large stick to help steady himself and began walking north. Don’t dwell on the past, it’ll get you nowhere. Johnathan reminded himself, gritting his teeth as pain from his back assailed him. It seemed every man and his horse was brutally proficient with using a club. The two men last night had managed to hit him in all of the right places. As a soldier in the Raelin War, Johnathan could appreciate such precision with the weapon, even if it caused him more pain than necessary.
Johnathan tried to keep his mind wandering as the minutes of painful walking turned to hours. He instead focused on old military drills, the basics. He went over them in his head over and over, many dozens of times. The moon rose and fell again before Johnathan snapped out of his trance. In front of him spanned many dozens of more trees. This forest is endless. He thought to himself. He turned his gaze to the sky to try and figure out the time, when something caught his eye. Smoke, rising to the north of him, faintly. The wind was blowing in his direction, so it was hard to tell just how far it had traveled, but the point remained. He was close to civilization again. With renewed strength Johnathan began moving forward, until the smell of morning meat being cooked reached his nose.
He had been asked before, sometimes when being chased, sometimes when being clubbed, why he bothered to show his presence at all to a world that hated him. The answer was simple, Johnathan was a social person. If he had spent the last years without any human contact, he’d have been driven mad. He preferred to keep his sanity, and suffer through pain, than become a mad hermit, living in exile. Thus, he was doomed to walk amongst the people who despised him.
As the first house came into view Johnathan pulled the hood of his cloak up, and bowed his head slightly. Even if these people, who looked to be far cut off from society by their location, knew of him ,he probably wouldn’t be recognized. The once cleanly shaved tower of a man who commanded armies barely resembled the half-skeleton wandering the countryside. Still, Johnathan didn’t want to take any chances. As more houses of the small village came into view a nasty cough began to make itself known in Johnathan’s throat. He had felt such a cough before, when his army had been campaigning in the mountains of Ghard. The illness had no name, but it was caused by the cold, and Johnathan knew well the next symptom. As his cough grew into a viceous hacking he noticed that he had caught the attention of a villager, a man with a bow slung on his back, dragging a deer carcass behind him. The hunter ran to him, letting go of his kill. Visitors are probably rare here. Johnathan thought to himself, seeing the look of confusion on the man’s face, even through his quickly fading vision.
“I… need a… bed!” Johnathan spat out between his fits of coughing. It didn’t matter anyway, he knew he wouldn’t make it to a bed anyway. As his knees buckled under him, he hoped he would pass out before collapsing completely, his back was in enough pain already.
He got his wish.