The Fighter by Sofia H.
by Sofia Hislop
Rhoda pulled back her bowstring, aiming for the deer. Such a peaceful creature it was, drinking by the lake, not knowing that its death was but a few moments away. Didn’t even see her, given how camouflaged she was. The bush concealed her red hair and fair skin. Breathing outwards, she released her grip on the string, sending the arrow flying straight into the animal’s heart. The deer fell foreword, face first into the lake. “Aye, that’ll be a good supper t’night”, Rhoda whispered, coming out from behind the bushes. Hoisting the deer on her shoulders, she began the walk home.
When she reached home, she went to the back to begin skinning. There was a large shed- like structure that was used to hold all the cured and dried meats for winter. A structure that could only be compared to a lean- to was close to the shed. Across from the shed was a wooden workbench and a storage shed. The workbench was housed under an extension that was nailed onto the shed’s roof. At the workbench, she saw Poppa whittling.
She went to the lean- to. After tying the deer upside down, she sharpened her blade. “Rhoda, what’d you find?”, Poppa asked, coming over.
“Just a deer. Thing wasn’t even watching”, she replied. “Let me have a look”, he said.
She untied the deer and put it on the floor. He tried to pick it up, but barely could. “Aye, how’d ye carry it home?”
“It wasn’t heavy”, Rhoda replied, though her aching back, burning legs, and limp shoulders said otherwise.
“You never cease to amaze me”, he said, putting his hands on her shoulders and kissing her forehead. He limped back to the house to check on her siblings.
She tied the deer back upside down. She ran the knife from the throat upwards, still-warm blood pouring everywhere. She hated silence and being alone because all she could ever do was think. She hated that because her mind often found everything she wanted to forget.
Her poor father, severely injured in the war, was forced to take care of eight kids after Momma was captured and killed by the enemy. He couldn’t walk far and had to take up all the household chores that Rhoda was supposed to do. My father deserves a better life, dammit!, she thought angrily, throwing the blood stained carving knife into the pillar, where so many other knife- sized holes were. She knew that before the war, she had been promised to Galton, but he still was missing. She knew why: they had fallen on hard times, Poppa needed the money, and Galton’s father was one of the better off families that lived in the Lowlands. He was also very sympathetic, letting his higher-class son have an arranged marriage with a poor scoundrel like me, Rhoda thought miserably, looking for her other blade.
After finding her other blade, Rhoda set about the task of removing the deer’s antlers. She’d been trying to hunt deer, or anything with a set of antlers, so she could carve them. She was trying to get enough antlers to carve a set of her family for her father, hopefully for his birthday.
Her thoughts had travelled back to Galton. He too had been forced to fight in the war, but unlike her father, hadn’t returned. Many believed Galton had been captured and taken to a prison camp, while his family believed he had died, with honor. She had no idea which story to believe and hadn’t heard from his family since. A breeze whistled by, carrying with it the dead leaves and the smells of nearby pine trees. How she loved the Highlands! No one around, freedom to do what you want, the vast, sprawling hills and mountains. That was what she was going to miss if Galton came back.
Sighing, she went and wrapped up the extra chopped deer meat, taking her share and putting on the cutting board for Poppa to cook supper with. Two of her younger siblings, Ahearn and Greer, came running through, followed by Tormod, Enya, and Lachlan, all nearly crashing into her.
“Poppa, I’m going to the market”, Rhoda called out over her shoulder. “Our share is on the board.”
“Please, take Ahearn and Greer with you,” Poppa said, already looking worn out. “I have to cook and finish those carvings and take care of Caelan and I just cannot work with them around here,” he said, picking Greer up, causing her to drop a half-carved piece of wood. She didn’t want to bring them, but the tired, pleading look in Poppa’s eyes made her agree.
“Bring something to do”, she yelled at Ahearn and Greer, closing the door behind her.
“Why are we going to the market?”, Ahearn asked for the third time.
“We are going to sell the extra meat at the market”, Rhoda replied.
“Why?”, Ahearn asked.
“So we do not waste what we cannot eat ourselves”, she half lied. In reality, they desperately needed money. Ahearn was about to ask another question, but it was drowned out by the sounds of the market: voices, bells, animals bellowing loudly, and people yelling about what they were selling. Ah, yes, they were in the Lowlands, the best place to sell anything.
Weaving through the crowd, Ahearn and Greer clutching onto her, she went to set up her table, which was stored in a tavern, something Poppa didn’t know nor would approve of. She walked towards the back of the tavern, where all the storage was, to retrieve her table. “Aye, Rhoda, back again now, are we?”, a voice from behind her said. “Yes, I am, Duff. How are you doing on this fine day?”, she asked, hoping her voice did not make known how much she did not want to talk to Duff. “Been good, lots of beverages sold t’day”, he replied. “Good, good”, she replied, hastily walking out of the tavern before Duff could say anything further.
Lucky for her, her table space was far away from the tavern. Ordering her siblings to sit down and not move from the floor blanket, she sharpened a blade and began cutting the meat into smaller pieces. “Fine, fresh deer meat for sale. Bartering is accepted here!”, she shouted. That always drew a crowd. Sure enough, five hours later, she packaged and sold the last of the deer and put her table away, thankfully not running into Duff. She counted what had been earned: 181.32 Pound Sterling. Not bad, given she had gotten there around noon.
On the way home, she began making her list of essential items needed to prepare for winter. 181.32 Pound Sterling should be able to get her more thread, preservations and a new axe to chop wood. The majority would go to pay off debts. If only there was some substantial money left, at least enough for winter preparation, so that way Rhoda wouldn’t have to hunt so much. Two deer usually was a plentiful amount for her family during winter, but since there was barely any money, Rhoda would have to now hunt for profit and for her family.
When she arrived home, her father was back at his table, whittling some more. “Supper is in the pot”, he said, gesturing to the open fire with his whittling knife. Something was clearly bugging him. Ahearn and Greer ran to the cabinets to get some bowls. They ladled a big helping into one bowl, which they presented to her and then filled up theirs up, then went to the table to eat. “Poppa, what’s wrong?”, Rhoda asked. “T’morrow marks the fourth month of Galton not coming home”, Poppa replied, bitterness creeping into his voice. “It is no matter. We have managed and I’m sure we can continue”, Rhoda replied, spooning some stew into her mouth. “Yes, but managing is all we are doing”, he said handing her a whittling knife and a half-carved block of wood that was beginning to look like and elephant. He continued, “I cannot whittle to keep us afloat forever. I cannot walk down to the market to sell these carvings. I cannot keep paying someone to take these to the market for me.”
“Well, why not let me go down to the market to sell these? I already go there”, Rhoda replied. “Yes, but you help so much around the house with the hunting and keeping the other children out of my way when I am working and making sure they do all their chores”, he replied. They continued whittling in silence.
It was midnight and yet Rhoda was still up, whittling. Her father’s birthday was fast approaching, and she was going to finish this set, even if she had to say up all week. She was carving the last and final piece: her baby brother, Caelan. She had even carved her mother, which was one of the first pieces made. She went to bed only when she knew that Caelan would be finished the next day.
Now she was on the move through the woods. A silent creature she is, the top of the food chain, the stealthy lord of all, the supreme ruler, the decider of their fate and she was going to get something big and furry. Usually she hunted at dawn, when all the animals were out looking for food, but since Poppa had yelled at her for staying up so late, she had an even later start. She found a deer some time later, muscles bulging on the magnificent beast. There’s tender meat on that beast, she thought. Her arrow lodged in the heart. Bullseye.
She lifted the deer onto her shoulders. Damn, it’s heavy, she thought, slowly heading back to the house. This deer was going to be stored for winter, even though Rhoda knew it would fetch a high price, she would sacrifice that for her family’s well-being. She tied the deer upside down, sharpened her blade, and slit the throat. She chopped up the meat separating the part that would be dried, the part that would be cured, and the part that she would smoke. She finished the carving of Caelan later that night because Poppa’s birthday was the next day.
Rhoda had woken up before dawn, so her chances of getting a fine catch were increased. Today, she would be hunting for profit. Before leaving the house, she left the carvings in a box in the main room, easy for Poppa to find. She knew she was going to be busy today: she had to make blankets and warm jackets, go to the market today, and do whatever else Poppa asked her to. She then grabbed her bow, sheathe of arrows and throwing knives before silently leaving the house and heading to the forest. She heard a twig break and began following the sound. She pulled the bow back and let it fly. She was feeling really confidant about her shot until she heard a shout. A human shout.
She began running towards the sound. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it!, she thought to herself. The arrow had gone through the man’s bloodstained shirt sleeve and pinned him to a tree. He was moaning. “Aye, if you’re going to kill me now, please make it quick.” Ignoring him, she pulled arrow from the tree, being careful not to cut the man’s arm. He fell to the ground. She noticed how much dried blood covered him. The man didn’t even walk, he just pulled himself around by grabbing the ground. He was trying to get away from her as fast as he could. “I’m not going to kill you”, Rhoda said. “Then why’d ye shoot an arrow at me?”, he said, still clawing away from her. “I was hunting and thought ye was an animal.” He had now stopped clawing away from her and was lying face first in the ground. “Come”, she said, pulling him into a standing position and putting one of his arms around her shoulders.
When she got home, her father was upset that she had brought home some stranger. “Doesn’t ye realize that there could still be spies?”, he shouted at her. “It’s not a spy. It’s Galton. He said he escaped from a prison camp. At least let me take care of his wounds. He can’t even walk, Poppa”, she said pleadingly. “Alright, then, but as soon as he is healed, he should find his way back to his family”, Poppa said. “Actually, I should tell his family that he’s been found”, Poppa said. “No, Poppa. He doesn’t remember anything about himself or his family. I asked him and Poppa, you and I both know that you can’t walk that whole way”, Rhoda said. Poppa stopped in front of the door. “Then make him remember. Heal him. His family deserves to know. But I will wait until he is much healthier.”
Rhoda had to cut the shirt off Galton; it was stuck to him. She had gotten a bowl of hot water, a rag, some salve, and some extra clothes for him. There were so many lashes on him, most of which hadn’t healed fully. She took the rag, dipped it in the hot water, and carefully began washing his wounds. He tried to squirm away from her, but she wouldn’t allow Galton to. She was surprised that he could talk very well. “I feel as though I have seen you before”, Galton said as she was applying the salve onto his back. “Yes, we have met before”, Rhoda replied. “How?”, he asked. “We were promised to each other”, Rhoda simply said, putting the last of the salve onto his back. “Try to get some rest”, Rhoda said, heading to the door. “What’s your name?”, he asked. “Rhoda”, she said. “You’re beautiful”, Galton said. Rhoda gave a small smile and left the room.
The next day, she went to the market to get some more salve, thread, and another two fur skins, for what she had would not be enough. She had already measured Berkley, Malvina, Wyndham, Tormod, Enya, Lachlan, and Ahearn, while making a onesie for Caelan. Now, she was measuring a squirming Greer. “Aye, stay still!”, Rhoda said. “But I don’t want to. This is boring”, Greer complained. “Well, dying of the cold is boring to”, Rhoda retorted. “Poppa opened your present while you were gone. He had gone out to say thank you to ye, but you brought home Galton and he completely forgot”, Greer said some time later. Rhoda nearly choked. “Did he like them?”, she asked, barely more than a whisper. “He loved them. He cried when he saw the carving of Momma. Can I go now?”, Greer asked, whining. Rhoda let her go; she had done enough measuring. She took one of the fur skins and began pinpointing where she would have to cut.
Galton came stumbling out when she had begun sewing the sleeves onto Greer’s jacket. Putting aside the jacket, she went to help steady him. “I thought you were sleeping”, she said. “Awake now”, he replied, collapsing into a chair. “What happened?”, he asked her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, she said, resuming her sewing. “With us. You said we were promised to each other at one point”, he replied.
“The war happened, Galton.”
“You asked me about my family. Tell me about them.”
“You have a mother and a father. They’re still alive. You have two older brothers, Abernathy and Nathan, both of which are alive. Abernathy went to war too. ”
“What were they like?”
“I don’t really know”, Rhoda replied. Galton’s eyes glazed over, like he was looking at some far-off world that only he could see. She felt bad for him. His mental stability had been broken at the prison camp. They had stripped him of his identity, memories, sense of being, and his willpower. The only thing he remembered was his name. I’m going to help him in any way that I possibly can, she thought to herself.
Winter gave way and spring came forth. Caelan had learned to walk and now spent hours making as much mischief as he possibly could, keeping everyone on their toes and constantly searching, for his favorite game was hide-and–seek.
Galton had now healed to the point in which he could walk and run freely. He still had those hundreds of scars, most covered up by his shirt. Spring was mating season, so all the animals were out and about. The salmon were heading upstream, so Rhoda and Galton were spending the dawn hours mending the nets. The only problem was that Galton kept messing up with the mending. “Can you show me again?”, he asked, holding out the needle. “Last time”, Rhoda said, though she knew he would ask many more times. She guided him, showing him how to mend the patch he was working on. They finished patching the nets by nine o’clock.
Gathering the nets, Rhoda led the way to the river where she fished every spring. “How often do you do this?”, Galton asked on their way to the river. “Every spring”, Rhoda replied.
“No, I mean do everything.”
“I’m not following.”
“Hunting, fishing, cleaning, sewing, going to the market, stuff like that.”
“All the time. My father hurt his leg terribly in the war and I just don’t want him to hurt himself more. He’s the only parent I have left.”
“What happened to your mother?”
“She was captured and killed by the enemy. They even sent us her dead body. Left it in a box by the front door.” Rhoda blinked back tears. “Opening that box was probably the worst event of my life.” It was true, Rhoda had opened the box and saw her beautiful Momma’s dull, lifeless eyes, gray skin and all the lashes and bruises. Her wrists had especially heavy bruising, suggesting that she had been chained up all the time. Poppa had come home from the market a few minutes later and saw Momma in the box. He had to go to a bush and throw up. He cried and cried and didn’t come out of his room for days. It was the absolute worst she had ever seen her strong father.
“That sounds horrible”, Galton said, taking her out of the memory. Rhoda didn’t reply; she simply handed him the other side of the net and together, they cast the net into the river. When they were pulling in their catch, he asked her, “How come you never seem to have any fun?” “Never had time. Having nine other siblings to watch out for takes up quite a bit of time”, Rhoda replied.
“Good job, you memorized your siblings names.” Rhoda began pulling in the net. Galton was quiet for some time before saying, “So, have you ever had any kind of fun whatsoever?” “I was a young’un once. Of course I had fun”, Rhoda replied. Galton suddenly dropped his side of the net, causing Rhoda to fall to the ground from all the sudden weight. He got down in front of her, tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and said, “Wanna have some real fun?” She ignored the question and said, “Get your half of the net. This is heavy.” She struggled to pull the net out; She had to release some of the salmon. Galton was now behind her and whispered into her ear, “We were promised to each other. Let’s have some fun.” Rhoda bristled as he began fiddling with the buttons on her shirt. She reached to her waist, where she kept her well- hidden throwing knives. She grabbed one, resting it in front of Galton’s throat. “Don’t touch me. Leave me alone.” Rhoda pulled the net out of the water, released some salmon, and lugged it home.
When she returned home, her father asked where Galton. “Somewhere in the damn woods”, she replied, cutting up the fish.
“Rhoda, what’s gotten into you?”, Poppa asked. Before she could answer, Galton came running out of the woods. He shouted, “Rhoda, why’d ye leave me in the woods?”
He ran up to her, beginning to envelop her in a hug. She grabbed her throwing knife, putting it against her throat.
“Rhoda!”, Poppa said, surprised. Rhoda was focused on Galton, way too focused; she didn’t see the approaching army.
“It doesn’t have to end this way. Run”, Galton whispered. Rhoda broke away from him, running to Poppa.
“Go Poppa, hurry. There isn’t much time.”
“No, I can’t leave you behind. I can stay.”
“You know my mind has already been made up. And you know there is nothing you can do about it.” Rhoda’s father was about to say something further, until he heard a scream come from inside the house. Rhoda ran in ahead of her father, who couldn’t run, although he wouldn’t admit it, to find an enemy soldier hovering over her clustered siblings, his gun raised.
“Get out!”, she shouted, throwing a knife into his heart. Her siblings rushed to her, embracing her. Poppa was hobbling inside, close behind.
“There isn’t much time. Go with Poppa and hurry. Get out of here”, she said.
“What about you?”, Lachlan asked.
“I’ll see you all soon”, Rhoda replied, though she, Poppa, Berkley, and Malvina knew the real chances. The front door made a sickening creaking sound; it was close to breaking. “Go”, Rhoda whispered, retrieving her bow and sheath from the closet. It’s up to me now, she thought to herself, though it didn’t give her much confidence. Running out the back door, she began climbing up the walls to get to the roof. She had to distract the soldiers from her fleeing family.
“Hey, I’m up here ye damn cowards!”, she shouted, waving her arms. That worked because they were now focused on her, including Galton, who had dawned a gun. Loading her bow, Rhoda began firing. They did too, but kept hitting the roof she was standing on.
“Ye all have no skill! Cowards! Shoot like men!”, Rhoda shouted, releasing an arrow that instantly killed its victim. It suddenly dawned upon Rhoda that there was a method to their madness. Get off the roof!, her mind shouted. They were trying to get the roof to collapse! Rhoda turned around and began running as fast as she could. Rhoda was not quick enough; roof caved in, taking her with it. She was buried under pounds of rubble. Rhoda began trying to thrash under the weight, but she was pinned down well.
The soldiers came and pulled the rubble off her, dragging a bloody mass that was supposed to be Rhoda towards Galton.
“Is she still alive?”, Galton asked the soldiers. Rhoda spat blood onto his shoe, answering for the soldiers. He bent down in front of her.
“Quite sad how flaws are the worst killer out there”, Galton said.
“YOU! DAMN YOU! I’ll kill you!”, Rhoda growled, charging foreword before being held more firmly. While Galton was talking to his men, they tied her to a tree temporarily. Rhoda was trying to work out one of her hidden throwing knives. Got it, she whispered, beginning to cut through the rope. When she was free, Rhoda snuck up behind the soldiers. Pathetic excuses for soldiers, actually. She silently drew another dagger, one for each hand. She plunged them into the soldiers’ necks, pulling them out when they had begun collapsing.
“Well, well, you have more grit than I had planned for. Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to take you on”, Galton said, rolling his neck and drawing a sword from behind.
“You all are free to go back to camp”, Galton said to is waiting army, as if just remembering them. They all marched away as quickly as they had come.
“Hooray, a challenge”, Rhoda replied, pouring a liquid onto her blades. She readied herself. She charged. Galton really was stupid and untrained. It was like fighting a three-year-old; a three-year-old who couldn’t spot poison even when it was right in front of him. Galton left so many opportunities for instant death open; he simply didn’t know how to fight. Rhoda plunged the first poisoned dagger into his side. While he was distracted by the pain radiating from his side, Rhoda plunged the other dagger into the center of Galton’s neck.
“Bye, Galton”, Rhoda said, removing the dagger and releasing him, sending his dead body falling to the earth, his blood pooling around him.