Over the fence he went and landed clumsily. He steadied himself against the fence and we could see his shape in the gaps of it.
“Ya need to lose some pounds, old bloke.” Alexis yelled out then smiled to himself.
Boss and Alexis began discussing the strategy for our return to Pan. I acted like I was listening for the first part, but my mind was wandering. I positioned myself so that I was listening but so that I was also facing the fence. The place beside the road was an area that hadn’t had any dead in it for a long time because it was an enclosed area. The Thanatos River was about three or four miles away from it and the Empire Road blocked it off against the side of Pan’s wall at either end. There was no way for the dead to get in or out of that area. Had I known otherwise I wouldn’t have let Ben go over the wall.
It was starting to head toward late afternoon and Ben was walking into the sun, so I could just make out parts of his silhouette, but then it was gone. Suddenly, I saw a new shadow on the fence. My eyes widened. I stood up and grabbed Boss’ arm.
“There’s dead out there!” His head flicked toward the wall. He saw the shadow too and he slapped Alexis with the side of his hand. They didn’t speak words, they knew what they needed to do. Alexis was leaning on the other wheel of the wagon and he jumped to attention. He turned and ran to the home cart to get his sword. Boss, May and I jumped up onto the driving bench and were positioning ourselves to see over the fence. I was behind them, while Passalus and Acmon went around to the back of the pole cart to look over the fence too. As we got there and looked over the fence it was one of the strangest sights. Ben was laying in a clear area of grass, about twenty paces away. He was slowly eating the last of the bread I’d given him. To our left were three dead, walking slowly toward him. One was a Paneretian soldier, but had a thick sword sticking out of his gut and a huge chunk missing from his thigh. I guess the sword wound slowed him down enough to get bitten on the leg. Another was a dead that was wearing the straps and metal rings and the third was a Schmidt soldier with bight marks all over one arm and a chunk missing from his left bicep. His guts were trailing behind him. They were moving quite quickly and their faces looked as though they were chasing something; but it clearly wasn’t Ben. In fact, they walked directly toward him, but seemed completely unaware of him at all. He heard footsteps and sat upright, seeing that one of the creatures was about five paces away. He looked at it, and seemed to question what he saw. The creature looked at Ben, stopping walking for a moment, and sniffed the air. Funnily it did something very unusual and its arms seemed to grab at the air between him and Ben a couple of times, then it began walking again. Ben all the while just sat there, watching. Then the Schmidt soldier and the creature wearing the straps came along and we watched in disbelief. Alexis by now had found his sword and had it on his hip. He came up to us and was about to start heading over the fence when Boss stopped him. “Stop!” Boss whispered as he grabbed Alexis’ arm. We all watched as Ben sat there in a stupor, as the Schmidt soldier in his light brown canvas armour walked directly toward Ben. Had it not stopped right above him it would have without question tripped on Ben’s legs. It stopped though, sniffed the air, looked down at Ben and seemed to flail its arms about as well, then kept walking. But to that, Ben reacted. It seems his mind came back to him enough to let him understand the danger he was in and he let out a scream that sounded more like a lady might make if she saw a mouse. At this all three creatures spun to look at him, and they all knew without question that something living was there amongst them. Only the living make noises like that. They ran directly at him, and Alexis jumped the fence. He ran on foot as fast as he could, sprinting, with broad sword ready to strike. He struck the creature wearing the straps in the back of the head with a clean downward stroke. It fell to its knees and then onto its face. Alexis landed his foot on the creature’s neck and pulled the sword free, bringing it up directly from the fallen one into the middle of the spine of the Schmidt soldier and up into the back of its head.
“hahahahaaaa… see that? Brilliant! Just Brilliant!” Boss said in excitement, as he watched Alexis proving that he possibly had more experience in slaying the dead than any living being. He truly was a magnificent swordsman. Finally, though, as he ploughed his sword into the back of the Schmidt soldier, it was pulled free from his hands and swung forward as the creature also fell to his knees. The sword went flying over the top of Ben, and hit a tree behind him with a clang. Alexis froze. Even though in the arenas he would often look as though he had nothing other than his bare hands with which to fight the dead he always had some secret strategy. It was the “smoke and mirrors”, as boss would describe it. He always had a hard round river stone under his belt in the shape of an hour glass. He’d take one of the rope cords from his costume and appear to have just happened upon the fish shaped stone. He would tie the rope to it. Then he would use it like a slingshot and land it between the eyes of the creature he was fighting. But this time he had literally nothing. The creature looked from where it had heard the scream come from. It looked directly toward where it saw Alexis. Evenly between them Ben sat, trying to grab something that wasn’t in front of him with his hands. The creature looked directly at Alexis and walked straight at him, but it tripped on Ben as it did. It walked straight into that fat idiot as he sat on his backside, legs outstretched in front of him. Alexis saw the creature fall forward, and then continue to fall onto its side. Ben also saw the same thing and again began to shriek like a lady. The creature was next to Ben and started grabbing at the air between them as it tried to get back on its feet. Alexis took two lumbering strides and leapt into the air, landing with his heel on the side of the creature’s face. With his full weight traveling downward Alexis was able to drive its head into the clay earth. We heard bones crunch, and then Alexis jumped again, landing clean on the creature’s neck. It stopped completely still.
Alexis was panting now. He watched the dead underfoot to be sure it was dead for real. Once he was sure the expression on his face went to one of anger, his brow furrowed and he slapped Ben in the back of the head. It made a loud slap! Then he walked over to where his sword was, and came back toward the fence. As he passed Ben he grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and pulled him upward. Ben found his way to hands and knees first, then Alexis hissed at him, “get to yer feet, ya drunk idiot, or I’ll leave you here!” I’m sure he meant this to inspire Ben to keep moving, but it only made him scream like a lady again. Boss looked over at Passalus and Acmon and ordered them to drop the rope ladder that was on the pole cart over the fence. They did this without a thought, but then he ordered them to go and retrieve Ben with Alexis. They just stood there. “Now!” Boss yelled. We could see a fair way out into the wilderness and there were no dead to be seen, but the brothers looked very uneasy about it all. The sun was falling behind cloud cover and a cool breeze fell over us.
Watching them get Ben up onto his feet and walk toward the fence would have been a hilarious comedy if there weren’t such clear and obvious danger about. But, together the three of them were able to get Ben to his feet, and make him trudge to the rope ladder. He seemed to climb it without too much effort, with Alexis guiding his feet onto each rung.
When he got off he flopped onto the flatbed of the pole cart. The dead king and soldier that we had in our cage were still lunging at us. Boss ordered May to kill one of the chickens and to feed its body to the dead, but to rip its legs and breasts out while it was still alive and keep them for us later. She gave him a strange look but went about doing it. I’d seen her and Raf kill birds to eat before, and hug the thing to death in their custom, but this was something new altogether. Along with the brothers, who were also Paneretian, they discussed where they’d cut at the same time to take the meat they needed as quickly as possible and how they would hand its remains to the dead in the cage. They sang a strange song in their language, then stopped, said “Rut, Bunee, Pal,” and sliced it into sections in an instant. Then the dead in our cage were quiet again.
Boss and Alexis stood staring at Ben. He was laying on the planks that we use for seating on the back of the flat bed.
“How did he do it?” Boss said to himself out pensively.