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Quantum Musings

by Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
Lockdown

by Timothy O. Goyette

A Bloody Homecoming

by

Sergio Palumbo



Maybe  the woods had  really  been  the gods' first temples in times past, the place  where men had  come  in order to find some protection  and  relief, but  there  were  some strange, disturbing  and scary sounds  coming  out of those  tall  chestnut and beech trees  which stood  on  the  verdant  slopes they were  climbing with difficulty. Of  course,  Chavdar was not   troubled  by  the  forest  or  the   approaching  dusk, because  the  40-year-old, fair-haired  man had lived  in the wilderness  for most of his life. As a matter  of fact,  he was  anxious  over  something  scarier  and  more elusive: what  lay  in  that  woodland  and  seemed  to be chasing  them  along  the path  they  had been traveling since the  day  they  had all left  Kleidion.

 

The general  had  learned long ago to  have a deep respect for the forests  as they  were  a  source of life, prey  and  food - but  he  was  also well aware that  something  darker, worse and more dangerous  than  all  that  could come out of  those  places at times, unfortunately. Wild  beasts, cruel  plunderers  or even  sudden  wildfires, perhaps. There were  also  a few strange creatures, in the end, some cursed  beings  or  terrible  demons, or so people  had kept  telling him  for so long, since he  was  just a child. Actually, according  to  his previous  experience  of  war, humans  had  proved  many times  to  be  much more  bloodthirsty  and violent than  any  legendary  beast  ever  imagined  by the  populace so far. Nevertheless, nothing  could  ever  prevent  the  common  men  from  thinking  that  something  much  crueler than  themselves  would  live  somewhere, hidden  in the night  in some secluded  place, far  from   everyday  life  and  the sight  of  the local  inhabitants, certainly. 

 

The mountain range they were on  was about 37 miles long and  5 miles  wide, northeast of Dojran Lake. He was the  leader  of  what was left of  his  previous  great  army, and Chavdar  had many thoughts on his troubled mind  at  present, of course. He wore the characteristic wide-skirted  top  coat  in  gray/white  color, with  a  strong  mail corselet  worn just under  it and  some  smutty trousers -- that were the only  parts  of  his former rich  clothes the man had been able  to save from the  plundering perpetrated  from the winners  after the decisive Bulgarian defeat -- besides the  general  had  a small knife  at his waist  that  was placed  exactly  where he  used to  have  his gold-hilted  sword positioned   when  he  went to  war  in the past. His  blue eyes  stared  at the  wild place  that was representative of  the  vast, open  landscape  they  were  going through  at present.

 

The  course Chavdar  and  his troops  were  following was  a very hard one, not only because  of the recent defeat  that had  disbanded  the  once-powerful Bulgarian  army, but also  for  the sad  consequences  of  that last  battle, as their bodies  still  showed  the  terrible  injuries  they had received. Along with  the  mutilating  punishment,  all  the  men-at-arms  had been  inflicted by the  winners, unfortunately.

 

It seemed difficult  to  believe now, given its poor  conditions,  that  such  a  once-strong  infantry  and cavalry were the  means  which  made possible  the existence of the Bulgarian state  itself. Its easy  successes  under the previous  rulers  had  marked the creation of a wide-ranging empire. It had been said  that,  for  a very long time, there had been  many cases of Byzantine commanders abandoning the battlefield simply  because of a reluctance to confront the powerful  Bulgarian infantrymen on their home territory or abroad - but those times  were long gone  by then. Now  the  capable  and  decisive  Byzantine  Emperor  had  seriously beaten  their army  and  there  were  no hopes left  of  conquering again the land past  their border  they  had been  invading  and  occupying  over the course of the previous years. Now  their  homeland  was completely  defeated  and  its more experienced  soldiers, commanders  and generals  were  wounded, disfigure  or  already  dead.

 

All that was the  outcome of the bloody  battle  that had  taken place  two  weeks before, on July 29, 1014 at Kleidion -- as  the culmination of the nearly half-century struggle between the Bulgarian Emperor and the Byzantine Emperor.  The  Byzantine  army  had been able to corner the enemy troops and force a skirmish while  Samuil, The Great, their  ruler, was away. The  enemy  Emperor had won a great victory and,   bloodily,  had  14,000 Bulgarian  prisoners blinded, leaving only  one man in every hundred with the sight in one eye to lead his comrades  back home.

 

The battle had been fought  in the valley between the mountains of Belasitsa and Ograzhden near a small village. The decisive encounter had  occurred  with an attack in the rear by a force under the daring  Byzantine general Xiphias, who had infiltrated the Bulgarian positions, the  bloodshed   beginning  soon thereafter. When the fighting was over, the  men captured had undergone the terrible  punishment  decided  by the  Byzantine Emperor  himself  who,  subsequently, became known as the "Bulgar-Slayer".

 

The few surviving  soldiers, beaten and  injured,  were well aware that  the  rest  of the  Bulgarian Empire was  going  to be   finally destroyed by their  adversaries, and there was no way to stop  them  by  then. But  all  of them had to share  a  terrible destiny  at present, being forced to  focus on  a  difficult situation, as the men  were  uncertain if they would  really  be able to make  it back  to  their villages, being in pain constantly and feeling desperate, given  the  blindness  they had  been  punished  with.  

 

So, their  long  retreat had  started, from the site of the battlefield to  their  land  far  away, across  high mountains, wide  plains and  an  almost  endless  territory  that  separated  those from  their  destination. Wounded  infantrymen  without  their  swords  or  spears, tired  cavalrymen  deprived of  their  indefatigable horses and  body  armor, soldiers  lacking  in their  usual  iron  shields  and heavy axes, one-armed  commanders  and a few  surviving generals  in such a  bad state.  Chavdar -- as  the  main leader --   concluded that this  was  what  the  long  crowd  of  beaten  people on the move seemed to be made up of. And  most of them  were  incapable of  watching their steps, being forced to  grant complete  custody  of  themselves  to  the  few  officers  that still  were capable of seeing, at least by means  of  one  of their eyes. That was  the  remains  of  the  once-undefeated  Bulgarian army, the once  comprising  warlike  soldiers  who were  usually  described  before  as  ‘ferocious beasts  covered  in blood’ on the battlefield, now  looking  like as  some  cattle  overcome and  calmed down completely.

 

‘One eye  only  at  my disposal, the same  for  each  commander  who  had   99  out  of  every  100   men to  lead  and  to  look  over!’ the  general told himself  sadly, while  going  along the way.His  tall  build  appeared  slender  and bony  now, being very different from  the  muscular  body  he  showed  off  just some weeks before.All that  was cause  of the  seemingly  unending  and demanding  course  they  had  gone  along, without  food and  water  apart  what they  had been collecting  or  searching for  along the way  and  inside  the woods  in order to sustain  themselves.

 

The thing that  got Chavdar  down  most  was  that also  his  son,Kuzman,  enlisted in the  army before the battle  as  his  personal  attendant, had  undergone the same  cruel  punishment  of his.At least  he hadn’t be  entirely  blinded, as one of his eyes had  been spared  by the  winners  in the end.So, the  young  man, still  20-year-old, had to share the same burden of his -- and  of  all the other  commanders  who  still were able to see, at least partly…--  in order to  look over  the  blinded  former  warriors  they  were leading  through  that  difficult  territory, trying to find  the safest passage  and the best way to get  finally home again.Most of  them  were  eager to  meet again  their  parents and the relatives, but they  were  also grief-striken because they  already knew that they  were  going  to  stare  no  more at  their beloved  faces, to watch  their  sons  growing  or recognize the  towns they were born. For the others, they  knew, too, that  what they  saw  presently  was not the same  they  were able to before, and  their  poor one-eyed sight  would have always  been a  cause  of affliction and  deep  sorrow  for all the time  of  their life  to come, certainly.

 

Even  though   a famous  Latin  personality  once said that The eyes are not responsible when the mind does the seeing’, of course  it was not the same.Nothing  would have ever been  exactly as  before,anyway, for him and all the other  men  captured at the end of the battle…


That was a  very wide, dangerous  and  wild area  you had to  look  at with both eyes  attentively, so, just think if you have only one  to  use for that purpose  all along!

 

By  staring  at  the  sun which was  going  down, the  leader  understood  it was  already  time  to  stop  for that day  and set  camp  on the place  they  were  at present.So, he  gave  orders  to  his  nearest  men  to  act  accordingly  and  then  make  a commander  send  for  his son, as he had  to  speak  to him  before the night.

 

After a  few  moments, Kuzman  came from  the rearguard  and  stopped  before his  father. Soon  Chavdar  noticed  that, even though his son  already  was a young, bulky man now, he just looked exhausted, surely  he  had  become weak, debilitated and tired cause of  all they  were undergoing along  that path.Lacking in provisions  and other usual supplies, their  condition  was worsening day  by day, and that  had  a great influence on  all of them, as a matter of fact. Kuzman  was no  exception, of course, as  the  few  things to  eat  were  adequately  shared  among  all the  members  of the crowd,obviously, and  there  was not so much  to  sustain  their bodies  and make them  walk all day long.Somebody  had already  fainted or  fallen  many times, others  had  been simply  left on the ground,  being  unconscious  or  next to their  passing, because  they were starving  or simply  the deep  wounds  they  had on  were  too serious  to let them  live any  longer.But there were  not enough  one-eyed men to look  over  so many  soldiers  in  such  a bad condition, of course.

 

“How  are  your  men  today?” the  general  asked him, in  a  low tone. There were  not  many opportunities  to talk  to  each  other  during  the day, actually, as their continuous  duties  kept  them  separated  for  most  of  the time, having  to  care  of  a  different  part  of the group. The number of people to be watched  were  so  many, and  there were only a few men  capable of  using  an  eye, to  at least check  the  ground, the  dangers around  and all the rest, anyway. 

 

The  young  man, with long chestnut  hair  that  covered  the  upper part  of  the  woolen  robe he wore,   had decided to  always wear  a  patch  crosswise  over  his  lost eye, in order  to  make sure  the  empty  ocular  cavity  could  not become infected, but also  as  a  distinctive trait  on him. He  replied  with  a  feeble  voice. “They  keep  going, but  we  lost  two  soldiers this morning. And  two  more  are  going  to follow  tomorrow, probably…They  were  some experienced, able  warriors, father.”

 

“Not more experienced  than  the other six  we  lost yesterday, my son…”  Chavdar  stated, being  sad.

 

“Yes, you’re right. What  are your orders?”

 

“Just  take care of  your men  at night…This  area  is  mostly  unknown, and  some  hungry wild beasts  could be eager  to  come out  of  the  forest  and  get some fresh meat. We  are  many, but  may also seem to be  easy prey  for  the wild  animals, being mostly unarmed  and  dead tired, you know.”

 

“Do  you  think  that  there are  bears  nearby?” the  son  asked  the leader.

 

“There could be, sure…but  something  else  could  stay  hidden  among  those trees…”  The man stopped for  a few  moments, then  went on. “In a way, I sense  it…Call it  experience, or simply  the  worries  of  a middle-aged, depressed  and  defeated  general…”

 

Kuzman  looked at  his father: before his  black  eyes  the parent  seemed to  be really  much older than he really was, surely  the  difficulties of those days and  the  lack  of  good food  had  hit  him  hard, leaving  him  bereft of strength  and weaker than ever,in a way  it  just  appeared  as a  very different individual  from the  undefeated  general  he had always been  considered  until  the day of that  final battle  fought at  Kleidion.Zhivka  herself, Chavdar’s wife  and  his  mother, too, probably  would  never recognized  the  man  given  the poor  way  he  looked  by  now…But, to  him, the  capable  leader  would  have  been  forever  the  experienced  warrior  who  was  guiding  all of them  as  safely  as he could  through that  verdant, endless  territory, undoubtedly.

 

“I’ll  do as ordered, general!” the  son exclaimed.Then  he left, returning  to  his company  down the  slope  of that  forested  mountain.

 

Chavdar  remained seated  for  a while, thinking  of  the  way he felt and considering  all the other duties he had still  to accomplish  before  laying  on  the  ground  to fall asleep. Hard  was  mentioning to  himself  that the views from up on that high lawn where he stayed  at present afforded great views down the valleys...

 

The  last  hours  of  light  were  going to  pass  calmly  and  in silence, as  the  previous days, seemingly. But  it was just   that night that all began, unfortunately. And  everything changed for worse, from that point forward…

 

*****

 

The day had  dawned clear over the mountains when  the  tired  army reached  the  highest point  of  that  forest. While  the  lines of  the  men  started  to  pitch camp  and  got ready for the  oncoming  night, some  small  groups  went  out  in search  of firewood  to  gather  or  tasty  herbs  to eat.

 

Three  one-eyed  infantrymen, who  had  left  their  soldiers  in  some other fellow’s  care for  a few  moments, assembled  at the border  of the woods, each  one with  a  small  knife  in his hand, then  they held a brief consultation  in order to decide  where  to go.

 

Nedelcho, an almost hairless  cripple soldier  in his late 20s, with only  a  worn- out, soiled  yellowish robe  on, started the discussion. “We  need  something else  to feed  on…the  herbs  our  comrades  ate  yesterday  are  really horrible. Other than that  the rain  which kept  pouring  all  morning  made those soggy, so  they  taste bad  now!”

 

“You  didn’t mention the  bad smell those  already  have…” Grigyor  added  quickly. He was short, with a strong build  that seemed to have lost weight  considerably  during the last few days   because of  the  lack of  adequate food provisions.

 

“We’d better  go  search  for some  berries - there  should be  something  edible  in the vicinity. I’ve even noticed  some  fruit  trees   along  the way  today,” the third  man, who had blond  hair on  top  of  a  wide, coarse face added. His name was Zdravko  and  looked to be wrapped in the  remains of a  dress uniform, probably  the one he  had on over the course of the  last  battle.

 

“Why  didn’t  you  tell  our commanders about  that?” Nedelcho  objected.

 

“I  tried, but  they  didn’t  listen to me. ‘We have to move!’ they kept shouting  along with  ‘We  need to get out  of here!’ - so  I  wasn’t able to do anything  else  about  that…”

 

“I  heard you  talking  to  them, actually, and I think  they  were right  at that time…the  rain  was heavy  and  could  have endangered  all our infantrymen  if we  had  remained  on those slopes. The  ground  was  slippery  and  some disaster  could have happened in just a matter of minutes…”

“Aye!” the  soldier  nodded.

 

“Alright! But we have  to move now, anyway.”  Grigyor  pressed the others: ”It’s getting  dark  very fast, the  sooner  we go, the  better…So  we can come  back  before it’s too late  and have a  good  sleep. Tomorrow  we  have to wake up early, as usual…”

 

“Just  fire up your lamp  and  go…” Nedelcho  said

 

The three  started making their  way  to  the  closest  path  and  followed it thoroughly  until  they  were far   away  from the camp, already unable to see it, because of the darkness  and  the distance involved. The  trees  enveloped  in the  dimness  of the night  looked like a sort of  long wall  that  encircled the  path they  were walking  along, displaying  some  weird  features  of the place  which  made it  even  more  distressing  and a bit frightening.

 

All of a sudden Zdravko  blurted out  something, addressing  his companions. “Didn’t you  hear  that  sound up  ahead  of us?”

 

“What  sound  you mean?” the second soldier asked.

 

“The one of  bones  being  stepped  on or  being eaten…” and at those words  he simply  shut himself up, unable to go on  speaking.

 

Eaten?” Nedelcho  cried out.

 

“Do you think  some wild beast  is around here, hunting for prey near us..?”

 

“I  think  the animal has already  caught its  prey  and is now  feeding on it…” Zdravko  replied, a  wary  look  on his face.

 

“Maybe  we, too, should take the chance  to  kill  something  in order to have some fresh  meat! Why not the same  predator  which  is  now eating  his prey  nearby?”

 

“It could be  very dangerous …” the other soldier objected.  “It  would be  alright if  we  stumbled  into  a  boar  that we  could easily  take down, along with its prey  which  would become part  of our  dinner, but what  if  it is  something  bigger or  worse? Like a bear  or  some wolves?”

 

“It’s worth  a try,” Zdravko  stated.

 

“I’m  also  tired  of  eating  only  poor  herbs and  rotten  fruit…” Nedelcho  said.  “But  we  could  find  more problems than  the ones we already  have…”

 

“We need  nutritious  food  in order to  heal  our wounds and  become strong enough to continue our journey. Our homeland  is  still too far  away…Let’s  have  a  look!”

 

The other members of the small group nodded  eventually.

 

So  Zdravko handed Nedelcho  his lamp, and his fellow soldier went further  down  the slope, while the remaining two  soon followed. Their  advance  started off well enough with a clear, wide track until they had to branch off through the forest  that was wrapped  in  darkness  all around. While  proceeding cautiously, they  reached  some barren land that was  hidden  by some  plants and  shrubs. As they went past  that, they saw  an open  area, a sort of  small clearing. That was the place  where  the  sound  was  coming  from, undoubtedly!

 

The clearing itself was small, more or less  round, floored  in  a  sort of  greenish lawn, and walled  in by  a few  old  beech  trees. To  their  great  surprise, it contained only two things: a  body, looking like a human, seemingly  already  dead, and another creature of  massive build  which didn’t  resemble a  man at all, his  back  partly lit-up  by the lamp. The beast was  massive, covered with hair and, as he turned  briefly  towards the light, his  face  had  a wolf-like  nose and two vivid  eyes resembling  an animal’s. The  wild  being behaved exactly like  a voracious  individual laying over  a  corpse  which  was already  half  eaten. The fact that alarmed the three  the most was  that  the  dead  body wore  part of the armor and the  typical  clothing  of  one of  their fellow soldiers who were marching on these slopes, while the creature-like  thing was feeding  on  the  remains, unscrupulous  and  hungry, without concern  about  anything  else around him.

 

Or, at least, he  was doing so until he  noticed the  presence  of the  group of  the  three  men  nearby. So he began smelling the air using those  huge  nostrils  and  then  raised his  massive head  in order to stare directly at them. And he immediately stopped eating his prey that lay on the ground.

 

Some  blood  was dripping down  the  sides of  his  wide mouth, with many  great, whitish teeth  openly displayed - a  terrible  appearance  on  his  weird face. As he  stood  up, temporarily throwing his  dead prey  aside, he looked  taller than  10  feet  in size. The being  moved  quickly  against  the  men  and   lurched out  a  paw  towards  the first  one’s  neck, that  was  Nedelcho, grabbing  him and  taking  the  poor  fellow to the  ground  in order to  kill  him.

 

Then the bloodshed  really began  and  only lasted for only a few moments. Grigyor was the second to fall, among  high cries and  a sound  of  teeth  already  at work.

 

Zdravko was the only one who was able to escape the cruel slaughter,eventually. While  the first two  men  were standing before  the creature, he stayed  in the rear  at the time of  the  assault, so  he  started  running  and ran fast, moving away from that place without looking back, ignoring all the desperate voices and  the sound of  bony remains  which were being  eaten  that he  happened to  hear  from  afar. He had always been very  good at running, so  he did his best  and  got out of that area  as fast as  he could.

 

That was  the thing  that saved his life.

 

As  the  only surviving  soldier  reported the  incredible events to  the general, who had been awakened  suddenly  that night,  he  looked  a  bit doubtful  and  didn’t believe his story at first. Chavdar, actually, supposed  that  a sort of  bloody  brawl  could have arisen among the three, for some unknown  reasons, and the killer, who could turn  out to be the same surviving  infantryman, had taken the chance to  slay his  adversaries, just  telling  him a strange story afterwards. That could very well have happened, certainly. But the  other blind infantrymen  of his company  told him that Zdravko  had   always been  an excellent  soldier, and  he  had  treated  them  with great care and utmost  respect  during  all those days, so they  believed in his  tale, even though  it seemed strange and  incredible.

 

The fact was that  they had lost  two  useful  one-eyed  men  all at  once, and  Chavdar knew  how much the army of the blind needed  those  at present. Now  the  Bulgarian  general  really  had some serious  problems to face…as if  their situation  weren’t  bad enough  by then…

 

*****

 

The next night  the creature  struck again and two more  soldiers  went missing in the end. Over the course  of the following  days, several  individuals were  killed  by  that  terrible being, always at night, notwithstanding  all the  precautions  they took  and  their tries  to  stay  as  far as possible from the border of the  forest. But in the end their safeguards were of no use.

 

The  General  considered that they were in a very bad situation, they had done  all they  were able to, but that didn’t seem to be enough. At  that point it  was clear  to  him  and  to  all  the other  commanders  that  it  wasn’t  simply  some plunderers  or  cruel outlaws  who were chasing  them, as  no  valuables  -- and there were  only  a few left  in the army -- appeared  to be  missing.  Not even the  poor  weapons  of the dead  had been stolen  by anyone

 

Chavdar  supposed  that, for all  the previous week, the creature had been feeding  on  the dead  of the day --  who had been left  along  the way --  among the many  wounded  or  tired  soldiers of the army, provided  that  their passing was recent  and  their  remains  looked still  tasty. But  one  night  he had assaulted  some  of his  men  who were still alive, and enjoyed them more than the  ones  who had  died  too  early on  the same  day, long before  nighttime, and who weren’t  some  succulent  meat  anymore for his peculiar  tastes. So  he had  gone  hunting in search of something  to  eat…warriors with  some fresh  blood  in  their bodies!

 

Given their difficult situation, and their the lack of very good worthy  swords  and  armor, they  tried  to  assemble  a battle team, equipped with the  best gear there was available, who  would  be able to chase  and  fight  such a  monster. Anyway, with  the remaining 13,000  blind former- prisoners, presently  alive after  the first three weeks  of  long, wearing  and deadly  route across those lands  --with  only  one man in every hundred with the sight in one eye to lead the others--  their  condition  proved to be too demanding  to  let  them  think  of  forming  a  good  battling  detachment, even if small. This was because taking away  some  men  who were still able to see  from the care of  the other  100  they  had to look  after  simply  meant  leaving the  others alone and helpless. That way, the ones  left  behind  were likely  to become the next easy prey  of  that creature  laying  somewhere  in the deep  woods  that surrounded them.

 

But  maybe all  of that  was  also  an  answer  to  their  problems, and could turn out  to be  a useful idea. What if  they  used  a  group of  blind  soldiers, left alone on purpose  in the open,  baiting the creature with  fresh meat  and then  assaulting  him on all sides  with  all their  might? Their weapons  would be  small  and  of little use, but  together  they could  kill it eventually…or so  the General thought.

 

In a way, according to  what  Chavdar  had already began  considering, it was just  as if  that  monstrous being  had  perfectly recognized the smell  of  a  weak  animal, as  they  really  were  at present, and was chasing  them  day by day, sure that  there  were    rich  resources of meat  he was able  to  prey upon at  will, and  nobody  could stop  his assaults. Unfortunately he wasn’t that far off, the General told himself, and that  image,  impressed on his mind, represented  the  bad situation  they were facing by now.

 

Maybe their soldiers had  the smell of fear attached to them, a stench  of  desperation  and  feebleness  that  the creature was capable of sensing  from afar, the  same  as  a  light  that  directed him  out  of the forest  towards  their  army  in search of fresh  food.

 

They  had  to set  their trap  or  that  bloodshed  would  never  end. And  they had to do it soon

 

*****

 

The fighting squad the generals had assembled  consisted  of  twenty  men, all  with  their  knives  and  stones, wooden  poles  and every  kind of  weapon they had  built  or found on the ground. As  Chavdar  thought on what they were doing, he didn’t like  endangering  his soldiers by using them as bait, even if fictitious, in order to attract  the  monster, but  he knew there  was  no  other  choice.

 

The  two  infantrymen who  volunteered  to try, were  ordered  to  sit down  in the woods  at night at a distance  from all the other  armed  soldiers, as if they  were  leaving the crowd  so that they  could  go hunting  by  themselves  or  evade their  duties  for  a  short time. Then  the General  deployed  his  men  in the vicinity, surrounding  the place where they  sat, and just waited  for the monster to come. Everyone  of the chosen ones disguised their smell   -- to not  be noticed  by the  weird  beast -- by means  of  mud, leaves and  shrubs that they  had  previously  wrapped their bodies  in.

 

It  didn’t  take too  long before something  happened, actually.

 

Some noises  were heard  in the undergrowth, then  a few  movements were  noticed  through the  beech trees. As the  first  man  of the two  who were  sitting in  the woods  began  to cry, Chavdar  gave the orders  and all the lamps  his soldiers  had been issued  were  lit  at once  and  the creature became  visible, right in the middle  of  the  small  clearing  that had been chosen  on purpose to set that  deadly  trap.

 

Lyudmil, the most  valuable and strongest  warrior  among  all  the  infantrymen  of his  army, moved forward  with all his speed before  anyone else could move  and  immediately  assaulted the  monster  throwing  two blades  that  remained stuck  in  the hairy  body for a while. But, both of the knives soon fell to the ground, under  the  light  of all those  lamps, as if rejected  from that massive body, which appeared to  not have been hit  by  any  weapons  at all.

 

The  same man  tried to  attack the strange being again, by  using  a  large  branch,  but  his  lunge  had no effect. Such a monster  seemed   immune to damage caused by ordinary weapons, as  the  deep  cuts  made by his  warrior  during the first assault seemed to be  healed  completely. An  incredible  thing! Then, it was the monster’s turn  and  the blow  he  addressed to  the daring  Lyudmil was  terrible and  deadly. The general  knew  it as he  looked from a distance, just before  he saw  the blood  coming out  of the  infantryman’s chest  which was going to be  pierced  eventually. The  next  soldiers  followed, but  the result  was  the  same, more or less, and after  a few moments  four  soldiers  already lay  dead on the ground.

 

The creature  was  seemingly endowed  with  an unbelievable  strength and speed far exceeding  those of common  men, indeed. His  physique  looked  much taller  than the any one  of the warrior’s  in the army  he was leading. The General was well aware  his entire squad  could  be  of no  worry  to  that being, nor  even  the best, most  trained and fastest soldier in his troops at  his best  would ever  be  able  to  damage or stop  him in the end.

 

While  that  desperate fight  was  taking place, Chavdar  noticed  a thing  that  left him  stunned. The  tall monster  wore  a sort of  metallic  bracelet  on his  right  arm, the  one  he was sure he had already  seen  on  someone  in  his army, so

 

It was  a  wawkalak! Legends  about  those  cruel  werewolves  were  abundant in this region, but it was assumed that these were only  tales of old  people, or  stories  which  were meant to  scare young children. But it was quickly becoming apparent that they  had  undervalued  such  rumors.

 

The  transformation of an individual  into such a  creature  was usually  thought  to occur either purposely or after being placed under a curse, certainly - that   condition  being  considered  a  sort of punishment coming from the gods. These  men  were supposed  to  change  into  a   werewolf at night to indulge in  bloody acts. What he was seeing confirmed what such stories  said.

 

The General  had  also been thinking  for a while  that the bloody  assaulter  might  be  a soldier  of  his army, or a commander, as  the  horrible  deaths  seemed to be following  them  along the way. But who? And  since  when? How  could he discover  the truth? Besides, he  remembered that  the old stories  explained  that  the  bloody  being was  vulnerable only to silver  objects, something all  of his  men were now lacking  in, surely.

 

After  having  killed  all of the twenty  infantrymen  assembled  for that  attack, and  also  the  helpless pair in the  middle of that clearing, the  powerful  wolf-like monster left  his dead prey,  stepped forward, ready  to  deal  with  Chavdar, finally. The creature  started in his direction, two  bulging  bloodshot  eyes  staring at him from afar. There  was  no  one else  alive  to help  him, and the General  was   thinking  he  would have  sold  his life dearly, by any means, but he  couldn’t deceive himself: he  knew  he  would breathe his last soon…

 

The hairy  creature had no tail --it was  his way of  moving on three legs  that  made him  stretch the fourth one backwards to look like an unexpected  tail -- and to appear very large. Other than that, he undoubtedly had  human-like eyes, if you could just concentrate on those when he came near.

 

Then the most  unexpected  thing  happened right in front of him. The  creature, very imposing and  terrifying, stopped  immediately  and  seemed to be thinking of something. Then  he  started  walking again, very calmly, towards the man.

 

By  approaching slowly, as a good  dog might approach  his  master  with some meekness, and  by  licking  the  hands  of  the  middle-aged  General ,  the wolf-like being  clearly showed  him  that  he didn’t want to eat him – just his men  actually. What the hell…

 

Then  Chavdar remembered  what  the  peasants  commonly said  about  these monsters: .Legends  had  it that  the neighbors and family of the men  turned into  a  wawkalak  were unafraid of him

 

But  how did  it happen? There  was no  one  else  from  his family within the crowd  who represented  the  poor  disbanded  army  so  far  except…his son! Oh  my!

 

The  creature stopped  licking  Chevadar’s hands, then  moved backwards  and  returned  to  the  deep woods where he  had  supposedly  come from  that night.

 

He  didn’t even  try  to  attack  him or  show  any  warlike behavior  towards  him. The general remained speechless, alone, in the clearing full of dead bodies, his former soldiers  who  had fallen  on that   battlefield.

 

*****

 

Everything that Chavdar  thought  he had  just discovered  proved to be true the  following day, as  the General, accompanied  by  another  younger  commander  of his, named  Alexander, reached his  son  who was washing  his eye  patch  in a  small  water stream  that  crossed  that  plain. As  the man approached, Kuzman  hurriedly  covered  his  left  eye  and  then  put  the  cloth on it  quickly before  Chavdar could  look at  it  directly….But  the  leader  already  knew the truth, even  though he didn’t say anything.

 

“Father!” the  young man  welcomed  him, then  remained in silence.

 

The General noticed  that his  son  was  hiding  the  eye socket  only because  he didn’t want the others  to discover  that  he  had  his once-lost eye  again, right in its place…The  wawkalak  surely was able to  make  his  arms and tissues  grow  again, as  he  had  discovered  the night  before…

 

The man reminded himself of some  old memories, a few  details  he  had never understood but  that he now saw as important revealing traits. Ever since Kuzman had reached the age of 15, the boy had started  leaving the house at odd times, and went out hunting by night on some days. So, the General should have had some suspicions -he  should have  seen the  true  face of his  son  by then.

 

Chavdar didn’t have the heart  to  kill  him, to  slay  the only  son of his who had survived  the  bloody battle of  Kleidion, as he didn’t  want to  give more pain  to  his wife  when  he had  finally got  back  to  his house, if ever.

 

Maybe, he  would never have discovered the truth about  what his beloved son really was  if  he  hadn’t seen  the creature with his own eyes, if  he  hadn’t taken him  into  his army  to fight  that war. But  now that the man knew  how  the  things  really were, he  was well aware  that  he  couldn’t  act against him. Not even to save his soldiers…

 

After that  bloody defeat, after  all  that had resulted because of it  and all  Chavdar  had lost  on the  battlefield, along with one of his eyes, he  simply  couldn’t  bear the weight  of  such a loss, there was no way he was going to  fight  his  son.

 

It  was  not that  he couldn’t  look  at what Kuzman  had become, but  he just  didn’t  want to  see…

 

“We’d better move on,” the man  stated, standing in front of his son  while staring at Alexander. “There’s nothing else  we can do…just  push our men  to  walk along. Maybe if  we can get out of  these precipices  and  the forests  of this area, we can have a chance, we can  make it.”

 

“Aye, Sir!” replied the slender commander who soon hurried to  make  the infantrymen move along.

 

Chavdar  looked  discouraged as his  subaltern  went  away. Maybe  sooner or later he was going to become the  prey of  the creature that  was his son  the following night, who knew? With all his heart, he hoped not.

 

“We’ll  outlast all of this!” he  cried out, addressing  both  Kuzman  who was next to him  and  his  attendant who  was already  far away. The General knew  he was  lying, but  there was nothing else he could do. He  wasn’t used to lying to his  soldiers, but  he was  certain that  by the end of that  bloody journey, unfortunately, he  would have  become  very good at it.


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