I had to chop him up. That way, I could lay him out in the bottom of the walnut chest and cast him out to sea. It was odd—a chest within a chest; limbs in a boxed shelter that had once been a limb itself. He was far from dead, but my mind was spinning with the gravity of what I must do.
Chopping him up. I knew I had to do it, and be done with it soon. People would talk about my weakness. The respect of the tribal elders was the only hinge balancing on my own survival, and this is how I came to be by the river.
Knives had me blinded when a white sun splintered into polished metal; bouncing off the blades and boring into my eyes. With my forearm, I sheltered my face as I stood alone with knives, mallets, and a threadbare blanket. Then there were the glares, more blistering than the white sun.
With most of Fontankah now looking down upon me, the elders warranted that they had picked the common to hear every break of bone; to see the spilling of blood sopping all around my beloved and I, until I had wrenched out every organ, each slab of muscle, each string of sinew, to lay it down in the same chest he had arrived in as a yearling, lost in a blanket of sleep; downy fur sprouting from his back.
The smell of lantana began to sink into the ground; its stink strangling any strength I had for what I was about to do. I stood up, my head light from a heavy heart.
I called to the elders, bowing. ‘I have chosen to die with my beast.’
Tribespeople weakened, tumbling to the undergrowth, and the elders leant forward, curious as to my newfound oath. I could not slaughter Zahndorf. I could not see the stillness of his eyes; icy pools, looking up at the village savage Merckianne. He would have to do both of us and that was that. The trolls found joy at the news of a slaughtering. Mouths frothed, they jumped up and down, then squatted and rose again to delight in the slaying. They smelt it; they tasted it. Pixahn tipped his trunk forward, his hand in a tremor on his staff.
‘Are you to determine your end?’ asked Pixahn, ‘or do you wish for it to be chosen for you?’
‘I shall determine how I meet my maker. Tonight I shall end my life, just as I shall end Zahndorf’s,’ I answered.
‘Narloh, I beg of you to consider this most seriously. This is your life, and you are but a citizen of great repute in the forest, and indeed the tribe.’
I gave yield, nodding to him as he lowered his saggy chin to rest on his shrunken chest.
‘Pixahn, it is my final decision,’ I said.
He opened his eyes under a furrowed brow and raised his eyes level with mine.
‘Very well. We shall meet at dawn to lay you and your beast to rest. We will collect you and bring you to the river. ‘Tis a misfortune you have chosen this most drastic course of action, though as I pronounced, you are a fine enough member of the tribe to choose his fate, whether it be to live, or to die alongside your beast.’
Zahndorf was no beast. He had been my faithful companion for many a season, after my first Pegasus, Wikkeellah met with foul play at the hands of hunters, who had wanted him for his precious wings. The hunters were found and brought to trial—their punishment, having to bear the agony of each limb being torn off, just the way they had done with my dear Wikkeellah. They endured an unspeakable death, and even after they had breathed their last parched breath and had turned the colour of water, the peace of retribution and the accord of justice never came to me.
‘Pixahn, I give thanks for the respect you have for my resolution.’
My heavy legs began to lift, and I found my feet back at my shelter where Zahndorf stood tethered to the oak tree just outside my hut. I rubbed his snout, noticing his wings had grown darker since I had left for the tribal gathering. They were now the colour of sabre. I reached for his crown, stroking it backward.
‘Zahndorf, I’m coming with you at dawn. I’ll not survive without you.’
He looked at me oddly, asking me to explain.
I have to die alongside you.’
‘No, you must not,’ he said, his hooves kicking backward.
‘I can, and I shall,’ I declared, my hand smoothing his flank as I retreated into my hut.
‘But it was I who went against the tribal doctrine. It was I who flew over the river Quinnahn, not you.’
To be continued …