Big John was chopping wood for the village, but as soon as he heard someone shout his name, he dropped his axe. Sweat ran down his face from the hard work, he was exhausted, but something had happened to his wife, so he ran to their house as fast as he could.
He burst through the door with his heavy frame. Several people were within. Marla was on the bed, bloody bandages next to her, on the floor. The village healer was leaning over her. "What happened?" Big John asked.
"She was out in the fields, gathering herbs," said Gabe, a farmer. "An Orc rode up to her and shot her with an arrow, point blank."
Big John went to kneel beside the bed and hold her hand. There was so much blood. Her hand was cold and clammy. Marla looked him in the eye, gasping for breath, face twitching in pain. "An Orc? Why would it do that? Where did it go?"
Marla grasped his hand with all her strength. "It...it said... to give a message. Tomorrow at dawn... They...they... attack!" Her fingers slackened and her eyes closed.
"Marla?" Big John was about to shake her. She couldn't just die. But then the healer held him back.
"She's just unconscious. She's still breathing. But there's not much more I can do. It doesn't look good."
Big John sighed in relief. Then got up on his feet and stood up straight, towering over everyone else in the room. "Where did that beast go?"
"It rode off to where it came from. They're going to attack tomorrow. It was a warning." Gabe looked pale. If it was from all the blood or from the prospect of being attacked, Big John didn't know or care.
"A warning? Shooting an arrow through my wife is a warning?" Big John balled his fists together. His breathing quickened. It was an outrage. How dare they attack. What had the villagers of Duranham done to those beasts. They couldn't let this stand. Something had to be done.
"Mama?" Small John stood in the door to their home. He was out of breath and looked ghostly pale. They called him Small John, only because he was Big John's son. Physically, he came after his father in every regard. He was tall for sixteen years of age and was still growing. Having helped his father cut wood over the years had made him muscular as well. But looking at him now, Big John saw how young he still was.
Big John strode toward his son and blocked the boys view of his mother and the blood. "She's fine boy. She just needs to rest. I need you to do something for me. Go outside and unhitch the horse from the cart, I'll be right out."
Small John looked uncertain, but followed his father's orders and went back outside. Big John strode to the healer, she was the only scribe in the village, and he asked her to write a message for the King. He gathered some provisions and with the message in hand he went outside.
Small John had just finished unhitching the horse and was putting a saddle on its back. "Come here, boy! I have an important job for you. I need you to bring this message to the King. You hear? Can you do that for me?"
Small John looked up at him. He was tall, but still not quite as tall as his father. He seemed to feel that something wasn't right, but he nodded. "Pa, is Mama gonna be alright?"
"Of course she is. Don't you worry. You'll be back in a few days and she'll be just fine. You'll see." Big John hated lying to the boy, but it was better than the alternative. He knew he was going to lose his wife and he knew he was going to fight against Orcs, fearsome warriors. He didn't know if he'd survive, but he damn well wasn't going to let his son be endangered as well. He had to get out while he still could.
"Okay, Pa." Small John grabbed the provisions and the message. Before he could get on the saddle Big John grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him in for a hug.
"I'm so proud of you, boy. That's why I trust you to do this for me. Just wanted you to know that." He let his son go from the embrace and put on a broad smile. He hoped the kid wouldn't see how fake it was. "Now go, boy. Go."
Small John smiled back and got up on the saddle. The horse galloped away, bringing his son to safety. Big John went back inside his house. People were still gathered within, watching Marla. She was conscious again. Big John knelt down beside her.
"Where's my small Johnny baby?" She whispered.
Big John took her small, cold hands into his. "He's safe, darling. He's going to be just fine."
"That's good. I'd just like to see him again. One more time."
"Don't say such things. You'll be just fine as well."
"Maybe... it doesn't hurt anymore... maybe you're right." Marla smiled up at him."My big handsome woodsman. I love you." All strength left her hands and the light in her eyes began to fade.
"I love you, too." Big John kissed her forehead, a single tear running down his cheek. She was gone.