Javier examined the cave's opening from his hiding place. The mouth was thickly overgrown, but clever eyes -- Javier's eyes -- could pick out the evidence of his quarry's passage: a branch that bent the wrong way, dirt disturbing the stone floor under the overhang, a broken spider's web. More tellingly, there was nothing that suggested the cave was currently occupied by any animals.
No, it had to be Evar in there. Javier allowed himself a thin smile before he began to creep forward. As the challenger in this contest, Evar had to both find the jewel and return it to the waiting priests before sundown on the third day; Javier had only to prevent Evar from reaching his destination.
Evar was in the cave. Javier stood at the entrance and peered into the darkness, his hand drifting to the hilt of his sword. He had not sought this contest, but he would not -- could not -- let Evar steal away with the prize. More than his honor was at stake, here.
Should he follow Evar down into the darkness? His thumb rolled thoughtfully over the sword's plain pommel as he considered. No, he decided finally. The cave system might be any size and boast any number of chambers -- and worse, a dozen or more winding passages. Javier planted his feet and prepared to watch, and wait.
The afternoon stretched on, and began to deepen into night, and still there was no sign of his opponent. Could he have guessed wrong? Was Evar even now strolling back into the temple, unopposed, the jewel dangling carelessly -- disrespectfully -- from his thieves' fingers? Javier ground his teeth at the very thought and hesitated, undecided.
Something hit the back of his head with a soft paff. Javier whirled, his sword half-drawn to defend against--
A mushroom. No larger than his thumb, shockingly white in the gathering gloom of evening, it lay quiet and blameless on the forest floor. Frowning, Javier scanned the underbrush for some creature that might have thrown it -- a raccoon, perhaps, or an ape... Nothing.
A soft chuckle dragged his eyes higher, into the tree tops, already knowing what he would see and not wanting to, not believing: Evar was perched at the top of an ash. The jewel was fastened around his neck, and Javier felt a rush of anger: of course the cave had more than one entrance! He should have gone in. The anger morphed into despair: There was no way he could race the nimble-footed thief back to the temple now. He had lost. All was lost.
But Evar had not yet left his tree. He cocked his head, merely watching Javier as he struggled to master his expression, if not his emotions. Finally, he said, "I don't care if they know who really won. I could be persuaded to... lose the jewel, you know."
Sublime hope and deepest shame rose into Javier's throat, nearly choking him. "Persuaded... how?" he reluctantly asked.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Hey, it's Flash Fiction Friday! Lynn kindly suggested the following words: quarry, mushroom, sublime, and challenger. Let's see what I can come up with, shall we?