Chapter 2- To the Forest (1)
Sunlight slipped through the cracks of the wall rousing Gavin from his sleep. He sat up and blinked a few times before he got up. His movement was very slow as he dragged his body. Unfortunately, he was still half asleep so he didn’t notice a lump of cloth on the floor.
“Curse the devil!” he screamed. He hopped with one foot as he held his other foot. The throbbing pain in his toe erased
Now fully awake, Gavin looked at the source of his mishap. A small girl was rubbing her eyes awaken by the loud noise. Her hair was disheveled and covered most of her face. She was sitting at the foot of side of his bed with the blankets wrapped around her body. But what he hit wasn’t her. With their difference in size, she was most likely the one who would have screamed in pain right now. No. The cause of his aching toe was something beside the girl. A certain sword wrap in leather that weight heavier than it look.
He wondered how it was placed beside Xiaomei and why she was sleeping at the foot of his bed. It was dangerous as he may unintentionally step on her as what almost happened. He was sure he had placed her in a corner last night. How she got here together with that sword, he didn’t know.
In a few seconds she finally snapped from her drowsiness. A smile appeared beneath her messy hair as she spoke.
“A-aye.” Gavin replied awkwardly. He walked away briskly ignoring the pain in his toes.
So it wasn’t a dream. Uncle Morgan came back with this child, Xiaomei. He remembered Xiaomei’s eyes and couldn’t stop himself from shivering. In his mind he knew it was irrational to act this way but couldn’t help himself.
He walked outside towards a well. He heard the rustling of clothes and small steps following him but just ignored it. Gavin pulled the rope and a bucket of water appeared from the depths of the well. He washed his face with the cold water.
While he was refreshing himself he began to think of his errands for the day. He needed to chop firewood. He also needed to return to the woods to collect more for the winter. Should he bring Xiaomei with him? . He really didn’t want to leave a helpless girl alone.
He could feel Xiaomei waiting patiently at his side as he gargled water. She was silent the whole time even though she talked a lot the night before. He curiously glanced at her.
Gavin spit out the water in his mouth in surprise. Some water even went up to his nose. He felt his eyes water. He cough as he choked from the water went to the wrong pipe.
“Gavin!” Xiaomei cried in alarm. Gavin just raise an arm to prevent her from coming near him.
Xiaomei had a habit of following him since yesterday and he got tired of asking her to stay in one place. She was always around his feet and with his height he could see glances of her small, slanted eyes. This made him extremely nervous. Yet, the child ignored all hints, pleas and commands that ask her to stand in a corner or sit on a chair. She was quite determined to follow him like a puppy.
But what was different today was she was carrying something. It was wrapped in leather so one wouldn’t be able to know what it was until they remove the cover. It was the strange sword. The sword towered over Xiaomei who was only almost half its size.
“Asleep? Am I still asleep, is that it?” Gavin said out loud as he thought very hard. He then took a glance at Xiaomei just in case he just imagining it but still found the sword in Xiaomei’s arms. “D-dream, right? This is just a dream.”
He found it stranger that a child could lift the sword easily than a sword trying to control his mind. After all, it took both of his hands to lift it and he was quite strong. He was distracted for a moment but quickly realized the gravity of the situation.
“Let that sword go! It’s dangerous” Gavin rushed towards the child intending to separate the sword from her. Xiaomei, however, was surprised by Gavin’s sudden action and dodged.
Gavin didn’t expect this reaction. He tried to grab the sword again but still missed as Xiaomei took a step back. Panicking, Gavin did not give up, but knowing that he intended to take the sword, Xiaomei avoided him. Who knew that this little girl could be so agile?
Xiaomei was quietly staring at him. For the first time he realized the disadvantage of not seeing the girl’s expression. She seems to be… fine? She’s doesn’t look as if she is losing control of herself.
Gavin straighten his back. He stared at the small girl in front of him. Unlike Gavin yesterday, Xiaomei was unaffected by the cursed sword. Did it mean being mind controlled was just his imagination? He glanced at his right wrist. The mark of rows of teeth from last night was no longer there. There was no evidence that event yesterday really occurred.
More importantly, is this sword lighter than it looks? Gavin was one of the stronger men in the village. Did it mean he was weaker than this child? He absolutely will not accept this fact!
Gavin slowly reached out a hand to grab the sword. Xiaomei did not run away this time and just observed his actions. With all his might, Gavin attempted to raise the sword. Veins appeared in his arm but it didn’t even budge. Unable to accept defeat, he then used both of his hands to take the sword away from Xiaomei but could only lift it for a few inches.
Xiaomei who was watching silently the whole time suddenly let go of the sword. Gavin immediately lost his balance as he was dragged by the weight of the sword.
“Whoa!” Gavin crashed to ground together with the sword. He twisted his body in the last second so that he fell to his side instead of his face.
A tinkling laughter rang out. Gavin sat up holding his sore side while looking at the giggling girl.
“The same…” Xiaomei was giggling in between words. “You did the same thing as Uncle Morgan.”
Gavin was dumbfounded for a few seconds before smiling wryly. He could imagine his ever curious uncle doing the exact thing.
“But Uncle Morgan fell on his face.” Xiaomei continued. “His nose bled and he had a bump on his forehead.”
Gavin stood up while dusting himself. Hearing about his uncle’s actions calmed him down. If his uncle did the same thing but still brought the girl with him then it would be alright. Even if the sword had the ability to control other people’s minds. This thought made Gavin realized something.
“Ah! Why did nothing happen this time?”
“Because of the leather.”
“Huh?” Gavin was unconvinced. “Leather? Because it’s still wrap in leather?”
Xiaomei nodded her head.
Gavin smile thinned. So a piece of leather can protect you from losing your mind. Is that okay? Like a pot and a pot holder? Is it alright for a cursed sword to have that kind of weakness?
He was afraid to know the answer but still needed to ask. In a hushed voice he spoke: “Is it an actual cursed sword?”
“Yes!” Xiaomei replied happily with a bright smile. Gavin had the urge to take the sword and throw it at a cliff. If he could lift it that is!
“Ah! But the other sword isn’t!” Xiaomei placed the sword on the ground then unwrapped the leather coverings of the sword.
“Hey! Hey!” Gavin practically screamed. “You don’t have to do that! It’s dangerous!”
Xiaomei ignored him and took the sword that was tied to the blade of the large sword. She then offered the sword to Gavin.
Gavin wanted to take a few, no, a number of steps back but couldn’t because Xiaomei seems to be quite excited. He could just imagine her eyes going bright with expectation. She was like a kid showing off her treasures one after another.
“I-I don’t think this is a good…”
Xiaomei’s smile began to falter, her shoulders drooping. Gavin could practically see her puppy ears folding in sadness.
Gavin immediately felt bad. What kind of adult am I to make a child sad?
With determination Gavin grabbed the sword. Xiaomei’s expression brightened again, her smile even wider than before. Gavin mentally nodded in satisfaction.
“Oh? It’s n-normal? I expected it to be heavier.”
It was almost a meter long. He was expecting it to be like the large sword but there was no surprise on its weight. He didn’t notice yesterday but the pattern on it sheath looked like a lizard. A rather long lizard with whiskers. He found the design really strange. He then unsheathed it and saw the blade polished so bright that he could see his reflection.
Gavin was just a simple woodcutter so he wasn’t familiar with swords but he had seen some of the men in the village carry one.
“Isn’t it too thin? Too small?” Gavin said as he observed the sword. “It’s really sharp though.”
“It’s called the Demon slaying sword!” Xiaomei replied enthusiastically. Gavin almost drop the sword but stop himself.
What kind of sword is a Demon slaying sword? It kills demons? So demons are real? So it’s a “good” sword? Well I’m not feeling strange like last night. Still what kind of irresponsible adult gave Xiaomei this sword?!
“Xiaomei,” Gavin sheathed the sword, his hands slightly trembling. “I think it would be better if we get rid of these dangerous weapons.”
“Ah! But Gavin if you do that the demon sword will get lonely and hurt other people.”
“D-demon sword?” Gavin felt blood drain from his face. Xiaomei pointed the huge sword that was currently on the ground.
“Hahaha.” Gavin laughed awkwardly. Then grabbed Xiaomei and carried her towards the entrance of his house. Xiamei squealed in surprise.
“Again! Again!” Xiaomei jumped around breathlessly after he dropped her to the ground. She seemed to have enjoyed being suddenly carried by Gavin.
“Who? Who thought it was alright to give a little girl a cursed sword that has ominous name such as Demon sword? In the first place why a sword? Wouldn’t a doll be better? Preferably one that is not cursed!”
Gavin complained to no one in particular. He took a peek at the sword he left beside the well. It might be his imagination but the sword definitely looked menacing. What was he going to do? Why did his uncle let this matter continue?
A jolt of electricity abruptly flowed from the thin sword in his hand. He reflexively let the sword go in surprise which Xiaomei instantly caught.
“Don’t worry Gavin!” Xiaomei smiled as she held the sword with both hands. The sword was smaller than the sword left outside but it still looked too big in Xiaomei’s hands. “As long as the Demon slaying sword and I are here, I will protect you from the Demon sword!”
Gavin didn’t know where her confidence was coming from. As far as he was concerned there was also something strange with the so called Demon slaying sword as well. Apart from its name, of course!
He had a lot of questions and his only source of information was a child. Based from his past conversations with Xiaomei and how she seems to regard owning cursed swords as normal, he wasn’t sure she would be able to answer his questions satisfactorily. Still, he tried to ask her.
“Xiaomei please tell me what exactly is the demon sword?”
“Uhmmm… the demon sword is a… a… sword!”
“I mean why is it called a demon sword?”
“Because, it’s the partner of the Demon slaying sword!”
“W-what do you mean ‘partner’?”
“Because the Demon sword is called the Demon sword so the Demon slaying sword is the Demon slaying sword!”
Gavin stared at Xiaomei in silence. He wasn’t expecting much but this was worse than he thought. On the other hand, the little girl looked quite proud of herself.
“You weren’t even able to give a single decent answer, you know!” he wanted to scream but didn’t. Even he understood that it would be useless to lose his cool because of a child that didn’t know any better. He couldn’t decide what was could be the possible cause for Xiaomei’s answers. It was either due to her lack of mastery in the language or she just had no idea what the swords really were. Could she actually be an airhead?
Gavin massaged his temple with his thumb and forefinger. He felt his head aching. He knew it wasn’t good to rely for information from Xioamei but he didn’t have any other choice. He was no expert but owning something curse was definitely bad news.
Xiaomei was gazing at him with eyes full of anticipation. It was quite obvious that she was enjoying how Gavin was interested about the swords. Gavin felt the pressure of those eyes full of expectations.
“Whoa!” Gavin took a step backward and found his back against the wall. He was so preoccupied with investigating about the swords that he failed to notice that Xiaomei’s long fringes parted, exposing her slanted eyes.
Seeing his actions, Xiaomei tilted he head in question.
“Y-your hair! Your hair!” Gavin screamed desperately with eyes close, cold sweat pouring in his back..
The girl quickly messed up her making sure her long hair covered her face. She then announced “done!” happily.
Gavin slowly opened his eyes and took a peak if Xiaomei’s eyes were covered. He gave a sighed of relief and stopped himself from being one with the wall. He was glad she was quite cooperative. He wouldn’t know what to do if she decided to play a prank on him.
While he was calming himself down Xiaomei had already picked up the thin sword and ran outside.
It was too late. The little girl was already handling the two swords. He was a little surprised how fast Xiaomei moved. One moment she passed the door and the next she was already holding the larger sword. The distance was at least ten meters. Gavin shook his head.
“I guess I’m really more shaken than I thought.”
Again he couldn’t believe as she saw Xiaomei just lift the sword nonchalantly as she tied the demon slaying sword to the demon sword.
“Nothing is really happening.” He murmured quietly as he compared his reaction from yesterday with Xiaomei now. He was sure if she hadn’t intervened he would have lost his mind and killed any living person in sight. Yet, nothing was happening to Xiaomei. She also was not having any troubles in carrying the large sword. It was really… surreal.
“M-maybe I was just overreacting yesterday?” Gavin murmured to himself as he squatted beside Xiaomei. She was expertly tying the cloth then proceeded to wrap it in leather. She looked like she had done this dozen of times already.
A familiar growling sound reached Gavin’s ears. Xiaomei raised her head and stared at Gavin. Gavin could just imagine the puppy dog eyes under her fringes.
“S-shall we eat first?”
Xiaomei smiled and nodded. She trotted behind Gavin as he began to prepare for breakfast. He couldn’t help but give a long sighed as he took a glance at the little girl who carried a sword that was taller than her.
Patience. We are going to live together from now on. As long as she is safe then there is no need to separate the sword from her, at least for now. I can investigate about these frightening swords slowly.
The breakfast was barley porridge which they shared. Xiaomei quickly finish her portion and yet, her stomach continued to sound. She looked at the remaining porridge Gavin was eating while drooling. Not able to stand her stare he gave his remaining meals to her.
“I really need to go to the village as soon as possible. I need to trade for beans and more blankets.”
“Sorry.” Xiaomei replied in a small voice.
Gavin smiled as her shoulders droop. Even without looking at her facial expression, her body language was quite animated. You could clearly see her emotions.
“What are you saying sorry for? Let me tell you this, you’re too small for a twelve year old. You need to eat a lot to become stron- tall like me!”
“Yes Gavin! I want to be as big and strong like you!”
“There is no need for you to be any stronger! Focus on becoming taller!” Gavin didn’t know what would happen if she becomes any stronger than now. His self-confidence takes a hit every time he sees her carrying those swords. “I need to go to the forest first today but I’ll go to the village when I come back.”
Gavin didn’t like visiting the village. He was not welcome there so he never went unless needed. If he didn’t need to buy food and repair his axe, he would rather spend his time home or in the forest. But he was worried the prices of the commodities would become more expensive now that winter is just around the corner. He wasn’t even sure if there are still stocks left. There were rather deep in the highlands. The merchants rarely risk travelling this far too trade in the middle of the winter. If he wanted to buy anything then he needed to do it as soon as possible.
Xiaomei’s eyes sparkled. “Can I come with you Gavin?”
Gavin was confused for a moment. He spoke slowly.
“The village or the forests?”
“I was thinking on bringing you with me. It would be better if I keep my eyes on you.” Gavin glanced at the huge sword that was lying on the floor. “But the forests is a dangerous place so be sure not to stray away from me.”
Gavin smiled wryly. It was times like these he really couldn’t help but think that this child was quite cute. He was planning to chop some firewood but considering Xiaomei was coming with him he decided to leave earlier.
He was looking forward on going to the forest with her. At least there, he didn’t have to worry about meeting other people and getting into trouble. As long as they follow the pathway nothing could go wrong.
“I said no!”
“I said you can’t bring those swords with you.”
Xiaomei hugged even more tightly the huge sword wrapped in leather. Gavin felt his headache coming back.
“But I made a promise!” Xiaomei replied resolutely. “I will always keep them beside me wherever I go.”
Gavin felt his heart skipped faster. He couldn’t helped but think that this maybe a chance to uncover one of the mysteries of the sword. “Promise? To who?”
“To the Demon sword and the Demon slaying sword.”
Gavin felt all his excitement go the drain. Well, I sort of expected that it will be another useless information though. He used his gentlest voice as he spoke to Xiaomei.
“Xiaomei I’m saying it for your sake. You will get tired carrying these swords the whole time.”
Xiaomei shook her head. “I’m going to be fine. Since a long time ago, I was already carrying the swords. I won’t get tired!”
Gavin sighed. Of all the children in the world, his uncle had to pick the most eccentric one of them all. He was sure that Xioamei is the only child, no, the only person who would be carrying a cursed sword that is twice her size. Still he had no plan backing down in this argument. He was ignorant in how the world works but he was pretty sure carrying cursed swords while doing an errand was not normal.
“If you are afraid that someone will steal the swords, you don’t have to worry. There are only a few men in the village who are as strong as me.”
Xiaomei shook her head as she hugged the sword even more closely. Her small hands grabbed the leather cloth tightly. She was no longer looking at Gavin but was staring at the ground. She didn’t speak anymore instead kept shaking her head in denial.
Gavin saw the non-existent puppy dog ears drooping in sadness and the imaginary tail no longer wagging happily. He was going to lose this argument. No doubt about it.