A Man without Shadow

He opened his eyes.

Took a gasping breath, and leaned up, coughing as he did.

A sharp pain jolted through his left side, and he grimaced. His hand went to instinctively clutch at the hurting region, met with cloth that had been torn or sliced through. The dull grey and beige rags adorning his body looked threadbare, and stained with… blood? Blinking, the man took stock of his surroundings.

Wheat, and lots of it. The plants and their fruit were still green, and they waved languidly in the gentle breeze. It was then that the man realised he was in fact laying upon some of it – several stems had been bent over where his body had fallen upon them. Others had snapped completely, and now the rough form of the seeds was irritating his back and neck. He sat up again, slowly, attempting to brush straggling bits of wheat from his back, though that was proving difficult.

He looked around him. The wheat had grown quite tall, and obscured his view of anything except more wheat, with the exception of a patch of sky. Above him the heavens were varying shades of red and orange; either the sun was coming up, or it was going down. He couldn’t tell. A few lazy wispy clouds were travelling eastward of him. Though it was unclear, he thought he could pick up on a few twinkling stars.

Pain continued to be a companion of his, but he propped himself up on his elbows, taking stock. His pain, thinning top was indeed ripped, and around the hole the fabric was mottled a dark red. My own blood? Trousers, a dull, faded brown, and flimsy shoes with brown leather that was starting to cure and peel, completed his meagre outfit. The man stole a glance around him, trying to find any clues as to why he’d ended up unconscious in a wheat field, with an apparent wound in his abdomen (though his body was without said wound, another mystery to solve). It was as he stood that he caught sight of the other body.

At first, all he could make out were the legs. The shoes and trousers were similar to his own, but as his eyes progressed along the other person, he noted that the top was cleaner than his own, save for one, glaring detail.

Around the collar and neck, blood had soaked the material. As it became apparent that he was staring at a man, and a corpse, the cause of death also revealed itself. The other man’s throat had been all but ripped out – it was a shredded mess of flesh, windpipe, and skin. The face was contorted in pain and fear, eyes still open, but devoid of life.

He recoiled in horror, stumbling backwards and tripping over, ending up on his backside. It was then that he became aware of how dry his throat was, and the hammering of his own beating heart as adrenaline surged through him. He wanted to retch, but he pushed the acidic sensation down, trying instead to focus. Something metallic glinted in the light (which by now was fading – night is setting in). One of them had brought a sword, which looked remarkably well-made. The blade was long, smooth and conveyed a sense of deadly sharpness. The hilt was simple – a plain black leather, easy to grip, but big enough to require both hands, with gold cross-guards. How do I know this?

Blood was still congealing on the sword, a marker that whatever had transpired between these two had happened quite recently. Some deep instinct stirred within him, told him he needed to leave, immediately. To linger would be folly.

As he stood again, his eyes fixed to the sword. There was no scabbard, and he himself had no belt upon which to secure the weapon, but he felt the urge to take it. The fallen man had a belt, a simple black leather one with a small hoop to contain the sword. Though he felt it wrong to rob the deceased, he hastily unclipped the belt and took it for himself. Next, he carefully wiped the blade against the wheat, no doubt spoiling a small portion of the farmer’s crop, but not too much. It wasn’t a perfect job, the sword was still stained, but it would have to do.

A question that had been floating around his mind since he awoke came to the fore. What happened? Why don’t I remember? Why didn’t he remember anything? Yet, he knew what a sword was, knew he was in a wheat field, knew the difference between night and day…

Now he was standing he had a clear view. A scare-crow made of straw had been crucified upon wooden beams, and stuffed into old cream-coloured clothing, but the blackbirds had been undeterred, and pecked at the exposed straw, occasionally squawking. Their noise increased sharply as he approached, and the birds took flight, annoyed that their surveillance had been interrupted. He ignored them and made for the small path he could see in the distance.

A crumbling stone street waited him, with several of the cobbled paving stones bearing the mark of cracks, water saturation and scratches from animal hooves and claws. It hadn’t been maintained for years. The path also offered no clue as to where to go next – did he go right or left? With the sunlight almost gone and the moonlight doing a wholly inadequate job as a replacement source of illumination, he had to make a choice. With a deep breath he started out to his left, not truly knowing if he were heading north, south, east or west. He just knew he had to put some distance between himself and the event behind him.

There was no one else around, not a hint of civilisation to be seen, or heard, or smelled. To his right was another field, filled with barley. A faint scent still carried from it in the wind, that was starting to pick up as night fell. Like the wheat, it wasn’t yet ready for harvesting. He couldn’t explain why, but he got a faint sense of dread when he thought of the harvest, as though a bad memory lurked underneath the veil of amnesia. Picking up his pace, he decided he wanted to be clear of the fields as quickly as possible.

After an indeterminate length of time, he became aware of a sound, the quiet but unmistakable sound of water, gurgling as it rushed along a river or a stream. The noise brought with it a reminder that he was parched, his throat feeling as though he’d swallowed a rusty razor blade. Ahead of him the path was bearing to the right, and starting to slope downward, which brought into view a welcome sight – thatched roofs, wooden slates, and a small windmill, with a brook running by it. He had stumbled upon a village!

It was then that he had to check himself. His top was blood-stained, and he carried a sword. What would the people in the little hamlet make of him? Maybe they know me…

If they did know him, was that a good thing? His mind was tying itself in knots trying to figure out if he should keep going forward, or whether he should simply turn around and seek solitude. No, I can’t run away, what will that accomplish? He went onward, for the first time spying people, putting away barrels and clay bowls, and closing up wooden shutters on their windows. So far, no one had noticed – or appeared to have noticed – his approach. With the sword gently slapping his thigh, and the leather soles of his shoes tapping the bumpy surface beneath him, the man wandered into the village…


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