They buried the children at dawn.
The work was solemn, and the going was slow.
They had but one sharpened pick amongst them for digging the frozen soil. They took turns wielding it.
With a bucket, they scooped the turned dirt beside the shoreline where the bodies of the children lay.
The Moor wept sporadically but didn’t break down and didn’t speak. She worked faster and more vigorously than either of the men did, eager to finish the excruciating task as soon as possible.
Once the graves were dug, they wrapped the children in linen.
They placed the bodies carefully into the shallow graves.
The Moor kissed each of the children on the forehead. Her tears stained their ashen cheeks.
When they had finished their task, The Priest took his Bible from his cloak and opened it to a dog-eared page.
The Moor stamped her foot before The Priest.
“No. You will say nothing here. I forbid it.”
The Viking interceded.
“Should he not pray for their souls? What harm can come from it?”
“None,” said The Moor. “It is not the prayer that I object to. It is the prayer’s vessel. He will not speak for these children or for their souls. He is no Priest.”
“What do you mean? We have known you just a few hours. How can you have judged him so thoroughly so quickly?”
The Moor stood her ground.
“Listen, Viking. You and I have no quarrel. But you don’t know this man like you think you do. And you definitely don’t know him like I do.”
The Priest still held his Bible. He tucked it away and took a step toward The Moor.
“Sister, I implore you. Might you have confused me with someone else? Perhaps another man from your past?”
The Moor shook her head furiously.
“No, I know you, Priest.” She spat the word at him, her tone acidic. “And you know me.”
The Priest also shook his head.
“I swear to you both. You have the wrong person.”
But The Moor was resolute.
“I’m sorry, Viking. I know you mean well. And I know you intended to accompany me in seeking vengeance for the children. But I cannot allow it. If it’s the both of you, then it’s neither of you. Because I do not trust this man.”
The three of them stood next to the clearing, silent and stationary.
The moment hung in the air between them.
No one moved or uttered a word.
Three separate minds tried to work out the seemingly unsolvable puzzle that was their current predicament.
Suddenly there was a rustling from within The Deep Wood.
A man, clothed from head to toe in sackcloth, emerged on the periphery of the tree line. In his right hand was a birchwood staff. In his left, a horn made of bone.
He stared at the three of them.
They stared back.
He took a few steps forward.
He jabbed his staff at them and hooted loudly at the sky.
The Viking looked at his companions nervously. He was the only one of them who was armed.
The Moor whispered to them.
“He’s one of The Wild One’s scouts.”
The sack-clothed man took two more steps forward, then nodded silently, as if confirming something to himself.
He lifted the horn to his lips.
The Moor tensed.
“Viking, do not let him blow that horn.”
The Viking sprung immediately to action. He ran toward the sack-clothed man, unsheathing his axe. He threw it as soon as it was in his hand.
The axe spun end over end.
Time slowed to a standstill.
The axe struck home, lodged in the chest of the sack-clothed man. He pitched backward and fell into a thicket, dead.
The Priest slumped and fell to his knees.
“Thank you, God. Thank you for smiting our enemy.”
“It seems to me that it was The Viking who smote our enemy,” said The Moor
She hung back with The Priest while The Viking crossed the clearing to retrieve his axe.
He was a hundred paces from the sack-clothed man when four more men crept from within The Deep Wood on all fours.
The Viking froze in his tracks.
The Moor and The Priest watched from afar.
None of them were armed.
The four men were also dressed in sackcloth. Dark circles had been painted around their eyes. They stood and faced The Viking, The Moor, and The Priest.
The smallest of them, perhaps a child so diminutive was his size, crept slowly forward and retrieved the horn from his dead compatriot.
He walked it back to the biggest of the four, a man larger even than The Viking.
This man held the horn to his lips, smiled savagely at his quarry, and blew into it.
All throughout The Deep Wood, The Wild One’s call echoed and danced and stabbed its shrill pitch into the ears of those who heard it.
The four sack-clothed men slinked slowly back into The Deep Wood, fleet of foot and silent like a cool breeze.
They stood next to the row of shallow graves.
The Viking had retrieved his axe.
The Moor spoke breathlessly.
“We no longer have a choice in the matter. You both must accompany me.”
The Viking nodded.
“Exactly as it should be.”
“No, Viking. You don’t understand. You don’t know The Wild One like I do. I’m not giving in because I think it’s best. I’m doing it because he’ll kill you both if you stay behind.”
The Viking scoffed.
“I mean it. Those scouts are The Wild One’s vanguard. They saw you kill one of their own. This will end in bloodshed. You cannot stay here. This place is lost to you now.”
The Viking looked at The Priest.
The Priest, haggard, nodded wearily.
“She’s right, Viking. She’s right about all of it. Come, we must prepare for the journey ahead. We must arm ourselves properly. And I must, at long last, tell you the truth.”
The Viking stared at him.
“I must tell you the truth about everything.”
SOUNDTRACK 08: “Babylon”, Oneohtrix Point Never
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER EIGHT (Coming Soon.)