The flickering of sunlight through the trees matched the pulse of my feet against the ground. I shouldn’t have been looking up while running through the forest but the shots of light were distracting. Inevitably, I tripped on the weaving knots of roots that were everywhere on this island. The trees of this strange place thickened in knobs and knots, like bubbling streams of ooze frozen in wood, hindering any prey from escaping the predator. Usually not a concern, but it had clearly been an arrow that whizzed by my head a moment ago and kicked me into the run. There was no mistaking that zip, the sound of life shortening. Having been on the receiving end of arrows more than once, I was well acquainted with the sound. I recalled the last incident as I lay sprawled on the ground, accepting my fate. But who was shooting at me and why?
I didn’t even know where I was and didn’t pose any threat as the only survivor of my little wreck, once a ship but dashed against a surprising cluster of rocks, thrown up by Neptune. They shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have been there. I suppose that was the problem for whatever native was worried I’d upset his backward god.
“Oh bugger,” I muttered to myself as I detected a twitch of branches.
The birdling had been right. A man-made vessel had crashed on the shores, near the north cove. Some excitement! Talking to only the birds had been driving me insane, but at last it had proven fruitful. Some sport, I hoped, or maybe food. Either way it broke the tedium and I was about ready to break something if it weren’t for that. Skipping through the tree branches, swinging where my legs proved too short, I soon got in sight of the beach, on this bright day. There it was, dirty spots on the waves that formed splintered planks as I got closer. Was never a vessel bigger than that of a small party when it were a boat.
“C’n’t have found me a vessel of worth, ya miserable chick,” I grumbled at the feathery ball now chirping in a tree branch near me.
But there was something moving against the gentle bob of the waves. A splash here and there and a figure appeared. A man, scrambling for footing and finding it sooner than he expected. He pushed up and waded to shore. I settled on the edge of the treeline and watched from the top of it. The man collapsed on the sand, gasping in deep breaths until I thought he was gonna lie there all day. He pushed himself up and looked around, confusion on his face, clearer than the water in his pants. The pieces of his vessel were settling not far from him. There was nothing there. He seemed to realize it to and got to his feet, turning inland. Bloody idiot. He couldn’t bring anything of worth with him. Then he was only good for sport!
An arrow whizzed towards me and thudded into the mossy earth by my head, a warning shot, I felt sure of that. I scrambled to my feet and started running again. Yet maybe it was a genuine miss, or at least not much of a warning, because suddenly there came a sharp pain in my leg. It burned through my body. The muscles seized and I collapsed forward, screaming. I was afraid of what I would feel if I stopped.
“You’re not gonna tell anyone about that miss, are ya?”
I squinted through the red of my eyes and the glare of the sun, barely making out a figure, yet I could tell he was stringing his bow again. “I’ll shoot ya again, n’you can tell people it was from far away, eh? Not that you’ll be able to tell -”
My legs kicked out, and the man stumbled. I tried to get up and run but fell into a hobble, squealing like a pig on butcher’s day. Was I crazy or was my attacker really a half-man, barely 3 feet tall? If I lived, I felt sure I’d laugh about it later.
“Bastard!” I pushed myself up again, and fired off a shot quickly this time. It wasn’t my fault the bows were so damn big and getting my fingers around the arrow and the string…. Bloody idiots couldn’t design a bow right for a halfling. Such a thing was diz-krim-country. Terri had called it that, or something like it, before I lobbed off his head for cheating at cards.
The man went down again, with an arrow in his shoulder this time.
“I can do this all day!” I shouted at him, and then went to get my arrow back. His blubbering and squealing only got louder.
“Let it be a lesson. If you come to the lost island of a demigod, you better bring a gift.”
The blubbering stopped.
“A demigod, really? Which one?” The man said, now keen on listening.
I groaned. Why did they always ask that? Oh sure, when they think they’re being murdered by a nameless bandit it’s all cries and woe, but when it’s a demigod then suddenly it’s a great honor, like religious sacrifices lined up to offer their lives for a better harvest in some little nothing village. Pathetic. They all want to know who they are dying to honor. It’s not my fault I don’t know which god. Gods can be bastards too, leaving little, wailing demigods and demigoddesses everywhere, and then scampering off to smite a few provinces like it was nothing.
I didn’t answer the question. The man’s keen smile dropped into aghast as I pulled back the bowstring a final time.
Humans, gods, the world can have them, but this island is mine.