“Open your eyes, Lee-Lack,” Yllyesh yelled again. He sounded ever more desperate, yet to Lee-Lack the alarmed voice seemed distant and muffled.
“He really is like a young dog,” he thought, amused. “No matter how firmly you tell them to stay put, they do so only for a limited time. Then they start wagging their tails and after a short while they forget all about your command and come running to look for you.”
“Now, Lee-Lash, now,” Yllyesh roared.
He was panting, Lee-Lack noticed. Had the Mukthar been running? What was all the tumult about? Maybe he should open his eyes. If only he weren’t so tired.
“She’s going to kill you, Lee-Lack.”
“Preposterous,” he thought. What threat could an old woman pose to a strong young man like himself?
But he opened his eyes… and startled. He was wide-awake at once.
Halfway across the clearing he saw Yllyesh running toward them, his Mukthar dagger drawn. More puzzling was the blurred shape close to his eyeball.
He could never have explained what happened. Once his eyes were wide open, it was as if the complete realization of the emergency and all the complexities of the situation were poured right into his brain. His muscles reacted to the information in a reflex action.
With his head still on his grandmother’s lap, Lee-Lack’s right hand shot upward and locked around Lee-Lonia’s wrist. In her hand was the once blurred object, which he now saw as sharp as could be against the still blue sky.
On one side was a pearl on which her thumb rested, and on the side aimed at his right eye was a sharp steel point. No hairpin needed such a sharp point, he thought. His grandmother had always worn her hair in a bun. It had made her seem even more daunting than she already was. Now, with her silver hair hanging down on both sides of her face, and the lust for gold naked in her eyes, he could almost imagine how she must have looked as a young woman.
“Why?” he croaked.
“Because you’ve become useless, Lee-Lack. I guided you from a young age to become the leader of the Renuvian Plains Robbers, and I had great plans for you. But you ruined everything.”
He was surprised that he couldn’t stop his grandmother’s fist with the hairpin from coming closer. Slowing her down a bit took all his strength, but the sharp point kept coming down toward his right eye at a slow but steady pace.
“You’ve proven to be such a disappointment, Lee-Lack, and you know how I had to suffer that incompetent bungling fool of a father of yours. For you I had such high hopes, but I can’t run the risk that you’ll mess up my life. I can’t trust you any longer. You’d lead the soldiers of the foreign prince to my gold. It’s better for the both of us that I spare you the ordeal of being subjected to torture. You can see that, can’t you?”
Her words made him erupt in an uncontrollable rage. He tightened his grip around his grandmother’s wrist and doubled his efforts. The downward motion of the pin stopped.
“I would have shared my gold with you. My gold, do you hear me, you greedy old woman?”
Lee-Lack wrenched his grandmother’s arm sideways, and at the same time, turning around, scrambled up on his knees.
Lee-Lonia tried to stop him, but lost her balance and fell on her back.
“You’re hurting my wrist, Lee-Lack. Stop it. Stop it now. It was just an exercise. You know we always have to be prepared for everything.”
“Let’s continue this little exercise then, you old witch,” Lee-Lack hissed, and he closed his left hand around Lee-Lonia’s fist, clenching the hairpin. He forced her hand around, so that the hairpin was now pointing at his grandmother.
“No, Lee-Lack,” she groaned, “I’m an old woman. I’m your grandmother.”
Her appeal to their blood ties made him even more furious than he already was. He pressed her arm further down.
Lee-Lonia screeched in anguish as she saw her hairpin coming down toward her eye. She turned her face away.
Lee-Lack felt her wrist breaking as he leaned on her arm with all his weight. No longer meeting with any resistance, the hairpin went down into the old woman’s ear.
The screaming stopped when Lee-Lack gave the hairpin a final push, driving it into her brain. When he let go and her hand fell away, only the pearl stuck out of her ear.
Lee-Lack rose, and promptly fell backwards… into Yllyesh’s arms.
“By the Gods, Lee-Lash, I thought you were done for,” the Mukthar said supporting him by his shoulders.
“What are you doing here? You were supposed to stay in the woods until I came to get you.”
“Don’t you mean ‘Thank you Yllyesh for saving the unbelievable ingrate that I am?’ I get bored easily, and Mukthars always survey the surroundings wherever they’re staying for any length of time. You should thank all the Gods and Goddesses I came along when I did. She has obviously drugged you.”
“What? No. I would have noticed.”
Yllyesh pushed the former robber chief upright and let go. Lee-Lack’s knees buckled under him, and the Mukthar was barely in time to catch him again.
“Notice anything now?” he asked with a smug undertone in his voice.
“Is that why it took an eternity to—”
“It took seconds. When I realized what was happening I came running to help you. The two of you were shouting at each other — I couldn’t understand what — and then you grabbed her wrist and turned her over and… and… and it was over.”
The Mukthar looked at the dead old woman.
“Yes, she was a warrior woman,” he said, “but she was old so she had to turn the odds in her favor.”
“She was selfish and evil,” Lee-Lack managed to get out, only slightly slurring the words.
“Come, lean on me. I’ll take you inside,“ Yllyesh said.
After he had seated Lee-Lack at the table, Yllyesh emptied all the pitchers outside and rinsed them, together with two beakers, with fresh water from a well behind the house. Then he filled them up.
“Just water,” he said cheerfully when he entered the house, “and nothing but water.” He put two pitchers and the clean beakers on the table. He poured himself a drink and downed it in one draught. “I’m going to get the horses. Will you be all right by yourself?”
“I’m a big boy now, Mom,” Lee-Lack grumbled.
“See you soon, then,” Yllyesh said and he ruffled the robber’s hair in passing.
Whistling a chipper tune he went outside, followed by Lee-Lack’s unbelieving eyes.
“It’s as if he’s enjoying himself,” the robber thought, astounded. “By the Gods, he’s actually having a good time.”