Stand ready to fight.

The Exiled One slowed his gait and peered from the corners of his eyes at his surroundings.  He saw no movement, couldn't pinpoint his follower's location; his outward senses told him nothing was out of the ordinary.  But he trusted his instincts, and he knew that the hair standing erect at the nape of his neck was not a distraction.

It was a warning.

What was it that followed him?  It stalked him silently from a distance, downwind.  It was a predator.  Whether it be the two-legged or four-legged kind was the only uncertainty, for its intent bored into the back of the young man's skull as he strode through the trees.

He wanted to appear sure of himself, confident, the kind of prey that might be more trouble than it was worth for either beast or man to engage.  But inside he trembled.  Breath wanted to desert him and his feet wavered with every footfall.  He deliberately slowed his pace, just so he did not appear about to run, and occasionally tried to catch a glimpse of his pursuer in his periphery using subtle means and quick glances.  The shade from the thick, green, overhead canopy of leaves was cool, yet the Exiled One felt an unwelcome patina of sweat break out along his shoulders and back.  He could almost feel the arrow tip trained on him from somewhere behind him.

Fear was the Great Dibilitator.  How many countless times had he seen it with his own eyes while hunting, the look a cornered animal gave him just as it realized it was about to die?  Some prey stood proud and fought bravely in that final moment, but many cowered just as he buried his spear in its heart.  In the end it didn't matter, either way it gave its life so that he may eat.

He stopped walking and imagined in his mind a vivid picture of himself holding up his hands to ward off some demon or spirit, and crying as he begged for mercy.

That was just not him.  His own actions had led him to that point, and it would be his own actions that would decide whether his tales be retold from the lips of future tribes or be killed, alone in a strange forest.  He turned his head and spat into the underbrush as he readied his spear.

To the Exiled One, one's final moments did matter, and it made a difference to him if he lived bravely only to die a coward.

He refused to look back, it would be taken as a sign of weakness.  Instead he found a fallen tree closer to the water's edge and climbed it.  Not as a tactical advantage in height, not as a place where he could observe his follower.

Just as a place to sit.

Legs crossed, spear on his lap, the Exiled One grit his teeth and said, "Come and get me."

The End

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