“When I think of fear, two truths come to the fore. First, that most fear is the fear of unknown. The second, ‘better the devil you know’. But what if that wasn’t true. What if our worst fear was the one right in front of us. What if we’d been in danger this whole time, and never knew it until now.”
392AD: A high profile political Roman family has been the target of assassination.
The moonlight illuminated the trees along the path just enough for Eudoxia to make them out. She sat behind her mother as the elder woman rode. The shadows from each tree seemed to be reaching out with their branches. Eudoxia imagined them ripping her from her horse.
The 9-year-old clutched her mother tightly. The trees were not pursuing them, she reasoned with herself. Men were. They had slain her father. He had held the soldiers off just long enough for Eudoxia and her mother to escape.
And now in the distance she could hear trotting of hooves, growing steadily louder.
Eudoxia squeezed the woman in front of her more tightly still, attempting to suck out the uncomfortable fear growing inside her chest. As she did she felt the knife her mother kept in a pouch around her waist. It comforted Eudoxia to know her she would defend her.
The rhythm of the horses behind beat more intensely but their own horse was being ridden more slowly with each step.
“Come on mama they are going to catch us,” Eudoxia pleaded.
Her mother turned back towards her. Eudoxia watched the moonlight glisten off the tears that slowly dribbled down her cheeks. The woman was looking in her direction, but her eyes looked emptily beyond her daughter into the dark.
The 9-year-old felt a shudder of panic. Her mother had had this look before. After her brother died, she had spent months locked in her room without even so much as an embrace for Eudoxia. Her Father had looked after her then. But he wasn’t here.
Eudoxia reached around and pulled up the reigns her mother limply held.
“Come on mama we have to go hide,” Eudoxia said jumping to the ground. It was up to her to save them both. “Hurry!”
The approaching hooves pounded ever louder.
Her mother despondently climbed down. Eudoxia clasped the woman’s fist and used her free hand to slap their horse causing it to grunt and gallop off into the night. She then dragged her mother towards a hedge she could just make out in the darkness.
Eudoxia huddled frozen with her mother despite the bristly leaves of the bush pricking her. Perhaps their pursuers had passed by fooled by her ruse with their horse. She hoped.
“They must have run off into the trees,” A man yelled from down the road. Her mother began to tremble at the man’s voice. Eudoxia clutched the elder woman’s hand, which she had held since releasing the horse, even more tightly.
The man walked towards them with purpose and Eudoxia’s heart beat thudded in time. His armour clang made each step sound like thunder, and the storm pressed closer and closer.
The thunder stopped.
She could hear each breath of the man as the faint light his of his torch flickered behind her. He must be only feet from her, she guessed, still too frightened to breath.
The thunder began again, but this time is waned more softly with each step. As the footsteps petered into the distance, she looked to her mother earnestly for comfort. The woman understandingly wrapped her arms around her daughters’ head with gentle hug. Eudoxia exhaled and slouched in relief.
Her mother’s hug suddenly grew firm. Her forearm covered Eudoxia’s face preventing her from redrawing breath. The 9-year-old tried to yell “stop” it came out as muffled grunts. She dug her elbows into her mum and thrashed around her head. But the elder woman’s grip was resolute. Despair. And then as if in a trance of fear, she reached into her mother’s pouch, grasped the knife and thrust it into the woman’s leg with all her might.
Her mother let out a guttural scream releasing Eudoxia momentarily. The young girl leapt up and ran towards the trees. She heard galloping of hooves begin again as she ran but she didn’t dare look back. Her mother continued to scream until the galloping stopped and she became suddenly silent. Eudoxia didn’t stop running.