She was still alive. The man next to her was dead, the hole in his head, the mush that was the back of his head. They’d shot him. He’d been in the way.
Frank knew what they’d done to her. Naked and tied to a tree. His blood turned to ice as he remembered Beth. He’d saved her body, but couldn’t save her heart.
The ice calmed him. “First, make sure no one’s still around.” He pulled his bow off his back, set an arrow, then moved, silently, like a wolf, through the trees and the brush. A predator, hunting. He listened, but heard no one. He searched the ground, and the trees, ready to fight if needed. A trained warrior. A trained killer.
The woman was still alive. Damn it. He should have walked away. Should have let her die. One more victim of the violence filled world. But, he couldn’t. He wouldn’t sleep that night if he did. He might never sleep again if he left her there.
He searched the woods until he found them. Three of them in the trees, four of them on the ground, arranged in a half circle around the woman, waiting for anyone to show up. A classic trap, she was the bait. Outnumbered, seven to one, Frank could have walked away. Waited until the men gave up. That might be a day, or two. That might be a week. They might stick around until their bait died. Either way, they’d move on, find someone else.
The woman, and her friend, lost in the woods. They’d probably been hunting a safe place. A village, a town, where people would welcome them. Take them in. Plenty of lost couples wandered in the forest, the mountains. Most of them starved to death. They didn’t know how to hunt for food.
Bands of men hunted them. Always killed the male. Always raped the female. Always set a trap. Frank knew they set traps because it always worked. Others lost in the woods tried to help. They rushed in, blindly. And the men who waited had another woman to rape. And they did. Endlessly.
Frank wasn’t lost in the woods. He lived there. Hunted there. Survived there. Alone.
Carefully, he pulled two more arrows from his quiver, propped them against the tree he stood next too. Frank knew what to do. He targeted one of the men in a tree, let the arrow fly. It struck the man in the neck. The second arrow struck the second man hiding in a tree. It caught him in the belly. The man howled in agony and fell. Idiot probably broke his neck in the fall.
The other men knew something was wrong, but hadn’t started to react. Frank fired the third arrow. It caught the third tree dweller in the chest. The man stood on a tree branch, and looked at the arrow sticking out of his chest. He looked surprised, like something was wrong, something didn’t make sense. He sat down on the branch. Frank wondered how long it would take for him to die. But he had no time to watch. He dashed through the brush to his left, toward the closest of the men on the ground. He pulled an arrow from his quiver as he ran. The man never figured out what was going on. Frank pounced on him, and drove the arrow into his neck. The man fell, silently. Unable to scream.
The other three did what Frank expected. They left their hiding spots, wandered into the open, headed toward the tree dweller who’d screamed. Frank put an arrow in the back of one of them. The other two turned, drew their guns, and started shooting at everything.
One arrow struck a man in the left thigh. Another struck the other in the right hip. Both howled in pain. Frank stayed hidden, and waited. The two he’d wounded panicked, dropped their guns, and started to rip the arrows from their bodies, which only caused them to bleed more profusely. The other five were no longer threats.
Frank walked to the two wounded men. He kicked their guns away, into the woods. They looked at him, pleaded for help. Frank never made a sound. He approached the woman. Untied her. She was too weak to walk.
“I know a place you will be safe.” He pulled the shirt off one of the dead men, helped her put it on. Then, he carried her. “A place you can call home.” He looked to the sky and screamed the cry of an eagle. An eagle answered. Frank screamed again. He knew, the eagle would fly to Jessica.
“I know someone. A woman.” Frank looked at the woman he carried. “She’ll take care of you.”
And he carried her away from that place of death.