It all began simply enough. All the old man had apparently done wrong was be in the wrong place at the right time. He’d been minding his own business, seated at the same spot on the low wall he always did. He’d been scraping off the hair on his cheeks. The tiny black and white dots on his face when he gazed upon his replica in the water or on his blade irked him. The only thing he disliked more about it was having to get rid of it. To this day he’d never passed the blade over his face without cutting himself at least twice. Of course that wouldn’t be what he’d tell others. Oh, no. He’d probably been held at swordpoint by a band of blood-thirsty pillagers; no less than twenty of them, too…
And then he’d battled them valiantly and single-handedly, brandishing no more than his little knife. Arax, he called her. How he’d got her was another story. Here, he’d used her to fend them all off without so much as a scratch. All but the last two, who, the cowardly mice of men, lacking in honour, attacked him together, one with broadsword and one battleaxe, and yet they’d only managed to nick him.
He’d regaled many with these tales, and the women held their breaths as he recounted his memories in vivid detail, missing not a line describing the mortal danger he was in. And it had helped more than a few dames find their way to his bower. And they’d all believed him, too, until the day some boys heard the sound of muttered curses from a secluded grove and decided to snoop. And found him kneeling over a bowl of water, mouth and blood both running freely.
What hurt the most was that those stories used to be true. But the memory of that day sprang every time he raked his face. After all, blood makes an excellent reminder. Except this day. He ran his fingers along his cheek, examining its fineness. ‘How’d I get her so sharp this time?’ he thought aloud. ‘You didn’t, old man,’ said a voice next to his ear. He jumped, nearly shouting out in shock. He whirled around, knife at the ready and pointed it straight into the face of… no one. He was alone. He whipped around, looking through the trees. It wasn’t possible. Who could get to the green so quickly from the middle of a clearing? A tree-nymph? No. If it were, back in the day, he would’ve been quicker than it. Mostly, he’d have caught it. Now he was the first to admit he wasn’t that fast anymore, but he would’ve seen it at the very least. He hadn’t slowed down all that much yet.
‘Over here!’ said a voice behind him. He spun, the knife swinging from his fingers before he’d even turned completely to the direction of the voice. The knife cut the air so quickly you could hear the blade whistling. If, of course, you could focus on it in the split second it took to lodge itself firmly near the treeline, five feet above the ground. Embedded in empty air.