Today's entry is not for the faint of heart, Dear Reader. I think I am, myself, rather faint of heart, yet I experienced all I shall tell of, and have survived to see the other side of it. Bear up with me then, if you so desire, and we shall live it together.
Mr. Miller woke me last night after I am not sure how long. I felt a little rested, but not fully, by any means. Still, I had said I would take watch for part of the night, and so I sat up and resigned myself to lots of pinches to stay awake. He lay down near me, but far enough away for propriety, and he must have been exhausted, for I heard his breathing deepen and slow after only a few minutes.
Very soon, I had terrified myself into thinking that every tiny rustle of a leaf or tap of a twig was a bear come to eat us or someone come to murder us, but I could not wake Mr. Miller for company and comfort; I just had to endure it. And so I did, for more than an hour by the hands of my pocket watch. I held it in my gloved hands and watch the second hand tick around, at times pretending the sound was a heartbeat. I do not know why, but it was a rather comforting thought.
Mr. Miller had left his pistol loaded and ready at my side, and had shown me how to draw the hammer back and shoot it (though I only pretended to pull the trigger, as it would be foolish to waste shot and powder). This lay also at my side, and, Dear Reader, I unfortunately did have to use it.
I suppose it was my own fault, really. When I did at last hear actual footsteps sneaking over the thick blanket of dead leaves and pine needles, I thought it was just another part of my imagination set to scare me, and dismissed it until it was too late. By the time I saw the dark shape in the trees when I looked over my shoulder, there was no time to wake Mr. Miller so he could defend me, and I grabbed for the pistol and fired wildly in the direction of the shape, shouting "Help!"
I am sure Mr. Miller only heard the pistol, however, for he was on his feet seemingly in an instant. The figure rushed at us and I screamed, covering my head with my arms. Mr. Miller was behind me and a little to one side of the fire, so when the other man fired his own pistol, I could not see where or if he struck Mr. Miller. I screamed and scrambled out of the way on all fours as I could not stand up quickly enough, and by the time I was able to turn around, still on the ground on my knees, the stranger and my friend had clashed together. (I do remember feeling relief that Mr. Miller had not been struck by the pistol shot, though the relief was faint and lay beyond a great gulf of fear.)
Terrified and unable to move, I watched the fight that was, literally, for our lives. Mr. Miller got in several good (as in effective) punches to the other man's head and neck, but then the stranger hit Mr. Miller in the middle of the stomach, causing him to double over and stumble back. He tripped and landed hard on his back, and then the low flames of the fire blocked him from my view. The other man came up beside him and kicked him hard in the ribs and gut three or four times, then there was a flash of silver and the man flailed backwards, crying out. The handle of a knife was embedded in his thigh, and while the other man was caught off-guard, Mr. Miller got to his feet and threw another punch at the side of the man's face.
Both of them were dirty and bloody by this point, though half the stranger's face was covered in blood , as well as his leg where the knife was stuck, and Mr. Miller was only bleeding from a small wound on the back of his head where his skull had struck a rock when he fell. I got to my feet, but stayed well enough back, almost to the trees at the edge of the small clearing where we camped. If I had been thinking at the time, I would have been alert for other intruders in case our attacker had brought friends, but of course I could think of nothing but what was going on in front of me.
Reeling from the punch and the knife in his leg, the stranger stumbled backwards and this time it was he who tripped and fell back. Mr. Miller was upon him the next second, kneeling over him and landing blow after blow to his face. I could not bear to watch, but I couldn't bear to not watch, either, and so I didn't turn away though it was horrible to see. The man's face was soon covered in blood, as were Mr. Miller's hands. Flecks of blood dotted the front of his coat, too, and the neck cloth he always wore, even in sleep, now.
Then there was suddenly another flash of metal as the stranger managed to get his own knife out. He slashed at Mr. Miller, though wildly, and Mr. Miller had only to lean to one side to evade it. He grabbed the man's hand and beat it several times on the ground, but the stranger would not let go. It became a contest of wills for a long, agonizing moment, with Mr. Miller trying to point the blade away from his own throat while the stranger tried to force it at him. Finally Mr. Miller let go, rolling off to the side. He was on his feet quicker than I thought possible, and charged at the other man, who was only halfway up by that point. They crashed into a leafless bush, struggled a moment, then rolled out and onto the ground. The stranger still had the knife in his leg, and had dropped his own blade.
What happened next still makes me sick to write of it, but I must, having written the tale thus far. The other man was weakened by loss of blood and multiple blows to the head, so it was relatively easy work for Mr. Miller to practically lie on top of him and punch him several more times. Then he yanked the knife from the stranger's leg, making him cry out in agony, turned him onto his side, then got behind him and brutally slit his throat. Blood flew everywhere, soaking the ground nearby and splattering the trunks of the nearest trees at the edge of the clearing. I gasped and looked away after only an instant, yet the image is burned into my mind forever. I wish so much to forget it, but I cannot.
I know I did not swoon, but I do not remember the next couple of minutes. The next thing I have a specific memory of is retching behind a bush. It felt like a stone sat heavily in my stomach when I was through, and I spat several times, hating myself, hating the world, hating our attacker and even Mr. Miller, for the violence he displayed. When I turned around, there he was, his pale face and white clothing flecked with already-drying blood, his eyes wide, hands outstretched to me. He took a step forward but I recoiled back from him, seeing the blood on his hands (though I think most of it must have been his own, from his torn-up knuckles) and remembering the terrifying look of determination on his face as he slashed his knife across the other man's throat.
I have not said a word to him since then, and it is late afternoon now. We did not sleep any of the rest of that awful night, but packed up and trudged through the dawn, eating a meager breakfast as we walked. (We still have some rolls from our previous hostess, and ate some of them plus a couple of apples for a brief lunch later on.) We have already stopped for the night, though there is still another hour of sunlight left. I suppose since our tracker is dead, there is not as much need to hurry as before.
We left him in the forest. Mr. Miller dragged him deep into a thicket and piled fallen branches and dead leaves atop him so he was hidden from sight unless one looked very closely. I had a vague recollection of seeing him on the Erebos twice or thrice, briefly. He was a former fellow crewmember of Mr. Miller, perhaps even a one-time friend. But now he is dead, by Mr. Miller's own hand. I knew before this that he was a murderer, that he had killed people, and they had not always even been bad people. But seeing it firsthand, smelling the sickening tang of blood in the air, has changed my view of him forever.
It is very late now, and I write this crookedly by the dim light of another fire I have lit. I could not sleep, though I lay and shivered for a long time. At length, I sat up, then stood and paced a while to get my blood moving again. I felt Mr. Miller's eyes on me as I walked back and forth, but did not look at him. As I paced, I relived the terrible events of last night again and again. I saw the awful, calm, deadly look in Mr. Miller's eyes as he fought the man, saw the blood spatter against the trees, and the pure horror in the man's gaze as he choked out his last breath. I began to take quick, short breaths, panicking though the danger had long since passed. Before I knew it, I was crying. I sank down to my knees a little ways from the fire and sobbed, my head in my hands, rocking back and forth.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and the presence of Mr. Miller as he knelt next to me. I felt fingertips on my wrist, fluttering there, unsure. And even though he was the cause of my upset, I let him try and comfort me. He was and is all I have, and despite his terrible act, he did save my life. Shoulders shaking, face contorted with tears, I leaned into him awkwardly, both of us kneeling on the forest floor. His arms went around me, and the shoulder of his woolen coat cooled my hot cheeks as I lay my face against it.
When I could not shed another tear for exhaustion, he helped me up, then I leaned on his arm as he walked me back toward the fire. I lay down, my head on my bag, and soon enough I fell asleep. When I woke not long ago, he was still up, sitting near me so that I saw his face the instant I opened my eyes. He is sleeping now, though it took some convincing to get him to do so.
Tomorrow is a new day. I must not dwell on the past, but look forward. Someday all of this will be over, and I hope I will be stronger and wiser for it.