Jaco the Jackal

Jaco the Jackal

By Peter J. Maida

"Jaco, look to the west." Jaco's partner pointed to the merchant wagon making its way along the forest road. Deep green summer foliage gave the bandits plenty of cover, and the chattering of the birds and animals covered any sounds they might make.

Jaco smiled as he put on his small helmet. The wagon looked like a good catch. It was laden with a variety of goods, and bound for Adiam's royal city of Courtland. The city was just a half day's ride to the east.

Jaco's partner whispered, "I'll take care of the driver," as he notched an arrow in his bow. Then he let out a quiet chuckle, "The wenches at the Howling Wolf will be happy to see us tonight."

Four large work horses pulled the heavy wagon. Pots and trinkets jingled and clanged as it rolled over the bumpy dirt road. The wagon was a big wheeled construction made of faded and weather-beaten wood. A grey rag canopy covered the owner's worldly possessions. It rattled around a bend in the road bringing its grizzled old driver into the sights of the deadly bowman.

With a sneer the bowman let his arrow fly. The old man was struck in the ribs below his left arm. As he fell over releasing the reins, his attacker jumped into the road to stop the plodding horses. With the wagon stopped, the bandit jumped onto the driver's bench and found the old man groaning in pain. His faded brown leather shirt was soaked with blood that dripped steadily onto the seat. In a quick motion, the bandit produced a dagger. Grabbing his suffering victim by his coarse white beard, he yanked the old man's head back. He looked at his victim and chuckled, "My friend, I guess it's just not your day." The blade slashed through the tender skin of the old man's neck with murderous ease. After the bandit retrieved his arrow, he kicked the man off the wagon.

Jaco made his move. He dashed to the wagon ready to attack any passengers. Inside the wagon he discovered a woman huddled between two boxes. Even with tangled blonde hair and drab peasant garb, she was a beauty. Bright violet eyes and full lips were just the beginning of her charms.

She was too good to pass up. Jaco flashed his dagger and drug the woman from the wagon. He pushed her up against the rough wood, as he pressed his dagger to her throat. The rough stubble of his beard drug across her tender cheek, and his sour breath blew through decayed teeth, "Be nice, and you may live to see sundown."

She screamed and yanked away from her attacker. Jaco grabbed her arm at the last minute. The woman was pulled in a circle, and fell, hitting her head on the wagon wheel. Her body flopped lifelessly to the ground.

Furious over missing a great opportunity, Jaco grabbed a handful of the woman's blonde hair and slit her throat. He finished by kicking the lifeless body away growling, "Peasant scum."

The two bandits inspected their booty. They went through boxes of leather garments, brightly colored trinkets, and farm tools. For a moment Jaco wondered why the woman was dressed in rags. The clothing in the wagon was of a higher quality. Not one to ponder deep thoughts, he quickly put it out of his mind.

After a short time the bandits hopped up on the driver's bench and got the wagon moving toward Courtland. Their cheers and howls faded as the wagon rode away from the scene of the crime.

The scene lay still for several minutes. Small scavengers approached smelling the blood and sensing a free meal. It was not to be. Slowly a pale blue mist was expelled from both bodies. Under the mist, the powers of the wizards began to work.

The healing took only a few minutes. When it was complete, the victims opened their eyes, slowly stood and stared off to the east. It was the old man who spoke first, "Well the Circle of Magic asked us to find the bandits who have been terrorizing the approach to Adiam Castle. I do believe we have found two. My attacker was amazingly cruel. Only a snake could be so cruel."

The woman smiled with satisfaction. "My attacker was brutal and sadistic. He was planning to use me and make me suffer for hours. He was a jackal, and deserves a long drawn out experience."

"So be it, " the old man stated. They had accomplished their mission. Smiling at their success the wizards took the forms of great eagles and flew off to the enchanted site of the Circle of Magic.

Jaco's partner was laughing hysterically at Jaco's failure. "You mean you had her in your hands and you let her get away?"

"Don't worry my friend. One peasant hag is nothing. The gold we'll get for these goods is the real prize."

Instead of getting the response he expected, Jaco just heard his partner moan. He looked over and saw his partner shivering. "What's gotten into you?"

The man cried out, "Jaco, you've got to do something. I think that old wretch was some kind of warlock or something. I feel sick."

Staring at the man in disbelief, Jaco stopped the wagon. As he watched, the man's hair fell off his head and his skin began to turn a scaly yellow. Suddenly the man screamed in agony, "AHHHHHHHH! JACO, HELP ME!" Jaco winced as he heard the man's bones breaking inside his body. His arms shrunk into his clothing as his nails ripped from his shriveling hands. "JACO, DO SSSSSSOMETHING!"

"Oh, I'm going to do something." Jaco stated, as he brought both his feet up and kicked the creature off the wagon. Jaco knew he should get the horses moving, but his morbid fascination had the better of him. He watched with interest as his ex-friend rolled in the high grass off the road.

After a few minutes the screams turned to gurgles, and then to hisses. Jaco's interest turned to terror when the giant yellow snake rose out of the grass and came for the wagon. The snake was entwining itself up the large wagon wheel before Jaco could get the horses moving. Panicking Jaco grabbed the horse whip and beat the horses into a gallop. The wagon bounced violently, pots and pans were scattered along the road. The snake was mangled by the turning of the wagon wheel.

After a mile of frantic driving, he slowed the suffering horses. He knew if he lost the horses, his booty would be worthless. Jaco jumped off the wagon to check the wheel. It was intact. Jaco took a few deep breaths and laughed. He called back down the road, "Sorry, old buddy, you chose the wrong victim. Don't worry though, I'll make good use of your share of the gold."

Jaco was feeling good about how it all turned out when he hopped up on the wagon. As he got the horses moving, he suddenly felt a chill and an itch. He scratched his back with the end of the horse whip and shrugged off the feeling.

By sundown Jaco was in the lower end of Courtland's vast marketplace selling his ill gotten gains. There were many merchants in town who would buy goods, no questions asked, if the price was right. Jaco was happy to sell his load for half the normal market price.

He walked away from the marketplace with three heavy pouches of gold coins. He headed straight for the dark side of town. As he walked, another chill came over him, and the itch returned. A street urchin yelled to him, "Hey Jaco, I see you made some money today, how about a coin or two?"

"Get lost street scum. I've got plans for my money."

"Well they better include a shave and a haircut. You look like some kind of flee-bitten animal."

Jaco picked up a rock and threw it at the boy. As he did, he noticed the thickness of the hair on his forearm. Then he touched his face. He had almost a week's beard growth. Again his lack of wit prevented him from pondering the problem for very long. His mind was being driven by more primitive instincts.

By nightfall the crowd at the Howling Wolf was in rare form. They were singing Jaco's praises as the drunken bandit bought round after round as two wenches encouraged him to keep on spending.

Around midnight Jaco slapped the raven haired wench on the leg, "Come on ladies, let's leave this place."

The woman yelled, "Hey, cut your fingernails." Jaco looked down and saw blood dripping from a neat slice in the woman's leg. He stared at his hand through rum soaked eyes. Blood dripped from a long nail on his middle finger.

His sudden quietness made the wenches nervous. They began to fear that they were losing their patsy. The raven-haired woman grabbed his hand and kissed it. "Didn't you say something leaving, love? "

The brown-haired wench leaned on his shoulder. She put her arm around him while she cooed in his ear, "You do know that big Jake, behind the bar, won't let us leave unless we show him five new gold coins each.."

Wavering in his seat Jaco dumped out a pouch of gold coins. He pushed half to each woman and announced, "Ok. Let's be off."

The women had to carry the drunken bandit up to a customer room. He still had enough wit about him to demand what he paid for. The professional women did their job. In fifteen minutes he was out cold. The women also fell asleep on the bed..

Two hours later the raven-haired wench was roused by her customer's guttural groaning. She was on top of the stack of three, which gave her the advantage. Quietly she slipped off the bed and went straight to Jaco's clothes. She eased the two remaining pouches of gold from his garments and moved over to her dress. A pouch of gold dropped to the floor as she reached for her dress. It landed on the wood floor with a loud chink. Jaco bolted upright in bed and let out a fierce growl. With a sweep of a clawed arm, he flung the brown-haired wench off the bed. Her body sailed into the nearby window, the impact brought down the heavy curtain, flooding the room with moonlight.

The raven-haired woman stared at the long snouted, fanged beast moving off the bed and screamed. She ran from the room screaming, "Werewolf! Werewolf!"

Jaco dashed after her. As he hit the floor, he felt his body being forced to all fours. He chased the woman down the stairs and came face-to-face with Big Jake and four of his henchmen. Their swords were drawn and they were ready to finish him. He tried to tell them that the woman was stealing his gold, but he found out he couldn't talk. He could only growl through fanged jaws.

Big Jake laughed at the wench, "Some werewolf. It's a jackal. Did that drunk have this animal hidden somewhere? Let's kill it. At least we can sell its pelt."

Jaco dashed through the bar. Screams rose from the wenches as tables and chairs flew in every direction. As he leaped through the closest window, the glass ripped at his fur-covered body.

Big Jake growled, "That filthy mongrel. Look at what it's done to my place." He yelled out for all to hear, "Ten gold coins for the head of that creature!"

The hunt was on. Jaco ran in panic through the city streets, instinctively searching for the forest. With a drunken mob on his heals, he dashed out of the city gates. After losing the hunters, he collapsed exhausted in the wet grass, lying there until almost sunup.

When he rose, his dull wit was slowly giving way to the animal. He took only a few steps before he heard a sound, then he felt pain shoot through his body. Jaco the jackal collapsed. His leg was stuck fast in a wolf trap. The teeth of the trap dug deeper into his flesh by the minute, causing him to twist and turn in agony. Jaco, the man, had once heard of wild animals chewing off their own leg to escape a trap. He bared his fangs and went for his leg, but there was too much man left in him. He couldn't do it.

As he lay there slowly bleeding to death, a woman with blonde hair and bright violet eyes strolled up to him. Even in his agony, he recognized her in an instant. His weakened eyes stared hopefully.

The woman waved her hands, empowering him with the ability to speak. Then she demanded, "Speak up, bandit. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Jaco moaned, "Please, madam save me. I'll be your servant as long as I live."

The woman answered in Jaco's former voice and with Jaco's former words, "Be nice, and you may live to see sundown."

Jaco knew there would be no mercy. He made one final request, "Kill me quickly then. Don't leave me here like this."

The woman smiled and said, "Not today Jaco the jackal." She walked away as Jaco's blood slowly drained from his body.

Copyright 1998 by Peter J. Maida

Pete was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1950. During his high school years he picked up an interest in computers. At the age of twenty-one he moved to the Washington, D.C. metro area to start a career in computer programming. Today Pete is a computer software engineer working under contract at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. Pete's best friend and strongest supporter is Cathy, his wife of seven years. He has three sons from his first marriage Peter, David and Matthew.

Pete can be e-mailed at: petejm@ix.netcom.com

Resume as Related to Literary Accomplishment
1971-Present Computer software engineer under contract to the Navy. Created computer software in the areas of Antisubmarine Warfare, and Passive Signal Analysis.
1985 The computer game "Facing the Empire" was published by MVP Software of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
1995 The short story, "The Journal", was published in the February '95 issue of Lost Worlds Magazine of Concord, North Carolina.
1995 Short Story "Litterbug" was published on the net by D & S Associates of Westwood CA. in their online version of Cosmic Landscapes.
1996 Short story "Crodox" was published by Lost Worlds of Concord, North Carolina published in February '96.
1997 Short story "Meeting at Alpha Centari" was published Feb '97 by Stygian Vortex Publications of Hollywood Florida in their Area of Operations magazine.
1998 Short story "The Tree" was published on-line on 2/6/98 by the All Mixed Up Ezine.

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