‘Juliette, Juliette. Juliette!’
Juliette came out from behind the trees, hurriedly wiping her hands on her apron.
‘What’s wrong? Did someone jump out of the bushes?’
‘No, why should they?’
With a clean sweep of her scythe, Juliette sliced the top of the undergrowth right off. Justine shrieked as the head rolled to her feet and leered up at her, tongue lolling.
‘There, that’s settled it.’ Juliette wiped off her scythe.
‘I think it’s so romantic that you’re carving his name on every trunk. Juliette, how many more?’
‘Oh, about 37 I think.’ Juliette opened her black bag, and considered the assortment of instruments within. ‘This forest is full of pastoral singing outlaws.’
Juliette dragged the body out from the bushes, blowing hair out of her eyes. She selected a scalpel, and set to work on the headless trunk.
‘What shall we do with the head?’ Justine circled it warily.
‘Throw it to that bear over there.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, there are no bears in Arden –‘
Juliette grabbed the head and threw it as far away from Justine as possible. The bear-that-shouldn’t-have-been-there walked away with its prize, crushing the head in its large paws.
A hoarsely-croaking raven stooped down to catch a falling eyeball in its beak.
Night was falling, and Juliette still hadn’t found the cynical philosopher. He was the first person she’d met who hadn’t attempted any overtures towards Justine. Moreover, he’d laughed off Juliette’s own heartfelt offer to teach him more about misery. As for her poems, carved in neat script over lovingly-strung up headless trunks – well, he had been equally dismissive of those, leaving long withering critiques that ran the length of both legs.
Not yet admitting defeat, Juliette returned to the clearing where she’d left Justine – who was no longer there. Juliette didn’t worry too much – she knew there’d be plenty of traces to follow.
A hint of doubt crept in however, when she realised the trails of blood could offer no clue. There was a network of trails where Juliette had been dragging trunks through the forest all day.
She moved cautiously through the undergrowth, from tree to tree. She froze, when she heard the sounds of merrymaking from a nearby clearing, mingling with the dulcet tones of Justine’s screams.
She crept in closer. Justine was currently delivering a sermon on the godgiven virtues of abstinence and tuneful singing, as her naked body revolved on a spit.
Juliette had to disagree with her sister on the singing. She would take raucous bellowing over melodious psalmsters any day. Besides, Justine’s screams whenever her flesh got too close to the flames made for excellent accompaniment. With a tinge of regret, Juliette suppressed her strong inclination to join the party. Contemplating the alternative, however, made her spine tingle afresh – there was a unique thrill to be had in being the author of her own entertainment.
She made her plans for a covert approach, and then closed in. The party of merrymaking outlaws hardly knew what hit them – all they saw was a large thorn-bush that appeared to be walking towards them. Those who saw it, put it down to drink. Cassio, a relative novice in alcoholic consumption, was the only one unnerved by the occurrence – he engaged the bush in hand-to-thorn melee, and fell prostrate on the ground lacerated and giggling light-headedly. ‘A bush – a bush –’ he giggled helplessly. Momentarily nonplussed, Juliette waited till the giggling subsided – then she jumped out, holding the bush before her as a weapon.
Thorn-mangled bodies lay on the ground, others cowered in fright before the attacking bush. Juliette dipped a branch into the fire and threw the burning bush into the circle of remaining outlaws. Justine looked like she’d just seen a miracle. ‘Saved by a burning bush!’ she beamed at Juliette as her sister untied her. ‘A burning bush – just like Moses, in the Bible. Touched by the hand of God! See the rewards of virtue. Won’t you try it, Juliette?’
‘I don’t think I will.’
‘Well, all’s well that ends well at any rate. Have you found him? Your philosopher-wit?’ When Juliette made no reply, Justine threw her arms around her. ‘Never mind, let’s get the place cleaned up, and take the ones you haven’t killed to that nice new Scottish king.’
Juliette reluctantly pulled away from her sister’s tight embrace. ‘All in good time, Justine. All in good time.’ She felt the pulse of the closest prostrate form. ‘I think I’ve earned some fun, don’t you?’
‘Oh look Juliette, how sweet. It must be following me.’
Juliette ran as fast as she could with her sister in tow, pursued by the slings and arrows of Justine’s outrageous fortune.