Dear Prudence;

I write to you with news of the most peculiar kind. This day finds me again on the path that will return me to you, and I proceed with haste, my love. As you will recall, my journey was interrupted at the crossing in the woods, wherein I wished to continue to the North whilst another gentlemen traveler wished to go to the South. After an exchange of pleasantries, as I mentioned in my letter to you, an unfortunate misunderstanding did occur, and left me delayed, engaged as I was in a dueling of words with the gentleman.

As it happens, the issue is resolved.

Least you become fret with confusion, my dearest Prudence, I shall explain in detail, but in doing so I would beg your indulgence in burning this letter immediately afterward. In fact I am tempted to burn it currently, but as my travels to you have only just continued, and we have been apart for so long, I fear any further delay in receiving news would haunt you unjustly.  Therefore I shall assuage your stresses and inform you of the facts as they took place, trusting in your discretion with the evidence laid out herein.

It all became clear to me in the early dawn hours, as I was preparing to resume my daily labors and add more words to the duel of which I had become part of. Had it occurred to me sooner, my love, I surely would not have hesitated in my actions, but as it was, my own diligence and — dare I admit it — delight in the competition, led to my continued willing, if not ignorant, participation. However, on that morning, as the mists were still thick upon the grasses and the view around me somewhat dimmed, I heard a most peculiar sound.

At first, I was reminded of the woeful noise often emitted by the pots whenever the Headless Monks of the Leaf would brew the tea they could not drink. It is a sound like no other, so high-pitched and baleful as to peel back the skin from your neck and the sky from the heavens. The sound a mixture of endless desire and unrequited thirst, clouded by futility and echoing useless labors. I thought at first that the very Monks themselves had pursued me from the mountains, abandoning their tea-laden hell in search of the one acolyte who had learned to sooth their insatiable need.

But as I searched the mists for a sign of their cloaked and bedraggled image, and listened intently for the clanging of their pots as they dragged them behind, the sound clarified in the clear morning air, and I realized it was not the Monks, but none other than my opponent, Sir P. D. Augustus ZuZu Smith.

My dearest Prudence, I know you will find this difficult to fathom, and rest assured I doubted my own perception at the time, but you must believe me when I tell you that the sound — that which I had mistook for chilling cries from the pots of tea used by the Headless Monks of the Leaf — was none other than the snoring of one Sr P.D. Agustus ZuZu Smith himself!

Indeed, my Love, the gentleman was slumped over his papers, heedless as to the hour, unconcerned by the duel of which both he and I were currently engaged. His mouth lie open wide, and the corners of the parchment underneath his slumbering head moved inward and out, following his breath as it entered through his gaping maw and exited, noisily, through nasal passages partially blocked by the slight closure in his throat. His papers, which I found to be utterly pristine and without wordings, were damp, but not of the morning dew. Indeed, I did notice a line of shimmering thickness as if from a snail, stretching from his lower lip to the uppermost paper. I reached out a hand to rouse him, but stopped myself, suddenly possessed as I was with an urge to act.

And act I did, my dearest Prudence. Within that moment of unthinking, wherein one’s instincts take hold of one’s body, I propelled myself into action, taking forth from within my belt that sharpened piece of silver I oft’ use to open letters of correspondence. Before I had the opportunity for better judgment to take hold of my senses, I thrust the silver opener into the side of Sr. Smith’s neck, whereupon the gentle movement of his artery could be seen.

In an instant’s time, those pristine pages of parchment ran red with his blood, but Sr P.D. Agustus Zuzu Smith never uttered a sound, nor did his body make movement of any kind. He merely lay there, still snoring, whilst his very life force ran from his body as if in search of meaning elsewhere.

I dare say, Prudence my love, I felt no compunction towards guilt. Indeed, to this day as I write to you of these developments, I feel no hint of regret or remorse. For having slain my rival, and having remained utterly anonymous in doing so, I have been made free and capable of recommencing my journey back to you. As the morning’s mists cleared, and Sr Smith’s blood stained the grounds around him, I packed my things and left the crossed paths.

The spectators that once gathered to witness the duel had long since returned to their daily habits, and there was no one to judge either our dueling or my final act of predetermined victory. Albeit that sound, dearest Prudence — that which I had mistook for the chilling cries of the Headless Monk’s tea pots — has in some way found the ability to accompany me. I heard it last evening, as I made my bed among the pine needles, beside a softly babbling brook.  Just as the tea within my pot nestled beside the fire had reached its apex and began to boil, the sound returned.

Clearly it is wont to haunt me, dearest Prudence, into some admission of my guilt. Or perhaps Sr Smith is now among those ranked as the living dead, headless and in dire search of a pot with which to brew his own undrinkable tea.

‘Tis if no matter, dear Prudence, for I am grown accustom to the haunting of the Headless Monks of the Leaf. The addition of one more to their ranks would rile me not, nor shall it have affect upon my own musings as I continue my trek, pen in hand and tea at the ready, to return unto you.

Until next I write, remain hopeful and steadfast, my love.

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