The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 18

Katy Abbe, Columnist

The next morning, I awoke to the scent of smoking bacon. I blinked my eyes quickly, finding myself laying on my back with my head turned toward the sky. Wisps of grey clouds hung overhead, and a spiral of black smoke twirled into the air. The crackle of embers entered my ear and I turned my head, my gaze falling onto Arthur and a small fire going beside him.

“You finally awake?” Arthur asked without taking his eyes away from the fire and the pan he held over it. Using a stick, he poked at the simmering contents in the pan, sending sparks of grease flying. “Jason had a few slices of bacon and some potatoes. I thought we could add some cheese and serve that for breakfast.” I yawned, stretching my arms and letting out a sigh as I pushed myself up.

“Sounds good… What time is it?” I asked sleepily, scooting over to the edge of the fire and looking down at the pan filled with bacon bites and potato cubes. The potatoes looked sufficiently cooked, with golden-brown skin, and the bacon smelled heavenly, like it was just about to be burned.

“Some time after dawn, not too late in the day.” He moved around a few pieces. “I was about to wake you, can you grab some cheese and slice some for me?” I nodded, reaching back for the satchel. I sluggishly pulled out the cheese block Chase had given me along with a small knife.

“Where did Jason run off to, anyway?” I asked, yawning as I whittled away at the block, tossing chunks into the pan as Arthur continued to move bacon and potatoes around.

“He left to take care of business, he should be back soon, though.” Arthur glanced toward me just as I looked up. His eyes were a bit pink, with a few bags underneath. I frowned and he shrugged, looking away. “I had a hard time sleeping last night.” He explained the answer before I could ask the question. “The moon was a bit too bright, it gave me a headache.”

“Yeesh.” I winced sympathetically as I continued slicing cheese. He motioned for me to stop, but, feeling the dish would benefit from more cheese, I quickly snuck in another chunk before he could stop me. He gave me a look as I put the remaining block back into my bag.

We sat in silence for a few moments. I watched him cook, my mouth watering as the hearty smells of breakfast filled my nose. His gaze flickered toward me after I hummed in anticipation. I met his gaze eagerly, feeling my stomach grumble. He stared at me for a moment, his lips curling into the start of a smile, but suddenly, a flash of bewilderment flickered through his eyes and quickly looked back to the pan, a hint of blush warming his cheeks.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, following his gaze. The pan was filled with golden potatoes simmering in cheese, and bacon bites sizzling heavenly. My tummy rumbled loudly and he snorted.

“Nothing, I was just thinking.” He shook his head. “This looks about done, and right on time too.” He picked up a stack of bowls next to his foot and then poured around a third of the food into a bowl. He offered the bowl to me, and I took it eagerly.

“What were you thinking about?” I asked as he handed me a small wooden spoon. I scooped up a few potatoes and shoved them into my mouth. I hummed blissfully, adoring the warm and comforting flavor of the carbs and calcium. I caught him smiling for a moment, but then his eyes widened and his cheeks grew red as his smile dropped into a frown. I tilted my head, confused.

“Nothing important.” He answered with a level voice. He filled another bowl with half of the food in the pan. He set the remaining food over the crackling fire and then turned toward me, holding his bowl and prodding the meal with his own spoon.

“It must be if it’s troubling you.” I interjected through a full mouth.

“No, it’s not,” He brought a spoonful of cheesy bacon to his lips. “I’m just a bit tired, is all.”

“But-” I began as he took a bite of food.

“Ah, so you’re awake.” Jason called from behind, interrupting me. I glanced back, waving at his approaching figure. His black hair was tousled and messy, and he had a bright smile on his features.

“She is and as soon as we finish breakfast, we need to get going.” Arthur replied, gesturing to the pan, signalling him to help himself.

“Whatever, we’ll be in Aconito soon.” Jason said coolly as he plopped down next to me, reaching over my lap to get his food.

“That’s right! And then we can get Arthur medical help and restock on supplies, then we can keep going.” I smiled.

“Diane, you worry too much about him, he’s a grown man, he can take care of himself.” Jason gave me a nudge as he began eating.

“I can, and she knows that.” Arthur snapped before I could get in a word. “However, being as capable as I, she has the insufferable need to do everything herself, and insists on taking on all the dangerous tasks.”

“You think I’m capable?” My eyes widened. He gave me a confused look, raising an eyebrow gently.

“You did take on a dragon, Artemis.” He held my gaze intensely.

“Well, wait, if you know I can do this, why are you here?” I set my bowl aside and leaned forward, scowling.

“I’m a knight, I’m supposed to.” He reminded, frowning as I leaned closer.

“That is unbelievable, why the heck-” I cried, but Jason coughed pointedly, interrupting.

“I’m finished, time to go.” He exclaimed, pushing himself to his feet. Arthur gave him a look and I shoveled the rest of my breakfast into my mouth. I quickly swallowed and jumped to my feet. Arthur let out a sigh, but didn’t complain as he finished.

After a few minutes of organizing and getting our bearings, we started north, heading to Akonito. As we walked, I was tempted to interrogate Arthur about the night before and this morning. I could tell something was on his mind, from the way he was often looking off into the distance, pondering whatever it was. Occasionally, he would wince and rub his arm, and when Jason or I would accidentally bump it he would make a horrible grimace that killed me inside. He was a mess, in pain, and letting his mind cloud with something troubling. I tried to talk to him, and take his mind off of things, but he was far too distracted.

Within a couple hours of walking, the path began to flourish with life. Grass started to grow with a few wildflowers sprouting gently. I inhaled the moist scent of the flowers, colors of yellow and purple; blue and orange; and any other pastel danced around us as we walked. I tried to point out a particularly pretty pink flower to Jason -it had delicate soft petals that fanned out in layers, with a warm orange center that looked like a cluster of flames- but he brushed off the comment, claiming the bright teal flower with the star like petals was far prettier. I turned to Arthur to ask him what he thought, but he was already walking ahead, seeming to suddenly have a purpose for hurrying. I jogged, catching up to his pace and turning to him questioningly, but he didn’t make any gesture to acknowledge me. I frowned, but I didn’t slow my pace.

“Artemis, look over there,” Arthur pointed toward the right of the path. I suddenly felt a rush of warmth on my hand, and looked down just as his fingers looped through mine. He gave me a tug, and soon we were jogging toward a field just off the path.

“Oh wow.” I exhaled, my eyes widening as my gaze fell onto an expanse of the bright pink flowers that I had pointed out before. The sea of pink petals seemed ablaze with the orange embers flaring in each flower. My breath caught in my throat as I stared at the field. I felt Arthur slip his hand away from mine as he moved toward the edge of the flowers. He knelt down and carefully plucked a flower from the earth before returning.

“I think they’re called camellia flowers.” He explained, his voice low as he tucked the flower behind my ear. I grinned, though a bit surprised by how close he was.

“How did you know they would be here?” I asked, still looking out at the sea of pink. It was all breathtaking.

“I-” He took a step back, looking a bit bewildered. He let out a sudden gasp, bringing his hand to his arm. I reached out to him, but he only backed away. “I’m fine, it just burns a little.”

“Then we better be going,” I started for the path again, where Jason was sitting on the ground, looking bored and slightly irritated. “We need to get you to a doctor,”

“I know, I know.” He followed, still gripping his arm with a grimace plastered to his lips. His blue eyes were stormy, with grey surrounding his pupils. They seemed almost, frantic.

“You’ll be fine,” I encouraged quickly, offering him my hand. He looked so scared, and that was what frightened me the most. The man who didn’t flinch in the face of the dragon, was scared by a simple gash. “You’ll be ok, I promise.” I added, fully intending to keep my promise.

He forced a smile, slowly tearing his hand from his wound, and reaching out to me. Our fingers looped together, and I was surprised by how warm his hands were. His skin felt like burning coals in a hearth, almost like his whole body was on fire. My first thought was that he must have had a horrible fever. I gave his hand a gentle squeeze and pulled him toward the road, eager to get going.

Back at the path, Jason jumped to his feet, grumbling about flowers and something about chivalry being dead as he took the lead. The rest of the way I never once let go of Arthur’s hand, almost fearing that if I let go, he wouldn’t be able to make it.

Finally, a small town came into view. The cluster of buildings sprouted from a bright green field, and a few windmills lay scattered against the horizon. The closer we got, more and more fuzzy balls of wool appeared. The sheep were all grazing, staring at us as we passed, and the smell of their manure soon reached our noses.

With the sun hot above our heads and a one more block to go, I glanced toward a little woodland area over by the town, it appeared relatively peacefully, almost like a fairy tale forest with pixies and cute little chipmunks, but at the same time, I felt a shiver run down my spine as I looked toward the shadows, which seemed to move every so often. I moved closer to Arthur, wondering if he had noticed, but when I looked up at him, he was wincing, his eyes tightly shut.

Once we reached the town gate, a man called for us to stop. Turning toward the voice, we saw an older looking man, thin and wiry with a stringy grey beard motion us over.

“State yer business here.” He commanded, his voice high-pitched and a bit grating on the ear drums.

“We seek shelter for the night and medical aid.” Jason replied, gesturing to Arthur, who was so slouched over from fatigue I feared that he would need to start leaning on me for support if he didn’t get help soon.

“Ye aren’t smuggling wolves, are ye?” He asked, crossing his arms.

“Wolves?” Jason shot me a questioning glance. I shrugged, and Arthur groaned, lifting a hand to his head. I nestled into the crook of his arm, offer support should he need it. He continued to stand on his own two feet, but he did acknowledge my gesture by squeezing my hand.

“Sir, does it look like we would smuggle any wolves?” Jason asked, turning back to the man.

“Well I don’t know, sonny, ye can’t be too careful these days. Wolves have been a confundalling problem!” He pushed himself up from his chair and hobbled over to the gate. He stuck a key into the padlock and after unclasping it, he pulled open the gate with a series of grunts. The gate squeaked slowly open and he waved us through.

“Don’t ye get inta any trouble, ye hear? Them wolves pop out of every nook an’ cranny like massive rats!” The man called after us.

“Thank you, we will be careful.” Jason returned, though he didn’t appear too enthusiastic in his promise. The screech of the gate tore through the air behind us and the lock of the clasp rang out. I looked to Jason wearily and he held my gaze with a knowing look. We were not going to get out of there easily.

After wandering the town for a few minutes, we found a couple of kids playing ball to direct us toward an inn. The inn was nicely built, with straight wooden walls and what I thought was a sturdy foundation. Jason led us inside, and he paid for the rooms while I held onto Arthur, glancing around the inn eagerly.

The first floor seemed to be the check in and the bar, where round wooden tables were set with wooden plates and spoons. A few older men sat at the bar, chugging down the contents of their tankards, their cheeks rosy and eyes slightly glazed over.

“Your rooms are ready.” The lady at the counter called. She handed Jason two keys and he passed one to me. He motioned for me to follow before leading the way upstairs. I followed eagerly, helping to tug Arthur along to the second floor, where our rooms waited.

My room was just across from Arthur’s and Jason’s. While they went to settle into their room, I slipped into mine, ready to explore.

The room was simple, with a bed that contained a mattress of straw. I sat onto it carefully, feeling uneven clumps underneath my skin. I sighed, looking around the dimly lit walls. There was no bathroom, which I expected when I heard Jason comment about the bath being communal, and there was no closet. I only had the bed and an oil lamp sitting on the table next to it.

A knock came from my door, just as I started to remove my satchel. I called for them to enter, and was greeted by Jason’s scowling face.

“You don’t know what kind of people are staying here, you should keep your door locked at all times.” He scolded, entering my room and leaning against the door, crossing his arms.

“I’m sorry, I just thought a little friendliness never hurt anyone.” I returned, tossing my bag onto the lumpy bed. Jason let out a frustrated sigh.

“It does when you’re friendly to cads. Now, Arthur is going to stay here and rest, I think we should go find a doctor.” He pushed himself from the door, holding it open for me.

“Is he doing alright?” I asked worriedly, making my way through the door and glancing toward their room.

“He…” Jason frowned, looking troubled. “He has a fever… I’m a little worried how high it is.” I bit my lip, thinking back to how warm his hand was.

“Let’s hurry,” I ran down the hallway causing the floorboards to squeak and creak underneath me. Jason followed, and soon we were flying down the stairwell and to the bar. There, Jason spoke with the barmaid, asking for directions to a healer. As I waited, I overheard a slurred conversation between the three men at the bar.

“You hear th’ talk of the wolves? Ol’ Louie thinks he knows where they’re coming from.” The man in the large checked vest gave his friend in the soiled tunic a push.

“Louie don’t know a cowpie from a shepherd’s pie.” The man with the beard grumbled.

“No, he may be onta summat.” The one in the tunic argued sleepily. “It explains ‘ow the wolves keep a-coming into the town even when we shut them gates up.”

“What’s he saying ‘en, split!” The one in the vest slammed his drink down.

“No, saying that name brings miss fortune.” The one in the tunic cried.

“Tell me! Ya can’t start a story an’ stop mid sentence!” The one with the beard gave him a shove, sending the tipsy man to the floor. The men laughed as the one in the tunic flapped his limbs in the air, like a turtle stuck on its back.

“Alright, alright,” he groaned from the floor. “Louie thinks tha’ them wolves are were.”

“Them wolves are where?” The one with the beard repeated.

“Them wolves are were! Ya know, werewolves!” The one in the tunic cried.

“Diane,” Jason’s voice called just as a hand touched my elbow. I jumped, whirling around with surprise.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I exclaimed, letting out a sigh as I gave him a look. He ran a hand through his raven black hair and chuckled. “What is so funny?!”

“Nothing,” he shook his head, motioning for me to follow. He started for the door and I rushed to keep up with him. “I heard that there was a healer just a few blocks away, if we hurry we may be able to bring her back here before dinner!”

“That’s great!” I smiled as we ran into the town. “Do you think that Arthur will be alright by himself?”

“Of course.” Jason rolled his eyes. “He’ll be fine, it’s not like anyone is going to attack an irritable knight. It’s like poking a chained bear.”

“Good, then let’s find her quickly.” I ran ahead, eager to help Arthur. My heart pounded as I ran down the road, inhaling the scent of grass and earth. There was life in this town, and I believed that we would be able to help Arthur in such a clean, lively place. I believed that because in my excitement I had forgotten the flickering shadows lurking in the forest.