The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 21

Katy Abbe, Columnist

I flew through the forest, winding around stumps and bushes as I rushed to where the cries were emanating. My scarlet cloak snagged onto countless of obstacles and branches scratched at my cheeks but I refused to slow my pace. After a few long minutes of running, the sounds of fighting grew closer and louder, rumbling over my panting breath. Just as I thought that I was going reach them, the howls and yells died down, and suddenly, the forest was quiet.

I paused, coming to an unsteady halt as my lungs heaved. My heart drummed in my ears as I glanced around the dim forest, my eyes straining to soak up the moonlight to see. There was nothing but trees and bushes surrounding me. I took a step forward, trying to see around the tree in front of me, when a twig snapped behind me. I whirled around, my hand going to my sword hilt as my eyes met a pair of glowing yellow orbs. My heart thudded to my stomach as a large, hunched wolf emerged from the bushes with more glowing eyes following behind it.

“Easy,” I whispered under my breath, unsheathing my sword and holding it out in front of me. Four wolves were in front of me, each with different colored eyes. The one to my far left had dark green eyes with golden embers in the middle. The second to the left had familiar brilliant blue eyes, though I could not identify why they were so familiar. The leader, next to the blue-eyed beast took a step forward, his golden eyes glowing like flames. The last wolf had dark muddy eyes. They all had a sneer on their snouts, and they all crouched, ready to attack.

“Stay back,” I warned, stepping backward. “Leave me alone, I don’t want trouble now.” My heart was pounding, and my legs were shaking. I chided myself for trying to talk to the wolves, who couldn’t understand me and who had only one thought on their mind; to attack.

“Please. Don’t,” I pleaded weakly as I pressed myself against a tree. The wolves growled threateningly and I felt my arms go limp. The sword dipped, and with my hands still clinging to the hilt, the blade landed in the soil in front of me, standing bravely, but stupidly, unable to do anything if I didn’t give it a chance. I slipped to the ground, hiding behind the blade with my heart quivering as quickly and as violently as an earthquake. The wolves paused, tilting their heads as they tried to assess their prey. I couldn’t bring myself to care. I was far too tired to respond, to run. It was my fault that everything was happening, it was my fault I was in this situation. Worst of all, Arthur and Jason were suffering for it.

“I’m sorry, Arthur.” I breathed out with a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, Jason.” I shut my eyes and turned my head, letting the wolves do what they would with me. It would have been best for them to tear into me. Everyone would be better if I wasn’t around to screw things up. The wolves would benefit; Jason and Arthur would benefit. I would accept my fate.

However, nothing happened. I glanced up, only to jump up in surprise as my eyes fell onto the back of a wolf, who was standing with its back to me, glaring at the other three wolves. The golden-eyed wolf let out a low growl, and the wolf in front of me let out a gentle bark. My eyes widened as the green and brown eyed wolves glared at the wolf in front of me. It clicked and I felt dizzy as I realized the blue-eyed beast was protecting me, shielding me with his light brown body.

The gold-eyed wolf let out a howl and the wolves behind it lunged. The blue-eyed wolf pushed me out of the way before slamming into the brown-eyed wolf, sending it crashing into the one with green eyes. From impact, I tumbled into the moist brown ground, landing face first into a pile of dirt. I quickly lifted myself, spitting out glops of dirt as the blue-eyed beast stood over me protectively, glaring at the wolves. I let out a gasp and ducked as the golden-eyed wolf rushed toward us. He tackled the blue-eyed beast and together they tumbled to the ground. The blue-eyed beast let out a furious growl as the gold-eyed wolf pinned it down. I scrambled to my feet, grabbing a nearby branch. While the wolves tussled, I whacked the gold-eyed one in the snout. The wolf let out a yelp and jumped away, leaving the blue-eyed beast with a few bloody scratches on its face and stomach. The wolf turned to glare at me, letting a guttural growl emanate from his throat. The blue-eyed beast retorted with a nasty bark. The wolf took a hesitant step back, still glaring, and then turned to the other wolves, motioning for them to go on ahead. The green and brown eyed wolves ran into the bushes and the gold-eyed wolf gave one last growl before bounding after them. I dropped the branch and turned to the blue-eyed beast.

It was panting a bit, and glancing at its wounds curiously, a sad and bewildered look in its blue eyes. Suddenly, it turned to me, and my heart skipped a beat. I stood frozen, holding the beast’s gaze as it stared at me with concern. My mouth went dry as a moment of silence passed.

Suddenly, shouts came from the other direction and I whirled around, seeing a line of glowing torches coming closer. I glanced back toward the beast, who was pushing itself to its feet weakly, seeming to grimace as it did so. The human shouts drew closer and the wolf took a tentative step toward me. A flash of fear gripped my heart, and it must have reflected in my features, because the beast took a step back, its eyes glittering with pain. The voices grew closer and the beast glanced behind me before slinking into the bushes. I felt its careful gaze still on me as I turned toward the voices, still bewildered that the wolf had helped me.

“Where did they go? Those damned wolves!” The voices cried out as a few men came crashing through the foliage, waving their axes and torches violently. I jumped back as they all glanced my way, glaring with a fierceness that could turn Medusa into stone.

“You, where did the wolves go?” One man with a gnarly beard that looked like a bird’s nest bellowed, pointing at me with his blazing stick.

“I uh-” I stuttered, taking another step back, getting closer and closer to the wolf crouching in the bushes. I could feel its narrowed gaze.

“You must have seen them! Where are they?” Another man with chubby cheeks and a bulbous nose accused. I bit my lip, trying to keep my gaze away from the bush. I knew if I revealed the wolf they would kill it. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the wolf, nor did I trust it, but letting it die after saving me seemed rather foolhardy.

“I don’t know where they went, but there was howling that way.” I raised a shaking hand in the direction of the other wolves. The men turned in frightening unison and all let out a war cry before charging through the forest. My legs turned to jelly and I slipped to the ground, letting out a quivering breath as stress and fear piled onto my chest.

“Oh gosh, oh god.” I breathed as the sound of their yells diminished, causing a hushed quiet to fall over the forest. The leaves rustled behind me, and I let out a cry as the blue-eyed beast slinked next to me. It gave me an apologetic look and I scooted away from it. It tilted its head head sadly, taking a tentative step toward me. I held out my hand and shook my head.

“No, stop! Stay away!” I ordered, my voice strained from fear. “Leave me alone. Thanks for helping me and all, but I don’t trust you.” I scooted even further and the beast paused, pouting as it sat down carefully, bowing its head to make itself seem nonthreatening.

“Don’t give me that.” I scowled. The beast continued to pout, its blue eyes swimming with tears that were ready to drip down it’s snout. My heart ached, but the fear constricting it refused to let me lower my guard.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. You could end me in an instant, you’re a monster.” I muttered, more to myself than to the beast. The wolf jerked back, looking visibly wounded, and I immediately regretted what I said. “Ok, not a monster, but a neutral creature with claws and fangs.” I said quickly, trying to console the beast as it stared at the ground. A drop of liquid dripped down its nose.

“No, nononono, don’t do that.” I grimaced, feeling like a horrible human being. The wolf didn’t look up, but only stared at the ground, blinking quickly as a few tears dripped onto the soil. I groaned, watching the beast pathetically as it cried silently. As a few moments slipped by I found I couldn’t take it any longer and I cautiously scooted over to the wolf.

It didn’t look up once, and when I was close enough to feel its warm breath, I wrapped my arms around its neck, hugging it gently as I ran my hand through its long light brown fur, which was coarse and jagged.

“It’s fine, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.” I mumbled, still ready for it to snap it’s pointed jaws at me when it saw the chance, but the beast only nuzzled its head against my neck, leaning it’s head on my shoulder. It sniffled a bit, its breath tickling my skin.

“There, there,” I pulled away, smiling sheepishly as it met my gaze, its blue eyes glinting in the moonlight. The familiarity of its gaze was unnerving. “You’ll be ok.” I pushed to my feet, tearing my gaze away from it. I glanced around the forest while I stooped down to pick up the sword I had dropped and resheathed it. I felt my legs shake as I wondered which direction to go.

“Jason… where are you?” I wondered aloud. Suddenly, the wolf next to me let out a bark and pranced in front of me, looking back over it’s shoulder and nodding toward a break in the trees. I furrowed my eyebrows, eyeing the beast wearily.

“Do you know where Jason is?” I asked slowly. The wolf nodded and took a step forward, waiting for me to follow. I hesitated, holding its gaze carefully.

I didn’t want to trust the wolf. It could very well have just been trying to lure me to its cave for a night time snack. But. I didn’t have any other way of finding Jason.

“Alright.” I exhaled begrudgingly. “Lead the way.” The wolf nodded quickly, its eyes shining in the moonlight. It quickly slinked through the trees and I followed carefully behind it.

The blue-eyed beast was surprisingly attentive. It never rushed through the forest but rather kept a hurried pace that was easy to match. It always glanced back, to make sure I was still following, and whenever I tumbled over my own feet, it ran to my side, never letting me slam into the ground by catching me on its back. It was horribly weird.

Finally, my panting and our footsteps were not the only sounds filling the air. A couple of hushed voices were coming from a cluster of trees. As the wolf and I drew closer, the smell of smoke tickled my nostrils, and a light flickered behind the trees.

The wolf ran over to the trees and sat down with its back curled. It nodded toward the trees before meeting my gaze. I glanced from the trees to the wolf before taking a tentative step forward. When I passed the beast, I could still feel its gaze on me. I looked over my shoulder and gave it a nervous grin.

“Thanks.” I whispered before walking through the trees. The wolf gave a gentle whine and I heard its retreating footsteps with relief. Soon I broke through into a clearing.

The fire a few feet away crackled merrily as the men sat around it, soaking in the flames. Some men were injured, and others were tending to the wounded. Bags were thrown everywhere, while medical supplies and food lay strewn across blankets. furthest from the fire lay the man who riled up the town earlier, and next to his crumpled body was Jason.

Jason sat next to the man, wrapping his leg up in gauze with his lips pursed together. He appeared a little green, and though I could not see the man’s face, I’m sure he wasn’t doing to hot either.

“Jason?” I whispered ambling quietly over to his side. He glanced up with surprise, horror flashing through his eyes as his gaze fell on me.

“Diane?” He whispered, his hands freezing for a moment. The man grunted and he tore his gaze from mine and continued his task of bandaging the man. I walked closer and his gaze flickered toward me unsteadily before returning to the wound.

“What are you doing?” He hissed. I glanced at his shaking hands and plopped down by his side.

The man had a gash in his leg that ran down from his kneecap and all the way to his ankle. Blood was spilling from the gash and Jason was racing to stop it, though he wasn’t doing a good job. I gently moved him away from the wound and took the gauze. He let me take over and I answered as I quickly wrapped the man’s leg.

“I was worried about you, and Arthur was ignoring me, so I came to make sure you were alright.”

“You came alone?” He glared at me.

“Yep.” I nodded, scooting over to the man’s ankle.

“You could have gotten yourself killed.” He huffed. The man groaned as I pressed the bandage to a tender spot. I loosened it a bit before continuing.

“You’re the one risking your life to make yourself seem, I don’t know, superior.” I returned. I finished bandaging the man’s leg, and scooted toward his head. His eyes were blurry and glazed over, and his mouth was agape like he was out of breath. I pressed my hand to his forehead and winced as the heat burned my hand.

“I’m doing what’s best for you!” Jason whispered loudly, his voice high and cracked.

“What does that even mean?” I cried, whirling around with my eyes wide. “How is fighting wolves and looking for trouble the best for me? I was worried about you! I’m worried about Arthur! All you guys do is seem to get into trouble because of me!”

“Hush.” He scowled, leaning forward. “Maybe if you took the time to notice how other people feel you would understand why you put people through so much pain!” His eyes flashed with malice and I leaned back, my heart dropping into my stomach as I let his words sink in.

“I… I never asked you to fight wolves. I never asked anyone to do anything for me.” I muttered, looking down at my hands. Was it really my fault?

“No, but, dang it, Diane! Don’t you get it?! We did it because we-” He paused, and I looked up. My lip was quivering.

“Because we…” He trailed off, scowling.

“You have to?” I mumbled in a low voice, trying to fight the tears I could feel bubbling up. “It’s your duty as a stupid knight, or a stupid man who has to prove himself, is that it? Am I just a nuisance that makes your lives harder because I force you to do things?” I glanced up at the sky, avoid his gaze and unable to look down, or else the dam would crack and my tears would pour. The moon hung over head, brightly shining over the forest like an ever faithful pool of calm. I kept my gaze on it, forcing myself to calm down.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying!” Jason groaned. There was a rustle of his clothes and I felt him move closer. “I’m just saying- forget it. It’s unimportant.” He grumbled, retreating. Once the overwhelming urge to cry melted away, I glanced back down, meeting his gaze sadly. He turned away, grumbling.

“Look, just pick a spot, and rest for the night. We’re going back to town in the morning. We had a nasty run in with the wolves and we all need a good night’s sleep.” He muttered, crossing his arms and looking across the clearing.

“Did you get attacked?” I asked gently, following his gaze. The wounded men seemed lost in an uneasy sleep, and the intact ones were keeping watch.

“Not me, personally.” Jason answered flatly. “I was a bit useless.”

“I’m glad you’re ok.” I turned to him, meeting his eyes. I offered a weak smile and he turned away quickly, making a face I couldn’t understand.

“Whatever, just get some sleep. I’ll keep an eye out for trouble.” I nodded and pulled my cloak around me, making myself comfortable on the ground. I pulled my legs to my chest, and as I curled into a ball, I let my eyelids fall. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard a hush whisper that seemed almost like a sliver of a dream.

“I’m sorry, Diane.”