The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 22

Katy Abbe, Columnist

When I woke up the next morning I had a nasty flavor of acid in my mouth. I blinked open my eyes wearily, seeing only a palette of greens and browns mixed together. After rubbing the grit from my eyes, I yawned sleepily, uncurling from my tangled mass of cloak and limbs.

“You slept in.” A flat voice commented as I stretched. I glanced up, meeting Jason’s scowl and frowned, bewildered.

“You could have woken me.” I scanned the clearing briefly, surprised by how empty it was. All the men had gone, taking their supplies with them. Jason and I were the only ones in the quiet forest.

“You were tired.” He grunted. “I wasn’t about to wake you up when you clearly needed sleep.” I turned back to him and shot him a glare.

“Fine. Let’s just get back to the inn.” I muttered. I hoped Arthur would finally talk to me, that might make the day a bit better.

I pushed to my feet, and yawning, I raised my arms into the air once more. Jason tapped his foot against the ground impatiently and I hurried to his side. Without a word, he started for the trees, keeping a steady and fast pace as he wove through the forest. I had to rush to keep up.

After a few minutes of walking, we were out of the woods and the town came into view. We rushed to the gate, where the old man was sitting, dozing off in the same spot as the wolf from the night before slept. I glanced around cautiously, fearful that the wolf was lurking nearby. I saw nothing, however, and told myself to relax as Jason wandered through the gate, holding it open for me when he got to the other side. I sprinted in and he shut the gate with a slam, following me as I headed for the inn quickly.

Once we reached the inn, I flew up the staircase and to Arthur’s door. Panting, I paused outside, trying to catch my breath as my heart drummed in my chest. As I inhaled a sharp breath of air, I stared at the door, raising my hand hesitantly.

Please, please, please, open up. I thought, bopping the door with my knuckles.

“It’s unlocked.” Arthur’s warm voice called. With my heart skipping a beat I threw open the door and flew into the room, Jason ambled in behind me.

As soon as my gaze fell onto Arthur my heart sunk. He looked awful, laying on his back in the far left bed, hanging his wounded arm over his eyes. Yet, that didn’t seem to be the worst of it. His chest was rising and falling haphazardly, like it pained him to breath. His light brown hair lay in tangles around his face, and his body was covered in scratches and other blood clotted marks.

“Arthur?” I took a tentative step forward. Jason let out a huff and moved over to his things on the right side of the room, rummaging around for something. “Are you feeling ok?”

“I’m ok.” He muttered, not moving an inch. I felt the urge to rush to his side and to start cleaning his scratches, but I was afraid if I did anything he would get angry.

“Is your fever down?” I asked helplessly, rubbing my arm.

“I have no idea.” He responded without looking my way.

“So I’m going to head to the bar and get something to eat.” Jason interjected as he snatched a pouch of coins from his bag and headed toward the door. “Don’t get too crazy in here, alright?” The last part had a harsh bitterness to it, which made my heart sink.

“Jason…” I muttered after him, but he was already gone. With a sigh, I turned back to Arthur, who had lifted his arm and was looking at me curiously. His blue eyes seemed tired and clouded over.

“Don’t worry about him, I think he just needs some time to himself.” Arthur mumbled quietly before lowering his arm. I frowned and crossed my arms, hugging myself.

“I guess that’s what you want too, huh? I’m just a bother…” I turned to go back to my room.

“No, Artemis, not at all.” His voice gained a momentary strength, causing me to jump. I looked over my shoulder, surprised by the frantic look in Arthur’s eyes. His cheeks flushed and a look of defeat overcame his features. He shook his head, covering his eyes with his arm again. “I just- I don’t want to make you do anything, but if you’d like to stay I wouldn’t mind.” His voice became softer and I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

“You must be sick.” I let out a nervous laugh, taking another step closer. He didn’t comment but I caught him wince. Discouraged, I ambled slowly over, standing awkwardly over his bed.

“You can sit, you must be tired.” He mumbled.

“Oh,” I nodded, moving to his legs and sitting next to them. I sat silently, watching him carefully. His chest was rising and falling with each breath, and his mouth was slightly open, letting out a diminutive whistle with every inhale.

“I’m sorry I scared you last night.” He finally said, his voice heavy and thick.

“Scared me?” I repeated, befuddled. “I wasn’t really scared, I thought that you were angry with me.”

“Angry?” He lifted his tired arm, giving me a look. Suddenly a thought dawned on him and he continued knowingly. “You think I’m upset because you went into the forest?”

“How did you know that?” I jumped, my eyes wide. “Am I that predictable?” A flash of terror flashed through his eyes and he slowly lowered his arm, covering his face as he made a face.

“I guess it is a little obvious you both went.” He paused, contemplating something. “You know Jason wasn’t here when I woke up, and you both look a bit disheveled.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I looked down at my hands, biting my lip as I thought to the night before. “I just, Jason had the stupid notion that he had to prove something, and you were so sick…” I turned to him, watching him pleadingly. “What was happening? I needed to talk to you about Jason, but you sounded ghastly and wouldn’t let me help. I was scared I had made you angry, or that you hated me for causing you to be sick.”

“Why would you be the reason that I’m sick?” He raised his arm, giving me a questioning look.

“Well, the wolf bite is probably infected with some horrible disease and you have it because you were protecting me, and it was your knightly duty.” I rambled quickly, feeling the stress and anxiousness from the night before grip at my heart again. I turned away from Arthur and looked down at my clenched hands. “It’s all my fault you’re in so much pain, because I caused so much trouble and you felt you had to help me. I’m so sorry.” Tears welled in my eyes and I swallowed the lump in my throat. Arthur was silent for a moment, but then with a grunt escaping his lips, the sheets rustled and I felt a large hand on my shoulder. I turned, meeting his gaze that was shining inches away. A tear ran down my cheek and he grimaced, bringing his hand to the side of my face and sliding the tear away.

“Artemis, I want you to listen carefully,” he held my gaze firmly, holding my chin in his hand. I searched his stormy blue eyes fearfully, waiting to find a sign of anger or contempt. “I am not angry with you for what happened. I do not blame you for this at all. If anything, I’m grateful that I was the one bitten, and I’m thankful for…” he hesitated, his gaze flickering away for a moment as he seemed to search for the right words. “I’m thankful that you’re always there when I need you the most.”

“What?” I asked with a cracking voice, pulling away from his grasp. “How have I been there for you? Last night, whatever was happening, you were in pain and I only ran away. You’ve been the one constantly taking care of me, not the other way around.”

“Artemis,” he leaned forward carefully, his blue eyes swimming with tenderness. “Remember back in Trelos? You came to find me when I needed help. You’ve been making sure my wound is clean, and as for last night? You really did help more than you realize.” His smile faltered at the end, looking like he was troubled by something.

“How did I help last night? I didn’t do anything but almost d-” I trailed off, thinking it might be best not to tell him about how I ran into wolves that tried to kill me.

“Just trust me.” He leaned closer, pulling me into his embrace awkwardly. He guided my head to his shoulder. I could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

“I’m still sorry.” I muttered, resting my head against his neck, clinging to his dusty and bloodied shirt. How he got the scratches not even I knew. He must have obtained more wounds from the wolf fight than he let on.

“Please don’t be.” His voice was husky and strained. I pulled away, moving to look up at him just as he lowered his chin. Before I knew what was happening, our noses collided gently, rubbing against one another as we both moved. I leaned back quickly, and he pulled back with red dusting his cheeks.

“S-sorry…” his eyes were wide, looking like he was a deer caught in the headlights. I shrugged, feeling like his reaction was a little silly, it wasn’t like our lips had touched. He turned away, leaning back in the bed and covering his eyes with his arm again, looking flustered and sheepish.

“Look-” he began, pausing to clear his throat. “we need to head out soon, I really need to see Zander about something.”

“Zander?” I asked, slightly confused. “Yeah, I guess, but shouldn’t we wait a bit and let you rest?”

“All I need is a horse and I’ll be fine.” He muttered. “I have some money. Could you and Jason go find a few horses we could ride to the next town? Stocking up on food wouldn’t be bad either.”

“Sure.” I pushed to my feet, frowning. The bed creaked as I stood. “Should I get you anything to eat for breakfast before we go?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” He responded curtly. I nodded, heading toward the door when his quiet voice added, “wait, Artemis, were the hazelnuts good?”

“Hazelnuts?” I repeated, bewildered as I looked over my shoulder.

“Didn’t you have hazelnuts recently?” He lifted his arm curiously, meeting my gaze.

“No, pretty sure I haven’t.” I answered with a frown. “Why?”

“I, uh,” his cheeks burned a bright red but he didn’t lower his arm. “you… I… When we- you just smell like hazelnuts, and I thought…”

“Really?” I crinkled my nose, lifting my arm and giving it a sniff. I winced as the scent of sweat and dirt tainted my nose. I smelled like I needed a bath. “I think you’re mistaken. But did you want me to try to find some hazelnuts anyway?”

“Yeah…” his face seemed to glow with embarrassment as he lowered his arm. “I would like some if it isn’t any trouble.”

“Alright.” I nodded, continuing to the door. “I’ll get horses and food with Jason, then we can all get cleaned up and head out, if you’re ready.” I added the last part firmly. He muttered an agreement and I closed the door behind me, hoping he wasn’t pushing himself too hard.

Once I reached downstairs, I found Jason just finishing a breakfast of eggs and sausage.  He was laying money on the table while I ran over to the barmaid from the night before. I asked her if she had any hazelnuts, but she said that only a stall down a few blocks would have them. I thanked her just as Jason ambled over to me.

“So what’s the plan? How’s Arthur feeling today?” He inquired with an apathetic voice.

“He wants to get going as soon as possible.” I explained the rest of the plan, and Jason sighed, claiming he knew where to get the horses. On the way out of the inn, I voiced my desire to visit the hazelnut stall.

“Why?” Jason smirked. “Think you can plop them in coffee?”

“No?” I frowned as we walked down the street. The town that morning seemed a little sluggish, like not many had a good nights sleep. A few people were wide awake and cheery, but for the most part people were falling asleep standing up, unable to keep their eyes open.

“Well, what were you going to use them for?” Jason asked, scowling like I didn’t get a joke.

“Arthur wanted them. He thought I had some because I smelled like them.” I elaborated. His eyes widened.

“Have you had any hazelnuts recently?” He inquired, looking bewildered.

“Nope,” I shrugged. “I don’t know why he said that, I don’t exactly smell like anything pleasant… Jason?” I paused, turning around and raising an eyebrow as he stopped in the middle of the path. A lady and her child were walking our way and I pulled him out of their route. “Jason?”

“He said you smelled like hazelnuts?” Jason repeated, giving me a look. I nodded and he brought his hand to his chin. “How could he tell?”

“Tell? Am I supposed to smell like them?” I asked. The coldness melted away from his eyes and he met my gaze gently.

“I know you don’t want me to tell you about your past, but… may I?” He tilted his head. I gave him the go ahead and he continued. “Back home you always smelled like hazelnuts. I teased you about it because they were your favorite snack and you had them with just about anything, especially in your coffee.” He continued walking, and I followed, listening intently.

“When we first met up here I was a little disappointed that you didn’t smell like hazelnuts, it was always a lingering smell on you, no matter what you did.” We turned a corner and he directed me toward a street filled with stalls. “I can’t believe Arthur has been able to tell.”

“It is weird…” I shrugged. “Maybe he just has a good nose?”

“Makes sense, have you seen how big that thing is?” He grumbled.

“Be nice!” I nudged him. “I think it’s cute!” Jason’s eyes dimmed and he sighed.

“You do, huh?” He exhaled. He held my gaze for a moment before turning away. He quickened his pace and I had to hurry to keep up. He pointed to a stall across the way. There stood a man with hair the color of straw. He said that the man could provide us with horses. Then, Jason pointed a little further down the street, giving directions for where I could probably find the hazelnut stall. He handed me a few coins and said to buy some for Arthur and myself. I paused, searching his suddenly dim and disheartened gaze.

“Are you alright, Jason?” I asked, tilting my head, holding tightly onto the coins so that I wouldn’t lose them.

“Yeah, I’m just thinking.” He offered a small hint of a smile, but in a flash, it shifted into a smirk. “Now, get going, or Arthur and I will leave without you.”

“Thank you, Jason,” I grinned, giving him a quick side hug before running off to the stall, eager to find some hazelnuts and to see if they were all that they were cracked up to be.