The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 23

Katy Abbe, Columnist

After I purchased a couple pouches of hazelnuts, I met up with Jason to get the horses. As it turned out, there were only two horses we were able to purchase. Jason grumbled on the way home, but I reminded him that it would be alright for two of us to share. Jason didn’t seem pleased with my comment, but he agreed.

The first horse was a male with a bit of an attitude. It had a cream colored coat with a pale yellow mane and tail. He had a glare in his eyes, and he let out a disgruntled whiney when I got too close. Though the male horse, Clyde, looked ready to kick me in the gut whenever I drew near, he adored Jason.

Jason somehow bonded with Clyde and had him literally eating out of his hands. Somehow Jason had gotten that beast comfortable enough to let him fuss over the horse and feed him from his hand. I couldn’t even get the other, meeker horse to let me pet her for more than a few moments.

I ended up with Dale, a female horse with a slick black coat and a stripe of white on the bridge of her nose. She had a sweet disposition, but was shy, and nervous around me. I did my best to comfort her, and she did warm up to me, but not to the point where she trusted me. Jason teased me constantly, but I ignored him.

Once we had Clyde and Dale in tow, we hurried to the inn’s stables. There, Jason told me how to care for the horses, such as what to feed them and how much. He told me to finish making sure they were ready and then to get Arthur. While I did that, he said he would go purchase supplies.

It wasn’t too hard to feed the horses, as both were starving and weren’t about to give me any trouble for giving them food. Of course, Clyde made sure I didn’t get too close, and Dale ducked her head shyly when I got her food, but they ate heartedly. Once they were taken care of, I rushed over to the inn’s lobby and scaled the stairs to Arthur’s room.

“Arthur? Can I come in?” I called, knocking on the wooden door. He responded that I could and I bounded in. He was sitting on his bed, bandaging his wound when I closed the door behind me.

His long hair was hanging loosely around his cheeks. He must have bathed because his hair was soaking wet, and the rest of his body looked fresh and clean if not bruised or red from a few scratches. Most of his scratches were covered, and he appeared to be in the process of tending to the rest. He had changed into a clean tunic and pair of pants, but the neckline and a few spots on his pants seemed damp from water. He glanced toward me, smiling tiredly.

“Did you get the horses?” He asked. I nodded, stepping further into the room. The musty smell of wet dog and sweet soap hit my nose.

“But we only got two; two of us will need to share.” I explained. Arthur nodded weakly. His eyes were still stormy, looking like grey clouds hanging over a crystalline sea, and had dark circles under his eyes. “You feeling alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” He breathed out, returning to his wounds. “I just didn’t… I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Makes sense, were you in too much pain?” I asked, ambling closer. He had a pile of cloth on his bed which he used to wrap around the bigger and still oozing scratches. I reached over and snatched a strip. I moved to his other side and began wrapping it around a bleeding cut on his shoulder. The punctured skin looked like a tooth mark. My heart clenched as I confirmed it was from the wolf fight where he protected me. He was suffering through so much because of me.

“I…” Arthur frowned, looking like he was considering it. “I guess, yeah… that must be it.” He sighed.

“You don’t seem convinced.” I commented as I finished bandaging his arm. “Did something else happen?”

“I…” Arthur turned toward me, meeting my eyes with a fearful look swimming in his gaze. The way his eyes caught the light reminded me of rolling, foaming waves caught in a torment. Suddenly he turned away and forced a sickly smile.

“No, it was just a hard time getting to sleep. I’ll be ok though.” He grimaced as he pulled on one of his bandages too tightly. I quickly moved his hand away from his wrist and took over, being sure to be gentle.

“Artemis…” Arthur began as I finished wrapping his wrist. I glanced up at him curiously, waiting for him to continue. He avoided my gaze. “I was- I was wondering-” he paused, wincing as his face contorted with pain.

“What’s wrong?” I cried, jumping up and looking over his bloody and bruised body. He shook his head, his cheeks going pale. I lifted my hand to his forehead and frowned at how heated it was. It dawned on me that I hadn’t given him the medicine from the day before. I brightened as I realized I could help him.

“I got it! Hold on, I have medicine for you somewhere!” I turned to the door, about to run over to my room when I recalled that I had put the vial into my pocket. I slipped my hand into my pant pocket and pulled out the green vial.

“See? Medicine!” I beamed, running back to his side. He glanced at the vial wearily as he shifted himself on the bed, leaning back against the bed board and sighing.

“Where did you-?” He tilted his head as I placed the vial in his hand. He brought the vial to his face and gave it a shake. The green fluid inside splashed around dangerously.

“A healer, her grandchild gave me the cloak.” I tugged the scarlet riding hood around me. “She gave the medicine to Jason and I for free, I guess she has something against wolves.” Arthur’s eyes widened momentarily and he looked at the vial cautiously. With hesitance, he opened the vial and sniffed. His nose wrinkled and he coughed.

“Aconitum.” He whispered with a frown. Turning to me, he smiled wearily. “You told her the bite was from a wolf?”

“Yeah?” I frowned. “Is something wrong?” He sucked in a breath and bit his lips as he considered his answer.

“No…” He paused, handing the vial back to me. “But, I think I’ll hold off on drinking it now.” He resealed the vial and slipped it into his pocket. With a sigh, he leaned against the headboard, looking pained and flushed.

“But the medicine-” I urged, befuddled by his hesitence to drink it.

“I want to see if I’ll be alright without it.” He explained, closing his eyes. “I really don’t think it’s the best thing right now.” I frowned, still not comprehending his stubborn decision.

“Alright…” I plopped down on the edge of his bed. His shoulders seemed to tense for a moment before melting into a more relaxed position. I had the suspicion that he was stressed by something, but I didn’t think he would tell me what it was if I asked.

“Um, Arthur?” I asked softly. He let out a questioning hmm? and I continued. “I know that you must think I’m stupid for always putting myself into danger, but I’m really not doing it to be careless-”

“I know-” he cut in quickly, opening his eyes for the moment, his blue irises sparkling with pain.

“And.” I continued, determined to finish. He closed his mouth and held my gaze while I finished, “I know that as a knight your job is to protect people, but… when it comes to helping yourself, it looks like you have a harder time.” I paused for a moment, unsure how to read his controlled gaze. “I was thinking that, even if you think you can handle it, I would like to help you with anything I can. If things get too hard to handle on your own, I’ll always be willing to help lighten the weight.” I held his gaze shyly and brushed my hair back behind my ear. His blue eyes seemed to brighten slightly before dimming again.

“I will be sure to remember that…” he finally responded, his features betraying nothing. I nodded, feeling my cheeks flush as I realized I must have sounded awful.

“Alright then, um, I’ll just go clean myself up.” I pushed myself to my feet, turning to the door. I felt something cool brush against me, and I looked down as his hand as his fingers wrapped around my wrist. I glanced up, feeling my cheeks burn as my gaze met his ocean blue eyes.

“Artemis, thank you.” He said firmly. “I’m still… thinking through what I need to do.” He pulled me over to his bedside. I leaned down, our noses were just inches away from each other. “But I will ask for your help should I need it.” He lifted his hand to my cheek and guided my head gently to his shoulder. There, he gave me a tight hug and nuzzled his nose softly against my cheek. I pulled away, and he smiled softly. “Thank you.”

“I uh, sure.” I straightened myself with my cheeks burning. A hint of a smirk played on his lips as he leaned back against the bed. “I thin- you um- I’ll- why don’t we showe-! I mean uh, you shower and I’ll rest- I mean-” I rambled flusteredly as I backed toward the door. “I’ll shower and you rest. I’m sorry, I just-” I bit my lips and with force added finally, “I hope you feel better!” Before whirling around and running out the door.

“Did you find the hazelnuts?” Arthur’s voice called gently as I reached the hall. My cheeks throbbed with heat as I turned on my heels and tossed the pouch into the room. Arthur’s chuckles rang softly through the air and I ran down the hall, eager to collect myself. I sprinted into my room, and there, I furiously readied myself for a bath.

With a change of clothes in my arms I walked briskly to the communal bathroom. I had to pay extra to get warm water, but once I had lowered myself into the large wooden tub full of scalding warm water it was so worth it.

As my pulse slowed down to a healthy pace, I reclined in the tub and gently scrubbed away the dirt and sweat that clung to my body. The soap left a clean scent in the air, and the steamy water soothed away all the aches and knots in my back that I didn’t realize I had. When I finished scrubbing, I lingered in the cooling water.

I was confused. I was confused by my whole situation. I had no idea who I was, where I was, or what I was doing. Heck, I realized, looking into my blurring reflection in the misty water, I didn’t even know what I looked like. I didn’t really care either way, I would figure it all out when the time comes, but… when I thought about Arthur, I did care.

Jason wanted me to remember him, that was apparent, and there was a girl who needed me before I lost my memory. I figured fighting Gilgamesh would at least help me figure out where the girl was and what I should do from there. In retrospect that was a bit of a lofty goal, but I was too far in working to achieve it I couldn’t stop. Especially when considering all that I had put Arthur through. Arthur!

Immediately my cheeks burned as I thought about him. I lowered myself into the water felt a squeak escape my lips when I replayed the hug in his room from just moments ago over in my head. I didn’t understand. I was confused by how flustered I had gotten. My heart rate quickened and my breath caught in my throat.

“I just want him to be ok…” I whispered to myself, blowing a few bubbles in the grimy water.

“Artemis? Are you in there?” Jason’s voice bellowed from the otherside. I jumped from surprise, sending water sloshing around and over the rim.

“Y-yes!” I called, lifting myself out of the tub and hurrying over to the towels.

“Hurry up, it’s my turn next!” Jason called.

“I’m almost done!” I returned, rushing to dry myself and get dressed. Jason remained quiet on the other side of the door as I hurried. I was just about done, with my hair still damp and my tunic sticking to my slippery skin, when I paused in front of the glassy mirror. Curiously, I straightened and stared at my reflection.

My face was soft and round, with defined features, but far less pronounced than what Arthur’s were. My eyes were large, and round, with irises the color of violets. My hair was cropped short, and it was soft and feathery like duckling fuzz. It was the color of the sun as it rises from behind the horizon every morning. I wasn’t sure what to think. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Artemis?” Jason called impatiently.

“Coming!” I rushed to the door, snapping out of my thoughts. I swung open the door and forced a smile. He pushed past me and shuffled into the room with his clothes in his hands.

“As soon as I’m done we need to get going. So I suggest eating something and waking Sir Snores-a-lot while you wait.” Jason mumbled grumpily.

“Oh, alright.” I started to close the door on my way out, waiting to see if he still had something to say. When he didn’t make another sound, I closed the door with a soft thunk.

Arthur… I wasn’t sure how I felt about his bite, his nervousness. I was worried, I believed as I ambled back to my room. But if I was simply worried, why did… why did my heart pound whenever I thought about him?

Warmth caressed my cheeks and with a shaky breath I determined to go eat lunch. I may have just been tired, and hungry. With some hearty food in my stomach, my heartache would disappear.

I passed Arthur’s room and with a pounding chest, I felt my lips curl as a gentle snore emanated from within. My heart lurched and I only prayed that he would be okay. I just wanted him to be happy, to be safe… The blood ran to my cheeks again and for some reason, I felt horribly flustered. Shaking my head, I tore my thoughts away from Arthur and shuffled down the stairs.

I just needed food. I just needed to rest and relax and everything would make sense. But still, the fluttering in my heart clung tightly, and I feared it wouldn’t release me any time soon.