The World of Stories and Fables

Katy Abbe, Columnist

When everyone was ready to go, we gathered the supplies and made our way to the stables. Jason suggested that I ride with Arthur, as Dale wouldn’t jostle her rider as much as Clyde, and Arthur really needed the stability. It made sense, but even then my heart flipped when I thought about riding with him. I wasn’t sure I could stand to be so close to him when just thinking about him made me feel unstable. There was no way out of it, however, and I swallowed my racing heart and climbed onto the horse with Arthur right behind.

As we wove through the town, we kept up a steady pace. Arthur was obviously uncomfortable. I continually caught him letting out choked gasps of pain whenever we moved too quickly. I wished desperately to relieve his pain, but I had no way to do so. Once we left the town, leaving behind the sluggish citizens, I suggested that Arthur hold onto me, should he have any problems riding.

He enveloped me tightly, wrapping his arms around my waist and leaning his head against my shoulder. I sat straight in the saddle, hoping that what little support I could provide would be able to help. I just wasn’t sure how long I could stay calm, with my heart racing everytime he shifted and set sparks tingling down my back and across my skin.

Out in the open, we started to trot. The bumps and jerks made Arthur groan, and when we picked up speed he tightened his grip around my waist. I asked if he wanted us to slow, but he shook his head with a grimace, firmly insisting that we keep going. We had to get to the next town.

Jason was the one who navigated. Arthur would help out if Jason wasn’t sure which way to go, but for the most part, he was an excellent leader. On our way to the town before Yama, where we were to find Zander, we rushed past a path to a town and few other travellers. Forests whirled by and wide open plains dotted with sheep and cows stretched out for what appeared to be an eternity. Part of me wished I could explore the fields, but I knew Arthur was desperate to get to Zander. Arthur’s needs were far more important to me than my wants.

“Are you doing ok?” I asked once we dropped our pace to give the horses a rest. Jason continued to lead while I kept Dale close behind him.

“I’m fine.” Arthur replied through gritted teeth. His head was still propped on my shoulder and his eyes were squeezed shut. I felt the urge to nuzzle my head against his, but for some reason that made me feel a little self conscious.

“We can stop and rest.” I insisted, glancing up at the fading sun. It would be dark soon and I wasn’t sure how far from camp we were.

“No, we need to get to town before nightfall.” Arthur muttered as I looked back to him. I frowned and turned to Jason.

“How far are we from Verwünschen?” I called to his back.

“A few more minutes if we run, but the horses seem a bit exhausted.” Jason looked over his shoulder, meeting my gaze. “We won’t make it by sunset if we stop though.”

“We have to keep going.” Arthur muttered, squeezing me tighter. I frowned, feeling heat creep up my cheeks. Jason seemed to catch my uneasiness and smirked.

“I’m sure Arthur can hang in for a little while longer.” Jason called, still smirking but his tone was not unkind.

“I’ll be fine, we just have to keep going.” Arthur shifted as I craned my neck to see his face. I was tempted to lean back into his chest, but I felt I had to remain erect, and to be a cornerstone for him to lean on.

“Fine, but promise to tell me if the trip gets too painful, ok?” I made my voice stern, trying to make a point. Arthur chuckled a little and a hint of a smile graced his lips.

“Sort of like when you promised not to put yourself in any danger?” His voice was weary but held a touch of lightness.

“That’s not fair!” I cried, startling Dale. She jumped and Arthur groaned as we bumped unsteadily. I quickly ran my hand across Dale’s neck and hushed her calmly, wincing as Arthur moaned in the background.

“Sorry.” I apologized once Dale had calmed down again. Arthur shook his head, rubbing his forehead against my neck. I was mortified by how his sticky skin burned against mine. His fever seemed to be getting worse and worse.

“What time is it?” Arthur asked, his voice tight. I glanced up toward the sky, which was growing softer in color, with the blue sky around the falling sun beginning to blush, and the blue on the other end of the sky dimmed into a darker and more solemn tint.

“Um, the sun’s about to set.” I turned back to him. His arms tensed and my heart throbbed as he grimaced from pain.

“Can we please hurry?” He pleaded. I raised an eyebrow, wondering why he was so concerned with getting there before nightfall. It wasn’t like the town would be better. Perhaps a bit more comfortable, but even camping out in the middle of nowhere had to be better than the constant jostle of a horse.

“Arthur, if you just tell us what you need-” I began, pondering the possibility that he knew of some medicine that could help or if he only wanted to get closer to Zander. In either case, it would be possible for Jason or I to go on ahead and bring them to Arthur so he needn’t suffer so much.

“I just need to get to the next town. I just need to find Zander.” He forced out.

“If it’s -Zander.. right?- you need, maybe we could split up.” Jason suggested, surprising me by how gentle his tone was. “If I get to Verwünschen tonight and change horses there I could make it to Yama before morning. Diane can stay with you and by tomorrow afternoon Zander and I can meet you at Verwünschen.”

“I- I’m not sure.” Arthur lifted his chin, a pained look was plastered onto his features and my heart skipped a beat.

“Arthur, you need to rest.” I pulled on Dale’s reigns, signalling for her to halt. She came to a stop and Arthur lurched forward, moaning in pain.

“Artemis… please…” he whispered weakly. I shook my head, determined that he get rest. I looked to Jason, who had paused a few feet ahead. He nodded encouragingly and gestured over to a shed yards away.

“We could camp out at the shed,” I nudged Arthur, who glanced toward it. He scanned the surrounded pastures and I thought for a moment that I could feel his heart race against his chest which was pressed against my back.

“So many sheep…” he exhaled.

“Yeah, the shed probably belongs to a shepherd.” I nodded taking in the little bundles of wool that grazed in the pinkish light of dusk. “But that’s fine, if we let him know what’s going on I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Arthur let out a nervous hum as I directed Dale toward the shed. “It’ll be fine. You go on ahead, Jason.” I called. Jason nodded and quickly snapped the reins, directing Clyde down the path, urging him to gallop as quickly as he could. As Jason flew to the town, Arthur and I ambled to the shed.

Once we reached the shed, the sun was just reaching the horizon, and the full moon was beginning to appear. I caught Arthur eyeing it with panic flashing in his eyes, but when I pointed it out he forced a smile and brushed it off.

The shed only contained piles of hay and a few farm tools. I tied Dale to a post outside and fed her a few apples I had packed in my bag. Then, I set up a makeshift bed for Arthur, made from the hay and my scarlet cloak. I helped him settle down, but he seemed to keep a nervous eye on the rosy sky.

“Arthur is something matter?” I asked, placing the back of my hand against his forehead. His skin throbbed and burned against my hand. Was he delirious?

“N-no..” Arthur insisted, shifting his gaze to mine. The corner of his lips twitched and his stormy blue eyes seemed to brighten. “Your eyes…” He let out a grunt as he suddenly jumped up in pain. He gripped his wounded arm and gasped for breath.

“Arthur?!” I cried, dropping to his side. He shook his head, grimacing.

“I’m f-fine. I promise, Artemis, I’m fine.” His voice was hysteric and I felt my heart pound with fear.

“Arthur, you aren’t, what’s the matter? Let me help!” I insisted, some how keeping my voice level. I had to stay strong for him, I had to.

“I-” Arthur doubled over, shaking his head with his face contorted in agony. “I- firewood! I’m so cold, Artemis!” He glanced toward me helplessly. “We need firewood!”

“What?” I leaned back, tilting my head as he nodded enthusiastically.

“Can you go find firewood? Th-there were forests just over the hill, and you know how to start a fire, right? It might be good… for protection against beasts….” He explained eagerly, grimacing in pain.

“Arthur, I don’t think-” I tried to argue.

“No, no,” he shook his head, his eyes flickering to the darkening sky outside before back to my gaze. “We need firewood.” I pushed to my feet, considering him carefully. I didn’t think it was wise to leave him, but it would be worse to let him freeze during the night in such a state. Firewood would be vital…

“Ok…” I answered, taking a few steps toward the open door. “Stay right there and I’ll be back soon, alright?”

“Yes, thank you,” he breathed out in relief. I bit my lip, scanning his hunched figure and wild blue eyes before sucking in a breath and heading out of the shed.

As I hunted for firewood the sun set completely and the full moon rose brightly into the sky. Crickets started to chirp their lullabies and I laughed as fireflies rose into the air, blinking and flashing their tails brightly. A few sheep settled down to sleep while others continued to graze or hobble around. I wondered if they had a shepherd, or if they were wild.

With plenty of firewood, I jogged back to the shed. There, I gave Dale a pat as she settled into sleep. I dropped the timber into a pile next to the door and gathered a few stones. I made a circle with the stones in the dirt, and then placed a few pieces of timber in the middle. Then, I unsheathed my sword and struck a stone against the blade, causing a yellow spark to fly. After a few tries, I got a fire going. Feeling proud of myself, I slipped back into the shed.

“Arthur, I made the fi-” I trailed off, feeling a coldness grip my heart as my gaze fell onto an empty pile of straw.

“Arthur!” I spung in the shed, frantically scanning the corners and sides of the walls. He was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, a low howl rang through the air and I shivered as I recognized the ghastly sound. Fleeing from the shed, I glanced around outside, looking for any sign of Arthur or the wolf that must have followed us from Akoníto.

“Arthur, where are you!?” I yelled, turning in a slow circle. The fields were empty, and void of any sign of man or beast. My heart pounded. Was he with the wolf? Did the wolf chase him from the shed? I turned to Dale, who was sleeping peacefully. It didn’t make sense for her to be so calm if a wolf had been around terrorizing Arthur.

“Arthur!” I yelled, running toward the woods that lay over the hill. A few sheep were scattered about, all wide awake and nervously looking around. I brought my hands to my lips and made them into the shape of a megaphone.

“Arthur!” I bellowed, causing a few of the sheep to jump. A howl rolled into the air, coming from the direction of the woods. I grimaced, fearing that a lonely howl would continue to be the only response.

“Arthur!” I called again, starting to pace, unsure of which direction to take. Again, the wolf howled and I growled with frustration. Why wasn’t he answering? He better have a good reason, like he was knocked unconscious and in a ditch somewhere. My heart skipped a beat.

“Arthur!” I yelled, praying he was safe and sound. The wolf howled again, sounding closer. A shiver ran down my side as I neared the woods. I wondered if Arthur had gone in there, or if I should stay out in the open. I really didn’t think getting lost in the forest would help anything, but what if he was in there?

“Arthur,” I called weakly once more as I wandered by the woods. A low growl emanated from the bush, and I spun on my heels, gasping as my gaze met a pair of narrowed bright blue eyes. I backed away slowly, and the hunched over creature followed me into the open, baring it’s fangs and letting out a growl that started in its throat.

“Stay back…” I warned, taking another step back. The blue-eyed beast continued to advance, lowering itself and glaring at me threateningly. I felt my heart pound as the smell of blood filled the air. I noticed a smear of something wet on its snout.

“Stop…” I said firmly, continuing to amble backwards. My heart was drumming against my chest as the wolf finally paused. It crouched down, with his tail in the air, and all too late I realized it was going to pounce. I let out a yelp as it sprang into the air and right into me, pinning me to the ground. I kicked, I screamed, but the wolf only continued to growl as it brought its snout right above my nose. I let out a disgusted gasp as its nasty breath that smelled of decay and metallic blood wafted into my nostrils. It let out a harsh bark and I held its wild blue gaze with panic. It lowered its head to my neck and opened its jaws. Realizing what it was going to do, I let out a whimper.

“I’m so sorry, Arthur…” I muttered, tears coming to my eyes. “Please be ok, please be ok.” A tear slid down my cheek as I prepared for my neck to be snapped. However, after a moment, the wolf let out a startled bark and jumped away from me, leaving me sprawled like a turtle stuck on its back. I flung up, pushing myself away from the wolf with wide eyes.

The blue-eyed beast was whining, distressed. It’s ears were pinned against its head and its tail was drooping like it had just been caught doing something terrible. I sat, mortified by its behavior.

“Well what is it?” I cried, my voice cracking from fear, “did you lose the heart to rip into someone? Serves you right!” The wolf shook its head, pouting with sad stormy blue eyes. Eyes that were so familiar….

“Wait… Are you the wolf from last night? Over at Akoníto?” I asked as it clicked. The blue eyes that belonged to the wolf before! But… even though they were the same, I still felt like I had seen those blue pools before. The wolf nodded in response, still looking pathetically distraught.

“Are you following us?” I asked, wondering if it merely didn’t recognize me at first and that’s why it attacked. It did seem really ashamed. The wolf nodded again and I let out a sigh.

“Fine, it’s not like I can stop you.” I considered standing, but my heart was still fluttering and my legs were numb from the release of stress. The wolf paced in front of me and I shook my head, bewildered. It sure was a strange wolf, bipolar if anything.

“So are you hunting?” I asked tiredly, slowly feeling more and more apathetic about its presence. The wolf turned to me and vigorously shook its head, looking terrified.

“Then why is there blood on your snout?” I sighed. The wolf’s eyes bulged with alarm and flickered downward. It let out a bark of surprise and began pacing again. I feared it was going to create a ditch from all its back and forth.

“You are a predator, it does make sense…” I watched the wolf with confusion. The wolf shot me a worried glance before continuing to pace. There was something about the wolf, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was familiar, the way it moved, the way its shoulders tensed when it seemed upset… it almost reminded me of Arthur.

“Arthur!” I cried, leaping to my feet. The wolf jumped, petrified as it watched me with alarmed eyes. “I need to find Arthur!” I explained hurriedly as I ran down the hill, glancing around. The wolf trailed behind, easily matching my pace.

“Arthur, please,” I muttered under my breath as I continued my search. I could just imagine him laying helplessly somewhere, unable to more or cry for help. Heck, he was probably too proud to cry for help, damn knight.

The wolf let out a bark beside me. I glanced down and frowned as its blue eyes seemed to plead with me.

“What? Do you know where Arthur is?” I asked, hoping against all hope the beast did. To my surprise, the wolf gave a nod. I slowed to a stop.

“You’re kidding me, is he alright?” I furrowed my eyebrows, “Arthur, he’s tall and has long light brown hair that looks really soft?” The wolf sat down, nodding with each question. “He’s got broad shoulders? A massive wound on his arm? He’s really sick-?” I continued, bewildered by the wolf’s confirmation. “He’s got blue eyes like your-” I trailed off, shutting my mouth as I held the wolf’s gaze. The wolf tilted its head for a moment, looking concerned. My gaze shifted to the wolf’s fur, which was long and light, though messy. My heart skipped a beat.

It couldn’t be, but I wondered. I glanced back to his gaze and felt my blood run cold. No, no, I didn’t dare, but… I thought back to Akoníto. Didn’t they say that the wolves were multiplying? And just that morning, hadn’t everyone been exhausted? It would make sense if everyone had been… busy the night before… romping around the forest.

The wolf whimpered, wandering closer with puppy dog eyes… with large blue eyes. I shook my head, turning around and ambling a few feet forward. Could it really…? Arthur did seem nervous… and he had kept watching the sky, eager to get to town before nightfall… Oh God.

I turned back around, stopping suddenly. The wolf, realizing too late that I had halted, bumped softly into my legs. It looked up at me with gentle, tender blue eyes. His tender blue eyes.

“Arthur?” I breathed out weakly. Fear flickered through its gaze as it turned away. I watched it carefully as I slid down next to it. “Arthur.” I leaned closer, feeling my heart pound against my chest as the wolf nodded solemnly.

“Arthur!” I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him into my chest. He sat patiently as I held him.

“I was so worried about you,” I mumbled as tears dripped down my cheeks. “I thought you- I was scared that you had…” I pulled away suddenly, examining his matted fur, “Are you ok? Are you feeling alright? Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I cried, meeting his gaze. Arthur hung his head, avoiding looking me in the eyes. Slowly, he rose to a standing position and nodded in the direction of the shed. I pushed to my feet, confused as he started to trot toward the shed. I followed, wondering what he was thinking.

As we made our way to the shed, we were both silent. I couldn’t stop wondering how long he knew, why he hadn’t said anything and if his sickness had to do with the bite, or the long nights of no sleeping. I wondered why he had attacked me as a wolf… I wondered what changed his mind…

Finally, we reached the shed. The fire was almost out, and Dale was still sleeping peacefully. Arthur plopped down the fire as I fed the flames with the other pieces of wood I had collected. He gave me a weary look and I understood that he wanted to sleep. I knew it was what was best for him, but still, I had so many questions.

“Alright, goodnight, Arthur…” I sat next to the fire, tending to it. He let his eyelids close and within a few seconds, he was out. My heart jerked as I realized how tired he must have been.

“I’m sorry.” I muttered, making myself comfortable on the ground, positioning myself where I could see him. Why didn’t he tell me? Why did he keep it a secret? With a sigh, I looked to the flickering and snapping embers. I knew I should have gotten to sleep, but instead, I lay there for a few minutes, thinking. It wasn’t until my eyelids grew heavy on their own accord that I was able to drift to sleep.