World of Stories and Fables Chapter 25

Katy Abbe, Columnist

Dawn’s pink and yellow hues stretched across the silk sky as a bird announced it’s arrival. My eyes fluttered open just as the purple night was chased away by the sun’s reaching rays. I glanced over at Arthur, who was still a large matted mess of fur. I frowned, looking to the fading moon. Arthur let out a grunt and my gaze returned to him. Right before my eyes his form blurred as it shifted.

His arms and legs stretched, and the fur covering his body receded into his skin. I noted how he shook, his face in a grimace, while the fur disappeared. His shoulders broadened, his nose shrunk, and his narrowed wolf features returned to his angular human face. The edges around him sharpened for a moment, and he let out a gasp before he returned completely to normal. He continued to lay there, his breath a tad raspy and his eyes glued shut.

I pushed myself up, bewildered by what I had just seen. The doubts that I held about Arthur’s situation dissipated, and I was left with the knowledge that the poor knight had been trying so hard to hide it. It was also apparent that it was my fault he was suffering so much.

“Artemis…” Arthur’s husky voice emanated from his lips. I scooted over to his side, lifting my quivering hand and running it through his long, matted hair. “Please don’t blame yourself for this.” I sat, frozen, as he looked up at me. His dim blue eyes pleaded with me. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“But if I hadn’t-” I began, holding his gaze sadly as I continued to run my hands gently through his hair.

“No, it’s not.” he muttered weakly, closing his eyes. “I was the one who made the decision to follow you. I knew the risks-”

“You knew you could have turned into a werewolf?” I joked nervously.

“That was a surprise.” Arthur’s lips curled gently. “But I don’t blame you, I don’t blame anyone for this, so please, please don’t blame yourself.”

“I’m sorry.” I exhaled, carefully untangling one of his knots.

“Don’t be.” He insisted, letting out a sigh. We were quiet for a moment. His chest rose and fell heavily and I continued to finger brush his hair.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked finally. The sun had risen completely and the sky was a bright baby blue.

“I was… I thought it would be easier to handle on my own.” He muttered. “I’m hoping that Zander has an antidote.”

“Well, even if he doesn’t,” I mused, “it isn’t that bad being a wolf. I mean, once you get past the smell and the…” I trailed off, brushing a finger against his lips, which were dotted with dried blood. “… animalistic instincts.” Arthur opened his eyes, frowning as he brought a hand to his lips. He felt the blood and let out a groan, dropping his face into the dirt.

“I can’t even remember where it’s from… to think that I almost-” I couldn’t catch the last part as his words melted into moans. “I’m sorry Artemis.” He pushed himself up, bringing his head to mine so that our noses were inches away. His bright blue eyes flickered with a mix of sadness and anxiety.

“What for?” I asked with a weary grin. “You didn’t mean to attack me, and once you realized it was me, you stopped.”

“No, that’s not even it.” He looked down. “I didn’t have any control… both nights I had no idea I had ever been human…”

“So when you attacked me-” I began uncertainly.

“I meant it. I was ready to… to..” he groaned and faced down again, laying in the dirt. I continued to pet his head as I pondered what that meant. If he had no idea, no control, what had changed? I thought back to both times we had encountered each other when he was a wolf. Both times he had been ready to rip into me on sight, and both times he had snapped out of it. What had happened?

“Do you remember how you regained control?” I asked gently. He shook his head.

“I barely remember anything from when I first change into a wolf. It all becomes a blur if not completely blank.” He explained. “All I can remember is that when I realized what was happening is that…”

“What?” I urged, giving him a nudge.

“I…” He turned toward me, craning his neck. “I remember hearing your voice… It was scared, both times, but not just scared.. it was..” his cheeks flushed and his gaze flickered down, “.. broken, almost like you were giving up. It sounded like you needed protection and I… I was somehow able to snap out of it,” he looked back up at me. “I’m sorry.”

“That was it? Just the fact that I was in trouble?” I asked with a nervous laugh. “No matter what happens you can’t seem to shake your knightly duties.” His blue eyes flickered with pain and I snapped my mouth shut.

“It’s… I… I don’t think being a knight had anything to do with it.” He muttered. “If it had, then I wouldn’t have attacked the others in the forest the other night.” My eyes widened as what he said sunk in. Did he really mean-?

“H-how do you know you attacked them? I thought you said-” I tried to keep my voice level but it quivered as I pulled my hand away from his hair.

“It wasn’t hard to realize that the pack I was with were the ones who had circled Jason’s men.” He sighed. “If I really was concerned about my duties, if I really was able to push through that horrible fog with willpower alone… I would have far before running into you.” I tore my gaze away from his, speechless as I tugged at my loose blond hair. My cheeks flushed and my heart skipped a beat as I considered what he was trying to say.

“Once I snap out of it, I’m able to remain in control until morning, but it seems that every night I lose myself again.” He continued as I watched the ground. “There’s one more full moon tonight…”

“So we need to get to Zander today.” I forced a smile, meeting his gaze. I forced out a laugh and added, “or we can just put myself into danger to get you to snap out of it.”

“Artemis.” Arthur scowled, his blue eyes swimming with regret. “I will not allow that to be an option and should you even try to do something dangerous, I swear-”

“Fine, fine, I won’t do anything.” I soothed, pushing to my feet. My stomach growled loudly and I jumped over to our bag of supplies. I pulled out a few apples and a block of cheese and ran back over to Arthur. He watched quietly as I snapped the cheese in half and offered one chunk to him. He accepted it, pushing himself into a sitting position. Even sitting was a difficult task for the poor knight. To aid him, I plopped down by his side and used myself to prop him up. He leaned against me tiredly.

“Are you ok?” I asked, taking a bite out of an apple as I handed him one. My teeth broke through the skin with a crisp snap and the tender white flesh of the fruit gave away with an explosion of juice. I covered my mouth in surprise as a few chunks of apple flew into the air. Arthur chuckled at my expression and I felt my heart warm with pride: I had gotten him to smile.

“I’ll be fine, my whole body just aches.” He muttered as his chuckles died down. He lifted the chunk of cheese to his lips. His hands were shaking a tad fiercely and I felt a rush of sympathy. Gently, I took his hand and helped guide the food to his mouth. He sighed, but took a small bite before pushing the rest away. He chewed softly, closing his eyes with a grimace.

“Does it hurt to chew?” I frowned as he swallowed and leaned his head against my shoulder. He shook his head, letting his hand lay in his lap with mine covering it. I took the piece of cheese from his fingers and brought it to his lips. He took another bite. The expression on his face made me believe that he was forcing himself to chew. I gathered that he didn’t want to eat, but knew he’d need to keep up his strength somehow. I wished there was more I could do to alleviate his pain.

Breakfast took awhile to get through, but once he had eaten half of his cheese and had taken a few bites of an apple, Arthur believed he had had enough to make it to Verwünschen. Nevertheless, we traveled slowly.

Arthur seemed in worse condition than the day before. I reasoned that his rapidly diminishing health had to do with the constant traveling and the restless nights. I also feared that perhaps that the stress from becoming a beast for the past couple night had overwhelmed him. I could feel his heart throb erratically against my back as he clung to me, proving just how afraid he was.

It was weird and a bit frightening: I felt so small in his arms, but he was clinging to me like I was his lifeline. I had to do my best to support him and keep him safe. For the first time since I had met him, I had to be the courageous knight that was his cornerstone instead of the other way around.

Finally, we made it to Verwünschen as the sun hovered directly above. Arthur was exhausted but with the help of a vibrant young lady who wore a dancer’s outfit we made our way to the nearest inn.

Verwünschen soon became clear to be the village of performers. Everyone had a smile on their lips as dancers performed in the streets and actors and actresses passed out flyers for their shows. The stalls were filled with costumes and dancing clothes, and it seemed everyone there had some sort of talent or were coinsurers of talent.

The inn we we found was an extravagant one. It had a theatre attached to it, and a restaurant that held a stage. The rooms were all laid out above, and after we led Dale to the stables, I helped Arthur climb up to the third floor. There, I helped him into bed and set our things on the table.

The room was large with two queen-sized beds. The beds had a real mattress of feathers and the sheets were warm and soft. There was an elegant table etched with gold and the chairs seemed to be cushioned with red velvet. I was impressed.

“Is there anything you need?” I asked as I wandered over to Arthur’s side. He shook his head, pulling the sheets over his shaking form and letting his eyes close as I ran my hand through his hair. My hand trailed to his forehead, which was burning. I winced as his breath escaped his lips softly.

“I’m going to get you water, alright?” I headed to the door. He nodded weakly and I slipped into the hallway.

After looking around a bit, I managed to find a bucket and fill it with cold water. Then I found some cloth and a fresh cantee of drinking water. With those, I returned to the third floor and was just about to open the door when a light, familiar voice called me.

“Artemis! Artemis!”

“Chase?” I whirled around as the small child catapulted into me. He wrapped his arms around my waist and squeezed. I let out a surprised gasp as I placed the canteen next to the bucket. I bent down at returned his hug gratefully.

“What are you doing here?” I cried once he pulled back, beaming brightly.

“Zander said I could come!” Chase threw his hands into the air triumphantly.

“Zander?” I snapped my head up, glancing down the hall as Zander and Jason appeared in the stairwell. My heart leapt to my throat and I bounced up, running past Chase and jumping into the wizard and my friend. I wrapped my arms around them and they stood still as I embraced them.

“Thank God, thank God.” I whispered, still clinging to them like a child.

“Artemis, how is he?” Zander asked as he gently pried me away. Jason stood to the side as I motioned for Zander to follow me to the room.

“I’ll stay with Chase?” Jason questioned as we reached the door.

“Yes, that would be great.” Zander answered as I unlocked the door. He pushed through without another word while I picked up the water containers.

“But I want to see Arthur!” Chase whined as Jason picked him up and put him on his shoulders.

“You will soon, but right now, he just needs Zander to help him.” I offered Chase a smile. The boy nodded understandingly and played with Jason’s hair. Jason gave me a questioning look and my smile weakened. He noticed my faltering lips and he nodded knowingly.

“Let’s go check out the theatre!” Jason called up to Chase as he started down the hallway. Chase cried out excited and together the two made their way downstairs.

Once I was alone, I pushed the door open and made my way over to Zander and Arthur. Arthur was laying on his back, and the covers were pulled down so that Zander could examine his arm. He was shivering fiercely. I ran over to the other side of Arthur and began dipping the towel into the bucket or cold water.

“Arthur, if you were a werewolf you wouldn’t know it.” Zander muttered as his dark grey eyes scanned Arthur’s wounded arm.

“But I’ve been snapping out of the mindset- I’ve been conscious as a wolf.” Arthur mumbled weakly. I squeezed the excess water out of the cloth and folded it into a rectangle before draping it across his forehead. Arthur let out a groan, lifting his free hand to the cloth to take it away.

“Leave it.” Zander snapped. “You’re so feverous you’re delusional. Artemis, give him some water. The wound is infected.”

“He really has been turning into a wolf.” I mentioned as I kept the cloth to Arthur’s forehead. His hand found my wrist and latched on, squeezing tightly. With my free hand I lifted the canteen to his lips and made him drink.

“Artemis.” Zander shot me a glare, freezing with his hand in his robe’s pocket. “This isn’t a laughing matter…”

“I know it isn’t, but I really have seen it, I saw him change back this morning.” I retorted firmly.

“Damnit. Really?” Arthur asked, his voice on the verge of a whine.

“Are you being serious?” Zander removed his hand from the waves of blue cloth, revealing a sack of berries. He tossed them to Arthur, who only reacted once it hit his chest. “Eat those, they’ll take down the fever and get rid of the infection.” Turning to me, Zander rose his eyebrows. “Is he really turning into a wolf every full moon?”

“For the past two nights, yes.” I replied as Arthur fumbled with the sack. Without thinking, I reached down and opened the sack. I then proceeded to help bright the berries to his lips, which he ate slowly.

“And he somehow broke out of an animalist mindset?” Zander asked, his features blank.

“Yes,” I nodded, lifting another berry to Arthur’s mouth. Zander’s gaze flickered to Arthur and a flash of sadness flickered across his pupils. He shook his head and returned his gaze to me, masking whatever he was feeling carefully.

“But how? Werewolves aren’t able to break free, not ever. They behave as animals that are always hungry and always angry. Not a shred of humanity is to be found in them when they’re wolves.” Zander said cooly. I glanced toward Arthur, who had closed his eyes and was leaning back into the bed, frozen with a look of remorse on his features.

“But he did.” I turned back to Zander with a smile. “He was able to snap out of it. He’s been having a rough time, but he’s fighting through it.” Zander held my gaze steadily. Something unrecognizable flickered through his eyes.

“I see.” Zander glanced toward Arthur and I followed his gaze. Arthur was looking to Zander pleadingly.

“Can you… can you help me?” His voice was broken, shattered like shards of glass that jabbed my heart. “Please?”

“I will do my best.” Zander nodded. A sigh escaped from Arthur’s lips and he leaned back, closing his eyes with a sort of relief tugging at his lips. I ran a hand through his hair gently. A smile was plastered across my face. He was going to be ok, and he knew that.

“Artemis.” Zander called softly, motioning for me to follow him as he slipped toward the door. I gave Arthur one last pat before I trailed behind Zander, reaching the hall. Zander closed the door behind us and gave me an appraising look. A hint of worry spread in his eyes.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, feeling my heart sink as he held my gaze intensely. “You can help him, right?”

“I’m not sure.” Zander sighed, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. “I’m really not.”

“Is there a way to help him?” I asked, frowning as my chest tightened.

“Yes.” Zander nodded gently. “Yes, but… I am unable to offer it to him.”

“Well, what do you need?” I questioned, “I’ll get it, whatever it is! I’ll go any-”

“No, Artemis, there’s no need to.” He shook his head.

“Well then what is it that he needs?” I asked, my voice cracking. He had to be ok. He had to.

Zander held my gaze carefully, his grey eyes searching my violet gaze. He exhaled slowly, his chest falling as he closed his eyes.

“The only one who can save him, is you, Artemis.” He muttered with a heavy tone. My heart pounded in my chest. “He needs you.”