The Lord of Roses: One

The Lord of Roses: One

A Chapter by C.S. Williams
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Brigid is out hunting and encounters monsters in the woods.

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            Warm rain, the tears of late summer, fell as mist from the gray sky. The sun was barely rising through the cloud cover. A dreary morning, but the best time for hunting deer.

            Brigid knelt to survey the tracks in the wet earth. The mist, or “slow rain” as some called it, was already turning the imprinted mud into tiny pools. Had she gotten there any slower, the tracks would’ve disappeared into filthy water and grayish muck. Instead, two large hoofprints laid in the muddy earth, along with trace drops of blood staining the fallen leaves. Up ahead, more tracks with the same appearance led into the misty wall of trees and greenery. Playing chase, are we? Brigid thought as she pulled her hood back over her head. You’re not getting away so easily.

            Brigid hoped their little game would end soon. She was hungry. And someone may have noticed she was gone by now. Brigid could bear any harsh words. If they were going to make any extra coin, it would be with this hunt.

            “Don’t even think about going hunting when I’m away,” Gwyn always told Brigid. “One of these days, you won’t come back. Think of your sister. Besides, you’re much too pretty to be a huntress.” Brigid’s cousin was kind enough to open her home to Brigid and her sister Judith, albeit under duress. She’d already slipped comfortably into being their replacement parent. The woman insisted on talking to Brigid, who was barely 23, as if she were a child. It was moments like that which made Brigid consider packing her things and leaving. But it was the thought of Judith which always cooled that flame of rebellion.

            She sniffed, spitting phlegm into the dirt as she moved on. She kept her gaze wide, head snapping at every singular snap or rustle or pattering of rain in the forest around her. She had to be ready for anything. Wolves could smell the blood by now. Or something worse, Brigid thought with a shudder. Folk, or Nightmaer. She’d overheard hunters in the market talking about giant wolves patrolling the area. One hunting party had gone missing near a spot with giant webs as big as curtains. And a Nightmaer was sighted somewhere in the woods about a week ago. A big one, with big insect eyes and giant pincer-claws.

 

These were the struggles of living so close to the Fissure. Their little village sat in the shadow of the Eurg Mountains, the range that separated the two worlds on this island country. To the south, there was Ieade, the Human Kingdoms. To the North, was their land. To protect humans from them, there was first the Eurgs, a natural bulwark. Then there was the Fissure.

The Fissure, Brigid was told, was a massive wall which stretched between the walls of a pass within the Eurg Mountains. Brigid had only seen it once before, years ago. A massive brooding structure, over a millennium and a half old and still holding firm like the stone it was carved from. The wall, built so long ago, was an effective strategic point, choking the only easily passable region of that mountain range. Without that passage, it would be weeks of trekking up and down those treacherous cliffs. Its existence served as part shield, part effigy of warning for the kingdoms of Ieade to the evil that laid on the other side. To the north was the forbidden land of Rioghach. The dread kingdom of the Faeire Folk. And no one came back from there.

            The Folk. She’d heard countless stories about them as a child. Most of them involved many-handed creatures stealing children from cribs to gnaw on their bones or hideous things that wore the faces of beautiful women to entice stupid men to their doom. Ancient creatures, as old as the land itself and filled with nothing but cruelty for mankind. Good then that we have a wall between us, Brigid’s thoughts continued as she vaulted over a fallen trunk. They should know better than to come over here.

            Greedily snacking on berries, she was only further reminded of her deepening hunger. I must find the damned deer, she cursed to herself. It had to be close. The tracks were growing in number, as was the blood. That single arrow she’d managed to shoot into its side served Brigid well. Now if only she’d aimed higher. She’d been too loud. She’d hesitated. What felt like hours of searching and she’d finally laid eyes on that beautiful golden-furred doe grazing in the meadow. Brigid had done everything right: Found a vantage point, using foliage and branch as cover. After arrows, then the knife if the arrows didn’t kill it first was the routine. She took one of her arrows and nocked it, arms steady, breath held, eyes focused. A clean shot, right at the head. She’d drawn the bow back…

            And the deer looked her dead in the eyes. Those big saucer plate eyes which held a combination of fear, stupidity, and surprise. “Damn,” Brigid growled. The doe turned on its heel and dashed away as the arrow loosed from Brigid’s bow and sailed through the air. It landed in the doe’s side with a dull thud, prompting a bay of pain and confusion as the animal dashed away from its predator. You were too slow, Brigid cursed herself. Too slow, too loud.

            The blood trail and tracks continued over some more fallen trunks and down a hill until Brigid could see the doe limping into a small enclave of trees. The sun was beginning to filter through the overcast clouds, though the world was still gray and damp. The doe was limping pathetically across the beds of broken branches and dead leaves. A large spot of red now stained its beautiful fur. What remained of Brigid’s arrow stuck out, the shaft broken in half but still deeply inside the doe’s haunch. The thing was in pain. A pang of regret hit Brigid, a feeling she rarely felt while hunting. She suppressed it, knowing she could not afford it. That doe was going to be food for someone today.

            Brigid crouched inside a thicket of thorns and leaves. She crawled carefully towards the deer, clothes and hands already coated with crawling bugs and layers of dirt. She watched as the deer continued limping feebly. This is it, she thought as she slowly pulled herself into shooting position. Don’t screw this up. She nocked the arrow and drew it back. She held her breath again. For a moment, the doe’s heavy panting was all Brigid could hear.

Steady…Steady…

            Overhead, the branches swayed silently as if rocked by a breeze.

Except there was no wind. Brigid’s blood chilled as long thin arms lowered from the forest canopy and long-fingered hands tipped with black talons silently lowered onto the doe. The deer’s head was turned away, searching for danger and utterly oblivious to the horror above. A large black mass of quills which appeared to swim with a strange shaking movement to which the arms were attached silently sank closer to the oblivious animal, and a giant mouth filled with jagged teeth split the great mass in half. Large globules of spit fell onto the doe’s head like sloppy rain. The doe looked up in furtive curiosity, long enough to see the jaws of the creature close messily on its slender neck.

Brigid was already running away when the Nightmaer gave chase. The creature’s movements were effortless and quiet, its many arms clambering and swinging though the trees with evil grace. Her heart was in her throat, her mouth dry from fear and exhaustion as she crashed through the brush to escape the monster. She should’ve run the minute it appeared from the trees. She should’ve seen those spindly arms. All the signs were there of a Canopy Stalker. Stupid and dead, stupid and dead, the words thrummed at the rhythm of her heartbeat. Stupid and dead, stupid and dead.

Up ahead was the steep drop of a hill. An advantage. Any extra ground from that creature will help. She stole a look behind her. The creature’s massive mouth was wide open, its gums and tongue a sickly purple and yellow teeth caked with blood. It lunged, ready to devour. By instinct, she pitched herself down the hill as the creature’s jaws snapped shut. The fall was not far, but the impact hurt. Effortlessly, Brigid picked herself up and continued running. She quickly checked for her bow and other supplies. Still there. She looked back and couldn’t see the black mass following her. She half-smirked in satisfaction.

The Stalker crashed through the trees and landed in front of her. She skidded to a stop, falling to the ground. She scrambled to back away as the creature skittered closer. A giant purple tongue slid from the black ball and inched toward Brigid. In disgust, Brigid tore her knife from her belt and slashed the tongue. Black blood sprayed from the wound as the tongue withdrew and the creature continued advancing. Brigid held her breath and shut her eyes, preparing for the worst.

Something massive leaped from nowhere in a rush of wind. Brigid opened her eyes to see a great beast tackle the Stalker. For a moment, two massive shapes went at each other like wild animals. There was a blur of bodies and blood and feral snaps and roars until, as soon as it was over, there was a brutal snap and a spurting of blood. Shaking, Brigid picked herself up. She reflexively touched her own face. Her fingertips were stained black. The Stalker’s blood, most likely from her wound on its tongue, she surmised.

The Stalker’s round body was smashed inward like a rotten fruit. Its giant mouth hung open and its tongue lolled into the dirt. Its legs were snapped like twigs, laying about in various states of dismemberment. Its inky blood stained the grass and trees. Against all odds, the thing was dead.

Over the Nightmaer stood a massive wolf. Its paws and snarling jaws were stained black and red. It was easily the length of ten men. Its golden fur glittered in the sun like undiscovered treasure. Several broken spears stuck out from its massive hide. Large spots of blood stained its magnificent coat. The creature had clearly seen too many battles to count.

For a moment, they watched each other. Brigid held her breath, standing her ground as the beast’s black nostrils flared with each heavy breath. Her stamina was spent, but she would find it in her to run or kill it.

The beast took one step toward her. Then another. Then it wavered as it collapsed onto its side with a heavy thud. The forest shook from the impact.

Silence except for the twittering birds and quiet breeze. Then underneath it, the labored heavy breaths of the wolf, his last gasps. Brigid watched its massive chest slowly rise and fall, each exhalation a rattling gasp. Its blood was already staining the forest floor. Her fear was melting away into something like…pity?

Come closer…” The beast rasped.

Instantly Brigid recoiled. That was no ordinary wolf, for certain. It was one of the Folk, a wilder one. If this were any different situation, it would’ve ripped her apart without hesitation.

            I beg you…” It whispered. “Come…closer…” It feebly lifted a paw as if to beckon her closer.

            Every instinct as a hunter told her not to. She should just go home and accepted her empty lot. She would find game elsewhere. You cannot trust it, she thought. And yet it was dying. And it had saved her life. That was reason enough to trust it, to some capacity.

            She stepped carefully to the creature’s side. The smell of blood and earth filled her nose. Beside the wolf’s head, its eye was the size of a dinner plate. Its glassy eye slide lazily to her. It was a look she was too familiar with. It was the fleeting gaze of death. Of resignation. Of fear. There was no hate in that big watery eye. Brigid had seen this mixture of emotions in the eyes of many animals, hunted or otherwise. She tried, but she couldn’t suppress the compassion which rose within. Slowly, she knelt beside the creature and placed her hand on its neck. At her touch, the beast’s muscles tensed, then relaxed. She felt its slowing pulse, its slackening breaths. She wondered if she should thank it for saving her life, if that was what it intended. They were both silent for a while save for the beast’s stolen breaths and the singing birds of the morning.

            The wolf’s large head lifted slightly. The fur of its neck shifted, throat muscles contorting. The wolf’s mouth opened as its large pink tongue unfurled. Something fell from its mouth into the grass. Its tongue retracted as it gave Brigid one last pained look.

            “Help…us…” Were the creature’s last words. After that, it laid down. Life faded from its eyes. Brigid backed away as the shining fur dulled instantly, turning grey and drab like ash. The creature’s eyes remained open, staring into nothing. The surrounding forest became deathly quiet, as if nature itself mourned the death of its fallen brethren.

            Brigid stood in silence, observing the creature’s massive dead body. Whatever it was, Folk or wolf, it was dead. In any other situation, she would’ve punched an arrow into the creature’s eye and worn its skin back home. And yet it died fighting that other monster. For her? No. Impossible, she thought. Why would it care to? Animals have more sense than them.

            Her eyes found a glinting thing in the grass by the creature’s head. She grabbed it and inspected it closely. It was a finely crafted charm made of gold and gemstones, specifically emeralds and rubies that shone brightly when the sun hit them. The rubies were clustered together in fine patterns which Brigid recognized as the shape of a rose. The emeralds in turn were arranged around the rose in the form of leaves elegantly splaying outward. It was the most beautiful thing Brigid had beheld in a very long time.

            She looked at the dead wolf. I don’t know what to do with you, she thought to the beast. But I’ll leave with your little trinket instead. It’s probably worth more than your pelt at this point. She turned heel and started back to the village. Recompense for ruining my hunt.



© 2023 C.S. Williams


Author's Note

C.S. Williams
Have fun, let me know what you think.

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Added on November 12, 2023
Last Updated on November 18, 2023
Tags: fantasy, high fantasy, romance, adventure, dark fantasy, monster romance, faeries, female heroine, wolves, monsters


Author

C.S. Williams
C.S. Williams

Sterling, VA



About
I'm haunted by visions of people and places I don't know, but would like to meet someday. So, why not write about them? more..

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A Chapter by C.S. Williams


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