Story Time

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disaster
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Story Time

Post by disaster » Mon Feb 06, 2006 6:02 pm

My fantasy literature prof decided to give us the choice between a 8-12 page essay, or writting our own version of little red riding hood. Feel free to comment, i'd appreciate some input. -Dis


She wasn't a little girl any more. That's what she'd screamed, defiant, slamming the door of the small cottage she shared with her mother and nearly knocking it off its thrice-mended hinges. She was sick of all the small criticisms of her mother. She was sick of the small dresses, patched so often, and the small barbs of the other girls that accompanied them. She was sick of the small hopes of a small girl in a small town. She was sick of her small life.
And so she left. The few things which were hers in this world were packed quickly but carefully into the bottom of her sack, several apples and a single bottle of weak wine with them. She fingered the simple loop of leather at her neck, the tiny red gem hanging between her burgeoning breasts. The other girls laughed at her, told her it was no gem at all, merely a simple, silly, shiny rock. But it was hers. It was given her by her father when she was very young, not long before the winter took him. When she was honest with herself, she feared that she could not remember anything else about him. When she touched that simple leather band around her slender neck, it felt like she still did.
She would go to see her father's aunt, the crone who lived in the woods outside the next village through the forest. The old woman would understand, would help her. She simply couldn't bare it any more, living a life with no promise but a loveless marriage to one of the boorish village boys, until winter, or disease, or childbirth gave her final escape. She would clean the old woman's hearth, and draw her water, and cook her meals. Eventually she would be seen for the strength she knew she had, would be taken on as wierdling girl, taught the simple charms to cure the sheep and bless the trees of the orchards, learning her trade. It would not be easy, but it would be a good, solid life. An important life to the people of the forest villages, who would have long forgotten the skinny widow's daughter and would know only the witch she had become.
She had run quickly off the path, never turning her head, eager to make distance while the snow still fell to cover her tracks behind her and sure of her direction. Now she walked more slowly, but with a determination tempered in the heavy mid-winter drifts. No matter the hardship that lay before her, she fled the waking death of the life that stalked behind her and she would rather die where she stood than turn in her resolve. She was her father's daughter. She was not the frail, quaking thing her mother had become. She was strong, she was smart. She knew this forest, knew its banes as well as its boons. As her father before her she respected its power, doubly so when life was frozen, crystallized, fragile and sharp as the icicles on the boughs. She would never forget that lesson, the one she learned when she awoke to shuffling feet and the sound of great heavy coats brushing against each other concealing whispered but urgent voices, and caught a glimpse of her father's great solid boots before she was noticed and taken back to her bed. She better than anyone, whose life had shattered that cold mid-winter midnight, knew the fickle will of the frozen forest. But she would not fear it.
The sun was as high as it rose in this northern winter, its glare slicing down through the permanent grey cloud, when she heard in the distance a sharp crack. She continued onwards, stealthily, unsure of the unnatural sound. It was not long before she saw him ahead through a break in the trees, the woodsman the people of her village said lived deep within the forest. He was uncouth, and ugly, clothed in such ragged furs that at first she had taken him for some manner of wild beast. She had seen him before, from a distance, on the rare occasions when he came into town. Her mother had once agreed to darn his heavy woolen socks for some firewood. He had given exactly what had been agreed, to do otherwise would have been an insult, but for several weeks the woodpile behind the cottage had remained fuller than it should have been. Though not many years older than she there had been something strange about him then, a timidity despite his imposing size. That was gone now, here in the middle of the forest under the gaze of the silent trees. He moved with surety, splitting heavy round sections of trunk with a graceful swing of his inelegant but functional axe. She found she could not take her eyes off him, this strange apparition so different from the man she thought she knew.
He tossed the split wood towards the growing pile underneath the large fir at the side of the clearing, but strangely no piece came closer than a few steps to the pile itself. She watched him stride softly over to the pile and crouch down, looking intently at a small gap in the logs a foot from the ground. He then began carefully gathering up the split wood, tapping each piece against the sole of his boot to dislodge the snow before carefully placing it under the protection of the tree at the top of the pile. This perplexed her, for it took the man some time to do this, but suddenly she caught a glimpse of movement from the gap into which he had been looking. The head of a tiny bluebird was flitting around quickly, watching the man at work. Seeing this her mouth fell open, unable to believe that such a rough, ugly man would take such care to preserve the life of a simple bird. She continued to watch as he finished stacking the wood and walked back to his axe, setting another section of trunk onto the large stump. She decided finally to return the way she had come, leaving this strange man to his private snow-covered world.
As she turned, her foot caught on a treacherous tree root beneath the cover of white snow, and she fell forward onto her hands with an involuntary exhalation of breath. This was echoed by a muffled groan from the direction of the woodsman, and she turned to look. A bright red splash stained the snow now, next to where he sat holding his lower leg where his axe had bitten him in his sudden surprise at her exclamation. She ran to him, kneeling in the cold snow before him, the fear yet colder in her heart that she had caused this gentle man's death there under the unforgiving winter sky. She ordered him to show her the wound, not having the time for surprise when that bear of a man complied immediately with her demand. She reached into her sack searching desperately for her bottle of wine, uncorking it and emptying half the bottle to flush the wound. He grimaced and clenched his fists, but even at this no more than a whisper escaped his lips. A tear coursed her cheek at his pain, and she hastily ripped at the hem of her dress to form him a bandage. She bound it tightly about his leg as she knelt there in the snow, watching, worried, as the shreds torn from her simple white dress became a brilliant red badge. She was no witch, nor even a wierdling girl. But there in the snow she worked a powerful charm. Slowly, the blood stopped flowing. Finally, she cried.
Slowly, finding his voice as one who has not often call to use it, he spoke. He knew her. She cried deeper, her sobs wracking her chest. She wanted to hear his anger, his blame, his hatred for how she had spied on him and almost killed him there with the tiny bluebird looking on. His simple statement unmade her. They stayed there a long time, the tears falling frozen from her cheeks. Finally, when the tears were gone from her eyes, he bade her stand. He asked her where she went today, for he had never seen a townsperson in this part of the forest. She answered him, telling him everything in a rush. She told him of her mother, and her fears, and her hopes. For his part he stood silently, watching her, listening. Perhaps he saw something of himself in her eyes. Or, perhaps, he felt something of her within himself. He was a man who spoke simply when it was required, and not at all when he could avoid it. He took from his waist a long knife in its sheath, pulling it out to reveal the blade to her, and laying the steel on his palm extended the sturdy horn handle to her. She looked at him uncertainly, and so he spoke. He wished that she take the knife, and that she go quickly on her way. He would come when he could to collect it back from her at the home of the old witch, for he knew it well. He could see the steel in her eyes, and knew she would never accept him as chaperone through the woods, but his honour would not allow him to let her go without providing her what protection he could against the wolves and other creatures of the winter forest.
She was loathe to accept this gift, but those of determination can easily recognize it in others. With a nod and without a word she took hold of the horn handle, sheathing it, placing it carefully into her sack where she could reach it easily. She left him then, though for a long time her thoughts stayed with the man she had met in the depths of the forest. Her mind turned to the past, and how she'd always been a little bit afraid of him when he came walking into the town. One summer, she'd even tried to join in with the other girls as they shouted at him, hidden within the tall grass. He must have been no older then than she was now. Her cheeks burned scarlet with shame at the unbidden memory, the thought that even one as isolated and hurt as she would willfully inflict such pain on another. She walked quickly. She told herself that it was to arrive before the setting of the sun turned the chill fierce, but part of her knew it was her shame and anger at herself that drove her so quickly away from that grove of trees.
There was a single mountain stream that ran quickly through that part of the forest, winding back and forth often. There were several fords lower down, where wagons crossed, but here in the forest most relied on finding a fallen tree or a patch of ice thick enough to cross. It was such a thing she sought now, walking along the high bank. It was starting to get dark now, and she shivered as she looked up and saw how little daylight was left. Finally, in the distance ahead, she could see the line of a fallen fir stretched across to the other side. She hurried along, anxious to be crossed and make the last step of her journey. Approaching the trunk she heard a strange sound, and looked down. In a deep pool surrounded by thin ice stood a man bathing himself in the freezing water, without apparent regard for its frigidity. He had his back to her, naked as far as she was able to see into the water, and had long black hair hanging wetly against his neck and back. She stood there, shocked by the incomprehensible sight, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. Without turning around, nor indeed giving any prior sign that he was aware of her presence, he began to speak, asking her what her mother would think were it known that she stood there watching a man bathe.
He rose out of the water then, walked to the far bank where his clothing lay, and wrapped a thick fur-lined robe around himself before turning around to face her. He invited her to join him on the other bank, and she carefully but quickly did so making her way across the natural bridge. He laughed softly, as if finding it strange that she be afraid to fall into the chill water. Close now, his eyes were seen to be of a piercing blue, a hue like the sky on those rare winter days where the clouds fade away and the bright sun turns the snow into diamonds. He had a proud jaw and she looked at him askance, unsure where to begin, but finally asked him how he came to be there in the frozen stream.
His laugh rolled out into the cold air past thin lips, the mist floating on the light wind. He had been hunting all day, and ever since he'd been a young pup hunting with his father he had always come to this stream to refresh himself after trapping his prey. He turned her question back on her, curious why a young girl would be found in such a place with the winter sunlight so soon to fade. She resented him now for mentioning her youth, and thus she lied. Her mother had sent her, for her grandmother was sick and in need of someone to care for her. He notices her sack now for the first time, and asks if she might perhaps have a bit of wine to share, for he not often finds himself among the people of the towns. She had become anxious to be parted from the stranger, yet did not wish to allow a debt to remain between them. She would gladly trade some wine for the path to the next village she replied, saying that she had become lost in the fresh snow. And so was their business completed, and with a quick word that perhaps he would see her again she was off on her business, and he left behind.
But this was no man whom she had found, but indeed a wolf who wore the skin of a man. He followed silently after her, his wolf's ears having heard the quaver in her voice and knowing her true destination by the direction her path took once out of sight of the stream. And so he bounded ahead, determined to arrive there before her. He raced through the snow, salivating after the meal he would make of her young flesh. Rushing headlong around the snow-heavy boughs of the fir and spruce, darting beneath the sharp icicles hanging from the oak and willow, he arrived at the lonely cabin in the wood well ahead of his prey. He shook his great pelt clear of snow, and again taking his human form walked up to knock against the old woman's door.
The crone rose slowly from her chair by the hearth to open the door, looking out at the man standing before her. He was a sight with the harsh winter sun behind him, long black hair hanging down his neck, fur-lined cloak wrapped around him, an air of quiet confidence on his features giving him the look of royalty. But this was no young girl to be fooled and seduced by the look of a thing. She was wise, she had experience of these woods and all things in them, and she was a witch besides. She saw his wolf's eyes, and dashed as nimbly as her joints would allow for the iron poker by the hearth. But he also was wise in his way, the way of the hunter. He saw in her the look of her recognition, and so pounced upon her almost before she herself had chosen to act. He overcame the old woman quickly, and dragged her body away into the woods. He looked upwards, seeing the full moon inching its way up over the horizon as the sun's setting rays turned the snow to blood. His brother wolves would feast that night under the light of the full moon, as would he.
It was not long after that his prey arrived, walking out of the forest underneath the last red rays of sunlight. She huddled against herself, running up to the door and knocking. To her surprise it opened easily, and she walked in out of the cold wind. She called out, but receiving no response left her sack on the table and began to make her way deeper into the cabin. The coals in the hearth were still glowing dimly, and she placed a fresh log by which to warm herself. Pushing aside the curtain over the bed she took quite a fright, for there at the foot of the bed was a great lazy dog dozing on the covers. She stepped back in surprise and fear, but recovering herself from her initial shock she saw his peaceful demeanor and that he simply waited patiently on the bed for his mistress to arrive.
She spoke to the beast now, softly, waking him, and was relieved that when he lifted his grand head to look at her he did not seem as afeared of her as she had been of him. She came nearer him then, to sit slowly onto the bed. She spoke to him, asking where the old woman had gone and when she would be returning, but of course he simply looked at her unknowingly. She sighed, resigned to waiting until the old woman returned before recounting everything that had passed and announcing her intention to serve her. She looked at the beast's thick black fur enviously. She said that she coveted to have such a great black pelt that never need be patched, to be able to run and dance in the snow as he did. He rolled on the bed at this, and gently nuzzled this new arrival's arm.
Looking at his face as if for the first time, she caught her own reflection within those deep blue eyes, and spoke to him again. She told him how she envied such eyes, that she should be able to hunt even at night and not be constrained to stay at home indoors as she had always done. She wished to join him outside, to look up at the full moon that had for the last years controlled so much of her woman's body, to howl in rage at the world like the animals do. It seemed to her that the beast welcomed her to do so, that he would act as guide and protector for her, that he would show her how to leave her human skin behind and enter a new world even stranger and more wonderful than that of the witch she had come here to find.
She held her cold hands to her mouth, blowing to warm them, and looked again at the majestic animal. She wished for a mouth like that, she said. A strong mouth, savage, a weapon no hand could take from her that she need never again worry. The kingly animal nuzzled against her hands when she said this, heavy blasts of air issuing forth from his powerful chest to warm her. But suddenly she saw in the eyes of the dog not her own reflection, but the reflection of the man she had met bathing at the stream, and she finally understood the true nature of the beast. She jumped up, sorely wishing to pull the woodsman's long knife from her sack and save herself from this abomination, but with a single swipe of the wolf's paw she was sent against the rough wall of the cabin, and saw no more.
She awoke much later, the cruel white light of the full moon entering the windows of the cabin and giving a harsh cast to what had seemed such a tranquil place bare hours ago. She tried to stand but found her wrists bound securely to the bedposts with strips torn from her own dress. She looked down, seeing her dress now barely more than a nightshirt, its tattered hem laying across her bare white thighs but mercifully unbloodied. Suddenly her gaze was drawn to the door swinging open, and she nearly screamed until she saw the silhouette of the axe held in his hand. He ran to her side, and made as if to slip the blade against her bonds to free her until she stopped him with a word. She would not leave this place while the wolf who wore a man's skin lived to prey on others. She had him carefully untie her wrists, and fetch her the knife from her sack which she secreted under the pillow, then bade him wait in the broom closet for the monster to return. Something passed between them then, as she looked into his eyes through the gap between door and frame. Then they heard the song, and it was time.
It was midnight, the full moon high in the sky, and the worship had been completed. His brothers bayed and howled as the door swung open and the dark figure crept into the room, slavering for the feast he had so patiently awaited and carefully prepared, his red sacrament in white linen. He moved unctuously, like an oily shadow, approaching the bed. She played her part well, baited him, lured him with her fear and innocence. He looked into her eyes, not seeing the bonds wrapped but untied from her wrists. And suddenly she sprung, the cruel steel of the blade stinging his muzzle, drawing the only blood that she would allow spilt on those pristine white sheets. The beast reared backward, mad with pain and rage. But before he could turn again upon her with his bared teeth the woodsman burst out from his concealment, himself half-mad and wild, the inner beast he had long ago tamed let out to fight that other which would know no leash and must be destroyed.
The axe flashed in the pale moonlight, swung with deadly efficiency as only those who live by it are able. The creature cried, broken and bleeding, as the force of the blow sent him wheeling into the wall, but he was yet unbeaten. He snapped and turned against the woodsman, his strong jaw crushing the bandaged flesh of his leg. The giant of a man fell, the haft of his axe crashing against the wooden floor though somehow he held it still. It was almost ended there, for a wolf with his jaws on a downed opponent is not easily dislodged, but there was another wolf there in the light of the moon that night, and she would not be denied.
She had followed the fiend to her feet when it turned away, as the door of the closet had opened her unshod foot had touched on the solid wooden chest at the base of the bed. Now, as the beast's jaws closed around the self-same wound she had bandaged with a strip torn from her own dress, she flew! She was an angry banshee in the cold white light of that chamber, dark red blood dripping from the blade of her knife, and she descended upon that horrible thing like a pure redeeming fire. The blade entered between the ribs and she twisted it, a horrible scream emanating from the beast's throat as he released his hold on the woodsman and was carried by her burning rage into death.
She stood then, her breasts heaving, twisting back and forth seeking another foe. Never was a man born who could stand against the power of that newborn witch under the silver moon as she stood that night, hair wildly flaming behind her, dress in tatters, the life's-blood of the beast slowly flowing down the blade of that simple horn-handled knife.
Suddenly a change came over her eyes, as if some wild thing within had been called back, retreating into its darkened cave until its time should come. She looked down at the woodsman where he lay on the floor, their eyes meeting. She said nothing, nor did he. She took what remained of the front of her dress in her slender hand, and gently, lovingly wiped the blood off the blade of the knife with it, the brilliant red a stain between her thighs of what they had shared that night. She knelt then before him, placing the blade on her palm and offering him the horn handle, unable to look at him. He carefully took the knife from her, turned it, and placed the handle in her hand. He closed her fingers around it, and she looked at him once more. They smiled, and said nothing. There was nothing left to say.
"Freedom of speech" is not the same thing as "Freedom from consequences".

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disaster
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Post by disaster » Mon Apr 17, 2006 7:10 am

Thank you, everyone who gave me feedback on the story. Here's the version I handed in if you're curious to see the little changes i made. (Yay me! just got the mark back, got an A+ on the assignment, woohoo!)

Not a Little Girl

She wasn't a little girl any more. That's what she'd screamed to end the arguement, defiant, slamming the door of the small cottage she shared with her mother and nearly knocking it off its thrice-mended hinges. She was sick of all the small criticisms of her mother. She was sick of the small dresses, patched so often, and the small barbs of the other girls that accompanied them. She was sick of the small hopes of a small girl in a small forest town. She was sick of her small life.
And so she left. The few things which were hers in this world were packed quickly but carefully into the bottom of her sack, several apples and a single bottle of weak wine with them. She fingered the simple loop of leather at her neck, the tiny red gem hanging between her burgeoning breasts. The other girls laughed at her, told her it was no gem at all, merely a simple, silly, shiny rock. But it was hers. It was given her by her father as a charm when she was very young, not long before the winter took him. When she was honest with herself, she feared that she could not remember anything else about him. When she touched the stone hanging around her slender neck, it felt like she still did.
She would go to see her father's aunt, the crone who lived in the woods near the next village through the forest. The old woman would understand, would help her. She simply couldn't bare it any more, living a life with no promise but a loveless marriage to one of the boorish village boys, until winter, or disease, or childbirth gave her final escape. She would clean the old woman's hearth, and draw her water, and cook her meals. Eventually she would be seen for the strength she knew she had, would be taken on as wierdling girl, taught the simple charms to cure the sheep and bless the trees of the orchards, learning her trade. It would not be easy, but it would be a good, solid life. An important life to the people of the forest villages, who would have long forgotten the skinny widow's daughter and would know only the witch she had become.
She had run quickly off the path, never turning her head, sure of her direction and eager to make distance while the snow still fell to cover her tracks behind her. Now she walked more slowly, but with a determination tempered in the heavy mid-winter drifts. No matter the hardship that lay before her, she fled the waking death of the life that stalked behind her and she would rather die where she stood than turn in her resolve. She was her father's daughter. She was not the frail, quaking thing her mother had become. She was strong, she was smart. She knew this forest, knew its banes as well as its boons. As her father before her she respected its power, doubly so when life was frozen, crystallized, fragile and sharp as the icicles on the boughs. She would never forget that lesson, the one she learned when she awoke to shuffling feet and the sound of great heavy coats brushing against each other concealing whispered but urgent voices, and caught a glimpse of her father's great solid boots encrusted with dirty ice before she was noticed and taken back to her bed. She better than anyone, whose life had shattered that cold mid-winter midnight, knew the fickle will of the frozen forest. But she would not fear it.
The sun was as high as it rose in this northern winter, its glare slicing down through the permanent grey cloud, when she heard in the distance a sharp crack. She continued onwards, stealthily, unsure of the unnatural sound. It was not long before she saw him ahead through a break in the trees, the strange man the people of her village said lived deep within the forest. He was uncouth, and ugly, clothed in such ragged furs that at first she had taken him for some manner of wild beast. She had seen him before, from a distance, on the rare occasions when he came into town. Her mother had once agreed to darn his heavy woolen socks for some firewood. He had given exactly what had been agreed, to do otherwise would have been an insult, but for several weeks the woodpile behind the cottage had remained fuller than it should have been. Though not many years older than she there had been something strange about him then, a timidity despite his imposing size. That was gone now, here in the middle of the forest under the gaze of the silent trees. He moved with surety, splitting heavy round sections of trunk with a graceful swing of his inelegant but functional axe. She found she could not take her eyes off him, this strange apparition so different from the man she thought she knew.
He tossed the split wood towards the growing pile underneath the large fir at the side of the clearing, each piece falling a few feet short of the pile itself. She watched him stride softly over to the pile and crouch down, looking intently at the logs about a foot from the ground. He then began carefully gathering up the split wood, tapping each piece against the sole of his boot to dislodge the snow before carefully placing it under the protection of the tree at the top of the pile. This perplexed her for even a girl young as she could easily have tossed the split wood directly onto the pile, and it took the man quite some time to accomplish the task in his own fashion. Then suddenly she caught a glimpse of movement from a gap between the logs where he had been looking. The head of a tiny bluebird was flitting around quickly, watching the man at work. Seeing this her mouth fell open, unable to believe that such a rough, ugly man would take such care to preserve the life of a simple bird. She continued to watch as he finished stacking the wood and walked back to his axe, setting another section of trunk onto the large splitting stump. She decided finally to return the way she had come, leaving this most unusual man to his private snow-covered world.
As she turned, her foot caught on a treacherous tree root beneath the cover of white snow, and she fell forward onto her hands with an involuntary exhalation of breath. This was echoed by a muffled groan from the direction of the woodsman, and she turned to look. A bright red splash stained the snow now, next to where he sat holding his lower leg where his axe had bitten him in his sudden surprise at her exclamation. She ran to him, kneeling in the cold snow before him, the fear yet colder in her heart that she had caused this gentle man's death there under the unforgiving winter sky. She ordered him to show her the wound, not having the time for surprise when that bear of a man complied immediately with her demand. She reached into her sack searching desperately for her bottle of wine, uncorking it and emptying half the bottle to flush the wound. He grimaced and clenched his fists, but even at this no more than a whisper escaped his lips. A tear coursed down her cheek at his pain, and she hastily ripped at the hem of her dress to form a bandage. She bound it tightly about his leg as she knelt there in the snow, watching, worried, as the shreds torn from her simple white dress became a brilliant red badge. She was no witch, nor even a wierdling girl. But there in the snow she worked a powerful charm. Slowly, the blood stopped flowing. Finally, she cried.
Slowly, finding his voice as one who has not often call to use it, he spoke. He knew her. She cried deeper, her sobs wracking her chest. She wanted to hear his anger, his blame, his hatred for how she had spied on him and almost killed him there with the tiny bluebird looking on. His simple statement of recognition unmade her. They stayed there a long time, the tears falling frozen from her cheeks. Finally, when the tears were gone from her eyes, they rose together out of the snow. He asked her where she went today, for he had never seen a townsperson in this part of the forest. She answered him, telling him everything in a rush. She told him of her mother, and her fears, and her hopes. For his part he stood silently, watching her, listening. Perhaps he saw something of himself in her eyes. Or, perhaps, he felt something of her within himself. He was a man who spoke simply when it was required, and not at all when he could avoid it. He took from his waist a long knife in its sheath, pulling it out to reveal the blade to her, and laying the steel on his palm extended the sturdy horn handle to her. She looked at him uncertainly, and so he spoke. He bade her take the knife, and that she be quickly on her way. He would come when he could to collect it back from her at the home of the old witch, for he knew it well. He could see the steel in her eyes, and knew she would never accept him as chaperone through the woods, but his honour would not allow him to let her go without providing her what protection he could against the wolves and other creatures of the winter forest.
She was loathe to accept this gift, but recognizing something of her own determination in his eyes she aquiesced. With a nod and without a word she took hold of the horn handle, sheathing the blade, placing it carefully into her sack where she could reach it easily. She left him then, though for a long time her thoughts stayed with the man she had met in the depths of the forest. Her mind turned to the past, and how she'd always been a little bit afraid of him when he came walking into the town. One summer, she'd even tried to join in with the other girls as they shouted at him, hidden within the tall grass. He must have been no older then than she was now. Her cheeks burned scarlet with shame at the unbidden memory, the thought that even one as isolated and hurt as she would willfully inflict such pain on another. She walked quickly. She told herself that it was to arrive before the setting of the sun turned the chill fierce, but part of her knew it was her shame and anger at herself that drove her so quickly away from that grove of trees.
There was a single mountain stream that ran quickly through that part of the forest, winding back and forth often. There were several fords lower down, where wagons crossed, but here in the forest most relied on finding a fallen tree or a patch of ice thick enough to cross. It was such a thing she sought now, walking along the high bank. It was starting to get dark now, and she shivered as she looked up and saw how little daylight was left. Finally, in the distance ahead, she could see the line of a fallen fir stretched across to the other side. She hurried along, anxious to be across and onto the last step of her journey. Approaching the trunk she heard a strange sound, and looked down. In a deep pool surrounded by thin ice stood a man bathing himself in the freezing water, without apparent regard for its frigidity. He was turned away from her, naked and with long black hair hanging wetly against his neck and shoulders. His muscles rippled under his skin, steaming into the chill air, sensual in a way she did not understand. She stood there, shocked by the incomprehensible sight, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. Without turning around, or indeed giving any prior sign that he was aware of her presence, he began to speak, asking her what her mother would think were it known that she stood there watching a man bathe.
He rose out of the water then, walked to the far bank where his clothing lay, and wrapped a thick fur-lined robe around himself before turning to face her. He invited her to join him on the other bank, and she carefully but quickly did so, making her way across the natural bridge. He laughed softly, as if finding it strange that she be afraid to fall into the chill water. Close now, his eyes were seen to be of a piercing blue, a hue like the sky on those rare winter days where the clouds fade away and the bright sun turns the snow into diamonds. He had a proud jaw and she looked at him askance, unsure where to begin, but finally asked him how he came to be there in the frozen stream.
His laugh rolled out into the cold air past thin lips, the mist floating on the light wind. He had been hunting all day, and ever since he'd been a young pup hunting with his father he had always come to this stream to refresh himself after trapping his prey. He turned her question back on her, curious why a young girl would be found in such a place with the winter sunlight so soon to fade. She resented him now for mentioning her youth, and thus she lied. Her mother had sent her, for her grandmother was sick and in need of someone to care for her. He noticed her sack then for the first time, and asked if she might perhaps have a bit of wine to share, for it was not often that he found himself among the people of the towns. She became anxious then, wishing to be parted from the elegant stranger who had as much as called her a little child yet not wishing to allow a debt to remain between them. She would gladly trade some wine for the path to the next village she replied, saying that she had become lost in the fresh snow. And so was their business completed, and with a quick word that perhaps he would see her again she was off on her business, and he left behind.
Yet this was no ordinary man whom she had encountered, but indeed a wolf who wore the skin of a man as a hunter wears a cloak of leaves. He followed after her, his wolf's ears having heard the slight quaver of a lie in her voice, his wolf's paws padding soundlessly along her path until, out of sight of the stream, it twisted away from the village ahead and he learned her true destination. And so he bounded ahead. He raced through the snow, salivating at the meal he would make of her young flesh, rushing headlong around the snow-heavy boughs of the fir and spruce, darting beneath the sharp icicles hanging from the oak and willow. He arrived at the lonely cabin in the wood well ahead of his prey, finally slowing as he stepped out into the clearing around the crone's cabin. He shook his great pelt clear of snow, and again taking his human form walked up to knock against the old woman's door.
The crone rose slowly from her chair by the hearth to open the door, looking out at the man standing before her. He was a sight with the harsh winter sun behind him, long black hair hanging down his neck, fur-lined cloak wrapped around him, an air of quiet confidence on his features giving him the look of royalty. But this was no young girl to be fooled and seduced by the look of a thing. She was wise, she had experience of these woods and all things in them, and she was a witch besides. She saw his wolf's eyes, and dashed as nimbly as her joints would allow for the iron poker by the hearth. But he also was wise in his way, the way of the hunted, and of the hunter. He saw in her the look of her recognition, and so pounced upon her almost before she herself had chosen to act. He overcame the old woman quickly, and dragged her body away into the woods. He looked upwards, seeing the full moon inching its way up over the horizon as the sun's setting rays turned the snow to blood. His brother wolves would feast that night under the light of the full moon, as would he.
It was not long after that his prey arrived, walking out of the forest as the last red rays of sunlight faded over the top-most branches of the trees. She huddled against herself, running up to the door and knocking. To her surprise it opened easily, and she walked in out of the cold wind. She called out, but receiving no response left her sack on the table and began to make her way deeper into the cabin. The coals in the hearth were still glowing dimly, and she placed a fresh log by which to warm herself. Pushing aside the curtain over the bed she took quite a fright, for there at the foot of the bed was a great lazy dog dozing on the covers. She stepped back in surprise and fear, but recovering herself from her initial shock she saw his peaceful demeanor and that he simply waited patiently on the bed for his mistress to arrive.
She spoke to the beast now, softly, waking him, and was relieved that when he lifted his grand head to look at her he did not seem as afeared of her as she had been of him. She came nearer him then, to sit slowly onto the bed. She spoke to him, asking where the old woman had gone and when she would be returning, but of course he simply looked at her unknowingly. She sighed, resigned to waiting until the old woman returned before recounting everything that had passed and announcing her intention to serve her. She looked at the beast's thick black fur enviously. She said that she coveted to have such a great black pelt that never need be patched, to be able to run and dance in the snow as he did. He rolled on the bed at this, and gently nuzzled this new arrival's arm.
Looking at his face as if for the first time, she caught her own reflection within those strangely familiar, piercing blue eyes, and spoke to him again. She told him how she envied such eyes, that she should be able to hunt even at night and not be constrained to stay at home indoors as she had always done. She wished to join him outside, to look up at the full moon that had for the last years controlled so much of her woman's body, to howl in rage at the world like the animals do. It seemed to her that the beast welcomed her to do so, that he would act as guide and protector for her, that he would show her how to leave her human skin behind and enter a new world even stranger and more wonderful than that of the witch she had come here to find.
She held her cold hands to her mouth, blowing to warm them, and looked again at the majestic animal. She wished for a mouth like that, she said. A strong mouth, savage, a weapon no hand could take from her that she need never again worry. The kingly animal nuzzled against her hands when she said this, heavy blasts of air issuing forth from his powerful chest to warm her. But suddenly she saw in the eyes of the dog not her own reflection, but the reflection of the man she had met bathing at the stream, and she finally understood the true nature of the beast. She jumped up, sorely wishing to pull the woodsman's long knife from her sack and save herself from this abomination, but with a single swipe of the wolf's paw she was sent against the rough wall of the cabin, and saw no more.
She awoke much later, the cruel white light of the full moon entering the windows of the cabin and giving a harsh cast to what had seemed such a tranquil place bare hours ago. She tried to stand but found her wrists bound securely to the bedposts with strips torn from her own dress. She looked down, seeing her dress now barely more than a nightshirt, its collar torn wide open and its tattered hem laying high across her mercifully unbloodied white thighs. Suddenly her gaze was drawn to the door swinging open, and she nearly screamed until she saw the familiar silhouette of the axe held in the figure's hand. The woodsman ran to her side, and made as if to slip the blade against her bonds to free her until she stopped him with a word. She would not leave this place while the wolf who wore a man's skin lived to prey on others. She had him carefully untie her wrists, and fetch her the knife from her sack which she unsheathed and secreted under the pillow. She gently fingered the red gem on its cord around her throat, drawing strength and courage. He carefully wrapped her wrists loosely in her bonds, then retired to the broom closet as she directed to await the monster's return. Something passed between them then, as she looked into his eyes through the gap between door and frame. A haunting wolves' song then arose on the wind, and they knew it was time.
It was midnight, the full moon high in the sky, and the worship had been completed. His brothers bayed and howled as the door swung open and the dark figure crept into the room, slavering for the feast he had so patiently awaited and carefully prepared, his red sacrament in white linen. He moved unctuously, like an oily shadow, approaching the bed. She played her part well, baited him, lured him with her fear and innocence. He looked into her eyes, not seeing the bonds wrapped but untied from her wrists. And suddenly she sprung, the cruel steel of the blade stinging his muzzle, drawing the only blood that she would allow spilt on those pristine white sheets. The beast reared backward, mad with pain and rage. But before he could turn again upon her with his bared teeth the woodsman burst out from his concealment, himself half-mad and wild, the inner beast he had long ago tamed let out to fight that other which would know no leash and must be destroyed.
The axe flashed in the pale moonlight, swung with deadly efficiency as only those who live by it are able. The creature cried, broken and bleeding, as the force of the blow sent him wheeling into the wall, but he was yet unbeaten. He snapped and turned against the woodsman, his strong jaw crushing the bandaged flesh of his leg. The giant of a man fell, the haft of his axe crashing against the wooden floor though somehow he held it still. It was almost ended there, for a wolf with his jaws on a downed opponent is not easily dislodged, but there was another wolf there in the light of the moon that night, and she would not be denied.
She had followed the fiend to her feet when it turned away, as the door of the closet had opened her unshod foot had touched on the solid wood at the base of the bed. Now, as the beast's jaws closed around the self-same wound she had bandaged with a strip torn from her own dress, she flew! She was an angry banshee in the cold white light of that chamber, dark red blood dripping from the blade of her knife, and she descended upon that horrible thing like a pure redeeming fire. The blade entered between the ribs and she twisted it, a horrible scream emanating from the beast's throat as he released his hold on the woodsman and was carried by her burning rage into death.
She stood then, her gem flashing blood-red in the moonlight between her heaving breasts as she twisted back and forth seeking another foe. Never was a man born who could stand against the power of that newborn witch under the silver moon as she stood that night, hair wildly flaming behind her, dress in tatters, the life's-blood of the beast slowly flowing down the blade of that simple horn-handled knife.
Suddenly a change came over her eyes, as if some wild thing within had been called back, retreating into its darkened cave until its time should come. She looked down at the woodsman where he lay on the floor, their eyes meeting. She said nothing, nor did he. She took what remained of the front of her dress in her slender hand, and gently, lovingly wiped the blood off the blade of the knife with it, the brilliant red stain between her thighs a memory of what they had shared that night. She knelt then before him, placing the blade on her palm and offering him the horn handle, unable to look at him. He carefully took the knife from her, turned it, and placed the handle in her hand. He closed her fingers around it, and she looked at him once more. They smiled, and said nothing. There was nothing left to say.
"Freedom of speech" is not the same thing as "Freedom from consequences".

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