Running as quickly as she could, Selvina glanced back, her golden tresses veiling some of her view. Six men with axes, swords, and bow and arrows were in hot pursuit, hooting and hollering as if they were mad. An arrow streaked by, narrowly missing her left ear, and she let out a scream. She grabbed the sky blue dress she wore and lifted it higher, allowing for greater strides. Her lungs pounded against her tight corset and she found herself out of breath as the tiring run taxed her greatly. She had never been the fastest girl and had never really liked running all that much either and it was painfully noticeable.
She had never planned on running and was utterly not dressed for the part. She had been rehearsing her lines for the school play, one that a famous theater director was rumoured to be attending. She had the part of the Snow Queen, outfitted in a dress of a shade of blue that resembled ice with nearly transparent lace at the hem and sleeves. Her best friend, Gemma, had the part of the queen’s sister and Selvina wondered what she’d think of her now. She had never missed a rehearsal or any event related to the play. She had poured her heart and soul into her part and hoped to one day make a living acting out stories. Broadway had called her name since she had been a small child and she had wanted to impress the director so much that he’d beg to get her to work for him.
Now, however, none of that would happen.
She felt her head get light and she slowed to a stop, gripping her corset and pulling it outward as much as she could, hoping to allow more air to fill her lungs. It helped but by the time she was ready to run once more she found herself surrounded by the six men.
“Who do you think ye are to let loose our shiny unicorn like that?” asked a mostly toothless man, his face full of wrinkles and scars. “Woulda’ fetched us a pretty coin, it would!”
Selvina stood up and eyed each man in turn, her face pale in terror and her heart racing. “I...I saw that it was in pain and...well, all I did was cut the rope a little. It was digging into its legs...”
“Ha!” laughed another man, this one large and bearded. “We’ve got ourselves a bleeding heart here. You workin’ for The Hood?”
Selvina shook her head. “Who?”
“Look at her,” said a short man with a lazy eye. “She don’t look like no one workin’ for The Hood. She’s outta’ breath and barely ran a mile. She’s just some dumb traveller.”
The sound of hooves pounding on the dirt road everyone stood on alerted them to a rider. It was a woman—an elderly woman—and she was dressed in leather hunting garb. The only reason Selvina knew what she wore were the memories of a play she had acted in which consisted of rangers and medieval hunters. She looked like one, but appeared much too old to do any hunting.
“Oy, lads,” said the tallest man of the group. He wasn’t handsome but Selvina found him easier to look at than the others. “Mum’s here so you all stay quiet.” He gestured to Selvina as he looked up at the old woman. “What do you make of her? She set free our unicorn. We’ve been hunting that thing for years!”
The old woman set her eyes on Selvina and narrowed them maliciously. “Who are you, girl? Why would you rob us of such a treasure?”
Selvina felt as cold as the ice her dress was supposed to represent. She gulped down some of the fear that gripped her tightly and, her opal eyes wide and unblinking, said, “Well, it was in pain, like I said. I...I just wanted to help it. I didn’t mean to anger anyone, ma’am.”
The old woman raised an eyebrow. “Ma’am? Don’t call me ma’am, child. Grandmother will do.”
“I said Grandmother will do.”
Selvina pursed her lips together and nodded.
Grandmother sighed deeply and eyed the men standing around her. “What should we do with her, boys?” She then examined the young girl as well as she could from her position, noting her expensive-looking dress, her well-brushed hair that appeared as smooth as silk and her fair and milky skin. She was clearly no lowly peasant. “Should we sell her?”
“Why would we do that?” asked the nearly toothless man, his face twisted with confusion. “She’s not made of gold or anything.”
Grandmother was grateful that her oaf of a son was standing nearby for she kicked him in the head as hard as she could. Unsurprisingly, it hardly affected him. “She could be a rich merchant’s daughter or royalty, you brainless lump! Think of how much her father would pay to have her back!”
“I’d rather kill her!” said one of the men, shaking his axe at Selvina. “We’ll never get that unicorn because of her now!” Some of the other men nodded in agreement, mumbling amongst one another.
“No!” Selvina shouted, falling on her knees. “Please! Don’t kill me! I don’t even know where I am! My father also isn’t a merchant or a royal or whatever. He’s a car salesman and my mom works in an office!”
The men and old woman exchanged bewildered glances.
“You aren’t making any sense, girl,” Grandmother said. “I think you might be ill.” She looked at the men, appearing greatly disappointed. “Well, my sons, no one is going to buy a sick girl. We might as well get rid of her. I’m sure the wolves won’t mind some free food.”
There were cheers from most of the men as they rushed to Selvina, axes and swords at the ready.
Selvina screamed and tried to run away but her dress tripped her up and she fell. She sat on her backside and could only watch in horror as the men and their terrible weapons rapidly closed in around her. She must be dreaming, she thought. It’s just a dream. None of it is real. The dirt beneath her felt real enough, though, and the sweat dripping down her skin certainly was real.
Her last thought was of Gemma standing on stage waiting for her to show up and start the act before she closed her eyes and waited for the weapons to fall.
There was loud crashing in the woods behind her and she heard the men stop running. She peeked through one eye and could see that all six, including the old woman on her horse, were staring at the woods behind her. The crashing continued and Selvina slowly turned her head to see what they were looking at.
Before she could turn her head around completely a large black shape shot out of the forest. It landed directly in front of her and growled fiercely. Selvina saw it was a wolf that dwarfed the horse Grandmother was riding. Its fur, which stood on end, was as black as oil and its eyes were glowing red as it stood in front of her in an almost protective manner. Selvina wanted to scream but she didn’t want to startle it, especially when it was so close.
“Damn it,” said the taller man. “The Hood’s here. Get ready men, she’ll show up any minute.” He glanced about, searching for something.
There was a sharp whistle and one of the men stumbled and fell, gripping his neck. He groaned and struggled slightly but his eyes eventually closed and he lay very still. Selvina gasped when she heard a second whistle and a second man fell. This time she saw what looked like a small arrow protruding from his chest. A third man fell before the others turned tail and ran, Grandmother leading the way and leaving them far behind, her horse more than eager to leave the presence of such a massive predator as the wolf.
Selvina was soon alone with the black beast, three lifeless bodies, and whatever had dropped them. She looked up at the wolf and it turned its head to view her. Its glowing red eyes dimmed and were replaced by piercing blue ones. Its fur settled down and it did too, laying down beside her and yawning.
Selvina slowly inched away from the wolf, hoping she could get far from it before it decided to eat her, which she knew it would do. Nothing that large just left a tasty morsel like her alone. It saved her just to have her for herself; she knew it as a fact.
She backed up into something hard and glanced back to see what it was. She saw bare legs ending in leather boots. To the sides and behind the legs was a red cloak. Selvina looked up slowly, discovering a dirty pair of tattered pants that only went down to the knee, a light blouse full of holes and tears, and eventually a face within a large hood which consisting of two, round, sapphire eyes, tight lips, a dainty nose, cheeks dotted with a few freckles, and long tresses the color of flames. Thin red-haired eyebrows arched high.
“Where in the world did those poachers drag you from?” the other woman asked. “I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“Are...are you The Hood?” Selvina asked, uncertain if she should thank her for saving her or fear for her life.
“That’s what those idiots call me,” the young woman replied. “My mother named me Scarlet but you can just call me Red.” She made her way around Selvina and up to the large wolf, scratching behind one of its ears, which it appeared to enjoy.
Selvina thought Scarlet was the prettier name but she didn’t want to anger The Hood. “Ok, Red. Um, why did you save me?”
“The old hag who calls herself Grandmother thinks she can take whatever she wants from these woods.” She pointed to one of the bodies. “Those brainless fools are her sons and they’ve been pestering that poor unicorn for too long. They never caught it, though, until today. I’m on my way to free it.”
“I...I did that already.”
“You did what?”
Selvina managed to stand up and brush the dust off her legs and dress. She took a step forward but the wolf looked at her and she stopped moving, still terrified of it. “I...don’t how I got here but when I arrived there was a unicorn beside me and it was tied up and looked like it was hurt. There were knives nearby so I grabbed one and cut the rope to set it free. It ran off but not before those six men saw it leave. They chased me and were about to kill me when you showed up.”
Red put a hand to her chin, thinking deeply. A few moments later she looked at Selvina directly. “Well, first off, thank you for doing that. I doubt they’ll ever catch that unicorn again after what it went through. Secondly, what do you mean you don’t know how you got here? This road is the only one in and out of this forest. Were you locked up Grandmother’s cottage?”
“No. I was standing in front of it.”
“You don’t remember how you got there?”
“No! I was back at school getting ready for a very important play and then all of a sudden I was here! I don’t know what happened. I feel like this is a dream. Maybe I’m just dreaming...”
Red walked up to Selvina and smacked her across the face with thunderous force.
Selvina screamed in pain and backed away, holding her red cheek in two hands as tears formed in her eyes. “Why did you do that?! What is wrong with you? I thought you were helping me!”
“I am,” Red said with a wink and smile. “You can’t get hurt in dreams, right?”
Selvina nodded and a moment later realization dawned on her and her knees immediately felt weak. She was not home. She wasn’t even in her own world. Her friends and family were gone and she had no idea of how to get back to them. She didn’t know how she got here in the first place but she could be trapped in this world forever. Tears chilled her cheeks as they rolled down them and she sniffed some of them back, not wanting to become a sobbing mess in front of Red. She shut her eyes tightly and stood as straightly as she could. She then blinked her eyes open, pushing the tears away, and looked at Red with as much determination and courage as she could.
“You look like you’re ready to take on a hundred soldiers,” Red said to her with a grin.
“I need to get back home.”
“Fair enough. You sure don’t belong here; you’re way too pretty.”
Selvina didn’t know how to react to the compliment so she said nothing.
Red gave the large wolf a light smack on the shoulder and it stood up on all fours and waited. The cloaked woman climbed up behind the wolf’s shoulders and sat. She looked down at Selvina and extended a hand. “I might know someone who can take you back. Come with me and Bigbad. We’ll take you to him.”
Selvina hesitated, her courage replaced by fear and uncertainty. “Bigbad? Will...will he eat me?”
Red laughed heartily, her hood sliding off her head to reveal more of her fiery hair. “Eat you? Bigbad doesn’t eat people like us. We’re too bony and we don’t have enough meat on our bones.
“I stole him from Grandmother when her sons had captured him as a pup. They were going to train him to be a killer like they are but I raised him instead. He’s been my loyal friend for many years and has saved me more times than I can count. He won’t try anything with you, trust me. He’s really just a big softy, most of the times.”
“Trust you? I barely know you.”
Red sighed and shook her outstretched hand. “Just get up here already.”
Selvina slowly approached her and reached up for her hand, her eyes on Bigbad’s large muzzle full of huge and sharp teeth. With a snap of his head she would be dead. She suddenly felt a hand clutching her arm and hauling her on top of the huge wolf. Her heart pounded against her chest as she found herself lying on top of the beast. She glared at Red for pulling her up but eventually, very slowly, she swung both legs over the sides of the wolf and sat, wrapping her arms around Red’s waist.
“Does he go fast?” she asked her, her face pressed up against Red’s back and her arms holding on tightly.
Red smirked. “He’s faster than any horse.”
“I...I don’t know if I can—”
Before Selvina could finish, the wolf had bolted down the road, its claws ripping up soil as it tore down the path, its pace steady and surprisingly smooth. Its tongue hung out of its mouth as it relished the rush of fresh air against its face. Red leaned forward on the wolf’s back and made herself as flat as possible. Selvina found herself doing the same but could not stop screaming.
How she wished she could just wake up from this all.