Pulling my cloak farther over my head, I run as fast as I can past the many people going about their day, cleaning their homes, buying food, things of that nature. A few shout as I pass, telling me to slow down, to be more careful. Originally I had hoped to get out of the city without being seen but I’m sure everyone’s noticed me by now. However none seem to pay much attention, I’m just another rowdy kid.
When my hood falls back, heads turn, and few seem to recognize me, and that’s really not good. Pulling it back up, I run faster, away from the many eyes now following me, thankfully none try to stop me.
I really hadn’t been running for very long, should my feet be aching so much? Doubt it. Thinking back, I probably shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to leave, maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten my good shoes. Ducking under a cart of vegetables, I hide, and wait for several people to pass by. Just as I’m about to cross out of the city and into the forest, I hear a horribly familiar voice.
“Ma'am, you there, in the green–” I stifle a groan. Of course my father would come looking for me. Didn’t he have kingly responsibilities to attend to? I think in annoyance.
“M’lord?” She sounds startled, but I’m not surprised. Dad can be pretty intimidating when he wants to, poor woman.
“Yes, where…” He pauses, and seems to be thinking. That’s new. “Have you seen my son?”
“The young Prince Gav-” She’s cut off by an impatient sigh.
“Yes, ma'am. Gavin, have you seen him?” I flinch and huddle down farther under the cart. Oh, he doesn’t sound very pleased with me. A shudder runs through me when I imagine my punishment if he were to catch me… But no, there’s no way, I’m almost out there’s no way he’ll catch me.
The woman doesn’t speak for a moment, then slowly, she walks toward the vegetable cart and pauses. And just like that she’s given me enough cover to move without being seen, I slip out from under the back of the cart, and run even faster than I had been before, keeping low enough to the ground that he couldn’t see me. My heart pounds almost painfully in my chest, I can hear it in my ears and feel it in my limbs, but I keep running.
By the time I reach the tree line, where the cool stone meets the rough, rocky path, tears sting in my eyes. The soles of my boots obviously have holes in them, as I can feel the ground through my socks. As soon as I get back, I’m going to burn these horrible, useless boots.
There’s nobody around right now, maybe I can rest…
No, I can’t rest, not yet. There could be knights returning from patrol, or maybe a city guard heard me, and are chasing after me. The thought of being dragged back home to my mother and father by one of those disgusting guards just makes me push harder, and run faster into the safety of the trees.
Once the only sounds that can be heard are my breathing and the wind knocking the trees about, I plop onto the ground, and desperately try to catch my breath. I’ve never run away before. I’ve thought about it sure, but I’ve never actually been brave enough to actually go through with it.
But now here I was, out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by towering trees and unfamiliar silence. With a long sigh I stand back up, legs slightly wobbly, and begin making my way through the trees. Keeping my cloak pulled far over my head, I slide my wooden sword from its sheath. Despite walking slow and careful, my boots make loud crunching noises with each step.
Venturing farther into the forest, I realize how difficult it’s going to be finding my way back home. It’s only a passing thought, but as the wind dies down, and the silence becomes ringing in my ears, a shiver runs down my spine at the idea that I may be stuck out here over night. Suddenly my father’s punishment doesn’t sound quite so bad.
I can’t be scared! I’m going to be a king someday, and kings don’t get scared! I thought, holding my sword closer to my chest. Although I see no animals nearby, I’m beginning to hear rustling in the trees. However up ahead, I notice, the trees begin to blend with the rest of the earth, making a sort of leafy wall. Maybe there’re animals hiding in there? Birds? Possibly rabbits?
Whatever animal may be using the mass of leaves as a home probably won’t mind if I share for the night, right? I certainly hoped not, as the sun had already set and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, and I knew there was no way I would be making it home tonight.
When I was little, my sister and I would stay up late, telling stories under a tent of blankets that we’d built between our beds. Some of these stories were about fairies, who visited during the night, and left treats under the pillows of children. Some stories were about knights, who fought dragons and griffins, and lived to protect their kingdom. Those were my favorite, as I knew they were true and that someday I’d be able to live them myself.
But the stories that I remember the best were about monsters that live in the forest and prey on lost travelers. Monsters with large horns, claws for fingers, and teeth large and strong enough to crush a sword in one bite. My sister, Rem, always told me never to venture into the forest, because if I were to get lost or hurt, the monsters would surely eat well that night.
But when I woke up that morning, with that thing staring down at me from the tree above me, with its huge horns and twisted, deformed arms, I wish I had—for once— just listened.
He leaned forward, his face finally coming into view. My stomach lurched at the sight of it. His eyes were sunken and red, his mouth being held open by large, jagged teeth. I suppose they weren’t actually all that large but compared to the rest of him – which was surprisingly small – they appeared that way. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from those teeth, which I knew without a doubt, could tear me up no problem.
He on the other hand, seemed fascinated with my feet, which had slipped out of my torn up, old boots when I tried to run. His mouth slowly formed into what I hoped was a non-threatening smile, and not snarl. But when he bounced forward, and began crawling down the tree in an almost cat-like fashion, I doubted it.
The closer he got to the ground, the farther I scooted backwards. Eventually, my back hit what I guessed was a tree, but I wasn’t sure, since I refused to turn around and check. He was still making his way steadily down to me, and for the first time in my life, I felt hopeless.
And then he fell forward, his claw-like fingers dragging across the tree trunk in a desperate attempt to slow his fall. It didn’t work, and he hit the ground headfirst. Despite my fear, I winced in sympathy when his jaw cracked against the ground.
At this point I expected him to charge at me in rage, or howl for help to others of his kind. Maybe even be knocked unconscious by the fall. What I didn’t expect was for him to look up at me, tears in his eyes, an almost embarrassed expression on his face. Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so afraid.
Neither of us moved for a few moments, he sat silently, examining his jaw and mouth, which were in fact bleeding in a few places. I on the other hand, sat silently, examining him.
Everything about him was awkward, and I suddenly felt a bit embarrassed myself for having been so terrified. His eyes, though deep red, were wide and childish. As for his teeth and horns, they really were just too big compared to the rest of him, which was small and somewhat pudgy. As I glanced down, I suddenly knew why he’d been so obsessed with my feet. Where his should have been, were massive paws, similar to that of a wolf or even a bear, they were covered in dark fur that trailed up to his knees. The fur may not have been quite as dark as it appeared though, as it looked pretty dirty.
Now that I got a closer look, I realized that he was more goofy looking than threatening. Maybe he’d only seemed that way before because he was so much higher up in the tree than me at the time? Maybe it had made him seem taller? But still, despite his size I knew he could still be dangerous.
I tried to ignore his crying, but when he pulled a small baby tooth from his mouth, I just couldn’t. I noticed a small tickle of blood coming from a small gap where his tooth had previously been. Grimacing in sympathy I thought of how I’d lost my first tooth in an eerily similar way, after falling face first down a flight of stares while chasing my sister.
Slowly I pulled myself up from where I’d been crouched on the ground, and stiffly made my way toward him. At first he didn’t even notice me, too busy staring horrified at the small, bloody tooth in his palm. Not sure what to do or say, I did what I normally would in this kind of situation. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head.
“My dad says that if you hide that under your pillow at night, a fairy may come and leave coins or sweets in its place.” My voice came out shaky, but thankfully I didn’t stutter or choke up. Though at the moment, I highly doubt he would have noticed.
He—I wonder if he has a name — just stared at me for a moment, wide eyes staring at me curiously. Then in a quiet voice, even shakier than mine, he asked, “What’re coins and sweets?”
Well crap, how do I explain that? With a sigh I realized I probably should have known he wouldn’t understand. Although it was pretty clear at this point he wasn’t going to do anything to hurt me, I still felt uneasy, and it made it slightly difficult to think clearly.
“They’re just… uh…” I paused, and dug into my cloak pocket, and pulled out a handful of small, copper coins. If possible, his eyes grew even wider. He quickly reached out with the hand not clutching his tooth, and took a coin from the pile, and I flinched back as his claws grazed my palm.
“S’ pretty..” He muttered, holding it at eye level, bouncing sunlight off of the edges. Then he held it in front of his mouth and nose, appearing to be smelling it and for a moment I worried he was going to try and eat it. “What’s it for?”
“To buy things.” I answered, groaning as I realized he probably wouldn’t understand that either. And sure enough, he glanced up at me questioningly.
“Buy things?” He asked, head tiling to the side like a baffled puppy.
“Yeah you know… things!” I exclaimed, beginning to get frustrated. This was like talking to a toddler. “Like food, clothes, toys…” I trailed off, hoping he understood. Based on his expression, he didn’t understand at all, but sensing my growing frustration, he simply nodded and continued to inspect the coin.
“What’s your name?” I asked suddenly, startling him. He glanced up at me, and grinned. I could see the gap where his tooth was supposed to be clearly now, and was somewhat shocked to see that another tooth was already beginning to poke though the gum there.
“Asa!” He excailmed, clearly happy I’d asked. It crossed my mind that he may not have many friends wherever it is he came from.
“Asa?” I asked, surprised. It sounded… normal. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that.
“What about yours?” He dropped the coins into his lap, his full attention on me now. It made me a bit uncomfortable, to be honest, though the previous fear and uneasiness had passed..
“G-Gavin.” I stuttered, trying to ignore the way he was now staring at me. Something about his wide, kind, curious eyes didn’t seem right. I was always taught that the monsters in the forest were cruel, evil creatures. It had never occurred to me that maybe they were more human, that maybe they had names and personalities, and families. Did Asa have a family? A mother and father who told him stories? Maybe he had siblings who played games and climbed trees with him?
“Glad to meet ya’ Gavin!” He said, breaking me away from my thoughts. For the first time I met his eyes, and smiled. Glancing around at the surrounding forest, the towering trees shading us from the sun and and the grass soft enough to sleep on, I realized that maybe staying out here a while longer, with Asa, wouldn’t be so bad.
“Nice to meet you, Asa.”