SHUTT

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Chapter 7: Into the Forest

The Queen and her maid servant reached an entrance to the forest.

“Is there another way?” asked the Queen.

“No, your majesty. The forest is too wide to travel around. The journey would not be kind on you and the baby. It would neither be too good an idea to risk being found out as we pass village after village. Alas, fear not your majesty, I have traveled this path before and have learned of the secrets to a safe passage.”

“Very well, my life and the life of my child are in your hands.”

Before they set off, the maid servant reached into one of her bags and pulled out wild fig leaves. She placed them all over the chariot as well as the reigns of the horses.

“These will shield us from restless spirits and the dark magic.”

Then she pulled out a jar of perfume, along with tiny mirrors. She poured some of the perfume on the head of the Queen, on herself, and then on the horses. Next, she carefully placed the mirrors on the wooded wheels.

“The perfume will ward off our scent from the Abaddon and the mirrors will confuse our image from the rest of the evil lurking these woods.”

“What is the Abaddon?”

“It is said the Abaddon lives within the forest and can never venture out. The stories passed down claim it was once a man, a man that once lived where the forest now sits. A village was overrun by the forest almost overnight. One by one, the Abaddon attacked and killed the villagers. The few that managed to escape told of their horror. The creature, blind, eyes shut, seemed to attack uncontrollably. They said the monster spoke as it tore through the flesh of its victims. They heard it plea for forgiveness and begged them to flee for their lives. Other stories say the creature shouted out for death, demanding for someone to kill it.”

“This is a horrible story. Poor souls.”

“Many believe the witch created the monster, but fear not, these anecdotes to pass this forest have been used many years with success by many families such as mine. There is nothing to worry about as long as we stick to the path and apply what we’ve learned.”

The chariot started its ascension into the dark, cold forest. As soon as the chariot broke the tree line, the Queen realized the moment marked the first time she was to be separated from her King. Even in his battles, he always had her near.

She liked to remember the better times they had together, the times before he had become King. They talked many sleepless nights about having many children, who they would look like, even had many names picked out. She never imagined then how horrible he would become with just the thought of having a single child. While he was no longer the man she knew, she was still deeply in love with him. Having to leave was difficult for her. She would never see him again. She left him knowing she would die.

On their last night together, the Queen wanted to sing to him in bed, the way she always used to, but the King did not acknowledge her. Instead, he suggested for them to sleep in separate rooms from then on. He seemed annoyed at her gestures of affection. There was no goodbye kiss, no final embrace, or any words of affirmation. She was out of his life forever, and he knew nothing of it.

The maid servant had her reservations about the journey, but made no mention to the Queen. Although she had made the trip many times before, something was different. She could sense the intentions of the forest. A cold wind blew through her and gave her a grave chill.

As she steered the carriage, a single crow flew within inches of her head. Back and forth, it went, before it finally perched on the yoke of the horses. It sat face to face with her and stared deep into her eyes, unmoved by the bumps in the road. She was certain the bird was smiling at her.

The maid servant was uneasy. It was unnatural, and the first time the forest made its presence known to her. Not long after, another flew back and forth, once again, within inches of her head. The maid servant held her breath and did her best not to scream. This bird found its spot atop of the carriage over her left shoulder. She could feel it close.

As if to whisper in her ear, the crow over her shoulder squawked while the other continued with its death stare. She could not give in. She took deep breathes and kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead, when suddenly, there was a small thump on the seat next to her. Whatever it was, she could feel its movements as it crawled about. She could hear its little tick sounds as each step hit the wooded surface. The sounds moved from the seat and made their way up the top of the carriage. The crows had become uneasy and they started to flap about. Their confidence was shaken. They each gave their final caws and flew off.

The maid servant was uncertain how to feel about this creature. She imagined it to be a terrible looking spider, hideous in appearance and large. Still, there became a certain sense of calm over her body. Any other time before, the thought of her seeing a spider brought her chills. This was different. There was no fear, no panic, but a renewed mind.

Tick, tick, tick, as it crawled just inches from her head.

Tick, tick, tick.

Tick, tick, tick, and the sounds faded off to nothing.

A messenger of Hope, she knew.

Dream

The Queen had been in a constant state of fear and anxiety since the first moment she knew she was pregnant. Her fears were not so much for her own life but, rather, the salvation of her child. She knew her momentary happiness would be considered a blessing, but a blessing with a heavy cost.

She questioned herself constantly. Was she being selfish? Would a life possibly filled with imminent danger be fair for a child to grow up into? While her thoughts ran circles in her mind, the Queen drifted off into a deep sleep. It was the first time she slept in many days.

This is what she dreamt:

The Queen awoke in the middle of the forest. She was cold, lost, confused. She did not know how she arrived there. It was dark, but if she looked hard enough, she could see light glimmer between the branches of the overcrowded trees. Enough light had come through for her to notice footprints just ahead of her, walking along as if someone was there, a ghost perhaps, some residual entity reliving its past.

The Queen was more curious than shocked by the paranormal sight. She pursued them to see where the mysterious steps might lead her. She wondered if perhaps they were there to guide her.

The footprints had a certain kind of character to them. They fumbled along, clumsy. Sometimes they would stop and then suddenly run, all in a moment’s notice. She exhausted herself trying to follow. She needed answers so she contemplated the different ways she might communicate to whatever they were.

First, she tried to call out, but she had no voice. No matter how hard she tried, no sound would come from her mouth.

Her next approach was to throw any object she could pick up in its direction, over the footprints, expecting a thump as if to hit a person’s back. Nothing. They continued their steps, and she continued to follow.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed a shadow. Every time she tried to catch a glimpse of its movement, it was gone. Again, and again. Shadows surrounded her, but she could not see their source. There was no man or animal, no noise, just shadows. She was frightened by them as they increased in frequency. The footprints she followed seemed frightened as well. They hesitated in deciding which direction they would go to retreat. They went right, stumbled, and turned to run in another direction before finally settling on a hidden, beaten path. The Queen, without hesitation, followed.

Still running, she ran as best she could as she tried to keep up with her invisible friend. However, the shadows could not be outrun nor hidden from. They surrounded them at every turn. Every path was blocked by darkness, and both the Queen and the footprints were trapped.

The shadows encircled them and slowly ate any remaining light. The Queen, knowing her efforts had come to an end, closed her eyes and was ready to let the shadows take her. She braced herself. She knew if they would take her, she would be taken away forever.

It was in this moment time felt as if it had stopped. A bright light broke through the shadows in an instant, saving her and revealing her final destination. The light had overcome the darkness, slowly removing what was once there around her and changing it into something else. Like a layer of new paint being stripped down to the original paint underneath.

She stared at what was before her: a circled courtyard, lit by firelight atop of seven pillars. There were eight pillars total, but only seven were lit. In the center of the courtyard was a dead tree. The ground beneath it was charred, extended out as far as its remaining branches.

The footprints before her were just as cautious in their approach to the tree, but they made their way towards it none the less. The Queen followed.

As she stared at the tree, she couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of sadness. It was as if she knew the tree had a small amount of life left somewhere within it, but no one knew about it. How could they? She thought to herself. It was hidden away from the world, lonely.

The footprints made their way around the tree to the other side and had come to a stop. The Queen approached slowly and noticed the footprints standing before a mirror leaning against the tree. She stood side by side with her guide so she could stare at the same mirror. Staring back at her was her husband, the King, thus, revealing the footprints had belonged to him all along.

He was worn down, exhausted, but in this moment she knew he could see her. He cried out to her, sobbing. He was trying to yell out to her, but she could not hear him. She could tell he was repeating something, over and over again. She cried and shouted out to him in vain.

The King reached his hand out to her, and as if he were passing through from another world, his hand made its way out of the mirror. In haste, she fell to her knees, anxious to hold his hand. At the moment just before contact she was shaken by a bump in the road, waking her up from her slumber.

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