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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Woods-Girl

Long ago, in a time when wonders and magic were still common in the world, a girl lived alone in the woods. She had lived there since her father, the woodsman, had died several years ago, but not before he could teach her all he knew about being a woodsman. Not only was she accomplished at this, but in the years after her father’s death, she had learned to speak the languages of the animals, and thus they became her friends. But the talent she was best known for was her ability to track. It was said that the woods-girl could track a mouse across a stream and into the deepest part of the forest, where no light shined.

Although she often visited the local village to trade furs and meat for things she needed, like cheese, milk, pots or knives, she mostly kept to herself. Thus, it was a surprise to her when one day a visitor appeared at her cabin door. It was a woman from the village, one she had bought honey from before.

“Oh, woods-girl, please, you have to help me,” she said. “My son was playing near the woods and now he’s gone missing. Please, use your tracking skill, and find my missing son.”

The woods-girl nodded and asked to be taken to the area he was last seen playing. She looked carefully around the area, starting at the spot where even the mother could see the boy’s tracks and moving out from there. She immediately spotted a small wooden sword that the boy used to play. She knelt down there and felt the ground, seemed to sniff the wind, and then turned to the mother.

“I will have your son back to you by sunset,” she said, and set off to find the boy.

For the next few hours, she traveled through the forest, stopping every now and then to kneel and check the trail, making sure she was on the right track. Then, a huge owl flew in front of her, startling her, before it went to land on a tree.

“Owl!” she cried. “You startled me.”

“I’m sorry, woods-girl,” the owl said. “I heard you were seeking a human child.”

“I am,” she said. “He got lost in the woods. Have you seen him?”

“No,” the owl said. “But, I thought I would come along, maybe help if I can.”

She looked sideways at the owl.

“What?” The owl said. “I just want to help.”

The look became a flat glare.

“Okay,” the owl said. “Human children always have the best treats on them, especially the boys. Dead mice, worms… yum.”

The woods-girl rolled her eyes, then smiled at the owl.

“Okay,” she said. “You can come.”

The two traveled together, following the trail. Eventually the trail led to a section of the forest that the woods-girl had never been in before. She paused before entering, unsure what to expect.

“Come on,” the owl said. “It’s just like any other part of the forest.”

She followed the owl in, moving slowly and checking each tree and bush as she went. She wasn’t really scared, but she grew up in the rest of the forest, and knew those trees, bushes and trails inside and out. These were completely new to her, and she found that unsettling. The trail continued as it had, but she noticed that the paths it crossed contained the tracks of several game animals, like deer. Wherever she was, she realized that this part of the forest had abundant game in it. She noted that for later.

It wasn’t long after entering the new woods that she found the boy. He was huddled by a stream, crying. She came up to him and he jumped.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your mother sent me.”

“I’m lost,” he sobbed.

“I know,” she said. “I can take you home.”

And she did just that. As promised, the boy was reunited with his mother before sunset, and everyone rejoiced. Some called the woods-girl a hero, but she refused such accolades. She just said that she simply did what any decent woodsman would do in her position. And with that, she returned to her cabin.

It was a few days later when she noticed that her larder was full that she decided she needed to go hunting. She remembered the plentiful game of the unknown part of the forest and decided to hunt there. Grabbing her bow and quiver, she set out. As she expected, finding game didn’t take long for her to find suitable game, a nice deer buck. She trailed it for a while, chasing it somewhat as it tried to get away from her, until she eventually caught it at a stream, drinking. Slowly, she drew back an arrow in the bow and took aim. When she knew it wasn’t aware of her, she fired, and took the beast down.

“Good shot!” cried the owl, which had followed her once again.

“Thank you,” she said.

She walked up to the buck to get a closer look at the kill when she heard the snap of a twig from her left. Her bow was up in her had before she even thought of it, and an arrow was drawn from her quiver in another second. A large man was standing across the small clearing they were in, his own bow raised and knocked, the arrow pointing straight at her.

“Please, drop your weapon,” he said in a calm but authoritative voice. The woods-girl complied.

“I am the Lord Forester, and this is the kings forest,” he said. “Do you know what that means?”

She shook her head.

“It means that the deer you just killed belonged to the king,” he said. “And that means you have just stolen from the king. And so, I must now arrest you. Are you going to resist me?”

She shook her head again.

“Good. Please, follow me, I have a horse near by,” he said.

She followed him to the tree line near the lake edge, and she saw a massive horse tied to a tree. He got up and then pulled her up behind him, and rode off. It was a good hours long ride, but they eventually came to the castle of the king. It was the most impressive building the woods-girl had seen in her life. Towers and buttresses seemed to be everywhere, statues decorated the corners, and the drawbridge was a miracle of wood and iron.

He rode the horse through the main gate and then got off and aided her down. Several soldiers were there immediately to take the horse as he lead her away. He took her into the castle proper, where she was awed more by the decorations. Everything seemed to be made of gold or silver, and the rugs were such rich shades of red, yellow and purple. He didn’t take her very far once inside. The main chamber led to a set of three steps, where a large, ornate door rested. A man in front of the door nodded at the Lord Forester and pushed the door open.

Inside was another large chamber, this one lined down the center with columns. At the end of the room sat a pair of ornate chairs, thrones she realized. Sitting in the larger of the two chairs, the one on her right, was an older man, with a gray and black beard and a gold crown upon his head. She realized that this was the king.

“Your highness,” the Lord Forester said, bowing as he arrived in front of the throne.

“Lord Forester,” the King said. “Who is this you have brought before us?”

“I caught her poaching one of Your Majesty’s deer in the King’s Forest,” the Lord Forester said. “I followed her as she tracked the beast. I must say, it was the most expert tracking I have ever seen. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Milord, I believe that this is the woods-girl we have been heard rumors about.”

“Truly?” The King said. He turned to regard the woods-girl for the first time, and she lowered her eyes as her father had taught her to do around nobility. “Is this true? Are you the girl that tracked the lost boy into the forest and returned him home?”

“I am, Your Majesty,” the woods-girl said.

“Well, this is most excellent,” the King said. “You have poached our deer, according to our Lord Forester. Is this also true?”

“I am afraid it is, Your Majesty,” she said.

“Ah, well,” the King said. “That means, of course, that I must punish you. Chamberlain, what is the punishment for poaching of the King’s deer?”

“Death by hanging, Your Majesty,” the Chamberlain said.

“Oh dear,” the King said. “That will never do. I believe I have a better solution. My dear woods-girl, please step forward.”

She did so, bowing and lowering her head once again when she stepped in front of the throne directly.


“The tail is tragic,” the King said, and then lowered his voice. “My son, the prince, has been kidnapped by an evil witch.” The woods-girl noticed that the King had switched to first person instead of the royal ‘we.’ “She has taken him to the other side of the mountains. She had demanded that I give up my throne or she will kill my son. But to do so would be to plunge the land into darkness, and I refuse to do that. However, I cannot stand the thought of my dear son being harmed. Please, woods-girl. Track down the witch and rescue my son.”

The woods-girl nodded. “I will, Your Majesty. Your son will be returned to you before the new moon.”

The King smiled. “Excellent,” he said. “Go to the stables, we will provide you with a fine horse. And take this,” he said as the chamberlain came to her with a bow and quiver of arrows. They were finely crafted, much better than her own. The chamberlain also handed her a purse filled with coins. She looked at the King and raised her eyebrows.

“I require no reward, Your Majesty,” the girl said.

“Then think of it as a retainer,” the King said. “To pay for needed supplies.”

The girl looked at the purse once more, tied it to her belt, and nodded. She was guided to the stables, where she picked out a fine chestnut horse. She went to the wall outside the prince’s room and found signs of the witch. Owl flew down then to join her, and she explained to him what was going on. He said he wanted to help, and she agreed.

She set of for the mountains as soon as she had the trail. Her horse was fast, and it only took her a day’s riding to get to the mountains. She came up to the foot hills and set the horse free, realizing that she couldn’t take it through the mountains. It ran back towards the palace. She smiled and started looking for a place to set up camp. Just as she found a place, she heard something that caught her attention. It was a growl, but not like that of any animal she knew. Curious, she moved toward the sound to see what it was.

In a small clearing just behind the trees that dotted the hills she saw a large, hairy creature that she recognized right away as a troll. It had in its hands a small figure that looked like a boy dressed in a rag with long, gossamer wings on its back. A fairy! As she watched, the troll tied the fairy to a stick and then placed the stick over a fire, as if to cook it.

“No, don’t eat me,” the fairy cried.

“Hahahaha,” The troll laughed cruelly. “Of course I’m going to eat you. Fairies are tasty.”

The woods-girl started reaching for bow, planning on rescuing the little fairy, when she remembered the stories her father told her of trolls. Her arrows would not pierce its rock like skin. She would need a different way to beat trolls. She thought about what she knew of them. They were not very bright, but they were also very strong and hard to kill. They were greedy, too, and liked games of chance. The woods-girl’s mind went to the coin purse hanging from her belt. An idea formed in her mind, and she strode into the clearing.

“Nice looking dinner you have there,” she said. “Got enough to share?”

The troll quickly turned and placed itself between her and the fairy. It bared it’s ugly, sharp, yellow teeth.

“I don’t share my food with humans,” it said. “No get off and find your own fairy.”

“How about,” she said, “we play a little game. Winner keeps the fairy?”

The evil monster narrowed its red eyes. “What kind of game?” it asked.

She pulled out the purse and jangled the coins around, making sure that the troll knew what was in it. “See this purse?” she said.

The creatures eyes went wide and she saw a glint in them. She smiled.

“I’m going to give this purse to my own,” she said, and Owl flew down and onto her shoulder. “It’s going to take the purse and drop it somewhere nearby. The first to find the purse get’s not only the fairy but the coins in the purse as well. Deal?”

She saw the troll latterly start to drool. It looked form the purse to the fairy and back to the purse. Then it eyed the girl. Probably planning on eating her too once it won, she thought.

“Deal,” the troll said at last, unable to resist getting everything.

Owl took the coin purse and flew off. As soon as the owl returned, both she and the troll ran off into the woods to find it. The woods-girl almost immediately turned around and went back to the clearing. She paused at the tree line and saw that the troll was no where to be seen. She smiled. Her ruse had worked. Quickly, she went to the fire and pulled the stick with the fairy off of it and began untying him.

“Thank you, my lady,” the fairy said. “Thank you!”

After she finished untying him, the fairy flew up and around her head, glowing a bright gold as he did so. Then, he flew in front of her face and kissed her nose. He waved his hands and a gold coin appeared in his hands. He kissed it, then handed it to her.

“In gratitude for helping free me, I gift you with this,” he said. “It allows you to call me to aid you. I have the power to call things to me from anywhere. Simply hold this coin and say ‘help,’ and I will appear. But be warned, you have but three uses from that coin.”

The girl took the coin and nodded. “I’ll remember,” she said. “Thank you, little fairy.”

“No, thank you,” he said. Then he flew off into the night sky. Just then, the girl could hear the sounds of the troll crying in elation as it found the purse. She quickly ran from the area. After traveling for some time, she felt she was safe and set up a quick campsite and slept for the night. The next morning she started her assent up the side of the mountain. It was tough going, but with the aid of Owl, bringing rope up and tying it to a sturdy rock or spire, she made good progress. She figured it would only take her two days to reach the top at this point. She was right, and on noon the second day, she had reached the top of the mountain.

She was very tired and very cold. She began looking for a place to set up camp when Owl came flying at her very excitedly.

“I see smoke!” he said. “Smoke, this way. Come on!”

She followed. After crossing a rise, she saw the smoke. She started to hurry, and crossing the next rise she saw the log cabin the smoke was coming from. It looked warm and inviting, and she rushed down the hill towards it. When she got to the building, she saw that it was huge. The door alone looked like a person twice her size could go through it. Still, she was cold, tired and hungry, and just wanted a place to rest. She knocked on the door. No one answered. Figuring that some trapper must live here and was out checking his snares, she pushed open the door and went inside.

The furniture matched the size of the door. A large table and four large chairs and there were four large beds by the fireplace in the corner. Curious, she closed the door to keep in the heat and walked into the room. She climbed into one of the large stuffed chairs by the fire and pulled out some cheese and bread from her pack. After eating, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

“Who are you?” cried a loud, gravely voice.

The woods-girl awoke quickly and started reaching for her bow by instinct, but paused when she saw who had asked the question. Four faces were looking at her, two very large and two normal sized, thought they looked like the faces of children. She looked at their bodies, and saw that they were giants. The two adults, a man and a woman, really were twice as large as she was. She gulped and looked back at the giant man that was facing her.

“Who are you?” he asked again.

“I am a simple tracker,” she said, “sent here on a quest for the King.”

“You are trespassing in hour house,” he said, the anger obviously not leaving his face.

“I did not mean…” she started.

“And that means, you get to become our dinner for tonight!” he cried, and the other three laughed.

“What?” the girl said. “But I am so tiny.”

“You will only make a good meal when thrown into our stew, true” he said, pointing to the pot over the fire, “but we have no food stores anymore, so you’ll at least give us a dinner tonight.”

He grabbed her and started lifting her off the ground.

“Wait! No food stores?” she asked. “How can an obviously skilled hunter like you be without food stores?”

He paused, looking at her through narrow slits.

“A troll,” he said after a moment. “I caught a troll stealing food out of my bin. When I chased down after him, he pushed the bin over the cliff and down the mountain. Now, my family is left without stored food, and I must hunt doubly hard to feed us. But then you came along, and so we have dinner tonight.”

He reached the pot and held the woods-girl over it.

“Wait!” she cried, and he paused once again. “I can help you.”

He paused again, looking the woods-girl up and down, clearly wondering what such a little thing could do to help three giants get food. Quickly, she pushed her arm into her pouch and squeezed out the magic coin. She pushed her hand out through the giants fingers and showed him the coin.

“This is a magic coin,” she said. “With this, I can get your food back for you.”

He cocked his head to the side as if not quite sure he believed her. “How?” he asked.

“Watch,” she said, and he set her down. He crouched down to watch her, though, making it impossible for her to simply run away. She held up the coin to her face and closed her eyes.

“Help me, oh fairy,” she said.

A second later, there was a flash of smoke, and the little fairy was floating in the air in front of her.

“How may I aid you, oh woods-girl?” the fairy asked.

“These giants lost their food storage bin,” she said, waving to the giant family. “It was pushd down the cliffs. Can you bring it back up?”

“I can,” the fairy nodded. He flew around the woods-girl, sparkling lights making her face appear a rainbow of colors. Then, he suddenly stopped.

“It is done,” he said. “You have two more uses left in the coin.”

And with that, he disappeared in another flash of smoke, and the coin was laying on the floor. The woods-girl quickly picked it up and put it back in her satchel.

“That’s it?” the giant said. He turned and waved at the youngest giant, who ran out side. A few moments later, he came back in.

“Poppa! Poppa!” he was crying. “It’s back. With the food in it! The storage shed is back!”

All three giants then quickly rushed back outside, and the woods-girl followed. Sure enough, behind the cabin, there was the food bin. And she could see that it was stuffed with grain, bins of fruit, preserved meat and even cheese.

“You did it,” the giant said, turning to look down at her. “You returned our food. I cannot thank you enough.”

He reached down and pulled her back up to him, giving her a hug that he no doubt thought was gentle but she felt like he was a second away from breaking her spine. He set her down a second later.

“Where is it you are going?” he asked.

“I travel to the witches castle to rescue the prince,” she said.

He nodded. “Travel down the mountain is treacherous. Let me aid you,” he said.

He left to go to the third building that she now saw was a stable, and returned a few seconds later with a large mountain goat.

“Here,” he said. “Take this goat. It will bring you to the bottom of the mountain safely and quickly.”

She thanked the giant, who then lifted her onto the back of the goat and gave it a slap on the rump. It took all she had just to hold onto the beast as it ran down the mountain. After a while, it slowed down due to tiredness, and she saw that they were already nearly halfway to the bottom. A screech to her side caught her attention and she turned to see Owl flying nearby. She waved at the bird, grateful to have the company.

The stopped for the night and started again early the next morning. True to form, the goat took them down the hill and amazing speeds. They reached the bottom of the mountain before noon. In gratitude, the woods-girl let the goat go, and the animal quickly scampered up the mountain. Owl came flying down and took his customary place on her shoulder.

“I think I saw the castle,” he said. “It’s just over those hills, not more than a few miles away.”

“Well, no time like the present,” she said, and moved off.

It didn’t take them very long at all to reach the castle. Though not as large as the King’s castle, It was an imposing structure, all back rock and sharp, pointed towers. She saw no windows and also no visible means of entrance. She sent Owl off to see what he could see from up above. She shaded her eyes from the sun and watched as he made a circle around the building, when suddenly a great net sprung out from nowhere and grabbed the bird. He screeched, but could do nothing as he fell behind the walls, captured by the witch.

Quickly, the woods-girl drew her bow and knocked an arrow, waiting for a similar trap for her. When it didn’t come right away, she moved off around the castle, once more looking for an entrance. As she wandered around, she though she heard the sound of a woman’s laugh. She spun around quickly, her bow up and drawn back ready to shoot. But nothing was there. She lowered her bow again, and sighed. She was never going to get in at this rate.

Suddenly, the walls to her right moved, and reached out to grab her like great stone hands. She had no time to move or even to raise her bow before the wall had her and pulled her inside. She held her breath instinctively, but when she was pulled in, she felt something hard hit her on the head and blanked out.

She awoke on a small, wooden cot. As she opened her eyes and looked around, she saw that she was in a cage made of metal bars. She got up and looked around. The cage was in a larger room made of dark stone. There were no windows, all the light coming from the torches lining the walls. She realized quickly that she was without her stuff, just her belt and her satchel. Her backpack, her bow, her quiver, all were stacked neatly in a pile in the far corner of the room, far out of reach. She also saw, across the room, a cage in which Owl was kept. He was sleeping at the moment, and didn’t appear to be injured, but the woods-girl was grateful to see her friend still alive.

Before she could do anything more, a door that she hadn’t previously seen opened, and a woman strode in. She was tall, and much older than the woods-girl, but clearly beautiful. She had long, sharp features; straight, shiny black hair, and dark eyes that seemed to draw you in. She wore a long dark dress with seriated sleeves, and a tall, pointed hat. This was obviously the witch.

“Hello, my pretty,” she said. “You were sent by the King to rescue his pathetic son, weren’t you?”

The woods-girl nodded, not seeing the point of lying.

“Well, as you can see,” the witch said, “that is a foolish idea. I am far too powerful for a little woods-girl like you. Even your mighty bow cannot stop me.”

She laughed, and the woods-girl recognized it as the sound she heard outside. The witch then left, and the woods-girl slumped down on the cot. She had been defeated. What could she possibly do now? Just then, she looked at her satchel. Curious, she reached inside. Sure enough, there was the coin. The witch must have missed it when she was taking off her possessions, or just didn’t think it a threat. She held the coin tight.

“Help me, oh fairy,” she said. The coin shook in her hand, and started to get warm. In pain, the woods-girl yelped and threw the coin down, where it landed just outside the cage. She started at in, and then sighed. Even the coin wasn’t working in here. She should have known. The witch was a powerful magic user after all. Then the coin shook again, and she looked at it. A puff of smoke rose and the fairy boy appeared before her, the coin gone once again. He looked around, somewhat confused. When he saw the bars of the cage, he gasped and flew backwards a few inches.

“Iron bars,” he said. “No wonder I had trouble getting to you.”

“Fairy, are you okay?” she asked.

“Woods-girl,” he said. “You are trapped in a cage made of cold iron. My magic cannot penetrate it. I cannot get you out of that cage.”

The woods-girl looked around desperately, then she saw something. Next to the cage that held Owl, she saw a ring of keys.

“The keys,” she said. “Can you bring them to me?”

“I cannot enter the cage,” he said.

She shook her head. “Just put them on the floor right out side the cage, where I can reach them.”

He nodded in understanding then, and quickly flew to the keys. He sprinkled some of his rainbow dust on it, then lifted the thing and flew it to her across the room. Almost immedatly after he dropped it by the cage, she reached down to grab it.

“Thank you, fairy,” she said.

“You are most welcome, oh woods-girl,” he said, then vanished in a puff of smoke once more, being replaced by the coin.

Without further hesitation, she used the key to unlock the cage and get herself out. She used another key to open the cage that had Owl, and woke him up. Then, she grabbed her stuff, nocked an arrow into the bow, and used the final key in the ring to open the door that lead to the rest of the castle. The castle itself was surprisingly empty. In the King’s castle, there were servants and noblemen bustling about and moving from place to place, but here, there was no one. Making a guess as to where the prince was kept, she climbed to the tallest tower in the castle. There, she saw a door that was yellow, making it stand out against the black of the castle walls.

Knowing this was where the prince was held, she opened the door. Inside, she saw a cage just like the one she had been in, and inside was the prince. He was young, only slightly older than she was. And he wore the finery she had expected. What she hadn’t expected was how fit he was. She thought he would look like the king and the rest of the nobles, fat on the rich food they ate. He was quite plainly the most handsome man she had ever seen. He stopped his paceing in the cage and looked at her, equally stunned by the sight that greeted him. Shaking her head, she moved to the cage.

“Your Highness,” she said. “I am here to rescue you.”

She pulled out the key ring, and used the same one that had opened up her cage. It fit, and soon the prince was out of his cage.

“Thank you!” he said, and before she could react, he pulled her close to him and kissed her on the lips. It was the most amazing sensation, and she felt her heart fill with joy. Then the door opened, and she didn’t have time to raise her bow before a bolt of lightning struck the two of them and she went flying across the room. The witch screamed at the two of them.

“I do not know what magic you used to get yourself free, but it will not help you now,” she said, her face twisted into a mask of anger and pain.

“Owl!” cried the woods-girl, and Owl came flying into the room, flapping it’s wings and clawing at the witches face.

Quickly, the woods girl pulled up her bow and knocked her arrow. She said a quick prayer that the shot was true, and then fly. The arrow struck the witch straight in the heart, and she fell to the floor dead. Owl took his position on the woods-girl’s shoulder. The prince stared from the fallen witch to the girl and back again.

“That was amazing,” he said.

“Come, Your Highness,” she said, and once again pulled out the coin. She called for the fairy and he appeared. The prince once again goggled.

“This is your last call for aid, oh woods-girl,” the fairy said. “What can I do for you.”

“Can you teleport the prince and myself to his father’s castle?” she asked.

The fairy bowed. “I most assuredly can.”

He flew around them, and a rainbow of colors sparkled, obscuring their vision. When the smoke cleared, they found themselves standing in the throne room of the King. Several people were surrounding them, all looking at them in awe and amazement. The King stood in front of this throne, a look of shock on his face.

“Father!” the prince said, and rushed up to the King to embrace him. The King returned the embrace, and then smiled. He looked at the woods-girl, and then walked up to her and clasped her on the shoulder.

“My dear woods-girl, you have done it!” he said. “You have returned my son to me, and saved the kingdom. I don’t think we can ever repay you for this.”

The woods-girl smiled, blushed, and bowed. Then, she saw the prince whisper something into the King’s ear. The King smiled and then laughed. He clasped his son and nodded. Then he turned back to the woods-girl, the smile still on his face.

“My son would like to present his own gift to you,” the King said.

The prince came up to the woods-girl, then got down on one knee.

“My dear woods-girl,” he said. “You are the most amazing, beautiful girl I have ever seen. Would you do me the honor of being my bride?”

She was shocked. She put her hand to her mouth, unsure what to do. Then she looked down at this handsome man before her and smiled.

“Yes,” she said, and the two embraced. A week later, they were married in the largest celebration the kingdom had ever witnessed. And they went off to live the rest of their lives in happiness forever.

The End

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