“Run, Erika, RUN!!”
Two children hastened through the woods.
As they ran, the boy peaked over his shoulder. Beyond the crying face of his younger sister, in the distance, a giant brown mass galloped on their trail.
An increasingly panicked voice surged through his lips:
“Aaaaahhhh, it’s getting closeeer!”
“Nooooo!!” his sister yelled as if she begged him to stop scaring her.
They rushed with all their might through the forest, completely ignoring the signatures the undergrowth engraved on their bodies. However, the tree branches cracked ever more louder and the rhythmic pounding shook the ground harder and harder. The village refused to entertain their eyes, and even worse, all the trees mirrored each other. They ignored these facts as well. After all, what else could they have done?
Of course, they had heard their father and Uncle Ulric debate on how to survive bear attacks, over a tankard of ale, on many occasions. Each invoking personal experiences or common beliefs such as making loud noises, backing away slowly or even playing dead. However, all these lessons flew out the window, the second the beast charged them.
Although they were well within the age period when boys outgrow girls, Erika ran quicker.
Before his sister pulled ahead, before his mind even registered his actions, his hand which had already anchored on her shoulder, yanked back.
The forceful jerk accomplished nothing else other than to disrupt his running rhythm, sending him tumbling to the ground.
“Brother!!” Erika cried as she stopped in her tracks. “Get up!”
He raised his head and the first thing his eyes met was a trembling hand, extended towards him.
In the background, her moist eyes and shaky lips begged him to hurry up. However, as his mind caught up with what he had just attempted, shame, the likes of which even pure terror could not topple, chained him to the ground.
The sound of trees’ arms breaking under a remorseless force just a breath away, froze his tongue.
By his sister’s terrified look, who’s knees rammed into the earth, and by the slow intermittent pounding approaching from behind, he understood. It had caught up with them. It was impossible to deny reality yet he did not dare to believe. He turned around to look and indeed, horror materialized. A giant brown bear lifting itself on its hinder legs, obscured his vision.
No longer able to contain their dread, both of them broke into a scream.
In response, the bear released a deafening growl and raised one of its claws.
This was it. They were going to die. He was as sure of it as he was of the sun rising from the west and setting in the east. As he could not look death in the face anymore, he shut his eyes and waited for the inevitable.
His mind never raced through life memories as old men of the village claimed would happen, instead there was only silence. Dark infused silence. Before he could question the harbinger of death’s absence, an intense groan followed a heavy blow.
His eyes jittered open and in place of the monstrous bear, a young man with black hair and black eyes, wearing only a pair of pants – a size or two, too large for him – faced the right side.
As a moth drawn to flames, his line of sight followed the stranger’s gaze. Just a few meters away, the lump of brown fur rolled on the ground.
One time, at the behest of the older kids to prove his brass, he tried to mount the village’s stallion. A jolt, a twist and a blow – and he flew. The horse kicked him so hard in the chest, he thought his soul had blasted out through his back. For what seemed an eternity, his mouth opened and closed like a fish’s on land while woolen balls drifted across the grand azure.
That’s how he felt now. He breathed in, he breathed out, but the air just wouldn’t follow.
What had happened? How did the bear end up on the ground? Who was this strange person in front of him and where did he come from? A myriad of questions swarmed his mind. Before he could sort out his thoughts, the young man strode towards the bear who had just recovered its footing, with a composed look.
“GGGGRRRROOOOW~” The bear growled even –
– louder than the first time?
Right during the bear’s volcanic display of rage, with a short and forced exhale, the young man jumped and speared his right arm into the beast’s mouth, all the way to the elbow.
As if on fire, the beast shook its head free and threw itself on the back.
“HAAAAAAAAA!” the young man shouted.
In a fit of coughs, the bear turned tail and disappeared into the woods.
As he sat on his bum, eyelids stuck to the roof, the boy clasped his own arms in a tight embrace and clenched his jaw. He struggled to stop shivering as the scene he had just witnessed defied even his wildest dreams.
The cause of the tremors wasn’t fear, but a state of exhilaration like he had never felt before.
Humanity had prevailed against one of the creatures which stood at the top of the food chain using nothing else than what nature gifted them with. It had been a pure battle without the use of tools such as weapons or armors. For the first time in his life, he felt proud to having been born a human.
The person in front of him was stronger than anyone he knew. Stronger than the older kids who picked on him, stronger than the guards of the village and even his father, a war veteran would lose in a fight against him.
“Brother!” Erika cried as her knees rushed her to his side.
Although he would’ve liked to display a more mature reaction under the eyes of their savior, the waterfalls that plunged on his shoulder and the small heaving frame which drew them forth, reverted his consciousness to its most primal and unaltered state. He hugged his sister back and head cocked back and eyes shut tight, what began as a silent scream soon developed into a cry beyond what his throat could handle. With a rawness unconfined by walls of ego, he wept as if it was both the last as well as the first time he saw her.
Time later, when the signs of moving towards the realm of dreams became obvious enough to snap awake ~
“Hey, are you guys ok?” the young man asked.
“Uhh … yes, we are fine. Thank you …” The boy said as he gently shook his sister who had fallen asleep on his lap.
“Don’t worry about it. Here, I’m … I’m Greymane.” He said while he offered a hand which he wiped on his pants.
“I’m Finn, and this is my younger sister, Erika.”
The hand which helped them rise up and the handshake which followed afterwards, were firm but gentle. The young man who must have been three or four years older than himself, had hands only a nail bigger and palms as soft as that of an infant.
Even after he let go of their savior’s hand, a sense of curiosity lingered at the back of his mind. Finn’s calloused palms were ugly and felt like leather but they were his pride as they proved his hard work and marked his coming of age. While he was only thirteen years old, he had been helping his parents work the fields for as long as he could remember. That was the path everyone else followed too.
With skin the world had never touched, which clothed a well-proportioned slim frame and delicate features at the top, the one who commanded it all with absolute confidence even against monstrous bears, couldn’t have come from anywhere than a different world.
“What are you kids doing so deep into the forest?”
Finn and Erika exchanged a short look before Erika whispered:
“Brother, I think we should tell him.”
A nod later ~
“We wanted to meet the witch …” Finn said in a quiet voice that squeezed the last word through his teeth.
“She has cursed our village with an uncurable plague and we want to make her undo it.” he continued, hands clenched into shaking fists, as he looked at a rock next to his feet.
“Even our father …” Erika said, her voice tearing up.
After a short pause, Greymane bowed until his height matched theirs and looked them straight in the eyes as he placed his hands on their shoulders.
“I understand. Don’t worry, everything will be alright.”
They hadn’t known him for more than a few minutes but his voice carried so much conviction that even those few words were enough to lighten their anxiety.
“For now, let’s go back to the village. We will solve this problem together.”
“Un!” both siblings nodded with restored spirits.