The trees were covered in a thick layer of snow. Each branch seemed as if it might give way at any moment and dump a pile of snow onto the forest floor below. The enchantress and the soldier were, it seemed, the only souls willing to go out on such a cold winter’s day.
“How much further is it?” The man asked, “This stupid frost daisy is too slow, couldn’t you have just asked it where we need to go?”
“It doesn’t really work like that,” Catherine said, “It probably can’t talk.”
“So what were you doing with it back in the village? It sure looked like talking to me.”
“The poor creature already wanted to go home, I just gave it a nudge in the right direction.”
“The right direction? This is exactly the wrong direction. If we go much deeper into this forest, we’ll be in Rotnak territory, and they don’t take kindly to human villagers, especially from my village.”
“I don’t think they’ll do anything to us if they see us. I’ve helped them before.”
“So you’re a witch and a Rotnak lover. Got any other nasty little secrets you’d like to share with me?”
Catherine looked away, biting her lip.
“Well?” The man asked
“I don’t really have secrets.”
“I doubt that.”
Catherine didn’t respond.
For a while, the pair followed the tulip in silence. As they continued deeper into the forest, the ground began to slope upwards and the trees grew further apart. The last drops of the sunset shone in the icicles hanging from the trees.
“It’s going to be dark soon,” the man said, “Stop the tulip, will ya?”
Catherine approached the frost tulip floating a few feet ahead and caught it in her hands. She whispered a few words to it and it alighted on her shoulder.
“This spot is as good as any,” The man said, tossing his bag under a nearby tree, “Now, I’m gonna go get us some firewood.”
He walked off into the trees without another word.
Catherine sighed and sat down on a nearby stump. Her legs ached from walking all day, and it felt good to take a rest. For a few minutes, she sat and listened to the sounds of the forest. The birds were quiet and there was no wind to speak of, but there was still the occasional cracking of branches bending under the weight of the snow, and the sound of a stream running a little ways away. Suddenly, the quiet was interrupted by the sound of shouting a ways off.
Catherine leapt to her feet and opened her mouth to call out the man’s name, then closed it again when she realized she didn’t know it. For a moment, she stood frozen, unsure of what to do. Finally, she shouted, “Is everything okay?”
The shouting continued.
Catherine wrung her hands. She knew she should go over there, but what if she interrupted something she wasn’t supposed to? Maybe this had nothing to do with her, and she should just wait for the man to come back with the firewood.
Then, the shouting stopped. It was quiet for a moment, then the voices started talking again, this time more softly. Catherine slowly sat down on the stump again. Everything was going to be fine. The man would be back any minute now, she was sure of it.
A minute passed. Then two. The darker it got, the less sure Catherine became. After five more minutes of waiting, she knew something had to be up. She stood shakily and set off in the direction of the voices. Soon, she could distinguish between them. Sure enough, one of them was the soldier.
“For the last time, I wasn’t looking for a fight,” He said, “You were the ones who ambushed me!”
“You were trespassing,” Replied a much gravelier voice, “The treaty clearly states that no human from your village is to enter rotnak territory unless specific permission is granted by the chieftess.”
Catherine could see them now. Three creatures, seven feet tall and covered in thick, dark grey fur. They stood on two legs, and had piglike snouts for noses. All three had long spears about a foot taller than they were, tipped with what looked like stingers from a gigantic bee. The trio stood before the soldier, who was tied up on the ground.
“My village is covered in ice right now. The council decided to bring in a witch to fix it, and she lead me here. I had no idea she’d take me here.”
“So you deal with witches. Another reason not to trust you.”
Catherine stepped out from behind her tree, though she certainly didn’t want to.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but… well, you see, I’m not really a witch.”
The three Rotnaks whirled around, spears at the ready.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Catherine felt her face growing hot, “I’m the… person he was talking about. I’m an enchantress… not a witch.” She stared at the ground.
“Oh, wonderful.” Said the rotnak in the middle, “Another blasted human. It’s an invasion!” The creatures readied their spears, and began advancing towards Catherine.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” Said the man, “She could blast the three of you to bits with a single word if she wanted to.”
“No!” Said Catherine, “I’m not that kind of-”
The rotnak on the right jabbed her, hard, with the butt of his spear. She doubled over, falling to her knees in the dirt.
“Hold her down! Quick, before she blasts us!”
The rotnaks on the right and the left leapt on her, trying to wrestle her to the ground. Catherine flinched holding her hands in front of her face to fend them off as best she could.
“Please stop!” She cried, as they grabbed her arms, “That hurts! You’ll break my arms.”
But the rotnaks didn’t stop. If anything they only got rougher. Catherines screams grew louder and louder as their claws dug into her skin, leaving gashes all up and down her arms. Finally, the pain became too much, and she gave one final shriek, this one twice as loud as any of the others. The rotnaks went into the air, landing in a heap about ten feet away.
She got to her feet, clutching her left arm. “I am Catherine Silver, enchantress of the boghight mountains. Twice, I have saved your entire tribe, once from plague, and once from famine, and this is how you treat me? I demand to be taken to your chieftess so I can speak with her about your actions towards us.”
“Y-you’re… Catherine Silver?” Said one of the rotnaks as he picked himself up off the ground, “The Catherine Silver? But I thought you were older!”
“Well, I’m not.” She said, “Now untie my friend here, or I’ll make sure the lot of you are banished from the tribe.”
“My apologies, enchantress.” Stammered the leader, “We’ll take you right away.”
“Good. Now get me some bandages for these wounds, please.”
To be continued...