“Last year, a child wandered into the forest and never came back out.”
“There is magic there. Dark magic.”
“The creatures that live there don’t wish to be disturbed. As long as we leave them alone, they won’t come near us.”
Glynis; a city of whispers. The whispers lurked on street corners, gathered on front doorsteps, and flew through the town like autumn leaves in the wind. It was the whispers that built the wall around Glynis; a thick, stone structure that rose high above the squat buildings of the town and blocked the view of the surrounding Seda Forest entirely. It was the whispers that hired the guards that patrolled the entrance to Glynis night and day, intent on keeping the townspeople safe from the dangerous creatures that were rumored to lurk within the shadows of the forest. The whispers filled the central marketplace in the mornings, fueled discussions on street corners during the afternoons, and lulled the townspeople’s children to sleep at night. But while the whispers were correct about the dangers of the forest and the magic that resided there, the whispers were wrong about one very important thing.
The creatures weren’t content within the confines of the Seda Forest . And they were coming to Glynis.
The sun was just rising over the treetops, the first rays of light warming the wrought iron of the gate that stood at the main entrance to Glynis. In the small clearing in front of the main entrance, one of the guards stretched his arms sleepily and turned to his companion.
“Should we go?” he asked, holding back a yawn. The night’s patrol had, once again, been uneventful.
The other guard shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”
The two of them scanned the forest’s edge one last time for any obvious signs of danger. There weren’t any. Turning, they unlocked the gate and walked back into the village, knowing that within moments two new guards would come and take their place at the gate.
What they didn’t know was that something else was lurking near the gate that morning; a dark, strong, concealed something. As soon as the guards were out of sight, it crawled from the shadows of the forest, slinking through the gate which had been carelessly left open.
The creature could already see two more guards hurrying towards the gate. It darted behind the dirt wall of the nearest house, keeping within the shadows that the morning provided. Only after the new set of guards had locked the gate securely shut did the creature allow itself to examine its new surroundings. It found itself in a smattering of crudely constructed houses filling the area of Glynis where the plots of lands huddled so closely together it seemed even the buildings were afraid of being alone.
Though there were few people here, the creature dared not allow itself to leave the shadows of the dwellings. If it was going to accomplish the task it had set out to do that morning, it couldn’t risk being seen. Creeping from one house to the next, the creature made its way further into the town, mentally noting the position of each building or dwelling it passed.
When the creature reached the marketplace in the center of the town, it stopped. A circle of colorful booths filled the marketplace, each stand piled high with wares for sale. One stand held an array of candied nuts; another was piled high with fresh flowers. A group of women gathered around a stand of elegantly-embroidered textiles, while two men squabbled over the price of a gardening spade at the stall next door. The smell of fresh bread from the baker’s booth mixed with the pungent aroma wafting from the fisherman’s stand, while the shouts of merchants touting their wares and townspeople negotiating and talking with one another filled the quiet morning air.
The commotion that filled the marketplace was so boisterous that nobody noticed the creature as it made its way behind the circle of stands. The man selling dried fruit didn’t notice one small sack on the edge of the table disappear. The woman selling baby rabbits was far too preoccupied to notice the disappearance of her water canteen.
The creature crawled in the shadows behind the circle of stands, reaching upward with a dirt-encrusted hand and removing something from almost every booth. When the creature reached the last stall, it stopped, examining the merchandise from an open flap in the back of the booth.
At the front of the stand, closely-guarded by a merchant, was a table covered in shimmering gemstones of every shape and color. The gems caught and refracted the morning light, washing the stand in every color of the rainbow. As the creature stared, transfixed, at the glistening stones, a townsman approached the merchant.
“Chaborin, each day you set up your stand with more diamonds and gems than you had the day before,” The customer said, leaning on one end of the table and fingering a large ruby. “Where do you get them? And when?”
“If I told you that,” the affable lapidary replied, chuckling, “my secret and my business would be over!”
Still entranced by the gemstones, the creature didn’t notice the customer’s gaze as it moved from the ruby in his hand, to the merchant’s face, to the open flap at the back of the stand. His eyes widened in horror as he caught a glimpse of the shadowy figure peering inside the booth.
“Thief!” the customer shouted, pointing at the back of the stand. The merchant spun around, following the customer’s gaze as the creature ducked away from the open flap and out of sight. Fingernails clawing the dirt, it turned to make its escape – only to see two spears inches away from its face. The creature hissed at the two guards, pawing at the ground beneath the ragged cloak it wore.
One of the guards jumped backwards. “What – what is it?” He said, clutching the spear more as a source of protection than as a weapon. A crowd of people had started to form behind the gem stand, encircling the creature. It screamed harshly at its unwelcome audience one hand resting protectively on the faded brown pack of pilfered goods slung over its shoulder. There were too many people, too many pairs of staring eyes.
While the creature was preoccupied with the mass of people surrounding it, the other guard darted forward, grabbing the creature behind the neck and pulling off the ragged cloak hood that obscured the creature’s head.
A collective gasp filled the marketplace, followed by a cacophony of whispers.
The creature was nothing more than a girl; a wild, dirty girl with long, snarled hair.
Maddened at being touched, the girl looked around, growling and glaring at anyone she suspected had revealed her human form. She edged backwards as the guards, now emboldened, edged closer with their spears.
Suddenly, a man burst forth from the crowd of people and into the open circle.
“Guards!” he cried, slightly out of breath. “Be very cautious around this girl, for although she may appear to be human, she deceives you!”
The whispering of the villagers ceased. The guards glanced from the girl to Gellert a few times before one spoke.
“Tetrarch Harrow, what do you propose we do with her?” The first guard said, gesturing with his spear at the bag the girl held. “She is a thief, and needs to be punished.”
Gellert looked at the girl and thought for a minute before turning back to the guards. “Put her in the prison, but try not to hurt her-”
In the instant that Gellert had turned his gaze from the girl, she jumped, cat-like, at the man, scratching his face with her fingernails, snarling and grabbing. The guards rushed forward and attempted to pull the wild girl off of their beloved tetrarch. As they pulled her away, she made one last angry lunge towards Gellert, her teeth glistening like fangs. Gellert cried out in pain and fell into the crowd of people, grabbing where five beads of blood had formed on his forearm. The girl spat into the dirt, the red stain of Gellert’s blood dark against the sunlight.
One of the villagers threw the ragged fishing net from the fisherman’s stand into the center of the circle. The guards grabbed at it, struggling to hold the girl down while Gellert regained his balance, pulling his sword from the sheath strapped around his side.
At the sight of the blade shining in the morning light, the girl made a desperate attempt to free herself by ripping and gnawing at the net, but to no avail. Using his good arm, Gellert took the butt of the sword and struck her on the head. Fingers still caught in the rough fibers of the fishing net, the girl’s limp body crumpled to the ground.
The two guards carried the girl to the small stone building used as a makeshift prison. There were only three cells, but no more were needed. Glynis rarely, if ever, had criminals. The soldiers unlocked one of the cell doors and gently laid the girl inside, Gellert following close behind. As the guards left the building, Gellert looked through the bars at the figure on the dirt floor of the cell, shaking his head solemnly. She’s only a girl, he thought, looking from her long eyelashes to the smudge of dirt on her cheek. Right now, she almost looks peaceful. Like she was sleeping. Giving the girl one last long look, he left the darkness of the prison for the warm sunshine of the morning outside, locking the prison door behind him.
Half the town awoke the next morning to a hideous screeching noise. It was an animal scream, one that grated against the morning quiet and made the townspeople shake at the thought of what new creature must have invaded their town during the course of the night.
Gellert left his home immediately. He knew its source.
The wild girl had awoken.
Upon entering the prison, Gellert found the girl trapped between the bars of her cell. She had attempted to squeeze between the thinly-spaced iron bars, only managing to force her head and arms out of the cell before becoming stuck. The girl was still screaming in pain as Gellert entered the cell, blinded by the pinching of the bars she didn’t notice his appearance until he was just next to the bars of her cell. Her screams stopped suddenly at the sight of the man observing her.
Gellert leaned closer to the girl. She didn’t hiss, didn’t scream – just stared at him silently. He gently helped the girl free her limbs and head from between the iron bars as she stared upward at him. Once fully back inside her cell, she crawled over to the corner, huddling silently in the dirt.
Gellert walked home slowly and thoughtfully, knowing he had not tamed her, but unsure of what else to do. As soon as he was at the door of his house, the high-pitched shriek began once again. He hurried back to the cell to find the girl wedged between the bars again, trying to escape once more by bending them apart.
“Stop doing that!” Gellert shouted to her, pushing her back into the cell more forcefully this time. “I’m sorry that you have to be locked up but I…” he sighed. “ I just don’t know what else to do with you.” As he walked home once more, he couldn’t help but gingerly run his fingers down the bandages on his arm, knowing that it would not be long until she needed help again.
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