The Forest Maiden was started during NaNo 2012. During the year, I did a lot of shorter pieces instead of a bigger project. It didn’t get finished then as I pandered to other ideas. Researching the original story of Snow White was a must for me and I wanted to show all the elements–the corset strings, the comb, and the apple. Of course, the apple got changed to a pear but that’s a story for another day.
Enjoy the first chapter.
Kaspar gazed into his horse’s black eyes while holding firm to the reins. He whispered softly as its hooves tamped the ground. The steed gave a snort but Kaspar continued to soothe the agitated beast. Its chestnut tail switched for a moment before going still. Trained to ignore the sickly smell of blood, it did nothing to still the adrenaline of the hunt.
“I know, Igus. This ride was not a pleasant journey for either of us.” Kaspar led Igus to the back of the barn. The soft glow of the lanterns hanging from the support beams lit the way. He removed the bridle and saddle. Igus nickered his approval.
Kaspar smirked, patting his equine friend on the neck. He swung the doors to the outside open. A large pen opened up beyond. Igus nudged him on the shoulder.
“Run it off, my friend.” He scratched his horse’s ear before smoothing his hand down his glistening coat. “You have earned a few days of rest.” He gave the horse a light swat on the rear. Cold, crystallized breath flew from Igus’s nostrils as he galloped back into the darkness of night.
A slight smile spread over Kaspar’s face before he winced. His hand moved away from his side, and he examined the crimson stains on his fingers in the moonlight. The kill should have been easy for one of his skill yet his target seemed aware of the contract on his life. Kaspar had barely cleaned up any evidence of his deed before the man’s personal guards returned from the ruse Kaspar had set to lure them away. Another arrogant Lord dispatched and out of the way for his master. House Edurne’s personal physician would repair his wound before Kaspar returned to his secluded cabin in the woods. One of the few perks for one of his profession.
A set of pounding hoof beats drew near, and Kaspar slipped into the comfort of the shadows. As the horse entered the stables, he recognized Lord Edurne, his master. Another rode a horse in after him but he could not see who. They wore a long, flowing black cloak covering the whole of their form.
His lord hopped off his horse, his face set in an angry scowl in the faint lantern light. “I thought I made it perfectly clear that you were to observe on this hunt and not participate.”
The cloaked figure slid off their horse and strode up to Lord Edurne. “That man is an ass, Father.”
Kaspar’s eyes widened. Lord Edurne had taken his daughter Eirlys out on his midnight hunt, one strictly reserved for the men in the realm. Had the man become desperate in his pursuit to marry her off to the first willing bachelor?
“Why would you think I would want to marry someone as arrogant as Prince Vas?” Eirlys, her cloak still shielding her, walked past her father. “The only one who bests him in that specialty is Lord Tetiukov, his father.”
“Your wound could have been no more than a mere scratch, had you stayed on your horse.”
She cut him off with a swipe of her gloved hand. “I would not have been wounded if that pompous man had stayed out of my way. The shot was mine.”
“Eirlys, for goddess’s sake, child. The hunt is no place for a woman.”
“Yet you saw no issue when I was but five and you taught me.” She whirled around, the shadows in the stable masking her face. “Why must it change now? Because Amara wishes it as well? Am I to be some spinster for the first willing man to take your tainted child off your hands?”
“Eirlys, please.” Edurne stepped toward his daughter but she took a few steps back, avoiding his touch.
“No, Father. I shall not marry him. I shall not settle as you did with Amara when Mother died. I needed no replacement for my mother, no matter what those at court whisper in your ear.” Her cloak fluttered as she turned and ran out of the stables.
Edurne’s shoulders slumped, and he turned. “How much did you hear, my Okhotnik?”
“Everything and nothing as always, my Lord.” Bound to serve, Kaspar had allegiance to House Edurne and no one else. His master could sense his position no matter what, through the magic passed down from generation to generation. Engrained in his very blood, he could never disobey his master in the slightest. As his father did, Kaspar served the family well and would hold the secrets of the family close to his breast. Should anyone want to pluck them free, it would mean cutting Kaspar’s heart from his chest. That, of course, would prove difficult against Kaspar’s honed skills with weapons of any shape and size.
“You have the fortune of having no children to wear on your soul.”
“Only when my lord wishes.” Kaspar bowed. In order to keep the line of succession, Kaspar—much like Princess Eirlys—would have a mate chosen for him to carry on the tradition of his post as Okhotnik. The huntsman lived to do the bidding of their Lord and nothing else. In Kaspar’s case, his lord had treated him well.
“Your task is complete?” Edurne pulled his gloves off.
“Yes, my lord.” He bowed.
Edurne nodded and left the stables without another word.
Kaspar sighed. With the heated discussion between father and daughter, he would have to take care of his wound on his own. No matter how insignificant her wound, her father would insist the doctor treat it. Kaspar had no desire to linger longer or traverse the forest with the scent of fresh blood clinging to his flesh. It would attract a hungry animal. Okhotnik only killed when necessary and anything taken from the forest was to be used and food or clothing, never slaughtered for sport. Each life had purpose in his world.
He placed his muddied cloak on a hook just inside the stable doors and removed his leather jerkin. His fingers poked through the hole in it, admiring how sharp the blade had to have been to shear a gash in the boiled hide. A few sections of scales sheared away, and Kaspar could repair it easy once home. Stripped to the waist, he dunked his head into the trough. Cool water cascaded down his chest as he emerged from the water. He poked at his wound, relieved to find it not as deep as he feared. A few stitches would close the wound, and he could take his leave back into the forest.
He longed for the rest after he hunted the enemies of his lord. The comfort of solitude was what he desired the most after spilling blood. He thanked Earth Mother for granting him with a Lord that honored the code of the Okhotnik fully. A week of silence to become one with the world around him.