Story Monday: Excerpt from Children of the Ancient Heroes

The Arborennians have a legend about the spirit of a giant tiger that roams their forests and protects them from evil. No one believed the legend to be true, until Anne arrived at the request of the World Maker.

“And you believe we hold the Great Star Stone, Faith?” Queen Marjorie asked, walking with Anne in the southern royal gardens. This was Anne’s first visit to the kingdom, though her reputation as Truthspeaker and Knight of the Realm gained her immediate favor with the older queen.

“The World Maker has said so, why should I question it?” Anne said, admiring the broad-leaved, colorful trees and flowers. As much as she loved them, she could not help but think that Ravena’s own garden was grander. Her friend had gathered flowers and plants from all over the Lighted Lands.

“Of course, forgive me, it’s just that none of our own wiseones had known about it. Of course, we have the Great Star Stone, Earth that we keep in the temple, but two Great Star Stones? So much power…” The queen said, gazing into the distance and her words trailing off as she stopped walking.

“A true temptation, your highness, but let us not forget what happened when the Manticore King lusted after such power.” Anne said, letting the power of her truthspeaking impact her words more than they could on their own.

Queen Marjorie blushed and shook her head. “Yes, of course. We mustn’t forget.” She stood tall again, and they continued walking. “How is it that we can help you?”

“I do not require any assistance. I came to you only to inform you what I was about in your kingdom, so that you do not think I am robbing you. I shall go deep into your Forest Midnight, for it is said to be hidden there.” Ann said.

Queen Marjorie stopped and gasped. “The Forest Midnight? Are you mad? None go into that forest alone, for it is infested with nightcrawlers and goblins. If ever our people need to pass through it, I demand that a full armed escort accompany them.”

Ann smiled ruefully. “I thank you for your concern, your majesty, but the World Maker has instructed me to go alone. I shall be safe.”

The queen laughed sheepishly. “Of course, I forget myself, or rather, I forget who I am talking to. Still, even someone as powerful as yourself should be cautious.”

Anne bowed. “Thank you, your majesty. I shall be careful. Now, if you please, I must be on my way. My task demands expedience.”

With one more bow, Anne left the queen’s presence. A small pang of fear fluttered in her stomach. She remembered her last encounter with nightcrawlers, and she did not have a flying boy with her this time to help her. The task was too important, though to let fear stop her.

#

That night, Anne made camp in a small clearing deep in the heart of the forest. The three week’s journey to Castle Boskrijk and the day into the forest drained her. She did not relish letting her guard down with so many creatures lurking in the shadows, but she could not continue.

She made a fire and ate a small meal of bread and cheese and was about to lie down to sleep when she heard a rustling in the trees behind her. She leaped to her feet and drew her sword in one quick, smooth motion. Her firelight glinted off a pair of yellow eyes in the shadows. They were as large as a bear’s eyes, but , if she was not mistaken, they looked like a cat’s eyes.

She stood straighter and held her sword in one hand, but poised. “Well, you’re no nightcrawler or goblin. What, or who, might you be?”

The eyes blinked once, stared at her for a moment longer, then vanished.

“Well, that’s not going to help me sleep any better.” Anne sheathed her sword and sat down by her fire. Adrenaline still coursed through her and she jumped to her feet. “Oh, forget this. Might as well get to it now.”

Tree branches snapped behind her. She spun, expecting to see the green eyes again, but stumbled backward as three nightcrawlers entered her small clearing. The hideous creatures looked like a cross between scorpions and cheetahs, but without the charm of either.

Anne drew her sword. “I was wondering when you would show up,” she said, trying to calm the fear rising quickly. More rustling came from her right and she glanced toward it to see a handful of goblins stalk out of the treeline. “Oh good, I thought this whole trip was going to be too easy. Glad you could join us.”

The goblins hissed and stood tall, raising their sickly pale arms and flexing their clawed fingers.

“World Maker help me,” Anne whispered.

The night air rent with a roar that shook the ground beneath her feet. Anne looked up in time to see an enormous tiger leap out of the trees. With one powerful swipe of its forelegs, the tiger sent two of the nightcrawlers flying into the goblins. It spun and grabbed the third nightcrawler in its jaws and shook it. Anne dropped her sword and covered her ears from the shrieks of the nightcrawler as the tiger tore it to shreds.

The tiger turned to face the goblins, but each of them fled back into the trees. The other two nightcrawlers attacked the tiger, stinging and clawing at it. The tiger roared in defiance, smacking the monsters with repeated powerful blows. Within minutes, the fight was over and the nightcrawlers lay crushed beneath the tiger.

Anne stared at the giant tiger, her heart pounding in her chest. “Thank you,” she whispered and stood, sheathing her sword.

The tiger stared at her for a long moment, then stepped toward her. Anne braced herself, ready to pull her sword if needed. When the tiger came nearer, she looked into its eyes and all fear and hesitation fled from her. Peace took their place, and familiarity. She knew this tiger, though she could not say how. She’d never met any tigers in her entire life.

The tiger breathed out and Anne closed her eyes. The warmth wrapped around her and she fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, Anne woke expecting to find the tiger watching over her, but it was gone. Instead, a large rock the size of the tiger stood nearby, glowing yellow.

Anne gasped. “The Great Star Stone.” Overwhelmed, she ran to it and tried to lift it. It wouldn’t move. “All right, so, how am I to take this then? If it’s too heavy for even me?” she sighed and placed a hand on it and closed her eyes. “All right World Maker, I’m open to suggestions.” The rock fell away from her hand. Anne opened her eyes, panicking that the rock was gone. Glowing yellow light caught her eye and she looked down in the grass. There the rock lay, now small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. “That’ll work,” she said and picked it up. “Now that the easy part is over, time to move on.”

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This is a small excerpt from my current work-in-progress. Still subject to editing. Let me know what you think of it so far.

Photo by Ralph Mayhew on Unsplash

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