Dark wings flapped furiously against the wind of a moonless night. It was a strange flapping, one the guard did not recognize. He stood up and searched the air above him. Something got into his eyes when he looked up and he rubbed it out of his face. It went up his nose and he sneezed. There was an odd whooshing noise to his left and a cold breeze whistled past his cheek. He batted his arms above his head trying to chase the shadows away but felt only empty air.
“Did it work?” A raspy voice said from the darkness.
“I don’t know.” An equally raspy voice answered.
“Well, is he asleep?”
“I said I don’t know.” He replied with an annoyed hiss.
“You idiot, you did it wrong.” The words slithered off her tongue. “Give me the bottle.”
She grabbed for the small bottle but the other creature pulled it back. “No, wait. I hear him snoring.”
“It’s about time.” She let go of the bottle and landed roughly on the ground. When she moved into the lamplight and her full figure came into view. She had dark grey skin that stretched over a gaunt body. You could see bones through the wrinkly skin and a pair of bat like wings protruded from her back. There was some wispy black hair that came out of her head and her shoulders were permanently hunched over. Beady black eyes searched the area as she landed.
The other creature landed next to her. He was bald but that was the main difference between them. It was hard to tell them apart. They were both equally hideous. “Which one is it?” He said.
There was a sound or rushing water as they perched at the edge of a platform. The flat shelf was situated on the side of a cliff. There were several niches in the cliff wall surrounding the platform and they were filled with large nests. Oversized eggs rested peacefully in the niches in groups of three or four. The female creature searched the eggs with her beady eyes. “That one.” She hissed and pointed with her bony finger.
There was an egg resting in a nest by itself. The male creature picked up the guard’s lamp and shined the light on the egg. The shell was covered with swirling colors of orange and maroon. It had an iridescent glow to it that shimmered in the light. “How do you know it’s the right one?” He hovered over the egg and moved his head around to get a better view.
“It’s colored differently. The rest of the eggs have blue on them. This one doesn’t.” She hovered on the other side of the egg and rocked back and forth on the balls of her clawed feet.
“Then let’s take it and get out of here before the others wake up.”
“I’ll get it.” She said. “I don’t want you to screw this up.” She edged toward the egg and picked it up gently then put it into the crook of her arm. It was almost too big for her to carry with one arm. So she pulled it in closer and cradled the egg with both arms.
“Quick.” He hissed at her. “They could still catch up to us if we don’t hurry.” He looked up and eyed the ivory spires that stood above the city warily. The spires could still be seen despite the moonless night and they gave him a feeling of foreboding
“What do you think I’m doing?” She hissed back. She could feel the pressure of the spires too. She secured the egg and lifted off the platform. He quickly followed. Their dark wings flapped away all but invisible amidst the night sky.
They followed the sounds of rushing water and let the sound hide the flapping of their wings. The water led them down the cliff and along the stream which flowed into a dense forest. When night began to fade the female pulled up.
“What'd you stop for?” He pulled up next to her.
“I’m tired.” She hissed.
“Let me take the egg.” He grabbed for it but she pulled it back.
“No, I want to give it to her.”
“But you’re tired.” He grabbed for it again and got his fingers on it. She pulled away from his claws and he clutched harder.. They tugged the egg back and forth and then her fingers slipped. She lost her hold of it and he jerked it away with too much force. The egg went flying from his fingers and both of their eyes went wide. The egg floated in slow motion as they both reached for it. They egg flipped and tumbled through the air and splashed into the stream below.
The female let out a nervous hiss as the egg disappeared below the surface and her eyes went wild. The egg bobbed up and she let out her breath. “You idiot, look what you’ve done.” She yelled at the male.
“It’s your fault.” He hissed. “You dropped it.”
“You dropped it.” She hissed back. “Go get it.”
He folded his arms and flapped his wings. “You get it.”
“It’s getting away.” She pointed. The egg was moving downstream with the current, bobbing up and down as it went. They both flew down to catch up with it but it bobbed over the edge of a waterfall. They watched the egg as it fell over the side and disappeared behind the spray of water.
“Where’d it go?” She shrieked.
“I don’t see it.” He said. They flew down to the bottom of the waterfall and searched for any sign of the egg.
“Keep looking.” She said hovering above the water.
He flew downstream to see if it had floated away but then flew back. “I still don’t see it. What are we going to do?”
“You dropped it, you can tell her we lost it.” She hissed.
He shook his head. “I’m not going to tell her. You were holding it.”
“Maybe she won’t be that mad.”
He glared at her with misbelieving eyes. “And maybe she won’t kill us.” They couldn't find any signs of the egg and eventually they flew off in frustration. Their angry wings flapped all the way back to wherever they came from.
The egg finally bobbed up and floated lazily along with the current. It drifted along; flowing around crooked rocks and squeezing between narrow canals. Then dipped under a log where a fish looked at it strangely. It rolled over another drop and plopped into a small pool. The current carried it deeper into the forest along with the gurgling water. It caught on some twigs and was pushed aside where it came to rest in the mossy roots of an old tree. The egg stayed there in the fingers of that ancient old tree and waited.
The Inn’s common room was empty. Gwinn picked up the empty chairs, one by one and set them on top of the tables. Then she took out the broom and swept. It wasn’t her favorite thing to do, but she preferred the common room this way; empty. She was glad the people had gone and glad to do her chores alone. They were loud and obnoxious.
It was the only Inn for miles. There were no major towns nearby so the Inn was the main gathering place for most of the locals. It sat near the edge of the Wildwood Forest but not too near. It was far enough away from the forest to ease the fears of the locals. They were overly superstitious about the forest and its dangers. Gwinn almost laughed as she thought about their unnecessary fears and was glad of their absence. All the patrons had gone to bed, and the lanterns were silent on their hooks. Thick timber beams held up the roof and came together at a point over her head. The wooden front doors were topped with a timber gable and they were inviting to weary travelers but Gwinn had a hard time seeing them as comforting. The large window in the center of the room let in a flood of moonlight. It shined through the panes and fell across her face as she swept.
The Innkeeper walked in and interrupted her solitude. She sighed. He was obnoxious all by himself. The man was a little too round for his own good and his hair was balding on top. “See to the animals once you’re done in here.” He told her.
“I was going to.” She flipped her thick braid over her shoulder and gave him a sarcastic look.
“Don’t get smart with me young lady.” He shook his finger at her.
Gwinn swept with more energy and rolled her eyes. “As if I could,” she said under breath.
“What was that?”
“I’ll take care of them.” She cleared her throat and said loud enough for him to hear.
“That’s what I thought.” He said as he collected the coins from the till. “Do your work well and hopefully I won’t regret taking you in.”
She turned away so he couldn’t see the look of loathing on her face. He took his coins and left her alone again. She sighed with relief as she saw the door close behind him. He and his wife had taken her in as a child and she should be grateful, but Gwinn often wished they hadn’t.
She walked across the creaky wooden floor boards and rested her elbow on the bar. On top of the counter there was a short post with a cross bar on it. There was a small creature perched on top of it. It had a small body which was round and pudgy. Two little feet with strong grippers hung on to the bar. Round eyes protruded from the top of its body and a nose too big for its body sat below them. It turned its soft eyes on Gwinn as she approached. The cute little creature was no taller than the length of her hand and she patted the creature with her fingertips. It was soft and fuzzy against her fingers because of its short fur. She smiled at the furling.
“You may not say much but at least you don’t tell me what to do.”
The little creature cooed up at Gwinn. “I know. I’m glad you’re here too.” She said to the furling, and it smiled back. “I really should be going. The horses won’t feed themselves.” The little furling gave Gwinn a sad whine. “Don’t worry I’ll be back in the morning.” She patted the furling one more time and headed off to see to the animals.
Gwinn awoke the next morning and stretched out her stiff muscles. She looked out the window of the loft where she slept and smiled. It was a beautiful spring day. She could see the forest for miles. She picked up her brushed and tugged it through her hair. It was full of stray pieces of hay like it always was. Every night she slept in the barn’s loft and every night she picked out the pieces of hay and straw but it was fine with her. The Cuthberts thought it was a punishment but Gwinn didn’t see it that way. She had the whole barn and the spacious loft to herself. No one bothered her. The animals were her only company and she preferred them to humans anyways.
She finished brushing out her thick hair and pulled it back into a long braid. Her hair was so wild and frizzy that keeping it in a braid was the only way to control it. The curly brown strands fought her the whole way but after considerable effort she managed to tame them. She had an odd streak of blonde on the right side of her forehead but there was nothing she could do about that. It had been there since she was a baby and it made people stare at her. They would whisper behind her back and say she was cursed or bewitched. Gwinn did her best to ignore them and hoped that it would cause people to steer clear of her. She didn’t care what they thought as long as they kept away from her.
She finished braiding her hair and decided that it was the perfect day for a walk so she left before anyone noticed her absence. It was the only time of the day when she could get away from the Inn and everyone in it. There would be plenty of time to see to her chores later. Gwinn laced up her boots with a smile on her face and headed for the forest.
She breathed in the fresh pine smell of the forest and it filled her with a soothing peace. Gwinn hugged herself and skipped down the trail. She wished every morning could be this beautiful. The birds chirped and played in the branches. The stream giggled nearby and a soft breeze tickled her cheeks. “This is why I love to take long walks. I don’t know why people are always surprised that I do. I’m not afraid of the forest. It’s too beautiful.” She said to the forest.
She stopped next to the stream in one of her favorite spots. There was a rock perfectly situated next to the stream where she removed her shoes and sat down. Then plopped her feet over the side and into the cool stream. Gwinn swished her feet in the water and watched the sun light bounce across the waves. She stayed there awhile basking in the sweet scene before she finally decided it was about time to head back. The Cuthberts would come looking for her if she stayed away too long.
Gwinn pulled her feet out of the stream when she heard a low growl. Her eyes flew up and her heart raced. There was a large grey wolf only a few feet from her. He bared his slobbering fangs at her and a deep guttural growl escaped his mouth.
“Rats!” She yelled as she stood on the rock in her bare feet. She couldn’t run away without shoes and she didn’t want to frighten the beast. She stood completely still and tried to calm her own nerves. The wolf growled deeper and stared at her with yellow eyes. She sighed with resignation. There was only one thing for her to do.
She stared back at the wolf and then spoke to it. “Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you.” The wolf stared at her. She held out her arms to show him she meant him no harm. “Go away and leave me alone.” She said with calm and firmness.
The wolf stopped growling but it didn’t move. “Go away and leave me alone.” She repeated. They stood a few feet apart for what seemed like hours but it had only been moments. “I said go away.” She stomped her bare foot.
The wolf tilted its head at her curiously and then turned away. It trotted back into the forest and left her alone. Gwinn nodded her head at it. “And don’t bother me again.”
She sat back down and put her socks back on then laced up her boots. A fly buzzed past her nose and she swatted it away. She watched the lazy path of the fly and as she did, she spotted something curious. There was an old ancient tree next to the stream and something was tangled in its roots. “That’s odd.” She said to the tree. “What do you have there?”
She reached down and pushed the roots aside to pick up the object. It was heavier and bigger than she thought it would be. She pulled some slimy moss from its surface and realized what she had found. It was an egg, a very large egg. The shell was covered by orange and maroon swirls and she marveled at the way the colors whipped around each other. The egg felt warm to the touch even though it had been in the cold water. She wiped some dirt off of the egg with her dress and let more of the colors shine through. She smiled at the poor little lost egg. “Don’t worry I’ll take care of you.”