Your Online Cup of Tea
-Often a stuff of fairytales. The real girl behind the story isn’t well known-
Almost everything about her was odd. Standing by the bank, staring hesitantly into the water while all the children swam in the lake. She was the only one that didn’t go in. Never had. Everything about this girl was odd. It wasn’t just her appearance that stuck out from that of her peers. The circumstances surrounding her birth, the mysterious fabric that made up her long blue tunic and of course her appearance. Often going by “Little Winter”, she was found one night in the Perrault household, wrapped in a blanket on their kitchen table. This was the most curious baby they had ever laid eyes on. Long silvery hair and pristine blue eyes, contrasting her smooth brown skin, which in itself was different to those around her. In all her years growing up with the Perraults she had never seen anyone else that resembled her. This was reflected in her name “Winter” partly because that was the time they found her and partly because of her hair. The qualification “little” became a term of endearment since she didn’t completely “look like winter”, given her dark complexion. Though she always took it as a reference to her height, which was for the most part average. Nevertheless a topic of much teasing from the Perrault’s son Charles. A curiosity to all around her, Winter didn’t quite enjoy being unique. It had the effect of applyfing anything she did. Whether good or bad, Winter hardly left the spotlight.
“You’ll have to go in eventually!” Startled, she tried to keep balance, narrowly avoiding the water. Her foot barely dipped in before she ran off a few feet to the side. She turned to see the slick haired boy in nice clothing approaching her giddily.
“Charly! You oaf! That wasn’t funny. You know I can’t swim!”
“I have offered to teach you.”
“Drown me more like.”
“You get so weird about water, honestly,” he said both hands in the air.
“I’ve never heard of people drowning on land.”
“You’ve never heard of anyone drowning ever!” Unmoved by his argument, Winter made her way back towards the town. Away from the lake. This time of the year, it was hot enough to have many stalls out in the market. She particularly enjoyed going through the bakery and sweets stalls where more often than not people gave her free treats. Every time Winter brought her basket to town, it would be full, whether she bought, found or was given her new items. She kept a collection of the oddest things in her room. Which Mrs. Perrault periodically made her throw out. Keeping only that which was most pleasant… or in more cases than not, tolerable.
“If you just smile,” Mrs. Kimbers would say, “and that’ll get you one sweet.” To which Winter gladly obliged. However, Mrs Perrault wasn’t very fond of this practice. She often said that Winter was too trusting of people. Plus they weren’t exactly a poor family. It wasn’t unheard of for people to target the wealthier out of jealousy or spite. Not to mention that Winter wasn’t difficult to spot and was known for wandering. Sometimes even into the forest, alone.
Spontaneously, Winter ran through the crowd of the people in the square. Quickly she turned to the nearest alley, putting her back to the wall. A few moments later, she stuck her foot out into the open, sending someone flying into the ground. Walking over to their head, she watched as they struggled to stand up, wiping the dust off their face.
“I knew you were following me.”
“Did you really need to trip me over?” said Charles.
“You’re lucky that’s all I did.”
“Ha! This is why Mother sent me to look after you. You’re mad.”
“Erm I’m twelve! I can take care of myself just fine without any help,” she said, rolling her hands into fists, “you send me into that forest and I’d survive no problem.”
“Even more mad! You’re so weird sometimes. Honestly, it’s like you’re not even human.” The reaction from Charly showed that he wanted to take back his words as soon as they reached his hears. Winter stood there motionless, with narrowed eyes looking at Charly. Her mouth parted for a moment as if to say something before closing again as she turned away from him.
“Please Winny, you know I didn’t mean that!” he said running after. His hand barely touched the back of her shoulder before she turned around to slap it away. Silently pacing off, leaving him standing alone in the crowd.
That evening she didn’t say a word to Charly as they were served dinner. Usually this was a time filled with jokes and recounts of the day’s happenings. But not this time. Winter barely spoke, except to ask for some food to be passed her direction, all the while ignoring Charly. Even when what she wanted was closest to him. If Charly decided to help anyway, she would pretend there was nothing there or that no one had spoken.
“Grandma has already gone to sleep, as she was feeling a bit unwell.”
Mr Perrault decided that the silence had gone on long enough.
“Alright, I would like to know what’s happen-
“I already get enough of that from her!” Snapped Winter. She looked indignantly at Charles, her fork shaking as she tried to hold back anger that had been brewing all day.
“I’m sorry, it just slipped-
“So that’s what you’re thinking? That I’m not even human!” At the sound of those words, Charles had both of his parent’s attention with expressions of horror on their faces.
“How could you say that?” demanded Mrs Perrault. Leaning towards him, her hand close to his face. Giving the impression that a wack would arrive if the right answer were not provided.
“I didn’t mean it! Really it just slipped. I was just saying she was being weird.”
“Weird? How would you like being called weird?”
“But I’m not.” Almost as soon as he said this, Charles dove for ground, with only the sound of clanging metal accompanying that of his fall.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Winter. At this point she stood in her place with both hands slammed firmly on the table. Having narrowly missed him with a fork. Shielding his face in anticipation of another assault, he peeked over the table as Mrs Perrault, had her arms around a reluctant Winter. Trying to escort her out of the room. Holding back tears, she moved away from Mrs Perrault, sprinting through the hall, up the stairs to room. Leaning against her door, she slid down to the ground wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. She could feel Mrs. Perrault trying to get in but refused to budge.
“Winter, please open the door,” she knocked. Silence.
“I’m not going to yell at you for throwing the fork, I just want to talk.” More silence.
“Would you rather I make Charles sit here until the both of you work it out?” Moments later, the door opened to a dark room with winter falling on the bed that stood on its centre. Muffling her cry on a pillow. A few minutes passed as Mrs Perrault sat on the bed, gently stroking Winter’s head which now lay on her lap. Her eyes reddened and barely opened as she stared ahead towards the light of the slightly opened door.
“You must think I’m.. s-so childish,” said Winter, her voice sounding as if on the verge of crying, “reacting like that, throwing the fork at Charles for something so small and stupid.”
“No sweety, not at all.” Leaning in, Mrs Perrault motioned Winter to move her head.
“Look at me,” she added. Slowly turning, Winter’s watery eyes and face began to tremble.
“No no don’t cry.” With her chin resting on Winter’s head, she held her closer and spoke softly.
“I know how that girl taunts you. She’s only jealous. Many people around here know what a beautiful and smart young woman you are. You’re different. But everyone has differences. Yours just seem more obvious, but none of them are bad,” she moved her head back slightly, giving a reassuring smile.
“And Charles doesn’t think they’re bad either. I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said.”
“Such an oaf he can be sometimes,” said Winter, giving a weak laugh.
“A little oaf he is,” added Mrs Perrault, as they both laughed slightly.
“I hope,” she began, “that both of you will be on good terms tomorrow. It is after all your birthday.”
“My finding day more like,” added Winter, trying to smile. She must have drifted off into sleep because when her eyes opened, light poured into the room from the window and she lay alone under the covers. The light shining through her pink bed curtains gave a warm and welcoming aura, giving off the feeling that today would be a good one. Yesterdays skirmish at the dinner table seemed like a distant memory or at best a faint dream. Sitting up at the bed, she drew back the curtains to see a bouquet of flowers awaiting her on the beside table. Hidden amongst them was a small piece of paper reading:
Happy Birthday Winny. I’m sorry about yesterday.
I didn’t mean to call you weird, I just meant it in a. May you enjoy your special day and be happy, like a flower~ Charles.
Rather than feel resentment for what happened, Winter laughed at this awkward little note. Charles wasn’t the sentimental type. She knew it wouldn’t have been easy for him to put this together. Whether he meant it or Mrs Perrault had forced it on him didn’t matter to Winter. Either way, he had made his penance.
Being led away from her room by the smell of what seemed to be freshly baked cakes, Winter skipped into the kitchen wearing smile.
“Morning Winny! And happy birthday to you,” said the cheery black haired woman that greeted her with simple gray robes and a white apron.
“Morning Celeste! And happy birthday to you too,” replied Winter. It took a few seconds for it register with Winter, that based on the confused look on Celeste’s face, she had misspoken. Causing them both to laugh when realization finally hit.
“So,” began Winter, “how long have you been here this morning?”
“Since dawn. I want to make sure that all the food is ready and on time for your party.”
“It’s hardly a party, just a small gathering. You should enjoy it too.”
“Oh I will, once all the food has been made,” said Celeste, patting Winter on her head. Often times, Winter felt that Celeste was one of the few people that understood how she felt. Being Mrs Perrault’s closest friend and a part of Winter’s life for as long as she could remember. Her husband, also known as the Silent Huntsman, was known not only for his skills in the field, but for the quiet mystique that surrounded him. Rarely seen around town and often keeping to himself, many rumours would surface about him. More often than not, reflecting on Celeste. Causing many of the women in town to act strangely around her. Some going to the point of complete avoidance.
Breakfast was Winter’s favourite; honey oatmeal and blackberry pancakes. She was so elated at this point that while eating, Winter made an effort to speak to Charles. His timid responses and obvious avoidance of eye contact soon turned into more animated gestures and joke filled dialogue as he realized she had forgiven him. Winter even made a remark saying that the flowers and note she found this morning better not count as her birthday present. To which Charles in an offended tone said that he had put much thought into it and even got up early to pick her favourite flowers. It warmed Winter’s heart to know that this hadn’t been something forced upon him to do. Also, Grandma Perrault was present at the table for the first time in weeks, as active as anyone in conversation. Her recovery had been slow but steady. If she didn’t get a gift today, seeing Grandma smiling at breakfast was more than enough.
“You should go put on your birthday dress, I have one picked out for you,” said Mrs Perrault to Winter, as she picked up her plates.
“I just assumed I’d be wearing one of my tunics? I’m curious as to what they’ve become today.”
“Oh, I know but maybe you could try something new this year?”
“But I always wear them on my birthday. It’s what I wore when I was bor… when you found me.” The room went a bit quiet as if everyone was unsure what mood it was going to take next.
“Well ok, I suppose if that’s what you want.”
“No, no, Mom” said Winter with a smile, “you picked it out for me. I’d be more than happy to wear it.” The tension lifted and conversation resumed. Mrs Perrault nodded in response to Winter and left to get her dress, waiting until she was out of sight to wipe the tears that began to form. For a while now, Mrs Perrault had not heard Winter call her mom. A new girl, that didn’t grow up with Winter had moved into the town and had begun to make her feel more like an outsider and enstranged. But Mrs Perrault loved Winter’s uniqueness and couldn’t see why anyone wouldn’t either once they got to know her. It had been the same for them. Coming to terms with having such a strange baby left with them, with even stranger items wasn’t easy. Her tunics, two in particular being the most bizarre. They grew in size with Winter and didn’t need to be washed. Every morning they would be good as new and any stain which somehow managed to stick would be gone in minutes. They changed colours every season as well having seam patterns and styles each month. Other than the Perraults and Celeste, nobody knew about this. Mrs Perrault was of the impression that by wearing a new dress for her birthday, the break from tradition would help Winter feel more settled in. Not so held to her mysterious past.
It was a little bit past noon when people started showing up. Oohs and ahhs filled the atmosphere as Winter stepped outside in her pink flowery dress, surrounded by people asking where she got it. There weren’t many around here that Winter felt comfortable enough to invite to her party. At this occasion there were about twenty girls in total that she knew well around the area and a few boys as well. A group of musicians played soft melodies in the background as the guests roamed around greeting each other. It started off with tea and biscuits in the Perrault’s yard, sitting around their small pond in a circle. After half an hour, Mrs Perrault arranged for the girls to play some competitive games, awarding small prizes to the winners. The games were followed by a time of dancing to the uppity tunes from by a band of Fluters and Luters. Consummating in a mock swords duel by its members, all fighting for Winter’s hand. Later they each flew kites after eating their main course meal.
The time arrived for the cake to be brought out, but things interrupted by a slight commotion walking up the front lane to the garden. Coming towards them waving tamborines, was the thorn in Winter’s side Adelise Nobelle. She was accompanied by her former best friend, now Adelise’s right hand, Cloe. The other girls began to look nervous, being well aware that Adelise and Winter didn’t get along.
“Now now,” said Adelise, “we must have missed our invitations because everyone else seems to have known well ahead of time.” Indignant, Mrs Perrault marched over to the girls, saying that their invites were never written to begin with.
“Actually, Mom,” interrupted Winter, “since they’re already here… it’s fine.” Mrs Perrault’s look of concern was met with Winter’s expression that clearly asked her not to make a scene.
“Fine,” she conceded reluctantly, stepping aside. At that moment, Mr Perrault came out the front door carrying a tray holding a large white cake, singing the birthday song. He was quickly joined by everyone else who were probably eager to leave the awkwardness of the situation that had just arisen.
Now we sing with great jubilee,
Another year of blessing passed to thee,
Come all, come far, come here to see,
Our joy today is; Winter!
This they repeated as the candle lit cake got closer. She always felt the singing to be the most awkward part of the birthday. Giving her the most uncomfortable cringe of the year. It also helped to have a name that rhymed with the song. Which she did not.
The cake itself was in the shape of the number “1763”, which according to tradition was an important year for Winter, being her 13th birthday. It had thirteen pink roses flowers with tin candles sticking out of them, going around the cake. Winter knelt down the small table that it was laid on, beckoned by those around her to make a wish. With eyes, closed, she started to envision what it is she wanted the most.
“Hooray!” cheered the crowd as she blew out the candles. Rising to the hugs of her friends, and declarations of officially making it into Womanhood, Winter basked in the love she was now experiencing.
“Oh, well what did you wish for, Winter?” said a voice from the back. She turned to see Adelise with both hands on her hips and a mischievous grin walking towards her.
“That’s a secret! Adelise,” barked Winter, half indignant, half nervous. Adelise’s grin increased.
“What? It’s that dumb you won’t tell us? Are you scared,” she replied, waving the tambourine in her face as she said “scared”. Winter looked hesitant, with her mouth open, thinking what to say next.
“Leave her alone Lisa!” snapped a long black haired girl in the crowd. Others too began to voice their protest.
“It’s a wish,” added the girl, “they’re supposed to be secret, genius.”
“I…” started Winter.
“You what?” asked Adelise, ignoring everyone else. Winter stood, staring her opponent in the face, all the while hoping a distraction would occur, stopping her from uttering the following words.
“I want to know where I came from!” she yelled. At that moment, Winter would have rather a twenty minute rendition of the birthday song, than to have said this in front of this girl. Almost immediately, her answer was met with scornful laughter from Adelise who at this point was being led out of the garden by Mrs Perrault. For Winter, with each second of laughter that passed, embarrassment gave way to anger.
“What’s so funny about that!” demand Winter, stomping after her. Adelise’s laughing died down slowly, as she looked back at Winter chuckling.
“Everyone know where you came from. I’m sure you’ve heard of a circus.” This was enough to stop Winter in her tracks. Feeling like she had just been stabbed in an open wound, she stared in shock at Adelise. Not giving her the satisfaction of tears. Winter’s mood was far quieter for the rest of the evening, occasionally giving people hints that they ought to go home. She left her cake untouched, rushed the Coming of Age ceremony at the end and even forgot about her gifts. It was clear that no amount of cheering up was going to change Winter for the rest of evening. Sitting alone on the floor of a small dimly lit living room by the fire place, she was joined by Grandma Parroult on her rocking chair, who in her wisdom didn’t initiate conversation, but waited for Winter.
“I’m sorry for ruining everything,” she said lowly, with her knees up, resting her arms and head on them.
“No need to say sorry. It’s clear why you reacted as you did.”
“Two days in a row I’ve ended up in a dire state. Just because… because-
“You’re trying to grapple with who you are and where you fit in this world. A tough undertaking for anyone, let alone a young woman of thirteen.” Winter missed having Grandma around. The last three months she had spent bedridden, saw her vigor deplete as the weeks went on, with no sign of it ever returning. Her sudden miraculous recovery had been a source of great joy to the family. Especially to Winter, who found that Grandma always knew what to say or do.
“Are you maybe willing to open one gift?” she asked. Realizing that she hadn’t done this now gave her a short spur gleey. Nodding with a smile, she reached to hold the curious looking object that Grandma held out. It was no longer in length than her entire hand, a small glass dome, with a wooden base, containing what looked like a tinned out gold bracelet with a circular glass center. It had two little silver pieces, sticking out of the left side.
“This came with you when we found you on the kitchen table. However we were never able to open…. It…” Winter who at this point was ogling the bracelet in her hand, paid little attention to what her Grandma was saying and proceeded to wear it.
“How did you do that?”
“Open the case. How did you? We’ve been trying for thirteen years.”
“I don’t know,” said Winter half listening, “I just pulled from the bottom I guess.” She held out her hand looking at the bracelet from different angles in the fire light.
“If you’ve had it for so long,” said Winter, “how come I’m only finding out about it now?”
“The note that came with it said that you were only to see it on your thirteenth birthday. It was quite strange. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why we complied.”
“So you’re not sure what it does? Or what these are for?” she asked, pointing at the two silver bits.
“Not a clue. We don’t even know what language those inscriptions on it are in. Now if your father, scribe that he is, has never seen it…” For the rest of the evening, the same kind of conversation followed with the rest of the Perraults. Charles at one point asked to try it on herself, but Winter refused to part with it. Even falling asleep wearing the bracelet.
The next morning, with basket in hand, Winter decided to go and pick some Rhym-Rhoses, Grandma’s favourite flower, from the forest across town. Having not left the house in over three months, Winter thought that this would be some little way of showing her appreciation. On her way, she noticed that a small crowd seemed to gather around a house. Pushing through she noticed that the wooden frame had be bashed in and the ground by it was stained red. Some of the town guard were standing near it, with two women who appeared to have been crying. Celeste’s husband, the silent huntsman was also there, kneeling by the door, examining the markings on the wall.
“Are you sure there was only one them,” he asked, looking back at the women. It took a few moments for them to compose themselves enough to respond.
“Yes, like we’ve already said,” snapped the taller of the two, “we only saw one. I’m sorry for not paying attention to detail while we were being attacked and my husband was dragged away.” At the mention of this, the second woman, who could have been her daughter, began to wail.
“What happened here?” said Winter to herself, feeling unnerved by the scene.
“Wolves,” answered a voice to her left. The tall bald man, kept staring ahead, fixed to what was happening, “at least one wolf, says the woman there.” How could a wolf do this? Winter thought to herself.
“Claims it spoke,” added the old man, “poor thing. So terrified she’s started hearing things.” Winter, gave a huge gulp, her stomach beginning to turn.
“I wanted to go to the forest today… and get some flowers.”
“Ah, you’ll be fine. These are nocturnal creatures. Plus, it looks like they’ve already… eat.”
“I know, but still…”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared, Winter.” Adelise. She avoided looking back, knowing exactly who was calling. Cloe’s laughing voice could be heard accompanying the taunt. Without glancing at them, Winter walked away from the scene, continuing walk, all the while trying to rid her mind of anything to do with wolves. At some stage in her journey, Winter had stopped paying attention to where she was going in order to focus on her new bracelet. She had not meant to bring something so valuable out with her. But as soon as she woke up, the idea to get flowers for Grandma hit her with such excitement that Winter even decided to skip breakfast, in order to get them. She looked at the glass center of her bracelet which had a white base, trying to guess what type of rock it was made out of. Unlike anything she had ever seen, the small silver handles seemed to indicate that the bracelet had a function of some sorts. After moving one of them she found that it was starting to wind until it stopped with a click. Ooh, now we’re getting somewhere. She would have continued her investigation, had it not been for the fact she almost got hit by a horse carriage, due to lack of attention. Determined to get the flowers for Grandma, she decided to look at it again later when she had time.
Reaching the edge of the forest, her mind raced back to the scene she had witnessed earlier.
“Stop it!” she said out loud to herself, “There was only one wolf and they come out at night. It’s morning now. I’ve been to the woods a million times and never saw a wolf. Besides, I didn’t come all the way out here and skip breakfast in vain, did I?”. With that pep talk, she proceeded to head into the forest. Trying to push such thoughts out of her mind. I’m not going too far in anyways. She assured herself. After about five minutes of walking, she made her way through an area of thick bushes, coming out to a small circular surrounding full of flowers with blue and red petals. Rhym-Rhoses. It was the best time of the year in autumn to find them. And by the looks of it, this area had been left untouched for a long time. Winter started humming as she carefully picked out the biggest ones she could find and tying them with ribbons. Occasionally, she got a bit carried away in the moment and pricked her finger. But this was only a minor inconvenience for Grandma. Her basket started to fill as she decided to collect some of the other flowers that were found here.
“Oooooooowho.” Winter’s head shot up, as she stayed kneeling with her right hand keeping her up steadily. Listening out for the noise.
“Oooooowhoo Ooowho.” She heard it again. It can’t be. No. why today? It can’t be! The howl was joined by a second one and seemed to get closer. Winter stood up quickly, making her feel light headed with her heart beginning to pound even faster. Terrified and dazed, she didn’t know whether her best bet was to stay here and wait for them to leave, or start running back towards town. Rustling could be heard at the other side of the thick bushes behind her. They were here. About to run away, she heard more rustling ahead. The second wolf. Panic stricken she froze. Unable to command her legs to move. Eyes closed. She stood waiting for them to descend on her. Hoping her death would be painless.
After a few seconds that felt like forever, the howling turned to out of control cackling, as familiar voices caused Winter to open her eyes. There on both sides of her were Adelise and Cloe, who were in near tears, bent over in fits of laughter. Winter had never before been both so relieved and so infruated at the same time. All she wanted to do was get out of here. Adelise and Cloe, still laughing, followed after Winter, calling her back with more taunts.
“Come on Winter! Stick with us, there could be wolves out there,” yelled out Adelise. Winter, with holding back the urge to cry, wiped her tears with her light crimson scarf, before putting it over her head, as if to hide away or block out the voices.
“It was just a joke! Don’t be such a baby,” added Cloe. Picking up her pace, Winter would do bursts of short sprints to try and increase the distance between. Just wait.. One day you’ll both get it. Just wait. She almost tripped over. Startled out of her train of thought by the sudden screams of Adelise and Cloe, calling for help. She turned to see what caused it. And there, backing them both into a tree was a large black wolf, growling as it slowly moved forward. Winter couldn’t believe her eyes and hoped that somehow this was still part of their joke. Their horror filled screams intensified as the wolf got closer. From the corner of her eyes, Adelise noticed a large stone just a few feet ahead and without thinking picked it up. Firing straight for the wolf’s body. It missed. But the attempt was enough to get the wolf’s attention. She tried to run away but only a few seconds passed before she could feel its claws on her back. Driving her to the ground. She rolled about and was now face to face with her attacker. Instinctively shielding her face, Winter felt the wolf’s clawing strikes. Suprinsingly she nothing tore through her flesh. Nor did the sleeve of her tunic seem to tear at the repeat attacks. Only the force of the blows were noticeable. At some point her hand felt a long stone on the ground and instinctively she grabbed hold, swing it towards the wolf’s face as it came in to bite her. She struck it by the left eye, causing it to retreat slightly, howling in pain.
“How dare you!” said a deep and angry voice. Winter was almost certain that she had seen the wolf’s mouth move along with those words. It came back at her once more and once again she shielded her face, this time clashing her arm with its teeth.
The next thing that happened almost felt like a dream when recounted later. Her bracelet suddenly began to shine with a brilliant light, letting out wisp like smoke that filled the surrounding area. The sweet high voice of a woman singing began to echo around the air, as a strong warm breeze surrounded her. Winter could feel herself becoming more at ease. In contrast, the wolf became more agitated. Until eventually it left howling. Noticing this, Winter quickly got up and began to run. Running as fast as she could. Avoiding the ever approaching darkness that seemed to surround her. Until suddenly… it went black.
Winter’s eyes opened again to the familiar environment of her room. To her right, Mrs Perrault seatedt on a rocking chair. Sleeping as she held on to Winter’s hand. The bedside table that usually stood there had been moved to her left hand side. Topped with a few small cakes and a large jug of water on it. Mrs Perrault must have felt her movements, as she was now edging towards Winter for a hug.
“Are you okay? How are you feeling? Does your head hurt?”. It now dawned on Winter that she had some cloth wrapped tightly around her head. Feeling it with her hands, a sharp pain arose.
“It hurts when I press in there,” she answered, pointing near the back of her head.
“You where losing blood,” said Mrs Perrault, her voice cracking with tears, “You almost died. What were you doing out in the forest alone!”
“I always go to the forest.”
“Not anymore!” replied Mrs Perrault, holding on to her tighter, “I almost lost you to the… to the…” crying, she couldn’t bring herself to say it. Five minutes or so passed in silence as they sat in each other’s presence. Both helping the other recover. The rest of the day was spent with Winter in bed and Mrs Perrault rarely leaving her side. She was told that once Adelise and Cloe had ran back into town, they found the town guards who at the time were with the Huntsman. After being notified about the situation, they made their way towards the forest, finding her knocked out on the ground. She felt slightly embarrassed at the thought of her unconscious body being carried across town by the Huntsman.
“Can I come in?” said a voice at the door. Much to her surprise, it was Adelise standing timidly, too ashamed to look up. She had a basket of fruit and what looked like biscuits in her hands. Mrs Perrault waved her in and she stood to Winter’s left, with bloodshot eyes.
“These are for you,” she said, holding out the basket, “but don’t strain yourself. I’ll just leave it to the side. And don’t worry about the flowers you were collecting. I made sure they took the basket when they found you.” A smile almost formed on Winter’s face. But remembering exactly who it was that spoke, and what had happened just before the attack, she looked down frowning. Tears dropping. Adelise too began to sob. Kneeling down by Winter’s side weeping.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. For mocking you and- and for s-scaring you that day. You’ve every right to hate me, I admit that… But you saved my life. And Cloe’s too. Could’ve run away and left us, but you didn’t. You have every right to hate me, but I can’t take that. Not after yesterday…. Please…if you… if you could just-“ Adelise didn’t get to finish talking, being overwhelmed by the hug she was now receiving in the arms of a crying Winter.
“It’s fine,” said Winter in a low almost whisper like voice. They didn’t exchange many words before Adelise left. Cloe, it was said, had sustained a bite to the leg, which would have been worse had the wolf not released it in order to chase after Winter. Otherwise, she too would have come to her house with Adelise.
That night Winter woke up sweating, panting hard. She dreamt of facing the wolf again. But this time there was no mysterious light and music. Just the evil laugh of the wolf before her own blood curdling scream. Those two things, the mysterious light and the wolf’s apparent words, were details that Winter purposely left out when questioned earlier by the Huntsman. He seemed a little unconvinced by her answers, almost as if he knew she wasn’t tell the whole truth. But he didn’t press much further. It was just dream… this time. Winter stayed up for a while, feeling herself unable to sleep. Unable or unwilling?
CLACK. Her eyes shot open. It sounded like something broke downstairs. Charly, what did you do this time? Not feeling like staying in the dark much longer, Winter covered her head with a white scarf to keep warm, whilst making her way towards the door. Grandma was walking across the narrow hallway with a lamp, in her nightgown. Apparently having been woken up by the loud noise as well.
“Argh!” she dropped the lamp, squealing in horror and shaking violently at whatever she saw. Two large, terrifying red eyes belonging to a black figure by the stairs were approaching. It moved swiftly past Winter, diving right on top of the Grandma.
“NOO!” yelled Winter. The eyes turned towards her and the creature let out a loud growl.
“Remember me?” came a deep, dark voice from its direction. Winter backed into her room, slamming the door. She fought hard to keep it shut, but the force of the wolf knocked her away from it.
Getting up immediately, she backed to her bed, seeing nowhere else to go. The wolf was getting closer in small steps, either being cautious or savouring the moment.
“Leave me alone!” yelled Winter. The wolf let out a cruel laugh.
“I want this great big eye,” it began, bring the left one into view, “the same one you scarred, to be last thing you see before I kill you. I want to smell your blood once more. After I tear your insides out with these sharp claws and rip into them with my these big, terrible teeth!” It was about to leap for Winter before being interrupted by something at the door. Another Wolf.
“Vashtar. Cease what you are doing,” it growled in a low voice, “An error was made. We are to leave now!”
“But the girl! I must get re-
“Matilda has ordered it!” The red eyes turned back to see the cowering girl. It let out a huge howl before following the other wolf and leaving. Winter let out a cry of relief. Struggling to believe that she had been so fortunate to survive a second time. “Grandma!” Rushing out back into the hall, Winter saw the faint glow from the fallen lamp, lighting the body that lay beside it on the ground.
“No, please! Grandma!” dropping to her knees, Winter placed an ear to her chest, listening for a beating heart. Nothing. Only a wet liquid that was now all over her side. Winter shrieked back as she felt her ear touch what could only be the insides of Grandma’s chest. Winter covered her mouth and let out a soundless cry as she saw the blood that was gushing out from her Grandma’s neck, barely attached to the rest of her body. Overcome with emotion, she let out a loud, cry and burst into tears. The fight between the desire to be near her Grandma and the aversion to the sight of her mangled body, caused Winter to curl up into a ball and wail. So taken in by her sudden grief, she didn’t notice the Huntsman coming behind her.
“No!” she yelled, attacking the hand on her shoulder.
“It’s me Winter! Clay! It’s me.” As realization set in, he leaned in to him and cried in his arms.
“It spoke! The wolf spoke.”
“Listen, we have to go now!”
“It SPOKE! It attacked Grandma then taunted me!”
“Listen to me-
“No!” cried Winter, she tried to move away from him, clutching on to Grandma’s legs “I can’t leave her. I won’t leave her!”
“She’s gone Winter. She’s gone!”
“Listen to me!”
“WINTER I KNOW THEY CAN TALK. I KNOW SHE’S DEAD. I KNOW IT HURTS. BUT IF YOU DON’T LEAVE NOW, WORSE COULD HAPPEN.” Shaken, she lost the will to fight and slowly got up, being led by the Huntsman. She looked back at her Grandma’s dead body, not knowing if this might be the last time any contact would be made.
“Let’s get out of here first.” A million questions began to flood her mind. Why were Grandma and I alone? How can a wolf talk? How did it find me? If everyone else were here could Grandma have lived?” Winter decided not to think about them. What she already knew was bad enough. What she didn’t need was to worry about what ifs.
Out in the cold night, Winter didn’t know if her uncontrollable shaking was due to fear or the sudden chill she experienced. They walked to garden gate where a horse was waiting for them. The Huntsman put away his sword before lifting Winter on and mounting himself.
“You’ll warm up soon. It won’t take long.” But Winter wasn’t dwelling on her current state. Nor her grandma that lay dead in the house. Nor the many other questions that sought to plague her. No. One thought and one thought only was beginning to burn in her mind. And it alone would drive her from now. I know the name. I know the scar. The wolf will die. And I’m going to kill him. Thus is the origin of the girl behind the tale. The Masked Maiden. The Scarlet Wonder. But the mighty armoured warrior that would someday charge her enemies on stallions, was at this moment a confused and wounded little girl in a stained blood red hood, riding into the dark.