Monster in the Forest

I actually took this picture myself and it’s the best one I managed all year!

“I told you to stay away from me.” Cana rolled away from him. There was plenty of room in the clearing and the fire was still bright.

“I thought we stayed close when camping in the woods,” Sion said. “To keep warm.”

“It’s past midsummer,” Cana said. “It’s not cold.” She rolled over and looked at the stars peeking through the canopy of leaves overhead. “The fire will keep away wolves and the horses will warn us if anything approaches. Get some sleep. We should reach the castle by noon tomorrow.”

“You won’t come into the castle with me?” Sion asked.

“I’ve been warned about monsters in the castle.” Cana said. “Besides, as you said, I’m just a girl.”

“Tomorrow I go to fight a monster,” Sion said. “This could be my last night on this earth. Won’t you at least make it a little warmer for me.”

“No,” Cana said, shifting her blanket a little further away from him.

“I could come back laden with jewels and gold,” Sion says. “The rumours say that there is treasure beyond counting.”

“And that is why you are going to the castle.” Cana said. “If there was no castle then the villagers could rot under monsters for all you cared.”

Sion laughed. “A man has to make his way in the world,” he said.

“I’m only here because of the steward’s orders,” Cana said. “You could turn back at any time.”

“I received no encouragement from village,” Sion said. “Don’t you fear monsters?”

“We fear them,” Cana said. “And we have learned to recognise them. You are going into this with a black eye because you couldn’t learn to take ‘no’ as an answer and the men of our village are protective.”

“And the women are no fun,” Sion said. “You are sleeping with a knife under your pillow. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Is that why the priest refused to bless me and my weapons?”

“It’s because you wouldn’t confess your sins first,” Cana said. “The whole village heard the argument.”

“Tomorrow I face a blood sucking, immortal creature that has powers that no-one can measure,” Sion said. “Won’t you warm my bedroll, to give me the comfort I need?”

Cana turned back and looked at the greasy, red face, predatory intent clear. “Save your strength. You’ll need it.” She looked coldly into his eyes. “And you’ll never make the castle if you try to force me.”

Sion laughed again. “It’s worth asking, at least.” He placed his sword in the clear ground between them. “There, do you feel safer?”

“The horses will warn of any movement,” Cana said. “Goodnight.”

Cana watched him leave the next morning and then tidied the campsite. Those who tracked the creature in the castle came at all times of year, so she stacked up firewood against the winter. She had lost count of those that she had brought here, seeking their fortune and, perhaps. fame. There had even been a few that had wanted to serve what they thought lived in the lonely fortress that was a short ride down the path. There were raspberries in the forest, and she picked a good basket full before the shadows lengthened. Then she made up the fire and waited.

She became aware of a presence. “You defeated him?”

Calixtus nodded and joined her near the fire. “To be truthful, he was a careless warrior. And he was avoiding me as he searched for the fabled treasure. I think he would have fed you to me to buy time if he could.”

“And you’re unhurt?” Cana asked.

“I can’t be hurt like you,” Calixtus said softly. “But no, he didn’t land a blow. The black eye didn’t help. Let me guess, he tried to flirt with Maria?”

“He tried more than flirting!” Cana said. “Fortunately for him, her husband reached them before she could do much.”

“How is Maria?” Calixtus asked.

“She’s well.” Cana said. “Rhia has had her baby, it’s a boy and they are calling him Calix, after you.” She frowned. “Father John’s joints are hurting him, I think, though he isn’t saying anything.”

“I’ll call in soon and see what I can do,” Calixtus said. “And I’ll have a look at the mill while I am there.”

Cana smiled. “You know so much. Perhaps you should take an apprentice.” She loosened her tunic.

“Perhaps I should,” Calixtus said. He held up his hand. “I won’t need blood for a while. The would-be warrior gave me plenty and there are many animals in the forest. But thank you.”

Cana shook her head. “You have saved us from so many monsters. Now, sit, share some raspberries and let me tell you all of the news.”

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