A thin layer of snow crunched satisfyingly beneath Joanna’s boots as she crept through the undergrowth, each of her movements silent and calculated.
All around her, the trees swished and groaned in the wind that whined overhead, their gnarly black branches concealing the shadows that flitted among the canopy, watching her every move. Unafraid, she prowled on, eyes and ears pricked.
Few brave souls would venture willingly into the woods, and Joanna was eagerly one of those souls. Unlike most, she liked the forest, it intrigued her. She had earned that strange trait of irresistible curiosity from her father.
Somewhere up ahead, the brush rustled with a faint whimpering. Joanna’s fingers curled around the feathered tip of the arrow she held taut against the string of her bow, an instinct long engraved into her senses.
She gently swept aside a bough of brambles, and peered through the gloom. The trees thinned out around a small snowy clearing, illuminated by a single misty shaft of pearly moonlight.
The source of the whimpering was a wolf, a huge raven black wolf, splayed on its side, flanks heaving with labored breaths. Its mouth was slightly parted in rapid panting, baring a row of glinting teeth. Its curled upper lip was marked with a thin rosy scar.
A thin stream of blood trickled from where an arrow had impaled the sleek sable fur of its brawny neck, staining the surrounding snow a deep crimson.
Joanna lowered her bow, and crept slowly forwards, leaving the murky safety of the brush. The wolf lifted its great head ever so slightly, and gazed up at her with eyes like two fiercely gleaming pools of honey glazed copper. There was something so un-wolflike about those eyes, those beautiful eyes glazed over in agony.
Kill me, they said to Joanna.
Kill me, for I am a beast.
Kill me, for I have slain many of your kind.
Kill me, and take my silken fur.
Kill me, I dare you.
This thing, this animal, this brute, it was not an it. It was a he. It was a soul and it was a being.
He had a voice like warm honey that tickled Joanna’s ears and fogged her brain. But it was not a voice, it was a mere echo somewhere far off in the profundity of his amber eyes.
Joanna heard nothing but the thump of her heart in her ribcage and the slow breaths escaping her parted lips.
She saw nothing but those eyes, so bewitchingly gorgeous and so alluring.
She smelt nothing but the acrid stench of blood and death, spilling out of the creature’s wound.
She felt nothing but the wolf’s silken fur as she gripped the arrow caught in his neck, and pulled it free.
In a moment, the monstrous animal was upon her, towering over her and throwing a great dark shadow over her and her vision. He blinked slowly, something like gratitude glimmering in his eyes, so deep they seemed utterly eternal.
Joanna had done him a service, a service that reached beyond the everlasting animosity between the fae and the wolf.
You will be rewarded.
And then he was gone.
Спасибо за чтение!