The Hunter Games

Huntress

Once upon a time in faraway Heindenlily, Princess Amera decided that she would go to the Wise One to help her find love.

She pulled the reins so her horse could gallop faster as she left the palace gates behind. Sandwiched between her bodyguards, she felt as if palace life had shielded her. And from what? Foolish princes like Prince Olmeri of Findolgun who’d stuttered when he came for her hand until he all but swallowed his tongue, and the king’s physician had to revive him. Still blue in the face, he’d tried to stutter an apology, but she shushed him by putting her index finger to his lips. What utter nonsense! She would find love on her terms.

When her guards dismounted to cut low-lying branches, paving a way in the forest, she saw how long their shadows were. She had not noticed the sun receding behind the hills of Allaymin. She shivered and drew her cape tighter. In front, the oak trunks leaned in as if to touch them and then, as if to squash them. Meeting her bodyguards’ stares, she masked her fear with her smile. She marvelled that women had lain passive as though waiting for pollen from bumblebees, for years and years. The wind was variable too. Nectar had lost its edge, and the driver’s seat was vacant.

“Fair princess!”

Her bodyguards bumped into one another and struggled to quieten their horses. Princess Amera gasped as the trail widened to reveal a moss-covered hut. The Wise One beckoned to her from the entrance. The rumours were true. His white beard swept the ground like the dust brushes her chamber maidens used to attack cobwebs.

Inside the hut, babies’ skulls lined the walls. He pulled one, dropped something inside it, and offered it to her. Her hands trembled as she collected the skull. The thing inside smelt like cow dung and tasted like honey, so she did not chew.

“So you are tired of waiting for him?”

He did not wait for her answer.

“Choice is a rudder without hindsight. A thing to be desired and yet a thing to be feared,” his voice boomed, and the walls became mirrors.

She smiled when she saw perfection.

“That one,” she pointed.

“The moon will cross Orynimmel Kingdom tonight and tomorrow. You will have one chance.”

He leaned forward, and his beard nicked a bit of the flame from the huge candle on the centre of the table. A quick glow and then fading embers, as the light died in his shaggy bush. He pulled a bow and arrow from under the table and handed it to her.

“Shoot with all your might, and he will be yours.”

“B . . . but . . . what if he doesn’t want me?”

“Isn’t that why you are going after him? To show him what he wants? Sssh, sleep now, in the morning it will all make sense.”

The next morning, she washed her face with the washcloth Wise One gave her. She looked in the stream. He was right. She was even more beautiful. When she turned to hand over the washcloth, the hut had disappeared. Her bodyguards stood at attention as they waited for her.

“Yee haw!” she cried and mounted her horse.

As they journeyed, the oak trunks leaned backwards, making space, so they could ride in an A-formation. Daylight pushed through the mist shrouding the hills of Allaymin. She saw him first as they rounded a bend. The sun’s rays filtering through the long necks of oak trees, circled him like a spotlight. Her horse neighed testing her indecision. Why was he alone?

“Fair princess,” he bowed.

“Prince Zonaltera of Luxamdola.”

She dismounted, clutching her bow and arrow in her right hand.

“Going hunting?”

He smiled at her and then turned to his horses, grooming their manes.

She sat on the grass. Dewy anemones and bluebells teased her ankles. She waited and waited until the sun rose to the middle of the sky.

You will have one chance . . .

“Do you like me?”

“Yes,” turning to face her, he said, “what’s not to like?”

“Then,” she cocked her head, “why have you not asked for my hand?”

“I don’t know. I . . . I have been distracted.”

“I see . . . grooming your horses . . .”

She stood, raised her bow and arrow, and aimed at his heart. He ducked and then ran deeper into the forest. Her hair danced in the wind as she pursued. Darting and ducking, brown trunks and green leaves embraced them in a fuzzy camouflage. The ground sucked their footfalls as squirrels and weasels skipped away.

“Stop!”

She spun around and around ears on alert. A creeping vine curled around his left sleeve, pinning him to the spot. He placed his free hand on his knee as he sucked in air, turning red. Overhead, jackdaws abandoned their nest holes and flew away, unamused by the lovers’ game.

“Please,” he said, twisting this way and that, “if you chase me, you will catch me.”

A thrill she had not known before made her skin tingle and her pupils dilate; she tasted power.

“I’m tired of hunting. The prey you want gets away too many times.”

He pulled his hand free, ripping his sleeve and sending tiny leaves in the air.

“Perhaps you lack skill.”

“Sometimes the prey runs too fast and then too slow, confusing your aim. Hunting can be exhausting!”

He sunk to the ground, massaging his arm.

“Wimp!” she scoffed. “I know what I want.”

She raised her bow.

“Wait, wait! How will you know I really want you, if you trap me?”

“Do you want me?”

“Yes . . . but give me a chance to—”

She raised her bow and released the arrow into his heart. Then she left him there for the magic to do its work. One month later, they were married. Her happiness was a rainbow that all came to behold and point at. Ten months after, he began to shrink. Smaller and smaller, smaller than a stump in the ground.

“What is happening?”

Her tears could no longer hide behind her eyes, which were twin mirrors through which he saw not only himself but also how she saw him. He longed to lick her tears, but she no longer ached for him, letting his name escape from her lips, softly, softly, softly. He began to cry too.

“Evolution?”

“I tried to warn you.”

“If we were born a thousand years from today, it would no longer matter who hunted and who got caught. If we could time travel . . .  I mean, what kind of woman loses a slipper at midnight and doesn’t go back to find it before one idiot consigns it to the lost-and-found dump?”

She carried her frog and placed him on the golden pouch on her nightstand. She missed the strength of his arms.

In the distance, the stars twinkled over the hills of Allaymin. The moon would cross Orynimmel Kingdom tomorrow night and next. She still had the bow and arrow.

You will have one chance.

Time had snatched her rainbow, but nirvana was still within reach.

“Good night my love.”

“Croak, croak, croak,” he replied.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Image credits: http://www.disney.co.uk/brave/downloads/?d=downloads-merida

 

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