Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Harvest Tale, Part 2 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 2 of my fairy tale, A Harvest Tale. The story had grown a little too long to be a regular blog post, so I've posted it in four parts. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 2 starts now…

A Harvest Tale
By Catherine Mesick
Marta hurried back to the path and paused for a moment looking both behind her and ahead of her in the dark forest. But search as she might, she could find nothing. She decided to continue on her way home.
Marta had walked about halfway through the woods when she saw another traveler coming toward her. Marta squinted at the figure, wondering if it could be the old man, but she saw instead a woman—also of many winters—whose hair was as snowy as the man’s beard had been. Unlike the man, however, the woman appeared to be stout and healthy, and she waved vigorously in the lantern light as Marta drew near.
“Good evening, Grandmother,” Marta said, for a grandmother the woman must be.
“I’ve no time for pleasantries,” the woman said. “You must come and help me at once.”
“Of course, Grandmother,” Marta said.
The woman hurried off into the darkness, and Marta quickly followed.
Soon Marta could hear whinnying cries, and a moment later, Marta and the woman came in sight of an injured horse, thrashing on the dirt path, its eyes rolling wildly.
“It’s my dear girl,” the woman said, rushing to the horse’s side. “She took a terrible fall, and I fear she may have broken her leg.”
Marta set her lantern down and ran a soothing hand along the horse’s neck.
The horse did not seem to notice her and continued in its frenzied cries.
“We must summon help, Grandmother,” Marta said. “The horse is in great pain.”
The woman wrung her hands. “What am I to do? Who will help my poor beauty?”
“We must go back to the village,” Marta said. “We can find help there.”
The woman shook her head in despair. “The village is too far. We will not reach help in time.”
The horse gave a loud whinny.
“Where is your home, my dear?” the woman asked. “Surely, it is not too far. Pray take me to your home, so we can find help.”
“There is only my mother and my young brother at home,” Marta said. “And they cannot help with this. Besides, my home is as far from here as the village is.”
The horse whinnied again.
“Oh, my poor beauty, my poor pretty girl,” the woman cried. “If only I had something to soothe her. Have you, my dear, any water? A draught of water might calm her cries.”
“I’m sorry, Grandmother,” Marta said. “But I have no water.”
“What is in that basket you carry?” the woman asked. “Do you have bread or milk or any sugar? Those would do as well as water.”
“I have only apples, Grandmother.”
“Apples!” the woman cried. “My poor beauty loves apples above all else. Pray give me an apple, my dear. That will ease his suffering.”
Marta reached to uncover her basket and then stopped.
A cold wind swirled around her, and she glanced around at the thick, dark forest.
“How long have you been out here, grandmother?” Marta asked.
“Oh, such a very long time, my dear!”
“And how did you come to be out on such a cold, dark evening?” Marta asked. “Where were you going?”
“I was going to the village,” the woman said. “I was going to visit my son and his family.”
“Surely your son will be missing you by now,” Marta said. “Maybe even searching for you? I will take you to the village and your son. He will know then that you are safe, and he can give you greater help than I can.”
“Oh! But my dear, I fear my horse is beyond all help! Pray give me an apple so I can soothe my poor girl’s current pain.”
Marta stood up. “I cannot give you an apple. The apples are for my mother.”
“Please, my dear! Have pity on my poor girl! Just give me one apple! I don’t need them all!”
Marta picked up her lantern. “I cannot give you even one.”
“Then you will not help me!” the woman cried. “You will leave me here in the dark!”
“I will help you back to the village, Grandmother.”
“Why will you not help me?”
“The apples are for my mother,” Marta said.
She began to walk once again.
The woman gave an agonized cry, and Marta turned quickly back toward her. She raised her lantern high.
Both the woman and the horse had disappeared.
Marta hurried on her way.
She had traveled nearly half the distance remaining to the end of the forest when she heard hoofbeats behind her on the road, and she turned around quickly.
But the road behind her was empty, and Marta realized that she had mistaken the direction of the sound. The hoofbeats were actually coming from in front of her, and she quickly stepped off the path so as to be out of the way. Within moments, a horse and rider galloped down the road and stopped abruptly at the sight of Marta’s lantern.
“Who goes there?” called a stern voice. “Show yourself, if you be not foe.”
Marta stepped onto the path. By the light of the lantern she could see a coal-black horse with black and silver trappings and a rider clad in the same colors. The rider was a young man with golden hair and an aristocratic bearing.
“Who goes there?” the young man repeated.
“My name is Marta, my lord,” Marta said, for a great lord the young man must be.
“Step closer so that I may see you,” the young man said.
Marta took a step forward.
“You have a lovely face, Marta.”
Marta did not reply.
“Marta, I confess that I am currently in need of assistance,” the young man said.
“How can I help, my lord?”
“I am lost, lovely Marta. I was on my way to the castle, but instead of a castle, I seem to have found myself in a dark, lonely wood. Can you show me the way to the castle?”
“If you will only continue on this path, my lord,” Marta said, “you will find your way out of the forest soon enough. As to the castle, I have heard it is on the far side of the village, but I have never seen it myself, and I do not know the way.”
“So then you will not help me, Marta?”
“I cannot, my lord.”
The young man looked around suddenly, as if struck by a thought.
“But where are your companions? Is there no one else?” the young man asked.
“No, my lord,” Marta replied. “It is only me.”
“You are quite alone?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The young man frowned. “Why do you travel alone, Marta? Have you no servants?”
“No, my lord,” Marta said. “I have no servants.”
“But where are you going, Marta?” the young man asked.
“I am going home to my mother and brother.”
“Is your home very far?”
“No, my lord. It is just on the other side of the trees here.”
“Then you are almost out of the woods,” the young man said with a smile.
“Yes, my lord.”
The young man shifted in his saddle. “And it would seem an even shorter distance if you were on horseback.” He held out a hand. “If you will permit me, Marta, I will take you home.”
Marta hesitated.
“Is something troubling you, Marta?” the young man asked.
“Are you after my apples?”
“Your apples?”
“Yes, my lord,” Marta said. “The apples in my basket.”
The young man laughed. “What need have I for apples?”
“I could not say.”
“Then say you’ll come with me.”
“I thank you, my lord, for your courtesy,” Marta said. “But I must go on alone.”
“As you wish,” the young man said. “But will you not leave me with something, lovely Marta? Some token to remember you by?”
“I will tell you what I told the others, my lord,” Marta said. “The apples are for my mother. You cannot have them.”
“Supposing I mean what I say, Marta? Supposing I do find you lovely and only want to help you? Do you still refuse me, then?”
“I do, my lord.”
“Marta, I will tell you plainly that I tire of games and apples. All I look for now is love. Does that not sway you?”
“It does not, my lord.”
With that, Marta began to run for home. She didn’t turn to see if the young man was still behind her.
She had not gone far, however, when an icy wind enveloped her, and a blinding white blaze of light appeared in front of her on the road. Marta stopped and covered her eyes with her arm to shield them from the sudden glare.
**End of Part 2. You can find Part 3 here.**
Thanks very much for reading!
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