The Warriors

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story that takes place in the woods.... view prompt

2 comments

Mystery

A young boy crouched silently in the dense shrubbery of the forest.  His ears were pricked, ready to hear the long awaited signal. While he listened, he heard many other ordinary sounds of the forest: the distant twitter of the birds who dotted the sky with their aerial excellence; the constant chatter of squirrels as the scavenged for nut along the ground, stuffing them into their cheeks to preserve for the winter; the autumn-colored leaves rustled among the trees and some slowly fluttered to the ground, the wind blowing them this way and that. All these sounds were pleasant to the boy and enlightened his wait amid the prickly bushes; but none of these were the signal.

           He rolled back on the balls of his feet, giving his strained toes a chance to rest. He mustn’t sit down, the king had instructed him not to, for if he fell asleep he might miss the signal, then all would be lost. His mind kept lingering on one fact—the fact that if he messed up, the mission would be useless.

           He shivered at the thought. This was surely not a laughing matter but the squirrels and the bird’s once pleasant noises began to sound similar to mocking people. He could picture it now, his colleagues thrusting fingers at him, laughing at him, taunting him. He tried to shove this image away from his head, willing it leave, but there it remained steadfast in his brain.

           Then he heard it, the signal! It reverberated throughout the forest, loud and shrill—one short blast of a whistle followed by five longer ones and a yelp similar to a coyotes. The boy straightened his legs and prepared to run. He assumed a running position and after five seconds he was of. His long hair raced behind him like strings of long, gold curls. He began to smile—he loved running. He loved it in all its majestic glory. He loved the way the wind rushed against his face; he loved the sound his bare feet made against the damp earth of the forest. Everything about it was beautiful, and finally the scornful image flew from his mind.  

           Suddenly, he broke through a wall of trees into a clearing. Through the center of the clearing a small, winding creek trickled down. The boy seemed to be alone, but he knew otherwise. He was being watched, not by enemies, but friends. Then, a man stepped into the clearing right beside the boy. He was dirty and his face wrinkled with old age. This was the leader of the Warriors, King Arrowhead. In his hand, the king gripped a long sapling. He used this as a staff just as his father, the late king of the Warriors had. It was many years ago when King Arrowhead had inherited the ancient staff, long before the boy was born.

           The staff itself was inscribed with runes signifying the creation of the Warriors. There was a drawing of the king’s father and one of the king as well. Below it was bare, untouched wood where the next king’s picture would be.

           The king nodded at the boy and began to slowly walk towards the creek. Meanwhile, many other Warriors emerged from the ring of trees. The seemed un-armed and completely docile, their young faces calm and put together, but the boy knew this was just a mask of who they really are. He knew they had weapons stowed away in the secret pockets of the vests they always wore, even while asleep. The boy too had one of these vests, smaller than the others with fewer pockets. A boy his age was said to not be allowed a vest with more than seven pockets—the king’s rule. He owned only two, nearly harmless weapons, a small club and a small dagger which he kept in a leather sheath. He had never used these to injure another human being, only for hunting and training purposes.

           The king’s voice began to echo throughout the clearing. “Clarence,” (this was the boy’s name), “you have succeeded in fulfilling task, with great haste as well,” Clarence began to feel happy, swelling pride filled his chest, “but sadly, it was not fast enough.” Clarence’s pride vanished.

           “What, sir, do you mean?” Clarence was shaking, on the brink of tears, he had done everything correct and ran as fast as he could, maybe it wasn’t fast enough. How hopeless he seemed now.

           “You came here exactly three seconds late.” The king turned towards Clarence, realizing his distress, he added hopefully, “it was better than last time.” This was true, but it failed to cheer up Clarence.

           “But, sir, I awaited the five seconds you had instructed me to before I began to run.”

           “What? I did not instruct you to wait. And five seconds, well that explains it; I knew you were much faster. But when did I instruct you to do so?”

           Clarence, utterly confused said, “It wasn’t you, exactly, who told me. It was Xavier, sir. He told me that you had forgotten to tell me and told him to do it instead.”

           The king’s brow wrinkled as he whirled about the clearing searching for Xavier. His eyes land upon a sheepish looking young boy. “XAVIER! What have you done?”

           The man spoke with his eyes averted from the king, “I didn’t do anything.” His voice faltered, everyone knew Xavier was a terrible liar. Clarence was surprised he didn’t just tell the truth because everyone knew it anyway.

           “Xavier,” the king spoke softly now, “I you believe this is going to make you more likely to become king, you are wrong. Now, hurry back to camp and help the woman make supper; that will be your punishment.”

           Quickly, Xavier hurried off through the woods to the Warriors’ camp. The king faced Clarence, “Now, son, we can resume training. I’m sorry Xavier is acting so ignorant, it’s all going to his head. But I guess it isn’t his fault that you were the older twin.”

 

           After a long day of training the king, Clarence and other Warriors began the short journey home. Soon the comforting smell of stew filled their nostrils. They began to quicken their pace. They soon broke through into another clearing, this one inhabited not by a creek, but many, many tents. These tents housed the

Warriors and their families. In the center was a large fire, and resting over it was a bubbling cauldron filled nearly to the brim with delicious smelling stew.

           The stew was soon ladled out to all of the people and they began to feast hungrily on the delicious broth. Clarence had started to lift his first spoonful to his mouth, but before it reached his lips, a scream sounded through the clearing, “Queen Arrowhead is dead!”

           The king jumped up with a start and the two princes did the same. They followed the distressed calls and screams to the back of the clearing. There was Meadowlark, the queen’s servant crouching next to the queen’s lifeless body. Hurriedly the king bent down and began to caress the queen’s pale cheek. Xavier broke out into loud, blubbering sobs and leaned against Clarence’s shoulder smearing snot on his shirt. Clarence usually would have shrugged him off, but he too stood there, silent tears slowly trickling down his face.

           Meadowlark explained, “I was with her only ten minutes ago, helping her with hanging the laundry back here. I walked away for a few minutes to fetch a drink for me and the queen.” She motioned towards spilled cups of water, “I came back and found her here.” Next she motioned towards the queen’s side which was cover in blood, “what do think happened?”

           The king contemplated a moment, “Well, it surely wasn’t an accident. Who did it, I do not know, but I do know they cannot be far if it was only a couple of minutes ago.” He peered at the dark forest in front of them.

           “Why do you assume it is a man?” inquired Meadowlark, “couldn’t it be a bear or wolf?”

           “Beasts like those would not come here without seeking food, if it was an animal it would’ve come for the stew, not my wife. And it would make a bigger mess than this. So I can tell you that this was intentional, not a deed of any animal I know of.” The king stroked his chin wisely, feigning braveness, but his eyes portrayed sorrow, but most of all fear.

April 12, 2020 18:22

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Jennifer Neff
21:08 Apr 22, 2020

I enjoyed this story. It had action, and mystery. I found myself anxiously awaiting the "signal" myself.

Reply

19:05 Apr 24, 2020

Omg!☺ Thank you! It is my very first submission and I didn't know how people would like it. It's been an idea in my mind for quite a long time, but when I saw the prompt I decided I'd give it a try. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply