Lydia Schofield 2015
The Raven, The Wolf and The Frost-Bitten Woods
I am Raven. I was born to the fearsome lord of our valley fourteen years ago. But then he tried to marry me off to a neighbouring tribe leader. So now I’m running away. Many fathers do this to their daughters but none shall do it to me. I am Raven and, like the birds, I will migrate. I will live with my grandmother in the woods. She is a sorcerer and she will teach me her ways. She will do this or she will pay for her resistance. I am a woman now and I shall take chances that real women must take. I collect my warmest robes from the chest beneath my bed. I would never be able to drag the whole thing with me. Not in this snow. No one in the village, no matter how brave or fearsome, would venture out in snow like this. Not even my father would go out in weather like this morning’s. And my father will certainly not be able to stop me today. He began his travels yesterday and he will not be back until tomorrow. He has gone to fetch the man I am to marry. The thought of this new husband makes me feel sick. At the bottom of the chest I find the old red cloak that my father brought back for me from a particularly victorious plunder. I don the cloak and, surprisingly, it still fits quite loosely. The cloak’s warmth envelops me instantly. Stuffing the robes into a sack, I glance over at my weakling of a younger brother. My father wants him to be chief and lord of the valley one day. And now, thanks to me, he will be. I am giving the weak waste of space a gift that he might never understand. I hope that one day, he may thank me for it. Once downstairs, I grab all the weapons I can, making sure to only select weapons that I know how to use and that my father will not miss. I fill the sheath and position it and one of the bows onto my back and load some wine, bread and meat into my sack. I slot the knives into my belt and hold the larger bow at the ready as I trudge into the snow, the heavy sack slung over my shoulder. My boots are as strong as my spirit and I do not feel the cold. I feel only my own strength as I push on through the rough patches of terrain. Out of nowhere I hear a formless sound. A howling. A wolf. I have shot a wolf before. It tried to attack my brother when he was sick a few years ago. It only took one arrow for the beast to be downed. I pull an arrow from my sheath and slot it in the bow. I am ready. No one can touch me. I have been walking since well before dawn and none shall stop me now. I hear a twig snap followed by a growling sound. The sound sends a chill down my spine and I try not to shiver. I drop the sack at my feet and draw the bow back, aiming toward the strange growling. I release the arrow just as a hooded man leaps from a hollow tree and catches the arrow in his paw-like hand. He has a wolf skin for a cloak. The fur around his head has dried blood stuck around the edges. I can smell rotten meat even from here. His face is strewn with cuts and bruises that move in strange ways as he snarls at me. This is not a wolf. This is not a man. This is an imitation. An imitation that I can slaughter. I am a woman now, after all. And real women can handle situations like these. I ready another arrow and release it, aiming at the beast’s heart. The arrow lodges itself in the centre of the beast’s chest. I hear a thump as the limp body hits the snow covered ground. The red of his blood spoils the innocence of the white, pure snow. The stain in the snow fades from dark scarlet to crimson to almost pink. It almost looks beautiful. I hear something like a footstep behind me and spin round to see another wolf-cloaked man, standing only a few paces from me. In one fluent movement, I pull a knife from my belt and thrust it into the second imitation’s chest. He howls in pain and drops into the snow. Two bodies. Two blood stains in the snow. I smile to myself proudly. “I knew you were strong, Raven,” I say to myself as I clean my knife in the snow, sling the sack back over my shoulder and walk off in the direction of my grandmother’s house.