The Clearing

The Wolf King glanced at his second in command and motioned towards the dilapidated huts across the river. The haggard looking wolf snarled, barked viciously and set off towards the edge of the bank. As he got closer to the water, the haggard wolf began to pick up more speed, his muscled legs pounding the grassy turf. The agile beast let out a deep growl and sprung from the bank’s lip, propelling himself through the air. The Wolf King watched pleased, as his second in command cleared the water and landed in a half slide on the other side of the bank, spraying up dirt and grass about him. Inspired by the haggard wolf’s success, the remaining grey wolves soon followed, leaping over the wide river in single file succession. One of the youngest wolves in the pack had the unlucky misfortune of misjudging the gap and plunged into the icy waters with a loud yelp. The Wolf King watched, his face devoid of emotion, as the young greyback kicked and fought against the rushing current. Eventually it was too much for the poor creature and he was pulled under by the fast flow of water. A few of the grey wolves howled, pain stricken by the loss of their younger brother. The Wolf King raised his nose into the air and sniffed. The smell of elves lay heavy on the air and inhaling the aromas deep into his nostrils, the Wolf King darted forwards with alarming speed and soared across the water.

Angered at the death of one of their own, the wolves tore through the small dwelling, wreaking havoc inside the huts. As the grey backs systematically searched each hut, the Wolf King and the haggard second in command paced between the dwellings, tracking the scent of the elusive elves. Eventually the scent led them to one of the huts at the far end of the village. The haggard wolf appealed to his leader to go scout it out and the Wolf King nodded, approving the demand. The haggard wolf rushed forwards and dived head first through the hut window. He landed heavily, destroying the small, weakly built dinner table. Wood flew into the air around him as he looked around for the company of elves. They were no where to be seen. One of the small creature’s moleskin coats was draped over a chair, pushed up against the wall. The haggard wolf moved over to it, his blood boiling as he began to realize that it was the source of the scent. There was a slight snap as his paw brushed the rug. He looked down puzzled and a moment later there was a loud crunch and the ornate rug gave way under his feet.

Upon hearing the haggard’s wolf cry, the Wolf King moved cautiously towards the open hut door. Splintered bits of wood lay scattered around the dwelling and a large hole sat in one corner of the room. The Wolf King moved over to it and peered inside. The haggard wolf lay at the bottom of the deep pit, tangled up in the living room rug. The Wolf King glanced up and caught sight of the moleskin coat. He snarled and swiped at a nearby chair, sending it flying across the room.

Mother Owl and Azral sat on the end of a long branch, high up in a tall Birch. From their position they had a clear view of Sticklewood and watched intrigued, as the company of wolves darted frantically in and out of the huts.

Grumpty glided over the tall treetops, the air currents propelling him through the sky. Several owls accompanied him, each clutching a small elf in their large talons. Grumpty dipped and felt the high, tree top leaves brush his legs. He started to grow worried at his closeness to the trees and glanced to one of the owls for assistance. However, as the owl swooped down to aid him, the trees petered out and large meadows and fields came into view. Grumpty directed his wings at the ground below and slowly began to descend towards one of the overgrown meadows. Seeing Grumpty’s change in direction, the party of owls copied his example and gradually flew downwards. Grumpty landed in the meadow in a run, which turned into a jog and then eventually he was able to come to a stop. The owls landed more gracefully, gently resting the queasy elves amongst the flowers. Once the elves had regained their sense of balance, the owls bid them farewell and departed. Being the oldest of the two, Nut and Mugleaf looked the palest. Grumpty was the only elf that seemed to be unaffected by the journey and he used the opportunity to gain his bearings. It was late evening and the sun was just a thin sliver of orange above the horizon. Noticing the darkening sky, Grumpty roused the seated elves, much to their displeasure and set off for the line of trees at the far end of the meadow.

Half an hour later the elves came to a halt just outside a wide clearing, deep in the heart of the woods. Peering through the thin screen of bushes, Grumpty could make out the form of several sleeping wolves, arranged in a circle. In the centre of the circle, sat Ogle’s mother, looking absolutely petrified. Seeing a window of opportunity Ogle went to move forward but Grumpty placed a hand on his chest. Ogle questioned his action and Grumpty nodded back to the clearing. Another wolf appeared from between the trees on the other side of the clearing and strode towards the circle. The elves’s hearts sank as the wolf casually began to stroll around the sleeping wolves. They were going to have to come up with a plan if they wanted any chance of getting to Ogle’s mother without being seen.

The wolf guard paced back and forth around the encampment, carrying out her standard route of the day. A movement in the trees ahead made her stop and her eyes narrowed, trying to discern the mysterious presence. A branch snapped somewhere behind the bushes and the wolf guard snarled. She pondered whether to investigate or not. Her job as wolf guard was to stick to her route and guard the prisoner but a part of her wanted to scout out the threat and eliminate it. As she was considering her predicament, a red blur materialized amongst the green and throwing caution to the wind the wolf guard darted into the trees after it. A few moments later Grumpty and Ogle tiptoed carefully into the clearing. Ogle’s mother spotted the two elves and was about to emit a cry of surprise before Ogle raised a finger to his lips, willing her into silence. Trying to be as quiet as possible, Grumpty and Ogle stepped carefully over the snoring wolves and crept at a painstakingly slow rate towards Ogle’s mother.

The wolf guard crashed through the trees, ignoring the leaves and branches that whipped against her face. The red blur was drawing ever closer and she pushed on harder, eager to unearth its mystery. A fallen log lay ahead and she jumped over it gracefully. The red blur was close now, just behind the next screen of bushes. The wolf guard smashed through it and slid to a halt, her claws digging into the soft soil beneath her. Hanging from a tree branch in front of her was a small, red elven hat. Nut’s hat to be precise. The wolf guard gnashed her teeth together menacingly, leaped up to the branch, wrenched the hat to the ground and began tearing it to pieces. When the hat lay it tatters and the wolf guard had gotten rid of her frustration she sniffed its remnants for Nut’s scent. She grinned devilishly. The elf was still nearby.

Grumpty and Ogle were making good progress and the pair sped up, desperate to reach the centre before any of the sleeping beasts stirred from their slumber. There was a moment of panic when a wolf stirred beneath Grumpty as he was in the middle of stepping over him. Luckily, the wolf rolled over and fell back asleep. Grumpty let out a sigh of relief and pressed on cautiously. Eventually they made it to the centre and Ogle embraced his mother in a tight hug. The three elves were just about to make their way back when they heard footsteps approaching. Grumpty felt a deep fear rise within him as the Wolf King and the company of grey wolves emerged from behind the trees. Ogle’s mother let out a little squeak and clung on to her son’s arm. The Wolf King paused at the edge of the clearing and glared at the three tiny elves, his eyes burning with a fiery intensity.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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