New Fiction – The Forest Kingdom

  

THE FOREST KINGDOM

 

By

Mark Christian Quinn

And Kenzie Katherine Quinn

 

 

Chapter 1

The Gift

 

Kassia Kallas Qincera (the fourth of that name), Princess of Sharonle, Countess of Hadam, Second to the Living Throne of The Forest Kingdom, was standing outside her bedchamber on her balcony on a sunny late summer morning in full view of most of the residents of the castle and many inhabitants of the city.  This was not unusual, except that on this particular morning, she was naked, and screaming.

Lea, her attendant, was screaming as well, but her ire was directed at the princess.  Throwing aside the heavy curtains that led to the balcony, she grabbed the distraught girl and dragged her back into the bedchamber, partly by her hair, and partly by her flailing arm.   The princess tore herself from the woman’s grip, losing a few hairs in the process and, running a few steps, leaped onto her bed, which, owing to its enormous height, was a respectable athletic feat.  She immediately clutched some of the bedclothes to her naked body and whirled on Lea.

“You HURT me!” she cried indignantly, but Lea, who had stopped screaming once she removed her charge from the perils of public nudity, was not repentant.  

“Great Lord of Heaven!” she responded at the top of her lungs, still red in the face and puffing from the struggle, and still clutching some of the girl’s gold tresses in her iron grip, “Are you demented?  Do you want the whole of creation to see you without your clothes?  Have you learned nothing of your mother and I and all the castle doing all we can to make you a lady at long last?”

The princess narrowed her dark eyes at the gray-haired woman and took a deep breath.  “But… there… was… a… BUG!”  She shrieked. 

Lea closed her eyes, shook her head and looked searchingly heavenward, letting out a long sigh.  She patted herself over her heart as if to calm its labored beating and began again to organize the princess’s clothes for the day, the task she had been discussing with the girl prior to the interruption.  “A bug,” she muttered loudly, “jumping naked into public over a bug.”  She went on muttering and bringing clothing out of the closet.  Noticing the royal strands of hair in her hand, her face reddened and she tucked them quickly into a pocket.

Kassia continued to glare at the woman for a few moments, then flung herself onto the bed and pulled the bedclothes over her head.  “None of that, none of that,” bustled Lea, “You’ve got to meet with your parents and your professors this morning.” 

Under the blankets, the princess cringed.  “I’m going riding,” she mumbled defiantly into the blankets. 

“What was that?” said Lea, looking inquiringly at the lump of bedclothes. 

“Nothing, thank you, Lea” said the princess loudly in a sarcastic sing-song. 

The woman shook her head again at the lump on the bed and bustled out the door.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes to see if you need any help with your hair,” she said over her shoulder.  “See that you get into those clothes in the meantime.  The hunt is tomorrow and all the men are preparing for it so don’t get in their way”

Hearing the door close, Kassia flung off the blankets and, ignoring the clothing laid out on her dressing table, she ran to her closet. 

Several minutes later, as the sun rose above the mountains and sparkled on the distant sea and the forest came to life in the golden light of the sunrise, she was in the stable saddling her horse, Hudson (whom she always thought of as her best friend).  She rode quickly out through the castle gate, down the streets of the city and through the great gate in the city wall to the long winding, paths under the green canopy of the forest trees with her golden hair and her favorite riding dress streaming out behind her in the bright morning breeze.  “Days like this are a gift, Hudson!” she called out to her horse as she rode under the trees.  “To waste it in a musty old castle meeting with professors would be to refuse the greatest gift of heaven.  There must be a law against that somewhere.”

She had quietly packed a lunch the night before and placed it in her saddlebag, but despite the fact that the kitchen always had wonderful food (in this case, golden apples from the mountain orchards, thick crusty sourdough bread made by the royal bakers, yellow cheese fresh from the market and a small bottle of black cherry wine just bottled last month), she never looked forward to lunchtime when she was on a ride.  The reason for this was that lunchtime meant that the ride was over and she had to return to the castle where, every afternoon, her professors would instruct her and her brother Conn in all of the things they needed to learn in order to be leaders of their country someday.  She found most of these lessons deadly boring, but most frustrating of all was the fact that she had to learn things like weaving while Conn got to go outside and practice the sword.  The only thing she got to do outside was archery, and her mother was adamant that she spend only thirty minutes each day on this vital skill.  “Thirty minutes!” she had protested in frustration, “In thirty minutes I can’t learn anything!  I’ll never be able to hit the side of the castle!” 

“That’s fortunate,” said her mother drily, “Since it is my sincere hope that you will not be shooting at the castle anyway.”  At that, Kassia had flung herself on her bed, blowing her long blond hair out of her face with an exasperated huff of breath.  This was her most dramatic gesture, but it had failed to have any effect on her mother for some time.

The worst part of all was that she was not allowed to learn magic in any of her lessons.  Conn was already training to see if he could earn the staff.  If he passed his exams, he would leave next year for training at Astarle.  She wanted to go with him and walk the grounds that all the great magicians and wizards, sorcerers and mages had walked, learn spells, carry a wand or a staff, make the darkness vanish with a word, and do all of the amazing things she had seen the wizards and sorcerers do in the palace on feast days. 

Her father had laughed quietly when she asked about it.  “You have not shown any gift yet, princess,” he said, with a smile.  “Give it time and we’ll see.”  “We’ll see” seemed to be the answer to most things she wanted to do.  She found those words insufferable, but she understood, in a way.  Most people found their gift before their fourteenth nameday.  Kassia would celebrate her sixteenth in the next moon cycle, and yet she had no gift, and had no idea if she would ever get one, and even less if it would qualify her to train in magic.  She questioned her mother about it constantly, but “Everyone has a gift,” was all that her mother would say.

Her father’s gift was healing.  Since his twelfth year, he had found that, if he knew something was physically wrong with someone, he could fix it by placing his hands on them, whether it was a wound or broken bone or illness.  People came from all over the kingdom to have him heal them, so that he spent part of every day in the infirmary with the medics, healing illnesses and injuries of all kinds.  He had trained to be a wizard but had given up the staff on the day he became king.  “The crown is more important,” he always said, and looked meaningfully at Conn whenever he said it. 

Conn’s gift was divination.  He discovered it one day in one of their classes a few years ago, when professor Batafor was droning on about the farms in the valleys of the mountains.  Most of the milk and cheese and fruit sold in the market in the city came from the farms in those valleys, and the professor was lecturing about these farms and their products when Conn suddenly stood up, interrupting the professor.  The professor looked at him crossly.  “You have a question, prince?  If not, sit down and let me continue, we still have to cover the products related to…”

“The farms are gone,” the prince interrupted shakily.   “They’re all gone.  All covered in water.”

Kassia and the professor looked at Conn as though he’d lost his mind, but Kassia knew her brother well and recovered quickly.  “How do you know?” she asked.  “I saw it,” said Conn.  “I saw farms covered in water, the farmhouses were all underwater except the roofs.  The farms are gone.” 

The professor narrowed his eyes as if suspecting a prank, but then said, “Come with me.”  He took Conn directly to the king and several closed-door meetings were held, where Kassia was not invited.  Her mother eventually came out and took her to have an evening meal, but neither Conn nor her father were to be seen until the next day.  Eventually, she learned that fast couriers had been sent to the mountain farms.  When they returned, they said that one of the valleys had indeed flooded when a river had overflowed its banks.  Several farms were completely underwater, but luckily no one had died and the farms would return to productivity when the waters receded.  Men were sent to help with the cleanup, and to provide food and shelter to the farmers who had lost all in the flood.  Then the wizards came to the castle to talk to Conn about his gift. 

As they studied with him, they found that if he concentrated on a certain person or location, he could see what was happening to that person or location at that particular moment.  It was only a picture in his mind, but the wizards said it was a very important and powerful gift, and that they would soon return to start Conn’s training. 

The king thereafter called upon Conn many times to help him discover what was happening at some important location, or to some important person.  Conn became a great help to the king and was called into many counsels to see what he could see about this or that person or location in the kingdom.  Truthfully, though Kassia loved her brother enormously and looked up to him always, she thought Conn became a bit puffed up about his gift.  And unfortunately, Conn soon found some uses for his gift that were not to anyone’s liking.  It was easy for him to discover secrets about people, and he sometimes used this knowledge to embarrass those he didn’t like, or to gain information he could use for his own benefit.  After he started training with the wizards, however, such behavior stopped completely, and Conn became interested only in learning more about magic.   Kassia envied his gift and his training and the time he got to spend learning weapons and fighting.  It all seemed so much more fun than the dry, boring things she learned every day.  She felt that by comparison with Conn she never got to do anything.

Her mother’s gift was shaping.  She could change the shape of any inanimate object to suit any purpose she desired.  She had become very artistic with her gift, and many of the statues, paintings, wall hangings and other objects of art around the castle were her creation.  Her gift was practical as well; as she was able to create any tool she needed at will.  It was a gift that suited the wife of a king, and she used it for the benefit of the kingdom.   Her gift was very much like many others’ gifts in the kingdom.  Many people had gifts that allowed them to change the color or appearance of objects or themselves, or mend things that were broken, or make things that were needed.  Artistic and practical gifts abounded among the people.  These gifts weren’t necessarily powerful, and they didn’t qualify one for wizard training, but they were useful and important to the people of the kingdom.  Their gifts made the kingdom beautiful and prosperous.

Kassia thought her mother the most beautiful, elegant, resourceful woman in the world, and she secretly felt that she herself was as nothing in comparison, and that she would never be able to be like her mother.

 But she loved her rides with Hudson, and today was a day like many other days as she rode through the forest on the trails she knew like the halls of the castle.  It was late in summer but still warm even in the morning so she had not brought a cloak or hood.  The forest was immense, covering hundreds and hundreds of leagues surrounding the city before running into the mountains to the east and the sea on the west.  To the north, the land eventually broke up into islands which were bounded by ice year round.  To the south, if one traveled far enough, was the Great Desert.

As she rode through the forest, the princess spent hours just looking at the enormous size and variety of the trees.  The vast girth of the chestnuts and the silver-green beauty of the maples, on which the leaves had just begun to turn to a flaming red, were a perfect contrast to the soaring dark green of the pines and the white bark and shimmering silver and gold of the aspens.  As she looked with wonder at the trees for the millionth time, she caught a glimpse of the jagged mountains and was surprised to see storm clouds gathering there.  It had been such a bright clear morning that she had never imagined that the weather might be a problem. 

Suddenly, Kassia felt troubled.  She spoke nervously to Hudson as she rode.  “Is it the clouds that are making me feel this way Hudson?  I feel as though something terrible is about to happen,” she exclaimed, “oh and now I seem to have lost the right path.”  Hudson tossed his head and snorted loudly.  He shared the princess’s mood.  They had made a wrong turn in the forest somehow and now appeared to be in a part of the forest they had never before seen.  The path, which was always clear and wide, was slowly narrowing and seemed to be petering out completely.  Hudson was a great and fearless horse, and knew he could outrun any danger they might face, but he was uneasy; they had never before lost their way in the forest.

As the great horse trotted along, the princess patted his rich brown neck with her hand and ran her fingers through his golden mane.  “Don’t worry Hudson, we’ll find the way home, and even if we don’t, father will send the palace guard out after us when he hears we haven’t come back on time.”  But these words had no comfort for either of them.  They had been riding for hours and it was now near lunch time and the clouds that were only looming over the mountains before now began to cover the sun.  The forest trees grew thicker on either side of them and did not allow much light through, so their way was dim and the trees seemed close and menacing on the narrow, winding path.  Kassia began to long for the feel of a fresh breeze in her hair and the sun’s warmth on her face, so when she saw a glimmer of brightness some distance to their left, she told Hudson to turn off the path to see if it was a sunny clearing where they might warm their spirits, cheer their hearts and have some food from the saddlebags.

Hudson did not want to leave the path, and he hesitated long, looking back at the princess on his broad back questioningly.  But she would not change her mind, so he snorted and tossed his head and set off bravely through the dark trees toward the patch of light. 

As soon as they left the path, Hudson’s footfalls, though they fell on soft grass, became louder and the forest more silent.  The princess and her four-legged friend felt their uneasiness grow at the tense quiet surrounding them on all sides.  The princess looked back to see the path, but it was already lost in the dimness behind her.  There was nothing to do now but hold on their way toward the brightness ahead.  It was much further off than it looked and they fought their way through long stretches of trees and brush which clutched at Kassia’s clothes and hair.  They rode this way for a very long time and were covered in leaves and burrs and debris before they began to get close to seeing what was creating the bright light in the dim forest.

The light seemed to grow as they drew closer, and soon it was all they could see in the dim forest: a bright light that made the trees in front of them look like huge dark ghosts reaching out at them.  They approached cautiously, not able to see into the brightness beyond the dark trees.  Soon, they were standing on the very edge of a large clearing, peering out from between the trees, and blinking as their eyes adjusted to the bright light.  As they began to see what was in the clearing, they moved quickly back into the trees, and stood so they were covered in the shadows, for even the brave Hudson was in terrible fear of what he saw.

Near the center of the clearing there stood a large oak tree, nearly as tall as the trees surrounding the clearing, even though it stood much lower, for the clearing was shaped like a giant bowl.  Most strangely, however, was that the light was not coming from the sky (which was still very overcast and dim) it was coming from the tree, which was covered in bright, white flame.  The flame burned like fire, but did not appear to give off any smoke or consume the tree.  It flickered and danced about on the branches, without affecting even the leaves, which stood out stiffly from the branches, like the fur on a cat or the hair on your arms in a moment of terror.

But that was not what filled the princess and her horse with fear.  More frightening than the mysterious fire was the fact that the great clearing was nearly filled by hundreds and hundreds of great timber wolves, all with their fur in differing shades of grey and brown, with their shining eyes and white gleaming teeth, all sitting facing the burning tree.  Luckily, this meant that most of them sat with their backs turned toward Hudson and the princess, but they were close enough that the two friends hardly dared to breathe for fear they would be heard and that great pack would turn and attack them.  But the wolves were focused only on something at the base of the burning tree.  As her eyes adjusted, the princess saw that it was the largest and most terrible wolf of all, with a pure white coat and glittering black eyes.  With surprise, the princess found that the white wolf was speaking to the others as he walked up and down before them.  He seemed angry and defiant and the other wolves were also becoming angry as they listened to him.  Suddenly, Kassia gave a start and nearly fell off Hudson’s back, for she found that, though the wolf had now been speaking for some time, she could now understand what was being said.

“Cowards!” he snarled, “Fools!  You are the most powerful force in the forest, and yet you let the pitiful king of the humans claim lordship over you?”  He seemed to be mocking the wolves, taunting them, and the wolves were becoming more and more agitated.  “What are you waiting for?  You should be feasting on the flesh of the humans and their slaves, the horses, instead of letting them hunt the deer and the boars that live in the forest.  You are letting the humans take your food!  Soon they will take it all and you will starve, you lazy, stupid dogs!”  At this, the wolves, who were only muttering to themselves before, began barking and howling, leaping in the air and pawing at the earth.  “We are not dogs!” many cried out.  “Kill the humans!” one of them snarled, and then others began to chant “Kill them!  Kill them!”  The white wolf laughed with a horrifying coughing sound. 

“Yes, you must kill them but for that you need a plan, for you cannot get into their city if they see you coming.  They will shut the gates and shoot you from the walls with their bows.  You must draw them out away from their city and their walls to do battle among the trees.  There, they will not be able to see you to shoot until it is too late.  You will stalk them like the deer and the elk.”  The wolves leaped and danced at this.  The white wolf’s voice became more quiet and menacing, “As I told you, I have come to help you.  Unknown to the humans, I have laid a spell on the forest, so that all who enter it will become confused and lost,” he hissed, “The spell will not affect any beings that were already inside the forest at the time the spell was cast, so you yourselves are free of it.  You will now be able to hunt down any of the humans or their horses as they enter they forest.  There is a great hunt coming tomorrow and the humans and their horses will be riding through the forest in great numbers.  Go now!  To all parts of the forest!  When you see any humans or horses, hunt them down and kill them!”  At that, the wolves howled wildly and began to race off in all directions.  To their dismay, the princess and Hudson watched as one group turned and headed directly for them!

The princess clutched the great horse’s mane as he whirled away in the shadow of the trees and leaped back the way they had come.  As they had approached the clearing, they had been guided by the bright light of the white flame.  Now, they stumbled forward in what seemed utter blackness by comparison.  As their eyes adjusted, they began to be able to make out some shapes in the light that was still shining out from the clearing, but it grew increasingly dim as they moved away, and they felt that the wolves were right behind them.  More than once, Hudson stumbled over roots or rocks and nearly fell, only catching himself at the last moment.  At such times, the princess was thrown violently forward, nearly flying off onto her head.  Each time, however, the beautiful horse managed to lift his chin high or wheel his body in just the right way to catch her and keep her from falling to the ground. 

Suddenly, as they fought their way in terror through the brush and trees, the horse’s front feet found no ground in front of him.  He pawed the air for a moment with his hooves, and then plunged down a steep bank, landing unsteadily on soft mud.  The princess nearly fell off again, then saw in front of them the sparkle of a little light reflecting on the surface of a pond or brook.  She guessed it was a brook, as she heard the soft splash of running water.  Hudson turned his head slightly to listen and sniff behind him, then suddenly dropped down and rolled over onto his side in the icy water, plunging them both completely under the surface.  The princess wanted to scream in fear and surprise, but she could only hold her breath and hold onto the great horse as best she could.  Hudson was holding her down with the weight of his body, and many long seconds passed where she thought she would surely drown.  She pounded on Hudson’s thick neck and tried to push him off of her or wiggle free but he was as still and as heavy as a stone statue and she could not get free.  Just as she began to lose hope and slip away into oblivion, Hudson rolled back onto his stomach and she found herself sitting upright, spluttering and shivering in the cold night air.  There were no wolves in sight, but Hudson sniffed and listened for a moment more, then suddenly rolled over again, plunging them both back under the water.  This process was repeated five times, and the time that she spent under the water seemed longer each time, until she was so exhausted she had no strength for anything except hanging on.  By the fifth time under the water, the princess lost her grip on Hudson’s neck and everything went black.

When she came to herself, she was still on Hudson’s back, still dripping wet, shivering with cold and gasping for breath.  The princess lay on Hudson’s back like a wet blanket, clinging to him while he walked slowly and quietly through the dark trees.  She had no idea how long she had been unconscious, but the forest was completely dark, so night must have fallen while she lay insensible on the great horse’s back.  Hudson stopped every few feet to listen and sniff and let the water drip off of his sides.  His mane and tail clung to him in shiny, slick cascades, but he didn’t notice.  When he stopped, he stood completely still.  He seemed to be listening and smelling the air carefully.  Then, he turned very slowly and began walking through the trees to their right without making any sound.  The princess was too cold and wet and tired to do anything other than cling to him and shiver.

This process of walking slowly and stopping to listen every few yards continued for what seemed like hours.  The princess fought hard not to begin crying hysterically.  She reminded herself that she was a princess and her father was the king.  She tried to tell herself that Hudson was doing what was necessary to save her from the wolves.  Despite her best efforts, however, tears ran from her eyes and her throat was sore with sobs that she tried her best to hold down.  After some time she began to get a little warmer and drier from lying on Hudson’s back and she sat up carefully and dried her face as best she could with her sleeve.  Just then, directly, in front of them, there was a swift movement among the trees.  The great horse froze.  In the dim light, three dark shapes stood, low to the ground with furry outlines and dark shining eyes.  “Wolves!” screamed the princess, “Run Hudson!”  She could not understand why her friend just stood there.  She clutched to him in terror and would have screamed again, but to the princess’s shock, the great horse spoke and she was able to understand his words, “You are not wolves,” he said, “your smell is different, and you are taller and stouter than any wolves I have seen.”  A deep gruff voice came from one of the shadowy shapes in answer: “We are not wolves.”  He gave a low rumbling growl.  “We are the sworn enemies of the wolves of the forest.  We can lead you to safety but you must follow us now!” 

With that the dark shapes turned and began moving swiftly among the trees.  Hudson followed.  After a long dark trot through dense forest, the trees began to thin and moonlight filtered through, illuminating the shapes and Hudson’s mane in silver flashes.  Suddenly, they burst from the trees completely into a flood of white moonlight on deep grasslands that rippled like liquid silver in the night breeze.  They began to run in earnest now and as Hudson ran alongside them princess could see some things about these strange animals that she had not been able to see before.  Their mostly-jet black fur was long and luxurious, curling over their backs, and blowing in the breeze.  Each one of them had a white tip at the end of its long fluffy tail and white fur covered the toes of their feet.  Their chests were emblazoned with large white badges of fur that seemed to cover their entire chests in the shape of a white cross and then extended up under their chins, over their muzzles and between their large dark eyes, ending on the tops of their heads.  There was also another color in their fur, a rich rust color that covered their lower legs and showed in spots on the sides of their chests and on their cheeks and on their brows.  As they ran, their tails stretched out behind them and their thick, sturdy bodies carried them in powerful strides across the sea of grass over which they moved.  The princess gasped at the beauty of these animals and suddenly she knew what they were.  She had seen them before in ones and twos with laughing faces, pulling wagons filled with large containers of milk over mountainous roads or herding cattle in upland fields.  She recognized them from paintings she had seen in the palace and stories her mother told her when she was a little girl.  “Mountain dogs!” she cried out excitedly.  “They are mountain dogs!”

Looking ahead, she was surprised to see the mountains looming so close under the cold moonlight.  It appeared that they had come right through the forest and the dogs were now leading them across the High Plains, which was what people called the wide pasture lands that led up to the mountains.  These pastures, the princess knew, were the home of many herds of cattle and horses owned by the people of the Forest Kingdom, as well as many farms and orchards.  There was a road that led from the High Plains around to the north of the forest’s northern reaches and then down to the city, but they must be far south of that road now.  She thought of the many times she had watched with her brother from the castle wall as the farmers and traders brought their food and milk and other goods to the market in the city and their wagons seemed to stretch in an endless line along the north road.  It was a comfortable thought, and she lay her head down on the back of Hudson’s neck as she thought back to those pleasant days and promptly went to sleep. 

A sudden change in Hudson’s movement brought her wide awake at once.  She saw that Hudson had slowed to a walk and was approaching an outlying arm of the mountains, which stretched out into the plains at one point along the high, craggy line of peaks.  The sky was beginning to get light and Hudson and the dogs were breathing hard, so she could tell they had been running for hours.

“What is this place?” she wondered aloud, as the dogs led them down into a hollow under a dark cliff.  There was a noise of water and she could make out a cascade of white falling down the cliff face into a rocky pool nearby.  The dogs did not answer but two of them turned and sat down facing Hudson as they came to a huge opening in the base of the cliff.  The third dog proceeded inside.  Even in the darkness, the princess could see shapes carved into the rock surrounding the opening.  The shapes looked like carvings of the shapes of animals and men, but it was still too dark to tell much more.  The two dogs facing them at the entrance looked like they were guarding it.  Though they were clearly exhausted from their long run, their faces were still cheerful as they panted with long, pink tongues hanging from their laughing mouths.  They took turns drinking from the nearby pool of water, and then one of them lay down flat on his chest next to the door while the other spoke.  His voice was deep and gruff, and he was still out of breath, but she could understand him quite well.

“This is the ancient home of the Bernersennenhunde, which is what we call ourselves.  In the language of men, we are called the mountain dogs, as perhaps you know.  I do not know what you would call this place.  In your language, our name for it would mean “Fortress Home of the Melting Snows,” I think, but I suspect men have a shorter name.  Men made this place long ago but have seldom come here for many, many years.  We now try to avoid men seeing it, unless there is great need.  Men now often do not understand that we have our own home, the long home of our forefathers, though once they understood this.  Men have forgotten much that we remember here.  You may drink from the pool if you wish; the water that falls into it comes from the high mountain snows that never completely melt.  Be careful!  It is very cold.  We sometimes stand under the falls to refresh ourselves, but unless you are used to doing this, you will not find it pleasant.”

The princess slipped from Hudson’s back and stood unsteadily before the two large dogs while Hudson moved over to the pool to drink.

“Please,” she said, “I am very confused.  I have seen mountain dogs before and have heard of them many times, but I have never heard that they can talk to people.”  She looked worriedly at Hudson as he drank deeply from the pool.  “I don’t know how Hudson talked either or those wolves…what is happening?  Am I dreaming?”

The two mountain dogs looked at each other with comical expressions, and then the one that had been speaking turned to her again. 

“As to dreams, princess, who can say?  We all walk in the great dream of the creator until it is time to wake, as we are told by the elders, but I do not know much about such things, nor have I given thought to the dreams of humans.  But I can tell you this: we have news of you.  Yesterday, a wizard came to us and told us to seek the princess of this country in the forest.  He told us where we would find you and said that we would be able to speak to you, as your gift was that you could speak to all creatures of the land, sea and air.  We have done as he asked.”

The princess felt weak and sat down hard on the ground.  “My gift?” she said quietly, and tears trickled down her face.  “But I have no gift.”

She heard the clop of Hudson’s hooves on the firm grass as he came back from the pool, water dripping from his wet muzzle.  “It would seem that you do now,” he said, nuzzling her from behind and drooling cold water down her back.  “You have found your gift at last, my friend.”

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2 Responses

  1. I loooove the wittiness I found here. Thanks, you guys!

    Oh, and Kenzie, I noticed you in church in Sunday and I could hardly believe my eyes. I guess it’s just been way too long since I’ve seen you.

  2. Thanks Michelle. You rock.

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