I had the urge to return to this. Let’s have another part shall we. It was only ever meant to be one part…
Kostromo brushed away the snow at the entrance of the narrow cave exit and looked out across the wood before her. As far as she could see the dark pine trunks contrasted against the thick blanket of snow that stretched before her broken only by a dark smear of a track that wound its way through the wood just a stone’s throw from where she was now crouched.
“It looks safe” she said to fox in the tunnel behind her. Behind fox, owl and rabbit pushed forward to get a glimpse of the wood.
“We must hurry” Owl insisted flapping impatiently. We must find a place to hide ourselves.”
“All in time my friend” Kostromo said turning to him. “All in good time. We must not be hasty, soon this road will be filled with those from whom we hide. We need only follow them from a distance, and we must not be seen.”
For many months now no news had come out of the north wood, and every time the Frog King had despatched his spies none had returned. Day after day reports of strange creatures marching down the road filtered back to his caves but never word about where they headed once they headed beyond the black river.
“Dark forces” muttered rabbit. “Dark forces indeed.”
They needed to know more so Kostromo had chosen rabbit, owl and fox because not only did they have keen sight but they were brave, they knew the wood as well as any of the animals and were fleet enough to escape should they be seen.
“Owl, take cover in the highest branches and hide yourself well” Kostromo instructed moving to one side to allow her to pass.”
Owl nodded and blinked and in a flash she hopped from the mouth of the cave and launched into the cold morning air, disappearing into the tree tops.
“Rabbit, fox” Kostromo continued, “head up the bank to the left and follow the path to the north from up on the ridge. Stay below the ridgeline and do not let them see you. I shall wait here until they pass.”
Without a word rabbit and fox slipped from the cave and disappeared into the snow leaving Kostromo alone in the small entrance in the side of the hill. She should be safe up here, it was close to the road but the entrance remained obscured by the fresh snow that had fallen the night before.
After only a short while Kostromo heard something approaching from the south. Something unfamiliar. At first the noises were muffled and difficult to make out against the whistle of the icy wind that blew through the pines, but they soon turned to the stamp of marching feet and the clink and thud of metal on wood and leather.
She crouched low and pressed up against the side of the cave entrance, her gossamer wings pulled in tight. She melted into the shadows and watched as a small squat creature burst through the trees and scurried along the path, stopping in the road directly across from where Kostromo hid. She held her breath. It was nothing she had ever seen before, the size of a badger but with a longer head and with small red eyes set deep in its skull. It raised its h It was covered from head to tail with thick black fur and a long tailed trailed through the snow behind it. Slowly it sniffed the air looking about then stood quite still. It looked high up into the tree tops and then up to the ridgeline and then raised itself up onto its back legs as if searching for something. It was then that Kostromo noticed the rows of long sharp white teeth in the creatures blood red mouth.
She held her breath, heart beating furiously in her chest. Surely it could not have detected them. What felt like minutes passed as the creature stood, nose high in the air. The noise of the thump of feet grew louder and louder and Kostromo saw a dark mass of creatures break through the trees heading down the track.
Every part of her screamed hide but she felt transfixed, terrified to move for fear of the creature spotting her. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to calm her mind and slow her racing pulse. She breathed deep and slowly opened them again. She looked out towards the path and noticed the creature was no longer sniffing the air.
It was staring straight towards where she was hidden.
Photo courtesy of pixabay