“Hey,” a young boy piped as he stuck his head around the door. Elise smiled and gestured for the boy to come in.
“Look at her, Erick,” Elise said proudly to her brother, “She’s a fine horse, isn’t she?” Erick nodded in agreement and picked up the comb that Elise had placed on the stool. He began to run the brush through the horse’s fine white fur, making slow and careful strokes. Elise left the stall for a moment and came back dragging a torn sack of hay.
“This. Is. For. Now.” Elise grunted as she dragged the heavy sack on the ground. She let go when the sack was inside the stall, where it laid at the horse’s feet. Elise brushed spare pieces of hay from her dress, which was a dusty brown color and stopped a little under her knees.
“Elise, Erick,” a melodic voice called. Erick put the brush down.
“Yes, mother,” Elise answered as she jogged out of the stables towards the cottage that was her house. She opened the creaking wooden door and stepped inside the kitchen with Erick following close behind her.
“You were in the stables again?” Elise’s mother asked, pretending to be mad. Elise laughed and sat down at the table where a piece of bread and some cheese was placed. She took a bite of the bread as Erick ran into the house to his room.
“I’d like you to make a delivery for me,” Elise’s mother said as she took in the savory pie that had been cooling at the window. Elise’s eyes followed the pie, and she shivered at the mere thought of consuming the delicacy.
“A sack of flour. To Mr. Gillard,” her mother answered happily as Elise finished her breakfast. She stood up and hastily wiped her hands on her dress.
“I’ll go now, mother,” Elise added over her shoulder as she began towards the door. She left the house, only to backtrack and enter the house again after a few seconds.
“Please bring Erick too,” her mother added, trying to hide a smile. Elise nodded as if she understood.
“I’ll call him while you go get Dawn prepared,” Elise’s mother said as she shooed Elise away.
After putting the saddle on Dawn, Elise led her horse out to the path in front of the house, where Erick stood with his mother, who was helping him put his haversack over his shoulder.
“Come along, Erick,” Elise added hastily as she tightened the harness on Dawn’s muzzle. Erick jogged up to Elise, who was tying a heavy burlap sack to Dawn’s saddle.
“What’s that?” he asked, shouldering his haversack. Elise did not answer until she had finished fastening the bag to the saddle.
“Mother wants us to deliver this sack of flour to Mr. Gillard,” Elise finalized, and she put out her hand to Erick, who grabbed it. Elise pushed him onto Dawn’s back, and Erick readjusted himself.
“Hold on,” Elise’s mother as Elise was about to get on Dawn herself.
“Bring this with you,” her mother whispered as she handed Elise a sheathed dagger. Elise looked at her with wide eyes.
“What’s this for?” she asked as she stroke the sheath and placed the dagger in the pocket that was hidden in the folds of her dress.
“There have been rumors of savage mystical beast in the forest,” Elise’s mother said softly as she smoothed the folds of her dress, “Nothing has happened so far, and I’m sure nothing will. But we can never be too careful.” Elise smiled reassuringly to her mother who smiled back. For a moment they did not say anything, then Elise turned around.
“We’ll get going now,” Elise shouted as she climbed on Dawn’s broad back. She kicked the stirrups gently and Dawn started forward in a light trot. Erick turned around from where he was sitting and waved goodbye to his mother as he and Elise started towards the forest trail.
Elise entered the forest with Dawn in a light trot. The sun had completely risen over the horizon by now and an iridescent light was casted into the forest. It was eerily quiet. There was no sound, except for the soft clopping of Dawn’s hooves. The leaves overhead rustled gently in an unfelt breeze, and dead leaves littered the forest trail.
“Giddyup, girl,” Elise whispered, and Dawn trotted at a faster pace. Elise looked around as they continued on the rugged path, noticing all the foliage. She was surrounding by looming redwood trees, their branches reaching high into the sky and their trunks so wide that Elise could not see the other side of them. The ground was littered with decaying leaves and branches, snapping and crunching under Dawn’s hooves.
“How long does it take to cross the forest?” Erick asked, his voice seeming extremely quiet compared to the size of the forest.
“Oh, not long,” Elise answered casually and she snapped the rings lightly, “We’ll be able to get there before noon.” Erick nodded and adjusted himself on Dawn’s back. They continued on the rough forest trail for a while, and Elise felt Erick adjust himself several times.
They had traveled for about and hour when Elise suddenly pulled the reins to make Dawn stop.
"Why did we stop?" Erick asked, turning around to face Elise. She swung herself off Dawn and held out her hand to Erick.
“I’ve got the rearrange Dawn’s saddle,” Elise motioned to Erick who took off his haversack and stretched loudly.
“Can I walk around?,” Erick asked as he tapped Elise’s shoulder lightly. She nodded and Erick began turned to leave.
“Don’t go far!” Elise shouted after Erick, who had begun pacing around the trunk of a large tree. She untied the sacks and gently laid them on the grassy floor.
When she had finished adjusting the sacks, Elise turned around to call for Erick, when she heard a deafening boom overhead. Startled, she grabbed the dagger which she had hid under her cloak in the folds of her dress.
“Erick,” Elise shouted. Her voice was consumed by the trees in the forest, and there was no answer. Elise tried again, “Erick, where are you? We’re going now.” No reply came and Elise began to panic.
“Erick?” Elise cried again, but she could barely be heard because the loud noise that rang again. Elise looked, just in time to see a crimson dragon sail above the trees.
“Erick!” Elise’s voice seemed to have risen three whole octaves. Still, no reply came and Elise was running out of time. The beast that had passed the trees earlier would be back. With quick motions, Elise scooped up the sacks and hurriedly tied them to Dawn’s saddle as she swung her leg up and onto the saddle. She snapped the reins sharply and Dawn began to run, fast towards the way they had come from.
“Erick!!” Elise shouted shrilly as they sped through the forest so fast that everything seemed to be a green blur. She snapped the reins to make Dawn speed up. A nearby branch splintered, and a looming beast appeared before her. Dawn reared in fear and Elise grabbed onto the rein for dear life.
The giant dragon was a deep red color, and its scales reflected the sunlight. Elise grabbed the reins and pulled, making Dawn turned and start for the way they had come from. Elise’s heart pounded wildly inside her chest as she continued to snap the reins, urging to Dawn to go faster. The beast roared angrily, and Dawn reared again, this time throwing Elise off her back.
“Dawn!” Elise shouted as her horse belted away with alarming speed. Elise turned around, and found that she was facing the dragon. The beast looked at her with a piercing glare and Elise felt like her heart was about to leap out of her chest. She was petrified, staring at the creature with a terrified expression. Elise took a tentative step backwards and the dragon snorted, dirty gray smoke unfurling from its nostrils. She stopped, afraid that the dragon would notice the little movements she was making. Elise’s heart thumped frantically inside her chest, and she was afraid that the dragon would be able to hear it.
Panicking, she looked around for a way of escape. A large boulder sat to her right and trees stretched from her left as far as she could see. Elise looked around -- the trees would be her only means of camouflage.
“Dawn!” Elise shouted in a panicked voice, “Where are you?” She got up, wincing with pain due to the thing in her leg. She looked down at her thigh. A large thorn was lodged in her upper right thigh and blood was seeping through her pants. Elise closed her eyes, trying to repel the pain. Slowly, she reached down and yanked the thorn from her leg, yelping as if her leg were on fire. .
Elise sat huddled behind the rock with Erick. Her emotions were all mixed right now, but the only one that she could express was anger.
“I told you not to go far,” she whispered harshly to Erick. Erick looked up at her and did not say anything. He was so scared that his voice did not seem to be working.
“Wait!” Elise shouted after the stranger, “You never told me your name.” The boy stopped walking and turned his head to look at her. For a moment, he didn’t say anything and seemed to be thinking. Then he smiled.
“I don’t have a name,” he said, and he walked away.
“Mother told us to deliver this to Mr. and Mrs. Giffard,” Elise answered him and loaded the sacks on to Dawn’s saddle. They entered the forest at a slow trot, then stopped midway for Dawn to take a break.
It happened in a flash. Elise didn’t even have time to register what was happening when she felt the boy grasp her hand tightly and they began to run. She was in so much shock, and her leg hurt so much, she did not complain, even when she was being led somewhere by a stranger. The boy kept running; Elise felt like they had a least ran through half the forest when he made an abrupt turn and pressed himself close to the trunk of a large redwood.