Chapter 1: Monsters & Men
“So, you think the Hunters and their family will show up for the festivities?"
Owen looked up from his ale, now only half full. “I mean, I don't see why not, they show up with some of their family every time they come in to bring meat to my father."
Owen knew what William meant but just enjoyed how uncomfortable it made him to say it.
“Ok, well do you think some of the girls may show up this time?" William asked, peering sideways at Owen, waiting for a reply.
“Well, gee, I don't know Will, do you think they're gonna show? I mean they only come every year being the only time we see them in the town anymore." Owen remarked sarcastically, turning to face William. “Or are you more curious because you want them to show?" Owen smiled as he said it because it was true.
“I know they come every year," William defended while blushing and gulped the last of his ale. “I just asked in the sense of making conversation. I mean, it is the only time we see them anymore."
Owen just stared unbelievingly at William, his blush never lessening.
The now red-faced blonde tried to ignore his friend's jocose look by throwing back his mug, forgetting that he had already finished it. Owen watched as his awkward friend realized this, paused with the mug still held up. William was trying to figure out his next move that wouldn't cause a remark at his expense.
He chose wrong.
He stood so fast, the little table moved as he cleared his throat. “Ahem, hem. I, ugh, I need another one. You?" he asked as he grabbed Owen's mug without waiting for an answer.
As the lanky young man attempted to get his composure back, Owen sat there thinking about the hunters and their families that lived by the base of the mountains, way outside of the village. The boys had known them since they had traveled this way. That was when the voyage for new, unexplored country was exciting. That is, until the monsters were discovered.
Owen shook his head, stopping the thoughts that webbed from that topic.
Instead, Owen went back to the girls that William had referred to earlier and their first encounter they had with them.
He remembered the time perfectly. It had already been almost three years since almost all his family and fellow convoy had arrived in the then newly-sprung village.
The world turned out to be much bigger than anyone could have imagined and many craved the start of somewhere fresh, including his family. To simply not be within the walls of cobblestone cities and the strict rules of them. So, they gathered people to join their journey and made way. More people meant more protection in the eye of man, even if it wasn't exactly true.
The explorations had proven to be fruitful, though not all had survived the trip.
Whether it was due to hardship or the darkness they had uncovered by venturing into the undiscovered; with new places being unveiled, so were the hidden truths of the wild. Things that were to be of old tales were found to be all-to-real. There were reports of giant wolves butchering families, travelers, and any person who dared uncover their lairs.
Of course, this is what Owen and all children were told when traveling. He was so young when they left that the stories were all he had remembered. But they were just that, stories, and as he recalled, that is exactly why he and William had been playing in the street the day they met the girls.
They were sparring in the streets with the wooden swords that they had made. Honing their skills to slay the monsters that lay hidden in the trees and mountains of the unexplored was what their days consisted of.
Kicking up dust in the streets of the village, they enjoyed the vibrations of the swords connecting. The feeling of power as one would sidestep out of the way, just before the opponent's swinging sword could make impact, feeling victorious every time the wood didn't connect to their skin.
The boys broke into a wrestling match when one hit the other with the wooden blade 'too' hard, as a group of three adult males walked in from the stables carrying lumps of blood-stained clothes over to the butcher's shop, Owen's father.
The men walked by the dust-covered boys and smiled at their rambunctiousness. They said their general “Hello boys," as they continued toward their destination.
Owen finally pinned William by sitting on him and cheered that he was the mightiest warrior. That's when the three girls appeared behind him. It scared the boys enough to make them jump up and spin when one spoke.
“What are you doing?"
“Can we play?" asked the smallest one.
The two filthy boys looked at each other, taken aback for a moment. They had seen the girls before when they came with the hunters but never talked to them.
“No," Owen replied.
The older copper-haired girl crossed her arms and glared at Owen, challenging him as to why not with her fierce goldish-green eyes. The other older girl hid beneath her dark hair and shrunk behind her friend. The littlest, who looked similar to the confrontational one, assumingly her sister, ignored the four older kids and walked up to touch their swords.
Owen jerked his away as William followed the move.
“And why not?" asked the copper-haired one.
“Because, girls are gross," William stated, as if it was a well-known fact.
“And you would get hurt and tell," added Owen.
“Would not!" stomped the littlest, copying her older sister.
An argument started between the four of them with the quiet raven-hair girl interjecting a “Ya!" here and there as they argued.
Suddenly, it turned into a taunting chase when the girls claimed they were too fast for the boys anyway. They couldn't have that.
Not knowing what they would do if they even caught them, the boys chased the girls. They had stayed just out of reach of the exhausted youngsters, who were desperate to catch them just to prove boys were better.
The children heard a call for the girls that it was time to leave. The boys cheered as they separated, exchanging turns sticking their tongues out toward each other as they departed until the girls were gone from view.
This began the tradition for every time the girls came to visit town with the hunters.
Every time they left, Owen and William would try and get a glimpse of them leaving. He never understood how they disappeared so fast. They must have just known the forest better.
Owen shook his head.
“But they were braver than us, to live out there by the mountains," mused Owen. He was suddenly brought back to the present by a wet lap. William had failed at sliding his mug to him and spilled a good amount of it.
Owen didn't move much in response though. It had been too long since he had seen them and each time, being so rare in between. Especially the older they had gotten.
He assumed it was chores and other growing responsibilities that kept them away the older they got. Owen now wondered if they would be in town tomorrow too. When would they eventually stop coming altogether? Distracting him was the bigger question: why did he suddenly care?