Mythology & Folklore & Legends!!
What Would Neil Gaiman Do?
Another "Red Riding Hood" Fic. 
8th-Feb-2010 07:46 pm
Title: The Huntsman
Character(s): Red Riding Hood/The Wolf
Folklore Used: German
Rating: G
Summary: Red and the wolf meet and fall in love, only to have the "traditional" story come about at a later date, and she's sure that it's about her.



She had always hated being called "Red," but she hated being called "Ginger" even more. Her name, her real name, had nothing to do with a size, a color, or anything that she wore; not that anyone ever remembered that. No, all they ever remembered was the story that her father had told those brothers; a story which had no basis in reality ... well, none other than a couple of the central characters; the fact, however, that he had presented, they were what were the fiction. Things had not gone down the way that he had sworn that they had, and that was a big part as to why she resented him ... and why he had left home at the first opportunity. People who didn't know all of the details thought that it would've been easier for a girl in her "position" to stay, and get as much help as she could from family. But these people did not know what happened behind closed doors, and how much she hated it there ... how stifled she felt, and if only that had been all of it.

It all really started when she was a child, and a new family moved into a small house just inside the woods near the town. Tongues wagged about how strange the family was, because of the customs they practiced, and the accent that no one could seem to place. But none of that mattered to her, because as a child, all she wanted was a friend. She hadn't been all that popular, since her father was the town drunk, and the other children never seemed to be allowed to play with her; her father's faults had turned her into a social outcast, and she was the only one who seemed to be bothered by this. Her father didn't seem to care that his behavior was negatively affecting her life, and her mother was far too afraid of him, becoming violent with them (yet again) to call him out on his behavior.

So, when the new boy (who called himself Ulfr) agreed to be her friend, and his family seemed to have no issue with it, she experienced a fuzzy, happy feeling in her chest. It was a pleasant feeling, and one that she never wanted to loose. So, she was at their home as often as she could manage; she was there so much that she practically became a permanent fixture. There were only a few times that they sent her back home, and it was always around the full moon, but they explained that the night before, the night of, and the night after were special nights for them. They explained that those nights they held to practices from their homeland, and they needed privacy to do those things. They told her no more than that, and she asked them no more.

Years passed, and she got closer and closer to Ulfr, until one day he told her where to hide so that she could see what his family did during the night of the full moon. He made her swear to stay out of the way, and the whole time to have wolf's band around her neck. She didn't understand why she had to do this, but he said it was just in case, and made her swear over and over that she would. And because she loved him, she promised. Well, that wasn't the only reason why she agreed; she did it as much for him as for herself. She wanted to know what it was that they did, and if this was the price for it ... well, it was rather small in the long run.

So, that night, with a ring of wolf's band around her neck, she climbed a tree just on the border of a clearing, going as high as she could. Sitting there in the cold, under the light of the full moon, she waited. And it was not long before she saw it.

Under the brightness of the moon, she could see them clearly coming to the small clearing under her. Terrified, she tried not to breathe as six giant wolves, with dark black fur all, came ever closer to her. As they reached it, one of them stopped and looked directly up at her.

She jumped in surprise at first, and then, she found that she was having difficulty breathing. Before, she was just trying to keep as quiet as possible, but now she just couldn't get air into her lungs. She agonized as he continued to stare, trying to breathe. She had to, had to stay conscience, had to stay in the tree and out of reach.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she was able to suck air into her lungs ... it was rather shallow at first, but it was a start. And after the werewolf stopped staring at her, she was able to bring it in just a little bit easier. But she knew that just because he wasn't looking openly at her, that didn't mean that he wasn't paying attention to her. She knew that no matter what else he was doing, he coul've told you exactly what she was doing ... provided that he had been capable of speech in his current condition.

That one, the one who paid attention to her, it had to be Ulfr. This had to be what he had wanted her to see, and he must have been trying to gage her reaction without giving her away to the others. And if this was what he had wanted her to see, she wasn't sure how she felt about it. How could you really feel about a group of werewolves, the first you'd ever seen, in a clearing below you ... other than terrified? For all she knew, one of them could catch wind of her, and decide to climb up the tree after her and from there ... well, her imagination could only go so far before screeching to a halt. There was only so many horrors that her mind could wrap itself around before she had to stop thinking about them completely.

She wasn't sure how long she was in the tree, or how long they were below her, but she knew that it was several hours. She could only tell from the fact that the moon had made a goodly sized trek across the night's sky. And long after the point where she thought that she was going to fall down from exhaustion, they finally started to move away, back toward the way that they had come. Just as they reached the edge of the clearing, the one that she was sure was Ulfr stopped and looked back. He looked at her with what she could only imagine was a look of fear. But what he could be afraid of when it came to her, she really had no idea. There was no hurt that she could do to him, not really. If anything she had ever heard about werewolves were true, they should be so much stronger than any normal human ... at least, in there wolf state they would be. Whether or not they were all of the time wasn’t something that she necessarily wanted to find out.

As he turned, and continued on, she knew that was what that look must have been about. If she wasn't even sure if she could handle this new information, how must that have made him feel? But she couldn’t help feeling afraid, because of every folktale she had ever heard about werewolves before. They were supposed to be incredibly dangerous, and you would be lucky if one of their attacks would kill you, even if the whole affair would be incredibly unpleasant (to say the least).

She waited to give them long enough to put a good amount of distance between them and herself before getting down. Even if they hadn't given any indication that they knew she was there (with the exception of Ulfr), she didn't want to take the change. And as she got down and rushed back home, she tried to decide what chances she was willing to make now ... now that she knew how strange they really were. But when she realized just how late it really was, and how close to when her father would be getting up to begin his day, all else was pushed from her mind as she ran, full-tilt toward home.

****


She had just laid her head down when she heard her father start moving about. That had been a little too close for her. She didn't want to think about what would’ve happened if he had caught her coming in so late.

And over the next few days, she stayed close to home without actually being at home. She didn't want to be any closer to him than she had to be, but she still wasn't ready to see Ulfr yet ... not after what he had shown her.

How exactly was she supposed to process the information that he had given her, without completely freaking out? No, they had never hurt her, even in a wolfie state, but how did she know that wouldn't change? Every story she had ever heard about werewolves told of their brutality, something they, themselves, could not control. And that was a frightening prospect; to be around people who lost all of their reason, and who attacked and killed others. But they had never been anything but kind to her, much kinder than those of her own family, and when Ulfr had looked at her when he was a wolf, he seemed altogether conscious of himself and who she was. So, perhaps those old stories she had heard weren’t true; perhaps they were simply born out of fear and misunderstanding.

She wished that she was brave enough yet to go back to their home and see them, to pretend like everything was fine and this new information didn't frighten her. But the truth was that for all that wishing that she wasn't just as bad as everyone else in the village, she needed time to process everything.

More days passed, and then, a week, and before she had known what had happened, it had been a whole month. The moon was full again, and she lay in her bed, thinking of Ulfr and wondering what he must think of her. He must think her a coward, at the very least.

Her legs began to itch and get more restless than they ever had before. And all she could think of doing was going to where they had been last month, even if it were dangerous. They hadn't hurt her; they'd never hurt her. So, maybe she would be safe; maybe all of those stories she'd heard weren't true.

She climbed out of bed, getting dressed and putting on her shoes before sneaking out as quietly as she could. When she was sure she wouldn't get caught sneaking out, she began to run, pumping her arms and legs as hard as she could. She hoped that she would find them again there, that they hadn't decided to go to some other place because she knew about their secret. A small voice inside her head reminded her that she may have been running directly into her own death, but she pushed the voice down; it was a carryover of the stories she heard, which were told to her to make her afraid. She wasn't going to be afraid anymore ... at least, she was going to do her best to try. They may have served somewhat of a purpose, but she was convinced that in this instance, they were only hampering her; they were doing her a disservice by keeping her away from people who genuinely seemed to care for her.

Out of breath, and with a stitch in her side, she came barging into the clearing. They were all there, and whatever they had been doing a moment before, they were no longer doing it. Instead, they were stalk-still, and every pair of glittering eyes was directly on her. And in that moment, seeing herself reflected back in those eyes, she wondered if maybe she hadn't been a little bit hasty in regards to barreling in with no thought to checking on things first.

But then, one of them moved toward her, the one she assumed was Ulfr. He came at her slowly, letting her become accustomed to his nearness to her, with each forward step. She didn't move, except to pull herself up, and try to steady her breathing. If not for that, she would have been just as still as the others, just as watchful. And when he was standing so that she could have put her arms around him, she did as best she could to not breathe at all. She imagined herself to be steady, willed herself to be steady. She reminded herself that he wasn't going to hurt her, she reminded herself that was the hold point of her coming here, of coming to see them while they were in this state.

His nose almost brushed up against her neck, as he moved his head from the place where her neck met her shoulder and up toward her ear. She was under the impression that what he was doing was a mixture of smelling her skin, and seeing if she would get scared and try to move away. But she didn't move, she stayed right where she was, even if that little voice in the back of her mind was jumping up and down, and screaming at her to back away. And after a few moments, he took a step back with an expression that she could have sworn was one of utter amusement.

After that the night passed with little incident. She stayed with them until near sunrise, when they started to go back toward their home, and she went racing back toward home. Again, she made it back to bed just in time. Pressing her luck wasn't a good thing, but she had wanted to stay with them for as long as possible. In those moments before she fell asleep, she thought about what had happened that night, and how she had felt more accepted by, more at home with people she was so unlike than she had ever felt with her own family.

More years passed, and she continued to meet them in that clearing on full moons, and spent more and more time at their home. And with each passing day, she and Ulfr fell more and more in love, until he made his intentions clear. Ulfr had asked her father for his permission to ask her to marry him, and for a moment she almost believed that her father might say yes; but she had forgotten who her father was, in her joy. He rejected the offer, because to accept would've meant her happiness, and no profit gained by him. And after that, her father paid far more attention to her than she ever cared for him to. Now that he really realized how they felt about each other, he seemed determined to keep them apart. He hovered over her every waking moment, trying to make sure that she didn't sneak away; he didn’t want to take the chance that she would go to Ulfr, without any regard to his denial.

This didn't mean that she wasn't just biding her time, because she was. She was waiting for any moment when it seemed like her father wasn't paying attention long enough that she could slip away, and make her way to Ulfr. But it seemed that he was always weary of such an act; so much so that he had even taken to sleeping on the floor next to her bed, so that he would catch her if she tried to sneak out.

A month passed like this, and she was desperate to get out and to Ulfr. She was sure that he loved her enough that he would wait for her to find a way to make a beak for it. Or maybe he could help her, if only she could get a message to him. But she was at a loss to figure out how, not with her father always at hand.

Then, late one night, when the moon was full, she heard the front door crashing open, and what sounded like nails on the floor. She was instantly elated; she knew that it had to be him, that he had come for her. Her father must have also heard it in his sleep, because he jumped up, startled into wakefulness before he was ready. With his back to her, he didn't see what she was doing as she picked up the empty basin and crashed it over his head. He dropped back to the floor, dazed but still somewhat conscience. That didn't matter, as her escape was so close.

The door to her room was burst open as it was knocked off its hinges and splintered in several places. Ulfr stood before her in wolf form, whimpering with excitement. He held out one clawed hand to her, and she jumped over her father to grab it. Once he had hold of her hand securely, he pulled her toward him and up onto his back. When her arms were securely around his throat, and her legs around his waist, he began to run full-tilt toward the woods.

There were several times that she was quite sure that she was going to loose her grip, but she held on tighter. If she fell, yes, it would hurt, but more importantly, they would lose time in their getaway. She hoped that she wasn't choking him, but his pace didn't slow if she was. He seemed just as eager to get away from her father’s home as she was, and for that she couldn’t fault him.

When they got to the clearing, he stopped, and she slid off of his back. The others were there. Whatever they had been doing before, they were no longer doing. All of them were standing in a line and were staring at Ulfr. The tension was thick, almost palpable, and for the first time since she realized that he had come for her, she thought that that might not have been the best course of action. When her father got his wits back about him, what few he hadn't drunk away yet, there could be trouble. Even if the rest of the village knew that he was the biggest drunk this side of the Black Forrest, once they saw the splintered doors and the nail marks in the floor, they would suspect that here was some truth in his story.

Ulfr pushed her back as his father took a step forward, teeth bare a growl coming menacingly from his throat. Ulr matched the step forward and the bared teeth, and before she knew what had happened, the two of them were in one snarling, snapping heap on the ground; the only way that she could tell which one was which was by the fact that Ulfr's fur was a shade lighter than his father's. She wanted to pull them apart, to stop them from fighting, but was afraid that one of them might accidentally hurt her in their anger with each other. But at the same time, she couldn't help thinking that they were wasting time with a fight, time that could've been used to get them farther away.

Then, it occurred to her ... what if the rest of his family wasn't willing to go along with their plan (if that's what it could be called); maybe they didn't want her to go along with them at all. With sudden realization, she understood that she had put them in danger by falling in love with Ulfr. If they had meant nothing to each other, he would never have come for her, and there would be no chance that she would be the reason why others found out about them. But now, people would find out their secret, and would use it as an excuse to harm them out of fear and misunderstanding. Perhaps the best thing for them all would be for her to leave and not come back. But people would still come looking for her, most likely with weapons of some sort, and someone would still get hurt. And if those torch-wielding villagers came before daybreak, they would catch Ulfr's family in such a state that they would never be able to deny what they were.

If she could think of something, some plan that would keep villagers out of the forest, then there would be no reason for Ulfr's family's true nature to be found out. But how? She had to think quickly. No one would believe that a regular wolf had left her father's house in such a state ... but they might believe it of a bear.

"Stop," she said to them, "please. I have an idea. You could still be safe. You might not have to leave."

Ulfr and his father both grudgingly stopped, but this by no means meant that they were willing to let go of each other. They stayed in a heap on the ground, tangled up with each other, but with their ears pointed at her.

"If we could make it look like a bear had killed me, the other villagers may think that it was actually a bear that came for me. It is possible that they would only think that my father seeing anything different would’ve been from him having too much to drink."

Ulfr seemed as though he were excited by the idea, and he was only waiting for his father to come around to the idea. His father, on the other hand, didn’t seem as taken with the idea at first, and continued to hold on to Ulfr.

"Please," she pleaded with him. "I'm pregnant."

And with that, his father let Ulfr go. Both straightened up, and there was a nod of agreement from all. If this worked out, they wouldn't have to leave, but she was going to, no mater what happened. She could not go back to her father; he was too overbearing as it was, and she could only imagine it getting multiplied by a thousand once he realized she was pregnant. He would somehow turn it all around to her having brought dishonor and shame to him, because everything was about him in his mind. And she couldn't bare the thought of having her child living in the same house as her father; she desperately wanted a better life for her child than that.

Ulfr's family huddled together, seemingly in a conference, though no words were passed between them. There were whimpers and whines, the rubbing of muzzles together, and what always seemed to her to be a subtle language that she didn’t understand.

Then, turning away from each other, all but Ulfr went off in a different direction with more speed than she’d ever seen them use before. And before she could even blink, they were passed the point where she could see any of them. She started to feel truly hopeful that this might actually work; they might not have to leave, and she might actually be free.

She didn't know how long they had been gone, but it wasn't as long as she feared that it might be. Three came herding a black bear in her direction. Bringing it here of its own volition was probably the best and easiest way to get it where they wanted it without creating drag marks that would take away part of their story’s credibility. Plus, she imagined that dragging it would be far more of a pain than actually just forcing it to walk wherever they wanted it to go.

A few moments later, the other two came along. One was holding a rifle, and the other was shepherding a wild hog toward them. This might actually work.

Ulfr brought his hands to her shoulders, pulling off her outer garments and ripping them to shreds; the rifle was put into her hands, and she was helped to aim. Before she rightly knew what was happening, the rifle went off, and the bear slumped to the ground, a kill shot right through its head. When they were quite sure it was dead, they set to the wild hog, tearing it to bits so that it wouldn't be recognizable as what it truly was. Its blood was smeared onto the bear and the shreds of her clothes. Anything that could've easily identified the hog as not being human were put into a pile that once they were finished creating the scene, all took a bit of. And as the sun started to come up, they made their way as quickly as they could toward their house before the change took hold. She hoped that the change didn't happen while she was on Ulfr's back, as she didn't like the idea of falling at the speed they were going. All she could imagine was going headlong into a tree.

They didn't start to change until they were within sight of their house. She dropped to the ground, not nearly as hard as she feared that she might have. They had all dropped to the ground and began to change, but even now, after seeing it so many times, it still left her a bit disturbed. It was the pain that it appeared to cause that made her cringe. But it didn't last long, and they were getting back to their feet and rushing into the house.

Clothes were put on, and Ulfr joined his father and both of his brothers, going back to where the bear was. At the same time, Ulfr's mother and sisters got her dressed warmly in some of their clothes, and packed others for her. Then, one of them hooked a horse up to a wagon, and one of the others put the clothes in.

When they were finished, one of them drove in the opposite direction as where the bear was staged, and toward a fishing lodge that the men of their family used on fishing trips. When they reached it, she was told to hide in there and wait for Ulfr. When he came for her, he would discuss with her what else to do. As soon as she got out of the wagon, Ulfr's sister turned it around and put the horse to a run back toward the house.

She went into the lodge, which was really nothing more than a shack, and started to wait ... and wait ... and wait. And before she knew it, it started to get dark, and Ulfr still hadn't come. And the moon came peaking out at her from behind a tree, and he still hadn't come. After slow hours, she gradually fell into a brief and fitful sleep, and he still hadn't come. Then, the sun crept up into the sky, and he still hadn't come.

It was three days later before anyone came, and it wasn't Ulfr. It was his father, and the expression on his face wasn't promising. When he got off the horse, and came toward her, her stomach sank. He put his arms around her and told her what had happened.

When her father had gotten to their staged scene with the others he had managed to wrangle into coming along with him, he was still a mess from what he'd seen the night before. A scuffle had broken out between her father and Ulfr, in which Ulfr was shot. They tried everything that they could, but that morning, Ulfr had died.

At first, she didn't belive him; it was just too impossible a thing to've happened. He wasn't supposed to die, he was never supposed to die; they were supposed to raise children together, to grow old with each other. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. They were so close to escaping from this life that had been forced upon her by her birth, and when she was so close to getting away. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Her whole body began to shake uncontrollably, even as Ulfr's father’s arms tightened around her. The tears began to hiccup out of her, and before she could stop it, one long, wailing sob came up out of her chest. Words of attempted comfort were whispered in her ear, but they did little, blocked by the haze that had filled her mind.

She couldn't remember the rest of that day, or any of the next several days, the haze had taken over all of her mind, protecting it from the grief. And in the months that followed, she only had snapshots of memories that she wasn't entirely sure were real. She was sure through all of that that she couldn't go back to her village, not that she'd wanted to; even though her father had killed Ulfr, he had believed that the bear had killed her ... the whole village had, thankfully. She was also dimly aware that Ulfr's family was taking care of her, while at the same time making plans to leave the area. They let it be known within the village that Ulfr's death had hit them hard, and they no longer wished to live in the area where he had lived and died. Them leaving didn't concern her much, she was still to far in her depression to care, even with the looming birth of her child growing ever closer. At the same time, she didn't worry that they would leave her. She was sure in a deep part of herself that they would bring her along with them, and that they didn't resent or blame her for the things that had happened (even though she half expected them to). They had always proven themselves to be good people, the kind of family that she always wished that she had been born into.

Then, one clear day, a day or two after the full moon, she was pulled sharply out of herself by a pain she had never felt before. She was alone, and terrified that something was wrong; but even more than that she was terrified that she would remain by herself, not knowing what was going on, and that she and her baby would die. It stayed that way until the early afternoon, when Ulfer's parents and a few of his siblings came to check on her. Coming into the lodge, his mother and sisters went quickly to work, realizing right off what was happening. They told her soothingly not to worry, that the baby was coming, and they knew exactly what to do; and they said that they'd only been waiting for the baby to come before they all started on their way.

Hours later, she wouldn't have been able to tell you how long, her baby had finally arrived, and he was sleeping soundly against her. As she slowly drifted off into sleep, listening to her son make sounds in his sleep, she decided that she would name him after his father.

****


Not that many years later, far away from the village she grew up in, she lived happily with her son and the family that had taken her in. She sat at the table with a book in front of her (a book that Ulfr's father had picked up after speaking to the two brothers who had compiled it, and finding out the origins of some of the stories); she was reading a story called "Little Red Riding Hood" ... a story that those two brothers had compiled after traveling through the part of the country where her childhood village was located. When she had finished, she was sure that it had been about her, sure that her father had somehow figured out the truth, or that maybe that's how he had wished things to be.

But it didn't matter now, she was far away, living a new life, and she would never be trapped in that place again.

For the first time in a long time, she was happy.
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