This was going to be a MUCh larger-scale story, 10-12 books in fact, but my partner at the time thought that it worked well as a short story of it's own.
She was right! It got published by Gryphonwood.
The Old Woman and the Creature.
The old woman sank to her knees in the dirt, exhausted from the journey.
She’d been walking non-stop for what seemed like hours to reach this particular spot in the forest.
She carried with her a wicker basket full of medicines and salves made by her own hands from the gardens which surrounded her house. There was something else though, down at the bottom of her basket, nestled very gently amongst the small jars and ointments; something wrapped in cloth, and breathing ever so gently. She could hear its muffled breathing even now through the hole she‘d cut in the cloth.
Short, continuous, rasping breaths.
‘It still lives,’ she mused. She had never imagined that it would survive this long after she found it abandoned outside of her home.
The woman did not exactly know what the creature was, she had an idea … but she dare not even think that her ideas might be right.
Placing the basket down by her right side, the woman gently opened the lid and dug down deep with her hand until her fingers touched the soft cloth which was moving gently.
Very carefully, she lifted the cloth covered creature up and held it in both hands. The creature murmured and gasped a little, but otherwise it lay still as she carefully opened the hole in the cloth wider so that its head showed.
‘Such a strange looking thing,’ she said out loud, staring at the creature’s long snout and fleshy webbed feet, claws at the end of each digit.
The creature’s skin was turquoise in color, and it had slightly darker scattering of fur on its back which reached all the way up to the top of its head. The face of the creature was dragon-like, although the old woman knew that this creature certainly was not a dragon.
She placed the wrapped creature down on the forest ground and watched as it squirmed to get out of the cloth wrapping.
‘Hush now, do not fret, little one. You’re not yet old enough to fret,’ she said softly to the creature, and the creature let out a soft bark, similar to that of a seal.
The creature continued to struggle for some minutes before finally settling down and lying still on the ground, using its nose to sniffle at the dirt.
‘There, see? Outside is not so bad after all, yes? We can’t keep you cooped up inside my old house all the time, little one. I do wish I knew what you were, though. You could be dangerous, although I’ve had you for the past month or so and you’ve haven’t snapped at me yet. I say yet, little one - because the minute that you do decide to take a disliking to me, and then I’ll snap your neck like one of those twigs over there. Do you hear me?’
The creature regarded the woman with its huge forward-facing eyes focused as if it understood, and grunting in agreement. It had been like that since the day she’d found the creature hidden amongst the gardens. The creature seemed to understand everything that she said, and responded to her with both noise and actions (sometimes it would even bob its large head back and forth, as if nodding).
Yes indeed, the creature’s intelligence could not be denied, even at such a young age -- somewhere between six and seven months old, the woman guessed.
With a soft bark, the creature managed to roll over onto its back inside the cloth covering and stared up at the sky, its jaws open wide in awe of these new surroundings. The creature took in all the sighs - the treetops, the puffy clouds above and far off in the distance, the snow-capped mountains.
‘What shall we do with you, little one, hmm? Do you think I should keep you, or leave you out here to fend for yourself? I really don’t think that you’d enjoy that very much at all, but I am not sure if I can keep you much longer, not knowing what you’ll soon change into.’
The old woman smiled down at the creature as it lifted its head to the side and stared into her cold, hard eyes. She’d been feeding the creature on a mixture of plants from the gardens, and fresh meat which she’d managed to catch while out hunting.
I may be old, but I can still pull a trigger when I need to eat, the woman thought, smiling to herself.
The creature gurgled softly, and the sound of it reminded the old woman of her own children, so very long ago, and how they’d laid in their cribs, gurgling and staring up at her as she nursed them.
It was definitely true - the old woman could not keep the creature for much longer -- for her own safety, and for the creature’s safety. She’d often dreaded the thought of the thing being some kind of ancient relic for the dreaded bloody Risomo, or the like.
The woman wandered the nearby area, picking up small sticks and thick branches from the forest ground and gathering them into her arms. She planned on staying the night out here, it was too late to trudge back now, and she noticed a cold chill beginning to still the air.
After gathering the wood into a pile, the woman opened her basket and produced a small glass jar of greenish herbs. She opened it, poured a handful of the herbs onto the pile, and stood back.
‘Light,’ she commanded simply, and with that the sticks burst into flames and started to crackle and pop.
The creature looked towards the noise, and a soft snuffling sound came from its snout.
‘Yes -- fire, little one. You know fire, don’t you? I see it in your eyes, my little friend. You’ve known fire in a previous life, I think.’
The creature began its soft ritualistic hum deep within its throat.
The old woman sat herself down in front of the fire, and picked the bundled creature up, placing it in her lap. She began to hum in unison with the creature, and their melodic sing-song filled the air with soft refinement.
This carried on for what seemed like hours, the creature humming, and the woman following. Slowly, but surely, the pair of them began to fall into a deep sleep, warmed by the fire…
The old woman was running, her legs pumping hard, her breath rasping. She’d not remembered running in years, but she now ran for her life, the creature clutched in her arms like a dying child. Yet the creature was not dead, it breathed life still as its eyes flickered in amazement and fear.
The woman was being chased by three other women who held large pitchforks above their head and were screaming obscenities at her as they ran at her heels.
She stumbled over the top of a hill and fell to her knees in the long grass. Quickly, she picked herself up and continued running, keeping the creature held tightly between her large sagging breasts.
She noticed then that she was naked - running for her life, naked in the middle of the day through a countryside that she did not recognize as any she knew. And the rain began to fall upon he; the clouds darkened above her head, and the thunder rolled in the distance.
The women screaming behind her slowly faded as the scene changed and she found herself somewhere that she did recognize.
She looked down to her breasts and the creature which she had held between them was now gone. She gasped and turned around, scouting the ground with her eyes, seeking the precious creature which seemed to mean so much to these women, and to herself.
The old woman breathed a sigh of relief as she spotted a creature underneath a strange looking tree … but it was not the same. The creature was fully grown, almost the size of a man as it sat there, picking the dirt from between its claws.
‘Oh my, how you have grown! Speak to me, my friend, SPEAK!’
The creature walked on all fours towards the woman and sat obediently at her right side, staring down at her with its huge oval-shaped brown eyes.
‘Hello Mother Kerani,’ the creature said in a low rasping tone.
Kerani could not believe her ears. She knew that the creature did not speak her tongue, but she understood what it said to her nonetheless.
‘What is your name, creature? I have raised you from young, you know, and I have never named you. What would you like to be called, or do you have a name that I do not know of?’ Kerani asked, smiling up at the large creature before her.
The unnamed creature looked at Kerani in wonder and battered its thick eyelids.
‘I am known as Chanirrasda, Mother Kerani. You are the only Mother that I have ever known, so that is why I call you Mother. I do not know my parents, and I do not have need for them. I realize what I am, Mother Kerani - and I am a dangerous creature for you to be in possession of. That is why I’ve bought us here. You must now leave me, and never try to find me.’ A large teardrop descended down Chanirrasda’s left cheek as her muzzle shook to release it to the ground, splashing against a tree branch.
‘Please don’t leave me, Chanirrasda. I shall miss you so much, little one. Well, it’s not worth calling you little one anymore, now that you’ve shown yourself grown to me, you’re bigger than I! I beg you, we can go away together, Chanirrasda, we can hide from these people who hunt us, and we can live happily,’ Kerani begged the creature, tears rolling down her wrinkled face.
Chanirrasda regarded the woman with its own tearful glance before gently shaking her muzzle side to side and speaking in its low, guttural tone:
‘Mother Kerani. I will not dishonor you by telling you what I am, you will find out well enough for yourself one day, but I urge you to believe me when I say that my race are dangerous creatures. I hold love, admiration and respect for you, Mother Kerani, but no others of my race would - they would see you as an intruder, and would kill you if they ever discovered that you were harboring me. I promise you that I shall come and visit you if ever I get the chance, and I shall miss you also … terribly,’ it said, somehow seeming to frown.
Chanirrasda’s words did not reach Mother Kerani’s ears at all, they spoke to her mind, and she heard them there, inside her. She kneeled down and laid her face upon Chanirrasda’s neck, inhaling her scent into her mind, and storing it there forevermore.
‘With this scent, I will always know you, from hundreds of miles away, I will smell you, and I will sense you in my mind, Chanirrasda. I love you, little one.’
Mother Kerani could not resist calling the creature by the name which she had called it since she’d found and raised it, even if she now knew its true name.
It was true that she would miss her late night conversations with Chanirrasda, the warmth of sleeping with it snuggled next to her, but she did fear for her safety and knew that these hunting women would not give up the chase for Chanirrasda for as long as she held contact with her.
Mother Kerani smiled as she stood up and placed a hand on Chanirrasda’s soft neck. ‘Be good then, and be well. If ever you need me, Chanirrasda - you just call, and I will hear you. We communicate in a most unusual way, you and I. Call for me, as loud as you can, and I’ll come. No matter where you are, I’ll come to you.’
Chanirrasda did not speak again before sprinting off into the forest, following some seemingly endless scented trail to nowhere. Mother Kerani sobbed long and hard into her hands and let out a soft gasp of pain as she lost mind and eye contact with the creature who had called her it’s Mother …
The old woman gasped for air as her body rocked and tumbled against a tree trunk. She touched her face and felt the wetness of tears as she looked all around for the creature.
The dream, it had been so real, and was still very fresh in her mind, and she could remember every last detail, down to smells.
She scavenged around the area for a good two hours, until daylight finally came once more and the sun reared its head through the clouds to the east. The creature was nowhere to be found, it had escaped her, and all she had for memory was the cloth she held with the hole cut in the top, and the smells in her mind, planted there by that horrible dream of losing her creature …