So, I was doing some goofing off and playing around with character sketches and throwing my characters into situations to test their reactions. I had no intentions on my two main characters meeting, but they have and there’s no going back now.
Here it is, a teaser of what’s to come in a month or two:
Oz wandered through the rolling plains of stunted trees and dead grass with his stepmother’s words resonating through his mind. The sun was high over head, beating down on his furry back. Dry twigs cracked beneath his furry paws and stuck between the soft pads making him wince. His once useful fingers, groomed nails and soft skin were now deformed into this – a bear’s fumbling brute strength. What was he to do with these? He couldn’t play music, write letters, open doors or any of the other things he once took for granted. He could wander the wilderness and smash things.
“Try and find a wife now,” she had said. “You will wed Princess Teneale.”
“I still have a year to find a woman who will have me,” he had said. Princess Teneale was a monster, but the only monster who would marry him, thanks to his stepmother. She’d done everything in her power to see to that.
It wasn’t that Teneale was unappealing, far from it. She was perhaps the most beautiful creature Oz had ever seen – until she smiled. Her gorgeous features couldn’t hide the rows of sharp teeth she hid beneath those alluring lips. Inside her mouth was the truth of her nature, she was a troll, and like all trolls he’d ever met, she was selfish, heartless and cruel.
Oz sat on a patch of moss and looked down into the valley. The entire place was a barren wasteland, except for a small colorful grouping of wild flowers that were growing in front of a quaint farm. He wondered why anyone had chosen this place to live, unless they were like him, useless, hopeless and doomed to lead a life married to a monster princess.
The wind blew from the north, pushing chilled air through his overcoat and into the soft down of his new fur. It felt good. Standing, he shook himself and grunted, his new voice still unfamiliar to him. Slowly, he ambled down a path that was cut into the hillside towards the farm. The wind carried smells of onions, bread and the sounds of many people hard at work pounding at nails and earth.
When he had reached the farm, he saw that it was not quite as large as he had thought it was. From the shelter of a cluster of stunted trees, he counted as many as nine people going in and out of the farmhouse, barn and fields. There was another that he could not see, but her voice carried to him on the wind from inside the house.
She didn’t have the lyrical, sickeningly sweet voice of Teneale, but it was no less appealing to him. He moved around the outside of the tree line, failing at his attempt to stay quiet. Oz cursed his stepmother for bewitching him with such clumsy paws.
A loud crack shattered the tranquility of the glen. Instinctively, he crouched low to the ground. Behind him startled voices shouted at one another.
“Did you hear that?”
“Yeah. What was it? A gun?”
“Don’t be stupid. Who would hunt out here? It was probably another tree limb falling. Maybe one of us got lucky and was crushed under it.”
The other voice laughed, “Yeah, lucky bastard got out of here.”
“Shut up and get back to work,” a third voice bellowed. In minutes, the sounds of pounding and digging returned to their monotony as before.
After waiting for the people to forget about the noise, Oz crept closer to the cottage window. Inside he saw a girl sitting on the floor dressed in and surrounded by rags. She was humming now, quietly, to herself. She was something unlike any he’d ever seen. Underneath the dirt and mop of tangled reddish blond hair there was a beautiful young woman. Her voice even now haunted his ears. Her eyelashes caught the sun and glimmered gold over her green eyes.
She had lips that were full and turned down in the corners in the slightest of pouts. Oz was consumed with the desire to be closer to her, to kiss her lips and erase the sadness from her face. He just wanted to touch her, maybe to see if she was real, or if he was.
He dropped down below the window, so he couldn’t see her. He pawed at the ground, leaving small scratches in the dirt. He had to get closer to her somehow. It was then he realized that he was already enamored with her.
“What is it, George? The soup will burn.” It was a woman’s voice.
Oz’s heart froze in his chest. There were others dangerously close. He should have heard the people coming before now. Bears had better senses than people, didn’t they?
He risked one last glance at the girl, one paw on the window’s flower box, for the briefest of moments before using it to push off and away into the trees again. He winced as he made another loud crack of destruction in his wake. He thought he saw, on the edge of his vision, that the girl had looked up and seen him leave.
He should have run, and kept running until he was safely away from the farmhouse and the people that lived in it. Instead, crouched again at the edge of the trees and listened for her voice again.
“Did you hear that?” It wasn’t hers, it was the other woman.
“It looks like the last flower box has finally decayed and broken away from the window.”
“Why didn’t you have one of the boys fix it? Lord knows we have enough children that we shouldn’t be living like this.”
“It’s been another fruitless harvest, Sarah. I’m not worried about flower boxes. What are we going to do? We had barely enough to live on through last winter, and this year seems it will be worse.”
“You never should have taken Laurent’s farm. You should have never retired from the military. You should have had the foresight for this. You’re not a farmer. You don’t have farmer’s hands. You are a soldier. A retired good for nothing soldier. Is this why you pulled me away from the soup? I swear, George, worrying is going to do nothing for us now. You have eight children, a barren farm, and so help me if you add burned soup to that list…” she didn’t finish her threat. She mumbled back all the way towards the house, something about her mother and Paris.
The man sat on a withered old stump, and Oz placed one tentative paw out into the open, past the trees, into full view.