Redina’s face flushed when she heard the rustling in the brushes ahead of her. By no means was she scared of traveling through the woods. Not even the distance she had to travel to get to her grandmother’s house. But she had to admit that the hand-wringing of her fellow villagers had gotten to her. Wolves had been spotted by the river. Two people in a nearby village had been killed by them. Now, here she was walking in the woods alone.
“It’s nothing, Red,” she told herself refusing to give in to the local hysteria. “You’ve walked this route a thousand times. Besides, the river is in the complete opposite direction. If anything, I’m walking towards safety.”
Hearing her words aloud was enough. She was being ridiculous. She wasn’t the type of girl who was scared to leave her house without the company of a strong man, and she wasn’t about to become one.
So, feeling the heat diminish in her cheeks, she threw her shoulders back, straightened her riding hood, and took a tighter grip of her basket. Taking a step forward, the brush rustled again telling Red that the first time hadn’t been a coincidence.
“Who’s there?” she shouted in as low and confident of a tone as she could muster.
The brush rustled again.
“I hear you. I know you’re there. You may as well come out. If you do, I will refrain from hurting you,” she said slipping her free hand into her basket.
This was a bluff. The most dangerous thing she had in there was a loaf of bread. Sure, her mother made the hardest, least appealing bread in the village. But only the damage she could do with that would be to encourage them to eat it and hope they broke a tooth.
“I’ll say it only once more. Come out and I won’t hurt you.”
To Red’s disappointment, the brush rustled in response. She was still holding out hope it was a bunny or bird. Nope, whatever it was was big and, odds on, dangerous.
“Come on. Let me see you!” she ordered as the noises shifted.
Whatever it was was close and getting closer. Red’s heart thumped reconsidering what she had done.
“That’s right. And don’t make me have to put an axe between your eyes.”
The rustling stopped. It understood her. What was this? Was it a wolf or something else?
Wait, she saw something. She spotted it between the branches at the edge of the path fifteen feet in front of her. It wasn’t a wolf. It was a person.
“That close enough,” Red demanded. “Now. Step into the clearing so I can see you.”
The person didn’t move.
“Do it!” Red barked.
The person obeyed. In one motion, the person stood up and slowly stepped onto the path in front of her. Red’s mouth dropped open. What was she looking at? Well, she could figure out what she was looking at, she just couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“You’re naked,” Red said to the young man standing in front of her.
The man didn’t budge. Staring at her, he neither looked threatening nor self-conscious. He just stood there as if he were crossing the village fully clothed.
The longer the young man remained silent, the more disturbed Red got. It wasn’t exactly anger, but she did feel tension. Having only grown up with her mother, she had never seen a naked man before. She had always been painfully curious to see what was behind the bulge in their crotch region, and here was the perfect opportunity to find out. Should she look? Could she even stop herself from looking?
Red stared at the young man’s face for as long as she could. He looked to be about her age or a little older. In spite of that, he didn’t have any hair on his chin. Would there be any on his chest?
Losing her battle, her eyes dipped. No. His chest was broad and strong but it was hairless. He had the build of a man. His pecs bulged and… her eyes dipped again to confirm… his stomach rippled with strength. This stranger could be the most beautiful person she had ever seen.
Her face, her chest, her whole body prickled with heat. What was happening to her? It felt like she was losing her breath. What’s more, she really needed to look. Everything in her body was screaming at her to look down. When she did, she could barely get herself to look away. What was that? What had she just seen? Why did she desperately want to look back?
“Who are you?” she shouted doing everything she could to not look again.
The young man opened his mouth but closed it again without speaking.
“Don’t you have a name? Don’t you have… clothes?”
For the first time, something changed in the boy’s eyes. Was it sadness? Embarrassment? Whatever it was made Red feel something for the boy. She wanted to be closer to him. She wanted to take care of him.
“Well, you can’t be standing here talking to me like that. Here, put this on.”
Without thinking, Red rested her basket onto the ground and detached the chain that held together the halves of her riding hood. Removing it from around her shoulders, she approached the boy. His stillness drew her closer. He wasn’t reacting at all to her approaching, so when she stopped less than an arm’s length in front of him, she got the impression that she could wrap her arms around the tall, young man without him moving a muscle.
“Here,” she said. “Put this on.”
Red’s hand touched his shoulder as she draped the red cloth on top of him. Her heart clenched when she realized she could smell him. He had an earthy scent and it was glorious. It was making her weak in the knees. She could feel the heat of his naked body envelop her and it took everything in her not to lay her palm against his strong chest and press her tingling body against his.
“There,” she said pulling the sides of her cloak together in front of him. “Now you’re presentable.”
“Thank you,” he replied as if he was remembering how.
“You can speak? I was starting to think that you were some wild animal that had learned to walk on their hind legs,” she said with a smile.
“Wild animal?” he asked seeming to clear his mind.
With him covered and speaking, Red quickly composed herself. “You’re not a wild animal, are you? You do have a name, don’t you?”
“Name? Yes. My name is Vetem, but people call me Tem.”
“Well, I’m Redina, but people call me Red.”
Tem looked Red in the eyes and smiled. It was such a beautiful sight that it made Red’s heart hurt.
“So, Tem, is there a reason you’re walking around the woods naked.”
“Naked?” he asked looking down. “I’m wearing this.”
“Now you are. I mean before. Were you out here running around without your clothes on?”
“Yes,” Tem replied without a hint of self-consciousness.
“Very well. Then perhaps you shouldn’t also be hiding in the bushes as people walk by. You could be mistaken for a wolf and receive an arrow to the throat before you’re given a chance to explain yourself.”
“Haven’t you heard? Wolves have been spotted in woods near the river.”
“Are you afraid of wolves?”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Red replied rebelliously.
As Red pushed out her chest and pulled her shoulders back to answer, Tem whipped his attention away from her and towards the path behind her. The motion cut her off.
“What?” she asked seeing concern wash across his face. Turning to see what he was looking at, she heard the brushes in front of her rustle. Looking back, he was gone.
“Tem? Wait, don’t leave. Tem? Tem, you have my riding hood!” she exclaimed running to the spot where he had exited. “I need my hood back.”
In response, a shout came from behind her. “Red! Red, is that you?”
Red stopped her search for Tem and returned to the path.
“Hunter, is that you?”
“It’s me, Red. Who are you calling to?”
“It was a man I was talking to. What are you doing out here? Are you following me?”
“Following you? Why would I be doing that?” Hunter said with a laugh as he came into view. He was dressed as he did when he was going on a long hunt.
“I don’t know. I can’t figure out why men do most things.”
“Well, Red, I can assure you that I’m not out here because I’m following you,” he said with a brilliant smile.
Red felt embarrassed having accused him. She knew that he had never given her a reason not to trust him. In fact, he had always been very good to her. If it wasn’t for her mother’s strict rule that she would only marry a nobleman, she might have considered Hunter for a husband. He had certainly expressed enough of an interest in her to warrant such consideration.
“You’re right. I can see now that you are dressed for work.”
“And I can see that you are barely dressed at all.”
“What are you talking about, “barely dressed”? I am dressed as a proper lady would be.”
“Of course you are. My mistake. It’s just that I’ve never seen you without your red riding hood. You practically look naked. What would your mother say? The scandal!”
“Well, the hood isn’t stitched to me. Perhaps I left it at home not wanting to dirty it on my walk. Have you ever thought about that?” Red asked defensively.
Hunter held up his hands and laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I was simply making a joke. That’s all. Besides I kind of like you without your cloak. It allows one to see…”
Red put her fists on her hips waiting in anger for what he would say next. “Allows one to see what?”
“Your wonderful disposition, Red. Without your cloak, your wonderful disposition is on display for the whole world to see. And what a wonderful disposition it is,” he said with a bow and devilish smirk.
Feeling more feisty than usual, Red calmed herself and searched the ground for her basket. Where ever Tem was, it wasn’t here and he had her riding hood. She would need that back and she didn’t feel like explaining how she lost it in the first place.
“So, what are you doing hunting these parts of the woods? Aren’t the profitable game by the river?”
“The wolves? That’s what they say. And that’s where every other man with a sword or bow will be looking. But I’m the best at what I do because I don’t think like everyone else.”
“You think there’re wolves out here?”
“This is where the deer are. It would only make sense. And if I can’t collect a royal bounty for a wolf’s head, perhaps I’ll get a stag for the royal kitchen.”
“You do seem to have a plan,” Red acknowledged.
“That I do. What about you? Are you on your way to your grandmother’s house?”
“My mother wanted me to take her some of the bread she baked her?”
“Is she angry at your grandmother or something?”
“My mother isn’t that bad of a baker,” Red replied feeling she needed to defend her mother.
“Red, your mother is a beautiful woman, perhaps second only to you. And, I’m sure your mother has plenty of other attributes. Baking, cooking, and pleasantries aren’t any of them.”
Red was about to give Hunter a piece of her mind for suggesting such a thing, but couldn’t keep up the charade. “Who am I kidding? You’re right. None the less, she sent me to my Grandmother’s to deliver her bread and I’m doing it as all good girls do.”
“Through wolf infested woods, none the less. You will make some man a fine wife.”
“Are you saying that obedience is the lone quality that makes a woman a good wife?”
“Red, I said no such thing! I was simply saying that…” Hunter paused. “Have I yet complemented you on your wonderful disposition?”
Red gave him a side glance and collected her basket. “Having said that, I will be on my way.”
“I hope I haven’t offended you,” Hunter said catching up to Red as she continued down the path.
“I think you have made your point clear. I wouldn’t want to subject you to my wonderful disposition for too long. You might end up dead with joy.”
“I’ll risk that.”
“It is your right to walk where ever you want, but I am done talking to you today,” she said sternly.
“Then it was a pleasure to talk to you. I look forward to the next opportunity,” he said with a smile and a bow before continuing to walk by her side.
The two walked in silence for another hour. Initially Red was upset, but quickly Hunter’s gesture grew on her. She wasn’t really mad at him and shouldn’t have taken it out on him. She was mad at herself for losing her riding hood. Her mother was going to be very upset when she found out.
At the same time, though, Red was a little happy to see it gone. Hunter was right. She never went anywhere without it on. She never wanted to wear it as much as she did, but her mother made her. It was all part of her mother’s plan to marry her off to a nobleman.
Red always hated that plan. But for all of Red’s other faults, the one thing that was true was that she was an obedient daughter… mostly. Or, at least as far as her mother knew.
With her grandmother’s house a short walk up the path, Hunter stopped. The change surprised Red. She had been wondering how far he was planning on taking it. Clearly even he had his limits. But although he didn’t progress further, he also didn’t remove himself from view.
Still not saying a word, he watched as Red approached her grandmother’s door, knocked and was greeted.
“Red, what are you doing here?” Her grandmother asked not as excited as Red thought a woman living alone in the middle of nowhere should be to see her only grandchild. But then again, her grandmother rarely did what Red expected.
“Mother wanted me to deliver you some food.”
“Who is your handsome escort?”
Red looked back at Hunter. Her Grandmother was right. In a certain light, he was handsome. “Just someone I know from the village. I ran into him on the path here, and I guess he wanted to make sure I made it here safely.”
Her Grandmother stared at Hunter as he stared back. “I think he’s sweet on you. I bet he would make a wonderful lover.”
“Grandma!” Red said shocked.
“He looks like a strong man. The last thing you want is a weak man. You want a man who will let you know that he’s in control in the bedroom.
“Grandma!” Red said turning bright pink.
“Perhaps we should invite him inside.”
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not!” Red said pushing her grandmother inside and closing the door behind her.
Before she did, she took a finally look at Hunter. As she did, he bowed. Red closed the door before she saw him stand up. Hunter certainly was a strong man. Was that what was required to be good in the bedroom?
Red wasn’t really sure about the details of all of that. Like every other child in her village, she had seen the animals during mating season. But it didn’t give her any hint to what it would be like when she and her husband fell into sexual embrace.
“So, your mother sent me bread, huh?” Her grandmother said suspiciously. “Did she send me anything else?”
“Just a note,” Red said handing over the basket of bread.
Taking out one of the loaves, she tapped it on the table. The bread was rock hard. She looked at Red. Red shrugged.
Returning to the basket, her grandmother retrieved the note. Unfolding it, she read it.
“Did you read this?” Her grandmother asked.
“No, Grandma. It was for you.”
Her grandmother looked at Red suspiciously and then pushed the basket of bread to the side.
“Considering how late you arrived, I imagine you’ll want to stay the night?”
“Is that a problem?” Red asked unable to imagine what else an old woman, who lived alone, would have to do with her time.
“No, that’s fine. But you must be out in the morning.”
“Sure, Grandma. I’ll leave in the morning.”
At this point, Red was more than confused, she was bewildered. She had been to her grandmother’s house many times and she had never seen her act like this. Had Red done something wrong? Red cared for her grandmother very much. The last thing she would ever want to do would be to upset her.
“Okay. I can see I upset you,” her grandmother said.
“No, Grandma. I’m fine.”
“You’re clearly not fine.”
Her Grandma stared at her with a pierce that made Red’s eyes water. She really hadn’t meant to upset her grandmother. Maybe it was possible that she could leave right away.
“Okay. I’ve upset you. Here. Sit down. You can stay the night. Is just that…” Red’s grandmother looked away staring at the ground. She looked frozen for a moment and then looked back at Red intensely.
“How old are you now, Redina?”
“Then you’re a woman.”
“I am,” Red said brushing the tears from her eyes.
“It’s time for me to share a little secret with you.”
“A secret? A secret about what?”
“A secret about who you are.”
“A secret about who I am? Who am I?”
“More than you think,” her grandmother said before leaving her sitting in suspense.
Red maneuvered around the one room cabin eventually sitting on one of the two chairs at the dinner table. She watched her grandmother make the tea pot off the stove and admired the way she moved. She had hardly ever seen her grandmother with her hair down, and seeing it now Red realized how beautiful she was.
Unlike all of the other grandmothers in the village, Red’s grandmother’s hair was jet black with only a thin sliver of grey. She was also a more voluptuous woman than the other grandmothers. But she was not voluptuous everywhere, just in the parts that made her more womanly. Red envied her aged beauty and felt proud that she might one day look like her.
“What has your mother told you about her father?” Her grandmother asked placing a cup of tea and buttered bread in front of Red.
Red thought back to the often told story about her family’s fall from wealth.
“She said her father was a wealthy landowner who died. But, because he didn’t have any sons, the land he owned was stolen by the king. She says that’s why she wants me to marry a nobleman. So that we can reclaim our place in royal society.”
Red’s grandmother looked at Red harshly before turning her attention to her tea. “Your mother’s story would make me be the worst type of human if it were true. And it would turn her into an abomination.”
Red was shocked by her grandma’s response. “Why, Grandma? I don’t understand.”
Grandma leaned back on her chair and turned briefly towards the roaring fire. She considered her words carefully and then relaxed as if relieving herself of thirty years of secrets.
“That is the story that your mother would like to be true, but it certainly isn’t. It wasn’t your mother’s father who was a wealthy land owner, it was her grandfather. My father. When I was a little girl we lived in the most wonderful home overlooking the acres of land that my father owned. He had inherited it from his father who had inherited it from his father before him.”
“So what happened to it?” Red asked considering her own humble upbringing.
“I happened to it… along with your grandfather,” her grandmother said unapologetically.
“What do you mean?”
“The women in our family aren’t like the other scared, prudish women around you. We were born with fire. We are born with lust.”
“Lust, Redina. Don’t be afraid to say it. It is only the backwards hypocrites who hope to control you and steal from you that say otherwise. Never believe them when they tell you that your womanly power is wrong. Don’t mind them for a second,” she said furiously. “Say it, Redina! Say that you won’t let their backwards thinking control your power.”
“I won’t let them control my power,” Red said reluctantly compling.
“That’s good. Because once they have your mind, they have your body. And, what is a person who doesn’t control their body? A slave. The women in this family, Redina, are slaves to no one.”
In all of her years visiting her grandmother, she had never heard her talk like this. Certainly, she had never been a wilting flower, but who was this fiery woman who was more alive than anyone Red had ever met?
“I don’t understand, Grandma. What does any of this have to do with your husband, my grandfather?”
“First of all, he wasn’t my husband. You mother would like people to believe that because it means that she could still be an acceptable lady of society. But that’s not who he was. Your grandfather was a stable boy no older than me. When I first saw him, I can’t tell you the way he made my body feel. It was like I was opening my eyes for the first time and it was all because of him.
“I fell in love with him. At least I thought I did. And we made love again and again. My father wanted to believe that it was him who was to blame for our passion, but it wasn’t. In truth, he was quite shy. It was me who had seduced him. It was I who, for the first time, took his hand and moved it to my breast. And it was me who undressed him and explored his body with my own.
“I wasn’t sure how long I had been pregnant with your mother by the time I realized it. My mother had died ten years earlier and the women who cared for our house probably knew but dared not tell my father. No, my father didn’t know until the day I gave birth to your mother. He was shocked, then angry, but eventually he came to accept it.
“He sent away my lover, of course. My father blamed him for everything. My fear was that my father had him beaten to an inch of his life. I prayed that wasn’t true. He didn’t deserve that. He was kind and gentle. The only thing that he was guilty of was falling prey to my affections.”
“Grandma, that’s so sad.”
“It is what it is, my dear,” Grandma said feeling the sadness that she felt back then.
“But, when my lover was sent away, I quickly came to accept that the past was the past. I now had your mother to take care of. It wasn’t that hard because, back then, your mother was as sweet and pretty as a doll. My father had once suggested that I give your mother up. I would never do it, though. I loved her too much.
“There were consequences for that decision, however. And I learned those consequences as soon as my father got sick. He and I both recognized his cough. It was the same one that had killed my mother.
“We prayed for him to get better but we both knew where it would eventually lead. That was when my father tried to marry me off. But no nobleman’s son wanted a sixteen year old wife with a child.
“When it became clear that he couldn’t find me a husband, he started to sell the land. As your mother said, women can’t inherit property. So the only thing he could give me was gold.
“He was able to sell the first bits of land for a fair price. But, very quickly, land buyers caught on. My father was desperate to sell. He ended up selling what he could for a tenth of what it was worth. He died quickly after that. And, days after that, the king’s men came and threw me and your mother out of the only home that either of us had ever known.”
“That’s so unfair!” Red exclaimed.
“Such is the place of a woman in this world. But we women are a strong bunch. We survive. I survived. And I had my father’s gold. It was enough to buy the house where you now live and raise your mother like the doll I always thought of her as.
“But your mother had the same lust that I had. And when she met your father, she fell prey to the same passion I did.”
“Is it true what my mother says about my father?” Red asked no longer knowing what to believe.
“I don’t know what your mother told you about him. But, from what I can tell, he was a boy, not much older than your mother. Like me and your grandfather, your mother and father were in love. It broke her when he left your mother and never came back. Some people say that he was killed during the first royal wolf hunts. But I believe that, at sixteen, he wasn’t ready to be a father.”
“So, you think he left?”
“It would be like a man.”
Red stared at her grandmother stunned by what she was just told. Who were these people she was describing? None of them sounded like the women she had known her entire life. And who was the person she described as her mother? Red had imagined that her mother had never been in love in her life. How could anyone that cold have been?
“So, my father ran off on my mother?” Red asked trying to get things straight.
“That’s what I believe.”
“Is that why she doesn’t believe that I should marry for love?”
“Acting out of love is what the women in our family have done for generations. I think she believes that if she can sell you off to someone of royal birth, it will change your fate. I think that’s why she always makes you wear my riding hood.”
“Your riding hood?” Red asked suddenly nervous.
“Yes. Where is it, by the way? I don’t remember ever seeing you without it since you were tall enough to wear it.”
Red’s face flushed hot. She stared at her grandmother remembering what had happened to it. She had wrapped it around a beautiful naked boy and the boy had escaped into the woods with it.
“I left it at home,” Red lied. “Did your father give you the riding hood?”
“He did. It was the last gift he ever gave me. Near the end, one of the thieving land owners offered my father that riding hood for the last of his land. It was, of course, an injustice and everyone knew it. But with nothing else for me to inherit, my father thought that if I had the riding hood, its craftsmanship would indicate my noble upbringing and it would be enough to win the heart of someone who could take care of me.
“It wasn’t an unreasonable thought. But, after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to wear it. I couldn’t even see your mother in it. But your mother inherited it when I left it behind and moved into here. I guess she reimagined my father’s vision, but instead of it being me who would be married off, it would be you.”
“I had no idea?” Red said stunned. “I didn’t realize how important the riding hood was to our family.”
“It seems like there are a lot of things you don’t know about. I blame your mother for that.”
Red’s mind swam with thoughts and feelings. Guilt, shame, understanding, all of it danced in her head making her nauseous.
“And, do you know why I left you and your mother and moved out here?” Her grandmother asked with her first hint of a smile.
“No, why?” she asked almost afraid to find out.
“I see the look on your face, Redina. It’s a good thing. It’s a strong thing. It’s because I knew that as long as I lived in the village, I would have to live by their rules. I would have to be the sallow spinster whose parts were destined to dry up. But, out here, I would be allowed to be the woman I was meant to be. Out here, I could have a lover. I could have many lovers… and I have.
“Your grandmother has lived more in the last few years than all of the rest of her years combined. And, tomorrow night, as the moon grows full, my lover will come to visit me,” she said with a genuine smile. “And we will make passionate love.”
Red had no idea what to make of any of this. As beautiful as her grandmother was, she was still an old woman. She had to be at least 50. Maybe even 55. Did women still think about sex at such an old age? Or, was her grandmother afflicted with some sort of curse?
Red’s grandmother’s story ended there. Not much else was said between them for the rest of the night. Red didn’t mind the silence, considering how lost in thought she was. So much of what she had believed about her father and family had changed in such a short time. It was hard for her to put it all together.
As both she and her grandmother climbed into their shared bed, Red thought about the other thing she had discovered tonight. Her riding hood wasn’t just a tool her mother was using to marry her off. It was a precious heirloom given to her grandmother by her dying great-grandfather. Sentimentally, it could be the most valuable thing that their family owned. She had to get it back. How, though?
Where had Tem, the naked boy who had appeared out of nowhere, come from? Was he from a nearby village? She had been to the nearest villages with her mother as her mother looked for a suitable husband for her. Tem hadn’t been among the prospects. Red was sure she would remember a boy who looked like Tem.
Lying in bed long after her grandmother had fallen asleep, Red dared to think of something else related to Tem. Tem had been the first boy she had ever seen naked. He was so beautiful. More than that, Red had seen his manhood. Simply thinking about it again made her body tingle.
She had never been told, but Red figured out what a man was supposed to do with it. And if it wasn’t what most people did, she knew what she wanted to do with it. She wanted to feel it touch her most sensitive part.
Like she often did after her mother fell asleep, Red lowered her hand and pushed her fingers between her legs. The flesh between them was swollen like it often was at this time of night. And like she often did, she rocked her hand back and forth caressing it. It felt so good. And when she imagined her fingers replaced by Tem’s naked manhood, she felt a twinge between her thighs that made her want to rub harder.
Remembering how close she was to his naked flesh, her body became hot. In her mind, she kissed his chest. His earthy scent was sweet on her lips. Feeling her kiss, he clutched her small body with strength and pulled it onto his.
With Red now naked in her dream, she felt Tem push his manhood against her tender flesh. It sent sparks through her. With her in his hands, he would kiss her. Even if she wanted to escape, she could not. He was a wild beast and he would have his way with her whether she wanted him to or not.
Feeling Tem’s manhood rubbing against her, Red increased the pressure on the nub that had grown within her swollen flesh. It hurt as she rubbed it, but in a good way. Her legs trembled touching it. And as she swallowed trying not to scream in ecstasy, a rush of chaotic pulsing exploded within her causing her legs to bicycle and toes to curl.
Her grandmother stirred and Red froze. But not before a sensation came over her that made her feel like she was passing out. It felt glorious. And as the ecstasy subsided and she drifted off to sleep, she pictured Tem lying next to her. This had to be what her grandmother had felt with her stable boy lover.
Red didn’t understand everything about the story her grandmother had told her, but she now understood this; the women in her family had lust and passion. To deny it would be to deny who they were as much as her mother had.
Perhaps Tem was the man Red was destined to be with. Perhaps she would be telling her own granddaughter the story of him when she was old enough.
The next morning, Red woke up as her grandmother left the bed. Without giving signs of being awake, Red watched her. Her grandmother was acting differently. She was almost restless in her movement and Red couldn’t help but feel like an intruder to her grandmother’s life.
Was this about the arrival of her grandmother’s lover? Red didn’t know but she felt obligated to give her grandmother her space.
“You’re up?” Her grandmother asked when she caught Red’s open eyes.
Red stretched in response.
“I’ve made you breakfast that you can take with you on your way back.”
“Thank you, Grandma,” Red said stunned at her rush to get her out.
“I’ve also included the last of the gold coins that I will be giving to your mother. It is half of what I have left and you can tell her that she will be getting no more. If she needs more, she can get a job and work for it. But she will be getting no more from me.”
Red considered the message. Her mother wasn’t going to like it. Her mother despised the idea of working and looked down upon any woman who did. Her mother would never let that be known publicly. But in the privacy of their home, her opinion was unquestionable.
“Thank you, Grandma. I will give mother the message.”
Rushed out of bed and out the door, Red walked to the end of the path and then turned to stare at the cottage. As she did, she spotted her grandmother staring out the window at her. Her grandmother was acting peculiar, very peculiar indeed.
Returning to her journey home, Red considered all of the things that she had learned the night before. Her mother had made her believe that her grandfather was an important man and that Red’s father was a respectable young man with potential. None of that was true. Red came from a line of stable boys and boys who ran off on their obligations. Considering that, being married to a huntsman was a step up.
Red thought about Hunter more. Did she wish she had told Hunter what had happened to her riding hood? If she had told him, he might have been able to track it down.
Red considered it more. Perhaps she should have. In either case, she might still be able to get his help. She just had to wait until he returned from his hunting trip in a few days.
Or, even better, maybe Tem would be waiting for her where met him and she wouldn’t need Hunter’s help at all. Getting her hopes up, she approached that spot. Her heart dropped when she saw that he wasn’t there.
“Tem?” Red called out. “Tem, are you out there?”
There was no response. What was Red to do? She could wander into the woods trying to find him. But what would she do if she stumbled across a robber who took her money? The risk was too great. Her mother might be angry if she returned without the riding hood. She would be furious if she also lost her grandmother’s gold.
Red called into the woods one more time before continuing her journey home. She arrived without eating her breakfast and entered the village just as the morning’s activities were swinging into high gear. Plumb women were washing clothes. Boys were not paying attention to their school master as he led them through the square. And farmers were arriving into town to pick up supplies and sell some of their left over winter reserves.
Red tried to imagine what her mother would do to earn money within this group. The only thing she had to sell was her beauty. But, with her bristly attitude, she would make a horrible bar wench.
What Red was more curious about was whether her mother would make Red work instead. Her mother had always said that noblemen didn’t want beggars for wives. And that was how her mother saw women who worked, as beggars.
That wasn’t how Red saw them, however. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Red saw a hint of freedom in being able to earn your own wage. Who wanted to be completely dependent on a man?
Sure, growing up without a father, she could see how they could be useful. But she had also seen enough of them stumble, or be thrown out of the bar, to know that sometimes they were more trouble than they were worth.
On the other hand, what did she know? Her mother said that it was her purpose to marry a nobleman and she was willing to do what her mother said. But, Red knew that one day her future would be in her own hands. She couldn’t wait until then. And, until that time, she would be a good girl and do what her mother said.
“Mother?” Red called as she entered through their front door.
Their home wasn’t a large home, but it was bigger than many in the village. Unlike most, theirs had two separate rooms for bedrooms. They weren’t big rooms, but the door did prevent the smells from the cooking pot from covering their clothes.
“Redina?” Her mother replied from outside. Entering, the thin stern woman approached quickly. “Redina, where is your riding hood. What are doing without it?”
Red had been expecting the question, but not as the first thing she asked.
“I left it at Grandma’s house. I got half way home before I realized I had forgotten it. The mornings are getting much warmer than they used to be.”
Her mother looked at her with her brow furrowed. “You can’t just leave it wherever you please,” she scolded.
“I know, mother. It just slipped my mind. That’s all.”
“You’ll have to go and get it.”
“Grandma seemed very busy. I’ll go get in a week once she’s freer.”
“That’s ridiculous. She lives alone. What could she possibly be busy with?”
“I think Grandma is expecting a guest,” Red said watching her mother closely for her reaction.
Her mother paused and stared at Red. Her mother was momentarily speechless. “My mother is not expecting a guest. I don’t know who it was that told you that, but it is not true. My mother does not have guests out there alone. It would be undignified.”
“Mother, Grandma told me that she… has a lover,” Red said looking for confirmation of her grandmother’s story.
“Redina, how dare you say such a thing about your Grandmother,” she said more scared than offended.
“I’m not saying it. It’s what Grandma told me.”
Red’s mother tightened her lips and straighten her spine. “I see. Then I regret to inform you that there is something you don’t know about your grandmother. I’ve been trying to keep this from you for a while, but your grandmother is slowly losing her mind.
“She has been making up the most outrageous of statements for years. The things she has said about our family in her delusional state have been scandalous. You cannot believe anything that that woman says. It’s sad, but you can’t.”
“Grandma’s losing her mind?”
“Of course. Haven’t you noticed any peculiar behavior before?”
Red thought back to everything about her last visit. It had all been peculiar. Was her mother right? Was her grandmother losing her mind? Had anything she had been told about their family history been true?
“I guess she has been acting peculiar,” Red admitted reluctantly.
“She seemed restless and like she didn’t want me there. She had me packed to leave before I even got out of bed.”
“You see. You grandmother isn’t doing well,” her mother said starting to relax.
“She did give me something to give to you, though.”
Her mother suddenly perked up. “Did she? And what was that?”
Red reached in her basket and picked out the bag of coins. “She said this was half of everything she had left. She said if you needed more money, then you would have to get a job and work for it.”
Her mother froze, stunned. Anger quickly over took her. Snatching the bag out of Red’s hand, she turned her venom towards Red’s grandmother.
“You see. A mad woman. And then she went and took your riding hood. She’s trying to ruin us. That’s what she’s trying to do.”
“She didn’t take my riding hood. I told you that I forgot it there.”
“How could you forget it there? You know how important that cloak is to your future. I’ve told you many times.”
“Yes, I know. It’s made of the finest material, and one day a prince will come, see me in it and return the status that our family had stolen from us.”
“Exactly! And am I to believe that you just forgot it at your Grandmother’s house? She’s a mad woman. She’s stolen it.”
“She hasn’t stolen it.”
“Then, go get it.”
“I will. I told you, in a week I will go back…”
“Not in a week. Go get it now. You can’t leave that mad woman with it. She might end up burning it, along with the house and herself. Perhaps we should arrange for the constable to join us. We would have to take control of her house and her possessions, but that would be better than her harming herself.”
Her mother tested the weight of the coin pouch.
“Yes, maybe we should talk to the constable before too long.”
Red couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her mother wasn’t being as subtle as she thought she was. Red’s mother wanted the rest of her grandmother’s gold and she was going to use her missing riding hood as an excuse to get it. Red couldn’t let that happen.
“I told you, mother, I forgot the riding hood there. Grandma didn’t take it from me. She’s fine. She wasn’t acting peculiar at all. It was me. I was acting peculiar. I forgot the hood there and it is something I never do.”
Her mother looked at her as if her new explanation was a betrayal to her newly hatched plan. “How dare you? How dare you leave a family heirloom so carelessly? Do you know how valuable it is?”
“Is it worth an acre of land?” Red asked remembering her grandmother’s story.
Her mother stared at her stunned. Her tone changed as if she had finally been caught. “It’s worth an acre of land and more. It is the one item of value that my father left me. And I will not have you leaving it around as if it were trash. Go get it.”
“I told you I’ll get it in a week.”
Her mother stood as tall and strong as a bear. “Go get the riding hood now! And don’t return here until you have it.”
Red shrank at the sight of her. “Yes, mother.”
Without another word, Red put down her basket and left through the front door. She was a fool to push her mother like that. She realized that now.
What else was she expecting? A trapped animal will always attach. And, now she was being forced to look for Tem on her own. She couldn’t even return home without her riding hood. It was the worst of all possible situations.
Red followed the path back to where she had first seen Tem.
“Tem?” She called again. When she didn’t get a reply, she slowly pulled back the branches and entered the bushes.
“Tem?” She yelled heading a random direction into the woods.
In truth, Red had no idea what she was doing. She was no stranger to the woods, but it had been a long time since she had been there. Young ladies didn’t play in the dirt, her mother told her. And, because of that, she stopped playing there.
There was something that was exciting about it, however. The woods were alive with sights and sounds. A chorus of birds sang from the trees and a cascade of insects buzzed, chirped and hissed from the brush. It would be easy to get lost following a sound, but Red remembered that the most important thing about entering the woods was knowing how to get out.
With that in mind, Red made note of the sun. It was a little past midday. She was unaware of any village that existed in the direction in which she guessed Tem had come, but, if he was running through the woods naked, he couldn’t have come from that far.
After what had to be two hours of searching, Red began to lose hope. How was she supposed to find a guy in the middle of the woods if the guy didn’t want to be found? Who was Tem, anyway? Where had he come from?
He hadn’t spoken with any special accent or lisp. In fact, his low, soothing voice could have come from anywhere in the area. The only thing that might have given a hint of who he was was how perfect his skin was. As far as she could remember, he didn’t have any scratches, scars, or body hair for that matter. It was like he was a fully formed new born birthed from the gods themselves.
Red allowed her thoughts to settle on Tem’s body a little while longer. His strong shoulders, and forearms; his thick legs and dangling manhood, they were all burned into her mind.
Why had he been naked? Why was he so unself-conscious about it? Wasn’t it improper to be naked in front of a lady where he was from? Wouldn’t he have thought so if he had considered her pretty? Was that why he cared so little, because he hadn’t found her attractive?
By the time her current line of questioning concluded, Red looked up and realized that she didn’t know where she was. She had been walking mindlessly for what had to be an hour and she was lost.
“Tem?” Red shouted again.
This time she got a reply. It wasn’t the reply she was expecting. It was movement far in the distance. And it wasn’t anything that sounded friendly.
Deciding to stop drawing attention to herself, Red looked up at the sky trying to figure out her way back. Scanning the woods behind her, she realized how little she had been paying attention. Every tree and shrub looked exactly the same. What had she been thinking by traveling through the woods alone?
Putting the sun to her back, she walked what she assumed was east. Nothing looked familiar and the sun was setting fast.
Red thought about Hunter. She was sure he was out here somewhere. She thought about what he could be hunting. Although she didn’t consider herself to be scared of wolves, there was a reason why the King gave a reward for every wolf head given to him. It was because the Prince, the King’s only child, had been killed by wolves. The story went that the Queen was out picnicking with the Prince when the two year old wondered off and never came back.
The pool of blood found told the royal hunters that he had been snatched. And when an article of the Prince’s clothes was found near a wolf den, the King swore to rid his land of the creatures for good.
The Prince’s death had happened when Red was still a baby, so she never knew a time when wolves weren’t feared. And now, here she was wondering through the woods by herself with the sun setting and no way to defend herself if a wolf did attack.
The darker the woods got, the more Red’s heart raced. She had been so stupid not to pay attention to where she was going. The path had to be somewhere in the direction she was headed. But, how far? And, how long would it take to get there?
The one saving grace, Red realized, was that tonight was a full moon. She wouldn’t have had a shot at getting back if it were a moonless night. But, this way, she had a fighting chance.
As Red’s footsteps crunched the dried leaves under her, she examined every sound for danger. Creaking, whistling, rustling that got eerily closer, everything was horrifying. So when something familiar appeared in the distance, it was almost with a squeal that she lifted her skirt and ran towards it.
“Grandma?” Red yelled as she approached her grandmother’s back door.