• Maira Galabard

#21 The Ashvul and the Arnädraig

I’m being followed, and not exactly from a distance. The two Mentrasii from that lone inn are seemingly headed in the same direction as I am, their tall beastly figures turning heads wherever we go. Attention is the last thing I wanted.


They keep competing over the smallest trivialities: stepping into taverns first, finishing a meal before the other, carrying the most weight… They are extremely curious about Arnwellian culture and traditions, to the point they even tried local plant-based cuisine. One of them, the largest of the two, didn’t digest it too well.


Right before nightfall we arrive at a speck of a village with some twenty tree-homes. We later learn the village’s name is Windra.


“Well, this is my stop for the day”, I say as I head to the small plaza. There is a small feast happening. The villagers have reunited to celebrate the change of seasons.


“So is mine”, says the largest Mentrasi. He carelessly unpacks his belongings and scatters them on the ground. There are several small cages.


“I’ll keep going after dinner”, replies the other, who’s still holding onto his backpack.

They quickly become the main attraction. Children are the first to show up, followed by what one would presume are their parents. Their hare-like ears tremble at the sight of the carnivores, but they suddenly seem to be at ease.


The smell in the air has suddenly changed. The Mentrasii’s natural odour has dissipated. I’m not quite sure how they are covering their scent.


“Where are you going, sir?”, asks one of the children to the bigger Mentrasi. This one grins.


“To the heart of the forest”, he replies.


“Why?”, the child insists. He’s promptly told by an adult not to ask so many questions.


“To pay a debt”, replies the Mentrasi. He then turns to me. “Got any other bedtime stories about beasts, Storyteller? I’ll make you dinner.”


I smile.


“I can’t say no to dinner.”


***

The Ashvul and the Arnädraig


There are tales as old as time. And there was a time when every child in Arnwell knew this one, which begins with the classic Once Upon A Time…


Once upon a time there lived an arnädraig in the woods. Everything it needed, the forest provided. But the arnädraig wasn’t happy, for when the seasons changed so did the leaves on the trees, and so did the little creature’s leaven coat. It was the same as that of any other arnädraig, and our arnädraig didn’t quite like that. It wanted to have the most unique, stunning, head-turning coat in all of Arnwell. It decorated the whole coat with berries, twigs, even tiny shiny gems it found, but its leaves kept falling with every season. There was nothing it could do to remain unique, and that saddened it greatly.


One day, the little draig came across an asvhul. Flames followed the fire beast’s silent steps, its beautiful mane a swirl of the brightest and warmest colours the arnädraig had ever seen.


“What a beautiful coat you have!”, it exclaimed, seeing the trail of flames. Oranges, yellows, and reds danced before the small draig. The ashvul looked up in the trees at the creature.


“I can make you a coat just like mine”, responded the wolf-like beast with a grin. “It will shine like the moon and the stars. Sparks will follow where you go, and every creature in the forest will have their eyes on you. All you have to do is come with me.”


Excited, the arnädraig followed the ashvul until they arrived to a clearing. It glided down the tree and stood in front of the ashvul.


“Where’s the coat?”, the small beast asked, unable to contain its excitement.


But the ashvul didn’t reply. Instead, a great fire engulfed the surrounding trees before the arnädraig’s eyes. As soon as the flames touched the little beast’s coat, it was set ablaze.


The leaves on its back shone like they never had before. Its wings were a beautiful display of ember. Its head was crowned by flames. The arnädraig twisted its neck left and right and admired its body.


“Gorgeous!”, it exclaimed. But as it turned to the ashvul, the fire beast was no longer there.


***


“Did the arnädraig die?”, asks one of the children.


“Why did the ashvul disappear?”, asks another.


“What’s the moral of the story?”, questions one of the parents. “Don’t trust strangers?”


“No”, the Mentrasi says. “The lesson is how to defeat an ashvul.”


The Arnwellii look at the tall carnivore, their faces expressing everything they’re not putting into words. How would a Mentrasi know anything about Arnwellian tales of old?


“Precisely”, I concur. The large Mentrasi seems content with himself.


“Despair attracts asvhul, whereas joy deters them. Anyhow”, he adds, standing up; “time for that dinner. Karaad, you joining?”


“In a moment”, his companion Karaad says.


“Didn’t quite catch your name.” The large Mentrasi is addressing me this time.


“Oh”, I reply. Why are people so persistent in asking other people’s names? “I’m just a storyteller. And your name is…?”


“Apologies, I thought I’d already introduced myself. My name’s Feraad. Feraad Bazir.”