Canas passed by, and noticed the boy's solemn expression. He bent over and addressed Nils calmly, "Young Nils, is everything okay? Are you well?"
"Oh, yes, I feel fine," Nils assured him, looking up. He smiled politely, but soon felt it fade. "I'm just really bored, that's all. I've got nothing to do."
Canas paused thoughtfully. "Well, when I need something to occupy myself with, I like to read a book."
"Reading is boring..." Nils muttered.
"Nonsense!" Canas exclaimed. "Why, reading can do wonders for a weary mind. It's what allows a Mage or a Shaman to use magic. And there have been many important and fascinating facts written in books for years."
Nils looked up at the Shaman again, wondering if perhaps his suggestion was not such a bad one.
Canas smiled, seeming to notice this in the young Bard. "Come to my tent."
The two headed for Canas's tent, and when Nils pushed the flap aside and entered, he was astounded. Randomly assorted here and there were piles of many books of different sizes and colours.
"Wow, Canas!" Nils enthused. "You must have thousands here!"
"In this little tent?" Canas said, unable to help but smile. "Maybe not quite thousands..." He strode over to one pile of books and picked up the one on top. "Here, this one may interest you."
"What is it?" Nils asked, peeking over his shoulder at the cover.
"It's a book of fairy tales," Canas explained. "Made-up stories about magical creatures."
"That really does sound like fun," Nils said, discovering that perhaps Canas was right about reading. "But...I'm afraid I don't know how to read, Canas..."
"How about I read to you, then?" Canas suggested.
"Really? You would do that?" Nils beamed, eyes brightening. "Thank you, Canas! I would like that very much!"
"Here, sit down," Canas offered.
Nils sat cross-legged on the floor of the tent, eagerly waiting for Canas to begin the first story.
Canas likewise sat down, and opened the book to the first page. "This story is called 'Little Red Riding Hood'."
"Say, Canas," Nils said before Canas could begin the story.
"I was just wondering... Do you think I should imagine what the story is like as you read? You know, envision what the characters are doing?"
"Of course, if you wish," Canas replied. "Many people do that as they read. It helps give you a better understanding of what you're reading, and makes the story even more interesting when you can see it in your mind."
"Okay!" Nils agreed. "Sorry, you can begin now."
"Alright," Canas smiled. "As I said before, this story is called, 'Little Red Riding Hood'..."
But as Canas began to read, the only images Nils could bring up in his mind were not exactly those that the story described, but rather of the warriors at the camp.
Erk stood alone in his room, headbanging to the music cranked up to maximum volume.
"Wake me up inside! Wake me up inside! Call my name and save me from the dark! Bid my blood to run! Before I come undone! Save me from the nothing I've be— Hey! I was listening to that!"
He was cut short when Louise walked into the room and turned the stereo off.
"Pent would like to see you about something, dear," Louise said sweetly.
Erk grumbled irritably, but followed Louise downstairs nonetheless.
"There you are!" Pent exclaimed jovially to Erk, shoving a basket into his arms. "I need you to deliver this basket of food to your grandmother!"
"Grandmother?" Erk repeated. "But, do I have to do it today?"
"It'll be good exercise for you, m'boy!" Pent said boisterously, ruffling Erk's hair. "You spend too much time up in your room listening to Ivan Incense anyway!"
Erk hastily tried to flatten his hair again. "Evanescence, Pent..."
"Oh, you kids and your modern music!" Louise giggled. "Run along now, dear, and have fun!"
"Oh, I will," Erk assured them sarcastically. He grabbed his red cloak off of the coatrack, fastened it around his shoulders and opened the door, basket in hand.
"Erk!" Pent called before Erk left.
Erk turned at the sound of his name and looked at Pent questioningly.
"Remember, when you get to the Enchanted Tree in the forest, walk once around it counterclockwise," Pent warned. "That way, the werewolves that live in that part of the forest can't harm you."
"Right," Erk nodded. "I'll remember."
"There goes Erk with the groceries for his grandmother," one gossipy woman from the village said to another.
"He's such a good boy," said the second gossipy woman. "Plays his music too loud, but he always takes things over to his grandmother when she needs them. Boy, if he were twenty years older and I was twenty years younger..."
"And isn't that red cloak he always wears adorable?" the first gossipy woman gushed.
"I overheard the other ladies call him Little Red Riding Erk one day."
"Little Red Riding Erk! That's the sweetest thing I've ever heard!"
"Hm... Little Red Riding Erk, is it?" a girl whispered to herself in the shadows, listening to the women talk and watching Erk as he strode out of town. "Mmm, what a pretty young man! I can't wait to sink my teeth into him... Hahaha..."
So Little Red Riding Erk travelled down the forest path, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. He recognized every bird call and even saw a family of deer grazing in small clearing. His spirits were high as he made haste to his grandmother's house.
When he came to a fork in the road, he stopped. Splitting the two parts of the path was a large tree, about ten feet wide at the base, but charred and broken about fifteen feet up. Erk remembered the story of the Enchanted Tree. Apparently, it had been struck by a bolt of lightning invoked with magic, and since had gained magical properties. The most notable was its ability to ward off werewolves, if a forest traveler were to circle the tree once in the proper direction.
"Okay, clockwise I go," Erk said to himself. But he stopped short. "Or was it counterclockwise? No, I think Pent said clockwise. Wait, I'm sure it was counterclockwise. Positive, even. But, only fools are positive... Oh, was it clockwise or counterclockwise? ...Uh oh..."
"Clockwise! Go clockwise!"
Erk searched around for the source of the voice he had suddenly heard, but found none. Fear welled up in the pit of his stomach. "Who's there?"
Erk looked around again, but there was no other human in the forest except him. He decided that perhaps the voice wasn't human at all. "Are you a forest spirit?"
"I... Yeees, I'm a forest spirit. And I've decided to help you find your way to your grandmother's house! The path you need to take around the tree in order to keep safe from werewolves is clockwise!"
"Thank you, forest spirit!" Erk cried. He ran up to the tree and circled it once clockwise, then continued along the path that began where the previous had split off.
The mysterious voice in the forest chuckled to itself. "Hehehehehe— EEK! A CHIPMUNK!"
As Erk continued on the way to his grandmother's house, the forest path became about a foot wide, so it felt like the trees on either side of him seemed to be pressing in. It was no matter, however, as he enjoyed being enclosed by nature.
But when he heard an unnatural noise in the forest beyond the path, he slowed down and listened. When he heard nothing more, he continued on, but heard the sound again. He was becoming increasingly agitated, and fear crept into his heart. He was beginning to worry if perhaps he really had gone the wrong way around the Enchanted Tree. The forest was very dark and haunting. This was werewolf territory.
Erk swallowed out of reflex and walked faster along the path. With the limited room, he had to hold the basket in front of him and he kept banging his knees into it. But he did not care, because the racket was making it so that he could not hear whether or not he should be scared. Try as he might, every maneuver he used to calm himself down failed, and he found himself scanning both sides of the forest around him, his eyes darting wildly. When they caught sight of blur in the path before him, he gasped and looked up, eyes wide and his mouth hanging slightly agape. He stopped dead, unable to either rush forward or run back.
A girl stepped into the path in front of him, blocking his way forward with the reduced space. She wore a long white dress and gloves and a long purple sash around her neck. She had pale pink pigtails, and her cute face and large violet eyes spoke volumes of mischief. This sight would not have normally frightened Erk at all, except that her ears were on top of her head, pale pink and fuzzy to match the long tail that swished behind her.
"Hello, Little Red Riding Erk!" the girl greeted sweetly. "May I call you that? It is such an adorable name!"
"Wait, that voice..." Erk said, eyes narrowing. "It's the same as that alleged forest spirit from back at the Enchanted Tree! You tricked me into going the wrong way!"
"Tricked is such a harsh word," the girl said, shaking her head. "I like to think that I invited you cordially."
"Who are you?" Erk demanded.
"My nearest and dearest friends call me Serra," the girl replied. She strode up to Erk and held fast onto his arm. "But you can call me honey!"
Erk made a strangled, high-pitched noise in the back on his throat.
"Say, what's in the basket?" Serra inquired.
"Uh, please, Ms. Werewolf," Erk pleaded. "I need to get to my grandmother's house to deliver these things to her. She's quite elderly, and can't get out to buy the things she needs anymore."
"Really?" Serra said innocently. "That's so very sweet of you to deliver things to her! She's very lucky to have a grandson like you. So sweet, charming, and handsome, too!" She began coiling a strand of his wavy violet hair around her gloved finger. "How would you like to come have picnic in the forest with me? Tee hee!"
"Uh...Uh... I have to go!"
Erk held his basket protectively and shoved past Serra, running down the forest path as fast as he could go.
Serra watched after him and grinned deviously. "Silly, pretty boy. Don't you know that no matter how fast you run, a wolf can always run faster?"
Hanna, Erk's grandmother, lay sleeping in her bed, snoring softly. Suddenly, her eyes flew open, and darted around the room.
"Something wicked this way comes..."
Hanna's honey-coloured cat Matthew lifted his head down at the foot of the bed. "That's what you say every time Erk comes to deliver your groceries."
"Quiet, cat!" Hanna snapped. She booted Matthew off the bed. He squealed and ran off into a corner, plotting her demise (as a cat might do).
All of a sudden, the door of the little wooden cabin flew off its hinges, reduced to splinters by the force of a powerful fist. In stormed a creature with the hunched over body of a human, the feet and head of a wolf, and very sharp clawed hands. The fur that covered its body was pale pink.
"Eeeeeeaaagh!" Hanna screeched. "Werewolf!"
"I'll save you, old woman!" Matthew cried heroically. He leapt from across the room at the werewolf, a silver dagger clutched in his mouth.
The werewolf merely dodged the incoming fuzzball, and Matthew skittered to the floor behind it. He was promptly squished flat by the creatures massive foot.
"Ow..." Matthew grunted. "Pet abuse is an ugly thing..."
The pink werewolf stomped over to Hanna's closet, where it promptly began rummaging through her clothes.
"Hey!" Hanna shouted. "Get outta there!"
"RAWR!" the werewolf shouted. It continued to paw through the clothing, and eventually found a matching dress and cap, lavender in colour. The werewolf spoke English, but not very well, as it did not have a human mouth. "Ooh! Pret-ty!"
Grabbing some more clothes at random, the werewolf picked Hanna up out of the bed, gagged her, and tied up her hands and feet. It shoved her in the closet, and hopped up onto the bed, chuckling in a growling voice.
Erk knocked on the door to his grandmother's hut, out of breath but thankfully out of the forest. His grandmother Hanna, being a mystical old woman, had the power to raise a magical barrier to keep people safe from werewolves.
"Come in, child!" he heard from within. He opened the door and walked in.
"Grandma, it's me, Erk. I— Gah! Matthew, what happened?"
Erk knelt down on the floor next to a rather flat cat with x's for eyes.
Matthew blinked and opened his eyes, looking positively spooked. "Redrum... Redrum..."
Erk raised an eyebrow, opened his basket and pulled out a large bottle. "No, it's red wine, not red rum."
He left Matthew on the floor and walked over to his grandmother's bed.
"I brought you the groceries you needed."
"Thank you, dear," Hanna croaked. She had her cap pulled down unusually low on her head, and the covers pulled up to hide most of her face.
"Say, grandma," Erk said slowly, becoming slightly suspicious of the woman in the bed. "You, um...seem to have fewer wrinkles than when I saw you last."
"Oh, that's that new facial cream I got last week!" Hanna explained. "Worked like a charm, didn't it?"
"Sure did..." Erk mumbled. He set the basket down on the ground and continued to eye the woman in the bed suspiciously. "You know, I met a werewolf on my way here, but I managed to get away."
"Oh, I see," Hanna said. "Was she pretty?"
"Well, uh, I dunno... I didn't really get a good look. I didn't really care, either. She was...kinda creepy."
"Oh, nothing dear! Just a bit of a cough!"
Erk was still not convinced. He decided to continue questioning the woman to see if she would slip up.
"Your eyes seem rather large today, grandma. And...purple."
"Coloured contacts! To match your pretty hair!"
"Ah... And, you seem a little taller than I last recall."
"I've been working out at the gym. Good for the posture!"
Erk knew that was a lie. His grandmother had been bedridden for months. She couldn't possibly have been working out in any way, shape or form.
Suddenly, Hanna began coughing and hacking.
"Grandma?!" Erk exclaimed.
"Just a bit of a cold, dear," Hanna said reassuringly. "I seem to be losing my voice, so you'll have to come closer to hear me."
"Sure," Erk said. He was still suspicious, but if it actually was his grandmother, he didn't want to upset her or leave her alone.
"Closer," Hanna pleaded.
Erk came a few inches closer.
He came closer still.
Erk was practically touching her before he finally said, "Grandma, if I come any closer, this is going to get really awkward..."
"Oh, it would be awkward," Hanna said playfully. "If I were your grandmother."
"I knew it!" Erk shouted.
"Surprise!" Serra cried, pulled off the cap and throwing off the covers.
"Ack! You!" Erk shrieked.
Before he could get away, Serra grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into the bed with a strength that did not match her frame. He was soon pinned on the bed beneath the crazed werewolf.
"B-but I thought grandma put up a magical barrier that keeps werewolves away!" Erk stammered.
"Have a look at your precious barrier now!" Serra crowed, pointing over to a corner of the room. A large black cord and plug sat on the floor just below an empty wall socket.
"Oh no!" Erk exclaimed. He glared at Serrra. "First you trick me into coming here, and then you disguise yourself as my grandmother! You're despicable!"
"And you're so gullible!" Serra exclaimed. "But I think that's just so cute! And now, you're aaaaaall mine... Why, you're such a sweetheart I could just eat you up!!!"
Erk's eyes widened in horror as Serra wiggled her eyebrows suggestively at him. He screwed his eyes shut and screamed as loud as he could.
From somewhere deep in the forest, Hector raised his head and listened attentively to the sound of screaming.
"What's this? Someone in need of help? Never fear, for the noble woodsman Hector is here! To the rescue!!"
Hector came heroically prancing through the forest like a noble buck, his mighty Wolf Beil in hand. When he came upon the source of the screaming, he entered a small hut through a rectangular hole where the door should have been, and found an...interesting sight. Serra, a werewolf he recognized from the forest, was attempting to forcefully hug a young man he knew to be named Erk. Erk, however, kept squirming free, but he never managed to escape her grasp and get out of the bed.
"Y'know, if you two want to be alone..." Hector said suggestively.
Serra stopped and looked up in shock. Erk, flipped onto his back with his head hanging over the edge of the bed, cried out desperately to Hector, "For the love of Elimine, HELP ME!"
"Okay, Serra, you've had your fun," Hector said tolerantly. "But I think it's time for you to go."
"But, Hector!" Serra whined.
"No buts, Serra," Hector said, a little more sternly this time. "Can't you see how uncomfortable the poor boy is? Maybe if you wait a few years..."
"But I want him now!" Serra continued to whine. She crossed her arms and pouted sulkily.
"Serra, don't give me that look," Hector warned.
Hector pointed to the door adamantly.
Serra tried puppy-dog eyes one more time, but seeing that they were having no effect, quietly slid off the bed and shuffled toward the door as Erk rose carefully into a sitting position. Serra had taken two steps before she seemed to have an afterthought, and ran back over to the bed and gave Erk a big kiss on the lips. She promptly made a break for the door and disappeared into the forest. Erk promptly collapsed back on the bed.
Hector loomed over Erk and waved a hand in front of his face. "Um, Erk? Are you okay?"
Erk blinked the glaze out of his eyes and stared up at Hector. "I have some red wine in the basket. Would you mind getting it for me?"
"I can't serve drinks to a minor!" Hector said, scandalized. "You're not legal drinking age!"
Erk muttered to himself, "Never stopped you before..."
"What was that?"
"I said, 'What was that coming from the closet door?'"
"I think it's your grandmother!" Matthew exclaimed. He had managed to become 3-D again and mostly in good health. "I thought I heard the closet door open while I was nearly passed out."
"Good thinking, Matthew!" Hector said. He opened the closet door and sure enough, there was Hanna, bound and gagged in her own clothing. Hector gasped. "Senior abuse! Honestly, it's a terrible thing!"
"Serra has no respect for anyone or anything..." Erk muttered.
"I think she means well," Hector told him as he released Hanna from her bindings. "I mean, a lot of people get rather agitated— and by that I mean boundlessly infuriated— when she has an objective in mind. In this case, it was you."
Erk stared off into space for a moment, and his body convulsed with a sudden shiver.
"She's quite a handful, but I think you should give her a chance," Hector continued.
Erk glared at him.
After Hanna was fully unbound, she cooed to Hector, "Thank you, handsome woodsman! Hee hee...!"
"No problem, ma'am!" Hector replied, rising to his feet. "It's all in a day's— EEK!"
Hector nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt an unwelcome pressure on his rear. The old woman grinned at him mischievously, and giggling, pursued him, arms outstretched.
"Ma'am, please..." Hector pleaded, backing slowly out of the cabin. "I, really... I'm spoken for!"
Hanna merely giggled and quickened her pace. Hector cried out and ran out the door, followed closely by Hanna, a very youthful spring in her step.
Erk watched them, and shook his head slowly. "I think I need a nap."
"You and me both, pal," Matthew agreed. "You and me both..."
"Well, Nils," Canas said, "Did you enjoy that story?"
Nils blinked. "That was a great story, Canas! I'm not bored anymore!"
"Wonderful!" Canas exclaimed. "Would you like to hear another one, or have you been inspired to go do something else?"
"No, no, I want another!" Nils said excitedly. "I mean, if it's not a bother."
"Of course not," Canas said. He flipped through the pages and came to the next story, and prepared to read it to an enthusiastic Nils.
Well, whaddya think? Review and tell me, I'd love to hear from ya! I've got ideas for about the next two fairy tales, but if you've got any ideas, let me know. Buh-bye now! -giggle- o.O'