“The Escape of Motley’s Rose” – Chapter 1

by Aylya Mayze
© 2021 Wittily Writ Publishing

Notes: The challenge with all first chapters is to set the scene, introduce the characters, and hook the reader, simultaneously. Generally information dumps are not exciting so you have to leak the information slowly, but quickly enough so the reader understands what is happening. Therefore, my most important question is if I succeeded in these objectives, and how might I improve. Did it keep the reader’s interest throughout? Also, does it make the reader eager to read further?

Chapter 1

I was a 16-year-old female hiding in the woods, raised to be afeard of the monsters hunting me, but left completely unprepared for a far more dangerous peril.

It was the morning of an early spring day, peaceful and perfect, the kind that lures you into forgetting how vulnerable you truly are. I had been singing down by the river, working the sound of its splashes into my song to make my rhythm. My mezzo-soprano voice swam through my melody like a wriggling salmon defying the current, stretching my range, while my fingers played with the strings of the guitar my ma had left to me. I was minding my own business and not paying attention as I should, when the back of my neck started to tingle with its rising hairs.

I kept strumming my guitar, but softer, listening for what the danger might be. It was up the bank, in the meadow beyond. I was being watched. Wolf. The image of a giant grey wolf standing still, his gaze fixed on me, the April sun pouring down on his glistening coat as if the sun existed just to light him, popped into my mind.

I turned my head enough to peek through the corner of my eye. He was there, the biggest wolf I had ever seen in real life. If he stood on his hind legs, I figured he’d be over 6 feet, sure. He was too far away to attack me in a single leap. Not that it mattered. He could outrun me even if I were already moving, but I was sitting, my guitar on my lap, my shoes beside me on the boulder, so my toes could enjoy the cool of the water splashing them. The ground around me was rocky and sharp to my bare soles and full of bracken with thorns. If the wolf were hunting me and I moved to escape, he would likely have me before I found my stride.

He struck me as young, not long adult. If he was the point of a hidden pack, hunting together, and I was their prey, I was doomed. I could maybe try climbing a tree, but reaching one with low enough branches from where I now sat would be a miracle of God. My only chance lay in him being alone.

So, counting on that, I figured I had three options. I could try to ignore him and hope he’d soon go on to easier prey. The way he kept staring at me, however, made that seem unlikely. I could jump up on the boulder and try to make myself seem even bigger than I naturally was, too big to mess with, but some instinct warned me he would not be frightened. The other option was to try to establish a relationship with him, which meant I had to choose, did I want to try for dominance or act submissive? Submissive seemed the safest bet, but it grated against my nature. This was my territory now – mine alone. I would have no problem sharing with him if we gave each other proper distance and respect, but though submission would be the safest way to possibly survive this hour, I couldn’t live with it forever.

If he was alone, as he seemed, he was likely looking for his own territory to start his own pack. He may have already found a mate, or would soon, and there would be pups. If I didn’t claim the respect from him now, before he was secure as an alpha with a pack to protect, it would be much harder later.

I had already chosen to challenge him, I realized. If I lost this gamble my game might be done, but there was no one to mourn me. It was worth the risk.

I set my guitar carefully aside, where I hoped it would be protected if it came to a fight, and slowly reached for my shoes.

The wolf yipped to claim my attention. A yip, not a growl. I finished slipping my shoes on my feet, making him wait. My shoes were well-tanned deer hide on the outside, rabbit skin, with the fur, inside – a delight to wear, though the weather would soon be too warm for them. I had woven sturdy soles, for traction, and sewn them on, then painted the leather for beauty. They were my own, recent work and I was proud of them. Any person who could craft like this could certainly face a wolf, I thought, willing myself to be brave. Wolves, and most other critters, could smell fear. The only way for humans to control that was to refuse to feel it. Only when I was shod again did I turn to him full and look him straight in his eyes.

I intended to be challenging, holding his gaze until he looked away, but the color and beauty of his eyes stunned me. Deep green they seemed – not amber as was usual for adult wolves or the blue of pups. They reminded me suddenly of my younger brother, Remi, with his copper hair and cheery grin in a face almost as freckled as mine.

Remi, was born almost two years after me, here in the woods where my parents had fled when I was born. Bright and beautiful he was. Excited by every little thing. Always dashing here and there, his vivid, green eyes darting to new goals even before he reached where he had been going. I loved to make him laugh. It was so easy to do! His laugh would bounce like a pebble on the lake. He was endlessly curious and, by 12, he had learned everything Ma and Da and everyone else could teach him. He had read every book every woodsie we knew had brought with them, and he had memorized all the poems, stories, songs, and plays my Ma had caught in her sticky brain, and still he was hungry for more, but there was no more to be had, except in the town.

Ma and Da decided to move back to town with him, to give him a chance to attend university and have a “real” career and a “proper” life. Truth be told, they were eager to go. Both had hated the forest. They were townies, for sure, badly misplaced here. Both had come to resent me for forcing them from the life they had loved, but it was none of Remi’s fault, so they could love him full, as I did.

I saw their excitement of moving back to town draw them and Remi even closer. Da talked of restaurants he wanted to try. Ma talked of shops and what she would buy from them. They talked of work opportunities, both wondering if they could get back anything like the careers they had abandoned for me. Da had been an electrical engineer. Ma had worked as at a variety of things, including as a computer programmer. Both had also enjoyed the theater – Ma, onstage, singing, dancing and acting, while Da worked the lights and painted sets. So, of course, they also talked of theater and concerts, festivals and pageants, movies and role-playing games… I was happy for them. I was happy for the new opportunities my brilliant brother would have in town, the schools and universities he could attend, the libraries full of books he could read, the museums packed with wonders to explore. I hoped it was all true. If so, it would delight him, sure, though I wondered if he would laugh as much without my teasing.

I was just turned 14 the spring when I had kissed them goodbye and watched them go, forcing my smile when Remi turned back to wave at me for the last time. For one, weird, moment I felt like I wanted to go too. But, of course, I had to stay – and staying where one belongs is a joy. I had been happy enough these two years since. No complaints at all. I liked being my own boss. The cave we had made our home, where Remi had been born, was all mine now and there was no arguing about how I chose to arrange it. It was peaceful and I was free to live in any way I liked. I wanted nothing more, except, perhaps, to visit with my brother now and again and know how he was getting on. But even that little touch of sadness from missing him was not a thought most days. It was only the green eyes of the wolf that woke it up in me from where it normally slept, deep inside.

Though this staring stranger was certainly a gray wolf, there was also a lot of red, brown, white and black in his coat. It was all patches of color. I smiled in spite of myself, forgetting that one should not bare teeth to wolves.

“How beautiful you are!” I exclaimed, entirely abandoning my intention to establish dominance.

He seemed to stand taller at my words, as though I had stroked his pride.

“What? Do you understand my English?” I asked, amused. It couldn’t be, of course, but I was a woodsie – what we called those who had grown up hiding deep in the forests. I had lived all my life with critters and had learned some ways they communicate. No doubt my thoughts showed to him in the sound of my voice, the subtle movements of my face and body, and perhaps even in a change in my scent. It had occurred to me, long ago, that critters probably understood far more without words than humans did with them.

His patches reminded me of stories I had heard, set in medieval courts of ancient history, where jesters dressed in crazy colors to draw attention to their antics.

“I should call you Motley Fool for all your colors.” I said aloud.

The wolf did not move or make a sound but something about him grew darker with displeasure.

I laughed, letting myself pretend that he had understood the reference.

“Just Motley then. I’ll save the fool part for later if you earn it.”

It was I who was being foolish, though. Wolves were no joke in the deep forest. Even a lone one, as this one seemed to be, could best me if he attacked – but he wouldn’t. I had no reason to be sure, but I was. The way he stared was not as a hunter at his prey. It was friendly, curious, a bit challenging but in a playful way and…there was something more I couldn’t name, but it didn’t alarm me.

This had to be the wolf who had spoiled four of my traps in the last three days, stealing two rabbits, a hedgehog, and a squirrel. He had been following me too, for the past two weeks. I had seen his tracks around my cave and in my paths, and felt his presence, watching me, though this was the first time I had actually seen him.

It was odd behavior for a wolf – and though it didn’t seem threatening at the moment, odd behavior always is. You cannot know what to expect when they act so strange. He seemed friendlier than any wild thing should, though that could change in a heartbeat. I knew I should be cautious, but the fool part of me took over.

His eyes glanced toward the woods to the right, then back at me.

“You’ve named me,” I imagined him saying, speaking silently in my mind in a deep, masculine voice, “so now tell me your name.”

I frowned. My parents had named me Morag after some great grandmother, but I had never liked that name. They assured me all the Morags of our family were exceptionally beautiful and charming women, all with “special” talents, but the name had a harsh sound to my ear, like jagged rocks. Perhaps the name had forced them all to be more beautiful and charming to overcome the ugliness of it. If so, it had failed with me. One of the best things about being alone was never again having to use that name, however I had not thought of another to replace it, since there had been no need.

“I named you,” I said. “You can name me whatever you’d like.”

A warning sounded in my thoughts. Naming was claiming. When God wanted Adam to take responsibility for all the animals of the earth, He had Adam name them all. God had created them, but they became Adam’s when he named them. Was I offering to become this wolf’s by letting him name me? I smiled at my silliness. This was a wolf, not a man, and this whole conversation was only my imagination. Whatever name the wolf came up with was merely me naming myself. I was curious to see what I would choose.

Motley considered me quietly for a moment, then strode forward until he was just out of my reach and sniffed the breeze.

“Lilly is my mother’s name,” Motley said.

I laughed at my imagination. Lilly seemed like the most un-wolflike name I had ever heard.

“Do I remind you of your mother?”

I felt a wave of disapproval.

“No doubt she is a lovely wolf,” I quickly said, “which means it’s probably not a name I could live up to.”

Motley seemed confused for a moment. Then I could have sworn he shrugged, just as a man might.

“I name you Rose,” he said. “You have a wonderful scent, you are beautiful, and you have lots of layers, but you are prickly too.”

I smiled, amused and a bit embarrassed by my strange imagination. I knew well enough I was not beautiful. I was 5’11” – too tall for a woman. Most of my height was in my legs, however. When I sat, I seemed short, and I was still sitting now, so perhaps Motley hadn’t noticed – or didn’t care as a man would. While humans valued women who were wispy little waifs, I was strong and solid, almost all muscle except for my oversized breasts which bounced annoyingly and forced me to bind them to try to keep them out of my way. My brown hair had a touch of red which was considered unlucky. Red hair could work for some if it was a full and strong red, striking in its rarity, as my ma’s had been, but mine was mostly an ordinary brown with just enough red to gain me suspicious glances and mutterings. Red was supposed to denote a fiery temper, which I didn’t have, but I was stubborn, independent, and, as Motley had correctly described, prickly. Also, it was considered a beauty of women to grow their hair as long as possible, but I hacked mine off with my knife regularly – too lazy to spend the time and effort caring for long hair. Worst of all was that my body was covered in freckles – everywhere you could look and all the places you should not. I was more speckled than a sparrow’s egg. I had never had a mirror, but I was told that I had brown eyes – the most common and least valued color possible. Had my appearance mattered to me, I would have envied my brother’s green eyes, which were also large and beautifully shaped, like deer eyes, dominating his face, and ringed with thick, long lashes, looking almost feminine. As it was, I thought it perfect that he should have the beautiful eyes, for I loved to look on them, which I could never have done were they my own.

So, objectively, beautiful I was not and never would be by any human standards. But “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” say the sages, and I had no clue what the world looked like to a wolf. It was nice to think that someone might get pleasure looking on me, even if it was only a critter.

From that day forth I thought of myself as Rose. In the morning I “a-Rose” and the sun “Rose” to great me, letting me imagine that it was I who was shining in the sky, making the world brighter. Then sunset filled the world with a Rosy hue, making that beauty mine as well. I dried rosebuds and strung them with rosehips to make a bracelet of them, making each one a prayer. This I called my Rosary. Rose was a fun name and I was glad for it.

Please comment on this chapter, while it is fresh, before proceeding to the next chapter. If you really cannot wait to read on, however, please let me know.

Chapter 2

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