Grasping her ears with her dirty hands, Nadia watched the dark brown plates covering the dragon’s vulnerable throat quiver as the sound waves passed. The obstreperous boom pierced through her head, causing her to scream aloud with clenched eyes as she spun from a loss of balance. After the beast had completed its roar, it turned its long neck to stare directly into the girl’s frightened face. His bright blue eyes glowed in contrast from the golden scales that covered his body and seemed to reveal no feeling of warmth. His face bore a twisted snarl, revealing a few of his carnivorous teeth as he continued to give a cold stare to the child, intently scrutinizing her. Two, dark brown ram-like horns twisted around the creatures head, pointing forward near the dragon’s cheeks, matching the plates that covered his throat and stomach. His four, short, powerful legs held up his monstorous body with pride as he spread his leathery wings behind his back to appear intimidating. The dark veins flowed through the thin, brown membrane of his wings like rivers on a map as he flexed them as far as they could stretch. The gray claws that potruded from the wings’ tips gleamed in the fire’s light along with the five claws that were unsheathed about the creature’s hands.

Just then, the strange foal darted from the cover of foliage it had been hiding in and came up to Nadia. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around the horse’s neck as it passed and was flung atop its back in one smooth movement just before the dragon unleashed a fury of flames, sweeping the ground where she had been. Astonished with her unknown riding capibilities, Nadia balanced herself atop the running foal’s back in amazement and disbelief. Her foal quickly carried her through the thick, overgrown protection with its tremendous abillity to accelerate quickly just before the scaled titan behind them launched into the air above the trees.

There was a clamorous rushing sound as the forest enclosed the girl and her horse within a fiery trap with the dragon overhead hurling new flames about the plants. Smoke began to cloud Nadia’s view causing her to choke and gasp from the toxic cover. She could sense the anxiety that rose within her animal as it frantically searched for a clear path of hope that would lead them to safety with a sharp pain whipping at the back of her neck. The fire behind them drew closer, as it grew from its supply of plentiful wood. She knew that there was no escape from the force of the dragon and that this would be the end of her short life. She felt that she was not to be separated from her parents for much longer.

Just then, Nadia found a sliver of opportunity pass before her. Giving the foal a quick kick in the side, she was sent galloping over an outstretched log, not yet engulfed in the raging might of destruction. As soon as the twosome had escaped the ring of fire, the horse shot off into the thick woods of the forest without taking time to glance back. Nadia felt a heavy sorrowness settle in her heart as her parents returned to her troubled mind. She would never see them again, nor her home. She did not know where she was to go and she had no plans for her future. With the rage comsuming her soul, she found a new burst of courage within her as she shot her head to the sky above. “You will not get me!” she challenged her pursuer. “I will not surrender to you!” As she yelled aloud, she searched the vague bit of sky that the Mathurin Forest allowed her to see, trying to find the creature that had destroyed her life. Nadia was disappointed to find the blue of the sky empty, yet she was quickly averted as the fire continued to spread behind her.

The foal panicked with the encroaching fire and widened its crystal eyes with fear, kicking its back legs about. An aged tree was soon overcome by the power of the fire and slammed against the forest floor behind the timid animal, spreading fallen leaves throughout the air. Surprised and frightened from the unexpected crash, the horse reared back upon its spotted back legs and wildly thrashed its front legs about, almost throwing Nadia from its back. Nadia clung to the wild mass of black hair that grew from the animal’s long neck with her small hands just before the foal sprinted once more. Tree branches seemed to blur past her as they travelled through the woods, and an uncertainty came about her. “Calm down!” she cried out, trying to reassure the horse. “Slow down!”

Despite its rider’s commands, the young foal continued to gallop past trees and under low hanging branches, occasionally leaping over dead foliage and swerving around plants and bushes. However, when luck failed the animal, its hoof was snagged under a snarled root, pulling its leg beneath its quaint body as it continued to run. In an instant, the foal was thrown over the root in a tumbling roll, throwing Nadia from its back. As it flipped over its tangle of legs, it gave a terrified scream before its shoulder slammed into the rough ground. As it rolled over its shoulder, the back of its head came in contact with the ground, followed by the arched spine of its back bringing the signal of pain down its spine. The force of its falling legs gave enough momentum to swing over the foal’s head and fling it to its side as it tumbled and twirled to a halt on its side. Without giving time for the pain to sweep in, the frightened animal immediately sprung to its feet.

Nadia found herself sprawled across the forest floor, her full weight on her left arm. Her side ached from the uncomfortable position along with the throbbing in her shoulder. She moaned before coming to her feet and checking her foal over. With its nostrils flaring, Natalie brushed the leaves and dirt from the matted fur, calming the frightened animal with her soft voice. “It’s all right,” she cooed, her loving voice almost a hushed whisper.

There was no time for words, as the loud cackle of fire grew louder from behind and the dragon came into view overhead. “We have to get out of here!” Nadia cried out as she swiftly mounted the foal and sped off through the woods once more. Just then, the golden brown dragon smashed onto the ground before the horse, bellowing a triumphant roar of success. It landed its four, enormous feet on the forest floor with its claws raking through the dirt in agitation. The repetitive motion of the beast caused a nervous feeling to emerge within Nadia as she stared into the eyes of the monster, the color draining from her face.

With its intimidating wings outstretched, it lifted its long, golden brown head and cried out to the world that it had cornered its prey. Natalie could see the thick, dark veins, like rivers on a map, twisted inside the webbed wings that were arched behind the dragon’s back in a beautiful display.

The foal’s shiny blue eyes held much fear as it began to slowly back away from the dragon. Panicked, it flung its head from side to side, searching for a way to escape. As fire raged closer behind them, Natalie frightfully looked around for a way to escape, along with her animal. The fire behind them continued to burn everything in its path, still drawing closer to them. Finally, Natalie had an idea. She gave the foal a slight kick in the side, and it darted forward, towards the dragon just as the beast engulfed flames behind them where they were just standing. The young horse ran, resisting the raging heat, although unsure of Natalie’s plan.

“Almost…not quite…now!” cried out Natalie as she jerked the foal’s long neck to the side and under the large winged beast. The armored, brown scales covering the dragon’s vulnerable stomach brushed the top of Natalie’s head as she and her brave steed galloped to the other side of the furious dragon. She could feel the burning heat boiling inside the monster’s stomach and could hear the roar as he emitted a blast of fire from his mouth. As they approached the other side of the dragon, just missing his whipping tail, they ran deeper into the thick woods.

The large beast roared in fury as he tried to turn around in the tight space to continue the chase. With his clawed tail pulverizing all the trees around him, he added to the damage already done to the forest by the fire. Just as Natalie had planned, it took the golden brown beast a moment to turn and chase her and her new friend. The foal looked up to Natalie as if asking if the plan had succeeded, then threw its head around, flicking its short mane, and darted forward. Natalie jumped off of the foal and looked up to the clear, sunny sky. Soon, she spotted the mighty dragon fly out of the deep forest, its large wings beating a gust that caused the trees to sway the other direction once more. It scanned the forest below, and then soared away with one last cry, telling the world of its surrender.

Natalie glanced at the beloved horse, then jumped and yelled in glee. The foal began to neigh and prance, feeling the joy; however the celebration did not last very long. She suddenly remembered her parents. She had just been left an orphan.

She sat down on a fresh clump of grass with her knees bent to her chin, back curved, and her long arms wrapped around her legs. Her straight brunette hair covered her face and her dark green eyes. The horse felt her sadness and walked slowly up to the small child, nudging her knee a bit. She placed the foal’s dark muzzle in her hands and stared into its mysterious eyes. The bright blue beads swirled and danced as the creature studied Natalie’s sweet face. There was a small glint in the foal’s eyes from the bright sun beating overhead casting a magical look to them.

Breaking the silence, Natalie spoke aloud to the foal beside her. “And you…” she started, “Where did you come from?” She stared into the foal’s eyes deeply as if looking for an answer, although she knew that it couldn’t possibly give one. “You saved my life,” she said, changing the subject. “It’s like you could understand me almost.” Then Natalie chuckled a bit. “Horses can not understand humans. I am just not thinking straight.” The horse gave a slight neigh, and threw back its head, waving its fairly short mane about.

“The wound!” Natalie said in surprise. She had forgotten all about the foal’s gash. She quickly looked at it, studying it deeply. “Where did it come from…why?” she asked, her questions blending together in her mind and speech. The foal gave a slight snicker and stood to its four feet. “I forgot,” started Natalie, “We should probably go somewhere for help. The nearest town is just a few miles up the main road. I have been there a few times,” she stated. Natalie climbed onto the small, yet sturdy animal and guided it through more trees and bushes back to what was left of her house.

There was a small crackling noise off in the distance, as some fire still remained, spreading in the opposite direction. “We probably should not stay here too long, although I would like a moment,” Natalie said, her voice raspy from holding back tears. She overlooked the bare, scorched land before her, and felt her throat tighten, troubling her breathing. The grass was blackened and the trees were leafless. Their ugly, twisted branches were black and mangled as they stretched in awkward positions. Where her house had once been, lied a large, crumpled pile of wood and straw.

Climbing off of the foal, Natalie stared at the horrific and frightening scene that used to be her home, as her knees began to feel weak. She collapsed onto the warm dirt below her and started weeping with her blackened hands to her dirty face. Her nostrils burned, as the terrible smell of rot and smoke hung in the air as it was filled with thick, dark smoke. The fire had burned the trees to the ground and all that remained of her house was a pile of smoldering ashes.

A piece of a wall crumbled to the ground, adding to the large pile, and emitting a sizzling sound as smoke arose from it and danced above before vanishing. The foal walked slowly around the debris, leaving tracks in the dirt and singed grass, and began to sniff around before returning to Natalie. She finally stood up after a moment of tears, and wiped her eyes. “Let us go,” she firmly commanded to the animal beside her. Walking up to the young foal, she climbed onto its back and trotted to the dirt road nearby.

The trip to town was long and silent. Natalie did not speak a word during the hour-long walk to the small village, and the foal kept quiet. They both walked the couple of miles very slowly, while Natalie thought of her parents and what she was going to do once they reached their destination. The old dirt road was seldom used, so there were no passing wagons or people on horseback. Switching from horse to foot, Natalie continued to tear and start to cry every now and then, letting all of her feelings out into the world.

Soon, the little girl and her paint horse approached a small wooden sign welcoming them to Anzama. “Well,” started Natalie with a weak, raspy voice from sadness, “We are here.” She quickly wiped away the remaining tears and straightened up her frizzled hair. Her appearance wasn’t the best with her blackened face and hands, and neither was her foal’s. Its beautiful white fur had been turned a deep grey. With the clear of her throat she then guided her steed in, calming it with her soft words. “Here we go,” she said with a slight smile placing her hand onto the foal’s neck. Natalie guided the young foal into the small, peaceful village with houses and shops lining the streets. A wagon full of chickens, pulled by a large, sturdy, brown quarter horse passed by the awkward sight of the little child walking her small horse. A few people looked at her strangely, and then continued on to tend to their business.

Natalie walked her foal down the main road, past staring people and many buildings and approached a large, wooden, well in the middle of the small village. The well was circular with a small, shingled roof covering it, held up by four, skinny, wooden poles. There was one wooden bar that hung from under the roof with a crank on one side. Natalie turned the handle towards her in a circular motion and let the long rope that was tied to the bar wind around it. A small wooden bucket rose up from the darkness of the well, tied to the end of the rope. Inside the bucket was a large, metal ladle that Natalie used to drink from. The foal beside her snickered and shared the water impatiently licking up every last drop. With a small creak, she lowered the bucket back into the well.

Natalie had not noticed the people talking before, but there were two women nearby, gossiping to each other in a loud tone that was hard to ignore. Thinking to herself that she might hear something useful as she was still unsure of what she was to do now that she had reached town, Natalie leaned against the well casually and listened in on their conversation.

“Yes. It was awful, or at least from what I have heard,” began one lady, flicking back one of her short brown curls behind her ear.

“Really?” continued the other lady, her blue eyes filled with curiosity. “What was it like? What exactly happened?”

“Well, I heard from a rancher that he passed by a crumbled, burnt down house beside a smoldering forest. He also said that he knew the family that lived in the house, and that they had a little girl,” explained the somewhat chubby woman.

“Oh my,” gasped the other lady. “Do you know what happened to them?” she asked with fear in her voice.

“All I know is what he told me,” replied the first lady. “He said that it looked as if a dragon had attacked, and he feared for the child. He mentioned that the house had been completely destroyed along with the forest nearby. Their land is gone, their home is gone. I do not know if they survived.”

“Oh my,” gasped the other woman, dropping her head, letting her long blonde hair cover her face. “I wonder if the family is alright. Just think; dragons! They haven’t attacked these parts in quite some time now. What do you think one was doing way out here in the farmland? Did the family have any livestock?”

“The rancher did not mention any animals…” stated the larger woman.”He told me that the father was a craftsman. He worked with wood to make furniture to sell here in town every once in a while.”

“My, do you think that this could be the start of a war?” exclaimed the responding woman with a dreadful face.

“Oh, I hope not!” replied the other woman. “The dragons have stayed away from these parts for quite some time now…”

Natalie couldn’t stand to hear anymore, being reminded of the horrific scene of the burning house. She grabbed the foal’s neck and started to run down the cobblestone path. Tears streamed down her face, as she ran not knowing or caring where she was going. The foal trotted behind her, its hooves clanging against the gray cobblestone below.

Suddenly, Natalie collided into a man, about in his late forties, and fell to the ground. She looked up to the short man and studied his stern, stiff face. He had thick, curly, black hair that sat limply on his head with a short beard that looked as if a thick, black caterpillar had crawled up under his nose.

“Watch where you are going!” said the man in a gruff voice while reaching out his hairy arm to help the girl up. “You should be more careful and look where you are going next time,” he replied, this time with a more polite tone of voice.

Natalie grabbed his hand and lifted herself up, then brushed off her brown pants and apologized to the man. “I…I am sorry,” she said as she brushed the remaining tears away and rubbed her eyes. “I best be going,” she quickly said, trying to excuse herself politely from the short, strange man. Feeling a little frightened, she quickly lied, “My parents are most likely expecting me.” She then turned to leave, hoping the man would leave her alone.

“Parents, huh?” the man questioned, rubbing his rough chin. “Say,” he snapped, “You wouldn’t happen to be able to help me out now, would yah’?”

“How so?” Natalie asked turning back to face the ugly stranger.

“You see, I am looking for this girl…Let’s see. She is about your age I would say, and has brown hair much like yours. I am not quite sure what color her eyes are though,” he said, desperately trying to think of describing words for the girl he was looking for.

“Her name? The girl’s name would help,” said Natalie, wondering if she actually did know of whom he was talking about.

“Ah, right…her name. What was it? Something with an “N” I think…Oh right! Natalie! That is what it was. Yes…Natalie,” he said, quite happy that he was able to remember the name.

Natalie froze immediately when the man said her name. What did he want with her, and why had he been searching for her? She then quickly thought of a way to find out. “May I ask what you want with this…Natalie, you say?”

The man looked suspiciously at the girl before him, and then answered her question. “Her parents have been killed and she has nowhere to stay. I am here to provide her with a room for the night. Maybe even longer…” A room? Natalie was so busy thinking of what had happened that she forgot all about what she was going to do about it. She had nowhere to stay for the night. She quickly thought of whether or not she should stay with this man, then answered, “I am Natalie…But who are you?”

“Natalie?” the man asked surprised. His eyes bulged further with his question. He then looked closer at her face and whispered, “Green eyes, like your mother…” Natalie looked strangely at the man, wondering how he knew her mother before he spoke again. “Parents!” You said your parents where expecting you, did you not? Why?”

“Oh, well…about that…I wasn’t sure who you were. In fact, I still don’t know who you are. How do you know my mother?” Natalie snapped back at the stranger. She was determined to find out more about this man before she was to go anywhere with him.

“Oh, right. Sorry. I am your mother’s older brother, George Spicker. I feared for her safety when I heard of a dragon attack nearby, so I went to check on her and her family,” answered the strange man.

“My mother’s brother?” Natalie said aloud to herself. “So you are my uncle and you are letting me stay with you?”

“Well, I guess you could say that,” started Natalie’s uncle. “However! There are rules that must be followed!” Natalie looked down at the short man who had his pointer finger raised with a stern look on his face. “You must work for your place on the ranch,” recited the man, before being interrupted.

“Yes, I understand, Uncle. It would not be right if I did not work,” interrupted Natalie with a bright smile on her face.

“Enough!” yelled out her uncle. “Do not call me that! You will address me as Mr. Spicker at all times, and you shall never interrupt me while I speak. Also, you shall never complain about the work that I assign you, and you shall do as you’re told, unless you would like to go the night without dinner.” Mr. Spicker scratched the curly hair on his chin in thought, and then said, “Now come along. We best be going.”

Natalie thought over the strict rules that her uncle had given, and then followed him to a small wooden wagon fit for two people, with a strong, black horse to guide it. The horse looked to the small foal hiding behind the girl and gave a slight whinny. Natalie turned to look at the foal, and then tapped her uncle on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir, but what shall I do with my horse?”

The small man turned to look at the animal, and questioned, “Your horse?”

Natalie thought back to the strange encounter with the horse in the woods, then answered, “Well, you see…I found it in the forest near my house. I was out exploring when I saw this creature. That was when the dragon attacked…and…” Natalie felt a tear slide down her cheek only to be wiped away quickly from embarrassment. “This foal saved my life. I do wish to keep it.”

Mr. Spicker looked sadly at his niece, then to her horse and replied, “I see. There is room at the ranch; extra stalls, plenty of food. It shouldn’t be too much trouble for another horse to stay.”

Natalie was surprised at how kind her uncle was when it came to animals, as she ran up to him and gave him a hug. “Oh, thank you! Thank you very much, sir.”

The cruel man who never had children of his own was caught by surprise with the girl’s embrace and stood flabbergasted with his arms outstretched. He looked down to the child still hugging him, and then quickly replied with a pat on the back, “However, you will need to supply its needs yourself. I will not look after it for you! It is your horse, not mine.”

“Don’t worry sir, I will!” cried out Natalie finally releasing her uncle. She stared into the foal’s eyes deeply with much joy, and then turned to look at Mr. Spicker. He was also staring at the foal, studying it in his mind.

“Let me check this here foal out for you,” he said walking up to the small animal and crouching to his knees. He reached his rough hands out towards the horse, and soothed it with whispers and coos. The foal looked uneasily at the man; however it trusted him enough to allow him to rub his hands along its sturdy legs. Natalie’s uncle felt around the horse’s fetlocks and boldly stated, “This horse here has very strong legs; good for running.” He continued to feel the rest of the horse’s body and completed his check. “This is a very healthy horse and will most likely live a long while, as long as you take good care of it.

Mr. Spicker suddenly noticed the large gash in the middle of the foal’s forehead and lightly touched it with one of his stout fingers. The small creature winced back in pain, while the man said to his niece, “Clean this up when we get back. It looks bad, and it will most likely scar; however the foal will still be quite healthy if you clean and wrap it. Now, help me tie her to the back of the wagon.”

Natalie looked through the wagon that her uncle was pointing to and found a rope on the seat. Bringing it to the small man, he tied the rope around the foal’s neck and to the back of the cart, leaving the animal to trail behind it. He and Natalie then climbed into the wagon, as he slapped the black horse’s back with the reins and went about their way. As the sturdy horse pulled Natalie and her uncle in the wagon down the dusty road towards the horse ranch, Natalie thought to herself, glancing back every now and then to watch the filly stumble behind the cart. Her uncle finally broke the long, awkward silence when he asked, “So what is your foal’s name?”

“Name?” Natalie replied. “I guess I haven’t given it much thought yet.” Her uncle stared at her, waiting for an answer until she replied, “I will think of a name by the time we get there.” Mr. Spicker nodded in approval, and then continued to look forward towards the open plain, guiding the strong, black horse.
Bored, Natalie decided to watch the passing scenery; however there wasn’t much to see. Riding out on the open plains in a slow, two-person wagon, Natalie was given nothing but fields of dusty, yellow wheat and a few farms to stare at. There were no towns, villages, or even trees to please the eye.

Natalie began to expand her creative mind in deep, rich thought, analyzing everything that had happened to her recently. The experience with the strange foal that had saved her life, the terrible dragon that ferociously tried to capture her, the two women gossiping about the start of a war, and meeting an uncle that she had never heard of before. Was he even her uncle at all? As the world began to grow blurry from the clear tears dancing at the bottom of her eyes, Natalie decided to change her thoughts and remembered what her uncle had said. She needed to decide on a name for the foal. With the thick smell of wheat lingering in her nostrils, Natalie’s mind then jumped from the past to the future, thinking of a name for her newly found friend…

“We are here, Natalie,” said Mr. Spicker, shaking Natalie awake. She yawned and stretched out her arms, trying to remember when she had fallen asleep. She glanced at the foal, which Mr. Spicker was untying, and jumped down from the wagon. She studied her new home closely with her dark green eyes. There was a small wooden house in front of her built with two stories, and a small window on the top floor. The door to the house was rather large for such a small man to occupy it. Next to the house was a large barn. Natalie noticed the pile of hay that rested at the side of the barn, and four horses that had stuck their heads out of their stall windows to catch a snack from the pile. By the barn was a wooden corral with a single green tree near the back, and much grass for the horses to feed on, spread throughout the fenced area. On the other side of the house was a small wooden shack, most likely used for storing tools, and a very small brick well with a bucket and a rope sitting on the edge. Surrounding the ranch were miles of wheat fields, except for the main dirt road, from which Natalie came from.

Natalie kicked some of the dry dirt below her and looked up to the bright, clear sky. “Clean and wrap this wound,” commanded her uncle while walking the foal up to Natalie. “The well is over there, and there should be some old rags in the shed right over there,” he continued, pointing to the designated areas. “After you’re finished…” he paused for a moment and looked Natalie over. “Clean yourself up.” With that remark, he walked into the house and left Natalie to the chores.

Looking herself over, Natalie noticed that her clothes were caked in dust and her skin was dry and dusty. Her face was still blackened from the fire and the foal’s white fur was darkened to a grey. Grabbing the rope that was still tied to the foal’s neck, she walked slowly to the well. She cranked up some water using the rope and bucket and began to tend to her foal’s scabbed wound. Looking up to the soft sky once more she softly said, “Well Duchess, this is our new life…”

<- REWRITE: The Horse From the Woods: Prologue Part 1/3 |

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