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Trails

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Tashiya did not get her skin flayed when she returned, but her mother hugged and held her tight for a long while. Their whispers were quiet, to avoid waking her father. She did not tell her mother of the guardian. She just told her she had ‘fallen’ and lost the basket, not that wolves had chased her into a creature of myth.

She did not return to the woods for many days, but she thought of the beast Charon. She had made a promise - would he come to do… something if she was not to uphold her end of the deal?

It made her nervous to think about it. Would he send the wolves to her? Would he command the winds to freeze her or something?!

It wasn’t until her father had left early one morning for work in the next town over that Tashiya pulled her heaviest fleece on and tightened the laces of her boots. She had a few knick knacks she had crafted herself, so she grabbed a few with trembling hands. Maybe a gift for the guardian would make up for her not coming sooner.

With a kiss to her mother’s cheek and reassurance she would be back shortly, Tashiya took off in the morning light into the thicket of trees.

She tried to timidly call out his name once she was far enough in, but all that responded was a few bird calls and the crunch of snow under her boots. Then, finally, he appeared from the trees like mist. In the daylight, he was more mannish than she thought previously. Yes, his face and body were mostly animalistic, but his build reminded her of the warriors that passed through her humble hamlet.

The mock of a smile crossed his face again as he came closer. “You return. My heart feels warmer now.”

“O-Oh,” Tashiya swallowed her nerves and cleared her throat. “Yes. I’m sorry I waited so long to return… I hope you aren’t mad.”

Charon stopped before her and chuffed. “Never worry, sweet one. I will never anger at one who upholds their word.” He nodded his head to the treeline. “Please, let me show you out of this cold. Let me show you my appreciation.”

She hesitated. Should she follow this strange creature further into the woods? Did he plan on killing her?

Well, if he wanted to kill her, he would have that night. Why would he let her go otherwise? She nodded slowly, and Charon grinned. With no words, the guardian turned and guided her further into the trees, and she followed.

He didn’t take her far, but eventually, they arrived at their destination. It was a… home. Ancient, obviously, and rebuilt in multiple parts, but it was an actual home with slabs of stone and clay, and a thatched roof.

Charon guided her to the door. “Please… it should still be warm inside.” When one of his large hands opened the door, she visibly gasped. It was warm, and covered ceiling to floor in a variety of unique and handcrafted goods. From the hand carved furniture, to the woven wools and throws, Tashiya felt like she stepped into a part of history.

“Did you… make all this?”

Charon closed the door behind them and crouched over to walk to the low burning fire. “No. Once, a witch lived here. She left years ago - told me I should sleep in the warmth of her home rather than under the stars.”

Tashiya was in the middle of touching an intricate carving when Charon’s words reminded her of the trinkets in her pockets. “Oh!” She turned to him and took a few timid steps closer as he turned to watch her. “I brought you something. A thank you, for your help.”

He gave her his full attention then when she pulled her hands from her pockets, full of carved antler charms. “When the bucks drop their antlers, some of the local boys will give them to me to carve. I want you to choose your favorite.”

He hummed and peered into her palms, his intense and bright green eyes observing every piece. She waited in silence.

“This one.” A claw pointed to a crudely carved piece, and Tashiya grew red. It was one of her first pieces - what was to be a cluster of leaves, but was more of a lump than anything else.

“Are you sure…?”

Charon dipped his head in a nod. “Yes. It reminds me of the redbud trees, when the wind moves their arms.”

Tashiya had to smile. If one looked hard enough, they really could find beauty in anything. “Then it is yours, Charon. Thank you.”

“No, thank you, sweet one.”

“My name is Tashiya,” she softly supplied, and spied a spool of twine on a bench. “May I?” She gestured toward it and Charon nodded.

She put her charms away, and reached for the twine. She unraveled a small amount and used her canines to snip it quickly, all while Charon watched curiously. Once with her piece, she took the redbud charm and threaded it with a quick overhang knot, before she held it out to him. Instead of taking it from her, Charon simply tilted his head until one of his curved horns was before her.

“Please, if you wouldn’t mind.”

And so, she tied her charm to his horn, and the two were intertwined in a way neither knew or quite understood.