Byleth paused in his search for a stag as he heard that sound again. He had lived in these woods his entire life and had never heard such a noise before, a terrible bellow that echoed through the trees. He assumed it was the reason the forest seemed empty that day. Even the birds were silent and still. There was a part of him that wanted to run in the other direction. Anything that frightened the animals so much was dangerous. At the same time, he did not want to share this forest with whatever was making that noise. If he could take it out, he should and bring it Lord Fraldarius. He considered his options and when he heard the sound again, he moved towards it.
He wished his father was here. Jeralt would know what made such a sound, but the man passed last winter, leaving the title of Master of the Forest to him. It was an impressive title and he was proud of it, but he functioned as the guardsman of the forest who also brought Lord Fraldarius fresh game and pelts. He actually never even met his Lordship, bringing the meat, poachers, and occasionally bandit he caught to either the cook or the head guardsman. It was not a bad life, but it was a quiet one and he missed his father terribly.
He heard the low bellow sound again, much closer this time and he ducked into the undergrowth as he continued to move forward. The sound had not moved and he was wondering if it could not. That would be better. It would make for a quick kill and hopefully it would be worth something to Lord Fraldarius. As he got closer, he could smell the scent of blood and death. It made him shudder and his gut told him to turn back.
Finally, Byleth got to a small clearing and he heard the bellow again. He saw a shape move and hid in a bush while looking out. There were the bodies of three men, poachers he had caught once before scattered about. In the center of the clearing was a giant cat with large gashes and gaping wounds covering its body, probably from the poachers. It had to be the biggest cat he had ever seen in his life. It was tan with long hair on its head. Its leg was stuck in a steal trap and it bellowed again as it struggled against it.
He knew that beast was not native to this forest, but he did recognize it from the banners in Fraldarius’ castle. His father had called the creature a lion, the king of the beasts. It seemed like a fitting title for such a cat. It must have been the lion that killed the men after they caught him, probably not expecting to find such creature in these woods. He watched as the lion desperately struggled and felt pity for him. He was magnificent and did not deserve such a death, trapped like a mouse, waiting for thirst, hunger, or an infection to kill him. Byleth hesitated for a moment and then emerged from the bush.
The lion turned to him and roared his outrage. The roar was powerful and sounded like thunder. He understood why the animals of the forest had fled. He held his ground and looked closer at the beast. It was the first time that he noticed the lion was missing an eye, but the other one was a beautiful deep blue. The lion roared at him again, showing huge fangs.
He put his sword down and raised his hands, “Do you wish to die like this, Lion?”
The lion snarled at him, but was watching him closely. He put his bow and arrows down as well. “I would prefer not to kill you, but you will die if I leave you.”
The lion continued to show his teeth. “It is up to you.”
The beast stared at him for a very long moment, but finally closed his mouth. Byleth took a slow step forward and the lion did not nothing. He continued to move forward until he was almost within striking distance. The lion was watching him, with a cold distrustful eye, but had not tried to strike out.
Byleth had seen cats before, but this lion did not have cats’ eyes, the pupil was not almond shaped, but round like a human’s eye. Its eye was also far more intelligent, it seemed like he understood what Byleth was saying. He knew why these were considered the king of the beasts.
“Don’t kill me, Lion or you will die here.” He said softly and stepped within striking range.
The lion growled softly, but did not move. Byleth took another step forward and finally stopped before the great cat. He knew the beast could kill him in a second, but he took a breath, “This is going to hurt Lion, but I am going to remove the snare, don’t strike me.”
The lion huffed and then moved the ensnared leg forward. Byleth hesitated for a moment and then knelt down before the lion. He pulled open the jaws holding the leg, though they clearly were not well maintained and it was a struggle. The lion bellowed his outrage again, but did not move to strike him. After a breathless moment, the jaws opened and the lion was free.
The trap had cut to the bone and the lion was bleeding everywhere. Byleth looked at lion who was still there, examining his leg. “It needs to be healed. If you come to my cabin, I can heal it. It is not far.”
The lion looked at him and then stood carefully on his leg. He attempted to walk, but the leg almost gave out on him. “Well?” He asked the lion.
The lion huffed but slowly moved towards Byleth’s belongings. He took that as a positive sign and grabbed his weapons. It was a slow walk, the lion was in obvious pain, but he knew if the lion could make it to his cabin, he would be alright. He attempted to put his hand on the lion once, but earned a snarl for the action. He allowed the beast to hobble on his own.
When they finally arrived, the lion collapsed on the ground, panting and sweating. Byleth hurried into his cabin and grabbed his supplies. “Don’t bite me, Lion.” He told the beast again, “I am going to help you, but this will hurt.”
The lion groaned in response and just closed his eye. Byleth worked quickly, cleaning wounds then stitching the larger ones while providing healing magic on the smaller ones. He was not a great healer, they never had enough money to properly train him, but he could patch up simple wounds. The lion kept his eye closed and tolerated the pain as best he could.
After a while, Byleth sat back. “I did-”
But the lion did not let him finish, springing up and limping into the woods.