Home > Cinders & Ashes Book 2 : A Gay Retelling of Cinderella(7)

Cinders & Ashes Book 2 : A Gay Retelling of Cinderella(7)
Author: X. Aratare

I didn’t go into the woods alone, did I? No, Christopher and Miles were with me.

But his step brothers were not with him now. He saw and heard no sign of them.

That’s because they abandoned me, Finn remembered, and his forehead furrowed while a frown alighted on his lips. They ran away when they saw the white wolf, Tyreon.

Finn started at this thought. Was that true? Had his step brothers deserted him? But why was he partially glad of this?

Because Rohan was there! Finn realized. I met him unexpectedly. Only he wasn’t alone either. He had people with him.

But that didn’t make sense! For if he’d already met with the noble lord, where were Rohan and his companions now? He knew that Rohan would not have abandoned him as Miles and Christopher would have without a second thought. And he was trying to find Rohan wasn’t he? He was going to meet the lord at the cabin, but if he’d already met him then...

Finn’s mind flailed with these two facts that could not both be true. More sweat coursed down his face. He felt weak and chilled. It wasn’t just his thoughts that were wrong, but he, himself, was wrong.

I’m ill. Incredibly sick. I’ve never felt so bad. But Rohan will help me. I just have to get to him, Finn thought.

The woods were suddenly creaking and rustling all around him. His head snapped up. The trees had been ten feet away from him and Sweetfire on all sides. Now they were pressed up against him and the mare so closely that they couldn’t even turn around.

What is going on here?

This was more weirdness than even the Lupine Woods was normally capable of, and yet, it was happening! They were trapped! But then a single path appeared before him. Where was he being led? But panic turned to relief as at the end of that path Finn caught sight of the cabin.

He dug his heels into Sweetfire’s sides to urge her forward, but he hardly needed to. She whinnied, tossed her head and started trotting out of the woods, moving faster and faster until they burst out of the treeline and entered the small glade around the cabin at a full gallop. He pulled back hard on the reins. Sweetfire reared up. His legs felt so tired, but he managed to keep his seat in the saddle and not be thrown. The mare pawed the earth beneath her hooves, but finally settled down. He lifted a shaky hand to his brow. His fingers came back slick with clammy sweat. He truly was unwell and getting worse.

I’ve made it, he thought. I can rest for a moment. When Rohan arrives, he’ll help me. Maybe he’s already here!

The thought of Rohan holding him and stroking his fevered brow was so soothing. He could almost feel Rohan’s strong but gentle hands on his aching body. This imagining was so real that he half expected to see Rohan beside him. But he was still seated upon the horse. Alone.

Shivering and in pain, he got down from Sweetfire on trembling legs. His right side screamed in agony, and he clutched at it. He breathed through the pain. In and out. Out and in. The pain retreated to a dull thrum. He slowly released his side. He half expected his hand to come away bloody, but there was nothing on his palm. He almost touched his side again to make sure he wasn’t bleeding, but the memory of the pain kept his hand from going anywhere near that spot.

Sweetfire nosed his chest, aware that something was wrong with him and that he needed comfort. He leaned his forehead against hers. He didn’t dare let go of her reins yet, because he needed her strength to keep on his feet. And she was so skittish that he worried she might run off.

His gaze slid to the path they had followed here, but it was gone! Finn’s mouth went dry. There were no paths leading out of the glade. The tree trunks formed a solid fence around the cabin.

We’re trapped here. The Lupine Woods aren’t allowing us to leave, he realized. How? Why? Did Rohan make it here? Perhaps I should hope he didn’t.

Finn’s heart thundered in his chest. Sweetfire suddenly jerked on her reins. He glanced back at her and saw the first good thing that day. The glade was not the muddy brown and black he remembered from just the day before. It was covered by lush, green grass. Sweetfire stuffed her snout into the grass and began to eat with relish. Normally, she wouldn’t touch anything in the Lupine Woods but the berries he found for her. Yet the grass looked healthy and, evidently, was tasty too.

“Hey, hey, slow down or you’ll have a stomach ache, Sweetfire,” he teased.

She nickered around a mouthful of grass, but didn’t stop eating. He had to pull her head up to take out the bit so she could really get down to eating. The moment he did, she was back at it. He shook his head and laughed. His heart, which had been beating wildly before, started to slow its rapid rhythm, but he did not altogether become calm. They were still trapped here after all.

He turned towards the cabin. The structure looked actually inviting. He could see a golden glow stemming from a merrily crackling fire. He caught sight, too, of a candelabra with tall, tapering candles lit in the corner. Its light spilled out of the doorway. Also in view was the corner of a colorful picnic blanket and a wicker basket overflowing with food inside. There were dark purple, globe-like grapes hanging over the basket’s side. A loaf of crusty bread was planted like a flag in the basket. Hard salamis bloomed beside the bread ready to be sliced. His stomach grumbled. Could that food be for just them? But, more importantly, it meant that Rohan was here. It was strange though that the noble lord had not come out to greet him.

“Rohan?” Finn called as he undid the saddle and lifted it off of Sweetfire’s back. The mare gave a grateful nicker. As he was walking to the lean-to in order to hang it up, he called out again, “Rohan, it’s Finn! I’m sorry I’m late!” He slung the saddle over the back low wall. “I got lost! I’ve never gotten lost before.” It was more than getting lost. “The paths… they kept leading me astray, and now they’re all gone. Did that happen to you? Rohan?”

Finn turned his head back towards the doorway of the cabin as he heard a creak. For a moment, his heart--which had still not settled--was back at a gallop, and he tasted the sick, metallic taste of fear in his mouth. His instincts were telling him to run.

There was a figure standing just inside of the cabin’s doorway. The light should have shown who he was. But instead the figure appeared made of pure darkness. Watching him.

Run.

Run.

Run.

But if it was Rohan...

“R-Rohan?” Finn took a step back, cursing himself that he had unsaddled Sweetfire. But where could he have gone? There were no paths out of the glade.

And then the figure stepped forward and it was Rohan, smiling at him broadly. The noble lord bounded down the steps, arms outstretched. “Finn!”

Finn’s back hit Sweetfire’s side. She whinnied--annoyed--that he was disturbing her meal. But though seeing it was Rohan should have steadied him, Finn still felt the urge to flee.

It’s Rohan! He would never hurt me! I know it!

Yet his heart was like a drumbeat that told him to run, run, run.

When he saw Finn retreating, Rohan tilted his handsome head to the side and asked, “Finn, what’s wrong? Are you all right? You… you look peaked. Are you not feeling well?”

Why is my heart still beating like I’m facing an enemy?

“Rohan, I… Yes, I’m not feeling well. Everything is… wrong,” Finn said.

He was drenched with cold sweat and shivering actively now. Rohan’s blue eyes widened with concern. He held his right hand out towards Finn as he approached slowly as if Finn was a skittish animal. And he wasn’t wrong. Finn’s instincts were on high alert, but there was no reason for that. It was Rohan! Finn forced himself to stay where he was as Rohan put that outstretched hand against his forehead. The faint frown turned into a deep one when Rohan dropped that hand on Finn’s shoulder.

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