The Killing of Wolves

Thief and (suspected) murderer Red Riding Hood joins with poor boy Pip on an unexpected journey to kill the Big Bad Wolf. Along the way, they run into a host of fairytale characters and dangerous challenges that they must overcome so Red can have her revenge on the wolf and Pip can go back to the life he used to live. But they uncover more than they thought they would, scandalous secrets straight from the heart of the Royal Family. All of a sudden, they realise the Wolf is not all it seems. Nothing will ever be the same again. Not once the truth is revealed, once and for all...

It's just a draft, so any tips or critisicm would be appreciated. Also, thanks to the Fuzz for making the amazing cover.

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10. The Huntsman

Neither Red nor Pip dared say anything all way to the Sixth Kingdom. Red was still fuming from the Queen’s tyrannical turn and Pip shivered at the thought that it was possible that one of his family could have been down in one of those terrible cells, moaning and weeping for mercy. There was a silent agreement between the two of then that they had to work out this Wolf business quickly. Before anyone else got hurt.

   Red was walking slightly ahead of Pip, with her crimson hood pulled firmly over her head, concealing her face. Despite this, Pip was able to guess what her expression might have looked like after that unpleasant meeting with unpleasant royalty. Red Riding Hood had never attempted to disguise her feelings towards the Queen, but it was true that both her and Her Majesty wished to see the Wolf dead once and for all. And both would make sure that the deed would be done; the Wolf would die. No matter how many others had to die in the process.

   What the Queen had said had haunted Pip. That he and Red could have been the cause of so much damage and suffering, that the blood of countless people was on their hands. She’d elaborated by saying that people had committed crimes in both their names and that a war could be fledged because of them. Because of what they’d done. But, surely, what they were doing was a good thing. Killing the Wolf, freeing the people of Grimm from years of terror and torment, improving the lives of many. Red no would no longer have to hang and Pip’s family could live a better life with the compensation that the Queen would provide. But it would be nothing more than blood money, even though it was established that it wouldn’t be Pip doing the killing. Red was looking forward to the death of the beast and she would savour every moment of killing it. All Pip had to do was tag along for the journey and then sit back and watch his companion do all the work. Then he would return home as a hero, although he hadn’t really done anything. But he didn’t really think he’d be able to kill it, anyway. Not once had he killed anything before, not even an insect. He could have done it- it was just that he didn’t want to. To have to murder in cold blood was something he was sure he couldn’t handle on his conscience. Murder in cold blood, however, was one of Red’s specialities.

    They trudged through the damp soil, the rain and the sun until they reached the Sixth Kingdom. They were oblivious to the signs that they were entering the next stop on their journey; they were far too pre-occupied considering the severity of the task ahead of them and what the Queen had said. They walked for a while before Pip picked up on the fact that they had come into the next Kingdom, telling by the castle he could see in the distance. They decided that, for once, they wouldn’t venture too far into the Sixth Kingdom, in case they caused more damage than had already been inflicted. The Queen of the Fifth Kingdom would make all of Grimm suffer if she did not get what she wanted and given that they were both such key components in getting what she wanted, they decided to keep themselves away.

   They stayed in the forest on the outskirts of the Kingdom, amongst the dead trees that came with the winter time, covered in snow that glistened in the sunlight. At this particular point, the night sky was pitch black, with only the stars to guide their way. They rested there, but it was so dark that they could hardly see. They were both deathly silent in each other’s presence, as if what they had discovered in the Fifth Kingdom had formed a rift between them; it was less about how they managed to achieve their task anymore, and more about the vital necessity to get it done. Pip broke the frost.

“Who was that man, back in the Fifth Kingdom? You knew him quite him well, didn’t you?”

She shrugged. “I suppose so. I’ve known him since I was tiny. I don’t really put that much thought into the matter. His name’s Jack. He ran the pub I went to. You might have heard of it: The Pail of Water. He had a nice wife, two kids, bit of money put aside for a rainy day, but now… you saw him. You know what she did to him. I can’t really get his smile out of my head, either- it used to be so broad and mischievous, as if he knew something you didn’t, but he didn’t wear it when we visited. I can’t really blame him. I wouldn’t be smiling in his situation.”

“Wow,” Pip exclaimed.

“What is it? Red asked. She hadn’t said anything particularly remarkable.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s just… I think that was the longest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

   Red reflected on this. She had been rather reserved and private in front of him, but she didn’t realise that it was to that extent. She felt guilty all of a sudden, an emotion that she’d always been so adept at suppressing. It increased when he turned to her and asked another question:

“Do you sometimes wish that the Queen had asked you to do this on your own? Would you better off without me?”

She stopped for a moment and thought. “Yes. I did. But now I don’t. Sometimes, when I’m especially agitated, I wish that you weren’t with me so that I could do this on my own. It would be much quicker and efficient that way. But, I don’t know… I think sometimes I need someone by my side to stop me when things get out of hand. Like the First Kingdom: I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from hurting that witch more than I’d done already. I would have done more than kill her; I’d have made her suffer the way she’d made others suffer. But you stopped me. If you hadn’t, I’m not sure how far I would have gone. In that respect, I need you. It would be a lot easier without you by my side, but I’m not sure if I would be better off for it.”

   It was quiet again. It was Red’s turn to initiate the conversation.

“I know I’ve been very private about myself and I’m sorry. I suppose I find it hard to trust people, even if I have no reason to. I know- let’s play a game. You ask me a question and I have to answer, no matter what the question may be. Anything. Ask me anything in the world and I will give you a truthful answer.”

Red did not like games and she was not very good at playing them, either. But Pip seemed taken with the idea, his face lighting up in gladness before scrunching up again while thinking of a suitable question.

“What’s your favourite colour?” he asked.

She looked down at her long, crimson cloak and arched an eyebrow. “What do you think my favourite colour is?”

“Oh, Red. Is that your real name?”

She paused. “No. I don’t think it is. But I like being called Red Riding Hood and I don’t remember my other name. But it sounded pretty, I remember that. And when my mother said it, it was like the tinkling of bells. Or maybe that was just her voice. I was only a baby, but I do remember some bits. Some bits, however, I try my best to forget.”

Pip remembered Ma fondly and it was she who inspired his next question. “What was your mother like?”

   “I don’t remember much. But do I know that she was pretty. And she made me laugh. And smile. And cry. And when she held me, I felt safe.” Pip detected that Red was upset, but he could not see her face. In a way, he was glad of that. If he could see her, then she knew he could and she would hold herself together. But in the darkness that surrounded them, it was good that she could just let go of her steely composure for once and embrace the fact that she was human. That she could feel the same emotions as everyone else without being weak, or a coward. However, her response to his previous question prompted another and somehow Pip knew that this one had been prepared for quite some time.

“What will you do when you get your hands on the Wolf?”

Although he couldn’t see her, Pip knew he had crossed some sort of line. But Red complied with an answer nonetheless. “I don’t know,” she admitted. And the truth was she really didn’t. It had always been a special goal of hers, an aim to strive towards- killing the Big Bad Wolf. Ever since she was a little girl, looking out on all the terror and fear and devastation, she’d wanted to exact her revenge on the creature that was the cause of it all. The beast that had denied her a mother and a father and a family and a nice house and a future that she could look forward to rather than dread with every passing hour…  In short, she thought that the Wolf deserved to suffer and she would cause that suffering if it was the last thing she did. But what the suffering entailed, she did not know. In previous years, she’d occupied herself with visions of killing the Wolf, but as the time when she would actually have to fulfil these half-formed fantasies drew nearer, she realised that these plans were filled with holes and would never work. And how would she measure the Wolf’s suffering? There was no unit by which to measure pain or fear or anything like that, or a scale that would be particularly helpful. The truth was that the creature had torn out her heart and bits of her soul (if such a thing existed) when he had slaughtered everyone she held dear and ruined everything she’d wanted out of life. So he had to suffer. She just didn’t know, when the time came, if she would inflict enough suffering or cause so much that she stopped being who she was.

   Then what? After killing the Wolf, would she feel any better? Or worse? Or just numb indifference? And then what would she do with her life when her main purpose of living in her eyes had been fulfilled? Surely, she couldn’t just go back and live her life as usual. It was all very much a mystery to her and thankfully, Pip’s rumbling stomach meant that she would not have to answer any more awkward questions. She excused herself, saying she was going to hunt and hopefully bring back some food. She left, and with her she took her thoughts, ones which she silenced as only she could do.

 

Pip rubbed two sticks together feverishly, desperately hoping for a spark. He’d been at it for about half an hour and his fingers were nearly frozen but he continued anyway. His mind wandered to what life would be like after the Wolf had been slain, idle thoughts to take his mind off the frost which threatened to turn his whole shivering body into a large, Pip-sized icicle. No longer would he be the runt of the family and his brothers and sisters would not be able to tease him anymore. Ma would love him more than she had already, maybe his father would be able to control his demons and they could all live happily ever after in the lap of luxury, courtesy of the riches the Queen had offered for him to take on the task in the first place. But what would become of Red? He’d willingly have her over at their house at any time and he knew Ma would comply. She could even stay over if she liked. Possibly indefinitely. However, the one flaw in his plan was that he knew Red would never come. She was too proud to accept hospitality with good grace and somehow he didn’t picture her as the type of person who lived in any kind of house at all. She was feral, untamed and he knew, despite his best intentions, she would never adapt to the life that he took for granted. He really did love her. Not in a way that implied any romantic connection, but as a great friend or a favourite sister one might have. He couldn’t imagine not being at her side through thick and thin as they had been for the past few weeks. He’d always felt that their happy endings would have to be entwined to truly be happy ones, but for some sad reason he thought that there wouldn’t really be much of a happy ending for Red after this. He was determined to change this. Behind him, he heard footsteps and looked down only to realise that he had managed to kindle a very small flame. Still, he was immensely proud of it and turned around to show Red what he’d done. But it wasn’t her face he saw.  

   The face that bore down on him now was one scarred by a huge claw mark that extended from his ear, narrowly missing his right eye and stopping on his left cheek. He was dressed from head to toe in hunting attire, but the weapons he carried were bigger than you might expect. It was clear that the prey he was hunting was larger than was to be anticipated. It was only when he pulled out a hunting knife that glinted maliciously in the light of the fire that Pip realised that he was it. Pip dropped the twigs onto the ground, and they slowly began to set fire to the earthy floor. That was the least of his worries, as the huntsman approached with murderous intent flashing in his eyes and a weapon to prove it. Pip did not think- he ran.

   Through the forest, the boy hurtled between trees, darting back and forth as his shadow flickered by the glow of the fire that had begun to ravage the earth around him. In pursuit was the huntsman, still brandishing his knife only centimetres away from Pip’s back. As he continued to run, he screamed for Red through the trees and thickets, hoping that she would appear and save him at any moment. That moment would not come soon enough, it seemed, as the huntsman showed no sign of relenting as they both raced through the forest. Without realising it, Pip misplaced his footing and flew through the air onto the hard ground below. The huntsman grabbed hold of his foot and pulled him backwards, leaving a trail of blood which poured from Pip’s mouth. As the man raised the weapon, Pip closed his eyes and awaited the feeling of the blade cutting through flesh and bone and the fickle finger of Death to deliver him from the pain which he’d undoubtedly feel. Flames licked his cheek and before he knew what was going on the huntsman fell back, howling in agony. A single arrow had pierced his shoulder, and Pip seized the opportunity to leap to his feet and run once more.

   Red appeared moments later, with a drawn expression and a number of questions. They had no time to reflect on what had happened, however, as the huntsman lumbered after them once more. In a flurry of movement, she sent another arrow at him, this time spearing his leg, and he dropped to his knees in torture. The flames grew ever nearer and Red could feel the hairs on the back of her neck being scorched by the tongues of fire which swirled in the blackness of the night. A small path seemed available to head through and, grabbing Pip by the hand, she dashed through it before it was engulfed as well. From then on, they ran away from the Sixth Kingdom, which was slowly being eaten by the fire Pip had produced only shortly before.

   They did not look back and they certainly did not stop. They just continued to move in the opposite direction of the flames and the howling huntsman, without as much as a glance. As they left, the dying embers were all that remained of the Sixth Kingdom.  

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