Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter at Pixabay
King Charles boasted of being the most powerful king in the whole kingdom and its surrounding areas.
However, one day, destiny showed him that wealth and power meant nothing. It was the day her daughter fell ill and no matter how much the great knowledge of the royal doctors and sorcerers tried to heal her, they never could. Anguished the king saw his daughter more and more lost in her illness; this clouded her mind and made her an irritable and monstrous person with the passing of time.
In desperation, he sent all his servants and warriors to seek a cure in every corner of the province and beyond. Finally, a former healer who lived in a cave gave a hint for the cure of the king's daughter. Only the elixir created from the rattlesnake flower could restore her health and avoid her tragic fate.
But this flower could only bloom once a year, at the end of autumn, days before winter. And for everyone's difficulty, it only blossomed in the deepest part of the forbidden forest.
The forest was a dangerous place, many said even enchanted and populated by all sorts of dangerous and deadly creatures; no human could ever return once they entered it.
The king offered a great reward. It was so great that it was worth half of his kingdom. Reward offered to the one who could bring the flower.
At first many offered themselves for great spoils as they sought to enter the forest. But few were those who survived, returning empty-handed, fleeing in terror at what they found in the forest.
Eventually, they all gave up, no matter how substantial the reward, no one wanted to perish in the quest for a cure. Except for Alexandra. An ordinary girl who decided to offer herself in search of the flower.
Despite her mother's pleas and her father's prohibitions. Determined and without looking back, Alexandra took a bag of provisions, kissed her father and assured her mother that she would return.
She left at dawn, hidden from the eyes of curious people and spectators.
She entered the thick mist that covered the entrance to the forest.
"Have courage, don't look back," she repeated to herself over and over again.
When she was wrapped in the darkness of the shadows produced by the large twisted trees, a sudden cold reached her bones.
She continued on her way and stumbled upon the bones of the knights who had departed months before and never returned.
Shaken, she folded her arms and squatted.
Doubts began to torment her
"What the hell am I doing? These were knights, men trained in the arts of war and dedicated to defending the palace and the king. Yet they perished.
"I'm just a stubborn girl."
" Dummy! Dumb!", she hit her head with her fist.
"How soon do you lose faith?"
A deep, familiar voice pulled her out of her trance, relieving her like a strong drink of hot wine.
"You didn't think we were going to let you stay alone with the reward, did you?"
Another voice sounded from the opposite side.
It was Mike and Jason. Two old friends, she used to drink with and go hunting with.
"Damn it! Sons of the great bear that gave birth to you! I told you not to follow me, this forest is very dangerous".
"Since when do we listen to you?" said Mike.
"I'm glad you're here," with a big smile, she wiped a tear over the corner of her right eye.
"But you still know we're going to get equal parts of the loot," Jason added.
"Here, you'll need it.
Mike threw a bow and a bag of arrows at Alexandra.
Alexandra smiled again
She got up, comforted now. And all of them followed their path together.
At dusk, they decided to stop to rest and light a bonfire to spend the night.
Hundreds of insects began to arrive everywhere.
"What the hell?"
They lunged at them like hail. The three of them took a branch each and lit it with the fire of the campfire and began to beat them to keep away the swarm of beetles that rained down on them.
They began to wound the uncovered skin, many of them clinging tightly to their clothes trying to reach the flesh.
Alexandra swung her branch and it came out of her hands, shooting away from her. Concerned, she tried to reach it, but in her attempt, she noticed that the insects were rushing towards the branch in flames.
"The fire attracts them, get away from it," she shouted loudly.
All released their branches and ran away from the campfire in different directions.
In the darkness, Alexandra ran as fast as she could. Tired she stopped behind a tree. She could not see where she had gone.
Her heartbeat echoed in her ears. Wheezing, she began to scream
Her eyes were slow to adapt to the darkness. Suddenly, she didn't know if it was her imagination, but she could see a light a few feet away. They were small points of light. At first, she feared that the insects would return to rain on her. But these dots did not emit heat, their light was dim.
Looking closer, she noticed small larvae sprouting from the ground and emitting their own light. But their light was immune to carnivorous insects.
She took a bottle from her backpack and emptied its contents and began to fill it with larvae. When she was satisfied that she had enough to light the way, she decided to go out in search of her companions.
Mike struggled to stay afloat, but no matter how hard he tried, he sank deeper. The tar was already covering his chest. When he was about to give up hope, he thought his eyes were deceiving him. A strange light slipped through the branches of the trees. It was then that his smile returned as he saw the tangle of red hairs that accompanied it.
"Here," he shouted loudly.
Alexandra was frightened to see her friend Mike's head and arm stretched out.
Alexandra's mind rushed for something to grab her friend before he was swallowed up by what looked like a swamp.
Jason arrived unexpectedly guided by the screams of both of them and by the strange light Alexandra was holding.
"Jason! tell me you brought a rope with you."
Jason nodded his head quickly
Alexandra tied one end of the rope to one of the arrows and pointed her bow towards a large tree behind Mike. The arrow passed very close to Mike's fingers and was stuck in the tree.
Mike clung to the rope and his friends pulled it out with a lot of effort.
Mike fell on them after getting out of danger.
Happy to meet the three of them, they laughed for a while before falling asleep in the place.
Soon the sun of new dawn made its presence. The three of them were still sleeping together at the foot of a tree.
Alexandra pushed Jason, who was still snoring loudly.
"Surely you could sleep like a baby in hell."
"Just a little longer," begged Jason with his eyes closed.
Alexandra got up and took the bottle of water from her backpack, then remembered that she had emptied it to fill it with the strange larvae. These had perished locked inside the bottle.
With a grimace of displeasure, she threw the bottle away.
"I'd give you my water, but I think it was at the bottom of the pitch lake," Mike replied.
Jason took a wineskin out of his backpack and offered it to her friend.
She knew it wasn't water, but any liquid at the time was welcome.
"I want to thank you guys for being here."
"Can you explain to me why the hell you did it? I'm sure it wasn't for riches or gold."
Alexandra looked up at the sky, or the little that could still be seen above the large trees that surrounded them.
"Erica is the kindest and most generous person I have ever met."
Alexandra took a drink from the wineskins and closed her eyes.
"A long time ago, when I was little, my family was very poor and we barely had enough to eat; my father was sick, so I decided to look for something to eat. I went to the market and took advantage of the baker's carelessness and stole some bread to take it and feed my parents. But I wasn't fast enough, I was very weak because of hunger and I couldn't avoid them, so they soon found me. The guards caught me and immediately decided to give me the ultimate punishment: to cut off my hand.
That's when she showed up and stopped them from hurting me. She was the only one who heard my story and understood why I had done it. Then she paid for the food I had stolen and then gave me a gold bracelet to help my family".
"Without ever asking me for anything in return.
Mike and Jason were speechless, as much as they knew her friend, they had never heard the story.
Alexandra wiped the tears from her face, as did Mike.
"The best reward for me is to see her healthy," she added.
"All the more reason why we should hurry to look for the flower," Mike replied.
"But we're still going to split the loot, aren't we?
Alexandra sighed and returned the wineskins to Jason.
"You can have my share if you want," she added.
After walking for hours, thirsty, they heard the sound of a river in the distance.
"We have to keep going where the river sounds," Mike said.
None of the others objected. When they arrived, they knelt by the river and drank directly from it.
Soon they quenched their thirst and filled their skins.
Suddenly, something was not right. All sound had ceased. The birds, the sound of the wind passing through the leaves. The silence was deafening and disturbing.
Mimicking among the weeds, strange beasts stalked the adventurers.
A stench of death enveloped them.
"Don't make sudden movements," whispered Mike.
Alexandra stared into the undergrowth and some eyes looked back at her accompanied by some bloodthirsty fangs.
A herd of wild beasts jumped from the branches to them and they all fled, throwing themselves into the river. The current swept them away and led them to a waterfall.
Mike tried to grab Alejandra, but every time he tried she sank. Alexandra kicked as hard as she could to stay afloat. What she hated most was swimming. As a child, she never learned to swim and Mike knew it.
The three fell down the waterfall and the river took them deep into the forest.
Mike was struggling to keep Alejandra afloat. Jason managed to hold on to a vine and stretched his arm catching Mike's arm. Soon the three crawled to shore, spitting water from their lungs, glad to have survived.
"What the hell were those creatures?
"Whatever they were, they weren't friendly at all," Mike added.
"Are you okay, Alex?"
She nodded as she took a breath of fresh air, still at the edge of the shore.
Alexandra lit a bonfire again, it was still daylight, so she didn't worry about carnivorous insects. They took the opportunity to dry their clothes and realized that they had gone farther than anyone else.
The landscape was completely different, not as tenebrous as the forest. It was a prairie that extended towards the horizon, where butterflies fluttered over multicolored flowers.
In the distance, there was a large tree, about 20 meters high.
To the surprise of Mike and Alejandra, Jason was still carrying his backpack. He took from it some pieces of dried meat and some pieces of hard bread that had softened with the water.
He distributed the provisions among the three of them. After satisfying their appetite they decided to go to where the big tree was.
As they walked the prairie, butterflies flew around them. Jason tied a handkerchief over his mouth and nose.
"What?", he asked both of them.
"I'm allergic to pollen," he replied without waiting.
Alexandra and Mike ignored Jason's comment and continued to the big tree. The road became eternal, no matter how much they walked, the tree remained at the same distance.
Suddenly the silence was broken
"How will we recognize rattlesnake flowers?" Jason asked.
"Flowers," Mike asked.
"Sure, the flowers the king requires," Jason completed.
Mike stopped and thought.
Alexandra watched as her thoughts moved away from her.
She found herself lost. She looked both ways and was alone. She knew she had something very important to do, but she didn't remember it.
She heard a name that seemed familiar to her
" Alexandra! Mike!" Jason shouted.
"Remember who you are," said a voice fading into oblivion.
"Your efforts are useless, they will suffer the same fate as the king's daughter, just as you... Anyone who tries to save her. It's what that selfish king deserves."
Cried a woman wrapped in a black robe. Her skin withered with time indicated how old she was.
"Who are you?" Jason threatened to pull out his dagger.
"Does it matter?" asked the old woman.
Finally, Jason fell to his knees with his memory blank, wondering where that frantic laughter came from.
A voice fought from nowhere. A formless being wondered about its existence. A stubborn girl struggled with herself. A dream, without beginning nor end. A life with meaning. A raison d'être. A scream flooded the plain, a name that echoed filling the deaf ears.
"Alexandra!" the redhead finally shouted.
"My name is Alexandra," she echoed again.
"Impossible!" shouted the old woman in astonishment.
Immediately she reached into a small leather bag tied to her robe and took a handful of pollen, ready to blow it over the girl.
"Now we'll see if you still remember."
Alexandra, still blind, drew one of her arrows and took the bow that still hung next to her and pointed to where the dark voice came from.
She noticed the dry sound of a body falling to the ground. She took a deep breath and heard a sound brought by the wind. There were hundreds of rattles ringing not far away.
She walked to where the sound was most intense until she came across a sweet aroma that accompanied the beat of the bells. She felt one of the flowers and ate it. She endured the bitter taste and then fell back into a deep sleep.
Mike and Jason opened their eyes and recognized a familiar figure.
"Are you all right," she asked them.
"Do you remember who you are?", she asked again.
"What kind of question is that? Obviously I know who I am, Alexandra. How can I forget?" replied Jason.
"It's impossible to forget you, my friend," Mike replied.
"I'm glad you're okay. We have to go back, I already have the flowers. I'll tell you what happened on the way back.
"How the hell are we gonna get back?" Jason asked.
"By boat," Alexandra replied.
After a long boat ride along the river of the forest and following a map kept by the old woman, finally, the three adventurers managed to return safely to the palace.
Life returned again to Erica's eyes and she became the kind woman she had always been.
The king gladly rewarded the three adventurers generously for bringing their daughter back to health.
Alexandra did not want to receive any reward. Erica's health was enough for her.
However, the king's daughter offered a well-paid job to Axejandra to work with her to overcome the injustices in the kingdom and bring well-being to the people.
Alexandra pleasantly accepted Erica's proposal...
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