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The Thatched Basket

A Short Moment of Time within a Grander Story

By Zach BurgerPublished 2 years ago 10 min read

At the edge of a great grassland was a forest where big and little things hid. The slightest wind bristled against a thatched basket where a young child lay in the deepest of sleeps. Waves of nimble grasses swayed in the dwindling twilight, a dance older than time, and the shadow of the basket grew longer and longer, menacing in appearance until the light retired.

Far over the horizon, farther than a mortal eye would detect, cookfires and torches alit within camps of wayward travelers. Gypsies and nomads, vagabonds and vandals, would-be heroes and brigades of military men settled into the rhythm of evening and took to supper (or drink, if vittles were scarce). It was as if someone, or something, had forgotten this dear child of whom sleep was its present destiny.

This sort of dormancy in one of two or three years was induced; a parent or relative would deem it an unnatural state. Yet, the child remained undisturbed, eyes shut and breathing soft, wrapped in fresh linen, a fluffy wool blanket, and the ruddy hide of an orange fox. The throws weren’t things of a fledging peasant, no, a passerby would think this babe of royalty and snatch ‘im up. But there was no one here at the edge of the forest. No one to disturb this child, no one to take him for ransom, slave, or son. Here, he was utterly alone.

When the daylight faded into night, others took the helm of providing light in this part of the world. Wood elves hung glowing orbs of effervescence, the liquid within harvested from gooey pools of marshland in some far-off place only known to them. Fairies swooped in and out of grooves, racing through trees and bushes, avoiding brambles, yet never venturing too far from the safety of the forest. But the free air and night grasses whistling in the autumn breeze were irresistible to winged creatures—some of which giggled, some of which snarled. This was no place for a child, even bundled up as it was in the cool air.

Two glistening fairies, beads of sweat glimmering in their merriment, landed on the edge of the basket. The wings upon their back fluttered in amusement, observing the creature nestled within the blankets, knowing it was a mortal, knowing it was a human child, and seeing it was alone.

“Someone must guard this little one,” muttered the shimmering fairy to her companion, blonde wisps of curls nearly white. “There are wolves in these woods, scary things—and nice things, too—but many scary things…”

“Hush, Affidial,” scolded the older of the two. “You mustn’t worry over mortalkind. Impressing worry over this creature by phantasying fears of your own is foolish.”

Messeri flitted about and landed on the foxen hide, seeing a golden locket hung around the babe’s olive neck. A single rune was impressed into the precious metal, yet bearing no resemblance to any rune the fairy had borne witness to before. “Curious,” she thought.

She drew closer to the locket with a naive hope to open it, seeing it hang gently over the delicate collarbone. The slow, warm breaths emitting from the child’s lungs washed over her elfin figure, giving her a shiver in the breeze. Laying a penny-sized hand on the clasp, Messeri immediately withdrew in fright.

“What is this sorcery!” she cursed, coddling her palm and fingers as tiny blisters appeared.

The panic caused the child to stir, and both fairies fluttered up beyond its reach, wary of the creature’s wrath. Yet, moments later, they realized their alarm was unnecessary, uncalled for in the present circumstance, and settled back onto the basket’s thick handle.

“You and I are not the watchers of this one,” said Messeri. “Let’s catch up with the others now.”

Affidial obeyed her friend, taking flight near the edge of the forest, though a flair of regret glowed on her cheeks. A final glance at the carefully crafted thatching and her sorrow for the wakeless child quickened, as did her speed of flight into the thick undergrowth of the forest. Her thoughts spun as the fairies fled, but Affidial noticed the familiarity of a cradle in this mundane basket, an omen of the child’s helplessness during such a long rest.

“I will be back soon, little mortal,” she whispered and disappeared into the shadows, a trail of silvery dust marking her path.

🝰

Slits of orange emerged on the horizon, a sharp contrast to the shadows nightening the countryside. The morning was not far off.

A sprinkle of rain damped the throws in which the child lay during the night. His once rosy features had grown dull and pale; the thin, blue veins under his young skin were like rivulets spreading from temple to jaw to neck. Still, he did not shiver, nor did he stir or mutter a single, vacant sound into the mighty world. He only slept.

Despite her promise and remaining conflict of the heart, Affidial never returned to the babe. Predators visited the child long after the fairies retreated to the wood, yet their desire for young blood was soured by magical spores encircling the thatching. The powerful wards protecting the cradle were invisible to do-gooders, poisonous to threats, thinly veiled to those neither here nor there, and attractive to those that sensed augury. An owl landed on a nearby branch as the darkest patches of night shifted to gray. It watched the little one for a spell, drawn to the oddity at the forest’s end and the grassland’s beginning, before flying deeper into the wood to evade the light and tell others about this thing.

As a surging fire of oranges, yellows, and reds overtook the dewy, wild grasses, a towering shadow moved amongst the ancient trees and foliage. The cascading light stopped just before the thatched basket, shaded by an overhanging canopy of wide branches and rustling leaves. Scraping sounds echoed through the forest as if a giant stag violently polished and sharpened his antlers upon a lone sapling. The ripping and scraping of bark was accompanied by snapping twigs, and an upheaval of underbrush as the shadow came ever nearer, unveiling a reptilian carapace of gray scales.

Steam roiled off the beast as its underbelly slithered across the cool, forest floor in serpentine movements. An array of spikes jutted out over the dragon’s brow, and it wore a beard of dark bristles under its chin. The yellow eyes appeared to glow in the gloom of the forest, but as the dragon emerged into the light, a dark membrane shielded the vibrance of its irises.

The wyrm (as folklorists referred to the monolithic serpent) brought its nose close to the thatching, taking slow, deep inhalations, and exhaling warm, sulfuric breaths into the misty, morning air. The beast nudged the handwoven basket, rocking it back and forth, yet the child did not wake, nor did he stir. A low bellow of curiosity emanated from deep within the dragon’s gullet, its armored tail of scales and spikes whipping back and forth in the fashion of a feline, clearing away thickets of underbrush and thorny brambles. Slowly though, the creature of muted gray scales and unknowable age attracted an audience to the edge of the forest.

From the grasslands, a family of hares emerged from their form with a pair of neighboring rabbits from their burrow; a doe with twin fawns born of the spring, spots barely visible in the late days of autumn, approached hesitantly to see the spectacle; a whistlepig lumbered toward the commotion, lard rippling from head to hind, and a beautiful black-horned hawk glided overhead, still on the search for field mice. From the forest, a nursery of raccoons joined the onlookers, yawning at the late hour but unwilling to miss this strange encounter; a black bear arranging his affairs before hibernation halted his preparations to attend; a familiar owl swooped back to its branch overhead, no doubt telling of the babe in the thatched basket throughout the early morning; scurrying through the ceiling of the forest came the squirrels, while a scurry of chipmunks hopped and jumped over protruding roots and decaying logs until the dragon came into view; and finally, an albino wolf and his companion appeared within sight, its startling pink eyes fixed on the dragon and the human child.

The audience was silent, and if not for the breeze, the sound of anticipation would have been the only mentionable echo among the quietude. Steam continued to roil off the back and belly of the dragon, a smirking appearance to its imperious snout where spiraling plumes of smoke exited its flaring nostrils.

For a moment, the child wriggled in its coverings, yet the dragon reared back its neck into a high arch above the thatched basket and spewed a draft of dragon fire from its beak, engulfing the cradle in a wash of green, dancing flames. A sizzling hiss reverberated through the bones of all present, a thunder quaking beneath their feet. The wild grasses ignited in a ring of spreading flames, leeching onto fallen leaves, dying weeds, and broken branches to encircle the cradle and swarm outward. The nearest animals withdrew further into the grassland and further into the forest, the heat of the fire drawing beads of sweat onto their foreheads, dampening their fur, and stirring terror in the younglings. As the thatching caught fire, it burned with forbidden black flames and noxious fumes, smoke billowing upward in purples and blues.

And then from the forest, came a cry.

“Stop!” Affidial cried in agony, hearing the unmistakable roar of distant dragon fire when she snuck off to check on the babe. The fairy zipped into the scene and a crude severity crossed her face; the expression of a guardian, of a servant, of a mother. “What are you doing!? What have you done!?” Her shouts of disapproval and abhorrence overtook the cacophony of fire raging from the beak of the fiend who hadn’t yet noticed the tiny projectile hurdling toward it. “You, monster!”

Not far behind Affidial was Messeri doing her best to catch up to her companion and friend. After noticing her disappearance, she followed her trail until hearing Affidial’s outcries and not knowing what was the matter. Messeri shouted at the top of her lungs, imploring Affidial to wait for her and stop this madness, but Affidial’s distance was much too far afield to be heard.

Reaching the forest’s threshold and emerging into view of the grassland, the fairy picked up speed, unascertainable by the wild onlookers, and only a thin trail of dust and a loud buzzing made her presence known. But, as she sped closer, a wave of green heat knocked her off-flight onto the charred grassland floor and into the spherical burn of the scorched cradle. Affidial’s gabble of murderous chatter ceased, her small body now still and unconscious, her fluttering wings void of their rapid movement, and her beautiful hair covered in gray ash. The dragon noticed the elfin being motionless beside the infernal cradle and withdrew its flame.

🜍

The edge of the forest was no stranger to quiet. Mornings were often quiet, as this morning began at the break of sunrise, and in the somber evenings where a still, hushed reverence mourns the passing of day, all the world is mum for a time. Other occurrences of silence were welcomed, too, like before a long rainstorm, during windless afternoons with a blanket of snow covering the landscape, the split-second of silence before a new life is born, or the unmistakable calm and eerie peace of a full moon at its crest. Silence is no place for a child though, and a child shan’t ever be silenced. And yet, this young child was given the curse of unnatural silence, a rarity of which no one ever wishes upon a foe.

When Affidial awoke, silence is not what she heard. Her body was continually nudged by the dragon’s beak, a muffled thump inside her shaken skull. The warmth of its breath and the stench of sulfur caused her to feel uneasy and nauseous but consoling fingers softly combed ashes from her thick, wisps of hair. Beside her, Messeri knelt with teary eyes, a smile of relief spreading from cheek to cheek as Affidial opened her eyes wider and wider. Next, she heard the internal creaking of her bones, and a shot of pain spiderwebbed through her shoulder, the one that so clearly bore the impact. And finally, she heard the cautious sound of a young child whimpering behind her, too exhausted to continue bawling but too scared to express nothing of its troubles.

The fairy arose with help from her friend, a shaky hand on one knee while she straightened her back and dusted off what remained of the thatched basket. Affidial noticed the residents of the forest and grasslands gathering close to the charred cradle, an unlikely ensemble of spectators, trying to catch a better glimpse of the child, no more than two or three years young. The white linens he was swaddled in were stark white and unblemished as if freshly washed in a cold stream that morning. And as the fairy woke and stood, the gray dragon withdrew, still towering over the tame crowd, continuing to watch the events transpire, and appearing satisfied with the results of its intervention.

Affidial approached the child and the little creature grew still, silent even, mesmerized by her fluttering wings. She hovered just over his breast, staring deeply into his spirited innocence and bright green eyes. The locket held a soft, subtle glow upon his neck, the unnatural gleam of the rune hadn’t been there when she and Messeri first found the babe in the wee hours of the night. It was apparent this artifact was not an ordinary locket or a mundane trinket. It contained more than his mother’s likeness or his father’s crest.

When her foot touched down upon the ruddy, foxen blanket, the fur tickling her bare feet, the child let free a soft coo and giggled. He knew this fairy would protect him until his last breath, they were bound without words, like the fairies who once watched over a lost lineage of forgotten rulers.

FantasyShort Story

About the Creator

Zach Burger

At a young age, poetry found my pen, sourcing prose as a coping mechanism. 🖋️ Poetry transitioned to lyricism 🎶 the words following the melody, until one day, I needed more space. Melodies became narratives and fantasy was given life. 🧙

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    Zach BurgerWritten by Zach Burger

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