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|The Cerberus (youngsters:fairy tales, 3283 words)|
|Author: Ian Hobson||Added: Jan 24 2007||Views/Reads: 5957/1994||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|The porcupine's name was Echinops and he was getting old and rather deaf; too deaf to hear the warnings of the magpie that had flown overhead and squawked, 'Don't go into the woods today. There's danger!'|
Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story Callistephus looked up to see a tall, skinny boy with long dark hair. 'It's alright,' he said to the stranger. 'My friend's caught in trap and I'm trying to set him free.' The boy, of course, was Dryas. 'Just leave it,' he said. 'I decide what gets freed from my snares, not you.' Callistephus stood up and faced Dryas. The two boys were of a similar age and both were sun-tanned from time spent out of doors, but Dryas, though leaner, was at least a head taller and he looked menacingly at Callistephus. 'Very well,' said Callistephus, speaking loudly and starting to walk away. 'You decide, then. Goodbye, Echinops.' 'Where are you going?' Echinops was not at all happy with this turn of events and not happy with this tall stranger. So he did what came natural: he released some of his deadly spines, aiming them straight at Dryas. 'Ouch! Ow!' Dryas backed away as the spines came at him, but he tripped on a tree root and fell over backwards, and soon he was covered in spines, mostly in his clothing, but two had stuck in his arm as he lifted his hands to protect his face and three more had become embedded in his bare feet. 'Ow! Tell it to stop!' he shouted. 'That's enough, Echinops,' said Callistephus as he returned. He looked at Dryas. 'If you want your snare back you better help me to free my friend.' Dryas pulled the spines first from his arm and then from the soles of his feet, gritting his teeth as he did so. 'You have strange friends,' he said angrily as he removed the rest of the spines from his clothes. He got to his feet and stood with his weight first on one sore foot and then on the other, glaring at Callistephus. Callistephus glanced at the sky and then, deciding that the boy was perhaps not as tough as he looked, he walked up to him and faced him squarely. 'Are you going to help me or not?' he said. 'If not, I have other friends in these woods.' 'What friends?' said Dryas. 'Well,' replied Callistephus, 'there's Phalaris.' He looked up into the sky above the treetops to where a huge eagle was circling, and as he waved to the eagle it tilted its wings as though waving back. 'Well?' said Callistephus. 'Shall I ask Phalaris to come and help?' Dryas looked up at the huge bird and then at Callistephus. 'That eagle's not your friend,' he said, stubbornly. But as Callistephus raised his hand as if to beckon the eagle, Dryas had a sudden change of heart. 'Very well,' he said as he cautiously approached Echinops and knelt down beside him. 'But your prickly friend better not fire at me again, or I'll skin him and eat him for breakfast.' 'Eaten my breakfast?' said Echinops. 'Of course I haven't eaten my breakfast; I've been caught in this trap since dawn.' 'I think your friend must be deaf,' said Dryas with a smirk. 'Tell him to keep still and not to struggle.' With a little encouragement from Callistephus, Echinops allowed Dryas to loosen the snare's grip on his leg, but as soon as he was free he sped off into the undergrowth and was gone. The two boys stood up and looked at each other. 'What's you name?' Callistephus asked. 'What's yours?' replied Dryas. 'Callistephus,' said Callistephus, 'but I asked first.' 'I'm Dryas,' said Dryas, looking up into the sky. The eagle was much higher now. 'Is that eagle really your friend?' 'More a friend of a friend really,' Callistephus replied. 'But he helped me once, a long time ago.' The two boys continued to watch the sky, catching glimpses of the eagle through the gaps in the treetops as he soared higher and higher and disappeared. Dryas suddenly wished that he had a friend, but then he remembered the young witch who had helped him escape from Dictamnus, the hunter. 'I have a friend,' he said, 'and my friend's a witch.' 'Really?' said Callistephus, though he was only half listening to Dryas. The woods had become very still and strangely quiet, because the birds had stopped singing. 'What's your friend's name?' he asked. But before Dryas could reply the silence was shattered by a terrible noise that came from somewhere deeper in the woods: it was the howl of a beast, in fact it sounded like several beasts. Callistephus and Dryas stared at each other, wondering what they could be. Both boys had encountered many wild animals over the years but neither could immediately identify the beasts that made this noise. 'Could be wolves,' suggested Dryas. 'No, not wolves.' Callistephus shook his head. He knew too well what a wolf howl was like. There was silence for a moment, and then another howl, immediately followed by another, and another. 'Perhaps it's just one animal,' he said. 'My trap!' exclaimed Dryas as he realised what direction the howls were coming from. 'Something has been eating the rabbits that I catch in my snares... so I set a trap to catch it.' And with that he raced off towards where he had set the trap, with Callistephus following on behind and thinking that the morning was turning out to be really quite exciting. *** Dryas, being taller, ran faster than Callistephus. But Callistephus, guided by the howls of the wild animal, soon took a different route over some higher ground and down a steep slope, for he had lived in the area all his life and knew the woods better than anyone. And so both boys arrived at exactly the same time, and though one came from the north and the other from the east, both came face to face with a terrible beast. Yes, it was a cerberus, and his name was Sibirica, and his left hind leg was caught in the trap that Dryas had set just the day before. The trap had once belonged to the trapper that Dryas had lived with. It was a clever, if cruel, device with iron jaws that would snap shut on any unsuspecting foot or paw that stepped on it, and it was firmly attached by a few links of chain to a long wooden stake that Dryas had hammered firmly into the ground. And though it was old and rusty, the trap had worked well, for Dryas had disguised it with twigs and leaves, having placed it on a track that he had correctly guessed was being used by his quarry. At first, as Sibirica the cerberus heard the sounds, and caught the cents, of the two boys approaching, he stopped howling and froze in terror; for though he was a fearsome and almost fearless beast, afraid of no other animal in Astrantia, he had learned to be afraid of men. Because although he loved to catch and eat their children, it was men who had hunted him, and fought him, with spears and blades of iron, and worst of all with fire. And so, as the two boys stopped in their tracks at the edge of the small clearing where the animal trap had been carefully set, one of Sibirica's scarred and snarling heads faced Dryas and another faced Callistephus, while his third head gnawed at the terrible man-thing that was gripping his leg so painfully. Dryas began to laugh. 'Look what I've caught!' he said. 'A hound with two heads!' Because from where he was standing he could not see the hound's third head. As Dryas spoke, the head that was facing him snarled and barked at him, while the middle head did the same at Callistephus and the third head gnawed at the wooden stake that secured the trap to the ground. Now Callistephus could see the third head, though at first he did not understand, thinking that the animal was chewing at his own tail. But as he realised that the hound had scratched at the earth around the wooden stake to which the trap was fastened and was gnawing his way through it, he called out to Dryas. 'Run!' he shouted. 'Run! He's almost free!' But Dryas took no notice. He had every faith in the trap he had set and picked up a stick and, holding it like a spear, he taunted the cerberus, making him even more angry. 'Whoever heard of a two-headed dog?' he shouted. Sibirica growled at Dryas and, now with two heads, he barked and snapped at him. This delighted Dryas, who was at times a cruel boy, having known nothing but cruelty for most of his young life, but as he danced carelessly around the beast, taunting him again with the stick, he came to where he could see the third head, and finally realised the danger. But too late, for it was then that Sibirica's third head swung round to join his other two and, with all three jaws open wide, he leapt forward with such a force that he snapped what was left of the wooden stake and, trailing the iron trap, he pounced on Dryas and pinned him the ground. 'You dare to challenge us?' snarled the middle head of the cerberus as its spittle dribbled into the boy's face. 'You dare to leave your man-thing,' snarled another head. 'To trap and hurt us, Sibirica, the cerberus?' snarled the third head. 'Now it is your turn to be hurt, for we are going to eat your hands and then your arms and then your feet and then your legs, and then one of us will bite off your head and spit out the bone.' 'Leave him!' Callistephus shouted, as though ordering a domestic dog to behave. He had climbed up the nearest tree and was looking down at the cerberus and poor Dryas trapped beneath his great paws. Two of the heads looked up at Callistephus. 'You will be next,' snarled the middle head. 'We saw you climb that tree, but you can't stay up there for ever.' 'That's true,' Callistephus agreed. 'But if you eat us, then who will remove the trap from your leg?' One of Sibirica's heads – the one that had chewed through the wooden stake - turned to look at the dreadful man-thing that still clung to his left hind leg. It was biting so hard that the leg was bleeding. The cerberus tried to shake it free but that just made it grip tighter and the pain more difficult to bare. 'Very well,' said the middle head. 'You can go free if you come down from the tree and remove this thing from our leg. There is more than enough meat on this boy to fill us.' All three of Sibirica's heads turned their attention back to Dryas who could hardly breathe with Sibirica's great weight on top of him. 'But only my friend can remove the trap,' replied Callistephus. 'I know nothing of such things, so you must let my friend go, so that he can help you. Each of Sibirica's heads snarled, not liking this suggestion at all. But man-thing was hurting his leg, and his paw was becoming numb from the pain. 'Do it,' said the head that had chewed through the wooden stake as the hound moved sideways releasing Dryas. 'Do it and be gone before I change my mind.' Dryas got shakily to his feet, amazed to be still alive. His first instinct was to run but he knew that if he tried to escape the three-headed hound would be on him again. So he knelt beside Sibirica and took hold of the trap with both hands. 'When I open it,' he said, 'you must remove your leg quickly before it springs back again.' Then carefully and with all the strength he could muster, he prised open the trap and held it open long enough for Sibirica to withdraw his bleeding leg. Dryas let go of the trap and it sprang closed again, and then as one of Sibirica's heads turned to lick the wounded leg, Dryas slowly began to move away. 'Not so fast,' growled Sibirica's middle head. 'I never agreed to let you go.' The cerberus sprang at Dryas and pinned him to the earth again with two huge paws. 'But you promised to let him go!' exclaimed Callistephus. 'Not I,' said the middle head. If a hound could laugh, then each of Sibirica's heads would have done so, but instead they looked threateningly at Callistephus and then wetted their appetite by licking Dryas's face with their long wet tongues. 'But if you hurt my friend,' Callistephus threatened, 'then I will hurt you.' And not waiting for a reply, he climbed a little higher into the tree to where a bees' nest hung from a branch and, ignoring the bees that buzzed in and out of it, he snatched it from the branch and hurled it at the cerberus. The bees' nest flew through the air and landed squarely on Sibirica's back, splitting open and spilling out bees and sticky honey. The bees, of course, believing themselves to be under attack from some creature intent on stealing their honey, immediately became very angry and looked for something to sting; and the nearest target for their anger was Sibirica, whose three heads, with gaping jaws, had turned to look over his shoulders. And as the bees flew into his three mouths and into his three pairs of ears and clustered around his three soft wet noses, stinging him severely, he howled and leapt into the air and then, violently shaking his three heads, he ran off into the woods still howling as he went. Most of the bees followed after the cerberus but some stayed with the nest that had fallen to the ground, and some, of course, went after Dryas. 'Run!' Callistephus shouted as he slid down from the tree. 'Run, this way!' So Dryas scrambled to his feet and, with his arms flailing about his head as the bees tried to sting him, he ran after Callistephus. *** The two boys sat beside the river, drying out after their swim. Callistephus had led Dryas there and, still chased by a handful of bees, they had dived under the water until the bees had lost interest and buzzed away. 'What did that beast say he was?' Dryas asked. 'A cerberus,' replied Callistephus. 'I remember my father telling me a story about a cerberus, and I remember a song he used to sing to me at bedtime.' Callistephus thought for a moment and then began to sing the song. Don't frighten the children lying in their beds With tales of a hound that has three heads A cerberus that prowls on silent paws Then pounces and bites with three sets of jaws Don't frighten the children to send them to sleep Don't frighten the children, for if they should weep The cerberus may come, and as everyone knows He'll bite off their fingers, and bite off their toes 'My father used to sneak his hands under the bedclothes and then grab my toes as he sang the last line,' said Callistephus with a smile; he had not thought of his father for a long time. Dryas was still thinking of their encounter with the cerberus. 'You saved my life today,' he said. 'And you called me your friend... Can I always be your friend?' 'Of course,' said Callistephus. 'I'm always glad to have one more.' Tweet
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