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Cocklebur King Part VI: Tested Harte
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Plip-plop, plip-plop….the dripping of blood on the cold floor seemed to snap Harte out of his dazed trance. The door swung wildly on its hinges, still shuddering from the fearsome strength of his husband.

He didn’t realize such a sound could be so loud…his husband was always there for him, filling the void and silence that had long seized his heart. Halfway on the bed—he must have passed out momentarily—he glanced at a bloody footprint, smudged from the desperation of the run. Harte tried to sit up and found the floor rapidly meeting his face, ceiling spinning momentarily as he attempted to put the pieces together.

He ran.
His husband fled.
His husband had hurt him on accident, and he ran away
He ran away because he was afraid to hurt him again.

My sweet husband, do you not know you hurt me more by leaving me behind? Harte thought miserably, struggling to untangle himself from the sheets and find his trousers. Tears began streaming down Harte’s freckled cheeks as he grabbed what felt like the nearest pants, wrestling with the clothing as his vision blurred. He couldn’t wait; he couldn’t leave his most important person, the keeper of his soul, just run out of his life and vanish into the darkness. Not now, not ever.

Still barely dressed, Harte half hopped, half walked towards his blade hanging on the wall, only now realizing he was wearing his woolen leggings as he struggled to pull them over his cold nether regions. He didn’t care, grabbing his sword and sprinted into the night, following the fresh trail of footprints while hitching his leggings up higher.

Heavy, ragged breathing echoed in the forest, accompanied by ghoulish howls that stopped Harte in his tracks. He could feel his heart rattling, beating a tattoo in his chest, as the inhuman screams seemed to freeze his limbs with a paralyzing fear. What was he doing? Running in the forest at night with naught but his underpants and a sword, chasing after a man that bit him-painfully-in the shoulder. Warm blood ran down his skin as the exertion tore through the coagulated wound. Salty sweat mixed in, a stinging reminder of what happened. Harte bit his lip, shaking his head against unpleasant thoughts, the gnawing doubts that ate at his confidence.

Crashes sounded a distance away in forest, dragging Harte out of his fearful thoughts. He knelt down, staring at the tracks, touching the footprints as tenderly as if it was his husband’s foot.

Before he knew it, Harte was scrabbling through the bushes, the broken fauna as he continued to follow the trail with the persistence of a bloodhound. His amber eyes widened with shock as his husband’s path became more jagged and irregular…accompanied by torn branches and claw marks biting deeply into the wood. His pace picked up, heart in his throat, trying to decipher the signs—his husband was attacked by a monster…the beast of the forest! Harte ran faster, sucking in air desperately as he tried to sprint faster, following the devastation the canid left behind. A misstep was all it took in his fearful flight; his legging snagged onto one of the broken logs, sending him crashing forcefully into the ground, smashing the air out of his lungs.

Sobbing brokenly, Harte cursed himself for being so foolish and slow. His limbs shook from the tremendous collision, glistening with sweat in the moonlight as he glared at the torn up ground. Hot tears burst from his cheeks as he lamented the loss of his husband, blurring his vision completely. Blindly, he felt around on the ground to push himself up when his fingers brushed against his husband’s tracks again, pausing as if his heart stopped.

No....that couldn’t be right. Sniffling, he rubbed his eyes, staring blearily at the ground. Human footprints, he recognized…but what he had mistaken for another creature trampling his husband’s footprints was in fact the beginning of the canid’s transformation back to a feral beast. Stunned, Harte crawled on all fours, feeling the indentations in the soil, the claw marks from a hindquarters kick on a stump. He could see the changes in the scrapes as they went deeper and deeper until they matched more of the wild predators marking their territory.

His husband wasn’t…dead? Wasn’t…human…?

Harte jumped up, pale as a ghost, aghast at the discovery. He wasn’t sure what to think anymore. Instead of anger, hatred, resentment...all he could feel was sadness while thoughts ran through his head.

Now I can't go on…I can't even start. Nothing, absolutely nothing left -just an empty heart

He gripped a broken branch, ignoring the splinters driving into his skin as mournful howls sounded in the distance. Harte turned his head towards the sounds; wolves and their cries could mean trouble. Drawing his sword, he closed his eyes, attempting to decipher the vocal pattern to determine if a pack was on a hunt or had a successful kill.

It wasn’t a pack, heck, he wasn’t even sure if it was a wolf. A rolling cry of loneliness seared his heart. So beautifully savage and free did the primal notes ring through the night sky…but the anguish was always there, changing glorious chords to callous self-loathing.

Harte’s lip trembled. That was his beast…no, his husband. He felt his soul cry out with the wild, wordless singing, yearning for that familiar comfort, dashing the horrid doubts away. As the song continued, broken phrases seemed to fall from his mouth—was he singing? Harte didn’t know, didn’t care as he continued with the lament, calling out to his husband, hoping his words would reach his heart…

“Remember who you are….If you lose yourself, my love, your courage soon will follow…be strong tonight…remember who you are…”

Opening his eyes, he saw the full moon and the stars twinkle above him, shining brightly upon the trail of destruction. Oh how he ached to be with his beloved, standing in the glorious night together. It was such a night where he and his forest-husband consummated their vows. Would his husband remember in such a form? Can he remember that they swore to be together as one? Or would the beast destroy him on sight without a second thought?

Consumed by grief, Harte threw himself down on the ground, torn between risking his life to talk to the beast or never to see his beloved husband again. Incomprehensible sounding words tumbled out as he tried to desperately remember the prayers of the forest goddess he had learned as a wee child.

With his mind in agony, ready to throw his life away just for a chance but worried about how his husband would live with the possibility of accidentally killing him, Harte could not recall the sacred divinations. Instead, he begged, whispered words barely heard on the wind, muffled by his submissive position.

    “…I don’t know of a road that leads to anywhere."

    "….The light of my life…is gone."

    "Without a light I fear that I will stumble in the dark…"

    "But he is worth fighting for…"

    "…bring back my husband from the forest…"

    "…I love him for who he is, till the end of time…"

Slick Southpaw
Community Member
Slick Southpaw
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