The Legend of Archibal
Chapter 5: Face to Face with a Crocotta
“Oh, my,” said a familiar voice, jumping off a tree stump. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Walter turned to look at Jacobi approaching him from the left side. When Walter looked back in the brush the creature was gone.
“The Black Forest is no place for a boy your age,” Jacobi said. “It is very dangerous.”
“There was something in there,” Walter pointed to where the creature had stood. “It was big, a wolf.”
“A wolf?” Jacobi said. “That can’t be wolves do not travel alone, they are always in packs.”
“It was by itself,” Walter said. “It just stared at me.”
“Hmm,” Jacobi thought for a moment. “It was probably the crocotta. Many have spotted it lurking around.” A fox walked up beside Jacobi. “Cadi, the crocotta was here.”
Walter thought it was strange that he spoke to the fox.
“Cadi, that crocotta is nothing but a bad omen,” Jacobi said. “There must be a purpose why it’s been seen so many times. I wonder if you could trace its steps, maybe find out where it went.”
The fox with the unspoken understanding walked into the forest, vanishing into the somber district. Before Walter could ask him about the fox he wanted to know what exactly a crocotta was.
“What is a Crocotta?” Walter said turning to Jacobi.
“It is only one of the deadliest creatures to ever exist”, he said with a deadpan face. “They are as dangerous as encountering a dragon but more ferocious. They can mesmerize you and mimic any human voice to call its victims. The last time I saw one was up north. This one has travelled very far which they never do. Did it say anything to you?”
“N–no. I think it just growled at me,” Walter said.
“Whatever you do not ever look into their eyes,” warned Jacobi. “Once you do, it will tear you to pieces. Crocottas’ are vicious and it is not safe for you to be here. I will take you back home.”
“If the crocotta is not a wolf. What is it?” Walter said. “I’ve never heard of a crocotta before.”
“They are strangers to this part of the region. Nobody can really say what they are,” Jacobi replied. “Some say it is a cross between a wolf and a dog. Others say it’s a hyena and a lion. I have only seen it call its prey from afar. They like to stay hidden from people. They never come out in the open, which is why the Black Forest is a perfect place to stow away.”
Jacobi took Walter back home. There was a silence between them, Jacobi obviously had a lot on his mind, while Walter had a lot of questions to ask him.
Walter broke the silence, “I don’t think I know your name. My name is Walter.”
Broken from his thoughts, Jacobi looked up at him pleasantly. “Walter you say. I am Jacobi.”
“Do you live in the Black Forest, Jacobi?”
“Oh, heavens no,” Jacobi said. “I live further than that. I live west from here.”
“You are so far away from home,” Walter was surprised a brownie would travel such distances. “Don’t you have family that misses you?”
“Family is never too far away,” Jacobi said. “We see each other often.”
They were silent once more. They finally reached Walter’s window from where he had snuck out earlier. “Stay inside,” Jacobi said. “The crocotta could be anywhere. They are night creatures.”
“Aren’t you afraid of it,” Walter wanted to know.
“No, I am too fast for it to catch me,” Jacobi beamed. “Now get inside, get inside.” Jacobi ushered Walter inside. Walter pushed open the window and before he climbed inside he turned to Jacobi. “Will I see you again?” Walter said.
Jacobi was surprised by the question then smiled at him. “Of course. Now you know my name. As long as you promise not to catch me?”
“Catch you? I won’t catch you, I promise,” Walter sincerely said.
“Hurry now, no time to waste,” Jacobi shooed Walter inside. Then disappeared into the night.
The Next day, Walter wanted to tell Alden about the brownie but wondered if he would believe him since Alden had once told him that brownies could never be spoken to, but Alden had more interesting news to tell Walter. Usually after school was let out, Walter and Alden went looking for the biggest tree, clambered up it to search for the compass. They sat and talked until it was time to go home. None of them were ever eager to do that. Every day they went to their usual spot on the tree, the one that stood closer to the Black Forest where Alden’s compass was thrown. Alden hoped they could spot it while the sun shone and be able to retrieve it.
Once they were on the tree Alden told Walter the story he heard at the Swan Inn. “Last night when I went to fetch my father at the Swan Inn. I overheard a man talking about some wolf stalking his sheep!” Alden said excitedly. It was known around town that Alden had to always fetch his father at the tavern. Walter was never allowed in the tavern, but his Uncle knew Alden and his father very well. “He could not get a good look at it, but he said it was big. Bigger than any animal he has ever seen. Wolves are only seen within the Black Forest. Strange to see one wandering about.”
“Did it get any of his sheep?” Walter said curiously.
“No,” Alden said. “It kept prowling up and down the fence but it stayed away. The man never fired a shot. He has never seen a wolf like that. No one has ever seen a wolf that big.”
Walter wanted to hear the stories they told at the tavern but his mother and Aunt forbade him to set foot in there. He tried spying once or twice on the conversation the men had but his mother or Aunt would catch him. His Uncle did not mind much but his Aunt would reprimand his Uncle for letting Walter in the tap room, it was not a place for boys. The stories the men told were just too great and fantastical to avoid, making his imagination stir with excitement. His Uncle would tell him tales he heard from other travelers and legends the town folk talked about, shrouded with mystery and adventure.
“What happened next,” Walter said.
“The wolf eventually left,” Alden said. “After that he locked up his sheep and came to the tavern to calm his nerves. He was really shaken up about it. My father told him he should have shot it, but the man said he was afraid he would have missed. Angering an animal that size it would have charged, tearing him to pieces. Then another man said he had seen an animal like that a few days ago, but he could not get a clear view because it quickly left. Others have said the same thing but Mr. Sullivan the butcher said it was their imagination running away with them. Your Uncle said they had enough to drink and should stop talking nonsense before they scared each other to death.”
Walter wanted to tell Alden that he believes he came face to face with the wolf animal, but he didn’t. He was starting to wonder how vicious the animal really was. Jacobi said it could tear any man to pieces. Then why was it not attacking anyone? That was unusual. An animal that big was instead running away. How strange, thought Walter.
“Do you see anything?” Alden said, searching the ground.
Walter had forgotten to look for the compass. “Not yet,” he said refocusing his attention back to the ground when something else caught the corner of his eye. There was smoke coming from somewhere in the far distance of the Black Forest. Was something burning? But the smoke seemed to swirl in one place as if it came from a camp fire or chimney. Could it be possible that someone started the fire? Walter was not sure but found it curious. “Does anybody live in the Black Forest?”
“Live in the Black Forest!” Alden was surprised to hear that. “Nobody lives in the Black Forest. No one with common sense that is. But I heard rumors of a witch living there. She is mad.”
“Why is she mad?” Walter wondered if Alden could see the smoke. If not, was this the third eye that Jacobi told him about, being able to see things others could not?
“To live there anybody has to be mad. I think we better get going,” Alden sighed in dismayed.
Walter agreed. They both scrambled back down and headed back to the village. They took the familiar road, passed by the same shops and buildings until they came to the fork where Alden went left and Walter took right. Alden did not want to go. He hampered from saying goodbye and then they went their separate ways. Walter knew why and felt bad for Alden. Walter did not like going home also. After school he was supposed to go directly home where he was not to leave until his older sister came for him. Together they walked to the Swan Inn to have supper. His sister then returned to work and he stayed until his mother finished work at the Inn. Then they went home and off to bed he was sent. He looked forward to any break to the routine, but Walter did not like to disobey his mother and mostly did what she told him to. Alden had other reasons he did not want to go home. Walter knew every night, like clockwork he had to fetch his father from the tavern.
That night, he eagerly waited for Jacobi. He quickly snuck into the kitchen and found Jacobi enjoying his buttermilk and cakes. “Jacobi,” Walter whispered gleefully.
“Hallo there, young Walter,” Jacobi said. “Waiting for me, are you?”
Walter was mildly embarrassed. “I got you some fresh cakes today.”
“They are very good indeed,” Jacobi said, drinking the rest of the buttermilk. He patted his belly. “Well, it was nice seeing you again, young Walter. I better get going –“
“Wait,” Walter said. “Do you have to leave so soon?”
“Well, I have other business to attend to,” Jacobi said.
“Is it the creature, Jacobi? Other town people have seen it too,” Walter blurted out. “They have seen it stalk their fields and pens at night but it has not killed any of their sheep.”
“So,” Jacobi said, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “He has been stalking their sheep. But none have been killed, is that right?”
“Yes,” Walter nodded. “More than one have seen it. They are afraid of it.”
“Oh, they should be,” Jacobi admonish. “Not taken any of their sheep, I wonder?”
“What does it mean?” Walter wondered.
“I don’t know myself,” Jacobi said. “But I suspect it won’t hold back for much longer. Hunger is a strong craving. I best be going, now.”
“Are you going to the witch?” Walter said.
“The witch? How do you know about the witch,” Jacobi said.
“I saw smoke coming from the Black Forest. Is she the one that lives there?”
“Well,” Jacobi fumbled with his words. “Of course. How do you know about the witch?”
“A friend of mine told me about the witch,” Walter said.
“Of course you know about the witch,” Jacobi smiled.
“Can I come too, Jacobi?”
“My dear where I am going is no place for a boy,” Jacobi said. “If the Crocotta smelt you it will not hold back. Especially, if nobody knows you are missing.”
Walter felt a bit disappointed and Jacobi must have noticed it. “I tell you what,” Jacobi said. “Next time I come around, you can come with me.”
“Of course, I always keep my promises,” Jacobi smiled at him. He said goodbye to Walter and with five hops he vanished through the rats’ hole. He was tempted to follow but he was afraid to come face to face with the Crocotta again and as Jacobi said would not suppress his urges.
Copyright 2015 by M. Stieg
All rights reserved.