O, Princess, when the Wicked Queen told me to bring her your
I could not. For what am I but the Huntsman? It’s all anyone knows of me, and all I know of myself. My craft is my name and my life.
And you were too small. That wasn’t hunting, that would have been unadulterated murder, and would help neither Man nor Forest.
So I gave the Queen the heart of a Wild Boar; I suspect she guessed the truth, but I prepared it so well (over a fire of bramble and fragrant rare branches, using herbs few might find and fewer still might know how to use, roasted at the right heat and for the right time; how well a Huntsman knows patience!)
Thus she didn’t chase the matter down. Not unexpected, really; once a pest is out of sight, it’s natural to forget the thing, even if it isn’t truly gone. If it troubles us no more, it can leave our minds; who cares what it does to the neighbor’s garden, so long as it doesn’t come back?
And now, back you have come. And the Queen seeks you out, perhaps to slay you, perhaps to feed you an apple of slumber. It’s this latter I cannot allow, and I can’t predict which one will happen. If I knew it would definitely be the poison, well, that’s how one sometimes deals with pests; unfortunate, but understandable. Sadly, she has powers beyond those of mortals (as, surely, might you, her daughter). She might, in her anger, do something like raise up a maze of tearing briar, an invasive species which will seek water and nutrients from the soil and choke my trees; a tanglewood whose thorns will wreak havoc on the flesh and stomach of the beasts under my care. I have seen it before, not two kingdoms hence, and I have heard of it from those who came before me. This, this I cannot allow.
I could blame the Queen; but she is really only reacting to a threat to her ecological niche; that’s normal. I could blame you, but really, you were just a certain thing born into a certain place, and you never asked to be the progeny of a species which eats its own.
To be honest, the forest doesn’t care about either of them; it only cares about greenery and abundance, or disruption and starvation.
My mother, Huntsman before me, passed this down from my grandmother, who was Huntsman first of all:
“We can’t always make the right choices for the Woods; there’s more to ’em than any individual can understand. We can only try, and be ready to correct our mistakes, even at the cost of our own pain; we are Huntsmen, and sometimes we deal in swift arrows and broken necks.”
Perhaps you would defeat the Queen; perhaps she would best you. Perhaps you would be better for the forest, and perhaps you would be worse. But I can’t take that chance again.
There is only one way to be sure of the disposition of your heart.
The Queen seeks you, but I hunt you; I’ll be there first. There’s a family of boars who will consume anything I leave behind. When the Queen finds you gone, she’ll be annoyed, but the fundamental problem will have vanished. She’ll go back to her Palace and her mirror, and I’ll go back to my cottage for a long winter’s rest, nuzzling my kith and kin and feeding on cold meat from the larder.
Jeff Mach is at the other end of this keyboard, struggling to refer to himself in the first person. No luck so far, though.