Little Red Riding Cloak
by Nene Adams ©1998 - All rights reserved. 


The storyteller speaks:

So it came to pass that Xena, Deliverer of Justice, and her companion Gabrielle, famed bard and Queen of Amazons, were traveling to the village of Delros, there to investigate some evil events which rumor, like a barking dog, had brought to their ears. There were murders in Delros - stalking death had come to two elders of the village, and no man knew the perpetrator of these deeds, nor why.

When the two women were passing through the forest that lay close to Delros, the warhorse Argo stumbled, injuring her leg. Xena, full of concern for the beast that had borne her bravely into battle for many years, told Gabrielle to continue on to Delros while she ministered to her steed's hurt.

And Gabrielle, staff in hand, began walking through the woods alone.

These woods sure are spooky, Gabrielle thought, clutching her shoulder bag with one hand as if to draw comfort from the soft leather sack. She cast her eyes all around, starting at every sound, every rustle from the undergrowth. It was late afternoon, and the shadows beneath the trees were deep.

Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of red out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she saw a child, a little girl, bundled in a bright crimson cloak and carrying a basket.

''Oh!'' Gabrielle knelt down. ''It's late, little one. What are you doing in the woods all alone?''

The child answered, ''My grandmother lives in her hut all by herself since grandfather died. My mommy told me to take her some supper. Mommy's too sick to do it herself.''

''I see.'' Gabrielle rose and took the child's hand. ''How about I go with you to your grandmother's house, okay? Then you can show me the way to Delros.''

The child nodded, and tugging Gabrielle's hand, began walking to her grandmother's house, singing in a piping voice - and both were unaware they were being watched by a pair of hate-filled eyes.

 The storyteller speaks:

His birth-name he had forgotten, if ever he possessed such. The villagers called him Lupos, for though he was powerfully built and strong, his mind had been twisted by his childhood at the hands of a powerless father and a fiendishly wicked mother. He lived by himself in a hut at the edge of the forest, and at the full moon, as he did each cycle, he howled and raged like a wolf at the glowing circle in the sky.

The villagers did not fear but pitied him; the elders knew his soul had been broken by his mother long ago. They had done nothing then, believing it best to leave the child with his parents - even if such brought only cruelty instead of love; beatings instead of kisses; punishments instead of hugs.

Now, Lupos watched the little girl and the strange woman walking through his woods. He knew the child... and he knew her grandmother. His eyes gleamed with anger and hate. Those who were elders now had known him in his childhood, and had done nothing to prevent the constant Tartarus that had been his life. Even after he'd ended the torture with his own hands, they had not shunned him, had not given him the peace of death he so craved.

They had buried the bodies and kept silent.

And now Lupos sought revenge.

He crept silently through the forest, taking a little known trail to the grandmother's house.

It took a while to get to the isolated hut. Delros had a tradition that Gabrielle had heard of - upon reaching a certain age, the village elders were set up in huts on the fringe of the village and tended to by their children. If they had no living children, the entire community contributed to the well-being of their respected elders.

Gabrielle, still holding the child's sweaty hand in her own, approached the hut. The hair on her arms stood up and she shivered. Something - she couldn't quite put her finger on it - was very, very wrong.

The little girl, blithely unaware of her companion's distress, pulled her along, basket swinging from her free hand. The door was slightly ajar, but she didn't notice. Entering the hut, she called, ''Grandmother! I've brought your supper.''

The fire had died down to coals banked on the simple stone hearth; there was very little light inside, and Gabrielle blinked, trying to adjust her vision. She could just barely make out a form swaddled in blankets on a cot in the corner.

The little girl laid the basket down on a table and approached the cot. ''Why, grandmother,'' she said, ''what big eyes you have!''

''All the better to see you with, my dear,'' the hoarse voice answered.

Gabrielle felt a strong sense of forboding and took a step closer, gripping her staff.

''Why, grandmother! What big ears you have!''

''All the better to hear you with, my dear,'' the grandmother answered.

Gabrielle took another step - and her foot slid slightly in something wet and sticky. In the dim firelight, she could just make out the floor, and the scattered puddles of dark liquid being soaked up by the dirt.

''Why grandmother... what big teeth you have!'' The little girl's crimson cloak looked almost black in the shadows.

The figure cast off the bedclothes and growled, ''All the better to eat you with, my dear!'' and leaped.

The child shrieked.

Gabrielle took the final step...

The storyteller speaks:

When Xena arrived at Delros, all was agitation and confusion. The body of a large man, wearing a woman's robe, was the source of much consternation and fear.

Gabrielle comforted a sobbing child, holding the little girl in her arms. Xena's eyes grew wide indeed as she took in the sight of her companion's bloodied staff, leaning against the rude wall of a hut.

Swiftly, Xena took command of the situation, finally choosing one man among the many clamoring voices to tell his story.

And when the woodcutter was finished, the Deliverer of Justice looked at her bardic friend with new eyes.

''I was walking through the forest to gather some firewood when I heard the scream,'' the woodcutter said. ''I ran to the old woman's hut...'' He gulped. ''And Lupos was attacking your friend. She was defending the little girl with her staff. Lupos was already injured, but he just kept coming.''

Xena's pale blue eyes sought Gabrielle's, and the bard shook her head. She hadn't been injured. Xena turned back to the pale faced man and nodded for him to continue.

''We all knew Lupos wasn't... well, quite right, if you know what I mean,'' he continued, tapping the side of his head with one finger. ''But none of us ever dreamed...'' He gulped again. ''I had to use my axe,'' he said finally. ''Lupos wouldn't stop. We found the old woman behind the hut, dead. It was awful.''

Gabrielle spoke for the first time. ''He's been the one doing the killings, Xena. I don't know why, though.''

''Maybe he was just crazy,'' Xena said with a rueful twist to her mouth. ''Insane people do strange, even violent things, sometimes.''

''I know. But I have a feeling it was more than that.''

An old man stepped away from the huddled knot of villagers and cleared his throat. ''It was,'' he said. And in simple words, he told the story of Lupos' childhood - and the reasons for the dead man's actions were suddenly clear.

Gabrielle handed the little girl back to her mother and put her arms around Xena, seeking comfort herself. When the old man was finished, Xena thought a moment and spoke, still holding her companion.

''What Lupos did was wrong; his deeds cannot be excused by madness or any other cause. The way he chose to revenge himself was terrible. However, what you did was equally wrong.''

The villagers murmured, and the warrior continued, pinning them in place with cold blue eyes. ''If you knew what was happening all those years ago, you should have put a stop to it. Any one of you could have exiled his parents, taken the child into your home. Or even gone to the King and made a complaint under law. But you didn't. You chose to be complacent, not to get involved, and now you've paid the price. It was a harsh price to pay for turning a blind eye, I agree. But sometimes the gods have a keener sense of justice than we mortals can understand.''

Xena took a last look at the sprawled body in the center of the village. Then, without another word, she led Gabrielle away from the silent people, who in their turn stared at the predator they had themselves created... and bowed their heads in shame.

The storyteller speaks:

And so it came to pass that the Deliverer of Justice and the Queen of Amazons left Delros.

Gabrielle wept at the pain Lupos had inflicted on others...

And in her heart Xena wept at the pain others had inflicted on him.


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