Chapter One

Acorn sat curled in a ball chittering to herself. Every part of her body ached in some way, even her shallow breathing hurt. Lightly snapping her front teeth together, she slowly tried to push herself into a sitting position. Moaning softly, she hitched herself into a halfway sitting/laying down position. Feeling the tears threaten her outer vision, she paused for a moment to catch her breath. “At least this oak was here….” She thought to herself. Gathering her weight under her, she again tried to shove herself upright against the roughed trunk of the Silver Oak she was seeking refuge in. She almost made it to a sitting position when she realized she was no longer alone on her narrow perch. A tawny beige and white barn owl was sitting on her branch not more than two feet in front of her.

Blinking its eyes slowly, the owl swiveled its head back and forth to get a better view. It clicked its beak once and began to preen its ruffled feathers. Acorn was shocked. Where did this bird come from? Ever so slowly, aches temporarily forgotten, Acorn started to inch her way towards the bird. The bird stopped preening its feathers and fastened its brilliant blue eyes on Acorn’s face. “Are you hurt?” The voice flowed ghostly into Acorn’s ears startling her and nearly cost her a very precarious handhold. Acorn froze, and then slowly nodded her head. She winced as all the muscles in her neck started protesting the unwanted movement. The bird lightly flapped its wings. “I thought so…” came the ghostly voice again. Next thing Acorn knew, the bird was gone and replaced by a young female owling dressed in white robes with blue trim. “I can help you…” The voice came strong and clear now. The owling reached out one slender hand. “Let me…”

Scrabbling backwards, Acorn lost her desperate hold on the branch and tumbled out of the tree. Her frantic screeching was cut short when she landed on something soft and furry that curled around her and stopped her free fall. Freezing, she looked up and into the concerned eyes of a male bearling. “Are you alright?” Acorn froze and than nodded her head. The brown eyes blinked at her once and than she felt herself tucked into the crook of a very strong arm. Feeling motion, she managed to look down and saw that the bearling was now slowly climbing down out of top branches of the oak tree. She started to squirm slightly…”What if he falls”, she thought desperately, “There is no one below to catch HIM!” Her motions took on a more desperate character. The bearling stopped moving and looked down at her with amused eyes. Acorn froze again.

“If you don’t stop squirming,” he said lightly, “You are going to cause me to lose my grip and we are both going to fall a very large distance down this tree.” Nodding slightly, Acorn tried to become a very small ball of fluff in the bear’s arm. Snatching her tail, she gripped it tightly as the bear resumed climbing down the tree. After what seemed like hours, the bear finally stood upright and carefully opened his arm. Acorn was curled in a fetal position, eyes tightly shut, and tail wrapped around her neck like a fuzzy scarf. Poking one long clawed finger at her cheek, he gently tapped her face. Snapping her eyes open, Acorn once again blinked up into the bears brown eyes. “We’re down.” He said shortly. Acorn nodded sharply. “Thank you…” she said, and fainted dead away.

She was in a long dark tunnel with a brilliant light at the end. Treading carefully, she started to make her way towards the light. Almost there, she felt herself pulled backwards into the dark recesses of the tunnel. Resisting, she tried to start again towards the brilliant light. A sound caught her attention. Turning her head, she watched as a long table came into view. It was loaded with all her favorite foods and wine flowed like scarlet ribbons from the decanters to the jeweled goblets. Laughter erupted from the people seated around the table, people draped in browns and greens. She stepped towards the table, desperately trying to look into the faces of the people around the table. Goblets were raised towards her, voices mingled in happy words that she couldn’t recognize…who were these people? Faces floated into her vision, faces without features, blurry and indistinct…Frantic now, she turns and flees back into the tunnel…the light is gone and only a faint echo of it’s brilliance remains. Searching searching searching…she can’t find it! Sobbing now, she reaches out and...

Wakes. Blinking her eyes, a stone cavern comes swimmingly into view. A faint smell of burning rosewood touches her nostrils and stings at her eyes. Blinking again, she realizes she is covered in a heavy wool blanket and reaches out from under it to lightly touch her forehead. A slow throbbing was starting just above her right eye and spreading across her forehead. As she moved, she heard a stirring just out of sight and shortly a large brown shadow fell over her. It was the bearling again, and he was carrying in one large paw something steaming in a wooden bowl. Focusing her eyes, she realized a wonderful aroma was issuing from the bowl. Licking her lips, she looked back up at the bear with pleading eyes. Laughing softly, the bear nodded and set the bowl down next to her and then reached towards her. Acorn shrank back against the floor fearfully. The bear made short “it’s okay” motions with his hands and gently moved her into a sitting position. Acorn relaxed slightly. Scooping up the bowl, he handed it to her and made sipping motions from it. Acorn nodded and took the bowl. Inhaling deeply, she smelled the wonderful aroma of carrots, potatoes and rosemary. A small sip confirmed it tasted as good as it smelled, and she started to hungrily gulp it down.

“Slowly, slowly!” The bear laughed. “There’s plenty to go around.” He reached behind him and tugged some linen from a large leather sack. Acorn stopped noisily slurping her soup long enough to watch what he was doing. It was a worn red shirt with ribbed trim. Licking her lips, she looked at the bear questioningly. “It looks about your size,” he said cheerfully. Delving back into the sack, he pulled out some leather pants and boots. “Your tail is larger, so we would have to make a bigger hole,” he said, “But they should fit fairly well.” At her questioning look, he responded, “Your clothes were ruined by blood and whatever attacked you. Anything that was left, well, we had to cut off you so…” His voice trailed off and he motioned helplessly. Acorn blushed scarlet down to the tip of her fluffy tail. Clutching the blanket, she sank lower behind it until only her wide eyes and twitching ears were visible. “Yeah, um.” The bear looked around helplessly. Lumbering to his feet, he looked down at her. “Go ahead and change. When you’re done, come around the corner and get some more to eat.” With that said, he strode off out of sight.

Acorn sat and blinked to herself for a few moments. Scrabbling to her feet, she clutched the blanket around her torso and peered around the room. It was definitely a small cavern room; cool but not too cold. Wrapping the blanket around herself, she peered around the corner and looked down a short passageway. Flickering light cast moving shadows against the wall. She counted three figures on the far wall, with the largest shadow being the bearling. At least she HOPED it was the bearling… She cast her eyes around her small room. In a small pile she found the remains of her clothing, bloody and shredded. Definitely unwearable. Sighing to herself, she tried on the clothes the bear left. They were a bit big, but were much more comfortable than they looked. Well, she might as well go out and meet her rescuers. She picked up the wooden bowl and hesitantly walked around the corner into a larger cavern area. Sitting around a crackling fire were three figures: one bearling, the owling and what seemed to be a rust coloured fox. All three turned their heads to watch her. Raising her hand slowly, she waved. “Hi…”

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