The boy was only a sleeping tot, when through a backdoor, his mother slipped quietly into the night. Unaware of the dangerous life he was leaving behind, nor of the dangerous one he was heading into, the boy slept. The only sound on that lonely, untended footpath, his mother’s uncertain footsteps.
Unaccustomed to the hostile terrain, The Queen stumbled. The Queen fell. The Queen grew increasingly fearful. She clutched her cloak a little tighter, and trembled a little harder as somewhere in the distance, she heard the creepy hoot of an owl.
Suddenly the thickets came alive with sinister shapes and whispering leaves. Not for the first time, the Queen wondered what dangers lurked in the darkness. She wondered what shapes they came in. She wondered if they were watching her. Stalking her. Waiting for the right moment to pounce. She wondered too, if perhaps she’d been too hasty in her escape from the castle.
Had she let her fears get the better of her? Was her sister really as dangerous as she’d been led to believe? Was it too late to turn back? At least in there, she knew who the enemy was. She could just go back and give the signal, and the door to her life would reopen.
Suddenly, the words came back to her with chilling clarity. “Just hoot like an owl.”
The Queen stopped abruptly and found that her brow was dripping of sweat. Was that an owl she’d just heard? Or was it some kind of signal? Was it possible that she’d been set up? Had she trusted too soon? Was she plunging straight for the trap she was escaping?
But there was no time to contemplate. She had to do something. Fast!
As if in agreement, the owl hooted again.
And with that, the Queen turned and fled. She would take her chances inside the castle. Away from creepy owls and sinister signals. But her mind too was racing. Finally, gasping for breath, she stopped. “Don’ t hoot unless you are at the door,” The whispered words, now screamed. She swallowed a little scream as the other shoe dropped. The signal she’d been taught so diligently wasn’t hers to use. It was theirs to catch!
The friendly nanny had embraced her. Right before she shut that heavy castle door. She remembered the weight of that sound. The castle door shutting. With finality, the life she knew was gone forever. She had lost herself. Her sense of direction. Her faith in the bond forged by love for another. She had lost everything!
She felt Sindile squirm in his carrier. It was all the confirmation she needed that she had lost nothing.
So the Queen hooted like an owl. Then she parted a branch and stepped into the bushes. She had become one of the sinister shadows. Once again, she hooted. Out here in the forest, only the traitors were allowed to hoot. Their hoots transmitted a clear message; the target was in sight. Unknown to them, the target was hightailing in a different direction.
The Queen smiled at her own ingenuity and felt the darkness embrace her.
Somewhere in the same darkness, an owl hooted. From its perch, up in the tree, it heard the hoot of another owl. It saw the figure retreat into the bushes. It saw a spear poised to attack. The owl did not comprehend. It simply hooted.