The Stray Princess
The rain stops after a couple of hours. They stay inside the tent the whole night but she kept opening her eyes every now and then to look if the man had already arrived.
The morning sunlight is shining strongly, there are no clouds in the sky. Xena stretches and comes out to examine.
“Where is he?” She wonders.
The grass is wet, little drops of water shine over it. In the area where the wood fire was there is now a black puddle of water, and near it there is a pot that fell to one side. Extending from the pot and over the grass there is an area covered in oatmeal, it was the one that the man was letting cool down when he left the place, at some point during the night when it was still raining it must have fallen and spilled all its contents.
Xena approaches and smells it.
“Oh, its food” She recognizes the smell, a few days back she tasted it for the first time and its usually what Hercules eats.
She starts licking it from the ground, its tasty but the flavor is almost lost as it was mixed with the rain water.
Some whimpers come out of the tent and a small figure of a puppy can be seen pushing itself over the ground. Xena decides to get closer to it.
“is he hungry?” She wonders after sniffing the puppy.
Hercules’ fur gets wet as it brushes against the grass, the little dog tries to get up but the weak limbs and the missing leg don’t let him do it.
“Maybe I can help” Xena grabs the puppy’s body with her muzzle trying to be as gentle as possible and drags it all the way to the oatmeal.
Hercules sniffs and then starts liking, his tiny pink tongue moves slowly as he eats the substance from the grass. At his age, he does everything by instinct, his brain is not really developed and neither his eyes.
While he keeps sucking from the grass, Xena decides to walk around the area in an alert position elevating her ears, but every place where she looks there is no sign of the man.
“STAY! STAY!” the last words she heard from him come to her mind. Her stomach spins as she remembers that those were also the last words the neighbor told her, and also was part of the last words the little girl said before getting in that car.
The little girl, Xena hasn’t thought about her in a long time “Is she doing alright?” She wonders looking at the sky “Was I… abandoned again?” she moves down her ears and even if Hercules is just a couple meters away, she feels lonely for the first time in almost a year.
Moving her head down she approaches Hercules and starts eating from the ground by his side.
“He will be here soon” she keeps thinking, but the day passes by and there was no change.
To help Hercules to get dry she licked him drinking the excess water, it was all what she could do but it was helpful enough and with the sunlight at noon he was not cold anymore. The area with oatmeal also got sunlight but if didn’t fully dried, instead it transformed into a mushy area where they still ate.
When the night came Xena grabbed Hercules and went inside the tent, she couldn’t cover the puppy with the coat so they sleep over it and while curling they stayed warm.
The next day arrives with the singing of birds, the blue sky has some clouds moving around. After stretching and yawning loudly, Xena comes out of the tent hoping that the man would be there but is still desolated.
She takes Hercules to the mushy oatmeal area so he could feed.
“The food won’t last much longer” She thinks while seeing the little puppy eating “Maybe he wouldn’t mind if I...” her eyes move around the area and encounter the food basket at one side of the tent.
She remembers how he just moves one side of the basket and the food just appears, in a way it’s not too different from a trash bag. She gets closer to it and first uses her paws to scratch it but it doesn’t open, she keeps trying a couple of times without any success, then uses her muzzle to move the closer lid and there is a reaction were it moves just a bit upwards. She remembers that the man used to move any of the lids all the way before taking food, so she mimics the action by pushing the lid with her muzzle, as soon as it opens she feels the aroma of many delicious things, her nose is close to a banana so she grabs it and takes it outside leaving it on the grass.
“I know this is food” She thinks, banana has become one of her favorite meals since the first time she ate one that the man found in the garbage “How was it?” She uses her paws trying to imitate the way a human peels a banana but it doesn’t work for her, all she can get is her nail being buried in the fruit and creates a cut in the fruit’s skin making the aroma more intense “I did it!” She feels fulfillment while moving the muzzle closer and starts licking “I can taste it but is not so easy” then she decides to bite it with her fangs which goes inside easier than what she expected “YUM!” She starts eating the banana and the delicious sweet flavor fills her mouth mixed with the bitterness of the peel.
She sits in her sphinx position, grabs the banana bunch with her front paws and starts biting with her back row of teeth, swallowing the fruit and moving the pieces of peel out of her mouth by pushing them with the tongue. There are a total of seven bananas and she bit them all, pieces of the fruits and their peels are scattered around the grass. Xena notices Hercules crawling on the floor moving in her direction, she wags her tail, gets up, grabs what’s left of the bananas with her mouth and puts it in front of the puppy.
Hercules sniffs the weird object in front of him and uses his tiny tongue to lick it, even if the pieces are too big for him to eat there are squished parts that Xena left and that mix with her saliva, these pieces of fruit are what Hercules is somehow capable to eat.
Xena goes back to the basket to explore what other food reside in its interior, she moves the lid and grabs a bag. Leaving the plastic on the floor and stepping with the right foot over it, she starts destroying it with her teeth until she is able to taste what it contains.
“SO TASTY! I like this so much!” Thinks while eating the bread inside the plastic bag. She remembers all the times that they ate bread in the city.
Leaving the loaf of bread half eaten she goes back to the basket, now she is feeling a little of gluttony, grabbing a can of tuna she bites it for a while but this doesn’t open so she throws it away.
“What was that? Is not food” She gives a mean look to the can and returns to the basket.
Searching she founds an apple that bites and throws aside to keep exploring, her nose encounters a dozen of eggs in a small cardboard box, in previous days she have eaten eggs whenever the man cooked them for breakfast but she hadn’t seen one in their natural form. She smells them for a while and then decides to grab one with the incisors, she moves it really slowly taking it our of the basket but then it just cracks in her mouth and spills everywhere.
Xena gets scared and walks backwards for a moment “The rock was destroyed in my mouth” she thinks believing that the egg was just some kind of stone, then notices that some egg white was still in her mouth so she moves the tongue around and eats it “So good!” It takes five eggs being destroyed by her mouth before she was able to take then out of the basket.
Eating eggs is a hard task, first she has to prevent them from getting destroyed and them she has to destroy them but not entirely or they will be fall as a liquid over the grass. Xena gets tired of this process and after the 8th egg she just take them out, crushes them with her teeth and then licks the liquid that falls on the grass.
Some whimpers can be heard as Hercules has come closer, he doesn’t want to be alone. Xena grabs and leaves him near the basket while she keeps taking food out of it. Over Hercules’ head sometimes pieces of food fall like pieces of bread or egg yolk.
Xena didn’t liked the flavor of the raw rice, the lentils and the potatoes so those bags are open with their contents distributed over the grass. The last bag in the basket is a silver one, she destroys it as she has been doing it with the other ones and then a white dust comes out of it. She gets closer to smell and her nose gets dirty, it has a sweet aroma, she moves her tongue over it and the powdered milk sticks with the help of her saliva.
“What is this!? So delicious!!”
She keeps eating it for a while when the rustle from a bush distracts her. Xena moves her head and leaves her ears in an alert position, her tails starts wagging as she remembers the first time she met the man when he came out of a bush. But this time the figure that came out is not a big one as that time, on the contrary, its a small figure, the small brown figure of a rabbit that enters the clearing.
“A small dog” She thinks, this is the name Xena uses when referring to any small terrestrial creature like rabbits, squirrels, rats and Hercules.
She follows the rabbit with her eyes until it starts eating the pieces of banana on the grass, she felt this like an unauthorized access to her territory so slowly starts getting closer as her teeth begin to be shown, she is getting ready to bark and then…
She ate so much that accidentally burped instead of barking, it wasn’t as loud as the one that a human drinking soda produces but it was enough to scare the rabbit away.
The sun of noon will be shining soon, Xena wants to lay down for a while so she grabs Hercules and enters the tent. After moving in circles for a couple of seconds she lays over the furry coat with the little puppy and they close their eyes.
“Xena, you are a good girl” The voice of the man echoes, his figure is not totally visible, is more like a blurry shadow in a white room.
Xena opens her eyes abruptly, her nose is over the coat feeling the scent of the man. Hercules is sleeping, outside the tent there are birds pecking the grass and eating the rice and lentils that are in every direction.
“I can’t wait anymore” is her thought, she only rested a couple of minutes “I’m worried about him”
Xena sniffs the furry coat perceiving the man’s odor afterward tilts her nose like pointing to the sky and then moves it to the ground, there is a faint trail with the same scent that goes in one direction. Even if the rain water washed most of that unique aroma, there is still a way to follow it. She takes a look at Hercules, then grabs again what’s left of the banana bunch and leaves it by its side.
“That should be enough food for him” She thinks “I’ll be back soon”.
She starts moving following the scent trail, the birds get scared when she passes by and leave flying.
The track goes over grass, rocks and dirt, some areas have a weak fragrance or is mixed with the one of the flowers or plants but after heavy concentration she can still follow. Some dogs have better skills when following a specific scent but in Xena’s case she isn’t as good as the breeds designed for this kind of labor, even so her abilities are very good doing it.
After a while she arrives to the riverbank, water is flowing with great speed.
“The track disappears here” She notices, looking the movement of the water she decides to walk in the same direction while moving her nose.
Minutes later she perceives the man’s scent on an empty plastic bottle stuck in some rocks, she recognizes the container as the one the man always carries.
“He was here” she thinks and keeps moving.
Even if the track is lost for a couple of times, there is always something with his scent that gives her hope to keep going, like another empty bottle, two other bottles but with water inside of them and pieces of wood and each one of those things is getting closer to the river.
“I have lost it again” She thinks while tilting the nose pointing at the sky, she closes her eyes trying to concentrate in the man’s scent. The shadow of birds move over her body, the breeze moves the leaves in the trees but she can’t perceive what she is looking for “What do I do?” Xena opens her eyes and looks around, the sound of the rapids catches her attention “Maybe he is still in this way”.
She keeps moving ahead until finding the edge of a cliff, on her right the water from the river drops and creates a waterfall, on her left there is a path that goes across the forest and at the distance some houses can be seen, many people are walking near them.
“Maybe he is there”
Xena starts taking the path but suddenly stops, she remembers Hercules and decides to go back and bring him with her now that she knows where to go.
Going back is not so difficult, she just follows the same scent trail. The whole trip after leaving the campsite and back to it takes her around two hours.
She is wagging her tail while walking, the thought of seeing the man again excites her. Finally she arrives to her destination and gets surprised when the first thing she sees is a group of big black birds in a circle pecking the ground.
“I have seen those big flying dogs before” She tries to remember and the memories of when she was tied to a tree come back to her.
When she enters the clearing, the sound produced by the bushes her body touched alert the vultures and one moves its head facing her. The beak is covered in blood and it finishes swallowing something, the animal turns around by jumping and it can be seen that the toes of one of its feet is missing, it was the same vulture that attacked her in the eye.
The scent of death is in the air so Xena gets in an attacking position then charges and jumps while barking.
FLAP! FLAP! FLAP!
The birds extend their wings and leave the place flying, feathers fall to the ground, for an instant Xena can see the figure of a small creature being grabbed by the claws of one of the vultures as they flee.
She takes a looks to the place, the rice and the lentils that were on the grass aren’t there anymore, the place is very quiet and the spot where the vultures were when she arrived has a red stain in the grass. She gets closer and sniffs it, it’s blood and has Hercules’ aroma. She runs to the tent searching for him but the place is empty, she walks backwards wagging her tail but this time is not for excitement, she is feeling anxious and starts barking in a way that progressively becomes a howl and keeps doing it looking at the sky, lamenting the death of Hercules.
She walks around the clearing with her nose over the grass trying to convince herself that Hercules is still around there somewhere but all the tracks with his scent lead always to the blood stained spot, Xena howls again. Tired of walking all morning and feeling her heart full with grief she decides to get inside the tent and lay over the furry coat.
There is someone humming then rustle sounds and steps can be heard running around the grass, Xena moves and peeks out of the tent. There is a puppy white as snow running around the grass using all its four legs, Xena gets out to get a better look and then a hand pats her head. She moves her eyes and there he is, the man she was looking for, he is smiling and crouches to tickle behind her ears. She moves her head and wants to press it against his chest but when she does it there is no sensation of him being there, so she looks him directly at his eyes to make sure he’s right there.
“I’m Sorry Xena” The man says and his voices breaks with sadness “I’m sorry to leave you alone, you are a good girl, you don’t deserve this. I wanted to always be with you but now I must leave” He puts his forehead against hers, she doesn’t understand his words but sorrow grows inside her heart “Hercules, let’s go” he says, the little puppy comes running and jumps to his arms “You don’t need to worry, I’ll take care of him” he gets up and their silhouettes starts fading away “I love you Xena, Goodbye” and with those words and some barks of the little pup, they both disappear.
She opens her eyes and is inside the tent, it is around 3 PM, she sits and thinks about what she saw believing at the end that it was a dream, but somehow in one weird kind of way… it felt real.