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Point -Oh Two, Difference!

Point -Oh Two, Difference!

Timeline:

Fate, it would seem, has its own plans.. And an odd, dry sense of humor. One might even call it ‘backhanded’..

Cora Sleet, Brom Bumblebrim, Seressa Wraiven, and Arcantonic Palecog are sent through time and place to the one place the little gnomic girl, Tonic, would dread most;

 

Arcanton Mordenon’s Tower.

 

And to a time where the sinister tower still stands.. along with her evil master, Tonic’s despicable uncle.

 

It isn’t clear at what year the events in this particular story takes place, but it is likely before another group has finally arrived here to put an end to the evil engineering gnome. As in, before the Paladin Delia Karakash Hooman has killed Karkas the Dreaded Red Dragon and has become the Lord of Durkahan, Nimbletyne Tinkerdome has parted ways with the group and Nadine Graciousward has banished Arcanton in their final confrontation, also parting from the group and later becoming the Rise of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen.

From a strictly ‘relative’ sequence of events, if not in a linear chronological order, this story takes place shortly after Loot Dispute.

From a historical perspective, however, it is likely the events here take place some 42 to 45 years ago, just before Arcanton Mordenon finally manages to engineer his first (and final) functional Demon gate, around the years 7563 and 7566 PAD.
(Post Apocalyptic Days)

 

 

We need a spot to rest. Seressa is wounded, Cora is wounded, you are wounded, heck, I am wounded.”, whispered Brom Bumblebrim. “I didn’t even know I could hurt in so many places.”

“Well come to my uncle’s crèche!”, growled Tonic as she cradled her pair’s head in her lap. Then she looked down at her and felt something shred her heart. Seressa was a happy girl with a happy soul. At least that’s what she always projected. She’d always been smart when it came to conversing with others and in fights too. Tonic knew she was much more intelligent than Seressa, her pair, but when it came to making friends, and then keeping said friends, she, herself, was the klutz one! And in fights, her own mobility and her skills were a lot more limited. All she would do was ‘bangs’.. The louder, the better. Or she’d just disintegrate her enemies down to indiscernible goo.. Seressa on the other hand did everything exquisitely. A bit like how the bard-boy, Brom, played his lyre. Seressa danced around her enemies, she positioned herself, and her enemies to the needs of her companions, and she kept them busy while Cora and Brom slowly reduced their number. She excelled at being both a friend and a team player. Tonic only excelled at cussing, irritating her friends, knocking her hand-made kaboom grenades around and basically behave like an irritable, stupid grunt!

And now Seressa was down.

This bloody tower had turned out to be much, much more dangerous than they had anticipated. Too many fiends, demons, monsters, and other weird things had come at them, and they kept on coming. Cora had fought as hard as she could, cutting one horror after another while Brom had laid down any number of them with his innumerable bardic magic. It had been Seressa, however, who had kept it all together and filled in all the blanks and gave respite to any who’d need it.

And Tonic had hurled her grenades and acid vials..

Yep. That’s about it.

Now, Cora was hurt. Brom was hurt. Tonic felt bruised all over. And Seressa was knocked out.. beat into the ground, really, and was lying on the ground with her head on Tonic’s lap and the little gnomic girl just watched her and saw tears slide down her smooth, charcoal-black face.

Her pair was unconscious and she still wept in pain!

“Damit!”, blurted Tonic. “Please live!”

“You are not helping her, Tonic. Make her drink one of your healing draughts.”, Brom said harshly.

“Don’t you think that never occurred to me?”, she replied with equal fervor. “She already took one of them.”

“So? Give her another one.”

“I can’t. Those draughts are good only once every day or so. Consuming more will have either little to no effect or outright poison her.”, snarled Tonic.

Cora Sleet gingerly smoothed near them as she limped and pulled out a long, slim tube from her pack.

“Here. This should help.”, she said with her soft, throaty voice. “Been saving this for emergencies. Seems pointless to save it anymore.”

Tonic looked up at the barbaric tundra elf and at her bloody arm, leg, and, judging by the way she held her other arm close to her chest, she probably had some cracked ribs as well.

“No. You use it. She needs rest.”, mumbled the gnomic girl.

 

Cora scared Tonic.

Cora scared Tonic without trying.

And Cora was scowling now.

Cora had an impressive scowl.

 

“Girl, you are going to argue with me, now?”, she breathed under her nose.

“Just what do you think will happen if we get jumped again? Who will hold them back and buy us time to do anything?”, replied Tonic. “And you can barely stand on your feet, let alone swing that double-bladed-whatsit!”

“She’s right, Cora.”, inserted Brom. “I can do all sorts of things, but fighting hand-to-hand just isn’t one of them. I mean, I can, and I will, if I have to, but if it’s come down to me and my sword skills, I think I would make an excellent ‘epilogue’ for our little endeavor, whatever it may be.. Tell me again, why we are even here? I am not renowned for my historical studies but didn’t it take a famous paladin called Delia Karakash, the most stupendous sorceress, Nadine Graciousward, and their company to take down Arcanton Mordenon?”

“We are not here to take down my uncle, Brom. Not that we can. Hells Bells, boy, we can barely take down the grunts on the first level of this bloody tower.”, scoffed Tonic.

“I agree.”, said Cora softly as she carefully settled herself down. “We are not assassins. And looking back to all our previous ventures, we were expected to fight things, but never to outright assassinate a particular foe.”

“We did kill a particular foe, in our last ‘jump’.”, disagreed Brom and not without a certain amount of implied hate.

“That.. was not.. an.. assassination.. dear Brom.. It was.. fair combat..”, whispered a dead tired voice.

“Seressa, baby.. You are awake!”, squeaked Tonic, her eyes blurry.

“I feel.. dizzy.. luv..”, came back Seressa’s voice.

“Hush, baby. Rest.”, Tonic almost blubbered. “I will take care of you.”

“Who.. will take care.. of you?”, she whispered back.

“I’ll take care of us both. Don’t worry. Sleep now. Please sleep Seressa..”, pleaded the little gnomic girl.

“She’s right. Our last ‘jump’, as you call it, was indeed a fair fight. And in the end, from what I gathered, it was basically a ‘punishment’.. Isn’t that so, Brom?”, asked Cora, carefully wrapping her leg with a long strip of white cloth.

 

Brom didn’t reply. He just looked.. elsewhere..

..with a stony face.

 

“Seems like you have left a few things untold. Quite a few things, actually.”, Cora said tightly between clenched teeth as she knotted the cloth.

“There are a lot of things I haven’t told, Cora. Let it be.”, replied the hobbit in a silent, even voice.

“This is all my fault.”, said Tonic suddenly.

“I would let it go, accept I bled for it. So did everyone else, here. And some who aren’t here.. How is it all your fault, girl?”, Cora said calmly once she was done with the knot.

“Some things are done and gone, Cora. And there is nothing that I can say will make it otherwise.”, said Brom with the same voice.

“You gave your best. So did Brom. And Seressa did too. All I did was hurl ‘pots and pans’ and make a lot of noise.” mumbled Tonic.

“Exactly how I thought before. But it appears, nothing is done and gone anymore, Brom. Those pots and pans kept us alive while keeping the demons dead. How does that seem like a small task to you, Tonic?”, asked the barbarian girl as she took out another strip of white cloth and started wrapping the wound on her arm.

“We don’t really ‘fix’ anything in our jumps, Cora. We only make minor changes.”, frowned Brom.

“Had I made bigger bombs, I could have made a difference.”, said Tonic in anguish, still cradling Seressa’s head in her tiny lap.

“We cleared the goblin trenches, hence making it possible for Durkahan paladins and the Koruxan knights to reach the battlefield in time when we were sent back to Themalsar. Then we made sure the Wyrm Horde’s Krush’s son stole the ‘right’ weapon from Dreadmaw, making it possible for us to obtain an Archangel’s lost spear, and subsequently giving us the chance to return it to its rightful owner. Then we fought and won against a villainous dwarf, bringing him to justice, making it possible for a mother to keep her promise to no other than Titania herself and bringing peace among the dwarves.. How are these ‘minor’ changes? If you’d made bigger bombs, girl, you’d have brought the roof of this tower on us, and that’s a lot of roof above us. Like three or four more levels of roofs!”, Cora replied coolly as she knotted off her arm as well. “Now then. Brom, you are on guard duty for a bit. Turn around and go and guard something. Tonic, pillow your pack under Seressa’s head and cover her with a blanket so you can at least preserve some semblance of her modesty and honor. Sitting there and moaning isn’t doing her any good. Then come here and help me.”

 

Brom stared at Cora.

So did Tonic.

Cora had never been this talkative nor had she ever dished out orders the way she’d just done and quite briskly too.

 

“What?”, said Brom, sort of flabbergasted.

“Why?”, asked Tonic, with a similar tone of voice.

Cora sighed.

“I need Tonic to wrap my chest for the cracked ribs. For her to do that, I need to take my furs, my leathers, and my shirt off. And I need you to turn around and go, Brom!”

“Ow..”, said a bit abashed. “I could wrap your—”

“I know you can, Brom. But I just don’t want you to. I want Tonic to do it. Hence; TURN AROUND AND GO! LIKE, NOW!“, Cora very nearly snarled.

 

Brom turned around and left, to the other end of the rubble-filled room.. pouting.

 

“Why have you not covered your pair yet, Tonic? Does her dignity mean so little to you?”, Cora asked evenly, as she undid the clasps holding her thick furs and heavy leathers and with a grimace, pulled off her shirt.

Tonic half blushed, half scowled as she took out her own pack and placed it carefully under her pair’s head. Then she opened Seressa’s own pack and pulled out her neatly folded and rolled blanket, flipped it a few times, and covered her, and snuggly wrapped her in it.

“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now take this roll of bandage and wrap it around my chest, staring from just above my belly, up to my breast line —tightly if you will, please.”, ordered Cora with a mild tone.

“Won’t.. won’t that make it hard for you to breath?”, stammered the gnomic girl as she took the roll of bandage from the tundra elf.

Cora smiled at her.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Tonic. I doubt you have enough strength to wrap me that tight. Not unless you want to pull out your mecha-thingy.”

“It is not a mecha-thingy!”, replied the gnomic girl indignantly. “It’s MECHABER!

“Ahh.. I am sorry. I wasn’t aware you named your toys.”, Cora smiled even more.

“Mechaber is not a toy! He is a—”, sputtered Tonic.

“Ow. It’s a ‘He’, then? My bad.”

“He is a mechanical bear, and a very delicate work of steam-chunk technology and pure gnomic ingenuity, at that!”, scowled Tonic.

“I have no idea what you just said, but he looks nothing remotely like a bear!”, said Cora.

“How would you know?”, scoffed Tonic.

“This..”, replied the barbarian girl, pointing at her thick fur cloak. “..is a tundra bear’s fur, dear Tonic. It was a near ten-foot-long and five-foot-high beast.. I hunted it, killed it, skinned it, and ate some of it too. Then took the rest back to my village.”

Brom’s snicker was heard from the other side of the room.

Tonic scowled some more, but shut up! She sort of.. tethered near the half-naked barbarian girl with trepidation.

“Boo!”, said Cora suddenly, causing the little gnomic girl to jump, and Brom to snicker some more.

“That.. that wasn’t funny Cora.”, mumbled Tonic with a flushed face.

“What’s really not funny is that you think I am either a total savage or unsettled enough to jump you at any time, Arcantonic Palecog. One would think we’d been together long enough for you to know better. Your inability to figure out the ‘base friendship’ concept is exasperating.”, coolly replied Cora.

“I.. I am sorry..”, mumbled Tonic in an even brighter red face.

“I don’t need you apologizing, girl. I need you to trust me. As I have trusted you, even though you keep tossing your acid vials and ‘bang-thingies’ right over my head.. and even hitting me on occasion.”, replied Cora, calmly.

“I do trust you. I swear!”, spluttered the little gnomic girl.. very fast!

Cora sighed.

“Do the ribs, Tonic. I am sure our esteemed bard is egging for a peek. Let’s not give him the satisfaction, shall we?”

Tonic started wrapping the very nearly white belly of the barbaric Cora with an abashed expression on her face.

“You can make comments if you like. Seressa would. Since she’s out, you could cover for her.”, smiled Cora with a tight and clenched grin, as the bandages drew tighter.

“You are awfully white!”, spluttered the little gnome. “I mean, I am pale, but I am a deep gnome by heritage. You are just.. very nearly white!”

“Stands to reason. I am a tundra elf by heritage.. Some like to call us ‘Snow Elves’, but I find that a bit too girly.”, Cora hissed conversationally as the gnomic tightened the bandages even more.

“You have.. muscles everywhere, too. I didn’t even know girls could have abs like yours.”, blushed Tonic. “I mean, I have a small tummy which tends to become a ‘pot belly’ whenever I over eat. And Seressa has a flat belly. Yours are just.. awesome! I could crack nuts between your abs!”

“I suppose you could. Just not now, Tonic. My abs, along with the rest of me, hurt.”, smiled Cora grimly.

“Can I ask you.. a personal question?”, Tonic asked carefully as she wrapped higher and the back of the tundra elf.

“Well, bummer. I just said we were friends so I can’t even say ‘No’, to your ‘personal’ questions, now can I?”, admitted Cora with another smile. A smile Tonic couldn’t see from her current position.

“No. No.. It’s alright if you don’t want to. I have been known to ask impertinent questions. Seressa can ask them too, but she can word them correctly and make them sound cool. I can’t.”

“Well, ‘impertinent’ me to your heart’s content, girl.”, said Cora.

“Your scars.. The ones on your back.. Do they hurt?”

“Yes, and no. They hurt whenever I remember them. They sizzled all the time until after I met Brom. Hurts a lot less since after I met the two of you and we teamed up. Funny how that went.”, Cora answered with a.. brittle sort of smile.

“A decent surgeon can probably do something about them.”, offered the gnomic girl quietly.

“No. I want them to stay. They remind me of my Ironfrost. Of happier times. Of my mother, my father and my friends.. and a debt I need to settle with Dreadmaw!”, replied Cora with a steely voice.

“You.. you are going to go up against Dreadmaw?!”, spluttered Tonic. “Mortals don’t go up against beings like Dreadmaw. Please don’t go up against Dreadmaw!”

Cora didn’t reply.

“And you don’t really need these scars to remember your happier times. That’s what memories are for.”, Tonic mumbled. “Leave your pictures on, though. They look awesome too!”

“Picture? What pictures?”

“The pictures you got all over you.”

 

Cora spluttered!

With indignation.

 

“They are not pictures, girl, they are my beautiful ‘Storm Tattoos!'”

“Ow. Okay. If these are not pictures but ‘storm tattoos’, then my Mechaber is a bear!”, smirked the gnomic girl!

“Your head is broken, girl.”, growled Cora.. and continued without turning a hair. “Should we get the opportunity, what would you feel if we were to kill your uncle? He is your blood relative, after all.”

It took a moment for Tonic to catch up to the sudden change of topic.

“I would feel satisfaction. No.. I would feel BLOODY SATISFACTION!”, replied the gnomic girl with seething hate.

 

Cora didn’t say anything else for some time and Tonic continued to tightly wrap the bandage around her chest and back.

 

“Try to finish the knot anywhere other than my back, or under my arm, if you can, please. Lying down with a lump on my back or side is bothersome.”, said Cora quietly.

Tonic finished her work, knotting the wraps somewhere around the front side of Cora’s waste.

“Thank you.”, offered Cora with the same voice.

Arcantonic Palecog didn’t say anything for a while as she checked her handy work. Then, wordlessly, she hugged the barbaric tundra elf.

“Should the occasion arise and we face my uncle, please run.”, she whispered as she hid her face in the elves’ snow-white braids.

Cora hugged the little gnomic girl, back.

“We shall see.”

Tonic drew back and stared at the glacial blues of the elf and only saw determination there.

She sighed.

“Are you feeling up to carrying Seressa for a short climb?”, she asked.

“I suppose so. Seressa is a big girl and I don’t want to manhandle her without her consent. Seems like a rude thing to do.”

“I am her pair. I can consent for her.”, Tonic said, then pulled a long, coiled rope out of her small artificer’s satchel and tossed it vertically into the air. The rope uncoiled as it ‘climbed’ up and held there, ending in an open, horizontal ‘window’, looking down at them.

“What’s this?”, asked Cora as she stared up at the odd phenomenon.

“It’s a small hidey-hole. We climb it, pull the rope behind us, close the window and no one’s the wiser.”

“That.. is just downright creepy!”, said Cora, still ogling at the window.

“Help me with Seressa, please. I can’t move her, let alone carry her up there. Let’s hurry some, shall we? It won’t last long. Merely an hour or so. Just enough for a short breather.”

Cora frowned but went over to the very tall, very dark Seressa and carefully picked her up and slowly put her over her own shoulder, checked the rope then started climbing up. Soon enough, they were both through the window and gone out of sight.

“Brom!”, Tonic hissed.

Brom came over, looked up, nodded at her, then started up the rope as well.

Tonic grabbed her pack, Seressa’s blanket, and her pack as well, gave a cursory glance around making sure they hadn’t left anything behind, then she too squirreled up the rope and disappeared in the window.

Her two, tiny hands came out, grabbed one side of the open window each, and pulled them shut, leaving nothing but the dark room’s ceiling to be seen behind them.

Yes.

An hour wasn’t much.

But it would be enough for her to snuggle up to her pair for a short nap, and keeping them both warm and cuddly.

If that’s what it took to bring her Seressa Wraiven up and cheery again, Tonic thought it would be well worth it.

✱ ✱ ✱

There are stairs leading up.”, whispered Brom, as he carefully peeked around the corner and watched for any signs of life.. or unlife, as some of the things that they had faced had been.

Brom didn’t mind the fiends, the demons, and all the other monsters.. per se. But undead gave him the creeps for some reason.

Brom didn’t like the undead.

Undead scared him.

Well.. undead were scary things, sure, but no more than fiends and possibly less than demons. One could easily argue that by comparison, the undead were not all that high, where ‘risk factor’ was involved.

But nothing, not the reality, nor the logical explanations managed to ebb away Brom’s ‘irk’ for the undead.

Brom scowled.

“Get it together, damit!”, he growled at himself.

“Talking to yourself, already?”, came the merry voice of Arcantonic Palecog from just behind him.

Brom scowled some more.

“It’s alright, boy. This place can do that.”

“What’s with the ‘boy’s again, girl?”, said Brom, feeling irritated. “Does your perception reset at every ‘jump’?”

“No. But ‘boy’ is shorter than ‘Brom’.”, said Tonic with a smirk.

“Yes. And ‘Tonic’ is shorter than ‘Arcantonic’ and ‘Nic’ is even shorter than ‘Tonic’. But you don’t see me calling you ‘Nic’, now do you? Which does sound quite like a ‘Tick’..”, he deadpanned with a snort.

Arcantonic gave the hobbit a baleful stare.

“If you ever call me ‘Nic’, I will hurt you, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she snarled.

“There. My whole name!”, smiled Brom. “Now go tell Cora and your pair, we got stairs up ahead.”

“So, it’s ‘your pair’, now, is it? No more Wraiven’s or even Seressa’s?”, said Tonic, giving the hobbit a look full of disdain.

“What is it to you, what I call her?”, shrugged Brom.

“She’s my pair. Of course ‘everything’ is to me.”,  she replied almost scornfully.

“Which is what I said; your pair! I am not even sure what you are objecting to?”, smirked the hobbit.. a tad on the brittle side.

Tonic scowled at him.

She felt she’d just been had. But she wasn’t quite sure how.

“You are avoiding and dodging, Master Brom. You know this, I know this.”, she fumed, turned around, and left.

“Inserting the last word: Check!”, grumbled the hobbit after the pesky little gnomic girl—

 

—which is when something happened. Something that hadn’t happened to Brom for some time now; he got bit!

 

Brom yelped!

Probably because it hurt, but more likely because he had been caught totally off guard, and likely because.. well.. it had been a while.

 

“Damit!”, ouched the hobbit as he rubbed his butt cheek and calf, at a point just where he couldn’t see.

“What, damit? WHAT? We are already here, doing your bloody job for you. What else do you want from me?”, he very nearly blared in fury.

 

And got bit, again!

 

For some reason, Brom got the feeling the whatsit that kept biting him had just bitten him the second time out of sheer spite!

“What? I can’t even complain? Why don’t you come out and play for once! Bet I can beat the cra—”

 

And he got bit.. harder this time!

 

“Ahhaa! Thought you were a gutless, spineless, heartless chicken!”, he sneered.

 

Another bite!

 

“I can do this all day–”

 

Bite.

 

“Pwahahaaa.. Just you remember what happened the last time—”

 

Bite.

 

“That’s the best you got? I didn’t feel a thing. You must be a dentist—”

 

Bite.

 

“Yowza! That, I felt, and still I laugh at you with colossal scorn—”

 

Bite.

 

“I am not the sniveling hobbit you dragged out of the comforts of his home anymore—”

 

Bite.

 

“Eeep! Stop it—”

 

Bite.

 

“Ow! You think you can do this all day too, do you?! That leg is going to start to bleed any time now. It’ll be interesting telling the rest about you—”

 

Bite.

 

“Now there’s a topic to chat over dinner; Hey everyone, I have a bug that likes biting arse! That’ll be an absorbing conversation, that’ll. I am sure of it—”

 

Bite.

 

“What are you doing, Brom?”, came Cora’s voice from behind.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“Umm.. Nothing.”, said the hobbit.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“What’s up with that face?”, asked Tonic, peering at him. “You look like you just swallowed a whole bug and it’s still alive in your belly.”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

And then Seressa appeared behind the two. She said nothing. She just stared down at Brom with her unfathomable, incomprehensible, and inscrutable gaze like some dark, majestic queen of the Astral Voids.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom looked up at her eyes and saw many things in there. Some that he could understand and even relate, but many others he just couldn’t even put names to.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“You seem possessed, Master Brom.”, she said with her memorable voice.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom ogled at her some.

Then cleared his throat and mumbled.

“No, i am not. It’s one hundred percent just me.”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

Silence..

 

“Sooo..”, Cora said, dragging the word over the sudden, awkward silence. “Do we go up?”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“Do we?”, asked Seressa Wraiven, still staring down at the hobbit, her face, and the rest of her very nearly lost in the darkness. Only her frilly pink skirt dress and the pinks of her fringes were discernable.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

‘Stop it, damit!’, snarled Brom from inside.

“Umm.. why are you asking me? I am not the guide of this tour. Uhhm.. Isn’t that your job?”, he asked with a guilty sort of voice.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“No, Master Brom.”, the darkness of Seressa said. “I am not the guide of this tour.. I am merely the Voice. Cora is the Anchor.. and the Shield..”

“I am?”, murmured Cora.

“..and Arcantonic is the Enabler.”, she continued.

“Yay.. Whot?”, squeaked Tonic.

“I don’t even use shields.”, mused the barbarian girl.

“You, Master Brom.. You are the Guide.. That. Is. Your. Job!”, Seressa said in her clear, yet unbending voice, still staring down at the hobbit with her deep, ‘astral’ eyes. “So again, Master Brom; Do we?”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom sighed..

..and gave up.

He felt no issues nor any reluctance objecting to the bloody whatsit all day and getting bit innumerable times for his efforts. But he just didn’t feel any compulsion to argue with Tonic’s pair.

“Damit..”, he spat inwardly.

“Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit!”

 

“Do we, dear Brom?”, repeated Seressa once more, and with a barely audible voice.

“No.”, he said quietly.

“What?”, Cora asked with some surprise and looked at the hobbit.

“What?”, exclaimed Tonic, even more surprised. “Why?”

“Because there’s somewhere else we have to go before we go up.”, he replied in a deflated tone.

“Where?”, asked Cora.

“Why?”, asked Tonic again, sudden fear clearly etched in her face.

“We must go ‘down’, before we go up.”, replied Brom even quieter, giving a carefully disguised glance at the little gnomic girl.

“Down it is, then.”, said Seressa in her unbending voice. It was, however, tinted with a barely discernable pinch of sadness thrown into it, as she gave a similar glance at her pair.

Tonic did not see the covert looks the two had given her, but for some reason, she seemed freaked.

“There is no ‘down’. This is the entrance floor..”, she objected, almost pleading.

“What’s going on?”, asked Cora. “What’s down below us and why is Tonic here telling us there is no down?”

Tonic crossed her arms under her breasts, turned her paled face away from them, and shut up.

Seressa stared at her, but not unkindly and as if she desperately wanted to reach out to her little pair and hug her.

She did not, however. She just stood there and silently waited.

So did Brom.

“Tonic?”, inquired Cora softly. She wasn’t sure just what the hell was going on here, but it seemed detrimental for the little gnomic girl and even though she could be a monumental pain in the arse at times, Cora had no intention for her to get hurt. “What is down there?”

 

Tonic did not reply for a long moment.

But as time passed, her diminutive face drooped, her shoulders slumped and her back hunched, even as she held her eyes closed, and her tiny fists clenched at her hips.

Finally, a tiny voice of defeat, acceptance, or perhaps, of penance escaped her.

 

“Me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Me? Me, what? I don’t understand.”, said Cora, staring at the deflated, dejected, and ‘at her final throes’, girl.

Tonic did not reply.

Neither did her pair, nor Brom.

Apparently, either the barbarian elf had to figure it out, or the little gnomic girl had to speak the words.

Or just neither did Seressa, nor Brom had the heart to say it.

 

“What do you know about my uncle, Cora? What do you know about Arcanton Mordenon?”, Tonic said finally.

“You didn’t really say all that much, Tonic. But if I were be polite about it, I would go for ‘a great gnome with greater issues’, but I just don’t feel like being polite about him, so I will sum it all up as ‘an inscrutable, degenerate, power-hungry, megalomaniacal ass’..”, she replied seriously.

Brom snorted.

Seressa kept to her silence, but her eyes blazed at the accuracy of the words.

Tonic stared at Cora, and she had this, funny expression on her face as if it had gotten stuck somewhere between a destitute laugh and wanting to cry.

“Alright.”, she said. “Perhaps I should rephrase that. Why am I the way I am, Cora? Why am I broken?”

“You are not broken, girl. Merely ‘irritably challenged’, maybe.. We all have some issues.. I could name some of mine but I don’t think we have that kind of time.”, Cora said.

Tonic sighed.

“Really, Cora? You see absolutely nothing wrong with me?”, she asked.

“I see a lot of things wrong with you. I have some of them myself. So does Brom. So did a lot of my friends, back at Ironfrost. Seressa also has some issues. But she seems to be at peace with most of them, so she’s cool.”, shrugged Cora.

Tonic just stared at the barbarian girl, her mouth open.

Brom had to admire his barbarian friend. If she was being deliberately dense, she was very convincing. If she was actually this.. well.. ‘gullibly innocent’, it was perhaps understandable. Cora did have the tendency to blame herself for things even when they had nothing to do with her. She never went as far as openly voicing said blames, but Brom thought he could see them in her eyes.

“No, Cora. You have issues. But you are not broken!”, Tonic hissed harshly.

“You do not know how I was before Dreadmaw, Tonic. At which point did you decide you got a handle on me?”, Cora asked in her calm, cool, and decidedly frosty voice.

“I am sorry, Cora. But you were not taken from your parents by an inscrutable, degenerate, power-hungry, megalomaniacal ass of an uncle to be thrown into a little cage surrounded by demons at the age of three and kept there for years.. That’s what is ‘down there’.. MY CAGE! I AM DOWN THERE, RIGHT NOW, CORA. I AM DOWN THERE, SCARED WITLESS, CRYING, ALONE, IN THE DARK. AND SURROUNDED BY DEMONS WHO ARE GNAWING AT MY CAGE, TRYING TO GET TO ME EVEN AS WE SPEAK. NO CORA. YOU HAVE ISSUES. BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS ‘BROKEN!’. YOU ARE HURT, AND LIKELY THAT HURT IS THERE TO STAY, BUT YOU ARE NOT BROKEN, I AM. MY UNCLE TOOK ME, PUT ME DOWN THERE, AND BROKE ME, CORA. AND THOROUGHLY!“, the little gnomic girl gnarled savagely.

 

A disturbing silence settled as the barbarian elf and the little, gnomic girl faced one another, while Brom and Seressa held their breath.

 

“Dear Tonic..”, said Cora in her soft, throaty voice. “I can only imagine how much that must have hurt coming out. I am sorry I pushed you into it. But I am grateful you said what you had to and got it out. There is no ‘fix’ until we admit to ourselves that we are broken.. and come to the conclusion that we need fixing and decide to do something about it.. You guys helped fix me. You have no idea how much I hurt when Dreadmaw first happened. And neither could you contemplate the kind of hell I went through, living it again, and in greater detail. Does it surprise you to see me smile and laugh and talk more, and even make a funny every now and then, since then? I do not believe our ‘jumps’ are for just minor changes. They are there to give us respite.. or relief, as well. I believe, ‘that’ is the true reward of our troubles. And I believe, this will be yours.. We are not here to fix you, dear Tonic. Friends don’t fix friends. That’s just base arrogance if you ask me. What they do is, keep you company, hold your hand, pick you up or even smother your with hugs if need be, certainly.. but it must be you who must fix you. What is given is never as valuable as what is earned.”

 

Tonic ogled at the barbarian girl as if she’d just slapped her awake.

Seressa also had a similar expression on her face, but more relieved and viscously happier.

Brom..

Brom looked at her as if seeing the barbarian girl reborn. Stronger, not in arm, or back, or leg, but decidedly at heart.

‘Well, now..’, he mused as he smiled at her.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom stood where he was.

And quite unmoving.

As a certain sense of dread washed over him.

Cora had been fixed, perhaps, in her own way, as she seemed to have found some form of peace.

And maybe Tonic was about to as well.

He, on the other hand, had faced his mortal enemy and prevailed, to be sure, but he hadn’t found his peace.. yet.

Brom really didn’t feel like going through anything even remotely like what Cora had, and what Tonic was perhaps about to now.. He remembered, inadvertently, of Aremela Berrybush.. The only girl he’d felt love as immensely tangible as he thought he would ever feel. He gulped down a few harsh breaths to send back the lump that had just gotten stuck in his throat.

Then he felt a pair of eyes on him.

‘Astral’ eyes.

And saw the very tall, very dark girl watching him from the darkness that hid her.

He did wonder what she, Tonic’s pair— No, not Tonic’s pair, damit, Seressa.. Seressa Wraiven was going to suffer to make peace with.. whatever her demons were. For some reason, though, he really didn’t want her to suffer.. At all..

Silently, he snarled down at the pestering whatsit that kept biting him at the most inconvenient and certainly inconsiderate moments.

“If you hurt her. I will hunt you down to the end of days, you little bugger!”

 

Brom Bumblebrim does not know at this point, and neither could he have known that Seressa Wraiven would face her demons much, much later.. Some 180 years or so later. And perhaps because he could not let go of his guilt over Aremela Berrybush, he wouldn’t be there for Seressa..

 

The sentient mind is complex and is comprised of many small, seemingly unimportant, and usually inconsistent things. But it is, in truth, much like words are made of letters, and letters are, one way or another, the culmination of linear drops of ink. Such drops string together to form the said letters, in return giving us words, which conform sentences, paragraphs, pages, and finally, books, conveying our thoughts, our ideas, and our hopes, consequently shaping, establishing, and even, at times, ‘marshaling’ literature, poetry, law, science, and religion. Whatever the final outcome is, though, everything starts with words. And words start with small, seemingly inconsequential drops of ink. But it is the ‘will’ that picks up the quill, dips into the inkpot, and draws the ink. And it is ‘choice’ that births, gives rise and consequently, breeds the ‘will’, per se. In a way, ‘choice’ is the origin or even the genesis of ‘will’. One could easily come to the devastating conclusory finalé of awareness that it is ‘choice’ that is behind all. Ultimately, if there is any sentient action to be had, a choice to do so must take precedence.. and be made, hence it is ‘choice’ that inadvertently, and, perhaps, fundamentally, rises civilizations..

 

..or brings them down.

 

From a decidedly narrower point of view; choices save friends, or, willy-nilly, abandons them.

 

Suffice to say, the ‘nilly’ that postcedes the willy, is also a choice, after all, though it be a disregarded, or even a discarded one..

✱ ✱ ✱

There are more coming. Just how many are there?”, hissed Cora as she slashed open what she hoped was the thorny demon’s vitals, spun the ancient and massive, double-bladed elven polearm, and stabbed its other end into the creature’s face! The creature screamed as it stumbled back as another took its place.

“A lot.”, squeaked Tonic as she aimed another of her acid vials and tossed it over the barbarian elf and hit one of the huge, quadrupedal fiend with the long tail and covered with hard, pointy thorns. The thing roared in pain as a large, gaping hole appeared on its chest and spilled its lungs onto the ground.

“Well. That’s a gruesome sight.”, Brom said, then overstretched the one string on his lyre, causing a distinctly disturbing, dissonant chord. The demon with the gaping hole in its chest snapped its head up as if some invisible spike had struck it from right under its elongated maw. For a bare moment it stood there staring blankly at the ceiling, then one of its eyes slid up and disappeared into its skull while the other turned down and pointed somewhere on the ground. Its face drooped.. and all at once, it exploded; the monster lost its head!

“And you think mine was gruesome?”, gawked the little gnomic girl, trying very hard not to retch.

“A bit gruesome, yes. But you have got to admit; it was effective!”, replied the hobbit in a sort of apologetic way. “They are immune to fire and quite resistant to most of our cold attacks and impervious to charm, fear, and poisons.. Might as well go for the source, their minds, and just blow it up from the inside!”

A ghostly, skeletal hand moaned amongst the demons and struck one in the heart. The creature stumbled back. Two more ghostly hands moaned and grabbed the same creature by its throat and squeezed. The demon gagged and tried to free itself from the ghostly hands, but it just couldn’t hold them. The demon stumbled, choked, and died, its uncanny, goat-like eyes bulging.

“By all means, Master Brom. Do more!”, said Seressa Wraiven calmly in her sultry and cultured voice.

“Your choice of words are mind-breaking, girl!”, whispered Tonic with a slightly flushed face, from just behind the very tall and very dark girl.

Brom coughed. His face was more than just flushed.

“Whot?”, Seressa asked as she prepared for her next spell. “My wording was grammatically correct. So was its referential focus.”

“Girl, you just—”, began Tonic.

“If anyone explains it to her, he or she will have words with me, right after this fight, when I am still very much in rage!”, snarled Cora as she lopped the head of the next demon, clean off its shoulders.

 

Tonic shut up.

Brom wasn’t planning on explaining anything, so he didn’t have to.

He did flinch though.

When he got bit.. once again.

With a very surly expression, he turned around and looked behind..

..and saw the barred door on the far side of the large chamber they had just entered, and subsequently ambushed.

 

“Tonic.”, he said quietly.

“Whot?”, replied the little gnomic girl without looking at him as she tossed another vial over the raging tundra elf.

“Behind us, there is a barred door.”, he said, again in a low voice.

“Yeah, so?”, she said, panting while she pulled a tightly packed, leather-bound fire-clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel.

“Where does it lead?”, Brom asked.

“How the hell should I know, boy? I wasn’t given free rein last time I was here. I never wondered the halls of this bloody tower. Not that I would have. I was locked, in a cage, down in the dungeons for all my tenure, remember? Look, I am a bit busy right now, Master Brom. Can we have this conversation later? Or never?”, she hissed and tossed a heavy leather-bound, fire-clay hardened and packed ball over Cora, and into the crowding fiends.

“Fire in the hole!”, she shouted.

Cora spun around facing them with her back hunched, her eyes tightly shut, and her head lowered.

Tonic did the same.

Seressa jumped back and spun in the air like a dark, astral dancer and landed facing the opposite direction and covering her ears with her slender hands.

Brom groaned and just turned around, closed his eyes and ears but opened his mouth all the way.

The room shuddered as the sphere detonated with an eye-searing and ear-cracking explosion!

Cora spun back and started butchering the fiends right and left, all stunned, bleeding in the eyes and ears..

“Tonic!”, hissed Brom once again.

“Whot, dammit? I told you, I don’t know anything about this place!”

Brom grabbed the gnomic girl by her shoulders and made her face him and looked her in the eyes.

Very quietly and calmly he asked, “When you finally got free, you said Nadine Graciousward carried you out in her embrace. Was that the door you saw over her shoulder?”

Arcantonic Palecog stared at him, and at the barred door.

“How the hell should I know, Brom? That happened nearly forty years ago!”, she hissed at him.

Brom ogled at her.

“You are..”

“Yes, boy, I am forty-eight! And quite young for a gnome and probably double your age and very nearly double Seressa’s age as well!”

“Damn.. If you are still down there, in the dungeons, we must have been hurled at least forty, forty-five years back, then.”, Brom said, a bit freaked.

“Egad, Master Brom. Your powers of deduction are mind-staggering!”, Tonic spat with sarcasm.

“Why didn’t you tell us, this?”

“Why would I? I don’t even want to be here.”

“Don’t you think that information might be pertinent?”

“It would, had I known my little self was still down there, which I didn’t, and hoped, wouldn’t. It only came to me when you said we had to go ‘down’, before we went up!”

Brom frowned. The little gnomic girl had a point, of sorts. He did have to change his perception of her though. Up to this day, he had always thought this cute, irritable girl was around his age, if not younger. Certainly not ‘at least double’ his age!

He drew a long, suffering breath to ask once more for her to think back and carefully, but the gnomic girl beat him at it.

“It is..”, she said mutely. “Your wording of how I must have seen it is inspired! I did see that door, but once, when Nadine Graciousward was carrying me out, and over her shoulder. It was all hazy and I was crying and shivering and terrified beyond sanity. But I remember that door. And this is it.”

Brom didn’t bother asking her if she was sure or not. He knew Tonic had an uncanny memory. Once she saw, heard, or read something, she would remember it. Period.

“Very well.”, he said. “I am going to have to go down and through that door. Tell the others they are going to have to hold this room, no matter what.”

“Why don’t you tell them?”, asked Tonic.

“Because I have to go alone and Cora won’t let me. And just what do you think your.. uhh.. Seressa will do when she sees the little you down there, scared and crying?”

“She will take the little me, promptly coin-purse her, then spend the next one thousand years dismantling this place along with everything in it down to this planets’ molten core!”, Tonic said without even thinking.

“Right.”, agreed, the hobbit. “Give me a three hundred count to get out of their reach, will you?”

“Whatever you do, don’t give me your name, when you go down there. I remember very little of the things in the dark because I went out of my way to forget it all. A name is something to dwell on, though. And something to remember.”, she said quietly.

“Alright.”, Brom nodded.

“And.. don’t turn on the lights.”, she mumbled.

“What? Why?”

“Between the two of us, Seressa is the one with imagination. That’s why everything about her is exquisite, and the reason why her illusions appear so vivid and realistic. I have a linear sort of imagination. That’s always been true for me. Which is why I am a good artificer. My mind works in a ‘causality’ direction. As long as I am in the dark, down there, I can only imagine so far about the horrors lurking around me. If you turn the lights on, I will see them, and I will know what truly wants to eat me. I shouldn’t have to know that..”, she said looking down at her feet.

“Understandable.”, the hobbit replied, feeling a bit sick.

“One last thing, Master Hobbit.”, Tonic whispered. “Do not give her anything sharp.”

“Why?”

“There is only one thing she wants, Brom. And has wanted for quite some years, while sitting in the dark.. And it has nothing to do with life, but ending it.”

Brom Bumblebrim just stared at her.

Something must have shown on his face because the little gnomic girl gave him a broken smile and said, “Do not mourn me, Master Brom, for I am here. And so will she..”

✱ ✱ ✱

I hope they give us a breather. My hands and my arms hurt just for swinging this weapon and that’s saying something, considering I have been a zerker for nearly two decades.”, breathed Cora Sleet as she set her two-yard long polearm with beautiful, and equally brutal-looking, nearly thirty-inch blades on either end on her lap as she settled down on the ground, just a few steps from the bloody carnage.

“Indeed.”, agreed, Seressa as she also sat, gingerly, next to her. Then she held up the shredded fringes of her frilly skirt dress and mourned. “They could at least give us time to wash and change. Just look at my dress. I can barely call it pink anymore.”

Cora laughed. She just couldn’t help it.

“The fading and shredded condition of my dress is not a laughing matter, dear Cora. I am quite put out with you.”, pouted the very tall, very dark girl as she took the end of her long, pink hair and studied it. “There are things on my hair I don’t even want to know what! I will have to undo them, wash them thoroughly, and re-braid them. Do you know how long it takes to do my hair?”

“I am sorry, Seressa.”, chuckled Cora. “I wasn’t laughing at you. Nor your dress. I could wash and do your braids if you like. Provided you do mine.”

“Ow.. I would love to..”, exclaimed Seressa happily. “You have lovely hair.”

“Huh. I do?”

“Ow, yes. It’s soft, silky, and very submissive.”

Cora cocked an eyebrow.

“Submissive?”

“Don’t get me wrong. Submissive is a good quality for hair when you want to bun, wrap, give shape or just braid them. And they won’t stay curly when you undo them, making them much easier to comb and brush. Mine is also soft and silky, but not as submissive. I have to wash them with hot water if I want to have them straight, once I unbraid them.”, she explained.

“Huh! I didn’t know that. But then, I never go around with my hair down. Too many threats with big scissors by my mother from a young age. I am afraid to even unbraid them now. I could just imagine my mother’s ghost coming at me with her scissors and moaning, ‘Cora Sleet, braid that mop you call hair and out of my stew or you won’t have to!’.. And you never wear them straight either.”, Cora said.

“I never wear them straight because I don’t want them getting in the way. And I like them neat and tidy when I have to go into fights. Otherwise, I would have them down as much as possible.”, replied Seressa with a dreamy expression on her beautiful face.

“How about we heat some water and do that right now.”, offered Cora, which sort of surprised even herself.

“You.. you really want to? I wouldn’t want to impose upon you.”, she asked even more surprised.

“No, no.. You never impose, dear girl. You are too kind and cultured for that.”

“Well, now. You will receive the best performance out of me, just for that praise.”, smiled Seressa with glowing eyes.

“Let’s get Tonic to draw us some water from that magic pot of hers and put our esteemed hobbit on guard duty. Otherwise, he’ll just ogle at us. I mean, I don’t mind him ogling at you. But it gets awkward when he does it to me too.”, Cora said.

“He has stopped ogling at me. For quite sometime now.. I am sure I didn’t tell nor imply in any way that he should. And since I didn’t, I don’t think Tonic would have said anything to him on this matter, either.”, she said a tad mournfully.

“Huh. He did, did he? That’s weird.”, murmured Cora thoughtfully.

“Yes, he did. I was very much planning to have a sit down with him and ask him if it was something I did or said. Don’t get me wrong. I do love my freedoms, Cora, but I do not appreciate it when just anyone stares at me. I am quite selective about who I don’t mind staring at me and he has always been on that list.”, Seressa said with a confused little frown. “But we kept rushing from one place and time to another, ever since we left Arashkan, I just couldn’t find the appropriate time. Come to think about it, his change in attitude started sometime after we time-jumped to Arashkan itself.”

“Perhaps you should.. have a sit down with him, I mean.. But I don’t know. Some things are a tad too complicated for my taste and I personally don’t really like complications. For me, if and when someone feels or wants something.. uhh.. or someone, they should just go ahead and say it.. Not drag it out. Life is too short for complications and that coming from an elf who has the potential to live over one thousand five hundred years, is saying something.”, Cora said a bit evasively as she wondered, indeed, why had her little hobbit friend changed his attitude towards this strange and gracefully beautiful girl. It seemed rather obvious about what he felt for her. Had he backed away, perhaps? If so, why had he?

‘Ow, you little daydreamer.. Did you chicken out?’, she thought.

“Uhhmm.. What do you think of.. uhh.. our Brom?”, she asked the very tall, very dark girl sitting next to her, sort of tentatively.

“I think a lot of things about him. He is brave, smart, cultured, observant, caring, loyal and he bothers..”, Seressa replied with a mysterious smile on her face.

“Yes, well, he does tend to bother me at times, too..”, stammered Cora.

 

Which was odd, and interesting.

Cora did not do stammer!

 

“Ow, no, my dear Cora. You misunderstand me. He does not bother me in the least. When I say, he bothers, what I meant was, he bothers with things he could otherwise easily ignore, knowing full well it would make him miserable at the end when he wouldn’t ignore them. He bothers to get up and do them anyway because it will make the other person happy —at his own expense.”, Seressa said in her illustrious voice.

“Huh. Like I said. I like things simpler. This is way too complicated for me.”, Cora mumbled. Then she looked around and suddenly noticed the silence. “Where is he anyway? And your Tonic?”

“Tonic is my pair, luv. But she is not exclusive to me, and hence, is also your Tonic..”, smiled Seressa. Then she too looked around searching her pair and for the hobbit.

Another confused frown appeared in her brow when she couldn’t see either.

“Damit!”, fumed Cora suddenly.

“Whot?”, asked Seressa still looking for the two.

“I will tell you what! Brom ‘bothered’ —again— and Tonic ‘enabled’ him. That’s why he is not around and that’s why she is hiding behind that rubble over there, making herself scarce!”, growled the barbarian girl, pointing at a distinct pile of debris.

Seressa’s eyebrows shot up.

“Tonic? Luv? What’s going on?”

 

No reply came from the scruffy-looking red mop of hair with the scrunchie, barely discernable behind the said rubble. Tonic just sat there, quite motionless, not unlike a furry little ball!

 

Cora sighed.

“Not even bothering answering your calls now, girl? Really?”, she fumed.

“Tonic, luv? What is going on? Where is Master Brom?”, Seressa asked, concern etched in her voice.

 

Tonic refused to answer.

 

Cora picked herself up and groaned her way to the pile of rubble where the little gnomic girl sat and looked down at her. One of her white eyebrows slowly rose. Then she looked back at Seressa.

“Whot? Is she alright?”, asked the very tall, very dark girl.

“When you said, she’s your pair, but was also my Tonic, just how comprehensive was your meaning?”, she asked her coolly.

“All the way, I suppose.”, replied Seressa a bit confused. “Why?”

“Because I am going to hurt Brom. And hurt Tonic too.”, she said with a frosty expression on her face as she reached down, grabbed Tonic, and tossed her at her pair!

 

Seressa yelped and made a grab for her..

..and landed, face down, with a burlap sack full of hay and cotton, and a whole tuft of scruffy looking reddish-brown hair entertaining one of Seressa’s own scrunchies attached to it!

She stared at the burlap sack with a stoned expression.

“What in all that’s good and not, is this?”, she exclaimed, looking at the ‘head’.

“I am guessing, that idiot hobbit had to do something, and your Tonic decided to cover for him with this half-baked plan!”, scoffed Cora with a horrible scowl on her own face.

 

Seressa continued staring at the burlap, totally lost for words..

..then she vanished!

raven-01_cr

And a ghostly raven appeared where she’d just been.

The raven flapped its winds twice, then took off at an incredible speed.

 

“Well..”, Cora murmured after the grayish, semi-transparent raven. “..that’s kinda cool!”

 

The ghostly raven sped in every direction, flying up above and skirting low, near the floor for a few minutes, covering every corner, every possible hole or spot that could be used as cover, and returned back to Cora and settled next to her.

“You can settle on my shoulder if you like, girl. That way, we’d look cool together.”, she said.

“Perhaps later, luv..”, replied Seressa as she reappeared where the ghostly raven had landed. “..She is here. I just can’t find her.”

“You can’t?”, asked Cora with some surprise.

“No..”, replied Seressa with a dejected tone.

“Thought you pairs knew where each other were all the time.”, she said.

“It is not such a definitive bond, luv. That would be against King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act.”, she mourned.

“Kings— what?”

“King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act. It is one of the core constitutional laws of the Kingdom of Isles, set down by the first King Barakan Heavenswill and his queen, Arael Ashanelath Fae Erunanne Tel’Lóna —known commonly among humans as Arael Tellona.. Everyone is allowed to their own privacy and non may be spied nor scried upon without a magistrate’s express permission and with legally acceptable and plausible cause.”

“I didn’t know such a law was in order. Odd law..”, she mused.

“A bit odd, yes, but totally necessary. Can you imagine the kind of abuse there would be if just about anyone with the ability to do so would, without any repercussions?”, said Seressa quietly.

“I suppose so.. I wasn’t aware the first King of this kingdom took an elf for a wife. But then, my home and my tundra’s are far and wild, and seldom does news of events and happenings are heard there. I am not even sure if the tundras are within the kingdom.”

“They aren’t. Neither technically, nor jurisdictionally. Though the elves of Tranquil in the central and near Heavens Hand in the western tundra’s are, but the dwarves west of the Celestial Mountain are not. Communications and treaties have taken place among the barbarian tribes and the kingdom. The town, Shakehands, was originally built for such an occasion when they called them to war upon Themalsar, but the town grew to become a center for everyone to come and sell their fur, cattle, gold, iron, silver, and copper ores, and the highly sought and prized walrus tusks, among many other things, and buy all sorts of things that are otherwise unavailable in the tundra’s.”, explained Seressa, her eyes still searching for her pair.

“Huh. You are quite a treasure for knowledge, girl.”, Cora said with a certain amount of admiration.

“No, luv. I am merely a repository for trash and trivia information. My repertoire is mostly due to.. well.. I had nothing else to do back in the Academy —no friends, you see.. Only my phloxes to keep me company and a whole lot of years spent in the academy library.”

“Arael Ashanelath Fae Erunanne Tel’Lóna.. The Grace of the Islands, and the Heart of Year One! That is a very powerful name.. Even by elf standards..”, mused Cora.

“She was very much loved by her husband, the human king, and beloved by her people as a queen, by many accounts and sources. She was also the daughter of the Greater Elf, Terandel Solace who founded Solace, the niece to Sinderel Tranquil who founded Tranquil, and Elorellen Feymist who founded Bari Na-ammen in High Woods.”

“Wow. This is.. kind of fascinating.. Though it explains little about where our furtive little friends are.”, said Cora.

Seressa’s shoulders slumped.

“I feel.. alone.. I have been with my pair nearly every day since we left the academy. I feel.. distressed.. when she is not around. Even when we didn’t get along all that well at first, I found comfort in her presence. Funny, isn’t it? And pathetic on my part..”

“Bit funny, yes. Pathetic, not so much. I find the bond you two share and the relation the two of you have very much endearing and something only friends and sisters would have —put together!”

“That.. is very sweet!”, exclaimed Seressa.

Then she sighed and went for her pack and pulled out a pot, and a skin of water. Then she frowned just a little, and a small bone fire appeared at a corner, far from the broken door they had entered.

“Why don’t you pile up some sort of barricade while I heat up the water, luv..”, she said. “Then we’ll start with your hair.”

“What about your hair?”, asked Cora as she carefully picked up one of the stinking corpses of the thorny demons and started dragging it to the door.

“My hair is mostly dust, dirt, and stray blood. You were the one who got most of the gore. It’s not even healthy for all that to be on you..”, she said and placed the pot on the fire, emptied the water in the skin into the pot, and produced a block of pink soap.

“What are we going to do about the two?”, the barbarian girl asked as she dragged another corpse.

“Nothing we can do. Unless they eloped together, they will come back. Master Brom knows what he is doing. I hope. And Tonic can’t be found when she does not want to. She is an artificer and a deep gnome. Even if we ‘be damned with the king’s law’, I doubt I could divine her location.”, she said and her shoulders slumped even more.

“What about that door?”, Cora asked, nodding at the barred door at the far side of the room.

Seressa didn’t answer for a moment.

When she did, there was an utter loss on her face.

“That door leads to somewhere we can’t go, dear Cora.”

 

One of Cora’s eyebrows shot up.

 

“Where?”

“Down.”, the very tall, very dark girl replied. “That door leads down and to my baby Tonic.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom, as a whole, did not like dark places. Brom did not like undead either. Brom liked undead in dark places even less. And now he stood in the dark, facing a whole.. What the hell was a group of undead called, anyway? A mob? A swarm? A drags? An appetite? Or was it a plague of undead?

Alright. Perhaps the little hobbit did get carried away at times, where undead were concerned..

His only consolation was he could ‘see’ in the dark now. Of course, ‘see’ was a relative term, really, meaning he could discern objects in a gray spectrum.. as opposed to being mole-blind. The irony of how he could ‘see’ even this much was not lost on the little hobbit; the goggles Tonic herself had given her back when they had time-jumped to the Great Arashkan city to deliver the Spear of Light to a certain angelic being, and later when the two of them had snuck out of the inn they were staying for an unexpected, somewhat prophecy-induced, venture.. The true nature of the irony was, he was using the same pair of goggles that Tonic had given him to find another Tonic —just from another time!

Brom considered his options and decided to go for the easiest one. He’d try the others should his first option fail.

 

Brom vanished!

 

Moving carefully and unseen, he slunk past the heavy breathing, yet unmoving, ghoul-like creatures, step by step, sweating profusely all the while. By the time he had left the monsters behind, he felt light-headed and noted he’d been holding his breath.

“Phew.”, he said hoarsely. “That was tense.”

He followed the long, dark hall until he heard the growls, the barkings, the eerie shrieks of demons, and the slamming of some things big and heavy upon steel bars..

..and a tiny, terrorized, spluttering voice.

“Please. Leave me alone. Please.. Noooo!”

“Ow, Great Heavens!”, exclaimed Brom and started down the hall with all haste.

He wasn’t sure for how long he ran. It all was too dark and musty and everything seemed blurry. He ran until slid to a stop in front of another barred door, much like the one he had come through. He noted the large crossbar holding the door firmly shut, reached up to it and knocked it down, and shouldered the door open..

..to see one, small cage, surrounded by nearly a dozen very large cages, all holding demons of various shapes and sizes, all much larger than him, and certainly much, much larger than the little girl, curled into a pathetic ball, crying in the center cage!

And the door to one of the larger cages had been forcefully opened and was missing its demon..

..a demon with long, barbed tentacles standing over the little cage, reaching for the little girl.

The girl screamed in mindless terror and pain as the demon grabbed one of her feet and started dragging her to the bars, and to its self, blaring with bloody hunger.

Brom did not wait.

He made a sharp, wrathful gesture around the small cage and the air shimmered for a moment, then exploded!

It wasn’t a fiery explosion. In fact, there wasn’t a single spark and nothing tangible shrapneled, nor did any preceding smoke appear.

It wasn’t visible at all..

It was pure, psychic pain!

But the demon froze where it stood.

Then its massive, hideous head opened like an axed melon!

And just like that, it dropped dead, its long, thorny tentacles shivered for a moment, then shriveled down to a mordant stillness.

Several more of the demons in the other cages also collapsed, their heads either split open or simply smashed like dry pumpkins.

The hobbit looked up at the remaining demons banging at their own cages, all the while barking, blaring, shrieking, and howling, and his eyes blazed with even more hate.

He took out a single knife from his belt and tossed it up into the air.

The knife disappeared five or six feet above him.

A series of metallic slashing and slicing sounds were heard, and the remaining demons also crashed in choired screams, their bodies shredded and bloody exposed.

“There.”, he said softly as he approached the small, single cage in the middle. “That bunch won’t be bothering you again, my dear Tonic..”

The little girl did not respond. She just blubbered and sobbed, her eyes shut, her hands tight around her ears. All she could do was to pull her bloodied foot to herself and cry more.

Brom stared at the sad, heart-breaking sight before him as tears rolled down his eyes as he saw the depths of Arcantonic Palecog, and what she meant when she’d said, I AM BROKEN!

Slowly, he took out his lyre, strummed a few, soft tones, and started to sing..

Why he sang what he sang, he wasn’t sure.

It wasn’t even something he’d composed.

But he sang it anyway.

Because the song related to this, tiny little gnomic girl more than possibly anyone else in the world..

 

 

into the hills
silent and hollow
chase the path
and through the fog
find the door
knock
more
and hallow
blood for blood
soul for soul
and
life for life
trade and be king
freely given
and
ascend

 

 

How many times he repeated the song, he wasn’t sure. But the little girl was humming it with a sad, sobbing mumble, lying as she did by the time he was done.

“Do.. do you have knife, sir?”, she asked in a tiny, pipsqueak voice. “Please, sir, give me knife.. A small knife will do..”

“Yes, my dear Tonic. I have knife.”, replied Brom hoarsely.

“Give it to me, sir. Please.. I only need one.. I promise.. You can have it back.. It won’t take too long..”, she whispered from where she lay.

“No. My dear girl. I shall not give you knife, for I have given you song, and I have given you hope.”, said Brom, desperately trying to swallow the lump in his throat.

“I don’t want hope, sir. There is no hope here. I need knife. Please give me knife.”, she said as she held onto the bars of the small cage and dragged herself up, pulling her bloody foot behind her.

“Someone will come for you. And they will take you away from here. Far away. To a happier place where you will find friends. Good friends. Friends who will love you, and care for you.”

“I smell demon, sir. I always smell demon. I only have demon. Demon can’t have friends, sir.”

“No. No, they can’t. But you are no demon. You are a strong and brave girl. Hence, I will not give knife. I give you song. A song of hope. A song that will save more than you. And one day, soon, that someone will come and save you. To her, you shall give this song.”

 

arcanton-arcantonic-01d_cr

The girl slumped down.

And curled back into her sad little ball and started to cry again.

“No knife. No hope..”, she moaned.

“No knife. Only song, dear Tonic.”, whispered Brom, and started to sing once again..

 

He sang until the little girl drifted off, murmuring to herself..

 

“..silent and hollow.. chase the path..”

“..the door, knock, more and hallow..”

“..freely given and ascend..”

 

Then, slowly, he reached through the bars and into the cage.

He scoffed at the stinging bite at his calf just where he couldn’t see, and reached down..

..and tenderly touched the tiny, shredded, and bloody foot.

✱ ✱ ✱

The slim rope came slithering down from a dark, slit of a barely parted window in the ceiling, and Brom climbed up and disappeared inside the hollow space inside. A pair of tiny hands pulled the rope back up, then quietly shut the slit between the windows, displaying nothing but the ceiling its self.

“Done?”, Arcantonic Palecog asked Brom who lay on his back, staring at the void of the ‘hidey-hole’.

“What happened? You look.. tired..”, she said morosely.

“I am tired. I.. saw..”, he began.

“You don’t really have to tell me what you saw, Master Brom. You will recall, I did try very hard to forget about my.. ‘tenure’.. here.. I believe I have moderately succeeded at it too.”, Tonic said quietly.

“Have you?”, he asked, forcing himself up to a sitting position. “Succeeded?”

“All things considered, I believe I have. Some things must be forgotten, Master Brom. Not faced and overcome. And I am happier now. Not happy that I am here. Just happier than I ever was. I even have friends.. as small a repertoire of them as it may be, but they are mine for keeps. If someone had told me that I would make friends just a few months ago, I would have laughed at their faces.. in a very scornful way, then hit them with something deserving.. possibly my artificer’s wrench. Hells Bells, I couldn’t even stand Seressa, back then, and she is my pair!”, she said with a brittle smile.

 

Brom looked carefully at her.

And saw the shards of her broken pieces still jabbing at her and bleeding all over her..

He sighed.

He’d done all he could for the girl.

To both of her!

But pushing never really helped.

He was sure time would present more opportunities and he would do what he could then too, as per opportunity.

 

“What’s with the clandestine meet?”, he asked, changing the whole topic.

“Well.. I.. didn’t.. or rather, couldn’t tell Seressa or Cora what you were up to. So I bamboozled them and hid here while I waited for you.”, she stammered with a flushed face.

“You mean, you chickened out!”, smirked Brom.

“Rich, coming from you, Master Brom!”, scowled Tonic.

Brom made a face and shut up.

“The meet is so we can get our stories straight.. You know, so there aren’t any discrepancies..”, she explained, still a bit flustered.

“You are aware that whatever we say, and no matter how plausible our story will be, they aren’t going to believe it.”

“They might.”

“Tonic. You and I know, the moment Cora scowls at you, you are going to start spilling everything. And the moment your pair.. uhhmm… Seressa asks me, nicely, as she always does, I won’t be able to lie to her..”

“Yes.”, said the gnomic girl. “All of which I have taken into consideration.”

“Ow? So what is this story that is discrepancy-proof?”, asked Brom and not without a certain amount of skepticism.

Tonic smirked and rubbed her hands together with a dramatic, conspiratorial way.

“I am going to blame it all on you!”

Brom stared at the gnomic girl.. evenly..

“Really? That’s your plan?”

“Yes. I will also tell them that you threatened me with a prophetic doom.. That way, I will be on the clear.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Tonic. Accept Seressa will roll over me, and not in a pleasant way, the moment you tell her I threatened you!”

“But that’s the point, see?”, Tonic smiled even more as she rubbed her tiny hands together even more, looking very much like a villainess cliché!

“No. I don’t see, girl..”, replied Brom with an exasperated tone.

“One, Seressa will never roll over you.. Okay, that didn’t come out right. What I meant was, she will never roll over you in an unpleasant way—”, she said, digging herself in deeper.

“Yes. That sounds so much better, now.”, retorted the hobbit with an unamused tone of voice

Tonic coughed, then bulldozed on.

“—And two, you will tell them the prophecy made you do, whatever it was that you did, and I was part of the elaborate scheme to act as your side-kick and backup, and if neither of us did as the prophecy told us, we’d all be doomed for eternity. Seressa will be fish-hooked when you use ‘prophecy’, ‘doom’ and ‘eternity’ all in the same sentence. And once she is out of the picture, Cora will have no gainsay about it!”, she replied in a very ‘told you so’ voice.

Brom sighed again.

“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”, he asked

“Well, sure..”, smirked Tonic.

“What are they doing now? How pissed off are they?”, he asked.

“Very. Before.. Now they both have this stupid and concussed expression on their faces and are just drinking tea from a pink, porcelain tea kettle Seressa produced out of nowhere.”, she said irritably.

“What?”, exclaimed Brom. In his mind, he certainly could imagine Seressa drinking tea out of pink cups, and in the middle of a bloody carnage, but all his efforts failed when he did the same for Cora. Try as he did, the whole concept just collapsed in on its self!

“And that’s after they heated water and bubble washed, brushed, combed, and re-braided each other’s hair!”, she said in disgust.

 

Brom felt sick.

Just how many more wonderful things those two would do together and he’d end up missing them because he’d have to venture one doom-induced prophetic avenue after another..

“Damit..”, he spat inwardly.

“Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit!”

 

He sighed again.

“I wonder if we are done here.”, he murmured.

“No.”, replied Tonic. “At least I don’t think so. We had to go ‘down’ before we went up. That implies a certainty of ‘up’. We went down.. Now we go ‘up’..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Well, well, well..”, drawled Cora, looking at the pair of furtive, midgety, figures approaching as she, quite lady-like, sipped her tea from a pink, porcelain cup. “What have we here? The eloped pair have returned.”

“Indeed.”, said Seressa as she also sipped her tea from a piece-of-the-same-set cup. “Had fun together, did you? We certainly did. Didn’t we, luv?”

“Hell, yes!”, snarled the barbarian girl.

“Hell, yes?”, asked Seressa, turning to her. “My dear girl, that wasn’t the line! We had a perfect reception speech..”

“I am sorry Seressa. I am so wroth, I forgot the lines.”, Cora snarled even more as she scowled at the two.

 

Seressa pouted.

 

One gnomic girl and one hobbit scurried to a halt, not unlike a pair of kids about to be grounded by mom and dad, trying to assess just how much of a trouble they were in.

And Tonic suddenly pointed at the hobbit and blurted..

“He did it! He did it! It was all his fault—”

“Tonic..”, mumbled Brom with a resigned tone.

“Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me, criminal! I have done nothing bad in my entire life! Hey, look, I am still a virgin! Ok, I might have downloaded a couple of thousands of songs but who hasn’t? Who hasn’t?”, shrieked the little gnomic girl!

Brom sighed, and turned to the angry, tea-drinking pair.

“—It’s done.”, he simply cut in. “We can go up, now.”

 

There was a distinct silence as the two parties stared at one another.

Then everyone burst out loud talking all at once!

 

“What do you mean, it’s done?”

“That’s not what we agreed on, dammit!”

“What the bloody hell is going on, here?

“I am sorry, but I am not going to deceive her and jeopardize my life..”, he said, pointing at Cora, “..and I certainly am not going to lie to her and play with her trust.”,  he added, carefully not looking at Seressa.

 

Both parties froze to digest what they had just heard, then burst out again..

 

“Why would you play me?”

“So her trust is important to you.. Hells Bells, boy, why don’t you just tell her that?”

“I am going to hurt someone if neither of you starts making any sense!”

“Is there any more tea?”

 

The four sat down, facing one another with scowling frowns, furtive glances, confused expressions and diffident casts as Seressa produced another pink, porcelain cup with tiny flowers and set it before..

..she paused, still looking a bit confused, her cup hand going back and forth indecisively between the two.

“I only have the third cup. This set had four, but I lost one of them a long time ago. I sought for a replacement, when we were back at Arashkan, but couldn’t find any matching my set. Though, in all candor, I never thought the day would come and we would all sit down for some tea.”, she said looking extremely abashed and oddly on the verge of panic.

“Give it to him. He wants the tea.”, sighed Tonic.

Cora sipped her tea.

“It’s alright. Give it to her. She looks like she could use a cup of tea, right about now. She hates it when things derivate from her plans.. apparently.”, mumbled Brom.

“How the hell are you going to drink your tea, if I get the cup, boy?”, blazed the gnomic girl.

Cora sipped her tea, some more.

“I have cup!”, Brom said and pulled a small wooden box out of his pack. Carefully, he opened it and produced an antique, porcelain, pink cup with tiny flowers, along with its saucer, and set it in front of himself.

“There we go. We now have four cups.”

“Hells Bells, Brom! You carry an antique teacup with you? Who does that?”, glared Tonic.

“I carry an antique sword, an antique mace, albeit a bit warped and skewed now, and an antique lyre with me, also.”, grinned the hobbit.

Cora sipped her tea, again, feeling a tint of guild about the antique mace.

Seressa, however, stared at the antique teacup Brom had just produced with undisguised chagrin.

“Where.. where did you get this cup?”, she asked with a choked voice.

“It was a gift. From some very nice, very old people I met during my travels. About a year and a half before I reached the Great Northern Tundra’s where I first met Cora. Why?”, Brom asked, noting her distress.

Cora took another sip from her tea.

Slowly, Seressa held out the cup she’d just gotten out of her pack and turned it upside down, and showed them the bottom end of the cup.

There..

Just inside inner rim of the cup, Brom could see a recursive handwriting..

..and recognized it as Seressa’s, though he had seen her script only once before. This one, though, was much smaller in size and it read;

 

Property of Seressa Wraiven

 

Then she reached, and very gingerly, she picked up Brom’s cup, and turned it upside down to show the same inner rim at the bottom of his antique cup, without checking it herself..

Brom’s mind kindled!

For there was the same recursive handwriting, albeit quite faded, and some of the letters lost, declaring the same ownership.

 

Pr p rty of Sere sa Wraiv n

 

“How? How have you come by this cup, Master Brom?”, Seressa whispered deploringly.

 

Cora stared at her own cup, then at Brom’s, then at Seressa’s, then back at her own, and slowly set it down, nudged her butt and hips and shuffled a few feet away from all the cups, and stared at them with freaked eyes.

“I am sorry Seressa. But I can not divulge the identity of the people who gifted it to me, because I gave them my solemn oath of silence. But I can assure you they were very old and honorable people. Quite noble too, in an aristocratic sense, I might add. And they assured me it was a highly prized heirloom passed onto them from generation to generation for several centuries, relative to our time.”

 

The four sat in dark, quiet contemplation as they drank their tea.

Well, at least three of them did.

Cora wasn’t really the superstitious type, but she was not going to drink any more tea. Not from those cups. And not for a good long while if you could avoid it. This time jumping was starting to freak her out as it was, without adding a little, pink teacup that reached over centuries and counter-centuries to catch up to its set!

✱ ✱ ✱

To say Seressa Wraiven was put out was like saying the sun rose from the east and was high at noon! No. She was not just put out, she was, in fact, quite wroth. One would think the returning of her missing teacup and to have completed her set after unknown, relative, centuries would have given her a certain sense of elation, and in all likeliness, it did, but the way it was returned, did nothing to her sense of equilibrium.

And, apparently, such equilibrium was at the core of her being. Particularly if the said person was known for her, often funny, and endearing, klutz, which was quite the opposite of any equilibrium.. or pertaining balance..!

 

Someone was going to suffer for her distress.

 

Seressa Wraiven, however, was also a very considerate and mature young lady, and would never deem to take her pouting out of her pair, and certainly not out of her friends.

Hence, she projected her wrath upon the fiends, demons, and other, not so lucky monsters, they started encountering on their way ‘up’.

She laid waste to everything in her sight, all the while fuming and muttering darkly to herself.

It was a bit mesmerizing to watch, really..

..and downright scary.

 

Cora had tried to keep up, cutting, hacking, lopping, and disemboweling anything that tried to get past her to reach the very tall, very dark girl raining doom upon her foes, but she’d reached her limit and she felt her arms about to fall off.

Tonic and Brom had silently scurried behind the towering girl and had tried to insert what they could without being noticed by her so as not to further her wrath.

Indeed, it was mesmerizing..

..and quite scary.

 

“Alright, stop!”, Cora Sleet finally hissed.

That was how the barbarian girl put her foot down. Unlike what was to be expected of a zerker such as herself, Cora did not roar, nor did she foam at the mouth when she ‘zerked’. She settled upon her foes like a silent but deadly sleet storm. She didn’t howl, she didn’t blare, and nor did she so much as shout. She hissed, if that, at her enemies, in her low, throaty voice.

Cora Sleet was ‘cool’ like that.

 

Arcantonic Palecog was the one that roared. At least that’s what she thought she was doing. And because her pair and her friends were thoughtful of her feelings, they never countermanded her.

Telling an already traumatized girl that she looked like a maniacal squirrel in heat or some similar rodent squeaking like she was caught between a closing door or drawer was just cruel..

..and mean!

 

Brom Bumblebrim, however, did none of these. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t come from a military family, but a happily lazy hobbit community where nothing was, and nothing certainly wanted to be out of the ordinary. Which is why most hobbits tended to be quite self-aware. A curse that Brom himself was also afflicted with.

Hence, at moments of dire action, if not contemplation, he sort of did this.. ‘commentary’ thing.. Hopefully in his mind, and not out loud, which would have made him look a bit odd. No one, after all, wanted to be on the receiving end of ‘those’ looks. The ones that say, you have just been declared ‘mad’..

..which would have been rich, coming from just about anyone in this particular group, but much like no one told Tonic what she really, and quite hilariously, looked like, Brom did not want to be told he was ‘politely mad!’

 

Seressa Wraiven, on very rare occasions such as now, became this unreachable, unfathomable, darkly majestic astral witch who would also turn ghostly incorporeal as the pinks in her hair and her frilly skirt dress would drain away and so would the black of her smooth skin, not unlike watching ink spreading over white, cotton parchment, in reverse, leaving her something semi-transparent and a single shade of mid-gray, afloat a foot or so above the ground.

It was an awe-inspiring sight to behold. And downright scary..

 

..which was when Cora Sleet put her foot down!

 

“Alright, stop!”, she hissed and pointed at a side room full of hacked, hexed, and disintegrated corpses that seemed to have quite a few exploded heads!

“In. All of you.”, she ordered briskly, waited for them to enter, then irritably kicked a corpse out of the way and slammed the door shut.

“What is going on, Seressa? I don’t mind the fact that we have cleared our way to the top at record speed, but really, now.. You are supposed to be the smart one among us. The maturely foresighted one. Not the zerker. When you ‘zerk’, you start pouching in my woods! It isn’t like we are on a deadline..”

Seressa did not reply. She just stood there facing the far wall as she had entered the bloody room, silently seething and simmering.

Tonic snorted.

Brom threw a warning glance in her direction, but the gnomic girl missed it.

“She made a funny; deadline. Get it? DEAD line!”, she snickered.

Brom shook his head and murmured.

“Bad timing, girl.”

Which turned out to be true.

“Shut up, Tonic!”, snapped Cora. “Your pair is troubled and you are making a pun?”

“There is no need to get snippy..”, pouted Tonic. “Seressa does not like being left in the dark —ironic as that might seem, and not because of her appearance, which has nothing to do with it other than adding some ecstatic flavor, but because of how much she’s into prophecies, and hence, the unknown —which is basically being constantly left in the said ‘dark’, in a purely philosophical sense.. I don’t get worked over such things. I just stagger, look stupidly at it, then move along, which is understandable, since there is no discernable ‘mechanics’ to prophecies, though I suspect there is a certain reasoning, and hence, a logic, of sorts, behind them.. I feel at home dissecting the workings of mechanical objects which are all about physics. Seressa, on the other hand, takes delirious, and almost demented, you might say, pleasure in dissecting the unknown that has barely any physics in them, and the parts that do, are merely the ‘end users’ —the mortals who are inevitably involved, per se!”

Cora stared at the little gnomic girl.. morosely.

Brom coughed.

“Whot?”, asked Tonic.

“Girl. You don’t start a sentence with a pout, and end it half a mile away, and with an explanation like that. I think you broke Cora’s mind.”, said the hobbit with an amused tone.

“I am sorry.”, said Tonic honestly. “But I thought you guys already knew this and that I was merely repeating —and reminding— the obvious. Most pairs are made up of ‘more of the same’, hence exponentially increasing what they already have. Seressa and I, are not such a pair. We are the rarer, ‘compensating’ kind.. I have some stuff and lack some stuff. She has some stuff, lacks other stuff.. We don’t really compliment each other’s ‘haves’, but ‘cover’ for one another’s ‘have nots’.. Then there is the ‘we both lack the stuff’, but that is a whole, different can of worms, and not all that pertinent to this topic.”

“Sooo?”, drawled Brom. “Meaning what, exactly?”

“Ow!”, exclaimed the gnomic girl in a surprised voice. “You actually want a genuine, plausible, rational, logical, and valid explanation!”

Brom sighed.

“Yesss..”, grinded Cora.

Tonic shrugged.

“Guys. I am just a glorified grunt who likes bangs and bombs. Seressa is the real deal. But should you want to venture a guess, sort of in the way of a solution, I would begin by telling her where you got that teacup. She’s been complaining about its missing fourth since time immemorial!”

“Grunts don’t use words like immemorial”, scoffed Cora.

“Never said I was a grunt, dear Cora. I said I was a glorified grunt. Massive difference!”, she replied with a smug expression etched all over her diminutive face. Then she frowned slightly at Brom. “Go ahead, Master Brom. Just tell her and get it over with.”

Brom stared at the gnomic girl with a very frosty expression.

“I. Can’t. I gave my word. My oath of silence. That mean anything to you?”, he said between clenched teeth.

“Of course. I am an agent of the Academy of Melshieve. Our oaths are our honor.. Or more like, they are binding, than they are in any way, our honor.”, Tonic replied, then added. “Whether we want it or not.”

“Then you know what is at stake.”

“Yes. And more than you think I do. But do weigh your ‘stake’ against the knowledge of ‘pertinence’ in relation to what we are doing, and how it might be important in general, and for Seressa personally.”, Tonic said with another smirk.

Brom scowled.

“Alright then, why don’t you tell her, Miss Tonic?”, he very nearly spat!

“Me? Why should I tell her? I don’t even know what the hell is going on. Hello, Glorified Grunt, here, remember?”, she said, smirking some more.

Brom scowled at her even more fiercely.

“You know precisely what I am talking about, Arcantonic Palecog..”, he hissed.

Tonic stared at the hobbit as if taking a quick, mental inventory of what the bloody hell he might be talking about, found nothing there, then shrugged.

“Nope. I have absolutely no idea, whatsoever, about what you are talking about, boy!”, she sniffed.

Brom lowered his voice down to a barely audible whisper.

“Tinker Hills, not ringing any bells, Miss Tonic?”

“Nope. Never been there..”, replied Tonic.

“How about Silent Town?”

“Nope. Never heard of it.. So, nada..”, said Tonic.

“Silent Hills?”

“Still, nope. At least nothing other than what everyone else here likely already knows. What? Am I supposed to know all about Silent Hills just because I am a gnome? And it isn’t nice of you to bring that up like this, Master Hobbit, considering my.. personal interest in a certain gnome prince!”, Tonic said in a supremely imperious tone.

“So you have no idea about any famous queens of Silent Hills?”, Brom asked, feeling awkwardly less sure of himself.

“I am a historian by default, Master Brom, seeing as how I have a PhD in Archeology, of course, I know of Silent Hills.. And it’s past, and about the events that led up to its current disposition. The particulars of how ‘the fog’, colorfully known as ‘the Demon Fog’ happened is unknown, though. There are walking rumors that one day, an heir to Silent Hills shall arrive and set free the denizens of those hills. But said rumors are, after all, just rumors. And as far as I know, there has been inconclusive reports of one such famous queen, though no one has ever reported to have found any name attached to her, which I find quite impossible, really, if there was such a famous queen..”, she said with a perfectly straight face.

Brom stared at the gnomic girl.

It seemed, apart from the little adventure they had shared late that night in Arashkan, she did not seem to have any inclination about how the antique, porcelain pink cup had come into her possession in the first place, then passed down, generation to generation as a prized heirloom and to have finally been gifted to him, along with a riddle poem, that he had shared with the ‘child’ Tonic, down in the dungeons.

Brom Bumblebrim felt a distinct headache coming his way..

“Be right back.”, he said and turned to the one person he, inadvertently perhaps, cared deeply.. and hence, had avoided for the past several weeks.

Cora moved and so did Tonic.

“No.”, Brom said sternly. “This is for her ears, only.”

“What?”, scowled Cora.

“Why?”, frowned Tonic.

“Look.”, said the hobbit with the same dedicated, grim and unyielding sternness. “You wanted her to stop what she is doing so she does not get us and herself killed, this is me doing that. You don’t have to know the particulars. Neither of you. If you are not okay with that, by all means, try your way. Go hug her, smother her in love, or tickle her.. All the things I can’t do, whether I want to or not. What I can do, is tell her certain truths. I will already be breaking my oath of silence just by telling her what she needs to hear. Please don’t add to my dishonor.”

 

Cora stared at Brom for a moment, then shrugged and took a sudden interest in her double-bladed polearm, checking it for nicks and dents.

 

“Just like that, eh?”, Tonic scowled at her.

“No. Just like this.”, she said and took a sharpening stone at the blades.

“That is a double-bladed elven scimitar, girl. Its blades are enchanted and mithral edged. They won’t nick, bend, or blunt. They literally don’t need, nor require sharpening.”, she scoffed.

“I know.”, Cora said coolly. “I also know something else it doesn’t need.”

“Whot?”, asked Tonic gullibly.

“Bitching!”

 

Tonic stared at the barbarian girl in total shock!

 

“That’s.. that’s a swear word. You never use swear words, Cora. And it wasn’t nice of you to say it to me.”, she blubbered with a trembling lower lip.

“Girl. I do not swear ‘outward’. It does not mean I do not swear at all. I am a zerker. At which point did you assume I was a polite barbarian berserker? I am a hundred and six years old, possibly more than double your age, and my mother is dead, hence she can’t come at me with her scissors, so I can swear however the hell I want. So there!”, Cora said..

..and with the same cool tone.

“You are mean.”, mumbled Tonic.

“Perhaps.. But at least I know where to draw the line. I trust Brom and will not jeopardize his honor. Neither should you.”

“But.. whatever they are talking about, it’s obviously about me..”, Tonic said in desperation.

“Me. Me. Me.. You really should stop with that, you know..”, Cora said mildly.

Tonic gave her an even look.

“You know perfectly well, what I am talking about, Cora.”

“Yes. But I also know it is about me.”, replied the barbarian girl softly.

“You? This has nothing to do with you, girl.”, Tonic said with an exasperated voice.

“Ow? Must have come here accidentally, then?”, Cora said lightly.

Tonic scowled at her.

“You like taking my words, using their alternate meanings, and then throwing them back at my face, don’t you.”

“A bit, yes.”, Cora said with a barely discernable smile. “For a smart, artificer-whatsit girl, you do catch them very well.”

Tonic scowled at her.

“And while we are here waiting for those two, perhaps you can fill me in on what the two of you really did ‘down’ there?”, Cora asked.

“Can’t. It’s a ‘Need To Know’ only.”, Tonic said promptly.

“Oh, I see how it is. You can pout and make a scene when you are kept out of this, ‘need to know only’ thingy, but it’s perfectly alright for me to be kept ignorant and blind.. Maybe it’s because I am just a dumb zerker. Perhaps I should upgrade to ‘Glorified Dumb Zerker’.. a bit like you. That way I could also demand this ‘need to know’ thingy.”

Tonic scowled at her, some more.

“Fine.”, she very nearly spat. “I will tell you what we did.”

“And you will also tell me of what the two of you brewed together that time, back at Arashkan?”, asked the barbarian girl, a bit too pleasantly.

“Fine.”, repeated the gnomic girl. “I will also tell you about that!”

“Why?”, asked Cora.

Tonic stumbled.

“Because you asked me to?”

“So you are going to reveal me information that was deliberately kept from me, just because I asked you to?”, Cora smiled and there was a distinct edge in her eyes.

“Well..”, said Tonic, suddenly feeling the trap closing in on her.

“Girl. You are so easy. Don’t you think I am aware many things are not shown to me? Just how stupid do you think I am? And that isn’t a rhetorical question. Things are kept from me, not for a laugh. A man can make demands from other men. This I can understand, even if I find it most annoying and foolish. Do you even know just how arrogant it is to make similar demands from the Heavens? Mortals don’t get to make demands from Angels, nor the Celestials, which includes ‘answers’.. The things that are kept from me are done so for a reason, and I don’t get to throw a fit, nor a tantrum just because I am not privy to certain facts or knowledge.. Now I may not know as to the nature of these reasons but think for a moment, girl. Think about what we are doing. At what we are dabbling with. This is not a game. You have no idea how much of a risk I took by giving that sword to Krush’s son, and took the spear for myself to be handed over to its rightful owner. By doing just that, I changed some things. Like, monumentally massive things. And it cost me many lives, and cost others even more. By that one, single act, I did not just let Ironfrost be destroyed again, girl, I ultimately became the cause of its destruction.. and the Wyrm Horde. But of all the four of us, only I could have figured out which weapon to give, and which one to take, let alone figure out the fact that there was another weapon —the spear, because as educated as you and Seressa are, neither of you could have known about the differences and nuances of archaic elfish. Because we, tundra elves, are cut off from the rest of the world, our elfish is still old, and archaic. So when I say, there is a reason for me to know, or in this and several other cases, not to know, I know exactly what I am talking about. And by now, so should you.”

Arcantonic Palecog ogled at the ‘zerker’ barbarian girl.

“You are a barbarian? Why?”, she spluttered finally.

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom Bumblebrim tethered near the very tall, very dark girl, Seressa Wraiven, with nothing short of trepidation.

“You have been avoiding me, Brom Bumblebrim. Why?”, she said without looking at him.

Brom didn’t answer. Not that he didn’t have anything to say, but he was just too scared to say any of it.

He just.. looked down.. at his own bushy feet..

“I know for a fact this avoiding of yours is not my doing for I have treated you to the best of my abilities and with the highest of regards.”, she whispered.

Brom gulped.

‘Damn.’, he thought. ‘She is so awesome!’

“You have even stopped looking at me. Am I suddenly thus repulsive to your eyes, Master Hobbit, that you wouldn’t care to so much as gaze upon me anymore, even though I have never shown you any rebuke nor displayed any animosity in any form for having done so before.”, she said and there was a tender tremor in her soft, illustrious voice.

‘Damit.’, thought Brom. ‘You are making this so much harder for me, girl..’

“The fact that I have never warned you, should have given you the clue that I did not mind being the focus of your attention. Even someone as traumatized as my Tonic understood this, and has stopped harassing you for doing it.”, she hissed savagely.

Brom tried very hard to send down the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat.

“I wash and clean regularly and I keep my personnel hygiene intact at all times, so that can’t be it. I do not use artificial smells but natural soaps. I always have. I do not do make-up. Perhaps I should, though I doubt it will show on my tone of skin. Not unless I use overt and horrid colors making me boorish and consequently defeating the purpose of elegance and make-up.. Is it my pink skirt dresses? You didn’t mind them before. Do you suddenly mind them now? I have nothing else to wear. Perhaps you find my pinks overdone, now. I might be able to tone down the pinks of my dresses and my undergarments, but I don’t want to dye my hair. This is how I came to be. This is me.. So tell me, Master Brom. What changed?”, she asked hoarsely.

“Nothing has changed, my dear girl.”, replied Brom finally, for it broke his heart to see her thus suffer. “And you are as beautiful as ever. More so, the more I get to know you.. which is the core of my problem.”

Seressa Wraiven looked down at the bushy little hobbit with her deep, astral eyes.

“But that is a matter for another time. You are rattled because of a little teacup. I am rattled because of something much, much more significant. But again, not a matter for now. What I shall reveal now must stay with you, and you alone. It must never be written, nor repeated. Not to Cora, not to Tonic. Not to anyone, dead or alive, down in the ground, or up in the sky.. If these terms are agreeable with you, I shall break my oath of silence at my own risk.. and expense..”, said Brom, in a low, lost, somber voice and still, without looking up.

“You refuse to look at me even as we speak. What is it that I have done, thus do I deserve such treatment?”, she said looking down at him with dejected and shimmering eyes.

“Nothing. You have done nothing, my dear girl.”, stammered Brom.

“You shall not even speak my name. Very well.. Thus, we shall stay as comrades, Master Hobbit, and I shall not endanger a comrade’s honor and risk his expense by authoring the ruination of his oath. Thank you for your candor, sir.”, she said and something seemed to have cracked in her voice..

..and just like that, her ghostly demeanor faded, color returned to her long, braided hair, vivid and alive, and her frilly dress was pink again as darkness spread around her hands, her arms, her face, and her legs, and she was merely a girl again, albeit very tall, and very dark. 

Seressa Wraiven turned and quietly left, her tall, dark, and willowy form slumped and slouched as she joining Cora and her pair, leaving Brom gaping and aghast in total chagrin.

“No..”, he whimpered.

 

Cora Sleet walked up to the little hobbit, deliberately scuffing her boots on the way.

“Go. Away.”, mumbled the hobbit into the wall he was facing.

“Just wanted to know—”, began Cora.

“—Whether I was alright?”, finished Brom.

“Ow, I know, you are not alright. Came here to offer..”, she said.

“Offer? Offer what?”, mumbled the hobbit.

“Offer my help incase you’d need it to bang your thick head into that wall.”

There was a restless silence.

“You are not funny, girl.”, he mumbled.

Cora shrugged.

“No. What I am is, angry. You broke her heart, you know.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Just what did you tell her, Brom Bumblebrim?”, Cora asked frowning at the hobbit.

“Didn’t tell her anything.”, came the hobbits muffled voice.

“Thought so. And that tells me something.”, the barbarian girl said harshly.

“That I am a coward?”

Cora shrugged again.

“I am not here to tell you the things you already know, Brom.”

“Still not funny.”

“You lost someone. I get it.. My guess is, it was a girl.. Someone precious to you.. Someone you didn’t only love and care for, but someone you also truly respected and treasured. And now you don’t want to live that loss again.. with Seressa..”

“Aren’t you full of wisdom today..”, came the hobbit’s muffled, surly mumble.

“I don’t blame you. We are in a dangerous line of work. Any one of us could die at any given time. Why start something that can end at any moment, right?”

“This is going to end with me agreeing with you and you bludgeoning me with some outlandish, tundra logic, isn’t it?”

“You are bludgeoned as it is. I came here to agree with your choice. I fully approve. What could anything remarkable come out of a beautiful and mystifying girl and a little, hedgehog of a hobbit? We should concentrate on the task at hand.”, Cora said coolly.

“What? You think I am not good enough for her?”

“No. I think you think you are not good enough for her, which makes what I think sort of irrelevant..”

Brom scowled at the wall..

“But like I said, better this way. No complications. No sad separations. No breakups. No losses. All of which will happen no matter how long either of you lives, anyway.. And obviously, no more heart breaks for you. That’s a bonus, right there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say!”, she said.

“You know that you just ruined your whole point with a contradictory line, right?”

“And who is going to refute me? You? You can’t even get over one heartbreak. Your doors are shut and well fortified. You give all these awesome advices to Tonic, but heed none of it yourself. So.. who is going to refute me?”

“What do you want, Cora?”

“From you? Nothing. You can’t even dare to reach out for something you clearly want, nor dare to give into it.. What can you possibly have, that I’d even want?”, she replied and there was much contempt in her voice. She took a long breath, as if to clam down, and continued. “I think I have made up my mind about what I want to do after we are done with this jump. I shall go back home and start a whole new Ironfrost.. and I shall call it.. New Ironfrost! Alright, maybe, that didn’t sound as dramatic as I had intended, but who cares. There’s not one left to refute that, either.. The girls, I suspect, will go back to either pestering the Ice Wolf Clan, posing as demons, or go back to that Academy of Melshieve of theirs. I believe Tonic has a job waiting for her there as a mecha-thingy something-something professor and Seressa is going to be a Storm Kite test pilot, though I have absolutely no idea what that is. Whatever it is, I sure hope she wears her safety belt and a helmet.. and a pair of pants!”

“You are just pulling at random stuff and stream broadcasting them here!”, spluttered Brom.

“Maybe. Accept I don’t know what you just said.”

Brom snorted bitterly.

“Well. We had better get started, hadn’t we? Thanks to you and your little teacup, we have but the one floor left. Funny how that turned out.”, Cora said merrily.

“Yea. Funny how that turned out.. Thank you for putting me up to this, Cora. You have been of great help.”, he said with wrathful sarcasm.

Cora stared at the bushy little hobbit.

“Do not make me the devil, here, Brom. I told you to go and talk to her, here and back at Arashkan.. You didn’t then, you didn’t now.. I told you to tell her what you felt. You didn’t then, you didn’t now.. I also told you to accept whatever came your way, where she was concerned. And guess what? You didn’t then, you didn’t now, either.. The only thing I told you not to do was to make her choices for her.. and you did that, now and then!. You want to blame someone that desperately, by all means, keep staring at that wall.”, she said, paused for a moment as if thinking, or perhaps weighing some things against odds. When she spoke again, however, her voice was with a cooler, and a more, distant. “You have been a great friend and great company, Master Brom. But I am not taking a deplorable coward with me. Between the three of us, I believe we girls can handle the rest from here. I am sure you have enough skills to get out of here quite untethered.”

And just like that, she too turned around and left.

 

Brom stared at the wall some more while fuming and simmering. That had gone well, alright.

“So who is next? Tonic, isn’t it? Do send her in.. Might as well get it over with while I am on the roll..”, he said bitterly.

 

“Ready, girls?”, he heard Cora say.

“Whot? What happened? Is the hobbit not coming with us?”, asked Tonic baffled.

Cora shrugged.

“What is going on? Seressa? Did he say something bad to you? No. He said something dumb.. He said something dumb and foolish, didn’t he? Want me to go and beat some sense into him? Because, I totally can!”, Tonic flared.

“No, luv. He did nothing of the sort. He wouldn’t do that and you know this.. We also don’t beat friends just because they don’t see things our way..”, he heard Seressa’s drained voice.

“Silly little weasel! Men can be so stupid and dense sometimes.”, Tonic mumbled.

“So can girls, luv, and quite apparent, in my case.. Tonic, baby, this is not a gender issue. Not in that sense. Please don’t take it there..”, Seressa quietly admonished her pair.

“Then what’s the problem? And why are you so pale and trembling, girl?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all..”

 

“Coming, Master Brom?”

..came the offer and from Seressa, of all people, from the other side of the room. Her voice, very neutral, and totally void of any implications. A voice spoken to a stranger; carefully polite, inexpressive, inanimate, soulless, and matt.

 

“On my way..”, replied the hobbit with an equally lifeless and very much lackluster tone.

Perhaps Cora was right and it was time he started looking for something beyond this little group.

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s the plan here?”, whispered Tonic, and there was a distinct presence of fear in her voice. “Just so you all know, if my dear uncle is in there, I am going to bail.”

“You’d run off? Just like that?”, asked her pair, her voice somewhat listless.

“Of course. And so should you.. All of you.. We are no match for him.”, squeaked the gnomic girl.

“How do you know?”, asked Cora, more out of curiosity than any belligerence.

“Ever wonder why there are this many untethered demons here, all defending one little midget of a wizard and his tower? And why Arashkan and High Woods are just a weeks distance away but no one dares to come here to put a stop to him and his deranged madness?”, she asked.

“Yes. That did cross my mind.”, admitted the elf barbarian.

“The fiends and the demons, among many other things do his bidding willingly because here, they can run amok and freely. This bloody tower is a heaven for them. And because they all fear him. I am not even sure Ri Grandaleren of Bari Na-ammen could take him out on a one-on-one.”, Tonic said in a dejected tone.

“But someone did take him out at the end, though, didn’t they?”, Cora said.

“Yes. But their timing was not random nor a coincidence. When you think about it, you have to admire how well, or perhaps, how delicately it was chosen, and how that timing had been at the core of their plan of action in the first place.. Lord Delia lead the company, certainly, but I am inclined to give Nadine Graciousward the credit for having figured this out. Seems like the kind of thing she’d do.. People think her beauty is her only quality. I think not, though. You can’t be that awesome just by having a pretty face and some nice breasts and *cough* well, you get my drift.. What I am getting at is, the Demon Gate my uncle constructed in the center of the ruins just north of Durkahan had failed because it had malfunctioned. Suffice to say, his masters, the Demon Lords, were extremely put out by his consecutive and conclusive failures, considering all the backing he had from them. Hence they pulled most of their forces, along with the majority of their support from him.. and his tower.. This tower. So yes. When the paladin Delia Karakash Hooman, the sorceress Nadine Graciousward and at least six others came here to confront him, this tower was much more empty. I guesstimate, it is around twenty-five to twenty-eight percent of its capacity at the moment. This number will rise exponentially and likely surpass its maximum capacity when he is near the completion of his gate but will drop drastically once it fails.. I think that is when Delia and Nadine hit my uncle and they still lost more than half their number. You must understand, aside from being a megalomaniac, a lunatic, and an irreplaceable arse, my uncle, Arcanton Mordenon, is a dedicated evocationist. When he nukes, he has the capacity to deliver his wrath at its maximum gauge, gage, caliber, scale and dial! To this day, it still isn’t clear just how many professional bounty hunters or enterprising adventurers my uncle killed because he disintegrated quite a few, as opposed to merely charring them. I can only guess just how Nadine was pissed when he did the same to her friends, but I am thinking, A LOT! Which is why she banished him to hell in stasis.. That way, only she can release him and bring him back, which I doubt she will ever do. So when I say, if my uncle is here I will bail, I mean exactly that. He won’t know who I am, and I am certain he won’t care even if he did, seeing as how he treated the three-year-old me.”

“You are aware..”, Brom said quietly from behind. “..If we do face him, I plan on leaving a mark on him.”

 

Cora looked back at Brom.

It was the first time he had spoken since he had said ‘nothing’ to Seressa.

Seressa on the other hand, hadn’t faded away in total silence.

She’d just been.. void..

When she spoke, it was with this glassy and brittle cheeriness.

It probably made Tonic bleed from the inside, even though she too refused to show it, nor did she display any outward animosity towards Brom. Just a tad.. formal.. and minutely critical in her exchanges with him..

..and very much disappointed in him.

Hence Cora and Tonic ended up having this odd and awkward commentary going between them.

 

“Why?”, Tonic said without so much as looking at him, and sort of in a rhetorical way.

“Said I’d do it, remember?”, Brom replied.

“I remember. I also remember never agreeing with you, either.”, she said with a shrug.

“Your agreeing was not part of my promise.”, mumbled Brom.

“I am over it, Master Brom. Nothing’s going to change the past. Might as well not add to his murder tally. Besides, I don’t think he is home. I mean we have been here, killing his fiends, his demons, and his whatnots, and he hasn’t once come down to investigate, which is quite unlike him. The Arcanton Mordenon I remember was a militantly control freak!”

 

Brom did not reply nor did he object. Talking about anything at the moment seemed like putting more strain on a thread stretched too tight, as it was.

Cora on the other hand was a barbarian. She didn’t notice such subtleties. Or perhaps she did, and even though she was very much wroth with him, she was still kinder than she let on and she didn’t think the bushy little hobbit should be ousted anymore than he already was..

..and it didn’t make much sense torturing him any more than what he had already managed to bring upon himself.

 

“Just out of curiosity, why would you want to leave a mark on him? It isn’t like you to collect trophies.”, she said lightly.

“I have no interest in collecting any part of him. Other than perhaps his head.”, replied Brom with a listless tone.

“We should collect his head. Back in Arashkan, I saw many wanted posts and his name was on it. With a very generous five hundred thousand gold attached to it.”

“Didn’t know that. I was never really all that interested in bounty hunting.”, he replied with the same tone.

“Ow? We did start our adventures with a wanted post, and hence, bounty hunting, if you recall.”, Cora said with a reminiscing voice.

“True, now that I look back. But I came along because of you, really, rather than the money. And because there was something about your tundra’s that appealed to me even though I am not a winter person and very much dislike the cold.”

“You came because of me, did you? That’s just sad.”, she said slightly amused.

“Yes. You seemed.. don’t get me wrong, Cora, but kind of lost.. and desperate.. as if wanting to join your lost ones in a hurry.. I didn’t want that to happen.”

“How could you possibly know those? It was much later I opened up about my losses.”, she asked curiously.

“Also true. But it takes one to know one, I guess. I.. saw myself in you.. Not in a creepy way, mind you.. Something about your mood.. or perhaps your state of mind.. Like I said, takes one to know one..”, replied Brom dispiritedly.

“Who did you lose, Master Brom?”

 

The question came too suddenly.

And from the one person, the lost hobbit would have least expected just then. And tenderly it came, soothing through all his mental defenses, his barriers and his barricades, and gently pushing them aside!

Without even thinking, as if by muscle reflex, he blurted.

 

“Aremela Berrybush.”

 

And with shock, he just stood where was.

So did Cora, for this was the first time she had heard the name of his loss.

Tonic was staring at him with a slight frown.

Seressa Wraiven, however, was there, and on her knees right before him. She stood where she was, kneeling and staring into the depths of his soul with her unfathomable, astral eyes. Whatever she sought, she must have found it, because she reached at the petrified hobbit and collected him into her bosom..

 

.. and wow!

 

Brom lost all senses..

That single embrace was the warmest, softest, and life-inducing thing he had ever experienced in his whole life. It was a ‘best’ on so many levels, he thought he had no words for far too many of them.

And Seressa Wraiven smelled so nice. Something with phloxes, cherry blooms, and.. something else.. something unique..

And with an unexpected display of insight, considering his emotional wreckage and his current standing —in Seressa’s arms, and far too close to her soft, pretty breasts that he was literally breathing right into them, Brom knew, there was only one creature in the verse that possessed this smell, and she was it;

Seressa Wraiven!

 

“You loved her.”

 

It wasn’t a question so much as a simple, tangible statement. A statement not for her benefit, but for his.

“She was.. special.. and extraordinary.. and artlessly innocent.. and she gave her life, saving one, stupid hobbit, because that is what she thought was required of her, and for me to understand what it was, that was required of me..”, he croaked.

“I understand you now, dear Brom Bumblebrim. More so than before. And do I now understand your fears, also. I revoke my previous, and quite inconsiderate and impulsive declaration, and apologize to you for my impromptu selfishness.”, she said to his ear as she hugged him tighter.

“There is nothing to apologize, sweet Seressa Wraiven. You did nothing wrong. And I just did nothing..”, he replied hoarsely.

“Nevertheless, I should have been more considerate of my friend, Brom Bumblebrim.. Henceforth, you shall not be only my comrade, but my companion and my friend for life. Should you ever need my company, I shall be there.”, she whispered back and Brom felt a tingling sensation run down from the tip of his ears, all the way down to his toes.

“I think you should let go of me now, dear Wraiven. Because if you hold me any longer, I won’t be able to let go of you. Your.. warmth is murdering me and your smell is simply intoxicating!”, he said in a desperately embarrassed voice.

Seressa parted, barely, but still knelt where she was and still held him in her dark, slim, long arms as she ran her delicate hands through his thick, bushy hair.

“And whatever gave you the idea I would want you to, Master Brom?”, she said with her awesome smile.

 

Thump!

 

Brom’s heart lurched..

..to overdrive!

 

“I think I heard something.”, snickered Tonic.

“So did I.”, murmured Cora with a poorly concealed smile.

 

Seressa Wraiven leaned in, and lightly kissed the petrified little hobbit.

It wasn’t a submissive kiss, nor a demanding one.

It was a carefully applied, tender and.. well.. scrumptious kiss..

Brom was a bard, and words were his thing, after all, and that was the only thing he could think of;

Scrumptious!

 

“I shall ever be envious of your loss, sad as it may be, Master Brom.”, she said, gave him another of her awesome smiles, and gracefully rose to her feet.

She then looked at Cora and her pair, Tonic, then back at Brom, and said, “Before, I thought I had something to die for; a prophecy to fulfil and save humanity.. Now? Now, I have something to live.. Shall we?”

“Let’s.”, agreed, the elf barbarian with a slightly victorious tint to her voice.

 

Funny how a dispirited and dejected four could suddenly dash forth with a light and merry skip to their pace merely a short embrace and a kiss later.

 

That had been the first time since Gull’s Perch, Brom Bumblebrim had such a silly and concussed expression on his face..

✱ ✱ ✱

Arcanton Mordenon was not at home. His fiends, his demons, and his numerous whatnots, however, were, and they came charging at them the moment the four stepped into the mad evocationist’s vast workshop at the top of his tower. Cora held the door, trying her best to keep them out as she spun her double-bladed elven scimitar, jabbing, slashing, hacking, dismembering, and disemboweling any that came within her reach, while Brom strung his lyre, sending dissonant scores at them, driving them mad, confounding them, leaving them confused or dropping them shuddering on the ground, their heads bloomed and their brains splattered everywhere.

Seressa sent her ghostly hands at them, pushing them, pulling them, and dislocating them whenever they tried to overcrowd the barbarian girl as she smothered them in maddening darkness.

Tonic, on the other hand, scurried around her uncle’s vast chamber, trying to figure out why they had been sent here in the first place!

There were strange, unidentifiable machinery, artificed objects, gimmicks, and gizmos of various shapes and sizes everywhere in the shelf riddled workshop, along with flasks, vials, tubes, and spiraling glass appendages containing oozing, bubbling, and frothing potions, poisons, and chemicals on the many work tables and benches. Glowing braziers, old candle holders with dripping waxes, rust-brown cages with dried and dead things hung from the high ceiling, attached to long, petrified chains. And at the far end of the workshop was the main table, a heavy and sturdy structure made of solid oak and studded with thick leathers and steel nails. The surface of the table was perhaps once polished and smooth, but long had it been abused with dark, chemical burns, blade lines, and possibly, claw marks and other stains that declared many years of harsh use, where piles of drawings, sketches, diagrams, and many numerical lists and spreadsheets lay, rolled up or stretched and held in place by old iron weighs. Similar sketches and drawings also covered the walls wherever there were no shelves.

The whole place spoke of hard, obsessive work, riddled with depression, desperation, frenzy, and not a small amount of deranged madness.

“Status Update!”, Cora called from the door, holding a vicious gash at a point just above her hip.

“This place is a mess! Just look at it! It’s dowdy, ratty, slovenly, and simply hazardous! I guess they didn’t pay him enough to hire a maid or two!”, Tonic squeaked in towering and abhorrent disgust.

“I can’t imagine a maid or two here wearing those skimpy maid outfits, and waving one of those fluffy dusters..”, noted Seressa with a slightly amused tone as she sent a spectral scythe, screaming into another fiend.

Tonic coughed.

“A bit rich, you calling a service maids’ uniform, ‘skimpy’..”, she retorted derisively from the other side of the room trying to see the names of the books in the shelves, written on their spines.

“I beg to differ, my dear Tonic.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl in her illustrious and cultured voice.

“How so?”, the gnomic girl asked as she scurried to the adjacent set of shelves.

“I am not a service maid!”, Seressa replied simply.

Brom snorted.

“Can we hurry this along?”, Cora called from the door as she slashed down one end of her weapon, sliced open a demon, counter swung the other end of the weapon, and opened a symmetrical gash. The demon groaned and collapsed, splattering its frothy blood everywhere.

“I need to more time. This place is huge and there must be thousands and thousands of books, gadgets, and drawings, any of which could be the reason we are here!”, the little gnomic girl’s voice fizzled in near panic.

“If it’s one of the books, we can switch places.”, called Seressa. “I have decent WPM count!”

“WPM?”, asked Brom.

“Words Per Minute!”, shouted Tonic from the other side of the workshop with sneering triumph. “And no. If it’s WPM, no one beats Arcantonic Palecog! I had the highest score in all the Academy history ever to be recorded! And that isn’t speed reading either. It is comprehensive reading!”

“Ow?”, asked Seressa.

960 WORDS PER MINUTE! YEZZZ, YOU HURD MEH! THAT’S A NINER SIX OH, FOR YOU, GURRL!”

“Ow..”, came Seressa’s voice.

Politely.

 

There was a pregnant moment of dawning silence.

 

“What’s yours?”, Tonic asked carefully.

“1024..”, replied the very tall, very dark girl evasively.

“IMPOSSIBLE!”, Tonic exclaimed, quite shell shocked.

“Improbable, yes, my dear. Impossible? Not so much.”, Seressa said with mirthful eyes and a sweet little smile on her face.

“I would have known..”, said Tonic with a decidedly dejected tone. “There was no record of it anywhere.”

“I didn’t even know they kept records for WPM’s. Don’t feel bad, luv. I had nothing better to do in my six years tenure in the Academy but to read in the library.. Other than tending for my phloxes, I mean.. I was bound to get good at both.. I have a chair crafted from cherry wood dedicated solely to me there.. I am sure it’s got the shape of my butt imprinted on it!”, Seressa tried to explain.

Brom coughed..

“I can’t believe the things I am hearing..”, he muttered to himself.

“Can’t I beat you at anything, damit?!”, she snarled.

“You beat me in everything that matters, luv. My ‘betters’ are merely the inconsequential and items of trivia.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl, as she lit the whole hall leading up to the door with a sickly, yellowish-green light.

“Don’t go into that, dear Cora.”, she warned the barbarian girl.

“What is it?”, she asked.

“Pain. Lot’s of it.”, Seressa said softly.

“Huh.”

“Name me one thing I am better, damit!”, shouted the little gnomic girl as she scrambled up the sitting bench and started inspecting the drawings, sketches, diagrams, lists, and spreadsheets on the large table.

“You want to do this now? Really, girl, your priorities need some working!”, mumbled Brom.

“Shut up, hobbit. You hugged and kissed Seressa in the middle of a demon-infested, mad midget’s tower!”, she spat hotly.

Brom blushed furiously.

“He didn’t hug me, nor did he kiss me, luv.”, said Seressa with a barely discernable blush of her own. “I hugged him.. and I kissed him..”

“Didn’t seem like that at all.. Not from where I was standing. He definitely hugged AND kissed you, girl! Cora saw it too, didn’t you, Cora?”

“I AM NOT GETTING INVOLVED IN THAT!”, shouted the barbarian girl.

“Alright. It was a pleasant, mutual hugging.. and kissing, then?”, she offered, her face a bit brighter now.

“Yea, I bet it was..”, scowled Tonic. “Now stop deflecting and tell me, damit.. Name me one thing I am better at?”

“You, luv, are my pair. The rest is trivia.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl simply, and with no small amount of zeal.

Tonic shut up!

“Not the hugging and the kissing.. Those weren’t trivia, Master Brom, I swear!”, she added redundantly with a tiny and rather abashed voice.

Brom cleared his throat and spoke in a gruff sort of voice.

“Let’s concentrate on what’s at hand, shall we?”, he said.

“Yes. Let’s..”, agreed, Seressa hastily.

“Stupid bean poles, stupid bushy little weasels and stupid midgety wizards of high grandeur..”, came the muffled voice of Tonic from the large, leather and steel studded oak table.

As pissed off as Tonic was at that particular moment, and wroth with hate at her deranged uncle, she admired Arcanton Mordenon’s focused commitment, his rigorous diligence, his studious preciseness, and his meticulous attention to detail in his diagrams and sketches, if not his workshop, of what she thought was the Demon Gate itself!

She looked down at the left-hand corner of each drawing and noted that each was also dated, stamped with a version number and their status of success. Most weren’t. Hastily, she picked up the thick spreadsheet book and opened a random page..

 

22.10.7535 – v.30.3 – FAILED
03.04.7536 – v.31.1 – FAILED

16.07.7536 – v.31.2 – FAILED
09.10.7536 – v.31.3 – FAILED
20.01.7537 – v.32.1 – FAILED
05.04.7537 – v.32.2 – FAILED
18.07.7537 – v.32.3 – FAILED

 

It seemed it had taken three to three and a half months to prepare and ready for a new version of the Demon Gate and the list seemed to go up and down a long way!

Tonic whistled.

She knew she could get obsessive at times, particularly where her MECHABER was concerned. But this.. this went off her charts!

“Well.. That explains from which side of the family my stupid monomania’s and fixations came from.”, she muttered darkly.

Every once in a while though, the tests would skip a to a whole new version marked as SOME SUCCESS, or PARTIAL SUCCESS..

Tonic flipped all the way to the very end of the thick, stubby spreadsheet book and there it was..

 

08.03.7566 – v.111.1 – PARTIAL SUCCESS
29.06.7566 – v.111.2 – FAILED
14.09.7566 – v.111.3 – PARTIAL SUCCESS
06.11.7566 – v.111.4 – SUCCESS!

 

“Hells Bells..”, she whispered with awe. “The maniac did it! He actually did discover how to build a functional Demon Gate.. 111 versions? Damn.. And that’s not even counting the sub-versions! That is one sick obsession, that is! Uncle Mordenon, I shall forever hate you from the bottom of my groin up to the tip of my nipples, but you have managed to garner my respect, you sick son of a motherless goblin’s bastard-midget!”

Then she started looking for the sketches for version 111.4!

 

GONG!

 

A deep, reverberating bell rang somewhere up and down the whole tower..

..and the demons scathing in the sickly yellow-green light Seressa had cast froze.. just for a moment..

..then, with a grotesque roar, they all attacked with undisguised zeal!

 

“Ow crap!”, shrieked Tonic.

“What? What was that?”, Brom squeaked as he felt something sink in his belly and the trepidation of doom spread across the tower.

“My uncle Mordenon! He’s come back! And likely with his Demon Lords..”

“For all that’s good and not!”, exclaimed Seressa in despair.

“Whatever it is you have to do, do it now, girl!”, shouted Cora as she swung a wide cleave across several frenzied demons, receiving any number of cuts and gashes in return. “Hurry, damit!”

Tonic froze for a moment, then started running around in panicked circles;

“My uncle’s coming.. He’s coming! He’s coming to stick me into that cage again! He’s—”, she spluttered.

SOMEONE SLAP THAT GIRL BACK!“, roared Cora and brought her double-bladed elven scimitar down, cutting one of the demons in two —vertically!

“Master Brom!”, yelled Seressa. “I can’t take my attention away from my curse.”

Brom scurried to Tonic, dipped his foot forward, and tripped the little gnomic girl.

Arcantonic crashed.

Facedown!

When she rose back to her feet, her face was all bloodied and she was entertaining a grotesquely broken nose..

“Uhhmm…”, murmured Brom.

The look Tonic gave him was nothing less than baleful.

“Why the hell did you do that, boy?”, she screamed.

“I.. I am sorry, Tonic, but you were in a full-blown panic attack so I tripped you. It was that or slap you back to sanity.. And.. I didn’t feel like slapping you..”, he mumbled.

“So instead of slapping me and giving me a shiner, you decided to trip me and break my nose?!”, she glared at him with disintegrating eyes.

Brom shrank back.

TONIC! DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU HAVE TO DO, AND DO IT NOW, DAMIT!“, Cora roared again.

Tonic sniffed and wiped the blood in a very unladylike manner, smearing it all over her face, then, in a low, threatening hiss, she spoke.

“There will be a reckoning, Brom Bumblebrim, should we live to get out of here.. Now, look around and find me a sketch, a diagram, or drawing.. One with a version 111.4 written on the bottom left corner of it!”

 

The two dashed and started rummaging everywhere and all the sketches, drawings, and diagrams and checking their versions as more and more demons came pouring into the hall, illuminated by Seressa’s spell.

Cora hacked and slashed as Seressa desperately sent her ghostly hands at the rushing fiends and demons, pulling and pushing them to make sure they stayed in the sickly and deadly light and slowly burned.

 

“Nothing..”, gasped Brom as he came up to the little gnomic girl.. “None of my findings match the version number you want.”

“Damit..”, swore Tonic.

Then she blinked and a small “Ow..” escaped her.

“What?”, asked Brom urgently.

“Why didn’t I think of it before. Of course, he is not going to leave it around just for anyone to find.. That particular version must be several cities worth!”

 

Hastily, she reached into her artificer’s satchel and rummaged for a moment, and produced a little, hooded lantern. Carefully, she skimmed the elegantly made lantern with her slim fingers until she found what she was looking for; a well-concealed runic button hidden at its base. She lightly tapped the button, setting it to MODE B…

 

There..

 

..on the other side of the vast workshop.

 

..was something.

 

Something hidden..

 

Arcantonic smiled.

 

She might not be much of a sneak, nor have many of the quirky talents her pair did, but she was an artificer and that meant compensating what they lacked by way of substituting them with pure ingenuity and dedicated craftsmanship..

 

“What’s this?”, Brom asked looking at Tonic, her evil smile, and the little hooded lantern..

“This is a top-secret device of my own crafting, boy!”, she sniffed more blood in an ‘I look down on ye little bugs’, attitude.

Brom coughed..

“Horse..” —cough— “..turd!”

Tonic scowled.

“If you must know, it’s a Lantern of Revealing. It reveals invisible, and sometimes hidden objects..”, she growled at the hobbit, then padded over to a certain section of the wall, covered with what seemed like an oil painting of Arcanton Mordenon himself, framed and hung, and lording down upon unseen subjects.

“Nice.”, said Brom ogling at the frame. “Seen the portraits of important men and women framed in officious courts, but hanging a painting of yourself? How jaded is that?”

“This isn’t jade, boy. It is outright megalomania and monumental levels of inferiority complex competing —and sorely falling short of his low, midgety self-esteem!”, spat Tonic.

“Wow. Couldn’t have put it better myself. I think you missed your calling, girl. You should have been a poet.”, he smirked.

“Don’t mock me, Brom. I have good reasons for being the way I am.”, she said quietly.

“I am sorry. I am terrified at the moment and my mouth just starts running without counseling me..”, apologized Brom.

“Tis alright. I forgive you.. just not for the nose.. Now hold this end of the frame, quickly.”

 

The two grunted and lifted the frame off its hook, and carefully lowered it down. The frame was a lot heavier than it seemed.

 

“There is nothing here!”, exclaimed Brom, staring at the blank wall behind the frame.

“Never said there was.”, replied Tonic, frowning down at the frame, and at the oil painting of her deranged uncle.

 

“Tonic, Brom, hurry.. I don’t think I can hold them any longer. Too many piling up here. Seressa is burning them by the lot and they don’t even seem to care!”, shouted Cora as more and more demons ravaged her.

Seressa was sweating profusely by now. Yet, she was staring at the sickly illuminated hall with burning intensity as she sent one shrieking ghostly hand after another, pushing the demons back and trying to buy a moment of respite for the barbarian girl.

 

Tonic ran back to the large table, shuffled around the cluster, found what she was looking for, and dashed back to the frame of her deranged uncle. Over the howls, the roars, the barkings, and the yowls of the demons, she silently contemplated the image of her uncle.

Then, she produced the little inkpot she’d just gotten from the table, dipped the quill, also from the table, bent down over the frame, and carefully made, what appeared to be a very short, single vertical line.

Brom stared at the portrait of the megalomaniac, Arcanton Mordenon, and saw the line disappear even as Tonic drew it.

“What the—”, he began.

“Not now.”, hissed the little gnomic girl as she carefully studied the portrait, then slashed a similar, vertical line somewhere across and below the first one.

Brom watched as that line also disappeared.

Tonic frowned and looked intensely at her uncle for a bit more, dipped the quill into the inkpot, and for the third time, she scratched the portrait.

“Done..”, she said.

“Done? What’s done?”, asked Brom, totally baffled.

“Later. Help me put this back on the wall. Hurry..”, she said harshly and yelled. “Seressa..”

“Whot?”, Seressa gasped as she trembled, her concentration on the sickly, devouring light, waning.

“Prepare to get us out of here, if you will, please!”, Tonic yelled at her.

“Are you.. are we.. done?”, she very nearly moaned under the pressure of her spell.

“Almost.. Get ready to pull us out, when I say, ‘Cherry Blooms’..”

“Cherry Blooms?”, Seressa asked, an amused smile appearing on her tightly clenched teeth.

“It was either that or some long, unrelated tirade about my retarded uncle..”, Tonic mumbled under her breath as she and Brom forcefully lifted the heavy frame of Arcanton Mordenon, and hung it back on its hook.

“Now all it needs is a final touch.”, she said, staring at her uncle with a very evil and very filthy stare, and opened an empty palm at the hobbit. “Alright Master Brom, gimme knife.”

 

Brom looked at her.. evenly..

 

“I am NOT giving you knife, girl!”, he said stiffly.

Tonic stared at him.

“This is not the time for a funny, boy. Give me knife!”, she fumed.

 

Brom stared at her, some more.

Rather sternly.

 

“Hells Bells, boy, give me a damn knife, already..”, she said in an exasperated voice.

Brom produced a small knife and gave it to her, handle first.

 

Tonic took the knife..

..and stabbed her uncle.

Arcanton Mordenon..

..in the face!

 

“Die biach!”, she spat.. and with child-like glee and slow satisfaction, she sliced his face in two!

 

“Alright.”, said Brom carefully. “I am sure there was a reason for that.”

“YEZZZ!”, replied the little gnomic girl with one of the evilest smiles Brom had ever seen on any face.

“Girl, you are freaking me out..”, he mumbled. “You look like a cat who just stole a whole barrel of cream from a rat mafia!”

Tonic smirked.

Then she turned to Seressa and yelled.

“CHERRY BLOOMS!”

Seressa sent a fiery comet down and into the sickly lit hall, sending the fiends and demons slamming into the ground and stunning them..

“Cora.. Shut the door.. It’s time to go!”, she yelled at the barbarian girl.

Cora spun around, carved a wide cleave out of the whole front row of demons, belly danced right out of their frustrated and bloody reach, and in a seamless string of lithe steps, she slammed the door into their face, rammed the heavy bar behind it into its counter latch, and heaved down the nearest bookcase, totally blocking the door.

“Done.”, she said coolly and stepped up next to the very tall, very dark Seressa and held up her hand.

“Girl, you are just so awesome!”, Seressa cheered at her, then turned to the other two. “Tonic, luv? Master Brom?”

Brom didn’t waste any time.

Brom felt no inclination to waste any time..

He hurtled next to Cora and took her hand as Tonic scurried right after him with a grinning display of satisfaction etched all over her face. She came to a stop right next to the hobbit and reached up to hold Seressa’s hand.

Seressa looked down at her pair.

“Done, luv?”, she asked.

“Done, luv..”, Tonic grinned.

“You look happy.”, Seressa said.

“Profusely.”, admitted the little gnomic girl, her grin spreading even wider.

“Any regrets?”, asked the very tall, very dark Seressa.

“Many.”, said Tonic. “But none today.”

Seressa smiled at her, then looked at the barbarian girl and the bushy little hobbit.

“My friend Cora and my dear Master Brom. Thank you both.”, she said solemnly. “Today you have given my pair, surcease.”

Then she looked up and whispered..

“My Queen.. Your maiden pleads.. We are ready..”

 

A ghostly light appeared around the four as some things big and nasty slammed on the door, sending bits and pieces of wood and nail every which way..

 

..as Tonic drew a round, heavy, leather-bound, fire-clay hardened and tightly packed ball with a little pin at the top out of her artificer’s satchel and handed the thing to Brom.

“What do you want me to do with this?”, Brom asked, holding the ball like it was a live snake.

“You wanted to leave a mark, didn’t you?”, the little gnomic girl said.

“Yes, of course.”, Brom replied still staring at the tightly packed ball.

“Well, this will leave a mark!”, she said with a vicious grin. “Pull that pin, and toss..”

Brom returned her grin with his own.

“Fire in the hole..”, he hissed with a vengeance, pulled the pin..

..and lazily tossed it.

 

“Close the circle!”, yelped Seressa, and the very happy gnomic girl forcefully grabbed the hobbit’s hand..

 

The workshop of Tonic’s uncle, Arcanton Mordenon, shuddered as the grenade detonated with eye-searing savagery..

 

..just as they disappeared.

✱ ✱ ✱

A cool, pleasant wind was blowing when Brom opened his eyes. He lay where he was to see a brilliant and vividly blue sky.

 

‘Wow..’, he thought to himself. ‘That’s a pretty sky..”

 

“No, really, it is but a small flesh wound, Sir.”, he heard Cora say.

‘Sir?’, wondered Brom.Just who could have garnered enough respect from Cora Sleet? Enough for her to actually ‘Sir’ them..’

 

It wasn’t because Cora was an abrasive or disrespectful girl or anything. It was, Brom figured, possibly because ‘Sir’ just didn’t seem to fit the whole, ‘Barbarian Theme’..

 

“I apologize for my foul mouth, Sir. Bad habits die hard. And I have many..”

 

‘What the..’, thought Brom, now that just didn’t feel right at all! An apologizing Tonic? Really, now, that was just absurd..

 

“Deep down, am I an evil creature?”, Brom heard Seressa ask. “I carry odd blood, Sir!’

 

‘Girl, if you are an evil creature, I would suggest you get in line.. quite a ways behind me!’, thought Brom a bit irritably.

 

“Welcome to the Celestial Mountains, young Brom Bumblebrim.”, he heard a deep, masculine voice reverberate all over his soul. “Are you well? You seem scarred. It is possible to remove this scar from your heart and soul, and set you free, should you but will it.”

“It is my scar, Sir. And it is there to stay. I carry it as a badge of my failures. We are what we are, but we can choose to be who we want to be. And I choose that scar to be part of me.”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

A cool, pleasant wind was blowing when Brom opened his eyes. He lay where he was to see a brilliant and vividly blue sky.

 

‘Wow..’, he thought to himself. ‘That’s a pretty sky..”

 

“You up?”, Tonic appeared in his line of vision, nudged him with her foot, and generally messed up his pretty sky. Could have been Seressa, but no.. It just had to be the pesky little gnomic girl..

“Don’t nudge him like that. That isn’t nice, Tonic. He deserves better from you.”, came the soft, illustrious, and cultured voice of Seressa, from somewhere off to his.. well, it came from somewhere!

Tonic grinned, then scrunched her face and said, in a low, harsh, miming voice;

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it!”

Brom ogled at her.

“Get it?”, asked the little gnomic girl, then lowered her voice again and repeated;

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it!”

Brom ogled at her, some more.

Tonic’s face drooped and she sighed.

“There went a perfect reference..”

“He didn’t attend to the Academy, Tonic. He might easily be unaware of such, ‘bullboy’ or ‘jestern’ cultures.”, Seressa said.

“How can he be not aware of it, girl? Hells Bells, he’s a bard for Heaven’s sake, how is it he doesn’t even know this? It’s a classic!”, Tonic squeaked with exasperation.

“It’s a classic amongst its peers, luv. Which makes it relative.”, Seressa tried to explain.

Tonic scowled.

Then she nudged the hobbit once more with her foot and said, “Get up, boy. Seressa, Cora, and I are going to take a dip to wash all the dust, blood, gore, and mildew off of us and we need you to stand guard.”

Brom frowned, and slowly sat up. The landscape around him seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon and was covered with what appeared to be very pretty, pale green grass that seemed to emanate a strange sense of serenity.

He frowned some more and turned to look what he thought was to be north and there, far away, was a village of some sort and thin, light purple-gray wisps of smoke rose lazily from the wood and hay-roofed lodges.

He turned the opposite direction and his hobbit mind reeled. There, even further away, was a series of great, majestic mountains with snowy caps. And at the center of them all, a single mountain rose grandly and Brom saw a single shaft of golden light stab at the sky from it. Or perhaps the golden light was coming down from the brilliant and vivid blue sky and was polishing the mountain top.

 

It was the Celestial Mountain itself.

 

Brom gulped.

This was indeed a sight to behold.

For it was said, Angles came down and visited the mortals here!

The bushy little hobbit cleared his throat and turned away from the mountain.. it was just too much to harbor, in too little time.

“If you three are going to take a dip..”, he said, “.. I am going to watch!”

Tonic scowled at him something furious, as a chuckle was heard —Cora.

“Told you.”, she said.

Brom frowned even more.

“You told them I’d watch if you all took a dip? That was uncalled for, girl! I have never watched anyone taking a dip. That’s just rude.”

“Yep.”, said Cora with a grin. “Told them you’d say that, too.”

“Now that’s just mean..”, complained the hobbit.

“Come on, Seressa. Let’s wash up while we can. Tonic can keep our esteemed hobbit company while we do each other’s back!”

Seressa did a happy little whoop and gave Brom an ‘I am sorry’, look, then took off with the barbarian girl.

“You got any more of that pink, bubble soap-thingies?”, Brom heard Cora ask the very tall, very dark girl.

“Yes. Yes, I do, luv. You like?”, wondered Seressa with a slightly surprised but pleased voice.

“I like.”, said Cora.

 

“This is just so unfair..”, moaned Brom. “So unfair..”

“Unfair’s got nothing to do with it!”, mimed Tonic in a low, harsh voice!

“Girl, really, now!”, groaned Brom.

 

Tonic giggled with delight.

With genuine delight.

Which was sort of a first!

 

“C’mon, Master Brom.”, she said. “We can take our own dip elsewhere.”

“I am not taking a dip with you, Arcantonic Palecog!”, declared Brom with pure indignation.

“I am hurt, Master Hobbit. But unlike Seressa, I entertain no such fantasies with you. What I meant was just a dip. Literally. Just the feet.”, she said.

“Seressa has a fantasy to—”, Brom started with awe.

“—Been running back and forth for so long in that bloody tower, my feet are itching for a warm wash.”, she said.

Brom scowled furiously at the gnomic girl, but she merely gave him a pleasant ‘sneer’, turned around, and went to sit next to a little, happily running stream.

She took off her right clobbering boot, and her thick, woolen sock, followed by her left clobbering boot and sock then dipped both her feet into the stream and groaned with happy ecstasy.

Brom came up to her and stared at the little stream.

“We are in the north end of the central part of The Great Northern Tundra’s, girl. How are your feet not frozen?”, he asked curiously.

“Your guestimation of our location is quite accurate.”, Tonic said.

“It isn’t a guestimation, girl. The Celestial Mountain is right there. We are staring at it, like, right now!”

“True.”, agreed, the gnomic girl. “And we are also not wearing any winter gear, you’ll note. Yet here we are, not freezing our midgety little arses, either. I don’t think physics work correctly here. The water is fine, by the way. A happy sort of warm, to be precise.”

“A happy sort of warm, by definition, is not something you can use when you are going for precision, girl!”, mumbled Brom, but didn’t bother taking off his boots, nor his socks. He was a hobbit and hobbits used neither. Everyone knew that. Hence he merely rolled up his pants and carefully dipped his bushy feet into the happy stream..

..and also groaned with ecstasy.

Tonic smirked.

“Do describe how the water is, if you will, Master Brom.”, she said.

“A happy sort of warm!”, he replied, groaning some more.

“Two, quite dissimilar people describing the same thing, using the same words, is called ‘precision’, Master Brom. Not in a mathematical sense, perhaps, but I am an engineer and an artificer and we go for practicality over some theoretical but unlikely perfection.. Accuracy by way of numbers is mere ‘convenience’, and not always the proof of the existence of precision, nor perfection, ironic as that may seem..”, she explained mirthfully.

“You are in a happy mood.”, Brom said. “Just how much am I going to get hurt at the end?”

“Why would I hurt you? Unless you are referring to my nose..”, she said.

Brom did not reply.

IT’S A TRAP! —something shouted in his mind and thought that made an even better reference to something he’d read called Scar Wars, as opposed to whatever the little gnomic girl had..

“It’s alright, Master Brom. Took one of my syringes at it. Hurt like a son-of-a- well.. suffice to say it hurt.. A lot.. But in retrospect, you did the right thing back there. I wouldn’t want you to make a habit of it though. Had I stayed panicked the way I was, in all likeliness, we’d be dead. So.. I suppose a thank you, is in order here; Thank you!”

“Uhhmm.. You just thanked me for breaking your nose, girl. Who the hell are you and where is Tonic?”, Brom said, looking at the gnomic girl in wonder.. and trepidation.

Tonic snickered.

“I suppose you want to know what happened back there?”

“Want!”, exclaimed Brom, mimicking to gnomic girl’s voice.

“You know, it is alright to mime the classics. Not so much when you mime me..”, she fumed.

It seemed like it was Brom’s turn to snicker.

Hence he did.

Tonic scowled.

But apparently, her need to explain the things she’d done overcame her wont to destroy the bushy little hobbit then and there, so she set her tiny feet even deeper into the happy sort of warm stream, ignoring the fact that her pants were soaking now.

“The frame we pulled down from the wall, back at his workshop had two things, Master Brom; my deranged uncle’s painting and something else on top of that. The technical schematics of his finalized and only successful version of his famous Demon Gate.. The one we were looking for; version 111.4! The idiot had put it up and hid it in ‘plain sight’, and quite literally, I might add, for the schematics itself was invisible! You couldn’t see it, but I could, thanks to my Lantern of Revealing, but I am afraid that lantern only works for me because it’s attuned to me and to me alone. A bit like the goggles I gave you, but with a lot more prejudice. All I had to do was de-attune the goggles before I handed them over to you. It is now attuned to you because that’s how it works, which is beside the point.”

“I saw you draw some things.. Small lines, I think they were..”, said Brom, as he tried to digest what he’d just heard.

“I might have made one or three little modifications to his finalized, v.111.4, yes..”, Tonic said happily.

“What modifications?”

“I changed three ‘sixes’ to three ‘eights’..”, the little gnomic girl purred.

Apparently, there was something to purr, here, but Brom just couldn’t see it.

“Do you know what triangulation is, Master Brom?”, she asked.

“That it might have something to do with triangles? Maybe?”

“Yes.. I suppose that is true.. though totally off the mark, which is ironic, really, in its accuracy, when looking at it from an end-result point of view.”

“Alright. I officially have no idea what you just said.”, Brom frowned.

“Let me try to explain this to you in a way you might understand, Master Brom. Please point at the Celestial Mountain, if you will.”, she said and Brom got the district impression that there was going to be a quiz and harsh grading at the end.

He stared at the little gnomic girl.

“Humor me..”, she said.

Brom sighed and pointed at the majestic mountain.

“Now, baring some rather impressive illusions or mental projections, or some demented insanity on your part, or you are dreaming of me explaining triangulation to you —which would definitely tantamount to some kind of demented insanity on your part, you know, with relative certainty, that the Celestial Mountain is there because you are pointing right at it.”

“Can I just straight up plead insanity and get away with it?”, he mumbled grumpily.

“No, you can’t. Only I get to use that card! Now shut up and pay attention!”, wasped the little gnomic girl savagely.

Brom decided to keep his mouth shut.. for now.. It wasn’t like he would understand any of it anyway.

“Now point, say, one degree to your left.. or about half an inch or so.. Now you are still pointing at the Celestial Mountain because it’s so big and we are so close to it. Let’s assume you know exactly where Celestial Mountain is, and someone asked you where it was, and both of you are at Shakehands, the barbarian trade town way off to the east, and then you moved your finger half an inch to either side, would you still be pointing at the Celestial Mountain?”

“Well..”, said Brom a bit befuddled. “Relatively, yes, I suppose. Though that kind of accuracy is sort of moot, from as far away as Shakehands and considering all the mountains and other geographical obstacles along the way. But if he were to truly follow where I was pointing, sort of in a crows flight, and in a strictly straight line, I am thinking he’d totally miss the mountain and fall off a cliff!”

“Precisely!”, agreed, Tonic. “Now assume you are pointing at the same mountain for someone else, let’s say, a fellow hobbit who lives in your Bowling Hills.. with a similar, ‘half an inch off the mark’.. Where do you suppose he will end up?”

“I am not sure, but I think he will hurt himself and not really praise me for it, not to mention he will blame me for inaccuracy..”, Brom said.

Tonic snorted.

“Now let’s take the same example to the location of the Academy of Melshieve..”

“I am not taking anything to your Academy of Melshieve. You guys are too pricey for my taste and are just weird!”

Tonic snickered.

“I am not sure they would even be able to arrive at the central northern tundra’s if I pointed all the way from your Academy.. He might end up at the Citadel of Gullem the Damned, and doing that to anyone is just mean!”, frowned the hobbit.

Tonic cackled.

“This is where triangulations come in.”, she said.

“Ow, we are just coming to that..”, mumbled Brom.

“If let’s say, three of you pointed at the said mountain—”

“Three of me? Girl, the world can’t even bear just the one of me, let alone three!”, inserted Brom.

“—one pointing from Shakehands, one pointing from, say, the Great Arashkan city, and one pointing from Heavens Hand Keep at the same time and you crossed all three lines, you would, with a certain accuracy, arrive at the Celestial Mountain.. and not fall off a cliff.”

“I beg to differ, but please, do go on..”, said Brom with some exasperation.

“This is called, Triangulation, and it is particularly important when you are calling, or summoning things, such as demons, from a distance that is infinitely further away, such as Hell or Abyss itself, not that Hell nor Abyss can truly be quantified in terms of far or close in a linear sense because they are, in actuality, another planes of existences, but you get my drift.. What I did, when I changed three sixes to three eights, I changed the parameters of the Demon Gate’s triangulation, making them point in three, very different directions. That point-oh-two difference will cause all the energy being poured into that gate to fluctuate and overload, rather that point at the same spot to crack open a hole, per se, to Hell, causing it to malfunction at the very least, or to explode at best!”, she finished happily!

Brom stared stunned at the little gnomic girl.

“Ow. My. Good. Heavens.. We.. No, you were the cause of the destruction of the Demon Gate that’s already happened?”

“Not the destruction, merely the ruination. Yes, one could argue that for all intents and purpose they amount to the same thing, from a practical point of view, I suppose. Also, it hasn’t happened yet, Master Brom. Or rather, it hadn’t happened yet. Not bad for a glorified grunt, now is it? Not to mention the colossal irony here; the great Arcanton Mordenon, ruined by no other than the little girl he stuck into a dark, little cage, surrounded by his demons.. Had he never snatched me from my parents and brought me to his tower, I would have been just another, happy little girl and likely still playing with my dolls, never been to the Academy, never met my pair, Seressa, never met you guys, never been to the tundra’s and pretty much never time-jumped.. Indeed, the irony is so tangible, makes me want to whoop and dance. Even now, I can barely contain my cool!”, she snickered.

Brom just ogled at her.

“But I dare not take all the credit. Had you not been there, or Cora, or my Seressa, there would have been no way I could have been able to pull that off.. Considering how I panicked by just the mention of my uncle’s arrival.”

“But.. why did you stab his portrait then?”

“Diversion, mostly. My uncle had to think we were just some enterprising marauders looking for loot. Powerful enough to slaughter our way to his room, but not subtle enough to find what was most precious to him.. And because we couldn’t find any loot in his workshop, we got pissed and vandalized his property, enforcing that very idea in him.”, Tonic explained smugly. “Otherwise, he would have looked closer at his ‘portrait’, and noticed the changes I made. He is going to come rushing in there wondering only about one thing; his greatest feat, his life’s accomplishment, his ‘baby’.. He will see his workshop in wreck and see that his hidden plans have actually survived with a mere slash, which will not deter him, but elate him and make him think us as fools who missed the great prize.. And also because it was fun as Hell, slashing at his face like that! But because I was too absorbed in defacing his face, I totally forgot your wont to leave a mark of your own on him, so I let you blow up his room, making sure you kept to your promise without endangering your bushy little self and saving my Seressa from a whole slew of sad, slobbering nights in return.”

“Girl.. what you did was..”, Brom stammered.

“Awesome?”, Tonic offers with a very pleased snicker.

“Awesome..”, finished Brom.

“Why are we here, though, as opposed to freezing in a tent full of old, scowling hags?”, he mused, looking around.

“I am not complaining. This is rather nice..”, Tonic said, also looking around. “Do me a favor?”

“Sure.”, Brom said.

“I am going to go and join those two so they can both do my back! After the stunt I pulled, I fully deserve a duel back scrubbing.. And a decent hair wash, and a concubine hair brushing!”

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it..”, Brom mimicked the gnomic girls’ previous mime.. with a compounded smirk.

Tonic squinted at him with her thousand-yard stare.

“Half of either of them can do your, pint-sized back, girl”, noted Brom.

“Yes. But I want both of them to do it. And you know why?”

“Because you are Datman?”

“Oh! Didn’t know you were an EC fan..”

“I am not. But their trilogy was awesome!”

“Which what I am; AWESOME!”, she said massively.

Brom snorted.

“So, what do you want from me? I ain’t doing your back too, girl!”

“I don’t want your midget hands on me, boy!”, she sniffed disdainfully. “I want you to stay here and not peek!”

Brom sighed.

“I don’t do peek, Tonic. Ogle, yes. Peek, no.”

“Not much of a difference there, boy!”

“There is a ‘horizon to horizon’ difference.. Ogling implies a certain amount of involuntary staring, and likely at something with awe and that is in plain sight.”

“Like Seressa’s skimpy pinks?”, snickered the little gnomic girl.

“No. Like Wraiven’s glorious pinks..”, corrected the hobbit with slight indignation. “Peeking, on the other, hand implies sneaking and looking at something without their knowledge, hence, lacking any form of consent, and that is just rude! Which is why I don’t do peeking without consent..”

“How is it even peeking, if it’s with consent?”

“Go, Tonic.. Just go.. I am not in the mood to explain the higher nuances of how certain things work, such as just how captivating peeking is, even though consent has been granted.. Especially when the said concessions have been given, because it is now no longer something despicable, deranged and rude, but playful and intriguing —for both parties..”, he said glumly.

“You are the weirdest boy I have ever met, Brom Bumblebrim, and I am not even sure if I am saying it in a good or bad way!”, said Tonic a bit baffled.

“Alright. Let me try to explain this to you in a way you might understand, Miss Tonic..”, he said, using her exact words.

“Do I need to point somewhere?”, she snickered.

“No. No pointing or triangle-whatsits are required in my explanations.”, Brom shrugged.

“By all means, Master Brom. Enlighten me..”, she said.

“When you and your prince, the Gordigon boy were sneaking off secretly in the woods..”, he said with a certain amount of badly concealed amusement.

Tonic’s face flushed in a very hot shade of pink..

“..you chatted, yes?”, he asked.

“Yes. So?”, the gnomic girl blurted.

“Was he looking at your face?”

“Yes. So?”, repeated Tonic.

“All the time?”, he asked with a certain emphasis.

“I don’t really remember. I.. was kind of ogling at him.. He looked so.. yummy!”, she admitted, blushing even hotter.

“So he only stared at your face, then?”, Brom pressed.

“I don’t know. I certainly hope not. I mean, I probably had smudges all over my face. Hells Bells, boy, he could stare anywhere he wants, as long as it’s in my direction!”, she replied with a defiant and savage tone, all the while burning bright red now.

“There you have it, Miss Tonic. You were ogling at him, and he was peeking at you with your implied consent, and apparently, your savage blessing.. He was, I am sure, extremely happy that he could gaze upon the girl he found lovable and took everything he could by means of politely peeking, to his heart’s content. And he didn’t do so overtly, but covertly, making it a pleasurable, and memorable game for the both of you. He enjoyed the peeking and seeing as how happy your face is now, I’d say you enjoyed being peeked at, too. Being admired the way you want to be admired, by the person you admire, and want to admire, is one of the greatest pleasures one lover can offer to another, my dear Miss Tonic.”, he replied, gazing not at her, but somewhere off, and to someone he couldn’t see.

 

It took a while for poor Tonic to unblush and return to her norm and neither did Brom ogle nor peek at her during that time. He just stared off, where he had, then with a sigh, turned to gaze at the distant Celestial Mountain..

 

When the gnomic girl came around, she cleared her throat in an, ‘Ok. I am back now’, sort of way, so Brom picked up where he’d left..

“—So instead of unconsented peeking, I shall sit my sad, lonesome arse right here and contemplate on the finer points of the philosophical ramifications of your triangulation-whatsit!”

Tonic inadvertently cackled.

“No you are not.”, she said heartlessly.

“No, I am not..”, agreed, the hobbit, deploringly.

 

Tonic cackled some more, pulled her tiny feet out of the happy warm stream, smacked them together with child-like delight, then put her right sock, and her clobbering right boot on, then put her left sock— 

 

“Need a hand with that?”, Brom offered.

“Need a hand with what?”, asked Tonic.

“Your boot.. Need help putting it on?”

Tonic stared at Brom with this funny expression on her face.

“I wasn’t aware you had a fetish for my feet, Master Brom. I appreciate the sentiment, but I am afraid I just don’t go that way.”

“Are you alright?”, he asked her, with a frown.

“Yes, why? Are you alright? What is this sudden interest you got with my foot, Master Brom?”

“It doesn’t.. hurt?”, he asked tentatively.

“Hurt? Why would it hurt? Did you put something in my boot, Master Brom? If you did, I swear there will be a reckoning—”, she threatened.

“—No, no.. Nothing of the sort.”, he said hastily.

“This is some kind of convoluted scheme you cooked up to keep me from going, it isn’t it?”, she squinted at the hobbit.

“No. No, it isn’t”, denied Brom.

“Well I am telling you, boy, it isn’t going to work!”, she said with a slight frown as she put her remaining boot on..

“By all means, go, Miss Tonic.. And have fun..”, he said quickly to fend off any real threats.

“I will.”, Tonic declared and stomped off in her heavy,  clobbering boots, and without a hitch.

When she was perhaps ten yards away though, she paused.

“Please, don’t!”, said Brom.

“Please don’t, what?”, she asked a bit baffled.

“Please don’t insert the last word and go. That is such a cliché!”, grumbled Brom.

Tonic smirked.

“What you just said. About being admired the way one would want to be admired, and by whom I would want to be admired..”

“Yes?”

“That was a masterpiece, Master Brom. I shall convey this to a certain person, hence she could put that into her Book of Awesome Deeds, also.. That pleasurable line shouldn’t be wasted on me. “

“You liked it, then?”, asked Brom.

“Well, sure..”, Tonic said. “It’s a good line.”

“Than it’s not wasted, Miss Tonic, and it has gone to the highest bidder!”

“Why, thank you. But I still think she should write it down.”

“I would rather you didn’t tell her, Tonic.. What I said was for your ears. Should I want to tell her such ‘awesome’ things, as you say, I would rather she heard them from me..”, Brom said softly.

 

The little gnomic girl looked at Brom, thinking how she should phrase her next words, so as not to sound like an ungrateful ass!

“PLAN B— PLAN B— PLAN B—”, choired her inner Tonic suddenly!

“Plan B, it is, then.”, she murmured to herself, took a deep breath, and spoke her piece..

 

“I am the last person to give advice or lecture on matters not pertaining engineering or artificing, Master Brom. And least of all, to you. So when you hear what I have to say, please take that into consideration and note my despair that she does not mind when people make her choices for her. My only consolidation is the definitive recognition that she does this, not out of diffidence, but out of trust in those people. It is, however, perhaps time we let her, my Seressa, be the judge of her own choices and we stop abusing that trust.”, the little gnomic girl said with a tiny, underscoring frown.

 

Brom felt his shoulders sag.

 

Arcantonic Palecog looked at him for a moment longer, nodded at him in salute, then left, with a certain, energetic skip to her pace..

 

Brom stared after the skipping little gnomic girl, Arcantonic, who had just destroyed Arcanton Mordenon’s over one hundred and forty years of delirious labor with mere three, tiny, and practically indiscernible lines and a vengefully murdered portrait, as she disappeared off in the distance where he could, to his mournful despair, vaguely hear the girly shrieks and splashing delights of Cora and Seressa..

“Huh..”, he grunted. “She could skip now. Odd..”

“Right?”


When Tonic says;

“Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me, criminal! I have done nothing bad in my entire life! Hey, look, I am still a virgin! Ok, I might have downloaded a couple of thousands of songs but who hasn’t? Who hasn’t?” —is a reference to Transformers, Interrogation Scene.

 

Also, when she says;

“Reserve’s got nothing to do with it!” —its’ a reference to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

dungeons and dragons groups komedi role play serenity tundra walkers

Loot Dispute

Loot Dispute

Timeline:

Rumulus “Mad” Ussa is dead!
And his henchmen are laid to waste..

Lady Magella, Cora Sleet, Brom Bumblebrim, Seressa Wraiven and Arcantonic Palecog find some interesting items on the dead dwarf..

This short story takes place some 17 years after the heart-rending events that occur in
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” V

Note: Only Brom Bumblebrim knows and has lived the story “a Bir of a Bite”, Lady Magella is vaguely aware of it, though she already knows who Rumulus “Mad” Ussa is (her elder brother). Cora Sleet, Seressa Wraiven, and Arcantonic Palecog (in particular) are clueless about it.

 

Seressa Wraiven: I see we have some items the dwarves have left for us to pick. I believe these were found on Rumulus “Mad” Ussa..

Lady Magella: (growl) Yes. That armor was certainly his. And his battle axes.. Having seen them up close.. The smarmy bastard!

Seressa Wraiven: (cough) Lady Magella. Willy-nilly, he was your brother, nonetheless. I think it should be you who makes the first bid if any..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Why? He wasn’t much of a fighter, much less a brother. Good riddance, the ugly bastard! The only thing I resent is not having to have bitch-slapped his sorry arse down the crack like the others.

Lady Magella: (shrug) To be honest, I don’t really care. I do not honor him enough to want to bury his possessions along with his carcass!

Arcantonic Palecog: Hear, hear, well.. uhhmm.. said!

Brom Bumblebrim: Well said, Lady.

Cora Sleet: (non-committal) Mmmpphhhh..

Lady Magella: I will take his armor. Mine sort of got busted. Going to have to bleach this thing thoroughly to get his stink off though.

Arcantonic Palecog: (cackle) That’s dwarf thinking for you; take the enemies armor —because it certainly helped him!

Seressa Wraiven: Alright. Then we have these two Battle Axes, each +2 to hit and to damage and each in pristine condition, A Ring of Protection..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: I could use the Ring of Protection.. Almost lost concentration in that fight when I got singed by that fireball.

Lady Magella: (shrug) Don’t really care. I already got the armor.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Here you go then, luv. Then we have these rather beautiful Bracers of Defense..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: I could use those. I am a bit tired of wearing this metal contraption. I need to feel the cool, tundra winds on my skin.. I do better without armor and those bracers will compensate for the loss of AC!

Lady Magella: Good choice, girl.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Excellent. Now we have this pretty little Ring of Invisibility. I am surprised Rumulus “Mad” Ussa forgot to make any use of it.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Perhaps Tonic could use it. She was running around a bit vulnerable back there..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: Seconded.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Lady Magella: Sounds fair. She did knock any number of those henchmen down the chasm. My brothers are still climbing down to retrieve their corpses.

Arcantonic Palecog: I.. Ow.. Ok.. I guess..

Seressa Wraiven: Now we have a rather juicy item here; made of genuine Dark Forest Bat fur and leather, sewn by enchanted Misty Forest Spider silk and..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Really, now, girl? You just need a bloody door, and you’d make an excellent salesman.. girl.. person! WTF and frigging politically correct crap shyt!

Seressa Wraiven: ..clasped at the throat by pure, electrum-silver and studded with platinum hammerings and 0.8-inch black pearl inlaid brooch. I give you: Cloak of Flying!

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Lady Magella: Can’t imagine my brother with such delicacies.. It looks quite exquisite.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Indeed, luv, indeed..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: (filthy scowl) I remember that cloak.. I remember it very well.. (spits on the floor with a very, very unhobbity vehemence.)

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: I.. WANT!..

Seressa Wraiven: You do?

Brom Bumblebrim: You do?

Lady Magella: What the—!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!..

Lady Magella: Why? If you don’t mind me asking.

Arcantonic Palecog: For the pleasure of wreaking havoc by the simple expedience of bombarding everything from above!

Seressa Wraiven: !

Brom Bumblebrim: Huh..

Lady Magella: Hmm..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Seressa Wraiven: That.. actually made sense!

Brom Bumblebrim: I believe it did.. in a depraved and creepy way.  

Lady Magella: Hear, hear..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: Yesshhh.. (rubs the cloak on her face.)

Seressa Wraiven: And finally, we have the winner’s prize of the contest.

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Girl, you are killing me.. I don’t know who you are anymore!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Seressa Wraiven: The Stick of Destiny, the Arm of Mighty Storms..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) I wonder how much commission she is receiving. Is it per item or is it performance-based? I hope it is the latter. She fully deserves it.. apparently! Wonder if she will do ‘pon pon girl’ as an encore? She has the butt-displaying skirt, all color-coded, for it already..

Seressa Wraiven: The Soul Focus of Might and Power..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) I don’t know her, guys. I am disavowing her as of this moment!

Seressa Wraiven: The ULTIMATE ITEM OF DESTRUCTION

Arcantonic Palecog: OMG! —WANT!

Lady Magella: What is it, young lady?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Well?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: The Awesome Wand of Lightning Bolts!..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Hmmm..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: Humm..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Any bids?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: You took nothing for yourself, child.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: My bad luck, there Lady. Nothing much I can use in this bunch.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: Perhaps you can take the wand and make good use of it.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: I suppose. But let’s see what the others have to say first, shall we?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Let’s not be too hasty, shall we, Tonic? Perhaps dear Brom and Cora might want it too.. I despair every time she shoots an arrow!

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: I am good for it. I like my own Wand of Magic Missiles. But it lacks some luster and is single-target.. But I also have this Staff of Storms, hence that covers my AoE damage need..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: That hurt, Seressa. My shooting is acceptable.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Yes, luv. It is acceptable.. by my standards, but not yours.

Cora Sleet: !

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: OMG, girl.. You are like a kid in a candy store..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Broken record, much?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Nezih: Ağzının ortasına çarpasım geldi!


dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi serenity home tarihçe

I, Inshala. I, Belong.

I, Inshala. I, Belong.

Timeline:

The Tundra Elf; Cora Sleet, The Bowling Hills Hobbit; Brom Bumblebrim and the younger sisters of no other than the dwarven Temple Guardian of Serenity Home, Lady Magella of Scowling Hills; Lillias Absentwhot and Jeina Blond have set forth to find the daughter of the barbarian Bear Claw Tribe’s chieftain, who was kidnapped by the foul and evil creature, ominously named; Red October.

For days and nights, Cora, Brom, Lillias, and her sister, Jeina travel through the snow and ice-covered Lost Mountains and find the layer of the sinister Red October. On the eve of their descent into the deep, cavernous layer, the whole extended family of the two dwarf sisters arrive to take them both back to Scowling Hills. The dwarf sisters, Lillias and Jeina refuse to abandon their elf and halfling companions compelling their family to help. Hence a plan is formed; the dwarves are to lure the foul creature out of its lair and make a run for it down the mountains, and back to Scowling Hills while Cora and Brom are to quietly enter the beast’s lair and save the chieftain’s daughter.

The plan works, more or less..

And Cora Sleet, followed closely by Brom Bumblebrim, runs into the deeps of Red October and finds the barbarian chieftain’s daughter, abused and severely traumatized, among many other women.. all dead and gnawed upon.

In horror, the two search the cages set into the walls of the cave to find more survivors and lo!

Another woman, deep inside one of the further cages, thought horribly abused, malnourished, and bruised, is still alive..

..and pregnant!

 

This story takes place merely a month after;
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” IX
and
A Bard’s Tale XV, “Wrath of Hydius Dreadmaw”..

 

 

Run, you fools!” 

That was the last thing Cora Sleet and Brom Bumblebrim saw of the dwarves before they stumbled and ran out of the dark, gnawing cave..

 

Then came the wind.

A cold, fetid wind..

A wind that did not belong to the fresh, breezy October mountains.

This was a frigid wind that stank of rot and festering mold..

This was the wind of a Red October!

 

“Run, you fools!”, bellowed the head of the dwarves; an old, very nearly ancient of his kind known all the way from The Great Arashkan City to Endless Sea, and from the heights of Rook Mountains to the ends of Tinker Hills; Argail Smitefast.

And the dwarves ran..

Down the sliding, frozen and misty valley and to the cliffs that would make a harsh and steep climb down the face of Lost Mountains.

 

But then..

..everything was harsh and steep in the Great Northern Tundras..

 

The creature that burst out of the yawning cave was nothing the elf, Cora, nor the hobbit, Brom ever saw.. and neither would wish to ever see again.

For but a very short moment, they caught a glimpse of something large, but not in size as it was large by its frightful speed.

Something large, fast, and dark.. Like a thick draft of smoke, inky at its center. It blurred past the two hiding behind fallen boulders.

Cora clutched her great blade with both her fists like she wanted to make a charge or a ‘run for it’, Brom wasn’t sure. He wouldn’t have blamed her if she did make a run for it. He had seen some horrible things in his long sojourn since that fateful night he’d left the comforts of his warm home and this.. inky black thing that had just hissed out of the cave would likely give him nightmares for the next couple of months..

Brom gritted his teeth and hoped the snow elf would run, should it come to that, though he knew she wouldn’t.. She’d charge the evil, shunned creature while trembling in fear, but not run from it. They hadn’t known each other for that long, but the short few months they had been together had shown him the core of the girl; grim, fierce, loyal, silently angry, and in quiet, desolate mourning.

 

“What are you doing?!”, they heard the below of the old dwarf echo up the frozen valley.

“Arkanian nian fer Ferra!”, squeaked a voice and something boomed in a great, fiery bloom.

“Damit, Lillias..”, growled Cora. “..Run!”

 

More booms followed by some knock knock knock knock rattling sound as if something brittle and heavy was hammering on an anvil.

A few thick bolts, the size of short spears slammed into the walls with a tremendous force near the maw that was the cave of the creature and sharp, crackling shafts of lightning came down from the sky at a sharp angle, crashing into the valley with jarring screeches and frozen ice and broken rocks shrapneled everywhere.

Something roared but it was not the roar of a bear, a lion, nor a dragon. This was like the roar of a waterfall filled with loose rocks, rotting lumber, and debris.

 

“Run!”

“Down the cliffs.. Jump if you must!”

“Jeina, no!”

“Marideth; to the left.. riddle it.. Bruden, Goric hold the rear and ready the rocks. Harakoon, Lamark, take the right.. Distract it with more arbalest. Grandfather; go.. down.. NOW! Mom.. Da.. You two are next.. Britney; grab Lillias. Dritmey; get Jeina down.. Knock her out if you must.. What is Aunt Petunia even doing here? Aunt Yulanda.. are the charges set?”

“Yes, dear. Charges are set. You want a timer or simple, dumb fuse?”

“Timer, please. I want it to go off on its back, not in its face.”

“What? Why?”

“If it blows on its face, it will bring the cliffs down on us as well, knock it back and possibly block its pursuit.”

“Other than the first, the other two aren’t so bad.”

“What will happen if it goes back?”

“Ow.. right.. would make this whole thing sort of moot.”

“On my last quiver..”

“Down, then. Save the quiver. Make sure grandpa makes it.. Do not wait.. Keep everyone running Auntie Marideth..”

“Who is making sure you are going down, Dridges, love?”

“I will be going down last.”

“Hell no, you aren’t”

“Stick to your post uncle! I am the youngest here and the fastest. Once the charges are set and blown, the creature will be knocked down the cliff and its way back will be blocked enough to give the elf and the hobbit time to do what they came to do.. I don’t want a crying Lillias nor a frothing Jeina all the way back to Elder Hills!”

 

“Dremda Limka bim bala poom!”, squeaked the voice of Lillias again and red, angry beams crisscrossed the misty valley and someone else shouted more in ancient dwarvish;

“Morkaban Fal an burnandie!”

..and tall columns of burning light came down in harsh, vertical slaughter..

Another roar echoed up the valley and something slammed against stones.

“What are you doing?”, screamed Lillias.

“Time to go, baby sister!”, said a voice and took off with Lillias.

“No! They need more time!”

“Nope. We just ran out of that.. and Dridges gave the signal for retreat.. Drit?”

“Got her..”

“What happened?”

“She wouldn’t listen, so I knocked her out! Dridges gave the order..”

“Bet you enjoyed that.”

“You bet, I did.. The idiots.. That was a month’s walk from home to here, and another month back —if we survive!” 

“Now you are going to have to carry her.”

“Changed her diapers when she was a babe.. I am sure I can carry her as well!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Leave me, please.. I beg of you..” 

“This is not a safe place for you and you are due soon..”

“I am the daughter of a woodsman. I am used to harsh weather. I can not stay here. He will come back.. Please.. Take the other girl, and leave.. I shall climb down and make my way home..

 

Cora looked at the young human girl. She was horribly battered, pale, dirty, and bulging.. The baby must truly be due soon..

Then she looked down at Brom, but the hobbit was too busy with the chieftains traumatized daughter, who was trashing and moaning in the frigid snow.

 

“Here. There is enough food in this to feed you for some time. And take this as well. I am not sure if you can—”

“—I can. I am no warrior, but I have broken enough logs to know how to swing an ax down.. Thank you..”

“There are no favor here, young girl. Leaving you on your own, and in your condition, is just wrong..”

“I must get out of these mountains and back to my home and my husband. That is where I belong. I thank you for no favors. Only for saving me from that creature, and letting me go.. A woodsman must be free.. This, I am sure you understand.”

“This, I understand..”

 

For another moment she looked at the withered girl, a limping shade of what she once was..

..And she was a small thing to begin with, really. Small and skinny.. Yet, even having suffered the horrors and indignities of her impregnation and the whole time of her captivity and pregnancy, she showed remarkable resilience to the odds stacked so much against her..

Then, Cora looked at her bulging belly..

 

“I am sorry to ask.. but.. do you even know what’s inside you?”

“Yes.”

“I am afraid even to ask—”

“My daughter..”

“Your.. how do you—?”

“She does not kick.. She hugs and she sings..”

 

Cora just stared at the broken young woman, because that’s exactly what she was;

Young..

..and broken.

“I bid you, farewell, then. Be good..”

“Farewell, then.. Stay good..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Mom? Why do you weep? Are you in pain?” 

“My beautiful baby. I am afraid I shall not be here for long. I so wanted to see you grow.. and play.. and be happy..”

“Why is there red in your face, mom? Did you fall?”

“..I wanted you to wear pretty, laced, dresses.. You have such beautiful eyes..”

“Mom.. You are shaking. It must be cold. Hold me closer to you. I will warm you..”

“We must run, my sweet love. I can hear them again..”

“Mom. You look tired. And you are crying.. Why are you crying, mom?”

“Just.. a bit.. further.. I think.. they will stop.. chasing..”

“I hear your heart, mom. You are afraid. Why are you afraid, mom?”

“I.. can’t.. go.. any further.. Too tired..”

“Let’s stop for some. You are shaking. Why are you shaking, mom?”

“This.. this is as far.. as I can go.. my baby..”

“You are crying again, mom. Why are you crying?”

“Too much.. blood.. Lost too much.. blood.. I am afraid I won’t.. make it, my sweet..”

“Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will protect you, mom..”

“I will sit and rest.. for a bit..”

“You are calm now, mom. And warm..”

“I so love you.. my little.. baby.. I am so sorry..”

“Mom? What happened, mom?”

“Farewell, my sweet, sweet baby..”

“Don’t be afraid, mom. I am here.”

“I love you.. Never forget it..”

“Are you sleeping, mom? I will sleep too, then. I will keep you warm and safe.”

 

“You are cold again, Mom..”

 

“Mom?”

 

“Please speak, mom..”

 

“Mom? Mom..?”

 

“Please wake up, mom.”

 

“I am afraid..”

 

“I promise, mom. I will be good. I will always be good..”

 

“Please wake up.”

 

“Mom?”

✱ ✱ ✱

Gotcha, you little demon! Been seeing you festering these woods. Da.. Daaa! I got her!

“Please leave me. I did nothing to you.”

“You’ve been sneaking around our home for days now. Saw you again the other night, crawling into the barn. Trying to steal the goats, are you? Daa, come quick!”

“Nanny goat is sick.”

“Sick goat is it?!”

“Yes. She has a nail in her foot. It is burning her heart..”

“You friggin little liar. A good lashing will do you good.”

“But the nanny goat..”

“What’s going on here, boy?”

“Got her, daa.. Told you I saw a little demon sneaking around our house. Look at her.. She’s got horns, just like a demon.”

“I am not a demon. I am a girl!”

“What are you doing here, demon?”

“Your nanny goat. She’s ill. She has a nai—”

*smack*

“Bring the cane, boy. I will not have this fiend around my house, nor my goats..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Am I a demon? Why am I a demon?”

“You are no demon, my beautiful little chestnut.”

“Then why does everyone say I am a demon? Am I so ugly? Am I so filthy? I must be, because everyone runs from me, or throws rocks at me.”

“Some people are not very bright, my sweet child. Some are superstitious. Some are afraid of what they do not understand. And some are just stupid. Their faults are not your fault, because you are not ugly and you are not filthy.. And certainly, you are not a demon.”

“But I have horns..”

“And I have a hunch back!”

“I healed their nanny goat and they hit me with a cane.”

“People fear the dark because they can’t see what’s in it. Yet they need the dark to rest and to sleep.. Does that make the dark, really a demon? They fear you because they can’t see just what a wonder you truly are..”

*sob*

“I am no wonder. I am just an ugly and dirty thing..”

“What is your name, my sweet chestnut?”

“Inshala..”

“And do you know what that means?”

“No.”

“It means; Heavens Willing.”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“Neither do I. But the Heavens do not make things without a reason.”

“I think they wanted people to know what ‘ugly’ and ‘filthy’ was.”

“I doubt. There is enough ugly and filthy in men without putting it in one, beautiful little girl.”

“Maybe I am broken and I just can’t be fixed.”

“If you are broken. Then I would not want you to be fixed, because you are perfect the way you are.”

“Maybe you are broken too..”

*chuckle*

“I am, broken. And perhaps you were sent here to fix me!”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“My dear child, neither do I. But the Heavens gave you to me and here you are loved, you are safe, and you are cherished.. Now, let’s go find some berries and some of those mushrooms you love so much.”

“And Kumse Beetles?”

*chuckle*

“And Kumse Beetles..”

✱ ✱ ✱

I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry! I didn’t mean to.. It just happened!”

“My, my, my.. What have we here? That you, girl?”

*sob*

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to.. Please don’t send me away!”

“Send you? Please, girl. I wouldn’t send you if the skies came falling down on me..”

“But.. You shouldn’t have the skies falling on you..”

“It’s a metaphor, my sweet chestnut.”

“What’s it for? Are you going to hit me with it?”

“My dear child. When have I ever hit you?”

“Never, Master. And I do not understand why you wouldn’t. Everyone else does.”

“I didn’t think you thought me as silly as everyone else. Now, come on and come out from under the table and let’s have a look at you, shall we?”

“I look horrible.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Let’s see; nice healthy paws, curious ears, brilliant vivid eyes, good strong back, and long balanced tail. Turn around. Let’s make sure everything is where they should be in the tummy.. Yes. very nice, strong muscles. Very nice and strong indeed. This is.. incredible! You have it all in one!”

“You will not hurt me?”

“My dear daughter. Please do not afflict me with the sins of fools. This is your home. Home does not hurt, nor punish. Home only has love and care, though not much of anything else, I must admit.. Woa.. Easy there, tiger! *chuckle* And careful with the claws. This old man will bruise easily.”

“I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry..”

“Well, now. Let’s see if you can actually use those claws. Are you up for a good climb?”

“I think so, Father.”

“How would you like to chase an old, skinny squirrel up the old oak just outside?”

“Yesshh!”

“You must give this old man a head start, though.

*giggle*

“It’s only fair, Master.”

✱ ✱ ✱

You are taking a bath again?”

“Yes, Father. I am scrubbing the dirty away.”

“In the middle of winter? In the frozen pond?”

“Yes, Father. I am dirty. And the dirty will just not come off!”

“Did you not take a bath, just yesterday?”

“I did, Father.”

“And the day before that?”

“Yes, Father. I did.”

“And the day even before that?”

“…”

“How are you not freezing?”

“I am filthy. And broken, Father.”

“Hmmm.. Perhaps I can help you with that.”

“You can?”

“I believe so..”

*slop!*

“Uhhmm.. Why did you dump pond mud on me, Father?”

“Now you actually are dirty and have something on you to wash!”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“Wash and see if it comes off..”

“It all came off.”

“There. Now you are all clean!”

“…”

“Come on and out now, my sweet chestnut. Let’s get you inside and by the fire before you catch a cold. And no more bathing in the pond. Not in this weather.”

“But I will be filthy again tomorrow.”

“Then you can bathe in the big barrel we have inside. And with hot water too.”

“Perhaps you should bathe too, Father.”

“Why? Do I stink?”

*giggle*

“Well, now.. That was a bit harsh..”

*giggle*

“Do you know how long it takes to dry all this beard?”

“My hair is longer than your beard, Father.”

*sigh*

“Alright. I will bathe. If you say I stink, I must stink.. Tomorrow then. Or maybe the day after.”

*stare*

“Not the day after, then..”

*stare*

“Not even tomorrow?

*stare*

“Good and Great Heavens, child.. NOW?”

“Now is good.”

“We don’t even have hot water!”

“We have pond.”

“…”

“Why would you do this to me?”

“You won’t mind I bathe every day in the pond, then?”

“What? How did you even come to that conclusion, girl? I said nothing of the sort.”

“If you don’t want me to bathe in the pond, but bathe at home, you should bathe as well. Since you won’t bathe at home, you must bathe in the pond!”

“That is not even close to what I said!”

“That is what you said; No more bathing in the pond. Not in this weather..”

“Which is the opposite of..”

“I do not understand, Father. Your house rules are complicated and many..”

*sigh*

“Yes, yes.. I suppose that is.. what I said.. How do you even remember, that? No child ever listens to their parents! They roll their eyes and ignore us..”

“You are my Father. Why would I roll my eyes at you? That is not nice.”

*sigh*

“Very well. I shall bathe..”

“In the pond?”

“In the pond.. Go get my towel..”

“And your scrubbing stick.. And your soap..”

“..And my scrubbing stick, and my soap..”

“And your comb..

“I.. what? I haven’t used a comb for over three centuries. I don’t even have hair!

“..For your beard.”

“Really, now, girl?”

“I comb my hair. Stands to reason you should comb your beard. I think it would look pretty. You say I look pretty when I comb my hair.”

“…”

“I am going in now.. But only for a moment. There is ice floating in this pond.. Literally..”

“A moment will not even be enough to soak, Father.”

*sigh*

*giggle*

✱ ✱ ✱

That is the last time you fools touch this girl. Do I make my self, clear?”, growled Master Cather as smoke and haze clouded town.

“She is a demon who infests our lands. She must be cleansed—”, screeched the scowling man in fervent zeal.

“Boy, you have got it all wrong.. These are not your lands.. at all! These are the King’s lands, then the elves, then mine..”, replied Cathber with a threatening vibe in his voice.

“She is a demon!”, screamed the man.

“You must have seen many demons to know what to look for.”, Cathber spoke with a deadly whisper.

“She has horns!”, the bigotic man shouted, pointing at the little girl, hanging stripped naked from a thick branch, her tiny back, a bloody, whip-laced mess.

“So does my goat..”, said Cathber and clawed at the air, making a horrible beckoning gesture..

..and a stone spike, the length of a yard suddenly shot out from the ground and rammed right through the bigot’s foreleg!

The man shrieked in pain, tried to double over, but couldn’t.

“This.. is heresy!”, the man screamed in pain.

“No, boy.. This is punishment.. This is my forest.. Here, you do not play your heresy games..”

..and he clawed with his other hand.

Another stone spike shot out of the dirt and nailed his other leg with a wet, sickening tear!

“We.. we did not touch the girl, Master Cathber.”, trembled the other lodgers.

“No.. You did not. You just stood there and watched as he tore into an innocent little girl’s flesh!”

And he rose both his arms..

 

you shall suffer the curse of the innocent”..
Thus shall you suffer the punishment of silently watching the pain of an innocent..

 

..his voice boomed and thorny vines shot out of the ground in all direction, grappling anything and everything in their path..

The woodsmen ran..

The thorny, gnarled vines chased.

The fires already burning several of the homes spread.

 

you shall tremble with the pain of the innocent..
And tremble shall you, with the pain of the innocent..

 

..heralded the old man.

And the ground trembled.

Large chunks of earth and stone tore out and into the sky, just to land some tens of yards away.

A barn collapsed.

A house creaked in terror and fell apart.

Another barn collapsed.

And another log-house bust in flames..

 

“You are.. the hand of the devil, old man.. You can not silence the truth!”, groaned the spiked zealot.

 

“Tell me, boy, how many souls have you saved with your bigotry? Are there two? No? Not even one? But I see you are very free with that whip.. particularly on little girls who will not defend themselves even against fools like you.. You see, she could have slain you many times over. Yet, she chose not to, because she does not like to hurt. She likes to play.. and sing.. and feed the animals.. and heal them when they are sick.. When was the last time you healed anything? Never? Well.. that explains so much. I shall not relieve you of your torment. You may free yourself. That will be at least one person you will have saved in your entire pathetic life. I shall, however return. And should you be in my forest when I do, we shall rinse and repeat this education, until you learn some manners, if not any sense.. But by all means, stay. If not for my daughter, this little girl you so freely whipped, I would beg you to stay, just to repeat this over and over again.. Either way, we shall see just how zealously stuck you really are to those ‘truths’ you seem so fond of..”

 

“You.. are evil!”, the bigot screamed in pain.

“No, boy. I AM BALANCE!“, replied the old man, his voice truly dreadful now.  “Do not force me to summon the ‘Wyld Hunt’ upon you with your name attached to it. The last time I did, was over seven hundred years ago and it very nearly dismantled Themalsar down to rubble.”

 

The old man gently cut the leather thongs binding the skinny arms of the little girl.

 

She fell..

Limply..

 

But the old man held her and carefully took her into his gentle embrace.

“Told you, did I not, my beautiful chestnut? Some people are not very bright. Some are superstitious. Some are afraid of what they do not understand. And some are just stupid.. And you have found the worst of them; the bigots! Now, you have made their fault your own.. No matter, no matter.. I shall fix you..”

 

She opened her eyes and stared at the old man with a vague, groggy stare.

 

“Why did you come here, my dear child? Did I not warn you to stay away from them?”, the old man asked, tears streaking down his crumpled face.

“Their.. nanny dog.. she was in pain.. her heart was burning.. because she stepped on a garden tool.. she has puppies.. and they need their mommy..”

“Yes, my lovely chestnut.. they need their mommy..”

“I.. cured her..”, she whispered, giving him a bloody smile.

“I am sure you did, my beloved.”, smiled the old man.

“No iron cage this time..”, she whimpered..

..and went limp again..

✱ ✱ ✱

She stood at the edge of the cliff, quietly mesmerized, looking down at the waves gently lapping at the shore below, and at the sea that stretched from one horizon to the other like some endless, blue-green blanket. 

And she absolutely loved it!

 

It was the first time she had seen the Endless Sea. It was also the first time she had come this far and alone from her home.

“I just must make sure, Father sees this. It is so beautiful!”, she whispered in awe as she stood, quietly petrified as the late August sun decided to impress her even more..

Like a dancer stretching out her skirts, and with a mighty display of yellow, orange, and red, the sun spread wide and great and settled on the horizon.

The little girl just stood there.

The sun was almost done showing off, but the sea, apparently, was not..

With slick splashes, a family of oddest looking fish sprang out of the sea, glided across the setting sun in some magnificent, graceful arcs, skimmed the surface over the waters, then disappeared into its depths once again..

 

The little girl wept.

 

Because she loved pretty.

And what she had just witnessed was just that.

 

Then she heard the groan..

It was a very ‘huge’ groan..

It echoed wide and reverberated across the sea, the sky, and the shore and the girl slid down the cliffside, her little heart aching with sorrow, for she knew that voice..

..it meant something was in pain.

That is when she saw the great whale, lying on its side, beached on the shore. She ogled at the thing, a creature, once mighty and over two hundred yards, now looked deflated and sad.

The little girl tiptoed near the creature and tenderly touched it, feeling its heart like some giant drum, beating ever so slowly..

“Great and might fish.”, she wailed. “Why do you not swim? The land is not a good place for you to sleep. The sun will scorch you, and the birds will peck at you.. Please return to the sea..”

“Who are you, little thing? And why do you care?”, the creature moaned in more pain.

“I am just a little girl, great fish. And I care because life is nice. It is precious. And you have so much life..”

“No, little girl. I had much life.. Once.. Now, I wither, for my time is near. I shall die soon, scorched by the sun, and pecked by the birds.. though I surmise, I shall make a merry feast..”

“Please.. return back to the sea.. Sea is life.”

“Yes.. Sea is life.. But mine is quite over.. I am sad, but content. I have lived since this sea was young. I have traveled it many times. I have seen its depths and the heavens above it. I have witnessed the corrals grow, new life form, and men do war upon one another upon it.. Yes. My time has long arrived little thing. Long arrived indeed..”

“But so much you have seen and so much to tell.. They will die with you.”

“That is how it is, little girl..”

“Perhaps you can come with me? I am small.. and not very smart.. and know very little.. but I have room for more..”

“Do you? You seem so little..”

“I am.. But wisdom found, should not be lost, dear big fish.”

“Well.. Since you want to insist on calling me ‘fish’, you must have much room to spare..”, the great whale.. chucked!

“What would you have me call you, dear big fish?”

“Shala.. I was called Shala.. A long time ago.. It used to mean, He Who Sails The Deepest Seas. But I am afraid, much like myself, that word is long gone and forgotten.”

“And I am called Inshala; Heaven’s Willing.. and I shall show you my forest and you can learn me your wisdom..”

“Ahhh.. Forest.. That, I have never seen.. This shall be an interesting journey, little Inshala.”

“I shall show you my forest, and more, big Shala.. I shall make you a big pond. Big enough for you to play!”

“I haven’t played since I was but a little babe, and that was quite some eons ago..”

“We shall travel far and wide together and you shall live inside me for as long as I live, small comfort though that may be.”

“Tis alright, little one. Wisdom is; finding life where there is none..”

“Thank you.”

“You thank me, little one?”

“Yes. For accepting me and accepting life.”

“You truly are an amazing one and your passion for life is bested only by your compassion for it. I sense we shall have great and extraordinary days together.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I am Inshala. And am here because of the call.”

“You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t have come. How did you even get past the short-mortal post?”

“I do not know, what this ‘short-mortal post’ is.”

“Dwarves. They have guard post here to make sure no mortal enters the valley beyond without permission.”

“I am sorry. I did not see any dwarves. I felt a soft, pulsing call, hence I came.”

“Who is this, Temessa, and why is she here? How did she even get past the short-mortal post?”

*sigh*

“She says her name is Inshala and was telling me why she is here, Yamara. Must you always jump into everything?”

“I did not jump. I walked.”

“I have introduced myself. It is polite to introduce yourselves back..”

“Ow, yes. My apologies, Inshala. I am Temessa. A dryad.”

“A dryad? You are so pretty!”

*blush*

“Ow, wow. You really think so?”

“Yes. I mean so.”

“What about me? I am Yamara and I am a fire nymph!”

“A fire nymph? This extraordinary! You are so, so beautiful!”

*giggle*

“I think I just fell in love!”

“What is this wonderful place? I sense.. something, though I do not know what. It.. it’s calling me..”

“Would you like some of my peaches, sweet Inshala?”

“Or my apples?”

“I would. But I have nothing to trade..”

“You can stay and play with us for a year and a day..”

“Owww.. I would love to. But that might make my Father sad.”

“How about a month and a day?”

“I would really love to. But my father is old. I can’t stay away for that long..”

*sigh*

“A day then? Please? It has been a bore since Mother put a ban on mortals..”

“A day, it is..”

“Done.”

“Done.”

“And done!”

“Do you like swimming?”

“I love swimming and I love ponds”

“Yesshh!”

“How about fire hopping?”

“Fire hopping is awesoooome!”

“Yesshh..”

“You sound like a fey..”

“I do?”

“You look like a fey too.. Are you sure your father is a mortal?”

“I think so. Though he is very very old. Are we going to swim and fire hop?”

“I saw her first, Yamara, so we swim first!”

*sigh*

✱ ✱ ✱

You are in the pond again. Why are you in the pond again?”

“I came across some men in the forest. They threw rocks at me and told me I was a filthy demon.”

“Did they, now..”

“I tried to explain that I was just a little girl and was wandering in the forest. They waved their iron axes at me and told me, I didn’t belong here..”

“Is that so?”

“I am in the pond because I am washing the demon filth off me, but it just won’t come off, Father.. It just won’t come off..”

“It will not come off, my beautiful little chestnut..”

“It won’t? Why?”

“Because you have no demon in you, nor any filth. You can’t scrub what isn’t there, my dear child. You must know this. And you belong.. right here.. You have a home..”

“But how do you know I have no demon in me?”

“Because demons do not care for other life. They CAN NOT care for other life. That is why they are demons. And you know what else demons never have?”

“What?”

“A home.”

“Why?”

“Because ‘Home’ means love, warmth, care, compassion, and belonging. The moment you have those and feel those, you stop being a demon. You simply can not have those and still be a demon.”

“Perhaps it’s because I am small yet. Or because i am only half-demon.. Or just broken!”

“No, my sweet chestnut. I am afraid it doesn’t work that way. If you have four legs, you are not a human. If you are a tree, you are not an animal..”

“I have horns.”

“And I have a hunch back!”

“But your hunch is because you are very old, Master.”

“And you have horns because you are beautiful!”

“I find your logic, quite inconsistent and misplaced, Father.”

“Well, now, really?!”

“Yes, Father.”

“You also have sharp ears, my sweet girl. Do you know who else has ears like yours?”

“Elves!”

“Precisely. Perhaps you should look for ‘similarities’ around you, rather than ‘differences’ elsewhere.

“Perhaps I am a Half-Elf then?’

“That is possible, my sweet chestnut. But whatever you are, you must know that you are loved.”

“Love. I do not understand this thing you call love, Master.”

“You have grown quite a bit since I found you, my sweet chestnut. And because you have, I try not to mind you taking off to wandering around the forest.”

“But you always scold me when I come back, Father.”

“And have you ever wondered why I scolded you so?”

“Because I forget to tell you?”

“That, and because I am worried every time you do not come back. And you are worried about me when you realize you haven’t come back..”

“Yes, Father. I stop what I am doing and cry.”

“That is called, ‘Love’, my beloved daughter. Because we only worry for those we love and we care..”

*sob*

“And you always come back, my sweet chestnut. Why is that?”

*sob*

“Be.. because this is my home..”

“And that is called, ‘Belonging’, my sweet, sweet girl.. and demons have neither, nor will they ever have either; Love and Home. They CAN’T.”

*sob*

“Now come on and out of the pond. You have bled yourself with your scrubbing again.”

*sob*

“I am so, so sorry I made you worry, Father. I will never leave again.”

“Let’s not make promises we can’t keep, my sweet chestnut. Of course, you will leave because you are curious about the world around you. But promise me two things; That you will remember this old man will worry, and to come back home, will you? Please?”

*sob*

“I promise, Father.”

“How would you like to come with me on a long, long trip?”

“Owww.. Where are we going, Master?”

“We shall start doing something I haven’t done and neglected to do for quite some time, my sweet chestnut and it’s called, ‘Storm Hunting!'”.

“Storm Hunting? How can we hunt storms, Master?”

*chuckle*

“Very carefully and by running a lot..”

“What is, storm hunting?”

“Storm Hunting, so colorfully named by an old friend of mine, quite some years ago, before you were born.. and.. well.. when I say, ‘old’, I merely mean it as, someone I met a long time ago. Between the two of us, I think I was the only old one.”

“You are always the old one where ever we go, Father.”

“Well, now.. That hurt, little girl!”

*giggle*

“Come now, my sweet chestnut. Let’s get you dry and warm and put some ointment on those scrub bleeds, and I will tell you all about Storm Hunting..”

“Your ointments smell funny, Father.”

“Funny enough to make you laugh?”

*sigh*

“You are making ‘father jokes’, again, Master.”

*chuckle*

“Is it working?”

*sigh*

“No..”

“Because you are doing it wrong, my little chestnut.”

“I do not understand, Father.”

“You are supposed to roll your eyes, and then say, ‘No..’ —like every other teenager.”

“I am not going to roll my eyes at you, Master. That is very rude!”

✱ ✱ ✱

I am blinded! I can’t see, Father.. I am deaf too.. Help me.. And I hurt everywhere..” 

*sob*

“There, there, my love.. I am here..”

“I can’t see.. I can’t see, Father!”

“It will pass soon, my dear. I did warn you to close your eyes, though, did I not?”

“I.. what? I can barely hear you, Father..”

*sob*

“There, there.. you will be fine soon enough. Storm Hunting is dangerous work and it demands our respect. We must follow her rules, for she has a heavy hand.”

“I just wanted to see, Father.”

“Well. I can’t blame you for your curiosity, but we must have a care, my dear child. Curiosity is a good thing. But we must be sure, which is leading which? You leading your curiosity, or your curiosity leading you, for one will teach you many things, while the other will get you into trouble.”

“I will make sure, I lead the way, Master.”

“That makes this old man, so very happy. Now, can you see again?”

“Yes, Master. But there are still some small, tingling lights flying everywhere.”

“That will pass too, soon enough. Now that we have caught our first storm, let’s make camp, shall we? And cook some fish, some potatoes, some eggplants, and some corn..”

*blush*

“I.. I am sorry, Father..”

“You are?”

“Yes, Father, I am..”

“Why are you sorry, my sweet chestnut?”

“I.. I ate all your strawberries!”

*chuckle*

“That’s alright, dear one. I put them there, many years ago, for someone else.. But he refused to touch them..”

“Ow.. Did I eat his strawberries, then?”

“No.. If he’d wanted to eat them, I believe he would have. Time heals many things, my sweet chestnut, but it does take.. time!”

“I am not quite sure I understand, Father.”

“Never mind, never mind.. Let us get the fire started, shall we?”

“Let’s..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Why are we here, Father? This place is not nice. The ogres are cruel creatures and will try to eat us.” 

“So they are and so they might. But they also live in our forest and share its bounties. We must learn to get along.”

“Why, Master?”

“Because we are never alone in a forest, my sweet chestnut. And we never know to whom we might end up turning for help someday.”

“I can not see how the ogres will help anyone. They can not even get along among themselves.”

“The world is big and wide, my dear child. And is not bound by the rules we inflict upon it. Or we shall end up like those ignorant men, who call you names and want to banish you.”

“That is correct, Father. The men in the forest are incompetent.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. Had it been me, I could have caught and banished me years ago, when I was much littler!”

“Now, now.. That is not good thinking.. They couldn’t have banished you even if they had caught you and no matter how hard they tried. And they did catch you any number of times..”

“True. But they are incompetent..”

“They are.. But their failure to banish you wasn’t because of incompetence on their part, but because you can only banish demons. You can not banish pretty little girls.”

“You are just telling me that to make me feel good.”

“I am telling you this to make you feel good and because it is true, my dear child..”

“What will happen if they attack, Father.”

“If they attack, you are free to attack back, my dear. Try to avoid their clubs and axes, though. They hurt.”

“It is alright, Father. I know hurt. I know hurt very well.”

✱ ✱ ✱

And who is this, old man?”

“This, Ganiste, is my dear daughter Inshala.. Inshala, this is an old.. uhhmm.. friend of mine; Grulganiste. She is the chieftain of the ogres of Oger’s Foot.”

“She is pretty, Cathber.”

“Yes. Yes, she is..”

“Hence, she can’t be your daughter, you sour old man!”

“Well, now.. Really? That was a bit harsh, don’t you think, Ganiste?”

“Harsh is when I say; you are an old and sour man!”

“That was indeed, rather harsh..”

“Tell me, little girl, what wrong did you do for your mother to have dumped you on this old man?!”

“Hey..”

“She died.”

“Ow.. I am sorry. My mother died too..”

“Do you miss your mommy?”

“Yes, little one, I miss her every day.”

“I miss mine every day too..”

“Would you like to come inside my tent? I have big, soft pillows you can jump and a little chihuahua.. You two can play while I make some food. Your old man becomes grumpy when he talks while he is hungry.”

“Yes. Yes, he does.”

“Hey, now..”

“What is a chihuahua?”

“It is a small dog.”

“You have a puppy?”

“I have had him since he was a puppy. But he grew up very fast and is still a very small dog. Barks a lot, though. Want to see him?”

“Want!”

 

“She is extraordinary, Cathber.”

“Yes. Yes, she is, Ganiste.”

“What is she?”

“I am not quite sure. And to be honest about it, I don’t really care.”

“You? Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig? Have you finally found a soul to have attached yourself to?”

“You are making me sound awfully cold and heartless, Ganiste. I do have a heart, you know.”

“That is up to debate… Yet here you are, with this little thing, and quite attached to her as well.. Not something I would have expected to see from you..”

“Not something I expected to have happened to me, either.. Like, ever. It’s as if.. I have finally paid for some crime I did centuries ago and she is my gift!”

“Or curse.. Children tend to go either way..”

“Yes. Yes, they do, Ganiste. I am sorry you had to exile Cabot.”

“Not more than I am. But it had to be done. We have plenty of room in these hills to grow and flourish many times over and he was fervently trying to gather a following.. I have no desire to have my people killed for false words. Should men, elf or dwarf come to our hills seeking trouble, we shall crush them with our clubs, hack them with our axes, and smash them with our boulders..”

“Now there’s a gruesome image.”

“..but we will not go seeking for trouble. We have learned to grow our own food and animals for a long time now. So much so that we seldom need to even go down into the forest for foraging. When we do, it is mostly to release some of our bloodlust.”

“Accidents happen, though.”

“Unavoidably so.. Are you going to keep her?”

“For as long as she will let me.. I..”

“Say it, old man. For once in your life, say it. I am sure it will hurt, but I am certain you will survive..”

“You truly have a cruel streak in you, do you know that, Ganiste?”

“Telling an ogre she is cruel isn’t much of an insult, old man. Quite foolish, though.”

“Yes. I love her. Dearly, I might add.. And she is growing so fast.. She is full of wonder and an unquenchable curiosity that takes her further and further away from home every time she leaves.. It’s killing me to see her go and I can’t even say, don’t, because I know she must..”

“Well, now.. After three hundred years and some change, I finally get to see Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig in tears. I shall mark this day..”

“You pun me, Ganiste..”

“Owww, I certainly would love to.. But no, my dear Cathber.. I honor you.. You have finally grown..”

“What?!”

“You think living as long as you have or seeing the things you have, you have grown? Old man, you are so much more naive than I thought you could ever be.. Love.. Felt for one other than yourself, and for someone who is still alive, and particularly that for a child, is what makes a man or a woman truly grow.. And being forced to letting them go, is what really kills us.. For that, which you must do, you have my sympathy.”

 

“Do we have to leave so soon, Father?”

“You liked it here?”

“Yes. Mother Chieftain Grulganesti is a wonderful host.. And I want a chihuahua!”

✱ ✱ ✱

This will be dangerous, my sweet chestnut. Quite dangerous indeed.. There will be many woodsmen and they will be armed to kill on sight. There will be elven archers and not a few rangers from Serenity Home town. Their sheriff and their two master rangers will be joining us as well.. If one of them sees you, they might make.. mistakes.. Please stay at home just this once..” 

“I understand your concern, Father. But there has been something in my mind for some time that I do not understand.”

“What is it, my sweet chestnut?”

“That..”

“That? That, what?”

“You have been calling me ‘sweet chestnut’, for as long as I can remember, but I do not understand why you do so.”

“I.. what? All these years I have been calling you by that name and you don’t know?”

“No, Father. I thought it might not be polite to ask, but since this place you are going is very dangerous, I would want to know.”

“I.. I call you that, because.. well.. chestnuts are hard on the outside.. And quite resilient. But can be soft and sweet on the inside.. They are small and pretty to look at.. and..”

“And?”

“And.. well.. because I like chestnuts!”

*blink*

“There, there, child. What do I always tell you, when you do not understand something?”

*sob*

“To.. to always ask..?”

“Yes, my dear child. It is polite not to ask only if you feel it is inappropriate at that moment. But it is always better to ask than not to..”

“Can I ask something else then?”

“Of course, my dear, anything..”

“Are you a boy?”

“Am I a.. what?”

“A boy..”

“Well.. I am.. or rather, I was.. once.. some eight hundred years or so ago.. I am more a man now, than a boy..”

“And I am a girl?”

“Yes, yes you are, my dear child. And a very pretty one at that.

“What is the difference between a boy and a girl?”

*cough* 

“Well..”

“And why are you a man now and not a boy? Is it because of growing up? Will I become a man, when I grow up?”

“No, you will become a woman, when you grow up..”

“What is the difference between a man and a woman too, then?”

*cough*

“I.. perhaps we could talk about this later? After I return? Please?”

“Then I am coming with you, Father..”

“You are?”

“Yes. I must make sure you are alright. Otherwise, who will tell me all this?”

*sigh*

“You can not be seen, though.”

“I would like to see the one person who could see, let alone find and catch me, Father. I can become a much larger tiger now. Larger, yet I am also much better at prowling.. I haven’t been seen, nor caught since then. I brought down a fully grown deer with a single pounce, once!”

“My, my..”

“But I let the deer go.. She had a little baby deer.. And I also apologized after for scaring her..”

*blink*

“You let go of your catch?”

“Well. Yes, Father. I do not like killing. And I do not like sad creatures. There is enough sad, without me adding to it.”

“And to see fools calling you a demon and to hurt you! I carry the shame of all humanity, my dear, dear child..”

“Everyone should learn to carry their own shame, Father. You carry many things already.”

*sigh*

“I will go and meet with the sheriff and the two master rangers of Serenity Home town. They will coordinate with the woodsmen and the elves and hunt the wolves that come down the mountains and attack people.”

“Will you not speak with the wolves? They are smart hunters.”

“Yes, they are. But when I tried, they did not hear me. They have been.. taken by something else.. Now the wolves are like they have gone rabid. They blindly attack.”

“That is not right, Master. Wolves do not behave that way. And they never keep rabid ones near them..”

“My dear child. I would really rather you stayed. Whatever it is that is causing the wolves to behave the way they are, will not be an easy enemy. It is cunning and very, very dangerous. I am not sure even I can fight it and survive.”

“Then you need me more than ever, Master. I will protect you. This vile creature will not touch you.”

“There will be others there to protect me, my sweet chestnut.”

“Who among mortals, love you as I love you? Who among mortals care for you as I care for you? And who among mortals will mourn for you as I shall mourn for you, should something happen to you, Father?”

“…”

“When shall we leave, Father?”

“Tomorrow morning, my child..”

“Good. I will go and bathe in the pond, Father.”

“Again? You took a bath just yesterday.. And the day before that.. And the one before that!”

“Yes, Father. And I am bringing your towel, your scrubbing stick, and your soap as well. If you are going to meet with all these people, you should be clean!”

“I am clean..”

*stare*

“I washed just..”

“..last month, Father.”

“It’s been a month already? Where does the time go?”

“It has been thirty-four days and today, since you last bathed, Father. And time goes only forward!”

“blink*

“Are you keeping a track of my bathing days?”

“Of course, Father. You keep forgetting these important things.”

“I am hurt.”

*giggle*

“I could scrub your back if it is too much work for you, Father.”

“glare*

“Well, now, really?! I can very well scrub my own back, thank you very much, young lady!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Master Cathber never quite heard the silent footsteps that came very near him until the owner of the silent steps decided to be heard. The old man was poor at hearing, true, but to be honest with himself, and old Cathber certainly was, he knew would have been an easy game for the sinister-looking man in dark clothes.. 

The silent man was a bare inch above average and was neither fat nor skinny.. Perhaps a bit on the malnourished side but lean and wore his dark, leathers in tight straps. Like someone who never wanted to be caught, nor grappled.. He had dark, penetrating eyes and seemed like he knew how to make good use of his peripheral vision. The lower end of his face was covered with a thick, leather mask and the whole of his head was hidden in a hood made from a similar material. Old Cathber couldn’t discern what his color was either, for the man had chosen the time of his arrival to coincide with the dusk; the time where visibility was still available but drained everything of all color..

This man, whoever he was, was dangerous not only at an intellectual level but also instinctually wired to sense his surrounding.

 

“Master Cathber..”, he said and there was a distinct growl in his voice.

‘Good and Great Heavens’, the old man thought. ‘He growls and he is not even trying!’

“Good evening, young —?”, trailed off Master Cathber.

“Aager, sir. Aager Fogstep.. The sheriff of Serenity Home sent me to find you, and perhaps to keep you company, seeing as how I am a happy chat.”, he said, and there wasn’t any pun, irony nor any traces of sarcasm in his voice.

“Sheriff Standorin has always been a thoughtful boy.”, grinned Cathber only to see it bounce right off the man in dark leathers.

“Yes, sir.”, the man replied, though he wasn’t looking at the old man, but rather gazing somewhere off in the distance and into the darkening forest.

“Is there a problem, young man?”

“I am not sure..”, replied the young man, Aager.

“I wouldn’t be bothered too much with any feral animals luring in the bush, Master Aager. I lack what they want; meat!”, said the old man and chuckled.

The old man’s pun also bounced right off Aager as a dry pea would from a wall.. He kept his gaze at a specific spot for a bit more and then he looked at the old man.

“Shall we? It is quite a walk to the camp the woodsmen and the elves have set up.”

 

“Get away from him, you evil, evil man!”, growled the giant cat.

 

In all candor, calling this beast a ‘cat’ was a mistake, even when referring to it as ‘giant’.

It was monumentally big. A magnificent feline specimen, very nearly topping six hundred pounds. She had great, skull-crushing paws, strong, powerful hind legs, a vicious glare, and a maw that could probably take a man’s head and whole, right off his shoulders without so much as a bother.. Probably after eviscerating him with its nearly foot-long, saber-like teeth that hung down her maw!

This was a creature that did not belong to this forest, but to the Great Nothern Tundras.

The savage beast wondered what her ‘father’ would say when he figured she had sneaked off into the tundras to actually find and study such a beast to have taken its shape.

 

Well..

Inshala was certainly not going to volunteer for that trashing!

 

She looked around and noticed in panic; the evil man was staring at the forest!

“No way!”, she hissed. “There is no way he heard me! Humans are deaf, blind, and stupid. There is no way you could have heard me.”

She lowered her great mass closer to the ground, making sure where she placed her paws.

“Go away, little boy! And leave my Master alone. I will eat you if you touch him..”

“Ow-My-Heavens! He is staring right at me.. Can he even do that? Humans are not allowed to do that.. That’s not fair..”

“Maybe he is half-demon.. Like me!”

“My Master is gone.. Why is he standing alone?”

 

“Whatever you are, come out!”, the man in dark leathers growled.

 

It was a good growl, Inshala thought.

A very scary growl, even..

And he really had heard her, though he couldn’t see her!

But how?

Deer were the keenest when if came to hearing predators in the forest and she could catch any one of them off guard, at any given time.. And this.. boy? man? wasn’t even a forest dweller… He smelled of.. leather, metal, a bit of sweat, some kind of oil —probably to keep the rust off his iron weapons and.. something else, Inshala couldn’t say. It was a curious smell. Frightful but intriguing at the same time.

 

Ow..

It was his smell..

 

The smell that was uniquely particular to every single creature. The one that made it possible for hunters like herself to track any single man or beast among many..

And his smell was much of death.

Yes. This man in his dark leathers had killed, and many..

He reeked of it..

But he didn’t smell like the rabid did. He smelled like he had been among or surrounded by many rabid men, and had killed many rabid men. And the smell of ‘rabid’ clung to him like the after taste of bad meat.

 

Inshala grimaced.

 

She had been intrigued by him, but now she had to kill him.

She sighed.

She knew, animals who hung around the rabid, always ended up rabid.

 

‘Clink!’

 

The man in the dark clothes dropped something..

..and left, following her Master, and soon fading in the dusk.

 

Inshala very patiently waited for a full ten minutes before rising from her hidden spot. Then she circled around all the way to where the evil man and her master had gone.

She wasn’t satisfied.

She felt uniquely intrigued as if a whole, different side of her had just awaked.. The non-human side of her. Her senses stretched forth and wide as she doubled back and circled the area from the other side.

Still not satisfied, she pounced up to a tree overseeing the area and glared down..

 

There.. something glittered in the ghostly light of the newly appearing moon.

She waited another ten minutes sweeping the area and the surrounding forest.

This was a trap.

She had been caught a few too many times in the past not to recognize one, but she just couldn’t find it.

 

A low, frustrated growl escaped her as she carefully, and silently slinked down the tree, and placing one giant paw over another giant paw, she came to the clearing where the evil man and her Master had been, her ears prickling every which way to catch signs of hidden ambushers.

In her past, she had found out rangers had been extremely hard to catch. But for some reason, none of them had ever hunted her down. Not in her small, diminutive, girl form, and not in her great, saber-tooth tiger form. Why, she had never been sure. Perhaps her father had told them about her and rangers respected her father. Genuinely respected him and by proxy to her Father, Inshala respected rangers in return. This evil man, however sneaky he was, was NOT a ranger. He hadn’t smelled like a ranger, for one. And two; rangers were.. Inshala was not very sure but the word ‘good’ seemed fitting.. This man was not, good. No.. He definitely was not a good man. And should the opportunity present itself, she was going to tell him exactly that!

Carefully, she snuck near the glittering thing she’d seen, watching the ground for possible hidden bear-traps or some such, as she ghosted on. Humans, as she’d learned many times over, were extraordinarily creative when it came to creating devices that killed. The irony, not that the little girl, Inshala, knew what the word ‘irony’ meant, was not lost on her, that the same humans were equally poor and unimaginative when it came to creating anything that actually saved lives!

 

Then she saw it.

The glittering thing on the ground.

 

 

Inshala took a step closer and paused, staring at the long, slim object with unadulterated confusion.

It was nothing but a long dagger, sheathed in its scabbard.

Nothing ornate, nor pretty. Just a long, slick weapon, made for practical accuracy.. and for killing.

Period.

 

Six hundred pounds of feline aggression settled down near the dagger and just stared at it. After a few moments, she pawed it..

..and yowled in total surprise, jumping some massive ten feet into the air and very nearly fifteen back, as the dagger bounced once, then settled again!

Inshala giggled at her own reaction.. which sort of made her look odd, in her giant, saber-tooth tiger form.

Alright. So it wasn’t a trap.

But why then, had the evil man dropped it?

Had it been a careless folly?

No.

Inshala knew, more instinctually than anything else, that the evil man had not dropped it by mistake.

He had left it there with deliberate deliberation.

He had also made sure that she had seen him..

..seeing as how he hadn’t ‘left’, but had ‘carefully dropped’ it there..

The next question was why?

Why had the evil man leave a dagger..

No.. Not just a dagger.. a SHEATHED dagger for her to find.

Had he left just the dagger, it would have meant one of many things.. and perhaps even none of them.

A sheathed dagger meant..

A ‘careful’ peace offering?

He had parted with something he would need while going to battle and knowing its absence might cause him his death. Yet he had taken that risk.

Not to mention the nuance; because the dagger was sheathed, it could safely be carried by the receiving party, without cutting themselves by mistake or foolishly stabbing it under one’s belt!

This.. evil man had offered peace, in his own, perhaps a bit creepy way. He showed respect to the creature he couldn’t see, yet felt was there, hiding in the bush, and he also respected the ‘weapon’, because both, her and the dagger, had the distinct quality to take life.

It had been an intriguingly subtle.. and double-edged message..

 

..and Inshala, both girl and tiger, absolutely LOVED it!

 

It had been, perhaps the first time ever, someone had recognized her as someone who had the means and the skills to slay, but also the conscience to choose not to, and showed her, not hate, nor fear and certainly not love, but respect..

✱ ✱ ✱

The great saber-tooth snuck deep in the woods, carefully under and over heavy bushes and foliage as she watched her master walking between the two young and pretty ranger girls. That had surprised Inshala. She had never seen armed girls —or women, Inshala wasn’t sure which one of them, these rangers were. Her master had been quite evasive when she had asked him about the difference between a girl and a woman, and now she couldn’t decide what these two were. She felt she was a girl. And she also felt she had no idea, whatsoever, what, how, or when she would become a woman. Human language was diverse and its rules were complicated and many, and Inshala felt a headache threatening to inflict her. The two rangers did look all grown up if that is what it took to be a woman, but they also looked.. young too, at the same time. Though they moved with that careful, steady pace all rangers seemed to possess, they also had a ‘fresh’ step to their gait which suggested ‘youth’. Inshala wasn’t sure how she recognized these nuances or subtleties, but it seemed she only did so at an instinctual level than any learned or attained wisdom.

The one leading was a tall human girl. Taller than herself and had pretty green eyes, fair skin, and long, free-falling, coarse black hair. Or perhaps she had braided it at some time but because she kept playing with it, they had drooped and finally gone free of their braids. She had a very long, very heavy bow in one hand and a wicked-looking greatsword strapped across her back.

The other one was an elf, yet also not an elf.. “A half-elf”, exclaimed Inshala. So that’s what a half-elf looked like. She was a tad shorter than the human and leaner. Her dark brown hair was also free but had two, pretty little braids on one, and a single braid on the other side of her otherwise comely face. A face that wanted to laugh, but was trying very hard to appear serious by means of a scowl.

Inshala giggled.

The half-elf also had a very long, very heavy-looking bow in her hand and a pair of swords hanging at her sides.

Yup. These two rangers definitely looked competent.

And she loved them! They looked brave and strong. Perhaps she might not have to show herself at all, after all.

She watched as the two rangers and her master stop, near a very sheer cliff face and the ranger girls rolled some boulders, forming a barely protective half-circle where they placed her master and as the human girl took her place in front of the boulders, the half-elf climbed up a large rock and prepared her bow and her arrows.

 

What the..

What were they doing?

Why were they just standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for the wolves?

 

She sighed.

They were brave alright.

But not very bright!

 

And then the air suddenly got cold.. Very cold and very fast and Inshala saw her master raise his skinny arms and started a very complex incantation. One she had never seen him perform before..

And then she understood.

Not the content, but the implications of what was going on..

The ‘enemy’ had picked up on what was going on, and was trying to use the weather by altering it enough to freeze everyone near its den!

Ow.. this was a cunning and powerful enemy!

Then she heard them.

She heard them even before the rangers..

 

Wolves..

Many wolves..

 

And they came down, very nearly hurling themselves off the cliffside.

Their enemy had sensed her master and had sent his pet wolves to eliminate him.

Well..

Inshala was not going to let that happen.

But she waited. As big as she was in her saber-tooth tiger form, going up against a pack of some forty-odd wolves was a losing fight.

Inshala had never had any battle training. Hers was all about instincts.. The same instincts that told her to wait..

..and hit where it would have the greatest effect.

She had no illusions about her abilities nor that she could best a pack of wolves that size. What she did know was, when struck with overwhelming brute strength and suddenly, it would break the wolves will and scare them off.. And once a few of them started to run, the rest would follow. That was how a pack worked. And so long as she made sure the wolves couldn’t go for her throat or hamstring her hind legs, she could best them with ease.. One paw from her strong arms could shatter a wolf’s skull, without even the need to use her claws. That was the one distinct advantage felines had over canines; the ability to use their paws in a lateral direction. A swipe or a swing, per se. Dogs, or wolves, could only move their paws vertically, effectively removing the option of using their claws. The ‘batting’ or ‘swatting’ of a cat would be ‘playful’. The same action used by a six hundred pounds tiger was altogether a different proposition. Hence the skull-cracking.. Or the snapping of a spine, which was easier than the skull, but harder to reach when they were all facing her. Which is why, Inshala thought, she had to either strike from the rear, which was unlikely to succeed since there was no cover there or charge in from the flank, where she would have the opportunity to break many spines!

 

And that’s when the half-elf girl started ‘loosing’ her arrows..

 

Inshala just stood there, quietly dumbstruck as the ranger-girl started killing wolves at six hundred yards!

That.. was not fair!

The human also started shooting but she missed some. Then she drew her awesome big sword and charged!

 

“Alright.”, thought Inshala. “That one is pretty and stupid.. and pretty stupid!”

 

What was she doing?!

You don’t charge a whole pack of wolves..

But there she was, suddenly in the middle of the ravaging wolves and.. she was laughing, and Inshala seriously thought she was a bit ‘wrong in the head’, and dancing among the wolves, and where she swung, she laid waste a wolf.

 

That’s when Inshala noticed the alpha.

 

It had circled around, taking advantage of the chaos —a something far too cunning for a wolf, and was now rushing..

..at the half-elf girl from behind her.

The half-elf girl screamed.

“Bree..!”

And Inshala saw the human girl disappear under a whole lot of wolves.

Inshala charged.

A tad too late, for she had positioned herself for the pack, not the half-elf.

The alpha struck the half-elf from behind, sending her off the rock she was standing. Inshala heard a meaty crack when the half-elf fell on the ground and hit her head.

Then alpha went for her master!

 

“Not going to happen..”, hissed Inshala.

 

And six hundred pounds of feline aggression pounced the alpha, and with a sharp, unsettling crack, broke its spine. Inshala did not bother with subtleties. No one was ever going to touch her Father and Master; with a mighty swing of her awesome paw, she sent the alpha’s head, clean off its shoulders, and rolling some fifteen yards away!

Then she was among the remaining wolves.

Yes, she fought with the instincts of a killer predator, but she still had the mind of a human and.. something else guiding those instincts.. She never, for any given instance, stayed in one spot to allow the wolves to crowd her, nor hamstring her. She crushed the skull of one wolf, smashed the muzzle of another, gracefully arched over a third, broke the spine of a fourth, hopped over a charging fifth, raked open an unsuspecting sixth.. It was a mesmerizing scene, to see such a magnificent, but equally large animal dance and so nimbly among the wolves. It looked like a sand-colored smoke whifting among black and white fur..

 

It didn’t take too long.

 

The half-elf girl with her insane accuracy and the human girl with her insanity had killed much more than half their numbers to make a decent feast for the saber-tooth.

The last few tried to make a yelping run for it.

Inshala did not let that happen.

What she did do, however, was not vengeance, nor punishment.

It was a simple matter of ‘balance’.

Whatever had inflicted these wolves, had done it at a terminal level and they had all tasted human and elf flesh and many times. Enough to make a habit of it and certainly enough to lust for more. The imbalance here was very well defined; willy-nilly, these wolves had gone over the edge and crossed the line.

A line where there was no sanity.

And there were no cures here.

Only amputation.

Which is exactly what she’d did.

She left none!

 

“You were extraordinary, my sweet chestnut.”

“I was?”

“Ow my child. If only we had Master Brom Bumblebrim here, he would have sung an epic, just for you..”

*blush*

“Ow.. who is Master Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”

“An acquaintance of mine. A bard. Met him many years ago.. Wait. How did you know he is a hobbit?”

“I am not sure, Father. It just came to me.”

“Well, I must say, you truly were magnificent. And your new form. It really is much bigger than your first tiger. I wasn’t aware there were any saber-tooth tigers in Ritual Forest.”

*blush*

“I..”

“It’s alright, my dear child. I do not mind you quenching your curiosity. But I would like to be informed. I am an old man, yes. But I have traveled far and wide.. And know my forest well. If you feel you have to keep certain things from me, I am fine with it. But never fear me. That would truly hurt.”

“I am sorry I kept this from you. Father. You are the only one that has scolded me honestly. I can’t bear to see you worry any more than you already do for me.”

“That is what fathers do, my dearest. We worry over our daughters.. But now, help me with these young and over-enthusiastic rangers.”

“They were good, Father.”

“They were exceptionally good, my sweet chestnut. This one shoots like no one I have ever seen. And this one.. scared me more than she scared the wolves, I think.”

“I think she is angry.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. She was laughing while she was fighting. But she was also crying. But not out of fear. In fact, the moment she drew her big sword, she left all her fear behind. I do not think she was laughing because she was happy. That would be.. scary.. I think she was laughing to hide her anger.”

“You have a gift, my dear; an astute level of perception and insight.”

“She is also bitten. Many, many times.”

“Yes, she is. I believe I can heal most of it. I am sure she will truly cry when she wakes up, but from pain. At least there will be little scaring. This one however has a cracked skull.”

“I tried to reach her, but I was positioned wrong. Can you fix her? I think she’s cute. Just look at her pretty eyelashes.”

“Come, my dear, help me with this one first. It is not healthy for her to lie in all that wolf blood and.. insides..”

“She is pretty too. But she smells of woodsmen. I do not like woodsmen, Father.”

“Come now, my dear, they very nearly gave their lives trying to protect this old fool.”

“Speaking of fools. Was there a particular reason you all just stood there, right out in the open? Is there a significance to incanting at such an indefensible spot just so all the wolves could see you, that I am not aware of? I mean, there are so many trees, after all.. You could have cast your spell, sitting comfortably on a branch while these two pretty rangers could have shot at the wolves while they piled at the bottom of the trees!”

*blink*

“Well, now, I.. never really thought about it..”

“You all did look awesome though..”

“Well, really, now. You are just making fun of this old man.”

*giggle*

“People are coming, Master. Time for me to go, I think.”

“Yes, my sweet chestnut. I believe it is..”

“Take these, Master, and have the humans make pretty earrings for these two. I think they deserve them.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. These are the alphas fangs. I do not like looting animals, other than what I honestly need.. But I sense.. a certain balance here now..”

 

The old man stared at the little girl and suddenly the dawn of a realization brightened his astonished face. Slowly, and carefully he looked at the unconscious girls, then studied the half-elf a bit more closely.

Good and Great Heavens..

The little girl, his little girl, was right!

Informed by her, he recognized who the half-elf was; Laila.. The daughter of Darien Darkmaine and his beloved Seraphim Silverdûne, both long deceased. And in a chain reaction, he also recognized who the other, the human girl was too; the daughter of dear Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine, both also long gone..

 

“You are so much more astute than I could have imagined, my dear, dear child.. Your ability to sense balance around you is astonishing. And certainly much more finely tuned than mine.. You truly are a wonder..”

Inshala blushed furiously and glowed with genuine pride.. then took off..

 

Master Cathber stared after his ‘gift’, then back at the unconscious girls.

“Well. I believe some well-earned titles are in order, here.. ‘Wolvesbane’ for you and ‘Songsteel’ for you, I think sounds fair and quite fitting.”

“And perhaps ‘Frostmane’ for you..”, he added with a whisper, glancing after his saber-tooth daughter..

✱ ✱ ✱

The great saber-tooth wept silently.

She crouched behind the trees and thick bushes, staring at the large camp full of elves, woodsmen, and rangers laughing and drinking merrily in celebration of having finally gotten rid of the mad wolves infesting Dim Woods and Nurturing Heaven for over two decades. Inshala wasn’t among the merry lot and she wept. Not for having to miss the party, but for the two, pretty ranger girls moaning in pain, in their tent.

Inshala knew pain. She knew it intimately. She had been born with it. Hence, when she saw pain and suffering, she did not offer sentiments because she felt the pain. And those two had fought so bravely, so valant.. varrant.. so.. virulent? What was the word?

Valiant!

Yes, they had fought so bravely and valiantly, and they were now paying the price for it.. cashed in pain.

 

Then she saw the dark, evil man skulk..

No.

Not skulk..

Skulk had a.. Inshala was not sure exactly what, but the word ‘skulk’ didn’t fit the evil man.

Skulk had a certain ‘cowardice’ attached to it.

Sneak, then, perhaps?

But he wasn’t exactly sneaking either, per se.

Walked silently?

Well, that certainly fit, but Inshala didn’t think it did the evil man justice nor give it the dramatic touch she felt it needed.

Walking silently seemed more like a ‘side effect’ to his gait, rather than the cause.

And why was she so hung up on how the evil man walked anyway?

It was just a walk!

Inshala, however, loved correctly defining things. It seemed to satisfy her at a fundamental level.

Or perhaps it was because she had been misunderstood or misinterpreted a few too many times in her past.

Being thought you were a demon all your childhood, and consequently being chased, stoned, caged, and whipped would do that.

An ungrateful, or perhaps, an uncharitable person would probably call her ‘obsessive’.

However she was looked upon, Inshala did not mind, so long as there were no name-calling, chasing, stoning, caging, or whipping in the end.

She still did obsess on correctly defining things, though.

The only, and major issue with that was, the little girl was quite and quietly isolated and had only one old man to talk to. The man she loved and adored.. and didn’t want to perpetually pester him. Hence she lacked ‘words’..

 

“Ghosted.”

 

She exclaimed.. Yes, the evil man ‘ghosted’ towards the tent where the two, pretty ranger girls moaned and groaned in pain!

Or rather, he had already ‘ghosted’ there by the time Inshala found the correct word and she’d totally missed it!

That bothered the little girl.

It bothered her a lot.

She knew she could obsess over words, her bathing schedule, certainly her Father’s bathing calendar, her hair, her clothes, her nails, and her.. horns.. But over a boy? a man? She wasn’t quite sure what this one was, but sending a ‘boy’ to fight a whole pack of wolves sounded genuinely wrong to Inshala.. though, when she thought about it, she was here and she’d fought the wolves and she was a girl. So were the two, pretty ranger girls!

This particular, boy/girl, man/woman dilemma was really getting out of hand!

What’s more, why had the evil man gone to a tent where two, pretty ranger girls lay resting?

That thought..

.. Inshala found it extremely disturbing for some reason and she was totally clueless as to why!

Perhaps the evil man liked one of the girls. They were both pretty, after all..

Perhaps the evil man liked BOTH the girls! They were BOTH pretty, after all!

A low and savage growl escaped the saber-tooth.. She wasn’t sure which of those she found more disturbing, but both made her want to pounce the tent and shred things.. in a rather bloody way.. Starting with the evil man!

 

On a side note, Aager Fogstep never knew just how close he’d come to getting shredded that evening!

 

And just like that, Inshala calmed down.

Because she remembered something—

 

The massive, six hundred pounds of feral egression molded down..

There was no smoke, no crunching of bones, no disgusting body fluids gushing out of any orifice, nor any spectacular, sparkling effects.. at all..

One moment a giant of a cat with a great maw, foot-long sabers for teeth, spine snapping massive paws and man-height shoulders, the next, a skinny little girl.

 

The lack of drama was a bit disappointing perhaps, but the beauty of the change was in fact, in its quiet subtlety.

 

—the sheathed dagger.

 

The two, pretty ranger girls did not possess anything that belonged to the evil man. But she did.

And the evil man did not have the smell of either of the two, pretty ranger girls on him.

 

Funny how ‘relative reason’ found its way through impossible odds at times. Particularly when you desperately wanted it to!

 

The little girl, Inshala, did not ‘ghost’ in the night. She didn’t think she would ever be able to do that. Not in her ‘girl form’, anyway. She felt that seemed something unique to the evil man for some reason and that thought made her frown.. and put a tiny little smile on her small mouth at the same time.

Hence she snuck.

Inshala did not do skulking, either!

Quietly, she placed the sheathed dagger near the entrance of the tent.

 

To this day, she was never really sure why she’d returned the dagger. Perhaps it was because she thought he might need it and its lack might cause him harm. Or perhaps it was a matter of simple ‘balance’; take something, give something. Maybe it was about returning the ‘careful peace’ offering in-kind.. though, in all candor, she might have thought it was something of a game. A bit like hide-and-seek..

Whatever her reasons or reasonings were, it felt ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’ to have returned the sheathed dagger because when she snuck back into the woods, the frown on her diminutive face was gone.

And only the little smile was there.

✱ ✱ ✱

Let me get this straight, old man. You want me to teach your daughter the differences between boys and girls, and men and women? Am I correct?”

*sigh*

“Yes, Ganiste. That is exactly what I am asking you to do..”

*heartless laughter*

“This is incredible. The great Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig blushes and can’t talk about men and women to a little girl?”

*glare*

“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“more heartless laughter*

“Very, very much. But what I don’t understand is, you told me all this when I was a girl. Why can’t you tell her?”

*sigh*

“She is my daughter, Ganiste. I.. can’t, alright. A father should never have to tell these things to his daughter. To a son, perhaps, but not his daughter. That is the mother’s prerogative, if not her job. Yes, it doesn’t sound nice when I say it like that, but to be honest, I don’t care. When it comes to fathers and daughters, there should be some sort of unspoken privacy between them. The same privacy that creates the incomprehensible but special bond that is called father and daughter. Yes, I have washed her, bathed her, clothed her, looked after her, fed her, taught her, and comforted her the best I can. And whenever she does these by herself and in the future, she will remember me and smile. This.. ‘topic’, however, relates to a possible third person by its nature I am hoping she will find in time.. Someone who loves her, cares for her, attends to her needs in all aspects, comforts her, and keeps her safe. And I should never be part of that equation. Only her and that person, whoever he may be.. If I told her about these, I will ruin the mystic of the whole thing..”

“And embarrass yourself..”

“And embarrass myself..”

“You never cease to amaze me, old man.”

“I honestly am not trying.. But I can not go to the woodsmen for their support on this, seeing as how they treated her all these years. Elves.. well.. I am NOT going to the elves with this.. Dwarves are not even aware of her existence and I’d like to keep it that way. They make horrible gossip! You are the only woman I know and trust.. Ironic as that may seem..”

“Yes.. rather ironic, indeed. An ogress teaching the ways of boys and girls, men and women to an old codger’s little, non-human daughter. What could possibly go wrong there?”

“Old codger? Really, now, Ganiste..”

“Old geezer..?”

“I resent that!”

“Bodach?”

“Well, now, you are just being mean, Ganiste. I never called you any names.”

*cruel laughter*

“By all means, do. You are so out of your debt here that I can pluck you clean and you will just sit there and take it all!”

“Do it, then. For her, I will sit still and ‘take it all’..”

*blink*

“You are serious..”

“Ganiste.. When have you ever seen me otherwise?”

“Very well, old man. This is quite unprecedented, but I will do this for you. And for her.. I hear certain ‘talks’ form special bonds between girls. Never really had the chance here. Ogres aren’t much when it comes to intimacy. At least I and the future Ritual Guardian will have such a special bond..”

“Are you done talking privately with my Father, Ganiste? Chihuahua is hungry, and so am I..”

“Yes, I am done talking with your father. But not quite done talking privately with you..”

“You want.. to talk privately with me?”

“Yes, child. I am afraid this will be one of ‘those talks’..”

“What talks?”

Those talks..

“What talks?”

*blink*

“Cathber! You never had any of ‘those talks’ with her?”

*blush*

“Uhhmm.. Nope! Thought I’d leave it all to you and in your tender care..”

“You are incredible, you are.. How is she even alive?”

“That was a bit harsh, now, Ganiste. I did the best I could..”

*sigh*

“Come, little one. Help me prepare dinner and I will tell you all about boys and girls..”

“You.. you will?”

“Yes, little one, I will..”

“Yessh! It has been in my mind for some time now. But I do not understand why my Father isn’t telling me this and you are..”

“Because he is a wuss!”

“Well, now, really, Ganiste?!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Tell me little one. What do you know about boys?” 

“They are mean. They try to catch me, they pull my hair, my ears, and my horns. They hit me with sticks, they throw stones at me and call their parents who beat me more, put me into cages, and whip me. I do not like them, mother Ganiste.”

*blink*

“And.. why did you not hit them back, child?”

“Because I do not like hurting. I am used to pain, but they are not. If I threw a rock at them, they will die. If I hit them with sticks, they will die. If I whip them, they will die. I only kill to eat. And when an animal has become sick in the head..”

“Hmmm.. Alright. Perhaps one day you will meet a boy who will not do any of those to you.”

“I do not look forward to it, mother Ganiste. Humans are all same. They are ignorant, stupid, they only want to kill things and they do not smell nice. Why would I want any of them.”

“But you are human too, child.”

“No, mother Ganiste. I am not. Father says I am. And at first, I wanted to be as well. If being human will make me do all the evil things they do, I do not want to be human. Perhaps an elf. They at least never throw stones at me, or call me names or hit me with sticks. But they do avoid me and that hurts. I have done nothing to them.. I just watch them play and dance from far away. They will not mind that. But they will not let me come any closer. They are a closed-minded people.”

*sigh*

“Life hasn’t offered you any favors, has it, child? And this coming from an ogre makes it all the more sad.”

“I did not even want to be, mother Ganiste. At all.. But no one asked me, so I am here. Only my Father has been good to me.. And you, mother Ganiste. But he is old. I can see him wither away, every day now and I do not know what to do? If only I could find a way to give him my days, I would. No one wants a dirty little demon like me. But everyone needs him.”

*blink*

“No child. We do not get to give our days to others. And even if you had the chance, you shouldn’t be doing that.”

“Why? I have no future. There are no happy days for me other than what my Father gives me..”

“Child. I am an ogre and even I haven’t given up thus thoroughly. And I lost everyone I know to humans, because of humans.. Yet there are some that can be spoken to, bargained with, and expect some respect. Your father is one such human. Should have seen me when I first saw him. I literally tried to catch and eat him! But he bested me and still did not slay me. Instead, he offered to take me along and show me the world beyond our hills and our ways. Now he is your father and still doing the same. In time, you will find someone, perhaps a human, or an elf, or someone or something else, who will be like your father but who will not be your father. To him, you will tell all your secrets, all your worries, all your fears, all your bad habits and it will still be alright. You will open your heart to him and he will love you for it. And he will do the same to you and it will be alright with you and you will love him for it, as well..”

“I find your confidence in humans enthralling, but misplaced, mother Ganiste..”

“That is for time to show you, child. But either way, you must know what boys are and what men are. You must also know what being a girl means and how they become women.”

“Tell me about the girl and the woman, mother Ganiste. I have no interest in boys nor men. They have brought me nothing but suffering, and given me nothing but pain..”

“Let’s not be too hasty, child. For there can be no men without women and only empty and desolate women without men..”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste. What do women have that men want, and what do men have that women need?”

*sigh*

“Living in the wild, have you never noticed how there are always two, to make more?”

“I have, mother Ganiste. Animals are kind, for they hunt only what they need. And are bonded to their mates. The mate fights and savagely, so the mother can run and take its cubs, puppies, and babies to safety.”

“Yes. But why does it take two, to birth the cubs, puppies, and babies?”

“I do not know, mother Ganiste. It just does, I guess.”

“It doesn’t ‘just does’, child. It is needed. The girl needs the boy, for the girl to make more. And the boy needs the girl, for the whole of their kind to grow. Neither is better than the other, and neither is the stronger. To think so is folly and an elementary mistake.”

“But why?”

“Because there can be no men without women and only empty and desolate women without men, dear child.”

“…”

“When boys grow, they become men. When girls grow, they stay a girl. For a girl to become a woman, she needs to mate.”

“What is to mate, mother Ganiste?”

“The details of that is something you will learn in time, I imagine. Suffice to say, the boy gives his seeds to the girl, and the girl turns those seeds into new life! What you are here for is, when boys grow, they grow also in size and muscle, though not particularly in their mental capacity. This is also true for women, really, but that’s beside the point. When a girl starts to grow, her body changes much more profoundly than boys. Our hips grow wider, and our breasts grow larger.”

*blush*

“But.. why?”

“For many reasons. One is to attract the attention of men, I suppose, the other is for both to carry and deliver our babies, and to feed our young ones..”

“I.. do not understand, mother Genista.. You mean to tell me I will look like you?”

“In essence, yes. Do you remember how flat you were just a few short years ago?”

“gawk*

“You certainly were, the last time you came here. Now you have ‘hips’, and ‘breasts..”

*furious blush*

“Will they not stop growing?”

“They might. But I doubt. Not yet anyway. You are different from humans and different from ogres. But I believe you are not quite done with your growing just yet.”

*blush some more*

“But.. I do not want them to grow anymore. Can I not stop them?”

“No. And neither should you want to. Never, and I mean, never interfere with your natural growth. That is not just wrong, you will ruin your body. There is no going back once it’s done, child.. Besides, no girl ever wants them to stop growing. The larger they are, the more men like them.. boys too, for that matter, and I don’t expect that particular aspect in males to be any different in humans.”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste. I do not want to grow anymore. If I grow more, so will my horns..”

“Child.. What am I?”

“An ogress, mother Ganiste.”

“I have the face of a bull that’s smashed into a wall running at full speed. I have a flat nose, thick, uneven horns, and canines that stick out of my jaw..”

“Yes. You look awesome, mother Ganiste.”

*blink*

“What?”

“You look awesome!”

“I.. I do?”

“And very impressive. I was enthralled the first time we met.”

“Girl.. You are ruining my speech and my point!”

*giggle*

“I am sorry, mother Ganiste. But I speak my truth.”

“Your truth is pretty. But my face is not. Which is, or was, my point.”

“I feel lost, mother Ganiste.”

“As much as I dislike many of my aspects, this is me. This is who and what I am. In time, I will become more, and I will become less, yet, whatever and however I turn out to be, I will accept that, and so must you.”

“You belong, mother Ganiste. Here, and among yours.”

“Yes.”

“Where do I belong?”

*blink*”

“I have no place among humans and I have no place among elves. You belong to your people, and your hills, mother Ganiste, because you have people.. I have no hills and no people.. I have no place in this world, mother. I do not belong!”

“You belong, where you feel you belong, child. To your father and to your home.. And as long as I am here, you belong to these hills as well.”

 

“I thank you, mother Ganiste. You are kind and wise. But you and I know, in the end, I will live alone, and die alone. I will always be shunned, stoned, caged, and whipped for as long as I live and my best chance is to run.. Always run.. Should I settle and be found, I will be driven and my home burned. The running can not belong, mother Ganiste..”

 

 

“Did you learn the answers to your questions, my sweet chestnut?”

“Yes, Father. Thank you for bringing me here to mother Ganiste. She is wise as she is pretty. I would like to visit her again in the future if it’s alright.”

“I am sure Ganiste wouldn’t mind. I believe she truly adores you.”

“She adores many things, Father. The smaller they are, the more she adores..”

“And have you any further questions to ask on the matter you talked?”

“No, Father. I found it was a matter that was not significant, nor pertinent and quite unrelated to my life.”

“Ow?”

“Boys and men will always stay and far away. And I will always stay, here and a girl. I am alone, Father, for I have no kind. I belong nowhere and there will be no mate waiting for me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

You have been rather quiet of late, my daughter. What’s ails you? Are you unwell?”

“I am well, Father. I am merely thinking.”

“Thinking. Thinking is good, my sweet chestnut. But too much, however, could befuddle —unless shared.”

“The Wyld Hunt, Master. That is what I have been thinking.”

*blink*

“Now, why would a pretty little girl such as yourself ever think of a dreadful thing such as the Wyld Hunt, my daughter. It is not a wise matter to dwell upon. Not for an old man such as myself, let alone a pretty little girl..”

“You do not have to say I am pretty all the time, Master. That elk has escaped.. I no longer find interest in being pretty. I have accepted my lot..”

“Perhaps you should look into all your options before you call upon your lot, my daughter.”

“It is alright, Father. It really is.”

“My dear fair girl.. Ever since we met, have I ever mislead, muddied the truth, or lied to you?”

“Never, Father.”

“There you have it, then. If I say you are loved, it is because you are loved. When I say you are pretty, it is because you are pretty.. Unless you want to call this old man a fool for a pretty face.. which would sort of make my point!”

“I thank you for your love and your care, Father. It has meant a lot for me and sustained me all these years. It is time, however, I stand on my own feet, then on your shoulders.”

“My shoulders are fine, my sweet chestnut. You weigh little!”

“I weigh more than my little. This I think you already know, Father.”

*sigh*

“Why don’t we both go to the pond and take a dip? It is a beautiful day..”

“I took a dip last week, Father. I will take another if I need.”

*blink*

“Soo.. why were you thinking about the Wyld Hunt? If I may be so bold as to ask..”

“You are bold, Father.”

“Well, really, now? That’s just being nasty.”

*giggle*

“I am sorry, Father.”

“We shall see how sorry you are then, shall we, young lady? The Wyld Hunt..”

“Perhaps I could call it and join it.”

“You.. What?!”

“Call it and join it, Father. That way, I will belong.”

*blink*

“First of all, young lady, no one ‘just calls’ the Wyld Hunt. Second, the Wyld Hunt is not something you can ‘belong’ to.. like ever! The Wyld Hunt is not a nice thing, my daughter. It is very, very, VERY dangerous to call it.. Once, and only once did I call it and that was over 750 years ago during Themalsar War, and it took a full circle of druids to barely steer it towards that mad old priest’s temple! They destroyed the temple and brought it down to a stunted rubble.”

“But I heard he still lives, Father. Themalsar still lives.”

“Yes. He does. As far as I know. The fool made pacts with unimaginable things we could not even put names to. The best we could do was to lock him up in his stinking dungeons and put the strongest wards we could muster.. All of us; what remained of the druids, any Temple Guardian we could get our hands on, any elf wizard or sorcerer, and even Angels from the High Heavens and powerful Fey from either Courts..”

“So you called the Wyld Hunt and they were unable to destroy this Themalsar?”

“Yes.”

“There you have it then, Father.”

“There we have what, child?”

“You sent them to do a task and they were unable to finish it.. The Wyld Hunt ‘owes’ you, Father!”

“They, what?”

“Now you could call them and ask them if I could join them as a payment to their debt! That way, they will be happy for having finally paid off their debt, I will have gone and joined them and ‘belonged’, and you will be free of me and will no longer be forced to endure my weight!”

*blink*

*gawk*

*stunned silence*

“No..”

“No? But why, Father? Seems like a good solution.”

“Solutions are for problems.”

“Yes, Father. And I am the problem.”

“No, my daughter. The problem is you questioning my love for you. The problem is where you do me the disservice of questioning my love, my care, and my fondness of you.”

*blink*

“I.. I thought..”

“Go.”

“Go? Where shall I go, Father?”

“Go.. and take a bath..”

“I do not need a bath, Father. The dirty does not come off.”

“Go, Inshala. NOW! AND NEVER TALK ABOUT THE WYLD HUNT AGAIN!!”

*sob*

“You shouted at me, Father..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Ganiste! I need your help!”

“Cathber? That you, old man?”

“Yes, yes.. How many others do you see in your dreams, girl?”

“Do you really want me to answer that question, old man?”

*blink*

“You really shouldn’t ask questions you do not want the answers for, old man. But, I wasn’t really sleeping. Just staring at something dreamily.”

*heavy, fuming breaths*

“Are you done?”

“How could I be? You are the one with the problem. But let me guess; it’s about your little one, isn’t it?”

“How could you even know that?”

*smirk*

“Only two things that I can think of could have riled up a sour old man like you; one would be a whole village of bigots to have finally banded together and come down to that howell you call home with torches and pitchforks, or it’s a daughter.. But I doubt you would have called me for the bigots. I hear you take particular delight when it comes to entertaining yourself with them.”

* smolder*

“You are having fun, aren’t you, Ganiste?”

*heartless laugh*

“Every time you call, old man. But that is beside the point. Now, what seems to be the issue?”

“Inshala!”

“Yeees, old man, seeing as she is your daughter. But what is the problem?”

“She said she wanted to call the Wyld Hunt!”

“She can do that?”

“I don’t know. She surprises me at every turn. She is destroying everything I thought I knew about the fey and the wild fey!”

“Daughters can do that. Destroy everything we thought we knew. Why does she want to call the Wyld Hunt? Perhaps she is finally tired of your precious woodsmen. I certainly am.”

“No. She said she wants to join them and finally ‘belong’..”

“Ahhh..”

“Ahhh? Ahh, what?”

“It is of no importance, old man. It is a girl thing. You wouldn’t understand. Besides, joining the Wyld Hunt isn’t so bad. My great-great-grandfather joined it.. during Themalsar War. Wasn’t it you and your doddering old friends that called it, then?”

“It was a desperate play, Ganiste. You of all people should know this.”

“Perhaps.. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it..”

“You are not being of any help, Ganiste.”

*snicker*

“Was that a requirement of me? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things?”

*glare*

“Please, Ganiste..”

“Well.. ‘Please’ always helps.. But like I said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it if I were you.”

“And why is that?”

“Told you. It’s a girl thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

*fume*

“By all means, try me, Ganiste!”

“No point. You have to be a girl to understand. But if you feel you are that desperate, by all means, turn into one. I know you can.. with one of your polymorph spells..”

*shocked silence*

“I have done many foolish things in my time, Ganiste. But I am NOT going to turn myself into a girl. Not now, not ever.. I am what I am and people should accept what they got, then try to be something else.. Particularly when it comes to things such as this —a something that is certain to end in depravity.”

*shrug*

“Time will come when your point of view might be questioned, old man.”

“And what gave you the idea that I would ever care, Ganiste! I am not a public figure that needs a popular vote for some foolish election. I do not require to appear ‘cute’, nor be politically correct. By all means, girl, you know what I do, what I fight, and what I defend.. But I see none of those idiots out there lending a hand, let alone bleed for humanity!”

“Alright. I will help you try and understand.”

“Please, do!”

“Inshala is how old now?”

“Should be close to her fifteenth. I am not quite sure of her exact day of birth. I estimated about a month or two before her mother was driven out of her village and into the woods then stoned to death.. The fools thought she’d died and left but she picked herself up, and her baby and ran.. She was overcome by fatigue and blood loss, however, and finally died. I found them a few days later quite by chance really. Buried the mother and adopted the baby.”

“And you let those animals get away with this?”

*growl*

“No, Ganiste, I did not. I.. someone let slip the news of what happened to the authorities in Serenity Home.. and the good sheriff, along with his guards and a platoon of rangers came down on them like an avalanche.. I don’t think they ever forgot what they did to that poor young girl since then..”

“How very you, old man. But if we are to return to the essence of your problem, your beloved daughter, Inshala, is a teenager now, and has been for quite some time. I am surprised she hasn’t done anything odd and creepy at all..”

“So what if she is a teenager?”

“Do you even know what girls go through during their teenage years, old man?”

“Of course. They grow!”

*stare*

“You are incredible, you are, old man.. How is that poor girl even alive with you?”

*blush*

“That was a tad harsh, Ganiste. I did my best.”

*sigh*

“It is not your fault you are such a dork, Cathber.”

“Well, now, really?”

“Don’t misunderstand me, old man. All men are.. when it comes to truly understand girls.. or women, for that matter.. and what we go through while we are growing and what we suffer in life.”

“I am sorry, Ganiste. I have been running around this forest for over eight hundred years dealing with the sins of men, the fouls of monsters, and the fel of demons to make life livable and safe for others. I was bound to miss a thing or two.”

“You are a good man, Cathber. A foolish man, but still a good man.”

“Well, thank you very much for seeing fit to give me that much credit, Ganiste.”

“Don’t be like that, Cathber. It does not become you.. Look, I am a tad busy with a poacher at hand so I will try to make this simple; men do not understand what we go through while we are growing. You literally can’t because you never go through it.. You can nod your heads and claim to understand but never truly comprehend.. We are awash with all sorts of wild chemicals as our bodies change and become ‘birth ready’. This is what she is going through.. just like any other teenage girl does, resulting in odd behavior changes, mood swings, laughing and crying for no particular reason, falling in love with foolish, older men..”

“I resent that.”

*chuckle*

“It will last for some time and will call her to do all sorts of odd drama, though I must admit, the idea of joining the Wyld Hunt is a bit of an overkill..”

“How long? How long will this last?”

“For however long it takes for her to adjust to these changes and until she adapts to her new self..”

“New self?

“Yes, old man.. Larger breasts, wider hips, swaying walks.. you know..”

“No, I don’t.. Not really..”

“Apparently not.”

“Hey, I met my beautiful Tamara when she was done with her growing up, alright.”

“In short, she must go through with this and there is nothing you really can do about it.”

*sigh*

“Nothing? There is absolutely nothing I can do about it?”

“Absolutely nothing, old man. The only thing you can try is to offer understanding, patience, and kindness..”

“She has those and more, Ganiste. She can have all my understanding, patience, and kindness.. ALL OF IT!

“No, old man. You thought you gave her those. What she needs now are the real ones.. What’s worse, for you is, she might not even be in the mood to accept any of them!”

“This is.. unprecedented..”

“You have a daughter and you think this as unprecedented? You truly are naive, Cathber.”

“You are punning me again, Ganiste.

*chuckle*

“Yes. Yes, I am, old man. But what you need now is a hug. I could give you a hug.”

“Uhhmm.. I apricate your offer, dear Ganiste. But the last time you hugged, it took me nearly three months to recover.”

“Such is love, old man.. Always painful!”

✱ ✱ ✱

I see you are in the pond again.”

“Yes, Father. You told me to go and bathe in the pond.”

“Yes. Yes, I did tell you that, didn’t I..”

*awkward silence*

“Inshala.. My dearest daughter—”

“—I am sorry Father. For making you shout at me..”

“I am sorry, my sweet chestnut, to have shouted at you..”

*sob*

“You have been nothing but good to me..”

“And you have been nothing but a sweet daughter to me..”

“I will do my best not to put my weight on you.”

“And I will try to carry more of you.. My only wish of you is that you would accept what I give and never question it.”

“I will never question it, Father.”

“Now, where is my towel, my scrubbing stick and my soap? I think I smell a bit too.”

“Are you saying, I smell?”

“No. I am saying, you smell. A whole week without a dip in the pond? Really, now, girl? Who are you? And where’s my daughter?”

*blink*

“But.. but I am your daughter and I am right here!”

“Well, we shall see about that. My daughter always cooks a wonderful dinner. And will take another bath tomorrow as well..”

*splash*

“Where are you going, girl? And do put your towel on!”

“Towel can wait! I am going to cook a wonderful dinner and prove that I am your daughter, Father!”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

And how have you been of late, young one? You certainly gave my ogres a fright, when you came the way you did. Your cat is indeed quite impressive. “

“I am sorry mother Ganiste. It was not my intention to scare your people. I was on my way to Gulls Perch to play with some of my friends there and I was in a bit of a rush. But I didn’t want to be impolite so I decided to come here and visit you first.”

“That was very thoughtful of you, dear child. Come, let’s get into my tent and while I make you some cookies, you can play with chihuahua and tell me all about what you have been doing.”

“Cookie and chihuahua! How can I say, no, mother Ganiste?”

“I didn’t know the fey let outsiders into their valley at Gull’s Perch. They were all banned quite some years ago.”

“They still are, mother Ganiste. But they don’t mind me and let me in.”

“Interesting..”

“We swim and play in their big ponds for hours and hours. And when the sun sets, we fire hop and we play hide and seek in the woods. But I think the dryads are cheating.”

“Ow? Why do you think so?”

“Playing hide and seek in the woods with dryads is a game you are never going to win, mother Ganiste. Every dryad is paired with one tree or another. When they hide behind a tree, they just ask the tree and the tree opens up, and hides them!”

“Well, that’s a bummer.”

“Not anymore, mother. I have been studying and working hard and I can speak with trees now.”

“You can?”

“Yes, mother Ganiste. So this time I will just ask the trees.”

“Will they give away their own dryads, though?”

*giggle*

“But I will not be asking them about their dryads..”

“Ow?”

“I will be asking them why are they so fat, and were they always this fat!”

*blink*

“They will think it’s the dryads that are making them look fat and try to explain it to me!”

*happy, thunderous laughter*

“You are an incredible little girl, you are..”

*smirk*

“Thank you, mother Ganiste..”

“And you look amazing too!”

“I.. I do?”

“Yes, girl. Barely a year has passed since your last visit and look at you..”

“Why, mother? What’s wrong with me?”

“Wrong? There is nothing wrong with you girl, but Good Heavens you’ve grown..”

“I.. I have?”

“Yes.. I don’t think I should call you ‘child’ any more.”

“But what will you call me then?”

“You have grown and are no longer a child, but a ‘young lady’ now. You were pretty before, but now your breasts are larger, your hips are wider and your walk has a sway..”

*furious blush*

“M.. mother, please, stop!”

“Now, now, young lady.. This is girl talk. When we are alone, in this tent, we have less rules.”

“I.. I don’t really feel any different now, then I did before, though.. Just a bit strange.. and akwak.. arward.. awkard..”

“Awkward?”

“Yes, that..”

“That is to be expected. You body has grown and flourished, but your mind hasn’t caught up to that fact yet.”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste.”

“Before, you were a pretty little girl. Now, you are a beautiful young lady..”

“I am?”

“Ow, yes..”

“But.. how can you be sure?”

“Your fey friends..”

“What about them?”

“The fey-folk like ‘pretty’. This is something they can not help, nor avoid. But they absolutely adore ‘beauty’..”

*beam*

✱ ✱ ✱

Is this true? Did you see it with your own eyes?”, growled Ganiste and there was murder is her burning eyes.

The large ogre standing some three yards tall shuffled his feet uncomfortably and took an undiscernible step back.

“Yes, Chieftain Grulganesti. His door and windows were smashed in and he was lying in his bed with many stabs in his chest. Too small to be our swords or axes. They were done by human knives.. They hid their steps well, but I sought much and found some. Large for elf, soft for dwarf. But they moved carefully and swiftly. His house was much ransacked, Chieftain. They were looking for something.”

Ganiste went pale. She could barely keep her composure. She did a harsh swallow of the bitter taste that came to her clenched jaws.

“Send the signal.”, she said in a growl. “I want triple sentries on watch. Anything that is of suspect is to be reported to me. Send also one fast runner to the elves, one to the dwarves and one to the human town to inform them of what has befallen.”

“Chieftain..”, replied the ogre dubiously. “The elves barely tolerate us at the best of times and will likely shoot us. The dwarves will shoot us. The humans.. if we chance upon one of their sensible rangers, they may listen. Otherwise they will also shoot us.”

“Do tell me something I do not know! All couriers will carry white flags-poles on their backs at all times. Should they still shoot at them, I will personally go there, break their bows and shiv it up their intestines for display!”, she replied with a horrible hiss..

“An educational riposte, Chieftain.”, nodded the ogre thoughtfully.

“Also.. send another courier to Gull’s Perch.. His daughter must know of this.. Prepare a full platoon. We shall leave within the hour. We must get to his home before anyone else comes to ransack it. I.. we must also make him ready for burial. She must not see him ravaged. There is a limit to what a girl could tolerate..”, she said, though it wasn’t quite clear as to which girl she was referring to. With a wave of her hand, she sent the ogre with her orders..

For a long moment, Ganiste just stood there staring at her empty tent. And then, the Chieftain of the all the ogres of Ogre’s Foot and Ritual Forest, Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig dropped on her knees and cried like a little girl..

 

“You old fool..”, she moaned. “Who shall slay me now?”

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala, stop! They did not do this. They are here only to make sure no one else comes and to prepare him for his funeral”, screamed Ganiste, but the giant, near six-hundred-pound saber-tooth tiger standing over the fallen, bloodied ogre didn’t care. Her great maw open, her two, foot-long sabers for teeth shown with mindless wrath!

Chieftain Grulganiste did not wait for another warning.

With an unexpected agility from the near fourteen-foot ‘woman’, she rammed the saber-tooth tiger and flung her off the bleeding ogre on the ground. The saber-tooth spun in mid-air, bounced off a near-by tree, shot herself using her powerful hind-legs and came at the ogress, her skull-crushing paws extended.

Grulganiste ducked just enough to let the tiger sail over her, then jumped her from behind, grabbed her and with a mighty heave she locked her in her awesome grip. A roar of surprise and madness escaped the saber-tooth as she trashed, leaving long, ugly, and bloody scars on the chieftain, but Ganiste ignored them..

She just squeezed more.

The other ogres picked up their great axes, clubs and swords and moved in.

“NO!”, screeched Ganiste. “STAY YOUR GROUND! NO ONE TOUCHES THE RITUAL GUARDIAN!”

The saber-tooth struggled more, but something snapped and suddenly, Ganiste was no longer grappling a giant tiger, but hugging a little girl!

“Stop, girl.. Please, stop..”

“He trusted you, mother!”, screamed Inshala.

“As should you, girl. If you do not cease this, by the Great Heavens I will beat you until there’s some semblance of sense in that thick skull of yours.”, grated Ganiste.

“You hurt him! And now you hurt me! Why did you do this, mother?”

“I did not do this to him. You must understand this. And neither did my ogres. We revered your father. We do not know who did this, but it was not us..”, scowled the chieftain of the ogres.

“Who? Who did this then?”, screamed the little girl.

“Men. Some men came at him while he slept. They killed him with knives and low honor, ransacked his home and ran east..”


Running foot steps came and two ogres appeared in front of the battered home of old Cathber.

One of ogres was heavily wounded and the other was limping.

“Chieftain..”, grunted the limping one as he slowly lowered his wounded comrade.

“Who did this?”, hissed Grulganiste.

“We are not sure, Chieftain. They were swift and strong. They killed six of us and we didn’t even see them. Only the two of us made it and barely. They looked like orcs. But much bigger. Much stronger. Much.. something.. And there was many of them. Over thirty strong, at least.”

“Where are they headed?”

“East, Chieftain. They were all heading east. They also burned the elf village, Nurturing Heaven, down to the ground.. And they didn’t even bother to ransack it.. Dead elves.. Dead elves every where. They tried to put up a fight, but these.. things, attacked them in the middle of the night, either last night or the one before that, and slaughtered all they could find.”

“Are there any survivors?”

“We do not know, Chieftain. We tried to get near and that is when we got attacked. There were signs of possible survivors though, heading towards Dim Wood.”

Chieftain Grulganiste’s face was black. And with unveiled anger, she turned to one of her other ogres.

“Go to base. Alert everyone. Then bring two platoons here, and six platoons to the elf village to find possible survivors. If there are any, they are to be escorted to the woodsmen villages. The platoons are to station outside their villages to make sure these beasts do them no harm. I detest the woodsmen, but I shall not bring my people blame for their deaths.”

“Yes, Chieftain.”

“Also, send more couriers to the dwarves and the human town to carry this news and what we are doing about it. We do not need any misunderstanding. Let all my ogres carry white flags on their arms and on poles on their backs.”

“What shall we do about the humans that slew the old Ritual Guardian?”

“Nothing. This is a human matter and we can not interfere. Anything we do other than what we have already done will only complicate things. As for the beasts—”

“—I shall hunt them down. I shall hunt them down and rip them apart.. Then I shall go after these humans as well.. and gnaw their bones!”, hissed Inshala.

“Your anger is understandable, but misplaced, girl. You cannot do either of those, because you are not ready. Actions done in wrath, never ends well..”, replied Ganiste quite sternly.

“You will either move, mother Ganiste, or I shall move over you.”, hissed Inshala and there was none of the sweet little girl that the ogress chieftain new. There, standing before her was something else. Certainly human. But not all the way and Ganiste knew not what and she was suddenly..

..afraid!

Yes, it was possible if she stood her ground and tried her brute force, her shamanistic skills, along with what ogre guards she had here, she could stop her.. but that was just it.

She wasn’t sure and she was not keen on finding out.

She had her own people to care, and a funeral to burry.

“At least bid your farewell and say your goodbyes to your father, girl. He deserved that much of you, for truly, he loved you.”, she whispered sharply at the little girl.

“I shall bid him farewell, mother, but i shall never say goodbye to him. He shall live with me, always..”, she replied hoarsely, turned around and went to the, now quite shriveled body, wrapped tightly in white, funeral cloth, placed upon a flimsily and hastily prepared pier. 

Inshala knelt down next to the pier, reached out and tenderly touched her father’s wrapped face. And with blurry eyes, she spoke.

“I should have been here, with you, Father. You were, when I needed you and I was not. I shall carry this blame until the day I perish and join you. There, I shall ask your forgiveness. Now, I must go. I know you would have me stay. But I can’t. Not anymore. I could be a little girl as long as you were here. Now the little girl is over. I have showed kindness and got only hurt in return. I shall no longer show, what is not given freely. I shall only reap what is sown.. I shall no longer be the little girl, but be the harvester.. For this, I shall beg your forgiveness as well.. I shall bid you farewell, Father, but no goodbyes, for I shall not keep you waiting for long.”, Inshala said, softly kissed the old man’s forehead and sobbed.

For long moments, she wept, lost and broken.

When she rose, her face was wet and pinched, but the little girl was indeed gone.

What stood there was only inhuman determination and wrath.

She raised her head, faced the ogress and looked her in the eyes..

“Call upon the woodsmen. And the elves. Call the dwarves and the humans, mother Ganiste. My father deserves a proper funeral. He helped those who lived in his forest. Should they have honor, they shall come. Tell them also, I shall not turn a blind eye to those who do not..

Chieftain Grulganiste just stared at the skinny little girl.. No.. the ‘something’, standing like some cold, unreachable being trapped inside the body of the little girl and she felt her own heart tremble.

“I shall send word to all, and more, Ritual Guardian.”, she promised solemnly. “Please.. do not make decisions with anger. Your father—”, she began.

“—is dead.”, finished the little girl, harshly.

“But I am not.”, said Ganiste and for a moment, a kind and tender shadow cast upon her face. “Your father was a dear, dear man for me. And he was not the only one who loved and cared for you. Please, remember that. Remember, also, do not do things which you will regret.”

“Worry not for me, mother Ganiste. I go where I belong now.. As for regret..”, she said, then looked down at the sad form of her father. “I am regret!.. And I bid you, goodbye.”

“What are your intensions, Inshala?”

“I intend to wash the green off this forest with red..”, she hissed.

And just like that, she was gone.

In the form of her majestic saber-tooth, and a groaning roar, she disappeared into the trees.

✱ ✱ ✱

In the depths of Ritual Forest, the little girl raised her hands into the air. And called upon the old and the ancient, and called she upon a debt.. 

The sky darkened as dreary grays gathered. A long streak of lightning arced from one horizon to the other as though heralding the doom of the living.

In deep soft tenor, she sang, a long lost ritual, calling one horror, to judge another..

 

line-sdw-04up

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.

”My son, wherefore seek’s thou thy face thus to hide?”
”Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?”
”My son, ‘tis the mist rising over the plain.”

”Oh come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
Full many a game I will play there with thee;
On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold.”

”My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?”
”Be calm, dearest child, ‘tis thy fancy deceives;
’Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves.”

”Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care;
My daughters by night their glad festival keep,
They’ll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep.”

”My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?”
”My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
’Tis the agèd gray willows deceiving thy sight.”

”I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou’rt unwilling, then force I’ll employ.”
”My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
Full sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last.”

The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his court-yard with toil and with dread,—
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.

line-sdw-04up

 

“Erl-King, I summon thee!”, she shouted and the skies thundered in reply.

“A depth you owe, from Father to daughter, passed..”, and the dirty clouds churned.

“Once upon a task were you called..”, she hissed, and the trees of Ritual Forest shuddered.

“To slay, to burn and to smother..”, she cried and the peoples of Dim Woods suddenly ran in unadulterated fear.

“To crack, to crush and to grind..”, she whispered and the ogres of Ogre’s Foot fell on their knees and howled.

“To chase, to drive and to hunt..”, she screamed and the dwarves of Elder Hills and Scowling Hills froze, as dread washed over thirty thousand souls.

“To cut, to stab and to maim..”, she cried and the denizens of Serenity Home fell flat, their faces pale, their eyes as ovals..

“For a depth you owe, from Father to daughter, passed..”, she cast and the lightnings crashed, splitting trees, tearing the earth, and the fey creatures of Gull’s Perch turned north, their faces drawn in horror.

“Erl-King, I summon thee!”

“And Erl-King, thrice said and done..”

 

“Thus I have been summoned.. by a mortal. Bold. And foolish.. I knew, should I wait but a millennia, some naïve would eventually call, and pit his will against mine. I must admit, crushing the dim-witted is a tad demeaning but, I shall be set free on the mortal coil, and unrestrained..”

..said the giant of a man in deep, melodious, echoing voice.

 

“It is I, who has summoned you, Erl-King, to call you upon a task left unfulfilled.”, very nearly moaned Inshala, for the great figure’s presence was not immense in terms of physics, but his spiritual presence was vast and beyond!

Tears filled her eyes and she shut them tightly, focused on one thing, and one thing alone; her Father, and how small he lay on his pier.

 

“This truly is a sad day.”, mused the Erl-King. “I have thus been called to task by a.. little girl! No matter, no matter.. Crush fast and be done, I suppose.”

“I am Inshala Frostmane Bolgrig, and I am the daughter of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, whom you owe a debt of honor for the failure of a task given!”, said Inshala, through her clenched teeth.

“Owe a debt of honor.. Failure of a task given.”, murmured the Erl-King. “Very big words for a very little girl. And what task is this, you dare claim the Erl-King has failed?”

“Many centuries ago, he and his, summoned you to lay down waste Themalsar. YOU FAILED! For Themalsar endures..”, said Inshala harshly.

“You dare afflict a failure upon me? You? A sniveling little—”, thundered the Erl-King and suddenly fell silent, staring at the little girl with an incredulous expression on his face. “—fey? How is this possible? Only the Queens of the fey may call me, the Erl-King, to task.. or their greatest of vassals. How is it that you could summon me, little fey girl?”

“I.. I am fey?”, faltered Inshala and opened her eyes.. a something she probably shouldn’t have done.. and saw the Erl-King!

 

The figure standing before her was some eighteen, or possibly twenty feet tall and had massive arms and shoulders. He wore a hideous, masked helmet with great, horned antlers, shoulder pads, some kind of strange plate armor that seemed like it was forged from blue-brown metal down to his waist and wore dark, blue-black leather trousers and heavy high boots. An old, patchy fur cloak hung over one shoulder, revealing the two-foot-long pommel of a cruel-looking, slightly curved and jagged-edged great sword that could probably cut an ogre in two with a mere nudge.

The little girl just ogled at him, her eyes wide open.

 

“Like what you see, then?”, smirked the Erl-King as he pulled off his helmet, letting loose a main of long, slightly curling, dark hair and displaying a, not-quiet symmetrical face that was both ugly and somehow handsome.. in a rugged way.

“You look awesome, sir!”, spluttered the little girl.

“Well, now. I can’t remember the last time anyone, or anything for that matter, ever complemented me. This is rather unprecedented.. in a pleasant way.”, smiled down the hideous king.

“I can not imagine why they wouldn’t, sir. You are pretty!”, said Inshala in an awed voice.

“Pretty, am I?”, replied the Erl-King, quite surprised. “You truly must be young and alone.”

“I am alone, but I am sixteen years of age!”, replied the little girl like she was saying sixteen hundred!

“Aaahh..”, smiled the Erl-King. “The burden of all those sixteen years must be weighing heavily upon you, then.”

“They are.”, said Inshala solemnly. “But not relevant to your debt, Erl-King. Will you not honor it?”

“Careful, girl.”, growled the massive figure. “I have come to liking you. Let’s not besmirch that. Monsters like myself do not take matters of honor lightly.”

“Then you accept your debt?”, pushed the little girl.

“You are a persistent one, aren’t you? Not easily distracted, nor swayed.”, mused the Erl-King.

“I have lost the only thing precious to me, sir. There is nothing left to sway.”, replied Inshala and there was an unexpected quality of savagery in her voice.

“Ahhh.. Wrath! That is something I know. Something I know very well.”, replied the Erl-King. “Very well. What would you have me do to quench your lust for vengeance, little one? Who must die, to ease your pain?”

“Nothing can ease my pain, Erl-King. For nothing can bring back what was taken from me..”, she replied and tears swelled down her small face.

“Nothing, is something you can do on your own, little one. You do not need me for that. And I fear I would make poor company for consolation.”

“I do not want, nor require consolation. I must suffer my folly day and night, and for a lone life.”, she said, her voice trembling.

“A sad way to spend a life, me thinks. But again, you may do that on your own.”

“No, Erl-King. I need you to call upon the Wyld Hunt and avenge your debt!”

 

The Erl-King just stared at the little girl weeping before him.

 

“The Wyld Hunt is not some small favor anyone to just call upon, little girl.”, replied the Erl-King, and a bit harshly.

“Such was your debt to my Father. Eight hundred years and your debt has endured, Erl-King.”

 

For a long moment the massive figure looked at the little girl, Inshala. And when he spoke again, there was no trace of ‘merry’ in his voice.

 

“No, little girl, I owe nothing to your Father. But I do owe a debt unfulfilled, to the mortal who adopted you! And should you truly want me to call the Wyld Hunt, a price must be paid; Join, Hide or Die.. those are the rules of the Wyld Hunt!”

Whether Inshala understood the implications of what the Erl-King said, was not clear. She stood silently, her face tear stricken and on her knees.. But when she spoke, her voice was low and it smoldered.

“I will ‘Join’, then.”

The Erl-King cocked one bushy eye brow at her and said, “No. You may not. Should it come to that, it is possible I could best Yours. But I have no desire to waste my hounds to His slaughter.”

“I do not understand.”, cried Inshala.

“And that is not my prerogative, little one.”, replied the Erl-King, but strangely, not unkindly.

“Then slay me!”, shrieked Inshala. “I choose to ‘Die’..”

“Also, not my prerogative, little one.”, replied the Erl-King.

“I shall not run and ‘Hide’, while the killers of my Father live!”

“And I thought ‘tigers’ always ran and ‘hid’.. before they pounced their prey, little one.”, smiled the Erl-King hideously.

 

A tiny..

“Ow..”

..escaped the small mouth of the little girl.

 

“Now. To the task at hand, then?”, laughed the Erl-King and the trees around them shuddered.

“Creatures. Large and uncouth. Some thirty or more, travel East. They slew the elves of my Father’s forest. They must be punished. And the slayers of my Father, men with knives and low honor, also running East. They must be hunted down and slain. And what they stole from my Father must be returned..”, said Inshala with a vicious voice.

“Recovery expeditions aren’t quite my forte, little one. My hounds may track and run down the uncouth and the men, but recover what was stolen, me thinks this is something you must do.”, replied the Erl-King.

“Very well, sir. Should You and Yours avenge my Sire by slaying the uncouth and these sinful men, I shall relieve You and Yours from the debt and done.”, said Inshala.

“You drive a harsh bargain, little one. Stay close. This shall be a merry chase and mayhap will quench your luster for blood.”

“My lust for blood shall never quench. For the one I cared most and only, is dead. Mortals saw a monster when they came at me. I shall give them monster, hence!”

✱ ✱ ✱

A long, dreadful howl echoed through Ritual Forest. Lightning flickered and streaked down, gorging spades of earth. Trees shuddered and splintered. Beast and buck ran or fell. And men, elf, dwarf or ogre.. far and wide, it did not matter.. felt terror like they had felt only ages and eons ago. Before iron, and before tools.. Before the domestication of land and ox.. This was the kind of fear at its most primitive and primordial level where thought got smothered and left only primal, reptilian instincts..

A fear that left them only two options;

Hide or Die!

And ahead of that howl, was a viscous, giant of a man, some eighteen feet tall, wearing a horned helmet and swinging a massive, jagged-edged great sword, riding a mind-boggling stead that had red, glowing cinders for eyes, a massive rump and powerful legs that ended in long, brutal claws..

 

The Erl-King led.

And the Wyld Hunt followed..

..a dark, gray-black smoke with barely discernable ghosts that resembled horse-sized hounds and the reaped souls of long-forgotten, primordial warriors..

 

And Inshala ran..

..at the center of that inky fog!

 

The savage, uncouth beasts never new what hit them. They were great and strong beasts that resembled orcs. But orcs were to infants, what these creatures were to men. They were powerful in arms and swift in legs and they wielded sharp, brutal implements of war..

..and yet, they died in two’s and four’s!

But never did they flinch nor ran. With inhuman savagery, they attacked the Wyld Hunt even as they died; their flesh torn and gnawed, their bones snapped and shattered, their skulls crushed like shells, and their tendons ripped and shredded..

It was a gruesome sight.

But then..

..thus was the Wyld Hunt!

 

The bloody saber-tooth ravaged the last of the beasts, her furry face red and dripping with blood and Inshala rose to her full height and coughed an echoing roar into the night.

 

“What a merry hunt!”, laughed the Erl-King. “Though a tad short for my taste.”

“These were the beasts.. But not the men!”, growled the saber-tooth.

“No. The men you seek are no more. These beasts have already hunted them down and slain them. I sense foul-play at hand, here.”, replied the Erl-King with distaste.

“NO! MY VENGEANCE HAS NOT BEEN QUENCHED!”, shrieked Inshala.

“You vengeance is not part of the debt, little one.”, reminded the giant figure.

“No. It isn’t. But the death of the men, were!”

 

The Erl-King stared down at the vicious tiger.

 

“That.. is true..”, he finally conceded, but there was the threat of a storm in his voice. “There is, however, nothing I can do to repay that.”

“THIS WAS NOT OUR AGREEMENT, ERL-KING”, shrieked the saber-tooth. “YOU WERE TO SLAY THESE MEN. NOT TO LET OTHERS DO IT FOR YOU!”

“Your mind is muddled, little girl. I do not let others pay my debts, nor do my killings for me. I would have a care, where it came to accusing me..”, spoke the Erl-King in a low and dreadful tone. “Non the less. The men are dead, and the debt remains unfulfilled.. again!”

“Then I shall call upon you one more time, Erl-King when I have found the true culdips!”

“Culdips?”, asked the Erl King, a bit baffled.

“Culpits.. Cultrips.. Cudrils”, stammered Inshala.

“Culprits, perhaps?”, offered the Erl-King.

“Culprits!”, snarled the saber-tooth.

The Erl-King gave a long, suffering sigh. This millennia had turned out to be not only stale and boring, but with pestering, debt-demanding mortals.. and now, a not-quite-mortal-but-fey girl!

He gave the savage saber-tooth girl a long, steady look.

“Very well, little fey-girl. I shall come, once more, when you call and upon having unearthed the true culprits. I shall need a full name to bind this deal..”, he said, breathing from his nostrils.

“Inshala Frostmane Bolgrig.”

“No, girl. That is not your name.. That can not be your name..”, replied the Erl-King, staring into the tigers eyes. “Bolgrig was your attender.. of sorts.. But was he was not your Father, and certainly not your Sire!”

“I do not understand.”, replied Inshala, afraid now.

“No.. No you don’t. In time, perhaps, you shall. It is not my place, however, to learn you that information.”

“Whose place is it, then?”, asked the little girl.

“Again, not my place to learn you that, either. But I believe my work here is quite done. Unless you want me to slaughter the humans to the south, the ogres to the east, dwarves to the west or the.. woodsmen to the north. I sense a great hate you have for them.”

“I desire much misfortune for them, Erl-King. But I shall not spill their blood. Not today. Today, the elves need them..”, whispered Inshala.

“Very well. For the said task we have set, and the afore mentioned conditions, I, the Erl-King and my Wyld Hunt shall come, once more when called by you, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane..”, declared the Erl-King, turned around, and with one, swift motion, mounted his great beast.

“I fare thee well, young ‘la Fey’. Which by itself is quite unique, for the Wyld Hunt never fares well..”, laughed the gigantic form of the Erl-King, dug his heels into his mount and rode off, the inky black fog of his hounds and lost souls chasing after him.

And in a short, hoarse breath, he was gone.

 

The saber-tooth stared as the ghosts of the Wyld Hunt screeched and faded into the night. She licked her long, foot-long teeth edging down the sides of her maw. Her savage face pinched into a ugly glare and a low, thundering rumble escaped her throat.

“My Father..”, she hissed. “..will always be my Master, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig. Not the beast that sired me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Broken and bloodied, Inshala prowled the night, seeking something, anything that could curb her blood lust. It seemed the loss of her father had forever killed the former, young, pretty, innocent and frail little girl and left behind a wretched wreck that just couldn’t rid herself off the searing fire boiling her insides.. She ran this way and that, jumped over bush and boulder to no avail.. Her blood just wouldn’t cool off.. 

Which is when she stumbled upon the corpse of a human, lying face down in the dirt.

Inshala slid into a halt.

The man, whoever he was, was a corpse indeed. Dead for possibly half a day over. He wore dark leathers and similarly colored clothes. His head and face were also covered..

..and he was missing an arm.

There were other cuts and gashes on him. Inshala didn’t think the man would have lived, even had he kept his arm..

She also noted a long, bloody trail leading up to the corpse. Apparently, someone had dragged him all the way here, then left him to die, or left him because he had died.

Inshala came to the two natural conclusions; this was one of the lowly men who had slain her father for he smelled, no, he reeked of her father’s blood.. and someone had dragged him. Someone still alive.

A low rumble escaped the saber-tooth and she sniffed the ground.

Yes. There were others —two others. The scents told her that.

Slowly she took a step in their direction. Then another. And soon enough, she was running —dashing, really, at an unprecedented speed.. What would change would not be that they would die.. Only how.

And Inshala did not intent to show any mercy whatsoever, for they had shown none to her father. For her, killing one old man in his sleep, was as low as it got..

✱ ✱ ✱

The saber-tooth ghosted through the forest. The trails were getting cold and she did not want them to be lost. Day and night, she ran until she faltered and could go no further. She didn’t push. It would make a poor hunt if she caught her prey, but failed to kill. That’s how the hunt was; you crouched, you hid, you snuck, and you waited, patiently, and watched. And when the moment was ripe, you struck! For her, stupidity was also a poor excuse for letting the prey escape. And certainly not the way of a true predator. Inshala might be little in size and shape, and perhaps frail in soul, but the saber-tooth was not. And she’d always loved it. The strength, the freedom, the innate savagery and the feeling of being the supreme huntress.. there just was no substitute for it.

She rested and licked the caked blood of the big, uncouth beasts off her face and her great paws. And when she felt ready, she dashed again.. Today promised a good hunt because there was a storm gathering to the east and it looked like a good pour was due.. Rain always made it easier for her on the hunt. It hid her own scent and her steps even more. It did not help her prey, though.

A snarling grin stretch across her maw and her rumble matched that of the incoming storm.

Yes.. a good hunt indeed..

 

Inshala found them.

Huddled around a poor fire were a small crowd.

The fools had actually lit a fire!

Their number was more than she could readily dismiss, but they were cold, wet and blind under the stormy night. The more, the merrier.. They would make a great feast, but she was not here for food. If there was one thing she had learned from her Master, it was eating human flesh drew you insane.. No.. She was not here for food. She was here to kill. And she’d have to act fast. They had horses and sooner or later, the horses would pick up on her scent and panic, warning their masters.. Horses always panicked.. Quite the inconvenience they were. She had to act quickly and decisively. Dash in, kill one, dash out, and circle.. Rinse and repeat.. By the time she’d killed three or four, they would panic and run, because that’s what prey did.. They panicked and they ran, making them easy pickings.

Now only if she could devise a diversion..

Inshala stared up at the pouring storm..

..and her a new smile stretched across her maw.

Yes.. why not turn a simple rain, into a devastating lightning storm?

Inshala shifted and molded down to her little, pretty form. No, she thought. Not pretty.. Her ‘frail’ form!

She raised her arms into the night and chanted;

 

line-sdw-04up

oh, storm, ye great in form
harken me in this maidenform
ye weep and moan when you can be
much greater in sky and sea
bring down your rain and your wrath
upon the fool and the folly rath

line-sdw-04up

 

And as if on cue, the night exploded!

A long, brilliant streak of lightning flickered, followed by a mind jarring boom, and landed very nearly on top of the huddled group..

And the group scattered!

 

“Ow, no..”, whispered Inshala. “..my sweets, no fleeing, no running.. Not yet. You are going to burn and char before you flee..”

 

Another streak of lightning flickered down, sending one of them, a huge, bull of a man, crashing into a tree.

Then another flicker, sending a girl, Inshala thought, panicking into the bush.

And another..

And another..

And another..

 

A midgety little gnome went running into the night, followed by another girl —an elf!

A man in dark cloths was still standing his ground, a sharp, short iron sword in one hand and a knife in the other.. A KNIFE!

This was definitely her query.

And there was a tall one, in plate armor.

“Who wears plate armor in a lightning storm?”, mused Inshala merrily.

She watched as the plate armored one heave and push a dwarf, up on a horse..

What was this? Humans, gnomes, elves, and dwarves? Was the attack on her Master a byzantine plan among the elves, humans, dwarves and gnomes all along? A collective effort?

Perhaps she had acted in haste when she had sent the Erl-King and the Wyld Hunt away.. He had offered to slaughter them all..

No matter, no matter..

She would start the slaughter right here.

But first, she had to kill the dark one. The one with the knives. He still had his wits about him and given enough time, he would rally the others..

She pointed at him..

..and the night raged and sent down another brilliant lightning.

And missed!

Inshala just stared at the smoking patch of earth, where the dark man had just been, then at the man running in another direction.

So she called down lighting upon him once again..

..but the man took a sharp turn and rolled on the ground, and the lightning struck the tree behind him, sending it down in a mess of splinters.

Inshala heard a grunt followed by a low moan.

Yes! The dark, evil man had evaded the lighting, again, but apparently the tree had fallen on him.

Good enough for now.

The one in plates had butt-slapped the horse, and sent the dwarf to safety. Then he stood where he was and called into the night.

“We are not enemy. We are not foe. Ye who brings the lighting and storm, know, we mean no harm..”

“Mean no harm?”, fumed and hissed Inshala. “You can’t do any harm, and begging will not help you. You came into my forest for ill, and ill you shall receive!”

“Nay.”, replied the man.

And fell on his knees.

Then he raised his arms into the night as if in supplication and called;

“Ye, who hast called thus storm upon us, shall look and see into our souls. Should you still see dark and foul, bring more and char us all..”

Inshala gawked at the man..

..and a single beam of light lazily came down from the night sky and pushed the darkness away. It was a bright, golden light. A beautiful light. A light that bespoke of High Heavens and Angels beyond..

And she noted.

The man in plate armor, down on his knees, was no man, but a tall, broad at the shoulders, slim at the waist, long, rust-red-haired young woman.

Inshala’s eyes teared.

She was.. boldly beautiful.

And she was a paladin!

Sent here to end her..

 

“Finally..”, she whispered. “The Heavens have sent their fires to cleanse the demons out of me! I shall be free. I shall belong.. Father, I come..”

 

And just like that, the storm ceased, the rain stopped, and silence settled into the night.

 

The young paladin girl stood rigid, as if petrified, on her knees.

And Inshala curled up into a ball, lay prostrated before her, moaning and crying like a little girl.

 

“Burn me. Please burn me. I want to be free of my demons.. Burn me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager? You alright?”, the huge man asked as he picked up the broken bits of the tree. “You seem peevish.” 

“Peevish?”, rasped the evil man in the dark clothes from under a whole pile of thick branches and a large, splintered tree trunk. “Just how many years did you wait to use that on me, Udoorin Shieldheart?”

“Many.”, smirked the big man and with a mighty heave, he lifted the trunk, giving enough room for the evil one to slip out.

“We have a visitor.”, the big man said with a slightly exaggerated voice.

“I am concussed, Udoorin. Not deaf.. Report!”, the dark man said.

“Bree, Laila, and the midget are back. Still waiting for Lady. I expect she will either get control of that big war horse and turn it around, or hold on to it until she reaches Arashkan, or decide she’s had just about enough and throw herself off the horse and limp all the way back here and make us all suffer for it. As for Lady Moira, I don’t know. She is just sitting there.. well, kneeling actually, with her hands in the air and.. that’s it! She isn’t moving or responding. She’s in a.. I dunno.. ‘catatonic’ state, I suppose, you could say.”, replied the Udoorin guy, pointing somewhere in the night.

“Who is the merry visitor? I suspect he’s responsible for the mess..”, the dark man asked, holding a hand at a tender spot on his forehead.

“She..”, corrected Udoorin.

“What?”

“He is a she.. A pretty one too.. With funny hair..”

“Like we didn’t already have an overabundance of women in this group..”, growled Aager.

“And they all are pretty..”, smirked the big one. Then he lowered his voice. “Please don’t tell Bree, I said that. I still carry her bite mark!”

“Guess I’ll just have to save it until I need a favor.”, replied Aager without even a smile.

“That’s not funny.”, scowled Udoorin.

“What’s the ‘visitor’ doing? Who is watching her?”, asked Aager, totally ignoring the big man’s plea.

“No one, really. She seems as catatonic as Moira. She has prostrated herself at the paladin’s feet and begging her to burn her!”

“What?”

“I know, right? We have all the prettiest girls and all of them are off in the head.”

“And now you owe me two favors.”, said Aager, and this time, he did snort.

Udoorin scowled at him, some more.

“Why’s your armor off?”, Aager asked him as they walked towards the paladin and the newcomer.

“Figured, lightning and metal armor.. You know.. Bad combination.. A bit too late thought.. Got singed pretty good.. It’ll leave a mark.. I hope it doesn’t leave a mark..”, said the big man with a worried expression.

“I am sure all the marks you have already, along with the ones you will get won’t add to your beauty.”

“That was not nice, Aager. I know I am not pretty, but you didn’t really have to hit me in the face with it.”, grumbled Udoorin.

“You never cease to amaze me, Udoorin.. Your priorities are truly mind-staggering.”, replied Aager blandly.

Udoorin’s face darkened even more.

 

Aager gave a perfunctory check on everyone in the group. Bremorel, the human girl, seemed a tad wild-eyed. She had rekindled the fire and was now holding her big bow in her hand. The bow was cocked and almost half drawn and she stood with her back to a tree, facing the newcomer. She also entertained an ugly shiner on her left upper cheek.

Gnine, the troublesome little gnome was whispering something while gesticulating rapidly at the half-elf girl standing next to him, who was also holding her bow in one hand with an arrow ready on the string.

“Well.. At least two people here are paying attention.”, scowled Aager.

Then he called to the half-elf girl.

“Ranger Laila. Go and track down the horse, and bring the Temple Guardian back, if you will, please.”

“Why me?”, Laila asked.

Aager did not reply. He just stared at her.

Laila also scowled at him, then took off into the night.

It seemed Aager wanted to make sure everyone around him was somehow scowling at him.. Or at least a few of them should be, at any given time..

He silently approached the paladin girl, Lady Moira, who stood unmoving on her knees and with her hands in the air, just as Udoorin had described.

And then he saw the ‘visitor’.. The person responsible for very nearly dismantling the whole lot of them, in under a few short moments.

To be honest about it, she could have, had she not stopped, and that made the man in the dark clothes wonder.. They certainly hadn’t been able to do anything to her. She had literally played with them like a cat would game with a mouse.

Why had she attacked them in the first place, and then stopped her assault when she was almost winning? And who was she?

All pertinent questions.

But the girl.. Aager couldn’t really make out if she was pretty or not, as young Udoorin had claimed.. Not that it mattered, nor that he cared. She did have ‘funny’ hair though. Tightly wrapped and braided on both sides of her head like some kind of cones.. Aager did not question the demented mentality in that. Girls did all sorts of strange things with their hair.. among other things.. He just nodded, when the occasion arouse and moved along..

The girl had knelt face in the dirt, covering and moaning in unmitigated terror;

“Burn me..”

“Please burn me..”

“Free of my demons..”

“Please burn me..

 

Aager wasn’t one for emotions, let alone for the subtler ones like ‘sympathy’ or ‘compassion’.. If someone asked him what they were, he’d probably just stare at him blankly.

But something about this girl nudged at him.

Without knowing why he took a few steps back.

“Udoorin.”, he called.

“What?”, replied the big man.

“Put your armor back on.”

“Why?”, asked Udoorin.

“Because I said so?”, growled Aager.

Udoorin grumbled some, looked up at the night sky as if checking for signs of new lightnings, then put his armor back on.

“Now what?”, he said as he approached Aager.

“Now go and pick the girl up.”

“Why?”

“We need to question her and we can’t do that while she is doing.. whatever it is she is doing now..”, replied Aager.

“I am not touching her.”, said Udoorin hastily.

Aager stared at him.

“You know what she did, man. Not to mention, you don’t just go and touch a girl. That is just rude.. and not right..”, Udoorin defended himself.

“When did I ever give you the impression I cared for any of that, young Udoorin?”, fumed the dark man. “You can either do what needs to be done, or go back to town and explain yourself to your father.”

“That’s way out of line, Aager.”, growled Udoorin.

“We are not out here for a polite stroll, young man. We are here to do the ‘dirty work’, so the rest of the people can sleep without a care. You volunteered to come. You wanted to come.. This is the part of the job that needs to be done; we interrogate prisoners and that is exactly what she is now. She is Lady Moira’s prisoner. And since she is otherwise busy —or incapacitated, that duty falls on us!”, replied Aager and he seemed to bite each word before he spat them out.

Young Udoorin’s back stiffened. But he still gave Aager a very nasty stare.

Then slowly, he came at the girl still prostrating before Moira.

“Umm.. ‘cuse me.. lady.. But we need to ask you some questions. Are you unwell? Perhaps you need some help. You really should get off the ground.. It’s wet, cold, and probably muddy..”, he stammered, then reached down and tried to pick the girl up.

“Don’t touch me!”, hissed the girl and bit his hand!

And with unexpected haste, she skipped once, twice and was very nearly a dozen feet away, crouched on the ground, showing all her teeth at the big man.

“Crap!”, swore the big man. “Why do girls keep biting me, dammit.. I can’t be that tasty!”

Then he turned and slowly approached her again with his hands open while making soothing sounds.

The girl hissed at him, some more..

“I think that will do, young man. You should be ashamed of yourself, touching a girl without her permission. You have shamed your father..”, snarled a voice in the dark, and heavy footsteps was heard. Then, a heavy set she-dwarf appeared, and there no mistaking about the scowl she had on her face.

“Lady Magella..”, stammered Udoorin. “I.. was merely..”

“You were merely what, Udoorin Shieldheart? Abusing an already traumatized little girl? Look at her.. It’s clear she’s had some rough time.”, she snarled again.

“I.. You got me all wrong.. I was just..”, spluttered the big man, trying to explain himself.

“Go. Just go.. Boil some water, cut some wood, peal some potatoes.. Just go and make yourself scarce but useful!”

Udoorin stormed away, fuming..

“This is all your fault, Aager.”, he very nearly spat, as he walked past the dark man.

“No. It’s all yours.. ‘Own’ your folies, young man. But I learned what I needed to, anyway.. For the time being..”, replied Aager calmly.

“You. Girl!”, ordered Lady Magella. “What’s your name and what are you doing here?”

The girl hissed at her as well.

“I am the Temple Guardian of Serenity Home and you will NOT hiss at me like some wild beast.”, spoke Lady and there was a distinct no-nonsense quality to her voice.

And the girl lost all her ferocity.

“You.. you are.. a Temple Guardian?”, she asked with her eyes wide open.

“Yes, I am. And I have twenty some odd years under my belt to prove it!”, Lady replied sternly.

“Have.. have you come to burn me?”, the girl asked.

“Burn you? Now why would you ask such a silly question?”, replied Lady in disgust and a totally offended tone.

“Burn me.. Please..”, the girl said and suddenly prostrated herself, once again..

..and wept..

“Burn me.. Burn me and free this world off me!..”

 

Udoorin, Bremorel, Gnine, and Laila stared at the wretched site before them.

Lady Magella’s eyes teared, for her first assessment of the girl had been correct.. Too correct. The girl was unbelievably traumatized.

Aager only looked at the girl with an unfathomable and barely-contained expression.

He remembered Drashan and his own childhood, not that he’d had much of it. He remembered his mother, whose name he couldn’t even place anymore. Having remembered her, he inevitably recalled his sister. The sister that had been entrusted to him. And then taken from him, sold to some brothel, and burned alive in a horrible, unquenchable fire. He remembered all the vile people he’d cut there. Every single one of them. And he remembered the beatings and the whippings.. and the guillotine..

..and how he came to Serenity Home; secretly broken, hiding in his own traumas, untrusting, very nearly and murderously hateful.

Serenity Home had helped..

..somewhat.

Enough to have suppressed his base hate to everything that had to do with life..

..at least.

It hadn’t been enough that all these children, sans the dwarf, had been entrusted to him..

And now this?

He was never one to truly believe the greatness of the Heavens, but this.. This had been a step gone too far..

He felt like someone was having a great time punning him from the high above!

Then he looked down at the girl.

She seemed young and small, but her form, although somewhat battered, looked quite mature with ‘pleasant to look at’ sized breasts, a slim waist, ‘could use a pound or two more’ body, very dark, ‘funny’ hair (who would bun up their hair like that, anyway?) and a diminutive face, printed with slightly sharp and angular features..

Young Udoorin had been right on one point though; the girl was, indeed, quite pretty.. More so, Aager suspected, if she’d not been in the condition that she was now.

Many questions inevitably crossed his mind. Who was this girl? Again, why had she attacked them and why had she stopped? Why was she hissing and spitting like some pissed-off, feral cat? And why the bloody hell did she beg to be burned?

Then it dawned on him.

Why he had so unexpectedly felt some semblance of sympathy to the girl..

For he had, unwittingly perhaps, found the one person who was worse off than he was.

✱ ✱ ✱

The jarring, panicked whisper of Inshala spiked Aager in the middle of the night.

“Aager Fogstep! I need your help! Quick!”

Aager went from zero to full battle-mode in under two seconds; a shimmering, ghostly blade appeared in one hand and another, an excruciatingly sharp one in the other, to see Inshala missing..

“Where are you? What’s wrong?”, he sent his thoughts back tinted with his own panic.

“I am in Madina’s room. We.. uhhmm.. she said we could hang out together, talk trash and eat bad food and get scolded for doing it in the morning by mom. She said all teens do this but I don’t know why, and neither does she.. Apparently, it’s a ‘thing’!”

Aager frowned and breathed out slowly.

“Okay.”, he said evenly. “What’s the problem?”

“She says there’s this boy and she says she sort of likes him. But she is asking me if she is too much of an ’emo’ and that perhaps if she ‘toned it down a little’, the boy might notice him. I don’t even know what the buggery bum an ’emo’ is!”

Aager cocked an eyebrow even though he was alone and in the dark.

“Buggery bum?”

“Yes. Madina says that’s the new word around here. Would you like to know what the old word was?”

“Uhhmm.. Not really, no..”, replied Aager carefully.

“Good. Because I don’t think I can repeat that to you. But it starts with an ‘F’! Madina said, there’s this Academy of Melshieve, far away, and that they have the best words there.. I am confused. The rules to being an elder sister are complicated and many..”

 

“Huh!”, snorted Aager as he let go of the ghostly blade, causing it to just vanish, and sheathed the other.

 

“What is the urgency?”

“She.. she says she has been watching you and me and thinks I know love and wants me to help her compose a.. uhhmm.. love letter to that boy..”

“Okay.. What seems to be the problem?”

“I can’t think of another single thing that could totally go wrong than this.. I can’t even think why anyone would put love in a letter! You don’t put love in letters. You just give it and dearly hope that person gives it back! Besides, I do not know this boy. All the boys I have known have tried to catch me, called me crooked names, or thrown stones at me. Boys are bad for girls! I don’t know if she really wants this boy as I want you, either. And I don’t even know how to draw words.. This is a buggery bum of a nightmare for me.. Help me? Please?”

 

The cold, sinister-looking man, Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight, stared blankly at his, now empty bed and at Inshala’s empty bed..

 

“Well, buggery bum, indeed..”, he whispered..

 

Sleep just wasn’t going to happen any time soon that night..

 

 

 

Later.

Much later.

Back in the dark, quite room..

 

Aager lay on his back in hopes of catching a bit of sleep before dawn. Tomorrow, or rather, a few hours later, was going to be a very trying day.

The rot-hearted Tarakadahan had decided to turn the whole thing into a show. Aager would have much preferred the dispute between the old fool and Moira be settled in some quiet, back alley setting.. He wouldn’t have minded even open fighting in the castle corridors. But no.. The idiot had decided to turn it into a parade. In front of the whole Durkahan nobility, no less.

The stupidity of people, baffled and confounded him.

“Very well..”, thought Aager darkly. “You want a show? I shall give you a show.. And I shall remind the whole lot of you just how archaic and foolish you all really are. And that no one really gives a ‘buggery bum’, about your honors, your prides, and your foolish ways.. The world is going down and this is what you still desire? To watch a drama queen in the arena?”

Tomorrow was going to be a harsh awakening for them all. Aager was a pragmatic man. He never went as low as being heinous, but otherwise, he cared little about the way things got done.

And he fully intended to show Durkahan, how things ‘rolled’ in Drashan..

 

“Are you still awake, Aager Fogstep?”, came a whisper from the other bed in the room.

“Yes.. no.. maybe?”, replied Aager.

“You are wroth with me?”, she whimpered.

“Wroth? Why would I be wroth with you?”, he asked.

“I scared you when I woke you the way I did. And I kept you up very nearly all night. Now you are tired and angry.”, she said in a small voice.

 

Aager loved Inshala.

He loved her more than anything he’d loved. Or perhaps, to put it into correct perspective, he loved her more than anything he could have wished to have loved anything, or anyone..

On occasion, though, he loved her more..

Particularly when she became.. ‘smaller’, yet ‘greater’, when she thought she’d hurt him.

Great Heavens, no one cared whether they hurt Aager Fogstep.

Like.. never!

And this girl, his Inshala, cared.. Enough to actually worry and to get worked up about it.

 

“You surprised me, love. That’s all.. Besides, Madina seems to have gotten a certain liking to you. I can’t say, nor do I claim to be knowledgeable about these things, having never truly experienced it, but I heard teens can be insufferable.”

“I am a teen.. I think..”, mumbled Inshala.

“You and I, love, do not qualify for many ‘norms’. We either missed them, or they never applied to our lives..”, shrugged Aager. “When I was a teen, I was too busy trying just to stay alive in the freezing streets of Drashan. Never really had the luxury to throw tantrums, nor write love letters. I am guessing yours wasn’t any better..”

“My poor Aager.”, came the girl’s unhappy voice.

“No, Inshala. I am the richest man in the world. I have the one thing no man, dead or alive, has ever had, nor will ever have.. For, I. Have. You!”, he whispered and he did it without any particular implications nor innuendos. He said it with the voice he used when he was stating the facts. And nothing but the facts..

“You think.. too highly of me..”, came the small, blushed voice of the girl, lying in the next bed.

“No. I think only of you.”, he replied, and he meant it.

Inshala was silent. Aager did not nudge her, nor check her through their bond. If she’d gone to sleep, apparently she needed it.

But just in case she hadn’t, he kept up the conversation, though toned down to just above a whisper.

“Besides, between the two of us, I think we managed a rather decent love letter back there.. It had everything a growing boy needs; Madina’s feelings, the threat of evisceration and defenestration, quite unveiled implications of ‘you better behave yourself’ and a decent description of just what would happen if he ever broke the girl’s heart. I can practically see the boy brimming with happiness. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, there?”

The silence persisted and Aager knew now, she wasn’t asleep. Furthermore, she was worried about something. Something important for her not to have gotten a ‘snort’ out of her with that retelling of the letter they had sat down and written all night long.

Yes, thought Aager, that had definitely merited a snort!

Aager liked Inshala ‘snort’.

His Inshala snorted ‘cute’.

It was so unladylike.

Totally uncontrolled.

Aager couldn’t put his finger on it, but the phrase, ‘freely given’, sounded just about right.

And it always left her face adorably, maturely, and, rather unexpectedly sensually pink and abashed.

 

Funny how it was always the little things in others we cared about that made us adore them even more.

Aager secretly wondered what were his little things that the girl lying in the next bed found ‘adorable’, but he just couldn’t imagine anything. Then he remembered the time they were back in Arashkan, still seeking the infamous rebellion, Gar Thalot in the Tempest Temple where they had all found out how the princess, Lorna, ‘adored’ young Udoorin’s beard.. Really? That scruffy patch of.. Aager stopped there. It didn’t matter what he thought about the boy’s beard, even if it was a scruffy patch. It was what the girl, Lorna, thought that mattered. End of story..

 

“Aager..”, he heard her say, bringing him back from Udoorin and his scruffy beard —of all things!

“I am here..”, he replied.

Then he heard a soft, shuffling noise, and suddenly, her beautiful face was a bare inch away from his and he was very much awake now.

 

“Do.. do I belong?”, she asked tentatively, tenderly, even, as she looked deep into his dark eyes. And in those eyes, Aager saw, everything she had been, everything she was, and everything she would be.. was there. All of it. With all her eternal losses, all her crummy gains, all her vast strengths and her suffered weakness’s in pure, unadulterated nakedness..

Aager looked back at the girl reflecting hers with his, stare for stare.. Inshala, he thought, had truly beautiful eyes..

“You belong.”, replied simply.

Slowly, carefully and tenderly she reaches up and held his face with two, warm and slender hands. For a silent moment, she studied his face, as though looking for something. Aager dearly and desperately hoped she found it.

Quietly, in her soft melodious voice, she spoke. A voice that carried all her losses, her pains, and her desperations, yet her determination and her tenacious will, also.

 

“Then, I am Inshala. And I belong.”

 

 

 

 

line-sdw-04up

i was born
but no one told me why

when i was gone
no one told me where

always chased
always caged
then i learned
the running cannot belong
i rose up
to fall back down
up among the clouds
and back on the ground
and there i found
among the lost and found
dead among
the living
living
among the dead
too lost
to care
careful
not to lose
i held up my
pocket watch
time’s to stop
the times
lost in time
found this time
what i gave freely
cost me drearily
did not know
it would demand so much more
i burned and smoldered
in the depths of fire
buried and frozen
deep in snow
just had to go lower
to rise higher
and just like that
i figured
i am inshala
and i belong

line-sdw-04up


The original Erl-King poem was written in German, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and later composed into a musical by Schubert.

The English version (the one used here) was translated and adapted by Edgar Alfred Bowring..

 

The elfish spell Inshala chants to summon the lightnings down the storm was written by myself. It translates to English as:

 

oh, storm, ye great in form,
harken me in this maidenform.
ye weep and moan when ye can be,
much greater in sky and sea.
bring down your rain and your wrath,
upon the fool and the folly rath.

 

Rath: a strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief.

 

When Inshala says; “But it starts with an ‘F’!”, she is referring to ‘Funked’, as in ‘creeped out’ or ‘frightened’ —a popular phrase used in the Academy at some era and picked up by Seressa Wraiven, who used in on several occasions: Somewhere Bitter In the Darkness (18+), A Shift in Perspective (18+), and Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+). Unfortunately, she (Inshala) is clueless as to what ‘Funked’ means..

 

The elfish song at the end was also written by myself and translates as;

 

i was born
but no one told me why
 
when i was gone
no one told me where
 
always chased
always caged
 
then i learned
the running cannot belong
 
i rose up
to fall back down
 
up among the clouds
and back on the ground
 
and there i found
among the lost & found
 
a heart, dead among
the living
 
to a heart, living
to die
 
too lost
to care
 
but careful
never to lose
 
i held up my
pocket watch
 
time’s to stop
the times
 
lost in time
found this time
 
what i gave freely
cost me dearly
 
yet it would want
so much wont
 
i burned and smoldered
in depths of fire
 
buried and frozen
in debts of my ire
 
had to go lower
to rise higher
 
and just like that
i figured
 
i am inshala
and i belong

dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi role play serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens tundra walkers

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” IX

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” IX

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” VI ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

15.07.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Temmuz ortası.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Yaşlı adamın aradığı şeyi bulması biraz zaman alır. Aslına bunun için tanıdığı küçük fey’lerden yardım istemek zorunda kalır zira genç hobbit isteyerek olmasa da, istemeyerek hafif bir ‘ayak’ izine sahiptir.. Parmak boyunda kanatlı küçük fey perileri yaşlı adamın etrafında uçuşurken büyük bir işi başarmış olmanın verdiği mutlulukla vızıldarlar. 

“Onu buldum, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig!”, diye sivrisinek gibi tiz bir sesle çığlar bir tanesi.

“Onu önce ben gördüm, Whimsi Lola!”, diye cızıldar bir diğeri.

“Ahahahahaaa.. İkinizde hatalısınız..”, diye gülmeye başlar üçüncüsü.

“Nedenmiş o?”, diye hayretle sorar Whimsi Lola..

“Çünkü ben onu ikinizden bile önce gördüm!”, der gururla üçüncüsü.

“Aslına sen de hatalısın Biberbell!”, der dördüncüsü.

“Nedenmiş o?”, diye hayretle sorar Biberbell..

“Çünkü senden önce ben gördüm!”, diye güler dördüncüsü Biberbell’e..

 

..ve aralarında kavga etmeye başlarlar!

 

Yaşlı adam esefle elini yüzüne götürür, sonra derin bir nefes alır.

“Hanımlar.. Beyler.. Lütfen.. Sizler gibi olgun ve yetişkin fey’lere hiç yakışmıyor bu didişmeniz..”

“Ama önce ben gördüm!”, diye tekrarlar kendisini Whimsi Lola.

“Hayır ben gördüm!”, der diğer üçü koro halinde..

 

..ve tekrar kavga etmeye başlarlar.

 

“Whimsi Lola, Biberbell, Kindernest ve Little Dimple! Hepinize şeker sözü vermiştim, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“EVET!”, diye haykırır dördü de birden.

“O zaman senden başlayalım Biberbell. Ne gördün?”

“Ayak izleri.. Çok küçük, muhtemel bücür bir şeye ait. Ama dwarf değil. Onların ayakları devrilmiş kütük gibi! Elf de değil. Onlarınkiler çok ince.. İnsan hiç değil, çünkü onlarınkini bulmak için bizi çağırmazdın! Evet. Kesinlikle farklı bi şeyin ayak izleriydi bunlar..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde vızıldar Biberbell.

“Ne oldu peki ayak izlerine?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ne mi oldu? Hiç bi şey olmadı.. Öylece duruyorlardı..”, der Biberbell aklı biraz karışmış bir ifadeyle.

“Nereye gidiyorlardı ayak izleri?”, diye biraz daha açıklamalı sorar yaşlı adam.

“Uhhmm.. Öylece duruyorlardı, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Ayak izleri sahibi olmadan hiç bi yere gidemezler ama ki!”

“Şapşal!”, der Whimsi Lola, Biberbell’e..

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar peri ona hayretle.

“Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, ayak izleriyle ilgilenmiyor. Nereye gittikleriyle ilgileniyor!”, diye küçümseyen bir ifadeyle bakar ona Whimsi Lola.

“Nereye gittiği gördün mü peki?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“İşte tam şuraya!”, der Whimsi Lola ve doğuya işaret eder.

“Güzel—”, der yaşlı adam ve o istikamete doğru yürümeye başlar.

“—Sonra şuraya.”, der ve güneye işaret eder.

“Teşekkür ederi—”, der yaşlı adam.

“—oradan da şuraya..”, der ve eliyle geniş bir daire çizerek batıyı, sonra da kuzeyi gösterir.. ve tekrar doğuya işaret eder.

“Sen tam bi aptalsın, Whimsi Lola.. Kumse Böceği kadar aklın yok senin!”, der Kindernest, ve Whimsi Lola’ya acımaklı bir ifadeyle bakar.

“Alındım.”, diye somurtur Whimsi Lola.

“Sen ne gördün peki?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ayak izleri her yerde, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig. Avımız pek kurnaz çıktı. Ahahahahaa.. Ama beni kandıramadı. Ayak izleri bir kokarcaya tesadüf etmiş. Aralarında muhteşem bir mücahele gerçekleşmiş ve sanırım kokarca kazanmış!”, der Kindernest gururla.

“Hmmm.. Bunu duyduğuma.. üzüldüm.. yada sevindim..”, der yaşlı adam. “Ayak izleri nereye gitti muharebeden sonra?”

“Bilmem. Ortada kızgın bi kokarca vardı Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig!”, der parmak kadar peri, bu her şeyi açıklıyormuş gibi.

“Sizler..”, der Little Dimple ve üçüne de tiksintiyle bakar. “Üçünüzün de 3 puanlık zekanız var!”

 

Bunun üzerine üçü de düşünceli bir ifadeyle susup hesap yapmaya başlarlar.

 

“Bu o kadar da kötü değil ki.”, der Biberbell. “9 puan eder!”

“Hayır şapşal!”, der Kindernest. “36 eder bence!”

“Ahhaaa.. neden sizin puanlarınız o kadar düşük belli oluyor!”, diye ünler Whimsi Lola.

“Nedenmiş?”, diye sorar ikisi de.

“Çünkü 9 da değil 36 da.. TAM 333 EDER!, diye sırıtır ikisine de..

Little Dimple ağzı açık bir şekilde üçüne de bakakalır..

“Sen ne buldun, Little Dimple?”, diye pes etmek üzere olan bir sesle sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ben bunların ayak izlerinin peşine takıldığını görününce peşlerinden gitmedim çünkü üçü de aptal bunların!”, der bilmiş bir ifadeyle.

“Ne yaptın peki?”, diye sorar küçük bir umutla yaşlı adam.

“Ben mi..?”, der Little Dimple. “Ben onların geri döndüklerinde kendilerini rezil etmelerini bekledim.. Nasıl? Haksızmıymışım?”

 

Yaşlı adam, Efendi Cathber, hiç sesini çıkarmadan kemer niyetine beline bağladığı sicimden sarkan küçük keseciklerden birisine uzanır ve içinden dört adet limon, ahududu, çilek ve nane şekeri alır ve tekrar didişmeye başlayan küçük, parmak boyundaki perilere uzatır.

Dört peri de serçe ‘cık’laması gibi küçük birer çığlık atıp şekerlere dalarlar.

Dördü de bir avuca sığacak fey tarafından imha edilmiş Cathber, aradığı şeyi kendi kendisine bulmak için yola koyulur.

 

“Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.”, diye seslenir, ağzı gözü mora boyanmış ve yapış yapış olmuş Whimsi Lola.

“Cathber, kafî..”, der yaşlı adam.

“Neden? Artık Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig değil misin?”, diye hayretle sorar Whimsi Lola.

“Ne vardı, Whimsi Lola?”, der bezmiş bir sesle Cathber.

“İlgini çeker mi bilmiyorum ama, aha şu tarafta oturmuş ağlayan küçük bi çocuk vardı..!”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bulunması hiç de kolay biri değilsin, delikanlı.”, diye homurdanır yaşlı adam. “Ve bunun bana ne kadar pahalıya mal olduğunu söylemeyeceğim bile.” 

Brom Bumblebrim, gözlerini siler, burnunu çeker, boğazını temizler ve..

..öylece çömdüğü ağaç kütüğünün üstünde kıpırdamadan oturmaya devam eder. Birkaç defa akıllı bir şeyler söylemek için yeltenir ama akıllıca hiçbir şey gelmez aklına.

Geldiğinde de söylemek istemez..

“Sorun değil, sorun değil. Önemli olan seni sağ salim bulmuş olmam.”, der Efendi Cathber ve gelip kendisi de devrilmiş kütüğün üstüne oturur, sakince uzun, ince bir pipo çıkartır, belindeki sicime bağlı keseciklerden birini aralar ve içinden çıkardığı tütünü pipoya doldurur. Tütünün kafi derecede sıkışmış olduğunu kontrol etmek için birkaç defa içine çeker, sonra sessizce bir şeyler mırıldanır ve pipo tütmeye başlar.

Uzun bir süre yaşlı adam ve genç hobbit sessizce otururlar ve genel anlamda ‘hiçbir şeyi’ seyrederler.

Neden sonra genç hobbit tekrar boğazını temizler ve boğuk bir sesle mırıldanır.

“Senin pipo kullandığını bilmiyordum, Efendi Cathber.”

“Aaaa.. Evet.. Bilmiyor olman normal, zira çocukların yanında kullanmıyorum. Kötü etki oluşturmasın diye..”, der yaşlı adam ciddi bir ifadeyle.

“Ne değişti?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“Sen..”, der yaşlı adam. “..bana ‘büyük’lerin oyununu oynadığını gösterdiğinde..”

Genç hobbit bıyık altı yapılmış bu iltifata bir şey söylemez.

“Hikayende boşluklar var olduğunu görmek çok da zor değildi. Ama itiraf edeyim, delikanlı, bunların daha ziyade kimseyle paylaşmak istemediğin, bir goblin fosseptik çukurunda saklanmak zorunda kalmış olmak gibi utanç verici şeyler olabileceğini düşünmüştüm. Titania? TITANIA?!“, diye hayretle söylenir yaşlı adam. “Bırakın kendisini görüp konuşmuş olmayı, bir çok ölümlü onun varlığından bile haberdar değil.”

“Keşke benim de hiç haberim olmamış olsaydı..”, diye mırıldanır Brom.

“Neden? Bu büyük bir onur.”

“Onurun bana bir faydası yok, Efendi Cathber. Onurun, kaybettiğime de bir faydası yok..”

 

“Sen kaybettiğinin, gerçekten gittiğini mi sanıyorsun?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

 

“Gitmedi mi?”

 

“Gidenlerin de kaybolduğunu mu düşünüyorsun?”, diye devam eder Cathber. “Kaybettiğimizi sandığımız şeyler, sadece merkezimizde kendimiz olduğumuz sürece gitmiş olurlar. Merkezimizde gittiğini düşündüğümüz kimseler olduğunu farzedersek, sence gerçekte kim gitmiş oluyor, o zaman?”

 

Brom başını kaldırır ve alık alık yaşlı adama bakar.

 

“Merkezimize onları, sevdiğimizi söylediğimiz kişileri koyduğumuzda, gerçekte biz onlardan gitmiş oluyoruz.. Peki onlardan biz gittiğimizde, kayıp mı olmuş oluyoruz? Bana hala buradasın gibime geliyor Efendi Hobbit, zira burada değilsen, ben kendi kendime konuşuyorum şu anda ve açıkça da bir deliyim! Yaşlılara ‘deli’ demek, ayıptır..

 

Brom, acayip bir şey yemiş gibi bir ifadeyle yaşlı adama bakar.

Efendi Cathber ise kıkırdar.

“Hadi kalk. Yola koyulsak iyi olacak. Hava kararmadan arbalet mesafesinden çıkmış olmak istiyorum”, diye sırıtır, genç hobbit’e.

“O kadar kızdılar, demek!”, der Brom homurdanarak.

“Uhhmm.. Kızmak.. oldukça hafif kalıyor. Ben olsam, ağızdan köpürmek, yemekhaneyi yerle bir etmek, masa-sandalye ele geçirilebilecek ne varsa paramparça etmek —gibi ifadeler kullanırdım. Ama bunların hepsi olumlu sonuçlar. Bir dwarf kızdığında sessizce duruyorsa bu iyi değildir.”

“Neden?”

“Kızdığı şeyi içine atıyor demektir. Bu sağlıklı değil.. Bizim için..”

“Margaret hanım sözünde duracak mı?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Evet. Annem sözünde duracak, çünkü sözünden döndüğü duyulmuş değil!”, diye neredeyse hırlar bir ses ve arkalarından ayak sesleri yaklaşır.

“Shit!”, diye küfreder genç hobbit.

“Makul, ama isabetsiz!”, der bir başka ses ve buna bir üçüncü ses kıkırdar.

 

Dridges Motherswolfie, Britney ve Dritmey Tosser ikizleri eşliğinde yaklaşırlar.

“Benimle ağız dalaşına geldiyseniz, hiç havamda değilim.”, der Brom kaşları çatılı bir şekilde. “Bana dalacaksanız, buna hemen başlayın, zira sizinle hiç uğraşacak halde değilim!”

 

Dridges olduğu yerde durur.

İkizler de küçük kız kardeşlerinin arkasında dururlar.

Üçü de kaşlarını çatarak küçük hobbit’e bakarlar.

 

“Bende ‘Efendi Cathber’ var. İstediğiniz kadar kaşlarınızı çatabilirsiniz.”, der Brom alt çenesini öne çıkartarak!

“Hadi yaa..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Dwarf’lar hakkında gerçekten kötü ve hor şeyler düşünüyor olmalısın, Efendi Hobbit.”, der en sonunda Dridges.

“Dwarf’lardan sadece kötü ve hor şeyler gördüm, Dridges hanım.”, diye cevabı yapıştırır Brom.

Dridges durur. Sonra derin bir nefes alır ve sakin bir sesle konuşur.

“İlk karşılaşmamızda doğru davranmadım, Efendi Hobbit. Özür dilerim. Geri almam mümkün değil. Ama almak isterim; Ben Argail Smitefast kızı Margaret Madish kızı Dridges Motherswolfie..”, der sessizce.

“Ben de Argail.. Off yaa.. Onunkiyle aynı işte.. Son kısmını Britney Tosser diye değiştir, yeter!”, der Britney.

“Benimkini de onunkiyle aynı yap. Hatta sonunu bile değiştirmene gerek yok, ‘B’ yerine ‘D’, ‘N’ yerine ‘M’ koy, yeter..”, der Dritmey.

“Burada ne işiniz var?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber.

“Aslında birkaç tane işimiz var, Efendi Cathber. İlki, gideceğiniz belirli bir mesafeye kadar size eşlik etmek, ikincisi, kız kardeşlerimizden ikisini bulamıyoruz. Onları arıyor olacağız. Üçüncüsü ise biraz daha kişisel.. Efendi Hobbit’in.. bizler hakkındaki oluşmuş yanlış izlenimlerini.. belki düzeltebilmek..”, diye sıkılgan bir ifadeyle mırıldanır Dridges.

“Pratik ve alicenap bir yaklaşım.”, der Efendi Cathber. “Annenin haberi var mı peki burada olduğunuzdan?”

Dridges biraz daha sıkılgan bir ifadeyle cevap verir.

“Biz.. Uhhmm.. Merkeze bildirdik.. Eminim onlar da anneme bildireceklerdir.”

“Yürü, kız.”, diye dürter Britney, ikizini. “Annemin mevcut halinde bizi burada bulmasını mı istiyorsun?”

“Bence Brit haklı. Buradan ivedilikle tüysek iyi olacak.”, der Dritmey ve tedirgin bir ifadeyle arkasına bakar.

“Efendi Cathber, isterseniz bu konuşmanın devamını sonraya bıraksak.. Örneğin iki gün kadar sonraya!”, der Dridges ve ikiz kız kardeşleriyle beraber koşmaya başlarlar.

“Gençler.. ve yaptıkları akıl almaz şeyler..”, der yaşlı Cathber esefle ve Brom’un omzuna dokunur, ve dwarf kızların arkasından yürümeye başlar.

Brom Bumblebrim, tam bir dakika boyunca olduğu yerde durur..

“Lanet olsun..”, diye hışmeder..

..sonra o da kızların arkasında koşmaya başlar.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Yani birisinin yaptığını bütün bir halka mı mal etmemiz gerekiyor, Efendi Brom? Bu halkın tamamına haksızlık olmuyor mu?”, diye sakin bir şekilde konuşur kamp ateşinin başında Dridges Motherswolfie. 

Brom sesini çıkarmaz.

En başta bunun akıllıca olabileceğini düşündüğü için bu taktiği kullanmayı tercih etmiştir ama Dridges ısrarlıdır. Aslına bakılırsa Dridges hem ısrarlıdır, hem de inatçı, dik kafalı, dediğim dedik, söylediğini sonuna kadar savunan, sonu geldiğinde de vurup öldüren, sonra da öldüğünde emin olmak için birçok defa daha vuran bir kızdır.

Sorun; kız öldüğünden bir türlü emin olamadığı için konudan geriye kalan cesedi gömmektense, vurmaya devam etmektedir!

“Bana destek olun, kızlar, haksız mıyım?”, diye, yetmiyormuş gibi bir de ikizleri de işin içine katmaya çalışır. Neyse ki Efendi Cathber’in bilgeliği, Dridges’in inadından daha engindir ve ne zaman kamp kursalar, yaşlı adam yorgunluktan şikayet edip, hemen gidip yatmayı tercih eder.

Brom, oturduğu yerde ‘uyuya kalmış’ taklidi yaparsa bununla paçayı yırtıp yırtamayacağını düşünür.

“Bana bakma.”, der Britney. “Ben önüme silahla biri çıkarsa, önce vurup, sonra soru sormayı tercih ederim.”

“O ne dediyse..”, diye Dritmey’de ikizini destekler.

Dridges buna da alınmaz, sükunetini koruyarak konuşmaya devam eder.

“Annem sözünde duracak ve kendisine verilen süre içerisinde Gulls Perch’e gidecek ve orada kendisine verilecek ceza her ne ise, buna da katlanacak. Bir anneden daha fazla ne istenebilir ki?”, diye söylenir. “Bizler de, bize gösterilen yere bir tane karakol kuracağız ve dönüşümlü olarak nöbette duracağız. Sanıyorum on beş günde bir gerçekleşir bu dönüşüm. Daha azı pratik değil, daha fazlası ise erzak sorununu doğurur.”

“Hmm hıh..”, diye muallak bir ses çıkartır Brom.

“Sonra da sanıyorum ağabeyim için bir ferman çıkartılacaktır. Belki Palantine’dan kafa avcıları bile çağrılabilir. Bu işi kendi içimizde halletmeyi tercih ederdim ama zaten dışarı saçıldı..”

“Hmmpphh..”

“Ardından ben Niketix’e dedim ki, ‘Torkan’a ilgin varsa git söyle. Seni beğendiyse gelsin ve annemden istesin. Güçlü ve niyetli mi diye, annemle babamın yaptığı gibi aranızda bi dövüş yaparsınız, ikiniz de hoşnut olursanız, bu iş tamamdır!”

“Hpphhnnmm…”

“Efendi Brom!”, diye fena alınmış bir şekilde ünler Dridges.

“Hhıh? Ne?”, diye kendine gelir Brom.

“Beni dinlemiyorsunuz bile..”, der kız.

“Ben.. evet.. dinlemiyordum..”, diye itiraf eder genç hobbit.

“Sizi anlamıyorum, Efendi Brom..”, diye inler kız.

“Neden? Neyimi anlamıyorsunuz?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Gösterdiğim bütün çabaya rağmen, sizin gösterdiğiniz ilgisizlik, hayret verici..”, der Dridges.

“Hanımefendi..”, der Brom bezmiş bir sesle. “Sizin ilgi göstermeniz, benim de aynı şeye benzer bir ilgi göstermemi gerektirmiyor. Sizi ben çağırmadım, kendiniz geldiniz. Dahası, son altı gündür durmaksızın bana bir şeyler anlatıp duruyorsunuz. Ama anlamadığınız şey, benim söylediklerinizle ilgilenmiyor olmam. Bunun anlaşılmayan tarafı nedir? Bir şeyi yeterince ısrar etmeniz halinde bir savaşı kazanabilirsiniz ama bu bir savaş değil, ortada da bir ordu yok. Anneniz de, sizler de onurlu olabilirsiniz —kendinizce.. ama en nihayetinde bu beni ilgilendirmiyor. Sizin onurunuz, yada eksikliği, benim sorunum değil, sizin sorununuz. Bunu anlamanız gerek.”

Dridges bozulur.

Fena halde.

Kızcağız gerçekten bu inatçı hobbit’in gönlünü alabilmek için sağlam çaba göstermiştir, ama belli ki bunun için 1 yıl, 6 ay ve 28 + birkaç gün geç kamıştır..

“Onu.. O kızı.. Gerçekten sevmişmiydiniz?”, diye sorar beklenmedik bir şekilde.

“Bunun sizi ilgilendirdiğini pek sanmıyorum, Dridges hanım.”, der Brom resmi ve soğuk bir ifadeyle.

“Susacağım, Efendi Hobbit. Ama bana onu anlatırsanız. Susacağım ve bir daha da açmayacağım bu konuyu..”, der kız samimi bir ifadeyle.

Brom’un bu konuyu kimseyle konuşmak gibi bir niyeti yoktur.. Hele bir dwarf’la.. Ama tam bunu ona söyleyecekken, küçük çadırında uyumuş olması gereken yaşlı Cathber’ın paslı sesi duyulur.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına, evlat. Anlat da sussun artık!”

İkizler ‘fırk’lar.

Brom uzun bir süre sessizce önündeki ateşe bakar.

 

Neden sonra ağzından,

“Aremela Berrybush..”

..kaçar.

 

“Bambaşka bir varlıktı. Saf bir hayal gücü, tertemiz bir kalbi, güçlü bir farkındalığı ve sessiz bir sevgisi vardı.. Nasıl anlatsam.. ‘ılık’ bir ruhtu onunkisi.. Ne soğuk ve mesafeli, ne de yaklaştığında yakan cinsten.. Dokunuşu da kalbi gibiydi.. Huzur veren, ama aynı zamanda süzülen.. Devamını isteten.. Sanki çölün ortasında, kurumuş dudaklara dokunan ilk yudum gibi.. Ve her zaman ‘mutlu’ idi. En kötü anımızda, canımızın en acıdı zamanlarda bile.. Mutlu ve hayat dolu. Şekere bandırılmış çilek gibiydi. Enfes ve.. tarifsiz..

Yanında olduğu ve olmadığı arasındaki fark, o kadar hissedilirdi ki..

Eksik kaldığım yanlarımı yüzüme vurmadığı gibi, kendi zayıflıklarını da benden saklamadı çünkü kendisinin, benim zayıflıklarımı örteceğine güvendi. Tıpkı kendi zayıflıkları konusunda onun da bana güvendiği gibi.. Boş bir kupayı dolduran şerbet gibiydi.. ama doldurduğunda, kupanın varlığına anlam veren bir şerbet..

Sonra.. birden alındı elimden.. Avucumdan akan suyu tutmaya çalışır gibi tutunmaya çaşıltım ona ama akıp gidiverdi..

Bunun.. hangi kısmını anlamanı bekleyebilirim ki? Hangi ceza, hangi karakol, hangi ferman telafi edebilir ki bunu, Dridges hanım? Senin söyleyebileceğin ne olabillir ki beni iyi hissettirsin? Onun yokluğu karşısında dwarf’lar için ne hissettiğimin gerçekte ne önemi olabilir ki?

Özrün, haklın ve onurunuz için gösterdiğin çabaya ilgisiz kaldığımı söylüyorsun. Aremela Berrybush yok artık ve senin halkın da, onurunuz da umrumda değil..”

 

Brom Bumblebrim ateşin başından kalkar ve sessizce kendi küçük çadırına gider.

 

“Wow.. Eridim, kız..”, der Dritmey.

“Wow.. Aynen..”, diye mırıldanır Britney.

“Ben..”, der ve tökezler Dridges.

“Annem bundan bulsun bi tane bana, anında satarım seni, kız!”, der Dritmey.

“Oha..”

“Buna ‘şah-mat’ derler, kızlar. Bir ozana, elinden alınmış sevgisini soramazsınız. Bu ahmaklığı yaptığınız anda, onun duyguları ve sözleri altında ezilmeyi de hakketmiş olursunuz. Şimdi gidin ve yatın, bu yaşlı adam da uyusun artık!”, diye Cathber’in paslı sesi gelir çadırından.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bu olayı takip eden günler, inatçı bir sessizlik içerisinde geçer ve Efendi Cathber bu acıklı duruma ‘sesini’ çıkarmasa da, yüzündeki ciddi ifadeden, onunda mutlu olmadığı bellidir. Genç Brom ise olaya mutlu yada mutsuz, herhangi bir gözle bakmaz. Kararlı bir umarsızlıkla yoluna devam eder.

Sessizliğe sadece ikizler pek uyum sağlayamazlar. Sanki arada bir neden sessizce yürüdüklerini unutmuşçasına, sonu kıkıdılarla biten bir şeyler konuşurlar.

Onuncu güne gelindiğinde yeni bir fırtına, beklenmedik bir hızla oluşmaya başlar ve Efendi Cathber kızlara durmalarını ve kendilerine gösterilen yerde beklemelerini söyler.

İkizler bunu sorgulamazlar ama Dridges bunun nedenini sorar.

“Çünkü, sevgili Dridges, Efendi Brom ile yapmamız gereken bir iş var.”, der Cathber.

“Ama neden? Bizim yapamayıp da onun yapabileceği ne olabilir ki?”, diye kaşlarını çatarak sorar Dridges.

“Çok şey var, sevgili Dridges.”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam sabırlı bir şekilde.

“Ne gibi mesela?”, der dwarf kız inatçı bir ifadeyle.

“Sanırım bunun cevabını birkaç gün önce verdi sana..”, diye taşı gediğine koyar Efendi Cathber.

Driges susar.

Asık bir suratla kız kardeşlerinin yanına gider.

“Kızım, her şeye de bulaşman gerekmiyor.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye katılır Dritmey. “..Onların bizim her işimize karışmaları halini düşünebiliyor musun?”

Britney kıkırdar.

“Görmek isterdim ama..”

“Neden bizi dışlıyorlar ki?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle sorar küçük kız kardeşleri.

“Dridges..”, der Dritmey. “Sen gerçekten iyi niyetli ve harika bir kızsın. Ama daha gençsin, halkımız dışında neredeyse hiç başkalarıyla karşılaşmadın ve onlarla doğru dürüst bir iletişimin olmadı, dolayısıyla bazı şeyleri bilmiyorsun ve anlamıyorsun.”

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Britney.

“Ne gibi?”, diye daha da alınmış bir şekilde sorar Dridges.

“Ne gibisinin bir önemi yok, ve zaten olayın püf noktası da bu. Şu anda sen bizim komutanımızsın. Onların değil. Ne Efendi Cathber’e, ne de Efendi Brom’a emir verebilirsin.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Dritmey.

“Evet.”, diye onaylar Britney.

“Onlara hiçbir emir vermedim ki.”, diye itiraz eder Dridges.

“Dahası..”, der Dritmey ve devam eder. “Her ikisine de, nezaketen bir şeyin sebebini sorman dışında, hiçbir konuda sebep göstermelerini talep edemezsin. Bunu anlıyor musun?”

“O ne dediyse..”, der Britney. “Ayrıca şu gördüğün karabulutlar sana ne söylüyor?”

“Yağmur yağacağını?”, diye azıcık hicveder Dridges.

“Bu doğru.”, der Britney. “Bizim üzerimizde ne var peki?”

Dridges bir elindeki çelik çerçeveli kalkana, diğer elindeki enli kılıca, giydiği örme çelik zırha, sonra da ablalarının ellerindeki koca balta ve onların üzerindeki zırhlara bakar ve ayılır.

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey. “Her ne yapacaklarsa, bunu o fırtınanın içinde yapacaklar. Bize açıklama yapmaları gerekmiyor çünkü biz gerçekte onların grubunun bir parçası değiliz. Kendi kendimizi, muallak sebepler göstererek onlara yamadık. Bize, ‘gidin artık’, derlerse de gitmez durumunda kalırız. Bunu dememelerinin tek sebebi de gösterdikleri nezaket.”

“Tamamen..”, diye ikizini onaylar Britney. “Sen iyi niyetlisin ama bazen biraz falza zorluyorsun. Her şey zorla düzelmez. Efendi Hobbit’in bizimle olan sorunu ‘varlığımızla’ değil, ‘yokluğumuzla’ hallolacak bir durum, gibime geliyor.”

“Hiçbir şey yapmayacak mıyız yani?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Yaptık zaten.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey. “Onlara eşlik etme sebebimizi söyledik. Ortada olmayan tehlikelere karşı onları koruduk ve özrümüzü diledik. Sonuç itibariyle Efendi Brom’un özrümüzü kabul edip etmemesi tamamen ona kalmış.”

“Akıllı konuştun, kız.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey.

 

Tam o sırada ileriden, kara bulutların olduğu yerden beklenmedik bir ışık harlaması, hemen ardında da keskin ve dehşet bir patmala sesi gelir..

..üç dwarf’da, gökten inen dev bir yumruğun kendilerini yapıştırmış gibi yere çakılırlar.

 

“Kör oldum!”, diye panik içerisinde çığlık atar Britney.

“Sağır oldum!”, diye inler Dridges.

“Aynen..”, diye bağırır Dritmey!

 

Efendi Cathber topallaya zıplaya yürüyüşüyle, Brom da elinde tuttuğu, daha yeni ‘çarpılmış’ yıldırım asasıyla geri döndüklerinde üç kızı da yere yapışmış, gözleri kamaşmış, kulakları sağır halde bulurlar. Yaşlı adam alt dudağını büzüştürerek yığılıp kalmış kızlara bakar.

“Sanki uyarsamıydık?”, diye mırıldanır.

Brom ise pis bir sırıtışla süzer ıslak toprakta kıvranan dwarf’ları ve..

“Çaylaklar!”, diye güler acımasızca.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Gerçekten uğramak istemediğinden emin misin?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber. “Serenity Home naif bir kasabadır. Huzur içinde yaşamak isteyen herkese de kapıları açıktır. Kendisiyle tanışma fırsatım olmadı ama, kandan bıkmış bir ork bile varmış orda. Demircinin yanında, sabahtan akşama kadar demir dövmekten de mutluymuş. Başta biraz yadırganmış ama kendi halinde, sessiz, sorun çıkarmayan ve, inanabilirsen, oldukça da nazikmiş. Senin gibi zeki bir hobbit için burası iyi bir tercih.” 

“İlgin için teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber.”, der Brom. “Ancak huzur kişinin içinde varsa, nerede yaşadığının pek az önemi olabilir. Bunu Serenity kasabasını ve çevresine sağladığı huzuru küçümsediğimden değil, benim daha gidip görmem gereken yerler var olduğunu hissettiğim için söylüyorum. Belki bir gün yolum düşer ve uğrarım buraya..”

“Yine kendi aralarında biz yokmuşuz gibi konuşuyorlar.”, diye alınmış bir şekilde söylenir Dridges. 

“Demek kabul ettin en sonunda..”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde.

“Efendi Cathber ve Efendi Hobbit’in, ikimiz arasındaki konuşmalara burunlarını soktuğunu görüyor musun hiç?”, diye sorar Britney.

“Anlamadım?”, der Brom.

“Hayır görmüyorum. Kim ikinizin dırdırı arasına girmek ister ki?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Efendi Brom.. Lütfen..”, der yaşlı adam.

“O ayrı bir mesele ve konumuzun da dışında.”, diye cevap verir Dritmey sırıtarak.

“Belki.. Olabilir.. Daha tam emin değilim..”, der Brom.

“Aynen..”, diye kıkırdar Britney.

“Gezdiğin ve gördüğün, diyeceğim ama sanki her geçen gün bana daha çok; ‘Gönderildiğin ve gösterildiğin’, gibi gelen olaylardan sonra, emin olman için daha neyi beklediğini merak ediyorum..”, der Efendi Cathber nazikçe.

“Hayret verici bir şekilde samimiler.”, der Dridges düşünceli bir şekilde. “Rivayetlere göre Efendi Cathber kimseyle özel bağ kurmazmış. Çok uzun yaşayan insanlarda oluşan bir sorun bu sanırım.”

“Haklısın. Muhtemelen.. Ama haklı olmakla bu olası gerçeğe boyun eğebilmek, iki tamamen farklı şeyler.”, diye cevap verir genç hobbit.

“Bence bizi dahil etmiyorlarsa, bunun bir sebebi olmalı.”, der Dritmey.

“O da var.”, diye makul bir şekilde kabul eder yaşlı Cathber.

“Evet.”, der Britney. “Efendi Cathber bize nazik davranıyor ama sorumlulukları, yalnızlığını aşıyor. Ve hiçbirimiz bunu anlayacak kadar para almıyoruz!”

“Hadi geri dönelim..”, diye önerir genç Brom. “Bu konuşma fazla karıştı birbirine..”

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

İzci Efendisi Davien.”, diye nazikçe selamlar yaşlı Cathber, uzun boylu, yakışıklı, sarı-kumral saçlı half-efl’i. “Görüşmeyeli biraz zaman oldu.”

Küçük grup Serenity Home kasabasının uzak tarlalarınının kıyısından teğet çizmeleri üzerine beş gün geçmiştir ve üç dwarf kız akıllanmış olarak güvenli bir mesafede beklerken, yaşlı Cathber ve genç hobbit bir fırtına daha avlamışlardı. Sonra, genel yön olarak doğuya, ormanda zigzaglar çizerek yollarına devam etmişlerdi.

Bu süre boyunca aralarındaki kasılmış hava biraz olsun yumuşamıştı. Bunun en belirgin sebebi, Dridges’in sözünde durması ve ikizlerin anlatacak çok hikayeleri olmasıydı. Belli ki bu iki kız gerçekte kaş çatıp, balta sallamak kadar dedikodu, abuk hikaye ve kıkırdamayı sevmekteydiler. Beraberlikleri o kadar uzun olmamış olsa da Brom ikizlerden hoşlandığını kendi kendisine itiraf eder. Gerçekte genç hobbit’in Dridges’le de bir alıp veremediği yoktur ve kız önceki ısrarlı halini bırakınca, onun da cana yakın, samimi ve doğal bir cazibesi olduğunu kabul eder. Üç kız, hobbit’in içini döktüğü o geceden sonra, askeri bir imtina ile her akşam kamp yerini önceden hazırlamışlar, ateşi yakmışlar ve yemeği de pişirmişlerdi. Üç dwarf da, yük olmak değil, sessiz bir anlaşma varmış gibi kendi yüklerini çekmeye başlamışlardı. Dahası, genç Brom bunu çok daha sonra fark edecektir, kızların imtina ile seçtikleri kamp noktaları ‘kolay müdafaa edilebilir’ yerlerdi ve kendi aralarında dönüşümlü olarak da nöbet tuttuklarıydı!

Gün içerisinde de Dridges onlara hep yakın bir mesafede dururken, ikizler ise gittikleri yol boyunca, ellerinde dev baltalarıyla, kendi özel zigzaglarını çizdikleriydi.

İşin bir başka ilginç yanı da, üçü arasında kimin ne yapacağına her zaman Dridges’in karar vermesiydi. Ve kız bu durumu kendi çıkarına kullanmamış, ablalarından istediği herşeyi önce kendisi denemiş, güvenliğini ve pratikliğini sınamış, ancak ondan sonra onları bir emir olarak vermişti. Brom hayretle kızın devamlı ne nasıl optimize edilebileceği üzerine kafa yormasını, akşam olduğunda ve kamp kurulumu ve yemek işleri bittiğinde, kızın küçük papirüs parçalarına, üstüne fevkalade muntazam dörtgenler, halkalar ve uzun, yön çizgileri çizişini seyretmişti.

Genç hobbit bir gece dayanamamış ve sormuştu kıza ne yaptığını..

“Bu, dört kol saldırı düzenidir. Buna karşı kullanılabilecek müdafaa taktikleri oldukça sınırlıdır; düşman sana ne atarsa dişlerini sıkarsın ve düşmanın sana atabileceği etkili cephanenin, senin adamlarından önce bitmesini umut edersin.. Ben buna karşı uygulanabilecek etkili, can ve mal kaybı açısından düşük masraflı, optimal bir kuşatma kırıcı taktiği geliştirmeye çalışıyorum, Efendi Brom.”

“Yaaa..”, diye anlamış gibi başıyla onaylamış, muallak bir cevap vermiş.. ve tüymüştü Brom. Kim bilir.. Kız o karma karışık şemayı anlatmaya karar da verebilir di, genç hobbit’e!

Bu süre içerisinde Brom aklına takılan bir başka mevzuyu konuşmak için Efendi Cathber’a yanaşmıştı ama bunu, fırtına avına çıktıklarında, dolayısıyla yalnızlarken sormuştu.

“Onlara söylemedin.”, der Brom.

“Neyi kime söylemedim?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Fırtınada ne yaptığımızı..”

“Aaa.. Hayır söylemedim ve senin de bundan kimseye bahsetmemeni rica edeceğim.”, diye temkinli bir şekilde cevap verir Efendi Cathber.

“Neden? Güvenilir kızlar, gibime geldiler.”, der Brom hayretle.

 

“Onların sadakatlerini sorgulamıyorum, Efendi Hobbit. Ama ve en nihayetinde geri döndüklerinde üstlerine gördüklerini rapor etmek zorunda kalacaklar ve birincisi, burunlarının dibinde böylesi yıkıcı bir potansiyelin olduğunu öğrendiklerinde, kendileri de aynısından isteyecekler ve ben, bana verilmiş kalan günlerimi fırtına peşinde koşarak geçirmek istemiyorum. İkincisi, bunu sadece Heavens Hand için yapıyorum çünkü orada gerçek ihtiyaç var. Üçüncüsü ise, kızlar.. ve muhtemelen rapor verecekleri şahıslar güvenilir olsalar da, o kadar bin dwarf’un hepsinin aynı oranda ağızlarını sıkı tutmalarını beklemek iyimser bir şekilde ‘hayal perestçe’ bir beklenti olurdu. Dahası, bize bahsedilen baskın, biraz fazla iyi planlanıp uygulanmışdı. Baskını yapanların, vardiyalardan ve muhafızlardan haberdar oldukları belliydi. Bunun en belirgin göstergesi, çalınan belgelerin nerede olduklarını bilmeleriydi.. Orasının ne kadar büyük olduğunu düşününce, bunu görmesi çok daha kolay oluyor..  Bunları bize söylemediler tabii, ama söylemelerine de gerek yoktu, öyle değil mi? Bu yüzden Elder Hills’e ilk vardığımızda o kadar hırçın ve paranoyak davrandılar..”

 

Efendi Cathber’in bu sonuç odaklı, pragmatik ve birazda ürkütücü yorumu, genç hobbit’in dünyada olup bitenleri görebilmesi açısından iyi bir ‘çuvaldız’ etkisi yapmıştı.

 

“Merhaba, Efendi Cathber. Evet, sanırım en son görüşmemiz üzerine iki yıl, dört ay ve bir kaç gün geçmiş olmalı..”, diye yüzünde mutlu ve muallak bir ifadeyle cevap verir İzci Efendisi Davien.

“Davien..”, der yaşlı Cathber. “Sanırım, dedikten sonra bu kadar kesin bir süre veremezsin.”

“Özür dilerim. Etrafımdakiler, biraz aptal olduğumu düşününceler hepimiz daha mutlu oluyoruz.”, diye cevap verir Davien ciddi bir şekilde.

Efendi Cathber kıkırdar.

Brom’un ise tek kaşı kalkar ve hayretle izci efendisine bakar zira bir yıl kadar önce, haydut kampında onu ilk gördüğünde, kendisi de onun biraz saf ve.. uhhmm.. aptal olduğunu düşünmüştür.

“Moorat bunu biliyor mu?”, diye sırıtır Cathber.

“Bildiğini sanıyor. Ama onun bildiğini benim bildiğimi sandığını sanmıyorum!”, diye cevap verir İzci Efendisi Davien aynı ciddiyetle.

Yaşlı adam tekrar kıkırdar.

“Ne işin var burada peki?”

“Sizi bekliyordum, Efendi Cathber. Yaşlı Tapınak Baş Muhafızı Demos Lightshand, bir görü uykusuna yattı ve sizin olacağınız yeri gördü rüyasında. Beni çağırıp seni bulmamı ve Oger’s Foot’a gitmeniz gerektiğini söylememi söyledi..”, der Davien yine muallak ifadesine bürünerek.

Buna tek kaşını kaldırarak cevap verir Cathber.

“Elçiye zeval olmaz. Bana sizi bulup bunu size söylemem istendi, o kadar.”, der izci efendisini.

“Ne kadar vaktim var?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam canı açıkça sıkılmış bir şekilde.

“Demos bu konuda pek bir şey söylemedi. Ama sorunun oradaki oger’lerin matronu ile alakalı olduğu izlenimini edindim.”

“Demos’un Oger’s Foot ile ne gibi bir alakası olabilir ki? Onun ilgi ve yetki alanı içerisinde bile değil..”, diye burnundan solur yaşlı adam.

“Değil zaten. Ama oger’ler bazı saldırılarda bulunmuşlar ve sanıyorum yaşadıkları tepelerin darlığından şikayet ediyorlarmış.”, der Davien. “Şerif Standorin’in kılıç eli kaşınmaya başladı yine ve Serenity Home Belediye Başkanı Yuleman, oger’lerle yeni bir çatışmanın başlamasını istemiyor. Olaylar ivme kazanamadan belki siz müdahale edebilirsin diye sizi bulmamız istendi. Moorat izcileriyle seni aramaya gittikten sonra ben de Demos’a gittim ve seni bulması için ondan ricada bulundum. Bu şekilde ormanı bir ucundan diğerine koşmak zorunda kalmamış oldum.”, der Davien ve sırıtır. “Moorat eli boş döndüğünde yüzündeki ifadeyi görmek ilginç olacak!”

“Ne kadar vaktim var?”, diye sorar Cathber. “Elimde bitirmem şart olan bir işim var ve onu yarıda bırakamam..”

Davien omuzlarını silker.

“Bu ay sonuna kadar bir şeyler yapılmış olsa iyi olur. Yoksa Şerif adamlarını —ve bizleri toplayıp Oger’s Foot’a yürüyecek.”

Yaşlı Cathber burnundan solur.

“Standorin’i severim. Ama her şey, her zaman kılıçla çözülemez..”

“Size katılıyorum, Efendi Cathber. Çoğu zaman oklarla çözülebilir!”, diye ciddi bir ifadeyle cevap verir Davien.

Yaşlı adam ona fena pis bir bakış atar.

“Hey!..”, der Davien sırıtarak. “Ben sadece aptal bir izciyim..”

“Serenity Home’a geri dön ve Yuleman ile konuş. Beni bulduğunu ve işi halledeceğimi, ama bunun için bir aydan daha fazla zamana ihtiyacım olduğunu söyle. Dediğim gibi, elimde bitirmem gereken bir işim var ve onu yarıda bırakamam.”

Tam o esnada çalılar büyük bir gürültüyle açılır ve küçük, sıska bir kız koşarak gelir yanlarına. Kızın, uzun koyu kahverengi saçları, masmavi gözleri ve uçları hafif sivri kulakları vardır. Kızın üstünde, belki daha o sabah temiz ve pek şirin olan elbisesinin her yeri yırtılmış, üstü başı toz, toprak ve çamur içerisindedir ve elleri, kolları ve sıska bacakları da yara ve berelerle doludur!

Kız nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde söylenir.

“Koştum, İzci Efendisi Davien amca! Ve hepsinden de önce buldum!”, der ve sırıtarak küçük yumruğunda sımsıkı tuttuğu, içi saman çöpleriyle dolu pis bir çorabı gösterir.

“Küçük Laila!”, diye ünler Davien. “Senin ne işin var burada?”

“Bu sabah, izci acemilerine bu çorabı ilk bulanın, sizin çırağınız olmayı hakkedeceğini söylediğinizi duydum. Bütün izci acemilerinden önce buldum ve getirdim!”, der küçük Laila gururla sırıtarak.

“Bu harika bir beceri. Beni ormanın ortasında nasıl buldun peki?”, diye hayretle sorar Davien.

“Bu beni biraz düşündürdü çünkü sizi bulamazsam, çorabı bulmuş olmamın bir anlamı kalmamış olacaktı, onun için önce sizi bulmalıydım İzci Efendisi Davien amca. İzci Acimelerinin yanından ayrıldıktan soran sizin Demos babamızı ziyaret ettiğinizi gördüm ve belki o bilir diye gidip ona sordum. Demos babamız da bana sizin nerede olabileceğinizi söyleyince ben de koşup çorabı aradım ve onu da buldum. Sonra da buraya koştum!”, diye nefes nefese anlatır kız..

Davien, ağzı açık bir şekilde kızın pratik, çözüm odaklı düşünme şekline hayret eder.

 

Yaşlı Cathber kıkırdar.

“Küçük kız, senin Moorat’e çektiğin numarayı sana yapmış!”

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

Arkada bekleyen üç dwarf kız ise alık alık küçük, sıska kıza bakarlar.

 

“Bence bir sonraki İzci Çırağına, potansiyel olarak da gelecekteki İzci Mareşaline bakıyoruz.”, der Efendi Cathber.

Küçük Laila’nın yüzü güneş gibi aydınlanır ve daha da gururlanarak sırıtır..

 

 

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Bu hiç iyi bir zamanlama olmadı bizim için, Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı Cathber kaşları çatılı bir şekilde. “Sanıyorum biraz acele etmemiz gerekecek ve..”

“Ve?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ve korkarım birlikteliğimizin de sonuna yaklaşıyoruz..”, diye bitirir yaşlı adam yüzünde mutsuz bir ifadeyle.

Genç Brom hayretle yaşlı Cathber’e bakar.

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar ister istemez. “Fırtına avıyla işimiz bittiğinde, Oger’s Foot’a yine beraber gideriz.”

“İlk girişimiz sadece bir ziyaret idi ve gerçekte Reise Grulganiste’nin de üstü kapalı uyarısıydı. Belli ki durum göründüğünden çok daha ciddi ve her ne kadar becerikli olsanız da, Efendi Brom, kızgın oger’ler bir hobbit için sağlıklı bir yer değil. Oğlu Cabot eline geçen her fırsatı değerlendirmek isteyecektir ve inan bana, o vahşinin eline geçen bir fırsat olmak istemezsin!”, der Efendi Cathber fena kızmış bir şekilde.

“Demek beraberliğimiz sona erecek.”, der Brom boğuk bir sesle.

“Beraberliğimiz asla sona etmeyecek, delikanlı. Sadece birlikteliğimiz sonra erecek.”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam nazikçe.

“Aradaki farkı göremiyorum, Efendi Cathber.”, der genç hobbit kırık bir ifadeyle.

“Aradaki fark; sevgi, saygı ve dostluk ile ayrılmamızda, Brom Bumblebrim. Ve beraberliğimiz süresince paylaşıp bir birimize kazandırdıklarımızda.. Ve doğrusunu söylemem gerekirse, ki söylemekte hiçbir maruzat görmüyorum, ben çok şey kazandım, daha da çok şey öğrendim.”, der Efendi Cathber.

“Benden ne öğrenmiş olabilirsiniz ki?”, diye sorar Brom.

 

“Yalnızlığın, sandığım kadar eğlenceli ve tatmin edici olmadığı öğrendim. Yediyüz küsür yıl kadar geç olsa da bunu fark etmiş olmam bence önemliydi. İnsan, yeterince yalnız kalınca, zamanla başkalarına ‘harcanabilir’ gözüyle bakmaya başlayabiliyor. Özellikle de benim yüklenmeyi seçtiğim sorumlulukları göz önünde bulundurduğumuzda.

Ve benim evimi tamir ederek, bana evimin.. ve Tamara’mın sıcaklığını hatırlatmış oldun. Geri dönüp baktığımda, sevgilim ve eşim Tamara’nın asla benim hayatımı bu şekilde geçirmiş olmamı taship edeceğini düşünüyorum. Evet, bazı şeyler benim için artık çok geç artık. Bir eş ve çocukların —içinde mutlu insanların olduğu bir ev.. Ama en azından evime geri döneceğim ve döndüğümde de içinde en az bir kişi, tam olarak mutlu olmasa da, mutmain olacak.

Bu kulağa sadece küçük bir avutma gibi gelebilir. Ama, ve gerçekte bu farkın ne denli büyük olduğunu da sadece senin gibi bir hobbit fark edebilirdi, ve önemli olan da bu..

Ve son olarak, insan benim kadar uzun yaşayınca, görülebilecek her şeyi gördüğünü, bilinebilecek her şeyi öğrendiğini, duyulabilecek de her şeyi duyduğu yanılgısına düşebiliyor. Sen, Efendi Brom, bu yaşlı adama, ölmeden önce bu konuda ne kadar da yanılmış ve eksik olduğunu göstermiş oldun.. Bunun kıymetinin bir karşılığı yoktur!”

 

Brom Bumblebrim, yaşlı adamın bu itiraflarını biraz sevinç, ama daha çok garip bir iç burukluğu ile dinler, zira Efendi Cathber’in söyledikleri şeylerin hepsi, yaşadığı o uzun hayatın sonunun da yaklaştığını ima etmektedir.

 

“Bana ağıt yakma, Efendi Hobbit. Ağıt, bir kaybın göstergesidir. Ben, uzun ve dolu bir hayat yaşadım. İstediğim şeylerle dolu değildi belki ama, yine de, ve en azından başkalarının mutlu, sağlıklı ve en önemlisi de; güvenli bir şekilde yaşamaları için uğraştım. Bana ağıt yakarsan, bütün emeklerime de ağıt yakmış olursun.. Hadi gel.. Burnum yeni bir fırtına kokusu alıyor..”

 

 

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11.09.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Eylül ortası.
Sonsuz Beyaz..
(Büyük Kuzey Tundraları)

Genç Brom’un, yaşlı Cathber’le vedalaşması acıklı bir sahnedir ve ilginç bir şekilde de genç hobbit’le ilk karşılaştıkları o ıslak gecede, Arashkan ırmağının kıyısında kamp kurduğu yerde gerçekleşir.

 

“Sevgili Brom.. Seni ilk aldığım yere tekrar bırakıyorum.. Sana acılarını unutmanı söylemeyeceğim. Bunu senden isteyemem.. ve açıkçası istemem de. Bizi biz yapan kazançlarımız değil, kayıplarımızdır, zira bir şey bizim için bir kayıp ise, o şey bizim için değerlidir. Seninle geçirdiğim ayları unutmayacağım ve seni her zaman sevgiyle hatırlayacağım.”

 

Brom ne kadar istediysede, bir türlü ağzından bir şey çıkmamıştı. Sadece dolu gözlerle yaşlı adama sarılmış ve öylece adamın uzaklaşmasını seyretmişti.

Dridges ve ikizler de bir kenarda durmuş göz yaşları içerisinde yaşlı adamın gidişini izlemişlerdi.

 

O akşam Dridges, Britney, Dritmey ve Brom sessiz bir kamp kurarlar ve pek az konuşup erken yatarlar.. En azından Brom ve ikizler yatar. Üç kız, kendi aralarında belirledikleri sıralamaya göre Dridges nöbette durur.

Brom sabah ilk ışıkla uyandığında, kahvaltının çoktan hazır olduğunu görür ve burnunu büzüştürür, zira niyeti kendi yoluna, kuzeye doğru koyulmaktır ve bunu da yalnız başına yapmak niyetindedir..

Genç hobbit kahvaltısını yaptıktan sonra Dridges’e döner.

“Sizler ne yapmayı düşünüyorsunuz? Ben kuzeye gideceğim.”, der sakince.

“Bu hayret verici!”, der Dridges mutlu bir şekilde. “Zira biz de kuzeye gideceğiz..”

Brom kaşlarını çatar.

“Ben bayağı kuzeye gideceğim.. Çok kuzeye..”

“Sorun değil, Efendi Brom. Biz de muhtemelen biraz daha fazla kuzeye gideceğiz.”, diye gülümseyerek cevap verir kız.

Brom, daha bi çatar kaşlarını.

“Sizin ne işiniz var kuzeyde?”

“Britney, kız kardeşlerimizin izlerine rastladı geçen gün. Onların peşinden gidiyor olacağız. Beraber gitmemizi istemiyorsanız, bunu açıkça söyleyebilirsiniz, Efendi Brom, alınmamaya çalışırız..”, der Dridges güzel gülümsemesini sergileyerek.

Yandan ikizler kıkırdar.

Brom kaşlarını daha bi çatmak ister ancak tampon çoktan duvara dayanmıştır! Kızlar, kendisinin onlara ‘git’ diyemeyecek kadar nazik olması üzerine plan yapmışlardır ve aynı planla onu köşeye sıkıştırmayı da başarmışlardır.

Kızlar gerçekten bazen fena pislik yapabilen varlıklardır!

Genç hobbit sesini çıkarmadan küçük çadırını toplar ve sırt çantasına tıkıştırır.

Kampı dağıtan ikizler de hazır bir şekilde beklerler ve Dridges’in bir işaretiyle ikizler önden koşmaya başlarlar..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bir açıdan genç Brom’un üç dwarf kız kardeşle olmuş olması iyidir. Kendi evindeyken yalnız takılmış olması onu fazla rahatsız etmemiştir bugüne kadar ama zaten kendi küçük dünyasını doldurduğu sıcak şöminesi, annesinin yadigar fincanları, tüten çaydanlığı, mutlu kurabiyeleri, kitapları, Lir’i ve..

“Muhteşen Gökler adına!”, diye ünler Brom. “Hayatımı hoşuma gittiğini düşündüğüm ve bana keyif veren eşyalarla doldurmuşum ve gerçekte yalnız, zavallı bir hobbitmişim!”

“Efendim?”, der Dridges hemen arkasından.

“Uhhmm.. yok bişi..”, der Brom hemen, ve biraz da utanarak.

“Benimle konuşabilirsin, biliyorsun, değil mi? Seni yargılamam, seni ısırmam, seni horlamam.. Aynı istikamette gittiğimiz günlerimiz sona erdiğinde de zaten bir daha görüşme ihtimalimiz de olmayacak, dolayısıyla yapmayacağımı söylediğim şeyleri yapsam bile sana ne zararı dokunabilir ki?”, diye sorar kız.

“Isırma kısmı hariç.”, der Brom.

“Isırma kısmı hariç..”, diye onaylar Dridges. Sonra muzurca gülümser. “Ama duyduğum kadarıyla bazı erkekler bundan hoşlanırlarmış..”

“Bazı kızlar da hoşlanırmış!”, der ikisinin de arkasından bir ses —Britney.

“Ben hoşlanırım.. Beni istediğin zaman ısırabilirsin, Efendi Hobbit!”, der onun da arkasından Dritmey!

 

Brom kaçar!

 

Ve arkasından kahkahalarla.. ve acımasızca ikizlerin güldüğünü duyar.

“Siz ikiniz..”, der Dridges esef dolu bir sesle. “Adam olmazsınız!”

“Adam neden olalım ki?”, diye sorar Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey. “Neden adam olalım ki? Bak.. adam kaçtı!

 

“Onların kusuruna bakma.”, der Dridges, tıkanmış hobbit’e yetiştiğinde. Kızın üzerinde kalkanı, iri, enli kılıcı ve ağır örme zincir zırhı olmasına rağmen Brom’un peşinden koşmuş ve tıkanmış olmak bir yana, nefes nefese bile kalmamıştır. “Eğlenmeyi seviyorlar ve canları sıkıldı, o kadar. Şimdi düşündüm ve sebebini anladım sanırım.”

“Ne.. neyin sebebini anladın..”, der genç hobbit soluk soluğa.

“Biz bir şeylerle karşılaşırız diye devamlı nöbet ve devriye yapıyoruz gece gündüz ama bir kaç hayvan dışında hiç bi şey yok! Bunun sebebini anladım sanırım..”, der kız.

“Neymiş sebebi?”

“Efendi Cathber.. Kaç yüz yıldır bu ormanları bi aşağı, bi yukarı dolanıyor ve sanırım bundan dolayı da ‘tehlikeli’ pek de bir yaratık yok ormanda.. Var olanlar da kendilerine çeki düzen verip kimseye bulaşmıyorlar.”, diye açıklar Dridges. “Ama bu konumuzun dışında sanırım. Biz senden ve anlatmak istediğin şeylerden bahsediyorduk.”

“Biz böyle bir şeylerden mi bahsediyorduk?”, diye hayretle kıza bakar Brom.

Kız bir omzunu silker.

“Bahsetmek üzereydin.. ikizler gelmemiş olsalardı.”

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

Bu kız gerçekten ısrarlıdır.. ve tuttuğunu bırakmaya da niyeti yoktur.

Genç hobbit önündeki seçenekleri değerlendirir; ya kızı öteleyecek ve gereksiz yere kalbini kıracak, yada konuşacak ve hiç olmazsa başından ‘güvenli’ bir şekilde savacak.

Bununla beraber Brom, kızın asabi biri olduğuna inanmaz. İnatçı, dik kafalı, ısrarcı, çabuk alev alan, evet.. Ama asabi yada kontrolden çıkabilecek biri değil.

Pes etmişçesine derin bir nefes verir Brom.

“Hayatım.. Geri bakıp düşündüğümde ne denli boş olduğunu anladım. Az evvel ünlediğimde bunu fark etmiştim.”

“Bana boş biri gibi gelmedin, Efendi Brom.”, der kız samimi bir sesle.

“Brom.. sadece Brom, kafî.. Ben sanıldığı kadar efendi değilim.”, der Brom.

“Peki o zaman, Brom.. Ama sana bu şekilde sadece sen istediğin için hitap edeceğim. Efendi olmadığına inandığım için değil.”

“Bunu da nerden çıkartıyorsun? Sana efendi olduğum izlenimini hangi ara verdim?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“İlk karşılaştığımızda.. Beni yerin dibine geçirdiğinde..”, der kız sessizce.

“Seni yerin dibine geçirdim ve sen benim ‘efendi’ olduğumu o zaman mı anladın?”, diye alık alık bakar kıza Brom.

“Evet. Beni yerin dibine geçirdin çünkü tanışmamızdan önce sebeplerin vardı. Tanışmamızda ise ben de sana zaten var olan sebeplerini destekleyecek her malzemeyi verdim ve bunun karşılığında da hakkettiğimi aldım. Ama sen beni yerin dibine geçirmekle yetindin. Beni göme de bilirdin ama bunu yapmadın. Nerede durman gerektiğini bildin. Gerçekte efendi biri olduğunu işte o zaman —daha doğrusu üzerinde biraz düşününce anladım, zira iş bana kalmış olsaydı, ben kendimi çoktan gömmüş olurdum.. “, der kız biraz utanmış bir şekilde.

 

Brom’un tek kaşı ister istemez kalkar.

Kızın bakış açısı, açıkçası biraz çarpıktır.. ve fazla iyimserdir.. Ama oradadır ve ikizlerin onun için ‘gerçekten iyi niyetli bir kız’ olduğuyla ilgili söylediklerinin belki de boş olmayabileceğine ayılır.

 

“Beni hala kazanmaya mı çalışıyorsun, Dridges hanım?”, der gülümseyerek.

“Ben sana Brom diye hitap edeceksem, sanıyorum Dridges de kafî gelecektir. Ancak asıl konumuza dönersek, neden kendi hayatının boş olduğunu düşündüğünü merak ediyorum. Beraber geçirdiğimiz bu bir ayda öğrendiğim kadarıyla ta Bowling Hills’den buraya kadar yürüyerek, beklenmedik bir çok şeyi görerek ve daha da çok şeyi yaşayarak gelmişsin. Benim gördüğüm sadece iki yer var; Scowling Hills —ki orası doğduğum yer, ve Elder Hills, eğitim aldığım yer..”

“Neden bir taktik generali olmaya karar verdin?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ben vermedim. Dedem bu kararı verdi ve bana, halkımızın ve geleceğimizin buna şiddetle ihtiyacı olduğunu söyledi. Dedem ‘öylesine’ konuşan biri değildir ve bir anda üstüme böyle bir sorumluğu yükleyince, bana da kabul etmekten başka pek de seçenek kalmamış oldu. Gerçekte ben resim çizmeyi çok seviyordum ve hepimizin aldığı genel savaş eğitimi dışında da kılıç kullanmak gibi bir niyetim de yoktu. Ben.. kan dökmeyi sevmiyorum.. Başkasının yüzünde acı gördüğümde bu beni rahatsız ediyor.. Ve birilerine rica da bile bulunamıyorum artık çünkü herkese emir vermem gerekiyor.. Şimdi ise kendi öz ablalarıma emir vermem bekleniyor benden. Bunun bana ne kadar ağır geldiği ise hiç sorulmadı bile. Ablalarımın bundan mutlu olmaları ise daha da ağırıma gidiyor. Hiçbir kız, ablalarına emir vermemli..”

“Deden, Efendi Argail, biraz fazla mı ciddiye alıyor bazı şeyleri?”, diye kenarından sorgulamaya çalışır Brom.

 

“Önceleri ben de öyle düşünüyordum. Ama geçtiğimiz yıllarda, aldığım eğitim sürecinde, bize gelen istibaratlarda ve özellikle de bize karşı yapılan baskında, gerçekte onun kendisini ne kadar gemlediğini düşünmeye başladım. Bizler güzel ve rahat ortamlarda yaşamaya alışmışız. Halbuki bunun bizim çabalarımızla hiçbir ilgisi bile yok. Efendi Cathber, dedem.. ve unutulmuş birçok büyük insan, dwarf, gnome ve elf’lerin yapmış oldukları büyük fedakarlıkların üzerine oturmuş, onların canları ve kanları pahasına verdikleri emeklerin keyfini çıkartıyoruz, o kadar. Ve dedem haklı.. Bir şey gerçekten yaklaşıyor.. Büyük bir şey.. İsimsiz ve gözün göremediği bir şey. Bunu sadece çok, ama çok küçük bilgi kırıntılarını bir araya getirdiğimizde görebiliyoruz. En azından çok azımız. Ben daha göremiyorum. Sadece o şey, her ne ise, içimi ürpertiyor o kadar. Gün geldiğinde, kılıcımı, kalkanımı, zırhımı ve zamanla alacağım madalya ve apoletlerimi bir kenara atıp, tekrar resim çizeceğim. Ama önce bunu hakketmem ve gerekli güvenli ortamı da hazırlamam gerekiyor..”, der Dridges.

 

“Biraz karanlık bir tablo bu, sanki.”, diye söylenir genç hobbit.

 

“Karanlık zaten. Ama biz de zaten buna karşı hazırlık yapıyoruz. Diğer ırklar ne yapıyorlar bilmiyorum. Ama biz —ki burada ‘biz’ derken, sadece dwarf’ları kastetmiyorum, Ritual Ormanlarında yaşayan herkes, Serenity Home, Tinker Hills, bir zamanlar Silent Hills ve bütün bunların çevresinde yaşayan halklar, bilerek yada bilmeyerek, bilinçli veya bilinçsiz bir şekilde bu amaca çalışıyorlar. Otuz bin dwarf’u besleyip giydirmek, eğitip sağlıklı tutmak kolay bir iş değil.. Ve beni de o otuz bin ve buna bağlı olacak daha bir çok, yüzlerini bile görmediğim, ve muhtemelen de görmeyeceğim, sadece gömeceğim hayatların nerede nasıl ölmelerine karar verme işi için yetiştiriyorlar!”, der Driges, Brom’a bakarak ve konuşmanın kendi payına düşne kısmını bitirir..

 

“Olaylara bu açıdan bakıldığında, kendi hayatımın gerçekten boş olduğuna kati olarak inanmış durumdayım, Dridges..”, der Brom sırıtarak.

“Dridges.. Dridges!”, diye Britney’in acil sesi duyulur ileriden.

Dridges, Brom’a bir defa daha bakar, sonra ablasının seslendiği yöne doğru koşar.

 

“Ne oldu..?”, diye sorar Dridges.

Dritmey, elinde bir şey tutmaktadır. Yuvarlak ve renkli boncukları olan bir şey.

Dridges, ablasının elindeki şeye bakar ve ayılır.

“Bu onun—”, der hayretle.

“—saç tokası, evet.”, diye bitirir Britney, hemen yanında.

“Neredeler peki?”, diye sorar Dridges etrafa bakarak.

“Bilmem.”, der Britney. “Ama burada kamp yapıldığına dair bazı izler var. O iki şapşalın kamp kuracak kadar pratik eğitimleri olduğunu bile bilmiyordum!”

“Ne yöne gitmişler peki?”, diye sorar kız kardeşi.

“Emin değilim. Ama kuzeye yönelmişler buradan. Geri zekalı kuş beyinliler. Ne işleri var burada ve neden kuzeye gidiyorlar ki?”

“Eee..? Ne yapacağız şimdi? Devam edecek miyiz?”, diye sorar Dritmey.

Dridges bir an düşünür. Sonra başını sallar.

“Hayır, geri döneceğiz. Zaten gelmiş olmamız gerekenin çok daha uzağına geldik. Buranın kuzeyi Themalsar Harabeleri ve dedemden izinsiz annem ve babam bile gidemezler oraya..”

“Ne yani? Onları kendi başlarına mı bırakacağız?”, diye hayretle bakar kız kardeşine Britney.

“Onlar zaten kendi başlarına ve bizim gitmemiz yasak olan yere gittiler. İzin almadan onların peşinden oraya gidemeyiz. Hazırlanın, geri dönüyoruz. Bunu anneme bildirmeliyiz. Sonra da dedeme hızlı kurye gönderip emirlerini beklemeliyiz.”, der kız kardeşi.

“Dridges!”, diye ünler Dritmey.

“Bu bir emirdir, Birinci Sınıf Er Dritmey!”, diye tıslar Dridges.

Birinci Sınır Er Dritmey.. ve ikizi, Britney, hayretle küçük kız kardeşlerine bakarlar. Sonra ikisinin de kaşları çatılır ve haşin bir ifadeyle ikisi de selama durup, “Emredersiniz Onbaşı Dridges!”, diye dişeri arasından hırlarlar ve dönüp koşmaya başlarlar.

İkisi de Brom’un yanından geçerken, ona da selam verirler.

“Kendinize iyi bakın, Efendi Hobbit. Bizden kurtuldunuz en sonunda..”, diye sırıtır Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey, kendisi de sırıtarak..

..ve pek kısa bir süre içerisinde de ormanda, ağaçların arasında kaybolurlar.

“Sizden o kadar da kurtulmak istemiyordum aslında..”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.

“Bunun duyduğuma sevindim, Brom.”, der Dridges. “Başta senin fikrini değiştirmek için çok uğraştım ve sanıyorum, bunun karşılığında sadece başını ağrıtıp canını sıkmayı başardım. Ama daha sonraki tek amacım arkadaşın olabilmekti.”

“Ve korkarım olmayı da başardın, Dridges..”, der Brom.

“Bunda korkacak bir şey gerçekten yok, zira ben ısıran kızlardan değilim.”, diye gülümseyerek cevap verir Dridges.

“Eminim ısırsaydın da bu iyi niyetle olurdu.”, der Brom ve o da gülümser. “Kendine iyi bak, Dridges. Seni tanımak kolay olmadı, ama tanıdığım için de memnunun.”

“Sen de kendine iyi bak, Brom. Seni tanımak kolay oldu zira kendini ifade etmek istediğinde bunu çok iyi yapıyorsun.. Zor olan güvenini ve saygını kazanmaktı.”, diye gülerek cevap verir Dridges, sonra kalkanını sırtına atıp sıkıca bağlar, enli kılıcını kontrol eder..

..ve Brom’a sarılır.

“Duygularını benimle paylaştığın için de teşekkür ederim. Bunun benim için anlamını bilemezsin, zira dwarf’lar duygularını paylaşan bir halk değildir.”, der ve dönüp ablalarının arkasından koşar, bir kaç dakika sonra, o da gözden kaybolur.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Brom’un, yalnızlıktan gerçekten hoşlanmadığını anlaması sadece üç gün sürer. Bu kendisini, Ritual Ormanlarından ayrılmasıyla daha da belirgin bir şekilde gösterir. Efendi Cathber ile geçirdiği bir yılı aşkın süre ona kendini daha iyi tanımasına sebep olduğu gibi, kendisi hakkında bilmediği bir çok şeyi de fark etmesini sağlamıştı.. Genç hobbit, engin Ritual Ormanlarını, Themalsar Harabelerinden sadece üç-dört günlük bir mesafade bırakır ve harabelerin olabildiğince uzağından geçmeye karar verir. Bu karar onu Endless Sea denizinin kıyısına kadar getirir ve sebebini bilmese de, kuzeye yönelir. Halbuki kuzeyde hiçbir şey yoktur.. Sonsuz Beyaz dışında.. 

Gulls Perch’in doğusunda karşılaştığı çok eski şehir kırıntısına benzer bir yıkıntıyla burada da karşılaşır ve o zaman kulak misafiri olduğu iki kızın konuşmalarında olduğu gibi, bu şehir de hayattayken sanki bir kıyı şehri değil, bir zamanlar bir ticaret yolu üzerinde duruyormuş izlenimi veren bir şehirdir.

Brom, bu haraberlerde fazla oyalanmaz. Zorunlu olarak geçirmek durumda kaldığı bir gece dışında da harabe şehri hemen terk eder. Themalsar’a olan uzaklığına rağmen, bu şehir.. aslına bakılırsa bu bölgenin tamamı ‘ölü’ gibidir. Dahası, her an o ‘ölülerin’ toprağı deşip çıkacağı hissi veren uğursuz bir arazidir.

 

Genç hobbit titrer ve olabildiğince hızlı adımlarla..

..kar’a basar!

 

Brom Bumblebrim, hiç farkında olmadan Büyük Kuzey Tundra’ları sınırlarına gelmiştir. Genç hobbit önce soğuk, buz gibi kara bakar, sonra başını kaldırır ve gözlerini ufukta gezdirir.

Brom, uzaklarda.. çok uzaklarda, sislerin arasında gizlenmiş, hayal meyal görünen uçsuz bucaksız dağlara bakar..

Buranın, daha önce görmediği bir berraklığı var gibidir.

 

Berraklığı,

Vahşiliği,

Ölümcül soğukluğu,

Acımasızlığı,

‘Yürü yada öl!’, diyen kati kuralları,

Gizemi,

İçsel, hayvanî bir yanı..

Uçsuz,

Ve bucaksız..

Muhteşem bir beyazlığı vardır..

 

Brom, evinden ayrıldığı geceden şu an’a kadar bu gerçekleşmediyse, ikinci adımını attığında hayatının tamamen ve tekrar değişeceği hissine kapılır..

..ve kalçasında, tam olarak göremediği yerinde, nazik bir sızı hisseder.

“Ben de ne zaman kendini göstereceğini merak ediyordum..”, der sessizce.

Genç hobbit, aynı sızıyı tekrar hisseder.

“Ne? Geri mi dönmemi istiyorsun yoksa? İstemiyorsun.. Peki o zaman ne istiyor— Aaaa.. Bu tercihi bana bırakıyorsun.. Beni buraya kadar sürükledikten sonra, bu seçimi bana bırakıyor olman biraz geç değil mi? —ki bu da olayın tamamını dile getirebileceğim en nazik hali..”

 

Brom durur ve kısılmış gözlerle tekrar Büyük Sonsuz Beyaz’a bakar.

 

“Aremela Berrybush..”, der sessizce ve aradan geçen zamana rağmen içinin hala cızladığına..

..memnun olur!

“Ona olanlardan dolayı seni suçlamamalıydım..”

 

Brom, içinde zonklayıp ağrıyan şeyi, yeni ve.. olgun bir hüzünle karşılar ve ufuktaki sisli dağlara bakmaya devam eder..

..ve daha önce zihninin derinlikerinde başlayan bir şarkı, uzun yolculuğunun da bitmek üzere olduğunu, son kıtalarıyla hatılatır kendisine sanki..

 

 

 

Time.
 
Never gentle,
and never kind.
It is what tells us
that the moment we are born,
we have started dying..
It is there,
it is inevitable,
it is unyielding and
unforgiving.
Tic by toc,
it graves away,
leaving less than what we were.
Whatever we have built,
it shall down.
Whatever we have done,
it shall sow..
One would think we’d give life
the meaning it deserves..
 
Time.
 
It is the link between places, spaces,
events, and relations
by the simple expedience of
relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
 
Time.
 
This song!

 

 

 

Gerçekte uzun yolculuğu bitmek üzeredir. İki yıl önce kendisini evinden, sıcak şöminesinden, annesinin kıymetli fincanlarından, mutlu kurabiyelerinden, kitaplarından, pek sevdiği bahçesinden, güllerinden ve en nihayetinde de huzurundan alınıp, ta buraya kadar getirilmiştir. Buna rağmen devam edip etmeyeceği ise garip bir şekilde ona bırakılmıştır.

Sanki birileri ona..

“Seni buraya kadar getirdik.”

“Sana dünyada neler olup bittiğini, dahası..”

“..nelerin olabileceğini gösterdik..”

“Sana korkunç..”

“..ve muhteşem şeyler gösterdik..”

“Sana bu dünyada pek az ölümlünün bildiği sırları fısıldadık..”

“En önemlisi ise, sana aşkın naif çileklerini tattırdık.”

“Ve sana aşkla birlikte gelen en büyük kaybı ve yıkımı yaşattık..”

“Seni aldık, seni eydik, büktük..”

“..sonra da tekrar doğrulttuk..”

“Artık hazırsın..”

..demektedir.

 

Brom Bumblebrim derin, buz gibi, içinde Sonsuz Beyaz olan bir nefes çeker..

..ve ikinci adımını atar.

 

 

 

 

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları, bu hikaye ile sonra ermiş bulunuyor. Genç Brom, bundan sonra asla tahmin edemeyeceği kişilerle karşılaşacak, hiç beklemediği olaylarla yüzleşecek ve farkındasız bir şekilde de, küçük bir hobbit’in, bütün bir krallığın tarihini nasıl etkileyebileceğini göstermiş olacak..

 


 

 

dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi role play serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens tundra walkers

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VIII

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VIII

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VIII ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

03.07.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Mart başı.
Ritual Ormanları & Elder Hills..

 

Yaşlı Cathber’in evinden ayrılmaları üzerine aradan iki gün geçmiş olmasına karşın Brom için zaman sanki daha yavaş —yada hızlı ilerlemektedir.. Genç hobbit hangisi olduğu hususunda pek de emin değildir zira kafası karmakarışık olduğu kadar da bulanık gibidir. Brom bunlardan hangisi olduğu konusunda da muallakta kalmış hisseder kendisini.

“Sessizsin.”, der Efendi Cathber. “Aklına takılan bir şey mi var?”

“Emin değilim.”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.

“Bu, aldığın kararla mı ilgili? O günden beri sessizsin..”

“Emin değilim..”, diye tekrarlar kendisini Brom.

“Aldığın karar yüzünden şüphelerin mi oluştu?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam nazikçe.

“Şüphelerim varsa da, sonuçlarına katlanmak zorundayım artık, öyle değil mi?”, diye söylenir genç hobbit.

“Aslına bakılırsa, farklı bir karar almış olsaydın da sonuçlarına katlanmak durumunda kalırdın. Arada sadece iki fark var; birincisi kararı sen vermiş oldun, ikincisi ise sonuçlarına da efendi efendi katlanmayı göze aldığın —ki seni birazcık tanıdıysam, sen ‘efendi’ birisin Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber gülümseyerek.

Brom ister istemez ‘fırk’lar buna.

“Beni eğlendirmek için bu kadar çaba sarf etmenize gerek yok, Efendi Cathber.”, der Brom.

“İtiraf etmeliyim ki, sadece seni eğlendirmek için yapmıyordum. Bu noktadan itibaren biraz ‘gürültü’ çıkartarak ilerlememizin daha akıllıca olduğunu düşündüğüm için de yaptım.. Elder Hills dwarf’larının sessizce yaklaşan misafirleri ‘Önce vur, sonra sor!’, gibi oldukça katı, altı yüz yardadan arbaletle vurmak gibi kötü alışkanlıkları var.? Ama düşününce, bu da biraz gerekli, sanırım”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam.

Brom, yaşlı adamın dwarf’lardan bahsetmesi üzerine kaşları çatılır ve yüzünde kendisinden beklenmeyecek, çirkin bir ifade belirir.

“Neden?”, diye sorar haşin bir sesle.

“Çünkü, Efendi Hobbit, teknik olarak Elder Hills geleneksel anlamda bir yerleşim yeri değil, daha çok bir savaş eğitim kampıdır. Ve burası sadece savaşçı dwarf yetiştirmez, her türlü ortam için taktik geliştiren bir ‘General Okuludur’, aynı zamanda. Elder Hills, dwarf’lar arasında taktik generalleri yetiştirme konusunda krallıkta ki en yetkin okuldur. Buradan mezun olmayı başaran bir dwarf, ordu idare eder. Krallıktaki bütün dwarf ordularını generalleriyle burası besler ve bir dwarf ordusuyla karşılaşırsan, bilesin ki başındaki general buradan çıkmadır.”, diye açıklar Cathber ve yanında yürüyen genç hobbit’i temkinli gözlerle süzer.

“Onlarla ne alıp veremediğini bilemiyorum, delikanlı ama fazla üzerlerine gitmemeni sağlık veririm. Gün gelirde Büyük Kuzey Tundra’larda yaşayan barbarlar ile Elder Hills dwarf’ları arasında hangisinin daha ‘aklı başında’ ve ‘sakin’ oldukları konusunda bir tercih yapmam gerekirse, yanıma bol bol kışlık elbise alacağımı biliyorum.”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde.

Efendi Cathber’in bu uyarısı, genç hobbit’in tamamen üstünden geçer ve hedefini ıskalamış bir taş gibi uzaklarda bir yerlere düşer. Brom, bir eli babasının eski kılıcının kabzasında, diğer ise amcasının küçük, antika gürzünün sapında olduğu halde hızlanmaya başlar.

“Benim sana yetişmemi beklemiyorsun umarım, Efendi Hobbit. Bu at arabasın iki tekerleği eksik, üçüncüsü de fırlayıp gitmek üzere..”, diye seslenir Cathber, genç hobbit’in arkasından.

Brom ister istemez biraz yavaşlar —ve bu da kendisi için iyi olur zira tam ayaklarının dibine kendi boyunda, baş parmağı kalınlığında ve daha çok mızrağa benzeyen bir ok saplanır.

Genç Brom olduğu yerde durur ve hayretle oka bakar, sonra bir – iki – üç sıçrayışta en yakın ağacın arkasına saklanır!

Efendi Cathber ise bir ona, bir de yerde saplanmış oka bakar ve kaşlarını çatar.

“Gerçekten mi?”, diye sinirlenmiş bir tonla ‘hıf’lar. “Kim olduğumu görüyorsunuz, buna rağmen beni arbaletle mi karşılıyorsunuz? Görüyorum bir yılda bütün aklınızı kaçırmakla kalmamış, tüm nezaket kurallarınızı da unutmuşsunuz! Hanginiz attıysa bunu, çıksın ortaya ve yüzleşsin hışmımla!”

 

Brom hayretle yaşlı adama bakar.

 

“Evet!”, diye burnundan solur Cathber ve bir ayağını ‘pat pat pat’ diye yerde saydırmaya başlar. “Bekliyorum.”

“Adın!”, diye bir ses gelir oldukça uzaktan. “Adın ne yaşlı adam!”

“Bu.. bu inanılır gibi değil!”, diye fena halde alınmış bir tonla söylenir Cathber. “Hepiniz benim kim olduğumu pek ala biliyorsunuz? Çık ortaya ve yüzleş benimle. Şayet ben oraya gelirsem, birilerini fena üzerim, ona göre!”

 

Bu küçük tehditten sonra ayak seslerinin geldiği duyulur. Brom saklandığı ağacın arkasından başını hafif çıkartır ve üç, cüsseli dişi-dwarf’un kendilerine doğru yaklaştığını görür.

Öndeki dwarf, arkadan kendisini takip eden diğer iki dwarf’tan biraz daha ince yapılıdır. Arkadaki iki dwarf ise.. bir birinin kopyası gibidirler. Öyle ki Brom dwarf’ların ikiz olduğunu anlaması biraz vakit alır. Öndekinin bir elinde enli, iri bir kılıç, diğerinde ise çelik çerçeveli bir kalkan mevcuttur. İkizlerin ellerinde ise Brom’un neredeyse bir buçuk misli boyunda ürkütücü birer adet savaş baltası vardır.

 

Brom yutkunur.

 

“Adın nedir, Efendi Cathber?”, diye sorar öndeki dişi-dwarf.

“Dridges Motherswolfie! Ne demek oluyor bu şimdi?”, diye kızmış bir şekilde sorar yaşlı adam.

“Benim adımı sormadım. Seninkisini sordum..”, der Dridges adındaki kız.

“Benim kim olduğumu pek ala biliyorsun.”, der Cathber.

“Sen, gördüğümü sandığım kişi olmayabilirsin, Efendi Cathber. Lütfen bana adını ver, yada geri dön. Bunlar yeni yürürlüğe koyduğumuz güvenlik protokollerinin birer parçasıdır ve istisnası da yoktur!”, der kati bir şekilde dişi dwarf.

Yaşlı adamın iki kaşı da kalkar.

“Benim adım Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Senin adın ise Margaret Madish ve Gellator Bluntaxe kızı Dridges Motherswolfie, ve beni sekiz yaşından beri tanıyorsun. Siz ikiniz de Britney ve Dritmey Tosser ikizlerisiniz. Sağdaki Brit, soldaki ise Drit!”, der yaşlı adam burnundan soluyarak.

Arkadaki ikiz kız kardeşler baltalarını indirir gibi olurlar ancak Dridges işaret parmağını gösterecek şekilde bir elini kaldırınca baltalar da tekrar ‘hazır ol’a geçer.

“Bunların hepsi zaten bildiğim şeyler, Efendi Cathber. Bana bilmediğim bir şey söyle!”, der kız.

“Bu saçmalık! Sana, torunlarını göreceğin yaşa kadar bilmediğin şeyler söyleyip sıralayabilirim, Dridges!”, diye tamamen kızmış bir şekilde cevap verir Cathber. “Gökler adına kızım! Nezaketine ne oldu senin? Tekrar hatırlaman için seni annenin yanına mı götürmem gerekiyor?”

“Annem burada, Efendi Cathber. Kendisini gördüğünüzde beni şikayet edebilirsiniz.. Görebilirseniz, tabii..”, der Dridges kaşlarını çatarak.

“Margaret burada mı?”, diye hayretle sorar Cathber.

“Evet..”, der Dridges kısaca.

“Peki baban?”

“O gelmedi.”, diye aynı özlü şekilde cevap verir kız.

“Bu.. hayret verici bir durum. İkisinin birbirinden ayrı takıldıkları duyulmuş değil.”, diye mırıldanır yaşlı adam.

“Atıştılar ve aralarında bazı kızgın sözler geçti. Annem de kızıp buraya geldi.”, der Dridges tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde.

“Ahhaa..”, der Cathber sırıtarak. “Buna inanmak isterdim ama yaşlı, inatçı Galletor’un annenle karşılaşmasından sonra ağzından tek bir kelime bile çıkmadığını düşünürsek, ‘aralarında bazı kızgın sözlerin’ geçmiş olabileceğine inanması oldukça güç olurdu gibime geliyor.. Sınavı geçtim mi?”

 

Dridges Motherswolfie’nin ilk defa kaşları gevşer ve yüzünde güzel bir gülümseme belirir.

 

“Üç yıldızla, Efendi Cathber, üç yıldızla.”, der gülerek.

“Sadece üç mü? Ben kendime en az dört tane verirdim..”, diye homurdanır yaşlı adam. “Şimdi. Neler oluyor, Dridges?”

“Burada değil. Kampa döndüğümüzde.. Bir ağacın arkasına saklanıp bütün konuşmayı yaşlı bir adama bırakacak kadar cesur olan küçük dostun güvenir mi peki?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Efendi Brom..”, diye seslenir paslı sesiyle yaşlı Cathber. “Sana güvenilir olup olmadığını soruyorlar.. Güvenilir misin?”

“Hangi konuda?”, diye cevap gelir ağacın arkasından.

Arkadaki ikizlerden biri kıkırdar, sonra tekrar kaşlarını çatıp kıpırdamadan durur.

“Duruma göre değişiyor mu, küçük adam?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Hiç kimse her konuda güvenilir olamaz, ‘küçük kız’..”, diye alaylı bir şekilde cevap verir Brom ve arkadaki ikizler hayretle birbirlerine bakarlar. “İş yemek söz konusu olduğunda bana güvenemezsiniz çünkü gördüğüm her şeyi yiyebilirim.. Dwarf’lar yenilebilir düzgün yemek yapmasını biliyorlarsa tabi.. İş onura gelince, evet, güvenilir birisiyimdir.. Dwarf’lar onurdan anlıyorlarsa tabi!”

 

Ortam bir anda sessizleşir.

Efendi Cathber avucunun içine aksırır ve gülümsemesini gizler.

Dridges’in kaşları tekrar çatılır ve kıpkırmızı kesilir.

Arkadaki ikizlerin kaşları zaten çatılı olduğu için baltalarını kaldırıp ileri doğru bir – iki adım atarlar.

Dridges tekrar elini kaldırınca ikizler yine dururlar.

 

“Küstahsın, küçük adam!”, diye burnundan solur Driges.

“Sen de şımarığın tekisin, küçük kız!”, diye seslenir Brom.

“Efendi Cathber?”, diye fırtına gibi bir suratla bakar yaşlı adama Dridges.

Yaşlı adam omuzlarını silker ve kıza sırıtır.

“Bana onun güvenilir olup olmadığını sordun, o da sana tam olarak ne kadar güvenilir olduğunu söyledi işte. Efendi Hobbit sözünün eridir ve her zaman doğruyu söylemeye meyillidir.”, diye sakince cevap verir Cathber.

Dridges’in kaşları biraz daha çatılır.

“Hobbit mi? Ben hobbit’lerin çok daha nazik olduklarını sanırdım..”, der haşin bir sesle.

“Ben de dwarf’ların saygılı olduğunu sanırdım.. Belli ki ikimiz de yanılmışız!”, diye cevap verir Brom sırıtarak.

“Seni şuracıkta ikiye katlayabilirim!”, diye tıslar Dridges.

“Benim bir tanemle başa çıkamıyorsun, kızım. Bir de beni ikiye katladığında başına gelecekleri düşün!”, diye acımasızca güler Brom.

“Sen bittin, bücür!”, diye hırlar Dridges.

“Senden korkmamı bekliyorsan, Efendi Cathber’in az evvel bahsettiği torunlarını görünceye kadar bekleyebilirsin.. Evimden ayrıldığım günden beri gördüğüm şeyleri düşündüğümde, senin ‘Top On’ listeme bile girebileceğini sanmıyorum..”, diye haşin bir kahkaha atar genç hobbit.

“Öhöm..”, diye boğazını temizler Efendi Cathber. “Sanırım bu kadarı yeterli.. Efendi Brom? Sevgili Dridges?”

 

“Neden o ‘Sevgili’ oluyor?”, diye alınmış bir sesle söylenir Brom.

“Neden o ‘Efendi’ oluyor?”, diye harlar Dridges..

“Çünkü sen daha güzelsin, Dridges, ve sen de efendi birisin, Efendi Hobbit.. Yoksa ikiniz konusunda tamamen mi yanılmışım?”, diye sakince sorar Efendi Cathber.

İkiside susar.

 

Dridges fena kızmış bir şekilde burnundan solurken genç hobbit ise ağacın arkasından kıkırdayarak çıkar.

Kızarmış suratıyla, “Beni takip edin!”, diye emreder ve dönüp arkasını gider.

İkizlerse Efendi Cathber ve ‘küçük hobbit’in geçmesini beklerler, sonra da ikisinin arkasından yürümeye başlarlar.

“Efendi Cathber.”, diye seslenir bir tanesi. “Hangimizin, hangimiz olduğunu nasıl çıkarabiliyorsun her defasında? Annemiz bile karıştırıyor çoğu zaman.”

“Bu o kadar da zor değil, sevgili Dritmey.”, diye cevap verir yaşlı Cathber arkasına bile bakmadan. “Senin kaşının altında gözün var. Britney’in ise gözünün üstünde kaşı var!”

 

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

Arkada ise kafaları karışmış bir sessizlik oluşur.

 

Efendi Cathber, yanında yürüyen hobbit’e doğru hafif eğilir ve fısıldar.

“Orada biraz şansını zorladın gibi, Efendi Brom.”

“Aaaa.. Bilakis. Daha yeni başlıyoruz, Efendi Cathber!”, diye şeytani bir şekilde sırıtır Brom..

“Buraya bir savaş başlatmaya gelmedik, delikanlı.”, der Cathber.

“Kime karşı savaşacaklar? Bir savaş kampı dolusu dwarf, tek bir hobbit’e mi saldıracaklar? Bunu yaparlarsa bir daha asla ‘onurlarını’ kazanamazlar..”, diye pis bir şekilde sırıtır Brom.

“Hmmm..”, der yaşlı adam. “Yolculuğuna dair bana anlatmadığın bazı şeyler var gibi.”

“Yolculuğum esnasında yaşadığım birçok şeyi size anlatmadın, Efendi Cathber. Bunu biliyordunuz.”, diye cevap verir genç hobbit.

“Evet. Ve hayır. Bana anlattıklarında dürüst ve samimi olduğunu biliyordum, ama eksiklerin de farkındaydım. Bununla beraber, burası ‘küçüklerin’ oyun sahası değil. Yapmayı düşündüğün şey her ne ise, bunu da hesaba katmanı rica ediyorum.”, der Cathber temkinli bir şekilde.

“Burası ‘büyüklerin’ oyun alanı ise, o zaman doğru yerdeyim, Efendi Cathber.”, diye acımasızca cevap verir Brom.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Genç Brom, Elder Hills’e açılan dar vadiden Efendi Cathber, Dridges ve ikizler eşliğinde geçtiğinde, tam olarak kendilerine yöneltilmemiş olsa da, vadinin duvarlarında ve tepesinde gizlenmemiş onlarca arbaletli dwarf muhafızı fark etmez bile. Ancak iki saatten biraz daha uzun süren ‘dar’ yürüyüşün sonunda açılan tepelere vardıklarında gördüğü manzara, genç hobbit’in ağzı açık bir şekilde etrafına bakınmasına sebep olacak kadar da ürkütücü gelecektir. Uzun yürüyüş boyunca kimse pek konuşmamış, sadece yaşlı Cathber bir sefer Dridges’e, kendisi gibi bir taktik general eğitimi alan birisinin vardiya görevinde ne işi olduğu sorusu olmuştu.

Dridges’in buna verdiği cevap, kızın gerçekte ne kadar kızmış olduğunu gösterecek kadar sert ve özlü olmuştu.

“Lağımcı yada general, herkes vardiya görevinde bulunur ve kimse de bu görevden muaf değildir. Bu, vardiya görevinin ne denli önemli olduğunu herkese hatırlatmasının yanı sıra, bu en düşük gibi görünen işin nüanslarını unutmasını da engellemiş oluyor zira düşman vardiyalarınızı sessizce aşarsa, ne kadar ordunuz olduğunun pek az önemi kalmış olur. Aldığım eğitimin bana verdiği tek ayrıcalık, vardiya komutanı olmam ve karar ve emirleri benim veriyor olmam. Bu şekilde ben ablalarıma emir vermeyi öğrenirken, ablalarım da sorgusuz sualsiz küçük kız kardeşlerinden ve gocunmadan emir almayı öğreniyorlar..”

Genç Brom bu cevap karşısında biraz hayrete düşer ve hafif arkasını dönerek, hangisinin hangisi olduğunu kestiremediği ikizlerden birisine sorar.

“Eee? Küçük kız kardeşinizden gocunmadan emir alabiliyor musunuz peki?”

Onun bu sorusuna ikizlerden bir tanesi haşince ‘fırk’larken diğeri kıkırdayarak cevap verir.

“Ben ve Drit.. ikimiz de Dridges’den çok daha iyi birer savaşçıyız ve bir muharebede birimiz bile onun kesebileceğinin en az üç misli düşman kesebiliriz..”, der.

“Ama..”, diye devam eder diğeri (Dritmey), “..aynı muharebede Dridges bizi yönlendirirse, bu sayı en az dört misline çıkar. Senin rakamlarla aran nasıl bilmiyorum Efendi Hobbit ama bu bana makul bir takas gibi geliyor. Dolayısıyla hiç gocunmadığımız gibi, gerçekte gocunmak için de bir sebebimiz yok..”

“Dahası..”, diye sözü tekrar alır Britney, “Dridges’i herkes sever. Aramızda en akıllı, en merhametli ve sevgi dolu olanımız o dur. Bana öyle bakma, ufaklık. Ona söylediğin şeyler o an itibariyle komikti. Ama tamamen de yersiz ve isabetsiz di ve onu kızdıran, gerçekte söylediklerin değil, bir taktik komutanı olarak ‘sükunetini’ kaybetmiş olmasındandı. Taktik generali eğitimi alanların, duyduklarını kontrol edebilmeleri gerekiyor.”

“Sevgili Dridges..”, der Dritmey ve aralarında paslaşıp durdukları sözü devam ettirir. “..pek sevdiği evinden ve özellikle de büyük ablası Lady’den göreceli bir şekilde yeni ayrılıp buraya geldi ve daha bazı şeylere duygusal olarak alışamadı. Sizden ricam, onun üstüne fazla gitmemenizdir..”

“Neden?”, diye sorar Brom, kaşlarını çatarak. “Bu benim sağlığım için kötü mü olur?”

“Hayır. Dridges iyi bir kızdır ve tam bir hanımefendidir. Öyle adice şeyler yapmaz. Onu ne kadar kızdırırsan kızdır, seni tehdit eder ama tehditleri boştur çünkü gerçekte o can yakmayı sevmez. Kendi halinde bırakılmış olsaydı o kızın burada işi olmazdı çünkü o sanatı çok seviyordu. Ama dedemiz Argail Smitefast onun ne kadar zeki, sakin ve sabırlı olduğunu gördü ve eğitim için benzer özellikler gösteren ablasını Serenity Home’a, bir Tapınak Muhafızı olarak, Dridges’i de buraya, bir Taktik Generali olarak yetiştirilmeye gönderdi.”

“Öyle görünüyor ki dedeniz başkalarının hayatlarıyla biraz fazla ‘demir yumruk’ politikası uygulamasını seven bir şahsiyetmiş.”, der Brom ister istemez.

Britney omuzlarını silker.

Dritmey ise biraz kaşlarını çatar.

“Belki.. Ama toplum bir bütündür, Efendi Hobbit. Her ne kadar bireysel tercih ve keyfiyetlerimiz önemli olsa da, toplum var olduğunu sürece bu tercihlerimizin bir anlamı vardır. Dridges duvarlara resim çizmek istiyordu. Dedem ona savaşın yaklaştığını, başladığında ve ortada bir duvar kalmadığında resimlerini nereye çizeceğini sordu. Dridges günlerce ağladı. Ama daha çok çizilecek bir duvarın kalmayışına.. Sonra da toparlanıp buraya geldi. Şimdi ise keyifle resimlerini çizebiliyor artık. Hayatımda gördüğüm en güzel, en ayrıntılı savaş taktik haritaları onun elinden çıkıyor!”

“Dolayısıyla..”, diye lafı alır Britney. “..size kız kardeşimizin üstüne fazla gitmemenizi rica ederken bütün bunları kastediyorduk..”

“..ve tabii..”, diye sırıtarak devam eder Dritmey. “..Dridges bir hanımefendi olabilir.. Ama biz birer hanımefendi değiliz, öyle değil mi, kız?”

“..Ahahahaaa.. Hayır!”, diye haşince ‘fırk’lar Britney. “Hanımefendilik dağıtılırken biz yemekhanede bi şeyler atıştırmakla meşguldük ve geldiğimizde hepsi çoktan bitmişti! Dahası..”

“..sevgili Dridges adîce şeyler yapmaz..”

“..ama biz bunda hiç bi sakınca görmüyoruz!”..

..diye bitirir ikizler, ikisinin de suratında aynı pis sırıtış belirir.

“Ne yani.. ikiye tek mi bana saldıracaksınız?”, diye biraz tırsmış bir şekilde sorar genç hobbit.

“Saldırmak.. çok ağır bir itham, Efendi Hobbit. Biz sadece ve adîce pislik yapmaktan bahsediyoruz…”

“..ve işin en güzel yanı nedir biliyorsun, Efendi Hobbit?”

“Hayır ve içimden bir ses bilmesem de olur, diyor..”, diye tamamen tırsmış bir sesle cevap verir genç hobbit.

“İkiz olmanın en güzel yanı; her zaman seni başka yerlerde görecek şahitlerin olmasıdır!”

 

Efendi Cathber kıkırdar.

Brom yutkunur.

Bu ikisi.. çok adîdir!

 

İkizler arsızca gülerken geçtikleri dar vadi bitmiş ve Brom hayretle vadinin açıldığı tepeleri görmüştü..

Elder Hills, bir çok tepeden oluşan bir yerdir ancak tepelerin arasında geniş arazileri de vardır ve genç hobbit bu arazilerde binlerce dwarf’ın, farklı bölük ve kıtalar halinde, avazları çıkıncaya kadar bağıran eğitim çavuşlarının emirleri doğrultusunda  bir o yana, bir buyana düzenli yada emre göre dağınık gruplar halinde koşuşturmalarına şahit olur!

Gruplardan bazıları ise, kazılmış çukurlarda arbalet atış talimi —ki bir emirle yüzlerce, kısa mızrak boyunda arbalet okunun inleyerek havada uçuşup, toplu bir şekilde ve daha çok gör gürültüsünü andıran bir hışımla da hedeflerini delik deşik etmelerini yada benzer çukurlarda yüzlerce başka dwarf’un birbirlerine dev baltalar, koca kılıçlar yada külçe gürz, çivili topuz ve ağır savaş tokmaklarıyla dalmalarını seyreder..

“Oha..”, diye ünler Brom.

“Sana burasının geleneksel anlamda bir yerleşim yeri olmadığını söylemiştim, Efendi Hobbit.”, diye kıkırdar yaşlı Cathber. “Burası bir savaş eğitim kampı.. Neredeyse bütün Elder Hills böyle.. Burada otuz bine yakın dwarf, sabah akşam, her türlü koşul için eğitim görürler.”

“Peki.. bu kadar dwarf’u kim besliyor?”, diye cılız bir sesle sorar Brom.

“Bir çok yer.. Bazı techizat ve özellikle de arbalet uçlarında kullanılan zırh delici mithral-çeliği ve diğer ucunda değerlendirilen tüyleri Nurturing Heaven elf’lerinden alıyorlar. Ahşap ve kerestelerin neredeyse tamamını Dim Lodge’dan, yiyecek ve lojistiği Serenity Home ve ta Sim Town ve Arashkan’dan, arbalet ve diğer savaş makinelerinin belirgin bir kısmını Tinker Hills gnome’larından, bütün bunları destekleyen ekonomiyi, dwarf gücünü ve kılıç, balta, gürz, zırhlar ve kalkanları da Scowling Hills dwarfları imal edip tedarik ediyorlar.”

“Pe.. peki bütün bunların uyum içerisinde gerçekleşmesi nasıl oluyor? Burada bir çok ırk söz konusu, Efendi Cathber.”, diye hayretle sorar Brom.

 

“Zamanında.. Çok eskiden.. Bundan neredeyse beş yüz yıl kadar önce, Serenity Home denen kasabanın kurulduğu yere bazı erdemli adamlar ve bilge kadınlar yerleşmeye karar verdiler. Tek istedikleri huzur içerisinde yaşamaktı ama kısa bir sürede de istedikleri huzurun gerçekleşmesi, daha da önemlisi; devam etmesi için, bölgede yaşayan diğer ırklarla aralarında barışın da olmasın önemini gördüler ve aradan geçen yıllarda onlar ve onların çocukları.. ve torunları.. bu ırklarla bazı anlaşmalar yaptılar. Bu anlaşmalardan bazıları ticari, bazıları da askeri anlaşmalardı. İçeriği her ne olursa olsun, Serenity Home yaptığı anlaşmaların kendi payılarına düşen kısmını imtina ile onurlandırdıkları için, diğer ırklarda bu anlaşmaları bozmadılar. En nihayetinde de bu gördüğün yerde, Elder Hills’de bu ‘savaş okulu’ oluştu ve varlığı geçmişte kendisini defalarca ispatladı; Themlasar Savaşından sonra ortaya çıkan dört ayaklanmada da, burada eğitim alan dwarflar varlıklarını onurlu bir şekilde gösterdiler..”, diye anlatır Efendi Cathber, tatmin olmuş bir sesle.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Yaşlı Cathber’in gelişini dwarf’lar temkinli bir mutlulukla karşılarlar. İşin tenminli yanı genele hitap ederken, mutlu yanı ise Dridge’i karşılaşayan, saçlarının bir yanı kazınmış çarpıcı bir dwarf kadın ve beraberindeki diğer dwarf’larca olur. 

“Sevigili Cathber..”, diye muhteşem bir gülümsemeyle yaklaşır dwarf kadın ve hiçbir utanma yada çekingenlik belirtisi göstermeksizin yaşlı adama sarılır ve sesli bir şekilde yanağından öper!

“Sevgili Margaret..”, der yaşlı adam ve gülerek söylenir. “Bluntaxe, genç ve yakışıklı erkeklere sarılıp öptüğünü biliyor mu?”

 

Margaret’in buna gösterdiği tepkisi biraz ürkütücüdür;

Dwarf kadın, genç bir kız gibi ve kıpkırmızı olmuş bir şekilde kıkırdar!

Kadının etrafındaki diğer dwarflar ise birden, hiçbir şey olmamış gibi tamamen alakasız yerlere bakınmaya başlarlar.

 

“Hadi gelin.. Tam yemek vaktini yakaladınız.”, der Margaret ve durup muzipçe yaşlı adama bakar. “Aslına bakılırsa her gelişinizde tam yemek vaktini yakalıyor olmanız dikkatimden kaçmış değil!”

Yaşlı adam biraz utanarak güler.

“Bu sadece bir tesadüf, sevgili Margaret. Ve tamamen asılsıl suçlamalarlardan ibaret.”

Margaret tekrar kıkırdar ve topluca şantiye şeklinde inşa edilmiş, Brom’un görebildiği kadarıyla gerektiğinde seri bir şekilde demonte edilip ihtiyaç duyulduğu bir başka yerde tekrar bir araya getirilebilecek onlarca, en olarak yirmi yarda, boy olarak ise elli yarda uzunluğunda tek katlı binalardan birisine götürür. Giderlerken daha kendisini tanıtmamış olan küçük hobbit’in hayrına, Margaret yanındakileri tanıtır.

Bu gördüklerin benim buradaki kızkardeşlerim;

Marideth Brave,

Yor Whatoo,

Drejeret Quik,

Quin Stabsez..

..ve Yulanda Madsteam. Normalde Yulanda burada bek takılmıyor ama Tinker Hills’den yeni gelen bazı makinaların konfigirasyonları yapılmaları gerektiği için geldi buraya. Gnome’ların icatlardan ve cihazlardan bu kadar anlamalarına rağmen, laftan hiç anlamıyor olmaları ne kadar acıklı değil mi?”, diye açıklar Margaret.

Efendi Cathber buna nazikçe bir şey demez.

“Kaç defa kendilerine, imal ettikleri cihazların bize uyumlu olması için gerekli verileri göndermiş olmamıza rağmen, ısrarla kendi ayarlarının daha ‘geçerli ve optimal’ olduğunu iddia edip o şekilde imal etmeleri içler acısı bir durum..

Bunlar da erkek kardeşlerim;

Bruden Burnthammer..

..ve Goric Boarshoulders. Diğerleri ise kızlarım; Dridges, Britney ve Dritmey ile zaten tanıştınız.

Bu da Nikelix Carver. Lillias Absentwhot ve Jeina Blond’da buralarda bir yerlerdeler. Lillas alacaklılar ve birileriyle anlaşıp ‘el sıkışmakla’ ilgili bir şeyler söyleyip duruyordu günlerdir. Oğlanlar burada değiller.”

“Uhhmm.. Bütün kızları getirmişsin neredeyse Margaret..”, diye, kısık ama imalı bir sesle söylenir yaşlı Cathber.

Margaret’in yüzü hiçbir şekilde kızarmaz. Tam aksine ciddi bir ifadeyle cevap verir buna.

“Akraba evliliklerini hiçbir zaman tasvip etmemişimdir. Doğan çocuklar biraz çatlak oluyorlar. Buradaki ‘stok’ sağlıklı ve güvenilir. Ordu eğitimi de olsa en azından bir eğitimden geçmiş durumdalar. Tamamı okuma yazma biliyor ve neredeyse hepsi en az iki dil, ve bir ana meslek, bir de destek mesleğe sahip.”, diye açıklar. Sonra anlaşmışlar gibi esefle toplu bir şekilde gözlerini yuvarlayan kızlarına bakar ve burnundan soluyarak açıkça bir şekilde onları tehdit eder. “Eğer beni utandırırsanız, eve dönünce hepinizin saçlarını yolarım ona göre. Burada olduğumuz süre boyunca hepinizden birer ‘kız’ gibi davranmanızı istiyorum ve eve döndüğümüzde de en az yarınızın yanında size kene gibi yapışmış bir erkeğin olmasını bekliyorum. Erkek kılığında bir odun olsa da olur. Bana torun verin yeter!”

“Babam da mı sana bir kene gibi yapışmıştı anne?”, diye muzipçe sorar kızlardan biri —Nikelix Carver.

İkizler kıkırdarlar.

Margaret kaşlarını çatar.

“Babanla ben elli iki saat balta ve topuzla birbirimize vurmaya çalıştık. Ben çok uğraştım ama en sonunda onun bana vurmak için değil, sadece topuzumu kendisine isabet ettirmemi engellemek için balta savurduğunu anlayınca kendisiyle evlenmeye karar verdim. Aranızda o kadar taşaklı onanınız varsa, lütfen, size engel olmayayım.. Gidip o erkeği bulun!”, diye hırlar.

“Anne!”, diye hayret ve utançla inler Dridges.

İkizler yine kıkırdarlar.

“Çok ayıp ama anne.. Hele yabancıların yanında öyle konuşulur mu?”

“Söylesene bana, Dridges.. Sen kaç çocuk doğurdun? Dahası, o kavga olurken, Efendi Cathber de yan masada oturmuş bizi seyrediyordu!”

Dridges kıpkırmızı olmuş bir şekilde susar.

“Siz de ne her şeye kıkırdıyorusunuz, pembe elf kızları gibi?!”, diye ikizleri de bir güzel haşlar Margaret.

“Şu babam değil mi?!”, diye ünler Nikelix birden ve aksi istikamete işaret eder.

Margaret, yüzünde hayet ifadesiyle kızın gösterdiği yöne bakar ama orada kimseyi göremez. Kaşları çatılı bir şekilde geri döndüründe Nikelix tüymüştür!

İkizler aynı anda ‘fırk’lar.

Dridges’den garip, ‘hık’ sesleri duyulur.

Brom suratını büzüştürürken Efendi Cathber ise, yüz yılların verdiği engin tecrübelerine sığınır, ve herhangi bir ses çıkarmamayı başarır.

“Nikelix..”, diye burnundan solur Margaret ve ancak bir annenin sahip olabileceği bir sevgi ile karışık hiddetle döner ve yemekhane şantiyesine doğru yürümeye başlar.

 

“Margaret hanım.. Burada sözü geçen biri, sanırım?”, diye fısıldayarak sorar Brom, Efendi Cathber’e.

“Öyle de denebilir. Babasının Argail Smitefast olduğunu, Smitefast’in de Scowling Hills’in defacto lideri olduğu düşünürsek.. Şunu anlamalısın, Efendi Brom; Argail Efendi, Sim Town’dan ta Endless Sea denizine, Ritual Ormanlarının kuzeyindeki Rook dağlarından da ta Tinker Hill’in güneyine kadar ki engin topraklardaki bütün dwarf’lardan sorumludur ve iyi kötü hepsine sözü geçer. Halihazırda kızının gücü o kadar değildir ama kendisi de bütün dwarf’larından sorumludur. Bu, yabana atılabilecek bir güç değildir. Buna rağmen ne sevgili Margaret, ne de babası Argail Smitefast bu gücü kötüye kullanmamışlardır ve komşularıyla her zaman iyi ve adaletli geçinmeyi tercih etmişlerdir.”, diye yüzünde ciddi bir ifadeyle anlatır Cathber.

Bunu duyan genç hobbit, kaşları çatılı ve gözleri de kısılmış bir şekilde Margaret Madish’i takip eder zira aradığı kişiyi bulmuştur.. 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Margaret Madish yemekhane kapısından içeri girince etrafını süzer, sonra da yemek sırasına girer. Kızları, kız kardeşleri ve Efendi Cathber’da peşinden sıraya girince Brom’da hayretle etrafına bakınarak peşlerinden sıraya girer.. Yemek sırası, genç hobbit’in hayatında daha önce hiç görmediği bir mefhumdur ve kocaman kazanların başında durmuş dwarf aşçıların, herkesin tabaklarına tamamen aynı yemekten ve aynı miktarda koyuşunu hayretle izler. Dwarflar da gıklarını çıkarmadan içinde dört çukuru olan, dikdörtgen şeklindeki tabaklarını alırlar, diğer çukurlara da meyve, tatlı ve ekmek doldururlar, birer çatal, birer kaşık ve bir tane de bıçak alarak gidip masalardan birine çömerler. 

Sıra Brom’a geldiğinde iri dwarf aşçı ona iki kaşı da kalmış bir şekilde bakar. Brom’da aşçının kendisine bakmasına bakar ve öylece durur. İkisinin de bir birlerine bakışları sonucundan düzeli bir şekilde hareket eden sıra da bir anda duruverir.

“Evlat. Daha ne kadar orada durup bana bakmaya devam edeceksin?”, diye sorar tozlu bir sesle aşçı.

“Bilmem. Siz bana baktığınız için ben de size baktım.”, der Brom hiçbir şey anlamamış gibi.

“Tabildotun.. Uzatırsan içine yemek koyabilirim!”, der aşçı kaşlarını çatarak.

“Tabildot?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

Aşçı esefle dolu derin bir soluk verir.

“Çaylak..”, der, bu her şeyi açıklıyormuş gibi.

Aşçının kendisine ‘çaylak’ demesiyle, hemen yanındaki dwarf’da ‘çaylak..’, der, elindeki kendi boş tabildotunu ona uzatır ve bir anda sıra boyunca bütün dwarflar, bir sağındaki dwarf’a ‘çaylak..’, der ve sıra boyunca büyün dwarflar ellerindeki tabildotu bir solundaki dwarf’a uzatır!

“Evet. Artık bir tabildotun var.. Şimdi onu bana uzatırsan, artık bu aç askerleri doyurabilirim..”, der aşçı.

Kıpkırmızı olmuş bir şekilde Brom tabildotunu uzatır, aşçı da tabildottaki en büyük çukura iri kepçesiyle yoğun et ve fasülyeli bir şey boşaltır.

“Ummm.. Tek alternatifim bu mu?”, diye sorar tabildotundaki yemeğe bakarak.

“Yemekten hoşlanmazsan, çıkıştaki ‘şikayet kutusuna’ derdini anlatan bir mektup bırakabilirsin. Ama bunun sana pek de bir faydası olmaz zira şikayetleri okuyacak vaktim yok!”, der aşçı, yüzünde haşin bir sırıtışla!

Brom somurtarak ilerler ve elmalı turtamsı bir şey olması gereken tatlıdan alır, biraz setleşmiş elmalardan ve son kullanma tarihi geçmek üzere olan bir de ayran alır.

Bu sırada yemeklerini almış olan Margaret ve taifesi, neredeyse tamamı çoktan dolmuş yemekhanede boş gördükleri, gerilerdeki masalardan birisine doğru yönlenirler.

Masaların yanından geçerken, ne zaman geri geldiği anlaşılamayan Nikelix, bir anda tabildotuyla yanlarında belirir, Dridges’e göz kırpar, ikizlere sırıtır, sonra döndüğü gibi yan masadaki dwarf’lardan birinin eline çatalını saplar!

Masada oturan dwarf bir anda ‘offf’ diye inler ve çatala uzanır ama Nikelix çatılı olduğu yerde tutmaya devam eder. İkizlere verdiği sırıtışın aynını dwarf’a da verir ve acıdan kıvranan cücenin kulağına eğilir, “Kalçamı istiyorsan, gerisini de alman gerekir. Buna gözün kesmiyorsa ellerine hakim olmayı öğrenmelisin Torkan!”, diye mutlu bir şekilde tıslar..

Masada oturan diğer dwarf’ların hepsi iri kahkahalarla gülmeye başlarlar.

Brom hayretle başını sallar ve kendi ellerinin bu kaçık dwarf kızlardan olabildiğince uzak olduğundan emin olmak istiyormuş gibi sımsıkı tabildotunu kavrar ve küçük bir hamster gibi Efendi Cathber’in peşinden ilgili masaya doğru koşturur.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Doğrusunu söylemek gerelirse Genç Brom, Elder Hills dwarf’larını biraz fazla ‘heyecanlı’ ve hırçın bir ırk olarak bulsa da yine de onların sıcak ve cana yakın halleri, bıyık altı espri anlayışları ve sımsıkı birbirine kenetlenmiş ‘aile yapıları’, istemese de hoşuna gider. Yemekler için aynı şeyleri söyleyemez ama. Fevkalade besleyici olmakla beraber, dwarf yemeklerinin tadı kendi standartlarına göre, aynı fevkaladelikle ‘berbattır’!

Dwarf’lar, olağandışı bir şekilde sessizce ve tam anlamıyla da ‘ortalarında’ oturan hobbit’i umursamazlık etmezler ve nezaket kurallarını ihlal etmeyecek şekilde ona bakışlar atarlar ama ona bulaşmazlar. Bununla beraber, aralarında yaptıkları espriler de bir şekilde onun anlayacağı ve onu da güldürecek şekilde olmasına dikkat ediyor gibidirler.

Dridges arada bir ona sert bakışlar atarken, emredilmişler gibi ikizler ise onu aralarına almış, konuşmalar esnasında geçenlerin ‘açıklamalarını’ ve ‘yorumlarını’ aktarıp dururlar genç hobbit’e.

Uzun, kıvırcık kızıl saçlı Marideth ona gülümseyerek göz kırparken, Quin Stabsez ise ona, sanki biraz fazlalığı varmış da onları nasıl alırım, gözüyle bakar. Masanın en ucunda Yulanda Madsteam, yemek öncesi, yemek esnasında ve yemek sonrası ağzından eksik etmediği pis kokan, tütün sarmasıyla sessizce oturmayı tercih ederken muhabbetin merkezinde Yor Whatoo.. teyze? abla? adam? —Brom bu dwarf’un ne olduğunu tam olarak çıkaramaz ama sormaya da korkar. Oldukça iri cüsseli olan Yor’un yüzündeki tüyleri açıkça bir erkek olduğunu söylerken, davranışları ve herkese ‘Şekerim!’ diye hitap etmesi başka bir şeyler söylemektedir. Yor.. Teyze.. büyük bir iştahla ne kadar dedikodu varsa kendisine has üslubuyla mutlu bir şekilde ortaya saçar ve yan masalardaki dwarf’lar dahil hepsini gülmekten kırıp geçirir. Efendi Cathber bile en sonunda “Yor Teyze, yeter! Bu yaşlı adamı öldürmek mi istiyorsun?”, diye inler. 

“Aaaa.. Hikayenin asıl lezzetli yerine gelmedik daha, şekerim!”, diye söylenir Yor Teyze ve bu da yeni bir kahkaha zincirine sebep olur.

“Evet..”, der Margaret en sonunda. “Sanırım hepimiz yedik, içtik, doyduk, dolduk ve güldük.. Elder Hills’de sizi tekrar görmek çok hoş, Efendi Cathber. Ama sizin iki hafta önce burada olmanızı tercih ederdik. Bize büyük yardımınız dokunmuş olurdu.”

“Neler oluyor, Margaret?”, diye birden ciddileşiverir yaşlı Cathber.

Margaret derin bir nefes alır.

“İki hafta önce birileri gizlice buraya girmeye çalıştılar. Üç farklı noktadan. Ve söz konusu üç noktadaki muhafızları da öldürerek bunu gerçekleştirdiler. Bu şahıslar buraya, Elder Hills ordu karargahına girip gizli bazı bilgilerimizi aşırdılar. Ancak hata yaptılar ve fark edildiler. Bir kısmı kaçmaya çalışırken diğerleri ise geride kalıp, ellerinden geldiği kadar çok gürültü ve hasar vermeye çalıştılar ve bunu da başardılar. Yine de sonunda öldürüldüler.. Ve evet, sen sormadan ben söyleyeyim, canlı yakalamaya çalıştık ama saldırıları bunu imkansız hale getirdi. Kaçanların peşlerine takıldık ve onları da öldürdük. En azından o zaman bu kanaate varmıştık. Nevarki çalınan evraklar imtina ile elden geçirilince, bazılarının eksik olduğunu fark ettik. Bu, ciddi bazı sorunlara sebep oldu. O belgelerde önemi bazı bilgiler vardı. Bizlerde o bilgilerin güvenlik açığı olarak aleyhimize kullanılamaması için, hemen yeni düzenlemeler getirdik. Korkarım yeni protokoller daha oturmadığı gibi, yeni uygulamalar da kendi sorunlarını beraberinde getirdi. Ortada tam anlamıyla bir güvenlik kaosu var, senin anlayacağın.”, diye anlatır haşin bir sesle kadın.

“Bu.. hem hayret verici, hem de fevkalade üzücü bir durum. Ben.. son bir yıldır bazı işlerim dolayısıyla ormanın bir ucundan diğerine koşturmak durumunda kaldım ve işim de daha bitmedi. Dim Lodge oduncuları bana, ‘kereste almak için’ geldiklerini söyleyen yeni bazı şahısların olduğunu, ancak herhangi birisinin daha tek bir dal bile almadıklarını söylediler. Elflerle görüşme fırsatım olmadığı için onların fark ettiği bir şeyler var mı bilemiyorum.”, diye işin kendi tarafını anlatır Cathber.

“Hmmm..”, diye söylenir Margaret düşünceli bir şekilde.

“Size tavsiyem, devriyelerinizin sıklığını ve mesafesini en az ikiye katlayın. Tercihen üç günlük mesafeye..”, diye önerir Efendi Cathber.

“Üç gün.. bu devriyelerin merkezle görüşebileceği yada haber ulaştırabileceği mesafenin üç katı..”, der dwarf kadın.

“Bu benim tavsiyem, Margaret. Ama devriyeleri yeterince sık aralıklarla çıkarırsanız yola, sanıyorum bu iletişim sorunuzu çözecektir.”

“Ve devriye masraflarımızı da en az on iki ile on altı katına çıkaracaktır.”, diye kaynar Margaret.

“Bu konuda Serenity izcileriyle iletişime geçebilirsiniz. Onların Elder Hills’in doğusunu taramalarını isterseniz, en azından bu devriye masraflarını biraz azaltacaktır. O izcileri sessizce geçip size doğudan yaklaşılması oldukça güç.”, der Cathber.

“Adi şerefsiz köpekler!”, diye köpürür Margaret birden. “Ortada hiçbir provokasyon olmadığı halde saldırdılar.. Onursuz çapulcular..”

“Onurmuş!”, diye birden bi laf kaçar Brom’un ağzından..

 

..ve bütün yemekhane sessizliğe bürünür.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Margaret Madish’in gözleri bir anda hiddetle parlar ve masanın öbür tarafında ve az ilerisinde oturan küçük hobbit’e bakar. Genç Brom’un sağında ve solunda oturan ikizler ise sanki görünmek istemiyorlarmış gibi kıpırdamadan öylece dururlar oturdukları yerde.

“Bir şey mi dediniz, Efendi Hobbit?”, diye burnundan solur Margaret.

“Evet, dedim.”, diye huysuzca cevap verir Brom.

“Yanlış anlamış mıyım, acaba? Buraya geldiniz. Adınızı bile daha vermemiş olmanıza rağmen, sizi soframıza misafir ettik, afiyetle yemeğimizi yediniz, muhabbetimize şahitlik ettiniz ve siz, Efendi Hobbit, bizim onurumuzu mu sorguluyorsunuz?”, diye sessizce sorar dwarf kadın.

“Adımı vermedim, çünkü sormadınız. Sofranıza misafir ettiğiniz için ben de yemekleriniz hakkında yorum bile yapmadan yedim. Ama beni bu iki bayan arasına sıkıştırarak, bana şüpheli muamelesi yaptınız. Siz bana söyleyin, Margaret hanım, doğru anlamış mıyım?”, der Brom haşin bir şekilde.

 

Margaret Madish’in gözleri kısılır.

Efendi Cathber ise sesini çıkarmaz.

 

“Neden onurumuzu sorguladığınızı bize açıklar mısınız? Size ne gibi bir yanlışımız oldu da bizi ve onurumuzu sorguluyorsunuz?”, diye kaynayan bir sesle sorar Madish.

“Siz.. Sim Town’dan Endless Sea denizine, Rook dağlarından da Tinker Hills’in güneyine kadar uzanan topraklardaki bütün dwarf’lardan sorumlu değil misiniz?”, diye sorar aynı haşin sesle genç hobbit.

“Bu biraz fazla muallak bir tanımlama oldu, Efendi Hobbit zira bahsettiğiniz topraklarda birçok dwarf yaşıyor.”, der Margaret.

“Dwarf’larının sorumluluğunu üstlenemeyen sizinle neden konuşuyorum ki o zaman? Bana gerçek sorumluyu gösterin.”, diye kendi gözleri kısılmış bir şekilde cevap verir Brom.

 

Margaret Madish’in yüzü kıpkırmızı kesilir.

 

“Aradığınız kişi, babam Argail Smitefast’dir ama kendisi şu anda burada değiller. Bununla beraber, onun sorumlulukları, benim sorumluluklarımdır. Size tavsiyem kendinizi açıklamanızdır zira bu masadan ya ikimiz de canlı kalkacağız, yada sadece birimiz kalkıp gideceğiz!”, der fırtına gibi bir ifadeyle.

“Siz misafirlerinizi hep böyle tehdit mi edersiniz? Ve bana onurdan bahsediyorsunuz! Öyle olsun bakalım..”, diye sessizce yanmaya başlar Brom.

Sonra, yavaşça ayağa kalkar ve herkesin göreceği şekilde oturduğu bankın üstüne çıkar ve dwarf kadına işaret ederek bağırır;

“Madem dwarf’larınızdan siz sorumlusunuz ve kendileri burada olmadığı için Argail Smitefast adına konuştuğunuzu söylüyorsunuz, o zaman, Margaret Madish, sizi Gulls Perch cinayetlerinden sorumlu ve suçlu buluyorum!”

 

Bütün yemekhane ayağa kalkar.

Ortamda ne kadar dwarf varsa hepsinin ellerinde baltaları, kılıçları, topuzları olduğu halde kapkara olmuş suratlarla hobbit’in olduğu yere yürümeye başlarlar.

 

“Margaret.”, der Efendi Cathber sakince. “Efendi Hobbit benim dostum. Ona burada bir şey olursa, Elder Hills’in kepenklerini indirmek zorunda kalırsınız ve ben bununla da yetinmem.”

Margaret hayretle Brom’a, sonra da yaşlı Cathber’e bakar.

“Sizi dostum sanmıştım Efendi Cathber.”, diye fena halde kırılmış bir şekilde fısıldar Margaret.

“Ve bu konuda da her zaman haklıydın, sevgili Margaret zira ben hala ver her zaman senin dostunum. Ama genç hobbit’in ithamlarını cevapsız bırakamazsın ve susturamazsın.”, diye nazikçe cevap verir yaşlı adam.

 

Margaret kaşlarını çatar, sonra bir elini kaldırır ve bütün dwarf’lar oldukları yerde dururlar.

 

“Bu fevkalade ciddi bir itham, Efendi Hobbit. Bizim Gulls Perch ile herhangi bir ilişkimiz yada alıp veremediğimiz yok. Orası bize ait değil, asla da olmadı. Orada fey’ler yaşar ve bizler de onların yanlız bırakılma isteğine saygı gösterir ve onlara bulaşmayız. Orası bize yasak!”, der Margaret.

“O zaman bana açıklar mısınız? Bundan 1 yıl, 6 ay ve 28 gün önce orada dwarf’larınızın ne işi vardı?”, diye gırtlağını yırtarcasına haykırır genç hobbit. “Makinaları ile maden ve değerli taş çıkarmak için oradaydılar ve zehirli atıklarını vadinin sularına boşaltarak oradaki bir çok fey’in ölmesine sebep oldular.. O dwarf’lar ve beraberlerinde getirdikleri paralı fedaileriyle savaşmak zorunda kaldım ve bu bana çok pahalıya mal oldu!”

Margaret bir anda bir şeye uyanmış gibi gözleri de, omuzları da çöker..

“Bu dwarf’lar.. sorumluluğumuz olan toprakların dışından gelmiş olabilirler, Efendi Hobbit.”, diye konuşur ama sesinde belirgin bir umutsuzluk var gibidir.

“Mad Ussa!”, diye hırlar Brom. “Başlarındaki ve elimden kurtulmayı başaran tek dwarf’un adı buydu! Bu isim size tanıdık geliyorsa ve azıcık onurunuz varsa bunu itiraf edersiniz!”

 

Margaret Madish’in bir anda beti benzi atar ve içi boşalmış su tulumu gibi ezilir.

Dridges’inde..

O masadaki bütün dwarf’lar bir anda çökerler..

 

“Bu ismi biliyoruz, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Margaret sessizce.

“Sizin dwarf’larınızdandı demek!”, diye köpürür Brom.

“Evet. Bir zamanlar bizim dwarf’larımızdandı.. Romilus “Mad” Ussa.. benim oğlumdu..”

“Ve hayvanın da tekiydi..”, der yan taraftan Dridges ağlamaklı bir sesle. “Ablam burada olsaydı kahrolurdu şimdi.”

 

Brom ise çoktan kahrolmuş bir suratla iki dişi dwarf’a da bakar..

..ve kendi omuzları da çöker..

..zira aradığı suçluları bulmuştur, ama istediği adaleti bulamayacaktır.

 

“Bu.. size neye mal oldu, Efendi Hobbit? Mümkünse telafi etmek isteriz.”, der Margaret dolu gözlerler.

 

Genç Brom öylece Margaret Madish’e bakar..

..ve olduğu yerde titreyip hıçkırmaya başlar.

 

“Bana mal olanı ödeyemezsiniz, Margaret hanım. Mad Ussa benden Aremela’mı aldı.. ve o paha biçilmez, tertemiz bir ruhtu..”, der..

..ve bir anda tamamen dağılır.

 

Brom Bumblebrim, son 1 yıl, 6 ay ve 28 gün boyunca içinde sakladığını, bastırıp unuttuğunu, sindirip sildiğini sandığı kaybı, kahrı, utancı ve acısı bir anda ve tamamen kurtulur ondan ve küçük bir çocuk gibi ağlamaya başlar.

 

“Senin Mad Ussa’n onu öldürürken, o katiline değil, benim yüzüme bakmayı seçti. O.. o kadar saf.. ve sevgi dolu bir kızdı ki.. Beni kurtarmak için kendi hayatını feda etti.. Bunun nasıl bir telafisi olabilir ki?”

 

Margaret Madish kırılmış bir anne olarak, olduğu yerden, hıçkırıklarla ağlayan küçük hobbit’e bakar.

Yaşlı Cathber ise, boşlukları en sonunda doldurulmuş hikaye ile ne yapacağını düşünüyor gibidir.

Dridges çöktüğü yerden kalkar, masanın etrafından dolanır ve genç hobbit’in yanına gelir. Yüzleri buruşmuş olan ikizler kenara çekilirler ve kız kardeşleri küçük hobbit’e sarılır.

 

“Ben.. bir zamanlar abim olan Ussa’nın yaptıklarından dolayı ne kadar özür dileyeceğimi bile bilmiyorum. Ussa’nın aramızdan kovulmasının sebebi bendim halbuki. Yıllar önce beni ve Lady ablamı içeren ahmakça bir işe kalkıştı ve bunun sonucunda da topraklarımızdan sürüldü.. Belli ki ona vermemiz gereken ceza bununla kalmamalıydı.”

 

Brom sakince Dridges’in kollarından kurtulur ve kızın annesine, Margaret Madish’e yaklaşır.

 

“Gulls Perch fey’lerinin kaybını telafi edemeyiz. Ama bir şekilde bunun, ödeyebileceğimiz bir karşılığı olmalı, Efendi Hobbit”, diye önünde dikilmiş ve kendisine acımasızca bakan küçük hobbit’e yalvarır Margaret.

“Yapılan cinayetlerin bir karşılığı yok, Argail Smitefast kızı Margaret Madish..”, der Brom gözleri gibi acımasız kelimelerle.

 

Genç hobbit’in sesinde ürkütücü ve hayret uyandıran bir güç vardır sanki ve etrafındaki herkes korkuyla büyülenmiş bir şekilde bakarlar ona.

 

“Ama size ait olana eksik verdiğiniz cezayı telafi edebilirsiniz.”

“Nasıl?”, diye sorar Margaret, kerpiç gibi olmuş bir ifadeyle..

 

“Katilin annesi olarak sen ve onurun.. Gulls Perch’e geleceksiniz ve orada kaderinizle yüzleşeceksiniz. Çocuklarınız da Gulls Perch’e herhangi bir başka ölümlünün bir daha izinsiz girmesini engellemek için vadinin girişine, fey’lerin uygun gördüğü yer ve mesafeye bir karakol kuracaklar ve her yıl, her gün ve her saat orayı koruyacaklar. Bu artık sizin boyun borcunuz ve onurunuz olacak. Sözünüzde durduğunuz sürece kaderiniz devam edecek. Onurunuzdan döndüğünüz günde ise kaderiniz bitecek!”, diye yankılanır Brom’un kati sesi tüm şantiyede.

 

Masadaki herkes ve yemekhanedeki bütün dwarf’lar dehşet ve korkuyla küçük hobbit’e bakarlar zira bunlar, Argail Smitefast kızı Margaret Madish’den istenebilecek ezici taleplerdir ama seslerini çıkaramazlar ve kıpırdayamazlar çünkü sesin kendisinde de ezici bir güçtür vardır..

Efendi Cathber kısılmış gözlerle küçük hobbit’e bakar ve sessizce fısıldar;

“Titania?”

 

Margaret Madish ise sadece başını eğer ve “Kabul.”, der.

 

“Sana sunulan kadere boyun eğip senden talep edilenleri kabul ediyor musun, Margaret Madish?”, diye sorar Brom, haşin bir sesle.

 

“Kabul ediyorum.”, der Margaret.

 

“Oğlunun cürümü karşılığında ödemeyi kabul ettiğin cezayı çekmeyi göze alıyor musun, Margaret Madish?”, diye sorar Brom, acımasızca.

 

“Kabul ediyorum.”, der kadın sessizce.

 

“Oğlun bizden pek sevdiğimiz canları aldı. Onun bizden aldığı sevgililerimiz karşılığında onu ve cezasını bize bırakmayı kabul ediyor musun, Argail Smitefast kızı Margaret Madish?”, diye sorar Brom, zalimce..

 

“K.. Kabul ediyorum..”, der Madish ve kadının hıçkırıkları duyulur.

 

“O zaman seni ve onurunu, bir ay ve bir gün içerisinde, vadimizin girişinde bekliyor olacağız!”, der Brom..

 

..ve dolu gözler, boş bir ruh, yıkık bir dünya ve kırık bir kalple oradan ve Elder Hills’den ayrılır çünkü bir çift lafını söylemiştir.

 

 

 

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” IX ile
devam edecek..

 


 

 

dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi role play serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens tundra walkers

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VII

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VII

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” VI ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

16.05.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Mayıs ortası.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Güzel, naif bir aile.. Ve kızları, küçük Morel, pek şeker bi şeydi. Muhteşem bir hayal gücü var. Bana büyüyünce, teyzesini öldüren kurtlara karşı savaşan ateşli bi savaşçı olacağını söyledi. Sonra da beraber oynadığımız teatral hikayede şövalyeyi canlandırdı.”, der Brom sessizce.

Yaşlı Efendi Cathber eşliğinde Brom, ertesi sabah erkenden Dim Lodge’dan ayrılmışlar ve geniş çaprazlar çizerek batıya yönelmişlerdi. Oduncu köyünden ayrılmalarından sonra yaşlı adam sabırlı bir sessizliğe bürünmüş ve inatla ilk konuşanın Brom olmasını beklemişti sanki.. Yaşlı adamla yeterince uzun bir süredir beraber olan genç hobbit, adamın bu hamlesinin farkına varır ve karşıt bir sessizlik içerisine girer ancak yedi yüz küsür yaşındaki ‘hafif deli’ adamın ezici sabrı karşısında yenik düşer.. Yada yenik düşmeyi tercih eder, çünkü nezaket bunu gerektirir!

Yaşlı Cathber ise sessizliği ilk bozan Brom’a bu konuda bir şey söylemez, sadece kendi kendisine gülümsemekle yetinir —çünkü kendisine tekabül eden nezaket de bunu gerektirir..

“Eee..?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam. “Sevgili küçük Morel şövalyeyi oynadıysa, sen kimi canlandırdın?”

 

Brom derin, esef dolu bir nefes verir.

“Hikayenin sonda kurtarılan prensesi!”

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar..

 

“Teyzesi.. Seraphim.. Gerçekten kurtlar mı öldürdü onu?”, diye yine sessizce sorar Brom.

Esefle dolu nefes verme sırası yaşlı adama geçmiş gibidir.

 

“Seraphim Silverdûne.. Tel’Shee dim’Ora’ – Nurturing Heaven, buranın hemen batısındaki orman elf köyünde doğmuş, peri kızı gibi bir elf’di.. Başından kum gibi dökülen altın saçlı, gülümsediğinde güneş gibi açan, ince ruhlu, tertemiz bir kalbi olan, cesur, gördüğüm nadir kızlardan biriydi ve küçük Morel’in annesi, Seleina’nın da pek yakın arkadaşıydı.. Sanırsın ki elf’ler elf’lerle, insanlar da insanlarla birlikte olurlar.

Seraphim mantar, Seleina’da biberiye toplarken ormanda hasbel kader karşılaştılar ve beklenmedik bir şekilde, iki topluluk da komşu olmalarına, ticaret dışında da hiçbir etkileşimleri olmamasına rağmen arkadaş, dost, sırdaş ve ‘kız kardeş’ oldular.

Ormancılar bu durumu pek de umursamadılar. Bu onların çok da tahammülkar olmalarından değil, işleri dışında pek az şeyle ilgilenmelerinden dolayıydı. Elf’ler ise.. Elf’ler, Seraphim’in bir ‘insan’la arkadaşlık etmesini hiç hoş karşılamadılar ve ona yaptırım uygulamaya kalktılar. Ama o bunlara boyun eğmedi ve arkadaşı ve sırdaşı olan Seleina’dan vaz geçmedi ve en nihayetinde de tabusal uzaklaştırmaya mahküm edildi..

Ahmaklık..

Zavallı Seraphim buruk bir şekilde evinden ve elf’lerden ayrıldı ve Dim Lodge’a ve Seleina’nın ailesiyle beraber yaşamaya başladı.. ve Aramsis’in ağabeyi olan Darien’e vuruldu.. Darien ise Seraphim’i ilk gördüğü andan itibaren gözü başka hiçbir şey görmez olmuştu zaten. Bir anlamda, bir ailenin iki çocuğu olan iki erkek kardeş, bir başka ailenin iki çocuğu olan iki ‘kız kardeş’le evlenmiş oldular..”

 

Efendi Cathber uzun bir süre sessizliğe bürünür.

“Sonra ne oldu?”, diye merakla sorar Brom.

 

“Sonra.. Seraphim ve Darien’in, Laila adında fevkalade güzel bir kızları oldu ve Seraphim kendi köyünden uzaklaştırılmasından beri ilk defa, ve bir anne olarak tekrar bir güneş gibi parlamaya başladı.. Genç Darien’i görmeliydin. Sanıyorum gururdan biraz daha kasılmış olsaydı, kırılıp ortadan ikiye bölünecekti.. Eşi ve kızını o kadar seven gördüğüm nadir erkeklerden biriydi ve bence gurulanmakta da haklıydı.. Kardeşi Aramsis ve Seleina ise o kadar şanslı olmadılar zira zavallı Seliena iki defa düşük yaptı. Sevgili, küçük Morel’e ebelik yapmamın da sebebi biraz bundan kaynaklanıyordu. Sevgili Seliana’yı pek seviyordum ve kendi elde edemediğimi onun sahip olmasını çok istiyordum..”

 

“Darein ve Seraphim’in kızı, Laila.. ona da mı sen ebelik yaptın?”, diye sorar Brom.

Cathber’den buna uzun bir süre cevap gelmeyince Brom kahkayı basar.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına, Dim Lodge’da ebelik yapmadığın biri var mı, senin?”, diye gülerek sorar genç hobbit.

“Lütfen, Efendi Hobbit.. Öyle deyince kulağa hiç hoş gelmiyor. Dim Lodge oduncuları dünyanın en naif insanları sayılmazlar. Ancak oradalar ve benim açımdan pek önemli olan bir görevi icra ediyorlar..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Nedir o görev?”

“Dimwoods elf’lerinin, kendi dünyalarına çekilip çevreleriyle, dolayısıyla da dünyanın geri kalanıyla da olan etkileşimlerinin kesilmesini sırf varlıklarıyla engellemiş oluyorlar.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Efendi Cathber.

“Dur bir dakika..”, der Brom ve kafasında hızlı bir hesap yapar ama denklemin bir sonuca varması için gerekli bir hanesi eksiktir. “Dim Lodge, ne zamandır orda duruyor?”

“Bayadır.. Neden sordun?”, der Cathber biraz temkinli bir şekilde.

“Ahhaaa! Hiçbir yerin ortasındaki o köy.. Themalsar savaşından sonra kuruldu, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Evet.. Ne olmuş ki? Themalsar savaşı oldukça uzun yüz yıllar önce oldu.. Ve o köyün kurulduğu yer de ‘hiç bir yer’ değil.”, diye alınmış sesle cevap verir yaşlı adam.

“O köyün kurulmasını sen sağladın!”, diye ünler Brom birden.

“Ben.. uhhmm.. bu konuda bazı şahsiyetleri.. ikna etmiş olabilirim.. zamanında..”, diye, cılız, utanmış bir ifadeyle söylenir Cathber.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına! Bu ormanda elinin değmediği bir şey var mı?”, diye hayretle sorar genç hobbit.

“Vardır, herhalde.. Orman mütemadiyen nefes alan ve değişken bir bütündür.”, diye geçiştirmeye çalışır yaşlı adam.

“Ama neden?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“Uhhmm.. sorduğun soru biraz muallak, Efendi Hobbit. Biraz daha spesifik sorarsan sanki kendimi daha az utandırmış olacağım.”, diye söylenir Cathber.

“Peki o zaman.”, der Brom. “Neden orada, hiçbir yerin kıç kıyısında bir köy kurdurttun ve neden her yerde parmağın var?”

 

“Uhhmm.. Öncelikle, ‘hiçbir yerin kıç kıyısı’ ifadene alındım. O bölge ağaç bakımından fevkalde verimli bir bölge. İşlenen ağaçlardan elde edilen kerestelerden ev, mobilya, at arabası, gemi, silah, mancınık ve daha bir çok şeyde kullanılabilecek üç farklı ağaç türünün uyum içerisinde yetiştiği bir bölge. Diğer sebebini zaten söyledim. Elf’ler biraz fazla kendi içlerine kapanmaya başlamışlardı. Themalsar Savaşında bunun zararlarını çok acı bir şekilde gördük. Kimse kimseyle konuşmuyordu. Kimse kimseye inanmıyordu. Kimse kimsenin sıkıntılarını umursamıyordu.. Ve düşman bu durumu aleyhimize çok iyi bir şekilde kullandı. Savaş bir – iki yılda lehimize bitebilecekken, dört – beş yıl sürde ve neredeyse aleyhimize bitiyordu.. O savaşın bugün bile kaç ‘on bin’ hayata mal olduğu bilinmiyor.. Ben sadece bunun bir daha tekrarlanmasını istemiyordum ve ellerimi havada sallayıp hayıflanmaktansa bu konuda bir şeyler yapmaya karar verdim, ve yaptım da. Neden her şeye burnumu sokmamla alakalı soruna gelirsek, bu.. şimdi cevap verebileceğim bir soru değil, Efendi Hobbit. Belki bir gün. Sadece şimdi değil.”, der Efendi Cathber ve genç Brom bu yaşlı adama, yaptıklarına, uzak görüşlülüğüne ve, bir anlamda, acımasızca alıp uyguladığı kararlara hayret eder.

 

“Hikayenin devamını dinlemek istiyor musun, istemiyor musun?”, diye biraz utanmış, biraz da deşifre olmuş olmanın verdiği rahatsızlıkla söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Tabi ki dinlemek istiyorum.”, der Brom ister istemez.

 

Laila doğduktan sonra Seraphim’in ailesi için işler biraz değişmeye başladı. Çocuklar ve torunlar.. bazen bir topluğun tüm inadını kırabiliyorlar. Ne kadar ilginç, öyle değil mi? Bir bebeğin, dünyadaki en aciz varlığın, böylesi muazzam bir etkisi olabilmesi.. Halbuki, Seraphim’e yapılanlardan dolayı elf’lerle şahsen görüşmeye gitmiştim ve söylediklerim bir kulaklarından girip diğerinden çıkmıştı.. Sevgili Seraphim’in geri dönmesine izin vermediler. Ama o kızcağız da artık dönmek istemiyordu. Dim Lodge’da bir evi, aşık olduğu bir erkeği ve yepyeni bir dünyası olan bebek Laila’sı vardı.. Neden geri dönsün ki? Bebek Laila büyümeye başlayınca elf’ler de ister istemez bazı kıpraşmalar oldu. Kızın kendi öz kültüründen tamamen kopuk, daha da kötüsü, annesine yapılanlardan sonra, elf’lere düşman olarak büyümesini istemiyorlardı ve en sonunda, küçük Laila’yı da getirmesi koşuluyla Seraphim’in ailesini ziyaret etmesine müsaade ettiler..

Dediğim gibi..

Ahmaklık..

O kız yaz demeden, kış demeden dört yıl boyunca neredeyse her ay küçük Laila ile birlikte iki gün süren o yolculuğu yaptı. Nevarki bir seferinde Seraphim’in babası hastalandığı için, elf’lerle ticaret yapan küçük bir grupla çıktı yola. Hava fevkalade soğuk olduğu için de Laila’yı almadı yanına. Ve yolda kurtların saldırısına uğradılar. Gruptan ağır yaralanmış bir şekilde sadece iki kişi kurtulabildi ve ne yazık ki Seraphim kurtulanlar arasında değildi.

Elf’ler cenazenin kendi köylerinde yapılmasını istediler —oldukça da yüzsüzce bir şekilde. Zavallı Darien ormancılarla elf’ler arasında bir sorun çıkmasın diye büyün hiddetini içine attı ve buna sesini çıkarmadı. Laila’yı kardeşi Aramsis ve  teyzesi Seleina’ya bıraktı ve elf’lerin köyüne, cenazeye gitti. Seliena o an hamileydi ve kız kardeşine olanlardan ötürü de tam anlamıyla perişan olmuştu. Cenazede elf’ler Seraphim’e olanlardan dolayı Darien’i suçlamaya kalktılar ve genç Darien’de onlara bir ormancı olmanın ne demek olduğunu harika bir şekilde göstermiş oldu. Tabii bu güzel Seraphim’i geri getirmediği gibi üzüntüden mahvolmuş Seleina’nın da düşük yapmasına sebep oldu. Zavallı kız. Elf’ler, dostu, sırdaşı ve kız kardeşi olan Seraphim’in cenazesine gelmesine izin verilmedikleri gibi, kızcağız bir de bebeğinden oldu.

Darien o kışı Dim Lodge’da kızı, küçük Laila ile geçirdi, ilk bahar geldiğinde de nesi varsa toplayıp Dim Lodge’dan ayrıldı ve kızıyla beraber Serenity Home’a yerleşti. En nihayetinde ve ahmakça inatları yüzünden elf’ler hem kızlarından, hem de torunlarından oldular.. oldukça da onursuz bir şekilde.. Bütün bunlar yetmiyormuş gibi, elf’lerle ormancıların arasınının da ciddi bir şekilde açılmasına ve nefret odaklı sürtüşmelere sebep oldular. Sadece bu olayla, aralarında barış ve iletişim olması için verdiğim yüzlerce yıllık emeği neredeyse yok ettiler.

 

“Bu.. çok acıklı bir hikaye..”, der Brom sessizce ve düşünceli bir şekilde.

“Evet, Efendi Hobbit. Acıklı ve trajik bir hikaye. Aynı zamanda da ahmaklığın nelere mal olduğunu gösteren bir hikaye. İlginçtir, güzel Seraphim’in ölümünden sonra tam dört yıl boyunca neredeyse hiç durmaksızın Nurturing Heaven’a yağmur yağdı..”, der Efendi Cathber kindar bir sesle.

“Bunu senin yaptığını biliyorlarmıydı peki?”, diye sorar Brom ister istemez.

“Tahmin ettiklerinde eminim ama evim onların köyünden sadece bir gün mesafede olmasına rağmen bir kere bile bu konuda gelip benden bir talep yada ricada bulunmadılar. Sanıyorum yapacak başka işlerim olmasaydı, bugün bile o yağmur devam ediyor olurdu.. Elf’ler ‘başlarına geleni’ sabırla çekmeyi tercih ettiler ama dört yılın sonunda tarlaları da, ekinleri de tamamen mahvolmuştu ve ironik bir şekilde de Dim Lodge oduncularına muhtaç kaldılar.”, diye ekler Cathber, yüzünde haşin bir sırıtışla.

 

“Laila!”, diye ünler genç Brom birden. “Darien onu bir izci olarak yetiştirilmek üzere İzci Efendisi Davien’e vermek istiyordu!”

“İlginç..”, der Cathber ve dibinde yürüyen genç hobbit’e tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde bakar.

“İlginç olan nedir?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Senin bundan haberdar olman! Özellikle de bunun oldukça.. hatta fevkalade spesifik bir bilgi olduğunu düşünürsek..”, der yaşlı adam..

Brom birden gafına ayılır ve susar.

Efendi Cathber gülümser.

“Sorun değil, sorun değil.. Anlatmak istemiyorsan anlatmazsın, olur biter. Ama yolumuz uzun ve konuşmak daha keyiflidir.

 

Genç hobbit uzun bir süre sessizliğini korumayı tercih eder. Ama en sonunda başından geçenleri bu yaşlı ve ‘hafif kaçık’ adama anlatmaya karar verir. En azından bir kısmını.

Brom ilk ısırılışının ayrıntılarına girmez. Aslına bakılırsa ısırıldığı hiçbir durumdan bahsetmez ve olayı ‘içime doğdu’ yada ‘hobbit’lere özel bir yeti’ olarak geçiştirmeyi tercih eder. Nedenini kendisi de bilemez ama içinden bir ses, sanki bundan kimseye bahsetmemesi gerektiğini söyler ona —en azından şimdilik.

Genç hobbit evinden ayrılmasını, kuzeye, zigzaglar çizerek gidişini, yolda karşılaştıklarını, günlerce takılıp kaldığı haydut kampını ve Şerif Standorin, İzci Efendileri Davien ve Moorat’in o kampı basmalarını, oradan kaçışını, Croaking Mire’da başına gelenleri, pis ve bulanık suyun içine düşmesini, orada karşılaştığı dehşet yaratık ve ‘Muhafız’ kısmını atlayarak anlatır. Benzer bir şekilde Tinker Hills’e ‘uğradığını’, oradan da Miasmire’da yaşadıklarını, ‘merakından’ ve ‘hazır gelmişken’ görmek için Gulls Perch’in kenarından ‘teğet’ geçmesinden bahseder. Son olarak da Arashkan Irmağının kenarında kamp yapmak için durmasını ve yaşlı adamla karşılaşmasını, ‘İşte tam o sırada da siz çıkageldiniz!’, diye anlatır ve hikayesini bitirir.

“Bu.. fevkalade bir hikaye Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı Cathber. “Ve bunu benimle paylaştığın için teşekkür ederim.”

Brom tedirgin bir şekilde omuzlarını silker. Yaşlı adamın, anlatığı hikayeye inandığından emindir. Yaşlı adamın, anlatığı hikayedeki boşlukları fark ettiğinden de emindir. Ama bunları sorgulamamasından dolayı da memnun olur zira hikayesini, böylesi sansürlenmiş olarak anlatmış olması bile kendisi için büyük bir adımdır..

 

Cathber ve Brom, iki gün sonra Tel’Shee dim’Ora’Nurturing Heaven’a varırlar.

Yaşlı adamın kendisine Seraphim Silverdûne’ün trajik hikayesini anlatması sonrasında, elf’leri ve köylerini çok merak ediyor olmasına rağmen genç Brom oraya uğramak noktasında isteksizdir. Cathber ondaki bu isteksizliğini gördüğünde, ilginç bir şekilde onu zorlamaz, benzer bir isteksizlikle kendisi de gitmez. Onun yerine güneye, yaşlı adamın evine doğru yönelirler..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Uhhmm.. Senin evin bu mu?”, diye tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde sorar genç hobbit, önünde duran harabeye bakarak. Sonra söylediği şeyin kulağa nasıl gelebileceğine ayılır ve düzeltir..

“Bu mu senin evin?”

..diye!

“İlkini tercih ederdim, Efendi Hobbit..”, der yaşlı Cathber alınmış bir şekilde.

“Ben.. özür dilerim.. Ne dediğimi bilmiyorum.”, der Brom utancından kıpkırmızı olmuş bir suratla.

“Sorun değil, sorun değil. Benim gibi yalnız başına yaşayan deli bir berduşun, herhangi bir hobbit’in eviyle kıyaslanabilecek bir evi olması mümkün değildi zaten.”, der esefli bir sesle.

“Yani..”, deyiverir Brom ve daha da kızarmış yüzünü elleri arasında gizler.

“Bu yaşlı adamı daha fazla yerin dibine geçirme istersen!”, der Cathber biraz kızarak.

“İstemem. Söz.”, diye cılız bir sesle cevap verir genç hobbit.

 

Genç Brom, yaşlı adamın evine bakar ve içi cızlar. Evin kapısı yarı açıktır ve sarkık vaziyettedir. Çatısı çökmüş ve kiremitleri dökülüp her yere saçılmıştır. Duvarlarında bariz delikler vardır ve çöken çatı yüzünden de evin küçük pencereleri de dışa doğru pörtlemiştir..

 

“Uzun zamandır gelmemiştim buraya.”, der yaşlı adam sanki kendi kendisine konuşuyormuş gibi. “Evi dahi olsa, insanın geri dönmek için bir sebebi olmayınca.. eh.. bu hale geliyor işte. Bu da sana bir ders olsun Efendi Hobbit. Bir erkeğin ‘çatısı’ vardır ve sadece o çatının efendisidir. Bir evi ‘ev’ yapansa kadındır. Eminim bu ifademden hoşlanmayacak birileri olacaktır ama önce yedi yüz yıl benim yaşadıklarımı yaşasınlar, benim gördüklerimi görsünler, bende olmayanları da kendi hayatlarından çıkarsınlar, ondan sonra gelip bana vaaz etmeye kalksınlar!”

Yaşlı adam, yan yatmış açık kapısını doğrultur ve yerine oturtmaya çalışır. Çok kısa bir anlığına bunu başarmış gibi görünür ama kapı çatırdar.. ve tamamen çürümüş bir şekilde yere dökülür.

“Hmmm..”, der Efendi Cathber. “Sanırım bu sefer biraz fazla uzak kaldım. Kaç yıl oldu? Dört mü, beş mi? Hayır, sanırım altı yada sekiz yıl ama on iki olma ihtimali daha fazla sanki.. Tamam. Buldum.. On altı sene! Evet. Sanırım biraz fazla uzak kalmışım..”

 

Brom hayretle adama bakar ve kendisinin evinden, bırakın on altı seneyi, altı ay bile uzak kalabileceğini düşüne—

Genç hobbit hayretle olduğu yerde kalakalır zira evinden ayrılalı iki yıl ve dört ay geçmiştir bile!

Brom tam anlamıyla şok olmuş bir şekilde, öylece durur..

İki yıl, dört ay!

Bu.. bir hobbit’in evinden, bahçesinden, çiçeklerinden, annesinin yadigar fincanlarından, şöminesinin sıcaklığından, kitaplarından ve keyifli tembel hayatından uzak kaldığı ve belki de hiç duyulmamış bir süredir..

Bu basit hesap.. ve sonucu, genç hobbit’in bir anda korkmasına sebep olur. Sanki erişilemez, yıkılamaz, içsel ve kendisini bir hobbit yapan en temel tabularının yıkılması anlamına geldiğini hisseder. Ve ısırılmasına da tamamen bir başka açıdan bakmasına sebep olur.

 

“Öylece orada duracak mısın, delikanlı? Yoksa gelip biraz işin ucundan tutacak mısın?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam umutsuzca evine bakarak. Sonra adamın yaşlı omuzları çöker, ve evinin kapısından ayrılır.

“Gel, Efendi Hobbit. Herhangi bir şeye başlamak için biraz geç oldu. Bu gün burada kamp kuralım. Yarın, tazelenmiş bir şekilde kalktığımızda bakarız. Şayet en ufak bir umut ışığı görürsek, işe başlarız. Umut yoksa güneye, yolumuza devam ederiz..”, der yaşlı adam yenilgiyle.

Brom sesini çıkarmadan gider, kuru çalı çırpı ve dal toplar ve ufak bir ateş yakar. Sonra yakınlardaki bir çayırdan su getirir ve yaşlı adamın sepetinden biraz patates, biraz patlıcan, biraz da mantar çıkartır, gözü bir anlığına, aylar —neredeyse bir yıl— önce, ilk bu sepeti açtığında gördüğü ve bir şekilde hala tap taze kalmayı başarmış olan çileklere takılır, daha önce defalarca olduğu gibi yine gözlerini kaçırır, sepetin kapağını kapatır ve tekrar ateşin başına gelir. Sırt çantasından küçük kamp tenceresini çıkartıp içine önce su koyar, sonra da patatesleri, panlıcanları ve mantarları doğrayıp tencerenin içine atar ve kaynamasını beklerken de çadırını çıkartıp kurar.

Bütün bunlar olurken yaşlı Cathber ise devrilmiş bir ağaç kütüğünün üstüne oturmuş, kayıp bir ifadeyle evinden kalan harabeye bakar.

Genç Brom, yemek hazır olunca iki tabağa yemeği boca eder, tabaklardan birini sessizce yaşlı adamın yanına bırakır, diğerini ise kendisi alır, ateşin başına oturur ve yemeye başlar.

Ateş başında geçen her gece, muhabbet gecesi değildir. Bazıları sadece sessizce geçirilen gecelerdendir ve belli ki bu gece, o gecelerden olacaktır..

Brom, bir yandan yemeğini yerken, bir yandan da yaşlı adamı seyreder ve bir anda adamın yüzündeki ‘kayıp’ ifadenin derinliklerine ulaşıverir;

Bu yaşlı, mazbut, hafif deli gibi görünen ve tamamen bir berduş hayatı yaşayıp bu uçsuz bucaksız ormanı, içinde yaşayan ağaçları, bitkileri, hayvanları, insanları, elf’leri, oger’leri, dwarf’ları ve genç hobbit’in daha görmediği ve muhtemelen de hiçbir zaman haberi bile olmayacak varlıkları korurken o kadar çok şeyinden vazgeçmiştir ki..

Adam, hayatında sevdiği tek kadını, beraber katıldıkları büyük bir savaşta gönderildiği afaki bir misyonda kaybetmiş ve bir daha bir başka kadının sıcaklığında huzur aramamış, devamlı görüp gözettiği ormanı dolayısıyla pek az uğradığı evi de artık bir harabeye dönmüştü..

Bu yaşlı ve yalnız adam şu anda bile belki sadece bir şeyi düşünmekteydi;

“Elime ne geçti?”

Yaşadığı 740 küsur yıl sonunda ve bütün yaşadığı ve yaşattıklarına karşın gösterebileceği hiçbir şeyi yoktu. Ne bir hayatı, ne bir sevgilisi, ne bir anıtı, ne de emeklerinin mirasıçısı olabilecek bir çocuğu..

Brom, kendi evinde, keyifli şöminesinin başında, annesinin antika fincanından çayını yudumlarken okuduğu kitaplarıyla yalnızlığın keyfini çıkarmasına karşın, ve çok da aceleye getirmemesi koşuluyla yine de bir gün güzel, mutlu bir kız bulma, ve zamanı gelince de çocukları olacağı umuduyla yaşamıştı. Yaşlı Cathber için ise bu asla olmamış ve belli ki artık olma ihtimali de yoktur..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Yaşlı Cathber, çekiç seslerine uyanır. Gece geç saatlere kadar oturmuş, sonra da derin bir hüzünle, öylece ateşin yanına kıvrılıp yatmış, şimdi de şiddetli bir baş ağrısıyla gözlerini açar ve etrafına bakınır. Sabah bitmek üzeredir ve öğlenin gelmesi de an meselesidir. Cathber ıkınarak kalkar ve, “Nedir bu gürültü böyle? Yaşlı bir adama kimsenin saygısı kalmadı mı artık?”, diye kış uykusundan erken uyanmış bir boz ayısı gibi asabice homurdanır.

“Günaydın, Efendi Cathber!”, diye genç hobbit’in aşırı mutlu sesini duyar ve sabahları ‘şirin’ kalkan gençler hakkında tam olarak ne düşündüğünü söylenmeye başlar.

“Kahvaltın, ateşin hemen yanında. Evinin arkasında biraz üzüm buldum. Hala hayatta olduklarını görünce toplayıp onlardan da koydum tabağa!”, der Brom aynı ‘şirin’ sesiyle.

Efendi Cathber yine homurdanır ama adı geçen tabağı görünce ister istemez susar. Tabağın yanında duran bir kova suyla ellerini ve yüzünü yıkar, sonra da oturup genç hobbit’in onun için hazırladığı kahvaltıyı yemeye başlar. Kalan son üzümleri de bitirince biraz kendine gelmiş gibi etrafına bakınır ve..

..öylece kalakalır.

Yaşlı adam hayretle evinin, yerine yeniden monte edilmiş kapısına, sökülüp, tamir edilip, tekrar yerlerine takılmış olan küçük pencerelerine,  kırılıp dökülenlerin yerinde yeni, doldurma tahta ve odunlarla kapatılmış duvarlarına bakar.

Başını kaldırdığında ise genç hobbit’i çatıda, kiremitlerle uğraşır halde bulur.

“Sen.. ne yapıyorsun evime?”, diye sorar hayretle.

“Bir şey mi dediniz, Efendi Cathber? Çok uzaktasınız. Dediğiniz şeyleri duyamıyorum.”, diye abartılı bir şekilde bağırır Brom.

Cathber kaşlarını çatar.

Tekrar ıkınarak ayağa kalkar ve genç hobbit’in üzerinde çalıştığı çatıya yaklaşır.

“Sana, evime ne yaptığını sordum.”, der yaşlı adam biraz asabice.

“Dün akşam siz, sabah olunca ‘en ufak bir umut ışığı varsa..’, demiştiniz..”, der Brom.

“Evet, demiştim.”, der yaşlı Cathber.

“Bende en ufak bir umut ışığı gördüm ve siz biraz yorgundunuz dün akşam, bende sizi uyandırmadan başlamaya karar verdim. Korkarım ben bir marangoz olmadığım için bazı yerleri ahşaptan ‘vitray’ tekniği kullanarak kapattım. Bir ara ormancılardan gelip onları düzgün ve kalıcı bir şekilde tamir etmelerini istemeniz gerekecek. Eminin rica ederseniz, buna gönüllü olacak bir kaç tanesi çıkacaktır. Kiremitlerin bazıları da kullanılamaz halde kırılmışlar. Onların yerine de az ileride ki çayın kenarında bulduğum geniş ve yassı taşları yerleştirdim ve aralarını da içine saman karıştırılmış çamurla kapattım. Gönüllü gelecek ormancılardan onları da tamir etmelerini isteyebilirsiniz.”, diye cevap verir Brom.

Cathber biraz daha kaşlarını çatar ama bir şey demez.

Yaşlı adam sesini çıkarmayınca Brom biraz rahatlamış bir şekilde tekrar kiremitleri çakmaya başlar. İşi bittiğinde kayarak aşağı atlar.

“İçeriyi de biraz süpürüp temizlersek, oturulabilir bir hale getirmiş oluruz. Müsait olduğunuzda ormanın bu tarafında ufak bir yağmur yağdırırsanız, nereler akıtıp sızdırıyor, görmüş oluruz.”, der. “Sonra da bahçeyle uğraşırız. Ben marangoz olmayabilirim ama bahçe olayından çok iyi anlarım.”

“Neden?”, diye sorar Cathber.

“Ne, neden?”, diye anlamamış gibi Brom’da yaşlı adama sorar.

Cathber, genç hobbit’e sessizce bakar.

Brom omuzlarını silker.

“Ben bir hobbit’im, Efendi Cathber. Bu ne demek biliyor musun?”, der ciddi bir sesle.

“Bu oldukça muallak bir soru Efendi Hobbit—”, diye başlar Cathber ama Brom araya girer.

“Bir hobbit, üç temel elementten oluşur, Efendi Cathber.”, der aynı ciddiyetle. “Birincisi; tembelliği, ikincisi; konforu.. üçüncüsü ise; EVİ! Bu üç elementin olduğu her yerde mutlaka bir hobbit vardır!”

“Bunun benim evime yaptıklarınızla alakasını kuramadım, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde.

 

“Siz tembellik nedir bilmezsiniz ve tembelin halinden de anlayamazsınız, Efendi Cathber. Bildiğinizi sandığınız şeye de gerçekte tembellik denemez. Konfor ise bugüne kadar sizin yakınınızdan bile geçmemiş belli ki.. Dolayısıyla sizden asla doğru düzgün bir hobbit olmaz! Ama bir ev, Efendi Cathber.. Herkesin ‘evim’ diyebileceği bir yeri olmalı.. Ve sizinki yıkılmış. Bir hobbit olarak, tembel fakiri olmanıza tahammül edebilirim. Konfor yoksulu oluşunuza da müsamaha gösterebilirim. Ama buna—”, der genç hobbit ve evi gösterir. “—sessiz kalmam mümkün değildi!”

 

Yaşlı Cathber alık alık önünde duran hobbit’e bakar ve söyledikleri şey zavallı adamcağızın zihnini çarpıtır!

Neden sonra mırıldanır.

“Uğraşınız için teşekkür ederim, Efendi Brom. Ama nadiren uğradığım bir yerdi burası..”

“‘Kimin kime faydası dokunur, kimin kime yardımı olur hiç belli olmaz bu dünyada..’ Bunlar sizin sözlerinizdi.. Zamanı gelince hepimiz, istesek de, istemesek de gideceğiz. Ama bir hobbit olarak son dakikama kadar tembel ve konforlu bir şekilde ve şu anda içinde olmasam da yine de bunun eviminde olmasını istiyorum. Gerçekte siz nadiren buraya uğramıyorsunuz, Efendi Cathber. Siz, buraya gelmemek için çaba gösteriyorsunuz..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bunu takip eden iki hafta boyunca genç Brom ve yaşlı Cathber evin tamiri ve bahçe düzenlemesiyle uğraşırlar. Bittiğinde evin hala herhangi bir hobbit’in eviyle kıyaslanacak durumu yoktur, ama üç temel elemente de sahiptir; tembelce ve konforlu bir şekilde oturulabilir ‘ev’..

“Hmmph!”, diye homurdandır yaşlı Cathber, göreceli bir konforla yanan küçük şöminenin önünde çarpık sandalyesinde oturmuş, elinde bir kenarı çatlamış eski fincandan sıcak çayını yudumlarken.

“Ne oldu?”, diye sorar genç hobbit, kendi oturduğu yerden, ayaklarını şömineye doğru uzatmış, bir başka fincandan kendi sıcak çayını hüpletirken. Genç hobbit’in fincanı çatlak değildir ve yaşlı adamın fincanı ile aynı setin parçası da değildir. Bu fincan, ortalama bir alıcının gözünde sadece burun kıvırtacağı kadar yıpranmıştır. Bir antikacı ise, üstünde bir zamanlar incelikle işlenmiş, pembe varak çiçekleri görecek ve fincanın yüzlerce yıllık ve paha biçilmez olduğunu, ağzı sulanarak itiraf edecektir —en azından kendisine!

“İtiraf etmeliyim ki bu yağmur altında ıslanmaktan daha keyifli.”, der adam.

“Di mi ama?”, diye keyifle sırıtır Brom ve çayından bir yudum daha hüpletir.

“Fazla rahat..”, der Cathber ve kendisi de çayını yudumlar.

“Ahhaaa..”, der genç hobbit. “Zamanla alışacağından eminim. Ama her ‘ilaç’ gibi, bunun da işe yaramasına izin vermelisin..”

Yaşlı adam ‘fırk’lar..

..ve aralarında duran küçük, iğreti tehpanın üzerindeki kil tabaktan bir kurabiye daha alır.

“Hamur işinden, bahçeden anladığın kadar anlıyorsun. Bu kurabiyeler harika. Hele onları bir fırında değil de bu acınası şöminede yaptığını düşününce..”

“Tembeller, dünyadaki en kuvvetli hayal gücüne sahip insanlardır..”, diye kendisi de kurabiyelerden bir tanesine uzanır, hafif çayına bandırır, sonra yemeye başlar.

“Eminim bunun için mantıklı bir açıklaman vardır.”, der Cathber.

“Tabii.”, der genç hobbit, tekrar sırıtarak. “Tembel olmaya devam edebilmek için, ‘bunu en çabuk ve en kestirme yoldan nasıl yaparım da tekrar şöminemin önünde mutlu bir şekilde oturabilirim?’ düşüncesinin üstesinden gelemeyeceği bir hayal gücü yoktur bu dünyada..”

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar.

“Teşekkür ederim, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber. “Bunca yıldan sonra ilk defa ‘evim’ oldu.. Evim ve baktığımda rastgele çalı çırpı yerine düzenli bir ‘bahçem’..”

“Ben teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber. Sayenizde kendi başıma asla göremeyeceğim şeyleri gösterdiniz bana.”, diye samimi bir şekilde cevap verir Brom.

 

Cathber bunun üzerine sessizleşir.

Şömineden mutlu çatırtılar gelir.

Dışarıda hava kararır.

Uzun bir süre fincan, hüpletme ve kurabiye ‘kıt’latması dışında hiçbir ses duyulmaz.

 

“İstersen..”, der düşünceli bir şekilde yaşlı adam, neden sonra. “Seni evine gönderebilirim..”

“Ne? Nasıl yani?”, diye irkilir genç hobbit birden ve elindeki antika fincanı neredeyse düşürür.

“Benim ne olduğumu sanıyorum ki artık tahmin etmişsindir. Hoş, gizlemek için özel bir çaba da sarf etmemiştim doğrusu.”, der Efendi Cathber.

“İlk karşılaştığımızda, fırtınayı çağırdığınızı söylediğinizde bazı kuşkularım oluşmadı değil. Ayrıca burası için devamlı ‘ormanım’ ifadesini kullanmanız, başlı başına bir ilamdı.. Ama siz mevzu etmediğiniz için ben de nezaketsizlik etmek istemedim.”, diye itiraf eder genç hobbit.

“Bundan dolayı ayrıca teşekkür ederim.”, der yaşlı adam. “İstersen.. kapımın önündeki çınar ağacından, senin evinin bahçesindeki çınara bir kapı açabilirim. Teknik olarak hedef ağaca dokunmuş yada en azından onu görmüş olmalıydım, ama beraber olduğumuz bu son bir yıl boyunca bahçenden ve bahçendeki ağaçlardan, ve özellikle de çınarından o kadar çok bahsettin ki, görmüş gibi ayrıntılarını zihnimde canlandırabiliyorum.”

Brom hayret.. ve özlemle oturduğu yamuk sandalyede kalakalır.. Konuşmak için bir kaç defa ağzını açar ama herhangi bir ses çıkmaz.

Dahası, hemen yanınada peyda olan garip.. ve biraz da ürkütücü bir ‘hissin’ varlığına ayılır ve o his ona bu tercihin tamamen kendisine ait olduğunu ve önündeki ‘dönmek’ ile ‘devam etmek’ arasındaki iki seçenek ona kati bir şeyler söyler.

Geri dönerse evine, sıcak şöminesine, annesinin yadigar fincanlarına, kitaplarına, kıtır kurabiyelerine, ve muhtemelen de tembel, konforlu evinde mutlu bir şekilde yaşayıp gideceğini..

Devam etmesi halinde ise, evinden ayrıldığı geceden beri karşılaştığı bütün şeylerin aynısını ve çok daha fazlasını yaşayacağını, dahası bir gün geri döndüğünde, evine dair adı geçen şeylere kavuşmasına rağmen, muhtemelen bir daha mutlu olmayabileceğini söyler ona..

 

Brom Bumblebrim, kendisini dikkatle izleyen yaşlı Cathber’a bakar.

“Neden ben?”, diye soruverir.

Yaşlı adam, ona sessiz bir dakika boyunca bakar. Sonra gözlerini kısarak cevap verir.

“Sorunu yanlış kişiye soruyorsun, Efendi Hobbit. Ama düşünmen gereken asıl şey, sorduğun soru da değil.”, der ona.

“Nedir peki düşünmem gereken şey?”, diye sorar Brom kayıp bir sesle.

Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig sırıtır.

“ÇÜNKÜ sen..”, der.

Genç hobbit kaşlarını çatar.

“Hiç bi şey anlamadım.”, der hafif gıcık olmuş bir ifadeyle.

Yaşlı adam omuzlarını silker, yanında duran tabaktan bir kurabiye daha alır, kendi çayına bandırır ve ağzına atar.

“Ben de anladığımı söylemedim zaten!”, diye kıkırdar.

“Hiç yardımcı olmuyorsunuz, Efendi Cathber..”, diye homurdanır Brom.

 

“Sana bir seçenek verdim, delikanlı. Sanıyorum, sadece bu seçeneği sana sunmuş olarak bazı şeyleri anlama fırsatı da doğurmuş oldum. Gerisini senin düşünmen lazım.

Ben, bana verilen seçeklerden, bunca yüz yıl sonra ‘Elime ne geçti?’, diye sorulduğunda vereceğim cevap, ‘Hiç bir şey!’ olacak. Ama zaten yaptıklarım da asla benimle ve benim elde edeceğim kazançlarımla ilgili olmadı. Yaptıklarımı, ‘yaşadığımız dünya, ve bu dünyanın geleceği’ için yaptım.

Ben göçüp gittiğimde ve üzerinden yeterince zaman geçtiğinde bu dünyada kimse beni hatırlamayacak. Ama beni hatırlamayacak ‘özgür kimseler’ de olmuş olacak!”

 

Genç hobbit, muallak olduğu kadar da ‘kocaman’ olan bu cevap karşısında tökezler. Brom kendisini hiçbir zaman önemli biri olarak görmemiştir. Ancak evinden ayrıldığı geceden beri karşılaştığı şeyleri düşündüğünde; Croaking Mire’deki dehşet yaratığı, onun bu dünyada serbest kalmasını engellemek için binlerce yıldır başında nöbet tutan ‘Muhafızı’, büyülü korumaları dolayısıyla kimsenin giremediği Sessiz Gnome’ların köyünü ve orada yaşadıklarını, Gulls Perch’e girmesine ‘izin verilmiş’ olmasını, dünyada hayatta olan pek az ölümlünün oturup ‘muhabbet’ ettiği anne Titania’yı, onun vadisini kurtarmak için verdiği mücadeleyi ve bunun için yapmaz zorunda kaldığı şeyleri, güzel, saf ve olağanüstü Aremela’sını, ve garip bir ‘tesadüfle’ bu yaşlı adamla; yedi yüz kırk küsur yıl önce Themalsar’da savaşmış olan Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig ile karşılaşmasını düşünür.

 

“Göster bana.”, der sessizce.

Yaşlı adam ‘hımpf’lar ve yavaşça yerinden kalkar. Ağır adımlarla küçük kulübenin kapısını açar ve kararmakta olan akşam ışığında bile güzel görünen bahçesine çıkar.

Genç hobbit ise sessizce onu peşinden takip eder.

Yaşlı adam bahçesinin kenarındaki koca çınarın yanına geldiğinde nazikçe ağaca dokunur.

“Benden daha yaşlı bildiğim tek sen varsın. Tamara ile senin gölgende karşılaşmıştık, hatırlıyor musun?”, der yaşlı adam. Sonra Brom’a döner ve kıkırdar. “..Ve ilk kavgamızı da o zaman yapmıştık! İkimizde bu kıymetli ağacın hediye edeceği bir ‘asa’nın peşindeydik. İkimiz de asayı istiyorduk ve ikimizde hakkımız olduğunu düşündüğümüz o asadan vazgeçmek istemiyorduk. Tamara.. ateşli bir kızdı.. Ateşli ve inatçı.. Ben de inatçıydım ama sanırım onun kadar yakıcı bir güzelliğe sahip değildim!”

Brom, yaşlı Cathber’in eşinden bu kadar ‘mutlu’ bir şekilde bahsettiğine ilk defa müşahade eder.

“En sonunda ona, asayı alabileceğini, benim ise yeni bir asa için iki yüz yıl bekleyebileceğimi ve bunun sorun olmayacağını söyledim.”, der yaşlı adam ve dolu gözlerle gülümser. “Asayı o aldı. Ama ben de onu almış oldum! Hayatımda yaptığım en değerli, ve en güzel takastı bu..”

Brom gülmek ister ama nedense sadece kendi gözlerinin de dolduğunu hisseder.

“Senden küçük bir ricada bulunacağım, Tamara; bu delikanlının evine bir kapı açman. Geçtiğimiz bu bir yılda hayata dair unuttuğum o kadar çok şeyi bana farkında olmadan hatırlattı ki.. Ve bükülmüş evimi tekrar ayağa kaldırdı. Bence eve dönmek istiyorsa, bunu hakketti..”

Brom, yaşlı adamın ağaca eşinin adıyla hitap etmesini hayretle karşılar ve bir anda bu dünya hakkında ne kadar az şey bildiğini anlayıverir. Dahası, adamın neden evine dönmek istemediğine de ayılır.

Genç hobbit, Efendi Cathber’in ağaca neden ‘Tamara’ diye hitap ettiğini anlamaz. Ama her eve döndüğünde yada her kapısını açtığında ilk gördüğü şeyin o ağaç olması bu yaşlı adamı ne denli kahredebileceği konusunda bazı tahminleri vardır. Genç hobbit, kendisinin de bir gün bir ağaca ‘Aremela’ diye hitap edip etmeyeceğini düşünür..

Yada..

..yeleğinin pek az kullandığı iç cebinde sakladığı toğumları, hobbit evinin arka bahçesine ektiğinde yetişeceğini umduğu çileklere..

Aremela..

..diye mi hitap edecekti?

 

Yaşlı çınar birden esner gibi gerilir.

Ve gövdesinde, bir insanın eğilerek, bir hobbit’in ise hoplaya zıplaya geçebileceği bir gedik açılır..

Brom hayretle gediğin içinde Bowling Hills’i, sonra Greener Kasabasını, en sonunda da evinin güzel bahçesini, bahçesindeki ağaçlarını, çiçeklerini ve ailesinin ona bıraktığı güllerini ve.. evini görür..

Genç hobbit göz yaşları içerisinde dizlerinin üzerine çöker..

..zira Brom Bumblebrim kararını çoktan vermiştir.

 

Evet.

Bir gün evine, sıcak şöminesine, kitaplarına, annesinin yadigar fincanlarına, mutlu çörek ve kurabiyelerine, bahçesine ve güllerine geri dönecektir. Döndüğünde ise mutlu olup olmayacağı kati değildir. Ama evine tekrar ayak bastığında, iç cebinde sakladığı çilek tohumlarının, o tohumlar için verilen hayatın ve yapılan fedakarlığın hakkını da vermiş olarak dönmüş olacaktır.

 

“Gördüm ve teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber.”, der Brom sessizce.

“Gitmeyeceksin.”, der yaşlı adam ve bunu bir soru olarak sormaz.

“Bir gün, evet. Daha değil.. Evim ve tembel konforum hiçbir yere gitmiyorlar. Ama ben şimdi gidersem, elime bir daha geçmeyecek, ve belki de sadece küçük bir hobbit’e ihtiyaç duyulabilecek fırsatları da kaçırmış olacağım.”

 

Efendi Cathber, yüzünde belirmiş bir kahırla yavaşça kapanan gediği seyreden küçük dostuna bakar, ve  gülümser.

Bir elini genç hobbit’in omzuna koyar ve, “Bilgelik sana erken yaşta gelmiş, Efendi Hobbit.”, der nazikçe.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Genç Brom, yaşlı Cathber’le bir kaç gün daha kulubede kalırlar. Sonra da tekrar ‘fırtına avı’ için yola koyulurlar. İş daha bitmemiştir ve bir hobbit, başladığı işi yarıda bırakmaz. 

“Evinize tekrar döneceğinizi umuyorum, Efendi Cathber. Ve bunun için de sizden bir on altı yıl daha beklememenizi rica ediyorum.”, der Brom.

“Bu yolculukta bir şeyler öğrenen tek kişi sen değilsin, delikanlı.”, der Cathber sırıtarak. “Bana tembelliği olmasa da,  evimin kıymetini ve konforunu göstermeyi başardın. Ki bu da beni üçte iki hobbit yapıyor.”

“Bu kabul edilebilir bir oran, efendim.”, diye başıyla onlar genç hobbit.

Cathber kıkırdar.

“Sırada neresi var?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Sırada güneydeki komşularımız var; Elder Hills dwarf’ları..”

“Aaaaa.. Dwarf’lar.. Bu iyi..”, der Brom kaşları çatılı bir şekilde.

Yaşlı Cathber’in tek kaşı kalkar.

“Neden?”

Genç hobbit’in suratında haşin bir ifade belirir.

“Çünkü onlara söyleyecek bir çift lafım var!” 

 

 

 

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VIII ile
devam edecek..

 


Brom Bumblebrim, hiç farkında olmadan bu yaşlı ve yalnız adama, sadece bir kaç ay sonra ve çok uzaklardan bir çocuk gönderecektir..

Bu çocuk boynuzlu doğacak ve bundan dolayı annesi taşlanarak köyünden kovulacak ve saklandığı ormanda da yaralarından dolayı ölecektir. Anneyi ve kasılmış kolları arasında tuttuğu ve hala hayatta olan küçük bebeğini birisi bulacaktır. O kişi de Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig’in kendisi olacaktır.

Yaşlı Cathber hayretle ‘kendisine sunulan’ bu bebeği alacak ve asla sahip olamadığı bir şeyi, kızı ve emeklerinin mirasıçısı olarak yetiştirecektir.

Efendi Cathber bu kıza ‘Tanrı’nın izniyle’, anlamına gelen ‘Inshala’ adını verecek ve bu küçük, sevimli yaratık büyüyecek, hem babası, hem de efendisi olarak gördüğü Cathber’in ölümünden sonra Rituel Ormanını sahiplenecek ve ‘bir sonraki nesil’ olarak onun mirasını devam ettirecektir..

Bu hikaye için bkz. “i, inshala. i, belong” 

 

 

dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi role play serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens tundra walkers

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VI

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VI

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” V ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

11.11.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Ekim ortası.
Ritual Ormanlarının güneyi..

 

Teşekkür ederim.”, der genç hobbit kayıp bir sesle, kocaman gagasını ona doğru eğmiş dev martıya ve elindeki küçük keseciği yeleğindeki pek az kullandığı iç cebe güvenli bir şekilde yerleştirir. 

Martı sırtından inen küçük yaratığa yeni doğmakta olan güneşin silik ışığında kara gözlerle bakar, sonra başını göğe kaldırıp uzun, acıklı bir bando borazanını andıran sesle gaklar ve tekrar eğilip hobbit’e bakar.

Brom, her nasılsa martının o gaklamasında ve kocaman, kapkara gözlerinde esef ve hüzün görür ve ister istemez tekrar gözleri dolar ve omuzları hıçkırıklarla hoplamaya başlar.

Martı, önünde acınası bir kahırla duran küçük şeyi sessizce süzer, sonra gagasıyla onu nazikçe dürter.

“Hayır. İyi değilim ve iyi olmak gibi bir niyetim de yok. Ama bu da senin sorunun değil zaten..”, diye, göz yaşlarına karışmış hıçkırıkları arasında söylenir küçük hobbit. “Anneye, beni buraya getirmene izin verdiği için teşekkür ettiğimi söyle lütfen. Bir daha görüşür müyüz bilemiyorum. Belki bir gün.. Kızlara da kendi aralarında didişmeyi bırakmalarını tembih et. Hayat böyle çocukça şeyler için fazla kısa.. Ve.. .. o kadar, işte..”

Gulls Perch’e adını veren dev martı tekrar hüzünle gaklar, gagasının ucuyla ve nazikçe küçük hobbit’in başına iki kere ‘pıt pıt’lar, sonra döner, biraz uzaklaşır, neredeyse onar yardalık kanatlarını açar, bir kaç defa çırpar ve havalanır..

..ve güneye, evine, Gulls Perch’e doğru gözden kaybolur.

 

. . .

 

“Kes şunu!”, diye hırlar Brom ve kalçasının, tam da göremediği yerini sıvazlamaya başlar. “Benden ne istiyorsun bilmiyorum ve açıkçası artık umurumda da değil. Hayatımda bana verilmiş en güzel, en muhteşem şeyle tanıştırdın, sonra da aldın onu elimden.. Senden ne kadar nefret ettiğimi bilemezsin. Git ve bir başka salak bul kendini eğlendirecek. Senin yüzünden evimin mutluluğunu kaybettim.. Senin yüzünden hayatımda görmek istemediğim şeyler gördüm.. Senin yüzünden aklıma bile gelmeyecek korkular yaşadım.. Senin yüzünden en çok sevdiğim bir şeyimden oldum.. Senin yüzünden bu dünya hakkında ne kadar saf ve temiz düşüncem varsa hepsini kaybettim.. Ne bok istedin benden ki beni böyle sınayıp süründürdün? Kime ne yaptım? Kime ne zararım dokundu da beni seninle lanetlediler.. Defol git.. Ve beni bir daha da rahatsız etme..”

 

Brom Bumblebrim, Gulls Perch’den onu sırtında taşıyarak getiren dev martının gitmesinden sonra Ritual Ormanlarının güneyinde, Arashkan ırmağı kıyısında kamp kurmuş ve iki haftadır da burada öylece, amaçsız bir şekilde yatıp kalkmıştı. Gündüzleri ırmaktan balık avlamış, geceleri de küçük ateşinin başında oturmuş, elinde annesinin yadigar Lir’inden sabit iki nota dışında hiçbir şey çalmadan durmuş ve uykusuzluktan sızıncaya kadar öylece, kıpırdamadan, sessizce ağlamıştı..

..taki kalçasından, tam da göremediği yerden, tanıdığı sızıyı hissedinceye kadar.

Genç hobbit’in bu ani ve beklenmedik harlaması karşısında, beklenmedik yerlerde ve istenmeyen zamanlarda onu ısırıp duran ne idüğü belirsiz şeyden herhangi bir tepki gelmez.

 

Tepki gök yüzünden gelir!

 

Büyük, yer sarsıcı bir patlamayla homurdanır Ekim bulutları ve bir anda yağmur yağmaya başlar..

Yağmur, bardaktan boşalır gibi değil, dev bir fıçıdan boşalır gibi yağmaya başalar!

“Yağ lan!”, diye avazı çıktığı kadar çığlar Brom. “İstediğin kadar yağ, lanet olasıca şey! İstersen al ve götür beni sularında.. Ama sana bir daha boyun eğmeyeceğim..!”

“Canın bir şeye sıkılmışa benziyor, evlat.”, der tiz, paslı bir ses sırılsıklam gecenin karanlığından.

“Evet!.. Ne?.. Kim var orda?!”, diye bir elinde babasının eski kılıcı, diğerinde de amcasının küçük, antika gürzü olduğu hande fırlar ayağa genç Brom.

“Ahaa.. Haşin bir genç! Ama o silahlara gerek olacağını da pek sanmıyorum, delikanlı.. Benim kadar bükük ve yaşlı bir adamı korkutarak kendini utandırmak istemiyorsan, tabii..”, der adam ve Brom’un ateşi yağmurdan sönmüş kampına adamın ağır, topallayan ayak sesleri eşliğinde paslı kıkırtısını da duyar..

..ama yine de silahlarını indirmez.

“Yazık.”, der adam. “Birileri senin insanlığa olan inancını fena halde köreltmiş..”

Gece, yumuşak bir ışıkla aydınlanır ve Brom beş – altı yarda ilerisinde sesi kadar yaşlı bir adam bulur.

Adam ağır, temkinli hareketlerle kendi etrafında döner ve Brom’a gülümseyerek konuşur.

“Gördüğün gibi bu yamuk asa ve daha da yamuk beden dışında bir şeyim yok. Şimdi.. Senin gibi iyi giyimli bir hobbit’in buralarda ne işi var ve neden bu kadar kızgınsın?”, diye merakla sorar yaşlı adam.

Brom, uzun bir süre yağmur altında sessizce yaşlı adamı, bir elinde tuttuğu asasını ve diğer elinde duran puslu ışığı süzer.

Adamın kafası neredeyse keldir. Olan saçları, sakalları gibi aklaşmış, birbirine karışmış ve beline kadar da uzanmaktadır. Adamın üzerinde ise tiril, pejmürde bir cübbe ve bir kaç küçük kesenin tutuşturulduğu, kemer niyetine bağladığı sicim dışında herhangi bir mal varlığı yok gibidir.

 

Gök tekrar gürler.

Gece aydınlanır.

Yağmur daha bir hışımla yağmaya başlar.

Yaşlı adam ise genç hobbit’in bir karar vermesini bekler..

 

“Kimsin sen?”, diye sorar Brom tekrar.

“Yaşlı ve mazbut bir adamım, o kadar. Ormanın bu taraflarında biraz işim vardı ve senin bağırtılarını duyunca belki bir yardımım dokunur diye geldim.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Bir fey gibi konuşuyorsun.”, der Brom kaşlarını çatarak. “Adını vermediğin gibi, muallak cevaplarla geçiştiriyorsun..”

“Aaaa.. Feylerden haberdar olacak kadar gezmiş ve görmüş bir delikanlı.. Yada ağzı yanacak kadar..”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.

Brom sessizce ve ırkına hiç de yakışmayan bir huysuzlukla olduğu yerde durur.. ellerinde silahlarıyla..

“Öyle olsun bakalım, delikanlı.”, der yaşlı adam ve omuzlarını silker. “Sakıncası yoksa ben kendi işime bakacağım o zaman. Bu fırtınayı güvenli bir şekilde buraya çağırmam biraz zamanımı aldı ve boşa gitmesini istemem. Sen de istersen seyredebilirsin..”

Adam topallaya zıplaya garip bir yürüyüşle Brom’un ilerisinden geçer ve yaklaşık elli yarda sonra durur. Elindeki yamuk asayı aldığı gibi yere saplar..

..ama asa yerinde durmaz ve devrilir.

Adam zorlukla eğilir ve asayı yerden alır. Ikınarak tekrar yere saplamaya çalışır ama asa yine yerinde durmaz ve düşer.

Adam esefle asaya bakar.

“Evlat. Orada durup yaşlı bir adamın kendisini rezil etmesini daha ne kadar seyredeceksin?”, diye sorar, paslı sesiyle.

Brom adama bakar, sonrada uyuz bir ifadeyle ona doğru yürümeye başlar.

“Yaşlı bir adama gözlerini yuvarlamamalısın, delikanlı. Bu neredeyse bütün ırklarda ayıptır.”, der adam genç hobbit’e.

Brom ise burnundan soluyarak yerdeki asayı kapar, kılıcıyla yeri eşeler, asayı içine saplar, sonra asanın dibine yakında bulduğu taşlardan dizerek olduğu yerde durmasını sağlar ve “Hangi ırkta ayıp değil?”, diye sorar somurtarak.

“Bilmek istemezsin, delikanlı..”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam.

“Gece karanlık. Gözlerimi yuvarladığımı bile görme ihtimalin yok!”, diye asabice söylenir Brom.

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar.

“Neredeyse bütün ırklardaki bütün gençler kendilerinden bir iş yapmaları istendiğinde gözlerini yuvarlarlar!”

Brom kaşlarını çatar.

“Ee.. naapıyoruz burada?”, diye sorar.

“Biz mi? Biz bi şey yapmıyoruz, delikanlı. Ama geri çekilsek iyi olur.. Biraz daha.. Evet.. Biraz daha.. Aslında çok daha gerilesek sanki daha iyi olur.. Kulaklarını da kapatırsan iyi olur.. Kulaklarını kapatıp ağzını açarsan pek daha iyi olur!”

Brom, yaşlı adamla yere saplanmış asanın neredeyse yüz yarda gerisinde, ağızları açık, kulakları tıkalı bir şekilde öylece yağmurun altında dururlar.

“Naapıyoz böyle yaa?!”, diye geçirir genç hobbit, içinden ve yaşlı adama, bir sonraki hamlesi ne olacağını kesitirilemez bir deliye bakar gibi onu yan yan süzer.

 

Gök bir daha gürler.

Gece bir ufuktan diğerine kadar aydınlanır.

Kapkara bulutların arasından çaprazlamasına tek dal bir yıldırım, müthiş bir hızla dikinine iner..

..ve göz harlatan bir kıvılcım yağmuruyla asayı vurur!

 

Brom, gözleri tamamen kamaşmış bir şekilde öylece dizlerinin üstüne çöker..

Tekrar görmeye başladığında yaşlı adam yanına çömelmiş, ona bir şeyler söylemektedir ama ne etrafında uçuşan parıltılardan adamı görebilir, ne de çınlayan kulaklarından söylediklerini duyar.

“Aaaaa.. Güzel.. Sanırım tekrar duymaya başladın.. İyi misin, delikanlı? Değilsen de zamanla olacaksın.. İşin püf noktası, üzerinde fazla düşünmemek ve yapacak kendine bir şeyler bulmak..”, der yaşlı adam genç hobbit’e gülümseyerek.

“Sen.. sen neden benim gibi sağır ve kör olmadın?”, diye boğuk bir sesle sorar, Brom.

“Yaşlılığın nadir avantajları, evlat.. Gözlerimi kapatmayı akıl edecek kadar bilge, ve senin kadar iyi duyamayacak kadar da sağır!”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.

Brom yüzünü buruşturur..

Yaşlı berduşun her şeye verecek ‘kıkırtılı’ bir cevabı var gibidir.

“Kampın mahvolmuşa benziyor, genç efendi. Benimkisi hemen yakınlarda. İstersen bana misafir olabilirsin. Beğenmezsen de yarın tekrar buraya dönersin ama bunu tavsiye etmem.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Neden?”, diye sorar Brom temkinli bir şekilde.

“Korkarım bu şimşek ve sonrasında düşen yıldırım, hemen batımızda bulunan Serenity Home kasabasına bağlı izcileri ayartmış olacaktır. İzci Efendisi Davien’e tesadüf edersen sana bir kaç soru sorup bırakacaktır. Ancak Moorat’e tesadüf etmen halinde seni hayatından bezdireceğinden emin olabilirsin.”

Genç hobbit, bu iki izci efendilerinin isimlerini duymuştur. Genç hobbit bu iki izci efendisini, Serenity Home kasabası şerifiyle birlikte, bir kamp dolusu haydutu ortadan kaldırmalarını canlı olarak, oldukça da yakından seyretmiştir.

“Öyle olsun bakalım.”, der biraz huysuzca. “Bu gece için misafirin olurum ama yarın için söz veremem.”

“Yarın için ben de söz veremem.”, der yaşlı adam ve Brom, adamın pek de kamptan bahsetmediği izlenimine kapılır.

“Bu fırtınayı çağırmaktan bahsetmiştin..”, diye yoklar yaşlı adamı Brom.

“Öyle mi dedim?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam ve ormana, muhtemelen kendi kampı olan yere doğru yürümeye başlar.

 

Genç hobbit, sırt çantası, yıldırım dolayısıyla düşürdüğü silahlarını ve kampından geriye kalan ne varsa kapar ve garip, topallaya hoplaya yürüyen yaşlı adamın peşine takılır.

 

“Evet. Öyle dedin.”, der Brom kati bir sesle.

“Eh.. İlk akıl gidermiş, derler..”, der adam ve sırıtır.

“Eee?”, der Brom ve işin peşini bırakmaz.

Yaşlı adam temkinli bir şekilde etrafına bakınır, sonra da sıkılgan bir sesle konuşur..

“Heavens Hand nerededir, bilir misin, evlat?”, diye sorar.

“Evet.”, der Brom. “Durkahan’ın oldukça kuzeyinde, Korduba’s Watch’ı geçince..”

“Aaaaa.. Coğrafyasını bilen, okumuş bir delikanlı. Tarihini de bilebilirsen sana sorunun cevabını veririm..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde cevap verir yaşlı adam.

 

Brom tekrar kaşlarını çatar.

Yaşlı adamın sorulan sorulara bir türlü açık cevaplar vermeyişi, aslına bakılırsa, herhangi içerikli bir cevap vermeyişi, son bir ayda yaşadığı duygusal tahribattan sonra genç hobbit’te olağan dışı bir sabırsızlık, hatta tahammülsüzlük ve asabiyet oluşturmuştur.

 

“Neden sorduğum sorulara bir türlü cevap vermiyorsun?”, diye huysuzca sorar.

“Neden böyle bir beklenti içerisindesin?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Kampına geldin, kim olduğunu, ne yaptığını ve fırtınayı sordum ama beni kör ve sağır etmen dışında da hiçbir cevap vermedin!”, diye neredeyse hırlar Brom.

“Aaa.. Birisi yanlış tarafından kalkmış sanırım.. biri-iki ay önce..”, der yaşlı adam sonra derin, sessiz bir soluk verir ve devam eder. “Öncelikle, kampına misafir yada davet edilmediğim için gerçekte misafirin de olmadım. Kendince muhtemel haklı sebeplerden ötürü de olsa, yine de bana silah çektin. Sana üzerimde silah olmadığını göstermiş olmama rağmen silahlarını indirmedin, dolayısıyla ben de kampının etrafından dolaştım. Sana adımı vermemi gerektirecek nezaket koşullarını bana sunmadığın için, ben de sana adımı verme gereği görmedim.

Sana bir hobbit’in burada ne işi olduğunu sordum, ama buna da bir cevap alamayınca, bende yapmaya geldiğim kendi işimle uğraşmaya karar verdim.

Seni kulaklarını kapatman ve ağzını da açman konusunda uyardım. Açıkçası bu uyarılardan sonra gözlerini açık bırakacağın aklımın ucundan bile geçmemişti.. Sanırım kulaklarını yeterince sıkı kapatmadığın için anlık sağır, gözlerini açık tuttuğun için anlık kör, ağzını da söylediğim gibi açmadığın için de kendi bedensel iç basıncın, yıldırımın oluşturduğu dış basınçla dengelenmedi ve tahmin et, hanginiz kazandınız?”, diye mutlu bir şekilde paslı sesiyle açıklar yaşlı adam.

 

Brom’un yüzü daha da kararır çünkü adam haklıdır. Teknik yada nezaket; her halükarda haklıdır.

 

“Brom.. Brom Bumblebrim..”, der neden sonra kaynayan bir sesle.

“Tanıştığımıza sevindim, Brom-Brom Bumblebrim..”, der yaşlı adam sırıtarak. “Benim adım da Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Ama sen bana bunlardan sadece bir tanesini kullanarak hitap etsen de olur. Aslına bakılırsa öyle olmasını rica edeceğim.. Karşılaştığım bazı yaratıklar tamamını kullanmakta ısrar ediyorlar ve her defasında duyması, söylemesinden bile daha acıklı oluyor..”

“..Fey’ler gibi..”, diye sokuşturur araya Brom.

“Ahhaaa.. Evet, fey’ler gibi..”, der yaşlı Cathber ‘en sonunda anlayan birisini buldum’ der gibi!

“Asadan ve Heavens Hand’den bahsediyorduk.”, der Brom ve bu garip, tek düze hali kendisini bile biraz şaşırtır.

“Hayır, genç Brom, daha başlamamıştık. Ama merak etme, çok heyecanlı bir hikaye. Bununla birlikte, sanırım ikimizde bir gece için yeterince ıslandık. Önce biraz ısınıp kuruyalım, karnımızı da biraz doyuralım sonrasında hala ayık istek, sana anlatırım.. Ve işte geldik.”, der yaşlı adam ve tamamen çam dallarından örme, daha çok bir kunduz yuvasını andıran ve yaşlı adamın sadece beline kadar gelen küçük, kubbeli bir ‘şeyin’ yanına gelirler.

“Hmmm..”, diye sesli bir şekilde düşünür adam. “Pek de misafir beklemiyordum açıkçası. Sanırım bu ikimiz için biraz küçük. Ama merak etme. Sanıyorum bu konuda bir şeyler yapabilirim..”

Yaşlı adam ellerini kaldırır ve Brom’un çıkaramadığı bir dilde bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

 

Aradan biraz zaman geçer.

 

“Hiç bi şey olmuyor..”, der Brom neden sonra.

“Hiç bir şey olmuyor da ne demek?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Her ne yapıyorsan, bi işe yaramıyor!”, diye açıklar Brom.

“Bu.. biraz utanç verici bir durum..”, der Cathber. “Bir de şunu deneyelim bakalım..”

 

Aradan biraz daha zaman geçer.

 

“Hala bir şey olmuyor..”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.

“Bu.. gerçekten beklenmedik bir durum. Normalde bunun işe yaramış olması lazımdı!”, der yaşlı adam alınmış bir sesle.

“Ne yaptığını bildiğinden emin misin?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ne münasebet! Tabi ki ne yaptığımı biliyorum!”, der Cathber, tamamen alınmış bir sesle.

Sonra yine bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

 

Aradan biraz daha vakit geçer ama yine bir şey olmaz.

 

“Bu.. gerçekten çok garip.”, der yaşlı adam hayretle kendi ellerine bakarak.

Brom acımasızca ‘fırk’lar.

Sonra sırt çantasını yere bırakır, içinden küçük, katlanabilir çadırını çıkartır ve kurmaya başlar.

Fena bozulmuş bir Cathber, kaşları çatılı bir şekilde küçük hobbit’in kendi çadırını kurmasını seyreder.

Sonra arkasını döner ve daha bir azimle tekrar bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

“Hayır!”, diye kendi kendisine söyleniyormuş gibi konuşur birden. “Anlaşmamız böyle değildi. Ben size olan yükümlülüklerimi yerine getirdim. Sizin de kendi payımıza düşeni— Ne demek koşullar değişti?! Hangi koşullar değiş—? Hayır, hayır tabiki size kızgın değilim. Neden size kızgın ola—? Aaaa.. sanırım şimdi anladım. Tamam, olur böyle şeyler.. Sorun değil, sorun değil.. Ateşi yakın bari.. Yaşlı bir adama yağmurlu bir havada kuru dal aratmakla uğraştırmayın..”

Brom, bir yandan bu ‘zır deli’ adamın söylediklerine kulak kabartırken, bir yandan da çadırını kurar. İşi bittiğinde yaşlı adamı, etrafı taşlarla çevrilmiş bir ateşin başında bulur. Ateşin hemen ilerisinde ise kayda değer bir miktarda ve düzgünce dizilmiş kuru dal ve odunlar durmaktadır.

Brom ister istemez ateşe yaklaşır.

Yanına geldiğinde yaşlı adamın ince çubuklara balık, patates, domates, patlıcan ve mısır geçirdiğini görür. Adam çubuklara geçirdiği yiyecekleri imtina ile ateşin yanına dizer, bunların bazılarının iyice kızarmalarını beklerken, bazılarının ise sadece hafif renklerinin değişmelerini bekleyecek kadar ısıtır.

Brom’un bir anda ağzı sulanır.

“Öylece durup seyir mi edeceksin, Efendi Hobbit? Yoksa gelip bunları yiyecek misin? Bu kadar şeyi tek başıma yersem sanırım bu benim yaşımdaki birisi için hazımsız bir gece olurdu..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

 

Brom ateşin başına çöker ve ellerini ısıtır biraz, sonrada kendisine uzatılan çubuklara geçirilmiş balıkları, patatesleri, domatesleri, patlıcanları ve son olarak da mısırları yer.

 

Yaşlı Cathber yemek boyunca sesini çıkarmaz ve kendisi de yaptığı yemeklerden tadımlık ısırıklar alır. Sonra biraz abartılı bir şekilde esner ve gözlerini ovuşturur.

“Aaaahh.. Bu yaşlı kemikler benden uyumamı talep ediyorlar. Sen istersen ateşin başında takılabilirsin.”, der ve hemen ileride duran kuru dal ve odunlara işaret ederek, “Gördüğün gibi gece seni sıcak tutacak kadar yakacak odunumuz var.”

“Ne?”, diye sorar Brom. “Bu kadar mı?”

“Anlayamadım? Doymadıysan şu sepetin içerisinde biraz daha var yiyecek bir şeyler.”, der Cathber ve odunların hemen yanında duran bir sepete işaret eder. “Ama korkarım çubuklarla geçirip pişirmeyi kendin yapmak zorunda kalacaksın..”

“Hayır, onu sormuyorum. Konuşacak bir şeylerimiz yok muydu?”, diye biraz asabîce sorar genç hobbit.

“Benim söyleyeceklerim bekleyebilir, Efendi Hobbit. Senin söyleyeceklerin ise bir barut fıçısının içinde ve patlamaya hazır gibi.. Sanıyorum patladığında ikimizin de orda olmamasını tercih edeceğim. Söylemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de dinlemeye hazır olmuş olacağım. Sen dinlemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de söylemiş olacağım..”, der Cathber ciddi bir gülümseyişle, sonra kalkar ve küçük, çam dallarından yapılmış kulübemsi çadırına gider.

 

Brom adamın arkasından sessizce kaynar.

“Kaçık, zır deli, yaşlı berduş!”, diye burnundan soluyarak söylenir.

 

Genç hobbit’in zihninin derinliklerindeki bir ses, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig ismini bir yerlerde duymuş yada okumuş olduğunu ona hatırlatır ama o isimle bağdaşan sadece bir kişi vardır ve o kişi bir ‘insan’dır ve rivayetlere göre sekiz yüz küsur yıl önce gerçekleşen Themalsar adındaki kaçık bir papazın ordularına karşı yapılan savaşta bulunmuştur..

Brom inançsızca ‘fırk’lar.

Birincisi bu adam, yaşlı olmakla beraber bir insandır ve bırakın sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşında olmayı, anca ayakta durabilmektedir. İkincisi ise orijinal Cathber’in kendisi de bir insandır ve onun da sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşamış olması mümkün değildir. Brom, bu adamın, tanınmış birisinin adını alarak kendince şöhret peşinde koşan bir kaçık olduğunu düşünür.. yada ortada nesilden nesile geçen bir kült vardır ve her nesilde birisine bu isim bahşedilmesi dolayısıyla bu adamın adı, tarihi kişilik olan orijinal Cathber’in adıyla aynıdır.

 

“Çattık..”, diye homurdanır Brom ve kalkıp düzgün bir şekilde dizilmiş odunların yanında duran sepetin saman saplarından örülme kapağını açar ve içine bakar.

Sepetin içinde her şey ilginç bir şekilde ayrı ayrı kase yada bohçaların içinde durmaktadır; kapalı bir kasenin içinde tuzlanıp kurutulmuş bir düzine balık, ayrı ayrı bohçalanmış patatesler, patlıcanlar, domatesler, mantarlar, mısırlar, fasulyeler ve..

 

..Brom olduğu yerde çakılıp kalır..

 

Küçük bir çanak dolusu, kırmızı-pembe çilek..

 

Brom sepetin başında ne kadar durur bilemez zira zaman onun için durmuş gibidir..

“Hayır yaa..”, diye sessizce inler. “Unutmak üzereydim..”

 

Belli ki genç hobbit hiçbir şekilde unutmak üzere değildir..

 

Uzaklarda bir yerde gök tekrar gürler.

Orman kısa bir anlığına aydınlanır ve kendisini sessizce seyredenlere acıklı bir sahneyi sergiler.

Öylece, durduğu yerde, Brom Bumblebrim hıçkırıklarla ağlamaktadır..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

26.04.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Nisan sonu.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Daha hızlı, daha hızlı, genç hobbit. Fırsatı kaçırmak üzereyiz!”, diye, bir yandan topallaya-zıplaya koşarken, bir yandan da paslı sesiyle seslenir yaşlı Cathber. “Bu fırtına biraz aceleci çıktı ve korkarım içini dökmek için sabırsızlanıyor..” 

Brom yine sırılsıklam olmuş bir şekilde durmak bilmeyen yaşlı adamın peşinden, nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde, elindeki yamuk asa ile koşturur. Genç hobbit, Ritual Ormanlarına geldiğinden beri devamlı ıslak gibidir sanki ve aklı başında herkes gibi kendisi de yağmur altında ‘terlemekten’ hoşlanmaz.

“Geliyorum, geliyorum..”, diye bağırır homurdanan kara bulutların altında koşarken.

Aslında gece olmasına daha saatler vardır ama hem bu ormanlığın yoğun ağaçları, hem de gök yüzünde yuvarlanan koyu bulutlar sayesinde genç hobbit açısından gece olsa da değişen bir şey olmazmış gibi gelir.

Brom tekrar gök yüzünden boğuk homurtuları duyulmaya başlar ve birkaç yüz yarda ileride yaşlı Cathber’in ona doğru, “Acele et, delikanlı.. Acele et, geliyor!”, diye elini salladığını görür.

Sırılsıklam olmuş hobbit, biraz daha hızlanır, yaşlı adamın yanına gelir, haftalar önce adamın kendisine verdiği çapayla yeri kazar, asayı açtığı deliğe saplar ve toprağa tesadüf eden ucunu iyice kapatıp yerine sabitler..

..ve kaçar!

 

Genç hobbit, ilk tecrübesinden sonra aynı acemiliği tekrarlamak gibi bir niyeti yoktur ve kendisi gibi çoktan uzaklaşmış yaşlı Cathber’in yanına, kocaman bir çınarın arkasına pineklemiş, ellerini kulaklarına sımsıkı kapatmış ve ağzını da açabildiği kadar açmış bir şekilde bekler.

 

Gök yüzünden ve kapkara bulutların arasından duyulan homurtular şiddetlenir ve birden, sağır edecek bir şiddetle ‘hapşırır’..!

Brom koskocaman bir çınarın arkasında saklanmış, dahası gözlerini de sımsıkı kapatmış olmasına rağmen yine de ‘beyaz’ görür..

Tekrar gözlerini açtığında gündüz biraz aydınlanmış gibidir ve yukarından, gök yüzünden bir – iki defa daha hoşnutsuz homurtular duyulur, sonra yağmur başladığı gibi bir anda kesilir!

 

“Bunu daha ne kadar yapacağız?”, diye biraz bıkmış bir sesle söylenir Brom. “Neredeyse üç aydır ormanın güneyinde bir oraya, bir buraya koşturup fırtına avlıyoruz!”

“Fırtına avlamak.. Bu çok hoşuma gitti, genç Brom.. Sen gerçekten kelimeler için yaratılmış bir varlıksın, ve bu dünya için de bir zenginliksin!”, diye kıkırdar yaşlı adam.

 

Brom kaşlarını çatar..

 

Gerçekte Brom somurtkan biri değildir. Olur olmaz her şeye kaş çatan da bir hobbit olmamıştır hiç bir zaman. Aslına bakılırsa kaç çatmak, hobbit’lerde sık görülen bir mimik de değildir.

Bu kaş çatma olayı, onda sonradan peyda olmuş bir alışkanlıktır..

Bir kaç ay öncesinden itibaren..

..Gulls Perch’den ayrılmasından sonra..

..Sevgili, güzel, saf, temiz ve olağanüstü Aremela’sının ölümünden sonra.

 

“Asıl soruna dönersek, bu ‘fırtına avı’, gerçekten çok önemli. Sana anlattıklarımı hatırla. Heavens Hand, mebus iblislerle bizim aramızda duran tek şey. Evet, Tranquil elf’leri ve Dwarwick dwarf’ları da bu konuda Heavens Hand’e devamlı yardım ve destek gönderiyorlar ama, en nihayetinde, orada savaşıp hayatlarını veren insanlar krallığın gerisinde yaşayan diğer insan ve ırkları da koruyorlar. Onlar olmazsa yada bir gün orası düşerse, bu insanlığın sonu olur. Bizim de onlara birazcık olsun yardımlarımız dokunmalı, öyle değil mi?”, diye mutlu bir ciddiyetle anlatır yaşlı Cathber.

“O kısmını anladım da, bu yıldırımların ne işe yaradığını hala anlamış değilim. Dahası, bu lanet olasıca asa nasıl oluyor da bunca yıldırımdan sonra hala tek parça halinde durabiliyor?”, diye bıkmış bir ifadeyle sorar Brom.

 

Genç Brom, kaş çatma olayının yanı sıra, bir kaç başka yeni huy daha edinmiş gibidir; bıkkınlık, yılgınlık, hoşnutsuzluk, umarsızlık ve genel anlamda ciddi bir ‘bitse de gitsek’ tavrı içeren keyifsizlik ve buradaki ‘gitsek’ kısmı ise spesifik bir olayla sınırlı değil, sanki genç Brom bunu ‘hayatın kendisi’ için değerlendirmektedir..

 

“Nereye savurduğunu bilmeden lanet okumamalısın, genç Brom. Lanetler hafife alınacak şeyler değildirler..”, der Cathber nazikçe.. ama sesinde altı çizili bir ciddiyet de vardır sanki.

“Uhhmm.. özür dilerim. Lafın gelişi..”

“Korkarım, lanetlerde ‘lafın gelişi’ de olmaz, Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı adam. “Bunu bir çoklarından fazla senin bilmen gerekir.”

“Ne demek istiyorsun?”, diye biraz fazla haşince sorar Brom.

“Asa parçalanmıyor çünkü bilge bazı şahıslar ve mucitlerin hazırladığı ve şahsımın bile anlamadığı karmaşık bazı kimsaysal solüsyonlarla yıkanarak yapısal olarak güçlendirilmiş bir asa bu. Yamuk oluşunun da keyfî değil, kondüktörel olarak bir gereklilik olduğu aynı şahıslar tarafınca ısrarlı bir şekilde tekrarlandı bana.”, der yaşlı Cathber ve genç hobbit’in haşin sorusunu harika bir şekilde saman altı eder. “Yıldırımların ne işe yaradığına gelirsek, bu bizim hiçbir işimize yaramayacak çünkü onları kendimiz için toplamıyoruz. Bana gelen haberlere göre ‘düşman’ saflarında beklenmedik ve olağan dışı bazı hareketlenmeler varmış. Heavens Hand efendileri, benim gibi mazbut ve naif olmakla beraber bazı özel becerileri olan şahsiyetlerden, Demons Wall’un müdafaası için böylesi yıldırım asalarının gerektiği konusunda isteklerde bulundular. Sanıyorum ki bu asalardan başka ormanlarda şahsım dışında yapanlar da var. Bu asaları İblis Duvarına yerleştirdiklerinde hem oradaki mevcut büyülü muhafazaları, devamlı insan gücü aratmaksızın besleyecekler, hem de yaklaşan iblisleri, benim tahminime göre en az iki bin yarda gibi etkili bir mesafeden vurabilecekler.”

Brom, iki bin yardayı duyunca ister istemez tırsar zira bu gerçekten fevkalade etkili ve bir o kadar da ürkütücü bir mesafedir. Bu, Endless Watch surlarındaki, uzun menzilli Drashan korsan gemileri için özellikle imal edilmiş anti-kalyon mancınıklarının bile etkili mesafesinin neredeyse iki buçuk katıdır!

“Oha!”, diye geçirir Brom içinden ve bir anda ıkınarak ve isteksizce yaptığı işin gerçek potansiyeline ayılıverir. Yaptıkları bu iş, teorik yada sonuçları itibariyle muallak ve idealistçe yapılan bir iş değil, Heavens Hand’deki bir demircinin, askerlerin kırılmış silahlarını yada zırhlarını tamir etmesi kadar ‘pratik’ sonuçları olan bir emektir..

Genç Brom yaptığı işin mutlak tekabülünü tam olarak kavramış olmasada duydukları, ona olan umarsız tavrını silmeye de yetecektir.

Cepheden aylarca mesafe uzaklıkta olmasına karşın, oradaki mücadeleyi birinci elden etkileyecek ve sayısız hayatı da kurtarma potansiyeli olan bu ‘basit’ gibi görünen ‘fırtına avı’, bir anda onun için yeni farkındalıklar ve beklenmedi bazı algı kapıları da açıverecektir.

Ve genç hobbit bu düşünce silsilesinin sonuna ve ilgili sonuçlarına vardığında, yaşlı Cathber’in ışıl ışıl gözlerle ve sessizce kendisini seyreder halde bulur.

Brom, bu adamın kim olduğu konusunda kati bir sonuca varamaz —hafif kaçık, daha çok da bir deli olması dışında..

..ama onun ‘normal’ bir deli olduğunu da düşünmez.

 

“Eee..? Sırada hangi fırtına var?”, diye sorar..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bunu takip eden aylar boyunca yaşlı Cathber, Brom’u, Ritual Ormanlarının etrafında, içinde, altında ve üstünde.. ve fırtına peşinde, durmaksızın koşturur. Genç hobbit’in yaşlı adam hakkında git gide artan kuşkuları, yeni bir fırtına peşinde koşarken tesadüf ettikleri Themalsar Harabelerine ulaştıklarında kesinleşir. 

Yıldırım asasını topraktan söküp çıkartan Brom, Cathber’i yanında değil, onu orman sınırının dışında bulur. Yaşlı adam, kayıp bir ifadeyle kuzeye ve doğuya bakmaktadır..

..kıpırdamadan ve öylece.

 

“Cathber?”, diye soran bir ifadeyle yaklaşır Brom, yaşlı adamın yanına.

“Zaman, bazı şeyleri tahammül edilir hale getiriyor, genç Brom Bumblebrim. Ama asla silip atamıyor.”, der yaşlı Cathber.

Brom, bu lafın üzerine olduğu yerde kalakalır.

“Burası.”, der Cathber sessizce. “İşte tam burası.. ve 740 yıl, 6 ay ve 11 gün önce..”

“Anlamadım..”

“268,570 ve bu gün.. Eşimi kaybettiğim yer, ve üzerinden geçen zaman, delikanlı..”

Brom hayret yaşlı adama bakar.

 

“Bunca zaman sonra bile o kadar çıplak bir şekilde hatırlıyorum ki.. Themalar ve habis orduları, Grandeleren ve elflerini kuşatmıştı ve bizler —Arashkan ordusundan insanlar, Elder Hills’den dwarflar, Silent Hills’den gnomelar, bulup buluşturduğumuz ne kadar dost, fey, melek varsa canımızı dişimize takmış, elimizden gelen her şeyi yapıyorduk.. O gün bize Göklerin göndereceği bazı habercilerin geleceği söylenmişti. ‘Bir yanlışı düzeltmek için..’, dediler.. Bunun ne demek olduğunu yada ne anlama geldiğini hala çözebilmiş değilim ama emir yukardan.. çok yukardan.. Göklerden gelmişti ve bize gelecek olan haberciler için yol açmamız gerektiği söylendi.. Biz de açtık.

Bu.. bu bize çok pahalıya mal oldu.. Bir çok hayata.. Bir çok kadın dul kaldı o gün.. Bir çok erkek de yalnız.. O gün eşim ve sevgilim olan kadın da haberciler için yolu açanlar arasındaydı.. Halbuki Gökler onu bir melek olarak sıf benim için bu dünyaya indirmişlerdi!

 

Evet, Efendi Bumblebrim. 

 

Aradan 268,570 ve bu gün geçti ve ben onu hala özlüyorum. Niyetimiz savaştan sonra yerleşip beraber bir hayat kurmaktı. İkimiz de çocukları çok seviyorduk. İkimiz de çocuklarımız olsun istiyorduk.. Ama Themalsar onu benden aldı ve aradan 740 yıl geçmiş olmasına rağmen asla çocuklarım olmadı..

 

Acısı dindi mi?

Hayır.

Sadece bulandı..

 

Bana yalnız geçireceğim 740 yılımı takas etmemi isteseler, onunla geçireceğim basit bir hayat için gözümü kırpmadan ‘Alın. Yüz yıllar sizin olsun. Bana onunla geçireceğim 40 yılı verin yeter.’, derdim.

İşin en acı.. ve güzel yanı nedir biliyor musun, genç Brom?

Yıllar geçtikçe onun yüzü, hatırası, dokunuşu ve dudaklarının tadı.. daha da güzelleşiyor olması..

Bunları neden sana anlattığımı merak ediyorsan söyleyeyim..

 

Benim yaptığım hatayı yapma..

 

Kayıplarımız kaçınılmazdır. Bir ölümlü olmanın en güzel yanıdır bu; bir ölümlü olmamız.. ve kayıplarımız..

Fey’lerin biz insanlara neden gıpta ettiklerinin sebebi de gerçekte budur; sınırlı olan zamanımızda yapabildiklerimiz.

Tok, açın halinden anlamaz.

Ölümsüz de ölümlünün yaşadığı sevgileri, tutuşan duyguları ve aldığı zevkleri asla tadamaz..”

 

Yaşlı Cathber ve Brom, sessizlik içerinde ormana geri dönerler..

..ve genç ozan aylar.. çok aylar sonra ilk defa Lir’ini tekrar eline alır.

Sessizce söylediği şarkının sözleri ona geliverir..

 

 

 

Time.
 
You cannot fight it,
you cannot resist it,
beat it, wound it nor slay it.
You can only yield to it..
 
Time.
 
It is cunning,
it is stingy, ruthless, pitiless
and sparse.
It turns a spark into a fire, and fire into ash.
It grinds mountains to dust.
It gathers trickles into oceans.
It gives birth to rebellions and liberties
and brings down empires..
It gives meaning to patience,
diligence, and vigilance.
It is the key to mortality
and the lock to eternity.
It precedes
and postcedes..
One day we are,
one day we are not.
It is hope and it is despair..

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bu olaydan sonra Brom için ‘yaşlı adam’ birden ‘Efendi Cathber’ oluverir ve Efendi Cathber onu daha kuzeye, Büyük Kuzey Tundra’larının girişine kadar götürür ve ikisininde ıkınarak tırmandıkları bir dağın kıyısından bembeyaz tundraları gösterir, orada yaşayan barbar kabileleri ve sürülerinden, kocaman buz devlerinden, muazzam kar ayılarından, vaşaklarından, büyük, beyaz ejderlerden ve daha bir çok başka harikalardan bahseder. 

Efendi Cathber, genç hobbit’i yıldırımların peşinde koştururken güneye, sonra çaprazlamasına tekrar kuzeye, sonra yine güneye indirir ve beraber Oger’s Foot denen yere getirir ve Brom bu süre içerisinde farkında olmadan günleri, haftaları ve ayları saymayı bırakıverir ve yaşlı adamla geçirdiği zamanı tekil ‘an’lar olarak ve hayatında daha önce hiç olmadığını kadar ‘ayık’ bir şekilde yaşar. Sanki zamanın geçişiyle ilgili kaybı, etrafında olup bitenlere karşı oluşan yepyeni bir farkındalıkla takas etmiştir.

Evet, zaman önemlidir zira geçişi, ve bu geçişe bağlı olarak, ‘bitti’ —gibi bazı kaçınılmaz sonuçları vardır. Ama genç hobbit için içerik ve algı, yüzeysel olarak kaybedilen zamana fazlasıyla değerdir..

 

“Evet, Efendi Hobbit.. burada dikkatli olmamız gerekecek..”, diye uyarır yaşlı Cathber.

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot ve bu tepelerin sakinleri biraz heyecanlı.. aslında ‘tez canlı’ tiplerdir.”, der Cathber.

“Neden ki?”, diye tekrarlar genç hobbit.

“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot.. Buranın sakinlerinin kim olduklarını konusunda bir tahmininde bulunabilirsin —ve ‘sakinleri’ derken bunu da olabilecek en geniş anlamda kullandığımı da ifade etmek isterim.”, diye sırıtarak açıklar yaşlı adam.

“Oger! Muhteşem Gökler adına.. Burada oger’ler mi yaşıyor?”, diye çığlar Brom.

“Çok uzun yüzyıllardır..”, der Cathber ve kıkırdak.

“Bu inanılır gibi değil.. Oger’lerin burada yaşamasına nasıl müsaade edebilirsiniz! Onlar fevkalade vahşi ve tehlikeliler..”, diye inler Brom ve bir anda korkuyla her yere bakmaya başlar.

“Müsaade, biraz kuvvetli bir ifade oldu, evlat. Hiç kimse, bir başkasının yaşam hakkı üzerinde ‘müsaade’ gücüne sahip olmamalı. Onlar çoğumuzdan önce buradaydılar.. Serenity Home’dan bile önce.. Geçinmeyi bilen.. ve isteyenler olduğu sürece de, genel olarak kaleme alınmamış bir barış da var insanlarla oger’ler arasında. Ve tabii, onları buradan atacak bir gücün olmayışının da söz konusu barışda bir etkisi vardır eminim.”, diye ekler yaşlı adam gülerek.

“Ama rivayetlere göre Themalsar Savaşından sonra gerçekleşen neredeyse tüm ayaklanmalarda oger’ler de yer almışlar.”, diye itiraz eder Brom.

“Aaaaa.. Ama söz konusu ayaklanmalarda insanlar da vardı.. Onlardan dolayı bütün insanları da mı suçlayalım?”

 

Brom buna da itiraz etmek ister.. Gulls Perch’de olanlardan sonra genç hobbit’in insanlara da, dwarf’lara da hiç bir inancı yada itimadı kalmadığı gibi, onlara karşı içsel, gizli ve pek de azımsanmayacak bir nefret de beslemiyor değildir —ki bu da bir hobbit için biraz hayret verici bir durumdur..

 

“Neyse ki yanımızda sizin gibi tanınmış, meşhur bir şahsiyet var..”, diye mırıldanır en sonunda.

Yaşlı Cathber buna kıkırdayarak karşılık verir.

“Bana olan inancın onure edici genç hobbit, ama eminim kaynayan bir kazanın içinde en az senin kadar iyi pişeceğimdir!”

 

Brom uzun bir zamandır yapmadığı, yapmaktan da imtina ettiği bir şeyi yapar..

.. kaşlarını çatar!

 

“Veee, sanırım fırtınamız da burada..”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde ve birden gök homurdanmaya başlar..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Neden buraya fırtınalarını getirdin Kadber? Size saldırmadık. Sizlerden kimseyi kaçırıp yemedik.. Atalarımızın suçlarını çoktan bize ödettiniz!”, diye gürler neredeyse dört yarda boyundaki iri kaslı, iri omuzlu, iri göğüslü ve iri kafalı dişi oger, yüzünde fevkalade çirkin bir ifadeyle. 

Bir düzine yarı-devin yeri göğü sarsarak varlıklarını gelmelerinden önce ilan edeceklerini sanırdınız.. En azından genç Brom’un kati beklentisi buydu. Fırtına ile gelen yıldırımı ‘topladıktan’ sonra birden ve hiçbir ön uyarı olmaksızın peyda oluvermişlerdi oger’ler; ellerinde kocaman kılıçlar, gürzler, taştan oyulmuş ‘sopalar’, beraberlerinde getirdikleri, her biri neredeyse yirmişer kiloluk ‘fırlatma’ taşlarlarıyla..

 

“Merhaba, Reise Grulganiste..”, der Efendi Cathber sakince. “Seni ve aileni böylesi harika bir günde görmek ne güzel.”

‘Reise Grulganiste’, Cathber’e fena pis bir bakış atar ve korku içerinde titreyen zavallı küçük hobbit, gerçek ve etkili ‘kaş çatmanın’ ne olduğunu anlayıverir.

Cathber bu manzara karşısında ivedilikle taktik değiştirir.

“Çağırdığım bu küçük fırtına ile sizi rahatsız ettiysem özür dilerim. Ama sizi temin ederim ki bunun sizinle bir ilgisi olmadığı gibi size karşı da yapılmış bir şey değildi..”

“Bunu göreceğiz, Kadber! Geçen yıllarda bize hep hediyelerle gelmemiş olsaydın, seni şuracıkta pişirirdim!”, diye kapkara bir ifadeyle hırlar ‘kadın’.

“Bunu yapmış olmanız hepimiz için acı bir gün olurdu..”, der yaşlı Cathber.

“Neden? Bunu yapmayacağımı mı düşünüyorsun bükük insan!”, diye kendi kişisel fırtınasıyla hırlar Reise Grulganiste.

“Aaaa.. hayır, efendim.. Benden et çıkmaz ve dişlerinizin arasına takılmış kemiklerim bütün gününüzü mahvederdi de ondan.”, der yaşlı adam kıkırdayarak.

Reise Grulganiste bu cevabı komik bulduysa da bu hiç bir şekilde yüzüne yansımaz!

“Peki, peki.. Belli ki bugün ters yanımızdan kalkmışız. Olur böyle şeyler.. Ama merak etmeyin, Yüce Reise.. size yine elim boş gelmiş değilim!”, diye deklere eder Efendi Cathber.

“Bize ne getirdin, bükük insan?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.

“Saygıdeğer ve eşsiz namınıza yakışır bir hediye; size Efendi Ozan’ı getirdim!”

 

“Ne?!”, diye dehşetle küçük, korku dolu bir çığlık atar Brom!

 

“Bu mu? Bu yaşından sonra çocuk mu yaptın kendine bükük insan? Hangi kuş beyinli kadın senin gibi huysuz bir adamdan çocuk ister ki?”, diye horlayan bir sesle yaşlı adama bakar.

“Ben.. buna biraz alınmadım değil, doğrusu Ganiste! Benim peşimden koşturduğun zamanları hatırlıyorum! Bütün orman, benim için söylediğin ağıtlardan dolayı aylarca uyuyamamıştı!”, diye fena halde alınmış bir şekilde mızmızlanır yaşlı Cathber.

 

Reise Grulganiste buna sadece haşin ve acımasız bir kahkaha ile cevap verir.

 

“O üç yüz yıl önceydi, bükük insan! O zaman kafanda saç, bacaklarında da et vardı!”

Efendi Cathber, kıpkırmızı bir suratla burnundan solur.

“Bu çok acımasızca oldu, Ganiste! Senin kalibrendeki bir kadına hiç yakıştıramadım doğrusu..”

“Benim kalibremdeki kadınlar, kalibreli erkeklerden hoşlanırlar, Kadber!”, diye pis bir sırıtışla cevap verir Reise.

“Görüyorum ki ölümcül espri anlayışından hiçbir şey eksilmemiş, Ganiste.. Şimdi. Burada durup beni horlamaya devam mı edeceksin, yoksa işimize mi bakacağız?”, diye rezil olmuş bir ifadeyle konuşur, yaşlı adam.

“Ben devam etmeye meyilliyim, bükük adam..”, diye cevabı yapıştıtır koca oger.

“Meyilliyim..?”, diye hayretle ünler Brom bir anda.

 

Ortam bir anda sessizleşir.

 

Reise Grulganiste, kapkara olmuş bir suratla önce Brom’a, sonra Cathber’a, sonra da tekrar Brom’a bakar..

Brom yutkunur ve olduğundan daha da küçülmeye çalışır..

Koca ‘kadın’ arkasını dönmeden birkaç emir yağdırır ve yanındaki oger’ler birden kendilerine yapacak bir şeyler bulmaya giderler.

Grulganiste uzun bir süre burnundan soluyarak Brom’a ve Cathber’e yakıcı gözleriyle bakmaya devam eder.

 

“Nerden buldun bu küçük şeyi?”, diye hırlar kadın.

“Aslına bakılırsa, o beni buldu dersem daha isabetli olur —ki bu da uzun ve konumuzla pek de alakalı olmayan bir hikaye.”, der Cathber.

“Ne var? Nooluyo yaa?”, diye tiz bir sesle fısıldar Brom.

“Fark ettin.”, diye cevap verir Cathber.

“Fark ettim? Aslında sadece biraz yadırgadım, o kadar. ‘Meyletmek’, insanların bile günlük konuşmalarında kullandıkları bir ifade değil..”

“Ve sana göre ‘aptal oger’lerin’ hiç kullanmaması gereken bir şey bu, öyle mi?”, diye yüzünde nahoş bir ifadeyle bakar Grulganiste, küçük hobbite.

“Aptallık, ırklara özel bir şey değil, hanımefendi.. Kişisel tercihlere ve davranışların sonuçlarına özel bir hal..”, diye açıklar Brom.

“Gerçekten, nerden buldun bunu?”, diye tekrar sorar Reise.

Cathber omuzlarını silker.

“Dediğim gibi.. ikimiz de bir birimizi tanımıyorduk ve oldukça alakasız koşullar altında karşılaştık. Sonra Efendi Ozan bana nezaket gösterdi ve bana eşlik etmeye karar verdi.”

“Sana neden nezaket göstersin ki? Sen haşin, acımasız, duygusuz ve kalpsiz bir adamsın, Kadber!”, diye hışmeder Grulganiste.

“Alındım.”, der Cathber.

“Efendi Cathber?”, diye temkinli bir şekilde sorar Brom.

“Bu.. öhöm.. sorunun cevabını daha sonra konuşsak..”, diye bozuntuya vermemeye çalışarak cevap verir Cathber.

“Beni reddetti!”, diye hışmeder Reise Grulganiste. “Aylarca peşinden koşturdum, beraber ölümcül maceralara atıldık ve en sonunda beni terk edip gitti!”

“Bu.. biraz abartılı ve önemli bazı ayrıntıları eksik olan bir hikaye değil mi, Ganiste?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle konuşur yaşlı adam. “Sana hiç bir söz vermedim. Benimle gelmeni istediğimde, gelecek reise olarak Oger’s Foot dışındaki dünyayı daha yakinen görmeni ve tanımanı istedim, o kadar. Bu şekilde oger’lerin mütemadiyen başkalarının kötü emellerine alet edilmelerini, dolayısıyla da öldürülmelerini engellemeyi ummuştum. Sen potansiyeli olan, zeki, uyanık, karizmatik, gelecek vaadeden, fevkalade de çekici ve güzel bir kızdın —bana öyle bakma lütfen, genç hobbit. Her ırkın güzellik anlayışı ve standartları farklıdır. Onları yargılamadan önce onların standartlarını bilmen gerekir.. Lütfen bu elzem bilgilerden mahrum bir şekilde sen de aynı hatayı yapma..”, der Cathber biraz sinirlenmiş bir şekilde.

“Yapmam, efendim..”, der Brom ‘fırk’layarak.

Yaşlı Cathber esef dolu bir nefes verir.

“Seni reddetmedim, Ganiste. Kalbini de kırmak istemedim. Ama görmen gereken şeyleri de görmüş olman gerekiyordu.. Benden istediğinin sevigiyi sana vermedim çünkü o sevgim bir başkasına aitti. Sana o kötülüğü yapamazdım..”, der Cathber ve bunu söylerken de yüzünde hiçbir tereddüt yada utanç yoktur.

 

Reise Grulganiste yine uzun bir sessizlikle ikisini de süzer.

 

“Gelin benimle..”, der emri vaki bir üslupla. “Konuşacak şeylerimiz var.. ve bana getirdiğin bu küçük şeyin marifetlerini görmeye can atıyorum!”

Brom, tamamen tırsmış bir şekilde yaşlı Cathber’in peşine takılır ve ikisi de koca Reise Grulganiste’nin arkasından, Oger’s Foot tepelerinde yaşayan devlerin köyüne doğru yola koyulurlar..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Neden beni bunlara veriyosun, Efendi Cathber?”, diye cılız bir sesle inler genç Brom. “Bende sanıldığı kadar et yok! Bu gördüklerinin çoğu tatsız koli köpüğü!” 

“Ahhaaa..!”, diye mutlu bir ifadeyle ünler yaşlı adam. “Kendi lezzetini bu kadar hor görmemelisin, Efendi Hobbit.. Ve oger’ler iş yemeye gelince fazla nüans aramazlar!”

“Yok daha neler!”, diye homurdanır Reise Grulganiste. “Ben yemeklerimde nane, kekik, karabiber, zencefil, karanfil, çörek otu, susam ve safran kullanıyorum.”

“Bence aklına gelen bütün baharatları rastgele sıralıyorsun..”, diye kıkırdar Cathber.

“Bence şansını fazla zorlama istersen yaşlı adam..”, diye yapıştırır Reise..

“‘Bükük adama’ ne oldu?”, diye soru verir Brom birden.

“O seyredenler için kullandığım şey, zira ve gerçekte arkadaşın Cathber, bükük ötesi, sirke gibi bir adamdır!”, diye söylenir Reise Grulganiste.

Brom ister istemez kahkayı basar.

“Bu.. hayret verici bir durum!”

“Neden? Oger’lerin espri anlayışı olamaz mı?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.

“Aaa.. Hayır.. Hayret verici olan, sayenizde Efendi Cathber hakkında öğrendiklerim..”, diye kıkırdayarak cevap verir Brom.

“Bu.. uhhmm.. hakkımda duyduklarını başka yerlerde tekrarlamazsan, pek sevineceğim, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber esefli bir sesle.

“Bilmem. Karşılığında ne vereceğine bakar.”, der Brom sırıtarak.

Reise Grulganiste ‘fırk’lar.

“Sevdim bu küçük adamı, Cathber. Günün sonunda yemeyebilirim bile!”

 

Brom susar!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Neler oluyor Ganiste? Seni fazla tedirgin gördüm..”, siye sorar Cathber sessizce. “En son neredeyse 140 sene önce seni bu kadar tedirgin gördüm.. Ondan önce ise neredeyse iki asır oldu aynı tedirgin gözlerle bana bakıyordun.. İlk ayaklanmaya katılmayı reddettiğinde daha genç, ateşli bir kızdın ve dikkatimi çekmeyi de başarmıştın.. İkincisine katılmayı reddettiğinde ise senin farklı olduğunu anlamıştım..”

“Buraya eski anıları yad etmeye mi geldin, yaşlı adam..”, diye yukardan bakar Cathber’e dev kadın. “Olanlar oldu, ölenler de öldü.. Annem, babam, amcalarım, teyzelerim, erkek ve kız kardeşlerim.. Aileme dair hiç kimsem kalmadı o sefil papaz ve çağrıları yüzünden..”

 

Reise Grulganiste, yaşlı Cathber ve genç Brom’la birlike, insan standartlarına göre kocaman, hobbit standartlarına göre ise devasa oger köyüne geldikten sonra reise adamlarının bir kısmını tekrar devriyeye, bir kısmını nöbet yerlerine, daha sonra çağırdığı başkalarına da gerekli gördüğü bir düzine emirler verip göndermiş, sonra da üçü, Grulganiste’nin dev çadırına girmişlerdi.

Brom, bu kocaman kadının çatırını, ilginç bir şekilde ‘derli toplu’ bulmuştu. Çadır, yere atılmış ve çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerden oluşan hasırlar, kocaman, kalın yüylü kürkler, ocakta pişirilmiş, ve yine çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerle süslenmiş çanak ve çömlekler, çadırın ortasına gömülmüş, etrafı düzenli taşlarla çevrili büyük bir ateş çukur ve yere düzenli bir şekilde ‘atılmış’ minderler, ve kürklerden oluşan bir de yer yatağından oluşmaktadır.

 

“Hayret verici, öyle değil mi?”, diye Brom’un aklından geçenleri dillendirir yaşlı adam, çadırın içine girinceler.

Brom ise herhangi bir yorum yapmamayı tercih eder zira ‘ev sahipleri’ biraz alıngan biridir ve onu ezecek kadar da büyüktür!

“Benim klübemden bile daha temiz ve derli toplu..”, diye ekler Cathber.

“Senin, klube dediğin o acınası çöplükte ancak standartları olmayan fareler yaşar.”, diye horlar yaşlı adamı Grulganiste.

“Ganiste.. Lütfen..”, der Cathber. “Bu kadarı biraz fazla oldu artık. Hışmını birkaç kademe aşağı çeksen, diyorum. İkimizde yaptığım şeyleri neden yaptğımı, yapmamayı tercih ettiğim şeyleri de neden yapmadığımı biliyoruz. Beni yerin dibine geçirerek olmazlardan bir olur çıkmayacağını pek ala biliyorsun..”

Reise Grulganiste sessizce yanan bir ateşle Cathberi süzer.

Neden sonra burnundan soluyarak konuşur.

“Öyle olsun bakalım Cathber.. En azından şimdilik.. Ama bunun karşılığına ölümümün senin elinden olmasını isityorum!”, diye haşin bir sesle konuşur.

Brom hayretle önce Reise Grulganesti’ye, sonra da Efendi Cathber’a bakar.

“Kabul.”, der Cathber kısaca. “Şimdi.. bana neler olduğunu anlatacak mısın? İlk defa buralara yıldırım toplamak için gelmiyorum. Ama seni, beni bekler hande görmek, başlı başına mutlu bir karşılaşma olmakla beraber, beklendik değil.. Tahminim, fırtınanın geldiğini gördüğün anda fırladığın gibi, kısa zamanda bulabildiğin bütün adamlarınla geldin..”

“Bunu nereden bilebilirsin ki?”, diye oldukça hoşnutsuz bir ifadeyle sorar Reise.

“On iki? Gerçekten Ganesti.. Şimdi gerçekten alındım..”, der Cathber kızmış bir şekilde.

“Onlar sağlam adamlardır.”, diye itiraz eder Grulganesti.

“Buna şüphem yok.. Ama beni.. yakalamak için yeterli değiller ve bunu ikimiz de biliyoruz.”, der Cathber.

Brom ise kenarda durmuş, bu iki alakasız kişinin, biri yaşlı ve hafif kaçık, diğeri ise dev bir oger’in bu küçük, sözlü düellosunu izlemektedir.

Reise Grulganesti derin bir soluk verir.

“Beni yine mat etmeyi başardın, yaşlı adam.”, der hafif kızmış, hafif takdir eder bir ifadeyle.

“Seni mat etmekten asla keyif almadım, Ganiste. Öyle de bir niyetim olmadı hiç. Ve senin için söylediğim her şeyi de inanarak söyledim.”, der yaşlı Cathber sessizce.

“Öyle olsun, Cathber. Evet.. ‘Çağrı’ tekrar başladı..”, der Grulganesti ve bu sefer yüzünde belirgin bir korku peyda olur.

“Themalsar daha kaç bin can istiyor?”, diye burnundan solur Cathber.

“O değil.”, der Grulganesti.

Cathber’in bir kaşı kalkar.

“Bu.. başka bir şey..”, der Reise sessizce.

“Kim?”, diye sorar Efendi Cathber.

“Bilmiyorum. Sadece çağrısını duyuyorum.. Geceleri.. ve rüyalarımda.. Çok uzaklardan ve çok daha derinlerden..”, diye fısıldar dev kadın.

Cathber hayretle Reise Grulganiste’ye bakar.

“Bu sesin sahibi o kaçık papaz değil, Cathber. Bu.. çok daha tehlikeli.. Çok daha sinsi.. Çok daha karanlık..”, der Grulganesti korkuyla. “Ve..”