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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 arrives to bring 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 heard 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 large, 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.. an inky black thing that had just hissed out of the cave would likely give him nightmares for the next few 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, dump 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 little.. 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”..
You shall suffer the curse of the 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 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. 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 against even 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 cure them when they are sick.. When was the last time you cured 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 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, 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..”

“And I am called Inshala.. 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 it’s gone..”

“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*

“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 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, off his shoulders without so much as a bother.. Right 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 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 yawled 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 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 the wolves..

 

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. 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 beloved Seraphim Silverdûne.. 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..

 

“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 heavy bush, 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 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 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 was 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, they have 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 man 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?”

“That is something you will learn in time, I imagine. 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 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 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 howel 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 didn’t anyone tell me?”

*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 Gulls Perch. They were all banned quite some years ago.”

“They still are, mother Ganiste. But fey 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.”

Ganesti 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 Gulls 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 and 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 of them, 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 Grulganesti’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 thier 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 in 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 Gulls 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 the 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 the 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 cloths. His head and face was 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 his 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 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 device 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 in to 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 a 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.

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 a 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 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 this 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..”

 

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 a 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 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 paladins 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 new comer.

“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 new comer. 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 question.

But the girl.. Aager couldn’t really make out if she was pretty or not, like 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 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.”, 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 an 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 on 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 foot steps 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 a pissed off 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 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 quite, 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 then anything he’d loved. Or perhaps, to put it into correct perspective, he loved her more that anything he could have wished to have loved..

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, not write love letters. I am guessing yours wasn’t any better..”

“My poor Aager.”, came the girls 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 incase 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 girls 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.

So, Aager couldn’t put his finger on it, ‘freely given’?

And it always left her face adorably, maturely, and, rather unexpectedly sentualy pink and abashed.

 

Funny how it was always the little things in others we cared 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 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 eye, 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 reach 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” 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..