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An Odd Child

by Ulfban on Jan 10, 2017 at 08:26 PM}
As she lay in the little mud cave dancing with death, Ulfban's mind wandered. Through her sixty and more years of life she trotted familiar paths and strange ones, seeing her life anew, from outside herself...
A little girl, the perfect cast of her Bree land mother, bounced on her fathers knee, large brown eyes sincere with wonder, light brown hair pulled back from her chubby baby cheeks. "But where are they daddy? Where did they all go?"
He laughed, Ulfa's father had an infectious, uproarious laugh, and everyone in the room at least smiled with him. His eternally patient wife, carefully stirring a large kettle over the fire, the strange, dark man who visited on occasion, smoking his pipe in a corner and the two dwarf brothers, gently nursing the much appreciated nut brown ale in their cups.
"The Elder do not give up their secrets so easily little one," he replied. "But if you must know, there are a few places left in the world where you may find them. Far away, across the misty mountains in dark Mirkwood live the wood elves. Little is known about them except that they trade with the men who live there."
The Dwarves shifted uncomfortably in their seats at the mention of the dark wood. "And nearer to the mountains, in fair Lothlorien dwells the wisest of living beings, Galadriel, the lady of the wood and her husband Celeborn. But on this side of the mountains lives Elrond, the herald of mighty Gil-galad, in his secret valley of Imladris."
"And," interrupted the younger dwarf, his dark complexion matching his short, iron grey beard and long, braided hair, "further to the west, shielded by the blue mountains are the sea elves. Making ships to send the rest of their kind west across the oceans." The interruption got him a hard growl from the older dwarf whose beard was as long as his knees, and snowy white.
But Ulfa's father just laughed again. "Yes, Zoya Ironbeard, Cirdan watches over the havens of Mithlond."
Ulfa's eyes remained wide and intent the rest of the evening as the men folk talked and her mother played hostess, a role she herself never really figured out. She sat silently wherever her mother told her to and did whatever was asked of her but always she had an ear out to the conversation. The dwarves went for a walk and her father and the nameless stranger spoke quietly in an unknown language. Before long however, little Ulfa could understand the conversation as she sat nodding on her fathers knee. Soon she was slumped against his chest and dozing quietly. When her mother came to gather her up though she surprised everyone by claiming she wasn't tired, in a language she shouldn't have known.
Her mother started and covered her mouth at the sounds that escaped her child, while her father and his guest merely blinked in surprise and moved their conversation and pipes outside...
The next day the stranger was gone. He never stayed the night, and father always left for a week or more after he visited. Ulfa's mother didn't like him, but she was too polite to say so. The dwarf brothers, however, laughed and smiled and heartily thanked her mother for the feast of a breakfast she laid out for them, bacon, eggs, potatoes, ham, beer, bread and cheese. Before long they went on their way, Ulfa tagging along as far as the lake, it was an hour walk back by herself but her parents didn't mind so much. The woods were safe here and she knew the way.
By the time she returned though her father was gone and her mother worried. "Ulfa, come here. Your father says you're not to wander anymore until he returns." It was almost a month this time, and the howling of wolves grew ever closer as time dragged on.
Finally he reappeared one evening, just around dusk. She had never seen her father look this way. He was armed, not only with his hunting bow and boar spear but with a pair of great knives that were almost swords in their own right. And he was wearing a chain shirt under his leather jacket. He wasted no time, "Ulfa, go inside and get your mother, I'll be in in a moment." His tone was a stern one that brooked no questions, that was also unusual of him.
Peering through the doorway she watched her father set iron wolf traps, her mother aiding him, all about the house, and was truly frightened for the first time in her life. Late that night, in the blackest hour, she lay with her mother, looking down on her father as he watched through the open door, there was a snuffling and one of the traps snapped shut with a sharp CLACK. A howl, ferocious snarling, and her father scurried outside. A sickening squelch, then silence. That was all, the rest of the night passed uneventful but Ulfa was never allowed to wander far again and her father was constantly bringing home wolf pelts. Wolves were new to this part of the woods, and her mother was having none of it.
She lay awake at nights hearing her parents bicker. Her mother wanted to move closer to, or better yet, into Bree, but her father would not go. He would never explain why, only saying that it was his responsibility to make certain that the wolves were not allowed to pass the lake.
Slowly it drove them apart, her mother became bitter at a dangerous life in the woods, but her father would not relent, or explain. She accused him of being in league with the rangers, dirty, wild men who roamed the wilderness. That was met only with stony silence. Her father though, for all his reticence still loved her mother and did what he could to show her that love. Often he would sing to her, or would carve for her some small token of his love. Ulfa's mother knew he loved her, and she refused to leave him, but she became miserable where once she had exulted in her freedom.
Occasionally the dwarf brothers, or others her father knew, would happen by. They all commented on the the increase of wolves in the area, and once she even heard mention of Orcs along the north edge of the lake before her father shushed the ironbeard and took the conversation outside. That night was the only time she ever heard her mother yell at her father. They had gone for a walk after Ulfa went to bed, but she wasn't asleep and snuck out to follow them.
Breakfast the next day was silent and bitter. Even the normally jovial dwarf brothers sensed something was wrong and excused themselves early with many a "thank you's" and "at your service's."
A week later the dark man appeared again. Her mother would not speak to him, tears welled up in her eyes as he and her husband spoke urgently, gesturing wildly out in the yard. It seemed the man wanted her father to go somewhere but he wouldn't. He kept pointing to the house. "Ulfa," her mother asked her. "What are they saying?"
Her mother had never asked her to evesdrop before, and had always discouraged her when she caught her doing it, but today it seemed, things were different. "He's saying that wolf men are coming and father has to go with him to fight them. But father won't go, he says his family comes first." Ulfa watched her mother cry, really cry, for the first time in her life. She wondered what the tears were for, she didn't seem angry or sad, or even afraid. Why was she crying?
The stranger stormed off into the woods. Her father returned to the house, and going to the shed out back, dug out his bear traps. Ulfa began to get scared again. Her father never used the bear traps, great iron jaws so strong they could break a man's leg.
The little family spent the rest of the day setting and hiding bear and wolf traps all around the house. After a grim dinner her father gave Ulfa and her mother each one of his big knives. The look he gave her mother with the knife scared her. It was as though he didn't expect her to use it on a wolf.
That night, at the black hour again, the howling sprang up out of the woods. Her father had lit several campfires far out from the house and she could see things stalking among them. Smaller shadows that must be wolves, larger shadows that she didn't understand, maybe bears, and enormous manly figures stalking the furthest edges. If they were men they must have been half giant, they were all taller than the stranger, who was a head taller than her own father. Ulfa and her mother stayed inside the house, again with the front door open. All the windows had been shuttered though and the entire outside of the house soaked with water.
All at once they charged. Ulfa had never seen her father actually fight before. He stood calmly, firing at anything he could see. Before long he was out of arrows, but there wasn't much left to fight either. Traps CLACK'ed shut everywhere as wolves, wargs, and the enormous wolf men stepped in them. Her house was ringed with death. A few brands smouldered on the ground where they had fallen, useless against the stone and hard wood home. Her father walked carefully about, stabbing anything still living with his boar spear.
As he passed by one of the wolf men though, crumpled over clutching an arrow, it jumped up, swinging a wicked club that smashed into her fathers head with a resounding crack. Ulfa and her mother both screamed. The wolf man looked back and charged at the door. Her father lay still on the ground, unconscious or worse. Ulfban's mother pulled her long knife but Ulfa grabbed her play spear, the knife her father had given her forgotten. It was a stout little spear, fire hardened point sharp enough to catch small game. Running to the door she planted the spear in the dirt and stood on its butt just as her father had shown her. The little girl, not more than ten years, stood screaming defiance at a Gauredain warrior as he rushed at her in an odd gait that used his arms almost as much as his legs. She peed herself and he could smell the fear, but still she remained, perhaps frozen with the fear he could smell.
In the end it didn't matter. As he lunged at her with his odd, low stride he impaled himself on her little spear, knocking her backwards into the house as he crashed against the door frame, a short piece of ash sticking from his collarbone. Up he jumped and roared at the women before him. But his roar ended in a gurgle as blood bubbled out his throat and he collapsed to the floor...

1 Comment

Well I was going to go to sleep

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