Original post to Darkwind’s Garou Board as "Wolf Tales (5)" Wed 28 May 2003 14:23

Revised 15 May 2019

The young barbarian girl surveys the carnage that was, just a short while ago, the "animal pen" ... three chickens, a pig, and the milk-cow ... all dead. Mutilated, actually, their bellies ripped open and some internal organs missing. Blood everywhere.

The horrific scene should give her a fright, but it does not. Instead she feels only a cold numbness. These animals, few as they were, were her family's livelihood. Without them, they are destitute.

Not that they were rich before -- far from it. The brutal tax policy of the Lord Landholder in these parts guarantees that the peasants have the minimum for survival -- and nothing more. Her father succumbed to illness two years back -- a curable condition, she is sure, if only the family had been able to afford a surgeon. Now she, her mother and her younger sister do what they can.

She's glad of one thing -- that the two of them are currently in the fields; they don't need to see this. Yet. It buys her time, to find her center, survey the situation calmly, suppress the rage and panic that both try to boil up and take control.

It was either a wolf or a very large and nasty dog, that's clear from the paw prints, random bits of fur and bite marks. But the killing scene is too chaotic for a normal hunt -- too much meat left on the corpses, too much blood left lying. Only the vitals -- heart and liver -- are missing from the larger carcasses; as if the attacker needed the maximum amount of blood and sustenance in the quickest possible time and couldn't afford to be nice about it.

If anyone were to read the girl's mind at this point, they should be surprised by her ability to see all this. After all, what did peasant girls of 14 years know about hunting and killing? At 15, they're expected to be happily married and producing babies; so at her age, this girl with no fiancé has enough to worry about, thank you.

But marriage and family are far from this girl's mind. Not that she lacks for young men who are interested, mind you, and not because she doesn't find men interesting; it's just that she has another passion, something rather un-ladylike, something that would cause a scandal if it ever comes out, something she hides even from her mother.

This girl is a huntress and not too shabby about it, if anyone cares. In fact, she's certain she could feed her family well with the kills she brings in -- if the Lord Landholder permitted hunting on his land, which he does not, so that would make her a poacher. But there's so much work to do on the farm since her father passed that there's no real time for it anyway. Most of the harvest goes to the Lord, so they live, as best they can, from the animals.

Which are now all dead. The numbness quickly gives over to iciness. There's something else about the murder scene -- it's no more than a few minutes old. Sudden resolve takes her. Nothing more to lose now. She would --

-- horses. Coming this way fast. She emerges from the barn just as the Landholder's soldiers -- six of them, she counts -- rein up in a swirl of dust.

"Ho, girl!" calls the apparent leader. "Have you seen the wolf we're tracking? A big, grey one, with massive teeth and an ill temper? It broke into the lord's stables and slew his prize stallion, if you please! Took down two of my brave men before we wounded it and now we give chase. Our lord commands that its hide should hang from the battlements before sundown or it will be our hides that hang! What know ye, girl? Speak quickly!"

The man disgusts her. He and his "soldiers" are better known among the peasants for the "liberties" they take than for their ability in a fight. He wants his bravado to impress her. This girl does that to him. Oh, but if only there was time -- so many better things he could do with this girl than enquire about a wolf. But he has his orders -- his neck's literally on the line, so such niceties will have to wait. Perhaps on the way back, after they take care of the wolf...

The girl is well aware of the man's thoughts, as women in such situations always are, even if the men are too dim-witted to realize it. She studies his body, too. Specifically, the neck -- the exposed flesh just above the collar of the breastplate and below the helm. One shot is all she needs. If she only had her bow. If only there weren't five others.

She says nothing, still filled with ice. She simply jerks her head toward the barn. One of the men dismounts, goes inside and then quickly returns. "We're hot on the trail, Captain!"

Really? she thinks. How can you tell?

"Quickly, then!" He nods to the girl and grins through yellow teeth. "Miss." And off they gallop.

In the wrong direction.

With the distraction finally ended, she runs to the corner of the barn and digs through the hay until she finds the blanket. She unfolds it to reveal a bow and a quiver of arrows -- her most prized possessions in all the world.

A moment later she -- not the soldiers -- is "hot on the wolf's trail". It's not difficult -- the wolf is indeed wounded. Not only does this slow it down, but also makes it careless about hiding its tracks; not to mention the trail of blood -- blood that the wolf is still losing. She shakes her head at the stupidity of the soldiers and continues, gaining on her prey.

In not much time at all, she closes the distance. Just up ahead, she thinks, as she crawls quietly through the brush. She knows the place where the wolf is, because it's a place she likes to visit, when she has time -- a pool in the forest, with a little waterfall from the rock face above it. A place for peace, tranquillity, inner reflection.

And a place where this wolf has come to die, even if it doesn't know it, she thinks, as she nimbly plucks an arrow from her quiver and expertly nocks it. She hears the wolf splashing around in the water, the cadence of the waterfall altered as it breaks upon the wolf's body before falling into the pool. One final nudge forward, the arrow nocked and ready, she will see her target, pull the string back, make final aim and let fly. Just another little bit and...

...she sees. Catches her breath. Jaw falls open.

For there is no wolf in the pool. It's a man. But not a "man" -- what's the word..? "Elf!" That's it. An elf. A male elf. In her pool. A male elf bathing naked in her pool.

She's never seen an elf before. She's never been far enough from home to believe that such creatures exist. But here it is, straight out of a fairy tale.

The girl shakes her head briefly. She momentarily forgot why she's here. Then remembers. She was tracking a wolf. A wolf that just destroyed her family's existence. She tracked it flawlessly. The wolf must be here. Right here. But there is no wolf -- there's only this Elf.

The Elf suddenly gasps, bites his teeth together in pain, but the girl can't see why. Then the Elf turns around and she sees the shaft of an arrow stuck in his side, an arrow that the Elf now slowly pulls out. With a final gasp, he pulls it completely free and tosses it aside. Now she sees two other wounds, long and jagged slices that must have come from swords. All three still bleed, but not as much as she expects. And as she watches, she's amazed to see the wounds close right before her eyes. The elf breathes deeply now, eyes closed, concentration inward. It occurrs to her that she's close enough for him to sense her presence -- she's heard that elves can do such things -- but she's unable to move, so spellbound does this strange scene hold her.

The wounds are now completely closed. Only scars remain and these too are fading. The Elf sighs with satisfaction and opens his eyes. He gathers his long blond hair in both hands, wrings it out, exposes his pointed ears. Then he slowly leaves the pool. The girl carefully follows, not wanting to lose sight of him, curiosity overcoming good sense.

Now the Elf stops and studies the ground, shifts his gaze from side to side as if searching for something. His eyes finally lock onto a spot and he drops to his knees. As the amazed girl watches, the Elf plunges his hands into the solid ground as if it were sand -- and digs! Within seconds, there's a hole in the ground that's bigger and deeper than a man could have made in a few minutes with a shovel. And the Elf isn't even dirty!

Out of the hole comes a backpack, whose contents the Elf dumps on the ground beside him: clothing, leather armor, boots, gloves, some provisions and an oaken quarterstaff. The elf quickly dresses, slings the pack over his shoulder and takes up the staff. He's about to leave, but suddenly stiffens. So does the girl -- she realizes now she's been too careless; but she doesn't dare move, for that would give her away immediately. She holds her breath and tries to make her heart stop pounding.

The Elf sniffs. One pointed ear twitches. Then the corner of his mouth turns up, he relaxes and gazes unerringly at the bush behind which the girl hides. The girl, eyes wide, heart in her throat, simply waits.

The Elf drops to one knee, lays down the staff, picks up a twig and appears to write something on the ground. He finishes, stands, slings his pack over his shoulders, picks up his staff -- and leaves.

The girl waits, not moving until she's sure that the Elf is far enough away. Then she lets out pent-up breath in a rush and gulps in fresh air. After her heartbeat slows somewhat, she emerges from her hiding place and carefully approaches the spot where the Elf had been. He left a leather pouch, she now notices. But first she turns her attention to the ground next to the pouch, where the Elf indeed wrote something in the dirt...

Forgive me. The Wolf's need was great.

The girl blinks, tries to digest the implications of it. But before going on with that for too long, she opens the pouch. Gold coins. LOTS of gold coins. More gold coins than she's ever seen! Enough gold coins to buy a barn full of livestock.

Enough to get a better bow, a nicer quiver, an endless supply of arrows.

Enough for her, Mother and Sister to move away from the Landholder's realm and start a new life somewhere else.

The girl ties the pouch to her belt. She smooths over the ground upon which the Elf wrote, erasing his words. Then she takes up her bow and heads home.

A few steps later, she begins to sing.