Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fantasy Friday - A Dowry for Hamelin, Part One

Malory sighed as she plunged the red hot blade into the barrel of water next to the anvil, a hiss of steam issuing from the bubbling water as the sword went from red hot to cold steel. Pulling it up, she held it up so she could examine the blade, holding it by the undecorated hilt of the blade.

“No cracks or splits, no strains… everything seems good.” She said to no one in particular. Setting her tongs down on top of the anvil, she walked over to her workbench where she had the dragon hide she was planning to use to wrap the hilt. Some would find that vain, but not Malory.
After all, she killed the dragon that had dared invade her forest home, why not use its hide for her works?
True, I’d only been a whelpling, perhaps ten feet in length from horned snout to bladed tail. But it had swooped in over the village, belching gouts of crackling acid at those who thought they could do anything about the creature. Malory closed her one good eye and remembered the sight of the young town guardsmen who took a full blast of the monsters poisonous breath, falling to the ground paralyzed from the crackling electricity while the acid ate through his armor and skin into his muscles and organs.
Malory had joined the fight, climbing the roof of her smithy with a pike and a sword sheathed at her side. When the moment had been right, she’d leapt from the roof and landed on the beasts back, squarely plating the spiked end of the pike between the shoulder blades of the great beast. Before it could even react she’d grabbed hold of a wing joint and begun hacking with her sword, severing the wing from the main body after five mighty chops.
Grounded, the beast had moved back and forth, its stubby head unable to look upon its armored back. It had attempted to buck her off, swerving to and fro and slamming into stone cottages, but she’d steadfastly refused to even consider getting knocked off. By then archers had lined up on the overlook leading into town, all prepared to fire.
“Wait!” Malory had called out, but it was too late. A volley of serrated arrows had rained down on the back of the beast, three of them piercing Malory: one in the shoulder, one in her sword arm, and one in her thigh.
Despite her injuries, she’d raised her sword high in the air and plunged it into the thick, arrow peppered hide, sliding forward until she was at the embedded pike, using it as a grip as she’d begun to hack at the back of the beasts armor plated neck. Blood had flowed freely from the dragon that day, almost as much as Malory had lost due to the arrows.
Having run low on options, Malory, woozy from her blood loss, had slid down until she was straddling the bloody tissue of the neck, reaching in to grasp a section of corded muscle amidst the fat and bubbling blood, searing her hand and squirting out into one of her eyes. The beast had howled at that, swaying its head back and forth as it breathed out clouds of noxious electrically-charged acid, moving into them in an attempt to drive Malory off. Closing her eye she could still smell the chlorine in the air, feel the static charge rippling over her body… opening it once again she saw that her hands were shaking, the sword laying on the table forgotten.
“Mama,” came a small voice from the doorway. Looking over, she smiled at the young man she’d come to love; he’d been abandoned in the forest by the Elves, whatever reasoning they had lost upon the villagers of the town. They discussed what they should do with him when Malory had offered to adopt him, all those years ago.
She never regretted it.
“Yes Hamelin?” She sighed, dropping down onto her stool to rest her weary bones.
“It’s late. You should come inside and rest.” The boy said cautiously, his hazel eyes looking over his mother’s haggard form. With one eye and seven fingers, Malory was a warrior through and through just from her stance alone. She stood at an impressive six and a quarter feet tall, with a long trail of fiery red hair that fell down her back in a loose ponytail. Her trim figure was locked and buckled into dragon hide leathers that she chose to wear every day, no matter how hot the summers got. Her hands, thin and strong, were shaking as she sat there at her workbench, a roll of dragon hide and razor sharp knives sitting next to a sword fresh from the forge.
“Just bring me my dinner out here Hamelin, and a cup of herbal tea… Wintersbite if we have it.”
Hamelin stood for a while, in his mother’s blind spot, still staring at her, before slowly nodding and closing the door to go inside and finish dinner.
Leaning her head onto a scarred hand, burned from the blood of a dragon, she stared at the sword that hung above her forge. Plunged into the spine of a dragon that day, the blade had forever been changed. The iron had been burned a hint of red and sliced into dummies and trees far easier. The soothsayers in town had claimed there was magic to dragon blood, but Malory had never paid it any mind. Now, she believed it. Her scarred hand was able to go into the forge without worry of burns, allowing her to pick and clean her manufactured blades clean before bringing them out to be folded and hammered.
Smiling faintly, she thought back on how the Lord of the land had tried to lay claim to the creatures’ carcass. He’d sent four soldiers along with a courier to the Regent of the village, stating that the corpse of the dragon, along with any pieces removed, were to be sent to the Lord of the River-Valley at once. Malory had been the first to answer them, attacking the soldiers while still in bandages, swinging her dragon-tempered sword at the men, slaying one before disarming the others.
“Tell Lord Williams that he did nothing to stop this from happening and that our village might not be here were it naught for the brave men and women that gave their all to felling the beast. You tell him the dragon is ours.” Malory had said, her sword pressed against the lead soldiers’ throat, her blade glowing red hot.
The courier had left with his men, minus the dead one that was hung from the town gates as evidence of their declaration to the Lord.
After that the town had divvied up the dragon, the organs and blood going to the alchemists and the one wizard who called Hallows Grove his home. The bones and leather had been given to Malory, on the condition she arm some of the militia with weapons touched by dragon skin. She’d forged twelve broadswords, each with a fang sticking out of the pommel with dragon skin used to wrap the hilt.
The town guard had been thrilled. Some had even apologized about shooting her when the dragon had attacked. She’d waved them off, telling them they hadn’t had the aim to fell the beast, so the chances of killing her had been slim to none. That had earned some light-hearted laughter around the Hallowed Grounds bar that night. Now she was viewed as a regional hero, being called upon by villages in the actual valley to deal with their various pest problems.
After consulting with the local priest, Malory had decided that ignoring the cries of those who needed her aid was akin to leaving someone to bleed to death. And so, with a heavy heart, she had begun taking commissions to go down into the basin to deal with the local issues. She was paid of course, and half of what she earned was given to the temple for watching her boy, but each mission seemed to take a little from her, making her weaker while staying home.
Hamelin opened the door from the house to the forge, an outside area that Malory spent an amazing amount of time in between tasks that took her away from the village. The thin Wood Elf, with his dark hazel eyes and tanned skin, was maturing rapidly, growing an inch or so ever few weeks, filling out and putting on muscle from his work as his mother’s apprentice. He carried a tray over with a partially cooked slab of beef and a baked potato, along with her Wintersbite tea she’d asked for.  His plate, substantially smaller, was slices of ham cooked over an open flame and several small baked potatoes.
Malory nodded as the tray was placed on her workbench, thanking her son for bringing it out to her. She looked mildly surprised when he say down on a stool with his own wooden plate and joined her.
“Something on your mind?” She said, cutting into the beef with a dragon tooth dagger she’d made.
“A few things…” He said unsure where to begin.
“Well, eat up first for courage, then go ahead and ask. I’ve been watching you for weeks trying to work up the courage to ask me whatever it is you want to ask me.”
“You’ve noticed?” He winced, embarrassed at being caught.
Malory chuckled. “I may have one eye but my ears are sharper than ever. I can hear you lurking at the doorway, watching me work. I can hear your hand shake the door every time I take a break as if you’re working up the courage to confront me about something.”
“I hadn’t realized I’d been this transparent.” He said quietly.
“I’m your mother; I’m supposed to be able to read you.” Malory smiled, taking a bite of the slab she’d cut away. “Oh, excellent. You really are quite the cook.”
“Thank you…” he said, looking down at his plate for a moment before he started cutting up chunks of ham and potato together, eating at a languid pace as his mother seemed in no particular hurry. Looking out over the village, the canopy top covering the forge being the only thing separating them from the stars, Hamelin chuckled.
Malory smiled. “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just… here I am, living in a village on a cliff, pressed against another overhand. The forests that are supposed to be my home are far below us, yet I never feel comfortable there.”
“Even when hunting?”
“Especially when hunting,” Hamelin said with a laugh. “The rest of the hunters expect me to be able to track the quarry from three day old tracks that have been rained on, just because I’m a Wood Elf.”
“So it’s more of an expectations thing?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He said, stuffed a small potato in his mouth. “It’s just, the village seems disappointed in how I’m turning out. They want some elite Elven warrior when I’m really… not.”
Malory set down her knife and got up, walking over to her son. “Don’t ever think that,” she said serious, looking at him with her one good eye, the dragon scale eye patch reflecting some of the light from the forge. “Each of has our own path to follow, and you must follow it as you see fit. I fought a dragon for fear it would hurt my son if not handled correctly. Am I warrior? I am now. Did that day make me into one? By no means. If you want to become a hunter above all hunters, then train. Train and seek out the animals of the wild that we have never been able to best.”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you Mama,” Hamelin said, causing her muscles to lock up. “I want to go on a job with you. I’m good with a bow, you know this.”
“Best in the village I’d say,” she replied detachedly.
“So I could be of help to you!” He said, looking at her earnestly.
She stared at him long and hard for a few moments. “You’re eighteen now, and have just become interested in becoming a Monster Hunter?”
“Is that what they call you?” He asked quietly.
“Indeed, that’s what they call me.” She said, kneeling down to look her son in the eyes. “What’s the real reason you want to hunt monsters, Hamelin?”
Hamelin was quiet for a moment, before looking away with flushed cheeks.
His mother crowed. “So it’s for a girl is it?”
Hamelin coughed into his fist. “Boy, actually.”
That stopped his mother for a few moments. “You’re gay?”
“Um, yes?” He said, looking at her bashfully.
“Is the lad you’re interested in also gay?” Malory asked, wincing at the thought of her son’s heart being broken.
“We’ve been seeing each other for about two moons now. He’s a hunter, like I am, and we often go off on the hunt alone so as to get some peace and quiet.” Hamelin said, blushing a deep crimson. “We really love each other Mama, and I want to bring home a trophy worthy of a betrothal gift for him.”
“Why hasn’t he tried to get a betrothal gift for you?” She asked, rubbing her chin.
“What could he get you that could top a Dragon, Mama?” Hamelin said with a sigh.
“Alright, good point. But he should be trying to win my approval just as much as you should be trying to win his parents approval. Who is this boy?”
“Oliver White,” Hamelin said with a breathy sigh.
Malory knew of the boy. Quiet and reserved, he was an excellent skinner and trapper and a mediocre hunter. He liked botany and ran the herbalists shop with his grandmother, an old busy body that was often seen in public chastising someone for some imagined slight.
“Does his grandmother know?” Malory asked, wincing at the thought.
“Oh yes, that’s why I’ve come to you. She wants something impressive to hang on her wall as a betrothal gift.”
“She would, the old troublemaker.” Malory chuckled, thinking of how the old woman had claimed one of the padded claws of the dragon and turned it into a hollowed out stand for her canes.
Slapping her thighs, Malory stood up. “Alright then! Let’s plan us a journey to bring back something as impressive as a Dragon for the old biddy.”
“You mean it?” Hamelin said, tears welling at the corners of his eyes. “Oh thanks Mama!”
“Don’t mention it, just make certain you adopt me some grandchildren. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another wood elf child in the woods, eh?” Malory laughed as her son looked green at the thought of children. 

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