Childhoods, Part I can be viewed here.
The young woman went back to the cellar and curled up on the mattress. This inn had seen worse storms before, she insisted to herself, and stayed upright. Not like before, far away, when a five-year-old girl felt herself scooped into her mother’s arms as they fled their house and village by the riverside. She’d never felt such wind, and it was raining so hard that she could barely see her house over her mother’s shoulder. She remembered her mother running through water, her father and brothers not far behind. Then she remembered being passed to someone else, someone with strong hands, as her mother cried, “Go, go! Divines keep you!”
The fire had died down by the time the young woman awoke. She sat up and looked around, trying to remember where she was. When she saw her clothes on the drying rack, yesterday came back to her. She dressed quickly, found her bag and her bow, and quietly crept upstairs. Someone had started a new fire in the main room; light was seeping through cracks in the shutters. And Sigi was waiting for her. “Oh, sad, skinny girl from South!” she cried. “You go already?”
“I go today,” said the young woman. “I have to.”
“But why go now? The storm is gone. Divines bless us with diamanten – diamonds! Come! Look!” Sigi led the young woman outside to the porch. The air was cold but still, and the early morning sky was clear. Sigi was right: Everything the young woman saw was covered by a thin patina of ice. Ice on the porch railings. Ice on the street. Ice crunching beneath her feet. Icicles large and small hanging from the eaves of every building. And all the ice shining in the morning sun really was a spectacular sight, though she was sure it wouldn’t last through midday. “You see?” said Sigi. “Very beautiful. You stay and enjoy!”
“You are very kind,” said the young woman, her voice breaking a little. “But I have no more money.”
“No more guld? No coin?” Sigi pondered for a moment, then her face brightened. “Yesterday you bring us, um, rabbit, right?” The young woman nodded. “Maybe you bring us more rabbit. Maybe you catch fisk, um, fish, right? You can be useful!”
The young woman considered the offer. Could she hunt? She wasn’t an expert, but she knew enough. Could she fish? If she had to. Was it wise to stay in one place? That was the question. It was impossible to say whether she would be safer hiding in a village than moving in the open, but it might be prudent to rest here a little while in any case. And Sigi seemed to like her, so she probably wouldn’t go hungry. “Thank you,” the young woman said. “Maybe a few days. I will find food for you.”
“Good! You stay here, hunt, fish. Maybe I make you not so skinny!” The young woman smiled at the thought. Sigi said, “One more fra, um, question I have: What should I call you?”
The young woman paused. Sigi seemed trustworthy enough, but better to play it safe. “Astrid,” she said. “Please call me Astrid.”
The preceding days hadn’t left her much time to properly maintain her bow or sharpen her hunting knife, so the young woman sat at the bar to inspect her equipment. And to reflect. Astrid? When was the last time anyone called me that, the young woman thought. When five-year-old Astrid was delivered to the abbey, she’d been too frightened and bewildered to speak, much less say her own name. Everything just happened so quickly! She found herself fed, clothed, sheltered, and living with other children, whom she was told were her new brothers and sisters. And the women who cared for them were called “Sisters” as well. How confusing! Somewhere, in all the chaos, the little girl found herself with a new name. Everyone called her “Frida.”
As the little girl they called Frida grew up, she began to understand more. The storm that swept away her family and her village destroyed several other villages, too. Her brothers and sisters in the abbey were orphans just like she was, raised there on the order of Lord Hakkon, who, horrified at the disaster, ordered the abbey to look after any unclaimed children, and teach them the skills they would have learned at home.
For the girl called Frida, “useful skills” started with gathering eggs in the abbey’s henhouse, weeding the abbey garden and the like, while other orphans helped out on local farms or learned trades. As she grew older, she began to work in the abbey kitchen, where she made a friend of an awkward, rather round boy she called Babyface. Babyface was assigned to the baker, and, despite his clumsiness everywhere else, was perfectly at home among the ovens. The two spent a lot of time together even when they weren’t doing chores. While the Sisters encouraged the children to refer to each other as siblings, the girl began to think of Babyface as blood relation, and she was sure the boy felt the same way.
The young woman wondered how much Babyface worried about her. She hoped they weren’t too rough on him. She deliberately avoided telling him which way she was going, so he could honestly say he didn’t know. Put those thoughts aside, she told herself. There’s no time for them now.
She left the inn mid-morning, and didn’t return until close to sundown, with a fine turkey she took with a single lucky shot. She thought that would pay her night’s bed and board, and it did. That gave her another night to rest, to plan, and perhaps another day to repay Sigi’s kindness.
A note about the illustrations: The illustrations themselves are screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The following user mods were used to create the young woman:
- The body model used is Tania Project- Playable Race for ECE and RM, by Alan81512
- The young woman’s outfit was developed using zzjay’s wardrobe by zzjay
- The young woman was created and stylized using RaceMenu by Expired