Childhoods, Part III

Click here for Childhoods, Part I

Click here for Childhoods, Part II

Playable Children Plus IV Edited
A young orphan girl…

Astrid turned out to be a decent hunter – the turkey was just the start.  She set out snares and caught a few rabbits.  One day, she managed a pair of pheasants.  She even shot a deer, though she had to fetch one of the local boys to help her drag it back to the village.  What was more, Sigi appreciated her efforts very much, and Astrid seemed to be putting on a little weight.  She didn’t consider herself to be a skilled archer, but she was competent enough to keep everyone happy.

It had started a few years ago, when she was about fifteen.  It was a dry summer.  Boys returning from the fields said the farmers were fretting about their crops.  The Sisters worried about the well running dry.  Deer, goats, and other game began moving on to better climates, making the predators bolder and more desperate.  When wolves attacked sheep in the pasture, the young orphan shepherd barely escaped with his life.  The Abbess decided that, although their order rejected weapons generally, children working in the fields or pastures should somehow be armed.  Local farmers and nearby villagers managed to donate a few axes.  Lord Hakkon agreed to provide some bows and arrows.  While neither the young lady called Frida nor Babyface spent much time outside the abbey, they were required to learn the bow, too.

Using a bow properly was harder than it looked!  The young lady called Frida was surprised at how much strength it took just to pull the bowstring back.  After a couple of lessons from one of Lord Hakkon’s men, she and Babyface began practicing on their own in the yard outside the kitchen, using a bail of straw as a target.

After a few weeks, both of them could hit the target, or near it, dependably.  Babyface considered that a success, as he viewed archery as a duty, but ultimately something that interfered with baking and learning letters and numbers.  The young lady wasn’t satisfied, though, and kept practicing.  She knew she needed more strength, so she took on additional chores, like chopping firewood, to build up her muscles.  From a safe distance, Babyface cheered her on.  He fashioned her a fancier target from some scrap wood, complete with a picture of a snarling wolf for her to aim at.  “I’ll make you an apricot tart if you hit it!” he said.

She got her apricot tart.

One morning late in the summer, Frida was in the kitchen preparing for her chores when she was alarmed by commotion in the chicken coop.  The hens seemed more disturbed than normal, and she thought she heard snuffling, as if some other animal were prowling out there.  She went to the window, and peeking through the shutters, saw a wolf trying to squeeze into the henhouse!  She considered calling for help, but she knew there was no time.  Maybe she and Babyface could chase the wolf away, but that would put both of them at risk, and she didn’t want Babyface injured.  And even if they succeeded in driving the wolf off, it would only come back.

The wolf had to go.

She removed her bow and quiver from their hook on the kitchen wall.  She tried to set up a shot from the window, but she couldn’t get a proper angle.  It was no use; she would have to go outside.  She opened the door as quietly as she could, and crept out.  From the door, she had a reasonable shot.  If she took three steps to the right, it might be better.  She nocked an arrow, and sidled slowly, praying the wolf wouldn’t hear.  The wolf was still pawing at the henhouse door as she began drawing the bowstring.  It would have been an easy shot if the wind hadn’t changed, if the wolf hadn’t picked up her scent, shifted, and sprang at her all in one fluid movement.

“Frida!  Frida!”  She heard Babyface and the Sisters calling her name.  She felt like she was being crushed and smothered.  Something wet dripped down her neck.  “Get it off her!” someone yelled.  The weight lifted away; she could breathe easier.  “Frida!  Are you hurt?”  Babyface seemed almost in a panic.  She tried to get up.  The Abbess’s hand eased her back down. “The wolf is dead,” she said, she said sternly.  “We are very lucky you are alive.”  The Abbess began poking and probing the young lady’s body, checking for injuries.  “You are covered in blood,” she said, “but it does not appear to be yours.”  Babyface and the Abbess helped her sit up.  She glanced to her left.  The wolf carcass was lying on its back.  Her arrow had pierced its neck, which accounted for the blood soaking her dress.  She saw her bow lying in the dust to her right, still in one piece.  The Abbess directed one Sister to prepare a bath, while another went off in search of something to replace the ruined dress.  Babyface helped the young lady up, and led her back inside.

Teen Astrid I
…grew up well-liked and responsible.

It started to rain hard that afternoon.

The rest of the summer was wet, too.  While the harvest wasn’t great, it was far better than people had feared, and when the surrounding villages put on their autumn festivals, people had reason to celebrate.   These festivals naturally featured markets as well as celebrations, so the Abbess sent the young lady and Babyface to the closest one with a shopping list and a little extra money for a treat.  The pair always enjoyed these journeys, though they were becoming a little bittersweet.  When they were younger, most of the orphans would make the trip.  Lately, though, their number was dwindling as the older orphans grew up and found positions as farmers, tradesmen, and the like.  At the festival, they spotted a young cobbler occupying a small booth, and recognized him as one of their former “brothers.”  The cobbler remembered both of them as well.  “It’s Frida the wolf-killer,” he smiled, “your reputation rides ahead of you!  What is it now?  As many as ten wolves?”

The young lady blushed while Babyface tried to hide a scowl.  “Only one!” she laughed, “And it nearly squashed me!”  But she enjoyed the attention, and as they walked away, she turned and saw the cobbler still smiling at her.  She smiled back.  To repair Babyface’s bruised ego, she bought him a happy yam.

It was late in the afternoon when Astrid returned to the inn.  She’d snared another rabbit, and was able to get a clear shot at a goose.  Sigi would be sure to appreciate the day’s haul, she thought, but when she opened the door, she saw Sigi sitting at one of the tables, staring at her somberly.  “Astrid, someone has come here from the south,” Sigi said, “to visit you.”  Astrid then spotted the man rising from a seat by the fireplace.  He was one of the tallest men she’d seen, with a dark complexion, wearing loose fitting red trousers, a grey tunic, and a cape.  He raised an eyebrow when he met her gaze, as if he’d caught a child doing something naughty.

“Hello, Frida,” he said.

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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 images: