Childhoods, Part IV

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“I am Armand,” said the man.  “You and I have much to discuss.”

Suddenly, the young woman felt very, very cold.  She could see no possible escape.  The man had tracked her as far as this village; no doubt he could track her wherever she went.  He was far too large to overpower, and even if he wasn’t, she didn’t want to fight in front of Sigi.

Sigi – that was the worst part of it.  She’d drug Sigi into all this.  She’d let Sigi down.

“You, you’re going to kill me now?” the young woman trembled.  Sigi looked equally troubled, her mouth slightly agape, tears forming in her eyes.  Her husband the innkeeper came up the stairs at that moment, looked in wonderment at the tall man who seemed to occupy the entire inn by himself, and didn’t utter a word.

“No, at this moment, I’m going to ask you questions.  I suggest you answer them.”  Armand’s tone made that alternative seem worse, somehow.  “So, Frida the Wolf-Killing Orphan, what, exactly, happened to Baron Axel?”

What happened to Baron Axel, the young woman thought, was exactly what could have happened to me. 

HolinessThings were changing at the Abbey.  There weren’t many orphans left, and Frida and Babyface found themselves the eldest of those who remained.  It was time for them to move on, the Abbess said, and find a place in the world.  Babyface had continued his work as a baker, but was equally skilled with writing and numbers.  Lord Hakkon’s steward thought he would make a perfect court scrivener, and could start right after the harvest.

Frida’s case was more difficult.  The Abbess had always considered her a smart, conscientious girl, well on her way to becoming a responsible young woman.  She had learned to read alongside Babyface, and while she didn’t have Babyface’s patience to copy page upon page of text, she helped the younger children learn.  She had managed the abbey garden for several years now, but there weren’t many farmsteads that needed an additional gardener.  Frida was pretty, friendly, and kind, too.  When she went to the village, young men smiled at her, and she smiled shyly back.  The Abbess knew about all this, but thought Frida was too young for a husband.

Frida could hunt; that much was true.  The wolf that sprang at her a couple seasons before wasn’t the last one to fall to her bow!  She’d killed at least three more since then.  One fall morning, she had gone to the pasture with the shepherd boy when they were set upon by a trio of wolves.  She shot the first one before it even got close.  The second fell as it looked back at its slain compatriot.  The third escaped, pursued by the shepherd’s dog.  Frida’s final kill came near the village the following spring, when she spied a lone wolf trailing two children on the path to the creek.  Their grateful mother made sure everyone knew about the wonderful girl from the abbey, so Frida found herself somewhat famous.

But the Abbess didn’t want to send her young charge out into the world as a huntress.  The trouble was, in that region there weren’t many options for a young woman with no family, regardless of her talent.  The only thing the Abbess could do was wait patiently for a good situation.

She certainly knew there were some bad situations.  One day that summer Frida returned with Babyface from market, looking red-eyed and stricken.  The Abbess sent Babyface to the kitchen and led Frida to the courtyard to listen to her story.  They were at the market, Frida explained, and, having completed the shopping list, they were listening to a minstrel singing a funny, funny song.  After Babyface tossed a coin at the minstrel’s feet, they turned to go, but found their way blocked by an enormous man with a huge, black beard, shaggy black hair, and watery eyes.  He was dressed in tight, dark green trousers, a baggy red shirt, and a black cape trimmed in wolf’s fur.  Behind him were two muscular, sandy-haired men wearing ordinary farmer’s clothes, probably brothers.

The bearded man looked Frida up and down, grinning.  Frida didn’t like how he was looking at her.  She liked it even less when he clasped her chin with his fat fingers.  “Oho!” he said, chuckling.  “You are the wolf-killer!  I’ve heard about you!  Pretty, pretty girl, but so dangerous?  Oho!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Frida said.  “I don’t recall –”

“Oho!  You don’t know me, but you will!  Everyone knows Baron Axel!”  Baron Axel leaned over and brought his face very close to Frida’s.  “And some people,” he leered, “learn to love him!”  His breath was bad enough to make Frida cringe.  “I could use a wolf-killer at my manor,” he laughed.  “Maybe you come work for me!  Be my chambermaid!”

“I cannot –“ Frida started, but Baron Axel grabbed her arm.  “You think about this!” he said.  “Oho!  I know you will want to come!”

“Now just wait!” Babyface interjected.  He tried to push between Frida and Axel, but Axel staggered him with a slap to the ear.

“Go back to your crib, baby boy,” sneered Axel, “and don’t waste my time!”  He nodded to his bodyguards, and turned to leave.  Looking back at Frida, he said, “Just think!  A life in the manor with Axel!  What more could a pretty girl want?  Oho!”

“I’ve never seen that man before,” Frida told the Abbess.  She felt safer back at the abbey, but the fear and humiliation lingered.  “Who does he think he is, acting like he owns everything and everyone he sees?”

“Baron Axel,” said the Abbess.  “I guess he had to return sometime.”  She put her arm around Frida’s shoulders.  “His father Rolf, the original Baron, was one of the richest men around here, and highly respected.  His son, Axel, had none of his father’s business sense, and never learned to govern his appetites.  He caused many scandals at his father’s estate, so Rolf sent him abroad, mostly to get him out of the way, I think.  Rolf died last autumn, so it appears the son has arrived to claim the estate.”

“But what can I do now?” sobbed Frida.  “I can’t go back to the market again.  Not while he’s there!”

“Please don’t worry,” said the Abbess, holding Frida tighter.  “I will speak with the village headsman.   If he can’t help, I will speak personally to Lord Hakkon.  I’m told he’s had quite enough of Axel’s antics, and might want to put some fear of the Divines in him.”

Frida felt slightly better after another squeeze from the Abbess.  She wandered into the kitchen, and found Babyface leaning over the cutting-table, sulking.  “I’m sorry,” he said softly.

She took his hand.  “Why?  Why should you apologize to me?”

“I wanted to protect you, but I was scared.  I was scared of Baron Axel, and I was scared of those bullies he had with him.”  He slapped the table in frustration.  “I’m not strong or powerful!  I never have been!  You’re my sister, and I’m supposed to do right by you!”

Frida stroked his hair.  “And you’re my brother.  We look after each other, just as we’ve always done.  But against those three?  Even together we couldn’t have fought them.  You did stand up for me, though, and I think you embarrassed Baron Axel.  That’s why he left.  I should thank you!”  Babyface looked skeptical, but accepted Frida’s hug at the end.

Frida didn’t sleep well that night.  It wasn’t just the day’s fright; it was the anger at having to face Baron Axel in the future.  Surely he’d appear next market day, Lord Hakkon or not.  And even if he kept him at bay, he would still be on the periphery, leering, waiting.  How long must I hide here?

She didn’t need to hide long.  Three mornings later, she was chopping wood outside the kitchen, the sun at her back.  The morning meal was over; Babyface was off somewhere studying, while the remaining orphans were off to their chores.  She was alone, working in relative peace when a shadow loomed over her.  She turned to face Baron Axel, who, even without his bully boys, seemed to blot out anything else visible.  “Oho!” he laughed.  “It’s our little wolf-killer!  Have you decided to come with me yet?”

“Where are your friends?” said Frida.

“Oh, I told the boys we needed our privacy!”  He tried to stroke her cheek, but she ducked out of the way.  Baron Axel’s brow furrowed.  “What is the matter?” he asked sweetly.  “What will it take to convince you?”

“Leave me in peace, please,” said Frida, as calmly as she could manage.  Abbess!  Babyface!  Where are you?

“You don’t tell a Baron what to do, girl!” Axel snarled.  He tried to grab her left shoulder, but she twisted away in time, leaving him with a handful of her dress.  She heard the fabric rip, and gasped.  “Don’t you even think of screaming, girl!”  Axel’s voice was now a throaty whisper.  “Who would listen to you, anyway?”

Where is everybody?  Can no-one see what he’s doing? 

Axe Mistress 1Baron Axel moved in closer.  “I get what I want, in the end,” he said.  “You’ll see.  And then you’ll learn to love me!”  Baron Axel was enjoying himself, enjoying Frida’s fear.  But he wasn’t paying attention.  Frida kicked him in the left knee as hard as she could, her wooden clog making an audible thwop! against his patella.  Baron Axel howled, straightened up, and drew his right hand back for a roundhouse slap.  He’d show that impudent little girl what’s what!

Which gave Frida the opening she needed.  She grabbed the ax and swung as hard as she could.  Baron Axel couldn’t bring his left hand up quickly enough, and his right was drawn back to strike Frida.  The flat of the ax head caught Baron Axel just above the bridge of his nose, making a sort of hollow sound.  He stood there for a moment, his eyes crossed in stupid shock, and collapsed.

Go to Part III     Go to Conclusion

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: