Beasts of the Four Kingdoms: Alfrick
AFTER THE MARKET AND CAD LEAVING EMBER WITH ARIA, the boys went to go visit Alfrick. Alfrick was a dwarf that lived in a small cottage outside the village. Most of the villagers said he was a “crazy hermit” that practiced sorcery and other forms of magic.
But Cad knew better. Back when Cad had first moved in with Beck’s family, he had ran away from their home after, supposedly, speaking to a bird. He’d ran deep, deep into the forest which he had named the Sanctuary.
After he tired out, as any ten year old would, he crawled near a small stream and bent over to take a drink. Cad had looked at his reflection, his dirty olive skin staring back at him in the water. Cad checked his pointy ears and wished they would be normal and like everyone else’s. He knew it was foolish but Cad started grabbing the water and trying to scrub off the olive skin to make it more pale. When that didn’t work, he was even thinking he’d cut the points of his ears when a splash of water hit him in the face.
The shock of the wave caught Cad by surprise. He quickly grabbed a sharp rock and held it firmly in his hand. When his vision cleared, he saw a dwarf, standing in the water next to a pony, which was drinking from the stream. The dwarf was wearing small pointed shoes, a green hood and a brown and red tunic. Strapped onto the pony’s back was a small bow and on the dwarf’s back was a quiver.
“You alright, lad?” the dwarf grinned. “Seems to be you were getting a little out of hand with that knife, eh?”
“It’s not a knife. It’s.. a rock.”
“To chuck who, me?” the dwarf laughed. He waded into the water and started to cross. Cad slowly crawled backwards, the rock still in his hand.
“Now don’t worry, young lad. Dontcha’ think that an old dwarf like me would be kind to ya, eh? ” the dwarf waded closer. “Dontcha’ know who I am?”
“No! I don’t know who you are!” Cad screamed. He turned his head away and threw the rock at the dwarf. He closed his eyes, waiting to hear the sound of rock against skull, the splashing sound of the dwarf’s body hitting the water. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Cad heard a laugh, a happy giggling laugh. Cad opened his eyes and and returned his gaze back to the dwarf. He was smiling and holding the rock with his hand, his fingers enclosed upon the rock’s outer shell.
“Well lad, if you don’t know who am I, how do you know who you are, eh?” said the dwarf. He took one more step and was on the shore. He stuck out his hand with its short and stubby child-like fingers. “Name’s Alfrick. Alfrick of Yorlong Wood. Well, that’s where I live and where you are right now. Actually to be more specific you’re by the Serpent’s Neck. And by legal law, you’re trespassing.”
Cad gulped a lump of fear. “T-Trespassing?” he repeated.
Alfrick nodded, still smiling. “Trespassing, yep yep yep. But, since I ain’t no king or ruthless baron, I won’t send ya over to da law.” Thank the Almighty, Cad prayed.
“Instead,” Alfrick had continued, “you will hunt in my wood for the next moon. Understood?”
“But I don’t know how to hunt,” Cad had blurted. He stood up to his full length, which was taller than most ten year olds his age. He stood a full foot over the dwarf. “You can’t make me do anything!” Cad turned around and started to walk away from the dwarf.
I’ll remember never to come in these woods again, Cad had thought, stomping farther and farther away.
“I know how you feel. About being an outcast.”
Cad stopped cold. How had he known? How had he known about his insecurities, his awkwardness and fear of being alone. How could this dwarf know this.
“Lamen k’ris colorda, med seif el sola.” said the dwarf. It was music to Cad’s ears. A speaker of Eunna, the tongue of the woodsmen. It meant: “I feel your pain, your sorrow.”
Cad turned to face him. He said, “Salee saden monana, afin lu mandra ken? Ranay commou Eunna?”meaning “How do you know how I feel? What dwarf knows Eunna?”
“I’ve studied the Timber Scrolls,” said Alfrick. “I know much about the language of the woodsmen and,” Alfrick looked up to the trees, “their ways.” He whistled a birdsong and in seconds, flocks and flocks of small birds swooped down from all sides of wood and circled around and around the two of them. Most would shriek and call out in despair, but Cad stood still and felt the breeze of the wings of birds blow through himself.
Finally, when it had settled, the birds perched on the hundreds of branches on nearby trees, some making small sweet notes.
“What kind of birds are these?” Cad wondered. “I’ve never seen them before.”
“Try figuring it out by yourself,” Alfrick said.
“Well, let’s first try by looking at it’s color. What’s it’s shade of color?”
Cad looked up at the trees. There were so many of them but the thing that was so obvious that it seemed to shout it: red.
“They’re red,” Cad answered.
“Ruby, actually.” Alfrick had corrected. “Now, what sound do they make, eh?”
This was hard. It sounded between a mixture of a mockingbird, a robin and a whippoorwill. The song was slow and slightly mournful.
“I… I don’t know,” Cad had confessed. He picked at the dirt with his ripped shoe
Alfrick smiled wider. “ Those,” he had pointed at the birds, “are bloodsongs. They originated in Kornelia, then flew to Zavia during the Long Siege. Legend says that their sad cries sing of the dead during the Long Siege. Ever heard of that battle?”
“Then come back to my cottage and we can have cheese and bread with tea, that would be enjoyable, eh?”
“You had me at cheese,” Cad had said with a grin. After seeing how wise this dwarf was, Cad had slowly enjoyed his strange but charming manner.
The rest was history. Cad went back with Alfrick where he learned about the his ‘ancestors’─the woodsmens─as Alfrick called them and how they became allies of the Dwarven Tribes during the war between the dwarves and pirates from the Hidden Sea. Alfrick taught Cad to train in the ways of the woodsmen, to walk as the elk, watch as a fox and hunt as the wolf.
Then a year ago, Cad had started taking Beck with him on his visit to Alfrick. The small boy was intrigued by the dwarf’s stories and tales of honor and brave warriors of the Woodsmen. Both boys’ favorites were the story of how only four hundred woodsmen from the Wolf Clan saved a town of people from forty dragons.
“It was a great battle,” Alfrick had begun, his eyes wide, shining with wonder and imagination. “The woodsmen were firing their bows and arrows into the eyes of the dragons and the dragons were burning their beloved forest. The leader of the army was a woodman named Aquila and he was one of the Early that the Almighty had originally created to defend the forest.
“The dragons were circling the remaining forces, the largest of them was a dragon named Oradon, a red scaled serpent with icy blue eyes.”
“How do you know what color eyes he had?” Beck had asked.
“Wait now and you’ll hear why,” Alfrick had said. “Now, the dragons were about to swoop down and burn the whole town and take their gold and jewels.” Cad had known the old dwarf was making it up; everyone knew that dragons didn’t burn village for gold. It was because they were meant to do, just as the wolf was meant to hunt and the bird formed to fly. A dragon was made to kill.
“Oradon swooped down, his claws unsheathed. He was sure Aquila was an easy catch but he was wrong. The woodsman was ready for him, and when the dragon came in close range, Aquila ran up to him and leaped at him!”
Beck gasped, his blue eyes shown with fear and delight. “Why did he run and meet the dragon?”
“Because, dear lad, we must all learn to meet our worst fears.” Alfrick had glanced at Cad who was whittling an arrow. “Even when they’re the hardest to face.” Then he rushed back to the story.
“Anyway, Aquila leaped at the dragon and dug the blade of his sword into the dragon’s eye! Without sight, the dragon could not see, and crashed onto a field outside the village. With a single thrust, Aquila slew Oradon and was then named a hero.
“The other dragons, seeing their champion was defeated, scattered in fear of the mighty woodsmen and their leader.”
Beck had yawned, his cap being pushed almost off his sleepy head. “And that’s the end of the story?” he asked..
Alfrick had smiled. “Of course it is,” and then watched Cad.
~. . . .~
Cad knocked on the cottage door and waited.
“Who is it?” a nervous voice from inside demanded.
“I guess he’s in a grumpy mood today,” Cad mumbled to Beck. “It’s us, you old fool; Cad and Beck.”
The door swung open with a woosh, revealing a tired looking dwarf whose hair looked untidy and longer than usual. And he even smells different too, Cad thought, holding his breath. “Alfrick what’s happened to you?” Cad asked.
“Come in, come in, come in, come in!” Alfrick hissed, grabbing both boys’ arms and hauling them inside. The dwarf locked the door and had the fireplace lit in moments. Cad was amazed at how shabby the cottage looked. All of Alfrick’s books and hunting equipment were down off their usual places and a large satchel lay on the floor, bursting from all the clothes it contained.
“Alfrick,” said Cad slowly, “You aren’t leaving, are you?”
Alfrick suddenly stopped cold from his busy work and hung his head.. “Yes, my boy, I am. Our time here was very much enjoyed and cherished. But now I must leave.” He grabbed his quiver of arrows and placed it by his satchel.
“Leave!” Beck exclaimed. “But why? What reason is there for you to move? Is game not plenty enough?”
Alfrick heaved a long sigh. “The game’s not the problem. It’s what they’re telling me.”
“Telling you?” Cad said in disbelief. “Whose telling you.”
“Don’t you hear, Cad?” Alfrick shouted. “The animals, the birds, the trees. Even the wind blows a cold breeze. It’s an omen. Danger is coming.” Alfrick reached and took down his bow from above the fireplace and placed it in Cad’s hands. “This was never mine. It was always destined for you. You must never forget my words, Cad.
~. . . .~
The two boys left the cottage in shock. What was going on? Cad wondered. First, Alfrick was saying the forest is speaking to him. Second, Alfrick gave him his bow and said it was always Cad’s. And finally, now that the dwarf had told him, Cad did feel a disturbance in the air. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew it was there. Is the Almighty trying to tell me something? He wondered.
What could the old dwarf mean? The bow was destined to be mine? Cad knew he should continue and ponder on it, but he felt it was too strange. He needed to do something he knew, something he understood.
“Hey Beck, you want to go on a little hunting trip?” he said.
Beck’s head flew up. “Sure!” He took out his sling and pouch of stones. “I bet I could strike three squirrel faster than you can shoot your arrows.”
~. . . .~
When it came down to it, Beck was up by two while Cad only had one. A half hour had passed and Cad knew he’d have to beat Beck before Lionfall. Just this last one, he told himself. The two of them were hiding in a bedding of brambles and briars. Two squirrels were chasing each other around a small sycamore. A perfect package.
Cad silently retrieved an arrow from his quiver, placed it in the bowstring, pulled it. He waited. He felt his fingers begun to loose. He waited. The sweated glided down his forehead, down to the tip of his nose. He waited. Watching, he finally glanced at Beck, who was ready to let his stone fly.
And then, he released.
The arrow shot through the leaves, knifing one of the squirrel’s in the neck. Beck’s stone grazed the squirrel’s tail by a pinch of salt. Cad quickly saw his chance, drew another arrow from his quiver, aimed and released. In a matter of seconds, two squirrels lay dead on the ground. Both with an arrow through its neck.
“Great Almighty!” Beck cried in distress.
“Watch your tongue, Beck,” Cad replied. He told him this not because he was worried about the boy catching bad habits but because he’d probably scare all the prey from the forest to Kornelia. “The Almighty is sacred. He’s the One who gives us our meat to eat, our fruit to drink and our herbs to heal.” Now I’m sounding like Alfrick.
Beck took off his cap to swipe the sweat from his, then put it back on. “Hmm. I’d never thought of it before. You know, most of the villages don’t even believe in the Almighty. They think He’s dead, like my Da does.”
“Well your father is a fool,” Cad retorted. He knew Beck wouldn’t protest. The boy loathed his father as much as Cad did. “The Almighty is all Great and all Powerful. Nothing can come against Him or His Warriors.”
“Not even dragons?” Beck asked.
“Amazing, right?” Cad said. The two had picked up the carcasses and put them in a cloth sack. In it were the rest of the squirrels. Cad and Beck would then take it back to the village where Master Taron would skin them and give them to Lady Taron, who would roast them into squirrel stew.
Cad was sure Master Taron would be pleased with their meal that evening. He’d always been a taster for squirrels, even though Cad was a more rabbit person.
Beck had been quiet when he blurted, “Do you think I’ll be a great hunter someday?”
Cad stopped abruptly. What would make him ask that?
“Because I was wondering. Even six moons, the King sends the officials to scout out royal huntsmen. It was just a dream, but… I was wondering if I’d probably be skilled enough to join them.” Beck played with the feather in his cap. “Do you think I’m good enough?”
Cad grinned and them chuckled. “I have no doubt at all”
They continued walking. The spring breeze brushed past them , sending small shivers down the Cad’s spines. The ferns brushed past their boots and the smell of bark filled the forest with a sharp aroma.
Then, Cad heard a sound. It sounded like a shrill shriek and a sad cry, high and squeaky. He looked around in the branches. He couldn’t remember but he’d heard that sound before. He looked among the bursting buds, then spotted a dart of blue.
“Aha!” Cad cried in, his smile growing broader.
Beck folded his arms and watched up at the tangled branches. “Hmph! It seems you’re in a good mood today. You’re actually smiling.”
“Well, it’s probably because I’ve spotted the speedy frostcall, an icy-blue small bird the size of a hummingbird that makes a high, eerie cry.”
Beck’s forehead wrinkled and his eyebrows curved. “What’s the cry for?”
“Oh, it’s just to warn the animals of a coming danger.”
“Then what’s the danger?”
Normally, the sudden danger would send fear into Cad’s heart. But this time, it stabbed deep into his soul. He knew what to do.
“Beck, hurry, run!” Cad shouted. He started to run, trampling briars and leaves as he hurried. Beck kept up, his small stature, earning an advantage by ducking under broken limbs and trees. “Keep going Beck, don’t stop!”
Suddenly, the sound of horses and shouting erupted throughout the trees. Cad couldn’t understand where it was coming from and stopped to listen. Focus, Cad, focus. A band of foxes to the south… the Shadowed Willows to the north. A colony of retreating horn rabbits to the west. That means…
Cad swerved his head to the thundering sound and saw a sight that made his body quiver. A great number of horsemen, storming their way through the trees, slicing down branches as they rode; they banged their swords against their shields, screaming like banshees.
And what was worst, Cad knew who they were.