A Father’s Love

Black and white drawing of a viking male from the chest up.

Aelaria stared into the flames consuming her father’s body. “I’ll find them, Papa. I’ll find them, and when I do, I’ll make them pay. And then I’ll find more like them, and I’ll make them pay, too. I’ll make them ALL pay, Papa, and the whole world will know the fury of the Iceblood clan.”

She ignored the tears streaming down her face, and stared solemnly into the flames until the last embers flew away into the night. She gathered up her weapons and few belongings, including the arrow that was the only reminder of her true heritage, and set out into the wilderness, truly alone for the first time in her life.

***

Aelfric stared at the ruins of the elf village, still smoldering from the flames of the orcs’ torches. These had been simple, peaceful, and kind folk. They had lived in harmony with the natural world around them, and they had only left their village to hunt or fish. They had never sought out trouble, and had never caused any harm. Now, they were dead. Their bodies had been hacked to pieces and torn apart by steel weapons and bone claws. He was too late. Again.

He stood up, and spat on the ground in disgust. His anger swelled inside him, and he punched the tree next to him. The trunk split in two, and the top half fell to the ground. He was briefly amused with his strength, but then realized that the tree had been rotten.

“Definitely the work of the Plague Pigs, then,” he said. “I best get to burning it all.”

As he walked down the hill towards the village, he couldn’t keep his mind from returning to the day when he had come home from a hunting trip to find his own village destroyed in this same way. Ten years had passed, and he could still remember the smell. The smell, and the sight of his dead kinsmen. The sight of his dead livestock. The sight of his dead wife…

He closed those thoughts off behind a wall of anger, and continued down the path to the village. He had almost reached the first hut when he heard a baby crying from the nearby river. Changing direction mid-stride, he broke out into a full run towards the sound. He got there in less than a minute, and it wasn’t hard to locate the source of the cries.

A baby elf, hidden away in the reeds in an tightly woven basket. A desperate mother’s last toss of the dice to save her newborn child. The last survivor of her clan, just as he was the last survivor of his. Against his better judgment, he waded into the river and picked the baby up. He looked into her beautiful blue Elven eyes, and the voice of his dead wife rang inside his mind:

“Take her home, Aelfric.”

“I’m not taking her home, woman. What would I do with her?”

“Raise her, Aelfric.”

“Raise her?!? Have you gone mad? In case you haven’t noticed, these rotten pig fuckers are still out there. I can’t hunt with a damn elf-baby slung over my shoulder.”

“Forget about them, Aelfric. Take her home. Raise her just like she was ours. She can be ours, Aelfric. The little girl we always wanted, but didn’t have time to have.”

“I can’t just quit the fight, Engreth. I swore an oath to avenge our clan. To avenge you.”

“Avenge us by bringing us back to life, Aelfric. As long as she lives, we live on through her. Train her in the ways of our warriors if you must, but let us live through her and her deeds.”

“Fine. Now leave me in peace, woman.”

 

Against his better judgment, he took her back to his homestead. Against his better judgment, he fed her, and made her some clothes and blankets to keep her warm. Against his better judgment, he raised her, and taught her the ways of survival and war. He taught her how to harness the power of her anger, and turn it into a white-hot rage. He taught her how to protect herself without using armor or shields. When he realized that her frail Elven body would never be as strong as his, he adapted his fighting style to her slimmer, more agile physique. Instead of teaching her how to swing a large axe, he taught her to fight with two smaller swords. Instead of teaching her how to use his great bow, he taught her how to use the smaller bow of her people. And when the time was right, he gave her the only thing he had been able to salvage from her village: an ancient arrow that had been fired in vain from one of the villagers. It had been lodged in a tree outside the village, and so it was not contaminated by the plague. He had to burn everything else, but he thought she should at least have something of her people.

Fifty years passed, and he could no longer keep up with her in the woods, so she took over all the hunting and chores around their farm. He taught her the ways and traditions of his people, and also the traditions and language of her own people.

Finally, when he was a very, very old man, and she was not quite an adult, he passed peacefully in his sleep.