Short Extra: Mama Comforts Graenas

(Author’s Note:  This short story is not a part of the main story, but occurs approximately seven years before the main story begins.)

SewingKitEleanor Taylor had just put the final pin in place to mark the hemline for the dress she was making for Mirna Stewart when she heard the commotion outside. She thought she heard Graenas’s voice protesting.  “Would you excuse me for just a moment, Mirna dear?” she said, then stepped out the front door of her small home.  Sure enough, there was her thirteen year old son resisting the adult woman who was dragging him toward her.  “Would you mind telling me what you’re doing practically dragging my son around, Clara Baumhauer?”

The other woman let go of the boy’s arm and straightened herself. “I caught your devil of a son beating the crap out of my Steffan, Eleanor! I thought you might like to know so you can decide whether you should do something about it!”

Graenas ran to his mother and clung to her side. Eleanor reached out and gently touched the bruise that was already turning purple beneath his left eye. “It would seem to me that it was not a one-sided fight, Clara. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that your own son isn’t present for me to assess his injuries.” She forced herself not to smile as the other woman huffed indignantly.

“Do you plan on doing something about your child or not?” Clara demanded.

“Indeed.  I plan to help him get washed up and apply an ointment to his eye and any other cuts or bruises I might find. Then I will talk to him about what happened and discuss how he should behave around other children, regardless of how they treat him. And I will talk to him frankly about what I think of grown women who demean him and call him a devil in his presence and how he deserves better than that.”

“Well, I never!’

“I wouldn’t know. But I will tell you now that it would be better for you if you never talk to or about either of my children that way again. Unless you want to mend all of your family’s clothes yourself or travel to the city to have it done.”

Clara clenched and unclenched her fists at her sides multiple times. Eleanor simply looked on, knowing she simply had to maintain her resolve. “Fine! But I mean it! You better have words with your child about fighting.”

“I will have the exact same conversation with him that I’d expect you to have with Steffan. Good day, Clara.” With that, she put her arm around her son and guided him into their home. She glanced at Mirna, who was still standing there in her unfinished dress, then spoke to Graenas. “Why don’t you rinse that bruise with some cold water in my bedroom. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” As he disappeared, she turned her attention back to her customer. “I’m terribly sorry about that Mirna. I think we’re done for today.  Let me help you out of the dress so you don’t poke yourself with a pin.”

“Thank you Eleanor,” Mirna said as she waited for the seamstress to undo the clasps on the back of the dress. “I imagine that it must be difficult raising such…different children in a village like this.” She paused, then quickly added. “Because of the way people treat them, that is!”

Eleanor sighed. “No, there’s still a lot of prejudice toward half-elves among a lot of humans, I fear.”

“Have you ever considered moving to the city? I would think they might find a bit more acceptance there, given all the different races that spend time there. Plus, I’d think it’d mean more business for someone as skilled as you.”

“Oh heavens no. My customers need me here. Besides, Urizenya and Graenas would see their father even less than they already do if we moved to the city.” She paused as she helped Mirna step out of the dress, then continued as she began to spread it out on a table. “Besides, Graenas really does have a mischievous side and I worry that he’d manage to wind up in real trouble in the city.”

Mirna finished putting on the clothes she arrived in. “I suppose that’s true. Anyway, what do I owe you today?”

“Two gold pieces if you have them.”

Mirna looked crest-fallen. “I’m afraid I only have one today.”

Eleanor nodded. “If you can spare it, I’ll take it.” She took the coin as Mirna handed it over. “That makes your outstanding balance six gold pieces. You can bring that when you come back for the dress. I should have it ready in–” She glanced around the room at the various projects she had in progress. “–two weeks.”

“I’ll see you then. Thank you Eleanor.”

“Thank you for your business. You’ve always been a good customer. And something of a friend.” The two women hugged and Mirna left. Eleanor took a few deep breaths, collected her thoughts, and went to her bedroom to find her son. Graenas was sitting at her vanity, studying the bruise beneath his eye in the mirror. “It looks like it’s going to be quite the shiner for a few days,” she said as she sat at the foot of the bed, just a couple feet from where he was perched.”

“Am I in trouble?” he asked without turning to look at her.

“Not as much trouble as when you were exchanging punches, I imagine. So do you want to talk about what happened?” She reached for the small jar of ointment on the corner of the vanity and he turned to face her.

“Well, Steffan called me a name and punched me. So I jumped on him, knocked him to the ground, and started hitting him in the chest.”

Eleanor nodded and considered what question to ask him first. “Just so I get a full picture, were you doing anything before he hit you?”

Graenas shifted a little and lowered his eyes. Quietly, he said, “Well, I was trying to kiss him.” Eleanor nodded, already guessing the name the other boy had called him.

“So why did you try to kiss him?”

“Well, I was curious what it would be like to kiss him. I mean, he and all the other guys are constantly going on about kissing various girls. Especially Uri.”

“You realize she’s going to threaten to make your right eye match the left one if she hears you call her that, right?”

He grinned impishly at that. “Okay, Urizenya. But was it wrong to try kissing him?”

Eleanor again chose her words as carefully as if she were threading her smallest needle. “Well, you should have asked him if it was okay first. I mean, most boys prefer to kiss girls rather than other boys.”

“Is that why he called me a…I think the word he used was fa–”

Eleanor cut her son off. “Yes. And that was a very cruel thing for him to say. Just as cruel as his mother calling you a devil. You should never call anyone either of those names. Unless you’re actually talking about a literal devil.” Graenas stifled a giggle.

“But that other word means a boy who likes kissing other boys?”

Eleanor began to wonder if there was some wisdom to Mirna’s suggestion. At the very least, it seemed like it might be a good idea to take Graenas to Albion City every now and then so he can get to see different people and the diverse relationships they form. “Yes. They also fall in love with other boys.”

“Like how you and Father fell in love?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“But what if I fall in love with a boy that doesn’t like kissing other boys?”

“Well, then you cry for a bit and then try to find someone else to love. Someone who can and will love you back.”  She finished tending his bruise and said, “I need to go work on Mirna’s dress.  Would you like to help?”

Graenas grinned. “Oh can I? I’ve been practicing my stitches, just like you showed me!”

Eleanor nodded and led her son back out into the front room that served as both a family sitting room and her work shop. She knew it would give him something to focus on and soothe him. “Why don’t you work on the bottom hem? I need to fix the bodice a bit.”

“Yes Mama,” he said as he walked over to the spools of thread. He carefully sorted through them for a couple minutes before returning with one. She beamed with pride as she noted how closely its color matched the garment he’d be working on. He threaded his needle and began to work. She followed suit, gently humming one of his favorite songs as they worked side be side.

After a few moments, he broke the near-silence. “I don’t think I should’ve jumped on him like that. I did it because I was hurt and angry, but I don’t think it was right. I mean, he punched me once. I pummeled him several times.”

“What do you suppose you could have done instead?” she asked, her needle never stopping.

He thought about it, “I could have tried getting away from him.”

“That would have been a good idea.  Assuming he didn’t chase after you to keep hitting you.” She placed her hand on his, taking care not to jab him or herself with a needle. “Remember. He was wrong to hit you too. Don’t forget that.”

“Even though I shouldn’t have tried kissing him?”

“Yes. That was another bad choice on your part. And he had every right to be upset. But he still shouldn’t have hit you or called you that name.”

“Thank you Mama.”

“You’re welcome. So, what have you learned?”

“I shoudn’t let my anger get the better of me.”

“And?”

“Always ask a boy if I can kiss him first.”

“Good boy.”

“Just…do I have to wait for an answer?” he said, an impish grin on his face.

“You are your father’s son, you little smartass. Do you really need me to answer that question?”

“No Mama. I know now I have to wait for their answer and respect it. Even if it’s a no.” He sat there for a few moments, staring at his handiwork. “You know, the way the boys talk about kissing girls, I don’t think they ask the girls if they want to be kissed first.”

“I suspect you’re right.”

“That isn’t right either, is it?”

“No, it’s not. Have you ever heard your sister complain about stupid boys who won’t leave her alone?”

“Yeah. Is that because they do that kind of stuff to her?”

” A lot of times, yes.”

“Wow, they’re lucky she doesn’t haul off and punch them. She punches hard.”

Eleanor laughed, thinking of the conversations she’s had with parents who were angry about how hard their sons had been punched by Urizenya. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

After a few more moments, Graenas said, “Mama?”

“Yes?”

“Have you ever been so angry that you had to resist the urge to hit someone?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Who?”

She didn’t answer for a long time. “Most recently, Clara Baumhauer.” Graenas hugged her and the two went back to working on Mirna’s dress, humming Graenas’s favorite song in unison.

 

Short Extra: Urizenya and Aurora

(Note:  This post is not part of the main story, but takes place roughly six years before it begins. Enjoy and feel free to leave your feedback in the comments!)

Urizenya dashed past the last few remaining hovels in the outskirts of Shadeville and toward the Whispering Forest. She could hear the shouts of the boys behind her.  “Come on, pretty elf girl! We just want to kiss you!”

“Maybe caress your skin a bit, too!” Their calls strengthened her resolve and she redoubled her efforts, pouring more strength into her already tired legs.  She moved from tree to tree, hoping to make it harder for her pursuers to spot her. Soon, she found she could run no further and leaned against a spruce tree to catch her breath.  She could still hear their calls — some of them getting more obscene about their intentions as time went by — but many of the voices seemed much fainter now, as if she had put enough distance between them.

“Stupid human boys,” she muttered to herself. “Why can’t they chase after my brother like this? He’s the one that so desperately wants their attention.”  After a few more minutes, she crept further into the forest, going more slowly in order to hide her presence.  She found a fallen log near the stream several hundred feet into the forest and sat on it.  She pulled off her pack to see what snacks her human mother might have prepared for her. She pulled out a bit of cheese and rabbit meat and began to pick it apart, eating it quickly. She jumped in surprise when a hand grabbed her left shoulder. “Aha! I knew I could track her!” a void gloated. Uri turned to find fifteen year old Jacob Hirsch standing immediately behind her. His usual buddies, Edmund, Simon, and Hektor approached from several feet away.

Jacob said, “Now seriously, little elf girl. Why did you have to make us chase you like that? Don’t you want to play with with us?” Simon leered at her when Jacob said “play” and Hektor chuckled.

Urizenya bristled. She was only a year younger than Jacob and was actually a year Edmund’s senior. She found their constant taunts of “little girl” infuriating. “No, I don’t want to play with you. You’re a nasty bunch. And quit calling me ‘elf.’ I’m half human, you know.”

“Like my pa says, half a human is no human at all,” Hektor snickered.

“Really. You should be flattered we take any interest in you at all,” Jacob said as he caressed her right cheek.

Urizenya flinched, then brought her fist up to connect with the boy’s nose. Jacob screeched in pain and she turned to run, but Simon tackled her to the ground. “You’re going to pay for that, you little whore!” Jacob snarled as he picked up a nearby stick and approached where she lay.  He raised it overhead and was about to bring it down on her when he suddenly heard a snarling sound.  He paused for just a second and went to turn to his right when a large furry shape crashed directly into him. Urizenya blinked as the scene before her registered in her brain. A dire wolf had pounced on Jacob and was now clenching the boy’s wrist between its teeth.  The boy screamed and all the other boys backed away.  After a moment, the beast released Jacob’s wrist and got off him.  The boy immediately scuttled several feet backward.  The wolf snarled, and all four of Urizenya’s attackers fled, almost tripping over one another in their haste to escape.

Urizenya remained on the ground, watching this giant wolf, who now stared back at her. “If you can understand me, I’d like to thank you,” Urizenya said, shifting a bit uncomfortably.  She wished her father or one of his fellow druids was here right now. She wondered if this beast in front of her was one of them in wild shape, but did not recognize them. “Besides, if you were one my father’s colleagues, I’d think you would have transformed back and introduced yourself by now.”

After another moment, the wolf approached Urizenya, it reached out and pawed at the girl’s left shoulder, leaving three shallow scratches. The wolf backed up a few feet and sat down. Urizenya tenderly touched the injury and said, “Ouch. That hurt.”

wolf-portrait-illustration
The picture is not mine. I found it in the public domain.

“Boys would hurt you more.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Urizenya blinked, realizing she had just understood the wolf’s guttural noises. “Wait, how can I understand you?”

“Want it. You stink of village. But smell…Lucan on you also.”

“He’s my father. You know him?”

“Know all druids here. Bless some too.”  With that, the wolf stood up and padded a few feet away and let out a long howl.” She waited a minute, standing perfectly still. A wolf howled in the distance. “Good. Lucan come.” With that, the wolf returned and sat in front of Urizenya again.

“Do you have a name?”

“Druids call me…Aurora.”

“What does your own kind call you?”

“Queen. Or mean names.  If we enemies.” Urizenya almost laughed. “Most don’t call mean names for long.”

“Because you become friends?”

“No. They quit talking.”

“Oh.” Urizenya shifted uncomfortably as the wolf’s full meaning came to her.

“Druid here,” Aurora said as she stood. Urizenya followed the wolf’s eyes. A tall elf in green and grey leathers approached the pair. As he approached, he glanced briefly at Urizenya before bowing his head to the wolf.  “You called, Aurora, Queen of wolves?”

“Found girl. Boys attack her.  Saved her.”

“I thank you for that.”

“Saved her. Marked her.” The elf’s head shot back up and he raced to his daughter’s side. His eyes focused on the red marks on her shoulder. What little blood that had been flowing from the scratches had stopped by now.

“She is only fourteen!” Lucan said.

“That your law. Not mine. Marked her.”

“I understand. But you must understand, my circle will want to wait quite some time before inducting her into our order.”

“Silly rites. No care. But you train her.”

“I will teach her what I can in the meantime.”

“Good. When time right, bring her.”

“I will, gracious Aurora. Thank you for your blessing.”

“Bless the girl. Not you. You no thank.” Urizenya wrinkled her nose, confused by the smile that crept across her father’s face.

At that the wolf turned to Urizenya. “Talk later. Bless.”  With that, she turned and ran into the woods, quickly disappearing.

Urizenya sat there for a few moments. Finally she took her father’s hand and stood. “What just happened?”

“Think about what you just heard.  Relay the conversation back to me as best you can.”

“Well, you got here. Then Aurora- That is her name, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well she told you about the boys chasing me and attacking me. Then she said that she marked me, which you seemed to think i was too young for.”

“Go on,” he pressed.

“She said she didn’t care about that, I think. Then you said something about your circle wanting to wait-” her voice trailed off. She blinked a couple times as understanding began to roll over her. “So I am to become a druid now? Like you?”

Lucan nodded. “Aurora just blessed you, making herself your first animal guide, just as Sandor, the leader of the panthers, became my first animal guide. Though I will note that Sandor did not offer me his blessing until after I was inducted into my circle. Aurora’s choice to bless you before you even declared any intention to join our circle is…peculiar.”

“She made it sound like it was a done deal. Like I couldn’t say no to it. And neither could your circle reject me.”

Lucan sighed. “In a sense, it’s all true. Yes, you can still refuse to take up the druid path. But you cannot undo the claim that Aurora has made on your life. You will always have certain obligations to her, no matter what else you do.”

“I see.  And the druid circle?”

“Technically, the circle still has the right to accept or turn down anyone seeking to be inducted regardless of whether they have an animal blessing. I suspect brother Keldan will make much noise to that effect. But in the end, no one in their right mind is going to ignore Aurora in this matter, let alone go against her wishes.”

“Because she might go to war against you?”

“Oh, I doubt even she would go that far.  But she could certainly make it more difficult for us to perform our duties in this area. I don’t even want to think about the position those she’s blessed would find themselves in.  But that’s not the only reason it won’t come to that.”

Urizenya stood quietly, waiting for her father to continue. He appeared to be choosing his words carefully. “To be blunt, refusing to train you would be cruel. It is a great honor to receive a blessing from Aurora, but she can also be one of the more demanding animal guides, too.  To be honest, if she’s picked you, you’re probably going to need all the training you can get to handle whatever she might want of you.”

“So, will you train me? She seemed to expect that.”

“I’ll definitely teach you what I can before you officially join our circle.  I suspect I’ll at least be involved with your training after that, though other members of the circle might also participate to teach you those things I’m not as skilled in or knowledgeable about.  Then of course, there will be time you spend with Aurora and her clan.”

“When time right, bring her.” Urizenya said, remembering the wolf’s command. “That’s what she was talking about.

“Precisely. But now I must ask you. Are you sure that you want to walk this path?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“As I said, to a degree. But if you start down this path, you will have not only obligations to Aurora, but obligations to the circle and to the rest of the green world. You don’t have to take those particular obligations on if you don’t want to.”

“I see,” she said, then paused as she considered everything. “I’ve always been curious about your work, father.  The natural world fascinates me. And if it gets me away from those pushy, self-centered boys in the village, I’m all for it.”

“I’m not sure those are good reasons to choose this path if they are your only reasons.” Lucan looked at her almost expectantly. She searched her feelings, then searched for the words to express her deepest desires.

“I’m not sure how to explain it, but since she scratched me, I’ve felt like I’ve been changing.” She looked at her father whose expression was interested, but otherwise neutral.

“Go on,” he prompted.

“I feel like everything around us is more real.  And my sense of it is more intense.  Especially my sense of smell. I can smell what I’m pretty sure are blackberries fifty feet west of here. And the breeze against my skin stirs something deep inside of me.” She looked to her father, who merely nodded in encouragement. “I feel like I want to run through forest and explore every inch of it. Look in every hollowed out tree trunk. Check out every hole in the ground. Feel the earth beneath my feet. I feel there’s something I will find there.  I don’t know. Peace? Freedom? The thrill of living? All of that?”

Finally, Lucan broke his silence. “All of that.  And more. That is part of the blessing. Both the circle and your animal guides — you will gain more as you travel this path — will teach you to explore and embrace that. You will become bonded with the wild places in ways that no non-druid will ever know.”

“I want that. With every fiber of my being.”

“That is reason enough to take up this path. Provided you are willing to accept the responsibilities that come with it.”

“Gladly.”

“Very well. In that case, I think we should travel to the village and talk to your mother and brother. And you should pack a few things. You will be traveling with me for the next couple weeks.”

“So you can start teaching me?”

“Yes. And to spare you from trying to sleep in Shadeville the first night after receiving the blessing.  Even as close to the edge of the as village your mother’s house is, you might find it a bit too much for your newly heightened senses.” With that, he picked up her pack and helped her shoulder it.  The two of them turned toward the village and began walking, soon matching one another’s casual pace.