Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Pigkeeper's Daughter

Build-a-story 10/22/11
Story Elements:
Some kind of orphan “monster”
A pet pig, that can talk!
A red-haired, magic producing female (a good one)

The flames crawled up the stack toward me, licking closer every moment with their hot tongues, the expression of the thirst for my blood that had been building in this tiny hamlet over the last week.
The screams that ravaged my throat reverberated in my head as they bounced off the wad of cloth that had been tied into my mouth and escaped through my nose. The higher the flames climbed the harder I screamed. My throat was burning long before my skirt lit up. My legs were hot, my head was light, the sight of my sobbing family wavered before me like a reflection in the river.
There was a searing pain along my calf, and all went black.
The first thing I was sensible of was the cold, it chilled me to the bone and as I shivered I suddenly realized I wasn’t dead. My eyes flew open and I sat up with a splash. The sliver of moon danced upon the river and by it I could make out the outlines of my surroundings.
I was in the shallows, where we watered the herd, not far at all from the home I had been ripped from this morning. How had I gotten here? How had I escaped the flames?
I shivered again and crept towards the bank, keeping low to remain out of sight of the house. My family had been through enough the last week. If they thought I was dead it was better to leave it that way. My return would only cause them more trouble.
I crawled into my secret place, a hollow under a bramble where I had often hidden from my chores as a child. It offered some small shelter from the night wind, and a slight sense of security against the suddenly cruel world. This place alone was unchanged, I just wished… I wished I was the same.
I didn’t even know why I was different all of the sudden. Everything I thought I had known had changed. Now all that I knew for sure was that wild imaginations of my heart had started coming true, and that I had never imagined things would get this bad.
There was a rustling in the bushes behind me and my heart froze in my chest. Surely no one would look for me here, but who would be out here this time of night if they weren’t looking for me? I tried to make myself smaller, praying that my violent shivering wouldn’t shake the bush too much and draw attention to my hiding place.
“Mistress! Mistress Ivy are you here?” a familiar whining voice called softly but urgently. “Please don’t tell me the river swept you away,” my favorite pig added in a despairing one. We had become very close, the pig Chloe and I, in the week since I suddenly started understanding everything my herd was saying.
“I am here, Chloe,” I whispered through my chattering teeth.
There was a rustling of the branches as she rooted her way into my hiding place. “Oh Mistress Ivy,” she said. “I am so happy to see you awake. We have kept them away from here ever since you appeared, but your family will eventually come to the water. We must get out of here before morning dawns.”
“But where can I go?” I asked in despair.
“Where?” she asked me, the surprise apparent in her eyes as well as her voice, “Mistress, we can go anywhere.”
“We?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “You did not think I would turn on you like the humans did, did you?”
“Of course not,” I assured her. “But I cannot care for you when I cannot even care for myself. Besides, how can you leave when your herd is here?”
“We discussed it from one end of the pen to the other, and it was agreed that I should go with you, you will need a companion,” she said plopping down next to me and lending me some of her warmth.
Having been raised with pigs I was not at all against curling up against her and soaking her warmth through my damp clothes. I had slept by her many times anyway, and she was a better bedmate than my sister any day of the week. Chloe never hogged the blanket.
“Mistress Ivy, you will never get warm in those wet rags,” she told me.
“I know, but they are all I have,” I told her. “I can’t go about without clothes.”
“Then wish them dry,” she said simply.
I screwed up my face in the dark. I hadn’t even thought of that, though I had certainly wished for less important things in the last week. The wishing had gotten me in a lot of trouble though, and part of me was afraid that if I wished for anything else I would just be proving I hadn’t learned my lesson and I’d end up in even more trouble.
“Couldn’t you just go and pull a blanket off of the line for me?” I asked Chloe.
“They took in all of the washing already,” she said. “Besides, you will need more than a blanket to survive, better start using that gift of yours.”
I supposed she was right, and I really didn’t have much of a choice. I closed my eyes and imagined myself in warm dry clothes, my red curls dry and bouncing, my feet well shod. As the image formed in my mind I felt the changes against my skin. When I opened my eyes I found the charred and soaking rags had indeed changed into warm wool of a lovely deep blue.
Chloe looked me over and nodded her approval. She got up on her hooves and pushed her way out of the bushes. I took one last look around my little hiding place and then followed her out into the wide and frightening world.
When we reached the road I stopped and looked down it in the moonlight, uncertain of which way I should go in search of a different fate. To the north lay the forbidding Black Mountains, the setting place of every frightening tale I had ever heard. To the south lay the rolling fields and distant cities that the children of my village had grown up dreaming about escaping to one day.
I was tempted to chase that dream now, go to the city and somehow build the kind of life that would make everyone I had ever known green with envy. Then I realized that if I ever again met anyone I had ever known then any life I built would be in danger. A new life needed new dreams, and a new world to craft them out of.
With that thought I resolutely pointed my toes to the north, and Chloe pattered along behind me without a question or a complaint. Well… almost without a complaint. About dawn she started to babble on about how she wished it was easier going, and how she didn’t understand why the road had to be so steep in places.
I let out a frustrated sigh and she quieted down. Honestly, did she expect me to just wish the whole world to change to suit me? I didn’t know much about my strange new power, how it worked or where it came from, but I was sure there was such a thing as an abuse of magical powers, and that was a journey I DIDN’T want to take.
We stopped at mid-day and went off the path in search of food. Her excellent sniffing skills found lots of things for me to dig up, and a cold mountain stream in which to wash them. Looking down over the valley I was divided in my emotions. I was sad to leave everything behind, but also a little frightened of what I may find along this rocky path.
I had never known whether I should believe half the tales I heard about the things that resided in these mountains. If even a quarter of them were true I was going to have to sharpen my wishing skills in order to make it to the other side alive. I had heard of trolls, and ogres, and fanged deer with wings. Any of these things would love a girl for lunch and a pig for desert.
Still, the only way past it was through it, and my determination strengthened the weaker the light became. I wasn’t going to fail Chloe. We were going to make it, if only because it would be a waste of magical ability for us not to.
As night fell we came upon a rocky overhang that seemed just the right place to spend the night. We ate the food I had tied up in my petticoat. We watched the sun sink behind the trees and fields, then curled together against the cold night air.
I remembered groggily wishing for a blanket in the middle of the night, but wasn’t prepared for what I found with the morning light. Chloe’s nose peeked out from under a fine wool blanket, a steaming bowl of porridge sat on a rock nearby, and a spade and pack sat next to them. It seemed that now even my dreams were being fulfilled in the twinkling of an eye.
Truth be told it frightened me a bit, though I didn’t tell Chloe as we divided the large bowl and gobbled up the porridge. I licked the bowl clean and then stuffed it in the pack along with the blanket and shovel. The weight of it was a constant reminder that I had to control my thoughts, and I spent the day deliberately avoiding any kind of imagination at all.
That night, as we snuggled into a bed of pine needles under a grand evergreen tree I thought over and over about how blessed I was, and how I had everything I needed right there. The sound of Chloe’s snores eased the tension of the day. I drifted off to sleep.
I felt, rather than heard the presence, and my eyes flew wide open. I scanned the trees around me, searching for the source of the disturbance. Then I saw it, peering around from behind a boulder uphill from me. It was covered in fur, standing erect, and moving slightly as it studied the shape of our forms under the blanket.
I wished for a sword. I felt it blossom from my hand. I wished I knew how to use it.
As the confidence flooded into my body I rose slowly from the ground, my blade extended. I let the blanket fall, glad to see that Chloe’s sleeping form was lost beneath it. I wished for her to remain still and asleep until it was safe.
I stepped out into the moonlight and tossed my mess of curls over my shoulder confidently. My blade glistened in the moonlight. In answer a slim sliver line glinted from over by the boulder.
As the misshapen form came out into the open I tried to figure out exactly what I was up against here. I supposed it was possible that a troll or an ogre could carry a sword. I really didn’t know anything about either though, so even with a close look I wouldn’t know one. It was also possible this was a highway robber or other human ruffian, in which case I had much more to guard against, especially as I had no gold to satisfy him.
I flicked my blade around swiftly, inviting us both to discover the extent of my skills. The blade felt right in my hand, the tip an extension of my finger, ready to poke his eye out with lightening speed. A smile spread across my face, some crazy part of me thought this was going to be fun.
The form was clear of the boulder, and we carefully approached one another across the clearing I studied it for clues as to a weakness. It seemed to favor its right leg and the lump on its left shoulder seemed to pain it as well. I still wasn’t entirely sure what kind of face was hidden under that hood, but human or not, I felt I had the upper hand.
Suddenly there was a crashing from the forest down below us. Several forms came loping up from the shadows. There were no blades present, but the beasts were toothy, heavily muscled, and carried stout tree limbs like they knew how to use them.
I repositioned myself, trying to think of a way to defeat this many opponents, and even my newly wished skills were coming up lacking. The largest of the beasts lifted its cudgel and bellowed in the most frightening way. It launched itself up the hill with a snarl.
I braced myself for the attack and swung my blade menacingly around as the beasts followed their leader in the charge. The leader turned off to attack my other would-be opponent. Two of the followers were soon looming over me, barely kept at bay by the slices I was administering to any limb that got within my reach.
As I fought I spared a glance for the other bladed fighter, who was somehow holding off the rest of the beasts with its sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. It looked more like a dance than a fight. I grudgingly respected the level of skill it displayed, whatever it was.
I had gone from trying to deflect and discourage my opponents to attempting fatal blows when a strange sound echoed through the woods around me. It was long and low, and was followed by a mighty roar and the pounding of feet. The trees above us erupted with motion and all of the sudden a dozen armed figures rushed in to attack our opponents from behind. The large beasts could not withstand so many opponents, and with angry bellows retreated back down the slope.
The other fighters pursued them, leaving me alone with my blade in the well trampled clearing. I squinted off through the trees, watching for any sign that I was to come under another attack. Then I heard the soft snorts of the waking Chloe and knew the danger was past.
All the same I urged her silence and we gathered our few things and hurried up the road. I didn’t know what war we had inadvertently gotten in the middle of, but I wanted out of it right away. I thought if we hurried we could be well behind the battle lines before the break of day.
We had gone nearly half a mile up the road when a sudden rustling in the trees alarmed me. I raised my sword, only to have it snatched from my hand and my body lifted swiftly into the branches. Chloe squealed loudly as she was also swept up off of her feet and buried among the branches. I tried to call her name but a foul smelling hand was clamped over my mouth. My struggles against it were in vain.
My captor held me like that until after daybreak, my back pressed against a rock like chest, a hairy arm the only part of it that was visible. My muscles ached, my neck creaked at the slightest movement and the branch below me pressed painfully into my behind. What bothered me the most was that I neither heard nor saw Chloe in all that time. I despaired that I had led her to her death.
As the sun rose up above the tips of the pine trees there came the sound of many feet from the road below. Just as a crowd of hooded figures rounded the bend I was unseated and swiftly lowered to the road, the smelly hand still clamped over my mouth.
I breathed a sigh of relief to see Chloe also returned to the road, though the sight of the hairy beast that held her was unsettling. Its cloak had slipped from around it, revealing a hairy body and strange face. Whatever our captors were, they were not human.
The party coming up the road halted, and a solitary figure approached from in their midst. It favored its right leg and had a large lump behind its left shoulder. It stopped and studied Chloe first, but then soon dismissed her and approached me. As it approached the face within the hood was revealed to me, and I stared in shock at the human face topped with the gold band of a crown.
He spoke not a word as he studied me, then turned and grunted to the beast that held me. The rank hand was loosened on my face and I wrenched my head away to demand of the leader, “What do you want with me?”
He grunted again, but this time kept his eyes on me, as if he expected me to understand his grunts like they were language. I stared at him in confusion until the whining voice of my pig rang out, “What does he say Mistress Ivy?” she asked.
Suddenly, I remembered the wish that had started all of this trouble for me. I closed my eyes and wished I could communicate with these monsters and their human leader. Not a moment too soon his grunts changed to words and I heard his repeated demand.
“Why have you come to Troll Mountain?” he said in irritation.
“I am merely passing through,” I explained boldly. “How dare you detain me and remove my pig from my possession? Return her at once!”
“I will return your animal when I see fit,” he said in a growl. “And you will address me with more respect, human.”
“Respect is earned,” I said to him angrily. “To me you are nothing but a ruffian who has waylaid me on my journey.”
“Ruffian? I? I am Ronfer, Leader of the Trolls, King of Troll Mountain. Who are you to address me with such disdain?”
“I?” I said with mock pride as I cast around in my mind for a name to impress even a king. “I am Ivy, Witch of the Valley, Speaker of Tongues and Blade of the South. I have been patient enough with you Trolls, and if you do not unhand me immediately I will be forced to use my great power against you.”
“Great power?” he scoffed at me. “I’ll grant that you are good with a blade, but if you had such great power why did you not use it last night to defend yourself against the Orges?”
“That was your battle, not mine,” I said. “Why should I fight it for you?”
“It wouldn’t have been a battle if you hadn’t gotten in the way,” he said angrily. “That was supposed to be a peaceful meeting.”
“If you hadn’t interrupted my slumber I wouldn’t have been in the way,” I retorted. “Besides, who brings an army to a peace talk?”
He looked a little abashed at that. I took the opportunity to yank my arm free of the smelly Troll that held me captive. It tried to regain the grip but Ronfer shook his head slightly and I was completely released.
“I am bored with you, human,” he said turning away. “Take your animal and go.”
I called to Chloe, and she came running over to me. I stroked her head comfortingly and told her not to worry, but when I straightened up Ronfer was blocking my way.
“What language is this?” he asked his face a cloud of confusion. “Do you really speak the tongue of swine?”
I glared at him, “Are you hard of hearing? I told you I am Ivy, Witch of the Valley…”
“Speaker of Tongues, Blade of the South,” he finished with me. “But you speak more than Human and Troll?” he asked.
“I do what I wish, understand what I wish, destroy what I wish,” I said giving him a glare with that last part. Just for emphasis I concentrated hard and imagined the branch of a nearby tree splintering into a million pieces and falling to the forest floor. My wish was granted in the next breath and the trolls watched in shock as I destroyed the limb. They moved away from me a little, all except Ronfer.
“Forgive me Great Lady,” he said falling to a knee. “I beg you to forgive me. You have been sent in answer to my prayer and I did not recognize it.” He grabbed my hand and pressed his forehead to it, and all around me the Trolls fell to their knees.
I looked around in shock for a moment and then recovered my senses. “Rise, Ronfer, King of the Trolls,” I said. “I will forgive you this once.”
He rose to his feet, but kept bowing his head as he begged to be allowed to bring me to his castle and receive me properly. I debated it a moment and then decided it was as safe a course as any other, and allowed them to lead me to the castle on a nearby peak.
A week later I stood alone in the moonlight on the road down the mountain. The Ogre King came out of the trees and I glowered at the ten Ogre warriors that slunk out behind him. He seemed surprised to see me, and even more surprised to see me alone and without a sword.
“Where is the human who calls himself the Troll King?” the Ogre demanded of me.
I, of course prepared to hear and speak in Ogre, glared at him and corrected him, “The orphan the Trolls have chosen as their King did not trust you to honor the agreement. I, Ivy, Witch of the Valley, Speaker of Tongues, Blade of the South, have come instead.” I looked pointedly at the club in his hand and then at the Ogres behind him.
“I make no agreements with commoners,” the Ogre King said, “Especially humans pretending to have authority on the slopes of the Magic Mountains.”
“His authority is given to him by the Trolls,” I said in a clear, crisp tone. “Mine however is given to me by a more direct source,” I added. I didn’t even have to concentrate as I caused a boulder to erupt from the ground under his toes.
He stumbled back, looking at me in astonishment. I smiled at him serenely, flipping my freshly washed and perfumed red ringlets over my shoulder and wishing the boulder back into place. The boulder’s retreat seemed to have more effect upon him than its appearance and he sunk to his knees in the freshly disturbed ground.
“This war will cease,” I told him. “Troll Mountain has stood as an independent kingdom for a thousand years. The Ogre King has no claim up on it and continued aggression will be dealt with swiftly, by me. Go back to your Mountain in peace, or face the consequences.”
With that I turned and marched up the hill, not even looking back to see how my words had been received. I didn’t need to, the squirrels were already gossiping about it and the crickets were singing my praises.

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