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The Ashen Children

09 Apr

Hero, they called him.  He was the slayer of dragons and a killer of monsters of all stripes.  He saved damsels aplenty, and even saved the princess now and then.  He slayed the Fen Witch and killed her familiars.  Truly, he was a man among men, and a prime example of what they could do, if they possessed as much willpower and the correct mindset.  He was tall and strong, with a steady jaw and the perfect chin.  Every woman in the city swooned over him and begged him to marry her, even if he must at times leave to do heroic deeds for the good of the country.

Despite their want for him, he denied each woman in turn, for to endanger a person who chose to attach to him would destroy him, he said.

We knew he was full of shit, though.

We were the last living children of the ‘Fen Witch’, who he murdered without reason.  She had kept to herself and avoided others.  Her only crime was living untaxed on land nobody else wished to live, and sometimes leaving to sell medicine in exchange for food and clothing that she could not make on her own.  On those trips, she birthed children and cured sickness with her herbal medicines.

However, when the hero passed through, every man, woman, and child screamed for her blood and created crimes against her.

When the deed was done, he hunted her children and delivered all he found to the villagers– each without his head.  My brother and I were the last left, and only because Mother hid us in the ashes of her fireplace.  We were from the youngest litter, and we were twin runts.

Our plan was simple, unlike the plans of the party we were about to crash.  During the parade, we would allow ourselves to be spotted on the roofs at multiple points.  He had to think there were several of us, each eying him with murder in our beady little eyes.  I assumed the first position as he approached and watched him pass.  He glanced up at me, but seemed to ignore my presence.  My brother was up next.  As he distracted the hero with his gaze, I shot to the back of the house and dashed along to the next point.  As he caught up and I glared at him, he glanced back.  The garlands on the roofs disguised our previous locations perfectly.  My brother was in his next position.

On and on we continued until the parade came to an end, and the city’s hero dismounted from his horse.  He was visibly upset by our presence, and he was failing to pretend nothing was amiss.  Several people began to murmur, and I looked toward my brother.  Time for part two.  It was time for the children of the slain werewolves to cause some trouble.  They were in their natural form, and looked like dogs as they approached people with happy tail wags and tongues lolling out.  Makeshift collars about their necks completed the illusion.

One began to play with some local children until the hero came close.  She growled at him audibly, and the children stopped to look up with confusion.  They caught their precious hero sneering at her as she stood resolutely between them and him, in an undeniable defensive posture.  More people began to murmur, and the man in his shining armor forced a reassuring smile as he tried to make light. “Ah, the dog must just be nervous with all my clanging.”

The other pups looked up at him and began to growl.  They prowled between him and the children he planned to kiss and praise for the adoration of the crowds, and refused to let him near any of the young ones.  Ever thinking of his face, he decided to simply put off the attention for the children for a time. “Perhaps when your dogs go home, we can play.” he offered with a chuckle.

One child finally spoke up. “These aren’t our dogs.”

He paused and frowned. “Well, whose are they?  Their owner needs to control them properly.”

Nobody spoke up to claim the werewolf pups, and the hero of the humans began to become stressed.  He was beginning to notice that something was amiss, finally.  I watched closely, and gave the signal for the next step to begin– this step was small, but it was also vital to our plan.

The bird call of a harpy filled the air, and the man in his pretty armor straightened suddenly.  The others there didn’t look up– to them, it merely sounded like a bird.  He knew.  He recognized the call of the harpy he left screaming for her dead mother.  He reached for his sword, and people hurried forward to calm him, since he looked ready to cut down some helpless dogs.

He pushed the hand of a maid away, but miscalculated and threw her aside. “Forgive me.  I just heard the cry of a monster nearby.” He hurried away, his facade pierced.  A few people began to notice his true face in the crack.  He dashed out of the city’s rear gates, and the young harpy screamed again.  That wasn’t part of the plan.  I looked to my brother, and the two of us leapt onto the werewolf pups and rode out to the shock of the nearby crowd, who remarked at the curious sight of animals they couldn’t quite put a name to riding on the backs of dogs like jockeys on horses.

We arrived at the meeting place to find our remaining friends were being attacked by both bandits and now, the human in his ugly armor. “Run!” I screamed, and they did.  I was the leader, because I gathered everyone together in hopes of justice.  Everyone dashed off in different directions, including the werewolf pups and my brother.  I leapt down and charged at the hero to keep him occupied.  The bandits could easily be avoided and fought off, once everyone reunited a mile down the road, but this ‘hero’ would be harder.  I had to keep him from giving chase so the other Ashen Children weren’t slaughtered.

He turned in time to spot me, and only my natural agility prevented his blade from finding my flesh.  I crawled up his metal armor and bit him.  Blood filled my mouth.  He was far from downed. “Murderer!” I screamed as I bit him again, this time on the ear. “Murderer!” He grabbed me and threw me to the ground.  He raised his sword to cut my head off, but the bandit leader stopped him.

“If that thing’s the leader of those monsters, you can get information from her!” he urged.  The bandit lord had a large belly, contained in a studded leather cuirass that looked like part of a drum.  He kept a straight face as he rested a hand on his hip.

That break was all I needed.  I rose and began to dash away.  One of my legs refused to work properly, but I forced myself to limp away with all the speed I could.  The bandit made no movement to help the ‘hero’.  I was grateful as I finally got to the forest and disappeared from sight to the sound of the armored man swearing heartily.

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