War Child.
Copyright 2015, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Third edition.
Cover photo provided by Shmel. (www.iStockphoto.com).

Dedicated to everyone at the Kindle forums for all the mutual encouragement even whilst not discussing book related matters.

"Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualisation." - Bo Bennett.

After waiting for a violent battle taking place between humans and elves to end an old woman searches the battle ground for dropped trinkets that she can later sell for food. However she soon discovers a child whose parents have been killed during the chaos who begs for help. The poor woman cannot afford another mouth to feed but decides to take her home anyway intending to hand her in to an orphanage the following morning.

 

 

Chapter 1 - Battle Cries

Sitting alone and staring at my dwindling fire I concentrated at the sound of the crackling wood in the hope it could drown out the noise of the battle taking place not more than a few hundreds yards from my home. My small dilapidated cottage was miles from the nearest village, practically buried under the canopy of the forest, but not far enough from the fighting unfortunately.

The war itself had been going on for nigh on fifteen years between the evil power hungry elves and humans who sought nothing more than peace. Why they couldn't form some kind of compromise was anyone's guess. We would have been happy to share the land or even move on to pastures new if the elves gave us free passage, but they weren't like us, they didn't have the same faculties as a human being. They had no demands, no terms for which humans can surrender to, and were unwilling to negotiate. They wanted us dead nothing less. They likely didn't even think of their actions as war, for it was a way of life for them, they knew no different. They took no prisoners and fought to the death without mercy. They were nothing less than savages.

I myself had grown poor in my old age due to the elves stealing farmland from the neighbouring village, taking away their livelihoods and leaving them in a near starved state. I couldn't even beg for food when others had none to share.

My own grown up children and grandchildren had died during the constant skirmishes, and I knew the war would never end until each and every evil pointy-eared elf was decimated. However, they bred like rabbits in a orgy of lust fed by evil, giving them a constant supply of never ending troops.

I shuddered with cold and the sense of foreboding as I continued to stare at the dwindling flames in the fireplace of my cottage as the sky outside gradually began to darken. I hugged myself in my rocking chair hoping the screams and cries of human soldiers would soon cease. It was a sound I had grown accustomed to, not because I was cold and callous, but due to an emotional veil that formed over the many years of suffering. I knew full well each scream meant a human being was in pain or dying at that precise moment, but me worrying about it wasn't going to change the situation. I could do nothing to help after all.

The fierce battle taking place outside would only tip the balance of power for a few short weeks before the losing side would restock their troops and continue raging war. I was growing weary with old age, too old to care who wins, knowing the war would unlikely end during my lifetime.

The sound of a distant explosion startled me causing me to wobble within my seat. With the fire dwindling anyway I decided to heave myself up and slowly make my way upstairs to bed. At least my bed was warm and offered come comfort to my doleful soul.

 

Chapter 2 - Body Search

My humble little cottage was pitch black as I awoke in the midst of the night. I was pleased to be awake because the total silence indicated that the battle had ended, and as I had done a number of times in the past it was time for a scavenger hunt. This time however my task was far easier with the remnants of battle practically outside my door. In fact my heart felt a little lighter at the thought and I smiled to myself.

Carefully slipping myself out of bed I slowly made my way across the bedroom holding my hands out in front of me daring not to fall within the darkness. There was also a biting chill within the air that ate through my threadbare clothing gnawing to the bone. While fighting my urge to hug myself I continued to keep my arms outstretched ahead of me, waving them within the darkness, trying to make contact with the wall. Eventually I found it then made my way out through the bedroom chamber door and descended the rickety stairs with extreme caution for there would be no one to help if I fell and it would likely be the end of me.

The hard stone floor felt as cold as ice as I descended the final step into the sitting room causing my many corns to twinge. My worn leather footwear had been resting in front of the fire, I just needed to take care fetching them in the darkness. Glancing my eyes toward the fireplace I could see the fire was already dead. Not even glowing embers remained to create some light for the cottage. Just the slight glow from the night's sky was all that was visible through the small window.

I made my way around the rocking chair fetching my shoes which slipped on with little effort due to being in such a worn loose state, then headed closer to the window and the sideboard in front of it, feeling for my small purse, before picking it up and attaching it to my waistband.

As I heaved open the front door an even sharper chill from the night's air went straight up my shabby dress, but alas I had nothing else to wear and had to ignore the cold. No matter how often I felt the cold over the years, and how thick skinned I became, I was never fully prepared for its bite. It was just a case of accepting its presence rather than fighting it with shivers, then recover later within the warmth of bed.

Heading straight for the battlefield, keeping my ears poised for survivors, I crept slowly trying to make out anything within the dim light. The bright moon was shaded by cloud and it was only the glow above a distant hill that gave me any sense of direction. I was slow on my feet, for any faster would cause my hip to ache, but I had all night so long as I didn't submit to the cold.

Technically speaking I was committing a crime, stealing from the dead, and anyone would likely be hanged for what I was doing, but with me being so poor, old and feeble I would likely be spared from such a fate. I just hoped I didn't bump into any elves who would likely kill me on the spot just for being human. They didn't make any concessions for age.

There was a hump on the ground so I made my way over to it and slowly knelt down, letting out an exhausted breath, before rummaging through his pockets. I did find a number of small coins which I placed straight into the small purse than hung around my waist.

Leaning against my own knee I heaved myself back to my feet and continued to gaze across the field. There was another body nearby so I slowly made my way over to it and did the same as I did previously only to find his pockets empty. Letting out a frustrated sigh I heaved myself back to my feet once more.

 

Chapter 3 - A Lost Child

I was growing increasingly exhausted, due to bending down over and over again, and the cold weather wasn't helping matters either. My knees ached and creaked every time I crouched. After searching just a few more bodies, gaining nothing more than small change and a posy ring, I decided to call it a night and return home.

Upon my return journey however I noticed movement so instantly stopped in my tracks. The silhouette within the dim light was of someone fairly small in stature, similar to my height in fact, with long hair, hobbling from side to side on their wobbly legs as though injured. I decided to wait for them to pass by before continuing my journey home, yet within mere moments I was spotted. I cursed myself for not ducking out of sight, simply laying down would have been enough to camouflage myself among the bodies strewn across the field. We stared at one another each waiting for the other to speak first.

"Is someone there?!" Called out a squeaky and very childish voice.

It sounded like a girl but I wasn't fully certain. I wasn't sure whether to respond or not but if it was a young child I couldn't simply leave her in the middle of a freezing cold night in the remains of a battlefield. I couldn't help but wonder how she got there.

"Who are you?" I asked bluntly.

Within an instant she raised a sword up high silhouetting it against the night's sky then very slowly approached on her wobbly legs pointing it directly at me. I lurched back having no way to defend myself.

"I am not your enemy!" I called out as clearly and as loudly as I could, "My name is Freya. I am not a soldier. I am not part of this war. I'm just making my way home to my cottage. I am..."

With that the girl threw down her sword, causing it to impale into the earth, and collapsed to her knees before bursting into tears. I hesitated wondering what to do then very cautiously approached.

"Now stop that grizzling," I told her, "There's no need for all that, you're safe now."

I winced as my joints throbbed with pain while I slowly knelt down in front of the girl hoping to stop her crying, but it had the reverse effect when she lurched forward holding me tightly and sobbing uncontrollably. Her grip around my shoulders was strong and I was sure her fingernails drew blood.

"Seriously stop that," I said firmly yet quietly, "You'll attract attention and we don't want any of those evil buggers discovering us. Stop your whimpering now."

The girl instantly stopped crying and tried her best to hold it in only to let out the occasional snort through her shiny wet nose that was already strewn with snot. Her breathing was erratic as she tried to speak.

"They killed my... mum and... dad," she said in a broken voice, "They even killed... my dog. They laughed when they did it... I ran away... I have nowhere to go."

I squeezed her shoulders.

"They're evil incarnate!" I yelled letting out my anger before forcing myself to remain calm.

I tried to think what I could do to help the child, something to reassure and comfort her. I was far too old to look after someone so young, besides the fact that I could barely provide for myself. I was going to have to take her in for the night and travel into town the following morning, there were plenty of children in the orphanage so she would make lots of friends.

"Let's get you into the warm my dear," I said calmly as I heaved myself up to my feet, "You can spend the night with me, it's cold and dark but it's shelter at least."

The girl looked up at me from her kneeling position. She wiped her nose on her sleeve then sniffed while still repressing her tears. My hatred for the savages that killed her family still flamed the anger within my heart but I needed to keep composure for her sake. I tried to smile but it came out contorted.

 

Chapter 4 - Huddled For Warmth

Upon entering the cottage, as quickly as I could muster on my aching legs I made my way over the fireplace and prodded it with a poker in the hope I could somehow spark it back into life. But alas nothing happened. The child already sat herself down crossed legged ready to receive the fire's warmth only to realise it was fully out.

"Never mind," I said softly while heaving myself down to a kneeling position beside her, "Things will turn out for the best, they always do."

I didn't believe my own words but was trying my best to keep the girl calm. She had already ceased crying but her cheeks and nose still glistened with dried tears reflecting within the dim light. I knew just saying one wrong word could cause them to flow again. I let out a deep breath followed by a comforting yet false smile which was difficult to see within the dim light.

"So, what's your name?" I asked her.

She hesitated before speaking.

"Um, it's Erlina," she replied.

"Erlina?" I said with surprise, "That certainly is an unusual name, I've never heard that name before. I'm Freya by the way."

The girl nodded as if confirming that she already knew due to me having told her earlier. We then remained silent for a while staring into the fireplace that was filled with nothing more than cold ashes. While I couldn't see clearly I sensed her shivering in the darkness of the cottage. Even the shabby mat we sat upon felt cold and I was sure she was used to much more splendour. I couldn't even offer her some food or a cup of water. I was clearly not the most suitable person to be helping her.

Erlina started to sniff and I knew it wouldn't be too long before she would start grizzling again. Wiggling myself closer to her I gave her a hug rubbing my arms up and down her back hoping to transfer at least a little warmth. Her head rested itself upon my shoulder while her arms wrapped themselves around my back. She craved emotional as well as physical warmth however and I wasn't sure I could provide either. I was too old for that sort of thing and emotionally drained from so many years of misery.

"I know you've been through something ghastly," I said softly while still hugging her, "I understand all too well how you feel for I also have had my family decimated by this war, but we will get through this, I promise, just as long as our kind stick together. There will be peace."

Her grip was tight around my back not wanting to let go of me. It was then that I noticed something odd about her odour. I had noticed it earlier but within the confines of the cottage it was all the more clear. I chose not to mention it for it wasn't an appropriate thing to say under the circumstances and besides I surely stank a whole lot worse. We continued to hold each other in silence exchanging warmth and an understanding that we had experienced similar emotional turmoil. It was no more than ten minutes or so before she fell fast asleep in my arms totally exhausted, poor thing.

 

Chapter 5 - Time For Bed

Kneeling all night on the floor was in no way suitable for someone in my feeble condition to attempt. Erlina needed a warm bed so very gently I broke our embrace and attempted to stand up. Luckily she woke in the process, albeit still very groggy, so I was able to stand her up with little effort on my part.

"Let's get you upstairs," I said softly, "I've got a nice warm cosy bed, you need a good night's sleep."

My bed with its threadbare blankets was certainly not as warm as I claimed, but it was still far warmer than sleeping on the floor in front of the dead fire.

Partially leaning on one another I helped Erlina up the narrow rickety wooden staircase into the bedroom above where she collapsed with exhaustion on top of the bed the moment we entered the room. I had to pull out the blankets from beneath her in order to cover her body. Within the dim light I noticed her plain white robe was encrusted with dirt causing me to wonder if she too came from an impoverished family or whether the dirt was more recent.

She twitched her arm then rested her hand beside her face. For a moment I thought she was about to suck her thumb and start crying again but luckily she didn't. Her breathing was gentle. For a fleeting moment she reminded me of my granddaughter who had passed away a fair number of years earlier. I shook the thought from my mind not wishing to experience pleasant thoughts of nostalgia. I was a realist and knew thinking about the past was pointless and I had no desire to upset myself.

I turned and left the bedroom making my way back down the rickety stairs then over to the rocking chair. As I sat down I stared at the small window of the cottage whilst deep in thought. I hoped the orphanage in the village wasn't full as I was sure the long running war must have caused a vast increase in children who had lost parents. Erlina required someone much younger and far more suited to take care of her.

 

Chapter 6 - The Morning Sunshine

As the sun rose I wiped the condensation from the window and stared out at the fields in the distance which were still strewn with bodies. No doubt they were to be collected later that day so I'd have no opportunity for another search. I sighed. Part of me felt angry with myself for acting so callous with respect for the dead. My thoughts then focused upon my past and my own family. Erlina reminded me of my own children and grandchildren who were gradually fading into nothing more than distant memory. I knew I wasn't long for this world and I regretted the state it had become for the next generation. I was going to have to accompany Erlina to the village and leave her with the orphanage whether they had room or not for I was in no way suited to take care of her despite any temptation I had to let her stay.

Footsteps could be heard as Erlina had risen and started making her way down the rickety wooden staircase. I wished I had more logs for the fire because even during the day the cottage was terribly cold.

"Did you have a nice sleep?" I called out to her.

"I did, thank you," Erlina replied in a pleasing tone whilst still descending the stairs.

I made my way over to greet her. With the cottage now illuminated by the morning sunshine I got a good look at her as she reached the bottom step. There was a moment's hesitation as the realisation of my ghastly mistake took time to sink in.

"Oh, my God!" I screamed out.

Erlina stared back at me, her face totally agasp, as shocked at my appearance as I was with hers. She was an elf.

"What is this?!" I moaned as I hobbled closer, "Is this some kind of treachery? If your intent was murder I'm not long for this world anyway!"

Erlina covered her mouth with both hands biting down hard then let out a high pitched sound before screaming out her tears.

"I knew you didn't smell right!" I shouted whilst shaking my head.

Her fingers bled due to her biting down so hard while she stared at me, shaking her head from side to side, holding back her screams.

"I demand an explanation!" I yelled with fury.

Erlina lowered her hands revealing the tears that coated her face. Her puffy eyes were already bloodshot, repeatedly blinking, and looking as though they stung painfully.

"I thought... I thought you were elven like me," she said trying to catch her breath between sobs.

I made my way over to the front door opening it wide intent on throwing her out which I would have literally done if I had been a few years younger. The crisp outside air poured into the cottage.

"You evil monster!" I screeched, "This war was caused by your people and it's because of you that I lost my own family. I cannot believe I was tempted to let you stay. Get out of here now. You vile beast!"

Upon saying that I remembered what she had told me about her own parents. She continued sobbing collapsing into a heap at the base of the stairs. I closed my eyes and let out an internal sigh before closing the front door.

 

Chapter 7 - Ten Years Later

Placing more fresh logs into the fireplace I was looking forward to getting the cottage nice and cosy for the evening. Winters were long and harsh but luckily there was a constant supply of firewood. As for food however that was another thing, food prices were high and my purse always empty, but I did have some help when it came to foraging for morsels to eat.

"Grandma!" Erlina called out as she entered the back door of the cottage.

She carried two small sacks packed full of items she found within the forest.

"Erlina," I responded as I approached, "I see you've been busy."

Her smile was wide which soon turned into a grin revealing her bright white teeth.

"We'll have a feast of a meal tonight," she said.

She removed her bonnet revealing her pointed ears then emptied the contents of the two sacks onto the kitchen table. There were plump apples, as well as turnips and truffles. Elves were good at foraging and I doubted I would have survived the winter without her.

THE END.

 

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