By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)
The city of Evermore occupies the twilight between worlds, just on this side of faerie. In fact, the territory it sits in is a border place between the World of Man and the World of Faerie. It is a place of beauty and danger, as Eardwulf Carrson, the ogre who protects it well knows. But sometimes, there is one magic moment where the stars align and all is peace…
“Are you coming tonight?”
Eardwulf’s voice threaded its way through the open window of Katrina’s apartment.
“Of course I am, silly!” she answered. “I’m just looking for some hiking socks.”
The ogre listened to her rifling in her sock drawer.
“I can’t wait to see what you want to show me!”
Eardwulf rumbled a chuckle. “Are you sure you can find the way? I could ride with you.”
“Wulf, you wouldn’t fit in my car.”
Katrina drove a Beetle. It was true, he wouldn’t fit. Katrina bounced out the back door and into the moonlight, turning her blonde hair silver.
“I’ll meet you there.” She hurried around to the front of her house and opened the garage for her car. Eardwulf slipped through the shadows and down into the caverns of Evermore. He would have to hurry if he was going to beat Katrina there.
Eardwulf slid down a rope and into the cave. He reached up his gloved hands for the woman poised above him.
“Come, you can do it.”
Karina looked down at Eardwulf and his little lantern. It was so far down! The ogre looked up at her.
“Would you like me to carry you?”
Katrina swallowed hard. “No, I can make it.”
She lowered herself down the rope hand over hand. Eardwulf waited patiently until she reached the bottom.
“What is it you wanted me to see, Eardwulf?” she asked.
“Take my hand and follow me.”
She placed her hand in his massive palm and let him lead the way. The lantern seemed to be dim and not reach far into the darkness.
“You’re sure there’s no wraiths down here?”
Understanding her fear, Eardwulf rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand. “No, any that were here, Caelan, Cullen, and I chased off.” He turned his horned head to look at her. “And besides, they can’t bear to be around… well, you’ll see.”
They continued on, small pebbles and gravel crunching under their feet and their voices bouncing off the walls. Finally, Eardwulf stopped.
“Close your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you.”
Katrina covered her eyes with a laugh. “I can’t wait to see!”
After a minute, Eardwulf told her “Open them.”
Katrina uncovered her eyes, revealing an amphitheater made of crystals. White quartz crystals and garnet glittered and amplified the light a hundredfold. Each crystal reflected her face back to her.
“Oh, Eardwulf.” she gasped as she went into the space and looked around in awe. “It’s so beautiful.”
Her voice rang around the crystals, making them sing. “Oh, how wonderful.”
“We just found this cavern. We’re having a team of Dwarves come and dig a new passage from Evermore to this chamber and install a door over the above ground entrance.”
“I’m guessing this is what the wraiths are afraid of?”
“They can’t bear the sound of ringing crystal.”
Karina sat down, almost dizzy with splendor.
“We’ll call this place The Singing Cavern, I think.” Eardwulf mused aloud. The oge studied Katrina. She was so different from other humans he’d met. She had a special determination, a tenderness that could not be stamped out by this hard world.
“Kitty, you have a long journey back to your home, and it grows late. If you want to be back before one, we have to leave.”
“Oh. Can’t I stay at Evermore?”
Something inside him quailed at the thought of her being… so close. He hesitated.
“You’re right,” she said. “I do have things to do tomorrow.”
“Then, let’s be off.”
As they arrived at the entrance, Eardwulf took the rope in one hand and extended the other to Katrina.
“I’ll carry you up, if you want.”
Katrina smiled and put her arms around Eardwulf’s neck, scrunching up her legs so they would be out of the way. Eardwulf grabbed the rope with both hands and began to pull them both up and out of the cave. His hood fell back from his head, revealing his horns and long hair, neither of which Katrina paid any mind to. They were as much a part of him as his laugh and his quirky smile.
Eardwulf surfaced and let Katrina down. She smiled, gave his hand a gentle squeeze, and departed for her car. Eardwulf heaved a sigh. He saw her often, but not often enough to satisfy him. He wanted her in Evermore, where her sunny spirit could bolster the Garrison’s morale and buoy his spirits.
“Hmm, she’s a tender morsel.” said a voice. Eardwulf drew his axe and turned to face the voice in one easy motion.
“You don’t recognise your cousin, Eardwulf?” The owner of the voice came into sight. He was an ogre, taller by far and broader than Eardwulf, but clearly a relative of his.
“Hapthor. You might have said something sooner.”
“I didn’t want to interrupt such a sweet moment.” His tone was slightly scornful. “You and a human girl… Interesting.”
“It isn’t like that.”
“You could’ve fooled me,” Hapthor continued, “Does she know about your… issues?”
“Yes, she is aware of my battle-rage.”
“How I envied you when we were boys. I don’t have berserker blood.”
“You wanted to be a berserker? To not know your friend from foe?”
“Those who die fighting have the greater honor!” Hapthor scoffed. “You spent too much time around elves.”
“It’s not the sort of honor I want.”
“We ogres are meant to conquer, to take what we want.”
“I’ll not be taking anything that isn’t meant for me. You’ll never understand the power of true justice, not just whoever is strongest takes what he feels is his, or the power of protecting the weak simply because they need protection, or the loyalty of friends until you experience them. Why don’t you try?”
“Pfft. And end up soft, like you? No thanks.” Hapthor turned his back. “See you around, Eardwulf.”
Caelan the wulver met Eardwulf at the door when he arrived home. Despite being in human form, he could smell the stress on the ogre.
“What happened, Eardwulf?”
Eardwulf wasn’t shocked by the question. “I ran into one of my relatives.”
Caelan knew, everyone knew, that Eardwulf’s family wasn’t terribly supportive. Only his fiercely loyal sisters, Berdine and Eda, were in regular contact with him. He put an arm around his friend
“Come on then, you can tell us about it, if you want.”
“I would rather not, actually…”
Caelan nodded, that meant Eardwulf needed some space, and that meant a visit to the Well of the World’s End. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
Eardwulf walked around the old dryad garden in silence. He thought about life in the swamps where the ogres lived. Once the miasmic air had been cleared by the Elves and the Mages, the ogres were freed from the black magic that had previously pooled in the water. They developed their own society, one that was built on a certain level of brutishness. They learned honest warfare from the elves and dwarves, including the concept of honor.
This was the world that Eardwulf was born into. He and his sisters were outcasts in their community, despite certain young ogre-men who both adored and feared Berdine and Eda because they could trounce anyone who chose to pick a fight with them. His father’s family, Hapthor’s family, never liked them. His mother’s family had treated them well. But the three were never happy. There was no one who believed as they did. They were always alone with nothing but each other. Eardwulf wondered if he would ever belong anywhere. He sat down by the little well and leaned his head on his knees and arms.
Eardwulf made his weary way home as the sun rose on the land above. As he came into the great hall, a familiar voice shouted “Hey, Runt!”
Eardwulf looked toward the sound, standing in the hall were his sisters, who had been talking to Cullen and Caelan.
They immediately pounced on their brother and playfully wrestled him to the floor. They were both half a head taller than their brother. Berdine, the elder sister, had dusky skin like Eardwulf and long black hair she wore in braids. Eda had reddish hair and lighter skin, and they both had blue eyes. They had left their weapons – a sword for Berdine and a warhammer for Eda – on one of the benches nearby.
“Whatever are you doing here?” wheezed Eardwulf from the bottom of the dogpile. The girls climbed off him and dusted themselves off.
“Can’t we just come by to say hello?” said Eda, her loud voice making Caelan wince.
“Well, I suppose, but you’ve never done it before…”
“Perhaps we should lay on more provisions, if the ladies will be here,” said Cullen.
“Yes, how long will you be here?”
“You sound like you want to get rid of us,” quipped Berdine.
“No, it was just such a surprise!”
Eda picked up and twirled her war-hammer between her hands. “I s’pose we oughta tell him why we’re here.”
“I was hoping for some more time.” huffed Berdine. “Hapthor’s gone rogue, joined up with some wizard or other. Lady Meridian sent us here to find you and help shore this place up.”
Eardwulf shook his head. “We knew about the wizard, he’s been causing trouble for us for months. Caelan believes it’s Morthon.”
“I know it’s Morthon,” countered Caelan. “I saw Aisling; it’s Morthon.”
The wulver shook and hid his eyes.
“It’s alright, Wulf.”
Eardwulf turned back to his sisters. “I saw Hapthor last night. All he did was shoot some verbal barbs about me being… soft.”
Berdine and Eda frowned severely. “He called you what?” Berdine asked.
“Rhetorical, Wulf!” barked Eda. “I don’t give a fig how much bigger than us he is, Mo here is a great equalizer.” She tapped her war-hammer.
“Mo?” laughed Eardwulf.
“Mows down all opponents.” Eda gave the hammer another easy flip. “I… like puns.”
Cullen raised an eyebrow and blinked, glancing up at Eardwulf. That hammer easily weighed fifty pounds, and Eda was juggling it like a chopstick!
“Why don’t I show you to my quarters and we can catch up?”
“Good idea, Runt.”
Eardwulf’s chambers were, like most of Evermore’s living spaces, large and spacious. The space was lighted with magic crystals called Lightbringers that glowed with a light of their own.
“Nice place you got here, Runt,” Eda sat down on the sofa and put down her hammer. “Could use some more furs, though.”
“I have some, but… I know a few shapechangers and, well…”
The girls winced. “I can see how that’s a problem.” said Berdine.
Eardwulf sat down in a large armchair. “Sisters, I appreciate your coming. You both went to work for House Meridian then?”
“They’re the only ones that took us seriously,” muttered Berdine. “Softskinned pointy-ears still don’t trust us.”
“Berry,” reprimanded Eardwulf.
“I know, I know, that attitude doesn’t help, but you know what it’s like.”
“That I do.” Eardwulf stood. “Excuse me, I’ll go get us some drinks.”
In his kitchen, the ogre considered what he had to do. It was imperative for him to see to everyone’s safety, and that included Katrina. She could not come back under any circumstances. Not now, not with some wizard and his unpredictable cousin running around. He would go and tell her as soon as it was dark enough.
Katrina sat on her sofa, halfheartedly watching a rerun of Remington Steele. Her thoughts constantly turned to Evermore and all her friends down there. And Eardwulf. Great hearted, simple Eardwulf. As dusk settled over her world and the World of Evermore came to life, Katrina noticed a large shadow by her window. She smiled and bounced to her feet, shutting her TV off. She ran to her back door and called out.
“Eardwulf! Back here!”
The shape stumped onto the verandah. “Kitty, not so loud!” Eardwulf scolded.
“Come inside, I’ll make cocoa.”
Eardwulf, sadness in his eyes, hovered at the door, reluctant to enter. The kitchen still had a lot of the 1950s decor left and was painted a warm yellow; it was inviting. But it also felt an affront to step into her world. Katrina patted him on the arm.
“I’ll bring it to you. Just sit on the bench.”
Eardwulf sat quietly while Katrina made the hot cocoa. Kitty’s home always called to him of a life far from his own, one he could never have. A little house with a little wife with roses by the door…
Katrina came out with the cocoa, one in a little mug, and one in a big mug that didn’t look so silly in Eardwulf’s hands. It was more of a beer stein really; she’d found it at a rummage sale. She sipped at the warm liquid, shivering a bit in the chilly air. Eardwulf lowered the tail of his cape around her shoulders, she blushed.
“Why did you come here? You seem so sad.”
“Kitty, I must ask you something. Something that will hurt us both.”
“What is it?”
“I must ask you to stay away from Evermore for now.”
“Why?” She gasped.
“There’s a wizard about; you would be in harm’s way if you were around us now.”
Katrina set her mug on the rail of the verandah. “Eardwulf, you can’t ask me to do that. You need my help.”
“It’s too dangerous. I should have never let you return, humans can’t understand what faerie means-”
“Eardwulf!” Katrina grabbed Eardwulf’s arms. “I know what faerie means. I’ve always known the risks, but the reward is worth it.”
The ogre looked down at the human; her eyes were shining in the darkness.
“Tell me. Tell me how to help.”
Eardwulf sighed. “There’s no changing your mind, is there?
Katrina shook her head. “There’s no going back, you told me.”
“Very well. The wizard is called Morthon, also called Maddox Thorne, a terrible, cruel man, and completely mad…”