An Unusual Hitchhiker on an Uncommon Path Elizabeth Fenley
Serdwynne slowed Loki to a walk when she caught sight of a figure trudging alongside the dirt road. Instinctively, she pushed her cloak back over the hilt of her sword and pulled her hood off to scan the landscape for others. Loki remained steady, unspooked. The stretching time of the gloaming cast uncertainty on her surroundings.
As Loki slowly closed the distance between Serdwynne and the stranger, she observed its diminutive stature, three feet tall to her six and a half, squat, stubby legs, long dangling arms and large bare feet. She saw no weapons.
The creature turned upon hearing Loki’s hooves on the dry, densely packed red clay. Seeing Serdwynne astride her eighteen hand blood bay stallion caused it to freeze in place, mouth gaping, large dark bulging eyes wide. When she clicked to Loki to stop, it fell over backwards with an undignified thud.
“Goddessdammit!” Serdwynne hissed, throwing her leg over Loki’s neck to dismount, landing solidly on sturdy, well-worn boots as she drew her sword-- wary of anyone who might lie in wait in the forest.
Its eyes were closed, hands flung above its head. Serdwynne watched for the rising and falling of its chest before giving it a kick. Eyes flew open with a strangled gasp; it saw her looming above, squeaked, and immediately passed out again.
Resisting the urge to kick it harder, Serdwynne studied its odd appearance, trying to place the mixing of features. Corainiad? Temmel? Hobgoblin? Dwarf-troll? Bearded, which she guessed indicated a male, though that was not always the case. She sheathed her sword after glancing around again and sighed.
“I should leave it here, right Loki.”
Loki chuffed a low reply.
Perhaps having heard her voice, the multibreed creature came to again.
Serdwynne reached down, grabbed it by the front of its grubby tunic, and easily lifted it level with her face. It screeched and flailed, but she gave it a quick shake and pointed her long, pale finger in its face. “Do not faint again.”
It nodded frantically, eyes taking in Serdwynne’s appearance with what she recognized as the usual combination of horror and fascination. She lowered it roughly to its feet and squared her shoulders, feet wideset, hands on her hips as she watched it study her.
Serdwynne was a warrior from a now decimated clan. Her skin and hair were alabaster, her eyes bright blood red. Among her people, she was an outcast—a bolva hevitar or “cursed white” for the condition she was born with, which occurred once every few generations in her clan. In the past, most had been drowned at birth. Her mother refused to suckle her, handing her over immediately to a surrogate. Serdwynne was tolerated for her strength and prowess as a warrior in a clan of steadily declining numbers, but she was shunned, alone amidst her people.
The final battle her clan won, victorious in their own destruction, left few alive; many succumbed to their wounds; those who survived were maimed and disbanded to travel their own paths. Serdwynne nearly lost her left arm, leaving it with basic function—fortunately, it was not her sword arm. Three large diagonal scars crossed her face from forehead to opposite jaw, bordering her crimson eyes with their angry red raised ridges.
She accepted that she would always be viewed as cursed, disfigured, freakish.
Not that this little mass of flesh could qualify as anything else.
It nodded, mouth open.
“Have a name?”
Serdwynne resisted the urge to strangle it. “Speak. Or I leave.”
Loki snorted. A smile twitched on her lips as she looked over her shoulder at him, her only companion from her life with her clan.
“What in the Seven Hells spawned you?”
Grugdil stared up at her.
Serdwynne resisted the urge to pull one of her daggers out of its sheath.
“Parents. What kind of creatures?”
It shook its head. “Never knew parents. Left in woods. Dwarves found me.”
“Figures. What happened to the dwarves?”
It dropped its head and made a wet blubbering sound.
Goddess, give me patience.
“All killed, whole village.” Grugdil shuddered, pressing a hand over its mouth.
Serdwynne waited, feeling a rare twinge of sympathy—outcast, now alone.
“Wendigos. Ate the children, took older ones, save to eat later.”
She closed her eyes, rubbing her hands over the scars on her face. A terrible way to die, no chance to fight, no honor in that death.
“Grugdil getting firewood. Hid.” It shook its head.
“Where are you going now?”
It looked up at her, ugly face not improved by the scrunched features.
“Good Goddess, do not make that face. You would make babies cry. Where are you walking? Another village of dwarves?”
Grugdil shook its downcast head. “Grugdil walk. Nowhere to go. No villages I walk to.”
Serdwynne shook her head. Do not do this, she told herself sternly. You already made this mistake once. You cannot spend your life picking up strays.
Several months ago, walking back to her isolated cabin from the Rogues’ Alehouse, she had come across a group of juvenile male ovunals kicking and taunting a small creature lying in the dirt. She should have kept walking, but the warrior in her despised bullies; she dispatched them quickly without drawing her sword—leaving them alive to crawl away and regret their existence.
The mistake was taking it home with her. Fligel was also some unknown mixed breed of dwarf, goblin, troll, and Goddess knew what else. He was simple, childlike, and afraid of everything—even bugs. Serdwynne told herself it was a rare moment of weakness—charitable and unselfish. She had taken Fligel across the land cursed centuries ago by a group of parvulons; Serdwynne decided cursed land was fitting for a cursed person. The terrified villagers left her alone, only in part due to the land.
Fligel had proven useful, she told herself frequently, justifying her actions; he took care of tasks around the cabin. She protected him; honorable warriors protect the weak.
Here she found herself, standing on a deserted road in approaching sunset, when the danger was greatest for a defenseless creature—an easy meal for a roaming wendigo, disgusting as it would probably taste.
Serdwynne heard Loki shaking his bridle; she looked over her shoulder, scowling at him as he raised his head in a nodding motion. “Ehhh, enough. I know.”
She turned back to Grugdil; it was now sitting in the dirt, head down. Goddessdammit. This was in danger of becoming a habit.
“Get up, Grugdil.”
It looked up at her, face scrunched again.
“Get. To. Your. Feet. Or I will do it for you.”
Grugdil hopped clumsily to its feet, barely managing to avoid falling over.
Serdwynne shook her head. “Come on.” She turned to walk back to Loki. She heard no flapping footsteps behind her. Turning around, she saw Grugdil rooted like a pestilent weed. “You are coming with me. Get on the horse.”
Grugdil crept forward a few steps, cowering as if expecting to be struck.
“Stop it.” Serdwynne scooped him up—and instantly regretted encountering his vile odor, nearly gagging. She dropped him unceremoniously behind Loki’s saddle; Loki stood perfectly still, no doubt understanding the creature’s fear. “Shut up, Loki,” she snapped.
Loki whinnied quietly at her.
“Yes, yes, I know.” Serdwynne swung with practiced ease into the saddle, her leg over Loki’s neck to avoid knocking Grugdil off. “Hold on,” she told the creature as she clicked Loki into a smooth trot.
Why am I doing this again? What is wrong with me? Goddessdammit!