Episode 12 – Grand Finale: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The next morning, we were in for a shock…awakened to find our camp surrounded by the lord’s guard. Not only that, Lord Rain was leading his men astride a snow-white pony.
“At last, we’ll see justice!” He roared pointing at me. “That’s the half breed who attempted to rape my daughter and fill her with demon seed.”
I stood to face him, realizing it might be my final act on Earth. “That’s a lie!” I cried. “I had no such thoughts. We loved each other until you hatched plans to destroy my reputation, whence she turned on me…but, I have moved on,” I said, turning to Primula, “and am now happy with this sweet lady!”
“Look!” The lord bellowed, pointing to Oscar and Myles. “He has ambushed two of your companions…poor Oscar Phoebus lies gravely injured!”
Oscar, though tired and weak, raised his head. “No, my lord!” He gasped. “The lad gave a good account of himself, then treated my wound as expertly as a doctor.”
With that, three guards leaped off their horses and knelt beside him. “Come back with us, Father. We’ll take care of you.”
“Don’t let Rain fool you,” he said to them. “These are fine people who simply defended themselves, but have no desire to kill and wound.”
“Seize the boy!” The lord commanded. “We’ll dispense with him here and now! He’ll not flee again!”
Primula stepped between me and Lord Rain. “No, sire. His escape was my doing and mine alone. If you take anyone’s life, take mine!”
“I declare you both criminals!” The lord bellowed. “Seize them!”
But…to our surprise, not a soul moved.
“Seize them!” he screamed, as Myles stepped forward.
“Lord Rain,” He cried. “You treat us as slaves. Oscar and I wish to make homes with these folk and live in peace.”
“Fiddlesticks!” The lord screamed. “There is no peace…and never will be. Peace is maintained by arms and might!”
I felt compelled to answer. “Combat may be esteemed in your world, but where we live, woodland skills are far more valued.”
The lord turned crimson. “How dare you talk back to me, insolent brat! Men, seize him…now!”
Again, nobody moved.
Instantly, the lord drew his sword and spurred his pony at me. I knew, if we were to gain followers, i couldn’t show weakness, so unarmed, I stood my ground…knew my nimbleness would serve me well.
I could feel the ground shake as he closed in. My eyes were riveted to his glistening blade. Suddenly, he took a wild swing, and at the last second, I stepped aside as the blade passed a hair’s breadth from my cheek.
His pony continued ahead…halted among the rocks, boxed in, with no room to reverse course. It was a humorous moment, because Lord Rain kept spurring his steed but it had no choice, but to back out, hind end first.
The pause gave me time to retrieve Oscar’s sword and stand ready for round two. Behind me, I heard whispering among the guard. “What a brave lad!” And it gave me confidence that I could deal with whatever the lord attempted…but, I was in for a surprise. I sensed movement, and as Lord Rain faced me, his men formed up at my side.
“Leave now, evil lord!” Myles cried, “or risk your life!”
The lord was beside himself. “You’ll pay for this!” He sputtered. “The king and I will dispatch every last one of you!” Then, spurred his pony, and galloped away.
His hasty retreat left all of us in confusion, but Myles immediately took charge. “Noble guards,” he cried, “this is the opportunity we’ve awaited as long as I can remember…to become masters of our own destiny. Let us join Marlo and Primula and form a free village. Go! Gather your families and chattels before the evil lord tries any more mischief. We’ll all help one another!”
But Oscar’s sons were worried. He was unfit for a journey.
“Fear not.” I assured them. “My mate and I will stay with him until you return. Then, you can decide on the safest course of action.”
Oscar immediately raised his head. “You all have made a wise choice. This lad could have killed me, but he treated me like his own father. Be assured I will be safe!”
Then, after saying warm good byes, the whole band set off in high spirits…as though it was suddenly a holiday…which it was..the ancient druid festival of Yuletide celebrating the Winter solstice. Yet, for most of them, it was truly the celebration of their sudden independence…the lifting of the yoke of aristocratic oppression…and the rush of personal freedom.
Two bachelors were left with us to watch over their father, Oscar’s youngest sons, Finn and Gil. They were twins, a year or two older than I, but a head shorter. Still, they resembled me. Primula couldn’t resist remarking on it…both had button noses, long black hair and yellow-green eyes.
“They’re so scrawny,” Primula whispered slyly, “like you. I wonder if they’re big where it really counts?”
I was a bit shocked by the comment, though her devilish giggle won me over. “You’re a rascal!” I whispered, seizing her around the waist. She pretended to resist, then allowed a long, passionate kiss.
“I’m so glad you’re not wearing one of their silly uniforms,” she whispered, nodding at the twins. It was true. They were dressed in the sort of outfit that gives the elven a bad name…green booties, dark green tights, braided cloaks and ridiculous pointed caps. Quite ridiculous!!!
“In the outdoors, we would never wear such outfits,” I explained to them. “Animals would see us a mile away.”
“We don’t like them either,” Finn admitted, “but we’ve no choice. It’s mandatory for the guards. If we’d been able to return home, we’d be wearing rough attire as well.”
“These tights are very hard on the nuts!” Gill exclaimed with a grin, and Primula gave me a nudge.
“Hey there, boys!” We turned to find Oscar propped on an elbow. “Somebody should keep watch. Lord Rain will certainly return with reinforcements…join forces with the king to punish the mutineers. I’m sure there’s already a bounty on all our heads!”
“Okay, Pa,” Gil said scrambling up the rock I’d occupied.
Primula turned to Finn. “How long will it take your companions to gather up their families?”
Finn shook his head. “Honestly, it could take days. Some have traveled many miles to volunteer…and Lord Rain sends recruiters far and wide to press men into service.”
“We’re sitting ducks here,” Primula said. “Lord Rain is well aware we can’t move your father.”
“We have no choice,” I said. “Let’s hope our ranks swell soon.”
“They will,” Finn assured me. “Some live close by.”
To make a long story short, it took nearly two weeks for all the families to reach us. In spite of their being only twenty men in the patrol, they’d all raised prodigious families. To a man, each had at least six children…some had a dozen or more. They trickled in with carts and wagons pulled by deer and ponies…piled high with hay, children, poultry and furniture. It was sobering to see the faith they’d placed in us. It made me worry. Perhaps, I’d misguided them by inviting all to Fox Glen, but it was too late to turn back.
So, a few days before Christmas, the whole group set out, even Oscar who was healing quickly…riding happily in a cart piled with hay.
As we trudged through the Winter wilderness, Primula remarked that all Oscar’s sons looked surprisingly like me, and I couldn’t deny it. One of the oldest, Nick, was even as tall. “Can that be a coincidence?” She asked.
I was about to answer, when one of our scouts came galloping up. “The king’s army is approaching fast. They’ll reach us by nightfall for sure!”
We were all in a quandary….simply could not move much faster. The carts were full to the brim and a few families were on foot. Not only that, we had cows, pigs, and ponies with us.
Finally, we held a group council…the only option seemed to be to discard our belongings and flee to safety, then an alternative dawned on me.
“Wait, wait!” I cried. “With one of your ponies, I could reach Fox Glen in a few hours. There I’ll enlist the aid of my stepfather, Arne Twilber. He’s a master at controlling the flow of fate, I’m sure he can come up with a defense plan.”
They were all stunned. Couldn’t believe I was related to the legendary warrior who faced Ogres alone…pondered my plan less than a minute, then hardily agreed. So, within minutes, I was galloping across the snow. Truth be told, I’m a terrible rider…it took all my strength and willpower to keep my seat and keep an eye out for landmarks. At first, I feared I was lost, but as Arne had instructed, I turned my mind loose and imagined the most direct route, and soon the terrain looked familiar. I even spotted places Arne and I hunted. My heart leaped with joy…I knew I was soon to return to my beloved Primula.
So, as the sun reached it’s zenith, I galloped up to the familiar door that meant so much to me…home, family, warmth, protection. What a relief! I’d actually made it! I had a deep-seated fear that I’d betray the trust all the elves had placed in me.
As I jumped from my pony, the door opened and my beloved sisters, Sally and Thimble, squealed with joy. “Mother, Father, Brother Marlo’s home!!!”
I followed them inside. We all hugged, overjoyed to be reunited, but there was no time to lose. I quickly explained all that had transpired…about my wonderful mate, and the grave situation we were all facing.
“How many are with you?” Arne asked.
“I’m not sure exactly,” I replied, “a hundred at least.”
Their eyes widened,,,Arne immediately gathered his weapons, tossed an extra bow to me, and we rushed off. He leapt on the pony, and I scrambled up behind. We rode furiously. It turned out, as a boy, Arne’d had an old pony and rode her everywhere. So, in half the time it took me, our elven caravan came in sight.
The minute we were spotted, a cheer went up, and as we rode among them, they crowded round, eager to see the legendary Arne Twilber. They were amazed by his height and bearing…but, the joy was short-lived. In the distance, we heard the royal buglers, and our men leaped on their ponies to counterattack.
“Wait!” Arne cried. “I have another plan.” He dismounted and turned to the misty peaks on the horizon…closed his eyes…seemed to withdraw from the world around us.
“What’s he doing?” Finn asked.
I shook my head. “I’m not certain.”
“If we don’t hurry the king’s men will be upon us.”
Suddenly, in a bold voice Arne began a chant:
“Giant creatures of the night,
Awaken to our call.
Ignore the sun and blazing light.
Heed the fate of all.
If you remain among the rocks,
And fail to repel the king,
You’ll be stunned by greater shocks,
And will feel the future’s sting.
Let us hear your heavy tread,
As you accost the foe.
Go to where the fates have led,
Or face eternal woe!”
Everyone was confused. Our prospects seemed bleak, and as the king’s men o’er topped a nearby ridge, we stood frozen in terror…wondered if we were to be slaughtered in the forest, far from home. I myself wondered what my stepfather had in mind. I had an inkling, but could it possibly work? All were in panic, whispering back and forth, but Arne continued to stare at the high peaks.
Then, suddenly, we heard the thuds.
“What’s that?” Primula asked. She’d worked her way through the crowd and entwined her fingers in mine.
I closed my own eyes and prayed to the woodland spirits….begged them to help us in this desperate hour. Then, as the royal horsemen galloped closer, a band of huge hairy beings came charging down the mountainside. “Ogres!” Everyone shrieked in terror, but they passed right by us, and leaped among the king’s army, tossing ponies and soldiers like toys. Immediately, the force was seized by panic, and fled in disarray, Ogres hot on their heels. It was terrifying, because the confused forces were heading for the Tumble which was in for a rude awakening.
We all stood in disbelief and we watched the royal rout. Then, one at a time, our party began to cheer, until everyone was hooting and hollering with joy and relief.
After that, a hush settled, and everyone formed around Arne, eager to touch his clothes and boots…whispering heartfelt thanks. I was bursting with pride…basked in his glory, though his mental feats were beyond my comprehension.
Then, another strange thing happened. Out of nowhere, Arne walked over to Oscar’s cart and shook his hand…waved Primula and me over.
“Marlo,” he said, “I sense a close connection between you and this gentleman.”
Oscar was flattered, but perplexed. “A connection?” He asked.
“Yes. Marlo is Nina Thorkle’s son. Does that help?”
“Of course! Nina is my niece! No wonder there’s a resemblance. This lad is my grand-nephew!
That said, all Oscar’s relatives gathered round to meet their “new” cousin. I was especially delighted by a blood connection to Finn and Gil whom I’d liked from the first. But, I couldn’t ignore dear Oscar who’d kept Lord Rain from slaying me. So, I broke away, climbed into the card, and hugged him tight.
“Thank you, Marlo,” he said misty-eyed. “Welcome to our clan.”
I couldn’t help pondering the strange turn of events…I’d wounded my great uncle and nursed him back to health.
But there was yet another surprise in store. I introduced my beloved Primula to Arne and he hugged her warmly. “Welcome to the family! My stepson obviously has impeccable taste in women.”
We laughed and talked, then all started a huge bonfire and celebrated all night. Predictably, Primula and I sneaked away…snuggled in the straw of a vacant wagon…one thing led to quite another, and the wagon shook so visibly, I feared we’d be interrupted.
The next morning, as we were about to depart, Arne took me aside. “Son, in all the excitement last night, I forgot to tell you something important.”
“What’s that, Arne?” I asked.
“When I hugged Primula, I sensed two heartbeats instead of one.”
“Yes, Marlo. Congratulations! She’s with child! I guess you two jumped the gun.” He studied me with a twinkle in his eye.
I blushed deeply. “Yes, Arne, quite a few times.”
“Well, give your bride the good news!” He said with a laugh.