Tag Archives: Weekly Fiction

The Goblin Princess



Ranger Hastur paused, taken a little aback by the young learner’s reply. “Thorin, I didn’t even say what the mission was.”

Thorin glanced at his two teammates, Feena and Azure giving him curious looks, then looked back at their teacher. “It’s about the Goblins, right sir?”

Hastur sighed, rubbing the red bandanna he wore to cover his balding scalp. This was the problem with being the teacher to the son of the village leader, just from his dinner table chatter alone the boy knew far more than anyone else about the goings-on of the ranger village.

“That’s right, kid.” Hastur continued. “That Goblin trader caravan that just went through left a member of their clan with us for training, but that member forgot something and needs to catch up with the caravan to retrieve it. We need someone to escort them there and back again before the caravan gets too far out. So, I was to going to ask which one of you wanted to do it.”

“Sir, I already said I’d do it.” The young teenaged boy stated. “Besides, Feena has special training with the Carving Master, and Azure hates Goblins, so we can’t send her. I’m the only choice.”

Hastur raised a salt-and-pepper eyebrow, looking at Feena, who gave a shrug of agreement, and Azure, who looked unhappy but nodded as well. Elves and Goblins had a long and furious history between them, and there was little doubt that sending her into the Goblin camp might not be the best choice.

In truth, he’d been a little reluctant to send the leader’s son on the mission, and hoping Feena could take it on, but accepting that he’d already been outmanoeuvred by his student, Hastur finally nodded. “Alright then, Thorin. See the Master of Horses for two mounts, and then take them to the Blue House to pick up the Goblin. Prepare to be out for the night, since we’ve only got half a day and it’ll be a good day’s ride to get there.”

“Yes, teacher!” The redheaded teen said enthusiastically, and then with he was sprinting away from the table.

Watching him go, Hastur was a little bewildered. He’d rarely seen anyone want to spend more time than they had to with a Goblin, much less be happy about it. Then he paused… did the boy know? He shook the thought away. Even if he did, this was just Thorin being Thorin- eager to learn and explore everything he could.

Still, he wished the boy luck as he turned to the day’s training for his remaining two charges.


Thorin tapped twice on the Blue House’s front door, then peered around to see if Master Rugle or his wife were somewhere about the farmstead. The Blue House was the guest house for people staying with the Rangers of the Black Woods, so called for the blue tinted stones that had been used to build it. Legend had it that when Master Rugle was asked why the house was blue, the retired ranger said that the house was a fetching green. This being the first time anyone had noticed that the elder warrior was in fact colorblind.

Still, the name stuck, and the Rugles were known far and wide for their hospitality, and Mrs. Rugle’s raspberry puddings and other treats. Treats which Thorin hoped he might get a few of to accompany the day’s ride.

Not seeing either the seniors or their tenant farmers about, Thorin knocked again. This time there was noise from inside and the face of the elderly former ranger appeared at the door, smiling down at him.

“Well, if it isn’t young Redleaf? How’s your father, boy?”

“Good, sir.” Thorin said politely. “My mother has him clearing out the back gardens today.”

This made the older man smile more broadly. “I bet he wishes there were an official emergency to tear him away from that mess! So, how may I help you?”

“Master Hastur sent me to escort the… err… guest back to their caravan to fetch something.” Thorin said, realizing halfway through that he actually didn’t know what to refer to the Goblin as without being rude. He wasn’t sure if Goblin was a polite term or not, especially given how most people seemed to use the word.

This made the elder’s smile fade quickly. “Ah, yes. We’ve been expecting you. Come with me, then.” He pushed open the door and then lead Thorin into the house, through a front hall lined with paintings of oddly coloured cows and scenery, and left into the front sitting room.

There, on an old wooden rocking chair, sat the Goblin.

Or, at least, Thorin took it to be a Goblin. It was the right height, being barely above four foot, and had two large emerald green ears that protruded from either side of it’s head, each festooned with earrings, but that was almost all Thorin could actually see of it. The rest of the small person before him was covered head to toe in black cloth and lace, covering everything from the figure’s covered and veiled head to its shoes. It even wore gloves, leaving the only skin visible the two broad cowlike ears and a very thin strip where the veil stopped just below the eyes and under the headcovering.

From that narrow strip, two large yellow eyes tinted with flecks of orange watched Thorin warily.

Thorin didn’t know what he was expecting but it certainly wasn’t this. He’d seen and encountered Goblins before on missions and during visits from occasional caravans, but none of them had looked remotely like this. Well, the ears and skin tint were the same, but the mode of dress was so different, especially since it seemed like most goblins barely wore any clothes at all beyond animal pelts.

Then a thought occurred to him. All the Goblins he’d seen were warriors, and they’d also been male. Did that mean that perhaps this was…?

“Here she is,” the elder ranger gestured at the Goblin. Then he spoke directly to the guest. “This lad is here to take you to your caravan so you can get your medicine or whatever it is you need.”

“It is ritual herbss,” said the Goblin girl, there being a slight hiss to her speech that extended the “s” sound at the end of “herbs”. “I need them for my prayerss.”

“Of course,” Rugle looked at Thorin and shrugged a “what can you do?” motion. “In any case, this boy’ll be taking you to get them. Just go with him.”

At this, the girl rose smoothly from her chair, lifting the hem of her dress with her gloved fingers, and walked across the room toward them. Thorin, seeing his chance to make a good impression, stuck out his hand and said “Hello, I’m…”

Only to be ignored, as she walked right past him and out down the hallway, leaving him momentarily standing there, surprised.

“Best get after her, son.” Said the elder Rugle. “She won’t be stopping for you, I can promise you that. Goblin women aren’t exactly the friendly types.”

“R-right!” Thorin said, and with a brief nod of respect to Rugle he took off after the girl, finding her standing just outside the door, looking around.

“Where iss the carriage?”

“The horses are over there,” Thorin said, gesturing to where he’d tied the animals up.

“Horsess?” Her tone rose, suggesting fear. “I cannot ride a horse!”

“Sure you can,” Thorin said, leading her over toward them. “I even brought you Little Charlie, and the Horse Master says he’s the gentlest we’ve got. He’s barely bigger than a pony, so even you can… Ahh… Ride him.” Were Goblins sensitive about their height, Thorin wondered?

“But, I need a carriage!” She protested, looking worriedly at the grazing animal.

Thorin shook his head. “I’m sorry, if we take a carriage there’s no way we can catch up with them in time. We have to ride horses. But… If you want to tell me what you need, or send a letter with me, I can ride to meet them and you don’t have to come?”

“No!” She exclaimed, then seemed to find her courage. “I will… ride it.” She walked over and stood next to the horse, which despite being on the small side was still huge compared to the Goblin girl. Then, as the animal and Thorin watched, she walked around to the other side of it and back again.

It took Thorin a moment to realize what was happening. “Can I… Help you up?” He said, suppressing a smile.

She froze, and then nodded. “You can.”

He approached, making sure the stirrup was in the right place and grabbing the pommel with his left hand while offering her his right. “Put your left foot in there and use it to help lift yourself up.” He said, then eyed her long skirt and asked “Can you put both legs over the side?”

“No.” She said flatly as she got up onto the seat.

“Okay, I’ll adjust the stirrups so you can ride side-saddle then.” It would be a little slower, but faster than a carriage, he decided.

After a few adjustments and instructions, they were finally ready to go, and Thorin mounted Thunderfoot, the horse he’d been lent for the mission. He wasn’t senior enough to rate his own personal horse yet.

“By the way,” he said, riding up alongside her. “Can I ask your name?”

“No.” Said the girl. “Can we go?”

“Yeah,” said Thorin, starting to think maybe he’d taken this job a little too quickly. “Let’s go.”


It didn’t take long before Thorin and his charge were leaving the ranger village. When they finally did, he was glad to be in the forest and away from the stares and curious eyes that the small girl attracted. He felt like her odd appearance rubbed off on him, and he wasn’t happy with the attention at all.

Once they hit the well worn forest roads, they picked up the pace a little. The sun was now high in the West, which meant they had only a couple hours of riding time before it sank, and he didn’t fancy being out in the woods at night if he could help it. It wasn’t that he was scared of the forest, or that he hadn’t spent countless hours camping, he was a ranger learner after all, but he still didn’t enjoy sleeping on the hard ground.

Since the girl was inexperienced and riding side-saddle, they were limited in how fast they could go, and he kept them to a modest trot rather than a gallop in an effort to keep her safe. As a result, they rode mostly side by side, and after a time Thorin decided to try and strike up a conversation.

“We didn’t get a chance to introduce ourselves,” he said. “I’m Thorin.”

“Greetingss.” Said the girl.

“What’s your name?” Thorin continued, seeing she wasn’t going to say anything else.

“You do not need to know. We will not be together long.”

“Uuh. Yeah.” Thorin wasn’t sure how to answer that and rode silently for a while before trying again. “So, what are these herbs for, the ones we’re going to get? You said they’re for a ritual?”

The girl nodded her head and gave a small grunt, still not looking at him.

“What kind of ritual is it? Like prayers to the ancestors?”

She closed her eyes, and he saw her shake her head slightly. At first, he thought she was thinking about how stupid his question was, but then she opened her eyes again.

“They are for prayerss to the God Ganasshi,” she said, still not looking at him, but her tone a little less cold. “We musst burn them every night so that he will give uss good dreamss. I need them, or I won’t be able to ssleep.”

“Oh,” that made sense to Thorin, but then he asked, “Can’t you get them here?”

He saw the girl stiffen a bit, but she shook her head. “No. your valley doess not have the herbss I need.”

“And they didn’t leave enough for you?”


Thorin shrugged. “Okay then. Well, we should be able to get to your caravan by nightfall.”

“Thank you.”

Surprised by her show of politeness, Thorin smiled and reached for his canteen. As he drank, it occurred to him how hot she must be clothed in black like that under the late afternoon summer sun.

“You know, you should drink your water.” He told her. “You’re gonna get heat sick if you let yourself get too hot. There’s water there in your saddle bag. I got it from the spring earlier, so it should still be cool.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she reached down a gloved hand and took her own canteen from the saddle bag, then turned to face away from him so she could raise her veil and drink. He felt a little disappointed. He’d been hoping to see what she’d looked like under that veil. Once she was done, she replaced the canteen in the bag.

“It iss good,” she said, glancing at him.

“You’re welcome, but isn’t it hard to wear all black like that all the time in the summer? Must be pretty hot.”

“Ssometimess.” She admitted.

“So why do you do wear it, then?”

“It iss our cusstom. It would ssoil me to have lesser maless look upon me.”

Lesser males? Thought Thorin, a little confused. “So nobody can see your skin?”

“No,” she said. “Those close to me may look upon me, and other femaless, of course.”

“But nobody else?”

“It would sshame me if they did.”

“Do all girls of your… kind… Have to wear this?”

She shook her head. “No. Only those from good familiess. Lesser born may show their sskins to anyone.”

“Don’t you ever want to show your face to others?”

At this, Thorin thought he saw the skin around her eyes turn a darker shade. At first, he thought she was angry, but then she said in a soft voice, “Ssometimess.”

“So why not do it?”

“None would want to ssee me. If I sshowed them my face, they would run away.”

“I don’t mean your people. I mean, humans too.”

“I am not worth looking upon.”

“Not if they’re your friends.”

“I do not have… friendss.”

This shocked Thorin. “Goblins don’t have friends?” He said, finally blurting out the word he’d been trying to avoid.

If it bothered her, she didn’t seem to notice, and hung her head a little. “No. They have friendss. I do not. I am too worthless and ugly.”

“Friends don’t care how you look,” Thorin answered, repeating his teacher’s wisdom. “If they do, they’re not friends.”

“That is why,” she said with a sad note in her voice. “I do not have friendss.”

Thorin didn’t know how to reply to that. In his heart, he felt a pain of sadness from the tone of the girl’s voice, and wanted to comfort her, but didn’t know how he could. It surprised him, actually, how human this creature seemed.


By the time the light began to dim, Thorin gave up all hope of reaching an outpost or town before dark. The caravan had more than two day’s head start on them, and despite seeing its tracks, it was clear from the signs he picked up that the caravan was still far ahead of them. In the end, with the sun starting to dip beneath the Western Hills, Thorin made the decision to camp for the night.

His charge wasn’t happy about it, but after a short argument, they found a clearing on the side of a hill and Thorin took care of the horses while the girl began to prepare the camp. At first, he was surprised she knew how to gather the wood and arrange the fire-pit, but then he remembered she’d been raised in a trading caravan, and naturally would have picked up basic camping skills living forever on the move. With her help, it didn’t take long before they had a fire going and all chores done and were sitting around the fire.

Thorin had brought rations enough for both of them, so he didn’t need to hunt, and they both settled into a quiet dinner of dried goat jerky and roasted yams he’d snuck from his family garden before leaving. No point in letting a good excuse to roast yams go to waste, after all! She ate it all hungrily, although facing away from him the whole time, a black shadow next to the firelight chomping and smacking its way through the meal.

When they were done, Thorin decided that he wanted to try practising his flute, hoping it might improve the mood, and went to his saddle bag to get it. But, just as he was unbuckling the bag, a sound cut through the air that made a cold stream run down his back.

A wolf howl.

No. Two wolves.

No. Three.


In just a moment, he lost track of how many howls he was hearing, but they were many, loud, and close.

He gulped, looking toward the hill and the direction the howls had come from. Wolf packs occasionally ranged into the Black Wood, and as a rule they usually avoided humans, but they were small packs. One this large wouldn’t be afraid of anything.

His heart raced. Should they gather their things and go? It wasn’t safe to ride at night, a horse could trip or they could get lost on these poor side-roads. But was it any safer to spend the night next to a wolfish horde?

Then, just as Thorin was about to tell the girl to grab her roll and get ready to ride, a strange thing happened.

A harsh voice, clear and angry, barked out a command in the cool night, and the howling came to an abrupt halt.

Everything was quiet again, and only the crickets and frogs chirped around them.

Thorin strode across the camp to where the girl stood, looking in the direction of the wolves.

“Was that Goblin?” He asked, referring to the command he’d heard.

She nodded. “Low tongue.”

He considered this. “So, is it your caravan?” He asked, hoping she wouldn’t say what he knew she was going to.

“No. We have no war-riders with us.”

Hearing this, Thorin rushed over and kicked pre-prepared dirt on their campfire, dousing it. What were goblin war-riders doing here in the Black Woods? Was this an invasion? Whatever was happening, it was seriously bad, and he needed to warn someone right away. But first… He grabbed his bow and started to march toward the source of the sounds.

“Stay here,” he told the girl. “I’m going to see how many there are.” He was pretty sure he knew, but he needed to be certain if he was to give a report.

But the Goblin girl shook her head. “I will come.”

He wanted to argue, but decided he didn’t have time so he turned and marched into the forest, hearing her behind him. He was trained in stealth walking, but she wasn’t, and every snapping twig or crackling leaf sounded like a clap of thunder in his ears, but he steeled himself and prayed nobody would be close enough to notice.

When they crested the hill, he grabbed her and pulled her behind a tree. The other side of the hill had a steep drop-off, and the bottom of the culvert on the other side was ablaze with firelight. From his vantage point, Thorin could see easily a dozen camp fires, and around it the thin, twisted figures of Goblin warriors danced and drank- their green skin and pointed faces painted demonically in the firelight as they laughed and cried out. Nearby, he saw their mounts- huge Dire Wolves, easily twice the size of a normal wolf and trained since birth for war by their Goblin masters. The wolves slept, curled into giant balls of fur, ignoring their master’s revelries.

Looking at them, Thorin wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or worried. It wasn’t enough for an invasion force, but definitely a large raiding party. The question was, why were they there?

“Do you know them?” He whispered to the girl.

She nodded. “They’re the Blackthorn Clan, that mark on their tentss iss their clan ssigil.”

“Why are they here?”

Watching her, he saw fear and worry written in her large eyes.

“For uss,” she said.


“For us?” Thorin fought to keep his fear under control.

“My clan caravan,” she said. “They must know of my father’ss negotiations with your chief, and want to ssteal the giftss that were exchanged. Your mapss are most valuable, and they sseek to attack their rivalss.”

Thorin nodded, feeling relieved that he wasn’t looking at an attack on a village. But then he felt guilty, because these raiders were going to kill or hurt others, even if they were Goblins. They had to do something to stop them.

He took a short time to try and count the number of raiders as accurately as he could, and then motioned to the girl that they should retreat. As they made their way silently back down the hill, he tried to formulate a plan. This section of the forest was well travelled and faced the kingdom, not the Northern Frontier, so there weren’t many guard stations here. He’d need to check the map, but he suspected the nearest was some distance away, and even if they reached it, the ride would take time. Time the caravan, which was likely camped only a few dozen miles away, didn’t have.

They could warn the caravan, but that wouldn’t solve the problem either, as the slow caravan would always be outpaced by the war-riders. So what could they do?

As they reached the camp, he came up with the answer.

“We need to find a warning post.” He said, heading for his horse and opening his saddlebag.

“What iss a warning post?” She answered, following along.

He unrolled his map, and then took a moment to light a candle so they could read it.

“See these dots?” He said, pointing to little crosses on the vellum. “These are warning posts. They’re caches for Rangers to use to summon help. Each of them has wood you can use to send up smoke signals.”

Her brow furrowed. “But, we are ssurrounded by wood?”

He shook his head. “This wood is specially made to burn in different colours, so you can use it to send a message the lookouts will recognize. Every smoke colour means something different.”

“Oh,” she said, sounding impressed. “That iss very ssmart.”

“So, we’re around here,” he stuck his finger on the map. “And the nearest station is here.” He ran his finger around a small lake until it reached the mark on the map. “So we need to go… That way.” He gestured to their left.

The girl nodded, and the two of them quickly packed up their camp and mounted their horses.

“We’ll have to go slow. Keep close behind me. Your horse will know the way.”


Under the light of the moon, the two made their way through the forest, following barely used trails in what Thorin took to be the right direction. He was following the North Star, but it wasn’t always visible through the trees, so they had to rely on his own sense of direction and the makers of the trail to get them to where they were going.

As they walked, he also kept pausing to listen, something that didn’t go unnoticed by his charge.

“They are not following uss,” she told him after a time.

“How do you know?”

He heard what sounded like a snort. “War-riderss are not that quiet, especially not the Blackthorn Clan. You ssaw- they are lighting firess and letting their animalss howl, even though they want to attack by ssurprise. If they followed uss, we could hear them coming from far away.”

“Good point,” Thorin agreed. In fact, he hoped that the Rangers had noticed them and that all this effort wouldn’t be needed, but he couldn’t be sure. Even if the rangers did noticed the raiders, they might not know their intended target until it was far too late. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“You are welcome.”

“I guess we really do have something to learn from you.” He mused.

This seemed to surprise the girl. “What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t know a lot about Goblin culture, and you can teach us.”

This produced a long silence, and then the girl said. “Do you really believe sso?”

“Sure! Why not?”

“I wass left at your village because I am a cosst to my father. He hoped to burden another with me.”

“What?” Thorin was dumbfounded. “Really? I thought you were there to help us?”

This produced what seemed like a laugh, but Thorin could feel a sadness to it. “Then that is a ssad joke that has been played on you. I am an unmarriageable female, and a useless one which brought nothing by sshame to my family. I am good at nothing, and good for nothing according to my parents. That is why they abandoned me.”

“Oh.” Was all Thorin could manage. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The culture of the Rangers was a harsh one at times, but they valued every member of their village, and the idea of a completely useless person was foreign to him. Everyone was useful, just in different ways. But, when he searched his thoughts for something to say to refute her claims, he had difficulty because she was a stranger and he knew so little about her. In the end, he could only go with what his teacher had told him.

“You’re only as useless as you make yourself, that’s what my teacher says.” He said at last. “If you make yourself useful, then you’re useful. That’s all there is to it.”

“You are wrong. Even now, I am preventing you from riding with sspeed to warn your people and help my caravan. If you did not have to care for me, then my family would be ssafe.”

“That’s stupid! If I didn’t have to take you to get those herbs, we never would have come. You’re the one who’s saving your family, not hurting them!”

Shocked by the sharp rebuke, the Goblin girl fell silent again, and for a moment Thorin thought he’d said too much, but in his heart he was too annoyed to care. Then he heard a tearing sound from behind him. A sound of cloth ripping that made him turn and look back at his charge in the moonlight.

She was a black smudge on Old Charlie, but now he could see that she was no longer facing to the side, but forward, both her legs straddling the animal beneath her.

Thorin immediately brought them to a halt and slipped off his horse.

“I am sorry,” she said in a worried voice as he approached. “I did not mean to trouble you, but I want to help my family.”

“I know,” said Thorin as he reached to grab her horse’s saddle. “I stopped to change the stirrups so you can ride this way. If we’re going to go faster, you need to ride safely, right?”


Despite the increase in speed, it took them most of the night to find their way through the forest and around the small lake to where the warning post was. The roads and paths here were rocky and treacherous, and the trails they were on had several false ends that made them double back a few times. But, just as the sky in the East was starting to lighten and go from darkest blue to a lighter shade, they managed to find the warning post.

Naturally, no one without a map was supposed to be able to find it. This was a secret messaging system that only the rangers knew of and it was meant to stay a secret. So, even once they’d arrived at the location marked on the map they still had to spend some time searching for it in the dim morning light. They found their goal buried beneath some bushes, not so much a post or even a shed but a large chest and with special markings on top buried under some bushes.

“I hope everything in here is okay,” Thorin said. “They’re supposed to check these from time to time to make sure, but old Hallahan is the one of who was put in charge of this last year.”

The girl looked at him questioningly, “Iss that a problem?”

“I hope not,” Thorin said, sounding a little worried. “He got the job because he’s a bit of a… Well, my dad says he’s a bit too fond of the ale. So, they didn’t want to trust him with guard duty anymore.”

“I ssee…”

“But I’m sure,” Thorin said as he used the key that was secretly hidden nearby to open the lock on the box. “That they must’ve made him come out and do it sometime.”

However, when the lid swung open and their noses were filled with a damp musky scent, Thorin’s heart fell. Inside, cut pieces of wood had been organized neatly into five compartments, and next to each compartment was a swatch of paint showing what colour each piece of treated wood in that compartment would burn. But, it was very clear from the damp and insect ridden condition of these pieces of wood, that they had not been checked for a very very long time.

“Oh no!” Thorin said as he lifted out one of the pieces feeling the soft wood almost turn to powder under his fingers.

“Will they still burn?” She asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said, continuing to examine them. However, the answer soon became very clear – they weren’t going to get much more than a small smoldering fire from any of this wood, much less a full burning smoke producing flame.

All their efforts had been in vain, there was no way they were going to be able to warn the Rangers or the caravan in time to prevent the raid.

They had failed.


For time, Thorin just sat there going through the wood again and again, hoping that there might be something useful. But, in the end he kept coming up with the same conclusion- there was no way they were going to be able to warn the caravan in time.

Seeing this, the girl finally asked, “Could we find another warning post?”

Thorin shook his head. “It would take us too long to get there.”

“Sso, what can we do?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.” He said, feeling helpless. He ran over the possibilities in his head again and again, but he always kept coming up with the same answer – there was too much distance and too little time to do anything else. All they could do was maybe ride ahead to the caravan and try warning them, hoping that they would arrive before the war-riders did and maybe allow a few members of the caravan to escape.

It was a small thing, but maybe it might be something.

He stood up, getting ready to go. But, as he started to head for the horse, he realized that the girl wasn’t following him. So, he turned back and saw her still at the chest smelling some of the pieces of wood.

“Come on! We’ve got to go!”

She held up a gloved hand, “Wait a moment. You ssaid this would wass coated with chemicalss so that he would send up ssmoke of different colourss. Was this one mostly billerberry? And this based on roughbark?”

“I… I think so,” Thorin said, suddenly a little unsure. The truth was, he hadn’t actually studied the making of these yet, and so only had a rough idea from the lectures of his master during a camping trip several years before. But, the names of the girl said sounded familiar. “Why?”

“Sso, if we mix those ssubstances into a fire it will burn coloured ssmoke? The smokess that we need to use to ssend a message to your people?”

“Yes,” he answered. “That’s how it works. We cover this wood in those powders so that they can be used quickly in case of an emergency.”

She stood up, brushing the dust off her now torn and dirty skirt. “Then we can sstill do it. We will only need to find those substancess and add them to firess we make.”

“Yeah but…” Thorin said. “We don’t know everything they used to make those colours. I mean, they didn’t just use one thing. And, we need to find them.”

“I know what they used,” she stated. “I can ssmell them. My family tradess in many powderss, and I know most of their ssources as well. If the godss are with us, we sshould be able to find them close by.”

“Really?” Thorin said, shocked.

She nodded. “Yes, but we will need to do it quickly. I do not know how long it will take to find the different partss of this recipe. Also, you need to tell me which oness we’re going to need. Do we need all of these different mixturess?”

Thorin shook his head, “No. No, we don’t. Just the ones for red and blue. But, we will need enough for two blue fires. The number of fires is also part of the code.”

“I understand,” she nodded. “Then let uss move quickly. Do you know where we can find a billerberry…?”


It took them the better part of an hour, but Thorin was amazed at the speed at which she was able to gather the components they needed from the trees, the plants, and the soil around them. She seemed to have an innate sense for finding the things they needed, and when they finished and were dividing it all into several small piles, he told her so.

“I would often help the femaless of my caravan go out and gather the thingss we needed while the maless traded with others. I learned a lot from them.”

“Well, I’m learning a lot from you.” Doran said. “I mean, I knew how to find a lot of these things, but some of the things you thought of are ones that I never would’ve considered.”

“It iss nice of you to say that,” she said, her humility returning. “It iss only because my nose is more ssensitive than yours.”

“Boy is it ever! I wish I had you around when they sent me out to gather cooking herbs.” He marvelled.

“I believe we have everything together,” she said, looking at the three piles. “These will produce a red ssmoke when added to a fire, at least from what you told me about the recipe your Rangers use. These two will produce your blue ssmoke. Do you have the firess ready?”

Thorin nodded. “I got them ready while you were gathering those berries.”

With that, Thorin quickly got the fires burning, and when the flames were hard enough, the girl added each of the piles of components to one of the fires. Soon, there was a pillar of red smoke, and two pillars of blue smoke rising up high into the air.

“Okay, now let’s see if we can find your caravan.” Thorin said, giving a silent prayer to the gods of the forest that his message would reach the people it needed to reach in time.


It was early afternoon when the war riders found the caravan.

The Goblin war chief of the Blackthorne clan let out a mighty cry into the air, raised his axe, and lead the charge down a grassy slope toward the slow-moving line of horses and carts. His heart was filled with fire, and he salivated at the thought of the meal that he would be consuming when this battle was done. He could practically taste the cooking meat now, and he urged his riders on with a furious hunger.

Before them, the goblins of the Sulk trading family panicked and fled. The members of the caravan abandoning their carts and horses and racing toward a nearby wooded thicket in hopes of escaping the Raiders. They knew that to be caught meant to be killed or perhaps worse.

However, just as the first of the war riders was almost to the caravan, mighty horns began to blow, surprising the goblin attackers. Then, the curtains were drawn back on many of the carriages to reveal human bowman clad in the brown and green of Rangers. And, from other nearby thickets of trees, mounted horsemen appeared and began to encircle the goblin raiders.

The war chief of the Blackthorne clan had just enough time to cry in alarm before a mighty shaft struck him, knocking him off his mount and leaving him laying on the ground among the first of many of his kinsman to fall that day.


“You have done us a great service young ranger,” the leader of the Sulk trading family said that night at the feast he held in honour of the Rangers and a successful battle against the Blackthorne clan. “We owe you a great debt.” He said, raising his carved wooden mug of goblin ale toward the boy.

“I’m sorry sir, but it was your daughter that did everything. I was just there to help.” Thorin answered earnestly.

The girl’s father cackled at that and the other goblins are on the table and joined him. “I know you are just ssaying that, boy. She’ss just a female, you don’t need to give her so much honour.”

Hearing this, and knowing how untrue it was, made Thorin’s blood start to rise. And, he was going to say something when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see his teacher, Ranger Hastur, give him a shake of the head. As usual, his master knew him better than he did.

“Sstill,” the master of the trade caravan mused. “She hass been of ssome ssmall sservice. Daughter!”

“Yes father,” the girl said stepping out from the line of covered goblin women who stood nearby.

“You have been of ssome use, finally. Name a reward, a ssmall reward, and it sshall be yours.”

Thorin watched the girl, pleased to see that she was finally getting her due. Mentally, he urged her on, telling her to say to her father what was on her heart – that she wanted to stay with the clan and her brothers and sisters. After all, that was the real reason why she’d pretended to need the herbs, he’d guessed that a long time ago. This was all so she could return to her family, and escape being left behind.

But, to Thorin’s surprise the girl merely said, “I am a member of this family, it wass my duty to sserve, and all I assk as a reward iss that you remember me fondly.”

The girl’s father eyed her suspiciously, then shook his head. “And here I thought you had finally sshown ssome brainss. If you ask for no reward, then you sshall get no reward. Be off with you then!”

Later, after the feast was done, Thorin sought the girl out in the shadows of one of the carts, calling her aside.

“I thought you wanted to stay?” He whispered.

At this, she shook her head. “I did, more than anything.”

“Then why?”

“Because, I learned today that I can be useful. And, I can be more useful to my family if I sstay and learn from your clan.”

“Are you sure? Won’t you miss them?”

She nodded. “I will. But, I think it will be easier if I have friends.” Then she looked at him, her yellow and orange eyes staring at him in the firelight, filled with both hope and worry at the same time.

Taking her meaning, Thorin nodded and smiled broadly at her. “You have one. And, when we get back and everyone hears about what happened, I think you’ll have a whole lot more.”

Then, to Thorin’s surprise, the girl reached up and pulled aside her veil.

“But you…” He stammered, staring down at the face of a surprisingly cute girl. Unlike normal goblins, with their large noses and sharp faces, hers was rounded and and her nose small and pointed. With her big eyes, she looked very childlike and innocent, at least, until she smiled up at him, revealing a set of sharp pointed teeth that would make a shark jealous. She was a goblin, after all.

“Ishrat,” she said. “My name iss Ishrat.”

“Uhh. It’s nice to meet you, Ishrat. But, isn’t it shameful for others to see your face?”

“Not if we’re of the ssame clan. Can I be a member of your family?”

“Sure!” Thorin brightened.

She smiled brighter, which made Thorin feel a little flushed at how cute she looked.

“You know, Thorin. You are sso nice. It’ss really too bad.”

Thorin blinked, confused. “Too bad about what?”

“That you’re sso big and ugly.”


Something to think about:

Everyone has reasons for what they do. They may be strong, clear reasons or they may be poorly thought out feelings, but people don’t say or do things without a purpose for doing them. If someone is acting in ways you don’t understand, rather than just ignore them or call them names, ask yourself why they might be doing what they do. Trying to understand others and their points of view will only make you a better person, and you might just end up making a friend.

If you want to know more about me you can check out my blog at Robynpaterson.com where I post about my stories, writing, art, podcasting, culture, history, and whatever I think is interesting. You can also subscribe to my blog, which will let you hear about the latest posts.

You can also find my author page on Facebook here.

Thanks for reading!


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The Fox Cycle, Story Ten (End): The Hero

Montreal, 1717

Gerard la Russo rushed up the front steps of the Grand Cathedral, praying with every step his daughter Renard was still alive.

He cursed himself for not keeping a closer eye on the teen.

This, of all days!

Today, young Marlon Wiese was wedding Claudette Dupris in a forced match between the rich merchant’s son and the daughter of an impoverished Seigneur. Marlon’s men had kidnapped the girl, his daughter’s best friend, and held her these past weeks while this travesty of justice had been pushed through by his family. Finally, with the support of the governor, the wedding day had come, and the two houses were to be joined as one.

And now, Rennie, not yet recovered from the beating she’d sustained the night of the kidnapping, had disappeared along with several of his other students.

The armed men who loitered outside the church entrance saw him coming, and made a move to stop him, only to fall back and away under the aging musketeer’s gaze.

They were paid men, but not that well.

Then Gerard reached the door, paused for a brief moment to pray for God’s mercy, and pulled it open to step inside.

He expected chaos, blood- death.

His adopted daughter was perhaps the best fighter he had ever seen, and her talent for the arts of war amazed even him at times. At sixteen, she was as good a swordswoman as he had been at his peak of twenty-five! She kept this talent hidden for the most part, not wanting to outdistance her father in front of their company, but he knew from their sparring was a fearsome talent she could be.

Tabernac! All of New France would know her strength now! It would be here on display!

He could only hope that he was in time to prevent it.

But when he got inside, Gerard came up short.

The organ droned, incense hung leisurely in the air, and the chatter of the small crowd was most peaceful.

At the front of the cathedral, the Bishop of Montreal chatted amiably with The Troll, that disgusting henchman of the Wiese family. Near him, Marlon stood, having his suit checked by his mother, while other men stood about in what they could cobble together for the occasion. Claudette’s father was in the second row with the other landed gentry, looking grave.

There was no sign of Rennie or the others.

Or trouble at all.

Puzzled, Gerard spotted his neighbor Madam Tusseau in one of the pews, and slipped in to sit next to her.


“Ah, Monsieur Russo. Come to watch the happy occasion?”

“Yes…I had thought it would be…quite the show.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be.” She said, looking a little tired. “If the bride is done her confession.”


“The bride, she asked for confessional so that she could enter into this marriage with a clean record before God. Although, I never would have guessed such a respectful little thing would have so much to confess. She has been in there for some time.”

Gerard nodded sadly. It was likely Claudette was hiding in that wooden cabinet at the front, trying to avoid her fate. But that would only last so long, eventually, she would need to come out.


“Madam,” he commented. “I am most surprised the bishop himself is not taking the confessional.”

“Oh,” she answered. “The bride requested one of the new priests do it. I’m sorry, I don’t know his name.”

“Youngish fellow?” Gerard offered. “A bit swarthy?”

“Yes, that sounds right. Do you know him?”

The former musketeer nodded. “I believe I might. Has anything happened since young Claudette entered that box? Anything which might disturb the sanctity of the church?”

She looked at him, surprised.

“Why yes, how did you know? A young fellow came in shouting just a few minutes ago- said his father was dying and he needed the bishop to give absolution. Of course the bishop said no, but the young man was most determined. He got quite angry, and several of the men with the Wiese family ejected him.”

Hearing this, Gerard wished Madam Tusseau a good day and left the church as quickly as he could.

* * *

Gerard found them at the docks.

Rennie and a small group of his other students were bidding farewell to a smallboat being rowed out to one of the merchantman tallships anchored just off the river’s shore. Aboard the boat, a cloaked figure waved a sad, pale hand of goodbye.

When they saw him, the other students scattered like birds, leaving only his daughter.

“If you planned to join the priesthood, you could have at least warned me.” He said, stepping up next to her.

“I was afraid you may have stopped me.” Rennie answered, her eyes never leaving the smallboat.

“Stop you? No.” Gerard shook his head. “Although I must say, I am impressed you got the bishop to go along with it.”

She smiled, faintly. “He visits Michelle’s mother twice a week, to discuss the ways of sin.”

“Ah. And here I was worried that you’d put your sword before your head.”

“Sounds like a good way to get something cut off.” Rennie commented, using one of Gerard’s own truisms.

The old soldier looked at her, suddenly unable to believe that the woman standing next to him was his own adopted daughter. Had the years passed so quickly? Had she really matured so?

“She’s going to stay with relatives in France. Her father arranged it.” Rennie said with resignation. “I shan’t see her again.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.”

The silence hung there for a time between them as a small cloaked figure climbed aboard the distant ship, and waved goodbye.

Rennie waved back, and then, finally, turned and started to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Gerard asked, marching after her.

“To prepare. Marlon will want revenge.”

“But, how is he to know you were responsible?”

Rennie paused to give him a wide toothy grin. “I left a note in the confessional.”

Gerard la Russo looked at his daughter in shock, and then started to laugh.

He laughed deep. He laughed long. He laughed hard.

Then, when he was done laughing, a sharp, cruel glint appeared in his eyes.

“That’s my girl.”



Rennie and Gerard, 1717

This marks the end of the Fox Cycle, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. If you want to know more about where the name comes from and what inspired this series of stories then check my blog for more details.



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The Fox Cycle, Story Seven- Home

Home Picture

The Fox Cycle, Story Seven- Home

Near the Ohio River, August 1714

Gerard la Russo and his adopted daughter stood on the crest of the hill looking down on the little native village.

It was such a small place for so a long journey, he reflected. It was a late-summer afternoon, and only a few people were visible in the clearing, with most having found shelter from the heat inside the tents or elsewhere. Still, it was the place they had sought, and it marked the end of their quest.

After a short time of standing there, Gerard gave a mental sigh and decided there was no helping it.

“Well Rennie,” he said with a gentle touch on her shoulder. “Let’s go meet your family.”

Beside him, the thirteen year old girl hesitated, and then he saw her face scrunch up in that expression she made when she was making a decision.

“Non,” she finally said, and turned to start walking back the way they’d come.

Gerard stared at her, dumbfounded. “What? Where are you going? These are your people. The ones you have wanted to know for so long.”

But Rennie, stopping to make a long glance back in the village’s direction, shook her head.

“Father, when I came to you and told you I wanted to know who I really was, you told me that we would find out together.  Knowing nothing but the name of my native father and his tribe, you talked to the native labourers on the seigneuries and learned that my family was from the Owl Clan of the Fox Tribe, and that they lived beneath the great inland lakes to the west.

“For many, that would have been enough, but instead of giving up, you prepared yourself and I for the journey to find the tribe. We had to learn how to survive on the land, and speak with the natives, and it was hard, but you did it- for me. Even though you knew that we would lose each other at the end.

“Once we had found Coureur des Bois who would guide us, you went into debt to Uncle Armand to pay them and you traded away most of the livestock to buy supplies. I should have stopped you then, but in my heart I still wanted nothing more than to see my people, and know where it was I belonged.

“The journey here was a hard one, and we fought for our lives for and against the natives and their strange family relations. If it were not for Ahanu and his Mississauga people, and his deep friendship with you, we would have undoubtedly perished. It was he who helped me rescue you from the Seneca when they captured you to ransom you to the English. It was he who treated me like a daughter, and taught me what it was to be one of The People.  I thank him for that.

“With our own guides gone, he gave us his own sons Mundoo and Askook to help us on our journey, and with their help we have made our way through the hostile lands of the Fox Tribe and found the Owl Clan. They too have risked much, and I can never repay them. “

She looked up at him, her eyes almost filled with tears.

“Father, I wanted to know where I came from. I wanted to know where I belonged, and why I was never treated as an equal by the people of Ville-Marie. I have grown up with the love of you, and my friends and my uncles, but I have always felt a part of me was missing. When that cursed farmer tried to turn me into a slave two years ago, I was scared that without you to take care of me, someone else would do the same thing. I wondered where I belonged, and I prayed to Mary each night to let me know my way.”

Gerard looked at the young girl he’d raised, now suddenly so much like a woman.

“Mon dieu, Rennie. She has!” He declared. “The people below are your family. Do you not want to know them?”

But Renard la Russo just shook her head. “My family isn’t the colour of my skin, or the colour of my hair. It isn’t the language I speak. It isn’t the clothes I wear. It is the people who love me, and raised me to be the one I am. God made me of the blood of those people below, but you made me who I am- father.”

Now both of them were crying, and embraced in a hug.

“Father, let’s go home.”

And they did.

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The Fox Cycle, Story Six- Identity

The Fox Cycle, Story Six- Identity

Near Ville-Marie, New France, 1712

When Renard la Russo awoke, the native women began to talk to her, but she could only stare at them as she waited for the room to stop spinning. When it eventually did, she found herself in what seemed to be a cramped, dimly-lit storeroom with straw strewn on the floor.

“Where is this?” She asked the native women in French, rubbing the back of her head.

The last thing she remembered was pounding on the door of the farmhouse, and then pain and blackness.

The native women, there were six, looked at each other when she spoke. Then one a few years older than Renard’s twelve years drew closer and asked “You no speak…” And rhymed off a string of syllables Ren couldn’t hope to follow.

“No, I speak French.” Ren answered, guessing the question. “Please speak to me in French. Where am I?”

“This is farm of Master Durand. I am Onida.”

“I’m Ren.” She told the girl, then started to get up but the dizziness returned so she held her head and stayed put.

“You shouldn’t make master angry.” Onida commented. “Or he will beat you again.”

“He’s not my master,” Ren snapped. “I’m no slave.”

This caused some surprise among the women, and then Ren noticed for the first time in the poor light that the women’s ankles were shackled with chains between their legs.  Suddenly, she felt a little embarrassed at her choice of words.

“I mean…I…” Ren stammered. “I’m not a servant.”

“But, you are of The People?”

It was a phrase Ren knew from dealing with the natives on some of the Seigneuries and in town- “The People” was how the natives referred to themselves as a group. She often wondered what that meant the Europeans were, if they were not people.

“No,” Ren corrected as she usually did when natives approached her because of her appearance. “I’m French. I’m not a savage.”

Onida suddenly laughed at that, and then told the other women something Ren couldn’t understand, and they laughed too.

“The master hit you so hard, you crazy.” Said Onida, grinning at her with white teeth. “You don’t know who you are, little girl. But you learn soon.”

*                             *


Ren was able to stand again by the time Farmer Durand came to check on her, although she had a large headache. The big, fat man had bushy black hair that seemed to explode from everywhere on his head except his bloodshot eyes. He towered over her while the slaves stood against the wall- looking at their feet.

“Monsieur Durand, there has been a mistake.” Ren told him in her best French.

“Yeah?” He said, eyeing her suspiciously.

“I am not a slave, I am a French girl.”

“Well, you’re somebody’s girl. I can hear that. Why’d you come to my house?”

Ren smiled, glad he was willing to listen.

“Sir, a force of natives is coming in this direction. I was sent you warn you that you need to take your family and escape now before they come.”

“Leave my farm?” He grinned. “Nope. Don’t think I will.”

“Sir, you are in danger.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. The garrison’s always stopped ‘em before.”

“But…” Then she nodded. “As you wish then, sir. Please let me leave.”

“Nope. Don’t think I will.”

“But, sir!” Ren said, horrified.

“Don’t matter what you speak, you’re still a savage. Harvest is coming. I need all the hands I can get.” Then he looked over at the other slaves. “You lot, chain her up.”

Then suddenly hands were grabbing Ren, and as she fought a voice whispered in her ear- “Who you now, French girl?”

*                             *


Ren lay on her bed of straw, listening to Onida and the other women snore in the hot stinking blackness. She hated them. She hated the farmer. She hated the cold noisy chains around her ankles. She hated the smell of the mouldy straw. She wanted it all to burn in hell.

Mother Mary forgive her- she wanted it so bad, she could almost smell it.

She breathed deeply.

In fact, she could smell it!

Opening her eyes, Ren looked up and saw the orange light dancing across the ceiling of the sleeping room from the single barred window that begrudged them fresh air.

“Fire!” Yelled Ren, jumping to her feet, and almost immediately tripping over the unexpected weight of her shackles.

Ren pulled herself up and rushed to the barred window. Peering out from the outhouse that served as the slave quarters and onto the farmstead itself, she could see the main house burning, and the black shapes of men and horses running against the light.

Then she was jostled aside by the other, larger women, but it didn’t matter- she knew who had come. Diving into the straw pile that had served as her bed, she buried herself as quickly and deeply as she could, hiding beneath the straw. She knew the natives often took women as slaves, and she didn’t intend to trade one master for another.

She held her breath as the door was ripped open, and the warriors rushed into the room. The air was filled with the screams and cries of Onida and the others, and then the sound of men laughing and orders being barked.

For a moment, she thought they’d search the straw and find her.

But then the warriors took the women and left.

She was alone.

*                            *


Ren stayed beneath the straw until morning, afraid to leave her hiding place in case the natives still lurked. With the coming of the sun, and the sound of the morning birds, she clinked out into the morning light and peered around.

The farmhouse was a smouldering ruin, as were the other farm buildings. A slaughtered pig was all that remained of the livestock, and the yard was a wash of mud and ash. There was no sign of the farmer, or his family.

If this was how the natives acted, she decided she was glad to be French. But, as she walked past the smoking house, she considered- it was the Frenchman who put her in chains, not the natives. The natives naturally accepted her because of her skin, but the Frenchman condemned her for the same reason.

Who was she really? Where did she belong?

She resolved to find out.


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The Fox Cycle, Story Five- The Beating

The Fox Cycle, Story Five- The Beating

New France, Ville-Marie, 1711

The three men were reluctant to beat a nine year old girl, but they had their orders.

As their young master, Marlon Wiese, watched, two of them went for her arms, holding her in place so the third could do the actual dirty work.

They had no trouble getting a hold of her as they had her trapped in the alleyway, and she offered no real resistance. Not even a yell for help or a scream escaped her lips- only a look of defiance that one didn’t expect from a child. But this one was a native, after all, so what could one expect? Normal rules didn’t apply.

As the leader of the three looked down at her, he wondered why she’d done this. Why she’d put herself into this situation. The girl had literally attacked his master, throwing clumps of horse dung at the young aristocrat as he’d passed through town. Did she bear him a grudge? Or was she another child of the poor showing contempt for her betters and acting out?

No matter, he had a job to do.

“Grit your teeth, kid.” Whispered the lead servant to the girl he loomed over. “It’ll make it easier.”

His attempt at kindness was greeted with only a fierce glare from the girl and a berating from his young master to hurry it up.

So, he shrugged his shoulders and hit her.

He went lightly at first, slapping her open-handedly.

But this was not enough for the young master.

“Hit her harder. Use your fist.”

And so he did. Five times.

Still, she only glared at them from behind her bloody face.

“Whip her, I want to hear her beg.”

The servant hesitated. “Young Master, the child may not speak French.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Marlon said with a toothy grin. “Begging is begging in any language. I’ve heard father’s native slaves beg as Big Harrod puts them to the lash. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

“Young master, we don’t know who she belongs to.” The lead servant protested. “If we kill her there could be trouble.”

“What trouble could there be? She soiled my clothes and my honour. Is there a punishment she does not deserve?” Then, seeing his man still hesitate, the young Aristo growled. “Do it!”

“Oui.” Nodded the servant. He started to pull off his belt, and gestured for the others to turn the child around.

He hoped under the taste of the belt that the child would cry soon, for he had no desire to see how far this might go.

“Start with twenty,” said Marlon excitedly, walking around to see her face as the whipping began.

The child, barely younger than Marlon himself, only grunted with each lash.

“Do you know your place yet, girl?” Marlon yanked her head up by the hair, watching her expression as the final lash of the set came.

Fierce eyes looked back at him, and then she spit in his face.

As blood and spittle ran down his cheek, Marlon’s expression changed from playful to hard.

“Give her forty more.”

“But, Young Master!”

“Forty. I will see this little whore cry if it takes all day. By my count!”

The men hesitated, the lead servant hesitated.


The belt struck.



“THREE! Harder!”




The girl’s thin shirt was bloody after ten.

She passed out after twenty-six.

“Find some water. Wake her.” Ordered Marlon.

“Sir, it’s already past mid-day. We are already late. Can this not be enough punishment?”

Marlon paused, looking up at the sky above them. Considering.

Then he turned and punched the unconscious girl in the face- hard. The alley was filled with the sound of breaking bone.

“My honour is satisfied.” He declared as he wiped the blood from his fist with a lace handkerchief. “Let’s go.”

At a gesture from their leader, the servants dropped the child’s broken form in the mud and filth, and turned to follow their master. Only the lead servant paused a moment, making the sign of the cross and whispering a silent prayer for the girl.

Then he too left her to die.

*                             *                             *

Renard woke up three days later in her own bed.

There was not a part of her that didn’t hurt, and one of her eyes was still swollen shut.

“Father…” She rasped, looking up at the man who sat next to the bed, whittling.

“I see you are awake, foolish girl.” Gerard la Russo commented, laying down his knife and the half-carved block of wood. “God’s grace! It was a near thing. The doctors even wanted to bleed you, but I told them you had already bled enough for three.”

“K-Katha…Katha…” She began, unable to get the words out past her swollen tongue.

“Katharine Moreau? Your friend? Yes, her father is still alive.” He sighed. “You must be very proud of yourself. Young Marlon didn’t arrive in time to testify at the trial, so the judge used it as an excuse to let Monsieur Moreau free with only a fine. Foolish man, I hope he learns not to poach from Wiese family stock again, no matter how hungry his family may be.” Then he stood up and walked over to open the curtains and let the sunlight and fresh air in. “Still, he didn’t deserve the death sentence they were demanding, so there is something to be said for your loyalty, if not your senses.”

“Sorry.” She said, but inside she couldn’t help feeling relief, even jubilation.

“When you are better, your chores are doubled. You’re also not to leave the farm until the end of the season- I expect young master Wiese will remember the girl who delayed him and there will be trouble again because of it. When he comes looking, your Uncles and I will handle it- not you. Am I clear?”


“My brave girl, what am I going to do with you?” He said in a softened tone, kissing her on the forehead. “Wear your scars well, you’ve earned them.”


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The Fox Cycle, Story Four- The Bodyguard

Rennie and Claudette Durpris- 1710

The Fox Cycle- Story 4- The Bodyguard

Ville Marie, New France, 1710.

As his charge gulped the now-cold stew he’d left for her, Gerard la Russo leaned back into his chair and asked the girl where she’d been.

“I was working, Father.”

“Working?” Gerard raised an eyebrow at that, and studied the eight-year old as he took a long draw from his pipe and leaned back into his chair.

“Oui,” she agreed with great earnestness. “Just as you and my other uncles do- I was working as a bodyguard.”

Gerard suppressed a smile- “And who were you guarding, little Renard?”

“Claudette Dupris.”

“The Seigneur’s daughter?”


“And why does young Claudette need a bodyguard?”

The girl paused her eating and gave him a stupid look. “Why, to protect her against the natives, of course!”

Gerard nodded, there had been several native raids in nearby communities recently, and likely the large Dupris estate was filled nightly with horrifically exaggerated tales of these events. With this in mind, it made sense for Claudette’s imagination to run wild and for her to believe that their land was in imminent danger. However, he couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of her picking Rennie, a girl of native blood, to prepare her farm against this phantom native menace.

“She came here this morning. When you were out with Uncle Richmond,” Rennie explained. “She said she wanted someone to help organize the farmers so it would be safe if the natives came.”

“So you offered her your services?”

“Oui. I am your daughter and you have trained me- they are just farmers.” She said with supreme self-assurance.

“Rennie,” her father said with a frown. “I have taught you a few fundamentals- you should not mistake them for skill at fighting.”

“Oh, I know father. But, I told you they were just farmers. I was sure I could prepare them for when you or my uncles came later.”

“I see. So what happened?”

“I had her take me to her father’s estate, and told her that I would need them bring all the farming men to the estate mill so I could train them.”

“And did they?”

“Oh yes! Claudette went to her father and asked him, and he told his servants to gather them together at noon and to beat them if they didn’t want to come.”

Although this tale was starting to sound outlandish, Gerard was inclined to believe it so far. Seigneur Dupris was a man who was known to dote on his spoiled daughter’s every whim, to the point of having her clothes shipped in from France. If these mere trifles kept her happy, he would certainly indulge them.

“How many were there?”

“Twenty-two,” Rennie answered promptly. “I counted to make sure that none ran away to sleep in training like Uncle Armand.”

“Uncle Armand sneaks off during training?”

“Uh-huh, he gives me an apple to let him know if you come back early.”

Gerard made a note to have a word with Armand.

“So, what did you do with this small army?”

“I told them who I was, and that they had to listen to everything I said. A couple didn’t want to do it, but then the Seigneur said they had to listen to me, so they shut their mouths.”

“Very good.”

“After that, I told them to run around the house three times to get ready, and asked the Seigneur for swords to practice with.”

“Really? And what did he say?”

Rennie suddenly looked angry. “Father, that man is stupid. He said that they should go find sticks instead. That this was just practice. Claudette and I tried to tell him that they needed to use real swords to get ready, but he still said no.”

“Rennie,” Gerard tried to calm his daughter. “You and I practice with sticks, don’t we? Do I not say it is the skill, not the weapon, that matters?”

“I guess so.” Said the girl, downcast.

“So, you had them gather sticks to practice with,” he said, trying to refocus her. “What did you do after?”

“I made them all line up and showed them how to hold their swords properly. I had to help a few of them because they’re just farmers. Then, I made them get in pairs and start practicing.”

“Practicing in what way?”

“Well, I told the half of them to hit their friend ten times, while their friend protects themselves. I was going to have them do that, then switch like you do, but then one of them broke his stick over the other man’s head, and the two of them started to fight for real. They kept hitting each other until the Seigneur made them stop and sent them home.”

“Was that the end of the training?”

“Oh no, father! We still had much to do. After that, I told them we needed to practice an attack on the manor house, ‘cause that’s where the natives would go first. So I said that the farmers would attack the house with the sticks, and the servants would have to defend it, since it’s their job.”

“Did the farmers want to do this?”

“Oh yes, they were really happy about the idea. But, I don’t think the servants liked it much because they complained to the Seigneur.”

Gerard couldn’t suppress his grin at the thought of Seigneur Dupris’ downtrodden peasant farmers being asked to assault the arrogant house servants with sticks.

“And what did the Seigneur think?”

“Oh, he didn’t want to do it ‘cause he said something might get broken, but Claudette cried and he said ‘okay’. She’s really good at crying.”

“I’ll wager she is. So, what occurred?”

“I had the servants go into the house to get ready, and then after I thought they’d had enough time, I told the farmers to act like real natives and try and get inside. A bunch of them jumped in the windows, and a few of them broke down one of the doors on the side. There was lots of yelling and cursing, and Claudette’s father fainted, but there was no-one there to take care of him, so we just put him under a tree.”

She said the last part so casually that even Gerard could do nothing but look at his young charge in astonishment. “You placed the Seigneur under a tree?”

“It was shadier there.”

“Of course.”

“Then I got hungry, and decided to come home.” She yawned sleepily. “I told Claudette that I’d come back tomorrow.”


“Of course, Father. I have to teach them how to shoot arrows, don’t I?”


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The Fox Cycle- Story 3: The Elders of Ville-Marie

The Race 1702

The Fox Cycle- Story Three- The Elders of Ville-Marie

What do we do? What do we do?

Words and hands were rung throughout the Hall of Elders of Ville-Marie, but still none had an answer.

The question was simple enough- What do we do about de Villefort and his gang?

But the answer was something that eluded these “most wise” men of the city.

They could…but no…

Why not…but no…

Mother of god, what could they do?

Then all the nervous voices fell silent as the great elder -Jacques LeGrande- was led into the chambers.

His gnarled walking stick waved their attempts at pleasantries away, and he swept them with his cyclopean eye.

He had been told of their problem, and he had come with an answer.

After he felt he had waited enough to gain sufficient respect, he told them what it was.

* * *

When the three chosen men came to the farm of Gerard la Russo, they were greeted (to their silent relief) not by the unpredictable, wild-haired owner, but by the girl he referred to as his niece. An ebony-haired child of but four, her dark eyes looked at them warily as she stood on the front stoop of the house, a vinegar soaked rag in one hand and the bowl she’d been using it to clean with in the other.

“Where is your Uncle?” Asked the leader of the chosen men.

Instead of speaking, the child merely pointed at the nearby field- tall with late-summer corn.

They thanked her respectfully and left, repeating the various whispered gossips of the native girl’s origins and how she came to be with La Russo. Some said she was his slave, others said his secret daughter, while still others said she was an orphan whose parents he had killed in a duel. Whatever the truth, they pitied the child.

The uncle they found wrestling with a tree he was attempting to uproot- covered in dirt and sweat, his leathery skin almost as tanned as the girl’s and his chestnut hair and whiskers extending in all directions. Word was that before he came to New France, this man had been a Captain of the Musketeers, but now he was seen as a poor excuse for a farmer at best, and a notoriously temper-mental drunk at worst. A savage made more so by the land and his demons.

Just the man they needed.

La Russo, for his part, did his best to pat down his hair and wiped his hand on his pants before offering it.

“How may I help you today, respected elders?” He asked them, looking somewhat bewildered.

“Farmer Gerard,” said the eldest. “Are you not aware that every man in this community must do his service to the state?”

La Russo replied he was.

“And, have you done so since you took up residence here in our beautiful land?”

La Russo hesitated, and then admitted that he had meant to but hadn’t gotten around to offering.

“There is a fine for not doing so.” Said the leader, sternly.

“A large fine.” Added the second.

“Very large,” agreed the third.

Gerard took on the look of a drowning man.

So they threw him a rope.

“But we will waive it, brother,” said the leader in a not unkindly way. “If you are able to do us one small service…”

* * *

As the three old men walked down the road which led back into Ville-Marie, they moved like men who had just escaped a trap and were now enjoying the vigor which comes with knowing that their lives were again their own.

And in a very real sense they were.

The problem which had vexed the elders had been a simple one- there was a young gentleman named Richmond de Villefort who was the son of one of New France’s wealthiest merchants, but who was also a noted bully and scoundrel. He had come to Ville-Marie not a year before, and was causing no end of trouble with his licentious ways, having even assembled a group of toughs around him. They could arrest him, but doing so would incur the wrath of his father, whose ships brought in much of the supplies the city needed and would undoubtedly lead to a disaster. To make matters worse, the son had harassed some members of the household of the Intendant, and so the head of New France himself had written to the Governor of Ville-Marie and demanded something be done about the boy.

It was this that they had been deliberating the night before when the honorable LeGrande had come to them with an answer.

They would make the temperamental drunk La Russo a temporary agent of the government, and send him off with orders to remove the de Villefort boy from the city. Given the tempers of the two men, they would undoubtedly come to blows, and one or the other would be injured or (hopefully) killed. If it was de Villefort who took the worst of it, they would ship either him or his body back to France and blame the overzealous La Russo for the crime. The father would likely demand La Russo in exchange for peace, who they would happily give him, and be rid of a troublesome drunk.

If it was La Russo who died who was injured (a capital crime), they would arrest de Villefort for harming an officer of the state and ship the son off to the Intendant to deal with. Thus also sparing themselves the blame and again ridding themselves of two nuisances with a single blow.

Now all that was required was to return home, and wait.

* * *

Early the next morning, the Elders of Ville-Marie gathered at the central hall, each of them eager to know the results.

Word had already spread of a confrontation the night before between La Russo and de Villefort.

Some said Gerard had gone to arrest the boy at a local bar and been killed.

Nonsense, said others, it was de Villefort and members of his gang who had died.

Finally, the chief elder appeared and they demanded the truth of the matter.

Had there been a confrontation?

There had, admitted the chief elder.

Had weapons been drawn? Blows exchanged?

Most definitely. It was a terrible battle.

So then, who had won?

At this, the chief elder raised his hands to the sky, and cried.

* * *

On the farmstead of Gerard la Russo, little Rennie stood on a stump and stirred the breakfast pot while behind her the group of young men at her uncle’s table laughed and exchanged drinks.

“To our new teacher!” Toasted Richmond de Villefort with a broad smile and a black eye.

Returning the toast, Gerard la Russo nodded in approval. He had been thinking of taking on students for some time- it had been getting lonely on the farm with no-one but young Rennie to practice combat with. When the elders had asked him to remove the young toughs from the city, he had taken it as a chance to show off his skills and perhaps advertise. However, once he realized that all of these young men were from good (and wealthy) families, and not of a bad sort at heart, he’d decided to make them his own.

One staged fight later to prove his mettle, and they had been the ones to come to him.

The elders had asked him to remove the youths from the city, and he had.

He would be sure and drop by the hall later to thank the old men for their kindness.


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The Fox Cycle, Story Two- The Eyes of a Warrior

The Eyes of a Warrior

When the Indian came to challenge Gerard La Russo, the Frenchman cursed and told him to leave. He had just gotten to his second bottle of wine for the day, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Too early for such nonsense.

Still, the Indian refused to move.

He was a tall sort- muscular, with skin the color of summer earth and eyes sharp and dark like coals. His head was shaved on either side, and what hair remained died the crimson red of the Fox tribe. He carried a short spear.

A warrior. A fighter.

“S’en aller!” Gerard told him. Get Lost.

The Indian paid him no mind. “We fight,” he said again in poor French.

He pointed the spear with its hide wrapped tip at Gerard.

The Frenchman slammed the front door to his cottage and returned to drinking.

* * *

When Gerard went to town that night, he asked around.

He learned that the Indian had come to Ville Marie a few days before with his wife and baby. He had challenged a few of the locals who fancied themselves fencers to fight, and when Luc’s boy Marcel had accepted the challenge, the Indian had whipped him soundly.

That alone put the Indian up a few notches in Gerard’s opinion- Marcel was a braggart and a bully.

French pride had made a few others accept the challenge, but none had been able to best the Indian and his short spear style of fighting.

At last, they had sent him to the former musketeer.


Still, Gerard considered, it had been a long time since he’d had a good match…

* * *

At dawn, the Indian came again.

This time, Gerard was waiting. Rapier hanging at his side.

He wasn’t much good with a spear, but a short spear like the Indian used was closer to a sword anyway. It would be a fair fight.

They didn’t talk, they didn’t need to. Both understood.

They started when the dew was on the grass.

They finished when the sun had risen high and it was too hot to continue.

Gerard was the victor.

“Abooksigun,” said the Indian, touching his sweaty chest.

“Gerard.” Said the Frenchman, doing the same.

Then Abooksigun left, and a thirsty Gerard wondering how much wine he had left.

* * *

The next day, Abooksigun came again.

After five minutes of fighting, Gerard stopped the duel.

What was that movement the Indian had just done- with his short spear? The Frenchmen wanted to know.

Abooksigun first showed, then taught him.

When this was understood, the battle resumed.

Shortly after, Abooksigun stopped the fight.

Would it not be better if he did- this? The Indian pantomimed.

Gerard had not considered that before, so they went through the movements until both were satisfied.

In this way, the two spent the day, fighting in fits and spurts.

They toasted Abooksigun’s victory with wine, and Gerard cursed his poor condition.

But, in his heart, he felt alive again.

* * *

On the third and fourth day, it was the same.

Each won and lost equally, and the time ended in a draw.

* * *

On the fifth day, Abooksigun didn’t come.

It rained.

* * *

On the sixth day, Abooksigun didn’t come.

The sun shone, and the wine sat untouched- waiting.

* * *

On the seventh day, Gerard inquired in the city as to where the Indian was staying. The man at the general store told him a field just to the North of town. He’d sold the Indians some blankets a few days before, but hadn’t seen them since.

Gerard bought some wine and food, thanked him, and went on his way.

* * *

The Indian camp held the stench of death.

Angry blackflies buzzed around the tent’s open flap as Gerard approached and looked inside.

The Frenchman vomited. Twice.

When his stomach was empty, he took down the tent rather than enter it. Abooksigun and his wife lay dead on the blankets- she wrapped in his cordlike arms. The fever had taken them, the summer heat and bugs had done the rest.

He stared at them for a time, not sure what to do or feel. He would need to bury them. He would get the priest and bury them. The man. The wife. The…


Where was the child?

The people in town had spoken of a child!

Pacing around the camp, La Russo began his search.

Had the child died first and been buried?

No. There was no grave and that was not the native custom.

It was not between them. Where was it?

He searched first the camp, then the field around.

At last, he found it.

Tears poured hot down La Russo’s cheeks.

* * *

Sitting in his cottage, Gerard La Russo did something he had not done in a very long time- he considered the future.

It was hard not to do so with a baby cradled in his arms.

The doctor said it was God’s Will that the baby was still alive. She showed no trace of the fever, and had been taking the mush Old Genevieve had taught him how to make well.

But now he had to consider what he would do with her.

She should find a new home. This cottage was no place for a child, and he was not the fatherly kind. Old Gennie had offered to send the child to live with her sister on the other side of town. They needed more hands for the fields. She could live a good life there.

A farmer’s life.

But, as Gerard watched, the infant stirred.

Eyes dark like coals opened and looked up at him.

Not the eyes of a farmer.

The eyes of a warrior.



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The Fox Cycle- Preface

I have, for a long time, wanted to do some adventure stories set in Canadian history. People (at least in Canada) have a perception of Canadian history as being rather dull and boring, as most of our (colonial) history is one of farmers, trappers and fishermen just trying to get by while important things happened down South (or elsewhere in the world). However, nothing could be further from the truth!

Canada, especially in its formative years of the 17th and 18th centuries, was a place filled with not only farmers and fishermen, but gentry (here by choice and otherwise), adventurers (of all kinds), soldiers, fortune seekers, thieves, pirates, businessmen, and gamblers. It was a place of intrigue that was in constant threat of invasion (by the British when the French held it, and by the Americans when the British held it) and a vital part of the European economy it was helping to keep in motion. Then, there was the near constant conflicts with the Native peoples, and the threat of not just raids, but outright annihilation by the people whose land the Europeans had taken and who outnumbered the Europeans by thousands to one.

Does this sound like a boring place?

I liken it to the American Old West, but with swords instead of guns, as the European guns of the time could only really be fired once (and rarely hit anything) before your enemy was at your throat with a knife. While the American Puritans of the time were trying to live humble lives to the South, Canada (called New France until the British took it) was a raucous, wild country which the French were trying to civilize as fast as they could.

At the forefront of this effort was a lonely town on the Saint Lawrence River named Ville-Marie, which sat next to a small mountain which was called Mount Royale. Eventually, this town would become the vanguard of French civilization in New France, a city known as Mont Royal, or Montreal as we call it today.

And, this where I decided some good stories could be told.

The Fox Cycle is a collection of Flash Fiction (1000 word or less) stories that I am writing with the goal of fleshing out this setting and the people who live in it. I refer to it as a cycle, because it covers a large period of time 1668-1717 and focuses on a single pair of characters- the former Musketeer Gerard la Russo and his adopted daughter Renard la Russo, a native girl. The plan is to do ten of these stories (one for each of ten weeks), which will vary in tone and style as part of a creative challenge to myself. I may do more if I have further ideas, or I might save the ideas for longer tales of Renard and her father.

I hope you enjoy them,


Click Here to Read the First Story: The Musketeer

For those who prefer it, the whole cycle can also be found on Wattpad for your mobile reading convenience.

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The Inuyama Rebellion: Part Twenty-Eight (End)

“He came soon after you left,” Shiori explained to Masato as they rode home the next day .

“Once I’d told him where you’d gone, we took one of the carts delivering fireworks for the festival and followed your path.” Then she covered her mouth and laughed. “I thought Jiro-san was crazy to take the cart, but perhaps he had planned this all along. You can never tell with that man.”

Masato nodded, still in wonder at the re-appearance of his teacher. What she said was right- his master so was full of tricks, who knew what he was capable of? He had escaped the Kurokawa at the temple, after all!

The Inuyama samurai had slowed once they’d returned to their own land, waiting to see if any survivors caught up with them. As it turned out, Jiro’s distraction had allowed more than a few men to escape the Kurokawa-backed trap, and by the end of the second day the party of fourteen had grown into one of nearly fifty. Of those fifty, many were hurt, but they were still luckier than the other half of the men- gone into Sugura lands, never to return.

Among the survivors had been Inuyama no Tetsuya, whose group had been one of the last to rejoin the survivors.

The normally handsome samurai was a mess of dirt and blood, and not riding his own horse, but he was still alive, and after seeing his elder brother, came to personally thank Masato’s master for the distraction. Jiro had put it off as Shiori’s idea, which was at least partially true, and Tetsuya had promised to come repay her for the fireworks and assistance later.

It was on the second night since the escape, when Masato was sitting on a log eating barbecued meat, that Jiro finally came to him.

Masato had just started to tuck into the food after the long day’s ride when nimble fingers suddenly reached over and plucked the fox spoon from his hand.

“And, where did this come from?” Jiro asked, examining the spoon as he sat down next to his apprentice.

Masato smiled proudly. “A girl gave it to me, master.”

Jiro almost immediately popped the cover off, revealing the hidden knife. “You sure she liked you, lad?” He held up the blade to study it in the firelight.

Masato nodded. “Uh-huh. I’m going to see her again someday to thank her for it.”

His master slipped the cover back on and handed it to Masato. “Just make sure you’re careful, lad. A girl who has this kind of trick around will have a few others as well.”

“I will, master.” Said Masato, not really understanding.

After a brief pause, Jiro said- “I should punish you, you took the young lord into the middle of an enemy trap. If anything had happened, it would have caused a great crisis in the clan.”

Masato wanted to protest, but instead he just hung his head and waited for the inevitable.

“However, if our lord sees fit to leave you be, I won’t press the issue.” Jiro continued. “I’ve wasted enough time on you already, and I don’t know how many years I’ll have left.” Then he smiled and rubbed his shoulder. “Not many if I continue to take such foolish risks.”

Masato waited a moment, and then, deciding the time was right, asked- “Sensei? Why are you still alive?”

His master laughed. “Want to get rid of me that badly, eh lad?”

“Oh!” Said Masato, realizing what he’d just asked. “No! I don’t mean I want you to go, I just…”

“…Want to know how I escaped the temple when the bridge was cut?”

Masato nodded that he did.

“Well lad, if you’re expecting something like a demon showed up, or I rode a cloud to safety, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you.” His master answered with a wry smile. “The truth is, I used the bridge just like you.”

“But!” Masato said, surprised. “The bridge was cut!”

“No,” Jiro answered. “One end of the bridge was cut, I just happened to also be holding onto it when I cut it. I figured there was no escape, so I took a chance and held on tight. As it turned out, the bridge swung out after it went over the falls and hung down from the first landing. All I needed to do was climb up it to the top and I could cross the rest like you did.”

Art by Brushmen

“Oh!” Said Masato, bobbing his head in understanding. “That’s why Shiori said you came just after we left.”

“With the meeting coming so soon, I needed to warn our lord, and I knew she’d know where to find him. I just didn’t expect you to do the same, lad.”

“Yes…Sensei…” Masato said, slightly embarrassed at the reminder.

“Well,” said the master, after a moment of gazing at the camp. “I did tell you she was the right person to see in times of trouble, so I guess I have to take some of the blame for that.” Then he hit Masato on the shoulder and stood. “Eat up, lad. Tomorrow we ride for home, and I doubt we’ll be there long.”

“Sensei?” Masato asked.

“The Kurokawa know we prepare for war, lad.” Jiro said gravely. “The Sugura are also against us now, and have sided with our enemies. Whichever we fight, there are dangerous days ahead for the Inuyama clan. Our lord will need everyone able, even boys and old men.”

“Yes, sensei.” Masato said firmly. “I’ll be ready.”

Jiro looked at him, his stern expression softening. “After today, lad. I believe you are. I believe you are.”


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