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Ogg Chapter 20

 

20

 

It was sunset as Ogg and Robin gathered themselves and started up the creek again. Robin walked in a crouch like her back was hurting and motioned for Ogg to do the same.  Ogg walked like that whenever she looked back at him, but when she wasn’t looking, he walked regular, scanning the area for some sign of dinner.

“You need to keep down!” Robin said again.

“Okay.”

“Don’t tell me ‘Okay’. She was speaking sharply. “Just do it. You’re not keeping down.”

“Okay.”

She sighed and turned and walked on, bent over like before.

Ogg tried to walk that way but it was hard to do. The axe bumped into the ground, it made him really tired and it seemed that even when he did walk like that, he wasn’t very hidden. The creek bed was shallow here and for as far as he could see ahead.

“It’s dark, let’s walk regular,” he offered.

Robin turned, still in a crouch, and looked at Ogg. He quickly bent lower, not wanting another scolding.

“While you’ve been looking around, have you seen anything?”

“No.”

“Do you think we’re safe? No one is following?”

Two questions. Which to answer. Always tricky.

“Yes.”

“Someone’s following?”

“No.” He had answered the wrong question.

“No one’s following?”

“No.”

“Why did you say yes?” She was angry now. This always happened.

“I don’t know.” Retreat.

She shook her head. “If it’s safe then we can just go on. Stay in the creek bed and keep in the shadows as much as possible.”

“Okay.” He stood and arched his back in relief. Robin led on toward the hills ahead, still walking kind of bent over. Ogg decided he was excused from this rule now and walked along looking for signs of game. On either side of the creek was a dry, rocky hillside with sparse grass and scrub. It was not too different from home and Ogg knew there were bunnies and foxes and birds somewhere, but he also knew his chances of catching dinner were small with only an axe. He picked up a rock to throw in case he saw something, but he was not optimistic. He had hit a possum once with a rock, but never a bunny.

It was full dark and Robin called a halt. Ogg had seen nothing that would make a dinner. Robin was not very quiet when she walked and Ogg figured anything along their path had hidden well before he had had a chance to throw a rock, much less hit it with the axe.

“You haven’t seen any game?” Robin asked. She was clearly disappointed in him.

“If you walk more quiet, maybe I can sneak up on a possum or something,” he suggested. He hoped this wouldn’t start an argument like it often did with Queedle.

“Sorry, I thought I was being quiet.”

“Not really.” Ogg was glad she didn’t raise her voice and argue. Maybe she was trying her best and just didn’t know how to be quiet. There was a way to step, and knowing the right speed and quiet breathing and things his Daddy had taught him. Must be that no one had taught her.

“Well, let’s stop here and rest. Maybe you can go out on your own, without me making a lot of noise.”

There was a tone in her voice that sounded unfriendly, but the words were right.

“It’s too dark to hunt; I’ll sit a bunny trap for now and get up first thing in the morning and try to catch something.”

“A bunny trap?”

“Yes. With a string. I know how.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll bring back some fire wood.”

“No! No fire. Someone might see.”

Ogg turned and climbed out of the creek bed and started to look for a good place to set his trap. The chill of the evening was settling in and Ogg wished there could be a fire. He stopped to listen. He could hear Robin scuffling around back in the creek bed. He was very hungry.

 

.                       .                       .

 

Ogg woke up cold and achy. He had found no soft spot to rest and had fought the rocks all night. It was still dark. Dawn was close, but clouds had moved in. Ogg stood and stretched. Robin was curled at the base of a sapling, having found a cradle in the roots for her bed. That was a good spot, but she had found it first.

He checked the bunny trap, but it was empty. He hunted the area for a while in the early morning gloom, but saw no tracks and returned to camp discouraged. Robin was still asleep when he got back. He looked around again, trying to decide whether to start off in another direction to look for game or whether to get Robin up and head on to Sunflower. Maybe he could teach her how to be quiet and they would scare up some game along the way.

As he considered this, he caught sight of movement down the creek. Down towards the road and their first camp, but still quite a ways off. He peered into the morning shadows. Something was there. Someone leading a horse. He edged into the brush, keeping an eye on whatever was moving. He watched as it moved closer. The sun was almost up and Ogg was pretty sure it was only one man walking very slowly up the creek bed and leading a horse. He listened. Robin still slept.

Ogg needed to go down and check this out. He would leave Robin sleeping. She would be too noisy to take along. And she might not want him to go. But, if they just hurried away, he would have no time to hunt and he wasn’t ready to go all day without getting something to eat. He decided to go down and check on this man with the horse and see who he was and what he wanted. He was sure this was a good plan.

Ogg Chapter 19

19

 

Ogg smiled. She must know Box and Spar. But his smile faded as she stood up and backed away.

“What’s wrong?”

“You know them?”

“They’re my friends.”

“So you already know about me.” It was not a question.

“No.” This was confusing.

“How did they get to be your ‘friends’ then?”

The way she said the word “friends” made Ogg uneasy. He knew this tone of speaking. It meant he had said or done something wrong.

“They just are.” He looked down. This was not good enough. “Because they gave me this axe.”

“Where did you meet them?”

“At Keeper Twill’s.”

“Where’s that?”

“Back there, across the river.” Pointing.

“When?”

“Two days ago. No, three. No two.”

Robin looked at Ogg like she had never seen him before. He thought about his answers. They were right, he was sure.

“And they didn’t tell you they were looking for me?”

“No.”

Robin tilted her head down and gave a look like she wanted a different answer. He thought about the things Box and Spar had told him. He decided to change his answer.

“Maybe.”

“What did they say?”

“They didn’t tell me, but they talked to each other about finding a girl.”

“And…”

Ogg tried desperately to remember more. “That she was going to Sunflower, or something about Sunflower. That’s a place, not just a flower.” Ogg hoped that was enough, because that was all he had.

“Damn.” Robin sat back down.

“Why are you mad? Do you know Box and Spar?”

She breathed a big sigh. The all too familiar sign that meant he was stupid or had asked a stupid question.

“Yes I know them. They are the men who killed my father and took me prisoner. The men I’ve been trying to get away from since Padrig died and I ran from the Inn.”

“Oh.” The story she had told was about Box and Spar. Ogg knew that the two men in the story were bad men. If they were his friends, was he a bad man too? He didn’t want to be a bad man, but he still liked Box and Spar. Especially Spar.

“What are you going to do now?” Robin asked. Her voice sounded sad again.

“I don’t know. Try to find something to eat. I’m hungry.”

She looked at him and gave a little shake of her head in disbelief.

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“What about your friends? And me.”

“What do you mean?” Ogg couldn’t figure what Box and Spar had to do with him being hungry.

“What are you going to do with me?”

Ogg was silent. He had lost the trail of this line of questions. Without an answer, silence was best. He wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble for his silence with Robin. She was not like Daddy. And she was little.

“You’re not going to try to take me to them are you?”

That hadn’t occurred to Ogg as an option. How could he do that if she didn’t want to go?

“No.” he shrugged.

Robin looked like she was trying to decide something.

“Okay. Fine. Will you help me then?”

“Do what?”

“Help me get to my uncle’s in Sunflower.”

“What’s a yuncle?”

“Uncle. My father’s brother.”

“Uncle.” A new term. He knew about brothers and he knew about fathers but not father’s brothers. He shook his head.

“It’s not important Ogg.” Robin was losing patience, he could tell. “Will you help me get to Sunflower? My uncle will give you a reward.”

Reward. This sounded familiar. Perhaps a word from some story or another he had heard. He thought it was a good thing.

“Okay.”

“Will you promise me you’ll help even if there’s trouble?”

Promises were not lightly given. If you promised, you were stuck with it. But he couldn’t think of any trouble that would be a problem. And he did like to hear Robin talk. Liked to hear her stories. And she was pretty nice to him. And he might find Box and Spar in Sunflower, and that would be good. And Robin said she knew the way there, didn’t she? He didn’t know the way, so she was really helping him. This promise sounded like a good deal.

“Okay, I promise.” He licked his fingers and held his hand palm up to Robin.

“What?”

“It’s a promise. This is how you make a promise stick.” He pushed his hand towards her again.

She reached out toward him gingerly with her hand.

“You have to lick.” Ogg wondered how she could ask for a promise and not know this.

Robin licked her fingers and reached out, touching Ogg’s outstretched hand.

“You have to slap my hand!” he said, a bit exasperated. Did she know nothing?

Robin raised her hand and slapped down on Ogg’s palm with a smack.

“There.” he said. “If I don’t jerk my hand back it’s a promise. Daddy says it’s a lick and a promise and it’s a deal. If you pull your hand back, you changed your mind. It’s not a promise then.”

She nodded, looking at Ogg.

He had explained it well, he thought. He felt pretty good right now; he wasn’t sure why.

 

 

Ogg Chapter 18

18

 

The third man did not follow. At least it did not seem like he did. They stopped to listen from time to time, but did not hear anyone following. Ogg unwrapped the chicken as they pushed along up the creek and handed a hunk of breast and leg to the woman as they walked. She had just turned to him and held out her hand and he absently shared his meal with her. She didn’t ask with words or even a look. She just acted like the chicken was part hers. Ogg was annoyed at himself for sharing. He would be more careful in the future.

They didn’t speak. They were just together now and Ogg was not sure he wanted someone traveling with him while he was trying to catch up with his friends. He glanced at her from time to time as they walked up the creek bed. He thought about what had happened back there and tried to work it out for himself, like his Daddy always told him to do when he asked a question. “Work it out for yourself.” Daddy would say.

He knew he had hurt those men. Killed one, the chairless man. Probably killed the other one too. They were after this woman. They had been surprised to see him, so he didn’t think they were after him. What about the third man? He wasn’t too brave, Ogg thought, since he didn’t join in the fight. So he probably wouldn’t follow. Especially when he saw that his friends got hurt so bad.

Thinking about what he did to those men troubled him. Everything had happened so fast. If they hadn’t attacked him he would have just left them alone. But then he wondered what would have happened if they had just attacked the woman. Would he have run away? If he hadn’t gotten tangled up? Or would he have helped her? He saw that his thinking had slowed him down and the woman was now a ways ahead of him. He hurried to catch up.

They pushed up the creek most of the day until the cover along the creek thinned out. The land around the creek bed rose to become a dry hillside and the creek itself was only one hand across, but the gully was wide and steep. They sat in the cut of the creek and rested. The woman looked over the high embankment on both sides then sat down on the shady side next to Ogg.

“I don’t see anybody out there, but we better wait until dark to go on. There’s no cover until we get higher up in the hills.”

“Okay.”  Ogg wanted to say that he had no plans to go up into the hills, but decided to keep his own counsel for now.

“Thanks”, she said after awhile.

Ogg looked at her now. He had several questions rattling around in his head.

“Thanks for helping me out back there.”

Ogg was quiet. Waiting for more.

“I’m …” She was thinking. “I’m Robin.”

“Like the bird.”

“Yes.”

“I’m Ogg.” He put his fingertips together and pointed them at her using the greeting he had learned.

She gave a little laugh. Had he done it wrong? Then she returned the greeting, holding a smile.

“I guess a formal greeting isn’t such a bad idea, even out here, especially under these circumstances.”

Maybe he had done it wrong. Was she making fun? He looked at her face. But he did not see the kind of look his brothers gave him when he had done something foolish. It was, in fact, a nice face to look at.

“Why were those men trying to get you?”

She looked carefully at Ogg. “I don’t know.”

His stomach turned. Maybe it was him they were after. Had he brought trouble to her? Should he tell her about the fight with the chairless man from the night  before? Before he could decide, she spoke again.

“No, that’s not true. I do know.” But she went no further.

Ogg waited. He had found that listening usually got him more information than talking.

“But it’s complicated.”

“Oh.”

He looked down. Words to that effect usually signaled the end of the conversation, at least as far as Ogg was involved.

“But I suppose I owe you some explanation.”

He didn’t know why she owed him anything, but he nodded, eager to hear more. He liked hearing her talk. A woman’s voice was different.

“Where to begin?” she said, looking up like there was someone up there to answer her question. “My mother served in the court of King Cosmo.” She looked at Ogg, waiting for a response.

Ogg had no idea what a “court” was, and he wasn’t going to ask. He knew about kings and he had heard the name King Cosmo, but he wasn’t sure if it was real or a story. He wasn’t going to ask about that either.

“Okay,” he replied.

She hesitated. Perhaps not the response she was expecting.

“She was a nanny for Princess Truffle.”

Ogg nodded as if he understood.

“Well, when the Princess was still very young my mother had a dream that someone came into the castle and tried to steal the Princess and hurt her.”

Ogg nodded again.  A king, a princess… a story.

“She told her dream and word got back to Queen Modene. Well, Queen Modene was a strong believer in dreams and when she heard about my mother’s dream she put guards near Princess Truffle. Very soon after that two men were caught sneaking into the castle, trying to get past the guards by hiding in a wagon loaded with potatoes or something like that. So, my mother…well, she wasn’t really my mother then because I hadn’t been born yet,…anyway, my mother became an attendant to the Queen. And every morning she would have to tell the Queen about her dreams. And many times they meant nothing, but lots of times her dreams were interpreted by the Queen to mean something important. And my mother got to where she wasn’t an attendant so much as an advisor to the Queen.”

Robin stopped her story. She looked at Ogg like she was deciding something important. Then she went on. “Time passed. My mother got married to my father, I was born, Queen Modene died and my mother and father left court. I guess the King wasn’t interested in dreams like the Queen was and my father wanted to oversee his own estates and wanted my mother and me with him.

“Then, later, King Cosmo I died and King Cosmo II took the throne and things got to be a mess all around the kingdom.”

Ogg made a noise of agreement. This must be the part about the bear-man story and his son the twelve-fingered monster.

“Cosmo II was more like his mother I suppose, so he sent some men to my father looking for my mother, to ask her to come back to court and tell her dreams again. But my mother had died the year before.” Robin stopped. Her voice had become kind of wavy. She looked up in the sky again. Ogg watched her, wondering if this was like the things the storyteller did to make his stories more exciting. Robin wiped her face with her shoulders. Crying again?

Ogg wondered if she was hungry like when she cried before. He knew he was. Ogg was glad men didn’t cry when they got hungry or he would be crying all the time. But he had not been paying attention. Robin was talking again.

“…asked my father if I would come to court and tell my dreams. He said no. But a few days later two men came and there was an argument and they killed my father. Then they grabbed me and tied me up and put me in one of our farm wagons, covered me with blankets and took me away. But they must have got drunk or something, because one of our servants, Padrig had followed them and rescued me and we got away. We were trying to get to my uncle’s estates when Padrig died. We had stopped at an inn for the night because he didn’t feel well and in the morning he was dead. I didn’t know what to do. Padrig was my friend and I wanted to …I don’t know, do something. Since we were at this inn I was going to ask for help, but I thought I saw the two men again, so I just ran. Left the horses and poor Padrig  and took off across country. I guess I got lost. I thought I knew how to get to Sunflower, but it must be farther than I thought. And I’m afraid to travel the roads, afraid they’ll catch me again.”

“Were the men at the creek those same men?”

“No, I’d never seen them before. There must be others trying to find me, to take me to tell dreams to King Cosmo, but I don’t want to go. My mother used to say that those were terrible years for her. She was like a prisoner. The Queen made her drink potions so she would sleep more so she would have more dreams to tell. She hated it and I would hate it too.”

She was talking angry now. Not at Ogg, but like someone else she was mad at was right there with them. She turned to Ogg and took a breath.

“Okay, now tell me your story.”

Ogg looked down, thinking. He didn’t have a story.

“My Daddy said I was grown and I have to leave home.” He touched the small bundle in his shirt pocket. He wouldn’t tell that part. “Now I’m looking for my friends.”

“What friends?”

“Box and Spar.”

Her eyes grew wide.

Ogg Chapter 17

17

 

Ogg could not remember anyone crying who wasn’t getting a strapping. And that was a long time ago. The crying, not the strapping. He remembered Queedle crying when Daddy was whooping him and Daddy saying, “If you don’t shut that up, I’ll give you another smack.” That was the last time there was crying. Till now.

“Are you hurt?” This was all he could think that might be the reason for the crying. Children cried when they were hurt. After you were grown you didn’t cry. You might feel like it, but you didn’t or you would get a smack.

She shook her head “no.”

“Then you better stop that crying.” This was bothering him and he didn’t know why.

“Okay.” She wiped her tears on her shoulders. Her face was red now and her eyes were sad.

“Stay right there.” Ogg pointed with the axe. “This is your part, and the rest is mine.” He made a line in the sand with his foot. “You can’t cross this line.” His voice was stern. He watched her face for crying, but there was no more.

“Okay.”

Ogg’s stomach was now churning. He decided what must be bothering him was the worry about her taking his chicken in the night when he slept. Then he had an idea. He stopped himself and considered his plan. Often his plans were not helpful. Daddy or his brothers would snort or laugh when he would propose some plan or the other for working or hunting, but sometimes they just nodded their agreement. Was this a good idea? He had no Daddy or Queedle or Bosco to sound it out on. The woman was not one he could ask. Not about this plan.

He turned away from her and went back to his fire. He took the string that secured the bundle and tied it to his wrist. He turned back to the woman. He held up his arm, the chicken in the bundle hanging and dripping, the string now tied to his arm. He stood there until he was sure she was looking at him. He caught her eye and cocked his head, so she would know that his plan was in place and that she could not bother his chicken while he slept. Not without him knowing it.

She nodded back at him. Her eyes were still sad, but the nod meant that his plan was a good one and she knew it. He settled down by the fire. The axe and the chicken were making it difficult to get comfortable, but he felt good about his plan. The thought of chicken in the morning made him happy. He put the sad eyes of the woman out of his thinking and focused on the chicken as he drifted off to sleep.

 

.                       .                       .

It was past daybreak. He heard the noise at the edge of wakefulness. Down the creek. Something, someone working up the creek towards his camp. He sat up, focusing on the sound. Not an animal. More than one. His chest was pounding. He tried to calm himself. Was someone after him? He couldn’t think who would want to bother him. The farmer. After him for stealing the chickens. He stood and listened. He could hear three separate areas where the brush was giving way to someone pushing up the creek. Not trying to be quiet. Not hunting, just walking. Like he had done when he found the creek and walked up to what was now his camp.

He remembered the woman. Glancing over he saw her curled on the sand still asleep on her side of the line. He hefted the chicken, still tied to his wrist. It was safe and his plan had worked.

Should he stay? Maybe it was Box and Spar, come back to look for him. After a moment’s thought he decided “no”. He could call out their names to be sure, but it did not feel right to shout out a name and break the quiet of the morning.

He concluded that these were more travelers, like the woman. Maybe hungry and wanting to share his morning meal, like she would be when she got awake. It would be best if he just headed on down the road. But the way down the creek to the road was blocked.

He turned upstream, walking carefully so as not to wake the woman. He stepped past her and into the brush where she had come from. Unlike those coming up the creek, Ogg was quiet. He was a big fellow, but he knew how to be quiet like Daddy had taught him. He stepped through the brush, following a sort of path, avoiding sticks on the ground or limbs that would snap back as he passed. Once he had gotten a ways into the brush he stopped to listen. Voices now.

“Why, there she is.”

“Well, well, sleeping like a princess.”

Splashing, Voices. Sounds, not words. A woman’s voice. Not words. Now sounds of a struggle. Someone falling in the creek.

“Damn.” The angry voice of a man. A laugh from a different man. A shout of anger. Splashing. Someone into the brush, then the sound of someone falling heavily.

“Get her.” The angry man.

A crashing through the brush, headed his way and moving fast. Who was it? He decided not to wait and see. Ogg turned to run. As he turned, the chicken on the string caught a sapling and looped around it, tying Ogg securely to the small tree. He tried to unloop the chicken, winding it back the way it had come. Then the crashing was on him and with an impact as solid as Daddy’s backhand the woman ploughed into him. He was rocked back as she bounced off of him and she fell into a patch of sticker vines at the side of the path. She clawed crazily to regain her feet, sticker vines catching at her clothes.

More crashing through the brush from down the creek. Then a man appeared, pushing branches aside, hurrying along the path. He was able to stop without smashing into Ogg.

Ogg knew this guy. The chairless man! He might have recognized him anyway, but the blue and black bruise on his face and cut on his forehead cleared up any doubt. He stopped and looked at Ogg.

“You!”

Ogg wasn’t sure how to answer. Was he coming after Ogg for what he had done there in the yard at Keeper Flak’s? But after just a small hesitation the man turned his gaze to the woman and dove into the sticker vines.

“Oww, oof.” She scrambled to get out of his grasp but the vines seemed to want to hold her as much as the chairless man did. Ogg tugged at the tree holding him and his chicken. He just wanted to get away from the battle going on in the sticker patch.

Then another man appeared from downstream. A wet man, moving slowly. He stopped to survey the scene. The woman was not fighting very hard any more and the chairless man had her pinned in the vines.

“You!” the wet man said. Same thing the chairless man had said. Ogg figured he must have been one of the chairless man’s friends from before. The wet man then pulled a knife out of his belt and lunged toward Ogg.

“Whoa.” Ogg was surprised by the attack. He sidestepped, pushing at the knife with the hand that was shackled to the tree by the chicken. The tree bent easily and slapped the man in the face. Ogg stumbled back, now with the tree between him and the knife, but Ogg was now wrapped even tighter to the tree. The wet man lunged with the knife again, through the branches toward Ogg’s chest. Ogg turned away, stepping backwards and tying himself even tighter to the tree. He had coiled himself now around the sapling and the wet man was gathering himself for another lunge.

Ogg uncoiled from the tree and the axe became a counterweight as he spun and the blade of the axe sunk into the thigh of the wet man. He screamed. He dropped the knife and stepped backwards grabbing his leg where the axe blade was still imbedded. Ogg pulled at the axe, but it was now hung up in the man’s leg. The bit had cut deep. The wet man screamed again and fell. The axe blade pulled free. Ogg swung the axe again, this time at the base of the sapling. The tree separated from the earth and hung at his side, with the chicken. The chairless man had by now extracted himself from the vines and made a rush at Ogg, head down arms extended, just like before. Ogg swung the axe at the man’s head just as he had done that time in the yard at Keeper Flak’s. But this time the blade hit the chairless man, not the handle. It caught him where his head and the neck and the shoulder joined, biting deep into the muscle there. The chairless man’s rush ended as it had before and he fell heavily face first at Ogg’s feet. There was a lot more blood this time. And no moaning. Not from the chairless man anyway. The wet man was making a hell of a lot of noise though. Ogg turned the axe blade to the string at his wrist and cut himself loose from the tree and the chicken.

The wet man was bleeding a lot and was holding the cut on his leg, trying unsuccessfully to keep the blood from coming out so fast. He was making less noise now though.

The woman had managed to gain her feet and was pulling free of the vines. Ogg bent down and, holding the axe handle near the blade, cut the chicken free of the tree. The woman looked at Ogg and at the two men. One dead, the other dying.

“Come on.” she said to Ogg and started up the creek.

Ogg hesitated, looking at the wet man.

“Help me, I’m hurt bad.” he said, looking at Ogg, then at the woman.

Then another voice from down stream called out, “What’s going on? Got her?”

“Come on.” The woman’s voice was insistent. She made a motion with her arm to Ogg and turned her back on him and the wet man and the third man, whoever he was and started off up the creek.

Ogg followed shaking his head. Daddy was right. All he did was hurt people.

 

 

Ogg Chapter 16

 

 

16

 

“Don’t hurt me, I’m just hungry.” She stood looking at the chicken as it cooled on its spit at the side of the fire.

She reminded Ogg of a deer. Alert, edgy, about to run. He listened some more. Still nothing. He had seen Daddy turn others away, people who said they were tired or hungry. “Nobody ever gave me nothin’.” he would say. “Go on.” Then he would give them a mean look until they turned and went away.

“Nobody ever gave me nothin’.” Ogg said. “Go on.” He gave a mean look. Or what he thought might be a mean look.

“What? “The boy’s … the woman’s voice cracked.

Ogg knew this was wrong. Somebody had given him something. Just this morning, Dusty’s mother, and the day before, the man and woman in the wagon. And Keeper Twill and Keeper Flak. He glanced at the chicken and back at the hungry woman.

“I only got one chicken left.” That was true.

“I only want a bite. Just one bite. Please.”

Ogg watched her and thought. He knew you had to be careful when one bite was being requested. He had lost large amounts of many meals to Queedle or Bosco before he learned that one bite could almost empty a bowl or strip a chicken leg of all its meat.

“Okay,” he replied with a reluctant tone. “One bite.”

The woman stepped across the creek and started toward the chicken. Ogg raised the axe to block her path.

“I’ll give you a bite. You stay there.”

She jerked to a stop. Ogg held the axe straight out, watching her and listening again. She was small. Bigger than Dusty, but small. Like a small man. Ogg could see now that she had long hair. It fell from under her cloth hat. He ran his hand over his head. His hair was short. Daddy would cut his or Queedle’s or Bosco’s hair when it got so long that he could grab a handful.

He lowered the axe and waited to see if she would stay put. He backed toward the fire, keeping an eye on her. He crouched down and pulled a wing off the chicken. It had cooled enough to eat it without burning his mouth. He stood and took a bite. Glancing at the woman he ate most of the wing, leaving what he considered a “bite” on the bone for her. He listened again. He was now pretty sure there was no one else nearby. The woman stood with her hands at her sides, watching him.

He walked to her and held at arm’s length the remains of the chicken wing. She reached for it tentatively, like she was expecting him to pull it back to tease her. Queedle pulled that trick on Ogg often. Ogg didn’t think it was as funny as Queedle thought it was. He held the wing as the woman took it. Not jerking it away or holding on to make her fight for it. Ogg wondered briefly why Queedle did that.

He watched as she stripped the bone clean, sucking on it to get all the good. She dropped the bone in the creek.

Ogg looked at her wondering what to do now. She stood licking her fingers.

“Go on now.” he said. This was all he could think to say. He had given her a bite, like she asked. Instead of going, she sat down at the edge of the creek. She watched Ogg carefully.

She reminded Ogg of animals he had brought home when he was a boy. Injured animals he had found. A raccoon, a possum, a bunny. Each had brought him trouble with Daddy. He had learned to “leave them wild critters be.” Or to not bring them home anyway. And this woman was as unfamiliar to him as any “wild critter”.

Since she had sat down, Ogg figured he would just leave her alone. He walked back to his fire and sat with his axe still in his hand, across his knees.

She leaned over and drank from the creek. Then she scooted away from the creek a bit and leaned back against a tree root that twisted out from the bank where the creek had washed the dirt away. She looked like she was going to stay.

“You need to go on now,” he said. He was not at ease with her in his camp area.

“I’m tired. I’m going to rest here.” Her voice sounded tired. He never should have given her something to eat. Now she was going to stay around. It was a good thing Daddy wasn’t here.

“This is my camp. You can’t stay here.”

“I’m not in your camp, I’m over here by the creek.”

“This whole area is mine.” He waved his arm, showing her the sand bar up and down the creek. She was clearly in his territory.

“You own this land?” she asked.

She had him there. “No, but I got here first. This is my camp.”

“But you don’t own it?”

Ogg knew ownership of land was important. It had to do with staking out the boundaries and defending them.

“I was here first.” He knew that counted heavily in territory disputes.

“But you don’t own it.” Her voice was becoming more defiant. It wasn’t a question anymore.

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t. You’re just like me. You’re just passing through.”

He was beaten. He had set no boundary markers. He hadn’t thought it necessary. Then a response occurred to him.

“It’s not your land either. You don’t own it.”

“No.”

Ha! He had her there. But it didn’t seem to make much difference. She was still here. He looked at the chicken. He really didn’t feel like eating it now. He thought to wrap it up in his face-wiping cloth, but his Daddy’s fingers were in there. In his shirt pocket. He touched the pocket, feeling the lump there. He remembered the cloth that had been the wrapping for the food that Dusty’s mother had given him. He dug it out of his pants pocket and placed it on the ground. He placed the chicken on it and wrapped it up, the grease and juices soaking the cloth. He tied it with the string he had kept in his pocket from the bundle. It was a dripping mess. He glanced at the woman. She was watching him. Where could he put this where she couldn’t get it? His plan had been to put it in his pocket, but there was only so much of a mess that he could tolerate in his pants.

He was getting mad now. Why was she here? How could he protect his chicken from her while he slept? He was sure now he wanted to save it for his morning meal. He had a ways to go and wasn’t sure there would be any more chickens along the way. He put the package down and stood up. Turning towards the woman he raised the axe and walked towards her.

“You go away,” he threatened.

She scrambled to her feet. Her eyes were wild with fright. She held her hands in a defensive gesture.

“Why?” she pleaded.

“Because. This is my camp.” He fell back on his first argument.

“I’m tired.” She responded.

“No, you’re hungry.” Ogg knew why she wanted to stay; she was after his chicken. It was his. He had found it, stolen it, run with it and cooked it. It was clearly his.

He looked at her. She held her hands over her face and made a low noise. What was that? She was crying.

What did this mean?.

 

Ogg Chapter 15

 

 

15

Ogg’s eyes opened and he turned toward the warmth of the coals of last night’s fire. Where was he? A boy was tending the fire, stirring the coals and placing sticks to start a blaze. Dusty. He was in the eating-place where he had burned the barn. He got up quietly and waved to Dusty as he headed out to take care of his morning business. The blackened remains of the barn stilled smoked and glowed. The smell dominated the yard.

He thought back to last night. The barn burning. The good meal. And the warm place by the fire. The apron wearing man was Keeper Flak. He was Dusty’s daddy. There was still no sign of Box or Spar. He would have to hurry to catch up. Keeper Flak had asked him where he was going and Ogg was pleased that he remembered the place named Sunflower. Three day’s ride, four, probably more, to walk. It was off to the west after a two-day’s travel north on the road. The morning fog was lifting and Ogg decided he better get started.

When he returned to the eating-place Keeper Flak was up and about in the kitchen along with a lady. Ogg knew about mothers even though he had never had one. His Daddy would not allow Queedle or Bosco to talk about their mother. She was Ogg’s mother too, of course, but he never knew her because, like Daddy said, he killed her by being born. Ogg learned to stay away from questions about her because it always made everyone angry if he asked. He remembered how Daddy would say, ‘We got no need for women here now,’ and how upset Daddy was when Durn went away with that lady.

The lady, Dusty’s mother, gave him a bundle as he was warming by the fire.

“Here’s a morning meal and something for later.” She smiled a friendly smile.

“Thank you.” Ogg took the bundle and smelled the ham. He looked at the woman. She was wrapped up against the morning chill and had a big pile of hair tied in a knot on the top of her head. She had a soft face and a soft looking mustache. Like his own, only no beard.

Goodbyes were exchanged as Ogg stuffed the bundle into his shirt. He gathered his axe and stepped into the morning chill. Sunflower. Four or five days, maybe more. Those were numbers for more days than this bundle of food would last. He promised himself to be careful and not eat too much too soon. He had, on occasion, eaten his mid day meal in the wagon on the way to work in the morning and it always made for a very long workday. He reached into his shirt and wormed his hand into the bundle, finding, by feel, a biscuit. It was still warm. He worked it out of the bundle and out of his shirt and nibbled as he walked along.

.           .           .

It was past mid-day. The road made for an easy walk. The land was flat and the sun was warm on his back. He had, however, not kept his promise to himself. He had finished the food in the bundle at his mid-day meal. He hadn’t stopped to rest, just ate a bite or two along the way. But before he knew it he was savoring the last bite of ham and carefully shaking the crumbs from the cloth of the bundle into his mouth.

There were houses along the way, off the road. Not many. Most looked empty. It looked like there had been fields growing something along here. But not now. There were wood rail fences and some stone markers showing the boundary of one man’s land from another. Like his Daddy put up. Markers he and his brothers had to check from time to time to be sure they hadn’t been torn down or moved by others wanting to take their land.

There were fights with neighbors sometimes. About who was on whose land. There hadn’t been much fighting in a while though, since he had gotten old enough to join his brothers and Daddy when they were “called out” to settle these disputes.

But the fences and boundary stones Ogg could see from the road were overgrown or falling down and no one was working the land or tending any animals near the houses. Chicken was a favorite of his and he was hoping he might find some nearby if one or another of these houses was occupied.

He knew he would have to steal a chicken if he found any. He was a traveler and a stranger to this land. His Daddy always turned travelers away. Ogg knew he was like those men now, asking for a cup of water or a bite to eat. “You’ll get no handouts here, move on.” was what his Daddy always said, so he would have to take what he needed.

“Folks won’t give you nothing in life.” his Daddy said. “You got to look out for yourself.” Ogg thought back to the man and the woman in the wagon and the basket of food. And Dusty’s mom who gave him the bundle of food this morning. Maybe women gave you things. Maybe that’s what was missing from Daddy’s saying.

Just a bit later his eye caught a whisp of smoke from a chimney at a house up ahead. He smiled to himself and gave a little whoop. Evening was approaching and a fire had been lit here and this might be a house that had a yard full of chickens. Ogg turned off the road and began to work his way around to approach the house from behind.

.           .           .

The smell of chicken roasting was more than he could stand. Ogg reached into the flames and pulled a strip of flesh off the breast of the chicken as it hung above the fire. He had been lucky at the house. There was no dog to chase him after he had cornered and grabbed two chickens. He had taken off running when a door opened and a voice shouted, “Hey, stop.” Then some other yelling, but he was too far away by then to tell what they were saying. By then Ogg was pushing his long stride hard across the field, over a fence where it had fallen to only two rails and across the road, then down the road, legs and chest pumping, two chickens in one hand and his axe in the other. Once out of sight of the house he had turned off the road and headed to a tree lined creek. He slowed his sprint to a lope, but kept moving hard until he got to the shelter of the brushy creek.

Having worked his way up the creek and away from the road, he found a small sand bar and a high creek bank against which to build a small fire. He would not be seen here, this far up the creek in this tangle of brush. He hoped. He plucked and cleaned the chickens, gathered some kindling and was now sitting down for a well earned meal. Both chickens were spitted and roasted. The fire had burned to coals and there was no blaze to draw attention of travelers on the road.

He had just finished the first chicken and was sucking the grease from his fingers. He was contemplating whether to eat the second one now or to put it aside for his morning meal when he caught sight of movement in the brush up the creek. He froze and listened. His fire was barely a glow and it wasn’t dark enough yet to make it noticeable. An animal? No further sound. He stood and took his axe in hand. Listening. He stood up and edged a small step toward the noise he was sure he had heard. Stop. Listen.

“Please, I’m hungry.”  The voice startled him. A boy’s voice. Young. He peered up the creek. Listen. Were there others? Down the creek? Was someone sneaking up on him while this boy talked to him?

“Please.”

“Quiet.” he ordered. Limbs rustled. He could see a figure now, standing and holding a branch down to make himself visible to Ogg.

“Be still.” Ogg commanded again. He held his breath. Nothing but the creek noise. Downstream a bird called its territory. Ogg nodded his approval. If anyone had been coming from that direction the bird would have flown or at least been silent.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m hungry,” the boy answered.

“Come where I can see you better.” Ogg stood listening. Was this boy alone?

The figure stepped out of the brush and onto the edge of the creek. It was getting dark, but Ogg could still see well enough. A tall boy. Thin. Dirty, with torn pants and sleeves and a cloth hat. And a soft face.

“Are you a woman?” he asked.

“Yes, and I’m hungry.” she answered.

This was different.

 

Ogg Chapter 14

14

 

Ogg followed Box and Spar into the barn. It was as dark as a cave.  He stopped and squinted into the darkness, trying to keep the indistinct forms of his friends separate from horses, walls, tack and tools hanging from posts. He could fix their position by listening. There was a bump and cursing under the breath as Spar located a lantern. Ogg heard the distinct sound of the lantern’s globe being raised and listened for the clash of flint on flint to strike a spark to light the wick. What he heard was a scrape.  What he saw was a flare of light held in Spar’s hand. The flame held by Spar was then applied to the wick of the lantern being held by Box. It wasn’t a flint, it was a small stick that sparked into a flame. These men, his new friends, were always surprising him.

As the light from the lantern filled the barn Ogg wandered over. Spar turned to Box with a worried look. “Now what?”

“Now what, what?”

“We can’t stay here now. After that.”

“After what?”

“You know what I mean. After what happened out there.”

“A little scuffle. Our friend here just put some guy down. Some guy who jumped him.”

Spar’s voice got louder. “Some guy with friends. We don’t know if they’ll be back. When they’ll be back. While we’re sleeping in here.”

“I’m not worried.” Box looked at Ogg and smiled. “Are you worried Ogg?”

Ogg considered this. Did he think the chairless man would try to jump him again? No. The chairless man’s friends? They were not even in the fight. No. Would they come while he slept in the barn? It was too dark when the lantern was out. No. Box wanted the answer to be ‘no’. That was important.

“No.” Ogg looked at Spar, hoping he would not be asked any more questions.

“See, Ogg’s not worried.” Box turned and walked to the back of the barn. Spar hung the lantern on a post and looked past Ogg out into the now empty yard. “See if you can close the barn door, Ogg”.  He followed Box who was already fixing his bedroll.

Ogg went out and pulled on the one of the two doors that was standing open. It was reluctant to swing closed. The leather straps that were its hinges had long ago molded their forms to the door being open. As Ogg pulled, the top hinge broke away from the frame of the door. The door settled more firmly on the ground, still open. Ogg lifted the door, holding it just a little off the ground and shuffled the door to a closed position. He sat it down with a thump. It leaned dangerously away from the barn at the top. The dried leather hinge at the bottom was all that held it. Ogg wrestled with the heavy plank door, scooting the bottom out a ways and pushing at the top, trying to get it to lean in toward the barn’s door frame. He finally got the bottom of the door situated and pushed the top of the door toward the barn. The top of the door was too far from the doorframe now and as the door leaned towards the barn the bottom hinge broke and the door fell into the barn. The post nearest the door stopped the fall, but the lantern flew off the post and broke against the wall of a manger. The fuel from the lantern blazed as it ran down the wall into the loose straw.

Box and Spar ran from the back of the barn toward the blaze and started kicking the dirt on the floor of the barn onto the burning wall. Ogg, seeing no better example of firefighting, began doing the same. It was after a very few kicks that Box gave up and screamed, “The horses!” He ran to the stalls where his and Spar’s horses were standing. Spar followed and together they pushed and led the first horse out of the enclosure. The fire had caught and was working its way along the manger wall to the exterior wall. As Box slapped the horse on the flank to get it moving out of the barn he saw Ogg still kicking dirt on the spreading fire. He ran to the next stall and yelled at Ogg, “The saddles,…in the back.” Ogg turned away from the fire and ran to the back of the barn. He pulled one saddle off a rail, then another and ran toward the doorway. Spar and Box now had their horses safely out of the barn and ran to meet Ogg, each taking a saddle.

Each began to saddle his own horse, struggling against the panic of the horses as smoke billowed out of the doorway. Ogg looked on briefly, not knowing how to help, then turned back to the barn. One side was blazing and flames ran up the outside wall. People were coming out into the yard now and shouting and running. The man with the apron from the eating-place was standing on the porch shouting, “Help, help!”. Ogg wondered at this since the man was entirely safe as far as he could see.

Suddenly Ogg knew he had one more thing to do. He dashed back into the barn. The heat was intense, but not impossible. Ogg stopped and looked at the post where the lantern had been hanging and then at the ground nearby. There! He kicked at the axe handle, confirming it was truly his axe. Grabbing it he turned to the doorway again. He saw a saddle hanging on a post away from the fire took it and ran back into the yard.

Embers had fallen on his back and shoulders and smoldered there as he stood in the yard, now clear of the burning barn.  The man in the apron brushed at his shirt, knocking the coals off him.

“Thanks friend.”

“Okay”. Ogg replied, not really sure why he was being thanked.

“At least you got the saddle out of there; it’s probably worth more than the barn itself.”

Ogg looked at the saddle in the dust at his feet. “Yes, sir.”  He wasn’t sure why he grabbed the saddle but the man with the apron was pleased.

“How did this start? Do you know?”

“Well…” Ogg looked around for Box and Spar, but they were nowhere in sight. He knew he had done this. It was his fault. It was like chopping off Daddy’s fingers. You did a thing and some bad came from it and you just had to face the punishment. There was an exception to this general rule however. If you didn’t get caught. Ogg considered his situation. Only Box and Spar knew how he had started this fire, and they weren’t around. The man in the apron was looking at him, waiting for an answer.

“I don’t know.” Ogg knew this was not a good answer, but he wasn’t ready with a better one.

“Those two guys that were with you, where are they?” He looked around the yard.

“I don’t know.”

“Did they start this fire, boy?”

“I don’t know.”

“They took off like they done it. If they didn’t do it, where’d they go?”

“I don’t know.” This seemed to be working pretty well. Ogg was feeling a little bit guilty about how the apron wearing man was blaming Box and Spar, but he knew from sad experience, taking the blame never worked out very well.

Was this a lie? He thought it probably was. Ogg knew about lies. Telling a lie could get you in worse trouble in the end. Or it could help you avoid trouble. Queedle was pretty good at it. And Bosco too, but not as good as Queedle. And Ogg was not very good at it at all. But he had never burned a barn down before. He figured the punishment for that might be pretty serious. And since Box and Spar weren’t here to tell on him, like Queedle and Bosco always did, his chances were better to get away with this lie. To say, ‘I don’t know’ was what Daddy called “weasel words”. That was, for Daddy, the same as a lie. He wasn’t really blaming Box and Spar for starting the fire, but he was. He felt bad about this.

“They better not come back here, or they’ll get what’s comin’ to ‘em!”, the apron wearing man said. Others who had been running around at first had wandered over to watch the fire from this vantage point and to console the apron wearing man. They had been listening to Ogg and the apron wearing man’s discussion and some of them voiced a mumbled approval of this last statement.

“…get what’s coming…,” mumble, mumble.

Ogg knew what that meant and he wanted no part of it. He would live with his weasel words for now and straighten it out later when everyone had settled down some. That often helped, letting Daddy cool off.

The apron wearing man clapped Ogg on the shoulder. Ogg held his breath. Had he been caught in the lie?

“Come on back to the Inn, you can stay there tonight. Are you hungry?”

The “in”? The eating-place was the ‘in’.

“Yes, sir.”

The apron wearing man picked up his saddle and started towards the Inn. The barn burned fiercely as the others kept their vigil. Ogg too was drawn to the spectacle, watching as a wall fell into the fire with a shower of sparks. But he did not linger. He turned from the heat and the show and followed the apron wearing man to the “in”. He was starving.

 

Ogg Chapter 13

13

 

A low mumbling filled the room. Someone spoke loudly, “Another story,” A voice from another table, “Please, sir.” All eyes turned to the Storyteller. He was standing by the fire again.

“No, I’m tired from my storytelling. I have to rest so that I can go on tomorrow. I have more stories to tell as I go.”

There was a low complaint as an “Aw” sounded quietly across the room. Ogg wanted another story too. He could not understand how telling stories could have made anyone tired, even a small fat man like this Storyteller.  Perhaps he had been chopping and splitting wood all day and was tired when he started. Ogg knew about that, but he thought the Storyteller did not look like a man who would do much wood chopping.

The door was open again and the cool of the night slipped in past the men who were leaving. Ogg wanted to tell this story to Spar while he still had it in his head. He started to the door but before he could squeeze into line to get out, Dusty caught his eye and motioned him over towards the kitchen.

As he worked his way against the flow going out, his way was blocked by the chairless man. His friends were with him, moving to the door.

“I’ll be waiting for you outside.” His face scrunched into a mean look.

“What?” Ogg heard the words but wasn’t sure what to make of them.

“You heard me.” he said and shouldered past.

Ogg nodded. Yes, he had heard. It was a mystery. He put it out of his mind.

“Wasn’t that great?” Dusty was pulling at his sleeve.

Ogg considered the little guy. He was looking up at Ogg, waiting for a response. Maybe he could ask Dusty.

“Yes, it was. What’s a ‘twelve’?” There, he had blurted out the question. Even though Dusty was just a young boy, he lived here in this busy place. He would surely have heard of, perhaps even seen, a ‘twelve’.

“A twelve?” Dusty replied, looking puzzled.

Perhaps he did not know either. “Yes.” Give it another try Ogg decided. “The kind of fingers that the monster has.”

“You mean twelve fingers?”

“Yes.” Ogg nodded eagerly. A spark of recognition in Dusty’s face encouraged him.

“You don’t know what twelve is?”

Ogg held his breath. He had asked a stupid question. Dusty waited but Ogg offered nothing further.

“It’s a number.”

“Oh.”

Dusty spoke quickly, “One, two, three, “ … then some unfamiliar words, then “ten”, then something, then “twelve.” He opened his hand in a gesture like he had just performed a trick. He waited. Ogg pondered.

“You can’t count?” Dusty asked, looking around to see if anyone else had heard this amazing thing.

Ogg looked down. He had a sick feeling.

“No.”

“It’s a number.” He went back to the words again, this time touching a finger for each word he spoke. Ogg watched. Dusty said “ten” holding up both hands, fingers spread.

“Everybody has ten fingers…”

Ogg put the axe down, leaning the handle against his hip. He looked at his hands.

“But this bear monster has twelve.” Dusty wiggled his fingers then made a claw with each hand. “An extra finger on each hand. Maybe an extra thumb, or one on the side like this or one growing out of the top or palm like a snake coming out.”

Ogg was fascinated. It was clear to him now. This description was the kind of monster that he should watch for. He could look at a man’s hands to see if someone was the monster causing trouble and misery all over the place. Like the Storyteller warned. He should tell Box and Spar so they could be on the lookout too.

“I gotta go.” Ogg interrupted Dusty’s explanation, but Dusty hardly noticed as he turned toward the fire, arms raised with claw like hands waiving. Ogg watched for a moment. He was thinking how the monster’s hands might look with an extra, snaky finger on the top, or growing out of the palm, writhing and menacing and maybe even biting. He turned and hurried to the door.

As he stepped out onto the porch the yard was beginning to clear. Groups of men were breaking up; walking in twos or threes one way or another up the road or toward the houses Ogg had seen earlier. Some with horses were already off a ways, headed home. Ogg looked for Spar and Box but they were not in sight. Probably in the barn Ogg figured as he stepped off the porch and headed that way.

Before he got to the barn three men who had been walking away, turned and looked towards him. They were beyond the light from the building, but Ogg could see that they had stopped and were talking and looking at him. He couldn’t be sure; maybe one of them was Spar. He didn’t know about the others. None of them was tall and thin like Box. Ogg stood, trying to decide if that was Spar. He waved, thinking that if it was, Spar would see him and wave back.

No one waved back, but one who wasn’t Spar started walking towards him. The other two hesitated, and then followed. Ogg waited, wondering whether to wave again.

As the man in the lead came out of the dark area Ogg recognized him as the chairless man. What had he said earlier?

“Hey, there,” the man called out in a harsh voice. Ogg waited without a reply. Suddenly the man broke into run. He was running right at him. This was like Queedle or Bosco when they were mad about something. Sometimes it was a game and sometimes it was not but, almost every time somebody got hurt. Usually Ogg got a thrashing from his Daddy after. All of this played out quickly in Ogg’s head as the man covered the distance between himself and Ogg. The other men were hurrying behind, but not so fast.

As the chairless man got within a step or two of Ogg he put his head and shoulder down and launched himself. Ogg shifted his weight, twiched his wrist causing the axe handle to jump up in his grip and smacked the man in the head with the handle of the axe. The man’s momentum carried him into Ogg, but it was not a solid connection. He glanced off Ogg’s hip and fell heavily to the ground, hitting face first and rolling over onto his back. He lay motionless as the other two men, neither of whom was Spar as Ogg thought at first, slowed to a walk and stopped beyond the range of Ogg’s axe handle.

Ogg prepared to take on the other two men. The chairless man lay quietly.

“You hit him with an axe!” one of the men exclaimed. His surprised tone seemed out of place to Ogg. The chairless man was clearly trying to take Ogg to the ground. Was there some rule about fighting in this place he didn’t know?

“Yes, sir, he ran at me.” Ogg replied. These men did not seem to want to continue the fight their friend had started. The chairless man moaned and moved his leg.

“You could have killed him.” the one who might have been Spar, but wasn’t, said.

Ogg considered this. He thought back to the times he had hit Queedle or Bosco or they had hit him. With rocks, or sticks or their hands. When the fight was on he fought his best with what he had. If he didn’t Queedle or Bosco would hurt him. He knew the strapping he got from Daddy when he won was not as bat as the beating he got from his brothers when he lost. But he had never killed anybody. And he did not hit the chairless man any harder than he had hit his brothers from time to time.

“I didn’t kill him.” Ogg had decided on this response.

“You should have.” The voice behind him was Box. “He jumped you for no reason.” Box was talking to Ogg, but his words were directed at the other two men. Ogg glanced over his shoulder. Box and Spar stood behind him, together. That must have been why the other two men had stopped, Ogg thought.

“Take your friend and go.” Box continued. “Be thankful that he didn’t get the sharp end of the axe.” Box gestured for Ogg to join him and Spar. Ogg was still on his guard as he backed away from the fallen man.

“Why didn’t you use the blade?” Box asked. Again his question seemed directed to the other men even though the words were for Ogg to answer. Ogg considered. He knew the man was coming fast. To raise and swing the axe so the blade would cut the man would take too long. The handle could be swung quickly and was easier to control than the heavy metal blade of the axe. Ogg knew all these things but could not organize this information into a response.

“I don’t know.” was the answer he settled on.

“Next time use the blade.” Box said.

Again the words were not just spoken to Ogg, but it was like Daddy telling him, and he always tried to do what he was told.

“Yes, sir.” Ogg replied. They backed away toward the barn as the two men kneeled in the dirt to help the chairless man to sit up. Ogg could see a darkness that wasn’t shadow across the chairless man’s face. Blood.

 

 

 

 

 

Ogg Chapter 12

12

 

Ogg said, “Yes” along with everyone else. He glanced at Spar, but Spar was looking back towards the door, which was open again as others came in. Box stood to the side of the door and motioned with a ‘come here’ pull of his hand. Spar stood, looked at Box and then pointed to Ogg. Box shook his head ‘no’.

“You stay here,” Spar said, putting his hand on Ogg’s shoulder. He gave Ogg’s shoulder a pat and walked to the door. Ogg liked that. He could not remember anyone touching him that wasn’t a hit or a grab. He watched Box and Spar as they disappeared from the light of the fire. Others who came sat in the empty chairs at Ogg’s table. He thought about trying to save a chair for Box, but now that Spar was gone he wasn’t sure if he should save one or two chairs. Since Box didn’t come in, maybe he didn’t want a chair saved for him any more. Ogg was anxious about this, but the new men had settled in, turned their chairs to face the Storyteller and did not seem interested in asking Ogg for permission to share the table.

The door was closed and the room grew quiet again. Dusty put more wood on the fire and the Storyteller began walking around the room.

“You may wonder about this prince who was not king.” He looked around as the drum thumped quietly, and he held his stick again so that the stone at the top caught light from the fire and his voice was deep like thunder in the distance.

Heads nodded. Men shuffled their feet and moved again to the edge of their chairs. “Well, some say he was lost and not smart enough to survive in the wild. Or that he went into a dark part of the castle and was not smart enough to know to call out for help, and he starved there in the dark waiting for someone to find him.”

He stopped and looked around the room again. He waived the stick back and forth slowly, pointing it at the fire. Everyone’s eyes followed the movement of the stone.

“But those who believe those stories would be wrong.” He whispered this in a menacing voice. The drumbeat grew louder.

“Yes, he was lost, but he slept in the leaves of the forest, and under outcroppings of rock and in the shelter of fallen trees. And he lived. He grew wild and forgot how to talk as he ate the gray things that grew in the dark places of the woods.”

The Storyteller swung the stick in a slow circle around the room, looking at each man. Ogg was liking this story a lot. His eyes held on the stick as it moved, but when it stopped he glanced at the door. Would Spar come back and hear this good story? Where would he sit? Ogg glanced back. Everyone was looking at the fire again. Everyone but him. He looked down at his hands and held his breath. He hoped he had not been noticed looking about and not paying attention.

The Storyteller’s back was to him. He breathed again and the story went on. “The prince grew into a wild thing. His clothes fell from his body from rot and disrepair. He grew hair all over to keep himself warm and became like a bear. More like a bear than a man. Since he could not be distinguished from a bear, he took a bear for a wife. He spoke the language of bears and his bear wife gave him bear cubs from their union, but they were weak and died or were taken by the fox or the eagle before they could grow.

“But there was one bear cub, more like a man than the others who survived. He was his father’s favorite and his father told him of the kingdom he had lost. The cub became angry at this telling. He felt the kingdom should have been his and said to his father ‘Why can’t I have this kingdom now?’ But his father could not explain. He could only say he had been lost in the forest and could not find a way back. He said that his son might be able to find the kingdom again so he could take it back as his own. Then the bear prince spoke his death and sent his son to look for his lost kingdom. And from that time this son of the bear prince walked the Kingdom of the Nine Queens, angry that no castle or town would open its gates to him. He caused drought, flood, disease and famine and he took a girl from each kingdom, trying to have a son with her but failing. So his anger grew. After each girl failed to give him the son he wanted he would tear her apart with his teeth and begin again his search for another wife.

“Until finally, not so many years ago, he took a girl who was so big and ugly that she was able to bring a male child to life. And the son of the bear prince told his son of his anger and told him of his lost kingdom and sent him out to seek revenge on the people of the land. This creature was more man than bear and it is he who goes now among the people of the kingdom causing harm and loss. And he is marked by his deformity. Be warned and be on guard because he would bring the kingdom to ruin if he could.

“This is a new telling, a story of danger only just now seen by the Dreamers. Be on the lookout for a monster who will steal the happiness and prosperity of the kingdom if he can. You will know him because he has twelve fingers!” The Storyteller paused. The drumbeat filled the room. “Be warned. Be vigilant. Watch for this monster who is the son of a bear. And know that he and any who befriend him are set on doing harm.”

Ogg shuddered. The story scared him. He looked around. Everyone else was still looking into the fire. The Storyteller again hit the table with his stick. Heads turned. Eyes were wide and each man looked a sidelong glance at his neighbor. Could this twelve-fingered monster be among them?

Ogg wondered what a ‘twelve’ was and what this kind of fingers might look like. He had never heard of such a creature, so how would he know a man who had those kinds of fingers? He could not be sure from the telling of the story. He would ask Spar. He would ask him when Box was not around. Spar could tell Box the warning after Ogg told the story to Spar. It was something to keep sharp about. This man with twelve fingers was surely up to no good, whoever he was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qgg Chapter 11

11

 

The Storyteller was a short plump man with a red face. Maybe it looked red because of the fire. He had no beard, like Box and Spar had none. Ogg touched his face. His beard was poor. A baby’s beard Daddy said. Since yesterday, when his Daddy told him to go away, Ogg had seen a lot more men without beards than with them. He wondered how he might remove his, so he might be more like Box and Spar. He didn’t like having a baby’s beard.

“There once was a good king…” the Storyteller had started. Ogg put beards out of his mind. Behind the Storyteller, in the corner, sat a man with a drum. Along with the Storyteller there was now a quiet thumping.

“…who had only one son. He had nine daughters, all of whom were beautiful and smart, but he had only one son.”

‘Daughters,’ thought Ogg, ‘like the lady his oldest brother Durn went away with.’

“The son was not handsome and he was not smart, but the king was old and would have no more children. This son, the prince, would be the next king. And he would be the next king very soon, because the good king was very old and he was going to die.

“The people of the land loved the good king and they were sad that he was old and was going to die.”

Ogg knew of kings and princes. He had heard stories about them before. He thought there might be real people like that somewhere. People who lived in buildings called castles and who rode in wagons with tops on them or rode on horses that were painted many colors. But he did not remember a story about a prince like this one. A prince who was not handsome and not smart.

“On the day set aside to celebrate the harvest, the king decided to call the people to his castle. He would speak to them one last time. He would tell them of his death and they would remember him. He sent Storytellers out to the towns and villages and crossroads to tell the people to come to the castle when the harvest was in. It might be a long journey, but every town was to send someone to hear the king tell of his death and to do the remembering.

“He would tell them that his son would be the new king and ask the people to be patient. The prince was young and would need time to learn how to lead them. But the king knew the prince was not going to be a good king and he was sad for the people.

“The Storytellers went out and told stories of the good king, reminding the people of how much they loved him and asking the people to send who they could to hear the king tell of his death.

“At the end of the harvest the people came to the castle. Not just one from each town. Many more came and the castle could not hold them all. They filled the castle square and the streets and the castle gates were opened and they stood outside the castle walls. The good king came to the balcony and stood with his daughters beside him. But his son was not there. The people wondered at this. This was the day of the good king’s death and his son, his only son, who was going to be the new king, was not there.”

Ogg leaned back in his chair. Where was the son? The son should be there with his daddy. Had he been sent away? The Storyteller began walking around the room and the drum continued thumping. The story was making Ogg have a lump in his throat and he didn’t know why. The Storyteller waved his stick slowly back and forth as he continued.

“Then the good king spoke. He was old and his voice was weak so he spoke to his Guide who was always with him. The good king spoke and his Guide repeated his words loudly so all the people could hear. Even those outside the castle walls.

“The good king said, ‘My son is gone.’ The people knew they were not allowed to speak, but a low whispering noise washed through the crowd from the balcony to the castle walls. ‘He said he does not want to be king because he is not smart enough.’ Again the whisper of the crowd. ‘My daughters will be king.’ The whisper grew to a voice. The people said to each other ‘How could these daughters all be the king?’

“’They will each have a part of the kingdom and on the day of the death of each one of them the others will take the part left by their sister to hold until only one is left. By the choice of The Giver of Death the decision will be made and the people will then have one king again’ When the people heard this they all said ‘Yes’.”

Ogg was surprised when he heard many men in the room quietly say “yes.”  He thought there was to be no talking. Perhaps he should say, “yes” too. But the moment had passed.

“And thus the Kingdom of the Nine Queens was born as the good king died and every one sung his death. The queens were beautiful and smart and ruled wisely until they came to the day of their deaths, each one in turn agreeing to follow the decision of the good king. As the last queen told of her death her son then became the new king and sent his own Storytellers to every town and village and crossroad to tell the people that there was now only one king for all of them. And the people were pleased.”

Ogg rubbed his eyes. Had he fallen asleep? The Storyteller must have been walking around the room a lot longer than it seemed. The fire was down to coals. He had told of each of the nine queens and how they ruled the people and what happened when they died. His voice rose and fell with the telling. He held the stick and raised it in the air from time to time, the stone on the end of the stick catching the light of the fire. Ogg watched now as the Storyteller walked carefully between the tables. The men had followed his path at first, but now they were all just looking into the fire as the Storyteller talked. Ogg’s attention had drifted to the fire too, but he had pinched himself and shook his head, to try to keep from falling asleep. Ogg glanced at Spar from time to time but he too stared into the fire. It was strange. Ogg remembered the story, but not all of the storytelling.

Even though there were many parts of the story Ogg did not understand, he thought it might be a story about a real place. And he still wondered what had happened to the good king’s son. The Storyteller stopped. He hit the butt end of his stick down on a tabletop and Ogg jumped, startled by the sudden noise. The drum stopped. The others blinked, looked around and nodded to each other. They seemed to have enjoyed the story. The Storyteller held his stick high again, this time the stone on the end was covered by his hand.

“Shall there be one more story?” he asked. The room spoke with many voices “Yes.” “Tell another.” “Please.” And the drum started again.