Author Topic: Chapter 5  (Read 9422 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 5
« on: November 21, 2022, 12:49:02 AM »
When Tupper woke up, the first thing he noticed was how cold it was! Brr! His eyes weren’t clear yet, but he grabbed at his clothing and tried to pull his cardigan tighter around his chest. Instead, rough hides greeted his fingers. What the hell?

He was naked! Covered in deer hides, sure, but his clothing was gone! Tupper jumped up, wobbling under the disorientation of the long sleep, and blinked around in the darkness. A large stone had been dragged in front of the entrance, blocking most of the light, but some of it filtered through. Grabbing some of the hides to cover himself, Tupper shuffled over to the entrance, and saw snow on the ground through the crack in the improvised door. No wonder he’d been shivering the moment he woke up. He also had a strange impression that the cave had shrunk somehow, though that must be just another side effect.

Brinks was gone, of course. He must have woken earlier, and he couldn’t exactly hunt in here. Tupper supposed the naked thing was some kind of prank. Tupper growled. It was juvenile, but then he shouldn’t have expected anything else from his companion.

At least Brinks seemed to still be living here. There was a tanning rack on one end of the cave, and more hides stacked up next to it. The knife was here, too. Apparently, Brinks had tried his hand at sewing, without much success. Some of the hides had been stitched together with the same kind of sinew Tupper had used to make the bow, and the basin at the far end of the room had shimmering water in it from the nearby stream. Now that Tupper’s eyes were adjusting, he moved in that direction. He splashed his face, still feeling discombobulated, and then drank a little of it. Fortunately it hadn’t frozen over. There was a firepit in the middle of the room, but it was down to embers by now.

Huddled next to the basin of water, Tupper clutched the hides close, and tried not to shiver. As he turned to get closer to the fire, he caught a glimpse of his reflection. A human looked back out at him!

Tupper twitched, not quite comprehending it at first, and then slowly looked back into the now-still water. A… human, with narrow cheekbones, dirty-brown hair, and tanned, leathery skin, looked back at him! Feeling like he was going insane, Tupper lifted his hand to his face, and watched the stranger on the other end do the same. His fingers were thick and fat, unlike any elf’s.

What. Was. Happening??

Tupper heard a noise at the entrance and spun around, terrified. In came Brinks, covered in heavy hides as well, and carrying an armful of twigs and sticks. He froze at the sight of Tupper, who immediately put out one hand. “Brinks? It’s me. Tupper, I mean. I think. I know I don’t look like me, but it’s me.”

“Yeah, I know,” Brinks said after a moment, and lowered his bundle to the ground. “I just didn’t expect you to be awake.”

Again, shocked beyond reason, Tupper nearly let the hides fall, and then grabbed at them desperately with his ham-hands. How did humans use these things, anyway? So clumsy! “You… know it’s me? How the hell did this happen? Did some wizard Transfigure me? I know that potion wasn’t Polyjuice, and those kinds of potions don’t work on elves anyway!”

Brinks just shrugged helplessly. “You got me. I woke up just over a week ago, and you were, uh,” he gestured towards Tupper. “Looking like that. Your clothes had ripped and torn as you apparently grew, but they were on the ground around you. I covered you up as best I could, and then tried to make something you could wear. It wasn’t easy getting firewood, but at least you didn’t feel the cold while you were under.”

Tupper felt like the world was shrinking in around him, and it wasn’t just because he was taller now! How could this have happened? Petrification potions didn’t Transfigure people! They were entirely different orders of magic!

“I think I have a theory, though,” Brinks said after a moment. “I thought you were looking taller and taller during our walk out here, but I couldn’t be sure. I think that whatever spell made you elves into servants also changed your bodies. Without magic, that change was wearing off, slowly. Fifty years was more than enough time for the spell to wear off entirely! I think, actually, that elves were originally humans.”

“That’s impossible,” Tupper spluttered. “We’re nothing like you! Humans, I mean. Our magic is different in every way!”

Brinks just lifted his hands. “If you’ve got another explanation, I’m all ears. Uh, no disrespect intended.”

Instinctively, Tupper’s fat hands went to his ears. They were round! This was a nightmare!

Brinks obviously could tell he was upset, because he turned towards the tanning rack. “Here, try this on. I finished it two days ago, and it’s like the one I’m wearing. It’s not great, but it’s better than going out there naked.” He tossed over a primitive garment, and Tupper barely even noticed, letting it hit the floor. After a moment, Tupper reached down with his ugly, ugly arms, and scooped it up. He was hideous!

All his life he’d hated humans. Not Muggles specifically, because they’d known nothing about him, but every single time a wizard or witch had looked down on, judged, dismissed or denigrated him, it had been a human doing it! Now… he was one! He hadn’t been the most attractive elf, granted, but at least he hadn’t been deformed!

But the scholar in his mind railed against that description. What if Brinks was right? What if the reason there had been no elven history prior to this point was because elves had started off as humans?? Sure, he was hideous right now, but maybe it was the elven body that was the deformity!

He found himself speaking, staring into the dying embers of the fire, as if they were his very soul. “For years now, I’ve thought that we elves were our own race, separate and powerful in our own right. I saw us as oppressed and crushed under the wizarding boot, and we are… that’s why I hated you. But if you’re right, I am the very thing I hate most of all!” Suddenly, Tupper was feeling short of breath.

“No!” Brinks said harshly, coming over despite Tupper’s current state of undress. He grabbed Tupper by the shoulders and shook him. “You saved my life, and got me out of that city. You taught me how to skin and clean and cook an animal. You even started teaching me how to speak Old English. You don’t hate me, and you don’t have to hate other humans. You definitely don’t have to hate yourself.”

He looked a little awkward at the situation, but he didn’t let go until after Tupper had blinked a few times and nodded. “You’re right. I don’t know if I really am human after all, or just the victim of some horrible spell, but it doesn’t matter right now. The potion worked, and I have to figure this out on my own time. For now, we need to find out the exact year.” He fitted the garment over his head, wincing at the roughness and missing his cardigan. “Where are my clothes, anyway?”

“I put them over there,” Brinks pointed to the other side of the darkened room. Then he noticed the fire and began piling sticks onto it. Tupper followed his gesture, and found what was left of his things on one of the stone outcroppings the druids had carved. His shoes were intact, though they didn’t fit him anymore. As was his scarf, thank God. The cardigan and trousers though… were unrecoverable. His body had swollen like an overripe pumpkin and ripped them apart.

No time to worry about that, he decided, trying not to think about it. He wrapped the scarf around his neck and tried to stretch his ridiculous arms and legs a bit. It was like someone had pulled his spine out and put it back in upside down!

“I take it you saw the road outside the tor, during your week alone?”

Brinks nodded. “I even followed it a couple of times, and it leads to a town. I would have tried stealing some decent clothes from them, but the last time I showed up in an ancient Brit town, I nearly got burned alive. I figure you can speak the language, and explain things. Maybe we can even trade for what we need, if you can speak to them.”

“Probably wise,” Tupper admitted. “How long until nightfall?”

“Two hours, maybe?”

“Good. Once it gets dark, I’ll go in and steal what we need for our trip to Winchester. I should be back in a few hours, hopefully with an idea of what year it is.”

We’ll go in,” Brinks put in firmly. “When I woke up, I was pretty loopy for the first day, and you’ve got that whole new body to deal with. You’ll need a partner on this job. It won’t be as hard as you might think, though. They’ve been celebrating every night for the past 3 nights!”

“Saturnalia,” Tupper whispered. Brinks gave him a curious glance, and he shook his head. “Christmas. They celebrated Christmas for twelve full days in this era. It should make for a good distraction, at least.”

“Sounds good,” Brinks said amiably. “Maybe we can steal some beer or something too, because you could probably use a good distraction as well.”

By habit, Tupper glared at him, but it was a look without any real force behind it. The man was probably right.

-.-

The heist was just as easy as Brinks had predicted, and they managed to get in and out of Ditchling, the nearby town, without incident. It wasn’t called that yet, of course, but it would be in a thousand years or so. Tupper had been able to read some of the Saxon records. They were right on time, he’d learned gratefully. The year was 562 as planned.

There were some advantages to his horrific condition, it turned out. He could carry much more and move a lot faster. In addition, if this was the elves’ true form, all he had to do was break the spell when they got back, and the elves would slowly turn into humans. Then they’d be visually indistinguishable from witches and wizards, and could hide easily. They could even carve fake wands and pretend to be the people they’d used to serve. That brought up another concern: Tupper would have to arrange papers for them, or fake IDs as Brinks might say.

They rested for the remainder of the night, and then set off in the morning. Tupper left the potions where they were, as they would be of no use anywhere else. Brinks didn’t ask, and probably didn’t know. The snow around the place he’d buried them had been undisturbed.

They made good time, and Tupper kept tutoring Brinks on spoken Old English on the way. They could travel on the road now. They were just two tradesmen with hides to sell and rough clothing like everyone else. At this speed, they’d make it out of Sussex entirely and into Jute territory in a few days. Soppa had lived in Winchester, or did live in Winchester, and he was their best bet at finding answers.

A lot had changed in fifty years. The cobblestone road was now frequented by carts and the occasional horse and rider. Even in the dead of winter, people travelled in large numbers for some errand or other. Muggles, as best he could tell, as he’d seen no signs of a wand anywhere. Every town they passed through had high palisade walls now, as Sussex was at war with most of its neighbors. The Saxons hadn’t gotten along with many of the other Germanic settlers of the era. Despite his current condition, Tupper found the view fascinating as they passed through. He’d only studied these settlements in history books, as part of his task. Now he was actually seeing them with his own eyes! Or someone’s eyes, anyway.

One final village lay outside Winchester, which they reached late at night. Tupper agreed that they should stay inside the town, as Brinks hadn’t liked the look of the approaching storm clouds. A few hours later a snowstorm had begun, and the whole town was buffeted under the wind and heavy sheets of snow.

Fortunately by now they’d managed to steal or trade for most of the stuff they needed. They could afford rooms at the inn, or winaern, as it was known, for one night. Brinks even tried out his language skills, with mixed results.

“One thing I don’t get,” Brinks said slowly, as they both listened to the blowing wind and snow outside the window. “If elves really are humans, originally, then why aren’t there a bunch more of you? I mean at least in America, parents have plenty of kids, and those kids eventually move away and branch out in all directions. Wouldn’t elves do the same?”

“Humans don’t have the words in your heads,” Tupper reminded him grimly. “For us, service is everything. One time I asked my father much the same as you just did. He told me that parenting is a distraction from work. For he-elves and she-elves alike, taking care of a child would just get in the way. That’s why elves don’t have offspring until they feel their own ends coming, and why we only have one or two at most. Twins happen, but they’re rare. I’ve never heard of triplets or more. My father had me, trained me for a year or so, and then died. I never met my mother, but I heard she died before I was ever given clothes. I probably have a sibling out there somewhere. She would have made sure to have another child before she passed away.”

As usual when Tupper gave him some insight into elf ways, Brinks looked horrified. “The words are really that powerful? So much so that you can’t even have kids unless you’re reaching the end of your life?”

Tupper nodded. “Hogwarts is much the same, though at least we can talk to many other elves there. It broadly expands the number of potential mates available, but still we have the thoughts in our heads that tell us, ‘find and serve’. And spending more time than necessary getting acquainted with some attractive elf and arranging a family would cut into the ‘serve’ part of those words. In a way, it’s a good thing, though.”

“How could it possibly be good?” Brinks asked, aghast.

“Because if we bred like humans, or rather like we used to,” Tupper admitted, feeling his own fat, thick hands again, “in a few generations, there would be many more elves per household than before. Especially given that elves live longer than humans. Now, you’re the businessman, if in a less legal sense than most. You tell me what would happen, if you inherited, say, twelve house-elves from your father. Your estate certainly doesn’t need more than two, in this situation. What do you do?”

Brinks looked uncomfortable, and Tupper added pointedly, “and don’t say you’d give the extra elves clothing! In this example you and I have never met, so you know nothing about how the elf mind works, nor do you really care that much about us.” Tupper realized that he’d added that last bit by reflex. Brinks really did care, or as much as any wizard could, about him. Very, very strange.

“I suppose… I would try and find homes for them,” Brinks finally responded.

“No you bloody well wouldn’t!” Tupper exclaimed. “We’re not kittens, Brinks! We’re elves. Now, say it again, like I’m not a child this time.”

“If I’d never met you, and I didn’t care about elves,” he sighed. “I’d probably trade the extra elves. Sell them, really, for gold.”

“Precisely,” Tupper said with satisfaction. “We would be a resource to invest in, like a cow or a chicken. Elves are traded in our own era, but it’s extremely rare. Sometimes when a she-elf is reaching the end of her life, and has twins, she’s unable to contact her mate, or he has another offspring already. Then when she dies, her master has two elves instead of one. Usually, he accepts them both into his service, and one ends up having a child while the other dies childless. Sometimes, he gives clothes to the less effective servant, and then arranges for another wizard to take in the clothed elf. When that clothed elf eventually has offspring of their own, the offspring will belong to the second wizard. I’ve only ever heard of that happening twice, in the 1900s, and both times the wizard was paid handsomely for clothing one of his elves.”

“Jesus. Every time I learn something new about your society, it’s more horrible than the last thing. You’re right—it’s a good thing that elves don’t have many kids. I mean why raise kids if they’re gonna be nothing more than servants their whole lives? Most parents want their kids to be teachers, or lawyers or something!”

Tupper smiled reflexively at the thought of Brinks in front of a classroom full of kids. “Well, that’s why I’m here, remember? If I’m successful, I can break the cycle. Then all elves will be able to do whatever they want. Other than look pretty, that is,” he reflected sadly, looking down at his hands.

“Hey,” Brinks said quickly. “You’re fine-looking enough for a human. Besides, if new elves are born after the spell is broken, they’d be born looking human, right? They wouldn’t know they’re ugly, unless someone like you tells them!”

“You… may have a point,” Tupper admitted quietly. He certainly wouldn’t tell them, assuming he even had kids of his own someday. He leaned back and listened to the wind again. Brinks seemed to have his own thoughts to worry about, and lapsed into silence as well. Before long, they’d both drifted off.

The storm passed in the night, and by morning they were getting ready to go again. There was some kind of commotion out in the square, though, that they both could hear. “It’s not me this time,” Brinks said hastily.

“I know,” Tupper responded, peeking out the window. This was before colorless glass would be put into use, so it was just bars behind a wooden hatch for now. He’d seen his reflection in the water this morning though, and he was kind of getting used to his swollen, misshapen features.

Horsemen had come charging into the village square, armored and armed with swords and bucklers. Some had bows. Tupper didn’t recognize their livery, but they shouted orders, in Roman accents.

“What are they saying?”

“I’m not sure. The leader is making some kind of announcement. He’s saying… that Caerwynt, or Winchester, is now under the authority of the High King and Bretwalda, and that the heathens have been driven out.” Tupper felt a strange knot in his strange stomach. “This isn’t in the history books. Winchester was supposed to become a Jute colony. I don’t remember anything about a High King, and the first Bretwalda isn’t supposed to come to power for another three centuries!”

“Maybe your Nomaj historians got things wrong,” Brinks put in. “Wizards could have wiped the peoples’ memories after this, so that no one really knew what happened.”

“Yeah, that’s probably it. Wait. He’s saying that the oppressors have been killed and will be displayed within all corners of the kingdom for a full day before being disposed of.” Brinks moved up next to him, as the soldiers out there brought out three men. Bodies, really, dressed in black and each one stabbed through the heart. As one, the soldiers strung them up on posts in the town square.

They gave each other a grim look. Some of the villages they’d passed through had been the sites of a barbaric execution, now and then. In the last one, a man dressed like these corpses had, with the authority of the Saxon leaders, beheaded a soldier who had deserted, in public in front of the crowd. Then in a grisly display, he had positioned the head back up to its neck again, and given it a ritual kiss right on the mouth. Apparently that kind of ritual was common in this kingdom. Tupper’s own research was incomplete on how they treated their criminals. Most of that had been lost to history.

“Well, I could do without the body displaying, but I can’t say I’m sorry those executioners are dead,” Brinks said softly, and Tupper nodded.

“And we’re not even in the Dark Ages yet. Things get much worse before they get any better. At least for Muggles.”

They left town quickly, on their way west. Tupper overheard some of the soldiers saying that the bodies would be tossed into a swamp at the end of their display time. Again, by order of this High King. They saw those very same soldiers riding past them on the road, apparently also heading to Winchester.

-.-

The city itself was about what he expected. Tupper and Brinks navigated slowly, avoiding more patrols, though most of the people didn’t give them a second glance. When he finally found someone who knew where Lord O’Cleef lived, Tupper waved Brinks over and they got going.

When they finally got to the squat building, which was still more elaborate than the rest of the city, Tupper knocked on the wooden door. After a moment, a disheveled-looking young man opened it. “Yes?” He said in Old English, blinking in the afternoon light.

“I’m here to see Suppo? In service to Lord Kay of the Cliffs?”

“Ah, yes,” the man nodded. “Come in.”

He waited until they were inside and closed the door. He rattled the handle to make sure it was sealed. “I’m afraid my Lord is not here at the moment, but I am Suppo. What can I do for you?”

Tupper blinked at him, and then looked over at Brinks. The other man had learned enough Old English to pick up the gist of it, and seemed just as surprised. “Uh, is it true that you can write Latin, Suppo?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded vigorously. “I am one of the few learned servants within the city. The Lord can write with great precision of course, but the years have robbed him of patience, I’m afraid. He dictates his words to me, and I write them down.”

This man was clearly human as well. More support for Brinks’ theory. “Tell me, Suppo. Have you ever heard of a house-elf before? Or perhaps just an elf?”

Suppo’s eyes narrowed a bit. “Do you mean the myth? The Saxons have tales of faerie creatures called elves, but they’re just songs to entertain children. My lord doesn’t hold with such nonsense.”

“Of course not,” Tupper said hastily. “I beg your pardon for intruding, but have you heard the phrase ‘find and serve’ anywhere?”

“Of service, yes. Lord Kay has many servants. But we have little need to find anything. I’m afraid I’ve never heard ‘find and serve’, that I can recall.”

“Thank you, Suppo, for your time,” Tupper went on. “May you find fortune,” he said ceremonially, and then he and Brinks excused themselves right back out onto the street. Tupper nodded at an alley, and led the way there. “That was definitely him,” he said quickly, once they had a little privacy. “Same servant, same lord, same memoirs, but he’s a Muggle. I saw nothing in there that might show that Lord Kay is a wizard, or that Suppo is an elf. History has definitely been rewritten.”

“So what do we do now?” Brinks asked softly.

For the first time in weeks, Tupper was at a loss. “I don’t know.”

“You come with me,” a man’s voice said clearly, in English! Both Tupper and Brinks jumped like they’d been scalded, and looked down the alley.

Not five feet away, an elderly, white-bearded man was looking at them curiously. In his right hand, unmistakably, was a wizard’s wand.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2022, 01:00:18 AM by Daen »