It was a lovely, early spring morning. The sun was warming the earth and the early morning dew carried the scent of the countryside in its moisture. It was the best time to work in the garden, before the sun got too hot. If she watered her plants at day break, the sun didn’t heat the water and burn the plants and vegetables harvested with the dew on the leaves tasted fresh and sweet.
Akelorin slept at this time of day and so she was able to get more work done. She smiled. Her little man demanded a lot of attention when he was awake. She’d soon realised if she wanted to get any work done when he was awake, she had to carry him with her. She smiled again as she thought of the sling she had made to carry him snugly against her chest as she went about her chores. But this early he was in his wicker crib in the shade of the trees that bordered her garden.
Picking up her trowel, she hummed softly as she weeded her vegetable patch. A robin sat close by, its head tilted as if listening to what she was humming. Suddenly, without warning, the little bird flew off. What had startled it, Akelai wondered? A moment later she heard the sound of advancing horses. She stood and looked towards the sound. Strange, it was early for travellers to be on the road and from the dust she could see rising from the road it was obvious that the travellers, whoever they were, journeyed in large numbers. She returned to her work, hoping that they would just ride by. It wasn’t to be, for in no time at all, voices could be heard shouting from the forge. Akelai rose and walked around to the front of the cottage. Men – and a lot of them – were gathered by the drinking trough. She hadn’t had many dealings with men. The occasional lone rider would stop by to have a horseshoe replaced or buy a trinket she had made. Some had shown concern about her being out here all alone and warned some tribes of men were dangerous. She looked at the group gathered in front of the forge. Were these the Easterlings she had been warned about? They looked rough and tough – dangerous. She shivered slightly, unnerved by the presence of so many men. She had decided to go and hide in the grove of trees at the back of the cottage but before she could one of the men spotted her.
“Hey, dwarf woman, go and fetch your man! Our Captain’s horse needs shoeing.”
Akelai was scared. No matter what she said or did they would realise she was alone.
“My husband is down at the stream,” she lied, hoping they would think that he might return at any moment. “I can shoe the horse for you,” she said, walking towards the men. If she could get to the forge she would at least have a weapon.
The captain of the men turned at her words.
“Well, well, what have we here? I always heard that dwarf women were ugly as sin but you are not.” Akelai stopped as he moved towards her. Her eyes darted around, looking for a means of escape, but there was none. The company of men had moved at her words and encircled her.
“I’ve never had me a dwarf before,” he said as he pulled his belt from his trousers.
“You best leave before my husband returns,” Akelai said.
“I think not. We have just passed the stream; no dwarf is down there.”
She tried to run then but the men just laughed and pushed her from one to another.
“Bring her to the anvil,” the captain yelled above the laughter.
The men dragged her back to the anvil and pushed her against it.
“My men have never had a dwarf woman before either,” the captain said. “But I’m generous. When I have finished I will let them have you.”
When they had finished torturing her, they ran towards the cottage, laughing and shouting as they set it alight. They stood watching as the flames began to spread before they returned to their horses and rode off.
Akelai lay for some time before realising she was dying. She wasn’t sure how she knew, maybe she realised her injuries were so severe or the blood she was losing between her legs was too great, but whatever it was she knew with utmost certainty that she didn’t have much longer to live. Akelorin – she had to see him, know he was safe. It was impossible to stand or move her legs – she was just too weak but still she had to try and find him and so she slowly moved her arms and tried to drag herself towards where she had left her son.