(Third Rate Romance – Not) Heartshorn and The Making of Talon
I can’t think of any humorous romances that I’ve had. Disappointing ones, yes. Ones that shouldn’t have happened, maybe. So, instead, I’m offering up some of my fiction. This is the beginning of what looks like it will shape up to be a novel.
The Making of Talon, Coming to Heartshorn part one.
The last time anyone saw Friedrich or Ingrid Zimmerman and their ten-year old son, Ludwig, was on a warm Sunday in late May 1856. The family was seen heading into the forest under the Old Castle with packs. Frau Schmidt tried to talk to Ingrid, but the plump little woman just shook her head and followed Friedrich. Herr Meier had just asked Friedrich to build a hope-chest for his daughter Berta. Friedrich had agreed, turned, called to his family and calmly walked out of town and into the forest. Herr Meier watched the tall thin man with his plump wife and skinny child with disbelief. He called after Friedrich, but the man just waved his hand and continued into the forest.
When night fell and the family did not return neighbors became worried. After all, there were strange things in the forest and something bad might have happened. The next day a search party left and returned just before dusk to tell Herr Meier that they followed the family’s track until they walked into an impenetrable thicket. When even their axes could make no dent in the brush, the searchers returned to Baden with the news that the family was gone. A small area of Baden mourned the loss of the Zimmerman family and mothers warned their kinder to stay away from the Black Forest.
“Vati, where are we going?” Ludwig asked looking up at his father.
“Quiet, Ludwig,” his father answered, “we are almost to the entrance. There might be a guard.”
Friedrich held his son close and motioned for his wife to follow. They approached a dense thicket at the base of a cliff. Friedrich reached out with his walking stick and struck the thicket twice, then waited a beat and struck it three times more. Then he stepped back.
The thicket rustled and, with a slight tearing sound, pulled apart displaying a darkness that could be a cave. Out of the darkness came a soft breeze with a warm scent of Christmas gingerbread. Ludwig strained eagerly to enter the dark space.
“Hold son, wait a bit more. Wait until you see a light in the darkness; then we go in.”
“Friedrich,” whispered Ingrid pulling at his shirt, “why are you doing this? This will lead to no good, I can tell. Please come away, let’s return home.”
Just then Ludwig spotted a small circle of light in the darkness. He lunged forward. “Vati, look! I see the light!” then tore out of his father’s grip.
Friedrich lurched forward reaching for his son then he and Ingrid ran after Ludwig.
“Ludwig!” Ingrid cried, “come back mein Liebchen, please.”
Ingrid took four steps into the darkness and the thicket closed behind her. There was no where to go but forward, toward the light that Ludwig found so inviting. Ingrid crossed herself and followed, not wanting to be alone in the darkness.
The sudden darkness made Ludwig stop in mid-run. “Vati? Where are you?”
“Here, son, behind you,” Friedrich said, “Just stand still while I light a torch.”
In the dark, the light ahead seemed very small and no detail or shadow showed within it. The smell of ginger gradually dissipated and there was silence and the small light in the distance.
“You brought a torch?” Ingrid asked. “Did you know this would happen? Friedrich, why are we here?”
Friedrich shrugged out of his pack and set it on the ground. By feel only he opened his pack and carefully felt around. He pulled some things out, squatted down and laid them out in front of himself. After a moment, Ludwig and Ingrid heard him striking stone against flint.
A spark jumped and soon grew to a small flame on the floor of the tunnel. Friedrich touched a twig to the small flame until it caught then touched the burning twig to a stick and finally to the torch he’d pulled from his pack. Once the torch was burning well, the family could see they were in what appeared to be a tunnel cut out of stone.
“Ludwig, come here to me, son,” Ingrid said
Friedrich stopped the boy and handed him the torch.
“Stay close beside me,” he said.
They walked back to the thicket where Friedrich took the torch from his son. With his free hand he touched the tangled plant life. It was so tangled together, he couldn’t get a finger under even one little twig. As they watched, the individual twigs, branches and leaves merged together forming a stone hard wall seemingly inlaid with bits of plant material.
Ingrid grabbed the torch from Friedrich and applied it to the thicket. The flame caressed the wall, spread up and out a few inches then died back. Friedrich took the torch from her numb fingers before it could flame out.
“Friedrich,” Ingrid whispered, “what have you done? How will we get home?”
Friedrich patted his wife on her shoulder. “Muti, don’t worry yourself. This is only a cave and we’re just going to explore.”
Ingrid stamped her foot and beat against the thicket wall. “This is no ordinary cave, it is witchcraft or magic! Why have you brought us here? How did you know the thicket would open up? I want to go home, now. There is dinner to be made and you, husband, have a hope chest to make for Herr Meier.”
Friedrich bent and held open his pack, while holding the torch in his right hand. “There is no going home, wife. Can you not see? The path back to home is closed. Now hush and come with us. This cave is perfectly natural.” He turned to Ludwig, “Son, put this stuff back in my pack and help me on with it. We are going on an adventure.”
Ingrid gasped and reached for Ludwig who easily avoided his mother’s hand. “Ludwig, Liebchen, please, come with Muti. We’ll find our way back home. Leave your father to his crazy schemes.”
The boy carefully stowed the items back in his father pack then helped him put it on. “No, Mutti,” he said, “I’m going with Vati. I’ve never been on an adventure.”
“Ingrid, stop this. I watched someone open the thicket a fortnight ago. The next day I brought a torch did just as they did. It opened. I stepped in but dropped my walking stick and it fell back into the thicket and the thicket didn’t close all the way. I explored a little way then came back. That’s all.”
“Who did you see? It was the Knef boys, wasn’t it? They’re always in trouble.”
“No, dear, it wasn’t the Knef boys. It was no one from our neighborhood.”
“Then it was a gypsy or a thief! We should not be here. It’s dangerous!”
“It wasn’t a gypsy or thief, Ingrid. It was a dwarf,” Friedrich said struggling into his pack with Ludwig’s help.
“A dwarf, are you mad, Friedrich? Dwarves do not exist! They are just tales to scare little children.”
“I don’t think so. He looked just like the dwarves old cousin Humfried described to me. He was short, no taller than Ludwig but with the body of a man, big nose, bushy red eyebrows and a long red beard, down to the bottom of his belly. And he was dressed in leather, carrying a pick. He had a miner’s lamp on his head, too.”
“Your cousin Humfried was crazy, Friedrich, always going on about dwarves and dragons and elves. Please, Friedrich, get us out of here and let us go home.”
“As you saw,” Friedrich said motioning to the closed thicket behind her, “there is no going home from here. We have to go forward or sit and die waiting for someone to come along and open it again for us. I won’t sit and let death come to me. Ludwig and I are going on. You may come with us or not. It’s your choice.”
Friedrich and Ludwig started walking toward the distant light taking their light with them. Ingrid ran to keep up with them.
“Look, Ludwig,” Friedrich said moving closer to the walls of the tunnel. “Keep your eyes open, Ludwig. Perhaps we will see where the dwarves mined the tunnel. Maybe they missed something and we’ll grab a nugget of gold or maybe some silver or even copper.”
Ludwig looked closely where his father pointed. Then he noticed something else.
“Vati, look over here. This just looks like broken rock. Like someone took a big hammer and hit a boulder. See? It cracked apart in three pieces.”
Behind the two, Ingrid moved closer, too. She peered over her husband’s shoulder. “Yes, the hammer of God. Look up, follow your boulder up, you’re only seeing the lower third of the original stone. See? Up there where the light barely reaches? This boulder broke off a much larger piece, a piece at least as big as a small kirk. No dwarf could have struck that rock. Friedrich, this is not good. We defy God and He will punish us! Please, my husband, take us back.”
Friedrich turned to Ingrid put his hands are her shoulders. “We are not going back. I’m sorry, Love, I should not have brought you with us. I didn’t want you to worry when we didn’t return. You saw the thicket close behind us. The only way I returned the last time was because I kept the thicket from closing by putting my walking stick in it before it closed all the way. Then I could push through it. But it closed completely this time. There is nothing holding even a little space for us to force our way through. We can only go forward. Now stay with us. We are strong and we will find our way to the other light.”
“Yes, Muti,” Ludwig said, “listen to Vati. He will protect us. He knows where we are going.”
“No, son,” Friedrich corrected, “I don’t know where we are going. I never got this far before. But I’m sure we are safe for now. We can still see the light in the distance and though it is not moving, the air is fresh and cool. Let’s move on.”
Ingrid sobbed, “More like it is the entrance to Hell. I don’t like this Friedrich, something bad is going to happen, I just know it!”
“Ingrid, hush! You’ll scare the boy.” Friedrich held his wife close, her head barely reaching his chin. He gave her a gentle squeeze and pulled her with him as he walked on toward the light.
As they started off again Ludwig squeezed in between his mother and father. The tunnel narrowed enough that only two could walk together and though she tried to keep Ludwig with her, he clung to his father. Ingrid followed almost on their heels looking from side to side expecting something to jump out at them. Instead, one moment her men were directly ahead of her, the next they were tumbled on the ground off to the side, the torch guttering just beyond them.. Then Ingrid felt the floor beneath her left foot give way and she fell to land next to her husband and son.
“Ludwig, get the torch before it dies,” Friedrich said rising and turning to see where he’d fallen from and ran into a wall.
Ludwig picked up the torch and held it high but still it did not burn well. “Vati, what’s wrong with the torch?”
He brought the torch over to his father. “I don’t know, son, maybe it hit a puddle of water or some dirt fell on it.” He reached down and gave Ingrid a hand up. “Let’s keep going. Now where is that light?”
“Friedrich, what just happened? I was behind you, there was no step or anything, you were ahead of me, then you were off to the side as if you’d fallen. Then I fell. What was that?”
As the family regained their feet they all felt a pull to their left as if the ground sloped beneath them.
“I don’t know, Ingrid. And I can’t see the light.” Friedrich turned to his left and saw, in the distance, a light.
“This way,” he said. “It’s this way. We must have gotten turned around.”
Friedrich took the torch from Ludwig and held it up, hoping for more light. But wherever they were, it drank in the light from the torch like the ground sucks up water at summer’s end. They walked side-by-side barely able to see their feet, but not what they walked on. There were no walls beside them. No sound echoed their footsteps. When they stopped, the air quickly became hot and poor. The only thing to do was keep moving.
The walked no more than one hundred steps when the unseen floor dropped from beneath their feet, throwing them down again. Ingrid hit her head against something hard while Friedrich twisted and broke his left leg. Ludwig, being young and resilient, only scrapped his knee.
“Vati? Muti?” Ludwig shook his parents. His mother lay in a heap like a bird fallen from the sky when hit by a hawk, his father lay straight but his right leg was twisted. Ludwig turned and looked behind him, there was the light.
Ludwig turned back to his father, “Vati, wake up. It is light in here. I can see the way out of the cave.” Ludwig pulled on his father’s arm.
“Ow! Stop, Ludwig,” Friedrich said, “My shoulder hurts.”
He tried to turn to his right to sit up, then gasped and fell back down. After a minute, Friedrich spoke again, “I think I broke my leg, too. Where’s your mother? I’ll need her help.”
Ludwig looked over at his mother. She rolled her head to one side. “She’s starting to wake up, Vati. She hit her head. There’s blood, too.”
Friedrich rolled to his left side and, clenching his teeth and holding his breath, got his right leg balanced on his left. Then, dragging himself with his left arm he moved closer to his wife. He saw she was trying to wake.
“Muti, dear, please wake. I need your help.”
“I can help, Vati,” Ludwig said. “What do you need?”
“I need to put a splint on my leg,” Friedrich said. “And your Muti needs water. Do you still have your water?”
“Yes, but where is yours, Vati?”
“I fell on the skin when I broke my leg. It’s empty. And I can’t see Muti’s skin either. Give her a sip of yours, Ludwig.”
Ludwig took the skin from his belt and poured a little into his mother’s mouth. She coughed and groaned.
“What happened?” she asked.
“We fell again, Muti. But now we’re close to the light. Vati says he broke his leg and needs your help.”
Ingrid sat up quickly and just as quickly lay back down. “Oh my head.”
“Do you want more water, Muti?” Ludwig asked. “Can I help you sit up? Please, Muti, Vati needs your help.”
Ingrid patted her son’s hand. “Give me a moment, son. I’ll be alright. I knew this was a bad idea, now I have to fix it.”
Ingrid took another sip of her son’s water then slowly sat up. She raised her hand to her head and felt a sticky wetness. She looked at her hand and saw the blood and sighed. “And I am bleeding. What more could happen? A bear decide he needs his den? Or maybe a dragon will think we’re after his treasure. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
She looked up and saw her son looking at her with doubt in his eyes.
“There’s no bear here, Muti. And no dragon, either. Besides, I don’t see any treasure so why would a dragon care?”
“Never mind, Ludwig, Muti’s just tired. Now let me see to your Vati.”
Friedrich was lying next to Ingrid, his head resting on his left arm. His eyes were closed, his breathing rapid and shallow. Ingrid touched his cheek. It was hot and dry.
“Friedrich? Talk to me husband.”
Friedrich opened his eyes. “Ingrid, my love, I’m afraid I won’t be walking much for a while. My leg is broken.”
Ingrid looked down her husband’s body. Just above the knee of his top leg, she could see a white bone piercing his trousers. Immediately Ingrid forgot her own injuries. She crawled around to look closer at his leg. Then she looked for the light. She could see were trees outside.
“Ludwig,” she said, “Go out of the cave and bring back a straight stick. One as long as you whole arm.”
While the boy hurried off, Ingrid shrugged out of her pack, stopping twice when darkness threatened to close in on her. She finally got it open and pulled out lengths of cloth, then found the knife so carefully packed inside. Using the knife, she cup Friedrich’s left pant leg from the ankle up to where the bone poke out. Then she carefully cut the cloth around the bone and up another two inches. Finally, she cut the trouser leg around his thigh until it was loose from the rest of the pant.
Ludwig came back with a branch as long as his arm and almost as thick. “Here, Muti, use this.”
Ingrid looked at the branch, then at Ludwig. “Son, how did you get this?”
“A man helped me,” he said pointing back towards the entrance. “There’s a man out there. He said he’d come in and help if you wanted.”
Ingrid thought for a moment. A man she didn’t know. But she was in a land she didn’t know. Her husband hurt and she couldn’t set that leg by herself and she just about passed out with every move she made. What if he was a thief, or worse, a murderer? But she couldn’t set Friedrich’s leg. And the darkness was closing in again.
Ingrid nodded to Ludwig, “Yes, we need his help. Go get the man.”
Then Ingrid slumped down on the ground.
© FMSeal 2010