Karl was pleased that his daughter Ellen spent so much time out in the woods. That way he wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by the silly things she did. He knew he should watch her more carefully, but he had never been able to bring himself to actually do it. If he tried to control her, things just got crazy.
Ellen couldn’t speak and many thought she couldn’t hear either. She just made incomprehensible sounds. The reason some people thought she really could hear was that she had an uncanny ability to notice what was going on around her. Those who depended on the fact that she couldn’t hear and tried to play tricks on her generally were unpleasantly surprised. Her practical jokes were usually embarrassing and sometimes painful, but never fatal.
Still, she behaved so strangely when she was in town. She’d spend time down at the shrine just looking at the inscriptions on the walls. She’d sit for hours just watching people on the street. She was nosy. She showed up at places she didn’t belong. She never did any chores. In fact, Karl thought, she was completely useless as a person and he quite frankly admitted to himself and to his neighbors that he resented the cost of feeding her. But he was much too responsible, and though he’d deny it, gentle of a man to actually do her real harm, and so he just let her run wild.
But he was delighted that she mostly ran wild far out in the woods. There were plenty of dangers out there, but at least he could pretend they weren’t his problem.
This arrangement worked well until one day Ellen came into town and went straight to the village headman. She got his attention and then began drawing in the dirt with a stick. Her father, who had followed her to try to keep her out of trouble—well, let’s be honest, to keep himself out of trouble by keeping her from bothering people—thought that what she was drawing looked hauntingly familiar, but he wasn’t sure why. The village headman had no idea, however, and he roughly pushed Ellen to the ground, told Karl to “control his daughter” and stalked off.
Karl tried to grab Ellen. The last thing he needed was to get in trouble with the headman. But Ellen was too fast and she disappeared into the woods. Karl chose the path of least resistance. He could always hope she would disappear again into the woods. He forgot entirely about the hauntingly familiar figures Ellen had drawn in the dirt.
Karl couldn’t read. Neither could the headman. In fact, nobody in the village could read. To them the figures on the walls of the village shrine were just strange religious symbols. They knew the shrine was very old, but nobody really cared. One just went there to offer sacrifices to the gods, though nobody knew why. They were sure the figures had sacred power, but they had no idea what they were, or what they were supposed to depict.
In the woods around there were ruins of other buildings, but nobody knew much about them either. They were just part of the landscape. Ellen had once led her father to one of those ruined buildings outside the village. She tried to point out things on the wall to him. He’d told her she was very silly, and that there was no point wasting his time.
In fact, Karl thought whoever had built the stone buildings must have been pretty silly themselves. Why go to that much work for shelter when a few tree branches and some woven grass would do just as well. It was probably right that his silly daughter spent her time in all those silly piles of rock. He had left her there and returned to the village, never noticing her look of disappointment.
For several days nobody saw Ellen at all. Karl was so pleased not to have to deal with her that he didn’t really get that worried about what might have happened to her. Surely she’d reappear in time.
Ellen ran quickly through the woods to one of her caches of supplies. She had a hunting bow and a knife there, really all she needed to survive. She didn’t understand the problem. Did they imagine she would like about a thing like that? She was sure she had the symbols right. Why hadn’t they gotten her message. Over the 20 years of her life she had tried many things, including trying to move her lips the way other people did, but she’d always thought that when she drew the symbols people would understand her. But they didn’t.
Silly villagers, she thought. And silly me. Why didn’t I realize they never used the symbols themselves?
She ran through the woods for hours. Through the river gorge to the north ran a major trade route. At this point it didn’t belong to any country, king, or noble. It was considered wilderness. The caravans traveled with guards. Ellen had observed them many times before. She knew there were scraggly and poor caravans whose guards were dangerous themselves. She had barely escaped from contact with some of them before. But there were others whose clothes were rich. She had practiced writing the symbols she saw on the walls. It was with a caravan guard that she had finally made the connection between the symbols, the pictures, and events in her life.
So now she went looking for a caravan and the guards. She’d have to pick one carefully, because she didn’t want to be captured and enslaved. But with the right caravan, she might get the guards to come and help her deal with what she had found in the woods. It would be good for them too.
It was a full days travel on foot to the cliffs above the caravan road. Horses could make it much faster. When she arrived at the place where she usually climbed down the cliffs she found that the path was held. She should have thought of this. The people she had found near her own village would be planning to raid caravans, and this was the one place one could get down to the road easily. It would be impossible to sneak down the cliff where she had planned to.
There were other places to climb, but she had never done so. She moved perhaps a mile further along the road, going downstream. She knew from the guards that they were near where the canyon came to an end and the road moved into territory owned by a king and patrolled by his troops. She felt her first true fear as she faced the cliff. She hadn’t been afraid when she found the bandits. She hadn’t been afraid when her father had tried to catch her. She hadn’t even been afraid when she saw the path blocked. She had never climbed down a cliff like this.
She very nearly didn’t make it. Several times she came close to falling, and there wouldn’t be any second chances. She was so tired when she reached the bottom of the cliff that she couldn’t do anything but just lie there and try to recover. And then she fell asleep.
She was wakened by a man in armor. He was poking her with a stick. She jumped up and tried to reach her weapons, but he knocked her to the ground. It was the first time she had been caught asleep by an enemy, and this guard clearly proved to be an enemy.
It was lucky for her that the caravan was moving. These were the sort of merchants and guards who would not treat a girl in their midst well at all. But since they were moving they didn’t have time to do anything except throw her into a cage. She was not the only person in there. Apparently this caravan included slaves in its cargo.
The other women in the cage tried to talk to her, but she couldn’t hear them, and she could get nothing from the movement of their lips. She tried drawing symbols on the floor of the cage, but they just thought she was crazy and moved to the other end of the cage. Ellen thought if they got together they could break out of the cage. Prepared, she was sure she could break away from these guards. But the silly women weren’t cooperating.
Finally she scratched symbols for “ambush ahead” into the floor of the cage as carefully as she could. One of the guards looked at the symbols, but the silly man either couldn’t read or didn’t care what some girl had to say.
So the caravan was completely surprised by the ambush. The other women huddled at the back end of their cage, but Ellen watched carefully for any opportunity. The opportunity came when one of the guards was hit by an arrow and fell against the bars of the cage. Ellen was able to grab his dagger and cut the ropes that held the door. In a moment she was outside and grabbing a bow. It was heavier than her hunting bow, but she was able to pull it, and she started to shoot, while carefully and frequently checking behind her.
She moved slowly toward the cliff and she used her arrows against the attackers since it was clear that they had the advantage. She found these warriors much easier to hit than the game she had hunted in the forest, and most of them were not that well armored. If she had given her full effort, she might well have made the difference for them between victory and defeat. As it was, she killed the last of the attackers just after he had killed the last of the caravan guards.
What was left was a small number of the merchants and their servants, none of them armed. They huddled together and waited to see what this apparition from the forest would do to them. Silly people! Some of them didn’t even realize she was the girl who had been captured just an hour or so earlier.
She tried to release the women from the cage, but they were afraid to move as well. Silly women! They didn’t know who to trust even though she hadn’t given them any reason to fear her that she could see.
She tried to get the caravan folks to understand that they could go ahead and get moving, but they didn’t get the idea. So she sat on a ledge just above the road and watched them. She hoped another caravan would come along. She still wanted to talk to some real guards, and she knew that there were more bandits than had been involved in the attack.
It was past noon before anyone more showed up and it was a small patrol of guards. She had no idea where from. The lady who led the guards tried to motion her to come down off her ledge, but she kept her bow in hand and motioned for the guard to come to her.
When the lady came up to the ledge she tried to talk, but of course Ellen couldn’t understand her. Ellen motioned as though she wanted to write, and the lady produced a pencil and some paper. It was nice to deal with someone who didn’t just think she was silly! She slowly wrote down the basics about the ambush and then she drew a map showing where the bandits had their large camp.
After that things were easy. The guards hunted the bandits, and they were very skilled. They also released the women and promised to escort them back to town. They arrested the caravan merchants because they had taken the women from their town.
When it was all done, they returned to Ellen’s village. Ellen wrote a question for everyone. “Why is everyone so silly?” she asked. “The villagers ignore me, the caravan guards ignore my warning, the women think I’m dangerous. I think I hate these villagers.”
“Things look silly when you don’t understand them,” said the lady. “What’s really silly is when you won’t learn.”
(This story was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Silly.)