The Fertile Lands
The Old Woman and the Deep Water
An old woman was walking along the beach. She was short and her hair sparse, thin, and gray. Over the warm sand she walked with bare feet, her toes sinking into the damp sand. Her steps were labored, a result of age, but she enjoyed the feeling of the sand between her toes and the memories that came with it. She paused and looked out over the Deep Water. The water was dark and cool with occasional white waves rushing gently on the shore; the sand was warmed by the afternoon light. The juxtaposition was comforting and familiar. She lowered herself slowly to the ground and sat in the surf. She turned to look behind her at the dense forest hiding the fetid swamps and shuddered. She turned back to the waves and endless sky, sighed, and closed her eyes.
The sky was dark and the seas rolled violently. The dinghy shook and creaked with every wave. Both men aboard were rocked side to side and spray lashed them ceaselessly. Light streaked across the sky and illuminated the futility of their situation. The older sailor was brawny and gaunt; his features were pulled taut from exhaustion and he was tossed like a rag doll with every wave. His clothes were soaked, his hair was slick with sea water, and his boots filled and heavy. The other sailor was barely a man. He had no hair on his face like the other; in its place, he had several pockets of puss and a greasy complexion. In the storm, though, none of that mattered, he thought: none of the teasing he had endured in his life would matter beyond the night if he could not survive and he knew their chances were slim.
Another streak of light tore through the downpour and both men simultaneously saw the rocks dead ahead! In the darkness after the flash both men sprang into action, but they knew it was too late. With another burst above the boat lurched to a sudden halt and in that moment both men were lost.
The young man awoke in a stupor on a beach with his father next to him. He examined himself and his unconscious father but found only scratches and a few bumps and bruises on their heads. An hour after he awoke, his father sat up confused. Together they sat on the beach and contemplated their miraculous survival. Neither man remembered how they came to the beach nor could they fathom how they arrived together. Grateful, they embraced and walked along the beach following the day star as it moved to the west and vanished beyond the trees on the horizon.
That night they sheltered under the stars and ate two shellfish they caught on their walk. In the pre-dawn, a figure approached from the forest. The old man was on guard and noticed the little woman; he woke his son quietly. The woman was only half as tall as the two men and hobbled across the sand.
“If you need shelter, follow the beach west until the Ausa turns north; follow it and you will find what you seek.” Her voice was scratchy and quiet, yet there was a comfort in the way she spoke and carried herself. She was clearly not a threat to the two men, even in their injured state, as she lumbered slowly about and that was encouraging to them.
The father asked the woman, “Where did you come from halfling? Did you see how we came to be here?” He was certain she would not have any valuable information, but he was desperate to know how he and his son survived.
The old woman chuckled quietly, “I came from far away, a long time ago. But I think that was not what you mean to know. I can not say how you came to this beach, but does that truly matter anyway? Is it not more important to know that you are alive and in fair health? And with your boy, too,” she trailed off.
The men exchanged a long, grateful look and the old man asked the woman, “West along the beach and north by the river?”
“Verily, that will lead you to shelter and work if you desire.” What that, the two men left their camp with the growing light of the rising day star at their backs. The old woman remained and sat on the shore watching the storm clouds retreating beyond the horizon to the southeast.
A couple of she-elves wandered the beach, hands held. They were a young couple, by elvish terms though they had already lived longer than a single lifespan of most other races. Both of them were tall and fair with long, pointed ears. One had long, blonde hair the golden-white color of a cloud kissed by daylight and wore a flowing gown of greens and browns, fine lace and cloth. The other had auburn hair pulled back in intricate and tight braids; she carried a longbow and a quiver on her back and on either hip a dagger and shortsword sheathed in plain leather scabbards matching her simple leather armor and dark green tunic.
The two had planned this trip for years and finally they could enjoy their company away from the boring routine of their bog-village. Even Savoly was tiring after a few decades, but something about the Deep Water made them feel renewed.
In the late-evening light they made camp and a fire on the beach near a small inlet of water leading back to the forest behind them. They prepared dinner over the fire and lay talking until all the stars were visible in the cloudless night. The sound of the surf mingled with their occasional laughter in the otherwise silent night.
Behind the elves, and without their knowledge, several small, dark shapes started to move at the edge of the forest. Still oblivious to the growing threat, the elves continued to talk and laugh.
Nine kobolds were spreading out from the forest. They were no taller than a halfling and their bipedal reptile form was perfect for lurking in the forests and swarming on prey with crude spears and bone knives. The kobolds made their way down the length of beach to their quarry and made it within 100 feet before they paused and waited for their attack signal.
Several yaps broke through the stillness and there was a sudden flurry of action.
The elves were wholly caught off guard but did their best to arm themselves while rising to their feet. The blonde elf grabbed the shortsword from the right hip scabbard as the other drew her bow and nocked an arrow but in the seconds it took to stand and turn, all they could see was a cloud of settling sand. They paused, ready for whatever might come including the kobolds they recognized hearing.
As the sand slowly settled, no attack came. When the air was still again, the pair cautiously investigated. First they found three kobolds broken and crushed into the sand. Their limbs were splayed out from being crushed under immense weight and the pair of elves looked to the sky and the forest searching for the cause. They continued walking the beach in the starlight and found four halves of kobolds in pools of blood not far from their crushed compatriots. A few feet further down from those, they found two lower-bodies that appeared to have been bitten in half. Lastly, they found two abandoned spears and hasty tracks leading back to the woods.
Still nervous, the pair walked uneasily east along the beach searching for clues as to what happened. At first, they held their weapons ready for another ambush; after an hour or so of walking, they returned their weapons and each held the other’s hand. Slowly daylight started to peak over the horizon and they started to talk again; laughter would still take more time.
Hours from their campsite and hidden in a dense patch of mangroves the she-elves found a small, dilapidated cottage. As they neared it, they stopped abruptly. Where the water met the beach, only a few hundred feet away, the she-elves saw a solitary figure sitting and looking south over the Deep Water.
It was the figure of an old halfling woman.