A little girl stood next to the kitchen building. Dressed in a dark brown linen gown, she looked to be four years old, or perhaps she was just small for her age.
With her fists at her side, she shouts, “Johnny! Johnny! If you don’t give me that back, I’m gonna tell Mommy!”
A boy, perhaps two or three years older than the girl wearing brown trousers and a dark blue shirt, turns around and tosses a small rag doll back towards the girl.
“Geesh. Fine, Gertie. Here’s your precious doll.”
Gertie catches it and gives it a quick hug and stares back at her brother with an mean look.
Johnny says, “Not like you can really tell on me to Mommy anyway. She won’t be back until the day after tomorrow, remember?”
The mean look on the little girls face turned into a sad one as she said, “Oh, yeah. I miss her when she goes to the towns.”
Johnny looks at his little sister, and walks over and puts his hand on the top of her head, ruffling her dark brown hair. “Me, too, Gertie.”
Peering around to see if anyone was looking, Johnny whispers, “Now, let’s go see if we can get a sweet bun from Cook and then we can head over and watch the soldiers train.”
Smiling up at her brother, Gertie says, “I don’t care about no stupid soldiers, but I like sweet buns.”
After the pair successfully begged the Cook for a late afternoon snack, they walked over to the marshalling yard to watch the soldiers finish up with the afternoon drills. Johnny really enjoyed watching the soldiers, and hoped that soon his father would begin teaching him how to use a sword. So far, the only instruction he had received from his father regarding swordplay was, “Johnny! Don’t touch that!”
As they walked through the garrison town of Highcastle , they witnessed all of the mundane day to day activity that went on in a fort. Many of the soldiers who weren’t on duty said hello to them, as well as the people who helped keep the town running. There weren’t many children in Highcastle, as most soldiers’ families were back wherever home was for them. But Johnny and Gertrude’s father was the Captain of the garrison and with that came certain privileges. One of them was to be able to have your family stay with you.
Johnny and Gertie found a set of barrels to sit on and watch the soldiers. Johnny was intent on watching them practice a drill where the soldiers fought in pairs. It took a special skill to do so without getting in each other’s way. Uninterested in the drilling going on, Gertie found a small green beetle crawling on the barrel fascinating. Both were chewing on their sweet buns when they heard a large booming voice from behind.
“Now, who told you you were allowed to have those before dinner time?”
Johnny and Gertie both turned and smiled. Captain Alec Tiburn stood behind them, towering over them both. Close to six feet and four inches, Alec was a broad shouldered man with light blond hair and slate blue eyes. Always ready with a wide smile, he currently was feigning a disapproving look at the two children.
Through a mouthful of food, Johnny said, “Sorry Dad, but they smelled too good.”
Leaning over between the two children and whispering conspiratorially, Alec said, “Well, if you two don’t tell mom, I won’t.”
Gertie kissed her dad on the cheek, smiled, and said, “Silly Daddy. We won’t tell.”
A shout arose from the outside of the wall, and all three turned to look towards the gate. The large wooden gates opened up and inside rode a patrol of thirty men. Along with the soldiers rode a small party.
“Sergeant Harlock returns. And it seems he found something near the gap.
“Dad, is that a dwarf?!” Johnny practically shouted.
“That, or a very short and rotund man with the biggest beard I’ve ever seen. This should be interesting.”
Two soldiers from the patrol dismounted and walked over to the three members of the Tiburn family. Both of them saluted, and one said, “Sir, Sergeant Harlock has something to report from our patrol.”
“So it seems.”
The Captain began to walk towards the patrol, and turned back to his children.
“You two, be good. And no more sweet buns before dinner, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” both Tiburn children said in unison.
Gertie said, “Johnny, what’s a dwarf?”
“They’re short people with beards and the live by mountains very far away.”
“Oh. Why are they so short?”
“Uh, I don’t know, Gertie. They just are.”
“How do they get up on horses with such short legs?”
“Geesh, Gertie. You sure ask a lot of questions.”
Watching the exchange between their father and the small party, suddenly they heard their father shout out, “Squirt!”
Gertie asked, “What did Daddy say?”
With a confused look on his face, Johnny replied, “I think he just said ‘Squirt.’”
“Why would Daddy want to squirt water?”
“No… that’s not… wait a minute…”
Johnny sat for a moment, thinking about why that sounded familiar. Suddenly, he said, “Uncle Bradley!”
“Uncle who?” asked Gertie.
“Uncle Bradley. He’s Dad’s little brother. It’s kinda like Uncle Gavin, but younger than Dad.”
“I hope he’s nicer than Uncle Gavin. He’s always so grumpy.”
“I think I remember him being a lot of fun. It’s been a long time since I saw him.” Looking over at his sister, Johnny continued, “I was younger than you, even.”
“Do you think he brought us presents?” asked Gertie.
“I don’t know, Gert-“started Johnny. But another loud shout at the wall interrupted him. The gates started to open up again, and this time a single rider rode through. The man on the horse was slumped over and Johnny could see an arrow sticking out of his back.
Johnny and Gertrude watched as the man was helped off of the horse, and their father talked to him. At one point, Captain Alec turned and looked over at his two children. His face had a look on it that Johnny never had seen before on his father. It looked like his dad was scared.
Pulling on her brother’s sleeve, Gertie said, “What’s wrong, Johnny? Daddy looks sad.”
Putting his arm around his little sister, Johnny said softly “I don’t know, Gert. I don’t know.”