Torvi's Gift

Torvi strode with purpose towards the Winton farm, a leather-wrapped parcel tucked under one arm.


The last time she had been here, it was to seek answers from young Cardamon’s family.  To hope against hope that she and her companions could locate the missing girl.  The possible death of a child hung heavy on Torvi’s heart, and she had been motivated to find the child, if she lived.  A small smile crossed her lips as she remembered finding young Cardamon alive, if not whole.  Her smile turned downward into a scowl as she thought about what that bastard, Torgen the mill-wright, had done.  Torgen had amputated the little girl’s arm at the elbow and planted it in Torvi’s rented room in a failed attempt to frame Torvi and the carnival newcomers as murderers.  She shook her head to clear the anger.  Torgen had gotten what was his due, and Torvi enjoyed watching every minute of his tortured, agonizing death.


Franklin Winton, Cardamon’s father, was sitting outside his home, sharpening what appeared to be a plow blade on a spinning stone wheel. When the carnies had first met him, he was a broken man.  The disappearance of his daughter had shaken him to his core.  He feared the worst in this brutal, fallen world.  Three other young girls had gone missing in the last year, never to be found. He had confessed to feeling powerless to help his daughter and had fallen into a deep depression.  But he, at least, was functional.  His wife had taken to her bed, paralyzed from grief.


The Franklin Winton she saw before her now could have been a different man entirely.  Gone was the soul-deep grief and fear.  Gone was the malaise that seemed to hover around him like a fog.  Now, he moved with a lightness of step and smiled broadly as he saw Torvi approach.  He threw down his plow blade and rushed towards the Targ woman. He embraced the giantess with a ferocity that almost made her lose her balance. 


“Thank the dark!” he exclaimed as he released the embarrassed Targ.  “I was afraid you folk would move on with me getting the chance to thank you!”  Emotion overcame him and he wiped unshed tears from his eyes.  “When Mayor Zek brought Cardi back, I thought it was a dream.  Then he told Lyla and I that we had you and your friends to thank for getting our daughter back.”


He turned his head and shouted back to the house.  “Lyla!  Come see who it is!”


“That’s not really nec-“ Torvi began, but Franklin quickly cut her off. 


“Nonsense!” he said as the front door opened.  Lyla rushed forward, wiping her hands on her apron as she did.  Her greying hair was pulled up in a bun, but fell loose as she quickly crossed to Torvi.  She fell to her knees in front of the young warrior and began to sob.  “Thank you, milady!  Thank you!  The Dark Mother told me a gift from the dark would come, but I didn’t believe her, to my shame!”


Torvi hadn’t expected this and was embarrassed by the adulation.  She bent down and gently pulled Lyla up by the arm.  “Please, please, stand up.”  Lyla stood and wiped her face, but the joyful tears continued to fall.”


“I was happy to help,” Torvi stated.  “As I told your husband, I lost my daughter when she naught but three months old.  I could not sit by idle and let another child be lost, not if I could help it.”

“Can you stay for supper?” Franklin asked as he looked at his wife for agreement.  She nodded happily.  “I’ve got plenty of food on,” Lyla said.  She grinned through her tears.  “Even for a lady your size.”


Torvi shook her head, and the beads and bones woven in her long brown hair rattled slightly.  “We are pulling up stakes and moving on right away,” Torvi explained.  “But I wanted to come out and give Cardamon a gift before we shipped out.”


Torvi took the parcel out, carefully unwrapped it and held it before the girl’s parents.  Lyla’s eyes went wide and she looked up at the Targ.  “Is that…is that…hers?”


“No, ma’am,” Torvi said.  “Not hers.”


Franklin nodded in sudden understanding, and a grin of satisfaction crossed his face.  He waved his arm in invitation.  “She’s out back.”


Torvi found the young girl sitting in the grass behind her house.  After she was discovered alive but mutilated, the townsfolk had showered the young girl with gifts in sympathy.  She sat in a beaten down circle of grass surrounded by dolls of every shape and size.  She moved the dolls around a bit with her left hand, but her heart didn’t seem to be in it.  Her right arm ended in a stump at the elbow.  It was wrapped in thick bandages.  Torvi saw that the right arm moved almost involuntarily, as if Cardamon kept trying to use it unconsciously. 


Torvi studied her for a moment, taking in the scene.  Her own daughter would have been about Cardamon’s age, now.  Watching her made Torvi’s heart feel like it was collapsing in upon itself.  She imagined her own daughter playing in the snow, chasing other children around the bone fires, or helping skin the giant cave bears.  All of those moments had been stolen from them both.  She would never see her daughter’s belly swell with child, or declare to the shaman that she approved of her handfasting.  It was all lost.  Bitterness and resentment swelled up in her again, threatening to overwhelm her with grief.  It wasn’t fair.  It was too—




The sweet, high-pitched little voice interrupted her grief as she looked down.  Cardamon was smiling up at her and holding up a doll.


“Would you put Miss Penelope over on the other side of the circle?  She’s been very naughty,” the young girl said.


A chuckle erupted from Torvi, despite herself.  The tide of sadness ebbed as she looked down at the straw-stuffed, cloth doll.  She took the doll and nodded solemnly.  “She does look naughty, doesn’t she?”


Torvi carefully placed the doll in the appointed spot and sat down on the ground next to Cardamon.


“She’s new,” Cardamon explained.  “Some of the people in town just gave her to me.  She doesn’t know all the rules yet.”


“I see,” Torvi said with a grin.  She waved her hand around the circle.  “And the others?  How are they fitting in?”


Cardamon shrugged.  “They’re very proper young ladies.”


“Speaking of gifts,” Torvi said, as she laid the parcel on the ground in front of her, “I have one for you, also.”


She pulled the leather back to reveal a perfectly preserved ulna and radius of a forearm, complete with hand and finger bones at the end.  They shone a bright white in the mid-day sun.


Cardamon glanced quickly at the stump of her right arm and back at the bones.  She saw right away that they were too big to be hers.


“What is it?”


Torvi pointed at the bones.  “In the land I come from, a wintery land called Norlund, we call this a talisman.”


“Tal-iss-man,” Cardamon frowned in concentration as she repeated the strange new word.


“Yes.  A talisman.  When a Targ warrior defeats a foe in battle, she will often take a piece of the foe’s body as a trophy, a talisman,” Torvi explained.  “She keeps that with her afterwards, and she gains her enemy’s power.”


“Mayor Smotters let me chop off Torgen’s arm before they killed him,” Torvi stated.  “This is it.  Do you remember that strange, bald little fellow that was with me?  Sympos?”


Cardamon wrinkled her nose in disgust at the memory.  “He smelled bad.”


Torvi smiled.  “That’s him.  He has bugs, and worms and animals that can eat the flesh down to the bone.  He cleaned the flesh off of this for me, and even used wire to keep the finger bones connected to the arm bones.”


Torvi leaned closer to the little girl, her face serious.  “The man who hurt you is dead, Cardamon.  Dead.  He can’t hurt you ever again.”  She pointed to the perfectly-preserved bones.  “This is all that is left of him.  The rest of him was burned, and even his bones were ground to powder.”


“He meant to hurt you, to kill you,” Torvi continued.  “But he failed.  He’s dead now, and you still live.  You beat him, Cardamon.  Never forget that.  You beat him.  You won.”


The Targ warrior stood and stretched.  “Keep this talisman with you.  Let it remind you that you paid a price for your life, but also that your foe is dead and his power is yours now.  He has no more power over you.  Ever.”


Cardamon looked up at Torvi and gave her a solemn nod.  “I understand.  Thank you.”


“I have to go now, the carnival is heading out,” Torvi said.  “But we’ll be back this way in a few months.  I’ll stop by for a visit, if that’s okay.”


She gave a smile that melted Torvi’s heart.  “Sure!  I’d like that.”


Torvi started to leave, but turned back at the last moment.  “I – I – could I ask a favor?  When it’s just the two of us, could I call you Brunhilde?”


“Okay,” Cardamon said, the confusion evident in her voice.


Torvi simply smiled, nodded, and walked away.