I was born during a time of peace. The great war was ten years gone and all that was left, that I could see, was a row of huts made out of the skulls of the mastodonts lined up facing the riverside. The tusks had been given to kings and princes as prizes of war, and the rest of their bones had been ground up and used as fertilizer. Now fishermen used the skulls as shelter from the rain and children played hidey-seek within them.
My father was steward of the city. He took care of it when the king was off on some long voyage or another, which was often. His job was to rebuild the ruins, and he put his heart and soul into it. Under his care and guidance, the city slowly erased the scars of war. My brothers and I grew up amid eternal reconstruction with the sounds of drills, hammers, pickaxes, and chisels on stone echoing day and night.
My mother was a warrior princess. She hated the walls, the confinement, the closed-in feel of the city. She loved my father though, and for him she stayed – like a bird in a cage, sitting at the highest window, staring at the sky. She was happiest when she was outside the city walls, galloping her horse across the plain with her shadow streaking behind her.
My three older brothers were copies of my mother with sunlight for hair and the blue sky dancing in their eyes. They laughed easily, caught the eye and held it. They were named after fallen heroes, but their names never weighed them down. By the time I was born, they were pages at faraway courts and so I saw them only rarely. When they came home, my mother sang and laughed all day long.
I was my father’s daughter. I had his shy smile. I was all angles, tall, and my mother told me my eyes and hair reminded her of the peat water back home; that reddish brown water that could suddenly turn to gold if the sun hit it right.
Here is how the world was when I was born:
The war was ten years over.
The orcs had nearly all been killed, and the ones that were left were nomads now, traveling with their weredogs, living in small camps and staying out of the way of men and elves.
Most all the elves had left for their far shores from whence they had come, and they had closed the door between our worlds so that we could never find them. The few who stayed behind were shadows of their former selves. They would come visit the queen and I would see them in the court gardens, standing still for hours as if listening for faraway music.
The dwarves had regained their kingdom beneath the mountain range and they surrounded it with leagues and leagues of wild forest, ruled by the ents. They formed guilds and traded with humans. We saw them regularly, for they were excellent builders.
The ents took over the task of repairing the forest. I met a few, but they were slow and dull to my childish self. I liked them though. They had my father’s immense respect.
The small people, the ones called Hobbits, kept to themselves. My brothers met them often, but I only saw one once, when he came to visit with the queen.
The riders of the plains, where my mother’s people came from, had been decimated and whole villages stood empty with just the wind whistling through. Now, nearly all the tribe fit at the mountain hall, the one guarding the tombs. They farmed rocky fields, raised long-haired cattle and sleek horses, and sang songs about the fallen. The mountain hall was my favorite place – when we visited, my mother was transformed into a whirlwind of laughter. We stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins. We rode, fished, and played hide and seek among the rocky crags. We ran barefoot, wove flowers in our hair, and gorged on sweet cakes, mare’s milk, creamy cheeses and honey. I could understand why my mother loved it so and why she was loathe to leave.
Sometimes we saw wizards. They had been forbidden to stay in any one place longer than a few years at a time, so they’d come to a city when they were needed and leave when their jobs were done. Their wizard towers had been torn down after the war, and no wizard could build one again. It suited them better, said my father. He mistrusted wizards, but was grateful for their help in raising the cities walls back up to their former glorious heights.
The Southern lands and cities had been spared, but a whole generation of men had been killed in the war. Children grew up without their fathers, women without their husbands – but it was like that all over the world – a world with few men, a world with women growing old alone. A world where sons and daughters grew up hating the enemy; a blind, numb anger that colored everything. The enemy was the winner, the loser, an orc, a soldier, a wizard, an elf or a troll. I was lucky, I grew up with both parents. I didn’t have to blame the enemy. But I was expected to marry one.