We rode in silence for most of the morning. I don’t know precisely what the orphan was thinking, but I was thinking on him, or rather her. I am well aware that one is just as likely to come upon a female orphan as a male one, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that if my young friend had lied about being a boy, then it was just as likely that she had lied about being an orphan.
It was just about time for elevenses when I spied two snowshoe hares sitting beside the road munching on a few sprigs of green which poked out of the snow.
“Hop down,” I told the orphan.
“I want you to get a rock and bean one of those hares,” said I. “If you can kill it, we can eat.”
“I don’t know that I can hit it.”
“It can’t be more than thirty feet away. Any boy could hit it with a rock from this distance.”
“I don’t know…”
“Come on boy.”
The child slid to the ground and then picked up a likely looking stone from a small pile not too far from her feet and hefting it back, launched it in the general direction of the hares. She didn’t have much heft, and with the lob she put on the rock, if it had hit the hare, it would have done nothing more than make it angry. Of course there was no chance of that, since the course of the missile was off to the right by a good thirty degrees. The hares started and took off over the snow, disappearing among the trees.
I dropped down to the ground and pointed my finger accusingly. With my finger pointed and my back stiff, I cut an intimidating figure. One can often get what one wants simply by being intimidating. I know of a few warriors, warriors of great renown mind you, who in truth had never done much warrioring at all. They simply struck an intimidating pose when the time was ripe and their reputations were made. Now that I think about it, I quite possibly could have avoided fighting the goblins the previous night, by just striking my intimidating pose, finger out and back straight. I mean of course, the first goblins, the ones on the road, as the second group of goblins, the ones in the cabin, were in quite a rush to get out the door and had I simply stood in an intimidating pose, they quite probably would have run me over.
“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.
“I am thinking about intimidating poses.”
“Well, you certainly have managed an intimidating pose there.”
“Thank you. I put a lot of work into it.”
“Well it shows.”
“Thank you. It’s nice to have one’s work appreciated.”
“And don’t change the subject,” said I.
“And just what subject was that?”
“You are a girl.”
“Um yes. And not only that, you are an elfish girl.”
“An elven girl.”
“So you admit it.”
“Um yes. I saw you without your cap.”
“Besides,” said I. “You throw like a girl.”
“Well what do you expect?” the girl asked. “I’ve never thrown a rock before.”
“Oh-ho yourself,” said she. “All right I’m a girl. That doesn’t change anything. I still need your help to get home.”
“It changes quite a bit,” I said accusingly. “For one thing, you are a liar. You told me that you were a boy. If you lied about that, what else have you lied about?”
“I never actually said I was a boy.”
“You most certainly did. I said ‘I see that you are a sturdy boy, despite your condition…’ and you said ‘Yes, I am a sturdy boy…”
“Who would have guessed that you had such a perfect memory?” grumbled the child, folding her arms over her chest.
“So,” I said, again striking my intimidating pose. “What else have you lied about? I will wager your name is not really Orphan.”
“I never said my name was Orphan, you bloody great buffoon! I said my name was Galfrid. You just keep calling me orphan.”
“Is your name Galfrid?”
“You see? Liar!”
“It wasn’t a lie. It was a disguise.”
“You were disguised as an orphan named Galfrid?”
“Are you an orphan then?”
“I’m more of an orphan that you are,” she said sullenly.
“How can you be more of an orphan than I am?” I asked.
“Why couldn’t I be,” said she. “If anyone could be, I could be.”
“I mean, what makes you more of an orphan than me.”
“My mother died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I was taken aback. “My condolences on your loss.”
“That’s all right. It happened a long time ago.”
“How long ago?” I wondered.
The girl looked up into the sky as she counted the years in her head.
“Sixty-five years ago.”
“Sixty-five years! How old are you?”
“An old woman and only half an orphan,” said I.
“Hold on now,” said she. “The natural life of an elf is close enough to a thousand years as not to matter. I’m only seventy-nine. I’m scarce out of puberty.”
“So not-Galfrid, what is your story?”
“I don’t think I want to tell you,” said she. “You won’t believe me anyway. You think I’m a liar, so why bother explaining.”
“I don’t think you are a liar,” I replied. “I know you are one. And now that I think about it, maybe I don’t care to hear your story. Maybe you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
“Really? What about Eaglethump Boxcrate, friend to those who are need of a friend and a protector to those who are in need of a protector and a guardian to those who are in need of a guardian?”
She had me there. It is well known that Eaglethump… Eaglethorpe Buxton is a friend to the friendless and all those other things. So I had little choice but to help the old lady out.
“Well,” I took a deep breath. “What is your name?”