The natural world represents an ongoing conflict for most beings. It is beloved by many but also feared. It can be calming and provide peace, but can also be chaotic and terrifying. One thing is for certain, it tends to return to a balance no matter the circumstances. Years of drought are often followed by years of rain. Cold follows warmth which follows cold again. Around and around it goes. While many flee from it or work to protect against it, there are some, called rangers, who embrace it fully and seek to aid the natural world in its never ending cycles sometimes protecting it and others, pruning or mending it in order to ensure optimum balance. One such being was a smalish half elf ranger named, Eliot.
Eliot was the product of chaos. War between elves and men resulted, through violence and betrayal, in the birth of a half breed. Few things upset beings more than clear corruption of their world in the form of a half breed child. Neither fully man nor fully elf, Eliot was rejected by both races. His mother raised him reluctantly, regretting the loss of prestige she endured as a result of her unwanted child.
Eliot turned to nature as his sanctuary and his teacher. He found he could sit for hours and listen to the sounds of birds, insects, reptiles and any manner of wildlife. He learned to fish, to hunt, to track virtually anything and to survive in a world that did not want him. While the communities that provided his blood rejected its mixture, there was plenty of room in the wild for any who would abide by its rules. Eliot learned them and embraced them.
The ranger developed a wisdom far different from that of the so-called civilized world. He was not a master of the classics like the learned men of the great cities of valleys, but he was a philosopher of the forces of nature. He spoke its language and sang its songs.
There were few who appreciated Eliot’s gifts and most felt he was an abomination. He rarely spoke to any and when he did no one seemed impressed. Living amongst the elves was especially difficult for they prided themselves on being better than most and above the other being of the world so the human characteristics of Eliot were a constant reminder that they were hardly superior to even the mortals of the world.
One day, Eliot’s mother was walking with him through the marketplace purchasing some goods in a mostly human town. As usual Eliot lingered behind thinking about everything he saw and listening to strange words of people as they bartered. He didn’t especially understand the ways of the urban dwellers and didn’t care to.
Eliot’s mother was busy haggling over some cloth while her son noticed a man standing with a long spear and a large bear chained to a stone. The boy looked hard at the bear and saw in its eyes a brokenness. In the wild, Eliot spotted many bears and all of them seemed at peace and comfortable in their environment but this one had lost something. Freedom, Eliot figured. It was a slave.
Eliot drew closer and the man saw the boy of about 12 staring intently and, figuring he had a customer, he addressed the lad, “Care to see a trick?” the man asked smiling.
“A trick?” Eliot asked.
“Aye! This bear can do many things that would amaze you! Watch!”
The man smacked the spear on the ground and bear stood tall on his hind legs and stretched out its arms wide.
“See!” the man exclaimed.
Eliot hesitated to answer and didn’t know what to say. He waited to see if the bear was going to do anything else but he did not.
“Bears do that,” Eliot muttered.
“Not impressed huh?” spat the bear’s master. “It isn’t easy to train a bear after all. This one is stupid anyways.” He hit the bear on the back of the leg with the spear sending a cracking sounds through the air and the beast moaned before sitting back down and pulling on the chain the bound its foot.
“Get out of here before I use this spear on you then!” Roared the trainer.
Eliot darted off into the market to catch up with his mother. He found her purchasing some other supplies with which to make some clothes, his mother’s trade. She was buying some needle and thread from a vender and asked her boy to hold her cloth and the rest while she paid for the items with copper coins. Eliot thought for a moment and quickly pinched one of the needles from the rest and pinned it to his own tunic.
Once the transaction was complete, Eliot’s mother instructed him to find something to do while she chatted with one of the vendors who typically sold the clothes she made from home for her. The woman who ran that shop was a friend of his mother and they would often chat for long periods of time so Eliot was accustomed to waiting in the nearby woods or by the creek.
This time, however, the lad had something more important to do. Eliot crept quietly towards a tree that was near to the dancing bear. No one noticed the small lythe boy who darted behind the tree and easily avoided view in the shade of its branches. There he waited, perfectly still as if he was part of the tree. Only one creature noticed the lad, the bear.
The boy watched as the bear trainer forced his animal to do tricks in the hopes of getting a few coins from the shoppers. The tricks were all very simple from standing to sitting and even
roaring which appeared to be a result of being jabbed with the spear in the side. Eliot cringed every time he saw the bear in pain, it was as clear to the boy as the bright sun overhead.
Eventually, the trainer went to get an ale and left the beast chained to the large stone. The large but broken animal pawed at it for a moment then, resigned to his fate rolled up in a ball and rested.
Eliot’s heart began to pound in his chest. With no one watching, he creeped up to the bear. The animal looked up, when he approached, and with its soft brown eyes appeared to plead with the lad. Eliot produced the needle from his tunic and began to work the lock. He had little experience with picking locks. He understood them in principle but the places he favored had no wall or doors, let alone locks. He understood he needed to move a number of tumblers and when they were in the correct position the lock would open. He fumbled away.
The bear looked upon his miniature savior and groaned lowly as if to encourage him. Eliot worked even more feverishly poking and prodding the lock searching for the proper angle that might release his animal friend. Soon he found that he was able to manipulate the tumblers inside and worked on finding the proper combination.
As Eliot moved the tumblers inside the bear stood upright, towering over the boy. Eliot looked up and for a moment realized how massive the creature was but somehow was not worried or afraid at all. He could sense that there was nothing to be afraid of and smiled to the beast like he would a friend.
The bear began to paw the ground, nervous energy building in each swipe, digging deeper as if each moment made a growing hole that would be more difficult to escape. He moaned to encourage his ally while positioning himself to shield any onlookers from spying him.
At last, Eliot fumbled into the correct position of the tumblers and the lock popped open releasing the chain from the stone. The bear looked back and seeing the deed moved his leg, now free from its burden. For a moment the pair locked gazes and an understanding passed between them.
A shout broke the moment between the pair and the bear turned to see his master approaching.
“Aye! Why are you standing you stupid beast?” he shouted raising his spear. “Get down or you’ll taste this steal some more.”
The bear understood the situation well enough, having been subdued by the blade enough times already. This time there was no stone to keep the animal in place. The beast spread his paws wide displayed his sharp claws then bared his teeth. The beastmaster was used to abusing his animal however and jabbed at him with the spear.
“Back! What’s got into you?” he called.
As he approached the bear he saw Eliot kneeling behind the stone that once burdened the animal and noticed that the lock was no longer securing his beast.
“You? How dare you? I’ll make you pay for this,” he threatened as he lunged towards the boy. The bear would have none of it however and swiped at the man across the shoulder and then again across the chest. The beastmaster fell immediately, coughing his own blood and struggled to cling to the last moments he had remaining. A woman witnessed the attack and screamed which drew more attention and in another moment the whole of the area saw the dying man and began shouting.
The shouts startled the bear and he ran off towards the creek, pulling the chain that still held around his foot with him. The people also saw Eliot, and began shouting at him and he too ran off for the woods. It felt to him that he, like the bear, was not welcomed in the town. He was an outcast, he was wild, and now, he was alone and free.