“That was your father’s gun,” Siegfried the blacksmith said.
Gabe looked up at the firelock that hung over the workshop door. “He didn’t have it with him?”
“Oh, no. He never used it, after the old King died,” Siegfried said. “He preferred the bow. Guns are … ” he shrugged, but Gabe knew. Guns were something Talls used. Shorts hunted with bow and arrow, in the old style.
“This is all his, just as he left it?” Gabe asked, looking around the workshop.
“Most of it,” Siegfried said. “We shared the tools, but he had his own outdoor gear and personal things.”
The workshop was a small building attached to the smithy, and the tool bench was just inside the door where both the smith and the huntsman could easily get to it. On the other three walls, though, was huntsman’s gear: Traps, fishing rods, pack baskets, skis and other equipment needed in the mountains. And, against the wall, a small cot.
“Do you think I could sleep here? Would you mind?” Gabe asked.
Siegfried reached up to clap a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Nothing would give me more pleasure, lad,” he said. “I miss your father, all these years later. It’s an honor to finally meet his son. You’ve no idea how excited he was, knowing you were to be born.”
The old smith paused a moment. “I think that’s why he looked so hard for the princess. He loved children. He certainly loved her. It broke his heart, you know.”
Gabe knew there was more to the story. His father must have felt a crushing sense of guilt. He had taken the princess into the forest, and, while he was attending to her pony, the tiny girl had wandered off.
The huntsman, who people said could track anything that walked, was unable to find the trail of a four-year-old child in a sun-dappled forest glade.
He had sent his pregnant wife back to the city with the king’s widowed queen and infant prince. Then he went back into the mountains to search for the missing princess.
Some months later, the body of Rolf the huntsman was found at the foot of a cliff beneath an avalanche of rocks.
“Tell your mother old Siegfried is still down here,” the smith said. “She’s a good woman, your mother. She always brought sunshine to this dark old place.”
“She’s helping the Queen unpack now, but I’ll tell her you asked about her,” Gabe said. “I know she’ll want to come down here later.”
“The old queen would have come down with her,” Siegfried remarked, then he looked frightened for a moment and he waved the words away with his hand. “No, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. It was wrong of me.”
“I didn’t hear a thing,” Gabe assured him.
Still, as he walked back up to the lodge, he pondered the smith’s words. He had overheard Shorts talking in the city, and he knew the old queen, the king’s first wife, had been loved in Short country, despite being tall. And the king, too, had been respected. Even in the inn where that drunken Short had picked on him, the king’s picture hung on the wall.
It was only since the king died that the occasional friction between Talls and Shorts had become violent. The new queen, the only Queen he had ever known, had been forced to make new laws to try to end the violence and to make the land safe.
At least, that’s what he had always been taught.
Now he wondered. The laws had been there almost his whole life, and so had the trouble. But old Siegfried was not the only person who spoke of an earlier time, when Talls and Shorts got along, not perfectly, but better than now.
Did the trouble make the laws necessary, or had the laws caused the trouble?
He had ducked slightly, leaving the smithy, but the doorway of the Lodge stood well over his head as he walked inside.
The Queen and his mother were standing at the top of the stairs, and Gabe paused, not wishing to interrupt. The two women shared the blonde hair common among Talls, but little else. His mother Astrid’s face was gentle, with soft eyes and a mouth that smiled often.
The Queen’s eyes looked out from under a permanent frown, and they constantly darted about as if looking for something she didn’t want to find. She saw Gabe at the foot of the stairs and stopped in mid-sentence.
“Excuse me, Highness,” he said. “I wanted to tell my mother …”
He would have finished the sentence, but the Queen interrupted him sharply. “Tell her what? Go ahead!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, then looked to his mother. “I’m going to stay in the workshop. I’m just getting my things from the kitchen porch.”
“That’s fine, dear. Make sure Captain Stahl knows where to find you,” his mother said. “He has a lot of work for you to do while we’re here.”
“Yes, he does,” Gabe agreed. “I’ll find him now and let him know.” He started to turn but then paused. “Siegfried wanted to be remembered to you,” he added.
His mother smiled at the name, but the queen looked startled. “Is that old man still alive?” she shook her head. “Well, I suppose he might be. He’s had no work for the past dozen years to wear him out. We should have closed down that smithy when we stopped coming up here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gabe said. “I’ll go find Captain Stahl now.”
His mother gave him a quick, sad smile, then turned back to hear the rest of the Queen’s orders.
Text c. 2004, Mike Peterson - Illustrations c. 2004, Clio Chiang