Under the curious eye ofthe majical kind, the little people, humans, and giants are settling The Range, the buffer between the previous combatants for the past two hundred years. Neighbors are entertained by the customs and nature of their former antagonists. Men learn a troll’s deadly-sounding growl means nothing more than an indifferent harrumph. The hearing of the elf, the nose of the ogre, the orcs’ sense of clan, the trolls’ strength, and laid back daemons, weaves a tapestry of tolerance, friendship, love, tragedy, personal growth, and whimsy.HAMLET THRIVING unfolds in slices of each explorer’s life, chronicle the people setting down roots to become a community. The settlers learn their neighbors aren’t the monsters of legends told ‘round winter hearths.
Hamlet ThrivingSearch for Ike~The door to the dining room swung into the kitchen and slammed against the wall with a bang. Sylvia jerked, and looked up at the snouted face of Torc who leaned in.“Ren,” he called to his sister. “Ike’s disappeared again.” The young ogre sighed, tilted his head forward, eyes closed. Sylvia only arrived at the inn that spring and the runt Ike had run off three times since then. The last time the search parties didn’t find him until the next day, frightening his mother half to death. There were plenty of critters out there to worry about, cliffs, old troll mine shafts, and other potential catastrophes that eluded the worries of a four-year-old. “Oh, that booger.” Ren growled and set the bowl she held on the counter with a clang. “Are any of the dragons about?” The ogre hen puckered up her mouth. Her tusks dug into her upper lip giving her a mean-looking scowl. “No. Asr says they’ve all gone south together to hunt.”“We’ll close the kitchen and help ye look for him,” the gangly, gray-haired troll Eina suggested.“That may not be necessary,” Torc said. “Half the guests are gathering to help. Besides, not right to starve our remaining guests because the booger is hiding in the woods, frightening every wild creature out there.”“Oh, Torc, don’t be so—” Sylvia clipped off her complaint. The young ogre clearly appeared worried for his littlest brother. “Gladys and I can handle the rest here on our own,” Eina told Ren. “Why don’t ye take Sylvia along with ye. She has a knack at finding the tyke.”“If ya wouldn’t mind.” Ren’s brows knitted together as she looked at Sylvia. Sylvia smiled at Ren and nodded. “I don’t know about a knack. Happened to select the right canyon a couple of times is all.” The ogre hen doted on her brother as a grandmother might. The concern was easy to see in her eyes, even if her mouth balled up in anger. Looking at her, a twinge of anxiety crept across Sylvia’s shoulders. Dread that never visited any of the times he’d gone missing before. Sylvia couldn’t imagine what the baby’s mother was feeling.Sylvia took one more swath at the counter she was wiping and dried her hands. “Let me run over to the dormitory and change into warmer clothes.”“Meet ya out front,” Ren and Torc shouted together.~Sylvia hurried to pull a second sweater on. She dropped her skirt and shift and pulled on a pair of long underwear and lined, woolen pants. If Ike wasn’t found before the sun set it was good to prepare for the worse. Summer nights in the highlands were as cold as any winter day in the lowlands. She sat and laced up her boots, grabbed her coat and walking stick and headed for the door. Where will I find the little twerp this time?In the hall she met a couple of the seasonal workers she shared the dorm with. They were bundled up too, obviously joining the search. The boy and girl nodded. Sylvia smiled at them but hesitated to speak, embarrassed she couldn’t remember their names. They worked with Braes, and she hardly came in contact with them. They rushed on toward the inn though without hesitating. Off the hook, she thought.~Bick stood at the top of the veranda taking charge. “Pair up,” he shouted. “Anyone new to our little searches?”Several guests held up their hands and Bick continued to give them advice and direction. “We don’t want anyone else getting lost. Turn around frequently and look where you’ve come. It’s easy for one glen to look like another when you get a few miles away. If you get lost, find the lake.” He pointed at the looming, snow-covered peak north of them. “Use her to keep your bearings.”Sylvia watched the faces of Ike’s parents, Birs and Tiff. They studied the gathered folk, mostly humans, unselfishly ready to help them find their babe. The two ogres’ eyes shouted their thanks, though their long tusks dug into their lips. The ogre hen reached out from time to time and stroked the neck of the middle son, as though to assure him it wasn’t his fault Ike got away from him. From the pier, Sylvia had watched Ike’s antics before. She knew Asr’s task of keeping up with his younger brother was a tough one, even if he wasn’t in the middle of his own chores.“Stay in pairs,” Bick repeated. He slashed his arm through the air to indicate half the crowd. “Yall spread out and go west and north. All yall others, east and south.” He held up a conch. “When he’s found we’ll be blowing this, but likely you won’t hear it up in them gullies, so I can only offer you the best of luck—and the hamlet’s thanks. Any questions?”Heads shook and pairs of hikers moved away in all directions. Sylvia stood back counting. There was an odd number of searchers, which worked fine with her. She looked forward to a bit of peace and quiet. She had grown to like Ren, Gladys, and Eina a lot, but their constant chatter in the kitchen drove her a little batty at times. By the time she adjusted to the troll and ogre’s accents, she almost wished she hadn’t. The serenity of the forest would be nice. The woods back home had always been a sanctuary. She imagined that maybe she wasn’t that different from the young ogre she was off to find, shared a bit of his wanderlust. Why else would she find herself in the Range, a single woman, making a strange home among those who started out as strangers to her?Silvia took one of the canteens and snack bags Bick handed out, and headed due east along the waterfront. She didn’t know why she selected that path. Ike took an ugly spill in the lake earlier in the summer, and afterward showed a distinct dislike for what was originally an intense draw. Though he had no reason to stay close to the lake, she had watched him staring off toward the southern mountains more than once. He would have to skirt the lake to head that way.She reached the far eastern point of the lake and headed due south. She didn’t bother calling Ike’s name. She chuckled, thinking about the others wasting their breath. Ike would more likely run from anyone calling his name. Until he got good and hungry, that is. He had a thick hide for a youngling. Them ogres are a tough bunch. Ike seemed indifferent to the cold at night, even with his bare feet. Little brat. Sylvia smiled. A cute brat—certainly skilled at breaking up the routine of the little hamlet. More wanderlust swirled inside his heart than she’d ever seen taunt anyone else. She doubted he’d remain in the valley until he reached his majority.Instead of following a single gully, Sylvia diagonally traversed the steep rolling hills that made up the watershed of the valley. She couldn’t count how many trickling creeks she passed. Because of the thick forest, she saw the sun only when she crested the peaks. Making her way across instead of directly into the foothills, the hiking was more demanding, but she believed it gave her a better chance of crossing the path of the ogre booger—as Ike’s sister constantly called him.Sylvia halted at the top of a high rise to catch her breath and watch the sun ooze through the far trees. “Gonna get chilly now.” Should I go back? “What if it was my son out here?” she asked the growing dusk. “You’ll be fine, Sylvia, if you stay out of the breeze and build yourself a decent fire.”She hurried on for another hour, halting only to leave herself enough light to collect firewood. With the onset of night, the forest sounds changed from finches and jays, to hoots and howls of coyotes and wolves. She settled down in the pine needles and tried to concentrate on the snapping sap of the wood in her fire. She pulled up her collar to cover as much of her ears as she could and hunched up her shoulders. Gonna be colder than I expected.~The sky barely hinted of the new day when she used her walking stick to spread out the fire and kicked dirt over the last of the embers. At least the movement got her blood flowing and made the morning feel less cold, though her breath billowed in the chill. So much for summer. The tips of her ears hurt. She had earaches and a headache, hips hurt from the hard earth, stomach grumbled. She ate the last of her granola and dried meat as she slowly made her way through the dark shadows.The quiet of the early morning rang odd after the constant chatter in the kitchen the last two months. After only fifteen, sixteen hours, she was already missing the gossiping and storytelling. She hummed to pass the time, keeping her eyes moving constantly for any sign that a two-legged creature recently passed by. The rolling hills turned into fair mountain ridges by mid-day and she had to settle on sticking to the gully she found herself in. She had already considered turning for home when a patch of disturbed pine needles caught her eye. She scanned about, found more of the same following the ancient elk path she followed. “Too much for one ogreling.” What have I come across?Sylvia stopped and looked up through the shadows, and held her breath a moment to listen. Nothing but the wind whispering through the pines far overhead. She turned and looked down the way she came. “I don’t wanna come ‘cross no—”She stood considering for a long moment, shivered against the cool air. She longed for a meal, even a nap. Her feet hurt. She ached all over. “Maybe they already found that little pain in the arse.”She finally shook her head. “Another twenty minutes won’t hurt you, to see if these tracks turn into something interesting.”She turned and strode on.The gully came to a fork. A creek running with frothing water heading toward Black Lake ran to her left. Boulders blocked her way, so she climbed the incline. The effort aided in her decision that she’d gone far enough. Already fifty yards up the embankment, she continued to the near ridge, figuring hiking the saddle of the skyline would be easier going than the gully had been.She almost didn’t stop, thinking the noise was a phantom in her ears, making something of nothing from her hard-breathing and the tumble of kicked up stones. She paused to rest, and listened. It was indeed voices. They were a bit away, but the tone made them seem as though the words were spoken in anger. She closed her eyes and concentrated, turning her head to get a direction.Forward and to her right, probably in the gorge with the stream. “But do I really want to find out who it is?”Sylvia didn’t have to consider that long. Why else did I come this far? She pushed her pace along the mountain face, breathing hard against the thin air, sweat trickling down her face. She unlooped the rest of her jacket as she crossed the ridge and sped up, allowing gravity to rush her down the far side. Her loose footing made it hard to slow down, and she finally used an ancient pine to come to a stop.Resting, a shout echoed through the trees. Sylvia squinted through the gloom of the forest’s shadows. Was there movement? Were her eyes giving her something to answer her hopes? More phantoms? She walked around the tree and pushed her heels into the silty soil to keep from falling into a run again.Another shout startled her as she made her way around a boulder the size of a modest cabin. She faced five tall, wiry figures. One of the things was bent double, his hand held out, palm on the head of the missing ogreling, holding him away. Ike struggled against the creature’s grasp, kicking at the air, shouting, “Chicken!”“Oh, God,” she said out loud. What are these things?She had never seen anything like them. They looked like much larger versions of the orc, Janding, three times as tall and nearly as scrawny, taller than a troll. They all held bows and quivers and huge packs over their shoulders. One of the creatures swung around to face Sylvia, and the other four followed his glare a moment later. The one holding Ike away stood and let go of him, grabbing for his bow. All five creatures scanned the trees around and behind her.Ike kicked the creature close to him in the shins, hard. The thing grunted in pain but its eyes remained focused on the forest. The four-year-old ogre turned to see what the giants looked at.“Ha,” Ike shouted. “You help me. Run dem off. Don’t belong here!” The creature Ike kicked reached out and pulled Ike into his arms, covering his mouth. A fraction of a second later he ripped his hand away. Even from where Sylvia stood a dozen yards away, she could see blood gushing from a bite wound.“You evil little brat,” the creature hissed, shaking his hand.Ike gifted his nemesis with a volley of kicks and fists.“Stop it, or I’ll cleave your little head off your shoulders,” the thing shouted at him.“You go!” the ogreling shouted.Two of the creature’s companions rushed to their friend’s aid, grasped at the four-year-old menace. The tormented one managed to grab one of Ike’s arms, but the ogreling kept pummeling it with his free fist.“Can you stop him?” the thing pleaded.“Ha!” Ike yelled. “You’re ‘fraid!” He managed to strike the bent-over thing hard in the side of the head.“Oh,” the creature groaned, doing his best to lean out of Ike’s reach.One of them managed to grab Ike’s free arm. The tormented creature released Ike as two of the companions held the little ogre between them by the wrists. Ike continued kicking. They pulled at him like a chicken breastbone ready to be wished upon.“Quiet, or I’ll cleave you like I promised,” one shouted.“I’m not ‘fraid of ya. Torc and me and Asr could take all five of ya. We could. Have ya all crying like babies.”“Ike, hush a moment,” Sylvia shouted.The five creatures turned their attention back to her, as though they had forgotten about her. The expression of the tormented one looked grateful. His eyes closed for a moment and his lips parted like he was taking a deep breath, or offering a silent prayer. Ike puckered his lips together, scowling back at Sylvia, but he held still.“You alone, human woman?” one of the giants asked.Sylvia’s mind spun. “Of course not. Why would I be out here alone? My hunting party is camped over the ridge.”Heads jerking left and right, the five of them searched about again. Their eyes were huge, mouths parted showing needle-sharp teeth. Sylvia thought it odd giants like these would show such terror. With so many races living in the valley, why would anyone be afraid, here?The answer struck her as quickly as the question formed. Goblins.They were goblins, which were outlawed in the Range.Sylvia sucked in her breath. It occurred to her she needed to appear fearless. She claimed she was with others—there was no reason to be afraid. “Leave the ogreling be, and go,” she told them. “No harm will come to you.”“There be armed troops about hunting our kind. We know that,” one hissed. “As soon as these two are safe,” one of them told his companions, “they’ll send hunters out for us.”Ike lunged out of one’s grip and swung toward the other, slamming his fist up into the goblin’s groin. The creature doubled over and groaned, letting his own grip loose. Ike pitched toward the next, kicking and clubbing him. “Bam!” the ogreling shouted over and over.Sylvia stood frozen a moment, not knowing what to do as the five goblins swarmed around the near-toddler. “Bam!” echoed from within the fray. All she could imagine was they would kill the lad. Every instinct screamed at her to run, but she couldn’t leave Ike. She took a step toward them, and one of the goblins separated from the tussle and ran at her, grabbing her by her shoulder. His strong fingers dug into her flesh, pulling her down the incline. Ike, restrained, was now held under the arm of one of the goblins, but the ogreling continued to kick and shout insults a four-year-old shouldn’t know. The four goblins turned and ran up the gulley, heading deeper into the southern mountains. The fifth propelled Sylvia to follow.“My friends won’t take it kindly, you stealing us away like this,” she told the beast.“Shut your mouth, or I’ll leave your lifeless body for them to find instead.”“I can see you mean no harm, no matter your threats. I promise we’ll leave you be. Let us go.”He didn’t answer for several moments. Perhaps he considered it, but his continued silence wore ominous. “The farther you take us, the harder my people will be on you,” Sylvia pressed.“Your kind kill us on sight no matter,” he said. “We have little choice.”“The people of the valley have no ill feelings toward your kind. I’ve never heard of any of the goblins that have been found here being killed.”The creature made a deep gurgling sound in his chest. Sylvia wondered if it was a goblin laugh, or threat. She struggled to swallow as she imagined what they would do with her and Ike when they no longer needed them as hostages. Stories of goblin atrocities during the wars came to mind. She tried to thrust the memories away.“I give you my oath, we’ll let you be.”“Doubt it will be your decision, little one.”“I’m a leader among my people,” she lied. “They’ll listen to me.”He withdrew a knife that hung from his waist and shook it at her face. “Quiet.”Despite the sweat streaming down her face, she shivered.~Silvia had been stumbling for an hour when the goblins finally allowed her to rest. She had no clue how she managed the pace. Every muscle cramped, her throat and chest burned. Her breath came in raspy squawks. She fell to the pine needles and didn’t budge except to turn on her side to make it easier to breathe.Ike had never let up with the insults. Four of the goblins fell on him and held him still, pushing him meanly into the ground, while the other retrieved a rope to bind him. Still the little ogre called them names. Dung was his favorite expression, compounded with every creature the tyke could probably think of. Sylvia almost smiled at the ogreling’s resolve. He was a tough little piece of work.“Shut up will you, for one minute,” one of the goblins pleaded as he dropped down hard on the ground.Ike laughed, a squeal of a thing that hurt the ears.“I’ll close that fat mouth,” another goblin said.Sylvia lifted up, terrified what that might mean, but the goblin pulled off his pack and pulled a shirt out of it. He used his knife and cut a strip off the hem, tore another big chunk off. He walked to Ike and tried to push the balled up material into his mouth, only to pull back bloody fingers. The goblin stamped a booted foot and shook his hand, cursing under his breath. He grabbed again for the knife he had put back into its sheath. Sylvia sucked in her breath, but she almost had to laugh when the four-year old somehow managed a lunge with his bound legs, catching the spindly goblin in the shin. There was a cracking noise. The goblin careened to the ground with a shriek of pain. His companions chuckled, until the thing pulled up his pants leg. The distorted limb proved the ogreling managed to break the goblin’s leg. Sylvia sucked in her breath. All of the goblins cursed, and Ike laughed harshly. “I warned ya, I did. I told ya I’d get ya.”“Shut up!” one shouted.“Stick it in yar ear,” Ike shouted back.A goblin walked up to the lad and slapped him.Ike’s expression turned for only a moment. His sneer returned. No wonder the ogre’s were feared so, during the wars. Hate to see an angry, adult ogre. “Yar so tough, with one tied up,” Ike shouted. “Yar a coward!”The goblin pulled his knife.“You harm him and there will be no place safe on this world,” Sylvia hissed. “We got us enough problems, Gaerdon,” one of the others mumbled. Ike continued his goading.“Shush! Now!” Sylvia shouted.The tyke turned angrily toward her, his lips pursed, his brow knitted. But he remained quiet—the first quiet for hours. He turned his attention back to the five goblins. His eyes reminded Sylvia of a cat watching prey slowly making its way nearer. ~The goblin’s leg splinted, his arms draped over the shoulders of two of his companions, the seven of them were off again within the hour. Ike got a bite out of a goblin’s leg as he picked the ogreling up. The tyke was rewarded with a clump in the head for his effort. Sylvia felt sick from lack of food, and wondered how much farther she could go, even though the pace slowed considerably to accommodate Broke-leg. The sun set before the goblins stopped again. Sylvia wanted nothing more but to fall to the ground, but she went to Ike to check on him. His face was ashen but he glared at the goblins with as much anger as ever. The color of his bound hands didn’t look good.“You have to loosen these,” she shouted at their captors.They ignored her. She repeated her demand. Still they ignored her. She walked up to the one who seemed to be the leader and gave him a shove. He turned and glared at her.“I’m going to untie him, but I swear an oath for his good behavior. I’ll watch over him, and keep him in line,” she told him.Another goblin croaked, “I’m tired of carrying him anyway.”“Let them collect the wood for the fire,” another said.Sylvia glared back at the goblin until he gave her a slight nod and turned away. She walked to Ike and used her most threatening tone to admonish him to stay quiet and behave. Never having much opportunity to practice a motherly voice, having never married, she hoped her scowl made an impression. He nodded to her and winked. He winked! Scallywag. ~They hiked until mid-morning the next day without as much as a word being spoken. Maybe Ike had listened to the conversation of the goblins the night before, as they debated what to do with their hostages. The ogreling remained well behaved, leading the pack. Little more than a baby, Sylvia remained in awe of his stamina, even though his face was drawn and blanched, and he had started to stumble. Sylvia felt encouraged by him. He was a stubborn one.The five goblins conferred quietly several yards away while she and Ike rested, sipping at the last water in Sylvia’s canteen. When the leader turned and walked toward them, her mind spun and tears edged her eyes. She blinked them away quickly. She couldn’t read the creature’s expression, but she imagined the worse. She and Ike were no longer useful to them. The goblin pulled his knife, but walked to his pack and pulled out a strip of dried meat, and sawed a chunk off.“We’re done with you,” he said, holding out the meat to Sylvia. “We meant you no harm. But we couldn’t risk being caught in your hills by your hunting party.”Had she erred? If she told the truth originally, could she have avoided the past two days?“Over the next rise are the foothills that lead into our territory,” the goblin continued. “It be best your people not follow us. It wouldn’t be good for either of our kinds.”“It won’t be—”Sylvia reached out quickly and placed her hand roughly over Ike’s mouth. “Hush!” she hissed.“You should be able to follow your tracks back. You humans walk with a heavy foot.” The goblin strung his arms through the straps of his huge pack and strode away. The other four followed him. Between his helpers, Broke-leg gave Ike one last glare. Sylvia sat still. Tears flooded her eyes and she slumped forward. Exhaustion poured through her and she heaved with sobs.“It’s over,” Ike mumbled. “Why ya crying?” He