When I was but a toddler, I remember stumbling down a dark hall. I don’t recall how I had escaped from my caregiver, or what drove me to explore, but I had learned how to walk and I was determined to see what was at the other end. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if it’s my memory or if the caregiver told me this story later in life… In either case, this is how I first met my father and it would be the closest I’d ever see him smile.
We lived in a large house; more rooms than anyone would ever need, but it was ancient, and it was ours. Our family had lived within those walls since forever, and would continue to do so, forever. I remember how I leaned against the wall to keep my legs steady. It was a revelation to me as it enabled me to walk longer than I had previous. But as I marvelled at the speed I was moving, something obstructed my path. A door opened a few feet in front of me and a stranger came out. He had huge frown plastered on his face; his eyes were shadowed and deep; his chin was clean shaven and tidy. He didn’t notice me right away and looked around the hallway before he closed the door behind him. Our eyes met and his mouth quirked. Both of us just stared until someone came rushing down the hall towards us. His mouth turned into a frown again and a young lady picked me up. I don’t recall her name or what she looked like, but she bowed apologetically and hurried down the hall with me on her shoulder, hissing something at me. My father spun around and I saw him disappear around the corner – and thus he was out of my memory, for another couple of years.
I didn’t know what a parent was. They said I had a father, but the word had no meaning to me, for all I ever felt was that he was a stranger, at least until I learned what a father and son was supposed to be like and I wanted that relationship too. Mother had died on my birth and I think father blamed me for her death, though, he never said so outright. Even so, a child loves their parents, no matter what. An innate instinct in all animals, for a child cannot survive without their parents, at least, that is how I saw things. How else can I explain the yearning I felt for a stranger’s love?
My first attempt was to seek his approval by drawing a picture that I remember being very proud of. I didn’t hesitate to run straight to my father’s study to show it to him. The office was empty when I came and it took a fair amount of willpower to enter it. He had never expressly told me I was forbidden to go inside, in fact, he hadn’t expressly told me anything. The office was tidy and there were shelves with books from wall to wall. There were some papers scattered around. I placed my drawing on top of the papers and hurried out of there as fast as I could. I waited several days for a response. It never came.
However, I wasn’t deterred. The drawing wasn’t good enough, I told myself, and I endeavoured to make another. My grandmother, (who was also was my tutor,) encouraged me to show my next drawing and I went back. But this time, the door was locked. I wondered if I should wait for him, but the mere thought of standing face to face with my father made me queasy and I instead slid the drawing under the door and disappeared. I did this a couple of times before I gave up. Maybe he didn’t like drawings? He certainly didn’t like mine…
My grandmother was my only light, in those days. She gave me everything that a parent should. She was attentive to my needs and she gave me her unconditional love. Besides both being my parent and tutor, she would often tell me stories, and there was one particular story that would change me for years to come: I remember it being a cold night. The house was quiet and everyone was huddling wherever there was a fireplace. Me and grandmother sat alone in the parlour, wrapped in blankets as the last sparks from the fire settled into ember. She had been talking for a while, but I hadn’t been listening. The disappointment was still fresh in my mind. Eventually, she noticed my mind’s absence and wondered what was wrong. I asked her. “Why does father not love me?”
Even then I saw that she wanted nothing more then to tell me he did, but she couldn’t, because it wasn’t true. Instead, she glanced up on the wall, where an old sword hung above the fireplace. She lifted me up on her knee. “You know who this belonged to?” She said and pointed at the blade.
Strangely, I hadn’t noticed it before, being a mere six or seven years old I was not tall enough to see it unless pointed out to me. I shook my head. She told me that it once belonged to a great man; an ancestor to our family that lived hundreds of years ago. His name was Hall and he lived in a time when a race called Goblins pestered the land. “Ugly little creatures,” she said. “They enjoy making life difficult for people, but Hall was a brave soul and he would stand up to their tyranny. He and two loyal servants went after the Goblins that lived in the dark forest to the west. For two days they were gone and only Hall came back alive. He would not speak of what had happened in the woods, but he didn’t have to, for the Goblins didn’t bother the people anymore and they haven’t ever since. Hall became a hero and they say that as long as a Wholehart lives on this land, the Goblins would not dare to leave their forest to bother people again.”
I imagined my eyes gleamed then. I felt pride of my ancestor and I said. “Do you think father would be proud of me if I became as brave as Hall?”
Grandmother smiled softly. “I’m sure he would.”
Nothing else was on my mind, then. I wanted to be brave and strong, like Hall, and I headed to the nearby grove to pick out a stick that was about my size. I swung it wildly, like a blade, and without direction. I would see clearly, in my mind, the Goblins fall before me, until they fled back into their forest. I was a master. I knew I wasn’t really, but I become stronger, and could swing it for longer, and hit it harder each time. It was only a matter of time before I would make my father proud, I told myself. But swinging a stick around wasn’t enough, I needed to grab my father’s attention, so I made sure to practise as closely to my father’s office window as I could. If he ever looked out, he would see me for I made sure he was there when I trained. But the window never opened, nor did I see any shadow looming that would indicate that he was there, watching. After almost a month, I grew tired of swinging the stick around and I began to feel stupid doing so. I didn’t see myself as a master anymore, and all I saw was a child playing. I needed the real thing, to prove that I was worthy. That evening, when I was sure everyone was busy preparing for supper, I snuck inside to the parlour where the blade hung. I stared at it. It was so shiny and I stood in awe, knowing who it had belonged to.
To climb the fireplace was easy, it was another matter to lift it off the frame. I made careful not to touch the sword’s edge, but as I fiddled with it, a maid saw me and pulled me down to the floor. She scolded me, telling me I could’ve got hurt. But I didn’t care what she said. She saw my indifference and dragged me off towards grandmother, the only one, beside my father, I really cared about. The maid smiled as she saw the terror in my eyes as she dragged me away. Grandmother was busy talking to another maid and when she learned what had happened, she didn’t shout, she didn’t have to, I already felt ashamed. With just one look she could make me regret anything because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I promised not to do it again and when I went to bed, that night, I laid awake, thinking up another scheme to get my father’s attention.
This is but a first taste of a longer short story which you can continue reading for free over HERE
© Christopher Stamfors