Hannah the Brave: Part One
"Mum?" a young Usul asked.
Her mother, an aging red Usul, glanced down
at her daughter. "Yes?"
"Why is Father away so often?"
The mother laughed and set down the spoon she
was holding. She scooped up her daughter and swung her in the air; the small
"He's away on business, Hannah," her mother
said. "He's a busy man, you know. Just like your grandfather was before him."
She set Hannah on the floor and gave her a fond
pat on the head. "Now, be a good girl and run along to bed. I'll be along soon
to tuck you in."
The small Usul nodded and skipped out of the
kitchen, but didn't go straight to bed like her mother had asked. Instead she
crept down the hallway, glancing back at the kitchen from time to time to make
sure that her mother didn't see.
Hannah placed her eye on the keyhole of a door
and peered inside. A fire burned merrily in the fireplace across the room.
"-No, Bill. I knowingly take the risks. I'm
not foolhardy," her uncle was saying. He laughed. "But then again, you know
that, don't you." It wasn't a question. "After all, you've been in the business
longer than me!"
Her father, whom she could see through the keyhole,
sighed. He had a mug of something between his hands, and he drank before answering.
"In a business, remember. Not yours. You're not even supposed to be here. Father
would hate it. Hate you. And hate me for letting you in."
Hannah puzzled over that last statement, but
had no time to ponder it. Her father had stood and was coming to the door; Hannah
quickly darted into the next room over.
She hardly dared to breathe in the silence that
followed; but sooner than she'd hoped, her father's footsteps went back inside
the room. The click of the lock was audible even in the room Hannah stood in.
She didn't dare go out there again, though.
The Usul pressed her ear against the wall connecting
the room she was in from the one where her father and uncle sat.
Her uncle gulped something, and swallowed. Her
father said at the same time, "I don't like it. I don't like this plan. It's
too risky. Father would fight anyone who comes to take his jewel, even me. And
he's hated you for years."
"Ever since I ran away from home," her uncle
said, and laughed.
"Ever since. Why did you?" her father asked,
his voice growing somber.
"You know my reasons," said her uncle. He sounded
grumpy, but then again he always did.
"The reasons you've told me," her father said
quietly. "How about your hidden motives? What of those?"
Her uncle sighed. "No hidden motives, Bill.
I hope that, if you can trust me on nothing else, you can trust me on that.
But-will you help me? Remember, Father promised. He won't easily find a loophole
"He promised years before he disowned you,"
her father said, and sighed as well. "You know I will," he said finally. "I
They were silent.
Her father sighed once more. Wood creaked; her
father was standing up. All the chairs in the house creaked, with age or rotten
wood. A few times Hannah had sat down and had the chair break underneath her.
"Well, perhaps you and your motley band are accustomed
to staying up all night, but I am not," he said.
Her uncle laughed. "Indeed."
Hannah withdrew and sat quietly in the darkened
room for several moments, until their footsteps faded away. Then she slipped
out of the door and went quietly upstairs to her room.
She had barely pulled the covers over herself
when the door creaked open, announcing her mother's arrival. Hannah closed her
eyes quickly, pretending to be asleep.
The Usul smoothed a lock of Hannah's hair back,
then tucked the sheets more firmly around her daughter. She brushed her daughter's
brow with a kiss, then went to the door and whispered, "Good night, honey."
Hannah lay in the darkness and thought. Her father's
father would be Grandfather. Grandfather lived on the third floor, above the
rooms that she and her parents shared. He was strange at times, like when her
uncle's name was mentioned, but otherwise he was nice. He knew lots of stories,
for one thing. He'd told her a story just this afternoon; one about a young
Usul who explored caves, searching for pirate's treasure-gems and gold and trinkets
that were useless but so rare that they were worth millions.
She smiled in the darkness, then burrowed down
underneath her sheets and blankets. They made a dark cave-like a pirate's cave,
she thought suddenly. The Usul smiled.
"Hannah the brave," she whispered, testing the
words out on her tongue. They sounded strange, unfamiliar, but at the same time
seemed a fitting description of her; or at least the Hannah that explored the
caves of pirates. She smiled.
"Hannah the.. quick?" The Usul smiled again and
began to tap out a rhythm on her bedframe. Words came to her, and she smiled
once more. "They call me Hannah the brave, Hannah the quick, I'll get you the
gems and be out in a tick," she sang, but softly, so her parents wouldn't hear.
"Gems, eh?" asked a rough voice.
Hannah gasped and sat up, the sheets catching
on her head and ears. She pulled them off so she could see, and saw her grandfather
standing in the doorway. He was an elderly Usul with a limp and a cane; but
all she saw was the brave lad he was in his stories. For she had no doubt that
the stories were ones of him, in his youth. Young as she was, Hannah knew that.
"I know some stories about gems," he said, smiling.
He nodded, then stepped closer, his cane clicking on the wood floors. He patted
her once on the head.
"But it's getting late, and young Usuls should
be in bed," he told her gravely.
"What about old ones?" she asked cheekily, almost
expecting a sharp retort, but her grandfather only laughed his low laugh.
"Old ones too, my Hannah. I'll tell you a story
in the morning, all right?"
She nodded, smiling.
The triple beat of his footsteps and his cane
went to the door; then he turned.
"Always keep a flint and tinder by your side,
eh?" he asked.
She nodded again. "Always," she sang out happily.
"Shh! Don't wake your parents." He winked. "Good
girl." He left, closing the door behind him.
Hannah smiled, then pulled the sheets over her
head and sang again, but more softly.
"Hannah the brave, Hannah the quick," she sang,
her sharp eyes spotting out folds in the blankets that could only be more caves
to be explored. "I'll get you the gems and be out in a tick."
She traced a line on the sheets and smiled. "Hannah
will go... this way," she decided, pointing at a 'cave'. "And she'll always
have a flint and tinder.
"Always," she added, thinking of her grandfather.
"And then that way," she whispered. "There are
pirates chasing her, but Hannah doesn't care. She crawls through a narrow tunnel
and the pirates can't follow, so they shoot arrows through it, but she's too
quick for them-"
Hannah sat on her bed and hummed her song, dashing
through rocky caves in her imagination, until sleep caught up with her.
The next day dawned bright, the sun waking Hannah
even before her mother came in.
"Good morning," her mother said, crossing the
room to pull up the slatted blinds.
Hannah nodded. "Is Uncle still here?" she asked.
"No, he left last night." Her mother glanced
at her as she spoke, then shrugged. "Late last night, I suppose. Don't tell
Grandfather he was here at all, though."
The young Usul nodded. "I won't."
"Good girl." Her mother ruffled her hair. "Get
up and dressed, and I'll have breakfast waiting for you downstairs." She left.
Hannah nodded and slid out of bed. A few minutes
later she was dressed and trotting down the stairs; she stopped, just for a
moment, at the room she'd eavesdropped on last night. She pulled the door open
and peered in.
Dust covered most of the floor; some of it was
scuffed by footprints. The fireplace had been swept clean of the ashes of last
night's fire. Hannah turned her head sideways to look at the footprints. The
trail continued through the house; they hadn't swept in a long time, and this
hallway wasn't used much. She followed it to another door, which was closed.
She bent down to examine the footprints coming
to the room and leaving it, feeling that this was something Hannah the Brave
would do. She traced them with a paw. Two sets, entering; and only one coming
Hannah straightened up quickly. Her uncle was
still here, then! Her father's room was across the house, so it couldn't be
him in the room.
As she stood in indecision, not sure what to
do, a grunting snore rose through the door.
"Hannah!" came her mother's call. Hannah glanced
helplessly at the door, then spun and raced towards the kitchen.
To be continued...