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Hannah the Brave: Part One


by extreme_fj0rd

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"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 Usul giggled.

      "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 in that."

      "He promised years before he disowned you," her father said, and sighed as well. "You know I will," he said finally. "I always do."

      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." She left.

     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. She smiled.

     "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 out.

     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.

     "Coming!"

To be continued...

 
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