Kraznir Complications: Busy at Home

After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and fruits, we were called to the training rooms which had occupied our days before we were sent to see what Kraznir was up to. I worked on my sword skills which were sorely lacking while the others went off to study whatever they were learning on before our adventure began.

I assumed Little John was learning to lure bigger prey, things such as orcs and wargs, so to control them to follow his commands. If he could do that, it would weaken Kraznir’s armies.

Doughty was a warrior and hunter, already skilled. So what was he doing? I saw him head off with a master horseman, so perhaps he would use to combat with spears. That would be fun to watch, but my mentor allowed learning only one skill at a time.

I was given a wooden sword which felt childish after wielding a real one on our excursion, but I did as told. I worked on defensive moves, which I knew nothing about, until my arm ached and the nerves in my back sent waves of pain radiating up my spine.

The three of us met for lunch, a hearty stew accompanied by freshly baked bread. Little John was ginning hugely. “I can control those orcs and wargs now!”

“How?” I asked. “Can you teach us?”

He shook his head. “I pick up languages fairly quickly. So now I speak enough orc and warg to tell them what to do! It’s amazing!”

“How do you know it will work?” Doughty asked between bites of stew.

“I practiced in the dungeons with live ones! It was amazing. I told them to sit and they did. To stand, to turn, to stab. This afternoon they will be in the practice ring, heavily guarded of course, and I will learn commands for battle.”

“I worked with a sword,” I said. “I hate it. I’d rather learn more magic.”

Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”

He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.

Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.

Kraznir Complications: The Dragon

Eventually we made it across which was good, for now we were only a few miles from Slinsil.  The bad news was that a small blue dragon greeted us as we disembarked.

“I eats dwarfs.”  Smoke streamed from the dragon’s nostrils.  Its long, spiked tail wagged back and forth like a cat’s.  “Gives me the dwarf as toll.”

Athor stepped forward.  He put on a display of some rather fancy swordplay that usually made grown men cower in fear.  “No dwarf, no toll.”

A jet of fire erupted from the dragon’s mouth.  Waves of heat washed over me, causing me to break into a goodly sized sweat.

“Gives me the dwarf or you don’t passes.”

Athor flexed his muscled arms.  “It’s me you want, right, Dragon?”

“Yeses,” he hissed.  “Do I knows you?”  The dragon’s eyes narrowed and its head lowered even with Athor’s.

“Yes, Pineki,” Athor said as he pounded his chest with his closed fist and then splayed his fingers in a salute.  “When I saw you last, you were running into the forest with scales missing from your belly.”

“You were the ones.” Pineki hissed, creating a fog around her head.  “You will die, dwarf.  This time Pineki wins.”

Athor charged, sword pointed at Pineki’s belly.  Little John and Doughty ran alongside, leaving me in charge of four nervous horses.

The fight was intense even though it was remarkably slow. Athor missed the dragon’s belly when she sidestepped to the right. Little John aimed for her talons and caught the nail on one, causing blood to drip.  This angered Pineki so she blew fire at Doughty as he moved toward her neck, confusing him enough that he missed.

For a little thing, Pineki had amazing skills. She leapt at just the right time, spun and danced like a King’s maiden, and spat balls of fire at each of the fighters. She was full of energy while we were weary from our travels and it soon became obvious that the dragon would win.

Just as Athor ran in for one last swipe at the dragon’s belly, Pineki bent her head and blew a stream of orange fire.  The dwarf’s body became entrenched and the stench of burning flesh caused me to lose what little lunch I had eaten.

Doughty and Little John watched helplessly as Pineki grabbed the charred Athor in her talons and flew off.  “I’ve gots me a dwarf, so you can passes,” she called.

Saddened to lose another friend, we didn’t feel like moving on so we built a primitive shelter out of branches gathered along a line of trees, tied our horses amongst tasty grasses, and sheltered for the night. I employed my invisibility spell, but Doughty, not trusting its effectiveness, refused to build a fire which meant we had to eat the crocodile raw.

It was disgusting and chewy, but I ate anyway. I needed nourishment and that was all we had. Afterward I wrote in my journal until it got too dark.  Little John gathered leaves for bedding, and Doughty stood guard for the first watch. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but my mind would not let go of the image of a charred Athor being carried off.

 

Because Slinsil was not far away and Kraznir’s invasion plans had to be made known, after a breakfast more raw croc we moved into the forest with heads drooped.  Two friends lost. How many more might we lose?

We rode as quickly as possible into Slinsil, fortunately without further excitement.  I had never thought the city to be beautiful, but that morning, with the sun glinting off the metal roofs offering a degree of safely and comfort, it seemed like the most beautiful city in the known world.

As we rode past shops and houses townsfolk greeted us with a cheer as they would any returning soldiers.  It felt good to be what had been my home since I was enlisted into the army, but my heart still ached for our dead companions.

We rode up to the gates of the palace, where, once announced, King Taden’s emissary invited us in for a bath and an audience with the king himself.  After a good soaking in the private bath offered me, a servant presented me with a clean gown of sapphire-colored silk. It fit perfectly, almost as if it was made for me.

I met my remaining companions, equally cleaned up and outfitted in bright white tunics, black leggings and leather belts. We were ushered into the King’s throne room. Taden stood when we entered, complicating things a bit.

According to protocol, if the King stands, we must also but our heads cannot be higher than his. For Little John this was no problem since he’s short of stature, but for Doughty and I, well, we had to stoop our shoulders and shrink into ourselves in order to keep our eyes below Taden’s chin.

Kraznir Complications: Almost Home

We rose before dawn, hoping to cross the river before any enemies passing nearby could see us. I’d like to say that we battled man-eating monsters, but that would be a lie.  In actuality, nothing interesting happened.  The water never rose above my mount’s knees.  Never once did my horse falter and no one fell into the water.

Just as the sun’s rays broke over the tops of the tall trees to our east, we entered the forests of Hagg.  The trees were so tall that it hurt the neck to look at the tops, and they were so wide that it would take ten men holding hands to encircle just one trunk.

We passed areas where entire sections of trees had been cut down.  I was sad to see that, for these trees were hundreds of years old.  Not in my lifetime would another tree grow as tall or as wide. On the other hand, it meant we were close to civilization and nearly out of the realm of orcs and wargs.

Around noon, after an easy ride in the shade we came to the River Siln.  To take advantage of clean water and to rest ourselves and our horses, Little John demanded we rest.  He wasn’t just thinking of the horses, but as we all knew, himself, for he hated horses, like all hobbits.  One time he explained that it felt as if he was riding on the back of a relative.  I understood what he meant for hobbits were covered in a dense fur much like a horse’s, and their course hair on their heads was like the swishy tail of my stallion.

Athor gathered tinder and got a small fire going, while Doughty captured two hares by lying in wait amongst a likely looking group of bushes. Without the benefit of snares, he enticed them with tempting bits of grasses he had plucked. The hares approached without fear. After all, when Athor lay on the ground, his eyes were level with those of a hare. When the first was within reach, he grabbed it, twisted its neck and stuffed it in his bag. He did the same when a second, obviously not knowing what had happened to the first, hopped up for a snack of fresh grass.

Using my wizard skills I lit the fire and before long we had a tasty meal.

After eating I walked into the river in order to finally rid myself of the filth that coated my body, but when the water was shin-high, Doughty hollered, “Get out of there!”

Like a petulant child I stood there, determined to have that bath.  Until I felt something brush against the back of my leg.  I bent to see what it was, fortunately, for at that exact moment, an arrow swished past, narrowly missing my right arm.

“Got him,” Little John said.  “I got me a croc.  Always wanted one of them.”

When I looked behind down there was a tiny dead crocodile, lying half out of the water with an arrow piercing its left eye.  While my heart ached for the dead reptile, my head was very glad that it hadn’t taken a bite of me.

Athor pulled out his arrow and slung the crocodile over his back.  He got a cloth out of a saddlebag, stretched it out on the beach and rolled the crocodile until it was tightly wrapped.  He threw it over the back of his saddle and tied it down.

“Thanks for saving my life,” I said.  “So, how do we cross if there are crocs?”

“Open your eyes, dope,” grumbled Little John.  He pointed a ways downstream where stood a large raft, held in place by two long ropes that ran from one side of the river to the other.

“Oh.”

We led our horses onto the bobbing raft, which was not easy as they were terrified of the up and down movement.  Doughty’s bucked and snorted, upsetting Little John’s.  When Athor’s horse heard the screams of Little John’s, she backed into mine, knocking us both off the raft and onto the beach.  Only when Doughty got his stallion calmed down, did Athor’s stop thrashing about and Little John’s stood as calmly as a tub of lukewarm water.  I finally got my horse on the raft, the last one to board.

We took turns pulling on the ropes and holding the horses.  The ropes burned our hands and sizzled our arm muscles.  My chest felt like it was going to pop open.

Holding the horses wasn’t easy, either.  You had to keep the reins for one in your left hand and for another in your right.  The horses stayed jittery the entire journey.

Kraznir Complications: Continued

Hoof beats pounded in our direction.  Pulling my terrified eyes from the warg droppings took a lot of will power, but I did, in time to see Athor riding toward us, his horse in a lather.

“Ride,” he screamed.  “Ride!”

Just as we had kicked our horses into a gallop we were stopped by a wall of wargs.  Their tusks gleamed in the scattered rays of sunlight that fell through the leaves. Each held a nasty-looking weapon: axes, broad swords and spears. And the drool…pretty disgusting tendrils of drool hung from their mouths as if they were anticipating a good meal. Which would be us.

Rather than being dinner, I rolled off my horse as silently as I could and slid under a log, just like in the children’s tales that I’d loved as a little girl.  I was pretty sure that no one had seen me, which meant that I was in a great position to keep an eye on what transpired and possibly try what magic I had to protect my partners.

One of the wargs grabbed Colwen by the head, lifted him off his horse, and then dropped him into his mouth.  Drool poured from its mouth as he crunched Colwen, bite by bite.

Athor, Doughty, and Little John fought valiantly.  They danced around those wargs, slicing at legs and then dashing away.  I was so proud of them!  I tried sending protection wards over my companions, but since I have yet mastered that talent, I didn’t think they worked.

Perhaps Little John and Doughty’s small size helped in the fight, for the injured  wargs screamed in anger and pain as my companions rushed their legs over and over again.

When one warg fell to the ground and couldn’t get up, the rest ran away, cradling slashed arms or limping on injured legs dripping blood.  Only then did I crawl out from my hiding place, find my horse, and rejoin my companions.

“Mount up quickly and quietly,” Doughty growled.  We complied, then headed in the opposite direction of the wargs even though we knew it would lengthen our journey home.

An hour passed of silent riding through the flat forest. I was glad when Athor called a halt along a slow-moving stream for my backside was tired and I was extremely thirsty. “I heard the wargs coming,” Athor said after we’d drunk and watered our horses. “That’s why I rode back in such a hurry. I hoped to warn you, but the wargs moved faster than I.”

“It’s okay,” Dolwen said. “We made it through with just a few cuts and bruises, and even though Colwen lost his life, none of the rest of us was taken as hostage.”

Athor brushed his dirty blonde hair out of his eyes.  “Do you think they’re gone now?  I’m too tired to fight another battle.”

“Quiet.” Little John cupped his right hand around his ear to amplify his excellent ability to hear, and sat completely still.  Seconds went by.  “They’re gone, but not too far from away. Let’s ride out before they find our trail.”

We were too exhausted to talk and there was little to say anyway. We all carried the image of Colwen being eaten alive. Our horses seemed refreshed, so we hopped on. Muffled our weapons to reduce sound, and continued toward home.

An hour later the forest opened up and we were at the edge of a rather steep cliff.  Down below was the River Siln.  Athor saw a deer trail to our right, so we followed it down, single file.  To our right, nothing but a wall of granite. To our left, a sheer drop.  I stared straight ahead, trusting my horse to get me down safely.

Kraznir Complications: Continued

The underground tunnel was the smallest I’d ever seen.  Considering that our sleeping quarters were guarded, we were lucky that the jailers got drunk and forgot to lock us in the night we’d hoped to escape. We waited until what we thought were early morning hours before tiptoeing past two sleeping guards. We had no idea where the rest were stationed, but we crossed our fingers that we could sneak past them all.

Colwen lead us through the cellars, Doughty opened the secret door, and Athor used his low-slung body to lead the way.  Little John, being a hobbit, only had to bend a little, but the rest of crawled on hands and feet.  The cellar tunnel was disgusting. It stunk of stale water and rat droppings.  Slime lined the walls and stale water pooled on the floor.  In two spots the tunnel was so small that even Athor barely got through, him having to pass through like we had been doing. We literally moved on our bellies.

We came out in the stables just as dawn was breaking, as hoped.  Colwen and Doughty saddled up our mounts that the guards had confiscated, while Little John wrapped their hooves in rags.  Athor found our bedrolls and saddlebags, still full of supplies, stuffed in an empty stall.  I nosed around the head groomsman’s office and found a variety of useful weapons which I carried in my arms until they could be strapped onto our mounts.

We headed for Rea Forest because it’s a great source of meat and well-overhung by dense trees, which at this time of year, were covered in dark green leaves the size of a large man’s hand. The terrifying problem was that strange and frightening things lived there.  We’d heard tales of giant spiders, but none of us had ever seen either them or their webs.

I’d seen wargs which have tusks that could rip a man’s middle out of him before a blink of an eye.  They weren’t tall, but wide as a dairy cow.  Beady eyes and small brains.  Wargs were said to be spirits of sailors who died on land.

I smelled the rank odor of Orcs who must have passed through recently. They were taller than the tallest known man.  Shoulders broader than two doorways and feet as big as plows.  Hands that could squeeze the life out of two men at once.  What was spooky about orcs, though, was that they only had one eye and no nose.  They were thought to be smarter than wargs, which was why Walerian loved them.  He taught many to read and write and when their skills were passable, he sent them out as spies into neighboring kingdoms.

Before entering the forest, Doughty said, “Touchfire, can you disguise us as we ride?”

I nodded. “I think so, but I’m not very good. My wards are better. I can surround us with an invisibility ward that should keep wargs and orcs away.”

Doughty nodded. “Well, at least it’s something. Do we have to ride close together for it to work?”

I closed my eyes thought about it for a bit. My mentor snickered the last time I tried to become invisible, but he’s a powerful wizard. Orcs and wargs have no wizardry skills that I know of. “Yeah, we’d better stay as close to one another as possible. Also we should mask anything that might jingle.”

“I have already done that,” Doughty said as he climbed onto his horse.

I didn’t need wands or powders for my magic to work, but I did need incantations. I spread my hands wide, encompassing the group than chanted, “Ing spe do nobly.” Nothing changed. I could still clearly see everyone. “Little John, since you’re still on foot, walk over by the burnt tree.”

After five steps there was a wave of light and then Little John’s figure brightened noticeably. “Now return,” I said. It was obvious when he came into range, for again there was a blast of light. I smiled. “We’re okay.”

We headed into the forest somewhat confidant that we could not be seen, but we didn’t take any chances. Wherever possible, we sought cover from any eyes that might be watching, whether emissaries from the castle or strange beings that might crush us.  We didn’t ride fast fearing noise that would give our position away, but we did move steadily.

The forest towered blocked out the early morning sun, making us feel somewhat better.  However, disturbing noises assaulted us from all sides.  Some we hoped were birds, others we feared were prey animals, but most sounded like the snuffling of wargs and the grunting of orcs.

Athor wanted to ride ahead to scout out the area as he was feeling nervous, even though he knew that as soon as he rode beyond my reach, he would be easily visible by any and all that might want to harm us.  Fearful that his departure might cause a ruckus, we pulled out our weapons.  I had a well-used light-weight sword, which was just as well, as I wasn’t too skilled in battle techniques.  In fact, if you could only pick one companion on a journey like this one, you’d be better off leaving me behind.

The longer Athor stayed away, the louder the snuffling noises became.  The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention, and I gripped my sword so tightly that my fingers turned white.

We rode on and on, trying not to think too much about what might be out there and why Athor had not come back. We grew tired and hungry, but Little John would not let us stop until he recognized big droppings.  Gigantic droppings.  The droppings of Orcs.  And not just a couple, but lots.

And intermingled among those droppings were small dropping.  Piles of perfectly round droppings.  Wargs.  That’s when I knew we were in trouble.  No, worse than that: in mortal danger especially since there was nowhere to hide. No handy cave, no standing remains of a house, no copse of thick trees. Absolutely nowhere that Orcs and wargs couldn’t find us.

Kraznir Complications: Part One

Day One:  My name is Touchfire.  I’m a wizard in the Army of King Taden of the House of Slinsil. Not by choice, but because all youth must join at the age of fourteen. This is my third year, the most crucial as I am learning warrior skills and can sometimes be sent out on “safe” excursions.

My friends and I were scouting the Rea Forest for game, following the River Siln, tracking a herd of deer when things went wrong. At first it was a pleasant ride under the shade of trees taller than any building I’d ever seen. At dusk we camped along the river even though we had intended to go much further. But fatigue drew us to the ground and so we stopped.  After a meal of jerky that we had carried with us over many miles, we crawled into our bedrolls and fell asleep.

When my mouth was pried open and a foul-smelling rag stuffed inside I awoke, terrified.  I fought as best I could, kicking and hitting, but my assailant was too strong.  It was only when daylight brightened the sky that I realized what had happened.

Our scouting party had inadvertently crossed into the Kingdom of Mariea, ruled by the evil king Kraznir.  Colwen, our scout, had somehow missed the boundary markings, a truly stupid error for it could cost us our lives.  If we ever got out of this situation, he would no longer have that job, that’s for sure.

The problem was that we were outnumbered because Athor, Little John and Doughty, the best hunters in our party, were off searching for more food, even though we already caught and preserved over a dozen wild hare, a handful of marten, and two large deer. Our people back home were hungry, not having had much meat in the past month, and so the men strove to secure as much as our pack horses could carry.

Colwen and I was hauled deep into the dungeons of Castle Kraznir. If the others had been there, perhaps we would not have been overrun, not have been captured, for they were all skilled with bow and arrow.

My skills were questionable.  As a wizard I could concoct a variety of spells useful for healing, warding off some evil, and enhancing skills like cooking, farseeing, listening and track reading, but nothing that would have protected us against a truly powerful wizard.

Despite my weak skills, the reason I was on this expedition was that I could read and write.  Our king loved having stories written about his warriors’ adventures, and so it was my responsibilities to record everything that happened, and then embellish it with acts of daring do. I carried a journal tucked in my saddle bag and before dinner, would spend at least an hour writing.

Day Two: Colwen the scout was taken from his cell this morning to be brought before the king.  While waiting for his audience, he spotted an interesting-looking chest nestled between two wine casks.  The guards went off to retrieve some other poor soul, leaving Colwen alone. He took advantage of the time to scoot over to the chest. It was tied with strong hemp rope. Having no tools, Colwen used his teeth to saw through.

Inside were newish-looking papers.  Since Colwen could not read, he deftly stuffed them up his sleeves, an amazing trick since his hands were tied together at the wrists.

While this was happening, news came that Athor, the dwarf, and Doughty, the warrior, were taken to the stables and put to work.  While mucking out the stalls, they overheard stable boys bragging about having snuck into the maidens’ rooms by way of a tunnel that ran from the wine cellar to the stables. This would turn out to be an advantageous bit of information.

Little John, my favorite hobbit, captured with the others, was scrubbing chamber pots large and small, fetid and nearly empty.  Considering that he hated water, this was the most despicable job he could have been given.  But being a most clever fellow, he listened to the guards while he pretended to be giving each pot a good cleanse.  He learned that all Kraznir’s guards slept inside the castle, none were stationed on the guardments high above.  After an evening of dice and wine, the guards were rumored to collapse and sleep the sleep of the dead.

Thankfully I was spared odious duties, but like a pet dog, Prince Ovido walked me about the fortification on a leather leash.  The little brat thought it was great fun when he commanded me to bark, growl, and crawl on all fours.  He fed me gnarled bones and gave me water in a trough.  I wanted to bite him on his rump, but Ovido was smart enough to not get too close.

At the end of the day, when we were returned to the dungeon, we all shared what we had learned.  Colwen’s papers were maps, inventories of weapons and supplies, and directives to Kraznir’s troops.  Kraznir intended to send well-armed troops into Slinsil.

This was shocking information. Slinsil was the richest kingdom.  It sat high in the Rajata Mountains, whose mines burst with precious metals.  There were also granite quarries that produced remarkable slabs.  Invading Slinsil would not only give Kraznir wealth, but also access to a defensible position.

I’ve never cared much for the people of Slinsil, for they tended to be arrogant towards the various people brought into serve.  My folk are farmers from nearby Thorne.  I was sent to Slinsil to become a soldier, yes, but when a wizard discovered I could do a few tricks, he took me under his wing.  Where I’m from, wizards are highly regarded, so it was with pride that I accepted his tutelage.

Even though I was a wizard apprentice, the Slinsilians treated me, a lowly Thornian, as if I were invisible.  Or perhaps filth.  Or maybe both. But however much I don’t care for them, Kraznir had no right to invade, for if he conquered Slinsil, the’d be in good position to take over all the rest of the kingdom.

Thus we decided that we’d escape as quickly as possible.

Internet junkie

Internet junkie, I’m not.

I do know the exact spot

for downloading my music;

soul-soothing, rhythmic tonic,

not too classic, not too hot.

 

Find a gadget? Takes a “sec,”

because I know where to check.

MySpace is just not for me.

And Facebook, although it’s free,

takes gumption. But what the heck!

 

I’m not the kind to chat a spell

Instant Messenger? Oh, well.

Not for me.  Not in the least.

To me, they’re hair of the beast.

I’d rather a story tell.

 

So tell me not of wonders fine

or places to order wine,

clothes, gadgets, or new shoes.

I’ve plenty, in many hues.

At excess, I draw the line.

 

Speak to me of stories new,

Politics, and skies of blue.

Face to face I yearn to be.

Into your eyes, so I can see

you smiling right back at me.