The months following the arrival of Grendeveer saw a mighty migration of inhabitants of farming communities to Fjellhiem. The siege of Krawnholde was no longer a covert invasion of trulls, but the main topic on everyone’s lips, from nomad campfires to the cozy hearths of the homeliest taverns. For all intents and purposes, Fjellhiem had become the thriving hub-capital of Norgeve. Being a huge edifice, Fjellhiem could house three thousand soldier trainees easily. The numbers that were pouring in, however, well exceeded that capacity. Whole families were migrating to the bastion of safety that had not seen active use of this kind for generations. Only the able bodied men of age were being recruited for training however. Accommodations for the women, young , old and infirm needed to be seen to. This was the topic of the war council this day.
Of the Light Elves, the representatives included King Tallen and his sons, Tallor and Ty-a’leer and the most valued members his own high council. The Svartalfar were represented by Ganzul, Wendlyn and her acolyte, Drizzit, Terridor, Grendeveer and Marzh. The Light and Dark elves persistently took up places at opposite ends of the long row of tables placed end to end in Fjellhiem’s great hall. This made their communication harder…and louder.
Of the Dwarves, there were King Gronn, his son, Prince Ergronn and daughter, Princess Gronnelda. Members of Gronn’s advisory throng included elders, Fleb and Garanook and the twin seer witches Hora and Nora, who were literally joined at the hip. Ganzul scanned the Dwarf party and was relieved to see no evidence or the mean spirited guard, Grimmen.
Representing Men were a delegation hurriedly formed that included various honored community leaders elected for such varied abilities as huntsmen, warrior. tribal shaman and the like. There was Vorm, head of the Verdistor tribe. Vorm was a mercenary in younger years and a famous wrestler. Juliex hailed from far Drakedahl and was a half-elf whose ancestors were said to have ridden dragons. Halff of Hiemstead was a shaman of no small talent and was schooled in the ways of the Nibelung priests of old. From Flodeby came Axel; a giant of a man standing some seven feet tall. Axel was a woodsman and hunter with the strength of an ox. Axel’s people were harvesters of lumber from the southeastern quadrant of Ormwood and were the only humans in the history of Norgeve to be given that right by the Svartalfar for their vigilance of the southern end of the Orming Road.
Representing Josdahl, of course, were Garr, Dolf, Tykk, Helmut and Huldred, who had recently come in with Hogni Wyglaf Bjordiboffknocktopkaflapfart, who was representing all of Haarm by virtue of his social standing and ability to deal with people in seemingly any situation. Plus, nobody else really wanted the job.
Now Ganzul was speaking to Axel. “What I’d like to know is, how did this trull rabble just march past your guards and right up the Orming Road just as pretty as you please?”
“Your Highness, you are speaking through a veil of frustration for it is obvious that no army passed the southern end of Orming Road. Even if they did come that way, how would my men stop an army of five thousand? No, on our way here we came upon their trail and the stink was still upon it. They came through Shadewail pass and cut equidistant between Flodeby and Verdistor. Then they cut through your wood to catch the road somewhere up the line from us. This bunch knew the terrain and what they were doing.”
“Very well,” Ganzul conceded. “That they took us all by surprise is embarrassingly obvious.”
“At this time, that point is moot, gentlemen,” said Arnaald. “Let us stay focused. The issue on the table is what to do with the families of the men who come to fight.”
“Aye,” added Briar. “Plus we can only house three thousand trainees at a time. I’m sure we will have more than that coming in for training. At least I hope to Valhalla they will. We are going to need someplace to house these extras, and someplace close, for if anything happens they will need to be defended.”
“The choice of where is limited and thus, obvious I would think,” said Vorm. “The closest place that we could build an encampment of that size and defend it would be out on Fam Moor.” Nodding heads and murmurs of agreement ensued.
“I don’t know,’ said Princess Gronnelda, “What of the wraiths said to inhabit the moors?”
“Oh posh,” sneered Terridor. “Leave it up to a woman to spin tales of wraiths; and a Dwarf woman at that. What are you even doing here?”
“Hold, Sir Terridor,” said Arnaald. “I’ve firsthand experience with such things and can attest to their validity. However, while Wraithmoor is certainly populated by its namesakes, I believe we can rest assured that Fam Moor is a safe enough place.”
Plus,” said Axel, “it’s close enough for my tribe to haul enough timber to construct the encampment. If we get through this though, I wouldn’t mind seeing my tribe claim some payment for it.”
‘Well said,” replied Arnaald, “First though, let us concentrate on getting through this.”
It was Briar Flynn who spoke next. “I’d like to see an additional training area constructed at the new site as well. Properly training men is a lengthy process. We are going to be stretched thin as it is training men here and since word has come in that there is indeed another trull force to the north of Krawnholde, we durstn’t push this thing too fast. We need to train at least then thousand men to have any hope of addressing this threat. That means we either take precious time that we don’t have, or we train the additional numbers elsewhere.” Here he covertly winked at Garr and continued. “I am naming Garr as the captain of that endeavor as he has learned all that I can teach him and I need the person I can most trust to get things done right. I’ll leave the choice of his second up to him.”
Garr had come to love Briar as the father that had been taken from him and this was one of the reasons. Leorelai and Elsa had arrived with the people from Haarm. Briar knew that they would have to be housed at Fam Moor with the others who were not trainees. He also knew that Garr would choose Dolf as his second. This of course would afford them all time to be together. But there were protests.
“Preposterous!” said Vorm. “We all have heard what you say of his heritage. None of us will contest that. But he is not his father. He is untried. Not one campaign or battle has he under his belt. Truth be told I wonder if there is even hair under that belt” Hands on his hips, he looked around approvingly at the laughter this brought.
Garr fumed and balled his fists. Briar put a staying hand on his shoulder. “This ‘hairless’ lad will kick your oafish arse from here to Fryktholde and back if you are not careful, old man.”
Vorm was in no way an ‘old man’. He was in his early forties and well built. He had a reputation as a vicious fighter in battle as well as personal contest. His renown as a wrestler was well founded. But Briar new that Garr was lightning quick and tireless. While not as tall as Vorm, Garr was very athletic and well muscled. Briar knew that if Garr were to be taken seriously, he needed the respect of these seasoned warriors, and what better way to accomplish that than have Garr trounce one of their most respected members.
Vorm strode right up to Garr until they were chest to chest. “Ha! A good jest, but let’s face it; were we to tilt, I’d wind up spanking him and sending him to bed.” More laughter.
“Your breath stinks, gaffer,” said Garr, taking up the gauntlet. “I’ll go to bed only after washing you ignorant mouth out.” Now the crowd oohed and it was Vorm‘s turm to flush and ball his fists. Garr had no idea where that bit of bravado had come from, but it felt good.
“You challenge me?” Vorm fumed.
Garr put his hand beneath Vorm’s chin and pushed quick and hard, almost sending the big man sprawling. “I do, codger!” was Garr’s reply. Vorm got his balance and rushed Garr only to be clotheslined by Helmut’s massive forearm. This did send him sprawling. “Uhn uh!” said Helmut, wagging his forefinger. “This will be settled on the field.” Smiling, Helmut offered his hand and helped Vorm to his feet.
“Tomorrow. First light on the south yard,” said Briar wiping his hands and walking away. As he passed Garr he whispered, “Don’t kill him. We need him.”
Garr was up well before dawn the next morning. He was still seething with anger and wasn’t sure exactly why this confrontation had affected him so. Tykk was massaging his shoulder muscles in an attempt to limber him up. “You’re more tense than you need t’ be, lad. Loosen up. I’ve no doubt you can take this fella if you keep your head.”
“It’s not that at all,” said Garr. “I’m going to take him, alright. I’m just feeling a boiling anger that I’m not used to”
“It’s the warrior way,” explained Tykk. “Think about it: how can you possibly win in a battle without anger? Fact is, I’m glad to see it comin’ up in ya. You got a lot of days before ya when you’re gonna be thankful to be able to draw on a reservoir of rage. I’ve known you all your life and, honestly, I was getting’ a little worried that you were too mellow. You’re gonna be just fine. Just keep your head.”
At that moment, Vorm and his fellow tribesmen emerged from the keep at the far end of the field. He went to the well, drew a bucket of water, poured it over his head and shook it out of his hair.
Tykk leaned in close and whispered, “Looks like the old gent took I bit too much grog last night. Another point in your favor.”
Garr and Vorm were standing across the field and glaring at each other when Briar, Arnaald and Algar emerged from the keep. They strode the length of the training yard and Briar called them to him. By this time almost all of the war council had straggled out onto the field to observe.
“There are no rules but one,” said Briar eyeing both meaningfully. “No one dies. You’ve a score to settle and pain is gonna happen. That’s the way of it. If I think things have gone too far, I will call this thing. Period. Whoever chooses not to listen will deal with me. Am I understood?”
Both nodded without breaking eye contact. Algar came forward and gave each a shield and a large oaken practice sword. The blades were tightly wrapped in boiled leather. While these blades would not cut, they would certainly break bones and were more than capable of killing. Briar said, “Cross swords.” When they did, he grabbed both where they touched and said, “Begin…now,” and pulled his hand away.
Vorm came at Garr with a speed and accuracy that belied his size and age. Garr parried expertly, circled and began playing with the older man, feinting and leaving himself purposely open only to be elsewhere when Vorm’s blade came down. Garr was smiling now and Vorm’s face was beet red. Garr spun for a backward slice but the ex-mercenary was faster. Years of experience told Vorm when to strike and a vicious blow fell across the small of Garr’s back, staggering him. To his credit, Vorm lowered his blade for the instant that it took Garr to recover. Now it was Vorm doing the smiling.
For the next few moments the courtyard was filled with dust and the clacking of wooden blades as the two men’s arms wind milled in attack and parry maneuvers . Suddenly Garr feinted high and went low, catching Vorm’s sword arm in the armpit. Vorm grunted and the sword dropped from his stunned grasp. Garr could have followed through with the attack but chose at that moment to stand smiling with tip of his blade resting in the dirt before him.
Vorm circled like a wild predator all the while rubbing life back into his numb arm. Suddenly he growled and charged Garr lunging for his waist. Garr had no time to evade, and the two men went down into the dust grappling for control of the other. Drawing on his wrestling skill Vorm got superior leverage and pried Garr onto his back, pinning his arms at his sides. “Give it up’ boy. You‘re beat“” wheezed Vorm.
Now Garr growled in frustration. What seemed like victory only moments ago, now felt like a bitter defeat. Head pounding and sweating profusely, Garr fought his restraint. Finally he jerked his legs free, twisted his hips and grabbed Vorm tightly about the waist. With another deft twist he was on the man’s back. Vorm still had one of Garrs wrists in a death grip. Garr pulled back on Vorm’s topknot nearly snapping his neck causing him to release Garr’s other wrist. Both hands free, Garr slammed the other man’s face roughly into the dirt. Garr then jumped to his feet and grabbing Vorm’s own sword, brought the flat of the blade down painfully onto Vorm’s buttocks causing him to scream with the pain of it. “Who’s spanked now, Vorm?” said Garr.
A cheer went up from all the war council and Briar grabbed Garr’s arm lifting it high saying. “The winner.”
Vorm’s friends picked him up and escorted him back inside the keep. As he went he cast an injured look over his shoulder that sparked pity in Garr. He started toward Vorm when he was stopped by Tykk who said, “Slow laddie, Let him lick his wounds and we’ll see what kind of mood he’s in later. Hopefully this bit of embarrassment won’t chase him away.”
Inzveer dismounted and signaled to his twelve companions to do the same. They all rode ormhests. Because no horse would willingly convey such a moribund entity as a draug, Doden had conjured ormhests from the netherworld. These were reptilian beasts with many horse-like characteristics; their ability to travel long distances and withstand radical climatic changes among them. They were also venomous. Their bite would kill in seconds and the corpse that remained would deteriorate to a plasmatic sludge within minutes. The draugs referred to them simply as steeds.
Inzveer and his cohorts had traveled nonstop from Fryktholde to Bolle and now stood at the lip of the cave were Arnaald had been held prisoner for over a decade.
“Othersss…there are… that I sssmell,” Hissed Inzveer. All twelve of the others nodded and turned in concentric circles sniffing and returning to their original spots. Finally, a Draug called Dwoom pointed a skeletal finger and said “There”. He pointed directly toward the newly constructed retirement lodge of one Smuntley Kwerm.
Smuntley had settled in nicely to his new surroundings. He’d known that the fishing was good and was pleased to find that game was plentiful, and with his self-fashioned bow and arrows (with which he’d become quite proficient) he’d been able to keep his larder well stocked. A garden would have to wait until next season as it was too late to plant in the current season, but the soil was good and there were wild carrots, leeks, mushrooms and a seeming endless variety of berries to round out his meals. He toyed with the idea of tramping out to whatever communities might be nearby and see about perhaps bartering for a few sheep or goats and try his hand at animal husbandry. This, of course would have to wait until he could successfully grow something with which to barter, but the possibilities for the future seemed happily endless. He didn’t realize that the nearest villages were Glemmeden and Flynn, and they were both hundreds of miles away. For Smuntley, however, that would simply mean a long and pleasant hike.
This day, Smuntley was returning from such a hike when he was alerted to movement in the vicinity of his lodge. He’d stopped for a short breather on the knoll above his new home when he spotted a glint of something through the tree-line. Ordinarily such an occurrence would not be cause for concern, but Smuntley’s lodge was rural in the extreme. He knew that this glint of light, in all likelihood , should not be there. His curiosity piqued, he moved cautiously down the hill until he had a clear view of the lodge and surrounding grounds. Crouched behind a rocky escarpment, he withdrew his telescope from his rucksack. When he found the proper focus, what he saw there made his blood run cold.
Milling in and out of and around his lodge, were no less than a dozen creatures born of a nightmare. Grey-skinned and hollow-eyed, these slumping, shambling creatures appeared to be decaying and covered with lesions. What hair they had hung long and lank and matted. They wore dark gray robes and each bore a large and lethal looking sickle sword. It was probably the setting sun reflecting off of one of these that had attracted his attention. Added to this horrific tableau, were a group of huge reptiles milling a shuffling about. As Smuntley watched in horror, one of the humanoid creatures lifted a huge flat stone, which Smuntley had been using as a skinning table that weighed at least a ton, and peered beneath it. This was accomplished with one hand. How could such a gaunt being possess such strength?
Smuntley noticed a faint but foul odor which could only be coming from these horrid creatures or the beasts, or both. He gauged his distance from his lodge at about one hundred to one hundred and twenty yards. He watched for quite some time as the creatures turned his little patch of land and his lodge inside out, obviously looking for something. Suddenly Smuntley realized that the unpleasant smell was gone and the humanoid creatures had stopped their search and stood swaying to and fro as if in a trance of some sort. Then he realized why the odor was gone. The wind had shifted.
Watching now without the aid of the telescope, Smuntley stared as several of the beings stopped, turned in his direction and pointed with skeletal fingers as if they could see him quite well. Suddenly the remaining creatures turned and pointed and all emitted a mournful shriek in unison. They hurriedly shuffled to the reptiles and mounted them and were soon ambling up the hill toward him.
Smuntley was beside himself with fear. He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’d been discovered and that these monsters were now in pursuit of him. His mind swam. What was he to do? How could he hope to outrun such creatures? What were they, anyway, and what could they possibly want with him? He’d always prided himself on his ability to keep a level head in emergencies, but now his bowels threatened to void.
Sweating, he ran a hand over his forehead and said aloud, “Calm down, Smuntley, old boy. Use your head. Think. What are your options?” He couldn’t seem to come up with any solution other than run in blind panic and his intellect told him that such a course of action would spell his doom. What then?
Suddenly it came to him like a beacon of light through the fear. A time leap. Fortunately, being a time traveler, Smuntely had made it a habit, as a contingency measure, to always take along his time device. He hadn’t used it in months but he had it on him and it was in working order. If he set the device for five hours into the past, it would put him over the lip of the Bolle crater and into the woods of Bolleskog, miles away. He’d been hiking and camping in that area for the past few days. He knew he would have to make for whatever civilization he could find. Now he was feeling bitterly rankled that these monstrosities were driving him from his pastoral homestead, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He was completely unprepared to make a stand and fight for his home, so he bit back his ire, set the dials, keyed in the proper information and made the jump.
Unfortunately, in his haste, Smuntley had forgotten to set his delay filter. This feature was a precautionary setting that allowed him to hover momentarily in his chosen time setting to view his surroundings before actually materializing into it. This prevented him from materializing somewhere that he would rather not be; in solid rock, for instance.
As fate would have it Smutley reached his targeted time just as he was leaping over a small crevasse. Disoriented, with arms and legs wind milling, he landed roughly on the far side of the defile and began to slide into it. Desperately his fingers sought purchase on the cracks and crags and finally found it just as he was about to slide over the edge. He hoisted himself up and over the edge and stood sweating and panting in the cool mountain air.
Now Smuntley had a decision to make. What he’d witnessed at his homestead defied all that he’d ever been told about the existence the proverbial ‘boogie man’. These creatures and their horrific mounts definitely qualified as monsters. Did that indicate that his new home was populated by these or even other bogies? He was torn. He could travel time and space in search of a new home, but would he ever find a ‘perfect’ setting? When he’d arrived here, he was weary and tired. He’d been searching a good portion of his adult life for this, and now he was being chased from it. His anger rose again and he gritted his teeth. “No, by God,” he said aloud. “It’s time to take a proactive stand and stop running, old boy. Get your legs under you.” But what was he to do? He knew he needed information and even guidance. What did he already know about this place that the inhabitants called The Earthlands? Very little, actually. He knew that the ‘wizard’ Arnaald Hardrada had told some strange tales before leaving southward with the little nissa, so it seemed only logical that his direction must lead that way. So, south it was, to whatever fate his footsteps would lead him.
The Svartalfar where presently more vigilant than they had been in generations. Before leaving for the high war council at Fjellhiem, Ganzul had ordered heavily armed scouting parties to comb all passable avenues in the neighboring Daggernasty Mountains. The last thing anyone wanted was to let any more trull war parties slip around Ormwood and take them by surprise from the south.
Sverdegaard led the Daggernasty search effort. Ganzul placed great faith in him and rightly so. Sverdegaard had grown up in the service of the king. Terridor once described him as a “well-oiled and dependable machine.” To a dark elf, this was a compliment and considered high praise. Over the years Sverdegaard had grown concerned and even critical of the complacency with which Svartalfar society had withdrawn unto themselves and sheltered from the rest of the world. He’d often thought a good, old-fashioned blood-feud or outright war was just the tonic his race needed to seem alive and vibrant again.
Standing on a high windy crag midway between Ketilfjord and Trullfjord, he could see all the way to the Greydeep Sea and the setting sun. He breathed deep the salt laced air that he could smell even at this distance, and was truly happy for the first time in years. Now he was ready to receive the day’s search reports. Ballur,” he called. When Ballur was at his side he said, “Report.”
Ballur had been taking his evening rations and arrived wiping his mouth with a bandanna. “Something interesting, Captain, however as yet unconfirmed. A runner brought news just before you called. It seems Bazeel’s party has been tracking a lone trull for two days now. He seems aimless, according to reports; camping sporadically. Sleeping and trekking as the mood suits him. I’ve sent Brill back with the runner to confirm and write a complete report.”
“A lone trull?” asked Sverdegaard, frowning. “Why does that not add up?” The question was rhetorical and Ballur knew it. He stood awaiting orders. “Where is Bazeel now?”
“Twenty miles south of Kettilfjord,” said Ballur. “He’s awaiting orders.”
“Send a runner with this message…no. Disregard that. You up for a brisk walk, Ballur?”
“Ballur grinned. He’d had nothing of consequence to report for weeks and he knew what Sverdegaard was planning. “You bet I am, Captain.”
“See that your men are fed and be ready to move out within the hour. I want to see this trull for myself.” Ballur saluted and left.
Igar was an emotional mess. He had felt liberated since leaving the siege of krawnholde behind, but he also felt horribly lost and alone. He was cold and hungry but didn’t seem to care. He’d packed some rations so he wasn’t starving. He wouldn’t let himself die, but he had no passion for life either. Had he ever had actual passion for life? He supposed not. A keen sense of self preservation, yes, but nothing even resembling passion.
He camped when he became weary. He set small deadfall traps and checked on them periodically. He ate what he caught and then slept. This was the way he spent his days. Sometimes he traveled during the day, sometimes at night. He had no idea where he was going and didn’t really seem to care.
One day at around sunset, he was cooking a possum that he’d caught on a spit over a very small fire, when he felt an inexplicable something that he couldn’t identify. Something had made the hairs on his arms and the nape of his neck stiffen. He was camped between two mountains in an arroyo in the hope that his fire would not be seen. He thought it highly unlikely that he would be spotted because he had purposely stuck to what was generally thought of as badlands. Nevertheless, there was that annoying feeling that he was not alone.
After his rude meal, Igar belted on his sword, took up his shield and spear and made a protracted search of his camps’ outlying perimeter. When he arrived back at his camp without finding anything alarming, he felt better but was very weary. The soles of his feet burned so he removed his heavy boots and rubbed his feet. Before long he felt sleep overtaking him so he rolled out his bedroll and retired. Every time the campfire sputtered or snapped, he jumped, but eventually faded off to an uneasy and restless sleep.
Just before dawn Igar awakened from his sleep with a clawing feeling of acute panic. He strained his vision, trying to see into the murky pre-dawn light. His fire had long since burned out, so there was no aid there. Suddenly he saw movement about three yards from him; a tall shape topped by a winged helm. In desperation he reached for his sword, only to find it gone. The shape said, “Take him.” Then, with a blinding flash, his world went black.
Igar slipped in and out of consciousness. How long this went on he had no perception. Finally he came fully awake to a headache so intense it made him vomit. He swayed to and fro which added to his nausea and his wrists and ankles burned and ached abominably.
“Well, we haven’t killed him, it would seem,” he heard someone say. Someone else said, “Halt. Put him down.” It was then that Igar realized he was slung upside down on some sort of pole. The carriers stopped and dropped him roughly to the ground. Suddenly he received a smart kick to the ribs which instantly robbed him of his breath and made his innards ache. “Finally awake, eh, monster?” someone said. Igar rolled onto his side and doubled with the pain as much as his hobbles would allow. He was surrounded by tall beings that he knew now could only be elves. He was a prisoner of the trulls’ sworn enemies.
Someone pushed through the throng ordering, “Here now, that’ll be enough of that. Next one to lay a hand on him will lose it. Is that clear? ”Igar heard remarks of acquiescence and turned to see a tall, silver-haired Svartalfar standing over him. “Remove the pole,” said the fellow. “Can you walk, trull?”
Igar wasn’t at all certain that he could, but he nodded. “Get him up,” said the tall elf. Two others grabbed Igar and pulled him roughly to his feet. It was then that Igar realized that his boots were still missing.
“Who are you, trull?’ asked the elf. He spat the word ‘trull’ like it was poison in his mouth.
“Who’s askin’, drow?” asked Igar, seeking to give as well as he got.
The elf raised his hand to strike Igar, who raised his chin to arrogantly accept the blow. Suddenly the elf hesitated, lowered his hand and thought for a moment. “Fair enough,” he finally said. “I am Sverdegaard; a captain of the royal guard to King Ganzul himself.”
Surprised at Sverdagaard’s change of mind, Igar thought for a moment and finally uttered, “I’m Igar.” He did not want to divulge any more information than that, for the present at least. He had no idea what consequences would come with the knowledge that he was a high ranking captain of the trull army that had invaded the king’s castle and sacked the valley of Heldahl. Surely that was common knowledge by now.
“No surname?” asked Sverdegaard.
“You didn’t tell me yours,” replied Igar.
“Why you supercilious son of a whore. Who are you to expect pleasantries?” Spat Sverdegaard. “I might point out to you that you are in a very precarious position indeed. I could put you to death right here and now and rid the world of one more piece of shyte.”
“Go ahead, you pompass ass,” Igar growled. “What should I care? My life ain’t worth a worm’s turd anyhow. Have at it. boy.” This took Sverdegaard completely aback. He knew that his mission now was to get the prisoner to Craggsdeep and try to extract what information he could from him. That meant keeping him alive. He also sensed that there was more to this fellow than met the eye. He shook his head and said to the elves that had been carrying Igar, “Chain him and let’s get moving.”
To Ballur Sverdegaard said, “Have your fastest runner hightail it to the outpost at Lake Gulbranor and buy a horse. This latest turn of events needs to reach King Ganzul in all haste.” When Ballur was gone Sverdegaard turned to watch his company leading the prisoner away. He rubbed the back of his neck and wondered what secrets this Igar concealed.