The Bloodaxe Saga, Book 2: Of Dreams and Fate Ch. 15

Chapter Fifteen

(Toy Soldiers)

A little known fact about nissas is that while they seemed to be solitary creatures, they actually had a very well structured society. However, any human witnessing their form of social interaction might describe it as comic or even slightly mad. They did have what passed for towns though few of the big people ever encountered them or recorded their whereabouts. They were extremely well concealed. Their homes were adapted from hollow trees, root systems or dug into the ground. Sometimes they erected small huts in tall grass. One might wander through their domain and not even know it. This is the reason many people in Garr’s time thought of nissas as fantasy creatures. Those people could not have been more wrong.
When Skruff Fluktfinger referred to himself as ‘paramount’, it was no flight of braggadocio. He was a very high standing member of his community. Nissas held no office such as mayor or councilman. They had no monarchs. They needed no such distinctions for they were concerned only with one’s merits and abilities and individuals were properly revered (or not) according to these. They had no laws or punishments because they needed none. If they had leaders at all it was only because these individuals rose to the top; the cream of the crop, so to speak. Among the nissa people there was no such thing as egotism or false pride. If, in the rare instance, these traits emerged in an individual, that person was eventually and invariably shunned. Not out of meanness or vindictiveness. Nissas in general, simply had no truck with such nonsense. Eventually that person would wander off and, more than likely, not be seen again.
Skruff came across the information that trulls had invaded Krawnhold in typical nissa fashion; by keeping his ear to the ground and eavesdropping whenever the opportunity presented itself. He had intended to go to Fjellhiem and rejoin Garr and company for whatever adventure would befall them, but this new information begged an adventure in and of itself. So it was that Skruff decided to travel to Krawnholde stopping off at his home village of “Here” on the way to recruit as many of the inhabitants as had a mind to go. Skruff was getting an itch to go see what mischief he and his prospective recruits could muster. Skruff didn’t hate anyone, but he really disliked trulls. In his opinion, they were “snots”. Trulls had hurt Garr and that meant they were his enemies as well. Anything he could do to put a crimp in their plans or efforts was helping Garr, so that made his endeavor that much more poignant.
Skruff had a love interest: a wife, for lack of a better term. Nissa marriages were mostly an arrangement of convenience and that, only when they chose to stick around, which wasn’t often. Nissas were extremely susceptible to wanderlust. All it took to send a nissa to the ends of the earth was that something ‘neat’ might be there.
Upon approaching Here, Skruff was greeted by his wife, Snerff, who just happened to be at the edge of Here, banging a tree with a stick. She stopped long enough to greet Skruff with a warm kiss and went back to her banging. “Back so soon?” she asked. Skruff had been gone over three years.
“Yep,” said Skruff. “Got important business. I have a big person now. His name is Garr. He’s a warrior and he’s really sumptin’. Stop banging and call a meeting. Everybody must come and hear. Tell ‘em I said so.”
“Okay,” said Snerff, and ran off as fast as her chubby little legs would carry her, dropping her stick on the way.
Skruff was really feeling alive. This was going to be exciting. Nissas were given to mischief; it was the thing they were most noted for, in fact. All through the farming country, nissas took care of livestock and tidied up the farmyards without ever being asked, just because it was something to keep them occupied. But if this went on for too long without some sort of appreciation or recompense, they would invariably make some kind of mischief for the farmer. For instance: they might sour the milk or leave things deliberately in the way to trip the farmer, or release the livestock so that the farmer had to chase all over the countryside gathering them up. However, all it really took to satisfy them was a token show of appreciation, like the occasional basket of baked goods or pudding or a handkerchief or shawl or any piece of knitted apparel. The farmer who ignored this unspoken protocol was a fool. Nissas where definitely a queer and misunderstood folk, but the astute and appreciative farmer had a friend for life and an excellent ally when needed.
The chance to make trouble for trulls was a mission that Skruff couldn’t wait to begin. It was doing mischief and good things for Garr, and Skruff felt like this was the thing he was designed for. Skruff had once told Garr that he would be there when Garr had need, and doggoned if this didn’t fit the bill; in his mind anyway. He stopped and sat beneath a shady tree for a while to plan what he wanted to say to his brethren. He was so excited, he fell asleep. This was, to quote Skruff, ’a nissa thing’.
Skruff was awakened by the whole population of Here gathered around and going, “ooh!” They were awestruck. Skruff had become a legend in a matter of hours on the strength of the news that he had a big person to call his own. Impression of a big person was something none of the current generation of Hereians could claim. There was a rumor that someone in the next village of There had impressed a big person, but it was said that he was only a homely farmer; not a warrior like Skruff’s big person.
Skruff got up and dusted off the seat of his breeches. “Okay now, everybody listen up,” said Skruff. “There’s nasty business afoot. Trulls are being bad again.” At this the oohs gained volume. “No no. No more ooh,” said Skruff waiving his hands. “Just listen. Skruff needs people to go and bother the trulls. Gotta be sneaky though. Who wants to go? Raise hands.”
Everyone to a person raised their hands. Women and children all.
Erb, the eldest Hereian said, “Okay, we go now?
“Yep, now.” At that the crowd began to walk off, everyone in a different direction. “No no. Stop,” Skruff called. “Gotta follow me and walk like this.” Skruff strode about in a circle swinging his arms and goose-stepping like a soldier. Immediately everyone started doing the same thing. People bumped into each other and hit and kicked each other with flailing hands and feet. In seconds fully one third of the gathered throng was on the ground rubbing various parts of their anatomy. “No, no. Stop. Gee whiz!” exclaimed Skruff, exasperated. Everyone froze. “Now, listen and do what I say. Line up behind me.”
After some pushing and jostling there was finally a reasonably straight line of some hundred and sixty individuals marching in place and swinging their tiny arms. “Okay now. Follow Skruff. We go this way.” He started off and everyone followed. Anyone witnessing the procession would have been reminded of a line of toy wind-up soldiers.
After nearly twenty four hours of marching Skruff raised his hand and called, “Everybody stop now.” The line came to a crashing halt with people stumbling and bumping into the person in front of them. Again, nissas wound up all over the ground and each other, but eventually the train halted. Skruff rubbed his neck and shook his head. It was only then that he realized that neither he nor anyone else had bothered to think of bringing provisions of any kind. This was not a terribly big concern because nissas were survivors and very adept at living off the land. It was, however, an inconvenience in the respect that they had no cooking utensils other than what Skruff carried in his own ever-present rucksack. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘we can steal what we need from the trulls when we arrive.’ But for now he called, “Everybody go find food and then come back here.”
Everyone wandered off in their respective family units and were back in a matter of hours with a generous assortment of berries, nuts, mushrooms, leeks, wild onions, edible roots, tubers, grubs, grasshoppers and some things that the more discerning among them would not eat. There was no shortage, however, and soon everyone was munching happily away.
After “food time” everyone slept.
Skruff went around waking everyone up just before dawn. “Okay lazybones, go pee and poop and then line up.” Soon everyone was marching in place with some complaining at the lack of breakfast. “No complaining,” said Skruff. “Nissa people an army now. Sometimes gotta do without. We’ll eat later.” Before the morning sun made an appearance, the Nissarmy, as they had taken to calling themselves, was trundling through the countryside, wending their way through Idunwood, north toward There. The nissa village of There was at the northernmost tip of the forest. Here, was at the southern tip. The distance between the two was roughly around two hundred miles. Skruff figured they could make the march in about two more days since they’d already marched about a quarter of the way. They were stopping at There to see if anyone wanted to join the mischief effort. After all, There was right on the way.
At around noon Skruff called a halt and everyone crashed together again. He turned and called, “Okay, anybody not on ground already, get there. As a unit, those still standing plopped to the ground in a cloud of dust. One would think that such a bizarre group of marchers would attract all kinds of attention, but somehow nissas were able to blunder through life making a chaotic racket, quite undetected. That is to say, they easily escaped the notice of humans.
Not so the Grand WooWoo. The High Dryad of Idunwood was sitting on a branch overlooking the Nissarmy’s path.
“Who goes through my wood without leave?” asked the dryad.
Skruff looked up a bit startled, but quickly regained his composure. “Oh, hi,” he said. “You must be the WooWoo/”
“Grand WooWoo,” the dryad corrected.
“Oh, of course. Grand WooWoo,” Skruff amended. “Well, sir, we are going to make trouble for trulls. There’s a whole bunch up by Heldahl.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard,” said the dryad. “And what exactly do you plan to do?”
“Oh, anything we can. Guess we see when we get there,” said Skruff thumbing his suspenders and beaming with pride. “Hey, wanna come?”
“Oh, my word, no. We dryads never leave our sacred wood,” said the Grand WooWoo, seeming a bit put out by the mere suggestion.
“Well, you’ll miss all the fun. Suit yourself. You gonna let us go through?”
“That depends,” said the dryad. “Who has sent you on this mission?”
Now Skruff’s nose was a bit out of joint. “Nobody send us. All my idea.” Here he thought for a second. “Going to help Garr, though.”
This got the WooWoo’s attention. “Garr? The One?”
Skruff actually had no idea what the dryad was talking about but ‘The One’ sounded awfully impressive, so he said, “Yup!”
“Very well. You have my permission and even my protection while you are in my wood,” said the dryad. He signaled with a hand gesture and a host of dryads appeared. “These will be your escort. Travel at your leisure and good luck to you.”
After a hasty meal provided by the High Dryad, the Nissarmy was off again, this time under the aegis of the group of well armed dryads. Skruff thought things were turning out splendidly indeed.

Dryads, as it turned out, were reticent creatures, and would not be engaged in light-hearted conversation. This annoyed Skruff terribly. “Hey, you guys,” said Skruff, “ Wanna hear a joke?” The answer, apparently was ‘no’, as the dryads just kept marching without response. Undeterred, Skruff went on to tell his joke. “Three guys sitting in a tree. One sneezed and fell out. He died. The other two said he shouldn’t have done that.” This was what passed for nissa humor. All the nissas within earshot of the joke laughed uncontrollably. The ones that hadn’t heard the original joke demanded to know what was so funny. The joke worked its way to the back of the line until it had transmuted into, “Someone died.” Because it was known that Skruff told the original, it still got laughs. The dryads cast covert looks at each other and shook their heads. From that day on Skruff regarded dryads as ‘unhappy poops’.
The dryads marched the troupe long and hard, seeking to be rid of their charges as soon as possible. The nissas didn’t seem to mind; they were little packages of energy that didn’t need much rest. They all seemed to know that the longer they marched, the quicker they would reach their destination. So it was that after three more days of staunch travel, they stood at the outer perimeter of There. Skruff thanked his escort and they left without a word. “Boy, those dryads sure are grouchy,” Skruff said to Snerff. She only nodded in return.
Skruff wasn’t exactly sure where There was, but there was a curious knocking sound so he followed it. A lone nissa with a long white beard was intensely engaged in (you guessed it) rapping a tree with a stick. “Wow, nice stick,” said Snerff. Startled, the nissa jumped and turned, eyes wide.
“Whoa! You scared me. Thanks, whittled it myself. Hey, who you, anyway?”
Skruff strode forward, hand extended. “Skruff Fluktfinger. Glad to meet ‘cha. This is the Nissarmy. We from Here.”
“Impossible,” said the nissa, pumping Skruff’s hand enthusiastically. “Lived here all my life. Never saw any of you. I’m Chuck. I know everyone in Here.”
Skruff eyed Chuck carefully, rubbing his chin. Finnally he said, “Unh unh, no way. I know all nissas in Here. Heck, they all here!” He indicated the throng. “Never saw you. Anyway, we going to There. Do you know the way?”
“Yup,” said Chuck. “Turn around. Go about two hundred miles that way.” He was pointing south.
Skruff looked in the direction Chuck was pointing and said, “Hey, I get it. You call There Here and we call there There.”
“No,”said Chuck, “I call here Here and there There. You call Here…oh, I get it. Wow! What a funny joke.” He gripped his considerable belly and doubled over laughing.
Skruff thought he was addle-pated for a moment, but then he too saw the humor and joined in the laughter. Not one of the Nissarmy got it, but they all laughed too.
Whoo! What a knee-slapper,” said Chuck. “Sure, I lead you. All done with my banging anyway.” He turned and strode north with Skruff’s group following along.
As it turned out, There / Here was only a few dozen yards through the trees.
Chuck turned, spread his arms and said, “Welcome to There…I mean Here.” He couldn’t help laughing again. Neither could anyone else. When the population of There (some two hundred and ten individuals) heard the laughter, they all came wandering out of their holes, huts and trees. Since hus was the common-tongue word for house in Norgeve, they will be referred to by that from now on.
Skruff cleared his throat and said, “Good folks of There…Here…whatever. I’d like to talk about neat stuff. Important too.”
All the inhabitants of both villages said “Ooh,” in unison. Then dead silence. They were all ears.
“Okay, good,” said Skruff. “We all going to cause trouble for a bunch of snotty trulls that are being bad. Trulls killed a whole bunch of people without even saying ‘sorry’ and I have a big person…he‘s a warrior. Anybody wanna go?”.
The ‘oohs’ crescendoed to a din and were accompanied by hats, sticks, rocks and smaller nissas being thrown into the air. Everyone in There wanted to go too.
That night they had a great party and got terribly drunk, especially the children. The next day they woke up before dawn. Skruff showed them how he wanted them to walk (with surprisingly few serious injuries) and they were off. This time they remembered supplies. By noon they were well into Gresslande, three hundred and seventy some strong.
If one nissa could poison your well, spoil your milk, salt your land, burn your crops, scatter your livestock and poop in your shoes all in one night, can you imagine what a small army of them could do? The poor trulls had no idea what they were in for.

The Bloodaxe Saga, Book 2: Of Dreams and Fate Ch. 15

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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