(One Eaten, One Beaten)
Had it not been for a few human women that willingly served Doden, he would have lain on the floor of his chamber for however long it took him to regain consciousness and may well have died there. The crones, however, brought him to his pallet and swabbed him with nutritious unguents and ointments and fed him broths in his torpor. They served him for whatever arcane knowledge he saw fit to divulge and in return they did whatever bidding he required. This attention was given of their own free will.
On his pallet in Doden’s private chambers, an obscene tableau was taking place. The crones in attendance were triplet sisters. They were the surviving three of an original set of quintuplets. The other two sisters had been murdered by the existing three in different disagreements during their long lives.
The youngest of the three was doing explicit things to the naked body of the dark lord which certainly will not be discussed here. The second was anointing him with herb laden ointments. The third was speaking arcane chants that were designed to bring their mentor gently back to the world of the living while methodically rubbing his temples.
This attention went on for weeks around the clock until the crones themselves were worn to a frazzle. Suddenly, at dawn one particular day, Doden stirred. The crones went prostrate on the floor and began wailing.
Doden’s eyes jolted open and he screamed an obscene sound that could not have been described as human. He sat bolt upright on his pallet and called the nearest crone to him. He took her and sexually ravaged her until she was spent and dead. He threw her wasted body aside and demanded that she be cooked and prepared for him within the hour. The surviving two did his bidding without question. Before dragging their sister’s spent body off to the cook-pots, the eldest said, “ Look to the north, my lord. Your new army awaits.”
Doden arose from his pallet stripping back his robes, demanding, “Wash these.” The crone gathered them up and fled the chamber, aiding her last surviving sibling with the task of transporting their sister to the kitchen.
Doden felt more refreshed and alive than he had in years. He ran to his northernmost window, and what he witnessed there was more orgasmic than his necrotic tryst with the crone. He had succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings. His demonic intercourse with Nargog had been worth the risk. There below him, on the northern plain beneath Fryktholde, stood thousands of mesmerized goblins, swaying to and fro, waiting to do his bidding, whatever that may be.
He rolled on the floor in his nakedness and laughed insanely. He ran to his wardrobes and donned his most sumptuous attire. He retired to his grand chamber and awaited his meal. Within the hour, his meal was brought to him and he dined ravenously. He grinned obscenely as the fat ran down his chin. He laughed silently and thought of how powerful he was. Oh, how the Earthlands would pay. These bastards who had sought to put a hitch in his machinations would pay with everything. He no longer cared to call all the worlds’ population under his control. He would be more than happy to annihilate them, if necessary.
Inzveer and his cohorts knew something was amiss when they reached the spot where the scent was strongest and yet there was nothing to be found. This was something beyond their ken. In frustration they raised their hands in the air and wailed a sound that would shrivel the nerve and strength of anyone who heard it. But no one was within hearing distance. They knew they were alone, so where was the being they’d sensed?
Inzveer crouched and sniffed the ground. Eventually he picked up the scent of Smuntley’s approach to this spot. Smuntley had evaded capture with his time-leap, but he could not eradicate the scent of his approach. He had gained a head-start and that was all. The draugs were on his trail and would hunt him to his capture or perish in the effort. They knew that whoever this being was, he most likely had something to do with the wizard’s escape or at least had some knowledge of it. And so they were off on Smuntley’s trail and would not rest until he was in their clutches. It was the only lead they had and they would follow it to the ends of the earth. Smuntley needed sleep and nourishment.
Not so, the draugs.
By taking care not to dally and eat only enough for sustenance, Smuntley was able to make his provisions last. He slept when necessary and fortunately finding water did not seem to be a problem. With the use of his compass he was able to keep his heading due south and within two days he found himself on a high ridge overlooking an obviously well traveled trade route. This was the north extension of Haarm’s Way. To his surprise, when he gazed north Smuntley could make out many 7tiny specks wending their way south and with the aid of his spyglass was able to discern that they were people, livestock and beast-drawn carts loaded with sundry provisions. And there were a lot of them.
“Krikey! A migration”, said Smuntley to himself wondering if this was in any way connected with his own plight.
Keeping a sharp eye peeled for pursuit, Smuntley began to pick his way carefully down the mountainside, trying to keep the wending party of travelers in sight without calling attention to his position. He also took a few moments to set “My little darlin’” (as he’d begun calling his time-hop apparatus) for an emergency hop.
Smuntley made his way down the slope and arrived roadside just about the time the party reached his position. He was concealed by a substantial projection of stone outcropping, wanting to be able to covertly eyeball this company of travelers for any signs of unsavory demeanor. He saw none. They seemed to be rustic farming folk judging by the cut of their clothing and the wares and provisions that they transported. Smuntley decided it was in his best interest to make contact so he made a cursory check of Little Darlin’s translator section to be sure it was still on the settings he’d used with the nissa and the mage. “Check, check and…check. Good, shall we?” he said patting his little invention.
Stepping out from around the outcropping, Smuntley stuck out his hand and strode briskly forward announcing, “Hoy there. Smuntley’s my name. Who might you be?” This move proved ill-conceived as the nearest startled farmer, who just happened to be toting a long wooden rake, whirled and delivered a sharp knock to the top of Smuntley’s head dropping him arse-first into the dust of the trail and knocking his trusty pith helmet clean off. His head swam for some moments, Adagio for a String Quartet playing somewhere between his ears, until he discerned people around him all talking at once. One loud voice could be heard above the others asking…asking what? Smuntley shook his head to clear his vision and sense of hearing and was finally able to make out what was being said…
“Quickly now, answer the fooking question; who are you?’ Smuntley fell back on his elbows and looked up at the man who was just a blinding silhouette due to the sun just behind his head.
Squinting, Smuntley answered the “fooking” question. “Smuntley, Smuntley Kwerm. I’m being chased by some kind of monsters. I was hoping to find safe haven among your group.”
The man rubbed his chin and eyeing Smuntley suspiciously said, “Aye, no shortage of that type these days, I’ll tell ya. Whaddja do t’ piss ‘em off?”
Blinking away the dust and sun, Smuntley answered, somewhat indignantly, “What? Why nothing. I’ve done nothing. I arrived home from walkabout to find them ransacking my property. I daresay you’ve done more to piss me off by hitting me with that rake.”
The farmer, fighting a burgeoning grin, offered his hand saying, “Well, lolling in the dust won’t better that situation. Here, up with ya”. Smuntley grabbed the huge proffered mitt and was hauled mightily to his feet. “Sorry for the lumps. Ya startled me. These are wary times.” The farmer still gripping Smuntley’s hand shook it heartily saying, “Lars is my name, Lars Arntsen”. At that moment a woman in a babushka came up carrying a broom and began to vigorously dust Smuntley off. To his questioning look, the farmer provided, “My wife, Lena”. When she was done to her satisfaction, Lena took a place by Lars’ side saying, “Beating up on the locals again? Ya’ll need t’ stop that”. Lars made formal introductions and Smuntley bowed.
“Actually”, said Smuntley, adjusting his rucksack, “I’m not to be considered a local at all. I’m from…well…a ways up north”.
“Ain’t much up that way”, Lena observed.
“Exactly”, Smuntley agreed.
Lars added, “Says he’s being chased by monsters, Ma”.
Lena raised her eyebrows while picking a few remaining leaf and twig scraps from Smuntley’s Cardigan saying, “Whaddja do t’ piss ‘em off?”
With an exasperated glance at Lars, Smuntley’s jaws worked but nothing but sputters came out. “He ain’t done nutthin’, Ma. Been run off is all”, is what Lars offered in way of explanation.
“Well”, said Lena, “There’s sure enough o’ that goin’ around”. At this she glanced at Smuntley saying, “It’s what we’re doing here in the first place. Trulls runnin’ willy-nilly all over the place. No sir, times ain’t safe fer no one”.
“He’ll be taggin’ along with us, Ma”, said Lars adding, with a look at Smuntley, “That is, if you’ve still a mind to?”
“Oh, absolutely”, said Smuntley, enthusiastically.
Resting his rake across his shoulder, Lars turned saying, “All right then, we’ve tarried long enough. Still got plenty of daylight left and I want to be only one day out from Fjellhiem by the time we camp”.
Smuntley fell into line and the caravan began to move steadily south. “Fjellhiem”…Where had Smuntley heard that word before?
A good night’s sleep had done Garr a world of good. He awoke well before dawn feeling strong and clear-headed. His dreams of the night were foggy but there was something tugging at his memory that seemed just about to be recalled but wasn’t happening at the moment. Lai was already in the mess area making a huge pot of porridge and biscuits with bacon. Garr caught up with her there, kissed her and fixed himself a cup of tea. He settled onto a bench and sat there reticent.
Lai noticed Garr’s quiet mood and asked if things were alright. “Yes, actually I’m feeling very positive this morning. I believe it has something to do with a dream I had, but damned if I can recall it”, Garr took a long sip of his tea. “The feeling’s there but no actual recall. I know it’ll be bitin’ at me till remember.” Here he grinned, shook his head and drained his cup. He stood, strapped on his sword and said, “Well, I’m off. Got a busy day.”
Leorrelai turned from stirring her cauldron of porridge. “No breakfast?” she asked, surprised. Other workers were now showing up at the kitchen.
“I’ll make sure to eat double at lunch”, said Garr. Purloining a biscuit, he bent and kissed Lai on the forehead. Holding up the biscuit he said, “For the road” and was off.
Garr strode into the great hall to find a few of the council already there. Briar was consulting with Arnaald and Algar near the dais, Tykk and Helmut were approaching from the far end of the hall and the whole Dwarf contingent was finishing breakfast at the hall table.
“Ah Garr”, said Briar as he approached. “Our guest has been asking to see you. Says he’ll talk, but only to you. Guess you made an impression.”
Garr’s eyes rolled and he grinned, “That, or he’s found a way to slit my throat”, said Garr, removing his coat. To Arnaald he said, “Had a really enigmatic dream last night. Left a very strong feeling but I can’t recall any particulars and it’s driving me crazy. I’d like to talk to you about it later if we can find the time.” Stroking his long beard, Arnaald nodded assent. To Briar Garr asked, “Can we have Igar brought to the hall? He may want to talk to me but there is nothing he can say that should not be made common knowledge. Everyone of this honored council has risked much to be here. They all have a right to any information the trull might possess.”
Briar nodded and sent sentries to bring the prisoner to the hall. Soon Igar was led into the hall, brought to a rude wooden bench and directed to sit. His wrist chains had been removed but the leg irons were left in place.
Garr poured two mugs of tea and walked to the prisoner offering him one. “What is it?” asked Igar.
“Tea, very good tea at that”, Garr responded.
“Phaw! Rather have grog”, Igar spat.
Garr’s eyes widened. “At this hour?” he asked, incredulous.
Igar shrugged, “At any hour”, he replied.
Garr stopped a passing sentry, “Excuse me, friend”, he said, “Would you please bring this fussy bastard a tankard of mead?” The sentry nodded and returned moments later with the prescribed draught. By this time the throng had gathered around to see what would transpire. Igar eyed the crowd unhappily. Finally…”I thought we were gonna talk alone”, he said.
Garr shook his head, “That is not going to happen. You may want to talk to me and that you may, but you’re going to have to understand that what you and your kind have been up to affects everyone in this council and more. So if you’ve something to say to me, it’s going to have to be shared with all here. Is that understood?” Igar took a long pull on his mead and set the tankard down on the bench next to him wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Finally after a long burp, he nodded his assent but said nothing. He eyed the gathered throng suspiciously.
Garr was pacing impatiently now and finally he stopped and leaned down eye to eye with the trull prisoner. “Captain Igar, are you toying with me? Because if you are; I should warn you that you are on very precarious ground.”
Igar heaved a heavy sigh and began, “I am a defector, it’s true, but know this. It still sticks in my craw to betray my kind”.
Garr straightened up and folded his arms. “Well, at least that shows some character. Now out with it or back to your cell and stop wasting our time.”
Igar began, “Before I defected I was delivered a message by runner from Doden himself…”. At the mention of the Dark Lord there was a unified gasp and the room went deathly silent. Arnaald’s eyebrows furrowed and he came a few paces closer, rapt now.
Igar looked up at the sudden silence and scanned the sea of incredulous faces. “You didn’t know, did you?” To Garr he said, “You honestly didn’t know that it has been Doden all along that has been the architect of your misery and misfortune. Did you honestly think that trulls alone could coordinate such well orchestrated strikes without a unifying force? “
At this Arnaald shook his head and leaned on his staff. “I had my suspicions. In my heart I’ve know that he was the cause of my imprisonment and I’ve suspected that he was behind the latest trouble but was loathe to name him. His is not a name one throws loosely about. He is a powerful enemy in the extreme and I fear that mention of his involvement could scare off some of the fainter of heart. This is a dire confirmation indeed.” He lit his pipe and wandered off to contemplate the latest news.
By this time the hall had filled with all members of the council and was abuzz with conversation and commentary. It was King Gronn that brought order by bringing his war hammer crashing down upon the long hall table sending plates and tankards jumping. He jumped up onto the bench and then onto the table itself. Standing with hands on hips he called out, “Hear me, hear me, men. This news changes nothing. We knew in our heart of hearts that there was an unforeseen element here. This much trouble with trulls has never added up logically. So now we know what we’re up against. They’ve got a powerful mage. Well, so do we; not to mention all the shaman and seers we have at our avail.”
“Where were your seers when Doden was plotting behind the scenes, Dwarf?” challenged Vorm from across the room.
It was Arnaald who answered, “Doden is a sneak of the highest order, and powerful. Amazingly so. If he wishes to go undetected, that’s what he will be. I assure you he can be whatever he sees fit to be. However, why he wants to be undetected is the more important issue. It actually is a ray of hope for it indicates some sort of chink in his armor. Why would he choose to stay in the background if he were ready to wage all out war?”
“Right”, agreed Gronn. “We can surmount any enemy if we keep our heads and focus. We’ll not run scared like children. Gaw! My people fought the goblins in years past and we won that war. The goblins: some of the most vicious and unrelenting warriors in the earthlands. We beat them, albeit at great cost. But we won nonetheless, because we stuck together and focused. At least we are not up against that threat.”
A low, building chuckle could be heard arising from somewhere in the room. It soon became apparent that it was coming from the trull prisoner and Vorm strode quickly to him and grabbed him by the topknot demanding, “What exactly do you find so humorous about all this you, stinking heap of dung?”
Arnaald used his staff to gently urge Vorm away from the hapless trull. “His question is one that deserves an answer, Igar. Exactly why do you see fit to snigger?”
Igar took another long pull on his mead and cleared his throat. “The note”, He said.
“The one sent to me by Doden. It instructed me to wait. Take no action until he contacted me again. That we would be joined by a large army from the north and they would supplement the 2nd battalion at the north wall of Krawnholde.”
At this Arnaald sat on a stool in front of the trull, Garr coming up behind him. The room was all ears now. “How large an army?” asked Arnaald.
“I truly do not know, but it’s the whole damned race.” Igar paused and awaited the next inevitable question.
It was Garr who posed it. “The whole race of…?”
Igar stared directly into Gronn’s eyes and uttered one word. “Goblins”.