Skruff and the Nissarmy passed north through Gresslande and hooked up with the Orming Road many miles north of Lykthiem. By this time they had mastered marching and traveled like a well-oiled little machine. They made good time and were full of energy and enthusiasm fueled by Skruff’s imaginative methods of mischief that he explained in colorful detail. They were now camped on the ridge north of Craggsdeep making use of what sparse tree cover was available. Skruff had purposely pushed until it was dark and they could now, by moonlight, see out onto the valley floor. He knew that they would soon be able to see what they were up against and spot the trull position by the light of their campfires and fortunately they still had the advantage of elevation so their field of vision stretched for miles. Skruff was proving to be an insightful leader. He spoke in a way that all could understand and among Nissas, that was nearly miraculous. There was no doubt that Skruff was indeed “paramount”.
“We camp here for tonight”, said Skruff. He’d gathered his captains to survey the valley and they were now squinting far to the northern end of the valley.
“There’s a glow. Look, can ya see it?” Chuck was obviously excited. This was the first sign of the trulls they’d had since the farm where the people had been slain. The glow was very dim due to the extreme distance, even at this elevation. They would still have some distance to travel tomorrow.
“Yep. Must be far, far away. Hope it’s them. I betcha its their campfires,” said Skruff.
“Or maybe farms burning,” Bobo added.
“Might be the sun,” said Bizzard, feeling extra smart.
“You’re so stoopid,” said Chuck. “The sun just set and anyway, that was that way.” He pointed to the west.
“Maybe it’s a dragon,” said Sneaff. “Wow! That’d be really scary”.
“Not too many dragons anymore,” said Bob. “That’d be neat though. I never seen a dragon.”
Skruff shook his head, thinking maybe he should have picked smarter captains. Then he realized that he’d picked them because they were the smartest. He un-shouldered his pack and removed some strips of dried fish which he shared with the others. “Those are the campfires of the trulls, trust me. I’ve been in their camps. There’s a whole lot of ‘em and they make lots of campfires.”
Chuck’s eyes got wide, “Yeah wow! That’s really sumptin’. You been in their camp. Wasn’t you scared?”
Several of the others had put together a small campfire and Skruff sat down, chewing his fish. “I wasn’t scared. Guess I shoulda been. I could only think of getting information that I could use. Got some too. Those snotty trulls know a whole bunch if ya listen long enough.”
The others plopped to the ground and dug in their packs for items to nibble on. Bob had lefse. He ripped off a piece and passed it around. Bebo had a jar of jam for the lefse and Shkowtz opened a jar of beans. Bobo had jerked beef which he took a bite of and passed it on, then he unfolded a handkerchief containing mushrooms he’d gathered earlier.
“We’ll make it to the other side tomorrow in plenty of time to cause mischief. Them trulls have wagons full of weapons. Maybe we could steal some stuff we can use.” Said Skruff.
The others nodded and Chuck said, “Wouldn’t they be too big and heavy?”
“Mm, maybe…we’ll see,” said Skruff accepting a jar from Bizzard. “Maybe we could use their arrows for something. Sleep on it tonight.” He reached into the jar, removed his fingers and smelled them. “Ugh! Bizzard…this is poop.”
“Sorry… wrong jar.”
The Nissarmy was off well before dawn. Skruff had called a brief meeting before leaving, to advise them that the trulls were only a day’s travel to the north and they must all be as “sneakyfooted” as possible. “Remember, these trulls are not nice. They will eat you if they catch you…I think. Anyway, they’ll be really mean to you and make you sad…then dead…prolly.”
As they walked Chuck came running up from behind. He was obviously excited about something. “Skruff, I got a idear. Couldn’t hardly sleep thinkin’ about it.”
Skruff waited and when he realized nothing else would be forthcoming without some prompting he said, “Speak up, Chuck.” Suddenly Bobo and Bebo burst out laughing while covering their mouths so as not to make too much noise.
Perplexed, Skruff asked, “What’s so funny?”
Bebo and Bobo echoed in unison, “You said ‘upchuck’.”
Skruff had to admit, that was one funny joke and he laughed out loud. So did everyone within earshot. Those who hadn’t heard were told and soon the word “upchuck” made its way back through the line and before long there was an uproarious wave of laughter rippling through the ranks. Skruff was waving his arms and shooshing them to be quiet, but it was too late. Suddenly a party of twelve tall, dark elves stepped through the brush with bows drawn and arrows nocked. “Halt, who goes?”
The laughter fell away only to be replaced with ‘uh-ohs’. “Speak up, what is your business in Craggsdeep?” demanded the only elf not aiming an arrow at them, but this one had a long curved and lethal looking scimitar drawn.
Skruff finally found his voice and strode forward. “I’m Skruff Fluktfinger, paramount nissa and these folks are the Nissarmy. We’re going that way.” Skruff pointed to the north. “Who you, anyway?”
“Quiet. I’ll be asking the questions. Why are you in Craggsdeep and what is your business here?”
Skruff was getting annoyed. “No business here. You must got pig-flops in your ears. I told you. We go that way.”
“Well, in answer to your question, I am Bazeel of the Svartalfar. These are our lands. Are you not aware there is a tithe for traveling in our lands?”
“Well, sorry. Didin’t know about no tithe. We got no money. All we got is food. Want some?”
Never had Bazeel seen so many nissas. Indeed, he had no idea that there were so many anywhere let alone all in a group of several hundred and he was finding it hard to remain stern and business-like. “No, we have plenty of food. You say you are traveling north. That would be ill advised. There is presently an invasion force engaged in a siege of the bastion of Krawnholde.”
“Right.” Said Skruff. “Trulls. We’re going there to make trouble for ‘em. Might kill some even.” This drew an uncharacteristic spate of laughter from the Svartalfar party. At this, Bazeel waved his hand and the warriors lowered their bows, arrows still nocked just in case.
“And what do you think you can do to an army of trulls? Do you have any idea what you’d be up against?” Bazeel sheathed his wicked looking sword and sat on a fallen log in order to be closer to the nissa’s level.
The twins, Bebo and Bobo stepped forward. “We got plenty o’ poop.” Said Bebo. “And Pee.” Piped Bobo as he shuddered at the though of it.
“Yeah,” said Shkowtz. “We got dead, rotton fish and animals with maggots and all their guts hangin’ out an’ stuff.” He also shuddered and so did a few of the Svartalfar. The Nissarmy had indeed been busy on their march.
Bazeel blinked for a moment. “And this will avail you against a well armed trull army…how?”
“Ruin their water.” said Bebo.
“Ruin their grog.” said Bobo.
“Spoil their food.” said Sneaff.
After listening to the little people and their plans, Bazeel grinned but inwardly had to admit that it just might work, to some degree anyway. He was sorry to say that he believed many of these weird little beings might very well be going to their deaths, but it was not his business to make judgments for the fate of other obviously determined races.
He stood and tried desperately to suppress a grin saying, “Very well. We’ll waive the tithe this time. Stick to the mountains and what cover you can find. I suggest you work your mischief at night and be as careful as you can be. But tell me, where have you got, or plan to get these noxious substances you mentioned?”
Bizzard, not wanting to be left out of the exchange altogether, strode proudly forward, removed the top from one of his many ceramic jars and held it aloft for Bazeel to inspect. The elf leaned over a little reluctant to see the contents and suddenly extracted…a pickle.
Book 3 of The Bloodaxe Saga.