The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen
(A Short Respite and Sad Songs)

So many preparations had taken place in the months prior to arriving at Battlestead. They realized that they would be fighting an open battle on a largely exposed plain so lumber had been hauled from southern forests and milled at Fam Moor to construct split log shelters for the archers to take cover behind. Also they milled all the parts for a number of ballistas, trebuchets and catapults to be assembled at Battlstead. Stones of all sizes as projectiles were ready to go. Some were wrapped in straw and slathered with pitch. Now that they’d arrived at Battlestead they were busy assembling the war machines. Siege towers and ladders would be a waste of effort and lumber given the extreme height of the walls of Krawnholde.

During the days they were encamped a Battlestead, Allunn and Fallen set up homing stations at the east and west sides of the Valley Heldahl well away from the notice of the trull army. The idea was that this would give both the east and west flanks almost immediate communication. It didn’t take long for the birds to fall into the routine of their new locale. They were well trained and willing. Within the week the birds were comfortable with their new surroundings. With the size of the force they would be fielding this would be a great boon, far faster and more efficient than horse messengers certainly.

They had also left a pair of birds at Fjellhiem before making the trek to Battlestead and now they were pleasantly surprised when returning from the field to learn of a message having already come in to the Battlestead station from Fjellhiem. As they were entering the camp, Jessen, a friend and colleague of Fallen in the training of pigeons had noticed the bird circling and was now busy waving a long willow pole with red ribbons tied at the end, in the air and whistling in a high shrill way. Fallen knew that this signaled an arrival for the bird would follow the ribbons, and nudged Allunn. “That could only be from Fjelliem,” said Fallen. “So soon? Wonder what’s up.” By the time they dismounted the bird had perched and Jessen was removing the message container.

“I’ll take it to the council.” Said Allunn. “I’m heading over there right now.”

When he entered the pavilion the council was gathered around several maps laid out on the table and discussing battle strategies. As soon as there was a lull he announced, “There’s a message in from Fjellhiem. Who gets it?”

Briar held out his hand. “I’ll take it.” He unrolled the message and read it. His brows raised and he whistled. “Odd turn of events.” He handed it to Arnaald who read it while the others waited.

“It’s from Talasyn.” the mage reported. Talasyn was a relative of Maggie Bjordiboffknocktopkaflapfart. A robust woman with a prominent moustache and sideburns, more man than woman by most accounts, with a willingness to laugh and a heart of gold. She had become the unofficial jailer of the trull, Igar. When it was discovered that Igar had taken a shine to her and was comfortable talking to her, she was asked if she would take the position permanently. She’d found the trull annoying and confrontational at first but as he relaxed to her ministrations he became more friendly and forthcoming, so she agreed. In the following weeks the council learned much from Igar and often allowed him access to council meetings.

As the council waited curiously Arnaald read the message and finally announced, “She says Igar has been requesting to be transported to Battlestead. Says he could be of use to us and wants to lend a hand.”

“Ha! And you believe that? Why would he/” Huffed Gronn. “Like as not he’s bored to death with the confines of his cell and wants a chance to slice our throats.”

“I don’t know.” Said Garr. “In the time at Fjellhiem I got considerable insight into his character. As strange as it may seem, I saw what I believe was honest contrition. The fact is, he actually admitted to me that he was sick of what he was. He said that he’d done things that, as he put it, ‘could sicken even a trull such as me.’ I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a profound sense of self-loathing.”

Helmet spoke up. “It’s natural not to trust him but you have to admit, he was pretty willin’ to spill information before we left.”

“I still don’t trust him.” Said Dolf. “Maybe he was just fearing for his life; the information an act of cowardice. I’m not so trusting. I side with Gronn in this”

Arnaald considered all this. “I don’t think so. We all saw how he reacted when Garr attacked him. His arms were bound. He was helpless and he fairly begged for death. He taunted Garr until even I thought he might actually kill him. I doubt that was the act of a coward. It seemed more an act of desperation and melancholia.”

Garr said ,“I had quite a few chances to talk privately with him and while, at first I had nothing but hatred for him, I soon came to see a being that was trying to rise above what he was. The fact is, I took longer to see that than I should have just because of his appearance and demeanor. I daresay if he is forthright about wanting to change, he has nearly insurmountable hurtles before him to do so. I say we should give him a chance. Besides, this way we can keep an eye on him, and if he has any valuable information yet to impart, let’s take advantage of it. There is certainly more than enough of a compliment left at Fjellhiem to see him safely here.”

“Something to consider is that in these times, it’s unsure what manner of enemies may be traveling abroad. What if they run into a band of straggling trulls.” said Tykk.

“I think we can more than afford some of our best scouts to meet and guide them in.” Tallon offered.

“Aye,” said Ganzul. “As can the Svartalfar.”

There was much discussion and finally Briar called for a vote. It was close but finally it was decided to send a pigeon with a message to bring the trull east. It was also decided that since it would take about five days of hard riding from Fjellhiem, they would wait for the arrival of the trull. It would do no good to have the trull at Battlestead while the rest of the army was on the front already embroiled in battle.

Verminard occupied Blothe’s throne room and private quarters. He was aware of the dragon that had been harassing the occupying forces and was very keenly aware of his vulnerability when he was on the wall. He was by no means defenseless, but to take needless risks would be foolhardy. Obviously, he would need to make his rounds and monitor the situation but when he did, he was sure not to dally. His main concern was the trull army. They were so unruly and headstrong. He was assured aid would be coming in the form of the Manion Drauds but as yet, he’d seen no sign of them. They would be essential if they were going to strike out across the countryside and take this land in earnest for he alone could not control both the trulls and the goblins with the oversight that would be necessary.

As he stood now on the battlements of the southern wall eight eyes straining into the distance of the sunset glow, at the far southeastern corner of the trull gathering he spied and heard some commotion. As whatever it was approached, the hoard of trulls parted to allow passage. The approach was aiming straight for the gates. He soon recognized that the trulls were making way for a clutch of riders moving with slow deliberation. It became apparent that this was the contingent of Draugs he had been awaiting. When they were near enough to get a good look at them he shuddered at their look. Suddenly he thought of his own monstrous appearance and his mind smiled an ironic smile that could not grace his corrupted visage. He was determined to start their relationship by showing who was in charge. He did this by standing on ceremony as they waited just outside the gates.

“Identify yourselves and state your business.” He called down. He needed to shout as loudly as he could for his voice to reach them over the heights of the walls. He was startled when the answer came because it was nothing uttered aloud but rang within his head.

The ormhests milled and champed, “I am Inzveer and we are the thirteen. We ssserve Lord Doden. We are expected. We ssseek entry.”

“ I also serve the dark lord. I am Verminard the Dire. I am in command here. If you enter you serve me as well for I am Doden’s emissary. This must be understood.”

The Draugs hesitated and began to moan and waver in their saddles. Finally Inzveer raised his corrupted arm high and they settled down. “It is understood.”

The great winches began to turn and the chains clanked and the gates and portcullis were raised slowly just enough to permit entrance. Once the thirteen were inside, they slowly closed again making the bastion once more impregnable. Verminard turned to the goblin on his right and said, “Direct them to the Great Hall as soon as possible.” He turned and skittered off the hall.

At Battlestead, while Verminard was welcoming his guests, the camp, with a few extra days to spare, took their time packing for the migration. Some had gathered together with instruments in the main pavilion to lighten the mood and ease the tension of pre-battle. There were lyres, lutes, fiddles pipes and flutes, squeezeboxes and ocarinas and many voices serenaded the night. There were lively jigs and ballads and marching tunes about battle valor and inspiration.

It was little known that Garr could manage a fair tune when in the mood or put to it as he now was. Dolf strode to the center of the gathering when the current jig ended. He rapped his pewter mug with a spoon and said. “Hear! Hear! Who wants to hear Garr sing a song?” He began to clap inducing everyone within earshot to do the same.

Garr was sitting on a bench along the wall next to Tykk, who gave him a great shove, saying, “G’won. Don’t play bashful. You love singing.”

Garr acquiesced. He thought for a moment and believing that merriment was fine but it should be tempered by something in honor of the poignant meaning of what they’d all would soon be facing. Walking to the musicians he asked, “Do you know the ballad, ‘Upon the Shining Shore’?” Several of the players knew it and began to play and Garr sang:

Would you await, dear heart
In the early morning’s glowing
By the meadow long for me
With the sleepy cattle lowing.
All along the wayside
And by the coursing river wide
I shall come a rolling home
For alas I have, in battle died.

But e’en if I shall bend and fall
My spirit heeds the loving call
Of your sweet beck, I shall return
In Spring when the sweetgrass is tall.

And we shall join a merry dance
And I will take your lovely hand
To kiss once more then I shall leave
To touch no more the loam and land.

Should you in quiet evening hear
A soft ‘I love you’ brush your ear
‘Tis only me drawn back to you
So shed for me no mournful tear.

But tell my tale, my lot and lore
And miss me not forever more
For I shall wait for you away
Upon the distant shining shore.
Upon the shining shore
Upon the shining shore…

The theme and lilting mournful melody was not lost on the throng. Even Gronn wiped moist eyes. For several moments there was a pronounced silence while everyone thought of loved ones they may never see again. And Garr thought of his beloved Leorelai. But soon they all rose, toasted Garr and began to applaud. Garr nodded his appreciation, bowed and walked back to sit beside Dolf. He drained his mug and said, “Satisfied, smart guy?”

Dolf was wiping his nose. Finally he put away his handkerchief and said. “More than you know.”

The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Seventeen

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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