Saturday, June 27, 2015

Serah III

"Are you sure that you feel strong enough, my Princess?" Serah was worried, watching the frail girl climb the steps to the crenellations.
    All Serah had wanted to do was take a short walk in the gardens. It did the poor girl good to breathe the fresh air, but within minutes Princess Theowenna exclaimed her delight in hearing the new battalion training in the courtyard behind the garden walls.
   The Princess stopped going up the steps and turned around to look Serah in the eye. "I haven't seen Small John in days. I want to see how he's getting along."
   And that was that. She turned around again and kept climbing the steps. Serah followed, sweating from her brow. She watched each step that the Princess made, her hands always ready to dart out and catch the girl if she faltered.
   Serah sighed with relief when they reached the top. The Princess was breathing heavily, but she could now lean against the parapet and rest while watching the soldiers train below.
   "Can you see him?" The Princess scanned the gathering of men. There were five groups. Each group had a Guardian as a leader, except for the first. That was lead by Captain Jason March.
   Serah recognized him below immediately. Not by the wavy gold sheen of his hair, but by the arrogant stance he always had. Feet apart, elbows outward and fists pressed against his hips as if he were the hero come to save the day. She still remembered him running around the courtyard as a little boy. It was tragic what happened to the boys when they grew up.
   "Oh! There he is! Small John! He's right over there!" The Princess was pointing and leaning over the parapet with such vigor that Serah was frightened that the girl might fall over and drop off the wall or that she would collapse at any moment, having spent all the energy she had.
   "I see him, Princess. Now calm down. No need to get so excited." Serah held on to Theowenna's waist to make sure she would stay upright. The Princess kept pushing herself to get a better look, but at least she had a good hold on her.
    "He looks magnificent. Sword and shield in hand. He's taller and stronger than any of the others below."
   Serah couldn't help grimacing, but the Princess wasn't paying attention to her anyway. The boy, John, had nothing but a tourney sword and a battered shield in hand. He was wearing padded linens and looked much like the others. Small and inexperienced.
   Sure, they were high up and everyone looked small, but he definitely didn't look any taller or stronger. Especially, compared to the man he was about to fight against. Now that was a man. A soldier. He was wearing mail and armor and had to be John's Guardian.
   "I think it best that we return to your rooms, Princess. I wanted you to get some fresh air and not to become breathless from excitement."
   "Oh, Serah." The Princess pouted. "I just want to watch Small John a bit more. I think he is about to fight. Look he's raising his sword."
   Serah winced as John's attack was easily blocked and he himself was knocked to the ground by his Guardian's shield. He lay there dazed until some of his comrades helped him back to his feet.
   The Princess was outraged. Seemingly, lost for words she stood there watching until she finally let out a little huff and turned away. "I can't believe how that man treated him. No one should be allowed to beat Small John so."
   Serah grabbed ahold of the Princess's arm to guide her back down the stairs. "My Princess, John is being trained. He needs some harsh lessons so that he can learn. He is only beginning to learn the way of the sword and shield. Soon he will have made much progress and I'm sure if we come to watch him again, he will be the one knocking another to the ground."
    "You think so, Serah?" She looked at her, hope shining in her eyes.
    "Watch out where you're going now!" Serah reprimanded her and held on tight to her arm.
    The Princess looked back to her feet and kept taking one step at a time.
   "Yes, I'm sure he will get better." A dark thought crossed Serah's mind.
   John would have to get better and the others too. They would all have to get better soon. The King's army was already on its way to fight the Orcs. The new battalion was going to be sent next, but would they be ready soon enough.
   "Oh, I can't wait to see him again. Won't it be possible to have him visit me again?"
   They reached the bottom and Serah started leading the Princess through the garden, back to the palace. At a slow pace, not to exhaust the poor girl.
   "I honestly don't know if he has the time. John will be training as much as he can. He has to, to get better. You want him to get better, you said so yourself. So, i don't think he'll be able to visit you anytime soon."
   The Princess's smile wilted. The poor girl wanted to spend time with her friend, Serah understood that. She even understood that John might mean more to the Princess than just being a simple friend, but he was now a part of the King's army. It wasn't suitable for them to spend time together.
   Serah took the Princess back to her chambers and brought her to her bed. It had been an exciting walk. She needed to rest now. Maybe she could at least spend time with John in her dreams, if not during her waking hours.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dax II

The shaman's hut was filled with herb smoke. Dax could tell that some of the herbs were being burned to dull the senses, but others just made the room smell better.
    Kruzz still lay on the slab of rock and Vorg was seated next to him. A frown was on his face as he studied the putrid flesh of the young Orc's arm. The brood was unconscious. Dax should be calling him a grunt, he had proved his strength after all, but seeing him in such a weak state reminded him of how young Kruzz still was.
    Vorg looked up at Dax, eyes red and brow furrowed. Even with the plugs in his nose he was bound to inhale some of the herbs. He should go out and get some fresh air, but he had been trying to help Kruzz any way that he could. To no avail.
    "I've dissected the creature he killed. It's poison glands were mostly full, but I couldn't make an antidote in such short time. It's spreading too fast."
    Dax clasped his hand on Vorg's shoulder. "You have done all that you could. Nobody expected more."
    Vorg shuddered. "I'm going to have to take his arm off. At least that way he'll have a chance at living. If I don't do that the venom is bound to spread all the way to his heart."
    Dax sighed. Poor Kruzz. It seemed like he was going to have a bright future ahead of him. This changed everything. Maybe he hadn't been ready for the Hunt. But who could have foreseen such a huge creature as his animal. What was the meaning of that beast coming to him for the Hunt?
    "I better get things ready. The sooner we do it the better. I had just hoped that my treatment would work, but it's too late now." Vorg got up with a grunt and headed towards the flap. "I'll need your help when it's time. You and that other big fellow. Grim was his name?"
    Dax nodded. "I'll go and get him."
    They both left the hut, leaving Kruzz behind.
    It was still early and the sun blinded him when he stepped outside. Dax went to look for Grim in his tent, but he wasn't there when he looked inside. He took a look around the fighting pit where some of the grunts were training and some of the broods were watching and imitating them. Grim wasn't there either.
    Nor was he bathing in the stream. That would surprised Dax anyway. Grim probably hadn't bathed even once in the last month. It was far more likely to find him where there was something to eat. But even the burning meat on the spit hadn't lured the big brute over.
    There wasn't much else he could do, but ask around. Someone must have seen him. Who better to start with than their elder. Elder Worg was in his hut, but he wasn't alone. Dax was asked to wait outside by his guard while he went in to ask permission for Dax to enter.
    The guard came back out and grunted with a nod towards the flap. Dax went inside and was surprised to have finally found Grim, who was standing next to where Worg sat. "There you are. I've been looking for you."
    "Then you've heard. Your shaman wants to take the little grunt's arm off." Grim scowled. "I guess it's better than letting him die, but what will his future hold now. You said the Hunt had meaning. What does this outcome say about Kruzz's fate?"
    Grim's eyes were ablaze. Not with hatred for Dax, he could see that. It was frustration and anger at the world. Maybe there was more to Grim than he would have thought. Not just a lazy, strong, brute who did whatever he wanted. He genuinely cared for Kruzz. That was clear.
    Worg's head sagged on his chest and he looked old and weak. Not like the strong leader that a clan should have. "It's my fault. I thought he was ready. I thought he had greatness within him. The Hunt was going to be his first triumph of many more to come. My plans for him have failed."
    Dax watched Grim grind his teeth. He probably wanted to yell at his elder, but he had too much respect to do so. Did he think it was Worg's fault? Worg was taking the blame, but that didn't make it true. What the two of them needed was something to keep them from despair. They needed hope.
    Dax took a deep breath and slapped his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Don't you two see what this is? This is a decisive moment not only for Kruzz, but for us. It will be hard for him to get used to only having one arm, but with our help he will be able to learn that not only strength matters. It will be our task to make him what he can become. Losing an arm does not make him less of an Orc. Losing hope will make him less than he can be."
    A slight grin spread over Grim's lips, his tusks thrust upward. "You always know what to say, don't you?"
    "I don't know if this will work." Worg still sat on the ground, his body slumped. "But we should at least try to help this young grunt. He will need us in the hard time to come."
    "Good!" Dax crossed over and gently laid his hand on Grim's shoulder. "Then there's only one more thing to do, before we can help Kruzz on this hard path. Vorg asked me to get you, so we could help him do what needs doing."
    All of the good vibes he had just spread were sucked away in an instant. Grim's smile turned into a frown and a deep rumbling growl came from his throat. "We'd better get it done then. The sooner the better."
    Together they stalked out of Worg's hut and walked silently through the settlement. Inside the shaman's hut, Vorg was waiting. He had his tools laid out before him and fresh herbs were burning.
    "Here, take these." He handed them plugs for their noses. "You'll need all the strength you have to hold him down. He'll struggle as soon as I start."
    Grim held on to Kruzz's legs and Dax held on to his arms. The brood winced when he grabbed the wrist of his left arm. It's light green coloring had become increasingly blue over the last few days. It was getting high time to remove it.
    "I'll make the cut up here." Vorg indicated a spot slightly below the shoulder, well above the infected flesh. "You two just keep him restrained."
    Vorg lifted the saw from his collection of tools and placed it where he was going to cut. "Hold on tight now."
    The brood looked peaceful as he lay there. His eyes were shut and his breathing was calm. Then Vorg began to saw. Kruzz's eyes burst open, his limbs struggled and he screamed. Oh, how he screamed.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Damien III

Damien's horse slogged through the mud. Rain was pouring down from the sky in heavy sheets. His guards looked miserable as the rain pattered on their armor. Much the same as he felt.
    Power had its benefits, but it also brought responsibilities. In these hard times Damien was forced, as Chancellor of Thecia to trudge around the countryside and see what damages had been done to the outlying villages in the north. To lend support and hope where he could. To let the common men and women know that their King is looking out for them.
    The King's army was several leagues ahead of them, on their way to battle the Orcs. There was little hope in them being able to do much against an organized and bloodthirsty band of those monsters, but they should have their superior numbers to count on. The main reason to send the army was to gain more time for the new battalion to be trained and to stop those beasts from harassing their borders.
    The little light they had on this cloudy day was starting to fade. Soon the guardian of his entourage would call them to a stop and they would make camp. Damien's thighs were chaffed and his buttocks was aching. He couldn't wait to get off this damn horse and relax in front of a fire in his tent.
    "Halt!" The guardian brought his horse to a stop. Finally! Damien couldn't take it anymore. "Chancellor Damien, Sir. Some riders are coming."
    "What!" Was there no end to his misery. "General Tarrik must have sent some of his scouts to inform us of their progress. Or the lack thereof in this damnable weather."
    "I can't see the King's standard, Sir. I'm not so sure their the general's men. Best be safe and stay behind us, Sir." The guardian drew his sword. "Line up beside me and protect the Chancellor at all costs."
    Damien drew in his reins watching as his guards formed up before him. Although they didn't know who was coming and if they were even in danger, Damien couldn't keep himself from shaking. The cold rain and the uncertainty of the situation made him uneasy as he drew in a rattling breath.
    "Who goes there?" The guardian shouted to the oncoming riders. They slowed and trotted up to Damien's protectors. There was tension in the air. Damien's mouth was so dry he could barely swallow. Funny, considering the massive amounts of rain pouring down on him.
    The figures could not be distinguished as friend or foe until they were only a few paces away. Their hoods covered them from the rain and made their features unrecognizable. They were carrying weapons, but they did not draw them when being challenged with his guards' cold steel.
    "No need to fear us, humans. We come in peace." The leader of the riders reached up to remove the hood from his head. It was an Elf. "The Druids have been discussing how to deal with the situation between you and the Orcs. I believe Chancellor Damien is with you?"
    "I am here." Damien nudged his horse forward. He was still shaking, but he contributed that to the cold and being soaked from head to toe. "Guardian, sheathe your blade. All of you, get to work and set up my tent. We make camp for tonight. The Elves and I must talk."
    The leader donned his hood again and waited patiently upon his horse for Damien's men to prepare everything. Damien lowered his own hood to not let them see the grimace on his face. Elves changed everything. This was not according to plan.
    Sooner or later they were bound to get involved, but he had hoped it wouldn't be so soon. The great battles that were to come hadn't even started yet. If they offered their support too early all his carefully laid out plans could be ruined.
    His tent was standing within a couple of minutes. He entered and was glad to get out of the rain, but he wouldn't have time to change before the Elves came in. It would be too rude to let them wait outside. His guards brought in four folding chairs and the Elves followed them inside.
    "Make sure to get a fire started. We don't want our guests to get a chill, now do we?" And he didn't want to get one either for that matter.
    "I'm sorry Sir, but with this heavy rain I don't know if we'll find enough dry wood, if any." Damien glared at the guardian and felt the wet clothes sticking to his body more than ever. How could the man expect him to be in this cold dark tent all night without a fire.
    One of the three Elves stepped forward. "Let me be of help in making the fire. The wood need not be dry, I will make it burn just fine."
    The guardian and his men exited the tent, leaving Damien alone with the Elves. "Please, be seated." Damien found his own chair with the help of a sliver of light coming through the air vent at the top of the tent. The chair wasn't very comfortable. There was no back rest, only a sheet of cloth bound over four wooden legs. Comforts were a rare commodity when traveling.
    "Nyf, some light, if you please." The leader of the Elves spoke to the one who had offered to help with the fire. The Elf pulled out a small bottle with tiny dots of light inside. He shook it, making the dots become bright little suns, illuminating the tent.
    It was like magic. Damien had never seen anything like it, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing that. He just smiled gracefully and nodded toward their seats.
    With the new light the Elves easily found their chairs and sat down. The leader was directly across from Damien and the other two were slightly behind him to either side. They all removed their hoods and only now did Damien notice that the third Elf was a woman.
    "Chancellor Damien, this is Conjurer Nyf of the third degree." He indicated the Elf holding up the light.
    "And this is Ranger Veala." The female Elf nodded with a cool glare in her eyes.
    "I, myself, am Lorian the Whisperer. We've come to inform you and your King of what the Druids have decided."
    "I didn't expect the Elves to be so well informed about the goings on of Thecia. I am of course glad that you have come to offer help and will let the King know immediately."
    "We did not come to offer help." Lorian's face was solemn.
    Before Damien could respond, the guardian came back inside the tent with a handful of firewood. "Excuse me, Sir. Here is the wood. It's pretty damp, so I don't know how easy it'll be to get a fire started."
    Nyf got up from his seat and unburdened the guardian. He placed the wood in the center of the tent and Damien thought he saw him add some powder on the logs. With a flick of Nyf's wrist fire burst forth and the wood burned greedily.
    The guardian's eyes opened wide at the sight. Some conjurer's trick, Damien was sure. It seemed like magic and it looked impressive, just like the light from the bottle, but he shouldn't let himself be distracted. "You can leave us now, Guardian."
    "Yes, Sir." He bowed and left the tent.
    "Excuse me for not responding quicker, but I did not want to discuss this in front of my men. What do you mean by not coming to offer help? Why did you come?" Damien said this with as much shock as he could muster, while grinning mischievously in the back of his mind. No help from the Elves, meant that his plans were still in tact.
    "The Druids have talked it over for some time. We were all concerned when we heard of the conflict between you and the Orcs. Most of us still remember the Great War and we still feel the pain and loss from over a century ago. We do not want a new war to evolve, but it seems like you are on the brink of one. If worst comes to worst, we don't want to be fighting the Orcs again. That and the fact the humans seem to have been the cause of this, are the reasons why the Druids have decided that we will not help you in this war."
    Damien gave his best impression of being hurt and surprised. "I don't understand. We're allies. The Orcs used to be your enemies too." A thoughtful pause. "The King will be very disappointed when he hears this."
    "I'm sorry, but our kind is just not willing to risk lives in a war that has nothing to do with us. You will have to accept that and so will your king." Lorian rose from his seat and his companions followed his example.
    "I will inform the King at once." Damien jumped up from his seat, following the Elves to the flap of the tent. "We were hoping to have your support in this conflict, but we'll fight bravely without you."
    "I hope you do, Chancellor. Fighting the Orcs is not an easy thing. I, for one, would have gladly stood by you, but the Druids have spoken." Lorian clasped his hand on Damien's shoulder, turned and left the tent with the other two right behind him.
    Damien smiled. The Elves were out of the picture. At least, for now. There surely must also be others like Lorian that are willing to fight. They just need a little bit of an incentive and Damien already had something in mind. He would just have to wait until the time was ripe.