Part 23

“We head for Blucester,” stated the elf, waiting for everyone to gather.

“Far be it for me to tell you where or where not we should go, but Blucester doesn’t work for me.”

“Do you hear that?”

The four of them stopped momentarily and strained their ears for any out of the ordinary sounds, but the burning of the surrounding buildings was all that could be heard.

“What do you hear, elf?” blasted Tumbor impatiently.

“Hooves, possibly a dozen riders headed this way from Droxburg.”

“Then we should leave,” suggested Rohlen. “I’m not sure we could talk our way out of this one.”

Flexing his muscles and grinding his knuckles, Tumbor looked excited. “We could fight!”

“You want to fight a mounted detachment of Droxburg guard? The same guard that serve to protect the Princess for whom we are employed?” Rohlen suggested for Yulien to follow the elf. “Sometimes the battles you see, if looked at from a different perspective, are not battles at all.”

Jax pulled his rimmed hat down, masking his face from full view, and concealed his sword by pulling his ragged duster around his shoulders. “I shall follow, for now.”

Witnessing the others disappear into the darkness, the dwarf sighed heavily consigned to the fact he was going to have to follow.

“What must you do to get a decent scrap these days?”

The dwarf broke into a brisk walk, that turned into a run as he tried to keep pace.

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 22

The stranger was tall, easily over six feet when stood straight. Glimpses of white blonde hair could be seen below his hood, along with a youthful pale complexion which confirmed him as being undoubtedly an elf. The question still remained, was he the elf they were looking for?

“We leave immediately,” he stated purposefully. “I suggest you gather your belongings. Dwarf! Do not dawdle in your gathering of the food. If you’re not ready, then I’ll leave you behind.”

“I’ll take no orders from elf!” blasted Tumbor, yet making his way to gather up his bed roll.

“And I’ll not be slowed by a rotund short legged dwarf.”

Tumbor was beginning to become more flush in the cheeks, his fists becoming more clenched by the insults of the elf. “Have no fear elf, I’ll match your stride.”

“Of that I seriously doubt. The amount of food stashed in those pockets of yours, they are like saddle bags on an ass!”

With that last insult the dwarf snapped, cursing in dwarven he made an attempted lunge towards the elf. Before he’d even moved an arrow was pointing at him from a loaded bow.

“Gentlemen please,” interjected Jax. “Are we not supposed to be on the same side? Fighting the same common enemy?”

“If your life depended on it fighter, which side would you align?” asked the elf still keeping his bow trained upon the now motionless dwarf.

“You have us outnumbered, but then I have known Tumbor here longer, albeit by a day or so.”

The elf smiled as he lowered his bow, slinging it back over his shoulder. “There was only me, but I would have clean struck you all before you realised.”

“Now of that I do not doubt,” Jax replied with a smile of his own.

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 21

The twins, seeing a hooded cloaked figure holding the head of an arrow against the back of Jax’s neck, sidestepped so as to get a better look at the assailant. The dark garb he was clothed in occasionally caught the light of the burning buildings, however his features remained hidden under his hood.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” he said in a soft, yet commanding tone. “At this moment a handful of arrows are pointing at you both from within the shadows.”

Tumbor having turned to see who the extra voice belonged to, reached up to unsheath his axe. “You said nothing about me!”

“That is because you’re mine!”

Within the blink of an eye, the arrow that was being held against Jax’s neck had been dispatched towards the dwarf, clipping his up stretched arm. Before Jax was able to react, another arrow replaced where the first had been. Tumbor lowered his empty hand.

“If you are indeed the elf that goes by the name Fraevon, then we were charged by the Princess to seek you out.”

“For what purpose would the human Princess have for razing Giver?”

Rohlen looked back in the direction of Tumbor, who simply shrugged his shoulders. “Burning the buildings was not part of the plan, but then being attacked by an old crone wasn’t either.”

“What became of Elenwen?”

“Dead! Departed, well her head anyway,” mused Tumbor, laughing at his own joke.

“YOU FOOL’S!” blasted the newcomer as he withdrew the arrow and broke from the cover of darkness. “In death she will be now infinitely more powerful than she ever was alive.”

“How is that possible? Dead is dead,” argued the dwarf still laughing at his earlier joke.

“You travel with a man that can summon fire to erupt from his hands and you ask how! Show me where she’s buried.”

“Black magic!” added Rohlen.

“Yes! Black magic, now the grave. Where is it?”

The five of them stood and looked at the mound of fresh earth, claw marks that were not there before, clearly portrayed the struggle of something trying to get out. A single deep scratch made the date on the headstone unreadable.

“We are no longer safe here,” said the stranger angrily turning his back on the grave.

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 20

“Let’s keep looking,” said Tumbor. “If there is another one if those things, best we find it quick.”

“Do you not think that if there was another, then it would have come to the aid of the old woman?” offered Jax. “Surely it wouldn’t have just let her die.”

Yulien began muttering something, over and over, not quite loud enough for the others to hear, but enough so that it grabbed their attention. Rohlen, converse in the art of lip reading, especially his sister’s, relayed what it was she was saying,

“Sisters avenge me! Is that what the old woman said?”

“Yes. Just before she died.”

Tumbor took some practice swings with his axe. “I’ll be ready this time!”

“We all shall,” said Jax.

The next house revealed the same fate had befallen them. Slowly decomposing entwined within feeding vines. So too the next, and one after that also, until they had exhausted all of the remaining buildings.

“So what now?” Jax asked, watching the dwarf as he headed back inside as to where they’d made camp.

“We should offer these people a proper burial,” suggested Yulien.

“I could forsee that,” Rohlen quipped.

“What are you doing Tumbor?” Jax watched as the dwarf carried a huge burning log towards the first house the opened.

“A burial? How about a cremation.”

Offering the burning log to the thatched roof, it didn’t take long for the whole building to catch, lighting up the night sky with orangey red flames and towering black smoke.

As the companions packed up their belongings, Tumbor went about setting the lumber mill itself ablaze. “Burn in Hell” he joked whilst standing back admiring his handy work.

“They will see the fires in Droxburg,” said Rohlen.

“Blucester too I’d wager,” countered Jax.

“Once again our diminutive friend fails to grasp the notion of discrete, instead bringing an entire army down upon us.”

Jax did not reply, for an unseen hand was holding a sharp blade to he back of his neck and was pressing it with increasing force. “Fraevon I assume.”

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 19

“We should set a watch,” said Jax unfurling his bed roll to the side of the fire. “I’m happy taking first.”

“Scared of things that go bump in the night?” mocked Tumbor. “Why don’t we lock the door and keep the bad guys on the outside? Won’t stop nightmares though.”

“Are there keys?” asked Yulien. “I would feel safer with the door locked.”

Tumbor held up a large circular metal ring with several keys hanging from it. “I found these hanging by the front door.”

“There are mores keys than doors,” noted Rohlen looking around. “I wonder what the others open.”

“My guess would be the other buildings,” replied Jax. “We can investigate in the morning.”

Tumbor jangled the keys and made for the door. “No time like the present.” Jax removed a log from the fire as a torch and followed the dwarf. Yulien looked at Rohlen, who in turn sighed as they too both followed.

The closet was much in keeping with the others within Wiver, being built of wood with a modest thatched roof. A solitary door and window to the front gave no clue as to what await them inside, despite Jax holding the torch up to the window. Tumbor tried the various keys until finding the right one.

The irony of Tumbor removing his axe before entering, having previously mocked Jax for ‘bumps in the night’, was not lost on the other three.

The door was set fast in its frame, warped from years of being battered by the elements and never having been opened or closed. Simple force wasn’t going to open it, and so Tumbor stepped back and bust it open with a well placed shoulder. A decision he instantly regretted as the stench of neglect and decay filled his nose.

“And I thought a troll’s breath smelled bad!”

Jax covered his nose with his free arm whilst holding the torch aloft. The flickering light caused shadows to dance in the corners, but illuminated brightly the cause of the horrendous stench. Pinned to the back wall, suspended off the floor, a man and woman had begun decomposing providing food for the vines that pinned them there.

“Why have they not withered with the old woman’s demise?” questioned Yulien wishing to take a closer look.

Holding her back, Rohlen offered a suggestion none wanted to hear,

“Maybe she wasn’t the only one!”

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 19

They marked her grave with a simple headstone, upon which Tumbor was asked to etch the day’s date, a day that was rapidly descending into nightfall. Under protest, they stopped him from adding ‘WITCH’, insisting no good would come of it.

“Folk should know what happened here,” insisted the dwarf. “That it is now safe to return.”

“There is no cause for folk to return. With the demand for wood on a decline, and that which is left is under the protection of Elves.”

“Jax is right,” offered Rohlen. “Giver will now no doubt fall silent and be reclaimed by nature as the Elves cultivate the surrounding woodland.”

Tumbor shook his head and kicked at the dirt as he wandered off towards the old woman’s now vacant home.

“Too many trees. Solid dwarven mined stone, that’s the answer.”

The three followed him into the warmth, a roaring fire dominating the centre of the home with a large cooking pot hanging over it. The smell coming from it had all four inhaling deeply, their hunger now showing.

“One day, a generation shall witness the mountains crumble and the stone run dry.” reflected Rohlen. “And you cannot replant stone.”

“Nonsense!” laughed Tumbor stirring the contents of the pot. “Mountains crumble!”

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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Part 18

“What a disappointment,” muttered the old woman. “I expected more.”

All but Yulien had succumb to their confines, passing out where they were held. Jax and Rohlen had been all but consumed by the entwined barbed roots, Tumbor fell under the weight of the expanded spores. The old crone wandered over to the still coughing cleric and bent over further than her hunched back already made her do. She looked into Yulien’s eyes,

“I must have grown a deadlier crop than last time, or perhaps maybe your constitution is particularly weak.”

“Or maybe I am exceptional at feigning discomfort.”

Terror flashed across the old woman’s eyes as the dagger Yulien had been concealing was unexpectedly thrust into her chest. Blood quickly consumed the hilt and ran like a river over her hand and down her arm, and yet still she pushed the blade deeper. The old woman screamed an ear splitting, painful screech so loud that birds in the near distant trees took to flight, before once again looking into Yulien’s eyes.

“My sisters will avenge me,” her words almost silent and yet demanding full attention. “Sisters avenge me.”

As the lifeforce drained from her body, and her final breath was taken, the old woman slumped heavily to the floor. In doing so, the roots slowly withered releasing their hold, and the spores deflated around the dwarf. Checking the three of her companions, Yulien placed a hand upon their heads and said a prayer to Lyra for each. They would soon wake under their own volition.

“What are you doing?” groaned Jax shaking the unconsciousness from himself.

“She’s digging a grave,” said Rohlen watching, having woken minutes earlier.

“Because all deserve a proper burial?”

“Exactly.”

Tumbor appeared in the doorway of the old woman’s house, pockets full to bursting and feasting on cooked leg of deer.

“There’s plenty for everyone,” he commented mouth full of meat. “She’s not going to need it.”

Yulien dropped the small shovel she had found amongst a collection of other garden tools and wandered over to where the old woman lay.

“Will one of you help me?”

Before Jax or Rohlen could stand, Tumbor bit deep upon the deer’s leg, wedging it in his mouth before taking out his axe and making his way to the body. With one mighty downward strike he parted the head from the body, sheathed his axe and bite clean through his mouthful.

“She’ll not return now!” he mumbled, kicking the head and body into the hole.

“Shall we set her on fire too?” suggested Jax with heavy sarcasm.

“Good idea. Got any spare flint?”

All in unison, the reply was, “No!”

Copyright: authorchrisbrown

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