Monday, May 16, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 4
A large boulder stood high along the hobgoblins’ trail. It ran across the edge of the hill and at its center jutted out. Irontooth stood upon this lip of rock atop its center-jutting curve while his kinsmen and goblin troops formed in an aimless mass below.
"Sound that horn again!" he yelled at Fang. He looked below at the gathering crowd. "Smiler...Smil..STOP THAT!" he screamed as the horn rang in his ear and drowned his voice. "SMILER!"
"Yes chief!" Smiler yelled back.
"Where is the clan? The horn's been blown. Who hasn't heeded the call?" demanded Irontooth. "Where are the little rats? Half aren't even here. Smiler, take some of the boys, round up those lazy scum, treat em like goblins and get them here. Wait! Send some more out to get the rest of those green-faced vermin back in line and bring them here as well."
Arawn and Daghdha heard the hob leader’s words, they were within close range, and Arawn yearned to strike him down, but Daghdha held his arm.
"Why not?" Arawn asked in a whispered hush.
"Too soon, they have not discovered us yet," answered the old ranger.
"They will, he's sent out scouts to find his missing men," Arawn argued.
"I say no."
"It will draw them from the others and throw them into confusion. You know these hobs, kill the head and the body runs," said Arawn.
Daghdha thought about these words, and though his better sense said 'do not overeach' his heart said yes. "We talk too much, kill him."
The pair of rangers rose to get a better aim, and together loosed their arrows with two hands but in a single breath.
One shaft struck high and sank between shoulder blades. It did not go deep but pierced a hidden shirt of chain. The other, caught on some stray wind, or was mis-fletched and had a feather out of place, went low and hit beneath the shirt.
Irontooth flung his arms aside, his chest shot out and he lifted almost from the ground. The lower arrow crippled him and brought him down. He fell onto his side across the stony lip of rock.
Neither ranger hesitated, they fired again. Arawn first, Daghdha took his own good time. While Arawn’s quicker shot struck home, it bounced back, deflected from the mail. Daghdha's was a mortal wound. It struck the hobgoblin leader in the head.
Irontooth died before he knew that he'd been hit by Daghdha's well-placed shot. The hob nearby turned and watched as the rangers took aim again but he blew upon his horn and did not run.
Arawn put two shafts into its unprotected chest, but Daghdha charged and ran to reach the place which overlooked the gathered hobgoblin clan. "Might as well be slain as a lion than as a hare," he called back to Arawn.
The hob called Fang dropped his horn, he screamed but, tongueless, only mouthed a grunt and then he choked on blood. It poured out instead of the words he could not form. He stepped back and fell, a third arrow whistled past his sinking head.
"In for a copper, in for a pound of gold," Arawn laughed out another platitude. He ran to be beside his friend and faced the crowd of monsters just below the rocky edge.
Daghdha stood upon the lip of stone and shouted in their own tongue to the hobs below. "Here is your leader, by my hand dead! Next I come for each of you!" He placed his foot atop Irontooth's unmoving chest, then as the hobs screamed and roared, he shoved and sent the body rolling down among them.
When Arawn reached his side, Daghdha had fired twice already, his arrows could not miss their mark. The forest slope was filled with hobs and goblins just beyond them. They were close, the teaming hobs, and Daghdha's shafts passed clean through. Down into chest or gut and out the back, then buried in the ground. The hobs rushed forward, but the rocky edge was just out of reach. They turned to run to either side. Each moment that it took for them to choose, to turn to the left or right, cost them a life. Arawn joined in, standing beside Daghdha, to slaughter all that did not run.
The goblins, never willing allies on this march, did not even string their bows. Their hobgoblin masters had turned to fight. The goblins needed no other chance but threw down packs and heavy quivers. They ran off through the woods, shouting and laughing like children on a holiday.
Archers of Gilliad
What of the bow?
The bow was made in Gilliad:
Of true wood, of Yewwood.
The wood of Gilliad bows;
So men who are free
Love the old Yewwood tree
And the land where the Yewwood grows.
What of the cord?
The cord was made in Gilliad:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
So we'll drain our jacks
To the Gilliad flax
And the land where the hemp was wove.
What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in Gilliad:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we'll drink together
To the gray goose feather
And the land where the gray goose flew.
What of the men?
The men were bred in Gilliad:
The bowman - the yeoman -
The lads of dale and fell
Here’s to you - and to you!
To hearts that are true
And the land where the true heart dwells.
(Originally 'The Outland Bowmen' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
from 'The White Company')
Daghdha's bow thrummed with every shot and as he put his heart and mind into his archer’s craft he began to hum.
"You're not going to start singing are you?" Arawn asked already knowing the answer.
Below them a hob leapt up and grabbed the edge of stone at their feet. Daghdha stamped upon its fingers. It gave a scream and fell back among its fellows. Arawn fired almost point blank, straight down, and killed another with a single shot.
"I'll sing if I want," Daghdha huffed. "Nothing wrong with my singing."
"It’s good for chasing off bears and scaring small children," said Arawn.
"Their coming around the sides," Daghdha said then went back to his work.
Arawn drew his sword instead of an arrow and, backing a few paces from the edge, placed it point first in the ground. It would be at hand and ready when the beasts came too close for the bow.
On either side the cliff the hobs found a low place along the ledge. Three were rushing toward Arawn on the right and five came at Daghdha on the left, with the remainder of the clan, those who were not lying dead or wounded below, following close behind.
Daghdha laughed and began to sing, "What of the bow?...." he began and fired on the running hobs.
"What is that?" Nithad asked. They'd killed another hob that had stopped behind a tree to heed nature’s call rather then the summoning horn.
"That, is singing," Ogmios said. "We'd better run. We've come to kill these hobs not torture them."
"They've all gone!" cried Llawereint.
"That horn has called them in... Hey! Listen..." Airgedlamh paused. "Hear that!"
"Daghdha's having his fun," Llawereint gave a laugh.
"Not that old ditty again. I wish he'd learn a different tune," said Airgedlamh.
"I wish he'd learn to sing!" laughed Llawereint.
The brothers did not seek to hide or move with care but ran toward the sound of Daghdha's deep and ragged voice.
"....Wood of Gilliad bows!" bellowed out Daghdha. He sent an arrow into an hob’s throat. It passed just above the rusted neck of its chain vest and split its spine, then went clean through and skimmed the shoulder of the hob running behind.
"So men who are free!" Daghdha fired again. The hobs were almost upon him, but so close that his arrows pierced chain, leather and padding beneath. With each line of verse the master bowman loosed another shaft. He struck the nearest hob in the chest and the arrow sank deep. The hob fell forward and rolled onto his back. Another hob leapt his downed companion, tripped and sprawled headlong.
"Love the old Yewwood tree!" sang Daghdha. The leaping hob took the arrow dead center. It cracked the monster's breast-bone and split it like a stub of firewood beneath an axe. Two hobs remained, one too close to use the bow and the other rising from his fall.
"And the land where the Yewwood grows!" he ended the stanza and, as the hob attacked, threw his bow in its face and kicked low, beneath the chain-shirt’s edge, and hard; A brutal kick that would make most men wince in empathy. The hob gave a gasp and staggered back crook-kneed.
Daghdha drew his sword and faced the last of his foes, still singing. "What of the cord?" he asked in song.
Arawn drew in a breath of air and with a slow exhale released his pull. The arrow sailed across the space between his foe, a large and ugly hob, and him. The world seemed to slow as he followed its flight. He could see every streak of black across the grey of the arrow’s fletch and ahead he saw the open-mouthed screaming face of the charging hob. Its pig-like snout and eyes were alive with a roar of anger and lust for blood, its arm was raised and in its hand it held a curved and jagged scimitar, a sign of some Southron warrior’s defeat.
The moment’s spell of timelessness ceased and the arrow sped on and into the roaring open mouth. The hob flew back as if a formorian's hand had grabbed its head and thrown it from its feet. Arawn breathed again and fired. This hob flinched aside and the arrow merely cut its cheek. It blinked and placed a grimy hand against the wound.
A third hob came rushing on and Arawn chose to drop his bow and grab his sword instead. This one bore an axe, a blackened flat of steel upon an iron shaft wrapped around a thick oak-limb. It held it in both hands and swung, a wide arc flashed by and left a trail across Arawn's leather shirt. With a lunge Arawn left a slash across the hob’s unprotected arm and made it curse with pain. As he moved the leather began to tear and a trickle of blood ran down. Arawn had not felt the edge slice through his shirt and across his side, but the touch of air upon the wound was sharp and he bit his lip to keep from crying out.
"The cord was made in Gilliad!" Daghdha sang to the hob. It circled wary of this foe, and as it did Daghdha drew a knife, one blade in either hand.
It rushed in, Daghdha knocked its blade aside and stabbed it with his poniard, up beneath its arm, then turned it around and drew his longsword edge across its throat. It fell in a sudden gush of blood and shook out its life upon the ground. Daghdha kept up his song, "A rough cord!" he sang as he knocked the blade aside, "a tough cord!" as he cut its throat.
The groaning hob he'd kicked staggered toward him, its sword held in a shaking hand.
"A cord that bowmen love!" he sang to this hob and leaning in with a ringing blow sent the sword spinning from its grasp. "So we'll drain our jacks!" he sang and smashed his dagger pommel across its head. "To the Gilliad flax!" he chorused and the hob’s eyes rolled yellow-white and then it dropped unconscious at his feet. "And the land where the hemp was wove!" Daghdha concluded. He looked around to see where his next foe was coming from.
"What of the shaft?" he sang. "The shaft was cut in Gilliad!" Behind him Arawn dueled with two hobs, enraged and out for blood.
The bush rustled and then exploded. Five hobs burst out then stopped in shock, face to face with Ogmios and Nithad, as the two rangers ran toward the sound of the horn.
Nithad jumped back, surprised, nearly dropping his bow. Ogmios swung his own like a club and snapped it across the brutish head of one, then pulled his knife.
Airgedlamh ran, with his brother just behind. Ahead the singing went on and they could see several hobs running off to the north. They came to a rocky ledge and all around them lay the bodies of the slain.
"...we'll drink together!" Daghdha was singing. He stood in front of a sword-armed hob and exchanged sparking blows, catching the curved blade on his own, then lashing out with his dagger, driving his foeman back.
Arawn fought one handed, his arm pressed to his side, but the hob he faced was slow and as it brought its axe overhead, he lunged, and placed the point of his blade through its throat and opened a second mouth below its chin. The hob dropped the axe and with two hands covered the mortal wound, but its air was gone and, choking, it fell back and died.
"To the grey goose feather!" Daghdha called and trapped a hob’s blade against its chest and stabbed it in the thigh. It hissed and pulled away, the poniard lodged in bone. It grabbed the hilt with its free hand and waved its sword in a shaking fist. "And the land where the gray goose flew!" finished Daghdha. He stepped in and swung his sword in a downward, sideways arc that, starting high, took the hob’s head from its shoulders, then sent sparks flying as steel met iron chain and butcher-like buried his sword halfway through its shoulder-blade.
"They've killed them all," cried Llawereint, "You left none for us." He sounded like a spoiled boy who found the last bit of cake was gone.
"At least he won't be singing anymore," Arawn coughed.