Tuesday, May 17, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 5
The hobs had meant to run but at five to two their nature met their fear and won; The two rangers seemed easy meat for them to bleed. They'd fled the slaughter of their companions but not left their weapons behind. Two were armed with staves they'd used to prod the goblins, the fallen one with a ball and chain the other two with swords.
Nithad, only a few feet away, drew an arrow and notched it to his bow. A sword lashed out and nearly touched his arm, but he hopped back and, steady in the face of this attack, he fired point blank. The arrow struck the hob’s hand.
Ogmios blocked a staff swing with his arm and knew that he'd have a bruise to last him weeks. He stabbed a second hob and his knife tasted blood, but a second staff came down and knocked it from his grasp. The first staff swung again and, with both hands free, he grabbed it and pulled it from the hob’s slack-startled grip. Newly armed he thocked wood to wood and blocked the swing of staff, then swept low and barked a hobgoblin's shin.
The arrow-wounded hob dropped its sword and seeing its companion first lose a staff then hop back in pain, turned and ran. Nithad shot it in the back. It stumbled on and weaved then fell.
Three hobs circled Ogmios, one bare handed, one wounded but with a sword, the last limping from a painful blow and holding only a staff. They wavered, Ogmios could see the hesitation in their eyes.
"Come on!" he yelled. "What are you waiting for?" Ogmios growled and charged at them. The limping one fell back and rolled. It came up empty-handed and ran away. The other two prepared to fight, one growled back, the other cut a sliver from Ogmios’ staff with a feeble slash of blade. An arrow passed before their eyes, all three, Ogmios and his two hobgoblin foes. They turned and saw Nithad standing near and drawing his bow again.
"Watch it!" Ogmios yelled but took the chance to rap the sword-armed hob across the head. The staff was thicker than the bow, it did not break, but the hob’s head did not fare as well. The unarmed hob raised both its hands, palms out to show that it would fight no more. Nithad's arrow took it in the side, too late to stop its flight, he cried out, but could do no more.
"You're hurt!" Daghdha put a hand on Arawn's shoulder.
"It's nothing," Arawn said.
"Listen to the hero talk," Llawereint laughed. "Come on, you're bleeding like a split sack of wine."
Airgedlamh listened to the banter with half an ear, but used a spear retrieved from a fallen hob to put the badly wounded hobs out of their misery.
"Hey, this one is just knocked out," he called. "Someone hit it in the head, none to gentle, but still it lives."
"Tie its hands," called Daghdha. "We will put it to the question when it wakes."
"Well, that’s my bow gone," Ogmios lifted the broken fragments from the ground then threw both away, a finely crafted weapon destroyed to down a single hob. "At least it saved my life," he said aloud. Both hobs he'd swatted down lay dead, Ogmios was very strong and knew how to put that strength into his blows.
Nithad walked stiff and blank faced past the bush where the hobs had appeared. "The singing has stopped," he said.
"We'd best run," Ogmios said as he drew his sword. "You're handy with that bow, but better draw your blade instead. We will come back to these..." he spread his hands to sweep across the bodies of the slain, "after we see what lies ahead." Then he started through the brush and back-tracked the way the hobs had come.
Under Arawn's leather vest a long deep cut ran across his side. The wound mouthed open as he twitched, the air was cool on his back, and stung the gash the hob’s axe had left.
"Good that it bleeds so," said Daghdha. "The blood washes the poisons out, but we'd best sew it up and get some lichens from my pack. We'll make a poultice to keep the swelling down and let it heal."
"Do you need a strop?" Llawereint asked his bleeding friend.
"No," Arawn said and gritted his teeth as the needle went in and Daghdha stitched his skin.
"Take it," Daghdha said, not looking up from his needlework. "You'll break your teeth if you grind them like that."
Llawereint held out a leather bit, like one a horse might use, and Arawn stuffed it in his mouth far back and held it with his wide chewing teeth, biting hard when the jabs of pain shot up from his wounded side. Daghdha cut the cord, an ox's sinew, a spare longbow string then tied it off neat and tight against the skin.
"I'd use spider’s silk first for the poultice but I see none around. This moss will do, but change it when the sun goes down," Daghdha wrapped a wide length of cloth around Arawn's middle and made sure it held the poultice firm against the new-sewn wound.
"Hey there!" Ogmios called out as he came across a battleground. A rocky ledge was to his side and hobs were piled beneath its high center lip. "Da, I hear your voice, thank the Greenman! And thank Him again that you have stopped that song."
"Ogmios!" Daghdha yelled back from somewhere out of sight beyond the edge of rock. His voice was glad to hear his son's. "Up here."
"You've had a busy time it seems," Ogmios called. He eyed the piled bodies, some scattered here and there but a heap of dead, four or five, one upon the other, lay beneath the rocky ledge.
Airgedlamh appeared to Ogmios’ right upon the rock where it began to slope to the field. He held a spear and, with a graceful leap, jumped down. "I'm making sure the dead are dead," he told Ogmios and caught a pained look on Nithad's face.
"What's the matter with him?" Airgedlamh asked as Ogmios went by.
"He's tasted his first blood, made him sick," Ogmios said with a shrug.
"Good," murmured Airgedlamh, "My brother thirsts for it. I'll have to keep him under my wing till he gets better sense." He gave Nithad a friendly shove as the young ranger passed.
"Do you get used to this?" Nithad asked.
"Some do," Airgedlamh replied, "some don't, some never have the sense for it to bother them at all."
"Like Llawereint?" Nithad questioned the older man.
"Don't think him lucky," Airgedlamh looked glum. "He's missing something that he'll have to find one day. You may feel bad, but that's how you should. These ones we kill, they delight in death and pain. They feel bad only when it is their own flesh which hurts, and rarely for any other, even kith and kin. You feel pain for those you fight, it's a noble sense, but do not let it hold you back from what you have to do."
"I won't," Nithad said with fierce determination.
"Nithad," Ogmios called to him. He'd pulled himself up to the stone ledge. "Come on."
"Yes, Ogmios," Nithad called back, then gave Airgedlamh a thankful nod and turned away.
"Arawn you're hurt," said Ogmios as he walked from the rock edge. Llawereint and his father were standing over Arawn who sat with his back against the bole of a tree, his shirt off and a cloth, showing spots of blood soaking through, wrapped around his middle.
"You sound like your father," said Arawn, and laughed then winced and held his side.
"Don't laugh," said Daghdha
"You two are great for stating the bloody obvious," Arawn said, a bit petulantly. "Do we give chase?"
"Those hobs which passed us by were running for their lives," said Llawereint, "They'll have a good lead on us but we could catch up."
"Or we could track them," said Daghdha. "No families or homesteads out this way that a small party of the beasts could attack. Any hunters should be on their guard. No, we need to find out how these hobs slipped by Finnian's Keep and warn Draupnir and his miners of them as well."
"If you think I will slow you down then leave me behind," Arawn said.
"Ha, listen O brave hero," said Llawereint. "We'll take you along even if Ogmios here has to carry you."
"Hey!" said Ogmios. "When did I become a pack mule."
"You don't want me to answer that do you?" said Llawereint.
Arawn held out an arm, "Here help me to my feet, I can walk."
"Careful," Daghdha told his son. "Don't pull out those stitches."
"Yes," Arawn agreed. "DON'T pull the stitches out," he yelled as Ogmios helped him up.