Thursday, May 19, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 6
"So, what have we here," Ogmios asked aloud.
A hobgoblin, its head bleeding from a badly swollen cut above its eye, looked up into the ranger’s face. It struggled and strained against the bonds that held it; two leather belts stripped from the hobgoblin dead. It lashed out with unbound hands and grabbed for Ogmios. He stepped back and narrowly avoided its gnashing teeth.
"Why you vermin," he kicked it in the stomach hard, it doubled up curling in upon itself. "Who tied it?" Ogmios asked.
"Airgedlamh," said Llawereint, his brother.
"He should know better. You tie these beasts like the hogs they are," Ogmios pulled out a knife and with Llawereint's help cut the hob’s hands free then rolled it over and tied its arms behind its back and strung a line between its feet and hands. "There, it can struggle all it wants now," Ogmios picked up a quarter staff that lay upon the ground. He prodded the hob’s shoulder and spoke to it in the crude hobgoblin tongue.
"Who are you? What you do here?" he questioned it. The hob only growled. Ogmios shoved it roughly with the staff before Daghdha came up and pulled it from his son.
"Here now," Daghdha said "Don't do that." He bent down to the hob and caught its eye, "Don't worry I won't let him hurt you. Here look," he said and dropped the staff to the ground.
"I put it under foot; I have found it.
Lo, the earth can prevail against all creatures,
And against injury, and against forgetfulness,
And against the mighty tongue of hob or man."
Daghdha waved his hand slowly back and forth as he talked. The hob’s eyes widened and became glazed. It smiled up at Daghdha kindly. He reached down and cut its bonds, then helped it to its feet.
"Friend," the hob said and gave Daghdha a wide and ugly grin.
"It really spooks me when he uses magic like that," said Llawereint.
"Magic and the power of the earth. They are both things you will learn, eventually," said Ogmios.
"I don't know. I trust my sword arm and my bow. These other things, I cannot place much faith with them," Llawereint declared.
"Ah well, maybe such is not for you," sighed Ogmios.
"Friend," Daghdha nodded his chin at the hob. "What your name?" he asked.
"Sharptooth, I am," the hob said with nodding back.
Daghdha walked with it away from the scene of battle and its companions bodies, such might put strain on the magic charm that made the hob feel the ranger to be his closest friend.
"And of what tribe?" Daghdha asked.
"Swordbiter. We strongest of the tribes," it said with pride.
"I have not seen your tribe before," said Daghdha. "Are you from the north, or south?"
"We are mountain clan. We march for many, many, days, always north. The dark ones, they promise much treasure, much fighting. Good food, and slaves. Always they want the slaves, but we can choose and keep those we wan," the hob went on, his tongue loosened by the spell. "They say we fight alongside the big ones, the 'formorians'." it used the word as it was said in the common tongue. "Big ones not try to take US for slaves, this the dark ones say."
"Who are these dark ones?" Daghdha had never heard of such before.
"They come at night, they smell odd, like a mushroom cave, but all wrapped up in cloaks and masks," said the hob. "They bring great gifts, coats of mail, fine swords and magic things for our chief. You kill? You kill chief? You mad at chief? Mad at me?" it sounded hurt but unafraid.
"Your chief was bad, tried to kill me, I will... am not mad at you," Daghdha said with care. His spell could snap if the hob’s temper flared or if it became too afraid.
"Good, good," it said but a look of alarm flashed in its eye. "Others come. They be mad. They will not like to find chief dead."
"Others, there are more of your tribe?" Dagdha asked surprised.
"Oh yes." the hob said. "We strongest of the mountain tribes. Our chief, he scout ahead, we are... we were his guard, the rest of tribe is ten of ten of ten. We lead and other tribes follow."
"How many tribes?" asked Daghdha in a quiet voice.
"Behind come the Breaker of Bones clan, the Rockeaters, Bloodfeet, Coldtongues,... hmmmm... some northern tribes too, but I don't know them by name." It wracked its brain and tried hard to remember what it had seen. "There were the half-men, 'skraeling' you call them, and the dogmen, and the big ones. I have never seen so many all at once. Some were blue, they live up where it is always cold, and some were red, they come from the burning mountains south of my home, but most were like you but big, big, big..." it said and held its hands up high as it could reach
Daghdha told his new hobgoblin friend to rest and stay put, then quickly gathered up his men. "Ogmios," he called, "round up Nithad and Airgedlamh. Be quick about it," he said with a sharpish tone
"Yes Da," Ogmios replied, he knew his father must be worried to change his normal, mild way. He ran to the ledge and saw Nithad coming from the north along it, and below, Airgedlamh leaned against his spear and was drinking from his water flask. "Airgedlamh, come quick. Daghdha has some news."
"What is it?" Nithad called to Ogmios. He ran and in a moment stood beside the older man.
"I don't know," Ogmios replied. "Daghdha has the news to tell, best go stand by Arawn and Llawereint."
"Yes, Ogmios," Nithad nodded his head, but seemed to take it as a reprimand.
Ogmios thought to stop and speak with him again, but shook his head and sighed, "This youth will have to learn," he said to no one but the air.
Five rangers were arrayed before their leader. Arawn leaned back against a tree sitting on the ground once more to rest his wounded side. Airgedlamh and Llawereint stood side by side, the younger brother leaned upon a spear. Nithad stood back, half hidden by Ogmios' broad shoulder.
"My hob friend tells me disturbing things. An invasion has begun, or so he says," Daghdha began. "I wish it was a lie, but my feeling is that every word he said was true."
"What did he say?" asked Nithad, he'd learned to question when faced with what he did not know.
"Thousands of monsters are descending from the mountains," Daghdha told them, "here along our northwestern boundaries, maybe the south is safe. The Cavehill could not be passed without a fight, but what do we have to resist this flood? Nine small keeps along the borderlands and patrols such as ours to give word to the lowlands of these beasts' approach."
"Finnian's Keep!" Arawn broke in. "It must be gone! It would lie directly in these monsters’ path, and it has a good, well-kept road down these mountains and the hills, right into the gates Gorakil."
"They must be warned," Nithad said. "My cousins..."
"And how many more... and the Duchy as well, if this hob is right," Daghdha said. "First we must find out if he spoke true then warn our folk."
"What of Draupnir and the mines?" asked Airgedlamh. "We have a cousin of our own who works there."
"I'm sorry but Gorakil must come first," Daghdha answered with regret. "Now let us go, and quickly."
"What of your hob friend?" asked Ogmios.
"He comes with us. He may prove of great worth. I have plans already to put him to good use." Daghdha turned and set off, first to gather Sharptooth from where he'd left him, then to start back-tracking along the hob clan’s trail.
Ogmios helped Arawn to his feet again and all five began to move.
"Take this," Arawn said and handed Ogmios his bow.
"That's yours," Ogmios said but Arawn placed the bow into his hand.
"The first pull would open up my side, and yours is gone. Smashing it on a hob head..." Arawn laughed and shook his own head, careful not to pain his wound.
They padded through a swath of broken bushes and mindless, petty destruction. It led them to the roadway and to the north. The road itself showed little sign of the hobs' and goblins' passage, but Daghdha kept the charmed hob Sharptooth by his side and checked with him to keep on course.
"Friend, how far behind is your clan?" Daghdha asked the hob.
"They are slow, but big ones come behind and make them run," Sharptooth replied in a strange hobgoblin tongue. Daghdha caught only two words in three but pieced it out to make some sense of what the hob had said. "They are up ahead. Close, they should be close."
Daghdha lifted up his hand and waved the other rangers off the road, then took Sharptooth by the arm and followed them into the concealment of the trees.
"Sharptooth here says that his clan is nearby," Daghdha told them as they gathered round. "Arawn, you take Sharptooth and go warn Gorakil."
"What? No! My place is here. Nithad should be the one to go," Arawn protested.
"Nithad is in good health and can still pull a bow. Even with that wound you can run if you have to. The decision is mine and it has been made. Do you disobey?" Daghdha asked.
"Curse that hob who cut me, and this one too!" Arawn swore. "What am I supposed to tell them in town? That we came across a small band of hobs in the woods and listened to this one's tall tales."
"Tell them that Daghdha believes what this hob says. Tell them that no word came from Finnian's Keep, and have them take Sharptooth to the priests of Finnian or send for a mage to discern the truth or falsehood of what he claims," Daghdha stared Arawn in the eye till the younger man looked down. "Tell them that if no other word arrives, then that will be proof that some strong force comes down from the mountains. Strong enough to silence five of the Duchy's rangers at least."
"I doubt that any could silence you old man," said Arawn. "I go. Tell your friend to come with me."
Sharptooth grumbled as they ran down the rutted dirt road. It had been hours now since they had left the other rangers waiting for the hob clan to come. As they jogged along Arawn had one hand pressed against his wounded side when a stray thought crossed his mind, a question that had bothered him since they first saw the hobs.
"Sharptooth," Arawn said. The hob just grunted as he ran along. "Sharptooth, why did you go that way through the woods?"
"What you say?" asked Sharptooth. "Oh... we go for silver. Chief like silver."
"How were you going to get the silver?" asked Arawn
"Kill Dwarf. Take silver," Sharptooth thought little of the question.
"But how were you going to get there?" Arawn pressed his companion.
"Oh, we not go through front door. Dark ones show chief secret way. Give him map and piece of glass that glows black," the hob replied.
Arawn thought on this, he regretted their quick departure from the scene of battle; no time to loot the dead. He'd thought that these hobs must have meant to come on Draupnir's mines across the mountain, or under it, so it seemed from what Sharptooth had said.
A few minutes more down the road brought them to a small three-walled shelter, a stopping place for wagons and travelers. A small spring was nearby and a streamlet had been diverted to run into a trough. The sun was rising high and the shelter was dark but several men appeared to be resting within its cool shadows.
Arawn sighed with relief. He could see a longbow sitting against the shelter’s wall. They'd take this cursed hob off his hands and he could rejoin his friends and whatever fate that lay in store for them.
"Hail there!" Arawn called out not wanting to alarm the travelers. "I am Arawn a ranger, don't be worried by this hob..."
A tall and lanky formed separated itself from the shadows and reached out a thin and grey-furred arm to grab the bow resting against the wall.
"Dogmen!" Sharptooth yelled.
"Damnation!!!" Arawn exclaimed as four more dogmen stepped from the shelter. They had been sleeping and were slow to react. They blinked in the early afternoon sun and gave toothy yawns. The one who had grabbed the bow realized that it had left its quiver inside and had no arrow at hand. It ducked back in, its head almost reaching the roof.
Arawn had only his sword and Sharptooth had no weapon, five dogmen, and at least one with a bow, the odds were too steep.
"Follow me, Sharptooth!" He yelled and ran straight at them. "YAAAAAAAA!" Arawn screamed, he'd drawn his sword and pelted down the road not looking to see if Sharptooth followed.
Two dogmen jumped back into the shelter for weapons, two others stayed put and braced themselves for Arawn's attack. The ranger came on with fury and anger at himself for such incaution. His sword cut away a paw-like hand then with a back-stroke took the arm off at the elbow. The dogman howled and collapsed, not dead but soon to be. The other dogman threw its arms around Arawn and bore him to the ground; its thin muscles held surprising strength. A long-fanged snout snapped then took a bite, the teeth gouged across his head, hitting bone and leaving a long flap of scalp hanging loose. Arawn's arms were pinned, he struggled to break free, then a thick-booted foot kicked the dogman’s head, striking it in its face and snapping off a fang. Sharptooth grinned above Arawn then offered him a hand.
"Thanks..." Arawn began but an arrow stopped his words. A feathered shaft appeared in Sharptooth's chest, he looked more shocked than hurt. Arawn turned and saw a dogman pulling back his bow. The two who'd jumped inside for weapons came back out, and at his feet the one-fanged dogman began to rise.
Arawn yelled again and charged the archer dogman. It fired short, the arrow had no force. It struck the ranger, pierced through his leather shirt and pricked the skin, but caused no hurt of note. Arawn cut the dogman from head and across the shoulder as it ducked aside; its bow fell to the shelter floor. A spiked ball on a length of chain sailed past the ranger’s head. It took a chunk of wood from off the wall, and turned the dogman half around as it brought the weapon back for another swing.
The one-fanged dogman gave a hiss and Sharptooth gave it another kick, this time to its ribs as it tried to push itself from the ground. It was lifted up and then dropped flat and groaned. Sharptooth kicked it once again across its shaking head, but as he did a blade thrust out, the dogman’s long reach extended by three feet of blade. It punched him hard but the point was dull and Sharptooth's coat of chain kept him from a bitter wound. The blow knocked him back, he let out a woof, then seeing the grinning dog-like face and length of sharpened steel, he turned and ran away.
The dogman barked and took off with long strides after Sharptooth. The hob had a small lead but knew that he had no chance to outrun his pursuer, so Sharptooth ran off the road and into the woods, the dogman followed after, hot on his trail.