Friday, May 20, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 7
Arawn lunged and felt his sword push through the center of the dogman. His blade came out its back, the ball and chain it swung passed near his head, but the dogman fell back with the handle hanging loose in its grasp.
Two badly wounded dogmen were before him, but neither made any threatening moves. Arawn took a step back and then another, he left the cover of the shelter and the bright midday sun flashed in his eyes.
The one-fanged dogman had awoken and, as Arawn came near, it reached out and grabbed his legs. Both wounded dogmen rushed out, they'd dropped their weapons and prepared to fight with tooth and claw.
"Curse you dogs!" he yelled at them. Arawn struck down the dogman who's bow he'd knocked away. His sword stabbed up and deep into its chest and in its rush it pushed the blade up to the hilt then all seven feet and more of dogman came crashing down, bearing Arawn to the ground. He landed on one-fang who'd caught his leg. It gave a groan as both man and dogman fell back and pinned it face first in the dirt.
Sharptooth's breath came in racking heaves, the dogman was close behind. He ran on though the pain was great. The arrow in his chest dug a furrow inside of him as it stabbed with every jarring footstep. There was a dull metal taste on his tongue and he spat out a mouthful of blood.
The bushes crashed and rustled behind him, wildly Sharptooth glanced about for some weapon, but all he could find was a branch, too small and light to use as a club he jammed its end beneath a tree root and brought his heel hard down across it. The end snapped off leaving a jagged point. The dogman came around the tree, it had its sword raised and slashed at Sharptooth, but the hob leapt aside. The sword cut into bark and Sharptooth brought the wooden branch around like a spear. He stabbed up below the dogman’s outstretched arm into the pit of its shoulder. Its hand flinched and it dropped the sword, Sharptooth swung his stick and broke it across the dogman’s snout. He left it howling mad and dived for the fallen sword.
The smell of wet and dirty fur filled Arawn's noise, the creature’s chest was across his face, for a moment he could not move. He pushed up with one hand still on the pommel of his sword, the other against the dead dogman’s chest. With a heave the body lifted and his sword came free. Above Arawn a grinning hobgoblin face looked down.
"You not dead," Sharptooth laughed, "Lucky! Dogman think you dead."
"I never thought I'd be glad to see a hob," said Arawn. "Friend, help me up."
"Sure thing," the hob pulled Arawn to his feet. The ranger grimaced and grabbed his side, then held up a hand red with fresh wet blood.
"You hurt," said Sharptooth
"Oh damn, the stitches have all gone," Arawn cursed then looked over at the hob." What about you?"
Sharptooth touched the arrow haft that still sticking from his chest. "Yeah, me hurt too."
A whimpering moan brought both hob and man around. The one-fanged dogman still lived but lay half conscious, beaten by Sharptooth and buried beneath man and dogman till it had passed out cold.
"Kill it?" Sharptooth asked about the dogman.
"Leave it. Are the others dead?" Arawn looked about, two dead dogmen and the one which lay unconscious, there should have been at least two more.
"One is, one got away." said Sharptooth, he gestured with a notched and rusted sword. He pointed first up the road then to the east and south where a trail of blood lay drying in the sun.
"How long was I under there?" Arawn asked the hob.
"Not long. I kill, dogman, who chase me, then come right back. Saw this dogman move," Sharptooth kicked the corpse to emphasize his point. "Think it live and gave it chop."
"Are you any good with a bow?" Arawn picked up a bow taller than himself. These dogmen stood seven or more feet tall, all fur, muscle and bone.
"Can't shoot straight," Sharptooth shook his head. "Have little rats to shoot the sticks."
"Well no need for me to worry about the stitching coming loose now," said Arawn in the Gilliad tongue, to himself but loud enough for the hob to hear.
"What you say?" Sharptooth wondered.
Arawn tapped his bleeding side. "Cut open, might as well use bow."
"Better wrap wound, blood still coming out," Sharptooth cut a dirty cloak from off of a dead dogman.
"Thanks," said Arawn, he took of his own clean cloak and handed it to the hob. "Please use this instead."
Sharptooth crumpled the cloth between his hands and rubbed a corner against his cheek. "Soft," he said then with his knife he cut off a long wide strip. Arawn took off his vest and his bloodsoaked jerkin beneath. The cloth which Daghdha had wrapped in place was soaked clean through, the poultice a sodden mess, it fell to the ground like a clump of black wet mud.
"Take my canteen, wash this away," Arawn told the hob.
"I have better." Sharptooth took out a long thin flask that was hidden in his belt. He pulled the cork and held it out for the ranger to smell. Arawn took a cautious sniff, and snapped his head back at the powerful scent. Alcohol, some dark woodsman’s brew. It was said to help a wound, but it hurt like the Nine Hells.
"Water first, then just a little of that," said Arawn.
Sharptooth shrugged his head. He poured the lukewarm water across the wound and washed the clumps of bloody muck away. "String still there," he told Arawn. "Pulled back, a little."
Arawn sighed in relief then gave a small scream as Sharptooth poured the liquor on the wound. "Enough! Enough!" he cried.
"Okay!" Sharptooth took a hefty swig before he corked the flask and put it back within his belt. He wrapped the ranger’s cloak, which he’d cut into a thick bandage, around and around Arawn's wounded side, then tied it off like a grey-green sash.
"I look like a Sea King in a minstrel show," Arawn said and pulled his leather vest over the wound and sash. "That was my last shirt," he told Sharptooth and poured some water over the blood-sodden half. He wrang it out and stuffed it away in his pack, still wet and red with blood.
"We chase dogman?' Sharptooth asked, anxious to be in pursuit.
"He won't go far with that stomach wound," Arawn said. "But he is going the way we want, so yes, but I'd rather not run. And what about you? That arrow better come out," Arawn had been concentrating on his side and now he saw the black feathered shaft that the hob had not removed.
"It fine, not hurt," Sharptooth backed away.
"You lie." Arawn reached out a hand and waved his fingers. "Come on it's your turn now. Better get out that flask again."
Sharptooth shook his head, but gave up under the ranger’s unflinching eye, and let Arawn take out the arrow and treat his wound as Sharptooth had treated his.
"Slow down!" Arawn called to Sharptooth. The hob jogged on at an unrelenting pace. The ranger could have matched him with ease, but he kept back, trying to keep his wound from opening up again.
"Sorry," Sharptooth slowed, he wanted to race ahead and chase down the dogman which had run away. The trail of blood faded with each step. It must have bound its wounds the way that Arawn and he had bound theirs.
They ran, but slowly, then the blood trail veered off and along a small side path.
"It go this way..." Sharptooth pointed out the trail to Arawn.
The ranger rolled his eyes but bit back the retort that was on his lips."Yes," he said instead, "It goes to an old hunting lodge, no one lives there but it's used several times each year." Arawn thought a moment, would anyone be there now, he asked himself. "No," he said aloud, "this time of year, it's too early."
"What early?" asked Sharptooth
"Too early for the townsmen to be out hunting," Arawn said.
"Dogmen, maybe they use it now?" Sharptooth looked about the place. He bent and put a finger to a spot of blood. "Wet, dogman very near."
Arawn set the bow aside. He'd taken it from the dogmen and it was huge to match their size. An unfamiliar bow, larger than any he'd ever used before, and with a wounded side. No, he decided, this was not the weapon to take into a fight.
"Not use?" Sharptooth asked. "Why take along?"
"Why indeed." said Arawn. He drew his sword.
Sharptooth ran with his blade in his hand, he'd taken the scabbard and wore it on his back, but had not sheathed his blade since he'd fought and killed the dogman who'd owned it.
The trail was narrow. The woods encroached on either side. The two, hob and man, walked abreast but both stepped half on the verge of grass and ducked beneath long branches reaching out from tree and hedge-like brush.
The path meandered and sloped down, a roar of water could be heard from somewhere ahead. The scent of burning wood drifted through the forest and above the line of trees a long finger of smoke rose up into the sky.
Arawn stopped and put out his hand for Sharptooth to do as well. Silently he motioned for the hob to follow him off the path and into the thick wood. Sharptooth nodded his agreement and the pair disappeared from view.
Sharptooth was no woodsmen, his home was high among the mountain peaks to the south. He lived in caves that had been dug from the rock and dirt so long ago that his people believed that they had dwelled within since time began. He could run, sure-footed as a mountain goat, careful and quiet as a drifting cloud, so as not to dislodge a rock or stone, but these dratted trees and thorn filled brush, he had no skill with them. Branches broke around him, twigs pulled at his clothes and sought to poke him in the eye, thorns left long cuts or gouged across his skin. He held in his curses and kept sword from slashing anything that lay within his path.
A twig broke beneath the hob’s heavy tread, its snap sounded like a thunderous boom to Arawn's ear. They made slow time, Arawn drifted through the trees and Sharptooth crashed along, but their destination was close at hand.
They'd turned away from a downhill slope and came out of the woods along a rocky cliff. Below them the path left the trees, sloping down and curved around where it met a river, the Aelphstream, flowing from its mountain lake till it reached the lowlands, Gorakil and far away joined with the mighty West Narrow Sea.
A large longhall had been built above the flowing stream, a waterfall crashed to its one side and a long line of stairs had been carved from the top of the falls down to the hall itself. The wounded dogman stood in a large clear space before the house. It sat upon a stump, and barked out its tale to a large audience.
Two score at least of dogman archers stood around the wounded one. They howled with anger as he told of the human’s attack and the dead he left behind.
Along the stair leading down the hill a column of hobgoblins marched. There seemed to be no end to their number, and atop the fall a formorian stood, rough hide clothes, dark brown hair and wild beard. It clapped its hand and gestured, and as Arawn watched another formorian came. This one was armored in soot-black chain. It wore a mighty helm and carried a shield that side to side was taller than a man, but looked small upon the formorian’s arm. It pulled off its helm and shook out a red mane, its face was charcoal black, its chin covered with a small goat's beard of orange fringe.
"Big One," Sharptooth whispered. "Gi-ant," he said in the common tongue.
The howling of the dogmen was drowned out by the roaring of the water. As the wounded dogman finished its tale it slumped then rolled to the ground. A shorter squatter version of these dog-like creatures, a skraeling, walked to the body and kicked it hard in the side. The dogman did not awaken and the pack let loose a keening wail. The skraeling barked and cut the lamentation short. It pointed toward the path back to the road and a dozen dogmen ran off.
"I've seen enough," Arawn said. "Come, we have no time to lose."
Sharptooth merely grunted. He'd told his friend about the big ones and the tribes they'd gathered. A vague disquieting thought passed through the hob’s mind about this friend of his friend, but Sharptooth hated dogmen; they fought with his own clan back in his mountain home, he had no loyalty to such as them. But this human, he hated humans, this one was his friend, at least for now.