Wednesday, May 25, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 9
Arawn clutched at the formorian's neck and thought to choke away its breath. It gave a gag and stopped its swimming but with one hand broke his grasp and badly wrenched the ranger's arm. Arawn slid back hanging on only by a strand of the giant's hair. It rolled and suddenly Arawn was beneath the water, he held his breath and tried to pull himself to the surface but the formorian was in the way.
Hand by hand Arawn climbed up the formorian's head by using the sodden hair like a boarding net. The giant rolled again, Arawn was spun and with his feet lashed out. He struck the monster's neck and hooked first one leg then like a scissor trapped the tree-like throat with his other. Arawn squeezed, the formorian began to thrash wildly about. It twisted and clawed at his legs. One mighty hand enclosed his calf in a crushing grip, the formorian's fingers tightened; Arawn clenched his teeth in pain. He tried to reach around the monster's head and claw at its eyes, but the river caught both unaware. A crest of foaming white dowsed their heads and then they were falling free.
Arawn released his grip, the formorian did the same and for a brief second they hung upon the air, the boiling water came rushing up and swallowed them.
The world exploded red. Arawn landed on the giant's chest beneath the pool, the giant landed on its back and a rounded boulder broke its fall. The river pushed them on. Arawn grabbed for the formorian's beard but his arm did not obey. He grabbed again, his left hand answered, the formorian, dead with a broken back, floated to the surface with Arawn hanging on. The ranger's right arm dangled limp, his legs were half submerged. He lay across the monster's neck and twisted its beard around his wrist. With his left hand tangled tight, Arawn leaned back upon the dead creature's chest. The shining sun beat down, the current rushed them both along, Arawn closed his eyes and a red-rimmed darkness was what he took into his dreams.
A face of icy living-blue hung before him. The water sent long curling tendrils of greenish silver hair streaming with the current. Her eyes were wide. They shone silver on green, a reflection of her silky hair. Her face was fine and fairer than any Arawn had ever seen, her lips were green as well. She brought them to his own and with her kiss she brought him life. The water in his lungs he breathed like air, he gasped. This was no pleasant dream. He'd drowned, or near enough. She laughed; Arawn heard it clear though muffled by the water between them. He tried to pull away but his arm was dead and his other arm was trapped. Arawn broke her kiss, a sudden sense of loss assailed him; he tried to free his arm.
A pair of bulging eyes looked down. Somewhere in their course the formorian had been flipped over sending Arawn beneath to drown. His hand was still knotted to the formorian's beard but it only served to keep him trapped below the massive bloating corpse. A gentle hand reached out and turned his head he looked deep into the silver eyes and lost himself.
Arawn gave a deep sigh and let the lovely vision draw her hand up his arm and touch the knotted mess of beard. "Ahk-Kee,"" she said and the tangles all came free. She took Arawn's hand within her own and led him away from the formorian's corpse, down the river and to a branching stream.
Arawn lay upon a bed of grass, a small tussock pillowed beneath his head. He reached out dreamily with his left hand and stroked the nymph's silken hair. His right arm lay across his chest, bound in a sling of leaves and vines. He watched her as she lay beside him, Nantosvelta, the upper reaches of the Aelphstream had been her domain for ages. Her eyes were open and she stared into his own. A distant memory assailed him, he frowned and looked away. She reached out her hand and touched his cheek, then ran her fingers down his chin.
"Arawn," she said, "you need have no concerns. You are safe here, think only thoughts of love." Nantosvelta turned his head and put her fingers against his lips. She kissed his eyes, then as he slept, kissed his lips and let him rest and heal.
They lay upon a grass-covered hill above a small brisk stream. The Aelphstream had many such children across the hills and lowlands, like branches from a mighty many-fingered tree. Nantosvelta rose and dressed herself in a cloth of shimmering blue, she said a word, "Pit-Ze," and the grass that Arawn rested on grew long and covered him like a blanket of living green. She bent and put her hand upon his brow, "Rak-Kas," she said and Arawn stirred and tossed, but slept.
Nantosvelta ran along the riverbank, the morning sun was bright, the air blew warm. An early spring had come upon the land. She laughed and danced, it had been long since she had found a man to love and this one, no crude hunter, or miner who cut away the hills. This Arawn had a hero's blood, and a hero's wounds as well. His will was strong, he wanted her she knew full well, but some duty pulled him from her arms. She'd cast her spell, twice now, when for most men just a kiss or a mere glimpse of her would do. This strength made him a greater prize. He would be payment for a debt she owed.
Along the southern bank of the Aelphstream she ran, fast as a hart and nimble too. The monsters who had trod along the northern way had passed, she grimaced at the damage they had caused. Ahead, upstream, her mother lived beneath the cold and crystal lake from which the river came. Nantosuelta, she was a queen among their kind, and cold as the lake she made her home.
Arawn dreamed or thought he did. A woman green of hair and eye, she brought him to a bed made of living grass and he took her in his arms. But something nagged at him, the dream of love seemed out of place. He tried to clear his eyes of sleep, his arm was bound, his left arm thrashed beneath the covers made of woven grass. He did not wake, but his dream quickly changed.
Darkness covered a sleeping town, guardsman nodded at their posts, no harm had come in living memory to this place, why guard when they knew well that all was safe? Perhaps no greater vigilance could have saved them from their fate. They did not hear or see the thousand sets of padding feet or notice the click and clack of tall waving ladders as they came to rest against the walls. A face of brutish orange-red appeared above the battlement, followed by a thick-muscled arm. The hobgoblin stood above the town, a large curved sword held in its hand, a dozen others joined it around the wall and then a dozen more. They ran for towers that sat astride the western gate. A guardsman, waking from a snoring sleep gave a muffled scream but was cut short, choking on a length of sharpened steel. Ahead, a door, heavy and thick enough to take a ram to knock it down, it was unlocked, unbarred, unwatched. Both towers fell, the screams within alerted none. The lower doors were flung open wide, the hobgoblins raised the main gate's massive bar and pushed each door aside.
An arching bridge crossed the Aelphstream as it flowed along the edge of town. Across it a band of formorians came, they marched without order and without concern, already as masters of this their new domain.
Arawn tried to scream, too late. He knew his warning would not be heard.
Nantosvelta stood before a roaring fall. High above, the frozen lake had begun to melt and the river swelled. A wide pool lay beneath the fall, it boiled white, water crashed down and foamed. In her smooth, long fingered hand the nymph held a green translucent stone, a circle, two fish chased each other head to tail, just quite catching a tailfin tip within a grasping mouth. "Mother," she said to the green fish charm. "Mother, I seek an audience."
A whirlpool formed, the waters began to churn and sweep the foaming waves aside. A hollow space appeared at the center of the spiraling water. Nantosvelta leapt and graceful as a diving bird plunged headfirst down the vortex in the pool.
Arawn could not wake. Bespelled, he struggled against his formorian foes. He walked the streets of Gorakil like a ghost, witness to a thousand deaths and screams as the sleeping populace wakened to their fate.
Too long the town lay secure among the western borders of the realm. The horror that descended now was stuff that happened only to other folk in minstrels' tales. The monsters spread out and circled round the inside of the walls. They seized the gates to Donag and to Der then slowly fought their way further in, driving the fleeing citizens to the monastery at the center of the town.
From the Aelphstream scores of creatures rose. Beslimed and lank-haired the skarpas, a type of water troll, stepped upon the river bank and ambled to the open northern gate. The formorian guard whose tedious duty was to sit and wait and keep the humans trapped inside their dying town, held closed his nose and mouth as the filthy, stinking creatures passed. They smelled of marsh gas, sludge and bloated putrid flesh, he gagged.
As they passed he called to them. "Hey, you're late. You'll have to fight your four-eyed cousins for a decent meal." They ambled on. If they understood his call they didn't pay it any mind.