Authors: Michael Reynolds
"Ah, maybe, but a coward that
sank blade into as many foes as any of your men today."
Grundar started to object, but then
the many daggers protruding from fallen raiders caught his eye and shut his
mouth. Grundar, still aching to act, quickly gathered his remaining men and put
his cousin, Larin, in charge until his return.
Jaxius, Tolian, and Grundar quickly
grabbed their ever ready packs and their weapons. None of them looked back as
they entered the forest, crossing into Hawklos, the witches' cursed lands.
Grundar crashed through the trees
with reckless speed. Fatigue should have taken him days ago, but Grundar wasn't
feeling much of anything anymore. Pain, fear, and even fatigue had totally
given way to a blinding anger. His thudding heart pumped gallon after gallon of
bright red rage deep into his soul. It consumed him. He would not be slowed. He
would find his boy and put an end to those that took him.
"That's it, we have run for five
straight days. I cannot run one step further," Tolian gasped. He dropped
his pack heavily to the snowy, leaf littered ground.
Grundar barely turned, "We
"No. I can barely breathe. I am
going to sit for at least a short bit," Tolian argued.
"Grundar, if we do catch them,
in this state, we stand no chance. Come. Rest for just a bit," said
"But," Grundar said,
"me son ...."
"Grundar, please, trust
me," said his friend.
"Fine," Grundar relented
with a grimace.
Jaxius and, eventually, Grundar
joined Tolian and began to make a hasty camp.
Then, seeing that Tolian was, as
usual, the first to find the comforts of his blanket, Jaxius accepted the first
watch of the short night. He settled by their small, smokeless fire and pulled
some richly spiced sausage from his laden rucksack.
"Yer bard friend doesna have the
heart nor the will fer this. I can sense it." Grundar grumbled about the
delay in their race to save his only son.
Jaxius shrugged, "He's been used
to a different lifestyle. That's all. We do need some rest, though. Those men,
they move with an unnatural speed. I don't think we will set upon them in these
accursed woods; most likely, not until they arrive at their destination,
wherever that may be."
"Bah! ‘Tis the witch's magic.
Like this every year, ya know. They come from nowhere, movin' silent an' dark
as shadows or runnin' fast an' fleet as deer. Then, they disappear jus' as
quick," the anxious chieftain complained to the half-elf.
"Has to be some magic or
another. We should start seriously thinking about our rescue strategy and
prepare for the fact that there may be almost no options open to us,"
Tolian added his own humble opinion
to the conversation, but the words that escaped his mouth were sleepily mumbled
and mostly about meat pies.
A restless sleep finally found
Grundar. He tossed and turned, turned and tossed. His face dripped with rank,
fear-scented sweat. It was as though Grundar was caught in fever dreams. His
dreams were, in fact, filled with the horrors of the many tortures that might
befall his son before whatever execution Bergar was headed for.
Jaxius understood what it was to lose
someone that you loved so dearly. He sat, watching the tormented man and
wishing he could help his friend. He tried futilely to understand the full
situation. The invaders had no real use for Bergar, as far as Jaxius could
tell. Their clans didn't usually keep slaves. Their numbers were plentiful.
There was no ready way for the raiders to know that Bergar was next in line to
be his clan's leader. There was no obvious reason to kidnap the boy. Yet, it
Time dragged on for Jaxius. Seconds
turned into minutes. Minutes became hours. Finally, sleep overtook the ranger
before he could rouse Grundar to take the next watch.
"Wake up, sleepy cousin," a
high-pitched girl's voice squeaked.
Jaxius opened his eyes to see large,
round doe-like brown eyes inches away from his face. The face moved away,
allowing Jaxius to fully see the little girl in front of him. Her extremely
angular face and long pointed ears could mark her as an elf. However, she was
much thinner than any typical elf. Her wild green hair stuck out in several
places like it had never seen a brush before. It was heavily adorned with
leaves, twigs, and the odd berry. She was dressed in nothing more than a few
large leaves and a simple belt. She squatted next to the party's campfire and
picked at her toes.
"You fell asleep and I saved
you. You almost died, you know."
"What?" Jaxius asked.
"I said, you ... fell ... asleep
... and ... I ... saved ... you!" the girl said, more loudly and slowly
"I don't understand, what
happened? I must have fallen asleep. Tolian! Grundar! Wake up," Jaxius
called, turning to rouse his friends.
Grundar began to stir. He opened his
eyes, grumbling. "What d'ye want? Eh?"
The strange little girl had
"Wha...?" Jaxius stood up,
startled. "Where did she go?"
Grundar laughed, "Who? Ye fell
asleep, did ye? Dreamin'!"
"No. The little one, a girl,
with wild green hair."
"What are you yammering
about?" Tolian asked as he started waking up.
"There was a little girl. Right
here. She said she saved my life. Then, she backed up and squatted down right
... here ..." Jaxius trailed off, looking anxiously for some sign that
there really had been a feral girl in the middle of their camp.
"I see," Tolian said.
"Well, not really see, exactly, but I do think I understand what happened.
You fell soundly asleep, and now you feel just a bit guilty, so you ‘found'
some little, wild girl. Makes perfect sense to me." Tolian shot a
mischievous glance at Grundar.
"Oh yeah, aye," Grundar
continued the story with exaggerated, sweeping arm movements. "There was a
little girl, with, what was it, green hair? She magically made ye fall asleep.
But now, she is gone and ye are awake again."
"No. You must believe me. She was
"Saved you again!" came the
squeaky little girl's voice from beyond the clearing. "And again."
This time from the opposite side of the clearing. "And ...," a
quarter way around. "... again," completely opposite side from the
Tolian and Grundar, neither laughing
now, quickly joined a gratified Jaxius in the center of the camp. The three men
stood back to back, looking nervously toward the perimeter of the clearing.
"Saved you one more time,"
the little girl's voice shot out from inside their tight, defensive circle.
Almost as one, the three startled
friends dove away from the sudden, laughing voice, drawing weapons and turning
about. Jaxius' mysterious feral child stood there in the midst of the still
"What are ye getting at?"
"You all almost died, you did.
And I saved you," the girl replied. "OH!"
Realization dawned on her mischevious
face. "You have trouble hearing like my cousin." She pointed at
Jaxius. "Saved ... you ... one ..."
"No, I can hear ye jus'
fine," Grundar snorted. "Ye jus' make no sense, girly. And how did ye
do tha' wit' yer voice?" He gestured emphatically toward the edges of the
"I didn't do anything with my
voice. I moved with my body. It is something that you can't do. The plants do
not love you like they love me." She tilted her head and looked down at
the ground. "I love you, too. Yes, I do," she cooed to what looked
like a tuft of grass sticking through the nearby snow and ice.
"Alright," Tolian said.
"This crazy, creepy little waif has to go."
He reached out to grab her, but she
was no longer there. In an instant, she was perched on his shoulders, biting
savagely into his neck. She did not draw blood; however, when he did manage to
pry her from his neck, she was changed. Very changed. Her vibrant green hair
had faded into a dull gray with only a hint that it may have once been verdant.
Deep, dark, sinister looking rings had formed around her eyes which were now
sunken and a pale, steel gray. Her hot breath puffed from her mouth in the
suddenly frigid air. Talon-like claws extended several inches from her fingers.
"Whoa," Jaxius said, as
calmly as he could manage. "Calm down. Calm down. Tolian, relax, please.
Little one, I sincerely apologize for my uncouth friend here."
The little girl's features softened a
bit. The color poured back into her hair, and her beady little eyes became
chocolatey once again. A vibrant smile showed on her little angular face.
"Apology accepted. And,"
she nonchalantly turned and looked at Jaxius, "I saved your life ... yet
again. Aren't you glad that you have such a wonderful favorite cousin?"
"What does she mean 'favorite
cousin'?" Tolian asked his bewildered half-elf friend.
"I don't know," Jaxius
responded. "What do you mean 'favorite cousin'?"
"Well," she began,
"since I have saved your life seventy-two times now, I had just assumed
that I would be your favorite cousin."
"But you aren't my cousin. In
fact ..." Jaxius started.
She interrupted, "Oh? Well, you
did sleep in my forest and accepted my hospitality. You even let me save your
life so many times. And now you have the temerity to say you aren't my cousin?
You are a cruel, cruel man." Tears poured, streaming from her eyes like
All three of the companions lowered
their weapons and relaxed a bit.
"Now, now. Don' do tha',"
Grundar pleaded, tears starting to form in his eyes. "Ye tell her yer
sorry. And ye do it now," he demanded of the hard-hearted Jaxius.
"Wait, hold on, now,"
Jaxius said. "You saw what she turned into. You both saw. There is
absolutely no way she is my cousin. This whole preposterous thing makes no
sense. I say we just get to the bottom of what's going on here."
"We?" Tolian asked.
"You are the one with the family issue here. A family issue that tried to
devour me whole, need I remind you."
The little girl sobbed louder and
louder as the men argued. They continued on, oblivious to the changes being
wrought in her by their abandonment. A devilish grin began to form on the little
girl's darkening face. A slight breeze kicked up a bit of the loose snow around
her. Her large doe eyes shined bright white, and her already wild hair began to
stand on end.
The men, realizing their mistake by
the uncanny silence, stopped bickering to turn and stare at the changed girl,
her arms stretched toward the sky. She was surrounded by a violent whirlwind of
snow and leaves. Before any of them could react, large vines burst from the
ground, wrapping around their waists and lifting all three men into the air.
Tolian, Grundar, and Jaxius hacked
and sawed at the constricting vines. As each vine fell, two more rose to
replace it. More vines lashed out, wrapping around their weapons and ripping
the blades from the astonished men's hands. Even more bright green leafy vines
shot out and pinned their arms to their bodies. They hung suspended in the air,
trapped like dying flies in a giant spiderweb. Terror overtook them.
Tolian, eyes wide, asked, "What
Vines snaked into the bard's mouth.
More ropy vegetation twined around each man's faces, leaving only staring eyes
and burning ears uncovered.
"Now that you can hear me,"
the little girl started calmly. Her hair relaxed and laid back down on her
shoulders, and her eyes slowly changed back to their deep brown hue. She
extended her finger and poked the vine twisted around Jaxius' chest. "You
hurt my feelings a bit. You are my cousin. Look at your pointy ears. Now, you
might not be very closely related to me, but surely even you can see that you
are at least partly elf. And if you know anything about anything, then you know
that elves are descended from the true fae of the Faemoch. Right? Well, I just
so happen to be a true fae of the Faemoch. Are you not dazzled by my awesome
power and irresistible beauty? I know that I am. My name ... well, you cannot
have my name. Names are full of power, you know?"
Finally, we agree on something
, Jaxius thought.
"And I do not wish for you to
have even the tiniest power over me," the fae girl went on. She looked at
Tolian with a haughty sneer. "But, since you are not allowed to call me
little girl anymore, you may call me Chlora. It means green."
"Plfsd t mft gyou," Tolian
murmured past his living muzzle.
"Now, if you gentlemen will
excuse me, I have to save your lives again," Chlora said. She paused
briefly, cutting her eyes to first one side of the clearing and then the other.
"There. That's better. And no need to thank me. I mean, you couldn't
really if you tried. Could you? Well, you couldn't answer that either. He-he.
Now, what I was so graciously trying to tell you earlier, before you very
rudely interrupted me with your insufferable arguing, is that I am not a
'little girl.' I am, most certainly, very much older than all three of you
combined. And, since I am a faerie of such beautifully advanced age, you should
respect me and bow to my extremely reasonable wishes and become my slaves.
The terror already shining in
Grundar's eyes took a firmer hold. Hot, angry tears started to form at their
creased corners. He wasn't afraid of being a slave, to anyone; that thought was
always undeniably present on the frontier. The horror that his only son and
heir was, in fact, forever beyond his reach had finally, fully solidified for
the normally stoic man. Grundar sobbed.
"Now to start with, I would like
for you to watch me dance. I absolutely love dancing and singing. Do you want
to watch me dance and sing?"
Nodding acquiescence wasn't difficult
for the men. The vines did it for them. The fae girl, Chlora, began to sing a
wordless, haunting tralala-song and to dance in whirling, swirling circles
around the small clearing.
This went on for a number of
candle-marks. Any time one of the men attempted to close their eyes, the vines
would pull taut, forcing drooping eyelids to stay open. Finally, she stopped
her song and dance, curtsied, and broke into a giant, toothy smile. She nodded
and clapped several times, looking for some form of agreement from her new
slaves. Receiving no immediate compliment, she rested her angled chin in her
hand and appeared to be deep in thought for some time.
Another candle-mark dragged by.
Finally, she threw her hands out wide and shouted, " I know! Why don't you
each tell me just who you are and what excuse you have for invading my forest?
Oh, that does sound like fun! Now, which one of you beastly mortal trespassers
should begin? Hmm."
Chlora paced backward and forward in
front of her new playthings, studying each horrified man at length. Finally,
she selected one. She gave a firm nod of her head, a flutter of tiny fingers,
and a capricious giggle. The wrappings holding Grundar in place loosened and
receded from around his head, leaving him suspended in the air, but perfectly
free to answer his captor's demands.
"Well?" Chlora asked.
Having no idea where to start his
story, Grundar stuttered through great, heaving sobs of grief and rage,
"Th... th... they took m... me boy. An' now, they're going t' kill 'im.
It's all because of ye, ye muddle-headed, evil b..." His heated rant was
cut short by a new vine gag.
"Boring. And you should really
learn to respect your superiors!" Dissatisfied, Chlora walked to Tolian,
"Can you behave and perhaps tell a proper telling of your mediocre reasons
for intrusion? If you have to, embellish some. Put in something about a, oh,
maybe a dragon. I do so like dragons. I know, make it a fearsome dragon with a
frog's body. I haven't heard a story about any kind of dragon with a frog's
body before. Can you, please?" Her smile, maybe intended to be sweet and
charming, was anything but.
Tolian tried his best to nod, but all
the wary, weary bard could manage was a miserably weak shimmy inside of his
"I will take that as a
Tolian's vine gag loosened and
lowered, just enough to allow the bard to tell his tale. "Good lady, you
have chosen your storyteller quite well. I do thoroughly regret, however, that
our stories have many separate beginnings. Grundar's story is perhaps many
times more familiar to you. You see, he is from the glorious lands just north
of these wondrous woods of yours and is a mighty, brave warrior, the leader of
his clan. I do not, unfortunately, know much more than that about him,
specifically. But I should wholeheartedly like to regal you with the altogether
heroic and infinitely possible exploits of my frie... er ... your cousin's
adventures. Which, coincidentally, may, or may not contain a particular story
of a terrifying and grandiose dragon that may or may not have had a body quite
similar to that of a toad."