This is the third installment in February’s Fab Four Fables. David started us off with a fantasy tale that left it open for the story to take many different directions – read his here: http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/fab-four-fables-a-merchant-in-oria-part-one/. Eric used his in depth fantasy background to further the adventure here: http://sinistralscribblings.com/2013/02/08/a-merchant-in-oria-part-two-a-fab-four-fable/. Now, to continue our tale of humans and dwarves and trolls, I offer you this. I hope it is as enjoyable to read as it was to write because I had a hell of a lot of fun. SAM at www.frommywriteside.wordpress.com will use her talent to bring Kheldar’s story to a close.
As Kheldar was marched out of the town via a path that barely deserved to be called one, he tried to concentrate on his biggest problem. Trolls. The Dwarves had made a treaty with the Trolls! They were going to turn him over to the Trolls for who knew what nefarious purpose. A snack? Slave labor? Sport? And yet…this uncertain future paled in comparison to his current predicament. He was being prodded along, wearing nothing but his small clothes. Kheldar, who couldn’t bathe with the other merchants and only changed behind hastily erected partitions when the need struck on the road, was being pushed along in his under things. His horror at this continually overlapped his greater terror at being Troll fodder.
A rough voice sniggered as Kheldar attempted to keep his sensitive bits hidden behind his hands as he walked. “A shy little lamb of a human, huh?” the guard clumping along slightly behind his right shoulder asked.
“They are my bits,” Kheldar responded primly. “Just because you force me to walk in shame doesn’t mean that I have none.” Where did that come from? He told himself frantically to shut up, not to taunt his keepers, think before he spoke, all the rules of survival he could think of but himself was apparently out of body. “How do you keep your honor, Hammers of Moridin, when you do business with stone devils?”
“Stone devils pay well and keep you treaty breaking lying weak willed sacks of skin out of our mines, so don’t you worry about what we higher races do, filth,” said the guard on his left, clouting him on the side of the head without heed to the directive of non-harming imposed by Dahn.
Kheldar stumbled but to his own surprise kept his feet, danced clumsily around the rim of a wide hole in the ground from which sad and guttural wailings arose. He tried to peek in, to see what sorry creature made such noises, and had his ear twisted for his trouble. He shook the hand off as he would a bite-me. “Bah! Why do you care if I see what fate awaits me?” He slowed for a moment and looked back at his captors. “What do you mean, treaty breakers? I know of no treaty broken between human and dwarf.”
A smile that did not enhance the squat features spread wickedly across left-hand guard’s face. “Ask your father.” He shoved at Kheldar with his boot, knocking his feet out from under him and sending him sliding down a steep incline into one of the many other holes in the ground. The smell was ferocious and the ride was rough, dumping him out at the bottom onto a floor covered with waste and slime.
He looked up and up to the pinhole of light at the top of the shaft and saw stupid face, as he had come to think of him, lean over and grin a stupid grin. “Oh yes Kheldar, we know exactly who you are.”
For as slowly as the next few cycles of the sun passed at the bottom of Minesink 42, Kheldar did a lot of fast thinking. Firstly, he had to let go of his childhood fantasies of the glories of the Dwarven kingdom. An entire lifetime of daydreams, up in smoke like the still sinister column of black that continually darkened a corner of what sky he could see. He wept, just a little, as is befitting the death of a dream, and then let it go. The little bit of softness that remained of youth burned off as he was ‘exercised’, which consisted of random and sarcastic dwarves dropping a rope down the shaft for him to climb up to receive his one bucket of gruel and better left unknown gristly bits per day. He kept his eyes averted, his mouth closed, and his shoulders bowed. When his gorge wanted to rise, he forced it down, eating and shimmying back down to his pit without complaint.
This morning was different. He shaded his eyes with a callused palm and saw that it was Right Hammer Dahn himself peering down at him. “Come,” said the pompous little Dwarf, resplendent in his robes and trinkets, yet no longer the grand figure that Kheldar had once perceived him to be. “It is time for your journey to Gormadth.”
As his hands grasped the flung down rope, one over the other without thought, a little voice of panic yammered away in the back of his skull. Trolls. Trolls! He had never wanted to meet any trolls, had harbored no desire for a face to face with one of the eldest Earthen tribes, terrifying and stupid and cruel. Of course, he had thought the Dwarves would be enlightened and welcoming, so assumptions weren’t always to be trusted. Seeing as there had never been a tale told of a friendly Troll or a meeting with them that did not result in any humans who weren’t quick enough to get away ending up in the cookpot, Kheldar felt comfortable in his belief that he most definitely did not want to meet them.
Their journey out of Oria began without ceremony, although plenty of its inhabitants took time out for a little peer and jeer. There were six in the party, and one cart to carry food and drink. Kheldar’s own oxen were hitched to the cart; he surreptitiously scratched behind the ears of the abused looking animals as he walked past and they lowed in response, tired eyes rolling in their heads. Anger bubbled like a sick stew in his stomach.
A rope was fastened into a loose fitting noose around his neck and tethered to the back of the cart, his hands bound in front of him. They had given him an ugly dung colored tunic, but no leggings, and some soft strips of cloth to tie around his feet. He still felt exposed but could no longer be bothered to care about it very much.
The dark and oppressive forest waited just around the corner; their entire passage to Gormadth would be through the Stragnon Woods. The thought turned Kheldar’s bowels to water, and so he opted instead to ponder what they had meant when they told him to ask his father about human treaty breakers. His father had always been an upstanding man, forthright and honorable. Kheldar himself had found him to be so, and had never heard a harsh word spoken against him amongst their tribe or any of the merchants on the trade routes he had worked these past years. Very puzzling, indeed.
As he turned things over in his mind, the procession took its first steps into the murk. In a blink the sky became barely visible through the canopy of oversized sickly green leaves far overhead, sound became a muted buzz, and even the Dwarves walked a little taller, which wasn’t all that tall, and swiveled their heads from side to side incessantly.
Time passed, the scenery didn’t seem to change all that much and Kheldar’s exhaustion numbed him. Until he heard the voice. He had been shambling along behind the cart, eyes on the ground in front of him, thinking of nothing but the next step. His rear guard had become lax in his duty, whistling and carelessly swinging his axe head at the grass, glancing around every so often. The voice whispered inside Kheldar’s head. “Look at the axle.”
Kheldar looked. The cart had been shoddily repaired at some point, he realized, and the axle jumped with every turn of the wheels, loose in its mooring. His heartbeat sped up, just as the voice reverberated inside his mind with a bone tingling yell. “Run!”
Kheldar grabbed his lead rope with both hands and yanked with every ounce of strength that he had left. The axle popped loose, the cart canted to its side, and Kheldar bounded away into the forest dragging it with him. He leaped over a stagnant crick and crashed through the undergrowth, all the while fighting the noose around his neck with his hands. He finally ducked out of it and left rope and axle amid the high grass, fleeter of foot without it dragging him down. He ran heedlessly deeper into the darkness.
Hours passed, and Kheldar finally stopped. He slumped against an enormous tree trunk and slid to the ground, bone weary. He couldn’t have run any further had the very hounds of Damascar been at his heels.
In a clearing a few feet away, a circle of boulders watched him closely. What one would have mistaken for cracks in weathered rock became a mouth which issued forth the same voice that had commanded Kheldar to run. “I believe that it is he,” it grumbled. “Regardless, any that we can save from this fate deserve it to be so.”
Mossy growths peeled away from the other boulders, became questing arms that dragged their bodies across the grass to peer more closely at the now sleeping and disheveled form. A gravelly murmuring arose as they contemplated the possibilities. “He looks too young.” “He looks weak, but he has survived this long with his spirit intact.” “It could be him.” “It cannot be him.”
The largest of the boulders among them waved a mossy tentacle like arm in the air. His craggy mouth opened and they all paused in their quiet bickering to attend. “I believe that it is he.”
The rules of the Fab Four Fables are simple:
– There is no time or word limit, and it cannot be combined with any other prompt or meme
– You have to keep the same title and stay within the genre chosen
– The next writer will not know who they are until the previous installment is posted, unless you’re the last one in which case your powers of deduction should have tipped you off 😉
– Use a picture that fits with your story at the top of the post
Take it away SAM!