Birds of a Different Color
By Gerry Torbert
Morbagg snorted his way through a stein of blood grog, choking on some of the greasier parts. He fished out a fingertip with his own, looked it over a little, then popped it in his mouth. He had just finished another session with Groll, and sat down to plan the next raid on Norville; but his concentration was quickly disturbed with the flapping of wings.
Grunt alighted on the canvas sill that defined a meager window in the command tent. The raven balanced himself on the cloth and awaited his master's attention. "What is it, bird?"
"Guts saw campers in woods."
Morbagg sighed and shook his head. "Ya call yerselves scouts? Why'd ya bother me for some outdoorsy-types?"
"Campers are old fighters, maybe soldiers."
"So? How many?"
"Guts says just few. Never teach him to count."
"Soldiers? Mean types? Swords? Maybe hired fighters?"
"Hmm... maybe. But everyone carry sword."
"Alright, Grunt. Now get out of my tent b'fore I make ya soup!" He got out of his chair and headed for the bird, who was not so proud that he forgot how to fly. Morbagg snickered at the bird's fear, but continued to the table. He took the torch down from the holder nearby and lit the contents of a small dish.
He picked a small feather and a small animal's eyeball from a pouch on the table; rubbing them together in his hands and mumbling a spell, he tossed them into the burning dish.
Darmon and Yngvarr always came prepared; perhaps from their storied careers as mercenary fighters; perhaps due to the mountains and their clan life; perhaps even due to the times they both had spent hiding from life and people as they tried to sort out their lives. Either way, Darmon had packed a considerable amount of dried fat back, and Yngvarr had met a farmer nearby years ago, and sought him out a day before and bought several dozen eggs. Quite an impressive breakfast was underway.
The Dwarves also came prepared, with pots, pans, plates and fishing hooks and lines. All were eating well when Slayer began to hum slightly from her perch across Darmon's knees as he sat near the fire. He looked down and saw a slight glow near mid-blade, in the form of a bird.
...Darmon - hide the others behind you - there's a wizard's familiar coming, and I think he has sight...hurry!
Slayer's warning was clear and loud enough for all to hear, and the Dwarves, the Kuni and the Elf all got up quickly and took places behind the Creag; Yngvarr got up quickly and sat beside him, looking upward. They were lucky, as the bird flew to a position in front of them. "Hunker doon, my friends. If Slayer senses somethin's wrong, we better listen!"
The raven alit across from them on a stone; he shook his head quickly in a shivering motion, then stared at the two men, one holding a sword, the other, an axe. A puff of smoke belched forth from the bird's mouth, and it whirled in a little cone of black particles, shimmering as they congealed into a wispy figure--it was an orc.
Yngvarr planted his axe staff solidly in the dust in front of him, holding the blade to one side in a ready position. "What the hell do you want, stupid bird?"
The voice came from the smoke, its mouth moving in cadence with its voice. "I'm not the bird, old man. I'm..."
"...Yeah, I know... a damn wizard. I know a wizard's bird when I see it. What ya want? Why are you roustin' a pair of simple men enjoyin' Mother Nature?"
"Keep a civil tongue in yer head, old man! I wanna know why yer tresspassin' on my land!"
"YER land? Just who are you? This land belongs to Olag Greenman. I just bought eggs from him yesterday, from that farm down the road! He's an old friend of mine. Who's askin'?"
"I'm Morbagg, of the Blood Tooth. I own this valley--if I don't own your friend's land, I will soon. Why you two have weapons like that?"
Darmon answered, "Protection. From damn scrawny bastard birds. An' I'll give yer crow count o' three, spook." He lifted Slayer from his lap and pointed him to the raven.
"I'd better not see ya two in this valley, if ya know what's good for ya. I don't like Farland or Zeland meddlin' in my affairs!"
"We have nothing to do with those countries, orc. Like we said, we're here to enjoy nature. What threat do two old guys pose to you?"
Morbagg sat silently for a few moments. Yngvarr thought he was looking at him a little too closely to his left, so he casually dropped his axe across his lap to the left, to help hide anyone from his sight. "Alright. Just don't get nosy while yer here. I got scouts watchin' everywhere."
"I bettah not see another bastard bird, orc. I eat birds. 'At one's nice an' fat, too."
Morbagg huffed in anger. He was seldom talked to in such a manner, but figured the old men to be half drunk and trying to outdo each other's bravado. In any event, he saw them and apparently was satisfied they were just two old cranky men. "Watch yer tongue, Creag. Come along, Guts!"
The bird belched again and the smoke disipated; the bird took off just as Slayer swept the air below its claws, giving him something to think about.
After a minute or two, Slayer told the rest of the party it was safe to come out. "That was close," said Thanos. "How did your sword know about the familiar?"
Darmon lifted the weapon by the tip of the blade and handed him to the Elf. "Here--it's best told by the sword, himself." Thanos took him by the hilt and stared at the blade, with the other five looking over his shoulder.
In the steel they saw faint images of many of the scrums he and Darmon had faced and defeated. The other two watched the party's fascination with the magical knife as some of the interesting tales unwound before their eyes. After about ten minutes the sword was finished; Thanos handed it back to its owner.
"If that was the leader of the marauding orcs, he's not likely to take what you said very well, let alone the tone of your voice, Darmon. Weren't you afraid of makin' him mad?" Agli asked the next most logical question, not realizing that the Creag had it under control.
"Hae, I gave 'im a little o' his own medicine, guess ya'd say. But ya needn't feel so worried 'bout 'is feelin's. Orcs ain't got any. Basically, it's 'ow they expect ta be talked to. Yngvarr 'n I've been fightin' orcs, trolls, oluks, the like, for years."
"But Darmon-san, why hide us? Is it not better to show our force?"
Darmon smiled. "M'dear lady Tao, do ya get a chance ta read much?"
"Some, yes. Books are not allowed in Yrkune."
"Ah...I see. Ever hear of an ancient general named Tan Lee Nah Sohook? A book called 'Beauty of the Fight'?"
"Ah, yes, I have heard of it. You have read it?"
"I've 'ad a lot o' time ta read. General Tan said, '...Speak like a bird, but bite like a hungry tiger...'; he also said '...let the enemy see only that which gives you comfort; hide that which will give you victory...'"
"Well; handsome, strong, brave, cursed, and now, well-read! Ya got any more surprises for us, young one?" Yngvarr smirked and chuckled, reaching over and slapping him on the shoulder with a resounding thud.
Darmon flushed and went to wag his finger to the Anarian as a threat, but chuckled himself. "I'll get yae fer that one, mountain man!"
Thanos smiled and got up to walk to his pack. "I think we are going to be busy tomorrow, friends. I for one will head off to call it a ni..."
But the rest of the word was cut short by the crack of a twig breaking beneath a foot. In this case, it was a hoof--out of the edge of the woods walked nothing less than a young elk. He tipped his head slightly, as if hunkering down in caution. Owin was the nearest, and he stood quickly with his sword in hand. But he was just as startled as the rest when he heard the elk mutter "Oops...sorry!"
Yngvarr reached over and laid a hand on Owin's arm to stay his sword. "Easy, friend. I think I recognize the voice. Torgarr...is that you?"
The elk raised his head and looked to his right a little. "Yes, Chief. It is me, although miles behind you!"
Yngvarr chuckled and looked to Darmon, who seemed surprised. He whispered to the Creag, "...he's blind..."; then to the elk, he said "Over here, Torgarr."
The elk turned to his voice. "Of course. I see you. Just checking out the area to make sure no one is following, is all."
The Anarian chief looked to Thanos, who smiled. "Of course, old friend. Morbagg's crow was just here. I think we gave him the slip; he thinks it's just two old men on a nature hike."
"Good. General Tan would have agreed with your strategy." Tao just frowned and shook her head. "Eohacob is here with me; I contacted him as you suggested."
Darmon looked to Yngvarr and raised an eyebrow; "Hey, Darmon, I didn't know you were here, but Torgarr needed someone with sight, and they're old friends."
"I can see just fine, Chief! But anyway, I saw the crow. You have to be careful; I get the feeling he hides something eerie and powerful. The raids are just the precursor to some sort of evil, perhaps they are helping it along. We both have the same feeling."
"Well, I thank you both. Try not to get discovered; that crow he has is pretty good at tracking down people, and two parties close together will cause suspicion. Dragonslayer smelled out the bird."
"Ahh...nice to meet you at last, Slayer. We will be careful, but I'm glad we came. I think you're up against a particularly nasty orc."
"As do I, old friend. Give my regards to Eohacob, and stay safe."
"Yae, old man." The elk turned to trot away into the woods, and after a few seconds, the sounds of its hooves was interrupted by a thud and an "Oof! I'm alright. Just not used to the dark..."
Thanos let forth a slight chuckle, probably the most humor he had seen in a while. "As I said, we should call it a night!"
The rest began to get up and find a place to sleep. "I'll take first watch," offered Burin.
"No need, Burin. Part of the curse is the need for no sleep. Get your rest, all of you." Darmon took Slayer and started walking to the rise to the north.NEXT CHAPTER