Even Eagles Dream
By Gerry Torbert
They were called Iogelvechs in Old Creagish. Regal, powerful, rulers of the sky - bowing, of course, to the rare dragon - but capable of distant sight, intelligent thought, able to reason and solve whatever puzzles humankind could throw their way; but these powers only surfaced when they were taken "under wing" as familiars. Mountaintop was no less than that, but even a majestic king must sleep...
...and dream. He knew not why he awakened that evening, but felt the urge to return to the orc encampment. He soared and caught breezes that were still blowing from the remnants of the day's heat. Quietly, he viewed the camp from high, and was surprised to see orcs running from place to place, dumping the meat from the latest raid in a pile and moving the empty wagons to a field near the road. The soldiers moved with purpose, at the commands of a burlier, fierce one dressed in tall leather boots and carrying a whip, which he would use to accentuate his demands.
Mountaintop thought immediately of Torgarr, and relayed his fear to the sorcerer. The eagle took off in a blur for the cave.
Hide was waiting at the entrance. "Mountaintop - I could sense you. Is there trouble?"
"Yes," he said as he landed, "the camp is awakening and orcs are moving, with purpose, fast. It is time to go - there is only a little while before daylight."
"But orcs do not fight in the day."
"That is true, but either this is different, or they are attacking tonight. Either way, we should wake and hurry them along."
The Kunese couple was roused from their sleep and began the trip to Norville. Torgarr and Eohacob began a shorter trek from their vantage point in the woods, halfway to town.
A worried Anarian, Elf and Creag got little sleep this night, concerned over the previous day's training; four weary dwarves got little more rest, concerned over the information missing in the poem and their understanding of the spell.
At the breakfast table, Agli took the floor and explained that which the Khazak brain trust had arrived at.
"It's important ta make sure everyone bathe in the city's water and drink it to the fullest. The water's the key. They'll have ta soak in it, best they can."
Dwalin added, "...and they need ta eat a lot of vegetables. Mainly roots, like ‘bagas, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, the like."
"Ya wan' try ta fart ‘em ta death, lad?"
"Ha! No, Darmon, and pardons ta ladies present, Mrs. Hallerd. No, the tiny specks of mithril find their way inta the food, collectin' in the roots, mainly." said Dwalin.
"I think I can gather everyone before we train today. Perhaps we could tell them that these orcs are particularly repelled by clean hygiene."
"Strange as it seems, that's not far from the truth, Thanos," answered Agli.
"Everything else in place, Agli?" asked Burin. The engineer nodded, and looked to Owin, who got up from the table and walked to the fireplace.
He grabbed a handful of fir branches and threw them on the fire, already burning low from cooking the eggs. It leapt about and licked the water pot, held over the fire by hooks. "Uh, what's goon on, lads?"
Dwalin nodded a "just watch" look to the Creag, holding up a finger as Owin tossed another handful of kindling on the fire, bringing the flames higher. He then pulled out a mitt-ful of peat from one pocket, and a few heather twigs fom another, placing them gently near the bottom of the conflagration. He nodded to Agli, then walked to Burin's axe, resting against the wall near the fire bricks, and handed it to its owner.
Agli cleared his throat. "Say, many pardons, Mrs. Hallerd, but would you mind dipping some more of the hot water from the pot for me, for tea? I don't wanna step over everyone."
"Okay, just a second," she said as she wiped her hands on her apron and hurried to accept the tankard from Agli's outstretched arm. Owin grabbed the hand bellows and blew a little air on the base of the fire while she was turned around, and as she neared the fire, he asked, "Isn't that a lovely aroma, ma'am?"
She leaned in a little, but choked a mite with the pungency of the smoke. But then, almost as quickly as the cough, a very alert look came over her pretty features; she began to drop the mug, which Owin caught before it hit the stone floor. She stared...
Agli arose and wlaked over to her, grabbing a fire poker from the hearth. He handed it to her and said, in a steady, rehearsed, but not-so-Creagishly accented voice, "Neahmm a Ifreann".
Suzanne's head snapped upward, staring at the painting of Howard Hallerd, her father-in-law. The long sleeves on her homemade housedress began to rip as her back grew in musculature and her biceps and triceps doubled in size. Spinning around, her cheekbones sharpened, her eye sockets darkened and a scowl took over her features, yet still beamed with the beauty of her soft complexion. Buttons flew from the front of her clothing, and her body strained against the captivity of her undergarments; her once-lithe legs were now those of a powerful soldier.
She tilted her lovely head quickly, first to the left, then to the right; the grinding sound of neckbones filled the now-quiet breakfast hall as she cleared herself for battle.
Burin looked to Agli, who nodded a firm affirmation; he sighed and took another deep breath, standing and brandishing the axe.
"Burin, what the... put that axe down, man! What are you...?" Yngvarr couldn't get everything out, as Agli held up a hand to shush him.
"Trust, my large friend...trust..."
Burin leapt into battle, pulling the axe backward into the deadly Khazak Arc that trained dwarves were taught from youth. Suzanne beamed a smile of daring as she adopted a wide-spread stance and grabbed the spindly poker with both hands. The axe dropped, with every bit of Burin's intentions to cleave her head from her stunning body.
But as the axe, perfectly capable in normal circumstances to cut clear through the weaker wrought iron rod, hit the poker, she deflected it to the side just enough for it to miss her arm, leg and hips. The momentum of his swing, added to the force that was transferred to the poker, flipped her in a parabola over Burin's arms and the axe's handle, in a perfect pirouette with her legs and what remained of her dress dress spread in a fan, landing as the axe dinged against a piece of the Northern Land's finest basalt floor flagstones.
The poker then was brought up in the trace of her movements, smashing the large dwarf in the jaw and sending him into a world of the strangest dreams that he would forever try to forget. A few twirls of the fireplace instrument, behind the back, ended in a wide stance of fighting readiness, punctuated by a piercing battle-cry that dropped quite a few jaws - including those of three remaining dwarves, a Creag, an Anarian and the unproclaimed mayor of a meat-packing town along the Northern Teeth, who had just walked in. And not to mention, arriving at the same time, those of a Kunese woman and her long-lost husband.
"Suzanne! What the...?"
Agli hurried to near Suzanne and held up his hands to her and toward Richard. "I can explain, Richard! This isn't like it look...Ungg!" The poker found its mark again, knocking out Agli, who fell in a pile over Burin.
As the other two dwarves and the Anarian stood and readied themselves for combat, though, Darmon stood and spoke directly to his hostess, "Ifreann A Neahmm!"
The spell's direction, spoken backwards, seemed to break her trance; she slumped to a kneel and fell forward, but was caught by Tao and Twa. Her now-tattered clothes hung precariously on her now-thin body as she regained her consciousness and panted from the exertion. "Wha...what the... what happened to me?"
Darmon looked toward Owin. "Yae ‘ave the floor, me friend. Make it convincin' an' quick, I suggest."
Owin took a coupole of deep breaths to clear his head. "I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Hallerd. But we had to test it out on someone like you, someone sweet, innocent, pleasant..."
"Try what out?" demanded her husband, now helping to lift her to standing on still-shaky legs.
"The poem, sir. The spell of the Mithril Fighter. It was the only way. Agli can tell..."
"Agli's not telling anyone much of anything, Owin!"
Tao turned to the kitchen. "I will get a towel and cold water to awaken them. Meanwhile, this is Twa, my husband."
Owin turned and offered his hand to the Kunese man. "Look, this is nice, but I want some answers, now! My wife could have been hurt, or killed!"
Dwalin took over while Owin was busy reacquainting himself with his damaged heart. "It was the only way to be sure. She wasn't in danger. We knew the spell would work, but it had to be done on someone unsuspecting." He then turned to Suzanne. "We are truly sorry, ma'am. But you proved something here. That an army of Norville folks can dispatch demons bent on killin' them."
Suzanne frowned in disbelief as she looked to the dwarves, who were just beginning to stir. "I...I did this? How...?"
"You were magnificent, ma'am!" Almost as one, each of the men mumbled and stumbled, almost trancelike, over the words, "magnificent", "oh yeah", "uh huh," nodding vigorously, causing Suzanne to clench her rags tightly, embarrassed by what she must have done. Tao snickered and put her forehead against hers, both now laughing. She reached back, pulled her blanket from her pack and wrapped it around her shoulders, concealing what the remaining housedress cloth was unable to cover. "Promised would bring back..."
They turned to the bedrooms, giggling at hew newfound power. "Girls have a lot to talk about," said Tao, over her shoulder.
The men stood as the ladies left, still in a wordless trance over the transformations. Richard remained agitated, shaking his head and clenching his fists as he turned to the rest; but before he could say anything, Thanos cleared his throat and tried to defer the embarrassed mayor's upcoming complaints. "Uh, alright, gentlemen... the experiment was successful. We have assured that the spell works, and that the populace of Norville can, given sufficient smoke as detailed in the poem and the proper spell, use the force of the mithril to fight the orc demons. This is good, since we eight could not have accomplished that task. And Mrs. Hallerd has proven that even the womenfolk can be a formidable force."
Agli joined in, adding "Yes, it seems so. I suggest we use the rest of the day to further train the Norville forces ta fight, using standard moves and techniques, so that when they gain strength, they'll know what to do with it!"
Richard seemed to relax a mite, that is, until two sorcerors walked through the open door. Torgarr was helped by Eohacob, both stepping through wearily from the hurried trip.
"We had better prepare quickly, friends. It looks like Morbagg is preparing for quite a batttle! Our guess is that he'll be here by dusk."
Darmon and Yngvarr rushed to help both to sit them down at the table in their places. "Rest, old friends, have what we didn't finish! Darmon and I can cook some more eggs and bread. You'll need some rest if you want to fight later."
Eohacob helped his friend to the seat and looked to Yngvarr. "You might not understand what you're up against, Chief. Morbagg is no ordinary wizard. His power is hideously strong.
I sent Mountaintop back to the camp for one final look. He has, like we surmised earlier, produced a monster..."
"NO! Please... sorry to interrupt. Groll is huge, is true. But he believes he is my family - he is but a child. He is under Morbagg's power, but means no harm. I believe I can help him... even turn him." Twa's voice nearly pleaded for his friend.
Eohacob shook his head and warned Yngvarr, "I don't know - it's risky to play with such a mon...child...as this. He could easily smash any one of us."
Yngvarr sighed deeply and addressed Twa. "You'll get your chance, Twa. One chance. After that, if he attacks, we'll have to do something."
"Is all I ask. Except, maybe, food?"
Garlack's growl could be heard throughout the encampment, even echoing down the sinuous adit leading to Groll's cave. The monster sat near the edge of the cavern, where his waste piled up a little higher than usual. He found that he disliked the odor more than usual over the last few days, or what seemed to be days, to him.
Garlack's men readied clubs and makeshift swords, ignoring the meat cart preparation that usually had preceded raids in the past. They were converted to the more watertight carts reserved for human flesh - it was a punishable offense to lose more blood in transport than absolutely necessary - since it was assumed that Groll would simply chow down once the town had been depopulated.
Morbagg ventured into the cave once more to give his creation one last set of instructions. Even he found it difficult to breathe the air, but he had a spell that would freshen it around him.
Groll nodded snd shrugged. "So, Morbagg comes to torture Groll again. What pain is to happen today?"
Morbagg looked surprised at his attitude, but after a moment of contemplation, realized that Groll's submission was just what he needed. "No, Groll, I ain't come to torture you. I wanna see what a powerful orc like you can do. I kept ya here ta train ya, ta build yer strength and knowledge. Now we'll test ya in battle.
"Oh, the glorious battles we'll have! You'll be known as the most powerful of all creatures on the planet! Just think - people will fear yer name! ‘Here comes Groll, the warrior!', they'll say. Young whelps'll wanna be just like you are. Ladies will want ya! You'll have gold an' riches! All ya gotta do is help clean the town of human scum. You'll have all the meat ya want, and gold, oh the gold!"
Groll's smallish brain was unable to see through the sorceror's pitch, and he half believed what he said. After all, he was larger than almost anyone he'd ever heard of. And Morbagg wasn't lying to him - why would he? He kept him fed and sheltered.
"What do I have to do? Do you promise not to torture again?"
Morbagg flashed a broad smile. It was the first time he had ever smiled at Groll, and that, in itself, was assuring to the giant. "Of course I won't. All you have to do is to fight, to smash your enemies. The other soldiers will take care of the rest. Remember - riches, food, women! We will leave as the sun goes down, my friend!"
Groll thought for a while, a task that was as difficult to him as snapping a tree would be to an orc. Twa said he was family, but he couldn't help him escape. True, the little man could disappear, but never could he make the cave go away. Groll thought about the entrance and passageway to outside. He knew he could never leave, since it was solid rock and just big enough for a normal man to travel.
He thought he had to trust Morbagg to free him, or he would never be able to leave. His stomach began to ache with hunger, and he felt a fear of being trapped inside a box which no one can open. He curled up in a fetal position and felt real fear...