Those Wild and Crazy Lewis Guys
By Gerry Torbert
... so, you're not going to fill me in on what you saw?... no, it was more personal, hard for me to describe... there were people there from thousands of years ago... did they have a lot of questions, wondering how life has changed?... no, they didn't seem to care... they wanted to let those in me know it was all alright... where are we going?... were they good people, bad people, what type were they?... I don't know... only my own souls will know... I do know that Noog was relieved and at ease once they talked... Chadlighe... the Lewis Clan?... yea...is that close to home?... on the way... (sigh)...
Dragonslayer could be impetuous and impatient at times. He wasn't much for travel, but seemed to enjoy the destinations. He was well aware of the nature of the largest of the clandoms in the area, the Lewis clan. They were a wild family, but who wouldn't be? They were a border state, buffering the mysterious Sarumvest to the northwest. No one could ever be sure what manner of undead creature would creep out of the thick forest: hence the four outposts established by the clan. It was small wonder that they never participated in the Civil Wars to any great extent - they usually had a fight all their own to attend. The obstinate Caembuhls to the southwest also often made life difficult, and the Lewises had been drawn into more than one border dispute with them and the Donalds.
Whether it was due to their remoteness or their limited population, the Lewis clan was a handful. If there was a bar fight in one of the northern castles or someone was being dragged away to the local jail, the good money was that there was a Lewis involved. And within their own borders, local laws were reputed to be lax, leaving travelers more to their own risk than other lands. So it seemed to Darmon that his would be a good place to visit.
The most direct route from the Falls of Dimrune was across miles of some of the most beautiful terrain in Zeland. Few farms interrupted the views, but he did stop at one and paid for a 'coo that was eaten by the Yuan-ti. He crossed the headwaters of the Hellish River and skirted the Battleplain - something that most people do - and found the Lewis River. Four days away from the Falls, he crossed the river between two forks and entered the Valley of the Sun.
The Valley was aptly named—although he felt a little consternation with anything that had to do with the sun, it was awe-inspiring. Two straight valleys met at right angles, on either side of a small stream running from south to north, one mountain ridge to the east of the Lewis River. The valley, cut by glaciers, was almost a perfect semicircle in cross-section, covered mostly by short grass up to the tree line halfway up the slopes. Several arroyos, or "hanging valleys," halfway up the mountain on either side, played their streams out into beautiful waterfalls that cascaded down into the main stream. These were left as reminders of the powerful glaciers that once rent the high plains into this valley. As the sun came up over the eastern shield of the ridge, it began its play of varying hues and colors.
The light filtered through the tall trees on the east, creeping down the western side of the vale as it changed from pink to yellow, then a searing white as the sun crested and began lighting the eastern ridge. At the crook of the valley, the shadows raced to the sides and down, illuminating gray, then bluish sandstone and red limestone layers (those not covered in thick, bright yellow gorse hedges), colors dancing as they had each day for millennia. The second leg of the valley led directly to the castle, now a spot at the end.
He simply had to sit and rest a while, enjoying the natural beauty of it all. It made him long for his home, and he hated to admit it, but this area of Creagland was a showpiece of pristine glory. ...make you think of home?... yes, Slayer... what do you hope to find here?... right now, solace... later, I don't know... maybe it is time to go home...
As he sat against the rock slab that someone had tipped upright for such an occasion, the snap of a twig from the woods to the rear was enough to alert him. He ducked his head down just enough for a club to glance across his head - it still hurt, but not as much as its wielder desired. He rolled forward and twisted around halfway in a single, fluid motion to see four rather wild types running from around the trees and the rock slab. Slayer was in his hands in a flash.
Three of the four were half a head shorter than he, the other apparently the 'coo of the lot. He stood a good six foot ten, well over three hundred pounds, and thankfully ran like the slab on which Darmon was resting. Though a little woozy, he could spot highwaymen a mile away.
The first one, still advancing, held a club in one hand and a short sword in the other. The two others flanked him, each carrying their own cheap swords. The big one stayed back a few feet. "Okay, boys, just turn aroon' an' get oota 'ere, I'll let ya go. Ya dunna wan' any part o' this."
The first one was adorned in, most likely, stolen clothes consisting of a shirt with puffy sleeves and high boots stuffed with pantaloons, giving him the look of a sea pirate. His long greasy hair and untrimmed beard made Darmon almost smile. Almost. The other two shorter ones looked like something out of his worst nightmare. One was bald with multiple piercings and tattoos, probably accumulated over many drunken nights on the seedy sides of several cities. The other was sporting a waxed Mohawk with tufts of ear hair and a bushy beard separated to go in two directions at once. Averaging the two, they were quite normal looking, Darmon mused. Slayer chuckled at the thought.
With all he had seen, with all he had been through, after just baby-sitting a dozen snake-monsters, he was supposed to be afraid of all this? The large one was sloppy fat with little body tone and an extremely dull, thoughtless look in his crossed eyes and on his baby-fat face. Darmon could see he wasn't much of a lunger, but more of a slashing, power type of fighter. He didn't fear him much, just enough to take care.
The ring-leader spoke in an old Creagish dialect. "Oo frakked bliggard! Oo ye thank yair? Ah wented ta joos take y'mun, y'coyone, bet noo, ye shoo yer mooth! Wail 'ave foon wit ye, styface! You'ga ness arse, pritty boyoo!" The others nodded and nervously chuckled, sizing the Slaughbaethan for food, or worse.
Darmon's thoughts went quickly to a legend, or what he had dismissed as just racial bias at the time. It had to do with some of the mountainfolk on the fringes of Creagland - here, apparently, some from Eahrcnoc, some from Fuachdlaimrig, and some from the remote areas of Inbhirdaloch. They were so stuck in the past, so far removed from much of the more 'civilized' of Creagland, and so inbred, that they had lost any ability to relate to anyone on anything more than the basest of levels. The baothdaoi, they were called - the stupid, evil men. Creagish hillbillies, if you wish. They were almost orcs in manner and custom.
The pirate looked back to Mr. Big. "Ooca gushy-gushy girlieskirt, Gollygem!" A sick, rotten-tooth smile crept over the monster's face, as slowly as his mind was in registering the promise of sick sex. He began to nod, then faster; then breathing in and out more rapidly, almost laughing with anticipation. "Eee, hee, eee, hee, eee, hee." He grunted over and over as a child with the promise of candy.
Darmon was hit with the awful realization of the situation. True, they were evil and twisted, sick and demented. They certainly enjoyed inflicting pain and suffering - who can tell how many travelers had succumbed to the same fate awaiting him? But they were unfortunate, borne of a sub-society that had no god, no rules, no morals. How were they to blame? He felt that beating them senseless would just inflict more on the next unsuspecting wayfarer. ...Slayer... are these people cursed, are they worth saving?... after all we've seen, Darmon, I don't want them in here... besides, they're unwilling...
Darmon faced a dilemma, but he faced it too deeply. He would have to extricate himself from the situation before making moral judgments. Too late the thought, as a club wailed him from behind. He dropped to his knees, his mind too cloudy to think of raising his sword. The pummeling of the hilts on his back and head drove him into the dirt, his grip loosening on Slayer.
He could feel the cold steel of the pirate on the back of his neck, and his kilt being lifted. Out of the corner of his eye, Gollygem was standing over him, preparing his devastation, his maniacal panting and laughing sickening him. He thought to Slayer in desperation. The sword heard Darmon.
The glint of the sun, now well overhead, on the fine, polished steel was blinding, and the steel moved blindingly fast. Forged not in the exotic folded-over method so sought after by many sword aficionados, it was made of two folds of the finest steel by a dwarven engineer for Darmon's grandfather. The hilt was drawn slowly and carefully with millions of raps of his hammer and hot-sweated onto the blade. The secret behind the incredible weapon, and one of which not even Darmon was aware, was the core over which the folds of the blade were made. The core was of a small amount of mithril, the mysterious alloy born of a dragon's blood.
Something drew the dwarf to this piece of metal. He had found it in the very heart of Wawmar, the great fortress of the north, and it called to him in a way he couldn't explain. Perhaps it was not only the dragon's blood that tainted the iron and gave it certain abilities. Perhaps he was just a romantic at heart. Either way, the descendant of Agralin, the great Dwarven engineer who designed Wawmar, knew it was special. But had he lived to see the moment, he never would have imagined this...
Slayer was good to his name. He leapt from the ground near Darmon's hand, as if alive. He effortlessly sliced through the pirate's neck and landed in the dirt ten feet away. The look on the pirate's face would have been hilarious to the darker side of Darmon's psyche, had his head not been turned away. Neither did he see the pirate look down with his eyes to see the blood spurting over the fallen prince, nor his foolish and useless attempt to bow his head to see where the blood was coming from. Just the tipping motion was enough to upset the delicate balance of a severed head resting precariously on its former neck. It rolled to the ground, and the pressure on the cheap sword was relinquished.Darmon whipped around to his back, seeing that Gollygem was either shocked at the sight of the pirate, or his feeble mind was still trying to register all he saw. A well-planted kick all but destroyed the monster's only weapon. Of course, it took a moment for the pain to register.
He rolled to a stance between the remaining men. Baldie ran toward him first. He took a step toward the hick to distance himself from the other and ducked his feeble attempt at a swipe with his sword. A jab planted in his ribs drove the air from his lungs, and a quick pop to the jaw was all Darmon needed. He spun while holding the unconscious body, using it as a shield for the expected sword strike from the other. It worked, stopping the swing of Mohawk with the body of his relative.
Darmon then threw the corpse on him, knocking him out with the impact of the ground. He picked up Slayer and sheathed him, surveying his handiwork. Three bodies lay in dreamland, one on his way to Vornoth's hell. Darmon thought to Slayer, asking him what he should do now, but got only silence. It was a hollow silence, not even a wisp of an idea. Darmon had never known Slayer to turn his back completely, not even wanting to know what the Creag was going to do.
He had a moral decision to make. He pulled his sghain dubh from his hose and sickeningly lessened the impact of today's activites on the gene pool of the proud land of the Lewis Clan, while changing the population count by only one. He bandaged them enough to prevent their death and folded the remains of their manhoods in their sleeping hands. After washing himself of Pirate's blood in the stream, he continued his trip, knowing now why the Valley of the Sun was such a secret.
Chadlighe loomed ahead. Although the Valley of the Sun was beautiful, Darmon was relieved to be in some semblance of civilization. The castle was less of a classic stone structure than a fort. The lower walls covered almost as much of a town as Gearasdan Araich, not due to a large population, but more to house farmers and families. There was much need for security here, since the undead often traveled far from the Sarumvest to attack. It was a substantial fort, however, with huge walls made of pinned Northern Pine logs.
Darmon expected to see rolling patrols of guards around the fort. But there were no such precautions today. He strolled up to the main gate and knocked on the separate man door.
"Wha hae, lad! Can a traveler gain entrance?" The guard opened and was visibly surprised to see a Stuart.
"Sure, an ya can, Creag. A Stuart, no less." He opened the door and motioned him in. Darmon noticed that his brown and tan kilt was ruffled and disheveled, not like the more proper-looking guards of some of the other castles. Clearly, this was a working man's clan. "Wha' business 'ave ye, sir?"
"Jus' travelin' is all. Nothin' important ta claim, other than me sword and dagger, the usual. Jus' comin' back from Farland, thought I'd stop in ta see Daimad, himself. Is 'e available?"
The guard nods in acceptance. "Okay, well... Farland, eh?... see any battles?" He then looks closer and squints his eyes, tilting his head to the side. "... Hey, ain't you... Hey! Darmon Stuart? Well, scuttle me dog 'neath the table an' bring on the steak! Nice ta meet ya! Been swishin' 'at big sword o'yourn aboot, like 'is?" He stepped back, his left hand over his head like a fencer, stabbing and swirling his imaginary foil in circles, then stabbing Darmon in the stomach with his all-too-deadly index finger. "Gotchee, Darmon! Take that! Well, smack me twice an' tell me she's yer sistah! Hell, they tol' me this door answerin' job might pay off!" He extended his hand and shook Darmon's with an almost childlike exuberance. "So, lookin' fer the chief, eh? He's pretty busy, but he can always make room fer a fighter o' your name! Big house, right ahead! Drown me in twelve-year whisky, will ya!"
Darmon chuckled as he acknowledged the directions, waving as he walked off. It was pleasant to see a guard with a personality, even if it was strange. He walked to the front door just in time to see a young, strapping man walking out, fully dressed in a battle kilt and a sword. The man stopped and looked at Darmon as some other soldiers walked to his side. They saw his glance and looked as well.
Darmon continued until he stood within talking distance. "Would I be speakin' ta Dairmad, Clan Leader?"
"Ya would, Mr. Stuart, but that's half the conversation. Who be ye, soldier?"
"Darmon, first in line. Does 'at make a whole conversation, father?"
Dairmad smiled and extended his hand. "Well, bake me favorite dog an' call 'im Haggis! What brings ya here, hero? Lookin' fer trouble? This is the place!"
"No, thanks, I ran inta some a while back, up the valley. Got some nasty types, eh?"
"Oh, that would probably be the Burns boys. Didja kill 'em?" He half chuckled, not expecting a response.
Darmon chuckled. "Not all, jus' one, the rest won't be fatherin', though!"
Dairmad and the others paused, a little shocked, but the Clan Father continued. "Oh. Well, I guess ya had good reason. Been tryin' ta catch Gollygem an' the rest. Anyway, funny ya stopped in. We got a skirmish goin' on. Seems the walkin' dead are gathered again, lookin' fer meat. Care ta join us? We can talk on the way." As he talked, he saw approaching a few aides in armored vest, bucklets and gauntlets – an important set of precautions for combating the zombies' scratching and clawing techniques.
"Sure, I could use some action." He walked along with Dairmad as they made their way to the assembly grounds. As they walked, Dairmad gave quick instructions to his officers, waving this way and that, directing flanks and frontal thrusts as if he was already fighting. After the field leaders left, he continued his conversation.
"So, Darmon, what brings ye ta the land of the crazy?"
"Jus' visitin' is all. Been tryin' ta get back 'ome from Farland's Deadlands for a month, it seems, now. Always somethin' stoppin' me. I'd like ta get ta know all me neighbors, if I'm ta be a leader one day."
"Ahh, good thinkin'. I hear ya got problems there, Faugas doin' the talkin' now, maybe. I met Uilliam once, a fine man. I think he's got the respect of jus' aboot everyone in Creagland. I wish ya luck. An' I heard aboot the fightin' in Farland. Somethin' aboot "Darmon's Undead." Dunnu what 'at means, sir, but I guess it has somethin' ta do with the fact ya made it through it all."
"Damn. News travels fast." Darmon thought it must have been the doings of an exuberant Creag coming back from the war, or one of the dwarves. "Things get overblown in wartime, Dairmad. We won, is the most important thing."
"I know, whatever happened out there, stays out there. Jus' glad ta see ya here. Would ya like a little armor? If ya fought a zombie, ya know how important it can be."
The thought never crossed Darmon's mind. He had "killed" a hundred of them, but wasn't exactly attacked. The thought that, from Tanarus' standpoint, a perfect curse would be to convert him, did come to him. "I think I'll jus' keep 'em six feet away from me." ...I'll do my best...
Dairmad seemed to be completely in charge of his forces. He watched his troops as they spread out in formations across the anticipated battle area. Darmon noticed how he seemed to be playing out the battle even before it took place. He had heard of the young leader, taking over after the death of his father, Cathal. To the hardened troops of Chadlighe, he immediately gained their trust and respect as he led several successful campaigns against their most dreaded foes, the undead of the Sarumvest. As tall as Darmon and nearly as stocky, he was a force with whom to be reckoned on the field of blood.
Another field officer joined them and walked beside Dairmad. The clan father pointed to several positions, and the officer directed some soldiers with hand signals, but stayed nearby. Darmaid stopped and turned to Darmon. "Darmon Stuart, I'd like you to meet my second, Elochad Lewis. He's a cousin o' mine, an' I'd trust my life to 'im. Elochad, this is..."
"...Damn. Darmon Stuart." He thrust his hand out and received a shake. "Hiccups from Hell, gimme whisky ta stop 'em! Heard a lot o' ya, brotha. Welcome ta Hell."
Darmon took the hand of the larger fighter. It was evident that these two shared a lot of stories. "Well, shove me 'ead in a bee hive an' tell me it's mead! A friend o' Dairmad is a friend o' mine!" The two soldiers stared at Darmon's clumsy attempt at a raucous simile, but then chuckled. He'd learn, the wild and crazy Lewises thought.
The army moved out along the path, then veered into the thick woods that seemed to be the anticipated front line. "This is jus' aboot where Emrus, me wizard, tol' us they'd be, Darmon. Right aboot mile post ten on the road to Middle Outpost. I 'ope I can trust his sightings an' 'is bird familiars." Darmon nodded but remembered his concerns over the directions the magic ones had been giving lately.
"I'm not sure, Dairmad. This doesn't feel right..."
Almost on cue, figures began to arise from the woods, as if buried beneath the dense underbrush. They came from behind the troops, from the shrubs and tall weeds in the fields flanking the road, and quickly surrounded the army, which had already pushed into the edge of the forest. Dairmad looked incredulously to Darmon, who shrugged and spun to meet the first one closing in on their position.
Darmon grabbed Slayer and strode into it, swinging across the body and slicing it effortlessly. ...you're not singing, not enjoying this... only enjoy saving the willing, old friend... these aren't cursed, they're truly demonic... Darmon continued his sweeping motion, cutting through bone, leather, dust, shrub and grass with equal abandon. Still they continued to come.
Dairmad and Elochad worked their way to the rear as well, one one each side of Darmon as he paved the way. The zombies continued moving toward them, slowly and inexorably walking, reaching with outstretched arms, moaning with the hate and blood lust borne of Vornoth himself. Still the soldiers slashed, whirled and sliced, chopping through bodies like there was no tomorrow.
Darmon and Dairmad moved through the mass, the clan leader fearlessly fighting as his armor protected him. Suddenly Elochad cried out and Darmon spun to his left, seeing an undead warrior slice through an unarmored place on his torso. Darmon swooped down on the demon, cutting him in half, turning to dispatch two more as the Lewis second-in-command fell, holding his minor wound as it bled. Darmon continued ahead, taking two of the undead at a time.
The tide of the battle began to turn. The devils of the Sarumvest were being routed, turning back into the forest and falling to fine Lewis steel. As the soldiers came together farther past the front line, they chopped and smashed their way back to the road and began pushing their ghastly way along it, leaving heaving bodies expelling clouds of dust.
Dairmad finished his adversaries and turned toward Elochad. Darmon, twenty feet from him, turned to see him walking toward his friend, slumped over and breathing hard. But as he arrived at his side, Elochad looked up with a demonic look in his glazed eyes. The sockets were gray and shrunken around his orbs and his cheeks were sunken and leathery. With a sudden strike, he thrust his sword home, Dairmad getting his weapon up only in time to deflect the blow, which caused it to sail out of his hand, landing ten feet away.
Darmon rushed to them. Elochad rose and walked to the spread-eagled Dairmad, prepared to strike his friend. Darmon arrived in time to deflect the blow, the Lewis fighter losing his grip on his sword.
Darmon and Slayer looked deeply into the eyes, the vacant eyes, the prying, questioning eyes, the helpless, horrified eyes. Darmon looked back to Dairmad. The clan father looked to Darmon, his eyes pleading, begging for mercy for his friend, then in submission, looking down to avert his glance.
Elochad reached for Darmon, his fingernails now inches long, his arms sweeping them toward him. ...he asks, Slayer... yes... give him to me... Darmon's aim was true...
Slayer hummed and glowed. Darmon brought him into the light, turning him a little to see the glint of Elochad. He was at peace, but sad. Darmon looked back to Dairmad, who looked away, choking back tears, then the first-in-line walked away so a hero of Creagland couldn't be seen being sick for the first time on a battlefield.
Darmon returned to see Dairmad grieving over his friend's body. He looked up, the sorrow and forgiveness showing in his eyes. "I'll take 'im to the Battleplain; it's where he needs ta be."
"No, it's me job now. He was my friend."
"Then let me accompany ya, brotha. It's the least I can do."
They picked up the body and headed for the castle. Two horses were brought, and they began their somber trek through the Valley of the Sun. It was late evening before Dairmad could speak, after they had climbed one of the towers and laid him to rest.
"Seems my trust 'as been misplaced, Darmon. Maybe it's time I confront Emrus."
"I agree, friend. An' I'll 'ave a talk wi' Faugas, an' get to the bottom of all this."
"They've got power, Darmon. Tremendous power. We lost the Civil Wars because o' 'em. We're jus' pawns to 'em."
"Never, not pawns. I won't believe 'at. The Tavishes, the Connors, they all have the same problem. They've got us all jumpin' to their wishes. But I got friends..." he said, looking into Dairmad's weary eyes, "...in low places."
Dairmad, bewildered, looked strangely at him. "Jus' keep me informed. Send me a messenger. Don't let Elochad die in vain."
Dairmad gave Darmon the horse for his work and bid him farewell, not knowing what he meant. But Dairmad trusted the next-in-line.