A Surprise Visit from an Oluk Wizard
By Gerry Torbert
A young elk doe walked out from the thicket onto a dusty dirt road. She snorted lightly, then raised her head to catch the scent of the air, first to the left, then to the right, toward town. She looked around and upward, and watched as a full-grown eagle landed ten feet from her. She nodded, looked to town and began to trot, and he nodded deeply and took off, following her.
About ten minutes later, two older men crashed through the same thicket. The kilted Creig helped the other, a bearded, leather-clad Anarian; the latter was obviously quite blind. They dusted themselves; one looked around and the otherplaced his palm to his forehead and closed his eyes.
“Anything yet, Torgarr? You have a way with that doe, and she has a better sense of smell than my eagle.”
“Hmm…well, she headed that way,” he said, pointing toward the right, “and it seems like the eagle is watching from high above. It looks like they’re nearing the town now. It won’t be too long now. But I think we’d better keep back a little, maybe have mine camp out atop a tree, and keep an eye out for them. If there’s going to be any trouble, I think it might be there.”
“Good read, my old friend. Yet something seems strange right here. I can’t figure what it is.”
“I feel it, too, Eohacob; it’s like some kind of presence. A ghost, perhaps? We’d better move along, I think. Whatever it is, we’ll find out soon enough.”
With that, the two wizards began the last leg of their trek to Norville, past a burnt-out barn with a secret.
“Arrgh! Bastard Orc!” yelled Darmon, as he sprung to a stand and wheeled toward the fence gate. None of them thought leaving the weapons there as anything but a courtesy and show of respect, from people who desperately needed help. As he took a few steps, he saw his sword leaning against the hinge side post, slightly glowing; “Don’t let him see you, Slayer!” he thought. The sword thought back, ‘I can’t help it, Darmon…’. The Creag lifted him, almost burning his hand from a heat that his friend had never before felt or caused. He turned back to see the crow flapping to a point about ten feet from the circle, after which it seemed to float on the air with its wings outstretched.
The bird belched a cloud of smoke, which swirled and formed a vision of the evil Oluk. “Well, this is interestin’! An old Creag, a Northman, a damned Elf, three Dwarves and a… hmm… Kunese? Long way from home, little girl.”
Darmon dropped Slayer to the ground, half-dropping, half-thrusting him into the soft sod. “Thought I told ya what would happen if I caught yer damn flyin’ rat around here again, ya orc ass!”
“What, can’t seem ta hold on to yer sword, skirty boy? Sun musta heated up the steel…Darmon… I thought you was dead! Just an old man enjoyin’ nature, eh?”
“Started out that way, crow.”
An’ on top a’ that, we got Yngvar O’Hafvarrar, of the Clan of the Elk. Another nosy bastard, probably worried about his Northmen’s safety. Took a lot of talkin’ ta other wizards, but they heard a’ both a’ ya.”
“Congratulations, demon. That’s what Morbagg translates to, back home.”
The sound of the Oluk gritting his teeth could be heard through the crow. “I’ll make sure that costs ya, deer head. And another obnoxious elf. I assume yer here ta fight injustice. And as for the Kunesey girl, know your kind well. They do a good job cleanin’ up the crap from the trenches. Ya make good slaves – until we eat ya, of course. Ya all bit off more than ya can chew. This place is no concern for any of ya – if ya know what’s good for ya, you’ll pack up and move on by tomorrow.”
A silence of about five seconds was deafening, and felt by everyone there. No one was sure of what to say at the moment, partially because they weren’t sure what the plan consisted of, and partially because they weren’t sure there was a plan that would work. But love, bravado and the steadfastness of the dwarven heart most likely had been responsible for thrusting well-sewn woolen boots squarely in mouths of more than one of Khuldul’s finest, down through the ages – it’s also responsible for winning quite a few showdowns. “Ahh…no, Mister Wiz… that don’t sound like somethin’ we Khazak are gonna do. We got every right ta be here – If ya looked in the cart, which I assume ya did already, you’d find diggin’ and prospectin’ tools, plus a few axes for self-protection. I think I’d get that bird out of here, if I was you!” Owin leaned back and placed his hands, laced fingers, behind his head in a nonchalant, convincing manner, and looked around to his mates, who each reacted incredulously to his oratory; especially Miss Tao, who had a look of pride and wonderment – just the reaction for which Owin was looking.
Even though his icon was a smoky blob in the configuration of his head, Morbagg seethed, the wrinkles on his forehead mounding and beads of sweat running from one horizontal furrow to mound up on the next lower one. His eyelids pulled back ever so slightly, the pressure of his anger threatening to pop his orbs loose. A small drop of blood ran from one bottom tusk, where it grazed his upper lip, to his lower one. He gave every indication of a control freak losing his most prized personality trait. He took a deep breath, however, and seemed to control himself.
“Just a reminder to all of ya – don’t get in my way. This is my land, and I’m gonna do what I want with it. I got hundreds a’ orc soldiers at my command, and no drarfy miners, pompous elves or old men are gonna do anything about it!” With a huff of a crow, the smoke began to swirl and the bird sucked it back as he flew away.
A collective sigh could be heard. Yngvarr looked at Owin and chuckled, nodding his head; “Well played, young man!” he acknowledged. Thaos nodded and smiled, going to the gate to retrieve his bow. Darmon reached to Slayer and carefully touched him, wary of the earlier, strange change in heat.
Owin shrugged and asked, “We’ll only know it was the right thing ta say, if he lets us alone. He did say he had hundreds of soldiers. Sounds like more than we can handle.”
“Coulda been bravado, or calculated ta scare us away,” quipped Darmon, still looking over his sword and trying to determine what happened to him, “...or maybe it’s even more. He took a lot ‘o cattle, ya know.”
“…or maybe it’s a hoax, in a different way, Darmon…”
“What ya mean, Slayer? J’a see anythin’ else we dinna?”
“Yes. The heat was through me, not at me or from me. It was Torgarr and Eohacob, searching through me, then through the crow, and into Morbagg’s mind. They couldn’t look that deeply at first, but when he got angry, he lost control. It’s apparent he…well, let them tell you!”
“Looks like it worked, then, my steel friend!” came a voice from fifty yards away. Torgarr and Eohacob, the former holding on to the Creag wizard’s arm, both in a trot. Behind them came a doe, entering the road from a thicket, and a powerful eagle swept down to land in front of them.
“Be Deepsea, Kantor’s trusty hawk! Two crazy old wizards—just who we need right now!”
“We knew you’d miss us, Yngvarr!” huffed and puffed Eohacob. “Slayer is right. Looks like we have a nasty surprise on our hands. We got an image of some kind of monster.”
“Well, that’d explain the meat shortage. Good job, Slayer, old boy!” Darmon wiped the soil from its tip with his kilt.
“…err, that’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you, Darmon. Now isn’t the best tijme, but there doesn’t seem to be a good time…”
“Go on, slab’o’steel. Ya got the floor…”
“Well, you know how you’ve always assumed my gender? Old man, old boy, the like?… Well, I never did have a gender, but listening to Miss Tao and Suzanne…”
Yngvarr slapped the nearest thing to him, which just happened to be Burin, who nearly lost his footing. “Harrrr!!! Told ya ‘his’ voice was a little high! Lends a new meaning to the phrase ‘sleepin’ with your sword at your side!’
The whole group erupted into a much-needed cacaphony of gaiety, putting aside, for the moment, more serious concerns. “I think my tantos should be with Slayer tonight, to talk girl-speech!”, Tao said, barely getting the sentence out with a straight face.
Thanos howled and slapped Darmon on the back. The Creag looked sternly at the Elf, then chuckled and directed to his sword; “Yer timin’s immaculate, Slayer…or should I call ya, ‘Slayette’?”
The afternoon having passed a wide range of emotions, all were invited to an imposing steak dinner in the home of the Hallerds’, while an eagle perched atop the roof, guarding against nosy wizards and eating crow, after crow, after crow…
The warm fluid dropped relentlessly. There was nothing he could do to move from its path, try as he may. His gaze was transfixed on the body hung above his head, and whenever he attempted to pull his head to one side or another, he could feel the steel clamps dig into his skin. Every few seconds, his sight became clear enough that a few blinks wiped the thick, red slurry from his orbs, only enough to see the next drop falling into each eye, first the right, then the left.
He heard a snicker leaping from behind the shell that was his subconscious mind—it was a gruff, vile laugh that made his skin crawl as though he was violated by hundreds of centipedes, each foot scraping against his flesh as they dragged their slimy bodies up, then down his arms. When he opened his eyes, before the next drop blurred his vision, he thought he saw shadows playing on the roof of a tent; what he saw next made the centipedes move ever faster. The tent was sewn, a random patchwork of shapes, directions and hues, all mostly tan or brown; several of the quilted panels had colored patterns that were geometric in shape, others were faces or words; one read “Mother” in front of a heart and rose. Then there was the garish crescent, patched over with another piece and hastily stitched, leering in a devilish death mask grin. It was then that another drop of blood blanked out the horrid image of a tent made of tattooed, human skins.
He tried to calm himself, using techniques men of his culture had practiced down through the years; for a while, they were successful, but the horror of his situation was too overwhelming to remain in the background for any length of time. The drops began to change, now instead of sounding as though rain dripped through a hole in a roof, they reverberated as though rocks were falling in a hollow tunnel or cave—each one echoing deeply through his mind, from the back of his eyes to the back of his skull, then glancing about as if his mind was hollow. It was fitting and was indicative of the tricks his mind played on him, for in truth, his mind wasn’t far from losing its substance.
He decided to focus more on the body above him, to find a clue to his situation; when his eyes were clear enough, he looked around it as quickly as he could. He saw that the clothes were loose-fitting of black canvas, definitely Kunese in origin, that of a martial artist; after the next drop he saw the body was twisted in an unusual manner, as if the limbs were severely disjointed; after several more rocks pounded on the failing cave that was his mind, he saw what remained of a face—half of one—with one beautiful almond-shaped eye, straining in death and distended in horror, looking directly into what remained of his soul. Tao blinked…
The Kunese woman, resting on the master bed of the Hallerd household, awoke with a gasp, sitting up in bed quickly, what she thought was sweat dripping down her cheek. She began screaming, but couldn’t get any words to form, only a few grunts and pants. She reached up and wiped her face, now quite wet.
“Miss Tao…? Are you alright? Oh, no! I asked Richard to fix the leak in the roof, but I guess he didn’t get a chance to” came a startled response from Mrs. Hallerd, who shared the bed with her for the night, as a light rain gave the group little choice but to sleep inside.
Tao reached instinctively for a short knife on the floor by the bed, whirled around and held it to the neck of Suzanne, who immediately ceased all movement, including that of breathing. Shivering, Tao looked around the room with wide, wild, darting eyes, trying to gather her wits and make sense out of the dream. It was uncertain if the water on her face came from sweat and fear, or the hole in the roof; another drop on the sheet sounded like the beat of a drum to her, and it seemed to shake her out of the trance. She looked with horror at the knife at Suzanne’s neck, then followed it to her own hand, to her arm. She recoiled quickly, but carefully, still shivering from the cold rain, and now immense embarrassment.
“I…” she answered, pushing out whatever words she could; “…can not… it… dream… am so sorry. I saw Twa… the heart wind showed him to me… but it was me I saw… dying. He is alive, in much trouble.” Tao sheathed her knife and gently reached to Suzanne’s neck; the lady of the house recoiled slightly, but then stiffened as Tao carefully ran her hand under her chin, lifting it slightly. “Would have been in your debt if I had harmed you. Very sharp knife. Am so sorry, after kindness you have shown us. But cannot wait for others.”
She rolled from the bed, stood at the side and began slipping on her clothing. Suzanne got up on her side and quickly donned her robe. “Miss Tao, you simply can’t go out on such a night. Please think this over! I’m sure it can wait until…”
“No, it can’t! I saw many terrible things! He can hide in plain sight, but only for so long. I can move better by myself, and my people do not need me now.” She finished packing her sack and donned her footwear, lacing the soft-soled shoes around the ankles and between the big and second toes in traditional fashion. She threw her pack over her shoulder and started to the door, only to find Suzanne barring it.
“I can’t stop you, but you must promise to return! You owe me that!” In her hand she had a thick, dark green blanket, which she handed to Tao. “This will keep you warm. But you must bring it back; that way I will know you are safe.”
Tao took it and draped it over her shoulder; she hugged Suzanne. “Many thanks. I promised to teach you Heart Wind. I will be back.” She turned to the doorway, then over her shoulder added, “Tell Owin I am…well…”; she left through the doorway, quietly raised the window and was gone with less sound than the pelting of the rain.
Trotting eastward along the muddy road, no more than two hundred feet from the house, she heard a slight rustle in the bushes to her left. Her eyes and ears ever vigilant, she knew its source was an animal, but she wasn’t expecting the doe that arose from the thicket and carefully walked out onto the road.
“Miss Tao! Are you alright?” The voice was that of Torgarr, but it was still startling to hear it come from a doe. Tao stopped in her tracks and placed her hand on a knife, but quickly realized there was only one deer who talks, of which she knew.
“Torgarr-san. You took me by surprise. Yes, there are problems. Had dream, and know it is a message from Twa, my husband. I must find him, quickly.”
“And do what, my lady? You, against hundreds of orcs? Have you ever seen an orc?”
“Yes, at home. Can defend myself.”
“How about twenty? Fifty? At the same time? You have friends here, to help.”
Tao sighed, hung her soaked head and nodded. “There is so little time. Morbagg is powerful, and is only small time for him to find Tao. I can move in darkness and free Twa. We made promise. Could you turn back?
The doe bobbed her hear and swayed her neck slightly, confused. “The human in me says no. But I’m a familiar. I can travel as fast, or faster, than you; see in the dark; smell things you can only imagine; hear voices half a mile away. Even Morbagg’s crow can’t see me as anything but wildlife. And Eohacob’s eagle will be able to see from high.”
“I cannot ask you to aid me...it is my...”
“...I didn’t ask your permission. The eagle and I will have to stay out of sight as much as possible, but you must promise to be cautious, Tao. There are people whom you have touched, and who worry about you.”
“Yes, I know – Owin.”
“No. The whole group. Even Slayer. Let’s be going, we’ll talk on the way.”
It didn’t take Suzanne long to awaken Darmon and Yngvarr. It was fortunate that she rousted them before Owin awoke, though, as he had to be restrained by his fellow Khazaks from going out and looking for Tao. The discussion concerning the next course of action was stopped abruptly, however, by a scratching and knocking on the front door. What was on the outside was quite startling to all but Darmon; he opened the door further and motioned the eagle into the house.
“What the...Darmon, what is going...”
“Eohacob. At least, his familiar. Mountaintop – isn’t that your name?”
The eagle dipped his head and then tilted it to one side, then the other. “Yes, that is name, ‘old man’ – that is what Eohacob likes to call you. The hooved one, she who is called ‘Hide’, is with Tao. She will be the ears and nose of us, I will watch from high. She is safe – at least as safe as one can be, walking to an orc camp. But she can go many places that the rest of you could never go; if you go after her, it may put her in danger.”
It took a few moments for the rest of them to acclimate to a talking eagle, but the meeting with Morbagg’s crow helped them through it, and Mountaintop spoke in Eohacob’s voice. “I have seen the camp. I cannot count, even as Eohacob’s partner – it is not part of my mind. There are many of them, more than you can handle by yourselves. Eohacob believes the only chance you have to defeat is to awaken the town and to train them. Even though you have immortality, you can only fight so many.”
Darmon looked to Richard, who shook his head and shrugged. “The townsmen – I told you about them. We aren’t fighters. We’d be massacred!”
Darmon looked to Yngvarr, who nodded in agreement. “Still, Richard, we have to try. If we fight them and lose, your town will be lost completely. If we walk away, they’ll take it as a sign of victory.
“Chief – we trained men. We made soldiers outa raw recruits, in Farland.” He turned to Richard – “We need as many men – strong, tall, it dunna matter – mid morning. You pick the place. Tell ‘em ta bring axes, mauls, bows, arrows, swords, anythin’ that can be used as a weapon. The wives need ta make good, hearty food – yer people probably got a lot a’ that – and we’re gonna train’em like they never thought possible. You seem ta be the voice here, a leader. I can see it in ya. The future o’this town’s gonna depend on ya, lad!”
Richard looked pale; he looked to Suzanne, who nodded with a stiff upper lip that strengthened his resolve. “Alright, Darmon. I can’t promise much, though.”
“Good! Clean slate! Never trust a man who promises too much. Just bring ‘em – we’ll do the rest.”