Rogues to Riches
By Gerry Torbert
Standing on hill, top of hill...big, wide plain...green grass. Starting to get darker now. Lots of us trolls- there's Urrt, Putt, Muk. Also so many orcs. This one looking at me - I swing club at you, little man...Hah! Maybe not look so much now.
Told they give us food, more huts, not attack us. That is all we want. That and to kill, especially kill gnomes. Hate gnomes. Little noisy bastards. Always fight us, ever. Old one told me they fight him too. Killed mum, pa, burned them. Will kill many gnomes today for that. Tonight. I kill them.
Soldiers around me. Oluks - smart orcs that bark orders. Hobgoblins - more smart orcs. Goblins, kobolds - always climbing on back to fight tall. Ogres - want to be trolls, not smart like me. Worgs - big, flat dogs - never trust them. Always same ones - want Gurt fight for them - always promise things. Gurt fight for Gurt tonight.
Pushing - stop it - oh, you, Urrt. Good troll - happy to fight. Always fight, we trolls. Never stop.
Orc with torch - get away from me - push you down...get fire away!
"Death Downs" - bad name - call it big plain. Now see soldiers - many - nasty humans - smarty elves - pushy dwarves - gnomes, gnomes, gnomes...never see so many gnomes. They see us. Now running to sides. Gnomes running left - have to go there. "Urrt - gnomes!"
He sees - going there - I go too...out way, orc! There - now get up if you can...have to kill gnomes! Oluk try to stop me - push - you too. Gurt fight Gurt's fight - not try stop, oluk!
Ow - arrows - gnomes shoot them always...pull out...heal...better now.
There - gnomes here now - here, like my club? Have to swing hard - Hah! Got two in one swing...Gurt good. Stomp on that one, he gurgle...Ha! They jump at Gurt - not care, grab them...throw...more grab Gurt - swing club again...not let near...maybe grab gnome not good think...will swing again...Yes!
Urrt do well...he hit that one hard, throw him to me...I hit it again...we good as one...here, Urrt! A gnome for you...Hah!
Lots of gnomes...rest of army fighting too...have to swing harder, they are all around...OH....cut arm...cut arm OFF! Little bastards...can only swing with other arm.
Here, have my club! Hah! Hit both of you...arggggh...Must stop, pick up arm, hold it to stump...there, arm is back. Look at me that way - can't believe it, can you? Hah! Hit some more...
Hours gone - arm hurt again, harder to heal arm...tired...Urrt still here - Hah! Good one, Urrt! Crushed human now...harder to kill than gnomes...lots of bodies - lots of bodies - almost trip...orcs gone, over there...dwarves running at us...Hah! Got one - stupid beard...just big gnomes...
What - big fireballs in air - as many as fingers...Hate fire - kills trolls - they fly in air...now hit each other...Light too bright...pain... big noise - everything black, falling...
Goodness Befalls Me
Such a beautiful woman - soft curly hair, hanging down from her shoulders; calm, sweet blue eyes, understanding me, talking to me as if they saw my thoughts; so peaceful, sitting on the stump of a tree, harp and shield by her side; stroking a soft kitten; humming a tune, such a beautiful tune; trees behind her, birds flying back and forth, laying here on soft grass, no pain, no suffering; I love her.
She speaks now - her voice is like the wind against my ears. It pierces my heart, fills my soul. It's so sweet, I can taste the words. I would do anything for her.
"Gurt, arise. You are no longer Gurt. You are someone better. You shall be known as Beltondo Calladora. No longer will you suffer from the veil of Vornoth. No longer will you want to fight, to kill. You shall be the first Teregnaven. You will awaken and be the servant of Goodness and Beauty. You shall lead a new breed of people from this land of evil, for a dark time is ahead. Be careful: there are those about who will want to stop you. Go forth, multiply, leave this place. I will guide you to a distant shore, where you will all live good lives. Arise, Beltondo, arise..."
The Shining Sea
Salty water lapped the boards of the old ship with an annoying random cadence. It wasn't always noticeable. Sometimes it wasn't there, other times it was as loud as the thunder from the storm that just passed. Still other times the sound was barely noticed over the creaking of the old, poorly fitted boards. It was a wonder that the ship was still afloat.
Beltondo Calladora sat along the railing, his back to the sea. The rain had left the deck soaking, but the sun was chasing that away. The rain was a pleasant respite from the sun's harsh rays. There was little to do to escape them. And with each passing day, each passing hour, the sun sapped more and more of his body's precious moisture.
The ship was barely a hundred feet long, and the hundred Teregnaven aboard taxed it to its limits. No privacy could be found. Snoring was as invasive at night as the sun during the day. Performing one's daily business in the community trough was no pleasant task. The food was rationed, since the ships were stolen and hastily stocked. It took a lot of his strength and his knowledge of magic-magic he never knew he had-to remove the salt from the buckets of sea water hauled up each morning.
As a group, they trusted Galomo Tantalano, the "captain" of the ironically-named Old Reckless. He seemed to have the most sea knowledge of any of them. "Keep the sun to your right" was the simple rule he often stated; often a smile would appear as he said it. There was no telling what he did on a starless night, but he seemed to have a knack for navigation, and in the morning they were always pointed in the right direction. The old bucket of ill-maintained boards seemed to like him enough, and that was a good thing, for the other six ships had to have something to follow.
He tried to ask others about the beautiful woman. He didn't seem to be able to get all of the words out that he wanted. It was as if that time in his life was not his life, but a bridge, a walkway, a passage to another life from an old one. The troll thoughts, the dreams of unimaginable violence and darkness, they seemed to come and go, but lesser in intensity and fewer, further between. He seemed to be washing things out of his mind, just as the lapping of the sea washed dirt and dust from this old bucket of wood.
He knew she was Bestra. He knew he would never see her again.
The sea was relentless. Relentless when it was calm. Relentless when it was pregnant with power and hate for any who dared cross it. He was at its mercy, as were the seven hundred saved trolls who dared test its mettle. Three weeks out, and they didn't know where they were, where they were going. Just east, east, east. The first week was the roughest, but he was sure that more trouble was to come. Reefs not far from shore ripped at the boats, as all held their breath and prayed to the beautiful woman. A few enemy ships had followed them to sea to apprehend them and retrieve the stolen ships, but the enemies had hit the same reefs that the saved trolls had missed or glanced off, and the pursuers sank. It was almost as if some divine intervention had planned it to happen.
He met mostly everyone on board. There was Isola Melotta, a lovely light-green skinned lady, very demure and unassuming, seemingly deep in thought, but with whom he found pleasure speaking. He found himself strangely attracted to her, in a way that he couldn't understand, almost as if his former self had no capacity for interest in the thoughts of others, let alone the thoughts of women.
A few others were fairly engaging and intelligent. Mosantu Perrinosia was a slightly shorter man, less lost in thought than the others. He had an amazing capacity to relax those nearby, speaking eloquently and seeming to be quite knowledgeable in the affairs of people as a whole and their plights. He seemed to be able to lead anyone with whom he talked, to make them walk away believing him to be right in whatever he said.
Then there was a man everyone looked to when a storm struck or rough seas set the ship listing and threatening to spill its precious contents. Sackota Bellintwigia made everyone feel at home, as if all of their troubles and cares could vanish in the next minute. With a happy tune or quick, humorous response, he was their bard, their lyrical savior.
And it was not easy to miss Tallamah B'Ellandroso, an interesting if self-absorbed individual. He seemed to be looking at everything in a different way, as if all nature and man-made things were built with a purpose, a design, and it was his job to find those purposes. He would often describe, in great detail, theories behind the structure of the ship, the reason for the stanchions and supports crossing the hull and holding the masts, the hydraulic forces playing on the hull, the best way to use the power of the wind. He said once that he would like to build something when they reach land. If they reach land. He wasn't given to positive thought unless there was a theory saying so.
His favorite person, besides Isola, was Helmando Jastosormio. Helmando remembered the beautiful lady. He remembered her eyes, her hair, her voice. He would often sit and stare out at the sea, thinking, smiling, seemingly bereft of fear or worry. He talked of her, of her goodness, of the love she exuded. He wanted to tell everyone of his love for her and to make those around him remember her words, her ideas. He often gathered a group of them and told them all he knew and felt, and often, their meetings would end in kneeling down, bowing their heads, as he spoke. He was their pathway to her.
Beltondo thrust his hand into the last bucket, concentrating, mumbling a few words, but of what he didn't know. When he pulled his hand out, it was white with crystals of salt, which he shook and wiped off. The last of seven buckets for today. He looked up at Isola. She smiled and quietly glided to his side to sit down. She rubbed his hand to clean off the salt, but didn't let it go. They sat and talked as the night began to chase the blue hues from the sky, pushing them off the edge of their world into the horizon, where they drowned in a last gasp of blood red color, like the evil land they had left, the place known as Farland . They talked, then slowly fell asleep next to each other, leaving Galomo steering the ship's wheel.
Leave this Land Behind
Beltondo raised his head slightly, opened his eyes, and looked around. The sky wasn't pitch black; it was just that annoying royal blue darkness that turns magically to black at some point. Some point that you can't pick out: one minute it's blue, then the next, it's black. Maybe it's a trick played by the eyes - they become adjusted in stages. Either way, it wasn't dark.
Beltondo would wish it was completely black in the next few seconds. Then he wouldn't be able to see what was hanging over the plain. Too little light can be a blessing. A cloud that stretched halfway from the zenith of the hemisphere of the sky to each horizon loomed overhead. Clouds where he saw the fireballs come together were climbing upward toward the center of the giant bulge of insanity, roiling and swirling as they fanned out to add to its girth. Few things in life are as frightening as those that are completely out of place, indescribable, incalculable, unexpected.
Better that his attention was permanently captured by the clouds than to look around. What appeared to have been living creatures were strewn about, some bones at odd angles sticking through melted shields and armor. The remains of the meat of the bodies were singed and smoking, and the grass and trees, now gnarled and twisted, were burned to a crisp. A crater thousands of feet in diameter loomed in the middle of the valley, where before there was flat ground. Nothing moved, or almost nothing.
He pulled himself up to a sitting position and looked around. Urrt stirred, seemingly unscathed by the flames and heat of the explosion. Beltondo then looked at himself, seeing that he was fully clothed in a loose-fitting shirt, comfortable pants, a red satin sash and sandals. He looked again at Urrt, who he seemed to know now as Merolta S'angrecia. He didn't know why. He was clothed as well, in this pleasant, strange fashion.
The stench of death was not as prevalent as one would think - it seemed that all that was left of the bodies was vaporized, leaving a smell of carbon - not pleasant, but not gut-wrenching, either. Other trolls began to stir - all dressed, clean, unharmed. He arose, walking to Merolta and extending his hand to help him up.
"Beltondo..you're safe. What happened"?
"I don't know, Merolta. Look, there are others..."
Over the ridge, from behind what was the battle line, came hundreds of the same type of beings as them. Women, at least what he thought passed for women, walked over the hill. All were dressed in carefully-fitted, clean, bright clothing and wore expressions of wonderment, like children, and their faces still showed childish fear and the need for fatherly advice and leadership. Beltondo said something from a voice deep inside him, from somewhere he didn't understand. It was his voice, but it seemed to come from the thoughts of a beautiful lady, calm, serene, knowledgeable.
"We've been saved from the life we had. We will be given a place to live. We have to go now. Follow me. It will be a long journey, but we don't belong here anymore."
He turned and began to walk to the east as the new people followed him.
It was a long, dangerous trek. The sight of seven hundred people, all dressed in much the same way, was bound to draw attention. Beltondo seemed to know the right path to take, however, and they lit out for the north.
The straightest path would have taken them through some of the most difficult and dangerous terrain in the Eastern lands. To go directly to the east, one has to pass through the Pass of Doom and cross the Great Glacier near its widest and highest extent, closer to the Nameless City. Then, the trip across the Eastern Steppes would bring the group through many small orc villages until they could arrive at the sea.
Bestra was aware that these people would be hunted by Vornoth, in the person of the Dweller, so she felt that a longer route was safer. She would send them through the mountains to the north into the Northern Steppes, then across the glacier at a narrower location into Cadocia. Their path would then be straight, although cold and forbidding, until they reached Laipedos, a small whaling and fishing town, where they would meet a "dealer of various merchandise" for the ships. This much Beltondo knew - he realized that She was leading him.
Past the bodies and charred remains they walked, a gathering of nicely dressed, green-skinned people, as out of place as could be. A few of the remaining Farlandish officers rode over to intercept, and Beltondo walked to the side to greet them. Upon noticing the red sash of Bestra, he spoke for a minute with the much taller, clean being and rode off. A long, uninterrupted chain of mountains loomed in the distance, stretching between horizons, slightly visible in the eerie light of moon and star. Yes, a long trip.
By daybreak, they had reached the base of the mountain chain. It appeared to be impenetrable, but Beltondo found a series of short ramps made from fissures and falling rock that provided a way up. The going was treacherous and slow, but better than what was expected hours before. A few spots had to be negotiated by leaping across chasms or inching along a ledge no more than two feet wide. But their new bodies seemed to be up to the task. The weather was fairly calm, with temperatures nearing the freezing mark, but no snow or wind was present to make the journey impossible. Upon reaching the summit, they saw that the path down the other side gently sloped to the base with a similar configuration, as they had apparently stumbled upon a natural pathway used by the folk of this region. By evening of the next day they were camped around several piles of burning logs at the toe of the north face. They took turns standing watch, as wolves and frost giants were known to populate the southern tier of the Northern Steppes.
Daybreak illuminated miniature spires of white frost on the blades of grass all around them. They were huddled together to take advantage of every bit of body warmth they could find. Beltondo rose and stretched while most were still asleep and walked off several hundred feet away, where he sat with his back to a tree, thinking. He tried to bring back the image of the beautiful lady, whom he now knew as Bestra, in order to talk to her. How do I lead these people? There are so many, the trip is still long, it's so cold. After a while, an image formed in his mind of a yak with golden hair, blue eyes, hovering over the ground. "I will provide for you," it said. Confused and quite surprised, he walked back to the group, who were just rising.
He entered the encampment and all eyes were upon him. He knew he would be expected to say something. "I have spoken to the Lady with the Harp and Shield. Her name is Bestra the Holy. She said we have to be patient, and that she will provide for us. I don't know what this means, but I have faith, we all must have faith. We will have more hardships along the way, but brighter days are ahead, far from the reaches of evil. We'll have to sustain ourselves for now, to find food and clothing. We'll just keep on going as we are for now. Trust me, and trust each other."
Off they trudged over the plains. The cold wind bit and nipped at their skin, making shivering a commonplace event. For two days they pushed forth, walking throughout the day, gathering wood, and sleeping at night, huddled close to the fire and each other. Very few were the complaints. They had all seen Bestra. They understood. They had faith. As little children depending upon the mother and father to bring home food and supply shelter, they trusted.
The third day found them nearing the Great Glacier. To cross this, the snow and wind would be fighting them every step of the way. The slight rise to the top of a hill brought this huge expanse to view. It was stunning in its beauty, fearsome in its size. But as they cleared the hillock, Beltondo looked down into the slight valley to see the largest herd of yak he could imagine. Without hunting experience, they were at a loss until Merolta spoke up. "I think I know how to take of the herd what we need." He pulled out a knife he had lifted while walking across the battlefield. "I thought this might be important, so I brought it along with me."
With that, he walked to the nearby woods where he lopped off several dozen branches. Beltondo found that by concentrating, he could feel some sort of power course through his hand. He grabbed the end of each stick and twisted it, trimming it with his hand into a point with little effort. He trimmed each one into a spear. They continued working with the wood, and in the span of several hours had produced a hundred spears.
The hunters surrounded the herd, which was relatively quiet and peaceful, even when they were being killed. By evening, they had killed and butchered three hundred of the beasts, enough to make wraps for each and provide plenty of meat. Salt was found along the base of some rocks and was used to treat the meat. The whole clan worked together to build fires to smoke and dry the meat. Stomachs were removed and fashioned into water bags. After a hard day of preparation, they slept well and awakened the next day for what was thought to be a four day trek across a frozen land.