Sunday, September 6, 2015

Short Story: Road to Torik

Road to Torik

A fantasy interlude
"Wassail-Bout" artist: Mary A. Hallock-Foote

Braccus lifted the pint toward the ceiling, not minding the drops that sloshed out over the rim. It was getting late and they had to leave early the next morning.

“Odin's mercy on us if we aren't able to stand up in the morning!” Braccus exclaimed to his traveling companions. “The ale has flowed swiftly this night, but we haven't quite reached our destination. This is no time for us to get that drunk, not yet.”

Meritor, the short-beard, nodded his agreement. Being the smallest among the four travelers he was the easiest sloshed. Then he looked toward the surly manager of the Ale House and inquired, “Would you, kind sir, have accommodations for weary travelers this night?”

The man put down the jug he was cleaning on the table in front of him and said, “I don't have rooms but there's a loft for ya' up theres if you want it. I changed the hay out this morning.”

Braccus pulled Kaster to his feet. “Sorry, friend, but this party is over. There'll be ale enough when this journey is over.”

Meritor looked over at Hodkins who was eying him with an evil grin. He wasn't about to try and lift the larger man to his feet, no doubt Hodkins was planning something should he be so foolish. Hodkins was the trouble-maker of the group, Meritor told himself, best just to avoid him. When he turned toward the stair, he heard Hodkins chuckle as if he had won something.

Meritor carried his recursive bow up to the loft and found him a nice corner, where he could put his back to the wall and keep a knife handy. The three larger men climbed up, with some grumbling, before falling in heaps. Within minutes the loft was full of loud snoring. Meritor would hardly sleep this night.

Torik. Was this town they were traveling to really worth all this trouble? The Prince had given them this assignment, so there must be something to it. He said they would find trouble and that the town needed them. In all fairness, the Prince had told them quite little. Still, the future king was trustworthy and had been so since they all first met years ago.

They were the heroes of Archlandia and they wouldn't have become such without the information they were given by the Prince. The King was a bit daft and of dimming faculties, but his son went into the shadows to make sure things got done. Of course, if something went wrong they were on their own and the Prince probably couldn't save their rumps.

So the next morning the three burly men with swords and the smaller man with his bow climbed onto their horses to continue their journey.

“Torik, the peppercorn capital of Archlandia! Where the sneezing never ends!” Hodkins exclaimed as he pointed them forward. Sort of an encouragement, Meritor told himself while shaking his head at the antics of the big man in bearskin fur.

Four missions the prince had set them on. Four! Three of these had turned out well, one of those involved a fight against a troll and another against a monstrous sea creature. Meritor hoped to never see the sea again. Once, though, a band of thieves had surrounded them and forced them to leave the Kings Wood of Scrantonshire. Soldiers had to be sent in and from all accounts, the toll was a bit high.

The four horses moved at a careful moderate pace through the uneven trail covered with ruts that could break their legs. The King desired real roads to be built but there were very few, for it was quite expensive. The road to Torik was not important enough to have more than an unmaintained trail such as this.

In front of them, in a sunny spot in the middle of the road, a dwarf was standing and waving his arms as if they might not see him. “Please, good sirs! Please, have a little mercy on one such as I!”

Braccus sat up in his saddle. “What seems to be the problem, dwarf?”

The dwarf bowed very formally before speaking again. “My name is Malwart. My mistress, employer, has been kidnapped by bad men. They are holding her in a cave on that hillside and says if I do not pay them twenty silvers they will cut her throat. Please help me. We are poor, we have nothing.”

Braccus was thinking about it. Even from behind him Meritor always knew when Braccus was thinking. His head would tilt down, his mouth tighten and his belly grumble barely audibly.

“We are on a mission. This is not our problem.” Meritor said, knowing full well that they were about to go looking for a cave. The three brutes never backed down from a fight, excepting what happened at Scrantonshire and he would never bring that up if he wanted to keep his head attached.

Finally Braccus made up his mind. He lifted his sword into the sky, so did Hodkins and Kaster and they yelled as if rushing into battle. Meritor rolled his eyes and sighed. He was already turning his horse when the other three took off at a gallop. Meritor followed.

The cave was downhill, surrounded on three sides by high rocky ridges. Like a horseshoe.

“This is a trap.” Meritor told them. Ignored, as usual. “This is obviously a trap.”

Braccus stared down at the dark cave. There was no telling what was in there, possibly an old woman in peril, possibly armed orcs or a dragon. Once they rode down into that, they would have no escape except back up the hill where Meritor planned to stay and cover them with his bow.

The dwarf finally caught up with them. “That's the cave! That is where my mistress, er... employer, is being held for ransom!”

“No sign of a guard.” Kaster noted.

“No sign of anything at all.” Braccus admitted.

“Might be hiding on the ridges somewhere, get at us from above maybe?” Hodkins said.

Now they at least try to be sensible. Still, there was no way they would not be looking into that cave now. Meritor had already resigned himself to this.

“Oh, please please, help us.” Malwort, the dwarf told them. Jumping up and down pathetically.

“Should we?” Braccus asked the other two brutes.

“We should!” Kaster answered.

“I think so.” Hodkins chimed in.

Then all three kicked their horses into gear and sailed down the incline toward the cave. Meritor was already pulled the arrow in his bow back to cover his compatriots. The dwarf had disappeared. Something about that bugged Meritor, he couldn't quite remember what he had known earlier. Once he pulled the bow back he was all business and other worries were forgotten.

Then from behind him he heard the movement of shrubbery. Then the mocking high-pitched laughter of the dwarf, Malwort. He turned to look but he already knew. Yes, this had been a trap. The dwarf and several orcs surrounded him.

“I knew it.” Meritor said trying to get off at least one arrow. Then something hit him in the back of the head and the lights went out.

Just as they were reaching the cave Braccus heard loud, throaty roars from up the hill. Looking back he saw a bunch of large, gray-skinned orcs with clubs as large as himself running toward them.

“So it was a trap.” Kaster said, amused.

“The small man was right, who would have guessed?” Hodkins replied as they all sat on their horses and waited for the orcs to close the distance. No sense getting their mounts tired when you could let the enemy wear themselves out running and screaming while waving giant clubs.

Braccus pulled his sword as the orcs closed in and the other two men followed suit. The dwarf on the hillside, seeing how calm the men were, was starting to have second thoughts about the enterprise. When he saw the men slay the first few orcs, he turned and ran toward where he had tied up his own pony.

“Must get to Torik! Find safety with Lord Jasper!” The dwarf named Malwort was telling himself.

As the sound of the small horse trotting faded, Meritor laughed. He had laid there as if asleep with his hands bound. The poor didn't know they were going to the same place as his hiding spot. Meritor found this quite funny for a moment, until the pain in the back of his head returned. Find out who sent the dwarf to waylay them and then kill them both, he told himself, good plan. Ouch.

It didn't take long to slay the orcs. As big as they were these creatures were very stupid and all three of the men had experience against them. There was nothing in the cave, no surprise.

“That dwarf tricked us.” Hodkins said.

“Well, it was obviously a trap that needed sprung.” Braccus said. “We can deal with the dwarf later, for now we have to collect Meritor and be on our way. The sun is already above us, half the day is gone.”

“Very true.” Kaster said.

False Dragon of Torik Second Part

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