Back in a time long past (last year) I submitted an elven story to a writing contest. The story was Medoran History – Birro’s Early Years.
Some people read that too fast, and end up reading ‘eleven’ instead of ‘elven’. It is elven, as in ‘about elves’.
Anyway, the requirement was for a story about elves in 1,000 words or less, and that made it a tad difficult for me. Readers might not realize this about me, but as difficult as spoken words are to flow from me, so do written words flow from my virtual pen as if a great flood of virtual ink were unleashed upon the world.
Still, I wrote and submitted it. I did not win the contest, the top prize (best overall story) taken by my good friend Perry. His entry and the other winners can be found and read HERE.
There was something I did not mention in my blog post announcing the results . . .
I did not mention I landed the Reader’s Choice prize. In case anyone is wondering, I did not mention it because the post was about Perry winning, and the spotlight was his and his alone.
Besides, for all I know, there were only ten readers, and my story happened to get two votes while all the others only got one vote.
Still, I had the best intentions to eventually mention it, but I don’t think I ever did . . . until now.
Because late yesterday afternoon I got me bit by one of them there writing bugs, and the writing I chose to do was another chapter of Birro’s early life.
Be forewarned; 7,744 words (depending how one counts words) . . . and, for them who do not remember the original, I would advise a quick refresher HERE (only a thousand words, barely the equivalent of one picture).
. . . and here we go . . . Oh, wait . . . perhaps you want some music while you read.
Medoran History – Hunting Party
Copyright 2015, E. J. D’Alise
Cordoc looked into his daughter’s beautiful eyes. Perhaps he was going soft for he was about to relent. More and more, as she grew into adulthood, Fevlyn won these little battles of will. Not for the first time he wondered if his will was always his own, or if he was succumbing to elven magic.
He looked over at her mother. His face did not change much, but they had been paired long enough that she recognized his silent plea.
“Don’t look at me,” Cierva answered aloud. She turned her attention to the garments she was folding as she continued, “unless all of a sudden I have a say-so in matters concerning this family.”
Cardoc grunted as he looked back at his daughter. He briefly considered the fact decision were seldom his alone. At best they were jointly made, and often decisions seemed to track closer to Cierva’s desires than his own. Worse yet, as Cierva had integrated into Orc life, her influence could be seen in other Orc wives who, ever so slowly, also gained rights they never had.
He looked around the shelter that had grown to resemble more a human shelter than an Orc’s lair. Truth be told, the clean sleeping area, lined with soft grasses covered by a generous and clean hide, was preferable to sleeping on dirt. Having clean clothes, finely prepared meals, a well-tended fire to fight off the night chill . . . many benefits to having an elven wife.
He vaguely remembered the original plan. Kidnap an elven girl, rape her, kill her, and throw her remains back in the forest for elven parties to find, laying in ambush for when they did.
The raid went well, grabbing an especially beautiful young elf woman, but bad luck immediately befell the Orc raiding party. A returning elven hunting party practically bumped into them as they made their retreat. He took an arrow in the shoulder, but still managed to grabbed the woman and run.
He got separated from the others, but found a sheltered cave to hide in as the elves hunted for him outside. He remembered putting the woman down before losing consciousness. Upon regaining consciousness, the first thing he saw was the elf woman stoking a small fire. His sword and spear were nearby. He made a move to reach his weapons, but she reached them first. He watched as she rose, sword in hand, and stood over him. He looked up at her defiantly, willing to meet his fate as an Orc Warrior, facing his sworn enemy.
She had hefted the blade, expertly swinging it as if it were her own. And then . . . and then she had flipped it, offering the hilt for him to grab, which he did. She turned, picked up the spear and set it at his side, coming well within the striking distance of the sword, before returning to the fire. Only then did he notice his wound had been dressed; he was weak, but he was not in pain.
He never understood why, and never asked, fearful it would break whatever spell had bound them together. Less than four moons hence they forsake their names, giving each other new ones, as was the Orc custom signifying they were joined for life.
Cordoc focused back on his daughter . . . and nodded.
She beamed a dazzling smile, turned on her heels, and ran out, no doubt going to let the halfbreed know of his good fortune. He looked back at his wife.
“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” she asked.
Cordoc looked out to where his weapons hung, and grunted. Cierva knew his grunts, and she smiled as she picked up the folded garments and walked in front of him, giving her hips a bit more sway than normal.
~ ~ 0 ~ ~
“He’s going to kill you the first chance he has!” Malor spoke with more animation than usual, given his normally aloof demeanor.
Birro looked up from his preparations. His two short swords hung from his hips, and his quiver already riding high on his shoulders. The arrows were specially made for him, shorter than most elven arrows to account for his shorter draw. It grated on him, as yet another human trait differentiating him from pure-blooded elves.
The bow too was especially made, by a master craftsman of the art, no less, compensating for the shorter draw with increased stiffness. Birro had built up his strength to be able to draw the stiffer bow, but still, no match for the longbows of elf pure-bloods. Plus, in a battle he could not just pick up any bow and be effective with it.
“He’s not going to kill me,” Birro replied to his brother . . . his half brother.
Birro tested the retention of his arrows. They needed to hold securely while he ran, jumped, or otherwise moved about the forest, but also need to release willingly when he needed a fast draw. Fast being relatively slow when compared to elves. Still, his half-elven blood put him closer to elven skill levels than to human skill levels.
“We should consider the possibility.” His father’s voice had Birro stop his preparations and look up sharply.
“Fietos.” His mother only spoke his father’s name, but the implied admonition hung in the air.
“I’m sorry, Ecantel,” his father answered, putting his pipe down and walking toward Birro, “but it’s no secret that as much as Orcs hate elves, they hate humans even more. Some Orc tribes hunt humans for both sport and food.”
Fietos reached over Birro’s shoulder and made minor adjustments to the quiver, and then stepped back to admire the results.
“Well, not this tribe. Besides,” Birro’s mother continued, “I spoke with Lady Cierva about this. She reassured me Cardoc’s committed to seeing Birro has a safe hunt.”
“That may be, but I’m pretty sure Cardoc is not happy about Fevlyn’s interest in our boy here.” Fietos spoke as he ran a critical eye over his son’s hunting attire.
“I don’t know what you see in her!” Malor jumped in on the pause. “Say you do wed her, are you going to live with the Orcs? Or are you thinking she’d be welcomed here?”
The moment he said it Malor knew he had crossed a line he shouldn’t have, the realization punctuated by sharp stares from both his father and his step-mother.
He looked back at them defiantly; in with one arrow, in with the whole quiver.
“What? It needed to be said!” he shot back at them. “It’s as if he doesn’t know his pla . . .” this time he stopped, his tongue having stepped into a much bigger line than he intended.
The room was quiet for a few seconds before Birro spoke.
“My place? What is my place, ‘brother’?”
Pent up anger, resentment, and a host of real or imagined wrongs pushed Birro’s temper to the breaking point.
“Do you see me as equal? Do you treat me as equal? I hear your friends make jokes about me, but have never heard once you defend me.” His voice shaking, he paused.
Malor stood, his face serious as he answered.
“You are my brother; I would give my life . . .”
“Stop!” Birro also stood straight, but had to look up to his half-brother.
“There is one lesson I learned and learned well,” Birro continued. “The lesson is that deeds mean much more than words, that actions reflect one’s true character. Do not presume to tell me otherwise; you may be an elf, but you do not have wisdom greater than contained in those words.”
“Birro!” It was his mother that sharply called his name.
“What, mother? Am I not showing enough respect to the elves?”
Birro too instantly regretted the words that flew from his mouth, especially upon looking at his father. Fietos had drawn himself erect, his spine straight, his head slightly tilted to the sky, his eyes looking down on Birro. He was about to speak, but Birro did not give him the chance.
“Well, don’t worry; if I do get killed you’ll no longer have to contend with this halfbreed.” and with that he ran out, not waiting for anyone to say anything else.
He quickly darted around the house, between the livestock building, and ran to the dense undergrowth. He heard both Malor and his father run after him.
He had no hope of outrunning either, but what Birro lacked in speed, strength, and weapons skills, he made up in stealth. Combining skills he had learned from human hunters and forest sense learned from the elves, Birro often played the game of seeing how well and how long he could avoid detections, and it had more than once saved him after having spoken harshly to fellow students.
He cut to his right, doubled back making just enough noise for the sensitive elven ears to get a sense of the direction he was heading, and then went into what he called his quiet travel.
He ducked under a brier, for once thankful for both his smaller stature and his elven cloth. The sharp thorns slid along the cloth without catching, and he sat partially obscured by late season flowers. He held his breath and stilled the air about him.
Instants later both his father and Malor glided by, heading toward his last known direction. He waited. They returned shortly after, scanning the ground for his tracks, but there too Birro’s human training helped; he had grabbed a fallen leafy branch as he ran, and had stepped on the branch and leaves as he had stepped off the path. That same branch now aided in masking his presence to searching eyes. Slowly, the two elves worked their way back along the path he had left, scanning for signs of where he might have gone.
Birro waited until the noises of the forest returned, and took a different path to meet Fevlyn.
~ ~ 0 ~ ~
Fevlyn and Birro came out of the forest into a clearing where Cordoc and three other Orcs waited. Besides their heavy swords, the Orcs each carried three throwing spears and a lance. They would be hunting wild boar, and it was best to keep the beasts at a distance from one’s self.
“I smell man-meat,” rumbled one of the Orcs.
Birro knew he was lying. One of the few advantages he got from his elf side of the family was the singular lack of odor. While humans often exuded smell of things they ate, drank, or even of their own glands, Birro was free of any scent.
The big Orc moved toward him, shrugging off Cordoc’s attempt to grab his arm.
“Borag!” Cordoc yelled out, the other two Orcs barring him from following.
Fevlyn moved to step in front of Birro, but Birro stopped her.
“Don’t!” he whispered his plea to her.
Birro took one step forward and stopped to face the approaching Orc. He emptied his mind as his father had taught him, loosened any tension he had in his muscles, upped his heart rate, and focused his senses. He was small, but much quicker than the Orc, and knew a bit about fighting Orcs. Not any practice at it, but enough of the theory. He focused on the Orc’s big muscles as it neared. Those would give the Orc’s moves away, tensing a split second before they would be unleashed. One of the disadvantages of being big and strong . . . it took effort moving all that mass.
The Orc stopped within arm’s length of Birro. The Orc’s arm length, not Birro’s.
The big Orc, Borag, if Birro had heard right, looked Birro over.
“I hear humans have transparent stones they put in front of their eyes to see better,” Borag spoke, turning his head slightly to his side so as to address those behind him. “Perhaps I could get some so I could see this poor excuse for an elf a bit better.”
Birro did not answer; taunts he was used to. Right now he needed to concentrate on actions.
Borag looked over at Fevlyn, addressing her as he pointed at Birro.
“Why are you settling for this half-elf when you could have the pick of any the young Orcs in our tribe?” he asked.
“He bathes.” Fevlyn terse reply drew a laugh from the others.
Birro risked a split second of his attention at the others. Cordoc and the other two Orcs were standing relaxed.
A test, then. Perhaps one that would get him killed, but still a test.
“Mind your tongue, Fevlyn,” Borag replied. “even young females should know their place.”
“Alright then, I’ll speak for her,” interrupted Birro. “I bathe.”
This time the laughter was louder and more derisive.
Birro knew he was playing a dangerous game. A test it might be, but an angry Orc might still hurt him without meaning to.
“You don’t fear me, half-elf?” Borag stepped a bit closer, and leaned forward, towering over Birro. “I could snap you in half with as little effort as I would kill a piglet.”
“Perhaps,” answered Birro, “but a piglet would not scar you for life.”
Borag face hardened, his eyes squinting, and for a brief moment eying the elven blades at Birro’s side.
“You think I would be afraid of a little scar on my face? I’d wear it proudly.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about your face. I could not improve on nature’s handwork. No, I’m talking about your toe. You might kill me, but I am sure I can take your big toe before you do.”
The big Orc’s face changed to a look of puzzlement. “My big toe? You would not stab me, cut me, attempt to kill me?”
“Your big toe. That is all I want to be remembered as; Birro, the toe-taker. Of course, you’ll have to live with everyone mocking you for killing someone so short as to only be able to attack your feet.”
Borag looked at Birro for a few heartbeats, and then busted out with a heavy laugh, the others behind him joining in.
Birro looked back at Fevlyn, who was also smiling broadly, and winked. And then nearly fell over as Borag slapped him on the back.
“You’re alright, little half-elf! Come; let’s go hunt some boar.”
~ ~ 0 ~ ~
Fevlyn had gone back to her mother, Birro and the Orcs now slowly making their way through dense undergrowth, moist leaves decaying underfoot; perfect habitat for boars. They had found a few old tracks, but so far no luck.
Cordoc and Birro walked a bit apart from the others, Birro content to let the big Orc lead. Cordoc would occasionally look back, and after a few times of doing so, he stopped, letting Birro get close before softly speaking.
“You move quietly.”
Birro had noticed Fevlyn’s father had a habit of speaking as little as possible. He interpreted the statement as a compliment of sorts. A compliment that needed no answer. Birro waited.
“Perhaps you’ll teach me,” Cordoc said, and then resumed walking.
Birro followed, contemplating Orcs capable of sneaking up on elven or human encampments. Then again, as near as he knew, Cordoc’s tribe had not had any run-in with either humans or elves for a long time; from before he was born.
Still, other surrounding tribes did occasionally make raids, and Birro had no assurance the knowledge would not spread to the other tribes. Something else to put aside until another time.
And then he heard it. It was faint, but unmistakable . . . a Goblin call. It expertly mimicked a local bird, but Birro’s ear picked up the difference in the high tones. Tones Goblins could not duplicate.
He tapped Cordoc in the shoulder with his bow, motioning to get low as he made the motion to keep quiet with his other hand.
As Cordoc squatted, Birro whispered, “Goblins”.
Cordoc looked around, trying to both spot the others and spy the Goblins.
Borag and the other two were lost in the vegetation, but Birro could hear them to his right.
“There,” he pointed with his bow as he whispered, “Borag and the others are in that direction. They are making a lot of noise.”
That was not strictly true; they were making a lot of noise for Birro’s hearing, practically blaring their position to any nearby elf, but were relatively quiet by Orc and Goblin standards.
With those words, Cordoc stealthily moved toward where Birro had pointed. Or, what passed for stealthily in the Orc’s world.
Within a few heartbeats Birro could no longer see him, but he heard Cordoc move through the brush, and occasionally saw branches move.
The next Goblin call was much closer. Too close, and answered by three other calls. The Goblins were all around Birro and the Orcs, and not in small numbers.
Birro melted into the brush, waiting.
Two groups of at least ten Goblins each moved parallel to each other, one of the groups passing within a bow-length of Birro’s position. He wanted to warn the others, but doing so would expose his own position. He could maybe take three or four Goblins, especially if they were a bit farther away and he could bring his bow to bear before resorting to close-quarter fighting. But twenty Goblins or so where a bit outside his abilities.
“Perhaps if I were Malor.” The unbidden thought came without rancor, but was immediately followed by the familiar bitterness and resentment.
“You can only be what you are, and that can be as great or as small as you decide.” His mother’s words also came unbidden, and surprised him. She had spoken those words more than eight summers past, as he was struggling in school. She had never repeated them, but apparently stress triggered the memory.
Birro again cleared his head of everything but awareness of the present. He noticed the breeze, he heard the movement of Goblin and Orc, he remembered the path he had followed here, remembered hiding places he had not consciously noticed, strategic ground from which to launch an attack, and other ground perfect for defense. In his mental map he marked the trees he could easily climb, and those that would offer hiding places as well as an advantage for someone with a bow and arrows.
He marveled at all that . . . all those years spent studying, and never really understanding the depth of his learning.
Birro moved, making for a tree that offered both sufficient cover and was easy to climb. He glided silently along what must have been the path a boar had used to forage, nearing his target. He smelled it before he saw it. A Goblin rear guard, squatting by the trunk of a fallen tree.
Birro did not act consciously, and without even breaking stride shouldered his bow as he drew one of his swords. As he got close he changed to a two handed grip, and flat-swung the sword. The head of the Goblin teetered for a few moments before falling to the side. Birro grabbed the lifeless body to keep it from dropping, and gently leaned it against the trunk.
He reached his tree and climbed up, settling on a sturdy branch. It took him a few moments to survey the scene.
The Goblins had set a trap ahead of the Orcs, now being pushed by the two groups that had passed by Birro’s position. The two groups were purposefully noisy so as to direct the Orc toward their waiting comrades.
Birro heard the Goblin call from the pursuing group. He heard one answer come from a nearby tree. The Goblins also had a lookout. It took two other calls for Birro to pinpoint the lookout.
The Orcs were nearing the point where they would have no escape. Birro grabbed two arrows, notching one and holding the other for a quick reload of his bow. He might not be all elf, but he did not need to split an arrow in two. He just needed to hit a Goblin in the chest, and that he could easily do.
His closest threat would go first, and then one of the goblins waiting in ambush, serving as a warning to Cordoc and the others.
He steadied his breathing, drew back, his forearm as if an extension of the arrow, and at maximum draw, let go. He did not watch the arrow; he was already drawing on his next target. The first Goblin hit the ground just as the second arrow pierced the most forward of the Goblins waiting in ambush. At the same time Birro yelled out as loud as he could.
“Ambush! Ahead of you! Ambush!”
Nearly thirty Goblins jumped up ahead of the Orcs, yelling, screaming, and throwing knives and axes even as they charged. Most were poorly thrown, but a few did hit. One of the Orcs went down, and Birro could not be sure as to which as the scene became one of swinging swords, thrusting lances, and bodies.
Birro let go four more arrows, each finding their mark, before noticing one of the two groups that had passed him earlier was now making its way back to his position.
He took one last look, and saw what appeared to be nets being thrown by the Goblins. Two of the Orcs, one that Birro was sure was Cordoc, were already entangled under two separate nets. Running out of time, Birro descended the tree, breaking into a run just as the lead Goblin came out of the brush, not two bow-lengths from the base of the tree. The Goblin yelled and gave chase.
Birro knew he needed some distance between him and the pursuing Goblins if he was to have any chance or survival.
A small ax flew by his head, landing on the ground ahead of him. Birro launched into a dive, doubled over at the last moment, rolled, and came up with the ax in hand, his arm already in a throwing position. He threw the ax, his hands immediately drawing his swords.
The closet Goblin avoided the ax, but he had not been the target; the Goblin behind him, the one with a bow, took the ax squarely in his chest. He dropped right in front of the rest of the group, tangling them up in a messy and angry pile.
Birro meanwhile had parried the sword of the lead Goblin while on the run, and as he charged back past him, he sliced Goblin’s abdomen open with his other sword. Without stopping, he launched himself at the group just now untangling themselves from each other.
Elven blades cut through tissue and bone with little effort, and Birro knew how to use them effectively. Two of the Goblins died on the spot, and three others were mortally wounded and screaming. The whirling blades sent the remaining three Goblins running.
Birro did not pursue. He cut to his left, following a natural drain to a drop-off into a stream, and sprinted not away from the larger group he could hear yelling as they got closer, but at an angle toward it. There was a steeper drainage ditch up ahead that would allow him to keep below ground level and turn away from the Goblins.
He beat them to the turn by a good number of heartbeats. He slowed, looking for the fallen tree he had spied from his earlier perch. Finding it, he literally embedded himself in the tangle of roots, drawing the smaller roots as a curtain in front of him, and he stilled his breath.
The looked for him, but never came close to his hiding place.
At nightfall, the forest’s daylight noise replaced by the scurrying of nocturnal creatures, Birro moved. He smelled the air, he listened intently, moving small distances, each time smelling the air and listening for any sounds that did not belong.
He made his way to the ambush site. One dead Orc had been butchered for the meat, making Birro queasy at the sight. He could not tell who it was. He tried to read the tracks as his human trainers had taught him, but starlight was barely enough to navigate the forest, and not enough for proper tracking.
He did step on something, and when he moved the leaves and mud that had been covering it, he saw the ornamental knife Cordoc had been carrying. It was a fine elvish blade, and Birro guessed it had been the blade Cierva had worn when she’d been taken. Birro cleaned it, and stuck it in the empty sheath of his right boot. Still shy of sixteenth summer, Birro had not received his namesake blade yet.
He hoped he would make it to see his sixteenth summer, and most of all he hoped to live to see Fevlyn, even as he would hate to be the bearer of news of this dark and sordid deed.
Birro located most of the Goblins he had shot, and retrieved all but one arrow, the one of his first victim. He had passed by the lookout’s tree on his way here, but the body was gone. Goblins did not retrieve their dead; perhaps an animal, larger than Birro was comfortable thinking about, must have dragged the body away.
He left the place, making his way to a hollow he had noticed early in the day. Dry leaves gathered there, blown by the winds, and made for both a comfortable and secluded place to get some sleep. The morning light would offer more opportunity to determine what happened to the remaining Orcs.
~ ~ o ~ ~
Birro woke just as the morning twilight struggled against the lingering shadows of the forest. Once again, before moving, Birro smelled, listened, concentrated on everything that surrounded him. Only then did he make his way back to the ambush site.
An assortment of bugs, birds, and small scavengers had the Orc carcass nearly cleared out. Something larger had obviously taken part of it into the bush, so there was not much left to identify.
Birro walked in ever expanding circles until he reached the perimeter of the clearing. He then looked at the whole scene. Two Orcs had been captured. One Orc had fought his way out, leaving Goblin bodies littering his escape trail. But there was other blood along the trail as well.
Cautiously, he followed the trail. Move, smell, listen.
He heard the labored breathing before he saw the wounded Orc.
The Orc had his eyes closed as Birro stepped into the ditch where Borag had taken refuge. A gash on his side was still lightly bleeding, and one of his arms was obviously broken.
Birro said the name softly, but the Orc was still startled, and raised his good arm, sword in hand. It was a token movement only; Borag did not have the strength to lift the heavy sword.
“Half-elf,” Borag smiled as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, a smile crossing his lips as he spoke. “I still have all my toes.”
He coughed before continuing.
“Can’t say much for the rest of me.”
Birro knelt by the Orc, gently moving his sword arm aside. He examined the wounds and checked for more broken bones. The arm was the only thing that appeared broken.
“I’m going to set this, but it will hurt . . .”
“Half-elf,” Borag replied, “you do what you must.”
“It would be best if you do not scream like a little piglet.”
Borag raised his head, looked at Birro, and then smiled.
Birro went in search of a particular tree and two other plants. He came back to Borag with a makeshift container full of a milk-like sap, and a number or crushed leaves.
He went to gather some water, and when he had everything, he started by washing Borag’s wounds. Once he was satisfied they were as clean as he could get them, he applied the sap on the wound, followed by the crushed leaves, and finishing with a mud pack. Birro removed his hunting jacket, cutting it to ribbons and using it to bandage the dressing in place. He tied a couple of the longer strips together to make a sling for the broken arm.
He had to use his whole weight and brace with his feet to straighten the arm and set the bone, and to his credit, Borag only grunted twice, but did not scream like a little piglet. Birro cut a few branches to make splints which he tied to the arm, and then helped Borag get his arm on the sling.
All the while they kept a running conversation. Cordoc and the other Orc, Dugort, had been captured. This was unusual. Goblins butchered their captives and only carried the meat. Whatever reason the Goblins had, the two Orcs were wanted alive.
“It seems odd,” Birro said.
“That was a large organized hunting party,” Birro answered. “It’s unlikely they were in the area hunting, not with that many individuals. That was either a raiding party we chanced upon, or . . .” Birro hesitated.
“. . . or they were hunting for us. More specifically, you. No one knew I was going to join, and I would be of little significance to Goblins.”
Birro finished settling the arm in the sling as he spoke.
Borag put his good hand on Birro’s shoulder, looking at him right in the eyes.
“You are of significance to Fevlyn. And you are of significance to me.”
Borag grasped Birro’s forearm, with Birro doing the same with Borag’s forearm. Well, as much as he could grab. They shook, in elven fashion, as Borag continued.
“Thank you, Birro. I hope to one day repay you.”
“Nothing you would not have done for me.” Birro replied.
“Do not discount your deeds,” Borag said, “they speak to who you are.”
They broke their grip as Birro asked something else that was nagging at him.
“You’re more articulate than most Orcs, certainly more than Cordoc. Why is that?”
“Lady Cierva,” replied Borag, “she holds classes for those who want to learn reading and writing. Speaking, too.”
“A remarkable lady,” Birro commented.
“News of her Cordoc’s fate will break her heart,” Borag tone surprised Birro, as he had never known Orc to express such depth of feelings. Then again, he did not know many Orcs.
“About that,” Birro replied, “that raiding party is not going to be moving in the daytime; too much danger of being spotted. They will be moving at night, so they are not that many hours ahead of us.”
Birro stood, slinging his bow on his shoulder.
“I aim to go after them.”
“I can still fight . . .”
“No,” Birro interrupted, “you can’t keep up. I’ll get you some food, and when you can, go get help. You are closer to my home than yours. Here,” Birro drew one of his swords, offering it to Borag, “approach holding this by the blade, holding the hilt upright in front of you. They should not shoot you until you had your say.”
“Well,” Birro answered, “I can’t predict the future. However, two things; when you see the three hills in a row,” Birro pointed in the direction he meant Borag to follow, “start calling out the name Fietos, as loud and clear as you can. He is my father. Tell him all you know, and have him send word to Lady Cierva and Fevlyn. And second, wrap something around the blade when you hold it, or you will lose some fingers.”
“Elkspeed, Birro, and be careful.”
Birro did not answer, as he was already running through the forest.
~ ~ 0 ~ ~
Cordoc looked at Dugort. The wounds had been hastily patched, as his own had been. It made no sense. By all rights they should be dead and half-eaten. But this was obviously not a hunting party. Rather, this hunting party had been specifically hunting for them. He looked around. He counted twenty seven Goblins. There would have been a lot more had it not been for Birro sounding the alarm, giving the Orcs enough warning to lay waste to a number of the attackers. Still, Zerag had fallen, and last he saw of Borag, he was wounded and had five Goblins after him.
He was most impressed with the tales some of the surviving Goblins had to tell. Tales of a wild man-elf. If they were to be believed, and he had no reason to doubt them, Birro had killed at least six Goblins out right, with two more succumbing to their wounds. And that was not counting the ones he shot with the arrows that seemed to come from nowhere and find their mark.
Dugort coughed, a little blood shooting out along with the air.
Cordoc knew better than to ask for help or even draw attention to himself and his wounded friend. Still, it was obvious they wanted them alive. He decided to take the chance, and called out.
“My friend needs help.” Cordoc words carried across the small camp, and reached the apparent leader of this group. It was an older Goblin, something rarely seen, as Goblins lead short and violent lives.
The old Goblin had some skills. They had traveled at night, and even had the group deploy both a front and rear guard to constantly scout for potential threats. Their progress was slow, but sure. In the early morning they had found a thick patch of woods, and rested in deep concealment. Now nearing evening twilight, they once more prepared to move, and calls went out to recall the scouts augmenting the perimeter guards.
The old Goblin rose, and came to stand in front of the two Orcs. Without a word, he drew his sword and killed Dugort.
Cordoc scream of rage drew him a violent kick to his side.
“We only need you alive.” The words offered by the Goblin held the implied promise that was not necessarily anything written in stone.
“Why me?” Cordoc asked.
That drew another kick, but also an answer of sorts.
“You angered someone. You’ll be made into an example so none will follow your path.”
The sun was setting, and the patrols returned. Almost. Three of the scouts and one of the outer perimeter guards did not return. The camp was suddenly on alert, and a new perimeter was established within sight lines.
The old Goblin waited to see if more would return, but eventually gave orders to break camp. They traveled fast, the Goblins taking turns helping Cordoc keep up the pace, sometimes prodding him with pointed knives.
They kept as close a formation as the woods would allow. It was a good strategy, except that when they stopped at dawn’s light three more Goblins were missing.
The Goblins were on edge, crouching behind any cover they could find, and wildly looking around.
The old Goblin shouted orders, pointing to various places and telling the eight archer to shoot at anything that moved. He ordered a group of six to patrol the perimeter, and had to nearly beat two of the Goblins before they obeyed.
Only five returned. None had seen the sixth one being taken, and none heard anything.
“You are being hunted.” Cordoc made his voice carry, setting everyone into a near frenzy of looking around and scurrying for cover.
The old Goblin looked at Cordoc. He looked around the surrounding forest, doing a complete turn before looking downhill once more.
“Can you hear me?” he yelled out.
After a long pause, the answer seemed to come from various places.
“You’re in my woods. You are not welcome here.”
One of the archers let go of an arrow, and a moment later a returning arrow embedded in his chest, felling him on the spot.
Cordoc recognized Birro’s voice, even as it sounded deeper and with a slight echo.
“You are the man-elf, are you not?” the Goblin asked.
He then drew his sword and placed it on Cordoc neck.
“One more Goblin dies and I will kill your friend.”
Another pause, and this time the voice came from the side of the entrenched group, closer, but still not pinpointing the location of the speaker.
“No Orc or Goblin is a friend of mine.”
As the echo of the last word ended, an arrow flew from the forest and struck Cordoc’s upper right chest. He let go an involuntary grunt, but otherwise did not yell out.
The arrow had missed bones, was clear of the lungs, and had gone clear through, embedding itself on the tree Cordoc was leaning against. The back half protruded from Cordoc’s chest; it was clearly one of Birro’s arrows.
Perhaps because of the existing wounds and aches, it did not seem all that painful.
This time the archers were ready, letting go a arrow after arrow in the direction the arrow had come from.
“Stop wasting your arrows!” yelled the old Goblin.
The old goblin looked around, as if trying to strip the protecting foliage, before yelling out.
“I think you are lying,” he said as he raised the sword, “and the Orc will pay . . .” He did not finish. An arrow pierced his eye and exited from the back of his head with enough speed to strike another Goblin in the stomach.
The small encampment reacted in a panic, everyone running in the direction opposite from where the arrow had come from.
Within a short while, the forest was still.
A few moment later Birro appeared.
“You shot me!” Cordoc said.
“It’s all I could think of to keep from killing you.”
“You could have shot him first!”
“I didn’t know what the other would do. Killing the leader is never a good idea if you don’t know the enemy well enough.” Birro broke the shaft of the arrow in Cordoc’s chest, and then helped the Orc lean forward, extricating him from the arrow still embedded in the trunk.
“I thought the bluff might work and give me more time.”
Cordoc Grunted as Birro cut his bonds.
“What if I had moved?”
Birro did not look up as he answered.
“Then I would have been very cross, and would explain to Fevlyn that it was your fault you died.”
Cordoc grunted in response. Birro was not adept at interpreting Orc’s grunts, but hoped it was in approval at his attempt at humor.
“We need to move,” he continued, “I hear them regrouping. Another would-be leader is taking charge.”
Their ridiculous size differential aside, Birro’s help did make it easier for Cordoc to stand, and they left the small clearing for the relative safety of the forest.
~ ~ 0 ~ ~
Birro’s keen hearing and a gentle breeze helped he and Cordoc evade the Goblins. Whoever this new leader was, he had some skill in tracking, and was not fooled by a couple of false trails Birro left.
Then again, it was rather easy tracking an Orc that was wounded and could hardly walk.
Twice Birro left Cordoc and went out on his own, but each time he returned in a hurry, urging them to move.
“They are traveling in a tight groups; there’s no way I can pick them off, and they can move faster than we can.” The truth of their situation remained unspoken. By mid-afternoon they were barely keeping ahead of the hunting party.
“You should have left me there with them; you would be able to move around freely.”
Cordoc’s speech was a bit more labored. Birro had patched up the arrow wound and a few other cuts, but Cordoc had lost a fair amount of blood from his previous wounds. The little water they could find was not enough, and the lack of food was taking its toll.
“At some point someone would have realized you are important to me.”
Cordoc looked at the young man-elf.
“Fevlyn would not blame you for my death, and neither would Cierva,” he said, as he lowered himself to the ground, and leaned on a trunk of a tree. “Go; save yourself.”
“I,” Birro answered. “I would blame myself.”
With those words Birro withdrew the dagger from his booth, and handed it to Cordoc. “I’m bringing this back to Lady Cierva with you holding it.”
Cordoc’s eyes grew as he recognized what was being handed him. He grasped the dagger tight. “Thank you, but . . . you must go.”
Birro had been listening, and had heard insects and bug go silent. The wave of silence was coming closer. Soon he heard the furtive steps of the Goblins. He had but a few moments to spare.
He stood, looking around. This was a singularly bad place to make a stand. The small clearing they were in offered no protection, no place from which to strike, no shelter from arrows. He should have been more attentive of their surroundings.
“Go!” insisted Cordoc, “live to fight another day!”
The steps were really close now, and Birro reluctantly sprinted for the edge of the clearing. Almost too late as a couple of arrows flew past him, and one embedded in his quiver. He risked a glance back; Goblins were spilling into the clearing, bows drawn, and swords at the ready.
He cut left, and then doubled back, taking a wide circle. He stopped when he heard the Goblin call out.
Birro did not have another piece to bark nearby to help him diffuse his voice. He listened intently, but no Goblins were making their way toward him.
“What do you want?” he answered. He spoke into his hands as if yelling at the ground. Not as good for masking the source of his voice, but it would have to do.
“You won’t fool us again. Surrender or we will kill your friend.”
“You need to deliver him alive or you would have already killed him.” Birro hoped that was indeed the case.
“That may be so, but on the other hand we can’t deliver him if we all die trying to keep him alive.”
This Goblin was no idiot. Since when had they been breeding smarter Goblins, Birro wondered?
“You’re just going to kill me. I see no reason to surrender.” Birro changed his position as soon as he finished talking, but when he stopped again he could hear no movement in the brush. They did not risk coming after him in the dense undergrowth.
“Trust me, man-elf, our employers will want you alive as much as they want this Orc,” replied the Goblin, “and we can charge an extra fee for your capture. Surrender, and neither of you will die by our hand.”
Birro did not answer. Try as he might, he could not think of anyone who would be interested in him personally. He was not even a full-fledged . . .
The realization struck him as if someone had slapped him. It was because he was a half-breed that they would want him. The old Goblin had said Cordoc was going to be made into an example. They probably did not approve of Cordoc taking an elf as mate, and considered Fevlyn an aberration, a sin against the order of things. Someone, or someones, did not like half-breeds.
Despite his situation, Birro felt tremendous shame and regret for his inability to accept himself; to be who he was. It took someone else’s hatred directed at him to make Birro realize the folly of his own self-hatred.
“Man-elf, time is running out. What do you say? Or, do you want to see the head of this Orc fly into the air?”
Birro had already moved closer. He only had one arrow left, and he could see two Goblins with their swords on Cordoc’s neck.
He threw his bow ahead of him, along with his sword, and stepped into the clearing.
All the archers swung their bows toward him. Birro hoped none of them would tire and accidentally let an arrow fly.
No one moved.
Birro turned his head toward the sound his fine hearing had picked up. Something was moving fast through the brush, and coming right at him. He could not be sure until he caught a glimpse of the fast-moving shape.
And then everything happened at once. The sound of arrows was in the air, and Goblins ended up with three or more arrows in each of them, with at least one in the head and one in the heart. The now dead archers had let their arrows fly just as Fevlyn crashed into the opening, knocking Birro well clear of them.
By the time Birro recovered, Fevlyn was helping him up, Lady Cierva was helping Cordoc to his feet, and his mother and father stepped into the clearing even as more elves and Orcs stepped out from the surrounding vegetation. Before Birro’s parents could reach him, Malor appeared at his side, folded his arms, and began scolding him.
“I got a bone to pick with you! As eldest son I’m supposed to draw blood before you. We have a ceremony for that, and everything. And what, fifteen, twenty Goblins? Where am I going to find that many Goblins to kill?”
His scowl broke into a grin, and gave Birro a crushing hug, whispering in his ear, “Don’t ever worry me like that again, brother.”
Malor let him go and stepped aside, letting their mother give Birro another crushing hug. As he hugged back, Birro saw Borag limp into the clearing.
Birro looked up as his father approached. He gently disengaged from his mother, and stood upright in front of his father.
“I’m sorry father, I . . .”
Before Birro could continue, Fietos held his hand up. Birro held his tongue.
Fietos cleared his throat, and Birro knew all eyes were on them.
“I struck a bargain with a young lady,” Fietos said as Fevlyn came to stand next to Birro, taking his hand into hers, “were we to find you unharmed, she would take care of scolding you for risking your life instead of getting help . . . as well as thanking you for saving her father’s life.”
“Well done son,” Fietos said, extending his hand, “we are all very proud of you.”
Fevlyn let go of his hand as Birro ignored the extended hand, and instead stepped forward to hug his father.
Never again in his long life would Birro fail to be anything but proud of his mixed heritage.
The End . . . for now
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