NOT THE HERO'S WAY
here is no greater burden than duty. Our greatest obligations are sometimes our greatest obstacles.”
-Dygan Heartswind, on duty
“Alright,” Dygan stated, observing the setting sun, “let’s find a place to set up camp.” It had been two days since they had crossed the southern borders of the Tandala, and they hadn’t seen so much as a lonely orc. Once they had settled upon a spot, Beyar, Wesel, and Vlock went to pitching the tent while Thorag and Dygan saw to the supplies. A plain routine, one that had gone on ever since the journey started.
When the three men had finished, Dygan had already built a fire, and the company sat around it for warmth, eating dried beef and other rations they had purchased days before. “Come on, pup, and get that fire up higher. Can’t expect us to march on empty stomachs, can ye?” Thorag made sure to point out. He still wasn’t very confident in a barely mature human boy to lead a group, but he kept it at low grumbling and slight criticism at best.
With the hurried pace that he had been going at, Dygan barely had time to reflect upon his companions. Now that he really had nothing to do, he entertained thoughts about his comrades at arms. Thorag was pretty straightforward it seemed: a dwarf who loved the simple things, namely battle, drinking, and songs about both. When they stopped at a small village about five or six days ago, he had the entire tavern singing “Ale, ale, jolly good ale/Oh, pour it fine and free…” all the way down to “wine, wine,...” before they were too drunk to think of a drink that started with X. Dygan didn’t doubt that he could, for he recited everything from common brews Dygan could find at any inn, to strange dwarven brews with names Dygan had a hard time pronouncing. Thorag was amusing, despite his abrasive nature, at least when he was singing in his hearty, deep voice that could hold notes about as well as Vlock could.
Dygan found Vlock just odd, even past the fact that he couldn’t speak. He only communicated in gestures like pointing, while more complex things he just did and Dygan guessed along the way. Vlock was the only one who did not come up to the warmth of the campfire, instead he was sitting cross-legged in darkness, hands on his spear. Whenever Dygan wanted to see what was his train of thought, Vlock just ignored him. Probably because he never could talk to anyone. That must be quite lonesome.
Anick, although a little more than half the height of Dygan, still pulled his weight. He was always happy around meal times, and had an appetite that equaled any normal sized man. He never talked about his life, probably because he dealt in so many matters that weren’t quite… legal. Often when camping he would just sit by the fire, smoking a pipe and letting the odorous curls relax him. “Dygan, you’re too uptight for a young human, you need to calm down and relax,” Anick had said on more than one occasion. As laid back as he was, Dygan was amazed that he even bothered to stay with this trip at all, but Anick just smiled and said, “Go back to boredom? Never!” Even right now, he traded bawdy jokes with Beyar, much to the dismay of Wesel and his high morals. Dygan refrained from listening in to Anick’s story-joke of a “well-traveled wench”. As a leader, he needed to show signs of maturity, and even if he failed in all other attempts, he would act like a decent man should.
Laslo, the bookish mercenary, always seemed to be reading when they stopped for anything at all. He was thin, ash-haired, and had a small beard on his chin that came down to a point. He wore a simple brown robe, completely bare of any sort of markings. Laslo seldom paid heed to any person, engrossing himself in his books. Apparently, he was researching ancient history and culture, and poured himself in to history tome and ancient literature alike. Occasionally, he would pipe up from his thoughts, but those comments were scarcely useful, being small questions like “When’s dinner?” or “Who’s on watch?” Yet there was something about him that Dygan couldn’t quite perceive. Something that could be very important, or it seemed to be anyway.
Beyar was very sure of himself, almost to the point of arrogance. The sailor was built solidly, with wild, dirty blond hair and beard. He spoke in a hearty voice, thick with an unfamiliar accent. He always told Dygan of his exploits at sea, tackling the rough waves on the ship Skirmish. The tales of far-off lands thrilled him, because these were places men had been. Where he lacked in the speechcraft of Melrous, these were not tales of fiction. Beyar had actually been to these places and had done these things, or so he claimed, and Dygan so no reason not to believe him. Beyar never said about how he lost his occupation as a sailor, but Dygan didn’t care. He was welcome to have Beyar as part of his company. He was able-bodied and confidant, indeed a worthy traveling companion.
Wesel was similar to Beyar in many respects physiologically, but in regards to their personality, they were complete opposites. Wesel was always polite and soft-spoken, in stark contrast to Beyar’s rough-and-tumble attitude, dialogue loaded with colorful expletives. The admirer of the White Order always gave Dygan advice, advice that led to the “honorable path”, as Wesel frequently mentioned. He was, however, no Melrous. He didn’t have an answer to every question, instead trusting in himself and the Gods to do what was right. As kind as he was, Dygan couldn’t relate to him. His driving curiosity to find the answer to the questions of Gods and fate was nothing that no man could put aside. At best, Dygan could trick his mind into not thinking about it, the way Melrous did when Dygan first brought him up.
Wesel’s female companion, Evie del’Tarin, was a human with a sweet face and caring eyes. Constantly smiling, even when she was close to dropping from weariness, she brightened the dispositions of the group with her sheer presence. From the tip of her nut-colored hair to her light boots, she seemed like a delicate glass ornament. She was not a jaw-dropping attractive beauty, but had a cute, innocent appeal that few would not find pacifying. She spoke in high tones, and put all of her effort into this ‘shadow jump’ that Beyar had dubbed it. However, it was apparent that she, like Dygan, had trouble keeping up. At camp, she could not hide her fatigue, and often collapsed with weariness, sitting down with a muffled moan at her exhaustion when the group finally stopped. For the first few times that this had happened, Dygan often argued Evie’s place in the group with Wesel, saying she wasn’t at all fit for this type of work. Wesel, however, said that Evie had her place, and she would fulfill her duty when the time came.
If the time came, Dygan thought bitterly. This entire trip was a complete waste of time and money. The highlands were rougher terrain, but it was no more dangerous than anything else than Dygan had accomplished. Even leaving home was more dangerous. He ran the risk of freezing and starving then. Now, with well-stocked provisions, a decent tracker in Anick, warmth, and companions, it had seemed like it was no more than a continuation of his journey with Melrous, except the quick-witted bard was not there to offer his wise counsel.
Dygan sat by himself upon the snowy earth. Despite the danger that the winter wilderness provided, the young man felt peace in it. In the way that it was able to constantly pull Dygan’s mind from his problems. Nature, a force so beyond his comprehension, one that he always felt so small against in comparison.
“Lost in thoughts again, young Dygan?” Wesel asked him.
“Hmm…?” Dygan shook himself out from his deep introspection. “Fleeing from them, actually. I’m sorry, Wesel. I should have found something more concrete than this. I think I’ve squandered your valuable time.”
“The problem with adventure is that you can’t go out and look for it. Melrous told me that once. But neither can you expect it to jump into your outstretched arms. But I sense you have other troubles.” Wesel paused, “You’ve been remarkably silent this entire journey. Perhaps I can help you shed some light upon this situation. I cannot offer the advice befitting of a wise man, but sometimes a simple answer is all men need.”
“I’m sorry. But I will not speak of them now. I feel that I’ve been too free with them already. And I have found no peace with others.” Dygan was not won over by Wesel’s words.
“That bad?” Wesel took a seat next to Dygan.
“You can’t understand. Please don’t try and reach for the unreachable.”
“Better to try and reach something.”
Dygan stopped and thought about that for a second. “No, because all you reach is disappointment.” Dygan quickly stood up and walked quickly away.
Wesel started to go over after him, but Beyar laid his thick hand upon his shoulder. “Let th’boy be…He be needin’ time to work its all out. Can’t ‘pect him jest to drop his trebbles like’n anchor, ye gets it?”
“Such anguish…I only wish I was there was something that I could do to aid him.” Wesel sympathized.
“Best thing ye can be doing is stayin’ out. Plus dat soft comfortin’ boo-hoo Eyasha-huggin’ stuff’s fer girls and grannies…you be a man and let th’boy sort it all out and don’t give it no second thought.”
Wesel stopped, “Don’t insult my beliefs.”
Beyar scoffed, “Whatever ye say.”
Dygan had to get away from Wesel. Even with his good intentions, he would not be able to understand, and he had already been too forward with Melrous, kind as though he was.
Dygan started to turn, but instead caught a painful crude arrow in his right forearm, clearly striking Dygan’s back had he not turned. “Aaagh,” Dygan screamed in pain and fell to the earth. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The pain filled him, like his blood was on fire, each pulse a nightmarish existence. He turned his head, trying to get some clear look at his assailant.
It was tall, muscular, and stank of unwashed flesh. In the darkness, Dygan couldn’t make out any details. Whatever the attacker was, it raised a slightly dulled blade. In an instant, Dygan heard a thud, and a squish sound, and the creature bent slightly forward at the belly. It then fell over, a long shaft sticking out of his back.
In its place was a dark, but human figure. It drew the shaft out of the creature and looked down at Dygan. Soon, Dygan felt himself lifted up and slung over the human’s back, and the human started walking. In the dim light, Dygan hoped that it was Vlock, ever the silent guardian, coming to save him. That was his last thought before darkness crept into Dygan’s mind, and the world of the conscious drifted away from him.
He was drifting, as if floating on his back down a river. The world was black, and he couldn’t move, just slowly coast as if caught by a slight current. The pain from his forearm was gone, as if it had never been.
What’s going on? He tried to say, but his mouth wouldn’t cooperate. Am I? No, no I’m not going to die! I still have so much to do. No, not dying yet…please.
A flash of light briefly flashed, and the pain suddenly hit him again. There was the pain from the arrow, no longer sharp and cruel, but dull and cutting, bringing a new agony with every beat of his heart. His head, too, felt hot, as if his something inside his mind was building a house at the inside of his skull with an extra-hard hammer. All in all, Dygan felt like he was thrown out of a wagon, only to tumble into the bottom of a ravine.
He couldn’t see very well, and all he could make out was a blurry shape moving past another blurry shape. His head still didn’t want to move, and he was really in too much pain to speak. He let his eyes close again, and the light in the darkness diminished.
After he had regained some more energy and sense, he tried opening his eyes again. Still, nothing was definite, but the shapes were clearer, as blurry shapes went. Gradually, as his eyes got used to the light, things became clearer, and solid. He was in a structure of some sort, like a tent. The blurry shapes were people, but he couldn’t see them well enough to see if they were his friends.
It would take many minutes, but finally he could see them. They weren’t the people he knew. The two occupants, both with their backs turned to him, looked the same. They were tall and slim, in a build similar to Dygan’s. They wore loose, camouflaging clothing; garments that looked both elegant and functional.
“You’re awake? If you can understand me, say yes. Or make some sort of noise if you can’t string words together yet,” the first one said in a smooth voice, dismissing the second with a wave of his hand.
“I think I’m fine… yes,” Dygan answered.
“Good. How do you feel?” the first occupant asked, still with his back turned.
“Like I’ve been rolled around on a bed of nails.”
“You were hit by an orc archer. We had run across a band of well-organized orcs, and we caused enough chaos for them to spread. One seemed to have found you.”
Dygan tried to lift himself up to a sitting position, no small feat when one arm was recovering from an arrow the night before. The young boy had gained enough sense to realize that it was morning.
“First time you’ve experienced such an injury, I am guessing. Your body was not used to the sudden pain and you must have fallen unconscious.”
His eyes were open fully now, though his mind was still a little lethargic. Dygan suddenly felt something… missing. He laid his hand down on the ground by his right hip and found something, or rather, did not find it.
“My… my… sword. Where is it?” he asked, a slight tone of panic in his voice.
“Right here, but I don’t think you realize the significance of this.” Dygan saw the sword of Flisgard Naronell, held tightly in a slender hand.
“It was my…adopted father’s, and now it’s mine,” Dygan spoke, all weariness out of his voice now. The pain in his head was replaced by a sudden rage. “It belongs to me and I want it back!” he finished with a snap.
“You should be more civil. We could have left you bleeding your life out,” Dygan’s keeper quickly retorted.
“Saving a life doesn’t mean taking another man’s prized possessions.”
“I can see why it has a hold on you. Do you know what this blade is?”
“Yes… it’s mine. Give it back!”
“Calm yourself… it shall be returned to you. Just relax… young one. This blade is named Or'injèrá, Does that mean anything to you?”
Dygan had no idea what Or-whatever even meant. “No.”
His ‘gracious’ host shook his head. “That means you can’t speak my tongue.” He finally turned around and Dygan saw that it was no human. He was slimmer than a normal man, with high cheekbones and long, ginger-colored hair that reached past his shoulders. But there was something about him… foreign and mysterious. A feeling unlike any he had ever seen before. This told Dygan as much as he needed… he was an elf. He knew about elves, of course, but he had never seen one in person. “By your surprise, it would not be a foolish guess to say this is the first time you have seen an… elf, I believe you call us? Strange term. We prefer to call ourselves the Styrosín.”
“I must still be dreaming.”
“Those words are not far from the truth, but you are not the one who is dreaming. It is She who is still dreaming, and in her Dream gives us substance. As you live in other worlds in your Dreams, so Her Dream gives us our world.”
“Well, you talk in circles like an el… a Styrosín.” Dygan wisely caught himself.
“A Styrós”, the elf corrected him. “You don’t know a lot about the Styrásh tongue, don’t you? Your mispronunciation somewhat muddles our language, but the thought is appreciated. Next time, do not associate it with an ugly stereotype. Now, back to this weapon that you claim is yours…” the elf began.
“It is mine!” Dygan interrupted.
“And what ownership do you hold on it?”
“It was given to me by my foster father. It was his dying wish! Give it back!”
“I see…” the elf closed his eyes for a second. “You are unaware of the treasure that this weapon is. Do you know nothing of your own human history?”
“I would listen to stories of ages long past… I know all about the Dragonstorm, and the Two Sarvonian Wars.” Dygan seemed very proud of himself.
“I see… Just like humans, remembering wars, death and destruction, but nothing else. That Dragonstorm you call it, that was thirteen hundred years ago, correct?”
“Yes… yes it was, I guess.” Dygan was unsure of where the elf was going.
“You know your dates, but I’m telling you that this weapon is older by far.” Dygan scoffed. “Do you know of the War of the Chosen?” the elf continued.
“Yes… a little. Something about powerful wizards and the war between them.”
“Very good… I tell you that this weapon is older than even that.”
“And I say that cannot possibly be true. Weapons would fall apart more than a hundred times over.”
The elf sighed. “You’re just a child. You can’t understand.”
Dygan was taken aback. “I’m young, yes… but I’m still a man. I’ll soon be 16 cirvles of age. I can hold a weapon and fight alongside my companions.”
“Impetuosity… a sign of youth. Would you like to hear the full story of Or'injèrá?”
“What choice do I have?” Dygan scoffed again.
The elf ignored him. “This weapon was forged ages ago, and it had a single purpose: to teach. It would instruct its wielder how to fight, and fight well. Have you had any experiences like that?”
Dygan thought for a second. “Once… no wait, twice. I heard a voice inside my head. It told me what to do.”
“Indeed… that was the Or'injèrá. You are the latest in a long line of wielders. Some of them were quite famous. Do you know of Korpicor of Voldar? Or of Karthach? You sure have heard of the legendary human king Thar, uniting the northern kingdoms. He also dictated the blade an heirloom of your human kingdom Tharania. There it remained until it was stolen only a few decades ago. It was never recovered. So you see, your claim of ownership means nothing. That is the problem with you humans. You in your impatience fail to see the larger picture. Even the kingdom of Tharania can’t claim this weapon. I doubt there are any living that can. The armor as well…” Dygan looked at himself to realize he was wearing his padded shirt, the Heartswind family armor strangely absent from covering it. “You took it as well?
Dygan was outraged.
“Again, it is not yours. I believe one of my people spoke to the human who claimed he owned it. His instructions were to keep it safe, for contained within it was the power to protect and guard.”
“All armor does that.”
“Did this same voice that instructed you to fight instruct you to take the armor?”
“Yes… yes I’m sure it did.” Dygan felt compelled to say.
“That is because they are drawn to one another. And there are two more out there as well, although I cannot tell you their locations. They defy any attempt to divine their location save one: two hands and two feet.”
“Look, this is all very well and good, but may I please,” Dygan put extra emphasis on being polite, “have my things back. They’re all I have left of my family.”
The elf thought for a second, “Normally, I would say no. But there’s something about your cár’all. You are Water, like most humans are… gentle rain or torrential flood. Such is a human’s nature. But yours is a powerful cár’all. I can sense it.”
“Cár... - what?”
“Never mind about that. Let me just say that there are great deeds ahead of you. Perhaps you will need the aid that these items can provide. So I am going to return them to you. Just remember what I have said.” He held Flisgard’s sword, Or'injèrá he called it, out in a friendly gesture. Dygan grasped the weapon, relief surging through his body.
“Your armor is right over there, and if you will stay still a moment, I can ease the pain in your head.” The elf spoke a few lines, and the swelling pain inside Dygan’s head lessened, until it was little more than a spot over the top of his head.
“You are well, young one. Ah, I did not ask you your name. I would ask it now, if you would be willing to give it.”
“I am Dygan… Dygan Heartswind. From Voldar.”
“Well then, Dygan Heartswind of Voldar. I’d give you my name, but I doubt you could pronounce it. However, you can call me friend, and I can do the same of you as well. And as a token of friendship and a honour to you cár’áll, I shall gift you with these.” He held a set of soft, sturdy boots, the top lined with fur to keep the foot warm and stones out. Just like the elf’s clothing, it was simple and graceful.
“Remember how I said there were more artifacts out in the world, similar to your Or'injèrá. This is one of them. You now have three of five, and the others may lie along your path.” The compelling feeling Dygan had felt when he had first laid eyes upon the Heartswind armor had come back, but it was not as strong, because the boots were freely given, or so Dygan guessed.
Was this elf telling the truth? What would Melrous think? He visualized the old man, twiddling his mustache and laughing his usual chuckle. “Melrous,” Dygan asked the man in his mind, “What should I do?”
“Everything falls into place…what he says makes sense. He answers things that remain unknown to you otherwise, and he’s never met you before. It’s sensible to say he’s being truthful…Heh, I wonder what did the Naronells teach you if not to be sensible.”
Dygan took them in his hand, and again, the compelling feeling dimmed to a surge of temporary completeness. “She may dream that you find the other two. Or She may not. I do not know the Dream. It is not for me to know.”
“That’s still very confusing.”
“She may dream of you as a hero, or She may not. It is all part of Her grand pattern.”
“These boots,” the elf continued, changing the topic, “will aid you in your journeys. However long your road, these boots will keep you on the path, and shall carry you there all the faster.”
“I… I have nothing to give you in return. If we return to my camp, I could try to find something.”
“I gifted them to you. I expect nothing in return save your gratitude.”
“That you have in abundance, my friend. Could I ask the way back to my camp? Although I enjoy your company, I fear the others are starting to worry.”
“Dygan,” Anick gasped as the boy walked into camp. “Bless it, you’re alive. It’d be a shame if my employer was killed or ran off before we had a chance for some loot… kidding, kidding. It’s good to see you’re all right.”
“I can’t believe it. The gods smile upon you,” Wesel was smiling broadly that Dygan had not met his unfortunate end. “Beyar, Thorag, and Vlock are searching for you. They should be back shortly. What happened? I heard you cry for help, but we couldn’t find anything.”
“Well, I was attacked by an orc and…”
“Wait, did you just say an orc?” Wesel asked with surprise.
“That’s what the elf had said.”
“Orcs? Elves? Are you sure you are not living some fever fantasy. Is your head alright?” Wesel was starting to think Dygan’s imagination had run away with him.
“I’m fine, Wesel. I really am. It’s all true.”
“Well, please continue and… wait… Movement in the bushes!” Wesel shouted out before an arrow struck at his feet. “Take cover!”
Dygan heard the guttural snarls in the foliage next to him. He drew Or'injèrá, the elven teaching sword. Another arrow flew into the camp, and Dygan charged where it had come from, blade leading the way. Before the orc could get another arrow nocked and ready, Dygan was upon, stabbing it in the chest and diving on top of it to take cover against any other orcs. Fortunately, none had fired in his direction, but three of the fiends had jumped out, with large axes in their muscular hands.
It looked bad. Their three best warriors were searching for Dygan, when he was already at the camp. Wesel and Dygan could fight, but he doubted Evie had a weapon besides a small knife. Anick was a halfling and didn’t look to terribly strong, and Laslo probably knew all fighting techniques to be learned from a book, but had no experience save that from a spectacular author.
Wesel drew his hammer, and grasped the shaft tightly. As he moved forward to protect the three in the camp, Dygan slowly inched closer to another orc archer, aiming his cruel arrows at the campsite. He went forward, slicing with the elegant elven weapon. The orc was able to get the arrow off, but as he turned, he could do nothing against the sword point along its deadly trajectory.
At the camp, Wesel squared off against one orc, and axe and hammer met face several times. The other orc approached. “Wesel,” Anick shouted before he threw a small knife, luckily catching the orc in the throat, dropping him in a moment that quite possibly saved the human’s life. The orc against Wesel gaped with surprise, and Wesel used the orc’s surprise to kick away its weapon and then bash the skull, sickening fluid spurting out from the crushing blows.
Three more orcs jumped out, all worry of killing the helpless party with arrows gone. However, they were met with a loud “Hurrah!” as Thorag and Beyar charged them, each taking their own target and using their practiced routines. Beyar dashed forward, catching the orc’s axe on the upswing and sharply bringing his sword down upon the orc’s head. Thorag, in contrast, got very close, and spun, using his shorter frame to keep the orc from achieving a solid hit. In that spin, his own axe gained enough momentum to lodge itself in the orc’s side. He wrestled it out and screamed a dwarven war cry, full of bloodlust. Vlock, swiftly and silently emerging, quickly jammed the rear end of his spear at the last orc, swinging the pole around to score another blow to the shoulder. But that was all a splendid setup for the killing thrust, when Vlock pierced through armor, flesh, and bone with enough force that the spear poked its jagged edge from the unfortunate orc’s back. It was over.
“Huh? Laslo!” Evie screamed out. Laslo had taken the last arrow shot in the side of the head, right behind the ear. All of his intelligence and wisdom did nothing to protect him from the beast’s physical arrow. He was still. “No…”
Dygan felt guilt rush over him like a tidal wave. He was the one that caused the warriors to leave. He couldn’t stop the orc from firing his last arrow. There was no one to blame but himself.
The remaining companions, stood around the body for a second, not saying a word. Some were no strangers to death, and they were not shaken with grief, but they did understand that a fallen comrade deserved a moment of silence. They could understand how the rest of the troupe, not as familiar with the loss of a companion, needed a moment to gather themselves.
Evie looked positively stricken, Anick held a sad expression while rubbing his hair, but the rest were as stone statues. Even Dygan, although none had known that for the recent time, death had come to Dygan is many forms.
It was Wesel who broke the silence. “We must bury him. It is only fitting that he be given a place of honor among these barbaric orcs.”
Although it took some time, the remaining companions erected a fitting resting place for the lover of lore. A pyramid of stones marked his grave, and Dygan guessed that Laslo would have been proud, even if his loyalty was toward coin, not to any cause.
“What now?” Wesel asked Dygan. Despite the grief, the lad was still in charge.
“Why were orcs this far south?” Dygan quickly asked.
“We are north of the civilized lands. Save an idle scout there are no other men.” Wesel replied. Dygan thought, but did not speak, about the elves that had rescued him. However, what were they doing here? Then again, maybe it wasn’t his place to know.
He was starting to sound like that elf.
“Wow, what a spectacular view.” Dygan admired the valley below the cliffside. Dygan’s troupe had taken a higher road, walking on a moderately steep ridge. At this height, Dygan could look down upon rivers that seemed no thicker than threads, trees that seemed no larger than grains of sand.
“We still don’t know about the orcs we faced, and there may be more. If we camp here, we limit their ability to surround us.” Wesel offered to the group. “We also limit in where we can move, should we be attacked. But I suppose as a defender, we won’t be moving much,” he contradicted, and then resolved his argument himself.
“I suppose. I don’t think it matters much. I doubt the orcs will show their piggish faces after their crushing defeat.” Anick was quick to offer.
Dygan started to unpack the supplies, like he had done so many times before. But this time, he could feel something different. Every time they stopped to camp for the night, he always was breathing heavily, trying to find a way to soothe his aching feet. However, now it was different. There was no fatigue. Instead of sinking down into a weary stance of half-sitting, half laying-down, he felt perfectly fine to stand, even run.
“How ever long your road, these boots shall keep you on the path, and carry you there all the faster.” The elf had said that… when he had given him the boots.
“Dygan… ye’ve got first watch. Ye don’t seem so tired yet; ye look like ye could stay up and alert fer a bit.” Beyar shook his shaggy hair and started to give a quick investigation of the campsite.
The camp had settled down into a pre-sleep fashion. Dinner was cooked to a nice, piping hot, welcome from the chill of the air. “Dygan,” Anick called him over between puffs from his pipe, “Tell me somethin’. When are we going to find any treasure. All I’ve got is a few ratty pelts I took from what we’ve hunted down…”
“Anick… Dygan is busy.” Wesel interjected on the boy’s behalf. “There are things worth more than money.”
Anick’s eyes lit up with amusement. “Really, like what?”
“Honor and happiness. Dygan is searching for both. He has enough money. Didn’t his charity teach you anything? He helped you out of your sticky situation.”
“Aye…that he did. But I was promised a share of treasure.”
Dygan grew tired of this, “And if we find anything, I’ll let you know. We’re not in extremely civilized lands. There’s not much out here, except the shadow of a threat. And if we do something, and we’re rewarded, then you get a share of it… It’s that simple.”
“Well, suppose it’s good enough for me.” Anick relaxed again.
“Tain’t fallin’ asleep now, are ya boy?” Thorag’s voice struck Dygan from his half-sleep stupor. He and the dwarf were on first watch, an idea of Beyar’s. If one of them fell asleep, the other could wake him up.
“Hmmm? No, not yet. Our watch is almost over, though. Haven’t heard so much as a rustle.”
“I know… that be what worries me.”
“Dem orcs we’ve run into… we’ve seen not hide nor hair of ‘em until they attacked, and now we tain’t seen nothing of ‘em again. No footprints, no grunts to whatever cow they call their god, no campfires. ‘Tis like they just jumped in some hole and didnay come out!”
“Perhaps they are frightened.” Dygan offered.
“Ye do not know too much about orcs, but they do not frighten too terribly easy. Failed ambush is no cause fur alarm. They’d strike at us again, while we be recoverin’.”
“Perhaps they were a hunting party, not a war band… Hunting parties would come back with reinforcements, right?”
“Still thinkin’ like a human. Orc hunting parties have bows and set damn crude traps. Look at what we found… Axes aren’t no hunting weapons… It was scouts, or part of a war band. Orcs might be tryin’ something.”
“Like what? What could those filthy creatures hope to accomplish?”
“Don’t know, Dygan… Jest don’t know.”
There was a snapping of a twig, and Dygan and Thorag stood up and peered intently in the direction of the noise.
“Sssh...,” Thorag whispered to Dygan. “Stay alert, but do not give them cause to go crazy… Wake up Beyar and Vlock. Do it quietly.”
Dygan tiptoed to Vlock, who lay under a blanket underneath the sky. Unlike the others, Vlock preferred this to one of the tents Dygan had brought along. Dygan rustled Vlock, and when the mute man stirred, Dygan said. “Something’s out there… we need to be ready.” Vlock clasped Dygan’s forearm to show that he understood.
There came a twang, followed by a woosh, and an arrow punctuated the dirt around the campsite. “Thorag, they’re firing!” Dygan shouted. Vlock crouched low and grabbed his spear, holding it firmly in two hands. “I can’t see…” Dygan couldn’t make any shapes out in the darkness, and he grabbed a stray torch from the ground. Fumbling with his tinderbox, he felt nothing but surprise when Vlock abruptly pulled him flat to the ground. The woosh of the arrow sounded again, terrifyingly close that Dygan could feel the air being sliced above his back. Vlock went in the direction of the archer, and Dygan quickly went to work striking flint against steel to light the torch. As it was lit, he heard the sounds of struggle from both of his sides. Vlock and Thorag, it seemed, had encountered resistance. Use your ears to discover the location of your opponents. It was the voice again… the sword. It was helping him, like it had done so many times before. So Dygan listened, and impulsively threw his torch at the wilderness.
The flaming stick illuminated a brilliant path as it turned end over end, spiraling until it impacted upon the face of an orc, who screamed a harsh cry of pain as it burned his facial features. Dygan was up, with Or'injèrá shining brilliantly against the starlight in his left hand. Dashing with more speed than he had ever used before, he sliced once at the neck, in a downward cross slash to rip open the orc’s chest. With a sickening splat and a rush of odor, the orc fell face-first to the ground. Quickly, Dygan scooped the torch in his right hand and looked for more orcs. The brilliant light probably signaled him as easily as if a bullseye were painted on his chest. Or'injèrá told him again to dive to the side, and he followed suit, getting a mouthful of grass and orc blood that caused him to spit and sputter. He could hear Thorag cry out with the word, “Two!” but he had heard nothing from where he believed Vlock was except the sounds of perpetual battle. He was starting to worry… he couldn’t see, he didn’t know whether his friends were all right. Dygan was at the end of his wits, and now an ambush in the dark was threatening to toss him over the edge, if he didn’t get killed first. He got up to his feet and jumped forward, hoping to find something that could help him gain sense of the entire thing. In his confusion, he dropped the torch he had picked up.
What am I going to do? What can I do? What should I do? Dygan said to himself in mortal fear of the entire situation. “Ha ha, three!” Thorag shouted with a hearty laugh. His friends were going to be all right, and that thought gave him temporary relief. The sounds of battle were starting to fade, the sounds of retreating footsteps replacing them. “They’re running… We’ve beaten them!” Dygan cried out in triumph.
A rustle from behind him cut his celebration short. Dygan turned and thrust forward, running the enemy through the chest with his weapon. And when he fell, the face came close enough to the dropped torch to show that it was Vlock, as silent in death as he was in life.
“It… it was an accident! An accident!” Dygan was yelling when Thorag found him a second later. “I didn’t mean to. I never wanted to hurt you… you were my friend. You protected us and I thought you were an orc, but you weren’t.” He was completely hysterical, furious tears dripping from his eyes and speaking every thought that went through his head so fast that he could barely breathe.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t look at me like that… Stop accusing me. I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t.” Thorag was unsure whether Dygan was talking to him, or the fallen Vlock, or some specter in Dygan’s mind. He grabbed Dygan and nearly pulled him down to his eye level.
“Boy…snap out of it!” Thorag yelled. “Calm down, get some sense in that head of yours!”
“I killed him! You can’t understand… you never killed a friend!” Dygan yelled so loudly that it could wake the slain orcs.
“Look, boy. Accidents happen! I seen it. Jest rearrange yer head right, and we’ll se what we can be doing about it.”
“What do you know? All you care about is money!” Dygan angrily shot back, blind emotion killing all sort of discretion in his mind. Thorag was unsure of how to proceed. True enough, it was an accident, but young humans tended to get a little worked up over serious accidents.
“Lemme call Wesel… let’s hear what he’s got to say.”
Wesel, informed by Thorag, came as Dygan was still talking to himself. “He’s been like this ever since it happened, I’ll guess,” Wesel semi-spoke to Thorag.
“Dygan,” he continued, “Dygan, it is me, Wesel. Please, Dygan. Listen to me. It was an accident, and a sorry one at that. But we can’t change what has already happened. It was not your fault. Please, come back.” Wesel moved forward and offered a friendly hand.
Dygan made no motion. He was still too stricken.
“Then at least come back to the camp. You can rest and when tomorrow comes, you’ll feel so much better.”
Beaten and unable to resist, Dygan followed Wesel. He laid in one of the tents, and tried to fall asleep. But every time sleep found him, the image of Vlock’s empty expression haunted his thoughts and stole him from sleep, leaving behind a hollow mockery that taunted Dygan’s mind.
He stopped trying in the pre-dawn hours, when the world was covered in a gray haze awaiting the sun. He crept silently out of his tent. He could see Anick standing watch, alone because it was the last shift. He waited until the halfling faced the opposite direction, and then he started running, away from the camp, away from where Vlock met his end at the edge of Dygan’s blade. He had to escape all the death, both of which had been his fault, and he knew it. If he stopped now, he could end this cycle of ambush and death. He kept running, and didn’t stop until the only traces of his companions were only in his memory.
Story written by Eskon