Chapter 17, 1st Book of Serinity

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Chapter 17, 1st Book of Serinity

Post by SerinitysChild »

Chapter 17

After three weeks of sailing north from Milesport, Seeker heaves to and settles into a small cove. Furled sails shine dully in the late summer’s sunlight while a few sailors set to repairing the minor damage taken in a sudden squall a week earlier. Sailors uncoiled ropes, inspected, and recoiled them in readiness for the next leg of the journey. They dispatch shore parties to replenish fresh water, restock larders, and stretch legs more used to long marches than long sea trips.

When a small boat draws near the ship, those on deck hear, “Ahoy the ship, visitors for the Captain,” the boson’s mate calls to the sailor leaning over the railing. Nodding his head the sailor hurries to inform the Captain of his guests.

Once the visitors and sailors scramble up rope ladders to the main deck, the Captain steps from his cabin and out into the sunlight. Seeing the first of the Elves clambering over the railing, he smiles.

“Daedenarth, what brings you so far east this time of year? I’d have thought you’d be hunting elk in the Cold Mountain area.” Captain Mardalnath steps quickly over coiled ropes and grasps his friend’s wrist. “Welcome aboard.”

Daedenarth returns his friend’s grip and grins. “The elk are fleeing the mountains, running as if the world is ending right behind them.” After he releases his grip, the forest Elf asks quietly, “Is there a place we can talk privately?”

Mardalnath nods his head, and then motions Daedenarth to his cabin. As the pair enters the cabin, Mardalnath nods to Serinity and Ashera. “Lady, I’d like to present an old friend of mine. This is Daedenarth, forester of the North March, and hunter of quite good skill.”

As Daedenarth frowns at the “hunter of quite good skill” comment, Mardalnath finishes his introductions. “Daedenarth, this is Lady Serinity, ships’ owner and her companion, the lady Ashera. Ashera is the rider of the black dragon you’ve no doubt seen ghosting us.”

Bowing to both women, Daedenarth looks at his friend with questions unanswered in his eyes. “Before you can ask, Lady Serinity can, and is, trusted in all things not directly relating to Elf Blood. If this is such, I’ll take you where we may speak in private.”

“No. No, perhaps Lady Serinity will be interested in my news.”

With a sweeping gesture, Serinity invites all to ships’ chairs, and then pours summer wine for everyone. Settling into a chair next to the Captain’s she sips her wine and waits for the forester to tell his tale.

After swallowing a good half the wine, Daedenarth tells his story. “Three weeks ago, while we were hunting elk in the mountains, we ran across the spore from an unknown beast. Casting about, we found the trail moving directly toward the dragon’s heights, and followed it for six days. As we crested the first mountain leading to the heights, we saw a great beast attacking the dragons. Dragon fire washed off the beast's sides as if it were water, and each dragon that came too close to the beast was impaled on the monster’s long tusks. As we watched, a dozen dragons fell to the beast, with a score more sending flames against the beast's sides.”

Pausing in his story, Daedenarth takes another long swallow of wine. “Before day’s light left the heights, we counted half a hundred dragon bodies laying wasted in the valleys between the heights. Just as dark is setting in; the remainders of the dragons take wing and fly eastward, toward the great bay at Earnock’s End. Once the dragons retreated eastward, the beast started southeastward, as if called. We traveled to the coast trying to find transport south, to give warning about the beast.”

When Daedenarth has finished his story, Serinity pulls out maps and asks that the forester point out the last known position of the beast. Marking that spot with a small ‘x’ she then asks the ship’s captain for their present location. After he’s marked it on her map, Serinity nods her head, and then draws a line to the bay in which they’re anchored.

“It seems your ‘beast’, Daedenarth, is the same beast I hunt.” Pulling another map from the stack she’s assembled, Serinity transfers the marks to it, and then draws a line from beast to bay.

“Unless I misread these marks, the beast should be here in three days time.” Rolling up the maps and returning them to their leather case, Serinity turns to Ashera.

“Call Darganath down, and scout along the path to that beast. Don’t engage it. Dragon fire does not seem to affect it.” As Ashera leaves the cabin to follow her orders, Serinity turns to Daedenarth. “How many fighters do you have with you?”

“Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been telling you?” Daedenarth’s surprise is surpassed only by his refusal to believe that Serinity plans to attack a creature that even dragon’s are unable to defeat.

At last, he answers. “I have a dozen bows with me, and twice that who carry swords.”

Turning to the ship’s captain, she nods to Daedenarth. “With your permission sir, I’d like to attach his forces to yours, and place his archers in the rigging. I’ll lead the Orc forces inland, and try to subdue the beast where the river and mountains meet near the forest. If I read the map right, that’s about half a day’s walk inland. With luck we’ll capture, or kill it there. Otherwise, we’ll be headed back your way with our tails tucked between our legs. Make sure we can sail at a moment’s notice, if you please.”

With her orders given, and sunlight nearly faded to darkness, Serinity decides to wait for morning. “There’s no use stumbling around in the dark. Even if we did use torches, all we’d accomplish is leading the beast to us quicker than we’d like.”

As dawn breaks above the restless sea, Serinity and the hundred Orcs lands on the beach, form into ranks, and march into the hills that lay beside the ocean. Half a day’s journey into the wilderness, she sets her trap, and waits the coming of the beast.

High on a bluff over looking the River Ramble, Serinity watches as the Orcs chop trees and bring them to the bluff's edge. Hunters have been using dead falls since time immemorial, and she’s no doubt that thirty massive trees dropping from two hundred feet will give the beast pause to reconsider its path, if not kill it outright.

They fill the second day of their stay on the bluffs with moving boulders to the bluff's edge, just in case logs aren’t enough. After reviewing the Elf’s tale of dragons being impaled on the beast's tusks, Serinity rethinks her capture of it, and is now concerned only with its killing.

As the sun sets on their second day along the bluffs, Darganath lands smoothly in an open patch of wild grasses, and Ashera steps out of her saddle and onto the ground. Placing her hands in the middle of her back, she pushes inward while bowing her neck and bending at her hips.

“I never knew that dragon riding could be so painful.” Ashera has been in the saddle since first light, and now returns to the camp with the news that the beast will be within sight soon.

“I’ve never seen such a beast, sister. It makes my Darganath seem tiny by comparison. South of my home, I once saw a herd of animals that look something like this one, only they have gray skin, and much shorter tusks. The old women in my village tell tales of the elephants that ruled our land before the coming of humans. I used to scoff at those tales, but now, I wonder if there isn’t a bit of truth to them.”

Serinity leans back on her campstool, scratches absently at her left thigh, and stares off into the distance. Years of wandering from one adventure to another have jaded her in some ways, and in others, she’s still a child listening to her grandfather's tales of adventure. Sighing into her memories, she wonders if she’ll ever settle down to hearth and home.

As the image of children screaming at each other over some broken toy, a husband, who’s indifferent to their clamor, and neighbors, who think adventuring means going to the next village, fills her mind’s eyes, she shudders. Leaning forward to gaze at the maps on the camp table, she checks her points of contact with the beast, and then nods to Ashera.

“I remember you telling me some of those stories. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be near an animal that can shake the world with only a footstep. I think tomorrow I’ll know how it feels.”

“I’ll need you up early in the morning, scouting. The sentries should warn us if anything tries to invade our camp before then.” Even as the words slip from her, Serinity can hear the sound of Orc horns blowing along the edge of the bluff.

Scrambling from her chair, Serinity quickly armors herself, straps on Ascension, and then throws back the front flap of her tent. Striding from her tent to the bluff takes several seconds, time enough for her to vent her frustration at the beast picking this time to arrive at her trap.

Standing on the bluff's edge, Serinity gazes down at the mammoth standing on the west side of the river. Huge tusks point at the bluff, and the beast's trunk sounds her challenge. Tree sized legs bend at the knees as Zarnar moves quickly from bank to water, wading the river as a child will wade a stream.

When the mammoth nears the bluff, where the river has cut the bank back, and has deepened the water so that the beast has to swim, Serinity nods to the Orc Captain. He signals the release of the logs. Thirty logs fall two hundred feet and land crashing onto the beast's back. Huge splashes of water hide the beast for several seconds, and then the watchers see shaggy red hair surging down the stream with the river's flow.

“I see no blood!” The thought that a mere beast can cast a ward to keep the falling tree trunks from doing damage to it suddenly humbles Serinity. Perhaps the legends are true after all, and the Afridale race are lesser gods.

“Captain, pull your men into the boulders, and make ready to send them downhill.” Serinity had hoped to use the boulders to crush an already weakened beast, however, she’d also planned for the beast's escape, and poised the rocks to roll either direction from camp.

Half a mile downstream, Zarnar lands on the east side of the river, and charges up the slope toward Serinity and her Orcs. Never before have any of them seen anything so large move so fast. Time slows, but Zarnar does not. She’s moving so quickly that old trees have no chance to bend before her. They break as she passes with a sound like bones being broken in battle. The ancient goddess throws earth and grass skyward as she tears through two small clearings, her eyes burning red as she senses the presence of the Sword.

Serinity issues orders for the troops to draw steel, and form up for the long retreat to the sea. Silently she hopes that it will be a retreat, and not a complete rout. As seventy-five of the Orcs form ranks, Serinity gives the orders to release the boulders, hoping that they will at least slow the fast approaching beast.

Watching in awe, Serinity sees the boulders smash into the Afridale’s legs and then bounce off. The smallest stone rushing downhill is more than four times the weight of the largest Orc, yet even its larger brethren are pushed aside as if they’re no more than pebbles.

Two of her Orcs haul their battle axes from their backs, move to either side of the path the beast is trampling, and prepare to sell their lives in order for their brother's in arms to have a few more seconds to preserve themselves. As Zarnar moves within easy striking distance, they swing with all their considerable might. To the amazement of all, the battle-axes sink into the beast's sides, drawing great streams of blood and a scream of pain from the mammoth.

Raising their own weapons, the rest of the Orc band hacks and slices at the beast. Blood flows from the many wounds steel weapons inflict on her, and then, as the mercenaries launch a second attack, Zarnar unleashes her attack.

Those that attack the hind legs are, for the moment, safe from the tusks that rip the life force from their comrades. Tossing soulless husks against attacking Orcs causes confusion as the last of the Afridale race whips around and grabs first one Orc, then another, impaling them on her tusks, sucking their souls out of their bodies, and discarding the empty husks that once were the most feared warriors in the kingdom. Thirty-seven Orcs die this way before Serinity can call a retreat, hoping the Orcs will withdraw and not attempt to vent their blood lust against such power.

As the earth goddess turns to attack the retreating Orcs, one maimed warrior lifts his tattered body enough to land a single blow against the Achilles heals of the monster, severing the tendon. While Zarnar rampages on three legs back and forth across the gory mess she’s made of the impudent Orcs, Serinity and her surviving warriors turn and run toward the sea.

Before she leaves with the last of the Orcs, Serinity pulls Ascension from its sheath, waits for the Zarnar to turn away from her, and then steps in beside the beast to sink the sword hilt deep in the mammoth's chest. Neither chance, luck, nor the gods themselves were in that stroke. Either the Zarnar has no heart, or, more likely, Serinity has simply missed it. Pulling Ascension free of the beast, she trots lightly back to the retreating Orcs, and stands as rear guard while her remaining warriors retreat in good order.

What was a six-hour march inland, loaded with camp gear, becomes a two-hour flight to the sea. As the Orc force runs, then trots, then walks, only to run again, Serinity berates herself for not having the rocks dropped first. Having time to think about her attack, she now realizes that Zarnar can turn aside anything that lives, or once lived. As another dozen Orcs fall back to harass the beast, Serinity orders the fastest Orc to leave the group and run to the ship. His orders are to have the ships complement arm themselves, and prepare a holding action against the beast.

While the Afridale slows to defend herself against the swords and axes sent to slow her, Serinity orders another dozen to spit off from the group and set fire to the surrounding woods. Her comment of, “If water doesn’t stop it, perhaps a nice hot fire will slow it enough for us to make the ships before it manages to catch up to us.”

With three legs, instead of four, Zarnar moves quickly, but not quickly enough for her to catch the Orcs tormenting her with sword and axe. Bleeding from a hundred cuts, and unable to take the time to heal them all, she whips her trunk and tusks back and forth in an effort to at discourage the attackers. Crippled, she is still a force to be reckoned with.

A single blast from an Orc’s battle horn draws the dozen warriors from their rear guard action, hurrying them toward the ship in a wide sweep around the fire. The summer winds have not been too dry this year, but dry enough to make half the forest a tinderbox of fallen leaves.

As the fire races through the undergrowth of the forest, it gathers strength from the air it inhales. Small swirls of fire arc upwards, not unlike small tornados, and busy themselves igniting larger trees. In less time than it takes to tell the tale, the forest is ablaze with a raging maelstrom of angry yellow flames that consume everything in their path.

Stumbling over a final sand dune, Serinity spies the ship and the archers settled into the rigging, half a bow's shot from shore. Torches line the railing, as they put the ship’s longboats over the sides.

Like a cornered lioness, Serinity turns to defend her troops from the oncoming beast. Ascension almost seems to glow in her hands as she takes deep breaths to calm her fear and anger. Even the restlessness of the waves against the shore seems to quail before her.

The rear guard and the long boats arrive at the shore nearly at the same instant, and the wounded Orcs are loaded into the first of the boats. When the boats return to the beach, Serinity orders half the remaining troops to scramble aboard them.

As she returns her attention to the forest fire she’s set, Serinity sees Zarnar smashing through the last of the flames, striding purposefully toward her. When the beast is half a hundred paces from her, a flight of arrows sings their songs of death, and land in and around the beast.

No living being can hold pain and injury back for long. All creatures must find time to heal, or they risk death at the hands of their enemies. After coming so close to repossessing her sword, Zarnar must retreat before the pain and damage the archers lace across her worn body.

Zarnar’s beady eyes burn with a hatred that is a palpable force, pushing against Serinity, as a second, then third flight of steel tipped arrows pierce the beast's hide. Renewed screams of pain and anger wash over the warriors, leaving no doubt as to their fate if Zarnar ever catches up to them.

Quickly Serinity motions the rest of the Orcs to jump into the boats, as she bounds into the last boat. Strong arms pull the oars as longboats slip back into the ocean, and perhaps, the safety of salt water. As the rowers pull for all they’re worth, Serinity looks at the shore, and the bloody beast that’s rampaging back and forth along the water's edge, furious at her loss of fresh souls, and the sword Ascension.

Three more flights of arrows discourage the Zarnar from any further attempts to charge the boats as they tie up to the side of Seeker and offload both warriors and sailors. Later, when they are safely out to sea, there'll be time to lift the landing boats into their stanchions.

Above the retreating boats, Ashera watches in wonder that anything could so nearly reduce well-trained troops to a rag tag group of refugees. Spotting Serinity, Ashera nods her head, and directs Darganath to fly south along the coast. A few days before, as she was scouting the area, she’d seen a small cove hidden in what looked to be a volcano’s crater. Now that she’s seen some limitations of the beast, she’ll try to guide the ship to that cove, where is should be safe, at least until wounds can be bound, and messages written for her to deliver to Dukes and King.

Serinity boards her ship then turns to stand on the deck and watch the beast's seeming fear of seawater. Trumpets of either fear or anger stream from the beast as she charges into the sea, only to retreat with painful trumpeting as the salt in the seawater washes into her wounds. Perhaps it’s only the sting of salt in her sores that cause the monster to retreat from the sea, or, perhaps there’s another reason for its inability to pursue them out to sea. One day Serinity might use that fear or pain to defeat the beast, but not today.
More rampant silliness.

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