Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 14

Posted: 4 Jan 16

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

Into the Murky Marshes

Upon waking the next morning, the members of the party grabbed a quick bite to eat before readying themselves for the trek on foot. Kieren, as well as the others, realized they had only finished the first phase of the journey and knew they must make haste, if they didn't want to give Madumda the upper hand due to their lack of speed. To prevent this from happening, every one burst into action and was soon searching for his gear from among the supply crates.

As they retrieved their own belongings, they quickly readied themselves for what was to come. Diligently, each individual donned his armor and then secured his weapons in place, as he prepared for the dangers that might await them along the trail ahead.

The two young elves were the first to discover their gear and quickly removed it from the container it had been packed in. Hurriedly, they girded themselves in the extremely light, but sturdy, coats of chainmail the elfin guard had provided them before they set out. This would serve as their primary source of protection during the mission. These magnificent pieces of armor weighed less than half as much as normal chainmail, yet was twice as strong, but that wasn't all. These fabulous devices could only be procured from elfin-kind and the elves were hesitant to relinquish it at any price, so owning it was highly prized.

Now that they had donned their armor, the youths armed themselves with fine short swords, slender-bladed knives and short spears, which had also been provided for their use. While they stood waiting for the others to finish their preparations, the two teens appeared strangely out of place. Even though they were girded for battle, their youthful appearance seemed to belie their efficacy as warriors, but they were now ready to begin the next leg of the journey.

Garreth and Romaric had nearly finished equipping themselves before Kieren found his belongings. His gear had been stored in another crate, along with some of the other provisions. Kieren was just about to don his protective device when Alairic strode over and interrupted his preparations.

"Kieren, before we go any further, I have something to give you. It's a gift from my people to you," he announced. After saying this, he presented Kieren with a hauberk of the finest quality chainmail the youngster had ever seen.

Kieren couldn't help but stop and gawk at this marvelous protective garment. It was so finely wrought that he could not even guess its worth.

"I can't possibly accept anything as wonderful as this!" he began to protest, but Alairic quickly cut him off.

"Kieren, you must accept it as a token of friendship and allegiance from the river elves to the future ruler of Tarolia. If you don't, it would be considered a grave insult," Alairic replied. "Beraut or King Dylan must have given Balaster Rombaire a hint about your existence before we set out, because after your identity was announced, the Balaster gave me this to present to you."

After hearing his explanation and not wishing to offend anyone, Kieren accepted the gift, only to discover there was even more to this surprise. Once Kieren had taken the chainmail, the elf handed him a splendid short sword next, one with perfect balance and razor-sharp cutting edges. It was encased in a sturdy leather scabbard, which would protect the blade from nicks and the elements during their travels. Alairic also gave him a delicately crafted, slender knife, along with its own sheath, and a fine short spear, with a tempered spearhead, which could be used for throwing or thrusting.

"Alairic, this is just too much," Kieren began to protest anew, but once again he was cut short.

"It's all part of the same gift," the river elf informed him, "so think of it as one large package."

Kieren thought about this for a moment before conceding he must accept it. Enthusiastically, he slipped on his new mail, strapped the sword to his side and attached the knife to his belt. Once he was fully outfitted, he very carefully pulled the magical robe Beraut had given him over it, to conceal his warlike attire, before grabbing a hold of the spear. When Garreth and Romaric saw him do this, they hurriedly followed his lead and quickly donned their own traveling robes, although theirs did not have any magical potential.

Alairic also donned a hauberk of elfin chainmail, and like the boys remained bareheaded. He also carried an elfin short sword and a double-bladed knife in sheaths fastened to his belt, as well as a long bow and a quiver filled with arrows. He appeared to be a much larger version of either Garreth or Romaric, even though he carried a bow, instead of a spear.

The dwarfs had also readied themselves and put on chainmail as well, but theirs was the typical Tarolian variety. It was heavier and more cumbersome than the elfin type, but it was what they were used to. Although it restricted their movements slightly, it in no way hindered their effectiveness. Over time, the dwarfs had adjusted their fighting style to accommodate for this slight inconvenience.

In addition to their armor, the dwarfs wore the typical dwarven half-helmet and carried a short handled battle-ax. This favored weapon had two cutting blades that could easily sever a limb or cleave a foe in half. In addition to that device, each of them were also armed with a flail, which was a spiked ball on a chain that had been fastened to a wooden handle. They each had it tucked into their belt, with the ugly spiked ball swinging precariously close to the ground. On their backs were slung crossbows and quivers of quarrels with finely sharpened heads. Overall, each of the dwarfs appeared to be squat bundles of ferociousness, as they stood waiting for the others to complete their preparations.

The men were each outfitted according to the mode particular to his city of residence. Selvaggio and Turquinine had attired themselves in the plate mail of Mitiku, which was a light chain with pieces of thick plate covering it, as well as the usual padding underneath. This type of armor also had protective plates located over other vulnerable areas, such as the shoulders, elbows, knees and groin.

As for weapons, they carried mammoth broadswords, with blades longer than the dwarfs were tall, and a dirk with a twelve-inch blade, which they tucked into their belts. Over their shoulders were slung powerful long bows and their final weapon was a poleax, which they carried in their off hand. This last weapon differed from the dwarfs' battle-ax in that it had only a single cutting edge, while the opposite side jutted out like a spearhead. There was another spearhead that extended from the top of the weapon and made it dangerous in three different ways. Not only that, but its handle was five times longer than the dwarf's grip, so it also had an impressive reach when used.

Rhys, the Akiktite, also carried a broadsword, although the blade on his weapon wasn't nearly as long as the Mitikuans' swords. He also had a long bow, but he carried a lance, in lieu of the Mitikuans' poleax. The lance was versatile, because it could be thrown like a javelin or used to thrust and jab like a pike. In his belt was sheathed a nine inch dagger, which would serve many purposes on this journey. He was also clad in a coat of banded mail, a form of chainmail with overlapping bands of armor in the most strategic areas. This was all capped off with a sturdy open-faced helmet, so he was now ready to do battle, if need be.

Finally, there was Hadwin, with his metal skullcap topped with a spike, as was typical of Nardinian warriors. He was clad in his finest tunic of scale mail, which was a quilted form of leather armor with scales of metal sewn against it in an overlapping fashion from his shoulders to lower thigh. It was securely fastened about his waist by a heavy leather belt and the overall effect was very imposing.

In his scabbard, Hadwin carried a medium-sized falchion, which was a broad-bladed, curved sword. It was smaller than the typical falchion, so he would be able to wield with just one hand. The size of the blade was unique to his people and favored by many of their warriors. Hadwin also carried a pike, which was used for lunging and thrusting at opponents, while keeping him out of reach of his opponents' swords. It was molded entirely from metal, which made it far sturdier than the lance or poleax, but this also made it awkward to throw. Over his shoulder was slung a bow, which was smaller than the ones carried by the other men, and in his belt was tucked a mace and a slender-bladed stiletto.

As an additional precaution, each of the adult warriors hid most of his armor and arms by covering them beneath an oversized, knee-length, Tarolian traveling robe. This garment had sleeves, unlike a cloak, and several clasps down the front, which could be used to keep it closed. They were similar to the traveling robe their future sovereign the elves were wearing, although much larger, and were used to mask their attire and conceal their preparedness to do battle. They could, however, be shed at a moment's notice, if the need arose.

The collective appearance of this group was truly an amazing sight to behold. Here they were, varied by background, beliefs, dialects and accoutrements, yet their mission was the same. Once again, Kieren considered how truly remarkable it was that they had all banded together on this single cause, while having so little in common, except for their loathing and contempt of Madumda.

Now that they were armed and ready to travel, the warriors busted up the crates and hid them, along with Kieren's other set of gear. They did this to make it appear as if these containers had been stolen from a caravan and robbed of everything of value, in case they were eventually found. Then, the members of this disguised troop fell into a semblance of order and took their initial steps toward whatever lay ahead, as they made their way along the path that led to the rear entrance to the dwarf homeland of Thorold.

At first, the traveling was fairly easy, due to the fact that the land was flat, open and there was no hampering vegetation to slow them down. In fact, they were able to journey like this until shortly after midday, when they began to encounter a variety of long, thin grasses. This signified they were approaching the wetter areas, where the vegetation would gradually become thicker and more cumbersome.

Realizing this, they decided to stop and take refreshments, before resuming their travels. Despite the fact that they had seen nothing that might signal danger, they continued to heed the wizard's warning to remain vigilant, even as they ate. When it finally came time to resume their travels, they continued their cautious advance and plodded on. Soon, they began to notice the grass was becoming more and more tangled, which made it increasingly difficult to traverse. Still, they continued to proceed northward, under the shadow of the Amber Mountain range.

The dwarfs recognized they were now approaching the outer boundary of the Murky Marshes. This was a foreboding place, even in the best light or during the best of times, but neither was currently the case. They were approaching it as the sun was beginning its final descent and evening would soon mask their path. At this point, the dwarfs signaled the others to pause briefly, so they could discuss the best route to take and the most appropriate time to cross this obstacle. The ensuing discussion only pointed out that they were somewhat divided on both issues, so much debate ensued.

"Maybe we should bypass this place altogether," Alairic suggested. "Can't we head west and go around it, rather than travel between the marsh and the mountains?"

"We could, but that would tremendously increase the distance we would be required to travel and it would take us much longer to bypass the marsh completely. Unfortunately we don't have that much time to spare," Doenilio advised him. "I suggest it would be better if we went up into the mountains, since it's a much safer way. We could travel along that path until we reach the High Pass and avoid the marsh altogether, yet still be able to travel fairly quickly."

"That route might be better suited for the three of you," Rhys countered, "but I don't think it would be a wise choice for the rest of us. We do not have experience traveling in mountainous terrain, and from what I hear, the footing can be very tricky, possibly even treacherous in certain areas."

"Yes, the slopes might prove to be difficult for those of us that are not accustomed to navigating in such terrain," Alairic agreed. "Perhaps Rhys is correct and it would be best to avoid that route."

"Although your arguments are true to some extent, using that path would not be as difficult as you might believe. It also remains our best alternative to get to where we need to go," Quintain began. "The only other option would be to stay at the base of the mountains and try to steer our course as far away from the marsh as possible, but we won't be able to avoid it completely."

After more discussion on this subject, it was agreed they would follow Quintain's final suggestion. It was sort of a compromise between the other two proposals, so now all they had to do was agree on the best time to do this.

"Methinks it wouldst be best to camp here and beginneth our journey on the morrow," Turquinine suggested.

"I agree," Rhys added, without hesitation.

"I disagree. I believe we need to cover as much ground as we can and take advantage of the remaining daylight," Sedain argued, signifying he was impatient to keep going. "We have already wasted too much valuable light discussing this as it is."

"I agree with the dwarf this time," Hadwin volunteered. "We are already behind schedule, since we were supposed to be beyond the marsh by nightfall, so I say we should cover as much of that ground as we can. I don't want to have to rush and make up even more time tomorrow, just because we stopped early today."

"Yes, there is still enough light for us to get most of the way across the marsh before it gets too dark to continue," Quintain agreed, "so I suggest we continue as well."

"I imagine we should follow the advice of those who know the area best," Rhys conceded. "Seeing that would be the dwarfs, I guess it would be prudent to move on."

Finally, the others relented as well, so the small band of warriors continued moving forward. As they were starting out, Kieren overheard Selvaggio make one last comment. It seemed the Mitikuan was unconvinced this was their best course of action.

"Haste maketh waste," he muttered, more to himself than to anyone else, just to verbalize his displeasure.

The traveling was much slower here, due to the uneven and boggy terrain they were passing through, and the ground was becoming muddier with each passing step. The companions had journeyed a little more than a league across the marsh when they began to accept the idea that it would soon be impossible for them to venture farther. At this point, the entire party agreed the waning light and soggy terrain was making it very difficult to continue. They certainly didn't want any of them to sprain an ankle or break a leg merely because they stepped in a hole or slipped on some unseen obstacle.

"Although I'd prefer to keep going," Doenilio advised them, "the ground is far damper than I expected, so I believe it would be best if we stopped for the night. We are traveling far too slowly to make it completely away from the marsh before we lose the remaining light, so I suggest we look around for a suitable campsite, while we still have the chance."

Even though one or two of the others had to keep from making an 'I-told-you-so' comment, they readily agreed with his logic and conclusion. A campsite would need to be found and it was Doenilio who organized the search for a suitable location.

"I don't think it would be wise for anyone to go off alone, so we'll do this in small groups," the dwarf began. "Sedain, Quintain and I will go up into the mountains to look for a place, so I suggest Alairic, Hadwin and Rhys scout the slopes lower down, to see if they can find a location that meets our needs.

"Selvaggio and Turquinine," he continued, "if you wouldn't mind, would you please stay with Kieren, Garreth and Romaric to protect them? And would you also be so kind as to make sure they don't wander near the marsh, because this in not the time or place for them to conduct an investigation."

It sounded as if Beraut had warned the other members of this party about the boys' propensity to want to investigate new locations. They didn't have to worry though, because the boys weren't eager to wander away at this time.

Once everyone agreed with his assignment, each group set out to perform its designated task. Since the boys had been advised they weren't to go anywhere or do anything, they merely stood around and waited for the scouts to return.

After making a visual scan the area, Kieren was becoming very uneasy. Even though he was doing his best to remain brave, the fading light was casting spooky shadows that sent chills up and down his spine. Those feelings were suddenly magnified when he began to remember the macabre tales he had been told by his parents and others during his childhood. Those stories were about the strange creatures that lurked both around and beneath the muddied waters of the marshes and thoughts of these things caused his imagination to run wild.

Kieren had always considered the accounts to be the product of the wild imaginations and fanciful stories of adults. He'd always suspected grown-ups told these tales to entertain, yet at the same time to frighten their children into obedience. But now, after having seen the marsh firsthand and encountering the eeriness of this place, he began to question his confidence concerning that conclusion.

While the men and boys watched for the others to return, the Mitikuans decided to put their time to good use. Cautiously, they poked around the area, while staying away from the swamp, as they searched for bits of wood that were dry enough to use to make a small evening fire. While doing this, they also continued to keep an eye on their three young charges, to make certain they were safe and staying out of trouble. Over the next several minutes, the two enormous warriors made several quick trips back and forth from where the boys were located, as they ventured out to search the surrounding area. Each time they returned, they carried a small armload of wood they had found along the path and placed it next to the teens.

As Turquinine returned yet another time to deposit what he had gathered, Selvaggio wandered farther and farther away and ventured closer to the edge of the swamp. The knight was stooping to collect more firewood when without warning a gigantic serpent lunged out of the murky waters and began to entwine itself around the unsuspecting warrior.

Witnessing the attack, Turquinine responded immediately and moved as quickly as a cat, as he sprang to his companion's side. He was wielding his mighty broadsword and using every ounce of strength he possessed to hack away at the aggressor, which was now coiled completely around Selvaggio's massive body.

The boys, who had been talking quietly amongst themselves before the attack occurred, were startled by the sudden assault and screamed out a belated warning to their protector. Now, they stood frozen in disbelief and fear, as this unknown creature battled the two Mitikuans, seemingly unfazed by Turquinine's maddened attack.

Selvaggio had initially let out a mighty roar when the creature first attacked and he fought tenaciously to defend himself from the onslaught. Now, he remained rather quiet and still, as his fellow knight chopped at the seemingly never-ending form of their opponent. One of Turquinine's furious blows must have stung the monster as it continued to coil around the now unmoving warrior, because it bolted upright, still clutching the knight in its powerful grip.

At that moment, Kieren realized this incredible foe must be the Serpent Colossus, a beast he had heard about in the tales from his childhood. This was just one of the many stories that had plagued his thoughts only minutes before and something he could no longer dismiss as a mere fabrication or myth.

At the instant Selvaggio had released his mighty yell and the shouts of the boys echoed off the mountain's sides, the scouts hurriedly changed course and returned to the spot where they had left their comrades. The dwarfs arrived first, battle-axes held high, ready to meet any danger that might await them. When they broke into the open and were able to view their foe, they froze for a split second, horrified by the sight of the creature rearing before them.

Even in the dim light, they could observe Turquinine delivering a flurry of blows, worthy of felling any aggressor and aimed at the gigantic reptile before him. At this point, the dwarfs did not realize the large bulge about three meters from its head was actually the still form of Selvaggio, encircled by the muscular length of his opponent.

Instinctively, the dwarfs attempted to flank the serpent, so they could hack away at different sections of its writhing form. In response, they received occasional attacks from the monster's head, whenever it diverted its attention from Turquinine's tenacious onslaught. This would briefly drive them backward, but they never gave up. Every time they regained their balance, they began their attack anew and chopped at the animal's tough scales, just as soon as it shifted its attention back to the Mitikuan.

At this point, Alairic, Hadwin and Rhys came charging back down the path over which they had previously disappeared. Seeing the monster for the first time, they drew up abruptly, unslung their bows and notched an arrow each. With great care, they took aim at the enormous beast and loosed their missiles. The arrows, however, merely ricocheted off the monster's tough hide and fell harmlessly to the ground. Incredibly, the various projectiles didn't even seem to bother the attacker. That's when Rhys commanded the others to take aim at the creature's head and saucer-like eyes. He hoped they could at least blind this hulking mass and impede its assault on the others.

The companions were showing little progress in defeating this enemy when Turquinine suddenly employed a more aggressive stance. After bellowing out a war cry at the serpentine figure, he advanced steadily forward, until he was within easy reach of the Serpent's terrifying grasp. Sensing this new boldness in its quarry, the monster focused all of its attention on the single warrior directly before it. Temporarily ignoring the others, the reptile lunged at Turquinine, its huge maw gaping wide and its jaws snapping together, as it tried to catch the annoying prey.

During each forceful surge by his adversary, Turquinine slashed at the soft, pink interior of the giant snake's gaping mouth, since that seemed to be the spot with the least protection. This technique seemed to hurt, or at least annoy the predator, but the powerful soldier did not seem to possess the strength required to deliver a fatal blow.

While Turquinine stood his ground, the remaining defenders intensified their search for this imposing adversary's Achilles' heel. The problem was, nothing they did seemed to daunt the speed or ferocity of its attack, nor could they diminish the behemoth's desire to continue this fight.

Alairic and Rhys were releasing arrow after arrow from their humming bowstrings, but the creature's body was moving too erratically for them to get a decent shot. As their arrows continued to miss or failed to do any harm, Hadwin took up his pike and raced forward to assist Turquinine in his close range assault.

The Nardinian immediately lunged and thrust at the gigantic reptile whenever it swooped toward his knightly comrade. Time and time again, he struck the scaly body of this relentless foe, only to find the point of his weapon deflecting harmlessly off of its steely scales. Occasionally, he found a slight gap between its protective covering and briefly pierced through the rough hide, but most of his blows seemed to have little impact. These two courageous warriors never gave up though and continued their flurry of thrusting and slashing, as the dwarfs focused on chopping at the mid-section and posterior of the writhing giant.

While the others were waging their assault, Kieren dug through his pack until he found the arrow he had made at Leander. Without thinking about his own safety, he raced over to where Alairic stood releasing another shaft and offered him his masterpiece.

"Alairic, please use this," he pleaded. "Maybe it will help."

The elf nodded his consent, after concluding he had nothing to lose by trying it. Accepting the generous gift, the marksman notched the arrow and took careful aim. Ever so slowly, he drew his bowstring back, while focusing on the serpent's nearest eye. At that instant, the beast remained stationary, as it surveyed its attackers, so Alairic let the arrow fly.

His bowstring hummed, as he launched this new shaft into the air, and the arrow flew straight and true, as it headed toward its goal. Just as Alairic had envisioned, the projectile struck the exact center of the creature's left eyeball and released a rush of vile fluids from the orb. Partially blinded and now in real pain, the serpent's body lashed out in all directions and knocked the dwarfs backward. Believing Turquinine was the one who had delivered the painful blow, the leviathan renewed its attack on the mighty knight. Although the Mitikuan looked as if he were a child's toy soldier next to this truly gigantic being, he fought bravely on.

The dwarfs were quick to rally back to their feet as well, and then they redoubled their attack. Without so much as a second thought, they moved closer to the vertical shaft that contained the head of the monster, while it continued to snap at the two northern soldiers. One of the dwarfs drew a trickle of blood from the beast, when he inadvertently found a small soft spot in the reptile's protective covering. This new wound immediately increased the loathsome animal's anger and pain, so it lashed out again, pummeling everything within reach. The various combatants instinctively pulled back in a strategic retreat, until their opponent's wrath had abated slightly.

As the serpent began to settle down and regain a fraction of its former composure, Turquinine, unlike the others, moved forward once more. The relentless fighter was intent on destroying this unbelievable foe and saving his comrade, so he moved steadily toward it. The giant reptile, however, spotted his maneuver out of the corner of its good eye. Without hesitation, it struck at the impudent man-at-arms and bowled him over, knocking him senseless in the process.

Hadwin barely had time to react, as the monstrous brute propelled its head forward, in an effort to snag the dazed trooper between its gaping jaws. Just as soon as he realized what was about to happen, the Nardinian hurled his body forward, to a point between the beast and his comrade. As he did so, he managed to keep his pike perpendicular to the ground and slightly in front of his body.

This move now placed Hadwin directly in line with the wounded monster's gaping maw. However, instead of snagging one of the warriors, the serpent caught the pike in its mouth instead. Thinking it had captured its intended target; the beast's jaws snapped shut and closed over the weapon. The pressure generated by this action drove the pike's metallic head and shaft through the roof of its mouth and into its brain.

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