Dragon Fire: Episode 56

The crack of thunder in the distance woke Razham out of a deep sleep. He lay still listening to the approaching storm. As the wind picked up, the gray and black clouds swirled over the orange sky of dawn. The village Yavasadir was yet a few leagues away. Razham knew they must continue their journey before the storm broke.

Stretching his stiff muscles, he stood and gathered his bed. Over by the horses, Cerros hurriedly packed his saddle pouch as the mount tore the sweet blades of grass.

“The thunder speaks of the coming storm,” Razham said as he approached.

“Perhaps the gods are telling us to stay away from the village. From the moment we told the woman we would help, I have had a sense of foreboding.”

“I spent much of my childhood in the woods and know of its dangers, my friend,” Razham assured him.

“No, it is something more. Something in the wind. This Barron Dumnos is a tyrant, a cruel man. His desire to hunt is like a tormenting demon. Most of his kill he leaves in the fields for the birds while his own people go without food,” Cerros said.

“You know of this baron?” Razham asked.

“Yes. I was once in his hunting party,” Cerros explained. “When I refused to kill a helpless animal, he turned his weapon on me.”

“And has he grown more wicked?” Razham asked.

“It seems so, and soon he will become a monster like no other. I fear this may end with his death by my hand,” Cerros said.

Turning the horses, Cerros and Razham left camp and headed toward the outlying woods of the village Yavasadir.

As they rode in silence, Razham watched the storm clouds in the distance, lightning flashing on the horizon. The storm was moving their way, its intensity growing as they drew closer to the village.

“We are here,” Cerros said, abruptly drawing his horse to a halt at a fork in the road.

A rotting wooden sign at the side of the road pointed left toward Yavasadir and right to Wildeye Woods.

Just then, Razham spotted a figure running out of the woods towards them.

“Help me!” the man cried out. “Mercy!”

When Cerros and Razham dismounted, a piece of wood the size of an arrow suddenly stuck through the man’s throat. He stopped, grabbed at his neck, and began choking. Razham saw that the wood was a large thorn of some kind.

“Grab him!” Cerros shouted.

Before they could reach him, the man was jerked back into the shadows of Wildeye Woods by something tethered to the thorn.

“No!” Cerros yelled, running after the man.

Razham followed close behind, but a few feet into the woods, they lost sight of the man.

“What happened to him?” Razham asked.

“He was killed by something that is now feeding him to its young,” Cerros said.

“What is this dark place?” Razham asked.

“Dark, yes. An unholy place. Minstrels tell a tale of a god who died in these woods. When his blood soaked the earth, the forest grew wild,” Cerros answered.

His brow furrowed, Razham seemed to look deep into the trees.

“Perhaps this service will surpass the difficulty of my first hunt as a boy after all. Do you know what part of these woods Barron Dumnos would enter?”

Cerros watched the woods like a wolf stalking its prey.

“I traveled with Dumnos only once. He first moved into the deepest part of the forest then worked his way back. While other men were afraid to follow, Dumnos scoffed and marched into the woods with speed and power. He saw himself as superior to common men.”

“Then to the heart of Wildeye Woods we shall go,” Razham said.

“Have you no fear?” Cerros asked.

“Death holds no fear for me, my friend. I stand ready to join my ancestors,” Razham announced.

“You are a mighty warrior, Razham,” Cerros praised. “This day, we may indeed be with those who have gone before.”

A clap of thunder crashed through the forest, shaking the ground just before the skies opened up.

“It seems the gods cry for us,” Cerros said.

“Perhaps they are tears of joy. May we bring peace to these woods,” Razham hoped.

“Wildeye Woods cannot be saved. It is rotted with disease and must be cut away from this land,” Cerros replied.

“Is there no hope?” Razham asked.

“I have seen men sacrifice their wives and children. They use their children as bait and leave behind their women for bandits so that they may escape,” Cerros said. “Some are beyond salvation.”

Razham said, “My friend, I have seen plants that will kill you and use your body as oxen dung. No one is beyond salvation, not as long as they have breath.”

From the shadows came the roar of a man’s laugh.

Razham and Cerros readied their weapons.

“It has been long since I heard such optimism, a refreshing change from the usual blood fueled violence I am greeted with,” the voice said.

“Where are you?” Cerros demanded, his eyes searching the trees.

“Behind you,” the voice said.

When Cerros and Razham spun around, they saw no one.

“You must forgive me. It is not my place to torment you. I do have a purpose,” the voice said. “I am gardener of these woods, the caretaker. My duty is to keep the beast of this cursed place within its borders.”

“I have heard of you,” Cerros said. “The stories say you were the first victim of this place. Then the gods brought you back to guard it and warn off others.”

“You must not believe everything you hear over a tavern ale,” the caretaker said.

“So it is not true?” Razham asked.

“No, the story is true, but the advice is still sound,” the caretaker said with a chuckle.

“Will you not show your form?” Cerros asked.

“My form is of no consequence, traveler,” the caretaker stated.

“Then tell what you wish of us,” Cerros requested.

“To the point then?” the caretaker asked, suddenly growing somber. “Pity. Very well.”

“The only way you leave Wildeye Woods is if you know the way. Otherwise you are doomed to wander until time forgets your name.”

“I know the way out,” Cerros said.

Suddenly Cerros realized he had run blindly into the woods and failed to make note of the direction he had entered.

As he turned, trying to remember, the caretaker began laughing again.

“I will show you the way out if you solve my riddle,” he said.

“We are not children,” Cerros huffed. “I have no time for riddles.”

“Then let us reach an agreement. Something in these woods has grown out of control. If you find it and destroy it, I shall lead you out.”

“An acceptable bargain,” Razham said. “What are we to search for?”

“Oh but I must not tell you,” the caretaker said.

“Then how can we destroy it?” Cerros asked, growing impatient.

The only reply was the screech of the wind.

“What is your answer?” Cerros snapped.

With a mischievous chuckle, the caretaker began:

“I stand hidden, despite my size. I look innocent to untrained eyes.

I drink, but not from any cup, and with large arms to hold me up.

If you approach with wonder and grace, by my feet I shall prepare you a place.”

Then he burst into a boisterous roar.

“A riddle still?” Cerros barked.

“If you will not tell us what to search for, can you tell us where to search? Razham asked.

No reply came.

“Caretaker, are you there?” Razham called.

The only sound was the thunder breaking through the screeching wind.

Published in: on January 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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