The Chronicles of Theldar

Ember's life is simple, normal, nothing to boast about but she likes it. That is until one day her peaceful town is invaded by mysterious enemy forces and she is thrown headlong into an adventure which will test her, her friends, and ultimately decide the future of Theldar.

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3. And so it begins - Chapter 2

~  Chapter 2 ~

And so it begins…

 

It was the screams that awoke Ember. The first one she heard sounded as if it was coming to her through water but still managed to dash her dreams causing her eyelids to flutter open. The second one was like a dagger to the heart. Not least because Dutton was a peaceful town but mostly because it had emanated from downstairs. Up in a flash she pulled on a proper shirt in a moment and ripped open the drawer in her bedside table with a force she didn’t know she owned.

 

   Whilst fumbling for the pair of daggers she kept in their she made a mental note of Alvi’s absence from bed. Something was very wrong.

   Grabbing the daggers she bolted down the stairs and pressed her back against the wall connecting the entrance hall to the kitchen from which several voices were emanating. Two she recognised as her sister and mother’s but the third was new. Gruff and menacing she listened to its threats for a moment.

   “Oi! You there! I swear to all your pathetic little gods if you move for that knife again I’ll gut yer! You sure there ain’t no one else in the house? ‘Cause if there is I’ll gouge out yer eyes and fed ‘em t’ the crows!’

   A momentary wash of relief feel upon Ember; her advantage hadn’t been ruined by her family. But a moment later she realised whoever was in the house was a villain and a cut-throat and he was about to murder her mother and sister.

   Raising her dagger she rounded the corner and shouted.

   ‘Hey! Ugly!’

   The hunch-backed ogre in his filthy rags and wielding his great studded club swung round to face her. His small brain couldn’t grasp the insult for a moment but when it did he went into a blinding rage. Everyone knows ogres detest being insulted.

   ‘Ugly! Ugly! I’ll teach you t’ call me ugly y’ungrateful little elf!’

   Swinging his club manically around his head he dislodged all the pots and pans which hung from the roof on hooks and only succeeded in bewildering himself more by knocking a drying towel over his face.

    In a moment though he had ripped from his eyes but what he hadn’t bet on was the dagger which hissed promptly through the air at his forehead.

   The ogre was dead before his large grotesque body hit the floor, a torrent of blood flowing rapidly from the gap in his skull over the kitchen floor to form a pool about his head. At this Greta fell in a dead faint.

   ‘Take her upstairs and lock the doors. Don’t let anyone in but me. You got that?’ Ember said authoritatively.

   ‘But where are you going?’

   ‘I’m going to see where all those other screams are coming from.’

   Retrieving her dagger from the ogre’s forehead she also stole the belt that held up his ragged shorts. She had to wrap it twice round her clothes to stop it slipping down and after she had attached both sheathed daggers to it she took firm hold of the sword leaning by the door and ventured out into the night leaving her sister behind to care for their mother.

   Keeping to the shadows she got to the marketplace without incident, but as she crouched in the shadows of a back alley what met her eyes was a scene she couldn’t quite believe.

   She hadn’t noticed before but the air above Dutton which should have been black was a bright red colour from all the fires dotted about the town. And the majority of them were situated here in the circular market. She counted only three stands which weren’t ablaze, Erma’s being one of them whilst the others crackled and creaked as the flames ate away at their wooden timbers, but even those which weren’t set alight had been trashed; the bottles and cups on Erma’s stand had been smashed and cherrypop mingled with cider and countless other drinks as they swirled through the cracks between the cobbles. And to her dismay she could see Erma and all her fellows being held hostage at sword-point by more ogres, all of which seemed to be commanded by a massive cyclops who paced back and forth as ever more hostages arrived in streams from the surrounding houses.

   Her face fell. What was she supposed to do? So much for paying tribute to the gods, she thought, look what good they’ve done.

   Suddenly a voice sounded just behind her and she knew instantly it was not a friendly one. Partly due to it not being familiar to her, partly due to the death threat it issued her. Swinging round she stabbed the sword blindly before her and with a quiet shing and a tension in the blade she felt it make contact with something solid and fleshy. A moment later she jerked the sword back and a lifeless redcap goblin fell at her feet.

   She ran. Redcaps were well known for always being part of a ‘clan’. In short they never travelled alone. And her suspicions of the dead goblin’s team-playing were confirmed as shouts and death threats began to join together and chase her along the back streets.

   She could hear her heart pumping in her ears and her legs felt like pistons, automatically they steered her away from the danger. She hared past Lando’s shop and would have stopped to aid him in the fight he and Fin were having with a dark elf were it not for the fact the shadows pursuing her were elongating rapidly.

   Swerving round a pile of barrels stacked on a corner she took a mighty swing at them and sent the entire stack tumbling over behind her as she near flew over the cobbles in to a back alley, illuminated only by a single swinging oil lamp.

   She ran…ran…and skidded to a halt. Dead end. Backing up against the wall she watched as three small shadows appeared at the end of the street, climbed over the barrels and bolted towards her, the glint of their swords catching the oily light flickering over the walls. She drew her sword and prepared to fight…

 

~

 

   20 minutes earlier

 

   The night was a serene one, the bright moonlight washing over the trees like watery paint on a swaying black canvas. The howl of a wolf echoed across the night sky and a flock of mothbirds fluttered across the crisp night, their fuzzy, scruffy wings flapping hectically to keep them in the air.

   But below the swaying waves of the trees all was not well. Seven shadows darted through the trees silent as a wraith, the odd glint of moonlight on cold steel providing ample evidence of weapons being in no short supply. Two of the shadows stuck to each other like glue whilst another two weren’t so close to each other but were both shaped as if they were built from solid stone – angular, heavy-looking. And yet they were as fast as the other three – one short and stocky, one tall and lithe and the last appearing to flow through the air, feet never seeming to appear from beneath some floating garment which billowed in the rush forward.

   It was at this point that the first screams echoed through the trees.

   Two minutes more of hard running and the seven shadows formed themselves into seven people as they stepped from the treeline into the moonlight.

   The two more imposing adumbrations turned out to be a minotaur and a buggane. The wide-shouldered minotaur wielded a massive axe in each hand and sported a pair of long swords sheathed in a sling on his back, whereas the buggane – a large mammal not dissimilar to a giant mole in appearance, with its heavy digging claws, scruffy fur, pot-belly and two-short tusks protruding from its snout it needed no weapons and could cause as much damage with a swipe of his paw as any axe-wielding minotaur.

   The tall, lithe outline revealed itself to be a tall, lithe elf carrying a sabre in his left hand with his right flexing ready for battle, the tattoos which twisted round his wrist and fingers showing just how powerful the magic he owned was.

   The flowing shape solidified into a beautiful elf wearing a flowing gown which never seemed to reveal her feet and gripping a strong wooden bow in her hands, two quivers packed with arrows crossing over her back each one ready to be fired at a moment’s notice.

   The stout one stepped into the light to become a well-built, muscular basajaun – a giant species that only came up to most people’s midriff – his long beard plaited too his knees and a thick wooden club swaying slightly in his grasp.

   And the last two to enter the light, the two shadows who stuck to each other’s sides could not have even been told apart by their own mother were it not for their peculiar hair colours of green and red. Alike each other in every way the even both carried the same weapons, dual hand held swords and no less than five daggers in each of their belts.

   Observing the scene in a moment each one of them noted the flow of movement feeding into the left of the town, patches of villains illuminated by flaming torches, the several visible sentries guarding the exits and the cyclops heading the mob.

   Forming a rehearsed line they matched pace with each other and hurried in the direction of the town as the air above it began to show the first red blotches that signalled the fires had begun.

   The tall elf carrying his sabre pointed at the twins and swept his hand across the scene before them. ‘You two, go help the women and children.’ Pointing then at the two giants and the stout basajaun he told them to help the captives.

   ‘With pleasure.’ grunted the minotaur grimly and clashed his dual axes together violently whilst the basajaun nodded and the buggane flexed his great knuckles.

   Finally he pointed to the elven archer. ‘Do a sweep of the town and help anyone you can find. I’ll go and take out the sentries.’

   Within two minutes the twin pixies were hopping over the rooftops, swords clutched tightly at the ready, the archer not far behind them whilst the three more well-built members of their little band charged down the main street towards the group of captives constantly growing in size and the lithe elf darted about the outskirts of the town slitting the throats of the posted sentries quieter than if he had been a ghost.

 

~

 

   Cylen strutted about before the bowed heads of the captives his men were bringing in by the dozen. Men, women, children and elders all were knelt before him and his men, whimpering with fear and clutching charms and talismans in their sweaty palms as if they would make a difference.

   No, their fate was sealed. Enslavement, and if there was resistance, death before their neighbours to make an example. The cyclops was feeling rather pleased with himself until there came a gut-wrenching battle cry from behind him. It was promptly joined by two others.

   ‘CHAAAAAAARGE!’

   ‘CHAAAAAAARGE!’

   ‘WURRRRRRH!’

   Now Cylen might not have been one of the smartest creatures alive, but he knew a fight when he heard it coming and spun round wielding his club studded with sharpened rocks ready for battle.

   The battle cries alerted all of his men to a fight as well and in due course he was surrounded by two score redcaps and a half a score of ogres all armed and ready for a fight. If anything Cylen was looking forward to a clash of forces; there had been no resistance to this town.

   He nearly laughed when from the mouth if the main street emerged a minotaur, what appeared to be a massive mole and a dwarf like creature. Three, he thought, Three! How puny a resistance!

   The grin was wiped off his face however when the great mole lumbered forward to meet his surging forces and with a single swing of a massive clawed hand crippled four of the redcaps and with another swing broke the fighting arm of an ogre. His predicament gained further severity when the minotaur charged swinging two battle-scarred axes the size of his own torso slicing through the belly of an ogre and beheading a further two redcaps.

   The laughs and cheers of the captives behind him finished it. He wasn’t about to be beaten out of this puny town by a mere three fighters. Signalling the ten archers positioned on the roofs to attack he sent three ogres at the primal mole, set a band of fifteen redcaps on the dwarf-man and himself charged for the minotaur.

    Swinging his own club he clashed with the minotaur, the grating of metal upon stone echoing round the market and set about laying siege upon the horned brute. With a downward strike he pushed the minotaur virtually to his knees but didn’t expect the bull-like creature to throw himself forwards, axes between him and the club and knock his enemy backwards.

   Dazed from the move, Cylen was saved from the seething brute by another band of redcaps who proved a nightmare for the large fighter, scrambling over his body and darting out of the way of his attacks. Staring around he watched in dismay as the three ogres pinning the giant mole to the ground attempted and failed to resist its primal strength. The first was knocked back by a thump in his stomach from a clawed foot and the second was launched through the air as massive paws wrapped round its sides and lifted him high before flinging him with incredible force into a blazing cart. The third stood dumbfounded before being crushed by a paw of behemoth proportions.

   The redcaps attacking the basajaun too were fighting a losing battle, having not expected the ferocity with which he would rebel.

   Cylen used his final option – even if it meant losing a few of his men. Holding a hand up to his archers he signalled they reload and hail the battlefield.

   As they were told they reloaded, but several were taken out by arrows apparently coming from nowhere. However in an instant they were ready to fire, and even with only seven left the move fulfilled its purpose. Concentrated on the three rebels the hail of arrows pushed them back down the street and in the more confined space Cylen’s men took the upper hand, forcing them out of the town and into the forest.

 

~

 

   A short distance across the roofs the gowned archer observed the three’s loss and retreated across the roofs to do a second sweep of the town. Hopping over the rooftops she checked every backstreet she could for anyone cornered or in trouble and it was only in the last one she discovered a citizen. Cornered by three redcaps and holding a sword awkwardly before her the gowned elf could see the citizen had no fighting experience and that their plight was hopeless.

   Raising her bow and notching an arrow too it she prepared to fire.

 

~

 

   Ember knew her plight was hopeless. Even if she could take out one, or even two of the redcaps, which by the way she knew the chances of which were less than slim, redcaps were not only renowned for the team-work but for their niftiness. If she managed to take out one, the other two would have circled her and got her back before she could react.

   The ogre and the other redcap had been lucky hits, but these three weren’t alone and couldn’t be taken by surprise. She was doomed.

   The boldest of the three stepped forward licking his blade and grinned in the most evil fashion. He tapped the long blade his prey held awkwardly forth with his shorter, curved sword and performed a quick dart left then right, chuckling at the fearful expression on Ember’s face. He was toying with her.

   Just as the redcap was about to jump at her throat though, he had his head pinned unceremoniously to the ground, the arrow having hit him with such force it pierced his skull and brought him down with it, the tip protruding from the side of his head lodging in the ground as he fell.

   It happened so fast that for a moment Ember didn’t understand what had happened and the redcap seemed to stand there motionless before dropping limp, lifeless to the floor.

   The remaining two looked about bewildered and Ember took her chance, lunging forward and skewering the second one on the tip of her blade and opening his stomach for him.

   The third however soon spotted the archer on the roof and nimbly dodged the arrow she loosed from her bow then scampered across the street and, gripping a clothes line, twanged himself up to a balcony on the second floor and endeavoured to reach his quarry.

   Seeing that her saviour would soon be in grave danger Ember had to think fast. Searching for a pebble or some other item to launch at the climbing goblin her hand brushed against her daggers attached to the ogre’s belt. Of course, how did I not think of that before?

   Cursing her stupidity she grabbed the hilt of one of the daggers and carefully aimed at the darting shape of the redcap. Closing one eye for accuracy she had not the time to double-check her aim and flung the dagger in desperation just above the redcap’s position.

   Whether it was a good aim or a lucky hit Ember never knew but sure enough her dagger thudded into the child-sized villain’s back and she watched as his grip clenched with pain then loosened as the life flowed from him and he toppled to the ground far below.

   Ember stepped forward and retrieved her dagger from the crippled goblin. She was sure there would be time for grieving her sins in the morning but now she knew she had to get out of Dutton or risk the consequences.

   A moment later her saviour dropped soundlessly at her side, bow still ready should anything else jump them. ‘Come on, we’d best get going. We have to get you out of here.’

   Ember stopped dead. ‘But my mother and sister, they’re in trouble!’

   The elf grabbed her by the shoulders gently. ‘Where are they?’

   ‘The old wooden house two streets over.’

   ‘Okay, I’ll help your family but there is nothing you can do for them here. You must get to safety or risk being caught by the redcap scouts.’

   Reluctantly Ember realised this gowned woman was correct and hurried out of the backstreet with her towards the fields. Raising her fingers to her mouth Ember’s saviour whistled shrilly and a few moments later two dark outlines appeared on the roofs by their side. ‘Old wooden house, two streets over!’

   Almost in the same movement as they had arrived the two shapes vanished over the rooftops.

   It wasn’t long before Ember and the archer were haring through the fields, trampling crops carelessly in their flight to escape and leaving the blazing Dutton behind them. On reaching the treeline they were joined by a lanky elf with a sabre tucked in his belt.

   ‘Update.’ He ordered.

   ‘The pixies have gone to help this one’s family and the others have already been driven out by the archers. She was the only one I could save, the rest were all heavily guarded in the marketplace and try as we might they were too many. It was hopeless.’

   The elf’s face was set grimly and without another word, the three elves ran into the night.

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