The trial of Sir Guy DeHarancourt had taken five days, but in the end that particular fanatic had been sentenced to stay in the keep under the supervision of Father Francis Hough, the local priest of the Ecclesia.
The reason for the Duke’s apparent mercy was because of the form that Sir DeHarancourt had been given by the Curse of the Keep. He was now in the form of an age regressed wildcat morph, he had also lost his mind in the transformation, he was reduced to the mental state of a child, which I had learned was quite rare here at the keep.
I was now free to focus my attention on my work as a member of the Metamor Keep Army Patrol Command. Although during the trial I had managed to repair my battle armour, ensuring that I would be adequately protected when my patrol encountered the enemy, and that was something that was inevitable considering what George had told me when he had assigned me to my current unit. Basically he had told me that he would test the limits of my abilities, so far he had learned of my weakness against magic, other than that I believe that he already knew just how dangerous I really was.
This morning I was able to sleep in because my unit was leaving in the afternoon for our next assignment. When I finally did wake up I had to get ready for work. As soon as I had stretched my muscles, tended to my hand and foot claws, and groomed my fur I began to pull on my work clothes.
An hour later I was standing with the rest of the unit while Jonah told us of the mission that we were taking part in.
“Tonight we will be taking part in a combined raid with a squadron of cavalry and a team of Long Scouts. Our target is a lutin encampment that lies only half a day’s ride from here. The reason we must attack together is because this encampment is larger than any one of our units alone can handle, but together our units will be able to destroy this threat against our people.” I was glad that I had decided that I would only take my light raiders pack. It contained only the barest of essentials, four days rations, a field medicine kit, and a few odds and ends. In my side pouch on my belt I carried two spare bowstrings for my monster of a longbow, and my tinderbox. When I was involved in raiding I preferred to pack light so that I could move fast. I was talking with Trent, the bison morph, about a battle that he had fought in more than ten years ago, when there was a clatter of horse hooves as the cavalry detachment that was to take part in the raid joined us.
The leader of the squad was none other than the Knight Sir Edmund Delacote, though he was riding a lighter horse than was normal for a knight. Then again that was to be expected considering the fact that he now possessed the slender figure of a cheetah.
He looked around at the people gathered in the courtyard before he asked Jonah something about our unit.
Jonah laughed before he replied, even with my sensitive hearing I wasn’t able to pick up what he had said. After several more minutes Jonah finally turned and said “Ok everyone lets move out, we’ve got a lot of terrain to cover and only a few hours to cover it before darkness comes.”
Almost as soon as I got under way Jonah asked me why I was moving so quickly “Sir in the past when I’ve conducted raiding operations the imperative was to hit the enemy by moving as fast as possible.”
“Oberon we also must hit them while we are strong and fresh, therefore we must try and conserve our strength.”
I nodded and scaled back my speed of movement a little, but I was still moving pretty quickly. Our unit moved quickly and quietly through the trees towards the enemy encampment for several hours, the cavalry was following behind us on previously established paths while we made our own paths into the wilderness.
Of course we knew that we were preceded by at least two Long Scouts who were conducting reconnaissance of the enemy camp and determine what direction that we would attack from.
We marched through most of the night to at a point fairly close to the camp. When we stopped I crouched down and pulled off my raiding pack and placed it under a tree, but not before I took out two of my large trail rations from the pack. Once I was happy that it was properly concealed I consumed the rations with a little water from a canteen before I hid that item as well.
As I checked over my equipment a Long Scout that I recognized as Finbar, came over to Jonah and said softly, though not softly enough for my sensitive ears to pick up
“We’ve managed to take out most of their sentries, especially on the side where the cavalry will be hitting them but you could be in for a tough fight, I thought I smelled a troll out here.”
“A troll, that wasn’t exactly in the plan.”
“Well then I guess that we will have to alter the plan.”
“I’ve never faced a troll before other than back at the Battle of Three Gates and during the Yuletide Attack, and that was when I was comfortably behind a good sized wall.”
“Well we’ll just have to make due under the circumstances.”
"It won't be easy to kill that."
"Well I have a couple big guys in my unit who might be able to do the job, one is especially dangerous."
"The troll will be the big problem. The rest we can kill easy enough. We can try and lure him into an ambush." Jonah pointed over to me and Kent before he replied
"In case ambushing the troll doesn't work those two are going to take care of it."
“Oberon can handle it." Finbar jokes. "He's as big as a troll!"
"And twice as quick." Interjected Jonah with a chuckle.
At that commend Finbar laughed before he regained his composure and spread a map out onto the ground and began to point out a few salient features in the camp that was our objective.
While they were taking care of those little details I checked my bow and pulled an arrow out of my quiver and nocked it without drawing the bow. I wanted to be ready in case we were expected by the lutins even though that was highly unlikely.
We slowly made our way through the bushes for the next hour, being very careful in our movements, we didn’t want to tip this encampment off that we were about to attack until the moment came when we actually hit them.
A short time later I positioned myself in a small hedge of bushes and pulled my quiver off and placed it on the ground in a position that would allow me to grab arrows as quickly as I could. The signal for the attack had been agreed upon earlier was a single blast on a horn; this was something that Sir Edmund Delacote would do.
I took my nocked bow and raised it up into the air and pointed it at the camp and waited for the signal. I didn’t have long to wait, the sun was just cresting the ridge behind us when the horn called out its cry of death.
I acted automatically pulling the bow back to its maximum and releasing the arrow into the morning sky. My hand flashed down to the quiver almost as soon as it released the string to grab the next arrow. I kept this rate of fire up until I reached my hand down to find that there were no more arrows in the quiver. I had fired off twenty-five arrows in roughly three and a half minutes and now I had to drop my bow and head down to the encampment where some members of the raiding party were already engaged in combat with the lutins.
As I ran down into the encampment I drew both the Claw of the Dragon and my broadsword, getting them ready for action. As soon as I cleared the trees on the perimeter I found myself almost surrounded by lutins. I grinned at the test to my skills that this provided and began to move through the enemy force in a whirlwind of steel and white fur.
After a several moments I sheathed my broadsword grabbed a lutin behind me with my left hand, claws fully extended and wrenched his neck around until it snapped with a dry sounding crack. Now that I had only one sword I began to dance around my own pattern of ‘Sung Dranatk ek Grect’, or in common tongue; The Dance of Death. Each Kelmar Bladelord had his own version of this dance and each one was very lethal to those who were coming up against it.
I moved through the horde of lutins in a flowing pattern that left nothing but corpses behind me and blood on my left arm whenever I used it as a weapon in my fight. I was just rising from a crouch after dispatching four lutins with a sweep of my blade when I heard a loud roar sound out; this wasn’t a roar from a member of the raiding party but a roar from the enemy. The sound was full of malice and mindless hatred that even I could detect.
I laid my ears back and replied with my own roar. There was a loud thumping sound of footsteps before I finally was able to see what had roared. It was an ugly man shaped beast that was roughly eight and a half feet tall. As it got closer it swung its club at a nearby lutin, sending the unfortunate creature flying up into the air. He then swung his club at one of the members of the other squad that was involved in the raid smashing the poor fellow flatter than a skillet cake. As he swung his club for the third time, this time at me, I dodged out of the way and struck out at him with my own blade. He was bigger than I was but he was also surprisingly quick, he dodged my own strike and swung with his monstrous club again. I just managed to duck underneath the blow at the same time I stabbed upwards with my sword catching the giant man on his thigh, but the sword didn’t penetrate all that far.
This was unreal, the Claw of the Dragon had never failed to penetrate anything and yet here it had only managed to create a superficial wound. I rolled out from my dangerous position and came to my feet just out of range of the monster. This was going to take me a little more effort than I had originally planned. The monster didn’t give me all that much time to consider what I should do next as he charged me swinging that huge club over his head. I managed to dodge his next few blows; each time he attacked I would avoid his attacks and counterattack with a slash of my sword. We tramped our way through the encampment fighting our own private fight, while at the same time the forces from the Keep were making quick work of the lutins in the camp. Every so often I had to either ward off a lutin with my free hand or kill it. I found out there that my left hand, with its claw tipped fingers, was very effective in ripping the throats out of a lutin’s neck. Finally after dodging a particularly vicious blow from the monster’s club that hit the ground with a dull thud I swung my sword with both hands at his wrists as he tried to pick the club up again. I was well pleased when the when the blade sheered through both wrists leaving the monster with nothing but stumps on the end of his arms. He roared and then dashed at me bearing me to the ground with his weight. I was concerned now because in this position this monster could do with me what it wanted to.
However, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve; I opened my mouth and clamped my jaws on his throat. All I can say about that is yuck, this guy tasted worse than nine day old mouldy porridge. At the same time I kicked his belly with my feet, claws fully extended so that I scored eight long gashes in his belly. They weren’t serious injuries but they were painful, the most dangerous of my actions was definitely my flicking my wrists to unsheathe the stilettos that I had strapped to my bracers. Once those knives were unsheathed I stabbed into the monster with a stiletto in each hand, trying to hit something vital.
The monster yowled in pain, even though his throat was now restricted because of my teeth on his neck. Finally it attempted to stand up and I let go. I let it go and it retreated back several steps. The monster was bleeding from several different places and it was clearly on its last legs. I managed to sheath my two slender stilettos and picked my sword up off of the ground, where it was covered in gore. Then I dashed in under the monster’s arms and swung the sword once, there was a heavy jerk on my arms followed by an equally heavy thump to the right of us. I stepped back as the now headless body staggered once and then hit the ground with its knees before falling onto it chest with a pathetic wheeze.
I shook my head panting to clear my vision before I looked around for more lutins, but it appeared that the encampment was empty of the enemy. I leaned on my sword for a moment before I slowly made my way to the nearby creek where the camp had been getting its fresh water and began trying to get the sticky blood out of my fur; I was covered in gore form the top of my head to my feet.
Just as I put my hands into the water when someone came up beside me and said, “Good Lord Oberon, you’re covered in blood are you all right?”
I looked at the person and was able to recognize that it was Caroline, Misha’s companion, and one of the four Long Scouts who had been involved in the raid.
I grinned slightly “It’s all mostly from those lutins and that huge monster that I had to fight with. I have a few scratches but nothing really serious.” I commented before I dipped my head into the water and tried to get the blood out of my head-fur.
“You fought a troll?” She asked in surprise. “And won!”
I lifted my head up to look her in the eyes before I replied, “It was a hard fight, that thing was faster than I expected with that club. The gods only know how dangerous it would’ve been if it had possessed a sword. It was even tougher when I had disarmed it, since it decided to tackle me and try and fight me at very close quarters. In the end though I managed to remove its head, once that happened the fight was over.”
She shook her head while I ran some water through my face-fur and finally managed to say “That was a troll Oberon. They’ve been known to kill ogres easily and you killed one single-handed. Amazing!”
“Well my sword,” I indicated the weapon with its glowing ruby pommel-stone at my side “, gave me a little assistance when it mattered.”
“Your sword may have helped but I think that you were the one that did most of the fighting.”
I chuckled and ran my claws through my throat ruff before I conceded that I would probably need a good bath at the keep to get the stains out of my fur. “Well when you’re fighting for you life you can exceed even what you know that you can do. Besides that there is the fact that I’ve either been training to fight or fighting for sixty-five years.”
Caroline shook her head “Still it’s incredible that you managed to kill a troll single-handed!”
I was cleaning as much blood as I could from my left arm while she spoke before I finally had to concede that even that blood was something that I needed a serious bath to take care of. Since I wasn’t getting anywhere with my impromptu washing here I stood up to my full height before I responded “That monster was the first really serious challenge to my abilities that I’ve had out here while in the service to the keep, other than that dumb lutin mage a week and a half ago.”
“If a troll is a challenge I don’t want to what would be able to beat you in a fight. A dragon?”
I laughed before I interjected “I have yet to experience their type in battle, though they may be similar to the Night Gryphons from my homeland. Now those are a serious threat to a warrior, no matter how good that warrior is. If you are able to beat one in single combat you are really something special.”
“Up here we thankfully have dragons on our side. Several members of the Keep’s population are dragons, but there are a few dragons that serve our enemies up north.”
I nodded my head before rubbing a spot just behind my left ear before I finally said. “Right now I really wouldn’t appreciate getting into another fight. All I really need is to simply return home to the Keep so that I can get some rest.”
She nodded in understanding “We should be home by nightfall, but don’t let your guard down, we can still be ambushed on the way back to the keep.”
“Oh joy, joy, well at least I can go back to our staging point to pick up my raiding pack with my rations. With some food in my stomach I should be ok for a little while longer.”
“Trail rations may not be tasty but at least they are filling. Though I suspect that a big guy like yourself probably needs at least a dozen of them to begin feeling full.” I smiled at her comment
“I’ve had the cooks at the keep make up triple sized rations for me. That’s better than carrying around a hundred of the bloody things. However, if we are lucky I should be able to track down something that is considerably fresher.”
She laughed “I eat one and I’m full but you need at least a dozen of the standard sized rations to even begin to feel it.”
“I guess that’s the price that I’ve got to pay for getting a form that is so ideally suited for my profession.”
“Just be glad I don’t share my fish flavoured ones. Misha HATES those with a passion.”
“Fish isn’t all THAT bad is it?”
“Try telling Misha that. He can’t even stand the smell of them. He makes me eat them downwind of him!”
I tilted my head back and gave a gruff shout of laughter before I managed to say “You mean he will actually turn down food?”
“There are certain things even HE won’t eat.”
“Well I know that I can’t touch vegetables, they give me the worst stomach-aches and worse. On the other hand if it is a type of meat I can pretty well eat it without too much trouble.”
“Well Misha can eat fish. He just can’t stand the taste of it. All he’ll say on the matter is that he grew up in landlocked country where you simply couldn’t get fish.”
“He wouldn’t have like my home town; I remember that there was a fish market in the central square. Our town was located on the shore of the largest lake in the entire Clanlands.”
“Here at the Keep the only fish that we have access to are small river fish, or what can be imported from the south!”
“I think I understand.” I commented before I began to walk towards the place where I had concealed my longbow and my quiver. When I reached the bush where I had shot my arrows from I pulled it all from its concealment and placed it on my body, though I still had to go back and retrieve my pack. As I was about to unstring my bow I heard Caroline comment in an interested voice
“That bow is beautiful, can I hold it?”
“Sure thing, though Misha said it was a little on the large side for his taste.” I told her before I handed it to her. She took the bow into her hands and then exclaimed,
“This thing is huge; it’s taller than I am! How heavy of a pull does it have?” as she examined it with a professional eye.
“That bow there has a pull of two hundred and fifty pounds, though the runes on the metal parts make it so that the arrows leave the string as if it had the equivalent force of a bow with a pull resistance of five hundred pounds.”
“FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS?” she exclaimed. “You could put an arrow through several people with that much power.”
I shrugged my shoulders before I slowly replied “I think that I saw several arrows that had gone through more than one lutin back there in the encampment, or at least I think I saw some like that.” She laughed
“Impressive! I’ve never seen a bow this powerful before.”
“Didn’t Misha tell you about this monster of a bow?”
She nodded “He mentioned it but he didn’t tell me that it was this powerful.”
“Well I can’t demonstrate it right now, I used up all of my arrows in the assault on that encampment and I’ll have to make some more when I get back to the keep.”
“Plenty of time back at the keep to shoot arrows.” She commented “After we get a meal and a good night’s sleep.”
“Well before I shoot any arrows I’ll have to make some more because your standard arrows don’t work in that bow.”
“Standard arrows don’t work? She asked in surprise “Why?”
“They aren’t long enough for my bow.” I took the bow back from her and then pulled the string back to my ear.
She looked at the distance between the string and the arch of the bow before she finally managed to say “I’ve never seen arrows that have to by THAT long! They’re more like a javelin than an arrow.”
“So you see why I need to make more. I wasn’t able to recover any of my spent arrows either. Most of them are broken or too deeply embedded in their victims to be pulled out.” I replied before I unstrung the bow and placed it in its soft leather case. While we were walking she said
“You’d best make a lot of arrows Oberon. From what I’ve experienced as a scout and a Long Scout we usually prefer to use bows to pick off our enemies at a distance. It’s less of a risk for us that way.”
I nodded my head as I headed up to the original launch point of the raid and located my raiding pack and picked it up. I pulled out two trail rations and offered on to Caroline as a simple courtesy.
She took the proffered food into her hand and then said, “Thank you Oberon. This thing is huge; I could eat this thing for a week.”
“Your welcome.” I said before I polished off my own ration in four bites. I took a swig of water from my canteen before I mentioned “I guess that we had better be getting back down there, my commander, Lieutenant Jonah will be wondering where I am.”
Caroline nibbled at a corner of the ration in her hand. Hmm, beef. Not as good as fish but still good.”
“Sorry I don’t usually request fish in my diet.” Then a brainwave came to me because I remembered something that George had told me about locating something that I needed for making his sword. “By the way Caroline I was wondering if you could ask Misha where he gets his coal from. George tells me that he can get his hands on some anthracite coal and I need some for my own uses.”
“Anthracite coal? The hard coal he used to fix Madog? He has a merchant that brings it in from the Midlands. I can find his name out for you if you would like it.”
“Thank you. I would much appreciate it, I don’t like working with second rate materials when I am making weapons, I absolutely despise cheap materials.”
Caroline laughed softly “Misha prefers it too, even for heating his apartment. He says that it burns longer and hotter than normal coal.”
I laughed along with her as we rejoined the rest of the contingent in the center of the clearing where the lutin encampment had been. I looked at her for a moment before I drew my broadsword and held it out to Caroline hilt first. “Here is an example of what I can do when it comes to creating weapons.”
She took the weapon carefully and glanced along the blade. “This is beautiful. I’ve never seen a sword quite like this. Are you sure that you made this weapon? I’ve never seen a sword this finely made before.”
I laughed at her question before I responded “Would you like me to make a sword like this for you Caroline?”
She looked up at me before she managed to reply. “I would like a new sword, but nothing so big! Can you make something a little more my size? A nice short sword perhaps?”
“I certainly can make one for you fine lady. You will get a fine short-sword and scabbard with a by knife, a sword-belt, and a dagger with a scabbard, they come as a set, like all of my weapons.”
She handed my broadsword back to me and said “All right. Whatever the cost is to make them I am willing to pay for a weapon as fine as that sword of yours.”
“Ok I’ll try and make your order as soon as I’m finished George’s set. Your set will not be cheap though. I estimate the cost for it to be in the area of sixty garrets and furthermore I will need you to drop by my forge as soon as you can tomorrow so that I can take my measurements to make sure that your new weapons are perfectly suited to you.”
“All right. I have the coins, and a little to spare, though I don’t have them here with me right now.”
I nodded in understanding “That’s perfectly ok Caroline. If you wouldn’t mind could you please drop by my forge at nine-o-clock tomorrow morning so that we can get everything worked out.” I told her just before Jonah called out to me
“Oberon get your stripped white tail over here, we’re moving out.”
“I’ll do that. You’d better get going you don’t want to annoy Jonah any more than he already is.”
I nodded my head and joined the rest of the squad. Each member of the squad had a few scratches and Jonah had his arm in a sling, though I don’t really think it was really all that serious
“A nice little fight eh Oberon.”
I chuckled before I replied “You can say that again Jonah.”
He looked me up and down before he said, “I heard that you had more fun than the rest of us.”
“If you consider troll wrestling to be fun, then I guess that I did have more fun.”
He shook his head slightly and sighed before he turned and focussed his attention on the trail ahead of his feet.
I looked at the rest of the members of the squad and then settled myself to my own marching rhythm. I was looking forward to a good bath at the bath-house and a full night’s sleep in my own bed tonight.