The barbarian invasion came during the summer solstice. Marcus heard the cries of the tribe’s wolves as the marauders leapt over the outer wall of the Romani camp at Ungar Falls. The aspiring warrior was in his early twenties and had studied swordplay to a degree with his father. Like his father, Marcus had dark-brown hair and a muscular physique.
His parents, Theodorus and Ursula, had both gone to the deep forest with the other tribal elders early that morning. They sought game to be captured and salted for preservation. The abundance of the warm months was shadowed by the scarcity of food in winter.
It is my responsibility to defend the settlement, thought Marcus.
He steeled himself for the attack of the nearing barbarians. The invaders sported helmets adorned with ox horns. Some of them wore armor that was a combination of chain mail and embossed leather. As the barbarians closed in upon Marcus he noticed that a percentage of the marauders had foregone armor altogether. They had painted their faces and torsos with spiraling blue and red designs.
Marcus drew his father’s sword, Death Nail, from the stack of bearskins in his family’s long house. He wielded the long sword with both hands and yelled to the invaders.
“Come forth, foul barbarians! You won’t take what is ours easily. We will stand and protect the lives and artifacts of the Romani Tribe.”
A large Romani man yelled from the long house parallel to the home of Marcus and his family. “I agree, Marcus,” said Hugo. “You have my support. Let us convince these barbarians that we care as much for our settlement as the elder hunters.”
Hugo was Marcus’ childhood friend. The portly, redheaded Romani hunter stood in a protective stance. Hugo’s weapon of choice was a glinting battleaxe.
The Romani Tribe was a mixture of ethnic groups from the scions of the Magyarsog, to the Macedonians and Gauls. The infiltrators of the village were also diverse in their physical features. Some were tall and muscular with blond beards while others were short and stocky with red moustaches.
The conflict came quickly. A pair of barbarian lancers charged within Marcus’ fighting range. He parried their spears. Marcus swung at the raiders in turn with his sharpened, bronze sword.
He cut an invader a deep blow to his left shoulder. The marauder screeched in pain and dropped his weapon in order to apply pressure to the bleeding wound. Marcus finished him off with an arcing blow to the neck. The infiltrator fell to his knees and died.
The other barbarian lancer trembled and backed away.
“I need help, Teutons,” he yelled. “This man is fierce.”
The invader’s eyes rolled from side to side as he looked for support from his kinsmen. The barbarians were engaged elsewhere and could not heed his call.
The lone lancer fled from Marcus, who panted from the exertion of the skirmish.
Additional raiders were enraged at the death of their kin. They spoke to one another in a dialect unfamiliar to Marcus. It was a mixture of Teutonic language and Cyrillic. A trio of them charged Marcus.
Despite the efforts of the three older brigands to flank Marcus they found themselves pushed back by a flurry of thrusts from Death Nail. Marcus, the aspiring hunter, remembered Theodorus’ teaching and used the wall of his long house to protect his back.
Marcus sidestepped the swords of the hostile warriors. He swung his father’s sword again as he turned toward the shafts of the blades. Marcus struck the bronze weapons of his opponents causing them to shatter. To his surprise the older males ran from the immediate area.
Other long houses lining the falls were set ablaze by flame-tipped arrows launched by the barbarians. The fire and smoke added to the confusion of the resistant members of the Romani Tribe.
I must free the wolves, thought Marcus.
Marcus sprinted to the wicker kennel and swung at the knotted gate with his father’s weapon. The wolves, aware of the emergency, dashed out of the opening and tangled with the intruding barbarians. The mossy earth became splattered with human and canine blood.
Marcus scanned his surroundings for the leader of the invaders. He spotted a tall mage dressed in a flowing, crimson cloak covered in cryptic runes. The symbols consisted of intersecting lines and curves. The embroidered characters were rendered with stitches of golden thread. The runes sparkled in the sunlight. They stated the names of gods in the Teutonic pantheon. These included Loki and Set.
The man had a pointed beard and deep-set eyes that glinted within his cowl. The wizard carried a metallic staff that glowed with preternatural green light.
“Seek the bronze, my soldiers,” said the mage. “Burn the rest.”
“Yes, Urdon,” answered the majority of the barbarians.
They entered a berserker state and hacked at Marcus’ tribe with renewed fervor. Some barbarians used swords and axes to lop off limbs. Others used lances and the curved blades of double-ended, scythe-like weapons. The barbarians continued their assault of the village of Ungar Falls.
Urdon used his blunt force weapon to guide the movements of the barbarians. In response to the gaunt sorcerer’s illuminated gestures, the barbarians moved in formations controlled by magic. Urdon’s invaders made a semicircle around the edges of the settlement. The eyes of the brigands flared with light. The barbarians charged forward, closing the ends of the semicircle around the burning buildings.
Other residents of the camp, including Marcus’ friend, Hugo, grappled around the long houses with their finely crafted arms. Despite the valiant efforts of the young men, several of the villagers fell to the sophisticated swordsmanship of Urdon’s followers. The crush of barbarians was too great for Marcus, Hugo and the other members of the Romani Tribe.
The Teutonic warriors yelled a battle cry. “Ragnarok!”
They hewed at the inexperienced residents of Ungar Falls. The younger hunters parried what they could of the flurried attacks of the older men.
“Hold strong, Romani!” cried Marcus. “The hunters in the woods may return soon.”
Several of the defenders fell to the scythe-like blades and twirling hatchets and mattocks of their adversaries. More of Marcus’ friends fought valiantly but were skewered by the superior strength and numbers of the raiders. Dead and dying villagers left pools of blood on the grassy earth.
“Marcus, there are too many of them. We must regroup in the safety of the trees,” Hugo declared.
Marcus watched his red-haired friend dispatch two of the barbarians with his battleaxe. The wild men were overcome by the heavy blows of the Romani man. Hugo disemboweled the closest screaming barbarian then severed the head of the other. Hugo was splattered with hot blood.
Marcus was confronted by three bellowing barbarians. He blocked the attack of the closest and dropped to one knee as he spun around and swung Death Nail in a humming arc. Marcus chopped off the barbarian’s left leg at the knee. The marauder screamed in pain. The injured barbarian hobbled away from the conflict. The other two invaders were ready and rendered a flurried attack with their spinning hatchets. Marcus parried the multiple blows but was hard-pressed to keep his balance. A trio of tribal wolves came to Marcus’ aid in the nick of time.
The wolves sank their fangs into the legs of the invaders and locked their jaws. They shook their heads in ferocious death grips. This provided a diversion for Marcus to swing his weapon at the two hostile brigands. Marcus used his weapon to cut one barbarian along the forearm. The enemy of the Romani gasped with the shock of the injury. The blond invader dropped his mattocks and fled from the fighter and wolves.
The other barbarian wasn’t fast enough and took the full brunt of the strike of Death Nail to the head.
We are being overrun by these barbarians, thought Marcus. The Romani Tribe can’t afford to wait for the return of the elder hunters.
“Flee to the woods, my brethren!” Marcus yelled. “Ungar Falls is lost. We must unite with the elders who hunt beyond.”
Hugo and the members of the Romani Tribe that were able followed Marcus’ advice and ran to the dense growth of oaks and pines. Marcus was relieved to see a number of the unleashed wolves follow their masters in their hasty retreat from the encampment.
Marcus, Hugo and the surviving male and female hunters of the burning settlement were familiar with the crags and dried riverbeds of the forest beyond the tumultuous Ungar River.
The yells of Urdon’s aggressive barbarians were soon muffled by the expanse of trees. The followers of the evil sorcerer did not pursue Marcus and the Romani tribesmen who survived the initial attack.
Marcus took a final look back at the burning camp as he fled. The muscular Teutonic and Cyrillic invaders rifled through the embers and ashes in search of bronze items. They tossed what they found in a giant crucible at the edge of the conflagration. Urdon super-heated the bronze with a red, energy beam emitted from the head of his staff. Marcus was afraid to linger and ran into the woods.
Marcus and his comrades traveled along the riverbank for most of an hour. Marcus was the first to reach a clearing. He spotted the experienced hunters who had established a small camp.
Theodorus and Ursula looked up from their cook fire where strips of bear meat were salted and dried on a spit. Theodorus had graying, brown hair and a salt and pepper beard. Ursula was blonde and tall, reflecting her Teutonic ancestry. Marcus’s parents were shocked and dismayed to see their bloody son and the other Romani villagers emerge from the woods.
“Marcus, what has happened?” asked Theodorus.
“Father, the barbarians destroyed our village at the falls. Those of us that could do so retreated to the trees. I freed the wolves and many of them fought valiantly. The ones that lived followed us here. I defended myself as best I could. Here is Death Nail. I used your blade to intercept the marauding barbarians.”
“Thank you, my son,” answered Theodorus.
Theodorus took the sword from his son. His brow was furrowed with concern for the welfare of his tribe.
“There was a magic user in their midst. They called him Urdon. Have you heard of him?”
“Urdon . . . hmm. That name sounds familiar,” said Theodorus. “Ursula, do you remember if there was an Urdon among the wizards that were cast from the Ebony Tower last fall?”
“I believe there was, Husband. This is a tragic day for all of us,” moaned the female hunter.
Hugo addressed Theodorus. “There were rumors of renegade mages conducting unorthodox sorcery in the Tower last fall. This magic user has taken his maverick agenda into his own hands.
“They came for our bronze,” the red-haired survivor continued. “The wizard controlled the invaders with an enchantment.”
“I have heard of magic users of this persuasion, Hugo,” observed Theodorus. “This bodes poorly for the Romani. We must hold council tonight to organize a militia from our hunting parties and determine the safest direction for the tribe to take. There is no use in returning to the Ungar River. We should plan on settling farther into the trees.”
“Hugo said you fought well, Marcus,” declared Ursula. “I don’t know what your father and I would do if anything happened to you. You should rest while the two of us work with the hunters. We will prepare the game we caught for storage.”
“I appreciate your concern, Mother and Father,” answered Marcus. “I’ll follow your advice. I could use some time to recuperate. Wake me for the council meeting if I am sleeping.”
Marcus lay on the grass of the clearing and held his arm over his eyes. In a matter of moments he drifted into a troubled sleep.
Twilight fell across the land and the hunters and survivors of the tribe gathered around a roaring fire. Many of the Romani sharpened swords and arrows. The air was filled with tension and urgency. Their faces were creased with anger and worry.
Theodorus strode through the encampment of tribesmen and women. He awoke his son.
“Arise, Marcus, the time for the council meeting draws near.”
“Yes, thank you, Father,” answered Marcus.
The two men marched to the ring of people encircling the council fire. The faces of the men and women were illuminated with golden light from the flames.
“Let us take revenge for our lost kindred and homes!” bellowed Hugo. “This is not the first time that ill magic has sent forces to destroy us. We should find mages of our own.”
“With your permission, neighbors,” Theodorus declared, “I offer my services as the unofficial leader of this council. Raise your hands if you will allow me to direct the tribe.”
“By all means, Theodorus!” yelled a handful of hunters and gatherers of the Romani Tribe.
A majority of them cheered and raised their hands.
“We cannot afford the manpower to counter-attack the barbarians. I agree with the recommendation of Hugo regarding the issue of acquiring a tribal shaman.”
Theodorus nodded to Hugo.
“We need to find someone who can help insure the safety of our children and settlement from future infiltration. I also think we should build a barrier around our next encampment. It is wise to make things tougher for the raiders to purloin our bronze items. Perhaps this will motivate them to smelt their own tools and weapons.”
The council fire flared with blue and red flames. A deep voice spoke from the darkness beyond the tribal circle.
“You brave folk are in need of magical assistance. The spirits of the trees informed me of your predicament. This forest emanates ethereal energy to those that care to absorb it.”
A blue-robed mage stepped into the light of the flames and pulled down his hood, making his features visible. His beard was white and his face wrinkled with age.
“My name is Skjold. I offer my services to you, Theodorus and your Romani Tribe. I am not able to run with you. My legs are old and tired. I can summon a creature that will help, however. He was effective in ages past and will serve you well. He is the Zorlak.”
“Ha!” scoffed Hugo. “The Zorlak is a myth. Such a creature is the stuff of tales told to children.”
“On the contrary, my friend,” answered Skjold. “The Zorlak is real. I will summon him tonight, with the permission of you tribesmen and women, of course.”
“By all means proceed,” answered Theodorus. “You are a trustworthy sorcerer. I recognize you from the winter ceremonies at the Ebony Tower. We can use any help we can muster.”
“Very well,” said Skjold. “I do this to prevent the dominance of evil in our forests.”
He drew a handful of mysterious powder from a sack on his belt and tossed it into the pyre. Blue flames arched from the center of the crackling embers. The elderly mage raised his arms in a gathering posture. He uttered a summoning spell. “Golez!”
A portal opened over the fabric of space near the fire. It extended horizontally and became a purple disc three yards wide. Out of the oval dropped a huddling creature covered in reflective, yellow and red scales.
The Zorlak extended his legs and stood erect. He was seven feet tall. His limbs shook and rippled as his bulky muscles flexed and stretched. The Zorlak had a large head and a set of curving fangs that protruded from his mouth. The creature was amphibious and possessed both gills and nostrils.
“For calling me you have my thanks, Skjold,” rumbled the Zorlak. “Ages it has been since I visited this spatial plane. How may I serve you?”
“These Romani hunters and gatherers have been accosted by a number of barbarians and a mage called Urdon. Their settlement was burned and some of the residents killed. I summoned you to aid in their defense. There is hostile magic running through this section of the forest and I need you to help bring it to an end.”
“Very well, Skjold,” answered the Zorlak. “Do what I can, I will.”
“I take my leave from this place,” said the wizard. “I wish all of you good fortune and will monitor your movements through the trees.”
“Thank you for your support, Skjold,” Theodorus said. “We are indebted to you for bringing this sturdy creature to our aid.”
The blue-cloaked mage bowed and turned into the darkness of the surrounding forest.
“In a neighboring spatial plane to yours my kin reside, Romani Tribe,” declared the Zorlak. “Consists it does of aquatic space condensed around a cluster of stars. Function well we do in both air and water and good swimmers we are. In need of a stronghold you people are. Haphazardly through these woods the barbarians travel and in this clearing bound they are to the presence of your tribe detect. Some construction abilities I have and to move lumber help you I can.”
“Thank you, Zorlak,” replied Theodorus. “We will benefit from your facilities. Go with my son, Marcus, at the dawn. He knows which trees are good for cutting. Do you need a sword and shield?”
“No, thank you,” replied the scaled creature. “My own methods I have of defending myself.”
“I don’t need your help, Zorlak,” Marcus said. “I doubt your power will make much of a difference in the defense of us Romani.”
“Surprised you’d be, Marcus,” replied the Zorlak. “Adept warriors we Zorlaks are, and strong, too. If bear with me you will, sure I am that of my martial prowess convinced you’ll be.”
“Perhaps you’re right, Zorlak,” said Marcus. “I apologize if I offended you. If you’ll excuse me I need some rest. Wake me if I’m still sleeping at the dawn.”
“No offense taken, Sturdy Romani,” stated the amphibian. “Wake you I will when rises the sun does.”
Marcus rested for a few hours until he was awakened by the morning sun. His dreams had been mixed with vivid memories of the barbarian invasion and concern for the future of the Romani Tribe.
I’m worried about the safety of my people, thought Marcus. The barbarians came without warning. I hope the Zorlak will help us stand strong in what conflicts may arise. The experienced fighters of our group are skillful. I have confidence in our defensive abilities.
The Zorlak crouched nearby and was watching him.
“Marcus, on our way let us be.”
“Certainly, Zorlak,” replied the Romani man. “I am armed and ready.”
The two companions marched out of the clearing and entered the old growth forest. The sounds of birds and squirrels emanated from the high branches of the canopy. Marcus and the Zorlak had not traveled far when they heard the raucous stumbling of a group of barbarians hacking their way through the underbrush.
There were five barbarians. They had no perception of the proximity of the encampment of the elders. The bearded Teutons were taken by surprise by Marcus and the Zorlak. They had just enough time to draw their bronze swords when the amphibian engaged them at close range.
The Zorlak used his considerable strength to hoist his two opponents by their necks and bash their heads together. The other three barbarians swung heavy blows at the attacking creature but his red and yellow scales were impervious to the slashing blades.
Marcus drew his bronze sword and dispatched one of the invaders. The Zorlak sprang close to the two that remained and entered a bitter melee. His scales were thick and he deflected their flailing swords with his forearms. The amphibian counter-attacked with his talon-like claws and fangs. One raider was gored through the chest and fell lifeless to the ground. The remaining infiltrator screeched in fear and ran in the opposite direction.
“Let us return to camp, Zorlak,” said Marcus. “It is evident that our tribe will not be safe from Urdon and his roaming invaders until the construction of the new stronghold is completed. I am impressed by your prowess in battle. I was wrong about you.”
“So it seems, my friend,” replied the amphibian. “Your help in that struggle I appreciate. Near-sighted we Zorlaks are. Best in close quarters we fight. Wise it is to your tribal elders inform of the ongoing search of the barbarians for bronze and precious metals.
“The population of the Teutonic and Cyrillic invaders has grown,” replied Marcus. “The barbarians are in need of bronze to mold into weapons and coins. They have plenty of potential recruits to arm and arrowheads to forge.”
Marcus and the Zorlak returned to the camp in the clearing of the deep forest. Marcus notified his father and mother of the battle in the woods.
“Mother and Father, I’m afraid that the barbarian that escaped us will soon tell Urdon of our location,” said Marcus.
“If they show up we’ll be ready, Son,” Ursula vowed.
A number of pines and oaks had been harvested and were being cut into planks by Theodorus, Hugo and several others. They used makeshift saws forged and cut from old swords.
“Please, to help allow me,” offered the Zorlak.
“Thank you, large creature,” Theodorus replied.
The Zorlak lifted one of the stacks of planks. He assembled the heavy boards into a square wall seven yards high. The amphibian hammered additional segments of wood in position to form a network of ramps and platforms along the inside walls of the fort.
“Ah, rest I must,” the amphibian sighed. “Ready your fort is to be filled with long houses, Romani Tribe. Hard pressed the marauders will be to destroy this settlement with the same ease that at Ungar Falls they exercised.”
“We are indebted to you, Zorlak,” declared Ursula. “We welcome you to recuperate within these walls.”
“My gratitude you have, courageous woman,” answered the creature. “Up on your offer I will take you.”
The Zorlak walked to a corner of the square stronghold and lay on the grass.
Theodorus and Ursula teamed up with the other hunters and gatherers who hastened to finish the settlement. They began to build the foundations for the long houses within the square.
Hugo, Marcus and the Zorlak dispersed to the outer reaches of the clearing in the forest. They set a circle of watch fires along the perimeter of the opening in the trees. Marcus and his friends maintained a rotating watch through the night. Throughout the settlement the sporadic howls of the wolves seemed to carry an air of caution.
It is only a matter of time before Urdon and his brigands are informed of our location, thought Marcus. The sole survivor of the ambush we conducted is sure to report back to the barbarians soon.
The invaders came at dawn. The men and women at the perimeter heard the snaps of broken branches and the rustling of dried leaves in the undergrowth. They ran to the stronghold and blew horns signifying the call to battle.
Marcus and the Zorlak were roused by the alarm. The Romani Tribe wielded blades and bows in preparation. Marcus loosed the wolves of the settlement once more and the animals loped into the trees.
The cool, morning air was filled with yells and growls as the wolves contended with their prey. The number of raiders was greater than that of the wolf pack. Three-dozen barbarians emerged from the forest unscathed, with weapons in hand. Urdon, the sorcerer, marched at the rear of the group. His staff flared with green light.
Through the night members of the Romani Tribe had hastily crafted catapults out of the slender trunks of pine trees. They launched a volley of fiery coals at the barbarians. Three of Urdon’s men were struck by the burning embers and screeched in agony as their leather armor ignited.
Ten of Marcus’ companions released arrows at their adversaries from the ramparts of the tall walls. Five of the hostile barbarians fell to the penetrating, bronze arrowheads.
“Cut down an oak!” yelled Urdon. “We need a battering ram.”
“They plan to invade our fort, my friends,” bellowed Theodorus. “Secure and reinforce the gate.”
Romani tribesmen and women laid planks of wood at an angle against the inner surface of the gate. Other members of Marcus’ tribe stood in a line, holding long, sharpened poles. The fighters on the ground were accompanied by additional archers who trained their bows and arrows at the barred gate.
In less than an hour’s time the forces outside the stronghold chopped down a tall oak and set it atop a pair of wagons. Urdon focused the top of his illuminated, green staff at the ram.
“Struxis!” cried the evil mage.
The battering ram was covered in a resilient sorcery. Spiraling beams of red and green light surrounded the trunk of the massive tree. The raiders ignored the volleys of arrows flying down from above although three more of them were smitten by the high-velocity bolts.
Urdon took a position in the rear as his warriors gathered around their siege machine and drove it into the tall gate. The gates buckled under the first assault but did not break. The oak planks of the resilient doors glowed with the green light applied to the battering ram.
“Steady, my brethren,” yelled Theodorus. “Do not loose your arrows until you have your targets within sight.”
The barbarians at the gate rolled their siege machine back and then pushed it forward in a formidable attempt to penetrate the gates. Despite its reinforcement the oak panels buckled and split under the force of the battering ram. An opening afforded the infiltrators with enough room to enter the fort three at a time.
The Romani archers released their arrows at near point blank range. Marcus and the Zorlak pushed their way to the front line and picked up extra, sharpened poles. They joined the charge and yelled a battle cry. Five of the brigands were run through by the Romani tribesmen.
The following wave of raiders pushed their fallen comrades to the sides of the breach in a gristly pile. Marcus drew his sword. Theodorus wielded Death Nail and Ursula a bronze-tipped lance. They hacked and slashed at their enemies, covering the ground with blood.
The Zorlak spotted Urdon through the defunct gate and used his strength to press through the jagged opening. The creature rushed the sorcerer and rendered a flurry of critical attacks to his person.
Although significantly injured by the claws of the Zorlak, Urdon uttered a spell of counter-attack.
Ten circular, red blades appeared. Urdon gestured with his hands and the weapons followed his directions. The blades surrounded the amphibian. The Zorlak tumbled to evade them to no avail. Urdon’s disks created a gyroscopic formation around the Zorlak. The wizard brought his hands together and the disks closed in on the Zorlak. The ten red blades punctured the thick skin of the creature. The air was filled with the sound of tearing sinews and cracking bones.
“Arrgh, hurts that does!” yelled the Zorlak.
He was impaled through the chest and back. The scaled being was overcome by the pain of his injuries and slumped unconscious within Urdon’s crushing sphere of magic force.
Urdon succumbed to his injuries and fell dead to the earth. The red sphere vanished but it had taken its toll on the creature. The Zorlak collapsed upon his release and oozed purple blood from his wounds. His breathing was shallow.
The Romani Tribe made short work of the remaining barbarians. The handful that lived witnessed the destruction of their comrades-in-arms. They fled to the trees wild with fear.
“Zorlak!” cried Marcus. “Hold on. We’ll bring you inside.”
The hunter ran to the side of the tall creature and tore his clothing to make bandages. He pressed his hands to the wounds in the amphibian’s chest but was unable to stop the arterial bleeding. Ursula and Theodorus came to the side of their son and his friend.
The wounded amphibian regained consciousness and spoke.
“Nothing you can do for me there is, Marcus. Come my time has.”
“Your work here is done, brave Zorlak,” said a familiar voice.
Skjold appeared from the woods nearby and addressed the group of fighters.
“This creature will not live long if he stays in this spatial plane. I must send him to his home. There he will be recharged by his kin. Please, Marcus, step away so that I may open a spatial portal.”
“Goodbye, my friends,” whispered the Zorlak. “Return home now I must.”
The Romani hunter and his parents stepped away from the dying amphibian.
Skjold summoned a spatial portal. “Golez!”
A purple oval opened in the fabric of space and descended downward until it passed over the Zorlak.
Skjold’s portal contracted then vanished entirely. The creature was gone.
“Thank you for saving him, Skjold,” stated Marcus. “We wouldn’t have been able to stop Urdon and the barbarians without him.”
“You’re welcome, Marcus. I must retire to my tower. I will be watching you, Romani Tribe. One never knows when ill magic may return to these woods.”
The aged mage smiled and turned to the woods. In a moment he vanished into the dense growth of the oak and pine trees.
Marcus hugged his parents and the trio of hunters strode to their new stronghold. They began the arduous process of repairing the ruptured gate and completing the construction of the long houses within.