Chapter six: The Forester
An hour passed in which Drell waited with the Knights, a fox call rang loud and clear through the silence and Drell stepped out from his hiding place to greet his brother. Loroedor had brought his warhorse Leather, a black and white patch stallion.
“Sir Redtree I would like you to meet my brother Loroedor” said Drell as the Knight stepped forward. Redtree smiled and shook Loroedor’s offered hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Redtree and I thank you for your help in this,” said Loroedor. Redtree merely nodded
“Think nothing of it” then turning to Drell he said
“Well my friend do you have a horse or are you going to have to ride with me for the rest of the way?” the Knights shared a hearty chuckle. Drell shook his head
“Not necessary” with this he sent a shrill whistle into the forest deep. The whistle was answered by a creening scream that sent a shock wave vibrating along the forest floor. The next moment a nightmare, tail and maine of flame blazing, could be seen charging toward them. The knights took to their swords and Drell was fast to stay them.
“If you value your lives I pray for you to stay to your hands sir Knights. His name is Neroehain and he will not harm you as long as you don’t threaten him,” said Drell, moving hastily to calm the nightmare, which was already becoming nervous at the site of the swords. The Knights immediately did as Drell bade them to but that didn’t stop them from gazing upon the nightmare with distrust and fear in their eyes. As Neroehain calmed his maine and tail flames settled, burning down and becoming blue and then black so that now they looked like normal horse hair.
“Well don’t just stand there looking foolish, mount to your horses and lets get going” said Loroedor, who had gone on for a way’s and stopped when he noticed that the others were not following.
They cut a corse dead south. It took them two day’s and a half to come within sight of the jungles northern border. Jarleime was unpopulated and desolate save for Fagie, a small tribe of dark skinned men that lived in the jungles far eastern region. As they moved closer Redtree took the lead, Drell felt as if he had just entered into a completely different country. Every animal and every piece of vegetation was alien to him. Everything here was strange but wonderful at the same time. The tall trees with their almost smooth bark were unlike anything he had ever seen before, as were the flowering vines that stretched between them. The forest floor was muddy and littered with reeds, sparse grasses, fungi, and spiny flowers, were as he was used to moss and bushes. Birds with fabulous plumage, long tails, and beaks that looked as if they were painted soared overhead or sat at rest in the trees. Small frogs of vibrant color rested on the tree trunks or sat in the dew that had formed on the ferns.
Though this alien beauty fasenated him Drell couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of foreboding. As an elf and a scout Drell had learned to “read the forest” by picking up on certain signs he could tell when something wasn’t right, when something had upset the natural balance. But since he could not put a name to his fear and since there was nothing around that would effectively communicate his fear to the others, he decided it best to remain silent.
They made camp that night near one of the larger trees. The jungle looked even stranger at night than during the day, and Drells uneasiness had grown, but still he remained silent. Neroehain was unnaturally restless, his ears were pricked and he seemed unable to remain still. Drell rose swiftly to his feet to calm him.
“Hush Neroehain hush, what’s wrong?” Neroehain stood still and turned his head to Drell, who met his gaze. Drell growled deep in his throat and stared out into the deep dark of the jungle.
“What did he say?” asked Loroedor, worried by his brother’s silence. Drell didn’t answer and Redtree was on his feet now.
“What is the matter?”
“Goblins, about eighteen of them, heading right for us” there was a steely tone to Drells voice.
“Goblins?” said one of the younger knights.
“Yes and moving fast. No doubt they thought to murder us in our sleep” replied Drell. A long silence passed and a mischievous gleam came into Drell’s eyes. “And that’s exactly what we`re going to let them do”
“What!” cried Redtree. Drell spun to face him.
“Yes. We’ll place piles of leaves upon our bed rolls and place our blankets over them to make it appear as if were sleeping; afterward we’ll take cover in the trees.When the goblins come we’ll ambush them and wipe the bastards out, they’ll never see it coming” the gleam in Drell’s eyes became infectious as the knights set hurriedly to work. It took them the better part of an hour to finish, during which Drell was certain that he had heard more then once the approach of their enemy only to have the sound fade away again. With the ruse complete the companions dashed into the trees. No sooner had they done this than the goblins came into view.
Goblins filthy, stupid, little beasts no better then the vermin they ate. There skin was sunburn red and their faces bore the characteristics of bats, rats, and pigs. The smell of decaying filth clung to them like greasy smog. The only thing to their credit was that they smelled considerably less foul then their hobgoblin kinsmen. They proved to be just as stupid as they looked by falling for the ruse without question.
They crept silently to stand over each bedroll, swords raised and ready. At a signal from their commander the swords came down, they stabbed furiously and with out heed to the fact that their “victims” made absolutely no sound. Presently all the goblins stopped to observe their massacre and noticed only then they had been tricked and before they could flee Drell and the others were upon them. For idiots goblins fight well but needless to say that experienced warriors fight better and it didn’t take long for them to fall to their attackers. Another hour of the night was spent burring the putrid carcasses twenty feet away from the camp sight. This finished they cleared the leaves and settled down to get what sleep they could before morning.
The next morning dawned with a rain shower distilling ill humor among the members of the party. They cut southeast until they came to a point where they could see the cooking fires of the Tribe of Taine. They then made their way along the tree line until they reached the shack of Brom Ford. Securing the horses and Neroehain in the trees the band drew their swords and advanced toward the front door. Drell pressed his ear to the door.
“Ford is in the main room just beyond the door. The boy must be out and I cant hear anyone else inside. He is alone” the knights nodded. Drell rose and sheathed his sword before lifting a hand to knock on the door. Brom placed one hand upon the door handle and the other upon a dagger at his belt.
“Who is it?”
“You do not know us but we have an aquaintence in common. The Lady Mina” said Drell. Brom opened the door. He was no more than average height and looked to be in his forties, his brown hair and short beard showed streaks of gray. His eyes were bright as green fire.
“You found Mina? Where is she?” Drell and Loroedor shared a glance.
“May we come in?” asked Drell. Brom nodded and stepped aside for them to enter. Once they were all inside Brom closed the door and retook the seat he had been in. Slowly Drell related all that had happened since Mina and Brom had be sepperated.
“Mina was kidnapped?” asked Brom.
“It’s exactly as I said Sir Ford. Men attacked the Temple of Second Life, slaughtered the clerics, and kidnapped Mina,” said Drell as his eyes turned to stone.
“And you think it was the bandits that attacked us?” no one answered him so Brom continued. “Did it ever occur to any of you to question Lord Stealwell? He commands many men and he is Mina’s fiancé. Not to mention that he has a reputation for being less then hospitable when it comes to his property” Drell thought for a few moments then,
“So they might not have been bandits at all and mearely said that they were to hide the hand of their Lord” a silence filled the room as all thought on what the truth of this could mean.
“These men did not tell you who they were or where they had come from?”
“If they had do you think I would be sitting here? I tried to find Mina, I did but it was getting dark and I had to get home”
“Did you suspect Lord Stealwell before now?”
“No but what you have described to be can hardly be called the conduct of average bandits” Drell nodded his agreement.
“It will take us days to reach the Isle of Casline from here” said Redtree.
“Not if we make use of the Underground Highway and we can reach one of the entrances from here in a few hours” Drell reached out and squeezed Brom`s shoulder, “Thank you” Drell turned and departed with the others following.
As Drell had said in a few hours they came upon one of four entrances to the Underground Highway. Construction on the Underground Highway began not long after the Territorial Wars that were fought between the Minotaurs, the Dwarfs, the Humans, and the Elf’s had ended. The Wars lasted nearly twenty years, twenty terrible years, and ended with the signing of a treaty between the four races. The treaty outlined the lands that each race was entitteled to. The Dwarfs were left to their mountains, the Elves to their forests, the Minotaurs to their island and the surrounding lands on the East side of the Tawz River, and the Humans were free to the Plains of Morlan and other such lands. The Underground Highway had been a joint project between the Elves and the Dwarfs. A neutral zone where peoples of different races could travel at ease and far faster than they would above ground by the aid of powerful magic. The entrances to the Underground were large stone archways engraved with runes, which read
“Welcome weary traveler to the peace of the Underground Highway”.
Beyond the archway a wood and stone ramp lead down to the cobble stone road of the Underground. The walls of the Underground where enriched with elaborate carvings, carvings that told stories. Here upon one wall was carved in perfect detail the presentation of the Dragon Horn a gift from the Elves to the Humans when the two races first met, while upon another wall the Dragon brothers Arnon and Haiyat were shown in their final battle, the one they fought against one another.
Branching off of the Underground at various points were fare-sized rooms that were designed to provide travelers with rest without disrupting others on the highway. Half the day passed during which time they passed beneath Jarleime and came to a cross roads. They chose to go right toward Shakeirn pass. Half way down the right path they stopped to tend to the horses as well as themselves. They emerged from the Underground at dusk. They went north into Narisden and stopped to make camp at the mouth of the pass for it was too dangerous to try and transverse it at night.