Chapter 6: Strange happenings in the night
“She’s been in there for hours, Fandri. How can you stand it?”
Old Fandri leaned back against the bathing room door and watched Fandri-La fluttering about him. The fairy glowed bright pink with emotion, as her fierce whisper described what she would like to do to the annoying young elf. As luck would have it, the Princess was quite oblivious to this, due to her loud and out of tune singing in the bath.
“Why I’ve a good mind to teach her a lesson or two. The way she treats people is abysmal. If I was her mother, I’d...I’d... Well frankly I’d be tearing my hair out. She deserves a good spanking. I have never seen an elf with such a temper. Every elf I’ve ever met has been graceful, kind and well-mannered, in short; everything this one is NOT!”
“Well sweet fairy, what would you have me do? You know that all our fates are tied to her. Imagine what could happen if the Vergai capture her: the shield would most likely collapse and all of our lands be overrun with these creatures. Our peaceful peoples wouldn’t stand a chance against them. I know that Shari-Rose is difficult, but we need her and she needs us. If you could somehow find a way to curb her temper though, I’d be eternally grateful.”
“Then that shall be my mission in life, to tame this horrid-tempered elf.” She crossed her arms tight against her chest and gave a sharp nod of her head, which tinkled her bell.
“And that is why I love you, my sweet fairy.” Fandri gave her a gentle hug. “You have been a wonderful companion to me for all these long years. I hate to say it but I’m almost enjoying this little adventure of ours. It takes me back to my youth when we travelled to faraway lands and met fascinating people.
“I am worried about how four small halflings can protect this wilful elf against the Vergai. We may have to hire some mercenaries to guard her.”
Shari-Rose’s horrid warbling stopped in an instant. “Is anyone there? You call these small rags towels? I need some more now. My hair will never dry with these.” The sound of water sloshing was heard from the small bathroom.
“I guess that’s my cue to play servant again,” Fandri whispered to his fairy and gave a wink. “I’ll go and fetch some your Highness. I’ll be right back.” The halfling and fairy hurried away to the tavern to find the innkeeper.
“I’m sure there were about six dry towels in the bathing room when she went in.” Fandri-La gave a chuckle. “She’s impossible!” The two of them entered the noisy inn and looked around for the innkeeper. They found him behind the bar, pouring an ale for Randir. The youngster looked quite drunk and was swaying to the music.
Old Fandri pounced on the unsuspecting boy and gave him a smack on the back of his head. He raised his voice loud and clear, “Randir, what do you think you’re doing? We’re supposed to be guarding Shari-Rose, not having a party!” The music and conversation stopped and every eye in the tavern stared at them.
The silence was deafening, their heartbeats’ pounded within their ears. Old Fandri felt his cheeks warm to a toasty red.
A blood-curdling scream filled the air, but was cut short, silenced enveloped the tavern again. Cold shivers crept up Fandri’s spine.
Asher Grey was the first out the door and disappeared into the black night. Old Fandri grabbed his broad sword and rushed to find the Princess. Baja collected a club and two throwing axes and followed him out into the night.
They tracked the sounds of struggling around the corner of the inn and witnessed an incredible sight. A sopping wet Princess, wearing only a worn woollen towel, was held by four of the scaly Vergai. Another of the creatures tried to muffle her screams with his clawed hand. Her only recourse was to bite on his putrid hand as hard as possible, causing him to growl in frustration. Brave Shari-Rose was wriggling like a worm and lashing out with her arms and legs.
All around them was a battle. Sienna held a green-stained dagger in one hand and was dropping her long bow to the ground. She struggled against three of the creatures, two of which had arrows protruding from their torsos. Green blood was welling around the arrow shafts. With a fierce growl, the huntress stabbed at the thinnest area of hide on the invaders’ necks.
One of the Vergai lunged sideways at Sienna and his scaly hands wrapped around her hooded neck. The huntress shook and jabbed at him with the dagger. Her bond-fairy was a short distance away and was so intent in watching the fight that he failed to see a Vergai’s rough hands closing around him from behind. The creature clapped his hands together and stunned the bond-fairy. Both the fairy and halfling collapsed to the ground unconscious.
Four of the Vergai were moving to surround Raja dwarf, who was flailing about his two-headed axe as though he was berserk.
Baja gave a yell and rushed to his brother’s aid. He threw a small axe which felled one of the creatures, and then used his large wooden club to bash all the Vergais’ knee caps. The two dwarfs were much shorter than the Vergai (who were about human height), but they made up for it in their fighting prowess. The creatures stood well back from the half-crazed little men.
For a moment, Fendi was stunned by being in such close proximity to the large and fearsome Vergai. He was standing there with the dagger drawn, frozen in wide-eyed dread, but Old Fandri ran up to him, gave a short nod and together they charged towards the Vergai with a roar. Old Fandri stepped ahead to engage a Vergai with his sword and didn’t see one of the creatures whip around and strike Fendi with a flick of his heavy tail. The young halfling gave a grunt and collapsed to the ground.
As Old Fandri approached the Princess, one of the Vergai released her arms and rushed at him with a chained morning star spinning toward his head. Fandri exchanged a couple of blows with the stronger opponent, before he was forced back against the wall of the tavern. The Vergai swung a massive blow and Old Fandri stumbled to the ground. The creature raised his morning star to land a killing strike, when he shuddered as a long sword covered in green blood, appeared through its chest. It dropped to the ground. Daeron had come to the relieved woodcutter’s rescue.
The guardian elf looked dizzy on his feet and still had a bandage wrapped around his head from the attack at Lakehaven. He extricated his narrow sword from the Vergai and threw him to the ground. Then he held his hand down to help up the old halfling.
Fandri let out a gasp. “Thanks, I’m getting too old for this.” He looked around to discover that the Vergai had taken advantage of the chaos and were half-carrying, half-dragging the screaming Princess off into the night.
A frantic Fandri glance around and realised that Raja was the only one still fighting, but was totally surrounded by several big Vergai.
Just as all seemed lost, a powerful screech filled the night. This was accompanied by large wings pounding through the damp night air, sending forth a mighty burst of flame onto the retreating and terrified Vergai.
The sky appeared even darker following that brief blast of light. All that Fandri could see was a huge dark shape, blotting out the stars. The beast screeched again and another eruption of flame whooshed right over the top of the fleeing Vergai. Their thick scaly hides seemed to deflect the flames, but still they howled in fear and ran in all directions. Then the winged beast flew to where the other Vergai were running with Shari-Rose and it picked them off her, one by one, throwing them far into the distance, where they landed with dull thuds.
The mysterious beast picked up the Princess in its great talons, with care. He carried her back to her companions. Her wet towel flopped to the ground by Old Fandri’s feet and she looked the size of a child compared with the enormous creature.
By the light from the half-shuttered inn windows, Fandri, Daeron and Raja could see that the beast was a sizable grey dragon with a body four times as tall as a man and covered in heavy scales. Its wing span looked to be as wide as the tavern and the flap of the huge wings sent large gusts of air swirling around them. Emerald jewels gleamed from under the wings, as though embedded in the scales and the many-horned dragon’s head had a large mouth gleaming with sharp teeth. Its muzzle was long, with wide nostrils that belched trails of smoke.
The beast showed intelligence as it studied the fighters with large yellow eyes and almond-shaped pupils. With a tender motion, the naked Princess was placed on the ground at the feet of a red-faced Daeron. He averted his eyes and unclasped his cloak to drape over her. Shari-Rose didn’t notice, for she stared at the great beast, without even breath to scream in terror.
The dragon flapped its massive wings and rose up into the sky, circled the inn once and then flew off in pursuit of the Vergai.
Old Fandri held his breath as he watched the dragon go, spewing yellow fire off into the distance. He had not seen a dragon in forty-odd years and he was amazed anew by the magnificent sight. He came to his senses when the dragon was lost from view, and looked down at the figures on the ground. There lay one Vergai, who had been killed by Daeron’s sword and another with a dwarven throwing axe protruding from the side of its neck. The Princess lay nearby, covered in Daeron’s cloak; this partially obscured the violent shakes her body endured. Daeron stumbled to the ground beside her with exhaustion.
Further away, Old Fandri noticed three smaller bodies. He ran over to them as fast as his legs could carry him. Sienna was regaining consciousness, now rolled over onto her side. She gave a coarse cough from her swollen, purple throat. Raja knelt over his brother, Baja, who blinked up at him and smiled one of his dopey grins, but nothing prepared Old Fandri for the sight of his son’s lifeless, prone body.
“No!” Wailing with despair he picked up the limp form of Fendi in his strong arms and raced off towards the cabin. With no thought for caution, only speed, Old Fandri collided into a figure leaning against the wall. It was Randir, vomiting his dinner onto the ground. His fairy’s head was just visible from the top of his side-pocket, her brown hair limp and unruly.
Old Fandri lost complete control and yelled at him, “Randir, Randir, where have you been?” If he had not been carrying the body of his youngest son in his arms, he would have punched Randir in the face. “My son is dead! Where were you?”
Randir’s red, bleary eyes grew wide. “Oh Fandri, what has happened?” His voice was thick with emotion.
“The Vergai attacked us and killed Fendi.” Tears poured down his lined face.
Old Fandri heard a deep voice he did not recognise, “Let me look at him.” He made a slow turn and saw a dwarf with bright red hair standing at his shoulder. A bloodied battle-axe hung from his hand, but he looked with concern at Fendi. “My name is Raja. I am known as a healer.”
Old Fandri lifted his son up to show the taller dwarf. Raja removed a set of pan pipes from his pocket and began to play a low, mournful tune.
Sienna wandered over and stood by Old Fandri. “He truly is gifted.” Her voice was raspy and grated on Fandri’s hearing. He looked at the huntress and noticed purple marks around her neck where the Vergai had attempted to strangle her. “He woke Daeron from his coma and saved Cassie-Belle from dying. I just hope there is something he can do for Fendi.”
Baja had recovered from his knock out and stood next to his brother as he played the pipes. “I saw a Vergai tail whip a great blow to the back of his head and knock him unconscious. He’s lucky it wasn’t a morning star. He’ll be fine if his skull is intact, I imagine he’ll have a big egg-sized bump to show for the fight.”
Raja took a brief pause from his playing, “Bring him around to the cabin with the elf maiden and lie him down.” He resumed his music once more, the tune now a happier one, with little runs and a jaunty pace. They all went into the cabin and laid Fendi on a large, soft bed, the others sat on the two spare beds.
Soon Fendi was taking slow, deep breaths. “He’ll be alright now.” Raja returned his pipes to his pocket and felt with his wide, hairy hands around the back of Fendi’s head. “Yup. There appears to be nothing broken there, although it’s starting to swell up already.” He glanced over to Sienna with a broad smile. Best get a cool cloth onto it, little lady if you please.” Sienna obliged and picked up a washbowl from a stand in the corner of the cabin and squeezed out a cloth for Fendi.
Old Fandri gave a relieved sigh and felt some of the tension ease away at the thought that Fendi would live. He would be ever grateful that the dwarves and dragon had come to their aid. He glanced over at the Princess and Daeron huddled to one end of a bed. They had come so close to losing her and she looked to be in a deep shock after her ordeals of that day. He was about to request the dwarves accompany them to safety, when there was a knock on the door.
A tall man came in and had to stoop his head to get under the doorway. He met Old Fandri’s questioning look with calm yellow-green eyes, extended his hand in friendship and spoke in a lilting voice. “I am Asher Grey, from Flame Mountain. I be thinking you might like to know that the Vergai have taken off for the hills. They were running pretty fast, last I saw of them.”
Old Fandri took his hand and shook it firmly. He looked up into those vibrant eyes and gave a nod of acknowledgement. “You have my thanks Asher. I wouldn’t have expected assistance from one of your kind. We are indeed in your debt. We also owe our thanks to these brave dwarves, who fought by our sides. We wouldn’t have survived if not for you. Your assistance here was unexpected, but very welcome.”
Asher looked deep into Fandri’s eyes, “Never judge a man by his race, they say.” The intense look and well-chosen words spoke volumes to Old Fandri, a special meaning that he alone understood. The man then smiled around the room at the halflings and noticed the injured elves and the shaken Princess. “It was our pleasure to help. Please be calling me Ash, everybody does. Now these be my good friends, Baja and Raja. Baja is the bigger one with the darker hair, who’s generally up to no good playing cards. Raja is a healer, as you have seen, and a darn good one at that.
Asher continued, “We’re making our way to Lakehaven Castle with a company of minstrels. We’ve a heavy wagon full of dwarven brew and some jewels for Princess Shari-Rose. Only … the thing is, she looks to be here instead of there. She was captured by a group of creatures who have not walked these lands for many years. So I might say, I’m a trifle puzzled.”
“Yes, I should explain, Ash. It has been quite an adventure.” Old Fandri proceeded to tell their tale. He started with the boys, as they witnessed the Vergai arrive through the portal and told of their journey, how they met Princess Shari-Rose and the two injured elves.
Baja had been silent throughout the descriptive tale and now interjected. “Well, I’d be thinking that you could use a little company, especially if you end up going to our hometown of Diamond City. That’s the nearest army to here and there’ll be plenty of protection for the Princess in the dwarven underground stronghold. Though the dwarves are not much keen on visitors, Raja and I would be happy to introduce you.” Baja had a huge grin on his auburn-haired face and seemed genuinely enthusiastic at the prospect of this dangerous undertaking.
“No one has asked my opinion. I do not know if I wish to go to Diamond City.” Shari-Rose had stopped quivering during Fandri’s long tale and was now sitting straight-backed in a small chair.
Asher stood up and bent over the Princess. He glared directly into her bright green eyes. “You, my lass, are making the mistake of assuming that you are in charge here. You ... are ... NOT!” His pleasant, lilting voice had changed to a scary low growl. Shari-Rose leant as far back in her chair as she could go. Her eyes were wide with fright for something in his strange yellow-green eyes terrified her.
“Who are you?” Her voice was a bare whisper.
“You know.” The Mountain man replied with a deep rumble.
“Y…yes.” Her voice was a tiny squeak. “We will go to the dwarven city and would be honoured if you would accompany us.”
Asher gave a relaxed smile and suddenly everyone’s mood lightened. “Well, in that case, we would be honoured to escort you.” To everyone’s surprise, he bent over and picked up her hand, raised it to his lips and bestowed a gentle kiss upon it.
Shari-Rose offered a small smile, though she looked rather puzzled and still fragile. “I will retire to my room now with Daeron, thank you.”
“Milady, I do suggest that we keep at least two guards on you, awake and ready at all times. Baja can take the first watch with Daeron, whilst we sleep. Baja has a troll horn to sound, in case of any trouble. Myself and Raja will relieve you in four hours, Baja. I think the halflings should rest tonight and they can help out with the watches tomorrow,” Asher’s voice was mild, but there was a hint of steel in his gaze to the Princess.
“Yes, of course Master Grey. That is a sound strategy.” She gracefully rose from the chair and left the room with Daeron and Baja.
When the door closed, Randir gave a gasp and his jaw fell in surprise. “What did you do to the Princess, Ash? I have never heard her be polite to anyone.”
Old Fandri gave a mysterious laugh. “Asher Grey is not all he seems.” His sly smile to Asher was returned with a wink. “Well, I think that’s enough excitement for tonight. Both you boys are going to have massive headaches in the morning, so I suggest we all get some rest. We’ll leave Fendi here with Sienna and Cassie-Belle, since he is asleep. The rest of us will go next door. If anyone has trouble, give a loud yell for help. With any luck, those Vergai are still running and won’t return tonight.”