The Relief of Frybur - Part 2
Frybur was situated on a rise above the dense forest that surrounded the large Valacian village.
Coar Rel was staggering across the deserted main road when he saw the approaching storm. He closed his eyes and listened to the buzzing in his head. He imagined he could feel his brain soaking up the alcohol in his blood like a large visceral grey sponge.
He had been frequenting the local ale-house too often of late. He had many sorrows that needed drowning, many worries to obliterate and very little else to do with his time or money.
Business was dead; and Frybur was slowly dying as well.
He was the chief elder. A title he had once carried with pride and dignity. Fryburians had respected and honoured him. His judgments were seldom questioned. His advice often sought; and his opinions highly revered.
These days the title of chief elder lay uncomfortably upon his sagging shoulders like a large thorny bundle of firewood. The inhabitants now treated him with contempt. He had no more advice to give, and if he did, the Fryburians would not want to hear it. They were long-tired of his promises that their redeemer would soon be coming to rid them of the detestable chookla.
He wondered what ruin had befallen the Son of Zemth. He had known that Groad would never return. Yet, still he had hoped, constantly calming the irate villagers with the assurance that the Kithian warrior would soon come to free them from their dilemma.
The Son of Zemth was now more than three moons overdue. Had he met his fate at the hands of a Dark Wizard or was he simply waiting for the reward to increase to a substantial amount?
The reward had recently and unavoidably risen to an impressive one hundred gold pieces.
When the road to and from Frybur was once again negotiable he would post a reward of his own. This time for the retrieval of both his prize stallion and the young Valacian girl who snatched it away. His revenge, like his suffering, would be long and intense.
His mouth was over-salivating and he felt nauseous. He fixed his gaze on the approaching storm. This was a subconscious act to steady his feet as well as his bloated belly. He hoped the storm would bring much precipitation. It had not rained in over two moons now. Frybur needed a good soaking shower. Rain to settle the dust and to wash away the strife, the hate and the pain. The village was a parched and withered seed longing to be drenched; soaked in life giving moisture so that it could once again become strong, productive and healthy.
He noticed something unnatural about the storm. It was too localized; too predictable in its movement. It was moving unerringly towards Frybur, not as the crow flies, but ominously following the curve of the road beneath it. It gave the impression that a thousand horsemen could be riding beneath its wake. But this was a black storm, not the red dust kicked up by four thousand hooves. This was the heralding of something foreboding. Foreboding yet expected.
Instinctively Coar Rel knew that there was only one horse and one rider beneath that extravagant aerial display. He was unsure whether this anticipated visitor would be their redeemer or their destroyer, but he was certain of one thing - Maggoth was coming to Frybur!
There was no enthusiastic crowd to welcome the Dark Wizard as he brought the magnificent pitch-black stallion to a slow canter down Frybur’s main road. The sorcerer’s cloak flapped wildly in the swirling wind like the leathery wings of a bloodsucking screecha*.
Maggoth halted the beast in front of the three Fryburians. The steed appeared to be snorting smoke from its nostrils as its hot breath condensed into white clouds on the air that had now turned unnaturally chilly.
The welcoming party consisted exclusively of the three town elders who stood shivering in the middle of the road, more from apprehension than the influence of the elements.
“Welcome my lord Maggoth,” said Coar Rel totally sober. “It is an honour to have you grace our small village with your prese...”
“You may cease with this unnecessary charade of compliments and pleasantries!” interrupted Maggoth dismounting. He walked over to the nervous trio, spurs clinking with each deliberate step. He stopped in front of Coar Rel, staring hard at the chief elder. “I know full-well how pleased you and the residents of Frybur are to welcome a Dark Wizard into your midst.”
“We…we are the village elders,” said Coar Rel desperately trying to swallow the enormous lump in his throat. “I am…”
“Coar Rel!” interrupted the Dark Wizard again. “Persecutor and tormentor of orphans and widows!”
“My lord!” exclaimed Coar Rel forcing a nervous smile. “These have been very hard times for our village. It has been necessary to administer with somewhat of an iron hand.”
“There is no doubt that trying times can bring out the best and the worst in us. It would appear you favour the latter.”
“We sincerely hope your presence here is an indication that this dark period in our lives will at last be removed.”
“Dark period? What a strange term to use. Do you wish to insult me? Do you not know that I am a Dark Wizard who utilizes the dark arts?”
“I beg your forgiveness, my lord. I spoke too hastily; too foolishly. I meant no disrespect.”
“Do you think me evil, Coar Rel? Do you think it possible to fight evil with evil? Do you not know that only true goodness can conquer evil? Dark arts, black magic, sorcery…call it what you will. In the end it is just another form of science. A science that seemingly does not bend to the rules of nature or the whims of so-called civilized reasoning beings. What they do not and cannot understand they condemn and forbid others to delve into as well. They abhor the unfathomable and fear those that do understand it. It makes them feel impotent, and so they spend their energies instead, in the pursuit of destroying those capable of comprehending this almost inexplicable form of science.”
Coar Rel bowed his head. “Please pardon me, my lord, I am but a simple man. I have no knowledge of such things.”
“Ah! But you may yet have some knowledge that I seek,” said Maggoth reaching into a large leather pouch strapped to his waist. The Dark Wizard removed a ruby encrusted sword-hilt from the satchel. He held it out to the elders on an open palm. “Maybe you can tell me where the owner is? I wish to return it to him.”
The elders looked at one another.
“It appears to be Kithian, my lord,” said the elder on Coar Rel’s right-hand side.
“How did you procure the item, my lord?” asked the elder on Coar Rel’s left-hand side
“A short Kithian took something that belongs to me and inadvertently left this in its place.”
“The Son of Zemth!” exclaimed Coar Rel.
“Ah, so you do know of him?” beamed Maggoth.
“I believe you may find him in Bryntha, my lord,” said the chief elder. “It is but four or five days ride from…”
“I know where Bryntha is,” interrupted the Dark Wizard, “But I have very good reason to believe that the Kithian would have come here first.”
“We have not seen him since he departed Frybur almost three moons ago. He promised to return shortly…to slay the chookla. We feared that he had met his demise in your keep.”
“He told you he was going to my keep?”
“To fetch the Eldritch Blade.”
“You also know of the Eldritch Blade?”
“No, my lord. What is the Eldritch Blade?”
“If you are lying to me Coar Rel…?” said Maggoth instinctively knowing that the chief elder was speaking the truth. He turned and walked back to the black steed. “I shall return shortly. I will bring the chookla’s horn in exchange for a purse containing one hundred gold pieces. Have it ready by sundown.” The Dark Wizard placed a pointed boot into one of the stirrups and hoisted himself back into the saddle. “Now, if you could be kind enough to point me in the direction of this problem of yours.”
All three elders pointed gingerly back down the main road.
Maggoth spent a good part of the late afternoon collecting and burning dry wood, grass and leaves in the forest area near the cave. He placed a large amount of the fine powdery ash into a large sack and took it with him into the beast’s lair.
Forming a glowing blue orb in the centre of his left palm, he let it float gently to the top of the cavern, illuminating the entire interior.
The zin-za was asleep at the rear of the cave.
The Dark Wizard surveyed the central area of the large cavern, grimacing at the monumental display of filth and degradation.
He dropped the sack of ash.
The zin-za stirred in its slumber.
“What have we here?” he said spotting the metal collar about the creature’s neck. “Another of Kronos’ fiendish devices no doubt?”
The zin-za opened its eye.
“Excuse me,” said Maggoth stepping backwards. “It was not my intention to wake you.”
The beast rose up to its full height blinking. The Dark Wizard stretched out his arm. “I am sorry, but this is going to sting quite a bit!” The zin-za moved forward just as Maggoth released the bolt. The blue energy struck the creature full in the face causing it to recoil against the cavern wall. It howled, grabbing its head, which now glowed brightly with the same bluish luminescence. The radiance faded as the energy permeated through the enormous thick skull, infiltrating into the grey matter within.
The brute dropped its arms and shook its head trying to rearrange its faculties. It stared at the Dark Wizard, bringing the hazy image into crystal clarity.
“Maggoth!” exclaimed the zin-za. “The reward up to a hundred gold pieces already?”
“It has been longer than you think,” said The Dark Wizard stepping forward again. “The block also influences your perception of the amount of time lapsed. How do you feel, Daleth, old friend?”
The zin-za looked about and then at himself.
“Do not old friend me, you depraved miscreant! Friends do not leave each other to grovel in the filth. What if someone had been brave enough to come in here and murder me whilst I slept?”
“Come now, Daleth, you know it is all for the greater good. How many times do I still have to explain it to you?”
“It had better be, Maggoth, it had better be. I am tired of having to live like some animal. Look at this place! Look at me! How long has it been since I last bathed myself?”
“Eight moons? Eight moons! I shall never get myself properly cleaned again.”
“Come now, you know it takes six moons alone just to grow a new horn, and a little bit longer to convince stubborn villagers to part with their gold.”
“Is there not some other source for your powers?”
“None! Believe me. And it is a good thing too. If there was an inexhaustible source, Kronos would have accomplished his diabolical plan with very little effort.”
“Have you managed to determine his whereabouts yet?”
“No, but I have good reason to believe that he has managed to acquire the Eldritch Blade.”
“Yes! It probably occurred right here in this very cave.”
Maggoth began scouring amongst the many piles of bone with a certain deliberation.
The search bore fruit.
From a lonely pile of neatly picked bones in the far corner, he lifted a leather-strap necklace containing two ana-rod noc feathers, two ana desh-gla fangs and a small metal tube. He placed the necklace in his leather pouch and then picked up a skull containing two short sharp fangs. He held it out towards Daleth. “This is the cause of our extremely large problem.”
“A rather short and very noisy Kithian,” lamented Maggoth studying the stupid grin on the skull. “Alas, if only I had known him better, I would not have underestimated his abilities. Not only did he manage to steal the Eldritch Blade from me, but he destroyed my entire war-council.”
“The whole lot? What of Zarkas?”
“Incredible! Who was he?”
“Groad of Bryntha!” growled the Dark Wizard.
“The Son of Zemth?”
“The very same! But I guarantee you this; he will be as much a help to me dead as what he was a festering sore upon the face of Baltrath when he yet lived.” Maggoth dropped the skull and removed a small serrated blade from his pouch. “Lie down. I once more require removing your horn.”
“It is embarrassing, Maggoth! I feel naked without it!”
“It is also necessary. Now please lie down.”
well,” said Daleth reluctantly stretching himself out in front of the Dark
Wizard. “Just be sure not to inadvertently touch a nerve as you did the last
“You are not ever going to forgive me for that are you?”
“When I am finished here, I have some chores that I would like you to do for me.”
“The sack with the ash is over there. You remember how I demonstrated to empty it out?”
“In the shape of a nasty big burned-to-smithereens zin-za.”
“Exactly! When you have finished that I want you to pick up every single bone in that heap over there.”
“Do not misplace a single one,” said Maggoth nodding. “Place them all in the sack and take it with you to the place I showed you before.”
“Back down the Fryburian road, turn right when I reach the gully at the edge of the forest and carry on till I come to a small lake.”
“Wait for me in the grove on the far side of the lake. In the meantime you may bathe yourself.”
“You are much too kind,” said the zin-za sarcastically. “I am becoming most impatient to cleanse myself. I am repulsed by my very own odour, and the unpleasant taste in my mouth leaves much to be desired.” Maggoth suddenly clutched his head as though he were in pain. He stumbled forward bracing himself against the side of the cavern. “What ails you?”
“I have expended too much of my power trying to impress those damned Fryburians! I must leave now,” he said placing the saw and the severed horn into the leather pouch. Time to collect our just rewards. But remember to wait until it is properly dark before exiting the cave.”
“You know, Maggoth, sometimes you mistake me for an idiot.”
“…ninety five, ninety six and ninety seven,” said Coar Rel placing the last gold piece on the table next to the severed horn. He placed a large gemstone on top of the small glittering pile. “This is worth at least another ten gold pieces.”
“Do not try my patience, Coar Rel,” said the Dark Wizard sitting forward. “The agreement was one hundred gold pieces. You will pay me one hundred gold pieces.”
Coar Rel felt a large lump forming in his throat. He tried to swallow it, but to no avail.
“My lord,” he said raising his cupped hands like some beggar, “This is all the gold we were able to collect at such short notice. We…”
“Silence!” announced the sorcerer interrupting the village elder’s whining. Maggoth raised his arm, the palm of his hand open towards Coar Rel’s neck. “You are the representative of your people and so you will be the one to complete the price.”
“Aah!” exclaimed the village elder as he felt a sharp stinging sensation across the back of his neck. He placed his hands behind his head, his fingers probing the area of discomfort. It took only a short while to realize that the cause of the pain was the thin chain that supported the large gold medallion that usually lay upon his obese chest. It usually lay upon his obese chest, but now he squinted at it, as it seemed to levitate just in front of his nose. The chain broke and the medallion flew across the table landing in the centre of Maggoth’s open palm. The Dark Wizard placed the medallion with the rest of the gold. “But my lord,” said Coar Rel rubbing the red line across the back of his neck, “That is my symbol of office. It was worn especially in honour of your magnificent presence in our humble village. It is worth at least five or six gold pieces.”
“And now it is being used to honour your obligation,” said the sorcerer placing the gemstone in front of Coar Rel. “This you may keep. I believe you said that it was worth at least ten gold pieces.”
The chief elder wanted to say something but found himself at a loss for words.
One of the other village elders entered the ale-house. He was carrying a roll of fine white linen cloth, some leather clothing and boots.
“Here are the items you requested me to purchase on your behalf, my lord.” said the elder placing the articles on the table next to the small pile of gold.
Maggoth ignored the elder. He was gazing down at the reward on the table. He stared in the same manner a starving beggar would gape at a king’s banquet. He closed his eyes, which no longer seethed with the red glowing energy. It made him appear old and feeble again. He held his hands, palms down, above the gold as though he was warming them above the flames of a roaring fire.
“Ah!” exclaimed the Dark Wizard sighing, “It feels…marvelous!”
“You must be exhausted after your engagement with the zin-za?” said Coar Rel looking past Maggoth’s left shoulder at the figure in the ale-house doorway. He nodded slowly. The Artanian in the doorway returned the nod, slung a bow and quiver over his shoulder and left.
“Yes,” said Maggoth opening his eyes, “A long rest is what I need. I must return to my keep now.”
“But of course,” said Coar Rel standing up. The elder sitting next to him rose as well. “We do not wish to detain you longer than is necessary.”
“You must convey my sincerest appreciation to the rest of Frybur’s inhabitants for this kind compensation.” Maggoth stood up. He held an opened leather pouch against the edge of the table and swept the medallion along with the ninety seven gold pieces into the bag. The rest of the merchandise he placed in a double saddlebag that was slung over a nearby chair. “What do you intend to do with that memento?” he said pointing at the only item remaining on the table.”
“The chookla’s horn? Oh, we may display it upon the ale-house wall as a reminder of Frybur’s darkest period in her history, or perhaps we may grind it to powder and sell it as a supplement to our fine ale. I believe they say it contains certain mystical properties that are able to enhance one’s virility.”
“Well, if that is the case,” said Maggoth stepping out onto the ale-house veranda with the saddlebag over his shoulder, “Then you should be able to sell it for more than a hundred gold pieces.”
The elders were still smiling at Maggoth’s comment when the shaft entered the front of the Dark Wizard’s chest, its sharp point just visible between his shoulder blades.
A small crowd, whose sense of curiosity had overwhelmed their sense of fear, had been waiting outside the ale-house in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Dark Wizard.
All, except Coar Rel, stood stunned and shocked. The sorcerer dropped to one knee holding onto the pillar that supported the thatch covering of the veranda.
The Artanian archer stepped out of the shadows, stringing a second shaft in his bow.
“Finish him now while he is down,” shouted Coar Rel at the bowman.
As one, the horrified crowd moved backwards.
“Wahmi’s blood, Coar Rel!” exclaimed one of the elders. “Have you taken leave of your senses? That is Maggoth, a Dark Wizard you are talking about!”
“Be quiet, I know what I am doing. Just look at him! Does he not seem pathetic?” He placed a hand on the Dark Wizard’s shoulder and hissed into his ear. “Just as I was promised, Maggoth, your battle with the zin-za has left you drained and weak. Not only will we be taking back our gold, but we shall also be ridding the planet of a great evil.”
“Let me guess,” said Maggoth standing up. He calmly pulled the shaft from his chest and stroked his beard with the point. “A small bald man from Yarsi told you this?”
Shocked, Coar Rel recoiled in dismay. “Yes, but how do you...?”
“First things first,” interrupted the Dark Wizard pointing the arrow towards the archer. “I have a little point that I would like to discuss with you!” The arrow flew from Maggoth’s hand, piercing the bowman’s heart. Without a sound, the archer collapsed to the ground where he stood. “You know what, Coar Rel?” said the sorcerer turning to face the chief elder. “You are no more than a disease upon the face of this planet!” The Dark Wizard raised his open hand towards the chief elder. “It is time you were removed from the face of Baltrath forever.”
The bolt hit Coar Rel in the chest. A bluish luminescence enveloped the chief elder. It sparked and hummed and then gradually faded away.
“Nothing!” exclaimed the chief elder rubbing and inspecting his chest. He smiled, “Beetor was right, you are too weak to do me any harm!”
“Perhaps you must still learn the gravity of your situation!” said Maggoth climbing onto his dark mount. He turned the steed about. “In the very near future I believe you may find some difficulty in distinguishing your ups from your downs!”
“What do you mean?” shouted Coar Rel. “What have you done to me?”
“Pleasant journey!” shouted Maggoth without looking back. “If you hurry you may still have time to pack in something warm. It is going to be a very long cold trip.”
“You are lying, Maggoth!” screamed Coar Rel down the road after the Dark Wizard. Turning to the crowd, he screeched, “Do not just stand there! Go after him! Stop him before it is too late!”
“Do you feel alright, chief elder?” asked someone in the crowd.
“Yes, yes, I am fine!” exclaimed Coar Rel holding his head. “I just feel a little dizzy; a little light-headed. I must have had too much ale earlier on!”
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed someone else pointing towards the chief elder’s feet.
“What now?” asked Coar Rel looking down.
His boots were no longer touching the road, but were hovering above it. He started to drift higher. “Help me!” he screamed holding out a flailing arm towards the masses. The crowd moved backwards, away from the ascending figure. Coar Rel managed to get a grip on the thatch covering of the ale-house roof. He could feel an invisible force, like an extremely powerful magnetic field, repelling him from the surface of the planet. With each moment that passed it grew stronger and stronger. “I beg of you, please! Help me! Get a rope or something, but do not allow me to float away!” The dry grass onto which the chief elder grasped bent and slid away from the rest of the roof’s covering.
Only long after Coar Rel’s small white-cloaked shape and squealing voice had disappeared into the darkness of the starry Valacian nightsky did a voice in the apprehensive crowd pluck up enough courage to speak.
“Well, I guess this calls for a round of drinks! Who is buying, because I am flat broke?”