Some people in this world are just gullible. I mean no offence. I happen to be one of them. Particularly when I was young I fell for every story or trick my brothers could come up with. I believed my brother who told me Bruce Lee was poisoned because he was too fast to shoot with bullets. Then there was the time he convinced me to try almond extract straight from the bottle. He poured it on a tablespoon and I smelled it. It smelled alright to me so I swallowed it. That was a rude awakening. Then I was convinced to run speaker wires through the wall in order to place speakers in my room. That way I could listen to my brother’s stereo. Soon the morning came when he placed a speaker on either side of my bed while I was sleeping. Then he turned off the sound to those speakers until the chorus of the song when Peter Gabriel screamed, “Lord, here comes the flood!” I nearly jumped on the ceiling. When watching the “Lone Ranger” I noticed he never seemed to run out of silver bullets. So, I asked where he received them from. I was told he got them from his “mine.” What heard was “mind.” So, I asked my brother how he could get bullets out of his mind? He told me he stuck his finger in one ear and the bullet came out the other. That’s why he never ran out of bullets. When I was grown I worked with an abrupt fellow with what sounded like a New York accent. We didn’t talk much. So, I asked another associate what his deal was. He told me the fellow was in the Witness Relocation Program and that no one knew his whole story. I believed that for 6 years. Until I talked with him and he gave me a plausible explanation. There is a silver lining to all this. I am now extremely skeptical. If an email looks at all suspicious, I delete it immediately. Regular mail scams also go in the garbage. As a rule, I don’t believe people’s stories. If I ever won a trip or a car I would never know because I delete those messages. I am still gullible but I have developed a hard-protective crust. It’s lonely not trusting people but it beats getting burned.
“Messenger!” Linvin called as he entered the camp. “Take word to the King. Send this message. ‘Engaged Marsh Goblins as anticipated. Enemy utterly destroyed. Valian losses light. Will march to capital within the week. Borders are safe.’ Sign it, ‘Grithinshield, Commanding General.’ Get that off right away. There are tens of thousands of frightened people waiting for news.”
Linvin and the others passed many open fires with fresh beef and pork roasting, continuing on to his command tent. Upon entering the tent and leaving view, they collapsed. Squires attended each of them. They removed all their masters’ armor and soiled clothing. Linvin passed out wine from his private stock to celebrate.
Fardar was attended as well. He was shocked as the squire disrobed him and washed his body of the vile, pungent goblin blood that had stained his clothes black. “These will have to be discarded,” the squire told him. “Goblin blood does not wash out of clothing.”
Fardar observed the others in the room. Linvin’s arm was being stitched and dressed. It was a far more severe blow than he had acknowledged.
Sculla had been stabbed in the thigh and sliced on his arm. He, too, was receiving treatment.
Victolin appeared unharmed and healthy until his armor was removed and he held his ribs. His right side was deeply bruised and bleeding.
Only Githara looked to have escaped without a scratch. She looked at Victolin and asked, “Was it an ax that hit you?”
He winced in pain, while lifting his arm to allow a bandage to be applied. “A heavy mace. I cut down one of their War Chief’s bodyguards and another struck my exposed side, knocking me off my horse. Fortunately, one of my men cut him down immediately thereafter.”
“What happened to you, Sculla?” Linvin asked.
“Stupid, really,” he replied. “When the line was advancing, this pathetic remnant of a swamp dweller reached up and stuck me in the leg with one of those cheap sickle swords. Made me furious! So I stomped his head. Wretched, filthy, disgusting little lizard!”
The squire attending him finished cleaning the wound and prepared to stitch it closed. “If you had not pulled the sword out by yourself, the wound would not be so large.”
“The blade was getting in my way!” yelled Sculla as he shoved the attendant away. “This stable boy acts like he was the one who was stabbed.”
“Easy, Stump,” Linvin consoled his friend. “I think he is just frustrated with your disregard for your body.”
“Well, it’s my body!” Sculla snorted. “I’m here to fight, not compete in a beauty contest.”
“We’re all glad of that,” Victolin joked. “You’d make an uglier woman than Githara.”
Githara lashed out quickly at the insult and kicked Victolin on his injured side. Victolin howled in pain. “You’re mistaken for a woman far more than I am for a man,” she said.
“Enough, children,” Linvin said, gesturing downward with his hand. “We do not need another fight today.” They were in many ways like the siblings he had never known.
Once their wounds had been tended and they were all adorned in scarlet robes, the meeting broke up. Githara and Victolin left to check their units. Fardar left to prepare his report. Entering the tent as they left was a centurion.
Hanging near the stairs by Linvin was a vast array of whips and chains of varying length and thickness. A torture rack was prominently displayed in the center of the floor. It was there Miri lay, chained and stretched on all her limbs. Her clothing was tattered and bloodied by clear markings of flogging. Her left eye had taken a powerful blow and was swollen closed. Blood ran down her face and pooled on the table beneath her. So saturated was the wood on the rack from previous victims the fluid would not absorb. Thus, her hair so golden blond once before, had changed to blood red.
Linvin hugged the inside wall of the stairwell to stay out of sight as he attempted to set aside his rage and locate his enemy. It was not long before Hugon came into view wearing black linens. He bore an iron gauntlet on his right hand covered with fresh blood from Miri. He had just pulled the wheels at the top and bottom of the rack tighter. The act stretched his victim further and pressed her back more firmly against spikes rising higher from the board with every turn.
He stepped over to Miri and grasped her by the hair. “You are stronger than I gave you credit for being. Many have begged for death by now, yet you will tell me nothing.”
Miri spit blood out of her mouth and yelled, “I told you I do not know any of the answers to your questions.”
Hugon wound up his arm and slammed the gauntlet into her exposed side. “Ooooh,” he said in delight. “I know that one hurt. I heard a rib crack. Why are you protecting Romadon so fiercely? Your armies have beaten us every time we invaded. Nothing you could tell me would hurt their defenses that much. There is no need for you to keep suffering. Tell me what I want to know and I will end your life quickly. If you insist on testing my patience, I will make what you have suffered so far feel like a holiday.”
“For the last time,” Miri yelled, “I know nothing about the army. Do your worst and have this over with.” Hugon chuckled as he removed the gauntlet. “You have just made my day better, Little Princess. First, I will use the white-hot metal tongs from the pit to rip your nose from your face. Now most people drown in their own blood but I hope you hold on. Then I will pull every toe and finger off one at a time. If you live through that, I will raise the spikes that now are only pricking you to a much more suitable height. Then I will lower a stone block on top of the remainder of your body and let it push the nails clean through your flesh. Once you are dead I will cut you into pieces for delivery back to your father. This will be a treat.”
Hugon turned toward the hearth to fetch the blistering tongs. A sudden crack was heard in the air and a long whip sliced though the jailor’s shirt and dug deeply in a diagonal pattern across his back. He yelped in pain and turned hurriedly. Standing at the bottom of the stairs was Linvin with whip in hand.
“I told you no one puts leather to me and lives,” Linvin bellowed. “I will now fulfill that pledge.”
“Grithinshield?” Hugon said as he stepped closer. “You were supposed to be dead by now.”
“That is quite ironic when you think about it,” Linvin said as he stuck Hugon in the face with the whip. “Since it is now time for you to die.”
Being a writer, you sometimes take little things for granted. In my case I think little about my sight. Now, I’m not talking about my bifocals. I’m referring to the ability to see at all. To be blind would end my love of writing. Fortunately, I don’t have that problem. Yesterday, however, I was talking with my oldest brother who has had Type 1 diabetes since age 9. Among his health problems is diabetic retinopathy. His sight slowly diminished until his current state of blindness. He was once a published writer of poetry. He had to give it up when his sight deteriorated. It makes me realize how lucky I am to have my sight so I can continue with my passion for writing. Every day there are so many simple things we take for granted like walking, talking, eating, hearing and sleeping in an ordinary bed. I’m not preaching here but I think most of us have a lot to be thankful for. Sadly, many of us, including me, concentrate instead on what ails us. I bet my brother would switch medical problems with me in a heartbeat.
Today I have the honor of being interviewed on “Carol Ann Kauffman’s Vision & Verse” blog. It’s a chance to better know me and my writing style. Check it out at https://visionandverse.blogspot.com/
The second man answered. “My name is of no consequence here, but yours is Dirk Grithinshield. I suppose you would have preferred to do business in your sizable store in the merchant district, but I find this setting more to my liking.”
“Your odds are better as well,” Dirk commented dryly. “You can tell your men surrounding me to come out. We are alone, and I already know where they are hiding.”
“You are mistaken,” the man said halfheartedly. “The agreement was that we each come alone.”
“Indeed, that was the arrangement,” Dirk confirmed. “You can tell that I have not been followed. However, I can see the breath of your men hiding there, there, there and there.” Dirk pointed at places in a circle around him. “It makes me wonder if you have kept your word on the rest of our bargain.”
The man waved, then four armed men stepped out of the shadows and moved closer to Dirk. “You’re observant, Grithinshield. I’ll give you that.”
Dirk sighed in a tone that suggested that the situation did not surprise him in the least. “I could inquire further about your expected deception, but I want this transaction to be over with as soon as possible. Do you have the key I seek?”
The man was angered that his actions were anticipated and that they had not intimidated Dirk as he had hoped. “I have the key, but I didn’t hear any coins jingle as you were walking. That makes me wonder if you have the money on which we agreed.”
“I am quite prepared for you, good sir,” Dirk answered. “The money is close by. Now, since you appear to have me at a disadvantage, and I am the one who has kept his word so far, you will show me what I am purchasing first.”
The man scowled and produced a golden key from his pocket. Begrudgingly, he tossed it to the waiting right hand of Grithinshield. Dirk ran his fingers down its length and looked at its handle in detail. Then, he tossed it back to the man who caught it in midair in an effort to defend his face.
“That is a poor attempt at a forgery,” Dirk said sternly. “Not only is the key warped, but you can see a glimpse of the iron underneath, where it was held as it was dipped in a coating. The key I seek is solid gold. Your credibility is dwindling by the moment and I am mildly annoyed. Show me the real key, if you have it, or you will not see a single gold pharring.”
The man became angrier, but not being a fool, he had to give Dirk his due. Reaching into another pocket, he produced a different key and threw it to Dirk as his men closed their range. Dirk again caught it with his right hand and looked it over as before. He spent more time examining it than the first key. “Exquisite,” he noted. “The craftsmanship is as fine as any forgery I have ever seen. Whoever made this for you should be commended.”
The man became furious. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Dirk tossed the key back and answered. “You just heard every word I said and at no time did I call you a liar. I merely stated that this is a forgery. The good news is that it is an exact casting of the original key. That means you or whoever made that have or had the real one at some point. My guess is that you have at least one more buyer in line and that you seek to maximize your profits. It is a bold plan, but one which will not work on me. Now I will ask you one last time. Toss me the real key or I leave and you get nothing.”
At first, Twitter seemed so simple. You follow someone, they follow you back and you’re able to see each other’s posts. It seemed harmless enough. I began the habit of following back most of the people who followed me. I figured, “This person might like what I write and buy a book.” Lately though I’ve been getting a lot of follows from young women. I was glad because that was an audience I wasn’t sure I was reaching. My happiness was short-lived. I started getting direct messages asking personal questions. Was I looking for love? Was I married? Was I interested in getting married? What kinds of girls did I like? Some wanted a serious relationship and others wanted…something less serious. I used to get these once in a while but now they’re coming every day in increasing numbers. Did I get on some sort of list? Maybe I followed the wrong person back and everyone is copying their friends list. One thing’s for sure; these women aren’t interested in books! I am happily married with three children, two dogs and a cat who doesn’t like me. Now I’m afraid to follow people back on Twitter. From some of the guys I’m getting sent scams. “The government will pay you $40,000 to write a book. I got mine. I can get you in touch with the guy to get you yours.” Or then there’s “I’m a Marine on a peacekeeping mission and I need you to wire me some money.” Maybe I’m paranoid but it all seems fishy to me. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know who to follow back. I guess I’ll go with my gut and hope this cycles off.
Linvin ducked low and ran with speed and stealth. His goal was to reach the place where the search parties would join before they arrived. He made good time and reached his goal just ahead of the torches. Then he laid down flat on the ground close to the plants and covered himself with dried leaves from the stalks. Next he had to calm his breathing. It was a tactic he’d been taught as a scout during his youth in Valia. By the time the searchers came together, Linvin was camouflaged and silent.
A bright light shined over him and he thought for a moment he’d been discovered. Through his disguise he saw a Mandrean Goblin Soldier walk so close he nearly stepped on Linvin’s head. The soldier, however, had his eyes to the front where the others were gathering and paid no attention to the pile on leaves at his feet.
Several rows over all the soldiers were coming together and trampling down a grand area of corn to make room for their numbers. More and more goblins arrived until Linvin could no longer keep count.
When their number had all gathered in a circle, one called out. “Has anyone found anything?” A chorus of voices began to clamor in response. Though it was difficult for Linvin to pick out any particular voice he could hear all the answers were in the negative. After a few moments the first voice yelled, “Silence. We have been following some fresh tacks headed south. They could be the escaped prisoners we seek or they could be some farmers out trying to protect their corn from animals feeding overnight. Regardless, that is our best lead right now. So that is the path we will follow.”
“This is madness,” one of the goblins called to him. “Even if the tracks are from them, they could be right next to us and we would never see them. We should go back to the barracks and try fresh in the morning.”
“Perhaps that is how you do things in your Company,” the first voice said. “In mine, we follow the trail until it goes cold.” An argument ensued and the bickering spread to all the goblins.
Linvin’s opportunity had arrived. He waited for the goblins to begin shoving one another and then made his move. Emerging from his pile of leaves, Linvin crouched and watched the action not more than five rows away. He spied a window through the rows where he had a clear view of the action. Then he looked to the right and found another. Removing a stone from his pocket, he took great care in aiming. He flicked the rock through the air with a snap from his wrist. It passed through the corn and hit a goblin on his fingers holding a torch. The goblin shouted in pain and dropped the flaming stick. His cry went unnoticed among those fighting around his position.
When the flame contacted the dry stalks, however, the fuel combusted quickly and began to spread. Linvin wasted no time picking a target on the other side and again struck the hand holding the torch. As before, the flame hit the ground and ignited the overlapping kindling. With his work done, Linvin stayed low and ran for the hedgerow. He did not look back until he reached cover. When he finally turned to view his handiwork, he smiled with satisfaction. The fire had become substantial before the mass of soldiers realized they had fires on both sides that were spreading. With the flames leaping from one row to the next it was impossible for the goblins to try to contain. They broke ranks in terror and ran in every direction. Some had unknowingly caught fire and were spreading it across the field as they ran.
“Glorious.” Anvar commented.
“They do not even know what happened,” Linvin said as he took to his saddle. “Now is our moment. Burst onto the road and ride east with all the speed these horses have left.”
“Won’t the goblins see us?” Bander asked.
Linvin took his place in the lead and answered. “No. When it is dark and you stare at a bright flame your vision becomes restricted for a short time. You lose the ability to see in the darkness. Make sure not to look at the blaze. While they run from the flames, we will ride invisibly out of danger. Now, go as fast as you can.”
I think the heat is getting to me. Here in Nebraska we’ve been in the 90s for over a week now and there’s no sign of it letting up. I stay in the air conditioning as much as I can but you have to go outside at some point. A good number of you in the United States and Canada are experiencing the same heat wave I am. The meteorologists say it all has something to do with the jet stream. To be honest, until I reached high school I thought the jet stream referred to either the path jet planes took or those stainless-steel travel trailers (Airstreams). Turns out I was way off base. The jet stream travels from west to east and dictates who gets cool air and who gets hot air. It just depends on what side of it you are on. Right now, it’s starting really far to the southwest and then soars up the Rockies and into Canada before continuing east. I talked to my sister in Toronto, Ontario and she confirmed the heat was miserable there as well. Now I’m having this craving for ice cream every single day. I don’t know why. I don’t usually eat ice cream. It’s like the heat has triggered some gene in my body to greatly desire ice cream. Soft serve is particularly appealing. I’ve tried to curb the craving by eating yogurt or cottage cheese. It’s just not the same. Oh, well. It could be worse. There are hazardous things to your health I could want. For now, I will fight this obsession but give in to it occasionally.
As the men made a tight circle around the general, one brought his face right before Linvin’s and said, “We are the ones who took this nation from a bunch of farmers and fishermen to the foremost trading nation in the world. We are the envy of the world. So don’t think a victory such as yours gives you the right to come in here and insult us, General. Heroes come and go, but noblemen always remain.”
Linvin’s first thought was to thrash the fat bureaucrat to near death, but he showed restraint in his muscles that did not carry over to his lips.
“You are skilled businessmen, to be sure. However, your ears are so accustomed to listening for the sound of dropping coins that they do not recognize common sense. For years I have told you that the army was too small. For years I have warned that a serious invasion was on the horizon, yet my warnings and petitions to raise a larger army were ignored. We had a tremendous amount of time to prepare over the years, yet the army actually shrank.”
“No one wanted to join the army!” yelled one of the men. “Why take time from the monetary pursuits to become a soldier? There’s little profit in it.”
“And who would join the army?” asked another. “Between the merchant ships, navy, and farms, we hardly have enough people to do the work. We cannot afford to waste manpower in the army.”
“Waste!” Linvin yelled. “What waste would have befallen this country if I had failed? Every man, woman and child would have been slaughtered. Homes and fields would be burned. Any survivors would have become slaves. Now you call preventing such a thing a waste of manpower?”
“You argue against yourself,” a nobleman said. “You proved us right. All this time you have asked for more men and yet you had ample forces to complete your task. You are an anomaly, my good general.”
“And how many men fell, who would have lived, if there had been reinforcements?” Linvin asked. “How many more would have lived if they had not had to fight 3 days without rest? How many would have lived if we could have permitted the enemy to withdraw, rather than risking everything to destroy them utterly. The number is not known. What is known is that there would still be an army protecting this country instead of the few who still breathe.”
“Quiet your tongue!” snapped a nobleman. “You say too much! You see everything as black and white when there is an obvious gray area. Even if reinforcements were available, you have no idea of the cost associated with their hire and training. Those are costs, boy, that you do not see but we must live with. Think about that the next time you forget your place!”
The king hung his head and covered his eyes. A line had been crossed and the other side would be ugly.
Linvin was pushed too far. His eyes caught fire when hearing his new title. In one quick movement, he grabbed the man by the throat with a single hand and lifted him off his feet. Linvin drew him close with ease.
“Now listen to me, you pompous, arrogant sack of flesh,” Linvin said in a firm monotone. “Your life exists under the freedom I provide. Your words dictate that I remove that freedom.” Linvin’s hand began to squeeze.
“That is enough!” the king ordered. “Linvin, release him at once.”
Fantasy fiction is my passion. This series embodies my love for a good story and action. You will find it to be many things, but not boring! Read what you love and love what you read...