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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 2

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Garflin Wolfrider

Garflin Wolfrider sat in the great circle trying hard to keep his focus.  His every waking hour was spent there for the past week.  There was little time to sleep or eat.  For the battle to be won for the druids, it had to be done before the fighting started.


The Hall of Druids in Solaced once boasted over ten thousand strong, before the magic faded.  Now few men wanted to learn the art of healing, and that was almost all that remained.  Healing and speaking with the animals.  Humans had little desire to speak with their food.


Garflin looked around the circle.  Three druids, two other rangers and Garflin sat in the circle casting spell after spell.  They all looked as drained as he felt.  Including Garflin, there were only one hundred rangers in the druid ranks.  They did not stand a chance against the Steel Tide.


Maybe the Tide will lose heart and return home without a fight.


The thought was comforting, but not very likely.  The men of the sea were a hard group.  Brave and strong. And until now, they were thought of as friends to the druids.


Garflin traveled to Karal just a few years ago.  King Gyger welcomed him with all hospitality of the royals.  He even welcomed the druid’s suggestions to limit the destruction of the Great Wood.  An all out attack on them seemed out of character for the king.  Of course, most of the happenings in the Kingdom of Tides seemed out of place.


King Gyger launched war after war on his bordering kingdoms for no apparent reason. They were calling him the “Mad King.”  It was hard for Garflin to believe this man to be the same king who offered comfort to him.  And it was even harder for him to think of King Gyger as an enemy.  What has happened to you, my old friend?


Garflin refused to give up hope.  He liked so few humans he just couldn’t abandon this one.  Not many humans had much use for brownies like Garflin Wolfrider either.  Brownies and humans shared no love for each other, and chose mainly to avoid contact.  But as humans destroyed the Great Wood to create farmland, more and more brownies had no choice but to live among them.


The memory of the Great Wood of Solaced filled Garflin with a new strength.  He drew a deep breath and concentrated hard.  He could feel the Great Circle draw the needed power from his circle mates.  One yelped in pain as the circle probed him for the energy it needed.  Another sobbed to herself.  The magic flooded into Garflin.  His muscles twitched and strained holding back the power for the right moment.


Garflin’s chanting grew loud.  His voice thundered through the wood, echoing off the trees and making them tremble at the potency of the spell.  Then he released the energy, letting it flow into the air.


He sat back down, dizzy from the intense spell.  The female druid to his right steadily sobbed.  She tried to muffle the noise with her robes when Garflin’s eyes fell upon her.  Druids had no stomach for fighting.  They were healers.


One of the six lay face down in his circle.  A trickle of blood ran from either his nose or his mouth.  Garflin could not tell which.  But his chest rose and fell in a normal pattern.  He would survive.  Well, at least until the Tide fell upon them.


“What are you trying to do?”  A gruff voice scolded.


Garflin’s little brownie body was lifted from the circle he commanded.  The link broke and he felt the extra energy drain from his body.


“Trying to win a war.”  Garflin snapped keeping as much of his dignity as he could while floating three feet off the ground.


“You almost killed your circle mates!”


“The key word here being almost,” Garflin responded. “But who I did kill was a whole bunch of Steel Tide.”


The large man shook Garflin like a rag doll.


“You stupid little brownie,” the man yelled, “I will not have you killing my druids!”


A soft growl was all Garflin heard before the weight hit the man in the chest.  Long white teeth bit deep into the arm of his captor, and then he was falling.  Garflin landed flat on his back and bounced gracefully back to his feet.


The hefty man lay on his back cradling his wounded hand.  On his chest sat one hundred pounds of white wolf.  Garflin’s steed was very protective.  The wolf held firm to the large man’s neck, just tight enough to let him know, who would be the victor if battle should continue.


“I don’t think Mistic likes you, Franco.”  Garflin dusted himself off.  Franco gasped something, but between the fear and Mistic’s grasp of his neck, Garflin couldn’t understand it.


“If that was an apology, Franco Greenbeard, I gladly accept.”  Garflin chuckled.  “Mistic to me,” the brownie called to the wolf.


The wolf released the man and bounded in front of Garflin.  She snarled loudly at Franco to indicate she was still watching him.


Franco sat up rubbing his neck.  Spots of red blood colored Franco’s deep green beard. 


“I am the one in charge here,” Franco roared.


“That’s fine,” Garflin replied, “But you need to decide if you want to stop the Steel Tide from making it here, or make a trail of flowers they can pick to put on your graves.”


Franco blushed a bright red.  Garflin knew the quip cut deep.  Franco worked as an herbalist all his life.  The only spell casting he ever learned consisted of growth spells for plants.  On the first night of the Steel Tides’ climb, Franco had been in the first circle.  He pulled energies and cast a spell to lift the roots of plants along the Tides’ path.  He said he hoped to entangle the horses and men alike.  Instead, his spell only caused a trail of flowers to bloom from the Steel Tide, all the way to the Great Circle.


The folly was put to good use the next day. The flowers attracted many insects.  Garflin used a spell to excite them and attack the Tide.  Swarms of bees and other bugs still haunted their days and nights.


“We didn’t ask for war,” Franco said more to himself than to Garflin.


“When have people being attacked ever asked for war, Greenbeard?”  Garflin sighed and patted Mistic on the head to settle her down. “But war has asked for us and we must answer, either with our own lives, or those who attack us.  I choose theirs.”


Greenbeard nodded in agreement.  To his surprise, the sobbing druid also nodded her approval.  There just might be hope after all.


“Take my place in the circle,” Garflin commanded, “I am going to survey our work.”


Greenbeard cautiously pushed himself to his feet, watching the huge wolf all the while.  He gave no more arguments.


This is war, and what does a plant grower know of such things? Garflin thought.


Garflin picked up his sword belt.  He strapped the belt on and threw the bow across his back.  With a quick bounce, the brownie mounted Mistic.  Her white fur covered the little brownie’s legs from sight.  She spun and bounded away with Garflin holding fast to her neck.


Mistic and Garflin raced through the wood.  The brownie heard no sound from the wolf’s strides, even on the roughest of trails.  Fallen leaves of a hundred years covered the floor of the Great Wood like a thick blanket.  Mistic flew across them quieter than a light summer breeze.  She was faster than any horse and better in battle.  Humans hated wolves, like they hated brownies, so the two of them made a great pair.


The Great Wood was the last place for the brownies and the wolves.  If the Steel Tide took them, the trees would be cut for paper, trails would be blazed for trade routes, game would be hunted till nothing remained, herb traders would come by the thousands, and there would be no more room for brownies or wolves.  Humans could never find balance in nature.


Mistic stopped and sniffed the air.  Garflin knew it would be easy for her to hone in on the large host.  The noisy armor alone made it trivial for the wolf to track them.  Garflin stared at the large tree near a small stream.  He could not see the top of the tree.  It grew endlessly into the night sky as if on a quest to reach the very stars.  That tree must have been around since before the time of the elves.  It had been alive during ages when there were no records of humans, elves, or brownies. Garflin understood, to humans the tree would be nothing but lots of paper.


The white wolf found the trail again and bounded off.  Mistic jumped gracefully over the trail of flowers and continued her run.  The insects made the Steel Tide change their approach.  Many of the men fell ill from the stings and bites, but not enough.


Garflin began to hear the clanging of armor and the faint whicker of horses.  Scared horses.  The sounds were the music of a well-placed spell.  Men’s voices broke the stillness of the night air.  The sound of chaos rang out from every direction.  Garflin dismounted and crawled over to view his work.


There along the riverbank, where the Steel Tide made camp, men scrambled to find ropes in hopes of rescuing their sinking company.  Further up the bank, Garflin could see men stuck in dark mud. There were lifeless limbs, both hands and feet, peering from the surface of the black mud.  Some struggled to free themselves from the thick sludge.  Others shed their armor and rushed to help their friends, just to sink below the muck themselves.


At least forty horses lay dead or lame in the black mess.  The supply wagons were flipped and covered to the wheels.


“Steel Tide of Karal, meet the Mud Tide of the Great Wood.”  Garflin jested, amazed at his work.


The river water would be undrinkable for the next two or three days and there would be no fish to eat for even longer.  Many were dead from the looks of things, and best of all, lots of injured.  The injured would have to be taken back to Karal.  That would take even more men away from the main host.


Still about five hundred left, and such a short distance to the druid camp.


Five hundred Steel Tide soldiers still meant death to all the druids and rangers in the camp.  These were trained swords.  Battle hardened.  Only one hundred rangers answered the call for help.  The bond between the druids and rangers should have been stronger.  Even the Steel Tide thought so, or else they wouldn’t have sent such a large host.


A soft whisper caught Garflin’s ears.  He strained his eyes against the glare of fires dotting the night.  Two shapes stood near the river’s edge.  One man wore a red cape with gold stripes.  Garflin knew this to make him the captain.  He was speaking with another man who wore a red cape and silver stripes.


Most likely a bannerman.


Garflin slid closer.  Crawling softly over the dry leaves, he stopped at a large oak tree just a few yards from the two men.


“The whole river I tell you,” the silver man said, “it turned to mud and flooded over us.”


“How many are dead?”


“Near two hundred dead and almost as many injured.”


Garflin’s heart soared. Four hundred Steel Tide swords out of the fight were more than he dared hope.


“How many horses do we have left?”


“Maybe eighty, but most won’t let a man ride’em.”


Garflin cracked a smile.  The horses had chosen a side.


“Kill the ones we can’t ride to replace the food we lost, and see if you can find some drinkable water.”


“Yes sir.” The silver man scratched his balding head. “Should I organize a group to take the injured back to Karal?”


“The queen has said any who return before the druids fall are to be executed for high treason,” the captain shot.  “I won’t have my men killed by the Queen of Whores.  Tell the healers to do the best they can.”


A queen? Garflin didn’t remember King Gyger having a wife.  He seemed content with his younger brother being his heir.


“Then we continue through the wood?”


“As soon as we have the injured tended, and the dead in the ground.”


“I hear tell, there’s thousands o’ them druids up there, not to mention the rangers and critters that serve’em.  It’ll make for one Hell of a battle.”


They think we have thousands waiting for them, and still they march against us without fear. Garflin’s thoughts went back to the sobbing druid in his circle. Wonder what they would think, if they knew the truth?


The ground began to shake beneath Garflin. Small vines sprang from the dirt in all directions.  The vines wrapped around his legs and arms squeezing them tightly to his chest.  They grew on, lifting him from the ground.  The foliage also entwined the two men around their legs and up to their knees.  Both men pulled their daggers and cut the brush away.


“Damn druid magic again,” the man in silver complained.


“At least this one shouldn’t attract bugs.”


The roots continued to grow, but Garflin could see they were weak to the steel-clad men. What they could not break with the strength of their legs, they cut away with their daggers.  The magic kept them busy for a few minutes.  Their eyes focused on the tangling weeds growing up their legs until the spell ran its course.  The men looked to each other, and then at the bundle of vines a few yards from where they stood.


Garflin hung in his root trap, eye to eye with the two men.  The surprise on their faces was matched only by the surprise upon his.


Guess your spell finally worked, Greenbeard.  Garflin thought as the two men approached with daggers in hand. Damn you Franco.





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