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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 21

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Garflin Wolfrider


The sky was bluer than the ranger had ever seen it.  The air was fresher here and the trees grew bigger.  The land showed no signs of any civilization.  It was an untouched paradise that remained the way the gods had made it.


His map had taken Garflin out of the underbrush that he had been fighting his whole trip and into the open wood.  It was a relief not to have to crawl under the tangle.  The ranger was beginning to enjoy his travels in the strange wood.  If he lived long enough he promised himself that he would return to explore the forest more thoroughly.


The brownie found the landmarks that Pip had drawn on his map easily.  Nymph directions had turned out to be much better than dryad directions.  The only question that remained was where the nymph was sending him.  She had already stolen all his belongings.  That alone would have deterred any fool from following her instructions, but not Garflin.  If the trail led to a dead end, he would still be in the same position.  He had nothing to loose.


If he could keep up his pace, he would reach the X by nightfall.  Whatever the X was.  For that matter, how would he know when he reached the X if he didn’t know what it was?  He ignored his own questions and continued his travels.


Some lotus bread would be nice right now, the ranger thought.


The land provided enough food for him to live but the bread had been a nice treat.  Garflin was starting to understand why Pip had gobbled it up so fast.  The berries and nuts he had gathered to break his fast had not alleviated his hunger for long.  His mouth longed for the stews and ales of Solaced.  If there was still a Solaced


The Steel Tide should be nearing the druid camp by this time.  He hoped that the druids had been able to slow the men’s advance.  Both sides were tired and injured but the Steel Tide would still hold the advantage in a ground war.  Robes did little to fend off the blades of swords.


The realization that his friends could be fighting at this very moment made him angry with himself.  This quest was keeping him from helping his order.  It could be costing the lives of his rangers and druids alike.  And what was he questing anyway?  A meeting with a people that didn’t exist and maybe had never existed.  Besides, if they did exist, who said they would even help him?


With his temper tantrum over, the ranger returned to his hike.  With or without him, they had no chance against the Tide.  The children may not be real but it was still a chance.  And any chance at this point was worth pursuing, even one from a fairytale.


A large rock etched its way into the skyline as Garflin went further into the thick spires of evergreens.  He checked his map and found the rock was his next landmark.  There was only two more for him to find before the X.  Just a little longer and the anonymity of the X would be solved.  He hoped it was worth the trouble.


The notion came to mind that he maybe just walking into one of the nymph’s pranks.  They were a devious race.  Garflin remembered what Pip had said about wanting a nymph city and smiled at the reflection.  A city full of tricksters might be a fun place to visit.


The ranger was still baffled at how his order could have missed such a big part of the wood in their atlas.  In the direction he had been walking, he was sure he should have reached the Tarlac Mountains twice over.  Yet their peaks did not adorn the heavens before him.


Garflin did not take to the study of plants but he did know about them.  His mother had taught him much about the herbs that grew in the forest.  She had made him spend hours walking the wood with her identifying every plant they passed.  He was glad his mother wasn’t there to ask him the names of the foliage around him.  Most of the plant life he was unable to name.


It could have been that the plants were left to grow in their natural state, or that the foliage here had developed at a slower rate because of the lack of stimulation.  The constant destruction of the humans had forced some plants and animals to evolve to survive.  Whatever the answer, this was a different world.


Greenbeard would be in paradise.  Garflin could just hear the druid raving about the things he could learn from the undergrowth.  He would carry around journals and books spending the day staring at their leaves.  The druid found pleasure in the strangest things.


The ranger stopped to rest on the rock.  The sun had warmed the boulder and the heat felt good as it soaked into his bones.  The night had left a chill in him that the morning had yet to shake.  He stretched out over the rock letting it warm him and watched the fluffy white clouds drift by.


The world where he had come from was so different from this one.  Everything had started this way but somehow gone terribly wrong.  He would have liked to place the blame all on the humans but he knew that all races had a hand in it.  If everyone in the kingdoms could sit where Garflin was, they would come to understand the peace of nature.  Even the retched humans may comprehend its importance.


With the chill gone, his aches and pains relieved, Garflin took out his map.  The next landmark looked to be a pool of water.  It would be a welcome sight indeed.  The brownie had gotten enough water from the morning dew to keep him going but not to quench his thirst.  He stood beside the stone and adjusted his angle with the help of his map.  Then with a new spring in his step, the ranger set off in the direction he chose.


The water was not hard to find.  The trees cleared a wide spot for the small lake making a perfect ring around the oasis.  The lagoon was crystal clear and the water cold as the snow on a mountain peak.  Garflin drank his fill and then washed some of the traveling dust from his body.  It was the closest thing he had had to a bath in a long time.


The beauty that surrounded him was breathtaking.  Dragonflies skimmed over the water’s surface making small ripples while a fawn had a drink at its edge.  A thick green carpet of grass covered the opening around the lake and swayed peacefully in the summer breeze.  Birds serenaded him from the branches of near-by trees.  He had to force himself to leave the sanctuary.


His last marker was a little hard to make out.  It almost looked like a man lying on the ground.  All the other points were cleverly drawn leaving no question to what they represented, everything but the X and this one.  Garflin aligned himself at the lake and bounded off to find the unknown marker.


The ranger walked a straight line into the wood once more.  The cool of the shadows greeted him as a reminder of the arctic night to come.  The cloak would be sorely missed.  He hoped that Neya would not be too angry with him when he returned without it.


He weaved his way around the large pines of the forest always returning to his original path.  His next point was smaller than the ones before and maybe easily missed.  It wouldn’t do for him to loose his way so close to his destination.


A strange noise bounced around the grove of trees.  It sounded like wood hitting wood.  The cheers of a crowd followed the racket.  Garflin lowered himself to the ground and crept slowly along the small hill.  Down by the base of the knoll, he could see the body of a man laid out on the forest floor.


The brownie moved silently toward the prone man.  As he got closer, he could see that it was not a man at all.  The top half of him did mimic a man’s form but the bottom was covered in thick brown fur.  In place of feet he had hooves like a goat and long curled horns on his head to match.


Garflin searched the body from a distance for any signs of harm.  The beast-man’s chest rose and fell with air.  It appeared to live.  He could see no indication of injury other than the unusual redness of his face.  Ignoring his instincts to steer clear of the beast, Garflin skulked closer.


The creature’s eyes were closed lightly indicating that he was sleeping.  Garflin took the opportunity to examine the beast.  Its horns sprouted from the middle of its forehead and curled at the top of its head.  The beast wore a red shirt covering the human-like chest but left the bottom goat half exposed.  The curly brown fur on its bottom looked more than enough protection from the cold.  The ranger reached his hand gradually toward the creature’s horns but jerked it back when the goatman snorted and turned his head.


“Go on,” interrupted a voice from behind him, “Grub doesn’t bite.”


Garflin spun to meet the new arrival.  The voice had come from a female version of the same creature.  She had long auburn hair that hung down to her waist.  Instead of her forehead, her horns obtruded from the sides of her head and curled in a circle above it.  Her top was coved by a black vest with silver buttons that ran down both sides of the garment.


“Is he alright,” Garflin finally managed.


“Grub,” she said, “Sure he is.  He always gets drunk and passes out when he loses at the Grove Run. And he always loses at the Grove Run.”


The loud clash that the ranger had heard before followed the creature’s words.  She smiled at him warmly when he jumped at the ruckus.  Garflin returned her smile searching his memory for any recollection of this race.  Nothing came to mind.


“What is the Grove Run,” Garflin questioned.


“Come with me and I will show you.”


Garflin had to believe that the goatman on the ground was his marker.  How Pip had known that the man would be there, he had no clue.  He didn’t know this creature or even her race but he did trust her more than he trusted a nymph.


“I am Shel,” the goatwoman told him.


“I am Garflin,” he answered.


“Well met Garflin,” she said as she looked him over as apprehensively as he had the two of them.


She led him to a clearing in the trees just a ways from the drunken goatman.  The clearance was cut into two precise lines that intersected in the middle.  He had found the X.  And the X had turned out to be an X.


At the end of each lane stood a goatman.  The four of them waited kicking at the dirt with their heads angled down.  Another of the females clapped two sticks together sending the first two goatmen running at each other.  The two smacked heads making a loud crack.  The one that had run from the right hand side stumbled backwards and fell.  The remaining one raised his hands in victory returning to his position at the end of the X.  The routine repeated itself many times with losers taking a seat and new challengers entering the lanes.


One of the goatmen made his way over to Shel.  They spoke in a tongue unfamiliar to Garflin’s ears.  The langue sounded more like the baying of sheep than speaking.  Nonetheless the two appeared to understand each other and continued in speech for long minutes before acknowledging the brownie.


“Garflin,” Shel said, “this is Gropta.”


The goatman began to smell Garflin.  He placed his nose against his chest and moved slowly around his body sniffing as he went.  The brownie took the rude gesture without complaint being used to the same treatment from animals he had met.


“We ain’t seen one of you in…in..,” Gropta appeared to be in deep thought.  “Guess we ain’t never seen one of you.”


“Behave, Gropta,” Shel commanded.


“Well, he ain’t no elf,” objected Gropta.  “You gonna take him to Cavin anyway?”


“Yes,” Shel told him.


“He ain’t gonna like this,” Gropta warned.  “He ain’t gonna like this at all.”


Shel took Garflin by the hand and led him away from the X.  They walked down a worn path.  It was the first signs of life that any civilized race lived in the forest.  A light glow permeated the growing darkness of the evening from a cave entrance.  The cave had two oak doors on either side that stood wide open welcoming the two.


The inside of the cave was unlike any that Garflin had ever seen.  Large marble pillars with beautifully sculpted figures braced the ceiling and the floor had been ground smooth.  The flooring was crafted with the same figures etched into the stone.  Colorful tapestries hung on the wall between each marble pillar.


One of the tapestries depicted a man sitting in a throne while what appeared to be an elf gave him a plate of bread.  Another showed an elf with one foot in water the other on land reaching up into the air.  Animals of all sorts surrounded the elf.  The workmanship of the weave was incredible.


“Come sit,” another goatman called to him, “It has been centuries.”


From the look of the goatman, he may have lived centuries.  The hair on his head was a snowy grey matching the fur on his legs.  One of his horns had broken off just above his brow.  This gave the old one’s head the appearance of being tilted at all times.  In one of his hands he held a wood staff that ended in a big purple crystal.


He handed the staff to Shel and took a seat at a table near one of the pillars.  Shel waved at Garflin to come take a seat with the man.  The ranger hurried over to her and sat across from the old goatman.  She gave him a pat on his back for his obedience as she left them to talk.


A pot of tea and a stack of cups sat on a cart beside the table.  The old one took two of the cups and placed one before each of them.  Garflin took the pot of tea.  He made sure to fill the goatman’s cup first.  Neya had warned him to watch his manners.


The goatman looked the brownie up and down with wide eyes.  For the second time in the last half hour, Garflin was smelled up and down.  He didn’t think he would have to worry about his table etiquette after that.


“Your race has changed much through the years,” the old goatman said.  “I am Cavin.”


“I am Garflin Wolfrider,” the ranger answered getting a little tired of repeating his name.


“That doesn’t sound like a name of an elf,” Cavin deducted.


“I am not an elf,” Garflin told him.  “There are no more elves.”


“Then what exactly are you?”


“I am a druid, or ranger rather,” Garflin stumbled not knowing what title he should use, “And a brownie.”


“So many titles for such a small creature,” Cavin chuckled.  “Let us start with ranger.  What is a ranger?”


Garflin told the man the story of the elves disappearing and the new order finding their last city.  Cavin listened to the story asking questions about some parts.  He was particularly interested in the names of the new races that had in habited the world and the ones that were no more.  Finally, Garflin told him about the Steel Tide, the war and his need to fix the druid magic.


“I think we can help you,” Cavin told him.  “But first let’s drink our tea and eat our lotus bread.”


Garflin relaxed and sipped on his hot tea.  The tea had a sweet mixture of orange to it.  He had almost finished his second cup when he realized that Cavin was staring at him.  The ranger quickly refilled the man’s cup thinking that was the problem.


“Did you bring me some lotus bread,” Cavin asked him.


“Ah,” Garflin blushed.  Neya had told him to be sure not to eat it all.  Why hadn’t she just told him that the bread was for the children?


“The elves always brought me lotus bread,” the goatman said.  “I haven’t had any in so very long.”


“I am sorry,” Garflin apologized.  “I had to give the bread to a nymph for directions.”


“A shame, it goes so well with the tea you know.”


“You see, Neya, my dryad friend,” explained Garflin, “She gave me this map but it wasn’t very good.”


He paused and handed the map to Cavin.  All thoughts of continuing his tale ended when Cavin sniffed his map and began to chew it.  After a few minutes, the entire map had disappeared into the goatman’s mouth.  He swallowed with a great gulp chasing the meal with a sip of tea.


“It was good,” Cavin announced, “But next time, I think I would like some lotus bread.”


“Um, of course,” Garflin agreed.  I just hope I can find my way home without that map.


“What you druids have done is broken your magic up,” Cavin told him.  “You have to make it one again.”


“I don’t understand,” Garflin complained.  “Druid magic is the same as it has been and ranger magic is the same as it has been.”


“There is only one magic,” Cavin instructed.  “There is no rangers or druids, just the nature spirit.  Your orders think of it as two different powers, plant based and animal.”


The brownie’s blank expression must have told Cavin that his message had been lost.  He took some of the cups from the cart and placed them on the table and then filled each one with the hot tea till the pot was empty.


“I have ten cups of tea,” he announced.  “It is the same amount that I had when it was in the pot but separated.”  He waited for the ranger to grasp the lesson.  “If I forget about the other nine cups and only drink from one, I loose most of my tea.  Just like your order has lost most of their magic.”


Garflin understood the logic.  What he did not know was how to fix the problem.


“You need to heal all the cups and make them into a pot again,” Cavin finished.


The goatman got up from the table and went to a trunk at the back of the cave.  He dug in the contents babbling about lotus bread the whole time.  When he returned to the table, he had a golden arrow in his right hand.


“This, this is what you need,” Cavin told him.


“An arrow,” questioned Garflin.


“That is it,” Cavin agreed.


“One arrow,” furthered Garflin.


“Take the arrow back to your people and shoot it into the air and all will be well.”


Only if it strikes me in the heart when it falls, Garflin thought.  But as Neya had instructed, he remembered his manners and thanked the goatman kindly.


Having wasted his time, the ranger was quick to take his leave.  He needed to make it back to the dryad.  She had bid her hawks to watch the Steel Tide till he returned.  The brownie planned to walk into the night and be out of the strange wood by morning.


Shel had walked him as far as the drunken goatman and then said her goodbyes.  Grub still laid where he had so many hours before.  She had shaken him in an attempt to wake him but soon cut her losses and left him to sleep it off.


Garflin had almost tossed the arrow away.  Actually, he did.  Then realizing he had no other real weapons, he had hunted down the arrow and tucked it into his belt.  One arrow could do much in the hands of a ranger.


As the cold of the night began to take a bite, the ranger had a stroke of good luck.  Just beyond the lake he had passed he saw a welcome sight.  His cloak.  It flapped quietly in the icy night air suspended on a limb.  The nymph must have left it for him.  A little voice cried out at him once again and once again it was ignored.  As the splash of stink water soaked into his cloths, once again he realized that the voice was right.


Only a nymph would give up a cloak made from a priceless material to play a prank.  Her laughter coasted along in the treetops and dissipated into the night air.  Garflin couldn’t find it in him to be mad.  Pip just followed the nature that she had been born to and that could never be wrong.  He put the cloak around him and started his way back home.


Maybe a city full of tricksters wouldn’t be such a fun place to visit, Garflin thought.






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