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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 7

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Garflin Wolfrider Chapter 7



Garflin had willed the tree’s branches to give him cover from the raging storm.  The tree flexed its thick arm-like foliage forming a protective covering over the small ranger. The sky overhead lit up with a bright white flash.  If a bolt of lightning were to strike the tree, the limbs would do him little good.


My little druids have learned to fight, Garflin mused wondering if he should stop faking his sleep.


The opportunity for his escape had come.  He knew he had better take it before Mistic lost her head.  It had been all the brownie could do to keep her from rushing in during his beating.  The wolf was more loyal than smart. 


Garflin had accepted his beating and branding by the Steel Tide as the cost of good information.  He had learn far more from them than they had from him.  He knew they would be on foot.  Their horses only served as dinner to them of late.  Also, the Steel Tide had no idea of where the Great Circle was.


They thought the circle was some stationary place like the buildings of their human kind.  Best of all, the Steel Tide thought to take the circle and hold it for Queen Jillian.  The memory of the discussion almost made Garflin burst with laughter.  The time he had spent with the Steel Tide had given him a new hope for the rangers and druids.


Not to mention this spell.  It was a wondrous thing.  The human mages worked franticly against the druid magic.  The mage magic was a match for any one druid but not the seven.  Druid magic had wasted away through the years and been mostly forgotten.  Only the knowledge of the Great Circle remained from the days of the Elvin druids.


The circle linked seven druids together as one.  Their magic would mingle inside the circle and become a single immense force.  It mended the broken links between druids and the spirits of nature bidding them to answer their call, as they once had the Elvin druids of old.  Even as great as the human mage’s powers had become, it was nothing compared to the forces of nature. Humans had never understood nature or the bond that the druids and rangers shared with it.  If they had, they would have never tied a ranger to a tree.


The ice had stopped falling.  The two closest men to Garflin lay stretched out half buried in the huge hailstones.  These were the two that had interrogated Garflin.  The larger of the two, Gregor, stirred from his sleep.  He pushed up to his knees and then fell with a crash back into the mud.


I think that one is dead, Garflin concluded seeing the ice turn red around the man’s head.  He looked down to the brand that still burned on his forearm. A shame, I had hoped to thank him for his hospitality.


The one known as Pike moved his hand up to his bloodied face.  Garflin could see the jagged remains of the man’s teeth through the gore of his features.  This one would live to fight in the battle to come.


Pike was as cold as the steel he wore.  Garflin had seen the shear bliss on his face as he had pressed the hot metal down on his forearm.  This human liked to inflict pain.  Garflin had tried not to give the man the amusement of his screams but that had become involuntary as he felt his skin stick to the red steel of the brand.  From the look on the human’s face, he didn’t like having pain as much as inflicting it.


The camp was in chaos.  Men ran here and there checking the prone for any signs of life.  Most of the horses had broken their tethers and made for freedom.  Garflin could hear the men’s cures as they realized that the camp would soon go hungry.


The lightning had struck in the middle of the injured tent.  Most of the wounded in the previous attacks were dead.  The skin of the victims still smoked from the blast.  A frantic search began of that area and Garflin soon realized the urgency of it.


Where the sick were, so would be the healers.  To the ranger’s delight, none of the human healers seem to have survived the explosion.  The newly injured were carried to a new spot and laid out in rows.  That was the extent of the treatment that the men would receive, a warm dry place to die.


The brownie had gathered enough information and deemed it past time to take his leave.  His body faded and was absorbed into the tree that had been both his protector and captor.  The rope that once bound his hands lay flaccid.  He wondered if any of the humans would remember the brownies ability to bond with the trees.  He hoped they would make some mystery of it like humans typically did.  A new tale to rattle the men’s nerves.


Garflin exited the tree on the opposite side.  His bow sat on a low hanging branch.  He saw no sign of his sword belt or quiver and did not take the time to search for them.  Sliding the useless bow over his shoulder, Garflin headed for the tree line.  With no sword or arrows for his bow, the ranger hoped for an uninterrupted flight.


The direction of his getaway changed as the ranger found himself sinking in the black mud.  He hoped that the men of the Steel Tide had not thought to check on the fate of their hostage.


The men looked to be in the same disarray as he had left them.  Some still hid under barrels fearing to come out into the light drizzle of rain.  The rain seemed to be of natural causes but the men wanted to take no chances.


No man of the Steel Tide seemed to take charge of the chaos.  He could hear directions being shouted in many voices but they fell on the deaf ears of the panicked men.  Each man worked at a different chore of his choosing.  Tasks fell apart and were left undone as men’s priorities changed and minds wondered.


Garflin moved through the darkness unnoticed.  He stopped briefly to inspect a dead man at the rivers edge.  The man looked to be unfortunate enough to not be wearing a helm when the hailstones began to fall.  The top of his head sank like a creator left by the giant worms of Tarlac Mountains.


The ranger reached for the sword strapped to the dead man’s waist, then remembered the size of the weapon.  He chose instead, the dagger on the far side of the long sword.  The quiver of arrows on the ground would be of no use to the brownie either.  The shafts were cut far too long for his bow.


Being at least a little better armed than he had been, Garflin returned his focus on reaching the woods unseen.  He tucked the dagger into his belt as he broke into a run.  Crossing the bridge the Steel Tide had built would be his only choice to reach the other side of the river.  After that, it would be an easy run back to the druids. Getting across that bridge would be the problem.


The Tide had posted many guards on both sides of the bridge.  They had even spared two mages, one for each side, to fend off any druid spells.  The building of the bridge is what had held the host so long in the one place.  It was a shame that the mud tide had not wiped the overpass out.  The men had been apt at building the crossing and made a sturdy foundation.  When the mud had subsided, the bridge stood intact.


If Garflin made it back to the Great Circle, he would weave a spell to crush the bridge.  The Steel Tide would be stuck on the wrong side of the river and have to start from scratch.  A few more weeks of the druid punishment combined with some night attacks would just about make this a fair fight.


The crunch of a branch made Garflin aware of another presence.  There was little he could do to conceal himself to the intruder traveling at a full run.  His hand reached for the dagger in his belt.  He turned to face the shadow that had fallen on him.


A man stumbled from the brush near him.  His sword drawn in his hand was being used for support rather than attack.  His blond hair was encrusted with dry blood.  The shiny armor that marked him as Steel Tide had large dents  through out.  If he had seen Garflin, he showed no sign of it.


The man took four or five more steps in the direction of the camp and came to a halt.  The sword slid from his hands to the mud.  As if it were the only thing holding him up, his knees collapsed letting him follow his weapon.  The weight of the steel he wore sunk his body half way under the muck.


Garflin looked at the thickness of the steel on the fallen man, then to the dagger in his hand.  A wave of stupidity engulfed him.  He tucked the dagger back into his belt.


To his delight, the guards of the bridge had deserted their post.  The wood structure appeared to be abandoned.  The men had probably run to the aid of the others in the camp.  Garflin decided not to question the gift.  He would cross before the sentries returned to their post.


The water of the river ran as black as ink.  It rode high on the banks and stretched almost over the top of the man-made bridge.  If it were destroyed, the Steel Tide would not cross the water on foot.  They would be forced to either rebuild or travel down stream in search of a crossing.  Both options would give the druids much needed time.


The brownie picked up speed as he neared the start of the bridge.  Campfires burned on both sides of the river making distracting iridescent shadows.  The dagger did not provide Garflin with the comfort that it had at first.  His head jerked from side to side at each phantom that the fires cast at him.


At the opposite side of the river, Garflin breathed a sigh of relief.  All he had to do now was to find Mistic and get back to the druids.  Most of the druids had already committed themselves to the realization of death.  It would be nice to bring them good news. 


If nothing else, Queen Jillian’s plan to win and hold the Great Circle for her church would have to bring a smile to their faces.  It had almost brought Garflin to laughter even after being branded and beaten.  Garflin almost wished that the brute, Gregor, could have lived to look upon the treasure his queen had sent him to win.


As for Pike, Garflin planned to mark an arrow in his quiver with the man’s name.  He would find the human in battle and look into his eyes as the arrow found him. Let him know that “the weak little thing” as Pike called Gar, had rendered his punishment.  There is a poison that Garflin had learned to make from Franco Greenbeard.  It would take days to kill a human of his size.  The pain would be unbearable.   Maybe Gar would take pity on the man and offer him mercy but at present time, he doubted it.


The Great Wood was only a few yards away.  Garflin  would not have to search very hard for Mistic.  She would find him as she had done many times before.  He could already feel her close by.  Her mood had changed from brooding anger to elation over his escape.  The link between the two of them was strangely strong even for a ranger.


The wind began to stir as he neared the wood line.  The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.  A song danced on the wind and to his ears.  Garflin knew that magic was once again at work in the valley.  Were the druids launching an attack so soon?


From the power of the last spell, Garflin would have thought it would take hours maybe even a day before they could think of taking the offensive again.  He listened closely to the song of the spell, felt the rhythm of it, and heard the chant.  The words eluded him.  It was not druid magic.


Garflin searched for the magic’s origin.  He saw no one on the bridge or trailing behind him.  His eyes battled the darkness of the wood and the glare of the open fires by the river.  There was an outline of a man standing at the edge of the Great Wood.


Even in the dark, Gar could see the glimmering sigils that covered the man.  A faint glow engulfed the dark figure as the tempo of the song increased.  The mage lifted his long staff and pointed it at Garflin.


Garflin could see the distance was too far for him to hope to interrupt the spell.  It was almost complete.  Energy crackled in the air around the mage as he prepared to release the spell.  It was an impressive sight to behold.


The spectacle gave not hint to what the spell would produce.  Would it be a fireball, lightning bolt, or maybe a ray of frost?  The memory of the charred men in the camp made Gar hope it wasn’t a lightning bolt.


The ranger couldn’t help but think how much more extraordinary the human magic looked compared to druid.  It was no wonder so few humans took to the druid ways over the mage. The sight would have been so much more pleasant if he were not about to die.





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