A shadow on the party

The  familiar sniggers of the two Strolians in the group caused Kale to turn around. Silo tall, and Danis stout, they were physical opposites. But both shared the trademark temperament of their kin: casual, braggarts, quick to talk back to authority, keen to cajole themselves and others. Initially Kale and Jorn kept their distance from these unreserved, swaggering scouts who would march in sloppy formations, and seemed to revel in lazy infuriation of any who would try and impose their will on them.

Kale walked to Jorn and helped his large brother stand. Their eyes met, there was no time for rest yet. They had to move.

Early in the journey, before the ambush, the Strolians had turned their attentions to Jorn's size. At seemingly every opportunity they called him 'thick neck',  'mountain eater', and other names more vile. Until Danis, lost in a creation particulary clever lyric about Jorn having bullocks for buttocks,  failed to notice the dangerous flash of anger in the other mans eyes. That evening Danis became the fodder for the jokes, laughing along as hard as any through his swollen jaw, and clapping Jorn on the back. From that point on the good-natured Strolians became attached to Jorn. And Jorn to them.

But the Stolians earnt Kale's respect on the battlefield: during the ambush they had transformed into courageous and grim warriors,  and with almost carefree abandon they rushed forward over fallen foe and friend alike, thrusting their short spears again and again. Though Kale was proud to have them at his side, he still winced as he saw the troll's corpse as the Strolians had left it. Rear in the air, head serenely resting on its hands, vulgar and childlike.

In their high-spirited way the Strolian pair mocked death, but Dorveen, the fifth survivor was an instrument of it. He had already collected the arrows from the necks of the fallen, and was now patiently and thoroughly inspecting his composite bow for wear and tear. His weapon, like his body was unadorned but powerful. He was the oldest, and the most experienced - and the heavy thuds his arrows and the effectiveness of his tactics had made him their respected leader. Terse and moody he rarely spoke. As a habit he stopped every so often - regardless of the situation, to scan the horizon: his bright blue eyes gleaming behind his weathered face.

 Now they would march hard, and relentlessly away from the site of the skirmish until half-light. Then they would turn sharply east, and travel for 30 grueling minutes up the slope of the mountain to make camp. In the morning they would travel down to the low lands, and repeat the patten.

"She is still following." Dolveen snarled.

Kale and Jorn knew what Dolveen talked of - and turned westward, straining to see it.

"Poor thing," Danis replied, "she must be getting sick of troll meat"

 Jorn stiffened, and pointed:

"There she is. By the tree line to the right of the hill."

And sure enough, at a distance that would take nearly three hours of marching, Kale could just make her out, the Volvorine.  A giant wolf creature, shoulders as high as a mans - and three times his weight. It that had been shadowing them for the last two weeks. Alone it could wipe them out if it chose - but for now it was satisfied to follow and scavenge.

Kale went to raise his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, but Silo's large hand snapped out and held it down.

"No. Don't let her see you looking. She is smarter than you can imagine".

Dorveen turned without a word and began to stride through the undergrowth. Danis and Silo, turned and jogged ahead of Dorveen.

"Let's hope she is satisfied with troll for tonight" said Jorn, and with that he turned and left Kale.

Kale looked around at the bodies surrounded by his party's foot prints. He imagined the slavering best  that would be here in a few hours; pulling apart flesh; drinking in their scent. It sent a shiver up his spine. He looked again for the Volvorine, but it had already slinked back into the undergrowth.

"Yes," Kale thought. "Let's hope."

The End

5 comments about this story Feed