The BARBARIAN TRIALS
By Jordan Hill
Palanthar, Amval, and his followers, the Talranuil, traversed the hills towards the barbarians. Palanthar had been temporarily granted the magical ability to understand all languages so that he could speak the barbarian tongue fluently. It was not long before the Shadow Walkers could see the barbarians. It was becoming late and the chilly wind was picking up.
"Greetings, great Dencier!" Palanthar called from the distance in his musical voice. Larin and his party looked towards where the call came from. "Do not worry, we will not harm you. We are here to offer you a safe haven," Palanthar called again, stopping at a safe distance with his hands raised in a peaceful gesture. Larin's group of barbarians stopped and conversed about these newcomers.
"Let us go with these beings," a barbarian said. Larin, however, was at first reluctant.
"Larin, these are elves, my namesake! They are a legendary force for good! We should trust them," pleaded Alfen.
Larin quickly agreed. "You are right, Alfen. There is something about these creatures that makes me trust them."
The barbarians clambered up the rocky slope to meet the Talranuil. They introduced themselves and then made awkward conversation, awed at the appearance and mannerisms of these noble beings. As the darkness became more noticeable, Palanthar said they should be on their way. The two parties, now one, began the journey to Therolan, the southernmost Elven village in the Belendale. Palanthar and Amval chatted with Larin, and the three soon began to forge the beginnings of a friendship. They found they all shared an immense interest in nature. Larin also noticed Palanthar's sword, and he marveled at its exquisite craftsmanship and graceful lines.
It was getting very late when Palanthar, Amval, the Talranuil, and the barbarians arrived in Therolan. Strange heatless fire, low and twinkling, illuminated the paths of the village. The Therolan council waited in the village square for the two groups.
"It is very late," Palanthar said after talking with the council. "Rooms have been made for you with our finest meals that our food-artists can prepare." Larin and his followers made their way to a bower that had apparently been crafted from living trees, bent patiently so that they grew to form a large house. This was another marvel, thought the barbarians. They slowly ate their meal, talking freely, and soon began to slumber on the warm feather beds.
The next morning the barbarians awoke after a refreshing night's sleep. Several elven maidens awaited them with a wholesome breakfast of honeyed bread and crystalline water. After the barbarians had eaten, they were led to the town square where the Talranuil and the council of Therolan awaited them.
"Good morning, Dencier. We hope that you slept well," Vandentharion greeted them in the barbarian tongue.
"Yes, thank you," Larin said for the tribe.
The council and the Talranuil slowly and with much detail gave the barbarians information of the hellhound that the elves had accidentally summoned and what had befallen their tribe. They were informed that the remainder of the Stag-Hunters were still waiting and hoping that Larin and his party were alive. Seeing the barbarian's rage, the elves apologized and offered to make amends to the barbarian tribe by giving them money and goods that they could use to rebuild their village. But first, they explained, the beast had to be destroyed. The elves invited the barbarians to return to their village while the elves attempted to dispatch the creature.
"No. I demand the right to destroy this beast to avenge my village. Where can we find it?" Larin asked, ready to battle it. He reasoned that it was not right to take out his rage on the elves, for their deeds had been accidental. The beast, however, needed to die.
"To the south, but heed my words. I foresee that great sorrow awaits those who battle this creature. Let the Shadow Walkers take on this task."
Larin shook his head, set in his purpose. "I am determined to put paid to this creature for my people."
Palanthar nodded. "You will not do much harm without better protection and weapons," the tall elf said. "The least we can do is provide them for you." As he finished his sentence, several blacksmiths approached carrying intricately crafted armor, weapons, and other supplies for the trip south. "Also, we can get you halfway there. I further beseech you to allow the Shadow Walkers, including me, to at least help you, if you must face this beast. Our order is newfounded and yet small, but we are mighty. Together we will have a much better chance of sending this thing back to the pits of hell."
Recognizing the wisdom in the elf's words, Larin nodded. "Let's leave as soon as we can, then," Alfen, Larin's best friend said, and his words were echoed in the thoughts of the other barbarians.
"Our wizards will transport you by magic to your village and from there we will attack the beast," Palanthar told the barbarians, his face inscrutable.
"Good, we will see our brethren before we annihilate that beast from hell," Larin said. He smiled grimly at the prospect of killing the wretched thing.
Several hours passed before the Talranuil and the seven teenage Stag-Hunters were ready, and the wizards had gathered all the necessary components for the spell of magical transport.
"Hold on tightly," the wizards told everyone. "Aeron Fligt!" The wizards chant-sang as they began the spell.
Alfen, Larin, and the rest of the barbarians as well as the Talranuil soon felt a sensation come over them. They were as light as a feather and soon the wind picked them up. They soared high into the pale blue sky and quickly drifted over the foothills of the Elfspires, over the Ettinhills, and over the rolling, sparsely wooded plains. Then they began to slowly descend, and as they looked down they could see the small remnants of the Stag-Hunter village.
The eight Stag-Hunters who had remained at the village looked up and saw the score of people descending from the sky. "Hello Dencier!" Larin called from high in the sky. The barbarians on the ground soon recognized the voice as one of their own and they began to whoop and holler, amazed at the spectacle. It was like nothing they had ever seen.
When they landed, the other Stag-Hunters crowded around the elves, gazing in wonder at their forms and accoutrements. The elves smiled amusedly, but Larin shooed his kin away, explaining that these creatures were here for a greater purpose. Soon the Talranuil and all the Stag-Hunters were eating a hearty meal of venison and rabbit while overcoming the vertigo remaining from the magical flight. During that time Larin explained the situation to those of the tribe that had not traveled to Therolan.
"We will go with you," one of the barbarians said.
"Agreed," Larin replied; now the small militia was 30 strong with 15 elves and 15 barbarians.
The next day they would begin the trek to find the hellhound. It was a night of trepidation, but somehow Larin was looking forward to avenging his fallen people, although he knew the danger would be greater than anything he had ever faced.
Morning came for the entire barbarian and elven party. The barbarians were dumbstruck to learn that the elves did not need to sleep, but they soon came to be thankful, for the magical creatures stood watch and so allowed the barbarians to get a full eight hours of sleep. Palanthar and Larin were discussing how to take on the beast when an elf came to their place of meeting. "Sir, the Henil-Eryn Amval has been scouting in the form of an eagle, and he has spotted the hellhound to the east about three miles away."
"Very well. We will find the most suitable ground to fight it," Palanthar said.
Thus began the assembling of troops. The barbarians donned their new very light but tough armor and wielded the Elven weapons. Before too long the militia had begun their trek eastward.
Soon the party stood atop a hill looking down upon the plains, where they could easily see a crimson red beast that stood out from the lush green of the grass. The beast was terrible in form and manner, and it was wreathed in flame. The elves drew out their composite longbows and notched an arrow to the string, frowning with hatred of the monstrosity. "On my command," Palanthar shouted as he drew back his own arrow. "Ready... Aim... Loose!" Fifteen arrows streaked through the sky towards the hellhound. The hellhound, however, apparently well aware of its pursuers, noticed the barrage of arrows and, craning its neck, drew in a breath, then sent a great ball of fire into the sky. The elves and humans shielded their eyes as the sky in front of them flashed red and orange and a nearly unbearable wave of heat struck their faces. The arrows were incinerated.
"Loose!" Palanthar shouted again, and again a swarm of arrows rained upon the hellhound, but yet again the hellhound incinerated them before they could do harm.
Now the barbarians drew their weapons and rushed full force at the hellhound as another flight of arrows soared over their heads. Larin led the assault, Elven sword drawn. He was eager to try the new weapon and eager to come to close grips with the beast. The hellhound had not expected the barbarians' charge and instead of breathing another ball of fire, it hurled itself high into the air to avoid the ferocious charge. Its leap, though, took it right into the path of the volley of arrows and it was struck several times, but its hide was thick and it was barely scratched by the green-fletched missiles. As it landed, Larin swung his sword at the beast in a powerful, sweeping arc, but the thing darted aside with lightning reflexes. Now the elves were also charging with their swords drawn and a fell light in their eyes; seeing that the odds were against it, the hellhound puffed up its chest and breathed a huge blast of flames, forming a wall between it and the rushing army. The hellhound then snarled a few words of power in a garbled, obscene tongue, and suddenly the sky was torn as giant flaming meteorites crashed into the area around the barbarians and elves. To the warriors it seemed like the end of the world. The roaring was unbearably loud, and everywhere they looked, explosions and flame seemed to blossom like terrible flowers. When the smoke cleared, two elves lay dead on the scorched earth, victims of flaming shrapnel. One of them was the druid Amval. The beast was gone.
Defeated and crestfallen, the elves and barbarians worked their way back to the Stag-Hunter village. Palanthar had tears in his green eyes.
Upon their return to the village, several wizards awaited them. "I am so sorry about the battle," Tirial, the elven wizard, whispered to Palanthar, laying one hand on his armored shoulder.
"We have lost two elves, one a member of our order, and the other the young Elhan Amval. My heart is heavy," Palanthar intoned.
"But there may be a sunrise beginning to peer through the dark night in which we find ourselves. The other spellsingers and I may have found a way to defeat the beast," the elven wizard said. "If we were to find a weapon of frost, powerful enough, we may be able to destroy it."
"But we have no weapon of frost, and it would take months to forge one," Palanthar said.
"Ah yes, we the Elhil do not have one, but the barbarians do. Larin, bring your spear here please," Tirial said, and Larin wonderingly obeyed; he handed the spear to Tirial. "Yes, very nice craftsmanship. See these markings, Palanthar? These are Farlandish runes of frost. Very well crafted. This weapon should provide the power we need to end this thing's miserable existence."
Palanthar, tall and proud, drew himself up to his full height. "Larin, I can ask no more of your people. Lend me this spear and I and the other Shadow Walkers shall face the beast alone."
"This was my father's weapon, and I will let no other wield it. And my desire to avenge the death of my comrades and yours has only increased. I feel there is now a sacred alliance between us. Together we will face the demon tomorrow, and I shall drive this spear through its heart," Larin vowed.
The next day arrived, and the barbarians and elves began the long march to the place where the Elven scouts had tracked the beast in its flight, the land that the city of Kale would eventually be built upon. It was several hundred miles south of the village, but they arrived swiftly for a group of thirty.
The hellhound stood atop a hill overlooking the large river while the barbarians looked up at it from the banks. It howled, shocked that these pesky creatures continued to hunt it, and let out a blast of fire aimed towards the setting sun. Obviously the burst was meant as a warning.
"Charge!" Palanthar shouted, heedless of the thing's warning, and the band of elves and barbarians with Larin spearheading the attack ran full force up the hill, armor clattering. Their faces were set in grim rictuses of anger and determination.
This time the beast seemed bent on teaching the warriors a lesson, and, snarling, it leaped to meet them, seeking to rend them with its fiery jaws. Swords and arrows slashed into the demon only to burn the hands of the wielder. The scene was chaos, with elves calling to one another and human barbarians crying out in pain as they desperately sought to deal the creature a telling blow. None of the weapons seemed to cause the beast any real harm, however. Smoke stinging his eyes, Larin waited patiently amidst the carnage for his chance to slam the spear into the heart of the beast. Eventually he saw his opening, as the hound sent Palanthar sprawling and reared up on its hind legs to tower over the elf captain in preparation for a killing blow. With all his might, Larin hurled the spear; a streak of ice hung in the air behind the weapon as it flew towards the creature. The demon sensed the energy coming, however, and quickly leaped to the right; it would not be so easily defeated. Larin, driven to his knees by the hard throw, cursed himself. Forgetting Palanthar, the beast charged full force at Larin, claws readied. It hurled itself at him, tearing at his body and engulfing him in flames. Larin tried to draw his sword but the growing burns on his body hampered his movements and he felt his strength ebbing. Soon he would be dead.
"Get off of him!" Alfen screamed, and, snatching up the frost spear which had landed near him, he charged the beast. Snarling, the creature batted the young barbarian aside, and the crucial weapon rolled from his hand. Its eyes glowing with the fires of hell, it turned back to Larin, prepared for the kill. Larin opened his eyes. His sight was almost gone, for his eyes had been irrevocably damaged by the scorching flames. All he could see was a giant glowing shape looming before him. He knew his doom was upon him. He reached out his hand for something, anything, to defend himself against the hound's pounce, and his right hand closed over something cool and smooth-- his father's frost spear, which had rolled near him as it fell from Alfen's hand. He blindly raised the spear over his chest just as the thing leaped. Its maw closed on Larin's throat, tearing and mangling it, and its fire badly scorched his flesh. Yet at the same time Larin stabbed upwards with the weapon, and the spearhead plunged into the hellhound's fiery heart. The runes of frost sent huge amounts of energy into the body of the hellhound, causing the flames within it to die, freezing the beast for eternity.
By now everyone had stopped to watch the heroic and tragic spectacle as the monster thrashed in its death throes, rolling over Larin. Alfen watched from the ground where he had fallen, propping himself up on his elbows. He saw right away that impossibly they had won the battle, but he felt a huge gaping hole in his heart as he noticed Larin's limp body. His eyes welled with tears. Palanthar, his shining armor scorched and blackened, knelt and helped the sorrowing young man to his feet.
A short time later, the elves and barbarians stood inside the main bower of Therolan. Vandentharion was rewarding them on behalf of King Baranthir of the Shining Star for their valiant efforts in destroying the hellhound. They were granted statues of honor, made of pure gold, as well as weapons and armor. They also loaded the men down with coins and goods to help their tribe rebuild their village. The elves were as good as their word. Alfen and the others where overjoyed at the gifts, yet it was a bittersweet celebration.
The barbarians then went back to their village and held a funeral ceremony for Larin. They cremated his body, and when a strong wind came, they tossed his ashes into the air, scattering them over the plains of the land that would become Kale.
"To Larin, the one who inspired us and created an alliance of trust and love," Alfen, the new leader of the Dencier said, and he lifted his glass of mead.
"To Larin," The barbarians echoed.