of Farland:

Darmon's Battle Dance

By Gerry Torbert

PREVIOUS CHAPTER

The morning light filtered through what Darmon hadn't seen in the evening's starlight. The grove was just the beginning of a flat, high plain of small hills rolling to the horizon, toward the town of Naxot on the Amor River. The dark hills were backlit by the pink sky and an orange sun, with just a few rays making their way to his eyes. He rolled away from the light but found some high grass in his nose, so he decided to arise.

He pleated his kilt and wrapped himself in it. He put on his boots and packed the pockets of his folds with the bagpipe, dried food, and the tooth. He thought for a moment to throw the tooth away. It was a long moment, as he had a lot to weigh. After studying it for a while, he decided that if Tanarus really wanted the tooth, he'd simply take it. He stashed it and strung the claymore to his back before walking toward his friends.

As he approached the camp, he noticed most were stirring and a few had been out hunting. A wild boar was lain in the stirred ashes and from the looks of it had been there a few hours. Bubbling fat spurted through breaks in the skin as it began to fall off the spit.

"Hello, stranger!" yelled Balin. "We got us a little breakfast this mornin' - dive in!" The Creag pulled his dagger and cut a piece of steaming flesh from the pig. "Hey, ya all right, friend?"

"Certainly, Balin. Why'd ya ask?"

"I'm not sure if you heard it, but there's someone stranglin' a goat out there. Weirdest damned thing I ever heard." Several of the other dwarves agreed.

Darmon laughed. "I thank ya for that, brothers. Bes' laugh I've had'n a while!" He pulled the pipes from his kilt and blew just enough to get it started. He then began a rousing version of Stuart's Round. Two Anarians began a lively dance as they munched on a slab of meat, even spinning and high stepping arm in arm at a flat beside the fire. Yngvarr walked into view, laughing.

"Do ya know the Elk's Song, Darmon?" He began humming a few notes, and Darmon quickly picked up on it. The dwarves just stood and ate more meat, shaking their heads.

Owin yelled, "Good weapon, Creag. I think the orcs'll turn an' run when they hear it." The dwarves laughed but tapped their toes nonetheless.

The group finished their breakfasts and cleaned up the area. As they walked off toward Naxot and eventually Far City, Darmon did the one thing he felt brought him closest to his thoughts of home. To the frowns of the dwarves, the hums of those Anarians who were no strangers to pipe music, and the bleats of sheep in heat from the farms along the way, Darmon lost himself in his music as they walked.

Noxat was a boring city to many of the group. Not that it wasn't laid out beautifully and in a well-organized fashion: It simply felt too clean, too organized for their tastes. A beautiful and sturdy stone bridge just to the east crossed the river Amor, and the well-built road led from there to Far City. They stopped long enough to refresh themselves at an inn and wash off in one of the city's public wash houses.

Another night was spent just outside Cronus, as it was just too far to make Far City in a day. The next noonday sun saw them enter Insulum and the Great Gates of Sum. Once across the small island, they found themselves in the Main Square, the Plaza Del Venalicum. Before they could be searched and weapons seized, they explained that they were in the city to join the Second League Army. They were directed to the Farlandish Barracks, along the Grand Avenue near the bay.

As they traveled along the avenue, kiosks and markets lined the exactingly-built pavement. Deep ditches were built to handle runoff on each side of the road, and the carefully-placed and cut stones that formed the road's surface were grouted with a fine concrete. A few crews were busy repairing small breaks in the pavement with mortar, cordoning off areas to move traffic around them.

Young maidens carried baskets of fruit and vegetables to the front of the carts where they could be easily inspected and purchased. Several carts, hauled by donkeys, carried more items from warehouses to the markets. Petty spell-sellers called out, hawking their cantrips. The hustle and bustle of the scene was almost too deafening and constricting for Darmon and the Anarians. But the Wawmar contingent found themselves rather at home, as the winding paths that lead them up and down their magnificent volcano were often crowded.

They passed the Grand Arena, the most frequented point of interest in the city. A few soldiers were jousting from chariots, but as the stands were empty, it appeared to be practice for the games that followed on weekends. Besides, most of Far City was busy gearing up for the next and hopefully last battle with the dark folk to the northeast.

As they moved to the east, more soldiers began to appear along the road, coming in from side streets and appearing as other merchants and businessmen left. The mass consisted of Farlandish men wearing leather skirts and bronze chest- and back-plates, most of them wearing some sort of metal helmet, some helmets decorated with a cock's comb of flumes. The size and shape of the plume and helmet attachments indicated their military rank. The mass of troops was dotted with an occasional Orlandish fighter, replete with armor, swords and staff, in some cases, bows in others. They often carried a brightly-colored flag showing the castle of Or and the crescent moon, and their family. Darmon noticed an occasional group from Zeland, as well, with their flag with the castle of Zel.

Darmon looked over toward Yngvarr. "Say, I'm a wundrun 'oo might be 'ere from Creagland."

"I don't know how you'd find that out."

"I have a good method." Darmon reached into his folds and pulled out a pig's stomach with a pipe and tatters and flashes of the Stuart tartan attached, and three drone pipes protruding out of the top. His bagpipe. Several of the dwarves groaned an "Oh, no. . .", but he blew into it to inflate it half-size, and began to play a rousing "Creagland Forever".

As they walked, the melody of the stirring battle song resounded and reflected off the stone walls of the buildings along the street. A few Farlandish soldiers looked back to see the strange man, dressed in a kilt, face tattooed, playing, to some, a most annoying instrument. "Do you mind, Barbarian? We just had lunch."

Yngvarr smiled at them from half a head above. "I can't do a thing wit' 'im, men. It's a Creagish thing. Kinda stirrin', don't ya think?" He began to tap his feet as he walked, turning around once in a little dance. It didn't take long for a few of the others to join in. Who was going to argue with barbarians?

And it appeared that there were a few others who enjoyed the tune. Out of a side street stepped two huge men, broad, with thickly-muscled shoulders and wearing the tartan of yellow, orange, red and black. Darmon stopped for a second. "Ya see, Yngvarr? It never fails. The Buchannan's have great ears!"

"Wha Hae, Lad! Mighty fine piobaireachd ya'r puttin' oot! An' Stuart, tu! Ya 'ere ta kick some Orcish arse, tu?"

Darmon smiled and nodded as he continued. The Creags began a lively dance, as dwarves and Anarians moved to give them a circle. A few of the Farlandish legionnaires actually stopped to watch, seemingly enjoying the droning of the pipes. As they danced on their toes and skipped about, sometimes locking arms, rhythmic clapping began to mount. Even the dwarves seemed to be enjoying it. Darmon played for another minute and ended in an astounding flourish of rapid piping.

"Hae, brotha, gud ta see ya. 'Ow're things at Castle Blue?"

"Great, mon. It's gud ta see a Creag out 'ere, in the big city! Thomas, here, Colyn my cousin there. An' you?"

"Darmon." He turned to Owin. "Ya gotta see Castle Blue, Owin. Built of blue-gray sandstone, but the bluest they could find. Right on the shores of Lock Brech, the water just reflects off it an' makes it even bluer!"

"Darmon, eh? I guess that blade strapped to yer back would be Dragonslayer, wot?" said Colyn. "I don't think we've been properly introduced!"

Darmon pulled the sword with a ringing peal, and the sight of it coming from the scabbard brought several of the Farlandish troops closer, as well as a few watchmen from the edge of the buildings. He handed it to Colyn, blade first. The Buchannan grasped the blade1 and let it nick his hand, in the traditional fashion, to show respect to the weapon.

"Alright, barbarians, ther'll be none of that on the streets while you're in Far City. We don't want any trouble."

"But ya wan' our 'elp fightin' orcs, eh, captain?" answered Colyn. "Feast yer eyes on this beautiful baby, Far man, before ya make 'im put it back." The Creag held it over toward the watchman to view. "It's seen the inside of a dragon's mouth, Farlander, as I recall," he said, smiling toward Darmon.

"Damn, great workmanship. Beautiful sword, and consistent all along its length. A fine piece, Creag. But rules is rules." He smiled as he motioned for Darmon to put it back, then did a double-take. "Inside of a . . . by Neltak's Axe! Welcome to Far City."

Darmon slipped the sword into its home. "How didja know, Colyn? Du I have a sign on me back?"

"Just a good guess. Mind if we join yer friends?"

"'At's why I piped, brotha." They walked to the barracks. As they neared them, it was apparent that this army would be a lot to reckon with. A lot of Farlandish soldiers were let through without any problem - actually, most seemed to know where to go and took alleys to the sides of the development. Left in line were mercenaries from other countries, dwarves and those the Farlanders termed "barbarians" - those uncivilized folk, in Farlandish eyes.

In reality, once away from the conveniences, society, magic, and infrastructure of the city, where they all had to live off the land and make do with what nature gave them, the word "uncivilized" became just a method of naming people. The system of laws and organization used in the kingdom of Farland didn't differ from the Clan system of Creagland to any great degree, just in its precision, swift execution, and harshness.

The line moved sporadically. The fighters were taken off to one side or the other, split up into manageable groups so that the administrators could talk to all of them and be heard and understood. It was typical Farland methodology: organization, law, rules and details. To the last of them, by the time their turn came, each one of Darmon's group ached for something to slice up.

Finally, what appeared to be a captain, judging from the comb on his helmet, motioned to them. As they walked toward him, he sighed, bowed his head and shook it side to side. "Fifteen at a time, can't you read, barbarians?" He pointed to a small sign at the side of the road.

Darmon stepped forward. "Fifteen wot, cap'n? Ya'ir sign's in a future tense, an' it du'dnt explain enough. Ya need anotha sign writer," he said, pointing to the poorly written Farlandish sign. Farlandish was a difficult language, full of tenses and declensions. "Besides, we're a group, an' 'at's the way we stay."

"You're in the Legion now, Creag. Ya obey our rules."

Yngvarr started to say something, but Darmon waved him off. "Cap'n, see that road we jus' came doon?" He pointed back, over the dwarves' heads. "We can jus' as easily turn aroon an' walk back ta wherever we came from. Ya dun want 'at, Cap. We're together, we stay together, 'at's 'at."

The captain sighed. "Look, alright, crowd in a little more. If the major sees me talkin' ta more'n fifteen, he'll kick me offa this cushy job. Gimme a break an' I'll make it short. Here, look like a small group. Damn, mid afternoon and I gotta get thru a couple more hours o' this!"

Most of them laughed a little. They all realized that even a captain of such a military machine has a job he sometimes hates. They crowded around closer.

"Now here's the story. Ya all want ta be together. I can understand that. It takes a long time ta get my own troops ta think of themselves as a group, and we don't look for mercs ta be part of the military machine. Just find an orc an' kill 'em. It would take us months ta train ya how ta fight the Funnel deployment."

Yngvarr interjected, "Your own archers have a greater range; they should not advance, stay their ground. You break the funnel by attacking one side at one point with a high concentration of force, then peel back the edges to stop the advance."

The captain stopped. "Well, we have someone who thinks he knows it all, eh?"

"Battle of the Wind, Horseshoe Lake, 5992. We won. Just a bunch o' barbarians."

The captain looked stunned, then he began again. "Like I say, such things as the Whirling Hail. . ." Owin jumped in. "First battle of Sorrow, in the Deadlands, 5690 - hold half yer crossbow fire until they whirl aside, then shoot the archers they protect. . . Works the first time only ... Hey, Captain, you were just a gleam in your pappy's eye, then!" The captain fumed. "Okay, so ya know how ta fight. We just don't wanna waste our good food on some yokel who's gonna get himself killed right off!" Darmon smiled at the Farlander. "Cap'n, we're mercs. We din' get 'is far by bein' stupid. Jus' show us where we stay, whose company we're attached ta. We'll make ya proud. Maybe you'll get a promotion, maybe make centurion!" "Okay, Creag. First Legion, Second Army, Battalion Two, Company Three, report ta Captain Marcus Sergius. No fightin' after hours, no booze in the barracks, chow at sunrise. Barracks 53, third floor. Two silvers a day pay, supply yer own arrows. We pushed up the march time ta mid morning tomorrow - you guys just made it. Now git outa here, 'fore ya make me mad!"

The assemblage left the captain shaking his head. They walked through the well-built stone gates and through the alleys past barrack after barrack. Soldiers weaved their way past them through the narrow alleys, most seeming to be intent on getting somewhere quickly. The buildings themselves were much more "civilized" than what they were used to. Constructed of well-cut stone and carefully mortared, this didn't seem like they were going to fight a war, more like a business meeting or a church service.

They finally came upon Barrack 53. They climbed the stairs to the second floor, amazed at the cleanliness and the size of the room. Stacked against the wall were mattresses made of bundled reeds covered with a burlap material and stitched into beds. "Like the comfort 'o home, eh, Hallvard?" asked Yngvarr. "Yeah, we sleep like that every night!" the even larger Aanarian replied, laughing.

"Well, let's get our stuff off an' look around for some food. Gotta be an inn around here somewhere." Owin rubbed his belly, hopeful that the massaging would relax any muscles that might restrict his intake. "Darmon. . .?"

The Creag smiled. "No, thanks a lot, but I think I ought to stay put, with the gear. I've gut a lot of thinkin' ta do tonight."

"Suit yerself, friend. We'll raise a tall ale ta ya tonight."

Yngvarr walked over to Darmon and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You okay, brother? Did ya get any sleep lately?"

Darmon smiled. "Thanks, man of the Elk. No, I'm not. No, I haven't. Not since the apple grove. But this is my fate. I still haven't figured out the 'old man' thing, but it will come. I'm nobody's good company tonight, brother. Enjoy yourself; bring a leg of meat and a loaf 'o bread back for a friend, will ya? I'll be up all damn night. . ."

Yngvarr smiled. "Come, Thomas, Colyn. We'll get ta know each other. We'll be a cleavin' orc guts in the days ta follow!"

The Creags looked to their hero, and Darmon nodded as if to release them. As the last man left, he looked out the window and noticed the early evening light, saw the illumination from the magical lamp posts beginning to light up the street. He rolled out a mattress and tried to get some sleep, but to no avail. After darkness fell, he looked out the window at the courtyard, now empty of people save a few stragglers, too late to find a dinner or too early to fully enjoy the ales and rums at the inns.

Darmon realized he was sure to spend another sleepless night. His thoughts went back to his youth, when he was told of the practice of the coming of age of a true fighter. The caonnag' lomnochd2, as it was named, called for each able-bodied fighter to search himself in the moonlight. He would strip naked and fight imaginary demons in the moonlight to rid himself of the scourge of darkness and evil, demonstrating to their forces, and to himself, of his worthiness. It had been a long time. . .

He retrieved his claymore from the scabbard on the floor, took off his boots and walked into the dimly-lit courtyard.

He loosened his belt and unwrapped his kilt, laying it at just the right place, pleating it just the way he had done thousands of times. He walked into the middle of the courtyard and began the dance. He swung, thrust, and parried to each side, then to the front, then swirling around to pierce the orc behind him; he lept to one side, landing a kick to the groin of a Farlandish troop trying to destroy Zeland, then swung the mighty slab of steel at the Zeland royal troops, the bastards trying to evict his family; then toward the kobolds behind him who were attacking the castle walls; then to the right again, where he met the Orland guards climbing the walls of Castle Zel; then to the left, cleaving the troll who tried to chase his family from the Battleplain.

A few men stopped along the road to gawk, even yell remarks, but Darmon wouldn't have known it. He was immersed in his mind, naked as the day he was born, his huge muscles slinging the dangerous Dragonslayer, the weapon that would have sold her soul that day to finish the evil Gark' Aahs, as the sword sung her tune in the light dewy wind that cooled the moisture growing on his skin. His brawny back, adorned with the tattoo of the thistle and leaves of Creagland, rippled as the huge cleaver split the night air. He was so immersed that he hadn't noticed that the moonlight, bathing him in his shadowy glory, was gone. Not a cloud in the sky to hide behind, the moon was just gone. For some reason the light from the magical glowing lamp posts no longer seemed to illuminate the courtyard.

As he turned to finish the tempestuous Oluk who laughed at his tattooed face, into his vision walked a short, shadowy figure, wearing a burlap dress, hooded, carrying a staff. At the end of the staff was a small globe, glowing. His imaginary battle was stopped in mid-stroke.

"You! What do you want, demon! Haven't I suffered enough?" He strode toward the figure.

"No, Darmon, you haven't suffered all you will suffer. And I'm not the demon you seek." The figure threw her hood back to reveal a swirling mass of white, cloudlike light, soft and pure, where her head should have been. It was then that Darmon realized the moon was gone.

"My brother cursed you, Creag. You killed his prize. There are rules. You humans forget or ignore rules. These are rules you can't ignore. I am Sulis. I am the moon."

Darmon froze in place. He had heard of Tanarus and Sulis, beings of the sun and moon. He never thought he could actually see one of them.

"You don't see me, Darmon: you just see what I want you to see. I am sorry for my brother's anger, his ire, his vengeance. He has given you to me, since you can't sleep. He has taken your day from you, since he hounds you in sunlight. And he has taken your last day and night. Beware, hero. You need not fear the dark, just fear love."

He stood motionless, then felt a wave of nausea come over him. He closed his eyes and righted himself, then shook his head and opened them. The first thing he noticed was the shadow of his bare body in the soft moonlight. As he turned, he saw a full moon.

He walked back to his kilt and donned it. Apparently his night fight was worth the effort. He had found his solace, and maybe his torment. He wished he had Faugas here to tell him what he just saw.

He climbed the stairs to the barracks. Her words, or her thoughts, he didn't know which, rang in his ears. She knew his plight, his curse. Beware. . .of what? And taken your last day and night. . . what was that about? He had talked many times to Faugas about the gods, about prophesies, but their words were always so vague. The answer was always there, right in front of you, but so obscure. You need not fear the dark. . .does this mean he should get used to having no sleep? Would it wear him down eventually? Fear love. . .would someone he loved do him harm?

He knew the answers wouldn't come in a night. Maybe not for years. No reason to worry about it now, he thought. If he couldn't sleep, at least he could rest his body. He lay on a mattress and thought. . .

Hours passed as he searched his life. Very little of it made sense now. A few voices were raised along the street, and he thought he recognized several of them. A few sounded like the deep booming boasts of a few ale-fired dwarves. He smiled and got up.

Some staggered up the stairs. "Hey, big guy, ya shoulda been wit' us. They's someone come in. . ." Agralin staggered up against the door frame, looking for a roll to crash on. ". . .what was I sayin'. . .Oh yeah! He said they was someone who's dancin' in the courtyard an' shwingin' a sword around. . .nekked. . .imagine that!"

Thomas followed the dwarf up the stairs, then Ygnvarr and Owin. "Caonnag' lomnochd?" asked Thomas. "Yeah, thought I might need it."

"Come on, then, brotha. We'll do one together." He walked over to the wall and pulled out his greatsword, a little shorter than Dragonslayer, but impressive, nonetheless.

The two men walked down the stairs, moving aside for the rest who were coming up. "What, we leavin' tonight?" asked Balin. Owin followed the two Creags down. "No, but ya might wanna watch this, Balin."

As the rest filed outside, the two Creags stripped and walked to the courtyard, this time in full moonlight. A few Farlanders walked over to see what was going on. As the men worked their way back and forth, the clanging of their swords brought more attention - in the form of military watchmen. "Alright, what's the problem, let's get back to the barra. . .Holy. . .What the hell. . .?"

Yngvarr laughed. "Don't worry, sergeant," noticing his lack of a comb on his helmet. "It's a Creagish thing. This is the way they get ready for battle. You should try it sometime!"

"Damn if I will. One slip and yer talkin' like a schoolgirl!" At that instant, Thomas did slip, laying open a slight cut along Darmon's chest. They both stopped. "Brotha, I'm sorry. . .I thought you were in the final stance of th' move, I. . .wha. . .?" He stared as the cut closed almost as quickly as it happened. Darmon stared at the cut, then at Thomas, whose expression was one of fear, then back to the cut, which was gone.

Darmon stared, flabbergasted and open-mouthed, but he quickly recovered his usual aplomb. "I guess we know who'll win this fight, eh, Thomas?"

Thomas smiled, whipping his weapon back and forth. "I guess the stories were right, Sir Stuart. Why dincha tell me?"

"I din' know meself, 'till just now, truth be told. Anyway, back to the fight. . ."

One watchman looked around for any other Farland soldiers higher in rank than he, then pulled out a handful of coins and turned to the other. "Five denati on the big guy with the little sword."

The Creags eventually finished their "fight" and everyone retired to the barracks. Darmon enjoyed the loaf of bread and leg of goat, washing it down with an ale the dwarves had absconded at the last inn. As the mercenaries fell asleep on the mattress rolls, one-by-one, Darmon made his way back to the courtyard, this time to sit and watch Sulis as she made her way across the darkened sky. He searched the sky for Kenneth's Claymore, the very definite constellation that had been part of Creagish lore for centuries. He waited out the night, sleeplessly.

The morning started just as the captain at the gates said it would. A blare of horns alerted men in the barracks to the time, even though it was still dark. He could hear the dwarves on the third floor very clearly - their grumbling and moans indicated they hadn't finished a dream or weren't ready to be rousted. He made his way up to the barracks to get the rest of his gear, bidding a rousing good morning to one and all. Boots and other items flew across the room in protest. He simply said, "See ya doonstairs, mates, time ta fill yer bellies!" and laughed.

He leaned against the wall, watching the troops walk by toward their chow halls. He couldn't resist pulling out the pipes once more to roust the troops a little further. As he played, a few more Creags appeared, this time two Caembuhls, replete in their blue and green plaids. "Wot Hae, sir Stuart! Got room fer a coupla' more brothas?"

"Sure, wayward ones, jus' waitin' fer me lads ta wik up, is all." As the troops made their way into the courtyard, Yngvarr bid him a good morn. "Any rest?"

"No, an' I feel great. Managed ta find the chow hall, got me a 'ead start, if I dun mind sayin'," as he pulled out a hunk of bread to snack with. "Got some new friends."

They made their way to and from breakfast, a dozen Anarians, a dozen dwarves, and five Creags. Waiting outside the barracks, the horns began to blare.

A Farlandish officer who everyone figured must be Marcus Sergius walked to the front. "Fall In." The mercs fell in to what could pass for columns and ranks, causing the Sergeant to shake his head slowly, accustomed as he was to the strict discipline of the Farlandish legions. "Close enough. Looks like I get the funny guys again. You're next ta march, right after those guys," he said, pointing to a company of crack Far City troops. "Keep it crisp, keep the chatter down. Do as I say or you'll get killed, simple as that. Two days march. We're headed for the Deadlands. Biggest army we've seen's waitin' for us. We camp outside of Borderhold in two days. Get ready ta march."

Well, there it was. As simple as that. With well-known Farlandish precision and organization, their mission was explained. All you needed to know, nothing more. It wasn't the kind of structure most of the mercenary fighters were used to. Yngvarr had often sat on the ground with a few officers, drawing lines in the dirt, placing little stones wherever they thought there might be a company of orcs. It seems the plans were already made.

But to head for the Deadlands before re-taking Borderhold? That seemed to be a folly in the Anarian's mind. Cutting off the retreat route might be a simple thing for the dark force if Borderhold was left in the wrong hands. But Farland always seemed to have a method to their madness. Usually when a military force passed a possible enemy stronghold, several companies were left behind to secure the supply lines. It was assumed this was the case.

Nonetheless, the first two days were simple in the eyes of the First legion, Second Army, Company Three. Mostly all were hired soldiers and had come a long way, so another few days' trek didn't faze them. The cold air they encountered as they neared the Deadlands was found to be a little more comfortable for the Anarians and Dwarves who were accustomed to it and warmly clothed. This was not so for the Creags, who had to bundle up in their Great Kilts to be comfortable.

The Deadlands loomed ahead as did the second evening. The strange terrain looked for all the world as if a god had gone mad and molded the hills and mountains in a fit of rage. Consisting basically of igneous rock thrust up from the high plains, the rock was then eroded to varying degrees due to inconsistencies of the types of rock and their resistance to the elements. In short, many piers, stags and "old men" stood high and jagged in various locations and directions.

The land shapes that didn't erode into fantastic shapes were craggy and rough, probably defying mountain climbers, let alone well-armored soldiers. There was a reason this was called The Deadlands, and it was becoming quite evident what the reason was. Any of these geomorphic forms could easily hide an entire company of troops. Apparently to those well back in the legion, a group of wizards let loose some birds at noon which flew high over the land. This was a standard procedure for those armies which had such an advantage - they would serve as the "eyes" of the sorcerers and enable them to map the land.

Dark. The disadvantage that humans had to overcome. Elves and Dwarves were more capable of fighting in the dark because of their highly advanced vision. Not so with humans, although many barbarians were more capable than some of their more "civilized" brethren. It soon would tell.

Marcus Sergius walked out ahead of his companies, three in all. He blew a quick burst on a horn to get their attention and held up one, then two fingers. He waved his arms to the east to deploy the first and second companies to the right. He held three fingers up and then his palm, and the third company stayed put. Another short blast from the left positioned other companies strategically along a front that extended almost half a mile. The mass of troops almost staggered the minds of the Anarians and Creags, who were used to fighting by the thousands.

As birds began to flock back toward the encampments, the troops settled in for the watch. Mounted cavalry trod further out to the flanks to determine the extent, if any, of the entrenched enemy. Darmon walked over to Owin, who was conferring with the elf Olanis of the house of Daerlon, one of the consulting elves attached to this company.

"Wae ye Hae, Elvin friend. Wha' ye make o' this?"

The elf turned around and smiled. Almost the height of the Creag, but lacking the bulk, he replied in a typically graceful and almost a professional Elven tone, "You must be Darmon Stuart. I've heard much of you." He extended a hand. The elf seemed alien and aloof to Darmon, a creature of another world, another time.

Darmon still smiled and shook, but looked to Owin. "A tellin' tales, eh wot?"

"Sorry, had to, friend. Olanis here had to know what our makeup was. We were just discussin' what their strategies might be."

"Well, ah du believe they'll be a' comin' doon 'ill, if that's any 'elp."

Not cracking a smile, the elf replied, "I think it will be soon, as well. They cannot afford to lose time, as the sun will catch up with them - this battle should take some time." Olanis shook his head, wishing for a quicker resolution. "They tell tales of you among the troops. So, what is it like in a dragon's maw?"

Darmon smiled, not being able to count how many times he'd been asked. "Dark. Wet. Stinks. Not fun."

The discussion was halted by the sound of hooves coming from the east. A rider was clinging by the power of his legs alone, as he leaned over to one side of a horse at full gallop. In the limited light, everyone could see three arrows protruding from his chest. As the horse neared the front line, a Farlandish soldier reached up and grasped the reins, slowing the horse to a trot, then stopping it. As the soldier walked over to the side to talk to the rider, he fell from the horse in a heap. A few flashes of torchlight could be seen from over the ridges and around from behind some of the stone piers. Then, from behind all of them.

"Olanis, Owin, it looks like yer questions are aboot ta be answered."

NEXT CHAPTER

Notes
1. Traditional method of inspecting the weapon in Creagland
2. literally, naked fight