of Farland:

Darmon and Company

By Gerry Torbert

PREVIOUS CHAPTER

Darmon was never so happy as when he took the first step out of the north gate of Zeland. He wished he had Faugas with him, or his uncle, or father, someone who could tell him what was going on. That would be a good city to bypass when I come home. . .

His trip brought him through several small villages between Zeland and Farland. Actually, after the annexation of Zeland and Orland by the Kingdom of Farland two hundred twenty four years before he was born, these small towns were the property of Farland, a much larger, more populous and richer state. Farland's military-minded society was a blessing in disguise, since their resistance to the dark folk of the Wintervale was the most important reason that all of the continent hadn't been overtaken by orcs and goblins, trolls and kobolds, giants and ogres. Just an unfortunate series of dictators caused Farland's attempt to conquer everything, or so he was told in school.

For forty years, the Wars of Sorrow had taken some of the best of the peaceful countries and kingdoms. Elves from the Belendale and dwarves from the great fortress of Wawmar had aided the humans, but still Farland continued to be besieged and still was to this day. But the tables had been turned. Ten years ago an army of evil was defeated outside Farland, and now, with more help amassing from across the land, Farland was set to finish off the dark folk for good. And Darmon, the dragon-killer, the lucky, whose fame seemed to precede him whether he liked it or not, would be in the thick of it.

Darmon was about two, maybe two and a half days out of Far City. He noticed the great walls of The Fortress of Sum from a mile away - walls stretched between two mountain ridges and over a natural pass - well known as an impenetrable fort situated in what had become a most unusable location. The main force that had been constantly attacking Farland came from the east, from the land of the shadow. True, Sum was important at one time, when Farland attempted to subjugate the entire continent. But that hardly seemed to be problematic now. Now Farland needed all the help it could get. . .

Still, security was high. As Darmon approached the gate, he was surprised that he was one of a very few travelers. He caught up to and overcame a dozen troops of well-equipped dwarves. He offered a pleasant salutation to the short folk with axes strapped to their backs and finely-cultured beards the like of which he had never seen. They harrumphed a return, one of them mumbling a short comment.

"I see Farland is asking for help from the kitchens, now, girlies."

The snickers began. Darmon had heard the same thing while traveling to places as close as Orland, where his people were somewhat of an enigma to the populace. He turned to stop in front of the troops, towering over them. The dwarves were used to being towered over, but they stopped, more out of curiosity than in a fighting spirit.

"And where are your men today, Dwarves? I hear their beards are even longer!"

The one who appeared to be the captain quickly scowled and reached for his axe. No sooner than he grasped the staff of the weapon the swoosh and metallic ring of a five-foot six-inch claymore split the silence, and the blade was pointed at his axe. "Nu, my friend, dun't du such a thing. Weh may be fightin' on the same side the next coupl'a weeks, an' ya dun't wanna kill me, jus' yet!"

The captain opened his hands quickly and stared at the man. He squinted, then his eyes opened wide. "So, human, you're a Creag! The first I've ever seen! Pardon me, but the skirt. . ."

"It's a kilt, good dwarf. We wear it because we can. You should try it sometimes. The women love it."

From the back of the dwarf contingent arose a yelp. "Hey, I've heard of you. . .ain't you the guy what killed Gark' Aahs?"

The rest of the dwarves looked back to Balin, then swung their heads toward Darmon. "Darmon Stuart's the name, lads, of the Stuart Clan of Slaugbeatha. That would be me."

"Khuldul be amazed. My name's Owin, captain of the tenth company of the fourth army of Wawmar. Or at least the first contingent of them." He offered his hand.

Balin pushed forward. "Is it true, Darman Stuart, that you're cur. . ."

"I'm sure Mr. Stuart has other things to talk about, Balin. . ." Owin interrupted. His look toward the dwarven soldier quieted him immediately. "So, you the only Creag?"

Darmon squinted at Balin. This was the second time he had heard someone almost say something, something that appeared to be taboo, but he wasn't about to delve into it now. "As far as I know, good Owin. There are other clans, though. You all look thirsty. Care for a little refreshment?"

Darmon slipped the sword back into the sheath and reached into the great kilt's folds, producing a leather flask. He uncorked the top and handed it to Owin. "Just a little is all ye need, friend, ta keep ya goin'."

Owin looked at the flask strangely and tasted a swig. He apparently snorted as opposed to drinking it, as he nearly dropped the flask with his convulsions. "Uhhsky. . .uhh. . .urk. . .thanks, friend, but I'll stick to the drink of my people. That's strong, even for one used to Dwarven Spirits."

Darmon smiled. "First time. I understand. We call it the water of life. You might call it another name. I'll buy a round of it at the bar in Sum, for all of you." He corked the flask and returned it to his kilt. As he did, a giant tooth fell from the folds. The dwarves gasped at the sight, and Darmon quicly placed it back. "A little trophy. . ."

"And we'll buy you a drink, friend. Speaking of which, we should get moving. Walk with us, Darmon Stuart. Tell us what it's like to be in the mouth of a dragon."

Sum was an impressive sight. For all practical purposes, it was completely impenetrable. The thick western wall was built between the western sides of the mountains, bridging the natural gap between the remainder of the range. The eastern wall was built on the other side of the gap, forming a box about two miles long between the ranges and half a mile wide from east to west. To breach the walls, one would have to climb the road and crash the gate or move off the road and climb very tall cliffs, just to get to the base of the wall, from either the east or west sides. To attack from the north or south, one had to scramble over loose scree or actually climb down the peaks of the last mountains of the gap in the range. Little wonder it was safe. Unless the enemy could fly.

In the "box" there was sufficient room for a city. Little sun shone between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The fertile valley supported trees and a few farms, but most of the town was dedicated to the art of war. And drinking.

Darmon entertained his guests with a few choice tales of his homeland as they walked. He had heard of the dwarves of Wawmar, and would no doubt enjoy seeing their fortified city carved out of an extinct volcano. He had some contact with the dwarves of Dorlhaud, from the Hook Hills west of Creagland, so he knew of their honor, tenacity and spirit. His new friends found him strangely different than most of the other humans they had met. They believed his kind would be fine folks to meet and much unlike the imperious, demanding, bombastic Farlanders they were here to help.

The west gate traffic was a little slow. Four heavily armed guards were checking travelers as they approached, taking their weapons. Several young boys ran back and forth from the weapon rooms just inside and back again to the guards, carrying crossbows, swords, shields, anything that could instigate a problem in town. And the guards were having a good time at it.

Darmon looked down to Owin. "I don't like 'is one bit, lad. I can scarce let Dragonslayer out 'o my sight. There are people 'oo would fight to get 'er."

Owin looked up at the hunk of fine steel. "I know what you mean, my Creagish friend. I'd lay a few men down to get a hold of her, myself. Rules are rules, but I hate rules."

"Yeah, ah nu." Their turn at the guard station was next. Darmon approached a guard to the left.

"Whoo-eee, nice sword, Creag. Looks like you'll have to leave it here. . ." he looked over his shoulder to the other guard and winked ". . .We'll take it off your hands. And yer dress, too."

"I don't think so, laddie. No one takes Dragonslayer, unless they can pry my dead hands from around 'er. Ya want 'elp or not, Farlander?"

The guard looked up to the heavily-muscled Darmon as the other guards crowded around. "Look, barbarian, rules are rules, and they're going to be obeyed. Emporer Lucious sets the rules, and you obey them. It's as simple as that." The guard continued to eye the massive lump of steel.

"I think you're about to make a notable exception, Farlander." The booming voice came from behind the dwarves as a huge man strode forth. "You don't know who you're talkin' to, guard." A huge Anarian, clad in hastily-stitched fur pants, thick raw-leather boots, a coat of fur and the head of an elk, complete with antlers and a deer head hanging off his back, walked forward. Easily half a head above Darmon, he placed his arm around the Creag's shoulder. "May I introduce Darmon Stuart of Creagland, slayer of the dragon Gark' Aahs."

A hush fell over the crowd. Half a dozen of the Hofvarar clan, worshippers of the Elk, walked forward among the dwarves. The jaw of the first guard dropped open. "You mean. . ."

Darmon's eyes rolled. For some reason, his fame had spread just about everywhere. All I did was to save my people. . ."Yes, that's me. . .jus' doin' me job. . ."

The Northern barbarian continued. "So, I'd say he can just about go anywhere he wants with that blacksmith's shop on his back. . ." then leaning over to the guard, ". . .wouldn't you tend to agree, master guard?"

The guard tried to push his authority back into the picture. "And who would you be, other than a deer-clad barbarian, Northman? Why do I care what you say?"

The Anarian smiled. "I am Yngvarr o' Hafvarrar, clan of the Elk, first in line for the throne. You speak to a lot of royalty and heroism, little guard. Darmon here is next to the throne of Creagland, and as such, we are of the same royal bloodlines. Would you turn away fighters of such ilk?"

"To do so would be to insult the dwarves of Wawmar, as well, human!" said Owin. "Don't make us choose sides. . ."

The guard backed up slightly, then sighed, shrugging. "Keep your weapons sheathed. Any trouble and I'll see to it myself that Emperor Lucious is infor. . ." halting, he recognized that he was responsible for letting them in. ". . .Just behave while you're here."

Yngvarr leaned back and bellowed a hearty laugh. "That's the spirit, little guard man. We'll drink to your good decision tonight!" The contingent chuckled as they made their way past the sheepish guard, weapons and armor thumping and clanging. The last two Anarians gave the guards a sneer and thumped their leather shields with the hilts of their swords. The guard thought, I hope I don't live to regret this. . .

The strange contingent walked through the streets of the town to find an inn. As they walked past the open-air markets, they expected more than a few stares and maybe even to be stopped by some of the guards patrolling the fort. Their appearance drew some attention, but not much more than what could normally be expected from a tattooed Creag, a dozen dwarves, and a dozen fur-clad Anarians.

Their weapons didn't seem out of place, after all, however. There were quite a few sword-toting mercenaries from Orland, Farland, the Gaelics from South Zeland, and some barbarians from the recently destroyed city of Lorindon, and a well-armed Elven contingent from the Belendale, reportedly on a consulting mission to aid the besieged Farland. All were armed, some to the teeth. Owin tapped Yngvarr on the arm. "You think that guard back there has a good side business goin' on, big guy?"

Yngvarr laughed. "Yes, friend, I think anytime you have someone in a position like that, you're gonna get some side jobs. I wouldn't worry about it, if anyone says anything, we'll just take them back to the gate and show them the storehouse they have!"

"Power corrupts, gen'lmen, and in Farland, there's plenty o' power," added Darmon. "If someone ends up a fu swords short, we'll know where ta' gu, lad."

Owin nodded. "Ya have power struggles back in Creagland like that, Darmon?"

Darmon shook his head. "Actually, we would, if there wasn' trust in the clan system. We ban togetha, sometimes four 'r five families each in a town. The main clan, the most powerful, takes care o' the rest and makes decisions tu du with the town, includin' raisin' an army. They know what 'appens when they push the rest too far - our town used to be called Donaldsglen, after the Donald Clan. They renamed everything they could and began treatin' the other clans as servants. It took a while, but the others rebelled against 'em, banishin' 'em to the glens, where they built their own little town. They ignored long-standin' unwritten laws, and that's what they got."

"Sounds like it should work well. We dwarves don't have such a system - we write down every rule. But the whole dwarf community sticks together."

Yngvarr entered the discussion. "Easy for you ta say, Owin. Ya got no where ta go but what's carved inta the side of the mountain. So ya gotta get along, or yer out of Wawmar. Ain't 'at the way it is?"

"No, our families are all servants of Khuldul, and that's where we get our strength, and our resolve." His explanation was punctuated by grunts and nods, and Yngvarr and Darmon could see the dwarves' dedication to the Rockcarver.

Darmon realized that they were comparing apples and oranges - religion-based society and family-based life. A compliment was in order. "Well taken, friend. Should we humans have the same strong trust in our gods as yu du, we would be better off. The dwarves of Hook Hills have much the same beliefs as du yu, lad. I know them well."

Owin chuckled. "Ya can call me 'lad' as long as ya want, Darmon, I like it. Truth is, I'm a ripe young one hundred ten, and the youngest of us here is no less than sixty, right, Agralin?" He looked back to the dwarf behind him and smiled. "I'm still no pup, Owin."

Their casual banter continued as they made their way across the Box of Sum, as it was called, toward what they thought looked as much like an inn as anything they had seen so far. The stone two-story house was situated on a side street to the main road, slightly back from the street. The windows were barred from both sides, probably more to protect the rare glass than for anything else.

Stains that probably held interesting stories dotted the stone outside the windows and the walls of the foyer. A few torches lit the entrance, and two Farlandish off-duty guards stumbled out the front door, evidently beginning an evening of revelry a little early. But for all travelers to and from Far City, there had to be a place of rest and food to suit everyone's needs - this was aimed at a lower-end clientele, no doubt.

Twenty five dusty travelers made their way up the walk to the door, probably not giving enough room for the guards to pass as they would like. "Hey-y-y-y, barbarians, why dontcha watch whurr yer goin'. . .'spechully you, you in the girlie dress. . .hey, howza 'bout a kiss, ya sissy. . ."

Balin struck first. He tripped the closest drunken guard with the staff of his axe in a picture-book move of stealthy deftness worthy of his own tales at a later date. "Excuse me, sir. . .oh, I'm sorry. . .how clumsy of me. . ." As he reached down to help him up, a well-placed fist rocked his head to the ground again, once again concealed. The second guard waddled over to his friend. "Now, jus' wait a minute here, dwarf. . ." Balin turned to greet him, continuing the staff's end in a powerful punch to the stomach, bending him over. "Oh, so sorry. . .looks like I was in your way. . .goodness, let me help you. . ." Balin's gauntlet drove into the guard's head, leaving him fallen beside his friend. "By Khuldul's helm, you should be more careful of the rocky ground on this walk, gentlemen!"

The rest of the group chuckled. Darmon walked over to Balin and offered him a hand. "Do you think those poor men need some help, Balin? I guess they had too much to drink," he said, loud enough for other Farlanders walking by nearby to hear.

Balin smiled, a quick stroke of his thick, braided beard enough to rearrange any misplaced curls. "If the idiot knew he was talkin' to a man who spent a pleasant afternoon in a dragon's mouth, when he could have been chasing the skirts of some red-headed Creagish lass, maybe he'd have had a civil tongue in his head!"

"Ya gut 'a show me 'ow ya did all that, friend. Apparently ya been in bars afore."

The Anarian Hallvard walked over to the two. "An' we ain't even inside yet! Ya got some tales ta tell, Balin! Over some mead, maybe, on me?" The huge Anarian slapped the dwarf on the back.

The group made its way through the door, the prostrate forms of drunken guards asleep on the ground.

The inn was built for two purposes - food and drink - and was laid out to support those purposes most efficiently. There were tables set off to the left and right of the huge slab of oak that formed the bar. Two men tended customers while several barmaids assisted them in the cleaning of mugs and glasses and rolling out the casks of ale from the store room. Four waitresses tended the tables, which were relatively empty at the time.

Yngvarr began by moving some tables together and a few dwarves rearranged the chairs to support the contingent's size. Darmon bellied up to the bar. "A round of your finest uise-beatha, sir, for my friends!"

The bartender looked him over and shook his head. "Creag, eh? You barbarians and yer damned whisky. You know what it does ta people what ain't use ta it, don't cha? Ya better drink responsible-like, there's guards around that won't take no stuff from ya."

Balin sidled up beside the Creag. "Ya mean 'ose two sots who staggered outa here a few minutes ago? Lotta good they'll do ya, mister - they're suckin' sod right now!"

A roar of laughter went up from the group. The bartender looked out the door's glazing. "I don't know what yer talkin' about, ragamuffins. All I see is a little ol' man and two bodies. . ."

A quiet suddenly filled the otherwise raucous air. Darmon turned around to see an old man, spindly legs covered with tattered pants, a cloak and a staff. A wave of cold ran from his chest to his arms and legs, not stopping until he felt a chill wind, seemingly coming from nowhere, yet everywhere. "What the damned hell. . ." He ran to the door, followed by Yngvarr and Owin.

When they opened the door, the man turned to walk to the right. As they bolted through the door, he walked behind a thick oak shading the alleyway and disappeared. "Did you all see that? Did you? He's been following me for the past three days. . ."

"Yeah, I saw him," said Owin. Yngvarr bent over the bodies. Both were sullen and pale, skin grotesquely wrinkled, arms and legs bent at odd angles. He reached down and placed his fingers beside their temples, first one, then the other. Looking up, he announced that they were dead.

Balin looked pale as he caught up to the crew. "I-I-I din't hit 'em that hard, I swear on Khuldul's heart, I didn't. . .I. . ." Darmon placed his hand on Balin's shoulder. "I know you didn't, Balin. It's me someone wants. Something's happening here. . ."

The bartender walked out the door. "You cretins are in a lot of trouble now. . .ya don't go killin' guards in Farland like 'at." A few other guards ran over to check out the ruckus. One bent over the bodies and looked up to Yngvarr. "What happened here? Bartender, did you see anything?"

"Jus' these wild types, passin' the guards. They was drunk, do doubt, and fell. But nobody coulda done all that to 'em. Last person ta be near 'em was a little ol' man in a cloak, with a staff. . ." , The third guard looked up quickly. "Little old man. . .?" His face went pale.

Darmon stepped forward. "Yeah, lad, same ol' mon who's been a' followin' me fur a few days, an' he is. Strange, too. He jus' walked behind 'at tree an' disappeared."

"Disappeared, did he? How convenient! Any other killers around who blew into a cloud of smoke, maybe? Any killers ya see what turned inta birds, an' flew away? Whatcha take us for, hick, some fools?" The fourth guard was livid as he prepared his arrest.

The third guard rose and grabbed the other's shirt, pulling him around. "Octavius, listen a minute. . ." He spun him around and walked away from the group ten or twenty feet, quietly talking to him in hushed but animated tones. Octavius began waving his arms, turning away, but the other guard kept after him, walking in front of him to keep his attention. Octavius finally nodded and threw up his hands. He walked back to the group.

"What da hell you guys been up ta? 'At was no ol' man. I want some answers, an' I wannem right now! One a youse been cursed or sumpin'?"

It all hit Darmon at once. The old man, the two men in the inn in Zeland, these guards, the constant almost-muttered references to a curse. But why now? Why wait for several years? And more importantly, who was next? Owin looked up to Darmon, searching for something in his eyes. "Darmon. . .?"

"I. . .I dunno. . .I suppose. . .but nothin' like this has ever happened before. . .except two fools I talked to in Zeland. . .and that ol' mon. . .I've seen 'im before, lad. . ."

Octavius walked over to Darmon. "What's the story, mister? What did ya do?"

Owin spoke. "Maybe introductions are in order, Octavius. This man yer speakin' to is Darmon Stuart of Creagland. Ring a bell?"

He shook his head. But the other guard walked up to the circle. "I've heard of ya, Darmon. Ya killed a dragon, a while back. Did ya threaten 'im?"

Darmon lost it. He pulled Dragonslayer from its scabbard and began swinging it around over his head. He ran to the tree, and dwarf, guard, and Anarian quickly gave him a path. He began chopping the tree with the huge blade, chunks of wood flying left and right as he growled some long-forgotten curses. "Get out, you damned ghost! Keep out o' my life, yu basta'd! What du you want from me!" He kept swinging away at the tree, slicing into the wood like a maddened lumberjack. He quickly tired, slumping to the ground, his head hung low, sobbing.

Yngvarr walked slowly to his side and reached down, gently taking the claymore from his grip. He laid a huge hand on the Creag's shoulder. "C'mon, brother, let's let a little mead temper your spirits."

Octavius walked over to the two. "There's still a matter o' responsibility of the guards' death, Creag. I'm afraid I'm gonna have to. . ."

"The only thing you have ta do, right now, guard, is get out of my sight! I'm sure you can come up with some. . .explanation. . .of what happened here. Don't make me ask twice - I don't ask nicely the second time." Yngvarr held a huge fist up to the face of Octavius, causing him to back up a few feet.

Owin added, "He's right, Octavius. Twenty five of us saw the same thing. If a man's cursed, there's nothin' you or I can do. . .sorry, Darmon. . .that's that."

Octavius nodded. "I'm sorry for you, Darmon Stuart. May the gods have mercy on ya. I think you've been through enough. I think you should leave Sum tonight, though. We don't want any more trouble...like this," he said, pointing to the two dead guards.

The bartender demanded, "What about my tree? Who's gonna replace my tree?"

Hallvard grasped the man by the shoulder, his hand easily covering most of his neck at the same time. "Shut up, weasel, ya got mead ta pour. There's been enough complainin' ta last a week."

The group filed back into the inn. Glasses of mead were poured, waitresses survived the normal taunting, rump-slapping, and innuendos, hearty dinners were served and tales were told. Darmon enjoyed the company and dinner, all on Yngvarr's tab, but the dark clouds of realization and uncertainty loomed over his head like the weight of the huge sword strapped to his back. He talked to the innkeeper, handing him some gold coins that he felt would pay for the tree.

"Well, Mr. Stuart, I guess ya didn't have to do that, but I appreciate it. I think, for your safety and that of your friends, you should stay in a little grove just through the East gates, tonight. There's bound ta be trouble yet, I assure ya. These Farlander military types won't sit well, even though it wasn't your fault. The apple grove is about a quarter mile east of here, off to the left, and it's my brother's land. It's good soft grass and there's plenty of firewood layin' on the ground - you know how apple trees are. If anyone asks, tell 'em Hadrian Fabias sent ya. Brother's name is Eustache."

"Thank ya, Hadrian. We'll get on our way soon. I'm sorry for any trouble I caused." Darmon turned to his friends and told them about the grove. Owin and Yngvarr agreed it would be for the best, and the inn's supply of mead was just about depleted, so the crew called it a night and began the trek to the grove. As they passed through the east gate, however, one of the guards smiled at Darmon. "Sleep well, old man."

Darmon had had enough. He stopped and looked to Balin, who was nearest the guard. "What did he say?"

Balin stopped. "Oh, the guard? Somethin' about sleepin', old man, I don't know, wasn't really listenin'."

Darmon turned and walked back to the guard, who immediately brought his pike to attention directly in front of him. "Pardon me, guard, but what did ya say, back 'ere?"

The guard looked down, sheepishly. "I said to sleep well, old man."

"Why did ya say tha', lad? Ya gotta agree, it's a strange thin' ta say."

The guard wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He was new to the legion, and this backwater fortress got assigned the greenest legionnaires anyway. Guard duty wasn't supposed to be confrontational. 'Just stand there, let 'em out, stop 'em if they come in.' That's all it was supposed to consist of. "I don't know, something made me. . ." Suddenly his features became dark, his brow wrinkled, he began to shake. "Sleep well. You won't get too many chances to sleep anymore, ever. You have taken; now I take," came a booming voice from somewhere inside, deep in his lungs. The voice didn't match the guard's normal, average size, and temperament. He shook his head, swooned backward and caught himself with a step rearward, gasping.

Yngvarr made his way to Darman, as did what appeared to be the captain of the guard. "Ubius, what seems to be the problem? Is everything all right?"

"Yes. . .yes, captain, everything is in order. I just became. . .light headed. . .I think. . .something. . ." He snapped to attention. "Very well. Move along, Creag, Anarian. They'll be no trouble here tonight. The lot o' ya."

Darmon turned to the captain. "We were just goin', captain." He turned to go, but looked back to the guard. He was shaking, evidently fearful of what he had just gone through.

Owin was the first to ask. "What was that all about, Darmon? Seems yer attractin' a lot o' strange things tonight."

The Creag shook his head. "Nothin' I can figure out. It's the old man, somethin' about me not able ta sleep."

Owin shrugged. "Maybe jus' babblin'; looked like a young recruit. I wouldn't put too much worry on it."

Darmon wasn't too soothed, but he kept silent the rest of the way to the grove.

The trees were well kept and planted on a carefully planned crisp grid pattern. They had a few buds, but none were developed. The group gathered armfuls of wood and struck up a good, snapping fire. Anarians and dwarves sat intermingled, telling tales of past adventures and competing with each story.

Yngvarr sat with Darmon. The northman began talking about his men, how they had fought their way here through rough country filled with orcs and trolls. But Darmon didn't hear much - he was thinking about many things.

"How about you, Darmon? Got anyone back home?"

Darmon didn't respond, being deep in thought. "..uh..home. . .yes, home. . .sorry, I was thinking about things. . .no, not any wife. My father is still in good shape, mother is okay. There is a young lass, but nothing permanent."

"Ya can't let this eat atcha, Creag. Yer goin' somewhere ta fight. Ya gotta have yer 'ead in it, or you'll get killed. I won't let that happen, friend, but ya oughta make my job a little easier. Who is this old man, anyway? Ya wanna talk about it?"

Darmon sighed. "I don't know who. Faugas, our wizard, said Tanarus would be after me, but I thought he cleared things up. The damned dragon was killin' everyone in sight, Yngvarr. I was out there in the hills ta talk 'er out of it. She wouldn't listen. An' I'm supposed ta convince 'er of 'er evil ways?"

"Guess ya had ta do it, Darmon. The old man can't be Tanarus, can it? I don't see how, myself. Tanarus is supposed ta be a power, not a god. Unless he's just influencin' people ta say those things."

"I'm sure he is influencin' 'em. But how does he appear, outa thin air, then disappear? How does he kill people? Take away their air?"

"I'd say that looks like his favorite trick. The sleep idea, that doesn't make any sense, neither does the old man thing. Have you slept well?"

"Yes, no problem so far. But he said it would happen soon. . .I guess I'm worried too much. But for now, I think I'd better take my leave o' my friends. At least for tonight. It seems people around me. . ."

Yngvarr leaned back and stretched. "Do whatcha want, Darmon Stuart. Magic can do strange things, but a strong sword arm is proof against them. I'll fight by yer side any day, brother. It'll take a better curse than this ta stop a Northman. I guess I'll se ya in the mornin'." He arose and grabbed his pack. "I'd say, 'sleep well', but I'm thinkin' better of it right now." He shook Darmon's hand and smiled.

The Creag stood and walked farther down the road, bidding many of the men a good night as they continued their revelry. He found a quiet, soft spot a hundred yards down the road, unpacked his bagpipes and enjoyed some of his own piobaireachd , making him think of his home. He then peeled off his kilt and rolled up in it. But he didn't sleep very well.

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