In this part of the story of The Wolves of Vimar and how they managed to save the land of Grosmer, the friends find out who the Never-Dying Man is and how he can be both mortal and immortal. The truth is more shocking than they would have believed.
I originally set out to write this as one book, but it entailed following two groups since Wolf was split. I was devoting one chapter to each group, but the book was getting far too big and so I decided to divide it into two separate books. This book follows Carthinal’s group.
There are two more Wolves joining here. One is a mage whom Carthnal met during his tests. He is a cheerful sort of fellow who enjoys a laugh. I like him. His name is Grimmaldo
The other character was a friend of Carthinal in Bluehaven and has had to leave that town as the guard were about to capture him for burglary. He is a cat-burglar and is known as The Cat. No one knows his actual given name. There are now five in each group instead of four, with Wolf now numbering ten.
In the life of real wolves, I understand that ten is about the largest number that can easily be sustained. More and it would be difficult to find sufficient food for the pack. Although they are not real wolves, but only named themselves so, I think that I ought to stick to something of real wolf life for my characters. They will not consciously act like a wolf pack, but still!
I found this part quite easy to write. There was not much from the original scenario here. I had moved the lair of the antagonist across the country completely and changed his occupation. His background became quite clear to me as I wrote and his reasons for doing as he does.
Carthinal and his little group find out about these plans and try to thwart them, but are themselves outsmarted.
Here is an extract from The Never-Dying Man’
It seemed to take a long time for the sun to set that evening. They were all anxious to get on with the rescue now they had seen Tadra and the state she was in, especially Grnff who seemed unable to sit still for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Eventually, though, the sun began to sink over the tops of the mountains in the west, and a deepening darkness fell over the valley. They all went off to their positions.
Grnff and The Cat went to position themselves as close to the little yeti as they could without attracting attention. They were to wait until the pre-arranged signal went off. They crouched in the bushes about fifty yards from Tadra. She was curled up on the ground seemingly asleep, but had two guards, a human and a troll. They were standing on opposite sides of Tadra, and eyeing each other suspiciously. The Cat turned to Grnff.
‘It’s as we hoped,’ he whispered. ‘They seem not to fully trust each other. With luck, we can turn that to our advantage.’
Then over the camp of the trolls, there was a rushing sound, followed by a blinding flash just where the trolls were lying. Another shortly followed this, and the smell of burning flesh. The troll guarding Tadra turned to the human and shouted at him. The two watchers could not understand his words, but then he drew his sword and flew at the human. Soon they were fighting.
The Cat crept silently down the slope towards the young yeti, who had woken up, and was crying out in fear. The pair of guards who were fighting did not see him, they were too intent on their fight. Carthinal had decided that The Cat should try to rescue Tadra in case the distraction had failed and the guards needed to be avoided. He was to kill the human and deal with the troll as best he could while Grnff snatched his cub. In view of the fight, the yeti and the human thief decided that The Cat need not kill either but that silence was essential so that he would not be spotted by either of the protagonists. Therefore, the pair decided that The Cat should make the rescue.
He reached where the yeti cub was cowering and with an axe, severed the chain, then, picking her up, he sprinted for cover with his hand over her mouth. Unfortunately, in her terror, Tadra managed to bite his hand, and let out a howl. The two guards heard and stopped fighting, looked at each other and then at the camp and took off after The Cat. He sprinted to Grnff, thrust the howling cub into his arms and yelled:
‘Run. Comfort her later.’
Carthinal and Grimmaldo made their way to opposite sides of the troll camp. Carthinal had Basalt and Asphodel with him, and Fero had Randa and Thadora. Davrael and Kimi were with Grimmaldo. Carthinal wove the strands of mana, speaking the words of the spell at the same time and a ball of flame sped from his hands to explode over the troll camp. Almost immediately after, another from Grimmaldo did the same. There was immediate panic and chaos. Trolls jumped up and ran in all directions from the searing flames, the only thing that could seriously harm them and consequently the only thing that could really frighten them. Carthinal noticed that about half a dozen remained where they were, unmoving, and at least another two among those running were injured. He glanced over to where Tadra was tethered and saw a shadowy figure running away with a bundle in its arms, and two fighting figures nearby.
‘Good!’ he thought. ‘The Cat’s got Tadra anyway.’
Then he had no time for further thought as the troll leader had managed to get his men under control and had yelled a warning to the human camp. Three trolls were coming towards the place where he was stationed with Basalt and Asphodel. Asphodel fell back as she had no means of successfully fighting the trolls and she began soaking cloths in lamp oil and wrapping them round Basalt’s bolts. When he was ready, she lit a bolt and he fired it right at the approaching trolls. At the same time, Carthinal sent forth a searing jet of flames from his hands. Within the compass of a few seconds, all the attacking trolls were dead. The cry from the leading troll, however, had done its job and alerted the Erians in the human camp and they were rushing forward, arming themselves as they came. Carthinal glanced over to where Tadra had been and saw nothing, not even the fighting troll and Erian. He hoped Grnff and The Cat had managed to get away but had neither time to consider that now, nor if Grimmaldo, Davrael and Kimi had succeeded. Fero, Randa and Thadora had been dispatched in yet another direction to fire flaming arrows at any trolls escaping his and Grimmaldo’s fireballs.
‘Move.’ he said to the others. ‘Scatter then they’ll have to split up. Harry them from cover. Meet back at the camp as soon as you deem it’s safe.’
With that, he set off at a run, ducking into the trees.
Captain Shampso of the 2nd division of the Erian Army heard the shout from the troll chief. He was working on the papers relating to the handing over of the goods the trolls had brought and privately bemoaning his fate in having drawn this duty. He did not like trolls, but as they seemed to be a new ally for his country, he had to tolerate them. But oh! didn’t they smell? He wished someone would teach them the rudiments of hygiene. Still, he had heard hobgoblins smelt worse, if that were possible. When the shout went up, he quickly pulled on a leather jerkin, grabbed a sword and longbow, and ran out of his tent. He rapidly assessed the situation. There seemed to be an attack on the trolls’ camp rather than his. He noted flaming arrows from three places, and magical fire from two of those places.
‘Two mages, then,’ he thought to himself. He could not judge quickly how many attackers there were, but cast his eyes all around the troll camp. It was then he noticed the absence of the yeti cub. So, it was a rescue attempt, was it? He would soon see about that.
Calling orders to his men, he left one on guard and took the remaining eight to the troll camp. Once there, he split them up into three groups and ordered each group to attack one of the places where the firing was coming from. Shouting battle cries, his men ran into the trees.
He and the two men making up his group ran towards the east where he thought one of the mages was stationed with at least one other person firing bolts from a crossbow. He was not disappointed. Soon, he saw the blue robes of a mage disappearing through the trees. He fired an arrow, which missed its mark. He heard sounds from one side and sent his men after it. Whoever it was, they were not very good at moving quietly through the woodland. Every now and again there was a curse.
He had determined that the mage was to be his target, and set off in pursuit. He kept getting tantalising glimpses of blue through the trees, but then he lost sight before he could level his bow and fix his target. Then he heard a word of magic and five bolts of silvery energy struck him. He managed to almost dodge aside, but the bolts did enough damage to slow him considerably. He was wounded, but not badly enough to prevent him from continuing his pursuit.
He looked for the mage. He must be within sight to be able to send those missiles. He could see nothing. Then he heard another mumbling of magic, and looking in that direction saw a movement to his left. He fired an arrow, more in hope than expectation, but was rewarded by an exclamation. Good. He had got the bastard this time. Unfortunately, not fatally, as he heard him moving off again. He had determined the mage was male by the voice.
Captain Shampso followed the sounds made by the mage. Curse these trees. They hindered him and helped the mage by hiding him from sight. Then he caught another glimpse and as he entered a clearing, he saw the man at the other side. He had stopped and was weaving the mana for another spell. He was tall and had auburn hair, which he wore shoulder length, and the deepest blue eyes the Erian captain had ever seen. Shampso stopped and raised his bow. As he let fly, so did the mage. A ball of coloured energy sped towards him from the mage’s hand. He dodged the ball and so his arrow missed the target, but so did the ball of energy, flying off sizzling into the trees. However, he was luckier than the mage as his arrow found the mage’s right leg and he now stood propped up by his staff unable to run any more.
Shampso drew his sword and walked carefully over to the mage. Mages were not to be trusted and nearly always had something up their sleeves; sometimes literally, so he was careful. The mage was saying something else. Another five bolts of energy flew from his staff to embed themselves in Shampso’s shoulder. Gods, but it hurt. He had better finish this quickly.
He drew back his sword for a killing blow, when there was a thud. He glanced down to see what it was and was surprised to see a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest. Still with a look of surprise on his face, he slowly toppled forwards, then found himself looking down on the scene below. There was a body lying on the ground and a dwarf coming out of the trees followed by a female elf, who ran over to a blue-clad mage sitting on the floor. The dwarf was saying something, but he could not determine what it was. He wanted to know how he was flying, and whose was the body lying on the ground. None of his men had been with him, but it was obviously an enemy of these intruders. He felt himself being pulled away until all memory of the incident was gone and he was travelling towards the land of the gods.
‘Come on, Mouse.’ Sergeant Pendrimo heard the male barbarian say to the small girl at his side. ‘This way, quickly.’
He looked, but could see no one else, although he thought he had seen three of them in the beginning. Still, he could not worry about that. He must finish the two he could see, and as quickly as he could. He detailed one of the men with him to search in the forest in case there was in fact a third, and set off with the remaining man after the barbarians. What were they doing so far to the east? He dismissed this concern in order to follow his orders, which were to find and kill the attackers and abductors of the yeti cub. It was easier just to follow orders, he thought.
Suddenly the pair went in opposite directions. He signalled to his companion to follow the girl, while he turned in the direction the man had taken. The man dodged and wove through the trees, doubling back towards the camp. There was a movement behind him. He turned quickly to see what it was, and was struck in the throat by a thrown knife. His last thought was, ‘I knew there was a third one.’
Thadora was pleased with her throw. It was strong and accurate. She retrieved her knife and slunk back into the trees. Davrael paused and turned. She waved to him to signal that his pursuer was no more, and then melted back into the undergrowth.
The Horselord retraced his steps and followed the track Kimi had left. He had hated splitting up from her, but knew it was the best thing they could do, to split the three chasing them. He crept forward, and saw the third man, the one who had disappeared into the trees just before they split. He had gone after Thadora, he supposed.
Obviously she had given him the slip. He was crouching down behind a bush, and was drawing out his crossbow and loading it with a bolt. Davrael did not think. The man must have seen Kimi and was trying to shoot her from cover. He leaped onto the man’s back, throwing him down into the leaves. The soldier’s crossbow flew from his hands as he tried to get from beneath the creature on his back. He bucked but Davrael, being an expert horseman, was not thrown off. The soldier felt hands around his neck, squeezing and pulling his head backwards. He tried once again to unseat Davrael to no avail. He was beginning to struggle for breath, but Davrael hung on.
‘Try to kill my wife from hiding, would you, like a coward?’ the Horselord growled, squeezing harder.
The soldier gave up trying to remove Davrael from his back, and with a superhuman effort, he managed to roll over so that he was on top of Davrael, albeit on his back. He grabbed the Horselord’s wrists and pushed hard. He was a strong man, and managed to break Davrael’s grip.
He leaped to his feet, dragging in gulps of sweet air, but his throat was sore. Davrael also leaped up and drew his knives quickly before the soldier had time to prepare himself, but the man was quick. Before Davrael was on him, he had his own sword drawn and was almost ready for the onslaught. Then a female voice came from the other side of the bush behind which the soldier had been hiding.
‘Put up your sword, soldier, I’ve an arrow trained on you. Harm one hair of my husband’s head, and you’ll feel the arrow through your heart.’
Davrael smiled to himself to hear Kimi’s voice, but to the soldier it looked like the smile of a wolf ready for the kill. He dropped his sword and fled from the place as quickly as his legs could carry him. Davrael also dropped his knives and ran to embrace his wife.
‘What about the other one? The one that went after you?’ he asked.
Kimi smiled. ‘Do you mean him?’ she said, pointing to a body lying on the floor. ‘He caught up with me, but unfortunately for him, he underestimated my knife skills. He spent too long taunting me with what he was going to do when he had finally got my knives off me.’ She grinned up at her husband. ‘He didn’t get a chance to try, I’m sorry to say.’
Davrael looked at her with a speculative look on his face. This was a new Kimi. One he was not sure he knew. The girl he had married could not have killed a man and smiled about it. She was still his Kimi, though, and he loved her. He embraced her again, and only then did he notice her trembling. They set off again, this time towards their camp.
‘Can you deal with the troll?’ Fero asked Grimmaldo. ‘The Cat has no fire and he’ll not be able to beat it without.’
‘I think I can manage to cast some sort of fire spell. It may be difficult in the confined space of the woods to cast a fireball without setting the whole forest on fire, but I can try something else,’ replied the young mage setting off in the direction they had seen The Cat taking, hotly pursued by the troll. They had been positioned not far from where the abduction of Tadra had taken place and had seen all that happened.
The Cat had tried to lead both the man and the troll away from the direction that Grnff had taken with his cub, but the man had seen a glimpse of white and had taken off after him. The troll had pursued The Cat relentlessly.
After Grimmaldo had gone, Fero turned to look towards the troll camp and saw groups of three heading into the woods towards where the firing had come from.
‘Two against three.’ said Fero. ‘Not bad odds, but I’d feel better with more reinforcements. Stay here and stay hidden, Randa. I’m going to get Bramble. Only move if they see you, and then run. Bramble will find where you are.’
The tall ranger disappeared into the trees leaving Randa crouched in the undergrowth by the side of a track. She could hear the men coming nearer to her hiding place, but not a sign of Fero’s passing could she detect with any of her senses. She felt a sense of pride at his skill. She still found it amazing that he loved her. Many had professed to love her; some for her beauty; some for her fortune and some for the power she would wield as Duchess of Hambara, but none for herself. Not until Fero. He loved Randa, the woman, not Randa the great beauty, Randa the heiress, nor Randa the future Duchess of Hambara.
Fero himself was so incredibly talented in what he did, and if he was not classically handsome, his features were arresting and his olive skin and black hair and eyes were so exotic. The black leather armour that he wore enhanced his difference and made him seem a man of mystery.
She interrupted her musings about her lover to listen to the approach of the three men. They were talking together in Erian, which she could not understand, but the tone of voice suggested they were grumbling in the manner of soldiers everywhere. Suddenly, a breeze got up and stirred some dust in front of her. Some of it got up her nose, and she felt a desire to sneeze. She pinched her nose to stop the sneeze, but it was no use. Although she managed to stifle most of it, she did in fact make a slight noise. One man heard and turned. He said something to his companions. One replied, and the other laughed.
‘Probably telling him he was frightened of his own shadow, if I know soldiers,’ thought Randa. Then she realized that there was a conversation that the man who had heard her sneeze seemed to win. They moved carefully towards her hiding place, swords drawn. One called out something in Erian. Randa froze in place, not daring to breathe. One man came so near she could have reached out and touched him. He moved off, only to be replaced a few moments after by a second man returning to the path. Her left foot was getting pins and needles from crouching down, but she dare not move.
This man passed her too. A spider crawled out from its home beneath a pile of leaves and began to traverse her foot. Even now she remained motionless, although she thought it must be the biggest spider in all the forest, maybe in all Erian!
The third man had still not given up his search, but his friends were waiting on the path with growing impatience. Then, as the third man left and she was ready to breathe again, one of them said something and walked into the undergrowth again. He approached the bush in which she was hiding. She soon found out what he wanted as he unlaced his trousers and a warm stream of liquid ran into the bush, some of it actually splashing on Randa.
She instinctively moved back slightly, but it was enough for the urinating man to notice. He reached out and moved the bushes, and looked straight into the girl’s face. He grinned and reached out, calling to his friends, but Randa had already risen to her feet and drawn Equilibrium. It was vibrating gently in her hand and seemed to be anxious for a taste of blood. She whipped it towards the hand coming towards her and was rewarded with a cry of pain as the man withdrew.
She quickly backed out of the bush and began to run through the trees in the direction that she thought Fero had gone. She could hear crashing behind her and knew she was being pursued. She dodged to her left and then right to try to lose them, but still they were behind her. She was quickly lost in these unfamiliar woods, but kept on running and trying to lose her pursuers. She knew that when Fero had got Bramble the big black and tan dog would be able to find her. She just hoped he would come quickly.
Eventually she broke out into a clearing surrounded on three sides by a cliff. Trees sprouted from cracks in the cliff side, but were too small to allow her to use them to climb up. The forest continued at the top of the cliff. She was trapped as the three pursuers spread out across the only exit. She was breathing hard, but beginning to recover.
The men were also breathing hard. After all they had run as fast and as far as she had. They spoke together for a moment and then the one she had injured raised his sword and began to approach. She saw with dismay that although she had injured his right hand, he was a left-hander. She had never fought a left-hander before and wondered about how difficult it might be.
She raised the Sword in response and engaged him. They fought for a time, neither making any headway with Randa mainly defending against this new type of foe. Then a second man began to approach. Two enemies would be more difficult, but she had practised with two opponents before, and felt she could manage to hold them off. What would happen if the third joined in she had no idea. She had never fought more than two at a time.
She prayed to any gods who were listening that they would not all come at her at once. Some god must have heard her because Leftie, as she had begun to think of him, withdrew leaving number two to fight her. After a while, he too withdrew and the third one came forward.
She had managed to make a cut on number two’s left arm, which was now bleeding. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Leftie binding it up. Number three managed to cut her thigh with a well-aimed low slash and she staggered. The run through the trees and the fight were beginning to take their toll and she felt the beginning of fatigue.
Then number three withdrew and Leftie again took over. She could see their tactics. Each one would fight for a while, and then withdraw to rest while another took over. They would wear her down slowly. She glanced around quickly while blocking a thrust from Leftie. Nowhere to run. Was this where she was to die? Would Fero manage to follow her zigzag run through the trees, experienced tracker that he was, and could he do it in time?
She stepped backwards to avoid a thrust that would surely have skewered her and made a thrust of her own. Leftie easily dodged it and then laughed and said something in Erian to her. One of the others called out to Leftie and came forward, Leftie again withdrawing.
Randa knew she was finished. She could not fight this man. The Sword seemed to be most anxious to continue. She could almost feel its demands through her arm, but her muscles would no longer respond. She dropped the point of Equilibrium to the ground and her legs were trembling so much they would no longer hold her body upright. She sank down in a heap.
She felt a sword tip at her throat and waited for the thrust, praying to Kalhera to allow her soul to journey onwards from her realm of Death. Then came a cry from Leftie, and the man rushed forward and spoke to his compatriot in hurried tones. The other soldier laughed and put out his boot to kick her to the ground.
Leftie stood over her while the others seemed to be drawing lots. Leftie pulled off her helmet and called the others over. They all exclaimed as her silvery hair tumbled around her shoulders. She tried to move away, but Leftie grabbed her arms and again thrust her to the ground. Number Three, who seemed to have won the drawing of lots walked towards her. He looked down at her and laughed. He spoke a few words of Grosmerian, wearing a smile which to Randa seemed the most frightful smile she had ever seen.
‘Not fear.’ he told her. ‘Not kill. We enjoy you, then we sell. Brothel keepers like beautiful new girls. You bring big money.’
While Leftie held her, number three began to unbuckle his trousers. As he knelt between her legs she spat in his face, which made the others laugh. He was unlacing her trousers when there was a sudden rush of air and a huge black shape flew to land squarely on the would-be rapist. He turned to see what it was and that was his fatal mistake. Bramble tore his throat out.
Leftie drew his sword and lunged towards a black-clad figure just entering the clearing. Fero had a long sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. He parried both men, but they were good swordsmen. Then Bramble bit the thigh of Leftie’s right leg and hamstrung him. He went down like a sack of potatoes and Fero finished him with one thrust. The other man, seeing what had happened, took to his heels.
‘Get him, Bramble,’ Fero growled at the dog, and the animal took off after Number Two. Then he approached Randa who was still lying on the ground with her trousers unlaced.
‘Did they…?’ Fero could not bring himself to say the word.
Randa shook her head. She was trembling and sobbing.
‘They were going to, then they were going to sell me to a brothel. One spoke a bit of Grosmerian and he told me.’
Fero knelt down by the girl and bound the wound in her thigh. He was very angry. Randa had never seen him so angry. His breath was coming shallowly and quickly, and his lips were pressed together in a thin line.
‘Bramble will get him. They’ll all pay,’ he told her. ‘How dare they even think of raping and selling you? That’s worse than killing you.’ Then he looked at her. ‘How did they find you?’
Randa told him about Leftie urinating on her, and how he had seen her movement. Fero’s anger then turned on her.
‘You stupid little bitch. You put yourself through this because you were too fine a lady to stand a bit of urine to save your life.’
Randa was not going to stand for this. Lady Randa again came to the fore.
‘How dare you speak to me like that!’ she retorted, pulling her clothes together and standing. She drew herself up and put on her most imperious manner. ‘If you hadn’t left me there alone to go to get the dog it would never have happened either. You and I could have taken those three easily. Let’s go.’ With that she began to limp towards the path and head back to their camp.
Fero picked up her helmet from where it lay and, still fuming, followed her in the direction of their camp.
Grimmaldo could hear sounds along the path. He was hiding behind some undergrowth and could not look out very far for fear of betraying himself. Then he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He jumped and nearly cried out, but swung round, dagger in hand to protect himself. He very nearly stabbed The Cat who had suddenly appeared behind him.
‘Where did you come from?’ he mouthed.
The Cat pointed upwards to the branches of the trees. He had climbed the tree to hide and saw Grimmaldo below him.
‘Do you have fire?’ he whispered.
‘I think I can cast some sort of fire spell without setting everywhere on fire.’ Grimmaldo whispered back. ‘Ssh! I think he’s coming.’
The mage began to prepare to weave the mana and The Cat heard the mysterious words of magic. It made his hair prickle and the hairs on his arm stand up. He was never very happy with magic. Then, as the troll came in sight, looking to right and left as it cautiously crept up the path, Grimmaldo spoke the last word and released the energy. A fiery bolt flew from his hands and struck the troll in the middle of its chest. It squealed and clasped its hands to the injury. It staggered and paused. Grimmaldo saw his flaming arrow had not killed the creature so he began to weave again for a second spell.
He knew he did not have enough mana for another flaming arrow, so he settled for another spell that required less. If this failed to kill the troll, then he was out of luck. He would not be able to cast another until he had rested. Spell casting took a lot out of a mage. As he got to the end of his chant, a jet of flame burst from his fingers and struck the troll again in the chest. It staggered again and then fell to the ground, totally dead.
‘Nice one, Grimmaldo,’ observed The Cat as he and the mage gave one another a high five.
‘What happened to the human?’ queried Grimmaldo.
‘Don’t know,’ replied the thief. ‘I had hoped to draw them both off, but he must have seen Grnff and he went after him. I hope Grnff managed to deal with him. I expect he did. He’s a chap I prefer on my side.’
Then the exhausted mage and the exhilarated cat burglar made their way back towards their camp.
Grnff had indeed dealt with the human. After trying to lose him to no avail, the yeti decided he would have to fight. It was not something he relished, but although yeti were generally peaceable, contrary to their fearsome reputation among the humans, they could and would fight if they were threatened. Grnff felt that the life of his cub was well worth fighting for. He found a patch of bracken growing high under some trees and placed Tadra gently in the middle of it with instructions to stay quiet and not to move until he came for her again. (Or one of his friends, he added, just in case the worst happened to him.) Then he backtracked towards where the man was coming from.
Grnff stood in the middle of the track and when the man came round the corner, he stopped in his tracks. A ten foot grey yeti was standing in his path, baring his teeth. It was a fearsome sight, but to give him his due, after a pause, during which he swallowed a few times, began to back up, then changed his mind, he drew his sword and slowly advanced on his foe, weighing the odds and deciding where to attack.
Grnff waited until he was almost in striking distance. The yeti had a longer reach, and he swept his hands out, knocking the man over. At a speed remarkable for such a large creature, Grnff stepped forward and picked the man up as though he were no heavier than Tadra.
‘Steel and hurt my cub, wud yoo?’ he said in Grosmerian, although the man could not understand him, as he was an Erian. Then he held him over his knee facing up towards the trees and, like breaking a stick, he broke his back. The man screamed once and then was silent. Grnff tossed the remains away and returned to Tadra. Then he turned back and began to trot towards the camp.
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