Dawn came and I came with it. No, not in the way that you think I meant.
I mean that I was up with the dawn. Goodness, can’t a fellow manage a good turn of phrase without it being a double entendre?
I awoke to a beautiful woman, naked, standing waist deep in water and combing long flowing hair whose color I could not and cannot and will never be able to adequately describe. She turned and looked at me and spoke and I knew I was in love and I hoped she was too.
She disappeared from sight for a moment and I heard some splashing. She quickly returned though, bearing a platter of fruit and two plates. She sat down next to where I lay at the water’s edge.
“You’re awake. How are you feeling?” That was all, yet that was all I needed. To hell with the adventure, I thought as she handed me a plate full of food, I will stay here and see how long one can live in paradise.
The morning passed in idyllic fashion. After some time had passed, Brook (the chosen name of my lady nymph (oh yes, that is exactly what I had found out here, and more is my luck!)), having heard my tale over breakfast, suggested that we should dress and seek out the rest of my party. I agreed and went to get dressed. As I did, I heard a din moving toward us through the forest that surrounded the pond.
So a few words about life this morning, as you well know by now I woke up to the loving gaze and embrace of a beautiful woman. It was a transformative experience, to run from certain death into the lustful embrace of love. I felt like a new man. I was overjoyed to hear the familiar voices of my friends in the trees as they called out a greeting to my sweet Brook. I finished getting dressed and stepped out of the reeds, to the adulation of all.
They said some things that amounted to, we are glad you’re alive and now let’s get a move on. I noted the goblin was missing. When I asked about Grit’s absence, Icarus Archimedes Icarus slowly shook his head and said, “Our poor friend. We think he may have perished, and the more’s the pity for he had the key our brave paladin discovered in the cask. Come now though, we must depart.”
Corinth, moved by the spirit of his god no doubt, stood up from where he had been sitting reorganizing his pack.
|The cursed tree|
“ WE GO FORTH TO FIND THE AXE MAN AND BRING HIM TO JUSTICE,” he roared. We all stared at him for a moment, shrugged, and readied to leave. After a promise to return and a long lingering kiss, I was ready to go and let Corinth face his destiny. We struck out in the direction indicated by Brook and, using her detailed instructions, found ourselves emerging into a clearing that showed signs of recent habitation. Farther away and up atop a hill that started some short distance west of the clearing I saw a strange and twisted tree. Even at such a distance I could feel power whispering from it and assumed that was where the wives were being kept, but before I could say so a commotion broke out at the far end of the field, with the brush and trees being pulled apart and a group of men stepping out into the clearing.
Rupert, an axe, a challenge.
The twisted tree in the distance emanated some kind of strange energy, true, but no less so than the hulking monstrosity---a massive man draped in furs and wearing worn leather armour and an assortment of mismatched jewelry---that stepped forth from the woods, easily swinging a massive broadaxe as if it were a hatchet. He looked at us, taking our measure, and then he threw his head back and began laughing, great guffaws that started deep inside him and rolled out like thunder. His face was florid and veins stood out on his neck as he laughed at us, his great girth heaving up and down in one piece with the ferocity of his mirth. The solidity of his bulk worried me, it indicated muscle and not fat and it further told me that he was more than capable of handling himself. He was flanked by several rough looking brigands.
|Rupert the Axeman & his men|
They strode into the clearing and spread out in a casual and predatory fashion. The man with the axe planted the head of the weapon on the ground and leaned into the handle, which groaned only slightly at having to support the man’s girth. A sturdy weapon to be sure. I took measure of the men gathered here and my hand found the hilt of a dagger and surreptitiously palmed it loose of its sheath, ready to be thrown. The man leaning on the axe was absolutely the hardest of them, all of whom looked dangerous. Though he was broad and wide, his arms and legs were strewn with thick corded stretches of muscle and sinew and scars. The scars told me his life was one of strife and his eyes—deep and empty from this distance—spoke of a careless acquaintance with the void, an intimacy with death that I found both compelling and repulsive. In that glance I knew this was ending with someone's blood cooling on the ground. The men behind him also radiated an empathy with and understanding, an intimate knowledge even, of death. They were equally armed to the teeth. I felt my pulse quicken as Corinth stepped forward.
“We come to bring peace, justice and the word of the gods to this place!” said Corinth. “We ask that you and your men leave in peace and never darken this community again. Do this and we shall not have to force you to pay for your crimes and repent for your myriad sins.” Corinth’s voice boomed out, bold and convincing. Corinth’s bluster was undermined by the tremor in the mace he held pointed at the brigands, and the sweat that was pouring down his face, staining the neck of his jerkin and soaking into the vestments he wore over his armor.
The man threw his head back and guffawed.
“I am Rupert and these are my merriest men,” he said through tears of laughter. “I fear that you have no authority over us. However, your pluck and spirit amuses me and so I shall offer you a deal. One on one combat to decide the outcome of this encounter. If your warrior should slay mine, then we will leave this place and ne’er return. These lands are vast and our work can continue elsewhere, the word can find ears in other hamlets. If we win, we will kill you all and make what’s yours ours. Deal?”
To his credit, Corinth never hesitated. To be clear, it was a credit to his idiocy and fervent commitment to getting murdered and not his bravery. Rupert snorted and made a small motion with his hand "Kendrick, the boy is yours." There was a slithering sound as one of the men unsheathed his sword stepping forward into the clearing until he was a short distance from Corinth, in his right hand he held a vicious looking hand-axe.
"Don't worry lad, it won't hurt. Too much...."
The two men eyed one another for a moment.
Grips tightened. Muscles tense, nervously waiting.
The moment stretches out, far too long.
Now movement, now tumult.
Sparks of steel striking steel.
Chaos and blood followed.
Stay tuned for the exciting culmination of the story!