There Be Monsters
I watched the Hawk high in the sky float and float. Then it tucked its head in and dove like a missile straight toward the tree line where the hidden archer was firing at us. Into the trees, a scream, then a man falling from a tree. Then the Hawk returned to the sky. Fifteen Hawks and their masters in all made up the Hawks of Roetar.
A service to the great houses by the Falconers Guild. A very lucrative trade, it turns out. On this day, Roaray and his Hawk were part of an expeditionary group into the wilds of Ilfrain. An Island just south of the Great Torrent Reef that was the edge of the charted Southern Sea. Its mildly sloping hills are spotted with fruit and nut trees, unlike those seen in other regions. House Elbrey wanted it all for themselves.
“Looks to be a native,” Lord Alvis Elbrey said.
“Not a very friendly welcome,” Grainel said. “Falconer, send your bird to look for a village, will take the negotiations to them.”
“My lord, I am not a Druid or a Ranger. I can not speak to my bird or see through its eyes. I am a simple Falconer,” It is not that simple for me. But I will give it a go."
Taking the headdress of the tribesman, Roaray set about giving the bird a scent and sight to search for, gave it the hand signals, and set it free.
“Why didn’t we ask for a Falconer/Druid,” Lord Ebrey asked.
“I’m not sure Alvis, I wasn’t in charge of putting this little quest together, remember,” Grainel said.
“Why so irritable my friend?”
“I’m a city man, my lord. Through and through. Give me a back alley full of ruffians, and I will smile as our blades dance. But, this wilderness, these savages, and the dirt, it’s not my thing,” Grainel said.
“My lord, I think he has found something he circles. It is a sign. It looks like a small trek to the South,” Roaray reported.
The expedition moved through the trees the jungle that edged the beach. But not long into the trek, they broke through the dense growth of wilderness into a well-groomed and cultivated expanse of trees. Moving forward, it appeared as if the entire island was cultivated. The trees grew in rows and at equal distance. Periodically there were huts and planted fields with a variety of crops. The buzzing of bees could be heard. They found no natives for some time. Then a paved path lined on either side by a tree, a Flower bed, another tree, and a flower bed.
They followed. The Hawk returned, and Roary allowed himself to migrate to the rear of the party. An uneasy feeling had overcome him, and his bird showed signs of anxiety as well. A slight stench came on a westerly breeze as they came to a split in the path. One branch led to more of the same and a rise in elevation, the other toward the stench.
“Grainel, send two down that path for a reconnoiter. I want to know what is causing that stench,” Lord Elbrey commanded.
“Yes my lord,” Grainel did as commanded and off trotted two of the ten swordsmen. Soon the path widened, and ahead of them was a city. At the gates, a mass of natives, well-armed and seemingly unpleasant. One strode forward, on his head a plume of feathers, around his neck, gold-braided chains.
“Looks to me that they have a trading partner Alvis, I do not see any signs of mining or a forge. However, that gold is exquisitely worked,” Grainel said.
Lord Elbrey walked forward and spoke in the common tongue. “Greetings.”
“Go, leave now, and your transgressions against my people will be forgotten. Disregard me, and you will die,” The man spoke.
The battle was fierce. Few died on either side. But, in the end, the members of the expedition were subdued and bound. Even those who were at the shore with the ship found themselves assailed and taken captive. Roaray, however, being not very brave. Had slunk into the trees off the side of the path, hightailing it back to the beach. Making it there just in time to witness the taking of the ship and those aboard. He had sent his Hawk to the vessel as night came, but he waited in the thick jungle till late at night. Then, when he believed none were about, he swam to the ship, gathered provisions into a remaining shore boat, set his Hawk free, and rowed for home.
Grainel, Lord Elbrey, and the other members of the expedition fought until they were subdued. The natives led by their Chief led the expedition members down the paved path toward the stench. The giant open pit, obviously the refuse pile of the natives, steamed from the natural reaction of decaying waste. To the horror of the captives, the earthen mess within the hole undulated and moved. Every so often, the bodies of grand giant earthworms revealed themselves. On this side of the pit, a large ramp led down to the dark soil where natives retrieved buckets full, which they brought up to smaller pits where they mixed in untreated soil. These smaller pits contained a smaller worm the consumed digested and oozed out a rich, dark soil that was then taken to the fields. On the far side, a sheer cliff of about twenty feet just off the path. That was their destination. The expedition members were stripped of all metal and thrown into the pit, where they met their demise. This is where Graniel left his employer’s side. Fending for himself, he rolled and crawled through the debris and refuse dumped in the pit. He fought off by hand the giant worms who wriggled and moved through the muck consuming, digesting, excreting, and churning the contents. It was evening on the second day before he made his way to the edge of the pit where he believed he could make the climb. He waited, watched, and when he thought there were no eyes to see him, he escaped. It took Graniel a year to make it home. Both men died well-aged. Both noted that the South Sea remained uncharted beyond the Great Torrent Reef.
© 2021, T. Mark Mangum
T. Mark Mangum, a product of the unimaginable worlds of Star Wars, Star Trek, Conan, and the Lord of the Rings. Lover and writer of fiction tales. He is a Veteran, a father of six, and a game enthusiast.
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