Double Sized Special!
Moe awoke as a series of clatters and bangs echoed through the campsite. Grabbing his war hammer and sword he rolled forward through the tent flaps and came up is a battle stance wearing nothing but his leather pants, sword in one hand hammer in the other. His muscles bulged holding the weapons at the ready, to plunge into combat and defend his charges.
The scene that greeted him was far from what he had expected. Lisa and Ginny were both crouched by the fire with pots and pans at the ready for cooking breakfast.
“Hi Moe,” Ginny smiled a great big grin.
Moe tucked the handle of his hammer into is pants and leaned the sword against his tent. With a big “yawn” Moe stretched.
“Why don’t you put a shirt on Moe?” Lisa called to him.
“Or don’t.” Ginny whispered under her breath before Lisa playfully smacked her.
Moe looked at the two of them confused but then decided to take their advice and pulled his pack and equipment out of the tent and began to get dressed and armed. By the time he was geared up and had taken down the tent Sorrow had emerged from his.
“What’s all the racket?” He asked.
With a thumb over his shoulder Moe pointed at the two girls preparing breakfast.
“Let’s hope they are as good a set of cooks as you my friend. You’ve been spoiling me lately.”
“Hey,” Lisa shouted, “I heard that.”
“Moe likes food.” He said simply.
“Has she been drinking?”
“It was only a wineskin or two.” Lisa called out. “Hey how do you know?”
“Your grandmother was the same way…far too perky in the morning after drinking.”
Soon the old merchant joined them and the five sat down to breakfast.
“This is quite good,” Sorrow commented and the grunts from the merchant and Moe seemed to concur. “You ladies can cook anytime you want.”
“Oh no,” Ginny waved her hands as is to ward of a spirit, “this was all Lisa, she just offered to teach me.”
“Well if it takes the whole trip,” he father said patting his portly belly and smiled.
Moe cautiously set down his bowl and seemed to perk up, moments later the rest of them heard the hoof beats as well.
Moe stood up then relaxed as he saw the riders and waved to them. Three of the men for the evening before rode into camp including the older veteran and Oran.
“Morning Miss Lisa.”
“Hi Oran,” she said with a little wave and a smile before carefully examining her breakfast.
“Ooh, he’s cute.” Ginny whispered to her, they both began to giggle.
“Moe, we need your help today.” The older one was saying.
“Ok, Mr. Oran. Moe will help you.” Then he seemed to do a mental count of the three of them.
“Yah, Mel and Aric were missing this morning.”
“I saw Mel at change over last night,” Oran was saying while steeling a glance at Lisa, “pa thinks something happened to them since they didn’t wake anyone for morning watch.”
“Ok, Moe be back.” He said to Sorrow, taking the reins of a spare horse from Oran Senior.
“Bye Oran,” Lisa called as they rode away.
Moe followed the men back to their camp where they dismounted. The camp looked tidy and well kept with no signs of a struggle.
“Which tent?” Moe asked and the third man pointed.
“Aric and I share that tent, I’m sure I heard Mel wake him for his shift last night but when I woke it was morning.”
“Ok, Moe needs his roll.” The Moe put two fingers in the corner of his lips and let a piercing whistle sound. By the time the man had retrieved Aric’s bedroll Fred could be seen loping across the fields towards the road.
“Thank you Danno.” Moe said taking the roll. When Fred arrived in the camp Moe tossed him a hunk of dried meat from the side of the fire and then held out the roll for the lion to smell.
“We follow,” Moe told the others as he mounted his horse. Fred began smelling around the tents and then growled before running across the field towards a grove of trees less than a half league away. The men and Moe galloped in pursuit of the lion that waited at the edge of the grove.
“Something got the horses spooked,” the old veteran said as he dismounted patting the stallion “and I know they are use to Fred by now.”
Moe drew his sword as Fred led the way into the trees. Both Oran’s followed suit while Danno held a spear at the ready in both hands.
The crept through the forest cautiously until Fred came to a stop, smelling the air in circles.
“Oh no,” Oran Jr. Pointed up and all three men looked to see the soles of shoes hanging just out of reach.
“How many of them are there?” Danno asked.
“uhm, one…two…three…uhm, one…” Moe struggled to count them but seemed to lose count every time the wind shifted the bodies.
“There are seven of them.” Oran Sr. Said. “Oran, Danno, cut them down.”
The two younger men scrambled into the trees and one by one they cut loose the bodies to Moe’s waiting arms. He gently laid each body on the ground as Oran examined each one.
“All of their jugulars have been ripped out, as if by a wild animal, but then who strung them up?”
Fred sniffed at the first corpse and began to hiss, his fur bristling.
“Ok, Fred, Ok.” Moe pet the lion and eased him away from the bodies. “Fred, smells something funny…not funny ha ha, strange.” Moe reported.
“This one is Mel, pa.” Oran called down preparing to cut him down.
“I’ve got Aric here…Chancer.” Danno sworn, “I never got the chance to tell him…”
“It’s alright Danno, he knew, he knew.” Oran Sr. shook his head. “Too many, you know Moe, too many.”
The giant of a man put his hand on Oran’s shoulder. “Moe know.”
They laid the last of the bodies down.
“I recognize a few of them pa, those two are from the eastern farms.”
“Yah, we’ll need to talk to all the wagons and let their kin know.” Oran Sr. walked over to where Danno was sitting by a tree. “How yah doing.”
“I’m going to flay whatever did this to him.”
“Good, angry I can deal with. Let’s do this. Son, I need you to check the bodies for valuables, Moe, were not going to have time to bury them. Can you deal with the bodies?”
“Ok, Moe not a priest though.” He helped Oran Jr. Sort though the bodies and stacked them in a pile. “Moe is sorry he could not help you.” He said to the corpses before pulling his sword and pointing it at them and whispering something. The sword hummed for a moment before the flames sprung to life and searing flames leapt out to consume the bodies. “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.”
The three men bowed their heads for a moment and then walked out of the grove.
“Alright, Danno and Moe start hunting the beast responsible, if you find it come get us, it was smart enough to lure two trained soldiers from their post so don’t be fooled. We are going to go find out who the others were and see if their kin have any clues as to why the wandered out in the middle of the night.”
Danno saluted, “yes sergeant.” Then turning to Moe asked, how are we going to track this thing?”
“It’s ok, Moe’s half ranger.” Moe held up a branch as thick as Danno’s calf and pointed to some scratches in the bark then began searching the ground.
“Here,” he pointed at a spot on the ground where similar claw marks and scuffs were evident.
“Oh and look at this,” Danno bent down to point out a round indent, “and there is blood on the ground too. Didn’t one of the bodies have bruising on the back of the head?”
“You make a good ranger too.” Moe smiled at the man the gestured along a faint path of broken grass where to body may have been dragged from. The two men walked their horses along the route, stopping to search the ground for clues while off in the distance Fred trailed behind them careful not to spook the horses. While Moe and Danno searched for the trail Fred bounded ahead and stopped on a rocky outcropping.
“Fred smells something, leave the horsies.” Both men tied the reigns to a tree and began to circle around the boulders jutting out of the ground. As they worked their way to the right side of the outcropping Fred circled to the left.
“Well where are they,” a woman could be heard yelling, “We’ll have a hard time robbing even a straggler or two with just for six of us.”
Danno motioned for Moe to be quiet and they crept forward.
“They did not even take horses, they can’t have gone far. I want you three to go and…Holy Simba…” The sound of growling could be heard and swords sliding out of scabbards. Moe stood up and drew his sword; slowly he walked around the rock they were crouched behind.
“Don’t hurt Fred; he’s just mad you wanted to attack the wagons.”
The six brigands spun from Fred to look at Moe and Danno.
“That one is a guard in the caravan.” One of the four men pointed out looking at Danno.
“Ok everyone easy,” the woman they had heard before raised her hand in a gesture of peace. “Call of your beast and we can talk?”
“Beast? Where,” Moe looked around confused.
The raven haired woman gestured with her chin towards the Lion.
“Oh,” Moe smiled sheepishly. “Fred, down.”
With a low growl he backed away slinking down into the grass, tail flicking several yards away.
“That’s better,” the raven haired woman said sheathing her sword. She was dressed in what would have appeared to be hunting pants and a jacked but the fact they had been stained a deep blue set her apart from normal. She wore her sword at her side and each of her arms sported several throwing daggers. She glanced backward at the others who all kept their weapons at the ready. The four men were all well tanned and weathered with short cropped hair each held a different style of sword at the ready, kopesh and scimitar, long sword and katana their grips and stances betrayed their experience. The other woman was taller than both the raven haired leader and the men, though several inches shorter than Moe. She held bolas in one hand and the other rested on the hilt of a crossbow strapped to her leg. Unlike the others she did not wear leathers but simple loose fitting clothes.
“Moe’s not happy you planned to attack the wagons too, but he’s busy hunting the monster that killed some friends of his. Have you seen it.”
“No we haven’t but we are missing some of our people too?” The raven haired woman went on to describe the three people who had disappeared from their camp.
“Oh, Moe is sorry, they are dead.”
“What. You killed them.” One of the men screamed and charged at Moe, swinging his Kopesh in a high overhand arc. Moe crouched down into a fighting stance reversing his blade in his hand to run down his arm. He deflected the strike down his sword and with a quick snap punched the man so hard he reeled backwards falling to the ground.
“Sorry,” he looked down at the man and kicked his sword away. “Moe did not kill your people, but he found them with others.”
The woman studied him for a moment, “I understand, if there is anything we can do to help you catch the beast, let us know.” As the other man began to get up she looked at him, “idiot, get some manners.”
“Uhm, ok,” Moe scratched his head.
“Not you, him. I’m sorry he attacked you.”
“Oh ok, well we have to go now.” Moe began to walk away but Danno hurried to catch up with him.
“Moe we need to arrest them, they were planning to attack the caravan.”
Moe scowled for a second then turned back to the brigands, “Hey lady, Moe doesn’t want to hurt any more of you. Stay away from the wagons.”
She waved to him, satisfied that she had taken his warning Moe whistled to Fred and they returned to the hunt. As they began to untie their horses from the tree a roar echoed through the field, looking around they saw a brief flash from the rocky outcropping.
Leaping onto his mount Moe spurred it into motion and took off at a gallop. Rounding the rocks saw that the brigands were in the midst of a heated battle with a creature that seemed to defy logic. A slug the size of a wagon seemed to hang off the side of the rock face with six long tentacles as thick as tree branches whirling through the air to strike at the brigands. Its head seemed to be nothing more than a giant maw. As Moe charged on his horse towards the battle one of the men, the same one that had attacked Moe earlier was already being dragged towards its maw by two tentacles.
“Moe will save you Ko’peshy.” He roared pulling himself up to a crouch on his saddle. As he got closer the tentacles whipped out towards the horses legs but Moe launched himself into the air swinging his war hammer with both hands on top of the creatures head. The blow resounded with a squishy “ploosh” before a tentacle sent Moe sprawling to the ground. He rolled with the fall and came up in a crouch a few feet away.
Despite several crossbow bolts and sword cuts the creature did not seem fazed. The eight of them stood in battle stances waiting for the creature to strike, weapons at the ready and then the creature simply vanishes.
“Looks like he scared it….” one of the men began to say then suddenly tentacles materialized out of the air, wrapping around him and pulling him into its maw. The screams were sickening as it bit through his armour.
“Bolas” Moe snapped at the taller of the two women, then with muscles bulging struck the ground with his hammer before him as hard as he could. The free tentacles all swung towards him as the whistle of the bolas winding up filled the air. The tentacles swung this way at that as Moe continued to strike the ground pulling their attention back to him.
The woman threw the bolas trapping three of the tentacles before Moe but the forth wrapped around her leg and launched her into the air, still she found the time to spin and fire a last crossbow bolt at it before sailing over the rock face.
Moe drew his sword and ran forward severing the tentacles tied by the bolas with a backhand swing before rolling under the slug’s mass and stabbing upwards into its body.
“Well don’t just stand around, help him.” The raven haired woman called as the remaining brigands rushed forwards. The remaining tentacles spun through the air not longer trying to trap the men, simply beating them against the rocks or ground.
“This is for Aric!” Danno screamed rushing the beast with his spear. He struck straight down the beasts throat before it was pulled from his grasp.
“Watch out,” one of the men yelled diving into a tentacle meant for Danno’s back. The crunch before he slumped to the ground seemed to signal the brigands’ fate.
The beast groaned before vanishing in a wisp of mist that smelt vaguely sulfuric before another sound like a pop signaled its return, Moe and the others were now pinned between the beast and the rock face. Raising his sword before them he commanded it to burst into flames, a tentacle lashed out and it bounced away into the grass just a few feet from where Fred, belly to the ground stalked the beast, his tail swishing back and forth. Moe grabbed the tentacle with both hands as it swung past and pulled with all his might.
The great lion leapt from the grass as the other tentacles were wrapping around Moe. Fred soared into the creatures side fans and claws gouging the beast as Moe kept its appendages busy hauling it one hand at a time towards them. The remaining brigands rushed forward chopping at the remaining tentacles until the creature collapsed on the ground and with a “sputz” shriveled up into a pile of goo.
“Uh Moe,” Danno pointed at the flaming patch of grass when his sword had landed.
Moe spoke another word of command and the sword extinguished and sailed back to his hand. The grass fire had spread to encompass the brigand’s camp as well.
“We better go.”
The raven haired woman and Ko’peshy as Moe had dubbed him were all that remained of the six brigands. The four of them walked away with Fred at Moe’s side as the fire behind them grew and engulfed the corpse of the creature.
“Wait, what was that.” Danno cocked his head, then turned and dashed back into the smoke. A moment later he rushed back out carrying the body of the man who had dove in the tentacle’s path to protect him over his shoulders.
“He’s still alive.” Danno called as the man coughed from the smoke. Moe hurried back and together they laid the man out on the ground safely away from the flames and smoke.
“Ko’peshy, go get Moe’s horse.” He pointed to it grazing in the field. A few minutes later he returned with it and they carefully secured the injured man in the saddle. By that time two riders could be seen approaching from the road. As they grew closer the two Oran’s became distinguishable.
“Are you trying to smoke out the beast?” Oran Sr. Called as he drew near.
“No, Moe was having a BBQ. Want some slug?” He thumbed back towards the flames.
“Danno, what’s the story? I can never get a straight answer from Moe.”
“We caught and killed the beast, but not before it attacked these…uhm refugee guards. This one was injured, this here is…”
“Ko’peshy.” Moe provided.
“…and the lady….hey where did she go.” Danno looked around.
“Was she dark haired in blue hunting leathers?” Oran Jr. Asked.
“We road past her on the road, she directed us to find you here.”
“Wow,” Moe said. “She’s a fast walker.
“No, she was mounted.”
“Chancer!” Danno swore, “my horse.” He hung his head for a moment then looked up at Oran. “At least we got the beast responsible for Aric’s death.”
“Moe doesn’t think so.” He held up one of the tentacles he had apparently carried with him. “No claws, just suckies.”
Danno hung his head again in a visible display of defeat.
“It’s alright son, we’ve got some leads from the caravan, that’s why were came to find you. We’ll need some help.”
“Sir?” Danno looked confused.
“I’ll explain on the way. Double up.”
Danno mounted behind the injured man and the Oran’s rode together while Ko’peshy rode solo as Moe and Fred ran beside them keeping pace. The dropped the injured man off with Sorrow and Lisa and rode towards the front of the caravan.
“Word is that several of the bodies we found were members of the Lord’s entourage, and there have been some strange goings on. One of the maids we found had told her family she was becoming afraid to work in the wagons up front because they were keeping something locked up in a secure wagon. Also a few people reported seeing some of the lords’ men out looking for something last night, but no one seems to know what. We are going to go talk with him, but let’s try to keep things civil.”
The men rode up to the lord’s wagon, having picked up some extra horses at their camp.
“Greetings Meeron, We were wondering if we might speak with his lordship?” Oran Sr. called out as the matched the lords carriage.
The chauffeur looked at Oran the ducked his head into a window by his seat. After a brief conversation he returned and nodded before pulling the carriage to the side of the road.
The lord of Eatos exited his carriage and stood on the step so he was level with the mounted men.
“What is it Oran? My patient is short today.”
“My lord, I need to consult with you on a matter of the utmost urgency, the security of the caravan is at risk.”
“Indeed, I had gathered as much, tell me what you have discovered.”
Oran Sr. recounted the discovery of the bodies and his missing men, as well as Moe and Danno’s encounter with the beast in the fields.
“Well that would explain the disappearance of members of the court and their servants. Have you made any progress in tracking her down?”
“Her, my lord?”
“The witch responsible for all of this.” He waved his hands towards the caravan?”
“Well report.” The lord snapped.
“Actually my lord we had come to ask about…” His eyes flickered to another carriage that had also come to a stop.
“Have you found him?” The lord asked.
“Who, My Lord?”
“My son, Edward has been missing since last night.”
“Your son, my lord. I thought he died in the goblin assault.”
“No despite her attempt on his life Edward was able to cling to life, though in a coma for the last three days, until last night when he vanished. I know she’s behind it.”
“Yes that devils spawn brought all this down on us. Curse that Lisa.”
“Lisa?” The younger Oran gasped only moments before Moe tumbled from his saddle into the younger mans horse.
“Oops, sorry.” He shrugged getting back up onto his horse.
“Moe’s not sure but someone pointed Eddy out to him last night.”
“Moe’s not sure but he can ask.”
“Yes, all of you go and find my son and the witch too.” With a gesture indicating their audience was finished he re-entered his carriage.
They rode a little ways before Oran turned to Moe and asked, “is she responsible?”
“Moe doesn’t know, we should ask.”
No one spoke on their ride back to Sorrow’s wagon and once they arrived Moe spoke briefly before they pulled to the side. The men and Sorrow and Lisa gathered around as Oran explained the charges against Lisa.
“So it’s true, he is alive. I thought he had died.” Lisa explained to the gathered men what had happened the night of the harvest festival and how it had finished.
“This is far beyond our charge,” Oran Sr. said. “and since it involves the lords family they will need an impartial judge to decide.”
“We still need to find the boy.” The younger Oran added, “and hear his side of the story.” He glanced as Lisa but quickly averted his eyes when she looked back.
The gathering was suddenly interrupted as over a dozen of the lords house guard rode up and spread out around them, crossbows at the ready.
“To all gathered here, you are accused of harbouring a fugitive of the lands justice and conspiring with bandits. You will drop your weapons on the ground and make no threatening moves.”
“What is this?” Oran Sr. demanded.
“This man,” he pointed at Ko’peshy and the one in the back of the wagon are bandits you are helping to infiltrate the caravan, and that one,” he pointed at Lisa, “attempted to murder the lord’s son and brought the goblin plague down on the town.”
“By who’s word?”
“That would be me,” a raven haired woman wearing blue leathers sauntered her horse into sight. “Heelia, daughter and heiress of Eatos.”
Dave Williams is a business speaker and coach, writer and author of “The Books of Origo” a series of short fantasy tales that can be found at https://worldoforigo.wordpress.com or in print ->Your Publication goes Here<-