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47. Open Sky

I stood on the edge of High Farrow and looked out across Farrow Lake. Below me the Five Falls thundered into its glistening waters, while to the west, the Levels stretched away to the smoke-coloured blur of the Western Woods.

My pit-house home lay at the far end of the lake, and beside it, the pinnacled roofs of the webfoot village were glinting in the early morning light. Below Midridge, the ugly scar of the great trench stood out amid the desolation of the eastern shore, and close by, on the lakeside, was the battered hive tower of my friend, Hedgethorn Lammergyre.

Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here now, I thought.

He had found me on the battlefield and tended my wounds patiently for weeks, until I was strong enough to get up. And when I had, the first thing I did was to walk up here to High Farrow. I needed a crutch and stopped frequently on the path to catch my breath, but as the dawn broke, I reached the remembrance stones.

There were many of them, bearing the names of people I knew and people I did not. The fallen of the Battle of Farrow Lake. I had snapped a twig from a lufwood tree on my way and, clutching it in my hand, I searched among the stones at High Farrow’s edge. At last I found the remembrance stone I sought. Looking down at it, I read the name chiselled into the blue-grey rock.

ALCESTIA, of the Farrow Lake Militia, it read, May Open Sky Take Her Soul.

I knelt before it and traced the words with a finger. Alcestia, my Alcestia, was gone. She’d died of her wounds on the second day of the battle, the white trogs of the water caverns powerless to save her. As the smoke from the shattered Eastern Woods began to drift away, they had brought her body here to the edge of High Farrow for sky burial.

As I lay in Hedgethorn’s hive tower fighting for my life, they had prepared the lufwood pyre and laid Alcestia upon it. Then, with flaming torches, they had set fire to the buoyant logs and the pyre had risen into the darkening sky. Higher and higher the burning wood took her, until at last, she disappeared into Open Sky. Open Sky, where we all came from, and Open Sky, where we all must go…

I fumbled in the pockets of my topcoat and, drawing out a flintbox and matches, I lit the lufwood twig I had brought. It flared into purple flame and, letting go, I watched it soar up into the golden glow of dawn.

‘Farewell, Alcestia,’ I said, tears flowing freely now. ‘We’ll meet again… in Open Sky.’

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Posted by Forden Drew on Nov 29th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

46. The Dead Lancer

Having set a poultice to draw the bullets from Forden’s wounds, sealed the whole lot in a clay cast and laid him in a hammock above a smouldering fire of thunderroot, I left the hive hut. There was nothing more I could do for him. He would sleep for at least three days. Time would be his healer now.

Part of the roof of my hive hut had been blown away in a phraxcannon bombardment, and there was also a gaping hole in the wall to the right of the doorway. I decided to start on the repairs immediately, relishing the thought of having something to do.

I worked all through the afternoon and into the night, cutting lengths of waterwillow to the right length and plaiting them slowly and methodically into place. The sun set and the moon rose, full and round and so bright it cast my beloved Farrow Ridges in eerie silver shadow.

It was close to midnight by the time my dwellings were patched up. Yet, even though I’d been up since daybreak, I was not tired.

I checked on Forden. He was out for the count. At least now, with the roof and wall repaired, he would not be chilled by the cold wind that was getting up outside. I heard it whistle and howl round my hive hut and I answered its call, stepping back outside and setting off on a walk.

I gave no thought to where I might head. I simply set off. Being outside, clearing my head; that was all I had in mind. It was only when I found myself in the Western Woods that I realized I’d walked right round the Farrow Lake and across the Levels. I stopped and looked about me…

Can there be any place more desperate than a battlefield at the end of a might battle? I strode through the decimated forest, picking my way over splintered tree-stumps, flattened rock-mounds and churned mud that was stained with blood and steaming with unspent phraxbullets, feeling sick to stomach. There were dead bodies on the ground, still to be cleared away, with shattered limps and gaping wounds. Our fighters and theirs. Enemies, united in death.

The horror of it all brought back flashbacks of the carnage wreaked at the terrible Battle of the Midwood Marshes. Back then, I’d lost many friends; grey goblins I’d grown up with, neighbours, comrades. The losses were soured by the fact that we all knew we were fighting on the wrong side of an unjust war. No-one dragooned into fighting for Hive by Kulltuft Warhammer and his cronies agreed with our battle with Great Glade.

Of course, we lost that war. And thank Earth and Sky we did! It meant that Kulltuft Warhammer was deposed, and a democratic council restored. Now, as I stared round me, I was more glad than ever that Great Glade had won. After all, if they had not, they could not have sent the Freeglade Lancers to come to our aid, and the Farrow Ridges would surely have fallen to our enemies.

What courageous fighters those Freeglade Lancers had proven to be! With their prowlgrins and their lances, theyhad routed the enemy, cutting them down like scythed blue-barley. I felt honoured to have ridden beside them into battle and humbled by the sacrifice they had made – a sentiment made all the more poignant by the body of the lancer I came across, lying on the ground.

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‘Thank you, dear, brave comrade,’ I told him, tears welling in my eyes.

I noticed a piece of barkscroll protruding from his clenched fist. I prised his hand open. As the fingers unfolded, the barkscroll fell into my hand. I opened it and read the scrawled note written there.

To you, who has found this note, I would ask that the ring it encloses be delivered to my beloved, Laria Chillax, of the Reaches, Ambristown, Great Glade. Tell her I am hers until the end of time. Tell her, one day we shall be together again in Open Sky. Tell her, I love her. Tell her

The message stopped. My tears were flowing freely now. I looked at the ring – a simple gold band inscribed with two names; Parvis on one side, Laria on the other.

‘I promise you,’ I whispered, ‘I shall visit your Laria and…’

Just then, there was a noise behind me, and I turned to see a piebald prowlgrin pawing at the ground. It was snorting and growling and from the way it kept running off, then stopping and looking back at me, I knew it wanted me to go with it.

I wrapped up the ring, slipped it into my back pocket and followed the prowlgrin into the trees. We hadn’t gone more than a score or so strides, when I heard a strange noise. It was a plaintive mewling, like the cry of a snowbird, or the whimpering of a wood kitten, or…

As I rounded a vast lullabee tree, my jaw dropped. For there, amid the death and destruction of the aftermath of war, was the most incongruous sight I could imagine.

It was a newborn baby…

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Nov 15th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

45. The Old Ways

There were five leadwood bullets embedded in me – leastways, that’s what Hedgethorne told me. He asked me if he could keep one as a souvenir and said he could have all five for all I cared.

I had been well and truly peppered with the accursed things as I charged the enemy’s phraxcannon, and I can remember very little about it. Poor Lemquinx was mortally wounded and Hedgethorn found me lying next to my faithful prowlgrin’s lifeless corpse. The militia’s surgeon wanted me taken to the Water Caverns, where a makeshift hospital had been set up, but Hedgethorn would have none of it.

‘No sawbones is going to carve up my friend, I told him, Forden,’ Hedgethorn growled. ‘I’ll tend his wounds the old way.’

My old friend was as good as his word, though at the time I was running a high fever and was oblivious to everything.

I came to three days later to find myself in a hammock above a fire of aromatic thunderroot in Hedgethorn’s hive tower. I couldn’t move. My right hand side was encased in a heavy cast of baked lake mud from neck to ankle, and I was strapped to my hammock. The pungent sepia smoke rising from the fire numbed my senses and made me drowsy, and I slipped in and out of consciousness for most of that long afternoon. It was sometime after dark when I awoke to find Hedgethorn standing over me. He held a rock hammer and chisel in his hands.

‘The healing poultice will have done its work by now,’ he informed me. ‘Time to come out of your shell, Forden, old friend.’

As gently as he was able, Hedgethorn chipped away the mud cast on my right hand side. Beneath the grey crust, a brittle poultice of lake herbs and cavern moss was revealed. As Hedgethorn pulled this away, the leadwood bullets fell, one by one, into his hands. The old grey goblin smiled at me as he bathed and dressed my bullet wounds with crisp white bandages.

‘The old ways worked for arrowheads and spear-barbs,’ he said simply, ‘drawing them slowly from the wound without the surgeon’s knife. Seems they work equally well on leadwood bullets.’

I wanted to thank my friend, but drugged by the thuderroot smoke, I drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke, the fire had burned itself out and a bright shaft of sunlight was beaming down on the hammock from the tower windows above. Hedgethorn was in his galley beside the central fire, steaming lakefish and frying meadow turnip fritters. The smell was as intoxicating as thunderroot smoke, and I sat up. My side ached, but I was delighted to find that I could get to my feet without too much difficulty.

‘Looks like you’re on the mend,’ laughed Hedgethorn, ushering me over to his long table, which groaned under the weight of good things to eat. ‘Tuck in,’ he encouraged. ‘You need to build your strength up, Forden, lad.’

I needed no second invitation and ate hungrily, devouring the lakefish, meadow turnip fritters, tilder sausages and sticklehog bacon. Slumping back in my chair at last, I looked at my old friend.

‘I can’t begin to thank you, Hedgethorn,’ I began, ‘for looking after me, tending my wounds… But tell me, what has become of our militia? and Alcestia?’

The old grey goblin’s eyes filled with tears. ‘We lost many good people at the Battle of Farrow Lake, Forden,’ he said quietly. ‘And Alcestia was one of them…’

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Posted by Forden Drew on Nov 8th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off