"The Prettiest Maidens Sing The Saddest Songs"
Morah, A Bard’s Tale
Chapter 8: Genocide
The Phoenix Tavern had no windows, and thus deprived its patrons of gauging the time of day. “There’s always time for one more drink,” was the tavern’s motto.
Telano was in the more secluded upper tier of the tavern, watching mock sparring of two drunken fighters down below. He sat on a bench with each arm casually over the shoulders of the same pretty twins who had entertained Poppi so many days before. He relished the female attention, and allowed the girls to play with his hair and stroke his neck with their delicate fingers.
The little halfling heard someone clearing his throat behind him. He turned around and almost got a response out. “Cous…,” the man’s greeting was stopped by a fist slamming into his face. The blow sent the bench rocking forward and the twins careening onto the floor. The girls scampered away, shooed out and down the stairs by Saydee.
Saldez barely gave his cousin time to recover. He grabbed the man by the back of the neck, and slammed his head and torso down on the long table. Pinning him down, Saldez leaned very close to him and breathed harsh words in his ear. “What did I tell you cousin? Observe only! Gather information! By attacking Corvile you have forced our hand before we know who all the members of the Dassk are in Stormreach! You have very nearly ruined everything!”
The scared halfling tried desperately to defend himself, “I was only trying to trying to strike a blow for the Boromars cousin.” Saldez released him. Telano rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at his livid cousin. “So happens now?”
The forest was quiet in the early evening, the sun was peeking through the trees and highlighting the brilliant green shades of the leaves and moss that grew on the trees and blanketed the forest. It was a perfectly tranquil place where insects and animals and nature could live an undisturbed symbiotic relationship.
Deep in the forest, a camp was nestled in between two very large cashes of dreamlilies. The camp would have otherwise appeared unremarkable. A lazy ogre, Kozarg Heartcrusher sat with his back to giant stewpot and drifted in and out of sleep. A sudden gust of wind and light tore through the forest’s upper canopy. The big ogre responded by drawing its spear and looking all around with a snarl. He waddled over to the edge of the forest clearing to investigate further.
The creature swore it heard a splash and walked over to look at the very large stewpot it was supposed to be tending. The ogre poked at the limbs of a human and halfling until they sank back into the pot. The ogre smelled the brew and tasted a bit of it. Satisfied, it went back to its dull post.
Saldez watched from just beneath the upper forest canopy with a satisfied smirk. He had taken great pains to harvest just enough of the hallucinogenic flowers to pumice into paste that would simmer in the ogres’ meal and put them just enough off their guard.
“Let them eat it,” he whispered to himself softly. “Let them eat it and then let them die.” He flew off, staying just under the forest canopy of the trees, and made a wide arc around the entire field so he could report the exact locations of the guards to his sister and cousin.
Morah could not sleep back at the hall in the infirmary. She had pestered Hannible until he consented to allow the girl to go downstairs to the main hall and sit with Sir Siward and Andark.
She was terribly worried, and wanted desperately to get her mind away from the horrid thoughts of what might happen to Saldez. She held her lute nervously in her lap and smiled at Siward. He was tall and very handsome without realizing it. He stood up to be everything a knight should be: honorable, forthright, loyal, and strong.
He looked at her with his light green eyes, and pointed to her lute, “will you play?” He asked smiling a bit.
She smiled in return, “If it pleases you.”
“It would please me if you would also sing lady.” The knight replied.
Morah looked down at her instrument and picked it up with delicate fingers. She began playing and singing words that she knew she could never express in anything but her music.
“Along Stormreach that’s by the sea
There grow dangerous fields of flowers.
That often sing sad songs of love,
And drink the gentle showers.
I used to be, those lilies wild,
For I never questioned why,
I danced with the gentle breeze so mild,
And laughed beneath the sky
Wild, wild, wild, wild
Wild the lilies should be
for Gone, gone, gone, gone
Gone is my love from me."
Back and forth the ogre walked on his part of the line of territory that was staked out for the big creature to patrol. A soft breeze blew through the matted tuffs of hair that surrounded his muscular face.
Wurerth Hearteater could smell the pollen emanating from the field of harmless-looking blossoms. The soft scent of the flowers mingled with the stench of the ogre’s own skin. He grunted once. He was too close to the field. Shaking his head fast back and forth to try and stave off the calming effects of the dreamlily. He would have to patrol farther away from the field until the wind shifted.
He backed away into a wider arc, close to a thick grove of tress at the edge of the forest clearing. Wurerth Hearteater heard the sharp snap of a twig somewhere behind him. He growled again and barred his sharp teeth. Darting his eyes around, he saw nothing. He swore several curses in his native tongue before he decided to keep moving.
A terrible pain halted his progress. The ogre looked down and saw fresh blood spouting from behind his ankle. The tendon had been neatly cut through. The leg would no longer hold the big brute’s weight and he stumbled forward off balance. A whistle came from just above Wurerth Hearteater’s head. Rolling over onto his back and looking up into a tree, the last thing he saw was a barrage of bolts planting themselves into his face and chest. The big ogre breathed his last.
Saydee Boromar climbed down from her perch in the tree, and reloaded her crossbow. Telano joined her after cleaning his blade off on the dead beast’s fur.
“Good work,” she remarked to him. She smacked the back of her hand on his chest. “Come on then, we got six more.”
The halfling fixed her with a bemused expression. “There are more than six ogres here Saydee.” Telano remarked.
She looked at him and grinned wryly, “oh don’t ye be worrying bout’ dat lot.”
Deep within the forest they sleep
Protected by the glade
They make each and every sunset sweet
And perfume every shade
They’ll make you laugh at passers-by
And gaze to the stars above,
They’ll make you cheat and steal and lie,
And forget your every love.
Wild, wild, wild, wild
Wild the lilies should be
for Gone, gone, gone, gone
Gone is my love from me..
Kozarg Heartcrusher continued handing out the evening meal to his ogre brethren. Crude clay pots held the stew which the ogres drank right from the bowel. There was no need for spoons, not according to Morgh the Hazardous. Ogres did not deserve such a luxury. Kozarg thought bitterly of how he would have to serve the cursed hobgoblin leader his meal soon. Real food, the goblin had demanded. Not chopped up dead humaniods. Kozarg Heartcrusher snorted once. Damn hobgoblins were too civilized for his liking. Morgh was even rumored to bathe.
The ogre thought about this as he ate his own meal. He looked down into the bowel and noticed all pretty colors of the soup. He looked over to the ogre closest to him. A surely old ogre with only one eye called Bonegrinder looked back at him. The one-eyed ogre smiled, very strange for an ogre, revealing crooked and broken yellow teeth with bits of meat stuck in between. Bonegrider’s good eye was glazed over.
The picture struck Kozarg oddly, and the ogre chuckled. He cocked his head sideways for a moment. He had never heard his own laugh before. He did it again to test the sound of it. He opened his wide mouth to let the sound escape. The one eyed ogre Bonegrinder laughed with him. For some inexplicable reason, both of the hairy beasts found this amusing and laughed even harder at each other.
The scene, oddly enough, attracted no attention. The other ogres were gainfully employed in their own collective consciousness. So much so, that they hardly noticed the muffled screams of their brethren as Saldez waded through them easily, slitting their throats one at a time.
They grow in clumps all soft and white
Of the prettiest pinkish hues
They tame the living and make the dead
Of whatever soul they choose.
And if I had the means my friends
I’d rip those flowers apart
But not their beauty nor their stems
Can replace my missing heart.
Wild, wild, wild, wild
Wild the lilies should be
for Gone, gone, gone, gone
Gone is my love from me.
Half a dozen hobgoblin warriors piled out of a tent set up in the camp’s makeshift headquarters. A strange sound they had not heard before drew them out. It was laughter. Deep guttural laughter mingled with high-pitched yipping echoed all around the hobgoblins.
Morgh the Hazardous, the heavily armored hobgoblin chieftain stepped out of the tent, followed by four of his hobgoblin lieutenants. “There had better be a good explanation for this!” He grumbled to his warriors in their common tongue. He swore to himself that someone would die for this insubordination.
In broken common he growled at his troops. “Who dies first?” Looking down at his hair-covered feet, Morgh realized that at least one of his lazy ogres was already dead. He was standing in a pool of ogre blood.
“You do.” A voice answered from above him. Crossbow bolts whizzed through the air passed the hobgoblin chief’s head and found marks in the torsos of two of his lieutenants. The hobgoblins fell over dead as if struck by a bolt of lightening. Saldez smiled to himself from the back of his glidewing and thought that he would be paying the craftsman who gave him the goblin slayer bolts a bit extra on his next visit.
He loaded the bow again and fired. Another hobgoblin fell to the ground. Only two remained, and both warriors were smart enough to seek cover. Saldez slid off the back of his glidewing and onto the slanted canvas roof of the hobgoblin’s tent.
A howl of excitement rang through the woods then, and an ogre came racing up into the camp. In his giant hand he held a halfling male by the ankles suspended upside down. Saldez became immediately concerned for Telano and looked to see if the ogre had Saydee in his grasp as well. He did not.
“Intruders!” The ogre yelled in common. Saldez could hear his cousin screaming. “Halfling make soup taste better!” The ogre snorted as he tossed Telano into the simmering pot. The ogre looked around then and noticed his dead brothers. It was enough of a distraction for Telano to crawl out of the pot and scamper along the ground.
The last remaining hobgoblin lieutenant ran out to strike a killing blow on the scorched halfling. Saldez was faster, however. Another goblin-slaying bolt flew out and landed in the hobgoblin’s chest. The beast fell over like a tree on top of Telano. Neither man moved. The chief, Morgh, came out of hiding to yell at the ogre. “Fall back you idiot! We’re under attack!”
The words were in vain, however. The ogre felt a powerful benevolent force pushing him. As if the gods themselves were commanding him to lye on the ground and be still. Saydee walked up and hovered over its head for a moment. “Now why’d ye have te go an’ do dat to me kin?” She began beating the ogre on the head with her mace.
Saldez leveled his crossbow squarely at the hobgoblin chief. “Click,” nothing happened. He looked down the see that he was completely out of the slayer bolts. The athletic little halfling, drew out his acid-dipped axe, and his shortsword and jumped to the ground to challenge the chieftain head on.
“Halflings!” Morgh snarled swinging his falcion. “Boromar! You die now filthy halfling!” He charged in with measured ease, and set his sights on Saldez.
Saldez tumbled forward into a ball and made himself almost go completely underneath the hobgoblin’s wide fighting stance. It made it exceedingly hard for Morgh to hit the little halfling with his larger and more awkward sword. Saldez, in contrast, had smaller and shorter weapons and was now in direct contact with an extremely vulnerable area of the chief.
He brought his handaxe up hard into the hobgoblin’s groin, and attempted to do the same with his shortsword. Morgh had already flinched and fell back from the first strike of the axe however. Saldez made a mental note that the chief was fast on his feet as well as exceedingly strong.
“Why did you do it?” Saldez asked his opponent as he tumbled around to get into a better attack position. “Why did you take our field, when you could have easily started your own?”
Morgh snarled at Saldez, “I do not answer to filthy little halfling scum!”
“Perhaps ye be answering to dis!” Saydee remarked loudly as she threw a bowel full of overly hot soup into Morgh’s face. Effectively slowing the big brute and hampering his vision.
In a blind rage the hobgoblin chief retaliated. He swung his weapon wide and the blade passed harmlessly over Saydee’s head. She backed out of the way and allowed Saldez to move in. He jumped and spun around in a circle, using the momentum and his own body weight to sink his shortsword deep into the chief’s underbelly. The blade stuck there.
Still Morgh continued to advance on Saldez. Swiping at the halfling with his falcion. Saldez easily dodged the swings and with a powerful jump, catapulted himself up and over the top of the hobgoblin’s head. His acid-dipped axe found its mark in the side of the chief’s neck. Fresh blood spurted out fast, covered the ground, and mixed with the short thick hairs that covered Morgh’s body. He snarled up his flat face once, and fell forward. He was dead.
Saydee immediately ran to the side of her cousin, Telano. With great effort she pushed the dead ogre off of him. He was badly scorched from the boiling stew. His face was swelling fast and he would die soon if she didn’t do anything. The girl had been formally trained as a cleric and began chanting a prayer over him in an attempt to heal the man. Nothing happened. The fickle goddess Olladra had denied her healing. Saydee gathered her resolve and tried again. Nothing. Blinking out her tears, she frantically searched her backpack for a healing potion to give to Telano. She could hear him wheezing his breath in and out.
“Cousin,” Telano whispered to Saldez as the man leaned down over him.
“Hang on Telano,” Saldez said hopefully glancing over to his sister. “You’re going to be alright.”
“No cousin,” Telano whispered. “You can’t save my life, like I saved yours once.” He remarked referring to the incident on the lake of ice when Saldez had been helpless under a sheet of the thick stuff. Telano had managed to save him. Telano closed his eyes slowly and his breathing all but disappeared.
“Saydee!” Saldez looked at his sister, who responded with a palms up gesture. Her search had proven fruitless and her healing prayers had been exhausted. Saldez’s eyes glazed over with tears, and he ran into the hobgoblin’s tent to look for anything that might be useful. He thought back to his boyhood in the Sharn when he had been trapped under the ice. He went for what seemed like an eternity without air, before his cousin broke through the ice and fished him out of the water. In a crate he found one tiny potion of health. He ran back out to Telano and fell to his knees by the man.
Saldez leaned down and whispered to him as he poured the potion into his mouth. “Not today cousin,” he remarked. “My debt to you has not yet been paid.”
The three of them flew away in silence on the back of the glidewing. Saydee looked at her brother, “ye done good Sallie.”
He looked away from her and shook his head, “the job’s not over.” He remarked with disdain. “I’ve one more debt to pay.”