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Monster Monster Monster

  In the days, several millennium before the great flood, a man lived at the edge of the wilderness, in a land his father called Celtar. Tram was not the biggest man in the land and he was not likeliest the strongest man in the land but probably the quickest of any man in the land. He wiped the sweat from his forehead before replacing his helmet over his straggly sun-bleached brown hair, as his horse plopped its way through the edge of the wild.

  The wilderness had only taken a few rotations of the seasons, for wars to turn the territories to the east into the wasteland it had become but before it's demise, the east lands were at the forefront of trade, culture, politics, arts and crafts, all encouraged .

  This was all before the God of gods had condemned the inhabitants to their fate and the cycle of the life giving rains mysteriously stopped.

  The utter destruction had been dismal at first but like the sins that consumed the people, so too it consumed the land. Anyway, that's what the prophets had forewarned and so it came to be. After the wars had subsided, the only inhabitants left were that of, wild beasts, monsters and the demented.

  When the wars broke out the wicked and vile people of the land had escaped the great slaughter by running and hiding. Ironic as it were, the people of some little morality were the ones that were slain by the sword. They were left to fight for the sake of country, family and property,

  Tram, a young man at that time had seen a few of the refugees cross over into the kingdom of Argonia. They all looked as if they had withered from the loss of tears, like walking dead they were. That had been nearly two decades past.

  Tram felt that his excursions into the wild was more a necessity, whereas others might consider it an adventure and most would call it lunacy. He had little other way of making money and there was some pay of coin for the hides of the wild beasts that dwelt there and being that his land was near to the wild it was only natural to do the bulk of his hunting there.

  There had been several close calls with the packs of wild beasts and encounters with bands of the savages but thus far he had bested them by pure force or by out smarting them or by out running them. However, a skirmish with a large demon beast in these badlands is what permeates this tale.

  The clash came about one hot humid afternoon while Tram was exploring a path he'd never noticed before. The path had widened into a narrow road and meandered up into the Noco Mountains. The mountains once part of Coradda, now were barren, spotted with what use to be foundations and ruins of a recently lost civilization.

  When Tram finally reached what he first thought was the end of the road that led to a ruin of what once had been a prosperous city, he noticed that the road veined off to the east and came to a dead end at the mouth of a cave or perhaps an old mine.

  The cave entrance lay at the side of a rocky hill within easy view from the fork of the road and Tram thought he could see movement just inside the entrance.

  Halting his horse he sat still more then a stone throw away from the broken down wall of the city, trying to make out what was lurking about just inside the cave. He began to get an eerie feeling, a feeling of danger and as he reined his horse to leave, the creature decided to step out from the cave into the sunlight.

  It was a small dragon of a breed he’d never seen before, about the size of a dog except much longer of course. Its green skin was illuminated like a silken shimmering insect and it had a rounded snout.

  Peculiar, it acted as if it was in absolutely no danger of the armored hunter as it moved in a manner that was a cross between waddling and slithering and it came at him as if he were going to make a meal of Tram and his steed.

  He had to wonder to himself whether the draget was fully grown or if it was a young one or if there might not be a larger relative slumbering in the cool dank confines of the cave, that could be taken off guard. He decided that he would track it latter when it had a chance to grow some. That is unless the draget became too aggressive.

  Tram dismounted and used a few threatening swings of his battle axe to change the draget’s attitude. Tram used various weapons but he liked the battle axe for heavy duty work, the right tool for the right chore.

  He cautiously walked towards the cave pushing aside a vague feeling that he should leave.

  Suddenly, the air erupted with a horrendously loud scream that caused his horse to rear and bolt. The gurgling scream paralyzed him, for a shocked moment

  A large form that could only be described as a red demon had leapt over a section of the fallen wall and raced at him at the same speed his horse was running from him. Instantly, Tram knew he had made a tragic blunder and he was left with just enough time to brace himself for the attack.

  The crazed attacker’s face angered with color was grotesquely elongated and the horns on the upper sides of his head were long enough to be weapons. It wore nothing but a short thick tail. that narrowed quickly to a point.

  The demon closed the distance trailing a mace in it’s hand and it was now whirling like a chariots wheel.

  Sparks flew off the shield Tram used to block the blows as the demon pressed forward trying to take him off his feet. Tram struggled to stay standing under the flurry of blows. His only hope was to get a good blow of his own in and he was quickly losing all hope of making it no fun for the demon to fight him, as that was always his strategy.

  The blows kept him staggering backwards and he had to wonder if his shield would hold up. His shield was quickly being mangled and perforated by the heavy mace and his left forearm was taking numerous blasts of jolting pain.

  It seemed like such an odd weapon for such a creature but he did use it very effectively. The demon made it spin like a tornado and Tram was beginning to think that he was about to come to his earthly end. It was now or never, otherwise he would not endure the hammering from the maniac and with some inner determination he made himself do what he knew he had to do.

  The mace cleared impact and Tram snapped forward swinging the battle axe like he were throwing a stone.

  The demon was so lost in his furious frenzy that he stepped into the arch of the battle-axe. It caught the demon square in the chest and even though it had felt like hitting a tree, the axe still went in far enough to make Tram sure he had slain the beast. Where one would expect to see blood spurting from the wound, instead dull green acidic pus oozed out.

  The demon jumped back nearly three feet off the ground and Tram nearly lost the grip on his battle-axe.

  The demon flung the mace back at him with a force that would have knocked a fence post down but Tram deflected it, as it slammed off his shield. The demon had lost all interest in trying to slay the armored human and the instinct to escape now controlled the creature.

  It plowed its way to its hole at the side of the hill, kicking up dirt and rock as it went. His gurgled screaming turned into screaming agonizing gurgling.

  By all rights the horned beast should had been wreathing on the ground and Tram had to fight his natural urge to give chase to make a death blow. After hearing that horrific scream he wasn't about to follow anything into that cave.

  Maybe the battle-axe had done it's work. Surely the thing would die but in any case he was feeling fortunate enough to have the chance to leave. He had seen some strange creatures in his life time but this one and the fight that ensued, he knew he could never forget.

  Only a day had passed since Trams fight with the large demon. His arm would be bruised and sore for some time. The last he had seen of the demon was seeing it scamper into its cave like a frenzied croc.

  He had to walk back out of the mountains and all the while he had the feeling that eyes were stalking him. He had shrugged the eerie feelings off as an irrational fear but none the less he swore to himself he'd never go back up into the Noco Mountains. There are no hides worth that kind of venture.

  Tram was adjusting the sheath of his new long sword and wearing his new armor. Being the restless type, he was quickly getting bored at looking at the walls of his lodge and decided he would make a ride to the village and it was at that moment a screeching roar broke his petty thoughts. At first, Tram thought that the demon had tracked him from its grave and had come for revenge but even that demon could not have matched the volume of this roar.

  Three quick jumping steps and he was at the double doors to investigate. He couldn't see anything wrong from the doorway, nothing at all seemed amiss as he began to search around his property.

  That roar came from a giant sized set of lungs. Possibly a terrible dragon but where was it? Logic told him, something had made that roar and it wasn‘t thunder. Something had to be out here but where?

  Leaving the pathway, he began meandering along the river gorge that made a natural impassable moat on the one side of the plateau he lived on; cliff and the plains below skirted the other side.

  He began trying to force the matter out of mind seeing that there was nothing hiding within the few trees that dotted the plateau. He then decided to do his searching from the standing support of a young elm tree.

  Nothing, nothing, nothing. Was he losing his mind? He hadn’t taken any blows to the head. He had to wonder if that fight with what ever it was in the Noco Mountains left him so skittish he was imagining things? Perhaps he should go lay down and rest some more.

  This is crazy, how can this be? He could see every foot of his property. There was nothing that could possibly be hid on top of this plateau.

  I’m going back to lay down, I can‘t tell anyone about this, he thought to himself.

  He stepped out away from the young tree as a large cloud like shadow shot passed him. Then there was the ear pounding screech again. This time he could see very well what made the commotion. A flying dragon!

  He hadn't believed in flying dragons, leastwise not of this size. Not until now that is. He’d always thought they where a figment of someone’s wild imagination. Land and water dragons is one thing but flying dragons? That’s absurd.

  You rarely ever even see a land dragon, not in Argonia. The simple fact is that their meat and hide goes a long way for a people and they're a little dangerous just to leave running about.

  There are various kinds of thunder dragons. Yet to think that a thunder or a terrible dragon could fly is beyond belief but there it is for his own eyes to see. However, it was much sleeker then most thunder dragons and looked far more dangerous with it’s long horns and talons. It’s batwings flapped rapidly, struggling against their heavy task and the dragon’s tail curled back and forth, serpentine like, as though the tail helped push the beast forward in it’s flight.

  The dragon was now making a long turn in the distant blue sky, it could have easily been mistaken for a wispy cloud. Presumably, the dragon was coming back for him. It was pale in color an albino, almost an odd beauty to look at, it was almost hypnotic. I suppose a person could get mesmerized looking at the creature until it was too late to move and the terror were right on top of them.

  He always thought that the rumor that they could breathe fire was derived from when some terrified hunter whom got to close to a land dragon and felt its hot breath and saw its flickering tongue. He hoped dearly, he was not wrong about that as well.

  Standing up to the things forward momentum, was not an option. Feigning an attack and jumping clear at the last possible moment seemed to be the sane thing to do. Anything short of being knocked unconscious or broken bones would be considered a success.

  This, part of the plan went well, being only slightly grazed by the flying monster. The dragon hit the ground hard and stumbled along, stunned that there was nothing in its grasp to maul.

  Tram rolled once over shield and long sword, coming back to his feet in one motion. Balance, strain of muscles and reflexes worked in harmony as he ran up on the dragon at a full run.

  The dragon could not have known that the hunter was already in striking distance, even though Tram had to dodge the dragons flicking tail. The dragons back side would have been an easy target but was studded with red, green and blue rounded bone hard studs. If he is to kill this monster, it might be easier from the underside. Keeping from being crushed to death is something he would have to try to avoid but at the least he knew he was about to cause a great deal of discomfort for the dragon.

 

  Tram was still delighted with himself in the fact that he had slain such a vicious monster. The dragon probably didn’t feel anything but shock at first when Tram ducked under and rammed his sword up into it’s lower bowels and pushed forward partly gutting the beast.

  He'd nearly gotten away with it free and clear but the dragon collapsed on top of him and would have broken bones, had he been wearing his iron armor. That is something he was sure of. It would have never stood up to that kind of weight. His new blue peen steel armor literally saved him. There is no doubt, he’d have to visit his friend the blacksmith and brag him up on his craftsmanship. That is, if he ever managed to get out from underneath this dragon.

  With hand still on the hilt, he struggled to move the sword back and forth, sawing slowly away at the dragon, nearly suffocating on dragon blood a couple times. He even had thoughts that he might not make it out from under the monster. Maybe trapped, with only his head sticking out, to be baked by the sun.

  Would he have to wait until one of his friends or neighbors happened by? That could be a very long time where he lived and in a comical thought to himself, “at least I’ll not starve to death.”

 I t had taken him half the morning to slowly cut and kick himself free, while the dragon’s tail still twitched for a good quarter of that while.

 

  Tram exuberantly, made way for the trip to the village of Nored. Salt would be needed to cure and pack the meat. That would be his excuse anyway but the truth of it was, he was eager to do a little bragging of course. Not everyone can say they have even seen a flying dragon, more or less say they have slain one and have proof to back his claim.

  He would be able to use the Limestone Creek as a short cut at this time of the year, the rock-bed makes for a good road. Unless a freak storm comes up.

  As he plotted along, a thought kept nagging him. The coincidence of him fighting two such violently fierce creatures, both within only a days passing.

  That dragon could had found a much easier prey then himself to feed upon, the demon maniac probably attacks everything it lays eyes on. Guessing that dragons have no fear of what they feed on, his thoughts eventually turned away from dragons and demons as he neared the Old Quarry bridge.

  The bridge would mark the half way point in his trip to Nored and he always took note of that fact but this time there was more of a reason to take heed. This time, as he approached the bridge he could make out two figures. One seemed to be taking a nap and the other seemed to be standing guard.

  It was the one standing guard that got most of Trams attention. He was huge, he'd make a eunuch look like a small man. Which is what he kind of looked like from a distance, like an enormous sized eunuch but the closer he got to the bridge the more he realized that the person lying on the ground wasn't taking a nap at all. It was a maiden bound to a pillar and the guard was one of the biggest, ugliest, foulest, fellows he'd ever seen in his life.

  Wearing a bear skin the creature looked nearly human in form and his darkly baked skin was stretched over muscles, unbelievable in proportion. Two long tusks, longer then a mans finger jutted up from his bottom row of teeth and his lower jaw was massive, to where it made the rest of his head look small in comparison.

  He was guessing that this must be an ogre. He had heard of beasts like this and began to wonder to himself how many of his kind there were running about. This creature had thick curly black hair on its chest and his small bald skull gave him the look of being of the family of some large ape clan. His upper arms were hairless but much longer than a humans‘.

  In his clawed hands he wielded a large spiked club and a heavy wooden shield that had a iron conical spike protruding from the center. His feet were as normal as a human except for size and they too were clawed.

  Tram had already decided he was going to kill this beast for the obvious fact that he abducted the woman with no good intentions. Still yet, he decided he would talk to the fellow first, curious to see if the thing was capable of speech.

  Tram pulled his horse up well short of the dangerous looking fellow. "I see you have yourself a woman!" Tram said in a bold inquiring voice. Tram waited for a response but all that he could hear from the gluttonous beast, was a low guttural sound as the thing kept a cautious eye on Tram’s halberd. A weapon he generally traveled the roads with. An efficient weapon against robbers.

  It almost sounded like the creature was grunting Oren, Oren, Oren. Maybe that was his name. If it was, it was about the only thing it could say.

  "I don't suppose you know that it is unlawful to bind a free person like that? That is if she's not a slave. Is she?" Still, there was no response from the foul brute other then to shift his feet into a more braced stance and gripping his club even tighter.

  Tram knew very well she wasn't a slave. There were few slaves in Argonia and the ones there were, were usually of their own accord and you rarely ever seen one bound up. He was just trying to judge the creature’s intelligence. He finally came to the conclusion that his voice probably sounded like a yapping dog to the creature. Time for chit chat was over with. "Another thing, it's unlawful to camp under bridges in this province!" Still, no response, just threatening gestures. The ogre made a false threatening charge of about three steps.

  Tram took another long look at the bound maiden to make sure she wasn’t some sick minded winch, whom might want him to mind his own business. She looked wet, bruised and too angry to be cold.

  Narrowing his eyes till his brown brows resembled an angered eagle’s, he focused dead center on the ogre's shoulders. Not the exact center of weight and leverage but leads the center of movement. His opponent’s shoulders would forewarn him of his movements and be the ogre’s last transgression on mankind.

  Tram urged his horse forward into a full gallop and lowered the halberd like a joust. At the last possible moment he raised the halberd slightly. Not even the bulk weight of this ogre or his heavy wooden shield would stand up to a charge and weapon like the one Tram and steed were now charging at the ogres head.

Village Nored

  Waldo, a dwarf, happened to also be at the blacksmiths shop,which he visited often, to sell Jonston ore. The people of Nored were always glad to see Tram at the village and he wasfriends with all, but Waldo and the blacksmith, had shared more then just a few dangers of adventures.

  Jonston was proud as a wild rooster to hear Tram brag about his new metal armor. Waldo shook his horned helmeted head and rolled his eyes as he twisted the bottom of his long Yellowish beard. Unlike most dwarfs, his upper lip was clean shaven which was a trait with his clan. They also, were most all blonde and blue eyed. “My cousin makes much bedder.”

  Waldo’s statement got Jonston to roll his dark brown eyes in return, as he chuckled.

  The two friends seemed always to be bickering and Tram found them to be comical most of the time but at the moment he was trying to offer an apple to Brawnz, a prized bronze colored stallion that Tram had given to Johnston as a reward. Rejecting the apple, Brawnz reared his head back and turned away from the offer.

  Tram laid the apple on the post and said. "I don't blame you Brawnz, I would not like me either."

  Tram walked back towards his friends as the apple hit him in the back. Jonston and Waldo had to stop arguing long enough to have a good laugh at the horse’s trickery and arrogance, especially if it gave them the opportunity to laugh at Tram in the process.

  After having to listen to a few jibes from the men that had gathered at the smith shop, someone suggested the village square to do their scoffing. Under the old willow tree, where many of tale and idle conversations have always been exchanged.

  Tram knew those that had gathered would be stealthily chomping and stomping eager to find out about the maiden that had arrived at the village with him. Anyone could tell she had just experienced something horrible and the ladies of the village whisked her off to be cleaned and comforted before he could even get off his horse.

  As it turned out to be, in the waning hours of the last evening, the ogre had came to her father’s farm and caught him outside by surprise and slew him before he could get back inside to his sword.

  She had told him that the ogre had no trouble knocking her father’s sword from her hands with his club and though she had tried to fight him off, there was no chance of escape and that's how he nabbed her.

  The ogre carried her away, with no more effort then a man carrying a pillow. Following the Lime Stone Creek the ogre had traversed its course all the night long as all the while he looked as if it was weary of being found out.

  The maiden named Marrella said that when the sun started to rise he had taken refuge under the Quarry Bridge, tying her to one of the bridges pillars. She said the ogre had spent the morning taunting and kicking at her and was only stopped by his arrival and then there was the sickening, gory sight of the halberd splitting the ogre through at the head.

  That story the townsmen all had to believe, the story about the demon and the dragon however were granted with spats of doubtful laughter.

  The huge fang he'd brought as proof was explained away as could have been gotten from a land dragon. He really didn't care if the townsmen believed him or not they still liked hearing about his escapades and he knew it was all the truth. Still, as many different stories he'd told them through out the years, he didn't blame them if they only believed a portion of his claims.

  There had always been something within himself that seemed like a compass that would lead him to the unusual or the bizarre and most the likely, trouble with it. Old story tellers usually became dumbfounded and forgot most of what they know when he started relaying his more recent adventures to them.

  Actually he suspected the townsmen believed more then what they disbelieved after all that had happened to the eastern kingdom. Too, recent visitors from the east looked scary enough to make the meek want to bolt the doors. In fact there was a man in the village now that looked as if someone drug him from a grave and left him to soak in a pickle barrel for a season or two. There to buy cloth, herbs and salve and no doubt nursing some poor creature with an injury and may not be such a bad sort but just a glance of the man made Tram want to spit out his drink.

  Nearly two hours had passed away quickly as time does when folk are having good conversation as a few of the other villagers had joined in with their tales of heroism.

  Tram began to wonder what had become of the peasants daughter and then as sure as sure is enough, she showed back up carrying a flower.

  He had thought she was attractive as it were in a simple pleasing way even though bruised and swollen but it was apparent that the ladies of the village had spared all effort in primping and pampering her. One of the ladies even gave her one of her older silken robes and a lass picked her a tulip that seemed to have known it would be one-day accompanying the robe. Her long dark brown hair had been washed and thoroughly brushed out

  Absolutely beautiful. High cheek bones, which gave her face a heart shape, normal sized nose, rounded at the nostrils pug like. Beautiful, though still sadden by her latest tragedy. He was nearly feeling ashamed of himself now and all became silent when Marrella asked with a quiver in her voice. “Forgive me for having to ask you,” she said looking down at the ground with pained filled wide greenish eyes, reddened by recent tears. “Will you please help me bury my father?”

  Waldo and Jonston offered to go with them and Tram was grateful for his friends’ offer as there was no way he could refuse the maiden’s request. They would start their journey at the breaking of dawn.

Uninvited Mourners

  There is good advantage of having good friends like Jonston and Waldo. Especially if one is a blacksmith. Jonston stood about two finger widths taller then Tram and like most blacksmiths, a big man but lean of muscle. Strong from hard work. His dark complexion was the work of sun and soot.

  Getting outfitted for the journey was no problem and Jonston was no stranger to the usage of his own craft. So as it were, little time was wasted in getting on the way to the task set before them.

  It had been a quite days ride out of respect and about the only thing said were in the nature of an enquiry of the ladies future intentions. She was understandably a little confused at present and not sure of what she would do. Even so, as despondent as she was, she was sure she was not safe at the farm anymore.

  Waldo was first to suggest she stay in Nored and it isn't even his home village but he was right, the people of Nored were good people and would probably have it no other way.

  Something inside of Tram was urging him to make another suggestion and that was that she could stay with him at his lodge. Even in her state of troubled grief and sorrow Tram was rapidly becoming attached to the maiden’s natural mannerisms not to mention the lady’s outstanding beauty. However he was not about to present himself as some fiend of sorts, even though his thoughts at the moment were only for her best interest but then again maybe it was his best interest he had in mind. Alternatively, he was already conjuring up plausible excuses to see and be with her.

  Once they got to the farm, they were fortunate to find the wolves and wild animals had not yet found Marrella‘s father.

  It had taken some doing to pry Marrella from her father’s side, convincing her that she should gather her belongings while they prepared him his grave. Between wiping tears away, she pointed to where she wanted him buried. Next to her mother, in a grave that was near a kept garden and grove.

  Her mother had died two years earlier of a flu sickness and now Marrella looked as if she wanted to lay down with her parents as well.

  They had wrapped him up in an oxen’s hide and digging the grave where she wanted him to be laid, they gently covered him over with dirt and then covered the grave with rocks from a nearby stone wall.

  Both Tram and Jonston were a bit surprised to hear Waldo give such an inspiring eulogy for the departed peasant. Something along the lines of how from the elements he came and so back to the elements he returns under the ultimate guidance of his ancestors before him and of the spirits above. He went on to speak of how he lived his life, his daily labors and the love he had for his family.

  Tram wondered to himself how many times the dwarf had said goodbye to loved ones and sent them along on there way to those spirits. He always thought it was a wonderment that someone could have so many good things to say about a person they couldn't have possibly even known. He supposed that there was a certain amount of the same feelings in all of us that would account for this ability. That’s what Tram was mulling on when the three horsemen seemed to appear out of nowhere. Staring down at them from a hill top, at twice the distance of a bow shot.

  The three men if that was what they were, seemed to have so much evil emitting from their being that they and their horses darkened the very grass they stood upon.

  Trying not to disturb the girl in her most grievous moment, Tram nonchalantly pointed out the horsemen to his companions and whispered "Friends of yours, Waldo?"

  Tram had barely gotten the words spoken when a birdlike form darted from the sky with apparent suicidal thoughts in mind. The vulture would have missed Tram by less then an arms-length which proved to be a big mistake in judgment for the foul fowl. Tram reflexively threw a left jab that caught the vulture in the midsection and knocked it tumbling into the nearby flowery bushes.

  Needless to say that whatever drove the bird into it’s temporary madness departed and it struggled to find the senses to do the same. It almost appeared to the three of them that the crazed vulture had full intentions of plucking the key from the top of Marrella's cedar chest and to rob her of access to her only possessions. Tram had heard of animals being attracted to shiny objects but that was very strange, at the very least-to-say.

  Marrella was not overly shocked in the surprised visit of the horsemen, only the poor timing of it and the fact that there had always been four of them in the past. She explained that they came by from time to time but always stared from a distance and had never caused them any difficulties. On the contrary they have seemed to have warded off potential trouble makers.

  Neither her or her father knew who they were or anything about them nor the reasons for their interest in their simple family ways but in any case the family had gotten immune to their scary visits. The horsemen always resisted any inquiries from her father and her family could only keep a weary eye on their uninvited guests.

  Marrella stared back ungratefully at the three hooded riders and one of them casually turned his head as if he could see something in the far distance. Then all three abruptly turned and rode away.

Kings Summons

  As it turned out, the reason for the abrupt departure of the three horsemen was no doubt in response to the arrival of troopers from the garrison at Bulen.

   They had been dispatched and instructed to escort the maiden, her property and anyone else whom might be with her to Hamborg. With their consent or not they were to be brought to the Royal Palace but for some unexplained reason it appeared that their main concern of safety was centered on the cedar chest of Marrella’s.

  The soldiers knew nothing and wouldn’t talk throughout the whole of the journey to the Kings palace. The four of them talked plenty, trying to figure out what was amiss. There had been no curiosity of what might be in the chest before but now their curiosity were running wild.

  Questions bounced about in their minds. Such as, was there stolen property of the Kings in the chest? Had the peasant amassed a fortune, and now every-body wants it? Maybe the peasant owed back taxes and now the King wants what little the maiden has? Will he have them killed if he doesn't like what he finds or what he doesn't find in the chest? Were they being herded into slavery or the Kings dungeon?

  After being freshened and supped the guests feelings of dread and doom had eased. They and the cedar chest were taken to a large chamber and told that the Royal Highness would be joining them shortly.

  The chamber was adorned with expensive furnishings and tapestries of maps of territories hung on the walls and row upon rows of boxed shelves, each filled with scrolls lined one wall. A room meant for learned men.

  When the King entered, the usual respective groveling due toward Royalty was brief and casual, largely because Marrella rightly recognized the Kings soothsayer as a friend of her fathers. Winikkarr, a tall, thin, black haired man with a long thin nose and wearing red robes with golden hieroglyphs lining his hem.

  Tram recognized the hieroglyphs as being of the Ainu in origin, a sect that worship the spirits and this meant that the man was likely a wizard, a priest of the Ainu.

  Being that there are three kinds of wizards, those who dabble with alchemy, those who dabble with mechanisms, and those who conjure up spirits. Tram concluded that this one at the very least dabbled with spirits, evil spirits, if he is a priest wizard of the Ainu.

  Tram himself piddled around with some potions and gadgetries but had found no use for spirits and didn't trust anyone who did.

  While the wizard consoled Marrella over the recently departed peasant, the King addressed Tram. "So, I finally meet the famous Tram of Celtar. Oh, and by the way I like the name of that little plot of land you call a province, Celtar, I like it!" Tram nearly fell backwards. "I would not have guessed Your Royal Highness had any knowledge of me."

  The King raised an eyebrow "You know not of your own stories, not know you be a legend? Even distant kingdoms have heard of you."

  Slowly Tram responded with a quizzical tone in his voice "I had thought I was barely known in the eastern portion of your kingdom, Sire."

  The King looked down at his short dull grayish colored beard with a slight grin that seem to add youth to his scholarly looks. "I suppose your wondering why I have never summoned you here before or why you have not been asked to the Knights Council or why I have not extracted taxes from you?" "Because I am too poor to tax, Sire?"

  After the King laughed a good bit, King Moran explained to Tram that it was man’s main nature to gather property unto themselves, that only slaves had nothing that can be taxed, and then the King explained why he was never inducted into the Council of the Knights. "The cold stone fact is, you are a cheap outpost Tram. Otherwise I would have to muster a company out where you dwell. You are a pillow, a buffer from intrusions in that portion of the kingdom.

  I even moved my boundary markers back from that land, so you see, you are not even part of my kingdom. I did that for two reasons. One, to keep the Publicans and Tax Scribes from trying to tax you, and I hope you appreciate that." And Tram did.

  "Secondly, if you cause an incident in your doings, the kingdom can truthfully deny any interest in you. Your defenses is your problem. We are hoping you well but we could not possibly come to your aid of course. That is unless you lose your land, then we would have to forcibly object."

  The King also had a third reason for not wanting Tram in the ranks of the leadership of the kingdom but he certainly wasn't going to tell Tram what that reason was. As popular as his name had become, Tram could feasibly be a threat to his sovereignty.

  Tram had always wondered about the neglect to collect taxes from him but he hadn’t realized he was under no protection what-so-ever other then the support of his many friends and few neighbors.

  King Moran, also a tall man, let his statements soak in as he studied Tram as if he were an oddity and then he continued to say. "I am guessing that you are all wondering why you have been summoned here today.” The King nodded at the cedar chest. “What lies inside that chest should answer a great deal of your questions.”

  The Kings statement left more questions then answers and Tram was quick to ask the first one that came to mind. "How is it, your Royal Highness would come to know what is inside a peasants cedar chest?" "Do not be a buffoon with me Tram, I have seen inside of it, but before Princess Marrella opens it, perhaps it would be best if my confidant explained things out right."

  Princess? The King has a unique way of delivering surprising news. His last statement, left Marrella looking as if she had just swallowed an egg and was led to a chair to be seated.

  Tram, Jonston and Waldo looked at each other not knowing what to think. They had been two days with the maiden with not an inkling of an idea that she was Royalty and evidently neither did she.

  "It saddens me to tell you this way" Winikkarr said "but the truth is, you are a Princess without a kingdom." Then he began to give a full account of the fall of the kingdom of Coradda.

  “There had been an alliance of four cults and the four high priests were hungry for the power to control as many people as they were able to. They strived for more and more power over the people. What made them so successful is that, they had become so crafty at lies and deceptions. They would varnish their lies over and over till it was hard to say if they believed their own lies or not. They had convinced their followers, that their lives were in corruptive shambles under the leadership of King Negley but the truth of it was they could not have asked for a more prosperous life.

  Even though their followers were only a third of the population, they had been worked up into an illogical fanaticism that was not to be over-come. Those same followers had once been good people but to be immersed in their immorality they would naturally have to convince themselves that right was wrong and wrong was right. This sort of thinking could only lead to a self induced insanity that made them gullible to anything that was told them.

  In those final days King Negley had the good judgment to send his son and his son’s wife and their child away. I and a troop of the Royal Guard escorted them here to Hamborg.

  King Moran had been gracious in granting them asylum here in Argonia. Though it pleased King Moran to give them refuge, he thought it best for his own kingdom that your father should remain secret and so he was given land in a remote but safe place in the kingdom.

  Back in Coradda a few days had gone to past when a rumor that the King was sending all the Kings treasures to foreign lands. This gave a mob an excuse to storm the palace, slaying King Negley and his Queen they then pillaged the palace then burned it.” Winnikkarr then paused for a long moment.

  “King Negley and Queen Jezrella were your grand parents. Your father was that son that was sent away.” He paused for a long moment before continuing his account.

  “The four priests that gained control of Coradda knew absolutely nothing of how to run a kingdom, however they did know how to take a kingdom and in their lust for power and anarchy they tried the same thing in neighboring kingdoms further to the east and south.

  This caused the kingdom of Coradda war upon war, then other kingdoms saw how weak Coradda had become and they started sending armies and there were more wars. When the last battle was done it was only because it had been realized that there was nothing left to fight over.

  In those days it was said in the land of Coradda there was plenty of blood to drink but absolutely no water. Another saying was that the four priests who caused the desolation still live but all the people have been slain.

  "So, what is inside the chest?" Tram didn't mean to sound unfeeling as he probably did but other then the account of the Royal Family the story of Coradda was a matter of recent history.

  "A God’s arrow head." Was King Moran’s direct answer to Trams direct question.

  Waldo, forgetting civility blurted out, "Dee Rainbow Sdone!"

  There was yet another moment of silence before the King affirmed Waldo's guess. Everyone but Marrella the owner of the stone had heard of the legend.

  Her father, the late Prince Issmond had to know of the legend, he must have kept the story from his daughter for personal reasons. Tram could think of one reason right away. He may not have wanted his daughter to be burdened with revenge, knowing he'd have to explain how he gained possession of the stone.

  Since it was Winikkarr himself along with other top minds in the land of Coradda that were the ones that had discovered the stone, it only made sense that he was the one to tell Marrella the story of the stone and how she come to be the owner of it.

  The legend and the fact was that in the early days of the moral decline of Coradda, the depravity began and was centered in and around the city of Agassara. The people of Agassara had become so vile; there was nothing they would not do.

  Winikkarr did not wish to assault the Princess ears by telling her the full extent of the depravity of Agassara. Murder, human sacrifices, and lewd behavior to put it mildly were just a portion of their evil doings.

  He went on to say. “On the day that Agassara was utterly destroyed, witnesses from a great distance claimed that a rainbow had appeared in the sky and a streak of light shot forth from it like an arrow and that was what struck Agassara. A blast, a tumult and whirlwinds followed, so much so that they feared they would be destroyed also.

  I and several other wise men along with a company of troops were immediately sent by the King to investigate. When we got to where Agassara should have been, we found a great hole still smoldering and not one identifiable work of man nor a single breath of life.

  The troops were instructed to dig in the very center of the great hole to see if they could find any trace of what caused the calamity and after three days of digging they found what should be now laying in that very cedar chest, the Rainbow Stone.”

  "Then the Rainbow Stone really does exist?" Jonston asked in astonishment.

  Instead of answering Jonston's question Winikkarr went on to say, “the stone, the Kings signet ring and a few royal robes were sent with Prince Issmond for safe keeping. Your father kept these things in hopes that someday the kingdom would be retaken under the rightful heirs of his bloodline. Even though it seemed a lost dream to him, he thought somehow, someday, that the stone would be important in Corradas rebirth.

  Waldo’s bushy blue eyes showed the excitement of the thought that he would actually get to see the legendary stone. "Is id magical, as legend tells of id?"

  Winikkarr eyed the dwarf with a bit of suspicion before he responded "It does have some unusual qualities but none so far that would be very useful.

  For some that handle the stone it gives the bearer a since of agonizing guilt, for some it does absolutely nothing and for others it would seem to give out a faint glow. Those of us that investigated the stone came to the conclusion that the more the bearer was in righteous fearlessness the more the stone glowed for them."

  Tram soon realized that Winikkarr and the King were staring straight into his eyes as if they were looking into a well trying to make out what might be hidden within the depths and this caused everyone else in the chamber to gawk at him.

The end of pt. 1

Prison or Paradise

  Marrella lifted the lid of the cedar chest and knelt staring at the contents, then reached in and pulled a scroll out that had been lying on top of a purple cape. "Your Father must have left you a message it would seem. Perhaps, in case I was not able to tell you the meaning of the belongings you are to inherit.” Winikkarr the Wizard said. Then the King spoke up. "I will have to ask you not to break the seal on that as of yet. I do not wish to see you upset. Thus, you will likely want to lament it, in privacy."

  Marrella agreed and Winikkarr pulled the stone and its stand from the chest placing them at the center of a nearby circular table stand. Then he pulled out the case that contained her Grand Fathers signet ring and handed it to her.

  Marrella studied the image of an oxen with a lions’ hind quarters that toped her Grand Fathers ring with some unknown longing in her unblinking greenish eyes. She felt as if she were in some confounded dream, everyone else eyes were transfixed on the legendary Rainbow Stone.

  There was no wonder the stone was named the Rainbow Stone. Even with out the story of it coming from out of a rainbow, you would still have to call it the Rainbow Stone. It was a little larger then a goose egg, the surface was smoother then glass and it looked as if a rainbow had been placed inside. You could almost imagine the multitude of colors were continually moving within it in a slow undulating manor but most the likely an allusion. Perhaps the result of the reflection from it’s shiny surface.

  Waldo was just about to forget himself and was reaching out to touch the stone when Marrella said, "It seems as though that stone is familiar to me, it seems, I have seen it before."

  "You have." said the King "You were just a babe when your father and mother came here. Of course we were curious to see how the stone reacted with you as well and I must say it glowed for you more then anyone else that I have seen thus far. That is why I am anxious in seeing if there had been any further developments betwixt you and the stone but it may be amusing to see how the stone reacts with others as well, that is, if you so wish? Else-wise we may have to restrain the dwarf."

  Marrella didn’t mind others handling the stone and the King was right, Waldo seemed to have an instant fixation with the stone and so he was the first allowed to hold the stone.

  Waldo gently lifted it from its stand as if he were handling a new born and sure as anything the stone did seem to radiate a slight multi color glow. He also said that he felt a slight tingling sensation. Winikkarr replied "That might be worth study."

  Jonston had to be urged to pick up the stone and when he did the stone did absolutely nothing.

  Then it was Trams turn. Everyone seemed tense and nervous as if they were expecting to have to dodge lightning bolts. Even the guards whom have been trained to keep a solid bolt on their muscles stirred as Tram reached for the stone but again nothing happened.

  After Tram replaced the stone he looked at Waldo in a dejected manor as Waldo repaid him with a victorious grin. "The thinking that fear has something to do with this stone must be err." Tram said, having a hard time believing that Waldo was more fearless then he and Jonston.

  "There are many sorts of fear, Tram" The King said. "The stone shines not for me as well."

  When it came to Marrella’s turn there was no doubt that the stone did react to Marrella the best. Nothing grandeur but she would have no trouble making way in a pitch black room.

  After Marrella had placed the stone back into the stand, The King spoke again saying, "I had sent a troop to the land of Edeenia where legend has it that the mother of all mothers had eaten from a tree, a forbidden fruit of the God of all gods. They were successful in finding the tree. The guardians of the tree, after hearing the purpose of their quest, granted them a proper branch from the legendary tree.

  My finest craftsman has made a staff from it so as to set the stone upon it. In this way, Princess Marrella can have it with her at all times and perhaps be able to learn to use the stone for some good purpose."

  The King turned to Marrella and said. "You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish. So as to develop a skill with the stone." She gratefully accepted his invitation. Then he turned to Waldo. ”You also shall stay to labor with the stone."

  With these words said, it was realized that the King was only asking those whom might be of use with the stone, to stay.

  Jonston would not want to stay anyway due to the need to get back to his family and his smithing. Tram on the other hand, liked Marrellas’ company and couldn’t very well invite himself to stay and he knew there could be no excuses for him to come to the palace to see her. He truly did not mean for it to sound as it did. "There is an old saying Your Highness, to the victor goes the spoils."

  It took the King a long moment of staring at Tram with a blank expression before he spoke. "There is another old saying Tram, that is, nothing is sure for life except death and taxes and I have some authority over both in this kingdom. So, you have a very nice day. Some place else."

  Tram looked at Marrella and Marrella looked at the cedar chest then back at Tram. Although she was very grateful for what he had done for her, it was apparent she did not appreciate him referring to her and her possessions as his spoils.

  As Tram and Jonston were being escorted out, Tram gave Waldo a look, an unspoken word, to look after the Princess. As Tram neared the door he turned around "I nearly forgotten to ask, what is the mysterious dark horsemen’s part in all of this?"

  King Moran looked to his Wizard to answer the departing question. Winikkarr looked down for a moment before replying. "Well, officially they do not exist. It is not well to have bands of riders roaming about with out consent. If they were to exist they would have absolutely no want of the stone but it would be a guess that they would not want it in the hands of someone that may be able to do them harm. Thus far there is little use for the stone but it is not for you to be concerned with, none the least."

  The walk to the stables was a long-one for Tram, as he tried to figure out how he would get back into the good graces of Marrella. Once again he'd let his quick tongue get the better of his intentions.

  Inside the stable were two Knights in full armor and a dozen troopers preparing to go out on a patrol.

  There are many Knights in the Kings service and are higher up in rank then the Captains of the army. However, Tram could tell these two Knights where of the Knights Council. They wore the King’s seal above their coat of arms. It was not likely they were merely going out on a patrol.

  Even though Tram and Jonston had not acted in the slightest way as if they were in a hurry to leave, the bigger of the two Knights said in a gruff voice "You'll have to wait while real men go about the Kings business, you worthless worms!"

  Tram smiled as he walked calmly over to the burly Knight as if they were old friends. "We are in no hurry, Good Sir."

  The big Knight was not going to be appeased by Trams gesture of peace. "Who told you, you could talk to me, scurf?" and stepped forward to shove Tram away by pushing at his face. Tram blocked his arm and drove off his right leg, open handedly striking the Knight where the open visor hinged his helmet. The blow made a loud metallic pop and the Knight teetered over like a stack of metal plates, knocked unconscious.

  Everyone started to go for their weapons but all stopped at the grasp of their hilts as Tram glared at them with the same pretense of a smile on his face that he had offered the hapless sleeping Knight.

  Tram’s swiftness is legendary and they had just witnessed what the combination of speed and strength could do. "It looks like your party will be delayed if you are to wait on this Commander." Tram said, pointing down at the sleeping Knight and the dent on the side of his helmet.

  The stable keepers made waste of no time bringing the two strangers their mounts and Jonston and Tram made haste in leaving the stables. Once past the city gates, the two laid leather to their horses.

  There had been no alarm given to have them stopped but they had to wonder if there would be a warrant issued along with a pursuit.

  When Tram and Jonston got as far as they could get and still be able to view the city gates they stopped and turned to see if there would be trouble to follow.

  The troop that were at the stable soon came out minus the two Knights that were with them and although they advanced in the same direction, they didn't look to be in any hurry to over-take them.

  Jonston was use to Tram getting him into trouble but he would not want to have trouble brought back to where he lived. "Do you think we should go back to Nored or go into hiding?" "We could go into hiding but they would just follow." Tram said as he pointed down at his horse’s tracks. "They notched my steeds’ shoe. No doubt, plan to keep reign on us. Do not want us lurking about.”

  Jonston soon realized. "Oh, and that is why that Knight provoked you. The King did not want us lingering about, lest having to be wary of his dungeon. So, are we going back after Waldo and the Princess, you think their lives in danger?"

  "I doubt if they are in danger at present, doubtful they know they are prisoners. I will return in a few days, after the King’s guard has had time to relax some."

 

  The craftman chosen the task of carving the staff, had it pieced together before the Princess and Waldo had finished their supper. Now the staff laid on Marrella’s bed as Marrella sat in a chair getting ready to break the seal on the parchment her father left her.

  "My dearly loved Marrs, I perceive I am no longer with you.

  Please don't mourn for me to the point that you lose interest in life, as you know, I have. Forgive me, I tried not to show it. Losing your Mother was hard on both of us I know, I pray that I can be with her now but for you it is the task of keeping our bloodline alive. I know it will not be easy for you and you may or may not have resented the fact that I kept you isolated the way I did. It was not purely my fault as hap stances played a big role in that isolation. Anyway, I hope I have taught you enough about the nature of men that you can rightly chose the man that will be best for you. In this matter I feel that you will find your husband by fate as that is the way it usually happens but make certain your heart does not lie to you."

  Marrella stopped reading as the thought of Tram flashed in her mind. Was it fate that he had saved her from the hands of the ogre?

  Her Father had warned her about men like Tram. Men like him could not be happy with anything for very long, more-less to be bonded to one woman for very long. It is their nature to seek out new experiences. There was no telling how many women he had ravaged or how many lies he had told to succeed in his romances. She knew her father would not have let him within ear shot range of her.

  She threw her head back in the chair and smiled. It may not be so bad, even so, being his spoils as he put it, even if it is just for a season. She thought him handsome with his mature face but deviate juvenile expressions and she could tell by the way he uncontrollably raises his eyebrows and widen his brown eyes when he looked at her, that he was smitten with her.

  She shook her head and wondered to herself how she even gotten her mind into this line of thinking and continued reading where she had left off.

  "You will be a very beautiful woman and I have no doubts that you will have plenty of men to choose from, so chose wisely. Now, I will explain the items in the cedar chest. Your grandfather’s name was Issmo Negley he was King of Coradda, his wife, my mother, your grandmother was Queen Jezrella. They were murdered by a mob that was instigated by four demonic priests. As of the writing of this letter, it is rumored they are still alive. I do not wish for you to try and take revenge for their actions. In time they will receive their just reward, men like them always do. The things that are in the cedar chest are property of the rightful crown of Coradda they are things that should be had if the kingdom is ever redeemed from the ill-bred of that land. I am ashamed to say but I had lost hope in the dream of the throne being returned to its better days and there is no sense in trying to pass that hope off on you. If you find it absolutely necessary to sell any of your inheritance I will understand as I know your mother and grandparents would understand. The Rainbow Stone on the other hand, I pray be made a heirloom. Make great consideration of being loosed of it. Every since I came here in exile I was sure that one day that stone would be an important part of our lives. Now I want you to take the cedar chest and go to the palace of King Moran for refuge. The farm is no longer safe for you once rogues realize you are alone here. Tell the guards at the gates who you are and that the King will want to see you. The King already knows all about you. My old friend Winikkarr will be there also but I must tell you that I have never fully trusted him, even though he has never given me a real reason to mistrust him. I believe his true allegiance is to himself. For the time being though you and the stone will be safe there. I hope you carry yourself with dignity and humility. Just be yourself and you will be fine. I am sure King Moran and Winikkarr will be reminded of anything I've neglected to tell you. I am starting to well up with tears and I do not want you to come home from picking berries, to find me weeping. I will miss you to no end.Goodbye Marrs.

  Love you always.Your Father, Prince Issmond

  Marrella had just finished rereading her father’s letter for the third time when a knock on the door brought her out of her morass mood.

  Seeing that Marrella was still holding the parchment her father left her, Waldo said "Sorry I dasturbed you, Your Highness I will waid till morrow to speak widh you."

  Wiping tears from her rounded cheeks, she said. ”No, no, your not disturbing me, please come in." Marrella wanted to talk to Waldo as well. She wondered if she could glean information from him about Tram.

  Marrella offered the dwarf the chair she had just gotten up from and picked up the staff from the bed, holding it possessively as she sat on the bed. "What do you think of all this Waldo?"

  "I'm not sure whad to dhink or even whad to say, Your Highness."

  "Will you please stop addressing me as Your Highness? I was a peasant this morning and I wish not to be a Princess of a kingdom that does not exist, this eve." the two chuckled, then she less heartedly said "I could not have guessed that the King was going to have Tram and Jonston leave, when he asked us to stay."

  Waldo smiled and caressed the arm of the chair "Don’d feel sorry for dhem, dhey'll be envious for a lill' while bud dhey won'd dwell upon id long."

  "Did you happen to take notice Waldo, when we came to the palace that there were many windows and balconies?"

  "Yeah, very beaudiful."

  "Does your room have any windows or balconies? Mine does not, as you can see. I wonder if we are the fortunate ones or if they are." Marrella said, trying to point out to Waldo that they may be the King’s prisoners.

  Waldo looked around the room "You don'd dhink da King will led us come an go as we wish?"

  "I am willing to guess that he will make up excuses why we should not leave and if we insist, it is hard to say what may happen."

  "Can I hold dhe staff for a lil’ bid?" Waldo said, with hope filled craggily eyes on the stone.

  She pondered the request for a few moments. "Sure." Marrella said handing the staff to Waldo.

  Marrella wondered if anything she had told Waldo meant a thing to him, he acted as if he didn't mind being a prisoner as long as he was comfortable. He was the first dwarf she had ever seen and wondered if they were all so aloof in attitude as this one seemed to be.

  Waldo held the staff out in front of him and started concentrating on the stone. Marrella watched him as he looked to be straining his mind. The veins at his temples began to pulsate and the sparkle of perspiration started to appear on his forehead. His long bushy blonde hair shivered with the strain. His chain mail, she has yet to ever see taken off, started tinkling.

  The stone did look to shine a little more for him, nearly as well as it does for her but at the present her concerns were on their well being. She wondered if she would be able to get any useful information from Waldo what-so-ever.

  Breaking Waldo’s concentration, Marrella asked "If you were able to make the stone do powerful uses, do you think the King will let you leave?" "Humph. No, we woult have da leave on our own." Smiling wide, revealing wide teeth below his hairless upper lip, he continued to say "Maybe even using dhe stone da help."

  Marrella smiled back. Waldo grasped the situation more then she first suspected and his confidence was reassuring. Now if she could get some personal information about Tram without making herself sound like a wanton trollop. She was formulating her next question when Waldo spoke on. "Besites Dram will be back to abducd you. I can dell, he likes you."

  "Abduct me? He has got some nerve if he thinks he can just drag me about without my say so! He may abduct his winches and lay spoil to them but I'll scratch his eyes out and stomp on them!"

  Waldo looked as if he had just sat on a shard. "I dhink I sait dhat all wrong Your Highness, I meand he will abducd you away from the King. I mean, I meantddhat he will be back do aid us."

  Marrella calmed herself easy enough, being she wasn’t angry to begin with, realizing she could use the dwarf’s casual statement to get the information about Tram she wanted. "  "Just, how many ladies does that thug have abducted at his castle or does he just cast them out once he is tired of them?"

  "He has no castle, ids a lodge with some sdone work."

  She determined this was not going to be an easy chore. "So, what does he do, keep all his captives chained to the walls?"

  "He don'd have any capdives’ eidher."

  She was beginning to wonder if the dwarf was purposely avoiding the issue of Tram and his winches. One could only surmise that the man who had saved her from who knows what kind of abuse, must have instructed Waldo not to meddle in his love life.

  Waldo must have noticed her perturbed look and finally said. "He don'd have a woman eidher."

  He dold me dhat he had nearly gotden wedded twice bud dhat he found dhat they were not very faidful. He says dhat trying to find da right woman has been like trying da find the rarest of sdones. I dhink, he don’d know whad he wands."

  She, had hoped that he was alone in the way of romance and was happy to hear that he was but she would not show it. It would not do for the dwarf to tell Tram that she was thinking of him in such a manner.

It was decided between the two that they would earnestly try to get the staff to be of some helpful use.

  After Waldo left, Marrella lay in her bed with her eyes closed wondering if it was indeed a matter of destiny that she and Tram met.

What To Do What To Do

  The troopers that were assigned to track Tram and Jonston had followed as far as the garrison at Nored, leaving a veteran to keep spy on them.

  The sergeant of the troopers would be reporting to Captain Ballard at the fortress to relay orders and Tram could just about imagine what the nature of the talk would be. He wondered if Ballard would relate those orders to him, whether he would inform him that a few of his men would be his companions for awhile.

  Tram watched Jonston undo the mark the King’s stable handlers had notched into the left hind quarter of his horse’s shoe when Ballard walked in.

  "Going on a trip, Tram?" Ballard asked, removing his red plumed helmet.

  "Not this eve but I will make ready to leave in the morn."

  "Where are you going?" Ballard asked as he scratched his narrow nose and staring at Tram with unblinking grayish-blue eyes.

  Tram knew why Ballard was trying to get an update on his intentions and so he just told him the first thing that came to mind. "I'm going home to dress that dragon I killed, why, you want to come along and lend me help?"

  Ballard was not a stupid man and he knew Tram probably had already figured out why he was there. "You still insist you slayed a flying dragon? If you are true in your claim, that dragon will be stinking too much for me to get too close. You would wear the smell of stench for a month if you skinned it now."

  Tram hadn't planned to be gone from home so long and Ballard was right the meat and hide would be worthless now.

  "Let us just be honest Tram. Why has the King given me orders to keep a strict eye on you and have you arrested if you attempt a return towards the Royal Palace? I should like to know why I will be getting demoted to recruit or worse. I had thought you went to bury a peasant, not the palace to make the King irate?"

  Tram had known Ballard every since he came to Nored to command the garrison there. He also respected Ballard as a fighter. He even wondered from time to time why Ballard had never been made a Knight he certainly was skilled enough in warfare to be one. Maybe even of the level of the Council of Knights, he certainly could beat most all of the lesser Knights. Tram had always come to the conclusion that he was just too nice of a guy to suit his higher-ups.

  Tram began explaining everything that happen to him and the party after the burial of Marrellas father. He told him about being summoned to the Palace and learning about Marrella being a Princess and about the legends and stories being told and about the Rainbow Stone and why he thought Ballard has fresh troops at his garrison.

  When Tram got to the part about Waldo and Marrella being asked to stay to experiment with the Rainbow Stone and that he and Jonston had been asked to leave, he thought he could see a tinge of concern in Ballard’s face.

  "Then I take it you are going back then? I know you well, I know you will plot to go back for Waldo and the maiden but I need to ask, do you have any intent toward that stone? "I have no desire of the stone.“ Tram stopped himself from continuing to say, the maiden may be a different matter.

  "I assumed as much but I had need to ask because that stone would be worth a lot of coins and I was the Sergeant of that Royal Guard that escorted Prince Issmond and his family here to Argonia. In fact I have been able to get two others from that guard to be stationed here with me. Others went back during the wars and died there. We would have gone with them but felt we would be needed here if the Prince and the stone were to ever resurface. That seems so long ago.

  I knew much of the story you just told me. I knew the Prince and his family and the stone were in a safe place somewhere in the kingdom but we were not allowed to know where."

  Ballard then flashed a slight grin over the seriousness. "So, the maiden that you rescued from the ogre was that very same baby that I brought here so many years ago?"

  Seriousness soon returned to Ballards face and one could tell a conflict was boiling inside him as he brushed back his medium length light-brown hair. "Do we need the use of haste to secure their release?" he finally asked.

 

   Deep inside the rock and earthen mountain of Noco sat Abadon on a throne that had been carved out of solid rock.

  The small stream of lava that flowed behind him provided what little flickering light there was to be had inside the rock laden cavern. It was that same fiery light that danced about the reddish skin of the seated demon adding to the allusion that the beast was more a flaming fire then of flesh and bone. The bandaged plaster that wrapped around his humongous chest was the only thing that disrupted this allusion.

  Three hooded figures stood before him, for a large part indistinguishable from each other. Even their staffs that they held in a proud stance, other than color were identical, each capped with a vague golden image of their master whom sat before them. The Wallahamen could be considered Abandon’s High Priest, servants in most ways although they do have certain powers granted them. The most impressive of these powers are that they can transform into flying dragons.

  In a loud booming baritone voice inspired by anger, Abadon demanded an answer. "Where is that cursed stone? Why is it not here before me?"

  Mogrog the Wallahaman that bore the red staff reluctantly answered. "We did not get the chance to transfigure into our blessed form Master."

  Before the Wallahaman could continue with his explanation, Abadon yelled out "I smell a lie and I do not favor to be the fool in this matter!"

  Samog stood to the right of center and wielding the black staff spoke up. "The peasant girl was not alone when we arrived, Master. The human who killed our brethren and others also were there." Before Abadon could respond, the dark ghoulish figure quickly continued with a decrepit voice. "We thought to summon a bird of prey to snatch the key so as they would chase the bird and thus giving us time to take the cedar chest that the stone lays within. Our plan would have worked except the one named Tram waylaid the vulture in mid flight."

  "Cowards! You lousy stinking curds! You mean to say that you three had the moment of revenge and could have slain that dirt eating human and you just let him prance off with that ugly stone?"

  Robbog standing to the left and holding the white staff bowed his head as in shame before responding. "Not at all Master, we were just about to transform when a large troop from Argonia arrived and took charge of the humans and the stone."

  "And so you did the right thing, instead of risking injury, you thought it best to report back your failure, is that right?"

  "Exactly Master. I mean, we may have been a little leery of that monsterous hunter. After all he did slay Mogbone and bested even you Master."

  Abadon slowly stood up with seething contempt blaring from his crustaceous looking eyes and all three Wallahamen bowed their heads and were visibly shaking, knowing better to make a run for it.

  Abadon slowly took three steps forward looking ominous with the steam now puffing from the nostrils of his large long hooked nose and with a slow low guttural tone in his voice said "What did you say?"

  The three were not even given the chance to speak. Abadon lashed out, sending all three in three different directions in one swipe.

  Clutching his chest he returned to his stone throne, leaving the three hooded figures squirming on the ground.

  Their master sat wondering if he hadn't made a mistake in not dealing with the stone beforehand.

  Before now it hadn't been a cause of concern and even now he doubt if it was much to be concerned about. None the less he had thought about having the stone dropped in some out of the way pit. Then again the way humans multiplied like rodents, and their sick compulsion of curiosity, it would have no doubt been a matter of time before someone had discovered it once again. No, he was sure he had done the right thing. This way he could keep track of the cursed object of legend. That is if he were not bound with cowering idiots.

  The three hooded figures slowly regained their composure and bowed before their master once again.

  Abadon was much calmer now after release of his over-flow of anger. Looking at Samog, he asked "I take it that the King of Argonia is in possession of the stone now?"

  “The visual reports are that Tram and a fellow left for Nored and were followed by a force of troopers. The Princess and a dwarf along with the cedar chest that was with them before remained behind, whether of their own accord or as hostages we have no way to know."

  Abadon stuck his abnormally long chin out like a General and said. “Have the gobs gather the savages and those big, hairy, big-footed shagmen to the western edge of the wild over to where that goodie, goodie, dragon slaying human lives. We’re going to war with Argonia and we’re going to go through that arrogant maniac, when we do. Oh, and don’t forget the ogres, they will all want to join our service and lead the charge, since it was one of their brood that forced early all my plans to invade Argonia.”

Time To Go

  Waldo finished eating breakfast at a table in the kitchen. The Princess had said she wished to rest for a while longer.

  Waldo having no such wasted compulsion and wanting to satisfy his usual early morning pangs of hunger used the unexpected opportunity to visit with the kitchen servants.

  He sat drinking herb tea and thus far had gotten away with only being playfully slapped once, while jovially keeping the ladies of servitude laughing.

  Speaking to the stoutest of the kitchen staff he continued his game. "I hat a lady-friend who looks jusd like you bud she kepd stepping all over me. I did like id when she would chase me all over dhe house bud when ever she caught me she would hang me in da closet.

  She would have her dog put me oud at night. You wouldn'd have your dog do dhat would you?" The freckled face servant answered him with a "Nay" mixed with chuckles.

  "Oh, dhen when can I expecd you to adopd me?"

  The auburn haired maiden laughed again grabbing the egg basket. "I am sure your adoption would not go well with the King, now I have to go and gather eggs. Alone!" She said with extra emphasis.

  Waldo got up and slowly walked out of the kitchen like a child whom had just been told he couldn't have a cookie. He didn't want to be considered obnoxious and too he wanted the ladies to feel sorry for his feelings. Then latter, for gain of affection or not he would try to brake down their natural womanly defenses with humor.

  At the top of the winding stairs Waldo noticed that the guard was missing at his station. Alarmed, he quickly sprinted down the hall stopping short at the turn.

  Cautiously he peeked around the corner in time to see Winikkarr give a lamp holder a pull, then he disappeared behind a curtain.

  A secret passage? Very intriguing. Winikkarr must have sent the guard on a short errand so he could have use of the passage.

  Waldo was eager to check out his knew found knowledge but ran the risk of Winikkarr finding out that he too knew about his secret. On the other hand if he waited to long the guard would return and his chance to explore the passage would be lost.

  He was just able to reach the lamp holder standing on his tip toes, he pulled. Then lifting the velvety royal blue curtain aside and like a cautious cat, he crept inside.

  Being a dwarf, use to caverns and mines, his eyes adjusted to the dark passage quickly.

  To the right the passage ended with a stairway that led upwards to a closed door. Conjecture told him that this was probably where Winikkar had gone. The dwarfs curiosity was excruciating. To think of what sort of instruments of evil, potions or debaucheries that wizard was piddling with just behind that door.

  Softly walking back down the passage, Waldo noticed the wooden panels spaced along the inner wall had little port-holes with dark green colored glass. Grabbing a hold of the trim work of one of the little circular windows, the dwarf pulled himself up to look in to what was his own room. Waldo soon realized that the panels where the backs of the built-in dressers for each room along the passage.

 

  Four men straddled their horses far enough back in the shadows of the thick woods, so as not be seen from the city walls of Hamborg. Watching as the fully armored Knight disappeared into the flow of travelers coming and going from the city.

  Since it had been found out that Captain Ballard and his two subordinates were all for taking the Princess from the hospitality of the King, Tram had decided to stay at the blacksmith shop while they plotted the rescue of the Princess. The King in no way would consider the band of conspirators’ plans, a rescue but as an assault. This meant that even if they were miraculously successful they would have to impose a self banishment from the Kingdom of Argonia. To each it would have their own consequences.

  They had hired two young rascals to observe the palace and take note of any consistent coming and going from there, so as to take advantage of any regularities. After several days the young men returned to report that supplies were delivered daily at mid morning through the back gates. Too, they had noticed a Knight of the Council that left the palace every morning at dawn and didn't return until the sun was fully overhead.

  When the lads described the coat of arms of the Knight, It was considered a good omen because Jonston had been commissioned to design and form the armor of the Knight of no little importance. Too, Jonston's wife is the one whom painted the coat of arms for the Knight named Gabben.

  A plan began to be concieved and since Captain Ballard had been to the palace on numerous occasions to make reports, he was able to give account of the layout of the Palace. Hopefully, Marrella and Waldo were not in the dungeon.

  The group of conspirators would need more luck then what seemed feasible, most likely there would be violence involved in the rescue. The plan is that Tram would stroll in impersonating Gabben, locate  Waldo and the Princess then stroll back out as far as they were able to and from there let their course of action be guided by chance. Hardly a full proof plan but it was the best they could envision under the circumstances.

  If it becomes obvious that the first plan failed, Captain Ballard and companions would enter on the premise of reporting Trams disappearance. They would have to hope that force was not needed because, in all likelihood they would all be slain.

  Approaching the Palace gates Tram acted as if he were agitated over some unknown cause, he knew that the guards would be less likely to quiz him about the Knight’s early return if there was a chance of a superior’s anger being redirected upon them.

  Getting thus far, had gone well but in the courtyard between the stable and the Palace, King Moran and Winikkarr sat on a long stone bench talking. The King was slapping the backside of one hand into the open palm of the other as he talked. Tram knew that agitation would have the opposite effect as it had on the guards. Hoping he was not stopped for conversation, the Knight got past the two without incident.

  Not being a matter of his own choosing he was close enough to over hear something Winikkarr said and acted as if there was a stone in his boot, a seemingly natural excuse to come up lame in his tracks.

  "I think it is time we take the two to the dungeon and see if pain will bring out some effect on the stone." Winikkarr said with an unforgettable tone of evil in his voice.

  The King scratched at his grayish colored beard then said "If we do, how will we control them afterwards?"

  "We do not, we should have them slain. You would not want to be bothered with them anyway but we would then know what emotion releases the power if indeed it has any. Then in that way your Highness would know how to work the stone and if there is no magic to be had of it, then at the least you will be the new owner of the priceless gem."

  Acting as if the problem of a pebble in the iron boot was solved Tram continued on his mission. Entering the palace, he looked back to see the King and Winikkarr looking his way, with stern interest.

  Tram knocked on the Princesses’ door after informing the guard on station that he had been ordered to escort the two guest to a summons of the King.

  Waldo answered the door and in seeing the Knight, looked as if someone had just thrown a mud ball at him. Then he smiled and turned saying "Come on in Dram, look ids Dram in someone else's armor."

  Stepping into the room Tram lifted the visor on the helmet and asked "How did you know it was me?" But not caring to hear Waldo’s explanation he gazed at Marrella with a wide smile. Marrella stood and returned his smile with equal enthusiasm but quickly regained control of her self awareness as Waldo gave his reply.

  "Because of da way you cock your head back and besides you are da first Knighd we have seen ub here."

  "Oh." Tram said "Well, hurry and gather yourselves it is time to go."

  Waldo sat down in his usual sitting spot as Marrella following his lead, did the same. Then Waldo with an aristocratic air said "What makes you dhink were going elsewhere. We like id here."

  Tram cocked his head to the right slightly, raised his eyebrows and in a mocking tone of note said. "Perhaps you will enjoy yourselves much more when the King has you taken to the dungeon for some pain treatments."

  They looked at him as if they were listening to a court jester but before they could verbally respond he continued. "I just passed him and Winikkarr on my way here and overheard them. They are planning to see if you two and pain has any effect with the stone. If it does, they plan to slay you and try to work the stone themselves and they intend to slay you anyway, for the gain of possession of the stone. So, get what little you need together before I wind up having to fight the whole of the Royal Guard."

  The two jumped up in alarm as Tram turned back towards the door. "Nod dhat way." Waldo exclaimed as he hurried around the large dresser. Reaching under he piddled about some, then started tugging on the dresser. The dresser slowly creaked forward to reveal a passage. "Look ad what I fount,"

  Marrella would not be able to take the cedar chest with her though she did stuff the parchment her father left her into her blouse and her grandfathers ring into a leather pouch before they disappeared into the passage.

  Tram could not help but notice that the Princess had become more possessive of the Staff of the Rainbow Stone. It only made good sense for Waldo to use the staff to lead the way but when asked, it had taken her long moments of thought before she reluctantly relinquished it. The need to have an exchange, hadn't been needed when they descended a series of stares and had passed the turn off of what Waldo said led to the palace stables but further ahead the passageway was blind black.

  Waldo wasn't even sure that the passage that looked to lead into an infinite darkness, in fact led to a safe escape.

  In previous days when he explored the hidden passage, he had only gotten about half a furlong within the mildew smell of dankness before the sound of a scurrying varmint had convinced him that he knew enough to know that the extensive length of the tunnel must be an under-ground escape route, over extending past the city walls.

  Marrella was left to take up the rear as they made their way through the narrow passage. She could see the colorful faint light of the staff jounce up and down in front of Waldo. Still she could not see a thing within the blackness that surrounded herself. Only the silhouette of Trams form gave her any guidance.

  Picking at the few strands of lose cobwebs that stubbornly clung to the nape of her neck She decided to make an effort of conversation with Tram. "I suppose I owe you more thanks for coming to my aid once again, I must be becoming quite a nuisance to you."

  "Not at all Your Highness, you have been a wealth of adventure in what might have otherwise been a couple of weeks of boredom."

  Is that what he thought of all this, as merely an adventure? Is that what he thinks of her, as just another adventure?

  "I will have to admit it had been fun playing the role of a Princess while being here at the palace but I can not be something I am not and never will be. So please call me Marrella."

  Tram turned as well as he was able and with an unseen smile said "You will always be a Princess, whether you wind up dwelling in a palace or wind up dwelling in a hut, Beautiful."

  Tram wasn't exactly sure how the word beautiful had come out instead of the Princess's proper name but was not displeased with the slip of the tongue.

  Marrella pleased with Trams compliment decided it best to leave well enough alone and changed the subject to the matter at hand.

  "Even though my Father warned me about Winikkarr in the scroll he left me, I find it so hard to believe that he is man of vile scruples. He seemed to be such a nice man when he visited the farm."

  "Hmm, well, you may have to keep watch of people you would not naturally have to. That is to say, when it comes to possessions of value, many people will turn very ugly in gaining ownership, not caring whom they rob."

  "I guess there is truth in that, I never had that trouble before. I don't like it."

  “I suppose not." Tram responded.

  “May I ask, where are we going?” She asked. "I give up, where? Where ever we go I will have need of a few things from my lodge.”

  “Something else you need to know, as so happens, Waldo and I know some men who were in the Royal Guard that escorted your family here to Argonia. They are intent as I in seeing you made safe. They and Jonston are waiting for us in the woods with a couple of spare steeds. So you see, you already have a following Your Highness."

  “Who are dhey” Waldo asked as he reached the end of the tunnel to what appeared to be the entrance of a small chamber but before an answer could be given to his question, Waldo forgone all effort of concealment. "A rad! A giand rad!"

  Now with battle-axe in hand and staff in the other Waldo, in mid calf bound thongs and steel shorts, snail-paced his way forward.

  "What are you waiting for? Slay it, we have need to go onward." Waldo heard from behind as he felt Tram push him on into the small chamber.

  Startled, the rat stopped hissing and jumped straight into the air at about the height that would bring him face to face with Waldo. Even more startled then the rat and having been pushed off balance Waldo swung the axe wild, missing the rat entirely.

  The rat was heading for its only way of escape before it even touched the ground and as it ran pass, Tram kicked at the tail end of the fleeing varmint.

  Why did you do thad, you nearly got me killt by thad giand rad?"

  "It was not a rat, it was a possum" Tram said looking up into the darkness of the chamber walls.

  "Whad's the difference? I may have been batly injuret!"

  Testing the sturdy iron rungs that ran up the wall with his weight, Tram looked back and said "That would be quite the tale for your off-springs, how you were badly injured in a fierce battle with a possum."

The End of pt.2

Who Are You?

  The four secluded riders were beginning to get nervous. It had been well into the third quarter of an hour since Tram entered the city gates of Hamborg. However, there hadn't been any unusual  movement along the city walls. That’s a good sign, yet time was having it's effect on them.

  The riders had to change their place of concealment to avoid some woodsmen that came out not so long past and as the riders considered if it was time to act on the back up plan, they heard voices coming from back up the path and to their rear. At first they thought it might be the woodcutters that they were hearing but then Waldo’s easy to distinguish ranting could be heard.

 

  "Why did you just follow us out?" Tram asked.

  "Cause, I'm still mat ad you for nearly gedting me chewet by a giand rad!"

  Climbing the wall of the stone shaft, Tram had begun to wonder how long he would have to listen to Waldo’s over exaggerated peril and how he was responsible for nearly getting him slain.

  Reaching the top Tram was dumbfounded to find a solid wooden stoop and what appeared to be a carved out chamber from one solid piece of wood. The hatch like door had a finger sized hole that concealed a carved-in release latch.

  Outside it became immediately clear that the wooden chamber was in fact the carved out innards of an ancient oak tree. The door was concealed to look like striped away bark, the look of being the work of lightning and Tram had only needed to turn sideways slightly to step out on to the giant roots of the old tree.

  The riders came up the path to see Tram and Marrella looking into a thicket, whereas Waldo was tangled up in and the more he struggled in his anger, the more he got tangled up in the vines. He finally gave up with his struggle and just glared at Tram.

  As Tram and Jonston cut into the thicket to free Waldo, Ballard and the other two guardsmen introduced their selves to the Princess. Pledging allegiance to her safety and loyal duty of whatever her endeavors might be.

  Jonston asked Tram how it is they had gotten from the city past them with out being seen? Tram pointed at the fat gnarly oak tree they had exited. This only confused the others as the sound of alarm came from the city walls. The bugling successions of ram horns could not be mistaken as anything else.

  The nearest path out of the woods led to the north west of the woods. From there they could skirt the woods and head north but sooner or later they would have to start heading east.

  They had ridden their horses hard for the good part of four furlongs and the horses were foamed from sweat. Then they began to slow their horses to a walk for quarter of a furlong so they could catch wind and repeated this strategy of pace two more times before coming to the first village.

  When entering the first village many of the villagers began to point at the group of riders as Tram waved curtly in response. By the time they reached the stable there was a sizable crowd following behind.

  Out of caution, Ballard and his men drew their swords. "Don't worry their just happy to see me once again.“ Tram said with a big smile as they swept him and mount aside like a log in a flooding river until he was pinned against the split railed corral.

  Stopping short of sword swing one of the villagers pointed at Marrella and demanded from her an answer. "Who are you and how did you acquire that stone?"

  Never having been subjected to such brutish attention, Marrella was a loss for words. Captain Ballard was not as he stood in his stirrups and in a churl manner answered the demand. “You are addressing Princess Marrella, daughter of Prince Issmond, son of King Negley, rightful heir to the throne of Coradda, you rotted piece of slog!"

  A big peasant with a big belly named Rugbez, asked Tram, "Is what he saying the truth Tram?"

  Tram could see the apprehension on some of the faces of the villagers, as if they very much wanted to believe what Ballard had just told them. It hadn't dawned on him that many of the refugees that had left Coradda so many years ago would settle in the villages of Argonia and would be numerous by now.

  Blended in with the refugees of Coradda, were Argonians merely curious of the legendary glowing stone that topped the Staff that the Princess now clutched to her bosom. "It is all so true!" Tram replied.

  Slowly and starting with a few of the men and women closest to the Princess, they started kneeling in homage till even those who were not of Coradda were kneeling.

  Marrella was astonished at the quick turn of emotions. The situation had taken her completely by surprise as she started seeking out the safety of her Fathers advice. She would keep her dignity about her if nothing else. "Thank you for your adulations, I don't know that I'm worthy of your honor however."

  The gathering began to stand once again then Rugbez asked her with his usual loud gruff voice "Are we going to take back our land Your Highness, I for one will be at your loyal service?" Others began echoing Rugbez sentiments.

  Marrella was stricken to numbness; she knew not what to say. She didn't even know where she was going more-less have a following wondering about behind her. A following she had no way of support for. She began shaking her head she could not have others share her burden and she started to say, no, no, you should not follow us we will be in danger but before her response could be made, Tram spoke up.

  "We are going to Coradda to reclaim the kingdom for Princess Marrella and to settle therein!"

  Others, looked at Tram as if he were as loony as suspected. "Coradda is nothing but a wilderness with nothing but vicious beasts to be worried with!" One man yelled out.

  "Who said we were on a mission of pleasures!" was Trams retort, "I never knew any of you to shy hard work and with the sweat will come the rains but first we will have to drive back the savages and monsters that claim Coradda for themselves.

  Spread the word! Were heading east after a stop at Celtar but I must forewarn you that if you come with us, not only will you have the dangers of the wild in front of you but you will have the army of Argonia chasing behind. For King Moran has a covetous eye for the Staff of the Rainbow Stone!"

  Rugbez, encouraged by a forgotten patriotism and Trams fervor, shouted out "Over my dead bones!"

Greetings

  Only taking the time to buy a spare mount, the small troop left the village in a shroud of dust for fear of not knowing how far behind the Kings men might be and to leave whom might follow them to follow at their own pace. At about eight furlongs out they slowed their horses again. Waldo finally got the chance to ridicule Tram without too many ears to hear.

  "So, you have tecided we're goin' ta go conquer Coradda for us have ya?" Tram smiled back. "It did seem like the thing to say at the time."

  "Dhere isn'd anydhing there to conquer!" Waldo retorted. Tram removed his gauntlets to stroke sweat from his golden brown beard "I would not think it very hard to do then."

  When the troop reached the outskirts of the next village young ones curious to see a real live Princess, lined the road way to greet them. Somehow, someway, word of their coming had preceded them there.

  The wayward troop stopped only long enough to water their horses among the joyous crowd and graciously accepting the offerings of bread and fruit from the ladies of the village.

  In leaving the village of Cial their ranks had increased by a dozen riders. By the time they had gone through the next two villages their numbers had grown to near fifty.

  In approaching the city of Vantix where as they would turn to the east, they were greeted once again with cheers but on a much larger scale. It was now getting well into twilight and they had pushed a hard days ride. The group was gambling that the garrison there hadn't gotten word yet from the King to intercede their journey and contrary to their fear, the garrison lined the road leading to the city giving the troop a salute as they entered.

  Perhaps seeing Captain Ballard at the head of the troop may have given them confidence that the group had the Kings blessings.

  The cheer filled crowd led them to the center of town where the Governor waited.. The Governor, a plump man with baby cheeks and kinky gray hair jovially welcomed the Princess of the Rainbow Stone to hospitality of his province.

  The pomp and ceremony took about half an hour at the end of which the Governor extended the use of his palace to the Princess, Captain Ballard and Tram but to the no little disappointment of the Governor, the trio declined citing their need to make preparations of camp outside the city, so as an early resumption of their quest could be made. That they wanted to be back on the road before the sun rise in the morning. As a matter of courtesy, they instead invited him to where they would make camp for a chat if he so wished.

  The Princess and the honorary commanders of a diverse but rapidly forming army sat before a camp fire relaxing and eating the hand outs of the good people of Vantix. At present the number of the troop was guessed at about four score with men arriving periodically in groups of twos and threes.

  It was still early yet in the night with the hint of the brightest of stars beginning to pop up in the darkening sky when Governor Miden and his entourage made good on his promise of a visitation.

  Six Knights, the Captain of the garrison, a small troop of soldiers and two slaves hoisting a wooden throne for the Governor, accompanied him.

  "I have decided to take your offer of a camp fire chat." The Governor said after the appropriate greetings were exchanged. "I must say it has been some time now that I have had the occasion to do such however."

  Captain Ballard elected himself to make the apology. "We are sorry for any inconvenience to you, O' High Honored One."

  Governor Miden raised a halting hand as he sat. "No need to apologize. This brings back old memories for me," the Governor said as he looked about the camp of mulling men and the near dotted landscape of camp fires. "I can not say that I will ever miss the mosquitoes though," as he splattered one out of existence on the backside of his hand.

  "The smoke should drive them away, must have been a hungry opportunist." Tram said attempting to make a lame excuse for the Governors discomfort.

  The Governor nodded in agreement. "Hungry opportunist seems to be the way of the world and speaking of which, what is in all this for a man like you, Tram?"

  "I am an opportunist, true enough but not very hungry." Tram said smacking his lips as he chewed away on his bread. "I just want to do the right thing." Tram continued to say as he gave Marrella a quick glance.

  The Governor laughed but seeing he was the only one to do so, said. "All right, if you say so. In any case I am happy to have the chance to meet you. I must say, I had my doubts of the tales I have heard of you but now you show up with the legendary Rainbow Stone and a beautiful Princess to go with it. I must say you are making me to become a believer."

  "Sire, I am honored. I think."

  The Governor chuckled. "Well its not very oft a person gets to see two legends at the same time, I would think."

  The Governor took a long look at the stone toped staff. He seemed genuinely marveled at the multi colored glow that shun even over the fire light that danced about the immediate area. Then he looked at Marrella and said. "Of course, like everyone else, I have heard the rumor that the Rainbow Stone was hidden in the Kingdom somewhere but to tell you the truth I did not believe that it even existed and to top that, it seems to have grown a limb."

  The Princess answered him straight forward "My Father had it hid away and after his tragic death its responsibility fell to me. The staff was a gift from King Moran. He said that it was made from the limb of a tree said to be a legend in its own right."

  Marrella’s answer made the Governors eyes widen. "Three legends, all at one camp fire? My, my, I be of great joy of your company tonight! Please tell me more about this tree."

  Tram interjected for the Princess. "The King didn't say much about it, other than it came from the tree of the forbidden fruit, that the Mother of all Mothers had eaten from, located in a far off land named Edeenia or something like that."

  "Another legend indeed." said the Governor "And do you believe it to be true?" "I've not the slightest of notions." Tram replied. "It does not seem to help the stone to shine anymore but it does not seem to hinder either, a conduit perhaps."

  The Governor acknowledged with the lifting of his slightly balding head. "Is it true various people can make it shine? May I give it a try?"

  With that said Marrella jerked the staff towards herself as if pulling a child from wolf. The men around the camp fire instinctively made a halting move for their swords. Waldo went as far as to grab the handle of his battle-axe, which in turn caused the Governors men to pull their weapons half way out of their sheaths. Tram didn't move a muscle but instead said, "We would be very apprehensive of a man of your stature taking charge of the staff while men of battle were about you."

  "Oh, of course, of course." Turning to his men he ordered, "Go to the armories and see what, if any old spare weapons and armor we can afford the brave men of this venture, I'll be fine here till your return."

  After watching his men ride off to the task given them, the Governor turned and narrowed his kinky gray browed eyes, focusing in on Captain Ballard. With a seriousness that would have brought out sweat on a turtle shell and instead of talk of staffs and legends he said. "Now let’s talk about why a Captain of the Kings army is in such great haste to get off to the wild with an army of rabble to fight monsters."

  The statement caught all those around the camp fire off-guard. There was nothing but silence. Had he known all along that the Captain was a deserter? Had he guessed that the only reason to be in such a hurry was that they were running from something, the King perhaps?

  Tram finally spoke up in defense of the Captain. "Were in a hurry to get to Celtar so as we miss no volunteers to are cause, all are suppose to meet there. The King was kind enough, the loan of the Captain to expedite our journey since he is stationed near that province."

  The Governor shook his slightly balding kinky head with a grin and fluttered his squinty eyes and said "Then where are the Captains orders that should have been presented to me?"

  "We were..." "Save the mush muck for someone whom swallow it Tram, I don't even want to know! I do not even care, as long as my head does not wind up on the Kings chopping block. In fact, I hope  you well in your cause if indeed you intend to do as you say you are going to do. Even some of my own peasants have been raided by incursions of those savages and wild beasts of the wild.

  You may or may not get a few good hours of sleep but if I were you I would leave very, very, early of the morn. Because I have the suspicion you do not have the Kings good graces. Now, where were we in our converse?

  Governor Miden first looked at the staffs intricacies of art in admiration. He was very pleased with himself of being counted as one of few men that were able to make the stone shine. He sat for a long while in silence staring through the glow of the stone, into the conglomeration of colors. Into its seemingly infinite corridor that would not allow anyone to reach it's inner core.

Onward To Celtar

  With orders left to be awaken at the end of the second watch. The company was able to ready themselves for travel well before the first rooster would crow. They had awoken to the surprise that in those few hours of sleep that their troop strength had increased another three score of horsemen ready for battle with many footmen besides.

  The footmen were left with orders to organize as they go, for they would be left behind to follow at their own pace.

  Nored would be the last community the army would pass through before their final leg to Celtar and it was midday by the time they arrived there. They would stop to water their horses, fill their water bags and acquire what ever supplies they were able to.

  As they entered the village Jonston’s wife, two sons and daughter was among the awaiting crowd. His wives jaw dropped in utter astonishment to see her husband ride by with feckley face and dark brown eyes straight ahead as if stubbornly looking past some unknown horizon. Jonston was at the very fore-front of the in-coming army, now estimated to be near two hundred horsemen. Tram and Waldo rode abreast behind him followed by the Princess with Captain Ballard at the lead of her guard.

  Jonston would not even allow himself to acknowledge his own children even though he could see them out of his peripheral vision, waving and shouting with the proudest of vigor. He would not allow himself to acknowledge anyone until they reached the center of Nored, whereas he would dismount with some pomp removed his sallet helmet and brushed back his dark brown hair.

  He was quickly enveloped by family and friends. Waldo too was joyously hugged and kissed all over his hairless upper lip by a small brown haired woman of the village that Waldo was very fond of.

  Tram feeling suddenly alone turned to look at Marrella. It wasn't a new feeling for him, he had spent his life in big part alone.

  There had been times he had gone to larger towns in search of companionship and thought he had fell in love but it always turned out that the women he ever knew were self centered or women whom wanted men to treat them like rags to be soiled so as to be thrown on to the heap.

  He had wonder to himself if it was not he that was at fault, whether he was expecting too much. Whether if he would ever find what so many men seem to know as happiness of love. At least many seem to be happy with love. He even began to wonder if he knew what love truly was.

  He wished he could find an older woman that was like Marrella, someone who would put up with an older worn out rig, like himself.

  Through the sun bleached beard Marrella could see a slight upturn of a smile at the edge of Tram’s lips his brown eyes showed a hint of sadness that she could barely distinguish. Not at all the wide eye glee he usually graced her with.

  What was he hiding? She wondered why he barely even spoken to her more-less flirted with her, as she wished he would. He seemed to be attracted to her but yet it was like he had an iron grip on his feelings and therefore his tongue as well.

  He didn't seem like the kind of man that would be shy around women and he would have to know that she had never even had the opportunity to be anything but shy. Thus far she had made all the attempts at getting to know each other, which frustrated her. It made her wonder if he was actually attracted to her or whether it was just a case of him being a nice man and her imagination gone floating about. Surely he didn't expect her to throw herself at him like some loose vixen.

  They stared at each other, each knowing not what to say. All the while Jonston and Waldo had made their good-bys and already have remounted and hadn’t even noticed that everyone else had remounted.

  "Come on you two, we can not stay here forever." Jonston said with an air of gallantry.

  With Jonston once again taking the lead, Brawnz strutted as if he were off to find romance himself  and this inspired the rest of the horses till they got to the edge of the village then as if on cue, the parade of troops that were aligned three abreast, galloped away to the cheers of the crowd behind them.

  The troop started to tire as the afternoon sun started taking its normal effects, they were now traveling at a much slower pace on their last jot to Celtar. They decided they would spend what was left of the afternoon and night there before resuming their march onward into the wilderness of Coradda.

  The leaders of the newly formed army loped along as they made talk of possible plans on their way. When the question of tactics came up, Trams responded. "What tactics could be needed? I've never given any thought to tactics before when I venture into the wild. I must say though, all my intentions were, was to gather a large hunting party for the purpose of safety for the Princess. Perhaps clear out a section of the wild so as to hide in. I didn't expect a small army to form around us. It will be a slaughter for any of the band of savages we happen to run across. I am willing to guess that many of these men will soon get bored with wondering about in the wild and will return home."

  Captain Ballard agreed but had a concern of his own. "I'm afraid your right Tram, I'm a afraid that all we will have accomplish is providing King Moran’s pursuit with an easy way to track us and our battle will be with him, in which we could not possibly win. Many of good men might die with our mission ending in failure."

  With that said Tram lowered his head and mumbled, "I am use to making blunder but I am not use to others taking the brunt blow of my stupidity."

  "Whad are you dalking about Dram? Waldo, spoke up. "I've daken my fair share of scars from your stupitity for ages now."

  "This is not the time to try and cheer me up Waldo but I will keep that thought for later." Tram replied, leaving Waldo looking back at him with distaste.

  They all meditated in silence for the remainder of the days ride wondering how they were going to supply an army.

  The plateau of Celtar came into site. No matter how many times a person seen the vertical walls of the cliffs they were still a wondrous sight to behold. The shades of pink and beige coupled with the marbling of the gray and of iron ores had a pleasing affect even on Tram, whom had seen them nearly every day of his life.

  Rounding the curve that led to the lower plain below the cliffs the troop stopped. Looking across the plain they could see an army of savages twice the size of their own. It was obvious that they were being driven towards the entrance of the only passage that led up to the top of the plateau where Tram called home.

  They were driven like a herd of cattle by several short green demons riding on the backs of terrible land dragons. The nations that border the wild called these demons, goblins. However the main concern would be of the dragons that the goblins were riding.

  They were not the biggest of their kind but at least thrice the bulk of a horse and their speed made up for their difference in size.

  They ran on their hind legs like a human. Shades of green scales encompassed their tales and ran up their backs ending as a cap on top of their heads. Scales also covered their clawed hands and feet, where as they had two digits for fingers and their feet was as if they were of a giant bird except for they only had two toes in front instead of three. The rest of the skin that covered the giant beast was a dull gray.

  Their tails and clawed feet were inherit weapons but it was their massive head that was by far the most terrifying. With jaws agape they would have no trouble swallowing a pig whole and their rows of teeth were like daggers, for the use of ripping large hunks of flesh from any that was misfortunate enough to be their victim.

  The swarms of savages over time had turned a pale color of yellow. No doubt from some horrid disease. From what use to be humans, it almost appeared that the back lobe of their skulls had softened somewhat and now drooped backwards from the weight of their brains. Too, their teeth were now elongated and sharpened to a point, probably the result of gnawing on bones.

  Waldo was the first to comment "Whad do you do, sup with the cannibals?”

  Tram stared forward in a mixture of confusion and disbelief then replied. “Why are all the ill, storming to my door?”

The Battle at Celtar

  One of the Goblins must have seen the arrival of the troop because they changed course to intercept the small army of brigands.

  Captain Ballard turned to his two subordinates and ordered them to get the Princess clear of harms way. Waldo looked at the trio leaving and then looked at Tram with an urgent look. For a fleeting moment, Tram wondered if his concern was for the Princess or for the Rainbow Stone. He almost looked frantic and Tram knew it was not a case of fear. Tram knew Waldo well enough to know he would like nothing better then take the legs out from under a few of the savages. It was clear that Waldo desperately wanted to remain in his duty as the personal body guard of the Princess. "Go with them, you would just trip us all up with that horn spiked helmet of yours." Tram said trying to antagonize the dwarf. Waldo shook an unflattering hand signal back at Tram as he spurred his pony in pursuit of the staff wielding Princess.

  The immediate plan was to split up. Tram would take twenty men to the left side and Jonston would take twenty men to the right and try to take out the dragons, in the way hunters would, before they became a big factor in the battle. Ballard’s main force would take on the bulk of the savages.

  Even though the army of Coradda was out numbered two to one, they would have a big advantage in that they were on horseback, whereas the savages were on foot. That is, as long as they didn't get intertwined and enveloped by the savages.

  That's why Ballard had the orders to be passed to his forces not to wade too deep into the enemies forces; he wanted then to concentrate on the leading edge of the advancing savages.

  The only advantage the savages would have are the monsters that would be fighting with them and the fact that they were all insane.

  The stampeded savages were allowed to exert the energy to close the gap between the two facing armies. Although it was just as likely the savages didn't have the senses to know what fatigue was. When they got within the distance of a quarter of a furlong Captain Ballard gave the order to charge.

  Jonston swung his squad way to the right flank of the savages in hopes of drawing the goblins on his side away from the savages.

  Trams squad did not have that luxury, having the cliffs of Celtar restricting there movements to the left.

  The lead Goblins flanking the savage army, seeing that they were being singled out for attack quickly turned their dragons toward the rear. The one Tram was closing the distance with, turned so abruptly, that he squashed a savage that had been trailing behind in an effort to stay clear of the goblins whip.

  Tram in hopes of catching the retreating dragon, spurred his horse forward. This decision became a tactical mistake. He soon found himself and the squad that followed him penned against the cliffs and forced to dismount. Fortunately he had made good choices in the men he had chosen to accompany him.

  The men with him were fully engaged now and already had slain or severely injured at least a dozen savages keeping a good distance of sword swing intact and after quickly killing a poorly clad savage, Tram was now faced with a near giant of a heathen wielding a long poled executioner’s axe.

  The savage executioner swung the axe in a reckless swath that cleared him of battle and well away of the distance of a spear. He'd even hacked one of his own comrades that was unaware of the peril that edged forward from behind.

  Not having the time to pick his moment of rebuke, Tram swung sword to the right, colliding weapons with the ex-executioner. Catching the pole just below the axe head it slowed its momentum but there was enough force in the swing to slam both Tram and sword back.

  The resulting blow left two slashing dents in the armor Tram wore.

  The dent from the battle-axe was caught at the shoulder plate barely slicing through. Tram did not know if or how bad he’d been sliced. The blow from his own sword had glanced off his helmet but the force of blow knocked him off his feet. He now found himself sitting on a large flat toped rock, slightly dazed from the impact.

  The big savage pulled the pole axe back into a circular motion to finish the job but Rugbez whom was close to hand saw the opportunity to strike. Running up on the savage he jammed his long sword deep into the side of the bare-chested executioner.

  Jonston and his group were successful in catching the retreating goblins on his side of the battlefield. Like a pack of dogs they dodged in and out slicing into the legs of the terrible dragon.

  The goblin was in a panic trying to get the dragon to ignore its attackers so he could get to the safety of the rest of the dragons at the rear of their army but blood gushed from the wounds as the terrible dragon stomped around in circles snapping its huge jaws at its tormentors.

  Jonston’s men were working as a team as if they had fought together in other battles but one man got careless as he darted in for an attack. His mount got tripped up by the whipping tail of the monster. The rider was able to roll clear of the falling horse but the dragon was quick to focus its un-thwarted attention on the hapless horse.

  The dragon sunk its jaws into the belly of the horse shaking the animal back and forth.

  Fortunately for the downed rider, the dragon as a matter of reflex chose to attack the larger of his two prey. Quickly, a fellow horseman heroically gave rescue of the fallen warrior. They were so close to the dragon that they both were splattered by the blood of the now dead horse. All the while the goblin having seen that he was in a bad situation screamed franticly while he swung his scimitar wildly trying to stave off the out of range attackers.

  The dragon was now oblivious of the peril around itself as he busied himself in taking vengeance out on the dead horse he shook violently in his mouth.

  A rider with a spear did not waste the sudden opportunity to sink the shaft of his weapon deep into the belly of the dragon. As another spearmen coming from the opposite direction did the same to the goblin.

  The dragon dropped the horse from his gapping mouth and staggered a few steps forward and collapsed to its knees grasping long dying breaths. The goblin tumbled backwards landing on his face with it's predominate large mouth still wide open as the same spearmen that had skewed him, made sure he would shriek laughter no more. Meanwhile the other men of Jonston’s squad were taking turns harassing the flank of the savages so as keep them from giving aid to the goblin.

  With one dragon down they gathered their selves away from the fray taking bearings on what might be their next target. Two terrible dragons came running straight at them from around the rear of the army that they had previously been urging forward. A third swung way out in a flanking move, evident that he would come at the riders from behind.

  Jonston quickly had his men split up into three groups to deal with each threat separately, hopefully they could draw them away from any help that the savages could lend the three goblins. If they did go further out to interfere in the skirmishes, then that would at the least, greatly weaken their battlefront.

  Captain Ballard’s horsemen were having a hard time keeping from being swarmed by the multitude of savages. The savage’s reckless regard for death was instigated from behind. The wild men had no want or way of turning to retreat or stopping as they were being urged forward by their fellow savages from behind. In turn they were being forced ahead by the snapping jaws of the terrible dragons. All the while the goblins that rode them snapped their whips with shrill glee of laughter.

  Ballard’s men after taken some losses in the beginning were now getting the idea of what they had to do to stay mounted and alive to fight.

  Attacking and retreating in groups of threes and fours across the front of the battle line, not allowing the savages to concentrate on any one group. Like birds, Ballard’s men swooped in to make one or two killings then swoop back out as others swooped in..

  The savages were beginning to take heavy losses but still in numbers they strove forward, relentless, untiring.

  Trams squad on foot and using the cliff to their backs as protection edged their selves toward the rear of the advancing army. At first they had been in some difficulty and lost four good men but as the savage army pushed forward their opponents were pushed away from them. Now the savages were going by unaware that some of them were being slain from an adversary to their flanking side.

  Tram and his men soon reached the rear of the advancing army and were fully expecting to find at least three goblins, riding dragons but to their relief there was only one. Surprised to see one of the dragons either fleeing the battle field or trying to flank the battle field entirely. There was only one left, running back and forth driving the troops forward.

  This was good news for Trams group, for they would have been at great disadvantage having to face the dragons on foot. This would be very bad news for Jonston’s group, if they were forced to fight several dragons at the same time.

  "What shall we do now?" Rugbez Shouted. "Slay as many of these (Ill bred) scrodes as you are able would be my guess!" Tram shouted back as he started running along the back side of the army with full intentions of confronting the lone goblin and his dragon.

  The lone goblin seeing the group of humans emerging from his right flank of his charges urged his dragon forward. He would show these humans why these dragons were called terrible dragons. With a curdling scream of courage, mixed with laughter, he bore down on the foolish human in the partial set of steel armor.

  Tram knew he was about to be squashed under foot of the giant monster. He didn't care, he was responsible for his men loosing their mounts. He had charged blindly past the flank of the on coming army in a stubborn and useless effort to catch one lone dragon. Now, not only would his squad have to face a dragon on foot but would have the whole of the rear of the savage army to deal with. There was no telling how many good men would die because of his rash actions.

  As the distance closed rapidly upon him his last thoughts were of Marrella. Strange as it were, had he fallen in love with a maiden nearly half his age? Was he just an aging fool, mistaking a kindly smile as love. Don’t suppose it will matter now, he may not even be alive in a few moments.

  Captain Ballard’s men were inflicting a great toll on the savages. Still yet, as with any battle there would be losses on both sides. His estimate was that they had reduced their foes numbers by half as the afternoon seemed to dwindle away. The problem now was that he had lost about fifty men and the enemy was still relentless in their drive forward.

  He also was fully aware that the more casualties they took the more susceptible they would be in taking even more casualties at a faster rate. As that effect was already occurring as men and horses started to tire.

  With Tram’s and Jonston’s troops keeping the dragons at bay, this now left him with about a hundred and ten men. Having seen Trams squad enveloped at the side of the cliff he had to assume they were all slain by now.

  He could see the Heads of three dragons at the right flank of the savages chasing and snapping at what has to be Jonston’s men. He can’t allow those dragons to get around that flank as he could see they were gradually getting closer and closer to the front line. If they do, there could be no doubt his army would soon be routed and even though he really couldn't afford to send more men to their aid. He was left with no other choice. He sent the first ten men he saw at random to go and reinforce Jonston’s squad.

  As Ballard had been doing since the battle began, he went back to the task of personally taking up battle at any weak spots he saw in the front lines. He had just left one skirmish where as he killed one savage and most likely injured another.

  As he looked over the front lines to see were he was needed the most next, he noticed that the savages had slowed in their advance. Too, he could see that there was some kind of commotion at play towards the left rear of the enemy troops.

  It was likely that the reason the enemy were not as enthused as before was because, he could see also that there was no longer any dragons forcing the savages forward.

  He was not the only one to take notice of the change in the battle field situation. His men were now starting to attack with a renewed vigor.

  Princess Marrella, her personal guardsmen and Waldo sat on horseback well away from the carnage.

  As the Battle progressed, the two guardsmen had to keep insisting they move back to safety as the enemy forces kept slowly advancing.

  At the beginning of the battle they had to grab the Princess reins to keep her from charging into the fray armed with only her staff. This was shortly after Tram and his men were swallowed up by the savages near the cliff.

  She sat all that afternoon with tears moisten her big brown eyes, so that it almost look as if she wore a mask of pinkish red. Several times the guardsmen urged her, that they should return to Nored till the outcome of the battle was known but she was not about to leave so many valiant men to fight for some stupid stone while she ran off to the safety of civilization. "I know what I'll do." she said. "I'll just give this staff to King Moran and this nightmare can be his problem." "We can not allow you to do that Your Highness." Said Gordan one of the two guardsmen.

  "What do you mean you won’t allow it?" she said in retort.

  We beg your pardon your Highness but we can not allow you to return to King Moran nor allow you to part with that staff, we would die first." The second guardsmen named Rogar reiterated.

  She looked at Waldo astonished at what she just heard as if she were looking for some sympathy. "If your gona give id away, give id to me." Waldo said as the two guardsmen shook there heads in disbelief of Waldo’s gall.

  From the rise they were watching the battle from, they began to hear something crashing through the thicket and woods that lay below them The dragon and goblin they thought had fled the battlefield broke out of the woods from an angle that would cut them off from Ballard’s main force.

  There was little need for shouting of orders as the horses bolted towards the opposite direction.

  The guardsmen began to turn their mounts to angle an attack on the monsters. Just as they were about to close the gap between them, the goblin swung the dragon into the path of the two guardsmen, sending both horses and riders sprawling.

  The goblin let the dragon take the time to make a couple of snaps at the now fleeing horses of the two guardsmen.

  Gordan had to roll clear to keep from being smashed into the ground. It was clear the goblin’s objective was neither the guardsmen nor the horses as it quickly resumed his chase of the Princess.

  Seeing what had happen to the two guardsmen Waldo yelled over at Marrella "We'll nod be able to out distance dhem ad da angle their takin’, head for dhose rocks ahead we can try to fight dhem off, undill help arrives!"

  Waldo was relieved some at Marrella’s agility when they jumped from their mounts and ran for the out crop of rocks. He got her safely snuggled into the wedge of the overhang he had known about. Once settled in she said "hurry get in!" "I'd love do but I want do slay dhis dragon." He said as he smiled in at her.

  She became more horrified then she already was. She could see beyond Waldo that the dragon was nearly there to take out its retribution. "Watch out Waldo!" She screamed. “I like dalking widh you, Princess." he responded as he calmly stared into the darkness of the crevice with unblinking craggy blue eyes not showing any fear.

  Waldo already knew that the dragon was nearly there by the pounding of its foot steps. He knew exactly how close it was by the approaching shadow and at the very last possible moment he jumped to his right.

  The dragon’s forehead slammed into the overhang, the boulders shivered and dirt trickled down in a fog, causing a dust cloud she could not readily peer through.

  The dragon staggered from the blow it had inflicted on it self and the goblin jumped off the dragon and was now walking calmly up the rocks and away from her.

  Then she saw Waldo lying on his back with his leg caught between two big rocks. "What’s the matter dwarf, you stuck are you?" The goblin said sarcastically as it let out a shrill haunting laugh.

  "Here I'll help you. Where do you want me to cut your leg free at?" The goblin laughed hysterically as it climbed the rocks toward Waldo, waving its scimitar like sword.

  Marrella was not about to watch while this midget of a demon hacked away at Waldo. Waldo had been a good friend, in fact the first real friend she had ever known and she would fight to the death if need be as he was about to unselfishly do for her.

  The goblin jumped up on a rock near the dwarfs’ feet just out of reach of Waldo’s battle-axe and hadn't notice that Princess Marrella had rolled out from what ever little protection the crevice might had provided her.

  Raising his sword he had full intentions of fulfilling his promise to sever the dwarf’s leg.

  Marrella's first frantic thought was to bash the bulging eyed demon in the head but found it urgent to push him away at the last moment. Shoving at the small of the back of the goblin, the goblin stumbled off the rock dropping its sword and grabbing its head as if suddenly something painful had erupted in it’s mind.

  Then she remembered Winikkarr's words. "For some the stone gives an agonizing sense of guilt."

  She heard Waldo yell at her to get back into the overhang but she was not about to. She realized she had a weapon of some worth after all. She fallowed the goblin down the steps of stones making sure of her footsteps. In defiance of fear she shoved the staff into the goblins chest. The goblin went crazy, screaming, momentarily not sure of which way to run then turned and ran towards his dragon in an effort to escape his torment.

  The dragon seemed to have regained some of its senses and was in the process of evaluating his surroundings. Whether it was from reflex or not it raised its pit of a jaw and in sudden horror chomped down on the unsuspecting goblin.

  The lower half of two green legs dropped from the lips of the dragon as it started chewing on its freely offered sacrifice. What ever bond the goblin had with the dragon before had evidently been broken.

  Marrella forced herself to return to her own senses after witnessing the horrid sight and ducked down low near to Waldo. The dragon walked away, trying to spit out the distasteful creature. Shaking its head and rubbing its face into the grass as it went. One could only surmise that the goblin must have been a horrible choice of a meal to the terrible dragon.

  You won’t tell anyone you saved my life will you?" Waldo said with pleading eyes.

  "I promise, I won’t." She said kissing him on the forehead.

  "You won’d dell anyone you kisset me will you?”

  Smiling she answered him "I won't, I promise." Waldo responded with an old dwarven exclamation, "Farce flungun." he said as he snapped his fingers in an over exaggerated look of disappointment and the two allowed themselves a moment of relief and laughter.

The End of pt.3

The Night Approaches

With the help of the dwindling twilight and from the height of the plateau, Ballard and company could see out where the boundary of life met the forsaken limits of the wild. Their enemy were content to settling in, to wait for sunup. They could also make out that large numbers of savages were being continually herded into the growing army of savages. Also, a large army of ogres had arrived at the encampment and were setting camp as well.

Everyone stood silent, what should have been boasts of joy over the days victory, became a death stare into the growing darkness that only gave them a respite from the knowledge of themselves being vastly out numbered. That days battle had only been with a forward scouting party as so happens.

Leaving watchmen at the eastern parameter, Ballard and company went to make camp nearer to the lodge.

As they set somberly and chewed away at their meal of dried fruit and dough bread, Tram came out of his lodge, that had been converted into a field hospital. No one spoke till he sat down. "How is your head?" Captain Ballard asked him. "It is just a bump, I am still a little woozy, a little tired."

Ballard nodded, they were all tired, it’d been a long day.

Tram gestured around at his friends gathered around the campfire. "Why are all, as though dreaming?"

Ballard told him about the large army forming way out at the edge of the wild. Then Ballard looked at Tram with an enquiring look to his bleak expression before he continued. "Of course we could not help but take notice that the savages looked to be of a want of giving you some greetings?" Those around the campfire looked at Tram as if to ask him what he had done to invoke the savages’ wrath.

"They probably heard of my fame and stopped by to see if I were a myth." Trams response did not get the chuckles he was hoping for. "Perhaps they got tired of me hunting on their land."

"Perhaps all dhey wand is Dram." Waldo said keeping his bushy browed eyes locked in on Trams.

After a long moment Jonston spoke out. "One thing is for certain, we can not let these monsters get past us."

Tram shifted his glance back to Ballard "Has word been sent to the nearby villages, to alert them of their peril?" "Of course." Ballard replied. "Surely the nearby garrisons will come to our aid but I doubt if the first of them could possibly be here till after mid-day of the morrow."

"If dhey show up ad all. Dhat is dill after we’ve all been slain." Waldo said, remembering what King Moran had said about giving Tram aid.

Only Tram and Jonston knew what Waldo was referring to. Captain Ballard was not privy to the conversation at the palace, when King Moran might as well had told Tram he would rather see him slain than to aid him in his defense. However, Ballard knew Waldo well enough that he was keeping something from him. "Is there something else I should know?"

Tram decided he should answer the Captain before Waldo had everyone crying on their dough bread. "What were your orders all the while you were Captain at the barracks?" "To keep order and security in the territory." Ballard replied.

"And where are the boundary markers?" Trams last question left Ballard looking back to the west and mulling over the thought.

"Well, at the least we have few reinforcement ourselves,” Tram said as he pointed towards some new arrivals. Trams last gesture left little enthusiasm on the company.

Tram went on to say. “The King seems to have a sudden interest in the Stone and we can assume he will be sending a fairly large force after us. Now if we could only get those two forces to butt heads, without us getting caught in the mix..” Tram said looking around the campfire with an encouraging grin but not getting anything in return but blanketed stares.

He didn’t want to think about it himself so he changed the subject “What happen out there today? I seemed to have missed half the battle. The last thing I remember was that I was about to become a flat cake for a crazed goblin.”

“You are a hero” Ballard Said. “Or at least your squad came through for us. They broke up the savages ranks by attacking at their backs.

Rugbez smiled from a course ruddy face. “You do not remember rupturing that dragon at the belly?

That is to say, as he clashed you flat?” He finished asking with a laugh as everyone chuckled with him. “You squatted just in time to dodge the dragons lunge and as he flattened you, you thrust your sword up into its middles. Then he tumbled squashing the goblin and we easily finished him off. You are getting to be quite the dragon slayer.” Rugbez finished by thumbing back over his shoulder towards the rotting flying dragon that lay off towards the gorge.

Other then a few curious of the volunteers it lay well away from anyone that had a good sense of smell. “Oh, I had forgotten all about that thing.” Tram said taking some delight in proving himself right over the forgotten tale of the Flying Dragon.

“I guess they do exist” Captain Ballard had to admit and delight was not what Ballard expressed. “I wonder if there is anymore like it that may be a concern in the coming fight. The terrible dragons are

enough to be worried with, more less flying dragons swooping down on us.”

“Well, I just may have a little surprise for them if there are others of them.” Tram said, but before anyone could ask him what surprise that might be, he asked Jonston, “How did things go on your side of the field? I thought perhaps you were in a bad way after seeing those other dragons going after you and your men?

“We were hurried in a bad way but when your men attacked the savages from the rear and Ballard from the fore, the savages broke ranks and got entangled with the dragons and it got more then just a little messy for all of them.” Jonston chuckled before he continued. “All of the dragons that were in the fray today were slain except perhaps the one Waldo claims to have knocked senseless, with a single blow.” Jonston said repeating Waldo's claim but with some mirth at Waldo’s expense.

Jonston’s jibe got everyone at the fire to laugh unexpectedly. “Laugh if you will!” Waldo yelld with a dwarfish irritation, “bud I saved the Princess and da Rainbow Sdone by knocking down a derrible tragon, I dell you!”

Tram knew Waldo wasn’t prone to lying, over exaggerating is highly likely but not right out lying and knowing that he had been with the Princess was more then enough to ask Waldo what had happen?

Waldo was just about to tell his tale, winching from the pain of his ankle, which too may have been exaggerated. He opened his mouth to explain when a jubilant cheer broke out across the top of the plateau and the tattered army slowly began to stand.

Everyone at the fire stood to cheer as well, everyone except Waldo.

The Princess had stepped out from the lodge flanked by Rogar and Gordan, her two bodyguards. She stared across the troops in a look of shocked awe holding the staff to her side but soon the look of shock turned into a smile of acknowledgement as she breathed in the excitement of the moment.

She could not have known but at that moment she looked like an angel from above, an angel of mercy for an army in doubt. The way the Stone seemed to light up her beauty in its glow. It was something to behold. It was something that was certainly needed. It was something that gave knew life and meaning to the hosts’ predicament. Even the most downtrodden had no choice but to join in at the joyous commotion.

Princess Marrella just stood still not knowing what to do as the cheers slowly turned into a loud chant.

Hail Queen Marrella, Hail Queen Marrella, Hail Queen Marrella!

Marrella humbly lowered her head then gazed across the length of the plateau, anyone whom knew her well would’ve been able to detect a slight blush. She was frozen in her stance like a deer caught in a blizzard. She searched into the depths of her own mind to give herself the strength she would suddenly need. The only thing that kept her from fainting straight away was the wisdom her Father had left in his departing letter, conduct yourself with dignity and you will do fine.

Tram had not given it much thought before but they were right she was a Queen. With her Father and Mother’s passing she was no longer a Princess and in any case she would always be a Queen no matter what her future would be.

No country, no crown, yet there she stood, her brown hair flowing gently with the breeze, graced with the cordial look of a young Queen. A slight smile, that Tram knew she was trying to suppress.

The leaders of the newly formed army had to help the two bodyguards quell the enthusiasm of Queen Marrellas’ newly found followers.

Tram smiled as she walked towards the head camp but instead of greeting him she walked over to where Waldo was sulking and said “There is my hero” as she gave him a hug and a kiss on his cheek.

Waldo, sitting in his usual chain mail and steel shorts, rubbed at his sore leg while proudly giving Jonston a long smirk.

After taking Waldo's smiling taunt as long as he was going to, Jonston finally asked, “Pardon my enquiry milady but how did he hurt his leg, stomping the life out of a dragon?”

She looked at Waldo remembering the promise she had made him. He responded for her, “I slipped and fell and godt my leg caughd bedween dwo large rocks.” Waldo hung his head with embarrassment; he knew this was coming sooner or later. “A goblin was gona cud my leg off.”

“And what stopped him?” Ballard asked, for everyone at the campfire.

Waldo looked over at Marrella not knowing if she wanted it known about how she had used the staff to ward off the goblin. “Her Highness can finish dhe rest of dhe story.”

Marrella took it to mean it was all right to tell about how they had saved each other, she told them of the whole incident leaving nothing out and about how the stone had appeared to have produced an horrifying agony upon the goblin and how it must have broken some sort of bond between the goblin and the dragon.

“Hmm, a bond.” Captain Ballard pondered. “That is useful information we may be able to use but we certainly can not have you or the stone out in harms way.”

“I still dhink id is Dram dhey wand.” Waldo said in his usual effort at agitating friends.

With blank expression Tram looked at Waldo. “Perhaps that is the truth of the matter but I’ll not surrender to them. So-o, are you plotting on watching me fight them all. Everyone at the campfire chuckled, everyone except for Waldo.

Dreaded Morning Comes.

The crowing of the two roosters that kept Tram’s brood of chickens at roost for him had woken the camp early and Tram was just coming down the stairs from his workshop carrying a bow contraption he had constructed, during the past winter.

The door opened from his late mother and father’s old sleeping quarters. Marrella looked just as beautiful as he had seen her the night before. “Good morning, pretty lady.” He said leaving her slightly blushing as her eyes searched his, trying to discern if he were just being coy. The two guards, not to mention the injured who were being attended to in the hall of the lodge would not allow for any little intimacies.

Outside those whom would, gathered in curiosity to look at the machine Tram was holding. “Whad’s dhat?” Waldo asked, trying to figure out its workings.

“I recognize those parts. I smelted them for you.” Jonston said.

“It is something I have been laboring on. It still locks up on me some but I have it to where it is usable most of the time. Come, I will show you.”

They all made off to the edge of the plateau. Then Tram asked the archers. “Who is the best amongst you all?” Although there were several candidates Tram picked out Arten, the one most of his fellow archers had agreed was the best. Too, he would be big enough to handle the weapon.

“I will show you how to use this weapon.” Tram said has he held the stock to his stomach and started cranking the side handle of the contraption.

It looked like a crossbow except for instead of one solid bow across the stalk it had a bracket that held four separate wooden arms. This made two bows in tandem one over and one under. The bracket also held together two split rails lengthwise from which the bolt would be shot out of. Surrounding the steel split channels was a heavy spring that was being compressed by a slide gear, a long straight gear that was being gear driven by the gears of the handle. As Tram cranked the handle. Both the strings and the compressing spring were being retracted at the same time. At a precise place everything locked in unison, this released the tension of the crank handle and all were set, except for the loading of the bolt.

Tram reached into a leather pouch and pulled a brass projectile out, a bolt the width of a mans thumb and as long as his finger with two flanges on the back side that fit between the split in the rails, just in front of the bow strings.

“This thing is fairly heavy.” Tram said as he lifted the stock to his shoulder.

Looking out over the plain of the cliff Tram picked himself out a target, a terrible dragon that was being tended by a goblin. Nearby, the savages were being rousted from their slumber and they were all well out of bow shot range

Tram lifted the machine just a bit then slowly squeezed the lever at the bottom side. “BOING”

The release of the strings together with the spring made the machine jump slightly and startled a few of the men observing the demonstration.

The dragon suddenly threw up its massive head and made a horrible cry as it sprang forward stomping over the goblin as well as several misfortunate savages. Others just escaped the chaos as the dragon stomped around in circles. Then the dragon fell over sideways.

A cheer arose from the men that had seen the demonstration, while at the near side of the enemy’s encampment confusion and a small stampede of savages, goblins and terrible dragons was taking place.

“The only trouble is,” Tram had to raise his voice. “is that I only have five more bolts. So you will have to use them sparingly and try to save as many as you think may be needed for a last stand.”

The men on the plateau patted Tram on the back for his wizardry and Tram soaked up the gratitude like a drunkard would soak up ale.

Out by the fallen dragon a brave goblin checked over his squished relative and the dead dragon, as he kept a leery eye on the men atop the plateau and then remounted and quickly rode away. Not long afterwards, the whole of the encampment were being formed into marching ranks and on the move.

A wide column was forming and moving south-southwestward, well to the other side of the plain. It was becoming clear that they were bypassing the dangers of the cliffs and were heading for easier pillaging. Any reinforcements that may be on their way to their aid would be met with an over whelming flood of death.

Now instead of cheers, Tram was faced with stares. “Now look ad whad you tone.” Waldo finally said.

Tram made a gulping sound. “It looks like it will be plan number two.” He’d already decided he would wear his lighter armor, the blue peened steel is heavier and he had the feeling he was going to be fighting all day.

By the time he was armed and mounted, the lead of the enemy column was straight forward of the trail that led down from the plateau and it would take a little time to get down to the plain.

There was no real plan other then trying to lure the savages, ogres, dragons and goblins, back toward the advantage of the cliff walls.

Jonston’s squad led the way taking an angle that would head straight for the lead of the enemy army. Tram’s group was filing out at a slightly different angle so as not to get jumbled with Jonston’s group.

Ballard would take the main army and attack straight-a-way for the middle of the enemy column.

Waldo, from the cliffs edge pranced back and forth with great anxiety, forgetting all about his sore ankle but when he stubbed his toe on a stone, he furiously picked it up and in a useless gesture threw it as hard as he could, in some vain attempt to bash some fiend in the head.

This was not the first time Tram and Jonston had raced each other out to meet a foe but this time the odds overwhelmingly favored the enemy. Tram would try to keep his squad as close to Jonstons’ as possible. He would not like to face Jonston’s wife with news that he had let his good friend down, so either they both come back alive or they both would die here together.

That’s what Trams’ thoughts were on when something bounced off the top of his helmet. “What could that have possibly been? It did little damage but where did it come from?” It distracted Tram long enough that he inadvertently led his men in a more easterly line of attack.

The course change was enough that his group instead of being on a course that would intercept the second dragon in the lead, they were now headed for the third dragon in the line.

All would need the courage of a saber cat to proceed forward, for what they faced were thousands upon thousands of savages. A column of men, if that’s what one would call them, were at least two score abreast. Now the horde were being turned to face their opponents.

Some of the men of the makeshift army of Coradda had the foresight the eve before to make themselves flint tipped lances out of branches of trees. Others had spears and some even halberds. These would make good weapons against the terrible dragons.

Jonston had use of Tram’s hardened argentite halberd, that Tram had left at his shop, for there had been no freely pilfered weaponry left behind where-ever they had passed through. This was a weapon he was the most deadly at using, because he was very good with a staff. It is a weapon that would put him on equal ground with Tram.

Oddly, the savages were equipped in the same hodgepodge way as the rabble army that was racing towards them.

Jonston was the first at the attack. He’d rammed the halberd right into the soft belly of the dragon he faced and had made very sure of his grip so his weapon would not be left behind when his horse scats its turn as he knew very well the horse was trained to do.

The bronze colored horse was given to him by Tram. Tram had found him at the edge of the wilderness about five years past when it was just a colt. What ever befell the colts mother had remained a mystery. So it was that Tram had raised it and the colt became attached to Tram as it might have done with its mother, had she not been succumbed to whatever was her fate.

When the colt was old enough, Tram started training it, riding it out on his hunting trips and the horse had become no stranger to fighting neither dragons nor band of savages. How it is that Jonston wound up with the prize horse named Brawnz, happened when he saved Tram’s life from a stranger whom was going to stab him in the back, just for the fame of it. Tram insisted on Jonston taking the horse in gratitude, for there was nothing more he valued more and Tram had to convince Jonston and horse, that was indeed what he wanted.

Brawnz scampered to the right snagging the shaft and arm with his armored laden neck. With the prying force, the halberd came out of the dragon as fast as it had went in. Leaving a gash in the dragons belly an arms length wide and spewing blood like a fount.

Jonston would need the time he knew Brawnz would give him to get the long weapon swinging back in the right direction because he intended to start swinging it like a mace. This would be a challenge for most men but Jonston’s arms were arms of a blacksmith and the weight of the long halberd would be nothing more to him but a heavier hammer.

Further down the line, Tram using shield and long sword turned his mount left, just in time to keep from being pummeled from his horse by the monster’s huge head and leaving the dragon a nasty slice on its thigh as he retreated.

The horseman whom had been following Trams’ lead, speared the dragon and before he could retract his spear, two other riders were stabbing and slicing the same animal and goblin to a merciless death. The goblin hadn’t the sense to store his whip in time for the attack and it became a useless weapon.

Rugbez and a few other men kept the savages that were further back at bay while the others made a bloody mess of what would normally be a terrible dragon. This left the last goblin and dragon in-between the two groups wondering which way it should go. Whereas moments before shrieking glee of laughter spewed from the goblins mouth, now hysteria of confusion flooded its bulging eyes.

The goblin decided nearly too late, that it would be wiser to get to the back of the advancing savages, running over more than just a few of the savages in the process. This did not seem to be a big concern to the goblin.

Captain Ballard before leaving the plateau had used the wait for usage of the passage to make last minute changes in plans. He took the archers that were effective on horseback and had them trade places with those whom might be lesser armed. There were twelve of them that claimed good accuracy from a moving mount.

Ballard put them forefront of his charges with the orders to try to dislodge the goblins from their mounts. Afterwards they were to move to the rear, so as to harass the enemy from there and to help cover any retreats.

At the point were Ballard made his attack there were four dragon riding goblins. The first volley from the archers took the disgusting ways of three of the goblins. It was as Ballard had hoped. With out their goblin masters to guide them they gave no care to what they attacked. Two of the dragons turned on the savages and started practicing their natural intuitions on them.

The third goblin-less dragon ran on at the charging army. The fourth dragon and rider fled to the safety of other dragons down the line

The fight was going as well as could be expected for the troop of mercenaries, against such a large force, although the line of the enemy was starting to take an arch, a kind of natural forming encirclement towards both ends of the battle.

At the southern end of the battle Jonston and Brawnz as a team, were spreading the leading savages out like one would spread plaster. With Jonston swinging the halberd in a wide circle while Brawnz kept both, just out of weapon range.

Tram’s group was circling in a counter wise manner like a wheel blade, making seceding strikes into the enemy lines as they tried to edge their way towards Johnston’s group.

Ballard’s group were forced to back-step to keep from being encircled from his left flank.

Ballard could not be expected to leave any kind of path for the enemy that would leave the plateau and the Queen at risk. He’d hoped Tram and Jonston hadn’t attacked so far to the south end of the battle line as they had done. They were making it impossible to keep them from being cut off from the main group.

Ballard’s group were already taking casualties in an effort to keep his end of the battlefield from being overrun and he would need a goodly number of defenders to block the pathway up the side of the cliff.

He hoped Tram and Jonston would realize in time that they would be on their own to fight their way back to the main force.

Jonston was taking out one or two savages with each swing leaving behind death or maiming injuries. It was rare that each rotation of the axe did not make metal splitting contact.

Yet, his arm began to ache, he was beginning to tire and the savages had a never-ending number of demented to throw at the stubborn defenders. The good news was that, his and Tram’s group were now teamed together. The bad news was that of the fifty total men of both groups, was now guessed to be less then thirty-five. Not to mention the fact that the savages were now flowing into the gap between their group and Ballard’s.

As much as Jonston hated the thought, they would have to start a fighting retreat, back towards the main group before all would be overwhelmed and slain in the attempt He had gotten too involved with his furry to pay attention to his and his mens’ peril and now they were being flanked and being backed up towards the cliff.

He’d gone out to battle with only the thought of stopping this vile army but to live to fight on is what he would have to concede to. He had to slow these creatures from his family’s retreat as long as possible.

Jonston’s right arm had gone stiff now and he began using the halberd and shaft more like a spear and staff.

Their squads had done great damage to the enemy, yet they were steadily being pushed back, slowly being overwhelmed.

At the lodge, Marrella could not keep her mind off the battle down below. Even as busy as she was, aiding those whom were tending to the injured, she could not take her mind off the struggle below. It was maddening to her ears and the knowledge in her mind that men were dying because of her and some stone that did little more then glow in its greed to take mens’ lives from them. Enough was enough, she was going to go see for herself what was happening.

“Sorry Your Highness,” the sandy haired Gordan sternly said, “but you can not go out there.” She heard him say as she reached for the door. Then Rogar spoke. “Waldo will keep us up on the progress of the battle.”

“I want to see for my own eyes how it goes, I am tired of being treated as a blind person!” She said, her voice rising in anger.

“Sorry, m’ lady.” Gordan apologized. “We can not let you go out there, it is too dangerous.”

“Try and stop me.” she said in a fury that she had never known before.

She lunged for the door handles but being stopped short she started fighting both men with such ferociousness, that they had to wonder were such aggression could come from, from someone whom had not the advantage of the practice of quarrelling.

She was not going to be left in the dark any longer. She was not going to be docile any longer. She was going to go through those doors, even if she had to injure her own bodyguards to do it. Gordan had Marrella’s arms pinned to her sides as she kicked at the air uselessly when the double doors flew open.

Waldo stood in the doorway, looking perplexed. “Why are you wrestling dhe Princess?” he finally asked.

”How is Tram?” The Princess asked with obvious concern in her voice.

“I would nod worry doo much about Dram” Waldo said sensing her concern. “Dhere is somethin’ you should know about Dram. He is eidher the luckiesd man in da land or dhere are a herd of spirids dhat look afder him.” Marrella’s look of calming curiosity, forced Waldo to continue. “I’ve seen him pushet off a canyon cliff, by marauders and he winds up hitdin’ the ground softer then a feather by grabbing an evergreen branch that just happen to be where he neeted id.” A smile gradually appeared on Marrella’s heart shaped face as she thought about such a scene. “Anodher time I seen a man shoot an arrow at him at ten paces and a falcon just happen to be diving for a rabbit at the same dime and the falcon wound up daken a arrow for him.” Waldo had an expression on his face like he could tell a hundred such stories when it came to Tram. “So I wouldn’d worry doo much about Dram.

If you wand do help, what we may need is slings. Anydhing leather dhat can be made into slings, could be useful.. Your energy would be bedder of use dhere.”

The early morning dawn had given away to full daylight, splotched with puffy clouds of white and various shades of gray. The defenders earnings of their effort had only bought them but some morsels of time.

Jonston was urging his men back towards the passage. There really was no other option. Tram and Johnston’s group were definitely one group now and they were definitely separated from Ballard’s group with Tram fighting at the northeastern edge of the inclosing circle.

Jonston, for a moment thought his squad went mad when they began to ignore him and started to cheer. He knew their ilk too well, to think they were cheering there own dire situation.

From over the ridge near the southern end of the cliff, came running a force of men. Apparently the footmen that they had separated from at Vantix. What was even more welcomed to see, was that the same force had grown in not so little numbers.

The first thing that ran through Jonston’s mind was relief of course but then he had to wonder what kind of fighting vigor would they be in? The only way they could have gotten thus far so soon, was if they had ran a goodly portion of the way. Would they be too exhausted to fight? He could only hope they had saved some stamina for the battle they were about to thrust themselves into.

Tram was fighting with a mind numbing quickness only because he hadn’t the time to do else-wise. He had long been dismounted now but those whom pressed his situation, may have wished he had stayed mounted..

He had wondered if Jonston was going to spread their forces out until there would be hundred to one odds instead of the ten to one it currently seemed to be. They were completely cut off now from any aid that Ballard might have been able to offer.

He could hear some commotion, cheers from the opposite side of their slowly shrinking pocket of defenders. Maybe they had rallied their last efforts in a bezerk suicidal attack. It might seem the thing to do, after all what was left to do but to fight to the very last man and there is no since in giving the enemy the satisfaction of an easy uncontested death.

Tram now, faced a situation that was as grave as could be. Three Ogres and a creature Tram had thought he’d caught a glimpse of once before were encircling him.

Tram would be hard to differentiate any of the three Ogres from the one he had slain at the Quarry Stone Bridge. The fourth creature was even larger then the Ogres, with long dark brown shaggy hair. Its screams made a mans blood flow like syrup. Its almost human looking face was dark brown and when it worked its mouth it looked to be set with two rows of carnivorous teeth.

Tram feigned blows and tried to cross his opponents with each other the best he could but he knew that he could not keep up the tactic forever and when it came down to some actual blows he’d have a hard time with just one of these creatures more-or-less four.

He’d manage to slice the upper thigh of one of the Ogres and nearly went down tripping on a fallen foe. He was able to stumble upright in the nick of time as one of the other Ogres had accidentally slammed his spiked club into the belly of the one he’d just sliced.

Trams mind, heart and body was racing, still the quickness of the big-footed shaggy one could not be shunned. The shaggy creature grabbed him up in a bear hug. He could feel the metal of his armor begin to buckle. His eyes began to bulge. He could feel pressure at his temples, darkness surrounding his periphery.

The ridge from where the three dark hooded figures sat their steeds, was well away from the battle. In fact they could not see the actual fighting from there, only the backs of the horde of savages flooding out into the plain of Celtar.

The three seemed to be staring off toward the plateau. It was if they were trying to hear or to smell or to sense something from over the distance.

“What are you scrounges waiting for?” The voice from behind them bellowed and startled the three Wallahamen, even though they knew the voice of their master well.

They could tell Abadon was in no mood for lame excuses and there was no since of putting off the inevitable. “We were just about to transfigure O’ Mighty One.” Mogrog said, being quickest of tongue of the three.

“So you say! It looked to me as though you were about to take a nap! I’m getting weary of having to take matters into my own hands! I want action! I want these humans bowing to me! I want the ones that wont, slain and I want that blasphemous stone brought to me for disposal!

Do you understand me or should I make it plainer for you to see?”

“No, no, Supreme Master we understand and are eager to obey” Mogrog replied in speech that would have shamed the lowliest of slaves. Then raising his eyes, he cautiously said “There is something you should know, O’ Mighty One. The Princess and the dwarf are atop the Plateau and the Rainbow Stone has been mounted to a staff now. The Princess has it with her right at this very moment.”

Abadon’s face flared a malicious grin. The grin he used when he did his lying. “Yes, I know. So why are you three not on your way? It should be easy enough since all attention, is on staying alive.”

Abadon cocked his head as if he just had a sudden brain gusher then he turned and paced in front of his three dark hearted priest, like a General thinking of a punishment to mead out. “Still, perhaps some discretion is needed. Samog, wielder of the Black Staff, you and Robbog, wielder of the White Staff, fly around over the enemy and put the fear of carnage upon the battlefield, while Mogrog, wielder of the Red Staff, deals with the winch and that hideous stone.”

Abadon began polishing his long claws on his chest and looking as though he were a genius. “Yesss, that is it, that plan can not help but succeed.” Abadon barked out a chuckle as he turned back toward the three Wallahamen, then his face contorted into instant anger. “You three still here? Get going, before I make burnt biscuits of you curs!”

Without another word being said the three Wallahamen turned their mounts in unison and galloped towards the West. The staffs they were wielding started to shimmer as the staffs, the wielders and their mounts began changing shapes. In the matter of mere moments they morphed into reptilian dragons. Each different, each the same color as the staff they had bore, each a strange and violent looking creature, each took on their own strange deathly form.

The three dragons trotted on down the slope and their rabidly beating wings slowly lifted their massive bodies into the air. Their batwings left dirt and dead leaves swirling around their master.

The big lean archer stopped banging on the side of the machine in frustration and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He looked completely exasperated. With his long light brown hair, mustache and beard dripping in stringy strips. His heavy leather jerkin was not adding any comfort to his situation.

Waldo was nearby, making piles of rocks up in case they were needed and saw the archer’s frustration. “Ids just like Dram to tevise someding dhat only works half dhe time.”

Arten looked over at the dwarf with a smile and replied, “Well, I can not work it free, so I guess I will go back to the reliable bow.” He laid the contraption down and was reaching for his bow when over the battle cries they heard a joyful shout.

Both Arten and Waldo looked to see what the jubilation was about. All the archers at the top of the plateau could see that there was a large band of warriors coming to their aid. Though, a smidgen of the troop number of the enemy, the welcomed site brought new encouragement to the defenders.

Waldo and Arten began to dance a little jig. And after a few kicks of the basic dwarf stomp trot, Waldo remembered he should give the Princess and update and this would be a good report for a change.

“I got do go and tell the Princess da good news.” But as he turned to leave he stopped in his tracks.

He had taken a quick look at the battle below and towards the south, he saw that Tram was in trouble. A huge bear looking creature had Tram in a bear-hug and was jostling his motionless body around like a rag doll. “Hey, kill dhat crazy bear before he slays Dram!” Waldo yelled at the archers. Arten looked over to where Waldo was pointing. “They are way out of bow shot range!” He yelled back at Waldo. “And I don’t think that is a bear.” Arten added as he grabbed up and frantically tried to un-jam the boltor and privately cursing himself for not being more careful with the contraption.

Waldo felt so useless, in that he could only stand and watch as his friend was being slowly crushed to death. Trams’ luck has finally and rapidly ran out. He would have to stand and watch as some monster ended his friend’s life.

Waldo began to regret some of the insults and tricks he had played on his gullible friend. Well, no, not really, Tram understood, he loved the bantering, the trading of insults, the practical pranks. Now there would only be Jonston that is unless no one survives this ordeal.

Then, something caught his attention up the battle line. It was a rider-less horse. Usually when a horse loses its rider in battle the horse will stand guard over the rider or mull around to the rear of the action. This horse was charging down the line in what looked, in all the world, to be anger.

Oh no, Waldo soon realized it was Brawnz. It would have been nearly impossible to unseat Jonston from any horse unless he were… Oh no, no, not Jonston too!

Waldo watched as the crazed horse bulled his way down the line. Anyone whomever unlucky enough not to see the horse in time, friend or foe were sent sprawling. The steed was leaving a trail behind that looked as though a runaway wagon had gone through a wheat field.

Waldo soon realized Brawnz was coming to Trams rescue. Brawnz leapt into the air and did a perfect flying semi-circle turn and kicked.

Although men, ogres and savages had time to get out of the way of the angry steed, the shagman was unaware when the blow caught him dead on target, square at the side of its head.

It was clear for all to see, the shagman was not going to get right back up as he fell with Tram still in its arms. Brawnz then began kicking wildly at the ogres and savages as Rugbez and some of the troop were able to get to Tram and to drag him to safety nearer to the cliff.

Raising the visor on his helmet they could tell he was still alive but having a difficult time at breathing. Opening his eye’s he looked around a little bewildered as he grasped for air. Then Brawnz stepped over him nudging everyone aside, lifted his tail and grunted. Flop!

The smell of the moist long brown surprise Brawnz left in Tram’s lap did nothing to help Trams breathing but did wonders to the moral of everyone who had witnessed the steed’s indiscretion. All Tram could do was blink his eyes, gasp for air and watch the horse trot off.

Jonston, had the halberd in one hand and was holding his back with the other and would probably had made an attempt to lop off Brawnz’s head for the abrupt course change that had caused him to land on his back. Excepting that after witnessing the feat of the horse he’d have no choice but to treat the animal as a hero.

The newly arrived warriors, whom were mostly on foot, were well into the battle attacking the southern flank of the savages. It had taken them little time to break through to the pocket of troop that had been cut off from Ballard’s group and now the encircled group easily had enough force to brake through to relieve Ballard’s group.

All those that were still breathing were soon joined into one group encircling the passageway.

Ballard had to shout over the noise of the battle to address the apparent leader of the footmen that had came to their rescue. “Good to see you friend who ever you be!” “The name is Venton, Sir! Uhmm, the Princess of Coradda is safe and still with you, is she not?” “Of course, she is up top of the cliff in Trams lodge under guard!” ”Oh, good, we were worried when we heard of this trouble!” the husky tall dark haired man replied.

Ballard was guessing from the mans demeanor that Venton must of had more then just a little military training. “Your men made good time getting here, I would think they would be exhausted but they do not seem to be!”

The clean shaven ex-sergeant smiled, “They may be a little sore Sir but I am practiced in moving men in good order!”

Something suddenly caught Ballard’s upward glance, something he had hoped he wouldn’t see this day. A large flying dragon was high up and circling the battlefield. Then he saw another one. The black one had long scales that almost resembled feathers or were like a pine cone. The other was white and its fish like scales were shiny as pearls.

Marrella stood up and tossed down the knife she had been using to cut slings with. Grabbing her staff that was propped up against the kitchen wall she said, “Let’s take these slings out to Waldo, I want to see what is going on.” Gordan and Rogar stood with her, “We will take them as far as the front stoop, and Waldo can take them from there.” Rogar said.

Marrella picked up the slings she had crafted with her free hand and started walking towards the front door with Rogar and Gordan in tow with their shares of the load. “I’m going to go see…” She began to say when the roof crashed in at where they had just gotten up from. Startled, the trio turned to see slate and slats plundering to the floor and the scaly bottom half of a large red dragon that had caused the damage.

The dragon had inadvertently wedged himself between the kitchen walls but the struggling monster wasn’t about to let that stop him for long.

Gordan stood flat footed with sword in hand in the dragon’s way as Rogar hurried Marrella towards the double doors.

There was more crashing destruction and the dragon’s snake like neck, head and roof came down on top of Gordan. The beast wiggled its self free demolishing the kitchen wall and set its horned browed eyes on what he‘d come for. The monsters head horns pointed downward and made the dragon look more insect like.

Rogar and the princess nearly made it to the double doors and the dragon stretched his head forward, slamming Rogar against a wall and would have had the Princess in its gapping jaws except she had turned and stuck the staff out to reflexively block the red dragons attempt to make her a mangled victim.

The Rainbow Stone flared and sparked at its angry contact with the dragon’s snout. The Red Dragon jerked its head up as it let out an agonizing roar, hitting its head on the center beam which dazed the monster. It shook off the blow regaining its senses and charged after the Princess whom had wasted no time sprinting out the doors.

The huge monster busted out the side of the lodge, leaving the doorway considerably larger then it had been before.

Arten was back to franticly trying to get the boltor to work after the two dragons showed up unexpectedly and it wasn’t helping having Waldo waving his arms hysterical nearby. Then suddenly the two of them heard the crashing sound at the lodge.

At first they thought it must have been a war engine that had caused the lodge to implode. Then they saw the dragon.

Waldo with battle-axe in hand ran for the lodge and Arten started to throw the boltor down and follow but at the last second he thought he felt the gears finally give. It was working. It was though the thing had its own agenda. He quickly cranked it back, loaded it and gave chase.

The princess was running towards the passage-way that led down to the plain, in hopes of finding some cover there. She was only a third of the way to the passage when the monster came blasting out of the side of the lodge There was no way she would reach the confines of the passage in time more-or-less shelter there.

The dragon saw the archers but their arrows will not penetrate its thick scales as a few arrows had already splattered off of him. There was nothing going to detour him from his objective. The dragon half ran half flew toward his intended victim and was nearly at her when all of a sudden it threw its head up and screamed its monstrous lungs out.

The brass bolt had caught him in the stomach. The dragon looked down to see blood gushing out in a pulsating stream. The dragon forgetting its sacred mission turned toward its assailant.

It ran, flapped its wings, ran some more and fell forward falling within ten paces of the man whom had shot at him with the strange looking little machine. He got up and staggered to the edge of the cliff as if he were going to jump then turned to take an astonished look at the bowman that had slain him.

Arten could have sworn the dragon’s face was transforming into something hideous, something even more evil then before, some debased face. Then the red dragon fell backwards off the cliff, eyes wide open and not so much as flapping a wing.

The End of pt. 4

Giants Arrive

After seeing that one of their fellow Walalhaman had succumbed to a gruesome death at the hands of a human and his strange machine, the two flying dragons thought it best to go make the report to their master, Abadon.

What earlier had been deemed to be an easy sack and annihilation of Celtar, was now in some doubt among the monstrous army. The unexpected death of the Red Dragon and departure of the other two flying dragons caused more then just a little confusion and the savages started backing away from the increasing peril from the defenders atop the cliff wall.

The ogres and shagmen were not complete imbeciles and the leery behavior of the savages gave them reason to also retreat to a safer distance.

Goblins, ogres, savages and shagmen all congregated among their own clans. They all seemed to be confused of how to proceed. The shagmen were jumping up and down, running back and forth, grunting and growling trying to encourage each other for an attack.

After observing the behavior of the ogres and shagmen, it was becoming obvious that they were imbeciles, with the ogres apparently being slightly smarter. They would have made toads seem intelligent. However, there was no doubt that one of them would eventually work up the courage to lead a murderous assault.

Venton and Rugbez and about a hundred and two score men were fit enough to make a stand of defending the entrance. The injured and weary were either on top of the plateau or resting in the passageway.

On top of the plateau Jonston labored at getting Tram out of his mangled armor.

Ballard had suffered a blow to his plumed helmet from an ogre’s club but now had well recovered.

Gordan, had a broken leg, cuts and bruises from roof debris and the confrontation with the Red Dragon.

It had taken Rogar and two other men to get Marrella somewhat subdued at the northwest tower of the lodge.

Arten and Waldo were at the egdge of the plateau, watching the situation below. The few archers there did have a good supply of quivers but those with minor injuries and the exhausted, would have to fight with rocks and would only be as good, as the distance they could sling them.

Arten had all the archers over by the passageway so as to give some cover to the warriors down below.

Waldo and Arten looked down at the brave defenders as they made last minute preparations. “Whad dhe morbit, dhey dhink dhey are toing?” “I guess they are strengthening their position, would be my guess.” Arten replied. “Dhats all ill if you ask me.” Waldo said then looked towards the shagmen that were slowly but surely working themselves up in to a frenzy. “ Id won’d be long now” Waldo said “Dhe one slapping himself in dhe face is aboud to leat a charge.”

“You think so?” Arten replied. “Yeah, afraid so, I don’t dhink we’ll be able to holt out long. Nod against all dhose fighders” “We have not done so badly thus far. Do not surrender yet.” ”I never to, jusd being druthful.”

Waldo guessed right, the one whom had been slapping himself stopped long enough to eat a bug he dug out of his long brown shoulder hair. Then he scratched his pug nose. Then back to more serious business, he fluttered his wide thick lips wrathfully towards the defenders, then let out a long high pitched bellowing yell and with a snapped off tree limb in hand, he charged.

He soon realized none of the others were following him. Running back to its cousins, it jumped up and down some more, barked out some more displeasures and threats. Then turned and gave another high pitched yell and charged again.

This time the whole group of shagmen that probably numbered at about fifty, relented and followed their dominant leader’s example. The ogres not wanting to be left out of any possible pillaging followed close behind them.

The thick line of the defenders whom had stood patently with shields high sifted back through the second line of defenders. The new front line stood motionlessly with their shields low, their heads limp as if exhausted, armed with spears and lances. The shagmen rapidly closed ground.

As the shagmen got within bow shot range a volley of arrows powdered the shaggy creatures. The volley had taken down five of the shagmen, severely injured several others and a few stumbled but the extremely fast running shagmen would be on top of the defenders before the bowmen a top the plateau would be able to get their second volley loosed.

Reaching the front line of defenders the shagmen swung wildly, startled at the ease they were able to topple through the motionless defenders whom were already dead and had been propped up as a ruse.

The whole of the seven score of defenders joined the battle and an all out brawl ensued and although overly out sized, the defenders surprisingly writhed fatality upon the shagmen and ogers.

“I guess dhat worked well enough” Waldo remarked “bud I still dhink id was ill mindet.” “I doubt they would have complained. In away that put them back in to the battle.” Arten replied.

The savages were also being pressed to battle by the terrible dragon riding goblins. Howbeit, they would have to wait there turn because there was nothing to attack but the defenders at the mouth of the passageway. This caused the savages to bulge around the battle and brought some of them under attack from those on top of the cliff.

With a few well placed blows from a hammer and chisel, Jonston had Tram freed from his mangled armor.

Jonston, Tram, and Ballard took the time to rub the hacks, sores and kinks out as they readied themselves, they knew they would be needed back at the fray.

Before the three headed back down the passageway, they decided it would be prudent to get an update of what was happening. So first, they stopped to speak with Waldo and Arten. “How’s the going?” Tram asked

“Id was going fair enough bud we’re starding to lose ground now.” Waldo responded.

Tram, Jonston and Arten were assessing the battle when Waldo pointed down to the near northtern section of the plain. “Hey, whad’s Dhat?”

Those about looked down toward the where Waldo was pointing. They had apparently came from beyond the north face of the cliff. The two large wooly animals were being ridden by two very, very large men.

They almost looked like living war engines. The men looked like any man of war, one might meet, except they had to be huge. The men were proportionate to the enormous mounts they rode, just as proportionate as a large man riding a horse.

Their mounts were very odd indeed. Huge, hairy, with big heads and long curled up horns protruding from the side of there mouths. Even more strange, was they had long noses that nearly touch the ground. Incredibly, they were able to cover ground quickly considering they ran with stiffen legs that looked like tree trunks.

Then a third one came into view, then a fourth and a fifth.

Ballard finally replied. “I don’t know what they are but if they are yet another surprise from this heathen army then we have even more troubles then we had before.” Though it soon became clear that they must have had some intense animosity towards the terrible dragons or maybe the goblins that rode them. In any case the wooly animals showed no fear of the dragons.

The half a dozen dragons and goblins that were doing the herding at that acre of the enemy battle formation hadn’t seen the new arrivals. That is until they were too near to make a difference.

The lead wooly beast rammed its tusks right into the belly of the first terrible dragon it ran up on, lifting it and goblin into the air then slamed it to the ground then stomped on it and the goblin. The giant rider made sure of the kill by thrusting his spear that looked more like a flag pole, down into the dragon’s belly. After all this the dragon showed virtually no signs of a death throe.

The second wooly monster did nearly the same thing to the second dragon in line except its rider had a double edge sword the size of a small plank and had slashed the dragons at the throat as it screamed when the wooly thing gored it in the belly.

Waldo smiled. “I don’t dhink dhose wooly dhings like dhose dragons.”

Jonston slapped down on Waldo’s helmet, which he knew Waldo hated and answered him. “Why, I think you to be right for a change Waldo.” “I oughta dake you out of dhe battle right now, you thieving fraud of a Blacksmith!” Waldo yelled at Jonston as he readjusted his helmet by the horns. Ballard, Tram and Jonston were already mounted before Waldo could make good his threat.

Venton and Rubez were ushering the defenders back into the mouth of the passageway in an orderly fashion as was their plan once they started being forced back. They would only have about eight to half a score of men abreast at the front line of defense but they would have the passage walls to protect their sides and hopefully more help from top-side.

Venton could see the slightly bloodied bandage under the red plumed helmet Captain Ballard wore as the leaders on horseback round the corner of the last leg of the slope. He and Rugbez watched as they carefully plotted their way towards the mass of men, avoiding stepping on any of the men resting on the stone steps of the passageway.

“Stay your men were they be!” Ballard shouted over the clash of war. “We have to hold ground, we have reinforcements and they will likely need much room to enter the passage.”

“That may be a fairly hard feat but we will give it a try!” Venton shouted back. Then Venton and Rugbez exchanged puzzling looks.

Halmon, the giant that had led the expedition through the wild shouted at the second chosen of the giants. “We’ll not be able to fight here any longer and expect to live!”

Loral, the giant with the double edged sword and strawberry blonde beard shouted back. “It may be too late as is! Then he pointed towards nearly two score of dragons with goblin riders forming at the

northeast edge of the mass of savages, with more coming to join the pack. They looked to be intent on confronting the intruders.

“Follow me and stay close to the cliffs. Surely the humans will provide some aid!” Halmon shouted at the host of giants.

The giants had slain nearly all the terrible dragons that had been near enough to do so and near to thirty savages in the absence of any bigger prey.

The giants numbered at near to twenty. As awesome as they would be to fight, they would not last long if surrounded by such an ominous force.

The giants plowed through the northwest edge of the savage army so as to angle a shortcut to the protection of the defenders of the cliff walls. Then they intended to make a run along the cliff walls to where the humans were fighting.

The herd of terrible dragons were gaining ground fast on the slower wooly mamooths.

Pocknod, nervously looked back over his left shoulder, the unfortunate fate of being in last place in the retreat was getting the giant worried. They had made it to the cliff but were still at least a quarter of a league away from the passageway. He could even make out the thumping noise of the dragons feet as they got closer and closer. He knew any moment now that one of the lead dragons would make the leap that would bring him down to his death.

One was now snapping his monstrous jaws at the mamooth’s left hind-quarter, this he new was a ploy used by these creatures. The real attack would come from a second dragon in the way of a leaping attack then the first dragon would go for the mamooth’s throat, most likely. The giant could only wait for the inevitable.

Then it came but first he heard the unmistakable swish of arrows cutting air. Looking back the giant could see that the arrows had caused the lead dragon to cease it’s harassment of his mount. He also saw the high attacking leap the next dragon made and all he could do was swing his massive battle-axe arching back, slashing into the beast’s huge right thigh.

More arrows shot passed so close that the giant could almost feel them as they zinged by and struck into the gaping mouth and throat of the terrible dragon.

The help from above came too late, when the dragon leaped up on to the mamooth’s hind quarters; it latched its fore claws into the giant’s tunic and shoulder straps.

When the dragon fell over from its injuries the giant went with him.

Several of the giants seeing what had happen started to slow their mounts, so as to turn around and return to the aid of their fallen comrade. “Keep those mamooths moving!” Loral yelled out, his eyes moist and his face red with anger.

He’d been ordered to keep the squad moving no matter what and that was exactly what he intended to do. He too wanted to turn back and fight but the fact was it was already too late for the fallen brethren. Too the savages had seen them and they too were moving in their direction to try and cut them off. Loral, fought the urge to go out and meet them and could hardly believe that it was he that was saying his own words. “The fight is not behind us, in front of us, it is!”

“Now!” Waldo yelled out, then started pushing on a large stone, while Arten threw all his weight on to a pole they had wedged under the large stone.

The stone slowly tilted up and over the ledge, fell a goodly distance, hit the foot of the cliff, bounced and tumbled out into its intended targets. It missed the first five dragons that thundered past and slammed into the lower rib cage of the sixth one, causing two more dragons to go sprawling with it.

They didn’t have time to heave any more such stones from the cliff. Only the time to throw a couple of apple sized rocks at the passing pack of large dragons.

From where they stood, they could see that a giant had been pulled from his mount and though he started to put up a valiant fight, there was really not a lot he could do. Three dragons were on him, tearing at him. Arten grabbed the boltor but it was to late. It would be a waste of the last bolt on what can be slain with arrows. He would save the last bolt, incase the flying dragons came back. He and Waldo ran back towards the passage to see what good they could do further towards the battle.

By the time Arten and Waldo had gotten to where the giant had fallen, the three dragons and their goblin riders were dead from arrows but the giant also lay motionless in the heap.

Loral took up the rear and looking back he could see that a terrible dragon was close and had its head down as it ran. This he knew meant that it was about ready to pounce. Loral flipped his two edged sword backwards in his right hand. When the dragon makes his leap, he would drive the sword backward. If he was going to go, he was going to take the dragon with him. The tension welled up within him. He heard an odd noise behind him and thought the dragon had pounced but the attack never came.

He looked back and saw that the dragons head had been smashed in with a melon sized stone. Whomever had tossed it must had done so before he had even passed by. It had been a perfect pitch and he was very grateful, even though it could have only had missed him by two blinks of an eye.

The pack of dragons, were either tangled up in a barrage of stones or had enough sense to escape the ambush that ended the pursuit of their natural enemies. Only eight of the goblins and perhaps a dozen dragons survived their pursuit.

Of the twenty five years of military service, the orders Ballard had to give were by far the hardest he’d ever given. The men were fighting to regain mere spans of land they had moments before were relenting.

Just two days ago, these very men had been carpenters, millers, craftsmen, shopkeepers and peasants and they had fought more courageous and more valiantly then any man of war he’d ever seen and now he has the audacity to ask them to push back harder at a wall of monsters.

Ballard, Jonston, and Tram on horseback finally squeezed and fought their way out the left side of the passageway. Slowly making little ground as they helped slash and hack at the ogres and the few shagmen that were still alive.

The assault of stones large and small, flung from above down on the ogres were noticeably picking up momentum like a hail storm. Soon there was a breach at the left side of the enemies line that no man or beast were ill minded enough to venture into.

The storm of stones began to subside and were not falling as prevalent now as savages and ogres cautiously backed away. For a few long moments the stones had fallen like a down poor on the head and shoulders of the ogres, savages and shagmen. The way was clear for the giants to come through. They would have to go around the dead red dragon and then stay close to the foot of the cliff but they would easily be able to make it through.

Halmon wiped the sweat from his prominent brow, the same prominent brow all the giants seemed to be inherit of. They all wore beards also, although not necessarily of the same color.

The line of giants were able to slow their mamooths now that the threat of the terrible dragons was over. The mamooths had been pressed for a long hard run, nearly a half a league in all and they welcomed the chance to lope for a while.

The savages at their left flank, kept their distance, rapidly losing their enthusiasm for battle. There was one terrible dragons still loose among their ranks and between the arrows and shots from slings and an occasional warning swing from a giants battle-axe or sword, it was enough to keep them back a safe distance.

As they got closer to the passage Halmon shouted out in a thick baritone voice as he raised his free hand in a gesture of peace. “Greetings!”

Ballard nodded his head to return the gesture of peace. “Greeting friends, are you here to lend a hand?”

“No, we are here to seek out answers to the ill-breeds intentions here, but we don’t mind slaying a few of the loathsome creatures whilst we are here!”

Ballard was puzzled somewhat at the curious answer he got from the giant. Spies? “We are not sure ourselves of what is happening but feel free to slay as many of the ill bred as you wish! That is unless your speaking of us!”

Halmon and several other giants responded to Ballards’ words with a hardy deep giants laugh. Then Halmon pointed past the battle toward a ridge to the sothwest and asked. “Who are they, friend or foe?” Then the sound of blowing of horns could be herd over the shout of battle.

After looking at what the giant had pointed towards, Ballard answered him. “We do know who they are but friend or foe we are not sure of yet!”

The mid afternoon sky had filled with puffy white clouds, giving relieve from the heat of a summer sun. The clouds had arrived as unnoticed as the army of horsemen had. At-least a thousand horsemen were spread across the southern ridge. For every fifty there was a captain and in front of every hundred there was a knight.

A long harmonic sound from a lone bugle from the center of the formation set the army to charge.

The savage army had to shift the bulk of their army to counter the new threat.

Although still out numbered by at least ten to one, it wasn’t long before the savage army had been pushed back from the plain, toward the east-northeast, straight away from the passageway . Not with the Argonian horsemen attacking from one direction and the giants and the defenders of Celtar at their flank.

Once the defenders of Celtar solidified their battle line with the Argonian army, Ballard, Jonston, Tram and the two giants, Halmon and Loral disengaged to assess the situation.

In doing so, they all could hardly keep from noticing something very peculiar heading towards a cleared portion of the plain. It was a very large war wagon brightly painted surrounded by the royal guard and leading seven other wagons. There could be no doubt about it, the King himself was on the battlefield.

It’s very common for a king to go out to a battle, in fact it’s essential for the moral of the fighting men but they usually don’t come in so close to as yet a settled dispute in such an audacious manor.

The Wagon was completely covered in red wood, silver and gold. It had the Kings coat of arms painted on the side, a Lion and a Goat, split quartered and banners of gold, black, red, yellow, and brown waved at everybody from atop.

The wagon jostled over the debris of the battlefield until it came to a stop, parallel to the passageway. Then the two pike-men perched at the back of the wagon quickly ran around to the side and quickly latched an elaborate set of steps below the doorway. The door opened and out stepped King Moran.

Governor Miden had been with the King and he was followed by Winikkarr and from the following wagon, there were men carrying writing instruments whom Tram guessed to be scribes. Tram wondered if the King wasn’t planning to write an epic of himself and the battle already.

The King stood looking around and pointing here and there while the royal entourage tried to look like they were interested in whatever it was he was discussing with them. Then the King waved in one of the other wagons and pointed to a spot on the ground. Whereas four strong troopers promptly dumped a fairly large stone off the wagon and stood it up.

Tram and Jonston approached the Kings parlay while Captain Ballard and the two giants hung back trying not to look too conspicuous. “What is the meaning of this?” Tram asked as he pointed at the freshly planted hewed stone The King waved the two men over with an unexpected smile. “Tram, you are still alive I see! Good, good, very good.” “Why is that?” Tram asked “You wanting to skin my hide yourself?”

King Moran ignored Trams second question and answered his first. “It’s a boundary marker. I would think you would have seen one before.”

Tram looked a little confused “I know what it is but why are you putting it there?” “Oh.” The King responded “ Well, you can consider it an eviction notice.” Tram stared back at King Moran dumbfounded for a long moment. “I hope you do not mind if it takes me a little while to pack up and move, the roads are a little busy this time of the year.” “Do not worry.” The King responded to Trams sarcasm. “I will help you in your efforts.”

“Do you really expect me to just wonder off on my merry way and leave the poor peasant girl for you and your minions to work your debaucheries on, just so you can have gain of some colorful little bobble?”

The two giants standing outside the ring of the royal guard, just barely out of hearing range traded a quick concerning glance at each other. They didn’t know of what was being said but they did recognize rightly that tension was rising and they would be reluctant to get involved in some humans dispute.

Winikkarr stepped up and said “Sire, I believe Tram is referring to the conversation he had eves-dropped, at the palace garden.”

The smile returned to King Moran’s face. “Oh yes, the plot, and a very good plot it was till it hit a wall here.” The King said, motioning towards the battle, “What did you do to these savages to err their wrath?

Since it was evident that Tram didn’t know what his transgressions were, it was King Moran’s turn to be sarcastic towards Tram. “Do you really think that we let Knights come and go at the palace without positive identity? Do you really think we let Knights parlay about the palace in full battle gear? I am not even allowed to walk around with my visor down.”

Tram looked to be trying to add up the Kings rebuke and the King chuckled before he resumed talking. “I have no desire of the Rainbow Stone. The thing is, the Princesses Father never seemed all that interested in reclaiming Coradda or even a portion of it. Winikkarr and I surmised the Princess would not likely be all that enthused either.

Of course, if we were able to convince her to lead her people back even if it were mere leagues of the wild, then she would need a guide. Someone whom knew the wild, someone whom knew the dangers and whom better than you?

I was going to have you summoned to the palace and use the threat of annexation and back taxes to coerce you into leading a colony out into the wild but when we got word you were already with the Princess and was already on your way to the palace with her, we could hardly believe the good fortune of fate. That is when we conceived the conspiracy.

Of course, I intended to recompense you for your loss of land, with new land out there.” The King pointed towards the wild. “And of course there will have to be a loan of seed, timber, food and other supplies, all of which I am sure your not interested in. It will all be very expensive but it should be worth it, having Princess Marrella an ally out there instead of the savages that live there now.”

Tram looked perplex at the thought of being duped and at the news he was going to be robbed of his Father’s land. “Why did you not just ask me?” He finally asked. “Would you have been as enthused as you are now?” “I doubt that? Tram admitted.

“Well, that it is why we did not ask you. Now, we need to get back to the planning of building a fortress out here. I will be looking forward to speaking more with you later.”

The King, Governor Miden and the Master Builders turned to walk towards the passageway then Captain Ballard spoke up. “What is to be done with me Sire?”

The King looked at Ballard in confusion and Ballard realized he had made a big mistake. Governor Miden spoke up and said “I believe this is the Captain of the garrison at Nored, I believe it was he and a couple of his men that accompanied Tram and the Princess thus far. Captain Ballard is his name if I remember rightly.”

“Oh,” the King replied “Well, you’ll not get a ribbon of honor from me. You will have to ask the Princes for one. You and your men have been dismissed from my service for gallivanting all over Argonia without permission.”

Seeing that the he was not going to get an idiotic response from the Captain, the King talked briefly with the two giants. Even though the King was a tall man himself, had he looked straight ahead he would have been looking at their bellies. After a brief exchanging of cordial amenities the King continued on. As he passed the great beasts with the great tusks, they stared back with just as much curiosity of the brightly dressed humans as he and the Governor showed towards them and it even seemed that one pointed back at the King with its long snake like nose.

Winikkarr stepped closer to Tram and said “I hope you do not hold a grudge towards me. My utmost loyalty is to Princess Marrella's Grand Father and to his bloodline and I hope to be of some service to Her Majesty.”

Tram saw that the Wizard was no longer wearing hat and robes of the Ainu. He was wearing a cap helmet and chain mail over his robes. “No bad feelings, I think but when people get off to rough going, sometimes it takes a bit of time to find trust. I see that you are not wearing your robes with the Ainu glyphs, do you not feel a bit bare with out them?”

Winikkarr smiled “I cast them out, they were something I had found at a bazaar. I had only worn them a few times, I thought you might find the robe interesting.” “Oh, I see.” Tram replied. “Then you are not a mage?” “No, I make my wages working with facts, figures and logic.” “ A learned man, nothing of error in that.” Tram replied.

After discussing some priorities, Captain Ballard interrupted the conversation by saying. “You do not suppose Waldo and the men on top of the plateau will try to kill the King thinking him to be a threat to the Princess do you?”

Tram, Jonston and Ballard stood for a long second looking at each other as they pondered the question. Then the three made a dash for their horses. They raced for the passageway with their mounts kicking up dirt as they went and hurried themselves up the steps of the slope.

When they got to the top of the plateau they could see Waldo and the King having it out. “Waldo, no!” Jonston yelled out, Just as Waldo swung a hard sweeping blow that caught the Kings long sword at the middle of the blade, shearing the blade in half.

The King turned to look at the trio as did the Royal Guard and everyone else that were about, looking at the trio as if they had lost complete control of their good senses.

Then Waldo walked up beside the King and said something to him as he gestured toward the three on horses. Then they laughed and talked some more. Then the King threw the gold trimmed hilt of the broken sword to the Captain of the Royal Guard for safe keeping. Then he said something to Waldo and slapped down on his helmet and went back to surveying Trams property, leaving Waldo pulling his helmet off by the horns and throwing it on the ground and placing his fist on his hips glaring at the back of the King as he and the Royal guard walked away.

Waldo picked up his helmet and replaced it on his head then scratched his hairless upper lip then scratched the side of his face, at his yellowish burly beard.

“You and the King have a good laugh at us, did you? Tram asked as he, Jonston and Ballard walked up.

“You thoughd I was trying to slay dhe King?”

Jonston ignored Waldo’s question. “You and the King seem to be fairly chummy.”

“I dhink I finally convinced him dhat dwarven steel is much superior dhan dhe junk dhe likes of whad you and your ilk make.” Jonston frowned and mumbled. ”The army is in trouble now.”

Waldo continued his bragging. “ King Moran wands me to be his Masder of Arms.” Waldo said proudly. “I dold him I could get him good deals from my kin. Doo I dhink he likes sparring with me. He even said so. He is good doo, he may even be bedder dhan you Dram.”

Tram, Jonston and Ballard gave each other a quick glance before Tram asked him. “Was you in on the plot too?” Jonston added an insult “He has been a little spy all along.”

“I don’t know whad you dalking about!” Waldo said defensively. “I am nod a spy!”

“You knew all the while that the King was not wanting to slay us, that he was tricking us into leading a colony out into the wild.” Tram said accusingly.

Waldo cocked his head at a slant as though he was doing some thinking, then he responded. “I have do admit dhat I did wonder if dhat was whad was happening. Seeing dhat he had asked me if I thoughd you would be willing to do dhat but afder you dold me he was planning on dorturing me, I was not gona lay about do see dhe end results of his indentions. You‘re dhe one, dhat dold me he was an evil man.”

“ Why did you not tell us that he had asked you such questions?” Tram asked calmly. “Woult id have mate a tifference in our siduation? Besides, he asked me nod do.”

“Spy!” Jonston taunted as the three walked away shaking their heads leaving Waldo aggravated as usual and repulsed at Jonston’s accusation. “I am nod a spy!”

THE RAINBOW STONE

The battle out on the plain of Celtar had gone well for the army of Argonia and host. Although greatly outnumbered, they were able to push the untrained savage army nearly back out from the plain of Celtar.

With the creeping of twilight coming on, there had been a mutual disengagement of hostilities. Both armies slowly and cautiously backed up so as to prepare their encampments, to prepare for themselves for the battle they all knew would resume at the morrow.

The defenders of Celtar had the extra burden of clearing the dead from the battlefield, burning the enemies bodies in sight of their adversaries and clearing a grave site for their own fallen.

Jonston busied himself with the task of make-shifting a mold and working over Tram’s forge so as to make new bolts for the boltor using iron instead of bronze. The fire would have to be made much hotter to do so.

Tram and Ballard curried the horses and assisted Jonston when needed.

Jonston rubbed at his back, while waiting for the fire to catch good. “Tram, why don’t we trade horses, Brawnz is a great fighting horse but if he is going to be dumping me on my head every time you get into trouble, he’ll have me all crippled up, way before my time.”

After Ballard chuckled about the earlier event that Jonston was referring to, he put in his opinion. “He is right Tram, you two belong together like wheat and barley.”

Tram looked at Jonston earnestly. “What about the kids?” “What about ‘em, I would just as soon they did not have such a spirited horse under them anyway. They can get just as attached to that horse as they are of Brawnz. Besides you know how young ones are, they lose interest in things faster then whirlwinds can drop things and usually with more destruction.”

“I appreciate the gesture and after he saved my life I don’t see how I can reject your offer, kind friend.”

Jonston wiped some sweat from his head and said. “The matter is settled then.”

Brawnz was slow in accepting Tram’s apologies for his abandonment of their friendship and would not go back into his old stall until Tram personally cleaned the hay and straw that carried the scent of its former occupant.

Marrella was just about to storm into the barn with Rogar and Waldo right behind to see if Tram was more concerned over the horses’ comforts then he was of her worries but she could hear the men talking and realized it would be to her advantage to eavesdrop.

Ballard asked Tram what he planned to do once the war was settled and if he survived it. “I guess the King is leaving me little choice, I guess I will have to leave my home behind.” Tram answered. “I could of guessed that much myself but are you still intending to settle in the wild and help the Princess reclaim some of her lands or do you have plans to go elsewhere and getting away from all or what?”

Instead of answering the Captains question he threw the same question back at Ballard. “What do you intend to do?”

Ballard straight away said “I will make sure the Princess is safe in what ever endeavor she decides.” “You are a good man Ballard.” Tram responded. “I am guessing that I’ll do the same for a time anyway but turning the wild into livable land, will not be easy and too she may not even want an old warn out hunter, lounging about.”

Marrella had heard enough and made her entrance. “What is the meaning of this talk, you just plan on lounging about and then deserting us when it pleases your whims? And another thing, Waldo is no more a spy then I am!”

Wisps of dark blue clouds fanned the western skies before dark fell and the conversation at the camp fire was whether rain was likely or not. The two giants Halmon and Loral had been invited to the camp fire chat and of course King Moran and Governor Miden were honored guests or hosts depending on whose land it was considered to be. Winikkarr sat next to Governor Miden.

Jonston was still busy making bolts for the boltor but Waldo, The Princess and Tram sat on a large log by the fire. Rogar and Captain Ballard stood behind them as the Princess’s personal bodyguards. Tram, looking back over his shoulder asked. “Why not sit? I think the King has security under control and the King has been disarmed by excellent dwarven steel. ” Ballard reluctantly sat down while Rogar ignored the gesture. The King smiled at Tram without the look of amusement in his eyes.

The King returned his attention back to Halmon. “So how is it that you giants find yourselves in our squabble with the savages?”

The conversation between the King the Governor and the giants had been at the very least, a cautious one. Halmon and Loral were also cautious of what might be unnecessary to reveal to a King. “Scouts had noticed that a lot of savages, shagmen and goblins were gathering to go somewhere.” Halmon answered in a giants low toned voice. “The three Chieftains of our tribes held an urgent council, and they wanted to know what the wild beasts were planning to do. So, they assembled a troop and ordered us to follow and so here we are.”

“We lost three of our fellow clansmen in two different skirmishes and some had wanted to turn back seeing that whatever the trouble was, it was well away from the northern mountain ranges, where we dwell. Now, I am pleased we pressed on, yet we still know not what the full intent of the wild beasts.“

The King responded with what little he knew. “Why it is these savages decided on a full out invasion of my land, is still a mystery to me as well, likely a result of this mans doings.” He said pointing at Tram. Then he combed his neatly trimmed dull gray beard with the same hand, while he thought of what to say next.

“Of course you probably know the stories of the Kingdom of Coradda and how it came to be a wilderness.” The King graciously motioned towards the Princess with the same hand before he resumed.

“This is the Grand Daughter of the late King Negley of Coradda. She and a few loyal followers have greatly desired to re-cultivate at least a portion of the wilderness, perhaps bare a new Kingdom out of the wasteland.” Tram started rubbing vigorously at his sun-bleached brown bearded face as the King continued to speak.

King Moran used the opportunity of the conversation to ask the next question. “What do you think your Chieftains would think of the idea of this poor orphaned child trying to make a healthy effort of reclaiming her Grand Father’s lost Kingdom?”

Halmon looked at Loral and they both shrugged their shoulders, then Halmon answered. “If I were to guess, I would not think they would mind at all. They could not be the worse of what lives there now.”

Changing the subject Halmon asked. “Is that stone on her staff what I think it ‘tis?” “Yes it is.” The King smiled while the two giants stared in wonder at it for a long bit of time. “I think our people would welcome her as a neighbor, could not hurt for story telling.” Loral said.

Halmon took over the conversation by saying. “There is something you all should know, there are more of their horde heading this way. How many more savages is hard to say but those out there will be well reinforced by morning.”

Instead of being dishearten, King Moran seemed pleased. “Excellent, then we will be able to ease their miserable existence in short order.” The King then smiled wide at Tram and Princess Marrella as he continued. “The God of fate must surely be looking to see your schemes fulfilled.”

The giants, Marrella, Waldo and Ballard looked back at the King with some doubt of his optimism. Tram returned to rubbing his face vigorously, trying to calm himself.

Ballard finally asked. “How is having more hordes to fight a good thing?” “Because you will not have to go hunting them down or keep looking over your shoulder worrying about your interests.”

The King, saw that the group were skeptical. “I have Argonia at a state of war. We should have our own reinforcements by the morn, plus some unpleasant surprises in the way of a couple of companies of small war engines and catapults. They do not have the hope of a blind man in a lions den, of being victorious.”

In the cavern of Abadon’s den, deep under the Noco Mountains, Samog and Robbog stood before their master with their heads hung low in shame. Samog lifted his head and the reflection of fiery light from the molten stream bounced across Samog’s green shaded ashen face. “Mogrog is dead, he failed you Master.”

Abadon had been sitting on his stone throne in the darken chamber in deep thought but being interrupted from his thoughts he lashed out at his Wallahamen in a tirade. “Do you think I don’t know when one of you gets himself slain! Failures, I have chosen failures, failures surround me! You know why it is I have nothing but failures around me don’t you?

Robbog humbly responded to the loaded question. “No Master, why?” “Because anyone who sees to it their tasks are finished are not failures!

Samog seeked solace of his black staff for encouragement before he informed Abadon of the reason for their failure. “One of the humans has a powerful new weapon, its arrow tip broke through the scale plates of Mogrog or else we would have been successful and would have been glorious in battle and would have had the Rainbow Stone as well.”

Instead of a flurry of the usual rebuke, that the Wallahamen expected, Abadon looked up at some unknown spot of the cavern ceiling and said. “And you can just about guess that, that goodie, goodie honey sucking, moth brained, vicious dog, named Tram, had something to do with Mogrog’s death.” Abadon soon found himself in a verbal torrent. “I’m going to take great pleasure in slowly ripping his arms off and breaking every bone in his body except for his head. I am going to do it right in front of that stupid female that thinks she is going to be some kind of goodie, goodie, self righteous Queen, for a batch of self righteous buffoons! Then I am going to do the same thing to her and then I’m going to drop them both right at the feet of that stupid maggot of a King of Argonia's feet! Then I’m going to do the same thing to him!” Abadon finished his tirade with an evil grin and this gave Robbog, wielder of the white staff the courage to speak up.

“Master, Samog and I have consulted each other on how to conduct the army, seeing that it was a stalemate today.

We thought maybe we should attack in the morning then retreat as if we were cowards, except that we would have an ambush set in a good spot in the wilderness, then we could butcher their army with ease and then there would be nothing to halt us from sacking all of Argonia. We wanted to see what you thought of that plan Master?

Abadon eyes widen in surprise. “I’m stunned, one of you has finally shown signs of having the capability of thought. That is an absolute deceitful sinister filled plan.” The two Wallahamen smiled at their Master’s approval. Abadon continued to speak. “It’s not evil enough though. When it gets light enough to see I want you to attack in full force and I want you to keep them attacking while you circle above our army. I will personally come from the opposite direction and take care of some personal vengeance. It may take a little time for me to see my opportunity, so I want you to keep that attack going no matter what. When I get back from torturing Tram and the snotty female, believe me, their army will lose all hope and courage.”

Samog was debating with himself on whether it would be wise to question Abadons plan but since his Master hadn’t struck him as yet, he strengthen himself up to ask. “Forgive my thoughts Master but wont many more of the savages be slain, with that plan?” Abadon smiled at his Wallahamen then simultaneously the three began a delirious laughter that echoed ramosely throughout the deep dark cavern.

The morning arrived late due to the dark bluish clouds that loomed across the skies. The night before at the campfire, there had been discussion on if it would rain and who would benefit the more.

All had agreed that it would be they at the disadvantage and it appears Tram’s prediction that it would rain soon were going to be fulfilled.

King Moran approached the eastern end of the plateau and looked out at the opposing armies. Then he drew his sword and let it hang to his side and rested himself on his right leg..

He had decided to antagonize the opposing force of savages, to give his troops encouragement and in a loud shout he began. “So, you have come here today to slay the honorable men of Argonia, I see? To pillage their land, burn their homes, to steal their much hard earned silver and gold? To ravage their luscious women? Well, you may be successful and you may get your wishes, your desires, your lust of wants fulfilled but we will certainly all die to make sure that at least a few of you never get to enjoy the rich bounty and the loose maidens of Argonia! So have at it if you have nothing to lose!”

A swarm of arrows from the savages made an effort to give the King his answer.

“I believe that was rather a good speech, if I have to say so myself.” The King said to those gathered nearby.

The group of leaders were not overly surprised by the Kings rally cries but it did encourage the savages to make their attack and the battle that promised to take all of the day to fight was underway.

Unbeknownst to them, a large ruby red dragon was high in the clouds of the western sky, behind them, though they did take notice of the same two dragons that had joined the battle the day before were back.

Abadon hadn’t counted on the dark storm clouds to aid in his concealment, a good omen he thought. He would be able to get lower and closer without being detected, even more so then what he had planned on. His prey were in sight.

After the foolish King was done from what looked to Abadon, as a rally for the sake of the savages, Samog and Robbog had been spotted as planed. Tram drew his sword and drew closer to the Princess and the staff that held the Rainbow Stone. He looked all around sensing something wrong but it was already too late.

Abadon, already completed a steep angle of a dive. Leveling out, fire blasted from his mouth, as he alone of the flying dragons was capable of spewing fire and for a brief moment it looked as though the Royal Guard were immersed in flame.

Arten had loosed a bolt at the white dragon but the dragon was out of effective range and was reloading when the Fire Breathing Dragon swooped in.

Before anyone could react, Abadon swooped up the trouble maker and the Princess, one in each of his rear talons . He resisted the urge to instantly crush them to death; he would not rob himself of the brutality he had in-store for them. However, he did give the Princess a snug squeeze so the defenders of Argonia could hear what he had in mind for their heroes.

Tram swung his sword wildly upward till Marrella quickly pointed down and screamed. “ It is no time to fight foolishly!”

Three of the Royal Guard had been slain by the fire blast and four others suffered serious burns. While some off the Royal Guard tended to the injured, Waldo, Ballard, Jonston and Rogar raced to their mounts while the rider-less Brawnz was already near to the passageway.

The King, Governor Miden and Winikkarr watched in disbelief as the dragon grew smaller and smaller as it headed out towards the wilderness, in the direction of the Noco Mountains.

The Reddish colored dragon was bigger and even more viscous looking then the two that had been slain or the two circling the battlefield. In addition to the two horns atop its head it also had a row of three horns tapered backwards on its massive muscular neck. Its eyes were as eagles except the brows arched away as thick picks and its snout like face was nothing but evil. Its forelegs were half the size of its muscular hindquarters. Its reddish scales flickered in the sunlight in a multitude of red colors and its belly were rippled yellow, like a snakes‘. It flapped its massive bat like wings an incredible distance in very little time. Too, it was now known that this one at least, was a fire breathing dragon.

Tram soon realized where the dragon was taking them. The Noco Mountains; was the terrible beast taking him to the demon he had fought? Had the demon been responsible for the savages attacking his friends and their homes? It was true, he was at fault for starting a war. It was his fault that an innocent peasants daughter was about to be slain?

He could see the ruins, the cave entrance. There was not even the hope of the Princess being able to run away. The terrain the dragon was taking them to might as well have been a prison. A series of rugged bluffs would be slow to descend.

Tram didn’t have the luxury of time to think of what might have been under different circumstances. The dragon dropped him from the height of a small cottage and being in a full plate didn’t help matters. The fall jarred him near to sleep.

When the dragon dropped the princess she quickly began to jab furiously at the dragon with the staff hoping that the stone would be as effective on it as it had been on the other monsters.

The dragon just smiled at her and brought his face a mere span from hers then flicked his forked tongue out at her. Marrella fell backwards screaming, franticly scooting backwards away from the beast yet she would not loosen the grip on her staff.

Tram was up on his feet now and swung his sword as hard as he could. He smote the dragon at the lower part of his neck. The sword broke, leaving Tram staring at the hilt for a fleeting second. Then the dragon swiped Tram with a blow that sent him flying at least ten paces.

Surprisingly the dragon backed away instead of making the kill. Was he waiting for the demon to come to finish them off? Then the dragon began to shrink to morph into a completely different creature just as evil looking as the dragon and as it done so, a boom of rolling thunder made it seem as though the dragon was extracting energy from the elements of the very air. Tram recognized the creature it was morphing into right away, it was the demon.

Tram painfully rose to his feet and was at a lost for words when the demon began to speak. “Remember me?” Abadon roared as he pointed to the large scar on the left side of his chest. Tram didn’t answer him.

In his gurgled speech he continued “I wanted to ask you a question before I ended your existence. I know you slew the Wallahaman of the pale staff but did you also have something to do with slaying the Wallahaman of the red staff as well?”

“What is a Wallahaman” Tram asked with some confusion.

Abadon rubbed the spot on his neck where Tram had hit him with the sword as he answered him. “They are, or were my High Priest. They are humans that have dedicated themselves to my service. It is I that give them the power to become wondrous beast of flight. Now answer me!” “Oh.” Tram replied “I will answer you but first I would like to ask you a question.” “I will allow you one more question.” Barked Abadon.

Tram was not trying to stall for time he genuinely wanted to know, “You seem to have an unfettered hatred for humans, why is that?”

Abadon narrowed his eyes, “I am surprised. Most humans are too busy with their lusts for whatever is of interest to them to give any thought to such things. I will tell you in earnest. The one whom created me and the goblins and others beside also created humans. I and the goblins felt that it was not right that we should be considered lesser beings. Sooo, we have a sure desire to destroy you all and we will never stop until we succeed.”

Tram responded by saying , “Oh. Now I will answer your question. Yes, I devised the weapon that laid the red dragon down or the Wallahaman or whatever you want to call the foul thing.”

Abadon smiled as he began to phase shift back into a dragon but before he fully did so, he said, “Our talking is complete and now it is time to get back to my entertainment. Are you not going to beg for mercy?” “Why should I add to your joy?” Tram answered

The dragons brow narrowed in anger.

Marrella having nothing better to shield herself with had gotten behind the only thing visible, a large fallen tree and was on her knees, eyes winched closed, concentrating on the stone, perhaps trying to get it to help or perhaps she was praying but she was definitely not wanting to see what was to happen next.

Tram having nothing but his shield picked up a large rock and threw with all his might as the dragon ran forward. The dragon fended off the rock as if it were a leather ball. Then he slammed his open claw into Trams shield, knocking Tram over the fallen tree.

Tram wound up with his head in Marrella lap. “I have this all under control.” He said as he struggled to get up and added, “Ummm, may I barrow your stick for a bit.” He reached back to use the staff to help himself back up to his feet and when he grabbed the staff, everything went completely white and a loud explosion.

He was blind, had he been killed or had he been knocked senseless by the dragon?

When his vision finally came back he looked up and thought he’d seen a huge fist in the form of the angry clouds to the east. The fist had its first finger extended as if pointing at something. Then it almost looked as if it withdrew into the angry clouds behind it or around it or was it.

Tram looked to where the finger had been pointing and on the ground laid the dragon with a large hole in its side and the hole was still smoldering. The dragon was most certainly dead.

Tram found himself pointing up to where he’d seen the hand and looking back he asked Marrella. “Did you see that?”

Marrella looked as if someone had given her a chest of jewelry. Nodding her head enthusiastic she said. “Yes, yes, do you think that was??? Not knowing what else to say.

Tram answered her, saying, “I guess it must have been, it sure looked like that was what it was, it was a good aim of lightning as well, I must say.”

They both just stared at the spot for a long time, while the rain started to pick up more and more. Trying to see what sort of being, they did not know.

Then they looked at each other, their eyes searching each others, seeking out the feelings of one another. Tram mindlessly leaned forward to kiss Marrella. His hand clasped around hers and her hand was clasped around the staff and as his little finger touched the staff, there came another blast.

The second lighting strike was even louder than the first one as though it had split the very air above their heads and even though their eyes were shut it still blinded white the both of them. It also left the both of them with their ears ringing for sometime afterwards. Tram leaned back and said. “That was some kiss!” Marrella laughed. “Indeed it was.”

It was difficult getting down from the bluffs and with the rain pouring down it was mostly a matter of using them as slides. Tram was still limping from being dumped onto the ground and his left arm hurt from having his shield hammered in. It had been slow going but now they were on the open slope as they made their way back to Celtar.

They were soon walking by the cave entrance that was Abadon's home but Tram didn’t mention it to Marrella as there was no since in bringing up something to worry about for naught. As they walked past the ruins tram said. “Well at least we will not have to cut stones for the rebuilding.” She smiled. “This really would not be such a bad spot to live if there were grass and flowers and trees and birds.” Tram looked back at the cave entrance and said. “I don’t know about that.” She looked back at the cave entrance and then him and began to wonder herself.

A short time later Brawnz came galloping up the road. He was so lathered up that it looked like someone had just gave him a soapy bath. Slowing to a trot he seemed happy to see Tram and Marrella alive. Tram asked the horse. “Did you come to save ol’ Tram once again, Brawnz?” Tram started to rub his forehead but he pulled away and nudged Marrella to do the rubbing. “Oh, I see you, came to save the Princess this time.”

The horse must have nearly run himself to death to come to their aid because there was blood trickling from his right nostril. Tram took the saddle off so the rain could wash him down some before they started their long trek back to Celtar. Marrella held Brawnz’s reins with one hand and the staff with the other as they continued down the Nocos.

They had gotten about halfway down on the old road that was narrowing more in to a wide trail when Ballard, Jonston, Waldo, Rugbez and others came into view out of the pouring rain. It was the rescue party.

After the jubilant comradely exchange, Waldo was the first to ask about their unexpected escape. “Don’t dell me you slew another dragon?”

Tram shook his head. “You won’t believe me anyway when I tell the story but the Creator did that dragon in!”

The rescue party looked thoroughly confused and probably would have doubted Tram’s claim, marking it up to Tram’s usual luck, except Marrella was adamant in her agreement. Even though they all urged him to explain himself better, he answered them by saying. “It’s a story that I will no doubt tell many times but needs to be told under the comfort of a shade tree and we need to get back to Celtar do you all not agree?”

The troop had gotten a little of the story out of Tram and Marrella on the road back although they could not disagree on the method from which they escaped the dragon but some were skeptical of what they actually saw afterwards. After-all, people see objects and figures in the clouds all the time.

As they reached the foothills of the Noco Mountains and through the pouring rain they all could make out another party making their way towards them. It was King Moran, Governor Miden, Winikkarr, the two giants Halmon and Loral and of course the rest of the Royal Guard.

Looking at Tram and Marrella the first words out of the Kings mouth was, “it was very gracious of you to save me the trouble of coming to your rescue. How were you able to free yourselves of that dragon?”

Waldo with his quick tongue answered for them. “Dhey claim a God dhey call dhe Creator slew dhe dragon widh a bold of lighdning.”

The second rescue party all began to look at each other in an eerie manor then the King solemnly began to speak. “That is odd, after that crazy horse of yours ran through the whole of the savage army without so much as being touched and the rescue party went clear out and about the battle to go to your aid, we heard a distant thunder come from this direction. Then a short time later while the battle still looked to be a long drawn-out affair, a lightning bolt came from this direction, streaked across the sky, then split into what looked to be a thousand branches and slew the two flying dragons and most all of the goblins and their terrible dragons.

Of course, this frightened the savages to no end and they and the ogres ran for their lives. My army is chasing them all over the wild as we speak.”

Tram looked at Marrella and then they both looked at the Rainbow Stone, as everyone else looked at them.Then King Moran said. “I wager that you have quite the tale to tell.” Tram replied. “I would not take you up on that wager.”

The End

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