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Wanderers Two

fantasy by D.J. Barber

The cries of battle and clash of steel echoed in Vaxhelm’s ears.

He staggered through the bright afternoon sunshine, the battlefield far behind. The sounds of war faded as the old warrior approached a dark wood. The road continued into shady gloom and Vaxhelm limped onward, in shock, concussed, oblivious to his surroundings.

Coming upon a small stream, he stumbled and fell. The cold waters brought Vaxhelm out of his semi-stupor. He sat upright and dragged himself, soaked to the bone, to the far bank.

He had no idea where he was; only that he was cold and hungry, and by the looks of things, wasn’t about to find a warm bed or kettle of stew anywhere close by.

The sound of someone piping caught his ear. He struggled to his feet and soon came upon another path bisecting the path he had traveled. It was growing dim under the canopy of forest.

Vaxhelm decided to let the still-distant minstrel play on whilst he settled by the roots of a great willow tree and stripped away his wet clothing. He wrung out his rough tunic and breeches as best he could, while his sword stood ready within arms reach.

He rubbed himself with handfuls of dry willow leaves, repeating the action several times to some satisfaction. As he twisted more water out of his breeches, he heard the sound of the piper’s playing drawing closer now.

It was nigh to dusk and in the gloom he held his breath, hidden in the shield of weeping branches beneath the willow.

The minstrel came along the crossing path, stopped along the outer cascading branches and turned abruptly, peering in Vaxhelm’s direction, piping silent now.

He was short, not more than 15 or 18 inches in height. A scarlet cap sat on his rather large head. His deep green jacket was open over a bright yellow tunic and that draped over bright blue trousers. It all was nearly obscured by his bushy white beard. A gnome, Vaxhelm surmised, a bright and happy little gnome out playing his bonny pipe—and playing it well.

“Be that a man under the tree? A naked man to boot!”

Vaxhelm grabbed his breeches and struggled to pull them on.

“Aye. A man. In service of good King Merwyk of Wallowdown. And fresh from the battlefields in arms against the elves.”

Vaxhelm eyed the gnome a moment, glancing to his sword before pulling his damp tunic slowly over his head.

“You’ve no doubt lost your way,” the gnome said.

“My way is my own, gnome. I was injured in battle, got banged on my head, been in a daze ’till I came upon that brook back-a-ways and got woken by its waters.”

“You mean to say you fell into the waters of Dragon Creek, man?”

“If that’s the stream that crosses this path some ways back, aye, I did.”

“Tis a damn shame then, hmm? No use inviting you back for a cuppa with my old misses, now, is there?”

“Not very hospitable of you little gnome, seeing my plight as you do.”

“Oh, I do see your plight, man. Far and away moreso ever than you.”

“By what riddles do you speak? Just tell me the direction I’ll want to take to make my way back to Wallowdown Castle and I’ll be through with you.”

Vaxhelm came through the dangling willow branches and faced the gnome, sword by his side.

“But you’d not want to go that way.”

“I’ve a wife. Six children. A pen full of goats. Reason enough to that way go.”

“Ah, the damn shame grows worse and worse.”

Vaxhelm leveled his sword. “Wipe that smirk from your face and tell me which way. Tell me quick or die.”

Aged eyes crinkled and the gnome’s face broke into a wide grin.

“The Dragon Creek is cursed. You might want to peel those damp clothes off, man. You see the waters of yon creek are under the influence of a fell and wicked sorceress and anyone that drinks of, or even bathes in those waters, is transformed into a troll and melded into that awful sorceress’s service for ever and always.”

“I believe not in witch’s curses or gnome’s fanciful tales. Be gone, little minstrel! You play a fair pipe, but your tongue betrays your black heart. Be Gone, I say!”

Vaxhelm lifted his sword and the gnome vanished. Perhaps he had not been there at all. Stranger things were known to happen to a man nearly knocked from his wits.

Still confused, Vaxhelm walked the forested path, thinking of hearth and home. A warm fire and a pipeful of smoke–that’s what was needed. His wet clothing dried, became too tight, and he peeled the tunic and trousers off. It was cold but he felt he was close to home, felt very close, indeed!

He was almost overwhelmed by sudden hunger. As he continued down the wooded path, the gloaming grew deeper, but he was drawn forward by his destination, nearly home for sure.

The wood opened up on a dark dale. A rocky path led to the base of a tall, stone keep with an open window above a double oaken doorway. It looked somehow familiar.

Vaxhelm lifted a fist, but before he could knock the doors were flung open.

“We’ve been expecting you, Troll,” hissed the sorceress. “Welcome home! There’s much work to do.”

Copyright January 2010 by D.J. Barber

D.J. Barber lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. He blogs about writing at Canyons of Gray.

[Return to the January 2010 stories]

3 Responses

  1. […] Wanderers Two […]

  2. Delightful story! I love tales with trolls and gnomes.

  3. Thanks, Laura. Me too!

    –dj

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