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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Four - History Repeats)

Colin Frayn
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A bright shaft of early morning light shone in through a tiny circular window in the ceiling. It caught Carek's face, just a sudden sparkle, and then was gone. Carek sat up with a start, wiping his tired eyes. It took him a few moments to work out where he was, and then the events of the previous day began to flit through his mind. He relaxed, then slowly unwrapped himself from the tight, undersized blankets. Through the window a dozen tiny eyes were peering inwards. They shyly ducked out of view as Carek glanced in their direction, then slowly re-appeared to catch another glimpse. Carek crawled out of the narrow doorway and into the outside world. The sprite village was alive with activity, the level of which was excited as the tiny people ran to watch their giant visitor scramble slowly to his feet and survey the scene around him. He seemed even larger to them by the light of day.

Carek was amused by the miniature faces peering at him from every angle. Some rushed to the edge of the walkways above to catch a glimpse of their strange guest. There was a low murmur of voices, all feverishly discussing the most unusual events that had transpired since the previous evening. Carek was feeling rather hungry, and looked around for someone to talk to about getting some breakfast. "Is there anyone in charge?" he called out. The sprites backed off slightly, confused by his booming voice. He repeated it in elven, "Elyth na salyss y faern?" Still no reply. Then the crowds parted as one of the sprites walked through carrying a large bowl of fruit. The poor creature had great difficulty carrying the food over in what must have been a large mixing bowl or pot. Presumably they didn't have any human-sized crockery. There was much discussion in the crowds, and then all was silent as attention turned once more to their guest.

Carek thanked the sprite greatly and then sat down to eat. He tucked in with a spoon, which resembled more a miniature ladle than anything else. The fruit was delicious, and delicately prepared. A crash and a loud curse from the hut announced Tarok's awakening, and it was not too long before he joined Carek outside. An identical second bowl of food was produced, just on time. They ate together in silence as a crowd of onlookers assembled to watch. Tarok was not used to this attention. "Have they not got anything better to do with their lives?" he enquired. Carek shrugged. "Presumably not. If a giant twice your height walked into Tarnadon, I suspect a few people would go out and watch!" It was a fair point.

Carek and Tarok were still none the wiser about their whereabouts. Carek tried to explain to his hosts that he wanted to get home, but that he did not know the way. He used short words, spoke clearly, and tried to gesture as much as he could using his hands. He even repeated everything in elven, and the small number of other woodland languages that he had picked up over the years, but they did not seem to understand. After a great deal of effort, Carek managed to make them understand approximately what he wanted. Or at least, that was what he hoped. If they could take him and Tarok to the mine entrance, then he would be able to return home from there. That seemed to be the best option. It took him a substantial length of time to manage even that and he was beginning to run out of ideas. Between them, he and Tarok managed to act out more or less everything in a ridiculous game of charades that lasted at least ten tedious minutes.

Their job done, Carek and Tarok decided just to sit back and enjoy their rather unusual meal. After they had consumed the fruit, another course arrived. It was presented immaculately, as was everything else in the sprite village. This was some kind of vegetable dish mixed with chunks of fruit and garnished with leaves. Quite what it was, they did not know; not even Carek whose knowledge of forest delicacies was rather extensive. However, it tasted wonderful, and the sprites seemed amazed by the sheer volume of food that their guests managed to consume.

After they had eaten their fill, Carek and Tarok began to pack their belongings, ready for the journey home. The sprites dispersed, their morning entertainment over. A short while later, the two adventurers were standing by the village entrance, ready to leave. A group of the creatures had returned to wave goodbye, and a large crowd had assembled higher up on the walkways up in the trees. Three of the sprites were standing away from the crowd, discussing the direction to be taken, and pointing towards the undergrowth. These were presumably the guides. They looked more than a little confused, or at least that was the impression they gave.

The small expedition party set off shortly afterwards in the direction of the mine entrance. Bidding their strange hosts goodbye, Carek and Tarok stepped back into the forest, following their tiny guides through the trees. The forest seemed more tranquil in this area, and remarkably silent. There were few of the familiar sounds that Carek had grown so used to, and of which Tarok was still so wary. The sprites were able to move quickly and nimbly through the forest, and far from slowing down to wait for them, Tarok found himself struggling to keep up.

After about thirty minutes, they began to near the mine. The trees were thinning out, and some looked as if they had been chopped by human equipment. Sure enough, a short while later they found it, shrouded by the overhanging sycamores and tall green pines. Their adventure had now more or less wound to a close, and they had rather luckily escaped relatively unscathed. Somehow, Tarok's arm was completely free of bruises - a fact that rather confused the young wizard, as he had bumped rather violently into the passage wall on several occasions during his short flight to freedom. It was certainly a mystery to him as the previous night he felt sure that he would wake up covered in injuries from head to toe and with aches in all his limbs. No doubt his enigmatic hosts were responsible in some way for his miraculous recovery.

They explored around the entrance to the mine. The rock fall that had caused this entire adventure was a few yards into the darkness, and would take some time to clear. The next time they wanted some salt they would have to clear the entrance once more, unless they could find some other way of getting their supplies. They could not risk opening up the mineshaft for a few weeks at least in case the goblins escaped. Carek had given up trying to communicate his desires for salt to their small guides, and was about to leave empty handed when Tarok noticed a small wooden shed partly covered by the undergrowth. He decided to go and investigate. It had been camouflaged by vigorous green vegetation, and dead leaves fallen from the trees over the years. It was almost invisible to anyone just approaching the mine from the direction of Carek's home, hidden as it was behind a significant amount of foliage.

Tarok swung the rusty door open, which fell straight off its hinges and collapsed to the floor with a resounding crash. He peered cautiously inside. It was full of bags of salt! Carek was sure that he had not seen them before. Maybe they had been uncovered by winds. Now at least he knew why the miners had left so hurriedly in the first place and it did not surprise him one little bit that they had not stopped to collect their supplies. Tarok picked up one of the heavy bags and, between them, he and Carek carried it over to the edge of the clearing where the path home started. The two adventurers waved good-bye to their guides, and vowed to return and see them again one day, a vow that they were surely to uphold. They heaved the bag onto their shoulders, and set off on the long trek home.

They left the mine a couple of hours before noon, and the journey back to the huts seemed to pass by very quickly, because they had so much to talk about. They looked at the bag of money in awe. This was more than any of them had ever possessed before! Over 100 gold pieces. "Just think," said Tarok, "You can buy yourself a decent bow to replace that old one, and lots of new arrows. I can buy myself some more books to help me study, and we can both invest in some fishing equipment to help us catch some food. This bear won't last for long you know, and there are two of us to feed now."

Carek nodded, agreeing with what Tarok had said. They would have to go to the town in a few days, and buy some equipment. Tarok wondered if that was such a good idea, but decided to go along with it. He had said his final goodbyes to Tarnadon only just over a week ago, and now he was already returning. Carek had only ever seen the town a few times, when he went with his parents in his youth. He remembered the town walls, the enormous gates, and the busy streets so full of people going hurriedly about their daily business. It was a completely different world, and it was so hard for him to understand. He remembered all the townsfolk looking at him strangely, and treating his parents with suspicion. His mother, being human, could blend in rather well, though she was no longer used to the town customs. His father was an elf, and moreover was not happy with town life at all. He did not like the atmosphere one little bit. Back in the forest, he was a respected member of a tightly woven community. In the town, he was just another face in the crowd, and a strange one at that.

Since his parents were killed, Carek had managed to support himself by farming fruit and vegetables and by tracking and hunting small animals or birds. He had no real need for the town, nor did he think that he would be able to survive there. The forest was his home, and there he would stay. There had always been elves in the eastern forests, and he did not want to be the one to break that tradition.

He did need a new bow, however. His old bow was worn out, and he had been using it for several years now. He made it himself out of the finest wood he could find, but it was growing weak, and he decided that the best idea would be to buy a new bow at Tarnadon. A properly crafted weapon, fashioned by expert hands with the finest equipment money could buy, instead of his own improvised methods which were, at best, unsatisfactory. He was very excited at the prospect of buying some new arrows too. Expertly made arrows could go further than any that he could make, and were a great deal more accurate. His own were made with little more than a few knives and stones. However, if you are making a weapon for your own use, upon which your life may well depend, it is reasonably likely to assume that you will take a great deal more time and care over it that some money grabbing weapon smith would. It was a difficult choice, but Carek really did not have the time or expertise to make his own weaponry any more, and the scales were tipped firmly in favour of professional hands.

As they walked onwards, the two weary adventurers soon began to meet familiar territory, and Carek pointed out a selection of almost completely insignificant landmarks which Tarok hadn't even noticed on the way to the mine the day before. Before long, however, even Tarok could recognise some of the old trees, and felt a great deal more confident for having done so. They parted the last few branches, and stepped out into the clearing to see their home once more.

Carek stopped and stared, for a terrible scene awaited them. It was the one thing that he dreaded in his absence, and the one thing that he hoped would never happen. While he and Tarok had been out battling goblins, the huts had been attacked. Some of the older buildings had been smashed down, and one lay in smouldering ashes on the floor. The three huts that remained were Tarok's, Carek's, and the store room - the three most modern, and the smallest. The rest had been destroyed. Carek dropped what he was carrying, and ran to the centre of the clearing, surveying with great despair the scene before him. His home had been reduced to a pile of shattered timber, and with it all the memories of his childhood. He could feel the anger swelling inside him. He knew exactly who had done this. He ran over to the remains of one of the huts, and broke off a splintered length of wood from one of the demolished walls. He began wielding it; smashing it into the side of the hut until the wood split down the middle, then he collapsed to the ground in tears.

It was obvious that the attackers had come from the other side of the camp, where the undergrowth had been trodden down. Presumably they had realised that no one was at home before they reached the side that was furthest away. Those huts that they had searched were completely destroyed. The invaders had taken most of Carek's supplies, and broken all the tools with which he made his arrows and spears. They had once more taken everything he had in his life, except his life itself.

The attackers had left in anger, burning one hut as they went. Carek examined the crude hack marks on the timber, and the remains of food on the floor. He had no doubt in his mind - the ogres were back again. Only a small band, obviously, but two or three could be deadly enough. No other creature could have wrecked the huts so easily. No other creature had so little regard for those things that he held dear. The raiders had taken everything. They had even stolen the meat from the storage hut leaving them with no real supplies. They were going to have to go out and hunt again. Carek looked around him once more in despair, and then looked towards the trees, and called out "Don't you see what you've done? Have you no compassion?" He hurled a charred stump of wood towards the tree. "Was it not enough to murder my parents and my friends, do you have to destroy all that I ever created?" He threw his bow down on the floor, and shook his fist in the air defiantly. He shouted in Elven, "One day you shall pay! Blood shall flow, yours or mine! I shall resolve this!" Tarok knew what his friend was saying, even without a translation.

Carek slumped to the floor beside the remains of one of the huts. Tarok could only guess the powerful emotions surging through his friend's body, and felt deeply sorry for what had happened. More than that, he felt so threatened now that the camp, which he had previously seen as a refuge from the perils of the forest, was no more. There was no doubt about it - something had to be done. They would first go into the town and hire help, and then they would build walls around the remaining huts. They were going to have to defend themselves one way or another. Then they would clear out a bit more of the clearing, set traps, and then wait for the ogres to return. They would kill the creatures or die trying. If they ogres did not come, then he and Carek would have to look for them. Carek had suffered enough.

Tarok set to work on the plans for a sturdy fortress, while Carek began to chop down a few surrounding trees and clear some undergrowth. With all his stored up anger, he soon managed to fell several trees using just a crude axe. The trunks were sliced into suitable lengths ready for building, and piled up beside one of the demolished huts. Carek also began to set traps around the perimeter of the clearing to protect the remains of his home while he and Tarok were away. He dug two large pits in the place where the ogres had come from before, and set up some vines as trip wires with rocks suspended above them, ready to drop on any unsuspecting intruders. He also arranged five noose traps, set so that the victim would be hoisted thirty feet up into a tree above. Whether or not they would be strong enough to trap ogres however, he did not know, but it was certainly worth a try.

Tarok finished the plans as it was getting dark. He showed Carek as they were eating around the camp fire. He planned for the fort to encircle completely the three huts in order to protect everything from any potential ogre invasion. It was to be twenty yards long, and fifteen yards wide. He proposed knocking down the present storage hut, and building a small room into the fortress instead, in order to make it easier to fit them all into a smaller space. The walls were just less than three yards high, and they had spiked poles at the top, as well as a small ledge on the inside on which they could stand and fire.

There was a tower in one corner of the fort, which was three storeys high with arrow slits at fixed intervals. It would rise seven yards above the forest floor, and there were wooden ladders at each level, which reached through trapdoors in the ceilings of the levels below. The ladders could be pulled up, and no one could follow. There would be a small telescope fixed at the top, if they could buy a one in Tarnadon, and there were plenty of sheltered locations from which they could fire arrows towards the incoming attackers.

Carek was very impressed by the design, and suggested that they went to the town to hire help as soon as possible. They could then get to work on the project as soon as they returned. The next morning they would get up early and set off immediately. The journey took almost five days for Tarok, but Carek knew the route so they reckoned that they could get to the town within two. The quicker they walked, the less time that the huts would remain unguarded, so the incentive was there for them to move as fast as they possibly could.

They made sure that they ate well that evening, and went to bed early so that they could get up in good time and set off before it became too light. They didn't particularly mind walking early in the morning, when the night dwellers of the forest were growing tired and beginning to settle down to sleep. However, walking last thing at night was considerably more perilous. They settled down in their respective huts, hoping that their journey would be a successful one, although there were still many dangers as they both knew. One of their greatest fears was that the ogres would return that very night to attack, and it was consequently very difficult for either of them to get any sleep. Tarok especially, who had never met an ogre, and was less well equipped to deal with one than Carek. All sorts of images flickered through his mind during the night. Huge creatures wielding clubs and spears, destroying all before them.

Despite a restless night, the next morning came safely and the two friends woke up just before sunrise. After eating a few slices of wild pear each, they filled their flasks with water from the nearby stream. Hoisting their packs on their shoulders, they set off west in the direction of the town, taking one last glance at the camp before disappearing into the undergrowth.

It was still not very light, but Carek did not seem to mind as he could see rather well in the dark. He explained that elves had excellent vision, and could still see a certain amount even in pitch darkness. He was only a half-elf, so had not inherited this fully, but could still avoid all but the darkest of obstacles in the dim morning twilight. The elven eyes, he explained, worked partially by heat, not just light, so he could detect the surroundings and sense things that would otherwise have remained invisible to a human. This intrigued Tarok, who had never really thought about such things. Elves were a rarity in Tarnadon, and any elven visitor was treated with a great deal of suspicion - some would even say a little animosity. He hoped that Carek would manage to avoid such unfortunate sentiments. Tarok also remembered one of the most senior wizards at his school, an elf named Arimeth. He was a great sorcerer, perhaps stronger than most of the humans there. Elves were an elder race, and had been in the world for many millennia before even the first human settlers arrived. It was through them that magic had first been brought to mortal minds, and humans were still comparatively new to the concept.

The other elder race was the dwarves. They were not quite as old as the elves, but still far more ancient than the humans were. The dwarves and elves were bitter enemies for many centuries, fighting a number of bloody wars throughout the realms. As humans civilisation began to develop, the two races tried hard to avoid including this new race in their dispute. Eventually this became impossible and the sides were reconciled, agreeing to retire to separate parts of the kingdom so that they would not fall into conflict again.

The elves returned to the forest, and many moved into the lands to the south. Rumours of beautiful, ornate elven cities protected by magical wards and protections were common even in Tarnadon, though none appeared on any maps that Tarok knew of. The dwarves chose to retain the mountains, where now they lived in almost total seclusion. Some dwarves spread far to the east, past the forest, where legends told of great, prosperous cities full of wondrous mechanical contraptions. Just as the elves were masters of magic, the dwarves were skilled at machinery and fine workmanship.

The final hostility between elves and dwarves was put aside when the orcs began to spread into the western lands. Though inferior mentally and technologically, the orcs were physically strong, and grew rapidly in number. As this new race began to threaten the smaller human settlements, the elves stepped in and wiped out the savage orcish tribe of the Bonetooths. The dwarves were reluctant to get involved, but soon acted when the northern human village of Lanwyn was sieged for two long months by attacking orcish hordes. This was the first true contact between human and dwarven people, and lead to a rapidly blossoming trade between the two cultures as the orc invasion was repelled.

Times had changed a great deal since these events that Tarok had learnt about in his history books. Now the elves and dwarves were strong allies of the humans, though still refused any truly close contact, preferring to stay well out of the way until their forces were needed. Of course, such noble deeds did not stop normal humans from treating these strange folk with a great deal of suspicion. A few dwarves and elves had shunned their native culture and now mingled with the humans, but they were still in a tiny minority. Carek was about to become one of these.

The two travellers made good progress for the whole day, stopping for a light lunch at noon, but generally pressing on as much as they could. Carek estimated that they would probably arrive in Tarnadon at about mid-afternoon the following day. Tarok was relieved to have to spend only one night in the open forest, but that was more than enough. He did not truly know how he had managed to survive for so long before meeting Carek, but knew now that he would never again attempt so foolish an expedition. He was indeed lucky to be alive.

As darkness fell, they set up camp under a large oak tree. Carek lit a camp fire to warn off small creatures, and they soon fell asleep after a thoroughly exhausting day's march. Tarok had managed to get the exercise that he wanted, but only wished that he could have built up a bit of fitness before having done so. His legs would be sore the following morning, but he knew that he was going to have to press on regardless, for their mission had to be carried out with great speed.

They woke up the next day to the sound of birds in the trees. It was just after sunrise, and the first few rays of early morning light were beginning to filter through the canopy above. Carek picked a handful of fruit from the trees, and they ate a light breakfast before setting off on their route once more. The remainder of their journey would take a large part of the daylight hours, so a good early start was vital if they were to arrive in Tarnadon before the night time curfew. The curfew was designed to ensure that all workers returned from the fields before nightfall. Though the town was not right at the edge of the eastern forests, it was well known for forest creatures to hunt several miles away from their sinister home. They mostly stayed away from the town walls, though some goblins had been seen scouting the perimeter. Several unfortunate villagers had gone missing whilst tending their crops by night, and the town mayor had decided that enough was enough. It was consequently extremely difficult to get into the town after dark unless you could prove that you lived there. That would cause the two adventurers some problems, especially Carek, so had to be avoided.

Tarok wearily heaved his back pack onto his aching shoulders and stretched his legs, suffering from the previous day's walking. They extinguished the fire with some wet leaves and soil, then set off once more on the path to the town. Carek knew the route, and walked confidently away to the west, their backs turned to the early morning sun.

They made good progress that morning, and stopped to eat lunch by a stream where they managed to catch two small, golden fish with a few of Carek's arrows as spears. Tarok lit a fire and cooked their catch to nourish themselves for the journey ahead. Though tough, the fish were very tasty, and were more than enough food to keep the two travellers satisfied for the remainder of the journey. They knew that they were almost at their destination, but it still seemed like such a long trek ahead. Especially for Tarok, who had to prepare himself emotionally to return to the town which he had left so decisively and to which he had, until recently, been determined never to return.

By mid-afternoon, they began to notice that the trees were thinning out, and that they were getting nearer to the light wood at the edge of the forest. Before long the wood opened out into a meadow, dotted with sparse groups of trees and hedgerows. The two weary travellers could now see Tarnadon in the distance, its high walls and gates no longer seeming so ominous to Carek as they had done before in his youth. There was half a mile of grassland before they reached some outlying fields, tended by several of the town's more adventurous farmers. Tarok hadn't seen Tarnadon in well over a week, but Carek had not been there since his parents had died. There seemed no point in returning here, as it was no more home to him than the forest was to Tarok. That would change, however. The forest had a certain allure, which was attracting to the young wizard. The longer he spent under the trees, the less he wanted to return to the busy life of the town.

They pressed on, reaching the open gates an hour later. With great trepidation, they wandered once more into the bustling town streets. It was still well before the curfew, but the evening was drawing near and they both wanted somewhere to leave their bags for the night. Moreover, Tarok for one wanted a large dinner to help him to get some strength back. They were going to return to the fort in just a few days' time, and they needed all the nutrition they could get, now that it was available in large, effortless quantities.

The town had not changed much since Tarok had left, but that wasn't really surprising. He was pleased to see some faces that he recognised, but tried as much as he could not to be noticed. After all, he was the 'mad reclusive magic student' who had left the town a little over a week ago, and had not been seen since. He was rather disappointed that no-one really paid him any attention, but also relieved not to see posters all around the town asking for clues to his whereabouts after such a sudden disappearance. Still, he realised that he probably would not be missed. After all, none of his teachers would be complaining about his absence, and he didn't really have any friends any more because of his studious life. He was presumably just another statistic chalked up to a night time goblin ambush.

At the entrance to the town was an inn, where they decided to stay the night. It was called 'The Dancing Sprite', and had a colourful sign hanging over the entrance consisting of a shocked traveller watching a bright, glowing and altogether inaccurate representation of a tree sprite. Carek and Tarok considered it a good omen after their encounter of a few days ago. The inn was a large building, clearly profiting from its advantageous position next to such a major trade route through the central part of the kingdom. Carek looked up at the sign and grinned. Tarok shook his head in amazement. He had seen that ridiculous picture so many times in his life, but never realised how completely fictitious it was. For once, it was amusing to know the truth.

The two friends wandered into the Inn, and ordered themselves some drinks to refresh their throats after such a long day. They bought themselves a night's accommodation, and then asked the innkeeper's permission to put up a small notice advertising for adventurers to come and join them on their quest. The innkeeper agreed, and handed over a small sheet of parchment.

They wrote the following;

Help needed, Young warriors or wizards are invited to join an expedition to build and protect a Fort in the Eastern Forests. Payment of 5 gold pieces each. Apply Within

They hoped that they would soon get a reply to the notice so that they could leave Tarnadon as soon as possible and return to build the fort that they so desperately needed.

First, Tarok decided to venture into town, and try to buy some of the things on his list. Carek had not been in a town for so long that the customs perplexed and amused him. Money was a commodity with which he had never really become acquainted, and it seemed fascinating to him. Tarok reluctantly agreed to let his friend set off alone, and decided to meet up back at the inn later. He was a little worried because of the looks that people had been giving his half-elf friend ever since his arrival. There were only a few non-humans in Tarnadon at that time, and Carek felt slightly uneasy about it. Fortunately, Carek had inherited some human features from his mother, and could blend in quite well if he covered his face and ears a little more than usual. They both set off their own ways ready to face the dangers of a bustling market town.

As he was soon to discover, not even the perils of the Eastern forests could have prepared Carek for the sights he was to see in Tarnadon's winding, cobbled streets.


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 4 - History Repeats © Colin Frayn

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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