Brutus and Avianna - Chapter Two

Part One, Chapter Two

The reward weighed heavy on Brutus’ belt as he rode south. He had a new horse, a fine riding horse which, as far as he could tell, had been a fair deal. Killing five of the highwaymen and capturing the other three had made him a bit of a local celebrity. He couldn’t help but think that the innkeeper had played a large role in spreading the word that he was also looking for a horse, and a fair price for it too.

He had tentatively named the horse Red Eagle, due to a red patch behind its left ear that looked like an eagle spreading its wings. The horse was a mixture of colours, red, brown, black and white, something which southerners seemed to dislike. He had noticed that most southerners tended to prefer horses that were all the same colour. Perhaps that’s another reason why the horse had come at such a fair price.

Not that gold meant much to Brutus. He didn’t understand why people of the south liked it so much. Wealth was too superficial for Brutus’ mind. Food, family and friendship were things that he valued.

Admittedly, gold could apparently buy a lot of food, and it was certainly easier to transport than vast quantities of food.

Behind Brutus lagged a caravan of seven wagons. The first three were filled with lumber, another two with vegetables and salted meats, another with barrels of beer from the town brewery, and the last wagon was heavily guarded, carrying three confessed highwaymen. The caravan had been organized that very day. The local merchants had been selling their wares to visiting merchants, too shy to organize their own trade caravan for fear of the highwaymen. Now with those men out of the way, they had found the courage (or was it the greed?) to travel south, seeking their own wealth.

The fact that Brutus was heading the same way seemed to be less than a coincidence. If he had been heading west or east instead, they might have just as easily went that way also. Still, Brutus kept up a strong pace, forcing the wagon drivers to go faster than they normally would, and technically Brutus was going slower than he probably would too. He wanted to keep an eye on the criminals in the last wagon.

They didn’t look to be going anywhere. They were shackled hand and foot inside a steel cage and their necks were in braces that were locked directly to the cage. None of them looked strong enough that they could actually break free.

And even if they did, they had been travelling on horseback for half a day now. It would take them two or three days to reach civilization, and the surrounding territory was nothing more than untouched wilderness, large boulders and tall evergreens. White and blue spring flowers blossomed on the side of the dirt road and even in the middle of the road, in between the ruts left behind by wagons.

Up ahead Brutus could hear the sound of running water, a stream or river off to one side of the road. Perhaps now was a good time to let his horse drink. Who knows when they would come to a river again? He turned in his saddle and motioned to the wagon driver behind him, pretending to be drinking a tankard of beer. The driver saw it and waved at him in understanding, pretending to hoist a tankard for a round of cheers.

Reigning in his horse, Brutus stepped to the side of the road and led the horse through the underbrush. There were exposed roots and loose rocks here, something which a horse could slip or trip on and break its leg. He could hear the running water to the east, just over a ridge a good fifty paces up a hill that ran alongside the road.

He picked his way up the hill slowly and could hear the wagon drivers passing behind him. He would have to catch up to them later. Moments later, he reached the top of the ridge and looked down.

When he thought had been a river turned out to be a spring and a waterfalls. The water was bubbling up from within a group of rocks and pouring down into a small gorge some twenty feet below it. The heat of the water was enough that mist was rising up from it and lush ferns grew all about, soaking in the warm moisture. Combined with the light filtering through the evergreens from overhead, the sight was quite beautiful.

Brutus led Red Eagle down to the water’s edge, allowing him to drink. He bent over and washed his hands in the warm water, enjoying the feeling and tempted to jump in and enjoy its warmth all over his body. As he stood back up however, he noticed something.

Or was it someone? Behind the waterfalls, hidden in shadows behind lines of falling water and mist was a woman. Or at least it looked like a woman, it was difficult to tell. She appeared to be huddled on a rock, naked, long black hair streaming over her shoulders and arms.

At first Brutus thought she might be a nymph or a dryad. He wasn’t very familiar with such fae creatures. She was certainly too big to be a fairie or a sprite, he knew that much. She could even be human, but it was difficult to tell from this distance. Indeed, she could even be a rock and his eyes were merely playing tricks on him.

Whatever the case, she appeared to be waiting for him to leave, for she was looking straight at him. Perhaps this was her favourite bathing spot? Perhaps she really was a nymph or even a siren, and this was her home? It was certainly beautiful enough to be the home of a nymph.

Pretending not to notice her, Brutus bent over and drank for half a minute, filled his waterskin and then led Red Eagle back up the side of ridge. If it was a nymph, he knew they could be deadly when threatened. If it was a human girl, then she likely frightened of the strange barbarian who had stopped here to drink. If it was just a rock playing tricks on his eyes, then who really cares?

When he reached the top of the ridge he heard shouts and sounds of combat. The caravan was under attack.

Torgnak liked bashing things. What ogre didn’t? He especially liked bashing puny humans and their ugly looking horses. He also liked making up what he thought was funny things to say to the humans right before he killed them. It made for more funny faces on their stupid little human faces. His favourite sayings were:

“Die human!”

“Me eat puny human!”

“I’m going to eat you!”

“Die human! Die!”

“Me kill you bad!”

At present, his saying of choice was “Die little humans! Me big!”

Torgnak hefted his club and bashed in the brains of another screaming human. Ahead of him, he could see a strange wagon with three more humans caged up like chickens. Oh boy, was he going to have fun bashing those ones!

One of the guards was fumbling with funny looking metal things, while the other three humans shouted at him to hurry. They must be afraid of Torgnak. This was going to be a fun day.

Then one of the humans stood up in the cage, no longer stuck to the cage. He went to the door of the cage and jumped down into the grass below.

Torgnak stopped, curious to see whether this human would run away or actually try to fight.

The human picked up a sword from a fallen guard. He seemed to be prepared to fight, but Torgnak could see the fear in his eyes. It would only take a little hit to bash this human’s head into a tasty, juicy mess.

“Hey Torgnak!” shouted another ogre called Grumsku. “Hurry up and kill puny humans! We eating already!”

Torgnak glanced down the line of the caravan and saw Grumsku standing over the bodies of several humans, chewing on the skull of a human woman. He could see her face getting squished between Grumsku’s molar teeth.

Suddenly there was a vivid pain in Torgnak’s leg and he looked down and saw the human’s sword withdraw from a deep stab wound. It really made Torgnak angry. He liked it when his lunch fought back, it made it more exciting, but he really hated it when they actually hurt him!

He raised his club to do some more head bashing and the human jumped forward again, stabbing Torgnak in the other leg. This time it didn’t hurt as much, it just made the ogre even more angry!

Down went his club and the human tried to dodge back out of the way, but it was too late. Human skull shattered and pieces of hair, skin, gore and brain went flying in every direction. A juicy but tasty looking mess remained. Torgnak decided to eat that one first, but first he had to kill the other three humans.

The guard and the two others in the cage were now standing in front of him, weapons at ready. Torgnak was getting impatient. He started swinging wildly at them with his club, forcing them to keep their distance.

Then he heard an ogre scream. He turned and saw Grumsku, still with the human woman’s head in his mouth, fall down into the dirt. His arm had been chopped off and there was a huge gash running across the back of his neck.

A tall human on a red, white and brown horse was nearby, a large axe in his hand.

Now that made Torgnak really angry! Puny humans aren’t supposed to win! He turned back just as the three humans were about to close in on him.

Torgnak swung his club and hit one of the humans in the side, smashing his ribs like mere twigs. He grabbed another human by the arm and lifted him off the ground. The human swung wildly at Torgnak, leaving shallow cuts on Torgnak’s huge arm. Then Torgnak swung the human like a rag doll into the other human, leaving them both stunned on the ground.

With glee, he jumped forward, enjoying the squishy feeling as he ground his heels into the dying bodies of the two humans. Remembering himself, he looked up at the tall human on the horse.

The human was busy fighting another ogre, he didn’t even seem to have noticed Torgnak’s battle skill. Torgnak had wanted to strike fear into the heart of the tall human on the horse, but instead the human wasn’t even paying attention to him.

The human with the smashed ribs was still alive and trying to crawl away. Torgnak stopped that nonsense with one step, squashing the human’s legs beneath one ogre-sized foot. He felt a satisfying crunch of bones breaking.

Another ogre screamed and Torgnak looked south to see another ogre fall to the tall human on the horse. That not fair! Puny humans supposed to die, not ogres!

Torgnak screamed: “Die human! Die! Me kill you bad!” He charged at the human and jumped the last fifteen feet straight at the horse and its rider. The tall human turned just in time to see Torgnak landing on him, taking both horse and rider down to the ground.

Torgnak lay on the ground, the human and the horse struggling beneath him. The tall human didn’t even seem frightened. There was blood spewing all over the place, and yet the human didn’t seem scared at all.

Then Torgnak’s chest began to feel cold. He looked down at the axe lodged deep within his chest. He was starting to feel sleepy. He didn’t know why. That made him angry. He raised both ham-sized fists, prepared to smash the human’s skull into a juicy mess.

Pain flared in the back of Torgnak’s head. He could feel blood running down his back. He reached back and pulled out whatever was causing the pain. He looked at the arrow, dumbfounded, curious as to why such a small thing could cause so much pain.

Then Torgnak’s eyes glazed over and his head slumped. He was dead.

It took awhile for Brutus to pull himself out from under the ogre, and even longer to roll the ogre off of Red Eagle. The horse was certainly not happy about the situation. Both it and Brutus were covered in the thick, dark blood of an ogre, and the smell was positively disgusting.

Two other ogres still remained, but they were near the front of the caravan eating and were paying no attention to Brutus.

Or they were, until a twang from a bow sounded and one of the ogres took an arrow in the shoulder. They both looked up at Brutus, the only living human left at the caravan. The rest of the humans had fled into the relative safety of the woods. They both stood up, their faces ominous as they lumbered towards him.

Battered as he was, Brutus was in no shape to take on two ogres at the same time. He wasn’t about to flee however. What he needed was time, and a little distance between the ogres, so that he could fight them one at a time.

He heard another twang and a third arrow shot overhead, taking an ogre in the throat. The ogre paused in midstride, stared at the arrow for a moment, and then slumped to the ground.

The final ogre paused, stared at his friend for a moment and then scanned the area, trying to determine where these deadly arrows had come from. Brutus could see the fear in the ogres face as it began to back away.

A fourth arrow took the ogre in the belly. It screamed and turned to run. It didn’t get very far when a fifth arrow struck it hard in the back. The ogre fell to the ground and began to crawl away.

Brutus picked up a fallen spear and threw it at the ogre’s exposed back. At long last, the ogre slumped to the ground.

The world was strangely quiet. The evergreens rustled in the wind. The ogres, the fallen boulders and the flowers were all silent.

The barbarian looked about, looking north in the direction of where the arrows had come from.

A lithe figure, clad in dark green, brown and black leather stood amongst the trees. She was barely visible, for the clothes she wore blended into her surroundings so well. She approached softly and Brutus could make out her features better now. Long black hair, darkly tanned skin, a robust and healthy figure, a bit short compared to Brutus, but still tall compared to the average human. Pointed ears.

An elf.

Brutus had never met an elf before. Never even seen one. Their skill with the bow however was legendary, as was their woodsman skills.

As she neared, Brutus recognized her as the woman from the waterfalls. Her hair and skin were still wet. She paused about twenty paces from, eyeing him as carefully as he had studied her.

“You’re a northerner, aren’t you?” she said at last, her voice sweet and thick. He couldn’t place her accent, but then again, Brutus had never met an elf before.

Brutus nodded. “You’re the woman from the waterfalls. I am sorry I intruded. I didn’t know you were there.”

She blushed, a bit off guard. Apparently she didn’t know that he had noticed her. “Yet you stayed silent. Most men would have leapt at the opportunity to chase after a naked elf.”

It was Brutus’s turn to blush. “Actually, I thought you were a nymph.”

She paused, a grin teasing the corner of her mouth. “Well, I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Chapter Three