Forest Bower VI
Sun Jan 23 2022 05:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
The land they now travelled into was thick with forests and sloughs -- a dramatic change from the open spaces of their native land.
The countless sloughs made the way ahead into a treacherous maze. Whenever the forest opened, they would find themselves standing in water and muck. A wrong step could be the end of the unwary traveller here. The woodcraft of these people being strong, they could easily avoid the pitfalls around their path, but our lad was not yet trained in their ways. Once as he slipped into the muck, he heard a call, "Woop, Woooop." He extricated himself from the slop and, taking a couple of the natives left to investigate. As they picked their way around the sloughs it grew weaker, and they were lead deeper into the mists. Against his better judgment he followed it with his companions. The younger of these, Langstadt was wary of the swamps and wished to return, "Who knows where we are in this mist?," he complained.
"If the heat of the day overcomes us, the muck may become our grave!"
The lad tried to encourage him. "No, it sounds like there is someone no more than thirty yards hence. "
"You said that an hour ago!"
Meanwhile it was growing hot, but there was no sun to burn through the stifling mists.
"Trust me, anyways, can't you find the way out?" the lad asked. "Me?" Langstadt shook his head. "I trusted your sense. I've never ventured into this foul place."
A shiver ran up the lad's spine. Had he gotten his own guide lost? But presently he found the source of the calls. It was a poor hut with a thatched roof and a low door. He knocked and was greeted by a relieved voice. "O that I couda' see me chil' before death! Dare son! Come in!"
Evidently someone's coming was expected. "I am not your son, but may I come in?"
"Do come in!"
The lad opened the door and peered in. The pitiful house held little more than a bed with a thin, sickly occupant. "
"I canno' see so well, would you come closer me son?"
Apparently the occupant hadn't gotten the message, but the lad humoured her and stepped in. No sooner had he crossed the threshold than a knarled hand covered his mouth. "Don't struggle." whispered its owner. Not wanting to humour its owner, the lad struck behind him and wrestled with its grasp. But he was barely a match for his captor's brutal grasp. "Will you now be my son?" asked the wretched women; but the lad could think of no answer. At this she took a dagger from her garments. If thou wilt not be my blood, let me take yours. Under a foul force, the lad felt his own energy fading as she forgot her infirmity and advanced toward him.
Whatever devilish madness she was executing was interrupted by Langstatdt's voice. "Strike the witch!" Before her evil gaze had turned, an arrow pierced her throat. Seeing the change of tide, the brute released his grip and fled.
"Let's get out of here!" said Langstadt, and roused his master from the trance. The lord made for the door, but stopped. He was looking at a scrap of paper. "For goodness sakes, forget her curses."
"No, this is a map of these parts, See the watery end of the road? Let's return to our party. The queen will be distressed over our absence. "
By this time the mists had lifted and they could see their way more clearly. Map in hand, they made their way back to the party. The lady was shaken when she heard what they'd found. "Woodcraft we have, but this women's dark art is foreign to me. Let us depart in haste!"
"Why? She is dead!"
"And her servants?"
"Well then, shall we continue on the road?" Fortunately their map was extensive, as they still had a long journey through the swamps. At a snail's pace, they navigated a mucky path through it. Without it, even the best woodsman could have gotten lost forever in the mists.
It took a full week at snails pace to reach the hard land again. Exiting the swamp to the northwest, they came upon a people of their race, but of little relation. They were a hardy tribe, but few in numbers. Their great stature shocked the new comers, but they were a fair and friendly people. Hearing of the swamp-siren's demise, they were greatly impressed and the lad was received an audience with their great assembly.