I should feel cold. Even with a full covering of animal skins under my white leather armor, lying in two feet of snow is telling my mind I should be freezing. So I fight the urge, as right now I have no time for that. With my soft leather helmet matching my armor and the bow wrapped in white cloth, these horrible creatures should be only able to see my green eyes peering over the edge of the indentation my body makes.
Of course, the three dead xadineft should be a clue to any new ones to show up. The green apes stand nearly ten feet tall with their overly long arms scraping their knees. I give them no chance to use that advantage on me, which is why three of them stain the snow with green, acidic blood over a hundred paces away, near the road to home. As the big, fluffy flakes of the last few days start to fall again, I allow my thoughts to drift back to how I got here, keeping the road free of xadineft scouts. Hey, it helps me keep warm . . .
It’s true you don’t see many women like me in the taverns of Li, and I’m not talking about the fur clothing from head to toe as I sit drinking ale by the door. Taller than the average man, with brown hair and green eyes, my fit body would turn eyes, but that would make me like every other man-seeking woman in here. No, I know what makes me unique is I could pound every man in here within an inch of his life, even if they came at me all at once. Don’t get me wrong, I like men. I just intimidate them, as the stories of those who have tried to be, let’s say, ungentlemanly, with me are true. I don’t play games.
In one such tavern in a small town called Pont in the kingdom of Seftrel, I sat drinking my ale when one of my least favorite men pulled up a chair across from me. “Greetings Ofeldar,” said Captain Hundle.
“Did I say you could sit?” I replied.
“As far as I know, thanks to my men, Seftrel is still free, and we’re free to sit where we like,” responded the Captain.
“Fair enough. I’m also free to knock you on your back if you don’t get to why you sat, and quickly,” I said. “I’m saving that seat for somebody I actually want to talk to.”
“Then let me get right to it.” The blond soldier leaned forward, brown eyes on an ordinary looking face staring straight into mine. He knew not to look lower, easy enough at a hand taller than me. “You’re the best scout in Li, never mind Seftrel, and we need you.”
“What this time? Lose a puppy?” I asked.
“You’re particularly surly tonight. No, we need you as a permanent part of the army. The xadineft are getting bolder. You’re the only one that can find them before they find us,” said Hundle.
I chuckled. “Only travel during the day then. I’m a free person, still won’t enlist.” Oh yeah, forgot to tell you earlier that I’m lying in two feet of snow, at night.
“They’ve been raiding homes north of here, so we have to be out at night to stop them. The problem is, they’ve been travelling in pairs instead of their normal large groups. The other change is that they are now taking the children while avoiding confrontation with the adults. We haven’t found any bodies and, as usual, they slip away and we can’t find them. You can,” said Hundle.
I don’t know how he knew my soft spot, but I couldn’t ignore kidnapped children. Letting all four feet of the chair back to the floor, I leaned on the light colored wood of the table. “Why do I have to enlist to help you? I’ve worked as a mercenary for Seftrel before.”
Hundle could tell my interest was piqued. “To make you easier to find when we have issues like this. Prince Zif has given me permission to offer you a salary equal to the highest ranking officer to join us,” he said.
“I can still make more freelance,” I said.
“Your customers would find you easier at a fort than random taverns,” said Hundle. “Took me a couple tries to find you here.”
“This time freelance, for the children, and I’ll think about the rest,” I said.
“Fine,” said Hundle, standing back up and then pushing his chair back into the table. “Meet the squad at the guardhouse on the north side of town.”
That’s how I got here, in the snow, watching for more xadineft scouts to appear from their gaggle’s hiding spot deep in the trees to my left. Xadineft were good enough at covering their tracks to fool the meathead soldiers, but I knew how to see the slightest variations in snow age, how it had been disturbed and where the wind had fixed it. I could hear things and see things that other’s couldn’t. It was what made me desirable for more than my awesome female, uh, attributes.
Off the trees to my left, the snowflakes seemed to be moving funny. With my gloved right hand under the snow, fingers pinching the fletching of an arrow in my buried quiver, I inched out my next missile until it reached my chin. Hundle and his men were due here any moment, so whether this xadineft came out from behind the large conifer on my left to get a closer look at his dead comrades or to run back to report human soldiers, he’d be dead seconds after leaving it.
Suddenly I could hear talking. It wasn’t the guttural, disgusting tongue of the ape men. While I couldn’t hear what was said, the tone was more of one of the other humanoid races. I realized why the snow moved enough for me to notice, and looked at the ground near the noise, soft as it was. Four footprints appeared, and became eight, coming right for me.
In one swift motion I came to one knee, aimed my bow and nocked the arrow. I knew anybody working with the xadineft deserved to die so I fired above the smaller footprints. The black skinned credaril appeared, his invisibility breaking as he cast a spell to deflect my attack. It still hit him in the shoulder as it veered away from his heart. As the sorcerer staggered back, an invisible xadineft reached for an arrow that dangled in midair where his heart should be.
I jumped and sprinted to my left, knowing making the trees would be my only defense against what the sorcerer could do next. A web of energy slammed into me from the left, wrapping my legs and arms together around my torso. I fell.
My bow and quiver pinned to my chest as I lay in the snow, fully bound, I waited for the fireball or lightning bolt that would finish me. Instead, making a red trail to me, the credaril sorcerer stood over me. I couldn’t see his eyes in the dark, as black in their sockets as his hair and face. He held the arrow in his left hand, his right pressed against the wound just below his collarbone.
“You are indeed a scout of the highest magnitude,” he told me in broken common. “You should not have come alone.”
“And you should have already finished me off,” said Ofeldar.
“Why is that?” asked the sorcerer. “I can take you to my queen for some fun.”
The credaril grasped at his neck as a crossbow bolt appeared out the front of it. He fell to his knees, another bolt in his back. Free of the spell, I stood as he struggled for life. “Because I didn’t come alone,” I said, pushing him over into the snow. I watched Hundle lower his crossbow and come across the small field next to the road.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yes, smart of you to stay to the trees. He would have seen you on the road,” I answered.
“You knew I was that close, didn’t you?” asked the Captain.
“You were quiet enough for an average person to not notice you. I’ll give you an award if you want,” I responded.
“Does this credaril mean what I think it means?” he asked, ignoring my sarcastic comment.
“Yes, the xadineft are stealing human children for the credarils. We have a bigger problem than misbehaving ape men,” I said.
“Now will you take Prince Zif’s offer?”
“To drive the credarils back underground, yes, that is enough to get me in the ranks. He’ll need my ability to work with the neftir. I’m sure their mines are being threatened by this as well,” I said. “In the meantime, all of those living outside Pont, out here, need to move into the city.”
“Agreed,” said Hundle.
The soldiers with torches had lit them, and we took the road back to town. I could feel the rules were changing and the evil in the north had bigger plans than keeping our troops busy. I knew this campaign I agreed to would soon be more than hunting credarils.
To be continued. More of Ofeldar’s story is in my books at my Amazon author website