Treachery

I glared at Prince Zif while collecting my thoughts to present my strategy. I had only moments to do so, as I had just started the sentence to tell them. “I will scout the locations of all the joint xadineft and credaril camps, based on the abduction reports. Once I have found each one, I will pass this information on to Tendelbro. The neftir can then secure the tunnel escapes in those areas,” I began.

“Where do the rest of us come in?” asked Captain Hundle.

“I’m getting to it, Captain, please don’t interrupt. While the neftir are getting into place, I will put together an attack plan for the Seftrel forces to best take them all down at once. I’m confident the xadineft haven’t started gathering in large groups,” I replied.

“So where do you want the army for now, General?” asked Prince Zif.

“Patrol near the homes of the humans who have children that haven’t been abducted yet. Do it in a way that it looks like that is all you are doing,” I answered. “It will take a few nights to find all the nests of xadineft. We’ll review my progress and next steps in the morning, when the xadineft have retreated to their hideouts.”

The meeting broke up, so I headed back to my room to get some sleep before my night time scouting. Before I did I pulled Tendelbro aside, out of the hearing of anybody else. “Something doesn’t sit right with me about this, Commander.”

“What is it, General?”

“Ok, first, don’t call me that. Second, I have a nagging feeling here about this disruption by the credarils,” I replied. “If you don’t hear from me for more than two days, send an overwhelming force to find me.”

“Why aren’t you telling this to Prince Zif?” the neftir asked.

“I trust the Prince has nothing to do with this, but he would have to involve his men. I trust you more than any human here,” I said.

“I understand, Ofeldar. Two days of no contact is all you’ll get,” said the Commander.

 

The sun had been down for a quarter of the night when I finally crouched behind a tree, looking at the dozen or so xadineft squatting around a deer they had killed. Their cave entrance stood a few yards away, and a robed credaril stood there in the moonlight, leaning on the rock wall. He wouldn’t be part of eating raw meat like that and a fire would give them away even more.

Marking the geographical features in my mind, went to stand back up to leave, but I couldn’t. My legs wouldn’t move, and my even my head seemed frozen. I could still see the cave entrance, though, and the second and third credarils coming out, chanting with blue light flickering around their waving hands.

They came over and stood over me. “You are creating a lot of havoc,” said the first credaril, not part of the spell the other two still wove around me. I could feel the cocoon of energy growing stronger.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” I replied, surprised I could speak.

“Your days are numbered, human scum,” said the credaril.

“Oh, so you’re not going to kill me immediately? First mistake,” I said, while my brain screamed at me to drop the swagger for once.

“We need more information from you. Torture comes first,” the coal black skinned man said. “You can come out and collect your daughter now, Captain,” he shouted.

I watched Captain Hundle walk into the clearing from the other side, hanging his head. “You fool,” I shouted. “Do you think you or your daughter will live through this?”

He looked up at me and I could see his tear-stained cheeks. He stopped walking, though only feet from the xadineft, and looked around. Without questioning the absence of his daughter verbally, the soldier took two steps back and drew his sword in one fluid motion. The Captain had fought the ape men before, but never with these odds. I watched him riposte and parry their attacks, killing three before they could get him completely surrounded.

I only knew the battle ended because the xadineft backed up from his dead body. “Good for him, five fewer xadineft for you,” I said. “So, where is his daughter?”

“Already on her way down to the queen,” said the credaril, the other two apparently having to keep the chant up to keep me paralyzed, for now.

“Why go to so much trouble for me?” I asked.

“Rangdor has his purposes,” he answered, turning and walking away. He made the disgusting guttural noises that passed as speech for the xadineft, and they picked up ropes and came towards me. Once fully bound by the filthy creatures, the sorcerers stopped and put their hands on their knees in exhaustion. Rough hands carried me into the cave.

 

Read more about Ofeldar in The Lerilon Trilogy

General

The kingdom of Seftrel sits entirely on a low shelf of the Efre mountain range, steep peaks that otherwise divide continent of Li into a western third and the rest to the east. Low enough to grow crops and raise livestock, the terrain into the kingdom lands is steep. Inside are lush valleys trapping water in pristine lakes that leak out into subterranean rivers before emerging in the surrounding lands.

Unfortunately we are having to trudge through the heavy snow that this elevation brings, that will feed those lakes, to get to the fort Captain Hundle is taking me to. Even though I’m used to it and just as capable in bad weather, I prefer light leather camouflage armor to this heavy fur lined white I’m wearing now. Captain Hundle and his men hate if for other reasons, but the last time any of them made a comment about it they tasted their own blood for a week.

Seftrel does take advantage of the terrain, though. The fort rising before me is built into the side of one of the many hills and mountain tops that make the kingdom formidable. A low wooden building at the bottom of the hill is for stables and basic offices, while natural and man-made tunnels weave back and forth in the face above it. Walkways, both wooden paths attached to the front of the rock and tunnels at the back of each cave entrance, link the five levels of defense, sleeping quarters and storage. Pulleys and ropes allow the walkways on the outside to be pulled up as protection for the cave entrances in case of attack.

I stepped into the office area in the building at the bottom of this ingenious fortress and stomped off my boots. “Prince Zif, Your Majesty, I was not told you would be here.”

“I just arrived, Ofeldar. When word made it back to Seftrelak that the credarils are stealing human children, I was dispatched here. I take it this means you’re joining us?” asked Zif from behind a large wooden table surrounded by chairs. His green eyes tempted me to say no.

“I have better relations with the neftir than even your father and his ambassadors, and credarils coming to the surface like this is unusual. I had to help,” I said.

“Good. Commander Tendelbro is on his way here with a contingent,” said Zif.

“He’s the top neftir commander. They are taking this very seriously,” I responded.

“We all are. It’s bad enough having to deal with the xadineft, but if the credarils are surfacing to cause trouble, and working with the ape men, something big is happening.” Zif paused while rolling up the map he had been looking at. “Captain Hundle will be bunking with the enlisted men, you can have his room.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Captain Hundle, the slightest hint of displeasure in his voice.

“She may be able to whip all of you in a fight, but Ofeldar is still a woman and we will respect that difference, Captain. Show her to your room, I already had soldiers tidy it up for her,” said the Prince.

 

I barely had time to put my backpack down, heat up water on the wood stove in my room and bathe before the neftir arrived. Quickly climbing into my white fur lined tunic and trousers, I stomped into my leather boots before heading down the four levels of tunnels to the office.

“Ofeldar!” shouted the very stout, very short neftir Commander when I walked into the room. Bushy thick black hair and a long beard nearly hid his sparkling gray eyes. “When I hear you had come to help, my heart leapt.”

“Thank you, Tendelbro, it is good to see you too!” I replied. “How’s your niece?”

“Doing well, thanks to you.” Tendelbro turned to the rest of the room. “Have I told you of the time she helped rescue, almost single handedly, my niece from the . . . ?”

“Yes,” all the gathered officers said at once, followed by a round of laughter.

As it died down, another neftir said, “And all the other times she’s helped us as well, Commander.”

“Yes, you’re probably right, Reichet, but that’s why she’s my favorite human. Heck, I like her better than most neftir too,” finished Tendelbro, breaking into a deep rumbling laugh again.

Zif pulled out a chair at the end of the rectangular table and the other seven humans and five neftir sat. I walked down to the end opposite the Prince and took a seat. “I am granting Ofeldar the rank of General,” began Zif, “for as long as she is pledged to assist us. You will instruct your men to obey her as such.”

“But you are only a Captain yourself, Your Majesty,” I responded.

“By my choice, Ofeldar. But as Prince I also have the ability to grant ranks. If you had joined the army as soon as you got old enough, you’d be General by now anyways, I’m sure. I need all the men to respond to your commands. You will lead this mission,” said Zif.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” I said.

“Good, now, Commander Tendelbro, please bring us up to speed on what you see underground,” said the Prince.

“The credarils have been a little too obvious in not drawing our attention. They usually give us constant trouble on the edges of our villages and mines, making sure we know not to encroach further. But they’ve been noticeably quiet over the last couple of months,” said Tendelbro.

“They are redirecting their forces elsewhere, apparently to the surface,” I said.

“It can only mean they are looking for more ways to grow their numbers. They think something big is coming,” said Zif.

“Then let’s make them wish they had stayed deep in the Efres, where they belong,” I said. “Here’s what I suggest.”

 

To be continued. Read more about Ofeldar and the big things that happened in Fate Rides Wicked: Vol I of the Lerilon Trilogy.

Best Scout on Li

 

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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