They found themselves among hand hewn stones that had fallen from perhaps a long ago castle, its stones were black and the trees grew thru them like weeds, only a few walls remained standing and a tower off to the right, perhaps this was the beacon stones that they were looking for. Sigmarr ordered the men to set up camp there for the night, the guards were much more watchful and the torches were doubled. The next morning found the men calm but uneasy, good friends, good soldiers, were lost, not killed in battle, but taken by monsters that lay hidden within this forest, not a soldiers honored death.
Sigmarr, Kergin, and three men now went about searching through the ruins, the other three were left to guard the horses and supplies. Their torches were brightly lit as they searched thru-out the fallen stones, but nothing could they find, then to the forgotten tower they went, searching for a clue of where the shield of Njordist might be. The tower stood solid among the trees, its blacken stones where still intact. Inside they found spiraling steps leading to the top, only Sigmarr and Kergin climbed the steps, the other three men were left to guard and keep a wary eye for creatures that maybe about. At the top the room was stable, its floor was covered with white leaves, fungus and dust, fallen roof timbers were scattered about as were some broken tables and chairs, all blackened now. It made searching the room more difficult, Sigmarr and Kergin stepped cautiously thru the debris searching for something that would lead them to the shield, this was the beacon stones, was it not?. Kergin saw them first, lying scattered among the timbers on the floor, three Spindleduff Orbs, called Witch’s Orbs by most, evil things they are. Two were broken, but the third was still intact, it had a golden glow within it. Evil things they are. Kergin looked within the orb and then Sigmarr, and it was cast to break upon the floor. A golden mist now streamed from the orb, it swirled and twisted, and then it began to take shape, the shape of a golden wood sprite.
The sprite fluttered its glowing golden wings and hovered in front of Sigmarr and Kergin.
“Thank you, thank you, for releasing me from my cage,” it said. “I have been trapped there for a very long time, tricked and trapped by a black witch, who wanted my powers, thank you.”
Both men looked at the golden sprite with amazement for they had never seen one before, only legends were told about them.
“We have come a long way, we are searching for the Shield of Njordist, can you help us?” Sigmarr asked.
“Look, look at my beautiful forest, look what happened to it while I was trapped,” the golden sprite now flew about the room looking through every window at the forest that surrounded the tower.
“Can you help us?” Sigmarr now asked in a louder sterner voice.
“Yes, I can help you, I can see it,” the sprite answered, still distracted by the blackness of the forest.
“Can you lead us to it?”
“No, no, look at my forest,” it said half weeping.
“Where is the shield?” Kergin asked, trying to keep the sprites attention focused on the shield.
“It is only a half days journey from here. I will light the path for you, oh, look,” then out the window it flew, into the black forest treetops.
Sigmarr and Kergin, stood quietly among the ruins of the tower room, both were amazed at what had just taken place, and glad that the shield was very close now, soon they would be heading home and away from this evil black forest.
The golden sprite did what it said it would do, a golden shimmering sparkle now could be seen among the fallen leaves, leading away from the beacon stones and deeper through the trees. Sigmarr, Kergin, and only two men followed that golden path that day, Sigmarr left the others to rest and guard the camp, it would be only a short ride to the shield and they would be back soon he hoped. The forest still was darkened by the clouds above and they had to keep their torches lit, to find their way along the golden path, but it didn’t take long, only a half days ride or so.
The shield was there just as the sprite said it would be, it laid on a small island in the middle of a swampy area, perhaps only 30 feet from the solid ground. Kergin in his haste rushed forward and jumped into the swamp, swimming quickly to the island, Sigmarr would have waited, he would have been a little more cautious, there were too many unknowns about this evil forest. Kergin examined all around the shield as it laid there, looking for any hidden traps or magic spells, none were to be found. Kergin grabbed the shield quickly and once again rushed into the swampy water, keeping the shield above his head. It was a slower swim back to Sigmarr on the bank, when he was about ten feet away Kergin threw the shield onto the safety on the dry land at Sigmarr’s feet. He smiled and laughed, the quest was done and Sigmarr could now return to King Tragihma and save his wife and daughter. The men did not see its tail gliding through the black water, their eyes were too much on the shield for them to notice, then suddenly a splashing sound came from the water and Kergin was pulled under into the swamp.
“Kergin, Kergin!!” Sigmarr shouted, an anguished, frightened shout.
Loosing his armor and sword Sigmarr jumped into the swamp with only his dagger, and under he went. The two soldiers stood around the waters edge, but never getting too close, the water bubbled and turned as if a struggle was happening beneath, then the water became still again, now red blood began to seep to the top, all was quiet. The two soldiers looked about the water with their torches held high, hoping to see a sign of their friends, all was quiet on the water, then a hand rose from the water and they quickly rushed to pull the man out, it was Sigmarr, followed by Kergin. Both men were dragged to safety away from the waters edge, soon the great body of a swamp snake rose to the water’s surface, its blood seeped from the wounds that were made by Kergin’s and Sigmarr’s daggers. Sigmarr and Kergin stood gathering their breath, then Sigmarr knocked Kergin back onto the ground, Kergin just lay there for a moment, flexing his sore jaw with his hand, then he laughed, for he knew he had been very foolish to rush ahead of the others, he laughed at himself for being such a fool. But the shield was theirs and they all could head back home away from this evil forest.
A strange funny thing happened then to Sigmarr and Kergin, the soldiers kept their distance from them at all times, Sigmarr and Kergin smelled very bad, like dead fish, and rotting moss, the soldiers wanted nothing to do with that smell, it was a wicked smell. Laughter was heard then, it melted away the tensions that each man had gathered during the search, but they each knew that the way back was still dangerous and long. Thru the blackened forest they would have to go, past the swamps and the creatures that might be in the waters and past the spinner-netters and then the long journey through the prairie lands, they were not safe yet.
The camp broke late the next day, Sigmarr wanted the men and horses rested and he wanted to have as much sunlight come into the darkness as possible, for they would be riding quickly now, back the way they came. The ride was rough and fast through the darkness, the torches still had to be lit, but there seemed to be a little more sunlight streaming through the trees then when they first came this way. Near the swamp’s edge, where the spinner-netters where known to be, the pace was slowed and all the men stayed quiet and were watchful of what was above them.
“Do you see them? Do you see them in my beautiful trees?” the golden sprite asked, as it suddenly appeared before Sigmarr. “Look, look, what that evil black witch has done.”
“Yes, we have seen them they killed three of my men before we could escape,” Sigmarr quietly spoke, hoping not to alert the spinner-netters of their presence.
“The evil witch has done this, she did this to my trees. She put them there, can you kill them for me?” it asked. “My magic will not work on them, my magic only works on growing things, not these creatures.”
Sigmarr thought for a moment, he had no time for such things, he was only given three months wane to complete his quest or……Then he looked about the men and horses, they appeared to be very worn and tired.
“I will make a bargain with you. We will stay here two days and kill as many of these creatures as we can, then we must go. But you must make the grass grow near this place for the animals and horses. For two days only, that’s as much as I can do now.”
“Yes, yes, I can do that. But what if you do not kill them all?”
“We can only stay for two days, that is all, it is longer than I should stay. But I promise I will return with more men to kill all these evil creatures than now live within your trees.”
“Yes, yes,” then it was gone and green grass started to rise from the forest floor.
The camp was set up not far from the swamp’s edge and the spinner-netters, every torch was kept lit through out the day and night. The soldiers had an enemy to fight now, that is what they were best at. For two days the men shot flaming arrows into the canopy above, the silken strands of the spinner-netters were easily lit on fire and many of the spinners were burnt alive in their cocoons. The swamp gas sometimes exploded as flaming spinners hit the water, the gas would flare as high as the canopy itself, burning more and more of the evil creatures. But not all the spinners were killed during those two days, there were just two many and they moved and hid among the branches with ease. No men or horses were lost during that battle,
Sigmarr was very pleased about that, but he would have to come back to finish what was started some other day.
To be continued...