I’ve been plodding through this Foggy Swamp for weeks, and I finally have almost brought the adventure to a close. It’s come almost to a close as far as a first draft goes. I’m sure upon re-reading it, and revising it, I will trim a bit here, and add a bit there. What I wanted most of was some climactic scene were Artur and the Rhino Men do what is needed to get the cure for the plague afflicting the Rhinos.
In my previous post, Artur and the Rhinos got a mission to retrieve the mate of the Witch’s snake vine, which belongs to the Hunter. I decided this should not be a long and arduous task. I also wanted this to somehow impact the relationship between the two rival tribes of frog people. I wept for the hunter near the end as I wrote it, and you’ll see why. It’s a bit long, so get a cup of tea or coffee if you want to read it:
The hunter spent the night asleep atop a flat mossy rock not far from the stranger’s camp, his snake vine curled about his legs, or about his neck or arm, as it suited the creature. He awoke to the chirp of birds and the buzz of morning insects, and set about getting ready for his day.
The stitches on his foot were holding up well, but he needed a spear. Checking the flotsam about him, he found thick, long branch only slightly rotted, and began whittling it with his knife. The snake vine coiled about his neck, and it rubbed its head affectionately on his cheek and ear while he work. The soft leaves tickled.
It wasn’t long before the man hacked a fine point and removed all the rough edges on the shaft. It wasn’t the best spear he could make, but it would do. He kissed his vine on the head and placed it gently back in his carrying basket. Then he gathered his gear and set out in search of the strangers. If the poison didn’t kill them, certainly he’d be able to finish them all off with ease.
His mental map was flawless, and he returned to the little island and found the lamp still hanging there, no longer lit. Maybe he struck every one of them, and needed only collect the dead meat? He cautiously explored a great circle around the camp, looking for bottle flies and other insects that go after the dead. There were moths and mosquitoes, but nothing else. And no bodies. He then found a heavy set of tracks, two obviously of the great creatures, and the faint prints of a frog, and staggering, dragging footprints of the man.
The hunter limbered up, stretching his legs and arms, ready for a fight, and in a slight crouch pursued the tracks almost silently, needing no magical fog to conceal his footfalls. He reached a small stream, and after a bit of searching, found their tracks on the other side, this time just the big things. Maybe the Frog parted ways with the big things. Maybe the man died, and they carried him.
He cautiously stalked forward, following the tracks, when suddenly something felt off. His skin felt cool, as though the smothering blanket of the fog had suddenly lifted. He looked up, and there some thirty yards ahead of him were his prey, all four! How did the fog clear away? There was an elm tree between himself and the prey, so it didn’t seem like they saw him.
He crouched down, spear ready, and watched the frog skip quickly along the mire. The human carefully but quickly chose the drier parts and hopped from place to place. The rhinos proceeded forward with great sucking sounds of their great feet sinking in the mud and drawing out again. The human turned to the rhinos, and said “Can you make any more noise?!”
Oak gave a dismissive wave. “If you want stealth, hire some sneaky little dwarfs or some cat people!”
The hunter knew banter to be banter, but didn’t understand the words. The four prey moved along, looking to the left and the right. The fog seemed to close in behind them as they moved forward. Once the fog began to close about the hunter, he stood up, readied his spear, and began to follow their fresh prints.
* * *
Acorn felt dismayed. If anything, Artur’s magic globe would make it harder to find this hunter because it gave their position away. As he squished and splooshed through mud and water, he got to thinking maybe they were spotted already.
“Artur! If this hunter could shoot you in the dead of night in this heavy fog, surely he can find us in the daytime with that globe of yours.”
Artur balanced atop a stone that rocked back and forth in a stream. “You think we should wait for him?”
“Yes! Yes! Wait, shout, cry, fart, carry on, and dodge the next spear.”
At this Slip protested. “No, no! The green frogs will find us!”
As Acorn prepared his bagpipes, he said, “Well so be it. I’m tired of sneaking through this fog, getting stuck in the mud. Bring on the green frogs. Bring on the hunter.” He patted his great spear that stood end in the mud. “I’m ready.” He patted the ax on his belt. “I’m ready.” He patted the sword on the other side of his belt. “I’ m ready.” And lastly he drew his finger to the tip of his horn, “I’m ready!”
His father nodded, and looked to Artur.
Artur didn’t like the situation. Wide in the open, no cover, and fog for their enemies to hide in. It was tactically the worst place for them to be, which means it might be the only way to get the hunter to come out. “Fine. Let’s stand back to back, so we can see him when he comes.” Artur squish and splurted his way through mud and stood with his companions, the globe in one hand, and his sword in the other.
Acorn began to play his pipes, a rhino lullaby that began slowly and gently and then bled into one of many aggressive battle hymns that echoed to the very edges of the forest. Daytime nappers awoke with a start, and frogs green and black halted their days activities to listen to the peculiar noise from the alien instrument thinking it was some horrid creature trumpeting in their swamp. They grabbed their weapons and began to track the sound.
The hunter halted mid-step and the tune reminded him of a faint memory from his childhood. He had forgotten his childhood along with his language, until now. He found himself humming to the song, and a few words of verse slipped from his lips: “…and we’ve come to fight, and put the orc heads on a pike…” When the music stopped, his memory lapsed again, and he forgot his words, and he regained his focus on the hunt.
When Acorn finished the song, he said, “Let’s see if the Witch’s fog can block that.”
“Well done, son,” Oak said.
“It was one of mother’s favorites.”
Slip pulled his fingers out of his earholes and opened his eyes, glad the noise had stopped.
Artur scanned the foggy perimeter, and asked “Do you know ‘Rock Grubs Taste Like Chicken?’”
The younger rhino shook his head. “Never heard of it.”
Feeling inspired by the Rhino’s bagpiping, he began to sing:
When you’re in dungeons dark and deep
And you run out of things to eat
Try a rock grub
because they taste just like chicken
There’s vibrations behind sandstone
and you’re stuck there all alone
start to dig and you will find
a meal that’s truly fine
A rock grub
and it tastes just like chicken
All four began to laugh at the absurd song, and suddenly a dart came out of the fog and struck Acorn’s bagpipes. The four turned to whence the dart came. Acorn pulled the dart from the bag, cursing, and tossed it to the ground. “It will take me a day’s work to patch that!”
Another dart whizzed by Acorn’s ear, and he called “Shields!” and with military discipline both he and his father unslung their shields and readied their great spears, ready to fight the foe in the fog. Artur and Slip crouched behind the armored Rhinos, and several more darts thudded lightly into their shields.
Artur said, “Taunt him. Shout. Make him think you’re pinned down. I’m going to flank him.” With that, Artur handed the magic globe to Oak, and set off to his left, keeping trees between himself and the estimated position of his enemy, and the Rhinos cried out, “Oh Dad he got me!” “No son! Hang in there!”
Slip silently slid off to the right, he too hoping to circle around behind the hunter. He climbed a tree, and leaped from branch to branch, and sometimes swinging on thick ropes of lichen.
The fog was disorienting, but Artur quietly picked his way hopping from stone to log to piles of wet bark, until he saw a glint of light from the hunter’s helm. The hairy man crouched behind a rotted log at the edge of the fogless region, a woven basket on his back, and he blew dart after dart from a pipe. On his back was a woven basket.
There was a sudden crack of a branch above the hunter, and both he and Artur glanced up, and Slip the frog came tumbling down, luckily grabbing one last branch. He dangled some ten feet above the hunter, who instantly reached for his spear, ready to impale the frog man. Artur charged, and just before the hunter could thrust his spear, Artur cried out and startled the man, who tried to bring his spear about to meet the new threat.
He was too slow. Artur hacked the tip of the spear and then threw his shoulder into the hunter, to tumbled back over the log. He regained his footing before Artur, and Artur kicked one leg out from beneath him, and his enemy stumbled into a tree. A strap on his basket snapped, and it dangled from one shoulder. Artur closed with him, but the learn hunter grappled Artur’s sword arm with a strength that belied his lean physique. Slip regained his sense and dropped down, drawing his dagger but not sure how to help. Each time he approached, the two grappling men almost trampled him.
Then heavy squishy mud sounds announced the approach of the Rhinos, and the two great shielded warriors bellowed a war cry and crashed through the bush. They, too, almost trampled Slip, who managed to scurry up a skinny birch tree in the nick of time. Seeing the grappling of the two men, Artur’s disciplined combat training versus the primal instincts of the hunter, they dropped their shields and spears and quickly wrestled the feral man to the ground and Oak put a knee to his chest.
The man howled, and scratched and bit, but Oak shrugged it off. He dug a finger into a nerve in the man’s shoulder, and the man screamed for a few seconds, and then whimpered like a dog when Oak eased up. “Good boy!” he said mockingly, and roughly patted the man on head.
While Oak kept the hunter pinned to the muddy ground, Artur took an interest in the basket that had fallen off in the struggle. He peek inside the lid, and saw a thick, thorny vine wiggle about, and a hiss came from it’s flowery head. “This must be it.” He carefully lifted the creature from the basket, studying it’s leaves. The creature clicked repeatedly, surveying its surroundings. The hunter saw him handling the vine and howled in protest.
Oak dug a finger into the hunter’s shoulder again, and the hunter was quiet, but tears began to run down his eyes. His eyes followed Artur as he handled the snake vine.
Suddenly there were deep throaty shouts on all sides. On one side of a semi-circle there were dozens of armed black frogs, and on the other side, dozens of armed green frogs, and they all were shouting at once.
“The horrible noise came from here!”
“I see one of your people with these monsters!”
“Is this some kind of plot to run us out?!”
“Why is one of yours with these creatures!” shouted a green as he pointed at Slip. “You’re in league with the hunter and these beasts!”
“No, no!” shouted Slip, both of his hands up, emphasizing his not wanting to fight. “You don’t understand!” But amid all the shouting, most of the Green frogs could not hear him.
“Impossible! They’re fighting the hunter!”
“It’s a trick! A trick of the witch!”
“Kill the greens!”
“Kill the blacks and their monsters!”
All the frogs became more agitated, and began making slow, half-steps toward the other side. They wanted to fight, but were not ready to commit. Acorn whirled from one direction to the next as the mass of frogs closed about them, not sure where the first volley of spears would come from. Slip continued shouting to his people and the greens to wait. Oak, aware of the threat from the frogs, was more concerned about keeping the Hunter subdued, and kept one knee to hairy man’s chest. All the while Artur, overwhelmed by the multitude of threats, put the snake in the basket and slung the strap over his shoulder.
The hunter howled at this, and in vain reached one hand toward the basket. It was an unearthly, grief stricken, haunted howl. “NooOOOOOoo!” Oak, surprised, leaped off the pinned man, and the frogs suddenly ceased their shouting and threatening.
All watched the wailing hunter now, who, bruised and battered, scrabbled through the mud and swamp grasses on all fours and reached up for the basket, continuously wailing. A grief stricken love transcended the witch’s curse on his tongue and memory. “Don’t take my baby.”
Artur pulled away, as one might from a leper, but couldn’t bring himself to strike the hunter. “Please? Please!” The hunter got up and stumbled forward, reaching for Artur and the basket. Artur, with reluctance, struck him with the hilt of his sword, and the man fell head over heels, weeping, sniffling, blood running from his nose. And he scrabbled forward again, half rising, “Puh—Please!”
All watched this scene silently, and Artur this time struck the wild man with his fist, and he tumbled over. Artur pitied the poor creature, and he was surprised to find his cheeks wet with his own tears.
“Please..” Exhausted, the wild man lay sprawled in the mud, whimpering.
All the frogs forgot their hostility and marveled at this Terror of the Foggy Swamp reduced to a whimpering, pathetic state. This man who had killed and eaten so many both of their peoples, now begged for some creature in the basket as a mother or father for their children.
Artur looked at Oak, who watched him intently. He knew what the Rhino man was thinking, even without his gift. Would Artur return the snake vine to the grief-stricken hunter, or to the witch to get the cure for the Horn Rot? Artur thought of how he might beg for the life of his pigs, or his donkeys, or his horse, or his own human children, and saw the same in the hunter who now wanted his child back. Artur knew he should have no pity for this man who stalked them through the swamp and tried to kill him and his friends three times, but he did.
True to his word, and knowing that life was filled with hard choices, Artur made his decision. In the eerie silence broken only by the snuffles and whimpers of the defeated hunter, Artur said to his companions, “Let’s go to the witch.”
Oak, appreciating the loyalty of his friend, considered the fallen hunter. “We can’t leave him here to get killed. Not like this.”
Acorn protested, “We don’t owe him anything, father! He tried to kill us. He’s a murderer of frog people.”
One of the Greens shouted, “If you don’t do it, we will.”
A Black replied, “Hear, hear! That’s one thing a Black can agree with a Green on.”
Slip scratched his chin, and considered the situation. Killing the hunter together would united the two tribes, at least for the day. But if the hunter escaped, they might unite for a week, or a month, and who knows, maybe they might come to some equitable arrangement on the hunting and fishing rights of the two tribes. “Slip has an idea!”
One of the blacks chided him, “Not another one of Slip’s dumb ideas! Catch fish with a string and a hook, Slip said once!” Frogs on both sides chuckled at this.
“Dry meat to make it last longer!” laughed another.
“Yuck, who eats dry meat?!”
There was more mocking laughter. Slip, distressed, shouted above the din.
“No! Listen!” insisted Slip. “Let’s let the hunter go, and we’ll hunt him together. Let him live in fear every day as we have. Let him check over his shoulder every other second. If we catch him, then we’ll kill and eat him. Slip will kill him, and use his meat on hooks to catch fish!” There was some murmuring, and hemming and hawing among the two tribes of frogs, and the leaders of both tribes looked to each other and nodded.
At this Acorn grabbed the whimpering hunter by the hair on his head and pulled him up. He picked up the metal helm that fell off the man’s head, and put it in the defeated man’s hands. The hunter looked up at Acorn, who put a hand to his chest and shoved him in a direction away from both tribes of frogs. “Go!”
Artur began walking off in the opposite direction, into the fog. The hunter looked longingly after the man and the basket slung over his shoulder. Acorn shoved him again. “Go!”
Slip drew his dagger, and pointed it threateningly at the hunter. He joined Acorn in pushing the man away. “Go, now!”
A green hurled a spear that struck the mud just a foot away from the hunter. “Go Hunter!” Artur was out of sight now, and the hunter focused on the threat at hand. Green frogs and black shouted threats and shook their weapons. “Go! Go!”
The hunter turned and stumbled over a rock. Another spear landed in moss to his left. The hunter picked himself up. A thrown stone stung his back. A mudball struck his ear. Overtaken with an acute fear for his life, the hunter bolted off into the fog. There were great “hurrahs!” from the frogs. The Greens began to sing a hunting chant to stoke their courage for the hunt. The blacks did the same, and a few from each side noticed that the words were different, but the tunes were similar. Oak touched palms to Slip, and said “We’ll meet again, my friend.” Slip then hurried off to join in the song of his people. Oak and Acorn followed in Artur’s footsteps to find the witch and retrieve the cure. As they went out of sight of the frogs, Oak and Acorn could hear a great hunting cry from both tribes as they sent forth to stalk and slay the hunter.