Example Of Revising – Artur and the Forest Guardians – Story Fragment

I set out to revise a chapter I wrote previously here:

Mushroom Hunting

 

I did not like how the first version came out.  I wanted to evoke more mystery and awe with the Forest Guardians.  And yes, I’m pretentious, they are male and female to represent the two aspects that create life, and I tried to play with that in this bit of writing.  So below is a revision of the above chapter.  I paste in from the fight scene onward.  The beginning of the chapter is largely unchanged…

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines glinted in the sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees on dry ground.

Five were doable, twelve were not. At least, not if Artur had to maintain defense of the pit. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. One screamed, “It was a blood trap! Damn the rats!” All but one were slain, and the last and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about at the trees, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin akin to beech, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. We will help your son.” And he and the female walked over to the pit, and their feet seemed to make no sound at all. The knelt down and whispered to the ground, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again, thinking he would be crushed by the roots.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the two strange people, and said “Thank you sir, and madam.”

The male and female both chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages,” said the male. The female said “You’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The female now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the male, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the female, who squeezed a sap from her breast, and filled it. She then went to pour it into the pig’s mouth.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the male. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the female proceed and she poured the sap into the pig’s mouth. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The male laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss and Leaf each held out a hand, palm open, and Artur put his hands in theirs.

“Friends.” He withdrew his hands and went to studying the orc bodies. For orcs, they seemed rather unremarkable. They had crude hides, primitive weapons, and necklaces strung with human ears and fingers. Some had short handled spades for digging. “I’m concerned how they got this deep into our land without being noticed.”

Moss and Leaf stood over Artur as the man studied the bodies. “They didn’t come overland,” said Moss. “Yesterday, we were about the forest when we felt a tingle, like the air in a thunderstorm.”

“Only there was no storm, of course,” said Leaf.

“And then Orcs were here,” said Moss. Artur noticed how the two Guardians seemed to continue each other’s thoughts.

Artur dropped the Orc trinkets and stood up, brushing himself off. “And you let them wander here?”

“We were more concerned with how they got here,” said Leaf. The two Guardians then went to each orc body, and they whispered together, and from all about, flies gathered, and the carrion picking beetles came out of the leaf litter, and the earth worms tunneled out of the soil and began sniffing about the bodies, and lastly some crows arrived to pick at the dead flesh. Then a vulture landed nearby and startled the crows, but it went to its own orc to pick and tear. Unseen, the bacteria and fungi of decomposition multiplied far more rapidly than normal, and the bodies of the dead fermented at an increased rate.

After they finished working, Artur asked them, “How did they get here?”

Moss said, “Wizardry of some kind.”

Artur was disturbed to hear this. He didn’t like the thought of Orcs traveling unchallenged in his country, or in anyone’s country for that matter.

Suddenly Borussa said, “Well Madam, yes! Thank you!” Leaf knelt down and offered a puffball mushroom the size of a football to Borussa, who greedily began chewing away. Artur and the Guardians chuckled, and they waited for the pig to finish his meal.

The day was getting on, and so Artur once again thanked the Guardians for their help, and with Borussa at his side, set off for home. The two Guardians watched the bald warrior and his pig leave. Then they turned to each other, holding hands, and dissolved into the ground. Their essence traveled the roots of plants, the tunnels of ants, the burrows of creatures great and small, the ripples of water in the swamp, and the tangled networks of mycelium in the soil. They fell with every acorn, leaf, chestnut, walnut, and beech nut. They took flight with every gnat that emerged from the swamp mud. They wiggled with every worm, and pushed up slowly with every mushroom, and with every moss they broke up stone at an infinitesimal pace. They were in one place at some times, and another place at some times, and sometimes every place in the forest.

Story Fragment, Artur and the Rhinos

I worked a lot of overtime in the past couple of weeks, so finding time to write has been difficult.  When it comes to hobbies, of course, you need to make time for them.  Even if the product isn’t very good, it’s no good passing up opportunities to try.  I took some time to give the chapters names, but I didn’t number them in case I want to insert other chapters.  That will save me from tedious renumbering.

Artur and the Rhinos are returning from their adventure.  I’m preparing to have them part ways so the Rhinos can get home and Artur can be reunited with his family, and be done with this bit of the book.  I want to move on to the adventures of the Cow tribe, and the Poisoners of the city of Anarch, and the horsemen of the north.  And then I want to jump ahead some ten years and get on with Tana’s adventures…

 

The Return

Artur, Oak and Acorn walked hurriedly over the mountains and down onto the main road headed west for Pig country. Invigorated by their victory, the Rhinos felt the summer air seemed fresher, the leaves brighter, and the bird and insect song all the more lovely.

Artur, despite being pleased with the success of their adventure, had a heavy heart. Most of his adventures were morally unambiguous. Meddling in the politics of the Frog people, the witch who cursed her ex husband, the ex husband who tried to kill him repeatedly, and then stealing the latter’s pet. All this to save the Rhinos from a wasting disease.

The Rhinos tried to make conversation, but Artur was lost in thought, and they realized that while his body was with them, his mind was elsewhere. Artur witnessed his deeds upon a mystical scale that weighed the balance of good and evil, and for the first time in a long time, the good didn’t outweigh the evil. And then he remembered all the Rhinos who died from the horrible disease, and how many would be saved from his deeds, and the pan filled with good became heavier. Then he remembered that it’s usually the wicked who cause the moral conflicts to begin with, and the pan filled with evil became lighter. He felt better, but was grieved that it took effort to weigh out the balance of his deeds.

Artur was jolted back to reality when Oak said abruptly, “We’re going to turn South tomorrow.”

“Oh?” said Artur, suddenly on a dirt road amid a grassy plain dotted with little copses of maple and white birch.

“We’re going to make for the Great Sea and hire a ship to take us across. It’s faster than going over the road,” said Oak.

“Very well,” said Artur. “You will come back to visit, I hope.”

“Of course my friend,” said Oak. “When time allows. We’re always escorting wagons and caravans. And since you helped save my people, I think I owe you one now.”

Artur shook his head. “We’re even.”

Acorn interjected, “Then let’s enjoy each other’s company while we’re together today, and not worry about tomorrow. My bagpipes are broken, so let’s have a song or two.”

Oak smiled at this, and said, “Which song?”

Acorn cleared his throat, and began to sing.

One day there was a terrible storm

and the waves crashed onto the village

The buildings were ripped and torn

the water itself did pillage

And then came a thousand rhinos

and waded into the tide

shoulder to shoulder, their shields held firm

and the waves could not break their hides

The ocean broke and retreated before

the might of the rhino dam

the humans returned to their village

and cooked everyone some yams

“Yams?” laughed Artur.

“Holding back the sea is hungry work.” said Acorn, who patted his belly.

“Is that a true story?” asked Artur.

Oak said, “I don’t know. But it’s inspiring. When faced with hideous monsters, or even dragons, we’re reminded that the sea itself was no match for the Rhinos.”

More Story Fragments – Wrapping Up an Adventure

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.

“Nuh…nuh…….No!”

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?!”

“Slip does!”

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.

Another Story Fragment From First Draft 4/6/2019

I learned while writing today that it’s important to keep notes of the names of things and places.  In this story so far, I haved called the mysterious swamp the witch dwells in “The Misty Swamp” and “The Foggy Swamp.”  In later revisions, I must keep my terminology consistent so as to avoid confusing the reader.

So here’s a snip of Artur and the two Rhino Men meeting the Black Frog men: actual anthropomorphic frogs as opposed to humans of the Frog Clan….

 

Suddenly there was a great splash, and then several more splashes off in the distance.  The three warriors immediately readied their weapons. Artur pulled his bow and peered into the mist.

“Knee-deep!” croaked a throaty voice. To the right and the left and ahead came other similar voices. “Knee-deep!” There was only the faint sound of the churning of water, like small boats. And then the three saw what was coming. Frog heads in the mist, poking out of the water. First just as silhouettes, and then they were black frog heads with green spots, and each had a spear.

The two rhinos leaped from the boulder, trying to find cover behind nearby trees, but Artur still stood, his bow pulled to his cheek, watching the approaching frogs. “Hoy there! Who goes there? We’re searching for the witch! Steady now, or I’ll shoot!”

The frog heads slowed their approach, but did not stop, and slowly ascended as the water became more shallow, until there were six frog men standing knee deep in the pond. They were naked, and not ashamed. From behind a mossy tree Oak called, “Our friend isn’t alone. I can skewer any of you with a javelin.”

And from the other side, flanking Artur, Acorn called out. “And I as well.”

Here the six frogs looked up at Artur atop the boulder, and to the left and the right, having their spears ready. Then one croaked, “They’re not the Greens!”

“Aye they’re not,” said another. “And I don’t fancy eating this one with the bow.”

Artur slowly lowered his bow, and his two companions peeked out from their hiding places. “I’m flattered,” said Artur, “that you don’t want to eat me. I’m Artur, of the Pig clan, of Zootaloot Farm. And I don’t want to eat you either. Let’s say we put our weapons away.”

The frogs hesitated, their spears gripped tightly in their webbed hands, but seemed to stand at ease. One of them, seemingly the leader, handed his spear to a companion, and bowed. “I’m Snark, of the Blacks.”

At this, Artur slung his bow, and returned the bow. “I’m honored, Snark. We did not mean to tresspass, if this is your land. We seek a witch. Perhaps you know her?”

“The Witch,” croaked Snark. “Oh yes.” And the two spoke, and all the while the armed frogs and the rhinos eyed each other nervously. After a few minutes, it was a agreed they would share a meal, and before long the frogs, and the rhinos, and the human sat on the boulder and on raised patches on the edge of the pond. The frogs speared small fish, which they ate raw. Artur politely ate a piece of slimy mud fish, but preferred his own rations. He had eaten with many creatures over the years, and had developed the stomach for foul foods, though he did not like them. The Rhinos ate lichen and some of their own provisions, as well as some puffball mushrooms offered by the frogs, who in turn tried cabbage, but found it not to their liking.

It turned out that there were two tribes of frog men in this country, and they feuded over territory. The Greens, preferring the drier land, and the Blacks, who preferred the ponds and swamps. Both fished and hunted the lands. At some time in the past, a Black killed a Green, or maybe it was a Green killed a Black, and the two tribes feuded ever since. Upon hearing this, Artur remembered tales of the Elvish Empire, where they tried to force all the tribes of men together under one system of law and custom, and they ended up fighting one another and resenting the elves. That resentment leading to the final defeat of the elves and the return of the men to their ancestral homelands. But where would frog men go, if they were to resettle? They both claimed the land here.

“One challenge at a time,” Artur thought to himself. “Find the witch. Find the cure for the Rhinos. The tribes of frog men would still be here.”

The witch was only a few miles distant, but for flat footed creatures like Rhinos and humans, it would be a difficult journey. It was agreed that one of the frogs, Slip, a juvenile with a bright orange eyes and a small dagger tied at his hip, would escort them to the witch, assuming her hut hadn’t moved. It was in a peaty mire of thick black gum trees, but never seemed to be in the same place on any given day, or so he said.

So the agile frog man leaped from stone to stone, or swam, or clung to trees with sticky finger and foot pads, while Artur and the Rhinos carefully and slowly picked their way through the bogs and ponds of the Misty Swamp. Slip quickly became impatient, sometimes hissing to the three warriors “Come now. How do you survive where you come from? Hop, stick, jump, swim!”

After about a couple anxious hours of picking careful footholds and enduring Slip’s incessant taunting, Oak misstepped and plopped waist deep in murky pond water. “On the open grasslands of my native country, I could outdistance a horse and certainly a frog! Come to my country, and I’ll teach you the meaning of speed!”

The peculiar creature, clinging to a birch tree, peered at the struggling Rhino as he sloshed his way to a drier tussock of mud and grass. He snickered at the Rhino’s comment. The Rhinoman pulled a fat leech off his arm, and angrily flung it as hard as he could at the Frog, whose tongue flicked out and snagged it in midair. “Thank you, good Rhino!” He then pulled a fat wood boring grub from the tree he clung too, sniffed it, and returned the shot. The gooey thing bounced off the Rhino’s nose, and disappeared into the mud. “Use your tongue!” he said.

Frustrated, Oak shook a fist at the frog in the tree. “If you don’t stop using yours, I’ll pit it to that tree with a javelin!”

Acorn and Artur, amused by the exchanged, broke out laughing. Confused, and momentarily insulted, Oak whirled about, slipped on some mud, and fell back into the pond. This was too much for Artur and Acorn, who laughed even harder, and ease the grief of their friend, they jumped into the pond as well, deliberately splashing Oak, who now began to laugh as well. The frog leaped from his tree, grabbed another branch and swung himself into the pond as well. The four played and splashed one another for a while. Slip dived under the water, popping up beside Acorn, or Oak, or Artur, and sprayed them with mouthfuls of water. They in turn tried to lay hold of him, but he was too fast and too slippery.

After a brief while, Oak figured out the Frog’s pattern, and grabbed him by the leg, lifing him upside down. Triumphant, he bellowed a victory cry and hurled the frog sprawling some five yards where he belly flopped with a great splash. The creature emerged, sputtering and giggling, and raised his webbed hands in mock surrender. “Alright, alright!”

“Damn right, alright!” said Oak, hand on his hips, feeling quite proud of himself.

“No dry land creature, not the Hunter, not the Witch, has ever caught Slip. But the great warrior Oak did! I will call you Sticky, because you caught Slip!” The frog man smiled, but having never seen a frogman smile, the Rhinos and Artur could not tell it was. Oak frowned at this, even as Slip smiled, and Acorn said to his father, “I think you won him over, Father.”

The frog swam closer, and stood, offering his right webbed hand, palm out. “Slip is honored to call Oak a fellow Black Frog.” Oak hesitated, and then held his massive three fingered hand to the suction cupped, four fingered hand of the smaller Frog. His heart tingled at this gesture, for while humans, and dwarfs, and elves tended to show a kind and sincere deference to the Rhinos, most of the hybrid species expected others to prove themselves with some great feat. And here this creature who mocked and taunted him, and them played with him, was satisfied to call him a brother. “I would be honored to be considered a Black Frog. Thank you friend.”

Artur stood, dripping, watching this exchange, and his heart tingled as well, because the two creatures were part beast, he could feel what they felt, at least the part of their animal nature. It always touched him when creatures unlikely to be friends would become friends. He had seen a rooster and a hound sleep together, and a rabbit who would ride on a horse all day. He wondered if it was common humanity the two creatures shared was the bond that grew here, or something special to beasts that only friends could appreciate. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Acorn was not surprised that his father had made another friend. Oak was a legendary figure among his people, and among humans, dwarfs and elves. He aspired to be as brave, and as kind, and as skilled a warrior as his father, but not quite as quick to get angry. He had his father’s temper, but aspired to his mother’s more mellow temperament without losing his edge as a warrior.

After this touching moment the four continued their journey through the bogs and mists, though at a slower pace, and Slip was patient with them. The heat of the day slowly came in and the fog dissipated slightly, but not much. The sunlight filtered through the treetops and the fog to make a bright haze that disoriented Artur and the Rhinos. To Slip’s delight but the others’ dismay, there were biting insects, but also moths, dragonflies, stoneflies, wood roaches, and stink bugs. For the first time since entering the swamp, Artur saw a mammalian creature. It resembled a groundhog with thick claws, oily fur and a long snout. Thre creature clung to a birch tree, sniffling about and nibbling small insects. It made a wheezy sound as it sniffed about. Artur could sense it was content, and didn’t pay much mind to the party. In fact it felt quite confident nothing would molest it.

“I’ve never seen such a creature. What is it, Slip?” asked Artur.

“We call it a Keckle. It’s tasty, but its piss causes a nasty rash. Not worth hunting, I say. Too much work to clean it.”

Artur marveled at the creature, now understanding its sense of security. “Good luck to it,” he said, and began to walk on. The four continued through the marsh. The beast went on nibbling at beetles and ants, thinking to itself “What an odd group. A frog, a man and two things I’ve never seen. Oh boy, a stink bug!” As it went to crunch down on it’s next meal, a great spear skewered it to the tree, and it knew nothing more.

Silently, a heavily tattooed, bare footed, hairy man in a loin cloth and a wide brimmed helm tiptoed from the thick lichen where he had hidden to the skewered beast and yanked out his spear. He leaned his spear against the tree, drew a knife and a bit of string, and quickly but carefully dressed the carcass. He tied off the bladder, saving its toxic urine, and stashed in a hip pouch. The carcass he placed in a sack. He would not eat frog today, nor man flesh, but the Keckle would do, assuming he had name for for all of the above. He had not spoken in thirty years, and had forgotten the words.