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