Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
- Auksford, 2004 -
"Tell us about the Dwarves," Jellybean requested.
"There was a quarrel," said the Lady Doria. "A Dwarvish prince carried off an Elvish princess against her father's will. The soothsayers prophesied evil, and soon after that the Warlords of Chaos arrived in our world, bringing Orcs, Scorpionids and other foul creatures."
"Then Orcs don't belong here?"
"No. They came from other worlds, as you did."
"All because of the Dwarvish prince?"
"No. Not because of him. I do not believe that, though many of our people do ... and perhaps the Dwarves blame Ilirion, I do not know. There is distrust between our peoples, and the Warlords and their creatures exploit it. My father tried to make an alliance with the Dwarf-king under the Grey Mountains. We exchanged princes as hostages, but the Dwarf hostage was killed in a battle against the Orcs, and the Elf was also killed - we do not know how - and the great heirloom he bore, the Jewel of Ilirion, was lost. Let us speak no more of Dwarves, it is a sad subject. Tell me of your world."
How much the Lady Doria understood of Jellybean's confused narrative and Frobisher's interruptions and corrections, it is impossible to say. Bunbury Court would have been considered by its Headmaster to be a pretty normal sort of prep school, organised on rational lines and run with almost clockwork efficiency, but Jellybean and Frobisher made it sound an establishment of such colossal, supersonic, hyper-radioactive eccentricity, that the Lady was soon laughing heartily.
Jellybean and Frobisher laughed with her, but it was plain that they were exhausted and would soon have to be carried like the wounded. Amphibolas turned the company aside from the river bank to the shelter of a group of trees. He must have set guards to watch, but neither Jellybean nor Frobisher knew anything of that. They fell into a deep and dreamless sleep as soon as they lay down.
Next morning the little troop of Elves moved on after a quick breakfast of waybread and, after about an hour, they reached the crossing place at Ibran, where the swirling current was broken by a series of flat-topped rocks. The long-legged Elves hopped easily from one to the next, but Jellybean needed all his strength for some of the jumps.
Frobisher dithered. He felt quite sure that the crossing was beyond his strength and skill, but he didn't want to be called a hairy weed or a feeble wimp. He jumped as far as he could, and landed on the first stone. He hopped quite easily to the second, hurled himself at the third, and just saved himself from skidding into the water. The fourth and fifth were easier than they looked, despite the frothing waters foaming around them. On the fifth stone he stuck. The distance to the sixth was too great for him, and the stone itself too small for him to land safely. Jellybean had managed it, but only just.
"I can't do it," wailed Frobisher.
Amphibolas returned from the far bank to the sixth stone. He had a coil of rope over his shoulder. He threw the end of the rope to Frobisher. Frobisher missed it. Amphibolas drew back the rope and threw again. This time Frobisher caught it.
Fasten the rope about your waist," Amphibolas called. Frobisher obeyed. Amphibolas paid out the rope, then leapt back to the seventh stone and from there to the shore. Other Elves joined him and held the rope fast.
"Jump!" called Amphibolas.
Frobisher jumped. He fell short of the stone, lunged forward and touched it, and was swept downstream by the current. The Elves took the strain. The rope tautened. Frobisher was held and began to swing in towards the bank.
Then the knot parted. The rope came loose. The Elves fell over in a heap, and Frobisher disappeared, tumbled out of sight by the rushing waters.
Jellybean set off down the river bank as fast as he could go. Amphibolas and the others followed. Amphibolas caught him by the arm.
"Do not go on," he said. "Jeremy Frobisher is no more. The current will sweep him into the middle of the Lake of Elbeppara. It is too deep and wide for anyone to survive. An Elf will keep watch and if the current brings his body to shore it will be retrieved and we shall bury him with honour. I shall recite the prayers for the dead for him now, and then we must go on."
"He can't be dead!" cried Jellybean. "Not Frobi! We must go on and look."
"It is useless, Jonathan," said the Lady Doria softly. "You saw yourself as we came upstream how wide the river becomes. We call it the Lake of Elbeppara, the Wide Deep."
"But the water is calm there," protested Jellybean.
"Oh Great Creator of this world of Ilirion and of the countless worlds and dimensions of the Universe," began Amphibolas, "have mercy on the soul of thy faithful servant Jeremy Frobisher. May the waters that have taken him from us wash him clean of sin that he may enter the heaven of the warrior Elves ... or whatever place is prepared for the Children of Men."
"Amen," said the Lady and the Elves.
"Grant that his suffering may be short and that we may greet him again beyond the sundering darkness."
"May the memory of his deeds live on and be recounted in the tales told around the fireside as an inspiration to those who will come after."
"And may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed ..."
Jellybean wrenched his arm free and ran downriver. There, as Amphibolas and the Lady had said, was the lake, its waters placid apart from the current that thrust towards its centre from the narrow gap between the boulders of Ibran. And there, where the current finally lost its impetus, something was floating. Frobisher! And he was alive!
"Frobi!" yelled Jellybean. "FROBI! FR-O-O-O-B-I-I!"
"Hush! Come away! You should not see your friend die," said the Lady Doria.
"But he's alive!"
"Alive, yes, alas, but out in the Wide Deep. Too far for us to throw him a rope. He will drown.
"No he won't!" cried Jellybean, and, before anyone could stop him, he pulled off his clothes and plunged into the water. A great wail of dismay rose from the Elves.
"Alas!" cried the Lady Doria. "He has gone to join his friend in death."
But Jellybean was a strong swimmer, and it was not long before he reached Frobisher.
"Come on, Frobi!" he called. "This way!"
"Is that you, Jellybean?" Frobisher piped. "I can't see a thing. I've still got my glasses on and they're useless in water. Oh, there you are. I see you now."
"Follow me to shore!" yelled Jellybean.
Friendly hands pulled them on to the bank, stripped off Frobisher's wet garments and rubbed them both dry. Most of the Elvish baggage had been lost or torn up for bandages, but the Lady's faithful companions had kept a spare set of clothes for her. Frobisher was dressed in her spare tunic, which reached below his knees, and Jellybean put on his shirt again.
"I like your frock, Frobi. You look really sweet," grinned Jellybean.
"Well, at least I'm moderately decent," grumbled Frobisher.
"I should have realised that the Stones of Ibran would be beyond the strength of children, even of Children of Men," said Amphibolas, "but I have never known any people that could fly in water."
"We call it swimming," said Jellybean.
* * * * *
On they travelled, towards a distant line of green, the edge of the forest kingdom of the Elves. After a time they joined a wide road that led from the Ford of Assic to the Elvish stronghold. Even on their own side of the river they sent scouts ahead to spy out the land. Though the squat, short-legged Orcs could never cross the stones of Ibran, at the Ford of Assic the river was wide and shallow.
It was as well they had taken this precaution: the scouts came back and reported that a band of about twenty Orcs was lying in ambush in a patch of scrubby woodland ahead.
"We should fall upon them and destroy them," growled Amphibolas. "We should cleanse our land of this foul brood, but my duty is to protect the Lady Doria and bring her safely home, so once again we shall turn aside. We shall creep quietly round the edge of the wood and rejoin the road a few miles beyond."
They left the road and struck out into the scrub. The trees and bushes they passed looked unhealthy. The Lady Doria told Jellybean and Frobisher that once this had all been fertile land, to the river, and beyond to the Red Cliff, but the battles of the Orcs and Arachnoids had destroyed whole forests, the land had dried out, and the wind had raised dust-storms. The desert was spreading month by month, and would soon eat up the forests where the Elvish people lived.
As they drew near to the wood they kept a strict rule of silence. Scouts moved quietly ahead to see that their route was clear, while others crept up to spy on the Orcs.
All was quiet, then, suddenly, the noise of attack burst upon their ears.
"The Orcs have captured our scouts," cried the Lady Doria, turning pale.
Amphibolas swiftly gave orders. The party would divide again. A small group would take the Lady Doria and make for the far side of the wood as swiftly as they could, while the main body would fall upon the Orcs. Perhaps, if they could take the enemy by surprise, they might rescue their comrades.
They were ready to go when one of the scouts appeared.
"Report!" ordered Amphibolas.
"The Orcs have caught a Dwarf in their ambush."
"Are our scouts safe?"
"All safe. The Orcs have no idea we are in the wood."
"Then all is well. We proceed as planned."
"Wait a minute!" cried Jellybean. "You can't leave a Dwarf in the hands of those filthy Orcs. It's not cricket."
"The Dwarves must take care of their own," said Amphibolas brusquely. "We have more important matters to attend to."
"But the Dwarves used to be your friends."
"That was long ago. We proceed as planned."
"Well I think that's jolly unfair."
"My father says," put in Frobisher, "that, if you can't be loyal to your friends when they're in trouble, you might as well not have any."
"You think it wrong of us to leave the Dwarf?" asked the Lady Doria.
"Putrid!" said Jellybean.
"You are right," said the Lady. "In the name of the friendship that existed between our peoples, Amphibolas, I order you to rescue the Dwarf."
"My orders from the King are to bring you safely home, My Lady."
"Our friends, Jonathan Laurence Bennett and Jeremy Frobisher, have taught us a lesson in courtesy. Shall it be said that the Elves are a dishonourable people who run for safety leaving their friends to perish?"
"No," said Amphibolas, "it shall not. Go with your escort, My Lady, while we set about the Orcs."
"We will all go into battle," said the Lady. "Give me a bow! Now, quickly, or we will be too late."
The sounds of battle ceased before they reached the Orcish ambush. Was it all over? Was the Dwarf dead? Not far from the road they met another Elvish scout.
"The Dwarf is captured and bound," he said. "He fought bravely and killed at least six Orcs before he was overcome."
"Just fourteen left for us," commented Amphibolas. "We should have come sooner."
Meanwhile the Orcs were prodding and pinching their prisoner.
"Wot'll we do wiv 'im?"
"Chop 'im inter lickle bits! Yeah!"
"Wonder wot 'e tastes like."
"We ain't never 'ad a Dwarf before."
"Shall we boil 'im?"
"Nah! Eat 'im raw!"
"LOOK AHT! ELVES!"
There was no room to use bows and arrows. It was hand to hand fighting, Elvish swords against Orcish scimitars and morning stars. Elves and Orcs were equal in numbers. Only the Lady Doria and the two boys stood aside and cheered on their comrades.
"I'm going to cut the Dwarf free," said Jellybean.
He tried to skirt the battle, but suddenly found himself surrounded by fighters, with swords and scimitars flashing around him. The spiked ball of a morning star whistled passed his ear. He flung himself down and rolled, somehow rolled clear, crawled, got up and ran.
He reached the Dwarf, pulled out his sword and cut his bonds.
"What under the moon and stars are you?" growled the Dwarf. "Never mind, you have my thanks." Then he grabbed his battle axe and hewed off the head of the nearest Orc.
The tide of battle turned. Although the Orcs were wearing metal armour, the Elvish blades found their way in and Orcs fell dead. Suddenly the remnant turned and fled. Their leader turned at the edge of the clearing and snarled defiance.
"We'll getcher nex' time!" he grated. "An' vem Fings. We'll 'ave veir 'eads!"
It was Snotrag.
Jellybean, remembering Snotrag's last farewell gift, stooped, snatched up a clod of earth, and lobbed it at the snarling Orc.
"Oh good shot! Wizard prang!" yelled Frobisher as the clod caught Snotrag full in his ugly mug.
The Elvish warriors collected around the Lady Doria, the Dwarf and the boys. The Dwarf bowed to the Lady Doria.
"My thanks, Lady. You and your warriors have saved my life."
"You will accompany us to our King," said Amphibolas coldly. "You are our prisoner, Dwarf."
The Dwarf flushed red with rage.
"Prisoner?!" he shouted. "I had rather be cut to pieces and boiled by those foul Orcs than surrender myself as prisoner to treacherous Elves! I'll take on the whole pack of you before I surrender. You'll feel the sharpness of a Dwarvish axe upon your necks. You there! You ... whatever you are! Was it for this that you cut me free? So that I could defeat the Orcs for these Elves and then surrender to them?"
"No, it wasn't," said Jellybean crossly. "Are we your prisoners too, Amphibolas?"
"You are our honoured guests," replied Amphibolas, looking pained and puzzled. "You have the favour of the Lady Doria, and you have defended her against the Orcs."
"And hasn't the Dwarf also fought with us against the Orcs?" Jellybean demanded.
"The Dwarves have betrayed us ..."
"NOT TRUE!" roared the Dwarf. It is the Elves who have betrayed us! Where is the Belt of Bollin? Why has it not been returned to us?"
"Where is the Jewel of Ilirion?" snapped Amphibolas.
"I do not know," roared the Dwarf. "It was not on the body of Vigonas. The Orcs must have it."
"Hah!" answered Amphibolas scornfully. "Do you expect us to believe that? How could the Orcs ever kill or capture an Elf wearing a jewel that made him invisible?"
"Do you accuse us of treachery?" bellowed the Dwarf, brandishing his battle axe.
"I do," replied Amphibolas.
"Silence, Amphibolas!" cried the Lady Doria.
"It is in my mind," said the Lady Doria, "that the suspicion of betrayal that has arisen between Elves and Dwarves has been sown by the Warlords of Chaos. We do not know how Vigonas met his death. Why should we accuse the Dwarves? We do know that Hollin, Bollin's brother, was slain by Orcs, and we also know that he was a true friend of our people. While he was with us as hostage he fought in every battle against the Orcs and Scorpionids. He was a valiant warrior, and we greatly mourned him when at last he fell."
Here she turned to the Dwarf.
"For the sake of our old friendship," she said, "and in memory of our friend Hollin, son of Ollin, I invite you to accompany us, as our honoured guest, to my father's stronghold."
"And if I will not?" thundered the Dwarf.
"Then let us part in friendship," answered the Lady.
"Hmph!" snorted the Dwarf. "You would let me go?"
"And before I got to the edge of the wood there would be a dozen Elvish arrows in my back. Is that your idea?" he demanded furiously.
"Ooh, eggy! Eggy!" jeered Jellybean. In the slang of Bunbury court eggy meant bad-tempered.
The Dwarf stopped in surprise.
"No," he said, "Eggi is my cousin, the second son of my uncle Neggin, son of Dwollin, who was King of Dwarves. I am Oggi, son of Goggi, at your service."
Jellybean and Frobisher bowed in return. "At yours and your family's" they chorused.
"I'm Jellybean," said Jellybean, "and this is my friend Frobi"
"Frobi?" said Oggi, looking surprised again. "That's a good Dwarvish name, but you are not a Dwarf."
"Gosh, no," answered Frobisher. "We're children of Men."
"Now, by the Belt of Bollin," muttered the Dwarf, "the wondrous beings of fable and fairytale have come to life and walk among us. By my beard, whence come you?"
"Well, actually, we came from another world by accident," said Jellybean. "We were playing a sort of game and we climbed down a cliff to escape our enemies, who were really our friends all the time, only suddenly we found ourselves half way down that huge red cliff back there with an Arachnoid shooting at us."
"Aha!" cried Oggi. "You have been to the Red Cliff?"
"Well," said Frobisher, "not exactly been to it, more come from it."
"It was the Red Cliff I wished to visit," rumbled Oggi. "My father, Goggi, was King under the Red Cliff till the Orcs came. I suppose the tunnels are still full of the vile creatures?"
"The whole place is swarming with them" answered Jellybean. "They captured us and the Elves rescued us."
"Hmph! Elves!" snorted the Dwarf. "You can't trust 'em."
"You can trust the Lady Doria," said Jellybean.
"Absolutely," said Frobisher.
"Well," growled the Dwarf, "although it goes against everything I've been taught about Elves, I think you're right. I would be honoured, Lady, if you would allow a Dwarf to join your company."
"You shall be our honoured guest," replied the Lady Doria.
"But, My Lady, ..." protested Amphibolas.
"I shall answer for it, Amphibolas," said the Lady calmly.
"Very well, My Lady. Then let us press on."
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