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Endurance Lorn

Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]

Sunday, Holytide 36th, S.A. 4632

¶I. On the forth day the Nymphs were awakened long since dawn by a risen golden Sun. The fire’s embers had shrunken neath the thick grey smoke as flame had given way to smolder, and thus were the morning mists darkened.

¶II. Serenity awoke upon Sapphire, and inly she wished that it had been the Dark Elf’s breast her head had rested upon; that it had been him with whom her night had been spent. Close was she now to her journey’s end, and this stirred in her both hope and fear, for she knew not what would come.

¶III. And Serenity and Sapphire slowly arose with the other Nymphs. Faith, Willow, Liberty, Lea, and Fervidness gathered their weapons as the Oryads began to gather their staves. Serenity too retrieved her whip and her bludgeon, and with the other Nymphs set forth from Oakhaven.

¶IV. The Nymphs strolled through the forest, feet slightly sinking into the soft wet floor of brown pine needles and oak leaves, as aye they hiked toward the Oracle Duir of the Oak.

¶V. Not long was it before the Nymphs came upon a flail lying upon the ground. It was wood-handled and had a large stone that was tied to it by vines. Covering it was blood not quite dried. There was little doubt whose weapon it was.

¶VI. That same moment, from behind a small willow not far ahead, the Nymphs heard briefly a quiet gasping. As they went to look, there was not one among them free from the fear of what they all knew would soon be seen.

¶VII. As they all peered round the small dense willow they found Brook. Her limbs were broken and unnaturally twisted, what little of them remained. Nearly her whole left leg was missing, and her right arm below the elbow gone, and all over she had wounds so wide and deep it that it seemed impossible for her to have lingered beyond Death’s grasp for so long. The empty hole that once had been her left eye twitched as it tried to clench shut, and her jaw quivered though by naught but sinews it stayed to her face. Her innards slopped out from her belly, with every breath creeping further from within her, and more so when she coughed and upon herself violently spat blood and bile.

¶VIII. The Nymphs gathered around their sister, kneeling at her but knowing not what could be done to help her.

¶IX. “She must be released,” said Faith.

¶X. “She will heal!” proclaimed Lea.

¶XI. “Not even a Nymph could heal from this,” said Fervidness. “But as a Nymph she will try. She will fight like this for weeks, or for months before finally she will lose. I have seen this many times before; Faith is right, she must be released.”

¶XII. “And who will be the one to release her?” asked Willow.

¶XIII. “One of us will,” said Jade. “We Oryads have also seen this many times. One of us shall release her from her pain.”

¶XIV. “This was a mistake,” said Lea. “I never should’ve come. We should turn back now. We should forget this whole journey and turn back this very instant.” And with that Lea stood and began to back away.

¶XV. Liberty seized Lea by the arm and raised her flail at the Field Nymph as if meaning to strike at her, but struck not. “This is thine own fault!” she charged. “Thou wert the one that wanted to come along an ‘adventure’! It wast thou that wished to separate; that brought upon us if only in slight the spirit of un-sisterhood that hath killed her!” And in fear the Aulonyad cried out, shrieking as Liberty scolded her. “It wast thou that hath done this to her!”

¶XVI. “Please, do not harm me!” screamed Lea as the other Nymphs looked on. “I have seen so much death in the time the Trull dwelt in Mirthmoor. I cannot see any more. I cannot!”

¶XVII. “And what if I were to harm thee?” said Liberty. “What if I were to kill thee, just as the Bugbear have killed our sister Brook? It was thy doing -- would it not be right for me to give unto thee what thou hast given unto Brook?”

¶XVIII. Lea fell to the ground, though Liberty hadn’t struck her. She fell to the ground and began to sob. Whether she keened for Brook or wailed for her own self could not be told.

¶XIX. And Liberty knelt at her, and laid her flail upon the ground, and firmly grasped Lea’s shoulders. “Would it be right of me to do unto thee as thou hast done unto Brook?”

¶XX. “It would be fair if I were to die,” Lea whimpered. “In my heart I abandoned my sisters, and my selfishness hath killed her.”

¶XXI. “I did not ask if it would be fair for thee to die for what thou hast done,” said Liberty. “I asked if it would be right of me to kill thee; if it would be right of me to take from thee thy life as the Bugbear have taken Brook’s life from her.”

¶XXII. Lea shook her head.

¶XXIII. “Why?” asked Liberty.

¶XXIV. “Because thou art a Nymph,” said Lea.

¶XXV. And Liberty brought Lea close to her, and cradled Lea against her shoulder. “It is the way of the raven races, of Humans and of Orcs, and of Maenads to intervene and declare what is just or fair on behalf of another, and therein to act upon their judgments. But that is not our way. Our way is forgiveness, but also responsibility. Now, what dost thou choose?”

¶XXVI. “I choose to finish what I have started,” said Lea. “I will be the one to release her.”

¶XXVII. Liberty helped Lea to her feet, and brought her unto Brook.

¶XXVIII. “No,” said Serenity. “This is not her responsibility. She could not help her fears. It was my selfishness in thinking this journey to be solely about mine own freedom that hath killed Brook.”

¶XXIX. Serenity knelt and took Brook into her arms, holding her tightly to her bosom, and wrapped her left arm round Brook’s head. “I’m sorry,” she said, placing a gentle kiss upon Brook’s head. And she put her right hand on Brook’s forehead, and with one sudden move twisted, and loudly she snapped Brook’s neck. And Brook’s lyke fell limp to the ground.

¶XXX. “Thou must wash thyself,” said Amber. “Lest the scent of blood attract more Bugbear.”

¶XXXI. Serenity stayed kneeling before Brook’s now lifeless husk, peeling away the strands of Brook’s blood-sodden hair that to her own arm had stuck. “Bring them. As I feel now, I should welcome Orcs.”

¶XXXII. Nothing more was said as one by one the Nymphs departed from that stained place, leaving the body where it lay so that it might in time swale and rejoin the forest. Serenity carried with her Brook’s flail as well as her own bludgeon, and, all with their weapons gathered, the Nymphs continued their incession.

¶XXXIII. Along the path to the Oracle all was peaceful, the sort of peaceful left in the afternoon wake of a midday storm. A calm filled the air, haunting whatsoever it stilled. And the manner of its stilling was such to shake asunder the heart of whosoever should be so foolhardy to brave it. This was the sort of calm that could befit only the withered limbs that under moonlight shaded abandoned barrows -- if only so clearly seen. For the mountain Evalwark was no barrow, and the sky above them sported no darkness or moon, and the trees that around them grew were not withered; yet the Reaper’s breath was just as much upon them.

¶XXXIV. After a time and the Sun yet unrisen from below the trees, the Nymphs had come unto a small mountain gorge; a deep ravine by tree-shades darkled and spanned by an old rope bridge. This the Nymphs approached and readied to pass.

¶XXXV. Then from the ravine there leapt a creature, a blur that as an arrow from a bow shot from the darkness neath the trees, through the air above the Nymphs and landed on its all fours abaft them. And the Nymphs spun to begaze the creature as it reared upon its hindlegs.

¶XXXVI. This beast: she mainly resembled something the cross of a Nymph and a beautiful Human woman, but there were clear differences. Firstly she was far greater in height -- perhaps nearing five cubits. Her eyes were as rubies; her hair was the color of chestnut; her upper back, forearms, shins, calves, and the back of her neck were all covered in thick, light brown fur; her ears were long and pointed; and her fingers and toes ended in the wickedest of black claws. This thing that stood before them, clad in its leather thongs, was a Drollwife.

¶XXXVII. And the creature, though in most ways exceedingly beautiful, turned her face skyward and let out the most hideous of howls, and bore her sharp fangs as she did.

¶XXXVIII. Asudden the Nymphs heard a soft thud from behind them, and they turned again to see another creature standing now between them and the rope bridge. And this second creature was in many features like the Drollwife, excepting that she lacked all hair, had skin that was such a dark yellow-grey that it was almost black, possessed eyes that were the brightest of yellow, had a small flat nose, and was no less than six cubits in height. This creature was a Trullmaid.

¶XXXIX. “Come to steal our gold, have ye?” said the Drollwife.

¶XL. “Gold?” asked Amber.

¶XLI. “All Orcs hoard gold,” said the Trullmaid.

¶XLII. “Well, that isn’t exactly true,” spake the Drollwife. “Our men will hoard almost anything shiny, but we Sheorcs have far more sophisticated tastes.”

¶XLIII. “I’m sure,” said Amber. “We care not of your gold or any other possession. We only wish to cross the ravine. We are on our way to see the Oracle.”

¶XLIV. “Well, that’s very different then, isn’t it?” said the Trullmaid.

¶XLV. “How’s about we play a game?” said the Drollwife.

¶XLVI. “Yes, a game!” cheered the Trullmaid.

¶XLVII. “We have not time for games,” pleaded Serenity.

¶XLVIII. “Ye have no choice if ye wish to cross the bridge,” said the Drollwife.

¶XLIX. “What sort of ‘game’ would we nineteen Nymphs play with you Sheorcs?” asked Liberty.

¶L. “A very fun game,” said the Trullmaid.

¶LI. “A riddle game,” added the Drollwife.

¶LII. “We each will ask you three questions...”

¶LIII. “...And if ye answer rightly, ye shall be allowed to cross the bridge.”

¶LIV. “And if we answer wrongly?” asked Ruby.

¶LV. “In that case,” said the Trullmaid, bearing her fangs as she smiled hungrily at the Nymphs, “we shall feast upon your entrails.”

¶LVI. “A fair proposition indeed,” said Amber. “What is your first question?”

¶LVII. And the Drollwife said unto the Nymphs:
“A month unto mortals is but a day unto me.
“In the night do I cast light so that creatures may see.
“One week I am virgin, next mother, then crone.
“And one quarter I’m gone and leave ye alone.
“Who am I?”

¶LVIII. “Thou art the Moon,” replied Faith.

¶LIX. “What is the next question?” asked Amber.

¶LX. And then the Trullmaid said unto the Nymphs:
“It is I that teacheth wisdom unto the elder beings,
“and I also that am bane unto lesser mortal things.
“It is by my power that all things unfold,
“and my scythe that reapeth those things when old.
“Who am I?”

¶LXI. “Thou art time,” said Ruby.

¶LXII. And so the Drollwife said unto them:
“Such a being am I that spanneth all time,
“for even in summer am I chilled by rime.
“My roots grow deeper than any tree,
“and my face so high the whole world can see.
“Who am I?”

¶LXIII. “Thou art a mountain,” said Crystal.

¶LXIV. And the Trullmaid said:
“My legions are many, infesting the earth.
“I destroy all I see, and I do it in mirth.
“I cut down the tree, and flatten the hill,
“and boast all about the orcs I kill.
“Who am I?”

¶LXV. “Thou art a Human,” said Catseye. “That one was far too easy.”

¶LXVI. The Drollwife then said unto them:
“Westward-forth and eastward-fro,
“I dry the rain and melt the snow.
“I cross the heavens on gilded wing,
“and to the mountains do I sing.
“Who am I?”

¶LXVII. “Thou art the Sun,” replied Onyx, in boredom sighing.

¶LXVIII. “If ye are going to riddle us our right to cross,” said Silver, “ye should at the very least make your riddles a bit of a challenge.”

¶LXIX. And the Trullmaid smiled wickedly, and she said unto the Nymphs:
“Spy me near the trickling sound,
“for in that place shall I be found.
“I am babbling sounds and waters fresh –
“it was these two Sheorcs, who tore my flesh.
“Who am I?”

¶LXX. As the Trullmaid’s words fell upon the Nymphs’ ears, all were shaken. In both fear and anger were they taken. And by those words their hearts were slain.

¶LXXI. In her rage Fervidness blew upon her torch, and a great blaze rushed at the Trullmaid. The Trullmaid was cast back upon the roped bridge, and the bridge was consumed by the Lampad’s fire as the Sheorc screamed from within the flames.

¶LXXII. The Drollwife then leapt at the Nymphs, and with her arms outstretched before her she bore her claws at them, and burst into them with all the fury an Orc could summon.

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