Copyright © 2002-2017 by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: Decemberrd, 2017]
¶I. When finally the Nymphs had reached the Elderwood’s edge they stood at the mountain’s base, awed, bode there by its lowery loom that against the darkness dire of sullen sky affrayed them. And in their awe they looked upon that earthen tower, that by its power stayed them.
¶II. Fervidness was first to go forth unto the crag, blowing lightly upon her torch and setting it aflame to bright their path.
¶III. Upon the black and barren rocks the Nymphs pressed fore, under a starless sky that from above seemed to watch them as the wolf stalking the stray child. But the Nymphs would not yield unto the fears that in them festered.
¶IV. The fire of the Lampad’s torch glowed red the stones around them, but everywhere else was only the black of gleaming iron. The night sky, the rocks, the distant snowy peak made but dim grey, all in such wretched darkness that from the hand of Death himself it seemed this night had been cast upon them.
¶V. And the wind blew. Cold, deathly wind so dry it made the Nymph’s skin taut as it swept across the mountain; as an icy razor’s edge that slightly scraped over them it blew and relented not.
¶VI. Still the Nymphs clomb ever toward their goal, ever toward Ævalwark’s peak, ever toward that destiny that for Serenity was waiting.
¶VII. Ravens flew through the air; as if awaiting the Nymph’s death they wafted amid the winds. And the wind blew stronger, and took the flame from the Lampad’s torch.
¶VIII. The Nymphs crouched, weapons in hand, and clung to the rocks as they clomb, and the wind tried to take them just as the torch’s flame. But never would Serenity relent, and neither would the Nymphs that pledged to see her through.
¶IX. Then the rain poured down upon them as lightning streaked across the heavens, and the rocks grew slick with waters that past them poured.
¶X. Soon the Nymphs came unto a ledge, wide as any field, in each direction bending round the mountain’s edge. And upon the mountain’s mantle the Nymphs quickly clomb, and there huddled closely, with wetted hair clinging to their quivering skin, and held each other as tightly as they could.
¶XI. And Lea screamed.
¶XII. From around the southern bend there came a bear-like beast slowly stalking toward them. As the lightning flashed the Nymphs could see the creature’s form. Covered in dark brown fur, huge claws shaped as sickles on each of its four limbs, its hindlegs tiny compared to its forelegs, and its face most horrible of all. Pale, pinkish skin; projecting maw and fat lips protruded by bloody tusks; glaring, fiery eyes set greatly apart; its face was as a pale-skinned Orc. But beneath that heavy brow was a long and fat nose that jutted from between its burning eyes. There was no doubt this creature was some sort of Orc -- a Droll, called by some a Bugbear or Mountain Orc. And it lumbered toward them.
¶XIII. The Nymphs scrambled to their feet and backed away from the Droll, higher the ledge’s upward northern slope. And the beast, large as a Troglodyte or any bear, kept slowly nearing with claws sharply clacking against the rock.
¶XIV. And another Droll rounded the corner behind it, and another. Three Mountain Orcs, a pack now coming for them.
¶XV. Fervidness stopped as the other Nymphs withdrew, and blew upon the end of her torch, but in the violent wind and rains it only smoldered.
¶XVI. The other Nymphs halted, and rushed to Fervidness in her defense, and two of the Drolls surged forth and leapt at the Lampad.
¶XVII. Fervidness dove from the Drolls’ path, and the beasts slid past on the rock’s slick surface as the other Nymphs came at them with bludgeon and flail.
¶XVIII. The Orcs roared, and reared upon their hindlegs, but then dropped down again to all four limbs and then swiftly they regressed from the Nymphs, back to the other Droll.
¶XIX. There the Mountain Orcs stayed, snarling, growling at the Nymphs, who were by now very much confused.
¶XX. “Over there!” shouted Brook. The other Nymphs turned to look where she pointed, behind them, up the ledge’s northward slope.
¶XXI. There stood a single Oryad, as youthful and fair as any other Nymph, bronze skinned, grey eyed, roan haired, and holding in her right hand a tall staff. Her gaze was as steel, her nimble body unshaken, poised as she stared coldly past the other Nymphs to the warded Drolls behind them.
¶XXII. The Oryad raised her staff into the air, and with both hands she brought it down with all her force against the rock, and there shot forth from the strike an echo that raced through the skies.
¶XXIII. The Drolls grunted and snorted, wavering, rocking with fear about their eyes. But they fled not, for an Orc would keep a distance from what it thought a threat, but never would it retreat.
¶XXIV. The echoes of the Oryad’s staff striking the rock began to fade, and as they did there were sounds of falling rock coming from above the Drolls. And then a single stone fell from the mountainside and skipped past before the ravenous beasts. And after that stone came yet another, and still two more after that. And the Orcs, only as the ground began to rumble kenning the event about to unfurl upon them, looked upward toward the mountain’s peak to find a wave of rocks and dust rushing down upon them.
¶XXV. And by this wave, the Drolls were consumed before they’d even a chance to run, and were swept from the ledge. But where the Orcs stood the ledge dropped not onto a steep slope upon which one could simply walk (such as that the Nymphs had clomb), but to a sudden fall.
¶XXVI. And the rocks took the creatures from the mountainside, hurling them away from the ledge by force of the wave’s own weight, and shot them forth unto a plummet so great that no living thing could endure.
¶XXVII. The Nymphs had watched this, in relief and also in wonderment, for they knew not exactly what the Oryad had done. And the Oryad stood with dank hair thrashing in the winds, beads of rain trickling adown her skin, and a stately smirk borne upon her face as the other Nymphs then went to her.
¶XXVIII. “My name is Sapphire,” said the Oryad.
¶XXIX. Willow, Serenity, Faith, Fervidness, Lea, Liberty, and Brook introduced themselves unto the Mountain Nymph named Sapphire, and expressed unto her their gratitude for her intervention with bright smiles and beholden busses.
¶XXX. “Whyever have ye Nymphs come here?”
¶XXXI. “We have come seeking the Oryads,” said Willow.
¶XXXII. “Come then,” replied Sapphire, “I shall take you to Oakhaven, where ye shall have refuge from the Drolls.” And to this the other Nymphs agreed.
¶XXXIII. And so the Nymphs followed Sapphire as she led them up the northward slope, over the rocks fallen in the path, and along the ledge around the mountain as slowly upward they ascended.
¶XXXIV. Erelong Sapphire had taken the others round to Ævalwark’s northern face, whence could be seen the forest of evergreen and oak that clomb the side of the mountain. And the lightning soon faded, the rains letup, the winds quelled; and above them the clouds gave way to a starry sky.
¶XXXV. The Nymphs followed the faintly starlit path into the sparse outlying oaks and evergreens of Ævalwark’s forest, wherethrough Oakhaven lay ahead, as the fair-lined clouds yielded to the bright white Moon. Foreby them as through the forest they traveled were the sporadic pattering of dewdrops fallen from greenly leaved or needled limb, striking the dampened ground below, and the faraway hooting of owls.
¶XXXVI. Fervidness breathed upon her torch in attempt to light it. Smoldering at first, after several moments its end began to ember, and finally took a small blue flame that clung tightly to it. Once more Fervidness blew upon it, and its flame grew.
¶XXXVII. “Put that out,” said Sapphire. “These woods are haunted by Bugbear. Thy fire will attract them usward.”
¶XXXVIII. “If a Mountain Orc were to attack,” replied Fervidness, “it would benefit us greatly to be prepared.”
¶XXXIX. “Dost thou intend to set the whole forest ablaze in that event?” said Sapphire. “Wilt thou scorch the woodland, to defend against an Orc?”
¶XL. Fervidness went to extinguish her flame with some reluctance, but fore she could there appeared ahead of them a set of eyes -- eyes that by firelight glowed red in the night’s blackness amidst the oaks. Sapphire loudly gasped at the sight, and the Nymphs froze.
¶XLI. The red eyes narrowed and slightly raised as from the shadows came forth a monstrous roar, and the Nymphs were badly shaken, affrayed by that before them.
¶XLII. The Dryads scattered swith, Serenity and Faith right whilst Willow and Liberty left. Apace they sprinted up the oaken boles to evade the deadly Droll.
¶XLIII. “What about us?” shouted Brook.
¶XLIV. “Hurry up!” yelled Serenity. “Come on!”
¶XLV. “We’re not Wood Nymphs!” declared Sapphire.
¶XLVI. And the Droll came at the four Nymphs still stranded on the ground. It rushed until at the brink of the torch’s light, and there it stayed.
¶XLVII. So near the flickering orange light of the torch the beast’s eyes could be seen no longer, and were hidden away by the shadows of its own face. Its face as the skull of Death the Orc stared evilly at them, and hungrily did its ropey tongue trace its tusks so jagged as its breaths rumbled into the light. And there at the light’s edge the monster stalked back and fore.
¶XLVIII. Fervidness took a step forward -- and the Droll backed slightly away. Then Fervidness took another step, and again the Droll backed away.
¶XLIX. “Even as I step toward it, it keepeth away of the light!” said Fervidness.
¶L. The Dryads, now very curious, stepped slowly adown the trees trunks and back to the ground with their fellow Nymphs. And all the Nymphs eyes, save for Sapphire’s, were questioningly glaring.
¶LI. “That’s odd,” said Faith.
¶LII. “Ye see that?” said Sapphire. “These Drolls are clever things. They foresee danger, and avoid it just enough.”
¶LIII. “Is that good, or is that bad?” asked Lea.
¶LIV. “Bad,” said Sapphire. “Very, very bad.”
¶LV. In the depths of the darkness behind the Droll appeared another set of eyes. The Nymphs looked around, and saw more eyes appearing each moment. Soon the eyes of at least a dozen Drolls could be seen.
¶LVI. “Everyone stay near,” said Fervidness.
¶LVII. “Aw, and I’d so enjoy a romp through the dark wood about now,” said Liberty. And the other Nymphs broke their fearful panting with nervously feigned laughter.
¶LVIII. “Everyone stay near,” repeated Fervidness with an eyebrow raised at Liberty. “Sapphire: you lead the way to Oakhaven. Slowly.”
¶LIX. Sapphire nodded, and with staff in hand began to walk deeper into the forest, with the others closely following. As they moved the Orcs were warded away by the glow of Fervidness’s burning torch, but were always just beyond the light’s edge.
¶LX. “Meseemeth that it would be prudent to turn back,” said Lea. “Just for tonight. We can begin again tomorrow, but for tonight we should stay in the Elderwood where we are safer. The Dryads can continue without us till morrow, in the trees where the Bugbear cannot reach them.”
¶LXI. “We’re already nearing Oakhaven,” assured Sapphire. “Just a few more minutes.”
¶LXII. “Thou mustn’t speak such words,” said Faith. “The Oracle Ruis of the Elderberry saith we shall be blessed if we are bound by the sisterhood of Nymphs. To speak of separation of any sort inviteth the possibility of danger and harm unto us.”
¶LXIII. That very moment a stone was cast at the Nymphs, striking Fervidness in her calf, and she cried out in pain as she dropped her torch to the ground. And one of the Nymphs began to scream.
¶LXIV. Fervidness quickly reclaimed her torch, and clenching it she thrust her arm into the air, and saw the stumped tail and hindlegs of a Droll fleeing from the light.
¶LXV. “Brook!” Willow called out, but could be barely heard above Brook’s own screaming as the Mountain Orc carried her away. And then the sounds of Drolls growling and roaring angrily as assumedly they fought over their prize. And abruptly Brook’s screaming ceased.
¶LXVI. Sapphire took the free hand of Fervidness in her own, and then unto the other Nymphs she gave singly a solitary command that unto them she shrieked. And this word, this shrewd bid that in her panic she loudly and shrilly uttered, was simply this: “Run!”
¶LXVII. The Nymphs linked together their hands and wrists, and Sapphire led them through the evergreen forest as speedily as their long and spry legs could take them.
¶LXVIII. Well-nigh as a flock of birds were they weaving, deftly tween the trees though never the ground leaving; and ran along the ground making scarsely the faintest sound, as beneath them their legs beat with blurring silent round. Oft they glanced behind them as they raced, whiffing and halfway gasping ever the while the Mountain Orcs chased.
¶LXIX. Now behind them were the deep snorts of Droll breaths and the heavy thumps of Droll footfalls straining to keep up, and failing pitifully to do so -- for the Nymphs were far faster.
¶LXX. No more were the Orcs soon heard as into the thicker forest the Nymphs hastened, and not long was it then till Sapphire had taken them to a black cliff face that by the Lampad’s torch glinted with the faint hue of rust. And there at the irony scarp the Nymphs came to a stop, and Sapphire showed them to an ingress in the rock.
¶LXXI. “Hurry, before the Bugbear catch up with us,” said Sapphire. “This is the passage through which Oakhaven awaiteth.” Willow clomb adown into the tunnel, followed by Serenity, Faith, Liberty, Lea, Sapphire, and lastly Fervidness.