Chapter 6: The Sacred ClearingA Chapter by Zorina
"Why, Zerlinda? Why?" Agmund whined as the three of them walked in a southern direction to the Sacred Clearing.
"Why don't you shut up?" Zerlinda said. "I'm wondering that myself."
"You know this isn't my best form of fighting."
"It's not mine either," countered Zerlinda. "It's Saya's specialty, but you don't hear me complaining."
"Yeah, but ... why?"
Zerlinda groaned in extreme annoyance at her friend's childish behavior.
"Because it's the best way to help Adalric in battle without us signing our own death sentences. Perhaps if you spent more time improving your archery skills and less time complaining about your lack of them, you wouldn't become so querulous when it becomes necessary for us to shoot."
Agmund stubbornly continued to grumble, but didn't deny her assumption.
"Don't make me add another month of cleaning dishes to your punishment," Zerlinda warned.
"It doesn't really bother me anymore," Agmund said. "I've grown to actually like it."
Zerlinda raised an eyebrow.
"Really?" she said. "Then you won't mind doing it for the rest of the year?"
"NO!" he shouted, confirming Zerlinda's suspicions that he was bluffing.
"Zerlinda?" Saya asked quietly. "How do you know we won't die?"
"Orcs are rarely confronted with bows and arrows and they aren't the best of climbers. If we shoot from the trees around the edge of the Clearing, we should be fine," Zerlinda said, purposefully misunderstanding the question.
"I'm not referring to the orcs," Saya said. "I'm sure we can handle them. I'm talking about the Clearing. Everyone knows there's something wrong about that place. How do you know that there is a loophole over what it can kill? How do you know that the Clearing won't kill us, too?"
"I don't know," Zerlinda replied honestly. "But this is our best chance."
It was a moment before she realized that she had used the same words that Adalric had used last night. With a quick shake of her head, she put the realization out of mind.
"And you said they were heading to the Clearing today?"
"The main army will be there by the time we arrive," Zerlinda confirmed. "The scouts should be there late tonight."
"I listened to Achan go over it with his advisors and head knights under the window of his study for nearly an hour after talking with Adalric last night. How much more sure can I be?"
Saya took the point with an inclination of her head.
"Why do you think he chose what he did?" She asked.
"Because he's gone insane."
"I'm talking about Adalric."
"Oh," said Zerlinda. "Well, he's nuts but not insane. He went because he's too damn loyal to his people."
"But surely he knows he's going to die."
"It was his choice."
"Do you think they'll know it's us? The elves?" She added before Zerlinda could misunderstand her words for the third time.
"I don't know and, quite frankly, I don't really care much. If they do realize it's us, they'll either try to kill us or pretend we were never there. Actually, they'll pretend that we weren't there even if they don't try to kill us. So, unless they come running at us with weapons at the ready, it doesn't really matter."
"You were going to fight with them anyways, weren't you?"
"Perhaps, I was," Zerlinda said thoughtfully, pursing her lips.
"I've been thinking, Zerlinda," Agmund said suddenly.
"Uh-oh," Zerlinda muttered and Saya smirked at her.
"Well," continued Agmund as if he hadn't heard her. "Adalric's going to be fighting in the Clearing so they're all going to die, right?"
"Hypothetically," agreed Zerlinda wearily.
"So, why are we going to fight?"
"Because we're going there anyways to take stock of the situation and perhaps we can find out what is so "sacred" about this clearing."
"We're getting close," Saya said.
All conversation stopped and they walked more silently; they needed the elves to be ignorant of their presence. Zerlinda pointed up, motioning to her friends that hey should climb the trees to avoid being seen by any guards. The nodded their understanding. By making their way from the branches of one tree and onto another, they were ale to easily approach the Clearing while dodging the nonexistent guards. Zerlinda frowned in disapproval at the lack of guards and the frown deepened when she peered through the leaves into the Clearing.
The elves were gathered, completely and utterly relaxed in every sense of the word. The bulk of the orc army was merely one or two days away from the Clearing and here they were, as cheerful as can be. Scattered groups of elves cluttered the Clearing, eating their dinner, laughing at ridiculous jokes that they've probably heard a hundred times over and drinking ale around a fire. A few of the more drunken ones stood unsteadily and were singing folk songs -- not too well either. The others cheered and clanked their tankards together. Even King Achan seemed to be celebrating their nonexistent victory. Only Adalric seemed to have any sense of logic and urgency about him, but he was constantly being shrugged off by the others -- including his father.
"Relax, m'boy!" The King boomed. "We'll beat those orcs to the ground; there's no need to fret. Have a drink!" The closer troops cheered their agreement, raising their own drinks.
The King shoved a tankard into his son's hands, but Adalric threw it to the ground in anger, spilling it's contents on the grass. He said something to King Achan with a grave face, but his words were lost in the cheers of the senseless celebration of the troops. Furious, Adalric stomped off into the surrounding woods.
"I think I'll go see what he's up to," Zerlinda said and, walking on the branches to make her way around the Clearing.
The army carried on with their babbling and mindless celebration. Either the troops had gotten lazy or something to do with the Clearing had messed with their minds and sense of logic. Having never seen any battles take place at the Sacred Clearing and there being no survivors to tell the tale, she couldn't be too sure. Whatever it was, only Adalric seemed unaffected by it. If she hadn't overheard the King planning their attack so seriously the night before, she'd say it was laziness. Then again, she thought, Achan has been known for getting a bit cocky when he thinks his plans are infallible.
She perched herself on a branch and looked down at Adalric. He was pacing back and forth; agitatedly running his fingers through is hair. A playful shiver ran through Zerlinda and she suppressed a giggle. She leaned forward and fell from the branch onto Adalric, pinning the prince to the ground.
"You know," she said, looking into his green eyes, "this is the same way I trapped that messenger your father sent a few days ago."
He didn't smile, but his irritated eyes became calmer.
"Always look up," she chided him as she stood up and offered her hand. He took it and she pulled him to his feet.
"Zerlinda," he sighed. "What are you doing here?"
"That's my business. What were you trying to tell your father?"
"That's my business," he countered.
"Very well," Zerlinda said with a smirk, leaning against the tree that she had just fallen from and watched as Adalric resumed his agitated pacing.
"Anything I can help with?"
"Sure, if you could slap some sense of reason into my father."
"It would be my upmost pleasure if doing so wouldn't cost me my head," replied Zerlinda with a smile. "How long has he been doing this?"
"About a year after Agmund's banishment," he said. "I think our victories have gone to his head."
"I see," said Zerlinda. "So he simply allows the army to drink their wits into oblivion when there's a battle nearly forty-eight hours away, at best?"
"Pretty much," Adalric sighed.
"Seriously," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"Talking to you apparently."
"Must you always be sarcastic?"
Zerlinda shrugged her shoulders.
Adalric looked at her from where he was seated at the base of a tree.
"You seem to be in a rather good mood."
"It's quite a change from the day-to-day life I've been having."
"So the fact that there's going to be a battle makes you happy? That's rather sadistic."
"Not a battle per say; it's just some excitement. It gets rather predictable and boring living in a cabin in the woods with no job to go off to for multiple years, you know."
"You suppose? Lets see you live in a cabin for eight years while being banished to the closest lands and the second closest being at least a day's ride away on a good horse and you suppose it be boring and predictable."
"If it's so boring, why don't you go live somewhere else?"
"That's my business."
"A lot of things seem to be your business."
Zerlinda hummed again, but made no further reply.
They remained in each other's company for a few more long moments before Zerlinda sighed and pushed herself off of the tree she'd been leaning against.
"Well, I'd better be going -- things to do, places to be, people to see and all that. I'll see you later; if you're not dead. Good luck."
"What could you possibly have to do?" Adalric asked.
"That's my business, but, before I go, how are your archery skills?"
"My ... archery skills?"
"Yes, archery skills. You know, shooting an arrow with a bow to hit a desired target?"
"They're ... improving, why?"
"You might live longer if you shoot from the surrounding trees of the Clearing."
"What makes you think that?"
"Just a loophole I think I've found. Alrighty then, have fun!"
Before Adalric could question her further, she walked off and, when she judge to be out of his sight, she scrambled up a tree and used the branches to make her way back to Agmund and Saya. The two of them had been keeping an eye on the celebrating elves in the Clearing why Zerlinda spoke with Adalric. They glanced at her as she settled herself on a nearby branch before returning their attention to the elves.
"Any changes?" Zerlinda asked.
Saya shook her head.
"Not unless you count the increase in drunks," Agmund said. "I think Achan's passed out, actually."
"He never could handle his alcohol," Zerlinda said, shaking her head. "A couple of cups of wine and he's drunk; a couple more and he's out like a light."
Saya furrowed her brow.
"I've seen him drink more than that at dinner and he was fine," she said.
"Most of that wasn't wine -- it was grape juice. That's why the King always had to have his own special bottle of 'wine' at dinner."
Saya and Agmund looked at her with disbelief written clearly on their faces.
"What?" said Zerlinda incredulously. "You never knew?"
"No!" said Agmund. "How did you find out?"
"Adalric told me."
"How did he find out?"
"One night, he accidently refilled his cup with his father's bottle of 'wine.'"
"He told you this?" Saya assumed.
"Of course," Zerlinda said, watching as Adalric emerged from the forests and disappeared again into his tent.
"How do you want to handle this?" Agmund asked, motioning toward the Clearing with his head.
"Well," Zerlinda said with a thoughtful frown. "We can see what the elves plan on doing. The orcs are less than forty-eight hours away, so one of us should scout their exact position and see how many there are and their plans, if possible. The orcs may be clumsy, but they're not stupid -- they won't have sent more than necessary to defeat the army. So there might still be enough to take over Treewood left and if the capital and the monarch go down, the rest fo West Wood won't be too far behind them.
"Saya, you're the best at balance. Go scout the orcs' position. If you're not back by the time night falls, we'll come after you."
Saya nodded and walked away on the branches. Agmund looked at Zerlinda with his light brown eyes.
"What are you thinking?" He asked.
"I'm thinking that, at best, the orcs will arrive the day after tomorrow and that will only happen if all of the elves' false trails worked. However, as I said before, orcs aren't stupid. It's more likely that they'll catch onto the ruse after the first few times, in which case they can be here tomorrow. The worst case scenario is that they expected the trick and only fell for one false trail and they'll be here close to midnight."
"What should we do?"
"Be prepared for all possibilities. When Saya gets back, depending on the news, we'll set shifts and keep watch through the night. I'm pretty sure that the elves have drunk their wits away with the exception of Adalric, so if the orcs are going to be here by midnight then there's nothing we can do to save them and we'll make plan B."
"How did Achan stay in power for so long?" Agmund asked, shaking his head.
"I ask myself the same question every time I think about the state of his army."
"What did you come up with?"
"When I come up with something, I'll tell you."
"So if the orcs take the Forest City, we go to Aridar's capital, Nasel, and explain the situation? What do you expect the snow elves to do?"
"King Thalion will most likely come to stop the orcs from expanding -- if only to keep them from entering the borders of Aridar," Zerlinda said.
Aridar was often called the World of Snow. Thalion was the ruler and it was the home of the groups of elves called the snow elves. It was high in the mountains and, though it didn't snow very often, it stayed cold enough to keep the snow on the ground for most of the year, making it look like it was made of snow. Nasel, the capital, rested near the top of the mountain with Castle Nique being even closer. Once one got past the near-constant coldness, it was really a pleasant place to be and elf race as a whole had a very high tolerance for nature and weather.
Saya returned just before night fall.
"The orcs should be here tomorrow at the latest, but they could be here around midnight at the earliest. There's about three-hundred -- enough to wipe out the elf army, but I heard them talking about another several hundred still heading for Treewood."
"Do you know when that other party will be at the capital?" Zerlinda asked.
"No," said Saya, shaking her head. "But if we survive this , I think we should track them afterwards."
"This won't be pretty," Agmund muttered.
"No, it won't," agreed Zerlinda. "Two-hundred from the army are down there and, out of that, only one isn't drunk. They're in no position to fight." She looked at Saya. "You're sure they could be here tonight?"
"They could," she confirmed. "But they were setting up camp and didn't say anything about it. They did send some scouts out. If they hadn't, they might not be here till mid-day tomorrow, but when the scouts report how close they are to the elf army, I doubt they'll be able to resist."
"And the elves are thinking that they'll have a little less than two days until the orcs arrive when they might not even have a few hours," Agmund concluded.
The three of them looked back into the Clearing where the last of the standing elves were stumbling around before falling to the ground, clearly drunk. The rest of them were strewn about like the numerous amount of empty tankards. They shook their heads.
"They are so doomed," Zerlinda said. "Well, might as well inform the one sober elf in that whole camp as to the seriousness of their situation."
"You mean Adalric?" Saya said. "You're just going to waltz into that camp?"
"Everyone's passed out, Saya. I'll be fine." And she slipped into the Clearing and ducked into the tent. Upon entering the tent, she found that she had to bend over at the waist. Apparently, the King was the only one who deserved a tent tall enough for him to stand up straight in."
As she had predicted, Adalric was asleep, laying under a blanket on the ground and using his arms as a pillow. She knelt next to his sleeping form and shook him awake. Startled, his head shot up as his groggy mind attempted to make sense of the situation and his eyes blinked repetitively.
"Zerlinda," he groaned, closing his eyes and laying his head back down. "What are you doing here?"
"Adalric Amnon Vasil!" Zerlinda whispered-yelled. "If you dare go back to sleep while I'm trying to tell you something, so help me, I will give you so many bruises that you won't be able to sleep peacefully for weeks!"
Knowing that Zerlinda wouldn't hesitate to back her words up with actions, Adalric sighed and sat up. He looked at her with tired eyes.
"The orcs could be here as early as midnight or as late as mid-day tomorrow."
"What?" He said, suddenly awake. "No! Our trails --"
"Didn't fool them for long," Zerlinda finished. "Orcs aren't stupid Adalric. They went down the first one, maybe two, trails and knew what the rest would be."
"The army --"
"Is completely out due to their drinks. They won't wake up for anything less than a bucket of cold water being dumped right on top of them. They are in no way, shape, or form prepared to fight anything."
"What do I do?" Adalric asked desperately.
"Get some proper troops," Zerlinda suggested with the slightest amount of sarcasm in her voice.
"From where? I doubt even you can make a few hundred proper troops appear out of thin air."
"You can ask the snow elves."
"Zerlinda, it's a week's journey just to get in Aridar's borders, plus the time to get to Nasel and into Castle Nique, then gather the troops and get back here. I don't have that kind of time!"
"First of all," Zerlinda said patiently. "I can get into Aridar's borders in five days. Second of all, you need to get your priorities straight because this isn't merely a matter of time, but of securing West Wood and there's another party of several hundred orcs heading to Treewood now."
"I can't leave."
"Why not? Your drunken army? Or is it because you don't want to run and hide? Let me tell you something, if you stay here and fight, the Clearing won't have a chance to kill you because the orcs will do the job for it! Your troops don't need help to win -- they need a f*****g miracle and I'm giving you the chance to get some proper troops to save your people!"
"Then you go and ask for troops, but I'm staying here."
"Suit yourself," said Zerlinda. "Goodbye, Adalric." And she left.
© 2012 Zorina
AboutHobbies: Dancing (mostly jazz and lyrical, but I also do a ballet techniques class), writing, drawing, painting, reading, singing, doing puzzles, sudoku, word finds, fill ins Movies: Harry Potter, .. more..