People of the Trees
Written by Tally Marie Ragsdale
I humbly lay my roses down before my Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
A light drizzle fell from an overcast sky as hundreds of Cruz soldiers moved from tree top to tree top with the ease and stealth that only their people could achieve. It gave them an advantage in the upcoming battle against the Foul, but only a slight one.
The Foul were ginger giants from the plains, who had out grown their valleys and were now looking for new lands to settle. Land they thought they could find in the forests, where the brown-skinned Cruz had lived unchallenged for centuries.
Tarek, only one of the countless Cruz who had responded to his tribe’s call to war, sat motionless in a tall spruce. He was young for a Cruz solider as were the other boys who sat with him, which meant they were volunteers.
“Tarek,” a whisper came from below.
Tarek’s keen, brown eyes, instantly dropped to those of Garb. Garb and Tarek had been best friends since they were old enough to talk. At the very young age of thirteen the two had sworn a blood pact. Swearing to guard and protect each others’ family and honor from all harm. It was a promise not taken likely by their people and punishable by death if broken. But for Garb and Tarek it was just a formality of what had always been between them.
Garb, who was only two months older than Tarek, was a Finder. Which meant his family had been blessed with incredibly black skin and could therefore blend into the forest completely. They were revered as wise and especially gifted warriors amongst their people. But with this blessing of honor came a curse, for Fouls dearly love to slay Finders.
“Tarek,”Garb looked up at him, “do you remember the time we cornered that boar by the west dip and you speared it from twenty feet away?” his white smile spread devilishly a crossed his dark face, “Then you made me log it all the way home.”
“You gambled I couldn’t kill it in one throw,” Tarek’s soft skin wrinkled into a grin, “You lost.”
“I don’t recall setting any stakes on that gamble even if you say I did.”
Tarek shoved Garb’s shoulder in good nature with his foot, which brought soft laughter from his friend. But that laughter quickly sobered, “I don’t wish to bring dishonor on my family.”
Tarek looked to him in shock.
Garb saw his astonishment and quickly smiled, “Fear not brother, I have no plans to die today,” his face grew sad again, “But should the unthinkable happen; will you tell my family that I died with honor? And tell,” Garb stopped.
He had no problem talking about anything, except when it came to Tarek’s younger sister, Banta. She had been promised to him as a child. It was an honored custom among the Cruz to arrange the marriages of their daughters only days after their birth. And because of the such strong bond between Tarek and Garb, it was only natural for Tarek’s father to arrange such a match between them. In the years since, Banta had grown into a vision of loveliness and Garb into an honored warrior. Their marriage would take place at Garb’s Coming of Age Ceremony and it seemed neither of them could wait for it.
Tarek couldn’t be happier for his sister or his friend. Not that he would know. His betrothed, who he had barely known, had died a year ago when an epidemic had swept through his people. And by law his father was required to find him a new bride, before his Coming of Age. But since most of the girls around his age were already married or promised there weren’t very many left to choose from.
“Well tell your sister all that I cannot,” Garb locked eyes with his blood brother, “You will tell her, won’t you?”
“You speak as if you know the future! Live and tell her yourself.”
Suddenly far in the distance a deep trumpet sounded vibrating through the trees and awakening the senses of every Cruz soldier.
“To battle my friend,” Garb stuck out his forearm.
Tarek clasped it in a firm grip, “To battle.”
A war cry arose from the tree tops and without warning, battle crazed Cruz dropped from the sky. The war had begun.
Dram stood motionless by his father, High Chieftain Durn of the Free People of the Cruz and watched as the first wave of Cruz soldiers fell from the trees crushing the Foul scum beneath them. It was amazing to witness what expert warriors could do with surprise on their side. It would be a good ten minutes before the Foul could reform their lines, but by then many hundreds would be dead.
“Pull those soldiers back,” Durn commanded Krain, his general. A unified Foul was dangerous, but hopefully by retreating they could scatter their enemy’s forces in their blind pursuit for revenge.
“Are Parek’s men in position?”
“They are, my lord,” Krain replied in his famously gruff voice, “Shall I send these Foul to the abyss?”
“By all means.”
Krain bowed and with one last smile to Dram, walked away to do his chieftain’s will.
Dram turned back to the battle where the Cruz soldiers were just now retreating, drawing the dumb Foul deeper into the woods with them. The Foul might not be able to know a trap when they saw it, but they made up for their lack of brains with sheer brute strength. They killed their enemies with their bare hands. The trick is to kill them before they get too close, or to try and out run them if they do. But that is easier said than done. Given an open plane, a Foul solider could easily out run a pack of wild dogs.
Dram grinned; the pack of dogs they were chasing now had brains and intended to use them. His father’s plan was simple: draw the enemy in, cut them off and rain death from above. Their enemy would be no more by night fall.
“Bullock!!” a scream welled over the sound of battle. Bullock, captain of the advancing Foul troop, turned to the young scout calling his name, “Another Cruz force is swinging behind us to the north. They’re caging us in!”
Bullock looked up, his enemy’s plan becoming clear to him. Cursing himself for not seeing it sooner, the captain held his right hand high and broke for the nearest tree. Several pre-selected soldiers followed their commander’s lead. They were the Fire Bringers.
“So the Cruz plan to corner me and then drop from the skies upon my frightened men?” Bullock growled as he struck one black stone against another, creating a small spark on the dried forest floor, “Well let’s see how they like their forest when it’s aflame with death. Scout report back to the chief; tell him that we require no assistance-“
“But captain the flames will kill you also!”
“It’s too late for us!” Bullock shoved the young boy away, “Do as you’re told and tell my lord he must attack the Cruz village now, before it is too late. Be gone, boy!”
The scout bowed his head and ran away with unbelievable speed. At fifteen this young soldier should feel honored being charged with such an important duty, but instead he felt only grief to be leaving his father, brothers, and uncles to die behind him.
Blood, death and screams; this was all Tarek had known since he’d jumped from his perch in the tree. Ducking a Foul swing, Tarek reared up and cut his opponent wide open. Yet as soon as that Foul fell another bigger Foul took his place and he wielded a Cruz iron mace.
The Foul swung and Tarek barely missed getting hit. Carefully dodging the next two swings, Tarek lunged and was rewarded with a fist to the jaw. His sword went one way and he went the other. Rolling over, Tarek looked up as the Foul readied to flatten him. Suddenly Garb was there cutting the arms off the Foul and quickly ending his life.
“Be careful my friend,” Garb pulled Tarek up and thrust the heavy mace into his hands, “the battle isn’t over yet.”
Tarek watched as Garb ran to rejoin the others. His mind slowly cleared of the fog that near death had brought on, but with clarity came the reality of what was going one around him. Looking down at the dead Foul crumpled at his feet, Tarek gritted his teeth and pressed on. He rushed past the dead and the dying determined not to be counted among them.
From their vantage point atop the bluff, Durn and Dram were the first to spot the smoke and to see the flames.
“What is that?” Durn asked his son.
Dram cursed as he drew his sword, “That father is the Foul’s answer to you trap. FIRE!!! FIRE!! Cut them down now, before they set more,” Dram’s powerful voice bellowed down to the force just below them, “Father send word to Parek to attack now, then get out of here. This battle has taken a turn for the worse and the village must be protected.”
“Aye,” Durn started off with his personal guards, “Be safe my son.”
Gripping his sword, Dram leapt from the bluff into a neighboring tree and slipped down to the forest floor. Sprinting to catch up with his men, he soon overtook them and with the ferocity of a lion the chief’s son propelled himself into the frays of battle. Defeating every foe he met.
Tarek gagged on the smoke as he swung his mace, killing yet another Foul. His muscles ached and his lungs burned. But somehow he managed to kill two more opponents, before collapsing to the ground in exhaustion. Looking up through the canopy of the leaves above, Tarek watched as lazy, white clouds floated through an endless sky. How many times had he sat up there in the open air? What a peaceful place it was!
Tarek frowned as flames ate up the trees. A rage unlike anything he had known before filled him. Pushing to his feet, Tarek swung his mace and charged three Foul. They fell back before him in fear.
Bullock stopped. His gaze passing between the richly clothed boy to the lad with the mace. He’d been told that the son of the Cruz chief had joined the battle. But which warrior was he? Was the rich boy a ruse to conceal the tall and deadly Cruz? Or was it the other way around? Bullock gripped his iron spear and charged for the tall boy, praying he was right.
Tarek heard him before he saw him and by that time it was too late. A massive Foul commander slammed into his body, causing both of them to fall back. Careening down a hill, the two landed hard in a small creek bed.
Tarek quickly kneed the Foul atop him and rolled away. However he had lost his mace is the fall and now stood before his enemy defenseless.
Bullock stood, his face red and his stomach sore. The boy had technically already lost the battle. All Bullock had to do was throw his spear and yet the Cruz stood his ground. Slowly Bullock switched the spear to his right hand and threw it without provocation. The boy rolled just in time and ignoring the spear he charged. True the Cruz was taller than most, but if he thought he could beat a Foul commander at hand-to-hand combat he was gravely mistaken.
Perhaps it was this over confidence that made the Cruz’s initial attack so effective. And why Bullock ended up on his butt with a bleeding lower lip. As the boy charged again, Bullock flawlessly kicked his feet out from under him. He straddled the boy and brought down blow after blow. But still the boy fought, so pulling out a hidden dagger Bullock lodged it deep in the his chest.
“Die now with honor,” Bullock said, holding the boy down as he struggled.
The boy only roared and fought harder. Bullock pulled out the knife again and readied it for another blow. Suddenly however, another Cruz appeared and tackled him into the creek. Bullock tossed the smaller, darker Cruz away from him and leveled his knife. He threw it without much thought and down went his attacker.
“NO!!!” a wail rose from the bleeding boy, who had somehow managed to crawl for the spear.
Bullock froze, their eyes locking. The boy pushed to his feet and threw the spear with such skill that Bullock knew his life was over before he ever felt the impact. Falling back, the great Foul commander landed his face level with that of the dark boy he had killed. Who was he? He looked to be the same age as his youngest son. He wondered if that boy had done as he was told and made it back to the chieftain. Or had he been cut down by a Cruz officer? Had he died in the defense of a brother? Bullock watched as the boy he had tried so desperately to kill leaned over the boy he had. Tears streamed down the Cruz’s face. Resting his forehead against that of his savior’s the boy roared in rage and sorrow, and then collapsed. Bullock felt the heat of the flames around them. They would all die here together. Strangers bound by that which all men must face. As his vision darkened, the commander thought of his home and of endless waves of grain. He was a farmer again at the end.
Lots of loves,
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