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by Margo Fallis
Lake Pentip

          “It will take a day to get to Lake Pentip,” Corin said. “I remember going there once before, when I was young, with my father. We caught the biggest farnut you have ever seen.” He held out his hands to show how big. He looked up when he heard the others laughing at him. “What? What’s the matter?”

     “There’s nothing better than an ‘it was this big’ story,’ Braden said.

     “Farnuts don’t get that big, even if you count their fins and tails. I read the biggest farnut was only thirty-two inches long.” Cafania slapped Corin on the back. “I’m sure it seemed that big to you when you were a little boy.”

     “Well, it did.” Corin, embarrassed, moved ahead of the group.

After about five miles they stopped to rest. They sat among an orchard of peach trees, catching their breaths. “How long did you say that fish was?” Cafania chuckled.

“Oh, forget it. The lake’s about six more hours. If we want to make it before dark, we’d better get moving. Fingal, climb this tree and knock down a couple of dozen peaches. I doubt if the farmer will miss them.” Corin’s mouth watered thinking about biting into a juicy peach.

“Me? Why me? Why do I have to do everything? I don’t want to climb the tree. Why can’t you just grab that branch and shake it.?” Fingal whined.

“Because the peaches will splatter on the ground and then we won’t be able to eat them. That’s why! Now climb the tree!” Corin grabbed Fingal’s arms and lifted him onto a branch. “Toss them gently.”

Fingal picked one and when Corin wasn’t looking, he dropped it on the man’s head. Peach pulp splattered in Corin’s hair. “Why you….”

“I didn’t do it on purpose. It slipped. Sorry.” Fingal turned his head and giggled.

“I heard that!” Corin scowled.

Fingal gently dropped peaches into Corin’s hands. He passed them out and they each ate one and packed the rest away. For the next hour Corin had to swat flies and bees away from his sticky hair.

None of them noticed Kolin, about 200 feet away from them. As they arose, he ran off.

“Do any of you know anything about Pinea? What kind of name is that anyway? Pinea? It sounds like a disease or something.” Gorbal took his Book of Spells out of his pack. In the back there was a section of maps. He searched for Pinea. “Ah, here it is.”

“I don’t know a thing about it. I’ve never heard of it,” Cafania said.

“Me neither,” added Braden.

“What about you, Corin?” Gorbal gazed at the man.

“I told you, I’ve been there. When I was a boy, my father and I traveled this area.  We just passed through it. There isn’t much to see, only a small village and a lot of ruined buildings.”

They walked along the path at the bottom of the ridge of the Ambron mountains, as directed by the Lord of the Seas. It was a smooth trail. There were no rocks, no drops, no dragons, trolls, or snow monsters. As the sun set, they arrived at Lake Pentip. They made their way around the lake, through the marshy bog, until they reached the other path. “We’ll stop here for the night.” Corin dropped his pack on a patch of dry ground. “It’s not quite like I remembered though.  It’s a bit boggy and smelly.”

Braden looked around. There was nothing but soggy ground and mosquitoes. They could hear toads croaking. “What do you say, Corin, if we catch another fish, ‘this big’.” He held up his hands and burst into hysterical laughter. “Just fooling around, Corin. Don’t be angry. I’ll stop.”

Corin mumbled a few swear words under his breath and went down to the lake shore. “If I’d brought my pole,” he shouted back to the others, “we’d probably catch one.”

“I can find a stick. I’ve got some string in my pack. If I find one can we fish, Corin? Can we? Can we? I’ve never caught a fish before. I don’t care how big it is.” Fingal jabbered away.

“Find us a few sticks. They’ll need to be strong and long,” Corin said.

Cafania and Gorbal moved up higher, where the ground was dryer and put their packs down. Cafania swatted mosquitoes. “Annoying pests.” She smashed one on her leg.

Braden started a fire. It caught quickly and soon flickers of flame danced across the kindling. There was a lot of moisture in the air. He figured within an hour they would be surrounded by fog. The fire burned brighter as he tossed more sticks and branches on. Fingal came back with three long sticks.

Corin tested them out. “What’ll we use for bait? How about Fingal?”

Fingal didn’t find any humor in the comment. “No! We can use worms, or mosquitoes, can’t we? I’ll go and dig for worms.” Fingal ran off and poked holes in the ground, searching for wiggly creatures. Corin and Braden tied wires to the sticks and made hooks. Fingal came back a few minutes later with six long, slimy worms. Corin put one on the end of the hook. “That’s disgusting,” Fingal said. Corin put the other two on the hooks and put the remaining three in his pocket. They walked down to the lake, tossed their line into the water, and then sat on a rock, waiting for a fish to bite. 

Cafania spread out her blanket. She watched the fishermen at work. Gorbal read his Book of Spells. After a few minutes, he said, “Cafania, did you know I have a spell for sea monsters, spiders, winter storms and tornadoes, but I don’t have one for whales? Isn’t that weird?”

She thought about it for a few minutes. “I guess there isn’t room in the book for everything.” A star shot across the sky. The moons glowed bright and the heavens danced with billions of stars. “I wonder if there is life on any other planet. Seems silly to think we’re the only ones, doesn’t it?”

Gorbal looked up. “I’m sure there is. I’ve often wondered about that myself. Maybe when I get home, I’ll take up astronomy.”

Cafania mumbled as she watched Fingal and Corin. She saw Braden standing off by himself. An air of bravity, confidence and dependability radiated from him. She really cared for him. He wasn’t crude and rude like Corin. “Oh well,” she said and shut her eyes.

“Why did you say that?” Gorbal wondered, turning to look at her.

“No reason. I wonder if they’ll catch any fish.”

              *  *  *

Kolin passed the lake. He knew if he kept running he’d be in Pinea in a few hours. He passed through a forest. A family sat in a cabin eating supper. Out in the pasture stood a cow, a horse, and a few pigs. Kolin went for one of the pigs. It squealed helplessly as Kolin ripped out its insides, tearing the flesh off in just a few minutes. The man in the cabin came running out. The others followed. “A wolf! Get my gun!” The father shouted. His son ran in and brought it out. “Dag blasted wolf. He’s killed Pearlie.” The man shot into the air. Kolin ran off into the trees, pieces of flesh still hanging from his mouth.

Furious about being disturbed, he decided to forget about the farm animals and get revenge on the five who killed him and he knew how he was going to do it. Instead of heading for Pinea, he ran towards Carmia, which was Braden’s hometown. There was someone there that he could use. He knew exactly how to plot his revenge. As he ran, his red eyes beamed. Blood dripped down his face onto the ground below. Revenge! As a last thought, he ran back to the cabin; the family sat around a table. The wolf roared. The father ran outside and aimed the gun. Kolin attacked from the side. While the family watched in horror, the wolf mutilated and devoured the father. His screams of agony echoed through the still night. The others barred the door. Kolin sneered. Tempted to go through the window and destroy them, he changed his mind and headed for Carmia.

              *  *  *

     Just as Braden predicted, a thick fog rolled in, settling over and around Lake Pentip. Corin and Fingal brought two fish they’d caught and dropped them into a black pan sitting atop two rocks next to the fire. “I caught that fish,” Fingal boasted. “I caught it, didn’t I, Corin? You didn’t catch it. I did. You caught the small one, didn’t you, Corin? Tell them, Corin, tell them.”

     “Would you shut up!” Corin barked at him. “Yes, you caught the biggest fish. I didn’t. Does that make you happy?”

     Fingal’s head drooped. “I was just proud, Corin. I hardly ever catch a fish.”

     Seeing that he’d hurt the dwarf’s feelings, Corin apologized. “I’m tired tonight, Fingal.”

     Fingal managed a smile and sniffed the sizzling fish.

     Gorbal smelled the food frying over glowing embers. “That does smell tasty. Is there enough for us all?” He nudged Cafania.

     She looked at the thickening fog. “Let’s move closer to the fire. The air has a chill to it.”

     Gorbal turned a page in his book. “I’ll be over shortly. I’ve got two more pages to read. Go on. I’ll be fine. Save me a bite of the fish.”

     Cafania walked over to the fire. She rubbed her fingers together and took a peek at the fish. “This looks like it’s done. I think there’s enough for us all to have a hefty portion, thanks to Fingal’s catch. Gorbal, come and get something to eat.” When she turned to wave him over, she couldn’t see him. “Where’s Gorbal? He was just reading his book. Now he’s gone.”

     “He probably went to the lake to relieve himself,” Corin said. “I’ll go and find him. You have some of that fish. Mine tastes better by the way.”

     Corin headed for the lake. He disappeared into the mist, which only grew thicker, the closer he moved to the water. “Gorbal! Gorbal!” Corin tripped on something. “What was that?” Hardly able to see, he reached down and felt a body. “Gorbal, is that you? This is no time to be taking a nap. Gorbal?” Corin shook the gnome. “Cafania! Braden!” He stood and shouted to the others. “Down by the lake. I found him. I think he’s dead.”

     Cafania dropped her bite of fish and rushed towards Corin’s voice. Braden beat her there.

     “Someone hit him on the head,” Corin said. “He’s alive. Let’s take him back to the camp.”

     “If someone hit him on the head, then that means we’re not alone out here.” Braden grabbed Gorbal’s legs while Corin held his arms.

Cafania walked along beside them, her arm on Braden’s. “Wait, where’s his Book of Spells? Does he have it with him? Is it in his pocket? He was reading it when I last saw him.”

Braden searched the gnome’s pockets. “Not in here. It might have fallen from his hands when he fell. I’ll go back and search for it. You and Corin drag him back to the fire. I’ll be right back.”

“Wait, Braden.” Cafania called after him, but he’d already vanished.

Corin and Cafania lay Gorbal near the fire. She rubbed his arms and legs, trying to wake him.

“Found it!” Braden’s voice seeped through the fog to the camp. He came running back with the book in his hands. “He must have dropped it.”

“Thank goodness,” Cafania said. “What about the Healing Stone?”  She grabbed Gorbal’s pack and searched through it. “Ah, here it is, down at the bottom.”

“We’d better stay near the fire tonight.” Corin looked down at the unconscious gnome. “Wake up, Gorbal.” He shook him back and forth. “Fingal, get me some water.”

“I’m not going to the lake. It’s foggy and something’s out there.”

“You stupid dwarf. Get me some water from my water bag.” Corin sighed with frustration. Fingal ran off to get it.

Gorbal opened his eyes. “What happened? Why does my head hurt?” He reached up and felt the lump.

“Someone knocked you out from behind. I thought they were looking for the Healing Stone or for your Book of Spells, but they didn’t take either of them.” Corin glanced at Cafania. “Here are both things.” Each handed the gnome his possessions.

“We should take shifts. I’ll go first,” Braden said. “I’ll keep watch for two hours and then I’ll wake up Cafania. Fingal and Gorbal, if you’re feeling all right, can take shifts when it’s your turn.”

All others agreed and lay on their bedrolls. Braden’s watch passed uneventfully, aside from the usual fog noises and night creatures.

              *  *  *

The wolf crept into the village of Carmia. Darkness hovered; clouds moved across the two moons, creeping like gray snails. Kolin thought back to Braden’s conversation, describing Bramber. The wolf crept from hut to hut, peeking inside each for the woman. He found her; her long golden hair flowed over the side of the bed.  He entered the hut and stood watching her in silence from a dark corner.

Bramber sensed something evil and opened her eyes. She saw the wolf’s long teeth inches from her face. She was about to scream when Kolin clamped his jaws around her throat. Terrified, she stopped moving, wondering why the wolf wasn’t ripping her throat out. After several minutes he released her. She bounced out of bed and ran to the corner of her hut, cowering in fear. The wolf inched his way towards her. He motioned for her to climb on his back. His raspy voice croaked, “On my back, woman.” Bramber understood, knowing the wolf could kill her any time he wanted. Rather than die, she saddled the wolf, her bare legs rubbing against his filthy fur. The fact that the wolf spoke didn’t surprise her.

Kolin left the hut with Bramber woman clinging to his back. He darted through the woods for an unknown destination.

                 *  *  *

Braden woke Corin up and then he lay down to sleep. Thoughts entered his mind, keeping him awake. He sensed that Bramber was somehow in danger.

Corin’s two hour shift passed with boredom. He struggled to stay awake, being lulled to sleep by the incessant chirping of crickets. When Cafania took over, Corin fell asleep within seconds.

She leaned against a boulder and slid to a sitting position. The fog was dissipating and she could see down to Lake Pentip. Hills surrounded the water on three sides. Though she tried not to think about it, her mind kept wandering back to Gorbal’s mysterious attack. Toads croaked as they sat at the water’s edge, calling to one another. “There must be millions of them.” The sound was overwhelming. She covered her ears, but it didn’t help. Off in the distance a wolf howled. A tap on the shoulder made her jump. She turned around with a scream and saw Gorbal standing there. “Are you ready to do this? Is your head all right?”

“Yeah, sure. I’m all right. You go and get some sleep. The sun will be up in a while. By the way, will you hold onto my Book of Spells and the Healing Stone during my shift, just in case?”

“Just in case of what?” Cafania stood and brushed off her pants.

“You know, just in case whoever or whatever it is tries something again. Don’t worry,” he said seeing the look of fear cross her face. “Go to sleep.”

Cafania pulled her bedroll closer to the fire and lay on top of it, curling in a ball for warmth. Her eyes stayed open, keeping watch on Gorbal. After a while she gave up and fell asleep.

Gorbal gazed at the fire. Sparks popped and floated into the dark sky. A sharp object jabbed into his back.

“Come with me, gnome. Keep quiet, or you die.”

Without arguing or speaking, Gorbal let the man guide him over the hill and away from the camp. He realized soon enough that it was a knife poking at his back.

“Stop. Now hand over that Book.”

“What book?” Gorbal feigned innocence.

The knife dug in deeper. “Don’t try it with me, gnome. You know very well what book; the Book of Spells. Hand it over.”

“Can I turn around and see who I’m dealing with?”

“No funny stuff. This knife is razor sharp, mind you.” The man snarled.

Gorbal turned to look. His gaze moved upwards. “How tall are you anyway, seven feet?” The man nodded. “Do you have a name?”

“I suppose it won’t hurt to tell you since I’m going to kill you soon as I get that blasted book. My name’s Bofot Grink.”

“Bofot Grink? That’s an unusual name.” Gorbal noticed the man had scraggly gray hair and a beard down to his waist, filled with crawling bugs and dried bits of food. His teeth were rotting in his mouth and his breath reeked of putridness. “I don’t have the book.”

“What do you mean, you don’t have it? I saw you with it not long ago. I’m near ready to slit your throat from ear to ear. Now tell me where it is.” Grink snapped and whopped Gorbal across the face.

“I told you I don’t have it with me. Feel my pockets if you don’t believe me.” Gorbal pulled his arms away from his sides and rubbed his cheek.

Grink ran his rough, dirty hands up and down Gorbal’s body.

Gorbal flinched at the man’s touch. “Who are you anyway and what do you want with my Book of Spells?”

“You don’t have the book. You stupid gnome! Where is it? Did you bury it somewhere? Does one of your friends back there have it? That’s it.  You gave it to one of them, probably the woman. I’ll take great pleasure in slitting her throat.”

“Don’t be too hasty. I put it somewhere safe. If you want me to show you the book, then you need to answer some questions for me.” Gorbal reached inside himself to find courage to go on.

The giant of a man sighed. “What do you want to know?”

“Where are you from?” Gorbal began the questions.

“I’m from the swamp lands of Orgill. I heard about your book from a stranger that came through our village doing trade. I’ve been tracking you since you left with that woman, keeping my distance. Did you know there’s a wolf following you?” Grink sat on a rock and scratched his beard.

“What do you want the book for then? Do you even know what it does? It is a book of spells, but I am the only one who can do them. They’re gnome spells, not for humans.”

“Then I want you to use your spell book and get me some money.” Grink yawned.

Gorbal kept Grink distracted as Corin snuck up behind him. He smashed a large rock down on Grink’s skull. Gorbal heard the crack as the rock broke in half. The giant fell backwards, unconscious.

Corin grabbed Gorbal by the hand and dragged him back to camp. “Everyone up. Our mysterious guest has surfaced. We’ve got about ten minutes before he wakes up and he’s not going to be happy.”

They gathered their belongings, put out the fire and ran down the trail towards Pinea. After two hours the sun burst over the horizon. “Let’s take a break,” Cafania said, huffing and puffing. She dropped her back and fell to the ground. “You guys can go on if you want, but I’m resting.”

They collapsed beside her. “Tell us about our mystery person.” Braden took a deep breath.

“It’s a giant of a man, but old. Smells smoothing awful, but he’s strong,” Corin said.

“What does he want with Gorbal?” Braden rolled onto his back.

“He wants my book. He actually wants me to make money for him using my book,” Gorbal said. “He’s a big oaf from the swamps. How long until Pinea?”

Fingal whined. “Let’s stay here for a while. I can hardly breathe.”

“Good, then shut up. I’ll find us something to eat.” Corin searched among the stones and boulders. He caught several lizards and found a handful of grubs under some granite rocks. “Breakfast is served.” He dropped the wriggling creatures in the center of the group.

Cafania looked at the lizards with broken necks and bulging eyeballs. “No thanks. I’ll pass.” She watched in disgust as Corin and Braden popped some grubs in their mouths and chewed.

Gorbal opened his hands for some. He bit off a lizard’s head and chomped away on it.

“What about you, Fingal? Will it be lizard or grubs?” Corin tossed a lizard at the dwarf.

“I want grubs.” Fingal switched, leaving the dead lizard near Cafania. “This is for you,” he said.

“No, thank you.” She turned her head so she didn’t have to watch them eat. “Someone’s coming. We’ve got company.”

Gorbal gulped and choked on a grub. “It’s Bofot Grink, the giant. He’s coming to get me.” The gnome stood and ran up the trail.

“He’s probably after me, or will be once he figures out I hit him on the head.” Corin slipped his pack on and ran after Gorbal.

“Wait for us,” Braden shouted. He took Fingal’s and Cafania’s hands. “Come on you two.”

“Wait till I get my hands on you, you stupid gnome. When I find out who bashed me on the head, I’ll rip his arms and legs off. You’re all gonna die.” Grink grunted as he darted after them.

Corin stopped running. “Wait a minute. There are five of us and only one of him. What are we afraid of?” The others stopped.

“Um, he’s twice the size of us and he’s moving right towards us,” Cafania said.

“We’ll be okay. Stick with me on this.” Corin dropped his sack and pulled out his knife.

It took only a few moments for the ugly giant to catch up with them. He panted, trying to catch his breath. “Which one of you hit me?” He eyeballed the group. “I know it wasn’t you, gnome.” He pulled a sharp dagger from his belt. “Well, I guess if you won’t tell me, I’ll have to kill all of you.”

Braden and Corin backed away and the others ran to hide behind a rock.

“So it was one of you two,” Grink said.

“Has anyone told you that you’re one ugly man? Your breath stinks too,” Corin said, plugging his nose with his fingers.

“Many people have told me that.” Grink grinned, exposing his brown teeth. “But none of them have lived to tell anyone else about it.” He moved closer to Corin and Braden.

Braden removed his knife from its sheath. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Grink was within striking distance. He sliced the air with his knife, coming inches from Corin’s face. A gray-furred wolf lunged at the giant, pulling him down.

Corin and Braden stood in shock as the wolf ripped the man’s back off. Pieces of flesh and skin dripped from the wolf’s mouth. The man screamed in intense pain as the wolf tore into his thighs.

“Come on,” Corin said.

The five travelers grabbed their things and ran. When they’d reached a safe distance, Fingal stopped and looked back. There was nothing much left of the giant now. All Fingal saw were the wolf’s red eyes, glowing. “It’s him. It’s that wolf again.”

They didn’t rest again until they’d reached Pinea.

              *  *  *

 After Kolin had devoured the man, he gained more strength and roared. His voice echoed off the surrounding mountains. He’d dropped Bramber in a patch of grass before his attack and ran back to where she lay.

She knew she couldn’t outrun him and he’d have picked up her scent had she tried. Bile rose in her throat when the wolf returned with blood caked on his paws and legs and bits of skin dangling from his teeth.

Kolin motioned for her to climb on his back again. “Hurry up!” He ran toward Pinea, now certain of his destination. Before he reached the village he searched for and found a cave. He dropped Bramber off, staring at her. “Don’t leave.” She understood; if she left the cave, she would die. The wolf ran toward Pinea and watched as Braden and the others arrived and were greeted by the villagers.

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