🎧 Bedtime Story Podcast #19
Chapter 3 – The Excursion
When Henrik woke up early the next morning, a wave of guilt flooded over him. The thought of killing a child, the child of a king that he had a great deal of respect and admiration for, was something that made Henrik feel sick. He sat up and looked at Boevill who was already awake, staring at Henrik in the eyes.
“I don’t want to bring you towards danger,” Henrik said. He began to stroke Boevill on top of his huge skull.
Boevill sniffed and licked Henrik’s hand.
Another memory of Farmer Bernsen popped into Henrik’s mind. It was from just before Henrik had to force the farmer to take some money in return for Boevill…
“Nothin’ these Fighting Hounds like more than a good fight,” Farmer Bernsen had said. “A good fight, mind you, not a pointless one. It’s deep within ‘em, it’s their life’s purpose to defend the innocent and defeat the wicked, or protect those that need protectin’. If he can help you on your travels, Master Henrik, then I’m sure he would live a satisfied life.”
As Henrik now looked at Boevill, and as the sun began to rise over the village in the distance, Henrik was sure that Boevill smiled, and he nudged Henrik again and again, until Henrik finally stood up.
Henrik did not have much to pack. He had some basic garments that he would wear beneath his bearskin armour, and he had one spare pair of clothes in case he had to clean his current ones. He had them neatly and tightly packed in a small pouch that he would tie around his thick waist. He had three weapons. The first was a metal staff that he had found in an old and abandoned lair amongst the territory of the Wargorn Bears. It was tall and silver and thick, and never seemed to take on a dent or a scratch. The second was a machete that had been gifted to him by a group of underground creatures known as the Dwardians, and it was made from a particularly sturdy and energetic metal known as Garamanthium. The Dwardians had forged this machete in their fires of war, and Henrik had not yet come up against anything it would not cut through. The third weapon was a bow with a set of arrows, and every time Henrik touched the bow, he would think of his father who had first taught him how to hunt. The bow was tall and wooden and beautiful, and it had been passed down to him from his father, who would never tell Henrik where he had found it, or who had given it to him.
Henrik also kept two knives at his waist and two in small sheaths in the side of his big bearskin boots. He didn’t think of the knives as weapons, unless he was ever caught off guard and forced to use them. Henrik had not been caught off guard for a while, and the only time he would take the knives from his side or out of his boots, was when he wanted to make sure they were sharp enough to make a hole in anything he wanted.
Henrik put the staff across his back, held there by rope made from the vines of Elnard Trees. The vines were light and tough, they would cling to anything that touched them, and another rope made from the same vines kept a dark, woody-looking quiver full of dark arrows over his right shoulder blade. He usually carried the bow in his left hand, and the machete went inside a brown sheath that rested on his left leg.
And finally, sitting on top of the piles of gold coins that rested at the back of his cave, there sat a helmet made from Elgorn Dragon hide. The base was metal, a traditional warrior’s helmet that covered Henrik’s head and nose and chin and cheeks, and over the metal, Henrik had wrapped the silvery skin from an Elgorn Dragon that he had found in the woods. He had not known who had killed the dragon, or if the dragon had died of natural causes, but the skin was so tough that even his machete made of Garamanthium had struggled to cut through it. Henrik had even taken clear skin from over the eyeball of the dragon and placed it over the holes in the helmet through which his own eyes could see. Whenever he wore that helmet, he felt protected, and he knew it was time for battle.
As Henrik raised the helmet and went to place it on his head, he saw a vision of Gallaisha flash across his mind. “I will be with you in spirit,” she said. It was as if she was standing right in front of him, floating in the air. “You must kill the child, even though it feels such a terrible thing to do. If you take that one life, you will be saving hundreds of thousands, and hundreds of thousands more from a life of slavery.”
Henrik nodded, still uncertain whether he could kill the child of a king that he would also be risking his life to protect, and as he placed the helmet on his head, he felt the energy of that fallen Elgorn Dragon fill his body and flood his veins, and it was as if every dragon who had ever lived, now also lived in Henrik. He stooped down and spoke to his gold, and he blessed the gold in the way the Dermon Dragons had always showed him:
“Gold, Gold, Gold, I thank you for your presence,
I thank you for your services and power and your blessings.
I ask that you do multiply, that you stay safe and thrive,
And I allow the fullness of your presence in my life.”
Dermon Dragons were known for being the most attractive to gold. While other dragons seemed to spend their life chasing it, Dermon Dragons had a way of bringing it to themselves with ease. They were not as large and physically powerful as the Elgorn Dragons, but more powerful in their minds and spirits, and as Henrik stood and blessed his gold a final time, he turned, and without noticing, the mountain that was alive around him shifted its stone to protect the gold from onlookers, and the bags grew slightly fatter.
Henrik carried a bag of gold on him at all times. He was not one for luxurious living, but he did like to feel the gold pressing against his unusually large leg.
“Let’s go,” Henrik said to Boevill, and together the two companions ran down the side of the mountain and began to run up and out of the valley that Henrik’s village lay within.
The Kingdom of Argad could be reached within a day, if Henrik ran continuously. He knew the lands well, and could even smell where the water was dwelling in largest amounts, and where food could be most likely consumed on the way. First they ran alongside the Rivers of Gengark that were always full of fish, and then they passed two waterfalls and a spring that lay on the borders of the Kenwick Woodland – home to a community of creatures known as Nerromynths, who were very friendly with Henrik, but absolutely terrifying to anyone else who came close to their borders.
The Nerromynths were not much larger than Henrik’s shins, but they were able to fly with such speed, and they had such sharp claws and teeth, that it was rare they ever came across visitors. They were one of the few creatures in the entire land that had never asked for Henrik’s help to fight off invaders. There was just one time where Henrik saved one of their children from a nasty injury, by finding a herbal remedy amongst the trees that even the Nerromynths had forgotten about as time had gone on. Since then, they had told Henrik that if he ever needed their help, they would be by his side, ready to fight.
Sometimes Henrik and Boevill would come across deer as they ran over fields, down hills, through woods, valleys and even tunnels. “Stay focused,” Henrik would say as Boevill began to stare and salivate. “I know where we can stop for food, and those deer might be too fast for you.”
After a morning of running, the two of them approached a stream, and ahead of the stream was a forest full of trees that looked like small people with many arms. The trees were shorter than Henrik, and Henrik knew this to be the Woodland of The Cherishers. The Cherishers looked like tiny people, about the size of Henrik’s hand, and whenever they would find something shiny, they would cherish it forever, and the appreciation they would feel over anything shiny would often sustain them for a lifetime.
Henrik looked to his right and could still see his home in the far distance. Mount Bergon stood tall and strong, and it was believed that if you could see the mountain, wherever you were in the land, then Henrik could see you.
Henrik reached inside his pocket, and he took out a gold coin as Boevill drank furiously from the stream.
He saw, from a behind a tree, there was a tiny young Cherisher, so young that it may not have found anything to cherish yet. It was dressed in green cloth, and it was staring at Henrik with wide green eyes. It looked like a boy, timid with brown hair, and Henrik suspected it was still searching for its first thing to cherish.
Boevill snapped his head up and grunted, and stared at the little Cherisher.
“It’s okay,” Henrik said to Boevill. “Keep drinking.” Boevill looked around for a little while, and the overhanging flesh that covered his mouth was flapping around and dripping slightly.
“It’s okay,” Henrik said again. Boevill smashed his head and mouth back into the stream.
Henrik tossed the gold coin towards the young Cherisher, and the young one quickly leapt out from behind the tree, snatched the coin, carried it in both arms and hid again. Then Henrik heard it begin to cry. It made little whimpering sounds, and when it spoke, its voice was soft and high.
“Is this a gift?” Henrik heard the young one say from behind the tree.
“Yes,” Henrik said. “For you. I know you will cherish it.”
“Thank you!” The young Cherisher appeared, holding the coin to his chest, and now it was as if the young boy’s little body was shining with gold. “I will remember this forever,” he said. “Thank you.”
The boy had a wide beaming smile, and with his wide green eyes, he stared at Henrik again.
“Are you Henrik? Henrik The Defender? I have heard of you! It is because of you living close by that we are feared by the Goldsnatchers. You saved us from them once, I hear the stories. We thank you, Henrik, we thank you.”
The young Cherisher bowed his head, and Henrik felt a wave of energy come flooding out from the trees, and it seemed to surround Henrik’s body, and then it flowed into Boevill.
Boevill stood up straight again and stared at the young one.
“Did you feel that?” Henrik said to Boevill. “That was the food I was talking about, but I didn’t realise there would be so much of it.”
“Thank you,” the young Cherisher said again, and he slowly walked away into the woods.
Now as Henrik and Boevill ran, it was as if they were almost flying. Something had moved out from that young Cherisher into them, and now they had boundless energy. Henrik felt as if he wasn’t using any strength. Boevill felt as if he was being carried by the wind, and it was before night began to fall, that the two of them came in sight of the Kingdom of Argad.
“There it is,” Henrik said, looking at the castle and grey walls in the distance. “Do you need a drink?”
Boevill didn’t respond. It seemed he still had plenty of energy.
“There is a small stream nearby,” Henrik said. “We should find water.”
Henrik stared for a moment at the kingdom in the distance. There were huge walls surrounding the city, and a huge grey castle sitting behind the main gates on the left. The turrets could be seen, and green and yellow flags that represented the kingdom stood on poles above each turret. It usually warmed Henrik’s heart to see it, but this time, as the sun was beginning to set and the sky was turning orange, there was something darker about the castle than normal. It looked greyer, or heavier, and if anything, Henrik wanted to stay away for a little while longer.
Something in his heart seemed to flinch and become tense at the thought of approaching the city now. Perhaps it was because he knew that once the sun went down, the guards were told to fire on anything that came close to the walls. There were certain creatures in the woods that were not welcome in the city, especially around babies who were small enough to be eaten in one mouthful. Henrik wanted to wait, but the alternative was not free from dangers.
“We will have to be careful in these woods,” Henrik said to Boevill, as he nodded towards the woodland to their left. “There might be soldiers on patrol, even Goldsnatchers or thieves that want to take their chances on anyone willing to go beyond the borders of the kingdom. We should move slowly now, and quietly. We will approach the kingdom in the morning.”
As Henrik began to move off into the woods, Boevill stayed still.
“This way, Boevill,” Henrik said, quietly. “There is water close by, and it is getting dark. I know where there is shelter.”
Boevill turned his head to look at Henrik, and then turned to look towards the castle in the distance. Boevill started to growl.
“Boevill…” Henrik said. “What are you doing?”
Henrik thought of Farmer Bernsen again. “These dogs, Master Henrik, they know things…”
Boevill’s growls started to become louder. The sky was turning darker, and it was as if there was something within that castle that Boevill could smell. And it was something he wanted to attack.
“Boevill, don’t you move!” Henrik said, and as he said the word ‘move’, Boevill exploded into a run, and he began to leap and bound over rocks and grassy mounds, and he was disappearing into the distance so quickly that Henrik had to start sprinting too.
“Boevill! No! It isn’t safe!” And as Henrik sprinted and tried as hard as he could to catch up with Boevill, Henrik sensed something moving out of the trees to their left, and it began to chase them both down.