Nothing in the Songs: part 2
The swamp smelled of sulfur and rot. Noxious fumes bubbled up around me. Cold muck clung to my bare feet. If those brigands hadn't stolen the boots from my corpse, this bog surely would have. Razor grass sawed at my flesh with every step.
A screech penetrated my ears and I lifted my head to see what it was. A winged devil swooped low and nearly took my head off. When it circled around to make another pass, I readied my swords. It screamed again, aiming its talons for me. When I cut it down, it tumbled into the muck and writhed. It thrashed its bat-like wings in the water and called out wordlessly into the endless dusk.
I remembered what the old man had told me. You can never know what listens out there in the dark. I silenced the wretched creature with a cut across its neck. Standing still, I let the water settle and listened. A breeze rustled the reeds. Swamp gas bubbled up into the air. A distant call of another of these creatures.
Then something else sounded in the swamp. A low rumble. The growling of some large beast. Reeds thrashed behind me and something exceedingly big dropped into the water from a muddy bank. I slowly backed into a thick stand of reeds, careful not to disturb the water. Once I was concealed, I watched the corpse of the winged creature.
Massive jaws clamped around it and thrashed side to side. When the body whipped one way and then the other, a limb broke off in the creature's toothy maw. The remainder of the corpse flung into deeper water and another set of jaws snapped it up, pulling it under.
Two more armored reptilian creatures slid from the far bank into the water, leaving only their nostrils and eyes above its murky surface, and suddenly, I recognized them.
There was no use fighting against so many. I decided to sneak away, and continue on. From that point forward, I made sure every step did not fall into the jaws of a massive drake. I walked for what seemed like days, though there could be no way of telling. The sun never rose, and it’s light never fully disappeared over the horizon. Still, I camped when the ground was dry enough to sleep on. I used a flint I found in the goblin’s camp to build a fire. The reeds flamed up rather quickly, though dry wood was scarce in these parts.
Just when I thought I would never be dry again, I reached the end of the marshes. A dark woodline lay ahead. More of the black bark trees I found when first arriving here and a kind of thorned spruce.
But when I stepped into the forest, a baby’s cry reached my ears. The sound rose up from the reeds and the mud, calling me back to the marshland. Could a child really be trapped in there? I thought about leaving it. The baby’s parents must have abandoned it for a reason, and I would do the same.
I turned again into the forest when I heard the cry again. I realized I could not leave a child in that swamp with all those drakes and winged creatures. I walked back down the muddy bank and waded again into that stinking water. I followed my ears, and I was sure other evil things would be doing the same.
Deeper and deeper into the swamp I trudged, but the crying did not seem to be growing closer. I brushed reeds aside, took several steps, and froze to listen for the baby or anything else that might be lurking here. I repeated this process for an eternity.
Finally, I reached a clearing in the reeds with a small raft floating in its center. Floating on the reed raft, a bundle of cloth squirmed and let out a wail.
I ventured out into the mud and water until my knees were submerged. The mud dropped into much deeper water so I stood in the shallows and stretched out to the raft but I could not reach it. The baby’s cries grew louder and louder. I tried to soothe the child as I used my sword’s crossguard to hook the reed raft, pulling it to me. I scooped up the baby and cradled it in my arms.
Its swaddle was damp and had smudged mud in dark streaks here and there. Mud on the baby’s plump cheeks as well. I bounced and shushed to calm the child, but nothing worked.
I am no nursemaid and I have not the time to find one. What am I doing?
I looked about me for clues of who had left the poor thing here, but found nothing. No tracks, no sign. The baby went on crying louder and louder until it sounded as if it laughed.
But it was laughing now. The child had begun to laugh loudly and as heartily as a grown man in an alehouse. When I looked back to the child, it had a curly brown beard covering its plump cheeks and sharp teeth in its open laughing mouth.
Gasping, I dropped the child into the muddy water, bubbles boiling up from where it splashed. Laughing. Every bubble was a laugh. I felt the creature slither past my leg and swim deeper into the swamp, a trail of laughing bubbles behind it.
This must have been a changeling. I had heard tales of them stealing infants and putting themselves in the child’s place. No matter, though. There was no harm done other than lost time.
But when I turned back to the path to the forest, a massive drake blocked my way. I readied my swords and the drake rumbled its growl to make the surface of the water dance away in growing shivering rings.
Only one. Perhaps I have a chance.
“You are blocking my path,” I said.
“Your path,” the drake scoffed. “Nothing here belongs to you. Not even your flesh.”
The drake lunged, catapulting itself forward on its short legs. Its long body whipped through the air and I barely managed to move out of its way. I rolled into the mud and slipped when I tried to regain my footing. The drake had trouble too. It appeared to be a clumsy, lumbering creature on land or shallow water.
As it tried to turn to face me, I jumped on it’s back, stabbing both swords down. Their points hardly penetrated the drake's armor, even with all my force behind them. I cursed the goblin’s shoddy craftsmanship as the beast flung me into the deep water.
Cold water filled my lungs and I floundered up, coughing and sputtering it out. The drake growled and slipped into the deep water, slithering toward me. I kicked over to the shallows, but just before I arrived there, the drake disappeared beneath the surface. I held my swords between myself and where I had seen the drake go under. I tried opening my eyes beneath the surface, but there was no sense. The sky was too dark and the water was too murky to see anything.
I scrambled back onto the slippery, submerged shelf. Then, the drake exploded from the water, open jaws leading a massive armored body. I stabbed into the pale fleshy mouth. The point of my sword stuck into the roof of the beast's jaws and I lodged the pommel under its tongue.
The drake thrashed its head side to side, trying to remove the sword. With a warcry, I once again leaped onto the creatures back. I gripped the drake’s rough scales to stay on and this time, I drew my knife. I swung the blade under the drake’s head and plunged its tip between two of the larger scales on the underside of the neck.
Dark blood spilled out onto my hand and the drake’s roars quickly became gurgling whimpers. The thrashing stopped and I flopped into the mud, panting.
After some much-needed rest, I attempted to remove the sword from the drake’s mouth. When I finally got it out, it had been bent nearly in half. Unusable, so I tossed it away. I can go on with only one sword and a good knife. I did remove some of the thick drake hide and bundled it on my back with some hunks of meat. I began the long journey back out of the swamp and once again, made it to dry land at the forest’s edge.
I built a large fire to dry out with the abundance of lumber there. The drake meat was delicious once it had been cooked properly. With a full belly, I set to work on the drake skin in the hope to make a sort of armored jerkin.
As I sat there in the dusk, drying, and sewing drake skin, I thought about this legendary place I found myself with no legends told. At least none that I had heard.
“Nothing in the songs about this place.”
Thank you for reading. Make sure to stop by next Friday for part 3 of this 6 part series. I wanted to write something a little more along the lines of traditional dark fantasy but, of course, with my twist on it.
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Until next week,