Dance of the Wyverns
The Thinning Veil
Location: Tegwyn Tor, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: October 3550
Hawke looked up and nodded. “True enough…” He crossed his arms on the chair back and rubbed his chin as he thought. “Considering the size and numbers of wyverns we have seen, we need to find the nest fast. Several small fast groups. They go out, find the nest, hurry back here where the rest of the men will wait, and then a concentrated force goes to deal with the nest. While the scout groups are out looking, the men here should try and find all the oil and pitch to be had....it might be a large nest.”
At Hawke’s last statement regarding the oil and pitch, Brychan looked doubtful but Mikhael grinned, “Ahead of you on that one, my friend. I requested a large quantity of warfire be loaded on the caravan following us. We will have the supplies to do the job. Also, the cave wyvern, the hogof, tend to den up at night to conserve warmth. It will not be easy, but I suggest once the lair or lairs are located that we rest up here until full dark has fallen and the things have settled for the night.” Mika shook his head, “Considering their odd behavior, this assumes they will follow their normal behavior and go to ground for the night.”
The caravan, complete with the supplies Mikhael had ordered and the Chief Battle Surgeon along with a members of his senior staff, arrived while he was still meeting with Brychan and Hawke. Kiernan MacCeàrda assessed the patients and immediately recommended the best treatment and a large dose of merasha tea in order to send them off to sleep while they were transported back to Stormholm Caer where he had both the personnel and supplies needed for further treatment. After a short discussion, it was also decided that Tesni and her children should go as well. Once the wyverns’ nests had been eradicated, they could return home. In the meantime, Brychan would detail a small group of men to stay behind to care for the livestock and keep watch on the family’s property.
Search parties equipped with the means to burn out nest should they be lucky enough to locate any that were also inhabited headed out. If nests were located but empty, they would be marked and another team would return to burn them out. Mikhael winced as he gave the orders. He was not an intrinsically cruel man so burning animals alive, even ones as nasty as wyverns, went against the grain with him. But, the only way to deter more wyverns from nesting in the area was for them to smell the burned out nests. To date, it was the only thing that seemed to cause the animals distress and none would remain where a burning had occurred.
Finally, the meddyg was ready to return to Stormholm with his patients although he was leaving several field medics behind. Before he left, Brychan summoned Kiernan over to speak with him, Mikhael and Hawke. Pointing at the wagons, the Marshal said in a low voice, “I believe the man that saved the children may be a Traveler, a sassenach.”
“Traveler!” Mikhael glanced at the medical conveyance, a wagon especially constructed with suspended cots that could be used to move the injured or ill. They were adaptable vehicles that could be combined with others into a mobile field hospital or triage units.
Brychan nodded at Mikhael’s response, “Yes. From what the medic, Rhysa, said he stated his name as Sergeant Coyle Richard. Odd name and might just be foreign to Cymeria, but his clothing is also strange and, again per the girl, his accent and words were odd as well.”
Mikhael stared at the First Marshal for a few moments. Brychan was not in the habit of jumping to conclusions. However, Travelers were so rare as to cause a majority of the population to consider them the stuff of myths and legends. Travelers were Menfolk but not of Aereth or, if there was truth in the tales, even of Gaia. They were unfortunate souls caught by gates and portals on other worlds and deposited on Gaia. Or, so Mikhael had read, they were brought to this world by ancient portals constructed by archadepts in Gaia’s ancient past and periodically caught the unwary on other worlds like flies in a spider’s web.
“Wherever the lad is from,” Kiernan stated firmly, “he is my patient for now and he saved the children’s lives.”
Hawke glanced back to the doctor from where he had been looking at the wagon housing the suspected traveller. “Have a care, Healer. Travellers can be as dangerous as the Wyverns we are facing but with less chance to see the danger coming before it is too late…” Hawke’s eyes moved to Mikhael’s. “Should we put an escort on him? I know he is injured, but letting Travellers speak freely to people can be unsafe…”
Mikhael glanced from one man to the other, “Marshal, order an escort for the healer and send Laryn to me. She will return with the healer and his patients...and carry messages to the Seneschal and Lady Oksana.”
Mikhael reined Ceffyl in at the crest of the rise. He, Hawke and their small team had eradicated a small lair on the eastern edge of the tor. The creatures had been found in a small rockfall cave with too many crevices to make a burnout easy. Now, they were picking their way under the bright light of Marnwr, the massive three ringed moon, and listening for any sign of the animals remaining. Shadows danced under the moon’s light limning fearsome faces and figures onto the spires and towers of rock. Mikhael’s big gray snorted as Hawke drew rein beside him. The High Lord really wanted to call a halt to the hunt, return to the farmhouse and have a cup of hot tea. However, for the sake of the family that depended on them and the Guard to protect them, he could not give that order.
“If we find nothing by the time we reach the western flank of the tor, Hawke, we will return to the farm and send another search team out in the daylight.” He idly smoothed Ceffyl’s silken mane, “Our riders searched as best they could but may have to return with hounds.” He did not need to add that using dogs to hunt wyverns tended to have negative results for the canines. Harkanus Gaer kept a kennel with search and rescue dogs and several of the really massive boar hounds that had been bred to hunt larger game and whose thick hides offered some protection to wyvern venom. Still, if as seemed to be the case so far, these wyverns had combined forces, even the great boar hounds would likely be killed.
Hawke took a drink of water as they sat their horses. “I don’t relish offering up good dogs to be slaughtered…” His words trailed off as he wrapped an arm against his waterskin to quiet it. “Listen…” Both men strained their ears but in between the soft sounds of the wind there was a hissing and snapping...faint but continuous. “They’re fighting over scraps…”
Mikhael sat as still in the saddle as was possible, glad for the fact that he had taken the time to muffle his horse’s tack with strips of cloth as had the other riders. At first, he considered ordering a strategic retreat. Riding into the middle of a bunch of actively feeding wyverns was the equivalent of suicide. He was also surprised since it was full night that the ones they had been tracking all day were still active. The hogof tended to be militantly diurnal and should have been sleeping at that hour. Then again, the bigger wyverns were not known to band together and hunt humans either.
“The sound is reverberating. They are likely in their lair. We should leave the horses and make our way on foot.” Mikhael said quietly, almost under his breath.
Hawke was already bringing a leg over and sliding quietly to the ground beside his mount. “We...should...be heading back to the farm and coming back with about three times the men we have…” He said almost as quietly. Hawke tugged Ravencall from his belt and readjusted it into a back sling, securing the blade to his back to give him more freedom of movement. Hawke turned and made a few gestures...indicating two men were to take the horse leads and move further away with the mounts so their scent or sounds would not alert the wyverns. “So what’s the plan?”
Mikhael also dropped silently to the ground and tossed Ceffyl’s reins to one of the two men tasked with handling the horses. Stepping over to the pack horse, he pulled off one of the heavy packs that was loaded with small jars of oil and the modified crossbow used to launch them. He turned back to Hawke as he tossed the pack over his shoulder. “First, we will need to ascertain where they are, then make sure all entrances are covered. After that, it will be the same routine as before...you and I will get close enough to shoot the warfire arrows in and stay ready to fend off any escapees while our archers light their arrows and fire into and around the cave.” The method had worked for the two lairs they had destroyed earlier. It would hopefully work a third time.
Hawke inhaled but did not quite release it as a sigh. “You realize that this is definitely not a duty for the High Lord of the land?” He then fell in beside Mikhael, raising one arm and waving it forward slowly to let the rest of the men know to follow silent and at a walk to remain as quiet as possible. The archers had arrows nocked and were looking around nervously but the bows in their hands did not shake in tribute to their steadiness.
Shifting the heavy pack into a more comfortable position, Mikhael glanced at his friend. There was still a trace of humor in his voice and expression when he answered, “If helping to protect my people and their land is not one of my duties, then what is? I cannot do my duty from an ivory tower.” The smile in his voice took any sting out of his words. Hawke was devoted to his duty as Ryndar and he felt one of his primary duties was to keep the High Lord from harm. Mikhael understood and almost always took Hawke’s counsel seriously even when he felt he could not allow it to sway him from a certain course of action. Besides that, his six years in exile had left him with a thirst for adventure.
Hawke slowly drew his fighting knives and held each one with the blades sticking from the bottom of his fists. The group continued toward the slope of rock and soon Hawke held up an arm to stop Mikhael since he had the pack of flammables. Hawke crouched and moved on ahead, slowly climbing the slope until he could pause behind an outcropping of rock. The sounds that had drawn them from the valley floor were louder now...hissing and snapping from multiple creatures out of sight in the cavern further up the hillside. Hawke’s nostrils flared and he recoiled a bit at the smell of blood and rotted meat. He turned and gave the slow arm wave to indicate to advance carefully.
For a large man, Mikhael was supremely light on his feet. He moved swiftly and silently, following in Hawke’s footsteps. The breeze wafting down from the tor brought with it the scent of the wyvern’s midden and Mika had a hard time not recoiling in disgust. As a deterrent to approaching their lairs, wyverns, particularly the larger hogofs, would drag their offal outside their lair and leave it. As a further incentive to others to stay away, they would also defecate and urinate in it, marking it with scent. The odor of decaying and decomposing meat along with the wyvern’s own musky stench was enough to stop almost anything in its tracks. Mikhael had even heard tales of the mighty short-faced bears being driven from an area inhabited by wyverns even when desperate for a cave to hibernate in.
Crouching beside Hawke, Mikhael glanced up the steep rocky incline to the tor. The light from the great ringed moon clearly showed the dark outline of an opening in the cliff face. It was wide enough that Hawke and Mikhael should be easily able to shoot the warfire arrows inside, but they would have to get closer. Scaling the stone spires to make sure there were no other openings was not an option. The creatures would hear them. That meant they would have to be prepared should any escape as they were more likely to attack than flee.
Scanning the moonlit landscape, grateful that this was not the period of the month when Marnwr’s glow was dimmed, Mikhael spotted a pair of rocky outcrops a few yards beyond their location. They were further away than he would prefer but they were ideal for their purposes, allowing them a platform to shoot from that also meant they would not interfere with one another’s shots. The assault had to be swift and accurate. Not only would they have to fire the exploding arrows into the cavern, they would have to also be sure the front of the lair was covered in fire to keep the things inside. Nodding to Hawke and the archers, he gestured to the outcrops as their final destination, but first he had to divide the contents of the pack out. Fortunately, the slender arrow-like bottles were carefully packed inside smaller packs within the the big one making it a fairly easy task to ferry them to the outcrops.
Hawke reached and took the smaller pack of arrows after sheathing his knives. He unslung his crossbow and held it in both hands as he waited for Mikhael to finish preparing. At his nod Hawke moved out in a crouch, gliding across the rocky ground toward the outcropping. He reached the base and then threaded his way up to a more open spot higher up, settling down to wait for Mikhael as he rested the pack beside him and pulled the crossbow string back as quietly as he could.
Mikhael hoisted himself up to the top of the outcrop, standing still for a moment to get a sight line on his angle. Lowering his pack, he loosed his crossbow and dropped to the rock in a cross legged sitting position. He was not as good with a bow or crossbow as the Saethwr, the elite marksmen of the Cymerian Guard, but he almost always hit what he was aiming for. Like the marksmen, certain bows were considered a saithwr bow because of the craftsmanship and the design, like the crossbow he carried. It had certain features not found on the bows in use by the regular Guard archers.
The main differences on the crossbow that Mikhael carried, however, was that it had a trigger instead of a lever type tickler. The string was also wrapped with a small bit of feathery yarn that worked as a silencer. The yarn would help stop it from vibrating after the shot, thus eliminating string noise. It was also wider in order to accommodate the warfire arrows.
Mikhael unrolled the thick padded cloth that held the flat box that contained the glass arrows. The glass tubes were blown in a fashion that kept theme from simply shattering if mishandled or even dropped from a low height yet they would shatter on impact when fired from a bow or crossbow. One end narrowed and had a small opening that allowed them to be filled with a light, extremely flammable liquid called warfire. That end was stoppered with a cork, but it could also be outfitted with a wick and lit. The other end was fletched to guide the glass arrows in flight.
Warfire itself was a term that covered several different products although most were distillations from oil, coal tar or peat and left in pure liquid form or thickened so that they would coat a target. In some cases, they were thickened into a gel and packed into containers that would explode on impact. Most variants of warfire could be ignited using water and could not be vanquished by the application of water.
Now settled on the rock, Mikhael signaled Hawke and drew one of the oil filled tubes from its bedding and slipped it into the groove on his crossbow.
Hawke hefted his crossbow and squinted at the cavern in the distance, mentally guessing at the angle and holding the crossbow before he curled his lower lip and whistled like a local bird. He listened and heard the response twice from the other archers to signal they were ready. Hawke then snugged the weapon to his shoulder and fired. The string hummed as the glass bolt arced across the distance and into the black opening, the glass breaking was barely audible but could be heard.
Mikhael’s actions mirrored Hawke’s as he loosed the first shot. He quickly fired two more shots into the cave before allowing a shot to go wide and splatter the entrance with the flammable, slightly viscous liquid that oozed over the rock and clung to its surface. As the archers fired their fire tipped arrows in quick succession, the sounds from within the cavern changed from argumentative trilling and hissing to shrieks of pain and fear that made Mikhael shudder inside. Wyverns were nasty and dangerous animals, but so brutally killing any creature went against his nature. Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee that the lair would not be inhabited again for a long period of time was to burn it out. It was also a fact that once wyverns focused on a particular prey item, in this case the people that lived in the vale, they would seek out that food source to the exclusion of others.
So, in short, they had no choice. Even if they could have driven the wyvern away from the fire with burning, the surviving animals would be dangerous to any people they encountered.
Hawke set his crossbow down and straightened, he started to take a deep breath but it cut off with a cough and he reached for the wrap around his neck, pushing it up and tying it into a mask over his nose and mouth. “I didn’t think the smell could get any worse…” He lifted himself up even more to look across the distance to where the other archers were hidden.
“I certainly doubt that roast wyvern will make any dinner menus,” Mikhael responded as he bagged up the remaining warfire arrows and crossbow, preparing to move up the slope. They could not leave before making sure the creatures were dead. Leaning over, he extended his arm as far as he could to minimize the distance the pack had to drop. Straightening, he started to jump the short distance to the ground when a movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention.
“Hawke!” Mikhael gestured up the slope as he yelled his friend’s name urgently.
From the opening of the cavern, undeterred by the flames surrounding the opening, a partially blackened and smoking thing erupted, a high pitched shriek issuing from its jaws. The two archers nocked arrows, but the animal’s erratic path made it too dangerous for them to shoot as they could just as easily hit either Hawke or Mikhael. Never far from an insane rage at the best of times, the animal had been driven mad by pain. Several feet short of Hawke’s position, with one blackened wing flapping uselessly, the wyvern launched itself at the Ryndar…
Hawke had been kneeling and watching Mikhael preparing to lower himself from the perch. His head shot up at Mikhael’s warning in time to see the whirlwind of flailing wings and open mouth lunging at him. The Ryndar brought up his arms to block the swiping wing arms as the two forms collided and tumbled backward into the flat area behind Hawke. He felt a gust of rank breath from the wyvern’s open mouth as the neck recoiled and it darted its head back at the man beneath it. The metal bracer intercepted the mouth with a metal clank and the jaws squeezed. Hawke was grateful for the metal in the bracer as it held against the jaw pressure and he shoved his other hand against his wrist to brace against the weight of the head…
Mikhael leaped from the rock outcrop where he had been stationed for the assault on the den, allowing himself to drop to the ground and roll to his feet. Running toward Hawke and his attacker, he assessed the situation quickly. A raised hand signaled the archers to stand down as there was simply not a safe shot. They moved forward, however, ready to render assistance at the first opportunity.
Wyvern came in a variety of shapes and sizes with the largest being about the same as the greater birds of prey. Some had four legs, some had two. All had either hooks or clawed appendages on their wings. Wyvern were sexually dimorphic with the males being quite distinct from females. Male wyvern were usually brighter colored and many sported colorful crests or frills that they could expand and contract either to intimidate a rival or make themselves more appealing to a female. Males also had long, supple and segmented scorpion-like tails with a large venomous stinger on its end. Females were usually duller in color and lacked the stinger equipped tail. They were, however, just as lethal. Like some snakes, they had venom sacs at the base of their fangs. Unlike snakes, they were able to inject venom from both upper and lower fangs. Females also tended to be larger than the males, some significantly so.
The wyvern attacking Hawke was a female and one of the largest Mikhael had ever seen. In color, her upper body was a dull green-gold while her underside was lighter gold. Her body was more serpentine than bulky but she sported heavily muscled rear legs with long razor sharp claws. By comparison, her wings, what remained of them, were almost delicate and beautiful. They shimmered green-gold in the light of Gaia’s great three-ringed moon. Each wing sported clawed appendages, two claws on each. The claws were longer, heavier claws were razor sharp and clearly not just ornamental as she expertly slashed at the downed Ryndar with them.
Mikhael observed all this in seconds as he drew Gwerth, his slender duty sword. As always, he had his great sword to hand in a scabbard worn on his back and his great blacksnake whip was coiled at his waist. He was passing fair with throwing knives but the chance of hitting the Ryndar instead of the wyvern dictated his choice of weapon. Just as he brought the weapon down in a powerful two-handed slash aimed at the wyvern’s neck, Hawke and the animal rolled, the Ryndar’s arm still gripped in powerful jaws. Mikhael aborted the swing but the power of it staggered him momentarily off balance. Leaping in, he stabbed at the wyvern’s spine only to be forced to leap over the writhing bundle of man and animal as Hawke briefly got the upper hand, rolling the snarling and shrieking wyvern onto her back.
“By Annwn, Hawke!” Mikhael muttered the epithet, “Keep the beast still so I can kill it!”
Hawke was dragged on over to end up under the beast again...his left hand dropped to his side and drew one of his daggers...his arm swung out and then back, burying the blade in the creature’s side as his bracer was still trapped in the clenched jaws. “Stop trying to kill me instead!”
After another two more rolls and aborted attempts with his sword, Mikhael uttered a curse and drew the dagger from his boot sheath and waded in. He managed to get a grip on the animal’s throat and made a deep slash but the animal’s furious wriggling made it impossible to sever its throat. Now, as angry as the animal, Mikhael drew his arm back and drove the dagger into the creature’s throat. Twisting the dagger violently left and right, he then yanked it free and leaped back like a great cat to avoid the spray of arterial blood. He wiped his dagger clean in the grass while watching the wyvern’s final death throes.
The wyvern lay there in a heap, after a few seconds the body stirred, then an arm waved from underneath the dead beast. “Well, help me move this thing!” Hawke said with his bracer still caught in the clenched jaws and his position not affording him the leverage to shift the lifeless body from atop him.
Mikhael looked at the heap with distaste, but sheathed his dagger and approached. Two of the archers had also arrived and were trying unsuccessfully to hide grins by pretending to inspect their bows. Mikhael started to reach to the animal, intending to pry its jaws apart, then changed his mind and stopped to don his thick riding gloves. Finally, he gingerly reached for the wyvern’s sharp toothed muzzle, taking care to not allow the fangs to pierce his gloves, and wrenched the jaws apart, wincing at the sharp sound of snapping bone. With the teeth freed from Hawke’s bracer, he levered the surprisingly heavy animal off the Ryndar.
“Are you injured?” Mikhael asked, although he knew that had the animal succeeded in biting Hawke, the man would not be laying on the hillside...glaring at him.
Hawke scooted back until he could get a leg free and he braced a boot on the side of the wyvern to push himself the rest of the way from under the body. He sat there on the ground, hands supporting him as he realized he was covered in a decent coating of wyvern blood. His face screwed into a scowl as he drew a reasonably clean area of sleeve across his face. Hawke shifted around and grasped his dagger and pulled it free of the body, wiping and sheathing the blade as he stood up. “No, I do not think so...unless I die from the horror of this mess.” Hawke gave both arms a flick to try and get some of the blood off them. The soft sound of the archers stifling chuckles brought his head up and he pierced both men with a silent stare. Both men’s grins fell off their faces as if slapped and they immediately turned to watch the cavern attentively as the fire still flickered from the opening.
Mikhael surveyed Hawke critically, assuring himself that the other man had not been seriously harmed. Finally, he said, “You get dibs on the bathing chamber at the farm.” Signaling the archers, he called out, “Check that all the animals are dead, then we will fire the midden and be done here.”
Hawke rummaged around in Mikhael’s pack and tore free a piece of the packing cloth, then began to wipe at his face and hands, trying to at least get the blood off his skin. “We’ll be lucky I don’t scare the mounts with this scent…”
“Hmmm,” Mikhael responded as he approached the dead wyvern and nudged it with the toe of his boot. He disliked the creatures on principal although the smaller species did serve a purpose as scavengers, but he could not help admiring them at the same time. Scholars said they were ancient animals predating anything in the fossil records. They also said that they had remained unchanged physiologically for maybe millions of years. Even with a Cymry’s long lifespan, that made Mikhael’s head reel. “Braden,” he said to the archer nearest, “toss this one onto the midden to burn too.”
Turning to Hawke, he shrugged, “The horses should take the blood scent in their stride, war training and all,” he then said in response to Hawke’s comment.” He nodded at the bits of shimmering iridescent scales that still gleamed despite the burning and blood. “Oddly beautiful are they not?”
Hawke gave up wiping and dropped the cloth. He looked at the wyvern and then knelt beside the body. He drew his dagger again and looked along the flank until he found an undamaged area. He began to cut and saw with the blade...soon he came away with a swath of the scales and stood back up. “I think Stasya might like a necklace of wyvern scales, don’t you?”
Warfire: See Greek Fire but we are not going to go in-depth on materials and how it is manufactured as various sources cite various ingredients and uses and some of them are contradictory.