“I reckon they’re diplomats on an important mission. I reckon they’re in disguise.” Expendable Elvish Border Guard Number One began to lower the ladder down from their lookout post, high up in a tree on the edge of the forest, looking out towards the hills and plains of North Horn Reach, land of human abominations.
“I reckon they’re lost.” Expendable Elvish Border Guard Number Two stopped for a moment and cocked his head. “Do you hear something?”
“I hear you two making a load of noise,” grumbled Number Three from inside.
Number Two frowned. “I swear I hear something.” He got up, went to a window.
“I’ll just lower this on my own then shall I,” muttered Number One. He finished lowering the ladder. Down below, the two unexpected visitors tied their donkey to the tree and started to climb. At the top, they brushed the snow off their cloaks and shivered.
“Well met.” Number One eyed them carefully, looking for clues that they were who he thought.
“Well met.” The first elf peered into the tree-house. There wasn’t much to look at. “I’m Levinchius. This is Unthal.” The second elf up had all the looks of a wizard in the making. The first one, Number One thought, looked a bit shifty. Ah well. Diplomats.
“There is something out there,” said Number Three. “I saw something.”
“We saw something too. Or heard something,” muttered Levinchius. “That’s why we came up.”
“Oh. Not because it’s freezing down there and night is falling and everything is covered in snow then?”
“What was that?” Number Two and Number Three were both peering out the window.
“Can’t see. Bloody weather.”
“Right.” Number Two picked up the chamber pot. “I have a plan. I’m going to drop this on the donkey. Then the donkey will bray. Whatever it is that’s out there will come towards the noise. Then we’ll see what it is.”
“It’s probably a deer,” muttered Number One.
“Right.” Number Two shook his head. “We’re called Expendable Border Guard Number One, Two and Three, a couple of mysterious strangers show up and you reckon the strange groaning noises and the unidentifiable shape moving out in the darkness is a deer. It’s zombies.”
Number Three shook his head. “It’s always zombies. Can’t it be skeletons for once.”
“I still say it’s a deer,” said Number One. “Hey!”
“Oi!” shouted Levinchius “Don’t . . .”
Number Two dropped the chamber pot. They watched as the donkey jumped in surprise and ran away into the forest.
“I thought you tied him to the tree,” said Unthal once they couldn’t see it in the gloom any more.
“Oh! Looks like that worked!” shouted Number Three. “They’re coming closer.”
“I did tie it to the tree,” shouted Levinchius. “Shit! My bedroll was on that.”
“My backpack was on that!” swore Unthal.
“Your backpack?” Levinchius shook his head. “Why’d you put your backpack on the donkey? It’s supposed to go on your back. You know, like it says in the name. Back pack”
“It was heavy!”
They stared after it.
“Zombies! I knew it!” shouted Number Three.
“Skeletons!” said Number Two.
Number One went to look. “Are you sure it’s not a . . . Oh.”
“Zombies and skeletons.”
“I need to get my backpack back!” Unthal clenched his fists.
“Well that’s us fucked.” Levinchius went and crouched in a corner. He might have been trying to hide, although Number One couldn’t quite tell who or what was supposed to be fooled.
“We’re up a tree-house,” he said brightly. “They can’t get us up here. Let’s shoot them with arrows until they’re dead. Again.” He frowned. “How does that work?”
“It works,” grumbled Number Three. “Trust me, I’ve been guarding borders since before you were born and if I’ve seen an undead horde coincidentally show up at the same time as a couple of mysterious stranger once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Arrows work.”
“I just shot a skeleton and the arrow went straight between its ribs and came out the other side!” said Number Two.
“In the head, obviously. Idiot.”
“Oh crap, they’re climbing the tree. How’s that work? They’re mindless undead minions, they’re not supposed to be able to climb trees. That’s ridiculous. Oh, wait. That one fell off.”
“That’s not the point. Look, another one’s having a go! And another! How in Mother Nature can re-animated skeletons climb trees? Look! The zombies are at it too!”
Number Three paused. He leaned on his sword and looked out the window. Skeletons were indeed climbing his tree. “Let me get this right, Two. They’re skeletons. They don’t have eyes, yet they can see. They don’t have ears yet they can hear. They have neither muscles or ligaments yet they move. They have no brain, yet they can fight about exactly as well as an Expendable Border Guard. Nothing about them makes any sense or stands up to any scrutiny whatsoever. And in the middle of all that, what you don’t like, what you have an issue with, is that they’re climbing a tree?”
“All I’m saying is that climbing twenty foot of tree trunk with no branches to give you any purchase is a pretty mean feat even if you’re alive and in the pink of health. As opposed to the, er . . .” He peered down. “Sort of yellowy grey of un-death.”
“And what I’m saying is that when you stand that next to being able to sling a sword when you don’t have any tendons in your wrist or any skin to grip the hilt is also a mean feat, and one of considerably more relevance.”
“Er . . . Excuse me . . .” Levinchius had come out of his corner. He was pointing. “Don’t mean to interrupt this fine debate, but . . . behind you!”
Vale and the people he reluctantly travels with his friends will be back in the new year.
NEXT WEEK: INTERLUDE ON THE ELVISH BORDER PART TWO