Story by The Nimrodellian Tale-Spinner
Laralini looked at Mericc in complete shock, “Mericc, what are you doing?”
But Mericc wasn’t listening, his eyes were fixed on the queen of the spiders who sat perched on Tom’s tree, her pincer-like front legs still wavering over the place where Tom’s heart was.
“Doesss it speak true my children?” she wondered aloud, “Will the morsel give itself up for our other dainty? He would make a much better meal than thisss scrawny meat you caught us earlier.” With this she poked Tom cruelly again and laughed.
“There must be another way”, Laralini pleaded with the warrior.
“The only thing that’s important is the boy”, Mericc responded sternly without shifting his gaze. “If they decide to make the trade I want you to take Tom and get him out of this forest and to safety.”
“We accept your’ offer little morsssel”, The spider queen broke in. “We shall exchange this one here for you.”
With this she took her front legs and started to cut at the webbing that held Tom to the tree. After a minute he fell to the ground unceremoniously and lay there groaning in pain. Two of the spider queen’s bodyguards grabbed his legs in their pincers and pulled him towards where Mericc and company were standing.
The spider queen tapped at the tree, the bodyguards stopped halfway and gave Mericc an expectant look. The warrior nodded and turned towards the elvish scholar, she was practically in tears. Her bear companion stood by her, growling threateningly at the spiders who were closer to her than he would have liked.
“I’m sorry Mericc, I wish I could do more and it didn’t have to come to this” she said softly, her head lowered.
The guardian wiped her tears away and whispered a few words in her ear, she looked at him unsurely but before she could say anything he cut her off. “Remember get Tom and yourself to safety, no looking back, I’d hate to have done all this for nothing.”
Before she could protest further he turned back towards the waiting spiders and stepping forward, tossed his sword far into the brush. This was the sign the spider queen was waiting for and after a few clicks her bodyguards pulled Tom all the way to where the three companions stood.
Mericc helped the boy up, he was groggy and disoriented from poison and prodding but amazingly still had the strength to at least stand with aid. Mericc gave him over to Laralini who did her best to support him and after a few more words she, Tom and Morko headed back out of the spiders lair while a score of spiders cut the warrior off from following.
“Now, my little dainty”, The spider queen said, “I am afraid it iss time to finish the deal”.
She dropped down from her perch, a wild gleam in her eyes while dozens of her spider consorts surrounded and closed in on the now disarmed warrior. Well, not quite disarmed, Mericc unhooked his shield from his back and started to slowly head towards the thin gap that he had spied earlier, he wasn’t planning on going out without a fight.
The queen laughed, a horrible gurgling sound, “Defense will do you little good morssel”, she chided as her children moved in, “But if you wish to ssstave off mealtime a little, be my guest. Sstruggle will only make the meat ssweeter.”
One of her bodyguards leaped at Mericc, fangs opened wide, poison dripping from it’s mouth as it sought to incapacitate him. But the experienced warrior was quicker and taking his shield in both hands, he swung it sideways dealing a hard blow that sent the spider reeling before finishing it off with a down thrust, cracking it’s head open with one of the spikes of his shield.
“Defense isn’t what I had in mind”, Mericc grinned at the spider queen as the spider host chittered angrily. Furiously she tapped her legs and her children came on stronger and Mericc was hard put to keep them off, swinging his spiked shield in a wide arc while he retreated towards the cut in the hills. Finally with an effort he managed to make the opening and backed into it all the while doing his best to fend off leg and fang.
“Now we have you dainty, nowhere to go now” ,The spider queen said gleefully as the spider host pushed him further into the gap. They all poured in, biting and slashing and grabbing at the guardian who was furiously trying to fight them off. But they were many and his armor had already suffered dents and marks where leg or fang had broken through his lone shield wall, though he had managed to kill several of the smaller ones with skillful use of his shield’s spikes.
He had put himself in a tight spot, but it was tight for the spiders too and try as they might they couldn’t use their far superior numbers in such an enclosed area and could only get at him three or four spiders at a time. Spider after spider crashed against his shield and Mericc hoped he could hold out long enough so that his reason for coming to this dead end could manifest itself.
Suddenly he heard what he had hoped for when a massive roar echoed throughout the walls of the cut causing the spiders to turn in confusion. The great bear Morko smashed into the spiders at the rear of the entrance and a fury was on him as his large paws sent spiders flying in every direction.
Mericc side-swiped a few of the distracted spiders with his shield and let out an answering battle yell as hundreds of legs turned this way and that in utter disarray as their queen tried to decide how to deal with this unlooked for attack. In an instant the trappers became the trapped, caught between the hammer and the anvil with very little room to maneuver as Morko and the guardian attacked with a vengeance from both sides.
This is what Mericc had whispered to Laralini before they parted, a desperate plan that had the slightest of chances of getting them all out of this alive. It was inspired by his first meeting with Laralini’s giant companion and he relished the idea of using the same strategy against the spiders.
But an army of the deadly creatures was still a force to be reckoned with and as their initial confusion passed and their queen got her bearings, they started to once gain use their numbers to press hard against bear and warrior. Many fell to Morko’s deadly claws and even with only a shield, Mericc was doing as much damage as he could.
Scores of spiders laid dead but there were still many to take their place as the battle waxed back and forth. The spider queen sent many of them against the greater threat of the bear in a direct assault while several of her minions set about casting their webs across his path to imped and cut him off. Morko roared in frustration as his feet were caught up in the sticky filaments and he found it harder to fight them off though he was still a deadly opponent for any that got too near.
The spider queen turned towards Mericc, a rage overcoming her senses at the creatures treachery. She attacked him herself, using her rapier like front legs in a brutal assault that Mericc was barely able to repel. An attempted shield bash was caught by the spider queen’s mandibles and she threw Mericc backwards against the cliff face and moved in for a final strike, no attempt to incapacitate now, she was intent on a kill.
Mericc grimaced on the ground as he saw the finishing stroke heading towards him and tried to grab for his shield to ward off the blow. Before the strike could fall though a bright white light lit up the entire area temporarily blinding him and the spider queen both. As his sight slowly cleared, Mericc saw a scene before him that utterly surprised him, the silhouette of a young elvish maiden, his sword held trembling in her hands, stood between him and the spider queen.
She did as best she could to follow Mericc’s orders but the guilt of her inaction and fear gnawed at her and she felt it was wrong that Mericc and Morko took all the risks. So, after finding the young Tom a safe place in the forest to hide, the scholar doubled back towards the spider queen lair to rejoin her friends.
She found Mericc’s sword in the brush and working up a bit of what magic she knew Laralini sent a shaft of blinding light into the crevice where the battle was being fought and plunged in. Now she stood between the spider queen and the warrior, holding his sword as best as she could.
The spider queen recovered from her daze and stared down frightfully at the slender elvish woman, her legs sharpening themselves on each other ready to strike down the young girl who had so foolishly come back into her clutches. She backed up a little, preparing for the leap that would end the inexperienced elf but as she attacked Mericc went into action.
Pushing Laralini aside, he charged and desperately threw the full weight of his shield and body into the spider queen and both of them fell to the ground, stunned from the impact. The spider queen recovered and looked up, and she found Mericc waiting.
His face was grim, his shield and armor were badly damaged, but now he stood before the spider queen fully armed, his sword recovered from Laralini who now stood behind him, preparing to help in any way she could.
He was upset with her for coming back and endangering her life but reproaches would have to wait while Mericc dealt with the foe before him.
“This is how it should be, how it always ends up”, he thought to himself as the two opponents stared at each other, “Monster against man in one final fight to see who will prevail.” The sounds of battle drifted towards them from the entrance as Morko fought with what was left of the spider army but their focus was strictly on each other.
A few seconds of breath felt like an eternity and then warrior and spider clashed. Great was their struggle, the size and speed of the giant spider against the experience and skill of the trained guardian, both of them knowing that only one of them would walk away alive.
Mandible and legs fought ferociously with sword and shield but in the end the warrior proved to much for the mistress of evil and bright flashed his blade as it came down and put an end to her once and for all.
Bereft of direction and drive the remainder of her brood either fled or were slain by Mericc and Morko, it was a long time before the spiders of the Old Forest had sufficient strength or numbers to worry travelers again and the forest had relative peace for some years. They left the spider’s lair and Laralini led them to where she had hidden Tom, the companions then made their way to safer paths that would lead them out of the forest. The moon was sinking, soon it would be dawn.
Epilogue: A Bad Day For Brigantry
The sallow faced cutthroat laughed as he went through the belongings of the terrified farmers who had attempted to make their way through his territory without paying the proper toll. Yesterday was almost forgotten, though he still stung with the loss of reputation that he had incurred because of that cursed adventurer.
He had heard that he had gone off into the Old Forest on some mission for that fool Adso and that was fine by the brigand leader, hopefully he came to a very bad end. But enough of him,
“Back to business”, the brigand thought, it was time for a little fun, mayhap with the farmers wife, the idea pleased him greatly.
“Well me lovelies”, he chortled, “It seems yer don’t have enough here to pay for passage on my road and I’ll have to take out a little extra”.
The cut on his cheek creased as he grinned and the wicked blade in his hand and the intent behind it caused the farmer and his family to back up in fear against their caravan. He did love the wonderfully frightened expressions his victims gave him, made his job worth it. The brigand was so enjoying his sport that he didn’t notice the faces of his victim’s change from fear to wonder.
Something tapped him on his shoulder and the brigand turned angrily to see who was interrupting his sport. His body stiffened and his eyes opened wide as he saw Mericc standing before him, his sword pointed at the brigands throat, a wry smile on his face.
“You’re just in time”, Mericc said as he looked up at the rising sun, “NOW is the day where I kill you.” Some days it just wasn’t worth getting up the brigand thought to himself.
Mericc rode back towards Bree alone after leaving Laralini and Morko at Adso’s camp with Tom. His father was overjoyed to see him and later Laralini showed the workers where the spring they were searching for was and the safest paths to get to it.
Mericc had asked her if she was still interested in joining in on his adventures but the young scholar declined, she decided she much preferred adventures behind the pages of a book where they belonged but assured him that she would help in the future with any non-lethal tasks that Mericc might have for her. It was all well for Mericc who couldn’t help but think of Laralini as the little sister he never had, he preferred her in safer environments than he was used to traveling.
As he passed the west gate of Bree, he turned towards Ironmonger’s Street, he could almost imagine the smells of food wafting from the house he had visited yesterday and the warm fire that awaited him. It wasn’t his home, but it was close enough for him and he had some stake in at least one of the lives that was there.
But thoughts of hearth and food were interrupted by a horse’s hooves riding up behind him and the voice of a ranger that he had gotten to know from previous adventures. He reigned in his horse as he reached Mericc and held out his hand in greeting, his characteristic long black beard flowing in the wind.
“Hail Mericc, I am glad that I have found you” the ranger called.
“Hail Guanlos”, Mericc responded, “What brings you riding with such speed to find me?”
“Alas, events in Rohan have degenerated faster than even we thought and I was sent to ask for your’ aid”, The ranger said and Mericc could see the seriousness of the situation on his face. He looked down Ironmonger’s street with a sigh.
“Could it wait not even a day?” Mericc asked though he already knew the answer.
“I am afraid not”, the grim ranger replied, “It was bad when I left and I wasted much time in hunting you down. Who knows how much time we have, but things are too delicate to wait even a moment.”
Mericc growled, “Then let us be off, it seems rest will have to wait for another time.” He took one final look down the street before riding off with the ranger, he could almost feel the warmth of the fire on his tired bones and wondered if he’d ever get to enjoy the simpler things in life ever again. They passed out of the gate with all speed, heading towards the perils of Rohan.