Elfhunter

Elfhunter by C. S. Marks

Book: Elfhunter by C. S. Marks Read Free Book Online
Authors: C. S. Marks
they produce…well, you saw what happened."
    Rogond took one look at Gaelen, whose pale face was
turning a little green. "Are they…poisonous?"
    Nelwyn nodded. "Once a victim has been subdued by the
venom, and most likely drowned in the slime, the creatures work
their way inside by rasping and tearing away the flesh, or they
enter through the orifices of the body, consuming it from the
inside out. It’s one of the worst fates imaginable!" She recalled
the hairless, bloated body of an Ulca that she and Gaelen had once
found floating in the Darkmere. Gaelen had actually shot an arrow
into it, believing it was still alive, before they both realized
that it was only moving because it was filled with Úlfar. Nelwyn
shuddered at the memory.
    "But…why did you fear for me, and not
yourselves?"
    Nelwyn paused, turning from Galador long enough to
look Rogond in the eye. "A single bite from an Úlfa would have
killed you," she said. "Even if very little of the venom entered,
you would die raving with fever, because the bite would fester
beyond healing. Even the greatest healers have found no remedy for
an Úlfa bite—not in a mortal man."
    "Thank heaven for the horses’ hairy legs, then," said
Rogond. He looked over at Galador and Gaelen. "Will they be all
right?"
    "Hopefully they’ll be able to throw off the effects
of the venom in a day or two," said Nelwyn. "Galador has taken more
bites, but Gaelen is a lot smaller. They’ll both need watching, and
neither will be able to ride unaided." She examined the fading red
mark on her own hand with disgust, but didn’t seem concerned about
it.
    While Galador rested, Nelwyn and Rogond cleaned the
slime from him as best they could. Regrettably, his hair had been
sullied; some of the foul substance had dried there, and there
would be no remedy other than cutting it off. He would need new
clothing and, of course, he would despair at the loss of any of his
beautiful long hair, of which he was quite vain.
    In the morning they took stock of their situation,
and though things could have been much worse, they were far from
ideal. The going would be slow now, with only two of them in full
possession of their wits. Nelwyn estimated about fifty miles and at
least three or four more days at their current pace. Both Galador
and Gaelen were insensible. Galador rode behind Nelwyn, his head
resting on her shoulder. Twice he had slid to the ground before
Nelwyn could grab him. Gaelen had finally felt the full effects of
the venom, and she rode in front of Rogond, her head thrown back
against his neck. She occasionally moaned and muttered fitfully as
though in dark dreams. That night the chill took both of them, and
they shook uncontrollably as Rogond and Nelwyn tried in vain to
warm them. But in the morning they were much improved. Neither was
in the best spirits—heads pounding, wits still muddled and bodies
aching from the chill of the night. Yet they rode unaided, and by
the time they approached the Elven-hold three days later, they were
more alert and needed little assistance.
    They were sighted first by two scouts, friends of
Gaelen and Nelwyn, whom they recognized at once. They called to one
another in the bird-voices used by hunter-scouts, and in a few
moments they appeared: two Wood-elves, one male, one female, both
with long, chestnut-brown hair and nearly identical light brown
eyes. As they wondered at the newcomers, Nelwyn requested that they
return and tell the King of their impending arrival. With one
backward, slightly mistrustful glance at Rogond, they disappeared
in the direction of the Elven-hold.
     
    The King’s emissaries met the Company as they drew
within sight of the hidden gates. Rogond marveled at how cleverly
the Wood-elves had concealed themselves; he stood on the doorstep
of one of the great realms, yet if he did not know better he would
have taken little notice. Ri-Aruin had improved upon the work done
by his father, and although much of the fortress was below

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