A scorching sun and lack of shade slowed the progress of three dwarves across lowlands. One of them, an experienced scout called Grieg, was the fastest of the three, but he had to wait for his companions, a senior guardsman and one of the strange staff wielding infantry, who use a mysterious, fire breathing stick, to catch up.
"Come on lads! There's a bunch of trees over on the other side of this hill, so the faster you move, the quicker we can get into shade!"
"You move quicker than us, mainly because I'm lugging this great big tower shield, and Gynt has to lug his staff around - twice as long as your arm!" replied Waugh, the guardsman.
"Aye and you gave me half your pack, on top of my own, so you can use your deadly skill - jogging!" added Gynt.
"I'm not standing here so we can trade insults. I'm going to sit under those trees that I was talking about, and wait for you two to catch up."
Grieg moved off. Five minutes passed before he saw the top of Waugh's shield glint over the top of the hill Grieg had just come down. Gynt's staff stuck over the top of the hill, like a war standard. When Waugh breasted the hill, he looked at Gynt, who just shrugged. Waugh put his shield down, got on it with Gynt behind him, and slid down the hill. They stopped right in front of Grieg.
"I know that I may be 110, and 25 years older than you, but I still find that kind of fun. Ha, I remember that I used to do that in the winter when I was a little dwarf. A bit of advice for you, Grieg - lighten up!" said Waugh, getting off his shield.
"I can't lighten up, not after what happened at our home, three days ago." replied Grieg.
"Grieg, what happened had nothing to do with you. Yes, there are lots dead, but we managed to escape with our lives. Anyway, it felt like it happened years ago." put in Gynt.
Ten minutes passed, so that the guardsman and the infantryman could recover from the walking they had down, and for Grieg to do two things, which were; making sure they were in a good position from goblin attacks; and to replenish their packs.
"If we want to get off these lowlands by nightfall, we're going to have to go now." stated Grieg, after another ten minutes.
Waugh and Gynt got up, shock off their sleepy demeanour, and followed Grieg. Waugh, instead of dragging his shield behind him, strapped it to his back as a sunshade to keep his head cool.
After several stops along the way to collect water, which the dwarves were going through quickly, the dwarves neared the edge of the lowlands, just after darkness fell.
"Ha! We've done it! We've crossed this blasted desert! Only a bit further to go before we reach the woods at the edge of these blasted wastelands, eh Waugh? Waugh?" asked Gynt.
"What?" asked Waugh.
"We've reached the edge of this blasted desert, you sleepy old fool."
"Oi! Respect for your elders. Anyway, I'm not much older than you."
The three dwarves continued walking, and entered the forest.
"It's a bit dark in here. Wait a minute…does anyone else see that firelight over there?" asked Waugh.
"I can see it. You, scout, investigate that firelight." ordered Gynt.
"I'm not going without you - strength in numbers. Anyway, there could be elves, laying a trap for us." answered Grieg.
Grieg moved forward, with his companions behind him. He saw that there were two, maybe three, elves sitting near a camp-fire.
"…and if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't even be here, having this conversation." said the best dressed one, a female.
"How were we supposed to know that he was going to exile us?" asked a heavily armoured elf, with a standard towering above him, starting in the elf's back and ending somewhere far above his head.
"You shouldn't have argued with Evelyn." replied the female.
"Evelyn? Pah! Cut him up into little pieces, then feed him to the fishes." grumbled a tall, even for an elf, lithe-looking elf, camouflaged with foliage and carrying a bow.
The dwarves moved into the camp.
"Mountain folk - stay where you are!" ordered the camouflaged elf.
"Grieg," whispered Waugh. "Why didn't you stop us from getting into this situation?"
"They've been exiled. They are alone - no reinforcements. We could take them on if we need to - you've got your shield, and Gynt's got his staff. I might not make it though…" Grieg whispered in reply.
"Silence, short man!" ordered the armoured elf.
"Stop it, you two. Now, dwarves, why are you here?" asked the female.
"We were going through this forest, when we saw your camp-fire. We were interested, and found you." replied Waugh.
"Who are you? Where are you going?" asked the female.
"I'm Waugh, a senior guardsman, this is Grieg, an experienced scout, and this is Gynt, an unusual dwarf, because he is the only one who uses a staff to blow enemies into smithereens."
"Thank you," replied the female. "I'm Ingrid, a lady as you've probably guessed; this," she said, gesturing to the camouflaged elf. "Is Leonnardo, a ranger; and this," she said, gesturing to the armoured elf, "Is Comrade White Beard. He is a marshal."
"Who is this Evelyn you were talking about?" asked Grieg.
"Evelyn was our leader until a few days ago. White Beard's scouts noticed several bands of goblins near our home, and these two want us to attack, but Evelyn refused. I tried to persuade him also, but he kicked all three of us out of his castle."
"So, outcasts. Interesting…" murmured Gynt.
"But you still haven't answered my second question. Where are you going?" asked Ingrid.
"Oh, nowhere in particular. Where are you going?" asked Waugh.
"We're going to the Eleanor Isles. Would you like to join us?"
"Certainly. We would be honoured."
"We're staying here tonight, then we'll be moving out tomorrow morning."
There was a short silence, broken by Gynt whispering to Grieg.
"Get our blankets out of you pack. Hurry, MOVE!" he whispered.
Grieg got cracking. In about five minutes, Grieg, had got their blankets out, and had put up a hasty lean-to.
"Right, what are we eating?" asked Waugh.
"You dwarves think of nothing but fighting, money, mining, precious stones and eating." murmured Leonnardo to himself.
"We'll be eating a strange, long, dark finger like thing, which we got from the humans. They call them saus-, saus-, sausages."
"We'll try them. In fact, most dwarves would eat anything." stated Waugh.
"No wonder you don't seem to have any rock from mining come to the surface." murmured White Beard.
"What was that?" asked Waugh.
"Nothing, nothing.." replied White Beard.
The following morning, the dwarves woke up to find the elves ready and waiting for them to get up so they could start walking to the coast.
"We need to move quickly, as we need to get across a bridge, made of sea water that freezes in winter, before it melts; so we can get to the Eleanor Isles." said Leonnardo.
The group moved along at a reasonable pace along a path that ran straight through the forest.
"How long does this ice bridge last?" asked Waugh.
"Usually between three weeks and three months. A month or so ago, the coasts experienced on of the worst freezes that has been recorded. Ponds and lakes - five feet deep - completely froze over. People living there had to burn their way through most of the winter fuel they stored. Cattle and livestock suffered from lack of water." replied Ingrid.
"How long should it take us to get there?"
"A week or so. It is going to take longer if you three dwarves get into any fights or if you keep on talking!"
"Oh, right. Point taken."
Waugh nearly ran off.
"How old is he?" asked White Beard.
"One hundred and ten, twenty five years older than Grieg, though Grieg seems to have twenty five years more maturity and wisdom than Waugh." replied Ingrid.
Eight days later, the group heard what seemed to be a band of goblins running down the road they were on. While Ingrid ran for cover, Gynt stood in the middle of the road, both feet firmly planted in the ground, with Leonnardo and White Beard on his left, and Waugh and Grieg on his right. Ingrid watched with worry etched on her face, but Grieg, who was on her left, noticed, and told her to watch Gynt do what he was famous, or infamous, depending on your viewpoint, for. Ingrid, out of her better nature, turned away, shut her eyes, and plugged her ears.
A few minutes later, a tough, worn hand attached itself to Ingrid's shoulder. She turned around, and looked into Gynt's face.
"What, I don't understand. Why are you still alive, and why do you have so few injuries?" she asked, looking at the small gash on the dwarf's left shoulder.
"I'm good with this staff. Grieg, Waugh and I are, well, were, the best fighters in our entire dwarven kingdom!" replied Gynt.
"What happened to this empire?"
"I will not tell now, not until the others are ready."
"Alright. Now, how many did you kill?"
"Take a look."
Ingrid could not believe what she saw - piles of dead goblins, lying everywhere. Waugh was taking all of the weapons he could, and putting them inside his overcoat, in his rucksack, and on the inside of his shield. For the spears, he tied them to his own. Grieg was standing on a branch high up a tree, looking along the road in the direction that the goblins had just come from.
"There must be fifty there!" exclaimed Ingrid.
"Fifty three to be exact." replied Waugh.
"Well, I can see why you were some of the best fighters in your kingdom."
"Did he tell you what happened to it?" asked Grieg.
"No." replied Ingrid.
Waugh muttered something to himself.
"Dwarf! What did you say?" demanded Leonnardo.
"That I had finished collecting all of their weapons." replied the guardsman.
"That's good, you crazy old dwarf! This means you can move the bodies off of the road." laughed Grieg.
Waugh started moving the bodies, grumbling about how he was the one who had to do everything.
Eventually, when the work was done, and Waugh stood up, he looked around. None of his companions were there.
"Pah! Young 'uns today. And those pointy-eared fiends - you can't trust 'em" he muttered. "If I have to do this journey alone, I will. It's a shame really - I'm mad and emotional, and I like it, yet everyone else is far too serious or are balanced between seriousness and feelings."
Waugh grumbled as he walked on, about all of the unfair and unjust things about his life.
The rest of the group were sitting on bodies or standing up, watching Waugh. He was asleep.
"So, does anyone want to wake him up?" asked Grieg.
"I will," replied White Beard. "It's unfair that we should hear his gripes. We shouldn't hear them, because they are not meant for us."
White Beard prodded Waugh with one of his arrows.
"Wha… where am I?" asked Waugh.
"You were asleep," replied Ingrid. "So the Comrade decided to wake you up."
"Thanks." replied Waugh.
As the group moved on, White Beard, Grieg, and Gynt were concerned.
"Those goblins were in some sort of hurry. My scouts have observed them normally. They are reclusive - they stay in their caves, and only come out to fight, and to find food. Because they were running, I think that they were being pursued or feared it." said White Beard.
"I agree. My scouts reported similar things. They also reported there was a castle around here, a great one apparently. Run by humans." said Grieg.
"The castle is called the Rocinante. She guards the coast that we are heading to, along with her sister castle, the Don Quixote. Both very mighty castles, the Rocinante houses the most warriors in this area. I lived there once, a long time ago…" replied White Beard, in a dreamy sort of way.
"About five hundred of my paces from here, though you will have to do almost a thousand.
"Good. We can find out if this Rocinante had anything to do with those goblins." said Gynt.
Meanwhile, Waugh was talking to Ingrid.
" I know I should have asked this to him, but also some time ago - why is the Comrade called White Beard?" asked Waugh.
"Apparently, according to him, he was found at a young age, less than a decade old. The people at a castle, called the Rocinante, around here took him in. One night, strange things began to happen. People at the castle saw things they shouldn't have done. Some saw what has been and has happened, others saw what will be and what would happen. The comrade saw a yeti, moving towards the forest, but at the time, White Beard didn't know what it was called. Alarmed, he got one of the elders to come over to him, thinking that the yeti was going to attack the castle. When the elder was there, the Comrade pointed out the yeti, and said "White bear, white bear." However, the elder didn't here him properly, the elder thought the Comrade had said 'white beard'. The name stuck, and replaced his old one of 'elf'."
Ingrid looked up.
"Oh no! I now know why those goblins were running."
"Why?" asked Waugh.
Waugh looked up.
The Rocinante had been destroyed by the goblins. Only a few buildings inside had been left standing.
"Those goblins! They have destroyed the Rocinante! I would have taken them on single-handedly if I had known!" exclaimed White Beard.
Gynt made a sensible decision.
"We need to get to the Don Quixote and warn them of the danger that these goblins present them with. But, before we do that, we need to get more supplies. We have very little food and water left, and I am positively dreaming of sausages and those … masked potatoes. We seem to have been eating them for the last week - breakfast lunch and dinner. And Leonnardo, your cooking is awful."
"We haven't been eating sausages and mash for the last week," cried Leonnardo. "We ate those squirrels on Wednesday. And why wasn't I told my cooking was appalling?"
"We need to get more supplies from the Rocinante," said Grieg. "I've seen how much water we have left, and, in short, the amount left is dire. And Leonnardo, we are trying to be polite as possible."
The group moved towards the ruins, lost in their own thoughts. Leonnardo about his cooking, Ingrid about their journey, Grieg and White Beard about the goblins, Gynt about the supply situation, and Waugh about whether or not the journey was really worth starting.