Tales of Agora - Saving Winterfest P.3
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Saving Winterfest (P.3)
By: The Paragon Lore Team
Narbash edged along the haystacks on the outskirts of the village. The sounds of the feast were far away, and no one wanted to stay with the animals when they could get happy, full, and drunk instead.
No one except for Egruka. A muscular ogre with dark hair hanging over her eyes sat upon a bale of hay, scratching shapes into a rock with her pitchfork. Narbash had a friend for every occasion, and this time he needed someone who would keep to herself and not waste time by asking questions. With every second that passed, the Nimmrud army marched closer.
Narbash took one more cautious look around, and then sidled out into the open and greeted her. “Hey, Egruka! Opting out of the feast again? I, uh... don’t suppose you’ve heard any news about earlier today?”
“No news,” she grunted. “Only olds.”
“Uh, what do you mean?”
“Olds,” she repeated, pointing toward the animal pen. Two elderly gazalla lay outside the pen, their antlers in the dirt. “First one die. Companion follow. They want to be together. No news yet, but other gazalla has big belly.”
“Oh,” Narbash said. “I’m sorry about the gazalla. Didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject.”
“Not sore. Just life,” she said. She spotted Greep on Narbash’s shoulder, and greeted him with a nod. Greep croaked back.
“I’m actually here to ask a favor of you, Egruka,” Narbash said.
“Faver? No faver in this pen. Only come out in summer.”
“No, no, not the animal. I mean, I’m here to ask you to do something for me.”
“Oh.” Egruka stopped carving for a moment. “Leave animals?”
“Only for a few minutes, I promise. There’s something bad coming, and I’m trying to save the animals by getting them out of here, along with you and everyone else.”
“Oh. I help.” Egruka stood up, holding her pitchfork like a soldier. She pointed at Greep. “Frog help too?”
“Yes, actually. Both of you are helping. You don’t need to do much, Egruka. Just come with me to the feast,” Narbash said, urging her to walk with him. “There’s a big stack of wine barrels in the back, and I need you to break them open when I say the signal. The signal is ‘rivers of blood’. Got it?”
“Rivers of blood kill animals?”
“No, no. That’s just something I’m going to say, and when you hear me say it, uh…. Stick your pitchfork in the wine barrels. Like this.” He took the pitchfork and stabbed it into a nearby haystack, and quickly started walking again.
“Oh,” she said, taking a moment to process this action. Then she followed him. “Okay.” Narbash sighed and went back for the pitchfork. “You’re going to need this. For the wine barrels.”
“I understand now.”
“What’s the signal?”
“Rivers of blood.”
Narbash watched her stoic face for a moment, finding nothing reassuring in it. But he would have to trust her.
“After you do that,” Narbash explained, “Take all the animals somewhere safe. If all goes well, everyone’s going to leave the village. That way when the bad thing comes, no one will get hurt.”
“I lead them to lake. Find water and shelter there.”
“That’s a great plan. This is going to help a lot. Thank you, Egruka.” He patted her back and headed to the woodworker’s hut.
The feast tables were louder than they had been all day. After hours of eating, drinking, and merrymaking, the ogres of the Norgudd tribe were in their rowdiest and most vulnerable state. Narbash was counting on that vulnerability to make them believe his performance. He hid in the tall bushes near the Holy Slab, preparing his costume. It was put together as well as it could be, given the circumstances.
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath to regain his composure. “Only one chance to save everyone. This didn’t work for the Nimmruds, so I’ve gotta go bigger this time. Bigger!” He put some phlegm into his voice, making it rougher and deeper. “With the power of a holy spirit! Ha!”
He pulled himself onto the Holy Slab and hobbled along its surface, searching for ridges to steady his wooden stilts upon. A ragged black cloak flapped around his tall, grotesque figure. The cloak rippled over the bumps of his head and torso, bulging outwards, obscuring a heavy drum he had attached to his hips to make him bigger. He held a flaming torch behind him, lighting him up against a backdrop of darkness. Greep sat atop his covered head, imitating the amphibian likeness of the Holy Plains Spirit, Ognu.
Someone shrieked, and then everyone began to notice him. Many of the feastgoers gasped and cowered, while others shouted in surprise. Narbash raised his arm, the cloak draping ghoulishly past his hand and nearly sliding off. Narbash pulled his arm back against his chest to hold the dangling cloak up. He tried to ignore the mishap, and spoke in his loudest, most menacing voice.
“Norgudd fools!” he yelled. “You have inspired the wrath of Ognu!”
Through the small slit in the cloak that Narbash had to see through, he saw an oracle faint. Beside her, Naya the Soothsayer wailed, “We should not have sent away the Chosen One!”
“Forget about the Chosen One!” Narbash replied impulsively, his voice almost slipping. The luxuries he now knew he had enjoyed as the Chosen One were not worth the strife the title caused among his people.
He wobbled, his stilts bending dangerously beneath the weight they carried. The flames of his torch licked hot at his back. He cleared his throat as menacingly as possible. “The Chosen One is nothing before me, Spirit of the Plains! I serve the Elder, God of Death, ender of all life! You have angered him with your talk of war during the cold nights of Winterfest, when all should band together and share their bounty!”
Warleader Grokken shouted, “If one more idiot climbs up on that Slab, I’ll-”
“The Elder has commanded me to flood the plains with rivers of blood and start anew!”
Narbash held his breath. Beneath the Holy Slab, the snow remained white, and the tribe was flustered but not panicked.
“Egruka…” Narbash said quietly. One support in his stilts cracked, putting him off-balance for a moment, and Greep’s feet moved but remained atop his head. His back felt like it was burning. He yelled desperately, “My rivers of blood will consume this village shortly. Any moment now!”
Grokken approached the Slab, wielding a warmace. He placed a hand upon the stone and prepared to leap up.
The villagers screamed as the snow beneath Grokken’s feet turned red. The entire tribe started fleeing. A crowd of panicked ogres shoved past Grokken, sweeping him away. He cursed and tried to push back, but the force of the crowd was too strong.
“Flee!” Narbash shouted. “Cower before my wrath! Never return-”
A deafening crack split Narbash’s eardrums, and all at once he lost track of which way was up. He toppled down into a ruin of crumbled stone, his stilts snapping and his cloak flying open. It took him a moment to realize that the Holy Slab had cracked in two.
“I knew it!” Grokken shouted, pointing out of the crowd. “Narbash has further insulted us by impersonating a god!”
Narbash sat up, shaking the daze out of his head. Many of the ogres had stopped to look at him and confirm Grokken’s accusation. Grokken himself stormed out of the crowd toward Narbash, warmace at the ready.
Narbash found a big piece of stone and scrambled to his feet. He held the stone in front of him like a shield as Grokken approached, raising his mace. “Hold on, Mister Warleader! Now, I’m not your enemy! I’m just trying to get everyone out of here before the Nimms-”
A small crowd of oracles and soothsayers slammed into Grokken, knocking him to the side. He yelled and pushed against them, his limbs getting tangled in Naya’s long gray hair, which was still filthy with feast food. She raised her arms to the skies as the crowd carried both of them, shouting, “Listen to the Chosen One!”
Another crowd approached from the other side, composed of Grokken’s soldiers. They charged with their weapons raised above their heads, drunk and enraged, raring to end this civil conflict once and for all.
Narbash saw that he had caused this, just as he had caused the Nimmrud tribe to march, and if he let it happen, his entire tribe would be massacred. He was out of chances. Everything he had done to make things better had only made it worse.
His feet moved of their own accord. He ran to the center, where the two sides would meet, and slammed his hand down on his drum, creating a boom that rustled the bushes. He started playing the first tune he could think of—the one he had heard at the Nimmrud festival—because he couldn’t just let this happen, he couldn’t, and he would do anything in his power to distract his people from their anger. Even if it didn’t work, he would keep trying until the end.
The two sides closed in, but slowed down. Their shouts faded until only Grokken could be heard above the din of Narbash’s drum, shrieking, “Let go of me, you lunatics!”
As Narbash turned, putting his whole body into his performance, he realized that everyone had stopped. Grokken’s troops gaped at him, confused, while the soothsayers raised their arms and voices to complement the music.
Naya wailed, “A song from the heavens! Listen! Rejoice!”
Narbash played the Nimmrud song louder, hoping that the rest of them couldn’t hear her.
They should listen because they wanted to, and maybe when they found out it was the song of their neighbors, they would realize that both tribes shared the same hearts after all.
The beat came to Narbash as though he had heard it fresh, and most of the words along with it. He filled in the blanks on the spot. Fortunately, he was extremely good at rhyming.
“Everybody gather ‘round,” he sang. “Uh… come hear that Narbash sound! Everybody dance! Make sure to bring your... pants!”
He leaned from side to side, copying the Nimmrud dance he had seen.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Grokken yelled.
“Winter feast! Feel the beat! Don’t stop ‘til you, uh… eat the meat!” Narbash sang.
“Winter feast!” Naya sang back.
“Eat the meat!” one soldier shouted.
“Or veela leaves, if you’re vegetarian!” yelled an oracle.
The two sides converged into one swaying crowd. Grokken struggled amidst the sea of bodies, his voice drowned out by the singing all around him. Narbash led them not as the Chosen One, but as their leader in song.
Each note and movement fed the crowd in a different way. He felt it all; he was one with their energy. He thought for a moment that he must be in a dream, his head having knocked against the stone when he fell, but he heard Morigesh’s voice in his mind.
You have a special power, but it is not what you think it is.
He watched his tribe celebrate, enemies becoming friends once more. The joy in his heart went into his drum and out to the crowd. “Winter feast! Winter feast!”
Narbash started marching, and the people cleared space for him. He marched atop the ruins of the Holy Slab, facing the crowd, only to look past their heads and see torches.
The Nimmruds had arrived.
Narbash’s face hardened, his joy fading as he realized this wasn’t over yet. He had distracted his people, only to let them get slaughtered by an attack he could have at least warned them about. Another mess-up. But it was too late to turn back now.
He drummed with all of his strength, hoping to push his passion beyond the immediate crowd and into the hearts of the Nimmruds. Most of his own tribe had gotten so caught up in his performance that they hadn’t noticed the army standing just behind them.
Several ogres at the front of the Nimmrud army were talking to each other, looking back and forth between the dance and their comrades. Narbash recognized Chieftain Tervic from before.
Tervic met his eyes, nodded, and turned to bark a command at the rest. He raised his arm, and they charged. Armored soldiers leaped into the crowd, pointing clubs and spears at the sky. Dancing ogres turned to face the newcomers, staggering back when they saw weapons raised, shouting and shoving the crowd.
Then the Nimmruds began to dance.
They leaned from side to side in perfect unison, raising their hands and shouting together. As they moved amidst the crowd, the difference between their practiced routine and the Norgudds’ sloppy improvisation was distinct. Nimmruds who carried wardrums took over the beat with expert musicianship, and the song’s true words rang out loud and clear.
The Norgudds looked around for a moment, confused, and started cheering while the Nimmruds performed their traditional dance. The Norgudds’ sloppy moves improved as they copied the dance, and both tribes moved in sync.
Narbash was awestruck.
As much as he wanted to join the party, he could hardly believe that it was even happening. He got down from the broken Slab and moved through the crowd, his big drum making way for him, until he was face-to-face with Chieftain Tervic. The old man was dancing in his own gentle way.
“Mister Nimmrud Chief!” Narbash shouted over the din. “You decided not to go to war?!” “You disrespected our people by deceiving us, charlatan!” Tervic, swaying his hips. “Good thing they have the sense to apologize and honor us by performing our sacred winter dance!”
The old man turned away from him, uninterested in conversing with a charlatan.
Narbash smiled and raised his hands to the sky, cheering as loud as he possibly could. He whacked his drum and bobbed his head, feeling the crowd move around him. He heard rhythmic grunting beside him, and turned to see Chieftain Lorga partying beside Chieftain Tervic, her body not moving much except for one beefy arm raised to the sky. Narbash put his arms around both of them, overjoyed to see the tribe leaders getting along, and hopped with the beat.
His huge drum heaved up and down, crashing against a nearby table. Wine and feast food flew up and landed all over Tervic’s decorated leather armor.
The old man threw Narbash’s arm off and pointed at him, shouting, “This miscreant has disrespected me for the last time!” He looked toward Lorga. “Surely he cannot be one of yours?”
Lorga shoved one fat finger into Narbash’s chest, and said loudly, “You risk war!”
“What do you-” Narbash started.
“Exile!” Lorga shouted. “Leave, and save the tribe from war.”
Lorga’s guards moved out from behind her and took Narbash’s arms. “Hey, wait! I-”
They dragged him through the crowd, past drunken soldiers and soothsayers alike. Narbash saw Naya dancing atop a table, blissfully unaware of anything except the music, and Grokken still struggling to free himself from a crowd of dancing ogres.
The guards pushed Narbash out onto the snowy plains, and for a moment he stood there in shock. He listened to the sounds of merriment—of two tribes he thought would never put aside their differences, celebrating together—and he stepped back, accepting his fate. Because that was enough. He had stopped the war. If his own exile was the unlucky cost, it was worth it.
“Brekra. Gnoshga,” Narbash said, acknowledging the guards. “Take care of Chieftain Lorga. And everyone else.”
He turned around and left his home for good, tapping the edge of his drum to fill the silence.
By morning he and Greep had reached the edge of the mountains. No one in the tribe had ever explored beyond them. Narbash couldn’t begin to imagine what awaited him outside the plains, but he was excited to find out.
“Maybe I’ll dream of it, yeah?” he asked Greep, looking at the frog beside him. They sat on a log before a fire, watching the sun rise. “Maybe I’ll have a premonition. If I have one pretty magical power, who’s to say I don’t have another?”
He chuckled to himself, patting the frog. “Come to think of it, you seem pretty magical, Greep. I’ve never met such a friendly Plains Frog. I’ve never met one with spots, either.”
Greep hopped up and down, croaking frantically.
“Wait a second,” Narbash said, trying to interpret his behavior. “You’re not a Holy Plains Frog at all, are you? You come from somewhere else! And what a day you’ve had. I’m sorry to put you through all that, little buddy. I bet you miss home, don’t you?”
As Greep gazed mournfully at the fire, footsteps crunched in the snow behind them. Narbash turned to see Morigesh approaching them with a fur sack, stained red at the bottom, slung over her shoulder. The mysterious woman kept moving toward the mountain pass, but Narbash stood up and waved. “Hello, Miss Morigesh! I’m happy to say everything turned out just fine! Thanks for your advice.”
The woman stopped, and Greep hopped onto the log beside her. She said, “Can you truly say that all is well? You camp here, far away from your people, and I know you children value your kinship so.”
“I think things are fine,” Narbash said. He smiled, though the winter air felt colder than usual. The tribe was no longer with him. “I may be lonely now, but I won’t be for long. After all, I can feel the next party just on the horizon!”
He chuckled, and Morigesh watched him, the gaze long and intense. “In the end, you discovered your talent. Though you created far more chaos than necessary.”
Narbash shrugged, turning to look at the drum in the snow behind him. He had carried it all the way here, unable to let go of it after witnessing the power it held. “If I could take my music all across the land, bringing people together if they need it, or just spreading joy if they don’t, I think that’d be a pretty good life.”
Morigesh turned away from him, decidedly indifferent to the matter. “Take your music where you like.”
Greep watched her walk away, croaking rapidly.
After a moment, Narbash picked him up and ran after her. “Hey, wait!”
She stopped reluctantly. Narbash held out the frog in one hand, and said, “Take Greep with you. I think he comes from wherever you’re from.” The words came heavy. Narbash knew he would be completely alone if Morigesh accepted.
She stared at Greep for a moment, and then offered her shoulder to him. The frog eagerly hopped up, finding a comfortable seat nuzzled in soft hair and fur.
Narbash watched as the two of them left him behind. The snow began to fall around him.
“Zechin’s big, but full of life,” he said to himself. “There must be a lot of other folks out there who need the help of a joyful song.”
A bright glow flickered on at the top of a mountain, drawing his attention. Perhaps another village, or a stranded explorer in need of help. Narbash strapped on his drum and started heading toward the light.
“No time to practice,” he said. “They’ll just have to forgive me if my rhythm’s off.”
He hummed happily, wondering how he would introduce himself from now on.
No longer the Chosen One. No longer Norgudd.
“Just an ogre with a drum, getting off my bum,” he sang. “Doesn’t matter where you’re from, come dance along and hum!”