Grimp stared at the stone walls and sighed. He scratched the itch on his long nose and looked back at the dark forest behind. No going back–that bleak wood was full of goblins and wolves and how he had ever come through undetected was quite beyond luck to Grimp’s mind. This old keep appeared deserted, but the oaken gate was battened down tight and there would be no easy access. He hammered on the door with the back edge of his ax to no avail.
The forest was quiet save for the occasional chirp of a cricket, as if it held its breath before some unknown and disastrous onslaught. An uneasy feeling stirred in Grimp’s bowels. He wandered around the keep’s perimeter and relieved his bladder on the far side before returning to the gate.
The keep sat on the forest’s edge and the land before him now was broken and a barren path led downward into a swamp-like, narrow valley. There seemed to be little shelter in that direction. Moreover, the cloudy sky was growing darker, the air cooler, and so Grimp came to a quick decision to camp at the base of the granite walls.
He built a small fire, spread his cloak nearby, and sat by the flame in the growing gloom. The warmth was comforting and he absently chewed on a chunk of venison jerky his old wife had prepared some weeks before. This journey had come to naught. Grimp thought he might take his ax to the gate come morning when his bones didn’t ache so from his long, weary trek.
A fitful sleep took him. Nightmares of the war which had seen the total destruction of the elves, kept Grimp tossing and turning, but never quite gaining wakefulness. Foul goblins overran the fair wood where the elfin folk had dwelled, killing them all. King Gorley of the dwarves remained with his armies in the lofty Stony Mountains and heeded not the desperate pleadings of the elves.
Grimp awoke with a start. The dark night pressed down upon him. He gathered his wits from the depths of slumber and looked about.
Mere yards away, the large oaken gate stood open! Its great hinges creaked on a stiff breeze. Grimp heard a low rumbling of thunder in the distance as fat drops of cold rain plunked down from above. He gathered his belongings and stamped out the remaining embers of the fire and dashed for the open gate. The small courtyard within was barren except for a well at its center. A stair led to the walkway around the top of the wall by the ramparts. Under the stair was a doorway and Grimp walked quickly and entered within.
Inside he noted a small fireplace and quickly went about the task of building a fire, surprised by the fact that the makings were there by the hearth. A bright flash followed by crashing thunder was enough to bring Grimp over to close and latch the door to the chambers. Setting a larger log to the fire, he looked on satisfied and then decided to make an explore of the insides of the keep. The room he was in was perhaps eight paces across and twelve paces wide. An archway to his right led to a darkened chamber which held many low pallets–a barracks, no doubt. And beyond that was a galley. Long tables in the room’s center and a large brick oven in the left corner took up most all the space in the room. Grimp re-entered the barracks-room and counted fifty low pallets–no bedding remained. A lonely outpost was all this keep appeared to be–protecting this insignificant pass down into the swampy valley below.
Grimp went back out to the room with the fireplace and pulled a wobbly chair close to the hearth. “˜Oh, for a pint of ale,’ he sighed. All that his deerskin held was water from a murky brook he had crossed in the dark forest. Come morning he’d refresh his supply of water from the rain barrel he’d noted sitting outside beside the stair over the door. Grimp got to his feet and took his pack into the barracks room and made a bed on one of the pallets, but instead of bedding down there, he went back to the fireside and waited for the dawn, napping on and off, and wondering whatever had happened to whoever had guarded this place.
After the goblins had destroyed the elves, they had come in number into the valley where Grimp’s people had dwelt. Grimp forever would feel guilt for having been away on a lonely hunt on the fire mountain far to the north. His homecoming brought shock, then anger, then fear. But loneliness was all he now held. War was followed by pestilence, plague, and finally, Death.
Morn broke and Grimp rose, gathering his belongings he was hesitant to depart. Outside he stopped–a cold shudder chilled his spine; for there in the courtyard stood a tall wraith, its form wispy in the fair morning breeze.
“Oh,” spoke the wraith in a ghostly voice. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Grimp drew his blade, suddenly feeling foolish for the gesture.
“I left the gate open for you. You must realize, Grimp–the Age of Legends is over. Goblins, dwarves, elves, and trolls–even imps, such as you, dear Grimp–will be nothing but distant memories in mere decades. And soon just figures of myth and fairy tale. The demi-god Time sent me to fetch you, Grimp. A new Age has begun–one you are not part of.
“Time?” asked Grimp.
“I’m going with you, Grimp. And I have a surprise for you, too. Your old wife Touimpy is there, just waiting to see you.”
The wraith smiled and held out a vaporous hand.
And Grimp reached out and grasped the hand of Death.
DJ Barber waits for the muse to whisper ideas on the warm, desert air.