‘Raaaaagh! Come and die, bastards!’
‘No from your gut, man! Feel it welling up inside you, then let it burst forth in a torrent of rage and spittle. Raaagh! Again.’
‘Grrrr, come and…get it?…I’ve forgotten the words.’
‘This is hopeless’ exasperated, Heldman the Barbarian relented and sat down on a tree stump to finish his beer. ‘How are you going to strike fear into the hearts of your foes if you can’t even make them soil their britches with your ferocious war cry?’
‘I’m sorry, I’m just not that kind of bloke, I…’ started Burr, lowering himself slowly onto the grass.
Heldman continued unheeding, ‘It is as if you’ve never even been in a fist fight before, never stretched your manliness more than reaching for the next tankard. Or lamb shank. What did you do previously, I mean in your own world?’
‘Well, er, I was a gamer…’
‘What like a poacher? But Gretchen said you didn’t know the dangerous end of an arrow let alone which part of the bow shoots it.’
‘True’ said Gretchen materializing out of the woods otherwise entirely silently. She took up a fallen log and helped herself to a wine skin. ‘Closest he ever got to mastering the hunt was when he threw his bow away in frustration and accidentally concussed a hedgehog.’
‘Well, at least you got to eat that night right?’ beamed the Barbarian hopefully.
‘No, the concussed hedgehog managed to out-stagger him before he could summon up enough energy to deliver the death blow.’
The massive, ripped, semi-naked form of the barbarian slumped and generally looked rather glum, as if he had lost empathy with the world. ‘So, what were you, a pie maker or something?’
‘No er, no I just sat about all-day playing games.’
‘You mean like a gambler? A card shark, you can count cards and dice and such?’
‘No, not exactly, I play on, er, I guess a machine. It’s called a, ‘computer’; this ‘computer’ makes all the sounds and the FX and all your little men run around slaying each other…you press buttons…’
The barbarian’s mighty brow furrowed and fixed the fat man with a genuinely concerned and bemused face. The kind of expression a giant might use when being ambushed by a lone goblin armed with a limp lettuce leaf.
‘I don’t understand you or your world at all, Burr. I’m not sure I can help you.’
‘Please help him, Heldman’ breathed the sulky elf, ‘if not for his sake, then for mine – he needs to learn to fight in order to get back to his own world and I’m just plain sick of the sight of him.’ Not used to emulating human expressions Gretchen tried a doe eyed pout to sway the warrior, but gave up and just sneered at the fat man instead.
‘But no-one can be that useless!’ He can’t even hold a sword up for a minute without sweating!’
‘Can we not just fill him up with potions and get him to jog round and round the forest until he loses weight?’
‘Hm, brilliant idea, Elf. But I’m wary that the thunderous plod of his hooves and his thighs slapping together would rouse every orc, Wildhorn and brigand in the area to us. And I don’t think even us two could fend off all that lot all at once. I know I’m the mightiest warrior this land has seen in an age, but I don’t want my last lament on this earth to be remembered as being hacked to death by a hoard of irate forest gnomes whilst babysitting a fat idiot.’
The warrior stroked his square, bristly jaw. ‘Hmmm, we could always fit him out in the thickest plate armour and the biggest shield and just hope he can take the punishment.’
‘Great idea and one to keep for later. But if you hadn’t noticed we’re not exactly flush with coin at present; and besides you’d never meet a smith with enough metal to cover his tits alone. What about if we nab a gutplate from an ogre?’
‘Hmmm, worth a try if we can manage to stand the smell of ‘em.’
‘We have to put up with a similar stink now!’
Burr shrugged his shoulders sullenly as the pair glared at him.
‘Good point.’ Conceded Heldman. ‘Oh look, it’s no use let’s just kill him and bury him in a shallow grave and be done with it. There’s simply no way to help him.’
‘Hey, I am still here you know!’ whined Burr, rocking back and forth on his bottom in order to reach his backpack without having to get up again.
‘Only in body…’ said the Elf coldly and turned back to the barbarian. ‘Look, the wizard said our fate and that of the land is entwined with the Podgling. Either we help him or we’ve doomed ourselves.’
The handsome warrior sighed then straightened his back and set his jaw. ‘Right, fair point. On your feet Burr. And pick up that sword. Gretchen, you’re going to spar with him.’
‘Oh, God…’ huffed the petulant Elf.
Burr eventually made it on to his knees and got up off the grass. Only then did he realise his sword was still laying on the ground. So he therefore had to lower himself back down on to one knee, then use the sword to lever himself back up again. Panting and wheezing he took up position opposite the elf who was gingerly nibbling a pheasant leg.
‘Ok Burr, here we go.’ Said the warrior in his most level and patient tone. ‘Feet wide apart, shoulder to your enemy. Now don’t take your eyes off her…’
‘But she’s not even playing properly, she hasn’t got her sword out yet…’
‘Never mind that Burr, just focus, eyes on her hands; now take the biggest lung full of air you can into the pit of your stomach. Then, run at her screaming and waving your sword about. Go!’
‘Aiiiiee!’ Burr squealed and stumbled towards his unconcerned prey. Unaccustomed to moving all his limbs at the same time he half paused every few steps to swing the blade around.
Eventually he got within striking distance of his target. The elf didn’t even take her eyes of her meal as she side stepped, flicking her sword from its sheath and disarmed Burr as he ambled by. The sword flew off, end over end, in to the undergrowth and landed with a wet thuck!
Burr’s legs couldn’t keep up with the memento his belly had produced and he went down in a big, huffing, blubbery pile amidst an explosion of detritus from the forest floor.
The barbarian’s forehead slapped into his palms and he groaned the low, prolonged groan of someone not used to being defeated.
Gretchen tossed away the remnants of her lunch and beamed, ‘that was fun. Shall we do it again?’
‘Mo!’ Groaned Burr through a mouthful of leaf litter.
A violent thrashing from the forest brought everyone’s head up; even Burr’s as he struggled to turn over onto his back. The barbarian was already in a fighting stance with his broadsword ready and Gretchen had dived for her bow. By the time she’d rolled into cover she had an arrow notched and ready.
A large, sweating, bovine-headed man staggered out of the dense foliage clutching at his chest. At an awkward angle, protruding from his body, was Burr’s sword. The thing looked at the three heroes in astonishment, blood pouring from its gaping mouth and fell face first into the clearing. The sword erupted out of its back as it hit the ground fountaining more blood.
Heldman and Gretchen exchanged a glance, then the Elf roared, ‘Ambush!’ The woods exploded with motion as monstrous ram-horned men burst into the clearing waving crude clubs and other primitive death dealing apparatus. An ugly, malformed, reeking dog-thing attached itself to Burr’s forearm and started trying to wrench it off.
The barbarian took huge strides to meet the charge of three of the grotesque things, swinging his mighty weapon in death dealing patterns.
The elf rolled under the swing of a Wildhorn’s stone axe then shot another in the chest at point blank range. Shouldering her bow and unsheathing her sword in a heartbeat, she rushed through the defence of another slicing its guts open before leaping at a tree and back flipping off into another. Safe on a high limb her bow was again in her hand and fletches started appearing in furry chests.
Luckily for Burr, the evil hound’s fearsome teeth couldn’t penetrate his steel armbraces but doggedly held on. Adrenaline even lent him the initiative to wrestle his dagger from his belt and plunge it into the beast’s eyes and throat.
Around the barbarian bloody limbs and decapitated heads hit the ground and he howled with the glory of battle. His last victim raised its club to block his overhead blow, but the crude thing offered no resistance and the sword thunked down into the creature’s thick skull splitting it to the jaw, horns and all.
Panting, the heroes looked around them warily; it was all mess and blood and foul secretions. Burrs bottom lip was trembling as he pushed the spasming dog corpse off and tried to right himself.
‘Ah!’ said the barbarian brightly, lowering his weapon. ‘Lovely. Oh quick, Burr! On your feet, this is important!’
The barbarian grappled the fat man to his unsteady feet and snatched up a beast-man’s head off the ground. ‘Now then, hold this above your head, beat your chest and shout, RAAAGH!’
Swooning, Burr did as best as he was told. He lifted the dripping horned head as high as he could, about shoulder height, slapped his chest weakly with his palm, murmured raagh and then feinted dead away.