The Uncanny Saga of Krog the Barbarian
1. Just Deserts
“Krog not stupid!”
Krog waved his club at the ratdragon that trudged ahead of him leaving tracks in the sand. Its drooping tail left a line between its footprints. The small creature, larger than a rat but much smaller than the dragons that routinely abduct princesses, turned its head. In profile this looked very much like a rat’s even down to the whiskers on either side. But of course, it didn’t get its name from just its looks. It was a scavenger and, like its earthbound counterpart, would just about eat anything. It was also bad tempered.
“Krog’s a dumbass!” The ratdragon waved one of its bat-like wings at the scenery. “Just look where we are!”
Where they were was a desert. Above them was a bright blue sky out of which a baking sun shone down mercilessly. There wasn’t even the hint of shade anywhere, if you excluded their shadows. Where they were was at the bottom of a large dune shaped like an inverted bowl. It was rippled down the side where the wind had created neat little ridges like those one sees on a sandy beach when the tide has gone out.
“Krog know way!”
“Your idea of the way is to bluster along until you need to clonk something with that club of yours. You’ve got us lost.”
“Krog not lost! Krog know where Krog is!”
“And where’s that?”
Krog gestured at the ground at his feet. “Here!”
“Yes, here. Here we are. Here in an endless desert with no food or water. Just brilliant! I just don’t know why I don’t fly away and leave you to die here.”
“Krog bring food!”
The ratdragon clucked. “The only food you’ll provide is for the vultures.”
“You make fun of Krog?”
“Do you see anyone else around here?”
Krog turned three hundred and sixty degrees, his hand over his eyes to shield him from that merciless sun. He dropped his hand. “Only you!” There was a long pause. “You not nice!”
The ratdragon blew a very passable imitation of a raspberry.
Krog raised his club and lunged towards the ratdragon. Seeing this, the creature flapped its wings and took off.
“You come back!” Krog shook his fist in the ratdragon’s direction. “Krog be no more friend with Ratface!”
Ratface, as was its name, so called by everyone because, as previously described, it had a face like a rat, sailed up into the air as it caught a passing zephyr, and away from the none too pleased Krog. The frustrated barbarian shook his club at the reptile and roared.
The ratdragon soared higher and higher and then swooped away out of sight, hidden by the sand dune. A few minutes later it sailed back and dived down towards Krog. The barbarian gazed up at it as it flew in circles, conveniently out of reach of Krog’s club.
“I’ve found an oasis. It’s over the dune and not far away.”
“Krog not want oasis!”
“There’s water there.”
“Krog want oasis!”
“Then up and over the dune and we’re nearly there.” Ratface flew off and landed at the summit.
Krog struggled up to the top dislodging large quantities of sand that started a series of sand slides. The nice patterns in the dune’s side were utterly ruined.
“Krog forgive Ratface!” He sat down on the sand. “Ouch! Sand hot!” He shot up rubbing his backside. “Show Krog where oasis!”
Ratface used a wing to point at a shimmering spot in the distance that was a darker colour than the sea of dunes that ran to the horizon.
“We go.” Krog set off down the dune dislodging large quantities of sand that started a series of slides, which in turn dislodged further sand, and more sand still. He had to wade through the heap at the bottom before hitting terra firma. Well, firmer sand.
The sun was beginning to touch the horizon, and the shadows cast by the dunes extended up the flanks of their neighbours, when they finally reached the oasis. Palm trees grew in a semi-circular pattern at the centre of which was a pool that, on its surface, reflected the reddening sky.
Breaking out into a run, Krog made a dash for the water and plunged in. This caused a mini-tsunami that sent waves racing to the shore and beyond. In his plunge, Krog completely disappeared under the surface only to emerge moments later sprouting water from his mouth like one of those over-life-sized statues they put in public parks.
He spluttered and waved his hands as he waded to the bank. “Cold!”
Ratface went to the water’s edge and glucked its fill.
Krog used his club to bash one of the palms. It gave up the coconuts it had been hoarding and they fell, one of them bouncing and hitting Krog in the chest. He grunted. “Krog not like tree!” He stepped back, raised his club to strike, and was about to deliver the blow-of-blows when a voice called out.
What made Krog the barbarian hold his swing was the fact that the voice wasn’t Ratface’s. He turned to find out who had commanded him.
A woman dressed head to toe in long flowing black and white robes that were both concealing and revealing was striding purposefully towards him. She had dark hair that fell below her shoulders. Her eyes fixed on him fairly smouldered.
“Krog like woman!”
“Why are you attacking the tree?”
“Tree attack Krog!”
Ratface swooped over in a power glide and landed at Krog’s feet.
“Where did you come from?”
The woman gave the ratdragon a scornful glare. “A flying talking rat, well I never.”
“Watch it. This rat has teeth!” Ratface opened its jaws and hissed loudly.
Krog stepped forward and caught the distracted ratdragon around the neck. He got a nasty peck as well as several deep claw scratches from the surprised and angry ratdragon. Krog let go and Ratface hopped away hissing furiously.
“Thank you for saving me from that creature.”
The woman came over to Krog and took his injured hand and inspected it. “Let me bath this in water.” She pulled at him. Krog allowed himself to be led. She took him to the poolside before reaching down, cupping some water in her hand and sprinkling it on his injuries.
“Krog like that!”
“Does Krog like me?”
“Krog like you!”
“And I like you.”
At this moment, Ratface flew over screeching loudly. It flapped around at the two of them.
“Get away!” The woman sheltered herself against Krog.
He clutched her protectively with one arm.
“Krog kill Ratface.” He waved his club around in the air trying to hit the ratdragon. In response, it flew off into the gathering gloom.
“See, Krog strong!” He showed his biceps.
The woman felt his muscles. “You are strong. I like that.” She pointed. “Come, we’ll eat together.”
She led him around the pool towards the other side of the oasis. Hidden behind the trees a glow acted as a beacon. It resolved into a fire behind which was a large tent of the kind much favoured by nomads. Working a spit, two women, clad almost identically to the first one, were roasting an animal. Drops of fat fell into the flames and sizzled. Then there was a whoosh as flames erupted around the roast.
“Krog like meat!”
The woman led him to a carpet laid out beside the fire with cushions piled up on it. She indicated he should sit down. Krog obliged. She settled next to him.
One of the women broke off from her task and went into the tent to rematerialize carrying a tray with two goblets on it. She presented these first to the woman and then to Krog.
The seated woman raised her glass. “A toast.”
Krog looked to left and right and then towards the fire. “Krog see no toast, only meat!”
“I mean, let’s drink.”
Before Krog could bring the goblet to his lips, Ratface swooped down and knocked the cup out of his hand. It hit the carpet spilling the liquid everywhere. The ratdragon vanished into the darkness.
Krog jumped to his feet. He gazed around at the nearest palms whose fronds were lit up by the fire. He swung his club in a menacing circle.
The woman had also risen to her feet. She laid her hands around his forearm and gently tugged. “Ignore the creature. It’s rabid.” She gestured at their place. “Let’s sit down and we’ll get more wine.”
Krog sank back to his seat, but he kept looking to left and right as if expecting the ratdragon to reappear at any moment.
The woman who had brought the drink recovered the goblet and headed for the tent with it. As she entered, Ratface flew in just behind her. There were clatters and shrieks from inside.
Krog leapt up.
Brandishing his club, he rushed to the opening and plunged in. Past the entrance, he rattled to a stop. Instead of a living space, the near entirety of the tent was occupied by a large plant. It had runners that were furiously waving about trying to seize Ratface. The ratdragon was diving and rolling in a desperate attempt to avoid capture.
One of the tendrils caught Krog’s leg and started to pull him like a puppy on a leash towards what could only be a mouth.
“Krog not like!” He swung his club and severed the runner. The plant squealed.
Ratface flew over and landed on Krog’s shoulder. “We’d best be getting out of here.”
“Krog agree!” He turned only to be confronted by the two women who barred his way. They had wicked, notched knives in their hands. They stepped forward as one.
“Behind you.” Ratface took flight and flapped around the third woman who had been stealthily approaching them from behind. She waved her knife in the air trying to strike the ratdragon.
“Raaah!” Krog charged at the women in front of him only to switch direction at the last minute as he tripped on a tendril and crashed into the side of the tent. There was a rip and, stumbling as he untangled himself from the large tear in the fabric, he was outside.
He ran on. There was a shriek behind him as the women set off in pursuit.
Ratface now flew above Korg. “Good escape technique there.”
“Krog angry!” He waved his club wildly in the air nearly hitting Ratface.
“Sure, sure. Let’s fight them another time, yeah?”
There was a sound like a volcano erupting. They both looked behind them. Lit up by the fire, where the tent had been, a monstrous plant was rising up. Its fronds were waving frantically in the air. It took a step forward, then another.
“Run!” Following its own advice, Ratface flew on ahead.
“Krog run!” For such a large barbarian Krog had form when it came to running. He put on a bout of speed and caught up with the ratdragon. Unfortunately, the plant also had form and was following them, speeding up with each step.
“Krog, you’ve got to do something.”
“Krog doing! Krog running!”
The animated plant was now close behind them. Any palm in its path was swept aside like a child’s toy. What just had to be a growl came from the monstrosity.
Krog shifted direction in order to shake the creature off. Size and momentum meant that the perambulating tree continued its path, and this provided precious seconds of respite.
Ratface fluttered down in front of the running Krog and in a feat of flying managed to flap backwards in front of the barbarian’s face.
“Krog. You’ll have to fight the thing; you can’t outrun it.”
“Now listen you hairy ape, there’s nowhere to hide.”
“Bury Krog in sand!”
The argument with the stubborn Krog might have gone on a long time except events took a turn. The animated plant had switched direction and was again on their trail. Hiding in such a situation was simply out of the question. If it ever had been.
Seeing death approach, Ratface took the natural and only course of action: it flew off to the relative safety of the crown of a palm.
Perhaps Ratface’s point had penetrated Krog’s thick skull, or he had an innate instinct for survival, but just as the vegetable behemoth was about to stomp him out of existence, he veered off again. But this time, instead of seeking to run, he turned and swung his club at a passing leg. It connected with a very satisfying crunch, as if someone had taken a hammer to balsa wood.
There was a scream like the sound of the wind during a hurricane. The creature skidded to a halt, sending up a shower of sand. It turned, its tendrils waving in Krog’s direction. He batted them away creating a confetti of debris around him.
The overgrown vegetable stepped forward and tried to stomp him. At this moment, Ratface appeared flying around the creature distracting it. Krog jumped out of the way just as the huge foot thumped down where he had stood.
Krog thumped the foot with his club. Once. Twice. Three times. Each hit dislodged splinters and mangled the foot.
There was a tearing sound. The monstrosity wobbled. Krog retreated a few steps. Instead of doing the sensible thing any civilised man might do, Krog swotted away an errant tendril and charged at the other leg and walloped it. The creature reeled. Krog came to a standstill a short distance away and turned, preparing to charge again.
Ratface flew down. “It’s going to fall, you dolt!”
There was a tremendous cracking sound as both the plant’s legs snapped. As if undergoing a controlled demolition, the break in the legs caused the upper part to shunt down onto the legs. Its torso hit the ground and disintegrated, sending organic matter in all directions. Debris struck Krog knocking him backwards. The barbarian backed off several yards. Meanwhile, accompanied by loud snapping and popping sounds, the creature was collapsing like a badly stacked woodpile. Splinters and larger pieces flew everywhere. The head was the last part to hit the ground and disintegrate.
After a moment, a stillness descended on the scene. Apart from the smell of fresh hewn wood and a rain of pixie dust that settled gently over the freshly created log pile, nothing moved.
For a moment, the tableau remained frozen. Then there was a roar like a lion calling its mate and Krog jumped up and down. “Krog wins!” He brandished his club in the air before beating his chest with his other fist.
Ratface alighted on the barbarian’s shoulder.
“Krog, we’re not out of it yet.”
Following the tracks left by the vegetable, the three women were making their way towards them. Each held a wicked knife. Ratface took to the air again and circled.
Krog strode to meet them. He raised his club in defiance. They stopped some way apart. The centre one took a step forward. “Who are you?”
“Krog!” Just to emphasise the point, he juggled his club up and down.
“What happened? The last thing I remember is coming to the oasis with the caravan.”
Ratface alighted on Krog’s shoulder. “You were drugged by the Cephalotus. Big boy here killed it.”
She beamed at Krog. “You’re our saviour; I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Krog know!” He waved his club in the general direction of the fire that somehow had managed to survive the devastation intact. “Krog hungry!”
She went over and took his arm and tugged at him. “Shall we go together?” The other women placed themselves on his other side. One stroked Ratface under the chin. It snapped at her and she rapidly withdrew her hand.
In short order later, Krog was lying relaxed against the cushions. The women surrrounded him. One was feeding him morsels. Another was gently stroking his hairy chest. Over near the fire, Ratface was picking at the remains of the carcass occasionally emitting little squeals.
“What more can we do for our rescuer?” One of the women tendered the decanter. “More wine?”
“Krog like wine!”
The party went on late into the night.
The sun was up when Krog sat up. He shielded his eyes and gazed around.
Ratface alighted nearby. “They left at sunup.” The ratdragon deposited a bag beside the barbarian. “Here, I stopped them taking this.”
The barbarian picked it up. “Krog women’s friend.” He jingled the purse. “Why take Krog’s money?” Then, as if the thought had finally penetrated, he swirled his club in the air. “They take Krog’s money!” He got to his feet as if to go seek them.
“I’d leave them. You made enough of a fool of yourself last night.”
“Krog find women!”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Krog smart!” He whirled the club around seeking a target. But Ratface had made sure to be well out of range of the man’s club.