Part 8: A Choice Between Two Lives
She had ruled over the spiders of the Old Forest for years beyond count as did her mother and her mother before her. Now her realm stretched across a wide section of the southern forest and she was continually sending out war-parties to expand it even more. Few things came near her borders that were not ensnared and none that were ensnared made it back out again alive. And now, she had three new victims to feed her insatiable appetite and those of her subjects, she moved into the middle of the wide area that made up her ‘palace’ to greet her guests. The travellers watched in horror as she approached, her large bulbous body supported by eight massive legs covered in a dense layer of hair and spiky outgrowths. Above her head protruded two stalks of many pale-glowing eyes that shone with a feverish light and underneath a mouth of cruel arms and pincers that relished the meal ahead.
Mericc tensed himself as the monstrous spider came into view, all of his senses were focused and his mind tried its’ best to survey the situation as impassively as possible. The place they found themselves in was shaped like a rough bowl with a few scattered gnarled tree’s in the center, including the one that poor Tom was trapped against. Towards the back there was a cut in the hills that looked as if some giant had come down on the land with an axe and split a shallow gap into it and it was this gap that the queen of the spider brood, and who else could she be, had come from. She stood before them now, positioning herself between them and the tree where Tom was, and as she came fully into the half-light, Mericc understood what was the cause of the sounds they had heard echoed in the forest.
While six of her legs looked like normal spider legs, her front two were different. These had no hair on them and instead were formed of a hard chitinous material that tapered off to deadly looking points. As they stood considering each other, the spider queen tapped these legs on the nearest tree causing the familiar tapping and ticking sounds that Mericc supposed was her way of transmitting commands to her servants no matter how far away in her realm they were. He also noticed that her two large body guards had these same sharp stabbing legs on them as well and wondered what he had done to deserve such luck. Before he could ponder the winding ways that fate often took, the spider
"Whaat fortune my children", she said in a gurgling high pitched voice. "Ssome more morsselss for our ssupper. Come little daintiesss, whaat bringss you soo readily to our little party?" With this she used one of her sharp legs and gave the young Tom a poke in the center of his gut. The bundle shifted and a muffled cry escaped, by some miracle the boy is alive, Mericc thought, though for how long he couldn’t be sure. A loud chittering exploded around them as the spider horde enjoyed their queen’s little jest. Mericc kept one hand on his sword and another on Laralini’s arm, she was visibly shaking and Mericc could well imagine the terror the young inexperienced scholar was feeling. On his other side, Morko was growling and pawing the ground, the great bear was itching for a fight. Mericc’s shield was still attached to special hooks on his back but his sword was out in front of him, prepared to counter any sudden attack.
Finally when the sound died down Mericc spoke up. "We have come for the boy and if you give him over to us freely, we will leave without any trouble and no one has too be harmed", which was true enough, the warrior knew that if it came to a fight there were likely to be casualties on both sides, something he hoped to avoid.
A bubbling laugh came from the queen of the spiders that was repeated by her legion of followers. "Ssuch talk from ssupper! It isss not normal, yesss? Doess it reaally think we sshall not make it a meal for our children?"
"It is possible", Mericc replied with a snarl and a gleam in his eye. "But I assure you that it will not go without the loss of many of your’ children and I will make it my duty to make sure you are one of the fallen."
He stood before her proudly and unafraid which gave the spider queen pause and she considered him, her mind pondering in it’s wickedness the boldness of his words, far different than she was used to from those that entered her web. She tapped at the tree and half a score of the smaller spiders dropped down in front of Mericc and attacked. In a flash, the warrior’s blade and the great bear’s paws killed several of the spiders and moments later the rest lay dead. A loud angry chittering erupted all around them, Mericc and Morko advanced towards the queen threateningly while Laralini stayed close behind the warrior, too afraid to say or do anything. The spider queen backed off and her body guards advanced while many more of her smaller brood dropped down as well. After a sharp, fierce fight, another score of spiders were dead including one of the queen’s body guards, and Mericc and Morko were yards away from the queen who suddenly climbed up Tom’s tree and shouted "Wait!!"
Both of her dagger-like front legs were poised dangerously close to Tom, in a moment they could come down and end his life and the quest in one fell stroke. Time froze for a few tense seconds as spider and guardian stared at each other. "Come no closser or I sshall end him, foul little morsel." She hissed. "What chance do you think you have? What isss thiss one life to you that it iss worth rissking so much?" As she spoke dozens more spiders came down from the ceiling to be quickly replaced by even more who took up their spots above.
Mericc considered the situation carefully but could find no way out that didn’t either get Tom killed or get them all killed and then Tom eaten. He looked around and saw Morko prepared to fight, he saw Laralini frozen with fear and uncertainty and it was in that moment that he knew what to do. The guardian dropped his sword arm and approached the spider queen who was still perched high above in Tom’s tree. Her head turned slightly as she considered this unexpected turn.
"His life means a lot too me", Mericc said. "In fact I wish to bargain with you for it."
Spider, bear and elf maiden all looked at the warrior, wondering what he was playing at. The spider queen broke the silence, "And what would you give in return for thiss meal, morsel? My children grow hungry and so do I."
Without hesitation Mericc replied, "In exchange for myself."
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