By-Tor Brigade Legacy
Book 4 – Part 1 – Convoy to Vokhund
- Contents (1)
- Chapter 1: Convoy Mission
- Chapter 2: Erminsway
- Chapter 3: Glawchester
- Chapter 4: Vokhund
- Chapter 5: The Swift Axe
See also: Adventure Log > Session 15B, 2015-12-18
Chapter 1: Convoy Mission
Book 4 begins rather mundanely. Yriadel and her six companions had lingered casually in the town of Ullester for the summer months, recovering from their wounds and improving their skills.
Eorl Aragnar’s Mission Request
At the Drunken Dragon inn, Dodge and the group crossed paths with Nahia of Arvit and Joby Flint. The two had just arrived from Kantor, via Lindenway, and were transporting trade goods. They were part of a larger convoy from which they would be separating after Ullester.
Cwink Broder approached the group and asked them to meet with Eorl Aragnar at his Meadhall. The seven arrived that afternoon and participated in a feast where the mead and ale flowed freely.
Getting down to business, Eorl Aragnar explained: ‘A convoy of traders and merchants arrived in Ullester yesterday, and they will continue onward in a day or two. Accompanying the group is Lord Austalf Vikna of Kantor and his daughter. The Vikna family are old allies of the Araganingas.’ Most of the local Angarians recognized the name Vikna as one of Kantor’s ruling families.
‘In fact,’ added Thyle Pace Dubhans, ‘before Araganus was First Eorl of Ullester, he was leader of the By-Tor Brigade and they performed a dangerous mission for Lord Kandor Vikna back in 2123. Along with his companions, Geldron Wielder of Gorauk, Meda Kwae the One-Eyed and Sarnkees Wave Wielder, Araganus successfully infiltrated the underground fortress of Parriatt Trayelle and they destroyed the evil lich which ruled there. And before that, in 2115, when the By-Tor Brigade freed the prisoners from the labyrinths below the fortress of the Necromancer (also known as Theleb F’lar the Crimson King), Princess Kolari Vikna was among those they rescued.’
‘Ahem!’ Aragnar interrupted the Scop’s vibrant ranting with a patient smile. ‘As I was saying… Beyond Ullester, the convoy is splitting into smaller groups, and Lord Austalf now requires a stronger convoy guard as they go beyond the frontiers of Baeldur. He asked me for references, and I recommended Dodge, Kyran and your crew. I can spare no Eohriddas nor Burgwardas at this time, so I would like you to take on this duty. And frankly, I believe you to be better equipped for this sort of task anyway.’
The group was bored with the easy life in Ullester and graciously accepted the task. Pace Dubhans gave them further instructions. ‘Locate the Maejard Teamsters at the Goblin Stomp Stables, find their bondsman Dunnwood Bendikson, and apply for the duty of convoy guard.’
At the Goblin Stomp Stables, the sign above the door perpetuated one of the greatest fears of the lowly goblin—being trampled underfoot by a horse. Tended by a retired hunter named “Hucky” Buck, Hucky’s hatred of goblins was nearly legendary in Ullester. In a somewhat grisly display, over the entrance to the stable’s covered barn was his collection of goblin ears: preserved and nailed to three different rafters, each bearing the goblin’s name burned into the leathery flesh—mostly because Hucky knew that writing down a goblin’s name was one of the worst things you could do to desecrate his memory.
Magna asked Hucky for the whereabouts of Dunnwood Bendikson, and Hucky gladly pointed out the leader of Maejard Teamsters busily working over by two of his wagons.
Dunnwood Bendikson was middle-aged, skinny (about 5’6”, 140 pounds) and had a large, bald head, with sunken eyes and a large, straight nose that almost overlapped his mouth. Upon his bald head he wore a red cap which matched his red cloak attached across his chest by a heart-shaped brooch. Displaying a rare and unusual style, his trousers were adorned with a cod-piece. He was concentrating seriously while double checking the inventory within two of his three wagons (The group would later learn that the third wagon was located at Weland’s Wagons, receiving repairs).
At first, Dunnwood seemed annoyed at the interruption to his important work, but upon receiving introductions to the group, he seemed to recognize their names and his temperament calmed a bit. Maybe he was impressed by their weapons and armor and their appearance as experienced adventurers, or perhaps he was mindful of a reference he had received in advance from an agent of the Eorl, but in either case he promptly offered to hire them as convoy guards. ‘I have funds for six warriors to guard both cargo and passengers,’ he said, ‘or five warriors and one scout, would be even better. The job will pay 100 shillings each.’
Bargaining commenced, as the group wanted to bring Yriadel as their healer, and upon Lee’s smooth convincing, Dunnwood agreed to 700 shillings total for the seven of them.
As the group was leaving the barnyard, they were confronted by four Nordheimrs who had been waiting nearby. The group had met these men as competitors before, during the Mayday contests. Thjóstarr, their leader, and Rauthbjorn had both ran in the Mayday Footrace; Ozurr had competed in the Araganstone contest; and Klif Nordson had been one of the archery contestants. Today the Nordheimrs appeared to be upset that the potential for hire as convoy guards had been taken from them.
‘Begone, dunga! Mind your own affairs,’ grumbled Thjóstarr, directly towards Kyran. Though Kyran would not confirm until later that “dunga” was a Nordheimr insult, the tone was enough to make it clear he was goading them. ‘Hon varr Nordheimr, gamla vis Hruga uskit’r.’ Lee had heard these words before, and knew them to mean “I am a Nordheimr and thou art less than a heap of shit.”
Kyran and his friends were not afraid to fight, but they were respectful enough of their new employer that they preferred to show discipline in his midst and avoid a barnyard brawl.
‘Thjóstarr, I do not think the nithingr understands your words,’ teased Ozurr.
Thjóstarr glared threateningly at Kyran who avidly returned the angry stare. ‘Walk away, you fawning, weather-bitten boar-pig,’ challenged Thjóstarr. The other three laughed at the open insult.
‘Well I am sure he understood that one,’ joked Rauthbjorn, and they all four laughed at their jest.
Kyran, to his credit, led his friends away from the stables and down the road to the Drunken Dragon where they promptly toasted to their new job with some delicious Hwychwood Ale. Had they looked back, the would have seen that Dunnwood smiled approvingly at their show of nerve.
During the next two days, as Yriadel and her friends coordinated with Dunnwood and his team with details for the journey, they grew to know their new traveling companions better.
Dunnwood Bendikson was obsessively organized. Though normally calm, he frequently experienced extreme mood swings and had a very short temper, usually demonstrated by yelling at his workers. Dunnwood was the head manager of Maejard Teamsters and he was very careful with the wagons. He had been trading in this area for many years and Yriadel would discover later that he had friends in nearly every town along his routes.
Popper Maejards was an elderly man, but very spry. He was tall (6’ without his hat) and his body and limbs were skinny, almost stick-like, which made his bald head seem abnormally large. He sported a white, handlebar mustache and wore a dapper black hat that matched his finely crafted doublet which was always neatly buttoned. Despite being an elderly gentleman, Popper was very childlike and naïve. He was perpetually bubbly, cheerful and optimistic, and tended to be overly ecstatic about every situation. He expressed himself very politely as an upright nobleman, overly extending his words and sentences with formality. Popper was second manager of Maejard Teamsters, though he rarely exercised this authority, and also served as cook. Later Yriadel would learn that Popper was the son of Mr. Maejard, owner of the team, so though he was actually highest rank, he relied on Dunnwood to manage the team and prefered to do menial labor along with the others. The whole team watched out for Popper, but Dunnwood seemed to be the most responsible for his care. Popper was easily amused, taking interest in little things such as butterflies. Once Yriadel observed him laughing at his own reflection in water.
Hops Quippenger was a large, burly man in his middle-age years. He stood about 6’2”, with tremendously bulky chest, arms and shoulders, but contrarily small hands. He had long, white hair on his head. Thick, white body hair grew on his neck and protruded visibly from every gap in his clothing. Despite his hirsute nature, he defiantly refrained from growing a beard and his face constantly bore a white stubble in testament to his endeavor. His token animal was the isbjörn (ice-bear). Hops was normally very quiet, but when he did speak, he usually said something very wise. He had knowledge of many things of the unknown. Hops was third manager of Maejard Teamsters, and also served as guide, wise man and holy man. His eyes were two different colors: the right was dark green; the left was light blue. (Yriadel was aware that this was considered to be a sign of good luck and an indication of protection by the gods.) Eventually, Yriadel noticed that the top of his head was bald and he combed his long hair over the bald spot to cover it.
Digby Sawyer was a young Halfling, standing only 3’2” and weighing 32 pounds, and had spikey brown hair. He wore a grey cloak, the hood of which was lined with the fur of a badger, his token animal. Digby could be best described as a spoiled child, despite being an adult. He was arrogant, impulsive, impatient and immature at all times. He all too easily became frustrated, frightened, confused or sad, which actually made his behavior very predictable. Digby was best friends with Mordo, and they were rarely separate. Digby was very good at “Quartz, Vellum, Shears” and would almost always beat Mordo when they played. He was very weak, and therefore very bad at the game “Punchies” (even Popper could beat him) and whenever he lost he would hit the ground, moaning in pain. Digby was very unclean and refused to bathe – when Yriadel complained one day, he said that he “only uses rain to clean himself.”
Mordo Quintell was youthful and handsome, with smooth brown hair. He was a tall 6’3”, skinny and wiry. He wore a blue cloak, the collar of which was adorned with tail feathers of the azure-winged magpie, his token animal. Mordo was mild-mannered and carefree, yet he displayed a fair degree of responsibility and intelligence for his age. He was a constant companion to his best friend Digby and was the only one who routinely put up with Digby’s laziness and immaturity.
Sörenstone was a repulsive looking young man. He stood 5’8” and weighed around 250 pounds. He was fat and had large, flabby breasts. He was also quite filthy, and reeked of body odor. (Mordo once said that he smelled like barf.) He was missing some front teeth, and had shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair. Though Sorenstone was dimwitted, obese and malodorous, he was a jovial and friendly personality and loyally watched out for his friends. He constantly made stupid “My Mom” jokes, insulting himself and his own mother, rather than others; only his best friend Fife seemed to enjoy these, and they annoyed everyone else.
Fife was a young Halfling who stood 3’4” and weighed 38 pounds. He had curly blond hair and he wore a cloak of a light green shade. On his head he typically wore his leather cap, topped with a small cluster of gray feathers that resembled the shape of a hand raised in greeting. Fife was a more typical Halfling than Digby, being more shy and respectful. He was very light-footed and at times glided along without a sound. Fife was best friends with Sorenstone and served as the crew’s wainwright.
The convoy consisted of three wagons. Each wagon contained a third portion of the journey’s rations, feed and water. Dunnwood and Popper drove the first wagon, which contained barrels of salted carp. Mordo and Rigby drove the second wagon which was loaded with several large burlap bags of pepper, numerous crates of bronze ingots, a large ceramic vase filled with vellum, a chest with a bolt of purple cloth, and a chest with purple glass jars. Sorenstone and Fife drove the third wagon which was packed with 12 kegs of Hwychwood Ale (6 of Bogmyrtle Ale, 6 of Dandelion Ale) and 12 crates of bottled Nutmeg Mead. Hops rode ahead or alongside the convoy on horseback.
Lord Austalf Vikna and Lady Leka Vikna
In the morning, all the cargo was packed and the convoy began their departure from Ullester. Aiden was mounted on Shadowmist (recently nursed back to health and looking strong) and trailed behind the train. Yriadel and the other five walked ahead or alongside the train. As they were rolling out, Dodge and Kyran were approached by two young girls each bearing a basket. The girls were the twins, Katla and Kitta, daughters of Embla Bæcestre, owner of the bakery. The ladies had heard of the seven’s impending departure and offered parting gifts: baskets full of baked treats. “Come back safe,” they pleaded.
The convoy rolled through the town, but just before departing Ullester, they met with a small party alongside the road, consisting mostly of known residents: Raegnar Araganing and two of his Eorhiddas, Swithun Strong-arm and Shelny Swift-eye; plus Raena Araganing and her personal huskarl, Braco, Son of Loghan, Begat by Hobus. There was also a small cart bearing two strangers and two large wooden trunks. A bit of small talk ensued among all the parties: Raegnar extended polite but curt greetings, while Raena extended her greetings in a much warmer tone, especially toward Kyran.
The two strangers were stunningly dressed, nobles or merchants by their clothing. A tall man, hefty yet handsome, with a graying mustache flowing over his mouth and down his cheeks, smiled broadly with gleeful eyes as he approached the convoy. He laughed quietly as he and Raena assisted a young maiden with smooth brown hair cascading down her shoulders. She was a lean, even thin figure, moving gracefully though weighed down by a thick ermine-lined cloak as she climbed aboard the first wagon. She laughed demurely and glanced backward as Popper and Mordo struggled with their cargo, each managing elaborately decorated large wooden trunks, transferring them from the small cart to the first wagon. Both trunks were ornately carved, bound with brass straps and locked with a large padlock.
During the days ahead, the group would become more acquainted with the two people whom they were guarding.
Lord Austalf Vikna was a gregarious person who was more than willing to converse with anyone. He attempted to make friends wherever he went, and willingly dropped gold coin if necessary. Lord Austalf enjoyed telling tales of the Docks of Dobris and its patrons. He joked constantly and while his sense of humor bordered on crass, it was never vulgar. He enjoyed good drink and food but rarely overindulged. Lord Austalf was the father of Lady Leka Vikna and the nephew of the head of the Vikna family. This was an influential and powerful merchant clan and one of the lesser of the eleven families that ruled Kantor. Lord Austalf was traveling with the Maejard Teamsters to Glawchester and then on to The March for business. He would be checking the trade routes for safety and efficiency then meeting with fellow merchants in The March.
Lady Leka Vikna, the daughter of Lord Austalf Vikna, was a young maiden of obvious refinement and fine dress. She was well educated, well mannered and very well aware of what was expected of a wealthy merchant’s daughter. When addressed, Lady Leka made pleasant conversation in a soft voice that revealed her high level of education and she tried to keep all conversation simple and neutral in tone. She never inquired about the convoy’s intents or activities and, much to everyone’s pleasant surprise, she never complained about the discomforts of the journey. Yet despite her formal training, Lady Leka seemed shy, naïve and sheltered, and she was very reserved about speaking with anyone without her father present. It was clear she loved and respected her father and was accustomed to looking to him for guidance and care, and she never questioned his opinions or actions. However, on one rare occasion, when left unattended by her father, Yriadel heard her wonder aloud where her father was going and why they had left Kantor in such “unusual circumstances.”
Chapter 2: Erminsway
Erminsway was the old Garoman trace between Ullester, Kirchester and Glawchester, its pavement now crumbled and overgrown after years of use and neglect. It meandered northwest beneath the majestic green trees of Willowdale. The days passed with moody skies alternating between rumbling dark clouds and cold drizzles to bright winter afternoons filled with warm breezes coming off the sea to the south. The teamsters drove their wagons hard and the oxen pulled with might along the track. Yet, despite their efforts, the wagons occasionally became mired in the slick mud requiring the efforts of all to push and pull them free. Each time, the drivers asked Yriadel and her companions for assistance, though they pointedly never asked help of Lord Austalf Vikna or his daughter.
Each evening, the steers were unhitched and tethered, and a large fire built. Popper did most of the cooking. Everyone made themselves comfortable wherever they could, sleeping as close to the fire as possible. Lady Leka slept near her father, underneath a tarp attached to a wagon. Aiden, Dodge, Glenlivet, Kyran, Lee and Magna organized into pairs and kept three separate watches every night.
Each morning, the camp gear was reloaded, the steers harnessed to the wagons, and the journey restarted. At least once per day, at some point during the day’s activities and chores, Dunnwood would catch Mordo and Digby avoiding their duties, sometimes due to distraction, but usually out of just plain laziness. Each time Dunnwood would become overly angry, his face turning varying shades of red while he yelled at them. ‘Mordo and Digby, get your work done immediately, or you’re fired!’
~ ~ ~
After the second day of travel, the tired convoy was disturbed during the night by the hooting of owls. The sound was strange and other-worldly. Those new to the area mistook the sounds for the screaming of tormented humans. Lord Austalf was about to suggest that the warriors head into the woods on a search, when Dunnwood and a few others convincingly assured him and Lady Leka that the sounds were coming from harmless owls.
‘The Prettons believe that if an owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity,’ Hops knowingly informed the sleepy crowd. ‘They also believe that if a pregnant woman hears an owl, her child will be blessed.’
‘You know who didn’t hear an owl while she was pregnant?’ Sorenstone asked jokingly. ‘My mother!’ Only Fife giggled at the lame jest.
Hops ignored the interruption and continued to drone on with his wisdom. ‘The Hallenes saw the owl as a symbol of good fortune and it was associated with the goddess of wisdom, Athene.’ The crowd began to thin, returning to their bedrolls by the fires. ‘In contrast, the Garomans saw owls as omens of impending disaster. Hearing the hoot of an owl indicated an imminent death.’
‘Uuuuggggh!’ groaned Mordo, as he turned and walked away.
Hops continued to list off his trivial knowledge, oblivious to the diminishing count of listeners. ‘While the Hallenes believed that the sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies, the Garomans saw it as a sign of defeat. They believed that a dream of an owl could be an omen of shipwreck for sailors and of being robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl, it was believed that the offending owl should be killed and nailed to the door of the affected house.’
‘Stop talking! Stop talking!!’ shouted Digby, tossing his hands in the air with frustration. Everyone chuckled at the exchange as they settled back down for some rest.
Hops and the Tafl Board
At the end of the next day of travel, after camp had been set up and the sun had set down, Dunnwood noticed that Hops was not present. Dunnwood became unnecessarily upset and started organizing a search party.
Hops turned up after an hour, sauntering out of the shadows so silently that Digby nearly burned his own hair off jumping with fright with a torch in his hand.
‘Where were you?’ demanded Dunnwood, and those two-coloured eyes, both reddening in the torch glow, turned on him.
‘Listening to the owls talk about hunting,’ he said.
‘Was it good for them?’ chuckled Sorenstone and the solemn man shook his head, serious as a stone pillar.
‘Too cold,’ he said and walked to the fire, leaving us trailing in his wake, stunned and thoughtful.
‘Here,’ said Dunnwood sharply, thrusting something at him. ‘Play this and stay by the fire. It will keep you out of mischief.’
It was a tafl board and some polished stones for it in a bag. Men chuckled, but Hops took the wooden board politely enough and laid it beside him.
‘It is too dark to play,’ he said, ‘but I know a story about a tafl board, which I will tell.’
Men blinked and rubbed their beards. This was always a treat – Hops offering to tell a story; Popper laughed out loud at the delight of it.
Hops cleared his throat and began, in a strong, deep voice. And all those hard muscled men leaned forward to listen.
‘Once a man in a steading in Vestfold carved a beautiful tafl board for his son,’ he began. ‘He made it from oak, which is Thor wood. When he was finished, he showed his son how to play games upon it. The boy was very glad to have such a beautiful thing and in the morning, when he went out with the sheep up to the tree-bare hills where they grazed, he took his tafl board along, for he could always get stones as counters for it.’
Hops paused and the men leaned forward further. He had them now, better than any skop. Yriadel marveled at the seidr spell he wove round the fire, even as she was wary of it.
‘Everywhere he went he carried his board under his arm,’ Hops went on. ‘Then, one day, he met some men from the next village up, making charcoal around a small fire. “Where in this country of yours can a man get wood?” the charcoal burners asked. “Why, here is wood,” the boy said. And he gave them the fine tafl board, which they put into the fire. As it went up in flames, the boy began to cry. “Do not make such fash,” the charcoal burners said, and they gave him a fine new seax in place of the game board.’
‘That was a good trade,’ growled Sorenstone from out of the shadows. ‘A boy will get more use from a good seax than a tafl board. That and the forest is the best teacher for a boy, as my granny used to say.’
They shushed him and Hops shifted to be more comfortable.
‘The boy took the knife and went away with his sheep,’ he went on. ‘As he wandered he came to a place where a man was digging a big stone out of his field, so that he could plough it. “The ground is hard,” the man said. “Lend me your seax to dig with.” The boy gave the man the seax, but the man dug so vigorously with it that it broke. “Ah, what has become of my knife?” the boy wailed. “Quiet yourself,” the man said. “Take this spear in its place.” And he gave the boy a beautiful spear, trimmed with silver and copper.’
A few chuckled, seeing where the story was going and others asked where a farmer who could not afford a decent shovel got a silver-trimmed spear – but they were quickly silenced by the others.
‘The boy went away with his sheep and his spear,’ big Hops continued. ‘He met a party of hunters. When they saw him one of them said: “Lend me your spear, so that we may kill the deer we are trailing.” So the boy did.
‘Piss poor hunters,’ muttered Digby, ‘without a spear between them.’
Dunnwood glared his worst glare at him.
‘Oho,’ chuckled Mordo. ‘There’s a look to sink ships.’
Digby scowled. Hops waited patiently, until they subsided, then cleared his throat again. In the dark, his one pale eye caught the fire and flashed like pearl.
‘The boy gave them the spear and the hunters went out and killed the deer. But in the hunt the shaft of the spear was splintered. “See what you have done with my spear!” the boy cried. “Don’t fuss about it,” the hunter said. “Here is a horse for you in place of your spear.” ‘The hunter gave him a horse with fine leather trappings and he started back toward the village. On the way he came to where some farmers were keeping crows off their rye, running at them and waving sheets. This made the horse frightened and it ran away.’
‘This sounds like the story of my life,’ growled Digby from across the fire and everyone laughed, for they had heard of his lack of luck.
Sorenstone bellowed at them to shut up and listen. ‘For I want to hear this. This sheep-herding boy seems much like a trader I know.’ There were some chuckles at Dunnwood’s expense, then the story went on.
‘The horse was gone for good,’ Hops said. ‘But the farmers told the boy not to worry. They gave the boy an old wood axe and he took it and went on towards his home. He came to a woodcutter who said: “Lend me your large axe for this tree. Mine is too small.” So the boy did and the woodcutter chopped with it and broke it.’
‘He should have quit and gone home when he had the horse,’ shouted Fife.
Hops smiled. ‘Perhaps so, for the woodcutter gave him the limb of a tree, which he then had to load on his back and carry. When he came near the village a woman said: “Where did you find the wood? I need it for my fire.”
‘The boy gave it to her, and she put it in the fire. As it went up in flames he said: “Now where is my wood?” The woman looked around, then gave him a fine tafl board, which he took home with the sheep.
‘As he entered his house his mother smiled with satisfaction and said: “What is better than a tafl board to keep a small boy out of trouble?”
The roars and leg-slapping went on a long time, especially when Hops, with a courtly bow, handed the tafl board and bag of counters back to Dunnwood, who took it, beaming with as much delight as if he had just won an award.
Into the middle of this, his breath smoking with cold and reeking of porridge and fish as he leaned closer to Yriadel’s ear, Mordo hissed: ‘That man is touched by the gods.’(2)
Kirchester and the Inn at the Crossroads
At the crossroads of Erminsway and Dichway lay the town of Kirchester. The fortified community was part of the region known as Wodenslond, the extreme northwest frontier of Baeldur, captured after the Battle of Dyhram in 2187. Wodenslond, encompassing much of the Shepwolds and the River Sabbrin valley, had became settled and ruled by only the bravest and most desperate men of Angaria, many from Willowdale, and they were called Wodeningas. The few Prettons who remained survived as serfs and slaves.
After the fourth day of travel, the convoy approached the outskirts of Kirchester and the Inn at the Crossroads. The sight of the timbers and thatched roof of the inn were welcome in the unending drizzle. Even more so was the curl of blue-grey smoke from the fieldstone chimney, speaking to them of a warm hearth and, hopefully, some warm food and drink as respite from their travels. As the shadows grew long, and they were fatigued from the day’s ride, they spurred themselves onward towards the inn’s muddy yard.
Inside, Lord Austalf Vikna cheerfully offered to purchase a barrel of ale from Dunnwood. He shared it with everyone in an effort to make friends with his traveling companions and the other occupants of the inn.
Masha Heedle was the innkeeper. She was an old woman with gray hair, her teeth stained red from the sourleaf she was constantly chewing. She had some youngsters to help out with the work around the place; it was never quite clear if they were relations or just cast-offs who had found a home with her. Although she was all business with travelers and customers, Masha had a soft spot for children.
Brenna was a comely servant girl in her late teens; she brought food and drink to the guests and spent the rest of her time cleaning up (and occasionally flirting with attractive strangers).
Davin was a stout lad who served as the inn’s stable-hand and general porter for things too heavy for Masha or Brenna to handle.
Horace, a traveling tinker resting up at the inn, was an old greybeard who had traveled a great deal. He was also on his way towards Glawchester, but was stopping over and trading his services fixing things at the inn for food and lodging.
Corvin was a sell-sword who claimed to be headed for Glawchester, although he said he had been laid-up at the inn for a while, having caught cold in the foul weather. He kept by the hearth, sniffling and coughing quietly, while drinking hot tea. Not surprisingly, people tended to avoid him. In the morning, when the convoy loaded up to depart, there was no sign of Corvin.
Chapter 3: Glawchester
Near the end of the fifth day of travel, the convoy arrived in Glawchester, the last major settlement on the road northwest into the Kambrian Kingdoms. The crew looked forward to a full day stay in Glawchester, a good chance to warm the deep cold from their bones while Dunnwood replenished some supplies.
There was a fairly regular trade between the Prettons of Kambria and the Angarian of Baeldur. Kambrian traders came as far as Glawchester and no further while the Angarian traders went as far as the town of Kerventa and no further. This trade had brought some wealth to the community but mostly to the merchants who plied their trade here.
There was practically no coin in the town, and the economy was run almost entirely on barter. Someone baked some bread and traded it for firewood or perhaps someone traded firewood for some cheese. Monies came to Glawchester by way of traveling merchants and traders who purchased rare woods or were passing through to Kerventa and needed food, shelter or other such items.
Populated mostly by farmers and woodsmen of the Angarian frontier, there were only four places of interest in Glawchester: The Keep, the Bierkeller, Ferdiks and the Maenhir.
The Keep was a large squat round building made entirely of stone with a wooden parapet atop it. It was about 80 feet in diameter and three stories tall. The roof was wooden with a cone-shaped peak, but room enough for a walkway around its circumference. The Keep appeared to be well maintained and flew the banner of Baeldur.
The Keep housed the local ruler, Reeve Ricun, and his retinue, who administered the town. Other than those laws imposed upon him by his lord in Baeldur and tradition, Reeve Ricun was free to do as he chose. He kept the town orderly, and neither over-taxed nor under-taxed the inhabitants. In times of need, Reeve Ricun could call upon a small militia to do his bidding.
Reeve Ricun was responsible for collecting the taxes from Glawchester and the surrounding community, enforcing the laws of Baeldur and protecting this town and the outlying community. He was concerned with little else and rarely interacted with the locals. He was, like many reeves along this stretch of the Shepwolds, a remote and autocratic leader. He enforced the laws of Baeldur, dealing justice with an iron hand. In all other respects, Reeve Ricun dispensed justice, as he willed. He was not considered a good man though he was a capable ruler. His youngest son, Karl Ricunson, was serving duty at Vokhund at his father’s request.
Perci was Reeve Ricun’s advisor. He belonged to an order of ecclesiastics who acted as advisors to many rulers. Perci was an ambitious man and sought to remove himself from this small town and Reeve Ricun’s lordship and go to a larger city with more powerful lords. He was a little greedy and capable of subterfuge to retrieve more monies and influence for himself. In other respects, he carried out his duties with the faith and fervor of one who knew any disobedience to the deities would result in nothing less than his eternal suffering upon the Mountain of Pestilence. He encouraged Reeve Ricun to fairly implement the laws of the land, pay homage to the gods and be forthright to his calling as a reeve.
Ferdiks was little more than a large rambling wooden house with a smithy attached to it. The front portion of the house had been given over as a shop. Ferdik, the owner, was an older man with a wife and several grown children, some of whom had children of their own, who lived with him. Sixteen people lived in this house. All helped where they could, cutting timber, working in the smithy or bartering with travelers. Ferdik had a keen eye for a deal so he bought and traded items to and from convoys for a slim profit. The goods Ferdik sold were most useful to travelers and convoys. There were harnesses, ropes, wheels, nails, dry goods, cloaks, blankets, lanterns, pitch and some tools in his stock of goods for sale. In all, Ferdik’s inventory was small and limited. His smithy, though used to helping the locals, provided much income by repairing items for the convoys.
The Maenhir was a large stone in the center of the village. It was about the size of a man in height and as broad as a small house. It was covered in carvings and glyphs. This was the Maenhir. It was a holy relic and conduit to the gods. People came to pray here, touch it for luck and leave offerings around it.
Janick was a priest. He was from Glawchester though he lived in Baeldur for so many years he was almost considered a stranger. He returned here to care for his aging parents, then after their death he remained. He tended to the Maenhir and various other holy relics in Glawchester. He took care of the wounded and offered what services he could for his fellow villagers.
The Bierkeller was Glawchester’s only tavern. It was a large wooden building with two floors and a slate roof. The lower floor was broad and deep with a common room stretching from one end to the other. The common room was nicely adorned with two stone fireplaces, a stone floor and even plastered walls. It was crowded with tables. The rear of the lower floor was given over to a kitchen and storage. The upper floor was half the size of the lower floor, had four rooms and one large common room, all but one of which were rented to travelers. A barn, stables and a large barnyard were in the rear. The owner, Nico, gained a little wealth from those traveling through Glawchester to Kerventa, and thus had made many improvements to his tavern. Nico, whose entire family died of a plague years ago, had two to four people from Glawchester helping him cook meals and serve food, depending on the number of customers. Many of Glawchester’s inhabitants came here on a daily basis to have some ale or mead. They often traded foodstuffs, blankets and other items for the courtesy. The busiest time was after the sun set when everyone was finished working.
Nico was a gangly and friendly fellow who constantly busied himself with the daily chores necessary to run the Bierkeller efficiently. He spared little time for small talk though and took an active dislike to rumor mongers, braggarts and the like.
Hen Gethin was a Pretton from the Kambrian Kingdoms who had of late permanently occupied one of the rooms on the upper floor. He was old and friendly, though well guarded, who acted as a translator for other Pretton merchants plying their trade in Glawchester. He had become, to the chagrin of many of Glawchester’s residents, a permanent fixture in the community. He spoke Westrian, Prettonic and Angarish fluently.
Lord Austalf tried to pry some information from Nico about their destination. Aside from bemoaning the arrival of another cold winter, Nico had little valuable information he was willing to impart to strangers. He did confirm that travel north of River Nodens and on to Kerventa was very dangerous as there were groups of marauding outlaws. Nico also offered there were rumors of orcs in the region, but Lord Austalf found this hard to believe. There had been no orcs in Prettonia since the long ago days when Meda Kwae the One-Eyed ruled Dontae Tor.
About the March Outlaws
Lord Austalf Vikna invited Hen Gethin to dine with the group at the Bierkeller, so that he could tell them of the Kambrian Kingdoms of Prettonia. The feast was a poor thing of salted mutton and stewed carrots, but the best that Nico’s stores could provide.
Hen Gethin was a short, squat man with a scar running from his left temple across his broken nose and down into his thick beard. He had only three teeth, which made his efforts to chew meat lengthy and messy. He would use his fingers to chafe the meat against his one front tooth, thus abrading the food into shreds that he washed down with mead, and the laborious work had left his bristling grey beard filthy with meat juices and half chewed scraps.
Warlord Grahmr, Hen Gethin explained, had his home in a fort that lay to the north within the scattered borderlands between Penwarren and The March. His warband, The March Outlaws, was not composed of men from a single tribe, but was a collection of fugitives from many tribes. ‘He welcomes whatever outlaw comes into the region, and the more murderous they are, the better,’ Hen Gethin said. ‘Gwynedda uses him to rid themselves of their outlaws and there have been many of those of late.’
He pulled a scrap of bone from his mouth and inspected it gloomily. ‘The Wodeningas will have to fight them soon,’ he added.
‘Grahmr’s numbers increase?’ Lord Austalf asked.
‘So we hear, though we hear little enough,’ Hen Gethin replied. ‘Warlord Grahmr,’ he explained, his voice made sibilant by his ravaged teeth, ‘asks only to be left alone. If the neighboring tribes do not disturb him, he will only occasionally disturb them. His men come to take slaves, but there are few people left in the region now, and his men will not travel far, but if his war-band grows too large for the valley’s crops then he will seek new land somewhere.’
‘The Sabbrin valley is famous for its crops,’ Lord Austalf said.
‘The Sabbrin valley could feed a thousand,’ Hen Gethin agreed, ‘but only if its people are spared to plough and reap, and its people are not spared. No one is. Any Pretton with sense left the area years ago, and the ones who were left crouched in terror. So would you if Warlord Grahmr came visiting to search for what he wants.’
‘Which is?’ Lord Austalf asked.
Hen Gethin looked at Lord Austalf, paused, then shrugged. ‘Slaves,’ he said.
‘In which,’ Lord Austalf asked silkily, ‘the Pretton tribes pay him tribute?’
‘A small price for peace,’ Hen Gethin dismissed the accusation.
‘How much?’ Lord Austalf demanded.
‘Twenty a year,’ Hen Gethin finally admitted. ‘Mostly orphaned children and maybe some prisoners. He’s happiest, though, with girls.’ He looked broodingly at Yriadel and Lady Leka. ‘He has an appetite for girls.’
‘Many men do, Pretton’ Yriadel answered drily.
‘But not like Warlord Grahmr’s appetite,’ Hen Gethin warned her. ‘His wizards have told him that a man armed with a shield covered with the tanned skin of a virgin girl will be invincible in battle.’ He shrugged. ‘Can’t say I’ve ever tried it myself.’
‘So the Pretton tribes send him children?’ Yriadel said accusingly.
‘Do you know any other kind of virgin?’ Hen Gethin retorted.
‘We think he is touched by the Gods,’ the old Pretton continued, as though that explained Grahmr’s appetite for virgin slaves, ‘for he seems mad. One of his eyes is red.’ He paused to grind a piece of grey mutton on his front tooth. ‘He covers his shields in skin,’ he went on when the meat had been reduced to a tissue, ‘then paints them with blood and that is why his men call themselves the Bloodshields.’ Lord Austalf made the sign against evil. ‘And some men say he eats the girls’ flesh,’ Hen Gethin went on, ‘but we don’t know that; who knows what the mad do?’
‘The mad are close to the Gods,’ Lord Austalf growled. He was plainly terrified of the warlord, and no wonder.
‘Some of the mad are close to the Gods,’ Yriadel said. ‘Not all.’
‘Warlord Grahmr is,’ Hen Gethin warned her. ‘He does what he wants, to whom he wants, how he wants and the Gods keep him safe while he does it.’ Again Lord Austalf made the sign against evil, and suddenly wished he was back in far Kantor where there were lawcourts and palaces and long Garoman roads.(3)
The Last Warm Meal
The seventh day of the journey began on a blistering winter morning in Glawchester. A chilly early morning mist rose off sodden fields stretching away from a wooden palisade and earthen embankment wrapped tightly about a cluster of small clapboard houses, rambling barns and squat stone buildings.
The bellowing of cattle mixed with the dull clang of metal bells, awakening any who might be sleeping past the sun’s rise. Misty tendrils of smoke rose from Glawchester’s many chimneys, lingering momentarily above graying rooftops, before disappearing into the massive dark green firs ringing the fields and crowding the horizon. Then the clanging of bells was interrupted by the braying of oxen that had been tacked too early to a harness.
The common room of the Bierkeller was cold. The morning’s sun barely shined through the open door and Nico, the gangly tavern keeper, had just started a fire in one of the tavern’s two fireplaces.
Outside, the noise of the teamsters barking orders as they loaded their wagons was periodically drowned out by the braying of steers protesting their job. ‘Mordo and Digby, finish hitching your wagon this minute, or you’re fired!’ was overheard. A few chuckled at the now familiar threat shouted by a frustrated Dunnwood at his two laziest workers.
Lord Austalf and Lady Leka gathered with their seven guardians in the common room and had a morning meal before leaving. Perhaps their last warm meal for a spell. After finishing their meal, Dunnwood entered the common room and announced it was time to pack and leave. ‘Allo, my friends!’ Dunnwood hollered into the room, his haggard face cheerful, despite the cold and the long journey ahead. ‘We are about at it, so throw your belongings on the wagon and lets away to the land o’ the Kambrian Kingdoms.’
Outside, Dunnwood and Popper helped Lord Austalf and Lady Leka onto the lead wagon. The other teamsters, Mordo, Digby, Sorenstone and Fife, were gathered in the square stomping away the cold and joking loudly with one another. The steers stretched in their harnesses, anxious to be on the road. Ahead, the gates of Glawchester stood open beneath a churlish sky and the muddy track known as Erminsway beckoned travelers and merchants alike.
Erminsway was well traveled during the summer months, but as winter closed in, fewer and fewer merchants entered the Kambrian Kingdoms. Winter weather in the region was harsh and unpredictable often bringing sleet mixed with wet snow that piled deep on the gloomy forest floors making travel increasingly difficult.
Chapter 4: Vokhund
Shortly before evening, the convoy reached Vokhund. The outpost rested ponderously in a very lonely, wide pasture. It was a squat tower constructed half of stone and half of wood, no taller than the great fir trees hemming in the glade. Nearby, an aged but sturdy bridge crossed River Nodens. All about, the land was trampled and muddy from the recent rains. Stumps of trees and the refuse from scores of merchant camps cluttered the pasture. Fire rings, piles of chopped and half burnt wood, tethering posts, broken and busted barrels and boxes, shreds of cloth and other debris marked where Erminsway began its treacherous journey into the Kambrian Kingdoms.
The tower was the only structure in the vicinity. The ground level walls, constructed of stone, bore no windows. A thick wooden door set in the center of the east wall and bound with iron straps provided the only entrance. The upper level was faced with stout wood and had an arrow slot cut in each wall. An overhanging wooden battlement topped the tower where a guard stood solidly beneath the unfurled banner of Baeldur.
A sign between the tower and bridge listed the costs to those wishing to travel across River Nodens.
By Order of Keelwulf, King Of Baeldur
Man on foot — 1 farthing
Man with load — 2 farthing
Cart pulled by man — 2 pence
Cart pulled by animal — 6 pence
Wagon — 10 pence
The convoy parked the wagons in the pasture near the tower and set up camp in the cold air. Aiden, Dodge, Glenlivet, Kyran, Lee and Magna organized into pairs and kept three separate watches during the night.
During the dark of the night, a large, feline predator crept silently toward the camp, intending to make a meal of one of the crew. Dodge was nearest the outer edge and sleeping soundly when the big cat pounced upon him. He awoke with a start and grabbed his battleaxe (which he kept always within arm’s reach) as the cat bit and clawed at him.
Glenlivet and Kyran, on patrol about the camp, sensed the commotion and immediately came running. Trapped under the weight of the beast, Dodge fought back desperately with his sharp axe as the creature scratched and mangled him. Kyran seared the big cat on the rump with a Magic Missile as he ran forwards. Dodge sliced the cat’s shoulder open, then Kyran hit it with another missile, and it fell dead upon Dodge.
In the torchlight, they inspected the carcass. The Cathmawr weighed about 120 pounds, was stocky and short-legged with a very long tail. It had long, thick fur, its base color smoky gray, with dark grey and black rosette spots.
The next morning, Dunnwood returned to the convoy after a brief conference with Forwost Steigler, the militia leader at Vokhund. Dunnwood explained to Lord Austalf that he and Lady Leka, along with their guards, would wait at Vokhund until the convoy returned from their trip to Kerventa. He assured everyone he would return within the week. The folk in Kerventa were likely to feel threatened by well-armed groups of travelers arriving at their doorstep, Dunnwood argued, attempting to counter Lord Austalf’s objections. Hops confirmed the strategy. This was the custom, he muttered, otherwise it may upset the trading.
A cock crowed and Hops grunted.
‘That’s bad,’ he said.
Dunnwood spat. ‘Is there one of your animal signs that is ever a good omen?’ he asked.
Hops considered it carefully before shrugging. ‘Depends,’ he said. ‘They warn and seldom praise. Roosters are Odin birds, for they crow to herald the sun, which Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve, threw into the sky as embers from Muspell. Fjalar is the red cock, who will raise the giants to war at Ragnarok and Gullinkambi the golden one who will wake the gods for that fight. And let’s not forget the One with No Name who crows to raise the dead in Helheim on that day.’
‘Duly remembered,’ muttered Dunnwood. ‘Now…’
‘When a cock crows at midnight a fetch is passing and if it crows three times between sunset and midnight it is a death omen,’ Hops went on mildly. ‘Crowing in the day, as now, is often a warning against misfortune. Can you see if it is perched on a gate? If it is, it means tomorrow will have rain.’
‘Odin’s balls,’ muttered Dunnwood, rubbing the sweat from his face. ‘Remind me only to keep hens.’
‘Ah, well,’ said Hops, ‘a hen that crows is unlucky, as is one with tail feathers like a rooster. You would do well to kill them at once. And a hen which roosts in the morning foretells a death—’
‘Thor’s hairy arse!’ shouted Dunnwood in annoyance. ‘Enough cackle about hens, Hops, in the name of all the gods.’.(4)
There were five militiamen stationed at Vokhund, including Forwost Steigler. They remained at the tower at all times except when hunting or when accompanying merchants to Kerventa. Two were chosen to accompany the convoy to Kerventa, while Forwost Steigler and the remaining two would stay at the tower.
Dunnwood paid the required toll to Forwost Steigler, then the Maejard Teamsters crossed the bridge over River Nodens and were on their way to Kerventa.
The next few days, Yriadel and her companions had plenty of time to become acquainted with the Vokhund militiamen and the grounds. About fifty feet to the east of the tower was a large tree with a bench and table beneath it. When not in the tower or attending other business, this was usually where everyone spent their time.
Now that their numbers were reduced, Forwost Steigler gave them leave to stay in the tower and keep out of the cold at night. Dominating the ground floor of the tower was a large fire ring that sat in the center of the earthen floor. An open staircase ran up the north wall to the first floor. Neatly stacked in the room were two barrels of fresh water, three large burlap sacks filled with flour, a crate of dried meat, a large burlap sack of grain and another full of beans, several tin pans, some wooden spoons, a pile of fire wood, two chopping axes, a pile of kindling, a tinder box, a lantern, twelve torches, a small barrel of oil (equivalent of 12 flasks), and a pile of ten wool blankets. The door could be barred with a stout crossbeam.
Vokhund’s first floor was constructed of wooden planks. There was a narrow arrow slit in each wall. The slit in the east wall was placed directly above the door on the ground floor. Inside, along the edge of the northern wall, an open wooden staircase led to a trapdoor between the first floor and the roof.
On the second floor there were two small barrels containing 50 crossbow bolts each, 4 light crossbows, 4 shields, 4 spears, 4 small helms, 20 torches, an iron brazier, and 4 empty barrels. Forwost Steigler’s bed sat next to the west wall, bearing a hay mattress.
The roof of the tower was a low wooden battlement, two iron braziers and a flagpole in its center flew the banner of Baeldur. One could see as far as the tree line in every direction.
Forwost Steigler was the haggard militia leader at Vokhund. Though old and graying, he was a striking and powerfully built warrior. After serving for many years with the armies of Baeldur, Forwost Steigler found his current assignment on this desolate border post boring. As a result, he had resorted to excessive drink to pass the time. He welcomed everyone to Vokhund in a stern way and was unyielding on the taxes. If slighted, insulted or his authority challenged, Forwost Steigler lashed out violently and was not unwilling to put anyone in irons for a few days.
Karl Ricunson was a militiaman from Glawchester assigned to Vokhund. He was the youngest son of Reeve Ricun and was very aware of the duties required by his position. Karl Ricunson was friendly and of honorable bearing though somewhat aloof. His loyalty to his best friend Godafrid was matched only by his loyalty to his family.
Godafrid was a young militiaman who was very excited about his first posting at Vokhund. Poorly educated, Godafrid’s speech was simple but colorful. He was a loyal friend to Karl Ricunson.
Chapter 5: The Swift Axe
Three uneventful days passed after the convoy had left. The rains had chilled the air and the morning’s sun was hidden behind boiling gray clouds. A brisk wind whipped from the north. Earlier, Forwost Steigler meandered down River Nodens, promising to bring back trout for the noonday’s meal. Lord Austalf Vikna, in his purple cape, and Lady Leka Vikna, brilliant in her blue ermine overcoat, just disappeared behind the trees at the pasture’s edge on a morning walk up the creek.
Magna was serving as lookout on the roof of the tower. Dodge was napping inside the tower, as well were Karl Ricunson and Godafrid. Yriadel was at the river filling some buckets with water.
The other four were watching over Lord Austalf and Lady Leka. Aiden, mounted on Shadowmist, had gone riding east of the grounds, ensuring there were no dangers from that direction. Glenlivet, Kyran and Lee were at the table outside the tower. They had not yet realized that Lord Austalf and Lady Leka had ranged farther east into the woods than they allowed.
Suddenly, the tranquil scene was interrupted by a scream. ‘AAHHEEEEEE! Beware! We are set upon! Heeellllllp!!’ The voice of Hops shredded the air as he raced down the road across the river, screaming desperately. His clothing was tattered and his face streamed with blood.
A few heartbeats passed and arrows coursed through the air. From the treeline across the river emerged several savage Prettons hefting longbows. They let fly deadly shafts and one pinned Hops in the back. He fell to the ground, screaming in agony. Then, from within the trees, a signal horn blew.
Dodge heard the scream and the horn, and ran out of the tower to gain a view. Yriadel witnessed the scene as it unfolded and realized she would be cut down by the archers if trapped out in the open, so she dropped the buckets and sprinted toward the tower. Glenlivet ran toward the tower to join with Dodge and Yriadel. Kyran and Lee headed deeper into the trees, planning to find cover and perhaps a flanking position. Far in the distance, Aiden heard the horn and recognized it as a battle signal – but not his own team! – and immediately spurred Shadowmist back toward the tower to find Lord Austalf and Lady Leka.
The archers, five of them, walked menacingly out of the treeline and toward the bridge. Their pace was unhurried and confident. Deadly. Trailing the Pretton archers emerged a larger group, a seemingly random mixture of Angarians, Prettons, and… even Orcs! Among them was one man mounted on a black horse, probably their leader.
In all, Magna counted fifteen men; all of them dangerous and seasoned warriors by their look. It was clear their plan was to use Hops to draw the defenders out of the tower where they could attack them on the open ground. Wisely no one had swallowed that bait yet. Magna would make them pay for what they did to Hops. He nocked an arrow and returned fire upon the attackers.
Dodge and Yriadel ran back into the tower. They would attack through the air like Magna, they decided. Glenlivet ran back east into the cover of the trees. He preferred to fight in the open. Dodge and Yriadel ran up to the roof to join Magna, Yriadel grabbing a crossbow and bolts on her way. Karl Ricunson and Godafrid began shooting crossbow bolts through the arrow slots on the second floor.
Kyran and Lee continued to stealthily approach the river from the cover of the trees. As Kyran got within range he pointed his finger across the river with deadly intent, targeting the leader’s horse. ‘Kavvála Vlímaton,’ he uttered in his mystic tongue. Two dart-shaped missiles of magical black energy shot from his hand, spiraled through the air leaving a trail of black sparks, and struck the horse. Shocked by the pain, the horse reared and bucked, but the rider held firm. The rider turned and spotted Kyran across the river, then ordered two of his archers to turn their attention toward him. Kyran hit the horse again with another unearthly missile. The leader was visibly angered at Kyran’s tactic and rode his horse away to the other side of his troops to dismount – desiring to keep his steed away from danger. Next, Kyran took out his bow and began to trade shots with the two Prettons.
Death of Lord Austalf Vikna
In the meantime, as Aiden hurriedly rode Shadowmist westward, he happened upon a tragic sight. Lord Austalf lay propped up against a tree, his body broken and shattered. Blood poured from many wounds, his clothing was soaked a dark red. Aiden dismounted and approached the fallen merchant. Words bubbled out of his mouth in bloody spasms between haggard breaths, ‘Leka… Leka….’
Aiden leaned closer to hear Lord Austalf’s faint words. ‘I besearch you: find my daughter… Leka.’ He struggled to say more. ‘Return her safely to Kantor… and you will earn… a great reward… I swear to you.’
‘We will find her,’ Aiden assured Lord Austalf.
‘Take this,’ he removed a pouch hidden behind his belt and weakly handed it to Aiden. ‘Present this ring to my uncle… with the words: my body, my blood, my family. Any request you make… will be met… by my family.’
Aiden accepted the pouch and removed an exquisite signet ring. Despite the situation, he marveled at the potential value of the fine jewel. But he also noticed a folded piece of parchment. He unfolded the parchment and read a brief note.
Our failed communication of late has left me little choice, either return to me what is mine or I shall have my Klaus settle the account permanently.
Though Lord Austalf was in near shock while struggling with his final breaths, he could not hide a subtly disturbed look on his face – Aiden was not supposed to see that note.
Aiden spied the disclosing expression and became suspicious. He assumed the note was addressed to Lord Austalf, “A,” but he needed to know the rest. ‘What is the meaning of this threat?’ Aiden inquired. ‘Who is “U?” Does this note have something to do with this attack?’
Lord Austalf hesitated, then feebly replied, ‘Tis only gold… that greedy man could not wait… but one settling moon for it.’ Then once again he pleaded, ‘Leka…,’ and those were the last words he uttered as he died.
Aiden looked swiftly around the battle sight. There were booted tracks leading toward the river. At least five attackers, he guessed, and they were probably carrying Lady Leka. He would have to decide quickly whether to pursue the kidnappers or inform his comrades of the situation and to find the meaning of that signal horn.
Flanked from the West
The attackers continued to converge upon the bridge. This brought them closer in range to the tower, much to their dismay. Dodge, Magna, Yriadel, Karl Ricunson and Godafrid continued to fire upon the approaching attackers from the tower, Kyran from the trees. Dodge surprised the enemy with the accuracy from his mighty bow, landing an arrow into the shoulder of a Pretton archer who staggered away in agony. They all continued to badger the attackers and kept them dodging. Then two more went down with wounds (Dodge and Yriadel claimed credit) but those with shields moved forward and the press did not slow.
Magna began to target the orcs and wounded one of them with an arrow. But then, to the west, Magna spotted more forces joining the attack, probably in response to the signal horn. Roughly ten in number, they were a mixture of Angarians, Orcs, and even a handful of Swarts from the dark continent, hoisting their deadly zagayas (spears).
To be continued…
1. Adapted from: Davis Chenault, Into the Unknown: Vakhund, (Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, 2007).
2. Adapted from: Robert Low, The White Raven, (London: HarperCollins, 2009), 66.
3. Adapted from: Bernard Cornwell, Enemy of God, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 77.
4. Adapted from: Robert Low, The Wolf Sea, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 123.