Part 139: Tales of the Lost Kingdom - Rescuing the Princess - Part 5
Tales of the Lost Kingdom - Rescuing the Princess - Part 5
The Old Wizard had seen enough. The Ogres were gone, and the others safe.
What could he do for them? On the one hand, he wanted to remain secret, on the other hand he couldn't let them become the prey of those animal-like enemies. That was why he considered the Fireball as the best result. He knew that it had been dangerous, but he also knew that the group of "heroes" had enough time to heal their wounds now.
In the distance, he could see the forest, and even further the mountains. He hurried on, because he wanted to get into the shelter of the forest. "I must arrive there before the night comes. There, I will surely find a good place for the night" he said to himself. He was sure, if he was fast enough, he could find a place even after the sunset.
Although he was old, he reached the border of the forest in almost an hour. He noticed a path along it, leading to a small shack. "That was perfect!" he thought. That would be a fine place for the night!
Coming closer, an inner voice told him not to enter the shack. Instead, he turned towards the wood, where he found a clearing with an old fire-place. He made a small fire, frying something as his night-meal. Putting out the fire, he went to sleep, but it became an unquiet slumber.
Thick clouds came, and thick mist descended from the sky.
Startled by strange sounds, the magician looked to the stars, which were hidden by mist and clouds.
He decided to leave this place. Returning to the path, he noticed three figures standing in front of the shack. Although it was too dark and the people were too far away from him, he had an idea who these persons could be. He squatted in a bush and tried to listen to them. But soon they went inside, where no-one could hear them, leaving the magician alone.
Curious, he drew closer, and tried to listen at the wall of the shack, which was built of wood. He couldn't understand a thing, but the voices sounded kind of familiar. He had heard them before...
One voice sounded like one of the King's daughters... Tira, was it? He knew the King and his daughters; from time to time he travelled into town to advise the King and bring him new things from the borderlands. He hadn't heard the other one before, so he was unsure. The third one never spoke.
Since he wasn't able to get more information, he decided to take advantage of the early morning and moved on.
Quarn had used this shack before. Every time he had come into conflict with the law. Even now, he had to do something. But he had always kept this shack secret.
Knowing the "almighty" magical Eye of his half-sister, he had known that it was difficult to keep his little secret to himself. In fact, Tira knew of the shack, although she had never been there.
Even now she was just an illusion, generated by her magical amulet. She stood in nearly full height beside the door. But now - producing great anger in him - she had brought someone in the flesh with her - and with that she made the secret shack completely unusable.
"What new plan is that?!" he asked her ( or better, her "picture") a bit sharper than he normally would've done. She looked at him, a bit astonished. Then, her face turned into something he would've called "amused". She explained.
"Well, my brother, as you should know, those "wannabe-heroes" have to cross the chain of mountains we know as the "Dragon's Ridge". So, if they dare to cross it, they'll surely need some advice - a local who knows the terrain. Otherwise, they won't find the small Pass over the mountains."
"And? That won't be difficult for them. The mountains are full packed with Gold-miners. There should be many good locals for them." He became nervous, because he didn't understand his sisters' intentions. With mistrust he watched the silent stranger.
"Be patient, brother! Let us go into the shack and talk about it!" the lightly transparent figure of his sister told him. "Even the trees could have ears nowadays!" They went inside.
The shack was rustic, but good enough for someone with few needs to live within for some weeks. She told the stranger to sit down.
"Yes, normally this wouldn't be a problem!" she told him. "But these times are not normal!" She made a sardonic smile.
"Yes, and that's where my men come in!" It was the first time the stranger ever spoke. He had a exceptionally deep voice with a strange exotic foreign accent, which reminded him of something deep in his past. "This morning my mercenaries did a surprise attack one of the camps of the Gold-miners. No-one was left alive."
Qarn shuddered a bit, but tried to remain serious. He was surprised and startled by the way the stranger spoke of the ambush - factually and cold, like it was a money-business. "And how is this going to help us?" he wondered.
"We have...well, reworked the place after the fight. Now it looks as if Elves had performed the ambush."
"What? Elves? That's totally unnatural for them! No-one will believe this!"
The deep, deep voice of the mercenary chief purely consisted of scorn. "You are totally wrong, my small friend. You don't know us."
Having heard this kind of "title", he wished the stranger many bad things. Wait, until my time has come. Then you will celebrate your next birthday in the Halls of Death! he thought.
"Calm down, calm down!" he heard his sisters' voice in his head. Control your temper. We need him a little bit longer, just as long as he fulfills his deeds for us.
Obviously, the stranger didn't notice the small talk between Qarn and Tira. Unimpressed he explained further on: "The Gold-miners have had the opinion for a long time that the Wood Elves are the cause for the little amount of Gold they've found so far. My men only did their best to encourage the miners in their opinion."
"Well, brother, can you imagine a horde of miners crossing the ways of our cute wannabe-heroes? Remember, there is a Wood-elf in their group!"
"And my men will do their best to let them find out who is travelling with this ominous group. If these strange men plus the Wood elf dare to fight their way, the word will be quickly spread through all the miner-camps - surely in less than a day! The whole mountain is full of them! They will NEVER be able to evade the miners! Hundreds and hundreds of eyes will search for them, with no mercy. Now you should be able to image how raw and violent these frustrated little souls are. They stone you, and ask after that. I have seen it by myself, how they beat an "Elf-friend" to death.
Additionally, they surely will not find a friendly local among them! Alone, they won't never ever find a way through that labyrinth of rocks! That's as sure as Gold!"
A deadly plan, made up by his sister. This intrigue must lead these "heroes" to death. There was no other possibility. They had to die or to return shamefully back to the King. That was "as sure as Gold", like the stranger had said.
Qarn almost felt pity towards this group, but he soon went serious again. Soon he fell into the loud and merciless laughter of the others.
"The Master will be pleased!" a shadowlike creature calling himself the "hunted" whispered to himself. Located on a hill, he had seen the fight of the Ogres, and felt happy that his work had been done by the clumsy men-eaters.
The Master hadn't anticipated that! he thought. The mortal ones are trying to kill themselves!
He decided to wait, until they were too near to him to flee. Then he would kill them.
After he had watched the camp for a while, his body dissolved into smoke and floated away...
Half on the way between the heroes' camp and the first ones of the mountains was the lonely cottage of Krasnegar. Krasnegar was a Dwarf, but not an average Dwarf. Normally, Dwarfs of his Race could become 150 - 180 years old, but Krasnegar was about 200 Winters old. His hair and his beard were snow-white, and his face had many, many wrinkles, more, than the rocks nearby. But he was not weak. He was strong as he could be, and he was still able to stand against a Mountain Bear, if needed.
He lived here for a long time now and knew many of the mountains' secrets. He knew the area like no other, and had gone all ways and paths before. There was no was he didn't know. There were only few who still knew that there existed a system of tunnels beneath the mountains, a legacy of his ancestors.
He wouldn't enter those tunnels, because he surely knew that there existed many dangerous things inside. But he also knew of the rumours, that there were rare weapons and artefacts in the tunnels, and secret treasures as well. But there were also rumours of Ghosts, Wraiths and Undead beings inside the tunnels. No, he was not crazy. He was NOT going into any of them!
Also, he tended not to mix with the miners. They were all humans, not able to share their respect with the Bones of the Earth. Even now these ill-looking scoundrels were on their warpath, caused by some quarrel or argument.
Kresnegar didn't like the arrogant, mistrusting Wood Elves, too, but he simply couldn't believe what his friend friend, a ranger had told him yesterday. The Elves had attacked a miner-camp and massacred the people there!? Simply ridiculous.
Now, as Krasnegar was working with his pile of firewood, one could have noticed his hands. They were both crippled. Anyone asking him about the reason would have heard the answer "Working accident." But only he - and a few others - knew the truth. These few others were men - miners. On their greedy search for more and more Gold four of them had "asked" him. They had taken him in a surprise attack, and tortured him. They wanted to know the location of rocks, richly filled with Gold. They couldn't get enough of it, it seemed. To support their "questions", they had broken both of Krasnegar's hands.
Since then, he had imagined more than 1000 times what he would do with them, if they crossed his way once again. Especially their leader, the one with the deep voice was at the top of his list.
A long time ago, when his hands were healthy and he had more strength, he could easily use his heavy warhammer, and he was quite skilled with his crossbow, too. Nowadays, his weaponry consisted of a heavy hunting knife and a dozen throwing-axes. These were weapons he could also use with his left hand...
Krasnegar blinked into the sun and sniffed around. Something special was in the air today. He had a curious feeling in his leg, as was always the case when something special was about to happen.
Awaking the next morning, Eolus packed his things, and the shield that was now magically reinforced. Following the traces of his group, he soon caught up with them.
After a cold, humid night, the group moved further on. Going along the way, they began wondering how they should pass the mountains. Thorwyn asked Xera if she knew something of the things ahead, but she told him that her folks would rather go through the forests than climb onto mountains, so she didn't know much.
Ulath was complaining that there were very few schnapps in his supplies. He wanted an inn rather than a mountain.
None of the fellows had been here before, only Thorwyn knew rumours about Gold-miners. He suggested to ask them the way. Instead, Xera suggested visiting an old Dwarf who was living in a cottage a few miles nearby.
While walking, Thorwyn became worried. "I'm thinking about that ambush. I haven't heard of surprise attacks out this way for a long time. It seems almost unnatural." "Do you think someone had sent them?" Aidan asked. He remembered that in any tavern, where he had sung his stories, he had never heard of attacks against simple travellers. Beside that, they were no simple travellers; they were in the service of the King. Maybe King Fasabar had a son who was weaving intrigues. He chose to talk with the others about that - the next time they would take a rest.
Ulath was not that happy - he was walking behind the others, sheltering their backs from the cold wind. Well, from the next rest on, he would surely be the first in the row! That's a fact, he thought. This was an easy way, any blind one could walk this way. He thought that this Elf maiden should rather walk in the middle. He was worried about the time she would need until her bow was ready for fight. Would she be too slow if some Goblins attacked them? Where were the "Fox" and the strayer? Weren't they able to walk straight on the road? Why had they always to stray through the bushes?
Also, he suspected the magician Eolus was sleeping, or at least "meditating" and the bard was musing about something, too. Only Sajet seemed to be awake. He didn't trust this silence...
After walking a while, the Fox emerged from the woods and stood suddenly before Xera, the leader. "There is something before us, I sense it clearly..." he said. The strayer Alrik peered questioningly from out of the bushes. Ulath rumbled cursing into the last ones of the group.
Xera signalled the others to become quiet. She listened to the wind. Then she turned, saying: "There is something going on ahead of us. I have heard some howling - maybe a dog, maybe a wolf. A smile went through the face of the "Fox".
As silently as they were able, they approached the place from where the howling came. And that was quite difficult though, because they had weapons and chain mail armour, which tended not to remain silent while hanging from their bodies. As they found out, there was indeed the howling of a dog.
After an abrupt curve, they came to a nearly rectangular hole in the way. Beside it, there stood a big brown dog with a loose band of leather around his neck. Looking at the strangers with mistrust, he soon turned towards the hole again and began howling, only interrupted by whining.
Arriving from his meditation, Eolus wondered why they were standing still, with a hole ahead. "Why are you standing here? Come on! There is a Princess to be rescued!"
"What did you say?" A curious voice came from the wood. An Adventurer showed up, dressed in a strange collection of clothes: black trousers, Leather-boots, a jerkin consisting of leather as well, and a wide-brimmed hat with a long feather. Waving a greeting with his left hand, the fellows noticed that there was no hand. Instead, the stranger had a hook.
"My name is Gideon Derlaf, and I just heard something about a maiden in danger. Well, if you wish, I could travel with you, and help to rescue her. Of course, I am assuming that there will be a large reward, as she is the daughter of a King..."
He was not the only one arriving there.
A stranger stepped out of the forest's shadows. His name was Keledan, and he was tall and thin, having on his back a longbow with the accompanied equipment and a rucksack. He was wearing leather trousers, his chest protected by leather armour. His face and body were hidden by a cloak. As he kneeled down, inspecting the traces of the fight at the river, metal at the height of the hip was blinking in the sunlight. As he was not moving, his shape seemed to merge with the surrounding, additionally, it was then not easy to say what colour his cloak had; it seemed to vary in form and colour.
These strange traces made him curious. He decided to follow them.
Wandering around and around, Keledan stayed nowhere for long, always on the search for new things to discover. He learned a lot about plants and animals through the course of time. As long as he was wandering.
Always at the border of the way, near to the wood, always prepared to merge with the shadows, he followed the trail.
The light white robe of a resting person warned him. Soon he saw the others, and deciding to go into the wood. They were quietly talking, a whining dog was heard nearby.
Drawing closer, he could inspect this group. But only late did he notice the shadowlike person standing separately from the others.
"Kelendan, you're getting sloppy. Thank the God of the Hunters that you were not noticed!" He squatted down. He noticed the white clothed person stepping to them and talking to them. Then, another stranger appeared. He had a hook for his left hand.
Xera moved closer to the rectangular hole. Peeking inside, she was horrified about what she found. "You'd better stay away!" she said to Aidan, who came closer, too. She knew he was inexperienced in battle and slaughter. For a short time, her look met the saddened look of the dog. Slowly, she shook her head. The animal seemed to understand. Mourning for its companion, it began howling...
The others understood. Here, someone had fallen into a trap. What horrified them, was the impression, that the trap had been set for them...
They buried the dead stranger - his look was that of a man who knew the forests - with a small ceremony. They understood that the forthcoming mountains were possibly more dangerous than they had thought... They moved further on...
Krasnegar had taken a pile of firewood into his cottage. With his left hand he searched his bag for something to make a fire with. It was slowly getting colder. The autumn was drawing closer. Luckily, he had found two big rodents in his animal-traps this morning. Now, he was preparing to remove their skins and roast them afterward. He didn't need much. Some meat and collected berries and nuts were enough for him. Only from time to time he delighted himself with a drink of Dwarfschnapps, he traded twice a year from a travelling merchant.
Just as he found his things, he heard steps outside. If Sam Dry River had returned? But why didn't his dog bark as usual?
But no, instead he heard a deep voice. "Cripplehand, are you at home?"
Krasnegar took his great hunt-knife...
Bearpaw was not sure what to do next. His two-legged leader was dead, that was sure in his dog's mind. When these other two-leggers had carefully taken the dead body out of that hole, he could see it. His two-legged leader didn't bark anymore and didn't move anymore. Like all dead beings.
The others had put the body under a lot of earth and stones. That was the moment Bearpaw knew he would be alone again.
The two-legged ones went on, only to stop again. There, they were barking at each other, obviously discussing where to hunt for food. It was time for Bearpaw to look for a new companion.
The first one was the one who had looked into the hole as the first. She talked almost only with her eyes, only barked only a little. But Bearpaw loved it, when he was also touched by "his" two-legger's hands. So be chose to look a bit further.
The second one was that really great two-legged being. He was higher than anyone else, and he barked louder than anyone else. He was surely their leader. He barked loud and determining. No-one else barked when he did.
Bearpaw approached him, like any good dog approached to his leader. But this two-legged one didn't even notice him. He made a short, more demanding bark, and waited for a reaction. There came a reaction, but it was an unfriendly one: a sharp look and a kick told Bearpaw to go away. How impolite! Should he leave this crowd?
But then another one approached carefully Bearpaw. His barking was quietly and friendly. He was the one who had been the second at the hole, but had been driven away by the first one.
Now this one was holding his own paw towards him and let Bearpaw sniff his paw. Now that was a promising beginning! Bearpaw wagged his tail and looked expectantly at the stranger. The two-legged began touching him with his own paw, like his old companion had always done. Although this one sat down on a stone while listening to the others barking, he never stopped touching him.
Bearpaw decided to sniff more at this one. He had a strange thing consisting of wood on his back, when touched, it made curious sounds. Could it produce more of these sounds? Well, he would see. After he had memorized the smell of his new leader, Bearpaw laid his head on his legs. The look of both met, and Bearpaw noticed that the look of the two-legged was deep and friendly. A bit unsure, he tried too whine again, but his new leader rather increased his soothing touches. Bearpaw knew, with whom he would travel from now on...
Aidan touched the dog. He was thinking. The dog seemed to like it. A good dog, Aidan thought, we should become friends. When this adventure is behind us, we should have enough to live quite in comfort. The dog had a band around his neck, made of leather. Aidan inspected it, hoping to find any traces of the former owner. He discovered a writing, seemingly burned into the band. "Bearpaw" he read. The dog looked at him. "Bearpaw, is that your name, my friend?" Aidan asked the dog. "What a pity that you can't speak! But anyway, I'll call you Bearpaw from now on!"
The group had taken a rest. The sun had gone higher and higher; the burial of the unknown stranger had taken too much time.
Ulath seemingly made himself as the leader of the group. "Why not?" Aiden thought, "as long as he does a good job."
He urged them to move on. Aidan thought that Ulath was surely happy at the possibility to get some Dwarfschnapps from the miners or the lonely Dwarf Xera had told about. "Hey, Aidan, don't fall behind! Take this dog or leave it here! We must go!" he shouted. "Well, my friend, let's go!" Aidan told his dog.
Soon they came to a small cottage. Xera told them, that it belonged to the Dwarf she knew.
As they arrived there, they watched a massive man knocking at the Dwarf's door. "Cripplehand, are you at home?" he shouted.
Krasnegar opened the door. He knew the heavy man standing in front of him. But he didn't
know the others, coming from the path. Why did have Bearpaw with them? The dog never went with strangers!
The strangers spoke to the heavy man. "My, what are you looking so grim for? Aren't you the protector of the dwarf?" The big man turned slowly his head.
Krasnegar heard sounds, just as if someone tried to move slowly and silently along the wall of his cottage, towards his door.
Now he figured the whole thing out: It was a surprise attack! "An ambush!" he shouted, trying to draw the strangers on to his side. Other bad-looking persons came from the side of the wall. In a desperate effort he attacked the man standing before him.
They had arrived just in time. The Dwarf was being attacked by bad-looking people, possibly miners. They heard "an ambush" and then they knew what they had to do: defend that Dwarf.
The number of men on both sides was almost equal, and having drawn their weapons, each sides fought against each another. The only one who didn't fight was the heavy, big man with the deep voice - slowly he fell over. And now they all could see why he didn't fight: the Dwarf's hunt-knife had ended his life.
The attackers fled.
"What led you to me? Was it Sam? Where is he? Come into my house, it will soon be raining!" the dwarf invited the group.
He didn't say a word of thanks towards the group for helping him. But if they had known him better, they'd have known that this invitation was much more than he normally said to strangers. Going inside, he gave the corpse of the heavy man a kick.
"I'm not that prepared for so many visitors. I haven't that many chairs for all of you. So please sit down where you have space." Having said that, the Dwarf sat down - on one of only two chairs in the whole cottage (the other one had always been for Sam Dry River). Eolus - now a proud magician - took the other one.
"Would you like a good drink?" Krasnegar said to Ulath, whom he identified as the possible leader of the group. Ulath looked at the bottles and flasks standing in the board. He had great expectations! "Yes, please. I always like a good drink!" Ulath answered.
Krasnegar looked into the direction of Aidan. "Behind you there is a barrel and some mugs. Be good and give us some." Thorwyn smelled the drink - it was surely alcohol. He feared that they would have to carry Ulath to the Dragon...
Ulath felt good. Enormously good. He hadn't felt better in months, he thought. The Dwarf was a good companion. Fine drinks did he have! If he only could remember when the second Dwarf had come?
Ulath fell down with a loud sound - to sleep. It was obvious that he was deeply drunk.
Soon, after a long while of drinking and relaxing, the fellows went to sleep - as good as was possible in this house.
In the middle of the night, Bearpaw woke up from a quite loud helter-skelter. There was heavy rain outside, and a thunder was heard. Bearpaw growled. Ulath tried to get up - like the warrior he "normally" was - but couldn't manage it. Still drunk, he fell down again, colliding with the also drunken Dwarf. The knot consisting of the two finally collided with the Fox and Thorwyn, until it came to rest. All of them moaned.
The "surviving" rest of the group was alarmed. Eolus looked surprised to the door. Sajet took her swords while rushing to the door. Alrik was there, too, drawing his throwing-knife. Xera and Derlaf were the last ones.
In the same moment, as the strayer pushed the door open, a flash enlightened the place before the cottage. There was nothing special out there.
No. There WAS something special out there. The corpse of the dead heavy man was gone! The flash of a second lightning strike gave the small group the opportunity to verify that. Then the rain became even stronger.
Disturbed, they went inside again. This night was an unquiet slumber for the sleepers, although the earth remained quiet.
"Damned! We should've looked if he still lives!" The next morning they were talking about the nightly incident. They were highly worried. They saw that this man could be a mighty enemy. What, if he manages to collect all the miners around him?
They decided to stay here for a few days, trying to protect the Dwarf from other surprise attacks.
1. Sajet, female human from the Southlands
2. Thorwyn, male human (with his magical sword)
3. "The Fox", male "human" (an intelligent Fox polymorphed into human shape)
4. Ulath, male human, from the Northlands (a bit of a drunk)
5. Aiden, male human, an inexperienced and unworldly bard
6. Alrik, male human, a strayer or wanderer who is uneasy in crowds
7. Eolus Thunderstorm, male dwarf
8. Xera, a female Wood-Elf (who wishes to see some of the world)
9. Krasnegar, male dwarf (crippled right hand and possibly crippled left hand) (Not part of the party yet)
10. Gideon Derlaf, male human, aka Hookhand (has a hook for a left hand)
11. Bearpaw, male dog, former pet of Sam Dry River (deceased)