(1) Our story starts on the first day of Peonu, and the day of the spring festival to celebrate the finished planting of the year's crops. The whole village joins to set up the various entertainments and games. Several of our heroes participate in events such as wrestling and archery contests, and then enjoy a lavish (by their standards) feast. As the night goes on, the drink flows liberally. Some of the villagers get quite boisterous, including one who is dunked in the river after making rather distinct innuendoes about Sir Osark's alleged fornication with the now pregnant maid, Marya. Many of our heroes are making contact with similarly aged members of the opposite sex, and when a deluge of rain and thunder comes down from the heavens they mostly depart for shelter with company. George however sticks it out near the bonfire and sees three of the village young'uns making off with a keg of ale. The maypole is struck by lighting and falls flaming onto one of the tables, luckily for all, much wetness means the flames do not result in considerable damage.
The next morning, Udard is vehemently out of sorts because his fence has come down during the night and he thinks his lifelong rival Tormin is surely to blame. What's most worrisome though, is that his three little piggies, Bertha, Tron and Weejee, have escaped during the night. He begs our heroes to find the little darlings while he confronts Tormin. The first pig is found without too much incident in a pile of straw in the nearby farmer's shed. Before the second and third pig's tracks yield any swine, our heroes are shocked to come across a slain man lying in the woods, with a chain shirt and a fine looking sword. Rolan hurries back to the village to retrieve his father, and when they return they attempt to follow the tracks of the killer, but the rain seems to have done a number on them. They deliver the body back to the village and Errol finds people willing to do the burial rites for the slain man. When they tell Sir Osark about the occurences he seems a little distracted.
Rolan, George, and Tal set off to follow the trail of the other two pigs. Eventually the smell of pork comes to their noses, and they carefully draw nearer. In a clearing in the woods is the second piggie, spitted above a fire. An armoured man lounges nearby. The searchers approach and the man introduces himself as Sir Orion. He seems a jovial and chummy fellow, inviting the travellers to join in with his meal and sing songs and dance. He reveals that the slain man was his brave friend, and laments his passing. Shortly however, he silences his companions, saying that the brigands who slew his friend are coming and he requests that his newfound companions hide him under a blanket and claim they have not seen him. It manages to work out and the three armed men go off into the forest. Then Sir Orion takes leave of them.
The three boys then follow the direction indicated by the now departed other, and eventually find that the tracks lead to an outcropping of rock and a cave. George flings a burning branch into the cave and out pops the little piggy. All three dive after it in an attempt to apprehend it, but no one can get hold of the swine. Rolan badly misjudges the pig's location and manages to fall headlong into a tree and be knocked out. George scrambles after the pig and eventually manages to catch it and secure it. Meanwhile it takes Rolan a good hour to regain consciousness; when he does our heroes go in search of a stream to camp by overnight. In the morning they return to the village and walk to the manor to tell the lord what has happened. The squire who meets them says that it would be better if they didn't see the lord and that he will tell him for them.
(2) George finds a small stone whistle in his pack. It has strange markings, and he does not know how it got in there. Udard goes to complain about Tormin to Lord Osark, but returns looking very unhappy. Later that evening he is in the tavern, rather drunk, and becoming rather boisterous about Tormin, and about Osark's perceived failings. A scraggly rabble begins to form, concerned that the Lord's malpractice where religious matters are concerned will reflect disastrously on the villagers in the eyes of Jad. In a lull, George discovers that Udard's feud with Tormin goes back twenty years to a maiden he loved, but who Tormin allegedly drove away to a nunnery. Our heroes try desperately to quell the growing mob, but it has taken on a life of its own, they do convince them to check with Father Rameus with affairs of religion before going on with their escapade. While Rolan and Quinton go to warn Sir Osark, Rameus, standing on the roof of the church with George's help, and Errol manage to dissuade the mob which eventually dissipates, allowing everyone to head to bed.
The next morning, Sir Osark throws Marya out of the manor house to appease the villagers. She goes home to the miller's house; Rimley throws her out as well, but keeps the baby. Marya is given sanctuary in the chapel. She fears for the safety of her baby with her father, though, and asks Errol and Rolan if they will help her get it back. Our heroes arrange a rescue attempt. Quinton and George, with Amnesty's help, dress as goblins and sneak into the miller's house late at night. They take the baby, but Rimley wakes up and sees a shadow disappearing into the night. At the same time, the others lead Marya out of the chapel. They stow the baby and his mother in Amnesty's house beyond the outskirts of the village where it is very unlikely anyone will come upon it.
In the morning, Rimley goes to tell Osark what happened. The miller seems to think that goblins or demons of some kind stole the baby. Hozae can find no evidence of demons, but perhaps they were flying. Errol reveals that Marya has disappeared during the night. He says he is not sure where she went, but she made mention of nunneries. Sir Osark presses Errol about Marya and Errol reveals he may be able to make contact with her. Osark says to tell her that she is welcome back in the manor. Then he goes to thank Amnesty for her help tending to Marya, he is rather surprised to find Marya and the baby there. Our heroes state, fairly honstely, everything that happend, and Osark dismisses them. Rolan returns to listen to what Osark and Amnesty are saying to each other and learns that he will be asking them to assist him. He runs back to his house, and soon discovers that Osark has a plan to get Marya back into his house without the rest of the villagers. He brings the entire village, including those living in the manor, to hunt after the demons that carried away the baby. While he is doing this our heroes will sneak Marya back into the manor, with Gurt the stablehand's help.
Errol says he wants to have a look around the manor while Osark is gone, because he suspects the lord of foul play. Rolan says he can't allow this because of the grave consequences for all of them were he to be caught. Quinton and George agree that it is probably not a wise idea. Errol refuses to back down, and Rolan says he must then tell Osark what is happening, so that he himself will not be held responsible. Osark says that he has nothing to hide, and that it is too late to cancel the "demon hunt", but Errol should be kept in the dark as much as possible.
The demon hunt goes well, Marya is brought into the manor on a stretcher, but before that, Gurt finds Errol semi-conscious on the floor of Sir Osark's bedroom. He ties him up, puts him in the disused kennel, and waits for Osark's return.
(3) Upon returning to the manor, Lord Osark questions Errol about his presence. Errol provides a rather elaborate story about having dealings with a man named Lerick who intended to set up Lord Osark for plotting to assassinate his leige. Osark brings Errol, Hozae, Rameus and Gurt out to the forest and asks him to locate the place he allegedly had him camped (George and Rolan observe some of this episode while hidden in the trees). Hozae's searching reveals nothing, so Osark decides to put the searching a little farther, which reveals the torn letter and a pen down Errol's pants. Osark is intrigued and puts Errol back in the Kennel for safe-keeping, but not before Errol presents a new explanation for his actions that outlines how Rameus killed his mother many years ago and that he has suspected Rameus of wrong-doing, and was searching the manor for evidence.
Sir Osark then asks Rolan, Quinton, and George what they think of their friend Errol. As they are talking, three cloaked travellers arrive and say they must speak with Sir Osark. As the three strangers and the lord return to the manor, Errol overhears them mentioning that they learned that a knight, named Sir Timmit, has gone missing.
The next day Sir Osark sends for the lord of Bahrey, who was expecting Sir Timmit. Sir Osark has the body of the slain knight exhumed and it is identified as being Sir Timmit. Rolan, George, and Quinton learn something of this occurence when Sir Osark asks them to describe the knight they saw pig-cooking in detail. Rolan, Quinton and George then go off to track the knight and the brigands they encountered four days previously, they travel far, but to little avail. While they are gone, Sir Osark passes judgement on Errol. He has him flogged and banished from Northenden. As the other three young men return from their travels (after passing the three visitors on the road), they catch sight of Errol, badly damaged, off the side of the road. They hide him in the forest and tend to his wounds as best they can. That evening Amnesty returns home from the manor and informs George that Marya has died.
That night, Rolan hears a loud yell from the manor. He goes to investigate and sees the latter end of a confrontation between Gurt and and Sir Osark. Then Sir Osark leaves the manor and wanders up to a hill where he weeps for a time. Before daybreak the next morning our heroes are summoned to the manor where a livid Lord Osark informs them that after stealing the body of Marya and burying it the previous day, during the night Gurt fled the manor with both his lord's horse and Marya's child. Sir Osark entreats the three loyal companions to retrieve the baby by any means without harm coming to it, and hopefully the horse, and Gurt if possible, dead or alive. The group gets together what they can, and approaches Errol to see if he will come along. He agrees, and they set out from home.
(4) The group asks Gurt's mother if she might know where he would go. She doesn't know but says they have relatives in Kessan. They set out, Rolan and George doing a fine job of tracking the horse prints. They lead down the road and eventually to the keep at Olokand, a bit past noon. They find a body hidden among some leaves and find tracks indicating a likely encounter with Gurt and the former owner of the body. They go to the castle and inform the Reeve of what has happened. He comes out to have a look, identifies the body of that of the salter, and takes an official statement from Errol and Quinton about what they know, for purposes of the investigation. George and Rolan go to the tavern, where the barkeep they met the previous day tells them he was woken up by a stranger with a baby, seeming flustered, wanting to drink, and paying handsomely. The boys build a stretcher for Errol so he stands a chance of regaining some of the verve and vigour and vitality that he lost after being flogged to within nine inches of his life. Rolan and George pick up the trail and follow it to Medarsin, where it disappears into the river Kald. It is late, and they decide to stay there for the night. A villager says she, and others, saw the rider cross the river and that they have been on the look out for things like that because of recent activity by the famed bandit Telin the Red (who none of our stalwart heroes have heard of).
In the morning, the boys from Northenden put themelves to work making a raft to cross the river. They pick up the horse's tracks on the other side of the river, and continue to follow it. They reach Greaven where Errol forges a notice for the illiterate guard, excusing them from paying the toll to cross the bridge. From there they pass through Miroadel, and then the terrain becomes a little bit more wildernessy. Errol most distinctly hears a small noise from off the side of the road and they resolve to sneak up and see what gives. Rolan and Errol sneak particularly well. They see a band of 5 armed looking men and a horse passing through the woods, in the opposite direction, parallel, but away from the road. The Northendonians retreat and appraise the situation. They are quite convinced these are bandits, and steering clear of them seems wise. Errol, keen to take some information from this experience, bursts in on them, and claims to have been recently attacked by bandits, and appeals to these 'noble knights' to help him. He helps them by excitedly telling them there is a road not far to their left. Banter ensues. Errol leaves.
The four eternal chums muse on the significance of this, and George is keen to warn the people at Miroadel that they may be facing a bandit invasion of a disastrous nature. The quickest and hardiest of the group, he chooses to run back and warn the lord of the manor, and then run back to meet up with the group. He does this successfully, before the group arrives at the next plot point.
As they sight another village and the presence of much more arable land, the tracks they follow lead off of the trail and into the woods, where there is hinting of a prolonged equestrian sojourn and a variety of human tracks fro and to. Ovendel is the name of this rather lonely village, an important stop on the fur road to Tashal on the near end and Orbaal on the other. Purchasing wine at the local inn leads to the discovery that a man and a baby walked into a bar, saw another more burly man and left together. They then returned sometime later in search of a tailor and a punchline. Upon arriving at the house of the seamstress, she is found bound to her mouth and gagged to a chair. Our stalwart heroes release her, and learn that she was accosted by two men, one with a baby, who wanted rich looking clothes quickly; when she chose not to comply, they held her at knife point and made her give them some nice clothing she had lying around. They then tied her up and ransacked her shack. Rolan, George, Quinton, and Errol accompany Ailassa to the Lord of the village to report what happened. Then with the consent of the Lord, Errol writes up an officious document detailing our heroes noble quest.
(5) In the morning our weary travellers depart Ovendel and continue down the road after Gurt's trail. Towards evening, outside of Antiven, which is across the river from Heru Keep, they discover a large conglomoration of footprints that seems to indicate various departures by several people, and that half a dozen or so arrived at some point and departed with the horse. Across the bridge, at a tavern, they learn that a few days ago two men came to the tavern and started talking with five other men, and then left. Speculation leads the group to speculate that Gurt and his travelling companion may have sold the horse.
The group continues on and arrives in the capital city, Tashal. It has been overcast all day and is beginning to threaten rain very blatantly. They break off into twosomes to do some scouting out of the city. They determine that Gurt likely stayed at the Coin and Broom Inn, giving his name as Tormin. He also may or may not have looked into buying weapons, clothes, and such. George and Rolan speak with the local guard and let them know what is happening with the escaped criminal. Errol manages to make a bit of coin gambling, and George sells some of the herbs he has been collecting to an apothecary.
They reunite and check out all of the inns in the city, but find little of value. They take a room at the Coin and Broom (in the same room Gurt stayed) and set about commisserating with the locals. As they sit in the inn, two men enter, and George and Rolan recognize them as two of the rough looking men they'd seen in the woods during their encounter with "Sir Orion". They go to approach them, and the two hastily leave. Quinton, Rolan, and George follow them with Errol sneaking along behind. There is a bit of a confrontation in an alley; the two men (soon joined by a third) wave their swords around blatantly and make it very clear to these poor three villagers that they did not see them and know nothing about them. They leave one way, and Quinton, Rolan, and George return in the direction of the tavern. While this is happening, Errol notices what looks in the dim light like it might be someone hiding in a nearby doorway. He waits and watches as his friends return to the inn, a figure detatche itself from the shadow and moves to follow them back into the inn. In the inn, the figure removes its hood, revealing itself to be youngish looking beautiful woman. She orders a drink, and moves over to the table where the Northenders have taken a seat. She sits down, and introduces herself as Kendra. She says she noticed that the travellers seemed a little out of place in the big city, and thought that she could maybe be of service to them, since she knows some things about the city and who to talk to and who to trust. She suggests they go somewhere more private to talk, and winds up in the innroom that's being rented. She says that there are some people she would like subtly scoped out because she is interested in a lot of people in the city. As they start to ask her questions about herself, she suddenly seems very nervous, and hastily departs.
Quinton, always the lady's man, follows her out of the Inn and down the street. The rain has begun, though only lightly. Unsurprisingly, Errol sneaks after them. Kendra seems quite ill-at-ease but talks to Quinton willingly and says she would still talk to him. As they go down the street, she whispers that they are being followed. Quinton surmises that it is likely Errol. They develop a manner of speaking sneakily wherein they carry on louder, ineffectual conversations while speaking under their breath. Kendra says that they must shake their follower, and that she will not say what she needs to say unless she's sure Errol is not there. Quinton offers several solutions, many of which hinge on Errol's poor physical shape and laziness, but she shakes her head at each one. She needs to be sure. Eventually they resolve to split up, run around the streets for a bit and reconvene at a predetermined place in the dark of the city. By this time Rolan and George are peacefully in bed, as the rain becomes a deluge. Kendra and Quinton manage to evade detection by Errol, who returns to the inn to sleep.
(6) Having done something with or to Kendra, whether it be horticultural or academic in nature, Quinton Visscher returns to the Coin and Broom to lay him down to sleep. In the morning (of a rather long twelfth day of the month of Peonu) Errol rises first and descends to the common room. During breakfast the group displays some marked tensions, most of it stemming from the animosity between Errol and the rest of the boys, especially Rolan. Errol does not seem keen on helping in the quest for the baby (silly as it all is), but no one is really quite sure what who actually said anyway. Quinton reports that Kendra gave some more details about the people she wants watched. During breakfast a big bald man enters the Inn and speaks with the innkeeper. Errol notices that he is showing him a piece of paper and managed to discover that on it is a fairly accurate representation of our dear friend Gurt. Neither divulges much useful information, and on his return to the table Errol doesn't say much about what happened.
The group resolves to split up temporarily in the customary division. Errol and Quinton will travel to the Seven Stars inn to look into the five fellows as per Kendra's request. George and Rolan will continue their inquest into Gurt's whereabouts. They will reconvene at noon. Errol and Quinton encounter what seems to be the five men in question, and a fascinating strategic board game called Ruckers. It appears four of the men are in the employ (for protective purposes) of the fifth, a merchant named Asdir, but it seems as if no one is being completely honest, and one of the men has some sort of dealings with the owner of a weapons shop. Meanwhile George and Rolan discover little of import, except to learn that someone almost matching the description may have purchased some weapons. Getting a bit desperate with the monumental task of locating a farmboy and a baby in the biggest city in the country, they begin offering a small reward for any important information that might be divulged.
George and Rolan arrive back at the Inn first, and see Kendra waiting there. She takes a seat with them, and tells them that she overheard two men saying something about meeting someone, the acquisition of a baby, and late afternoon near the church of St. Halea. George offers her a small token of appreciation for the information, which she eventually accepts, and says that in light of current events (which may or may not have happened) it would be wise not to tip Errol off about what is going on. Kendra seems to agree that Errol is perhaps not entirely trustworthy. When Errol and Quinton arrive, Kendra departs fairly quickly, but not before Errol apprises her of much of what has happened in Northenden.
The reunion does not end up as a particularly happy one. George and Rolan are of the opinion that they cannot involve Errol in the proceedings because of his easily apparent disdain for Sir Osark Undraden, lord of Northenden. When George says that Kendra had little to report about anything relating to Gurt, Errol is instantly convinced it is a lie. Quinton refuses to turn against his friend (Errol) insisting that he is still trustworthy and that he will not leave him to the cruel city. But Rolan and George are set in their decision that Errol is a dangerous criminal-type and that they can not risk his presence. So the two duos go their separate ways, George and Rolan leaving the inn, resolved to try and retrieve the baby.
As they wander through the streets towards the gates, Kendra appears behind them and tries to find details about what exactly has been happening with Errol. She advises that perhaps it is best to be in a situation where they can keep an eye on him, and seems taken aback that Quinton seems to have sided with him. George and Errol go to the barracks and several other places, researching whether they can shake up any sort of help in crashing Gurt's meeting with these alleged two men, but come up empty handed. They go to case out the area around the church. Meanwhile, Quinton returns to where Kendra told him she can most easily be found. She is not there at first, but eventually arrives. They discuss the situation, and Kendra tells him about the meeting she overheard being discussed. Quinton attempts to convince her of Errol's redeeming side.
Quinton and Errol reunite and head towards the church of St Halea. While investigating vantage points and climbing around on buildings, George and Rolan notice them entering, and follow. This reunion is a bit more joyous, and the four fellows from Northenden agree they may as well try to work together. Errol poses as a beggar near the foot of the church, while the others wait for his signal in the Inn across the street. Time passes. The bald man from the Inn earlier that morning arrives on the scene and begins to hang around. Later two large, lightly armed and armoured men also arrive, and set up on the street across from the church.
Eventually Errol notices Gurt approaching. He is also armoured, but babyless. He approaches the two men, and they get to talking. He indicates that the baby is waiting somewhere else and he will lead them there and they will make a deal. He subtly signals another man (matching the description of Gurt's travelling companion) that in the meantime Errol has noticed lurking off to the side. The man sets out at a brisk pace. Errol follows him. Gurt and the two men go the same way. Rolan, George, and Quinton follow them. The bald man follows behind. The group, in various stages, arrives in various degrees of nearness to a doorway of a building in the back of a twisty alley.
Gurt and Morvrim reveal that they have the baby in the building behind them with a woman to tend for it, and ask for a pound. The others blanch at that request, and make a much lower offer. Morvrim flatly denies, and swords are drawn. In the fight, Morvrim and one of the attackers are subdued, and another fellow (Bigald) appears at the door to help, but when the various onlookers (Errol, Rolan, George, Quinton, and the bald fellow) move in on the scene he quickly disassociates himself from Gurt. It is established that quite a few people seem to have been trying to get Gurt for various reasons, and the baby as well. The bald man introduces himself as Brogar, George sets about tending to the many wounded, Errol goes into the house and retrieves the baby from the terrified woman within. Brogar offers to tie up Gurt with Rolan's rope. As he is doing so, however, Rolan notices a knife in his hand moving towards Gurt's throat. He reflexively jabs his spear into the attacker's stomach, who falls to the ground almost impaled, brings down Gurt with him, and loses consciousness. Gurt manages to escape from this with just a small knick on his neck, but is even more shaken. When our heroes interrogate him, he is babbling a fair amount, saying that Morvrim made him do it, and some things like that. Meanwhile, Bigald takes off, saying that it isn't any of his business who hires him.
(7) Rolan is sent to fetch the guards. Errol finds a large stash of money and the nurse says she knows little about what is happening, this is her house and Gurt and Morvrim paid her to take care of the baby. Gurt seems rather distressed, he says that it was Morvrim's idea to sell the horse and the baby, that the horse was sold to five bandits who went north, and eventually reveals that he was told to take the baby to the church in Tashal (as well as bury Marya's body, who wasn't dead yet at that point, outside of the town) by one of the three wanderers who arrived in Northenden several days ago. Why he would go along with such a bizarre request is rather unclear, but soon he becomes rather delirious and the group concludes that he was likely the victim of a poisoning, perhaps due to the knife-knick he got from Brogar before he was incapacitated by Rolan. Errol finds a vial of poison in his possession. Nemyn reveals that he was hired by a man to take the baby somewhere, but refuses to reveal where. When the guards arrive, they arrange the carrying of everyone back to the barracks. Errol hides the poison in the church while returning his begging bowl.
At the barracks, once the guards retrieve Dernan, he seems to believe the tale he is told. Errol claims the poison and picture of Gurt must have fallen out of his pockets. Gurt will be executed, and the Northendeners will bring his head back for Lord Osark to have a look at. Morvrim will also be punished in an unpleasant fashion. The large amount of money that they retrieved is held by the city guard to be transferred to Lord Osark to make up for the loss of his horse. Rolan however is held longer so that he can make a case for his attack on Brogar. They will wait for the man to regain consciousness so he can decide whether to press assault charges. The others go back to their respective Inns and have a much needed first-meal-since breakfast. George is suspicious of the potion's disappearance and he visits the church. He manages to find the vial, which he trades for a shilling and subjects to death-by-tossing-and-heel.
At the Seven Stars, Errol eventually meets Asdir, who he offers his talents to. Asdir reveals that he is trying to retrieve some weapons that should have been his and are being sold by someone else. He would like to get them back, and offers Errol a large amount of money for him to help out. Errol uses his knowledge of the mysterious men as a bargaining chip to get Kendra to reveal what she told Quinton and no one else. She hesitantly accepts and tells him her story. Errol insists he knows probably less about all of this than she. Errol tries to enlist Kendra's help taking the weapons back for Asdir, but she says she isn't particularly interested in the money and that she worries more about who exactly they are taking them from and giving them to. Kendra does agree to look into the people who are holding the weapons once Quinton and Errol give her the necessary details.
(8) In the holding cells, Rolan comes across an odd, rather drunken fellow named Micky Timothy Murphy. He seems an amicable fellow and gets along well. Saying that he has heard some fellows talking about taking a baby to Loban, which caught his interest because he lived there for some time. He and Rolan manage to convince the guards (who know Micky quite well) to let Rolan go a bit early, based partially on the information that "Brogar" is in fact not the man's real name. Micky determines to travel with the villagers back to Northenden, after all it's not so far from Loban and he trusts his wiles will be of great use in this grand quest. Micky is introduced to George by Rolan, and eventually the 3 fellas go to bed.
Back at the Seven Stars, in the morning, Quinton awakes to find no sign of Errol, who had been down in the mess area busy at gambling. He questions the innkeeper who says he thinks he saw him leave towards the end of the night and hasn't seen him since. The travellers are eager to head out, and decide that it is probably for the best to leave Errol be. If he wanted to contact them he would have, and besides he seemed much more at home in the city.
The journey back to Northenden with Gurt's rotting head in a leather sack is fairly uneventful. They inform the inhabitants of the various towns they pass through that were victim to Gurt's wrath that the perpetrator has been dealt with, and several bridges exacted quite the toll on the group's coffers. After two days on the road Rolan, Micky, George, and Quinton arrive in Northenden at mid-afternoon on the fourteenth day of Peonu. They meet an under the weather looking Osark who hears their tale in the privacy of a copse of trees. He is very relieved to see the travellers returned. They decide to claim the baby is the son of Micky's sister so that the silly villagers need not know the truth. Osark also reveals that one of the three "robed travelling strangers" who had visited was his cousin Gregar Undraden.
Then Osark tells them to come back to the manor once they have visited with their families for a little. The young fellows run off and inform their good buddy Tal of their week of adventure in faraway lands. When they return to the manor, they are subject to a very fine feast, probably the best any of them has ever been subjected to. There is also ample whiskey and ale to be consumed. To top it all off, Sir Osark announces that in appreciation of their good service to him he has decided to relieve them of their feudal obligations, so they may become freeholders. After this wonderful news, the boys run off to the Blundering Widget and continue the revelry with singing and dancing late into the night. A very drunken plan by George and Micky to pick on Jebuba, the smith who, angered by his silly name, has picked on the Owen family a fair amount. The morning brings some nasty hangovers for most involved parties, except Quinton who kept the debauchery turned down a notch. He is slightly miffed that his friends seem to have turned on their lifelong chum Errol so easily, and then so quickly come to trust a complete stranger like Micky.
Eventually the boys get back to work, in the fields and in the forest. But things have not quite settled back into their rustic rut. As George is traipsing about in the woods in search of valuable herbs, he hears the screaming of a young woman. Linela, while wandering through the woods collecting flowers, has come across a terrible sight: a mound of dirt, with a human hand protruding from it. At first suspecting that this must be the grave Gurt made for Marya, George investigates, but discovers the hand is older and quite manly. He goes to fetch Father Rameus and his friends. The body is unearthed so that it may be given a proper burial. Beneath the earth however is a grisly sight. There are not one, but two bodies. One a younger man, and the other an older one. Identifying them is difficult, for their flesh and bodies have been torn and ripped so badly that they are in some places inside out and in several pieces. A ring on the finger of one of the men reminds George of the coat of arms seen hanging in Sir Osark's manor. Rolan runs to fetch Osark. He examines the ring on the dead man's finger, profanes loudly and stalks off into the woods back toward his manor house. Father Rameus and the boys go about transporting the bodily remains back to the chapel for the proper funerary rites.
(9) The group decides they would go to Loban to look into Nemyn's alleged meeting with his employer. Before they leave, Osark warns them that things at Loban have been not particularly calm of late. Arriving at the manor in the afternoon, several people at the friendly local tavern are interviewed and it becomes clear that there has been some manner of ill going on, which has resulted in several deaths over the last several months, and the closing of the nearby mine. Fearing for their lives, the villagers have refused to attend to their farmwork until Sir Kathel can do something to ensure their safety. Our intrepid travellers journey to the Amba mine and search it thoroughly, but find nothing but trees and rocks and water. Since it was first miners who disappeared, Micky decides to lay as bait in the mouth of the mine while the Northenders remain in the bunkhouse, hoping to lure out whatever is doing these foul deeds.
The morning brings nothing out of the ordinary, so they give up on the mine and return to Loban. They learn from the innkeeper that a boy named Vimon has been asking questions about them, but approaching him yields little of value. They then talk to Hakon's son (Hakon disappeared two days ago, the latest in the string of incidents) and find that his father had left the house and never returned, they travel to the fields he usually works at but find no trace of a struggle. The innkeeper informs them that Martin the Hermit might know something. He is a half Taelda (a tribe of barbarians that Sir Kathel decimated last year in an attempt to expand the village across the river).
The travellers eventually find Martin's tiny little hut far in the wilderness past the mine. He invites them in, and is friendly enough, especially when he learns of George's great knowledge of wilderness lore. He makes them some strange tea, and eventually reveals that he believes the responsibility for the murders is one from Taelda legend, the old one. He knows the Taelda paid regular tribute to something they geared at a location they call Demon Rock. He believes the old one, angered by Sir Kathel's massacre of the Taleda last year, is slaying the local miners and villagers as an act of revenge. George tries to convince him to lead them to Demon Rock, but he is afraid. They eventually convince him to bring them half-way there and then wait for their return.
Martin leaves them and they head out on their own through the hills and forests. At the top of one of the hills, the party stops so George can climb a tree and try to gauge whether they are headed in the correct direction and how much distance they have yet to cover before arriving at Demon Rock. As George is up the tree, Micky wanders off and is suddenly knocked over by a brutish fur-clad man. He manages to right himself and deal with the man. When he finishes him off, his companions have arrived on the scene. Also arriving on the scene are three other brutish fur-clad men. George is however otherwise engaged falling out of the tree, hitting a branch nastily on the way down and crumpling hurt but fairly alive on the ground below. The fight is short, but particularly brutal. Micky proves his salt by pumelling the fellows rigorously and decisively on the head and outing them, but not before they themselves inflict some serious wounds. Micky is stabbed right through by a spear, Rolan and Tal also suffer from considerable damage, and of course George took some bad bruises from his fall.
In the aftermath of the fight (of the enemies, all are badly unconscious, and one is dead) the Northenders salvage the leather armour and weapons from what they assume are Taelda tribesmen, George spends several hours attending to the wounds of his comrades in a camoflauged shelter that Rolan (the least wounded of the wounded) constructs. By the time all the wounds are tended to the light is fast fading. George is eager to investigate Demon Rock, so he and Rolan head toward it while Quinton and Micky and Tal drag the body of one of the unconscious Taelda back to where Martin is supposed to be waiting for them. It is tricky going for those in the dark, but eventually they arrive back to where they think is the right place and sure enough Martin is there, albeit sleeping soundly. Rolan and George eventually find Demon Rock. They find a cairn at the top of the rock with skulls on pikes all around it and a large rather deep seeming hole extending into the rock. They also locate a trail which leads to a fairly extensively destroyed primitive looking village. They spend the night there.
In the morning George and Rolan return to Demon Rock and investigate further. They find a small cave hidden at the opposite end of the rock from the trail to the village and find in it a hole that drops down to water. Through an interesting combination of rope and saplings, they manage to determine that the water is about thirty feet below their present height. George then determines that he'd really really like to go down and check it out despite the coldness of the water and his current unhealth. Down the rope he goes, with Rolan staying up above and bracing it. Within the cave it is quite dark, but lucky for George his eyes fare very well in dim places. He sees a pool, with an island toward the centre, which he swims towards and mounts. He catches sight of some sparkling in the pool and dives in and over several trips manages to recover several trinkets and coins. He also notices that the pool seems to get deeper toward the far wall, which is curious, so he dives down and discovers that it continues further. He comes up in complete darkness and feels his way along a small ledge which ends at a heavy wooden door, which he breaks down with some effort. He manages to create light by burning some old barrels and crates and reveals what appears to be a fairly old subterranean forge. He finds some bottles full of a thick, pungently urine smelling substance, a large sheet of bloody canvas, and several other interesting things. He also spots a ladder going up a long tunnel to above. He tries to climb it, and is hindered several times by the weak and falling rungs on the ladder and the dropping of his improvised torch. Eventually he reaches the top, bashes through a trap door, and sticks his hand into the sticky mattedness of a severed head. The upper room has fairly little, an empty bookshelf, a presumed exit blocked by collapsed rocks, and an adjoining small room with a fairly decayed corpse that bears noticeable resemblance to Marya.
Returning to the lower room, George discovers a hole in the top of the ceiling, leading to a rather tight chimney. Sensing an escape close at hand, he coats himself in the condensed-goat-piss-like substance from the jars and shimmies up the tiny tunnel. Eventually it links up with a less precisely carved rocky corridor which George manages to escape from. It turns out to be the cairn with all the skulls around it at the topmost part of demon rock. This has all been rather extremely unnerving and stressful, and he is particularly glad to be out. He runs happily and smellily back to where Rolan has been waiting for him for several hours.
(10) While George is undergoing his subterannean ordeal, Tal, Quinton and Micky bring the captured Taelda back to Martin's hut. They arrive very late and sleep. In the morning Martin asks the Taelda some questions for them and relates that they were there to try and protect the woods from Lobanian interlopers, he also says that the Old One has been slain by Colthynn, an ancient Taelda warrior legend who has returned to bring his people strength again. This happened several months ago. Micky, Tal et Quinton decide it would be best to let the poor fellow go, and they request Martin to tell the Taelda not to attack their friends in the future. Martin claims to have relayed this request.
Late that night, a little past sundown, George and Rolan return from Demon Rock and relate their story of what happened there (on the way back they mostly freed their Taeldaean captives). George uses some of Martin's herbs and bathes, managing to reduce his goat urine stench somewhat. George and Rolan are of the opinion that it would be wise to return to Demon Rock and try to dig out the dead bodies, including that of whom he can only suppose is Marya. They resolve that it is probably wise to head back to Loban, then they intend to travel back to Northenden and see if they can enlist Sir Osark's help with the excavation.
They arrive back in Loban in the early afternoon, and see Vimon working in the fields. He tells them that he feels the refusal to work in the fields is a rather foolish way of strong-arming Kathel into doing something about the disappearances, after all they have only occurred at night and the villagers will be in sore need of something to eat if the crops are not tended to. Vimon is eager to hear about what they discovered, but he has to wait until Tal spins the tale in ornate fashion back at the Ambarin Warrior Inn to get the perhaps mildly romanticized details, Micky also manages to replenish his badly dwindling whiskey supplies a bit. The companions, encouraged by the townsfolk, decide it would be for the best to inform Sir Kathel about what they have discovered at Demon Rock and about the Taelda. They travel to the heavily fortified manor house and are let in by Warner who leads them to the extravagant banquet hall where Kathel meets them. The lord of Loban is notably under the influence of drink and a bit on the gruff and cranky side. He is very interested in Tal's tale, though doesn't quite know what to make of it. He has the cook Feya prepare the bringers of news a fairly nice dinner.
During (or slightly after) dinner, Micky is struck with another brilliant plan, though practically very similar to his first. He decides he will dress as a peasant and again act as bait for whatever has been killing/capturing/devouring the villagers. His friends will be watching nearby so they can spring upon whatever it is and apprehend it. They go to Vimon to borrow some clothes, Rolan and George use their madskillz to build a camouflaged shelter in the woods nearby, and then Micky pretends to farm for a bit into the evening, drops his hoe and then steps on it so that it appears to smack him in the face, then he collapses on the ground and moans for some time before falling asleep. His companions, sleeping in shifts, observe nothing until near the middle of the night when George hears a noise. He follows it into the woods some ways and eventually comes upon a naked man shambling rather aimlessly through the woods, occasionally emitting grunts and moans. George hurries back to his friends and wakes them, and they return to look at this curious sight. The man wanders for a bit and then eventually sits down against a tree. George tries to get his attention by waving his hands in his face, but this only results in the man trying to punch him. After this feeble attempt at violence the man is rather easily apprehended and they tie him up and bring him to Vimon's house, who identifies the man as Hakon, the missing miller.
It is rather late at night, but Vimon's parents don't mind too much, given the gravity of the situation. George cannot find any sign of physical trauma beyond a few small scratches, and no particular signs of any drugs or poisons he knows of. Vimon is very interested in these young villagers who travel around doing such exciting things, and manages to get them to tell him their whole story of the missing baby and their trip to the capital and all the strange goings-on. In the morning they bring Hakon back to his family who is obviously rather concerned about his apparent state of non-mind, but nonetheless relieved to have him back. The Northenders convince Quinton (being the only uninjured one among them) to travel back to Martin's hut and ask him to come and see if he can provide any insight into what the matter with Hakon is. They then go to Sir Kathel and tell him what they do and do not know, foremost of which being that the miller is not dead as was previously assumed. Kathel is very happy to hear the news, thinking that maybe this will be enough to get the peasants back to work.
Our overzealous outdoorsmen naturally see the best following course of action as... TRACKING! So they set off into the woods, with an eye (well, several eyes) and a nose (well, probably not) to the ground. The path made by Hakon is very weavy and undefined, but as they follow it, and follow it, and follow it, they realize that the mostly directionless meandering is gradually bringing them back to an area more near to Demon Rock. A day of steady drizzle however erases the trail and after two and some days of tracking they come to an end and head back to Loban. On their return they see that Hakon's condition has unfortunately not improved, but after a protacted diplomatic exchange they manage to convince Hakon's family to lend them their ox to help excavate the cave-in at Demon Rock in hopes of finding some information that might shed some light on the miller's condition.
(11) The group is given some pointers on animal care by Orza the Ox's owners and they depart the mill. As they head out of the mill, Vimon catches sight of them and asks what they are doing. When he learns of the great quest he seems thrilled and offers to help. He just needs to talk to his parents and collect his travelling gear. The group heads off toward Demon Rock, stopping on the way at the Amba mine to collect some of the tools that were left when it was abandonned, and then at Martin's where Vimon suggests that they get a bit of stew to help them through their long trek. They invite Martin to come along and help their excavation, but he is rather hesitant of approaching Demon Rock. During their journey toward the rock, Vimon wanders off and discovers a shred of Taelda clothing. He seems very nervous and suggests they proceed with caution, also mentioning that from what he's heard of the Taelda they are excellent tree climbers and often attack from above. George and Rolan do a magnificent job of camouflaging the ox, making it look more like a shrubbery than a beast of burden and they continue toward Demon Rock. They arrive late in the day and set up camp and sleep before setting about the task of excavating.
The next morning, and for several mornings and days after that, the hardy young fellas move lots of rocks a lot and after several days of digging and hauling and boring they feel a musty draught of stale air. Torches and weapons at the ready, they enter the tunnel their digging revealed and find the small room much as George described it. However, there is no sign of the body, nor the severed head that George reported seeing, and a chest is missing. George opens the trap door and notices the ladder down to the workshop below seems uncharacteristically glowy; further examination reveals that the rungs have been greased up.
Thankful to have noticed this looming danger ahead of time, the boys get ready their long ropes to lower George and Micky (he's wiry!) down the shaft to investigate the workshop and try to flush out whatever might be waiting there for them. Rolan is sent to guard the pit of skulls, Quinton the bat cave, and Tal stays put. In the depths of Demon Rock our intrepid spelunkers find everything much as it was before. They send up the chest with the vials of goat urine to Tal who opens the chest and discovers a whitish, twig dissolving liquid in place of the foul smelling concentrated goat piss. George explores the caves and water that he previously travelled through and discovers nothing of interest save perhaps that the firemaking materials he left on the little island appear to be untouched. Meanwhile back in the workshop, Micky decides to investigate by hitting various things with his pick. Upon George's return a chink is discovered, which upon much more banging turns out to be a low doorway into another room, blocked by a now destroyed barred stone door. The room is largely bare except for some strange writings on the floor (which are copied down by Micky carving them into the chest) and a door which leads to a much newer tunnel that continues for a good long while and emerges in a well camouflaged fashion at a creek several hundred feet from Demon Rock. They find no tracks leading away from this exit, but they find some markings on the ground. On a soon to be confirmed hunch, George digs down and uncovers the complete body of the woman who looks like Marya in several pieces.
The Northenders bury who they assume is Marya in a nice fashion and spend the night near the tunnel entrance before returning to Loban by way of Martin's cottage. George sneaks into Martin's cabin at night to see if any incriminating evidence can be located but none can be found. In the day they go to talk to Martin; he looks at the transcription of the floor of the room carefully and says it is all in a script he doesn't know except for two words which are in Taelda: Colthynn, and Ryneida (the leader of the local Taelda tribe). Loban has changed little on their return, and Sir Kathel is not altogether pleased nor altogether angered by the tale he is told by Tal. The ox is returned to the family of Hakon whose condition has not improved despite the local priest's efforts at exorcism. Vimon decides he wants to accompany his new companions back to Northenden where he will be able to work in fields and not be under the constant fear of murderous somethingorother(s). Our stalwart heroes and Vimon (who is to be lent a room at the Blundering Widget) return to Northenden, somewhat frustrated by the lack of a conclusive outcome. They relate their tale to Lord Osark (who suspects his the grave his murdered relatives inhabited was Marya's grave dug by Gurt and then someone, probably the cloaked stranger travelling with his relatives switched the cadavers and for some reason carried Marya's corpse to the hideout at Demon Rock), hand the carving of the inscription over to Father Rameus for further study, and get back to their regular daily habits.
(12) Over the next five days, things return to the way they used to be. The boys from Northenden become re-enamoured of the beauty of the freshly planted crop, and the hoed field, and the endless beating sun. Micky drinks a lot of whiskey and sets himself up as assistant to Abret the miller, as well as . Vimon helps out a bit, hangs out in the tavern a lot, visits George's cottage and is impressed with the thought of all Normand's previous adventures. Father Rameus examines the transcription from Demon Rock at great length. It matches similarly with Jarinese, the ancient language of the holy church of Jad. One word, demarcated in such a way he thinks it should be a name or of some import, would be something to the effect of "Arldrehoul" as far as he can tell.
A stranger on a horse from Loxton manor arrives and stays overnight in the manor house, leaving early the next day. Intrigued, George discovers from a villager at the tavern that night that while they were away, Lord Osark made a trip to Loxton. The next morning, George goes to ask Osark about this. Sir Osark reveals that he was finalizing arrangements for a wedding. The Undraden clan will be linked under Jad with clan Worvath by way of Idarin, a woman who will be arriving shortly from Loxton where her father resides, and be married the day after that. George acts with appropriate enthusiasm in response to the news, but can tell that it is largely not shared. Osark says he is planning on informing the village of these tidings the next day. As George leaves the manor the sky is a dark grey and the first drops begin to fall. The winds howl and the rain pours down... by far the biggest storm since the village festival exactly one month before. The night is spent retreating from the rain in the cozy shelter of the blundering widget and many pints of ales. The morning leaves the crops a bit disturbed and the ground thick with mud, but the villagers have something to look forward to and begin the lavish preparations for the marriage, which will take place in the village commons, and be as decadent an affair as they can manage. After the storm, and the dark month it marked the end of, it's time for things to be pleasant for a (hopefully permanent) change. In the morning, George accompanies Vimon back to Loban; he wants to check and make sure his family is fine after the storm.
Late that day, after most of the villagers have eaten supper, horses and travellers are spotted on the path approaching the manor. Hozae (Rolan's father, the woodward) still has not returned from patrolling the woods, but that's not an entirely out of the ordinary occurrence. Many of the villagers (including our stalwart heroes) rush toward the commons to watch the arrival. Idarin, her sister Ermian, and her father, an unridden warhorse (dowry), and two yeoman guards, arrive. Sir Osark emerges from the manor decked out in mail and his fineries on a riding horse, and greets the new arrivals to much excitement from the crowd. Just then, George and Quinton both notice some other new arrivals. Footsteps, whose owners are hidden by a fold in the fields to the west of the village. In short order, a clump of scraggily but heavily dressed men carrying swords and spears comes into view over the hill. They appear to those in the know, much like Taelda.
Lord Osark bellows for everyone to head into the manor as quick as possible; the villagers, in quite a panic, begin to do so, as well as the visitors from Loxton. George, Tal, Quinton, and Micky naturally head in the opposite direction. Micky heads straight for the throng of barbarians which turns out to number about twenty. He avoids a hurled javelin, catches another in the shoulder, and manages to carry a wounded villager who caught a javelin in the chest out of the way of the rampaging horde. He hides Lavern best as he can and runs to the orchard to get some cover from the marauders, several of whom have gone into the chapel. He manages to take down one who is standing at the chapel door. Quinton and Tal both rush to their respective dwelling places on opposite sides of the village square and grab the largest piece of their leather armour and begin putting it on as they leave.
On his way to warn his family (Amnesty, his crippled father, and the midwife with the baby living in a small hut outside of town) George waits in the square a while to try and take stock of the situation. Just as he starts toward his hut, he hears a shriek from within it. Picking up speed, he sees his mother, bleeding from the arm running from the hut toward him, as two or so Taelda go in. Desperately he draws his knives and charges towards the two Taelda who set themselves outside of the hut to guard it, as his mother screams after him not to go. His knife scrapes one of the barbarian's faces, but they are very ready for him and he is stabbed easily by spear and shortsword and falls to the ground.
Tal and Quinton saw this happen and are soon approaching up the long woody path toward where their comrade is lying. One of the Taelda calls into the hut and another emerges, and the three start toward the two villagers. Tal and Quinton wait as they approach, the latter gets a few shots in with his bow before they arrive, but as they near, two Taelda leave the hut with the baby and hurry the other direction away through the woods. By the time the Taelda arrive (one's spear spent throwing at and wounding Quinton and replaced with a shortsword), Micky has also arrived on the scene, evening up the numbers. Micky quickly downs one, then another with quick punches to the head, though he is injured in the process. Then he runs after the escaping Taelda with the baby. The last remaining Taelda is grievously injured and barely clinging to life yet alone consciousness, but continues to stand and fight Tal, until Quinton shoots him through with an arrow. Then Tal heads off after Micky, and Quinton tries to staunch George's bleeding. George is incapacitated, but manages to keep breathing.
Micky runs through the forest and comes upon the two Taelda waiting on the path as if expecting him, but with no baby. He circles them and forces them to turn around. They speak in broken Harnic and suggest he surrender. Just then Tal, who was trying to be stealthy, trips loudly behind them. Just as their heads turn around, Micky plants his fist hard into a forehead and a Taelda falls. Instantly the other Taelda's shortsword flashes around and into Micky who is downed, and very nearly killed, by the blow. The last Taelda turns to face the remaining opponent, who is scrambling to his feet. "Go back, I need not harming you" says the Taelda. "Where is the baby?" cries Tal, but the Taelda will reveal only "a place you can't get him." The frantic exchange continues. But unbenknownst to either party, Quinton has snuck up on the scene, and sends a carefully aimed arrow straight through the Taelda's eye, who quickly crumples to the ground.
(13) After slaying the Taelda, Quinton quickly searches for tracks and discovers those of a set of hooves winding off into the woods. He knows it is impossible to pursue them at that point, so he and Tal carry Micky back toward George's hut. In it, they find Normand (George's crippled father) slain, and a Taelda also slain, as well as Erlena, the baby's nursemaid, who is badly injured and barely able to walk, but alive. They leave Micky in the hut and bring the wounded toward the manor house through the woods, hoping to avoid any confrontation with the barbarians. As they near the edge of the woods they hear a loud cry of "I'm ending this!" coming from toward the manor. They reach the open air and see Sir Osark, mounted on his horse, armoured, and with his lance levelled, charging toward the barbarians who have already lit several of the buildings in the village, including the mill, on fire. Behind him beadle, yeomen, Rolan, Jeb, and Duran awkwardly follow on foot, bringing weapons from sheaths as fast as they can, but not maintaining any sort of marching order. Osark's charge immediately skewers a Taelda, and he quickly dispatches a few more with his sword. As the other Northenders approach the barbarians retreat from the village, leaving it in shambles.
Into the night Amnesty, and Quinton and anyone who can help, tend to the wounded and get a start on rebuilding the village. Five villagers including Normand were slain in the assault, and Hozae is still missing. Several buildings were also destroyed, including the mill and Udard's cottage. The chapel was also badly damaged, and all of the books from within it stolen. The next morning Micky and George both recover from their comas. They consider it wise to rest for a while rather than dedicating themselves fully to the repair of the village. Rolan disappears deep in the woods, looking for his father. Late the day after the attack, the party from Loxton, including Idarin, return to whence they came, with no marriage to show for their journey.
After a day of rest, Quinton and Tal head out to follow the tracks of the horse and the baby that supposedly went with it. They track the horse and in about an hour it meets up with a much more well trodden trail coming from the direction of Northenden. This is assumed to be the path of the retreating Taelda and the two buddies follow it without too much difficulty. It goes west for some time and then turns north and continues that way for rather longer. Eventually as they are tropping through the forest, they catch ear of some movement coming through the forest before them. They both hide, separately, and soon a band of three Taelda hunters comes into sight, with their bows out and arrows knocked. They move through the woods and one quickly catches sight of Tal trying to look inconspicuous behind a small shrub. The three barbarians yell and start spreading out around Tal who, considering the odds, surrenders without much hesitation. After extended deliberation in their foreign tongue, the Taelda send one of their number down the path Tal and Quinton had been busy following. The other two go about removing Tal's weapons and backpack and are about to tie him up, when Quinton (still hidden in the bushes) fires an arrow at one of the barbarians. In the scuffle that ensues, Quinton and Tal down one of the Taelda and convinces the last to surrender. They quickly tie him up, knock him out, and retreat into the woods, trying to cover their tracks as they sneak into safety. Soon, five heavily armed Taelda arrive, and upon finding their companion, spread out to search the woods. Tal and Quinton manage to evade the searchers and rejoin the trail they had been following. They discover that it leads to a small Taelda encampment, complete with women, children and cute little huts. Determining that they are quite outnumbered, they sneak back through the woods, and return to Northenden at a leisurely pace to give their wounds time to heal.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch... George and Micky go to have some words with Lord Osark. He is understandably not in the finest of spirits. During the conversation he says he doesn't think it would be prudent to chase the Taelda and try and destroy them, because he must concentrate on rebuilding the manor and improving the manor. He reveals that protecting the baby, whose conception he finally assumes responsibility for, was Marya's last wish. He does not really wish for the PCs to chase after the baby this time, it would be too dangerous, after all the child has done nothing but bring bad luck. Osark knows that his family has enemies, after all his newly slain relatives were living in far-away Chybisa, but he cannot see what connection that they could have to the baby, or really why they would know, or care so much about it. Osark suggests that perhaps someone in Olokand or Tashal might be able to shed some light on the meaning behind the transcriptions they found in the cave at Demon Rock. George shows his lord the strangely engraved stone whistle that appeared in his pack a month earlier and says perhaps this has been the cause of all the bad luck. Osark is intrigued by the whistle and after some pressing, says for some reason it brought to mind a dream Marya described to him in which she was taken by a strange man. George and Micky realize they have walked rather deep into the woods and suggest they return to the village and heal their wounds.
Back in Northenden, Jeb is spreading some rumours about Amnesty and her family. He is concerned that the barbarians would focus their attack on the Owen's cottage, but he shuts up when George gets near. George confronts Jodrin, who spends a lot of time with Jeb, about it, and Micky downright insults him, but to little effect. That night Tal and Quinton return and Micky (who has also been working on a carved shield to commemorate those who fell in the attack on the village, and to a certain extent commemorate the actions of those who bravely defended it) resolves that it will be quite a laugh to piss in the blacksmith's bellows in the middle of the night. He does so with little difficulty, and about midway through the morning it appears that Jeb is convinced that the fould stench is probably the work of witchcraft. A rather hostile exchange of words and threats ensues between Micky and Jeb, culminating in Jeb ("What other explanation is there for this devilry?"), and Micky's ("Well you do live here, don't you?") fightin' words and a blacksmith attempting to smash the carver's skinny assistant with his hammer. Jodrin breaks up the fight, but is not particularly pleasant toward the uppity youngsters.
Things calm down over the next week. Jeb visits Osark and seems displeased with the result of the meeting, repairs to the village continue, and the villagers' stalwart defenders come close to being fully healed. George decides to investigate the place he was when he discovered the whistle in his pack. He finds little of interest, but takes some medicinal herb and goes on a midnight dream quest through the wilderness of his mind's eye, dude. In the morning he watches a boar for a while before eventually giving up and heading home.
(14) After the boys from Northenden are mostly returned to good health, they determine to leave Northenden and investigate the Taelda camp. The journey through the forest is largely similar to other journeys through forests that they have become very familiar with. However, as they set up camp for the evening they become aware of what appear to be two Taelda who have set up camp nearby. They stealthily investigate the area and keep an eye on these fellows, and soon overhear them speaking Harnic without much of an accent. They resolve to follow these two men who are identified as two of the fellows they saw previously outside of Northenden and again in Tashal.
The next morning they follow the two men through the woods. They appear to be heading in a direction that would take them roughly towards the Taelda encampment. Some conversation is overheard that indicates these two fellows are intending to off someone. The group sneaks up on the two others in a threatening manner and there's a stand-off during which neither side seems keen on being put in a position of inferiority and Moben is very seriously injured. After this unfortunate instance, the two factions begin conversing more freely and discover that Moben and Peras are trying to kill a man named Aldrazul, and since the Northendese are trying to get back the baby that the man stole, they are working toward similar ends. Though Moben is not in a particularly good mood about the whole thing, they agree to collaborate.
When the travellers arrive near the Taelda encampment, they leave George behind to tend to Moben and the others go off to have a look at the situation. George questions Moben in detail about who he works for and such things. Moben is not thrilled to divulge privileged information like that and remains purposefully vague, saying that they are working for someone and that they do not specifically know what Aldrazul has done, but it must be significantly bad.
Tal, Rolan, Quinton, Micky and Peras move toward the village and scope it out from various angles. They observe a tense conversation between a larger looking Taelda with some bodyguards and an older fellow in a smaller hut. The exchange is in Taelda so they have no hope of deciphering the words, but it seems to be a negotiation of some sort, and the Taelda (whom they assume to be the chieftain) does not seem entirely pleased. They sneak around to the other side of the village and hole up in some bushes, but a returning Taelda hunting party notices Peras and moves to strike, after a short scuffle all the Taelda are knocked down, but not quietly enough and the entire village is alerted of the interlopers' presence.
As a large group of Taelda start towards the group, Rolan is momentarily stunned by the shock of combat and unable to move. He's hit by a thrown spear, and manages to snap out of it. The group flees the group of Taelda who are running after them, attempting to bind wounds while on the move, and manages to evade them. They split up and loop de loop around a bit. Micky goes back toward the village intent on perhaps exacting some damage, but finds it not completely evacuated by the pursuit. Then everyone heads back to where George and Moben should be waiting for them.
(15) The group reconnoiters at their little camp and informs Moben and George about what happened. George takes time to tend to all the wounded, while the band discuss their options. It goes without saying that the Taelda are aware of the presence of not entirely friendly outsiders (or maybe it's the Taelda who aren't entirely friendly). In the end they decide to wait until nightfall and slip back toward the Taelda encampment to see if they can perhaps loot the baby from out of its bed with no one noticing, or at least get some valuable intelligence about the situation there. George is confident he would like to go by himself and thinks the others might be a bit of a liability since they can't see in the dark nearly as well as he, but they are eager to accompany him so come anyway, though Quinton stays behind to look after Moben.
When they arrive at the camp the others hang back in the trees while George scouts around, peeking out occasionally through the trees. The Taelda have several sentries patrolling in a not entirely regular manner around the perimeter of the camp. George locates the hut where they saw Aldrazul, and since it's near the edge of the camp thinks he might as well see if he can't sneak toward it. He makes his way past a few freestanding trees, keeping quiet and in the shadows, and as he is almost directly in front of the door he hears a bird call from behind him, which he identifies as not the sort of bird that should be up at this time of night. Assuming he has been spotted he slips back into the woods as quick as he can, but the sentries do not seem to alter their courses at all, so he sneaks back toward the hut. A bad step sets a branch a crackin' loudly, but the patrolling Taelda again doesn't react, so George heads through the curtain-door of the hut cautiously and finds on the other side that the place is rather empty. There is not much of interest to be found in the hut, except some signs of babycare and tracks leading out the door. George follows them as they head back behind the hut and into the woods he was just in himself. Then he makes an animal noise to check if the guards will react at all, one glances over and continues his patrol. George returns to where his companions are waiting and informs them excitedly that they have some tracking to do!
The tracks lead at first to the East and then begin curving North somewhat and then somewhat more. They cross the stream that flows through the Taelda encampment far upstream from it (the encampment) and shortly after are joined by two more slightly heavier sets of tracks. The trail of three continues on further, into a small depression that is only lightly forested. The almost full moon has crept from behind the clouds and casts a soft bright light over the night. Out of the black, a hurled spear whizzes past George's shoulder, and another impales Tal's leg rather badly. He falls to the ground while the others turn around to face their attackers. There are three Taelda tribesman lurking at the edge of the narrow valley, somewhat hidden by bushes and darkness. Micky and George charge at them, but it takes Peras and Rolan a few seconds to recover from the shock. A furious scuffle ensues, and they manage to down the three Taelda but not before one of George's arms is badly damaged and both of Micky's arms are parried into shambles by a shortsword. Despite the 3 to 5 odds, the Taelda ambush was scarily effective. It was a desperate fight; the boys from Northenden are glad it is over and those still in one piece are thankful for it.
As George walks down toward the path to tend to Tal's grievous wound, a pair of arrows whistle harmlessly past his shoulder. The three still functioning fighters hurry to form up and attack the other half of the ambush. A few more arrows fly out but none find their mark and as Peras, Rolan and George charge toward the other side of the shallow valley, two figures rise from behind the bushes and flee into the night. George and Peras follow intently, but Rolan hangs back. The sound of shouts and clattering metal comes over the air from even further north and momentarily the fleeing Taelda change course toward the source of the sound. George and Peras approach carefully and see a clearing in the woods which is inhabited by several people. On one side stands an older man with a dark travelling cloak and white thinning hair (Aldrazul), baby in hand, and in front of him rather large, brutish looking Taelda with hatchets and two others, these five are facing six other Taelda, one of which appears injured, one of which is on the ground but cogent, and two of which are the two recently chased bowmen. A heated debate seems to be raging between the two groups, and doesn't seem to be resolving itself well at all.
George leaves Peras to watch the situation and rushes back to retrieve Rolan so they have their full numbers. On Rolan's arrival the stand-off continues, though Aldrazul's protectors are spread out around him protectively. The three now quite fatigued fellows move back so they stand in the woods, roughly behind Aldrazul, hoping to cut him off should he try and make an escape. Soon enough, he starts taking slow steps backward, and his posse takes slower steps backward, as the other contingent of Taelda make ready to attack.
Rolan, Peras and George hastily try to organize themselves some sort of plan of action, and just as they think they have one, Aldrazul turns around to face them and says "How pleasant to finally meet again." The three wave their weapons in Aldrazul's face and demand he give them the baby, Aldrazul holds a knife to the baby's throat and demands that they drop their weapons and allow him to leave otherwise the baby's life will be forfeit. Behind him, a heated skirmish between the two Taelda factions is playing out. No one's too keen on dropping any weapons, and they begin moving toward Aldrazul. The old man raises the infant over his head, knife in the other head, and begins chanting loudly in an unrecognized language. Rolan jabs his spear into the old man's leg while George tries to knife his knife-hand. Aldrazul collapses and the baby falls from his hand. George leaps forward in an attempt to save the infant's head from the cold forest floor. He manages to catch the baby just as Peras leaps forward and tries to decapitate the fallen old man. A hatchet whizzes past Rolan's arm and one of the larger Taelda charges Peras, delivering a mean cut into his neck. George hurries to bring the baby to safety and then returns to attack the Taelda who attacked Peras as Rolan simply declares "I brace for a stop thrust" and skewers the leg of the other remaining Taelda in mid-charge. In a few moments, all the Taelda have fallen, George loses consciousness, and Rolan is standing alone amid a field of impressively grotesque carnage, remarkably unhurt, and remarkably out of breath.
Wounds are staunched as best they can be, and Rolan searches Aldrazul's corpse, finds a parchment with strange writing on it, a flask with a strange liquid, and then finishes the decapitation. Then Rolan finishes off the unconscious Taelda and tries to get his friends to safety away from the battlefield. The farflung members of the group all gather and they get some much-needed sleep.
In the early afternoon after everyone arises, a crutch is fashioned for Tal (Micky unfortunately cannot be of much help because he doesn't have the use of his arms) and a nice meal is prepared by Rolan, the seven men set off back toward Northenden. They arrive after a day of slow walking and are greeted with amazement by the villagers as they move slowly up the path toward the manor. Lord Osark has a feast prepared for the returning travellers and listens intently to their tale.
(16) Lord Osark is quite happy his subjects' were successful in their quest, but in reality, rather than questions answered the resultant information brought back amounts mostly to extensions and complications of the previous questions. Father Rameus examines the page of writing they retrieved from Aldrazul's body but says he does not recognize the script, one father Tarsil of Olokand might, though. Moben and Peras must soon depart for Tashal with the severed head of Aldrazul to show their employers and receive their payment. Sir Osark is also interested in sending an emissary to Loxton to assure Duran that the village is now safe and Idarin can be sent happily into wedlock in Northenden. So there's a fair amount for the boys to be doing, and a fairly expedient method of combining many of the tasks, so, with nary (or just a little) thought of recuperating their wounds, they resolve to set off toward Olokand.
They realize that they will very likely be running into the large bunch of merchants and guards that travels annually down the Fur Road, stopping off in Olokand for their Spring Fair before continuning on to Tashal. The entrepreneuring young fellas decide to bring with them a cart (borrowed from someone or other) laden with many of the weapons they retrieved from the Taelda to see if they can't earn a little of the old (though new to them) cash-money. They set up in Olokand toward the edge of the sprawling mess of carts and tents, and sell some of their wares, though without overwhelming success. They do, however, spy some Taelda travelling with the caravan and through a campaign of sneering, intimidation, and provocation manage to appear less civilized than the confused, but offended gentle forest creatures (the gentle forest creatures do carry swords, though). While in Olokand, they get no good information from Tarsil about their bit of writing, they resolve that they might as well ask around in Tashal, since they're going in that direction with Moben and Peras, anyway. There's also a bit of a fire in the tent city which doesn't end particularly well, nor especially badly either considering the potential.
They head out of Olokand ahead of the caravan by several days and travel to Tashal in a much more expedient fashion than the ground-nosing that occured the last time they undertook this journey five weeks previously (and presumably they sent the cart back to Northenden rather than bringing it all the way with them). So without particular ado, after a few days travel they welcome themselves once more to the bustling capital of Kaldor.
Upon arrival they check in at the Cloak and Broom Inn. That night Micky proves his mettle quite decisively in a bare-knuckle boxing match, and the next morning a young boy appears at the Inn while they are eating breakfast asking after them, they step forward, and he says he has a message from someone named Errol; "I know we have had our differences, but I must warn you: It would be wise to make yourselves less easy to find, as there are those who would that you would not want to." That day George searches for someone who might be able to help in translating the script they carry with them, he finds a sort of scribe who says he will need several days to do it, or something like that. Someone or others trail Moben and Peras to their designated rendezvous with their employers. They enter the building and do not leave for some time. More time passes and still they haven't left. Eventually the watchers give up and they head back to the inn to reconnoiter with their comrades (on the way noticing a side-door) who resolve to check out the interior of the building.
(17) Our stalwart heroes arrive at the building toward evening and knock on the main door, which appears to be locked. After some time a small hesitant sort of fellow opens it and greets the arrivals. Micky barges past him into the building, which concerns the fellow greatly; the others manage to get him out and the initial viewover reveals nothing except a stairway up to some other apartments. The Northenders explain that they are looking for two people and ask about the other inhabitants of the house; their questions are answered in a believable, fairly detailed fashion - he hasn't seen Moben or Peras but the others who live upstairs and aren't in right now may have met with them, he himself dabbles in mercantylism and gets by well enough, etc. They cannot argue with the answers he's given, but as the door closes and locks again behind them, Quinton notices what looks like a streak of blood on the man's hand.
They investigate the exterior of the building and find the other door to be quite heavily enforced but there are some curtained windows. Tal listens at a window and hears a sort of scraping sound, so goes in. He finds himself in a deserted bedroom type of facility; the others soon follow except for Micky who is busy trying to light a fire under the heavy side door to smoke the fellow out. The troupe troops up the stairs to investigate the building from head to foot. Upstairs are two living spaces, as the fellow at the door described, but they are quite empty, save for sounds of activity coming from below and a fireplace loaded with kindling, and various fun kitchen utensils (knives and spoons and cleavers, oh my!). They eventually conclude that the origin of the sounds must be a part of the house they have not discovered because the upstairs seems much deeper than the downstairs.
Finding no way into the lower part of the house from the upstairs, soon everyone except Micky (still burnin' and smokin') is spread across the house searching for some means of entry into the mysterious back room. Before too long, Tal or George notices an irregularity in the tiling of the back wall of the bedroom, and removes a section of wall to reveal a little door. Everyone crowds into the room except Micky (yup... smoke... still) and Quinton pushes open the cramped looking hatch. As he does so, a rumbling sound is heard, and they barely have enough time to figure out that the roof of the room is plummetting towards them. Quinton pitches himself forward into the dim room on the other side, Tal towards the door into the kitchen, and George towards the window. Quinton manages to get through in time, but the two others are pinned painfully under the heavy wooden roof beams. In the dimly lit room, Quinton sees a fellow coming towards him with a knife, and more movement in the form of a door down and to his left opening. He quickly gets to his feet and prepares to lunge at the opening door.
(18) The door hits whoever was about to come through it squarely and sends him to the floor, just as a knife hits Quinton's arm and the fellow already in the room moves forward to deliver a one two smack at Quinton's arm. But the young farmer is fast; a quick shortsword strike at the man on the floor and then some slicing into his assailant's arm and leg puts and keeps both of them on the ground in short order, while Micky and the others help their companions out from the heavy beams of the fallen roof. Micky and George begin exploring the rooms attached to the fairly plain room that Quinton first entered, Tal and Rolan guard the door. The first door leads off to a small room that houses some cruel looking torture equipment, which George stays to inspect while Micky wanders off into the next room and faints at the shock of having offhandedly picked up out of the dark what turned out to be Moben's severed head. George comes rushing at the sound of the fall, and discovers with a fair amount of nausea sacks of grain some packed with body parts and some detatched bits still lying about, Quinton soon arrives to enjoy the view. As this is going, Rolan (who was waiting across the street) begins to notice that the upper part of the building has caught fire and is smoking quite generously. As he runs in to tell the others this, he notices the two recently vanquished people on their way out of one of the windows. He warns the two men (one of which is the fellow they interviewed earlier and claimed to be a regular resident of the house) and then his friends about the fire, and advises vacating the premises immediately. When George sees the two men escaping, with the sight of his dismembered friends fresh in his mind he slams into the back of the larger one, killing him instantly. The other one is already through the window, but Rolan (no apprised of the corpsistic situation) chases him down easily (what with the guy having a crippled arm and a leg) and then they all scramble out of the building as the flames begin travelling down the stairs.
They find a back alley to try and organize themselves in. Their prisoner seems barely conscious and not really able to give any useful information. Quinton leads them to the room where Kendra shared her history with him, which is abandonned, and rather cramped. They decide that in the morning they will bring their prisoner outside the city to get what information they can from him, though George and Micky will stay behind to check on the translation of the note.
When George and Micky arrive at Tranmer (the sage)'s house, he says the translation is coming along well and he should have it finished by the afternoon, at which point they should come back. They pay him the required accumulated sum but ask that Tranmer count it out himself as they do not know numbers that high. He takes less money for his services than he said he would, but neither of the boys has any way of realizing. After trying to set up some more boxing matches for Micky and finding out about the impending festival to celebrate the arrival of not one, but three caravans from far lands into Tashal, they return to Tranmer's house where he reads to them what he has for a translation of the ancient page. It goes like this: in the same year, on the 25th day of Kelen shall see the birth of the second Ihldrian child. the village called Uvern shall see his birth, one league from the seat of power that wehn full-grown he will eclipse. upon his birth will he be most vulnerable, as the mother will be left sick and dying. but if Jad smiles upon the land, those will appear to protect the second Ihldrian child from those that would do it harm. It is currently the 24th day of Kelen. George asks Tranmer what he knows about the peoples who wrote in this language and he says that they lived long ago and some say they worshipped demons. He says the man who probably knows more than anyone about these ancient people is an old acquaintance, a priest, named Simulus. The sage confirms there is a village called Uvern very close to Tashal. George and Micky travel to the church Tranmer says Simulus was last known to be at, but the priest there tells them that he has since gone to Caleme Abbey on a permenant basis.
Quinton, Tal and Rolan get their crippled captive, whose name is Remmel, out of the city without the guards catching onto anything in particular, and they set about trying to question him. Remmel maintains that it won't particularly help him to co-operate with them because his group will find out and it will mean ill for him either way. He smugly maintains that he is helping the farmers by not telling them anything because if they pursued the knowledge further, he says, they would be killed quickly and in short order. Little of what he says can be accepted with certainty, but a few things are largely established: His employers, or whatever one would call them, hired Moben and Peras to kill Aldrazul, and the Northenders accomplished this goal on their own. Moben and Peras were killed because they knew about Aldrazul, and Remmel warns them that their own deaths will soon follow, for similar reasons. Remmel will reveal little about the nature of this mysterious group of his except for boasts of their great, unstoppable power. The interrogators speculate that Aldrazul was a rogue member of this organization, but Remmel denies any official affiliation. After George and Micky have arrived with their news, they tie the bastard to a tree and head toward Uvern.
(19) George is eager to get to Uvern as quickly as possible so he, Micky and Quinton jog toward the village, leaving Rolan to accompany Tal who's Taelda-speared leg is still slowing him down drastically. Through the village's newly constructed palisade wall, George asks a villager if there are any pregnant women in the village, and if so, which is the most pregnant. He gets directions to the hut of one Erelyn and then earnestly explains the situation (your baby has a great destiny and may be assaulted) to Chiffin, who seems a little taken aback, and thinks the village priest should be consulted before he does anything.
On the way to the chapel, George notes that Rolan and Tal have arrived safely. There occurs at some instance some discussion of the exact meaning of the prophecy, whether this child is a dissident, or what. The priest, Father Ilfefrin, is interested in what George is prattling on about but says his company might also be interested. The company in question turns out to be Father Simulus who is intrigued by the story, and reveals a bit more about the ancient Corani. They controlled an empire that spanned much of the island of Harn, he says, but are not known for prophesies, especially ones so specific, but of course in any culture so large there is room for differences. It turns out that Simulus is in town because he was given a fragment of pottery allegedly unearthed in Uvern that appears to be made by the Corani, who are his area of expertise. The two priests know that prophecy is not something that is true in the light of Jad, but do agree, based on the tales of Aldrazul's actions, that the potential baby's safety should be feared for. They regret that protection now cannot be offered secretly so as not to worry the parents of the child.
Night brings the farmers of Uvern off of the fields and into the ale-house. George stays at the chapel to talk herbs with Ilfefrin, who has offered a resting place for the Northenders for the night, but the others attend the revels. Micky is particularly revellous, and after searching out the village's "best drinker" and embarking on a drink-for-drink he is also particularly drunk (and smelling foully of vomit). Early in the night, Rolan hears that it is somewhat noteworthy for Chiffin not to attend these evenings, so he creeps out to keep an eye on his house. Not long after he notices the arrival of a conspicuously nobly attired young man with fingers enter the alehouse. Inside, the patrons also note the arrival. Quinton talks a bit to the man and discovers a man named Nuren, a man come from Tashal to Uvern to visit with Lord Telyne, a man with fingers... all one and the same. After Nuren of house Modifi leaves the alehouse, Rolan watches him gain entry into the manorhouse.
The next morning, the 25th day of Kelen, the characters try to set up subtle perimeters around the house of Erelyn, and that of Reema (the other very pregnant woman in Uvern). George approaches the mid-wife type of the village whose name is Isme. It turns out she is remarkably fair (as in hawt, not as in righteous. righteous.) and they spend the morning talking herbs. It's much more fun talking herbs with her than with the old priest. George becomes quite smitten, and it appears feelings are mutual. At the latest edge of morning, Chiffin emerges to visit Isme and say that she should have a look at Erelyn. Shortly into the afternoon Simulus emerges with some interesting news. He has been examining the translation and the original given him by George and has come up with a rather different translation, which reads: "Into the world come the Male-child and only the Mother being of Alchiraz. Blood of Ihldria flow through His Veins: the last gift before the exodus. On the Full-moon, His Blood … (unknown verb). His Hope being the only Hope defend against Grymandelt. On His third Arrival-anniversary at Arurea the male child being present bequeath the blessing of the Seven-Signs. But before this Time, Arrival revolve His Purpose toward Adversity." and evidently makes much less sense. But it was a quick job, since he managed to do it in just one morning. Discussion ensues. The Northenders resent the wrongness of their first translation especially in light of how much money they spent on it, and further, Simulus can find no particular reason for Tranmer to have come up with such specific places and numbers from the original. Many of those present are interested in going to Caleme to investigate some of the tomes Simulus has there that might shed light on the unknown vocabularies.
(20) The group remains for some time keeping an eye on Chiffin's hut. After not too long, a man approaches them from the direction of the manor. He's a little curt and wonders what they're up to, saying he's carrying word from Lord Teryne that the presence of those who appear armed in the village is unnecessary stress on the villagers; he eyes Rolan's large spear specifically, but others with concealed arms (mainly George as Micky and Quinton are off in a little centrally located copse of trees doing Jad knows what) get a bit nervous. Near the end of the conversation George manages to coax a proper introduction out of him and learns that he is Burreil, the beadle (sort of a village constable). The beadle heads off, but before he gets back to the manor, a mounted rider who may or may not be a horseman and a walking ambulationist who doesn't look like a footman in the military sense of the word, arrive. Due to fashion considerations the horseman appears to be a knight. The beadle goes to meet the new arrivals, one of which dismounts, and they all proceed topward the manor. Quinton does his best to keep on their tail and hears some Burreil remark that everything is in order and the recently dismounted man mention something about a fairly short distance and before nightfall before disappearing into the manor.
After a few minutes have slid past the knightly man exits the manor without his squire and heads out of the village, but not before Micky can decide that following him is a good idea. Disagreeing with Micky, Quinton trails along further behind to watch for trouble. Micky stays pretty far behind and the mountie keeps his horse to a canter which makes it difficult for the trailie to not run out of breath in a very bad way. After a half an hour of straight down the road, the horseman pauses, looks back, Micky hits the ground (as per custom), but the rider continues looking in his general area and walks his horse ominously back in front of Micky's hiding spot a few times as the little pugilist holds his breath. The horseman then turns and gallops away. Micky and Quinton return to Uvern.
As the afternoon wears slightly on, Burreil appears again, this time looking for Father Ilfefrin (who is still in Chiffin's hut watching the notable lack of birthing action) and asking him to come to the manor to conference with Lord Teryne. He returns and heads to his church for a few moments before re-emerging and coming back to the baby-watch. He seems tense and somewhat distracted. When George inquires, he reveals that Lord Teryne informed him that he expects the village to be attacked. Allegedly there is information leading the Lord and beadle to believe that Telin the Red and his brigands will attack the town later in the day. The visiting knight will be returning shortly with a number of men who should be able to provide adequate defense to the town. Ilfefrin communicates a hollow optimism that Lord Teryne stressed: the men helping to defend the village should be enough to easily defeat the unsuspecting bandits who will be expecting an easy fight. Father Ilfefrin goes out to call the villagers in from the fields and try to calm them.
Amid speculations about the connection between this upcoming attack and certain pregnant women and the importance of various babies, the Northenders hustle to prepare themselves for the attack. George confronts Rolan saying that he is worried that they might have to go up against nobles if, as he suspects, the attack is a ruse to allow one of the pregnant women to be captured for ill. Rolan says the nobles will do what is best, and if there's something to suggest otherwise he will consider it as it comes. George still seems sceptical about the validity of his friend's unbending loyalty to the rulers of the land.
Rolan then accosts the manor with a request to join the defense as an able-bodied spearman but is turned down. George and Micky build a comaflaged hidey-hole in the woods near the village in case they are forced to escape. Toward the later end of afternoon twelve warriors arrive in the village; two are on horseback, and the other ten are impressively armed and armored (chainmail, baby). Lord Teryne rides out with Sir Thamis and addresses the villagers, trying to keep their spirits from being utterly crushed. Then the warriors split up between each gate in the village's little wooden wall. Father Ilfefrin tells them that he might have a place to hide away.. there is a crypt from an ancient stone church under the town's chapel that could hide them; he shows them the dank, hidden cellar which would be ideal except that delivering a child in the pitch darkness is not necessarily a good idea and raiders often attack a town's church as valuables often wind up there somehow. The boys from Northenden resolve to move Reema to Chiffin's hut so they can easily defend both pregnant women on the off-chance that Telin's men are hungry for baby-kebabs. Fathers Simulus and Ilfefrin remain in the church.
As they get toward Chiffin's hut, some of the soldiers begin moving more toward the centre of the village and tell the foreigners to get inside with everyone else, and no thank you they don't feel they know the lingo well enough to be part of such an elite defensive force. Everyone is safe within the hut, keeping an eye out the various windows. Unintelligible shouts from each side of the village indicate something. Soonafter the other knight approaches his counterpart with a few men and they talk softly to each other vaguely in front of the hut. Two bowmen move to near the centre of the village, which happens to be about 8 yards from the front door of Chiffin's hut, and knock arrows, but do not aim them. The ten people cowering in the hut watch as the knights take up position on opposite sides of their shelter, and the two remaining immediately present soldiers, footman, move closer and one produces a torch which he then lights. Inside the hut, amid tense reports of activity from various directions, Quinton fires an arrow at the soldier as he goes to throw the torch; George and Micky slip out the back window and circle around; Tal tries to grab some water and limp to the end of the hut to douse the flames started from the torch, and Rolan throws one of his spears at a bowman. Soon after Micky attacks the nearest knight's mount, only to receive a vicious sword wound to the leg in response, which downs him.
(21) A bloody fray ensues. Micky, on the ground, hammers the horse's leg and its saddle comes loose right before the rider's sword manages to break. The other knight charges forward only to find Rolan behind and a spear in his leg, and George hammers the same horse where it hurts. Hard. Twice. The unhappy horse limps away, but not before its rider can fall painfully to the ground and shortly be stabbed in the back of the neck by Rolan's spear (twice) and slump to the dirt, dead. Concurrently, the other knight has fallen and got into a choke hold by Micky, and George pummels him good. A few arrows fly in various directions with little effect and the four remaining soldiers form up in a line, as Tal and Quinton (who leaps through the window while somehow bumping his sword out of his scabbard and into his hand), followed by Rolan and lastly George form up one of their own (Micky just can't crawl quite fast enough). As the lines impact Rolan's spear is lost, and the Northenders manage to subdue or frighten off the rest (one is left running off toward the manor and the others unconscious).
(22) Rather stunned by the sudden very almost literal rolling of heads, the heroes try to take stock of the situation and regroup. Chiffin emerges from his hut yelling frantically, blaming the interposing Northenders for all the mess and stress. Isme rushes out to see that everyone is relatively okay. Rolan pushes past Chiffin into the hut to quickly get the expecting mothers out before the fire spreads farther. There isn't time to extinguish the fire before enforcements might come, so instead they investigate prospects of escape. Knowing what it's like to have your leg almost lopped off by bad men, Tal grabs one of Rolan's spears and hands to Micky so he can use it as a crutch.
George sneaks to the east and slightly north to discover three men guarding the gap in the pallisade where the road travels out. Rolan and Quinton go toward the westward way out of town, stopping on the way at the church to tell Father and Ilfefrin that it's a trap and the so-called defenders of the village are anything but. As they are stopping at the church, they spy three men guarding that gate as well and are in turn spied back. Shortly later the two scout contingent reconnoiters with Micky and Tal and Isme and Chiffin and Reema and Erelyn who were all on their way slowly to the church. Tal notices 5 leather-armor-clad and armed men descending from the manor, still quite far away, though he identifies the leader of the bunch as Burreil, the beadle.
Thinking fast, the group heads back toward the eastern way out. Tal, Micky and Quinton stay with the "civilians" and set up behind a nearby farmhouse, popping out to exchange arrows with those guarding the gate. George and Rolan sneak around the other way. In the minute before the Northendish ambush arrives at the gate, arrows fly back and forth liberally as another of the gate guards produces a bow. Tal remains unscathed but Quinton takes several arrows to the chest and falls to unconsciousness. Their opponents don't fare any better, though, as each bowman is taken down limb by limb, and the remaining defender, a spear in hand takes an arrow from Tal's bow and nearly drops his shield just before George and Rolan lunge toward him and finish him off rather easily and decisively.
Micky and the others are already moving toward Uvern's gate and those with full mobility try and move along those who don't (Tal, Micky, and especially Quinton). They want to get out of town as soon as possible because the defenders made no quiet secret of the combat and reinforcements are likely on their way. Rolan and George decide to hold the gate as long as they can (against the 8 men closing in) to give the others as much time as they can to escape into the woods. Rolan knocks an arrow and points it toward the oncoming men while George slips behind the pallisade. Burreil is in the lead, with a vicious cut down one cheek and a terrible anger burning in his eyes. He barks out for them to drop their weapons, but George refuses, citing the fact that he feels he and his friend would be killed anyway. Burreil shrugs and talks to five of the soldiers: "Kill those fuckers!" And then to another two: "To the church!"
Three of the five designated to slay the Northenders have bows and they go off the sides of the road to take up defensive positions behind houses, and the unranged ones also take cover from Rolan's bow, in an interesting reversal of the situation a few minutes before. However, unlike a few minutes before, Rolan and George are less concerned with holding a position especially now that they have afforded their friends with enough time to get (relatively) safely into the woods, so they duck behind the fence out of sight and make for the woods themselves, though in a different direction and sticking closer to the pallisade. They sneak as quickly as they can and get into the woods with no sign of immediate pursuit; in muttered conversation as they scramble over deadfall and around bushes, they decide to head south, skirting the wall and then in through the other entrance to hopefully defend the church and the two friendly priests.
The two young men arrive at the westward entrance to the village as the sun hangs just above the horizon. They slip inside and around behind some houses where they can get a view of the church's entrance. There they see Burreil and one of his men hammering on the door of the church, saying things like "If you just come out you'll make it easier on yourself. Where are the jewels? Ilfefrin, if you send Simulus out to us we won't harm you." There is no response, though, and the two men futiley try to get the door open. Resigned to their failure, Burreil says "We'll wait for them. Make things easier." They look down the path toward the boys' hiding spot, but don't make any hint of recognition or move forwards.
George and Rolan give them a few more seconds and then leap out from behind their cover, weapons drawn, and run at the two men. As they do so, they notice three men coming down from the manor rolling a large barrel in front of them. Worrisome, but they should have enough time to take out these two before the newcomers arrive. Burreil shrieks in rage "How the fuck did they get here?" and prepars to fight. In the 2-on-2 skirmish, Burreil's sword is knocked from his hand and the spearman, downed at about the same time drops his weapon in submission, much to Burreil's dismay who then lunges at George with his shield, coming very close to dealing a considerable blow, but somehow does not. The beadle and his flunkie are beaten down without any additional scratches being dealt to the two Northenders.
They turn to see the three men still fairly far but closing, their barrel abandonned and two of them holding readied bows. Rolan readies an arrow of his own as George calls frantically for Father Ilfefrin to let them into the church for protection. Rolan offers to spare Burreil's life if the men drop their weapons, but it seems to have little effect. As the leader of this new trio demands surrender, the sound of a heavy bolt being moved comes from within and shortly Father Ilfefrin pokes his head out. As George scrambles to drag the unconscious Burreil inside the church, Rolan lets loose an arrow which flies wide, but just as he does so, the others return fire and an arrow embeds itself painfully into his cheek. Pain shoots through his brain and Rolan blacks out and falls to the ground.
George and the two old priests manage to drag the two unconscious men into the church and get the door blocked up again before the arrows can do any more injury. Ilfefren says that he and Simulus have been hiding in the crypt below the church that he showed them earlier. He supposes they will be safe inside it even if the attackers decide to burn the church because it is made of stone and sealable from the inside and stone doesn't burn. As the two old priests drag the two unconscious men toward the back of the church, George tries to keep a look out through the stained glass windows. When he notices liquid being sloshed onto the side of the church, he considers it time to put speed first, grabs some candles, assures there is food in the basement and assists the priests getting the unconsciousees hidden and the passage way blocked up nice and firmly.
In the cold, dark, stale, dusty and cobwebbed crypt, the first order of business is medical attention for Rolan's face and the rest of him, and some for Burreil so that he can be alive for questioning. Rolan comes to after a few minutes rest on the cold stone floor, and the four conscious types discuss some things. Father Ilfefrin reveals that Burreil is rather new to beadling, having arrived a little over a year ago after the mysterious death of the formal beadle a month before, presumably at the hands of bandits. Ever since Burreil's beadlage, Lord Teryne had been more protective and sometimes almost paranoid (building of stockade around Uvern). Neither Ilfefrin or Simulus has any idea what jewels the bloke was talking about. George searches through his stuff and finds a pouch with some money and a They try and figure on the best way of extracting information from the captor, knowing that the last time they tried with one of these blokes things didn't get too far. When Burreil grunts a bit, Rolan and George rush out of the small circle of candlelight after telling the priests what questions to ask.
Burreil proves to be an annoying nut to crack, similar to the experience with Remmel. He reveals some minor claims--you have to be killed because you know what you should not, where am I?, you fit in nicely with our other plans here, the pregant women had nothing at all to do with our business here, where am I? --but refuses to part with any pertinent, usable information (motives, names (except for a brief mention of Errol, places). All the while he struggles to get out of his bonds, even with Rolan's foot squarely on his back. George then takes out his pouch full of herb and starts mixing. Burreil expresses that he knows what's coming and is shortly force-fed a quickly mixed hallucinogenic substance. As he waits for it to take effect, George explores the crypt by candle-light. As he does so, Ilfefrin cautions him against using unsanctified ways of extracting answers from the prisoner. George finds two rows of three tomb/coffins each on either side and a cave-in at the opposite end from the entrance with some loosened earth and stone which he shifts around a bit and finds a bit of an opening through which moves some slightly less stale air (inadvertantly saving them from the suffocation no one quite realized was a very real risk).
Burreil in short order becomes slightly hallucinatory and starts reacting in fear to something that isn't there, muttering and blubbering and generally carrying on cranky. George on the spur of the moment starts trying to impersonate the conspirator's superior in a sort of debriefing session and weedle some more information from the very addled prisoner. He spills some beans of a refried nature that do not sit will with George's delicate stomach. But nothing noteworthy that hasn't already been mischronologically noted above.
Rolan, still mentally reeling from the events that recently transpired, decides to go through all of the tombs in search of the alleged "jewels" that Burreil was nattering about, despite Ilfefrin's misgivings of how Jad would view all of this. Simulus is intrigued, though, and sends his priestly associate to the corner. In the second heavy stone-lidded coffin Rolan finds a chest, which is fancily reinforced with metal. He attempts to bash it open, but cannot. So as George and the others (quite exhausted thank you very much) have already kicked off to sleep, Rolan goes through the other tombs in search of some sort of key, but all he finds are dusty old remains. He eventually manages to force his way into the chest, and finds within a rather fancy looking headpiece with writing on the inside of its metal rim. He puts it back within the chest and curls around it as he falls to sleep.
(23) George is woken by a nervous priest proclaiming that the prisoner has unsuccessfuly tried to escape (no doubt driven away by Ilfefrin's onerous morning prayer). Burreil is feverish and incoherent, desperate to get at his pouch, but fairly easy to subdue. George removes the ring from the satchel and hides it in his own clothes, after which Burreil makes no concerted efforts, but remains groggy and messed up. George catches another hour of sleep and then takes one of the two candles toward the back of the basement to explore the earthen wall at the back he discovered the night before. He moves enough dirt to reveal a tunnel that goes slightly down and eventually leads to an underground stream and the town well, which he shimmies up (unfortunately without the aid of goat-piss this time) and finds himself in the village.
The Uvern he sees is nothing like the one he left for the church basement the previous evening. Most of the shacks are destroyed, some by fire, others just fallen. The church is a charred mess, and several bodies that all appear to be of villagers are strewn about. Off some distance, the manor appears to be in a similar state.
George moves stealthily about the wreckage, and spots a peasant-looking survivor going into one of the more intact huts. George calls out, and after convincing him he means no harm, learns verbally as well as visually that the village was sacked. This particular farmer can't offer much in the way of details because he was cowering away trying not to get killed, but he reveals that most of the villagers have fled to neighbouring villages in the wake of the attack. George enlists the help of the villager to remove the rubble from the entrance of the church basement and regain contact with its subterranean denizens. When this task is completed, it is decided that the peasant should accompany Father Ilfefrin to nearby villages to locate family and other Uvernians. George gives them a generous amount of coin and sends them on their way, then moves off to investigate the remnants of Uvern in more detail.
George discovers that the bodies of the men he and his companions slew have been removed. In the manor there are more bodies, including that of Lord Teryne who has been wounded more than would have been necessary to kill him, and also that of Nuren and several others who were working at the manor. A now empty chest appears to have been forcefully opened, and throughout the manorhouse no values appear present, but other than that there are no particularly pointed clues.
It is now around noon and Rolan has finally woken up. All still present decide it would be fitting to force Burreil to bury the twenty or so corpses from the village and manor, and he feverishly complies. George and Simulus notice the box Rolan is clutching and ask about it, but he says he will tell them later. As they are supervising Burreil's digging, Rolan hears motion (somehow) and turns to see a mounted figure approaching. The man is heavily armed and armoured, as is his horse; he has a wild mane of unkempt hair and the sun symbol of Jad prominently on his shield. Rolan readies his spear but George and Simulus urge him to stand down. As the knight approaches, conversation is commenced.
The new arrival, one Sir Rolorick, is a haughty and fervently religious knight from a respected Jaddite fighting order, who does not appear particularly clever. Simulus questions him until he is sure that the man is indeed a holy fighting man and not another imposter. Rolorick is certainly curious to know what the hell happened in Uvern, but hurries the story along because he doesn't have the patience for long details. He demands to be shown the contents of the box Rolan is carrying and discovers the crown. An inscription on the inside reveals that it belonged to Medrik I, the first king of Kaldor, which startles and impresses all present.
It is eventually somewhat agreeably decreed (with Rolorick doing most of the decreeing) that Rolan, George and Rolorick travel to Tashal by way of Caleme (the largest Kaldorian cathedral and seat of the archbishop) where they will drop off Simulus for resting and Burreil for interrogating, then Rolorick will deliver the crown to the proper authorities in Tashal.
They drop the two folks off in Caleme with no trouble and arrive at Tashal just as the gates have been closed for the night, but Sir Rolorick uses the fact that he's just so bad-ass and righteous to get them through, anyway. A bit of animosity begins to grow as the three prowl the night streets on their way to the royal part of town. George and Rolan would prefer to tell their story to someone in authority in full detail, and get the protection of those with authority since they are feeling slightly exposed and in danger; Rolorick would prefer to simply deliver the crown and tell his version of the story, since it would be very improper to allow peasants into the halls of nobility. And he won't budge. And then Rolan decides not to give over the chest which he's been carrying. And then Rolorick decides that that's certainly not at all acceptable and draws his sword.
The situation is salvaged, and in the end Rolorick gives George and Rolan money to put themselves up in a fancy inn, takes the crown and goes inside (he forgets about the snake-ring George is carrying, however). George relates the full story of what happened to the guard at the castle-gate so at least one person will know the full truth, and then he and James head toward the Iron Bell and secure a room, despite the rather upperclassness of the place that puts them a little ill at ease.
(24) As all that goes on (the previous evening) Tal and Micky along with Chiffin, Erelyn, Isme, and Reema carry Quinton out of Uvern and head deep into the woods. When they notice the trees thinning, they stop to set up camp for the night. In the morning, Chiffin is trying to get Erelyn on her feet and moving as fast as possible; he doesn't trust these foreigners and wants to get his wife to "safety" which to him is the nearest town he has relatives. Quinton (who has regained consciousness with style and grace) confronts Chiffin, demanding that he treat his heavily pregnant wife better, and they end up drawing weapons and glowering at each other, but no blood is spilled until Quinton goes off later to catch a rabbit. There is some disagreement as to where they should go. As Tashal is near and large and prone to having comfortable beds, Quinton favours this option as do most of the cleverer in the party. Chiffin is wary of the big city and believes it would be better to head to his relatives. Eventually the Tashal plan prevails.
After an impressive breakfast considering their surroundings, they head off as best as they can toward Tashal (aided by Quinton's compass head) but stay clear of the roads, travelling through the lightly wooded glades. The weather turns sour in a cloudly, windy sort of way, but rain does not fall. As they approach Tashal, Quinton notices a figure hidden in the bushes to their left and quietly indicates this to Tal. As they pass, the figure moves awkwardly away, but Chiffin calls after it. The figure appears to be an older dude, his clothes wellish-to-do but a bit scuffed, and a large bruise on his noggen. He plays down the peculiarity of not taking the road toward his destination and responds dismissively to Micky's puzzled "Don't I know you from somewhere?" He then takes his leave. Further on, the group encounters signs of a poorly made campsite. And further on from that, the group encounters Tashal.
As they approach the city, someone mentions all the money they need to get from that damn scribe and Micky says "ah fuck!" and starts back in the opposite direction. They restrain him and he reveals where he recognized the older dude in the woods from: it was Tranmer the scribe. As this is going on, Chiffin the Disgruntled leads Erelyn into the city and informs the guards that the men coming up behind him are trying to hassle he and his poor pregnant wife. When the rest arrive shortly after, the guards make a point of hassling them but don't bother trying to stand up to Tal's charismatic charms. Quinton tries to shadow Chiffin and the pregnant lady through the inordinately bustling crowds but loses his quarry after several minutes.
With Chiffin and Erelyn unfortunately out of the picture, the five remaining refugees of sorts head to the Coin and Broom (the same inn they stayed at when last in Tashal more than a month before, on the assumption that in the off chance their friends George and Rolan survived they may come looking for them there). Tal and Micky go to check out Tranmer's abode only to find it abandonned and mostly stripped of valuables. They eat a meagre dinner and head to bed on the floor of their little room after Tal expertly tells a tale of Rock People and ancient heroes to the delighted patrons of the Inn. Meanwhile, back at the Iron Bell, George and Rolan treat themselves to steaming baths, rich brandy, chicken pies, and much lighter belt pouches... then descend into downy heaven in the fluffiest bed they e'er did dream of.
The next morning, George and Rolan wait for Sir Rolorick to send for them as he said he would, but he never arrives, so at noon they decide to check out the Coin and Broom in case their friends have come there. Sure enough, as they walk into the common room of the wee little Inn, they catch site of their friends and both sets converge upon each other happily. George says he must tell them of what transpired, but not in a public space, so they tromp up to the innroom and the story is told. George says that after their experience with Sir Rolorick, he thinks they should buy some clothes more befitting their status of freemen.
As George is shopping for clothing in the swelling markets of Tashal (the capital is being inundated with merchants and travellers as four significant caravans converge there for the Great Market) and discovering that he doesn't quite have enough coin to redress his companions, he encounters Isme who was out buying herbs and is distraught to learn of her home's destruction and her father's death. She reveals that her mother died two years earlier and also that Reema's husband was one of the men-at-arms killed when the pre-Burreil beadle of Uvern was slain. Later that day George and Rolan choose to revisit Tranmer's shop; they learn from a neighbour that he left under hurried conditions the day before. Thinking that the old bloke owes them a bit of cash, George and Rolan take everything they can from his already ransacked apartment. Pawning all the old man's stuff gives them enough money to afford some finer clothes, which will be ready the next day along with a bonnet George plans to give Isme.
The next day, George picks up the clothes and the group elects to leave Tashal and head to Caleme, but not before they try and track Tranmer's path from Tashal. Tracking? Yes, tracking! Somewhere, for no related reason at all, a choir of angels sings the hallelujah chorus. Conveniently enough, Tranmers tracks lead the trackers directly into Caleme, which consists of an impressive towering cathedral and a little clustered-round village.
When the travellers arrive at the gates of the enclosed cathedral and outbuildings, they are led to the library where Simulus awaits them. He informs them that Tranmer indeed arrived the day before and has since died of what can only be assumed to be poison. Before his death, Tranmer related how he was blackmailed into providing a fake translation to the Northenders and how the blackmailers took all the money that had served as payment. Simulus also informs them that Burreil is being interrogated by Ilderid, who is the only person other than Simulus' direct superior who has been told what is happening. Burreil has revealed little, only that his organization seems to revolve around a single individual who is held in very high esteem. George gives Ilderid the snake ring in case it can come in useful during the interrogation.
Everyone rests up in Caleme for about a week by the end of which most of their wounds are mostly healed (though Tal's still got his crippled leg and Rolan's gonna likely be stuck with the cruel looking arrow scar in his cheek for the rest of his life). There do exist occurences, however, that occur over the course of the week.
Midway through, Simulus summons the Northenders to a secluded room in the library. He tells them that they cannot let what they hear leave the room. There's a problem with Burreil. He seemed to desparately want his ring, and told Ilderid he would reveal more information if they let him have the ring. Seeing nothing to lose, they complied. Not three minutes after he received the ring, he fell limp. It was as if he was unconscious, yet his eyes were open, he breathed regularly, but would not respond to the world around him. Because none who know of this occurence are particularly able to explain it using the scriptures of Jad its been decided that the information of what happened should be squashed.
Simulus also uncovers a fair amount of information about what exactly Aldrazul's little pamphlet might mean. Alchiraz: a general term for people, humans, society. Unknown verb: something about revealing truth. Ihldria - in some places they are said to be evil spirits, who sometimes take the form of humans and delight in trickery. Grymandelt: the reckoning; a time of darkness. Arurea: a mystical place, hidden deep within the forest, no exact location given. Seven Signs: beauty, honesty, succour, strength, reason, observation, dedication (general tennants held in esteem by a fringe society).
Further investigation of Ihldria and Ilhdrians and Ilhdrianism and however else one can make new words out of made-up names reveals some of the associated myths. Ihldris' is said to have had five immortal sons, of which Orin is said to have had particular affinity for mortals. While the others saw them as petty and weak destroyers of the world, Orin allied himself with the newcomers. He came into conflict with his brothers because of this. They banished him from the family and sent him wandering, but when Ihldris discovered this he punished his sons and welcomed Orin back, but Orin refused to come, instead deciding to wander the island of Harn alone. George recognizes that this story is analagous to a story he knows from the pre-Jad pagan beliefs that his mother (secretly) worships, which is based around the constant struggle to prove that humanity is worthy of being looked kindly on by the spirits. The equivalent of Orin is the protector god, Puwayse. Simulus then shows a drawing of Orin that show him with markings similar to the small clay whistle that George found in his pack two months ago, after meeting a fake knight in the woods who called himself Orion.
The Northenders discuss this information, and come to some conclusions. Simulus says that they must keep this to themselves, and he (like the information about Burreil) won't be telling anyone about these things since giving credence to any sort of paganistic whatevers (or just appearing to) isn't often wise. The plan seems to be to head back to Northenden as fast as possible, under the assumption that the baby in the prophesy is Paddy, hence Aldrazul's interest in it, and the following assumption that the baby is likely not safe.
(25) Toward the end of their week in Caleme, at Micky and Quinton's behest, the Northenders decide to stop over in Tashal on their way back to Northenden. Quinton would like to try to locate Kendra and Micky would like to be somewhere whiskey is in greater supply. They also agree that if their dear friend Errol could be located, that would be nice, and questions might be asked. George asks Simulus if he can help to outfit them at all and the oldish priest ends up supplying some paper and quill and ink (over the week George has learned to count and read!), as well as a surgery kit he found stashed away somewhere. Before departing, Simulus and the boys determine a method for identifying messages and communicating based on herbs: "elprequir" will denote a legitimite communication, and "habsulara" will denote a compromised one.
They leave early the next morning for Tashal, intending to spend the better part of the day searching out acquaintances, but no more. When they arrive they are astonished to find the city even more packed now that all four caravans have arrived from all corners of Hârn. The group decides to split up and reconnoiter at the city gates at noon. Micky, George, Tal and Isme (who has agreed to come with George to Northenden) head off to look for traces of Errol, while Rolan and Quinton look for Kendra.
There's a short exchange with a man named Andrelabus with a fantastically decorated wagon selling what he claims are good luck charms before Micky propels his friends toward the docks of the river Kald where he is sure the seedier of people will be gathered. He talks to his old friend Brun Cordal who runs a netting business and arranges vicious boxing matches on the side. Brun's information amounts to not much other than that he's willing to keep an eye out for any sorts of people for the right place, and the fact that he's organizing the grandest underground hand-to-hand combat tournament that Tashal ever did see, which will involve great fighters from all across Hârn now that they have all converged on the Kaldorian capital for the great market. This bit excites Micky quite a bit, though George isn't particularly pleased at the whole idea. Further questioning of locals reveals a few booksellers who have recently sold parchment and ink to a man mostly similar to Errol's description, but nothing else of note. George also informs one of the city guards about the allegedly planned ultimate fighting championship as it doesn't sound particularly legal to him. And then ding-dong go the noon-time bells and our stalwart heroes are found scrambling back to the North Gate, desparate for some sweet reconnoitering.
In The Meantime. Rolan and Quinton check out where they can. Looking for someone who makes her life out of not being known or found isn't particularly easy. Quinton first checks the small room they visited together more than a month and a half ago, but find it empty. Asking around and copious amounts of subtle observation yield no results until they arrive at a dump of an inn called The Spurs. Rolan overhears an exchange at a table in the back: One man has gotten himself into owing thirty pennies he doesn't have to the other man who says that instead of repaying him monetarily it would be acceptible for him to help him find someone, and then goes on to describe Kendra. When the debter leaves to presumably start looking, Quinton shadows him out. Then Rolan approaches the gambler whose name turns out to be Chritz.
Rolan's first order of business is checking for snake-rings, which he does not notice on either of Chritz' hands. They enter into a sort of conversation that involves Chritz wanting to do some gambling, and Rolan surprisingly unawkwardly claiming to be a hard-nosed mercenary who's looking for any sort of work after losing all his money from gambling. After cheating Rolan out of a penny and discussing gambling and the big city, (the man seems intrigued about Rolan's mention of Errol and asks after him, but for no immediate reason other than interest in gambling) Chritz offers Rolan a job: a man named Bidillin owes him some twenty pennies in accrued gambling debts; the man (who is then described in detail) usually frequents the Coin and Broom and if Rolan returns him to Chritz, he will reportedly earn some 5p. They are to meet back at The Spurs in the evening. Shortly after this it is noon, so Rolan scurries gleefully toward the North Gate.
Quinton doesn't get a chance to see the north gate right away. He trails the debter (whose name is later revealed to be Irn Bru) around town as he cluelessly searches for Kendra. Irn stops in at The Seven Stars and meets some of his friends to whom he outlines his situation. One of his friends (all of whom are newly arrived in town) says he's been getting on with a longtime resident who might be able to shed some light on all of this. Quinton elects to follow this man instead, who goes eventually to a metalsmith and chats with him; Quinton overhears that the metalsmith might know of someone sounding like Kendra who has been seen active at night skulking about. Quinton follows Irn more with little success and then meets the rest of the group back at the North Gate at their 2nd pre-ordained meeting time of 3 hours past noon.
All assembled relate their findings. Rolan has been staking out the Coin and Broom but has not located Bidillin. The group decides to stay the night in Tashal since the post-sunset hours will be much better for trying to find Kendra. They also decide that Rolan should try and gain Chritz' trust so they might be able to figure out a bit of what's going on and who's looking for Kendra and why. In the afternoon, Rolan stays in the common room waiting for Bidillin (whom the innkeeper does not know) and George goes outside of the city with Isme for a lovely bout of picnicking and herb collection. The others head to the inn-room and try to get some sleep in anticipation of staying up rather late prowling the streets. Over the afternoon no Bidillin arrives and as dusk extends into night Rolan and George head back toward the Spurs to have a little chat with Chritz. Isme is left with instructions to wake the others so they can get their search on.
Rolan has some chatting with Chritz while George lurks in the shadows of the densely packed inn common room (the party has even spread out onto the streets). The conversation is a long and winding one, with scepticism on both sides at various times. Over the course of the banter it is agreed on that they are both looking for the same person and that Rolan is willing to help. The condition is that Rolan and his associates will get an hour with Kendra in an enclosed sort of area before handing her over to Chritz who claims he is new to town (in with the caravans, guarding the gear of one Migel Dunonde) and hired to track down Kendra by someone whose name wasn't revealed. Chritz pointedly asks Rolan at one point whether one of his associates is named Quinton, which seems surprising. Rolan maintains he cannot reveal the identity of his accomplices. After their chat they agree to go out and prowl the streets for Kendra unsuccessfully. Afterwards they return to respective beds.
Quinton, Tal and Micky also spend some time wandering the streets unsuccessfully. Though they witness some fun brawls in the seedy side of town. Eventually they deign to return to the little room that's really the only physical place they know is tied to Kendra beyond the city itself. They arrive at the door and find it jammed, so Quinton muscles it slightly open and pokes his head through. Just as he hears a voice from within say "Quinton?" Micky shoves him from behind, and tells him to hurry up. Quinton doesn't take kindly to this, but quickly turns his attention to Kendra. She was completely unaware, and rather concerned, that there are people in the city looking for her. Quinton tells her most of what happened over the last month and a half (in abbreviated fashion). Kendra can't shed much light on any of it, other than having heard about some specific action against a man named Nuren. Quinton and Kendra agree that the preceding game of cat and mouse wasn't particularly efficient and agree on a method of signalling to each other. They also agree to meet at another abandonned sort of hangout the next morning.
(26) On their way back to the inn after prowling the streets with Chritz, Rolan and George discuss their options. They surmise that Chritz is not a member of the conspiracy, just in their employ. So they work out how best to perhaps get him on their side. Thinking perhaps it would be best to claim they have found Kendra to get him somewhere safe so they can explain their case and extract as much information from him about his hirer and perhaps get an edge on these conspirators. When all involved parties reconnoiter, George and Rolan present their ideas. Knowing they actually have a fix on Kendra's location means they can use her as real bait if she's willing.
The next morning they head to Kendra's pad. George and Quinton enter at intervals and the rest stay outside to allay suspicion. After some discussion, a plan is agreed upon. Kendra will leave Tashal, as will the rest of the party, save Rolan. In the woods outside of the capital, they will locate a well defensible clearing and create camoflage hide-outs, a fake campsite in the centre and trip-wires in various places in case flight is necessary. Rolan will spend the day until this is ready keeping an eye on Chritz and allegedly aiding him in his search. At four o'clock in the afternoon George will return to a tavern and Tashal and pose fairly truthfully as one of Rolan's friends. He will tell them he's found that Kendra has left Tashal and hurry them toward the clearing. The rural locale will allow the Northenders to assess how many reinforcements Chritz might bring with him, and reduce the chance of him bringing a large number.
George also asks Kendra about the village she came from since he believes it might be something related to what happened in Uvern. Kendra reveals that her family were not holders of any special titles in her home town of Durrie (which turns out to be not particularly far from Olokand, and by association not so far from Northenden, either). George suggests that it might be worthwhile to investigate Durrie, as the conspiracy obviously had particular business there, and perhaps still does. Kendra agrees this is a wise course of action and suggests she would be quite useful to the fellows as a companion, since she knows the village well and furthermore is not particularly keen on staying in Tashal now that people evidently know of her existence and likely mean her harm.
After these discussions and conclusions it's mid-morning and everyone heads off into the woods to set up their rendezvous area, save Rolan who heads toward the Spurs in search of Chritz. He finds him there at a table with his back to the wall, unsurprisingly involved in a game of dice with some patrons. As the game finishes up, Rolan takes a seat. He notices that Chritz seems notably cheerier and less suspicious this morning. Chritz arranges a game of chess to challenge Rolan, who plays well but ends up losing, though he could almost swear the rules changed halfway through. As they are about to head off to do some more searching, Chritz mentions something about wine from Tharda in a strangely louder voice than the rest of the conversation. As they move to the door, Rolan notes two gruff looking men moving through the bar also toward the door.
Outside the Spurs, in the narrow and bustling streets of Tashal, the two men go off ahead and disappear in the crowd. When Chritz indicates a desire to travel down a narrow side-street to "visit a friend in the know" Rolan is wise to the ploy and says he will make use of that time to visit a different friend of his own and meet back at the street corner. When they reconnoiter, Rolan notices the men waiting ahead at a crossroads and says to Chritz quietly "I think those two men are following us!" Chritz acts surprised and suggests they accost the men. As Chritz berates the two men, they move slowly toward a more secluded arm of road, but Rolan stands solidly in place.
After a bit more dodging about they find themselves in the Mangai square which has been filled with rows and rows of various booths dealing in foreign wares. Chritz goes off to inquire with another friend while Rolan locates the two gruff looking men and tells them how he has slain a great many of the barbarian Taelda. Since the Taelda are generally known as the most peaceful and cultured of the barbarian tribes, this has a different but nonetheless effective result from what Rolan had intended.
As Rolan is busy looming, a knife flies out from the crowd and lodges in the back of his leg. He spins around but can't positively ID the thrower and ducks behind one of the stalls as he readies his spear. The two goons he was looming over back off and disappear in the crowd, not particularly wanting to be seen illegally wielding weapons in a public place. He can't tell exactly where the knife came from, but soon another one flies out from a nearby stall, flung, it seems, by an unarmoured man pretending he didn't fling it. Rolan thunders over and puts his spear clear through the man's chest. As he glances around he sees a path being cleared through the crowd as a man about Chritz' dimensions flees the scene. Rolan enters hot pursuit mode and manages to catch up with his associate a few blocks away. His attacker throws another knife, but Rolan's armour stops it, and then the Northender puts his spear through the fellow's arm and leg and he drops to the ground, incapacitated.
Rolan hastily drags him out of site into the back of a nearby alley. He then hurries back to the Coin and Broom and convinces Isme to come with him quickly. Back in the alley Isme patches up Chritz' seeping wounds and then Rolan hog-ties him and uses the thirty odd pennies in the man's beltpouch to buy a large barrel which he crams him into and then rolls him out of the city, managing to get away with only a brief chat with the city-guards. He realizes he doesn't know where his companions have set up their little clearing so he sets his barrel near the side of the road and waits with Isme for George to come out toward the city.
Back in the morning, the setting up of various camo-spots and trip-wires and an old camp-site with a lean-to goes quite well except when there is a bit of an argument with Micky since he is determined that he should be lying in the lean-to to spring-attack Chritz. The others maintain that if Chritz sees someone who isn't Kendra in the camp-site he won't react well and they hope not to attack him anyway. They also become aware that they don't all have the same picture of what exactly they intend to do with Chritz when he arrives. None of that ends up mattering of course, and when George heads toward Tashal, he meets Rolan a bit early by the side of the road with Isme and a barrel full of Chritz.
They bring the barrel back to the clearing and get Chritz out. Searching his person reveals a great number of knives and such weaponry and no snake-ring. When Chritz eventually comes out of his unconscious state he is far more co-operative than most of the other people they have captured. He reveals that the man who hired him matched Errol's description and that he said he wanted Kendra preferably alive, but dead if absolutely necessary. He tells how there was a brick at a certain street to move to signal a meeting with his employer and how he moved it but the fellow never came. He also reveals that the meeting place was set to be Tranmer's now abandoned house.
Happy with the information, the group decides to let the fellow go, but advise him against staying in Tashal, saying that the group Errol is very likely associated with has a habit of chopping up the people who worked for them and putting them in sacks of flour (though that morning Kendra revealed that as far as she can tell it isn't standard practice as she's seen recurring ringless people seeming to be in Their employ). Before they release him, though, they send George back to town (since he's the only one of the boys who can count past ten; or twenty if they're not wearing shoes, twenty-one if they're excited) to sell the barrel with the intent of giving the money back to Chritz (they offered him the barrel, but he said he didn't have much use for it). While in Tashal, George decides that barrel merchants are in general a seedy bunch and donates the money from the eventual barrel sale to an orphanage, which meets a great deal of anger from Rolan when he hears about it (all well and good to give money away, but not when it isn't yours!). Chritz doesn't seem to mind too much though, he's just happy and somewhat surprised to be alive and free.
That night, the Northenders plus Kendra go into Tashal and stay in Tranmer's house to see if Errol will show up. He does not, however, so the next morning they decide to head back to Northenden (stopping at Loxton on the way, as Osark asked, to tell their lord's future wife that Northenden is now safe). Since Micky is so excited about the brawling championship he decides to stay back in Tashal and keep an eye on things until their eventual return.
The journey up north goes fairly smoothly, with various bridge tolls extracting almost all the small amount of money that the party had left after their adventures abroad. On the way up, George and Isme are seen spending much time together, and Quinton and Kendra are also often seen near one another. George has decided that he will ask for Isme's hand in marriage when he has either two pigs to his name or a secret pagan cult of the nature Gods.
When they arrive at Loxton, Rolan and Tal head to the manor, while the others stroll around town with their respective expected female accompaniment. At the manor, they are informed by Lord Duran Worvath that in the last few days after not hearing from Osark, his daughter Idarin was betrothed to Sir Hargalen of Eichel. The Northenders agree that Osark will probably not be pleased with the news, but since there's no way for them to really do anything about it, they set off from Loxton. Tal, George, Kendra, Isme, Quinton and Rolan arrive back in Northenden in the early afternoon of the twelfth day of Nolus.
(27) The boys head straight for the manor and are greeted by Talin, the squire. He informs them that Lord Osark is currently out hunting, but invites them to come in and have a seat to wait for his return, as he has been very anxious to hear about hiw wife-to-be. On Osark's return, his first question concerns Erelyn, and Tal regretfully informs him the bad news. Osark is visibly shocked and apalled by this new development. He tells the boys to send Father Rameus his way, give him some time to think, and check in with their families.
It's been nearly one month since they were last in their home village, and it has improved slightly, but is still showing a few signs of the Taelda attack. George introduces Isme to his mother to much delight. Later, he tells Amnesty about his theories about what he has learned abroad: the 'imaginary knight' they met in the woods at the beginning of spring seems to be none other than their god, Puwayse, and his whistle seems to have come from him. This will surely be very important for the members of the secret sect of pagans. George also wonders how to best safely introduce Isme to their beliefs.
Back at the manor-house, Tal brilliantly recounts the events of the last month (save the parts they swore to secrecy), and Osark outlines his plans to reclaim some honour in the eyes of his liege-lord. In response to the insult of breaking the marriage arrangement, he will challenge Sir Hargalen of Eichel to a duel, at the Royal Tournament in Olakand, if the marriage is to take place afterwards, or sooner, otherwise. He will also adopt Paddy as an act of goodwill, thus giving him an heir, in case a wife cannot be found in time. And for the corker, he will hire a company of mercenaries to wipe out the encampment of Taelda that were responsible for the attack on the village. He requests the aid of the young men in order to acheive this, as they know where the encampment is.
Kendra sneaks around a bit, seeing if any sign of Errol is left in the church, but to no avail. In private, George asks Osark if he will endorse a marriage between he and Isme, and, as subtly as possible, if he thinks it might be a good idea to use his knowledge of poisons to doctor the upcoming duel. The first query is positively responded to, while the latter is treated in the opposite fashion, since the whole point of the exercise is an increase in honour and it would not be sensible to risk the opposite effect. Osark seems fairly certain he can best the man in combat, but one cannot tell how unfounded his optimism might be.
The young men also question Father Rameus about Errol's mother, who, having allegedly given the snake-ring to her son, was likely a member of the conspiracy they are tracking. He tells them of how one night he saw Jolina (his sister, Errol's mother) talking with someone. He overheard something about a schism between two soldiers causing problems, and then mention of someone misbehaving and being killed. When he confronted her about it, she said it was 'all talk,' that night she attacked him, but he managed to kill her. He thought it best to tell young Errol it was an accident. When he told Osark what happened, they were worried that this malignant nature would persist in Errol, so he was entrusted to Rameus to be raised with the teachings of Jad always near. Apparently they did not stick. Further enquiry about the history of family, reveals that Rameus left his rather tense home fairly early, and was away at Abriel Abbey when Jolina left to be married to a mercantyler from Stybrin. After her husband died, he lost track of Jolina until she arrived in Northenden nineteen years ago.
With all the talking out of the way, and a rather delicious feast under their belts, the boys head to their respective homes (Kendra is put up in the inn). In the morning they plan to head toward the Taelda encampment. George wants to talk to the Taelda to see if he can discover anything about Aldrazul or the conspiracy.
The journey to the encampment is long, but uneventful. They arrive in the late afternoon, and find that the Taelda village is now encircled by a formidable pallisade wall. They approach the gates, and are greeted by several guards who eventually fetch a rather larger man who seems to be a leader of some kind. He says he will let them into the camp to talk, as long as they drop their weapons. This is a concern, especially for Rolan, who really doesn't like or trust the Taelda to begin with and has notches on his spear to prove it. The large Taelda explains that there are enough Taelda that the visitors would stand no chance in any confrontation, so they would not really help themselves by keeping their weapons. Eventually George and Tal concede, and eventually so does Rolan. The three young men leave their weapons at the gate and enter the Taelda camp.
(28) In the Taelda camp, George communicates brokenly with the largest of the Taelda, who introduces himself as Feniri, the leader of this tribe. The conversation is long, and not straightforward, but when the important avenues of questioning have been exhausted Feniri's words paint the events as follows: Aldrazul (though obviously not using that name) came from the woods and convinced the Taelda that he was a travelling shaman. He had impeccable knowledge of their beliefs and fit into the profile flawlessly; though a few of the Taelda distrusted him, the then-chief took his words as truth. He told them he had news of the location of the infant Colthynn, who Taelda legend describes as a great warrior who came from abroad and lead his people into prosperity. The old man spoke convincingly and had a level of insight into the holy beliefs that surpassed any of the tribesmen there (in retrospect he was probably making it up).
It was Aldrazul who then convinced the Taelda to attack Northenden and retrieve this holy baby for the good of their people. Afterwards, however, Feniri and some other Taelda began to grow more and more suspicious of him. Tension rose, his legitimacy was challenged by some, enforced by others, and this led to the bloody stand-off that George and his friends were embroiled in exactly one month earlier. After the fray, Feniri challenged the validity of the old chief's rule and with the (reduced) popular support of the remaining Taelda took command of the tribe, returning the old leader to the ground where his naivite and impressionability would no longer harm his people.
Feniri says that none of the Taelda here-present were supporters of Aldrazul and they regret any harm that his influence on them caused. Upon hearing this, George feels a pang of guilt and, without telling his comrades what he is saying, he relays to Feniri that Osark plans to attack the village. Feniri seems quite taken aback, and says he does not know what they will do. George, also influenced by the fact that his own beliefs lie closer to those of the Taelda than the followers of Jad, urges him to flee the village and head deeper into the woods so that the attacking force will assume them to be already destroyed. Feniri says he will consider all possible courses of action and, grateful, for his help, invites George and his friends to dinner.
Outside of the camp, Kendra hears some bumpkins rather far from where they should be bumbling through the woods. She trails them, and eventually confronts them and finds out that they have been looking for the Taelda camp. They are from Loban, and they report that there have been a number of attacks in the area of late, attributed to the Taelda; several people have been killed. The villagers are keen on convincing Lord Kathel that something must be done about this, and they feel they are close to getting something done. George, Rolan and Tal catch up to Kendra and the villagers and upon hearing this tale, think it is quite puzzling. The important thing, though, is that Lord Osark attack the Taelda first and get the glory of defeating them for himself. The fellas decide that after reporting back to Northenden they might check in at Loban to see if they can get some of the villagers into Osark's camp.
Back in Northenden, they find that Osark has returned from Olokand and a company of mercenaries will be arriving in Northenden toward evening. The next morning (the 15th of Nolus), the attack force will set off toward the Taelda camp. Quinton has also returned from Eichel where he has learned that the wedding will take place in late Larane, just after the royal tournament, so Osark will be able to challenge Hargalen there. A brief trip to Loban reveals that Sir Kathel will be moving against the Taelda, but not until after Osark will have dealt with the problem; because of Kathel's decision, though, none of the Lobanian villagers are interested in going off to fight the Taelda sooner. They do discover, though, that among the recently slain villagers is Vimon (the teen who followed them around in the woods before). They talk to his family and find out that he had seemed distressed and agitated for the last few months, but no more.
On the morning of the 15th, George, Tal, Quinton, Rolan, Osark, Talin, Jodrin and the company of 20 mercenaries sets out from Northenden toward the Taelda camp. When they arrive they see that, much to George's disappointment, the camp is just as full of Taelda as it was a day and a half earlier. Not only that, but the gap in the wall near where the river flowed past has been covered with a ragged fortification. The Taelda are ready for a fight.
(29) The company of mercenaries and Northenders keeps themselves within the forest, so that they hopefully won't be spotted by the barbarians. Taking stock of the situation, Osark, the mercenary captain Klimet, and the eager young lads (save George, who seems not particularly interested) work out what they think will give them the best shot at taking the village with ease. They have barrels of pitch which should do well to help the wooden village burn, but how best to use it?
After some deliberation, a plan is arrived upon. Archers will fire burning arrows into the village and the some of the soldiers with Rolan will throw pitch toward the wall, focusing primarily on the gate as it is probably a weak point. After this has started, a yet-to-be-built battering ram will be rushed from the woods to the gate, and the soldiers will follow. Simultaneously, another group of soldiers will be bursting through the weak and presumably less defended section, and hopefully shortly after that the Taelda will be on their knees.
George and five of the mercenaries go deep into the woods to fell a tree to use as a ram, far enough that anyone in the village should be unaware of the noise. They fell the tree with no difficulties, but as they have started to carry it back toward their comrades, George notices movement in the trees above and to his left; it looks to be a Taelda, and it has a bow with it. He subtly casts his eyes about and notices several more. He communicates this to his companions under his breath, thinking that with only one bowmen with them they stand very little chance. When an arrow from behind barely misses one of the soldiers, they drop their burden and break into a run.
Back with the main force, they report what happened. They must now assume the Taelda are aware of their presence, so they lose no time in felling a new, much closer, ram-tree and pelting the village with incendiaries. From inside the village a voice cries out in broken Harnic, lamenting that there is no reason for this attack but that they will fight and kill to the last. The Northenders scoff and Osark delivers a response, emphasizing the deaths of Rolan and George's fathers, ending with "We will crush you, in the name of Sir Osark Undraden and in the name of Northenden." The attackers (now abandoning the thought of a pincer attack) spring into action just as a series of strange sounding booms echo out from the village.
As the ram and the soldiers rush toward the wall, arrows and later spears fly out from behind the barbarian pallisade and take care of a few of the soldiers and wound several more (including Rolan quite severely). Quinton, hanging back with the other archers, moves closer and manages to get a couple shots over the wall at glimpses of Taelda through the cracks. The ram hits the wall with much force but doesn't quite break through. Just as the ram hits the wall, a few arrows fly toward Quinton and the archers from behind. He whips around to see at least ten barbarians at the edge of the woods.
While the bulk of the soldiers prepare to rush into the village, the ram-wielders tip the ram up on its end and let it fall into the broken wall, hopefully crushing it down. It does so admirably and Rolan and George (who has abandonned his dabbling in pacifism) lead the charge into the village. The Taelda inside are waiting for them though and they are met by several thrown spears. The situation soon (d)evolves into a desparate, brutal melee that in a few short moments leaves George and Rolan out for the count, but not without several barbarians going down with them. Quinton gets off a couple nice shots at the Taelda in the wood as they charge at him and the archers.
Tal finishes off the last Taelda in the immediate vicinity and takes stock of the situation - his friends are down but hopefully alive and the main brunt of the battle has moved into the village. The mercenary's job is made less easy by the fact that female and young Taelda seem to have taken up arms, though the Taelda leader Feniri is nowhere to be seen. Tal notes the sound of fighting coming from outside of the pallisade wall and moves to where he can see a fray that involves Sir Osark and Feniri coming ever closer to each other. He hurries (hobbles, really) over as the two leaders lock into combat. Feniri, armed with a large ax, lands a vicious blow in Osark's chest just as Tal gets behind him and bashes him with his shortsword. Osark, with Tal's help, manages to fell the barbarian captain and then slices his head off with a majestic sweep of his broadsword.
with their leader out of the picture the Taelda are brought to their knees in short order. Those that flee into the woods are pursued, though some still manage to escape. George and Rolan regain consciousness and can help tend to the many wounded. Though Osark's troops were victorious, it was not without many losses from the mercenary ranks and Klimet is visibly displeased with Osark for paying him and his men into a battle with such shaky odds. Osark withdraws from the centre of the battlefield and does not appear as pleased about the victory as would be expected.
What remains of the village is looted, and the wounded Taelda have their resting places finalized. Tal ends up claiming Feniri's ax, with Osark's permission. The slain on the side of the feudals are buried with all due ceremony and a wreath erected to commemorate them, while the Taelda are left to attract the carrion-eaters. They stay the night in the woods, upstream from the battlefield, and in the morning head back toward Northenden, a journey which, burdened by the many wounded, takes the whole day.
(30) Upon returning to Northenden our injured heroes greet their loved ones and set down for some serious rest and healing. Klimet grudgingly accepts a much larger fee from Osark to make up for the higher-than-anticipated damage to his mercenary company and heads back to Olokand.
Over the next nine days, things are quiet as wounds gradually mend with expert help from Amnesty and George and any who can lend it. Though menial labour and even any serious walking about is out of the question, Kendra enforces to everyone that they have a task ahead of them that requires much planning and that time is of the essence. So the latter part of the healing period is used to brainstorm possible ways to best infiltrate Durrie. Kendra tells them that Durrie is a bit of a unique village in that it is used as a hunting lodge for nobles, and has a more active market than other villages that size for that reason.
After various thoughts and speculations, they decide to pose as a band of mercenaries looking for work, having heard that there is a Taelda menace in the area. They have come from guarding a merchant's caravan along the Fur Road to Tashal for the fair, but on the way to their respective alleged home villages. For instance, Rolan assumes the identity of Nalor, who comes from Nednetron where Lord Krazo rules wisely and firmly. They will stay in town for as long as they can realistically without destroying their alias' creditability and subtly try to find any sign they can of the dealings of the snake-conspiracy. They will stay no longer than a week to allow them to come back to Northenden in time for the royal tournament and Osark's challenge of Sir Hargalen.
To make the truth and their location more veiled, they inform people in the village that they are going to Tashal, but make sure Osark knows the truth. George is worried that there may be a spy in Northenden working for the conspiracy, and so he sets up hiding spots and after they make a well-publicized departure, they wait for two days, watching the roads out of town, but nothing and no one of interest presents itself so they reconvene and start out toward Durrie.
They spend much of the day on the road under the warm summer sun and as they near their destination they meet a fellow with a cart and a skinny man-at-arms who introduces himself as Adrol, a merchant and clothier also on his way to Durrie. They chat for a bit and before long arrive at the village.
After Adrol leaves his cart in the square and heads down the trail (the direction of Ormul's house) to meet up with a friend, the first stop is the inn where they snag some rooms and meet a very drunk fellow named Ibren who talks a lot of nonsense. The beadle pokes his head in the room, but says very little.
In the morning, the disguised freemen visit Merrein, the bailiff of Durrie. They explain that they are looking for any Taelda they might be able to slay and Merrein tells them they're welcome to look around, but doesn't think they will find anything, and asks them not to flaunt their arms too much around the villagers. Kendra and George wander through the woods, but find little more than an impressive rock outcropping along a hunting trail that comes out of the woods near the metalsmith's house. Tal and Rolan ask questions of the villagers but don't discover much other than that Merrein left the village for a few months last winter (Kendra remembers seeing her in Tashal during that time).
That night, George goes "out to look around for a minute," looks at the manor as much as he can, planning to try and sneak in it and have a look around at some point (despite what happened the last time someone tried to do that) and swims across the river to a hill to try and have a look from a higher vantage point. He flounders in the cold water, warms himself up by a hidden fire and then watches the manor for a bit, seeing nothing. Rolan grows worried, leaves the inn to follow George's tracks and finds that they end in the river. Confused, he returns to the inn, and then brings Tal out to "see" (a loose term at night with no moon) the tracks. After they return to the inn, confused, George also returns and somewhat tenuously claims to have fallen in the river.
Shortly, they notice that Kendra is nowhere to be found and set out after her. Her tracks lead in around the village and end up back at the inn - she must have arrived back while they were out looking for her. Kendra says she just went out for a quick look around and apologizes for not letting anyone know. She has interesting news, however: she spotted two people entering Ormul's house from the direction of the woods and the path that she and George had traipsed along earlier in the day. George, Tal and Rolan go to investigate while Kendra goes to catch some rest.
They move carefully through the dark toward the blacksmith's house. In the workshop area they discover a large wooden crate, which when opened reveals a collection of fine-looking broadswords and chain-mail. As this curious truth reveals itself, Tal notices that they are not alone-someone seems to be following them from the direction of the inn. Just then, they hear the sound of a group of people moving slowly down the path toward the house from the other direction. They'd better think fast. George slips off to the woods and the others wait in the workshop. Soon, a quite sober Ibren (who was last seen seemingly passed out in the inn) comes forward, his eyebrows furrowed questioningly and weapon drawn.
Rolan and Tal play it like he should be as surprised to find the weapons there as they. Rolan says "There's people coming from the woods, I don't know who they are but we'd better get out of sight," and Ibren follows them behind the shed; at the last moment Rolan realizes that the lid of the crate was left conspicuously open. They wait breathlessly as what sounds to be at least four men dragging another crate come into the out-of-sight workshop. Tal is at one corner, Rolan the other, Ibren in the middle. Time drags slowly by as they hear quick talking from within, in what seems to be a foreign language. Of a sudden there is a loud cry from the shop and shortly after Ibren tries to stab Tal. He bungles badly though, and Tal and Rolan instantly make quick, messy work of him. There was enough noise that all the interlopers are now definitely both aware of each other's presence.
The five men in the shop, dressed in some unfamiliar type of reinforced leather armour, head away and toward the manor. Tal and Rolan instantly fear that something all too similar to what happened in Uvern is about to happen, and they give delayed chase, picking up Kendra and George (who had been unsuccessfully attempting to find any nearby horses or anything the foreigners might have arrived with) on the way. When the four arrive in front of the manor, they (barely) see four men waiting for them, holding swords enough like the ones in the crates to be assumed to be them. As the Northenders approach, each side demands surrender and none complies.
Tal, Rolan, George and Kendra fall upon the attackers in a flurry of spear, staff and sword, hidden in the depth of night. The fight is fierce and long, but soon it becomes evident that the mysterious men are better aware of their surroundings in the dark, and the fight for our heroes becomes more a frantic attempt just to connect weapon with flesh than a proper battle. They fare surprisingly well, though the fourth man returns through the gate of the manor and joins the fray. George manages to destroy one man's arm with a sharp strike of his staff. Tal, desperately as he tries, cannot land a blow, but serves to distract two of the enemies for some time before collapsing. Gradually the fray begins to thin. The Northenders give it their all, throwing themselves with abandon into a losing battle that for a time looks like it might turn around for them, and in the end Kendra fells the last of the enemies and is left standing, badly bloodied and clinging to consciousness by a thread, standing by her felled companions in front of a manor with more inside of unknown alliegence.
(31) In Tashal, several weeks in the past, Micky spends a few days eagerly waiting the fighting match he'd stayed behind in the capital to attend. As a crowd and expectant fighters of many kingdoms gathers near the largely squalid dock area, Korbin, the organizer and friend to Micky proclaims that due to an initiative to get Tashal looking a little more sparkly at the time of the great market, they've had to move the competition to a little grove to the south of the city and it will commence the next day in the midmorning. The crowd is slightly displeased, but accepting, and they continue to imbibe of the several ale and liquor sellers who have shown up to make a profit. There is a strange rumbling of thunder in the cloudless sky. Speculation is wild, but confused and noncommittal.
Morning comes and Micky manages to find his way, with help, to the small clearing. The rules are that no fighters may wear armour or use any sort of weapon and that fights end when one fighter leaves the ring or does not stand up after falling down. Micky fights well enough in the first few rounds though not quite as skilfully as he knows he is able to. He slugs his way through several opponents, with even some time to rest and heal and imbibe large quantities of whiskey in between. During all of this, Micky notices a very large fighter named Girasz who seems to have been doing well for himself in the fights talking conspiratorially with some fellows, but his bid to see if they do anything near the site of the fight turns into an exercise of laying on the ground and being rained on.
In the semi-final fight, against a fearsomely idealistic fellow named Brumheckio who acts almost as if he were a royal knight despite his quite low standing, Micky is finally bested. The fight seems even from the start and wends its way on until Micky makes an unsuccessful assault on his opponent, leaving himself open, and Brumheckio successfully capitalizes. Disappointed but not undone, Micky stays around to watch the other semi-final in which an impressively large Orbaalese fighter named Girasz, who has been making a name for himself, quite easily bests his opponent.
Brumheckio goes home and at the end of the second day off before the final battle three young hooligans come into his house for a bit of fun and take some of his stuff. After he cripples an arm neatly with a log from the fire, one flees; the others, though, young and foolish as they are attempt to take him on. One gets in a grievous wound to the kneck and Brumheckio is felled. The hooligans flee.
Despite not competing in the fight itself, nothing will stop Micky from attending… for the one thing almost as fun as fighting, is watching fighting; and that can be done with a drink in hand. Korbin offers his old friend a "box" seat, which consists of a spot beside the organizer on an actual chair under a rather makeshift canopy. Girasz is there, looking quite gung-ho, but Brumheckio has not arrived.
Eventually the other fighter arrives, sporting an obviously wounded neck and not even particularly steady on his feet. He yells that he was attacked in the night, adding that those who did so were surely put up to it by the foreign bastard in the ring before him. Then he proclaims that he won't let that stop him, and shortly thereafter it's ON.
Brumheckio surprises and pleases the crowd by standing for more than two seconds. In fact he manages to land a couple of pretty solid blows on Brumheckio that almost cause the brute of a man to stumble backwards. Girasz struggles uncharacteristically for the first part of the fight, but one shot to the arm is all it takes to bring home to Brumheckio the fact that he's barely been clinging to consciousness all day, and moments later he collapses to the dirt. Girasz triumphantly raises his arms and cries in a heavy accent "You Kaldor swine don't know how to fight!" or something to that effect. This does not go over particularly well.
(32) After darkness,
George gradually becomes aware of his surroundings. He finds himself lying in what appears to be the courtyard of Durrie's manor. Tal and Rolan are on either side of him, but Kendra is nowhere in sight. He notices that his wounds have been hastily bound to staunch the bleeding. A large man with a shortsword keeps a lazy eye on him and his downed companions. George disguises his consciousness as best he can as the strangely-armoured soldiers that fought him who knows how long before are tended to. A form he guesses must be Merreil, the bailiff, comes out from the main building and speaks with his guard, who he recognizes as the beadle, Hemmid, who poked his head into the inn briefly while they were there.
After some time Hemmid and another man come, and drag Rolan toward the manor's main building. As they near the building, George snatches the opportunity and drags himself quiet as he can toward the gate behind him. He clumsily drags himself to his feet, realizing that his right leg is completely useless and struggles to lift the heavy wooden bar from the gate he eventually manages to and lets it drop, smashing the gate, which sticks tenaciously, open with his shoulder-just as he hears a shout and running feet behind him.
Outside of the manor he throws himself to the ground and tries to roll as fast as he can down toward the river. But his awkward start is enough for his pursuers to nearly catch up with him. As he rolls inelegantly down the hill, Hemmid runs after him and swipes at him with his shortsword, connecting several times and drawing blood. As George is mere feet away from the river, one last blow of the sword against his chest cuts deep and his hold on life falters and all gives way to darkness.
Tal and Rolan come to and find themselves stripped of all their clothes and possessions lying in a dark, tight hole, covered by boards and surrounded by dirt, uncomfortably poking rocks and scant bits of straw. Rolan gets Tal to help him try and break out through the boards, but with little effect. There is what seems to be a door, but it has a very heavy weight of some variety parked on top of it.
Before too long, sounds of activity come from above them; sounds of chopping and smells of cooking. Tal calls out to them and explains that he is in fact Sir Rolorick, a valiant and honourable knight, who has come to investigate strange occurrences at the manor. He begs the apparently two cooks to help him. Amazingly, they appear to believe him, and relate that he has heard one of his party was slain and the other escaped, but can give no other details. Tal asks that they help get them out of their uncomfortable hole, but the cook, Jassec, responds that he worries about consequences to himself and wonders if wandering naked through a manor house inhabited by enemies would really be wise. Jassec goes to check and see if any of the people are nearby and hurries back to warn them that Hemmid is approaching.
Two pairs of footsteps enter the kitchen and a voice says "let's get these guys out." Then the heavy weight is shoved loudly from over the prison cellar. Rolan and Tal feign unconsciousness as best they can as one of the men goes down into the cellar and hoists Tal out of it. Tal is lain on the floor, and poked. He lets out a grunt and Hemmid says, "This one's awake. Check the other one."
The other fellow makes his way back down into the hole, pokes Rolan and says he seems unconscious. As he moves away to climb back out, Rolan quietly gets to his feet and quickly grabs the man from behind, clamping his massive arms around his neck and squeezing hard before the poor fellow can get out much more than a strangled yell. Hemmid, perceiving a threat, and knowing that Tal might join in, whips out his shortsword and slices viciously at the young man, who is still lying prone on the floor; the beadle's blade strikes his neck deeply and viciously and Tal once more loses consciousness and barely hangs onto life.
Rolan grasps the man's neck tight until he slumps to the floor dead. The hole is deep enough that he can't see out of it to where Hemmid is, though he heard him move around to the side of the hole while he was busy strangling. He strips his newly killed foe and heaves him up out of the hole as a distraction, thin quickly hoists himself out to the floor. As he is half visible above the hole, he glances backward to where Hemmid is just in time to see a knife come flying straight at him. It strikes his face and he slumps back to the floor of the cell, unconscious.
(33) In Tashal, once more in the past, Micky challenges Girasz on the fact that besting a man already so close to being bested by the work of others is no glory at all. They agree to meet back at the clearing the next day to duke it out and determine a moral victor to the fight even though Girasz has taken the official winning spot.
Shortly after the battle as Micky heads to the medicine area to speak with Brumheckio and congratulate him on a battle well-fought, a man who carries himself with pride approaches him and asks for the wiry fella's identity, which is revealed him truthfully to be Micky. He introduces himself as /////// and says that he must speak with Micky. They decide to carry Brumheckio back toward the city where the man says he knows people who will be able to treat him with greater expertise.
As they depart from the crowd of onlookers and follow the trail into solitude, the man reveals his previously given identity to be false. He is Sir Rolorick and he has deigned to search out Micky and his companions, for he believes they are in grave danger and he may be of some assistance. He relates how he met Rolan and George in the ruins of Uvern almost a month earlier and heard their tale. Micky seems to remember hearing of this fellow, but informs him that his friends are unfortunately elsewhere, they've gone back to Northenden. Rolorick suggests that he will accompany Micky back and speak with them. Micky says good because he wouldn't know how to get there by himself anyway.
Sir Rolorick is a knight of Jad and so brings Brumheckio back to the church in Tashal for treatment. He speaks at length to Micky about why these illegal fights are immoral and wrong and that he should not take part in them any longer. Micky won't accept not getting to fight Girasz though, and argues in his own way for the importance of this event. Micky also insists that he cannot betray his friend Korbin, who makes his livelihood from this event. Rolorick is determined, though, that he will put an end to this business. He insists on speaking with the guards and Micky takes him to some, they don't seem particularly knowledgeable and suggest that he speak with their superior.
Then they end up back at the cathedral, and in a clever bid to keep Rolorick from poking around the boxing too much more, Micky asks him to tell him all about Jad. This is a subject about which Rolorick will happily speak at great length, and they talk long into the night. Micky manages to understand a bit of it, and eventually they fall to sleeping.
In the middle of the night they are both, along with all the others in the church, awakened by a great rumbling. Some vases tumble to the floor and shatter; it is as if the very ground itself is trembling slightly. The priests gather before the altar to discuss the importance of this. Jad has faced a mighty foe in the Demon-realms beneath the earth, they all agree, but whether he scored a mighty victory or suffered at their hands is a matter of some debate.
In the early morning the church bells peal merrily away, doing havoc with Micky and his hangover. He ends up curling up on the ground and vomiting during the morning prayer, which concerns Rolorick somewhat.
Rolorick wears his knightly attire (a chain mail suit and impressive sword) to the fight, and everyone gives him a rather wide berth. It is a close battle between Girasz and Micky, but the foreigner bows out in the end rather than risk being pummelled to death. Korbin is about to hesitantly offer Micky his winnings from the fight, but the wiry pugilist offers to accept only a healthy supply of whiskey in lieu of cash moneys and Korbin doesn't complain. A friend's a friend. And money is money.
Then Rolorick and Micky set out for Northenden. On the way, Sir Rolorick brings them to Iversen, a chapterhouse of The Lady of Paladins fighting order, where he spends time preparing spiritually for the mission ahead. Rolorick speaks with the clergy there to learn what he can about Northenden and its lord, Sir Osark. While there, Micky spends several days in a mostly horizontal position which allows the multitude of bruises he accrued in his boxing bouts to mostly heal. It also allows him time to fashion an impressive carving of Jad fighting the demon Azug'ra with his clenched fist delivering the killing blow. Micky has put his own slightly psychotic twist on the venerable religion of Jad, believing that Jad must surely be a boxer. He also becomes intrigued with the idea of becoming Rolorick's squire, or anyone's squire for that matter, but his knightly companion doubts he has the correct behavioural qualifications.
They depart from the abbey after several days and arrive in Northenden late on the first day of the month of Larane. Rolorick goes to introduce himself to Sir Osark and proclaims his plan to serve as protector to the Northender freedmen, Osark looks to Micky questioning on the man's trustworthiness and Micky vouches for him. Osark tells them that unfortunately the men are not to be found in Northenden, they, along with their friend Kendra have gone to Durrie following a fairly promising hunch. Rolorick resolves to follow them to Durrie the next morning, for who knows what danger they may be in.
Before long night has come and they end up at Tal's father's inn: the Blundering Widget. There they encounter Quinton and a fellow they don't recognize who timidly introduces himself as Imaren. He is an old friend of Kendra's, from before she left Durrie. He tells them she came to his house in the middle of the night, very badly injured, and told him that she and her friends had been in a grievous battle and are now in grave danger (perhaps captured by those in the manor). She begged him to go to Northenden to seek the aid of anyone who might give it and then fell unconscious from her wounds.
Rolorick, Micky, Imaren and Quinton resolve to set out for Durrie immediately. They arrive at the outskirts of the town while it is still dark, and Imaren slinks into the village to bring Kendra out to them. Rolorick is set on presenting themselves as a holy knight and his entourage looking to spend some time at the hunting lodge (not so far fetched, really); they will wait till mid-morning and then enter the village having allegedly set out from Iversen that morning. Micky's bid to act as Rolorick's squire is denied and they decide to pretend the boxer is a rapscallion that the knight took pity on in an effort to bring him into the light of Jad.
Kendra and Imaren return after the corners of dawn have crept into the sky's edge. Kendra looks quite injured. Her right leg is practically useless, at least for the time being, and she looks pale and haggard. After she's assured of Rolorick's trustworthiness she relates what happened [link]. She says that after the bloody fray she was the only one left conscious, and barely. She describes how she managed to jam the manor gate shut which allowed her time to bind the wounds of her downed comrades and crawl (rather than slip) away to the woods before more men from the manor forced the gate open and surveyed the carnage. Then she snuck around, finding Imaren's cottage, and thinking him the most trustworthy person in the town, gambled on going to him for help.
They discuss options for action. As a knight, Rolorick has every reason to be inside the manor and hopefully while there they will be able to locate the prisoners. They wait for the mid-morning and then head into the village, leaving Kendra, with Imaren for company, hidden in the woods, knowing that the conspirators are probably looking for the escaped one.
(34) Meanwhile, Tal recovers from unconsciousness and finds his surroundings changed. He is in almost total darkness, arms and legs fastened to an uneven, cold stone wall with metal. He is still naked. The air is cold and musty, as if underground. Eventually he hears activity and a voice that sounds like a fairly weathered male asking what they were doing in Durrie. Rolan comes to, but pretends to still be unconscious while the man questions Tal mostly unsuccessfully about Aldrazul, anything he might have been carrying including a potion, and where George found the strangely marked whistle he was carrying and whether he liked pigs.
The man says he is named Ralsk, and takes a relatively friendly approach, at least compared to Hemmid. He seems not to believe their story about hunting Taelda. He laments Hemmid's behaviour, saying George's death was unfortunate and that there are those who are part of the cause who go about things in ways that he does not approve of. He says that killing the prisoners is not on his agenda, especially if they co-operate in answering some questions, and reveals that he knows they are from Northenden (peculiar, especially coupled with the use of George's real name).
When he isn't satisfied with the answers he is receiving he says "we found some interesting herbs on your friend… coupled with what I have myself, we may see some interesting effects." He strikes a spark with flint, and sets afire a pungent smelling collection of plants in a bowl in front of their feet, and then leaves. At first their perception is heightened by the small fire. They see that their inquisitor is an older man with coarse grey hair and rugged appearance wearing a heavy brown robe. They both attempt to hold their breath to escape the strangely sweet smelling fumes and refuse to breathe long enough that they both lose consciousness.
When they recover, things are not as they once were. The world seems to have fallen off balance somehow, and things are not as they should be. They are questioned by a man and a woman, as far as they can tell, but the room seems to be wobbling and drenched in so much foreign colours and feelings and shapes that they have difficulty answering the questions about potions and notes, a man called Aldrazul, a town called Northenden, and a certain whistle, and reasons for coming to Durrie. They will also have difficulty remembering just what answers they gave when their minds are secured by the passing of time.
Alone, Rolorick presents an idea he has had. If they wish to subtly locate where prisoners are held, what better way then to have someone sent there as punishment, and what better subject than the rather rough around the edges Micky. They plot to have Micky "steal" Rolorick's purse and take it to the inn while the knight is out hunting in the afternoon.
The meal is good and shortly after, Rolorick dresses in his earthily toned hunting attire and heads out with the reeve in search of game. Micky tries to find things to carve in their room, waits for a little bit, grabs Rolorick's purse, drops out of the window to the ground and runs towards the inn. At the inn he loudly proclaims his coming into money and plonks a pound coin on the table, saying he will buy drinks for everyone present. The innkeeper speaks briefly to a fellow, who leaves, and plays along with Micky's own play for a while until Hemmid has a chance to arrive.
Hemmid acts characteristically gruff and rough and throws some knives erringly at the boxer as he sprints from the inn. Once Micky has returned his tankard to the inn, he resigns himself to being arrested, though is treated with a neck grab and a bit of dragging on the way to the manor.
As all this is happening, Quinton deigns to speak flirtatiously with one of the serving girls, who tells him some useful information. Renna says there were two prisoners who claimed to be Sir Rolorick and one of his retainers who had been fighting some manner of shady goings-on around Durrie. She says she and her friend Jassec, the head cook, who she hasn't seen since last night, believed the story because they have noticed strange things going on in the manor. People traipsing around at night, and Merrein leaving for several weeks in the winter. She says upon her return there was something unmistakably but hard to place that was different about her. In light of Sir Rolorick's arrival at the manor, she assumes this story was all or part untruthful.
As this conversation is unfolding, Hemmid drags Micky into the kitchen, throws Micky into the little pit and moves the weight over it again. "You'd better tell your master he's got a bad apple. Stole this." Hemmid passes Quinton the purse and all the money. Micky begins singing the lament of the terrible and tragedical tale of Micky the innocent and most unfortunately put-upon, making up the words as he goes. Quinton and Renna block the noise out as best they can and are soon approached by Jassec, who says he decided to do some snooping of his own last night. He saw the prisoners being moved out of the manor and into the woods. He dared not follow too closely, but he indicates to Quinton where the tracks went, and he examines them and follows.
The tracks go through the woods and meet up with the fateful path behind the metalsmith Ormul's house where crates of weapons were dragged and Kendra's family was slain. Quinton hears a rustling in the brush and sees a wolf who walks one way, walks the other and then goes off the path and out of sight. Then he sees Merrein pass down the path heading back toward the village - this might explain her absence at the noon meal. Quinton follows the reinforced tracks and finds himself at a brush-concealed entry at the base of a limestone rock face that rises higher than many of the surrounding trees.
He creeps inside and finds a passageway, branching out just inside the entrance. It is awkward going and does not look made by human hands at all. Quinton's scrabbling through the darkness reveals a few narrow pathways, a lot of must, and the unpleasant smell of decay and fur. As he crawls back to the entrance and takes the 'till now ignored right fork, he hears a noise behind him and finds himself confronted by a none-too-happy looking wolf. Quinton draws his sword and stands carefully, trying not to provoke the snarling carnivore. It jumps at him, though, teeth aiming for the young man's neck. Quinton's sword is too quick, though, and he manages to fell the beast before it can sink its teeth into his flesh.
Meanwhile, Rolan and Tal, who have by now mostly recovered from their forced trip, here a muffled yell and growling from to their right. "Hello?" "Who's there?" "Is that you, Quinton? It's Rolan and Tal! We're in here. Think there's someone else in here with us, though. So dark, it's hard to tell."
Ralsk moves toward Rolan and Tal, and strikes them both hard in the chest with a hard wooden haft. Rolan tries to fight back and loses hold of consciousness once more, but Tal remains still and manages to stay aware of his surroundings.
Quinton finds his way along the rock wall toward the voices of his captured friends. He finds they are in a room that seems accessible only through a rather small crawl way and he knows that as he comes through he will be vulnerable to the man his friends think is in the dark room with them. Quinton leaps through the entrance as fast as possible and scrambles to his feet, finding himself in total darkness. He can hear light footsteps nearby. Ralsk lunges at him and Quinton tries his best to fight the old man through the darkness, which seems to hamper him less than the farm boy. Tal, whose eyes have had some time to adjust to the dimness shouts directions, and with this help, Quinton manages to eventually bring his foe to the ground.
Quinton then goes about lighting a candle, freeing his comrades, and replacing them with Ralsk on the wall. Doing this, he notices the man wears two rings, one a familiar snake, and the other with a symbol matching that on the swords brought in by the strangely armoured men. He then does his best to get them carefully out of the cave and into the fresh air and then dragged a little bit away from the rock face and concealed.
Quinton then rushes into the woods where Rolorick is hunting and tells him of Micky (known to the Durriers as Irving) having stolen his coin, and then quietly that he has found their captured friends.
(35) Sir Rolorick heads back to the manor with the woodward, giving Quinton instructions to guide or carry Tal and Rolan to where Kendra and Imaren are waiting.
Rolorick arrives back at the manor and informs Merrein of his intent to depart and bring Irving (Micky) back with him and teach him properly the proper behaviour. Merrein seems surprised with his leniency. As a serving-fellow goes to retrieve Rolorick's possessions, Hemmid and another man haul Micky from out of his prison-hole and then rough him up as befits such a scoundrel, leaving some pretty nasty marks on a cocky but undefending Micky. Hemmid drags him out to Rolorick's mule (that was borrowed from Iversen) and ties him to it securely.
Rolorick and Micky head out of Durrie, follow the road for a bit and then cut into the woods and manage to reach Kendra and Imaren before Rolan, Tal and Quinton do. With the whole group finally reunited (save George, of course) they discuss what has transpired and their next course of action.
Tal (Rolan is still unconscious) tells them of their knowledge of George's death, and the quite frightening truth that this conspiracy knows their names, and knows they are from Northenden. They put pieces together about what happened in Durrie. They know Adrol, the merchant they travelled into town with, went to speak with the metalsmith upon arriving, and left, according to Imaren, early in the morning after the attack outside the manor. Evidence points to this merchant working with the conspiracy. The bringing of foreign chivalric weapons into the country by people who seem foreign is particularly worrying, especially for Rolorick who fears a potential invasion force. They also wonder about the holder of Durrie manor-Merrein holds it as bailiff for another noble, one Lord Bartyne, who lives one manor over. Does he know of what's going on in Durrie? Is he orchestrating it?
After this they must hastily decide on their next course of action. It is clear that Rolan and Tal need to rest a bit before doing anything else too ridiculous. The Royal Chelebin Tournament of Chivalry is soon to start in Olokand and they know Osark is going there to challenge Hargalen of Eichel. It is already late in the afternoon. Rolorick suggests they go to Iversen where there are people he can trust, as well as healers. Moreover it is fairly close to Olokand, and they can easily get to the tournament from there. All agree this plan is wise, and they set out, with Imaren returning to Durrie and Quinton travelling to Northenden to tell Osark what happened, and deliver the sad news of George's demise to his mother and fiancé. In nearby Stybrin Rolorick uses his stature to borrow a wagon to carry the three whose wounds slow them down badly (badly injured Tal, unconscious Rolan, and leg crippled Kendra). They arrive at Iversen just as the sun is setting on the second day of Larane.
Over the next week, Tal, Kendra and Rolan spend their time in the infirmary doing their best to recouperate. Rolorick speaks with the knight commander of Iversen, one Sir Kjer, about what has been going on, and his suspicions that something is a foot. Something that must be dealt with. When asked about Lord Bartyne, Sir Kjer says that he never would suspect the man of being involved with something so sinister, but those innocent seeming ones are sometimes the ones you have to look out for most.
After several days, Rolorick and other knights of the Order of the Lady of Paladins travel to Olokand to take stock of the town and such. As is expected for the largest tournament in all of Harn, there are throngs and throngs of people, both highborn and low. Rolorick takes up duty patrolling the town-proper, where there are many market squares, and keeping people in line, dunking drunkards, and quelling brawls. He works primarily with an old friend of the order named Sir Kalvis. The next day he notices Osark's arrival, with Quinton and Talin in tow, and greets them.
Some days later, Tal and Rolan feel up to making the journey to Olokand in the morning with some of the knights willing to keep their slow pace and sally forth. Once Kendra's leg is working properly again, she decides to go and try to stealthily keep an eye on Durrie and wait for the others to return. On their way into town, Tal and Rolan notice Adrol, the merchant, and make a note to mention this to their friends.
When the groups are united, they play witness, along with a group of knights Rolorick manages to gather, to Osark challenge Hargalen. He walks over to where he is camping in the knightly tent-city (quite close to Osark's due to their sharing of liege lords) and makes a stirring challenge. He takes the upper hand since Hargalen had no reason to prepare any sort of speech and Osark has been working on his for a few weeks. The crowd is sufficiently roused, and the duel is set to take place on the 19th day of Larane.
(36) After his challenge is issued, Osark meets with Rolan, Tal, Micky, Rolorick, Quinton to talk a bit about what has been happening. They believe the merchant Adrol is likely up to no good and so deign to keep an eye on him. Rolorick and Kalvis will try to locate him on their patrol, while Rolan and Tal set out to also try and find him. Micky stays back in Osark's tent. He is carving what he wishes to be his masterpiece so far, a carving of Queen Chelebin (the founder of the tournament) which Osark has decided to give to his liege as a gift in order to try and gain more favour than Hargalen before the duel. Impressed by Micky's generosity, Osark gave the pugilist a rather fine carving knife which he deems will work better than teeth.
Rolan and Tal eventually catch sight of him and attempt with a very slight degree of success to follow him without being seen. Their trailing leads them to the Amber Inn, where Adrol enters and then proceeds to a back room, which is impossible to inconspicuously follow him into. Rolan hurries around the building to locate and cover any back doors. He finds one, and peeks in to discover it leads to the kitchen, which is frequented enough that a strange man creeping toward another door would likely be noticed. Rolan spends some time trying to think of a way to get into the room, watches a keg delivery, but in the end sees no way to get in.
Tal, waiting in the bar, sees Adrol emerge and head up to the second floor of the packed inn. He waits a bit and follows up as stealthily as he can. He hears conversation in one of the rooms and one of the voices definitely seems to be Adrol's, but as he approaches the door, the conversation suddenly goes quiet and he hears footsteps coming toward the door. As the door opens, he plays at being drunk and stumbles away, not looking behind him. Rolan and Tal rejoin each other, and set up across the street each watching one of the entrances to see when Adrol leaves. They don't notice him leaving, but they do notice a man leaving the inn who definitely appears to be the dark haired lanky fellow they saw talking with Adrol when they arrived in Olokand that morning.
In the meantimes, Rolorick and Kalvis stroll around looking for Adrol, however they're only going on the description Tal relayed to them and haven't seen the fellow themselves. Rolorick does, however, catch sight of Girasz, the big beefy fellow who was the official winner of the bareknuckle boxing tournament in Tashal. They trail him for a time (hard for mailed knights to be quiet about such things) and catch up to him as he takes a drink outside of the Amber Inn (in view of Tal and Rolan who recognize him as the other man seen speaking with Adrol).
Rolorick talks big at Girasz who seems appropriately intimidated. Though he also appears much less a beast than in Tashal, demonstrating pretty complex reasoning abilities he'd hidden while howling and bashing heads in the ring. Girasz says he's just in town to partake in the festivities and enjoy the pageantry. Rolorick presses him about any illicit fighting competitions going on, and the big man reveals that there is one going on outside of the town that night. He is advised against being there and then left alone.
Except by Rolan, who decides to follow him. He goes some fairly uninteresting places, until it appears he realizes he is being followed. When confronted, Rolan claims he was following him to find out where the fights were. Girasz doesn't quite seem to buy this, and says sneaking after someone doesn't seem like the most polite of habits and then makes threatening motions toward his sword. Rolan departs, but waits around a corner to try and follow the big man again, but he doesn't appear so he goes back to the camp.
Sir Rolorick brings his knowledge of this illicit fighting activity to Sir Kjer and manages to deftly convince him that significant action must be taken to send a message to all other would-be criminals. Sir Kjer agrees to give him command of four other knights and some of the local guard to see this unJadly monstrosity stamped out. The boys from Northenden also are eager to come out for the fun that it will surely amount to.
The law enforcement fellows gather outside of the fighting area to scope out the situation, and Rolorick outlines the plan: they will wear regular tunics over officious looking sun-adorned tabards, and weave amongst the crowds, looking to spy out pickpockets and others involved in unseemly activities. Then Rolorick, Kalvis and one other extremely large knight will run to the centre of the ring and announce the arrival of justice. The guards and knights will then reveal their tabards and form a circle around the throng to try and keep any from leaving while the offending parties and those who fought will be whipped for their transgressions.
To start things off, the short ringmaster goes to the centre and declares that here common people can achieve the glory reserved only for knights at the tournament proper. The fighting starts. Micky evades the protective custody of his assigned knight and warns people in the audience he knows from Tashal that they should clear out soon, and several comply. Rolorick talks to the organizer about the number of fights and such (it seems there is no specifically delineated pattern to the fights, just whoever, whenever). After a few rounds, Rolorick goes to the centre and makes his announcement. The crowd is stunned and a bit restless, and the whippings start.
As this is going on, a small group of people in the crowd tries to dart through the perimeter of armed guards, gets cut off, and a fight ensues. Rolan glances over and notices that one of the knights seems to have fallen and he immediately rushes into the almost played out melee. As Rolan arrives he catches a vicious short sword cut in the chest and loses consciousness. One of the four or five attempted escapees has gotten free of the fray and is dashing toward the woods, but he can't outrun Micky even with a considerable head start. The man is tackled and pummelled in short order. Tal reaches the site of the melee after it has been dealt with, but he is quick to attend to the fallen knight, who has been incapacitated by his wounds.
(37) The whippings are finished quickly and the prisoners attended to. Micky's prey seems to have inadvertantly died, and the others are bound, in order to be dragged to a little pen in the noble's tent-city for minor criminals (there wouldn't be enough room for everyone in the castle's dungeon). Micky and Tal's search of the attackers/attempted escapees reveals them to be fairly conventional mercenary types, except the larger one who did most of the damage, whose face and skin show experience and many scars, his clothes are a little more colourful and jewelled. He is The wounded who will require more extended care than a simple bandage (Sir Justin, the felled knight, and Rolan) are brought at the same time to a healing tent in the religious knights' area. With no one in much of a state to be doing any talking, the others depart for bed.
In the morning, Rolorick visits the sicktent and confers with Sir Justin, who they say will make a full recovery, about the punishment that should be rendered upon the miscreant knight assaulter. Rolan from his pallet nearby urges kindness, or at least argues that death would be too harsh a punishment. Sirs Rolorick and Kalvis go to visit the prisoners, though it takes a few tries for them to be awake. This allows for them to attend the resplendant official opening ceremonies of the tournament. After the ceremony, they return to see the prisoners. The tanned and scarred fellow introduces himself as Ulthisel and his voice betrays a hint of an eastern accent. Rolorick points this out and Ulthisel says he hasn't been there in quite some time. He also says he thinks an invasion of Kaldor wouldn't be on Rethem's agenda since they're busy being at war with Tharda and Kanday. There is a great deal of conversation, in which he says the other captured soldiers were just hired mercenaries, and eventually Ulthisel claims he can lead them to Telin the Red... in exchange for his unconditional release, naturally.
Rolorick and Kalvis arrange to escort Ulthisel out into the forst where they, in theory, can speak privately. Ulthisel says that he has been unfortunately involved with some number of bad people, and that due to this he can reveal the location of the famous bandit Telin the Red. He is well-spoken, and seems honest. He also alludes to the fact that he may have committed acts which keep him from wanting to be seen by others in the royal encampment. Despite Rolorick's ethical arguments on redemption and salvation, the prisoner insists that the only way his deal will work, is if they stand, just the three of them, in this clearing: he will tell them the information they need, then he will depart. He says he will leave this town well enough alone and not cause any trouble any longer. He is most insistant that others not be involved in these dealings, though he is vague about his reasons for this, beyond that there are allegedly those who might try and do him harm. Rolorick insists that Ulthisel must lead them to the bandit himself and only then will be able to go free. Ulthisel is unenthused, and says he will take the night to think it over.
Rolorick then returns to the sicktent to talk this over with Justin and Rolan, and Tal who happens to be there. The knights are not keen on going along with this miscreant's demands. They are extremely eager, however, to locate Telin the Red especially given that he has recentlyfocused his raiding on holdings of the church. Ultimately it is Justin's choice to exact punishment on Ulthisel if and as he sees fit, but he is unsure. Kalvis suggests some good old fear and torture might be a good way of getting the truth out, without having to let the bastard go. They don't even need to turn him over to the inquisitors when they have Ona Setrum nearby, just hold him over the edge and see how long his smugness can last! (Ona Setrum is a terrifying, soul sucking pit. Legend has it that long ago a villager was being particularly nasty and the ground itself opened up to swallow him. Ona Setrum is that maw, and until recently was used to officially dispose of prisoners, though now it is only employed for mob justice, if the mob is roused enough to go near it.)
Rolan argues fervently against such methods of extracting information, calling into question the veracity of the resultant claims. He also suggests that it might prove to be extremely beneficial for them to let this man go, but then follow him. Perhaps that would lead them into some very important criminal dealings. Rolorick says he'll think about it, and it all depends on what decision Ulthisel comes to the next day. When Osark comes to check on Rolan's recovery, the potential woodward tells him about what has happened, and asks if there is anything Osark might be able to do to try and make sure that they don't give up this opportunity. There is a great chance, he feels, that this Rethemi is involved in the conspiracy somehow. Osark agrees to speak with Sir Kjer about it.
Before Osark has the chance to do so, however, Rolorick visits with the same knight commander of his chapter of the Order of the Lady of Paladins and explains the situation, asking for advice. Sir Kjer is equally at a loss as far as what exactly would be the best thing to do, though he definitely feels the chance to capture cannot be turned down. Imagine the honour and glory of capturing one of the greatest criminals in the country in time to be hung at the grand executions on the eighth day of the tournament! In any case, it will be difficult to proceed further until Ulthisel has had time to come to a conclusion on the offer.
In the evening Micky sets out to the scuzzier part of town, in and around the Amber Inn. In an effort to try and locate Adrol, he enquires after weapons-sellers. He sets up a meeting with one, named Drader, and tells the confused dealer that he is looking to buy swords. As much sword and chain as he can, as how else would one carry out an uprising. Drader wryly promises to keep him in mind should he ever come across any, but says he has not recently. Micky then spends much coin on all the inn's patrons, to ensure that on his return he will be greeted favourably.
That night the guard around the pen holding the captured criminals is doubled, in case Ulthisel's asking for more time was only a way to delay any action until ... something. Ulthisel stays up late, talking quietly with the men captured alongside him, but he doesn't make any moves and eventually falls into sleep.
Bright and eaerly the next morning, the thirteenth day of Larane, is the start of the first day of jousting: the round of 128. Our heroes, however, have other things on their minds. Rolorick visits with Ulthisel, who says that he does not accept the terms. It is either his way or the deal is off.
Rolorick says that he must have some kind of assurance that this information is in fact true. Ulthisel says how can someone reveal just part of a location and time; it is the same as the assurance, after all, that he himself will not simply be attacked upon being freed. He says that Telin the Red is not always the same person, but only the lieutenant who happens to wear the red mask at any given time, but there is a man at the centre of the operation who goes by the name of Telin permanently. Rolorick, after some pondering (these are a few days of much ponderings), suggests that he reveal some people who work with Telin the Red as proof of the knowledge he has. Ulthisel thinks, and then describes two. There is a merchant in the town named Aelebar, a fence who re-sells the goods stolen by Telin, but he would be very difficult to get any information out of. There is also an arms-dealer named Drader who has had dealings with Telin the past. He may be more willing to speak, though, as they have had a falling out. Ulthisel also provides a description of Telin which could be confirmed by another who has dealt with the bandit leader himself.
Sir Rolorick tells his associates from Northenden about this, and asks if they could keep an eye on these individuals, as they could blend in better than knights. Over the next day Aelebar does nothing particularly suspicious. They locate his stand and watch him sell things for a time, pee and eat every now and then, then wheel his cart over to a tent, fork some coin over to a guard, then snore. Micky informs them he knows exactly where to meet with Drader, at the Amber Inn every evening is where he makes his contacts. A paladin (a term by which all those following the rules of chivalry laid out by St Larani, the lady of paladins) is sent in disguise to the inn that night to set up a bogus weapons deal. He informs Drader he has a large stash of weapons he is interested in selling, and plans to meet him in the forest the next morning to have a look. It will, of course, be a trap. Tal and Quinton stay around in the inn, subtly trying to determine whether Drader will plan on bringing reinforcements to the meeting. Hanging about that same night, Rolorick hears the rising rumour that King Miginath will make an important announcement at the conclusion of the tournament. Of course the only logical announcement would be to name an heir. Since he has a few bastard children, those with political interest are eager for the news indeed.
Midmorning on the 14th, Drader shows up in the designated wooded spot. He has brought three men as reinforcement, when the armoured knights and bowmen step out from behind the trees, all three quickly depart; one even returns the five pennies he'd taken for the job. Rolorick questions Drader at length, who reveals that he has in fact had dealings with Telin the Red, provides a matching description, and says they had a falling out when he failed to deliver what Telin wished for. He also reveals that he has met Ulthisel before, when the Rethemi was trying to buy poison, something much more esoteric than what Drader deals in. The dealer is then allowed to go on his way, sworn not to say what happened in the clearing, probably for his own protection more than anyone else's.
That night, Rolorick and Kalvis pay Aelebar's tent a visit, pay the guard handsomely to go off momentarily and take a piss, and then spend little effort in surrounding the tent and grabbing hold of the fairly scrawny fence as he tries to flee. He is then moved discretely to an empty tent provided by Sir Kjer where no one who might be able to get word of warning to Telin will see him.
(38) Rolorick, who rested up extensively in the afternoon in preparation for a long night, confronts Aelebar with the accusation of working for Telin the Red and demands information. The interrogation lasts for several hours, but eventually, given the promise of amnesty, Aelebar reveals that he has worked with the bandit. He says he was enlisted as a fence, selling the goods that Telin plundered and passing on the profits. His answers that seem to corroborate what Ulthisel has been saying about Telin, but reveals he doesn't have a specific way of finding Telin or getting in touch with him, as it's always done the other way around. Aelebar says that if he doesn't show up to his stall tomorrow, as Telin has an extensive network of spies, certain people might notice and think something is amiss. Due to this he suggests they let him go so their plan isn't compromised (undoubtedly he doesn't want them thinking he's talked to the law). Rolorick aquiesces and lets him return to his little tent.
As soon as this is done, Rolorick knows that quickest action is of utmost importance. He has enough information to believe that Ulthisel has been telling the truth, and must pray that it isn't a trap and that they can mount an attack quickly and covertly enough so that the bandit is not tipped off. He immediately goes to Sir Kjer's tent and has a guard rouse the knight commander. They start assembling a force and strategizing, still well before the sun is risen. Then Rolorick goes to wake Rolan and Tal in the sicktent, telling them what has happened and that he intends to take Ulthisel out into the woods, as per his arrangement, as soon as the sun has lent some light to the morning. Rolan and Tal quickly rise and prepare to head where the knights are congregating. The mission will need reconnaisance, and people skilled in the ways of the woods to carry it out: the boys from Northenden seem like good candidates.
Rolorick and Kalvis then assemble Ulthisel's possessions and a map and lead him from the prison pen out into an isolated part of the woods. He is pleased they have agreed to his proposition. He tells them about Telin's encampment in great detail. It is on a hill in the middle of the forest, not that far from Abriel, and closer to several villages than anyone would ever have expected. There are no real permanent buildings beyond several huts, a defensive trench dug around the perimeter and various traps spread through the surrounding forest. The hill is quite steep, but there is a more gently sloped track that winds up it. It is impossible to know exactly how many men will be there, Ulthisel expects somewhere around fifteen, but it's possible there would be thirty, however more than that is unlikely. Telin also has, reportedly, stowed away a large amount of treasure perhaps nearby the camp, but Ulthisel was unable to locate it. Rolorick returns the gear, Ulthisel indicates the location on a map and departs.
The strikeforce is assembled, trying to get the right balance so the force will be able to take the camp with minimal casualties, but not detected beforehand. There is always the very real risk that as soon as Aelebar, or even Drader, was released, they went straight to one of Telin's men. In the end, they decide on a force consisting primarily of paladins and a few trusted outside knights (including Sir Osark, who is happy to find a way to garner some glory to impress his liege before the duel with Hargalen) and their most trusted of retainers. The retainers will form a perimeter around the camp to capture any bandits (especially Telin) that might try to escape, while the main force will attack the camp directly, on foot. That is, if the reconaissance team determines that the camp does exist.
Rolan and Tal, accompanied by two knights (Sir Banoc and Sir Thamarus), ride out at first light toward the alleged bandit camp. The knights will wait at the perimeter of the forest for news, or to report back to the squad. The two boys from Northenden make their way into the woods (both of them thankfully healed enough by now to be moving at full speed). They keep as alert as they can and periodically locate trees for Tal to climb to see if he can spy the hill that's purportedly home to bandits. The whole area is quite hilly which precludes seeing for any great distance at once, but eventually Tal catches sight of a hill that is mostly stripped of trees, though it is too far away to see in detail, they assume that this is the one and make their way carefully toward it.
As they near the camp, Rolan notices several well hidden tripwires and pit traps, which they attempt to mark subtly by breaking tree branches and leaning them against nearby trees. They near the edge of the trees by the hill, but cannot see anything on its cap due to the angles. So they retreat into the cover of the trees and begin to skirt the hill which they assume holds the encampment. As they are walking, Rolan notices the ground beneath him is suddenly soft, and not entirely firm. As he begins to sink, he notices that the ground for several yards all around him is also collapsing. He yells at Talto stay back; the young man, about to lunge after his friend, barely manages to evade the zone of destruction. Rolan disappears in a shower of leaves and branches and dirt and lands hard on a pile of logs and rocks, then is buried by the leaves and harder items that fall after him. He cries out in pain as he feels a hard jagged stone bore into his back.
It will take some time to remove Rolan from the rubble and he yells out to Tal to stay back because this close to the camp the bandits have very likely been alerted. Tal looks around to try and find a very secure, nearby hiding spot and not long after that he hears the sound of people approaching. Through the trees he sees two men, armed, albeit fairly lightly, and with a large hunting dog in tow. He remains as still as he possibly can as they near the edge of the pit.
"Look at that. It's like the ground just gave way!" says the first. The two new arrivals determine to head down into the pit, saying there may be a bear or something down there. One descends and starts poking around under the leaves with a stick; Rolan stays perfectly still, and though the stick brushes agaist his arm at one point, the man seems satisfied there is no one down there and climbs out. "Must have got away; better check around." Rolan notices that their next verbal exchange has a markedly different tone to it; Tal is oblivious to this, but not about to run out and present himself to these strangers anyway. As they turn their eyes and the hound turns its nose toward the woods nearby, Tal does as best as he can to sneak back away from them. After a false alarm where the dog locates some tasty mushrooms, it looks like the two new fellows, now definitely assumed to be bandits, get sight of the tracks. Tal quickens his pace, and as he does so he crunches a dry twig rather too loudly. The two bandits perk up, look right at him and start toward him.
Tal starts away from them as fast as he can. It is a long and winding chase, as all three runners are quite evenly matched and the hound is thankfully staying with its masters instead of tearing on ahead. Tal does his best to return to the area he and Rolan recently scouted out, trying to run very close to the pit traps he knows are there in an effort to lead his pursuers to fall into them. On the third try the hound stumbles into one and is out of the running, but the two bandits are still in hot pursuit. Tal knows they may catch up soon and he may have to fight, so starts thinking about what the best place to take a stand would be, and then he realizes he has no idea where he is. Meanwhile, Rolan takes his moment alone as an opportunity to try and climb up out of the pit, but it proves too much a strain for him and he fades into unconsciousness.
Tal continues running. One of the pursuers is close by still but he doesn't know the location of the other. He plans on swinging out of the way at the next feasible spot to hide. As he rounds a ridge on a hill, he comes into a clearing, briefly notices a rocky shape in the middle before he swings around and dodges behind a tree, waiting for the bandit to catch up. He doesn't, though. There is a space of time longer than it should be for him to catch up, and Tal grows worried, but then he sees the bandit running, past the clearing in the wrong direction at full speed. Somewhat confused, Tal turns and looks at the clearing.
It is a small glade, and the surrounding trees hang over it protectively letting through soft, glimmering light. There are delicate blue wildflowers peppered throughout the grass and the air is cool and refreshing. Tal feels his considerably tapped strength begin to return, and much quicker than he would expect. There is a strange warmth in the coolness of the glade. His curiousity overcomes him and he moves forward into the clearing to examine the rock in the centre. It is of considerable size and shaped by something other than wind and rain. Upon its surface lie intricate markings, carved into the stone, and covered with lichen, yet easy to read. Tal realizes immediately that they resemble in many ways the whistle that George Owen found shortly after protectiong Sir Orion in the woods. (George had also confided in him that he believed this knight was actually a pagan god named Puwayse). Soon he feels completely rested and realizes it is difficult to determine which direction he is facing, in this glade it seems the sunlight does not behave exactly as it should.
Tal leaves the clearing and manages to find his way back to the pit where his friend lies unconscious. He sees no signs of his pursuers, and carefully goes about lifting Rolan out of the pit and fashioning a travois, with which he intends to bring him back to the glade, hoping that it will also make his friend feel invigorated. On the way back (he hopes, as he is not exactly sure where it is) Rolan's eyes flutter open and Tal excitedly tells him that he has found a magical glade he thinks perhaps will be able to somehow heal them. Tal, with more difficulty than he would expect, manages to find the glade again and he and Rolan rest there for some time (it is truly difficult to know how much), and indeed they feel their wounds begin to pain them less.
(39) Rolan and Tal are quite comfortable in the newfound glade, but they resolve that they had better try and get back to their knight escort and back to Olokand sooner rather than later in order to inform Kjer and Rolorick of what they found. Especially since it's rather difficult to keep track of how much time has passed since they entered the beautiful clearing. They manage, with some effort, to find their way back to the road and move toward where they left Sirs Banoc and Thamarus.
As they draw near, they hear the sound of metal on metal, and soon they see two armoured men fighting on the grass beside the road. They cautiously approach, weapons drawn, and soon realize that one of the men fighting is Sir Banoc, and the other, as he turns, appears to be Sir Thamarus. They are fighting desparately, punctuated by curses and yells, and definitely after blood. As Tal draws nearer he demands that they drop their weapons. "What and let this traitorous bastard slay me?" snarls Banoc. "Don't listen to his lies! He is the enemy of justice" cries Thamarus.
The two young men from Northenden are nearly upon the fighting knights and are about to intervene forcefully just to hear what each has to say before choosing sides and definitively skewing the balance. Banoc declares that Thamarus is working for the bandits and had tried to drug him and slip away to warn them of the impending attack. Thamarus denies this indignantly, and turns to run, an act that in the minds of Rolan and Tal pin him as the definite culprit. They are hesitant to draw arms against a knight of St. Larani but Banoc informs them they have his blessing in it, and all three of them give chase.
Not long into the chase Banoc succumbs to his wounds and cannot continue. Rolan, already badly injured from his fall, stays with the fallen knight while Tal chases Thamarus off into the woods. Thamarus rids himself of his shield to allow him faster movement, but after a half hundred yards or so he realizes that he won't be able to outrun his pursuer and turns to fight. The poorly armed and armoured, less experienced fighter, however, turns out to be much more of a potent adversary than he would have guessed. Or perhaps lady luck is on Tal's side today. Thamarus is quickly downed, and Tal brings the body back to the road.
The two Northenders wonder what to do with the bodies of two badly injured knights and their two mounts. They worry of being misjudged given their surroundings, but they are very close to the abbey at Abriel so they decide to have Rolan stay with the downed knights and their steeds while Tal approaches those at the abbey for help. He will have to be careful, of course, not to speak too broadly of what happened as traitors are often not working alone.
Tal arrives in the abbey, and gains an audience with the abbot who agrees to send an ostler and a healer to attend to the horses and wounded, respectively. While he is still away, Banoc regains consciousness and relates to Rolan the events that precipitated the fight between the knights. He had thought Thamaraus was acting a bit peculiarly for much of the day. And while they were waiting for the scouts to return it seemed as though he were trying to inconspicuously slip away. Then after sharing bread and mead for a meal, he began to grow suspiciously drowsy. He fought off the urge to sleep, but played as if he'd been taken by the drug, only to watch as his companion drew his sword and came toward him. He was ready though, and engaged his opponent in the battle that Rolan and Tal witnessed the end of.
A little concerned that a noble paladin could be a traitor, Rolan and Tal head back toward Olokand to reveal the results of their scouting (not including, of course, the mysterious healing glade). On the way back they put Thamarus (still unconscious) into custody at nearby Abriel. A search of his body reveals a red cloth mask, labelling him as one of Telin's lieutenants.
Sir Kjer hears the news of treachery and is grave, but knows that this mission must still proceed. Roloick says Rolan and Tal have served beyond their duty and are free to rest while the attack is on, but both, despite Rolan's serious injury, don't want to miss the action.
The company of knights and men-at-arms, numbering some sixty men (twenty knights and twenty of their retainers, with twenty common guard supplement to form a perimeter around the camp should anyone attempt to flee), will set out at first daylight and proceed toward the camp. They will leave their mounts at Abriel and go through the woods stealthily and on foot, the perimeter arriving later. Sir Kjer has decided to proclaim that this is a military parade in honour of St Ambarathas, whose feast day is today, in order to allay suspicions.
On the way Sir Kjer describes his personal history with the bandit leader. Telin has led a series of attacks on the manors in the area with surprising impunity. One strike several months ago took out two of Kjer's honoured knights: Sir Baen Ellin, and . Since then he has stepped up the attacks in the area. This opportunity to put a definite end to the plundering has whet the knight commander's appetite for security, but more so for revenge.
They wend through the woods, and near the hill and the bandit camp Sir Kjer invokes the spirit of Jad in a quiet prayer, and sends the men in as much silence as they can over the brush and up toward the crest of the hill. The battle goes generally well for the knights, if such can ever be said of men killing men. The knights achieve some element of surprise, though it is clear the bandits were expecting something-though certainly not this. The initial charge up the hill, where the bandits have the advantage of firing arrows down on the attackers, succeeds and the knights achieve a foothold at the top of the ridge. Osark and Rolorick both fight with astounding abandon and success, the former aided by Rolan's determined protection which allows him to fight more daringly.
As the battle moves to the bandit encampment, they exploit their knowledge of their home terrain and lure some of the knights into some small-scale traps and ambushes. This proves not enough to turn the tide however, after all the bandits, at about seventeen men, are severely outnumbered and out-equipped. The bandit camp itself consists of not much more than a few shoddily constructed huts, and a hitch with three clearly stolen horses.
Osark moves toward the centre of camp and he recognizes one of the horses as his own mount, which was taken from him when Gurt kidnapped Marya's baby at the beginning of Peonu (the event that caused Rolan, Errol, Tal, Quinton and George to leave Northenden and its surrounds for the first time). He grins at Rolan and he moves to free his long lost steed.
Not long after, the remaining bandits lay down their arms or are subdued forcefully, though a few escape down the side of the hill. Unfortunately, Telin the Red is not in evidence, based on the description provided by Ulthisel, and those questioned (that being anyone available) swear that he was present when the attack started, but is not anymore. The few stragglers who fled the scene are rounded up by the perimeter guard, and Tal tries to find the healing glade again under the pretence of searching for Telin with Rolorick and Rolan, but cannot. Micky finds a chest buried under a hut with some jewellery money and a holy book (he makes a showy necklace from the pound coin). But no sign of Telin the Red.
The wounded are tended to, the bandit dead are put into earth on their former camp, two slain paladins are wrapped in stately shrouds and carried with the procession that returns whence it came. As they ride, Kjer, at the head of the column, turns to Rolorick with a thoughtful look. "Count for me the number of knights for me," he says, "Twenty we brought. Three slain and five badly wounded, plus the thirteen marching in order behind me, by my count, make twenty one. It would appear there is an impostor among us"
While considering the best way to discover the impostor without alerting him as to their intentions, Micky shouts out "Why don't we have a prayer. That's what you're always doin' anyway." Sir Kjer realizes that despite it coming from Micky, this is rather a good idea. He calls a halt to the procession and intones a blessing while he and others scan the assembled kneeling knights. Suddenly Sir Kjer freezes in apparent shock. They follow his gaze to a sandy blonde knight casually moving his head from easy view. Micky runs for the knight while Rolorick yells, "there is a traitor among us" and points. Micky gets the knight pinned, and some gasps of disbelief are heard from those gathered. Kjer strides purposefully and hits the man sharply with his mail-clad hand. It is Baen, the knight though slain by Telin the Red. But he is not dead: he's the bandit, instead.
Rather dejected by this exposure of another treachery done by one so trusted, and undoubtedly connected with Thamarus' (the two knights were often seen together, after all), the company returns with haste to Olokand intent on putting Baen behind bars before there can be opportunity for further treachery to free him. Sir Kjer instructs the knights to at least put on the pretence of being joyful and not let the knowledge of treasonous paladins spread around too much.
The military platoon returns to Olokand and Telin is handed over to the proper authorities. Rolan and Tal have the honour of escorting the bandit down through the cellar of the castle to the gaol. Tal goes to partake in the feasting, while Rolan returns to the healing tent that he has seen so much of these last few days.
(40) Coming Sometime