Herger grinned at Leopold and said, "My father told me to never make a wager with a man in his own house; or if you don't think that you can win. I believe you are probably right. Still, though, that is a fair amount of gold.. I do not know if we can repay you right now. Your great hospitality has already been Sigmar's blessing."
Leopold removed his pipe and jabbed the stem at Herger. "Hospitality is what Esmeralda asks of us all. You can repay me by keeping my daughter safe and returning her to me hale and hearty." After this comment, delivered in all sincerity, he broke in to a laugh, "But you can pay me the gold, too!"
The company discussed their plans for the day, but were soon interrupted by the arrival of young Whiffle and two ponies. "Here you are Master Gold," he said with a smug grin.
Herger gave a grin, briefly wondered what profit the Halfling had made from the deal and began looking over the acquired ponies.
Maewyn walked over with a smile at the young Whiffle she said, "You have done a fine job they look like sturdy little beast. Would their previous owner have given a name to the charming ai'rokko."
"This one is Karl and that one is Klaus," said Whiffle. "They're brothers."
Maewyn looked them over and decided that they were young and healthy animals, suitable for the use the party intended to put them. Herger, less familiar with horses not already attached to carts, nonetheless agreed.
Maewyn allowed both Karl and Klaus to smell her hand and than scratched them on their noses as she became familiar with the personalities of the two ponies.
"Brothers are they? Well Karl here seems to be the feistier one of the two while Klaus appears to be more even tempered one. They are fine animals and I am sure that they will serve us well." As Karl butted her Maewyn gently slapped him as she spoke, "I fear that you will not find anything of interest to eat in my herb bag but I am sure that Whiffle could supple me with food that you will find better tasting than my herbs."
"Yes Mistress," he said. "There is fodder in the stable - and maybe even an old apple or two."
With a laugh Maewyn spoke to the two horses, "See that Karl fodder and even maybe an apple much better tasting than bitter herbs."
Taking the reins of the two horse she smiled at Whiffle, for she was now on ground that she was more familiar with, "Lead on young sir let us I do believe that the brothers are hungry. Also I do not know if it has been mentioned but we will be in need of supplies to take care of these beauties' - combs, hoof picks and the like to make sure they stay in the peak of health."
Maewyn folled Whiffle to the stable to take care of them and make sure they were ready for their new duties.
Marri looked at the new members of their party with interest, and grinned as Traveller sat down a little way from the ponies to regard them with an interest equal to her own.
"At least I do not have to worry about how we will carry the supplies we shall need!" she said, watching Maewyn confidently handle the ponies. "Tell me exactly what you will want for them Maewyn" she called to the elf as she moved away with the ponies, "I'll add it to the list of things I will want to get for us!"
Traveller followed Maewyn and the ponies, though she kept a bit of a distance. It was obvious she wasn't entirely sure how she felt about these new traveling companions. With a lifted eyebrow Marri mumbled, "Nor am I my friend, nor am I." Marri thought back to her previous experience with the larger version of ponies - horses. It hadn't been especially pleasant. But as the ponies were a bit more halfling sized, she thought she might get along with these a bit better.
"Shall I go buy supplies for us tomorrow Herger? Then we could leave early the next day? I know we must not tarry, still I hope another night will not be amiss?" Saying this, her eyes strayed to her sister, just now coming in their direction, laughing and waving.
Herger nodded at Marri's question, "Staying one more night should not present a problem as long as we can set out early on the morrow. I will trust to you and Maewyn to gather the right supplies. Just keep in mind that we will be in the mountains, eventually."
Each companion spent the next day in their own fashion. Herger relaxed and thought anxious thoughts. Maewyn spent most of the day working with the ponies, although she did help Marri with some of the shopping. Marri went on a whirlwood shopping of Moot Crossing, purchasing a wide varieties of supplies and packing them carefully, consulting with Maewyn on the best way to distribute the load.
It was just before dawn the day of the party's leave-taking when Marri slipped into the kitchen and found her mother and father there ahead of her, sitting at the table, quietly having tea. She walked over and put a jingling leather pouch on the table.
"For the ponies," she said, looking at her father.
Then looking down at her feet she continued in a rush, "Father... I wouldn't want to leave... without telling you...I mean... I know I left home last time without exactly getting your permission, but... well, this is different... and as I might not be coming back... I mean this could be... well it has been already I guess... dangerous ... I just want you to know... and Mum too of course ... that I ... well... I love you both very much... and... and... I'm sorry I wasn't quite the daughter you wanted... and perhaps I may have done, and may do I suppose some things that are.. well just not such good things... but...this is so very important... and I do hope... if we succeed that is of course... that you will yet be ... at least a little bit... proud of me!" At this point Marri looked up at her parents again, out of words, with tears running down her little face.
Leopold gathered his daughter in his arms. "I've always been proud of you, little flower. You've made your way in the world, and succeeded where many others have failed. This is always your home, if you want it." He pushed her to her mother, who merely hugged her and cried. After a moment, her father spoke again. "Your companions are waiting."
For a few moments, Marri simply held her mother tightly. Then taking a deep breath, she pulled away, and wiped the tears from her eyes. She smiled at her mother, nodded once at her father, and walked out to meet her waiting companions.
Calling Traveller to her, she said to Herger and Maewyn "Ready to go?"
Herger answered Marri in the affirmative and moved to take the reins of one of the ponies. Having said his thanks and goodbyes to the Golds earlier he waved to them as he turned and began leading the group off to the South, meaning to follow the Aver's tributary towards the mountains.
The first leg of the trip was easy, allowing the travellers to get used to their new mode. They followed the small river upstream, pushing themselves perhaps a little harder than they needed to, to see what they could do. After a few hours, Marri was rummaging in one of the packs for a snack and found a purse with her father's sign on it; inside were 50 gold crowns.
Marri smiled to herself on seeing the purse, and quietly sent a heartfelt thank you to her thoughtful father.
As night was coming on, they say lights ahead and they gave the little extra effort needed to make it to Rivergrove, the last halfing settlement in the Moot. It was much smaller than Moot Crossing, with only a few houses and a single Inn.
Marri had seldom been so glad to see any place. "It has been quite awhile since I walked so much! Even Traveller looks tired! I should really like a nice clean bed, but I don't suppose they will have any place large enough for Herger and Maewyn. Still perhaps there will be a barn... and surely they will let us sleep there. Its not such a sacrifice to give up a bed to sleep where my friends will be. Ah well, at least there is likely to be plenty of food and ale. And perhaps my friends would not begrudge me a hot bath! Who knows when we shall have the opportunity again?"
Although the Inn had no facilities for Big'uns to sleep, the innkeeper did offer them the use of the barn, free of charge with their dinner.
The next morning, the little band set out on the next leg of their journey, this one into the wildest and most uncivilized land they had yet travelled. None of the group had skill as a hunter, nor did they possess any weapons suitable for hunting, but among their gear were a few hooks and some line and they try their luck at fishing for a bit after making camp for the evening. They did manage to augment their evening meals with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, since Maewyn kept her eyes open as they travelled and proved adept at identifying suitable edible plants.
On the third night, Maewyn was on second guard shift, when a noise caught her attention. Something seemed unusual off to the landward side, the side away from the river. Turning her gaze that way, she saw what appeared to be a man creeping up on the camp. His path would take him around the sleeping figures and up toward Maewyn herself.
Maewyn kept the man in her side vision until he was within bow range and close enough to her that she could talk to him without waking the group by having to shout. She gripped her bow quite firmly as if she meant business. "I see you friend why do you not come out of hiding and tell me what you believe you thought you were doing."
The man, for it was a man, stood carefully and came towards her slowly, "Easy there, missy," he said. He was dressed in a mail shirt over a jerkin, with a sword at his hip and a loaded crossbow in his arms. "I saw your fire and thought you might be bandits or goblins."
"Well I will be once you unload that crossbow and lay it upon the ground. As you can see we are neither bandit nor goblins and I can see you are clearly not a goblin as to wither you are a bandit or not remains to be seen. So you mind telling me why you are wondering in these woods to just happen to come across our fire."
"Well, missy, I'm not sure I should be doing that since you've got a bow right there," he said. "Goblins you clearly are not, bandits ... well, you're a right poor band of outlaws if that's what you are. But you might not be above a little robbery. But I'll be happy to leave you and your," he shot a sideways glance at her two sleeping companions, "halfling and human friend, and be about my business." He started to back away.
"Wait," Maewyn placed her bow on the ground in a show of trust. Standing once more she replied, "You obviously know the region as you can see we are not exactly the fighter or roguish types. We have a mission that is very important one that places us outside the paths that we would normally travel if you are a man of honor a man who wishes to fight chaos than maybe we have something in common and may be able to assist each other. So what say you do you wish to be of help in the war against evil or would you prefer to fade off into the forest once again and be about you business."
"Nothing personal, missy, but all this about war and chaos is none of my concern," he looked sharply at her, "and if you want my advice, it should be none of your concern either. Go back to the elf-woods or wherever you come from." He took another step back, "But it's no skin off my nose, do as you like."
"Nothing personal is it, no concern of yours is it well if all good folk thought like that where will you be when chaos triumphs and come to your door for it fair share of your flesh. I could go and hide in my forest as all around me is brought to ruin but one day it will come for me and my past actions will determine who and how many will stand at my side when it does. Be on your way back to your hole if you like. I will continue onward fighting to the best of my ability. You may run and cower and pray to whatever gods who will hear you if any will that we succeed and that evil does not come looking for you or you can take you fate into your own hands."
Maewyn picked up her bow and turned away seemingly dismissing him from her thoughts but from the corner of her eye she watched him intently.
He slipped off into the darkness and soon was lost to her sight. She listened intently but was unable to hear any sound. It seemed as though he had been as good as his word and left. After another moment, she thought she heard hoofbeats fading into the distance.
Shaking her head she continued her watch until it was time to wake up the others.
The fourth morning, when Herger and Marri awoke, Maewyn had a story to tell them about her guard shift the night before. "Last night we had a visitor a human decided to check us out to see if we were bandits. Was full of good advice about going back where we belong and leaving chaos to it own amusements. Seemed to think it was no of our concern and we all should just go back to whence we came. Sorry I had hoped he gives us some information on the region or be willing to join as a body guard he was armed with a sword and seem to know how to use it. But he seemed more willing to stick his head back up his arse than help in a matter he did not consider his affair. After that he left took off on a horse in that direction." Maewyn pointed East, the direction she had heard the horse leaving in.
"Well" said Marri "well.... well." She looked at Traveller. "So my little friend, we had a visitor and you did not see fit to wake me?" Traveller simply sat there, looking not the least bit ashamed, wagging her tail. Marri snorted, then turned to Herger and Maewyn. "I am a bit disturbed at this visitor. He was apparently harmless, but he could just as well not have been. Is there anything we might do to conceal ourselves while we camp a bit better? Or... I'm not certain what I am trying to say really. I guess... I am just a bit afraid."
Herger was troubled by the news of their late night visitor, just as Marri had been. He asked, "Why would a stranger coming across us in the night mention anything concerning Chaos unless he knew something of my quest, er.. our quest? This cannot be a good thing. At least he did not seem to mean any harm at the time. Maybe he disliked the possibility of three-to-one odds. Perhaps we should find a point at which we may cross to the other bank to help throw any pursuit or trackers that he may have set on us. Or that may be following us on their own."
He tossed a scrap of his breakfast to Traveller and washed a bite of his own down with a mouthful of water. He moved towards the river to wash his cutlery and tankard then began packing up camp for the day's journey.
Neither that day, nor the next did they find a place to cross the river. Nor did they see hide nor hair of the mysterious visitor. With every day, though, the river grew smaller, though swifter. On the next day, the sixth day out from departing the Moot, they found a place they estimated would be fordable. They made the attempt, and after a tense moment where Marri was knocked off her feet by the current but saved herself by holding onto the rope attached to Herger, they were safely across.
The day after that, the ground began to slope up rapidly - they had reached the feet of the Black Mountains. They turned to follow them south, and soon struck a rough trail that headed the direction they wished to travel.
On the road, travel was a bit easier and they made better time. Shortly before they stopped travelling for the day, Maewyn saw something ahead on the road and brought it to her companion's attention. It appeared to be an overturned cart, although there were no horses or oxen in sight.
Herger donned his helmet and drew his father's mace from the hanger on his belt. The leather-wrapped hilt felt right in his hand and he hoped that his father was watching over them right now. Herger said, "Cover me while I go and inspect the area around the cart."
With a quick prayer to Sigmar said under his breath, Herger began moving with his quick strides up the path towards the overturned vehicle. He kept his eyes open and his ears perked, watching and listening for any signs of trouble that he could observe.
Maewyn nodded she pulled out her bow and notched an arrow ,closing a little so distance would not be a factor if she needed to shoot. Maewyn found a location where she could see the wagon but had some cover from a tree if anything of ill intent happened.
Nothing untoward happened as Herger moved up to the cart. The cart was tipped on its side and its contents, meager as they were, scattered around nearby. There were a mish-mash of large footprints in the area, but his cursory search showed no sign of any living thing.
Marri and Traveller came up beside Herger. Marri looked closely at the scattered contents of the cart as Traveller sniffed at them.
"I wonder what happened here?" she said.
Herger glanced up at Marri's approach and gestured at the spilled contents, "With these prints in evidence I hesitate to guess what occurred. Maybe a traveler was abducted by an ogre. That's my worst guess." He waved to Maewyn signaling that it seemed to be all clear.
"I see no signs of a struggle, though. Maybe we could hitch the ponies to this cart and use it ourselves," he suggested.
He was interrupted by Traveller's barking. The little dog was racing in excited circles around an overturned basket, one that rested upside down on the ground.
Maewyn, noticing the basket, walked forward and then with her foot, still holding her arrow notched, kicked the basket over.
Underneath was a small boy, paralyzed with terror. When the basket under which he had been hiding was removed, he fell at full length in the dust crying soundlessly.
Herger looked over from where he was judging his ability to turn the cart back up without damaging the wheels and exclaimed under his breath upon seeing the boy. He left the cart where it lay and hurried over, motioning to Maewyn to stop pointing her weapon at the child. Kneeling down by the apparently victimised kid he asked in a gentle voice, "Boy.. are you hurt? Can you speak?"
The boy looked around him and then nodded slowly, "Yes." Then he burst anew into tears and flung himself into Herger's arms.
Herger held the boy in his arms as he would one of his own children. He said, "Well, you do not appear to be hurt, thankfully," and smiled over the boy's head at Marri. "Let's have your name, boy. You are safe with us," he added.
With several stops and starts, the boy's story came out. His name is Josef, he said, and "the bad things" came and got his mommy and daddy. He can't say much more than that, but he hadn't slept or anything since then, and he was not too hungry, so Herger deduced that whatever happened, happened fairly recently - within a few hours.
Herger stood and looked around the area with an appraising expression. He said, "We can hardly leave the boy here, and we cannot take him with us on our journey. Maybe there is a chance that we could rescue his mother and father from whatever fate has befallen them. This could be a test of our fortitude and ability, bestowed upon us by Sigmar. I could not, in good conscience, ignore what has happened. Maewyn, do you think we could find a trail to follow and track these bad things to their camp, or lair?" He retrieved his mace from the ground and hung it back on his belt, resting his hands on his hips as he waited for a response.
Maewyn looked at Herger, "The only thing we can do is try but first I like to see if I can get a little more information out of him." Whistling for Traveler she got the dog to sit next to the boy hoping the animal would calm the lad down enough that they could find out some information from him.
Having placed her weapon away Maewyn sat next to the boy touching his hand gently, "Josef where were you going when the bad things took your Mommy and Daddy. Do you live in a village or a house? Do you know what your Daddy did to make money?"
Marri watched all of this sadly, thinking about her sister's children and how awful it would be if anything so dreadful happened to one of them.
She knelt on the other side of the little boy, and cleaned his face abit, then hugged him gently while Maewyn questioned him.
With stops and starts, they learned that the boy's father was a carpenter, indeed they could see some tools scattered in the rubble, and that they lived in house, but were going to "see grandma." The cart and gear indicated that it was a move, not merely a visit, but the child could hardly be expected to understand the subtleties of the difference.
Maeywn examined the tracks and decided they would be easy to follow. She wasn't sure what had made them, but they looked humanoid but somehow warped, and very large.
Marri was afraid for the little boy and unsure whether following the tracks would put him in more danger. But finally she said "Let's try to find his parents. That is if you two are willing. Let's follow the tracks."
Maewyn took the lead, bringing her woodland skills to bear on the tracks. Behind her came Herger gripping his mace firmly. Bringing up the rear was Marri with Josef. A short distance away from the road, they found the remains of the horse which had drawn the cart. There were only a few fragments of bone and skin dropped over a span of a few yards.
The trail headed into the higher country and after only a half-mile or so, it began to cross an open area and it was obvious that it led into a cave in the side of the hill.
Glancing at the boy and Marri, Maewyn asked, "Does Traveler know how to guard if the dog can do that we can hide the boy and let the dog guard him while we explore the cave."
Herger stared at the cave entrance with apprehension. His senses were screaming danger, but one look at the boy steeled his nerves for what he was about to do. Holding his mace before him, he began circling the clearing in order to flank the cave opening.
Marri gave the boy a quick hug, then bid him stay hidden in a large clump of bushes. She left her bag with the boy. "Watch this for me dear one."
"Traveller, guard," she said to the little dog, who barked softly once, then sat down with her head to one side. Marri pulled out her little knife and followed Herger.
Maewyn covered the cave opening as Herger moved up towards it along one side, with Marri trailing behind him, knife out.
As Herger approached, he could hear noises coming from inside the cave, grunts and slobbering sounds. Carefully he crept to the edge of the cave and peeked inside.
Inside the cave he saw two huge creatures eleven or twelve feet tall, with twisted ropy muscles. They were greenish brown in colour, and covered with stains of blood and bits of flesh, as well as patches of fungus. The reek coming from the cave was impressive, too. The were engaged in a tug of war over what looked like a human leg. As Herger watched, it popped apart at the knee joint and with a slobbery grunt of contentment the two creatures began to eat. Bones littered the floor of the cave, but of living creatures other than the monsters there was no sign. If the boy's parents were here, they were naught but bone and scrap at this point.
Herger turned back from the cave and urged Marri to retreat. When they had escaped from the vicinity of the cave mouth Herger took a moment to collect himself. He also appeared as if he were going to be sick. With an effort, he steadied himself using the head of his mace upon the ground. He murmured to the Halfling, "There are great creatures inside and they are feasting on the remains of .. Human, I think. If the boy's parents were here they are nothing left but scraps of flesh and splinters of bone." He gasped and inhaled a few deep breaths before continuing, "They are beasts over twice my own height, at least. I do not think that there is anything we can do, and we are too late to save the child's kin. We should go back to the cart and leave the area as soon as possible. Something else must be done with the boy." With that, he stepped past Marri and began making his way towards Maewyn, making sure that Marri was following behind.
The crew was soon gathered around the boy and the dog, who had growled fiercely when they first appeared, then emitted several small joyful yips upon identifying them.
Marri had trouble deciding whether to hug the boy or the dog first, so she gave up and hugged them both, tears running down her face.
"Let's get out of here quickly!" she sniffed, thinking of Herger's description of what he had seen in the cave. "I can't imagine anything good will come of hanging about."
The little party made their way back quickly to the road and along it, picking up the horses on the way. Soon they were passing the cart, but they had previously discovered that there was little there worth salvaging. Instead they concentrated on putting some distance between themselves and the creatures in the cave.
Seeing that Marri was having trouble hugging both the dog and the boy Maewyn gently took the youngster from her arms and smiled, "I'll take care of the boy you look after Traveller." Stroking the lad's hair Maewyn made smoothing noises as she steered him away from their present location.
The little party made their way back quickly to the road and along it, picking up the horses on the way. Soon they were passing the cart, but they had previously discovered that there was little there worth salvaging. Instead they concentrated on putting some distance between themselves and the creatures in the cave.
As they traveled, Maewyn was constantly checking their back trail making sure they did not leave any tracks that would leave the monster in the cave back to them.
By nightfall, Maewyn was fairly confident that the monsters were not tracking them. The next day, the first of Sommerzeit, they found the old dwarven road a little after noon, and turned left, east, toward the Blackfire Pass. After another couple of hours, they saw ahead of them a small merchant caravan making camp at the foot of the pass.
Herger looked upon the caravan as a fortuitous blessing from Sigmar and made to lead the party towards it. "Maybe we can shelter and travel with the caravan for safety's sake," he said. He made sure to hail any sentries as the group approached, not wanting to give a bad impression.
Rurik heard the hail and saw a strange looking quartet approaching the caravan - an elf, a halfing, a man and a boy, with two horses.
Marri was glad to see the caravan, hoping for a possible supplement to their supplies. "And perhaps someone will be willing to take in the child," she thought "The journey we are making is no place for him."
Hearing the hail, an unlikely caravan guard stood to his full height and eyed the approaching travelers with suspicion. "They don't appear to be sent by the Sergeant," he thought cautiously to himself. Calling back to his fellows, the travel-worn man ran a hand vainly through his thick, shoulder-length black hair; "I'll go see what they want. They look harmless enough, but they could be a decoy."
Probably not a decoy, he mused, but that should keep the others away until he could figure out how to work the situation. He dusted himself off and straightened his well used, yet sturdy attire in an attempt to make himself presentable as he approached the unlikely quartet. Assuming a stern expression, his hand resting casually on his hammer/pick as bright brown eyes shifted from person to person. "Good morrow, fellow travelers." His accent betrayed his northern roots. "How may we assist thee?"
Herger kept his own hands away from his hung weapon, placing them on his hips in a non-threatening manner when he stopped a few yards short of the guard. He eyed the man, trying from appearance to gauge his worth. He said, "We are weary travelers on our way into the pass. We were hoping to find some hospitality and safety within your caravan. In exchange, if there is need of work to be done I am handy enough that I could freely offer my assistance. Herger Blichtrest is my name and I hail from Altdorf. These are my companions, Marri and the Lady Maewyn. This lad we rescued while on the road a short while back. What is your destination if I might ask?"
Marri looked up at the tall stranger. "Of course everyone is tall to me," she thought with a small smile to herself. She glanced at Traveller, who was sniffing the man's boots curiously, then back to the man trying to decide if he looked trustworthy. "And I am a quite a fine cook, if I do say it myself! I am certain the tasty stews I can prepare will make your journey seem shorter..." she paused then threw in "...whatever your destination!" as a backup to Herger's question. Traveller gave a sharp little bark as if also interested, then sat down, also looking up at the man, with her head cocked to the side.
Idly tapping the cold steel of the pick head, the human male frowned in thought as he listened to the offers from the ones called 'Herger' and 'Marri'. Once Marri concluded, the caravan guard looked briefly at the dog, and then at the elf to await her input. Sensing no such forthcoming information, the guard slowly pulled his curious attention from the elf to answer the questions posed by the other two.
"This caravan is en-route to the Border Princes," he stated flatly, then added, "You may be in luck. I believe we could stand to benefit from a strong arm and a good cook." Rubbing his jaw in thought, he continued almost absently, "But I'll need to convince the caravan captain." Dropping his hand to his side, he made to turn back towards the others before pausing. "I'll see what I can do. Let me know if there's anything else I can use that might help."
"You may wish to add a druid to that list One who has some small ability that I believe that your employer may find useful. Not only animal care but an ability to see in the dark that will make me a very good guard if not exactly well trained in battle." Maewyn looked over at the man wondering what he was making of them, before once more quiet standing under the shadow of a tree, her elf clothes helping her blend into the background.
'So the elf does speak' he thought to himself with veiled amusement as Maewyn presented her verbal resume. "Very well... Muscle, a Cook, an Animal Handler/Nightwatchman, a dog, and a rescued child..." he encapsulated bruskly before heading back toward the caravan. "I'll see what I can do for you."
Approaching the others at the caravan, he called to his fellows. "Ulrich, keep an eye on them! That kid looks particularly vicious!" he chuckled good-naturedly as he made his way to Klaus.
"Humph" Marri snorted aloud watching the man walk away. She called Traveller back from following him, and both she and the dog sat down next to Josef.
Looking over at Maewyn, she said "Will you be comfortable with so many people around you, Lady... eh... that is Maewyn?"
Maewyn glanced over at Mari giving her a smile as she shrugged. "One must do what is necessary even when it makes one uncomfortable. It be better for young master Yosef," she gave the name an odd Elvish lilt, "if we having others that will be able to help protect him at least to we can find a place of safety for the lad."
A few moments later, the guard returned with another man. The newcomer was cheerful looking, well-dressed and well-fed without being either ostentatious or fat. "Thank you, Rurik," he said to the guard as they approached, then he looked at the travellers and Traveller. "Good evening! Rurik tells me you might like to travel with us for a while, is that true?"
Herger offered a smile and his hand to the merchant as he introduced himself and his companions again.
"I'm taking the caravan across the Blackfire Pass, through Erikspall and then down to the Border Princes, and I don't mind saying that I wouldn't mind having a few more hands along." He looked at them shrewdly for a moment, "Did you want to hire on, or just walk with us?"
In response to the question he said, "If we can share your food and company as far as we are traveling then that will be payment enough for us for whatever we do to help out along the way. It would make an even trade, yes?"
Marri raised an eyebrow when Herger volunteered them to work for no money, but she decided that quietness was, at this point, the better part. She glanced down at Traveller, and reached down to rub the little dog's favorite spot behind her right ear as she waited to hear what the caravan leader would say.
"Well," said Klaus, "You're welcome to travel with us, the more the merrier. And," he added, "the less appealing we are to bandits. Rurik, settle our companions in. We leave at dawn."
"Sir," Marri called after the caravan master as he turned to go. "I am willing to stand guard duty if needed, but I might be more use to you making sure that there are hot beverages, and perhaps soup for those who do stand guard and making breakfast before what I suspect will be an early start each morning." She shrugged. "It is up to you however. Traveller and I will do whatever we can to help out."
"Wonderful, little mistress," said Klaus. "Our caravan does not boast a fine cook." He stepped in and spoke in a lower voice, "Truth to be told, he stinks." He laughed again and waved as he left to deal with some matter or other.
Maewyn nodded, dawn was fine for her. Glancing over at Rurik she madesa gesture that she was willing to be follow him. As they walked away Maewyn smiled, "So have you run into any bandits of late?"
Scratching the stubble on his cheek with a pair of fingertips from his right hand, Rurik looked genially at the elfin maiden. He threw a quick ascent at the others of both parties and grinned, "That, I suppose, would depend greatly on your definition of 'bandit', milady." With a cryptic wink, he continued "Neither myself nor this caravan have come under attack, if that's what you mean." pausing, "At least, not since I joined it..."
The passage across the pass would take about five days and the new arrivals learned quickly that Klaus, despite his cheerful demeanour, was a sharp wagonmaster. He kept the little group moving and picked the first night's camp with an eye to defense.
Marri bustled around as soon as the caravan halted and started to put together a meal for the crew, which was soon ready and soon devoured, to many compliments.
Herger and Maewyn had both volunteered to take a guard shift, Maewyn would take the first night shift with Rurik, while Herger would take the second with a man called Pietr, a roguish looking fellow who carried throwing knives on his belt in addition to a sword.
The first watch went quietly, although at one point Maewyn thought she saw some movement down the pass. Investigation revealed nothing untoward. They reported to their relief, who promised to keep an eye open. A little later, Pietr said he saw something too, and left Herger to watch while he slipped away to investigate. He slid off into the night like a practiced scout or woodsman, returning after twenty minutes to say that he had found nothing either.
The third watch relieved Herger and Pietr, who also passed on their reports. As the caravan began moving, they reported that they had seen nothing.
Herger was glad that nothing had happened during the night, but cautiously assumed that there must be something out in the wilderness. He could not believe, after everything he had been hearing from Uncle Theo, that there was noone following him and his friends. He resolved to find out more about the usual traveling conditions over this pass and went to Rurik.
"How often have you been over Blackfire? What can you tell me about the local denizens and wildlife?"
Rurik smiled wryly at the newcomer. A crooked smile creased his lips as he considered how best to answer. "I can tell ya little of yin locale, sirree, for this is my first trop over yon Blackfire." He said in an exaggerated thick, northern accent. "I hail from the Wasteland." A touch of irony rolled from his lips as he spoke the last.
Herger chuckles with a bit of a wry bent himself and says, "Forgive my assumptions. You handle your position well and seem to be at ease with the owner of this caravan. I thought you an old hand at this particular road. I suppose that we will have to discover its vagaries together."
After a carefree wink, Rurik shrugged. "I've heard the tavern gossip and stories from some of the others. Many are far-fetched and fanciful, while others are completely contradictory." He spoke brightly, with only a light touch of Wastelander. "I guess it's like anything else... quick senses, sharp mind, and light feet should carry the day."
Herger grinned and nodded, feeling that this was the first time he had felt at all light of heart since leaving the home of Marri's family. He said, "On that note, I believe I'll let the horse carry my slingbag for today." He walked off to make sure that all of his things were in order.
The second day passed as the first, and the friends and Rurik had the night off as the other guards took a shift. Josef and Traveller were quickly becoming favorites of the caravan, and they ran about playing as Marri made dinner. Josef still had trouble sleeping through the night, though, and had latched onto Marri as a soothing presence. He curled up with her each night as the camp went to bed.
The third day, the going was harder. The air was noticeably thinner as they approached the crest of the pass, crossing it an hour or two after noon. Klaus called a slightly early halt after the hardest leg. "All downhill from here," he joked. Maewyn, Rurik, Herger and Pietr were back on duty this night. Maewyn and Pietr would have the first shift, Rurik and Herger the second.
After making sure Josef was asleep, and leaving Traveller near to guard the child, Marri sat sleepily near the cookfire, making certain there was hot water for tea and stirring a pot of hot stew from time to time.
An hour or so before the shift change, Pietr started, "There!" he said, pointing down the pass, "Did you see it?"
Maewyn glanced where he pointed and tried to see what he was pointing at.
She didn't, she turned to say so just in time to see Pietr's knife flashing at her, scratching her right arm as she twisted clear.
"Damn," he cursed silently, drawing his arm back for another blow.
Maewyn pulled out her knife and screamed her head off that that she was being attacked. She went into a purely defesive mode, waiting for help to arrive.
Maewyn's cries rent the night, reaching Marri instantly. They were loud enough to wake the others as well. With staff in one hand and dagger in the other, Maewyn blocked Pietr's attack.
Marri shushed Traveller who was barking sharply. Hearing the screams, Marri looked around for a weapon. She knew she had her little knife with her but, instead of pulling it out, she grabbed the nearest stout frying pan and ran toward the noise.
Herger lifted his head and glanced around with slightly bleary eyes and a muttered "Huh?" The screams continued and he rolled away from his bed roll, reaching for his father's mace. His armour lay in a sad pile near the foot of his bed and he disregarded taking the time to don it, instead stumbling slightly as he ran towards the screams, watching for danger.
"... with a Sledgehammer!" Rurik muttered as he was drawn abruptly from deep sleep by the elf maiden's cries for help. "Talia!" he yells, reaching frantically for his pick. "No, that's impossible..." he thought as the final stubborn cobwebs of sleep cleared from his mind. Pick in hand, he stifled his urge to rush blindly into the unknown. He learned that lesson the hard way more times than he cared to admit.
Forcing his mind into action, two facts assail him: He hasn't known anyone within 20 kilometers of himself for more than a few days and is not sure who he can trust - likewise nobody knows or has reason to trust him; AND... Bandits seldom act alone. His choice of action became clear... Hide! From there, he would be in a better position to assess the situation; perhaps even get a jump on someone. "Go with what you know" his 'pappy' used to tell him. Quickly grabbing his gear, he looked around again and darted for cover.
When Herger came around the rock, he saw Marri, armed with a frying pan, charging towards Maewyn and Pietr who appeared to be fighting. Pietr took a step back from Maewyn who was fighting defensively, and threw his right-hand dagger at Marri, but the toss was far to the right and skittered off a rock. He drew his sword and turned back to Maewyn.
Herger blinked in surprise and a bit of confusion, as he waded into the fray. He jogged towards the Elf and Human with care, as it was dark out and the ground here in the pass was a bit treacherous and uneven; covered with scree in places. A glance behind told him that Rurik was near and he briefly wondered if the man was friend or foe.
The scene from the previous night's watch flashed through his mind and he could only guess that when Pietr "went to check on something" he was actually in contact with a group of bandits that may descend upon them at any moment. It was nothing he could worry about now. One of his friends was in trouble. But to truly kill another man? He thought of the captain on the river boat and quickly changed the swing of the mace in his hand, aiming to knock Pietr out of the fight without killing him.
Marri had ducked reflexively when the knife was thrown at her, but once she realized it had missed the mark by a good bit, she straightened and continued toward the fight, intent on swinging the frying pan at whatever part of the human she could reach.
Maewyn continued to defend herself as her friends raced to her aid. A sword blow skittered off her staff and then Marri was there, swinging her frying pan at the highest part of Pietr she could reach, his gut. She connected and the air chuffed out of Pietr's lungs as he stepped back a step. Then Herger was there, striking with his mace at Pietr's sword hand. Pietr blocked the shot and caught his breath.
Glaring at Pietr Maewyn yelled, "I'd give up if I were you this does not seem to be going as you plan it. Ask for Pax and we may let you live, fight on and you will not live long to regret it."
Pietr merely sneered.
Emboldened by the arrival of her friends, Maewyn joined them in the attack on Pietr who turned and turned like a wolf at bay. Maewyn put a cut on his arm as he lunged in and opened a wound on her face. In so doing, he left an opening for Herger who cracked Pietr across the arm with his mace, forcing him to drop his sword.
Surrounded on all sides and partially disarmed, Pietr waved his dagger wildly at the friends, then cried out, "You shall all die!" then plunged his dagger into his own neck. The blood spurted out from the wound and Pietr dropped to the ground.
Marri quickly jumped back away from the spurting blood. She watched stunned for a moment, then, still clutching her frying pan, she turned away and threw up the stew she'd eaten for dinner.
After Pietr's suicide, Herger and Maewyn looked at each other for a long moment while Marri threw up. Then they all started talking at once, trying to find out what had happened and why.
That's why it was Rurik who first saw Pietr, dagger still in his neck, twitch, jerk then begin to stand.
"That's not right" Rurik thought to himself as Pietr began to twitch, but it wasn't until the corpse actually began to stand that the Wastelander knew something was terribly amiss. It was clear that the trio didn't see what was coming; a condition which would force his hand. Launching himself from his concealment, Rurik charged the ex-guardsman at top speed with vicious intent. Pick reared back with hammer-tip forward, he uttered no sound until the gap closed enough to begin his swing. With a mighty bellow, he followed his momentum and timed his swing to meet the tormentor for maximum impact.
The friends turned in surprise as Rurik broke from the rocks and raced toward the reanimated Pietr. Surprise turned to shock as they saw the dead man walking. Rurik's blow tore a chunk of flesh from the creature, but the loss did not seem to slow the creature down. It swung a ponderous arm at Rurik, who easily avoided the blow.
Herger was momentarily shocked by the walking corpse but, admittedly, hehad been expecting something like this to crop up at some point in their quest. Just not so soon. All the stories he had heard about such things way back in Altdorf sprang to mind and he was briefly rooted to the spot by the deluge of old memories and feelings. The pause was indeed brief, however, and only a moment passed before he jumped in beside Rurik with a yell, his mace swinging; trying to break bones and get Pietr... the dead thing, to lay back down. It was somehow easy now that he could stop thinking of the thing as "human."
"Well" Marri thought "this can't be good! Especially since that first blow didn't seem to slow him... eh.... it... up at all!" Dropping the skillet in her hand, which she suspects won't be very much help either, Marri dashed back toward the fire hoping to grab a burning brand. "Fire is cleansing they say!"
Rurik and Herger pressed the creature from two side, striking where they could. Though the creature was slow, most of their blows seemed to have no effect on the dead flesh.
Marri raced to the fire, followed a moment later by Maewyn. As they arrived the rest of the camp was rousing themsleves. Wasting no time, the two gathered flaming brands and turned to run back.
When they arrived, they saw the fight still underway. Herger leaned too close and a dead fist nearly struck him, but he was able to dodge clear. Panic gave speed to his arm, and as he backed away he swung with his mace in a roundhouse blow that smashed into the creature's head caving the skull in completely. It staggered for a moment, then collapsed to the ground and lay still.
Herger stood gasping for breath in a wide stance. As the creature fell so did Herger's guard and his shoulders slumped as the exhaustion of the late night fight washed over him. Rest was what he needed, but he could forsee it coming to him in short supply over the length of his task. After watching the body for a moment to make sure it wasn't going to stand up again he glanced at Rurik and gave him a respectful nod. The strange respect that can grow between those that battle on the same side, or for the same cause. He muttered 'Thanks' and turned to make sure that Marri and Maewyn were all right. He then began searching for something to clean the light muck from his weapon.
Letting out a long, deep breath of exhaustion, Rurik staggered a step in no direction in particular before planting the pick head on the ground and leaning his weight on the handle. Catching Herger's gaze, Rurik straightened up on his pick handle slightly and proffered a somewhat weary version of his trademark carefree grin. "My pleasure" he returned, again more thickly than his usual light banter; his mutual respect showing through his thin veneer of levity.
Feeling somewhat self-conscious by the interaction, he brought his off-hand to his temple and gathered a solid object flowing slowly down the rivulets of pink-tinged sweat running down his cheeks and dripping from his scruffy chin. Identifying the object, Rurik flicks the chunk of Pietr's flesh away and turns his attention to Klaus.
Behind Marri and Maewyn, Klaus and a few of the other guards gasped at what they had seen, a dead Pietr walking and fighting. Klaus recovered quickly and bellowed, "What is going on here?"
Marri stood holding the brand and wondering whether they should still burn the thing, but turned toward Klaus and began, "We'd like to know that too!" Then started in (probably on top of everyone else) to tell what she'd seen and done during the fight.
Maewyn just stared this was not normal this went against her very being of the ritual of life and death. The cycle had been broken the dead should be alowed to return through the wheel of life not to stand up with their death wounds still bleeding.
Maewyn just stared her mind trying to comprehend as Marri told the whole story over in detail not really hearing the babling of the halfling as she spoke.
Klaus listened to Marri's babble, as he watched Herger and Rurik clean their weapons. "If I had not seen the dead man walking myself, I might not believe ..." He walked over to the twice-dead Pietr, and pushed the corpose gently with a toe.
Marri realized that most folks were only half listening to her, even Klaus who had demanded the explanation. "Still it was so horrible, I suppose no one can be expected to tear their eyes away and pay attention to me." Stealing another glance at what was once Pietr as Klaus pushed at the corpse with his foot, she swallowed quickly to prevent herself throwing up again.
"I do not like this place," he announced. "We shall leave at once. Even with no moon, we move out, by torchlight." He turned to one of the guards, "You help those two," her jerked a thumb at Herger and Rurik, "strip that body and get it out of the way. You two, when that's done, come and see me. Now, let's get moving."
Rurik nodded absently at the caravan captain's words, and with calculated efficiency of movement he secured his pick and set about his task. Once finished, he made his way to Klaus as instructed.
"Can't be too soon for me!" Marri announced, turning firmly away from the corpse. She hurried toward the cook fire, then changed her course and went over to Josef, who (OOC I'm assuming) sat huddled in his blankets, holding Traveller very tightly, looking very small and very frightened. Marri gave the boy a quick hug, and Traveller a quick scratch behind the ears though she found herself unable to offer any false platitudes about their safety. "We are leaving here Josef. I must pack up the cook pots, so I need you to roll up the blankets. Hurry along, but do it neatly now!" Turning to head back to the fire, she spoke softly to Traveller, "Guard Josef. Guard!" Then she bustled over to the fire and began packing up.
Maewyn took a deep breath and tried to compose herself what had happen had shaken her it was not something one usually saw it was something she would glady forgo see again. Walking away from the now still corpse with just a little fear that it may once again move Maewy moved over to Marri.
Patting Traveller on the head Maewyn smiled at Marri, "Need any help? I need something to take my mind..." Maewyn did not finish her sentence with words just a nod of head in the direction of the fight.
Marri looked up, for once understanding the tall elven maiden completely. "Of course. Perhaps you might help Josef pack," she said. Adding more quietly as she turned away to continue packing up the cook site "I suspect he will not want to be alone right now." Though she thought to herself "Nor do you."
With a smile that Marri understood what she was feeling Maewyn walked over to Josef kneeling down to be at eye level she smiles at him. "Let see if we can get you all packed shall we," said the elf as she ruffled the lad's hair in a friendly gesture.
The child nodded seriously, "Yes, mam." He toddled behind her helping her pack where could and getting in the way the rest of the time. Soon, the travellers' meager possessions were packed and the fire out.
Finally convinced that all was well... or at least well packed, Marri looked over the camp once more before hurry to her place in the caravan. She bustled around a bit, hustling Traveller, Maewyn and Josef this way and that, thinking she was helping everyone move in the right direction, when really she was only working off her own nervous energy. Once the caravan was moving steadily forward, she relaxed a bit, and began offering anyone within reach the bits of bread and cheese that she had tucked away. "Not much breakfast for anyone this morning," she thought "but I'll bet those appetites start coming back once we're away from this place!" She smiled suddenly to herself "Darned useful skillet, by sweet Esmeralda's bountiful bosom! Darned useful!" Then she tossed another bit of cheese to Traveller, who grabbed it and then doggy grinned back at her, apparently as pleased as the humans to be moving along.
As the two men stripped the body of the useful gear, they discovered that he bore a strange blood-red tattoo below his left shoulder-blade.
Rurik and Herger found Klaus driving the first wagon and joined him. After a moment's ride, he asked, "What happened out there? I've crossed the Blackfire a few times and run into goblins, bandits and sometimes a little more, but never anything like that."
Herger sat with his arms folded defensively before him. He was still a bit rattled from what had happened himself. He inhaled deeply and let it out in a sigh that had false pretenses of relaxation. He said, "I'd like to be the first to say that I've never seen anything like it before, ever. Much less just in crossing this pass. Which, admittedly, I've never seen before either."
He let a moment of silence pass before continuing, "We searched the bodybefore it was carried off. It had a tattoo, or mark on it of some kind. I fancy it's the type of thing a member of some sect or ch.. er.. cult would have. Some kind of identifier, but Sigmar has blessed me with a sheltered enough life that I have no inkling of its meaning. Rurik?"
Rurik shrugged casually at Herger's redirect, his usual demeanor appears to have returned. "Never seen it." He said, idly. "I'm not from this region, nor do I associate myself with freakish zombie-turning cults..." With a furrowed frown he glanced back in the direction of the twice-dead Pietr, then scanned the remaining crew. "...at least, not knowingly."
Klaus grunted. "Well enough, then. Keep a sharp eye." Obviously a dismissal, he turned back to the driving.
Klaus hurried the little caravan down the pass, and in the middle of the afternoon on Wellentag, the sixth day of Sommerzeit, they arrived in the village of Erikspall which nestled at the foot of the pass on this side. They passed through the gate and travelled to the Rest Inn, the only such establishment in town.
They arranged for the horses and then trooped into the common room in twos and threes. The compaions, with Josef and Traveller, as well as Rurik with whom Herger had become quite friendly over the past day or two as they went over the fight again and again, came in together. As their eyes were still adjusting to the dim light, a voice called, "Herger!" To their surprise, they say Uncle Theobald, Greywolf rising from a table and coming to greet them.
"Well!" Marri said upon seeing Theobald, for once nearly speechless. Traveller yelped happily and went over to greet Herger's uncle. Josef, surprised and not altogether pleased by Traveller's defection to greet this tall stranger, decided to throw his arms around Marri and bury his face in her side. "Child!" Marri said gently trying to disengage him from her leg, "This is a friend! Truly!"
Herger's expression was a comic picture of surprise that quickly switched to happiness. He grinned and stepped over to Theobald, greeting him with a fond, familial hug. As his uncle mentioned his additional companions, Herger's smile faded a bit as he glanced back at the troupe. He nodded and said, "Yes, uncle. Much has happened already, and none of it much good."
He sat at the table and tucked into his food as readily as the rest of them. After eating a good portion and polishing off his entire mug of ale he leaned back in his chair and began recounting their travels to this point.
"..left in a hurry and traveled out of the pass without further incident. Now here we are, and still no idea where we can take young Josef," he finished as he accepted a new flagon from the server.
"This symbol," said Greywolf, "did it look like this?" With his finger he sketched the symbol Herger and Rurik has seen tattooed on Pietr. "Then things are worse than I feared. That is the symbol of Barsnarg. If this man bore it, it means that you have been found and followed. We must leave as soon as possible. At first light. I have horses for everyone. If they have followed you this far, they will not stop now. And worse, I have heard rumours that the Dark Hunters are abroad. Rest well tonight, tomorrow we ride to Lin-Adelle and the elves."
Lin-Adelle and the 'Elves'? That pulled Rurik's lazy attention from the busty bar-wench and the doe-eyed young farmer's daughter.
He turned to Rurik. "My thanks to you, Master Rurik, for the help you have rendered my young friends. What will you do now? You have heard some of what we face, and you are enmeshed in it now. Will you join us tomorrow?"
While everyone turned to Rurik, awaiting his answer, Marri shrank back in her seat: Traveller curled tight on one side of her and Joesf on the other. "Oh my!" she thought. "Found? That doesn't sound at all good. I suppose it was bound to happen, once we set out on something such as this, but... it sounds so... so... ominous now that its been said like that! Now that it has happened!" She gently brushed Josef's hair from his eyes, happy the child had fallen asleep before the conversation had reached this point. "Most likely he wouldn't understand. But he's been through so much! I wouldn't want to chance that he might! Children understand so much more, and..." she smiled to herself, " so much less than we think they do!" Marri reached for another apple, and fed Traveller another bite of cheese. Shaking her head a bit, her thoughts turned to her family. "It feels so peaceful here. Reminds me of home. Good stew, decent rolls. not as good as mine to be sure, but certainly more than adequate. Wine, friends, pets... children under foot. By Blessed Esmeralda's dimpled knees, I wonder if I shall ever see my family again?" Sobered, Marri returns her attention to Rurik, waiting, like the rest ,for his answer to Greywolf.
Whether he was 'enmeshed' in their travails or not was still up for debate, but Rurik didn't press the matter. Instead, he simply winked and quipped "all in good fun." Leaning back in his chair, he pressed the fore-fingers of both hands to his chin, skewed his mouth pensively, and squinted forward into space in a look that was frequently mistaken for serious contemplation. Only momentarily distracted by the flirty sway of the serving-girl's skirts as she walked away into the kitchen, the Wastelander delivered a somber intonation of soulful deliberation. "My fate is indeed tied with yours. I will accompany you on your voyage; to Lin-Adelle and the Elves."
"And what of the boy?" said Greywolf. "What shall you do with him?"
Herger glanced around the table and caught the expression on Marri's face. From the look there he knew she was probably thinking about one or the other of Esmeralda's blessed and bountiful body parts. He let out a faint chuckle of reminiscence and reflected on what good friends they were. He'd have to remember to apologise to her for getting her involved in this.
About Josef, however, there was a question for the sages and wise men. What to do with the boy? Taking him along was out of the question, and he said as much.
"Well, Uncle. Taking him along is out of the question. Young men that fall on bad happenstance must learn to cope and grow up more quickly than the sons of well-off nobles. I propose leaving him in the care of Shallya's or Verena's followers. If anyone else has a better idea, I hope to hear it."
Maewyn shook her head she did not have any idea of what to do with the boy as taking him any further into danger was not an option at all.
Mewyn did not say anything just looking the group over she walk close to the boy placing her hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
Marri looked up, her expression serious although she smiled when she noted Maewyn caressing the sleeping child.
"I have to agree, Venerable One," she began to Greywolf "Josef cannot go with us, but to leave him in a temple... Not," she hurried on with a glance at Herger "that I have anything against the temples. But... well... I'm rather fond of him, and I'd love to see him with a family. Do you think there is any chance we might send him back to the Moot... to my family? That way if ... eh... when, I mean, when we come back... perhaps... I might be able to.... well, I've always wanted children...." She trailed off, looking both intensely embarrassed and extremely defiant at the same time.
Greywolf considered for a moment. "With whom could we send him? Ah," he smiled. "What say you to this: Josef shall accompany us to Lin- Adelle, he may lodge with the elves until you are ready to take him to the Moot yourselves once this business is done."
Rurik looked at the kid and frowned thoughtfully. "Assuming we return..." he muttered darkly, then looked at the others as he opined on the matter. "If the God's saw fit to spare the life of this lad while his parents perished, why should we not continue and place him in their divine care? Humanitarian service such as this is what the Churches are all about. Besides... I'm unaware of the disposition of the Lin-Adelle, but I don't imagine they are inclined to take in orphaned human children - certainly not without prior invitation." The last was spoken with an inquisitive look in Greywolf's direction.
Herger said, "I still think taking the boy further would only endanger him. I'm against him traveling with us. For we are the targets."
"Of course you are right Herger" began Marri, " but I think it may only be a short way to the elves, and with Greywolf with us, surely we will be safe for a short time. And surely he can talk the elves into granting shelter. The elves are indeed aloof, but they are not cruel," she said with a glance at Maewyn " and I am sure they will understand, as well as anyone, the importance - and the danger - of what we go to do... and be inclined to grant... so small a favor."
Maewyn looked over at Josef her eyes soft as she thought about the boy. "No we are not cruel and if it will help I wil speak on behave of Josef and even sponsor him if need be. I am willing to take him as my charge maybe that will help my people to decide in the lad's favor.
Greywolf looked at the others, "So be it then. We shall take Josef to Lin-Adelle and lodge him there until you may take him to the Moot." He slapped a hand on the table, "Eat well and then to bed. We leave early, before dawn."
* * * *The party rode out early that morning. A thick fog lay across the ground as they headed north and east toward the river and the elven hold of Lin-Adelle. Each was mounted on his or her own horse, save Josef who rode double on Marri's pony.
They had been riding for only an hour or so, when they heard the clatter of hooves. Two or three horses, riden hard were coming up behind them. "Followed," muttered Greywolf. He turned around to see what he could see and from the mist broke three riders.
One, taking up the rear, carried a crossbow and wore a mail shirt. Maewyn recognized him as the man who had stumbled into their camp late one night a week or so ago.
The other two were clad in mail, with a strange shifting mass where the face should be, a disturbing sight that the eye would not rest on. The bore swords, black, which seemed not so much to glow but to absorb the light. These two charged the party and such was their impact that Marri found herself unable to remain and with a cry spurred her pony and fled. The hardened Rurik driven by pragmatism of fear joined her.
"Flee," cried Greywolf. "We cannot defeat two of these fell riders at the same time! I will delay them and slay their mounts if I can."
Already a step ahead, Rurik followed those instructions without the slightest hesitation. Grim determination coupled with sheer terror drove him to seek the solace of the Elves.
Maewyn did not need a second invitation she spured the horse onward very willing to get as far away from the creatures as possible although her mind churned with the knowledge that the one she had seen sneaking up on their camp was with them.
Herger, too, joined the flight. The party looked and saw Greywolf gesture and shout and a blast of pure power rocketed toward the charging enemy. Two of the horses were struck dead and the third was badly injured.
The foemen did not seem badly hurt, and got to their feet to continue the pursuit, one of them pushing the man Maewyn had recognized off his horse to take the mount.
Greywolf turned his horse and joined the party in the race for the river and the forest. It soon became obvious that the wounded horse could not keep pace and soon the enemy was lost to sight.
Soon after they found a faint path, which Maewyn thought was as much a path as an elf would need. It led to a ford at a river. "Across here, we are in Lin-Adelle," said Greywolf, "and safe for the time being." The party began to cross and was in the middle of the river when a band of elves rose from the underbrush, bows at the ready. Greywolf hailed them in Elvish and soon they were being escorted to the heart of the elf woods.