I awoke the next morning with innumerable aches and bruises about my person from sleeping with nothing more than the old blanket between myself and the expansive crudeness which is Nature. Oh for a proper bed in a proper mansion with proper servants on call! My companions appeared to have recovered well from the previous night's exertions involving a pack of ravenous wolves. Uhmri, who was now apparently more than the simple fisherman he originally appeared as, took advantage of the deceased canines still strewn about the camp to acquire several decidedly unappetizing pelts. Breakfast was decidedly unappetizing as well and I shall say no more about it.
As we continued on the road northwards it was becoming apparent that the gnome's disturbingly wide-eyed watchfulness at night was some sort of gnomish trick. I was peeved at not being able to divine exactly the nature of the game, being a bit of an old hand at this sort of thing. One night we put him on duty with Kull who enjoyed repeatedly poking him to see if he was really awake. On another night I again had a dream involving lovely piles of fabled goblin gold. But instead of featuring the gnome as before, this one included me seeing myself in a mirror in a decidedly fashionable ensemble--but the mirror itself was disturbingly familiar.
On our third day north, after having traversed mile and miles of nothing interesting whatsoever, something very interesting indeed suddenly occurred. The cleric traveling with us, who was going in disguise as "Keith", quite unexpectedly chose to reveal her true identity as the lovely Katherine. She took off her helmet and her delightful tresses tumbled down in all their glory, long and shiny with a lustre I still find hard to describe even now and..ahem...but I digress. She told us of her past, how she had run away from home, had a troubled stay at a priory where she learned to read and write, met a young sorcerer called Keith (whose name she had borrowed), and eventually went out into the world. Katherine explained that she was traveling as a man for safety on the road and as a means of penance. The group was stunned, Uhmri and Kull particularly so. Kull was particularly upset that Katherine had not been honest to him and got her to promise not to tell him any further untruths.
To my dismay Brute and Kull twigged to the fact that I'd known Katherine's identity for several days already but had not let on. They suggested in their odd-fellow way that this was because I had taken a fancy to her and was hoping to keep her for myself in some fashion. Naturally I was shocked they'd suggest any such thing--especially after all the care I had taken to conceal it from them. Either they were cleverer than they looked or I was losing my touch--and both possibilities were equally unpalatable. In addition, Kull made a point of stating that he would smash anyone bothering Katherine. Clearly, finding an opportunity to share a bottle of vintage delight with my "K" in an intimate setting would now be even more of a challenge.
Luckily for me the party's attention was soon diverted by smoke rising over the trees ahead. We investigated and, as we had feared, found the source to be the remains of a village. The corpses of the inhabitants were scattered around their homes in a pitiable state. Several had clearly been tortured. Humans, dwarves, gnomes, formerly neighbors and now together forever in death. A few stray dogs were there, taking advantage of the situation to gorge. Mixed in with the villagers were a number of dead goblins, which confirmed that the little bastards were on the warpath again. We determined to burn the bodies of the villagers and do whatever else we could. They may have been just simple peasants but I would not countenance them simply lying out here to be torn at by animals.
While the others surveyed the village Brute and I went out to the edge of the woods to call out to any survivors in hiding and look for signs of escapees. None came forth in answer to my calls but Brute found a trail with tracks of children leading away from the village. And then began The Explanation. The sun seemed to stand still in the sky as he went on and on about detail after detail of the wretched tracks. It was the soil this and the moss that. Soon I began to understand how an animal could chew it's own leg off to escape a hunter's snare. I began to hope a band of goblins would come put me out of my misery, perhaps by distracting me with something less painful such as a hot poker in one eye.
|Brute Explains Tracking to the Amazing Trevor (Photo I found on the net; not mine)|
Nearby, Katherine noticed that something untoward was occurring. She and Kull hurried over and ran into an ambush of their own. However in this case the goblins took one look at the massive odd-fellow and screamed for their miserable little lives. Two fled with Kull in pursuit, but two decided to attack the young cleric. The two fleeing ones ducked into a chicken coop but Kull simply smashed through it bodily, sending bits of wood flying like a blizzard. It was about this time that Brute and I noticed the clamor and rushed back. I marveled at my relief in departing the quiet woods to rush headlong into certain violence. Kull seized one of his prey by the head like an apple and killed it with a snap of the neck which could be heard clear across the village. Katherine faced her two resolutely and bashed one of the little swine with her shield as he went for her throat.
Brute and I dashed through the village pell-mell, passing the hurrying Boomstock as we went. We parted, with Brute heading for the louder melee and I for the lesser by sound of it. Rounding a corner I came upon Uhmri, battling like a hero of old amidst the smoke and flames. One goblin menaced him covered in soot like a chimney sweep, the other with an odd muddy footprint on its forehead. The fisherman was covered in nasty-looking wounds, bright wet blood staining his tunic. With no time to think I hefted my staff and laid about me like a mad hatter.
Nearby, Brute came upon Katherine and Kull. A single cleave of his ax did for one of the little blighters. A spray of blood from the cleaved one soiled the shield of the plucky young cleric. Katherine swiftly felled the other with a masterful stroke. Kull pursued his remaining victim relentlessly, plowing through hedge and fence. Finally the unlucky vermin tripped and Kull stomped his head into the ground. Wiping off his shoe he rejoined the company.
Uhmri and I battled relentlessly against the our two nasties, with all their ire still focused on him as they stabbed and thrust. I marveled that something so bent and misshapen could be so agile, evading my carefully aimed blows time after time. Clearly my staff was of far poorer quality than I had previously assumed--perhaps even a product of far-away Pongo. Brute and Kull came up and dealt with the little buggers in typically decisive fashion. Brute put an arrow into the back of one and Kull a brick into the head of the other.
We had just begun to relax, I starting to examine my staff for an inconspicuous Pongolean maker's mark, when yet another goblin leaped shrieking from the flaming cottage. He grasped a flaming stake in both hands and thrust it towards Uhmri's heart. Brute shot an arrow at it but missed. The vicious attacker bored in on Uhmri like a bolt from a crossbow. It was up to me to bring him down forthwith or the young fisherman would breathe his last this day. Plucking a dart from my belt I aimed with great intention at the howling fiend. My years of training came back to me as I hefted the familiar projectile in my hand. It was only a few yards away, about the same distance as the bearded lady I used to throw knives at in my stage show. The "bearded lady"...by the gods...what a hideous image flooded my mind then. The badly bleached blond curls, the thick makeup troweled on like builder's mortar, the coarse hairs running from her nose down into the scraggly moustache...in my momentary distress the dart went wide and disappeared into the fires beyond. Brute swiftly put the goblin down with yet another well-placed arrow. For a rough odd-fellow he seemed surprisingly well-trained to such a delicate instrument. Boomtock the gnome then finally arrived, puffed for breath and unpleasantly sweaty.
We set about the solemn task of cremating the bodies of the villagers in a pyre. Katherine said a few well-chosen words of prayer to send them on their way. Leaving the horses to forage around the village, we took to the trail on foot. The gnome soon protested about the amount of walking ahead of us. Brute suggested asking Kull for a ride but the peculiar little chap was decidedly unenthusiastic about the idea. The trail led on through wooded areas and occasionally past the charred remains of farmsteads. At one point the tracks of several children and a young adult, probably the girl Merity we'd been told about, broke off and went west towards orc country. We followed and came across a couple dead wolves, one of whom had been shot with an arrow. Later there was a massive booming sound to the northeast. It was like a massive peal of thunder and yet rather unlike one.
Darkness fell and we camped where we were. The unfortunate Uhmri was the first victim of the attack in the night, taking an arrow to the chest as he stood watch. It was a small party of orcs sniping from the bushes nearby. Our two odd-fellows immediately charged in with their wicked axes. Katherine and I cast spells of light to illuminate the battlefield, my spell on the tip of my staff and hers on the barely glimpsed helmet of one of the orcs. As Kull and Brute engaged the orcs an arrow flew from the other side of the camp and pierced one of the savages. Kull challenged the concealing woods, demanding if the shooter be friend or foe. To our surprise the reply was "friend". The orcs in their warpaint were quickly dispatched with the aid of our new ally. Katherine called on the power of the Light to heal the ailing Uhmri once again. For all the times that he was receiving her gentle touch I rather wondered if his clumsiness in battle was as genuine as it seemed.
The "friend" emerged from the shadows and was revealed in our magical lights to be a young girl, in her late teens perhaps. She was dressed in rough furs and leathers like some feral foundling and her untidy blond hair looked as if she brushed it with a raccoon every morning. The deep hue of her tan spoke of full days in the outdoors. I observed her closely but was unable to ascertain beyond the grime whether it would be better to essay a gentlemanly kiss on the hand or simply toss her a raw haunch of mutton.
She introduced herself as Faylan and we presented ourselves in turn. She seemed a bit nonplussed about the encounter until I stepped forward and intoned "I am the Amazing Trevor. How do you do?" She brightened a bit and replied "Now there's a name I can actually remember" in a not particularly charming rustic drawl. After a brief exchange Faylan revealed that she had rescued the wayward children from the wolves and housed them in her cave. I had a sudden mental image of her squatting before a small fire in a cave in her furs and leathers, a family of large bears snoring nearby.
She led us through the dark and likely still orc-infested wood to her cave. Kull and Brute were unable to squeeze their massive selves through the small crevice and so remained outside on guard with Faylan. The children were indeed all there around a small fire, as grimy and odiferous as one might expect under the circumstances. There were no snoring bears, but one little halfling girl had a riding dog with her. Outside I overheard Faylan express her relief that she could finally be rid of her unplanned houseguests and get back to avoiding people in general. Inside, the young Merity took an uncomfortable fancy to me. She was far too young for even a casual affair and besides which her current grievously unwashed state presented an insurmountable barrier to even the most ardent of Romeos. And more importantly I was desirous not to send any confusing signals to the fair Katherine, who moved among the urchins like an angel amongst souls redeemed.
In the morning I endured some joshing from Brute and Kull about the inconvenient intentions of young Merity. Kull was also amused by the halfling on her canine mount. After seeing the hungry look on the pack of ankle-biters in the cave the previous evening I was surprised the scruffy mutt hadn't ended up marinated on a spit over the fire. But then, we did still have several days' travel ahead of us. Faylan bid us a very, very cheery goodbye indeed as we took to the trail once again and left her in peace. Pushing on we were soon back at the village. There we gathered the horses, loaded up the children on the wagon, and took the south road. The weather was lovely, but then any day when one is headed back to civilization seems just a little bit brighter.