“Martin! What is wrong?” Beorth asked, worried.
“The others are waiting by the caves on the edge of town. We are all wounded, but Ratchis and Jana gravely so,” Martin explained. The young watch-mage looked around the common room ver y quickly for any town guards, but could not see any. “Let’s go.”
They hustled out of the inn and through the town to the cave where the others waited, shivering in the cold.
“Kazrack, what happened?” Beorth asked as he saw the unconscious forms of Jana and Ratchis, and the dwarf’s arm in a sling, and his beard caked with blood and dirt.
“Yeah, what did happen?” Jeremy asked, with a hint of sarcasm.
“Against all expectations, we managed to get out of there alive,” the dwarf said. “I hope Jana will be okay. She sacrificed herself for me, you know.”
Beorth looked over at Tirhas who looked back meekly. The beautiful elven warrior looked tired, cold and miserable.
“We have to get you out of here,” the paladin examined the two fallen companions, and then laid his hand on Jana’s head. “Anubis, send your healing light to this brave young woman.”
After a few moments she was able to walk with Martin’s help while Jeremy and Beorth carried Ratchis. The party made their way to the top of the bluff and the edge of town.
“This is where we must part ways once again,” said Tirhas. “I do not think it is a good idea for me to be seen in town. I will return to Aze-Nuquerna and spend my time in the library there learning what I can about the witch sisters.”
As they walked back to the inn Kazrack’s mind was working as he looked down at his broken arm. “Jana, do you think you could set my arm so I’ll be able to use a shield?”
“That doesn’t sound like a good idea,” commented Martin.
“It’s definitely not a good idea,” Jana concurred. “You have a good chance of breaking it again, and it would not heal very fast, and if it doesn’t heal properly you run the risk of not being able to use your arm again. That being said, if that’s what you want to do it’s your life.”
“No, I’ll take your word for it,” Kazrack said, disappointed.
The few people in the Golden Plough
stared with open mouths as Jeremy and Beorth carried in Ratchis’ unconscious form. Martin and Jana led the way and Kazrack came in last.
The innkeeper, Wilson, came rushing over. “What happened to your friend?”
“The Honeycombe,” said Martin solemnly. “We need rooms.”
“I still have that one room held for you,” said Wilson. “You can put him in there until I get someone to prepare the other rooms.”
From a corner of the common room near the hearth and below the great mural of the golden ram pulling a plough while a farmer and his family watch from the foreground, a voice rang out, “Hey guys! It looks like you almost lost one of yours. Too Bad!”
It was Gunthar. His face wa flushed with drink, and he was dressed in dirty sailcloth shirt and black leather breeches.
Beorth and Jeremy did not stop, carrying Ratchis straight upstairs to bed.
“You look all broken up about it,” Kazrack replied to the loud-mouthed Neergaardian with sarcasm.
“Hey, we have some trouble, too,” Gunthar said with affected sensitivity. “The other guys are upstairs sleeping it off.”
Kazrack could see that he stocky barbarian in the wolf hood and the tall man in heavy armor were at the table. The tall man, Aldovar, had curly black hair and a well-kept beard.
Jana and Kazrack took a seat at a table and called for Wilson to bring them some stew.
“I think I’ll take that bath now,” Martin sighed.
“I will have someone draw it for you,” Wilson said friendly.
“Wait, we should use the tub to clean out Ratchis’ wounds and such first,” Jana suggested.
“Good idea,” Martin acquiesced and sat down heavily. He ordered some stew and bread as well.
Wilson brought over a tray with bowls of stews, some mulled wine, mead and a large hunk of bread.
He turned to leave, but then turned back and addressed Martin, “Oh, there was something…”
“A message for me?” Martin inquired.
“Yeah, that’s it!” Wilson said with a broad smile. “That young fellow, one of the guards that work on the alderman’s estate who just lost his uncle, he came by here and left word that there is a message waiting for you at the alderman’s house.”
“Lost his uncle?” Martin asked.
“The dragon, according to rumor,” replied the innkeeper.
“I will have to stop by the alderman’s house once I am done eating,” Martin commented.
Upstairs, Beorth and Jeremy placed Ratchis in bed, the half-orc’s legs hanging off one end, and stripped him of his dirty and bloody clothing. Covering him with a blanket, they headed back downstairs.
“Beorth,” Jeremy said.
“Where have you been?” Jeremy asked, as they their way down the narrow rickety steps.
“I was summoned by a member of my order,” replied the ghost-hunter.
“We thought it was something like that,” Jeremy said.
“More importantly, where have you been?” asked Beorth.
“Oh, I’ll let Kazrack and Jana tell it,” Jeremy said.
“Yes, I think we need to sit down as a group and talk all this out,” said Beorth.
The two companions re-joined the others at their table, the common room echoed with Gunthar’s loud re-telling of his conquests.
“Beorth, it is good to see you,” Kazrack said. “Where have you been?”
“I was called away by a member of my order, “ Beorth said again.
“I beat you to it,” Jeremy said with a smile. “I already asked him.”
“So, even though she was playing coy I was able to get her up to my room and I give her the ole Northrop special!” Gunthar said loudy, and followed it with a laugh and a chugged a pint of ale.
“What did he just say?” Jana asked, looking at Jeremy.
“The old Northrop Special,” Martin said, with a look of confusion.
“Jeremy, isn’t your last name…” Kazrack began.
“Sush!” Jeremy said, as he saw Gunthar coming over, he was staring lasciviously at Jana.
“Hey, hey, I heard you mention the Northrop Special,” Gunthar said to Jana with a broad smile. “Wanna firsthand example of what it is?”
“Why don’t you just tell us?” Jeremy said, his voice full of rancor.
“The ‘Northrop Special’ is a special way the men in my family have with the ladies,” Gunthar explained. “We give it to them hard and good, and they love it. Noble women swoon and hooers give it up for free. My father had it, and I have it!”
“You’re a Northrop?” Martin asked, finding it hard to suppress a smile, despite his disgust for Gunthar’s manners.
“Yeah! I’m Gunthar Northrop,” he said, with a slight drunken slur.
“I thought Northrop was a village or something,” commented Kazrack.
“So, is he related to you?” Beorth innocently asked Jeremy, and the young Neergaardian’s eyes opened wide.
“No, not all Neergaardians are related,” Jeremy said, tersely.
“Yeah, we’re not related,” said Gunthar, taking a seat at their table. “When I first saw him clear I thought he might be my missing little brother, but he’s not even from Neergaard.”
“What was your brother’s name?” Beorth asked.
“Jeremy,” replied Gunthar.
“Hmmm, Jeremy Northrop?” Beorth’s eyes darted over to Jeremy.
“Yep,” Gunthar said, signaling to Wilson for another ale. “But that was just wishful thinking on my part. What a sod-sucking sentimental horse-humpin’ pansy-poof I am, but I just always wanted a little brother I could show the ropes to and stuff. My dad, that salty son of a bitch, great man he was, used to tell me all about Jeremy when he’d come visit me and me Ma in Earthsea City (92), I was a root-sucking illegitimate little bastard, but when Jeremy died he took me as he rightful heir.”
“What happened to him?” asked Beorth, his eyes widening as he heard a tale of death.
“They had sent him to be squire to a knight, and uh, his master’s body was found in a place overrun by hobgoblins. It was assumed the hobgoblins took him off and did whatever bloody ogre-sack rubbin’ hobgoblins do to a young boy, you know the old bow-wow and poking holes they make with spears first with their hobbo doo-dads.…”
“Please! There is a lady present!” Jeremy protested. The others had rarely seen him so angry.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry I’m not forgetting,” Gunthar winked at Jana.
“It’s okay Jeremy. I have dealt with his type before,” Jana said, smiling.
“Oh, I bet you have sweet thing,” Gunthar said smiling. “Can’t wait to get a taste of you.”
Kazrack cleared his throat.
“So, my dad took me and recognized me as his heir, and I came to live with him on the estate with his wife and his daughter. He’s a noble ya know,” Gunthar continued.
“Why didn’t the daughter become heir?” asked Kazrack.
“Women can’t own property in Neergaard!” Gunthar said astonished.
“Neither can dead people,” said Beorth.
“That’s a good rule anywhere,” Jeremy added.
Jana rolled her eyes.
“Oh, my sister Eriana she’s so flithin’ great!” Gunthar said, the look on his face losing lasciviousness for a moment.
Jeremy listened very intently, his mouth open just a little bit.
“She’s a fine piece, if ya know what I’m saying, beautiful, but she’s my half-sister so I could never, you know, give her the Northrop Special,” Gunthar grinned. “But that’s okay, I look after her anyway, because that is what brothers should filthin’ do. I killed a man for her.”
Jeremy sat bolt upright.
“What’s the matter with you?” Gunthar said, eying Jeremy suspiciously. “You never kill a man?”
“Nothing, and yes, better men than you,” Jeremy replied.
“What in the sweaty ass-hairs of hell is that supposed to mean?” Gunthar asked, gritting his teeth.
“He’s tired. Ignore him,” Martin said, raising a hand and calming the situation.
“Yeah, yeah, so listen to this. This is a great story, how I killed the poncy dough-assed Baronette bastard that had the nerve to try to force himself on my sister: I heard her cry out and I came running into the room and grabbed him by the ears and slammed him into the wall, and as he struggled to get up I grabbed my sister’s brass chamber pot which was filled with her business and slammed it on the little Baron’s head, again and again and poured the stuff on his bloody face and smashed it again and again until his own filthy rotting whore of mother with festering baby carcasses falling out of her crack wouldn’t recognize him.”
“Good,” said Jeremy under his breath.
“That was the reason why I had to leave so fast,” Gunthar continued. “My father arranged for me to get a job aboard a ship, and that is how I started traveling.”
“What about your mother?” Jeremy asked quietly.
“Well, she stayed back in Earthsea City. I think part of the deal was that she stay out of the picture, bad enough father had to friggin’ admit in front of everyone that he had been poinking me Ma all those years, and sending her money for me so she didn’t have to put it out on the street, if you know what I mean.”
“I meant, the other mom,” Jeremy said, his voice soft. “You father’s wife.”
“Oh her? Crazy as a gnome in a jewelry store,” Gunthar said laughing. “She took to bed soon after Jeremy died and wouldn’t get up for much. She hated me I think She often insisted that Jeremy was still alive, I think that is where I got the idea in my head, because I always wanted a little brother, like I said before – but I should just filthin’ accept it already. He’s dead.”
Gunthar paused and looked almost misty-eyed, and then suddenly stood, “Well, I must be either too filthin’ drunk or not horse-humpin’ drunk enough, because I’m blathering when I should be thinking of ways to get your little friend here to ride me like a horsie on her twelfth birthday,” he pointed at Jana. “Later, all.”
He stumbled back to his table.
Their table was silent for a time, but Gunthar immediately fell to tell his companions about how his captain had gotten a rotting disease from a whore in Paragraine (93).
“I didn’t know you were nobility,” Kazrack said, with a smile. “I would never have guessed.”
“So, when are we bringing you back?” Kazrack asked.
“Back home. I’m sure your poor mother is pining away,” Kazrack said.
“Look Kazrack, just stay out of this, okay?” Jeremy said angrily.
“But your family thinks you’re dead,” Kazrack continued. “Don’t you want to let them know the truth?”
“You know, Kazrack, as much as I like see Jeremy squirm, I think we should drop the subject,” Jana said, and emptied her mug of ale, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“I agree,” said Martin.
“”That being said, it leads to some interesting speculation, and to some possible interesting situation,” Jana said with a smile.
Beorth stood, “I’m going to go check on Ratchis.”
“I’ll join you,” said Jana, standing as well.
“”I’m in the room at the end of the hall,” Gunthar called over to Jana. “Drop by anytime tonight. Rondar’s unconscious in there – but I’ve always wanted to test my father’s assertion that the ‘Northrop Special’ can make a woman wake the dead!”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Jana chided back, and she and Beorth went up.
Kazrack turned to Martin and spoke very softly, leaning forward, “I’ve been thinking about that voice Ratchis heard in the Honeycombe, do you think it was Rahasia?”
“There is no way to know for certain,” Martin replied. “But I am going to change my robes and wash up and go see the alderman and see what I can find about the dragon killing someone. Maybe someone saw it clearly.”
The watch-mage left the table.
“I think an early sleep is a good idea for me,” Kazrack said. “My arm is throbbing.”
The dwarf looked to Jeremy, who was looking intently into his mug of ale, and shrugged his shoulders.
Jeremy sighed and sat alone at the able for some time and then went over to the bar and bought a pitcher of dark ale which he then carried over to Gunthar’s table.
“Mind if I join you?” Jeremy asked.
“Sure kid, sit down,” Gunthar said, licking flecks of beer foam from his blonde mustache.
Jeremy sat down and immediately felt the eyes of the barbarian sit upon him heavily. Debo, was nearly a full head shorter than Jeremy, but his shoulders were significantly broader. He had coarse black hair and random patches of stubble. The other man was Aldovar. He still wore his splint mail armor, and his mouth was always a perfectly horizontal emotionless line set in a well-groomed curly black beard, and with bright eyes that seemed to flicker with a green flame.
“So, what’s up with your group?” Gunthar asked Jeremy.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re traveling with a pig-f*cker, a grubber, a doughboy…”
“Who’s the doughboy? Oh, Martin?”
“Yeah, a pig-f*cker? They smell like crap! And the grubber? Do you count your coin every night? And what’s with the bald guy? Pale as death!”
“He follows Anubis,” Jeremy explained.
“Eh, a wanna-be Jackal-Ghoul (94),” Gunthar quipped. “And what about the piece? She your girl?”
“Jana? No way,” Jeremy said,
“Oh, come on, you never gave her a little bit of the old heave-ho?” Gunthar winked.
“Will you please stop talking that way?” Jeremy said, growing angry again.
“Oh, well, just means I won’t have to filthin’ kill you when she gives me a little bit and you get angry. You know what we need? Shots!” Gunthar got Wilson’s attention. “Five shots of foul spirits!” (95)
Martin walked out of Ogre’s Bluff to the west, following the narrow paths cleared of snow towards the Alderman’s house. He still ached from the ordeal in the ogre caves, and he shivered in the late evening cold, but he knew that the message awaiting him, and any information about the dragon he could gather would be invaluable.
At the alderman’s estate the young guard, Bryce, seemed annoyed to see Martin the Green.
“I need to see the alderman,” Martin said.
“Yeah, well he’s likely very busy,” Bryce said.
“I’m afraid I must insist,” Martin replied.
“Of course, you must,” the guard said crankily. ”Maybe you people should insist on hunting the dragon. All these people hunting the thing and yet it is able to show up here and kill my uncle. Typical.”
“Did you see it?” Martin asked, but Bryce had already walked towards the house, making the watch-mage wait in the cold.
Ten minutes later, Martin the Green was in the entrance hall speaking with the butler.
“Unfortunately, the alderman is indisposed right now,” the butler said. “However, I can pen you in his schedule for tomorrow afternoon.”
“That would be fine,” Martin replied. “But perhaps we can arrange for me to interview the staff about the dragon before that.”
“Well, only two people saw it,” the butler explained. “Brochard, and the alderman’s daughter. She has taken to her room since, and has not emerged.”
“Well, I will speak to Brochard then, and if possible Miss Silvestri,” Martin said. “We shall see. I was told there was a message for me?”
“Yes, it came from 12 Trolls via Summit a day or two ago,” the butler said, passing the watch-mage a sealed envelope.
Martin thanked Dormast and headed back to town.
“Oh yeah, choosing which princess to marry when we slay the dragon is going to be very tough,” Gunthar was saying. “But I’m the leader of the group so I get first choice.”
“Who do you think you’d choose, if you slay the dragon?” Jeremy asked, taking a sip of ale hoping it would cool the burning in his throat and stomach from the two shots of foul spirits he had already had.
“What do you filthin’ mean, if
?” Gunthar laughed. “We are going to slay that dragon. We have a foolproof plan.”
“You should not underestimate the tenacity of a fool,” Aldovar said in his creepy monotone. “But I must admit it is an excellent plan.”
“What is the plan?” Jeremy asked, leaning forward.
“Like we’d tell you,” Gunthar said. “Anyway, part of me would want to pick Princess Selma, big and strong, I’d like to break her, if you know what I mean – but I think it’d be Tracel, she seems the softest and most obedient, good qualities for a wife. Anyway, sisters talk and once the other princesses find out about the ‘Northrop Special’ they will all be visiting for a first hand look.”
Gunthar smiled and took a long sip of ale.
“Don’t you think that’d be dangerous?” Jeremy asked.
“Naw, nobility pretty much can do whatever the filth they want to do,” Gunthar said. “Look at what my father got away with, and there are others that do much worse and everyone acts like they can’t see the
strutting amongst the hens, if ya know what I’m saying.”
“Debo take the strong one,” the barbarian said in his bark-like voice. “Debo will bring her to my people and make an alliance between this soft kingdom and Debo’s tribe, which Debo will rule when Debo return and kill the chieftain and take control. Debo be son of king and use Gothanius soldiers to conquer all the other tribes under Debo’s.”
Debo made the frightening grimace that passed for a smile.
Jeremy leaned over to Gunthar and whispered, “You haven’t told him that this won’t work, have you?”
“Shut up,” Gunthar said, glaring.
“Debo strong and smart,” Debo said.
“Your strength shall be tested,” Aldovar said. “Only the strong prevail in this world and the weak serve or die. It is the simple the reality. My lord would not tolerate the weak or the meek to gain through luck what can be taken by strength.”
“I am going to mediate on the dark flames of my lord,” Aldovar said, standing.
“Remember not to abuse those powers,” Jeremy said jokingly.
“They are not to be wasted on the weak,” Aldovar said, turning towards the stairs.
Jeremy turned to Gunthar, “Did he just say we are all weak?”
“No, he just means that Frederick and Rondar are weak,” Gunthar said. “Speaking of which, I don’t think Rondar is going to last too much longer, if ya know what I mean, and you seem like an okay guy. I like your fighting style, if you want to drop them filthin’ losers you are traveling with you can join up with us.”
Jeremy was taking a sip of ale and ended up spitting a bunch out in surprise.
“Uh…” he paused. “Thanks, but I kind of have a commitment to those guys.”
“Whatever you like,” Gunthar said. He stood and sucked his flagon dry. “Good filthin’ night to you.” He turned to Debo. “Debo, go to bed soon. Stay out of trouble.”
Now only Jeremy and the barbarian were left in the common room.
It was silent for a long time. Jeremy’s stomach gurgled, and his mouth was dry. He tried to last longer than the barbarian, but in the end, his head was too cloudy and the aches of the wounds he had suffered the last few days were too much to ignore, and he went upstairs to bed.
(92) Earthsea City
is perhaps the most infamous city in the Kingdom of Neergaard, known for its dangerous streets, black-marketeers and swift and bloody justice
is the capitol of the Black Islands Barony.
(94) Monks of Anubis are often colloquially called “Jackal-Ghouls”, as people have the impression that they actually love death, and associate them with the misery and sadness of dead love ones, as they are the ones that traditionally collect and inter corpses. Of course, few people have the guts to call them by that name in their presence.
(95) Foul Spirits
is a very strong wood alcohol popular among sailors for its inebriating qualities, and by warriors for its effectiveness as a polish for armor. It is clear and slightly viscous.