Here begins Chapter One: Beginning, Again
Anulem, 21st of Syet– 564 H.E.
From the edge of the sparsely wooded hillside the woodsman squatted, surveying the procession on the black-stained earth below. The remains of several other funeral pyres marred the land and dandelions struggled to grow between them. It was obvious to him that yet another of the dwindling number of the town’s residents had died, and was to be sent to the duat
. (1) The young man could see that more than five score (most of the hamlet’s citizens) were in attendance - the large turnout was customary for the loss of one of their own. Knowing this would delay his day, he stood and turned heading back from whence he came. Tyrus would have to see Gus a little later than expected.
The crackle of fire broke the silence of the early morning as John Fisher’s funeral pyre began to catch ablaze. Ephraim Little spoke his few indecipherable words and threw the final torch onto the funerary. With the moans of the newly-widowed Maryanne Fisher as a dirge, a slow procession of Kendrick’s citizens approached the blaze in an orderly line. Those who remembered the simple and honest man’s life offered words of praise in passing, or tokens of affection as they walked by. One of these was Wrenchard Valinson – a middle aged family man and the closest thing to nobility that Kendrick had to offer.
“Farewell my friend may the rivers of Osiris’ Realm run clear and bountiful for you.”
Turning to the widow he offered his condolences and she collapsed into the man’s caring embrace. As was custom in the small hamlet, many of the Kendrits did not undertake their normal responsibilities that day, rather they retired to the public house where much of the time would be passed in mourning and remembrance.
The pub quickly filled and an air of melancholy pervaded the room. The oft-maligned Jonas Fawkes pulled a bench toward the hearth and struck up an appropriate mournful tune. Sisters, Ali and Meg Hartigan served watered-down drinks, steeped herbs, and food, as Gus Sweeney the proprietor cooked away in the open kitchen behind the bar. Most everyone was present, by the time the widow and war hero arrived. (2)
Amidst the retelling of fond memories and childhood stories involving the deceased, another topic of conversation began to surface; one that was brought up more and more often these days. The miller, Mahlon had again begun to gripe about the decaying land. At first, others were reluctant to join in this taboo subject, yet they understood the sentiment. The threat of the Menovian presence, fallow land, a putrid river, tribute and taxation, the ever-present and encroaching menace of the walking dead all served to wear on the nerves of the man.
Sturgis Cronk, the steel-haired and bearded sheriff, eyed the miller warily knowing all too well that heated words and liquor could always lead to something more drastic. However, while most seemed to be paying attention to Mahlon, Black Adair (3) struggled to impress the apple of his eye, Hazel.
Jesse, the tanner, a sandy-haired, freckle-faced, young man nodded in agreement as the miller insisted something be done. Above the din, Wrenchard Valinson heard a noise, apparently Pollack Zigler, the cooper, heard it too. The thick-armed craftsman seemed to suddenly be struck by the thought that perhaps he had forgotten something and elbowed his way through the crowd towards the door. Jonas, spotting the ornery middle-aged cooper in his haste, quickly changed tunes attempting a comical accompaniment to the man’s heated walk. To his dismay the man’s stuttered and jerky movements made no such task easily achieved.
Ignoring this, Wrenchard rose from the table. Ordinarily the sound of hammering would not be peculiar, but on this day, at this time, it struck him as odd. Excusing himself from his wife, the widow, and their children, he proceeded outside and toward the south end of the hamlet – from whence the sound emanated.
Pinpointing the origin of the hammering was not hard for the canny man, who was surprised to find that strangers looked to be squatting in the Stilwell’s old home. Calling a greeting out to the young man who stooped by the side of the house, re-nailing a slipped shingle, he received no response. A travel worn, yet comely young woman, barely more than a girl, leaned on the open doorjamb surveying the handyman’s work. A tie-hobbled donkey attempted to graze on the weeds struggling for life in the brown square of earth that was the front yard. Again Wrenchard called out to no avail, as he stepped towards them. He was beginning to wonder if he was being ignored, he threw up his hand and waved to the girl while raising his voice, resolute to get their attention. She looked at Wrenchard in silence as the man with the hammer stood and turned. A hunch seemed to overtake the mangy haired, bushy eye-browed stranger, yet despite this he still stood somewhere between 13 and 14 hands high. (4) Whether intentionally or not, the man obstructed Wrenchard’s view of the girl.
“Hello,” he said, accepting Wrenchard’s extended hand.
“Welcome to Kendrick!” came the reply. “I am Wrenchard Valinson, and who might you be?”
“I am Jebediah Groomer,” stepping aside a little the slouched man gestured to the girl still leaning behind him. “And this is my sister, Constance. Well met.”
“What brings you to our small community?” queried the native.
“Well you see good sir, my sister and I have recently fled Menovia. We were but lowly serfs who worked indentured land, and until recently we could not enjoy our freedom. As we hurried to leave the kingdom we joined with a caravan headed north, not really caring what direction it led, as long as it was away from there. Unfortunately, one morn as we prepared to break camp, we were set upon by orcs. Slightly more foul than our old captors, and slightly less cruel, they quickly tore into us all, killing everyone they could find. I am not proud to admit that we hid amongst the dead that lie littered by the wagon. By the luck of Bes we were spared. For days we wandered, leaving the track and eventually found a river. Knowing civilizations to generally lay near running water we followed it upstream until eventually finding a bridge. Crossing it, we figured it’d be best to at least be on the opposite side of the Menovians, again we followed upstream. It must’ve been at least three days or more through the hills until we finally caught sight of the large sails of your mill. Noticing the abundance of abandoned homes, we chose this one, and, well, went to work fixing it up.”
“Hunh,” grunted Wrenchard. He was obviously none too surprised by the man’s tale. Waiting for a response, Jebediah could see that his new neighbor seemed to still be taking this all in.
Finally, Wrenchard answered, “Well, consider me the welcoming committee. But this story of yours just won’t do. We may have to lie a little, and tell people something else. You see, folks around these parts ain’t takin’ too kindly to any Menovians.”
Wrenchard noticed now that Constance had slowly closed in on the two men while they were talking. Turning to acknowledge her presence as well as include her in what he was about to say, he began again. “I’ve got an idea.”
Jebediah turned to his sister, interrupting. “Constance, though I hate to, we may have to tell a lie,” he intoned.
“Okay, Jebediah,” came her almost derisive reply.
Unphased, Wrenchard continued, “You are both from Black River Bridge. Now that’s a small town just a few days north of here on the western bank of Black River. Here let’s walk as I talk.”
He motioned forward. “Let’s go to the pub, first round of drinks are on me.” (5)
The two pilgrims followed as Wrenchard continued on, “Where was I, ah yes, Black River Bridge, so you’ll need to know a bit about it. I am something of a worldly man y’know…”
Meanwhile, the miller had succeeded in achieving what the sheriff hoped he wouldn’t. Just being generally ornery and succumbing to a bit of the root tonic, his zeal was beginning to get the best of him. Arriving at the back door as always, Tyrus greeted Gus and came inside, checking his blades and bow by the inside corner of the doorway. As Gus continued to monitor a small crock-pot that hung in the fire, the young man hung his catch on the usual hooks that were now all empty and deposited two clay jugs of root tonic on the chopping block. The young woodsman and his uncle brewed the moonshine.
“Those guinea fowl look nice, Tyrus,” the portly, ruddy-faced barman said, with a big smile. He seemed to always be smiling.
“Thanks. Only three today, sorry.” Tyrus noticed the raised voices from the common room. “What’s goin’ on out there?”
“Well, as I’m sure you know, or’ve heard, John Fisher passed on yesterday. You know how it goes.” Knowing the boy’s disinterest in the town’s affairs, Gus quickly turned to business. “Now, what can I getcha fer those? What d’ya need?”
Tyrus caught the smell of some of Gus’ skillet potatoes, “Well how about we start with a big plate of food. I’m starved, huntin’s getting to be more work. And then the usual, whatever you can spare.” He laid down the recycled burlap sack they used to transport their bartered goods.
Gus quickly moved to mound a plate with food. Potatoes, roast leg of venison and an assortment of root vegetables were piled up beneath some oatbread. Taking the plate, Tyrus asked for some water, knowing full well the effects of his uncle’s homebrew.
“No root tonic Tyrus?” Gus joked.
“You know I don’t touch the stuff. Mind you water that now.”
“Yeah, I know”
Tyrus gladly accepted the fare and headed towards the back of the bar, and thusly the common room. “Mind if I say hello to the girls, Gus?”
Taking his plate and nodding a greeting to the still pretty, while busy, Ali and Meg, Tyrus made his way past them, to the end of the bar. Half sitting, half standing with his back to the wall, the hearth and gangly Jonas on the left, he dug in. Tyrus couldn’t help, as everyone else here, but listen in on the hubbub. He noticed also that not too far away, Motie, a small shifty-eyed man, whose short bowl-cropped black hair was pasted to his forehead, also seemed keen on paying special attention to the trend of the dialogue. Perhaps the only other member of the community who lived a private life, Motie, was generally disliked, causing even Tyrus to get goose-bumps.
Just as the debate seemed to be reaching a crux, Wrenchard returned with his new guests. All fell silent as the newcomers suffered myriad eyes to fall upon them - surveying them, judging them. They felt the discomfort of attending a party at which they were not invited. A favorable verdict was rapidly reached. Wrenchard’s presence did much to alleviate suspicions.
Sturgis, interested in the strangers, stood and moved to intercept them on the way to the Valinsons’ table. Though diminished somewhat, Mahlon again resumed his oral exasperation. Sturgis was introduced to the Groomers and Wrenchard quickly began an explanation of their story.
Mentioning that they’d have to discuss their occupation of the Stilwell home at length, some later time, the sheriff cut his interrogation short, taking his leave to return to the vicinity of the rabble-rousers. Wrenchard curious as to Mr. Cronk’s parting, followed close behind, beginning to get the gist of the conversation. Avoiding more awkwardness by sitting down, Jebediah led his sister to the further end of the bar, closest to Tyrus. Meg, the shorter and more full-figured of the Hartigan’s, acknowledged their arrival with a look before hustling further down the wood-bar’s span to service priority patrons. Soon she reappeared, wiping her soiled hands on her smock. Jebediah could see that beneath the sweat beaded on her brow and the thin film of grime on her skin she was a young attractive woman full of life, most unlike anything else about this place that he’d yet witnessed.
“What can I getcha?” she prompted, cocking an ear while still in motion.
“A Silgar spirits and a rouge wine, if you please,” he replied.
Stopping, she stared at him blankly lost in thought for a second before repeating his request aloud; doing so as if for her sake as much as his.
“A wine and spirits.” She hurried off.
Briefly they waited, trying to take in all the sights. Jebediah fingering his laden money pouch before the barmaid returned with a cloudy brown liquid occupying an unadorned wooden goblet and a nostril stinging odorless tawny lucent liquid in a similarly styled cup. She bustled off. Jebediah passed the goblet to his fair haired sister, Constance. He eyed it curiously, before studying his own beverage.
A dramatic strum of strings carried over the clamor as the Fawkes boy now invited his elder to the impromptu forum.
“C’mon up here, Mr. Miller,” he invited, beckoning as he stood on his stool.
Isaiah Fawkes, the would-be musician’s adoptive father slapped his own head in patient incredulity. The miller earnestly made his way through the parting crowd to where Jonas had provided him a stage. Sturgis settled in, silently hoping that his deputy Harden Speck, who was on militia duty was not too far away. In a commanding tone, Mahlon grasped the attention of everyone in the common room.
“Something must be done!” Many in the crowd nodded.
“John Fisher got it easy. He doesn’t have to wait here like the rest of us, waitin’ to die.”
This didn’t seem to capture much sympathy, but no one dared interject knowing the penchant for the miller to have a hot temper since his son’s death, especially now that he was full of the morning’s worth of root tonic. However, the widow Fisher did let out a terrible sobbing, and was quickly accompanied out by Kelize Valinson, Bette Kerswill, and Ida Cubitt. Their children all followed.
“How long can we last? How long can we endure fallow lands, putrid waters, waning food supplies, the Menovian presence, and the threat of the walking dead? The prince has forgotten us. (6) The no-good aristocracy doesn’t care. How long must we suffer?”
The crowd stirred, “Yeah.”
The miller could now feel that the crowd was with him. “Well, I, for one, say we do something!”
There was a glimmer in Wrenchard’s eye as he moved through the crowd towards the hearth. Finding his cue, with delight Jonas filled in fitting gaps with the dramatic plunk of his lute strings. Suggestions emanated from the townsfolk, bordering on debate.
“We’ll send someone to Blacktop!”
“We should kill those Menovians!”
“Let’s go to Scales!”
“What about Gothanius?”
The miller grabbed at the most appealing, “I’m sick of the Menovians. What do we owe them? What do they provide us? I say, next time they come we give ‘em somethin’ else from Kendrick!”
Noticing the war hero close at hand, Mahlon looked to seal the deal and invited Wrenchard to stand beside him. “What say you, Wrenchard, will you take up arms against the Menovians?”
Avoiding the man’s clasping hand that reached for his shoulder, Jonas found himself flanked between his two elders. “I’m opposed to the taking of arms” he interrupted, thrusting his arm into the air.
Wrenchard, taken aback, looked down upon the lad. “Aren’t you in the militia?”
“So?” came the reply, which was quickly stifled as the crowd burst into laughter and much of the building tension was swept from the room. Sturgis smiled and shot a wink at the younger Fawkes, though this did little to mitigate the wound to his pride.
Minutes later Wrenchard began, “Mahlon has a point.” The crowd being drawn in again, nodded. The miller beamed. “We can’t just do nothing, something should be done. It’s been nearly half a season since we’ve had any contact with the outside world. We need to take matters into our own hands.” The crowd hung on the war-hero’s words. Mahlon wrung his hands in anticipation. “Perhaps it is time for us to carve out our own land. We don’t know what lies beyond the Little Kingdoms, but there we might be able to found our own land.”
“I know of towns with dwarves and stuff,” proffered the lutist.
“I propose that we send a small group to scout out a more hospitable land,” continued Valinson.
With this, the quiet woodsman lay down his fork and walked up to the front of the crowd. For the first time ever, he addressed the collective community.
“I am Tyrus. I know many more of you than you do me. I’ll guide you wherever you need to go.”
Wrenchard nodded approvingly at the young stocky man who was built like the hills he prowled. He returned to eating as another argument ensued about the status of the Alderman.
“He’s dead!” the cynics offered.
“No, he’s left us all here to die!” suggested the pessimistic.
“He’s rotting in the prince’s dungeons!” another claimed.
It was minutes before Wrenchard could once again recapture their attention. Avoiding the subject, he continued, “I would be willing to leave my family’s land; to abandon it, not for my own good, but for the whole town.” (7)
Jebediah and Constance noticed that the pot-bellied loner, Motie, was keenly interested in every detail of this conversation. While surveying the room for replies to Wrenchard’s admission, Jonas’ own wandering eye stopped on the young female pilgrim. Curious as to whom she could find so much more appealing than he, he followed her gaze to land upon the button-nosed Motie. He didn’t like this one bit, and neither did the sheriff it seemed - who was ever-observant.
“Y’know this kinda talk is seditious. It puts not only you in jeopardy, but this whole town. Now I’m not sayin’ that you can’t do somethin’, or that if you were I could stop ya. But we’re forgettable alright. So much so that this oft-overlooked hamlet could easily become just the sort of example that the Menovians could use to set a precedent amongst the rest of Rhondria.” The sheriff’s words commanded respect and attention from everyone.
Well, almost everyone, while the sheriff spoke Jonas stood, whispering in Wrenchard’s ear. “We should do this in secret.” With that he blurted out after the sheriff, “You’re right. This is all a joke. All just a joke, see?”
He broke into song and strummed his lute some more, playing a joyous tune. A bit confused, but feeling to some degree that a resolution had been made, people began to return home or dance the local jigs. Jebediah and Constance joined in the revelry, dancing in unison as their tandem steps carried them in long loping circular strides around the outside of the high-steppers.
Mr. Valinson made the rounds in the pub, stopping to talk to several individuals the rest of that afternoon. One among them was the ‘Black’ Adair, the sharecropper who had recently begun as apprentice to Wrenchard. Following in the tradition of which he had come to learn his craft, Wrenchard had now taken to training the boy in the making and writing of maps as well as surveying the land. Adair was bright, and Wrenchard would value his point of view at the dinner he decided that he must now plan for tonight. Adair was an average shepherd boy predestined for an average Kendrit life. He left with Hazel, so charmed by her that he hardly noticed when he walked into Motie, bumping the smaller man aside. Before proceeding into the chill air and darkening sky of late fall, Tyrus, Sturgis, Jonas, Constance, and Jebediah had all been invited as well.
Wrenchard returned home with what he hoped was more than enough time to warn his house attendants of the large dinner party. Gravis and Noelle, seemed annoyed, but did their best to comply.
The few hours before dinner passed quickly and Tyrus made a point of arriving early. Gravis answered the door, “Good evening young sir” and welcomed the youthful woodsman into the foyer. Taking the freshly killed rabbit offered by the hunter as a gift, he suggested the man leave his arms in the assembly hall. Doing so, Tyrus was shown into the comfortable dining area, dominated by a large long table. A warm fire made the room seem very comfortable and inviting. Wrenchard greeted the early arrival.
“Welcome Tyrus, I’m glad you could join us.”
“The young master has brought a gift sir.” Gravis informed Wrenchard holding the offering at arm’s length, before turning to leave by yet another door.
“Thank you, Tyrus.”
Minutes later, as Tyrus, Wrenchard, Kelize, Maryanne, and the kids John Jr., Annabelle and Dian made niceties, the majority remaining guests arrived. The Groomers, who coincidentally had chosen to adopt a house adjacent to the Valinson’s, found it a short walk to his front door where they met the black-haired Adair. Having arrived moments before, the Groomers allowed his rap on the solid pine door to suffice for them as well.
“Hello, I’m Adair,” the third eldest son of the Bannon home introduced himself, noticing the darkened beauty of the pilgrim girl even in the low-light conditions.
“Jebediah Groomer, and my sister Constance.“ She looked as if to curtsy, but kind of stalled. Adair could see that she had just saved herself from awkwardly stumbling. Before he could react, they all turned hearing the approach of people from behind them.
“Hello, Adair, Jebediah.” called the squinty, blue-eyed sheriff, signaling their approach.
“Hello, Mr. Cronk” answered Adair.
Adair could see that Sturgis was being accompanied by two other individuals, neither of whom was at the pub at any point earlier in the day. As a result, neither Jebediah nor Constance recognized either of the men. The younger was a tall man standing over six feet high adorned in iron studded leather accoutrements that had seen much wear. He wore a scabbarded short sword and carried an oiled-smooth club bound with rings of iron. It was hard to make out the features of the deputy’s face below his partial faced cap helm and above his large rectangular wooden shield. To the sheriff’s left paced a much different individual. An unarmed, unarmored, older man of average height that wore naught more than comfortable amber-brown robes below the immense golden ankh draped from a braided leather thong about his neck. His clean-shaven head identified him as devoted to Ra, his face was cracked like water-starved earth. Jebediah accepted his well-calloused hand as they reached the doorway as well.
“Hello Ephraim. Hello Harden,” Adair acknowledged.
Gravis opened the door and welcomed the visitors inside. Proceeding into the foyer, they made introductions all around, exchanging handshakes. With familiarity, the sheriff and his deputy laid up their arms, and Ephraim entered the dining room. His annoyance overlooked, Gravis quickly shuffled off to the kitchen to inform Noelle of two additional guests.
“Wrenchard, how are you?” Sturgis asked with a slight nod to the widow Fisher. “I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of inviting Harden and Ephraim. I’m sure you would have, had they been around earlier.”
Politically savvy Wrenchard answered with a big smile, “Of course, thank you! Ephraim, Harden, welcome!” He moved to shake their hands.
Gravis laid in two unplanned place settings as everyone was finding seats to their liking. One still lay unspoken for, as idle chit-chat was offered and passed around the table. Ephraim chose a seat next to Maryanne and Kelize doing his best to console the widow in her time of grief. Wrenchard and Adair spoke with Sturgis, as Tyrus, unaccustomed to such formal gatherings listened in. And Harden took the opportunity to quiz Jebediah and Constance of the details of their tale. Constance could now see that Harden was a striking young man, presumably in his early twenties with a hard-lined jaw, well-defined high cheekbones and softly dimpled cheeks, which nicely accented his smile.
“So I hear that you’ve come from Black River Bridge?” he asked rhetorically. “And I assume you came by way of Split Mountain Bridge. (8) How long did it take you?”
“A few days” replied Jebediah guardedly.
“And why’d you come here?” queried Harden raising an eyebrow.
But just then, all heads turned as the sound of heavy knocking carried in from the foyer hall.
In the meanwhile, Jonas too had returned home to freshen up. Having some spare time before dinner he figured that he could squeeze in some juggling practice. Grabbing three torches, flint and steel he quickly made his way through the small house.
“Where’re ya off to boy?” asked his father.
“Militia duty, Pop” he replied and scuttled out the door past Isaiah’s judging eye.
Once outside and a good distance from the house, Jonas lit up his torches and began to work. After diligently practicing for the better part of an hour and singed forearms as proof, the lanky kid figured he had just enough time to squeeze in a nap before dinner. It would be a long night. Moseying over to their family’s barn he found his regular comfortable pallet of straw and hay and dozed off.
Some time later, Jonas awoke with a start and the all too familiar feeling of having overslept. Doing his best to straighten his perpetually disheveled clothes and flatten his constantly tousled hair, he broke into a run headed for home. He threw open the door and began to scurry about frantically.
“What’s the matter boy?” his father asked. Evidently he’d been shirking his duties again.
“Goin’ to dinner, Pop.”
“Oh yeah, where?” The elder Fawkes was surprised by the response.
“Mr. Valinson’s,” the lad replied curtly as he pulled a belt from atop a cupboard.
“Oh really….” Isaiah was incredulous. “Now listen son, you’re getting’ older now, in fact, you’re a grown man, and, well, I like to think I done a good job a rearin’ ya.”
“Ya have, Pop,” the boy interrupted, while ducking to look for something under a table.
Exasperated, Isaiah continued, “Just don’t lie to me son. Please don’t lie!”
“Okay. Can you pass me my sack of juggling balls?”
Isaiah held out the burdened burlap bundle, Jonas snatched it and was off. He called back through the open door and Isaiah heard the chill night air whisper, “Love ya, Pop.”
Being shown through the foyer by a somewhat irritated Gravis, Jonas was a bit surprised to see that everyone else had clearly arrived early, gotten comfortable and already finished most of their mulled-wine.
“Thanks for invitin’ me Mr. Valinson.”
“Just call me Wrenchard, Jonas,” the host half-stood, half-sat at the head of the table.
Jonas took up the only remaining empty seat at the end of the table next to Harden, across from the Groomers. He shot Constance a wink. No sooner had he done so when the meal arrived. A fairly generous display of roast fowl, assorted root vegetables, braised cabbages and oatbread was laid before the guests. Forgetting his earlier topic, Harden was quick to bring up the subject that was on everyone’s mind.
“Well, Mr. Valinson, I hear that you’d like to lead an expedition. I’d be curious to hear more about the idea,” he queried.
This breach of etiquette apparently annoyed Mrs. Valinson, as her face contorted in reply. She forced herself to choke down a bit more wine and distractedly turned to Ephraim and Maryanne, eagerly striking up idle chatter. Constance too seemed a bit confused by Harden’s prompting, and Wrenchard finished swallowing his mouthful before speaking.
“Well, yes, Harden I do, but in due time. We’ll discuss it all at length in due time.”
With that he ended the issue and the rest of the meal passed pleasantly. After the dinner plates had been cleared, drinks refilled and bread pudding served, a fine nectar was brought for all to enjoy. The transparent ochre hued liquor sloshed viscously in the funny bowl-shaped stemware. Tyrus eyed his warily and surveyed the tables’ reactions.
Jonas seemed just as curious as he asked, “What is this Mr…, Wrenchard?”
Everyone else seemed delighted including Jebediah who Tyrus could see cupped the bowl of the glass in the cradle of his palm and fingers, slightly swirling its contents in a circular motion. As Tyrus opened his mouth to speak he was interrupted.
“What are you doing, Jebediah?” Constance enunciated.
Drawing attention to her brother, he was obviously embarrassed. Pulling his nose from the vessel’s depths, he replied.
“Uh, nothing…?” He quaffed the entirety of the container.
The women were now dismissed and the men adjourned to Wrenchard’s study. The eight of them were a bit crowded in the otherwise comfortable room. Half sat and half stood amid the sheaves of parchment, map-adorned walls, bottles of ink, quills, coal markers, and funny looking instruments; one of which Jonas thumbed casually, causing it to rock in its wooden cradle.
“Now as you inquired, Harden, I do indeed think that something should be done as Mahlon suggested earlier today. That’s why I’ve invited you all here tonight. You all appear to be just as interested or may offer some insight into the undertaking of such an endeavor. As Jonas suggested though, we should keep this quiet. Sturgis may be right when he says that such talk is seditious and dangerous. Word of this getting out may cause problems for us or the town.”
“I don’t pretend to know the law,” admitted the sheriff. “Especially under Menovian rule, but I imagine that they wouldn’t take too kindly to it is all. Besides, how would you even move a town? You can’t move a town.”
“No you can’t move a town, but you can move its people,” suggested Wrenchard.
“Besides” offered Jonas “it’s ridiculous to say that all
Menovians are evil. It’s not like they’re dwarves.”
“No, but they do worship the god of power. They build foul shrines to him,” reported Jebediah with contempt. “They are even building a temple to honor the snake-headed one in Black Top.”
“A temple to the serpent god on Rhondrian soil? Unbelievable!” exclaimed Ephraim.
“But true,” Wrenchard confirmed.
Excitedly, Jonas grew louder, as if coming from deep thought and not having heard any of the recent conversation. “If we’re gonna keep this secret we’ll need a cover story!”
No one listened to him.
Wrenchard rifled about his desk and produced a small rolled parchment. Untying the ribbon used to keep it compact, he unfurled the map and spread it flat across the wooden desk. Securing it down with stones, he beckoned everyone around and began to point out landmarks. They surveyed the lands of Dralmohir, discussed the Black River, argued over directions, kingdoms, politics, and potential destinations. Ultimately, a general plan was accepted. A group was to head north along the river in John Fisher’s now unused canoes, hit shore before Black River Bridge and take a land route through the hills westward toward Black Top and then continue in that direction into Gothanius.
Gravis entered the study and more brandy was poured.
Talk turned now to whom and how many should comprise such a group, how many it should be. Tyrus again volunteered his services, as Wrenchard declared that he’d help lead the group. Adair, though quiet, kept it no secret that he was interested. Briefly, Harden considered it as well, but was quickly reminded of other duties by both the sheriff and the priest. Jebediah volunteered his cooperation, and that of his sister.
“I don’t think that a woman’s place is on the road, just like I don’t think a woman’s place is in the study,” offered Wrenchard. “Perhaps your sister could stay here and help work my lands, or help my wife about the house.”
“No,” replied Jebediah curtly, and the matter was left at that.
Having heard enough, Tyrus got up to leave.
“You’re going? We still haven’t talked about the cover story” Jonas said.
Tyrus, unconcerned, replied, “I’m not literate.”
Jonas, ordinarily not at a loss for words, paused and smirked.
Tyrus continued, “I don’t know anything about taxes, laws, Menovians or anything like that. I know about the woods and those hills.”
Harden also made to go. Sturgis and Ephraim feeling the effects of the late hour coupled with the alcohol did too make ready to go. As farewells and handshakes were exchanged, Ephraim pulled Wrenchard out into the hall with him for a bit of privacy.
“Wrenchard, you say that the Groomers are new to town today. Are they acquaintances of yours? Do you know them?”
“No,” Wrenchard didn’t quite know where this was going.
“And you trust them? It seems a bit odd to me that they happen upon our sleepy little hamlet today, this major idea comes to fruition today, and they are all too willing to aid in our endeavors today. Hadn’t they just come here to take up residence? Fixing a house in disrepair as if to stay? Why leave now?”
Wrenchard had no answer, but the cleric could see that the war hero was now in thought. Having achieved what he’d desired, he bade Wrenchard pay him a visit before going anywhere, and took his leave. The host returned to the study as the sheriff and his deputy were wrapping up their good evenings.
“We hope to see you on the breach tonight, Jonas,” said Harden to the militia man. “Noticed you’ve been absent lately.”
Jonas flushed a little, speechless, and Wrenchard turned again to see out the two lawmen.
Returning to his guests, he found the room much more spacious now, and comfortable.
“We have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” remarked Jebediah.
Wrenchard could only speculate as to what they’d been discussing. The musician was obviously still stand offish about undertaking this quest.
“I’ll only go if my father says that I can.”
“Jonas, you’re a grown man, you can make your own decisions,” replied Adair.
“Yeah I know but my father needs me, I mean, he can’t tend our crops without me.”
“You said yourself that someone should chronicle our exploits,” continued Adair. “I can think of no one more suitable than you.”
Jonas balked. “We’re not rich like Mr. Valinson, my father needs me.”
“Perhaps your father could come help work my land, my wife will be needing help with me gone.”
“But we have our own land, he just needs me to work it.”
Jebediah had a thought. “Could your father use a donkey? Perhaps that could do to make up for his loss if you join us.”
“An ass for an ass!” Tyrus interjected, highly amused.
“At least I don’t smell like one!” Jonas retorted.
“Listen we can’t tell anyone about what we’re planning to do. The less people that know the better,” said Wrenchard, bringing the conversation back to the matter at hand.
“Well, I have to ask my dad, or at least tell him,” Jonas whined.
“What about Motie?” asked Tyrus, leaning on the desk. “I saw him listening in at the pub. I don’t know what he heard, or knows, or suspects.”
“Ah, I’m tired of Motie,” sighed Wrenchard.
“Well, what do you want to do
about Motie?” whispered Tyrus, leaning in closer, a sinister glint beginning to shine in his eye.
Jonas, taken aback, protested, “I’m not sure I like where this conversation is going.”
“Maybe you should leave the room,” suggested Tyrus, a sardonic smile began to work its way across his face.
“Nothing,” Wrenchard said. “We can’t touch him. But he’s not to be trusted.”
Another brief debate began in which the facts, circumstance, and rumor about the dubiously reputed Menovian sympathizer were scrutinized. In the end, it was decided that nothing could be done to or about him. Even if he were the worst of what everyone suspected him to be, Motie would never go unnoticed.
A cover story was developed (with Jonas’ help). The group decided to say that Wrenchard had received a large surveying job requiring the assistance of the other conspirators. A pact was made swearing them all to secrecy except where absolutely necessary. With that everyone seemed to be winding down, the end of the evening drawing nigh. They had talked into the wee hours of the morn and plans for the morrow were briefly discussed. It was agreed that Jonas and Jebediah would examine the canoes in the morning. They also needed to start hunting, gathering, and preserving food supplies. Adair and Tyrus would concern themselves with this. As everyone rose to leave, Jonas cocked his head slightly toward the shuttered window, hushing the conspirators with a finger to his lips.
“Do you hear that?” he asked. “It sounds like a cow being choked to death.”
“I guess that I am not the only one light-headed from the brandy,” Jebediah chuckled.
“No!” Jonas admonished. Not to be made the fool, he lunged to the window and cast open the shutters. They could all hear it now. A terrible guttural drawn-out moan bellowed in with the cold night breeze. Jonas dove headlong out the window in an attempt to clear the bush below. He landed most ungracefully, scuffing his face, shoulders, and elbows. Everyone else quickly moved through the house. Tyrus was the first to reach his weapons and the front door. He was followed closely by Adair, who accepted the bow and quiver passed to him. The black-haired young man could see a look of mingled anticipation and animosity that lay just beneath the hunter’s calm countenance.
Wrenchard ducked into the sitting room and made straight for the fireplace. He called back to Jebediah who was visibly confused.
“Jebediah, perhaps you should retrieve your own blade. I think you are about to be introduced to Kendrick.”
Pulling his own quiver down from the mantle place, Wrenchard hurried back to the hall ushering the Groomer out. Wrenchard dashed off in the direction of the wailing, hard on the heels of the silhouettes he assumed to be his pupil and the woodsman. A soiled Jonas caught up to the war hero and within minutes they found themselves at the southeastern-most edge of town. Where the breach (9) met the cow byres marking the town’s outermost perimeter, Tyrus slowed his sprint. He cautiously approached the animal shelter from whence the offending sound emanated. Further down the wooden palisade, Adair could barely distinguish the sight of figures holding aloft torches, thrusting spears down into the trench below. The waning moon provided little light and Tyrus squinted into the dark byre. It appeared as if indeed a man squatted over the form of a downed cow, throttling it. Both long and short blades drawn, he moved forward to confirm his suspicion. Without pause he thrust the shorter of the swords into the offenders back, just below the nape of the neck. Adair pulled the bow, ready to sink an arrow into any horror that might emerge from within.
The first assault upon Tyrus came quickly as the smell of putrid flesh filled his nostrils. The animated rotting carcass of a man stood, leaving the cow laid out to bleed violently. It rounded on its new assailant with jerky, laborious movements. A low murmuring moan not unlike the bovine death rattle issued from the monstrosity’s remaining bowels.
Reflexively the hunter let forth with a wide sweeping arc of his second longer sword, but he was unable to find its mark in those close quarters. Wrenchard and Jonas arrived, spreading out to the flanks of the poised Adair and the small hut. Guardedly, Tyrus began to back out. Wrenchard, not far from Adair, pulled forth from his quiver a large dart. Jonas moved past the byres closer to the breach, looking for any more of the abnormalities. Jonas too could see the frenzied combat that was taking place down the line. Following its prey from the byre, the zombie lurched forth after Tyrus. Both Adair and Wrenchard’s missiles hit their marks, burying into the creatures leather-like flesh. Unchecked, it still came. Now able to swing freely, Tyrus stood his ground. Wrenchard and Adair continued to circle around the melee, careful not to injure their friend, finding their target as often as they missed.
The zombie seemed unaffected by the warriors’ weapons, only the greater of Tyrus’ two swords proved especially effective. It continued to lumber on, arrows and darts sticking from it in every direction. Jonas spotted what looked like someone who may be in need of help just beyond the breach. Gathering up his strength, he climbed past the palisade, approached the edge of the eight foot deep trench and leapt across its near ten foot span. From this vantage he could discern the silhouette of what looked like a smaller, long-haired person cradling something in his arms. Wary of anything emerging from the direction of Dralmohir, he alerted the others. Jebediah who had stole home to collect his blade, rallied to the call. Picking his way past the first aberration he caught sight of what Jonas had seen.
In an act of courageous stupidity, the acrobatic Jonas, fearing for the safety of his acquaintances used the only weapon he had. He set his jaw, lowered his head, squared his shoulders and sprinted with all the might his legs could muster, straight into the baby-laden undead mother.
Not being the most nimble target, Jonas collided hard. He barely managed to maintain his balance after pushing the zombie back. It was at this moment that the lute-player realized he knew the victim. Lou Ann Crowley and her enfant terrible, Morgan, had died two years prior. Jonas was frozen in momentary horror. Beneath her now glassy glazed eyes Jonas would’ve never known that the woman was once fond of him, she swung hard a clenched fist. It was brought to bear across Jonas’ eye and ear, bringing him back to the present. Jonas looked up. The baby’s worn teeth were stained brown and it’s once chubby skin now hung like drapery from its withered form. Unchecked by the reality of this situation, Jebediah dug his heels into the ground and unsheathed his mighty hand-and-a-half sword, calling for Jonas to withdraw. Obliging the pilgrim’s desire to fight, LouAnne hurled her malicious toddler at the man. The child flew past landing in the dirt, rounding to gnaw at Jebediah’s calves. Mrs. Crowley shuffled forth.
By this time Wrenchard, Adair and Tyrus had finally finished the initial offender. Tyrus continued to pierce and slash the downed corpse certifying the cessation of its unnatural movement. Adair and Wrenchard both, quivers light, moved to flank Jebediah, searching for opportunity to strike this second target. Looking down now, Jebediah noticed the smaller, more immediate assailant.
“Argh, it’s a baby!” His scream echoed through the still night air. “Kill it! Kill it!”
With several repeated blows of the unconventional blade he cleaved the thing in twain. Tyrus moved forward to form a line with Jebediah.
“Stay back!” Jebediah called to the less well-armed combatants. Jonas obliged and nursing a headache, crept back toward the byre.
Inspired, he called out in song, “And the mighty warriors fought the living dead that came across the breach…”
Wrenchard spotted another such creature, a young girl, emerging from the darker lands beyond. Quickly the two swordsmen dispatched LouAnne, ending her fitful unrest, but not before Jebediah suffered stinging gashes and lacerations from her claw-like nails. Closing the line, flanked by the palisade, Wrenchard and Adair waited with the swordsmen for the next threat.
“…and the mighty warriors formed a line to keep the undead from penetrating the town,” the sounds of Jonas’ song came to them as he stooped near the cow byre quickly patting down the first felled zombie, in search of weapons or anything of value. Within seconds of the mindless automaton approaching the line, consumed with bloodlust, they cut it down.
The danger averted Wrenchard and Adair paused to quickly salvage any darts or arrows they could. Tyrus looked none the worse for wear. No stranger to pain, Jonas clenched a cool rock to his eye in an attempt to alleviate some of the sting and heat of the swelling growing there.
Jebediah, still excited, asked loudly, “Are there any barbers in town?”
With the threat passed, crickets slowly began to chirp again.
“Healers,” he clarified after lack of response “anyone who can aid me?”
As Adair approached Jebediah, looking him over, he explained that the first Adair, eldest of the three bearing the name in the small town, was a fair substitute. The sounds of footsteps, much more rhythmic than those of their fallen adversaries, approached the group now. Two men bearing torches and cudgels were led by Harden Speck. One of the men was Jesse Tanner, the second Gerald the broad-shouldered, full-bearded carpenter. Gerald let loose his hound, Motar, and headed to the cow byre.
“Well done,” Harden commended. Jesse stood eyeing the darker lands beyond the breach. In a hushed voice the deputy leaned in on Wrenchard, “We’d better get moving along before anyone suspects anything of your odd group out here together so late.” He again raised his voice, “Well we’d better see how Edwin’s faring up on the north end. Glory-a!” (10)
Harden turned back from whence the way he came. Jesse diligently fell in behind. A loud whacking sound came from the animal shelter and the low moaning ceased to issue from within. A bloodied Gerald emerged, nodded in the war hero’s direction, and then joined in step.
“Motar, c’mere! Here, boy. Come!” He called, in procession.
Safely out of earshot, Tyrus voiced his true feelings about the militia and their inadequacies. Unable to abide by the slander, Jonas took offense.
“Why are you saying that? They were fighting too.”
“Well, you’re a part of the militia and you look like you got a good ass-kicking” remarked Tyrus.
“Well, I’m used to it” Jonas conceded.
“No, your valor was acceptable” Tyrus vindicated.
“I’m glad you think so.” Jonas’ sarcasm was lost on the social neophyte.
(1) – Duat
is the name of the state of the soul while in Anubis’ Realm. It is a calm emotionless state where there is neither pleasure nor pain, simply being, until judgment by Osiris. It is also used as the name of the actual “place” where the souls are found.
(2) Wrenchard Valinson is considered a local war hero due to his brave actions and inspiring words at what would be called “The Battle of the Mill”.
(3) There are a few ‘Adair’s in town, as it became a popular name due to the respect earned by the oldest Adair in town, a healer and herbalist of no small skill.
(4) – One hand is a measure of height commonly used in the kingdom to determine how tall men, women, children and livestock (most notably horses) stand. One ‘hand’ is based upon the width of the actual sovereign’s hand and this can oft times lead to confusion, whereas one ruler may succeed another whose hands were either more or less wide.
(5) – Gus Sweeney, owner/proprietor of the Kendrick public house has never asked anyone for as much as a copper for a drink from his bar.
(6) – Crown Prince Melguen Yearnall is the current ruler of the principality of Rhondria.
(7) – Wrenchard Valinson is easily the wealthiest landowner of the hamlet of Kendrick. He is the only man to employ house servants, and he share-crops his lands.
(8) – Harden is referring to the only other bridge which crosses Black River. Split Mountain Bridge is in Menovia, to the south.
(9) – The Breach
– Ever present on the mind of those who live in Kendrick is the close proximity of Dralmohir to where they live. The breach is easily the most dominant feature of the town, a long palisade wall of sharpened stakes jutting outward to the east. Just below this wall is dug a long trench, running the entirety of its length. No one knows when this wall was constructed or for how long it has stood, but the townsfolk repair and improve upon it wherever they can. Some of the older citizens remember it being hardly necessary, almost comical, but now it is often the only deterrent to those who’d seek the living as a meal. The attacks by foul undead creatures have become much more frequent in the past years, beginning to unnerve several of Kendrick’s citizens.
(10) - The pride of the religious community of Kendrick is a large amber-bronze piece of glass. The 10’ tall, 6’ wide rectangular ‘window’ stands propped upright between two sturdy wooden support posts where the more pious and devout worshippers of Ra gather at both dawn and dusk for small services to bask in his ‘Glory.’ The sun that radiates through wave-rippled glass emanates an almost unnatural warmth upon those who gather in its glow. At other times throughout the day, others will stop by and bow to the Glory, and thusly to Ra, or stop and beseech with a few prayers. The ‘Glory’ of Ra has been in Kendrick so long that many of the older members of the community have actually begun to weave it into their common colloquialisms. Through time the faithful have taken to calling to each other in passing that they would meet or see one another later at the ‘Glory’ of Ra. In hurried passing, greeting, or farewell this eventually got quickened to ‘Glory-Ra’ which ultimately became what is now today, just ‘Glory-a.’ This is not a common saying among all Kendrits but popular among the older, and more devout of the community.