It’s been such a nice day. We came toward Dersyth some time in the morning, but of course coming from the south, I saw the turn-off toward home before we got into town.
As we rode along, I thought I saw movement in the trees that was too big to be just squirrels, although I didn’t actually see any people. Ezekiel asked if we had bandit problems, and I had to find a way to say that five or seven years ago, a fifteen-year-old boy did not notice a bandit problem.
So Ezekiel put on his armor (because clerics don’t wear it all the time, remember) and we rode on with our eyes open.
We came out of the trees, and I saw home across the fields and the stream, and I honestly didn’t expect the well of emotion that hit me. Being older now, I can tell it’s bigger than Sir Rufus’ fort in Homlette…but somehow more rambling. You can almost tell that several generations of people had their own ideas that they applied here and there, be it towers or another wall or something. No one has bothered with a moat, though, and the village – which somehow looks smaller than I remembered – comes up pretty close to the walls.
About this time, I was realizing it might have been polite to write ahead that we were coming, since there are so many of us, after all, so I decided to ride up first with Heiron and make sure they could handle all of us (and make sure the castle hadn’t been seized by bandits or Gherkins or something). After all, there’s an inn in Dersyth and stuff.
Well, when we got close, I could see Archie yelling at the men-at-armes, and stomping back and forth – which I recognize now was him having the time of his life – and when Heiron and I appeared at the gate, he gave a short speech to welcome me and had the men cheer for me (in a regulation way). My big brother.
(He explained they knew we were coming because of the scouts, and I was torn between being creeped out that we got spied on, and the coolness that we have Real Scouts and stuff.)
With that squared away, we called the rest of the gang into the courtyard, and parked the dragons behind the mind-cart. Retainers took our horses, and then my mother came out to welcome us.
I really did not expect my mother to cry that much. But she said she was happy. So that’s good. She says they got my letter, so they know some of what we’ve been up to, and she found scars that I didn’t even know about, so I guess it’s good I had my chainmail on so she couldn’t feel where the salamanders ripped my guts out and the cleric-types shoved them back in.
We settled everybody in rooms. My room feels different when I’m not sharing it, and I can’t fit in the cupboard beside the door anymore…so that’s nice. Out the window, you can still see the trees rising in swells into the hills behind the walls, and it was very pretty.
I wandered around a bit, to see if I could still find my way. Someone’s been dusting the hall of portraits, and the armory is still well-stocked. Clarence’s room is full of crates, and Mama says the little tin knights I used to play with got mailed to Alpheus’ boys, so that’s nice.
I must have been distracted, because I didn’t notice Uncle Beren until he actually touched me, which is really embarrassing after all the times he talked about Situational Awareness…but then he hugged me and bowed to me and called me complimentary things until I’m kinda surprised I didn’t pass out. He says the scouts in the woods were his, which makes sense, and he also says they haven’t had much trouble with bandits, which is good.
Father was shut up in his study, so I didn’t see him until dinner, when we all stood as he came in. I still don’t know how to talk to him, but he said it was good to see me – and he looks just like Alpheus, except old. Mother put me at the head of the table with them…who would have ever seen that coming.
Raven liked the pastries enough to ask for the recipe.
Had a bit of time after supper to show Uncle the diary I found. I tried to explain what Lord Otis said about being one with the woods until your very will shapes reality, but I must have done a bad job explaining it.
I sat in the chapel this morning. A lot has changed…for me, not for the building. Looking back, though, growing up with Pelor’s statue standing next to Ehlonna’s branch probably prepared me for hanging out with Ezekiel.
Mother came and sat with me a bit (I wasn’t paying attention, and she found more scars on my arms). She also pointed how much my muscles have changed, and said I had grown strong with Ehlonna’s blessing. She thinks if Ehlonna had a problem with Ezekiel and what he’s doing, She would have made that clear before now…and She certainly wouldn’t have kept bringing me back and sending me into the fight faster and stronger than before. So we must be doing something important. It just felt good to have my mother say it.
While we were talking, a trumpet blew outside, and Mother led me out, and we saw a group of horsemen in the courtyard, setting up tents. She took my hand and took me in to Father’s study, where a man stood talking to him, holding a helmet with a long plume (I suppose it was the color of the Baron? But I’m really not sure).
When he turned as we entered, I saw it was Wolfgang (hasn’t he grown up?!) and it only took him two tries to recognize me. We hugged, and he said he patrols the roads with his men for the Baron, which would help explain why bandits don’t bother in this part of the country, but he must have been pretty busy, ’cause then he left.
Mother asked me about my companions – makes sense, since she only visited Ertulli while Ezekiel was there, didn’t live there, and Raven of course is from Hochoch and Orlane, so she wouldn’t know him at all…Then suddenly she said she was going to go talk to Raven in the kitchen, and left me in Father’s study – so I suspect the whole thing to be a scheme of hers.
I was just wondering if I still fit in the cabinet under the bookcase when Father looked up from his papers. He said I never knew how to talk to him because I was always afraid – afraid he was busy, afraid he was angry, something like that. (In my defense, he spent a lot of my life busy with or angry at my brothers…eleven boys take some handling.) But he said he’s happy with what I’ve been up to, and that I’ve been chosen for something special.
Then he talked about bit about Wolfgang, and how he apparently decided that, if he couldn’t be Alpheus, then he wouldn’t even try to see what he could be. I mean, he is a sergeant, and he keeps the roads safe…but he’s satisfied with that. I guess Father thinks he could have done so much more, if he wasn’t worried about the armor and the spurs and living up to a paladin’s reputation. (He didn’t seem to feel the same about Tomlin; I guess we both noticed Tomlin is better at something very quiet and predictable…and he has that already.)
Father said he was proud of me…but that my destiny didn’t stop here. Wolfgang wasn’t following Ezekiel around – I was. And still am. I haven’t found a good enough reason to bail yet.
Anyway, it was nice to be able to talk, and have him all to myself for maybe the first time in my life. He said Ehlonna had chosen me…and I may have wanted to cry, even though I didn’t. But when I think of what he said about Wolfgang, I can’t help thinking the choosing wasn’t all on one side…
Father suggested we could go hunting while we’re here, since we don’t exactly have a schedule.
So I went to go find my party, and boy it was about time. Bornthene, Dree, and Lisa were helping Uncle Beren get to know the dragons, but apparently Ezekiel and Raven made spectacles of themselves or something on the walls, when they thought Wolfgang was attacking us (and I have three different versions of what happened that are all plausible).
Agnar we found fast asleep in the beer cellar, with Usin babysitting him. I guess some men-at-arms didn’t know why he was there, and were “anxious” about it, but when Ezekiel and I showed up, they listened to reason and wandered away. We rounded up some people to drag Agnar out, and took Usin to look for Mikael.
Mikael was checking out the trees outside the village, with his disciples. He was trying to explain how we can care about the plants, but also care about people. I hope they are getting good influences from the church of Obed-Hai (apparently I have a brother at the temple in Gorna, but Mikael isn’t likely to have recognized him).
The problem their old master had, though, was getting the order flipped. Just because Raven can talk to plants doesn’t make them more important than people. People are special.
One of the things that makes orcs just the worst is that they eat people, which is not something I’d do to orcs even if they’d deserve it. Humans and human-like-things are distinct, and you gotta treat they as such. Like deer. Raven can talk to deer, but we still eat them. Because they’re deer. And dragons eat other dragons, as well as people – but if people tried that, it’d be gross, and we’d punish them.
Another thing about orcs is they love hurting people for no reason…just because they can. It’s rude, and it makes me see red. And somehow…somehow…I don’t see Usin doing that. I don’t know why. I must observe him very closely to see where this idea is coming from. Agnar would totally fight people just because he wanted a fight…but he’d also want it to be a good fight. It’s complicated.
Ezekiel says his flock is all flocks. Me, I don’t see what you can do with someone like Grumpsh, who’s all blood and battle and might-makes-right. How do you “shepherd” someone like that? (With arrows.)
(Usin says he’s never eaten humanoid that he knows of, and it sounds gross and creepy. He says.)
Yesterday we went hunting. Ezekiel stayed with the dragons so Raven could bring his disciples, and the two of them came on foot – I think just to show off. Raven tried out a cross-bow, though he hasn’t had much practice, and Heiron and Bornthene showed Usin some techniques for his bow.
Mikael’s disciples came as wolves, and I think they mostly ran through the underbrush, but they seem to have had fun. I never have any clue what No-Buckle is feeling.
I had fun being much more involved than I was at a younger age. Father says Archie does a good job “organizing” things, though he could stand to be more personable once in a while.
Wolfgang had to get back to his duties, so his group was gone by the time we got back.
Last night, the druids went out to pick mistletoe in the light of Luna, and I think first thing in the morning we leave for Mithrond and Mikael’s clan. Ezekiel said something about pouring out water at Ertulli…but there are going to be some painful memories if we go there.
I think Lydia has been enjoying our time with real walls and real beds. Heiron said she’s been sleeping late, and he took her some hot tea. The girls really are troopers.
Quiet week of travel. We didn’t get into any trouble with the dragons, although Agnar says we should have gotten jumped by bandits or something, and this part of the world is really disappointing him.
We arrived at the county seat, where a wooden palisade surrounds the village, and as soon as we came in sight, people swarmed out toward us. I think most of them were young, and crowing, “Tame dragons!”
So Keom got to exhibit them to the crowd, and Ronhass got to supervise small children who wanted to climb on their backs. Fang and Belch have had some practice by now, with Alpheus’ boys and such, so they behaved quite well.
Mikael’s oldest sister came out to hug him and welcome us to town and arrange lodging. It’s possible I had met her before, but she’s too changed now for me to be sure. She ordered children around with practiced ease, and Mikael stayed busy hugging everyone and trying to introduce all of us. We had a bit of trouble finding host families for Lydia and Usin, but Ezekiel sorted it out.
One reason they were so excited to see us is they apparently got word from the Shalm Grove, so they know about Mikael’s promotion in the order of Obed-Hai. Mikael’s grandfather or uncle or something said no one in their family has ever reached one if the Nine before, so naturally they had to throw a party.
Mikael’s baby sister has gotten all tall and adult since we saw her last, and she says she’s all excited to take her vows and become an Obed-Hai initiate just like him. Mikael has had a great time showing off his peg-leg lizard. Regina said something about he still has all his parts attached, and I decided it was Mikael’s responsibility to tell her about his arm.
On the road again already.
We were enjoying a bonfire last night, with Mikael’s whole family gathered around him. I tried to keep an eye on Agnar, and at one point I saw him drink all the older men under the table. Usin and Lydia sat on either side of Heiron.
Then, just as things were winding down, a messenger arrived from the Grand Duke, summoning us back to Gorna as soon as possible. We fed the messenger until he passed out, and someone took care of his horse…then we set out with him as soon as it was light.
Mikael stayed behind with his three disciples – he said he had to visit his sister’s grave. Goblins wounded her in Ertulli, and she didn’t pull through.
(Mikael’s brother, I think it was, said someone animated a bunch of the bodies in Ertulli. Sounds like most of them are dealt with now, but it’s another reason most people wouldn’t go back. Another mess to clean up…)
Anyway, Mikael and friends should be able to catch up with us as birds. We’re sticking to the road with the cart, and going as fast as they dragons can waddle. Keom thinks they haven’t realized they have wings yet, and he says he’s okay with that.
Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Into the Fire”
As soon as we got to Gorna, we headed for the castle, sending the disciples to wait somewhere that they wouldn’t cause a scene.
His Grace let us in at once, and had his councilors leave temporarily. Here’s the situation:
Fifteen years ago, his young son took a ship from Keoland, heading for the Iron League – but he never arrived. His ship was never found.
But now – someone brought His Grace a silver medallion bearing a crown and his griffin crest…a medallion that belonged to his son.
They found it with a knight who went missing with his squad in the mountains, and his body returned to Fort Gellsblood at the hands of some grey gnomes. Fort Gellsblood is apparently not used to that type of gnome in their area. The knight’s body was both burned and frozen, and missing his armor and gear. Apparently except for the medallion.
We don’t know much else. Ezekiel, nerd that he is, started talking about the creatures from under the world of men, and mentioned this splinter faction of the dark elves (who worship some Elder Elemental something). His Grace was visibly disturbed – either because he knows what that is, or because he understands how bad that could be for us.
Our mission now is to find answers. Which will probably mean us barging around into walls until we trip over undead, and then killing things. We’ll leave most of the disciples here, though, since the mind-cart especially won’t do well in the mountains. Lydia and Ezekiel are trying to figure out a place where she can leave the mirror, so we could have an emergency escape hatch if need be…but it’s complicated.
For myself, I have a few questions for the garrison of the fort.
- Were either the burns or the frostbite on Sir Hoshure’s body applied after death? If he fought something fiery, then his body lay a while in the snow before being found, that would be one scenario.
- Who are these unusual gnomes? If they aren’t accustomed to dealing with the fort, why did they bring the body in? Was it a threat, or a gesture of goodwill? Did they give any account of where and how they found the body?
- What about the others in Sir Hoshure’s squad?
- Who took the knight’s gear? His killers? The gnomes? Was it removed before death, for instance if he had been captured? Or wanted to give it to someone more in need (seems unlikely)?
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the prince alive??
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