Monday, May 9, 2016

The Great Host

It took all Gruffydd had not to say "I told you so" to Lars.
Instead, he offered some advice.
"We've traveled this way many times", the dwarf said. "We have some alternate routes."
Stunned, the rest of the caravan tried their best to go about their preparations to move again. Meanwhile Gruffyd and the rest of his party gathered around a map with Lars and the ever present Lud.
Gruffydd put a stubby finger to the map they had created over their months of travel Beyond the Wall.
"Here. Right here is a path that takes you to another crossing upriver. This time of year, it shouldn't be too bad. There's some sort of hornet men that inhabit the ruins across the other side, but they haven't bothered us yet."
"I'll put it to the Old Man," Lars said,"but it seems like a plan". He rolled up their map and headed for Von Aldensburg's wagon. The old man had taken one look at the bloody horse and quickly retreated to the safety of his wagon.
A few hours later, they pulled off the road and followed Nemon and Gildrid down a small track to the northeast. The going was rough. This was more of game trail and less of a road. Some of the wagon struggled.
At last they reached a rise. The tree lined banks of river were below. It was mid day and the river rolled along at a leisurely pace. But something drew their attention immediately.
Smoke rose from the far bank. Dozens, possibly more, campfires burned.
Gildrid, Nemon and Gruffydd, along with Lars dismounted and creeped along through the trees to the rise overlooking the near bank.
Across the river, stood an army. Hundreds of flags fluttered in the gentle breeze. Flags bearing the blue crescent moon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Miss Adventure ran to meet the Dryad, arms open, but Newly stepped back unsure, "are you my friends?"
Conversations with Newly were always odd. She perceived time differently. She aged differently as well. She appeared as a child in the Spring, and woman of middle age in the Fall, an old crone in Winter and as a woman in full bloom in Summer, like now.
Her eyes widened, "You ARE my friends" and embraced the halfling.
Nemon spoke to Gruffyd under his breath, never taking eyes from Newly, "I told ya we should have come by here in summer."
The dwarf grunted in reply. Gustav fidgeted. It made the monk nervous being a nude female, even if she wasn't human.
Gildrid spoke up. "Newly, do you has anyone come through here recently? Any men in masks, or monsters?"
Again, asking about "recently", didn't always get you the response you wanted from the dryad.
"Things don't come here anymore", she said. "My tress protect me."
As if in response, a light wind rustled the trees, although no wind blew out on the plains.
"Thanks you, Newly", Gruffydd said as he filled a canteen from the stream. He looked at the position of the sun in the sky."We best be going".
As they rode out of the glade, Nemon looked back in hope of one more look at the dryad, but she was gone. Then a unseen branch almost knocked him from his horse.
When they reached the wagon train again, it was nearly dark, and most the caravan was making dinner and preparing for bed.
They found Lars speaking to a mounted man, while Lud picked his nose.
The horseman rode off down the old trade road.
"Where's he headed?" Gruffydd asked.
Lars looked at him with a scowl. "Last time I checked, I was the Caravan Master and answering only to Von Aldensburg".
The dwarf responded with his own scowl. "Where that man's headed is a bridge. Under that bridge is the biggest, nastiest, craziest troll I've ever run into. You don't want to head that way."
"That's why I sent a scout". And the conversation finished, Lars walked away, Lud in tow.
The party spent a fitful night. Wolves howled in the distance. A strange wind blew criss cross over the camp. A general feeling of being watched....
The next morning the scout's horse returned, covered in blood.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Old friends

The body was that of a man. Stripped, and staked to the ground. He had been eviscerated, and his guts left strewn about. What was left of them. The vultures and wolves had done their work so it was hard to tell how long he'd been there in the middle of the road.
Strangest of all was the hood on his head, and the noose around his neck. The party had seen it before, on bandits that prowled Beyond the Wall. The Brotherhood of the Black Hood.
Of all the petty kingdoms this side of Wall, they were the most dangerous.
"Whatever could it mean?" The question came from a nervous looking Klaus, who was dabbing sweat from his forehead and curl.
Lars said loudly, "Just bandit nonsense. Get to moving!"
Nonsense or not, he looked shaken. The ever present Lud just sat and picked flowers.
Gruffydd stopped Lars as he was mounting up. "We've seen this thing beofre."
Lars stopped with one foot in the stirrup and looked down at the dwarf. "Yeah?"
"Could be inter tribal warfare between the bandit groups. Not something we want to get in the middle of."
Lars paused, a foul look on his face. "Wall's that way," he hooked a thumb south. "Want out? Start riding. Otherwise, get going."
Gruffydd spoke up again. "We have a friend that lives close".
Lars looked around and the emptiness. "Out here? What kind of friend?"
"Close. We'll ask some questions, catch up later."
"I doubt it", Lars said as he swung his horse about. "Lud! Quick pickin' at that body and move along. Got a long day ahead!"
As the wagons pulled away, the party rode slightly northeast to a valley. The plains around the valley were dry. The grass barely hanging on to life. But in the valley, the grass was green. The trees were tall and full of leaves. They passed old rusty logging equipment and ancient stumps, until finally entering the cool of woods. One last look over his shoulder, and Gruffydd spied Lars watching from far off.
A few minutes later they entered a familiar clearing. A small brook trickled between twisted roots. A slight breeze moved the leaves.
The party was not alone.
From behind a great oak, a beautiful woman appeared. At first, she could be mistaken for an elf, but her pupiless eyes, and green skin tone betrayed her.
Miss Adventure spoke.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The trail

Indeed, they did leave in the morning, and were blessed by a cool breeze. The blessing did not last, however. Arnor was merciless this day.
The party, having their own mounts, were positioned as outriders, They were to be used as scouts and herders for the massive flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle.
The wagon train stretched for a league at least. And with it, the massive dust clouds. Besides clouds of dust, were clouds of biting flies.
They were, safe to say, miserable.
"I don't like the the attention this massive dust cloud is going to attract," Nemon said through cloth he wrapped around his mouth. "We're used to traveling light. Moving quickly."
Gruffydd, who rode beside him on a pony, grunted agreement. "Yes, but who'd attack a caravan this large. You'd need an army."
Nemon, shaded his eyes and looked up in the cloudless sky. "Or a dragon. Or a giant..."
Hours passed.
Arnor still punished them.
Then, the caravan stopped.
Gruffydd, and the others rode to the front. A group of riders had dismounted along with Von Aldensburg and his bodyguards, sweating in their heavy armor.
They all were staring at the ground.
In the middle of the road was a body.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Klaus Von Aldensburg

Lars led them deftly through the throng of workers to a large, red merchant's wagon. It was the tall, sturdy make used by traders for long hauls across the Middle Plains of the Empire. Looking at it, Gruffydd had the distinct impression that under the gaudy red paint, it could closed up to approximate and fairly good fortress.
Emblazoned on the side was a blue heraldic shield bearing a wagon wheel surrounded by starts.
Standing in front of the wagon was a older gentleman surrounded by a gaggle of drovers, freighters and trader types badgering him for signatures, orders and money. The whole scene took on the look of hunting dogs cornering their prey.
He signed papers, gave orders and emptied a seemingly bottomless purse into open hands, all with a far off bored looked about him.
Lars ran the pack off with some colorful language, and few kicks and the mere presence of the mountainous Lud.
"Master Von Aldensburg, may I present some new recruits for or security detail."
At Lar's introduction, the old man seemed to wake from a dream.
Von Aldensburg was of middle height with broad shoulders but the belly of a man who had lived well. His rich clothes matched the livery of the wagon and despite the heat, his fur collar was clasped shut with one of largest rubies the party had seen. He had a waxed mustache and beard, and ridiculous curl on his forehead. On seeing the group, he pulled himself up, and cleared his throat.
"These,....people have some experience travelling into the wild?" His question delivered with a bit of a lisp the upper crust sometimes affected, and aimed at no one in particular."
"Aye, lord", Lars replied. "From what I hear, regular citizens of Beyond the Wall."
At this the old man's blue eye's almost gleamed.
"Well, well, we have quite the adventure planned! I shall be the first merchant in a dozen generations to set up regular trade routes North."
Gildrid, one of the elves laughed. "There ain't nothing out there but beasts and monsters. They tend to take things, not trade".
The rest nodded at his assessment.
But the merchant would have none of it. "Oh no! Oh no. Gentlemen, oh, ... and lady" he had spotted Miss Adventure sheltered behind Mellion's cloak,
"I have come into possession of a map and quite reliable intelligence that a city lies far to the north. Some sea traders arrived just last year with news of it. A few months later a purchased maps."
"These sea traders", began Gruffydd, "they wouldn't happened to have pointy ears, pale complexions and penchant for torturing people, would they?"
At this, Von Aldensburg frowned as if annoyed, or just not used to be questioned.
Before any more questions could be asked, one of the shudders to the wagon flew open and a young, richly dressed woman appeared. Any amorous thoughts that might have appeared in Nemon's brain quickly evaporated with her shrill voice.
"Kluas, this wagon is cramped. The heat is stifling, and this place smells awful..."Before she could continue, Klaus cut her off, "Light of my dawn, my precious darling, we leave first thing in the morning. Tut, tut, just one more night."
She stuck out her bottom lip, gave the party and look that turn milk sour and disappeared with a slam of the shudders.
He turned to the group. "We leave in the morning."

Friday, February 12, 2016

New Companions

It took most of the afternoon to round everyone up. Gruffydd criss-crossed most of Wall, digging his companions out of their various haunts.
The sun was setting when they reached the crowded courtyard of the Dragon and the Maid. If Wall could be said to have a swanky establishment, the Dragon and the Maid would be it. It wasn't quite as run down as most inns in Wall. The paint was somewhat fresh. The sheets were changed at least once a week, and the food was as fresh as fresh can be when you're leagues from anywhere.
The courtyard was packed was high sided wagons stuffed with bags, boxes and trunks. It was a little like a maze for the smaller, non human members of the party.
All about people bustled, packing and rearranging gear. The smell of sweat and animal dung filled the air. At the center of the chaos sat a very calm, slim man dressed in leathers, cleaning his fingernails.
Beside him stood a giant of a man. His clothes were slightly better than a beggars. He was filthy with a dull, far off stare.
As the party approached, the slim man spoke while never taking his eyes from his work, "You must be looking for work."
Gruffydd grunted.
Still not looking up, "Have any experience Beyond the Wall?"
Nemon let out a burst of laughter, while Miss Adventure sniggered.
The slim man finally looked up, wiping his nails on his leather jerkin.
"Well..." he sighed," I'm Lars. This is Lud"he said as he pointed with his knife. Lud was too busy swatting at flies to notice his introduction.
Shaking his head, Lars said, "His Majesty, Von Aldensburg has final say, but I'm the head of this circus. So as far as I'm concerned, welcome to Glorious Company of Klaus Von Aldensburg." He finished this with a bow.
"Come this way, to meet our brave leader..."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Job

At some point during the afternoon, it had rained. This only added to miserable heat outside. The weather was only one strange aspect of life in Wall. Despite being a very northernly place, it experienced some of the largest swings in temperate in all the crumbling Empire. Winters were frigid to the point of being painful, fall and spring were wet, and summers, like this one were bristeringly hot.
Now, thanks to the rain, it was also chokingly muggy.
Gruffydd headed towards the market square. When one was searching for work, one needed not to look any further than the Market Tree.
Like city name itself, names in Wall tended to be simple and to the point.
The Market Tree stood at the center of the bustling market square. It was large and of indeterminate age. It had always been here. It's base was covered in fliers, posters and notices of all sizes and shapes. It had cracked and tossed aside the surrounding paving cobbles over the years. All the rusty nails, holes and scratches left the Tree in a sickly looking state. Devoid of foliage, it refused to die.
Gruffyd made his way through the crowd and looked over the Tree. Amid the notices for lost dogs, laborer jobs, proclamations of faith and wanted posters was a simple job listing:
"Calling All Stout Hearted Adventurers! The Merchant Company of Klaus Von Aldensburg seeks Courageous Types to escort a Caravan North, Beyond the Wall. Please make Inquiries at the Inn of the Dragon and the Maid."
Gruffydd stroked his beard once, twice .... and snatched the paper from the Tree.