Archive for June 2012

Chapter 3: Trouble in the Streets   Leave a comment

As Wulf hurried his charges through the streets in the direction of the Grinning Goblin, the crowd suddenly thickened in front of him. Two uruks had started screaming at each other, and they began to circle each other like wrestlers. As they surged back and forth, one of them bumped into a young scantily-clad goblin girl who stumbled and fell at Perry’s feet.

Wulf had seen uruks fight before, and something about this quarrel seemed phony to him.

The goblin girl threw her arms around Perry’s legs and gasped in pain. “Oh, sir!” she cried. “I’m hurt. Will you help me?”

Mensa looked at the young goblin embracing his friend Perry. It was a gobble, no doubt about it. He reached for his war shovel. But no one else seemed surprised to see her in the town. No one else was trying to kill her, except the nasty uruk who knocked her down. Mensa was confused.

Wulf snarled and cried out to Perry and Mensa: “En garde! I’m coming!”

Readying his morning star and shield he did a maneuver he had well learned in melees on the battefield, a sort of pirouette turn, to make sure no one else was sneaking up on him from side or behind.
As he whirled into action he began to transform; his eyebrows got bushy and his eyes turned grey with black pupils. A wolfish growl rumbled in his throat.

As Mensa debated whom he should whack with his shovel, and Perry readied his Hold That Pose, the now furious wolfman spun about once and then rushed to protect his friends, whirling the deadly morning star expertly around him. A wolf’s muzzle with bared lips and impressive fangs now jutted from his helmet and the noise he made was no longer human, and set every dog within hearing to barking or howling. Terrible talons jutted from the fingers of his hairy hands. The wolf was loose now, and woe to the creature who threatened him or his friends in this place! There would be hell to pay if any barred his way.

Wulf seemed to be over-reacting. His sudden wild actions caused several people in the crowd to scream in surprise and panic. As he spun he had just a moment to notice that a large and brawny black man was rushing toward him. Then his own momentum carried him past that viewpoint and he took a step toward the two uruks struggling in the street. At the same time, Mensa drew out his war shovel and charged them bellowing a Dwarf warcry. Nobody had been expecting that.

Seeing a maddened dwarf coming at them, the two uruks separated and ran in opposite directions.

Glim the goblin girl shrieked with fear. Or maybe she was faking it. Mensa had given her a look of unadulterated hatred as he rushed past.
“Oh, sir,” she squeaked. “I’m afraid. I can’t walk. Please get me out of here?”

A split second before the big man crashed into Wulf from behind, the wolfman realized that the uruks were just a diversion. He started to turn, and then he was hit hard by a shoulder.

Although he was staggered by the sudden impact, Wulf spun and tried to rip his assailant with the spike of his shield. But the man not only hit him, but grabbed his arm right at the elbow of his shield hand. When Wulf spun, he took his assailant with him. The following blow from the morning star missed because Thorrg was not where Wulf expected him to be.

As for Thorrg, he had rarely encountered anyone who could match him in a test of sheer brawn, and he didn’t believe he had met his match in Wulf either. His job was not to kill the fighter, but simply to disarm him and take his weapon, causing Wulf to follow him into the trap waiting for him in another part of the city. He didn’t get a good look at Wulf’s face, and had not yet realized that he wasn’t fighting another man; hence he had no fear reaction yet. With his free hand he struck a sharp blow at Wulf’s wrist, hoping to disarm the man.

Speaking of panic, the streets were far from empty when Wulf and Mensa exploded into action. When Mensa attacked the unarmed Uruk for apparently no reason, screams broke out on all sides. No one came to the Uruk’s rescue however. No one wanted to get in the way of Mensa’s flailing war shovel, but several began to shout for the Watch, using the traditional cry of “Law! Law!” A couple of the more experienced members of the crowd (merchants who had dealt with thieves and assaults in the past) actually produced whistles and blasted out several sharp tweets. The nearest Watch patrol–a three man squad consisting of a dwarf and two uruks–heard the whistles and the shouts of alarm–and headed for the disturbance.

Mensa’s attack on the Uruk had taken him by surprise. He managed to get a hand up, and that partially protected him from the killing blow aimed at his head, although he got a broken arm, a shattered hand, and a severe concussion out of the blow that left him unconscious.

Mensa spun to Perry, shouting at the young goblin. “NO BITE ELF!!!” And he stepped toward her, grinding his teeth.

Erbvin the gang leader watched in dismay as his carefully orchestrated kidnapping plan fell apart. One of his “men” was already hurt and possibly dying; another was locked in a grappling contest that should have been just a simple snatch and grab. On the other hand, the targets had attacked with such ferocity that they appeared to be the aggressors. Erbvin thought he might be able to use that. He joined other crowd members in enthusiastically yelling for the Watch. “Law! Law!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

The only part of the plan that seemed to be working was the goblin girl’s “seduction” of the young human. As she managed to glance in his direction, he crooked his fingers in the sign that meant “bring him to the meeting place”.

With the Watch coming, Erbvin knew that he and his gang couldn’t stay for more than another half a minute. How he wished he had a spellcaster to take out that barbarian warrior! He had two other thugs at hand, and they gave him questioning looks as if to say, “Should we help Tharrg, boss?”, but he shook his head. A three on one fight would surely raise too many questions.

Perry really believed the girl clutching his legs was hurt and needed his help, but he also wanted to help his friends. He was thinking that the Hold That Pose spell could give Wulf the moment he needed to deal with his attacker, but he couldn’t fully turn and concentrate with the goblin girl wrapped around his knees.

Then Mensa turned and charged toward him, brandishing his war shovel, and bellowing “No bite elf!” and he realized that the Dwarf might murder this helpless child right in front of him. All the Dwaf’s mumbling about “hitting bad gobbles onna head” came back to him in a flash. He had no choice but to cast the Hold that Pose spell on Mensa.

Thorrg tried a quick chop at Wulf’s wrist to dislodge his weapon, but the wolfman evaded the blow. Leaning forward he bit into the side of the man’s neck and tore out a great chunk of muscle. Blood exploded from a ruptured vein, and Wulf’s assailant fell away from him, already dying. Wulf brought his morning star around and smacked him on the way down, breaking an arm and crushing in the big man’s chest in the process.

That was more than enough for Erbvin. He and the rest of his gang faded away into the crowd, unwilling to tangle with this character any longer.

But at that moment the Watch entered the street half a block away just in time to see an armored wolfman brutally murder an unarmed citizen with a morning star. They broke into a run toward him and the leader of the group shouted, “You, wolfman, drop your weapon! You’re under arrest!”

Wulf saw the watch coming, and had to make a hard decision. To fight at bad odds against the Law was bad (Wolf was willing though; it was always happy to fight). To run would make him look like he was guilty, and would abandon his friends, so that sucked (the wolf did not mind running either, as few humans had a snowball’s chance of catching him, especially with a head start). Wulf made another quick turn to make sure no one else was approaching him with evil intent, and seeing that none now dared approach him, underwent (with no little effort) an eye wrenching change and put the wolf back in its cage. He lay down his weapon and shield, and knelt, showing his empty hands to the approaching officers. “Please hear me out, warrior brothers,” he called to the law, in Urukish. “I and my friends were under attack. I acted only in self defense! If I were guilty here, I would have fought, or run from you.”

Mensa froze in mid-step, warshovel raised,face contorted in hatred. The goblin girl let out a shriek and fainted.

Perry heard shouting. He turned and saw Wulf finish off his attacker, saw a squad of the watch hastening toward him, saw Wulf transform back into his human face and put his weapons down, saw the Watch run up and surround him.

The Watch were a bit surprised to see the bloody killer yield so easily to their authority, but being cops, they still reacted with extreme prejudice. One yelled, “Hands behind your back!” Another uruk kicked Wulf’s morningstar out of his reach and then picked it up.

“I was attacked,” said Wulf. “I just defended myself and my friends.”

“Looks like you did the attacking,” said the dwarf in charge. “You’ll have to explain it to the judge.” He looked around and saw Mensa frozen in what looked like mid-attack, saw an uruk on the ground with horrendous wounds, saw Perry disengaging himself from an unconscious goblin girl. “Is that crazy dwarf with you?” he asked Wulf.

In the meantime, the second uruk twisted Wulf’s arms behind his back and slapped a big set of shackles on him.

Much of the crowd had taken off when the attack started, and others slipped away now as the Watch arrived. Nobody liked to get dragged into a police matter. “Did anybody see what happened here?” asked the Watch captain.

One old half drunk hobb came forward. “I saw it all, Ossifer,” he burbled. There was a disturbance–two uruks scuffled. Then this dwarf went crazy, hauled out his war shovel and brained one of them. Then the big fellow went berserk and attacked the nearest human in the crowd, and looks like he killed him.”

“Look how heavily armed they are,” said a fishmonger whose cart was nearby. “Looks like they were looking for trouble. What citizen goes around armed to the teeth like that? There ought to be a law.”

The guard turned to Perry who was about the only other witness on the street. “Were you attacked also, Sir? How did you stop that crazy dwarf? What happened to the young lady?” he gestured toward Glim. “Did the dwarf hit her?”

Mensa chose that moment to come out of his trance. “No bite elf!” he bellowed and then smacked right into the uruk guardsman standing in front of him.

‘The girl claimed she was in trouble’ Perry replied confidently and courteously. ‘She threw herself at my feet and wouldn’t let go. There was something fishy about the timin,’ he said throwing a quizzical look at the monger, ‘because it happened just as the big fellow got accosted by the dead man and a couple of others’ .’It looks like a set up to me,’ he added firmly. ‘This dwarf doesn’t understand much but he understood pretty quickly that I was in danger and he did what friends do for each other.’ Perry glanced at Wulf and then the fishmonger and the drunk. ‘Looks like your other witnesses are either drunk or just fish out of water. We’ve got business helping this city and it involves Castle Greybat. These two are hired muscle,’ he added, pointing to Wulf and Mensa. ‘We’ve got a job to do stopping the evil that’s coming this way from that castle. There’ve been so many wizards killed in this city lately that the balance of power’s in danger of shifting. Give me my men back and either escort us to the Wizards’ Guild, if you misdoubt me, or let us get on with the job. It’s nasty work and if we don’t get it done you can be sure the Watch are going to be doing something riskier than just being in this city.’.

Wulf spoke up, In Urukish: Brother warriors: If I were guilty I would have run or fought you. I saw the two Uruks start a ‘fight’, but I have seen Uruks fight, and this was no real fight. I believe it was to distract me and my friends from the real threats. The goblin maid claims to be hurt. That should be easy to disprove. (In common) ; Stand down, please, Mensa. Let me talk. (back to Urukish) The big man hit me hard from behind, and attempted to disarm me. But through good fortune and luck I was able to keep my feet, and I reacted as any true warrior would. I fought back. I am a veteran of the battle fields and I wanted only to escape my foe and rush to protect my friends. It is regrettable that my weapon is a lethal one. I think I may have bitten him too. Such was my concern for my comrades. Do any of these injured or unconcious persons look familiar to any of you?”

Wulf spoke to the Dwarf now, in common: “sir, my companion with the shovel is a ‘simple one’. He wears Silvertongue’s bracelet. I feared he might get into more trouble if I were taken out of the picture. I also feared for my elf friend who is from the boondocks, and has not yet learned the need of caution in the streets of a great city like Khazan. If I did wrong to give full battle to a man who tried to bushwhack me, (and was strong as a bull), and acted in such a way as to make even a trained warrior like myself fear for his safety, than I am guilty. But I will plead self defense, and concern for my friends, and for the friends I go with tomorrow to defend your fair city from deadly foes. I respect the Law, and submit to your justice, but I feel I shall be wronged indeed if you accuse me here of cold blooded murder.”

Mensa (Who must have the worst timing in the universe) had just spun around (as far as he knew) and shouted “NO BITE ELF!” when a great big gobble appeared – out of nowhere! – in front of him. Mensa stopped in surprise! “Didn’t know gobbles could DO that!?” he puzzled aloud.

“Huh?” said Mensa. He had heard Wulf telling someone about his bracelet. So he turned to Wulf and held his wrist, with bracelet, high, quite proud of the trinket.

The Dwarf squad leader backhanded Wulf across the face, almost knocking him flat. “You talk too much, stranger! Save it for the judge!”
Perry was explaining things but nobody seemed to be listening. The three watchmen had 90% of their attention on Wulf and Mensa–they appeared to be the dangerous ones in the party.

“Drop the shovel, dwarf!” growled the watchman in Common. He looked ready to attack Mensa with his pike.

The City Watch acted the way cops always act in ambiguous situations–securing the scene, exerting their dominance. It was clear to Perry that they were ready to explode into action and cut his friends down if they encountered the slightest resistance.
When the leader struck Wulf, Perry was afraid his friend would lose it. That would be unfortunate, as he was already shackled.”You don’t have to be so rough!” he shouted. “I’m telling you that you don’t understand–Wulf and Mensa were just defending themselves.”The leader turned to Perry. “Listen, half-elf–yeah, I see you’re not full-blooded, and lucky for you. Most of us don’t like elves. But, you’re the only one who doesn’t seem to be breaking the law. Standard procedure is we take them to the nearest watch station and book them. They’ll get a chance to explain themselves to the magistrate. You can come with them, or not–your choice, but if they really are your friends, you’d do a lot better to go find someone with some influence who is willing to speak for them.”Just then a second Watch squad arrived. This one consisted of an ogre, an uruk, and a human wizard. They immediately sent one of the uruks running to get a wagon from the nearest Watch station.A surge of anger went through Wulf when the lieutenant hit him in the face. Why wouldn’t they listen to him? He felt a great rage boiling up inside him.

Mensa started to drop his shovel, but then saw a biggun hit Wulf. He tightened his grip on his shovel and growled…

Perry approached the wizard to repeat what he had said before. He hoped, perhaps foolishly by now, he couldn’t help thinking, that the wizard might know something of the Guilds’ position regarding Castle Greybat and that he would have a vested interest in anyone willing to risk their neck to stop wizard killings. In any event, he hoped to speak to someone who could see the bigger picture.

A red rage overwhelmed Wulf when he was beaten to the ground by the cop. He felt himself begin to change back into wolf form. He came to his feet fast and lunged for the watchman’s throat. His hands were shackled behind his back, but he tried to break his bonds.
The guard captain wasn’t ready for the attack, but the ogre was watching, and when Wulf surged upward, the ogre smacked him with his bludgeon. The blow clipped the side of Wulf’s head, then smacked into his shoulder. Wulf’s armor took most of the impact, but it still drove him back down onto the cobbled street. Then everything went black for Wulf.

When Mensa saw his friend get clubbed by an ogre, he lost control also. He would have attacked the ogre even though he couldn’t have hit him above the waist, but the uruk guarding him interposed and swung a pike blow at him.

Perry tried to explain things to the wizard, hoping that saner minds might prevail, but then Wulf and Mensa attacked, and the situation went to hell. Perry sensed a gathering of energy in the wizard who looked like he was getting ready to cast a spell.

Mensa shouted, at the top of his lungs and in khzd, “NO HURT WULF!!!!!”

‘I’m going to put a stop to that Wulf stuff,’ Perry said to the wizard and cast Hold That Pose on Wulf .  ‘Get those guards to hold him now, sir. He’s helpless now.’

Seeing things going bad quickly, Perry cast another Hold That Pose, this time on Wulf. The wolfman momentarily forgot what he was doing, and as he did his transformation faded..
As the guard was about to split Mensa’s helmet with a mighty pike blow, he caught a glimpse of the bracelet that Silvertongue had given Mensa. He recognized it as a Guard bracelet. Could this crazy dwarf be a member of the Guard? Better not kill him. The uruk turned his pike flatlings. It crashed down on Mensa’s uplifted shovel and drove it back into Mensa’s helmet. The dwarf was driven to his knees and keeled over, stunned.

The lieutenant of the watch saw how Perry had jumped in to defuse the situation. He nodded thanks at him. “Get more restraints on that barbarian!” he shouted.

“You see, we’re not against the City Watch. We spoke to them earlier today and . . .”

The wizard took Perry by the sleeve and said, “Come with me. I see you’re not from around here, and perhaps you don’t know how things work in the city.”

Perry started to protest. “Hush,” said the wizard. “I am called Service. Listen to me, friend. We are members of the City Watch. It is our duty to keep the peace and protect the citizens. We apprehend those who get into difficulty, alive if possible. A night in a cell will help your friends cool off. They can explain things to the magistrate in the morning. Perhaps they will even be released, although they did try to assault the watch. If you know anyone with influence, you should have that person come to the Dogbone Watch Station. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

Perry thanked Service for the advice. How he wished the others from the Grinning Goblin group were here now. ‘I made some new friends today,’ he told Service. ‘Not sure if they have any influence but I should think they would with the Wizards’ Guild. I will remember what you’ve told me. I don’t much fancy roaming this city at night trying to find needles in haystacks. To be honest, I either need some help please in finding a certain Zhanh or else just a recommendation of a safe place nearby to stay until I can try to sort it all out in the morning.

It didn’t take too much longer to get Wulf and Mensa loaded into the pickup wagon, the dwarf now snoring lustily. Wulf keenly felt the unfairness and humiliation of his position. He hadn’t done anything wrong: he was just defending himself and his companions. Well, maybe he had used too much force against one unarmed human, but the whole situation had felt like a trap to him, and he hated traps.

 Wulf lay shackled in the Watch wagon and tears of rage and frustration ran down his bloody cheeks

Like the magma chamber of a volcano about to explode, the wolf boiled furiously in his soul.
Attacked by strangers, rebuffed and brutalized by the ‘law’ The human Wulf felt he was losing control, and was on the verge of going full wolf to the beast form and giving up his humanity for good. Hell hath no fury worse than that of the Wolf spirit unleashed.

At least he still had his armor, and his weapons were nearby in a locked box in the pickup wagon with him. He noted rulefully that he had never been so tied up before–not only shackled, but wrapped from waist to chin in multiple coils of rope. In a way he wished it had been chains. Chains could be broken, but rope would just stretch a bit and keep on holding him.

Service spoke to the Watch squad leader. “This helpful elf is from the country and unused to our city ways. He feels nervous about traveling the nighted streets of the city alone. I have to accompany the prisoners back to the station, just in case that wolfman tries anything else, but could you accompany our friend to his inn?”

“We’d be happy to protect you on your way back to your inn, stranger,” offered Valkar the squad leader. “I am Valkar. How are you called and where are you staying?”

“My group is based at the Grinning Goblin.” said Perry, “and I would welcome an escort. No matter how it looked back there, we were actually the victims of an attack and I don’t feel safe.”

Meanwhile, back at the Grinning Goblin . . .

Returning to the Grinning Goblin, Edurin surveyed the room. Specifically, he looked for Bart. The bartender would know more about the captain of the Nainevver.

Settling in at the bar counter, he caught Bart’s attention, “A beer and a question. I am looking for the captain of the Nainewer. Can you help?”

Bart saw that Edurin and his friends had returned. His first thought was it looks like they’re staying for the night.
When Edurin asked for a drink and the captain of the Nainevver it was easy enough to help. He pointed to the rowdiest part of the tavern. A big bald man was gesticulating wildly while he told a far-fetched tale. Edurin tried to tune him in and he heard . . .”. . . river trolls attacked. Like furry korkodrils, they was. Before I could even grab me axe, three of my men had been hauled overboard. Them river trolls are quick and nasty . . .”
Lumlas, Zhanh, and Gronk walked in just then. They looked around and headed over to join Edurin, Algris, and Westlynn.
Lumlas joined Edurin, Algris and Westlynn. “Well met my companions. How have you fared since we last met? We have found some useful information about what we may be up against. Zhanh is perhaps better to tell you all about it.”

After greeting the return of Lumlas with a nod of her head, Weslynn replied “We have found the riverboat we sought, we have talked with her captain. He will leave at dawn, no matter where we are. We must also bring our own food for the trip. He seems the typical sort for a river captain. I plan to keep one hand on my purse, and my hatchet close at hand.”

“Gronk want beer and meat.”  The Minotaur didn’t worry about much except his own needs.

“Barkeep! Gronk wants beer and meat!” Weslynn repeated his call to the barkeep, lest he go too long unsated.

Gronk nodded and smiled at Weslynn.

Zhanh followed Lumlas through the bar and listened to Weslyn’s news. “We need to have supplies ready and on the docks by dawn? Do we know how many days we will need?”

“Phinqq said to prepare for at least two days travel. I’d suggest we prepare for a minimum of 4. I suspect he and his crew are the sort to help themselves rather generously to whatever they please.”

“I’m not completely comfortable with the current boat. The Captain does not inspire my trust.” Edurin smiled, “but let me explore one other option.”

Edurin nodded in the direction of a big bald man, and headed over to his table. “Excuse my rudeness, but I overheard your comments on river trolls. I am fascinated by trolls and even learned a little of their language. May I learn from your experience?” Edurin only sat down after the captain of the Nainevver indicated his acceptance.

The companions settled at Weslynn’s table, except for Edurin who went over to see if he could join the bald man’s group. Bart the bartender came by at Weslynn’s signal. “Beer, meat, yeah, sure. Show me some gold first. Five or ten coins should hold you for the next hour or so.”

Blotar Baldhead, Captain of the Nainevver, looked up to see a stranger approaching and asking about river trolls. From the way he rolled from side to side as he walked, Blotar pegged him for an ocean sailor.

“Have a seat, stranger,” said Blotar. “You did say you were buying the next round of ale for my pals and me, didn’t you? And that you want to know about river trolls? Why, there is no more dangerous creature on the river than the water trolls.”

Weslynn pointed the barkeep to Gronk, for it was he who thirsted.

“Gronk no gold, Gronk robbed when come to Khazan,” he furrowed his brow. “Some one buy Gronk a beer?”

Weslynn pulled Gronk beside her, and told him, “There’s alot of that going around. If I had not been stolen from myself I would buy you a beer. Edurain has the party purse, for the moment, Gronk, I’m sure he’ll buy you a beer.”

She lead the minotaur, slowly and carefully through the maze of seating, over to where Eldurin is talking with the strangers. “Eldurin, we need a bit of coin for food and drink, Gronk is, as they say, due his share of rum.”

“Gronk like Weslynn.”

Weslynn laughed, companionably. “Weslynn likes Gronk, too.”

Zhanh followed Weslyn and Gronk to the other table. He thought about the bartender’s words, and his own rapidly diminishing purse. A stray thought drifted through his mind: “Don’t worry about money; the vampires will kill you long before you have a chance to starve to death.” He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head, then caught up with the others.

Weslynn, Lumlas, Zhanh, Algris, and Gronk drifted toward the darker part of the room where Blotar was telling everyone about the ferocity and cunning of river trolls.

While she watched the others eat and drink, Weslynn focused more and more on Eldurin, and his delicious scent, of his promise of an end to her thirst.

Gronk patiently waited to see if a drink would be bought for him.

Zhahn asked Gronk to keep an eye on his pack, and then went to the bar and came back with a mug of cider for himself, and a pitcher of beer and a turkey leg for Gronk. “Go easy,” he told the minotaur. “I don’t have much gold to spare, either.”

Edurin paid for a round at Blotar’s table. “Sounds fearce indeed. You must have a powerful crew to brave such trolls. Or is there a simpler way to handle them?”

“Zhahn good friend, Gronk have just the one beer and leg. Gronk grateful.”

Gronk chomped down the turkey leg, bone and all. He then sipped at the pitcher of beer.

“Gronk wonder where his friends Wulf and little dwarf are?”

Captain Blotar looked at Edurin like he thought the younger man was crazy. “A simple way to handle river trolls? Well, I guess there is. If you’re quick enough when they attack, you can buy them off with live food. Slaves are good. Throw a slave to a troll and splish splash, he’s back in the water taking supper with him. If you can’t feed them, you have to fight them and hope for the best. They are weak against magic, but it takes a lot of damage to put one down. They regenerate. The best thing is to hope they don’t attack the boat, or at least not in force.”

He stopped his speech. “Say, my new friend, did you want to meet a river troll face to face? Why the questions?”

Gronk finished the meat quickly enough, and the beer was half gone even though he was “sipping”. Zhanh echoed his statement. “I wonder where Wulf and Mensa are. They should have been back by now.”

Weslynn forced her mind away from the deliciousness of her nearby companions. “Edurin, Gronk, Zahn, I am going to go get some fresh air, the air, such as it is, in here is a bit too close,” as she gestured to the wall-to-wall drunk going on, “I think a walk around outside will do me. I’m going to go round the block, be back soon.”

Having made her excuses, she slipped out of the establishment and proceeded on her walk, doing her best not to think about food or drink or the pounding of hearts around her.

“You talk so much of the dangers of river travel. I was wondering if you needed more warriors and perhaps a touch of magic…” Edurin savored his beer. “My friends and I are heading in the direction of Castle Graybat.” He politely indicated the Minotaur and others gathered about.

Gronk watched Weslynn as she left the tavern, and wondered about her. He then briefly turned his attention to listen to Edurin’s offer to the Captain. Finally, he refocused on Zhahn.

“Maybe we look for friends?” Gronk asked Zhahn in a low voice.

Zhanh had been thinking that someone ought to go look for Wulf and the others. He was just about to suggest it when Gronk beat him to it. He stood up, touched Gronk on the shoulder, and said “Let’s join Weslynn. We could all head toward the market and the Armorer’s Quarters and see what’s keeping our friends.

Zhanh and Gronk hurried out of the tavern Weslynn was only a few steps ahead of them. “Weslynn, wait up, we’re going to look for Wulf and Mensa and Perry. Want to go with us?”

Blotar appraised Edurin. “Yes, I could use a few extra guards on the boat, maybe 3 or 4. How many in your party? I couldn’t pay much, but there’s a bounty on some of the things you might get a chance to kill.”

Zhanh thought about Gronk’s suggestion. Wulf and company had had the shortest distance to travel, and had now been gone the longest. He thought about the members of the group, and the phrase “Twitchy, Thick, and Green” drifted into his head. He clenched his teeth to stifle a nervous giggle at that. “That might be a good idea, Gronk.” He looked around. Edurin and Algris seemed busy; Weslyn was missing; Lumlas… Where WAS Lumlas? “Lumlas,” he said out loud, “Are you interested in a walk through the bazaar?”

“If I may suggest,” Edurn started. “I may bring as many as seven, but we work only for passage to Castle Greybat and a return trip to Khazan. How close do you travel to the place?”

She cursed softly under her breath as her companions she was trying to stop thinking about drinking followed her out of the Grinning Goblin.

“Good idea, let’s go check on them. The city can be dangerous for the unaware.” She tried to smile reassuringly, but even her diplomatic mercantile training failed her, as her small swift smile was pasted on her face and swiftly gone, never obscuring the truth written there in the lines of stress.

“I suppose we should start with the Watch,” Zhanh suggested. “If anything really major has happened to our friends, they should know about it.”

“Here, why don’t we split up, you go see if there is anything at the Watch House, and I will go back along their path to see if they have simply been delayed.”
“Away from her new friends for a bit would be ideal”, Weslynn thought, get her urges under control Perhaps she’d be lucky and spot an early rat.

“Are you sure that is a good idea, Weslyn?” Zhanh asked. “Gronk, Lumlas, and I were attacked while heading to the Wizard’s Guild. This city just isn’t safe to wander alone.”

“They might be fine, they might have been waylaid and need assistance even now, or they might have had a run-in the watch knows about. I feel that the possibility of them being on the path from here to there needing aid is strong enough that some of should investigate that chance. I also feel seeking out the watch has merit, but we cannot split up without one group being singular.” Weslynn did her best to be reasonable.

As they talked, Weslynn, Zhanh, and Gronk had continued to walk toward the market place. The sun had gone down, and the streets of Khazan were partly illuminated by light coming out of open doorways and windows, and by the occasional torch or sunstone mounted at intersections. Just as they were deciding to split up and send someone to visit the Watch while Weslynn went her own way, they saw a three person squad of Watchmen moving toward them, and with them walked Perry. He looked extremely relieved to see his companions, and very eager to tell them what had happened to Wulf and Mensa.

Blotar turned to Edurin. “I never go as far upriver as Castle Greybat. That’s a day past the farthest I will go. If you and your comrades show up at dawn tomorrow, ready to go, I’ll hire some of you as guards and oarsmen. You’ll have to work, but I could take your party 2/3 of the distance.”

Edurin stayed and talked for a while longer, then got up to discuss matters with the rest of his party, only to find that only he and Lumlas, and were still in the tavern.  Everyone else had wandered away.  Well, that would give him a chance to get better acquainted with the comely elf.

He called Bart the bartender over and arranged rooms for the night. Weslynn and Lumlas would have one room. Wulf and Gronk and Mensa could have a second. Edurin figured to share a room with Perry and Zhanh. He paid out 30 gold pieces to Bart to arrange for the three rooms, then ordered some supper, and settled down to wait for the return of Weslynn. Looks like they would have their choice of boats for going upriver–neither one ot them exactly a great deal. Which captain would Weslynn choose?

Edurin sat back down next to Lumlas, “We have the option of two boats. One is an ill-gathered boat demanding too much gold captained by Phinnq. Captain Phinnq travels to our goal. I don’t trust him. The other a powerful boat requiring great strength. Now Captain Blotar doesn’t travel as far leaving us a day from our destination, pack animals may not be an option with our companions. Three days up river, three days back. One day gone. That leaves me seven days before my ship leaves port for home.” Edurin finished up the scraps of his meal. He boldly evaluated Lumlas’s fine features. “Limlas, you’ve been quiet. What do you think?”

Lumlas thought for a moment. “So the choice is between an inferior, more expensive boat for more distance, or a superior, less expensive boat for less distance? I am inclined to go with the better boat. I think that Gronk can carry a lot of luggage, and we could probably hide a cache of supplies once we were on foot, and cut down on our load that way.”

“We think alike. Plus Captain Blotar is a man to give respect,” Edurin surveyed the room, “It is getting late. Up for a game of cards to wind down?” He waved over the bartender.

Lumlas looked puzzled for a moment, then said, “Sure, why not?”

Edurin explained the rules of Khargh Avalanche, a game he had learned from some young rock trolls on the Island of Zain, far to the south.  He also learned much of his Kharrrgish during that stop.)   Cards quickly fanned out as Edurin dealt the first hand. “The buy-in bid is one gold.” He flicked a gold to the center of the table without looking at his cards.
Lumlas looks art Edurin suspiciously and says, “This sounds like one of those games that the person who knows the rules always wins. Why don’t we play for copper until I get the rules straight?”

Once the group had reconnected and had some privacy, Zhanh and Perry informed the others that Mensa, Weslyn, and Wulf had been arrested, and that a member of the watch had actually suggested a jail break.

“I think that the Watch has too much to do to try to entrap us, so I think that is a legitimate offer,” Zhanh said. “But we need to be STEALTHY. So far our friends are in trouble for killing a known criminal, insulting a watch officer, and being stupid in public. The Watch won’t chase them, or us, for that. It will be another matter altogether, though, if we hurt or kill a member of the watch, or any civilians.  So… Hidey-Hole to get through the door, and a few Knock-Knocks to open cells and shackles, and then off to the docks and away? Who is in?”

“Gronk trust Zhanh, Gronk want to rescue friends, Gronk go with Zhanh.”

Perry said to Zhanh as they got back to the Goblin and walked over to Lumlas and Edurin “You’re round, I think. I’ll just have a Meadowblush as I shall need a clear head. I was thinking that along with your Hiding Hole spell I could be ready with my Fire Storm of Protest – it might well keep any guards from trying to stop Wulf, Weslynn and Mensa from leaving. It kinda causes confusion and disagreement. Will the Hiding Hole makes us all invisible or just you?”

The streets of Khazan had gotten dark when the sun went down. One Watchman lighted a torch, and the streets also got some illumination from open doors, windows, and the occasional torch or sunstone on the walls. The streets were not as busy as they had been in the daylight, but there were still lots of people moving about, They had only walked a couple of blocks when Perry saw Weslynn, Zhanh, and Gronk in the road half a block a head of them. He might not have recognized Weslynn or Zhanh in the dark, but the form of the minotaur was unmistakeable.

“Perry, what has happened?” inquired the vintner, unsurprised at the latest apparent complication. One of her new companions walking alone, save for guardsmen. She’d seen this before, when her guards or fellow merchants fell afoul of the watch or the like in other places, though it had never happened in Khazen before.

Zhanh saw Perry and the guards approach with dismay. When several sailors went ashore, and one came back with an escort of constables, it usually meant the others were under lock and key. Wulf didn’t seem the drunk and disorderly type, though, and the trio had not been seeking recreation. He turned to the minotaur. “Gronk,” he said, “I think we are about to get some bad news, maybe very bad. Whatever they tell us, don’t react unless someone actually offers you violence.”

Perry greeted these welcome known faces with a wan smile a swiftly filled them in on what had befallen them. ‘This is not a good place,’ he stated definitively. ‘Why would people stay here? We need to get someone of influence to vouch for Wulf and Mensa in the morning. I think someone from the Wizards’ Guild would probably have enough clout. It saddens me deeply, friends, but I must advise you to trust no one!’
When the wagon arrived at the station, two uruks came out and fetched Wulf. One grabbed his shoulders and another got his feet. “Don’t give us any trouble, wolf-man,” growled one of the uruks. “If you struggle, we’ll bust you up.”

Service the wizard came up and looked at Wulf. “If you give me your word that you’ll not try to escape or harm anyone, I’ll remove the restraints once you’re in the gaol cell. Your friend, Perry is going to try and have you released. By the way, I’ve checked, and the man you killed is a small-time thug who has been in trouble with the Watch in the past. Still, you’re heavily armed and a lycanthrope–he was just a human. Don’t you think you might have over-reacted. This is not some dungeon, wolf-man. It’s a city, and we have laws here. You can’t just go around killing anybody who gets in your way or gives you a little grief.”

Service looked steadily at Wulf and waited for him to reply.

Weslynn sighed at the news and decided to go down to the Watch Station, and speak to the Commander and attempt to use her charisma to get him released. Not knowing anyone of standing in the town, and having little leverage of her own in this city, all she can see to do is apply her charms.

“Perry, I’m going down to see who is in charge and speak to them about releasing Wulf. It is all that I can do here and now. If it were closer to home where our merchant house is better known I would have more clout, or at least coin, but we’re just too far from home here, and you know of course about my coin.”

‘Thanks, Weslynn,’ Perry replied, relieved. ‘I’ll come with you. Wulf’s pretty wild at the moment and I want to reassure him that we’ll get him out if he’s worked himself up into a state. What about Mensa? He can’t be left on his own really.’

“Well unless you can see something else to do with him, he’ll have to come with us. I want to make sure Wulf is alright if we can’t him released. He’s my monster in a barbarian box now, and I intend for him to stay that way.”

Wulf looked at the wizard, and the latter was interested to see the flesh of his battered blood and tear stained face ripple and bulge in places like something was trying to force its way out.
“You have not yet hurt me, wizard,” croaked the wolfman as if his vocal apparatus was also in some state of uncomfortable flux. ” I am still marginally in control here for one who was mugged while his friends were in danger, and then shackled, and beaten like a criminal. The man I killed was very good; he was trying to disarm me, and prevent me from helping Mensa and Perry. My wolf got out, and Omvar help the foe it finally gets ahold of. ” He swallows hard to stop a blood chilling growl that tries to come out of his throat. The beast in me has gone quite mad with rage. You had best leave me restrained for now. I am not certain I could keep it restrained, or put it back in the cage if it got out. If i might trouble you for a drink of water, I would be grateful…” Wulf closed his eyes and scrunched up his face with the effort to control his monster. He did not struggle, but he looked death at the two Uruks that were carrying him.

Mensa was snoring.  “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Zhanh shrugged and followed the group to the watch station.
The whole group, accompanied by the Watch members who had been escorting Perry, turned and made their way to the Dog Street station. After a ten minute walk they reached it.

Weslynn asked to speak to the commander. The human on duty was an old guardsman named Gusboh, a man whose only notable success in life consisted of never having gotten himself killed. Having somehow survived when stronger, smarter, and more energetic members of the Watch had gotten themselves killed, retired, or promoted to a Death Horde somewhere, Gusboh found himself a shift commander at a small Watch station in downtown Khazan. He was a man who lived and died by the rulebook.

Gusboh put his bottle aside and came out to speak to the intruders in his post. “Yes, you can see your friends,” he told them. “No, you can’t get them released before they see a magistrate. They are both sleeping right now. My wizard decided it would be better to sedate the barbarian. Maybe he’ll feel better after a night’s sleep.”

The fat old human called for Service. The wizard emerged from a back room, where he had apparently been eating supper. Weslynn detercted a few crumbs on his robe. Service looked at her sharply. There was something magical about this woman.

Weslynn wondered why the old man was trying to fob her off on this Service person. “Sir, my merchant cargo of wine, from the Janourn family winery, was stolen at an inn three days ago. I myself was insensate from whatever witchery was worked on me, and I have come to this city in pursuit of the thief. From your watch logs I have discovered the thief is bound for Castle Greybat, what I am told is a vampire-infested hellhole plaguing this very city with monsters and violence. I have gathered to me good men and women of stout heart and noble charitable souls to aid me in my time of distress. These people were all strangers to me this morning and they have purely out of a need to see a wrong righted, out of their respect for law and right, come together to save me. We are bound on a riverboat this morning for Castle Greybat, to retake what was stolen from me, and we have promised to stand firm, and together against whatever evil stands before us and our goal of righting this wrong. This group of men and women includes those you are holding in your cells. I vouch for them, I know them to be men of good intent. If they tell you they were the victims of a gang plot on the street, and acted only to defend themselves, then know I trust them, for I have reason to believe their word to be true. Yes, Wulf, the barbarian whose nature you sneer at with your tone, is dangerous, if you are evil and seek to attack him out of greed. If you are a honorable person in need of aid, then that is the face you will see of him. He is a soldier and a good man, and his nature makes him more valuable to me, given that we seek to content with vampires and hellish ghargs. Please release them, so we can make our riverboat at dawn, and strike against that foul place of vampires and thieves.” She used all her charms against both Service and the duty commander. Could they not see Wulf and her friends are good men, meant for better than this?

‘What she says is true,’ Perry contributed. ‘I’ve spent more time with Wulf and Mensa and I know their loyalty. Wizards in this city are surely glad that some action is being taken against the forces at work against it launched by that damnable castle and it’s master.’

‘You’d be saving the magistrate valuable time and I will take the barbarian out of the city subdued by a spell to ensure no more disturbances,’ he added.

Zhanh briefly considered mentioning his tenuous connection to the Wizard’s Guild but gave it up as a bad idea. Weslyn and Perry seemed to be covering the real arguments fairly well; he hoped that Service was actually listening.
Service looked at the group with pity. Obviously they wanted to get their friends out of jail, but just as obviously, none of them had a clue about how to do so. Not one of them had even mentioned money. Not one of them had mentioned any real connection to the city’s power structure. Instead they kept repeating their insane story about stolen wine and tracking it upriver to Castle Greybat. They didn’t seem to realize that the Watch didn’t care about their wine. All this raving about vampires didn’t help either–it just made them look crazier and more dangerous.

Still, he’d like to help them, but he couldn’t do much with old By-the-book Gusboh watching him. He sized them up. The woman who seemed to be the leader was clearly under some great stress. It would be good if she got out of town as soon as possible. The Minotaur would be great in a fight, and not good for much else. Perry, the one he had met already, was too fresh from the back country. The quiet one, Zhanh, might be his best chance of actually communicating with this group.

“Why don’t we all step over to the Dog’s Bone and get a friendly drink?” Service made the suggestion to get them out of the stationhouse. “The Captain is a busy man, and needs to get back to his real work.”

Gusboh gave him a grateful look. He still had more than half a bottle to finish off before he could get any rest tonight.

“But, what about our friends?” asked Perry.

“You can’t do anything for them here and now. It would take a visit from a dragon or the Goddess or at the very least the Supreme Commander of the Watch to get them released tonight.” As he said this, he kept his voice neutral and polite, but he winked with one eye at Zhanh. “So, step over to the Dog’s Bone with me? At least your visit won’t be a complete waste of time. They have the third best ale in the city there.”

Weslynn glared at the man theoretically in charge, clearly it had been a long time since he was, if ever, useful as more than a bottle holder, as clearly that was all he was really interested in.  A man of reactionary rule-quoting because that minimized the time had to spend thinking as opposed to drinking. She fought with her instincts to simultaneously quench her thirst and vent her anger at being dismissed on the fool before her. After a long pause, glaring at the man, struggling to meet his eyes, as opposed to his neck, she turned to face this Service person face-on, “Very well. I had hoped this place was inhabited by men of reason. Please prove me right. I am a member of the merchant-winemaker family of Janourn, half of its heirs, and though with my cargo stolen I have little enough gold here and now, do not think you can dismiss me. Should I be forced to return home, balked in my seeking for justice by supposed lawmen, I can assure you my family will return her in force, and turn their attentions and our fortune to ruining whatever shreds of honor your commander here, at the very least, struggles to wrap around the remaining shreds of wit and conscience he possesses. We have been making wine and trading across the continent for a very long time, and we have learned the dangers of appearing weak before competitors, bandits, and drunken fools.”

Asleep, sedated, in his cell, and still bound, Wulf dreamed. He led a pack of dire wolves, running wildly thru the grim dark woods of the Werwald. Sometimes he was in wolfman form, but at other moments he was all wolf.  How good it felt to be free! And to chase and tease the prey that fled in terror: a large ugly black man, and a group of Uruks,and a Goblin slut. Then howling with glee they fell upon the hapless victims, and, Gods!! there was blood. So much blood. Blood everywhere, and faces mad with terror! The rope bound wolfman twitched in his magic-induced sleep, and made disturbing noises in his throat. His jaws ground his teeth together in a most disturbing manner.

Gusboh’s mouth fell open and his face turned red. He sputtered for a few seconds. “You dare to insult and threaten me right here in the Watch station? Guards! Arrest this crazy woman and throw her in the cell with the wolfman she wants so badly.”
There were 5 Watchmen in the station when Gusboh gave his orders.
Service the Wizard was senior among them. “Lady Weslynn, put your hands above your head. You are under arrest for harassing an officer of the law and for threatening my captain. The other guards quickly moved to surround the rest of the party.
“You others leave now!” demanded Service, or you will be under arrest also. “Blakko!” he turned his attention momentarily to the Captain’s clerk. “Call for backup!”
“Oh, hraca,” said an uruk, drawing his scimitar. “If they attack, hamstring the minotaur first, then hit the wizards!”

“All I did was threaten to let everyone know you were a drunk and an idiot. If you want to prove me wrong, think with your brain instead of your drunken bile-filled spleen. I promise you, if you have them arrest me, you will regret your mistake.” Weslynn let her anger rage within her.  She looked at Service and shook her head. “I had hopes for a wizard for sense.”

She turned around looked around the room, meeting the eyes of the rest of the guards. “You know there are no grounds for this, other than the pin-pricked pride of the buffoon you good men are unfortunately saddled with. Do the decent thing and at least tell him to defend his own damn honor.”

From her normal diplomatic approach that had found her respect as a business negotiator with her family, she was now filled violent urges that she stomped on firmly, but could not stop them from leaking into her speech and manner. “If I ever get my hands on the bastard who did this to me,” she thought, “I am going to wring his scrawny neck and make him watch me feed his heart to a bonfire, dammit.”

“Come on,’ Perry said to Zhanh and Gronk. ‘We’re not going to get this sorted ot tonight.’ He was close to panicking and had almost let a spell slip. To Weslynn he said ‘We’ll be back in the morning with someone who will get you all out.’ He then looked to the escort and asked them to lead him and his friend sback to the Grinning Goblin as they had earlier agreed.

He felt pretty scrambled by this city and its harsh ways but struggled to focus on why he was here and not back in the woods.

Zhanh watched in horror as the brief hope of a covert solution to this problem disintegrated with Weslyn’s outburst. He caught Service’s eye and said, “We are staying at the Grinning Goblin, and will do our best to make it worth your while to come by and give us some advice.” He turned to follow Perry and Gronk, and muttered under his breath about people who didn’t know how to keep their heads down in strange cities.
A burly uruk came up behind Weslynn and grabbed her upper arms. A smaller human quickly searched her and took her weapons. Service gestured at the cell door and it swung open. The uruk took two steps and shoved Weslynn into the cell with Wulf.
“You can stay there until you learn how to be civil to your betters,” smirked the Watch Captain. “The rest of you, get out of here, or you can spend the night in jail, too.”
Gronk looked like he was ready to attack someone. Zhanh grabbed one of his hands, and Perry got the other, and they herded the bullman out the door.
Even in the street they could hear Weslynn berating the Watch captain.
“We may not be going to Castle Greybat after all,” said Zhanh. “If Weslynn doesn’t learn to control her temper and keep her mouth shut, she may not live through the night.”
“Gronk confused. Gronk needs a drink,” stated the minotaur.
“I’ll get you a drink when we get back to the Goblin,” said Zhanh.
“Too far to go,” said Gronk. “Gronk want drink now. Wizard friend mention Doggy Bones place to drink.”
“You call him a friend?” asked Zhanh.
“Wizard man not smell like enemy,” Gronk explained.

Zhanh looked at Gronk. “You know, Service is more likely to show up at his local bar than to follow us all the way to the Goblin, anyway. All right, Gronk, one drink at the Dog’s Bone, and then back to the Goblin.” He turned to Perry. “This is turning into a VERY long day…”

‘You must explain to Gronk that he must not hit anyone unless we tell him to. He must be polite too. If we see Service at this tavern, he must not spill his drink or take his food. Otherwise I fear the night will be as long as the day.’ Perry gave a half bow to Zhanh and felt a little better for it.

Zhanh smiled at that. “I think you just told him yourself,” he said. “Still, we all need reminding; I wish someone had warned Weslyn to stay civil. NEVER antagonize professional soldiers unless you expect to win the battle, and are willing to fight a whole war.”

Weslynn slammed to the floor as the guards shoved her into the small cell with Wulf, contact with the cold stone largely clearing her head of her induced rage. Seeing her friend Wulf in front of her, broken and shackled, barely human, with almost furry hair, and strangely lumped muscles, still caught mid-change even after all this time, no longer was he the beautiful form that so appealed to her in the morning.

She gently gathered him to her, shackles and all, covering him and her with the cell’s lone stinking blanket, holding him tenderly close, heedless of his twitching and sleep talking half-understood, half-heard grunts and growls.

“Oh Wulf,” she whispered into his ear, as he lay in her lap, “What have they done to you? No matter, I am here, this is Weslynn, I am not afraid of you, after all, we are monsters together. I am here, and will not let you go. We will spend the night together.”

She held him close, in the darkest corner of the cell, covered with the blanket, even as he twitched and shook, and snarled and drooled in his sleep, even with his bloody clothes, and chains. She held him close, gently stroking him through the long night, as the hours passed, and bored and tired guards came and went, until it was long past midnight, and all, save Weslynn and Wulf were quiet and still.

“Wulf, I am a monster, like you. I am a vampire,” she whispered to him, straight into her ear, as she held him close, as the hunger in her belly, the thirst in her throat, and the unreasoning fury of the vampire curse denied any blood – ever, roiled within her, threatening to overcome her self-control at last. “I have not ever fed. I wanted to hunt tonight, the alleys of this place, and find rats or cats. I did not want to feed on men or women, anyone would could understand what was happening. But, the guard have forced my hand. I am so sorry Wulf I can only hope I do not kill you. I will try to take as little as I can, I am afraid if I wait any longer I will feed out of control. I think, once I have fed, my fury will pass, it has been so hard, not killing everyone and bathing in their blood since I awoke this way.”

She shifted positions then, slightly, so she could look him in the face, in the dark lightless cell. She looked at him, tenderly, forlornly, kissed him once on his almost-human mouth, and then looked around for any observing guards, then shifted Wulf and the blanket around.  She had to pull down his breeches in order to reach his inner thigh, where she was bitten, on the night she was transformed, while still being hidden in shadow and cloth.

“Wulf, she whispered again, staring at the flesh of his leg, at the joint with his hip, where the artery throbbed beneath. “I hope I do not kill you. You deserve better.”

With those words, she plunged her newly-extended fangs into his flesh, drinking deep. Flame and ice exploded within her, life and death, his pain at being bitten, and her limitless pleasure at the feed, exciting every nerve within her, complete at last. Ahhh….the blood!

Wulf’s wild dreams began to fade away as Weslynn cuddled and held him. It didn’t happen all at once, but the longer he slept, the calmer he grew. Somewhere in the middle of the night, he felt this sharp pain, something like a bite on the inside of his leg. The pain awakened him, and he spasmed into a sitting position, dislodging Weslynn and knocking her on her back a few feet away from him. There wasn’t much light in the station–a bit coming out under the door to the Captain’s office, and a burnt down candle on the clerk’s desk. It was Wulf the man who woke up, and he quickly realized that he was bleeding and didn’t really know why.

Then he saw Weslynn a few feet away, watching him with a glitter in her eyes and blood on her mouth.

Then they both heard Mensa say, “What are Wulf and Weslynn doing? It looks weird.”


Chapter 2: Wulf Goes Shopping   Leave a comment

Looking for a horny helmet in a Dwarf weapon shop.

Wulf, Perry, and Mensa left the Grinning Goblin behind them and set out for the Armorer’s Quarter in the great open air market on the eastern side of Khazan. None of them knew exactly where it was, and the market itself was so huge that one could wander in it all day and never see the half of it. Thousands of merchants selling literally everything a person could need crowded the huge open area. A few of them had permanent booths and buildings, but most got by with just a cart, a tent, or sometimes a blanket on the ground. The city watch patrolled the area heavily, and the more prosperous merchants hired their own guards. In some parts of the market there were actual streets with booths lining both sides of the road. In other places it was just a hodgepodge of carts, blankets, small tables and strolling merchants with bulging backpacks.

The crowd was also strongly mixed, about half of it being humans. The second largest contingent was uruks; the third was dwarves. The occasional ogre or troll muscled their way through the masses. Elves and goblins flitted through the crowd. Vendors were mostly humans and dwarves–other kindreds didn’t seem to have the knack or the patience for it.

“Stay close to me,” said Wulf. “We only have about 2 hours until sunset, and I want to be back at the Grinning Goblin before it gets dark.” (The hour in Khazan is reckoned at 1/10 of a day. Thus the party had about 5 earthly hours to get the info that Wulf wanted.)

As he quartered back and forth through the market, Wulf finally heard the sound he had been listening for–the ringing of hammers on metal. That would be the sound of a working blacksmith, and where there were smithies, there would be weapon shops. Guiding his steps by the distant clanging, he led his charges to the Armorer’s Quarter. He knew they had arrived when the crowd became mostly warriors, some of them carrying and admiring what were obviously new weapons.

The first shop he came to was called THE TIN TRADER, and the sign showed a bearded kobold with a knife held out flatly in the palm of each hand. Little lightning symbols indicated that the knives might be enchanted. Across the lane was a closed up building with a real door and a sign that showed a bear wielding a hammer against an anvil. And there were more, many more on both sides of the street ahead of them.

Mensa wanted to strike up a conversation with the dwarves he saw, but was a bit too shy – and besides, they were in a hurry. When Wulf stopped them at the TIN TRADER area, Mensa stepped across the lane to the door with the sign of the bear at the anvil. He wanted to see a bear blacksmith! He put his hand on the door to see if he felt heat from a blacksmith’s fire inside.

Perry kept an eye on Mensa just in case he got sucked into something unfortunate. He asked Wulf if this place was going to supply him with what he wanted.

Wulf said: “This looks like a good enough place to start. Let’s go in and start asking questions. Watch out for people who crowd you or bump into you!
“Did you put your purses in the safe places like I showed you? Yell for me if someone threatens or bothers you in any way!” Wulf entered and began taking stock of the shop. He looked for Dwarf type helmets, and kept an eye out for a Kris, something he has longed to own since he was nearly killed by an Uruk shaman some time in the past.

‘Thanks, Wulf,’ Perry grinned. ‘I’ll keep a look out for a kris. Hey! Where’s Mensa? I’ll look next door.’ Perry kept his hands in his pockets and looked into the ‘Bear Blacksmith’. ‘Hey! Mensa!’ he called. ‘We’re over here, Come look what Wulf’s found.’ He beckoned Mensa to follow him back inside the Tin Trader, keeping his eyes open for anyone taking a close interest in any of them.

Mensa walked over to Perry. “Bear in there,” he said, pointing at the Bear Blacksmith. “Didn’t get a good smell, but him in there.”
Roy Cram replied 2 weeks ago…
Wulf was looking in the merchandise for a horned helm for Mensa. He looked about to be sure the Dwarf and Wizard were still there.

A brawny and very hairy man stepped up and spoke to Perry and Mensa. “Garr,” he growled. “I’m the bear. Can I help you gentlemen find anything. I make fine weapons.”

Wulf looked around the Tin Trader’s shop. What a collection of junk! He saw daggers that really were made out of tin. He saw a helmet that was made out of leaves–leaves that seemed to be sewn together. He saw a big bowl of grapes and three fairies sitting on the edge of it each trying to eat a purple grape as big as its head.

A kobold stepped out of the shadows in the back of the room. “What can I sell you, Wolfman?” he asked. “You don’t look like the kind of warrior to use cheap magic in battle.”

Mensa said to the bear “Friend Wulf want a kiss knife.”
((Wulf is confused- Is the Bearman in the Tin Trader place or outside of the Bear place.)) When Wulf hears the growl he comes quickly over to join his friends.
“Greetings,” said Wulf. “I am looking for a helmet for Mensa here and am interested in finding a Kris. I also would like to know if you know what a Ghargh is, and what weapons are most effective against such creatures. It is possible we may have to deal with some of these creatures soon, and I hate surprises!”
Wulf looked around, said a bad word in Urukish, and then; “I am sorry, but my friends have disappeared. I must find them and quickly!” He hurried out all his wolf senses alert to the task, seeking by scent, sight, and hearing any evidence of his companions.
Mensa (to himself): “Kiss, kris, kirs …. Man-tongue has too many words that sound the same. Rest of world should learn good Kah-zahd like Mensa.”
Perry gave a half-bow to the Bear. ‘We are looking for a knife, a kris in fact, for our friend, Wulf.Do you have one for sale? He’s just across the street in the Tin Trader.’ Perry looked round briefly to see if Wulf was still across the street then turned back to the Bear. ‘I think my friend, Mensa, likes Bears, don’t you Mensa?’ Perry smiled at Mensa and said ‘Good Bear helps Wulf and Perry. You like Bear!’

Wulf, got more frantic with every passing moment as the watchdog part of his personality beat him with a big guilt stick. He decided to look in on the Bear place as it was closest.

‘Hey, Wulf!’ Perry cried. ‘Come check this place out – you never know what you might find and I think Mensa likes the Bear!’

“Thank Omvar!” said Wulf. “For a moment there I thought I had lost you both! I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing. Hey there Big Fellow (to the Bear guy); do you have any helms that might fit my Dwarf friend here? Methinks he needs a hat. He would like one with horns.”

Wulf rejoined his companions. As he looked around he thought that the Bear’s place looked a lot more like an armorer’s should look.
“You want a horned helmet for a Dwarf and a kris for yourself, eh, wolf-brother?” growled the hairy man. “To get Dwarf equipment, you’re going to have to go to a Dwarf smith. Gah-Narrld, two doors down is as good as any and a friend of mine. The trouble with equipment for Dwarves is that they aren’t built the same way men are. Their heads are too large in proportion–their chests usually too thick. And krisses are rare and expensive. They usually have to come to us from Gull, and you know how far away that is. I could get you a kris, but it would take a day or two and cost you 200 gold.”
Wulf replied, “I had a feeling that the Kris would be beyond my present means. Thank you for the advice on finding a helm for Mensa. My friends and I plan an expedition to do battle with the enemies of your fair city, the evil blood drinkers who slay the wizards and others here. Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Do you know what a Ghargh is, and what kind of weapons would be most effective against such a foe? If such creature can fly my combat experience suggests that missile weapons would be the most useful, or polearms. I have a spear and Morningstar, and plan to take sharpened hardwood stakes, I also am skilled with a slling. What price for a set of good sharp spears? Any other information or advice you could give us would be of great assistance.”
Wulf kept an eye on the wandering Dwarf and Wizard determined they would not elude him again.
Mensa held his coin pouch out to Wulf. “Will this help Wulf get k – krees?”
Wulf smiled at Mensa: ” I think I will have to wait for my Kris, my friend. As soon as we are done here I will take you to the shop of Gah-Narrld to get you a proper Dwarf helmet. If the good Bear smith here can answer my questions, I would also like to have our friend Perry look at the Stuff in the Tin Trader next door. I don’t know hraka (a fecal expletive) about magic, but perhaps the Half-Elf can find something there that might serve us against our enemies. I am told that Kobolds are skilled in making magic things.”

Perry was touched by Mensa’s offer – he had been about to do the same thing. ‘I’d like to see a Kobold, Wulf,’ he replied to his big friend. ‘This time we’ll wait for you, won’t we Mensa? I’m not sure I know hraka either but I could learn in my spare time. Anyway, maybe I can contribute on the magic side.’ Then he turned to the Bear. ‘Do you know any Bears who’d like to help us get in and out of Castle Greybat?’ His hand flew to his mouth which he’d opened too wide too quickly again. His cheeks went crimson and he lowered his eyes and kept his fingers crossed.

Mensa, who rarely kept his opinions to himself, told Wulf, “Magic? Magic has its own smell. Good magic smell good. Bad magic smell bad. Stupid magic smell –” He struggled for the word in Man-Tongue, but couldn’t find it. “Stupid magic just stupid, that all.”

Wulf spoke again:
“How do you like to be called, sir? I am called Wulf Wayfarer, a soldier of fortune. I and my friends here are helping a lady merchant in her efforts to recover some stolen merchandise. And, as much as I would love to fight alongside any of the Bearfolk, I cannot with a good conscience, expect them to take such risks for a stranger, as welcome as that help would be. But alas, our time is limited. Have you had time to think on any of the questions I have asked you? We have many preparations to make yet.”

Perry reached into his pack and pulled out an ermintrude cake his mother had baked for him. Although there were no artificial preservatives, Perry’s mother had received baking secrets handed down from generation to generation in the ancient forests. As he broke the cake into four pieces, a delicate yet appetising aroma wafted upwards and out. It somehow managed to tickle the tastebuds of just about any kindred who smelled its promise, even trolls. Perry broke it into four and offered it round to Mensa, Wulf and the Bear.
Bear looked oddly at Wulf. “Are your senses as keen as mine?” he asked. “Do you know the secret I really don’t try to keep? It doesn’t matter. I am simply a merchant here. I am not going off on any expeditions in search of gold, or even of vengeance.”

Bear pointedly ignored the bite of cake that Perry offered him. “Spears are not my specialty either. I like to make warhammers and swords. It would be easier to answer your questions, wolf-brother, if they didn’t come so fast and furious. Are you always in such a hurry?”

Wulf started to turn away, convinced he wouldn’t get much help here.

“I can tell you one thing,” said Bear. “Ghargh is short for gargoyle, so called because the creatures look something like the monstrous ornaments carved on some of the older temples. They are a kind of flying ape with rock-like flesh. They are more common far to the east, but there have been rumors of some seen in Khazan in the last year or so.. Spears might not be your best weapon against one. A good strong crossbow would, in my opinion, be better. I happen to have one for sale, only 500 gold pieces, and that includes a bolt of quarrels–carved from ironwood and tipped with silver. Very effective against night creatures.”

Perry whispered to Wulf ‘Might get one cheaper somewhere else but thank him and let’s go.’ He put away the last piece of cake.

“I thank you, sir, for your information. Alas, we indeed are in a great hurry. We are preparing an expedition, and need to leave in haste. I am sorry I do not have the time or money to spend more time here with you. If we survive this hazardous venture I will recommend your shop to my friend Gronk who loves big axes.”
“Come Mensa. Come Perry. Let us visit the Dwarf shop and find a Helm for Mensa.”
Wulf, Perry, and Mensa stepped out of the Bear’s shop. They were surprised by how expensive things were in the big city. A few minutes of walking took them up the street to Gah Narld’s shop. It seemed a popular place. There were half a dozen Dwarves, including one totally unlike any Dwarf they had ever seen before because he was black-skinned and thin as a post.
As they entered “the dwarf shop,” Mensa stopped for a moment with a strange look on his face.

The armorer looked like the oldest Dwarf Mensa had ever seen. He had wrinkles, and hair sprouting from odd places on his body like the ends of his ears and the tip of his nose. When he spoke one could see that he had lost at least half his teeth.
Gah Narld took a purse full of coins from a really burly Dwarf who walked out proudly carrying an axe that was taller than he was and almost as heavy. Then he rushed over to see his new customers. He sized up Wulf and Perry quickly enough. “I don’t have anything for you men,” he told them, but I might be able to help the youngster here. What are you looking for, young un”?”
Wulf, in his usual take charge way, spoke first:
“Venerable one: I brought my new friend Mensa here to see if we could find him a helmet, preferably with horns, to protect his head. We go into a hazardous place soon, and I would like to see his head well guarded.
“The Bear Smith two doors down spoke highly of you. Can you assist my friend here?” Wulf hoped that the old Dwarf would see that Mensa was a “simple one” and wearing Silvertongue’s special bracelet. He thought it would be considered rude and condescending to mention it.

Perry turned to the thin, black dwarf. ;Excuse me, sir. I am writing a letter to my mother about this wondrous city and it’s people. I have never seen a dwarf such as you before. Would you be so kind as to tell me a little of your history and of your family? I am Perry Stroika, a half elf from the Heart Forest. I seek my father, who I learned from Madame Zolgah is held within Castle Greybat. I am here with my friends, Wulf and Mensa.’ The half bow was given respectfully as Perry addressed the dwarf.

Mensa held back until all were finished speaking, and then spoke to the skinny one, in kzhd: “These Big Folk sure talk a lot, don’t they?”

The Black Dwarf had been absorbed in his study of a circular shield with a big sharp spike of steel emerging from the center. He was surprised when the human addressed him. In halting Common, he tried to answer Perry’s question. “This one be from Far. No time for talk with strangers. Must return to Eagle soon and want good weapons. May you not die in disgrace, stranger.” Then the Black Dwarf indicated that he wanted to try on the shield. Gah Narld saw that and rushed back to him.

When Mensa spoke to the stranger in khzd, he only looked puzzled. A fat blonde dwarf came over and grabbed Mensa’s beard, giving it a slight tug, not enough to hurt, but certainly enough to get his attention. The blonde spoke in Common. “We never speak in that language out here among the Bigguns,” he said in a friendly manner. “Speak Common or keep yer hairy mouth shut, do you understand?” Although the tone was light, almost friendly, the other dwarf’s demeanor seemed very serious indeed.

Mensa grumbled a bit, but kept his mouth shut. Didn’t see why had to use Man-Talk, which was already tough to remember. He began looking through the various tools, armour pieces, and weapons. He stopped at one which seemed so – seemed so….

“Familiar,” he said out loud, not realizing he had spoken aloud at first. “What this be called?” he asked, pointing towards it.

Wulf said, “We must be patient here with these good folk and honor their customs. Mensa, ask the clerk if they have a helmet that would fit you, preferably with horns. Perry, I don’t think they want to talk to ‘Bigguns’. We should stay back and watch. I will try to see that they don’t cheat Mensa.”

So much of this seemed familiar, but Mensa couldn’t quite place it. Mensa spoke to the blond dwarf: “If must talk in Man-Tongue, tell me your name. Pleasse. “ He spoke with a hissing accent not normal for dwarves in this part of the contnent.
“And what be this curvy knife?” he asked, pointing at what looked like a short sword with a wavy blade.
Perry watched Mensa, sensing that his new friend had a purpose he had not yet gleaned. Either that or he was just tiring of the charms of the shop.

Wulf looked to see what had gotten Mensa’a attention: A knife with a curvy blade…OHMIGAWD!…Could that be the highly desired KRIS!! Was it magnetic? “Master Perry”, whispered the Wulf man,”Check out the curvy blade? Do you think it could be a Kris?”

Perry smiled happily – a chance to be useful! He went to touch the kris with the intention of trying the sparkle spell – would it work? ‘Sure, Wulf,’ he said eagerly. ‘Just let me put a finger on the hilt and I’ll see if it stops me from making a bright little light show for you!’

“Magic,” thought Mensa. “Complicated.” He spied a group of helmets hanging on the wall, and saw one which reminded him of the minotaur – except one of the horns was broken. Handling it, he pricked his thumb on the broken horn – and found it extremely sharp. He smiled. This would be fun to head-butt a biggun!
The blonde dwarf looked at Mensa, and seemed to be trying to size him up. Reluctantly, he answered, “You can call me Goldylox. Everyone else does. Say can you buy a brother a drink? ”

Perry reached in with his finger and cast a Sparkle spell on the wavy-bladed knife. The knife lit up and began to twinkle with alternating red and green flashes.

Everyone in the shop turned to look. “Hey, what are you doing to my weapon?” shouted Gah Narld, as he rounded on the half-elf.
Mensa found some helmets hanging on a side wall. Two caught his attention. One was a horned helm, but one of the horns had been broken off near the metal. The other was more of a miner’s helm with a candle mounted in a special holder built right into the metal. ‘How weird!’ thought Mensa. “Could walk around with fire on head. He thought long and hard about it, then took down both helmets and looked for Gah Narld.
The odd lights caught Mensa’s attention. “Hmph! Magic!” He turned to the blonde dwarf. “Sure. Watch out that men don’t give you pee to drink. We go, Goldylox.” He looked at his hands, filled with helmets. “Mm. Should pay.” But Gah Narld seemed to be arguing with elf-man.

“HEY!” he bellowed. “Elf-man friend!” Stumbling with these Common words, he hoped Goldylox would tell him why he couldn’t talk good kzhd. And maybe if there was a Gristlegrim priest in town. Mensa was only now becoming aware that he should know things that he could only vaguely remember….such as, Why did the name “Gristlegrim” pop into his head and what was a “priest?”

“Venerable Gah Narld” said Wulf, quickly. ” Pray do not be alarmed. We mean no harm or mischief. We are on a mission to destroy the evil Count of Castle Greybat who slays the citizens of your fair city and sends his evil Gharghs to do his vile work. I saw the dagger and thought it might be a Kris which I desire to protect me from the vampire’s magic when I face him. My friend was testing to see if it was indeed the fabled Kris dagger. Have you any kind of special weapons or protections that might serve us against such fiends? Not even the mighty Dwarf folk would be safe if the Count grows strong enough to come here in force some day.”
And Goldylox, pray deal kindly with Mensa, who wears Silvertongue’s special bracelet. And we also would like to know if there is a temple to the great Lord Gristlegrim in this town. Perhaps there is some aid we could there obtain as well.”
Perry spread his hands wide to show that he meant no harm. ‘Thanks, Wulf,’ he said softly. ‘Ask him if he knows any vampire hunters…’
Mensa looked at Wulf with wide eyes. Was THAT what we were going to do? It sounded dangerous – but important. And Gronk had said there would be lots of gobbles to hit onna head.
“Let’s get drink, Goldy. Hey Wulf, I gonna get Goldylox a drink!”
Goldylox the Dwarf looked flummoxed. “Oh, Gris, no,” he muttered. “This guy is an idiot. I wonder if someone let him out of the Sculptorium 100 years too early.” He put both hands abruptly on Mensa’s shoulders and pressed down so strongly that Mensa suddenly sat down.
“No time for drinks, Shorty,” the blonde dwarf almost snarled. “I have an urgent appointment back in Thrindol.” He abruptly left the shop.
Gah Narld looked at Wulf and Perry curiously. “You want to know something about my wepons, just ask me. You want a kruss, right?” He pronounced “kris” with a very thick accent. “That is the most expensive weapon in this shop. Sky iron is very hard to obtain. And since their counter magical nature was discovered, the demand for them has risen. A hundred years ago, one could buy them for about 120 pieces of gold, but these days they cost from 300 to 1000 pieces, depending upon condition and who the original smith was. I just happen to have one in the back room–I don’t leave it out here in public, but it would cost your 500 pieces of gold. You don’t look like you have that kind of money, but go ahead and prove me wrong.” He glared at them challengingly.

At the mere mention of vampires, the other customers in the shop began edging away from Wulf and Perry, and by the time Gah Narld had finished explaining the cost of the kriss, the shop had emptied except for the three friends. The proprietor’s face took on a surly look.
“Look what you’ve done with your careless talk,” he grumbled. “Don’t you know better than to ask about such matters in public? And you’re wrong. Vampires rarely attack Dwarves. I wouldn’t say never, but it’s very rare. For one thing, we are under the protection of Gristlegrim himself, and few dare to mess with that god-wizard. For another thing, we don’t taste good. If you want a weapon that can hew through steel or stone, I can provide that to you for a price, but if you want to fight the undead, you should be talking to wizards, not dwarves.”
“Now are you going to buy anything or not? Did you want a helm for your simple friend?” He jerked his thumb rudely at Mensa who was just standing up and starting to wonder why his friend Goldylox had knocked him down. “You could have the miner’s helmet for 20 gold, or the broken one for 10. If you promise to leave and quit ruining my business, I’ll sell you both for 25.”

Mensa scratched his head, stunned by Goldy’s behavior. Wasn’t he thirsty any more? What had Mensa done to make him angry?

Now Gah seemed angry too. He wanted 500 gold for the krussthing, did he? Mensa didn’t know how much 500 was, and he wasn’t that sure whether he meant coins or chunks of gold. Mostly what he had in his pouch was the stuff that Dad had him dig in caves. So he dumped the pouch out on the floor and roared, “NO YELL AT WULF! TAKE THIS AND SHUT UP!”

Wulf sighed “Oh Gah Nalld, i apologize for the trouble we have caused you. Please take the 25 gold for Mensa’s helmets, and return the rest to him. I could not take his money to buy the Kris at that price.” (A wolfish growl rumbled in his throat.) “I and my friends will just have to take our chances. Pray tell us though, if there is a temple to Gristlegrim nearby where I might make a small offering for the Wizard Lord to watch over my Friend here?”

Perry simply watched and waited, folding his arms and whistling softly. It was clear to him that they needed advice on vampires and he told Wulf that in a low voice. ‘Gristlegrim first and then advice unless the great dwarven deity deigns to dignify us with discourse on deathly dentures.’ Perry had got alliteratively carried away, a weakness that afflicted him from time to time. Now was one of those times.
Wulf, Perry, and Mensa left with helmets in hand, and most of Mensa’s gold still intact. Outside they noticed that the sun had sunk below the western edge of the city and the sky showed the first traces of twilight.

They had hardly regained the street when an enormous gong sounded nearby–the deep chime overwhelmed all the street noise for a moment. Gah Narld popped out and hung a CLOSED sign on his front door, and it locked behind him when he went back into his shop with an audible click.

Mensa started toward the shop across the street, but a big green hand reached around the edge of the door and hung a CLOSED sign on it, too. All up and down the street of armorers, people were emerging from shops and heading off about their business at a good speed. The crowd grew thick and began to jostle the three companions.

“We can’t just stand here,” said Perry.
Wulf curses sulfurously in Urukish and says: ” Back to Grinning Goblin with all possible haste. Keep weapons and spells ready. Stay alert!’ He set off. herding his companions in the direction of the Inn. All his human and wolf enhanced senses were in high gear. He held the morningstar ready for action if needed.

Perry readied himself for the first level conjuring spells he had studied and practiced so hard during his teenage years in the green forests. He knew that he was still green just like his home and so he stuck close to Wulf and kept an eye out for Mensa, whilst scouring the streets and roof tops for any sign of danger. ‘Stay close to us, Mensa!’ he called and added to Wulf ‘If we meet anything bad, I’ll try to immobilise it or send it running so you can either smash it or stop it from getting to me!’

Screeching to a sudden stop, Mensa wondered what C-L-O-S-E-D meant. And now Wulf was coaxing him somewhere, shouting “all possible haste. Keep weapons and spells ready.”

Well, Mensa shoved the candle helmet on his head, hooked the horned helmet in his belt, and pulled out his war shovel. (He was very grateful to Wulf for helping to put his shovel at the ready.) And now he was toddling as fast as he could after his companions, looking side to side and, occasionally, behind him. Where were they running?

Wulf would not let either of his companions out of his sight now, and encouraged the Dwarf to go in the right direction with haste, and Perry to stay near the small guy. The morning star swung evilly in his expert hand and the spike on his shield glittered with sharpness! Wulf recalled that vampires heads were the preferred target, and vowed to scramble the brains of any that dared attack him or his companions!

Erbvin had spotted the half elf earlier–just the kind of soft youngster as the Torture Pits would pay well for. And the barbarian might last a few rounds as a pit fighter. The trick would be capturing them. Still, this end of day chaos was the perfect time. The barbarian would probably fall for the old purse-snatiching trick, and the elf would follow a pretty face. Glim the girl goblin would distract the elf while Thorgg would try the snatch and grab at the barbarian. Such people were always unreasonably attached to their weapons. He signalled for his two main stooges to get ready and for the rest of his gang to stand by. Deal with the barbarian first.

(This storyline will continue in the Trouble in the Streets topic.)

Chapter 2: Down by the River   Leave a comment

What Phinqq’s Phawlee might look like. A tight fit for a party of ten or more, with one of them a minotaur.

Weslyn, Edurin, and Algris reached the river docks by midafternoon. First they stopped at a Messengers Guild office where for 10 gold they guaranteed that Weslynn’s family would get her message. Edurin paid it. There were many small boats tied up along the docks but only a couple large enough to carry 9 passengers at once. One boat was called Phinqq’s Phawlee; the other was called Nainevver.

Before Weslynn sent the message to her family, she appended the names and a brief description of those who had chosen to aid her to her existing parchment note, so that there will be a record,

In the Messengers Guild Office, Edurin nodded his approval. “You are kind to think of the others.”

At the river docks, Edurin took a deep breath. Not quite the same as the ocean, not as fresh. “Let’s start with the cleanest boat. A well-run boat will be well-cared for.” He headed to the best looking boat large enough to carry the the group. He called out to one of the nearby rivermen, “Greetings fellow sailor, that boat looks large and reliable. What’s her captain like?”

Wulf had mentioned that he thought the boat they should take was called Phinqq’s Phawlee, but Weslynn had forgotten it. Of course the boat that Edurin picked was the other one, the Nainevver. The sailor’s question got a short answer from the riverman. “He’s like a Dwarf.” The riverman clammed up immediately. They had their own culture on the river, and they didn’t talk much to outsiders, and certainly not to anyone who just walked up and started asking questions.

After ten long minutes of confusion, Weslynn suggested  that they try the other boat, perhaps they had made a mistake.

Edurin looked around for an establishment captains might meet at. He turned to Weslynn, “On the ocean, captains come together to trade information. Usually at a tea shop. Would you know where river captains might come together? That would be a good place to learn more.”

While they talked, Edurin continued toward the Nainevver to evaluate the vessel.

Edurin noted that the Nainevver was a good-sized boat, at least 30 feet long with a square-built cabin in the center. A steering post at the rear of the boat controlled the rudder, and it was raised on a high poop deck that would allow the steersman to see over the cabin in the center of the boat, It would take a very powerful man to control the oversized steering post.

A single boatman was sitting near the bow, calmly fishing in the river. “You want something?” said the boatman? “Captain isn’t here right now.”

Meanwhile Weslynn and Algris had wandered over to look at Phinqq’s Phawlee. It was built like a scaled-down galley and seemed to have no hold at all. Benches lined both sides of the boat, and at each bench was a long, wide-paddled oar fitted into an oarlock. At the rear of the boat was a rudder, not very different from the one that the Nainevver showed, but not as large or heavy. In the center of the boat, and roped off from the rowing benches was a long narrow pit covered by a piece of canvas that was lashed in place. Obviously cargo rode in that area. The front of the boat had a figurehead–an amazing centaur figure that showed only the forequarters of the equine. A single boatman also manned that boat, and he was a great fat tub of a man who was sleeping under a canvas sunbreak.

“Look, tell you what, you talk to that boat there, and I’ll talk to this one, and we’ll see which is which quickly, Edurin.”
Weslynn approached the Phinqq’s Phawlee. “Ho, boatmen! I needs speak with your captain!”

“I was admiring your vessel. The Nainevver looks to be the best of my options. I represent a sizable group looking for passage upriver to Castle Greybat.” Edurin nodded approvingly. “Can you help me?”

Weslynn noted the silence from the boat she was hailing, and decided to take Edurin’s advice to heart. “Say, I am looking for a fine boat that a friend of mine had arranged to take me and my companions upriver in pursuit of thieves of my wine. I needs speak with your captain, if this is the boat, good sir.”

The sailor aboard the Nainevver turned to speak to Edurin again. “I’m glad you like the boat, but I’m just a crew member. If you want to book passage, you’ll need to speak to the Captain. He went into town for the night, said he was gonna sleep in a real bed. Probly went to his favorite tavern–a place called The Grinning Goblin. Now leave me alone, please. You’re scaring the fish.”

“I’m Captain Phinqq, and a big barbarian spoke to me this morning about a voyage upriver. I told him I’d be happy to take him up to Castle Greybat, but he’d have to give me 20 gold pieces and help with the rowing. It’s not easy to go up river, you know. The propulsion wizards charge a fortune.”

“Greetings Captain, greetings! I am Weslynn Janourn, vintner and subject of a woeful theft. I believe you have heard somewhat of my tale already, yes?”

Edurin nodded to the sailor, and went over to Weslynn. He politely listened while surveying the surroundings.

Phinqq looked at the two of them. “You’re one of them ocean sailors, ain’t you?” he said to Edurin. “Want to learn the inland waters, do you? What’s the matter? Do you get seasick? You won’t find river running any easier on the stomach.” He snickered in an infuriating manner, then turned his attention back to Weslynn.

“Your friend had some wild tale about chasing a stolen cargo upriver to Castle Greybat. I don’t normally go that far. It ain’t healthy. But cross my palm with enough gold, and I’ll take the risk.”

Edurin smiled nicely and pointedly ignored the jibe. He was beginning to understand why Samurai Kighe stuck to the seas, “Perhaps the Nainevver would offer a better price. I don’t see any risk to you travelling up river along your normal route. Going a little farther up river seems trivial enough.”

“My cargo of wine was stolen, the guard told me the thief said he was bound for Castle Greybat, upriver. I, and my companions who have gathered to me, are in pursuit. That tale is true enough.” Weslynn drew herself to her full height, and stared at the captain, trying with all her abilities to impress him with her seriousness.

“Pay me, or don’t,” replied Phinqq. I leave at sunrise tomorrow. “If you accept my terms, be here and ready to board. If you don’t, I’ll leave without you. Payment in cash, and you need to bring your own food for at least 2 days travel on the river.”

Captain Phinqq glared at them. He wanted it clearly understood that he was doing them a service, not the other way around. Privately he doubted that anything taken into Castle Greybat would ever be recovered, but he didn’t say anything. Still, there was a chance that the boat with the stolen wine had met some mishap on the river. Once one got more than a day’s travel beyond the city, the river grew dangerous in places. Bandits, bloodmoths, rebel elves, river trolls–he could always use more fighters and wizards in the crew.

“Agreed, we will leave at sunrise tomorrow. How many crew do you carry on your good ship? I’ll make sure my companions know to bring their own food, Captain. How dangerous is this trip of the river journey? I’ve made river journeys before but my business to and from Khazen is overland, so I have never traveled here in this way.

“Come on, we have shopping to do before tomorrow,” Edurin walked off heading back to the Grinning Goblin.

Phinqq looked at the backs of his new passengers. He had a bad feeling about those two, and their scarred barbarian friend. The woman looked a bit crazed. Didn’t she know that nobody ever got anything out of Castle Greybat? Her best hope was that the thief had stopped to sell his stolen cargo at one of the upriver towns–what did vampires need with wine anyway, although it would be a good treat for their human cattle. Still, his last couple of trips hadn’t made much profit, and he could use their cash along with the muscle. Perhaps he could offload them to Schnarg the Slaver in BuzHer’s Landing. Now that they were gone, it was time for him to recruit a few cronies who would be personally loyal to him. The Vangg brothers would be a good start.

(to be continued)