Humans killed his brother. Mensa would kill humans.
And then he thought of Wolf and Mensa, Edurin and Weslynn. ‘Zhanh,’ he said through gritted teeth, ‘can you find out from these two men if there is anywhere we can drift to where we might make a camp? I do not think we can take this boat back to Blotar.’ He summoned Jeeves again and began searching the dead men..
The wolf having fed on his recent kill now felt a need to find his pack. He knew they were upriver from him, or had been, so he set out at an easy but mile eating pace up the bank. As he went he watched and sniffed carefully for danger. He knew the risk if he entered the territory of another wolf pack and was alert to their scent marking. But he also knew that the scent of the remains of his kill downstream would probably interest them more than pursuing him
Wolf stopped to drink and noticed that there were bodies of men floating down the river, blood in the water. The scent of the dead men was not familiar to him so he hurried on upstream still searching for the ones he used to know in his dreams.
“Gronk not let anything happen to you, Lumlas. Gronk protect you.”
He turned to Zhanh and Perry.
“We must go back for Wulf, Mensa, and the others. We must rescue them, or avenge them. We are a pack, as Wulf says. We must go back.”
Zhanh checked the boat’s progress again, and determined that while the anchor was dragging, it was dragging VERY slowly; they were moving downstream at some small fraction of a mile an hour. That was good enough, for now.
“Perry, I agree that we need to try to make contact with our surviving friends, or at least find out if they DID survive. I definitely want to moor, or maybe ground, the boat on the Hunt Center side of the river. The best thing might be if we can ground her in the shallow water on the outside of a river bend, because the grounded boat will serve as something of a fort for us.”
He sighed, and then continued, “I see things a little differently that you do as far as the boat is concerned, Perry. We were crew on this vessel, and we have an obligation to restore it to Blotar, if we can. Trading the boat away would be piracy. I cut the boat loose because it was best for us, but I think it was also best for the boat; mobs are stupid, and I think they would likely have killed these two gentlemen (he indicated the crewmen) and damaged the boat badly.”
He looked at the woods on either side of the river. “I have no idea how we will deal with the local elves; we are still traveling with humans. I have no idea what other dangers might be in the woods. I have no idea how we will find out what happened to our companions, or make contact with Blotar and his crew, without getting killed; I don’t think that any of us, except perhaps these two men, can re-enter the village safely. For now, we need to get the boat to shore, and deal with that arrow in Gronk’s shoulder. THEN we can worry about our next move.”
Zhanh called Lumlas to Gronk’s side. “What I think we need to do here is heal Gronk as completely as we can, recover our kremm, and then take the sharpest knife we can find and re-open the wound and pull the arrow out, then heal him again. It isn’t going to be pleasant, but I don’t see another way.”
“Gronk agree. Arrow must come out. Zhanh have good idea.”
Mensa didn’t travel far–perhaps another hundred yards before he found the burrow–too small to be called a cave, too deep for an overhang. It was, in fact, a goblin hole that led deep into the earth, but no goblins had used it for quite a long time. Occasionally forest creatures like mice, snakes, or thiggles used it for shelter. It was large enough for Mensa to fit into–too small for most of the things that would hurt him to enter. Mensa crawled inside, licked moisture off one rocky wall, and passed out again. His sturdy Dwarf body continued to heal on its own.
One man came to Megil and said, “What shall we do about the dwarf?”
“What dwarf?” asked Megil.
“While you were attacking the boat, we were attacked from behind by a wolfman and a dwarf. They killed four men. Vard, Blinny, Shardo, and Kadello killed the barbarian. The wolfman killed Denk, Larrigh, and Dumtt. The Dwarf killed Perrin, with a shovel, of all things, then it attacked me. I wounded it and deflected it with this axe,” the man held up his still gory weapon, “and it ran off between those houses, still screaming and moaning something.”
“That could turn into a problem later,” said Megil, “but I’m not going into the forest after him in the dark. Maybe we can track him tomorrow and see if you killed him or not.”
“I feel a bit sorry for him,” said the man. “I saw him earlier when he got off the boat. He seemed like such a happy little fellow then. He probably thought he was just defending his friends.”
“Could be,” said Megil. “I’m going back to Red’s Place and try to get some sleep before dawn.”
And he grew sluggish. The deer meat in his stomach needed to be digested, and Wolf’s instincts told him to find shelter and sleep. He began to notice traces of man in the forest–a hunting trail with old man-scent on it, marks on the trees. Finally he decided that he had to rest. Traveling by day was not natural for a wolf. He trotted deeper into the forest, found a hollow beneath a thranberry bush, walked in circles a few times, and settled down for a wolfish nap.
Zhanh’s analysis of the situation was correct. Talking to the two sailors he could tell that all of them working together were not enough to row the Nainevver back upstream against the current. They would have a hard enough time even getting it to shore.
Just as he finished explaining the situation to Perry, the anchor caught on something, and the boat jerked to a halt, shuddering at the end of the anchor rope, and swinging back and forth unpredictably.
Ruben, the other boatman added his two copper pieces to the talk. “If’n I know Cap’n Blotar, he’ll send Jakuk or somebody after us in the mornin’ when he sees the boat is gone. We could just sit tight here till som’un finds us. That is, if’n the River Goblins don’t show their ugly faces.”
In the end they decided to get what rest they could and wait for the sun to come up.
In response to Lumlas’ pronouncement, Zhanh decided it was time to try his luck at another healing spell. He threw all of his available energy into a healing spell for Gronk, on the assumption that the healthier he was, the less likely his wound would become infected.Edurin pulled away from Wenwen as he got up. Neither felt like doing anything more than sleeping last night. His clothes were starting to smell rank. He needed to find a laundry.
Edurin slid his boots on and secured his dirk, and headed down to the kitchen. He rummaged around for some breakfast. He… He would need something substantial after last night. Eggs, grain, vegetables, maybe an apple or two and some wine. Definitely some wine. He took a moment and prayed to the powers of the universe. “Grant me luck to find fortune, avoid destruction, and patience to understand.”
With a little more peace in his heart, Edurin retrieved some fire wood to stoke the kitchen’s fire from bedded embers back to full flame. He sat back and enjoyed his breakfast. Next step, find some soap and head down to the river to wash his clothes and mend the holes. He would take his spear.
But the desire to find the pack again burned like a furnace in his wolfish heart and brain.
Then he turned to Gronk. ‘If you wish it, I will cut the arrow head from your chest on yonder bank and these wizards can heal the damage once they have recovered their magical forces.’
“Perry, I think you are likely the best person to do the surgery; I have gotten the impression that you have the steadiest hands. I don’t know about going back to the village, either. These sailors seem to think you could pass for human. If you aren’t willing to go, then we will have to talk both of them into going, and leaving the Naiewer in our hands. Of course, it is more or less in our hands already…” He looked to the bank again, to assure himself that downstream drift had stopped. “Let’s set a watch, and get some sleep. In the morning, we will all think clearer, and we will be able to try the surgery by daylight.”
“Gronk grateful, Zhanh. Feel better. Gronk think Perry should stay with us. Every time we seperate, something bad happens. Gronk trust Perry to cut arrow out. Gronk trust Zhanh and Lumlas to heal. We sleep, get off boat in morning and cut out arrow on shore. Then heal Gronk and we all go to town to find Wulf and Mensa and others, and get away from here as fast as we can.”
Zhanh said, “I’ll take the first watch; who wants the next one?”
“Gronk will take second watch.”
As Perry separated the loot into piles, En-Dario said, “You murdered those men. Now you’re going to rob them?” He looked disgusted.
“En-Dario, be quiet!” blurted his companion, Ruben. “He didn’t mean anything by that remark,” the other boatman stammered. “He’s just upset by all the violence.”
He asked a citizen who was working on the dock what had happened to his boat, and learned a little about the fight, and that the boat had drifted off. Just as he got this explanation, Blotar, Jakuk, and the rest of the boatmen arrived.
Blotar was amazed and horrified to find that his boat had vanished. “This is piracy!” screeched the captain. He looked about ready to explode. Then his eyes fell on Edurin.
“Where are your companions, Eddie-boy?” he asked, a nasty taunting tone entering his voice. “Your little commission has brought me nothing but bad luck.” He was red in the face and having a hard time controlling his breathing.
Wolf slept and had uneasy dreams. About noon he awoke when something that walked like a bear, but smelled vaguely like a man, passed within a few steps of his shelter.
It hurt to move, and for the longest time that was the only thing of which Mensa was aware. Mechanically, he pulled roots from the earth surrounding him, and strained dirt through his teeth when he sucked moisture from the walls and ground. They had destroyed his entire family, for such was how he now misremembered his fellow travelers. And one thought kept going through his dreams: “Who is Grissslegrimm?”
For all his anger, he was still Mensa and hoped for someone, this god perhaps, to tell him what to do. He was finally admitting that his mind was weak, and he cursed his weakness now that both his mind and body were weak!
Perry said to the boaties ‘I understand your shock. I myself am in the greatest state of shock of my life – violence, murder and slavery has been continually aimed my way in the last 24 hours. These men wanted to murder us for being elven and they have paid an unfortunate price but not a surprising one. You, too, may have a share of these men’s possessions – it will not aid them to tip their chattels into the river with their bodies. Then you must help us get the boat to the river bank and there secure it. After that, you must inform your captain that he may have his boat back and that we are keeping it safe until he comes hither with our friends. You must explain to him what you saw – a large, drunken mob sought to murder us and that we defended ourselves. Will you do all this, thus ensuring our goodwill to you and the return of your captain’s boat?’
Wolf’s instincts brought him immediately to his feet. But the shred of human intelligence kept him still. He took a defensive stance, legs stiff, hair raised, ears back, tail up. The huge wolf (he is twice normal size and mass) looked about carefully trying to see where the intruder was, and attempting to assess the threat. He wanted no fight, all he wanted was to continue his search for the pup and the pack. He hoped the other creature would think a wolf his size would not be an easy meal!
When the dawn came, and everyone was awake, they helped themselves to a breakfast from ship’s stores, and then Zhanh said, “Our first order of business is to ferry the four of us– Gronk, Lumlas, Perry, and me– to shore by canoe, and then remove Gronk’s arrow. After that… If the four of us are going to head up river on foot, that is what we will do. Otherwise we will have to figure out who takes which canoe upriver. Or we can wait here, and hope that help arrives from outside. I suspect that once we are all ashore, we may just want to continue walking, and be done with the river for now.”
Wolf saw a creature that was something like a bear, only larger, and with more of a gleam of intelligence. It wore a belt, and strapped to that belt was a large broad-bladed knife. It stood 7 feet tall at the shoulder.
Wolf had never seen or heard of a grazzleber before. They were rare, but a small family group of them lived in this part of the woods. They had established contact with the human hunters years ago, and worked out a trading agreement. Sometimes they would lead the hunters to prey; sometimes help them take down larger creatures like the aurochs. The best hunters knew about them, and the recognition signal that would prevent attack. The grazzlebers served as a sort of woodland guard.
Wolf feinted left and broke right as the grazzleber swiped at it with a massive paw.
Mensa awoke after a brief round of sleep. He felt a little better. He licked more water from the damp stone, then crawled out of his hiding place. He had already eaten everything there that was edible. In the distance he heard the faint sounds of the human town. He got to his feet and pushed deeper into the forest.
“Gronk want away from the river,” he said to Zhanh. “Gronk want to find friends.”
Mensa pushed deeper into the forest, seeking some answer to the fire in his breast. He needed to be stronger. He needed much power to punish humans. He needed to be one with the rock, the gold, and the gems of the good nurturing caves.
Zhanh said to all aboard, “Whatever we do afterwards, our first order of business to to get Gronk, Lumlas, Perry, and me to shore, so that we can remove that arrow head. Do any of you have any experience with canoes? I fear I have next to none.”
Morben looked Perry in the eyes. “I don’t want stolen goods. We can just put them in a chest in the captain’s cabin, and let the authorities give them back to the relatives of the men in town.” He put his hand on his belt knife and looked at En-Dario. “Am I right, En?”
The boatman had to back up his companion. “Of course, you are, Morben. It’s not like having a couple extra gold pieces would make any difference to us, anyway.”
“There’s something shifty about you, man” said the boatman, never taking his eyes off Perry. “I see you muttering to yourself all the time. You look human, but you’re too small and pale. I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t half goblin or something.”Wolf dodged the grazzleber’s swipe and scooted deeper into the forest, keeping to the dense brush where he didn’t think the larger creature could follow. He was right. The other creature didn’t even try to follow him.
Soon, Wolf turned upriver again. Normally, a wolf would sleep through the hottest part of the day in the afternoon, but Wolf was worried about the cub, and upset by the strange creature that had threatened him. He seemed to remember that he used to sleep in the night instead of the day.
An hour later Wolf reached the south end of town. The bitter and rancid smells of a tavern assaulted his nostrils, and he seemed to remember the place, but not with any feeling of liking it. He turned away and scouted through the woods south of town, keeping his nose down.
And then he smelled blood. Some wounded creature had crept through the woods here. The smell was tantalizing. He had smelled something like it before, but . ..
Edurin’s soft words and sensible suggestion turned aside Blotar’s growing anger. As he stood there thinking, another riverboat came down the river and started to tie up at the dock. It was a strange boat with a chimney coming out of the mid-deck cavern and some kind of big wheel attached to the stern.
“That’s the Twayn steamboat,” said Jakuk. “Aren’t you friends with her captain, Blotar? Maybe he’d be willing to help us find the Nainevver.”
“Yer right,” said Blotar. “I’ll go talk to him. Gather the men, Jakuk. We need to get downriver or upriver, wherever the Nain has gone.”
Edurin started to follow the captain toward the paddlewheel boat. Blotar turned on him and said, “Get away! Here’s where we part company. You and your companions have brought me nothing but ill fortune. And you owe me 40 gold pieces.”
Perry looked at both men coldly. “You would have joined that murdering, craven mob, that much is clear. You saw their mindless aggression towards us. I am weary to the core of elf-haters. Zhanh and Lumlas are elves, I am half-elven and have lived all my lives with elves. Before yesterday morning I had never offered harm or insult to a human. You can jump – now! – and swim to the south side but first take this payment for your captain.’
Perry dumped the 37 gold pieces at the feet of the men and added 30 pieces of silver to total 40 gold exactly. Then he readied himself for a web spell lest the crewmen failed to be cowed by the minotaur.
Zhanh watched what was happening with a sinking feeling. “Morben, En-Dario, you have to understand that Perry is looking at these men as fallen enemy soldiers, whose bodies would normally be looted. This is a misunderstanding; you knew these men in life, we will leave their goods with you, for their families.”
“For now, my friends and I wish to go ashore and try to heal Gronk. I think, if you would help us get to shore, we will go our separate ways after that. I am sure that another boat will be along shortly to carry work of your location back to Blotar.”
Lumlas still felt sick about the dead townies, and found the confrontation between Perry and the boatmen disturbing. “I can use a canoe,” she said.
“Perry!” Zhanh shouted. “Just…stop. We don’t need more violence today.” His glance shifted from Perry to the boatmen and back again. “Everyone hates everyone; it is the way of the world. I have been hated for being an elf; I have been hated by elves for sounding like a goblin. I have been hated by townies for being a sailor; I have been hated by sailors for being a wizard. I don’t have the energy to take offense.”
He gestured toward the shore. “The local elves are at war with the boat men; we have seen that ourselves. These two men have seen you bludgeon men that they knew to death. We, together, appropriated their boat. They have reason to distrust us. And now you are going to throw them into the river? What good will that do anyone?”
Lumlas, listened in horror and tried to put Gronk between herself and everyone else.
Edurin sought out Wenwen to console her. “You have such a love of life. It is refreshing to find someone who throws herself with such passion into life. I would love to learn more about you.”
Edurin struck up a conversation with WenWen. He saw that she had appropriated Weslynn’s weapons, and wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Then she asked how long he would be staying at the Big Buck Tavern. And if he was in the mood for some company?
While he was walking around, it occurred to Edurin to see if he could find out anything about what had happened to Wulf and to Mensa.
Mensa readied his spiked throwing stick. He now knew he could be hurt – and probably killed. If the Thing did not give up, he would smash its paw and cut it, making it scream and run away!!
But now it was whining. Mensa stopped. Smelled like doggie. Sounded like doggie.
“Back!” he yelled. Then, softly, “back. Lie down. Good doggie.” If it backed away, Mensa wanted to get a good smell of this doggie. And he REALLY wanted to see it. By its paw, it was HUGE!
Perry looked at Zhanh intently. ‘Since these men have locked themselves away, I shall abide by your words. Let us get to the shore. I am sure we shall be blamed by someone else soon for thinking to save our own lives and doubtless there will be another attempt to murder us. I wish to remove the arrow head from Gronk. It may do me as much good as him.’
“That simplifies things,” Zhanh said. He walked to the door of the cabin and shouted, “We’re taking both canoes. We will leave them tied up somewhere not very far down stream on the south side of the river.”
He turned to his friends. “Lumlas, you can contradict me, but I think we should tie the canoes together, bow to stern, with the longest rope we can find. We’ll put Gronk in the bow of the first canoe, and you in the stern. That will make it inclined to head down river, and you should be able to steer it to shore. Perry and I will follow in the second canoe, and try not to pass you or otherwise complicate things. As soon as Gronk can grab something on shore, he will, and with him as an anchor, we will reel in the second canoe. Perry, do you want front seat, or rear seat?”
Lumlas thought about it for a moment and then said, “I think that will work.”
Mensa slowwwwly poked his head out. After all, it wasn’t a human, so it couldn’t be THAT bad. And he saw the biggest doggie he’d ever seen….and it smelled – familiar.
“Good doggie,” said Mensa, wondering what he could offer it in the way of treats. He looked through his pack and his pouch to see if those rotten human guards had taken his jerky. Absent-mindedly (How else would Mensa do something without straining?) he petted the doggie and smoothed its head. There were cockleburs in its fur, and he unconsciously was picking them out.
Perry jumped out onto the bank and looped the rope thrown by Zhanh round the protruding root of a tree. Once the others were ashore, he asked Gronk to le down and cast a controlled Call Flame to heat and cleanse a knife. ‘Do you want to bite on something?’ he asked Gronk. Perry suggested to Zhanh and Lumlas that they might scout the immediate area and keep watch until Gronk was back on his feet.
He looked around until he found a strong stick.
“Gronk ready. Gronk trust Perry, Perry do good job.”
He laid down as Perry had asked, and placed the stick in his mouth.
Mensa was having a bit of a go trying to pet the ‘doggie’ which was going all around him and sniffing him thoroughly, wagging its big tail enthusiastically and whuffling and whining, and trying to lick his face on each pass. Then it noticed the wounds on his torso, and, whining with concern, began to try and lick them clean.
“I don’t understand you at all,” Lumlas said. “You were so adamant that we shouldn’t steal the boat, and you are trying to preserve the canoes so that Blotar can find them, but you still took all of that food.”
Zhanh grinned. “One thing was piracy; this is just petty theft. COMPLETELY different things. And besides, I am fairly sure that the Naievver would have been destroyed, or badly damaged, if I hadn’t cut her loose. I am calling this a service fee.”
Lumlas smiled and shook her head. “I still don’t understand, but I suspect that I will like your argument a lot better by lunch time.” She looked into the woods on all sides as far as she could, and saw nothing that alerted her to trouble. She wasn’t sure she WOULD notice anything, of course; woodcraft was not something she had ever studied, despite living most of her life in forests.
Edurin wondered about Weslynn’s family. She always behaved as if far from home. If close by, her clan must be small indeed. WenWen behaved as if her clan were nearby. That would make sense.
“I would love to spend more time with you.” He held WenWen’s gaze. “You seemed hungry last night. Perhaps we could help each other with our physical needs?” His brought forth his more charming grin. “As to how long I stay… My business partner is dead.” He indicated Weslynn’s equipment, “And I need to find a way to pay back a hefty loan. It would be good to have a bright companion to help navigate this foreign land.” Edurin caressed WenWen’s hand. Setting the proper expectations was always important. He did not want to lead WenWen on with any false promises. He was a sailor who may not come back to Khazan or return only annually. It all depended on Samurai Khai and the his success so far north in the mouth of the dragon.
Wen-Wen smiled at Edurin, as he made proposals to her, raised her finger, teasingly, and then she moved to the ogre, standing admiring his battle-trophies of Weslynn’s weapons.
“Hon,” she said, running her finger along his back. “I know you had to kill her, but she set me free from that monster’s control. You know how she’s utterly controlled us, and I think that wine merchant was a hero. I want to take her weapons, and whatever else of her gear that’s left, and go with this people to carry on her mission, because I owe her that. If you’ll do me, Sheepdip, that small favor, you can be assured you’re honoring the woman who struck down the vampire Mistress I know you hated just as much as I did.”
Wen-Wen stretched up and kissed Sheepdip on his chin, and then picked up Weslynn’s pike and hatchet, along with her harness and a coin from her purse that was struck by her former mistress’ lightning-magic, as a token.
“Well enough Sheepdip, thank you.”
Zhanh glanced at Lumlas and Gronk, then pulled off his hat and tossed it to her. “This should do it,” he said.
Lumlas looked at Zhanh skeptically, then pressed the hat to Gronk’s chest and found that the hat absorbed any spilled blood it touched. The hat did not become damp, but its color shifted from its usual rusty brown to a deep maroon. “Zhanh,” Lumlas said, “You have a very creepy hat.” Zhanh just smiled, retrieved the hat, and put it back on his head.
This smelled so much like Wulf, it could have been Wulf’s twin brother. And then Mensa thought for a moment and considered. This COULD be Wulf’s brother. Wulf had spoken of “the Wolf” inside him, and Mensa had seen that Wolf at least once. This looked very much like it, though not standing on its hind legs. And it certainly SMELLED like Wulf.
The dwarf adjusted the weight on his back, made sure he had one of his weapons in hand – the throwing stick it was. And turning his face to the sky, blurted out “I thank thee, O Great Gristlegum!”
Then he did something he had thought he would never do again. He smiled.
…and, of course, Mensa followed the Wolf. After all, even if he was wrong about this creature – and he didn’t think he was – it was heading away from the nastybad town. And that was a GOOD thing!
Where was this giant doggie leading him, Mensa wondered. For once, Mensa’s mind did not wander, nor was he sidetracked. Gringristle had given him a miracle, and this dwarf would not lose it.
He felt like singing, but stifled himself, remembering that humans were afoot. Nastybad humans!
Gronk grunted and snorted through the surgery, but remained still. Towards the end, the stick in his mouth cracked in half. He smiled at Lumlas when she placed her hands on the wound, her touch itself as soothing as the magic it brought.
“Gronk ready to walk, Perry. No worry, you not do wrong, those men want to kill Perry, Perry do right thing. Gronk handle fighting, Gronk protect elf-friends. We go find Wulf and Mensa now. Find friends.”
He rose to his feet, axe in hand, and started walking along the river bank in the direction of the town.