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Chapter 7: Aftermath   Leave a comment

The flies woke Mensa up–them and the shafts of sunlight spearing down through the forest canopy, one of which now shone on the side of his face. He found his torso crusted with blood, and he hurt worse than he ever had before, but in truth, the sturdy dwarf was already starting to heal from the glancing axe blow he had taken the night before. For a moment he didn’t know where he was, or why. Then he remembered a terrible night and a terrible fight. Wulf was dead, and Mensa was lost.
Trying to walk, Mensa found the world spun about him in blurs and with overlapping vision. He crawled. Fury filled his soul, and he’d have sworn he heard Wulf in his head. “They killed Wulf! They killed brother!” he muttered, and the words gave him more fury and the fury burned more life into him. He crawled, hungering for a cave, searching for any hole in which to hide and rest. A hollow tree, a hole in the ground, anything! There in the dark, he would recover, he would find moss to eat, would pull healing from the very minerals and things of the deep, dark earth — and he would be strong. Strong enough to destroy the villages of humans.

Humans killed his brother. Mensa would kill humans.

Perry sat down on his haunches on the Nainevver, looking first at the bloody oar in his hands and then at the mangled men in the web. There was no doubting that he had done them to their deaths but he hadn’t meant to do more harm than necessary to knock them unconscious. What had happened? Was his hatred of the racist bigotry that he had been so shocked to encounter the driving force within him now? Thoughts of his father were just not there…he still felt there were men back at the village who should not be walking free.

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.”

Perry sighed. ‘There were so many of them, Gronk. Wulf and Mensa had no chance. If we go back we will die too. Zhanh, you or Lumlas could go back in your Hole but I think we should stick together. We could perhaps get a message to Blotar, Weslynn and Edurin – if we can moor this boat, they could meet us. I am inclined to approach the elves who attacked us yesterday. I think we should offer this boat to them in exchange for their help getting our friends back and teaching those one-eyed village savages a lesson.’

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.”

“Gronk agree with Zhanh’s plan.”
‘Very well. Unless you need me, I shall mourn for the dead,’ Perry began a slow, soft wailing chant, sitting cross-legged in the bow of the boat. As he chanted into the dawn, resolve knotted itself into his spine and psyche.

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.

In Hunt Center, the mob started to break up shortly after the Nainevver drifted away from the dock. Although some of the men had boats of their own, there was no way they were going to follow killer elves into the darkness beyond town.

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.”

Wolf was still picking his way upstream when the sun came up. This was all new territory to him, so he went more slowly than he thought, and the land was not conducive to simply trotting along the riverbank. He passed the Nainevver sometime during the night as it slowly dragged downstream.

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.

En-dario came up with the most logical plan. “There are a couple of canoes on board,” he told them. “In the morning, we can send two of us in a canoe upstream and back to town. One of us boatmen should stay on board to protect the Nainevver. Someone who looks human–that would be you, Perry, should go with me on the canoe. If we stay here long enough some riverboat will pass us. They might help us, or they might just appropriate the boat.”

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.”

Lumlas looked tired. “I have done all I can to heal Gronk,” she said. “It will be hours before my kremm is strong enough to do more. Surely Gronk can survive for a few more hours with the arrowhead inside him.”

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.

Wolf lay in the sheltered shadows of the brush and dreamed of hunting and running and of other wolves that ran with him. But, then, they were gone and it was dark, and there were men and other creatures in the woods. Wolf did not like it. Where was the pack? And where was pup? And there was a huge wolf with horns in the dream whose scent was strong and friendly. Then there was pain and fear and helpless rage. A large one eyed man was putting him in the river, wrapped in some kind of metal garment, and he had to struggle and fight to escape, and swim frantically to reach the surface. Then there was a deer, and eating, and the dreams gave way to rest again.

But the desire to find the pack again burned like a furnace in his wolfish heart and brain.

Perry turned to Zhanh. ‘I will go back to that village,’ he jerked a thumb viciously in the direction of the mob, ‘if you think, truly, that I can pass for a human without doubt and that I can be disguised somewhat so that I will not be recognized. They will kill me if they know who I am. I doubt I can pass for a crew member but I will do as asked.’

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.”

Perry nodded and settled down in the boat again, below the deckline. He focussed his thoughts on the surgery he was to undertake and pictured the arrowhead coming out cleanly and Gronk being healed again by Lumlas.

Zhanh said, “I’ll take the first watch; who wants the next one?”

“Gronk will take second watch.”

Perry searched the dead men before he threw them overboard. He found 3 swords, 4 belt knives, 1 great axe, 37 gold pieces, clothing, boots. The swords included 2 sabers and a falchion; the knives were 2 dirks and a katar.

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.”

Edurin went down to the river to clean himself up, and noted with some dismay that the Nainevver was gone. He checked its mooring position and found two severed ropes.

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!

“I agree Captain Blotar. This trip has been under a dark cloud. But look, the ropes have been cut. It seemed some villagers thought to rouse our elves from the Nainevver, first wild elves then wild villagers and a crazy vampire. Do you think it would have been better if everyone had stayed in the inn? Let’s find your boat and rescue what we can from this trip.” Edurin shook his head in disbelief. Next port he might just find a tavern, a nice local woman, and enjoy the city. “I’ll grab my gear and some food from the kitchen to stave off hunger while we go boat hunting. I’ll follow your lead Captain.”
When Zhanh could no longer keep his eyes open, he awakened Gronk and then crawled off to sleep.

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.”

The grazzleber recognized another predator within his hunting area. This could not be tolerated. It lunged at Wolf.

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.”

Perry shook his head. ‘I can swim if I have to though.’
“Gronk never use canoe, but will try.”

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.”

Gronk didn’t like the sailor’s tone, words, or actions, so he stepped up behind Perry and let roll a rumbling growl. He squeezed the haft of his axe with both hands.

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 nodded, “That is your choice Captain Blotar.” He fished a handful of gold coins slowly counting out 40 as if they were the last coins in his purse. “Good wishes for you to find the Nainevver in good condition. Here, if you find any of my companions on the boat please bring them back here.” Edurin handed Captain Blotar another 5 gold. He bid the rest of the crew a good day and retrieved his gear from the inn.

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.”

Wolf thought the scent might belong to Cub. He decided to follow it, and a few hundred feet away it led into a hole in the ground. The hole was too small for him to enter. He began to whine and scratch at it.
Mensa awoke to the sound of animal noises. He looked back toward the entrance to his cave and saw a great taloned paw scraping at the earth, then he heard whining and whuffling. Something big, and probably hungry was trying to get in and at him.

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.

Morben backed away in alarm, then turned and ran to the captain’s cabin. He passed En-Dario and grabbed him by the sleeve. Before anyone else could react, the two boatmen ran into the captain’s cabin, slammed the door behind them, and bolted it.

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.”

‘Thank you, Zhanh. I should like the front seat. I will jump out when we reach the bank and seek to secure the canoe.’
Wolf heard a familiar voice and his memory of the scent was stronger here. He heard the command to get back and lie down which registered with his faint human memories. He backed off a little ways, still whining softly in his excitement, and sat down, his whole attention focussed on the hole. He was almost sure that he had found the lost pup.
The doggie obeyed!

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.

“Yes, Gronk should bite on something.”

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.

Zhanh pulled the canoes up onto the bank, rolled them belly up, and tied them in place.

“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.

Perry examined the wound thoughtfully, kneeling at Gronk’s side, turning the heated knife from side to side by the hilt. His knowledge of elven anatomy was fairly thorough but he was much more operating on assumption with bovines. Still, he believed that decisive action after careful thought was often the best course. Putting aside the horrors of the last 48 hours, he pushed the blade through the firm flesh to the left of the the arrowhead until he was sure he had gone in deep enough. Then he repeated the surgical incision on a side of a square adjacent to the first cut. He could see how to get the hurtful object out!
Without hesitation, Perry ignored the blood and made a third cut so that he did not have to tear flesh as he removed the arrow tip with deft, clean fingers. He jumped up and called for Lumlas to apply her healing magic. Then he sprang to the river bank and vomited. It was as if all the toxins of these two days were being ejected from his soul. Perry wiped his mouth clean and turned to look at the patient.

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.”

Wolf made a good effort to clean up the pup’s wounds with his big pink tongue, and then seemed to want to put some distance between himself and the town. He could hear and smell it from where they were, and it had bad memories that worried him. He would walk away, then turn and look at Mensa with his ‘Why aren’t you coming with me’ look. He was also in his wolfish way wondering what kind of game he could catch in the woods, and whether he might meet another bear thing. And he also remembered a big creature with horns and several friendly elf scent people. Where were they?
Lumlas rushed to Gronk’s side at Perry’s signal, knelt, pushed the raw edges of the wound together with her hands, and then poured magic into the damaged tissue.  “Zhanh!” she called out.  “Do you have anything to mop up this blood with?”

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.

Mensa was now close enough to really get a good whiff of this wolf – this HUGE wolf! And he didn’t dare believe his nose. But his nose had never lied to him before……

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!

‘Thank you, Lumlas, thank you, Zhanh,’ Perry said with a slight bow. ‘Gronk – are you ready to walk now? If we are to go to that place again, I think we must not be seen and so that incantation must be ready. If I use my Web spell again, please be ready to render those caught unconscious. I shall not attempt this again myself.’
Wolf made his way slowly downriver now, checking often to make sure the pup was behind him. Some thing compelled him to do this, a memory of pup tending to wander and disappear at times…As he went he watched and sniffed carefully for trouble. He did not want to meet another bear thing, or other dangerous creature. He did not wander inland far from the river though. It was good to stay near to a source of water. And he also kept his senses alert for any sign of small game. Pup would need to be fed. He was OK for the large deer meals he had eaten for now, but a snack would not hurt him either.

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.

“Thank you my elf-friends, Gronk much better.”

“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.

Finishing their encounter, Edurin gathered up his gear, as he spoke to Wen-Wen, “This place is full of bad luck. The town looks too poor for any serious trade. Strange, you’d think with all that river traffic the place would be better off. Wen-Wen do you really think Weslynn’s wine can be recovered? Shannazan seemed unwilling even to talk of the vampire lords.”

Chapter 6: The Big Buck Tavern   Leave a comment

Perry stood by Wulf and addressed the ogre at the tavern door. ‘We’re ready to pay the coin to get admission. Will you permit my friends and I to enter on payment?’
Perry hoped that ogres had no particular reason for hostility towards elves or minotaurs – he couldn’t remember hearing of any such in the sociology stories the bards had sung by the campfires in his childhood but it seemed they had missed out rather a lot.
He said to Wulf ‘Once we’re in, I”l sit next to Weslynn and you sit next to Gronk. He will listen to you. I shall ask Zhanh and Weslynn to go to the bar while the rest of us either find a table to ourselves or join Edurin and the Captain if there is enough room. I can pay for you if you have no money, for Mensa too.’
Perry kept his Jeeves close and was ready to instruct as circumstance or whim dictated.
Wulf answered Perry: “I like this arrangement.” Then, he turned and took Gronk’s forearm in his strong hand, a warrior’s handshake. “Gronk, You have always been the best of comrades, and the finest warrior I ever fought beside. Don’t let the lady upset you. I need both of you now. Pray don’t argue without good cause. Weslynn does not understand the warrior way. Give her time and she will learn to value you even as I do.” He then turned back to see if the Ogre had had time to consider his request to be admitted.
“Gronk calm down. Gronk no trust bloodsucker, no understand why Wulf not rip her to pieces when she bite him. Why Wulf so nice to bloodsucker?”
Wulf replied, “I am not entirely sure myself, my friend. I was under great stress at the time. My wolf did not, and still does not like it. But I made a comittment to help her, and you know I am true to my word. When I accept people as members of my pack family I am bound to help them in any way I can. Do not fear for me. I won’t let her do me real harm. And i will kill her myself if she turns on the pack here.” (This last out of Weslynn’s hearing.)
“Gronk no like it, no like it one bit. If Gronk see Wulf losing control to Bloodsucker, Gronk will chop her into little pieces,” Gronk whispered back to his friend.
Weslynn fumbled in her pouch for one of her last remaining coin to pay the bouncer to get in the club. “Aye, I’ll sit by Wulf. Perhaps others can talk to Gronk where he will not listen to me.”Lumlas and Zhanh waited their turns to pay off the door ogre. Zhanh couldn’t shake the feeling of general hostility.

Edurin saw his friends at the tavern door. He quickly got up and went back to it, and spoke to Sheepdip the Ogre.
“These people are with Captain Blotar and me. They don’t have to pay to enter.”
“Why dincha say so?” growled the ogre. He gave the coin back to Weslynn. “C’mon in, you lot!” He made a kind of scooping motion toward the rest of the group.

After the rest of Blotar’s “friends” had entered and found seats at a large table near the Captain’s, the owner of the tavern came over to speak to them. Shannazan was an immensely large and fat woman who sort of hung out of her clothing in several places. She had cleavage deep enough to swallow a hobb or a leprechaun. Her dress was of some rich brown fur, but it was short–short at both top and bottom. Rolls of fat dripped down off her buttocks. Her grayish yellow hair was a sort of outrageous mane that exploded from her head in all directions and made her seem almost a foot taller than she really was.. Her chubby fingers glinted and gleamed from all the bejewelled rings she wore, but the rings were embedded in fat like rivers in mountain gorges.

Shannazan sought out Weslynn and offered her an enormous chalice of blood-red wine. “You must be the poor lady who is on a quest to recover her wine.” Her voice was surprisingly melodious; it was a kind of purr–the kind of purr that might come from a tigress. “Food and drink is being brought for your companions.” Shannazan clapped her hands above her head three times and pointed to the table where Wulf and the others were finding seats. “You and I should go aside and talk a bit.”

“Finally, Gronk going to eat and drink.”
Zhanh smiled. “Gronk, I find the reliability of your appetites oddly comforting.”
Weslynn took the wine, and sniffed of it deeply, mindful of how…sketchy this place seemed to be, before swirling the wine in its cup, noting it’s color, and then she took a sip.

Gronk smiled at Zhanh, and let out a bit of a chuckle.

Wulf nodded respectfully to Sheepdip. He knew how difficult a bouncer’s job could be. Then he herded his group in to the indicated table, and seated the elves behind the table away from the rest of the Inn’s customers, and put Gronk on one end, and Mensa and himself on the other end. As he waited for service he scanned the crowd to pick out any who might be troublemakers. He knew how to avoid trouble, and watched to make sure his companions offered no offense, but he also knew how to take care of trouble, keeping his brass knuckles handy for quick use as needed.

Perry looked about for other elves in the tavern. He wondered if that was the measure of how he and the wizards might be received. Then he checked to see that Mensa understood what was going on. Lord knew he had felt confused often enough in the last 48 hours and he could imagine it must be stranger still for the dwarf.

Mensa was, frankly, enjoying companionship much more than food or drink. Oh, the unkzhd food was all right. Some of it – the “leg of ham” was it? – quite tasty. None of it quite satisfying as thick kzhd food (i.e. – specific moss grown and prepared in one’s home area). But good friends and fun times (combat was FUN!) more than made up the difference.

“Perry is good man for asking. Humans strange and smell funny, but Mensa deal with. When we go hit bloodsuckers?” To Mensa, the random violence, prejudice, and confusion was just Normal Life, and forgiveness was just another word for “I forgot you hit me yesterday.”

Wulf was busy. Keeping an eye on his own people, and watching the tavern crowd for any signs that someone was about to do something nasty and/or stupid. He felt his adrenalin and his wolf both excited and ready to go if needed. Then he looked at Weslynn across the room with Shanazan and for a moment he felt concern for her safety..or was it more than just concern? His own monster stirred within his soul to remind him that she was now more to him than just an attractive woman. She too had a beast within to deal with. And somehow it made her special, more like him. Suddenly he ached to be near her again, to take her, and run away from this mad quest for stolen wine that could only end in death. All his lonely life the women he loved most were always denied to him and always because he was a monster. Could this be the one he sought after, the one he needed? Could fate at last have relented and brought him together with one who could understand his plight? Or were the gods just setting him up one more time to lose it all again, to be the death of those he loved and wanted only to be with and to cherish. But he had a family now, a new pack to care for, so he shook off these troubled thoughts and returned to his duty to serve and to guard and protect.
Sometimes it is very hard when you have to take the role of Alpha, the pack leader and defender.

When Weslynn sat by Edurin, he leaned over and whispered, “You still have my pouch right?” He leaned back and enjoyed the scenery. He looked people over for a general impression of the place.

Weslynn nodded to Edurin and fished it out of one of her belt pouches and slid it across to her as she contemplated her wine she was drinking.

Perry turned to Weslynn and tried to start a conversation about his father.

‘You know why I am going to the Castle, I think. My father is there and I fear he is much changed for being so. I do not know him and may never truly do so. Is there any hope that if he has been ‘infected’ – this he said as politely as possible – there may be a way to bring him back to himself? I have a gnawing horror that the ghastly fate of patricide may yet fall to me. I do not know if I have the strength within for such a deed, should it prove necessary.’

Mensa saw the Sissy Guy was sad, and overheard his questions to Cranky Lady. “Perry sick? Can doctor cure patricide?”
Weslynn turned from her drink, and it’s unknown effects upon her, and pauses to whisper her dark news to Perry. “I…feel good Perry. Strong, fast, more aware of the world, filled with strange but potent energy I don’t understand. Despite knowing what I think I am, it feels good. Right. If he is like me, he may like his new state. But it is likely that he is also like me in that he retains his mind and sanity, once fed and the transformation complete, and is more than merely a monster. However, it is also possible that he is under the domination of the one who created him, and we may be forced to deal with him, harshly. As far as a cure, I have heard of nothing credible.”

Weslynn then returned to her drink and its consequences.

Weslynn couldn’t keep from gulping down the rest of the cup of wine a short time after her first sip. It was very good, and yet it didn’t taste quite like any wine she’d ever drunk before. It was saltier, more filling somehow.

She turned to ask the tavern mistress for more, but Shannazan had moved over to the table where the party was eating and drinking.

“Ahem, I’d like to say something,” she told them in a throat-clearing rumble that got everyone’s attention.

“Blotar and Edurin have told me a little bit about your quest. I’d like to help. Some of you were planning to sleep on the boat, but that isn’t necessary. I have rooms for you all–separate rooms so you can get a good night’s sleep.” She gestured and a shapely young barmaid came over to the table. “This is Wenwen. Her job is to make you feel comfortable, and to tend to your needs. She will show you to your rooms when you’re ready to sleep, and do everything she can to make you comfortable.” She grinned benignly at them all. It was rather scary.

“Do you understand, Wenwen?” Shannazan spoke to her servant and her voice changed. It seemed both menacing and promising.

“I understand, Mistress,” she answered with her eyes lowered. “But what about the bull?”

“I think the best thing for him is to give him as much wine or ale as he wants, and plenty of food. Yes, that would be good hospitality for him.”

Mensa didn’t have to think, which was fortunate since it was hard. “Wulf say sleep on boat. We sleep on boat.”

Edurin eyed the barmaid with a smile. He couldn’t see the angle to the offer with so many curves. “Captain Blotar, I was hoping to discuss the next leg of the trip before retiring for the night.”

Edurin would follow Blotar’s lead. If the Captain returned to the boat, so would he. Otherwise, he would accept Shannazan’s offer. Fate had a way with him. Like a cat with a new toy. Sometimes he wondered, would he ever stop being the toy?

Perry had got long past trusting anything in this neck of the woods. He attempted to use his talent to read the woman but in any case said to Wulf ‘I agree with Mensa. It would be good if no one got drunk…’ With this he nodded in Gronk’s direction. ‘I suppose we must weigh our words very carefully if we do decline this offer of hospitality since such an act is oft times taken badly. Mayhap we could say that we all suffer from an embarrassing affliction, namely incontinence, and that we would not wish to embarrass ourselves or taint this establishment.’

Mensa was worried about Sissy Guy. “Perry sick with patterside AND incompetence?”

‘Have you considered a career in trauma counselling?’ Perry asked Mensa.

“I appreciate the offer of hospitality, and the extremely fine wine you have shared with me, but I will stay on the boat with my comrades.” Weslynn replied immediately, for she believes’ Gronk’s plan to stay together tonight to be a very good one.

“Who made this fine wine, Ma’am, and how did it arrive at your house?” Weslynn compared all the known tastes and scents of wine in her memory with what is in her glass, seeking for the secret ingredient.

While doing so, she reached out with her mind to Wulf & Wulfs spirit and whispered to their ears to be alert, watchful, for she fears this place is a trap, as the first stopping place on the river road to Castle Greybat from Khazen should be, now that she thinks of it, though perhaps too late, doing her best to convey her sudden deep sense of unease to her two friends in one via this still poorly understood bond between them.

Wulf sniffed the air to see if the scent of Shanazan would tell him anything, but there was no hint of anything suspicious.His instincts made him suspect undue kindness however. He refrained from making an immediate decision though, waiting to see what the rest of the group wanted.

“Perry is OK, Mensa,” said Wulf. “What needs to be done, We will do all we can to help him.” Then he spoke quietly to Gronk: “Don’t drink yourself witless my friend. We should be careful in places we are not familiar with.”

“Gronk want to get filled, food much appreciated, fine lady,” he smiled at Shannazan. “A few ales will wash down food good. Gronk think a bed sounds good, but boat sounds safer. Gronk go where friends go.”

Gronk ate more than he drank, unwilling to allow his senses to dull. Too much had already gone wrong due to poor judgement since he took up with this group. Shannazan seemed nice, almost too nice. Gronk wondered about her generosity.  Exercising great control, Gronk only drank 4 ales.

Weslynn smiled at Shannazan and extended her senses, both smell and taste, as well her untried vampiric energies, and tried to detect if there was any trace of blood within the drink in her glass, or around their hostess and her maid.

Mensa accepted Perry’s compliment with a blush to match his hair.  “Perry just being nice to Mensa,” he said, playfully punching Perry in the arm and wondering what a “drama terrorist” was.

Lumlas listened to her companions and realized which way the wind was blowing. “I think you are all crazy to pass up free beds,” she said quietly. “But I would be even crazier to NOT stay in your company in this place.”

Zhanh didn’t say anything. He was used to sleeping on boats.

Pitching her voice low to carry to her companions at the table, but no further, Weslynn spoke again. “Lumlas and Zhanh, can you swiftly teach me any healing or other magic that might be useful, I feel we may benefit from the group having as much such lore spread around as possible, soon.” While speaking to her friends, she kept her eyes on the strangers in the room, most clearly her host and the maid, as she does not want to be overheard by villagers or crewfolk if she can avoid it.
Wulf sniffed suspiciously at Weslynn and her cup. If there was any blood there surely his sensitive wolf nose would detect it.Edurin leaned in to Weslynn to say, “We’re in a place where you can drink without illness? Perhaps Shannazan is worth talking too. I am as uneasy about her as I am uneasy around you.” He paused considering his thoughts before adding, “She seems to accept elves without concern. I have yet to see such generosity around Khazan.”
Weslynn responds to Edurin, again keeping her eyes on the villagers, and trying to be quiet as possible. “I believe someone here is either a vampire working for the castle, along with blood sources for travellers, or it is simply a number of such slaves here. If I were the lord of Castle Greybat, waging war against Khazen and it’s Death Goddess, I would make certain to supply blood bonded slaves here, at the natural stopping points along the river, for my own kind’s needs, and as trusted watchers. Also, I would consider turning one or more of the villagers into my own kind, to deal with expeditions such as ours. Now that I have had some time to consider it, I believe we are in the gravest danger here. Please, share with me and our other non-casters spells for healing and battle, if you can, sometime soon. I fear what would happen should our existing wizards fall with none other to heal them, or if we are attacked by monsters posing as men without magic to amplify our strengths in battle, or to control or ward them off.”

Perry looked thoughtfully at Weslynn. He was wondering how hard they could strike – getting in early blows might be telling.

‘Let’s go,’ he said ‘and when we’re outside let’s have another one of those Holes please. I also wonder if the Little Feets spell on Wulf or Gronk lest we are followed and need to have our backs protected would be wise.’

While the Fellowship was eating supper and discussing their options, the sun went down. Over at the main table, Edurin, Blotar, Jakuk, and Shannazan were apparently having a great time. Edurin learned that Blotar would still be heading upriver again tomorrow, and would stop at the town of Bludriver, still about a day away from Castle Greybat.

Those who wished to learn spells from each other now found that they had time to do so.

After supper, and the learning of spells, those who had decided to head back to the boat left the inn and walked briskly down the main street towards the river. The sun had gone down some time ago, but a gibbous moon poked through some very thin and scattered clouds and gave more than enough light to see by. A big patch of light also spilled out of Red’s Place.

Weslynn stood there as the knowledge of the magics blossomed in her mind, her eyes wide as the changes Teacher made to her mind settle into it, fundamentally and permanently altering her perception of herself and the world.

“The power within me…this strange surging energy I have felt since my change…it is kremm! The spells I have learned tell me that. How to channel it with mind and body…The power to shape reality! I…comprehend it now.” Weslynn has a satisfied sparkle to her eyes for a moment, as at least one change in her strange altered state has been explained.

“Thank you Lumlas and Zanh for your gift of sorcery. I promise to return the favor should I ever find myself with lore you lack.”
“Captain Blotar I have a proposal. I’ll cover the wages for those who earned them, and passages for those who did not. In return, I ask you bring us the remaining way. Acceptable deal?”

“Shannazan, please do tell me. Why are you so kind to those you just met?”

Edurin true to his intent will stay at the inn. Weslynn had an excellent point, but he could not shake the feeling. This was his course.

Blotar turned to Edurin. “My boy, that’s a very nice offer, but what you don’t understand is that I can’t take you all the way to Greybat Town. Not far above Bludriver the river gets too shallow and too fast for a large boat like the Nainevver to navigate. Maybe you can find a ride on something smaller when you get there, but for me, it just isn’t possible to take you any further.”
Wulf came around and took Weslynn’s empty wine cup. He brought it up to his nose, and made a face. His suspicions were confirmed. He thought it might be best to wait until they were outside the tavern before he said anything
Gronk stood up with the others and swayed. He grabbed the edge of the sturdy table to steady himself.

“Gronk feel dizzy, and kind of sleepy,” he said.
Wulf was busy trying to get Mensa to go out the front door. The Dwarf had wandered over to stare at Sheepdip the Ogre, probably wondering what it would be like to hit something that big and muscular onna head.

Seven of the party members filed out into the street. Edurin stayed behind.

Weslynn noted Wulf’s face, and having her paranoia jacked up another notch, quietly turned to Edurin and Zanh, quietly asked, “Could you teach me Whammy as well? I fear I will need to strike hard tonight.”

They started walking back toward the river. Between the moonlight, and the light spilling out of a few of the buildings, they had no trouble making their way. Still, the one main street was very empty.

Wulf fell back to walk beside Weslynn. “Did you know there was blood mixed in with the wine that Shannazan gave you?” he asked her.

“Was it something I said?” asked Shannazan. “I thought they would like a free bed for the night, seeing how poor they all are. Edurin could only assure her that he was happy enough to have one.
“Gronk very sleepy,” said the Minotaur.

As they passed Red’s Place they saw a man get up from the porch and go back inside.

Hoping for another fun ride, Mensa glanced back to their rear. “Where Friend-Gronk?” he asked Wulf.

They reached the river’s edge without incident. Two men had been left to guard the boat. They started looking around for places to sleep. There were no cabins and no bunks in sight. The two guards set up by the tiller sharing a jug of ale and rolling dice.

Gronk sat down with his back against the captain’s cabin. His head lolled to the side and he began to snore.

“Aye Wulf, that is what I thought, but could not quite discern the truth myself. The salty beauty of the wine couldn’t have been anything else that I could think of.” She sighs.

“This place is very wrong, and we need some plan for Edurin, I think.”

Zhanh took a moment to try to teach Weslyn Whammy, and then found a coil of rope to use as a mattress, pulled out his blanket, and went to sleep.

Lumlas wandered the decks for a while, quietly cursing her companions for passing up the comfortable beds in the inn, then woke up Zhanh and asked him if he had a spare blanket. Zhanh growled, gave her his. Then he pulled out his shelter tarp and wrapped himself in THAT, and went back to sleep.

‘We have to hope Edurin is safe by virtue of the Captain’s presence. We should have stayed at the inn if we misdoubt that. This is not an easy path we tread. I fear that the fellow we passed at the other tavern may have ill designs in our regard. Let us set a roster for watch duty. I should like to slep now next to Gronk and perhaps we could leave one wizard with Mensa on duty now for 3 hours and then change over. Three shifts should do it.

Wulf sniffed Gronk’s snout to see if he could smell anything suspicious. This was not good. With Gronk drugged or poisoned, it was up to him to guard the pack alone, and he was already worn out from the previous night and day’s exertions. He told Mensa to lay down by Gronk to rest, and sat by his big friend on the other side, and worried. He hoped if he dozed his wolf senses and instincts would wake him in time to react to danger. He told Weslynn to wake him at the first hint that anything was wrong.

“Mensa not sleepy. Do watch all night!” He poked at the drowsing bullman. “Friend-Gronk all right?”

Wulf smiled at his friend. “Stay awake if you can, my friend,” he said. “But do not leave the boat for any reason. And yell for help as loud as you can if anything bad comes or happens.” Then, to Perry. “Would you please take a look at Gronk. I think those &^%$#’s at the Inn gave him something.”

Well, that was a surprise to Mensa. He had always thought it was pronounced “^&$#&,” with the accent on the #.

Perry examined the Bull-man as Wulf suggested.
Perry was concerned and cast the Strawberry spell again  ‘Wulf – see if you can get that into his mouth and get him to chew and swallow even if you have to move his jaws with your hands and massage his throat. Just don’t choke him so take it slowly.’
Wulf was very grateful and worked hard (and carefully) to get the sleeping minotaur to ingest and swallow the wizard’s concoction. When finished, he sat down with his ‘star and spear next to him, and dared to doze a while, after checking to make sure Mensa was on board and nearby.
Mensa decided to march around on the upper deck, shovel on shoulder, and shouting “HALT! Who goes there?!” to every passer-by.

“Thank you, Zahn” Weslynn nodded to her wizard friend.

Weslynn added herself to the first watch, keeping a wary eye for trouble, as well as checking on Gronk and his suspicious sleep periodically.
Mensa watched suspiciously each time Weslynn went close to Wulf. Once, he got eye-to-knee with her.
Weslynn smiled at Mensa’s antics, charmed as always by the dwarf’s unique point of view. “You keep an eye out for trouble, friend, this town is full of evildoers, I fear.”

After a couple of hours of drinking, talking, and playing cards, Edurin thought he had better get some sleep. Shannazan’s maid Wenwen showed him the room he had been given for the night, a large one on the second floor toward the back. Oddly enough none of the rooms on the second floor had any doors–just doorways. The bed itself seemed unusually wide and strong for a single man–but by then Edurin was so sleepy that he hardly gave it a second thought. He pulled off his boots and lay down on it fully dressed. He was asleep within seconds.

He woke up in the middle of the night with a shortness of breath and a crushing weight on top of him. Moonlight came in through a large open window–enough for him to see the face of Shannazan hovering above his own. Her oleaginous flesh covered his body completely from side to side and almost from head to toe.

“You asked why I’ve been so kind,” she whispered. “It’s just that I expect a little kindness in return before the sun comes up.” She grinned broadly and her canine teeth were much bigger than Edurin remembered them being. “Hold still, lover,” she said. “You might even enjoy this.” She pursed her lips as if she were going to kiss him, and slowly started to lower her mouth toward his neck.

Aboard the Nainevver Zhanh, Lumlas, Perry, and Gronk were all asleep. Forcing some magical health food down his throat hadn’t done a thing to wake up the minotaur.

Wulf and Mensa were finding it hard to stay awake. The night was sultry and warm without being too hot. A cool breeze played over the river.

Then Weslynn noticed a large hulking shape walking across the dock toward the boat. Oddly enough, neither Wulf nor Mensa seemed to notice it.

“Lady Weslynn, come to me. You are needed back at the Big Buck Tavern.”

“Look out friends! Someone approaches the Nainevver, my friends!” Weslynn moved to bar entry to the boat as best she could.

“Who are you, stranger, and what brings you here tonight?” Weslynn readied her pike.

Wulf, awakened by the voices, rose up, and came forward with spear in left hand and morningstar in the right hand. “What is going on?” he asked. He tested the air trying to get a scent on the messenger, and a growl rumbled in his throat. (If only he were not so tired….)!
Weslynn made room for Wulf to stand beside her, and gestured at the approaching figure. “This stranger claims I am needed at the Big Buck Tavern.”

“What stranger?” yawned Mensa. “I wasn’t asleep!”

Perry woke up at the commotion – he was on a hair trigger on the uncomfortable barge. Once Wulf and Weslynn had told him what the imposing visitor wanted, he suggested that they split into two groups, one to accompany Weslynn, the other to stay with Gronk. Perry tried to stir the minotaur to see if his condition had changed at all. ‘Maybe a wizard should go with you unless you now have enough magic,’ he said to Weslynn. He got one of his Jeeves (the first should vanish between 2 and 3 am I think) to stand by the stranger to see if this provoked any response. The other he got to pour a bowl of water over Mensa’s head.
Weslynn pointed to the approaching stranger for Mensa’s benefit. “Perry, I do not think we should leave Gronk. Can we carry him somehow? Do you have some magic to awaken him?”
Gronk dreamed of young cows, elf maidens, giant pitchers of ale, and huge platters of roast fowl (no beef).
“Mensa can hit him awake?”
‘Alas! I do not think I can. It seems we cannot stay together if you are to return to the Big Bucker. Surely we cannot carry such a great slab of beef! Do you think you would be well escorted by Wulf, leaving us to tend to Gronk here on the river?’

Weslynn eyed Gronk and sighed. “I believe I can carry him, should we leave here.”

‘Very well. If you trust this stranger, I shall wake these wizards and we must do as best we can. We must be cautious – this town will be no safer than that vile city after dark.’ So saying, Perry stirred Zhanh and Lumlas.
“I do not trust anyone in this town save for those here. If there are vampires here, as I suspect, Edurin may be turned against us, via a blood bond.” Weslynn frowns, then turns back to the figure on the dockside.
Since no one minded, Mensa shouldered his shovel and stumped over to Friend-Gronk.
“Mensa, save your bonking for our foes, I suggest. Gronk will be quite upset if you dent your shovel on him.”

Mensa pointed at the sleeping bullman. “Friend-Gronk need to wake up!” Why didn’t Wes-Wels–uh, WesleyInn want him to wake up Friend-Gronk?

Zhanh knew what sounds belonged to a moored boat even when sound asleep, and found himself awake at the commotion. He sat up, pulled on his boots, and packed away his tarp. That done, he shook Lumlas once, then pulled away the blanket and packed it as well. Lumlas woke up grumpily, and Zhanh pointed at Weslyn and said, “Trouble; time to go.”
Wulf sighs deeply. He turns to Perry and says: “I will go with Weslyn. Mensa.

Stay here with Perry. When Gronk wakes up, tell him Wulf wants him to help you and take care of you. Lumlas, Zhahn! Get out of this hell-hole as soon as you can. Take Gronk and Mensa and Perry with you. Don’t wait here or come after us if we don’t return.” He looks deep into Weslynn’s eyes with love and sorrow. “Come, sweet lady. Out fate awaits us. Better a horrible ending than a life of endless horrors!” He takes up the spike shield. Then to the messenger: “We are ready. Take us to your masters.”

The messenger turned out to be Sheepdip the Ogre. When he saw everyone waking up and getting ready to accompany Weslynn, he threw his hands up in the air and said, “STOP IT! You all had a chance to stay at the inn. My mistress only wants to talk to Weslynn. The rest of you should stay here. I can protect the woman perfectly well, and none of you are wanted at the inn now. You would not be admitted. It would just be a long walk for nothing. My mistress promises that no harm will come to the lady.”

He stood there glowering at them all, and repeatedly thumped his meaty left hand with a heavy bludgeon.

Someone stood between Wulf and the hulking thing. “Mensa not leave Wulf! Where you go, I go. Where you sleep, I sleep. Your friend, my friend. Your enemy, my enemy. More than blood, Mensa say this stone to stone, by gold, by gem, and by heaven-blessed iron. Mensa be faithful friend to Wulf and all Wulf’s clan.”

“Sheepdip, know this. This place is accurst, I know this now. I say I shall not accompany you alone anywhere. You will come with us, back to your inn, and we shall have Edurin safely returned to us, unharmed and untouched, and we shall leave peacefully. Or I ask my friends to fight beside me, to rend this place down in fire and fang, sword and pike.”

Weslynn gestured to her friends. “Will you come with me, to save Edurin from whatever treachery and evil has ahold of him this night? Or shall Wulf and I do this alone. Decide quickly, for I believe time may be running out for our companion.”

Zhanh found himself contemplating the Conundrum of the Suicidal Helmsman once again. He rolled his eyes, shouldered his pack, and wordlessly made his way to the rail to stand beside Weslynn.

Lumlas grapped Zhanh’s sleeve. “Has everyone gone crazy?” she hissed.

“It seems likely,” Zhanh answered.

Weslynn nodded to Zhanh, and then looked to Lumlas, and gestured towards the boat. “One of our own is in danger. We cannot make you stay, but we cannot protect you, if you are on your own.”
Perry had no doubt. ‘We are with you, Weslynn, and Edurin shall not regret the friends the hand of fate dealt him.’
“Are we all accounted then, save for Lumlas. Take your chances on the boat alone, here, or come with us to take back Edurin.” Weslynn offers Lumlas her hand. “We left Edurin behind and something dire, I fear, has happened to him. If you stay behind, I fear you will not be here when we return.”

Sheepdip lost patience. “You are all crazy,” he growled. “There is no danger here, and you had best not try anything crazy at the Big Buck tavern. Your friend is in no danger. Now come along, Weslynn, or do I have to go back and tell my mistress that you are all raving maniacs, and she should have nothing to do with you?”
Sheepdip stalked away from the boat, coming down heavily on the wooden dock and shaking it with each thunderous footstep.Mensa ran over and scraped Gronk’s horns with the edge of his war shovel. “Gronk, wake up!” he shouted.

Gronk woke up.

“Come my friends, let us go retreve Edurin.” Weslynn picks up Gronk as Mensa clobbers his horns with his shovel, resulting in a brief moment of hilarity where minotaur, Mensa, and Weslynn, end up all intertwined, before sorting themselves out.

Perry is going to go with the others assuming they following the grumbling ogre.

‘Just don’t try running in and out of that ogre’s legs,’ Perry warned Mensa. ‘You don’t want to catch him a nasty knock in a tender spot.’

Weslynn picked herself up, and apologized to Mensa and Gronk briefly, and then quickly caught up to the Ogre.

“Do you know what your mistress wants? Why does she want me? And what has happened to Edurin?”

Gronk awoke to his horn being scraped, Mensa yelling, and the bloodsucker grasping him. He shifted his weight to twist out of the bloodsucker’s grip, and the three ended up in a pile of twisted extremities. Luckily (for Weslynn), Gronk’s axe was just out of reach, but his hand fell to the hilt of his sax.

“What happening, why bloodsucker grabbing Gronk? Dwarf-friend defending Gronk?”

Gronk rose to his feet, and then he noticed the Ogre stomping off. His half-asleep brain was dazed and confused. He looked to Wulf.

“What happening, Wulf?”

“Wulf, fill in Gronk in on the situation, I feel we could use both of your wisdom here. I am out of my depth, I fear.”
“Mensa, do you have any lore about Vampires and their minions you have learned from your dwarven family?”

“Mensa never heard of vampliers ’til heard from you. And Wulf, I think. Are they leeches or mosquitos or something else? Wulf say chop off head and they get better.”

Wulf was now in full battle dress. To Gronk, he said: “Old friend, I think we are about to go to war again. One of our comrades stayed in the Inn, and they sent a messenger to fetch Weslynn. Things here stink of evil and danger. Wulf is sorry to have brought you here. But I must go now. If anything happens to me, take care of Mensa for me. Don’t let them behead me or burn my body!” He helps the Minotaur up, and then sets off with Weslynn.

Mensa struggled with his memories again, as a wave of sadness came upon him at the sound of the word “family.” He had thought he had a family, with Dad and Ma at the cave, with the cow and the mine. But now he’d been remembering other parts of his life, as if they were dreams, and he was coming to realize that his family had been no such thing. Who was he, really?
“Gronk confused, just Wulf go with bloodsucker, or everybody?”
Wulf went inward, communing with the beast within. Perry and Mensa only got a glimpse of the Wolfman in the streets of Khazan. Newly awakened, Gronk saw and remembered Wulf on the battlefield, just before major meelees. When he was like this there, there was hell to pay later.

Weslynn sensed that the Wolfman was close now, and ready to fight if needed.
But it was her wolfman now, her monster.

“Gronk do what friends need him to do, stay here or go. But Gronk not too happy about Wulf and bloodsucker walking off alone with ogre.”

“I wanted us all to go, to the point of carrying your sleeping form with us, so as not to leave you vulnerable here alone. Lumlas said we were mad, so I think she was the only one who wanted to stay here. I want everyone with me, that I can convince to go, Gronk. This place is full of treachery, that I am certain.”

Gronk sneered at the vampire-woman.

“Gronk go, if that is what is needed of Gronk. Gronk no like to leave you alone again with Wulf, anyway.”

Wulf went with Weslynn, and spoke to her on the way. “I won’t try to go in unless you call for me.” His voice sounded different. He looked different.

“Mensa, stay near me. But If I take on my Wolf aspect, you must not try to interfere with me. The wolf will bite friend or foe when he is in a fight. Gronk has seen me in this form and knows how to deal with it.”

Weslynn continued behind the ogre, jogging to catch up. “Wulf, please stay by my side as much as possible. I don’t trust this woman, or her inn, you know why, and I am certain I will need everyone’s ferocity. But you’re the only one who seems to believe me…”

Gronk stayed behind to protect those who remained at the boat.

“Wulf, careful, keep eye on Mensa.”

Mensa repeated to himself, “When Wulf Wolf, don’t interfere with Gronk. Just remember that.”

Perry dreamed of Wulf and Weslynn dressed as little lambs going to the slaughter – at least he hoped he was dreaming. He kind of knew that he was when he saw Mensa running about in a leotard waving a fishing net at passing butterflies and yodelling loudly. (Of course, he might have just had too big a mouthful of his own SFF magic mushroom meal.)

Weslynn watched Mensa catch up, dancing in his strange attire.]

Gronk stayed awake on the boat to keep watch.
Wulf’s death chant kept running thru his mind, but he was resigned now. He was determined that his spirit would not come before the Lord of the Hunt and the Wolf-Father ashamed. If he was born to die, he would die in battle for the ones he loved. Better a horrible end than a life of endless horrors.
Mensa saw how serious Wulf was, and considered cheering him up by shouting “VAMTIRES! BLOODSUCKERS! COME OUT, COME OUT!!!”

Weslynn traded grim looks with Wulf. She feels like her friends have abandoned her to walk into the lair of the monster, alone, save for Mensa and Wulf. “I suppose,” she sighed to herself, “these are the ones who I can truly trust.”  She reached out then and took Mensa’s hand, and wrapped a warm companionable thought around the simmering stew of rage in potentia that is the Wulf’s Wolf right now.

Mensa blushed.
“Have you any thoughts Mensa, on our situation?” You are always watching, yet you speak little enough. Perhaps the perspective of a dwarf will prove valuable.”

“Wulf sad,” observed Mensa. “Not good Wulf sad, when so much happy friends and fun battle and we not in cage. Not good.”

“No, you’re right enough there friend. I can feel him, you know, I know how he feels. He’s ready for the fight to come, for Edurin, and for us. He’s going to do his best to die gloriously.” Her expression hardens imperceptibly, as she does her best to grab that unfamiliar emotion running through Wulf and make it her own.
“When it comes to battle, we’ll sell our lives dearly enough.” Her facade of cold bravery was almost perfect, save for the tremor in her voice, and her wide eyes.

“No die,” said Mensa. “That wrong. Make bad guys die. Wulf live. Wesleylynn live. Mensa live. Bad guys die.  Always know: they die, we live.”

“Aye, that’s better. Making it happen, though…” Weslynn looked down at the dwarf, “How much experience fighting do you have, brave one?”

Mensa scrunched his face, and finally admitted, “Don’t know. Mensa not remember right. Sometimes one way, sometimes another. Goldylix say I not baked right.”
“Who is Goldylix? I do not believe I know that name.” Weslynn inquired.

“Lumlas,” Zhanh said, “I am beginning to think that you are right.” He headed back to his coil of rope and pulled out his blanket and tarp, then handed the blanket to Lumlas. “Gronk, let me know when you are tired, and I will stand the next watch.” He wrapped himself in the tarp, and went back to sleep.

Lumlas took the blanket and went to sit near Gronk. “Why is it,” she said quietly, “That people don’t seem to know the difference between expressing doubt and and being unwilling to stand with your friends?” She sighed. “Of course this latest death march was crazy. Everything about this expedition is crazy. The jailbreak was crazy. But I am HERE.” She sighed. “I still am glad we didn’t all march into town, but I would have gone along.”

As Wulf, Weslynn, and Mensa passed Red’s Place, they couldn’t help but notice that 30 or 40 men had gathered around the front door. Some of them appeared to be drunk, and were weaving back and forth as they stood there. Others carried torches. Some had bows. Some had swords, axes, and clubs. They were all human.

Most of them watched the ogre and his three followers go by. One of them asked, “Are those the ones?”

Someone answered, “They were with the elves earlier, but there are no elves with them now.”

“Then don’t bother them,” said a tall bowman.

Wulf saw the mob in front of Red’s Place and his soldier’s good sense told him not even the wolfman at his worst could survive such an encounter. Now it was in the hands of whatever gods controlled his and his companion’s fates. He felt no real sorrow for himself, he was a warrior and most likely doomed to die a warrior’s violent death, but his heart ached for Weslynn, and broke for Mensa, both of whom deserved a better destiny. In his heart he remembered the kindly monk brothers of The Order of Omvar, their benevolent Lord, and he quietly prayed to the All-Father to spare his friends if it was possible. Then, prepared to sell his life dearly for his companions, and girded for battle, he pressed on towards the Tavern where Edurin and Shanazan waited for them. And, raging in his breast, the wolf crouched waiting, eager to sink its fangs into the flesh of any foe.

Gronk gave Lumlas a puzzled look, not quite able to understand all she was saying. He then smiled at the pretty elf, and put a beefy arm around her shoulder.

“Gronk agree, all this crazy. Gronk glad you here, pretty elf-friend. Gronk be happy when all this crazy is finished.”

Lumlas snuggled into Gronk’s shoulder and fell asleep.

Weslyn looked at the mob of weapon wielders out after midnight, and felt that nothing good could be coming of that.

“Wulf, what do you advise we do?”

Perry’s dreams shifted into carefree visions of hearth and home. He was playing in the woods and noticed without surprise that one of his little elven playmates had a grinning dwarven face whilst another’s look reminded him very much of cattle. A third was much more like a wolf and yet another had unusually pointy teeth. In fact, all his new friends were playing happily about him until a gang of big human children surrounded them and started calling them names. When they told them to go back home to their mummies the bigger children started throwing rocks and hitting them with sticks. Perry was beginning to feel pretty miffed with these unappealing specimens when the ground split and they all were swallowed up and never seen again.

Perry turned over in his sleep with a contented sigh.

Mensa finally replied to Weslynn. “Goldylix? Yellow-hair in helmet store. He scared and ran away.”

Weslynn wondered why anyone would be scared of Mensa. “Why was he scared? Why did he run away? Was he attacked?”
Mensa shrugged. “Nobody knows.”
“I see. You’re a bit of a mystery too, I think.” Weslynn smiled again at the dwarf, and then turned her attention to the ogre.

“Hey, ogre-man, do you know why those people are out in front of the other tavern, with torches and weapons? That looks rather like an angry mob.”

Having come to a decision while talking, Weslynn turned her attention back to Mensa, and looked at him seriously. “Can you run back to the dock, brave one, as fast as you can, without stopping, and tell Gronk for me, that there is what appears to be an angry mob of 40 people outside the other tavern?”
“Not safe to leave Wulf not protected. Humans no like Wulf. Mensa guard.”

“Isn’t Gronk also your friend? If they plan to attack the boat he could be hurt. He needs to be warned, little friend. I will keep an eye on Wulf for you, as best as I can.”

Sheepdip the Ogre ignored Weslynn’s question and just continued to walk rapidly up the street. He neither knew nor cared why a mob had gathered in front of Red’s Place, so long as they left him and the Big Buck alone, he would not interfere with them. He was already beginning to think that he might have to fight the barbarian and the dwarf when they got back to the inn. In that case, he would try to take the dwarf out first.

They walked on, and in a couple of minutes the end of the street came into sight with the Big Buck looming in front of them.

When they reached the porch, he turned to face them all. “Only the woman goes inside. There is no danger here unless you start trouble. She should be back with you in half an hour or less.”

Other servants waited just inside the tavern Sheepdip spoke to one of them. “Molomo, go awaken Captain Blotar. Tell him there is an angry mob in town, and they might be heading for his boat.”

“Wenwen, fetch the mistress. Tell her the wine merchant woman is here.”

Not long after Sheepdip’s party had passed Red’s Place, the mob reached its full size–fifty-seven men. With torches and weapons in hand, led by Megil the Hunter, they headed out for the river docks. Their plan was simple, catch and kill those rat-bastard elves who had menaced their womenfolk and practiced magic on Megil’s private parts.

Back on the Nainevver, only Gronk was awake. Even he was close to drifting off again when he noticed a glow in the night air in town–a kind of flickering. The sound of tramping feet and muttering men came to his keen ears next. What was this all about?

As he wondered, the first of them turned onto the far end of the dock, a few burly bearded men carrying axes and torches. One of them noticed the big Minotaur standing by the boat’s rail, and shouted, “There is one of the monsters now! Let’s get him!”

The crowd of men spilled onto the dock and began to advance angrily toward the Nainevver.

Weslynn stopped outside of the tavern, and looked at the recalcitrant dwarf and Wulf. “Go now, both of you, and warn or help the boat. I fear they seek to harm our elven friends there. I will go inside and make sure that Captain Blotar actually knows what is occuring, and see what other tragedy awaits us this night. I will be as fast to return as I can.”

“Do not argue, go NOW.” Weslynn glared at the dwarf, released his hand, and turned him around, and pushed towards the docks.

“Pick him up and carry him, if you must Wulf.”

Weslynn sighed and entered the tavern, holding her pike as close as she is able, with her other hand on the handle of her hatchet.
Mensa went over to pick up and carry Wulf.

Edurin woke with a start, started rising up only to find himself closer to the large woman, so he sank back down. Edurin wiggled his hand up to her face touching her cheek gently and replied, “Shannazan, I do not wish to be anyone’s slave or become a vampire myself. I love my life too. But… if I may trust your word to allow no harm to myself, my companions, Captain Blotar, and his crew then you may feed lightly. I do need to be strong enough to work tomorrow.” He thought it a little silly to trust her at this point, but he will happily roll her off the bed without a sincere oath from Shannazan. She had the weight on him, but he trusted his strength to be equal to her vampiric strength. Martial training would be the telling difference.

Shannazan smiled grimly in Edurin’s face. “So you won’t struggle if I just take a sip. Very well, why would I want another slave anyway, tho being beholden to me might protect you from the lords of Castle Greybat.

She lowered her blubbery face to Edurin’s neck, extruded her fangs, and lightly pierced the skin. It didn’t hurt much. Edurin had cut himself worse shaving. For about a minute she nuzzled his neck. A strange lassitude came over the sailor. This was actually kind of pleasant. He remembered hearing that victims of attacks by lions, tigers, and bears actually felt no pain while being mauled, and then wondered if he was like a mauling victim.
Shannazan raised her head and licked her blubbery lips. “You taste good like a sailor should,” she whispered. She sat up. And now if you wish, you may have your wicked way with my luscious body.” She batted her eyes at him.

“Crewmen! Elf-friends! To your feet!” yelled Gronk. “Danger approaches! Ready your magic, spell throwers.”

“Lumlas, stay on deck,” he whispered. “If Gronk go down, hide in your magic and get away, leave all the crazy behind you.” He stroked her cheek gently and smiled.

Gronk grabbed his double-bladed broad axe and took up position halfway down the gangplank, hoping to keep the number of opponents down to a few at a time.

“Halt!” he roared at the men. “Come no closer or Gronk will chop you into little pieces! Go back to your hearths and women before it is too late!”


Wulf’s keen ears picked up the sound of the distant mob and he made a decision.
“Mensa” he said ” I go to help our friends. Stay clear of me.  Come if you must, but remember, Wolf is not the Wulf you know!” With a shrug and a wiggle, he became the Wolfman. Then, with a blood curdling howl, he raced off down the street towards the docks, with his spike shield and ‘star ready to kill and maim.

As he ran to join the fray, a fleeting memory of one of the Wolf shaman’s old teachings flickered through his wolf mind:
“And is there better way to die
Than facing fearsome odds
For love of pack and family and
The honor of your gods?”

“There is NO DIE, Wolf!! There is only STOP BAD GUYS!” Running after the man he’d grown to consider his elder brother, Mensa glanced over his shoulder and waved. “Bye, Wesleylynn!” He readied his favorite and only shovel and ran as hard as his short but ironlike legs could propel him. “Dagnabit it, but Wolf is FAST!!”

Mensa muttered to himself as he ran. “First go with Wesleylynn. Then go back to boat; leave Wesleylynn. Someone make up their mind!”
Zhanh awoke at Gronk’s shout, and rolled to his feet quickly. He took in the advancing mob, then rushed to uncleat the upstream mooring line. Better to drift downstream (and across the river) than to deal with that many enemies.

“Gronk!” he shouted. “Cut the gangplank loose from the dock if you can; don’t get dumped into the water if we pull away from the dock!”

Lumlas retreated to the far side of the deck house, looking for a place where she would be at least partially sheltered, and still able to see what was going on. She readied an Oh, Go Away spell and hoped that she could identify the mob’s leader.

Gronk heard Zhanh’s warning and rushed to end of the gangplank and chopped it loose. He then ran quickly back to the deck.

“Gronk no like to run from fight,” he scowled and let loose a low, rumbling growl. “Gronk no like leaving Wulf and Mensa behind.”

“I don’t want to leave our friends, either, Gronk,” Zhanh shouted back. “But I don’t want to die, either, and that might be the choice. We won’t release the downstream line unless they force us to.”

Waking up with a jolt, Perry was terrified when he saw the ugly mob of rabid sickos milling about on the dock. These people really got up his nose so he cast Miasmal Stench He cast the spell behind the leaders so as to catch them within its range but to leave Gronk out of the stink zone. Then he huddled behind the shields the boat so happily carried. Next he sent his two Jeeves spirits to knock the hands of anyone pointing a bow at the riverboat.

Perry’s spell created a 10-foot-diameter cloud of foul-smelling gasses.

“Wow! What a bizarre experience. Shannazan, you act as if you know the lords of Greybat well. May I pick my way with your brain?” Edurin grinned lopsidedly. “Err,  have my way with your brain, and unlock some of those sweet thoughts about our fate at the castle?”

Weslynn stood just inside the tavern, looking for signs of treachery, such as her own mob in the public room.
Shannazan looked at Edurin strangely. He seemed rattled by his experience, but he wasn’t making the expected move on her glamorous body. Oh well, sometimes the magic worked. Sometimes it didn’t.

“You’d rather talk about Castle Greybat, than make hot passionate love to me!” she exclaimed in mock indignation, “I don’t talk about them. It isn’t safe. And that’s the only warning I’ll give you.”

She put her large be-ringed hand on his chest and pushed him back down on the bed. She smiled bewitchingly, a feat marred somewhat by the film of blood on her teeth.

Wenwen came to the doorway. “Mistress, the wine-trader woman has arrived.”

Shannazan heaved herself up from the bed, picked up her rag of a dress, and shimmied back into it. “Wenwen, why don’t you keep our guest entertained while I go down and take care of business?” she suggested.

“Gladly, mistress! Thank you!” The shapely barmaid entered the room and literally threw herself on top of Edurin. “Hello, sailor,” she purred throatily, “want some fun?”

Sheepdip took up his usual position by the door to the tavern. It was closed, but he had a peephole, and through it he saw Wulf and Mensa turn around go running off toward the river.

Weslynn stood in the middle of the common room with her hands on her weapons, wondering why she had been summoned.

Shannazan came down the stairs from the second floor. She seemed more rumpled than usual, but there was a smile on her face.

“Greetings, Weslynn,” she said in a husky whisper that Weslynn had no difficulty hearing. “Did you like that wine I gave you earlier? You should. It came from your family’s vineyards. I added a little something as a pickmeup, just for women like you and me. Would you like another cup? Unless I miss my guess, you haven’t fed very well today.”

She walked right up to Weslynn and smiled. Weslynn could see a thin film of blood on her teeth.

“Are you part of the theft, woman? And who have you been feeding on? Is that Edurin’s blood?”
With Shannazan directly in front of her, within pike range, Weslynn intitiated combat by casting a spell to sharpen and enchant her weapon.  She did her best to decapitate the fat woman with the blade on the end of the pikeshaft.

Shannazan sensed Weslynn casting a spell–it didn’t seem to be at her, but it still couldn’t be good. She threw herself backwards and squawked, Sheepdip, protect me!”

Because of the crazy way these people had been acting, the ogre had been expecting trouble. He was glad that the barbarian and dwarf had left at a run. Now all he had to deal with was a crazy woman. He hefted his bludgeon and charged to the attack.

Weslynn continued her attack on Shannazan.  She saw that as her only chance.

As the woman cried out for her ogre, Weslynn shouted out as well, “Edurin! Aid me!” and she also reached out and grabbed for Wolf’s raging spirit, imprinting on it her dire need for him to battle against greater foes than a mob of mere men, “COME TO ME NOW, WOLF! AT THE INN AND SLAY ALL WHO ARE NOT OUR PACK!”

Edurin pushed Wenwen off him. “Sorry cutie… Your mistress might be in trouble.” He shot up and grabbed his spear, and ran out bootless to investigate the trouble. He was shocked by the scene below…

“Aid me, Edurin! This monster is part of the thieves! The wine she served me was from my own winery, by her own words.”

Edurin came to the top of the stairs and saw Shannazan falling backwards with a screaming Weslyhn swinging her pike at the innkeeper. The inn mistress called out something in an unknown tongue and a bolt of purple lightning flashed from her hand to Weslynn’s head. As the magical bolt hit her Weslhynn’s hair stood on end, and her eyes bulged out of their sockets. Then her heavy pike smacked into Shannazan’s head and bisected it, slaying the inn mistress instantly.

However, a second later Sheepdip smashed Weslynn from behind with his mighty bludgeon, breaking her back and pulverizing her torso. Edurin watched in horror as both women died.

Blotar came running out of his room. “What is going on?” he bellowed.

Edurin could only point at the carnage at the foot of the stairs.

“My sister!” bellowed Blotar in anguish. “Why?”

Sheepdip looked upstairs and saw Edurin standing there with spear in hand. “Do you want to die also?” he bellowed. “Drop the spear!”

Edurin dropped his spear, “I heard Shannazan call for help.” He glanced at Captain Blotar keeping the ogre in sight. “Captain, it seems the wine we chase found a home here in the inn. But before we talk business… Family is more important. Tell me about your sister? Do you share her need for blood? I only ask that to help clean up and bury the dead.”

His thoughts danced all over… He had spent much of his seed capital with potentially nothing to show for it. Perhaps there was still some sort of way to salvage the situation.

Blotar turned to Edurin. “My sister is a vampire, but not me. She bought two barrels of wine from the trader who usually procures such supplies for Castle Greybat and the river towns. My sister found out it came from Weslynn’s vineyard and was going to arrange to buy more from her directly. Why did Weslynn attack her? This is going to ruin my family.” The big boat captain sank down on his knees and moaned. “Oh, Shanna, what have you done to us?”

Edurin patted Captain Blotar’s shoulder, “I have no idea what happened. Wish I did. Samurai Kighe warned me this might not be a good endevour. The merchant who sold Weslynn’s wine may be the same vampire who changed Weslynn after stealing her wine. I wish I knew that answer too. You still have a shipment to take up river. I can help with the shipment or stay here to clean up and get this place back to business. Which would help you best?”
Sheepdip the Ogre took the pike out of Weslynn’s dead hand. It had a very sharp edge, and he approved of that. Wasting no time, he used it to hack off the crazy woman’s head. Then he turned and did the same to the body of Shannazan, although that head was already in two pieces.

“What are you doing?” shouted Blotar. “That’s my sister you’re mutilating!”

“Vampires, boss,” growled the ogre. “This needs to be done. We don’t want them coming back as brain-damaged undead, and they just might if we don’t handle the bodies properly. I’ll take care of the burning.”

Blotar looked stunned. “Um, yeah,” he mumbled. “Eddie-boy, I need time to think. Let’s go back to bed, and we’ll decide what to do in the morning.”

Chapter 5: Up the River   Leave a comment

Weslynn, Wulf, Zhanh, Lumlas, Perry, Gronk, Mensa, and Edurin arrived at the river docks just as the sun stuck its rim above the eastern horizon. A sky full of clouds glowed redly, promising some bad weather ahead. The streets of Khazan were coming to life behind them. They all felt certain that their names and descriptions would be circulating soon as wanted outlaws–especially Wulf, Weslynn, and Mensa. They hadn’t killed any members of the Watch, but it was not for lack of trying.  Both boats were getting ready to sail. Regular crew were loading last minute supplies. It was time to come to a deciision. Which boat would they take? Or would the split the party and take both?

Mensa suggested they flip a coin. Unfortunately, he didn’t have one, and cursed the city guards (in Kah-zahd).

Mensa REALLY cursed the watch captain when he realized that even the pretty rocks from home were taken from him. “Should have burnt place down!”

As the party neared the docks, Weslynn began her tale, after quickly gathering her companions into a huddle on the street corner, whispering her news to them quietly in the chill morning air.

“You all know my the tale of the theft of my wine, that brought me here to this city, and brought you all across my path. I have not been entirely truthful, I have suspected that the thief was more than simply using an ensorcelment and excess alcohol to bind me to sleep for three long days in my inn room. Ever since I awoke I have been filled with a gradually increasing sense of rage. A new voice whispered in my mind to slaughter everyone I met, tear them in half and feast upon their still-beating hearts. I have, through my long years working my family’s caravans, never killed anyone. Never wanted to. Until I awoke in that inn. The feelings gradually grew. I knew something was wrong with me, but I just felt I should hide it, so that I could seek blood. You all saw me try to eat bloody rare meat. I planned last night to slip away from the inn and hunt vermin in the alleys. Instead, because of my rising rage from the incomplete monster within me, I ended up locked in a guard cell all night, with Wulf. I was afraid if I waited any longer, I would go mad, berserk with bloodlust, and kill him. So…I drank his blood. He stirred and my feeding was not complete, but enough that I felt myself move towards completion. Wulf, finding himself bloodied and trapped into a cage, I think may have given in to despair, because he willingly allowed me to finish my feeding,meaning that for the first time in days I have a clear, calm rational mind again. I am myself. The thirst for blood is just that, a sated thirst, no different than that for water. I believe that now that I have completed my transformation that I will remain myself, but since I have come to trust you all in this past day, your varied wisdom of sword and sorcery, of road and folk.”

“I will say this plainly, I believe that I am a vampire, that the thief of my wine was the one who made me, though I recall little of how or why he did so, if he even said such. I pursue him, as much to find out why he turned me into this thing that I am, and enact revenge for my curse, as much as to recover the wine and my family honor. I ask you now, before we find ourselves on a river boat for days, trapped together, do you wish to travel with another monster? Judge me now, and decide my fate: shall we part ways, continue on, or will you try to cleanse my flesh of my strange new life? I ask you all to vote, quickly now, all save Wulf, for he is no longer to be trusted about me.”

Weslynn then bowed her head, struggling against instinct to entrust her fate to the others.

Mensa was alway ready with a helpful suggestion, suited to his understanding.

“Mensa help. Can use shovel to cut of your head. Wulf said that would fix vampire.”

And now Mensa puzzled to himself. Had Wulf meant “fix” as in “heal” or as in “That’ll fix them” ??
Weslynn smiled sadly at Mensa. “That might do it, but it would kill me, I believe, gentle dwarf. Truly I do not wish to die, monster though I be.”

Gronk realease a low, rumbling growl.

“Weslynn bloodsucker? Sucked Wulf’s blood? Gronk not happy…”

He scowled at Weslynn.

“Gronk go where friend Zhanh go, and Wulf go with Gronk, no matter what say Weslynn.”

Weslynn sighed. “Yes, I did. I am not happy either, though I am quite grateful for him allowing me to clear my head. It is unfortunate that he is now bound to my…suggestions..somehow.”

Mensa growled. He would keep one eye on this bloodsucker. Which meant he’d have to follow them, and stick close to the girl. These were Wulf’s friends, which meant they were Mensa’s friends, and nobody would get to hurt them….not even the girl.

Her gaze shifted to Wulf, and became quite fragile. “I had hoped to bind him to me in an entirely different manner, though daydreams about children are perhaps a thing for my past, now..”

Turning to Mensa, Gronk gently lifted the dwarf.

“Dwarf -friend OK? ”

Mensa nodded. But now he wondered if Wulf was still Wulf, and if he’d need to watch Wulf also. “Mensa OK, bull-man. Is Wulf OK?”
“Gronk hope Wulf OK, little friend.”

He placed Mensa gently on the ground. He ignored Weslynn and turned to Zhanh.

“What we do, elf?”

Wulf reassured Mensa and Gronk. “Wulf is still OK, but I seem to have lost my wolf soul mate. Do not worry about me. I will still do what needs to be done and stand by you in battle. And I will see that no one takes advantage of Mensa. Whomever tries that will have a bad day with a big barbarian!”
Mensa puzzled. Soul mate?? Well, Wulf knew more than Mensa, and it might make sense later. There were things to do Right Now, such as:

“Hey! Which boat we sit in?”

Perry crooned ‘Come on, come on, let’s stick together.’

To Weslynn he said ‘I fear that my father has been similarly infected and is, like you, a vampire. It would appear to run in my family now, if not my blood. At any rate, I am content to travel with you as a companion but would ask that you inform us immediately you are aware of the need for more blood.’

He clapped his hands togther at the sight of the boats and gave a little hop. ‘I have never travelled in such a manner before and hope that I do not suffer from the dreadful queasiness I am told afflicts all new mariners.’

“Friend Wulf need helmet! Pick one!” Mensa held up both helmets to Wulf, grateful that dwarf heads were about same size as humans.

Wulf, who now had his old veteran steel helm back, smiled, and thanked Mensa for the offer. He spoke respectfully to Zhahn. “I don’t like that Phink fellow much. My instincts make me want to bite him! The other fellow seems more honest to me, and offers us free passage. I think he would do better for us. We should get on board though soon, before a very angry Watch sets loose the dogs to track us down. I hope we can score some biscuits or porridge soon. I am starving. I may have to eat the next person who annoys me!” He smiled to show he was joking on this last comment.

“Uh-oh,” thought Mensa. “Friend-Wulf IS changing. Gotta be a way to cure him!” He kept remembering the word “Grisslegrin.” Wulf said he was a dwarf god. Maybe he would know what to do.
How could Mensa find this god?

Zhanh ran his sailor’s eye over Phinq’s boat, and over Blotar’s. “And you say that Phinq wants to CHARGE us for working passage on that hulk? I vote for Blotar.”

Lumlas agreed. “I thought Blotar sounded like a better bet last night– Wasn’t that a lifetime ago?– and nothing I see here makes me change my mind.”

“Besides,” Zhanh continuned, “Gold is even scarcer now than it was last night, and we STILL haven’t purchased any group supplies for this trip. I think we need to buy what we can find right now, before we start upriver.”

Zhanh turned to Weslyn. “It would have been better if you had told us earlier,” he said. “But now we are here, and, well, blood lost to a vampire is not really any different from blood lost to a knife wound, as far as healing goes, and Lumlas and I can both cast healing spells. So we should be able to keep you fed without too much difficulty, if the rest of the group wants to continue. I am bound for Castle Greybat in any case, and the company of a friendly vampire is better than no company at all.”

Lumlas nodded. “Weslyn, I declared you my friend yesterday. Much has changed since then, but I am not inclined to take that back.”

“Gronk stay with his friends, Gronk protect his friends,” he declared to the collective group.

He then focused all his attention on Weslynn.  “Gronk going to be watching you, bloodsucker. You hurt Gronk’s friends, Gronk going to chop you in small pieces to feed fish at sea.”

Weslynn turned to face Gronk at his works. “Gronk, I welcome your gaze. I believe I am finally myself again, full of my faculties, but I am a fledgling. I do not know what tomorrow holds, for me. Should I lose myself to the vampire, and run amok amidst my companions, then strike me down, Gronk. Please. I can bear being a vampire, so long as I am in control. “

“Perry, I give you my word, I will keep you all advised as to the state of my blood thirst. Though, I do not know how efficacious wizardly healing of my drinking would be, other than closing the puncture marks themselves… But my drinking does more than take blood, it forges a bond. It is not safe for me to feed from any of you directly, safe, Wulf. It may be that if you drain your blood into a glass or flagon it may not create the link when I drink it, but are you willing to experiment with yourselves in such a manner? If it is an emergency I would ask Wulf to allow me to feed, for we are already linked, for better or worse. I would suggest we acquire animals by whatever means for me to feed upon, we shall see if I can stomach fish ichor on this trip I imagine, if there are no rats to be caught in their hold.”

Weslynn’s gaze then returned to Wulf, and the chained sleeping Wolf within him, bound by chains of her own making. “Wulf, do you want me to set right what I did? It pains me to see you incomplete, but I will not trespass within your mind without dire need.”

Gronk snorted something unintelligible at Weslynn.

“Gronk hungry,” he said to nobody in particular.

Wulf said: “If I am fed meat regularly I can let you drink regularly. I am a quick healer. But I must have my wolf brother back. We have been together from my birthing, and losing him is like losing a much loved twin. He has always been there for me in the time of trials. But I think that if he is let out again, you will have to be cautious with him in all his manifestations. Like me, he will not go back willingly into any cage again. And he is even more violent in his rage than I am capable of being.” Then Wulf said to the group:  “I had meant to tell you all that I am a Wolfman, able to assume the aspect of a wolf to my advantage in battle. Perry has seen it. Like Weslynn, I have a ‘monster’ inside me too. But I am your monster, and I am in your debt. You came to rescue me, when you could have left me to my fate. You are my family, my ‘pack’ now. No one will do you harm while the Wolfman lives to prevent or hinder them. If my lycanthropy is a problem for any here, I will leave at once, and never trouble you again. But let us decide, and get underway before the Watch catches up with us and renews the battle.”

“Thank you for still standing by me Lumlas, I will do my best to prove myself worthy of that trust.”
“Phink seems extremely suspicious to me as well, I would lead us to any other travel option. I do not think we could find a…sketchier river captain. Some of them are of the opinion that being master of a boat entitles one to everything and everyone they can lure aboard their floating web. No desire to do that again, unless we must.”

Weslynn nodded sadly to Wulf. “Thank you Wulf for being understanding about my needs. I will do what I can to set you right.”

She moved in front of him, stared into his eyes, and concentrated upon the chains upon the Wolf half of his soul, and imagined those chains shattering as she directed her will upon them, visualizing them shattering.

Mensa gripped his shovel tightly. He watched Gronk. One thing he had learned; if Weslyn tried to hurt Wulf, Gronk would know for sure – instantly.

Perry turned to Zhanh. ‘It would appear that we will be traveling with the good Captain Blotar. Can you tell me what his terms are? Will we get to sleep in hammocks? I am well used to such sleeping accommodation since we often swing freely in the forests.’

“We will need food, if the boat doesn’t have enough for us. If so, try asking other boats if they have excess. As for me, when I become thirsty, fish or rats from the hold might well do. Wild critters roaming the shores might be good targets also. Do we have wizards who could help with such things? Or summon live snacks for me, or rations for you all?”

“Let’s travel on Blotar’s boat. He cares for his boat, and comes across as a fair man. Hurry up we need to boat. Weslynn, how infectious are you? Is Wulf in danger of becoming turned?”

Edurin sought to herd the party along, “I have a pack full of food, and we’ll earn enough to buy more food up river.”

“I do not remember how I became as I am, Edurin. I fremember being…persuaded to partake of far too much of my sample wines, and then I dimly remember being alone with the thief that night in my room. Then I awoke 3 days later with a bite on my leg and a slow building blood rage. If merely feeding upon Wulf would transform him, I believe he would be unconscious by now, as I was.”

Mensa searched his memories again. Hadn’t he heard of a sailor named “Blotar” before? Still, Blotar was a better bet than this Phink, a mike by the looks of him. Captain Phinqq saw Edurin’s gang standing at the edge of the docks and talking up a storm. He jumped ashore and walked over to them. “Are you lubbers coming or not?” he asked in a none-too-friendly tone.

“Not!” said Edurin, Weslynn, and Mensa all about the same time. “We’ve decided to ride with Captain Blotar on the Nainevver.”

“Hargh! That pirate! You’ll be sorry!” Phinqq turned angrily and went back to his boat. “Cast off!” he bellowed. Some riverboatmen pushed off with poles, and got the boat out into the current. It started to drift down stream, but then the men planted their poles on the river bottom and began to push the boat up against the current. One man who might have been a wizard stood in the rear of the boat and made constant pushing gestures. Phinqq’s Folly bucked the current and began moving upstream.

“Last call!” shouted Blotar. “You travelers joining me or not?”

“Well, too much time talking, and not enough time getting our work done,” noted Zhanh. “Let’s get aboard.”

Edurin led the group over to the Nainevver. It was a large boat, 30 feet in length with a central cabin, and ten sets of oars on each side of the boat. It had a raised poop deck with a steering oar, and its prow narrowed down to a long thin point. Blotar already had some 14 crew members.

“Permission to come aboard, Captain!” called Edurin.

“Permission granted,” said Blotar, “and step lively. You, Eddie-boy, come talk to me. You other men,” he pointed at Wulf, Mensa, Perry, and Zhanh, take an oar. Passengers, stand in front of the cabin!”

“Now Eddie-boy, who’s working crew, and who’s paying passage?”

Weslynn inspected the ship, form the prow to the stern, making sure she looked carefully at all the wood, especially the oars and the passage belowdeck. She has been on ships like this before, and wants to quickly assess the odds of her having to swim suddenly.
Wulf had done a lot of jobs in his short life, besides busting heads and fighting in battles. He gamely took an oar and emulated to his best ability what the experienced crew were doing. He chose a seat nearest the old hands and briefly intoduced himself, and encouraged them to correct him if he did not do it properly.
Having surveyed the condition of the boat, Weslynn moved over to the oars, and stood by Wulf, and then looked over at Edurin and the master of the boat. “I’ll work my passage, sir, I’ve done so before.”
Oars? Mensa could row. He stubbed over to some oars and started to pull on them or it — but stopped, realizing he should wait until everyone else was rowing too.
“The strongest take to oars, Captain Blotar. Wulf, Mensa, Gronk, and myself.” Calling back to the group Edurin asked, “Lumlas? Perry? You up for work?” He nodded to Weslynn and Zhanh, “They are your passengers. We work for them. And Captain, you’ll find us all willing to defend the boat.”
“Aye, I’ll defend this good ship, should it come to that, as well as anything else that needs doing, including taking a turn at the oars, should it come to that. This trip is something I organized, true enough, but that’s no excuse for me to rest on my pride.” Weslynn nodded to Captain Blotar.

Given her unnatural strength, and the difficulty that would be involved in hiding it, in hiding it rowing the oars, Weslynn hoped that her apparent weakness as a woman would keep her off oar duty except in some sort of emergency.

Gronk took a place at the oars where he could keep an eye on Wulf and Mensa.
Zhanh looked at all of the activity taking place. “I could work the oars as well, Captain, but I am also skilled with a lead line, if you have any doubts about the channel– and from what I know of rivers, there is always SOME doubt…”
Wulf felt good using his powerful muscles, and was filled with no little relief and elation when he suddenly became aware of his wolf brother again for the first time since the dreadful night in the gaol. He plied himself industriously to the oars, but hoped secretly that someone would offer him a drink of ale or water soon. And any sort of food would be nice too. Rowing took a lot of energy, and the heat of the day made it a thirsty business as well.

Perry rolled up a sleeve and inspected his muscle or lack of it somewhat ruefully. ‘I am chagrined at my lack of attention to the more physical pastimes of the forest. I fear I would not keep to your stroke and would foul the rollocks or some such. Perhaps I could cook, clean or use my magic to aid the security of this splendid vessel?”

Whatever his duties, Zhanh was glad to be out of the city, and to have his pack safely stowed and off of his shoulders; this was the way things SHOULD be.

Lumlas realized that everyone else seemed to be looking for work to do, and decided that at least ONE of them ought to pretend to be a paying passenger, and it might as well be her. She found a quiet spot and got busy with a combination of napping and sight-seeing.

Though this ship’s captain and crew seemed far less scurrilous than the other ship, there was no guarantee of honesty on everyone’s part. Weslynn said she would work, because she knew two things – the crew of a ship was far less likely to be jealous when you’re working alongside them – and jealousy often leads to unfortunate incidents. Secondly, if the captain or crew was planning something against some or all of their passengers, mingling with the crew as one of their own would make it  that harder to hide from their victims.
Wulf was getting pretty thirsty and hungry, and asked one of the sailors near him if and when he might get a drink and a bite to eat. He mentioned that he and his friends Gronk and Mensa had had a long bad night without food or drink too.
At midmorning a crew member who introduced himself as Jakuk came around and passed out biscuits and hardtack and a cup of grog. Blotar pulled the boat over to the bank, and announced, “First stop! There was a log cabin set back on top of a nearby hill. Blotar and two of his regular crew went up to the cabin, stayed a few minutes, and came back carrying a deer’s carcass, already cleaned, and ready for cooking.

“This is a good hunting area, but Ranger Rau says the elves are getting too numerous around here.” Blotar told the crew. Then he noticed he had elves in his crew. I’m not talking about you civilized elves,” he looked at Zhanh and Lumlas when he said that, “but there are wild elves that like nothing better than to pick off a boatman or two with a long arrow shot.

“Let’s get back on board and out to the center of the stream. Rig the shields.”

A few minutes later the Nainevver was back in the main current and moving slowly upstream. The river was swifter here, and the rowing more difficult. Blotar manned the tiller, and his mate, an incredibly hairy man named Udd stood in the center of the rowers in front of the cabin and provided rhythm. “Heave! Heave! Heave! Rest! Heave! Heave! Heave! Rest!” Over and over and over.

Some crew members had taken about twenty old target shields, much battered and pockmarked and fasted them to the ship’s railings, one above each rower. They didn’t make a complete barrier, and it looked a bit odd, but they would offer some protection from incoming missiles.

Just before noon, a flight of arrows fell out of the sky onto the Nainevver.

Mensa didn’t mind the hardtack, but hated the biscuit, and tried to pass it to Wulf, who was much hungrier than Mensa. About then, Mensa heard the unmistakable sound of a sound he’d never heard before (whoosh, THUNK), but seemed to worry everyone else.

Wulf devoured the biscuit and thanked Mensa warmly. Later, Wulf, an experienced warrior, took the captains warning seriously, and added his large spike shield to the others. At the first hint of incoming missle fire, he dove for cover. [rolled 2+5 +2 for level on Luck 13 = 22 for SR] In an instant he was up, grabbed his shield and looked to see if Mensa or Gronk or any of the rest of the party was hurt.. “Furschluginna cowards,” he growled. “Hiding in the trees. If they come out here after us, I will give them a warm welcome!”

Lumlas faced the unseen archers indignantly, pointed at her ears, and shouted, “Hey! Elf!”
The sailor prayed for salvation. The ‘wild’ elves had to respect their civilized kin right? Edurin hunkered down making himself a smaller target while taking in his surroundings. Rope, check, oars, check, how far were they from the shore? Hmmm, he might just be able to do something…

He gathered together extra rope, lashed one end to the boat railing. He grabbed an extra shield and mounted it at his station. Edurin looked to Captain Blotar, “Captain, how many elves might we face?” He then looked to Perry and Lumlas, “What do you think?”

Ouch! Mensa had to think again, and it was always difficult.
They were under attack – check!
It was arrows – check!
Bigguns were crouched down behind shields – check!
Mensa was short enough that he didn’t need to crouch – check!
Crazy pointy-ear lady was standing up, shouting “Elf!” and making herself a target – Wait! That wasn’t right! Mensa reached over to pull her down below the shields.

Perry had no idea yet what Edurin had in mind but he listened whilst hunkering down as best he could and instructing the Jeeves to hold whatever it could find that was solid and roughly shield-sized over his head.

Then he calculated the distance to the river bank and the place the bowmen were firing from. He knew it would do no real harm but (assuming they were no more than 100′ away) he cast Ice Storm to make life as uncomfortable as he could over a 20′ radius for his over-aggressive half-brethren (rolls 5,4 – makes L2 INT SR).

‘Chew on that, nancy boys!’ he yelled from what he hoped was a very safe place to cast gratuitous insults from.

When the talk of possible elf archers passed round the crew, Weslynn took station with the oars on one side, sitting on a rower’s bench to take her chances amongst them.

Mensa pulled Lumlas down and held her. “Crazy pointy-ears gonna get killed stay down behing shield”

“Perry! You know ice spells?!” Edurin suddenly got a new idea. “Can you cause the river water to harden into a shell to shield the boat? Then we just row on by…”

Wulf plied himself to his oar. If the fire was coming from one side of the river, he wondered, why not pull closer to the far side? But he had to admit he knew little about these elves and the range of their weapons. The elves he had fought with and against had been formidable bowmen. He also had to consider that there might be more archers on the far side waiting for them to draw nearer. He hated not being able to charge these foemen with his shield up and his ‘star whirring its death song!

Mensa knew a song which “Dad” had sung….and it seemed appropriate here. In his loudest, deepest voice, he began singing:

“Oh, elves in trees all mate with birds and pigs.
That’s because they’re small where other folks are big.
They shoot from cover in the wood,
Too scared to fight as brave folk would!
Cry themselves to sleep each night,
Afraid they might get inna fight
Or hurt themselves by stepping on a twig!”

He ended with a loud Bronx Cheer. “That’ll rile ’em,” he said.

Lumlas looked up from the deck, startled, after Mensa tackled her. “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t know what got into me.” She scuttled toward the nearest cover.

Zhanh took what cover he could, then looked into the woods hoping for a glimpse of a wild elf. He doubted that one would come within range of a TTYF, but maybe he could blast a tree somewhere along the line of sight; it would at least be a distraction. On the other hand, maybe it would be better to save his kremm for healing…

The arrows came down from both sides of the river. The unseen bowman practiced high arcing shots that came down from the sky above. Many of them missed the boat entirely. Most of the others hits shields or the cabin, or the deck. One hit Bornding, a member of Blotar’s crew–came right down through his throat, Another hit Edurin’s leather jerkin, punched through it, and just broke his skin for a single point of damage. That was enough, of course, the arrows were poisoned.

Blotar urged the men to row faster. Working like crazy they drove the boat upstream against the current.

Perry struck back at their unseen attackers by calling an ice storm down on one side of the river. When the ice started falling, the arrows rapidly stopped.

Just as Edurin was coming up with the idea to enclose the boat in a tunnel of ice, the arrows stopped falling. They had won past the ambush zone. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Perry probably couldn’t create that much ice, and the current would have pulled it away from the boat in seconds.

“Any casualties?” bellowed Blotar.

“Looks like Bornding is a goner–took an arrow through the throat. He’s bleeding out now, I doubt if he can last more than another minute or two,” said Udd.

The blood gushing from the sailor’s throat made Weslynn hungry again. She wasn’t really hungry, but it seemed like such a waste.

“Probably better for him to die quickly,” said Blotar. “They say Elf poison is nasty vicious stuff.”

As he vigorously rowed on, Wulf noted the scent of the area and looked for landmarks. He made a mental note that if he ever came through this area again, he would make it a point to chew some Elf arse or throats if the opportunity arose. He could see the unfortunate sailor and his wound, and thought it was a lost cause, but as he continued to row, he sang a quiet little song for the wounded and dying.

Mensa wasn’t sure what was happening. He couldn’t recall seeing anyone die before, and seemed unduly strange that Bording’s life would pour out like that. He had heard the group talking about bloodsuckers, and he guessed this must be blood. How very interesting. He wondered if carved dwarves could bleed. Goldy had said Mensa wasn’t – what did he sat? – not baked right or something?

He didn’t know how to help, and he hated feeling helpless. He removed his helmet, held it to his chest, and hoped the man wasn’t in great pain, because even Mensa knew that pain hurts.

Wulf rowed on, sad for the dying sailor, and softly crooned, in his old Wolf Clan tongue, the song the Shaman taught him:

“Gray clad Reaper, See this Brother.
Ease his suffering, guide him home.
There to rest with friends and loved ones
Never more away to roam.
Life is short and Fate is cruel.
Death is always near to all.
Offering his hand to guide us
When it is our turn to fall.”

Perry looked at Edurin with tears forming. He knew that elf poisons were truly nasty. ‘I know not what my vile second cousins twice removed on my mother’s side may have used to dip their craven arrows with but I fear that it bodes ill for you, sailor friend. I would that I could see you stand upright as a mast that we could all pin our colours to for you are of noble nature. I am but a callow youth remiss in the understanding of the conjuror’s arts but I must attempt your salvation. If you will permit me the slightest of touches juxtaposed to your impalation, I will assay alleviation of your adipose tissue.’

The intermittently loquacious youth checked to see that Edurin would accept his succour (and perchance if he had fallen into slumbers) before casting Strawberry Fields Forever, a spell that summoned a fresh and nutritious meal, which when eaten would help restore health.  Sometimes Perry wondered where things like food, and ropes and spirits came from, but he had no answers for those questions.

Lumlas ignored the mention of poison and rushed to aid the injured sailor; she had been doing very little since sunrise, and had kremm to spare. She rushed to Bornding’s side, snapped off the protruding arrow head, –which caused Bornding to scream, or at least gurgle, in pain– pulled out the shaft, and threw all of her available kremm into a healing spell.
Weslynn stared at the displays of wizardry performed or discussed in these few minutes: calling of ice, healing, and conjuring food. How she wished she could contribute something more to this mission than lost cargo and blood lust. Her aunt tested her as a child of course, but she was not deemed strong enough to require the training.  Great usefulness her vintner’s training would be now.

“Edurin, you’re scratched, I can smell it. If it is poisoned as they say, we can try to suck it out, as well as perform Perry’s spell craft.”

Edurin waved over to join Perry and called Weslynn over to his side. He spoke softly to conserve energy, “Weslynn perhaps a little blood letting along with fine strawberries. Perry, thanks for your help. It is very appreciated.” Edurin adjusted his jerkin handing his concealed purse to Weslynn, “You seem honorable… Just in case…” He stripped off his jerkin and pulled the arrow out of the leather. “I’ve suffered worse… Well we’ll see about the poison.” He enjoyed the strawberries Perry provided while tending the wound. “if the spell doesn’t work then I am happy to let you suck the poison out.” He winked at Weslynn.
“I have done it before, for a snake-bit guard. Though I worry I might cause other problems should I do it. Wulf! You’re the toughest, I think, should it affect you, grab a knife and get ready, to suck out the blood in the wound.”
Weslynn did however take Edurin’s purse, tucking it into one of her belt pouches. “Just relax, Edurin, Let’s do this quickly as we can.”
Wulf hurried to the group.”In the Werwald we had big dangerous vipers. Our shaman taught to suck out their venom. The key is not to swallow it! I will gladly try to do this if you wish it.” The wolfman removed his helmet and prepared to do his thing.

An argument broke out over whether ‘sucking out’ Elf poisons was effective or safe. Wulf waited patiently for a few moments, then shrugged. “If you want me to do it, you know where I am,” he said, and returned to his station with the other rowers. He was surprised to see the wounded sailor was still alive. Wizards creeped him out sometimes. He silently thanked Omvar for the miracle.

Perry’s prompt spell action healed Edurin of the minor damage he had taken and took the edge off the poison. Still . . .

Blotar bellowed an order when he saw Wulf run over to volunteer to help the wounded Bornding. “Oarsman, stay at your post! We need to keep this boat moving upstream against the current, and dropping an oar can mess up the timing of the other rowers.”

“By Vrill!” swore Udd. “That’s twice now you’ve abandoned your post without orders. If you were a regular crewman you’d forfeit your pay for such activity.”

“I don’t plan to pay him anything, unless he proves more valuable to us than he has so far,” muttered Blotar.

“One more lapse, and I’ll ask the captain to put you ashore,” Udd warned the barbarian.

Udd started yelling at all the rowers again. “Heave you sluggards! We don’t want to drift back into arrow range again. We got off lightly this time.”

Bornding was surprised to find himself still alive and with his neck now whole and unblemished. Still, his throat didn’t feel exactly right–kind of thick and burning. And he felt very weak and dizzy. (Loss of blood will do that to a fellow.) Then the flesh on his neck where the arrowhead had punched through it began to turn green–a faint lime green at first, that darkened with each second. “Fee er starr injj” said Bornding thickly. He could not enunciate better than that. The green tint to his flesh reached the edge of his short brown beardm but emerged a few seconds later on the cheekbones above the hair.

Edurin had his jerkin off and his chest bare as his comrades discussed whether they should try to suck the poison out or not. He looked down and saw a spot on his chest about the size of a gold piece that was just turning a faint greenish color. The flesh felt funny–kind of burning and thick.

Jakuk stepped up to the stern deck to talk to Blotar. “How long do you reckon those elves will keep shooting at us, Captain? It has been almost 2 years now, and it seems like they try to shoot us every time we go by.”

“They probably won’t rest until they wreck the boat, and kill us all,” said Blotar. “You know we probably shouldn’t have messed with their women, but all we wanted was a little fun, and they were on the river without any clothing to speak of. It was an honest mistake.”

Wulf muttered apologies to the sailors and to Udd and applied himself diligently to the oar. Overhearing the comments of the captain about the Elf women, he felt less hatred for the elves. His own people had great esteem for and valued their women too, and he could only imagine his response had someone violated his mate or female relations. He now had decided that it was probably best that he had not put his lips on Edurin’s wound, but he still worried about sailor and his friends. Caught up in the rhythm of the rowing he meditated on the Wolf Father and the songs of his long lost people.
Gronk thought naked elf-maidens sounded like fun. He thought naked elf-maidens and much ale sounded more fun.

“Gronk thirsty,” he said to Udd.

As Perry listened in on Gronk’s mutterings he wondered if one day he would be able to invent a suitable spell to meet the minotaur’s needs – something like ‘Bottoms Up’, he thought to himself, or maybe “Night on the Piss’…
Weslynn stared at the two poisoned companions and cursed her helplessness.
As he continued to row, Mensa thought “Not good. Bad way to die. People be afraid when two die before even getting to bloodsucker castle.” They all needed cheering up. So Mensa reached into his well-memorized repertoire and loudly sang, as only he could (or would):


Weslynn smiled, somewhat to her own surprise, at Mensa singing. “Have you ever considered becoming a bard, good dwarf?”
Wulf wondered what the dwarf had been taking (or smoking) but, despite his bewilderment at this latest happy song’s odd lyrics, kept rowing in good rhythm with his companions. He found it hard not to smile.

Mensa asked bloodsucker lady, “What’s a bard?”

Gronk didn’t like the smell of the elf-poison, bad stuff.

Gronk did like Mesa’s singing.

“Sing more, little dwarf. Gronk like.”

Lumlas looked at the green stain spreading on Bornding’s face in horror. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I tried.”

Zhanh noticed the effect that Mensa’s song had had on the rowers, and decided another song was in order.

Oh, just what’s the use of this looting and pillaging,
Swinging my rapier through blood, guts and gore?
Raping and robbing and boozing grow boring;
The life of a pirate’s no fun anymore.
No fun anymore, no fun anymore,
It’s only a job, it’s no fun anymore.

It’s always the same all the planning and ambushing:
Pouncing, attacking, and hauling away.
The whoring and boozing and passing out afterwards;
It’s getting monotonous day after day.
Day after day, day after day,
It’s boring as hell fighting day after day.

I’ve got me a plan to go do something different:
Find a good farm and a nice buxom bride,
Raise some tall crops and a lot of fat babies;
Complacency’s one sin that I’ve never tried.
I’ve never tried, I’ve never tried,
Playing good citizen I’ve never tried.

Perry felt ashamed of himself. He had been so intent on rifling through all the spells he knew to impress his companions that he had quite ignored the strength that had won him the opportunity to study the arcane arts in the first place.

At last, he woke up to himself and smelt the coffee…and slipped over to Weslynn and placed his hand atop hers. ‘Fret not,’ he whispered. ‘I see your consternation. Your time will come and your new friends shall have sore need of you. We must all take our time at the tiller on still waters but we know not when the elements will demand our fiercest efforts to keep safe those we care for.’
He left a pressed heartbalm flower he had carried since he left his forest home in Weslynn’s palm.

When he finished singing, Zhanh threw his hat to Lumlas and told her to use it to mop up the spilled blood. She gave him a puzzled look, but did so; the hat absorbed the spilled blood readily, and actually seemed cleaner when she was done than when she had started. She threw the hat back to Zhanh along with another puzzled look.
Perry recognized the poison after a while. It was a subtle form of elvish revenge that turned flesh and muscle to springy green wood–not immediately fatal unless it got to a vital organ.

Edurin wasn’t badly poisoned at all. He had a green spot on his chest about the size of a gold piece, and it felt a little different from the surrounding flesh. It might even be a conversation piece for him in the future. As the hours went by and Borndring didn’t die either, the party began to feel that they had gotten off quite lightly.

About an hour before sunset they came to the town of Huntcenter, a mostly human town carved out of the woods that blanketed both sides of the river here. Blotar had the Nainevver maneuvered up to one of the docks built out into the current and tied up.

“We will be spending the night here,” Blotar announced. “Morben and Dilgnordu, you two have guard duty. Norli, Dannn, Zolt, get those barrels of wine from the hold and come with me to the Big Buck tavern. We have a delivery to make. The rest of you, be back by dawn.”

Weslynn, after finishing her hours long explanation of bards to Mensa, with a slightly dazed expression on her face, headed over to assist Norli, Dannn, and Zolt with moving the barrels of wine from the hold to the tavern. A little piece of normality would be just the thing.
Edurin waved everyone off. The green patch was weird. He’ll have to find out more information. He put his jerkin back on.  Then he got his money pouch back from Weslynn.

Anyway, the boat came to dock and Edurin’s sailing habits kicked in. “Captain, let me and Weslynn help with the barrels.” Edurin wanted a good look at the barrels and this was a fine opportunity to learn how to transport and evaluate wines.

“Where you two going? Gronk hungry and thirsty,” he asked Wulf and Zhanh. Gronk patted Mensa on the head, so the dwarf knew he was being spoken to as well. These three, and the one called Perry, he trusted the most. This time, he wanted to try and keep his friends all together in a group. Much safer for all.

“Yes, let us hope the seals on the barrels are still good, and the hold is properly cool. Otherwise the wine will have degraded, or spoiled entirely.” Weslynn was hoping the Captain would agree, she’d not actually done anything in the way of work on the boat yet, and this was right up her alley.

Perry was keen to stick close to his friends. He asked Wulf if he knew anything about this town. ‘Do you think they will take against elves? I will try to act as human as possible.’
Wulf pulled a bucketful of water up from the cleaner part of the river, and washed off some of the sweat and grime from his skin and hair.

“Friends,” said Wulf. “I will go with you into the village. “I have been a traveler for many years, and know how to behave myself in new towns. I am unfortunately without coin of any kind. I won’t be much use except to advise you and help keep the natives from abusing you if necessary.”

Blotar took Edurin by the arm. “Come with me, my young friend. We must talk.” Then he took a stand on the gangplank. Jakuk had already gone ashore to tie the boat to its anchor point, but everyone else was still on board.

“Pay attention!” shouted Blotar. “I wouldn’t have to say anything if you were all regular crew, but those of you who came aboard with Edurin, and the two I hired back in Khazan yesterday won’t know how things work.”

Norli, Dann, and Zolt continued to manhandle a tun of wine up out of the hold. It weighed as much as any two of them, but the barrel was stout and well banded in iron. The rest of the crew turned to see what the captain was saying.

Mensa wasn’t paying attention. He started to sing, “Marry me . . .” but a crewman frowned at him and said sharply “Shush your mouth, dwarf!”

Shocked by such rudeness, Mensa fell silent.

Weslynn watched as Blotar led Edurin to the gangplank to have a chat, curious as to what he would say, listening intently.
“There are two taverns in this town,” said Blotar. “I usually stay at the Big Buck, which is where I’m delivering the wine. When Shannazan the tavern mistress pays me, and when Edurin here does, I’ll have some coin. Crew that deserves payment come see me there at sunset.’

“I’m hungry,” said Gronk.
“You worked hard on the river, bull-man, but your work was to pay for your passage. Come to the Big Buck, and I will buy you supper.”

Blotar looked at everyone with a bit of a sneer on his heavy features. Then he started pointing “I don’t really have yer names yet, but you have earned supper and a drink–just one–by yer work. Barbarian,” he pointed at Wulf, “dwarf,” he pointed at Mensa, “woman,” he pointed at Weslynn, “elf for saving Borndring,” he pointed at Lumlas, “and you Eddie-boy. You two were basically passengers and owe me for the trip.” He waved loosely at Perry and Zhanh. “You make yer own arrangements for the night, but I wouldn’t advise you to sleep in the streets. Ya can sleep on the boat if ya wish. We leave again at dawn.”

“Get those two barrels ashore and wait for the wagon,” Blotar directed that command at the three who were straining under the weight of one large wooden barrel of wine. “Jakuk, Eddie, and I will go get it.”

The captain turned and headed into town.

Udd pulled Weslynn aside. “If you want to ask about wine, come to the Big Buck and talk to Shannazan,” he told her.

“I will, thank you. I am curious to the vintage, now let me help them get that out of the hold, and ashore.”
Gronk turned to Zhanh and Perry.

“You two stay with Gronk and the rest of us, we figure things out. Nobody alone here in strange town, we stay together. We all go to Big Buck for supper, then maybe sleep on boat. Everybody agree?”

“Sounds good to me, Gronk,” Zhanh said. “It looks like we will be drinking water and eating the house stew tonight, Perry.”
Wulf said “I like this plan. There is strength in numbers, especially with friends. I am happy for a drink and a meal, and I have slept in far worse places than a boat in my days. I recall a certain gaol that I hope never to see again…” He smiled. “Come, Mensa, my pup! Try to stay close. When we get back we will let you sing us all to sleep!”
Mensa didn’t even have to try to think. “Mensa stay with Friend-Wulf and Friend-Gronk.” …then added, “Humans cranky.”
Wulf laughed. “Lucklily you have not seen Gronk or Wulf at their “cranky” worst yet. Come, short warrior, and Elf friends. Let’s go score some ale and a bowl of soup. I am famished!”
Perry thanked his friends for his inclusion. ‘I am inclined to think that the good Captain is not blessed with a good memory – otherwise he might have given me some small credit for deterring those elven bowmen with the ice storm. But it is as it is. Good Zhanh, I can attempt my strawberry meal spell again if there is nothing else for it. I can perhaps offer some service for beds if it comes to that.’

Perry raised his fingers and twisted them adroitly, his face a mask of concentration. He cast Jeeves again, figuring the earlier spell that he had cast just before they left to free those in jail would expire before they returned to the boat. ‘To be without a Jeeves in such circumstances,’ he said to Wulf, ‘would be as you without your ‘star.’

While walking with his friends, Mensa tried braiding his beard using all ten thumbs. The beards he’d seen in the city looked So Cool braided. He tried to remember to look up every so often to make sure his friends hadn’t wandered off…

By this time Wulf had learned not to let Mensa out of his sight, and he nudged Perry and whispered for him to watch their little friend too. If Mensa showed a tendency to walk off on his own, Wulf swiftly, like a good wolf mommy, brought the ‘pup’ back into the sphere of attention, so there would not be another ‘Oh hraka, where did he go now??’ moment again.
“Gronk share his meal with elf-friends. If everyone share a little, there will be enough for all.”

Gronk noticed Mensa walking blindly as he tried to tie knots in his beard. He picked the dwarf up and placed him on his shoulders.

“Dwarf can tie knots in beard up here.”

Mensa suddenly found himself flying into the air, and was now riding on Gronk’s roomy shoulders. He heard an unfamiliar sound, then realized it was himself. He was laughing!

“Thank you to you, Friend-Gronk!
“Human friends live, though green. Good friends like you and Wulf and Bloodsucker Lady and elf-friends. Good life.
“Mensa most happier than ever tonight.”

“Mensa,” Lumlas said, “If you would be willing to wait until we have a bit of piece and quiet, I can probably help you with braiding your beard. Time is often cheap for elves; we learn things like that.”
When the wine was out of the hold, and everyone was standing around waiting for the wagon, Weslynn turned to her two wizard friends who used their magic to save people today, “I am proud of you two, using your powers to heal Edurin and Borndring. My aunt told me that wizards have methods to teach their spells quickly to others. Could I prevail upon you both to teach me the healing magics you know? I would not be so helpless again.”
Perry again felt sad that he did not possess the teacher spell. How good it would be to assist others on their journeys through this life. ‘Perhaps a jack of all trades has no cause to regret being master of none!’ he mused. ‘I am sorry that I cannot help you, Lady. However, these pure elven mages may well put be in the shade and even to shame.’

“I see. My aunt gave me the impression every apprentice was taught such, though of course it may be that I misheard her, or misremember. It has been some time, after all, since she passed. Perhaps you can aid me Lumlas?”

Wulf was himself feeling better about the way things were going. His wolf was back and ready to go. Mensa was happy, Gronk was happy. He was part of a ‘pack’ again. Then he reminded himself that there were still people about that might wish him and his family harm. As they trooped to the Inn for supper and a brew, he made himself stay alert for any perils that might lie in wait to ambush them. Woe to any who dared attack them this time!
Huntcenter was a one-street town carved out of the forest that swept down to the riverbank on both sides of the Khazan River here. It had one main street about twice as wide as a wagon. Houses, shops, and other buildings made from wood crowded together on both sides of the street with narrow alleys between them. Plenty of smoke was coming out of the chimneys. As the travelers walked along behind Blotar, they got a good feeling for river life. Humans were everywhere–most of them seemed to be working. The ringing of a hammer on an anvil was the loudest noise, but the braying of mules, the whickering of horses, the shouts of men and women all contributed to the general din. Children screamed and laughed and dashed around like demented chickens.

As they passed a tavern called Red’s Place, a man came flying out through the door, about seven feet off the ground, and landed with a thud and a cry of pain. A voice bellowed, “And stay out!” The man in the street only groaned, and lay there.

Which might not be a very good plan because Weslynn’s wine wagon was approaching and it certainly looked like it would run right over him.

The Fellowship of the Vine got many a curious look as they walked through Huntcenter. People pointed in awe at the mighty Gronk with a dwarf on his shoulders. They looked curiously at Wulf and Perry. Many of them stepped widely around Zhanh and Lumlas. Some of them frowned and cast angry looks at the elves. Others, particularly women, made a curious sign with their fingers, gripping the middle finger of one hand with the other hand, bending if backwards, then letting it spring forward again.

They usually looked disappointed when neither of the obvious elves responded to their signals.

Weslynn shouted “Hold up!” to the wagon, and then ran forward, doing her best to pull the man out of the path of the wagon as fast as she could.
Gronk was annoyed by the stupid pointing humans, but he was getting used to it.

“Stay close to Gronk, elf-friends.”

“Wulf, Zhanh – Gronk think sleep on boat good idea. Humans no seem to like elf-friends, and too curious about rest of us.”

“Humph!” said Mensa. “Told you humans cranky.” He thought he would accept Lumlas’s offer to learn how to braid his beard, especially as he had all his fingers stuck in knots now and was trying to pry them loose.

Wulf wondered briefly who or what was bouncer in Red’s Place. He kept his own bouncer’s eye on the people around his group, and looked off a couple of more scurrilous individuals that were obviously sizing them up. ‘Not here and not now’ was in his scowl with the promise of a busted head if ignored.

He was happy for the presence of Gronk who alone would tend to discourage all but the stupidest pickpockets from an attempt to rob them. He was hoping the Inn they were headed for was a quiet one. He was worn out from tuggind and pushing on an oar all day.

Lumlas responded to Weslyn’s request for spell teaching with a smile. “I would be happy to teach you any spell I know when we get a quiet moment; I am sure the same goes for Zhanh.”

“Certainly,” Zhanh added. “The question is, are you able to learn them? And I fear that unless you are a trained wizard, you will only have a one use pattern of the spell in your mind, which will fade once the spell is cast.”

Later, as they walked, Lumlas and Zhanh both noticed the odd gestures that some of the women seemed to be making. “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” Lumlas asked Zhanh quietly.

Zhanh shook his head. “No, but I have a feeling that there is some kind of black market in magic or maybe herbal remedies. We could always ask, carefully. And you are better at being charming than I am.”

Lumlas chuckled at that. The next time they saw the gesture from a woman who was not too near anyone else, Lumlas approached her. “You made this gesture,” she said, repeating the sign. “We are not from around here, and do not understand. What does it mean? Are you asking for something?”

Zhanh watched alertly, ready to react if something went wrong.

“Thank you Lumlas and Zanh. I appreciate your offer to help me out. When we get that quiet moment I will tell you my aunt’s tale, and you’ll see why this occurs to me now to ask.”
Weslynn scurried ahead of the wagon, gripped the fallen man by the shoulders, and dragged him to the side of the street. He let out a cry of pain as she grabbed him, and then passed out. There was no doubt that he was seriously hurt. And seriously drunk. His breath practically knocked Weslynn over when she put her head to close to his while moving him. Though she could easily have picked him up and carried him, she did not think that would look right for a woman of her size and apparent strength. She left him on the porch of someone’s house across from Red’s Place.
When Lumlas approached the woman who made the gesture, the human turned pale, and started to run. A hunter with bow in hand several yards further up the street noticed, and plucked an arrow from his quiver and set it to bowsting.

“Hey, you! Elf! Leave that woman alone, or I swear I’ll skewer you!” He lifted the bow and half drew the arrow.

“Sir,” Weslynn looked at the man she had dragged to the porch. “How badly are you hurt? Do you require a healer?” She looks for obvious injuries – broken bones, bleeding, and the like. She also tried to reach out her vampiric senses and see if they could help her assess his level of health.
Gronk grabbed Lumlas by the collar and dragged the elf to his side, roughly.

“Not happen again, sir,” he called to the hunter.

He looked at Lumlas with fire in his eyes. “I told you stay near Gronk, humans afraid of elf-friends. Want whole village to stick us with arrows?”

Perry took in the scene of more hostility towards elves. He moved closer to Gronk. Then he instructed Jeeves to go up to the man, ready to nudge his arm if he did not unstring the arrow. When (assuming) the man relaxed and stood quiet, the Jeeves carried out his second instruction and firmly but briefly squeezed the man’s testicles and then withdrew. Perry made sure he did not look at the man.
Wulf, his keen senses and experience noting the atmosphere of growing antipathy towards his friends, did his best to encourage them to hurry on to the tavern where food and drink awaited them. He did his best to project a no nonsense image to any who were looking like they might want to start something. He reserved his ‘growl and a scowl’ for any who looked stupid enough to actually take some kind of action.
Lumlas growled at Zhanh. “Any more bright ideas?”

Zhanh shook his head. “Except maybe to stay as far away from the locals as we can, no.”

Mensa whispered to Gronk (easily) and Wulf (required leaning out from Gronk’s shoulders). “Maybe Mensa should hit humans onna head with shovel?”

Gronk whispered back, “Not now, my friend, no shovel now.”
Mensa grumbled, but behaved. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
“Peace, my friend,” said Wulf softly. He showed his big right fist with the knuckleduster on it to Mensa and Gronk. “If anyone needs hitting, Wulf is ready and willing to do it. Come Elf friends. Let us suffer fools gladly and hie on to the Inn. I think I can smell the food already, in spite of this cess pool of a street here. I will take the point, and woe to any who try to give offense to Gronk from behind. Being kicked by a Minotaur is a very bad moment indeed!”
Perry winked at Wulf and asked him if he’d seen how the bowman was faring. ‘I wonder if he is entirely comfortable – just a thought!’

Weslynn was looking forward to a night with her companions, and certainly agreed with the idea of sticking togather and sleeping on the ship. But before she could do that, she needed to make sure this man she drug off was not dying. She had enough on her conscience already…

Perry whispered to Weslynn ‘If he’s drunk and thrown out of the tavern perhaps he’s not a good man. I could put him under my control and get him to come back to the boat with us. He could do some rowing and be a sort of emergency snack for you…better him than one of us and I’m beginning to take a hard view on some humans in these towns and cities.’
She whispered back to Perry, “Aye being thrown out of a tavern isn’t a good sign. I don’t want to start trouble with the locals though, if he’s going to be missed. Though perhaps he could be ‘convinced’ to help if there’s going to be trouble here.” Weslynn’s tone conveys her lack of respect for the sort that brawls in taverns excessively.

‘Maybe if we ask the Captain and tell him we can guarantee the man’s good conduct and usefulness…he might be the judge of whether or not this violent, drunken bully (it I read him aright) will be missed in this sort of town,’
With that, Perry looked for the Captain with the intention of asking him if he would accept another rower if they all vouched for his behaviour, the wizards offering their skills to underwrite this promise. He had no intention of straying from his friends if the Captain was not close by.

“Perry,” Zhanh said quietly, “I get the impression that, since your spells come to you naturally, and without study, you have never had a course in the ethics of Wizardry.” He chuckled. “Of course, long lectures on the evils of slavery didn’t stop my master from treating ME like a slave…”

Lumlas looked at the fallen drunkard. “Does he NEED healing, Weslyn? I am sure I could help a bit.”

The hunter started to relax and put his arrow back in its quiver when he saw the elves back off and leave the woman unharmed. Then he felt invisible fingers grip his bollocks and apply pressure, this despite the fact this his leather breeches protected him well from the intrusions of the forest. It startled him so much that he dropped his bow. Was this elvish magic at work? The elves were uncanny and strange. Meddling with them always brought disaster . . . for somebody. When the uncomfortable feeling faded, he picked up his weapon and walked rapidly over to Red’s Place and went inside.
The wine wagon rolled on past Weslynn and the drunk she had rescued. Despite her attempts to be helpful, the riverboat crew didn’t really seem to like her much. They weren’t overtly rude, but they took every chance to leave her behind and out of what they were doing. Perhaps they were afraid that the captain would give her some of their money.

The man was unconscious. Her questions fell on deaf ears.

Lumlas came over and offered to help. It was obvious to the elfin healer that this man was badly injured.

The main group of walking boatmen, including Wulf, Gronk, Mensa, and Perry left Weslynn and the elves behind. They found themselves approaching a large sprawling building at the end of the street. There were hitching posts in front of it with a couple of mules tied to them. A lot of gray smoke came out of two chimneys at opposite ends of the roof. A stuffed figure of a 12-point buck stood near the front door, which was both wide and wide open. Fiddle music cackled inside, brisk, foot-stomping music.

Blotar and Jakuk and Edurin stopped for a moment in the doorway. A really large hand blocked their path. The captain put a coin into it, and the obstacle vanished. The three men strolled into the tavern.

As they vanished into the darkness, the sailors outside could see that the door guard was an ogre. Udd said, “Anyone with a gold piece to tip the door guard can go inside. I’ll just wait out here till the captain comes back.”

Two boatmen, Brundle and Sammik stepped up to the door, offered a coin, and were issued inside.

“Lumlas, I believe he does indeed require healing. Alas, I have done all I can for him.” Weslynn looks at her hands, as if they are insufficient. “I see they’ve gone on and left us behind. How kind of them. At least this time they didn’t ‘accidentally’ drop anything on me. That boat hook scuffed my good boot.”
Perry asked Gronk and Wulf if they wanted to go in or go back to Zhahn and then the boat. He wasn’t very keen on a place that need an ogre as a doorman and he told them so.
“Gronk no like elf-friends alone. We should find them.”
Wulf rolled his eyes in frustration, and growled. “You are tall,” he said. “Put Mensa down here, and lift me up to see if I can see them. Mensa, please stay close to Gronk here. Don’t wander off.”

Lumlas decides to try to heal the drunk for five points of damage. (Level 2 saving throw, 23 INT plus roll of 6,2, total 31, made. Ten points of kremm spent.)

Perry said to Mensa ‘I think we shall sleep on the boat tonight. Have you ever done that before? Let’s stick close to the big friends!’

MEANWHILE, as Mensa hopped down from Gronk, he pointed: “I saw them. Thattaway.”

“Good on you, Mensa,” exclaimed Wulf. “Come, Gronk. Let’s go fetch our comrades. Mensa, stay close to Gronk and Wulf!” He set off briskly in the direction Mensa indicated.

Mensa examined himself. How had he gotten good on himself?

Zhanh stayed close to Lumlas, but kept his head up and looked around nervously. Hadn’t he just suggested that they stay away from the locals?

Lumlas touched the drunk and poured her energy into healing him. The pallor left his face, and he stopped moaning, Then he opened his eyes and looked up into her lovely elvish face.

“Aaaaaaahhhhh!” he screamed in surprise. He rolled over and scrabbled away from her on all fours.

Wulf, Gronk, Mensa, and Perry came walking back down the street and joined them.

“Blotar promised us a meal at the inn,” said Weslynn, “and I don’t think Edurin will let him forget it. We need to get back to the Big Buck.”

Mensa responded to the drunk’s actions with a snort of disgust. “Humans cranky AND crazy. Yes, would druther sleep on boat than near them!”

“Why elf-friends no listen? Gronk say stay close, leave villagers alone, and twice you don’t! Do elf-friends want to make villagers angry? Do elf-friends want to make Gronk angry?”

He snorted at Lumlas and Zhanh, and cast a nasty look at Weslynn.

“Bloodsucker stop putting friends at risk over drunk strangers in the street.”

‘What are we going to do about food?’ Perry asked them all. His stomach was rumbling. ‘Can we buy something without having to go into that tavern or do you want me to create food for you on the boat?’ Then he remembered Edurin. ‘Do you think Edurin will be safe with Captain Blotar? If you do, perhaps we can go into the other tavern and all stick tight together while we eat and then go back to the boat to sleep. Wulf ought to be able to put an order for food in at the bar without getting into trouble. After all, he doesn’t have the curse of elf blood.’ Perry frowned and clasped his hands together in an effort to stay calm.

“Would you have him be run over by the wagon, Gronk? You all were strangers two days ago, too.”

Weslynn walks over to Gronk and looks up at his eyes. “I have treated you all with basic respect, regardless of your origin, race, profession, or blood curses, save for the incident with Wulf, which I admitted to when I was able.”

She then takes a step forward, staring intently up at Gronk, focused on him alone, so their chests are almost touching. She makes her final points, punctuating them with firm taps on his chest as she does so.

“Letting the wagon run the sot over would have certainly gotten us into the local jail. Keep in mind, should I have hauled him out of the road, and walked off, and he died, I or we all could well have been blamed. Outsiders often are. I am not looking to cause trouble here in this new town. .”

“Now let us stay together and catch up to the captain & crew.”
She turned, gathered everyone’s gaze with her own, and moved towards the Captain’s choice of tavern.

Gronk seethed. He grabbed Weslynn by the arm and swung her back into his gaze.

“Yes, we all strangers two days ago, and I rowing up river for a few barrels wine, risking everything for you, because Wulf is my friend for long time, not two days, fight many battles together. I here for Wulf first, not you or any of the others, and you attack my friend and drink his blood. Gronk smell it in the cages. You only alive still because Wulf wants it. Dwarf and elfs my friends now, too. Next time, let wagon hit filthy human, not your wagon, not your human, not your problem. You put Gronk or friends at risk again for nothing, you answer to Gronk!” He snorted fiercely as he emphasized his name, and visibly squeezed the hilt of his axe. He then addressed all.

“Now we go back to find Edurin and Captain, eat our meal, and sleep on boat. Anybody not agree?”

Mensa finally got ALL his fingers untangled from his beard-knots. He absent-mindedly looked up at Gronk, asking “Did I miss anything?”
Gronk looked down at Mensa.

“Nothing important, little friend. We go find Edurin and get food.”

Mensa smiled, even to Cranky Lady. Not long ago, he was all alone, not knowing who or what he was. Now, he had good friends and actual adventures. He’d learned that humans were dumb or cranky, and alternated between the two.

“All in all,” he said to Friend-Gronk, “it’s been a good day.”

Zhanh caught Gronk’s eyes and threw up his hands. “Don’t look at me, Gronk; I was just following a girl.”

Lumlas scowled at Zhanh, and then said, “Fine. I was following Weslyn. And it is very hard for me to walk away from someone in pain. Though I doubt I will do it again for anyone in this village.”

Zhanh said, “Perry, all of the others, except you and I, have a meal and a drink waiting for them at the tavern. Perhaps the two of us should have stayed on the boat, and let your magic feed us, but we are in the middle of the town, now. At worst, we can eat conjured food and drink water once we are ALL back on the boat.”

“Gronk willing to share with friends. If all share, there will be enough for all to eat.”
‘I’ll come with you all, of course I will. Thank you Zhanh, thank you Gronk. If they are as vile as the people in Khazan I hope we can have another Hiding Hole and then I shall be happy to watch you all break bones and smash heads. One day, I shall invite you all to my forest home and we shall relax and tell great stories together. But for now we must make those great stories and all live to tell them.’ He gave his little bow once more and almost felt alliterative again.
Wulf said, “Come now, my brothers and sisters! Mensa and I will take the lead. Stay by Wulf, Mensa. Point is a place of honor, and important. Weslynn and others behind us, and Gronk I trust to guard our backs. To the Inn and the Ogre bouncer, and, hopefully, something to eat and drink. I am hungry enough to eat the furschluginna ogre if he won’t let us in!”

“Gronk, how is committing murder on a drunk local watching Wulf’s back?”

Weslynn looked up at the minotaur. “If all you will do is wave your axe around instead of thinking, then perhaps I can do without your aid.”

“Gronk no say murder, Gronk say no get involved. You no want Gronk here? No problem, Gronk can go. Gronk think this all stupid idea anyway, we all going to get killed for stupid wine! Wulf! Mensa! Bloodsucker want Gronk to go, what say you? We go or we stay?”
“I just want you to think, if you can, instead of running around like an angry bull. Your impulses are as dangerous to the group as my problem earlier. Can’t you see what a bad idea running that man down was? Or do you know, and are you just campaigning against *anything* I do because of what I did to Wulf?”
Perry checked his memory…had he really cast Firestorm of Protest over the group? What a dumb ass he was! He’d have to work hard on the Pipes Of Peace spell he’d been thinking would be a better bet since he first began practicing the conjuror’s arts.
Mensa clopped between Weslynn and Gronk. “Cranky Lady leave Friend-Gronk be!”

Wulf rolled his eyes in frustration, and turned on the group. “Stop all this bickering,” he growled. “Gronk! You are a tower of strength to us here. Weslynn! We are committed to helping you. Why are we snarling and nipping at each other? We are in an unfriendly place surrounded by hostile people, and we make enemies of each other here? Get your heads and hearts together. Once we are fed, and have had a brew we will all feel better, and can argue then. On, to the Inn!” And he tried to herd this bag full of wildcats up the street to their destination.

At the seeming insult of being called an unthinking angry bull, Gronk snorted and growled.

“Bloodsucker need to back off, Gronk losing patience fast. You only one worried about human, men driving cart are eating food and drinking with Edurin and Captain right now! Gronk finished talking, if Wulf want Gronk to stay Gronk stays, or Gronk leaving!”

Gronk wanted to chop the bloodsucker in half, and just might have if Mensa hadn’t stepped between them.

Weslynn sighed, and turned her back on Gronk again, heading towards the tavern. “Wulf, can you talk some sense into Gronk for me?”

Edurin paid the ogre the gold coin tip and followed Captain Blotar. He quietly joined the Captain and kept eye over the establishment, “Captain, we can tally the total owed after your business concludes. Your help has been greatly appreciated. Is this the farthest up stream you go?”

Lumlas caught Gronk’s eye and smiled her best smile. “*I* want you to stay, Gronk. I’m sorry if what I did upset you.”

Zhanh nodded. “We need you, Gronk. At least I think so. Our chances of surviving this mission are much higher if you are with us,”

Gronk smiled at the elves.

“Gronk stay with friends.”

Chapter 4: Part 2: Jail Break   Leave a comment

Meanwhile, inside the Dog’s Bone Watch Station . . .

Wulf was still sleep befuddled. He smelled his blood and saw some of it on Weslynn’s lips. He became aware again that he was shackled and roped up securely. And then he was once again distracted from the small wounds on his thigh by the street door coming open, and turned his attention to see who or what was coming in.

Weslynn twitched as she was flung in surprise from Wulf. She had not thought to grip him securely in his stupor. Scrambling up from the floor, she glared at Wulf, not really noticing anything else. She blurred across the dark cell, in an blink Weslynn had him slammed up against the wall, chains rattling, his body lifted an inch off the floor, the chains binding him held in her hands, pushed against the wall on either side of his chest. She stared at him, glanced at his throat, bent close, and whispered, “I need you. Your blood. Your strength. I am sorry.”

She bent her head, kissed him, and then trailed her mouth down to his throat, pulled back slightly, opened her mouth, baring her fangs on his skin to bite.

Then she paused, on the verge of biting again, comprehension finally penetrating her daze of lust and thirst.

“Mensa? Where are you?” She released Wulf abruptly, the bound man falling to the floor, as she spun around in utter shock to stare out of the cell and look for Mensa, to see the door opening to the street, reflexively wiping her bloody mouth on a handful of the dirty blanket still tangled around her as she did so.

Wulf could feel his Wolf pacing inside him, very alert now, and not at all pleased to have been ‘nipped’. He felt pretty fragile as far as his ability to stop the beast from ripping off Weslynn’s face if she looked like she is going to bite him again.
“Weslynn,” he said softly, ” See if you can get these furshluginna ropes off of me. I think I have about had my fill of being restrained. The next person who insults me is going to be really sorry.”

When the door opened, Mensa had immediately walked towards it, urging his next-door neighbors to come. And walked right into the bars of his cell door. “Forgot about those,” he murmered, rubbing his nose.

After rubbing his nose, Mensa looked to see why Wulf and Lady Wrestler weren’t interested in the door opening. Looking closer, he saw that Wulf was tied up or something.  He wondered if he could reach Wulf’s ropes through the bars. Trying, he found he couldn’t – not by a yard or two. (Mensa wished he knew what a “yard” was.)

“Why Lady not untie you, Wulf?”

“I feared him getting free, Mensa, and hurting me or himself. But now that he has recovered himself, aye, it is time to remove the ropes. Little I can do about the chains, though.”

Mensa snorted. “Chains – HAH! Pfui!” He looked to see if he had any of his tools or weapons.
Then, concerned that Wulf hadn’t spoken: “Wulf? You OK?”

Mensa grunted and pulled at the chains. He wondered if he could bite them apart, as he’d done with ropes in the past?

“Mensa, use your hands and your shoulders. You’ll break your teeth, trying to gnaw them.”

Weslynn strained, pulling with her most of her strength, trying not to reveal exactly how unnaturally strong she has become.

“Mensa got strong teeth,” the red-haired dwarf grumbled, but he continued using his hands to snap apart the chains. “How did we get here?” he asked.

“You guys got in a fight on the street. Either you were knocked out by your assailants, or the guard did so bringing you in. They used some sort of drug or sorcery to knock Wulf out for most of the night.” Weslynn explained what she knew to the dwarf.

Mensa looked to see if he had his standard tools, which he carried in his pack, but no, the pack was stacked against the wall near a weapons rack on the other side of the room. He did, however have a nail that he had picked up and put in a pocket.

Weslynn saw that Wulf was fully awake. She needed more blood, but this didn’t look like a very good time to get it. The right thing to do would be to untie the wolfman. That wouldn’t be easy. The rope was twined and knotted in such a way that there was very little slack. The main knot was on Wulf’s back, down low near his hips. The guards in Khazan certainly knew how to immobilize a prisoner.

It took a few minutes, but with Wulf alternately straining with all his might, and then relaxing, she managed to get a little slack, and once she had that the knot was quickly undone. She unwrapped the Wulf until the only thing restraining him was a heavy manacle clamped across both writsts. In the process she gained about 20 feet of sturdy hempen rope.

As soon as the ropes were removed, Wulf growled to Mensa to help him with the chains. “Don’t be afraid,” he told Weslynn and his Dwarf friend. “I am in control right now, and I need my Wolf to help me get unshackled”. Hair sprang from Wulf’s skin, and his head morphed suddenly into the head of a huge brown wolf. Dwarf and Wolf then applied all their strength against the restraints that held the Wolfman, who growled savagely with the effort.

Weslynn added her strength to the chain breaking effort, trying to act normally.

Strain as they might, they could not break the shackles on Wulf’s arms.

Mensa pulled the nail out of his pocket and looked at it. His eyes lit up. “Wulf friend come over where Mensa can reach him,” he called out “Mensa can break chain.”

Wulf shrugged the wolf back into its cage, and took on his human form
again, keeping his eyes on the watch station door. He waited anxiously for Mensa to pick the locks of his bonds.

Wulf backed up to the bars of Mensa’s cell. Mensa clutched the nail in one fist then put his other hand under Wulf’s shackled wrists to steady them. “What are you . . .?” Wulf started to ask, when he suddenly felt a tremendous blow, not on his flesh, but in the center of the lock on the shackles. There was a kind of a popping, grating noise as the steel nail punched through the iron links of the heavy locking mechanism, and broke them. Mensa gripped Wulf’s arms, one in each hand and twisted in opposite directions, and the iron broke and fell away. Wulf felt like someone had tried to wrestle him to the ground, and failed, and his wrists ached a bit where the iron bit into them before falling off, but he brought both arms in front of his body for the first time in the last half day.

Mensa let out a crow of delight. “Friend Wulf not chained any more. We leave this place now.”

“What are you prisoners doing?” said the watch corporal who just walked into the room.  It had been he who came in through the door from the street, having stepped out about half an hour earlier when everyone was sleeping.  Weslynn hadn’t been asleep, but she wasn’t paying much attention to Margtan the guard.

“Good work, Mensa, I am impressed at your skill and strength, breaking the lock with the iron nail like that.” Weslynn nods to the dwarf.

Mensa replied to the guard, “Freeing Wulf-friend, o’course.”

Weslynn looked at the guard, from the darkest corner of the cell, hoping he would not notice anything amiss about her.

Mensa had to wonder if the guard was blind or just dumb. Couldn’t he SEE what they were doing?

Wulf bent and pulled up his trousers and fastened them about his waist. “A gentleman would not inquire into what was going on here,” he growled. “Would it trouble you to help me remove these broken shackles from my wrists. I had no idea your budgets were so stingy as to make you use this inferior equipment and weak restraints. Do not be concerned,” he added, seeing the corporal’s suspicious mien. “See. I am my poor weak human self again. The wolf has gone to bed.”

Wulf used his skilled bouncer’s eye to evaluate the Uruk guard.  He whispered to Weslynn to pretend he was attacking her if that occurred and to help him grab the guard if the Uruk got close to the cell door. “Bite the b@st@rd if you have to,” he whispered.

The uruk backed away from Wulf’s cell. If the prisoner could break iron shackles, there was no telling what else he could do. Although he had strict orders never to disturb the captain between midnight and dawn, this might be the exception to the rule. He rushed through the outer office and pounded on the door to the captain’s office. When he tried to open it and walk through, he found it locked. Of course the Captain wouldn’t want anyone to walk in on him when he was snoring away drunk. Margtan the guard pounded harder and started to shout, “Wake up, Captain!”

“Hraka” said Wulf, heatedly. “Crom curse these b@st@rds! Well, make them come in after us. I’m pretty dangerous in a small area like this where you can’t effectively use a big weapon. If I can’t find my knuckledusters, I have this chain and the broken shackles to use. If they do come in, pretend to rush to one of them for ‘help’, and then knee him hard in the groin, while I give them a lesson in hand to hand mayhem! Unbutton your blouse. It will look like I ripped it open when I pretend to be raping you.  Mensa! If one of the bad Gobbles falls close to your bars, grab his head and bang it repeatedly against the iron bars. But you can stop when he quits moving.”

Weslynn, in her shadowy corner of the cell, ripped her blouse open.

Wulf watched for the guard’s response and waited to see who was coming and how they were reacting. He was also a little curious to know why the watch stations door was standing open. “Don’t be afraid, Weslynn,” he whispered. “I will do my best not to hurt you, but I must look convincing to draw them into the cell.” He grabbed the young woman with his left hand around her waist and pulled her hips tight against his. He moved them into the darker part of the cell where it would be hard to see exactly what was going on, and was practically guaranteed to look really bad! “If they come, cry ‘Rape! Rape! Oh Help Me!’ ” said Wulf going thru some convincing motions.

Mensa tried to remember everything Wulf had said. But why was Wulf now attacking Weslynn? He moved towards that end of his cell to get a better look, to make sure no one got hurt.

Weslynn struggled under Wulf’s hands, doing her best not to actually break free, but make it look convincing.
“Hey! Let me go! HELP! YOU BEAST! ” She cried loudly as she could, muffled slightly by his lips against hers, beating at his back with her hands.

Wulf and Weslynn were putting on quite a show, all for the benefit of the lone urukish guard currently in the building. Wulf should have known better. Uruks loved rough sex–it was practically the only kind they ever got.

The guard was more concerned that Wulf was no longer tied up and chained. He wouldn’t have opened that cell if the building were on fire–at least not without direct orders from the captain. Wulf must have been spending too much time with humans, or perhaps reading romance novels if he thought that trick would fool anyone.

Weslynn screamed, Wulf growled, Mensa said “what, what?”

Finally the captain’s door opened. It seemed to take forever, though only two or three minutes had elapsed since Margtan the guard started beating on it.

“Wha’s going on?” slurred Bohgus.

Margtan looked back at the cell. It looked like the wolfman was either attacking or perhaps raping the woman in the cell with him. “Sir, the wolfman is attacking the woman.” he said.

Bohgus was coming to life. “Really, how did he get free?”

“Um the woman and the dwarf must have freed him.”

“Then it serves her right,” snarled Bohgus. “She’ll be sorry she ever threatened me.”

“But, sir!” protested the guard.

“Oh, very well! Get a crossbow. If it looks like he’s killing her, you can shoot him. Under no circumstances are you to open that cell door until we have a wizard and more guards here just in case.”

Whether it was cowardice or cunning, Bohgus was a master of avoiding situations that might put his life in danger.

Mensa turned to the human and the uruk. “What you said? Can’t hear you good. Speak up!”

Wulf realized his plan was futile, a complete fiasco now. He sighed, and stepped away from Weslynn. “Do not concern yourself for the lady,” he said. “She was never in danger. I sought to draw you into the cell so I could attempt an escape. It was a ruse. But chivalry is apparently dead here in Khazan. Go back to your bed and your bottle.” He turned to Weslynn: “Dear lady, forgive me. I have made a complete ass of myself here, and beg you not to judge me too harshly. I will make no more trouble for any here tonight.” He sat down against the wall, sighed again, and closed his eyes. “Let whatever comes, come then, and be damned!”

Weslynn sat beside Wulf, again on the most shadowy side, leaning against him, sitting back, watching the outside area, and Mensa in the next cell.

She shifted till her lips were as close as she could get them, and whispered softly, for Wulf alone, “I am sorry to have failed convincing them to free you. I lost my temper and ended up joining you. I am also sorry for my feeding without permission. I am thirsty, and was afraid if I waited too long I would lose control and gorge myself on all. I am…new at this. Still, I fed but little on you, my hunger was not sated, my strength is not what I feel it could be…I am rapidly approaching where I was before… I don’t think I’ll be in control properly until I do.”

She gestured to the area beyond her cell. “If it comes to breaking out, it will be easier if I am stronger, not…dehydrated, no?”

Wulf took up the cell’s tattered blanket and covered Weslynn’s and his head and shoulders. He offered his neck. “What I give, I give here feely.” he whispered. “At least this will be one thing I have done today that does not give me shame. It is what I deserve for my failures. If I die, do not let them have my body, or burn it. My kind are hard to keep down.”

Weslynn kissed Wulf on his neck, then she licked it lightly, savoring it’s flavor, and then whispered, “I accept your offer. But bare your leg again, I do not wish to leave wounds that are indiscreet…”

Wulf sighed, and pulled up the pants leg of his trousers above the knee.
He gave the blanket to Weslynn, and lay back against the wall.

“Weslynn covered herself with the blanket, and whispered to Wulf, “Watch that we are unobserved by the guards, and keep Mensa calm…”

She paused then, and looked at him again, “Should I draw too much, you feel your life threatened, or should the guard return, stop me.”

With those words, she found the earlier bite marks, largely healed by Wulf’s curse…and resumed her feeding.

She bit down, hard, grasping onto Wulf’s legs with all her strength as she did so, drawing fiercely upon his body’s reservoir of life. She drank her fill, till her weakness and incompleteness were gone. Sshe could feel Wulf’s blood as a part of her, as his soul would be now, linked to her by the kremm within.

She tried to keep a watch for the edge of no return as the beast within her was satisfied, and her transformation completed, the point where her feeding would endanger her host. She could only hope that she would stop herself, or Wulf…or Wolf would stop her.

Mensa had something of an idea, but stinky human and big gobble were still watching Wulf and Weslyn. Was that gobble whistling?

Driven by her desperate need of blood, Weslynn fed on the acquiescent Wulf. Mensa sat back down on his cot, saying, “Friends should not bite friends.”

The blood in her mouth was thrilling, but it soon began to lose its tang–becoming bitter and sour to her taste. After taking about a quart, the taste had changed to repulsive, and she stopped. Her stomach was full; her eyes glazed over with satisfaction, her face smeared with blood.

Weslynn’s mind was now preternaturally clear. As she withdrew her face from Wulf’s thigh, she noted that his blood continued to flow. This could not be good for him. She tore off a piece from the bottom of her blouse and improvised a bandage which she applied and knotted tightly around his leg. Blood soaked the bandage in an instant, but then began to clot and after a few seconds the wound quit bleeding. That didn’t mean there wasn’t a mess, and a small pool of coagulating blood on the floor of the cell.

After the first sharp pang of her teeth penetrating his flesh, Wulf found a strange lassitude overcoming him. Within seconds it all began to seem like a dream to him. He closed his eyes and sank into lethargy. A warm, happy feeling rose up in him. He lost the power to think, and submerged into a dream-like pleasure.

Captain Bohguss had gone back into his office, but Guardsman Margtan was in the same room with the prisoners. He lit an oil lamp and built up the flame to produce as much light as possible. Thus he saw most of what Weslynn and Wulf did. The cell wasn’t very deep, and the blanket was little more than a rag. He could see the blood that spilled on the floor, and he could smell it with his keen uruk senses. He saw Wulf sink into lethargy, saw Weslynn raise her bloody face and then improvise a tourniquet. His eyes grew wide as he tried to understand why she was biting him, and why he allowed it. He hated to disturb the Captain again, so he got his crossbow ready, cocked it, and left it lying on top of his desk.

Weslynn, noticing the guard watching, “Your punishment for beating me around like a whore for your amusement. Let’s see if some time bleeding out on the floor doesn’t calm your stupid raging man-beast!” Weslynn spat, trying to mislead the guard as to what was going on.

Mensa was already angry with Weslynn for biting Wulf, and wouldn’t have stood for it, had not Wulf acquiesced. “What is you talking about, Lady? Wulf not hurt you!”

Wulf dreamed of his childhood, his sweet mother, and stern, but loving father and uncles. He dreamed of hunting in the great forest and fishing in the streams, and playing with his friends. And then, there came pain, a bat was biting him on the leg, but in the strange paralysis of nightmares, he could not move to defend himself or drive it away. Somewhere on a distant mountain a wolf howled in sorrow and pain. And then came blessed darkness and silence…

Mensa wished the gobble guard would go to sleep. Oddly enough, the little dwarf wasn’t the least bit tired.

Margtan the guard decided that the Captain needed to know about what was happening in the cell. He quickly walked over to the Captain’s door and pounded on it.

Out in the street the group heard an uruk voice shouting, “Captain, come out. “The woman is eating the man!”

The pounding on the door and the shouting uruk woke Wulf up. He hadn’t been very deeply asleep. Weslynn was just pulling his pants back up to cover the bite. She had a bit of a glazed look in her eyes.

Wolf, confused as to where he was, stood up. Weslynn noticed some subtle changes in his appearance: He had more and coarser hair, he was a little bigger than before, and he had a wolf’s eyes. So far he still looked human and was recognizable as Wulf. He looked atound, and said in a gravelly voice: “Where…?? What…??” He looked at Weslynn, and sniffs. “Blood…?! My blood…??” He shook himself and went to the cell door to see better what was going on in the station. Absentmindedly he wrapped the chain from the shackles around his left fist, and took the two shackles on his right fist like a knuckleduster. Weslynn sensed that this was no longer the Wulf she knew and fed on. This guy was definitely dangerous, and he meant business. Where Wulf would have talked and reasoned, Wolf would act, and, if he was confronted, there would be bad consequences. Wolf took hold of the cell door bars and tested their strength. He growled when they proved sturdy.

Gronk smelled blood inside the building. He could also smell Mensa, who was clearly upset about something, and Weslynn who seemed almost happy. But the blood odor was mixed with Weslynn’s spoor.

Weslynn wiped her mouth on Wulf’s already blood covered clothes, and then hugged him impulsively. “Thank you, Wulf. You’re a good man, so is your Wolf.”

She then turned and looked out at the guard and Mensa, taking stock of the situation, now that she had, at last, a clear head.

Mensa was shocked! First she hurt Wulf, then she hugged Wulf!?! Wha -?? “Shut up, gobble!” he growled at the guard. “Can’t hear Wessle!”

Gronk let out a snort.

“Something wrong, something smells wrong. Gronk smell blood. Must save Wulf and dwarf,” he said to the group. “Gronk no trust Weslynn, something smell wrong.”

He tightened his grip on his axe, and snorted again.

“Something very wrong.”

Wolf started briefly as Weslynn grabbed him in her impulsive hug. Wolves hate to have their personal space invaded, and she was lucky to escape a warning ‘nip’ in response. She felt him go tense, and noticed his eyes and eyebrows looked different. He smelled different too. His look said: careful there! I am not your dog! When she backed away, he turned and tested the air. Was that Gronk he smelled! His grip tightened on his shackles and the chain around his fist. If only that guard would come close enough. Wolf longed to break his sternum from top to bottom, to teach him not to threaten tied up prisoners in the future.

Hearing Wulf snuffling the air oddly, she turned and looked at him, closely, nothing the return of his strangeness, his monster coming to the fore.

“Wulf! Calm yourself, this is not the time. If you are the Wolf, they will never let you out, or they’ll shoot you with a damn crossbow.” Weslynn whispered urgently into his ear. “Calm yourself, let your Wulf out, this is not the time for claws. This is the time for reason.” She stood in front of him, unafraid, forcing him to look her in the eyes as she did her best to calm the beast within him.

Mensa smelled a familiar scent. “Dad?”

Wolf, pressed up against the bars, was still sniffing the air and trying to catch the other scents that he recognized. As Weslynn conntinued to pester him, he gave her a sideways glance and a warning growl.

Weslynn signed, and grabbed Wulf-Wolf’s head, forcing him with all her speed and strength to look her in the eyes, reaching out with her charisma, and her mind to their new bond, sending waves of calming authority along the kremm-blood bond, to where she could feel the anger and fury of the Wolf building. “WULF! Wake up! Now is not the time for your Wolf. Now is the time for reason, not fangs! Obey me, wake up, before our mistakes makes this night any worse!”

Zhanh’s first thought was that a jailbreak was already in progress, and that it was going badly. But the front door was open! “Huddle up!” he hissed. “Get as close together as possible.” Once they had done so, he said, “I don’t think there is time for finesse. Lumlas can cast a Hidey Hole on all of us, and then we go through the door and see what is going on. We will be able to see each other, but no one else will be able to see us, I will work on opening any locks that are in our way. If… When we get our friends free, I will call for another huddle, and Lumlas will cast another Hidey Hole, and we will get out and head for the river dock. Gronk, grab Mensa and make sure he comes along; carry him if he gets stubborn. Perry, you are in charge of making Wulf understand and come along; Edurin, you do the same for Weslynn. Try not to kill any guards, but we need to get in and out FAST. Ready?”

Perry shuffled up to Lumlas. ‘Sure, Zhanh. You can count on me. If anyone hears me yell ‘Firestorm’, look to see where I’m pointing and make sure you’re 20′ away from me on the other side. I hope I’m not going to have to use it but you sure don’t want to be caught up in it if I do! I’ll give you 3 seconds after I shout the warning.’ Then Perry began to fret about the responsibility of making Wulf be calm – he could imagine a raging beast rather than a compliant and grateful rescued person.

“Gronk will grab Dwarf-friend.”

Lumlas cast the Hidey Hole and said, “Spell’s done; time to go,” and turned toward the door.

Edurin nodded acknowledging the Minotaur’s request. He checked his pack one last time. Everything was tied down tight. Nothing to rattle or jingle. He pointed to the side of the door, then to himself, and back to the door. A silent message to indicate he would post at the exit to handle the retreat.

Captain Bohgus had a foldable cot inside his office–normally stashed out of the way, but used at night when he rested while he should have been working. He was sprawled on it with a bottle of whiskey in his hand when the sargent started pounding on his door again.

Reluctantly, he put the bottle down and staggered to the door. Margtan was babbling something about the woman eating the male prisoner and blood. He pushed the door open . . .

. . . just as the door to street was pushed open. Did he hear footsteps? Something like hooves on the wooden floorboards. Hooves? Didn’t he see a minotaur earlier?

Bohgus wasn’t smart. He wasn’t brave. He did have a knack for staying alive. He grabbed Margtan, who was just turning to face the street door and jerked his uruk sargent back into his office. Then he slammed the door and dropped the bolt into place–the bolt that was an addition to the lock built into the doorknob.

“Somebody is out there,” he hissed. “We have to get help, and we need it fast. You run to the Central Watch station and summon help. I’ll try to stay and find out what’s heppening. Blow your whistle! Send any patrols you see to our location.” This might seem like a brilliant plan for a drunk to come up with on the spur of the moment, but it was, in fact, the number one standard response to what to do if the Watch House was invaded by hostiles. Bohgus had read it 100 times or more, and even practiced it.

He pushed aside his desk, moved a throw rug, and revealed a trap door in the floor. It was not locked, and with Bohgus going first, the two cops evacuated the office, never even looking back through a peephole to see what was going on inside the station.

The invisible Fellowship of the Vine surged into the Watch station just in time to see Bohgus jerk his urukish sargent back into his own office and shut the door. They heard a heavy bolt fall into place.

It seemed kind of anti-climactic. All that preparation, and there was no resistance at all.

Wulf and Weslynn shared one cell. They seemed to be staring into each other’s eyes in something of a hostile confrontation.

The party found Wulf, Weslynn, and Mensa locked into two cells. No keys were evident. Wulf had bits of chain wrapped around his knuckles, and looked like he wanted to kill something. Both Wulf and Weslynn smelled of blood to Gronk’s keen senses. It should be a simple matter to get them out of their cells, recover their weapons and equipment, stashed around the office somewhere, but not obviously in sight, and exit. The only question was, would they succeed in doing this before reinforcements arrived?

That dreadful feeling was overcoming Edurin. Sometimes if it was too easy, those were the times to worry. At least the others were inside while he was outside… He looked around for any nearby patrols while trying his best to nonchalantly hang around outside the front door.

Perry whispered to Gronk ‘Can you break those bars? Now would be a good time, I think.’

Gronk gripped one of the bars of Wulf’s cage and tried to bend it to one side enough to allow Wulf to exit the cage.

Perry spoke to Wulf gently. ‘You look as if you have had a bad night, my friend. We have come to get you away from here. Things won’t be easy if we don’t all stick together now. Will you follow me away from this place, down to the docks?’

Edurin was standing in the shadows near the front door to the Watch station when he saw a 5 person squad of guardsman round a corner and walk briskly in his direction. It looked like there was a dwarf, 3 humans or uruks, and either an ogre or a troll in the group. They were obviously heading back for the station. The big one was carrying a bag over its shoulder and something inside it was struggling to get out, though not successfully.

Gronk grunted and snorted fiercely as he pulled the lower bar on Wulf’s cage.

Wulf, jerked violently out of his coma, fell back into the bars. He stared at Weslynn with horror in his eyes.

“Mensa has better idea. Nail worked on Wulf’s chains. Nail work on door lock.” And Mensa inserted the nail into the door’s lock.

Gronk strained every muscle and slowly bent the bar to the side. But even when he finished, and his body shook with the strain, it was doubtful that he had moved it enough. Weslynn ducked down and got through the wider opening, but when Wulf tried it he found himself still too wide to get through. Perhaps if he took his armor off.

Gronk moved over to Mensa’s cell and tried again, but he stopped abruptly with a curse. His arm felt like string, and seemed to have hardly any strength at all. This time the bar didn’t bend.

“Gronk hurt arm,” he said. “City steel very strong.”

“Good Khazahd steel,” said Mensa. “Mensa has better idea. Nail worked on Wulf’s chains. Nail work on door lock.” And Mensa inserted the nail into the door’s lock.” Except that the locks were not the same size. The nail hung loosely in the door’s lock, and when Mensa smacked it, it popped all the way through the door and landed on the floor. The lock was unaffected.

Zhanh pushed his way to Wulf’s cell and cast a level one Knock, Knock on the lock. “Weslyn,” he said, “Find your gear. Mensa, Wulf, if you know where your gear is, point it out; someone will grab it for you.”

Seeing that Wulf was fairly calm, Perry beckoned Lumlas to the door to see how Edurin was doing, wanting to stay invisible.

Edurin shouted out loudly, “at last watchmen!” he anxiousness visible. “Something terrible has happened over by the Grinning Goblin! All the guards rushed out from here to go gather more watchmen to help! You did see them right?!”

He moved to put himself between the front door and the approaching guards.

The Dwarf swaggered up to Edurin. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

An uruk said, “Grinning Goblin? Not our precinct.”

The wolf troll shouldered forward. “I wanna dump this prisoner. As he stepped toward the doorway, one hand reached out to push Edurin out of his way, his black wolf-like nostrils twitched. “This man is lying.” he snarled. “Alert!”

Wolf trolls are a rare breed of flesh trolls on Trollworld. Usually about 12 to 15 feet tall, they are completely furred and have a bushy tail. The body is lycanthroid, more wolf-like than human, but walks erect on two hind feet, while two front feet are actually arms. The head is wolf-like but has massive crunching jaws, but it has a fully domed skull–there is a big brain inside the animalistic form. Vocal chords are fully developed and wolf trolls can speak normally. This one was wearing leather armor that has been specially made for him. He should be carrying a pike, but left it in a safe place in order to carry the prisoner.

“Take him down!” snarled the Dwarf, launching a vicious blow at Edurin’s knees with the truncheon he was carrying. Edurin jumped back, and the Dwarf missed him.

At that moment Perry stuck his invisible head out the door, only to have the rapidly retreating Edurin bump right into him and knock him down. The contact also negated Perry’s invisibility.

Axe in hand, Gronk snorted furiously and bull-charged the Troll with his head/horns in the lead.

“My friends! You have come for us! Many thanks!” She paused, noticing some of them are ever so slightly hazy, and then noticed Perry pop out of the hazyness after running into Edurin outside. “How very odd,” she thought, but now is not the time for an explanation. Clearly some magic.”

As soon as Perry saw what was outside, he leaned past Edurin, careful to avoid his companion and the dwarf, and, as he heard Gronk moving behind him, cast a web spell at the Watch group, before stepping out of Gronk’s way and back inside.

Edurin danced further away laughing, “Glad you are not stupid. Who wants a good fist fight? I bet I could take the troll.” Edurin made no move for his weapons. Fighting the watch was dangerous enough. Assault with a deadly weapon would not do much good. “Hey my friend, you ready for some chaos?” He could only hope Perry was ready for his special spell. Edurin didn’t know what to expect, but could trust a wizard to make a tough situation much more chaotic.

Wulf rushed about searching for his shield, helm, and kukri.  He hoped to find his spear and morning star or Mensa’s shovel.  He wanted nothing to do with Weslynn at that point. The pack was in danger; there were foes to be fought!

Wulf could smell the Wolf Troll, and he redoubled his efforts to find a weapon, any weapon. He began to chant the death song of his clan as he frantically searched for anything he could use to defend his friends..

“Wait! Wait wait wait!” hollered Mensa. He could see his pack lieing against the opposite wall, but what he really wanted to find was his lucky nail.

Gronk, first into the fray, jumped over Perry, surged past Edurin, and took the wolf troll by surprise. It barely had time to react as Gronk swung a two-handed axe blow at it. The troll threw one massively muscled arm into the path of the descending axe.
Edurin planned to evade the Watchmen without actually fighting them, but was knocked off his feet as Gronk brushed him as he surged past. He rolled over in the street, and when he came rightside up again, he was looking into the face of an uruk patrolman who held a short pike only inches from his chest. ‘Surrender!” grunted the uruk.

Wulf collected himself enough to start searching. A big wooden cabinet on the far side of the room caught his attention, perhaps because it said “WEAPONS’ on it. When he ripped it open, the first thing he saw was his morning star, hanging inside on a peg, right next to Mensa’s war shovel. His shield wasn’t there, but any other weapons he had been carrying were.

With a roar of satisfaction, he snatched up the star and turned toward the front door, currently clogged up with Perry on his hindquarters and the minotaur’s back just going through it. Although Wulf hadn’t seen anytthing outside the station yet, he smelled the wolf troll and knew it was out there. He began to chant a death song as he turned to enter the fight.

Mensa saw his shovel almost immediately after Wulf shredded the cabinet. Scrambling over to get it, he tripped on his nail and snatched it up on his way. At least he tried to. He zoomed right on Wulf’s heels, shovel raised and shouting “FOR — uh – US!!”

Wulf rushed towards the door with his morningstar in one hand and his spear in the other, chanting in his native tongue;
“Ho, Wolf-father, Ho, Pack leader.
Now I go to join the fray!
May my fangs and jaws be worthy!
Take me if I die this day.
Spirit given at my birthing.
Rise and come and give me aid.
But if Death’s cold jaws should seize me
Let us face him unafraid!”
Wulf reached deep inside for his wolf, trying to coax it out of the cage where the vampire spell had driven it. If he was going down, he wanted his spirit brother to go into the next world with him.

Zhanh decided that he would be best off if he avoided the tangle in the doorway, and moved so that he could watch both the door to the captain’s office (to be able to react to a surprise re-appearance) and the main door (to be ready if a target of opportunity presented itself). Lumlas was bewildered by all the seemingly random action, and Zhanh told her that she should look though any obvious storage areas.

“Ok, ok you’ve got me.” Edurin will wait for an opening. Being on the ground is the best location to both be trampled and trip others. He waited for the wolftroll to drop the bag with their current prisoner.

Lumlas did as Zhanh suggested, but called back, “We need to get outside; shout as soon as the door is clear.”

“Right!” Zhanh answered.

Perry’s web spell was only partially successful. It entangled one uruk and the human in the party. The dwarf and the wolf troll had been too far forward to be hit, and the last member of the party had been just out of range behind it all. He came up quickly and got the drop on Edurin as that sailor rolled to the side of the door.

Wulf leaped over Perry, already in full battle chant. His nostrils told him there was a wolf troll outside, though he hadn’t seen it yet.

But Gronk was ahead of him. The minotaur caught the troll by surprise. It raised an arm to fend off the stroke and took a greivous wound that almost amputated it. The troll went over backwards, almost jerking the axe out of Gronk’s hands. Hot, dark crimson blood sprayed everywhere. It let out a very surprised yelp and dropped its bag which then popped open. The creature inside struggled to get out.

Wulf’s nearest target of opportunity was the dwarven leader of the squad. The barbarian warrior saw immediately that the troll was down, and that Gronk was following up on his surprise attack. The dwarf had a truncheon in one hand and was just pulling a sax almost as big as he was out of its back scabberd. The dwarf saw Wulf appear and whipped around to face him.

The guardsmen hadn’t expected an ambush at the door to their Watch staion. The troll had been carrying a prisoner and was unarmed. The only fighter who could react quickly was the squad leader dwarf.

Gronk bared his teeth and snorted, then swung his axe at the troll again.

Wulf burst out of the door howling his death song, and, seeing the dwarf as the only target of opportunity, tried to strike him a disabling rather than a killing blow with the morning star. Instread of the head he aimed for the shoulder or arm holding the sax, as it would be impossible to wield a weapon with a broken arm or shoulder.

Perry scrambled to his feet and the door was clear. Outside, the combat had moved away from the door into the street.

The uruk guarding the prone Edurin growled, “Squad in trouble.” He shifted his grip, planning a disabling leg wound at his prisoner so he could go to the aid of the two entangled. Edurin saw the uruk’s eyes shift and the pike draw back a little.

Wulf tried to strike the Dwarf commander a disabling blow as he went by, but saw the little fellow duck underneath his swipe, stick his leg between Wulf’s legs, and take a vicious swipe at the barbarian’s head as he went down. Luckily for Wulf, his speed and the Dwarf’s short arm, caused the knife blow to slide along the armor on his shoulder, raising sparks, but doing no damage. Falling, Wulf tried to tuck and roll, and still hang onto his weapons.

The wolf troll sprang back up to his feet even as Gronk strode into him and cut again with his axe. This time the troll did not even try to block with his arm–he only had one functioning arm left. He interposed with his leather-armored chest, and though Gronk struck at his head, the troll was nimble enough to move to the side and take the blow on chest armor. the axe crashed through the leather armor and buried its head deeply in the fur-covered muscles of the troll’s upper torso.) The mighty blow staggered the troll, but did not knock it down this time. The troll’s left hand carried no weapon, but came down, groping for a hold, on top of Gronk’s head.

Mensa stopped and picked up his nail, then put it back into the same pocket he originally took it out of.

The gharg managed to struggle its way out of the sack. Both hands and feet were shackled, but its wings remained unbound. With a leap and some mighty flaps of its wings, which had the effect of buffeting the uruk and the human currently entangled in Perry’s web, it fought its way into the sky and flapped up out of the battle, disappearing into the darkness of the night sky.

Now that he had his lucky nail, Mensa grabbed his shovel and, raising it over his head, rushed out the door. Wulf was singing a war song, and Mensa knew a warrior should have at least a battle cry.

“FOR – uh – Grimelgris – no, um – GRIDDLEGRIM!!”

Gronk yanked his axe back.

Edurin used the opportunity to roll away from the uruk, while shouting the command, “Watch out!! The gharg!!!” His goal was simple avoid being hit and take advantage of the distraction. Edurin would get back on his feet at the best opportunity.

Perry was almost bemused at the different scenes of violence unfolding around him. For all his diligence as a student in the forests, he had never had to contemplate so many choices at the same time before. Remembering the attitudes of uruks towards elves in this city, he picked on one of the breed and threw a Hold That Pose ( rolls 3,4 makes INT SR ) on the guard by Edurin. ‘Give him one for the forest boys, Eddy!’ he screamed at the sailor.

Edurin rolled frantically. His shout about the gharg caused the uruk to take his eyes off him for a second and in that second Perry cast Hold That Pose on the guard, who forgot what he was doing, as he turned and looked back into the street. Seeing that he was unopposed, Edurin came to his feet.

The Dwarf tripped Wulf as he went by. Wulf managed to tuck and roll as he went down. He held onto his morning star and delivered an off-balance blow to the wolf-troll’s legs, smacking into his leather shin greaves with considerable force, but the impact jarred the spear out of his hand and it flew wide, doing no damage to anyone.

Mensa came out the door with warshovel raised just a few seconds behind Wulf. He saw the big barbarian go down. He heard the dwarf patrol leader snicker and start to leap toward Wulf’s unprotected back. He had his war shovel ready to smash.

Wulf’s unexpected and unplanned morning star strike came right at the wolf troll’s left ankle (doing 20 points of damage after adjusting for armor) and breaking the bone. The troll howled and switched its weight to its other foot. The big trollish hand came down on Gronk’s head with stunning force. The troll gripped Gronk by a horn and tried to throw him off to one side against a wall. Momentarily stunned, it was all Gronk could do to hold onto his axe as he abruptly sailed through the air and smacked into a stone wall. He fell heavily to the street, unconscious, and the axe dropped from his hand.

Wulf rolled to his feet and whirled the ‘star in a pattern to strike at any target of opportunity. He also glanced about to see if he had any chance to recover the spear without endangering himself. Seeing Gronk, his friend, knocked out, he howled a war whoop and launched himself at the wolf troll aiming his ‘star to do maximum damage.

As he launched himself towards the foe he prayed to the wolf father that one of the wizards would thow some kind of spell on the huge monster so he would have a snowflakes chance of really hurting it.

Mensa frantically defended his surrogate father: “NO HURT WULF!!!”  He felt concern: Why would a dwarf try to hurt Wulf? That was something gobbles would do!

Seeing all the havoc, Perry shouted to Zhanh and Lumlas that someone should go tend to Gronk. He then passed a flask of oil from his pack to Jeeves along with matches and instructed the invisible servant to tip the oil on the wolf troll and then ignite the bugger.

“Lumlas!” Zhanh shouted. “The door is clear; get out of here! Run!”

Lumlas looked up from her treasure hunt and followed the suggestion with Zhanh following close behind her. Lumlas saw that Gronk was down and ran toward him in the hope of helping. Zhanh tried to figure out where he could be most useful.

“Time to leave!” Edurin kicked out to sweep the uruk off his feet then rip the pike from the uruk’s hands.

Leaving sounded good to Zhanh. He rushed to help Lumlas with Gronk; they needed to get him on his feet as quickly as possible.

Lumlas put most of her available kremm into a Poor Baby on Gronk: barring a bad feeling, she heals him for five points of damage (rolled 5,1).

‘One more for good measure,’ thought Perry. Subject to their being nothing else to attract his concern, Perry threw a Hold That Pose spell at the dwarf

Mensa came up behind the dwarf patrolman, and the officer never had a chance. A stunning blow took him on the side of the head and laid him out cold, severely concussed and with a broken skull.

To everyone’s surprise but Perry’s, the wolf troll suddenly caught on fire. With a howl that woke everyone within a half mile radius, the troll threw himself backward, dropped and rolled, but since he was doused in oil, that didn’t seem to do him much good.. The danger was now that in his frantic twitching, he would set other things on fire. A flying spark hit the downed dwarf’s beard and it caught. Then Edurin spun his legs and tripped the bespelled uruk who fell right into the flaming troll with unfortunate results.

Even though it was the darkest time of the night, and most people were asleep, all the howling, fighting, screaming and other combat noises were bound to rouse people. The door to the Dog’s Bone tavern crashed open and the bartender and his night bouncer came out to see what was going on.

The human Watchman was a wizard, but he wasn’t Service. He had no idea why these beings were attacking his squad, but if they weren’t stopped soon, he and his squad mates might soon be dead. Although it went against all his training, he tried something that cops almost never do. Talking.

“Stop!” he shouted in his most commanding voice. “We surrender. Do whatever you want, but don’t kill us! We are the Khazan Watch!”

Edurin came to his feet and saw the watchman he’d just tripped fall into a flaming troll. That broke the spell. The uruk broke the spell and began beating at the flames that were attacking his tabard. Edurin grabbed the pike.

Lumlas and Zhanh ran over to Gronk. Lumlas cast a healing spell on him. Gronk opened his big eyes to see the two elves staring down at him with worried expressions. He had the granddaddy of all headaches, but otherwise seemed to be unhurt.

Mensa took a moment to pound the lower spine of the uuk when it fell. “That keep big gobble out of way!” He looked up in disappointment: “Flying gobble got away. Bummer.”

Suddenly there was no one left to fight, but lights were going on in nearby buildings. Doors and windows were opening. Edurin’s idea about it being time to go was certainly appropriate.

Wulf forced his rage and the Berserker fury back as he ran to avoid the flames. Wulf hated fire and had had a taste of burning oil as a mercenary in the baronial wars. Having heard the surrender offer, he stopped attacking, but stayed ready to fight if anyone else raised their hand against him or his friends. He quickly made his way to Gronk and to Mensa, stopping just for a moment to extinguish the Dwarf captain’s beard.

Mensa glared at Wulf. “What???! Fight just started!?”

Zhanh blinked once at the sudden change in fortune. “Is there anyone who has a better idea than moving on to our next destination immediately?”

“YES!!!!” shouted Mensa. “Punish bad men and gobble! And get our stuff.”

‘Come on!’ Perry urged. “Let’s get out of here – now! Invisibility would be nice, Zhanh… ‘Wulf, Mensa, Edurin, Gronk – we’re going to the docks and don’t get distracted by anything!’

“NEED OUR STUFF!” grouched Mensa, as he walked back into the station to find his stuff and Wulf’s. Cranky Lady could look for her own.

“Thank you, elf-friends. Gronk owe you life.”

Wulf scanned the street for danger, and not seeing any real threats, ran after Mensa to make a last quick look around the station for his shield, and any other useful items (Mensa’s gold would be good). Wulf hoped Weslynn had been busy looking too. His search completed, he hustled Mensa out into the street again, ready to go with the pack, wherever they chose.

Mensa was shocked! “WAIT!! WULF!!! PUT ME DOWN!! WANNA BURN JAIL!!!”

“Come on, now,” said Wulf to the struggling dwarf. “We must help Perry and Gronk and others to get away from this awful place. Go to docks. Take ride on boat and get out of this furshluggina dung heap of a city. It smells like a cess pit here! Maybe come back later and burn watch station. Go now before too many gobbles and trolls come to fight us!”

‘Good to see you two,’ Perry smiled as he saw his two shopping companions again. ‘I hate this city and I bet you do too, friends!’

“Let’s GO!” Zhanh shouted. “We need distance!” Zhanh wanted to get around one corner and then try to cast a Hidey Hole; he wished the odds were better.
Weslynn searched for her hatchet and shield, took whatever she could find, looked for the other’s shields and gold, as Mensa and Wulf had inquired about. She also looked around before she left to see if anyone had dropped a better weapon than her hatchet that she could use, before heading off with the others to the docks.
Mensa crashed back into the jailhouse and started ripping open every cabinet and drawer he could find. He found some extra pikes and truncheons, and he found the keys to the cells inside the sargent’s desk drawers. He found a bag with all his personal effects in it, except his money. There was no trace of that in the general watch room.
Weslynn had her hatchet in one hand and a Watch Pike in the other. The pike was a finely balanced weapon (5D6 + 3). Since she hadn’t brought any money with her, she hadn’t lost any. She had also found Wulf’s shield, and was looking forward to returning it to him.When Zhanh suggested they make a speedy retreat to the river, she thought that sounded like the best idea of the evening.
When hostilities ceased, the Watch wizard immediately called Water on the still burning troll. There was little left of the wolf troll but a blackened twitching ruin, and yet it was not dead. If given a couple of days, the troll would regenerate. The Dwarf whose beard had caught on fire was not so lucky. His face was badly burned, and the Watch wizard was using the last of his kremm trying to heal the burn wounds. As for the uruk who caught on fire, he, too, was badly scorched, but had run away to seek help from the next nearest watch station.
Wulf was delighted to get his shield back, and recovered his fine sharp spear from the street. He wished they had found his helm as well, but he could get along without it, or perhaps borrow Mensa’s extra hat. He was wound up now, and did his best to encourage the rest to head for the river before watch reinforcements arrived.
Gronk regained his feet, and his axe, then started towards the docks. He looked over his shoulder at Weslynn, then at Wulf.”Wulf-friend OK?”
Mensa’s trouble-causing curiosity wouldn’t let him leave the keys behind. He carried all the other stuff that he could, especially his bag, outside.
Wulf answered Gronk: “Just so glad to see you up and about. I was sure the troll was gonna make a meal of all of us! Thank Omvar for the wizard and his fire! He saved all our lives! And I am so glad to be out of that Hraka hole of a gaol. And I will be even more glad to show this cess pit of a city my backside as we sail away. This has been one of the worst experiences of my young life!”

Gronk looked Wulf in the eyes.

“Gronk smelled blood at watch station. Gronk no like smell of Weslynn. Gronk ask again, Wulf OK?” Gronk whispered to his friend.

Weslynn came out of the station with a few things in her hands, including Wulf’s shield.  After having given Wulf his shield back, and having taken a last look around for her shield, she hefted the pike she took from inside.
She stood there, looking around at her companions, who had rescued her from the consequences of her own out of control rage.”Friends, I think we should head for the river. While we head for the docks, I have a tale to tell you all, what happened inside the watch station, and the full truth about the theft of my wine.”Weslynn looked at each of her friends, in the eyes, and then turned to the shortest path to the docks and said, “It’s time we moved from here.”

Mensa: “Wulf! PUT ME DOWN and look through them weapons I piled up! See if there’s a Krisp for you!”
Edurin dropped the uruk’s pike into the nearest fire. He thought to himself, ‘Why does this always happen, I think of setting fire as a distraction, and a fire becomes reality without any effort from myself.’ He followed the others to the river docks.

The group had recovered most of their possessions from the Watch station.  In the street the human wizard and undamaged uruk were trying to help their wounded companions. With Wulf leading the way, they rapidly left the Dog’s Bone station and headed back toward the market, and from there north to the river docks.  The citizens of Khazan did nothing to hinder their escape.

High atop a nearby rooming house, a gharg managed to break the iron shackles holding its hands together.  In its dim mind it noted that it had been rescued by this group of strangers.  In a few minutes it freed itself from all restraints–a spell simple enough for even a gharg to learn got rid of the foot shackles.  Then it silently followed Weslynn’s group through the city.  The masters would want a report on these adventurers.

Chapter 4: Part 1: The Rescuers   Leave a comment

Perry, Zhanh and Gronk crosseed the street and got a table at the Dog’s Bone tavern, planning to get a drink and see if Service would appear to help them out.

Perry turned to Zhanh. “Let’s leave the drinking til later and go straight to the Grinning Goblin to get the others. Service was quite nice to me really, considering the circumstance, but I think if Gronk is concerned about a trap we should pay heed. Let’s double our numbers and, with luck, double our chances of not running into something worse than we’ve already come up against. This might be a long night!”

Zhanh’s shoulders sagged. “Perry, we have a thirsty minotaur on our hands. Why don’t we take a few minutes, let Gronk have one drink, and have a VERY quiet conversation about our options.” He leaned closer to Perry and gestured to Gronk to get closer. “I don’t see why anyone would want to trap us here, for one thing. For another, in a private conversation I might be able to exaggerate my connection to the wizard’s guild a bit, and get Service to bend the rules just a little bit. I didn’t think there was much chance of doing that on the heels of Weslynn’s presentation.” He looked up briefly, then continued. “If Service doesn’t show, or if he can’t help us, then we go back to the Goblin and consider more… military options. But it’s a hard target, particularly if we don’t have anyone on the inside.” He looked up again, then said, “If you still want to leave now, fine, we will. Otherwise, I like cider, and Gronk likes pretty much anything that comes in a pitcher.”

“OK. Thanks, Zhahn. It’s been a long, tiring day and my nerves are a bit frayed, I’m afraid.” Perry walked to the bar and ordered a cider, a silverwood gris and a jug of ale.

When Perry returned with the drinks, Zhanh thanked him and gestured that the three should put their heads together. “It’s like this,” he said. “I have to say it: Weslyn’s rescue mission is insane. Fewer than a dozen people are going to infiltrate a fortress occupied by intelligent monsters, and recover a ‘treasure’ that we can’t even collectively LIFT? No wonder Service reacted negatively. IF service shows up, I am going to say that we going to try to scout the place for the Wizard’s Guild, and that the wine is just a cover story, which is at least partially true. The mention of the Wizard’s Guild might make him willing to help us a bit. We can, maybe, VERY carefully investigate the possibility of a bribe, but we don’t have much money, and can spare even less.”

Zhanh took a sip of his cider and savored it for a moment. “Of course, if Service doesn’t show up, then we fall back on jail break, which comes down to Hidey-Hole– which I can cast slightly better than 50% of the time, twice– and a few Knock-Knocks, and then running like hell. Bad odds, but a lot better than invading a castle full of vampires…”

“Gronk want to rescue his friend Wulf, and the little dwarf. Not care much about the one that smells wrong.”

Service entered the Dog’s Bone half an hour later and over a drink explained the facts of life in the big city. He mentioned that the Watch station would be practically deserted in the hour before dawn. Then he wished them well, and went home.

Perry, Zhanh, and Gronk finished their drinks and then made their way back to the Grinning Goblin.

Perry said to Zhanh as they got back to the Goblin and walked over to Lumlas and Edurin “Your 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?”

Algris had apparently decided that this group really didn’t have his welfare in mind. He slipped away and went to the next tavern on the street, the Cherry Pit where he got himself a cheap bed in the common sleeping room. He knew where to find them in the morning if he decided to rejoin the group.

Edurin and Lumlas really never noticed that he had left them behind.

Edurin was curious about the turn of events. “Wulf, Mensa, and Gronk made a good impression on the Minotaur captain of the watch. Seems like we just go to him and ask for a favor…” He quickly realized the others were not listening. “Well, if we’re in for it, then I’ll keep watch outside to help block any pursuit.” Edurin’s plan was simple, prepare a nearby fire to distract any pursuit. He hoped minor arson would be unnecessary, but it was best to be prepared.

Zhanh came back from the bar with two pitchers of beer, a pitcher of water, and whatever they gave him when he asked for “Meadowblush” for Perry. “Edurin, that isn’t a half bad idea. If the watch captain will turn our people loose, we don’t have to break any more laws. We have some time before we can try a jailbreak, so if you want to head toward the other station and see if you can accomplish something– don’t go alone– please try.”

Zhamh poured himself some water and continued, “Hidey Hole covers several people who don’t have to stay together to stay invisible after the spell is cast. I can’t cast it reliably; if I can teach it to Lumlas, she will be able to hit it every time. My short term plan is to try to teach the spell to Lumlas, and then get a bit of sleep and recover my kremm, because I am exhausted.”

He took a long drink of water. “I really hope that Eduin can appeal to Captain Grynosk, but in the meantime we need to work out the details of our jailbreak.”

“Then I would like to stay close by you, Zhanh, in your Hiding Hole. I will be ready to cast my spell if it is needed and I am confident that I can perform successfully. I can also help put out a fire should anyone accidentally immolate themselves. This drink you brought me tastes quite odd – we do not make it with pepper nor does it have lumps floating in it. Would you think it rude if I were to remove these strangely slimey globules?”

“Come on Gronk let’s go find Captain … Grynosk,” he looked at Zhanh for confirmation. “Your minotaur elder(?) may be willing to help Wulf.” Edurin shouldered his pack thinking of the rented bed. Sometimes there is no easy path. “Zhanh, be careful. There’s a wizard killer working at night. No warriors to back you up. Perry, what about that dragon you met today. Was he friendly?” The dragon did not eat Perry, but Edirin knew very little about dragon kind. Maybe they did not indulge in ‘bush’ meat…

Edurin led the way letting Gronk cover his back. He kept his eyes open for trouble. The day was bad enough. Night in Khazan might be worse. He would start looking for Captain Grynosk back at the watch station. “Gronk, do you know where Captain Grynosk might be found?”

Zhanh tugged his forelock at Edurin. “Grynosk is right. And thanks for the warning; we will be as careful as we can in all things.”

Zhanh looked at Perry, and his drink, and said, “I suspect that the only way to offend the proprietors of this place is to set fire to their bar, Perry. But about your spell… I think it would be more useful as an initial diversion that later.” He started regrouping glasses on the table. “I have seen the Firestorm spell in action, and it often backfires. Imagine this glass is you, and these two glasses are Lumlas and me, and these three glasses are watchmen. You cast your spell, and the watchmen start arguing with each other, but Lumlas and I also start arguing, and try to pull you into it. As long as the spell lasts, the only one who will get anything useful done will be you, and when it is over, we will have wasted more than half of the duration of the Hidey Hole, and the watch will know that there are invisible idiots in the station.”

Zhanh took another drink of water. “On the other hand, if you were to lean against the station wall and cast the spell, you would probably catch one or more people inside, and THEY would start arguing with each other, which would mean that they would NOT be paying attention when we went in.”

‘That’s a good thoughts, Zhanh. I’ve only ever used that spell before to get out of school. It’s funny watching teachers argue and if some kids get caught up in it, that just adds to the mix. But the stakes are higher now so I am happy to follow your suggestion. There are other spells I can do afterwards if necessary that I have used more than once. Are we ready to go now? I shall get too sleepy if we wait much longer.”

Zhanh shook his head and counted off on his fingers. “First, a quick spell teaching session, then we finalize plans, then we take a nap to recover kremm and let the city fall asleep around us, and THEN we strike. And if we are lucky, Edurin and Gronk will come back in the meantime with the others, and save us the trouble.

Zhanh wiped a section of the table with his sleeve, then drew a rectangle with a wet fingertip. “The station is sort of fortified, so there is only one door. There is the main entry room, and then a door to the back where the cells are; it will likely be locked, and then there will be the cell doors. Let’s hope there are no more doors to go through.”

He put two copper pieces side by side at one corner of the “building”. “Lumlas and I will wait here, out of range of your Firestorm spell, Perry. You go to the place, just past the door, and cast “Firestorm”– that should catch most people in the main room, but not the cells. Then knock on the door. When they answer, say ‘Blessings of the Death Goddess’ —or anything else that strikes your fancy– and the join Lumlas and me. Lumlas will cast Hidey Hole on the three of us, the we go in– they probably won’t close the door because of the Firestorm– and then back to the cells– I will cast Knock Knocks as needed– gather our friends, Lumlas casts a second Hidey Hole on all of us, and then we get out as fast as we can and head to the docks.”

He took another drink of water, and looked at it sadly, wishing it were stronger. “Any comments? Perry? Lumlas?” He took a long swallow. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy; gods of chaos find amuesment in our idiocy.”

“Gronk think we try Wolf watch station for Captain. Gronk talk to Grynosk.”

Gronk went with Edurin, eyes peeled, nose to the breeze, and axe ready for whatever trouble might arise.

“Gronk hope Grynosk is back from visiting minotaur elders. Gronk’s message for Captain stolen…” he continued to grumble to himself inaudibly.

Perry listened to Zhanh’s plan and nodded enthusiastically. “You were probably a great general in a former life. May your past selves always be by your side, friend.”

“Gronk how far away are the elders?” If Captain Grynosk left immediately after talking with Gronk, then the trip may be out of reach. Edurin counted on the Captain’s duties to keep him busy for one day. Edurin would know this part of the city pretty well by morning.

Gronk answered, “Two days to walk home to village. Gronk hope Grynosk not leave yet.”

Gronk and Edurin left the others making plans at the Grinning Goblin and made their way through the darkened streets of Khazan back toward the southern gates of the city. Before they had gone more than three blocks, they were accosted by a group of four ladies of the evening. Two were human, one was elven, and one was, incredibly enough, a young Minotaur cow. The largest, and prettiest of the human women ran a few steps and bumped right into Edurin before he could do anything to ward her off. She threw here arms around his neck and squealed, “Oooh, this guy is handsome!” She snuggled into him, smushing her large firm breasts against his chest. “Hey, sailor,” she giggled. “Do you want to have some fun?”

Her companions came into the light of the corner lamp and smiled at Edurin most winningly. The elven girl had a charm unlike anything he had ever seen before–her eyes seemed to twinkle and a sweet smell came from her body.

“And look!” said the elf. “We even have a girl for your friend. Ellsee, come forward and say hello to your new best friend. He’s a real bull!”

Ellsee was not the prettiest cow that Gronk had ever seen, and the ragged shirt she wore loosely hanging from her shoulders did not flatter her, but she seemed young and healthy and willing.

The cow walked up to Gronk, lowered her eyes, swayed her hips, then turned around and stuck her butt out toward him. “Want some fun, bull man?” she asked “The first time is free.”

“Gronk must help friend, ” he said to the cow. “Gronk come back later?”

Edurin took advantage of the moment to feel his curvy ‘assailant’ for weapons, then he gently, but firmly, disengaged. He rotated while prying her off to keep his back to Gronk. He placed her between them and her ‘pack’. “If only we met earlier. Maybe next week.” He looked to the bullman, “Come Gronk,” he moved on looking for the women’s protectors. Another group of people to avoid.

“Wimp!” screamed the streetwalker as Edurin and Gronk rapidly walked away from her and her friends.

“Gronk not know that women were so friendly in this city,” said the Minotaur.

They made it to the Wolf Street Watch Station about 20 minutes later, only to find the doors locked and the lights off.

Edurin smiled, “Yes, women can be very friendly in the city, but you must always give the friendliest good presents. They prefer gold or silver. These are not the kind of girls you bring home to start a family.”

At the closed station, “Gronk, do you think the Captain sleeps here or has a home nearby?” Edurin evaluated the surroundings. Any sign that guards live here, especially signs of big Minotaur relief?

“Gronk not know. We waste time, must help Wulf. We go back and help Zhanh, we rescue Wulf.” His grip tightened on his axe and his nostrils flared. “Wulf not happy in cage, Gronk must free Wulf.”

Gronk and Edurin turned away from the locked Watch station. They had a long walk back to the Grinning Goblin, and they were approached several times by beggars and streetwalkers as they returned. But when Gronk put his head down and started snorting, even the boldest of mendicants ran away.

They arrived shortly after midnight, only to find that Perry, Lumlas, and Zhanh had all gone to bed. Exhausted from their fruitless walk, they too went to bed.

It wasn’t long until Bert, brother of Bart, the bartender came to wake them up. He wondered why they would want to get up in the wee hours of the morning, but it wasn’t his job to ask questions. Edurin had already paid for everything, and they could leave early if they wanted to.

The five of them met at their usual table in an empty common room. Zhanh took the lead–he was the only one with even the rudiments of a plan.


Inside the Grinning Goblin Zhanh and Perry drank their drinks, ate some supper, and then got a couple of the cheapest beds in the common sleeping room on the second story. The bartender had instructions to wake them up an hour after midnight. All the walking and drinking had tired them out, and they were soon snoring lustily–at least as lustily as elves ever snore.

Back at the Goblin, Perry sat upright, disturbed in his nap by thoughts of the task ahead. He pulled his thoughts together and summoned up sufficient reserves of khremm to cast a spell.

Perry began some stretching exercises and then moved on to his positive visualisations of a successful jail bust. He had heard tales of large scale breakouts in the city of Khosht and he was glad their task was much less grandiose. He was sure the wake up call would come soon.

Perry couldn’t sit on his fingers on the lumpy pallet any longer. ‘It must be time for action’ he said to himself in a poor imitation of Riccardio, an elven archer who everyone in the forest steered clear of. He tip-toed down the corridor and scraped his fingernails down the door to Zhanh’s cubicle in an effort to make the wake up gentle.

Perry pulled on a clean pair of socks, the ones with the sparkly bits sewn into the weave by his great-aunt Catnip, and fairly sprang up to the two wizards. ‘Let’s go do some jailbusting,’ he said exuberabtly. ‘That Wulf should stick to shooting dice!’.He went to the door of the Grinning Goblin and opened it with an extravagant bow to the two wizards.

Zhanh rolled to his feet, filled the chamber pot, emptied the chamber pot out the window, straightened his clothes, and shouldered his pack. He had a full charge of kremm, most of his brain cells were talking to each other, and it was time to move on to the next phase of this seemingly never-ending day. He opened the door to his room and stepped out.

Lumlas woke up from a dream in which she had cut open the stomach of a sleeping dragon, crawled in, and then sowed the wound shut behind her. She could hear someone, probably her friends, fumbling about in the dark outside her room, and she joined them.

Gronk fidgeted in his seat, huffing and puffing.

“No find Grynosk. Zhanh, how we help Gronk’s friend Wulf get out of cage?”

Edurin rubbed the sleep from his eyes and splashed clean, cold water on his face. Heading downstairs he headed out to relieve himself. What does the day bring? He asked himself.

Zhanh gathered the group (Edurin, Gronk, Lumlas, Perry, and himself) and indicated that they should follow him, and that explanations would be made on the way. Once they were clear of the Grinning Goblin, he told Edurin and Gronk the details of their plan, and even stopped in an abandoned alley to sketch a rough map into the dirt. He wasn’t sure how to work Gronk and Edurin into the plan, and asked for suggestions.

Perry asked Lumlas if there were going to be two Hiding Holes or just one and how long they would last. ‘Maybe when we get the others out of the cells, we’d be better off in two Holes?’

“Gronk and Edurin stay hidden outside watch station. If trouble start, Gronk and Edurin rush in and surprise guards.”

Zhanh led the Fellowship of the Wine to the Dog Bone Watch station. The streets were nearly empty. Half way there they met a group of Watchmen on patrol. The officers stopped them and asked, “Why are you all out so late?” The Watchmen looked a bit suspicious–it was probably the fact that there were two obvious Elves in the party and a Minotaur–not a combination seen very often. Khazan was a city dominated by humans, dwarves, and uruks. Elves were generally held in low regard.

Perry grimaced. He had Jeeves pick up a rock and then throw it through a window about 50 yards behind the Watch. As soon as the Watchmen turned to look, he cast a Befuddle on the biggest one near the man who had spoken, sheltering behind his companions. ‘Come on,’ he said to the other wizards. ‘Make us invisible and let’s get away from here.’

When the glass broke behind them, the Watchmen all turned around and started toward it. (6 a.p. for Perry) (Where did you get a Befuddle spell? I don’t know that one. When they turned and started to investigate it, Zhanh and party ducked down a side street and ran for it. They were mostly out of sight before the Guard realized they had been tricked.

A few twists and turns brought them to the Watch station. Unlike the one on Wolf Street, this one had lights on inside and the door cracked open.

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 1: Entering Khazan, Part 12   Leave a comment

Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Edurin walked into the Grinning Goblin. The place looked crowded. He called out to the room, “Hey check it out! Some guy got a dragon to appear in the street.” That should drive out the curious.

He scanned the place and saw the band. Looked like the same crowd as the watch house. Then he also spied Perry. He exclaimed, “Friend! Lost you back there. Glad to see you found the right crowd.” He walked over to the bar, placed a gold coin on the bar, “Two beers and a platter of … errr… easy-to-eat-human-foods for the big table.” The differences in his dialect and Khazan’s Common Tongue sometimes troubled him. He couldn’t exactly order fish and rice rolls this far from home.

Edurin approached Weslynn and greeted those assembled, “I am Edurin.” He bowed to Weslyn. In a much lower voice he added, “We have business to discuss concerning passage up river.”

Mensa looked puzzled. How could wood be silver? Rock be silver. Hair be silver. Beard be silver. Wood be silver?

“No – him,” pointing at Wulf. “He smell pretty. You smell medicine of.” For Zweet’s sake, this Common language was hard to remember. He muttered a nursery rhyme in Dwarven, to calm himself.

Zhann set down his mug. “Hmmm. Well, I have a contact in Wizards Guild, and as you say, he should be willing to part with some information in the hope of getting more. Perry, you are welcome to come along with me; I will make what introductions I can. And Gronk, you are welcome to come along, though I suspect that they will stop you at the door. The question then becomes, Where do we meet up again? Also, when it comes to it: I vote for the river route, though five gold for a working passage seems steep.”

Perry jumped to his feet when he saw Edurin. ‘Hail and well met, fellow! We seem to be on the verge of a great adventure! Come, take my seat.’ He then bowed to Mensa and turned to Zhanh and thanked him for his offer. ‘I should love to be on a river – to float along born by the currents, how splendid!’ He clapped his hands and capered a little. ‘I would gladly pay that price for you too if you think it unfair. Oh think! The Wizards Guild and a river boat on the same day!’ His mother had warned him about how silly drink made him but he had forgotten in his excitement,

Zhanh smiled warily at Perry; he found the half-elf’s exuberance a bit disturbing, but suspected that he would get used to it. “In the meantime,” he said, “I have this excellent cider to finish. Well met, Edurin; have a seat! We all seem to be going up the river, if not positively up the proverbial creek.”

Weslynn waved Edurin over to her, and moved to the corner of the room, once he introduced himself and made it clear that he wished to speak to her alone.

“What do you wish to speak to me about, then? Passage upriver you said?”

Mensa sized up Perry. Pointy-Ears might smell like medicine, but he was funny. And Mensa might get chance to hit bad gobbles on the heads.
Wulf spoke quietly to Mensa: “Do not worry about Gronk. He thinks only the Bullmen are handsome. He means no real insult or offense. You look as good to me as any other dwarf I’ve ever met. You have a natty beard. Your folk are tougher than a 2 copper steak. Do you use that shovel as a weapon? Let me help you put it in a place where you can get to it more quickly if need arises. A warrior’s weapon should always be quickly at hand if trouble comes.”

Then, to Weslynn, whom he felt was the current leader of the group:
“I am ready, Lady Weslynn, to go on my fact gathering sorty, if you agree with my suggestions.” He finishes his beer.
“Go ahead and try the beer Mensa. It is not pee (Though I have had some that suffered by the comparison). It will certainly do you less harm than the water in this big town. If the waiter ever brings some food we will have a quick meal before we set out.” This last said loudly in earshot of the barkeep.

Weslynn looked around again for the barkeep who has been avoiding her for some reason. “Splitting off into groups this afternoon sounds like a good plan, Wulf Shall we agree to meet up back tonight here? While you and the wizards head on your tasks, I’ll head to the merchants square to seek aid and a courier.”
“I have been around many capable soldiers in our guards all my life, Wulf and never have I felt such. It is most strange, but no matter, I am trusting you to help me. As I am trusting you all.”

Wulf replied:

As soon as I grab some cheese and biscuits to assuage the beast in my belly, Mensa, Perry, and I will be off. We will gather here again before nightfall. Gronk, see that no one harms anyone in the group you are with. Edurin: You seem like a good fighting man. Perhaps you could shepherd a third party in our fact finding sortees? Maybe the sailors at the docks might know more about the grey castle and its master.

Bart the bartender came over to the table pushing a heavily-laden cart. It had two beers on it, and two large platters full of fried chicken wings and drumsticks. (At least it looked like chicken–some of the wings and drumsticks were of unusual sizes.) He pushed the cart over to Edurin and said, “Here is your order, Sir. I hope the meat is satisfactory.” There were over 100 pieces of meat available.

“Hey, barkeep! What’s on your menu?” Weslynn called, trying again to get the man’s attention.

Perry’s head spun – he wanted to go with everyone! He was clearly no leader yet nor did he wish to be. ‘Friends all,’ he said, rising to his feet, ‘I will do as I am bidden and go with Wulf or Zhann. I am so pleased that we will be attempting this heroic foray together. I feel the pen of history dipping into the inkwell of destiny!’ He checked to see that it would be permitted then took a handful from the tray Bart had produced, bowing in thanks to Edurin.

Mensa’s sense of smell was almost overpowered by the odors of the meats… He tried one of the legs, and wondered. “Not cow. Not chicken. Not harpy. Not bat,” he muttered in Kha-zahd. It was OK, but it was no MLS (Moss & Lichen Stew). He gulped the beer, and it was bitter. But better to not offend his new friends, he gulped the rest in one swallow. “Got rock water?” he asked, as he adjusted his shovel in the manner Wulf showed him.

‘Oh, you mean me>’ asked Perry. ‘I’m an elf’ he told Mensa, articulating the word slowly and repeating it, not bothering to confuse the issue with halves. He pointed at Mensa and smiled. ‘You dwarf.’ Then he pointed to himself. ‘Me elf, me Perry. Perry likes Mensa, Perry likes dwarves. We hit many bad gobbles together, yes?’

Wulf quickly ate some of the food, then put on his chain, and helm, and took up the big spike shield again.
“Come, Mensa. Will you come, Master Perry? Let us go find some old warriors to drink with and speak with. And maybe we can find some armor and a buckler for our new Dwarf friend.”

“PAIR-ee. Elf.” Mensa scratched his head. Seems someone had told him something about elfs or elves or something. Hmph! Didn’t matter. Chance to hit bad gobbles on the head – always a good idea.
“You betchum!” exuberated Mensa.

Weslynn gave up on being subtle, got up, went over to the barkeep, and asked, quietly, for an extremely rare steak, if they have such for less than a gold, along with their cheapest grog.

“As you will, Perry,” Zhanh said. “If you don’t come with me today, there will be other opportunities. Mensa… The thing is, beer ALWAYS tastes bad, but there are a million different ways for it to taste bad, and wars have been fought over the distinctions.” He took another swallow of his cider. “So who is coming with me to the Guild? Gronk? Anyone else? I don’t really LOOK like a wizard, and I don’t think I NEED an escort, but I am always glad of company.”

Bart left the cart and walked over to talk to Weslynn. “Isn’t the meat on the cart enough for you? Did you want vegetables or bread or cheese? I tried to bring the best when Edurin spent liberally for food.”

Weslynn pulled his ear down to her mouth. That close to the tender’s clean-shaven neck, the tendency to just bite him almost overwhelmed here. “That stuff is too well-cooked for me. I need a beefsteak, very rare, barely singed, and oozing with blood. And I need it soon,” she said.

“Yes, my lady, I’ll bring it to you in less than 2 turns of the glass.” He set a small sandclock on the table.

The party grew louder as people decided which way they would go next. In less than 5 minutes Bart returned with a covered platter. The delicious aroma of barely singed beef mixed with the smells of fried fouls.

The aroma made Weslynn a bit nauseous.

Weslynn upon getting a good whiff of her meal went a faint shade of green, and excused herself for the jakes.

Gronk scratched his head, gulped more beer, and belched again.

“Yes, Wulf, Gronk protect. Gronk go with Zhanh.”

He hoisted his pitcher of beer in toast to the elf, then swallowed the remainder of its contents.

Although quiet, Edurin was pleased to see such a good mix of people in the group. To Perry he said, “If a deal is struck, then we’ll talk more on the river.”

He grabbed his two beers took them over to an isolated table. Coming back, Eduring picked through the best smelling meats and said to Lumlas, “Please join me as well to talk with Weslynn. You have courage and brains. Good qualities for our discussion.” He took two pieces over to his table. He was a little disappointed watching Weslynn rush off.

When she returned he asked, “Will you be healthy enough to travel?” Genuinely concerned, he did not want to start this trek off on the wrong foot.

Wulf left with Perry and Mensa in tow to go to the Armor and Weapons street of the city. He was already thinking hard about what questions he would ask. He tipped the bartender a silver piece on the way out.

Algris enters the tavern, still trying to remember just what was exchanged with the Dragon. From the encounter he did understand that while Khazan trafficked in many things, the rumor business was especially dangerous. But he was here on other business, and went to join those he’d seen at the watch. He saw the noblewoman he’d met come back to the table.

He joined them: “Hello, for those whom I haven’t met, I am Algris Slog. I have information and want to help.”

Zhanh saw Edurin trying to lead the females off to another table and scowled; the group was fragmenting before it even really existed. He looked at the minotaur and said, “I will be grateful of your company, Gronk; we will be leaving as soon as I have had a word with this new fellow. In the meantime, do have some food to keep your beer company.” He turned and rose enough to offer his hand to the newcomer. “Greetings, Algris. I am Zhanh. Information, or perhaps the lack of it, seems to be the order of the day. What news do you bring?”

Edurin raised his beer in greeting, “Welcome Algris! Have some food!” He gestured to the wings and drumsticks by the big table. Concern flashed on his face thinking he ordered too much food. Apparently he arrived a bit too late. He bit into a drumstick and chewed thoughtfully.

Weslynn sat at the table upon her return, returning to the conversation, trying to ignore the plate in front of her, with an slightly uncomfortable expression. “Where were we?”

At Edurin’s invitation Lumlas joined him and Weslynn at the table. Her new friend’s discomfiture worried her and she looked questioningly to Edurin while she was absent and then to Weslynn herself on her return.

“I am fine, just a little nervous stomach. Stress of the day. Let’s carry on with our planning.” Weslynn did her best to distract her friends from her condition.

Lumlas caught Edurin’s eye and inclined her head slightly without Weslynn seeing to ask him to meet in a quiet corner out of her new young friend’s hearing. When they had both made their excuses and met up again she asked, “Do you think this individual that stole Weslynn’s wine did a little more than ensorcell her for a time? She’s not eating or drinking and she was desperate for a very rare steak but didn’t touch it. Could these vampires we may be up against have done something to her and started to change her into one of their kind?”

“Pardon me a moment,” replied Edurin. He stood and removed his meal from the private table. He could always eat later. Returning, he cleansed his pallet with beer before speaking more. “Thank you Weslynn for donating a moment of your time,” he smiled warmly at Lumlas as well. He leaned forward elbows on the table and fingers steepled, “If you’ll indulge me a little longer, tell me about the quality of your wine.”

Ah, it is quite fine. Our vineyard is in a very sheltered mountain valley, rich with springs, so even when the weather is dry, we can irrigate the roots, so we are fortunate in that respect. The soil is the richest I’ve ever seen, and it brings forth grapes of a brilliant green shade unlike any other. Once they ripen, it is as though a royal court has come to visit, for the hills shine with a gorgeous deep purple. We have more generations invested in this land than I can easily recount. Our family lorebooks tell every recipe, every experiment, with success, and failure alike, going back 10 generations, all of these things our wine makers draw upon, so it is, I believe, unparalleled in bouquet and flavor. It brings forth flavors of blackberries and clove, honey, and roses.” Weslynn perks up, she loves her family business, it is clear.

“Ah, I understand,” he said thoughtfully. “A strong passion must make for a fine wine indeed.” He paused and then added, “I have a proposal. I have access to sufficient funds to buy all of us a trip up river. For additional security, those cabable of working on the boat should. I will work on the river-boat. You should fully expect to retrieve your wines, and my funds are payment for a portion of your shipment.” He let the comment sink in. In the silence, he took a drink from his beer. He looked at Lumlas as well to see what the tall beauty thought. Studying her face he notes her fine elven facial structure. He thought back to the morning at the gate to Khazan. He grinned, and then focused again on Weslynn.

Weslynn smiled at the man before her with his offer. “How much of my wine do you wish, in return for your funding?”

“Gronk ready when Zhanh ready. Gronk like chicken.” He grabbed a half dozen drumsticks and devoured them in moments. After yet another hearty belch, he grabbed a half dozen more.

Zhanh finished his cider, and said, “One moment, Gronk, and then I think we can be off.”Zhanh lugged his sea bag to the bar and asked the barman, “Can you keep my bag secure until I return for it? I expect to be back before sundown, but let us say until noon tomorrow to be safe.” As he spoke, Zhanh pulled out his money pouch and jingled it a bit to make it clear that he did not expect this service for free.

Gronk stood, his mighty axe in one hand, a chicken leg in the other.
Just before he left with Wulf and Mensa, Perry caught Zhann at the bar. “No time to discuss it now but there’s something amiss with Weslynn and her not drinking and her reaction to the food. Keep your eyes open and see what you can discern. Stay well, friend.’ Perry didn’t like going behind anyone’s back but his concern overcame his scruples.
“I expect one barrel for every three recovered.” Edurin spoke with his hands as much as his voice. “Admittedly, sight unseen. There is a lot of risk for me in this venture.” He glaced over at the big table and watched with satisfaction Gronk eating. Edurin was happier. He hated waste.

Zhanh nodded at Perry’s words, and said quietly, “I have noticed that as well. I will keep my eyes open.”

The bartender got caught in a sudden rush, so Zhanh shrugged, shouldered his bag, and went back to the table. “All right, Gronk,” he said. “We’re off to see the wizard.”

“I cannot give you a third of my wares, Edurin. I can go as high as one-quarter, or one barrel in four.” Weslynn countered.

Edurin leaned back deep in thought. “Well, I will need to recover the initial investment. I can accept a fourth of the shipmen only if I also return with equal funds to my expenses.” His voice dropped low and he leaded in close to Weslynn, “Can you accept this band perhaps behaving more like raiders?”

Not his favorite option, Edurin’s displeasure showed as he drank his beer. “And I will have to control the funds. Everyone but you, Weslynn and Zhahn, will have to work. Are you familiar enough with Khazan to join me to make our travel arrangements?” He looked at his empty mug, and picked up the second beer.

“I have been to Khazen many times, though I know the merchant square and inns the best. I have made trips on rivers, though none actually actually to or from Khazan. The shortest reasonable route from here to the vineyard is overland.”

She thinks about the matter. “I agree I do not want to find myself forming a group of bandits, I have woes enough already. I can go to one barrel in three, but I must also cover my losses, which stretch beyond coin into blood and humiliation. To go to one barrel in three I would have to insist on my choosing my share of the barrels first, no questions asked.”

Surprised, he replied, “I presumed your shipment was uniform. Pardon my ignorance. I can accept a fourth with a guarantee of one high quality barrel no matter what happens and a nice mix of additional barrels. I’ll still control the funds.” Edurin brightened conciderably.maybe he won’t swim home afterall.

Zhanh stopped at the table where Edurin and Weslynn were arguing about wine. Lumlas already looked a little bored by it, and was eyeing the other wizard in the group, Algris. Algris was a little upset by being thrust out of the way to eat chicken scraps while the sailor monopolized the wine merchant.
“Lumlas, I think you should come with me to the Wizard’s Guild. There is not much point in me going back by myself with a Minotaur in tow, even though he should make a good bodyguard. You should check in with the guild. You know Weslynn’s problem better than I do, and might have better questions to ask than I can think of.”
The elf-woman threw a questioning look at Weslynn, for whom she was beginning to worry, but Weslynn seemed oblivious to her at the moment. “Yes, I’ll go with you.” she told him, “but we need to be back before sunset.”
The three set out, leaving Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris in the Goblin.

Bart turned to the elf who dressed like an uruk. “You want me to watch your stuff for you? This is a busy place.” Bart gestured at the motley throng around him. “You see that one-eyed elven rogue over there–his name K’neevl. He’s a thief and a cutthroat. You see that skeleton talking to him. That’s Lightfingers Lorrk, said to be one of the best pickpockets in the city. I can’t guarantee the safety of anything you leave here.”

A barmaid sidled up to Bart and plucked at his sleeve. “The kitchen’s on fire!” she yelled at him.

Bart turned to her angrily. “What do you mean the kitchen is on fire? Put it out!” He stomped off to deal with the emergency.

Algris felt that the information he had obtained, at no little risk to himself, was important to this group, but they seemed to be ignoring him. He thought back to the moment when the dragon had materialized and grabbed him. He had to think quickly and speak well then. He remembered what he had said to get the dragon to take him inside and listen to him . . .

“I can agree to this, Edurin. No my shipment was not uniform, also, I doubt the thief is skilled in the proper way to transport wines, so I have little hope of recovering everything intact. Even if we catch up to him before he disposes of it, I expect much of it will be in poor shape indeed.”

“And there lies the risk.” Edurin sighed, “So you understand my risk, I fail to retrieve your wines in ten days, I won’t be going home. We have a deal. Please pardon me, but I do need to eat a little more before I head down to the river.” Edurin stood and returned to the big table. “Algris, com, sit down, and tell me about your new friend the dragon.” Edurin helped himself to another drumstick and ate hurriedly using his beer to assist in swallowing half chewed meat.
“It may be that we will end up raiding the castle. If the wines are lost we may be able to recover some of our losses that way, at least. Assuming we do launch an assault, survive, and can find goods enough to cover my losses so far, and your investment.”
Algris knew the limits of his luck, and the limits of his ability to lie. “Apologies,” he said, “we are far away from plague, or the famine that often precedes one. However, one more harvest like the last one–for my family and those all around us, and lean times will be approaching. It is not blight, nor weather, nor ignorance–my family has been tilling the soil for generations and know when to let land lie fallow. My brother came to Khazan to see what he could learn and did not return. A dolt at times, but still my brother and a wizard. I felt he was dead, and now that I hear of wizard killings…I am certain.

“The dragon teleported into his office in Herome Palace, taking Algris with him none too gently. “What have you heard of the wizard killings?” he hissed. “Do you know anything about them? Have you heard that many wizards are simply missing, and the ones we have found have been drained of blood?”

“There was surprise that a wizard would dare enter Khazan–or at least one not shrouded in protective magics and a suggestion I seek blades and muscle to accompany me if I did not wish to join the others in death. But there was no mention of bloodletting…”
“Now please tell me, how were they drained? Cuts in the legs, bled like cattle? In the neck? Where the heads removed and sewn back on? Did someone examine the bodies in detail? Did the hearts, livers remain?”

“I understand Weslyn, and apologize for being rude. Let me finish this last bite and I will rejoin you.” He hurried, half his beer gone pretty fast. “Algris eat what you want and then let invite the bar to finishe off the left overs. The three of us will head down to the riverfront once you’re ready.”

Weslynn stops speaking to Edurin, and turns to stare at Algris, her mouth agape, as he mentioned “wizards drained of blood.”
“What!?” tell me more of this. “As Edurin asks, how were they drained of blood? When? Where? Am I swimming in vampires now?  Eldurin, once Algris has told his tale, please accompany me to the merchant square and the docks, so that we may make arrangements for our passage, and send word to my family.”Algris took advantage of their sudden interest to tell them what had happened at Herome Palace.”

“The Dragon Man–not really one or the other–was unused to being questioned so sharply. He shook me like a doll before setting me on my feet. “What have you heard?’ he asked me again.””I told him ‘nothing. I just want to find my brother.'””The dragon reached up to a shelf and pulled down a large block of crystal which he set on the oversized desk. ‘Let us scry for your brother. Put your hand on the crystal and think of him.’ I obeyed. The crystal clouded up and then an image began to form. My brother’s face, pale, too pale. We live on a farm and are all tanned. His eyes were rolled back in his head. He looked dead. Then his eyes opened and he laughed. Laughed at me and his eyeteeth were like the fangs of a wolf.”The dragon put his hand on the crystal and scene changed. A dark night. A man walking in a dark street. A woman beckoning him. They clench. They kiss. Her face changes and she rips out his throat. His head flies back. It is my brother. She drinks his gushing blood greedily. She bathes in it. My brother stands up. HIs throat heals with unbelievable swiftness. He links arms with the woman and they disappear in shadow.

“Your brother is one of them now,’ said the dragon. ‘To answer your question. More than a dozen wizards have died in the last two weeks. Some, like your brother, have been turned. Others seemed to have fought. They were brutally slain, limbs ripped off in some cases. Some were crushed, struck by blocks of stone that fell from the sky.”

“The dragon turned to me. ‘Go home, human wizard,’ he ordered me. The last few years have been dry–it is a natural thing. Your brother is a vampire now, dead but not dead. There is nothing you can do for him.”

“I was stunned. I thought I would find him dead, but turned into a vampire?! That I could not have predicted. I staggered out of there and came here.”

“Poor man, you have my em-er-sympathy. What shall you do about this?”

“Dragon said go home. If he meant it, he could have sent me there just like he pulled me into his office. Either that or I wasn’t worth the effort…no matter. No answers, no brother–not even a few magic beans–there’s no way I can go home, or to what’s left of it. Right now I am in need of…too many things. But I have my wits, and a strong back for a mage. It’s best that we not be alone–room for one more?”

Weslynn looked this man in the eyes, and nodded to what she saw there. “Room enough for those who seek a leveling of the scales against a vampire, I think. I hope our purposes will align, and we can be comrades through our trials to come. Welcome to the group.”

She then looked around the room and at her remaining companions. “Edurin, it is getting to be time to leave and make arrangements for our passage and for me to send a missive home to my family business. Let us go arrange passage, and then I must send word to my family. Then we can spend the remaining time looking at supplies I think and t

“Yes.” Edurin stood, shouldered his pack, and called out to the patrons of the bar, “The food is really quite good. Help yourself!” He gestured to the food on the big table. “Come on, Algris and Weslynn, let’s go find a boat. Algris be prepared. We may still find your brother, although you may wish not to know him now.”

He headed out of the Grinning Goblin, and in the direction of the river. Time to find a boat heading upriver.