The different pitch of the screams woke the dwarf and he soon joined Maruc on the roof.
“It coming from over there!” pointed the priest squinting into the gloom. “I thought I saw a woman, I can’t be sure though.”
“It would seem our neighbors may be dealing with troubles of their own,” Feldard commented dryly. “We cannot rely on them to come to our aid now.”
Feldard looked round as Hasan joined them. “How near must you be to finish her swiftly with your arrows?”
At the incredulous looks of the others Feldard shot back, “Would you rather she suffer at their hands for days? A swift death would be a mercy.”
“Dwarf mercy maybe.” replied Hasan darkly.
The priest struggled to keep the edge from his voice “Feldard. Not while I draw breath will I allow the death of an innocent. Lets face it, they are only Goblins, I say let us bring Halav’s justice upon them!”
A slow hand-clap coming from the mage interrupted his flow, Miklos had reached the battlement. “And how do you propose to do that?” he glanced momentarily over the parapet. “I can make nothing out over the glare of the fires and it seems the goblins have learned not to gather together in convenient groups for me to enchant.”
“Yes, I know its a ploy to get us to attack.” Feldard continued ignoring Maruc’s tone, “But as long as we are aware that its a ploy, half the surprise is lost. Its either that small mercy or we offer to surrender to them in exchange for the life of the woman. They might fall for that,” suggested the dwarf as the other clan members joined them. “Make up your minds quick. We have no time left”
“‘Tis surely a trap,” agreed Pyotr. “They mean to lure us out to slaughter!”
“Pyotr!”, Stephan hissed to his brother as they scanned the woods. “Do you know the woman?” He looked around at the others of the household. “Can any of you make out who this woman is? Might she be from the ferry landing or some neighbor holding?”
Darya, sobbing and upset, interjected. “Katarina has a yellow dress! What if they’ve attacked the Cherkass ‘stead as well? We have to do something!”
Pyotr returned and tried to comfort his wife. “Darya, we cannot risk it. I do not believe that is Kat out there.”
“But you can’t be sure!” she said, still shaken.
Stephan fitted his helm back on his head and adjusted his scabbard. “Aye, they seek to lure us out. But it beggars the questions, was the pause them planning the deceit? Or perhaps some new Gob clan has arrived? Or perhaps whatever hand is bringing these wretches together has arrived to take command?”
“I agree, Feldard, it’s no surprise anymore,” added Hasan, who was becoming more animated with each spoken word. He spun for the stairwell and had already drawn his sword. “Come now, let’s go. We must get her. I was a prisoner myself, not long ago. We cannot let her fall to the same fate!” urged the nearly stricken elf. He vanished into the darkness with sword still bared and eyes blazing with zeal.
The dwarf seized him with a grip of iron. Feldard had also felt a similar burning zeal to slaughter the goblins as the elf but reason won. “Hasan, hold your steel for but a moment!” the barked. “Listen a moment. You are the stealthiest of us. Could you shimmy down our escape rope unseen if we provided a diversion – such as offering to surrender? Then you could sneak around, retrieve the girl, whilst we set up an ambush for those coming to take over the hall and tower?”
“So spake the dwarf advising against the laying of false trails!” whispered Miklos well out of earshot.
“Yes, yes, let’s do that. But Feldard, you cannot stay here. From what I know of Goblins and there hatred of Dwarvenkind, your mere presence will enrage them to attack, even over the flag of truce. Come with me,” said Hasan. “Maruc, can your Halav aid us?”
“My Halav?” the priest said somewhat taken aback, but he overlooked the comment. “Mighty Halav, Re-Incarnate on His Ducal Throne might deign to aid us! With his blessing I can enshroud you in a aura of silence, or an item in your possession.”
Cast that power on this arrow here,” Hasan proffered one, “that our way may be speedy. After we are a bit closer, I think I could could introduce some confusion among the goblins if I shot this in their midst.”
Miklos came over. “Once you are free of the woodland I can enchant any Goblins on your tail and,” he turned to the other householders, “we can put up a reasonable missile defense as well. But are we going to pursue the idea of a diversion based on their trap? I assume thats what you meant?”
“Now listen before you descend. You cannot all hope to swiftly climb the rope under a rain of sling stones when you return. You must run around to the Hall door where Maruc can let you in. I can watch your backs from the tower.”
As Hasan alighted at the base of the tower, Stephan seemed to have an epiphany. “We didn’t get a very good look at that woman. And we agreed they’re trying to lure us out. That pause in the drumming and chanting just before the ‘woman’ appeared just had to be them putting together their little plan. It may be they’ve dressed up one of their own who can scream like a human.”
“A cold feeling is washing over me. I fear we’re falling for it.” He wasn’t sure if either Feldard or Hasan, already on the ground, could hear his words but he dare not speak too loudly.
“Alright!” Without warning, Stephan rushed down the tower to exit with a white apron, he he’d liberated from the kitchen held it up as a crude flag and tried to go out the barricaded door. He met Maruc at the door.
“Nail it shut after me. If need be, I’ll run back to that windhole and leap to make the distance up to it.”
He secretly hoped that helping hands would be ready in case he couldn’t make the scramble easily back through the windhole.
With a final nod and genuflect to Halav. The fighter stepped through the opening and raised the flag.
“Acklak!” He called out in the only word he knew of goblinese. “Enough! We are done and will give you all the treasure inside if you but let us pass!”
As he called out, he held the apron high over his head between his arms. And he walked resolutely toward the burned out ruins of the barn.
Once again, Red Blades emerged from the forest with their slingshots at the ready. Their eyes darting up toward the tower, weary of arrows. Half of them aimed toward the tower and the others kept Stephan in their sights.
The two wounded Wolfskull riders again led a crew of footsoldiers toward the yard. It was playing out just like their previous foray, only they moved much more slowly.
Because of the goblins’ caution, Hasan and Feldard had ample time to make their way down the side of the tower. Under the bright moonlight, they felt completely exposed. With every movement, they feared getting pelted by a storm of slingstones. At least they didn’t have to worry about the clanking of the dwarf’s armor, thanks to Maruc’s blessing.
They made it to the base of the tower just as the Red Blades had taken up their positions near the barn. The screaming continued in the forest in front of them. If they took the right trajectory, the tower should block them from being spotted by the slingshot-wielding goblins in the northern clearing. Yet, to any observers in the eastern forest, they were completely visible.