Monthly Archives: March 2011

Kerplunk!

Seeing the pirate boat turning away, Ludo lowered his bow – turning to Miklos, he asked him, “could you cast your spell upon the leader that would cast him into the sky and then release it when his ship has sailed on without him? With all that plate mail, he would sink like a stone.”

“Ingenious,” interjected Hasan admiringly. And the elf summoned his levitation magics, focusing all their power on the pirate captain. To execute his incantation amid their own vessels movements taxed the elf’s concentration, so the elf could only hold his breath as he released the energies on their target and heaved upward with all his might.

Stephan kept an eye on the pirate boat despite its turning away. Damn, he thought. Can’t retrieve those arrows. He watched to see what Hasan was up to.

He couldn’t help but laugh at seeing the plate-armored leader of the other boat be unceremoniously lifted from his boat. The man let out a string of curses that made Stephan laugh even harder. He could see that Hasan, however, was not laughing but actually breaking a sweat; his face in stern concentration.

Dwarf in the meantime was scrambling back to his feet and putting some distance between him and railing he’d almost gone through. He cast about looking for his dropped crossbow. Thankfully, it also hadn’t gone over the edge.

Hearing laughter, Feldard followed his companions gazes up into the sky and the dwarf added his deep guffaws to their mirth.

After seeing the man plummet to his watery doom, the dwarf looked across the waters to the fleeing boat. “Do we go after the others and deal with them now or wait til they regroup come for us again?”

Ludo yelled across to the pirate riverboat “heave too and prepared to be boarded. If you resist you can expect no mercy! Captain, look lively – take us alongside, before the bandits awake. Ludo looked at the Mudlarks crewmen, you men grab some grapples and rope we need to secure these bandits before they awake.”

“Easy there young man,” said the grizzled Captain Scylla. “My vessel tain’t meant for combat. We’re on schedule to arrive in Threshold midday on the ‘morrow and ‘tis a schedule I aim to be keepin’.”

And so the Mudlark continued on its journey on the Windrush River. The rest of the day was uneventful. After their battle adrenalin subsided, the battle-hardened companions relaxed as the sun began to set. Once again, the sharp-eyed Elven prince was the first to spot something of interest in the distance. High in the sky toward the east, over the hills and headed northward was a flying red carpet. One of the passengers was unmistakeably dressed in the trademark golden yellow robes of their rival Golthar. The other two riders were a man in chain armor and a female dressed in leather.

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Hard to Starboard!

With the slumbering enemy swordsmen collapsed on the deck of the approaching riverboat, Ludo had limited options for targets. He too would have liked to shot the man in platemail, but shooting from a moving boat across to another moving target was difficult at best, especially protected by armour. Therefore he continued to aim at the bowmen – it would take time for the pirate leader to rouse his men from their slumber and Ludo figured taking out the bowmen was the better option. He kept up a steady barrage of arrows and was satisfied to see two bowmen fall, one with an arrow through his chest, another collapsing; grasping his leg where an arrow had embedded itself.

Ludo yelled at their own captain “Hard to Starboard” to steer the ‘Mudlark’ away from the approaching riverboat, with a little luck they might avoid being boarded.

The dwarf, hearing the enemy’s barked order to target his spellcasting companions, took a more visible position as he raised his loaded crossbow. Feldard aimed as best he could towards the leader and fired off his bolt. He figured his aim was good enough to hit the human. The question was—would his bolt penetrate, or glance harmless off?

Feldard didn’t get opportunity to see, as the Mudlark swung around ‘hard to starboard’ and nearly pitched the dwarf through the rails into the river.

Stephan lurched with the Mudlark as it swiveled in the river. Regaining his position, he kept a barrage of arrows directed at the man in plate, hoping to at least keep him busy if not wound him.

Frustrated at the chieftain Maruc soon realized that he had attracted the attention of his friends, this he would soon regret. Maruc winked at Miklos, the mage was chanting again.

Below the gunnels Miklos angrily pulled the arrow out of his shoulder. He winced, blood stained his travel worn robes. Gritting his teeth he began his second sleep spell….this time aimed deliberately and firmly within the ranks of the bowmen.

Protected by Maruc, the mage was able to concentrate fully on his spellcasting. This time to great effect, for the entirety of the archers dropped their bows as they fell into slumber.

Hasan grinned through the pain. Blood coursed down his arm and he raised his fist in defiance. An arrow streaked past the Elyan, but the elf stood steady, euphoric in combat in ways his friends had rarely seen. The elf calmly called upon a second incantation. With speed no ordinary dart could achieve, a magical golden quarrel buried itself in the plate-armored leader. The man was not stopped, but he was bloodied.

With the majority of his raiding party sleeping soundly on the decks of his ship and facing a constant barrage of arrows and magic, the brigand leader rousted another of his crew and ordered a full retreat. What remained of the bandit crew set about to reversing the ship’s course as quickly as they could.

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Battle on Windrush River

Ludo was the first to see the foreign riverboat approaching. He yelled a warning to his companions, grabbed his bow and started shooting arrows at the bowmen. He focused his shooting at the bowmen, trusting in Feldard and Stephen to handle any boarders. As he was shooting his arrows he crouched low in the boat, to give himself as much cover as he could from the side of the boat and presenting himself as a target only when he was ready to release his arrow.

The angry thud of arrows swiftly brought Miklos below the gunwale. At least this river piracy wasn’t unexpected. First things first, he had to deal with the bowmen. If there was one advantage in boat travel, it took a while to do anything. They had time to coordinate.

“Hasan!” he snapped forgetting his usual honourific, “Can you put those swordsmen to sleep, I’ll take the bowmen.”

Miklos quickly gestured and, as he opened his mouth to speak the word of power, an arrow buried itself in his shoulder. The pain made his voice falter and his spell fail. He glanced hopefully at Hasan, the elf should be able to disable the second boat at the same time.

Hasan hailed their enemies, “For the Radlebb. For Elyas and the Elyan!” He was somewhat pleased their wait for the hidden rider had ended, and the simplicity of combat was upon them. He joined Miklos in casting a sleep enchantment, focusing his spell’s impact on the swordsmen. He too was targeted by the bowmen, but just managed to complete his incantation as an arrow ripped into his bicep. One by one all of the riverboat’s swordfighters fell as the brigand leader cursed.

Gratified that at least one of them had managed to get off a spell, Miklos ducked back preparing his second spell for the swordsmen.

Maruc pulled his shield around and ducked. He edged his way toward Miklos. The spellcasters had become targets before he had been able to get to him. With his stout shield, the priest hoped the mage would have the protection he needed.

Feldard cocked back the bolt in his crossbow and found himself a target. The man in plate armour. His release sounded more like a ‘tock’, compared to the twang of the bows of the elf and rogue.

The dwarf judged distances and reloaded again. He had to admit that the elf had done well by disabling the brigands’ grapples.

The river had begun to lull Stephan and he cursed himself for not being quicker to the bow. The twang of Ludo’s bow was already sounding as Stephan readied his own. He launched two arrows, minding to not send of his enchanted arrows just yet. He focused his bowmanship on the large fellow in plate. He’d have to get a lucky shot to get through that armor.

“Keep targeting the spellcasters!” barked the heavily armored leader, as he moved to his slumbering warriors and began trying to quickly roust them.

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Aboard the Mudlark

Ludo followed Maruc down to the Quay. Mister Plattermann had kindly offered two of his employees to help Ludo transfer the purchased supplies to the Quay, which when they arrived was placed at the landing jetty for the next boat due to head up river to Threshold. Ludo paid off the two men but was concerned when one of them asked his for his destination. Was he being paranoid? He wasn’t sure, but he did his best to disguise his concerns.

“Kelvin”, he muttered and then paid them off for their labours. He was sure that Golthar was watching and plotting against their every move. It was a worrying situation. He was pleased to see the group all gathered at the wharf where they all moved in to gather their supplies and rations for the journey to Threshold.

Its was close to noon and, after the hearty lunch, Ludo was tired. Facing the unknown of when Golthar would strike next made relaxing impossible. While he waited for the boat to arrive and to start loading, he got out his wetstone and sharpened his sword and daggers, he had a feeling they would be needed soon.

“A beautiful bird Lord Hasan. I have never seen its like and I have been by a river most of my life.” Maruc grinned, the beer had put him in a good mood. As he stared at the bird his eyes crossed the sturdy vessel that could only be the passenger boat of which the innkeeper had spoken. The priest waited patiently as the riverboat crew helped the passengers off the boat and handed up their baggage.

“Captain,” Maruc asked, ”could we purchase passage to Threshold?”

“Aye lad, how many will be traveling?” he replied.

“Myself and five companions and our gear.”

“Come aboard lad. My name is Scylla, and I’m the captain of the Mudlark. It will be 16 crona each.”

Maruc nodded and handed coins over as the boatsmen started loading their supplies. Maruc continued, “We are advised that we should be there in two days time. Is this correct?”

“Hah, Stubbs playing his old tricks again? Aye just after nightfall, sooner if we can get the sail up but the winds a bit slack, but we’ll see. Sooner we start the sooner we’ll get there.” he turned to the deckhand, “Come on! These fine lords are in a hurry and there’s no pay for slackers!”

Miklos eyed the bank suspiciously. He half expected to see Jolenta darting between houses in her search for them. Confidently, he perched himself at the prow of the boat and stared, basilisk – like at western shore and surrounding woodland trying with pure force of will to penetrate its shadows and learn its secrets.

Stephan surveyed the loading of the supplies Ludo acquired. He could tell his mates were eager to go, just as he was. It seemed to take a lifetime for the ship to be ready but at last the ferryman called for the ropes to be undone and they were off.

Breaking connection to the wharf was decidedly discomforting. He could see that Feldard was none too pleased with the situation either. Keeping an eye on the banks as the riverboat progressed, Stephan tried to remain calm.

Feldard kept his eyes on the shore of the river and his grip on his crossbow. It was difficult for even him to tell whether he was more tense because of Jolenta or because of the river they traveled.

Hasan paced the barge’s portside railing, scanning the shoreline and hoping the party’s last unnerving river ride would not be repeated. He smiled grimly at Maruc on occasion. The boat’s crewman would not return his gaze.

A few hours into the journey, the boat passed an unsettling sight. The corpse of a female human floated by, killed by three black-feathered arrows.

As the sun was setting, Hasan’s keen eyes caught a glimpse of a mounted figure in the distance on the skyline behind them.

* * * * *

It was an uneasy night for the companions, but it passed without trouble. They continued to look for signs of the rider who trailed them, and discussed all manner of strategies for the unknown dangers that lay ahead.

It was midday when that danger finally found them. Another riverboat emerged from the concealment of a side stream, and moved to cut across the bows of the Mudlark. A group of 10 archers drew black-feathered arrows. Another 8 fighters were poised to attempt to grapple the boats. All the while, a strong looking man in plate armor barked orders to the brigands.

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Eat and Run

As Stubb’s refilled Stephan’s stein, he remarked “Oh, I believe ye have a mate here. The fellow o’re there,” he gestured. “In the robes.”

Stephan turned to see Miklos. The mage, maintaining a low profile, had escaped his notice upon first entering. He had expected Ludo and Maruc since they’d entered town with him. But the others were to meet up on the north side of town.

“Ah! Yes,” Stephan said while trying not to show too much recognition. “I met the bloke on the road. Easy enough traveling companion. I’ll have to go say hello.” Stephan nodded at Miklos and made eye contact. ‘I don’t think we should linger here long,’ his inner voice warned.

Stubb’s eyed the woodsman. “Aye. Me thinks he wanted to ‘av a word with ye. Ah! But here be yer grub laddie. Eat up first!”

Stephan gladly accepted the steaming bowl of stew.

Miklos walked over to the woodsman. “Well met again Stephan. I trust you trading went well. Did my advice help? Did you get a better deal?” The woodsman grinned. “Excellent, Pyotr will be pleased,” he eyed the halfling, “Might I have a private word?”
Plattermann took the hint and wandered back to the bar. When Miklos was sure they would not be overheard he continued. “There is a tall dark woman with ‘piercing’ blue eyes on our trail by the name of Jolenta. She was the one the merchant saw in Kelvin with Golthar and has been here not seven hours ago. She had our descriptions, but more importantly she had your name.”
Miklos rubbed absently at his stubbed chin.

“She knows, or guesses our direction, the chances were with the horses we were likely to come here to sell them. As she arrived first and she knows we have not yet passed through she will no doubt be watching Rifllian for us, if she hasn’t spotted us already. Our northward journey is looking more hazardous the longer we wait. My advice would be to travel by river as soon as possible.”

Maruc hadn’t sat down. The beer was very good and he drained to last mouthful. Miklos’s hushed advice seemed their best course of action. “Ahh Mister Plattermann, do you perchance know for anyone reputable who is traveling northward on the river today?”

“You be in luck. The weekly passenger vessel pulls into port in an hour,” Stubbs answered. “Ye can board then and arrive at Threshold two days hence.”

Ludo tucked in to the finest food he had eaten in days, the food was excellent as was the ale. He glanced around, there seemed to be no one who stood out from the crowd apart from he chuckled to himself, most of his traveling companions. Oh well he sighed, it was good to have them nearby.

Still he was worried, the journey to Threshold would be dangerous, he pondered the issue, by river or by land. The river would be quicker, but would be watched he was sure of that. The Iron Ring truly did have its eyes everywhere. Even now he could sense that Golthar knew their location and was just waiting for a chance to strike.

He helped himself to another ale, burped and whispered to Maruc “I think we should travel up the river, speed now is the key, Golthar is well aware of our description and has his spies searching for us, even now I think they are close. If we can get to Threshold before Golthar, we can then resupply and move into the wilderness before he can gather his forces against us.” Those damn horses slowed us down – but they are gone now so we can move more freely and quickly”. Its a pity that fancy boat was not going up stream – maybe we could have begged a ride with its owner. I wonder if Hasan knew who was the boat’s owner” With that final comment, he tucked back into his lunch.

Stephan was a bit nonplussed at Miklos’s asking Stubbs for privacy. He’d know the halfling a long time and didn’t want him to feel slighted. He listened to Miklos.

“Yes, I agree. We should leave and fast. River is fine with me. But let’s try not to throw our names around too much. And maybe we should change our looks. You gots any spells for something like that?”

He spied Maruc, who had been at a nearby table moments ago, talking to Stubbs at the bar. “Looks like our priest is asking questions. Maybe he’ll find us quick passage out of town.”

He finished his stew and left two more coins on the table. “I’m heading out, we’ll meet at the quay in a few minutes.”

It was too late to improve Feldard’s mood, even with a pint of ale. The news of this Jolenta asking of them had soured his outlook. While the others talked together , he sat alone in the corner of the pub and eyed the rest of the crowd. No doubt there was at least one in the crowd that had been queried by the woman and was now putting two and two together and coming up with a notion of a handful of crona for his information.

Stephan crossed to where Stubbs and Maruc were talking. “Pardons,” he injected with a respectful nod to Maruc. “Master Stubbs I am sorry to eat and run but I must.”

“Master Sukiska! Safe travels. You’ll be picking up your mount at Prestelle’s?”

“Yes.” And in a casual but low voice that he hoped only Stubbs and Maruc would hear, “Might have to run by the quay real quick. I’m off!” Stephan exited the Silver Swan pulling his hood over his head and starting a circuitous route to the quay.

Hasan waited for his friends by the quay. The elf watched the blue-black water amble past the wooded shoreline. The river was no more than 100 handspans wide at its widest point, just 50 from good cover on either side. The elf was uneasy. They had already been ambushed once, traveling on the river. They would need to keep a sharp watch out. A splash pulled the elf from his reverie, and he saw a steel blue bird explode up from the water, a silvered fish flinging tiny rainbows caught in his mouth. “Look, Maruc,” the elf pointed, as the human stepped heavily on the dock. “The King’s Fisher. It is a rare sight. Let us hope that we are he, and not the fish, as we enter the river.”

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The Silver Swan Inn

Stephan, Maruc and Ludo drove the horses on to Prestelle’s establishment. Having separated prior to entering Rifllian, the three making their way to Prestelle’s hoped to meet up with the remainder of party on the other side of town.

“It’s midday,” Stephan declared the obvious. “A good time to sell horse. This way to Prestelle’s.” He lead the horses and companions to the stables on the south side of town. Dismounting in the yard, Stephan grinned at seeing Prestelle already engaged in horse trade. From the looks of it, his old acquaintance was making a pleasing deal. This bode well for Stephan’s trade. The woodsman dismounted and approached Prestelle from behind.

“A sunny day and sunny deal, Prestelle?” The proprietor nearly jumped out of his boots. Turning, he recognized his old friend and grinned.

“Yes indeed, Master Sukiska! Yes indeed! A very bright day indeed! And brighter now that you grace my humble shoppe.” The tall elvish horseman quickly stowed what seemed to be a bulging pouch of coins before taking Stephan’s hand in greeting.

“I’m glad you’re here, Master Sukiska.” He peered beyond Stephan to take in the equine goods he’d brought. “What have you here, lad?” he said dispensing with formality. Prestelle moved with alacrity to the first horse and began assessing the creature.

“Ah, but my manners are lacking. I see you have traveling companions…”

“Paid hands only,” Stephan lied. “Jobe” referring to Ludo and “Balen,” he indicated Maruc. Prestelle eyed them with suspicion. A seasoned trader in horses and aged elf was no fool. He could tell these were more than hired hands. But out of respect for his loyal customer, he let it go.

“Well met, sirs. I trust your journey was smooth and not overly taxed with horse droppings,” he grinned at his own jest.

Turning back to the horses, “Fine mounts. Yes, fine horses. As usual from House Sukiska. A little worn from the road,” he said walking around the horses. “In need of a rub down….hmmm,” he leaned in scrutinizing a bolus on one of the horses’ haunches.

“A bit of balm should take care of that,” Stephan offered. To be expected from a horse that just made a trip from the south. And in the rain.”

Maruc had kept quiet throughout Stephan’s negotiation with Prestelle nodding only briefly at the traders acknowedgement. He had no background of trading like Miklos to offer support and his eyes betrayed the subterfuge Stefan was espousing during his introduction. He was sure the Stephan trusted Prestelle, equally he was sure that the elf knew or guessed that the trading was only part of there reason for being here. The less Maruc said or did the better.

Ludo nodded to Maruc. He though it would be best to leave Stephen to engage in the final dealings with Prestelle. Maruc shifted uneasily and was pleased when they were free of the elf trader.

Stephan and Prestelle continued to engage in friendly barter until they reached an agreeable deal. As hoped, it was already a good day for Prestelle, so he was willing to make a good price for the horses. All in all, he was satisfied with the deal. He had managed to get more from her than what Ahiktos had offered, and the gold would go along way toward helping his clan rebuild.

* * * * *

“This Jolenta intrigues me,” Miklos remarked to Feldard as they walked through the small town. “Another wizard perhaps? Golthar’s apprentice? Either way this complicates things but also confirms that we are on the right track. He is still throwing his resources at us to slow us down or slay us. We must be vigilant. Even now we may be being spied upon. Let us find an inn.”

It was not long before they made there way to the Silver Swan. “Hello Barman.” Miklos smiled at the halfling behind the bar “Two draughts of ale please and here is an extra coin if you can tell me if you have seen a man in a yellow robe or a tall dark woman by the name of Jolenta?”

“A tall dark woman ye say? With piercing blue eyes?” he replied.

The mage nodded in reply, anxious to see that the halfling seemed to be familiar with this mysterious woman.

“Ye wouldn’t happen to be traveling with a man by the name of Stephan Sukiska? Why, she was just here early this morning. I can even recognize ye by her description, which she gave in quite some detail.”

“That is quite interesting news,” said the mage. “Allow me to confer with my companions. Stephan should be joining us soon and then we shall no doubt discuss this matter further.”

Hasan watched the elf king push off from the Rifllian quay. He ached to see his tribe restore itself to this glory, for surely that was their destiny in these times. How lucky was he to see such a sight, a clear sign of the path before himself and his folk. For he had no doubt, the time of the Elyan was near. In the meantime, he swallowed his pride, and remained carefully hidden below his cloak, trying to remain anonymous in the Callarri waystation.

Together, the priest and rogue walked down the street just outside the Silver Swan. “That elf guessed something back there,” Maruc commented to Ludo as they walked, “but I think we can trust him as far as our journey ahead goes. My guess is that Golthar is ahead of us anyway, so if Prestelle is false he is unlikely to get a message to Golthar before we get to Threshold. The question is will he be there to greet us? Or is he elsewhere?”

As they entered the inn, a smiling halfling approached them, wiping his hands on a apron. “Greetings young men – what can I get you today?” Ludo fumbled in his pocket for a list of supplies that they would need for their travels on to Threshold and asked the Halfling inn keeper ‘Stubbs Plattermann’ if he could fulfill the order. In particular he was keen to get some ale for Feldard, Ludo noticed that if Feldard went without ale for any great length of time he got quite grumpy.

“So Mr Plattermann,” inquired the cleric. “Who did the rather ostentatious barge belong to that just left the jetty?”

“That was the Duke’s Galley. Quite a sight, ain’t she? The Elvenguard pilot the vessel to and from Threshold from the capital once each month, dropping off supplies and picking up taxes, furs, and the like.”

After purchasing the supplies, Stephan entered the Inn looking quite pleased with himself – no doubt the sale of the horses had been completed and Stephen had got a good price.

“You have returned, my old friend!” declared Stubbs in a voice too loud for Stephan’s liking given his current mission. Several patrons cast unwelcome eyes on the woodsman as he crossed to the bar. “Will it be the usual, Master Sukiska?” Stubbs asked while grabbing a large flagon from what looked like a little-used cupboard. “What brings you to Rifllian?”

“Horse trading, my good Stubbs. Horse trading. It’s good to see you again. Business looks good. Oh and, yes, the usual please.”

Stubbs poured generously into a large stein a rich brown malt brew. Stephan thanked the jolly bar keep while placing two slivers on the bar. He drank deeply of the nutty brew. The effects were pleasing. Nearly instantly, he could feel the positive effects of the brain-metabolizing substance. His limbs, right down to the finger tips, felt energized yet relaxed. He remembered why he loved this diminutive brew masters so much.

“Ah. This is impressive Master Plattermann!” He threw another silver on the counter. “I’d almost forgotten the pleasure. The best in my travels, for sure!”

Stubbs beamed with pride. “It is an old clan recipe. The techniques are, shall we say, meticulous, in the brewing of it.”

Stephan cast his eyes about the place noting, he hoped without a flinch, the presence of Ludo and Maruc.

“Yes,” he said turning back to Stubbs, “your establishments seems to be doing well. I’m glad for you. But I’m sorry to say my time in Rifllian is short. I must be away and soon.”

Stubbs appeared crest fallen. “Surely your travel has engendered some degree of hunger. Can I have Pruddy prepare you some bangers before you flee?”

Stephan could smells the goodness of the cookshop in the back wafting through the pub. “Well, I suppose some sustenance is in order. Yes! I’ll refill the gut but then must be on my way.”

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