The priest’s eyes burned with zealot fervor as he cast about himself for more foes. The groans of the dying filled his ears and the carnal house smell of blood. His heart sank, he watched Feldard as he placed his boot against a corpse and with a practised twisted, released his blade. He nodded to the warrior. “Touch and go there for a minute,” he said stretching his aching shoulder. A dozen wounds suddenly called for his attention but he ignored them. In the press of the battle he’d promised to check over Hasan and he’d fix him up before he treated himself.
Not far away, Ludo had collapsed to his knees, exhausted. He was totally spent, with no energy left. He felt lightheaded and his whole body hurt. He had never felt so tired before in all his life. He weakly rose to his feet and stumbled over to Hasan and started to staunch Hasan wounds as best he could, “Maruc, Maruc, over here! Hasan needs you!” Hasan was beeding profusely from numerous cuts and abrasions, but by far the most serious wound was where a spear had pierced his armour just over the ribs.
“Prince, dont you die on me, your royal blood is too precious to be spilled by some dirty filthy Gnoll.” Ludo grabbed his canteen and tried to wash Hasan’s wounds, but that seem to make the blood flow faster. Where was Maruc? Ludo sobbed and, the melee had been the worse fight he had ever been in and he was well aware how close they had been to all being killed.
Maruc followed the voice through the mist. A flash of yellow elf silk blotched with gnoll blood caught his eye. Swiftly he bent to pick it up and saw Lodo holding Hasan’s body. A broken spear shaft had wedged into his side. Hasan’s lifeless eyes stared accusingly up at him.
“No. No you don’t! Do you hear me!” His own pain forgotten, Maruc wrenched the spear out. Warm blood flowed from the gash, he held his hand over the wound and sent his prayer to his God. “Halav, my lord, I seek the soul of my noble friend, Hasan. I beseech you to seek out Ilsundal and beg Him to release Hasan back to us! Return him unto me, that he might still serve our cause and the cause of good and peace in the land.”
* * * * *
The stream beckoned, and Hasan followed. Deeper and deeper in the wood. The daylight fell behind, and great pine and oak forest grew thick and heavy. Hasan knew he had never visited this land before, but it was wild forest, so he ws content. He journed for hours, passing nothing living but the silent slurping of the stream. At points, the elf knew not why he followed, but he had lost any choice in the matter. Then the stream rolled its way down a soft clay embankment and tumbled to the right. A hill arose ahead, but beyond the grassy bank the hillside broke to form a great cavern. It was a familiar place. The elements merged, until space and place merged in his mind and remembered. This must have been how the Elyan found their own temple-cave, ages ago. Hasan prepared to cross the stream…then, a familiar voice..
Maruc stared into his face. “Come back old friend.”
The elf’s eyes fluttered. His senses slowly returned back to him as he surveyed the carnage around him.
The priest heard his name being called again. “Miklos is that you? Whats wrong?”
Off to the right the mage called again. “Here! Its Stephan! He’s dying.”
“Ludo, look after Hasan, I shall return.” Maruc picked his way over the corpses. “Keep talking Miklos, I can’t see you.”
“Here. Over here. There you are, come quickly his heart is failing.”
“Have you moved him?” Maruc knelt down beside the body and pulled his eyelids open and checked his throat of blockages. There was no blood, no obvious trauma. “He bleeds within. Step aside.”
“Lord Halav Incarnate, staunch this wound of you loyal servant Stephan. That he might live to free this place of evil. Stephan! Awake….Awake!”
Feldard’s battle alert mind was slow to accept the fact that the last of the gnolls had fallen. He kept casting about in search of another opponent. But none were found.
The dwarf could see Maruc calling on his deity’s aid to heal first Hasan and then Stephen. There was nothing Feldard could do to help with that. So instead the dwarf set about ensuring each of the downed gnolls was indeed dead. That included their matriach. Then he checked the perimeter, straining his dwarven eyesight to their max to see into the mist.
With nothing else seen or heard, Feldard moved back to the others to discuss the immediate future. “How are they doing, Maruc?”
He could see that both Hasan and Stephen were breathing, but beyond that they both looked still worse for wear.
Feldard shook his head. Things looked grim.
Maruc responded his dwarven friend’s concern. “Their souls are seeking the road home, Feldard. If they will not heed the summons or become lost, they will not awake.” Maruc gazed at the unconscious woodsman. “However they have not travelled long on that path, Halav willing they will.”
Ludo gently lifted Hasan up and supported him under the arm to stop him collasping, “Come noble Prince, lets get you into the hut, there may be a bed for you lie upon, which will be more comfortable than the cold hard ground” . Ludo guided Hasan to the hut and once Hasan was laid upon the bed (assuming there is one), he collasped against the hut wall and drank deeply from his canteen. Turning to Feldard, “If there are any more Gnolls about we will be finished. Thank Halav that Maruc sundered the Gnoll Shaman, if Maruc’s spell had failed…” his voice trailed off.
Перебування мого сина. Існує багато належить зробити.
Stephan woke from his nap. He felt a great peace about him; like the quilts his sisters knitted, the peace lay thick and comforting around him. Sirko, the family dog was there! The grey masstif looked at him with that quizzical look only a canine has.
“Sirko! You’re back! Oh how I’ve missed you! Are you hungry?” he said rising from his pallet near the fire. “I’ll get my bow and we’ll get some wood-ptarmigan.”
Sirko rose and stretched. The fire was weak now in the place. He was in the family sleeping chambrer at Sukiskyn. It was vacant. But surely his mother had been here recently, Stephan thought.
Throwing back the quilts, Stephan hugged his dog. “You seem very well this morning, Sirko.” Stephan felt the dog’s shoulder. “How’s the shoulder feeling?” he asked while probing for the old wound the dog suffered many summers ago. “Seems much better, I think! I don’t even feel the bone-bump any more! Da! This is good, Sirko! I’ll bet you can run again on it.”
A single beam of the morning sun shown through the west windhole. Looking around, Stephan asked “Where is everyone, Sirko?” Again the massive dog delivered the endearing confused look.
“What’s the matter, ‘ol boy?” Stephan ruffed Sirko’s head, scratching behind his left ear. “Seems like you have something to tell me. Well, we can talk about it on the hunt. I imagine the fowl are at the Dairlyn Rock. Let’s go see what we can get for breakfast.”
Stephan dressed in the trousers and pull-over that bore the Sukiskyn patterns. He grabbed his bow and slung a quiver on his back. Sirko sat looking at him all the while. Stephan reached to open the door and turned to Sirko.
“Ready boy? What is it?” The dog’s watery eyes gazed at the woodsman, capturing Stephan’s attention. He knelt to be eye-level with him. “You really are a mystery, this morning, Sirko. What you need is a good romp in the woods! Let’s go!”
Again he turned to the door and this time enthusiastically opened it.
“Ah!” he exclaimed at the light; his arms instinctively rising to protect his eyes. He felt a presence. Some leaves rustled in a slight breeze. In a few moments, his eyes began to adjust. A crunching sound in the leaves marked someone’s approach.
“Da?” Stephan queried. “Who is there?”
“It’s me, son. Papa.” Stephan could not see clearly in the light but sensed a figure in front of him.
“Papa!” Stephan was overjoyed. He could not find words. Sirko rubbed his head against Stephan’s leg. The elder Sukiskyn did not speak yet a flood of understanding washed over Stephan.
“It’s okay, Stephan. Believe me. I can’t begin to explain but…just know all is well. And I’m very proud of you. We all are.”
Stephan felt a tear. “But, Papa…” he could barely speak. He felt the quiver on his back; the bow in his hand.
“The hunt will have to wait another day, my son. Please, go lay down again in your sisters’ quilts. Sirko will stay with you. Perebuvannya moho syna. Isnuye bahato nalezhytʹ zrobyty,” his father finished in the olde tongue. “Stay my son. There is work to be done.”
Stephan had been so eager for the hunt but the wisdom of his father was clear.
“Da,” Papa, “Ya ne pidvede. I will not fail.”
With a new determination, Stephan closed the door. Sirko sauntered over to the pallet and layed down next to it. The dog’s massive head turned to look at Stephan, inviting him to rest. The fire seemed to have perked up a bit. A single flame rose from the coals; flickering some warm light. Stephan doffed his gear and layed down. He did feel like some more rest. His chest hurt a bit. He curled into the exquisite comfort of the quilts. The fire continued to burn. He turned to look right into Sirko’s eyes.
“Good boy, Sirko. See you later.”
The last thing Stephan saw before shutting his eyes for sleep was Sirko’s trustworthy gaze.
When he opened them again, his dream was gone and he joined Hasan back in the world of mist and blood.
* * * * *
Miklos had left Maruc to his prayers. He stalked away, confident that the priest knew what he was doing.
Feldard joined the mage as he made his way to the hut. “We need shelter for the night. I’ll check the hut see if it will do. Miklos do you know much of gnoll customs? Anything I should be looking for in there?”
“I know not much of the gnollish race,” replied the mage, “for they are not known to be a race with much use for the arcane. Nevertheless, I shall search the interior with magesight.”
Being in the hut helped the young Thyatian’s ease away from the carnage outside. It was hard to concentrate amongst the aftermath of the battle. He flicked open his book and read out his detect magic incantation. Summoning the power with his tired mind, mage sight lifted his vision and he cast about the hut seeking any baubles or trinkets of significance.
Inside Krasgat’s wooden hut was a selection of humanoid and animal skulls, and a bed of mangy furs. Hidden under the skulls was a leather backpack containing dried herbs, a pouch and an old Traladaran scroll case. The pouch held five amber gems. The scroll in the case had been scribed in the old Traladaran clerical dialect, something Maruc could surely read and recite without trouble.
On a rough shelf above the shaman’s bedding were two drinking vessels made from shrunken human skulls, each containing foul-smelling potions of some sort.
Built against the hut was a lean-to where the shaman’s attendants had lived. Inside were four beds of furs, amongst which was a small handful of gold currency.
Before the spell expired, Miklos returned to the carnage outside and spent the last few minutes scanning the battle field corpses. None of the gnolls seemed to have carried anything of particular note. The shaman carried various little repulsive adornments for her spellcasting—bones, teeth, and the like. Among these glowed two small vessels that containing potions that she had been unable to use before Maruc’s spell had brought her down.