Chapter Eleven

April 16, 2011

 

            After the stag leaves, Korvinean notices that there are no animals around at all.  It appears they all went into hiding when the stag appeared. 
            In the morning, we ride on to the south.  We don’t come to any more major cities until we approach the border of the Duchy.  We pass through several villages, then finally come to the border of the county and the Duchy.  We see four riders approaching us.
            “Hail . . .” the man hesitates, “Knight of Zurwald?”
            Ulric lifts his visor, “Hail, good Sir!”
            “Who might you be?” the knight asks.
            “I am Ulric von Zurwald.”
            “Ah, sir!  We do not see your family here very often,” the knight replies.  “You are approaching the border of the Duchy.  We advise you to withdraw and carry on with your business elsewhere.”
            “That would be well and good, but we’re under orders from St. Cuthbert personally.”
            The knight looks shocked, but recovers quickly, “Ah… You are aware that our authority ends nearby?”
            “My father’s authority and Cuthbert’s know no bounds” Ulric assures him.
            “Of course!  I meant no offense, my Lord.”
            “Of course not,” Ulric smiles at him.
            “We’d be happy to escort you to the border, or accommodate you if you’d like to stay the night.”  He goes on to tell us a bit about the area, “We patrol into the wilds in the day, but we only ride half the day, then come back.  Perhaps six miles along the road is clear, possibly a mile or two beyond that.  Into the woods, no more than a mile.  We have goblins, bugbears… not many hobgoblins anymore.  To the southeast are several tribes of wood elves.  We are friendly with them but not in constant contact—they are a bit beyond our riding range.  Once a month, we travel into the wilds in force and for several days annihilate what we can, but I cannot give you much information past about six miles in.  I’ve been there, but not often enough to know . . .”
            “What is the closest river to the south?”
            “The closest that I would call a river is about twelve miles south.” 
            “I appreciate the council, but we must press on.  We have no choice.”
            “If we can get you anything . . .”
            We ask for their help with watering and resting the horses for a bit, then we press on.
            The woods are thick.  We can see that people pass through, but not often.  The area along the road is fairly well maintained.  About four hours later, we reach a place where the road is less maintained.  The paving is broken up, and the grasses are pushing through.
            Korvinean scouts ahead along the road, and about a mile further on, the road is torn up terribly.  It looks as though it has been forcibly unpaved in order to keep travelers from passing through.  Ulric immediately scans the area, suspecting an ambush.  Korvinean spots a giant footprint that would appear to belong to a dragon!
            We decide to walk the horses through the broken section of road, and move on.  This is not why we’re here.  If we have the opportunity, we will investigate it further on our way back.  Korvinean continues to scout ahead, and shortly gives us a signal that there is something up ahead.  He spotted a glint off to the right, and though he can’t see any specific thing there, he wants to let us know.
            As he creeps a bit closer, he sees motion, and before he can react, he is struck by an arrow, as are Ulric, Brianna and I.  An arrow narrowly misses Finn.  Just as the arrows settle, several javelins fly out from the woods on the east.
            Korvinean readies his bow and crashes into the woods on the west.  Our enemies appear to be goblins.  He fires, and one of the goblins goes down.  Finn charges into the eastern woods, and runs a goblin through with his lance.  A few moments later, he fells another with his sword.
            The remaining goblins from the east charge into the road and surround our group.  They all have shields and morningstars.  They miss Ulric, but hit me.  Ulric quickly mounts Alabaster, and they attack the two goblins at their feet, making mincemeat of them.  Briggette mounts Chancellor, then heals her injury.  Two more arrows bounce off of her armor, and she
            Up ahead in the woods, two of the goblins fire at Korvinean, but miss him.  He fires in return, and kills two of them instantly.
            Suddenly, a giant wolf bursts from the woods, and comes right for me.  On his back is a goblin in full chainmail carrying a large round shield.  The shield has a massive reptilian eye painted in the middle.  He hits me—hard—and keeps riding.  Brianna hits as he rides by, but doesn’t appear to hurt him badly.  I swing at the one next to me, but miss.
            Ulric swings around and kills the goblin on me.  He then turns to the ones still on Briggette, and ends another.  Chancellor attacks the other, and smashes it to a bloody paste on the road.
            Considering how injured I am, I withdraw to the north, and step into the treeline before shrouding myself in darkness and hiding as well as I can.  A moment later, I hear something moving quietly in the darkness with me.  I draw my sword and put my back up against a tree, listening carefully for the direction of the sounds.
            Brianna punches into one of the remaining goblins.
            Korvinean fires twice more and kills two more goblins.
            Ulric charges toward the goblin who appears to be the leader.  He screams, “you’re nothing but a short, ugly green gnome!”  The goblin turns and runs away, and a moment later, Ulric is shot in the back.
            Brianna jumps on a goblin riding by on a wolf, and drags him to the ground.  Korvinean shoots at the wolf about the same time that Finn barrels into it at full speed.  The wolf is obliterated.  We take the goblin that Brianna subdued into custody as our prisoner.
            The rest of the party systematically destroys the remaining goblins.  I leave my protective hiding spot and help my comrades bind their wounds and search the bodies.  We decide to make camp for the night, and tend to one another.  Myself and Korvinean are the worst off, although Ulric appears to have been poisoned.  Ulric keeps two watches to allow all of us to heal.  The next day, we are all still very injured, and decide to stay resting in camp for an additional day.
            During that day, Korvinean interrogates the goblin we captured.  Ulric asks me to translate:
            “Goblin, you are being tried for the following crime:  attacking an officer of the King without just provocation.  Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
            The goblin looks at me with disdain, “Who in charge, gnome bitch?”
            “Sir Ulric von Zurwald,” I reply and indicate Ulric.
            “He knight?”
            “He is the son of the count, and a knight of St. Cuthbert.”
            “Speak my words exactly:  as fellow knight, I claim the right of trial by combat.”
            I repeat his words to Ulric.  He smiles, “So, it’s death penalty then.”
            I tell the goblin, “He says, ‘you’re on!’”
He says, “Better die on feet.”

Korvinean walks over to the goblin and unties him.  He then picks him up with one hand and looks him in the eye.  “Why are you here?  Why are you attacking all these people like a coward?”

The goblin does not reply, but looks back at me, “Can I have a few minutes for feeling return to hands?”  I translate to Ulric, who agrees.

After he is loosed, he looks at Korvinean, “After me kill him,” he points at Ulric, “me kill you.”  He kneels down and begins to pray.

Ulric smirks.  “I would pray to St. Cuthbert, but I really think this would be a waste of his time.”

He prays for at least twenty minutes, and then dons his armor to prepare for his trial.  The combatants agree to a distance of ten feet, and square off.  He tells Ulric, “May your god accept you to whatever prize you’ve earned.”

Ulric returns the sentiment, and they begin to fight.  The goblin makes the first move, and strikes at Ulric with his shortsword, dealing minor damage.  Ulric returns the swing, and misses, as does the goblin on his second swing.  When Ulric swings back around, he slices the goblin’s stomach, and the creature collapses.  Ulric finishes him with a slice to the throat.

We pile the bodies of our slain opponents in the center of the pavement, and place him on top.  As we break camp, we set fire to the bodies, and set out to continue to the south.  We ride for a couple of hours, then make camp again to get more rest and heal.  We then ride on South for another two days.

Up ahead, we see some smoke, more voluminous than we’d see from a campfire.  Korvinean scouts up ahead and finds a pyre in the middle of the road.  When we ride up, we see that it is ten feet wide and six feet long, and has been stacked to burn for a very long time.  Korvinean notices small, booted tracks around the pyre.  It appears to have been burning for about three or four hours, and the tracks lead further south.  We notice that rocks have been placed on the sides of the pyre, and the brush has been completely cleared away.  Again, however, this has nothing to do with a river of blood, so we continue on our way.

In camp that night, our first two watches are uneventful, but during the second watch, Korvinean hears something large coming toward us from the north.  He wakes the rest of us up, and we can feel the ground shaking with the thing’s approach.  It appears to be coming straight at us.  Most of us scatter to the sides and ready our weapons.

As the beast approaches, we see that it is a giant beetle.  It snaps its mandibles over Finn, who barely rolls out of the way.  I fire at it, but my bolt simply bounces off of its exoskeleton.  It turns and runs back toward Finn, but misses him again.  Korvinean fires and hits it twice.  Once again, it turns deftly, and continues to rampage the camp.  Brianna throws shuriken and Ulric begins to ride that way.  The beetle rams into Alabaster, and Ulric both dismounts and attacks in one swift motion.  Brianna throws two more shuriken, and the beast goes down.

Finn cuts it open to examine its stomach contents and finds a metal box.  I search it for traps, and find nothing, so I unlock the box.  Inside, I find 326 very old gold pieces and a glass vial which contains an indigo liquid with a watery layered appearance.  We continue on our ride and make camp a few hundred yards down the road.

The next day, we come to a large river with streams of blood running through it.  There are several dead fish all along the shore.  The river appears to be darker and bloodier upstream.  We plan to catch as much additional food as we can here, then travel upstream.