Chapter Thirty-Four

January 14, 2012


4th of Darkmonth


The harvest around Brasov was completed—quite literally—as the bitter winds of a freezing front began to whip about the orchards.  The rest of the next few weeks are used to hurriedly store much of the fresh fruit as jam, and to put up beer and cider.  Hunters are set out across the forest, and meat is being smoked in the smoke houses non-stop.  The pace has been much more frantic than in most years, because it has gotten cold so much faster. The climate of Brasov is reasonably mild most years; and often crops can be grown right into Darkmonth, sometimes a winter crop of rye. Carrots and beets are also usually grown throughout the winter, but the snow came so fast and so hard that many people did not get their crops covered enough, it is likely that the winter staple borscht will be thin this year. Still, though frantic, store month is peaceful and productive.

            One afternoon, Ulric is summoned to the castle.  Around 3:00, criers walk through town, proclaiming that “The count has reinstated fiscale ale binelui comun at a rate of ten percent.”  None of us know what that means, but I notice that many of the business owners in town are exiting their shops at the cry, and none of them seem very happy.

Briggette grabs me and Korvinean, “Let’s go see what all this is about.  It kind of sounded like a festival until they said ten percent.”

The scroll and potion shop owners Kira and Arlen, as well as the jewelry shop owners Tagli and Grellyn, seem particularly perturbed.  Briggette asks Arlen what this foreign phrase means.  “It’s a tax on the spoils of war and imported goods,” he replies.  Apparently, more information is posted in the town square, and the decree states that the tax begins on the first day of the previous month, and that everyone must pay on the morrow!  People’s emotions run the gamut from angry and indignant to confused and stupefied.  One old man mentions that he hasn’t seen this tax in over fifty years.

This sudden taxation without grace period, time to prepare or recourse seems wildly out of character for Ulric’s father.  Briggette, Korvinean and I go around town trying to find out who will be hit the hardest with this new tax.  We find a couple of men-at-arms in the tavern who fall under the “spoils of war” portion of the writ, one of whom will owe 13 pieces of silver, but only has 14 remaining.  Another soldier sitting with him is in close to the same boat.  Briggette gives each of them fifteen pieces of silver to ease the pain of this unexpected tax.

When Ulric returns to our house that evening, I ask him what the hell his father is doing.  Admittedly, that may not have been the best way to approach the situation; however, I am so very upset that the people that I’m fighting for are only being given a day to make good on a tax they knew nothing about and had not prepared for, as well as the fact that the tax began more than a month ago without anyone knowing about it.  He gets indignant and first lectures me about obeying the law, then he begins to taunt and chastise me, saying that if I have such a problem with providing for the common good (which is what the foreign phrase translates to), he will be happy to pay my ten percent so I can ensure I live well while others starve.  I try to ask him why the tax must be retroactive and why the people have so little time to pay, and the only answer he can give me is that that is the way the law is written.  I go to my room and ignore him the rest of the evening.

They next morning, we get dressed in our finery and go to the town square to publicly make a display of giving our ten percent.  The count announces, “I am Count Zurwald, here to collect the fiscale ale binelui comun, the tax for the common good.  Who here will come forward and pay the tax?”

Ulric steps forth, “I will.”  He kneels before his father and presents a small chest.  “Thirteen hundred pieces of silver, ten percent of everything we’ve earned since the beginning of Storemonth.”

“Thank you for your honesty,” the count says, and lays a hand on Ulric’s head.  Ulric rises and steps back.  The count looks to the crowd, “Who is next?”

I step forward.  Ulric looks confused and mouths at me, “You’ve already paid your tax.”

“My lord, I’d like to make a donation—for the common good.  Fifteen hundred pieces of silver to help our people.”  I kneel as Finn helps bring forth my chest.  The count thanks me for my donation and continues to collect from the eight or so other residents of Brasov who will owe tax.  The crowd disperses and we go to the tavern.

We spend the rest of the evening eating, drinking and carousing on Ulric’s dime, and we discuss the mission his father is sending us on.  Three weeks ago, a boy was playing in some ruins in the woods and fell through the floor.  There he saw what he described as cold smoke.  When he returned to town, he was so frightened that they had to pry open his hand to get at the rabbit he had been carrying.  The day after that, a hunter was attacked and killed, so a party was sent to search for the beast.  A group of villagers was sent into the woods to find and slay the beast, but all were killed or severely injured, and no one in the village will enter the woods again.  As the boy spoke of the incident in hysterics over the following days, he kept repeating “blue eyes.”  We are to go investigate and remedy the situation.

We ride out and reach the village as night falls.  They do not have an inn, but they have a tavern, so we go to make arrangements for our stay.  While we wait for the headman, the tavernkeeper regales us with stories of his son going out to slay the beast.  The boy came home with a large ragged gash, claiming the creature was as big as the entire tavern with large glowing fangs.  After he trails off, Ulric asks how much to rent the tavern common room for the night.  The man says that we owe nothing for the use as we are there to slay the blue-eyed beast; however, Ulric pays him ten silver for our intrusion.  He literally falls into his seat with shock, but graciously accepts.

When the headman arrives, he is a well-bundled 70-year-old man.  Ulric apologizes for bringing him out on on such a cold night at such a late hour.  He explains that we are here to take care of his beastly problem.  He seems skeptical, and makes a joke that he thought we meant to deal with his wife.  He goes on to explain what he knows of the creature and what happened when their own party went to seek its end.  Afterward, we bed down for the night and rest up before we head out.

We get up and ready the next morning, and the tavernkeep has made us a hearty breakfast.  He looks at Ulric and asks, “You’re the son of a count, right, my lord?”  When Ulric answers affirmatively, he simply says, “Be careful.”

“I am always careful,” Ulric replies with a kind smile.

One of the survivors meets us at the tavern to lead us to the place where he fought the creature.  He describes the beast as being about ten feet tall, twenty feet long, white, with tusks that glow like the sun.  They were attacked at dusk, and he remembers the beast having large, glowing blue eyes.  As we continue, the trees are close together, but the underbrush is limited, so we have no trouble moving amongst them.  We come to an area where several trees have been knocked down.  He indicates that this is where they fought.  He tells us how it fought, that it was agitated and fast, a constant blur of motion.  To keep him out of danger, we send him back to the village and continue on into the woods.

We find an old trail that on closer inspection seems to be a very old, paved road, but the flagstones have become mostly overgrown.  As the tracks have run out, we follow the road to see where it might take us.

As we are walking, an enormous white boar with glowing tusks bursts out of the woods and attacks me.  He swats me like a gnat, and I fly off to the side and am knocked prone.  It continues to overrun the rest of the party and on into the woods at breakneck speeds.  He does not turn to come back at us, so we continue to follow the road to head to the ruins of the castle where this all began.

After about 30 minutes, we come to the ruins of a keep in poor repair, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a good summer of hard work.  The dirt around the keep comes up at an angle against the outer wall, and the gate is intact, but slightly ajar.  Inside, I see another large gate which is closed completely.  I notice a small bell near the top of it and stop the clacker, then I oil the hinge and slowly begin to pull on the door.  The door is made of extremely sturdy wood, but is quite hastily built and very roughly hewn.  I call the rest of the party on forward and—in true Ulric-ish fashion—we burst forth into the courtyard.  Off to the left, Korvinean spots a small boot print, then discovers a trail of them leading further into the area.  We follow them and come to an area with some roofed sections that appear to be an old stable and a forge.  Suddenly, a strange creature appears on top of the roof of the old forge and shoots a crossbow at Ulric.  The bolt does not find purchase, and I realize the creature used to be a kobold.  It’s skin is sloughed off and an eyeball dangles on his cheek.  Finn shoots it and kills it instantly.  We fight three more undead zombie kobolds, and make quick work of them.

We return to the gate directly across from where we entered the keep, and I notice it has several scratches along the bottom.  It opens to a small chamber with another gate, but this one has a hole roughly chopped out of the bottom.  I peer through the hole and see a 3-foot-tall figure standing just inside the door, completely armored and simply standing there.  Ulric and Finn work together to open the big heavy door, and the figure walks silently to the door, reaches for the iron ring and begins to pull the door shut.  Ulric bats it aside, and it immediately repeats its actions with no regard to our presence.  He picks it up and sets it aside for Briggette to hit it.  When she does, it crumbles to dust.

About this time, I hear the sounds of burrowing animals nearby.  Just in time, I realize that it is two large white wolverines coming directly for me.  As I can speak with burrowing animals, I ask, “Who are you?  What do you want?” 

They don’t respond to me, but instead are carrying on about “FOOD!!!” and how long it has been since they’ve eaten.  They charge me and in their haste, miss, but my blow lands solidly with Frostfang.  Ulric, Briggette, Finn and Boian all move in to attack the ravenous beasts as well.  They are ferocious and nearly kill me, but I manage to tumble out of the fray before they can kill me.  My friends slay the beasts and Briggette heals my wounds before we go on to search the area.  We find a nest area with a very nice suit of armor and over two thousand silver pieces.

Continuing to search the building, we come to a large courtyard which has a big nest on one side, a well and hexagonally covered area on the other.  We continue to the right to a gate which is barred from this side.  Going through, we find another gate and another behind it which, when opened, leads to another overgrown road, this one smaller and more overgrown than the one by which we entered. 

The next door to the right opens to another door five feet behind it.  Beyond that, we find a room filled with debris and another nest of sticks, hay, straw and mud.  Our next right is another gate barred from this side.  When we open the gate, we find a thirteen-foot-tall pile of debris.

The next door, however, is different.  It has a very good magical trap and a high quality lock guarding its contents.  As I open the lock, from behind it, a guttural awful language that is somewhat similar to Infernal releases a harsh multi-syllabic growl.  At that moment, the giant boar comes charging into the courtyard from the triple gates we left open at our backs.  He barrels through our midst straight toward me.  He strikes with a staggering blow which sends me reeling.  He strikes at me again, and I fall unconscious.  My friends strike at it repeatedly.  The door I was unlocking bursts open and a small white dragon steps forth and breathes on our party!

His breath weapon is an icy burst, and it stings when it hits.  Determined to win, however, they keep attacking.  Finally, Briggette screams “In Cuthbert’s name!” and strikes the dragon with Helga in a dazzling display that sends its head bouncing across the floor away from us.

Briggette heals me once more, and we enter the lair where the dragon was staying.  In the back corner of the room is a large pile of treasure.  Hanging above the pile on the wall is an actual suit of full plate armor.  It is beautiful, ornate and carved with intricate scrollwork.  Additionally, in this room, there is a very large chest roughly the size of a small couch.  It is magically trapped and masterfully locked.  I manage to break its defenses and find it filled with ancient silver Imperial ducats.

We begin to make preparations to haul out the massive amount of wealth we’ve found here.  We build carts and stay here another night or two to ensure we have a way to leave with all of our treasures to make our way back home.