Chapter Forty-Two

March 10, 2012


2nd of Saltmonth


             We continue on our way toward Reghin in the county of Dortich, the nearest major town.  We take some time to trade and rest, relaxing in the Black Dog Inn.  A light snowfall is beginning to cover the paved streets, but a crew of men comes around periodically to sweep the accumulation into the sewers.
            We decide that we must go and talk with the chapeau about our mission and seek his advice.  He tells of a hill giant cleric who lives in the mountains and has gathered a small group of followers.  He and his group were last known to be in the southern part of the mountains, but he tells us that the creature is nomadic to a degree.  The band will move from spot to spot, raiding small villages and taking slaves.
            As we sit in the Black Don Inn another night, Boian says, "Heads up."  We look up to see a man in a chain approaching our table.  He has brown hair and a light beard.  He carries a sickle on his hip and a heavy crossbow on his back.  Unbidden, he takes a seat at our table.
            "I understand that you are looking for a certain orb."
            "You understand correctly," Ulric replies.
            "Well, who's in charge?"  Ulric indicates himself, and the man continues.  "I am Hans, Hans Zimmerman."
            "I am Sir Ulric von Zurwald.  These are my associates, Sir Briggette and assorted others," Ulric sweeps his hand around the table to indicate the rest of us.  "You know something about this orb?"
            "I'm pretty sure I know where it is," he shrugs.  "Me and my buddies were in the mountains...  We checked out some stuff, and we found a cave.  We were attacked by a bunch of ogres as we got close to it, and they killed my horse pretty quick.  He fell on me, and they killed my friends.  Ogres aren't real bright, so I just sat there and played dead, and when they started to carry off the bodies, I dug my way out, hopped on my friend's horse and got the hell outta dodge.  But while I was there and they thought I was dead, they talked about this 'Orb of Winter' because they thought we were after it.  So, I guess, if you want to know where it is, I can take you there."
            Ulric agrees, and we flesh out the details.  We decide to leave the following morning.  Following our normal tradition, we drink and make merry well into the night.
            Around ten o'clock, we see a man walk in wearing all black--his cloak, armor, everything are all black.  His armor is half-plate.  Ulric notices him first and nudges Briggette who scrunches up her face and says, "Oh, all the fun just got sucked out of the room."
            As he makes his way to the bar, Ulric stands and says, "Hail, Sir!"
            The knight looks at him and says, "Zurwald?"
            "Yes, Sir Ulric von Zurwald."
            "Ah, the third son," he replies.
            "I believe you have me at a disadvantage, Sir."
            "I am Sir Conner.  I was sent here to train these people," he waves his hand lazily toward the room.
            "To train them?  For what?"
            "To fight," he states.  "I agree that it was a strange order, but as you know, when you are given an order, you follow it."
            We invite him to drink with us, and he joins us at our table.  We make polite conversation, in which he refers to Ulric as "Sir Ulric" and Briggette as "Cuthbert."  He asks about the guisarme and other weapons of our area.  We spend a couple more hours carousing in the inn before retiring to our rooms.
            As we make our way out the next morning, we make pleasant conversation with Hans and get to know more about him.  We make camp that night, and it passes uneventfully.  The next day's travel brings much of the same, but in the middle of first watch that night, we hear something running at high speed toward the camp.  Briggette and Finn debate about waking the rest of us, but it bursts into camp, tripping over me in the process.
            I wake up and am able to wriggle out from under it, and I see a woman in red robes cowering before Briggette's battle-ready glory.
            Ulric comes running from his tent, "What is all this?"
            As he surveys the scene, Finn shrugs and says, "She's kinda cute."
            "If I put away the sword, will you shut up?"  Briggette asks as the woman continues to scream.
            Finn clamps his hand over her mouth and leans into her ear, "If we meant you harm, you would be dead already."
            "Don't worry, you're safe here as long as you don't mean us any harm," Briggette tells her.  She looks around and, taking in the grandeur of our group, she faints.
            While she's asleep, the nature cleric, Ravassaadi, examines her.  She appears human, but on inspection, she is not.  Ravassaadi tells us that she is female and mature, but has no hair anywhere on her body except her head.
            When the woman awakens, she immediately scrunches up and looks around at us apprehensively.
            "Who were you running from?" I ask her.
            "Ogres," she replies.  She tells us that her brother told her to run.  We tell her that we have come here to kill the ogres and she asks to stay with us.  She tells us her name is Lisa, and keeps glancing furtively in my direction.  We agree to take her in and get some rest for the coming day.
            The next day, as we travel, I notice that Boian is agitated.  Ulric and I ask him if his enemies are nearby.  He says that they are close, but he is not sure where; the feeling is not strong.
            That night, just as Brianna and I are beginning our watch, we hear Boian scream, "To arms!"  I know he was sound asleep a moment ago.  When I turn to be sure he's not just dreaming, I see that the snake tattoo on his arm is glowing bright greenish light.  Three large lion-like creatures with long writhing snaky protrusions on their bodies jump into camp.
            A moment later, all of our horses are encased in a large spider's web that keeps them from being able to move.  The battle rages.  At one point, the fugitive we took in runs up behind Ulric.  Her stomach splits open and eight snake heads shoot out and bite at him.  After some more back and forth, we emerge victorious, if not a bit worse for wear.
            It turns out that the woman was wearing a wig to help hide that she is one of the universe-worshippers.  It had clips to attach to her scalp.  As we are dragging the remains to build a pyre, we see a large conflagration erupt in the woods; Korvinean has chased down one of the attackers who ran away.  A few minutes later, he returns with a head, which he throws on the fire.
            We camp there for an extra day to heal and recuperate.  Boian notes that Hans seems especially withdrawn, and Briggette goes to talk with him.  He notes our collective toughness and indicates that we have a few more days ride to get to the cave.  He questions our history and the sincerity with which we fight, and seems disheartened that we are "truly knights" unlike any he has seen before.  "We need to talk," he says, "and Ulric will need to be involved."
            They head back to camp, and we all gather in Ulric's tent.  He begins, "I wasn't completely honest with you.  My name is Hans Zimmerman, but my friends weren't killed by ogres.  My family is imprisoned by Sindri, and he has held them in order to make me do things for him for the past couple of years.  He sent me to bring you back to an ambush....  He scries.  He is a hill giant.  He will eventually eat my son and give my wife and daughter to the ogres.  After last night, after I saw what you can do....  I think my only chance of surviving is you."  He shudders as he continues, "I can take you to where the ambush is supposed to be, or I can help you bypass it."
            Of course, Ulric wants to face it head on, so we begin to make our plans....