Chapter Fifty-Two

May 19, 2012


23rd of Saltmonth


                We ride out the next morning, and around 4:00, Korvinean returns to the party to tell us that he's spotted goblins tracks ahead--and lots of them.  The tracks indicate that there are somewhere between fifty and one hundred goblins heading into Zurwald.  Korvinean returns ahead to scout some more as we turn in the direction of the goblins.
                A little bit later, we hear Korvinean's horn sound twice to signify the enemy is present.  We break into a hard ride in the direction of the alarm.  I am the first afield and see several goblins attempting to hide in the underbrush.  I drill a crossbow bolt through the skull of one of them, just as Korvinean nails three others.  Briggette sends her lancers to charge into the fray while she circles wide, trampling a goblin or two along the way.  Ulric charges in and lances one of the goblins through the eye, decidedly ending its miserable existence.  Finn also charges forward and ends one of the creatures, as do I.  Korvinean fires again and takes out the last one we see.
                "Korvinean, is that all?"  Ulric calls across the field.
                "Oh, no.  That's not nearly enough!  These were just skirmishers!"  He rides back toward where he'd seen them to continue scouting ahead.
                We continue forward, and after about an hour, we hear Korvinean's warning horn sound twice again.  There is a brief pause, followed by another two blasts, then another pause and two more blasts.  As we reach the clearing, we see a small goblin army.  They are wearing bronze scale mail and carrying shields that bear the snake eye motif we saw amongst the goblins helping El Rahib.  They stand arrayed in an orderly battle formation, with the front line using holding their swords and shields and the back rows drawing back on bows.  They are flanked by some of their less orderly brethren who are not wearing armor.  In the center of their ranks, five goblins sit mounted atop worgs, one of which has chainmail barding.  This goblin is wearing half plate armor.  Behind it, another goblin, this one in a breastplate, rides a large dog in chainmail barding.
                I ride forward a bit and fire at the goblin on the armored worg.  The bolt bounces off of the armor, and I realize that all of the riders are female.  She fires back at me, landing a hit, but it doesn't hurt badly.  Korvinean manages to kill one of the riders, but her worg continues to advance.  Ulric, Briggette and most of their men charge as well.  Our archers hang back and fire at the enemies.  They attack us in return, but their ranks thin significantly with the first exchange of blows.  The goblin on the dog throws a small axe at Ulric's head.  It hits his helm and glances off just as Finn strikes the beast in plate.  He lands a strong, solid hit, but she doesn't go down.  Another throwing axe clangs off of Ulric's helm as blows continue to be exchanged through the ranks.  Briggette and Chancellor finish one of the mounted goblins, and charge toward the axe-thrower.  Brianna charges toward the disorderly archers at the back of the ranks of goblins, and all nine of them fire at her.  She manages to dodge all but one of the arrows, and is barely affected by the one which connects.  In answer, she strikes and kills three of them instantly.
                As we continue to fight, the goblin on the dog screams at Briggette in goblinish.  I hear that she screams something about being the instrument of vengeance for the serpent mother.  Even though Briggette cannot understand the cry, she replies with the tip of her fiery lance of justice.  Boian, too, is attacking the beast.  Meanwhile, Finn and I finish off the goblin in plate and her worg in chain barding. 
                As we continue fighting, the goblins fall like dominos.  After dispatching all of them, we pile the bodies and rest for a moment before continuing down the road a piece.  We don't want to camp too closely to the remains.  Korvinean rides up to Ulric and informs him that there is still something out there whose tracks he can't quite identify.  It was travelling with the goblins, but was not at the battle.
                After about an hour, we make camp and fortify it for the night.  Once again, I place my pallet by the fire.  We hear lots of wolves that night.  At one point during the night, I notice several shapes flying across above us, but they're so high up that I can't clearly identify them.  They are quite large, and there appear to be about four or five of them.
                When we head out the next morning, I let Korvinean know about the creatures.  From my description, he thinks they might be griffons.  I let the others know so that we can keep our eyes open, just in case.
                On the third day of travel after the goblin battle, we cross into Brajdic lands.  We come upon a village that we know from our previous travels to the capital, but this time it is burned.  Korvinean thinks that goblins were responsible.  We conduct a quick search for survivors, and find a basement in one of the larger buildings.  We head down into it, with Briggette going first.  I hang back so as not to upset any already traumatized survivors.
                As she enters the basement, Briggette can hear breathing.  "Who's in here?" she calls and listens carefully.  The breathing continues, but no one responds.  "It's okay to come out," she says quietly and carefully.
                A small head pops out hesitantly from behind a shelf, "Who are you?"
                "I am Sir Briggette, a Paladin of St. Cuthbert."
                The girl appears to be about twelve, and is somewhat skeptical.  "That doesn't make sense.  There are no girl paladins."
                "I assure you, I am a girl, and a paladin."
                The girl glances around and asks, "Who's that with you?"
                "That is Sir Ulric von Zurwald," Briggette responds matter-of-factly.
                She looks up at him in wonder.  "Are all the goblins gone?  Was it so bad they had to send you out here to help us?"
                Ulric tells her that we were not sent, but rather, found the burned village along our way elsewhere.  She turns back behind the shelf and says, "come on out."  Slowly, tentatively, four other small children trail out from behind the shelves.  She is the oldest, and appears to be taking care of them as best she can.  Briggette and Ulric lead the children out of the root cellar, and on the way out, Briggette trips over a decaying goblin body.  His remains are covered in spices; apparently, the children didn't want to have to smell it as it rotted.  The girl tells us her name is Anna, and one of the children is her brother.  Otherwise, they are the only survivors from the goblin raid on the town.  We get the kids settled calmly, restock what supplies we can, and head on toward the next village to find a place for the children.
                That evening, as we're about to make camp, we can see a column of smoke in the distance.  It might be coming from the next village, but it doesn't appear to be enough to have burnt down the whole place.  We decide to push the horses hard and ride on to try to make the village before deep night falls.  To make better time, Briggette leaves the children with her men, Ulric's men-at-arms, Brianna and Gustav while the rest of us ride at full speed on into the village.  We get to the edge of the village about twenty minutes later.
                Thank Cuthbert!  It is completely in tact and has even fortified with a small palisade around the perimeter.  We ride up to their small gate, and Ulric asks to speak to the Lord Mayor or whomever is in charge.  He tells them what has happened, and they agree to take in the orphans.  He tells us how to find the nearest noble, a knight, so that Ulric can properly report what has happened on these lands.  They talk for a while about the situation in the area, and our men arrive with the children about thirty minutes later.  We set up our camp outside their palisade for the night.
                Ulric and Briggette sneak upstream to have a bath, and they ask me to keep a lookout over the area.  In order to allow them to have some privacy, I cast darkness on the far side of the stream, then I stand guard on this side. Despite my better judgement, I can't help but sneak a peek.  After all, I don't have much of a basis of comparison, and Ulric is one of the most beautiful men on the planet.  It is a very satisfying moment.
                We get underway the next morning, and head on about our business.  After a while, we hear a commotion coming from the back of our entourage.  When we turn, we see that one of Briggette's men's horses has simply fallen to the ground.  We go to investigate what has happened, and find a ten-foot long snake in the grass about five feet away from the horse.  Ulric kills it, but the horse's leg is already turning black from where he was struck.  Korvinean tends to the animal over the next few days.  The animal lives, but it will be some time before it is fully back to normal.
                As we continue on, we come to a small village about once a day.  Many of their wardens have disappeared, and most of them seem to have holed up as best they can.  Finally, we come to a site that must have been a large battle.  There are grave markers there, and we are fairly certain that this is where Iulien's party made their stand.  Korvinean is able to pick up a trail going into the woods, but it is not one we can travel with our mounts.  We decide that Brianna, Korvinean and myself will scout the trail to see if it is even worth pursuing as a larger group.
                After about a mile, the underbrush suddenly ends, and we find ourselves standing in a clearing.  We all freeze as we see a small camp in the center of the clearing.  We watch for a moment and see humans walking around the camp.  There appear to be about twenty people, but we cannot see the entire camp from any one vantage point.  Everyone we can see is male, and all of them are wearing some sort of light armor and carrying weapons, but there doesn't appear to be any clear leader.  I hide carefully and move a bit closer to the camp.
                In one tent, there are several wounded men lying in pallets.  From snippets of conversations, I learn that they are in conflict over what they should do next.  Two of the men are arguing loudly, one wanting to go home, the other stating that is not an option.  I begin to make my way back to my friends, when I hear one of the guys in the camp behind me say, "What the hell was that?"  I immediately freeze and stay still as he moves out into the clearing to investigate.  Two of his buddies watch him as if he's crazy.  "There was something here," he says.  He is standing directly over me, almost stepping on my tail.  "I swear I saw it!  It was little, like a halfling or something. . . ."  However, despite his best efforts, he doesn't spot me.  I wait a few more moments after he leaves, then I make my way back.  I tell Korvinean and Brianna what I found, and we agree to go and update Ulric and the others.
                We decide to leave the horses and head in to confront the group about their identities and intentions.  We begin to traipse back through the woods, and though they're making an effort, Ulric and Briggette may as well be elephants parading through.  We step out into the clearing, and the man who was standing over me looking for me earlier says, "Oh, shit!" and raises the alarm amongst the camp.
                "Hello!  I'm Ulric von Zurwald!"  Ulric says without preamble.  "We're here to investigate a battle that happened nearby about a month ago.  Know anything about it?"  A man steps out of one of the tents wearing plate mail.  "Ah!  A man in plate!  You must be in charge!"  The man nods.  "This is my wife, Sir Briggette, Paladin of Cuthbert," Ulric sweeps his hand in her direction, "and the rest of them..."  The man looks genuinely confused.
                "What lord do you serve?" Briggette asks.
                "I am Sir Aefier," the man replies.  He still seems quite confused, looking back and forth between Ulric and Briggette.
                Briggette removes her helm, "I'm sorry, did you not hear me?"
                He looks at her incredulously, "Oh, are the Cuthbertines so desperate that they're knighting women now?"  She notices that his hand is on his sword.  He turns away from her, "What can I do for you, Sir Ulric?"
                "I think the lady asked you a question," he replies.  "What lord do you serve?"
                "My lord is dead.  I am a knight errant."  He sees that Ulric will not be satisfied with that answer, and he expounds that he served Lord Richter before he was killed.  He doesn't seem to know what killed the baron, as he was here on some errand when the killings took place.
                There is a brief, uncomfortable lull in conversation, and Ulric breaks in unexpectedly, "What do you know of the Neverese?"
                He has a slightly too long moment of hesitation, then replies, "I understand they are quite liscentious and that they pay their mercenaries quite well."
                As I'm watching, I stealthily move around to flank the leader.  I notice that Boian has his weapons drawn.
                Ulric cocks his head to the side and seems to have a moment of inspiration.  "What are the words for the Richters again?  I can't quite remember."
                Sir Aefeir pauses for some time, then stumbles over the phrase.
                At the same moment, out of the corner of her eye, Briggette catches a flash of movement.  Suddenly, Boian charges across the field toward that flash, and his dagger lights up in a blazing flame.  I step forward and take out the observant man who almost spotted me earlier.  Boian yells in Neverese, but none of us know what is said.  Ulric steps up to the knight errant, and sets his feet solidly, exposing his shield to the man.  The bear inscribed on his shield comes to life, roars and takes a chunk of flesh from the man's arm.  After its attack, the bear retreats and once more appears to be just a painting on the shield's face.  Gustav begins to make a speech about how generous and kind the Zurwalds are; he says that anyone who surrenders will be treated fairly.  Briggette joins the fray with Ulric, attacking Sir Aefeir.  Four men pour out of one of the nearby tents, but Ulric dispatches three of them immediately.  Other tents begin to spew forth men, and all are headed to the main point of combat by Ulric and Briggette.  Finn charges up to men on the far side of the field and splendidly cuts two of them in half.  Brianna runs up to another man and decisively puts her fist through his face.  I turn to kill a man coming up behind me, and find four others heading my direction who had just left a tent.  Korvinean fires at men on the other side of the field, taking out three of them.  Boian is continuing in single combat with a man on the other side of the field, while Ulric's shield pulls its zoo act again, the bear appearing, attacking, and ripping the head clean off of his opponent's body.  Briggette charges the men heading for me, and all four of them jump on her.  She manages to stay upright. Two men come out from behind a tent and fire at Ulric.  One of the arrows actually manages to find a chink in his armor, and he is hit in the shoulder.  Finn slices with his gruisarme at the two, and kills both of them in one swing. 
                From somewhere at the back of the fighting, we hear Gustav yelling, "Oh, won't you just surrender and live?" in an exasperated tone; he cannot understand their reluctance to yield.  Everyone has converged on the two remaining men in front of me, and one of them turns and runs.  Briggette hits the other and ends his miserable existence.  We capture the one remaining and restrain him so we can question him.
                As the fighting dies out, we hear one small skirmish still happening.  Boian and the final man standing are in a very serious duel.  From the looks of it, it is personal.  After about another minute, the battle is over, and Boian is victorious.  Upon closer inspection, we realize that this man is one of the men who had been in Brasov with the Hoffmanns.
                We press the remaining prisoner for information, and we are able to search all of the tents for additional imformation.  We find a letter which basically says the men should wait here, and that he will return with more troops; however, it is not signed.