Chapter Sixty-Five

August 18, 2012


6th of Storemonth


                Ten days later, a man in the Duke's livery rides into town, posts a paper on the town announcement board, and rides back away.  When we are able to read it, the paper is a proclamation that makes Polygamist marriage legal due to the recent war widow epidemic.  It is quite a long document, and it goes into great detail about rules of inheritance and succession.
                Four days after that, Finn comes knocking at Ulric and Briggette's house.  He is carrying his tankard and says, "I don't know what to do..."  He tells them that he's been being followed, and that he dodged them by ducking into an alley.  He then popped out behind them and beat them bloody, knocking two of them out and finally getting the third to talk.  Apparently, they were coming to swear fealty to him and serve him; however, he is uncomfortable with this.  He asks Ulric for advice on leadership and permission to train the men and take them on as "apprentices."  He also tells us that, according to these men, there are others coming this way with the same intent.

                Over the next month, work is started to build a permanent barracks onto the church.  Finn has at least forty people come into town, and he sets them up in tents outside the walls to train them.  On the day before my birthday, the 24th of Darkmonth, I notice a new gnome in town.  He is the most handsome man--of any species--that I have ever seen.  I try to keep up with where he is without directly following him, and note that he speaks to several merchants.  Eventually, I go back to the Lovely Lady and have a few drinks, trying to ignore Briggette's mad planning for some massive party in my honor.

The next day, there is a massive celebration for my birthday.  There are twinkling lights and candles all over town, and tables have been set up in the town square.  There are pitchers of ale and wine on each table, and a wide selection of meats and fruits.  There is much drinking and merriment.  While there, the gnomish man walks up to me and says, "Hello, my name is Renny."  He holds out his hand, and I take it.  He leads me into the press of dancers, and shows his skill as an exceptional dancer.  He tells me that he finds me beautiful, and that my horns and tail are intriguing.  He doesn't understand why other people are hesitant to get to know me.  I find that, despite my suspicious nature, I instantly trust him, and I believe he is sincere in his compliments to me.

When I ask him his origins, he says he is from the mainland, where the gnomish population has an entire country.  "What brings you to Brasov?"

"You," he says, as if I should know.  I raise my eyebrow, and he continues, "I was doing some business in Tulcea, and someone told me there was a very 'special' gnome in Brasov.  I decided to come and see for myself."

"Well, I am special," I grin.  He and Ulric speak for a bit about the countries on the mainland, and Renny describes the gnomish country and the Five Shires peopled with halflings.  He turns and asks me if I would like to go with him back to his country.  "Of course, I'd like to see it someday. . . ."

"How about next week?"  I politely decline.

Briggette is visibly upset for a moment, but then recovers and says, "Present time!"  Just like a little child, I clap my hands and bounce up and down. 

Ulric explains that he is the one who threw me this party.  Finn gives me a beautiful flask.  I open and sniff it, and find it filled with a very fine Groznian plum brandy.  He tells me that it will automatically refill once per day with the same fine brandy.  I thank him and hug him.  Boian gives me a bottle of vodka he's made from his potatoes.  While not as good as the brandy, I know that it would be a great additive to other not-so-tasty drinks.  Briggette hands me a small package wrapped in a lightweight colorful paper and topped with a bow.  Inside is a black headband made of woven silk with Cuthbert’s symbol worked into the fine fabric.  It is exquisitely made and quite beautiful.  She tells me that she made it, and when I wear it and say "protect me" in Cuthbertine, it will offer extra protection from evil creatures.  Renny gives me a pair of earrings with rubies set in them.  Speaking in Cuthbertine, Briggette encourages me to wait to don these earrings as they are a bit extravagant for someone I just met.  Though I think she is being a bit insane, I acquiesce.

All through this gifting ceremony, Renny and Ulric talk about the mainland and the different countries, factions and politics there.  When I put the earrings away, Renny turns to me, "You know, if you want the ring that goes with that, you just have to come with me."

"I just wouldn't feel right.  I would be abandoning my friends and my duty."

He makes further arguments to try and convince me, and Briggette becomes increasingly concerned.  He mentions that this is a very "special" birthday, but doesn't say why.  Briggette seems to have a sudden realization, and tells him, "I think you're done here."

I turn to her and, in Cuthbertine, whisper, "You're being rude."  She admonishes me to trust her, and I grudgingly agree.

Renny turns to Briggette, "I don't know why you don't trust me.  Have I given you any reason not to?"

"You're a stranger who's come into our midst and is trying to take away my family."

I tell him, "You have to understand, the last person who offered to 'take me away from all this,' he was very nearly evil incarnate.  We're all a bit leery of offers from total strangers like this."

He further tries to convince me, and when I again refuse, he tells us that he will be in town for a few days should I change my mind.  He says he will send his man to meet us in case I can't find him.  We all continue with pleasant conversations and heavy drinking, more dancing and general merriment.  When I go to bed that night, I find that Briggette has posted Vince, Sandor and Oreab are posted as guards rather than simply sharing the house as normal.

The next day I take the earrings to the billet and to our local mage, Kira.  Both tell me that they're odd with a slightly magical aura, but that there is not enchantment on them.  Kira also tells me that the aura is because of the rubies, which come from a place where the elemental plane of earth meets some other plane.  I decide that they pose no significant risk, so I begin to wear them regularly.

Three days later, Renny comes to tell me he is leaving and to make one final appeal for me to join him.  I refuse once more, and he turns away slowly and makes his way out of town.


                About a week or so after that, Gustav lets us know that someone has come looking for Ulric.  The man is a hulking 6' 4" tall with a long black braid.  He carries a heavy pick and a shortsword.  He says, "I am Aetaesh.  You are going to take some lands for yourself?"

"I am," Ulric answers.

"Aetaesh would like to join you."

"We are looking for all manner of mercenaries."

"Aetaesh not want pay.  Aetaesh want house, right to hunt land."

"I'm sure that can be arranged."  The men discuss further what can be done, and Aetaesh offers to be our warden if we do not already have one.  Ulric explains that we will leave in the late Winter or early Spring.  He swears on the blood of his fathers to be a loyal servant to Ulric.


                As time passes, more and more people show up, either to follow Finn or Ulric.  Many are mercenaries looking for spoils, and still others are there for the cause.  The day before Ulric's birthday, on the 3rd of Stormmonth, Gustav comes in and says there is a knight who has come to join Ulric and has brought his own retinue.  His name is Sir Lajos, and he is the fourth son of a petty noble in the East.  Ulric asks Gustav to bring the man here.

Sir Lajos is a somewhat short man, about 5' 5" tall, with typical Groznian brown curly hair and brown eyes.  They make the appropriate knightly greetings, and Lajos acknowledges the heroic deeds Ulric has performed.  He wants to attempt to make a name and a better life for himself than the fourth son would otherwise get.  He agrees to swear fealty to Ulric and help in the re-taking of the coastal county he aims to conquer. 

That night, we have a ceremony wherein Sir Lajos and Sir Finn both formally and publicly swear fealty to Sir Ulric.  At Gustav's request, Sir Stefan and Lucien arrive in the town square as the crowd begins to gather to find out what is going on.  The bard plays a stirring tune of Sir Ulric's accomplishments in battle.  Gustav announces the two knights and their intent, managing with a few simple words to stir the hearts and minds of all in attendance.  Ulric is next to step forward and speaks of the honors and glories of battle and the loyalty and bravery Sir Finn has displayed.  He speaks to the heart and courage of Sir Lajos.  He talks about the duty he will face as the Lord of these noble men, and the gravity with which he undertakes the task.  Each man then steps forward to speak his own words, and cheers erupt from the gathered townsfolk.  Ulric finishes by giving another moving speech about bringing the light of Cuthbert back to the fallen lands, and then the party erupts as Finn offers drinks on him for the masses.

The next morning, Gustav wakes Ulric, "Sir, there is business for you downstairs." Ulric seems confused, but quickly dresses and goes downstairs.  He finds Alabaster there, saddled and waiting.  Gustav mounts up and leads him out of town to a place downriver away from town.  There is a pavilion set up there, and he says, "Happy birthday, my Lord.  I will be over there."  He points away up a small hill, and leaves Ulric to enter the tent alone.

Once inside, Ulric sees Briggette in the red dress she acquired in Nevers.  She has a large spread laid out for breakfast.  She tells him that she has arranged for them to have the whole day there undisturbed, with Gustav and Boian being the only ones who know where they are.  She gives him a gift wrapped up like the package she gave me.  It contains green and gold tack for his horse which can, once per day, cure some less serious wounds the beast may have sustained.  As with my headband, she has made the finely braided tack, and the enchantment is one she cast herself.  The two spend the day together, and have a nice time without interruption.


                Again, time passes while our men, old and new, train and make ready for an assault once the winter has ended.  Sir Stefan tells Ulric of the land we are set to take.  There is a dragon there called "Old Fang" which has yet to be dispatched.  There are also tales of a free town where the people have a reputation for being quite evil.  The land is also plagued by orcs, kobolds and likely some goblins.

On the 21st of Saltmonth, we gather our forces and head southwest.  Finn has accumulated eighty footmen and twenty horsemen, all of whom he's outfitted in grey and black.  Ulric has roughly 150 infantry and 50 crossbowmen, as well as 50 light cavalry and Sir Lajos and his eight heavy cavalry. 

We travel for ten days along the road through the Zelcos' land before arriving at the Mladenov border, where a detachment of their soldiers are waiting for us.  The knight who greets us, Sir Jon, is the count's first son, and stands as heir to the Mladenov lands.  He fills in a bit more info about the Itchovitch lands where a castle still stands, though it is damaged.  He leads us through their area to a suitable place we can make camp for the night.

The next morning, we head out and ride until about 2pm, when we come across a border tower, 45 feet high with a stone stable roofed in slate with arrow slits near the top.  Two walls run between the tower and the stable, and Sir Jon tells us these fortifications line the border about every three miles.  We decide to head straight to Baron Gardell's castle to speak with him, then go directly to take the old Itchovitch castle to take it and set up a base of operations while we clean out the rest of the county.

Jon sets us up in the tower for the night and promises to have a good meal ready for us in the morning.  When we awake, the spread is fantastic, and Sir Jon shares the meal with us before saluting us and sending us on our way.

That evening, we come across another tower built in the same manner.  A man comes out to greet us, "Hail, Young Zurwald.  What brings you here?"

"I am here to speak with the baron."

"That's a lot of men for a social call," he seems suspicious.

"It will be a short visit," Ulric replies, "then we ride north for the castle.  You may tell your Lordship that Sir Ulric intends to bring order to this land, order which has been lost since the collapse."  The man agrees to send a rider to notify the baron, and he has us make camp next to the tower. 

In the morning, Ulric leaves the army behind and rides in to meet the baron.  He brings Briggette, Boian, Wren, Gustav, Finn, Korvinean, Brianna, Sandor and myself with him.  The castle is large and we note that the wall around the town is 25 feet high and quite thick, as big as most normal castle walls.  As we enter, we can tell that there is an air of tension in the town. 

A billet rides out to greet us.  He warns us that this is a violent place, and that the baron, though a good man, is somewhat jaded in his old age.  He suddenly turns and walks off as if he never stopped to speak to us.

The chief steward heads toward us, a young man of about thirty.  He greets us officially and leads us to the great hall.  The baron sits at one end, and Gustav steps forward to announce us.  He asks why we're here, and Ulric offers explanation.  He reiterates some of the stories we've already heard of this land, including that there is a free town filled with what he calls "pieces of human garbage."  He even goes so far as to encourage us to kill them all as a service to the human race. 

He warns us that about a half mile beyond his border tower, there is an area of scorched earth.  Anyone who steps foot on this land will be killed.  No question, no chance for surrender or fight, simply killed.  He admonishes us not to attempt to rehabilitate them, and then toasts to our survival and success.
During our meal, the baron's son, Dannit, joins us.  His complexion and coloring are that of a typical Groznian, and he is very good looking.  He joins us at table, and I flirt with him.  He is a great conversationalist, and is quite the flirt himself.  He doesn't seem anything like his father in anything except looks.  We talk of the war and the battles we've seen, and he tells us that they faced an attack from shark men at the same time.  We talk and drink into the night, and then part ways to head back to our army.  Dannit accompanies us on our ride.  Ulric questions him about the residents of the free town, and he tells us that, as far as he knows, they are mostly evil and despicable men.  His grandfather told him that they were corrupted by the Vara'shan.  He draws a map of the area for us and lets us know the best side from which to attempt to take the castle.

We ride out the next day and heavily fortify our camp that night.  We begin to build siege engines for our invasion of the castle.  Korvinean scouts ahead to ensure that the hole Dannit told us about in the wall is still there.  He tells us of the other fortifications and defenses the orcs have either maintained or erected there.  While he was looking, he saw at least several hundred orcs milling about.

That next morning, we get up and march on Castle Itchovich.  When we get close, Korvinean, Brianna and I sneak into the courtyard through the hole in the wall.  Once inside, we see tents and shelters dug into the ground.  Several orc females along with several human women are caring for children of both species. 

We sneak around toward the front gate, and once we arrive, I throw an illusion of the closed gate up in front of the real one.  Korvinean and Brianna lift the bar just as I create the sound of a jaguar across the courtyard to cover the noise they make.  The second gate looms before us, but I can't make any sound to cover it this time.  They throw the bar and open the gates, and our force begins to charge in this direction.  Meanwhile, my illusion has dropped, and several orcs are entering the chamber between the gates.

Brianna and I close with the two front most orcs, and Korvinean shoots three in the middle.  They drop like flies, and though they try to gain advantage, they can't seem to land any solid blows.  Another group comes running toward the gate, and we annihilate them as well.

We hear our friends' horses entering through the first gatehouse, so we plaster ourselves against the walls and watch as Ulric, Briggette, Boian, Finn and around seventy other men charge through the entryway.