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By Steel and Spell: Part III
Posted on Sun, January 08, 2012 by LordCeb
masterarminas writes "The fellowship is now aware of the nature of the threat.  And our story continues . . .

By Steel and Spell:  Part III

Joachim grinned widely as he spied the half-elf and the dwarf slowly ascending the ramp, lit by the morning sun.  Loping beside the two was a great northern timber wolf, whose fur was as black as coal.  And then he forced the grin from his face and frowned at the trio.  “Here now!  Don’t you two be thinking you be showing after the battle is over—again!—and sharing in the free ale the rest of us have earned!”


The wolf growled in a menacing tone, and Joachim stared at the creature as the hackles on the back of its coat rose and it barred its teeth, snarling at the barbarian.


“Shush, Howl,” said the half-elf ranger as he lowered the hood of his travelling cloak.  “It is only Joachim the Braggart, after all.”


The dwarf beside him snorted as he shouldered the war axe that he carried and spat on the ground.  “Aye, Erestan, and be-like he’s gonna tell us that he single-handedly defeated an entire army, just before we arrived.”


“Nay, my good dwarven friend, it was not alone that I slew the dead that walked and an evil rabid wolf-man, but our boon companions who aided in that task:  sneaky Nath’anatel, sweet Katherine, and our very own witchling Mordecai.”


Three townsfolk stood at the gate with Joachim, and now one of them frowned and stepped forward, his halberd extended.  “GIT!” he yelled, prodding at the wolf with his weapon.


The wolf barked twice and backed up, baring his fangs and crouching low.


“I think it would serve ye, best, lad, to stop poking that stick at my friend’s pet,” Joachim drawled.


“Companion,” said Erestan.


The barbarian shrugged.  “Whatever you want to call that mangy cur.  But you really need to leave the puppy alone, there lad.”


“I’m not to be letting another hell-wolf into the town, not after that first one tore out poor Liam’s throat,” the guard said as he took another step forward.


Joachim sighed and stepped up to stand right beside the guard.  “And I suppose that ye won’t listen to reason then, and pay attention to what your betters have to say on the subject.”


“The beast can stay outside in the forest—or decorate the mantle of me fireplace.  Ye words will make no difference.”


Then the barbarian grinned.  “I was so hoping you would say that, lad; I get tired of trying to talk our way through these little problems life presents.”


The guard stopped and turn to look at Joachim as the barbarian slammed an elbow covered in heavy mail and leather into the guards nose and mouth, knocking him to ground.  The wolf sat down and began to pant with his tongue extended as Joachim bent down and lifted up the halberd.


“You see, it might be a mangy cur and a man-eating wolf,” he said as he snapped the weapon in two across his knee, “but it is my friend’s pet . . .”


“Companion!”


“Whatever.  And I don’t particularly like,” as he broke the two halves of the weapon in two again, “when people draw weapons on any of those that travel with me:  be it man, elf, dwarf, beast, or witch.”


“You broke my nose!” the guard screamed through the blood rushing down his face.


“Aye.  Either of you two have a problem with that?” Joachim casually asked the other two guards.  Both of them quickly shook their heads.  “Ah, well, perhaps next time then.  And as for you, lad,” he said at the young man still lying on the ground.  “Next time when I tell you to put your weapon down, you might want to consider doing so while you still have a weapon—and before you lose what’s left of your good looks.”  He dropped the broken pieces of the polearm on the guard and waved one hand towards the gate.  “Everyone else is meeting with the mayor of Chelas down at the tavern.  Come on, I’ll show ye the way.”


The dwarf chuckled.  “Same old Joachim, do ye know the meaning of subtlety, lad?”


“Aye, Zephraim, I know the meaning of it, but why waste time with talking?  That boy will never forget what happened here today and he’ll think twice before he talks back to me again, won’t he?  And anyways, I asked him if he was willing to be talked out of it, and he said no.”


“That ye did, Joachim, that ye did,” laughed the grizzled dwarf as he followed the barbarian down the street, with the wolf and Erestan bringing up the rear.


****************************************************************


“It will take ye four or five days a horseback to reach the Old Svalich Gates in the foothills of the Rakers,” the Mayor said as he traced out a winding road through the forest on Mordecai’s map.  “Perhaps two or three days more on foot, for the road is not fit for fast travel.  We don’t be after getting much trade with Barovia these days, and the folks there mostly keep to themselves.  The whole valley be cursed, lad; are ye certain that you and yours wish to travel there?”


Mordecai nodded a somber face.  “Aye, it may not be the smartest thing we’ve ever been after doing, Lord Mayor, but what lies in that valley may not stay in that valley.  As we witnessed last night.  And your town is not the only one that rests in the deep of the Timberway.”


The old man looked down at the wooden floorboards, and nodded.  “I was hoping that would be your answer, but I must admit, I am feeling guilt at sending you to what may be certain death.”


“Death visits us all, in the fullness of time, elder,” whispered Katherine.  “The Stern Lady spares nothing in the end, and cowering will not stop her if it is your appointed hour.”


“Besides,” continued Mordecai, “we have probably faced worse odds and come through.  Probably.”


“In that case, may the blessing of all the Gods and Goddesses travel with you.  I have asked Master Ivan to prepare several packs for the journey, with fresh food for the first days and dried rations for the rest.  The smithy stands ready to repair any of your armor or weapons that require such, as well.  We haven’t many merchants, but those in the township are willing to supply you with such as you may need.”


The elf shook his head.  “I think we are already prepared better than Chelas could provide in arms and armor and general supplies, though the food is quite welcome.  You have our thanks.”


“When will you be leaving?”


“As soon as the last of our companions arrive and have had a chance to shake away the dust and weariness of their trek,” Mordecai answered, just as the door opened and Joachim stepped inside.


“Look at what just dragged themselves into town!  Reminds me of a joke I once heard about a half-elf, a dwarf, and a witch who walk into a pub . . .”


Mordecai and Nath’anatel laughed, and in one voice answered, “spit it out, ye bastard!”

Zephraim chuckled, as Joachim looked glum.  “Lad, ye need to learn another joke.  We’ve all heard that one a hundred times if we have heard it once.  The big fella filled us in on the walk over to here:  undead and werewolves, huh?  Well, we are game, right Erestan.”

“Aye,” the ranger answered as he scratched his wolf behind one ear.  “When do we leave?”

“If you are prepared, then, we can head out right now,” answered Mordecai.

The dwarf started.  “You do mean after a tankard or three, I hope?  There’s plenty of food in them there woods, but precious little ale or mead!”

The group laughed, and Mordecai shook his head.  “Just three then, Zephraim.  I’ll see to the steeds while you test Master Ivan’s kegs.”

****************************************************************


Five days later, the adventurers arrived at last at the Gates of Barovia.  The weather had not proven ideal for travel, with thick clouds, cold winds, and bitter rain dogging their heels the entire way.  The road had turned into a morass two days earlier, and the five horses and one pony on which the companions rode were caked in thick mud to their hocks.  To either side of the road there stood a granite pillar, topped with a fearsome statue of a gargoyle.  And to the pillars were attached a pair of wrought iron gates, covered in a patina of rust.  The gates stood open, and beyond the road wound through a dense primordial forest, dark from the intertwined branches that blocked out what little sunlight passed through the clouds.

“Well, at least the rain has stopped,” said Joachim as he rested his horse for a moment.

“Aye,” answered Mordecai, who gently patted the neck of his own steed, calming the beast who seemed spooked.  “But I don’t like the look of this thickening mist—and the sun is soon to set.”

“Listen,” whispered the ranger as his wolf companion whined.  “There are no bird cries, no animal calls; the forest is afraid.  Howl senses it too, as do the horses.”

The dwarf shivered for a moment and then shook himself.  “Bah!  Cheap tricks meant to frighten away strangers.  I say we press on; the village is just a mile from the gates by the map.”  But he drew his waraxe and held it ready in one hand.

The six companions began forward, but the horses and pony refused to pass through the gates.  As one, they began to grow more and more nervous, stamping and bucking and backing away.  Finally, each of the adventurers recognized that the beasts simply would not proceed any further, and they dismounted.  As soon as grips on the reins were released the horses (and pony) began to run back down the road towards Chelas.

Even Mordecai’s fine stallion could not be convinced to pass, although he did not flee.  “Zephraim, do you still have that bottomless bag of yours?”

“Aye,” the dwarf answered.

“Well, let’s save the tack at least,” the warlock continued, as he began to unstrap the saddle and remove the rest of the livery.  The dwarf placed each item within a normal seeming bag as Mordecai pulled them off the horse and placed them onto the ground.  Finally, he patted the big red horse once more on the side of the neck.  “Take care of yourself, Red.”

The stallion snorted once, and then twice.  He cantered back a few steps and then rose on his hind legs and snorted; then he turned and shot down the slope like the hordes of the Abyss itself were in pursuit.

“Hellfire and damnation!” the dwarf suddenly exclaimed.

With a ringing of steel, the rest of the companions spun around and drew weapons, but saw nothing except the dwarf pacing and muttering curses.

“Zephraim, what has upset you so?” Katherine asked.

“The pony—that bloody damned pony!  It was carrying all of the ale!”
"
 
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Re: By Steel and Spell: Part III (Score: 1)
by SirXaris on Sun, January 08, 2012
(User Info | Send a Message) http://https://www.facebook.com/SirXaris?ref=hl
I like it MA, but it's not enough.  Write faster! :)

SirXaris



Re: By Steel and Spell: Part III (Score: 1)
by Argon on Mon, January 09, 2012
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MastarArminas,

Thanks for yet another entertaining chapter to your story. I hope they get the ale back!

Later

Argon




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