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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past, Part Six
Posted on Tue, November 10, 2015 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "“Big words coming from men who likely wouldn’t even be able to pleasure that young lady you’re harassing, assuming you were worthy of being with her,” Weimar scowled back. “I’ve always found that the more people such as yourselves boast about your prowess, the smaller your protrusions actually prove to be in practice. Granted, I’m sure you all know that about each other already, considering how little success you’ve likely had with anyone else…”


 

Five days after its departure from Greyhawk, the Coast Dancer put in at Dyvers, and the adventurers found themselves in what was commonly referred to as the City of Shylocks. As greedy and grasping as Greyhawk, its most hated rival, could be, Dyvers was also known for its clear preference for placing Oeridian and Suel humans at the top of the social ladder. It was also known for what most people, including many residents of Dyvers itself, regarding as the preening arrogance of its nobility. Greyhawk, for all its own greed, was at least more open to the aspirations and goals of different races, even if individual places like the Savant Tavern and its Guild of Mercenaries barred women and certain types of demihumans from entry and membership.

The adventurers did not plan to stay long, staying only long enough to buy horses and supplies for the journey to Copper Crossing. By the time the Coast Dancer had docked in the city and been inspected by the customs officials, it was early evening and most of the merchants had closed their shops for the day. The companions had booked rooms at the Fox And Hound Inn, known for catering to travelers with competitive prices and surprisingly high-quality fare. They’d enjoyed a fine meal of roasted beef and spiced buttered bread (although Revafour had lamented the fact that they only served farm-raised meat, rather than any tougher game animal fare) and now Ma’non’go, Amyalla and Weimar were relaxing over drinks, their companions having already gone to sleep.

Looking at his two companions, Ma’non’go was bemused by the contrast between them. Amyalla was enjoying a light, sweet wine, having only had a couple of glasses, working on her knitting in between replying to Weimar’s gregarious comments. Weimar, on the other hand, had already made two trips to the privy, in between knocking back generous amounts of mead and rambling on about everything from various local legends to his exploits as a former scout in the Keoish army. Ma’non’go himself had drunk two flagons worth of beer, but his vision was still remarkably clear compared to his friend’s.

Amyalla uses her charms as much as her lockpicks or her stealth, the large Olman thought to himself. How many of her ilk are content simply to pick pockets, without actively enlisting help in their exploits?

And Weimar uses a shield instead of the two-swords style so many warriors with such wilderness training employ. Indeed, I can’t recall him ever using the natural magic that such rangers are often taught-he may not have the power for it yet, but I wonder if he could even keep his hands from shaking long enough to cast it?  

There’s so much more than what lurks underneath the surface in the both of them, Ma’non’go continued, something that I’m all too familiar with…

Memories of X’tandelexamenka and the old days in Hepmonaland came back to him, memories he did not care to recall, and made an effort to bite them back.

“…and that’s the trick to getting the fruit of the snapper-saw plant,” Weimar was saying. “If you trigger the leaves beforehand, even if it’s just with a tossed stone, you can hack at the leaves and then get at the fruit. Just be careful when-“

The sound of raised voices from over by the bar caught their attention. Several rough-looking men sitting at a table were laughing hysterically at a young barmaid, now drenched with the beer she’d spilled all over herself after one of the men had groped her behind. Several of the men staggered to their feet, their own faces clearly reflecting how much they’d had to drink, easily rising to surround the young woman as she looked around fearfully. The barkeep was calling out angrily to them, but some of them just laughed and spat in his direction, even as the others leered at the young woman.

“Suren when a worthy man makes an offer like mine, you’d best be accepting it,” one of the men, clearly the band’s leader by the way the others deferred to him, smirked lasciviously. “Or do you just lead us on deliberately, to squeeze more silver out of us?”

“Sounds like she seeks to earn more than she’s worth,” another man smirked. “Perhaps we ought to teach her a lesson in ladylike conduct?”

Three other large men, clearly the bar’s bouncers, emerged from the back room at the barkeep’s call, and they soon set forth at the ruffians. The bouncers and the ruffians were now fully into the conflict, pounding each other viciously. The rest of the patrons sat back watching, eagerly watching the fight and placing bets on who might win the fight.  

His eyes flaring, Weimar immediately stood up, and finished what little mead was left in his mug. Tossing the empty mug at one of the ruffians, he struck the large man in the back of the head, knocking the thug senseless. Several of his friends turned around, glaring angrily at Weimar, who strode forward fearlessly.

“Best to stay out of thing that don’t concern you, lad,” one of the ruffians spat, dropping the unconscious bouncer he’d just knocked out.

“Big words coming from men who likely wouldn’t even be able to pleasure that young lady you’re harassing, assuming you were worthy of being with her,” Weimar scowled back. “I’ve always found that the more people such as yourselves boast about your prowess, the smaller your protrusions actually prove to be in practice. Granted, I’m sure you all know that about each other already, considering how little success you’ve likely had with anyone else…”

Infuriated, the men not already beating the enforcers charged forward, giving the barmaid an opportunity to escape. Weimar didn’t seem the least impressed, picking up a chair and smashing it across the face of the first ruffian to close in on him. As the man collapsed, his mouth and nose suddenly gushing blood, Weimar struck another one with the chair as he swung it in another direction. The second man staggered back, and then Weimar drove the chair straight down on his head, breaking the chair into pieces as it struck him. The man fell like a sack of grain, but the two remaining thugs attacked Weimar at the same time.

One came forward with a punch, while the other came up and grabbed Weimar from behind, grabbing him by the arms. The other one came up and began slugging Weimar in the face, raising painful welts on his face as he struggled to free himself.

 ***

Ma’non’go moved to help Weimar, but he was stopped by Amyalla, who grabbed his hand as he stood up.

“He can handle himself, of course,” Amyalla pointed out to Ma’non’go before he could even sign a protest. Following her pointing finger, Ma’non’go could see that Weimar lashed out with his feet, slamming the thug attacking him in the chest. Crying out in pain, the thug stumbled backwards, before tripping over another thug’s unconscious body and knocking himself out as he hit his head on the floor. The thug holding Weimar relaxed his grip in surprise, and Weimar quickly slipped out of his grasp. Turning around, Weimar smashed the thug in the face with a vicious hook, before driving another fist into his stomach. As the thug doubled over in pain, Weimar kicked him in the face, sending him flying back to collapse. 

The bouncers had been joined by the barkeep now, and they were holding their own against the other thugs, but then one of the bouncers was knocked senseless by a chair wielded by one of the thugs. The remaining bouncer regrouped and braced himself for the thug’s next attack, but the thug was even more surprised than they were when his chair was snatched out of his grasp from behind. Turning around, the thug was surprised to see Weimar drive the chair into his face, before striking down two more of the thugs. The chair broke into pieces from the last blow, and then Weimar drove his fist into the face of the last of the thugs, knocking him backwards before the remaining bouncer quickly tackled him.

“Dyvers’ laws don’t allow for exceptions when someone gets into a bar brawl for a noble reason,” Amyalla explained. “The only people who aren’t arrested for it in this city are innkeepers and their employees. Just look,” she continued as the city watch barged into the building and began rounding up the downed thugs, along with the dizzied and drunk Weimar. Armed with swords and dressed in ring mail armor, the watchmen didn’t look like they were any mood to hear justifications from anyone involved in the fight.

“If Weimar hadn’t been three sheets to the wind when that little incident took place, I could have pointed out the exact same thing to him,” the halfling reminded him. “He can certainly deserve praise for going to help that young woman, but the watch would have had things well in hand. We’re in a better part of the city, one where the Gentry of Dyvers doesn’t tolerate too much out of place behavior,” she continued.

So…Ma’non’go signed.

“Let him spend a night in the cells,” Amyalla smiled. “Perhaps it’ll be the reminder he needs to pace himself and not spend so much of his time and our money on indulgences.”

 ***

Weimar woke up with a splitting headache, rolling around on his cot. At first he attributed it to a typical hangover, but then he cursed as he began to feel the pain from the rest of the bruises he’d suffered from the fight. Rolling over and sitting up, was surprised to see himself not in a soft bed at the Fox And Hound Inn, but in a jail cell. It was then that vague memories of last night began to come back to him, including the fight he’d gotten into.

Suddenly, he heard banging on the cell door, which didn’t do his headache much good. Cursing as he looked towards the cell door, he was surprised to see Amyalla sitting on the other side, a dagger in her hand.

“You had a restful night, I hope?” the halfling asked with a mocking smirk.

“I was…arrested?” Weimar asked in surprise, still holding his head. “Why did-“

“Because the Dyvers city watch will arrest anyone who’s involved in a fight, even if it’s for noble reasons,” the halfling explained. “Besides, it’s not as if you truly needed to be involved anyway-the city watch of Dyvers are quite noted for their professionalism.”

“…Where are the others?” Weimar asked. “Are they trying to free-“

“Of course not,” Amyalla rolled her eyes. “Luna and Seline are preparing their magic, and Revafour, Ma’non’go and Airk are out gathering supplies. We’re going to be joining them, just as soon as I pay the fifty silver wagons you owe in fines,” she grinned.

“And you just let them arrest me?” Weimar asked angrily, wincing as he stood up and walked over to the door to his cell.

“Perhaps if you hadn’t been so drunk last night, I might have been able to warn you,” the halfling replied, as a watch sergeant came up to open the cell door. “As it stands, you could stand to learn a lesson.”

“Oh? And what’s that?” Weimar demanded as the sergeant opened the door and let Weimar out.

“That the next time you plan to charge in to save a damsel in distress, you’d do well to have all your wits about you, so you don’t do it so foolishly,” Amyalla smirked, as the watch sergeant led them to where they were keeping Weimar’s belongings.

 ***

Dyvers’ elaborate public clocks, crafted by the supremely gifted gnomish engineers of the Lortmil Mountains, declared the time to be an hour before noon when the adventurers set out on the southwest road. In less than another week, Airk promised, they would be arriving at Copper Crossing, south of Verbobonc in the central part of the Kron Hills after passing through the Gnarley Forest and turning west at the village of Hommlet. To his companions’ relief, Airk seemed much calmer now, his face determined and grim but not suffused with anger, even sparing a mocking smile when he caught a look of the battered and bruised Weimar coming to join them.

Although the ride was calm and even pleasant, the sounds of their mounts’ hooves answered only by the sounds of birds, the skittering of animals in the bush and the sparkling of water through the streams and brooks, the companions were careful not to let their guard down. All manner of threats, from orcs and bandits to even worse monsters, could appear even in relatively civilized areas like the Plains of Greyhawk or the main roads between Keoland and the vassal realms of the Sheldomar Valley, and wilder areas such as these were all the more dangerous.

Despite their caution, the companions encountered nothing to trouble them for the first day of travel, nor anything when they made camp for the night. When they came upon the lone wagon on the second day, parked at the side of the trail, they were initially surprised, and then suspicious, sharing knowing glances with one another. All too often, bandits laid traps such as these for unwary travelers, attacking from the trees when the targets came up to investigate the wagon.

Advancing carefully, their hands on their weapons, Airk and Weimar were indeed surprised to see no bandits. Instead, they simply saw a middle-aged man sitting in the front seat of the wagon, and a woman of similar age standing in the back of the wagon, filling a sack with leftover food. The back of the wagon was filled with dismantled furniture, cooking materials and other homesteading supplies, the mark of people who had not only moved but taken their entire lives with them.

“Greetings, fellow travelers!” the man smiled at Airk and Weimar, as their companions came up behind them. “A pleasure to find company on the road!” he continued, as the woman finished tying the sack and climbed over to join the man. “What brings you here, on this fine afternoon?”

“A journey, and nothing more,” Seline smiled, as she rode up to join Airk and Weimar. Behind her, she knew her friends were still glancing around warily, unsure if these two were what they appeared to be, or something more sinister. “And now let me ask in turn-what brings you to these lands?”

“Careful about telling us who you are, eh?” the man smiled, as the woman sitting next to him chuckled. “Well, caution is wisdom in this part of the world, so perhaps I’ll start-I’m Bretten, and this is my wife Nusanne. Off to make new lives for ourselves in Restin, some miles northwest of Hommlet, just off the road to Verbobonc.”

“That accent,” Revafour spoke up as he heard them. “You’re not from Urnst, by any chance?”

“The County used to be our home,” Nusanne nodded, “but the harvests on our old land were bad. And with two of our sons moved on in the world, and our dear Willianak dying of the fever this past spring, there wasn’t much reason for us to stay.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Luna spoke up. “And I take it now you’re making a new life in Verbobonc?”

“Not much call for farming,” Bretten shook his head. “Restin is in more need of men who can help craft wood into worthy products. Did some carpentry whenever I could spare the time for my neighbors, so I think I can play my part,” he smiled. “And who might you all be? A collection of those freebooting heroes that the bards sing rollicking tales about to taverngoers?”

“Indeed we are,” Amyalla grinned, now quite certain that these two posed no harm. “Explorers of dungeons, slayers of monsters, protectors of the innocent! All this and more we have done in the short time we have been together, always striving for new horizons, eager to see what is over the next hill!”

“Then perhaps, you could accede to a humble request?” Bretten asked. “A request for protection to those who are ill-equipped to defend themselves, particularly in a land with many dangers about?”

Airk frowned at that. Restin was considerably to the north and east of Copper Crossing, and he was less than pleased at the thought of being diverted from his path. To make matters worse, he also knew that Kalrek might get word that Airk and his companions were after him, and either cover his tracks or-more likely-strike at Airk and his friends. Airk knew that Luna or Seline might be able to determine how to find him again, and that they could defend themselves if it came to that, but he would have preferred not to take the risk, particularly if Bretten and Nusanne were still with them. How easily would they be killed in the crossfire?

I don’t see as how we have a choice, though, he thought with a sigh. The others will want to see these folks along as far as we can, and it wouldn’t be right to leave them undefended anyway. These people might not typically be worth the effort to rob or kill, but if any bandit or monster becomes desperate enough…

“By all means,” Airk nodded, as his companions brightened at that declaration. “Pray join us, then, and fear not the hazards of the open road!”

 ***

“Lived all our lives in the County of Urnst,” Nusanne told Luna several hours later, as the homesteaders and their new guards stopped for a meal when they made camp soon before dusk, “farming for most of it, although most of our sons were never interested in working the land like we were. They both went off to Radigast City to seek their fortunes when they came of age, and only Willianak remained to help us. None of the priests had the power to help him when the illness came-and by the time a more powerful one arrived, his time had already come. There wasn’t much reason to stay after that,” she continued sadly.

“I’m so sorry,” Luna said, holding Nusanne’s hands in her own.

“We’ve come to terms with it,” Nusanne replied, although Luna saw how she blinked back a tear. “Better to die in his own bed than at the edge of a goblin’s sword.”

She tried to keep up a stoic front as she said those words, but Luna did not miss the bitterness in her tone.

“But why did he have to die so soon at all?” Luna wondered, noting the way Nusanne reacted to those words. “Why would the gods, Pelor included, allow such a thing to happen?”

Nusanne’s deep sigh told Luna everything she needed to know. She was caught by surprise at the strange look that crossed Nusanne’s face.

“And yet, you’re a daughter of Pelor,” Nusanne noted. “How can you say such things about your own god?” she demanded, her eyes narrowing.

Now it was Luna’s turn to sigh, the expression on her face as clear as glass to Nusanne.

“What have you lost then, child?” Nusanne asked, more gently this time.

“I’m…it’s not something I’m…” Luna began uncomfortably, before Nusanne nodded in understanding.

“Pelor is my guiding light, the one who reached out to me when everything seemed lost,” Luna explained. “I try to believe that, and yet when I see all the suffering in this world…”

The look in her eyes was even more clear to Nusanne this time.

It’s not just what she’s lost, Nusanne thought, but also who she’s lost. At least Bretten and I chose to leave Urnst, and start anew… 

 ***

“I have to admit, I’m not the most fond of light wine,” Weimar said before taking a draw on the wineskin. “I mean, I appreciate their paying us, but…” he took another drink, doing his best to keep from grimacing at the taste.

And yet, that doesn’t prevent you from partaking of these peoples’ attempts to repay us, Ma’non’go signed as he chewed his food, putting down his utensils to do so. Indeed, out of all the wine we’ve consumed on this journey, you’ve drunk more than half of it by yourself.

“So I have,” Weimar nodded.

Why, then, don’t you employ that magic flagon you found in the hags’ lair? Ma’non’go asked, referring to the magical drinking vessel that Weimar had claimed from the treasure of the hags they had slain at the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.

“What? And turn down the hospitality these kindly folk have seen fit to show us?” Weimar asked in an offended tone. “Certainly not, my good man! Not only would it be an insult to suggest that their gratitude is not good enough for us, but the flagon would be much more worthily used to celebrate when the journey concludes in Restin!”

What a convenient explanation, Ma’non’go signed, after he’d taken another bite of his food.

“What do you mean by that?” Weimar demanded.

I mean that you never seem to be without excuses to indulge in all the liquor you can lay eyes on, Ma’non’go explained. I’m curious as to why you indulge in it so much, and why Revafour refuses to indulge in it at all.

Weimar was about to take a third pull on the wineskin, but he stopped at that.

“You’ve heard the bigoted jokes, of course,” Weimar explained, “about drunken Flan and their fondness for liquor…never mind that paler-skinned people have acted just as stupidly when they indulge.”

Much like you, for instance, Ma’non’go pointed out to him.

“Why are you asking me this?” Weimar demanded. “What does it matter to you how much I drink?”

I’m merely curious, Ma’non’go explained, curious about those I travel with and the different parts of the world I visit.

“They didn’t have liquor in Hepmonaland?” Weimar raised an eyebrow.

Pulque drinks are mostly consumed by the wealthy and the upper classes, Ma’non’go explained, and rarely were there taverns as you would know them. Rather, most common folk in the more civilized parts of X’tandelexamenka drink coca tea, in coffee houses that would be more comparable to the drinking establishments you’re more familiar with.

“Yes, well, that’s fascinating,” Weimar frowned, the tone in his voice revealing that phrase for the lie that it was. “And yet, I’m curious that my imbibing should be so interesting to you.”

I just find it strange, Ma’non’go explained. From what I have experienced of warriors who are as attuned to the wilderness as you claim to be, most of them are more inclined to use two swords in their battles, rather than the axe and shield you wield, and less inclined to make spectacles of themselves by indulging in tavern brawls and drinking heavily, to say nothing of your romantic entanglements with various barmaids and dancing girls at many of the inns we have stayed in.

“Why should I follow what others do, if it doesn’t suit me?” Weimar demanded. “Do you truly find it so strange? Or were such things frowned on in Hepmonaland?”

They’re often frowned on here, Ma’non’go reminded him.

“Yes, in more polite circles,” Weimar scoffed. “Hiding behind their airs and their wealth, when they can be just as violent and short-tempered as any lowly vagabond.”

Is that why you indulge? Ma’non’go asked curiously. Because of your disgust at them? Because you want to show how different you are?

Weimar took a long drink of the wineskin at that, draining it completely before putting it down next to his empty plate.

“…Alright, I don’t know,” he muttered. “I don’t know, rationally, why I enjoy my drink. Are you quite happy now?” he demanded.

Ma’non’go frowned, a wounded look on your face.

I had no intention of offending you, he signed. I was merely curious, seeking to learn more about the Flanaess and its human cultures, so different from the humans of Hepmonaland, he explained. Perhaps, if you were the one in Hepmonaland, you’d be puzzled by the ways of the Olmans, Ma’non’go reminded him.

“Damn it all,” Weimar cursed. “My apologies-I don’t know where my mind is today.”

Think nothing of it, Ma’non’go assured him, noting the shame in Weimar’s voice and his sympathetic look.

Indeed, Ma’non’go was quite satisfied with the conversation, noting that Weimar had likely revealed more about himself than he’d intended.

His observations of his companions had only reinforced his realization that there was nowhere else on Oerth that he would rather be.

 ***

Six days of travel had brought the adventurers and their temporary companions to the outskirts of the village of Restin. Bretten and Nusanne thanked the adventurers profusely for their help, assuring them that they would be able to take care of themselves after that.

“May the gods’ luck be with you, then,” Airk nodded. “We should be off soon, once we replenish our supplies. There’s still a good amount of daylight left, and if we travel-“

“You won’t spend the night, at least?” Bretten persisted. “Surely you deserve a rest, and we should like to repay your kindness in escorting us here!”

“We’ve another journey of our own to make,” Airk said brusquely, “and it is one that we’ve been delayed on enough as it is.”

Bretten and Nusanne looked considerably disappointed at that, but Airk’s companions, who knew all too well the turmoil plaguing the gnome, merely looked at one another.

Looking at Bretten and Nusanne, and then back at Airk, Seline took him by the shoulder, leading him away for a moment.

 ***

“You can’t keep driving yourself like this,” Seline told Airk anxiously. “If you continue at this pace, you’re sure to drive yourself mad!”

“For decades,” Airk muttered. “Kalrek’s gotten away with his crimes for decades. How much longer is he going to be able to do it?”

“So you’re going to let him control your entire life, then?” Seline demanded. “How much satisfaction do you think he would gain from that, if he knew of it?”

“I…” Airk trailed off. “I…can’t…I can’t just…”

“We know,” Seline assured him. “We’re just concerned about you. And you know that we will stand with you-why do you think we have accompanied you? But you can’t let yourself be consumed by it.”

Airk hesitated.

“Please,” Seline insisted. “You know we’ll be off on the morrow. Just give yourself this one night of peace.”

Airk finally nodded, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.

He knew that Seline was right in what she said, and he knew that it was right to accede to her request.

But in the back of his mind, he still heard the screams of his brothers in arms, the war cries of the Steelheart dwarves, and the blood running like rivers across the stone.

More than anything, he heard Kalrek’s laughter. 

"
 
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