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    The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past-Off The Beaten Path
    Posted on Sat, May 05, 2018 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "Airk considered Bretten’s request, frowning. Etterboek was considerably to the north of Hommlet. Bretten and Nusanne were likely planning to take the western branch of the High Road where it forked, and cross the ford over the Imredys Run. From there, they could reach the city of Penwick and continue west to Etterboek. The companions had been planning to continue along the south branch of the High Road. They could travel south from Etterboek to Hommlet once they’d escorted Bretten and Nusanne, but it was a delay.   



    Chapter Nine

    Off The Beaten Path

    When the companions set out from Dyvers on the western road, the city’s elaborate public clocks, crafted by the supremely gifted gnomish engineers of the Lortmil Mountains, showed the time to be an hour before noon. Their first destination was the town of Calatran, west of Dyvers. From Calatran, they would turn south on the High Road into the Gnarley Forest. They would continue along the High Road, passing through the towns of Sobanwych and the infamous Nulb until they reached the village of Hommlet. From Hommlet, they would turn west into the Kron Hills, where they would reach Copper Crossing.

    Airk was calm as the companions journeyed, much to his friends’ relief. His expression was determined and grim, but lacking the anger it previously had. He even gave a mocking smile when he saw Amyalla leading the battered and bruised Weimar to join the group before they left Dyvers.

    The companions’ journey through Calatran was uneventful, as was the first day of their journey through the Gnarley Forest. The month of Reaping was drawing to a close, and the Gnarley Forest was alive with the sounds and colors of high summer. The companions enjoyed the sounds of birdsong and chattering animals and the sight of the beautiful greenery and rivers as they rode through the woods.

    The companions were careful not to let their guard down, though. Relatively civilized areas like the Plains of Greyhawk or the main roads between Keoland and the vassal realms of the Sheldomar Valley were constantly threatened by bandits, orcs and even worse monsters. Wilder areas like the Gnarley Forest were all the more dangerous.

    On their second day of traveling through the Gnarley Forest, the companions came upon a lone wagon parked at the side of the road. The companions were surprised and suspicious, sharing knowing glances with one another. Bandits frequently used wagons like this to lure in unwary travelers, attacking from the trees when their targets came up to investigate.

    Airk and Weimar advanced on the wagon on foot, their weapons and shields in hand. They were surprised not to see any bandits emerging from the forest around them. Instead, they saw a middle-aged man sitting in the wagon’s front seat, and a woman of similar age sitting in the back, filling a sack with leftover food. 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 said, smiling a greeting to Airk and Weimar as they came up to the wagon. “A pleasure to find company on the road! What brings you here on this fine afternoon?” he continued, as the woman finished tying the sack and climbed over to join the man at the front of the wagon.

    “A journey, and nothing more,” Weimar said, as the rest of the companions came up to join him and Airk. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that his friends were still looking around warily, unsure if these two were what they seemed, or if they were 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 said with a smile, as the woman sitting next to him chuckled. “Well, caution’s wisdom in this part of the world, so I’ll start. I’m Bretten, and this is my wife Nusanne. We’re off to make a new life in Etterboek, just south of Verbobonc.” 

     “That accent,” Revafour said once Bretten had finished. “You’re not from Urnst, by any chance?”

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

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

    “Not much call for farming,” Bretten said, shaking his head. “Etterboek’s more in need of carpenters. Did some woodworking whenever I could spare the time for my neighbors, so I think I can play my part. And who might you all be? A collection of those freebooting heroes that the bards sing rollicking tales about to taverngoers?” he finished with a smile.

    “Indeed we are,” Amyalla said, certain that Bretten and Nusanne were harmless. “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 grant a humble request?” Bretten asked. “A request to protect those ill-equipped to defend themselves, particularly when there are many dangers about?”

    Airk considered Bretten’s request, frowning. Etterboek was considerably to the north of Hommlet. Bretten and Nusanne were likely planning to take the western branch of the High Road where it forked, and cross the ford over the Imredys Run. From there, they could reach the city of Penwick and continue west to Etterboek. The companions had been planning to continue along the south branch of the High Road. They could travel south from Etterboek to Hommlet once they’d escorted Bretten and Nusanne, but it was a delay.   

    Airk didn’t like the idea of being diverted from his path. Worse, he knew that Kalrek might get word that the companions were after him. Kalrek might cover his tracks, or-more likely-strike at Airk and his friends. Luna and Seline might be able to find Kalrek if they had to, and the companions could defend themselves if Kalrek attacked, but Airk preferred not to take the risk. Bretten and Nusanne could be killed in battle if Kalrek attacked while they were still traveling with the companions. 

    I don’t see as how we have a choice, though, Airk thought with a sigh. The others will want to see these folks along as far as needed. Bretten and Nusanne might not typically be worth the effort to rob or kill, but if any bandit or monster is desperate enough…

     “By all means,” Airk said, nodding as his companions’ expressions brightened. “Pray join us, and fear not the hazards of the open road!”


     The companions and their new friends continued for several hours before stopping near dusk. As they ate a meal and set up camp, Luna and Nusanne fell into conversation.

    “Lived all our lives in the County of Urnst.” Nusanne said. “Always farmers, but two of our boys weren’t interested in working the land like us. Went off to Radigast City when they came of age, and only Willianak stayed. None of the priests could help him when his illness came, and he died before a more powerful one could come. We didn’t have much reason to stay after that,” she continued sadly.

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

    “We came to terms with it,” Nusanne said, blinking back a tear. “Better to die in his own bed than at the edge of a goblin’s sword.”

    Nusanne kept up a stoic front, but Luna could see the bitterness in her eyes.

    “But why’d he have to die so soon?” Luna said. “Why would Pelor, or any of the gods, allow it to happen?”

    Luna was not surprised by the deep sigh Nusanne gave, but she was surprised by the strange look Nusanne gave her after that.

    “How can you say such things about your god?” Nusanne asked, her eyes narrowing. “You call yourself a daughter of Pelor?”

    Nusanne was not surprised by Luna’s deep sigh, but she was surprised by the saddened look Luna gave her.

     “What have you lost then, child?” Nusanne asked.

    “I’m…it’s not something I’m…” Luna said, before Nusanne nodded in understanding. “I want to believe that Pelor’s my guiding light, but when I see all the suffering in the world…”

    The look in her eyes was clear as glass 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 not to grimace 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 said with a smile.

    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, offended. “Certainly not, my good man! It would be an insult to suggest that their gratitude is not good enough for us! Besides, the flagon would be much more worthily used to celebrate when the journey concludes in Etterboek!”

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

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

    I mean that you always have an excuse 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 said, “about drunken Flan and their fondness for liquor. Never mind that Suel and Oerids can act just as stupidly when they’re in their cups.”

    Much like you, for instance, Ma’non’go signed.

    “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 signed, curious about those I travel with and the different parts of the world I visit.

    “They didn’t have liquor in Hepmonaland?” Weimar said, raising an eyebrow.

    Pulque drinks are mostly consumed by the wealthy upper classes, Ma’non’go explained, and there were taverns as you would know them were rare. Most common folk in the more civilized parts of X’tandelexamenka drink coca tea in coffee houses similar to taverns.

    “Yes, well, that’s fascinating,” Weimar said, his frown revealing that phrase for the lie that it was. “And yet, I’m curious that my imbibing is so interesting.”

    I just find it strange, Ma’non’go signed. From what I have experienced of warriors who are as attuned to the wilderness as you claim to be, most of them use two swords in their battles, not the axe and shield you do. They also typically don’t make spectacles of themselves by indulging in tavern brawls or spending as many nights with barmaids and dancing girls as you do.

     “Why should I follow what others do if it doesn’t suit me?” Weimar said. “Is it really so strange? Or were such things frowned on in Hepmonaland?”

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

    “Yes, by arrogant nobles,” Weimar said, scoffing disdainfully. “They hide behind their airs and wealth when they can be just as violent as any lowly vagabond. Trust me, I know.”

    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 said. “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 didn’t mean to insult you, he signed. I was just curious to learn more about the Flanaess and its human cultures. They’re different from the humans of Hepmonaland. 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 said. “My apologies-I don’t know where my mind is today.”

    Think nothing of it, Ma’non’go signed, noting the shame in Weimar’s voice.

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

    Ma’non’go’s observations about his companions only reinforced his belief that there was nowhere else on Oerth that he’d rather be.

    Three days of travel brought the adventurers and their temporary companions to the outskirts of Etterboek. Bretten and Nusanne thanked the adventurers profusely for their help, assuring the adventurers that they would could take care of themselves from here.

    “May the gods’ luck be with you, then,” Airk said with a nod. “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 asked. “Surely you deserve a rest, and we should like to repay your escorting us here!”

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

    Bretten and Nusanne looked considerably disappointed. Airk’s companions, who understood the gnome’s turmoil, merely looked at one another. Seline took Airk by the shoulder, leading him away for a few minutes.

     “You can’t keep going at this pace,” Seline said to Airk. “If you do, you’re sure to drive yourself mad!”

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

    “Is that all you can think about?” Seline asked. “How much do you think Kalrek would enjoy knowing that?”

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

    “We know,” Seline said. “We’re just worried about you. You can’t let yourself be consumed by this.”

    Airk hesitated.

    “You know we’re with you,” Seline persisted. “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, and he knew that it was right to accede to her request.

    But in his mind, he still heard the screams of his brothers in arms, the cries of the Steelheart dwarves, and Kalrek’s laughter.

    And the blood running like rivers over the stone.

    For the rest of the day, the companions bought fresh supplies in Etterboek. Nusanne found lodgings for herself and her husband, while Bretten himself found some carpentry work. That evening, Bretten and Nusanne gave the companions a final feast of goodbye and thanks. The feast was modest, livened by the use of Weimar’s flagon, but the feeling behind it was sincere and heartfelt. The invitation Bretten and Nusanne extended to the companions to visit them if they ever returned to Etterboek had the same warmth behind it.

    So too was the invitation Bretten and Nusanne extended to the companions to visit them if they ever found themselves in Restin again.

    Airk saw that the rest of his companions were grateful for the respite, and the meals and companionship they’d shared with the Urnstian couple they’d escorted here. He put on a brave face during the meal, and he was indeed happy to see the Urnstians arrive safely in Etterboek-something that didn’t happen as often in the dangerous Flanaess as it should.

    In spite of it all, his mind kept coming back to memories of the past, memories he had carried for the last six and a half decades.

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