A Turning Point
Akiros, Topper and I spent that whole first day alone taking care of the bodies, some vomit (thanks Stone, didn’t have enough to clean up already) and the largest puddles of blood to clean up. Soaking it up with straw made it easier and would could then just toss it in with the mound of burning bandits. Stone before he left managed to skin the owl bear, so I managed to leave out the hide for him while we were away. I did not know much but I followed his instruction to the word, not wanting to face his ire when he returned. It was odd as little we talked, we functioned just fine as it appeared we were all on the same page. We worked endless for what seemed like hours until we actually had a chance to sit down and chat.
It was there eating rabbit stew around the bonfire when Akiros actually started a conversation with me. “So. Dol Arrah huh? I am guessing you still favor her?” he said pointing at my painted shield. I just sat there in slight awe he knew of the symbol and it hit me. That he could have called me out at any time when I walked up to those walls pretending to be a bandit named Sniff and possibly gotten me killed. Before I could respond he just snorted a small laugh. “Yea I knew off the bat you were no bandit. That is what your thinking right?”
“Yes, sort of. I mean I could have simply said that I killed a knight and took his shield if it came to you trying to insinuate I was in fact a knight.” Akiros just started to shake his head while chowing down on his stew. “I do not think a man named Sniff would be good enough to kill a knight of Dol Arrah. Heh. Seriously and Sniff was a dead giveaway you weren’t a thug.” Topper and him chuckled a bit to which I simply smiled at the notion. Maybe Stoney was right, I needed to get better at lying. “Usually bandits have stupid names so I picked a stupid name” I replied. “Oh I dunno. Not many bandits have stupid names. Not many around here anyways. Well…except Far Nori” said Akiros.
“So onto the subject of Dol Arrah. How did you know? This seems like…far land from her influence.” Akiros finished his bowl and sat back in his chair, staring at me, seemingly collecting his words. “I was one of her knights. A long time ago. In a place far from here. That…is how I know.” Heavens of all the people I could run into out here into the deep unknown, a former knight of my Goddess. This surely cannot be a coincidence. Could it? Topper Red let out a gasp and picked up book and began to hastily write in it. “Ok you two go on. My my this is good stuff” he said while scribbling fast. Not as fast as Adra but still pretty fast.
Me and Akiros gave an indifferent look towards Topper as we resumed our conversation. He ran down how he came to fall and ended up in these lands. He observed that at one point he believed the Stag Lord could be a good leader and maybe something would come of him following the now deceased lord. “It is a decision, amongst many other decisions that I regret and I have taken no joy in” he uttered. Time stood still for a moment and all faded to gold. “Leave him. Like he left me” I heard my goddess scowl. “I really believe..” and she cut me off. “Listen well my dear Cedric. This man has ruined himself and betrayed me. Do not think of redeeming this one in my name. I will not have him back.” This was concerning. I do not ever recall my goddess being so displeased.
I had to watch what I said and chose my words carefully. “What I wanted to help this man atone? I mean he did not fall completely. There is still hope it seems for this one.” The gold around me grew brighter as her tone rose. “I said I would not have him back” she said calmly. “Right ok then. What if I help him absolve all of things he has done and put him on the right path, not for you, but just for the common good?” The gold began to recede to it’s normal brightness for a moment before she spoke again. “Do as you wish then. I am not begging for this one to be returned though” as my surroundings faded back into view.
Akiros had this nonplussed look on his face for a moment. “Where did you go just now?” I looked at Topper who seemingly had no idea what happened for he was still writing diligently in his book. “Ugh..what do you mean?” Akiros cocked his head to the side. “I saw you move your lips a little and your eyes turned into a slight shade of gold. What the hell was that about?” Dammit. I thought I usually closed my eyes when that happened. Oh crap. I tried to remain calm and try not to come off like a crazy man. “She was…uh speaking to me just now” I replied. “What makes you so special that she talks to you? I knew a dozen others that were lucky to even just feel a slight presence. You are telling me you have a full on conversation with her?”
“You do not need to believe me. I am telling the truth.” He just stared at me for a moment unsure what to think. “Well it seems that you believe you are telling the truth at least. She say anything about me?” I tried to avert the man’s eyes who now looked saddened. Like an ashamed man. A man who lost everything. It kind of reminded me of the look in Stoney’s eyes the night he was explaining the story behind his exile. “That was between me and her. I apologize.” He nodded his head respectfully. “Understand. Her words should be kept to those she trusts to speak it to.”
A thought popped in my head. “It just occurred to me. Why are you two still here. I half expected you two to make an escape before everyone awoke. Topper just shrugged his shoulders as he kept writing and Akiros did the same shrug. “I assumed we were prisoners and would be held to some punishment or trial at some point.” I thought about it for a while. Topper seemed well enough for a bandit and Akiros took me as a man who lost his way. “How about this. I will pardon you two if you swear fealty to me. I have many a great plans for this place when matters settle. I am no Stag Lord. I am far better than that.”
“Why would I swear fealty to you. I do not even know you” chirped Topper. “Fine. I will see to it then Inquisitor Kellen handles your sentencing when she returns." The blood drained from his face at the mention of Adra. “You know what you seem like a pretty nice guy and could handle yourself pretty well. I also hope you have many stories to tell me for my play writes too. So uh…sure. How does this pledging work?” I stood up and drew my sword. “You must hold out your hand and give unto me your ring finger, as proof of your allegiance” I said. Topper scuttled backwards a few feet. “He…Hell no!” Me and Akiros started to laugh at Topper. Akiros got up and held out his hand towards me. “If you do what you say you are going to do, then I will be your sword. You have my oath.” I put Darius back and grasped Akiros’s hand. “It is good to have you back on the path” I said.
“Wait…so…I do not need to lose anything” questioned Topper. I rolled my eyes, turned towards the scribe and held out my hand. “No. Of course not. That is just silly. You do need to start up another batch of stew. We have a lot of work ahead of us." I never got a handshake or oath of fealty from Topper but I did get the impression he did not want to upset or cross me. That he was a man who whether it was fear that kept him restrained or honesty, that he was true in his word that he would act in accordance with me.
So there for a few days we did our best to clean up the place. The Stag Lord’s room had a nostalgic scent of heavy booze and blood. Darius kept telling me how the smell reminded me and him of the good old says. We went back down into the basement and took note of everything they had. Shockingly there a surplus amount of goods down there. Ranging from furs, jewelry, weapons, armor, everything. There had to be thousands of thousands of gold worth of items. I talked about possibly selling this stuff to start on making repairs and using it to help people. Akiros seemed fine with the idea as Topper seemed happy that he was even alive at all. So he obviously did not want to say anything against it.
About four days passed since my group left before they finally returned including Kurgar in tow. I happily greeted Lt. Garress who was with them and welcomed Jhod, thanking him for his arrival. Boris smiled and patted me on the back as he walked past me to tie up the horses and Adra just had wide eyes as she looked at me. “What? You are staring.” She glanced inside to see Akiros and Topper moving the treasure from the basement to one of the rooms on the first floor. “You….are alive. I did not think you would make it. What are they doing?” I smiled back at her welcomed her. “Oh come on now, like anything would happen to me here. Oh they are moving tons of valued goods up from the basement. There is a lot there. Don’t worry I wrote everything down but you can check my notes here and verify if you-” I said. She took my little note book where I had all the items written down and walked straight towards the two reformed bandits. “Oh and they are pardoned by the way. They are not to be messed with” I yelled to her.
I saw Stoney near the wagon tying up the horses and patted him on the head, welcoming him. “Please tell me you picked up some wine. Oh how I want some delicious wine” as I searched the wagon. I found some bottles and was ready to pop one open there and then I saw Stoney stare back at me. He had somber expression etched into his face. His tone was very serious. “Kid, you might need that wine. We gotsa talk.” No. Please do not tell me my fears where right.
We walked hurriedly into the Stag Lord’s former room for privacy. He handed me the letters, to which I kept rereading, each time more carefully then the last. I sat down on the bed and buried my face into my hands. Stone plopped himself up on the bed and patted me repeatedly on the back on the head.
It was what I feared. My House and thus my family was now at war. They were fighting with the Medvyed House and Cisarovna’s. Our land that we had was once theirs. The Dragon King gave it to us after they took our former homelands to the north and it was what we had since then. From that moment though it was always hostile. Seemingly the Cisarovnas made a bold move. Garress answered in kind not wanting to show weakness it appeared. My brother Randolf led an attack, burned down their ancestral home but suffered grievous wounds and was captured shortly after. This was all written to my by my sister Thessie. Who now at the moment was in Medvyed possession as part of some twisted agreement. Someone had bartered for the release of my brother by giving up my sister to be betrothed by someone in the Medvyed House.
My brother captured and dying. My sister being traded like she was a ‘thing’. My family at war with Boris’s family and their lord’s house. The pressure behind my eyes and head was building. I did not know how I was going to react. Which startled the ever loving hell out of me and Stoney, when I quickly got up and whipped a few of the Stag Lord’s remaining possessions across the room in a fit of rage. “Woa woa calm down. You do not want them to hear this. Hey, get a hold of yerself!” Stonehands growled to me. He did a small jump and grabbed me by my collar when I went to bend down to pick up something else. “Do not act like a child. Throwing a fit because you are angry. You best get a hold of your calm boy.” I looked at Stonehands expecting him to be angry as his tone. His eyes were close to welling up.
I slumped down on the floor, against the wall and tried to get a grip. “Stoney, there is something we need to discuss.” I relayed everything to him. How about I wanted to stay here after our charter was finished. I wanted to come back, establish some peace. Hopefully set up a form of civility down here. Also through out all of that, build a place that maybe refugees from the incoming civil war and my family could seek shelter from. I wanted my family safe more than anything else. I told him that if he could stay with me I would help him find a mean to heal his wounds.
Stonehands stood there for a moment just stroking his beard. “I don think da Church would like it if I disobeyed them. However if I promise to help spread da word here in their name, it shouldn’t be a problem. If they don’t like it though….well…fuck em. You are all I got at this point kid. You and your family. I am not giving that up. For nothing or nobody.” Stonehands sat beside me and popped two bottles of wine, passing one to me. “Here, try and get better.” I had calmed down but I was getting nauseous. My sister…with….them. Was sickening. The fact that they were dangling my most likely dead brother in front of my family made it worse. I gently pushed away the wine bottle that Stoney tried to pass to me. “No thanks Stone. I do not feel like drinking anything right now.” Stonehands I think nearly choked cause he started to wheeze a bit after my comment. “Turning down this? I mean this isn’t the best but it is something. Come on drink with me.” I got up and made my way out the door. “Not now Stone. Not now.”
I stepped out the door and made my way down the stairs only to turn the corner to suddenly see Adra in my face. She held a curious expression with her head cocked slightly to the side. “Was there something up there?” she asked. “Me and Stone thought we saw rats. Tried to get them. Eh. Another chore for another time” I reply. She kept staring at me as if she were dissecting everything I just said and then went back to that neutral tone of hers. “Well. Yes. Another chore. Speaking of chores, we should continue ours.”
She talked about setting out to complete the rest of our original intended charter until someone was sent down to investigate. Even though the original goal was to rid the area of the Stag Lord, others remain. That it was significant that we set about the remaining lands to insure the safety of the surrounding areas and gather what information we could. Plus more than anything right now I just wanted to get up and move. Not stay secluded anymore now.
I passed by the central room to overhear the few of Garress’s men laughing as Kurgar was telling one of his stories. I caught a glance, for only a moment that Kurgar seemed to be in a genuinely good mood as the soldiers listened. It was sort of a nice sight to see the usual crass dwarf in high spirits. As I drew closer while passing by, I got within an earshot of his story. Something about unraveling a thief’s organs out, to string up another man, just to see the look of horror in his eyes. This, while the first man is still initially, if partially alive. Well….no wonder Kurgar was smiling. The soldiers looked like exhilarated children when listening to Kurgar’s grotesque description of the horrible deed.
I made my way past the room into one of the hallways when I heard the muttering of Boris and Jhod about the undead problem outside. “The priest and I came up with a most splendid plan” Boris said with his ever vigilant smile. I nodded and let him continue. “In their numbers the undead prove a problem, alone not so much. It would be best to simply drag one or two towards us. In which we could then volley arrows and divine light at them. After that it is clean up.” Stonehands appeared behind me, without a sound ever being made. He is getting better at that. “Uh so am I to take it, yur gonna go running out there getting their attention?” Boris pursed his lips and shook his head. “Unfortunately no. As much as I would like to slay the undead up front personally, it would be a detriment to the plan. I need to stay with Jhod to aid him. We are going to use your monkey familiar to draw them out. Like bait so to speak.”
This made Stonehands eyes completely bug out at the notion of Morgan running into a desecrated cemetery to lure out zombies. “So lemme get this straight. You volunteered my Morgan to this plan without consulting me?” Jhod stepped forward and put his hand on Stonehands shoulder, a formal sign of assurance. “He is small and fast enough that it would seem like the easiest way to lure them. Do not fear. I will personally keep an eye on him at all times.” Jhod reached out and petted Morgan, who was sitting atop Stonehand’s shoulder. Morgan let out a cheerful little sound of the Priest giving him attention. “Face it Stoney, Morgan is fast, small and nimble. Worse case scenario, we get you another Morgan. Not like you are not used to that already” I said. Stonehands glowered at me for a second and cradled Morgan like a baby in his arms. “Come on Morgan, we has works to be done.”
The plan was simple and effective. Everyone who could use a bow or cast magic stayed atop the walls, striking any undead that drew near. Morgan efficiently plucked one undead away from the group each time, with Stonehands looking on with concern. Boris and Jhod helped in the cleansing of the surrounding area after all was settled and it was only shortly after that everything seemed to brighten up around the old fort. The air seemed a tad more crisp and no longer was there any sense of dread that hung around. All was confirmed with me when slight uneasy sensation I felt in my time there disappeared. We would set out the next day to go forward to finish the last bit of our expedition. I cannot wait to get confirmation from the Sword Lords when all of this is finished. Much work needs to be done here. I wish not tied anymore to their duties.