Monday 1 August 2016

Trollbane - Part 4

Agrippa and the rest of the mercenaries were relaxing in The Emperors Hand Inn. Many ales had been consumed and the inn had started to fill as farmers and farm workers returned from their toil in the fields for some well-earned beer. Reven's men and other travellers had filled the place with a jovial atmosphere. Some of the newcomers took up instruments and before long bawdy drinking songs were being sung and a good time was being had by all. 

Kris and Bran sat in a darkened corner playing cards with some of the locals. They were winning but the game was a low stake, friendly affair and they joked and drank with the farm hands they sat with. Muldar, the man mountain, was arm wrestling the locals being cheered on by Agrippa. Orwen was listening intently as a traveling merchant relayed news from across Orland, talking of unrest in the capital, Ux. Rosholt rebels were on the rise again and were causing instability across the great city.

Reinhart watched the big man wrestling. He noticed how his warhammer was resting against the table that he sat at, just out of easy reach. He smiled to himself. Soon the attack would be signalled and these thugs for hire would be put down permanently. Reinhart played the lute frantically, maintaining his cover. His men were spread throughout the inn. All the travellers with the exception of Reven’s dogs were his. Even now more of his men would be racing to the inn, their assassination of the abhorrent Reven complete. When they arrived, they would fulfil their contract and collect the heads of these men. He mused to himself that he had probably used too many men to snuff out the beast master’s life but it always paid to err on the side of caution. He smiled as he played. His tactical genius would win out the day. The longer he waited for his men the drunker the mercenaries got, everything was working in his favour. He glanced around the room watching his men feigning drunkenness, taking pretend swigs from their flagons, carousing with the locals, one man even looked as if he was asleep and had cleverly vomited over himself to keep his true purpose concealed. On the other side of the room one of his men was being slapped by a bar girl who was being cheered on by more of Reinhart’s men. Once the mercenaries slaughter was complete, he made a mental note to congratulate his men on their acting prowess.

Muldar celebrated his latest victory by draining the last of his beer and wiping away the remnants with one huge hand. He looked around the inn and was thankful for this night. His companions were all having a good time and the inn was alive with friendly banter and raucous singing. The other travellers that had swelled the numbers in the inn all seemed to be especially drunk. Slowly the music they played had gotten further out of rhythm with only the lute player still managing to hold the tune and rhythm. That very same lute player was staring at Muldar intently and only moved his gaze when he met Muldar’s eyes. A maniacal grin painted the musician’s face. The big man surmised that he must have either really enjoyed the music or that he was drunker than everybody else in the room. To Muldar it seemed that the drummer was getting further and further out of rhythm but looking at the man he could see that he had laid his drum down to get another drink. As he concentrated the drumming continued to grow louder but not loud enough for the majority of drunkards to notice. Kris looked at him across the room knowingly. Muldar rose to his feet and snatched up his Warhammer from where it lay resting. The incessant lute playing stopped and was replaced by a thunderous growl from outside the inn. The mercenaries were now all on their feet, weapons in hand and poised for action. Half a second later the door to the inn and its frame exploded in a hail of splinters as Fang forced his way in. The warhound stood immobile, a low growl reverberated round the inn making cups dance and drinks spill. The patrons of the inn fled to the back of the room, many flinging themselves over the bar in terror. Only the travellers that were still sober enough to stand held their ground, stupefied looks on their faces. Reven entered, pushing past Fang. He was crusted with blood. In one hand he held his sword Bloodthirster and in the other he held a severed head.

Reinhart dropped his lute and pulled free his woollen tunic revealing his midnight black leather armour and the array of weapons he had strapped to him. “To arms” he screamed waiting for his men to rush past him into the fray. That rush never came. The dozen men he had under his charge were in no shape to face foes as fearsome as this monster and his blood red master. Reinhart felt a surge of panic, one of the men to his right fell with an arrow stuck in the side of his head. The mercenaries were on the attack. This at least goaded his men into action as they made a pathetic defence against the fury of Reven’s men. Reinhart watched in horror as his master plan was torn apart in front of him. His idiotic men were drunk! Fools. If any of them survived he would flay the skin off the imbeciles.

Reven stalked toward Reinhart, who dropped into a fighting stance at his approach. Reven roared, Muldar swung and Reinhart dropped like a stone. The whack of the warhammer meeting Reinhart’s head reverberated round the room and signalled the end of the brief skirmish. Reven tossed the head he had been holding on the floor and it rolled to rest against Reinharts own head. “Bind those that live. I have questions I would have answered”, Reven bellowed, “And get me a beer!” he added.

Friday 15 July 2016

Trollbane - Part 3

At the end of the second day of their travels, the mercenary band stopped to spend the night at a small village that was signposted Briarmoot. The settlement was surrounded by farm fields and was made up of no more than 30 ramshackle buildings. Barns and sheds scattered the distant landscape and the land looked green and fertile even in the fading evening light. 

The band made their way into town without Reven and Fang, which was customary. The warhound was a fearsome sight to behold and had too often scared timid villagers in the past. Lesson learnt the hound and his master would stay outside the village until lodgings had been secured. Agrippa brought them to a halt outside a large wooden building that sported a sign that read, The Emperors Hand Inn. Their horses were tied to the hitching rail outside the inn and the mercenaries moved inside buoyed by the idea of cool ale and warm food. 

The inn was close to empty. The common room before them was lit by a few scattered candles and a fireplace that was little more than embers. Two men that had the look of farmers propped up against one end of the bar and engaged in casual conversation with the stocky barman that ended abruptly upon the warrior's entrance. "Ho travellers, welcome to Briarmoot and The Emperors Hand. What can I get you today?" Agrippa and his brethren were taken aback by the man's sunny disposition and welcoming manner. It was in stark contrast to the gloomy interior of the inn but it immediately put the men at ease and they moved toward the bar to quench their thirst.

Reven relaxed against the trunk of an oak tree a short distance from the dusty track that led into Briarmoot. He had let Fang hunt and sat alone as night crept up on the evening. The sunlight waned as he closed his eyes. As he started to doze words sprang unbidden into Reven's thoughts, 'I am the vessel. Look upon me and despair'. Instantly he rolled to the left a fraction of a second before an arrow whacked into the tree where a moment before he had been resting. As he rolled he grabbed his sword, Bloodthirster. It sang as he whipped it free of its scabbard coming to his feet in one smooth motion. The vampiric blade flickered as it moved to intercept another missile, smashing it out of the air. Reven could see his attackers as they moved toward him. They were still a way off but they moved with purpose and precision as they closed on him. Reven had used this technique himself and he scanned left and right to find where the trap would be sprung. It didn't take him long, he ducked behind the tree to avoid more arrows and spied the pincer movement that was supposed to have caught him. Four men, two on the left and two on the right crouched low in the grass made their way toward him. They broke into a run as soon as they knew they had been discovered. Reven regretted not unpacking his bow from Fang's harness, with the four at his flanks and the six or so that advanced from the front it would have been good to have whittled down their numbers before engaging with them up close. Bloodthirster twitched in his hands, hungry for blood the blade almost willed Reven to battle. 

They were almost upon him. The arrows came less frequently but did enough to keep him pinned behind the tree. They came on him all at once, adjusting their pace to hit with maximum force. Reven ducked under the first swung blade and it splintered tree bark as it landed. Up close he could see all the men wore similar garb. Light leather armour and masks, dyed black or dark brown. They roared as they swung at him. Three swordsmen made up the front rank, well trained and vicious they thrust and swung at Reven in unison forcing him to parry with his swords and vambraces. He whirled lashing out with his sword but even as he moved men at the rear stabbed through openings with spears and tridents. They formed a tight circle around him, forcing him repeatedly onto the tree at his back. Within seconds Reven was covered in nicks and cuts and bled freely from a spear wound in his side. He dropped low and took one of the swordsmen's leg off at the knee and pushing his advantage launched himself through the gap he'd made, barreling a trident wielding attacker to the ground in the process. Leaping to his feet he back-peddled desperately as he tried to prevent the attackers from closing round him again. One thing working in his favour was the combination of the blood-drinking blade in his hand and the newly stumpy swordsman. Blood flew through the air from the severed limb to the blade splashing the attackers as Reven swung the sword in defence. The blood drew one of the attacker's attention and Reven capitalised on the moment and with a neat back swing carved the mans face in two. He pressed his advantage snapping the haft of a spear with his vambrace, he spun into his next pursuer impaling him through the chest, the light leather offering no resistance to Bloodthirster. Sensing a change in fortune the attackers re-doubled their efforts. Pressing Reven into defence again. They circled around him trying to force him back to the tree. Reven was breathing hard and now laboured to see after a large gash had been opened across his forehead and his vision swam with blood. 

It was as the attacker's confidence grew and Reven's dogged defence weakened that the tide turned once more. Silent in his approach and deadly in his arrival Fang's hunt had led him full circle. The towering mass of muscle exploded into the fight frantic in the defence of his friend and master. Hitting the attackers at full speed he sent them sprawling. Reven emboldened by his warhounds arrival ceased his retreat and once more went on the attack. Fang tore men limb from limb as Reven enacted his revenge on the ambushers. One tried to flee only to be pounced on by the beast, his head removed in one swift bite. 

The whole exchange lasted less than two minutes and the broken bodies of Reven's would-be killers lay strewn around the tree where only moments before he was resting. Reven rested his hand on Fang's lowered snout and met him forehead to forehead. The wound in his head ached but he needed to thank his companion for his timely intervention. Fang had saved Reven's life countless times and the bond they shared was unbreakable as a result. A whimper from one of the downed men drew Reven's attention, "Time to find out who these bastards are my friend" he whispered to Fang. Exhausted but determined he made his way over to the man and drew his skinning blade. He would get the information he required before this wretch died.

Thursday 30 June 2016

Trollbane - Part 2

The mercenary band rode their horses along the winding roads that led away from Blackcliff and into the heart of Orland. Reven sat astride Fang who loped along at a slowed pace so as not to outdistance the slower horses. It was a bleak morning. Grey cloud blanketed the sky for as far as the eye could see and a fine rain was the riders constant companion. Droplets of water dripped from saddlebags and the array of weapons that were strapped to the sides of the mercenaries mounts. The riders themselves looked bedraggled but their spirits were high. They sang songs of women and war and exchanged barbed jibes as they travelled to pass the time. Only Reven stayed silent. 

Reven was almost the youngest in the group but his ferocity in battle and his keen intellect has seen him don the mantle of command. He already had a fearsome reputation amongst his peers and his legend was growing. Only one of his band were younger, Orwin, but he unlike Reven acted his age. The commander was lost in thought. He rolled in the saddle as his huge warhound Fang trotted along the path. Reven paid no mind to the passing countryside, his mind focused on the task at hand and the promised riches that lay at the end of the journey. 

Gandleson's Trove was the prize they sought and was legendary throughout Orland and beyond. Gandleson was an elven explorer who had spent his life gathering riches and famously took them with him wherever he travelled. It is said that by the time he reached Orland his train of followers was over five miles long and every cart and pony in it was laden with gold, antiquities and items of such rare beauty and extreme power that just a handful of Gandleson's treasure would be enough for a man to live like a king for a lifetime. Legend has it that one night whilst travelling through a valley Gandelson's men were brought to a halt by a ferocious storm. Riders were sent ahead of the main body of travellers to scout out the lands that lay ahead of them whilst Gandleson and his men hunkered down for the night. When the scouts returned in the morning the valley was empty. The only sign that they were there were the furrows left by cart wheels and the hoof prints of horse and pony. 

The map Reven had in his position revealed the location of the valley. It had taken weeks to decipher the landmarks scratched onto the ancient parchment but they valley had finally been pinpointed, lying between in the wilds between the cities of Kynmarch and Fording. What perplexed him is what he would do once he had found it. The legend was just a story after all and adventurers had spent centuries in search of the treasure without finding a thing. Reven feared he was leading his men on a foolhardy quest that may have little gain but he couldn't ignore what may lay at the end of their journey. A treasure of such fortune would see he and his men written in to the history books as heroes. Glory awaited and Reven would grasp it with both hands.