“These soulless yellow-skinned spawn-of-the-gash have kidnapped my granddaughter. I could use some help, good men with swords, to help recover her,” Matthias Blackshear said painfully.
A kidnapped child? This was a cause that made my heart leap! My life as a holy warrior was based on faith and an understanding of my role in the balance of the world. “Who are these Amber Elves?”
“What? Are you not from around here?”
“Nay. We harken from Whiterock.”
He winced, suddenly making me feel like a farm boy or a dullard…or worse, a heathen bard. “Yellow skinned bastards,” he spat back. “They travel in wagons, moving from community to community. Always singing and putting on little skits. Friendly enough, while they pick your pocket, steal your crops, and kidnap your young. They are the worst kind of vagabonds. That’s why I use these,” he pointed to the cotton balls jammed into his ears. “You can’t listen to their music. It’s enchanted. You listen to it and you are under their spell. That’s how these thievin’ scum-sucking dregs work you. They play their little tunes and the next thing you know you are tied naked to a tree, robbed of your worldly possessions – or worse.”
It did not take a lot to imagine what “worse” could be. His warnings about their songs spoke of bardic magic, minstrels whose spells were interwoven in song. Galinndan spoke up. “Maybe we should be stuffing cotton in our ears.” I ignored him. None of us had brought cotton with us, though I did see Galinndan cutting up some of his own shirt and stuffing the wads of cloth in his ears. They hung out like dog’s ears from his own.
“We haven’t seen them,” I said to Blackshear, “But we did come across some wagon tracks a ways back.”
“Wagons…” the hulking Blackshear pondered for but a moment. “That had to be them. Show me.”
We didn’t talk about helping this man, it was not necessary. Even if my brothers in arms had refused I would have helped him. The Third Tenant of my holy order, demanded giving aid to those in need. We backtracked down the road to where the wheel ruts crossed the dirt path. Blackshear knelt down while Theren moved alongside. “They’re heading northwest.”
Theren looked at the tracks that crossed the road as if he could somehow ascertain the same information, but could not. “How do you know that?”
“The slave markets of the Amber Elves are in Bahshir in the western reaches.”
“There is only two sets of wagon tracks,” Galinndan pointed out.
“Common practice with these dirty bug-suckers. They go in column to hide their numbers.”
“Like Sandpeople,” Galinndan added.
“Who?” Blackshear asked angrily.
“Never mind,” Galinndan replied. He realized the childhood stories he had been told of the mythical Sandpeople had no bearing here, nor did Matthias Blackshear have the patience for humor.
We trudged on into the night and made a hasty camp. “They can’t be more than a few hours ahead of us. That means if we press on, we can catch them tomorrow,” Blackshear said as sat on a log before the small fire. He propped up his massive sword and axe next to him.
“Your weapons are impressive,” I said looking at them. That sword was different – long, thick at the handle with only a slight taper to it. Both bore the nicks of battle damage that could not be simply pounded out by a weapons-smith.
“This is Render,” Blackshear said patting the sword the way one might a loyal dog. The shadows of the firelight showed the scars on his arms and hand “This is Reamer,” he gestured to the battle axe proudly. “When I was a First Knight of Royal Guards I captured these fighting a band of marauding minotaur’s in the eastern slopes. Killed their leader DeSaul. They have served me well over the years.
It has been said that naming a weapon gives it strength, taps the power of God. It is also said that only honorable men should do such things. I understood that all too well. “You served in the Royal Guards?”
“Damned right I did. Until they ran me off. Stupid boot-licking dung-puckering arseholes. The guards isn’t what it was when I led it. Now they are more interested in attending balls and escorting pansy-ass-kissing gentlemen rather than protecting the innocent. A bunch of glorified pig-fucking tax collectors…that’s what the Royal Guards have become.”
“Why’d they run you off?”
His eyes narrowed with a rage he was somehow keeping in check. “The little lordling…the heir to the Sklaver throne. Little shit wasn’t fit to polish my codpiece. He got his pasty white ass in trouble he did. A man would have resolve the situation. He expected us to bail him out. His father wasn’t raising him to stand on his own, I let him try and resolve the matter. Little paper-butt got knocked about – but the bastard had it coming. He had his father remove me. Said I was a coward. A flagging lie! He started it with those men and by God he should have finished it himself, not turned to us to save him. They ran me out after that. Said I had disgraced the Guards. It was greasy Syrus Blondebeard and the bloody Vizir, Krolf Lorraine; they were behind my disgrace. They wanted someone with less backbone than me, someone to do their bidding. Blondebeard is perfect for that role…the spineless, chamber-pot-licker. Well they got what they wanted – someone to suckle the little lordship’s tit. They couldn’t take my honor from me and they damned well couldn’t take my pride.”
In the dim light of the fire I could see the pride in his face, it was etched in every scar and wrinkle. There was nothing about this man that showed even a hint of fear. “We will rescue your granddaughter,” I vowed.
“You do,” he said with stern glare, “and I will get you to Karn myself.”
The next day we pressed on crossing the tree-dotted plains, following the wagon ruts in the grass. That evening we came across their camp, in a low swale, surrounded by trees. I half-expected the big warrior to insist on rushing into the camp, but the safety of his granddaughter clearly governed his sword. “We need to know how many of them are down there…where my granddaughter is, before we act. Moreover, we need a plan,” he said with a calm that told me that lives were about to be lost. The only thing that kept me focused was the fact that what we were doing was right – saving a young damsel in distress.
Theren spoke up. “I can shapeshift into something small, a rat perhaps. I can infiltrate the camp and see if I can find her. If nothing else, I can learn their disposition.” There were nods and we watched as he paused, pressed his hands together, and closed his eyes in thought. I had my doubts. Theren had been talking about shapeshifting, but a rat? That seemed preposterous.
The outline of his body shimmered, blurred in the evening, and seemed to collapse. We looked down and saw a rat where Theren had stood. We had never seen him do it and I could not help but wonder what kind of dark magic he was using. This is why the church had purged the druids, no doubt. I was sure that every time he used that accursed magic it would cost him some his mortal soul. That was faith and fate.
Rat/Theren scurried off but came back a short time later, resuming his human form, wet with sweat and covered with blades of grass. “There are five wagons, all parked facing outward, like a star. They have a few archers poised in the trees. I was able to chew my way into one wagon but I could not see your granddaughter Matthias, only some women. They have a campfire in the middle. What I could tell there are at least a dozen men – perhaps that many females. The men don’t seem armed with anything more threatening than lutes and rapiers.” He sketched out the camp in the dirt.
I didn’t disregard his comments about rapiers, they could kill a man just as easy as a cutlass when wielded by the right man. Blackshear stared at the configuration of the camp. “Typical for the Amber Elves. They do it so they can scatter if attacked, brilliant positioning on their part. Those archers, they are a problem – but the real threat will come from their magic. We need a diversion. I can take out five of them, if I can get in there. “
Galinndan grinned. “I can fire on the archers. That should keep them busy.”
“We can move in and try to unharness the horses, prevent some of them from scattering,” I offered.
“We must take care…no harm must come to the hostages,” Blackshear warned. I hated to think what he might do if his granddaughter were harmed, either to the Amber Elves or us. We all nodded nervously.
Carefully we crawled towards the camp, coming at it from three directions to help block any flight they might try and undertake. The signal was given with a wave of Blackshear’s beefy hand and the battle began.
I rushed in, swinging my flaming sword at one of the men, cutting him deep and setting him afire, if only for a moment. I spotted Althalus emerge but suddenly stop, as if paralyzed. I saw a distant elf, strumming his mandolin, staring at the warlock, trapping him for a moment in some sort of charm. Blast it! I struggled with my elven foe, his blade tearing across my chest armor with a rattle that shook me.
Blackshear rushed in, swinging the massive blade of Render – cutting the head off of one elf, sending it bouncing in torso of another. Arrows filled the air, all aimed at Galinndan. Theren cast one of his black spells, some sort of whip of thorns. It snared one elf and tossed it into the one that was concentrated on charming Althalus. The disruption shook the magic that held the warlock. He grinned and prepared to unleash a blast of his own magic.
Suddenly the warlock shimmered and for a moment I thought he had disappeared. No, far worse, he had changed into a raccoon. What kind of madness was this? I swung again at my foe, knocking him back, but he still clung to life.
The air filled around Theren with a flurry of magic swirling daggers, which he emerged from angered and more frustrated. He stood face-to-face with one of the elves who held up his hands to the sky. Suddenly the air around both of them filled with raining jagged javelins of ice and frigid death. Both took some damage, but it was enough to shake Theren back.
“Stop the wagons!” Blackshear howled to the druid as he planted his battle axe in the chest of another elf.
I rushed forward and hit one of the elves, apparently shaking the spell that had held Althalus in the form of a raccoon. He shook his head as if in a daze.
Theren, having heard the words of Blackshear, shimmered again but not to the form of a rat. No, this time a massive black bear. He rushed forward and collided with one of the wagon wheels, hitting it hard and sideways, breaking it off of the axle mount. That wagon would not flee.
The warlock, Althalus, grinned, finally prepared to unleash his eldritch blast. He fired at one elf but missed completely. His blast seared into the bear-hide of Theren. The bear disappeared, and what emerged through the magic shimmer was a druid with a burn hole in his side.
“Sorry,” Althalus said upon seeing the damage he had done to his comrade, turning back to the elf he had missed. That elf disappeared, sidestepping through some sort of magic opening in the air. He appeared behind Bor, who has hit by several arrows in the fight. The elf stabbed him from behind, staggering the big warrior.
Blackshear rushed towards one of the wagons near the fire when one of the elves emerged from a wagon and raised his hands. “Stop! We wish to negotiate! Parlay!”
Galinndan fired one more arrow, pretending he hadn’t heard the call for truce. To my utter surprise Blackshear stopped his charge and raised his hand in the air, a sign for us to halt. He gave Galinndan a scornful glare at the last twang of his bow, then focused on the elf. “Watch your words elf-scum,” he spat. “If you are attempting to use your magic on us, the rest of you will die.”
“No tricks,” the yellow-skinned elf said. “Enough have been injured or slain this night. What is it you are after? I am sure we can arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.”
“What I want is my granddaughter Miley and others you stole from their homes. I want them back. Give them to us and you live. Resist, I will kill all of you,” the former First Knight said.
The elf pondered his words for three whole seconds, making me wonder if the battle would be rejoined. “Very well. A misunderstanding I am sure. No harm has come to them. We were merely borrowing them.” He opened the rear door of one of the wagons. Looking inside it appeared empty. Then the illusion disappeared. Inside were five children, being held by another female elf, no doubt a sorceress herself. It was brilliant. Even if we had looked in the wagon, we would have not seen them.
He led them out and Blackshear’s granddaughter rushed to him. “Pa-pa!” she wailed as she hugged him. I saw a tear trickle down the face of the big warrior and it filled me with faith – faith that we had fought the good fight and for the right reasons. I silently thanked God for our victory as Bor and I gathered the others and backed away from the camp.
“If you know what is good for you, you will leave these lands. The next time we meet, there will be no parlay. There will be death.”
“We never cross the same ground twice,” the elf replied. “It is our lot in life.”
We gathered up the children and carefully made our way out of the camp. I saw the man I had downed rising and standing, healed already by one of their number. I silently pondered that if we had continued to fight if we would have prevailed.
Of course we would! Our cause was just and God was on our side! There is no room in a paladin’s life for self-doubt.
Roleplaying games are where the players are essentially writing their own fantasy sagas. I hope you are enjoying the chronicling of our D&D campaign. Here are the previous parts of the story.