Searching for the Táin
A week passed and I slowly gathered myself to meet Ross magh Connacht and hear if there were any news about the escaped villains. As I met my friends, whom I had had little contact during the week, I heard that Grzegorz had visited the ruined cathedral on his own agenda. None of my friends knew what he had done there and, frankly, I couldn’t care less at the moment.
I happened to hear that the manor of Camil’s family had been burned to the ground by the uprising peasantry. The only thing that had remained was the magical family shield, now given to Camil. Camil’s father, who had been imprisoned for further questioning, had asked to see his son and asked for his forgiveness. Apparently after the death of his wife the old man had only the status of his clan to give his life meaning, leaving him vulnerable for Geshtar’s manipulations. This all must be hard for the paladin but I’m sure he can take it.
We were summoned to Ross’ office in the new headquarters. Just like before, he was there waiting for us with little expressions on his face. He told us that Devin magh Keeth, the Thane of Korgath, had survived the assassination attempt untouched, but Gawor magh Laagen, the Thane of Ffroth, was still suffering from an unknown poison and it was still unsure whether he would live. Glenwathen was still in total chaos. The high king had sent an army to reclaim it from the rebels but that would take several weeks. The deaths of the two thanes would have grave consiquences for the realm as multiple clans will try to claim the title. That in turn could possibly lead to bloodshed… even war. Is this what Geshtar is after?
Ross opened the map we had recovered below the cathedral on the table. It had numerous circles drawn over eight different locations around Aenoria and all but one had been crossed over. The one last uncrossed place lied in Ffroth: a valley called Rhaynder. I had spilled our beans about all of our previous encounters with the mysterious villains and how Ramsey had killed the witch fifteen years ago. Combining this information with the scrolls about prophecies confiscated from the warehouse earlier the spy-master had sent forth his many informents to find out what had happened in the locations marked on the map. Ross told us that there were only few villages in the valley of Rhaynder, but it was obvious that the area should be investigated. We all agreed that there must be a prophet or an oracle of somekind who could shed some light on the resent events. If not, at least we knew that the conspirators were going to strike there next. That is unless they hadn’t already…
I knew that Ffroth was the closest of the northern provinces to the plains of Ysgrid and that we would get closer to the northern wilds and the areas where Irdana and her company had met their end. Even though I knew there was no chance of hearing anything new about her, I played with the thought of finding out that there had been survivors from her company. I closed my eyes and concentrated to draw my imagination away from such thoughts. They had trained us to whitstand severe stress and distraction in the clergy school and such meditations were easy for me.
It was agreed that we would go and search for the prophet and return him to Faerndull, the capital of Korgath. We also received horses from Ross and agreed that we would escort Devin magh Keeth back to Faerndull, his hometown. From there we would continue towards the Rhaynder valley. “The northern lands are a harsh place and it’s people grimm. It has an old soul… just don’t attract any extra attention and for goodness’ sake don’t talk about religion and you should be fine.” We readied our new horses and packed our gears on them. I left my mule to the stables maintained by Ross’ men. We slept our last night in the headquarters of the Crown’s Secret Service. Shouting from the rioters turned pillagers filled our dreams.
We woke up early and left with Devin magh Keeth. Luckily the rebels weren’t watching the gates very carefully and we managed to slip out. The road from Glenwathen to Faerndull was in good condition and we travelled with a good pace. I found out that my skills in horse riding were a bit rusty. I had ridden few times when I was younger, but it must have been at least ten years since I had last ridden a horse. Luckily I was not the only one having problems with their horses, apart from Aeran and Camil who had no trouble, being experienced riders.
In the evening we arrived to a Road Inn called the Flashing Mane Inn. There was a small forge and the owner of the inn happily borrowed it to me. I spent the rest of the evening making rivets to Camil’s armor. It was not progressing very well.
Devin magh Keeth was kind enough and paid for our expenses at the inn. We talked with him and found out that this old man was indeed wise and held a vast knowledge on the political aspects of the country. His views held great wisdom mixed with ratonality rarely found in men. We also discussed what could be motivating Geshtar’s actions. Devin magh Keeth doubted he was an agent of neighbouring foreigners as none of nations in eastern Drystan were powerful enough to challenge Aenoria, plus powerful wizards rarely were interested in politics or serving anyone but themselves. Maybe he’s following some strange ideology…? Seems like we don’t even understand our nemesis at this point.
At the inn we also heard rumours of giant wolves roaming in the woods. I recalled that similar wolves had been seen in the south also. There was a mane of such a wolf hung on the wall of Clydewell’s inn Shamrock Inn.
The day passed without significant events. We continued our journey and lodged in a road side inn. Devin magh Keeth talked in lenghts with Aeran. The thane welcomed the mercenary to serve the king and the country should he ever grow tired of his sellsword life.
We arrived to Korgath in the middle of the day and reached Faerndull by evening fall. Devin happily accommodated us in his long house. We decided to stay there for the night and continue our journey in the morning.
We asked Devin for the best routes to Ffroth and Rhaynder and he told us that we had two choices: one was to venture through the barren Blaenau Highlands straight towards Rhaynder valley and the other was to travel by the roads through the province of Ystrod. He asked us to use the route through Ystrod and deliver a message from him to Eneir magh Eirc, the son of thane Caitlin magh Eirc who had died in cathedral.
Devin explained that Eneir magh Eirc will have to fight for his place as the new thane. He is a rash young man who openly talks against the crown and speaks of northerners free from southern reign. In these times such ideas are dangerous and could in worst case scenario drive the whole realm into a civil war. The competing clan magh Talgarths on the other hand were in good relations with the south. They were a crooked lot but at the moment the lesser of two evils. Devin magh Keeth hoped to persuade Enid to step down for the good of all, at least for the moment. We had witnessed the death of his rebellious mother so maybe that would help to calm the young man.
We agreed that the route through Ystrod would work for us fine and that we would deliver the message.
We began our travel without problems. We camped out at the side of the road. The landscape is getting more and more rugged. Deep dark forests and small mountains spread across the horizon. We are now truly in the North.
Nothing significant happened. We continued along the road and ended up in a small village ín the evening. We desided to rest within it’s inn. The villages here are lke tiny fortresses surrounded by high walls. The people are as rugged as we’ve heard. A surly bunch for sure, but no-one has given us any trouble so far.
By evening we arrived to Bryn Merthyr, the capital of Ystrod. We found our way to the magh Eirc’s house and requested an audience with Eneir magh Eirc. We delivered Devin’s message to him and chatted with him for a while. Eneir didn’t seem to be very surprised to hear that his mother had participated in a treasonous pact. I explained to him that whatever grudges he might have for the crown, it would be wise to stick together. The threat that loomed above Aenoria was a shared threat and any quarrels amongs the Cerns would only help the ones who wished to befall the nation. Eneir magh Eirc seemed unsure what to think of all this and his apparent distrust for southeners seemed to cloud his judgement. We saw that it was not our place to play politics with this young thane, and so we left.
We rested in an inn called Dwnamrgh Tirgl. It was old Cern and could be translated as the Foaming Pint.
The country here was rough, but a decent road led towards our destination. We camped within a ruined watch tower. Civilization within these lands seem to excist in tiny pockets separated by huge land masses. I thought I heard wolves howl the whole night in the distance.
By midday we passed a stone sign saying ‘’Rhaynder 2 miles’’ and soon we arrived to the valley. As we looked down, we saw that the road led to a village. Further away we saw another group of building, another village. We began to descent into the valley and soon arrived to the fields surrounging it. We stopped by to chat with a local farmer who watched us ride along the road. He didn’t seem to be that much interested in us, but answered our questions as best as he could. We found out that there had been abnormally large wolverines roaming around and magic children away to the south. He told us that there were two villages in the valley: the village we had just arrived, Connor’s Qay, and another smaller one called Chap’s Stew just a few miles away. There was also an old fortress called Caern Coeth (“Bark Fortress”), and the monastery that had been built by the southeners. He didn’t know or refused to tell us whether there was any holy sites around here. I tried to pry him about any holy trees or shrines around here as I remembered the shrine in Glwyliadwrus forest, but he fell awfully silent and told us that he didn’t know anything about such things.
We decided to go and find the village elder and see if he knew anything that could help us. The locals showed us the way to the village tavern that was owned by the elder. We stepped in there and questioned the old man attending the bar. Unfortunately he seemed as ignorant as the farmer had, knowing little of anything we wanted to know. I felt that these people were not telling us everything.
Seeing that there was little to learn from the locals, we rode to the monastery that was few miles to the east.
‘’These people are hiding something! I can feel it,’’ Grzegorz said as we rode towards the monastery.
’’I’m certain of that too, but then again, these people are Northeners and they have their reasons for not trusting Southeners like us,’’ I replied, but for some reason I felt that there was more to it than that.
We arrived to the monastery and saw from the signs that it was a nun monastery dedicated to Nimue, the goddess of mercy. We tied our horses outside of the monastery and stepped in. We were greeted by a pair of nuns, but as we asked to meed the abbess of the monastery they fell quiet. One of them told us to wait for a while and left. As we waited the other nun explained that their abbess, Angharad, had disappeared few days ago. She told us that it was common of her to go out on her businesses, but she had never been away for this long. As we waited, she told us that the monastery’s main function was to take care of the ill and convert the northern Cerns. Everyone who converted received their care and ailments.
Soon the other nun returned and with him was a tall man with simple robelike clothes over a ring mail armor. From his stature I realised that he was a Shield Brother, a warrior monk of Corwynt. I greeted the higher ranking clergy man and introduced our group to him. He introduced himself as Brother Castan and he had been ordered to join the missionaries in Rhaynder and protect them from possible threats. He explained that the previous expedition to this area had vanished without a trace.
I felt that Brother Castan was a man who could be trusted and he seemed like a person who had his wits together. I explained our situation to him and told him of the grave events that had happened in the south. I told him that our mission was of great importance. He seemed worried to hear of the sinister schemes that had been going on and that a lector had participated in them. He offered to give us all the aid he could and answer any questions we had.
We asked him whether he knew anyone who could be described as an unordinary person, a prophet or an oracle, but the only person he could think of was Angharad, the abbess of the monastery. He told us that she was a holy woman, but wasn’t sure whether she had any prophetic abilities.
After that we asked what he knew of the surrounding areas, whether there were any holy sites or old shrines of the Old Faith. Brother Castan told us that the local folk still held on to their old customs and visited an old soul tree somewhere in the forest. He knew that Angharad had tried to locate the tree so that it could be cut down, but had had little success in it. The village elder obviously knew the location, but refused to tell its location to the abbess as he knew what she wished to do to it.
We thanked Brother Castan for his help and decided to walk around the monastery and see whether any of the sick locals in the monastery knew anything. We questioned the sick, but they were not eager to help us. None of them knew anything of the Soul Tree. Grzegorz amused himself with trying to interrogate an abviously mad patient. The lunatic was oblivious of everything happening around him and he babbled gibberish to anyone coming near him. Grzegorz eventually gave up and gave the poor man a single potato from his bag. A potato? What was with this guy?!
We eventually left the monastery and wondered what to do next. I decided that it would probably be wise to wait for the night and keep watch outside of the village. Someone might eventually leave the village to visit the Soul Tree. That way we could track him down and find the Soul Tree. I was conviced that it must have something to do with all this. Our enemies might wish to extort their magical power the way they had done in Glwyliadwrus.
Before going back to Connor’s Qay, we made a quick trip to the other village, Chap’s Stew, but found it to be of little interest. We learned nothing new from there.
We rode back to Connor’s Qay and camped outside so that we could monitor the village from a distance. Grzegorz, however, decided that he wished to sleep in the tavern. I shrugged and said that we could keep watch on the town without him easily. He nodded and gave me a cunning grin as he left.
It was getting darker and we set our camp so that we could leave in a haste if necessary. Branden set up his sleeping place a bit further away from us in the trees. From my vantage point I observed as Grzegorz entered the tavern in the center of the village. I wondered what he was up to.
After a while I saw a man bursting out of the tavern door, obviously in a panic, and run to one of the nearby houses. I instantly stood up and wondered what was happening. Quite soon Grzegorz stepped out and began to walk back towards our camp. As he slowly got nearer I began to saw a mob forming in the village. By the time Grzegorz got back to our camp there was a small mob with torches and pitchforks formed on the village street.
‘’In the name of Teutanis! Grzegorz, what have you done?!’’ I asked the necromancer as he came close enough to talk to.
‘’I just persuaded the innkeeper to tell me where the Soul Tree is. Let’s go. I know where it is.’’
He acted so calm that it creeped me out. I decided that I didn’t want to know how he persuaded the elder. Whatever he did, the villagers were not happy. The mob slowly began to approach us.
‘’Alright, Grzegorz, you brought this mob after us. Now take us to the Soul Tree,’’ I said to the wizard with a strict voice.
‘’Yes, yes, just follow me,’’ He answered and began to walk north towards the forest. We grabbed all our gear and followed Grzegorz picking Branden with us on our way.
We found a small path leading into the forest and followed it for a few hours. The mob followed us for a while, but eventually they let us go. After we were sure we weren’t followed, we camped next to the trail.
I was woken up and saw that everyone was putting on their armors. Branden told me that there were noices approaching us form all directions. I quickly began to don my armor on and soon I could hear that indeed we were being surrounded.
Just as I tightened the last strap on my armor they charged. A group of Hillpeople emerged from the forest. They came in so fast I could not count them. Some of them were covered in tattoos and wore little else than ragged trousers. These berserks came at us swinging large axes towards us. The rest of the Hillpeople were dressed in furs and attacked us with spears.
The battle was fierce and, even though they had strategical advantage over us, we managed to beat them down quickly. The battle didn’t last many seconds, but it was bloody. As I looked around I saw that we all had deep wounds on us. While the regular spearmen were relatively easy to fend of the berserks had charged with little care for their own safety, plunging with their great axes with horrible strength. They had caused severe damage, but there was nothing I could not heal.
We dragged the dead Hillpeople into the forest and continued our rest. These wild men had ventured quite south from their lands. They might be a scout party. I wondered what this meant.
We woke up tired that morning. None of us had slept very well after the Hill People ambush. The possibility that they were a lone hunting party hundreds of miles away from their homelands didn’t seem likely.
We packed our camp and continued to move deeper into the forest. After an hour of travel Branden noticed that there were fresh tracks on the trail. He examined them and said that someone had dragged something along the path. With raised caution we continued forward.
Quite soon we arrived to a clearing that beared marks of battle. In the middle of the clearing there was a big tree and six dead Hillpeople scouts were hung on its branches. We stepped in to examine them further and saw that they had been peppered with small wooden splinters. I suspected that they had been killed by a spell of some kind. As a cleric of Teutanis I knew a bit of nature related spells and incantations, but nothing I knew could have done this to the Hill Men. Seeing that there was little else to do here, we continued forward and followed the same tracks that had led us here so far.
‘’These tracks are too obvious. I believe someone has deliberately left them so,’’ Branden said.
‘’Interesting, we’ll just have to be extra careful. There might be an ambush waiting for us,’’ I said to the young ranger.
For a couple of hours we continued along the path until we arrived to another clearing. Just like the earlier one, this clearing had a big tree growing in the middle of it. This time there was a robed woman, still alive, hanging from its branches. From her looks I figured that she must be Angharad. I quickly closed in to cut her loose, but was interrupted by three men, who stepped into the clearing from the woods. They were dressed in clothes that camoflaged them well into the surrounding forest. All kinds of animal bones and small trophies hung from their primitve clothes. The one in the middle, obviously their leader, wore a helmet made of an elk’s skull on his head and carried a crooked staff. The other two had large clubs on their hands. Druids, I thought! In the monastery, where I had been given my training as a cleric, they had told us that the druids were heretics who had long been destroyed.
‘’Halt, come no closer to the priest woman!’’ the elk horned druid shouted at me. I looked behind me and saw that my friends were just few yards behind me, but still inside the clearing. I turned back to the druids and saw the forest around us grow into a tight wall locking us all inside the clearing. The trees themselves seemed to turn slightly in our directions.
‘’We wish to free this priest,’’ I answered to the druid.
‘’She has done evil deeds against the people in Rhaynder. She and her faith should go back south and leave these people alone,’’ the druid claimed.
’’I’m sure she has done nothing wrong. Please, we simply wish to get her back to the monastery unharmed. We need her knowledge.’’
‘’Done nothing wrong? Doing nothing can be wrong too. She has denied her healing powers from people who have refused to convert into her extorting faith. Thus she has caused death and suffering,’’ the druid said. I looked at the tied priest and saw that she had opened her eyes and looked at me.
‘’Kill them,’’ she whispered to me with an angry face.
‘’Look, I’m sure this must be a mistake. Our virtues quide us to good actions. Especially the servants of Nimue, like her, are taught to be merciful,‘’ I said to the priest, ignoring Angharad’s silent command. ‘’I beg you to allow us safe escape from this forest. I wish no harm to you or your kind,’’ I continued.
‘’If we let you go, we demand that the missionaries from the monastery return south and leave the people here alone,’’ the master druid said.
’’I’m not the one with the power to decide that. Let me speak with Angharad,‘’ I said and began to talk to the abbess in Ellysian, the language taught to all priests: ’’Angharad, we must get you out of here and for that you must promise these men that you will leave these people alone and return south. Do you understand?‘’
’’Yes, I undertand. I can say that to these savages,‘’ she replied to me in Ellysian.
’’What about the accusations they said. Are they true?‘’ I asked the abbess.
’’They were heretics unwilling to convert to the true faith. They deserved to die,‘’ she calmly answered. I felt infuriated with this woman. She was obviously arrogant and zealous in his job.
’’How do you expect these people to convert when you show no compassion for them? You demand them to convert before you help them? Don’t you have any idea what the virtues mean?‘’ I angrily said to her. She was superior to me in the Corwynt hierarchy, but I felt that I needed to lecture the woman. Besides, she was tied to the tree helpless and I was her only chance of survival.
’’Yes, yes, you’re right. Now help me out of here,‘’ she said a bit irritated.
’’She promises that she will move her acolytes out of Rhaynder, return south and leave the people in Rhaynder alone,‘’ I said in Cernish to the druids, ’’Won’t you Angharad?‘’ I continued.
’’Yes, I promise that,‘’ she said and smiled to the druids. I saw a devilish grin in her smile.
’’In fact, she swears in the name of Corwynt and Nimue that she will do so,‘’ I continued. She glanced at me angrily and said: ’’I swear so.‘’
’’She must also promise that there will be no other attempts to convert these people after her,‘’ the druid said.
’’Yes of course. I promise that too,‘’ she said.
’’You may cut her of and leave the forest,‘’ the master druid said, ’’but make sure she keeps her word or you shall not leave these lands alive.’’
I gave one last look at the druid unsure what to say. There was no way I could make sure that this snake dressed as a priestess of Corwynt would keep her word. I cut the abbess down and escorted her out of the clearing. The forest opened before us and allowed us to leave.
On our way out of the forest I talked with Angharad asking her whether she knew anything of a possible prophet living in the valley. I told her that Brother Castan had said that she was the only person he could think of having such abilities. She told me that, even though she was a powerful priest, she had no such abilities. However, there was a young man who helped in the monastery who had seen a dream that he should come to the monastery. Angharad suspected that this man might be the one we were looking. I agreed that this might be true. She told us that the man’s name was Davy.
We rode back to the monastery and returned Angharad back. As we arrived to the monastery, we saw that the smaller village, Chap’s Stew, was on fire. Black smoke was rising from the village. This could not be a coincidence! I asked the nuns where Davy was and they told me that he had gone to Connor’s Qay to help the locals. Brother Castan burst out of the front doors and said that the monastery should evacuate to Caern Coeth, the fortress few miles away. Chap’s Stew was being raided by a Hill People war party.
When we arrived to the town, the townsfolk were wondering the smoke rising from Chap’s Stew. I began to shout orders to the villagers to gather everyone to the center of the village and prepare to evacuate to Caern Coeth. They began to gather up hastily as they heard there were hundreds of Hill People raiding Chap’s Stew.
Our group split and began to search for Davy. We eventually found him from one of the buildings. He had been helping some of the sick the priests had refused to help. He was a young man and wore small brass bells on his clothing, a sign that said that he was an apprentice bard. I explained to him that he should come with us.
Davy jumped on the back of one our horses and we readied ourselves to ride towards the fortress. As I saw that the villagers had gathered together I told them to check that everyone was with them and then leave towards the fortress. We began to gallop towards the fortress with Davy. The villagers had plenty of time to walk to the fortress, so I saw no risk in leaving them behind.
As we arrived to the fortress, we saw that the nuns from the monastery had just arrived carrying the sick with them. Brother Castan was circling around them assuring that everyone was alright. The fortress had a tall keep inside it and a wall with one gate circling around the keep. We barged into the fortress and looked at the guards that were stationed there. They seemed unorganised and unprofessional. I demanded to see the captain of the fortress, but nobody knew where he was. We eventually found him hiding in the lavatory booths. Seeing that there was little discipline in fortress, we declared that we were in command and began to make preparations for the oncoming assault. After a while, the villagers from Connor’s Qay arrived and we were able to close the gates.
We soon noticed that part of one of the walls had collapsed long time ago. There was a ten feet hole in it and it was an obvious weakness. We understood that there was little we could do to it in this time. We began to reinforce the gate with everything we could find. We ordered the villagers and guards to prepare rocks and hot water to throw down from the walls.
Brother Castan told us that he knew a little about the Hill People and that they would not assault the fortress during the night. He knew that they used tactics that others would not use. Bold straightforward assaults were their style. It was common for them to prove their courage in battle with daring stunts. They used ladders to siege castle walls, a tactic rarely used by anyone else as it was so dangerous to plant the ladders and climb up when there were enemies waiting on top the walls.
We searched the keep for weapons and armed as many villagers as we could. We found some bows and arrows and decided to put our archers on the top of the keep. From there they could fire to all directions. We assigned [:angharad]] and Grzegorz with them. Branden walked along the walls where he could let his keen arrows pierce strategical targets. Brother Castan took the fortress guards to his command and took the job of securing the main gate. Villagers were stationed on the wall with rocks and simple weapons they had brought with them. The nuns and the sick from the monastery were stationed inside the keep so that they would be safe. Aeran, Camil, two druids, and me stationed ourselves on the hole in the wall. This was the weakest point in the keep and it would most likely attract a lot of attention. Few villager were stationed on the walls near the hole so that they could drop rocks and boiling water on top of it. Grzegorz also told us that if things got too hot, he could cast a magical spider web to block the hole.
As we made our plans for the oncoming assault, three men approached the keep. It was already dark so we were suspicious. When they came closer we saw that they were the same three druids that we had seen earlier. They offered to help us as the Hillpeople were threatening them also. I gladly invited them in. We would need all the help we could get.
Everyone in the fortress had slept uneasily. Sounds of trees being cut down and warsongs being sung in guttural tongues kept everyone up. Most of us were already at our positions as the sun slowly began to creep out of its resting place. As the dawn cleared away the nights darkness, we all saw the Hillpeople and their crude siege tools they had built last night. There were maybe two or three hundred of them, scattered into smaller parties around the fortress, still keeping their distance. There were tens of them against each of us – all of them expert warriors who had been fighting and looting their whole lives, most of us either worn-down guardsmen or simple peasants. I wasn’t sure we would live to see another day.
I saw a large group of berserkers massing up to the side where the wall had collapsed. It was the hole that we had deliberately left open. I looked at my friends, Camil and Aeran, who were standing next to me. It was us who would have stop that berserker horde. I knew we had two druids with us and the villagers on top of the wall, but I knew that it was up to us to keep the hole blocked. I sighed and hoped that the small hole would slow them down enough so that we could keep them out.
The Hill Men began to roar and shout insults at us. I understood that they would soo charge at us. I began to cast spells to protect my friends and imbue them with divine strength. The villager at the walls looked at us mouths open as the three of us grew twize as tall as we normally are. I cast an enlargement spell on my two friends and myself. Now that we were large, the hole didn’t look that bad anymore.
Just as quick as the Hill Men had started their roaring they launched their assault. Crazed Hillpeople ran towards the fortress walls some carrying large ladders with additional legs that could be used to lock the ladder in place. I quickly cast thundering sound burst straight at the charging berserker horde. I saw the sonic boom hitting them. Nothing on their faces showed pain, but I saw that my spells hit hard knocking some of them down only to be trampled by other berserkers. I managed to cast another blast on them before they hit us.
The villager on top of the wall dropped a large cauldron full of boiling water on the first berserkers. The smell of boiling flesh and steam blocked our vision for a while, but despite the horrible wounds and deaths some of the berserkers must have faced, dozen of them beagn to burst through the hole. We literally had an upper hand as we towered twelve feet tall and our weapons could hit the berserkers before they even got close to us. An unbeleavable carnage began at the hole. Dozens after dozens of berserkers charged fearlesly through the hole only to be smashed or cut down by our massive weapons. We suffered many wounds as the sheer number of them managed to push them close to us.
At the same time the Hillpeople assaulted the other walls. Our archers on top of the keep launched deadly volleys towards the enemy. The gate was slowly beginning to crack as a large battering ram was used on it. Brother Castan and the keep guards tried to reinforce the gate as best as they could. Here and there the Hillpeople managed to break our defences and climb on top of the walls. Even though the berserkers had massed against the hole and suffered terrible losses, the regular Hill Men assaulting the other sides of the fortress were fierce warriors.
The berserkers eventually cut down our two druid friends and the last of them managed to land a blow on Aeran side that would have killed a lesser man. I saw Aeran fall down and the triumphant berserker climbing over his body. I shouted at Camil and we began to hack our way through the last berserkers. The ground was littered with corpses and dismembered limbs and I saw hillmen on top of the walls slaughtering the desperate villagers. They had breached the walls too bad already. From the sounds coming from the courtyard I knew that the gate was open and Brother Castan was engaged in combat.
Camil and I killed the berserker who had hit Aeran and I knelt next the unconscious mercenary. He was still alive, but bleeding badly. Part of his right leg had been cleaved off entirely by the barbarian’s axe. Camil stood behind me covering me as I cast a healing spell on Aeran. As he regained himself and saw that he was lying in a pool of blood and corpses, I shouted to him an Camil that we should fall back to the keep. We began to run away and the last thing I saw was Branden running away from one of the tower doors behind us. Behind him was a group of Hill Men trying to catch him. We ran to the courtyard and saw Brother Castan and the fortress guards fighting against the Hill Men. I shouted to Brother Castan that we should fall back. He hacked one of the Hill Men down with his large sword and commanded the guards to fall back inside the keep. Just as we were about to enter the keep, we heard shouts from the keep roof. I glansed up and saw that something big was flying towards us. It was still too far away to make out what it was. Didn’t we have enough in our hands already!?
We stepped inside the keep and closed the gate behind us. We had suffered heavy losses on the walls. None of the villagers assigned there had survived. The keep gate began to tremble as the Hillpeople began to use their battering ram on it. We positioned ourselves in the corridor. It had murder holes on the side so we could put guards there with bows and spears. Branden went up to see what was happening on the roof. I healed my friends as we waited for the next assault.
Eventually the small gate crashed, but instead of charging enemies we were greeted by thrown javelins. Some hit us, but we took cover so that the Hill Men could not hit us with their ranged weapons. They began to enter the keep and our archers and spear men began to hit them out of their murder holes. Despite that there were still so many of them that they pushed in. We braced ourselves and flanked the ones who were flushed in by the mass of the horde. Brother Castan, Camil, Aeran, some of the guards and I began to cut down the Hill Men one by one. The Hill Men suffered many losses as they were pushed into the closed space where we could flank them easily.
Suddenly the Hill People stopped. None of them tried to enter the keep anymore and we thought we had bested them. Still I could hear them outside shoutng to each other and then all beginning to scream one word: “Dr’aetrchoa! Dr’aetrchoa! Dr’aetrchoa!” Suddenly Branden ran down the stairs with the archers, Grzegorz and the master druid. “There’s a bloody wywern on the roof and it’s carrying a rider!”. We realised that the nuns, the sick from the monastery and Davy were still on one of the upper floors and we sent men to fetch them down to one of the rooms on the ground floor.
‘’My arrows simply broke when they hit the one riding the beast,’’ Branden said.
‘’We need to protect Davy. The rider must be after him!’’ I answered and we stationed ourselves to block the paths from the stairs to the room where Davy and the sick were. We could hear the Hillpeople chant outside. Whatever was up on the roof, it had caused the Hill Men to stop their assault and wait.
We heard steps from the staircase and soon saw a sinister sight: a dark figure stepped down the stairs – it was a human form totally clad in a black armour, a dark red cloak hanging from it’s back and a huge spiked mace in it’s grasp. A featureless iron mask covered it’s face, save the eyes burning deep red behnd it. I felt a chilling aura as it closed in and I realised that this thing, whatever it was, was not human, nor was it alive. The dark figure calmly began to walk towards the corridor that led to the room where Davy and the sick were as if it knew exactly where to go. We stepped on its path and struck the thing with all our might. While our weapons struck true this thing was not of this world and our weapons seemed to do little damage.
The dark figure began to hit back as we blocked its way. Brother Castan, Camil, Aeran, Branden and I surrounded the figure. Grzegorz casted spells at it. We suffered heavy blows from the creature, but it began to look like we could beat the creature when suddenly it cast a spell of some kind. We felt our own life essence wither away and saw as the creatures armour repaired itself in seconds. I felt that the creature had done something similar to the healing auras of positive energy I could produce, but this was something more sinister – and aura of leaching negative energy.
I saw my friends taking hits and we began to falter. The creature healed itself one more time and I saw Aeran fall down again. I mustered my last strenght to heal him and despite all the wounds and pain he had suffered, he rose up and continued the fight. Covered in gore and beaten to the inch of his life the mercenary somehow managed to keep up in the fight. It seemed that we would lose the fight, but then, after a heavy hammer blow from me, Camil hit a mighty smithing blow on the abomination. It faltered, still standing, and gave Aeran a chance to strike with a heavy blow on its head. Aeran’s sword sunk into the armor crushing and dismembering the beast. A pulse of energy radiated from the thing and it fell apart with a bright flame. A vile inhuman scream filled the air as the armoured shape seemed to melt into nothingness. A foul presence seemed to linger for a moment until disappearing.
We stood there for a moment unsure what to do next, when we heard the Hillpeople begin to flee. Branden climbed back on the roof and saw that the wyvern had left and that the rest of the Hillpeople had fled to the forests in the north. Branden came back down where we were reassuring that everyone was alright inside the keep.
’’Where’s Angharad?‘’ I asked Grzegorz as I had not seen her. She had been up on the roof with him during the battle.
’’Unfortunately the wyvern grabbed her on the roof and dropped her on the courtyard. I think I should go check the remains,’’ the wizard said with a satisfied smile. I looked at him as he left the keep. Wonder what he was up to?
We looked after our wounds and secured the fortress as best as we could. Angharad was found dead on the courtyard killed by the drop. For some reason she was found missing one of her ribs. One of the Hill Men took a trophy, I quessed.
The battle was over and the survivors were piling bodies and grieving for lost friends. I talked to Brother Castan and he said that he would have to escort the remaining clergy and the now homeless villagers back south as well. This expedition could not continue anymore. This pleased the master druid as well as me. I had worried that Angharad would break her promise on leaving these people alone.
As we had more time to talk to Davy, we told him that we suspected that he was a prophet of some sort and that the thing had been sent here to kill him and that we should take him south into safety. Davy was a bit confused about all of this and told us that he had only seen a dream where a goddess had told him to come here. He knew nothing of any prophets. The only interesting thing he had found in the monastery was an insane man whose ramblings he had found interesting and was writing down.
The madman’s name was Ferdiad.