“Thank you.” Lyra seemed to be looking more at Sister Ryesha when she said it.
After Lyra accepts the earrings from Donovan, she turns to address the dwarf in common. “I apologize. We seem to have put you in even more danger than we found you in.”
Then she rummages around near the food crate until she finds a handkerchief wrapped around a pile of combs, small mirrors, and other trinkets. She gingerly picks up one of the mirrors, and sits back down near the chariot. She methodically wipes the blood off of her face, and examines the arc of small circular marks, the shiny pink of freshly healed skin still evident. The lower arc was on the apple of her cheek just left of her nose, and the upper on her brow, going down to just between her eyes. Since it was healed so quickly, she hoped it was unlikely to leave lasting scars.
Lyra carefully balanced the mirror on her knees, and angled it so she could see the earrings as she put them in.
“Bah, a few kobolds aren’t much of a danger. A dwarf lives every day in danger. It seems many would rather be our enemy than our ally. Except you, this ragtag group of elves, humans, and even a goblin, are as kind and bold a party as one could hope to meet. I’ll remain with you, helping as I can.”
Yamtwit, from this vantage, can see that the man is lying prone at the bottom of the pit, which is perhaps fifteen feet deep, pinned by his own pack, with one leg twisted at an angle that no normal human leg should ever be in, bent almost in half in the wrong direction. The man turns his head to see who is calling down to him, and looks utterly surprised to see the goblin again. “GET ME OUT OF HERE!” he screams.
Yamtwit yells back to the others. “Looks like the old guy has a broken leg. He looks way too big for me to carry out, anyone want to lend a hand?” He turns back to the pit and starts climbing down. “I’ll see what I can do about your leg, geezer. My friends will be along shortly to haul you out.” He reaches the bottom and walks over to check out the man’s leg. He grabs the man’s leg gently, “This will hurt…”, he says, then quickly pops the dislocated knee back into place. “So, where are you from? Maybe we can give you a lift home. And are you still selling your wares?”
The old man responds to Yamtwit’s mid-leg-setting smalltalk with a prolonged, high-pitched scream.
Hearing the commotion (and noting that the goblin not only didn’t stay away from the pit, he entered), Hrud gestures towards Donovan, pantomiming being asleep and pointing at the hole in the ground.
“You’re welcome.” Donovan says to Lyra, then, “Glad to have you aboard, Sir Bo,” to the dwarf. Donovan looks at Hrud quizzically, then shakes his head emphatically, to indicate that he has no desire to sleep in that hole in the ground. Hearing the scream, he walks over to the edge of the pit to look in. “I’m afraid I don’t have any levitation spells or the like prepared Mr. Yamtwit. I think we have sufficient materials to make a stretcher. Then we could haul him out that way, perhaps.” He waves at the others, “Rant, do you think you and Hrud would be able to the man out of there?”
Winona looks around at the kobold corpses. “This may sound unpleasant, but if we toss the bodies in the hole, I think there are enough to mostly fill it up. Or make a ramp to get him out more easily…” She looks down in the pit, “That will also solve the problem of leaving the pit behind, and disposing of the kobolds. We’ll just have to be careful dropping them down there so that we don’t hit the old man or the goblin.”
Frantiska rides around, scanning the area for more assailants, and stopping to collect one of the sleeping kobolds, then finally returns satisfied that no more enemies are incoming. She climbs down off Thistledown and deposits the sleeping kobold near the back of the wagon. «Lyra, these kobolds seemed to organized to be a truely random attack. Are your powers sufficient to discern whether these attackers belonged to a larger tribe or group that might launch further attacks on travelers?»
Lyra shakes her head. «’ve never done anything that invasive, and I’m not inclined to start. Teldicia has experience with reading surface thoughts. Might that yield something if we question it?»
Donovan, overhearing the conversation, walks back to where Lyra and Frantiska are looking at the unconscious kobold. “I have a spell that can determine if they belong to a larger group, but not much else…” Donovan casts know faction, then stares at the kobold and shakes his head, “That simplified matters…” he mumbles sarcastically. “Lady Frantiska, the short answer to your question is yes. The kobold’s allegiances are fairly complicated, but it is definitely part of both an organized military unit and a larger kingdom, and it seems like that kingdom may be involved in some larger conspiracy…”
With no apparent objections to her idea forthcoming, Winona begins unceremoniously shoving kobolds into the pit. Sister Rye bounces over and glares at her reprovingly.
“Don’t look at me like that, Bunny,” Winona quips. “The Laws of Phlan clearly state that in instances of opposition to the law, violent social uprising, terrorism, or banditry that ‘the dead should be sown naked into linen sacks, transported in reusable coffins to cemeteries beyond the city walls, and buried without a coffin in a mass grave.’ Phlan, being the closest civilized city and the diocesan seat of Bishop Braccio clearly has legal jurisdiction over these lands, and these kobolds were clearly engaged in acts of banditry. We are already outside of the city, therefore transport is not necessary, so, as the law says, these criminals shall be ‘buried without a coffin in a mass grave.’” She shoves another kobold in, this time watching to make sure she does not strike Yamtwit or the old man. “In addition to fulfilling the law, in this case, throwing their bodies in serves several other useful purposes. One, filling up the whole quicker, since we clearly need to fill and cover it to get the wagon past. Two, getting rid of the bodies before they start rotting in the swamp water and become a risk of disease. And three, steadily raising the level of the bottom of the pit so that it is easier for our friends to get out.” She stomps off into the mud and returns with two more bodies to throw in. “Brother Rant, Master Dwarf, would you two care to help?”
Hrud unfastens the saddle from his pony, carefully setting aside any attached items – of which there are few – and walks over the hole. Setting the saddle down for a moment, he pulls up the rope and makes a wide loop with it. The barbarian then loops the rope around the saddle horn a couple times before running the loose end underneath the saddle and out through the rear rigging dee – a simple iron loop used for hooking saddle bags – on the left side, then back under the saddle and through the ring located on the right side. The remaining rope goes back under the saddle then out back and up, where the loose end is knotted to the rope a foot or so where the Hrud estimates the man’s head will come to.
Testing the knot and satisfied that it will hold the man’s weight, Hrud lowers the saddle into the hole. “Yen wong ngemu tali minangka nitih munggah, kang ngirim nggoleki.” he calls down to the goblin.
Bo is not familiar with the laws of Phlan, but he appreciates a well-reasoned argument when he hears one. He leaves off his mental plans for an oversize block and tackle so that he may assist dumping the dead (and maybe not-so-dead) kobolds into the hole.
The old man, somewhat recovered from the bout of screaming brought on by Yamtwit resetting his knee, watches in growing horror, suddenly bursts out screaming again on seeing the rain of kobold corpses. “No. No. You didn’t?!” The scream turns to weeping. “It’s bad enough that you attacked me, chased me back this way, and broke my leg so that I could not deliver the tribute from my village. Now you’ve killed them?! They’ll slaughter us all!”
The goblin looks completely startled, but whether from the dwarf and the priests dropping dead kobolds on him or the old man’s screaming is hard to tell. “Hey old coot, we didn’t attack you, that was just a misunderstanding, and you should watch where you are fleeing better. It’s not our fault you fell in this hole…” The remainder of the old man’s statement hits hits him then. “Wait? Tribute?” He points at the pack, “That’s all stuff you were going to give to the kobolds?” His shoulders slump, and, completely flustered, he begins to rant in his native tongue, “Merde! Yon kamloteoute pansei. Koboldsyo nan kwit manje aplike bèlsayo tout somurajteou?! Kobolds fouchèt bèl tankoubaouta fucka poukisa? Lèsaa, lanfèyo ale jis kapabou. Pou Spò komès renmen kobold dégoutant bezwenoupafèsa nou! Lanfè ale! Nou sou tonbe koboldsyo fuck poukisa tou nan?!”
When the saddle plops down next to him he looks up from his explosion to hear Hrud. “Oke. Aku bakal sijine coot lawas ing jaran-jog. Bebas kanggo nyelehake lawas kobold-fucker sanadyan.” He takes a few deep breaths then turns back to the old man. “Meat-head up there says he can haul you out if you sit on the saddle.” He cuts the straps on the man’s pack and grabs him under the armpits, “Here let me help you. Then you can explain your insanity to everyone else up there…”
Hrud hauls the old man up out of the pit and starts to untie the rope from the saddle. Winona’s call down to the goblin suddenly reminds him that Yamtwit is still down there. Quickly tying a smaller loop (sans saddle), lowers the rope back into the hole.
The strange bubble around the wagon finally collapses and Teldicia climbs out, clutching her head, blood trickling from her nose and ears. “Remind me not to do that again…” she mutters. She leans heavily against the side of the wagon, the veins in her forehead standing out and pulsing grotesquely.
Donovan looks at Teldicia in horror. He tears open his pack in a hurry and yanks out the silver rod, only to find it cold and lifeless. Damnit, I already used it today, he thinks. He puts a hand on the faux-elf-girl’s shoulder, “Just hang in there, the headache will pass…I think…”
Winona kicks another body into the whole, then yells “Sorry!” when it barely misses landing on Yamtwit’s head. “We’ll try to be more careful.”
Yamtwit ties the old man’s pack to the rope and then hops on the saddle to ride up, “Matur nuwun, Hrud.” He then runs over to Donovan, “Hey Whitehead, the old guy’s no peddler. Apparently he was delivering ‘tribute’ to the kobolds and is worried that since we stopped him from doing that, and killed a bunch of kobolds, that we might have just doomed his village.” Yamtwit looks genuinely concerned as he makes the report.
Frantiska listens as the goblin then looks at the kobolds lying dead around them. “Do we have any guess how large of a force these kobolds could field? Surely the loss of a force this size should be a notable loss for them. If the kobolds have been threatening and extorting money from the man’s village, we should find some way to help.”
Yamtwit looks even more upset, “Are you proposing we attack the Scything Claws?!”
Would it still be possible to deliver the tribute? I’m not sure we can take on a kingdom of several kobold tribes….
Donovan looks severely troubled. “This seems like a lose-lose situation all around. We’re definitely not in any position to be launching a full-scale assault on the kobold kingdom. We could offer to take the tribute to Greshlyrr for them, but, given what we’ve seen of the kobolds around here, I pretty sure that the kobolds would, at best, construe all of our possessions as tribute as well, or at worst, kill us all anyways.” He sighs and starts helping Winona roll kobold bodies into the pit. “I think our best option is just to take the man back to his village and hope for the best. Unless their home is very close, the few kobolds that got away are not going to be returning with reinforcements any time soon, and they have no reason to suspect that our actions in defending our caravan have anything to do with the tribute the man was carrying. If we drop him off and then make haste to Melvaunt, perhaps we can convince the city to dispatch a garrison to his village to guard against any possible kobold retaliation.” He chucks another body in the hole. “Or perhaps Frantiska and someone else of our party could take the two horses and ride back to inform Sir Justin at the tower of the increased kobold threat.”
Hrud’s brow furrows with the effort of producing an idea, “Apa yen orcs utawa hobgoblins njupuk upeti? Punapa kobolds nyerang wong-wong mau?”
Yamtwit smiles at Hrud’s cunning. “Big guy says we should frame some orcs for stealing the tribute…” he says to the others. Then, to Hrud, “Hrud, kowe duwe gagasan carane kita bisa pucuk iki ing sawetara orcs? Aku wis tau rampung pigura-proyek sadurunge.”
Lyra nods at Donovan’s suggestion, but still looks concerned. “Even if we got word to Melvaunt and the Tower, would they be able to mobilize to defend the village in time?” She wraps her arms around her knees, hugging them to her chest. «I’m not sure I can make it that far in my current condition, and I certainly can’t make it back. I haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to meditate properly for days.» Her Elven was whisper soft.
Donovan has to focus and use his eyes, more than his ears, to pick up on Lyra’s last statement, her words soft fluttering things like pastel-colored moths. He was pleased to find that he could understand them now, rather than just viewing them. «That’s why I suggested we send riders,» he says softly. “As slow as these oxen are, it shouldn’t take Frantiska and Thistledown more than an hour or so to ride back to the tower, then another hour or two to catch up. The priests of Helm seem to favor mounted patrols, so they should be able to offer at least a few men with similar speed. Given how slow a kobold on foot is, especially in this terrain, I would imagine that any retaliatory force would take a couple days at least to muster and deploy. Even as inexpert as we are, we are each more than a match for a half-dozen kobolds a piece, it should not take a particular large force to defend the man’s village—especially if they are experienced soldiers.” Donovan hopes that no one notices that his attempts to sound reassuringly strategic and knowledgeable is entirely guess-work.
Overhearing Yamtwit he perks up a bit, “Frame the orcs? That’s not a bad idea. Maybe we could hack the bodies up a bit more, leave one of the green blades behind?”
Lyra tilts her head to the side, thinking. “That might actually work, except for the part where several of them are in a pit already, and that Xvimlar probably wouldn’t actually leave one of Mace’s swords behind. Mother once brought me to a lecture series on entropy because my tutor had to cancel at the last minute. One of the seminars was on various theological perspectives of preservation and destruction. Of the Xvimlar it was said…” Lyra continues in her best scholarly monotone.
“Obey or die in pain and utter destruction. Enslave or slay the weak, and be sure that they know their suffering is in Xvim’s name and by his will. Cause pain and fearful obedience in others whenever prudent. Be a cruel, heartless tyrant, and Xvim shall be pleased. Slay the priests of other gods whenever you can do so without being identified by others. Capture tyrants and take them to senior clergy members to be delivered unto Xvim. Capture all wizards and bring their magic to the church-or bring them to Xvim’s most senior servants so that they can be transformed into creatures who will do service to Xvim as guardians. Spread fear of Xvim over all the lands. Destroy whatever and whoever bars his will and see that word of his power spreads but that no one survives to describe your deeds in detail except mortals who worship him. Destroy all witnesses to secret acts, but leave alive survivors to tell of Xvim’s power when spreading casual destruction. There is a delight in destruction-feel it, and indulge in it.”
Lyra looks thoughtful for a moment, tapping her chin with a finger. “So … significant leaders and wizards would be captured if possible, priests would likely die screaming, and there would be either no witnesses or a few properly terrorized witnesses depending on circumstances.”
Frantiska shakes her head, looking utterly disgusted with this train of thought, “Orcs may be despicable creatures, but Selune teaches that there are always exceptions, and using deceit to start a war between two questionable parties is not exactly honorable behavior. I would rather face the threat of a head-on assault on the kobolds, knowing that we are the ones facing that risk, than deal with the fall-out and likely death of children and non-combatants that would result from starting some sort of internecine war between the two races in this area. I would also have to object to any ‘hacking up bodies’ to orchestrate such a conflict. It is one thing to kill a group of kobolds that attacked us in an act of self-defense and then bury them properly in a common grave as Winona suggests, it would be quite another to mutilate their bodies and leave them lying out in the open as some kind of false witness.”
Yamtwit translates for Hrud. “Cahaya panggung wadon ngandika yen pigura proyek bakal ala lan matèni anak. Putih sirah ngandika kita ngirim mung ninggalake konco ijo pedhang. Wong wadon enom ngandika kita ngirim mutilate badan, nyiksa imam, lan njupuk di pun cekel kedhaftar Piandel.” He then raises his hands, “I think we should take a vote. Everyone in favor of blaming this mess on someone else raise your hands…”
Hrud starts to speak several times, only to swallow his words before actually gathering the courage to speak up, trusting Yamtwit translate:
“«I ask questions and get in trouble. A few more questions will not make things worse for me.
How many children will the orcs and kobolds kill if they’re already busy killing each other? How many will they kill if they are not?
What about the girl we rescued back in the city? Those animals could have been off dying somewhere else instead of attacking her.
One spirit says ‘do what I say’, another spirit says ‘do not do it’. Who do we listen to? Even if I do not worship one spirit or the other?
One group fires blindly into the city, trying to hurt people. The other kidnaps travelers and tortures horses. Let them waste their lives on each other for a while.»"
The barbarian raises his hand.
Teldicia, looking exhausted and still trying to staunch the bleeding from her nose, quietly raises her hand.
Rant seeing Hrud’s discomfort, translates for the others before Yamtwit can mangle his words. Then, to Hrud, “Aku pracaya Frantiska ngangap kanggo anak saka kobolds lan orcs. Sampeyan salah sing wong diwasa sing kasar lan kasar lan pantes Tyr kang kaadilan. Nanging rama dosa ngirim ora bisa payed dening turunane. Setelan ala mungsuh ala liyane mung bisa beget luwih ala. Ora ana siji blaming sampeyan kanggo pikiraken, kanca Hrud.”
Donovan raises his hand, “If it saves a village, and keeps us alive, who cares if it’s fair to the orcs.”
The three Tyrrans, suddenly interested, walk over. Winona nods along to Lyra and Donovan’s reasoning, but when Yamtwit calls for a show of hands, they all vote nay. “I’m sorry,” Winona says, “you’re suggestion isn’t a bad one one from a practical standpoint, but Frantiska is right, even though adventurers are given the right to meet out immediate justice in the defense of themselves and others, the law is quite clear that similar punishment be set aside for instances of false testimony. Tyr and the Council require an accurate accounting of violence that is meeted out in the service of the city.” She sighs, then adds, “And, so long as they are not actively engaged in violence against peaceful citizens of Phlan, the Xvimlar are still are provided equal protections under the law…though with a healthy dose of suspicion of prior malice.”
Yamtwit’s lips curl in consternation, “That’s four in favor, and four opposed. Dwarf? Lyra-girlie? Looks like you’re the tie-breakers…”
Frantiska shakes her head again, “And if they each vote in a different direction?”
Donovan looks over at the peddler, “In that case, maybe we should ask the person who is most affected by this situation to cast the tie-breaking vote…”
“Settin’ the kobolds and orcs against each other is a fine plan, if ya think it will work. Them’s that remains afterward should be easier to wipe out.” Bo spits in the pit. “I’ve got no love lost on either side.” Bo considers it a victory whenever someone isn’t attacking dwarves or their allies.
No wonder the poor man ran when we said we were adventurers, Lyra thought rubbing her temples. “The several blocks between the Xvimlar temple and the road would be caught between the two sides, not to mention all of those settlements we passed before we entered the swamp proper, and noncombatants on both sides. Both sides will escalate matters to make an example of their opposition and to extend their influence, to the detriment of all those who happen to be nearby. We’ve seen the sort of violence the Xvimlar are capable of.” Lyra shakes her head. “I will not bring that upon these villagers. There has to be a better way.”
Yamtwit looks at Lyra and Bo, suddenly realizing that he miscounted. “So, five against five. I guess that wasn’t so useful. So what do you think we should do?” He says, looking at Lyra since she seems to have a handle on the psychology of their perceived enemies.
The old man, sitting on the lip of the pit, glares at all of you with a mixture of rage and incredulity. “What’re you all yammering on about?! There’s got t’ be at least sixty dead kobolds here. If you want to help, how ‘bout you take your murderous hobo selves and go kick the rest of ’em where they live so they’ll stop bothering my village once and for all?!”
“Starting hostilities between the two puts too many innocent at risk. Let the kobolds take this for what it was — a failed caravan raid. The more pressing concern is getting that tribute where it needs to go, or defending the village.” Lyra glances over at the angry old man. “And it seems the one representative we have is in favor of the latter. Shall we see how much he knows about the kobold strength in this area, and get reinforcements from Iniarv’s Tower?”
Winona grins, “That sounds more like it. Let’s go smash some kobolds!” When Ryesha looks up at her sternly, she sputters a bit, “You know…cause they’re orchestrating raids on merchant caravans and are clearly criminals…”
Rye whispers something under her breath which sounds like, “and you’re supposed to be teaching me…”
Donovan shrugs, “So the question now is do we go to the village and wait for the kobolds? Or do we launch a frontal assault?” It is clear from his face that he doesn’t think either of those is a good idea.
Frantiska looks at the old man, “Where is your village, Sir? Is it far from here?” Then, to her companions, “Thistledown has been straining at the reins all day with trying to keep pace with the oxen. I’ll ride back to the tower and inform Sir Justin of the situation. You take the man to his village and I will either catch up, or meet you there.”
Yamtwit nods vigorously, “Rast could use the exercise too, so we’ll go too. Oh, and you all should finish cleaning up the bodies, which will give us a head start and make catching up easier.” Then, to Hrud, “Mangga supaya mripat ing Bobbers kanggo kula.”
Hrud watches the elf and the goblin riding off together – something the barbarian is pretty sure he’s never seen – then turns to stare at the not-quite-a-horse staring at him. It suddenly occurs to him that he’s never handled a donkey before. Cattle, oxen, horses, goats, sheep, a couple of llamas and, one time, even a camel … but never a donkey …
Gently, so as not to startle the beast, Hrud reaches out and takes one of the reigns hanging off the shaggy neck. Giving a soft tug, he leads the animal over to join his pony at the back of the wagon.
When they have gone, Winona turns back to the pile of dead kobolds. “Alright, decision made. Lets get this cleaned up and get moving.” She and the other priests start disposing of the bodies as quickly as possible, Winona and Rant throwing them in the pit while Rye grabs the shovel from the wagon and starts throwing dirt down on top of them to fill in the gaps.
Donovan helps the old man up onto the driver’s bench of the wagon, then begins helping chuck bodies in the hole (conveniently ignoring those that drowned in the mud or otherwise are sufficiently buried for his tastes).
It takes some twenty minutes for the you to round up the remaining kobold corpses and fill in the pit enough to be able to drive over it, by which point Frantiska and Yamtwit are far out of sight. Also by which point, the old man’s initial fright and anger towards your group seems to have abated from glaring and shouting to quietly seething and moaning about his leg.
With the kobolds disposed of, Donovan climbs up in the back of the wagon and pulls out the stack of spellbooks (his, Frantiska’s, Teldicia’s, Finnot’s, and Lyra’s notes from her mother) that he has been working with for the last few days. He flips through the books furiously as they ride towards the village, copying notes into his own. “Lyra, Teldicia,” he asks, “have you had much exposure to the arts of conjuration?”
Winona perks up at the mention of the subject. “What’s this?”
Donovan continues, “It seems to me, that, if our goal is to defend a village against a horde of kobolds. The tactical application of a few of the less common spells from the Book of Finnot—opening a gate for a number of lemures into the middle of their forces for instance—might provide us with a substantial advantage. I have some significant experience with localized protective circles. I have a theory that, with the combined magical strength of our group, we could ward the entire village with a circle of protection, thus allowing the use of the fiends in the defense of the town, while warding them without and preventing them from harming the villagers…”
Winona’s eyes light up, “Fiends from the Nine Hells are fundamentally lawful entities, despite their destructive nature. So long as you are very precise in the wording of your commands and take proper precautions, they, especially the lemures called by Finnot’s spell, could certainly be used in such a manner.” She begins expounding animatedly and at length on her own reading of Finnot’s Book, the nature lesser fiends, the nature of planar gates, laws regarding the enforcement of extra-planar contracts, the history and tactics of military uses of lemures, and various rituals for defending against extra-planar threats.
Rye looks utterly terrified by the direction of the conversation. She scurries to the front of the wagon to resume her sewing and tries not to listen to her elder sister realistically discussing the summoning and binding of devils.
Teldicia moves over and sits down by Donovan. “Rietta and I played around with ritual summoning once or twice. She was pretty into the stuff, but I could never really get past the sacrifice bit. We tried to go through a whole summoning once, but I ended up getting sick and having to bail pretty quickly when we got to the part where we had to scalp the subject and break all their limbs. I don’t know if Rietta ever got around to finishing it herself.” She hands a rolled scrap of parchment to Donovan, looking a little sheepish as she does so. “Here are her notes on the experiments. I know that it can be done alone, but is better with a group of up to six. Anyone can participate, but it must be lead by one versed in the arts. It always requires a sacrifice, but theoretically can be done cleanly, and is usually good for a couple of days, though you might have to give the entity a little leeway if you want it to stick around longer and not eat you…”
Donovan looks a little worried as he takes the scroll from Teldicia. Donovan looks at Winona, “So…How does Tyr feel about torture? I assume ritual execution for the purpose of casting spells is definitely off the table?”
Winona shrugs, “It really depends on the jurisdiction you’re in and what crime the offender committed. The Law is Tyr and Tyr is the Law, we say. The Code of New Phlan only allows for four possible modes punishment: a day in the stocks, for minor, non-violent offenses; exile by means of being thrown over the wall at night, unarmed, for most violent offenses; death by hanging for treason against the Council of Phlan; and execution, by whatever means are readily available, for violent acts committed by a monstrous native against a registered citizen of New Phlan. Hillsfar to the south has only a single mode of punishment, trial by combat in the arena, regardless of the crime. In addition, all performance of ‘Necromancy’ (which is so vaguely defined that many judges have interpreted it to mean all magic) in Hillsfar is punishable by such.”
“However…” she continues, in a fairly bored-sounding monotone, as if not particularly uninterested in the topic, “Melvaunt, in whose jurisdiction we are now or soon will be, allows for a wide range of punishments, including torture by means of a Catherine Wheel, as Teldicia described, as both a means of execution and post mortem punishment—both only in cases of aggravated murder, that is, murder committed while in the midst of another crime, or perpetrated against a family member of the accused. Firstly, the delinquent is to be placed belly down, on a cartwheel with their hands and feet bound, outstretched out along the spokes, and thus dragged by a horse to the place of execution. The wheel is then hammered onto a pole, which is then fastened upright in its other end in the ground and made to revolve slowly. A large hammer or an iron bar is then applied to the limb over the gap between the beams, breaking the bones. Twice times on each arm, one blow above the elbow, the other below. Then, each leg gets the same treatment, above and below the knees. The final ninth blow is given at the middle of the spine, so that it breaks. Then, the broken body of the accused is unbound and woven onto the wheel between the spokes. The criminal is then to be left dying ‘afloat’ on the wheel, and be left to rot. The broken man can last hours and even days, during which birds are invited peck at the helpless victim. Eventually, shock and dehydration cause death.”
She raises an eyebrow at Teldicia, “Melvaunt law does not make any specific prohibition on the use of magics of any kind, except when using in the committing of another crime. There is no reason, within the law, that the use of the condemned in the casting of such spells during the rightful execution of their sentence would not be permitted…” Ryesha and Rant both look at Winona with some distaste at the implication of her overly helpful and precise answer.
Lyra gapes, speechless at the conversation going on around her. “Unacceptable! Even if we were able to successfully protect the village from the lemures, Finnot’s work was flawed, and it can be inferred that he fell victim to his own portal at the time of completion. Nor will protective wards around the city assist the rest of the countryside in which the lemures will then be unleashed.”
“Yes, but surely between the four of us,” Donovan says looking at Winona, Lyra, and Teldicia, “we can improve upon Finnot’s flawed workings, and once the battle with the kobolds is over, the kobolds should have done sufficient harm to the lemures that dispatching the creatures should be minimally troublesome…”
Donovan tentatively opens the scroll that Teldicia handed to him and reads it quietly to himself. His eyes widen and he asks, hesitantly, “So…Winona…does Melvaunt have any laws for which the proper punishment would be having your eyes plucked out, then being hung upside down and bisected vertically while still alive?”
Winona’s face goes white and she simply shakes her head.
“Didn’t think so…” Donovan carefully rolls up the scroll and tucks it into his bag. “Let’s nix that idea…” Maybe with some additional research I can come up with something less gruesome, he thinks to himself.
“Mother’s lesson on what happens when a dimensional gateway intersects with a living body using a grapefruit was … unpleasantly enlightening.” Lyra shakes her head. “I barely approve of killing in self defense, and you would ask that of me?”
About a mile further up the road to the east, the ground finally begins to rise and dry out, entering the Moonwatch Hills. The road follows a low cleft, with the grassy hills rising on either side. The land flanking the road looks cultivated, and split-rail fences occasionally demarcate sections. The pastoral scene is less than idyllic though, as small piles of bones or stones have been set up as grave-markers along the road, and many of the fields show signs of having been burned (some recently).
The old man directs Hrud to a small dirt track veering off to the left of the road, north into the hills. “Our village is just over the second rise there,” he says pointing. He waves at a young boy of maybe nine years who crosses the path, driving a small heard of goats between pastures. The boy waves back with his crook, but keeps his other hand close to the crossbow slung across his back.
As they ride along, a thought continues to trouble Hrud. He gently picks up the hammer (so as not to startle the excitable old man), which immediately starts to glow blue, and lays it across his lap. Turning his head to where Bo sits in the wagon, he addresses the Dwarf.
“Hvor lang tid vil det tage en gruppe af Kobolds at grave et hul så stort som den ene tilbage der i vejen?”
Bo gives the barbarian a curious glance, unsure why he decides to speak Dwarvish some times and not others. “De mutts kan sikkert grave det op i en halv time, hvis de lugter noget, der interesserer dem.”
“Så det ville være muligt for dem at grave sådan et hul og ikke ses af de soldater, der patruljerer denne vej.” Hurd says, half to himself, as he turns back around and setting the hammer down.
“Ja, de er halv hund … og alle cur.”
Lyra looks around at the scorched fields and scattered gravestones. “Is this what they do even with paying tribute, or what they’ve done to encourage paying it?”
The old man nods. “A bit of both, Miss,” he says, with still a hint of anger in his voice, perhaps more directed at the kobolds than you now. “Greshlyrr and his people are far from the only raiders out here. We fought the kobos for well over a year, but they outnumbered us fifty to one. We sent word to Melvaunt for help, but it never came. Eventually all our young men were either dead, or too injured to fight back. The Knocker King said he’d let us live and keep our land if we deliver tribute. If we’re late, they come and set fire to our fields or our homes as a reminder.” He waves a hand at a clean skull resting on a pile of rocks. “The graves are mostly travelers, caught by orcs, or goblins, or other beasties less organized than the kobos. The markers are our work, we try to bury travelers that we find along the road—less likely to attract packs of dogs or vermin that way…also reminds other folks on the road to keep a lookout.”
Lyra’s eyes scan the countryside, counting markers. “Undead, packs of dogs, the kobolds … we’ve seen no shortage of examples of the need for caution on the road. Thank you. For seeing that they were taken care of.”
Fifty to one, and we’ll see how large the village is soon enough. But we’ve made it further than many.
You crest the hill to get your first glimpse of the village—some twenty-odd buildings, mostly flanking the one trail, with a small bond on your left as you ride in, and a single well at the north end of the town. The collapsed remains of at least one recently burned home are visible, and the grassy hill to the north shows signs of a sizable battle—the ground churned and dried-out mud with great scorched patches and numerous makeshift grave-markers like those seen along the road. The town seems sparsely populated, but busy, with active fields and sheep pastures to the south of the trail, and numerous people going about the tasks of daily life. You see several women, children, and elderly men, but not a single male between the ages of 12 and 45.
Lyra looks around the valley, frowning. Sight lines for archers or casters from any of the surrounding hills, which also serve to obscure any approaching forces. “Having plans to evacuate the village seems prudent. Being able to fight an army here would require holding the hilltops, and we don’t have the fortifications or manpower necessary for that. It simply isn’t defensible against archers or casters. The hills, fences, and ditches will buy us some time as they move into position.”
Lyra chews on her lower lip slightly in thought, her gaze sliding over Teldicia, Donovan, and the trio of clerics. “Given that the terrain benefits archers and casters outside the town firing in … I think I’m in favor of planning to lure them into the village and move everyone to safety elsewhere.”
As the wagon pulls to a stop in the village, Hrud hops down and makes his way over to Rant and begins to speak in earnest. After some gesturing, which include him pointing variously to the chariot on the back of the wagon, the old man, the rest of the village, and himself, Rant nods his understanding and turns to relay the message to the rest of the party.
“Hrud doesn’t want to fight an entire kobold army if it can be helped, but wonders if the kobolds will scatter should we kill their leader – perhaps by luring him to the village with the promise of this chariot as his tribute. He thinks that maybe the kobold leader will show up in person to ride it back to their home, and that we could ambush him here – that he might only bring a personal guard for protection. Those villagers unable or unwilling to fight may want to get out of here, depending on how long this will take – sending the message and waiting for their arrival. What do you think?”
Donovan look of concern and consternation returns, “Fifty to one?! We’re talking a force of thousands. We might have to resort to the summoning backup option…obviously the non-human-sacrificing version…”
Donovan sighs, “I’m all for the evacuate and ambush plan, but…” He holds up one finger, “How do we get the message to the kobold leader that he should come get the tribute himself?” He holds up another finger, “And what do we do if the kobold leader shows up with more than token protection? There are rumors that Greshlyrr employers casters and has trolls for body guards. Also, presumably he’ll want his ‘subjects’ to be present when he comes to collect the tribute…and might get suspicious if he sees an empty town.”
Ryesha climbs out of the wagon, “What if we just take the first part of that plan. When the kobolds come, hide all the animals and just give them the chariot, loaded with the other undelivered tribute, and tell them that the villagers had no way of getting the chariot that they found to Greshlyrr, and that the messenger,” she looks at the old man, “fell into one of their traps on the road.”
Donovan nods, “That might work. We’re not exactly using the chariot, and it is taking up a ton of space in the wagon…”
As Rant translates for Hrud, the barbarian’s face becomes clouded with frustration. He speaks with the cleric, who then turns to the others “Hrud asks: You want to give the ‘dog-faces’ a fancy chariot and let them go? He wants to know how this helps the village other than to buy off their oppressors for a short while. I think his fear is that the kobolds might demand more tribute from them after finding such a fine gift. If they can’t already afford to feed trolls with the pots and pans they’re collecting now, they’ll certainly have enough money to do so if they decide to sell the chariot.”
Hrud adds a few more remarks in his own tongue, after which Rant adds, “Maybe if we put it somewhere that would be difficult for them to retrieve and not leave it here in the village? We could attack them when they’re in a precarious position. Nobody forgets a chariot in a place like this, anyway.”
Donovan points at the pond, “What if we roll the chariot out into the middle—or as far out as we can get with it still being visible peaking out—of that pond. If they try to retrieve it, they’ll be up to their knees in mud, presumably, and hauling it out should take a significant amount of time and effort, during which they will be distracted.”
He points to the southern ridge, “We should put ourselves and as many villagers as we can get weapons for on that hill, it has a clean line of sight to the pond, and It looks like there is some tree cover around it that we could hide archers in. Frantiska has some spells that can turn pretty much anyone into a competent archer, and several people at that. If we have a night to prepare, I should be able to load up with enough sleep spells to drop fifty-odd kobolds, albeit not all at once. We’ve also seen that Yamtwit’s entanglements can affect a huge area. If we pin the kobold force down by the pond, so that we control the high ground, use magic to incapacitate as many as possible, and keep up as much fire as we can, we might live through such an encounter…assuming no Trolls or opposing spellcasters that is…”
Hrud’s gaze falls on the graves of what he assumes to be victims of the kobold predations upon the village. “«Does your god let you raise the dead?»” he asks Rant.
Meanwhile, back on the road with the Elf and the Goblin…
As soon as they are away from the group, Frantiska gives Thistledown free rein, allowing the horse to gallop full speed back the way they came, she is quite astonished to find the goblin’s big wolf easily keeping up with, even outpacing, her charger. After allowing the spirited filly to tire a bit, Frantiska and Yamtwit slow their mounts to a fast trot.
“Tell me, goblin,” Frantiska says once they have settled the pace a bit, “how is it that you are with us? I’m afraid I was out for quite a long time. My companions seem to accept your presence, but I’m quite surprised to see one of your kind in our company.”
Though her tone clearly indicates that if it were up to her, he would not be included, Yamtwit does not seem at all offended. “Well lady, I grew up a member of the Scabeater tribe, on the outskirts of Phlan. My tribe lived mostly in the forest outside town where we were mostly farmers—its hard to get by as a scavenger with so much competition. We were never good at it though, and most years we starved, especially with the orcs and ogres taking their cut in exchange for not pulping us. I was a sweet child, always clinging to me mudder’s legs and gnawing on my daddum’s ears. I had six brothers, Corntwit, Beantwit, Peartwit, Peatwit, Mintwit, and the youngest Nutwit, and a sister, Sasha. I liked to play stab the cat, and dangle-dongs, and skull bowling with my mates, and help out in the garden. But, like I said, we never managed to really grow much. In my twelfth winter, we were really short on food, all we had a was a few over-ripe apples and some salted lemming. A big snowstorm blew through, and we were buried in our hovel for three weeks. By the end of the second week, all that was left was nine of the lemmings—but there were ten of us. Mudder and Daddum said that us oldest got to have the lemmings, and then we’d eat Nutwit since he was little and weak. That didn’t seem such a great idea to me, I liked Nutwit, so I gave him my lemming and said that they should eat me instead as I had more meat on me. Then…”
“That’s all very fascinating,” Frantiska interjected, “but I was more wondering about how you came to be with us, specifically, not your whole life story…”
“Right, I’m getting to that.” Yamtwit continued. “Anyways, there I was, about to be eaten by Mudder and Daddum and Corntwit and Beantwit and Peartwit and Peatwit and Mintwit and Nutwit and Sasha. Oh, and me Granmudder. When all of a sudden, this stalk of wheat bursts up through the floor of our house and grows and grows until its a big old stalk of wheat, without a bit o’ scab on it, and I was like ‘Hey! Look at that stalk of wheat!’ So we ate the wheat instead, and then another grew, and another. We kept cutting them down and they kept growing, and it fed us all through the winter. When we finally got out of the snow-bank, we found that close to half the tribe had died, frozen or starved. I went to our shaman, Old Beerdunce, and told him about the wheat that had saved me from getting eaten, and he was like ’That’s some crazy shit! You should go ask a human, they’re into that.’ So I snuck into Phlan and asked Madame Esmerelda, the old gypo-lady, and she told me that wheat was the sign of Chauntea, the goddess of farming, and I was like ‘Woh! There is a god that’s into farming?!’ So I went back and told Old Beerdunce and he said that since I was the one that didn’t get eaten, that must mean that the farm goddess liked me and that I should be her priest. So I went out to our poke-field and tried praying to this Chauntea, and BOOM! Up sprouted a big old bunch of wheat, ready for harvest. So everyone decided that I was the new shaman, and Old Beerdunce became my apprentice, and we all started worshipping Chauntea. We grew so much food that we had plenty to give to the orcs when they came to pulp us, and to give to the ogres when they came wanting some—though they weren’t so much into the veggies so we started raising donkeys and pigs and worgs too—and even some left over, so I started taking it in to the town and selling it, and since everyone in town was hungry too, they would actually give us stuff in exchange for the food (rather than just not beating us), which was quite exciting. Then I learned how to make cheese and butter by refining the milk we took from our donkeys and our worgs, and it turned out that the people in Phlan would give us even more for the cheese than they would for the plants…”
“Is this going somewhere?”
“Right! So I was on my way to Phlan with another load of cheese to sell. At this point I spent most of my time hauling stuff back and forth, as I’d found that the selling stuff was lots of fun, so I let Old Beerdunce be head shaman again and left him to the growing stuff. So I was on my way to Phlan with another load of cheese to sell, and I saw your man fighting a bunch of gnashers. Mind you, Rast hates gnashers, don’t you Rast. And your oxen were running away with your wagon with the little girl in it and no one driving. So we ran and caught your wagon, and brought it back. Then we came back and found you all smashed and beat up. So I used a little of Chauntea’s magic to fix your friends, then gave Mr. Rant some butter to fix you all up. So he rubbed you down with the butter, and you were mostly better, but still asleep. Then Whitehead agreed to buy all of my cheese, at 20% over my usual retail price, and told me how you were on your way to Melvaunt to sell lots of artwork, and I was like ‘Woh! You sell stuff too?!’ So I came along, to make sure Whitehead didn’t get scammed by the people buying his art they way he did when he bought my cheese…”
At the mention of ‘rubbed you down with butter’, Frantiska’s face goes completely white, her mouth becomes a hard line, and she kicks Thistledown back into a full gallop. When Yamtwit catches up, she slows again, and looks down at him briefly, “Thank you…” she says through clenched teeth.
Less than an hour after leaving the wagon, the two ride into the courtyard of Iniarv’s Tower at full speed and quickly describe the events with the old man and the kobolds to Sir Justin and his men.
A page leads Frantiska and Yamtwit to the third floor of the tower where Sir Justin has his offices. Sir Justin waits patiently while Frantiska describes the situation. “I’m afraid that we have our own duties and only a small garrison,” he says, “but I can spare one patrol to aid the village, and I will send a rider to Phlan, though the Council has not previously been willing to spare any of their soldiery for defending outlying settlements.” He waves to a heavily-armored priests who has been waiting just outside the door in the chapel. “Watcher. Please assemble a standard patrol immediately to accompany the Lady Frantiska to the west. You are to stand guard over the village until such time as the kobold threat has passed, or you are relieved by official militias from either Phlan or Melvaunt.”
The priest bows, utters a “Yes Sir!”, and clanks down the stairs to assemble his men.
“We will increase patrols on the eastern road,” Sir Justin continues. “Watcher Benjamin should have the patrol assembled shortly. May Helm’s eye watch over you in this endeavor.”
Frantiska thanks Sir Justin, then hurries down the stairs and outside to make sure that Thistledown is ready for another hard ride.
Yamtwit makes a stop back by the kitchen to chat with the cook some more before they ride out.
Roughly ten minutes after Frantiska and Yamtwit step outside the priest and four soldiers are armed, mounted, and waiting by the gates. Another, less heavily armored rider goes racing out of the gates past them and up the road towards Phlan to the west.
Five more men does not seem like much when faced with such hordes, Frantiska thinks, but they will have to do. She spurs Thistledown out of the gates ahead of the Watcher and his men. “Come on Yamtwit, we’ve got a good ten more miles to cover today, and a village to save…”
Yamtwit climbs on Rast and pats the wolf affectionately, «Sorry Rast, I know this has been a lot of riding, I’ll make sure to fix you a proper supper when we get to the village.»
«You better» the wolf growls.