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>Sandcat RPG stuff >Campaign 2003/2004 >Introductory story

Introductory story

Hag's musings

A woman staggered on as the sun relentlessly continued its path into darkness. A long, barren road stretched out in front of her, to beyond her failing vision. Hedged on both sides, the forest of the inner wilds rose high up to the reddening skies. There looms danger there, always. No sane civilized person would venture out there, for in the wilds only death or madness can be found. This is what the young are taught and this allows them to become the old. Their first spark of wisdom. But the road provides no food. Who travels alone these days? Only the foolish. And the unfortunate, the old woman has discovered. Bitterness showed on her face, souring the resolve that had gotten her as far as she has.

"I shall see him defeat fate", the woman murmered, either to herself, or to the shaded beings of the forest. None of civilized nature was around to hear her. Yet that lone fact did not stop the woman from repeating that one sentence over and over again, turning it into a kind of mantra, a chant. The chilling wind blurred her words, making her even more the hag one might believe her to be. Not much of a civilized nature remained for this lady. Hunger and thirst do that to a human. They make them lower, they degrade them into beasts. But the woman struggled on, step by step, on this forsaken road. Travel has never been this bleach before.

Time stretched on, into an endless string of moments. The world seemed motionless in its harshness. Wind, cold and even the additional mockery of rain blurred together. One could almost begin to believe life had never held anything more than this. The old woman could not say how long she'd been unconsciously aware of the sound traveling the wind, but eventually, it captured her attention. By searching with her elderly vision through the flow of rain she tried to breach the forest's obscurement.. in vain. "I SHALL see him defeat fate", she murmered again, attempting to focus her thoughts. Voices traveling the wind? Is that a touch of faint laughter. "Oh, by Fharlanghn", she broke her chant, "Let it be true!"

"I told you so, Roch. The road's right over there". The voice became more and more audible as it came nearer, "I know a shortcut when I see one, you know". The old woman has halted her every movement, enraptured by this unexpected encounter. Would finally her hunger be stilled? Fear grasped her hard, though, as she suddenly remembered the tales of robbers and murderers. A silent prayer passes her cracked lips. Another voice gave a grumble in reply, "I dislike forests. Ya know that". A comment easily discarded by a merry laughter. "Well, we're out now", the first voice replied as the shapes finally managed to break through natures final obstacles, "don't w..", the voice faltered mid sentence. A brief exchange of whispers made the moment rather uncomfortable for the old lady. More prayers fell off her lips.

"Greetings, there!", the merry voice announced. Its owner, a comely young lad, stepped closer lightly. "We intent no harm! Would you perhaps be willing to exchange some information, or maybe just some companionship?". The woman's hardened expression softened but a fraction when she croaked back, "Sure.. Who be you?". The young man approached the woman to a few feet, making an extravagant bow to her. "Tharn Acha, archer, at your service. Would you be headed towards the city of Ragten, perhaps?". The woman looked slightly taken aback. Her country-ways were not accustomed to such etiquette. Civilized, she was, but she had a firm belief in acting normal. "People call me Granny Mansion", she evasively answered, still wary of these men. The others of his party came closer, yet remained further away than their boldest companion. The young man cocked his head slightly, waiting for the rest of the old womans answer with unearthly patience, a smile cooked on his face. Granny Mansion's eyes started to flick from side to side. What was expected of her? Was she forgetting something? Only the rumblings of a very robust male saved her from this predicament. "Let's go, Tharn. I want ta get a roof over me head. Give da woman some bread, will ya?".

Bread. Now that was a word Granny Mansion had learned to appreciate these last few days. Instinctively, she blurted out, "Wait, stop!". All eyes focused on her, melting away her resolve immediately. This party had.. something odd about it. She took no notice of any details, struggling with her numbed brain for words. "I.. I'd like to join you?". Some voices mixed. "Well..", "Who is she?", "Why not", "A peasant". The voice of the young gentleman overtook them all when he laughed pleasantly and put his hand on Granny Mansion's shoulder acceptingly. "But of course! We'd welcome some refreshing insights. I was telling Roch here just now, that..". It was amazing how this young man managed to keep his mouth moving without any need for breath. He rambled on as he led the old woman into the strangely assorted party. Now that she didn't need to struggle for words, she finally took a few glances about.

Tharn seemed to be one of those adventuring people, picking up their bows and disappearing into the wilds for days or weeks on end. Odd, he didn't seem too insane quite yet. The buff man, Roch, obviously needed only his arms to justify his position in the party. The others, however, seemed less useful to the old lady. One man, elderly as her, obviously was the leader. He must be! Such old people seldom do anything else but tell other people what to do. She could know, she did it too. Or at least, she would have, in her home village. A comely woman of middle age betrayed nothing of what she was doing amongst these.. adventurers. Granny Mansion shivered as she finally accepted this. She was walking with adventurers. Nothing good could ever come of that.

The assembled party headed on, keeping the slow pace of Granny Mansion. Usually, only Tharn spoke. He at least seemed to enjoy his own voice. Yet Granny could not deny he had a certain charm to him. She didn't mind him talking, it saved her the effort. Every now and then, Roch would break in with a painstakingly obvious observation, or a complaint about something they all suffered from. This always brought forth a new rush of wittisism by Tharn. The old man only spoke once, affirming the direction they went in. For the remainder of the travel, he seemed only focused on his own thoughts. To Granny Mansion, the party's woman remained a complete mystery. The lady was obviously not any better off than any of them, but she bore the elements with a regal stance, making Granny Mansion feel looked down on. She didn't like this odd woman. The very few comments this lady made instantly leashed Tharn down, stilling him for a few moments. She was snappy and sarcastic. No.. very uncomely. Granny Mansion was certain this woman would never find herself a family. That made Granny feel a little better. That, and the food this party shared with her, of course.

They traveled for somewhat over an hour into the darkness until they arrived at a small, shabby little building. Smoke traveled up from its chimney and faint light shone through the cracks, which was the only thing that made this shack look remotely habitable. Obviously, nobody cared about it's degenerate appearance, for it meant a dry, warm night for a change. It was the Bloody Carcass Tavern. A very inviting name, once one has traveled nights without bread or shelter. And it marked the edge of the cities boundaries. "The city won't open until the break of dawn", Tharn explained, "so we'd best rest here". He glanced at the building briefly, an odd shine in his eyes. Granny Mansion didn't care, all she wanted to do was sleep.

A regal entrance

Break of dawn hadn't arrived yet. Tharn and the woman stood whispering to a stout man in metal armour. The fresh wind of morning blew mildly. It promised to be a good day, if the rain would stay away. "You left me!", the tinned man hissed accusingly. "Hardly", Tharn answered smoothly, "I told you about the shortcut, and you stubbornly insisted you prove me wrong". A quirk in his brow betrayed his entertainment when he added, "Which, I may add, you did not, Sir Feldhast". "Nonsense", Feldhast retorted, "I was chasing Orcs!". He crossed his arms with a clunk, obviously disgruntled with all of this. "You could at least have waited for me when you reached the road". "And be rained even wetter, in the middle of the night? We had that old woman to care for, noble one", the woman countered, "Or would you have seen her withered to death by the weather?" Sir Feldhast looked at the woman with a ghastly look, "Certainly not! You did well in escorting her here. It's just that..". He heaved his plated chest, letting out a grand sigh. "Oh, never mind. You did well, lady Estrell". Tharn cleared his throat at that, looking at Feldhast expectantly. "Oh yes", Feldhast conceded, "you too, Tharn".

Soon, the entire party gathered. Granny Mansion was still sleeping. "Let the old lady get some rest", Tharn had defended her, "She's been traveling for days now. Rest and a good meal will do her well". With an obvious show of grandness, he added, "I already paid the tavernkeep for her stay and her meal". This was met with just as obvious gratitude by Sir Feldhast, who slapped Tharn on the shoulder amiably, "Well done, good man. I'll make a virtuous human out of you yet!". He clearly did not notice the smirk on Lady Estrells face. "Let us go", the old man cut in, "The tournament registration is today. Shouldn't be late, should we?". This was met with general consent, as the members of the party swiftly gathered their things and prepared for the last bit of their journey.

The city was huge. No, more then huge; gigantic. The walls surrounding it alone were at least 2 yards thick solid stone, three tall men high. The gatehouse towered out above that even more. It must've reached thirty feet in height, easily. Such towers were positioned at regular intervals in the city wall, each baring its own siege engine, ballistae being the most common. The gates stood wide open, two guards standing in position next to it. A third guard was busy checking the few people who entered or left the city. Most, it seemed, were inbound. "A mighty city", Tharn observed, "the largest in the seven lordships. It could easily house well over fifteen thousand people". He absentmindedly began to rub his hands together as he speaks, "Our esteemed Lord Tuvain can certainly expect a boost in his treasury today, when the tournament begins. Not to speak about the merchants of the city. Oh, they must be rubbing their hands together in glee". A single glance of Lady Estrell made Tharn quickly halt his mock impersonation of the very merchants he spoke of. Brief a guilty look haunted his eyes, yet was swiftly replaced with anticipation. "Quick, let's go in", he stated loudly. The party made its way forward.

"Halt!", the guard roared his usual word. "What brings you to Ragten?". At this point, the old man stepped forward, raising a symbol on a talisman. "I am Eclicar, high priest of Kord, the benign god of brawl, may he bless this day!". Eclicar gazed at the guard as if he expected a sudden burst of piety before he continued, "In honour of our beloved Lord Tuvain have we traveled many leagues, battling elements and monsters to be present at the most worthy of tournaments!". "He's trying to talk him to death", Tharn softly whispered behind his hand to Lady Estrell. "With a chuckle, he added, "And he lacks my flair for it". "Nobody talks like you", the woman replied, her tone neutral. "Well..". The guard scratched the skin under the rim of his helmet idly, "That seems to be just fine then, sir. Kurt you say?". In reply to the guard, Eclicar managed to redden his face within the blink of an eye, his eyes blazing. "Kord, you blasphemist!", followed by a seemingly endless stream of angry words, unstopped by the fact that Roch suddenly lifted Eclicar off the ground and stepped on into the city. Mock laughter of the guards followed them in. "I like them already", Tharn commented as they went, instantly being chided by an unapproving look of Sir Feldhast.

The entire walk through the city was filled with the uncontent ramblings of an uncontent priest. After a while, the party halted its movement. "I shall go now", Tharn said, "to play". He grinned mischievously at Lady Estrell, conjuring a single red gem between his fingers, as if pulled from thin air. "Think of me, M'Lady", he whispered, "Whilst I am gone. And keep these unorderly men in check". That, he added with a nod of his head to the rest of the party who, in union, groaned at this overacted tragedy. "Such attentiveness, goodman Tharn", Estrell answered in a luring voice as she accepted the gem. "Certainly, you made sure this precious little gem will not be turned into gold by any hapless merchant?". She turned the little shining stone between her fingers, veigning interest. "Certainly not, M'Lady", Tharn answered her, "Utterly worthless, save for the value of the heart. An old woman gave it to me". He chuckled mildly when he patted a small pouch on his belt. Roch's hand on Eclicar's shoulder stopped the sudden increase in ramblings that has been constantly emitted by the old priest. The huge man rumbled, "Let it rest, he won't change". Lady Estrell's tinkling laughter then, however, softened the atmosphere again. "Delightful, Tharn, utterly delightful".

The lost soul inn

As all people need their own little tightly knit group to stick to, so do towns people. Instead of the farmstead to focus on, however, townspeople rely on their local inn. This, of course, is much to the liking of the local innkeeper. Inns, as any true townsman knows, appear in all different sorts and places. They usually closely resemble the thoughts, feelings and morale of the local patrons. Human innkeepers will thus either smile and charge you thrice the amount of money, or be grumpy and charge you half only to sell you away to the local thieves guide for the other half. This might be what makes people like inns so much: the fact that they can be themselves in them. Or so, this would be true if one is not dragged into 'someone elses' inn. This predicament might be what caused both Feldhast and Eclicar to be in the foulest of moods this evening. Roch and Tharn had insisted to "mingle with the general populous" tonight, and Tharn "knew just the inn for that". Both Feldhast and Eclicar had enough experience to know this was /not/ what they wanted. On the other hand, they both had enough experience to know that enduring it for one night was the surest way to be comfortable the second night. Roch was never allowed a second night in such more rowdier an inn.

But Tharn did have a point. There are few places where more information on the city can be found than in these bars. Both he and Estrell were masters in retrieving such information, so all Feldhast and Eclicar had to do would be to sit, drink and be grumpy. They managed well. Eclical had some trouble, as usual, in holding Feldhast back from to correcting what "would seem as injustice, but is merely a local habit" and Feldhast had some trouble not being the reason these local habits always happened right in front of him. "Somehow", one drunk patron had told him during a night in such a bar as this one, "Somehow your shiiiiny little fagget armour brings *hic* out the best in us all". He had not quite understood its significance, of course, but Eclicar had, and since then, the old priest stood vigil over the armoured man. All Roch had to do during these nights was get drunk. The rest would follow automatically, and the comfort of the next night would be ensured.

"Oh, and you should've seen her face!", Tharn exclaimed, "She looked at us as if we were elves. Elves?! Can you imagine that? Haha! Everybody knows elves are stuck in their distant forests. Do you know they eat human babies?". Every now and then, Estrell smirked at the comments and stories of her fellow partymember as she communicated to some other patron, in her own way. "They seys elves be pretty wenches", a drunken patron slurred, "Like yer friend over there". He hovered an arm in the air, wobbling his finger in Estrell's general direction. "They seys..", he continues, "Some of them pretty wenches've come te please our Lord, don't ye know?". The patron stopped his rant to take a deep gulp of ale. "An if they eats the babies, Twould serve him jussst fine, I thinks". Estrell and Tharn exchanged a brief glance. "Tell me, fine man", Estrell suddenly purred at the drunken patron, "why would it serve him well?" "Everybody knows the Lord has plans for his future, lass. If he hadn't, he'd have an heir by now, wouldn't he?", another patron replied. This one obviously was less drunk. "Yes", she replied, "but maybe his mistress is just.. barren?". With a sweet smile and a finger on her lip, she awaited his answer, focusing her attention on the more sober patron. "It could be", the patron mused, "But by saying such things, one would end up in the racks". He eyes Estrell briefly, "One shouldn't speak so of ones betters, they taught me, and taught me well too. Served in my Lords militia, I did. And proud of it". That last statement clearly ended this topic. "Very true, very true", Tharn cut in. "Say, are they any more of those demi-humans in town? I'd like to see one with my own eyes for a change. Do dwarves really spit acid when they're angry?" "Dunno tha'", a third patron says, sipping the beer he received so generously. "Bu' they're small, I tell ya. Small! I saw one jus t'day, I say. Butt ugly critter, wit a beard to its knees, I tell ya. Tis the tourney, you know. Draws all kin of virmin". "Oh, it does", the second patron continued, "Even some wearing the treacherous colours of the other lords! Can you believe that, in Tuvain's own city?!". "Ahhshuttup", the drunken patron slurred, "Ya always jabber about them lords and war and fighin. Jusssshuttup 'bout it". At that, the veteran jumped to his feet, pushing his bench to the ground and spilling his ale. "Nobody talks to me like that". The last thing he heard was the shout of Roch, "ATTABOY!". "Oh dear", Estrell whispered, "So soon? Let's go and take the others upstairs". With a sudden haste, Tharn and she rose and made their way to Eclicar and Feldhast. These two both, oddly enough, bore a look of extreme content at the flying mugs and clashing tables as the four retired up to their rooms.

Human hospitality

Roch was up before the break of dawn. He usually was not that much of an early riser, yet this day was special. Eclicar sat besides the broad man, as they both prepared for the hours to come. The old man by murmering to himself, and Roch by making sure his weaponry could blind a silver dragon from a mile away. He actually managed to outshine Sir Feldhast this morning. The knightly man seemed rather proud of that though, for some obscure reason. In contrary to the others, Lady Estrell, had not emerged from her room quite yet. That little fact, however, seemed not to surprise anyone particularly much.

"So we split the gains?", Tharn asked once again. The old man bluntly ignored him still, yet Roch rumbled in reply as he continued to polish the bright metal. "Ya can split what ya want, Tharn. Only Estrell and you care for da gold, ya know". He looked up from his shining mirror, "It looks nice, da gold, but no good eva' comes from having it". Feldhast nodded his approvement to that, yet Tharn grined widely. "Au contraire, Roch", he said, and shook his head amusedly. He then dropped the familiar topic, returning to his initial question, "Let's just split the gains, Roch. It will avoid trouble". The huge man only nodded in response, his attention already begotten by his work again.

"You should learn to listen to our friend, Tharn", a warm voice then said. Roch looked up at Estrell as she slid into the room. He was obviously pleased with her siding with him. "But that's besides the point", she continued in a purr, "Are you ready, Tharn, dear? Today, we have an appointment with fate". Tharn's face clouded, his smile fading. "I do wish you would stop all your references to the Oracle, my Lady", he softly said, "We both know it's utter humbug". "It certainly is not!". The angry words suddenly burst out from the old priest, ending his chanting. "All it wills to show you hails directly from the gods, Tharn. Accept it". Tharn waved his hand in dismissal, "I say it came from your cooking, rather. But Estrell is right, we do have an appointment". He looked at her sternly when he added, "With the Lord's men".

That swiftly settled the morning's conversation. Nobody spoke again until they were well out into the chill. The city was slowly waking up, the crowd consisting mainly of merchants headed towards their shops or stands. It would not be soon before the streets would be buzzing with activity. Even more so since the city had filled to its notch with travelers, nobles and adventurers of the other cities. They all came to witness the yearly tournament. This one would be even grander than ever, rumour had claimed. Of course, nobody was very happy to see adventurers usually, but for the tournament people gladly made an exception. The tournament was pure entertainment.

"Where would we meet these king's thugs?", Eclicar asked. His old face was slightly furrowed as he tried to fend off the cold. His cloak wrapped firmly around him. "The Old kings", Tharn replied gruffly. Estrell glanced at the usually so cheefull man briefly, her brow creasing slightly. "We have some time", she then said, "but not quite that much". She smiled at Roch, "I take it you wouldn't want to miss the registration, now that we can finally enscribe?". Roch grumbled in reply to that. They had been forced to wait a whole day, to allow any of Lord Tuvain's true subjects proper precedence; Another new element of this years tournament.

They made haste, wringing their way past the merchant's carts, until finally, they arrived at the central square of the city. The road broadened considerably at the edge of the marketplace, making way, it almost seemed, for the gathering crowd of people. A low humming of activity enlivened the air. The beating heart of a living city. Its spine consisting of eight pedestals, bearing the seven kings of old. In front of the ancient majesty, small stands littered the area, creating the lively flow of commerce that made the city buzz with its human activity. One of the more loud buzzings came from quite near, this time. It was in a way commercial, for a shrewd merchant stood in the midst of children and their parents, selling nutricious tomato's. In their generosity, the older people gave the little ones their fair share of the red fruit. Following the good example of their elders, the children then passed it on to a little man standing in the very center of the crowd. This popular little man seemed somewhat distressed by this show of human civility, for he shouted his little lungs out fiercly. A broken tongue, he had, almost as if he didn't even properly spoke the language, yet the curses were clear enough. "By Moradin!", he shouted, "May you follow Baphomet to your doom". The tomato that then plunged into his full beard smothered his curse partially. Sir Feldhast uttered an oath, clearly intent on plunging himself into this small crowd of gawkers as the old priest stopped him. "No, Sir Feldhast, look!", he motioned towards the other side of the street, where at that time, a small party of guardsmen approached the gathering. "It seems like this injustice is about to take its turn". The party edged a bit closer as the guardsmen proclaimed their presence and right to interfere. The angry dwarf took the opportunity gladly to demand better treatment.

"It seems thing's have gotten so much worse over the years", Estrell whispered to the others, "All that spite towards our kin races". The old priest nodded melancholy. Feldhast blurted out, "It's a true outrage!". "Hush!", Tharn then hissed, "This is going terribly wrong". His statement was not one of his usual exaggerations, clearly. The guards merely laughed at the stocky little man, lowering their haleberds threatingly, surrounding him. The crowd backed off swiftly, an excited muttering through its ranks. The dwarf stumbled over his words, distress and anger showing in his eyes and posure. "Is it really a dwarf?", one of the guards asked plainly. "We were told it is", another commented. "It looks like a freak, so it probably is", the third added, another following his suit. "I heard in a bar, yesterday, that dwarves spit acid. Watch out for him". "Let's just kill him. A dwarf corpse is a good enough gift". "Tuvain would have your head". "What in Moradin's name is this?!" "Let's just take him in, guys". All the voices mixed in an excited jumble of sound as the party of guards marveled at their take, ignoring the pleads and demands of the started dwarf as they forced him on with them. It took Roch every bit of his strength to convince Sir Feldhast not to persuit this directly. Much to the relief of the others, he did manage.

"I am getting a very bad feeling of this tournament", Tharn glumly stated as the crossed the marketplace towards the seven kings. Estrell nodded briefly, her eyes distant in her own thoughts. Silence descended on the group as they walked. Slowly, they advanced through the marketplace, easilly fending off some of the lesser skilled pickpockets, until they reached the base of the eighth pedestal. A small group of guards were gathered there. "I really dislike dealing with them after that little scene", Eclicar bluntly stated. Estrell however, merely nodded towards them as she whispered to the others. "Look at them. They do not wear Tuvain's colours. They are Lord Orhart his men". "I like Lord Orhart", Roch simply stated. This, however, invoked several nods.

"Greetings", one of the guards exclaimed, "The party of lady Estrell, I presume?". Tharn looked slightly injured at the fact that it was not he that got name. Eclicar seemingly seemed to have heard it all wrong, though, for he spoke up. "You are the guards that send for us?", he stated loudly. "Then you must be Eclicar", the guard said as he started forwards, towards the group, "Yes, we sent for you, let us go to where we can speak freely". The group exchanged brief glances, yet allowed to be led away into one of nearby streets. There seemed to be less trouble with pickpockets now that the guards were with them. That, at least, was good. "I hope your journey was without problems?", the guardsman suddenly spoke up, Tharn looked to the side, ripped from the currents of his own thoughts. He swiftly improvised a polite answer, turning slightly towards the guard as he spoke. His words were cut short, though, when he bumped into another citydweller. Startled, he jumped back and turned, his hand instinctively on his knife. Briefly, he saw the face of the person who bumped into him. A gentle face, very delicate. A lady of indefinable age. She quickly hid her pointed ears in her cloak's hood, fear showing in her eyes as they darted between Tharn and the guards. She silently formed a word.. "please". Tharn quickly forced a smile on his face. "Sorry, good woman", he turned to check on the guards. It seemed they did not notice. Swiftly, the woman fled, leaving Tharn with even more doubts.

The Lords men

"Let's keep it brief". The guard spoke softly, his voice echoing through the abandoned house. "You are rather well known amongst certain circles". He glanced past the members of the party, pausing briefly before continuing. "And we have need of people of your.. skill". Again, more glances were exchanged. Between the party, and between the party and the guards. Each assessing the other. Then Eclicar spoke. "Which righteous cause have you for us to fight for?" "Before we can tell you this, we need a vow of privacy", the guard answered, "These are dangerous times". "I can vow for privacy, as long as it is within the boundaries of my faith, and my fate, so protect me Kord!", Eclicar belched out. Others more or less reluctantly gave their vows too, until at last, only lady Estrell had her word ungiven. The guardsman looked at her. "Either you trust us, or you find yourself another party", she coldly stated, "I do not take kindly to be distrusted by such strangers as you, especially when we will be asked to wager our lives for your cause". The guards seemed to be rather taken aback by that, exchanging brief glances on their side now. After a moments pause, the guard nodded. "My apology, my lady", he said, "Please, let us continue. We have heard many a story, yet let it be from your own words that we consider the truth". Somehow, that seemed to perk Feldhast up a bit. The guardsman noticed it, focussing his attention on the plated man. "Would you be so kind as to tell us some of the things you have done? So that we do not send innocent people to a fate they cannot handle?". Feldhast took a deep breath, starting a tale of godly magnificence. About saving the innocent, protecting the meek, feeding the poor. He claimed stories of dragons and was about to begin yet another rant when the guard forced a smile and said, "Marvelous.. hmm, marvelous. Thank you, sir Feldhast". He quickly turned to Tharn, smoothly sidestepping the old priest who seemed fairly disgruntled by that. Tharn bowed, and began simply. "I will keep it short, this time. Something that is very much against my usual style". He flashed a smile at Estrell after saying that, who returned but a brief grin. From there on, Tharn told of his allegiance to one of the other Lords of the seven lordships. How he turned to adventuring life, having been forced to leave the service of his good Lord. He added how he missed the good meals and balls, which invoked a groan of Roch. Some more tales obviously got to the poor guardsman, who then turned to Estell. "Lady.. please", he simply pleaded. "This here is Roch", she took over, "Barbarian from the south. The barbarian lands". Roch nodded his agreement. "His arm will break boulders and men's heads alike. As for myself, I am lady Estrell, of the royal house of the enlightened Kingdom of Zhandica". She said no more on the topics of how she ended up with such a party, yet after the tales of Tharn and Feldhast, the guard seemed almost relieved. "Excelent", he says, "It seems you are capable hands". His last words got overtook in a crash, as the door was broken down violently. "Run!", someone shouted, and havoc broke out.

The day grew older. Hours passed after the party fled from the besieged house. The tournament registration took the bulk of that time, and finally, the tournament was about to begin. Around the jousting field, stands were placed. One large, ornamented platform held the cities nobility. Once the clarion call had been issued, a silence fell over the yard. A bard pitched his voice in a traditional welcome. This begot some very critical comments of a smirking Tharn, yet as the bard continued to the more essential part of his speech, he too kept his silence. "Our esteemed and mighty Lord Tuvain has provided for you additional entertainent!", he proclaimed, "Traitors have been found in the city, and as a ceremonial opening of the tournament, and as a gift to his people, Lord Tuvain will have them executed properly! To ensure your safety, and that of your children!". At that, the crowed roared, either in agreement, bloodlust, or simple peer pressure. The group suddenly pressed forward, angry, surprised. As they reached the front of the audience lines, they clearly saw an executioner advancing towards a smaller platform, and from the other side, they saw the guardsmen to whom they had spoken. "Look at Tuvain", Tharn hissed, "He has the dwarf up there, chained as an animal". Before the others could well respond to it, a shout broke through the racket. "You five, follow us!". Amongs the crowd, several guardsmen stood, weapons ready, looking at the party. "Lord Tuvain has some questions for you".

© 2003 Rob de Jong and Jeroen van Velthooven


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