The trip to the Gruenwold manor was uneventful, at least until we arrived at its gates. The old man asked to be lashed to the top of the crates, which was an odd request, but it was said he wished such a thing so that he could get some sleep without the risk of falling off of the moving wagon.
The rest of us spoke like, each of us lost in our own thoughts, no doubt. We passed through the small town of Geissbach for a few provisions, and then were on our way once more.
I observed my ‘fellow movers’ more closely as he traveled, taking time to ponder each of them further and I came to the conclusion that, for now – I was only my own. None of them could be trusted, at least not yet, and it remained to be seen whether they would
ever be trusted, most especially the elf wench, Eisa.
She is a comely woman, true, but such is the way of some foes, to appeal to the eyes while slipping a dagger between the ribs and into your heart. Long have my people remembered our last conflict with the elves, and dwarf memories were longer even than those of the ‘fair folk’.
But, I vowed to myself to judge this one, Eisa, on her own merits. So far, though, she had proven to be the typical elf: arrogant, aloof, ‘above’ the rest of us. That she had agreed to Otto’s plan to ‘pretend’ to be his ‘son’, was rather comical as it was brow raising. She must have had to swallow a goodly amount of pride in order to agree to such a thing. To pretend that she was a ‘he’, and that ‘he’ was a ‘human’? Interesting indeed. Perhaps she had fond fantasies of being a human – and being male… I do not know.
Soon, though, we found ourselves approaching the manor… what sort of imbecile builds a manor out in the middle of the forest, with only a small, ramshackle ‘wall’ to protect it? Apparently someone was that stupid. But, at least we had reached the place safe and sound. Or had we?
The sound of some creature crying in the forest saw the woods about us suddenly blur into motion as a group of beastmen attacked! There were four ungors, led by a single gor. I was familiar with their kind alright, and even though I was confident that we could dispatch this lot, I was not familiar with the battle prowess of my companions, so I was prepared to lose one or more of them.
As the group charged forward, I made my way directly towards the gor. The gor were leaders of sorts, and sometimes if you killed the leader, the underlings in this case, the ungor, would break and flee. It didn’t always work, but sometimes it did, and it was worth a shot.
I crashed into the onrushing beastman, his horns clashing into my shield. But if he thought to bowl me over or push me back, he must have been quite disappointed. I rewarded him for his efforts with a solid blow to the side of his head with my hammer, even as some of his minions swarmed around me. Though I rang his bell with my attack, he still stood, and his claws, along with the claws of his companions, raked and scraped along gromril armor and the surface of my shield, leaving me barely scratched for all their efforts.
Before I had a chance to lay the finishing blow, a beam of bright light lanced into the gor from atop the cart we had ridden – it was Peander, the wizard, unleashing some of his arcane might amongst the foe. His magic struck true, laying the gor low, but sadly, the rest of the ungor were in their battle frenzy now and seemed unaffected by the loss of their leader.
The elf did her best to shoot one of the ungor with her bow, but missed. I still wonder if she missed on
purpose, perhaps she was glad to see me surrounded by these infernal creatures, hoping for my demise?
So the battle raged on. And that was not all – from behind us, the sound of another beastman roar could be heard, and another small contingent of the creatures came at us, possibly hearing the warcry of the first batch of enemies. I could only smile. NOW the fight might be near equal!
Moments later, I was amazed to see Otto fell one of the creatures with an incredible blow. Had he not said he was not very skilled with weaponry? Yet he had nearly torn the head of the ungor in front of him from its body. I have to confess, for one who claimed not to be trained, he laid a solid blow on the creature, putting him down. And after he did this, after the heroic swing toppled his foe, did he move on to the next enemy? Did he move over to fight at my back, like a man?
No. He turned and fled.
Puzzled but undaunted, I fought on, and noticed the elf
also turn and flee! We were outnumbered ONLY slightly more than 2 to 1! Those odds are to be embraced, not fled from in fear! Otto, I noticed out of the corner of my eye after deflecting a blow with my shield, scampered up the wall like a spider. Perhaps he was seeking refuge from the oncoming beastmen, or perhaps he was going to try to open the gates that to this point still remained closed fast in front of us, denying us any hope of sanctuary.
The elf girl, however, did not have such an easy time climbing up the wall. I assume she was seeking a higher vantage point from which to use her bow. I was not certain, nor could I trouble myself with finding out: I had foes to crush!
Peander was the biggest surprise. Did he turn and hobble away at his fastest pace as the others had? No. In fact, he headed straight for the other gor, and unleashed a magical assault upon him, inflicting a respectable wound. The old human surprised me once more, and perhaps the tales I have heard regarding wizards have been true afterall.
It was Otto’s chance to redeem himself, and he did, shooting from the top of the wall and finishing off the gor that remained. With their leaders slain, the rest of the ungor turned and fled, for they knew that the only thing remaining here was their doom. But their very presence confirmed to me that the beastmen
are a threat in the area, which tells me that I have come to the right place.
In through the gates we went, meeting the guards and eventually the captain of the guard. For a people who had almost just had a cargo delivery destined for their master destroyed and its guards slain, they all seemed rather uninterested and nonchalant. Perhaps they had been drinking, or inhaling the smoke from the seed of the poppy? I do not know, but what I do know is that I will not entrust my life in their hands at all, for I would be forfeiting it.
The ‘walls’ of the place were in great disrepair, and in badly need of attention. No dwarf would ever retain any sense of pride if he owned such a place, but humans, as I have witnessed, held themselves to a much lower standard when it came to castle and keep defenses, and this was simply another example of such.
We were ushered inside, all of us wearing our ‘moving clothing’, so that we could begin our roles as movers while trying to discover what was going on, and why the people here were acting so strange. We met many personalities inside, and the steward was the most remarkable, to me at least. He had suffered a wound to his head, or his eye socket from the looks of it, and it was swollen and painful looking, far more than would seem possible or within reason. Yet the man seemed barely hindered, and refused any offer of aid.
This of course drew suspicious words from our wizard, and I agreed with him. We had met several who had been wounded by previous beastman attacks, and I could not help but wonder if the wounds were worse than suspected, yet the wounded were simply trying to hide them for some reason.
Was it because the possibility of Taint? The touch of chaos? Were they afraid that an infection might condemn them to death? If so, my hammer lies ready to make their passing quick, humane, and with as little pain as possible.
We also met the cook, a batty old woman who seemed to have the intelligence of a small child, and then onward we went to meet the lord himself. At last, SOMEONE in this place who seemed to have an intelligence above that of a common field stone, even if I did not necessarily agree with his methods. His refusal to allow us to examine the steward’s wound also unsettled me, but I held my tongue.
There was a short conversation where we went over the details of our visit, and our goals. I confess I was distracted, my mind pondering the meeting with the beastmen earlier. How many more were out there? Were they going after us, or the cart of goods? Do they have a chief? Where was their camp? What was their actual number? I was eager to return outside the wall and begin tracking the beasts back to their lair. Perhaps they even had more than one, and by Grungni, I would ensure that all of them were destroyed!
Soon, we were done with the lord and decided to split up into pairs. I went with Otto as he had the sudden desire to speak to the cook. This was curious, as I did not picture Otto to be the type to go for a
much older woman, but… humans will bed anything and anyone, anywhere, or so I am told. So we returned to the kitchen so that Otto could begin his seductions, while I continued to ponder the beastman presence, and how it might tie in to the oddities taking place around this lord’s manor.