“Rally to the courtyard! Rally to me,” Captain Blucher shouted from the front of the manor. I was pleased that he had survived the battle, he seemed a solid man and an excellent warrior, if a bit stodgy. Shouts from the side of the lodge from Olver and the other guards followed, as they made their way around the building. Abandoning the array of cultist’s corpses on the roof, we carefully made our way down the damaged ladder to the ground in the descending darkness, rejoining an exhausted and heavily breathing Kromaw at the bottom.
Covered in tufts of fur and blood (a goodly amount of it his own), Kromaw’s forearm guards were dented and scratched. Like many of our weapons, they had seen a great deal of work this evening. I had been forced to use Albrecht’s trouser leg to clean my own blade before sheathing it… after he stopped twitching, of course. My father’s blade would need a well-earned cleaning and oiling tomorrow to bring it back to its usual beautiful condition. And my shirt… quite a mess. Covered in small tears and spots of blood from that idiot Albrecht’s blunderbus. My chest would add a few additional manly scars to the collection already there, but that would be even more impressive for the ladies, so no issue there.
Arriving at the front, exhausted, we joined a small group of survivors. Over half the staff had either been a cult member or been killed by the beasts in the attack, leaving a double handful of sweaty, injured combatants, and a few groggy, shambling servants. Captain Blucher shouted orders at those that stood around him, as men began to disperse on various errands. “You, get Lord Aschaffenberg… you two, go to the infirmary and get some bandages,” he directed.
A groggy Aschaffenberg stumbled out of the front door with one arm draped over Sonja. “Lads, lads, fine job you’ve done, my apologies for missing out on the festivities.” Patting Sonja on the back, he dismissed her to tend to the wounded. “Judging by the bodies, I see that a few of the beastmen found their way on the grounds. Care to fill me in on where they got off to?” At that, we let him know of our heroics and various exploits, and found him suitably impressed. There were several details which we did not see fit to include; notably, the successful summoning of a large and hideous beast of chaos.
“Well, I’ve heard enough. Difficult to absorb, that is,” Aschaffenberg admitted. “All this over a damnable painting of an eye, eh? Hard to believe all the fuss, or how it connects to the beastmen becoming so focused on getting into the place. But I can see the results all around me. We’ll need to see about getting this mess cleared up tomorrow before the bodies go to rot, perhaps see about hiring some more staff, seeing as you folks took exception to so many of the current lot. For now, get yourself up patched up as best you can, then get yourselves settled in for the night. Tomorrow will be a busy day, what?”
With a great yawn, Aschaffenberg slowly trudged back up the stairs and into the cabin. After waiting a few minutes for attentions from Sonja to throw some bandages on my chest, I removed my bloody shirt and carried it inside. Encountering a pair of disheveled and tired looking servants – Franz and Heiko – I tossed them the shirt and told them to add the shirt’s repairs of their list of damages to repair. Leaving them with slightly confused looks on their faces, I then went to check on Gertie. She was just beginning to stir in her overstuffed chair. “Wha… what happened,” she asked.
“You were about to be sacrificed to summon a demon, my dear,” I answered. ""You must have been drugged, for we found you unconscious on their altar in the cellar. But we rescued you, and the cultists are no more. You’ll find that the lodge is, well… sparsely populated at the moment. But do not fear, for there is no more threat." With a shudder, she seemed to recover some of her energy, standing a little unsteadily.
“Thank you so much, my lord, you and your companions, for saving us from this dreadful curse. I knew that Gregor was perhaps unreasonable, maybe even with a slight cruel streak, but this… this is horrific. I never though he was capable of such evil. We owe you a great debt. I hope Lord Aschaffenberg will see his way to rewarding you all for what you’ve done for us.” Hesitantly, she reached out and touched my bandaged chest, blushing. “My pardon,” she said, blushing, “I… I should probably go and rest. I’m sure there’s enough free bedding for you find somewhere to sleep as well.”
She began to make her way towards her room unsteadily, and being the gentleman that I am, I escorted her to her quarters in the hope that she would be comforted. And indeed, she seemed to be comforted her most thoroughly. She was… most grateful. Most grateful indeed, which she proclaimed loudly and repeatedly throughout the night, very likely to the annoyance of the other people sleeping on the upper floor.
In the morning, I was roused to the sound of a creaking door, as Gertie made her way out of the room. Seeing me yawn and stretch, she gave me a wink before she slipped out of the room and continued about her morning duties. Gathering my belongings, including a mended shirt that one of the servants had lain folded beside the bed, I dressed and headed downstairs to greet the new day’s tasks. Arriving in the dining room, several of my companions greeted me as they sat and discussed our options, with Lord Aschaffenberg at the head of the table handing out directives.
“Well, folks, here is the order of things. I’ve already dispatched Heiko into Ubersreik to hire some new staff for the lodge. No doubt he’ll be there a few days. I myself will prepare here along with Vern to journey there to attend a ball set for three days hence. Vern will see that you’re paid handily for what you’ve done here for us, upon which our contract for your service will be fulfilled. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve directed a small bonus for going above and beyond my expectations, eh? While I’d like to tarry, we have many preparations to begin, and a great many bodies to dispose of. I’ll keep an eye out for you in Ubersreik, an hope to see you there at the ball. Until then, gentlemen, best of luck to you.” Rising from his chair, Aschaffenberg tossed Vern a loudly jingling coin purse and excused himself.
p After receiving a rather large handful of gleaming silver coins from Vern as he made his way around the table, we then began to make our plans. “Well, we could return to Ubersreik to resupply and look about for new employment,” Aleron offered. “Bah,” Durion interjected, “we need to see about getting this axe back to its rightful owners.” Jorn offered a compromise. “We can try and do both in Ubersreik – there are no doubt any number of dwarfs that we can inquire there about the owners, while seeking employment and even attending Aschaffenberg’s ball as well.” I agreed with a nod; Kromaw leaned to one side and shrewdly interject a loud, rumbling fart to top off the conversation, his small gnoblar friend snickering softly from his perch on Kromaw’s shoulder.
Gathering in the courtyard after a small breakfast provided by Gertie, we learned that she was to return to her home town of Geissbach for a few days, located midway between the lodge and Ubersreik. Further, Vern would be accompanying her while on the way to Ubersreik to oversee preparations for Aschaffenberg’s arrival at his manor in town. Happy to escort them there, we made our way out of the main gate, our various satchels laden with supplies and coin purses jingling merrily as set out towards the city. The morning passed uneventfully as we walked, except for Aleron, who was mounted on his steed.
Somewhere around midday, we arrived at a small village not much more than a wide spot in the road, a handful of cottages clustered around a small chapel, and a large green meadow cut into the forest with several sheep and a few cows grazing. Following Gertie to one thatch-roofed cottage, we bid her goodbye. With a peck on my cheek, she said “I hope I’ll be seeing more of you, Maximilien.” I replied, “Well, you’ve already seen a great deal of me, I’m sure… but yes, you’ll no doubt see more.” With a grin, I slapped her lightly on the bottom, at which she squeeked and scurried into the door, blushing. Rejoining my companions, we continued out of the village, several young children and one or two of the townsfolk staring suspiciously at our group of heavily armed men (and especially Kromaw’s huge bulk), as we made our way down the path and around a bend, the village disappearing into the trees.
Taking a turn from our path onto a much wider and heavily traveled road, we now headed through the forest directly towards Ubersreik. As the sun moved across the sky and began to sink towards the treetops, we stopped and took stock as we heard the crack of a tree limb. Alarmingly, shadows began to move on both sides of he path, solidifyin gino the silhouettes of men as several of them began to step out from the trees, weapons in hand. Roughly clothed, with mismatching armor for some, and an array of old and rusted weapons, they were obviously not friendly. While most of them waited near the treeline, one older, grizzled man with graying temples in his dark hair and sporting an eye patch stepped forward.
“Well then, people, led’s make this easier for everyone. Just go ahead and drop your weapons, gear, and purses, then continue on your way, and it’ll all be over,” he said, looking at Aleron. Most likely, he assumed Aleron was in charge, as he was the only mounted person in the group. Taking up the assumption, Aleron guided his horse towards their leader, and spoke harshly. “Unless you’d like our boots up your backsides, I think you’d best just leave off.” Their leader’s good eye squinted in apprehension slightly as he took in the well armed group of men before him, especially Kromaw, who cracked his huge knuckles… only to ruin the effect by emitting a loud, reverberating fart.
What in the hells had the ogre eaten this morning? Perhaps it was the drugging he’d received last night, for he’d been squeezing them off at irregular intervals all day – enough that nobody wanted to walk directly downwind of him at risk to their health. Either way, the stench was vile enough that several of us were set to coughing or retching as the robbers snickered at us.
“Looks like you’re more of a threat to yourselves than anyone else… alright, let’s get ’em!” With that, a few of them nocked arrows or shouldered crossbows, and the remainder warily crept forward. Durion whipped his own crossbow up, and loosed a bolt which dropped their leader to his knees, clutching the feathered shaft in his side as he grunted in pain. Arrows and bolts zipped by us, only one finding purchase… right in Aleron’s shoulder. Shouting, he barely maintained control of his horse as it bucked and snorted, drawing his mace with his good arm and preparing for battle.
Running to assist the outnumbered group on Aleron’s side of the road, I drew my boot knife and found the archer who’d managed to hit Aleron. Teeth clenched in frustration, he was desperately trying to restring his bowstring, as it looked to have snapped on him – a long red gash across his cheek gave evidence to this. I did him the service of adding injury to his insult, by flicking my dagger at him, sinking it several inches into his shoulder. Spinning, he dropped his bow and began to paw at his belt for a knife with his good arm.
The group quickly descended into a melee at the treeline – the entire group of us, minus Kromaw, attempted to send these men packing. Kromaw, in a fury, charged the men on the far side of the road, swinging about him with both bladed fists. Hearing a series of crunching and wet thumping sounds followed by screams, we had little worries that he could take care of himself. On our side, I quickly closed with a pair of robbers with my rapier’s blade bared, dueling dagger in my left hand ready to parry. Before they could react I used my superior reach and speed to deliver a series of slashes to the grizzled man on my left. This forced him to take a step back with his mace held at chest height as he flailed it around wildly to avoid further insult from my blade.
This left me facing a thin, ragged and pimpled youth, who took the opportunity to swing a large axe at me from overhead with both hands. Stepping just to the side and allowing it to dig harmlessly into the dirt at my feet, I was surprised when the shadow cast by my blade came to life of its own, elongating with blinding speed until it punctured the boy’s upper thigh and withdrew. Jorn’s work, and most welcome at that! Clutching at his heavily bleeding leg, he too backed away to stand next to his friend with a look of fear on his face. They knew they were clearly outmatched – and I took advantage of the situation. “I’ll make you the same offer you made me – drop your weapons and coins, and leave, or I’ll take your lives as well,” I threatened. And they did! Snatching at their belt pouches and throwing them on the ground at my feet, they both ran towards the trees, the older man beating the youth who limped as rapidly as his leg would allow.
No longer engaged, I looked for new opponents, but found none. From his horse, Aleron swung his mace into the kneeling bandit leader’s face, dispatching him quite thoroughly. Durion cocked his crossbow, but found no targets on the far side of the road either. Kromaw was finishing off the last standing pair of them by bashing their heads together repeatedly until there was nothing left to grip. “No poison Kromaw’s food,” he bellowed, “no poison food!” Maybe he really was still affected by the drugs… Vern stood and looked at us aghast, clearly amazed at how effective we were at violence and mayhem. Slapping him on the shoulder to snap him out of it, I joined my companions in removing valuables from the remaining bodies and stowing them away.
Resuming our trip perhaps a bit worse for the wear, we nonetheless made good time. As the sun continued to settle in the sky, we came upon a wagon headed in the opposite direction. The driver, a gray haired, thickset merchant with an ornate merchant’s ring, hailed us and gave us the name Florian Wessler. We warned him that we’d driven off a group of bandits, but there were still some remaining in the forest ahead of him. With thanks, he decided to continue his journey, giving little heed to our advice to turn back or choose a safer route. Either confidence or stupidity could be the death of him, but we had done our duty.
Only half a league later as we approached the city of Ubersreik, we came upon a quite well made and richly decorated coach that was broken down on the side of the road. A crest with a purple stag’s head topped by Sigmar’s hammer was placed proudly on the back, and beside it stood a well dressed nobleman leaning against a large tree in the shade. He looked on as two coachmen sweated heavily while they wrestled with a broken wheel. However, it looked as if they were unable to raise the coach’s axle enough to replace the wheel. “You there, would you like to earn a few coins? If so, my men could use some help fixing the coach.” Aleron guided his horse over and dismounted. “Of course, my lord. I suppose our large friend here can lend a shoulder. In the meantime, could we know your name?”
None too impressed with commoners addressing him, he still did us the service of responding. “I am Siegfried Von Suponatheim,” he allowed as he stroked his blond pointed beard. “Know that you’re aiding the future Lord of Ubersreik. If you can get this coach back on the road quickly, I’ll see that you’re well rewarded, and possibly remembered.” Aleron nodded, and waved Kromaw over. Siegfried’s eyes widened as Kromaw stomped to the carriage and shoved the coachmen aside, grabbed the protruding axle with both hands and lifting it off the ground. The coachmen rushed to remove the broken wheel, pounding furiously on it with a mallet. Quickly placing a new wheel onto the hub, they took only a few short minutes before one of them announced “We’re done, my lord,” and motioned for Kromaw to release his burden. Kromaw grunted in agreement. He’d barely broke a sweat during the process, although he had grunted continuously throughout. He celebrated with one final, triumphant, explosive fart as he heaved the carriage back onto its wheel.
The young nobleman’s eyes narrowed in distaste at Kromaw’s display. “Well. Disgusting, but effective. About what I’ve come to expect from commoners. Pay the men, Hans,” Seyfried said dismissively as he climbed into the carriage. From his seat inside, he leaned out of a small window. “Still though… not a bad set of men to have on call, Hans. Find out where they’re staying, we may have more work for them this week, what with the ball coming up.” One of the coachmen, a short portly man with a fringe of graying hair and large nose, stepped over to our group and began doling out silver from a large purse. “Right then, gents,” he said. “You tell me where you’ll be, maybe I stop by the next day or two if my lord has business.”
At that, we pocketed our gains and made for the city again, shortly passed by Von Suponatheim’s carriage as he caught up. His coachman whipped the reins furiously as he attempted to make up for lost time. His was not the only coach we encountered – as we neared the city, the traffic increased steadily. Laborers streamed from the city towards their nearby villages, and farmers returned to their fields with empty carts. Nearing the gatehouse, a large line of coaches, wagons and horsemen was steadily increasing as various travelers attempted to enter before the setting of the sun and closing of the gates. Eventually we came to the front, and paid our shillings as tolls for entrance along with a silver for Aleron’s horse. There was some discussion as the guards argued over whether to charge Kromaw the same as a horse, as he most likely outweighed one, but we managed to convince them that he had no more legs than a human, and should be charged the same.
Coin purses a bit lighter, we made our way across the massive drawbridge as the sun began to set. Long shadows covered the river from the battlements over the gate as we passed beneath them. Several yards of stone stretched overhead before we finally found ourselves under the darkening sky again, inside the walls at last. The main road stretched for hundreds of yards before widening in a market near the city’s center , and men bearing torches made their way down the avenue as they lit the lamps for the evening. Beginning our walk towards the city center, we discussed where we might want to spend the night. “We might go to the Axe and Hammer, there’s good ale to be had there,” Aleron suggested. Fortunately, I managed to quickly dissuade the group, as it happens I’d been thrown out one night after having a bit too much fun. “Nowhere so welcoming as the Red Moon, my friends – I have a good friend there, as I’m sure you remember from last time. Let’s head that direction, shall we?”
A chorus of assent and nods, and we were off. Who knew what the city had in store for us tonight? A trip to the market to replenish some supplies, a tankard or six of ale, and perhaps some company to help keep the bedding warm overnight would not go amiss. Fortune favors the bold, so I quickly brushed the dust off of my finely embroidered traveling clothes, smoothed my moustache, and prepared to charm my way into the good graces of the good men and women – most especially the women – of Ubersreik.