Shadow of Hope XXIV

As Marcus, Borlak and Katarina walked toward town Marcus examined the mule and saddles they were supposed to trade.

“The saddles are new, they should get a good price,” Marcus sighed as he considered the mule, “I like mules better than horses for the most part, unfortunately they are not a speedy animal. Since time seems to be something that we will likely be short of, I will have to ride a horse.”

As they entered the young town, the immature age became apparent by showing only a few buildings and a lot of tents. Granted some of the tents were large, but their transient nature shone through, mainly to support the workers of the bridge.

“We should probably go to the stables first and sell the mule and saddles. We can use the two horses and the pack saddles we need to transport the supplies back to the group. I hope the stable has the five packsaddles we need,” Marcus stated, “They probably will. There is a large amount of shipping going on around us.”

Marcus turned to Katarina and Borlak and said, “I have some cooking skill, so I can figure what we need for food once I see what’s available,” Marcus added with a smile as they get closer to town, “I think Katarina would get the best price for the mule and saddles.  A beautiful woman always gets a better price as long as the merchant is male.”

Katarina laughed in delight, “Such a sweet talker.” She chuckled again, but nodded in agreement. “Tymora will guide me in getting the best possible deal for our upcoming adventure.”

“You find this water to be cold?” Cheskith asked Haron, under the distant tent cover and perhaps a bit amused. “In the far north from where I come, in the deep caverns in which we dwell, there is water too…but it comes from the snow and the vast lakes of ice that rest among the fangs of the highest mountains. This rain has the heat of the spring sun behind it, torrid compared to the chill of the north. Far better to be here than there, far more pleasant to feel this water than that, you think?”

“But the wet is uncomfortable, you find, it is easy enough to dry it off.” Cheskith calmly stepped forward and patted Haron lightly on the forehead, shoulders, and chest, directing the minor magic which he’d called forth before to dry both body and clothes.

Daroun had nodded sagely as Erellia excused herself from the tent to attend to other matters. He withdrew to a corner post and leaned lightly against it, resting one foot on the toe of his boot. He held his book at his side and closed his eyes, breathing in deeply thrice, mumbling something incoherent to himself. He relaxed with his shoulders sagging slightly. Carrying on for several moments, he produced a set of spectacles from one of the pockets of his robes and finally opened his book at the page he wanted, without delaying he
began reading.

He stopped only once to glance up at the conversation between Cheskith and Haron, chuckling slightly to himself at their dialogue, then returned to his studies as if nothing had happened.

An equine shriek pierced the murky air, cutting its way across the sodden landscape and causing those near the meager shelter to swing their gazes away from Westerly toward the southwest and the wilderness beyond. A single rider on horseback, visibly overburdened with baggage, erupted forth out of a particularly dense section of woodland, sailing over a precarious deadfall and into the open fields nearby. The steed stumbled in harrowing strides and nearly toppled its rider and load to one side. Only a timely and nimble shift of weight by the rider allowed the horse to maintain its footing and regain a solid gate.

The rider and mount were no more than two full gallops toward the bridge when the buzzing streaks of arrow fletching materialized out of the forest, racing through the rain and seeking purchase within flesh and bone. At least fifty figures, some on horse but most on foot, burst forth from the cover of the trees and with furious shouts of battle, charged after the lone rider. The host of attackers was outfitted akin to common mercenaries or raiders within the locale, though their sheer bulk and momentum was a formidable sight.

Shouts of alarm rose up within the outskirts of the settlement, and in the distance, the rapid fire clanging of a bell could be heard. The town of Westerly exploded into full fledged chaos.

Acquisitions with a rather astute merchant named Jundar just completed, Katarina, Borlak and Marcus were discussing the possibility of other locations to elicit useful information. Pleased at the overall outcome of the bartering despite the obvious attempts by Jundar to price gouge, an agreement was reached that one of the trio should lead the horses and new supplies back to camp to be refitted while the others sought out further information.

While determining who would return, shouts of alarm sounded out from somewhere close by, and like a flowing torrent, the calls of “Brigands! Attack! Raiders from the south!” raced across the mouths of the inhabitants.

A clanging bell rung out not far off, and tents and shops were swiftly secured as weapons and shields were readied by a tawdry host of guardsmen.

Rôhn was pleased at the progress of the project at hand. The first two great logs had been set in place, and the men you had been instructing were currently moving the third fallen tree back toward the cart load of rock still mired in the muck. These particular Humans appeared to be more motivated than the typical layabouts to which he had grown accustomed. The one named Adin, rough chap although tempered like steel, seemed keenly interested in the workings Rôhn was implementing. Of all those present, he seemed the only one capable of reproducing the strategy for moving the blocks after his journey would call him away.

The sonorous clapping of a bell rang out in the distance from the direction of Westerly. The men around Rôhn all stopped in their tracks and looked at each other with alarm. Without further hesitation, they dropped the log and ran headlong for the village, clutching their axes firmly. Only Adin had the forethought to convey to Rôhn the significance of the bell.

“We are under attack!” he shouted over his shoulder as he took off headlong for the bridge.

“Is that Zulian?” Kurn asked Erellia as he swung up into the saddle of the nearest horse. The object of his query was obviously the rider at point fleeing ahead of the pursuers; the timing was too close to Erellia’s mention of Zulian’s approach to be mere coincidence, but if this was to be his charge, he needed to be certain. The horse wheeled once, sharply and impatiently at the force of Kurn’s grasp of the reins. Kurn turned his head to keep Erellia in sight to gain her response; just a nod would be sufficient.

“It is,” she replied, swinging herself smoothly up into the saddle of her own mount, “But approach carefully, Kurn.  You are unknown to her.”


Kurn kicked the riding horse hard, driving it past the other steeds nearby.  With a hand to
the side he grabbed the edge of his shield and ripped it free from the leather cord that had been tying it in place, his grip as firm as the steel of the shield itself.  He pulled the shield to arm, traded the reins to his shield-hand, and drew his longsword as tufts of muddy
field grass flew high in the wake of the horse’s hooves.

A warhorse it was not, and it was near all Kurn could do to keep the beast charging toward the massive line of pursuit. Seventy and five yards could be an eternity for the precious seconds it would take to close that gap, but disrupting their pursuit was Kurn’s first objective; he doubted the horse would keep its head well enough to do anything but run in a straight line, and Kurn’s hold of the reins refused to let it veer from the course he set.  Any shying from his mount was met with swift kicks to the flanks; the horse was expendable, and even its animal intelligence probably grasped the danger it was being forced into.

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