Journey to the East

Rough Riders (31st October 4711)
31st October 4711

It was late afternoon when they spotted the horsemen. A line of six riders ambled towards them from the trail ahead, though with no obvious signs of ill intent. As they drew nearer Rasha noted that they were armed in the ulfen style, though all had short horse bows and quivers of arrows slung on the saddle.

The lead rider nodded hello, and as they walked past casually scanned their wagons. It was at that moment that Ameiko popped her head out of the wagon ahead to take a peek at the riders.

It might have been a figment of his imagination, but Rasha thought that he detected a flicker of interest in the face of one or two of the riders. nevertheless they carried on past.

It was over an hour later when he heard the galloping. Looking up he saw half a dozen riders rushing out of the trees on both sides. He heard the twang of bowstrings and saw Ameiko cry out as two arrows hit her in the shoulder; another rider rode past her wagon and slashed with his sword.

“They’re after Ameiko. They know who she is” thought Rasha, pulling his wagon to a halt and reaching for his bow. Ahead he saw Ragnar and Dinald jump down to try to protect Amieko, as the hit and run tactics of the riders fired more arrows at her.

There was something about their arrows….a single wound from an arrow and the target went down. Reynald and Ungo were firing their bows in return, and Ailukka was firing her magics from the rear of Ameiko’s wagon; it was impossible to get to close grips with the darting horsemen.

Their own missile did have some effect however, and any horseman that was badly wounded rode off into the trees, though only three or four of the wagon party remained awake.

A lucky sword swing from Kelda cut one of the riders virtually in half as he ventured too close, before she too was sent down by an arrow.

But the remaining rider had had enough now, and he too retreated off into the trees.

As the fallen were seen too it was found that they were mostly fast asleep: some enchantment from the arrows deduced Ailukka. She tested a few of them, and passed these to Rasha for future use.

It did seem that Ameiko’s enemies were actively searching for her.

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Solskinn (29th October 4711)
29th October 4711

The moors dropped below, and they could see that Solskinn was nestled in an idyllic valley -
possibly the most pleasant looking places they had yet encountered in the Southmoor.

It’s inhabitant were quietly curious, and as they pulled up at the inn thye made their way inside. The barkeep looked up.

“Strangers” he commented, matter of factly. “Ye’ll all be staying in the in tonight. The ddor will be locked shut at sundown, and won’t be opened till dawn.”

“Izzat so, Big Yin?” said Ungo. “An’ whut if ah wannee go oot?” The man looked solemnly at him as if he were a child, or an idiot.

“Then you will die” he replied. "Know this- Solskinn is under a curse. When the sun sets, strange noises and frightening shrieks drift into town, and within an hour of sunfall,
the streets become plagued by strange shadows and dim shapes. Anyone who remains on the streets after dark vanishes without a trace, but those who remain indoors until dawn are never molested. "

“Livestock or pets are never harmed, nor are buildings damaged nor tools and equipment stolen. King Eightfingers has sent a few patrols to Solskinn in token attempts to help the town, but after the third patrol vanished, the king has all but given up.”

“You’ll all be staying in the inn tonight.”

“Aye. I reckon you’re right” said Ungo.

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A Rapid Exit (26th October 4711)
26th October 4711

By the time they reached the Steading it was early morning, and Alfreda had started to come round. The girl was afraid at first, but fortunately she remembered nothing of her confinement in the barrow.

The guards looked at them curiously, but Thane Alfric had not made his Bondsmen party to Guthric’s doings or the rescue plan. Quickly they entered the Chief’s Hall, where he conferred with them in private. Obviously overjoyed to see his daughter again, he ushered her out and conferred with them in whispers, where they explained all that had transpired. Alfric shook his head.

“Guthric was a fool and a villain, but he was one of the King’s men. It is best that we speak of none of this.”

“We can just say that the girl was rescued from the Barrow if any word of this leaks out” said Ameiko.

“Ja. In any case-best of you travel swiftly. And do not linger at Jol” said Alfric. He presented each of them with a gold arm ring. Nodding and heading outside, Ameiko spoke to Sandru, and the caravan immediately made preparations to leave.

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The Blade of Sagridt (26 th October 4711)
26th October 4711

It was just after dawn when once more they approached the ancient mound. Taking a swig of brandy to bolster his nerve, Dinald took the scabbarded sword and headed down into the barrow, with Kelda and Ungo waiting close behind him at the bottom of the stairs with Ailukka.

Her spell dimly illuminated the pillered chamber, and he could imagine that numerous silent shapes stood guard in the alcoves and recesses lining the walls.

At the far end of the chamber stood the silent thane, his eyes glowing with the green necromantic flame. Proferring the blade forward, he gulped and advanced down the hall. He halted several paces away.

“M…My Lord we have slain the thieves, and retrieved your sword.” Dinald held the blade out. There was a pause, and the sword was grasped by bony knuckles. The Thane handed the sword to another warrior who stood next to him, who then dissappeared down a further set of steps into the depths of the barrow.

“Er…we…we….” began Dinald.

“Wait” hissed the sibilant voice of the undead Thane.

Dinald waited silently in the gloom, the undead thane staring straight at him. He tried not to look and stared at the floor. The warrior re appeared, and this time he was leading the girl Alfreda, apparently in some sort of trance. Se looked wan and pale in the blue light cast from Ailukka’s staff.

“Go. Do not return.” said the deathly voice. Dinald didn’t need to be told twice.

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Showdown at Hakon's Tor (24th October 4711)
24th October 4711

In the early morning mists, the group waited in the light woods bounding the trail along the trail from Hakon’s Tor. The Tor itself was a small hill with a single standing stone on top, which overlooked a small community which made it’s living from hunting and forestry.

Guthric’s tax collecting circuit followed a rough counter clockwise circle around the perimeter of Jol. Going from settlement to settlement zig zagged somewhat as some towns were closer to Jol and some further away. By cutting straight towards Haklon’s Tor the group had managed to reach the settlement late on the evening of Guthric’s arrival, and rather than announcing their intent they had camped out in the woods, hoping to catch the Thane as he made for Grimhollow, his next day’s destination.

Through the mists three wagons emerged, flanked on either side by about a dozen spear armed Bondir. A stout looking warrior resplendent in a double thickness mail coat sat on the third wagon, obviously Thane Guthric. Half a dozen grim looking Hirdmen in chain shirts also accompanied the wagons. Noting his cue, Dinald stepped out into the trail: the lead wagon halted.

“Fair sirs” said Dinald bowing. “I humbly beseech you to hand over the sword Wightbane, taken from the mound of the undead King Sagridt. Unless you do this the fair Alfreda, captured by the warriors of the mound, will meet a horrible fate. As great gentlemen, I know………”

“Halfdan, slay this capering fool” said the Hirdman in the lead wagon. Nodding one of the Bondir hefted his spear and threw it at Dinald, piercing his shoulder. From the bushes behind the Bard, Rasha loosed arrows at two of the Bondir, hitting the one that wounded Dinald. With a shout Ungo, Ragnar and Kelda broke cover and charged toward the wagons.

The spear though Dinald aside, the ambushers gained a few precious seconds to take down one or two of the defenders. The remainder reacted swiftly and effectively however, with the bondsmen forming up in small groups, bolstered by one or two of the Hirdmen.

Kelda’s sword dealt bloody blows, and in her battle rage she carved her way through several foes, eventually finding herself alone fighting several foes after a lucky sword blow buffeted Ragnar into unconsciousness.

Ungo too was fighting effectively on the north side of the wagons, while Dinald raced around trying not be be hit, using the Healing Wand that Koya had given him.

AIlukka fired jets of fire from the wand she had found at Brinewall Castle, lashing out with Trollsplitter if anyof her foes got too close.

Reynald stood near AIlukka and Rasha, and together the three of them managed to keep up a barrage which kept their foes away.

Ducking beneath a blow of one of the Hirdmen, Ungo swung C**tcleaver across in an arc which removed Thane Guthric’s leg at the knee, and he fell to the floor howling and screaming. Seeing their Lord fall however, the Hirdmen fought on with bitter hatred, wounding Ameiko and leaving the eventual outcome of the combat on a knife edge.

FInally however the ambushers gained the upper hand, and the one or two of the bondir who fled were cut down by arrows.

“They hear this in steading” warned Ailukka, “We mus’ be kvick”

An ornate looking ulfen sword was found in the possession of Guthric, and this and the scabbard were retrieved by Kelda. Ailkukka confrimed that the blade was indeed magical, as she traced the runes on the blade.

As much of the collected silver as could be gathered quickly and stuffed in a captured mule’s saddlebags was taken, and the group headed off swiftly into the forest.

They could not afford to leave any witnesses.

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Back at the Steading (22nd October 4711)
22ns October 4711

“Right” said Ragnar, “T’ane Guthric must have taken der sword.”

“The Sword of King Sagridt” mused Alfric. “It’s called Wightbane in the legends: a weapon of power.”

“Maybe we can track him?” opined Rasha.

“Guthric was on a collecting mission, and the night before last he would have been at Starnberg, and last night at Dimholdt. Tonight he will likely be at Gurning, and perhaps tomorrow at Hakon’s Tor.” suggested Alfric. “If I know Guthric, he will move quite slowly, taking advantage of every steading’s hospitality, and making the most of his position.”

“Ach. A freeloader ye’ mean!” spat Ungo.

“We should head straight for Hakon’s Tor then” said Dinald. “Hopefully we can catch up tomorrow night.”

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Kingdom of the Dead (22nd October 4711)
22nd October 4711

Ahead lay the great barrow, situated between two smaller flanking barrows, as Alfric had described. Ailukka looked up as Rasha returned to the hollow they were crouching in.

“There are a lot of dead warriors in those old ruins to the south there” said Rasha. “Just standing there, rotting- upwards of thirty I’d say, with a couple walking a patrol. And there’s more in those ruins to the north I think”. He pointed.

“Ach les’ jist smash them ’a” growled Ungo, hefting C**tslicer".

“Easy to say” said Rasha. “Hard to do. We’d be overwhelmed in short order, I would think.”

After a brief discussion the decided to simply approach the Great Barrow. A dark archway revealed ancient stone work, and fear seemed to flow from it like an invisible vapour. Rasha shivered uncomfortably, but Ailukka lit up the end of her staff and the group plunged into the passage, soon coming to a flight of stone steps leading down.

As the group paused near the end of the stairs, Dinald padded forward to the space they could see ahead. As he looked past columned pillers he stopped short with fright when he saw three eerily glowing sets of pale green balefire looking towards him- a trio of skeletal warriors, one of them heavily armoured in the fashion of some ancient notable.

“Ah….er…..that is to say, um….Hello” grinned Dinald inanely. There was utter silence from the three figures, but at least they did not attack.

Looking round at the others they all gave him a thumbs up sign and ushered him forward, though Dinald vaguely noticed that they all remained ensconced on the stairs.

“Ah, er… Great Lord. We think there has been some sort of misunderstanding about the young lady……”

“The girl will remain as weregild until the next full moon” hissed a dry and ancient voice from the skeletal thane. “If the sword is not returned by then, the girl will remain forever.”

“Ah yes, but the sword wasn’t taken by Thane Alfric” said Dinald, “It’s all a horrible…..”

“The thieves came from the steading” interrupted the sibilant voice. “Return the sword by the full moon. My Lord does not care who or how.”

“Um, er alright yes, your worship.” stammered Dinald alarmed by a sudden flaring of the sicky green light of the Thane’s eyes. “We’ll just be going then……”

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Taken! (21st October 4711: after dark)
21st October 4711: after Dark

Kelda twirled the bench around once and brought it down on the last of them, and then looked round. Her companions were mostly on their feet, but several of the locals and servants were dead or wounded-the majority had run screaming out of the back door and into the kitchen, along with the Thane’s daughter. In the centre of the room the Thane and two of his Hirdmen stood guard with their swords, the only ones of the company who had been properly armed.

The undead warrior who had seemingly been in command had hissed- it mght have been a laugh, and retreated out of the front doors, which had slammed behind him, apparently locking all inside. She nodded at Ragnar and the two made their way through to the kitchen, their friends following them.

In the kitchen a group of servants were huddled in the corner, others sprawled bleeding on the floor. A back door stood open to a thick wall of mist.

“Alfreda”, stammered one, “They took Alfreda”. Alfreda was the Thane’s daughter.

Taking a deep breath they plunged outside into an icy mist, which muffled and distorted the faint sounds of panic they could still hear. Cautiously they made their way back to the caravan encampment in the southwest corner of the steading.

Here too there had been fighting, but the presence of Spivey and Koya had made a fairly easy time of it. They gathered their weapons and returned to the main hall.

Reports started to come in: the undead warriors had departed, and seemingly with Alfreda in tow.

“But why?” creid Thane Alfric, “We do not disturb the mound folk and they do not disturb us.”

“Their leader said ‘Weregild’”, asked Rasha. “What does that mean?”

“It iss ‘man- price’” explained Ailukka. “Zer price of a life in goods value. Or zer utter vay round maybe…”. She frowned.

“Iss ancient Ulfen law” explained Kelda simply.

“So perhaps the fair maiden was taken as recompense for something else?” mused Dinald. “Something taken perhaps?”

“We do not disturb the mound folk” said Alfric firmly. “Only a fool would do so.”

“Didn’t you have visitors a few days ago?” asked Reynald. “Thane Guthric, did you say?”

“Ja. Thane Guthric” confirmed Alfric. " He iss vun of King Opir’s right hand men. He iss collecting taxes from the surrounding steadings. Strange……"

“And…….?” asked Rasha.

“Vell. He asked if we knew where the Barrow of King Sadridt was, as he had made a drinking bet with one of his fellow Thanes. I told him of course: he iss verr important man.”

“Whut we ned’ is a panty waist Bard” said Ungo, looking expectantly at Dinald and Ameiko. The pair looked at one another and shrugged.

“Yerr neffin’ useless, the lot o’ ye’” grunted Ungo in disgust.

“King Sadridt is ancient hero of Ulfen lore” interjected Kelda unexpectedly, “As every Ulfen child knows.” All eyes turned towards her.

“He vos a warrior of ancient cunning and ruthlessness” she explained, her eyes gleaming. “He brought low all seven of his rivals through ambush, trickery, and turning them against one another. He created one of the first Ulfen kingdoms, and ruled with an iron fist for many years.”

“But eventually the sons of two of his fallen rivals got the better of him, and in an ambush slew the King and five of his Thanes. The surviving three were called Njal, Olinvar, and Stravnar, and together these wreaked a bloody revenge, slaying all the children and surviving relatives of the two brothers, extinguishing their lines for ever.”

“In the final skirmish all were slain saving Njal, and he caused a great barrow to be raised in which the King and all of his Thanes were interred. When he too died, he also was buried and the barrow sealed. Noe really know where all this was: it Kalsgaard we say his kingdom was near the old Giant Barrows to the far north.”

“And in Hagreach we say it was in lands to the east now lost to the Winter Witches” said Ailukka.

“And in my home we say it was a hidden valley deep in the Icemark” said Ragnar.

“Sagridt’s mound lies in the ancient uplands to the east, up on the high and desolate moors” said Alfic, shaking his head. “It is but half a day’s travel from this place, but men do not go there.”

“Except for Thane Guthric it would seem” said Dinald.

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The Feast (21st October 4711)
21st October 4711

Dinald’s comedy songs were going down reasonably well, thought Rasha. Ungo and Ragnar were approaching a state of insensibility, while Ailukka’s approach was more measured, as though she were unable to throw herself completely into the evening’s entertainment.

For the inhabitant’s of the steading however, this was one of those chance’s to blow off a little steam from their hard lives in this forsaken place. Outside the night was now chill with the cold mist rolling in from the surrounding downs. From the talk around him he surmised that such opportunities were rare, though in fact there had been a similar feast only a few days ago, when one of King Opir’s Hirdmen, Thane Guthric Hardfist, had visited overnight while on some errand for the King.

Dinald had now staggered off to a mixed reception of cheers and hurled chicken legs, and Ameiko moved to the centre of the tables with the strange Tian stringed instrument she favoured-the Samisen. For a human she really was very beautiful, thought Rasha, and her Tian features added an extra aura of exoticism and mystery. “This isn’t going to be a bawdy song”, he predicted, and he was right.

As she played her high voice sang out sharp and clear, like a blade piercing a curtain of ice. A few in the room may have understood the words she sung in the strange Tiannese tongue, but it didn’t seem to matter.The burly warriors and miners all fell silent, and her playing and her voice called clearly to them of lost dreams and heartache, regardless of the tongue she used. When Ameiko finally fell silent and bowed her head, there were tears being wiped from the eyes of the majority of the grown men in the room.

There was a very short pause, when suddenly the front door was jerked open, and one of the guards, bloodied and shaking, staggered in, and attempted to close the doors.

“My Thane” he uttered, and then suddenly the door burst open and a horrific skeletal figure strode through the door, cutting him down in an instant. Clad in ancient armour, its eyes glowing with green balefire it stared at the assembly.

“Weregild” it hissed in a voice cold, empty and distant. More dead figures crowded around it, and a chill white mist started to fill the hall through the windows and open door.

“Oh good” thought Rasha, “Our weapons are all outside.”

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The Hearth Steading (21st October 4711)
21st October 4711

The gate guards were suspicious at first, but at last they seemed satisfied that they were a Varisian Caravan from the South: a fact that was patently obvious in any case. Ailukka, Ragnar and Kelda did most of the talking, and eventually they were allowed to enter.

Dinald for one was glad to enter- he didn’t like this place. The Nolands were bleak and inhospitable- a range of downs and broken crags, with the occasional ancient ruin perched like broken teeth on rotted gums, while further east a tall mountain range reared ominously in the distance. Much of the time it was covered in mist anyway.

The Steading wasn’t much to look at he noted- a longhouse in the centre of the village, surrounded by a couple of dozen workshops and lesser dwellings. More importantly to him was the fact that it was surrounded by a stone wall, some seven or eight feet high: not a great defence perhaps but certainly better than nothing, especially with the four foot ditch dug around the outside perimeter.

He shuddered at the tales the Northerners had told of cannibal bandits. He noticed that a lower stone rampart ran along the inner edge of the wall, allowing the defenders to fight from some cover. These people certainly lived in expectation of danger, and he noticed that spears and shields were stacked in small shelters at strategic places around the perimeter. The gate guards had been fairly well armed with large shields and reinforced leather armour.

As they pulled the wagons in they were met by a middle aged man, flanked by a couple of armed warriors. The man was fairly tall, and had an Ulfen longsword at his side. Behind them a couple of dozen locals marched in as the autumn dusk descended: Ailukka had explained to him that the Steading served a small Tin Mine in one of the fells nearby. Tin and sheep were what enabled this small desmesne to eke a living from the harsh landscape-both commodities which were in demand in the markets of Jol, a day or so to the north.

The man squinted as he saw Ailukka, Clad as usual in her distinctive greys and furs. She held up one palm and spoke to him.

“Vel mødt master Alfric. Vi mødes en gang mere og vi anmode om gæstfrihed af din steading for en aften.” she called in her clear voice, which had a more melodious quality speaking the rich Ulfen tongue, rather than in her broken Taldorian.

“Vi mødes igen ung dame. Du er meget velkommen til lille gæstfrihed vi kan tilbyde. Vel mødt”,the man replied, and Ailukka turned to face the others.

“’Dis iss Thane Alfric, master of Steading of Stanbein.” she explained. “I pass through many months when i go sout’. He says welcome to us, Yes?”.

The caravan’s wagons were directed to an open area in one corner of the steading, and the interest of the women folk and their questions regarding the goods they were carrying, indicated that they might have to do a little trading the following morning, for politeness sake if for no other reason.

As camp was being set up and water drawn from the well, Ailukka came over from where she had been speaking with one of Alfric’s Housecarls.

“‘Der iss feast this evening, and T’ane Alfic he invites us to the feast.” she explained. “It wutt be appropriate for the leader of the caravan to offer some gift or present to de’ T’ane. Not as payment, but as a token.” Here she looked across at Sandru.

Dinald for one was glad of the break in their dreary journey, and the change of pace the evening would bring. He looked around the steading; everywhere there were reminders of the mining existence upon which this small community depended for its existence. The chieftain’s hall was of a reasonable size, and even now women folk were assembling tables and making the preparations for the evening feast. While he did not observe many signs of great opulence, it was clear at least that these people managed to feed themselves adequately.

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