May 242010
 

Richard wrote this part:

The Brief Voyage of the Lucky Lady
And What Followed After
By Suomi

It was truly amazing – terrifying, to be sure, but amazing, nonetheless; I hesitate to think what would have happened had I not decided to cure my cabin fever by coming above deck. The hold, so spacious when first I snuck aboard the Lucky Lady as an undetected stowaway, had just gotten too close, leaving me uneasy and unable to sleep. Looking around to ensure I would not be spotted, I hoisted myself above-deck and darted into the shadows; there was no one around, so I gave in to the urge to dance beneath the stars. It was a great feeling to be free and without fear for my life – may Loki take that bumble-brained cousin of mine!

As I was spinning, gamboling, capering, cavorting about, moving silently, and acutely aware of the distant presence of the sailors on deck, I nearly lost my footing; “Well,” you may say, “So what? You are on a ship and you are dancing, so you tripped.” Ah, my friend, you do not understand; it may sound immodest of me, but this DOES NOT HAPPEN TO ME, I am so much better than that (I can do a pirouette, spotting the far distance, revolving for over one-hundred revolutions; I have managed a jette’ – stag-leap, actually – across a thirty foot ravine.) So now you might understand my consternation as I looked around for the cause of this misstep, when suddenly the ship shook as if something – a whale, a pod of dolphins, another ship – had rammed us! My curiosity, never far from the surface, overwhelmed my good sense, and I raced to the rails to see what the correct answer was, overlooking my status (or lack thereof) aboard the ship. In my haste I forgot to keep myself to the shadows and almost ran into the first mate before I realized who he was and froze at attention. His scrutiny was almost painful, and his ire at this additional unknown seemed to pulse from him. He barked his orders and I scampered off to comply, feeling his watchful gaze on me, knowing this for the test it was, knowing in my heart that even in the dark, it was unlikely that he could have mistaken me for one of the crew. If he had not thought to catch me out, what kind of officer would he have been – inattentive at best, drunk or derelict, at worst. Thankfully my early life and training on the fishing fleets of home, before my other talents manifested, taught me my knots and enough to know the difference between a jib and a mizzen. So at least I felt safe and self-assured in that respect.

Alas, if I had made it to the rail as I had originally intended, I might have seen our fate in time to raise the alarm. I am not sure why it should be that others do not see as well as I, but my sister, may she rest, always called me hawkseye when we were children. But no, the wave was on us, lifted the ship like a twig, to be broken on its watery knee, and leaving me tangled in sails and rigging, bound to the mast, able to see little save the stars. It is my fondest wish that that was indeed all I could see; I watched man after man sink slowly beneath the waves as their strength gave way, unable to help and saved at the same time by the entangling lines. Suddenly, much to my surprise, a man walked by, striding atop the water with the waves barely breaking at his feet, carrying another man – no, it was a woman!—and depositing her on a large section of floating deck, where I watched her chest rise, and knew she was alive. Was this hero a god, a demi-god, or a demon with some ulterior purpose? I had no way of knowing, although he seemed to be single-minded in his efforts to save the men he could. One other man, a strong swimmer, dragged a passenger – I cannot imagine a man of that size on a ship’s crew! – to the platform, which seemed to be becoming the largest piece of flotsam remaining, and the rendezvous point for non-swimming survivors. I decided that, stowaway or not, there was safety in numbers so I called out for rescue and waited to join the rest.

A quiet group it was: small, considering the size of the ship and crew; introspective; huddled each into himself (or herself, in that one surprising case) for warmth until the sun would dry us and ease our aches. Of course, with the sun would come thirst.

Shortly after dawn broke, I spotted land – no one else could see it: though, thankfully, they took me at my word and off we… what did we do? Neither swam nor sped is an apt description: there were but two strong swimmers amongst us, and nothing with which to paddle; no mast and the sails ripped to shreds. Eventually my sighting was confirmed by others and spirits quickened, if not progress. Because of fishing boats dragged high aground, we decided to proceed with caution. However, the moment we came ashore, I dropped to my knees and offered prayers of thanks to the earth mother. When I had finished, I saw a fire had been started and was being tended by one of my current companions and the woman was solicitous in her ministrations of the wounded, exhausted, or elsewise unwell. A rumble and crash; the earth shook and nearly toppled some of the few survivors, though I maintained my legs with ease. I cast about with all my senses, perhaps expecting to find a smell of fire or ash or to see something others would miss when I espied the lady, for regal she was, ascend to a height and look around for herself. Gracefully she made her way down, declaring that the shock had come from our left; I pointed to a path beyond the boats and it was determined that locating potable water was our highest priority; following the path would also get us out of the sun, which would have soon become overwhelming had we not had the shade available.

I lead off, for as I have mentioned I am gifted at seeing things others may miss, and my instincts were not awry: in one direction stood – lay – the remains of a tower and in another, away along the path in the distance, where none else could see, stood a cart with two oxen and people moving around it. Were they survivors trying to flee in a time of trouble? Or looters? Or something more sinister still? By the time I had explained my sightings and my qualms, the people had vanished; our group determined to proceeded, as where else were we likely to find safe water but in the mean hamlet ahead?

When we arrived, the others called out, saying in all languages available to us such hackneyed phrases as, “We mean you no harm,””We want to help,” and, unless I mis-recall my translations, “Where is the privy?” We scrabbled over debris and into a few tumbledown hovels, aware for any potential danger and alert for any sign of survivors. Shortly an old man leaning on a staff for support, came to us, speaking in trade, telling us how we have scared the villagers, who have experienced more terror than anyone should have to face. It seems the land tremors on this isle are being caused by a floating island ramming repeatedly, though at irregular intervals, into this man’s homeland. Worse, that island is home to hellhounds and their master, a giant who ravages through the village most mornings, eating those he encounters, lifting a roof here or there as if he we searching for grubs under rocks. And the hounds, with their terrible baying, defiling the graves of the dead, digging up loved ones and eating the corpses. It was definitely time for action.

At least I felt it was time for action; the old man and the others seemed content to continue talking, something about a wizard and his tower – this was all the impetus I needed to explore that tower, where my curiosity impelled me forward and upward. It was exhilarating, and as I reached the top and on my way back down, despite the occasional rumble, I danced. It was glorious! At the top I had a commanding view of the surrounding landscape; as I danced down, I watched some of my fellows try to scale the edifice, and managed not to laugh at their lack of grace.

When I reached the ground, Aiden – he who was fire-tender earlier that day – explained some of the options our group and Olin, the old local, had discussed. Though poor, the villagers offered our troupe a sword (carried with ease by Tuomi, the twin, or is it chokecherry), several daggers (at the belts of Aiden, the large man, and the first mate, perhaps hidden on others), a bow (wielded by one of the men I have yet to know), food, and clothing. Looks like I missed out by running ahead! Ah, naught save an impetuous youth am I!

Amelia, the fair lady, had fortuitously enquired after a healer and found, alas, the healer was dead, though it was to that homestead we headed next; the house had been severely damaged in the quakes, and I was concerned for her safety. While she tried to explain what it was we were looking for, I was at a loss for ways to help, save staying out of the way. Even she seemed to have difficulty with some of the herbs, dried and prepared in a manner different than she was used to. Soon, though, she found that for which she searched: a fast-acting ingestive poison which we might use to exterminate the hounds. While she was preparing her unguent, we men went to size up the giant (Oh, was that a pun? Pardon me, I’m sure,) and his hounds.

We made our way to the beach, and saw where the new island was relentlessly pounding the shoreline – I saw, in fact, that it seemed to be crawling under the beach as a babe might slowly make its way under a skin rug before the hearth. We determined Liam (as the bowman was called) and I, by stealth and wits, would be the pair to broach the cursed island, though how true those words would prove to be we were unwitting, though fain to know. What I had seen from a distance Liam saw as we approached: the grey island seemed as if it were trying to wear our island. It would pull back slightly and worm its way forward, or fall back a great distance and ram the shore. I made the leap and, for the second time in as many days, nearly lost my footing. No secret this time, though, the very earth emanated feelings of wrongness, and made me lose a bit of my equilibrium, at least at the moment my feet touched down. The land was as dead as anything I had ever felt, with spines and chimneys of rock protruding at all angles. We went inland quite a way, each step inducing more unease. Finally, with Liam having found little of use — “Yes, this is the spoor we would expect, and the tracks, too. They may lead in this direction, though there is no clear way to determine how recently they were made.” – I decided I had to scale a chimney so we could make use of the fading light, see what there was to see, and vamoose! I did spy a cave, with the detritus to be expected from several horse-sized carnivores and their master. I scaled down as quickly as I could, and we made a judicious, if hasty, retreat.

As we made our way back the mile to the village, Liam filled in the others all that he had found and what I had discovered, as well. We quickly located Amelia to assess her progress and impart to her our findings. Reviewing our thoughts from earlier in the day, and focusing on the protection of the villagers (at Aiden’s insistence, though we may all have had it in mind to some degree), we concurred as follows:

Evacuation inland was safest in the short term, though it would have to be accomplished at or before dawn, to ensure enough distance when the giant began his rampage. The drawback: would the giant follow their trail, or had he enough to eat recently that we would be enough distraction?

Putting the lame, elderly, sick, or young in fishing boats at sea (with a seasoned hand, of course) though likely to have some risks, would put the least stress on the frail.

I am getting so hungry – I should not have missed lunch! Would it be rude of us to ask for more food?

We would need to convince the villagers that their lives would be worth the sacrifice of one of the two remaining oxen in their possession – this would also make the trek inland more tedious.

If slaughter proves not an option, we will need to inquire if are there bladders we might fill with blood, perhaps some from each ox or, if required, some of my own and more from our troupe members.

Hunger makes it hard to think; we must speak with Olin!

We called on Olin then, explaining to him our thoughts above; he concurred on many points, offered to intercede with the council on our behalf, and, thankfully, brought us my first meal of the day. Simple fare has never tasted so good! Yet hardly had we begun to digest our meal when Olin returned. My spirits sank, he was back so fast, though his attitude gave nothing away.
“You shall have your ox and we shall be away before first light. Our lives are in your hands, and we beseech you, save us!” With that he left us to an anxious night.

We began our preparations with alacrity; Amelia tending to her herbs (she eschewed my help, for some reason, shooing me away and telling me to stop nattering – as if I natter; the thought is ridiculous!) and we men began planning how best to trap the giant (or ogre, or what have you.) It seems we have some deep thinkers among our throng, for many plans were laid and discarded for want of equipment (blocks and tackle, for example) or difficulty of construction (self-triggering snares) or even likelihood of jamming or other failure (a pit, for pity’s sake – no, no pun intended. Unless you liked it, I mean. Then it was intended.) When I was finally able to get the attention of the big thinkers, I suggested a variation on a simple hunting snare: two loops secured each on one end, laying concealed across the path, with folk at the free ends ready to pull tight the trap, like the sketch below.

The genius of the plan was in my simplicity — ITS simplicity, I mean. After all, what could go wrong? Exert force to pull the free ends in opposite directions and snare a giant, or at least trip him up so we could have the upper hand (again, no pun, unless you liked it.) Then I found out the rub. “It’s bait we’ll be needing, to be sure the giant comes down the proper path.”

“Oh,” says one, “I can’t do it; my sciatica, you know.”

“Nor I,” says another, “You will need my strength to heave the rope to.”

“I’ll do it,” said I, “After all, I should be able to see the giant coming, and can simply dance out of the its way.” What I thought in addition was, “Can’t let the old men do anything difficult, oh no, or we would get nowhere, what with waiting for one of them to overcome their fear.”

A little more planning, for what else are old men good for (save not doing the very thing they have already planned,) and it was determined that the tall one, Kianomen was his name, would head to the ruins of the Wizard’s tower with eight tatters of fabric in four colors. When the giant came, Kianomen would wave green in his left hand if the creature came from the north, red for south, blue or yellow for east or west; the same colors in the right hand would indicate the hounds were approaching from a different (or even from the same) direction.

So it was we spent a restless night, trying to sleep or at least remain calm in light of the coming ordeal. It seems Tuomi had no such problems, though. “I will rest better and be ready to face the giant after I sleep among the trees,” said he. Stumbling off in his nightshirt, he did just that.

Dawn came early that morning, but we beat it by an hour or more. Carefully bleeding the ox, saving every drop of liquid in bladders to mix with Amelia’s crushed toxins, and then partially flensing the beast, exercising caution to cut as much horizontally as deeply. We needed a great deal of surface area which would not dry out too quickly. Apparently the poison loses punch if allowed to dry, so we had to squeeze the sacs close to the surface and be careful to not puncture them. As if that were not incentive enough, the decoction smelled vile. Imagine the reek of a cabin filled with your least favorite kin after a winter blizzard, no way to wash, and nothing to eat but cabbage for a week; this is sweet perfume when placed next to our potion.

By this time morning had broken, we hoped that soon the giant would be the same. Calls for Tuomi yielded no result; he was right about resting well among the trees! Luckily, he left the sword so the first mate, Marko, would have the use of it. Kianomen headed off to the tower and I watched his passage. And I watched his passage. And I watched his passage…. I hope that there will be more excitement this day, thought I to myself. Who knew that waiting for a thing would be harder than the proposed thing itself? And who knew a tall man would move so slowly.

Finally a flag unfurled – right hand green. The hell hounds were preceding their master. I crept up the rise and watched the progress to the carcass. We took such pains to make it look like the beast had died unmolested, though we needn’t have bothered. The dogs tore into the flesh, rending it as if it were a rag doll and quarreling siblings.
To say the beasts were ugly is to say the Lady Amelia is pretty, which is to utter an understatement of high proportions. Yet could it have been another way, ANY other way, I would have taken it, for no creature, man nor beast, deserves the agony of those three hounds which I will see in my dreams for years to come.

The giant and his collared dog had yet to appear so I backed down the knoll and watched the tower again. Another right-hand-green and the largest of the hounds appeared, drawn to the carcass and his fallen pack. He lifted his muzzle and let go an eerie, mournful wail. Then he seemed to catch my scent – he looked in my direction and fire flared in his eyes. Though the giant was my target, I could not wait, and lit out for the ruined village. Having fled enough from my cousin, I knew that one should never look back when fleeing; still, I imagined the beast was gaining on me, that I could feel his breath and smell his stench. Ahead was the town, so I put on a last burst of speed and leapt for the first crumbled wall I saw. I MADE IT, right on the top of the wall was I… except that as I landed the beast also landed a bite of no small damage and kept me pinned in its grip. A kick and a twist and I was free, but cornered, unsure of what to do next.

Unfortunately for our plan, though very fortunately for me, both Marko and Aiden left their posts and came to my aid — sword and daggers waving. Distracted with snapping at me the beast was open to a one-two attack, throat and belly from my two brave comrades. But now, with no warning from the tower (although Kianomen says he signaled frantically), the giant appeared, frothing, foaming, and wailing as loudly as his beast had done. Aiden and Marko lit out down the path, “to keep the giant’s attention focused on us, and not the snare,” they said later, though it meant that Lady Amelia was left to tend her line alone. I waited for the ogre, whose height had been exaggerated after all, to approach. When he reached for me, I danced out of his way, then sprinted and tumbled over the snare.

Tapja and Kisa hauled on their line, and, though she was (as has been mentioned) all alone, Lady Amelia heaved (as in pulled, not the other kind!) on her side. Still, though her effort was commendable, and the giant was brought down, it was a trip and not the ensnarement for which we had hoped.

I reversed my course as swiftly as possible and saw at once the giant on the ground and Kianomen in the clouds, slowly descending. I ran across the giant’s back and turned to kick him where no man wishes to be kicked. As I did, I saw Marko and Aiden returning, with Tapja already hammering at the creature’s cranium – Kisa and Lady Amelia, knowing their individual strengths, stood to the side, ready, I am certain, to pull aside any one of us who fell. When they arrived, Marko and Aiden revisited the successful ploy used with the dog – high-low, belly and throat. The giant succumbed with hardly a challenge, yielding up his ears as a trophy for Tapja.

We went back to the ox carcass to clean up after ourselves and found that two of the hounds had dragged themselves away. We gave pursuit, as we knew we must, to complete the annihilation of the dreadful scourge. Tapja, a tracker by trade, led the way with me at his side. The ground shook, harder than ever, throwing several of us to the forest floor. Though the trail petered out soon after, Tapja led us to the beach and thence to the giant’s isle. It had made its way further under the strand, and was backing off for another go.

While the island was just as dead as it had been the prior day, now, in the noon light, surrounded by people, it seemed somehow less eerie. A path, if you can call it that, what with its broken and sheared rock wall faces slowed our progress as much as it eased it.

Eventually we came to a cross-path, one which looked like it had at one time known a great deal of traffic, but which had now fallen into disuse, and opted to take the route which showed more recent passage. This track eventually took us to the foot of a cliff with a narrow ledge leading to a cave partially blocked by a large round boulder. I was ready to rush up and dispatch the beasts, assuming they had returned to their home. Someone, Marko, I believe, suggested we would want materials for torches, so off some of us went to get branches, tar, twigs, and leaves, returning in no time at all. Several brands were created, and we were finally able to head in. Well, except for Marko, who thought standing guard would be exciting.

All the work of gathering tinder, and we would have been able (well, almost) to see the whole cave in the daylight streaming through the opening. And a less clear view might have been a blessing; we had stumbled onto (into?) the giant’s midden. Now a mouse’s midden or a kitchen midden is bad enough; here we had human and other bones, offal, bits of cloth and armor (not a weapon in sight, alas), a trash heap in one corner, and a nest in another.

Kianomen and I headed for the nest, and I know Tapja started for the midden, but a four-foot-tall pile caused him to veer in our direction. I recall Aiden looking at armor or the like, and Kisa found something shiny which held his attention. I regret to say I lost track of Lady Amelia for the nonce. Kianomen poked the nest with his staff, and a metallic clang rang softly. Guess who was elected to dig through the pile and find the hidden treasure – give yourself a prize if you selected yours truly. The prize I found was a large iron cage, with a huge, suspiciously calm raven therein. I made to open the restraint and set free the bird when I was accosted by Aiden and the Lady Amelia, who were backed by the others. “Oh, we cannot open the cage in a confined space,” and, “What if he means us harm,” and other such cries were heard, and no would list to my argument: Why would the spiteful giant cage the glorious creature? All other creatures he encountered he slaughtered, ate, or both. Why should we have cause to fear that which the giant feared, for what other reason would the bird be caged?

While the others were debating, talking, arguing amongst themselves, I was almost able to tease open the lock. Unfortunately for the raven and me, the Lady Amelia was sharp-eyed and alert, even in the smoky gloom of the grotto, and my hand was stayed. Still, I know, somehow in my heart, that what I am trying to do is right, and so I know I will try again.

Meanwhile, the midden called, the nest having yielded all of its secrets. Tapja suggested to Kisa that he may find gems in the heap, as the former had seen something gleam in the torchlight. The avaricious man hesitated not a whit before digging in, and it was waist-deep that I found him, as his attention was waning. On the heap of trash I took out my frustrations, throwing dross and debris into the open areas of the room. I found nothing in the pile; rather the discovery was behind the wreckage: a small hole, a tunnel opening, perhaps. Nothing too large, certainly too constricting for the giant and probably too small for his hell hounds, even if the entrance had not been buried in their cast offs.

Having learned that this crew was a cautious lot (I could almost hear the sneer in my own inner ear!), I volunteered to crawl in and explore. I would tie a rope around my leg, and push a torch before me. Should there be any danger, I would pull TWICE on the line, and my companions would land me like a fish, pull as hard and fast as they could. The tunnel was tight in some places, and one less agile than I would have had a harder time, but shortly the way began to straighten and open and glow. Yes, GLOW! I hurried forward and tugged once on the rope, trying to get the laggards to follow; I even called out that I had found a fabulous glowing chamber. Nothing. The lackwits were not responding, so I pulled on the rope, HARD. Did they take the hint? Oh, no, not these stout fellows; even though there had only been one pull (granted, a long one), they took this as a sign of danger and yanked – pulled me off my feet and back through the bruising canal of the cave walls. It was like being born anew, pulled from a mystical haven through a tight and painful spot, only to emerge into the cold world.

To say I was not pleased is again speaking mildly. When at last I was cooler, I explained that I, at least, would be returning to this special place, and suggested that someone or everyone with magic accompany me. Aiden seemed made of the sternest stuff, though he made me lead the way. He was as captivated by this mountain cathedral as was I. A blue glow permeated the space, and every surface, hewn from the heart of the mountain, was carved and decorated. All save one: an archway on the far side of the room was only decorated on the perimeter, but the center, where a passage should have been, was left blank. I danced the floor and Aiden examined the arch and the pattern on the wall, but we found no mechanism, no trigger with which to activate a hidden panel. Even after gathering his thaumic energies about him, he discerned nothing further. Or was it Kianomen who came first, and Aiden who came third? It hardly seems important, looking back.

Leaving Aiden to his explorations, I returned to the giant’s lair, where I persuaded Kianomen (or was it Aiden?), Amelia, Kisa, and Tapja to join us inside. I offered to watch Raven, for so I had begun to think of him, to allow Marko to join the others (and, I thought, to release this magnificent creature and free him of his bonds. In my mind, we were already fast friends, and what else would one friend do for another in this situation?) But no, Marko and Raven would remain out here, while all the magicians gathered in the inner sanctum. As none within had any more success nor did any perceive more than Aiden/Kianomen had done, it was determined that the cavern-cum-cathedral would make a highly defensible camp for the night.

So, once again, I was elected to crawl through the tunnel and alert Marko as to our decision. I emerged to hear him talking to Raven, and strove mightily to hear the gist of the monologue, to no avail. When Marko heard we were camping for the night, he was concerned about leaving Raven (whom he simply call “the bird”, as if he had not moments before been conversing with or at least confiding to, the glorious creature.) I offered to allow him to proceed me, allowing that I would be bringing the cage along with me. He demurred, perhaps intuiting (correctly, it may be said) that I had stated it was the cage (and not Raven) that I would bring. Once again I led the way, Raven encaged between us. The going was much more difficult; after all, an iron cage is far less lithe and supple than I, or even than Marko.

We man-handled (bird-handled?) Raven’s cage out of the opening, Marko following close at hand. Upon emerging, he looked around overwhelmed; no, there I go understating again. He was stunned, benumbed, shocked, amazed, astounded…ah, stupefied, that’s it! And down he went, this burly man, like a lady in a swoon. The Lady Amelia ran to his side, confirmed that though unconscious Marko was breathing and as well as could be expected. Long moments –hours? – passed with the first mate insensate; when finally he came around, he was still mesmerized by the power of the room. He wandered around, mumbling to himself, tracing the pattern in the floor, and then…what? How can I say this that it will be understood? When in doubt, be terse: Marko disappeared!

Again we waited on him, not knowing if he would return or if he was forever lost to us. Those with mystical powers redoubled their efforts to find the activation trigger, all to no avail. Finally our wayward companion reappeared, slumped down exhausted, muttering, “I had heard of the like, but never expected to find one; never really believed they existed.” Given time to recover, Marko was finally able to explain that, although completely enervated for the nonce, he would, on the morrow, be able to take us all, via a mystic passage to the top of a mountain, whence he had recently returned.

Though I thought all attention had been focused on him, I was once again rebuffed in my efforts to loose Raven from his imprisonment. Even as we set watches for the night, I would not be allowed free access to my friend. As I drifted off to sleep, I determined that when I rose in the morning, I would head back to town, to the next village over, and let Olin and his cohort know that the giant and two of the hell hounds were dead, with the other two grievously wounded. After all, I cannot be expected to stand idly by while those others gather their strength (and gather their nerve!)

Well, as I headed for the cave mouth that morning, (and, let me tell you, I am getting tired of having to crawl every time I want to go out to see the stars or take a piss!), Kisa, Tapja, and Tuomi decided to come with me. I guess they had had enough of the drained mystics needing to rest and recover, too. We headed toward the village, checking to ensure the dead hound was still there (picked over by carrion feeders, some or all of which had joined it in uneasy repose). The earless giant was rather riper than when we left him, and also missing a few more bits than before. I felt better about both of these things as we headed on the way we had seen Olin and his entourage depart… was it truly just over a day ago?

We walked onward, and I swear I would have made better time alone; the elders in my village moved faster than those louts. Several hours of walking and we had not reached the next hamlet, though I saw something dreadful ahead – Olin’s wagon lay overturned and off the beaten track. I broke into a run and called out to my companions, letting them know what I had seen. That seemed to get them moving, and we arrived at the cart in short order.

There were several bodies, many recognizable as Olin’s companions, though the old gent himself was not to be found. Tuomi and Marko began to dig a communal grave for the bodies. As they dug, we called out and I began to scout the area; a wailing, crying waif bolted from under the upturned cart and fastened himself to Tuomi, babbling incoherently. We sure could have used Lady Amelia’s comforting presence now, though the boy did calm enough that we could eventually hear, between rasping sobs, one clear word: “Olin.”

After several more moments of inconsolability, the lad took several deep breaths and began to fill us in on his situation. Or, I am sure, that is what he thought he was doing. However, since none of us spoke his language, and he did not speak ours, very little information was exchanged. He expressed his frustration by running into the woods, leaping over an old wind-fallen tree, and disappearing from view, calling “Olin” all the while. Kisa remained with the dead and the cart, while Tapja, Tuomi and I (they cautiously, I less so) went to see what the youngster was on about. While they made their ways around the ends of the tree, I leapt upon and over it, arriving to see the youth sobbing over the shattered form of Olin. He had been attacked, of this I was certain, and though I had much experience nursing wounds (usually mine own), I knew this was beyond me. Tapja, too, demurred at rendering assistance, though Tuomi avowed he could handle it. And so it fell to me to suggest bringing Lady Amelia and her healing magery, and thus was I chosen to run and fetch her. They would do what could be done for Olin, transporting him by wagon as far and as fast as safety allowed, meeting us , upon my return with the lady, somewhere along the road.

I ran, and I ran, leaping small rills and other obstacles I had not even noticed on our trip out; I ran, though pain began to stitch my side. On I ran past Olin’s desolate village, replete with giant corpse and rotting hound at the verge. Still I ran to the accursed little island where my remaining companions awaited, each breath searing my lungs, all the while knowing that Olin’s life was in my hands (well, soles, since I was running, after all.) A final burst of speed to crawl through the cave tunnel and I was at Lady Amelia’s feet. And after all that effort, I could not get the wind to form words! The briefest of rests and I choked out, “Olin… attacked… hurt or… dying. Must help him!… Past village… on…road.”

The Lady had many questions, but knew both that speed was of the essence and that I was not in condition to answer as of yet. She gathered her gear, and readied to set off, Aiden offering to join and protect her. I began to rise, though she firmly settled me back, proclaiming I was in no condition for travel, that I must bide a while, and I could catch up after I had my wind back. I stayed the while, deciding to look again toward freeing Raven, but his cage was guarded by a wary Kianomen and a less alert (though closer to the cage) Marko, allowing me scant opportunity to approach much less succeed in any release effort.

When I was moderately recovered, I wormed my way through that rocky canal and ran to catch up with the vanguard, reaching them in less time than I had expected. I filled my companions in on all the details I knew, all the while pushing for more speed. We had journeyed only a short while more before the wagon hove into view, a shock to us all. Growing urgency mixed with dread as we raced forward, our worst fears confirmed: The cart had made such good time because Olin had bled out, dying shortly after I had run for aid. Lady Amelia confirmed there was naught could be done for our old friend, as we shared a few moments of grieving.

After much arguing it was decided to honor Olin with a funeral pyre, courtesy of Aiden, although we were unsure if this was a rite accepted in this country or not. I distracted the boy, showing him my juggling skills, as the others built the framework for the ritual. At last it was time for the lighting of the fire, accomplished with seeming ease by Aiden’s magic. I was worried that this might be an additional trauma for the lad, and kept my hand on his shoulder as Lady Amelia spoke her words. Since the boy watched us perform the ceremony without horror or disgust, we assumed that we had done a good thing.

With nothing to slow our progress, we returned swiftly to the cave. Though apparently intrigued with the inner cavern, it was Raven who mesmerized the lad. The youth and Lady Amelia remained with Raven as we men went to explore the rest of the island. We encountered no living thing, neither hell hound nor flea. Taking the untraveled path, we reached a high promontory, with a sheer drop to the sea below. Kianomen simply stepped off the cliff and took a mid-air stroll around the island. However, unable to follow him, I looked around and saw a rope-cable ladder and an iron ring affixed to the wall. I scampered down the ladder, Marko at my heels, to see what I could espy at the base. The water was neither particularly clear nor cloudy, though I could see but two fathoms or so. Marko noticed that the barnacles at the waterline were as easily dislodged as butterflies from milkweed when a dog runs through their midst.

Slower going on the return, I heard Marko asking Kisa about a spell to breath water as though it were air as I crested the ledge; Kisa averred that he could do it easily. I was first to go, and it seemed as nothing, though Kisa said he had been successful in enchanting me. Aiden, being of fire, declined to approach the water, and so Tapja came forth (well, he came second, but you know what I mean); on him the spell weaving seemed more strenuous – beads of perspiration formed on Kisa’s brow before completion was declared; no such challenge for Marko or Tuomi, however, as their bewitchment came as easily as mine had done. Marko hurried down the ladder to launch himself into the deep, where we quickly lost sight of him. Tuomi, Tapja, and I had to settle to the sea floor before we could make our way around the base of this odd island. We walked in the briny deep, where the island’s base tapered to a point, then we circled the end, and climbed our way to the beach. I had not really given it much thought, but I had indeed been breathing water. Now that the beach loomed, I hoped I would still be able to breathe air. My concerns about being on dry land were groundless, however, as we experienced no difficulties at all with our respiration.

Since we would not be able to reach the ladder again, not being able to swim and all, we three strode overland to reconnect with the others at the cave. There, Marko was talking about keels and the adhering properties of barnacles and other things in which I had no interest. I saw the boy, and I saw Raven, and I made my way to them. All thoughts of liberating Raven were dashed as my course was interpreted, interrupted, and intercepted all within moments of my plan being formed. So I took the boy aside and pointed to myself, saying “Suomi.” In turn I pointed to Kianomen, Lady Amelia, Aiden, Marko, Tuomi, and Tapja, stating the name of each person indicated. Then I pointed to the boy; nothing. I tried a few other words, and picked up some things to juggle. I showed the child how to fountain and cascade, and he acquitted himself admirably. Then he pointed to himself and whispered “Ogly,” even though he was actually rather cute.

The grownups were still arguing about what to do next when I heard mention of “free the bird,” and became instantly interested. I would finally get to free my friend! Once more through the breach with the iron cage pushed before me and we all regrouped. The others were wary, I was exhilarated. Aiden spread some bread before the cage, and then, at long last, I was able to raise the pin and throw open the door of the portable prison. Raven saw me open the door, and remained unruffled, even regal. He looked around, hopped to the opening, stretched his wings (they were even bigger and more majestic than I had imagined) and leapt to the air. He circled once, twice, then gently alighted on my shoulder, weightless. He was there but for a moment, yet it is a moment I will remember all my life. Then he took to the air, circled once again, and BANG! there was a crashing sound and Raven was gone, no trace he had been with us, save his former prison cell. The others, except for Ogly, seemed spooked, and were on edge for quite some time after.

It seems, if I had been paying attention to the proceedings, rather than getting to know Ogly, I would have learned that the island is sort of a boat, with a steering mechanism inside somewhere; that the trip to the mountains was not to be; that some thought Raven was controlling the island, being a wizard caught in bird-form – the island’s wizard, in fact, trying to get home; and that we were going to excavate the wizard’s tower before doing anything else.

Needless to say, it was tedious and time consuming work, though everyone helped, including Ogly when he could, and eventually we found what might once have been a secret treasure vault containing the following:

a chest with a big padlock, magic;

two staves:

the first with rock insets – currently unidentified, though magical, and presumed of the earthen realm (due to the rocks, you know;)
the second a swirly wood Staff of Aeolus, which creates windstorms, or something (Kianomen found it, used it, and almost broke it, I think, as he was fiddling around with it. Lady Amelia helped him figure out how to turn it off, thank Mielikki;)

a bow and arrows;

a long sword;

plate armor fitted for a woman;

a ring of endurance {+1 Con, +6 HP};

a potion of healing, unknown strength;

two books:

one identified as an Invisibility to Air Creatures spell;
the other simply designated an Air realm spell, currently unknown;

nice clothing, gold, and gems.

Dividing the loot seemed to be clear cut, though a cause for some jealousy among the wizards not fortunate enough to have magic attuned to their spheres of influence. Of course, the magic chest we cannot get into may be the answer to that kerfuffle. So Kianomen got the Air stuff (natch!), Lady Amelia got the potion and plate mail, I am carrying the rock-encrusted staff until we can find a user or buyer for it, Tapja has his bow and can finally back up his boast about being a great marksman, the ring went to Lady Amelia, too, and, I think, Marko got the second sword, with the clothes, gold, and gems are being held against common, future need. The other thing to mention is someone, Lady Amelia, perhaps, seemed to notice ravens a-gathering in the distance as we worked. I think, though, we should ask Tuomi to allow us to carry his sword, as he uses it so little….

My, so much time has passed ere I have found the time to write again. Who knew so much could happen in so seemingly short a time and that watching and teaching Ogly would be such a responsibility! That seems unfair, to a degree, though; it may be easier when one shares a common language. Perhaps that will be my next task with Ogly! I will learn his language and teach him ours as we take him to the next village and thus to his family, or so we hope.

Well, this would prove easier said than done, and though it is weeks later, we have only a few words and many adventures between us. Though even a score of words is certainly a help, I realize I now get ahead of myself….

So. As we head to the next village, I keep Ogly close – especially as we pass the site of Olin’s demise. Though the lad has suffered trauma aplenty, he seems made of stern stuff. He seems to be resilient, naturally agile, and dexterous. Ogly has picked up a bit of juggling and has learned the meanings of several words, as follow:

Friend
Yes/No/Not
Stay
Quiet
Run
Danger
Hide
Rest

Another day’s journey and we approach a river at the edge of a wood on the eve of the Hunter’s Horn Moon. Alert to the nuances of Nature, I realize that something doesn’t feel right to me so I start to pull Ogly into the woods on the right of the trail. It is then that we all see two rapscallions across the ford, and as I steer us back to the center of the trail, I see two more in woods where I had been planning to hide. As I signal to the others, I look behind and see FIVE more. Marko notes the two that hem us in from the left, and we realize will soon be surrounded. As the plug-uglies across the way yell, shout, and threaten, I shout to Kisa, “Can you do anything with the river?”

Boy, was that a great idea! Kisa took just a moment to gather his magic stuff; instantly we were surrounded by a thick fog. This was just the equalizer we needed! Grabbing Ogly’s hand, I escort him to the left, into the woods, trying to find a scalable tree. You just try to communicate “Climb, and hurry, but do it safely” with the limited vocabulary we had in common. I dare you! There was no way it was going to happen. So, putting his hands over mine, and practically sitting him in my lap, I began to scamper upward…. OK, so it was less a scamper than a slow drag, but Ogly finally got the idea, and began to lever himself up. When we got up above the fogbank I told him to stay, waved to Kianomen, who was just appearing above the mist, and headed down to see about my compatriots. Before I was even covered by the fog, I saw the mage head toward Ogly as heard Lady Amelia whoop with victory, while Aiden and Tapja shouted almost simultaneously “Got ‘im!” Everything was happening at once.

Still, it is a good thing I stopped to listen to my team, for just then I perceived one of the enemy directly below me. Pushing off and trusting to luck, I dropped right on top of him and knocked him out. Several down, many to go. And I can hear one of those, no, make that two, pass quite near. With all the stealth I ever used avoiding my dastardly cousin I made my way to my feet, and tackled the nearest foe. I got him down, only to realize that another was much closer than I had believed; I smelled the oil of a blade as a sword was raised to slice right through me! A fast prayer and promise of a quest for the glory of Mielikki, plus a fair bit of luck, and I managed to tumble to a standing position just as the sword whipped by my ear and cleaved in twain the creature I was pinning.

I heard later that I was not the only one who had such luck; Tapja was presented with one point-blank bowshot, and another where the enemy simply impaled itself forcefully upon a nocked and drawn arrow! As always, Aiden’s fire magic took its toll on those who would harm us, and Lady Amelia was ready both to fight and to sooth any wounds received. As the fog lifted, however, it was to be seen that we had dispatched at least nine of their eleven, though one or two, it seemed, had escaped.

This did not worry us, however; they were but bullies, and with lessened number, what harm would they cause? We, um, oh, what is that phrase? Ahh, yes, “We prepared the bodies for burial,” relieving them of the burden of earthly ties. Tuomi found a black stone necklace on one, uglier than those that all the others wore, adorned with a sharp-toothed, less-than-human cyclops. We also discovered some silver, a few coppers, a long sword, and several clubs.

Finally, I had something with which I could both defend myself and entertain others. I immediately strapped one to each flank, and put the rest in my sack, only to pull them out again when Lady Amelia suggested we check everything for magic. While nothing was ensorcelled, it was a good idea, and a habit into which I must train myself. Though real magic is new to me, it seems it could prove most useful in many situations.

We continued on, making good time, travelling by day and sleeping by dark of night as the new moon approached and passed. Still, we had no idea how far it was to the next village and Ogly’s kin. We had walked a week and still seen no sign; how desperate must old Olin have been to attempt the journey with the old, lame and children of his village – and just recall where it had gotten him! If only he had had faith in our ability to deal with the Island Giant….

It is now Seven November, two days after the moon was new, and ahead of us I see an odd sight (or is that an odd site?), which I share with my fellows: There is an old man, to use the term loosely, sitting beneath a canopy ahead. He looks like a stooped, weathered version of the hoodlums who thought to assault us back at the ford.

We proceed with caution, for the path led directly thither. “I am Gleefung, of the People of the Oak,” he says, “and we have but a short time and much to cover. Come, sit and have some fresh water.” It was then he gestured to the low table in the center of the pavilion, where several cool pitchers, moisture condensing and trickling down the sides, stood among myriad tumblers.

 Posted by at 10:14 am