A fellow just wanted a nice, easy day off. WC:5000
Word List: blade, incendiary, scar, oath, vortex
An Afternoon Romp
Dancing With A Groll
look up from my book at the sound of feet running back and forth under my window. I debate getting up to check it out. I have decided to take the day off and I have enough coin in reserve to let me do so. However, my curiosity got the better of me and I go to the window, open it and immediately hear "murder" being shouted over and over.
"It's my day off. Go bother someone else," I yell out into the street.
"Try that guy on Macunado street," I shout back, close the window, and return to my chair and book. It is a history of the founding of T-town. Dry as dust but there is some interesting bits of information popping up now and then. Just after the founding of Wizards Reach, put it down, and go get lunch.
My door opens on a landing that has two stairways on it. One goes up 9 steps to a door-less,flat wall. I take the other that goes down 9 steps and ends at door. That door opens on the roof of the building I am in. I step out and inhale the lovely fumes and odors of T-town. When the coughing stops, I follow the boards laid out as a walkway on the roof. Straying from the walkway runs the risk of abruptly making new acquaintances. I cross the roof, go through the door on the other side and take the stairs down to Key Road. I stand for a moment catching a feel for the foot traffic on the street. There isn’t any, I must be the only one taking today off.
I turn right and stroll down to the corner, peaking in Frank's Dinner. No one inside, I pass on. The deal with Frank's is you don't want to be the first person in a lunch or Chiza will talk your ear off. I am not in a listening mood today. I cross Birch Place and continue on. Passing Hila's General, I see only a couple of kids inside. Bosha's Hardware is empty. I stop a Topa's House of Noodle Soup. There are a few people at tables waiting patiently. I step into the coolish interior and Juo waves me to a seat in the corner.
"Slow day," I say as Juo sidles up to my table. He is long, lean and a mix between human, elf and troll. Not a pretty face, to be sure but honest looking.
"Murder. Everyone is over at the corner of Key Road and Rockslide Court."
"I am not going to fall for that, today is my day off."
"Day off? What is that?” he deadpans, then asks. “You want the usual?"
A flash of a smile and I am alone with my thoughts again. There are plenty of people to look into whatever is happening. That guy on Macunado, that other guy with the restaurant in the Safety Zone, heck, maybe the watch will get off their butts and look into it.
Juo show up with a large bowl of soup and sets it in front of me. He then drops a spoon on the table. I pull a clean knife from the sheath in my boot and place it next to the spoon. Juo returns with a mug of beer.
I nod my thanks as he leaves. I pick up the utensils and set into my lunch with gusto. I was vaguely aware of people coming and going but I stay focused on the task at hand. 15 minutes later I lean back, bowl mostly empty and nurse my beer while looking out the window.
Two intense cases in a row left me feeling drained. Sorceress from the Hill trying to open a vortex to another dimension, vampires nesting in an abandoned warehouse, escaped loons from Bedsloe, no crazy stone was left unturned in the last 5 weeks. That vortex thing was really scary. I don’t know what she thought was going to come through but what I saw … oh man, that was bad. 2 out of the last 5 nights had that thing in them. I have a wound on my back that is going to leave a scar from one of the escapees from Bedsloe.
I pull myself together, finish my beer, pay up and step outside. The air is no fresher than when I went in. I turn at a familiar sound and see a troop of centaurs marching down the street. They are escorting something. It must be damn dangerous as they all have their blades out. The ones I see are in terrible shape. One blade is missing about 1/3 of it. As they pass I can see that they are escorting a unicorn. Each centaur holds a fine silver chain that is looped about the unicorn. Whomever wanted that must be paying a large, no make that, an enormous fee. It’s amazing and a tribute to this troops prowess but it’s also worrying that someone, undoubtedly, on the Hill needs a live unicorn.
“That’s something, ain’t it,” says a voice to my left, then adds. “A live unicorn! Hey, Taggre, you coming to the meeting tomorrow night?”
I turn to see a dwarf in full regalia: long red beard, lederhosen and a green cap. He is my height but carrying a bit more weight.
“Is is dress up night, Juss?” I ask.
“Ha Ha, you are sooo damn funny,” Juss replies rolling his eyes, then adds. “Some of us have to work for a living.”
“Usual place? Usual time?” I ask reflexively.
“Uh-uh, just like the last 150 years,” he answers before going into the noodle shop I just left.
I spend some time in a local park before heading back to my flat but I am restless. I pace back and forth for a few minutes, before I spy a book on my shelf titled “Ride the Wild Wind” and a thought struck me that I should rent a horse and go out of the city for an afternoon ride. That sounds good, so I grab my cloak, broad-brimmed hat, staff and head out again.
I head for the nearest stable. The fellow there, a giant of a human, rents me a nice pony. She seems polite and reasonably docile. The stable hand said the her name is ‘Darcy’. I’d ridden a bit when I was younger, so the mechanics of it were not new. The pony and I go out the nearest city gate.
Just passing through the gate felt like a heavy load was lifted. The area around the gate is flat, with small farms on either side. About a mile from the gate I reach a crossroads, study the posted signs for a moment but it doesn’t help. I don’t really have a destination in mind. I’ve heard of all the places but have no desire to go that far today. Forward is more flat land with farms. The road going North leads into the foothills and a heavy forest. The road South, which leads to the sea, is rolling hills of good pasture land.
“Well, Darcy, I have no idea which way to go. I just wanted to get out of the city for a bit of fresh air,” I say to my pony.
Her ears twitch and she turns her head to eye me.
“I tell you what, Darcy, how about you choose the direction we go?”
She looked at each road and then starts walking straight ahead. The road is hard packed dirt and is wide enough for two carts to pass without much effort. The small farms on either side are separated by low stone walls. The homes vary from large houses with side barns to some that barely qualify as a shack. Here and there are people working in the fields. No one is near the road so I don’t have to make conversation; I know next to nothing about farming or ranching.
5 or 6 miles later I can see that farther ahead the forest closes in on both sides. The land to either side has been natural with meadows and scatter small copses of trees. To the left, south, the ground starts to become more rolling hills. There is a gnome settlement around here somewhere.
Another couple of miles and I see a well used trail leading off to the south down a gully between the hills. I slow Darcy up a the head of the trail.
“Well, Darcy, should we go visit the gnomes?”
Darcy looks down the trail and snorts, then whinnies and shies away from the trailhead. I look down the trail again and a good size groll steps around a bend. It is at least 18 feet tall with an 8 foot club in one hand and a big bag in the other. The bag looks full. The groll sees Darcy and me, gives out a loud grunt and speeds up.
I snap the reins and give a the pony a kick, saying “To the woods Darcy.”
To her credit she took off at a good gallop heading down the road toward the woods. I heard a loud sound from the direction of the groll but didn’t look back. We reach the edge of the forest a few minutes later and keep going. We round a bend in the road blocking the view behind and find a 25 yards ahead two troll-breeds standing in the road.
“Aim between them, girl, and just keep going,” I whisper.
I lean down and hug the saddle as we get close. They seem slow realize that we aren’t stopping. We knocked them apart when we passed between them. I hazard a look back, they’d turned to watch us go and the groll was just coming around the bend. I look forward and see, about 10 yards in front of us, an opening in the brush between the trees on the right. I guide Darcy on to that trail.
Once in the woods I rein her to a stop in a small clearing, dismount, pull off the water bag and pour some into my hat for her to drink. She was breathing pretty hard, probably the only real exercise she’s had in a while. She stops drinking and sets about nibbling the grass in the clearing.
I take a pull from the water bag and put it back on the saddle, then remove my cloak. It’s been a while since I’ve had to sneak through a forest but I am pretty sure I can. I lean my staff against a tree and start back through the forest towards where the breeds were standing. As I get closer I start hearing grunts, groans and cursing.
I peek out between two trees and see the groll swing that club at on then the other troll-breeds. They are swing swords, short ones, at it. Neither looks like they know much about sword fighting. They are in for a time of it as grolls are ridiculously hard to kill or, hurt for that matter. I look down the road for the bag and spy it about 20 yards back.
I see something move inside of it. I get back on the game trail I was on and take it to where the bag is. I run out and throw myself down behind it.
“Will you guys be able to walk when I get this open?” I ask as I use my knife to cut at the stitches along a seam.
“Yes,” a female voice answers then adds. “Thank the maker you’ve come.” The seam I can get to from this side of the bag is only half a hand off the ground so it is difficult work. Eventually I get a big enough opening to pass a knife through. They start working on the seam from the inside while I continue from the outside. I take a short break, pull my hat off and peer over the bag. They are still fighting and as luck would have it they are moving farther away from the bag. I return to working the seam from the outside.
It is several intense minutes before the opening is big enough for the gnomes to start squeezing out. As they do I wave them to the forest. The first 5 are children, they are followed by 3 women and two men. The last is on his way when the groll glances over it’s shoulder.
I am standing near the bag, there is a trail of gnomes limping into the forest and an angry groll running towards me. I pull a glass vial out of my belt pouch and charge at the groll yelling. Just as we close to within 4 yards of each other, I throw the vial at it and veered off to the left side of the road. The vial is an incendiary potion, that breaks on contact and sets whatever it hits on fire. Unless the groll is wearing particularly flammable clothing it will be mostly an annoyance.
I don’t bother looking back as I scramble through the brush. I find a game trail paralleling the road, turn on it to the right and move as fast as I can. I make about 15 yards before I hear the groll crashing through the brush behind me.
Ahead of me I see the two breeds, hobbling in the same direction. One looks back, sees me and hears the groll. They speed up but I blow past them. 15 yards later I trip over a root and take a hard tumble.
I lay there only for a moment, get up, see a game trail heading back toward the road and take it. It is too small for me to run upright so I drop to all fours and scurry as fast as I can under the brush. I hear the breeds curse as they limp past where I left the trail.
“Where’d that lil dwarf go?”
“Dunno but we gotta do something else, there’s that big clearin’ just ahead. If we get there that groll will catch us for sure,” one says, pauses, then adds. “I dunno about you but I can’t go another round with that guy.”
“There is that game trail about 5 yards, lets take that.”
That is the last I hear as I pop out on to the roadside. I waste no time running to the trail that leads to Darcy. When I get to the clearing she is still there munching grass. I get my staff, hat, cloak and grab her reins. I turn to take her down the trail that parallels the road and happen to glance out to the road. The groll bursts through the brush on the other side and on to the road. It looks around and starts shouting and pounding the road with it’s club. We freeze. We wait until it has moved away from a direct line of sight to us before we start down the trail.
We kept on the trail even as it veers away from the road until we find the gnomes. They are sitting in a clearing trying to mend themselves. The children seem to be able to walk but one of the men and two of the women are not going to make the hike back on their own.
“How can I help?” I offer when I reach them.
“Ah, lad, you’ve done a lot already,” the older gnome says then adds. “We shouldn’t be asking any more from you. You put yourself in jeopardy for strangers.”
“How long before dark?” I ask, ignoring his reply.
“Oh, we’ve got quite enough time to get back to our village, what’s left of it, if we are all healthy but …” his voice trails of as he looks over his companions.
“How about we put the three adults in the most serious condition and the smallest children on Darcy here?”
He looks at me for a moment then says, “That’d work. I don’t know how to thank you.”
We get them loaded up and start down the trail. The game trail we were on wandered a bit but doesn’t get far from the road. Eventually we run out of forest and are going to have to risk going out into the open. I couldn’t hear the groll any more but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t out there looking to squash a dwarf or resnatch some gnomes. Although he’d need a new bag for that.
We are screened from the road by about 10 feet of brush.
“I’ll go and see if the groll is still about,” one of the female gnomes says.
“You be careful and use all your skill, Chenana,” the ambulatory male replies.
I think about arguing but she much smaller than me and gnomes can be pretty stealthy when they need to. Not to mention I am carrying one of the children who passed out and couldn’t fit on the saddle. It is a tense few minutes while we wait for her return.
“What are you called, dwarf?” the ambulatory male aks.
“Taggre. And yours?”
“I am Holdano te Chism,” he says, pauses and asks. “Just Taggre? Not Taggre the Breaker? Or Taggre the Hammer?”
I sigh and tell him, “No, it’s Taggre dan Polark. I … I wasn’t raised in a traditional dwarf community.”
“I’ve met a dan Polark,” Holdano says, pauses looking at me with genuine curiosity then says. “His name was Rannre dan Polark.”
“Ah. Cousin Rannre. I hope you kicked that sneaky thief’s ass.” I reply. I have a bit of history with Rannre. We grew up together. There were a couple of times where he almost got the whole clan, such as it was, kicked out of town. He left after the last mess he’d created. I was hoping he’d gotten eaten by unicorns or their dogs.
“No, we didn’t. We gave him hospitality and he repaid it by trying to steal what little silver we’d accumulated.”
“That sounds like him. I hope he wasn’t successful.”
“No, he weren’t. We kicked him out when we caught him.”
“I apologize on behalf of all the, non-Rannre, dan Polarks. If you encounter him again feel free to beat him to a pulp and leave him out for the dire wolves.”
Holdano nods, smiles and says, “Understand, every family gets a bad’un now and then.”
“All clear,” Chenana says.
I thought I was paying attention but the sound of her voice made me jump a foot in the air. Like I said, gnomes can be pretty sneaky when they want to.
“As far as I could see the road is empty,” Chenana adds looking at me. When I look back she blushes and looks down.
She is a comely woman with big, dark eyes and a slim figure. My thoughts wander to an inappropriate place before I can pull them back to the task at hand.
“We should probably risk it,” I say.
One by one the gnomes nod in agreement. We set out into the open with Chenana in front followed by the other woman, the walking children, me and Darcy, and Holdano guarding our rear. I have to say it is an intense walk trying to watch all directions, and come up with a plan for an attack. We made it to the gully with the trail to the gnome village without incident and then to the ruined gnome village. They’d had a palisade around the entrances to their burrows but that was in tatters. The few above-ground buildings were flattened. There were about two dozen gnomes out and about when we rounded the bend that hid the village from the road.
Our return caused a lot of excitement. Once they calmed down, we start moving the wounded into a burrow. A tiny woman that only came to my chest, Lenana, guides me as I carry the sleeping child.
“This is the one for that child. I am very happy to that you were there to help us, Sir Dwarf,” she says in a lilting accent. Hers is much stronger than Chenana or Holdano. The doorway is tall enough that I only have to duck my head to walk-in. Once past the door the burrow widens out but doesn’t get much taller, my head is brushing the ceiling. It makes me feel like a giant.
“I wish I’d been better equipped to handle a groll.”
“And what would that have been?” she asks, eyeing me as I lay the child on a cot.
“I dunno, an army, maybe,” I reply. I can’t think off the top of my head anything that would work.
She laughs and we go back out. I am standing by Darcy when I am approached by a tall, skinny gnome. Chenana is a few paces behind.
“I am Byleno te Chism, the chief of the Chism clan,” he says.
“I am Taggre dan Polark,” I say and see his eyes narrow. I add, “I have heard of your run in with my cousin Rannre. As I said to Holdano, he was nothing but trouble to us and I apologize on behalf of the clan for all he tried to do.”
He nods and says, “It is going to take us a while to rebuild here but we feel that you have done us a great service with great risk to yourself. We can not let this go rewarded. Any boon we can offer is yours, what would you have of us?”
I am a little startled by the question. After all, I really only ran away from the groll. It’s not like I faced it down mano-a-mano in the road.
“I ask no more a boon than friendship,” I reply then glance at Chenana and blurt out. “And permission to return to visit.”
He eyes me for a moment then says, “Fair enough, fair enough.” He glances over his shoulder and a devious smile comes across his face. He turns to the gnomes assembled behind him and says, “Let it be known that Sir Taggre dan Polark is a known friend of the clan Chism. It is our duty to assist Sir Taggre in any way we can.”
They all replied in one of the gnomish tongues, of which I don’t speak any. I imagine it was something like ‘OK’, ‘Amen’ or ‘Seriously, this guy?”
The party broke up, a few came up and thanked me personally and wished me well. Holdano was the last, he is smoking a pipe. He was tall (for a gnome), had cleaned up, and changed clothes.
“I know I owe you my life, Taggre. I also know you are more than a bit modest and, perhaps, overwhelmed by our reaction to your deeds. You are a brave soul and you have my personal gratitude for your acts on my behalf.”
He is right, I am a little overwhelmed by this and the thought that I deserve this is starting to creep into my head. I can only nod.
“I know I’ve no right to ask this of you but I have a request, if you’ll hear it.”
I am feeling a little apprehensive at this point. If he wants me to hunt down that groll, I am definitely getting on Darcy and getting out of here as fast as we can. Screw their opinion of my courage. I saw those two breeds and I am not that strong or good with my staff.
“I’ll hear it.”
“My niece, Chenana, would like to go to the city and see her cousins. I would ask that you escort her there when you return to the city.”
Relief washes over me. Escort a young woman to T-town, where I am already going? No problem.
“Yes, I can get her safely there, if we leave soon.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that, I am afraid. We require an oath as her protector. It’s a very short ceremony.”
“OK,” I say, having no idea what I am doing.
Two people step up carrying a pedestal, followed by another carrying a large bowl. Byleno steps up with a goblet and a pitcher. I am starting to regret my answer.
“Taggre dan Polark, you have agreed to be guardian of Chenana te Chism. As her protector and guardian you are required to look after her welfare, protect and guide her until she reaches her majority.”
Oh boy, what have I set myself up for?
He fills the goblet with some dark fluid that looks like wine and Chenana steps up to my side. Suddenly I feel like I am getting married!
“Chenana te Chism, you will allow Taggre dan Polark protect and guide you until you reach your majority.”
She sticks her right hand out over the pitcher. I follow suit. He places my hand on top of hers and pours some of the wine over them.
“Do you take on this responsibility?” He asks us both.
“Yes,” we reply in unison.
“Well that’s that then,” he says with a smile and offers me the goblet.
I take a drink. It’s good wine. I should have asked for a couple jugs of that.
“That is good wine.”
A woman offers us soap and water to clean our hands then Chenana heads off into a burrow. She returns in a remarkably short time with a travel bag in one hand and a small pouch in the other. I take the travel bag and tie it to the back of the saddle. I mount up, reach a hand down and help her mount behind me. The saddle seat is deep enough for both of us to ride comfortably.
We bid the village and her family good-bye and head out the trail to the road. The sun is about an hour from setting when we get fully back on the road. It looks all clear and in fact there is a wagon being pulled by two huge draft horses on the road a few yards ahead of us. The back is full of produce.
Darcy seems eager to get home so I let her go at a pace she wants. We pull up to the wagon and I see the bed is full of watermelons. When we get to the driver’s bench there is a heavy-set human woman and a small male troll. By small, I mean, he is only about 7 feet tall.
“Hello,” I say then ask. “This is a bit late for market isn’t it?”
“Yeah. We had a problem with an angry groll a ways back,” she says glancing at me, then continues. “Shusta here, had to put two crossbow bolts in it to discourage it from attacking. Didn’t kill it but it left us alone.”
“Ah, I think I met that particular groll,” I reply then relate the events from earlier.
“Hah. Good on you. Those things should get back into the mountains where they belong,” she says with a laugh then continues. “That does explain it being all mad.”
I nodded, bid them a good luck and good-bye. Darcy picked up the pace again and within a few minutes we pass the crossroads and in a matter of minutes we are at the end of the line to get in to the City. I feel Chenana squirming at my back.
“Do you want to get down for a bit?” I ask her.
“No. Yes. No,” she whispers back to me, then adds, still in a whisper. “There are centaurs behind us!”
I twist around and look.
“Hello, Dag. Out hunting?” I ask the first in the troop of about 12. I knew him from our pottery class.
“Tag, didn’t notice you,” the centaur replies moving up to us. He still has to look down at me, even though I am on a pony.
“Yeah, we were looking for a groll that has been harassing and ‘napping people. No luck on finding that groll but we did run ran into a small herd of mammoths and huge one of aurocks. I’ll drop some steaks by once we’ve settled.”
“Thanks! You went the wrong way. He is straight back from here. Caught him with a bag of gnomes.”
“How many died?” he asks me quietly.
“None. I managed to free them. They were a little banged up but they all should live.”
He stares at me, shakes his head and says, “Tag you never cease to amaze me. We go hunting a groll and waste a day, you go, casually find one, free some people without a scratch!”
“To be honest all I did was run away from it.”
“That is what we do. We get it attention then make it chase us until it’s exhausted then we throw javelins, spears and arrows at it until it dies. Only a loon, another groll or a giant goes up against one head on.”
We’d reached the gate, I bid Dag farewell and passed through. The guards didn’t even ask me anything just waved me on. I headed straight for the stables. Once there I helped Chenana down and helped the stable hand strip off the saddle. Darcy nudged me and I patted her face.
“Maybe we’ll do this again sometime,” I tell her.
She looks a little alarmed until I add, “Without the groll.”
“Groll?!?!” the big stablehand asks.
I related the days events to him.
“You are lucky. Very lucky. Me and few guys faced one once. We managed to escape with our lives when it fell into a ravine.”
I give him the rest of the fee and we say our good-bye. Once outside my stomach rumbles. I turn to Chenana and ask, “Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” she answers while trying to look everywhere at once.
“Lets get some supper then see about finding your relatives.”