Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Dangerous Time, Part Two

Blacktooth's test – Strange rites and portable wealth – They plan a betrayal – An alliance and a sacrifice – Battle is joined – Shopping

There's one truth a reaver knows above all, especially a lord of reavers, and that is to trust no man outside a shield-length, and even then only when bound by the ties of spilled blood or broken promises. And so Rooki Blacktooth made it known that the new-enlisted adventurers must needs prove their loyalty to him. He plotted to raid the south shore, a freehold called Aski where, in a sea-front shrine, it's said was sepulchred the enchanted Narhorn and other treasures besides. All this Rooki Blacktooth wanted. The adventurers would bring him gold and magic, or perish.

Under cloak of fog then, the longship paused to loose the adventurers down-coast of the sea-shrine. Prodded on by a compliment of Rooki's bearded, sea-born fighters, they crept up under the cliffs to the holy place, a cave cut into the black stone. A flickering glow radiated from its mouth. The reavers held back and snickered and pushed the adventurers onwards with the butts of their waraxes.

So alone the ursar and the therapist entered and soon, with all stealth, they gathered that strange rites were there afoot: within in the lamplight an armoured warrioress lay bleeding on a stone slab while a priest in cassock muttered over her. Creeping past this scene to adjoining chambers they found provisions, heaps of tiny model ships, a gleaming head-high statue of a wolfhound and a fine sword inscribed “Tooth-breaker” among other sundries, waterpots and salt fish. All was displayed without care, perhaps old offerings. The pair wasted no time in bagging some of the portable wealth while they determined to doublecross the reavers. They were less sure about the occupants of the shrine, however: should they kill them or seek their help? While they deliberated, the priest and the bleeding subject of his attentions rose and then shakily descended a hole leading deeper into the earth. The adventurers followed at a distance, keeping out of sight.

Deep in a chamber washed with the sea, they found the priest and warrior by the side of a fishhead altar. The armoured maiden knelt while the priest bared a dagger. “Oh, Great Nakki,” said he, “accept this sacrifice and grant us your protection!” At this the interlopers stood. To the startled worshippers they hastened to beg succour and explain their situation: a longship full of reavers was pursuing them and meant to pillage the shrine and the freehold of Aski as well, they said; their best interests lay in alliance. The priest quailed at this news but the warrior was undaunted: she demanded they conclude the rite, appease the Great Nakki and, with the god's help, repel the invaders. The adventurers gave their assent, and the priest quickly drew his knife across the warrior's throat and she fell over the altar.

If the adventurers were disturbed they did not show it. With Bui, the holy man, they climbed from the chamber back to the shrine above and prepared their ambush, dousing the whale oil lamps and pouring the combustible fuel on the floor inside the threshold. Then they called out of the cave to the reavers.

The wave-born killers were no fools and they came in armed – but they fell for the trap all the same. Lit with a thrown torch the whale-oil burst to flame and two of the reavers fell shrieking and writhing. Then the clash of weapons rang out. Pilsner took a reaver's charge and a great axe-slash across the face but as his assailant scrambled over him and hefted his weapon for the killing blow, a thick, purplish tentacle quested from pit. It wrapped itself around the man's ankle, whipped him off balance and into the dark hole. At this the ursar's foe turned to flee but not fast enough. Tooth-breaker found its mark between the reaver's shoulder-blades and the man fell dead. The fight was over, and the only urgent sound was the grunting of the priest on all fours, licking the trail of slime the Great Nakki's tentacle had left behind on the worn stone.

Recovering themselves and stripping the bodies of valuables (they found a lustrous gold ring woven into one of the reaver's beards) the adventurers hastened up the narrow cliff-path to warn the freeholders of Rooki Blacktooth’s dark intentions. On Bui's advice they carried Tooth-breaker as sign of their good faith. They laid the sword before the Jarl of Aski who heard their counsel warily, but called for his warriors to arm themselves. These preparations proved needless, however, for as the fog lifted the dim sun brought the sight of the reavers' longship scudding towards the horizon in retreat.

It was time to relax, to shop for crossbows and the tanned eelskins that the men of Aski filled with whale-oil and employed as dangerous incendiaries. The ursar found an absurdly good price for a chainmail suit and paid it. Meanwhile, a delegation of Aski's apiarists announced they meant to leave within the week to trade their pale honey for the blue wood and silver of the people of Castle Brakken to the west. Swords would be welcome on the trip. There would be plenty of danger on the way.