Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Wolf Pack Tomb


The Wolves continued their search after the disappearance of the Guardians. They were all subdued. They found it difficult to believe that Sillaran had created the undead warriors. The whole idea was anathema to them, as it would be to most right thinking people at that time.

‘I can’t believe Sillaran were evil,’ Thadora mused. ‘All th’ stories  ’bout ’im an’ Sauvern said ’ow good they was.’

‘Maybe thinking was different then,’ Carthinal replied.

Asphodel then spoke in a quiet, thoughtful voice. ‘Sometimes, good people do evil things, and sometimes evil people do good things. Equally, good can sometimes masquerade as evil just as evil often masquerades as good. I think this is what is happening here, evil being used to further the cause of good, just as at the temple in Hambara, good is being used for evil purposes.’

The others did not fully understand what she was getting at, but all of them decided to keep it to think about later.

Soon they came to a clearing in the wood. In the centre of the clearing were three grassy mounds. There were two smaller ones, with a larger one in the centre. Each of the smaller ones was about seven feet high in the centre, and circular. They estimated that they were about forty feet in diameter. The centre mound was much larger. It was twelve feet high and fifty feet in width, but instead of being round, it was about one hundred feet long as far as they could estimate. They walked all round the three mounds to see if they could find an entrance to any of them, to no avail.

‘Well, what now? We’ve not got the tools to dig our way in,’ said Carthinal, sitting down on a fallen log and scratching his head.

‘There must be a way in somewhere. According to the prophesies the Sword would be needed again,’ said Basalt. ‘I can’t believe that Sillaran would not put a door or at least some easy way in since he obviously knew of the prophecies.’

‘That would make it too easy for tomb robbers, in spite of the Guardians,’ put in Asphodel, sinking down beside Carthinal.

The half elf jumped up, startling her. ‘That’s it!’ he exclaimed. ‘A door, but hidden or disguised.’ He hit his head with the heel of his hand in exasperation. ‘I should have thought of that straight away. Come on Asphodel,’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘We’re going secret door hunting.’

The others looked at them.

‘We c,n all ’elp, right?’ said Thadora. ‘I know elvenkind ’ave much better sight, an’ an almost uncanny feelin’ f’r these things, but even you c’n miss things sometimes. We might just find somethin’ you didn’t notice.’

So eventually, Wolf found three hidden doors. They were cleverly disguised with soil and vegetation, but they were there. They decided to search the largest tomb first, as it was the most obvious one to hold the body of a king. They scraped the soil away to reveal a wooden door.

‘Don’t open th’ door yet, let me check ter make sure there’s no soddin’ traps on it,’ said Thadora. ‘It’d be a pity if we got bleedin’ killed just opening th’ door.’ She examined the door and lock carefully and then declared it safe. ‘But there’re traps I’ve not seen before, an’ this is very old, so there’s p’rhaps traps folk ’ave forgotten, so we should still be careful,’ she added cautiously.

Fero volunteered to open the door. He approached it with caution, and standing to one side, he flipped the door open with his sword. The group stood for a few minutes, and then they cautiously entered the large tomb.

All drew weapons instinctively as they passed through the door. Once they were inside, they realised they needed some light. Thadora slipped out and gathered some dead branches from among the trees and returned for Carthinal to light them with his useful little cantrip. It took a while for one of the branches to begin to burn, but eventually they had some light. A passage stretched out before them. On each side and at the end were doors. They opened the door on the left, having first had Thadora check there were no traps. This she did and then Fero opened it in the same manner as he had opened the main door. When they peered in, they saw a coffin. In one corner were some weapons and armour. There was a shield, chain mail and helmet, also a sword in its scabbard and a crossbow and bolts. They walked over to the coffin. On it was inscribed the words,

Faithful beyond death.”

‘One of the guardians I suppose,’ whispered Kimi. If she had been asked, she would not have been able to say why she whispered, but it seemed wrong to break the silence of this place.

They pressed on and entered the door on the right. There, they found similar weapons and armour, and a coffin bearing the same words, but the name of Lanroc. Another of the guardians it seemed.
Full of anticipation, they went to the final door. It opened readily, and there was a third coffin and armour and weapons, but instead of crossbow and bolts, they found a longbow and arrows. They cautiously and reverently approached the coffin, certain that here was Sauvern, the great King. How great was their disappointment when they saw another inscription to a Guardian. This one read,

Captain and Friend
He was loyal enough to guard his king
even beyond the grave.
He went to his fate willingly and with joy.”

‘It look like only Guardians here,’ said Davrael. ‘Sillaron want hide body, he put in one of smaller tombs maybe?’

‘Suppose ’e were so keen ter ’ide it ’e put a bloody false inscription on th’ coffin?’ Thadora responded.

‘No,’ replied Fero, ‘I don’t think he’d do that. Remember there were prophecies about the Sword being needed again.’

‘I think Fero’s right,’ Carthinal said decisively. ‘Let’s go search the other tombs.’

So they went through the same procedure again. Again they had the same results. One of the smaller tombs held five coffins and the other four. The only difference was a hand written, very faded inscription on one saying,

“Stranger. if you have got this far, you are the prophesied ones
and our task is finished.
We no longer need our armour or weapons.
Take whatever you need with our blessing
Bry, the youngest guardian.”

There were a number of arrows that they decided would be very useful and Fero and Randa examined some longbows that they stated were very well made. These they appropriated in place of their own. It felt wrong doing so, but in view of the inscription they felt they were permitted. The crossbow mechanisms had corroded and they were useless, so they only took bolts for Bas’s cross bow. The rest of the weapons and armour were rusty and useless.

After Asphodel had said a prayer over the remains of the guardians, as they all felt right and proper now they were truly at rest, they left the tombs.

Once outside, the little company sat down on the grass to discuss their next move.

‘This just ’as ter be th’ right place, right?’ sighed Thadora. ‘Lake, Guardians, tombs, even a nymph, but where’s the main soddin’ tomb? Sillaron ’as ’ idden it a little too well if yer ask me. I c’n see no sign of any other burial mounds.’

They sat for a time in silence, each trying to puzzle out the mystery. Then Carthinal got to his feet and pulled Asphodel to hers. ‘Secret doors and hidden passages again. Sillaron hid his journal in a secret room, the doors to the tombs were hidden and so he probably did the same here with Sauvern’s body. Come on Asphodel. Elf blood is the best for seeing secret doors. Let’s go look,’ and with that, he strode back towards the middle tomb.

‘I’ll come too,’ called Thadora, ‘It’s an occupational requirement of thieves. Findin’ ’idden things, that is.’

‘And me,’ said Basalt. ‘We dwarves know stones and can sometimes spot things, especially in stonework.’

Eventually, all eight went to look once again, but it was Basalt who noticed the slight gap in the slabs on the floor, and the hollow sound his feet made as he walked over it. The gap was so small that it was barely discernible. Even Carthinal and Asphodel with their superior eyesight had not noticed it. It was just in front of the coffin in the furthest room. Asphodel quickly found the lever that opened it and when she pressed it, there was a grinding noise and the floor opened. One of the slabs tilted until it was at an angle, and fitted into a slope leading downwards. Stale air wafted up from below.

‘We’d better give it some minutes to clear that air and for it to be replaced by some fresh stuff or we could just about suffocate,’ the dwarf advised.

‘Then let’s go eat while that’s ’appenin’,’ Thadora suggested as her tummy rumbled. ‘I’m so bloody well starvin’, I don’t know about the rest of you.’

Everyone thought this a good idea, so they exited the tomb once more.

    A half-hour later they passed through the now familiar passage and stood at the top of the slope. Fero drew his sword. ‘I’ll go first,’ he stated. ‘I can be quiet and stealthy.’

‘I’ll come too,’ This was Thadora. ‘I’ll check there’s no more traps, see. I c’n be quiet and stealthy too, Fero,’ she said to the ranger who looked as though he was about to stop her ‘I know, Red Cub,’ he replied, ‘But it maybe dangerous. We’ve no idea what’s down there.’

‘Poof! Th’ ’ole mission’s bleedin’ dangerous, and what if you stumble across a trap unknowing and get bloody well frazzled?’

So the two went quietly ahead. Halfway down they stopped and beckoned to the others that it was safe, and they followed, weapons at the ready. They continued in this mode, Thadora and Fero going ahead and making sure all was well and the others following, until they reached the bottom. Here the slope levelled out and they found themselves on the banks of an underground river. The surface steamed gently, like a pot on the coals, giving the air a misty and mysterious air.

‘This must be the river that feeds the lake,’ whispered Fero.

They continued along the banks of the river until they saw the wall ahead drop down to only a few inches above the water. The river rushed out from under the wall at such a rate as to make it impossible for anyone to attempt to go through to any caverns that may exist beyond. It seemed they had come to another full stop. They peered around them.

‘Do you think the river has risen since the tombs were made?’ asked Kimi. ‘If so, it seems we are truly stuck, unless we swim through the water, on the off-chance that it comes out.’

‘No way!’ exclaimed Basalt, with feeling. ‘I’ll climb mountains and get nearly frozen to death in the snow, pass through lava tubes of a volcano, obviously only dormant, even face undead warriors, but never, never will I voluntarily attempt to drown myself in an underground river on the off-chance that I’ll find air before I die.’ He folded his arms over his chest and planted his feet firmly on the ground as though he expected them to drag him into the water at any minute.

Then Thadora called out, ‘We may not ’ave to, silly bugger. I c’n see a dark patch up there, which is p’raps an entrance ter another passage.’ She turned to Carthinal. ‘’Old up th’ torch so I c’n see better.’
It was still inconclusive, so Thadora volunteered to climb up to see.

‘Be careful, Red Cub. That wall looks difficult,’ warned Carthinal.

‘Oh, th’ climb’s easy enough,’ she scoffed. ‘Plenty o’ ’and and foot ’olds. Much easier than scalin’ th’ wall of a bleedin’ ’ouse.’

The others looked a little uneasy at the reminder of her profession, but Thadora was oblivious to this, as she was already part way up the wall. 

The climb was about fifteen feet. Once there, Thadora disappeared, and then her face reappeared and she waved and called down that there was another passage, as she had thought, going off at an angle of about twenty degrees from the direction of the current passage. This made it just to the south of west, and probably into the hill behind the tombs.

The others were too busy watching Thadora to notice the river until it was nearly too late. There was a sudden sound, and a large shape rose up from the centre of the water. It was a warty creature with large bulbous eyes and a formidable mouth, which it opened and flashed out a long tongue like a frog or toad. Asphodel just noticed it in time to throw herself onto the ground and roll off to one side, or she would certainly have been caught. The creature withdrew its tongue, and readied itself for another try.

Davrael and Kimi notched arrows to their short bows and let fly, but the arrows skidded off the thick skin of the creature. And a bolt from Basalt’s crossbow followed their arrows. To their surprise, Fero and Basalt’s shots stuck.

‘Well, I’ll be a hobgoblin’s breakfast!’ exclaimed Bas. ‘These arrows and bolts are truly good.’

Davrael and Kimi found their arrows were no use at all against the monster. Carthinal sent a couple of his small energy bolts against it, and they managed to do some further damage. The creature roared in pain, but readied itself for another attack. This time, it aimed for Fero, whom it obviously saw as one of its main tormentors. Fero had to take evasive action then and missed his shot, but the tongue also missed him by a hair’s breadth. Carthinal used the staff to fire off the silvery bolts of energy, and to his surprise it released six of them. Then, as the monster shot its tongue out again, this time at Carthinal, a knife came flying over their heads, turning in the air to embed itself firmly in the toad-like creature’s eye. With another roar, it slipped beneath the surface of the water, which turned a pinkish colour.

From above, they heard an expletive. ‘Shit! That were a good throwin’ knife wasted,’ Thadora called as she scrambled down the wall. ‘I ’ope your ass is worth a good knife, mage.’

‘What, in all seven hells was that thing?’ said Davrael, leaning against the rough wall of the cavern and breathing hard, ‘And what it do in here? If no us, what it eat?’

He looked surprised as the others laughed.

‘Your Grosmerian is improving, Davrael,’ pointed out Fero, ‘If you are now beginning to swear in the language.’

‘I learn from best,’ he replied, smiling. ‘I listen Red Cub there and learn. But I not like that thing in water.’

‘“That Thing,” Davrael, may have come in as a youngster. Maybe it has a tadpole stage, like true frogs and toads,’ Randa said thoughtfully. ‘As to what it eats, who knows? Fish can probably swim in here from outside, and maybe the odd aquatic mammal. Maybe there are fish living in these caves. I’ve heard of such things. They are white and have no eyes, as it’s so dark that eyes would be useless. There may even be another exit from the tunnel Thadora’s found and things come in and fall down here.’

‘Have you seen that thing in your father’s books, Randa?’ Kimi enquired of the other girl. 

‘No, Kimi, never. I’ve no more idea than you as to what it was. I just hope it has no friends around.’

At that thought, they all turned once more to the river, but there were no further signs of life.

‘Well so much for the idea of going down the river then. Good job we didn’t decide to do that. I’ll go with Thadora’s idea any day,’ said Basalt.

They laughed. 

‘You wouldn’t want to go up the river if there was nothing worse than a friendly otter,’ teased Fero, his black eyes twinkling in the light from the torch he was carrying.

Bas replied with a ‘Humph!’

Thadora had by now come down the wall. ‘Well,’ she exclaimed, ‘I suppose th’ wall an’ that passage’re th’ only way forrad, so up we go.’

Davrael groaned. ‘I’m not sure I can do it, Mouse,’ he whispered to Kimi in their own language. ‘I did not know I had this height thing.’

‘Are you a warrior and a horselord, or just some kind of wimp,’ she replied, also in the language of the horselords. ‘The only way to overcome your fear is to face it, as you said to Carthinal. So face it warrior.’

Thadora had taken the rope from Fero and was climbing nimbly up the wall again. She reached the top, tied the rope onto a natural rock pillar and let the end snake down over the lip of the opening.

‘Use th’ rope ter ’elp you climb,’ she called down.

Fero was the first one up, and he climbed well, scarcely using the rope to help him. After him came Randa and Asphodel, followed by Basalt.

Carthinal turned to Davrael. ‘Warrior,’ he said, using the formal form of address used in the Tribes, ‘You helped me when I was in need of support. Now I will return your words to you. Face your fear. Decide why it frightens you. What is the worst thing that can happen?’

‘I fear feeling I made to jump. I fear I give in to it. I fear I fall, or jump, I not die, but be maimed for all my life. Cripples in Tribes considered dead. They no use to our society,’ then in almost a whisper he said, ‘Women whose husbands crippled be free to remarry as they widows.’ He looked at Kimi, pleading in his brown eyes.

She put her arms round him. ‘We’re not on the plains now, Davrael. Those rules don’t apply here. And they’d never apply to us. I’ll love you whatever you are, and wherever you are.’

‘Come on, you three. We’ve a Sword to find,’ Thadora’s voice came from above and a curly red head poked out over the cliff face.

Davrael took a deep breath and stepped to the rope. He grasped the end and began to laboriously climb up, keeping his eyes always on the silhouetted figure of Thadora above him, who, realising that her face was helping, remained peering down at Davrael. He stopped once, half way up, and the others thought he was going to freeze as he had on the bridge, but then he continued to climb, and eventually made it to the lip of the opening and hauled himself over. He lay on the rocky edge for a few minutes, and then rolled away and sat up, breathing heavily, with sweat beading his forehead. Thadora, in her demonstrative way, hugged him and praised his bravery. Then Kimi climbed up followed by Carthinal and they were all in the upper passage.

Once they had all gathered their breath, and Davrael had once more regained his equilibrium, they set off along the tunnel that opened before them. It was very dark, but dry. Fero and Thadora walked in front, Thadora keeping an eye out for anything that may resemble a trap. Behind them came Basalt and Asphodel followed by Randa and Carthinal. Davrael and Kimi brought up the rear, keeping a check behind in case they were followed by anything. They could not see very far ahead, even with the makeshift torches they carried with them, and so had no idea how long the tunnel was. Thus they very nearly stumbled on the monster before they saw it. It was a large caterpillar-like creature, white in colour, with many tentacles around its mouth. As soon as it saw them, it reared up on its hindmost most legs, like some caterpillars do, in preparation for a strike. Fortunately, Fero and Thadora saw it and shouted for the Wolf pack to halt.

‘Carrion Crawler,’ Randa whispered to Carthinal. Then she called to those in front. ‘Keep away from the tentacles. They have a poison that will paralyse.’

Carthinal seized the mana, and the now familiar silvery missiles shot from his fingers to hit the creature just beneath its raised head. At the same time, Davrael and Kimi released their arrows. Kimi’s hit, but Davrael missed. Fero and Thadora were scrambling backwards out of the way of the head, which was now descending towards them, and Basalt and Asphodel were also moving backwards. Unfortunately, Thadora tripped on a slight hollow in the floor of the tunnel and fell directly under the creature’s head. The tentacles struck. By this time, Fero had reached a safe distance and let off a shot, along with a bolt from Basalt’s cross bow and a stone from Asphodel’s sling. All three missiles hit. The final arrows from Davrael and Kimi, along with one from Randa dispatched the creature.

Fero rushed towards Thadora. ‘Come on, Red Cub,’ he said, ‘You’re all right. The thing’s dead now.’
Thadora made no response, just lay motionless on the ground. Asphodel pushed Fero out of the way. She knelt down on the ground beside Thadora and gently felt her pulse and checked her breathing.

Then she felt all over her for wounds. ‘Bring a light here, someone,’ she commanded.

In the light of the lamp she looked for any signs of wounds, but found none except for a rash of reddish pinpricks on Thadora’s neck where the tentacles had hit the young thief.

‘She’s alive, at any rate,’ Asphodel told the others. ‘Her breathing and pulse are steady, and I can see no wounds except for these marks where she was hit. The poison is fast acting though. She went down immediately. Randa, do you know about how venomous the poison is?’

‘I’m sorry, Asphodel,’ replied the girl, ‘I can’t remember what the book said. As I told you, I used to browse the books as a child. I wasn’t looking for practical information, so I didn’t take much notice of details.’

‘I don’t think it will be fatal to creatures the size of humans, elves and dwarves,’ Asphodel went on. ‘If it were, then I suspect Thadora’s vital signs would be less strong, and showing signs of fading. I think she’s just temporarily paralysed.' At least I hope so. she thought.

It was just as Asphodel said. After five minutes or so, Thadora’s eyes moved and looked around the Wolves, gathered around her, then slowly she regained her movement.

When she could speak, she said, ‘It’s kinda cool that you’re all so worried ’bout me. Thanks. No body ’cept Mam ever seemed bothered afore.’ Then she sat up carefully. ‘Me neck’s bloody sore though,’ she told them.

 Asphodel tried a healing, praying to Sylissa for ease for Thadora’s pain, and Thadora said she felt a little better. Some of the stinging had passed away. She was still a little groggy on her feet, but expressed her view that she could carry on.

So they continued down the tunnel, but at a slower rate and with frequent stops to look and listen and they met no further denizens of the underground. Then the tunnel did a sharp left turn. They could see that, a dozen or so feet ahead, it ended, not in a stone wall, but with an iron bound wooden door. Thadora approached carefully, looking and feeling for any traps. The others stood back as she instructed them.

‘Take care, Red Cub,’ called Bas. (The name given to her by the yeti seemed to have stuck.)

In reply, she gave him a jaunty wave. She reached the door and inspected it on all sides before turning her attention to the lock. Careful examination in the light of the torch seemed to indicate that all was clear, so she tried the door. It was locked. She searched the lock again, and spotted a simple trap. If she had tried to pick the lock, a needle hidden in it would have struck her. She carefully removed the needle. It was probably poisoned, so she placed it in a leather wrapper in her pouch of thieves’ tools so that she would not inadvertently prick herself with it later. After a final check, she inserted a lock pick and quickly had the door open. The others came forward. They looked into the cave beyond, and saw no dangers apparent, so they cautiously entered.

Carthinal held his torch aloft and its flickering light illuminated the cave with leaping shadows. It was not a large cave, and it seemed to have been worked to make it larger. At least, that is what Basalt said when he examined some marks on the walls. 

‘Not very good work, though,’ he opined. ‘Done in a hurry, I’d say, and not by dwarfs either. Even in a hurry, dwarfs make better work than this.’

They walked round the cave, which was about fifteen feet across, and roughly circular in shape. In the centre of the cave was a large stone sarcophagus. They walked slowly towards it. They were not sure why, but hurrying did not seem appropriate here. Nor did talking. There was a feeling of righteousness and goodness about the place. 

‘A bit like a temple or other holy place,’ Thadora was to say later in describing their quest.

They spread themselves around the sarcophagus, each subconsciously standing at one of the cardinal points of the compass. On the sarcophagus was a brass plaque. It was engraved with some kind of writing, but had corroded somewhat with age. Carthinal leaned over and rubbed it with his sleeve. Some of the corrosion came off, and he read,

‘“Here Lie the Mortal Remains of
The Greatest King Ever to Serve the Land
King Sauvern I
By his Side Lies His Famous Sword, Equilibrium,
Awaiting Its Call to Action Once More.”’

‘Does that mean we have to remove the lid of the Sarcophagus?’ asked Kimi. ‘That doesn’t seem right. To disturb the last rest of a great King.’

‘That’s what is implied,’ replied Carthinal.
‘Then we’d better get on with it then,’ said Basalt, ever practical.

They pushed at the stone lid, which was extremely heavy, but eventually it moved to the side. When they peered inside the coffin, they saw the bones of what had once been a tall man. The body had been dressed in chain mail armour, and had had a beautifully worked helmet on his head, made to look like a winged hawk, with the head and beak forming the nose piece, and wings stretched backwards. A shield and a sword were grasped in his hands, bony fingers holding on tightly. It was a hand-and-a-half sword, sometimes called a bastard sword. There was a large ruby set in the pommel and the grip was ridged with what looked like gold. The quillon was knobbed at each end, again looking like gold, with decoration on each side. The blade had a blunt section, called a ricasso, at the top end just below the quillon and the blade had a double fuller running down the length.

‘We can’t disturb him,’ Randa whispered, ‘It would be sacrilege.’

‘If anyone can, it must be us,’ Carthinal replied, also in a whisper. ‘We are the prophesied ones it seems, and now the Guardians have gone, anyone can get in here.’

‘I suppose you’re right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.’

Carthinal reached in carefully to grasp the Sword.

Suddenly he withdrew his hand. ‘It burned me,’ was all he said, looking surprised and hurt. Thadora and Basalt suppressed chuckles.

‘Let me try,’ Basalt said, trying not to laugh at Carthinal’s discomfort, but when he reached in, he could not lift the Sword at all. It seemed to him to be incredibly heavy.

He struggled and tried, all to no avail in spite of his strength. Eventually, he gave up, puffing and panting. By now, Thadora could not contain herself, and was nearly exploding with giggles. Kimi and Fero had also joined in with her amusement. Now Fero decided he would try, but received an electric shock for his pains. By now, they were beginning to feel they were not the right people. Randa decided to have a try, and then after her, Thadora said she would try, but that would be the last. There was no one else since the horselords did not use swords.

So Randa approached the last resting-place of Sauvern, the king who had united Grosmer and defeated the Raiders. To Randa’s surprise, the Sword came out of the skeleton king’s grasp easily, almost as though he had released it to her, and she lifted it up in salute to Sauvern. She swished it a few times and declared it to be perfectly balanced and the most incredible weapon she had ever held. Then she looked round at the others and it was her turn to laugh. The expression on their faces was one to behold. A mixture of incredulity and amazement on all their faces, mixed with not a little envy on the faces of a couple of the Wolves.

They were still looking surprised when they heard a sound. Those with their backs to the door, turned and the others looked in that direction, all ready for action. They saw, silhouetted in the doorway, the figure of a tall man. He was wearing a robe, which looked to be made of red silk, and was belted at the waist by a soft leather belt. An empty scabbard hung down at his side. Over his shoulders was a cloak of red velvet, and on his head was a circlet of gold, with the symbols of all the gods surmounted at intervals. He was holding a sceptre indicating rulership in his left hand. The strange thing was that he seemed to be here, and yet not here. He was near enough to touch if they reached out, yet he seemed very far away. Also, not one of them felt afraid. They knew this was not an evil apparition. None of them was able to explain this afterwards, but they all agreed that this was what they felt.

Then the figure spoke. ‘I am Sauvern. The gods have allowed me to wait for your coming before being born again on the Wheel of Life. I have returned to your plane briefly, although my time is short. You are those prophesied who are to come to claim the Sword.’ He turned to Randa. ‘The Sword has chosen, and will remain with you, my lady, until the day you die, unless you prove unworthy. No one else will it permit to touch it, as you have no doubt found. Use it well.’

He then turned to the others. ‘Your task is not yet finished, your destiny not complete, so the gods tell me. They will not permit me to see what you must do, but the Sword and Swordbearer are needed at this time. Your paths will have many crossroads where you will need to make decisions that may impact on the future. Already you have all made important decisions that have brought you together. Many of those decisions, I believe, were decisions involving some act of independence. This spirit of independence in each of you is what makes you what you are, and ironically makes your companionship the stronger. The time ahead of you is uncertain indeed, and fraught with dangers. You will be tested in the future. You must all face dark times ahead, but you must be strong and overcome these trials. Remember your sworn oath. The gods heard you and accepted it. You must always remember you are the Wolves.’

With that, he slowly began to fade. As the apparition disappeared, they heard these last words. ‘Take whatever you need from my tomb. All is yours. Swordbearer, I give you this.’

The tooled leather scabbard fell to the floor as the apparition finally disappeared.

After standing for a few minutes, Basalt was the first to recover his senses. ‘Well, you heard the man,’ he said to Randa. ‘Go get the scabbard, girl, and put the Sword away.’

Randa walked slowly towards the said piece of equipment as if she thought it might vanish any moment as its previous owner had. She slowly picked it up and examined it.

‘It’s a fine piece of workmanship,’ she said, as she donned it and sheathed the sword.

‘Of course it is,’ Bas responded. ‘It belonged to a king, didn’t it? Can’t expect him to have just any piece of old leather made into a scabbard.’

The others had recovered by now, and were again looking into the sarcophagus. They were still reluctant to take the armour, which was amazingly, still bright and shining as was the helmet and gauntlets. Then Davrael reached in and lifted the helm off the head of the skeleton. 

‘A bird of prey,’ he said. ‘The totem of my tribe is hawk.’

‘Put it on, Davrael,’ Carthinal urged. ‘Sauvern, or rather, his ghost, told us to take anything we needed.’

So Davrael slowly lowered the helm over his head. The wings swept back over his head, and the head and beak of the bird came down to protect his nose. Its claws were made to cover the ears on each side. With this helmet and the tattoo on his face, Davrael looked truly fearsome.

‘If I didn’t know you, I think I’d be afraid,’ Kimi said to him, smiling, ‘But I know what a pussy cat you really are, even if you try to pretend otherwise.’

Davrael looked at her, put on a fierce expression and lunged towards her. ‘You know what pussy cats do to little mouses,’ he said as he lunged.

She jumped backwards, letting out a little squeal, then let him catch her up and swing her round.

‘Ouch, Davrael. Those claws hurt,’ she complained, as he hugged her to him, and he reluctantly let her go.

The others were looking at the mail and gauntlets still in the coffin.

‘The chain mail may fit you, Fero,’ said Basalt.

‘No. Chain mail will make too much noise when I’m tracking and hunting. I prefer to stick to leather,’ the ranger replied.

‘Same fer me. It’d be no bleedin’ use to a thief, even if it’d fit me,’ said Thadora.

‘It’s too big for a dwarf,’ said Carthinal. ‘And no use to a mage either as it would interfere with the magic.’

‘That leaves Davrael, Randa and Asphodel as I’m sure it wouldn’t fit Kimi; she’s so tiny,’ Thadora put in.

‘I’ve already got chain mail,’ Randa pointed out. ‘I think the only one it will fit is Davrael.’

‘Unless it’s elven chain,’ mused Asphodel. ‘Sometimes enchantments are put on by the elf mages to make it fit anyone.’

‘Is that true, Asphodel?’ asked Basalt. ‘I’ve heard tales, but never quite believed them.’

 ‘Only one way to find out!’ said Carthinal. ‘Someone must try it on whom it seems not to fit.’

Asphodel was chosen. Kimi was unsure about using chain mail. She had never needed any armour at all until she had left her home, but Davrael had insisted that for her safety she should not only wear armour, but also learn to use the knives she now carried. He had been teaching her on their travels. (She had already been accomplished with the bow as she had hunted with her brothers, she said.) She had agreed to wear leather armour.

So Asphodel removed the leather armour she was wearing and donned the chain mail. At first it seemed to swamp her, but then a strange thing happened. The armour seemed to shiver, and then the rings seemed to slowly shrink, pulling it to a perfect fit. It was indeed elven chain mail with an enchantment on it to fit anyone. It felt so light that Asphodel felt as though she were not wearing armour at all. She pulled the tabard with the holy symbol of Sylissa over her head and was ready to continue. There was now the question of the gauntlets. Were they magical too? Randa had the Sword, Davrael the helm, Asphodel the chain mail. Carthinal could not use armour for fear of interfering with his magic, and Fero declined. The three remaining Wolves decided to try them on to see whom they would best fit. So Thadora came by a pair of beautifully fitting leather gauntlets. She was unsure about them at first, thinking they may hinder her movements when drawing her bow that she had been practising under the tutelage of both Fero and Davrael. Then she decided to give it a go as they would protect her hands in close fighting, so minimising any damage that may affect her lock picking skills.

So the Wolves left the tomb. They passed the body of the carrion crawler and climbed down the rope they had left back at the passage with the river. Thadora untied the rope and descended last, carrying it with her. The descent seemed very easy to her. Much easier than the ascent had been. When she reached the river bank, she once more protested the loss of her throwing knife, but declined to follow Basalt’s suggestion that she go into the water to reclaim it. They once more ascended the slope, closed the trapdoor, and exited the tomb.

When they got out, they were surprised to find it growing dark. They set up camp before the largest mound, and prepared to eat some of their dried rations. There was a rustle of wings over their heads, and Muldee descended before them.

He spoke to Asphodel in his version of elvish. ‘They’ve gone! The Guardians. What did you do? How did you defeat them?’

She translated for the others, and replied, ‘We came here for a purpose. It seems we were expected. The Guardians have finished their job and have gone to their rest.’

‘About time,’ Muldee replied. ‘Their presence here was spoiling the whole valley. Well, now you’ve finished, I expect you’ll be leaving.’

Asphodel laughed. ‘Are you so keen to be rid of us?’ she asked him.

‘No! Not at all,’ replied the little creature. ‘My brothers and sisters and I have been talking, and we’ve decided we should know more about the world. So they’ve elected me to be the explorer. I’m coming with you!’

The others looked at Asphodel’s amazed face and immediately asked for a translation. When she had done so, she laughed at the faces of the others. They looked as amazed as she supposed she must have done.

‘Is this a good idea?’ queried Basalt, remembering the antics of the dragonet in the water, and how amused he had seemed to nearly drown them all.

‘I don’t see how we can stop him,’ replied Fero. ‘He’ll follow us if we don’t agree, and I for one would like to know exactly where he is.’

‘My thinks too,’ replied Davrael, remembering his own loss of dignity at the hands, or maybe one should say, claws, of the young creature.

So they reluctantly agreed for Muldee to accompany them. The dragonet then went on to say that they would not find their way out of the valley without him anyway as it was not straightforward. With that, the creature flew to the fire, and curled up next to it, and within moments was fast asleep.

I hope you've enjoyed this excerpt as much as I enjoyed writing it. Watch for the next excerpt in May.

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