“If I had not been present, do you think you would have attacked Wol?”
Loden spat before replying, “Sure, I likely would’ve had her too. None of them were expecting us.”
“You understand the locals would have seen that as a breach of trust? And, if you had attacked any of the bandits while they, and we, had guest rights, the locals would have put you in the hanging tree?”
“Well, yeah. You had said as much.”
“They would have left you there until you died of exposure.”
“Yeah, well. I’m glad you warned me. That would have been an unfortunate ending.”
“So, we are good then? Life debt paid in kind?”
“Ah, right, that. Absolutely. All’s good.”
“Good, I’m glad.”
“Yeah, me too.” Loden though Flint was one of the strangest people he had ever met, with the possible exception of Dahlah. A different strange, being bound to some moral code no one else followed. Yet, he was a great companion on the road and certainly not afraid to fight when it was required.
They camped under a great oak tree that was in the centre of the road, the trail went past either side. The place was regularly used as a camp by the look of it, there were a couple semi-permanent shelters under the great branches and a supply of fire wood. When the dawn came Loden had the fire going and had just put the food on to heat, after having let the fuel he had added burn down a bit. His hat had produced its bottle as he had been watching it. Nothing one moment, then a stout jug of stone appeared, the makers mark was engraved on the stone and to Loden it appeared dwarven. He thanked Ander, once again, for giving him the hat.
The next few days brought nothing more distressing than some old goblin tracks. Though a pack of wolves had interrupted their sleep on the second night out from RiversBend. Flint had woken them and built up the fire and the three of them kept their weapons in easy reach. Loden had stayed near the horses, doing his best to keep them calm. The other two sat near the fire; Asta sang and Flint would regularly get up and walk the perimeter of the camp. After a while they could hear that the wolves had moved on, seeking easier prey.
Asta was something special as far as Loden was concerned. He thought she had a beautiful voice and she was certainly attractive. She also managed, seemingly without trying, to frame every situation in a positive light. Her faith was refreshing, as compared to other clergy he had meant. Asta did not try to convert anyone, nor did she bully them for having a different outlook on things. She was a great healer, regardless of the gifts from her goddess. If she and Flint had not been getting along so well, Loden might have assumed she had some interest in him. Regardless, he would make sure to thank the Goddess of Mercy the next time they came to a shrine or temple.
Despite having had the opportunity to get new clothing, Loden had noticed that Asta had a new rope-work halter on under her robes. Obvious she and Flint had spent some time together during the stay at RiversBend. Loden gave a mental shrug, he was not so petty as to begrudge his two companions their intimacy.
The days passed. They had been back on the trail for over an eight-day before they ran into serious trouble again. The terrain was becoming rougher and hillier, the trees less crowded together with long bedrock ridges and plenty of small streams. Flint had said earlier in the day that they had come to the southern point of the Linklow Hills. It had been raining on and off for the past couple of days and the trail had become muddy, slick in some places. Late morning saw them crossing between two hills, over an ancient bridge of stone. The horses started displaying nervousness, ears flicking forward and back, they were skittish and unwilling to heed the reigns.
The horses’ behaviour continued into the afternoon and Loden made sure he was riding close to Asta, though she was much better in the saddle now than she had been two eight-days ago. No one was overly surprised when Flint spotted fresh troll tracks along the trail. He took some time to read the tracks and moved off through the woodlands to investigate. Luckily it seemed the trolls were heading south, meaning they were likely already well away from the area. A few yat later the horses calmed, the trail swung slightly more northward and then they spotted an overturned cart and a gory scene.
“By the Goddess! I must see if anyone has survived.”
Loden moved Tingy to block Asta as she started forward on Rogue. “Hold on.”
“Loden someone may need my help.”
“Give us a moment Asta,” Flint said, dismounting. He then took his bow and strung it, transferred his quiver from BigNose and took a slow long walk around the area.
Asta kept looking at the overturned cart and dismembered mules, “I see someone under the edge of the cart.”
“By the mule’s head, near the rear. Near the overturned chest.”
“Ah, I see it. Doesn’t seem to be moving.”
“I think it’s a dwarf.”
“Yeah, that kind of looks like dwarven wagons I’ve seen before. Good woodworking, well decorated. I wonder what dwarves are doing way out here?”
“Huh. I see him. Sneaky bastard.”
“I’m pretty sure he’d take exception to that.”
“Yeah, what do you know of his family?”
“Not much, but it’s very important to him.”
“There he goes, walking right up to it. Well, let’s go.”
“Is anyone alive?” Asta asked as they came up to the cart.
“I don’t think so, three dwarves, two mules. The mules were ripped apart, the bigger chunks of meat have been taken. The dwarves were struck down, their stuff is strewn all over the place. From the tracks here and nearness in time to the previous tracks, I’m thinking it’s the same three or four trolls.”
Asta was shocked, “You mean they killed them for meat, mule meat? Why?”
“Might just have been easy pickings or maybe they really like mule meat, not a lot of it around here I’d guess.”
“Flint, don’t make light of this. Dwarves have died.”
Flint then looked the mess over again, “Alright. Let’s gather these bodies and get them tucked away. I’m going to take another sweep around the area to make sure there’s nothing else to be concerned about.” He took off into the trees.
Loden looked to Asta, “Think he wants us to bury them?”
“Well, put them somewhere safe, until their kin can come and get them.”
“They do that?”
“I don’t know a lot about dwarven customs, but I do know they have ancestral tombs or some such. They don’t really have priests or anything like that though.”
“I had heard they can live up to five hundred years.”
They both dismounted and paused to look at the bloody mess. Loden hacked and spat, “Alright, let’s get to it.”
They put the dwarven wagon right side up, then gathered and wrapped the bodies in the cloaks the men had been wearing. Soon they were busy trying to gather up the scattered gear. There was lots of interesting equipment; everything seemed overly worked, and well crafted by masters with time on their hands. Then Loden found an interesting box, both its dimensions and weight caught his attention. It was nearly a pace wide by a bit over a pace long, while only being a couple of hands deep. It was made of oak and bound with brass. Engraved in the top of the box was an unfamiliar coat of arms, it did not appear to be locked. Loden thumbed the latches aside and opened the box. Inside he found two identical items, similar in design to Maldorn kryl-shooters. They were different enough from what he had seen previously, he was fairly sure that they were not kryl weapons. Aside from the matched pair of weapons, if that was what they were, there were a couple of thin metal rods to either side and then three rows of thirty small oblong containers about the width of his smallest finger and half its length. Both the inside top and bottom of the box had been carved to hold the weapons and accoutrements snugly.
He asked Asta, “Do dwarves make kryl weapons?”
“I’m not sure. Isn’t that a Maldorn thing?”
“Yeah, but look at these.”
She looked, then shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Loden closed the lid.
They found other weapons, more easily identified. Each of the dwarves had a wide bladed curved knife, they found three hand axes and a heavier long handled battleaxe. There was a large crossbow of intricate design with way more strings than a crossbow needed and bolts of various sorts. Each of the dwarves had been wearing an open faced helm and mail shirt, though the armour had not been much protection against the trolls.
Flint returned, but other than confirming the trolls appeared to have all moved off, he had nothing of note to report. He took a look at the bodies and then looked at the gear and goods that had been on the wagon. He took a medallion off one of the dwarves, then, with help from the others he shifted things around until he had the bodies in the cart with the axes and any obviously personal items. They wrapped them in the heavy tarp that had been attached to the cart. That still left a couple of bolts of cloth, camping gear, food, a few jugs of beer, leather goods, small items of stone and wood, a few games, the crossbow, bolts and the box with the shooters.
Loden asked him, “Do you know what those are?” He pointed to the box.
“A pair of dwarven repeaters. Black powder weapons. The coat of arms on the front seems to be that of Lord Sharlok, perhaps it is a gift.”
Loden shrugged, “I don’t know Sharlok. But, these are like the long arms used throughout the Principalities? Gonnes, I think they are called.”
“Similar, but more advanced.”
“I thought black powder was new?”
Flint chuckled, “Not at all. I believe the dwarves have known about black powder for hundreds of years, if not longer. Humans have used it on and off for at least a century.”
“No. That can’t be.”
Asta piped up, “So what’s the plan here?”
Without missing a beat, Flint answered, “Well, I’m going to take this medallion to Thom Drago when I have the chance, to let their kin know where the bodies are. But first we’re going to move this cart over to that ridge of stone and see if we can better protect the bodies.”
It was difficult getting the cart through the trees to the ridge Flint had indicated. They snugged the cart in under the lee of the stone ridge and then Flint insisted that they barricade the cart with a stone wall, that took them over a day to accomplish and another day to rest and recover from their labours. During this time they saw no further sign of trolls. Before departing they made a couple of a-frames and loaded the goods they had not buried. Loden was happy with that decision, as it would have been awfully wasteful to leave the stuff behind, it also made more room for his bottles of booze.