Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 9e

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 9e

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“Have you guys ever wondered why everything around here is called Linklow?”

Asta smiled, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, Linklow Forest, Linklow Hills, Linklow Road, North and South Linklow Rivers.”

From ahead of them Flint said, “I think you likely missed a few.”

“Just so.” He waved a hand around, “Everything is called Linklow.”

Asta laughed, “Not everything, there’s RiversBend, Towwit Falls, Carskot, Cof Crossroads and many others come to mind.”

Flint called back, “You think this is bad. You should see the area through the Madden Hills; South, East, North and West Madden, Upper and Lower Madden, Madden Bridge and Madden Lake, not to mention there’s also a Lake Madden and many, many more Maddens.”

“I’ve heard some strange things go on up through the Madden Hills. Undead, dark sorcery and tribes of orc, just to name a few.” Asta added.

“Sounds lovely.” Loden commented.

Over the last few days the forest had really opened up and moss covered stone became more common, there were plenty of springs and streams. The trail had become more regular and slightly wider as they entered the rockier terrain, old stone bridges dotted the landscape, sometimes where water no longer flowed, many had fallen to ruin.

Asta knew that this area had once been inhabited by the Elquin, and had previously been part of the Second Elquin Kingdom, a couple thousand of years ago. There were also rumours of inbreeding, which the folk from RiversBend had made a point of mentioning as well. She was unsure if it was a free-town or its own holding, as contact between Cof and Towwit Falls had been sporadic for a hundred years or more, even Carskot had seen few travellers from this area.

Over the past few evenings Loden and Flint had figured out the dwarven repeaters, or more to the point how to use them and what amongst the dwarven cargo had been related. There were scabbards for the weapons of two different types and there was a matching belt. One style of scabbard mostly encased the weapons, having a flap that would cover the handles once tied off. Flint said the design was to prevent water from getting to the weapons, apparently water and black powder did not work well together. The other pair of scabbards were wide leather loops, with a small strap to secure the shooters. Flint suggested one pair was for travel, the other pair for combat. There was a couple of small pouches that could hold the prepared cartridges. And ninety additional cartridges in a much more conveniently sized box. The two of them had also taken a couple of the cartridges of ammunition apart, Loden had initially been unimpressed because the projectile turned out to be a really small ball of lead, maybe a third or a quarter what you would expect from a sling bullet. Though after he had fired the weapon, he changed his mind about its usefulness, and at that point had decided he would keep them. So Loden figured out how to load and clean the weapons and fired three shots, at each of the past few stops.

Neither Flint nor Asta liked the shooters, as they were noisy and the black powder had an acrid smell and a fair bit of smoke after the weapon was discharged. Flint had warned him why black powder weapons were not overly popular: mages could ignite fire at a distance and it was not a hard spell for even a poorly gifted mage to learn. The black powder was very flammable. Loden asked Flint why it was not the same for kryl weapons, but he did not have an answer to that.

They came to the outskirts of Towwit Falls, the forest receded behind them and overgrown rocky fields with abandoned and dilapidated buildings stretched out between them and a lake further downhill. They could see the top of the cliff, the upper part of the waterfall and an odd structure at the top. Only a few of the homesteads on the approach to the lake appeared occupied and they hardly spotted anyone working the land. The people stayed away, often retreating to their homes, certainly none offered friendly greetings nor curious inquiry.

At one point the town had stretched most of the way around the lake, many of the buildings closest to the lake were now partially submerged. Most of the town looked to be in ruins and the style of the buildings was mostly that of older Elquin design. Only the structures at the east end of the lake, opposite the falls, seemed to be presently occupied. Part of the older town looked to have been dismantled to create a wall around the presently occupied area. There was also a large rambling castle that was mostly in ruins, only the keep appeared to be occupied. There were hundreds of towers of various sizes, few were intact.

It was near mid-day, the sky was clear. As they made their way down to the town, bells started ringing and the town gate was closed. The locals even went so far as to put a couple of dozen men along the walls, armed with bows. The majority of the locals appeared pale skinned, tall and very blond, certainly showing a dominance of Elquin traits. They could now see most of the opposite cliff-facing at the far end of the lake. At least two fair-sized rivers plunged over the cliff, down into the lake and numerous smaller streams created at least another half dozen falls.

When they reached the gatehouse there were a number of men along the battlements, many of them in breastplates and a couple of them in full plate armour. One of the men in full plate removed his helmet and greeted them in a long convoluted sounding string of words that must have been the Elquin language. None of them understood what he said.

Flint shouted up to him, “I’m sorry, we do not speak Elquin. Do you speak Andalee?”

The look on the man’s face was one of disdain, “What is your business? Why have you come to Towwit Falls?”

“We have goods to trade, fine dwarven cloth, alcohol and items crafted by cunning dwarves. We would also pay for lodging.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Flint, this is Loden and she-”

“Common names. common folk. How much for the woman?”

Flint looked to Loden and Asta, “This is not what I was expecting.”

The armoured man shouted down. “Move back from the gates, twenty paces and ready your wares, we will send a trading party out to you. What of the woman? She appears to be a heathen priestess, is she bound.”

“The priestess is her own person, neither married nor imprisoned.”

“And, I’m not for sale!”

The men above the gate conversed between themselves, at least a couple of them made warding gestures in the general direction of the three who sat on horses below them.

Loden spat, then muttered in a low voice, “Is this really happening? I can see why no one comes here.”

The same man shouted down again, “We will be out shortly. If you wish to trade move back and set up your goods.”

Flint replied, “Very well, we shall do so.”

After they had moved back and set out their wares, the trade delegation came out. It included one woman in a fancy dress of an unfamiliar style, the man who had previously talked to them and a half dozen other men in mail shirts, carrying maces and shields. As they approached the man in the plate informed them he would be doing the talking and advised them to neither address nor approach the lady. In fact, he insisted the three of them step back from the wares. Loden was sure they were about to be robbed, but Flint insisted they stay calm. After all, they could not keep dragging two bolts of cloth through the wilds, as it was one of the bolts was soaked and stained at one end and both were otherwise damp.

The woman, with a guard to either side of her, inspected the goods. Then she instructed a couple of the men to unroll the stained bolt of cloth. She made no eye contact with the three of them. She carefully looked over the rest of what they had to offer and then spoke to the man in armour.

“Her ladyship advises me that your goods are likely stolen and have not been cared for properly. She asks what you wish in exchange.”

Flint answered, ignoring the implication of thievery, “Some weight would be good, but we also need feed for our horses and we were looking for information on how to gain entry to those ruins.” He pointed towards the ruins at the cliff top.

The man looked to the ruins as his men made gestures to ward off evil. The woman said something to the armoured man, her posture and attitude was demure, perhaps even subservient. They offered three bar silver weight and a sack of feed. He also told them that there was an entry to the ruins on the west side of the lake, not far from the falls and that it was cunningly hidden. He told them it was a cursed place, dangerous and that such ancient structures were evil.

They took the deal, even though Loden knew they were being shorted. They left the good folks of Towwit and made their way as close to the western side of the falls as they could get. The entrance was not obvious and Flint searched the base of the cliff while Loden and Asta set up camp. Flint did find the entrance, by the time he had returned to the camp there was food ready and Loden had made some torches with sticks and pine sap, they’d be smokey, but it would be better than no light.

They ate and talked about what they should do at this point. Flint and Loden both felt there was risk from the locals and did not like the idea of waiting through the night. They also were unsure what they would be dealing with once inside.

Loden ask, “You’re sure this is where the goddess has directed you?”

Asta gave a nod and let out a pensive breath, “Yes, this exact place, the cliff and ruins at the top were in my visions.”

Flint asked, “Was there any indication what we are here for?”

“No, sorry. My vision showed us coming here, all that I know is that Loden and I will travel on together, afterwards.”

“So, do I die in there?”

“I did not see your death.”

Flint sighed, “Well, if you are sure this is what we are supposed to do, then I suggest we be about it. Bring some supplies, a bit of food, the torches, rope, cord, whatever else you might need.”

The passage they entered by doubled back on itself after about a hundred and fifty paces, the entire structure seemed to tremble with the noise of the waterfall through the rock. The passage was angled upwards and they went another two hundred paces before coming to a large foyer with a narrow set of stairs going upwards.

Oddly there was no debris and very little dust. The air tasted strange and the thrum of the falls was constant, though it was much more muted within the stairwell. They had started to burn their second pair of torches before they had reached the top of the stairs. Flint figured it was near sunset. The moment they reached the top and came out of the stairwell, the chamber they had entered was suffused with a soft glow, the source of which was not apparent. They could no longer hear the falls.

Loden could see that the chamber they were in was huge, ahead of them was an arched bridge of stone that spanned a trench or moat, the bottom of which they could see numerous tall spikes. The bridge that crossed this span lead to a massive set of stairs and equally massive doors.

Flint crossed the narrow bridge first and made it over easily enough. Loden and Asta followed. They made it to the mid point of the bridge, then the entire room seemed to shake and the arch dropped half a pace. The two of them were knocked down, Loden managed to catch the edge of the bridge and then caught Asta’s sleeve as she tumbled over the edge. She swung under him and he could feel himself slipping. The room rumbled again and everything shook. Flint somehow managed to grab his hand, Asta’s sleeve started to rip and Loden made a lunging grasp to reach her arm. Then they were both falling as Loden slipped loose of Flints grip.

“Shit!” Loden saw Asta impaled by two spikes, her torch disappeared, then he himself plunged downwards. He fell through the spikes, through the floor and then saw Asta hitting the ground below, she screamed. A moment later he struck the hard ground and lay there gasping. What happened? What was going on? Was he dead? What was that smell?

“Ow. Oh.”

Loden looked at Asta. She clearly had not been impaled.

Though he had partially recovered from having the wind knocked out of him, he was still having difficulties breathing. He forced himself to sit up.

Nothing was as it should be. They appeared to be in some sort of twilight world and while the ground appeared to be earth and stone, the vegetation he could see was nothing remotely familiar to him. The twilight sky had a greenish tinge and a massive blue and white moon was rising, easily five times the size of Kallen. He was still fighting for breath. Asta lay on the ground, gasping and weeping.

Loden choked, then spat. He staggered to his feet, offering Asta a hand, “Can you get up?”

She nodded, took his hand and stood with effort. She appeared to have hurt her right leg or ankle. “Where?” She gasped, obviously having as much trouble breathing as he was.

Another look around and Loden could see they were on a mountain with other mountains all around them. “We need to get lower. Can you walk?”

“Not well.” Her voice sounded odd, distant.

Together they hobbled downward, heading towards a narrow valley a yat below them. From somewhere nearby a strange warbling cry sounded and was answered by a similar one from some distance off.

Loden spat again and adjusted his grip around Asta, to better support her, “If this is what your goddess had in store for us, I think we would have been better off staying in Carskot.”


End of Cycle 1

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