Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Part I"

"Call of the Dragon, Part II"

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

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"Childhood of a Fighter"

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"The Pledge" Cornell #5

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"The Rock of Discontent"

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"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"



  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues


“Would ye mind bein’ a little less noisy?” the dwarf muttered.

“Sorry,” rumbled a voice about four feet above him. “I could catch the pig for you. That’s much easier.”

Koyson Seabourne snorted, sending shivers down his long, dark beard. “Yeah, right. Ye already caught three this morning, and all I got was half a leg. And stop dripping that blood all over me!”

Half leaning over him, the giant furrag shrugged. Nearly eight feet of whitefurred muscle, barely covered by thin leather straps that held his belongings, Vobul tore another bite off the raw meat he held in one claw and started munching loudly while he stuck the rest under one of his straps. His reddish eyes glinted joyously in the face that reminded some people of a goat’s. Provided that a goat’s snout held long rows of wicked fangs, and the curled horns on top were the splotty dark brown that looked as if gallons of blood had dried on them.

“Probably been scaring the hell out of the poor little piggies,” Koyson grumbled and slowly started again to creep through the underbrush towards the black boar some ten yards off. He dearly hoped it was still there, despite all the noise the furrag made. How did I ever get hooked up with that big thing? he wondered. A good, honest caidwarf like me!

The thought vanished from his thick, gray-skinned skull as he focused on proceeding as quietly as possible. He’d left his armor at their campsite; its constant clinks and clonks would have been too loud. So he only wore a cured leather shirt, trousers and his favorite boots, the ones that his father had left him. Koyson had no idea what the black material they were made of was; but they were sturdy enough to have lasted more than a decade of his own adventuring across Gushémal, and the dweorgh alone knew how long his father, Koy Banson Seabourne, had been wearing them.

He knew exactly how long the axe in his right hand had lasted. Twelve years since he had forged it on the day of his Ascension to Manhood, using the metal of his accursed shaving knife for the handle. It had been the only time he’d ever used a smithy, and Gareknard, Mount Eringard’s chief smith, had always stood by with a hammer to correct any mistakes Koyson had made, ever ready with sarcastic remarks. May a shaft collapse on him! Koyson had become a smith then, an adult dwarf, with the right to choose his own path in life – and with the right to let his beard grow freely.

The latter was starting to look very much like a piece of earth by now, with dry twigs twirled in-between, but Koyson paid it no heed. Just a little more, and he’d be able to see the boar. His grip tightened on the axe, as he envisioned waiting for the right moment to leap from the underbrush and sink his axe right at the neck of the boar. It’d struggle for a while, but he’d hold on, willing to let himself get carried about a moment. Let the boar smash him headfirst into a tree, if it would! A dwarf’s head could withstand a ton of rock collapsing on it, so what could the creature do to him?

And then the loss of blood would make the boar slow down, at which time Koyson could tear the axe free and hew out its brain. Then it would be all his! And he wouldn’t again make the mistake of asking Vobul to carry the carcass to the fire at the campsite. The furrag would only eat most of the pig on the way, as usual.

The final leaves were blocking his sight. There was some noise beyond, some crunching sound. The boar’s still there, Koyson reasoned, still plowing up some roots from the ground. Feelings of triumph scurrying through his body, he pushed the leaves aside – and gaped.

Vobul yawned, seated before a tree. Blood dripped from his fangs, suspiciously fresh blood. Well, there wasn’t really any need for suspicion, since the dead body of the boar lay draped over his legs, its head about three feet aside from it.

“Ye’re startin’ to get on me nerves,” Koyson complained as he joined Vobul and automatically checked the carcass for any sign of a snack the furrag had already taken.

“You always take too long at these things. Just let me do it, and you won’t have to worry about your nerves.”

“Just leave me nerves alone!” Nothing seemed to be missing from the pig, Koyson was glad to see, and before the furrag could interfere, he heaved the carcass onto his back and started heading back towards their campsite.

Vobul sighed, snatched the remaining meat from his leather straps and continued eating while he slowly got up and followed the dwarf. “You’re just going to burn that meat,” he complained. “How can you taste anything with all the ash in there? Dwarves!”

Koyson didn’t answer. Any reply would have been hard to understand, anyway, considering the amount of saliva that was gathering in his mouth as he thought about the feast he’d be having soon. The fire was all set, including the spit for the pig. Quickly strip the carcass of the fur, put it on the spit and burn – no, cook – it before Vobul got hungry again. Hungrier, that is.

They had almost reached their campsite when strangely squeaky howls echoed through the forest. Koyson stopped dead in his tracks, turned his head in the direction the howls were coming from. “Ratpeople!”

“Yachh!” Vobul commented. “They taste awful!” As if to remove any memory of said taste he rapidly devoured the rest of the strips of meat he had stored under the leatherstraps.

The dwarf shrugged angrily. Ratpeople in the vicinity, that was bad news. They were a fearful lot, more like orcs. Though not half as smart, he added with a grin. Still, they had the unpleasant tendency to attack wanderers in their sleep. Koyson and Vobul had better get on their way as soon as possible; the dwarf had no intention at all of exploring the inside of a cookpot.

He adjusted the boar’s weight on his shoulders and started moving again, when another kind of howl was added to the ratpeople’s yells. A cry of pain.

A human cry.

“They’re attacking people!” Koyson shouted, dropped the carcass and rushed forward.

Vobul stared after him for a brief moment then he leaned forward and tore a leg off the boar. “He always wastes good food.” With that he shook his head and started following the dwarf.



The half-elf Ha’el Morhawk-Des’Epaes slashed her sword at the ratcreatures that were trying to haul off Willett. The blade cut bushels of fur, no skin, no flesh, and another ratman leaped at her, propelled by its powerful hindlegs, the tusks and fangs flashing at her. All Ha’el could do was drop to the ground, smash her sword blindly at the creature.

The blade connected, but its steel cut through only a few inches of rough fur, stopped by the intangible mess that was the natural, smelly armor of the creature.

She rolled sideways, escaping the fangs, and slammed her knees upwards, into the midsection of the ratcreature. It howled again, rose to its full size of unimpressive five feet and drummed its short arms against its chest.

Ha’el slung her feet around the creature’s legs, swiped it off its balance and swung her own torso up, sword slashing in a wide arc as it smashed straight in the ratman’s chest. Blood squirted, splashed into her face.

And another set of fangs closed on her left shoulder. Pain shot through her, she screamed – and then the fangs were gone. Blood streaming down from the wound, she hurried to her feet, turned around. Just in time to see Markesh stabbing his gladius maniacally into the body of a ratman behind her, unwary of the creatures running toward him.

“Look out!” she screamed, waving her sword about to keep off the horde.

The ratpeople didn’t care, and a moment later her blade had to bite into one of the creatures’ hide once more. Markesh was hauled off his feet by the impact of one ratman leaping at him, its fangs uselessly clamped around his armored shoulder.

Ha’el had no time to pay more attention. She cleaved about her, hacked, slashed, tried to turn towards Markesh, maybe see him, maybe help him. The pain throbbed from her shoulder, more so when she thrashed about with it to keep off the ratpeople. Too many, she knew and cut on.

“Get yer fangs off’em!” an unfamiliar voice screamed, from far away.

She could not afford to think on that, concentrated on keeping the ratpeople at bay. More than once a claw sunk into her flesh, more than once dizziness assaulted her, but she kept on going. Markesh was to her right, he had to be. She turned around, hacked and slashed, and all she saw were furry hides and fangs. No Markesh. And no Willett. A ratman assailed her from behind, biting at her legs. She jumped up – but another creature leaped at her, tore her to the ground, its hands clawing at her, its fangs snapping.

Instinctively she dropped her blade, grabbed the ratman and hauled it off her.

And was surprised when the ratman made a gurgling sound instead of attacking her once again.

“Get up, gal, quick,” someone said and held her sword’s handle toward her.

Without thinking she grabbed it, thankful that a hand reached down to help her to her feet. Subconsciously she realized that the hand had been very low, but then she saw more ratpeople coming on. And she saw Markesh going down under a pile of the creatures, flaying about with his gladius and shield, barely keeping the teeth away from him.

“Markesh!” Ha’el swung her sword at the next creature. It dodged, but she ran past it, waving her sword about. Ratpeople leaped aside from her, suddenly a path opened towards Markesh, a path she gladly took – never realizing that no more creatures attacked her from behind. She just took this for granted as she stabbed her blade into the first creature around Markesh. It blurted a squeaking noise, then it died.

Hope flashed through her when she managed to kill two more and saw Markesh, his face full of blood, but still thrashing his sword about. He injured one of the creatures, and for a moment Ha’el thought there might be a chance to survive the attack.

Then a blood-curdling scream echoed over them, a scream so ferocious and feral that even the ratpeople froze and fearfully looked at the source. Behind them, in the middle of the dirt road, a monster towered. A mountain of muscle and fury, its white fur splattered with gore and brains, deadly teeth flashing in a snout of terror. Two ratpeople squirmed in its fists, uselessly trying to escape the grasp.

“I’m huuuuuuuungry,” the monster yelled and flicked out its tongue to lick some blood off its snout.

Ha’el dropped to the ground, all energy vanished. The ratpeople had been too much already. She had lost Willett; Markesh and she were the only ones left, and now this… She knew she would raise her sword again when the monster came near, but she also knew that she could never hope to injure the creature.

She stared as the beast came closer.

It had taken no more than one step when all the ratpeople vanished all of a sudden. Ha’el had no idea how they had left, all she knew was that they were gone. And there was only the monster, still holding two of the creatures in its paws.

“Throw’em over here, will ye? My axe is waiting!”

A sudden change passed over the monster’s snout, strangely transforming it into something that seemed intelligent and more like a… a face? “You have murdered enough, dwarf,” the monster said and let go of the ratpeople. The creatures never took the time to wonder about their fortune. The instant their feet touched the ground, they were running for the trees and vanishing in them.

“Oh, marvelous,” a dwarf said that suddenly appeared in her line of vision. “The great pacifist at work again. When are ye goin’ to learn that there’s times when ye just have to kill?”

The monster patiently shook its head. “Now, it seems to me that words were sufficient in this case. After all, the ratpeople are gone.”

Before the dwarf could reply – and by the near bursting veins on his neck, it would have been a furious answer, to be sure – Markesh yelled furiously and ran towards the monster, head bent down, the gladius preceding him like a lance.

And the monster stepped aside, lifted Markesh easily by his armor with one hand and used the other to gently wrest the sword from his hand. “Now, now, little one, I won’t hurt you,” he said softly. Markesh wailed wildly, started hammering his fist and shield against the creature’s rippling muscles, to no effect at all.

“All right, all right,” the dwarf muttered, “that’s two. Wasn’t there another one o’them kids around?”

The monster’s eyes suddenly flared. “Goats?! Where?!”

“Will ye stop thinkin’ ‘bout food all the time? I mean the children!”

“Oh,” the monster said, then pointed to a branch a little behind him. Ha’el breathed deeply when she saw Willett carefully draped across it, hanging some ten feet above the ground, safely out of the reach of any of the ratpeople.

The dwarf nodded, turned to Ha’el and asked angrily, “What’s the funny idea behind ye children runnin’ about Trebonshire Forest without any protection? Were ye out t’get yerselves killed?! This place is dangerous, didn’t yer parents warn ye about that?”

The barrage of accusations drove a painful stake through Ha’el’s heart as she suddenly remembered about her father at home, worrying constantly about her. Right now he was probably sitting at the window of their small cottage, staring outside, hoping that she would show up any minute. And he didn’t even know –

Anger suddenly welled up in her, and she shoved the dwarf back. “What gives you the right to talk to me like that?! I’m a grown woman, and I don’t have to listen to you. And you will tell your… your creature to drop my friend right this minute!”

“Oh, will I?” the dwarf cried, dropped his axe and smacked his open palms together. “Gal, ye’d better watch yer words, or someone’s gonna get her behind whooped.”

“You won’t dare touch me!” Ha’el shouted, retreated a step and drew her sword. “Just try it, dwarf!”

Clearly he would have tried so, but suddenly the monster was behind him, still holding Markesh in one hand – then the other paw grabbed the dwarf’s shirt and lifted him into the air as well. “Could we please,” the beast said, “talk like reasonable beings? Little one, put your sword away, there’s no need to use it.”

Ha’el just stared at the odd image in front of her. Markesh had stopped flailing about, instead he was staring incredulously at the monster holding him. And the dwarf – he had folded his arms in front of his chest, indignantly drumming his fingers on his arms. She couldn’t help it, she had to laugh. This was too unreal!

“Sir, uhh, Monster,” Markesh ventured cautiously, “would you please let me down?”

The creature glanced at him, reassuring himself that the young man had recovered his senses, then he put him carefully to the ground. “Certainly, little one. My name is Vobul, and I can assure you I am not a monster.”

“Just mad about lifting people into the air,” the irked dwarf muttered.

Vobul ignored the comment and said, “My friend’s name is Koyson. And he was right. You should not have come to Trebonshire Forest alone.”

“We had to go,” Markesh blurted out. “Sir Vobul, we couldn’t wait anymore, Sage Urquart would –“

“Markesh!” Ha’el interrupted him abruptly, rushed to his side and pressed his hand. “What he means to say is that the honored sage Urquart would have been upset if we had delayed our quest any longer. It was decided by the village elders, and we had to follow their commands.”

Koyson chuckled from his perch on the creature’s arm. “Don’t look like yer village elders had their wits t’gether if they chose ye three.”

It took all her strength to contain the instant rage in her, and she damned her elven heritage for always troubling her so. “Be that as it may, dear sirs, we are here, and I wish to thank you for aiding us in our peril. If you would be so kind as to return Willett to the ground, we can part ways.”

Markesh shook his head and asked, “What are you talking about? Ellie, these people saved our lives! They didn’t just walk by and sold us an apple or two. You’d better be grateful we’re still breathing!”

“I am, but that –“

“Personally, I would be happy about just getting down from this tree without breaking a leg,” Willett said at that time, finally conscious again. “Then, maybe, someone could tell me what the commotion here is all about.”



“A half-elf, a wizard and a novice priest of Darawk,” Koyson muttered half an hour later when they had all gathered around the fire at the campsite. The pig Vobul had caught was turning on the spit, tended by the furrag who was watching unhappily as the meat was turning brown and crispy. “Any of ye older than twenty?”

Ha’el snorted. “Of course. I am thirty-three.”

“Which don’t mean ye’re adult,” the dwarf retorted. “Ye’re half elf, an’ ye ought t’be home with yer family. As should be the rest o’ye.” He cast an angry glance at the other two youngsters, barely mollified by the contrite look on Markesh’s face and further irked by the self-assured look on Willett’s. The red-haired boy with the very beginnings of a – black – Van Dyke beard was a wizard, as he had calmly related, presenting a medallion from some nearby wizard tower as proof. Not even the wound to his head, bandaged by now, had dampened his spirits. And he was getting on Koyson’s nerves more seriously than the half-elf did. Ha’el at least had a temper – one that was begging for a good spanking.

Otherwise she comported herself quite well, the dwarf had to admit. She had brushed her long, cyan hair into order again, curling about her slim shoulders. Humans probably considered her pretty, with those long eyelashes, the small nose and the full, violet lips always on the verge of breaking into a smile. Well, that latter part was an assumption. All Koyson had seen of her thus far was angry self-composure.

Markesh, the novice, was far from composed. His face was scarred by teethmarks from the ratpeople. His god probably had been watching over him, otherwise how could none of them have been serious. Vobul had smeared some salve on the boy’s face, generous enough to make it shine, and Koyson had truly enjoyed the look of fascination and terror on Markesh’s face while the thick paws of the furrag were gently applying the salve.

He hadn’t cried, though, for which Koyson was grateful. The boy was nervous nonetheless, and every now and then he wanted to speak up – only to find his words smothered by Ha’el interrupting him. By this time he was staring into the flames, shivering despite the heat from the fire and the warmth of the beginning spring day.

“Leave our families out of this,” Ha’el said haughtily. “You have saved our lives, you share food with us, and we are grateful. But this is as far as it goes.”

Before Koyson could comment on that, Willett laughed. “Oh, yeah, right. In case you haven’t noticed, Ellie, it wasn’t you who saved us. ‘Never fear, my sword will protect us,’ weren’t those your words?”

“And wasn’t it you who claimed your spells would keep us out of trouble?” Ha’el shot back.

Willett shrugged. “An unfortunate accident. Anyway, I’ll keep a few spells at the ready on the rest of our journey.”

“Which will lead where?” Koyson interjected drily. “Another ratpeople cookpot?”

Markesh looked up, ready to speak – then he saw Ha’el’s stare. “All right,” he muttered and returned his gaze to the flames.

The half-elf raised an eyebrow at the meekness of the novice, whether in discontent or approval, Koyson couldn’t tell. After a moment she sighed and said, “Tell them, Markesh.”

Joy flickered in the novice’s eyes. “Well, it’s –“ he started, checked himself in wonder as he saw the curious eyes of both the dwarf and the furrag on him, not to mention the wary gaze of Ha’el’s. He straightened his shoulders, then began anew, “Our home is the village of Clearspring, some fifty miles northeast of here, at the edge of Trebonshire Forest. The elders say Clearspring was founded after the Unholy Assault… Uhhh, I mean the Tonomai invasion of the Arrufat peninsula. Anyway, our ancestors once lived in a big city further north, but they were driven down here. An army protected them, led by the Falken family, it is said. With Trebonshire Forest so near, the ancestors decided that this was a place to stay and defend. That is, some of them did, and a goodly number moved on down to Ibrollene.

“Clearspring has never been very big. The elders claim that once there were many thousands of people living there, but there are no ruins, nothing to indicate that our population ever numbered more than the five hundred or so of today. Probably less in the beginning.

“Most of the Falkens moved on back then, on to Ibrollene. I suppose they’re still there, some part of the aristocracy. Maybe one of them’s even king!”

He stopped abruptly as Koyson cleared his throat sarcastically. “Well, gwan,” the dwarf muttered then, not willing to explain.

“Uhh, apparently you know more than I do,” Markesh said carefully. “Which is part of our problem. You see, ever since the days of the Assault, we scarcely heard any news from outside. It took until the arrival of Sage Urquart that we learned that the Tonomai had been repelled from the better part of the peninsula, and that our current sovereign reigns in the city of Freeport. We know so little! And that… is dangerous. What if there were another Tonomai attack? We wouldn’t know until the unholy hordes were before Clearspring’s gates!

“And what about trade? There are mines around Clearspring where we have found valuable ores. Iron, silver, gold – and some other metal that seems much stronger than steel, that… Urquart claims it has to be gadnú, a dwarven ore, which I suppose you know all about, Master Smith.”

Koyson raised both eyebrows at being addressed correctly – so unusual to find a human who knew proper etiquette -, then he shrugged. “Yer people’re wrong, lad. Nobody’s found gadnú this side of the Mine of the Gods, far as I know. Sounds interestin’ nonetheless.”

“Yes, it does,” Markesh picked up the cue immediately. “But we can’t do anything with it! Who could we trade with when we don’t know where to turn? Who will pay us well, who will reject us, and who will rob us? We don’t know anything about the world outside our village!”

He stopped, stared at the dwarf in hope of his understanding.

Koyson scratched his beard slowly, and obviously enjoying the feeling of having a beard. “Excuse me, but I don’t really see yer problem. There are other villages all about the Wild Coast who ain’t ever heard of the places thirty miles away from’em, an’ they’re doin’ just fine. Trust me, I’ve seen at least half o’them!”

“And got thrown out by the majority,” Vobul interjected while he stretched out a paw and tested the meat whether it was done.

The furrag earned a stinging glance by the dwarf. “Not like ye did any t’stop’em,” he muttered, then focused on the youngsters once more. “Look, ye got plenty o’people back home, that’s what ye’re sayin’. Send out a few expeditions way around, lots o’folks in any group, an’ hear what they’re sayin’ on their return. Then ye know what’s about ye. An’ if ye want trade, Freeport’s the best place anyway. Yer ‘sovereign’,” Koyson violently suppressed a chuckle, “would be pleased.”

“But would he pay the proper price?” Markesh asked furiously. “Or would he just take from us, pleased that his subjects provide for him. Master Smith, he’s never done anything for us – why should we just give up what we worked hard for?!”

“The boy has a point,” Vobul commented, “not that you would understand it, Koyson. If we have the time, I will explain the meaning of ‘hard work’ to you.”

“Oh, will ye?” Koyson exploded. “I am the Lord Protector of Verishnat! I spent twenty years guardin’ their holy shrine! Twenty years, without sleepin’ more’n a few hours each day, an’ usually fightin’ off bandits every other day!”

The furrag kept his eyes trained on the pig as he answered, “Was that before or after you spent fifteen years in the siege of Herkoun? Or inbetween your odyssey around the Cape of Drowning? That took about twelve years as I believe you mentioned.”

Koyson stared at him in outrage. “Ye bloody, furry –“ he screamed, then suddenly composed himself and turned his seething face back towards the youngsters. “So, what’s yer place in this story? Ye’re clearly not goin’ t’Freeport, which would be the other way around.”

“No, we’re not,” Markesh conceded quickly. “About a day’s journey from here, there is an old temple of Darawk, the Lord of Knowledge. It was razed by the Tonomai five centuries ago, that is what the elders tell. None alive has seen it, ever, but once it was the center of all knowledge in the Arrufat peninsula. It is there we are headed, and there we will find the secret of the magiscribe which shall release Clearspring from its confinement.”

“Uh-huh,” Koyson grunted emptily. Beside him Vobul quietly continued turning the meat, snacking on a – raw – bit he had saved for himself.

“You… do….” Markesh stuttered, looking at Koyson. “You do know what a magiscribe is?”

“Of bloody course!” the dwarf yelled. “What do ye take me for? Messages written on one sheet that magically appear on another paper many miles away, hah! What I’m wonderin’ is what’s so fornicatin’ great about that! An’ don’t ye have a proper priest at home, anyway? That sage oughta know all ‘bout the magiscribe, anyway!”

Willett chuckled. “That’s what I said.”

“Please stay out of this, Willett,” Markesh said urgently and turned back to the dwarf. “Yes, that is true. But Sage Urquart left his home a long time ago for what he believed would be a short trip, without learning the deeper of knowledge of the priesthood. His ship sank before Freeport, where the galleons of our sovereign rescued him. Thereafter he travelled along the Wild Coast and finally came to stay in Clearspring, where he founded a shrine. That is where I was schooled and became a novice, along with Terstaguen.

“Sage Urquart has never learned how the magiscribe works, and that is why we are looking for the answer. With the magiscribe, we could instantly learn what transpires in far-away places. We could receive warning of attacks long before the invaders arrive at Clearspring. We could know who to trade with, we could know what people need to buy… It would solve all our troubles!”

Markesh’s eyes gleamed dreamily as he spoke, and finally he glanced about himself to find applause. Instead he got the quiet nods of his companions, but only dubious looks from Koyson and Vobul.

Finally the furrag shook his head slightly and said, “For that to work, you would need trustworthy people everywhere who would write regular reports to your home. Journeymen, perhaps.”

Ha’el nodded. “Yes, we know. And we are willing to take that task upon ourselves. For the good of our village.”

A smile brightened Markesh’s face at the unexpected support of the half-elf, and further brightened when Willett grunted and said, “I’m a wizard, which I take to mean that I journey about the continent and learn whatever I can about magic. Writing reports home to mum and dad, that’s fine with me. It’s,” he stopped and grinned when he copied Ha’el’s serious tone of voice, “for the good of our village.”

“Sounds nice and honest,” Koyson grunted, “but that’s takin’ a lot o’trouble on yer heads. An’ I don’t think ye really know just how much that is gonna be.”

Before any of the youngsters could cut in, Vobul said, “Everyone has to start somewhere.” He sighed. “Where is that temple you are looking for?”

Markesh smiled. “About a day’s journey to the southeast. We had been hoping to reach it by noon tomorrow. Would you…” He stopped, looked at his companions briefly, then leaped up and bowed graciously. “Dear sirs, Sir Koyson Seabourne, Sir Vobul of the Furrag, would you grant us the pleasure of accompanying us thither? Your experience, your might, it would ensure the success of our mission, and you’d be sure of all our thanks!”

“Well, I –“

Koyson’s gruff remark was quickly cut down by Ha’el who immediately shot to her feet and stared down Markesh. “You’re still bent on that?! We decided to do this by ourselves, and we don’t want any outsiders to interfere! You don’t know anything about these people!”

“They helped us when we needed help!”

The wizard grunted. “He’s right about that, Ellie. And, mind you, they have no problem speaking to a person of elven descent. So you shouldn’t be troubled by them, either.”

It was obvious that the remark stung Ha’el. Her pretty blue-skinned face tightened angrily. Markesh quickly stepped to her, gently grasped her arm and said, “Please, Ellie. This isn’t like Hoordan’s Crossing. Not everyone thinks that elves are evil by nature, not everyone hates you. Let them help us, please.”

Ha’el stared at Koyson as if he were vermin. “Are you so certain?” she asked bitterly. “We don’t need them.”

Koyson looked at Vobul as if the young people had lost their minds. “When did we say that we were gonna –“

“Be silent,” Vobul thundered and rose to his full eight feet. His giant shadow fell on Ha’el, and the tall half-elf suddenly felt like a tiny child. “You know little of the world. That much you have learned in your encounter with the ratpeople. You need to learn much more to live on your own. It would be wise to let the experienced guide your path.”

“I don’t need anybody!” Ha’el shouted – and suddenly her anger vanished when she realized how much she sounded like a petulant child indeed.

Willett chuckled. He understood it as well.

“Ha’el?” Markesh asked softly.

She stared at him, fully expecting to see him wilt down again, but this time the novice held her gaze with pleading eyes. “Oh, fine, have it your way!” she grumbled, then sank back to the ground.

Vobul nodded. “A good choice, and now,” he turned to the roast pig with a look of disgust, “it is time to eat your burnt meat.”


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