Of Kings and Dragons
The Hunt Begins - Part Two
With snow falling, the party found the road difficult. The cold bit deeply into each of them but as Ulfen warriors they were used to the harsh climate. After several hours, there was little change.
Before them, the fog parted and a lone cloaked figure approached. Knowing strangers on the roads of the Thanelands were just as dangerous as the monsters that prowled the wilds, the party fingered their weapons.
With fog swirling around her, the woman approached the party. She stopped and pulled back her hood. From the party’s left, a second woman emerged from the shrubs. The third approached from behind.
“These are the ones,” says the first woman.
“Yes, they are,” says the second.
“The Circle of Niira,” completes the third.
“Niira the Lonely.”
“Lost to us.”
The three women barely acknowledged the party as they discussed them.
“Niira is dangerous. She must be ignored.”
“You must not listen to her.”
“She cannot see the paths.”
“She leads you down the wrong way.”
“We have warned you. We will stop you.”
Without responding to the party’s inquiries, the Norns retreated into the mists, and were gone.
The Norns were known by all the Ulfen and the Circle was troubled by their visit. They refused to acknowledge the party while discussing them. Normally, they only spoke to those encountering them through cryptic prophecy; yet today, they predicted nothing. Today they threatened the party to distance themselves from Niira, to kill her even. Alrik pointed out that the Norns normally predicted future events, but Niira seemed to be directing them.
As the party prepared to move on, Egil turned to retrieve his pack and found bare feet before him. Looking up, Niira stood over him.
“Damn,” he cursed.
“Varin will be slain,” she said.
Egil stood up to face Niira, but she was gone. The only clue she left that she had even been there were two footprints in the snow.
“I hate that bitch,” he moaned.
The party quickly became torn between their agreement with Gudrun to protect the prince and Niira’s warning about Varin. The party agreed to split up in order to cover both tasks. Gorreg, Alrik and Thryan continued onward to Aki’s camp. Tholan, Egil and Hob returned to Kalsgard to find Varin.
Aki’s camp was right where Gudrun had predicted it would be. The party presented a letter from the councilwoman and were escorted to Aki’s tent. They found the prince preparing for his hunt of the linnorm. Thorhall, the king’s hand, sat quietly in one corner.
The trio presented their concerns to the young prince. He doubted he was in danger, but he gladly accepted their assistance. He asked Diarf to find them a place in the camp.
After leaving the prince’s tent, the party explored the camp. It didn’t take Alrik but a few moments to notice a camp guard stalking Gorreg. The half-orc seemed oblivious to the stalker at first but then he noted Alrik watching the guard.
As they circled the guard, he disappeared behind a tent. Alrik rounded a corner and found him kneeling with his back to them. The guard mumbled an arcane word and suddenly a black raven was released from his hands.
Alrik responded with a quick shot from his bow. The arrow flew true, but passed harmlessly through the bird. The guard leaped up to confront Alrik. As he charged the hero, Alrik raised his bow and fired. The arrow missed and the guard sunk his shortsword into Alrik.
Thryan and Gorreg circled the tent and came at the guard. As they rushed forward, Alrik tried to stumble away to safety. He pressed Alrik and swung again, the sword struck true. Alrik raised his bow and fired, the arrow hit only air. In desperation he fired again, the second shot missed. Death pressed in on him.
Thryan uttered an incantation and Alrik rose into the air. He fumbled under the spell and fired his bow. The guard dodged his arrows again. Gorreg rushed in and swung his weapon. The blow staggered the guard.
Cursing, the guard uttered an arcane word and disappeared, leaving only the smell of perfume in the air.
Suspended above the camp, Alrik sighed with relief. The camp guards backed away from Thryan, fearful of his magic. They backed even further away from Gorreg. The anger the half-orc displayed frightened even the sturdiest among them.
The second half of the Circle nearly reached the city, before they encountered Varin and his party. His daughter, Asta and Hela “Longstrider” Olfsfordwas with him. They presented to him the encounter with the Norns and then the prediction by Niira of his death.
Varin pulled them aside to speak in private. Asta was clearly bothered by being left out of the conversation by her father.
Varin told the party that he and the council suspected the Norns had lost their ability to see the future. Niira should have lost her ability with the death of her sisters, and been replaced. What this held for the Kingdom and its people was unknown.
Varin’s camp settled in for the night. Hela warned everyone that the pack would keep watch. They were all safe to turn in. Tholan watched her disappear into the night, a desire to speak with her wrenching at his gut.Egil and several of the men found a campfire to warm their hands, and a jug of ale to warm their bones. Appearing uncomfortable around the crowd, Hob found a quiet spot to relax.
As the night approached midnight, the cries of Hela’s pack began to sing to the moon. As the eerie sounds drifted to the camp, many complained but there was little Varin could do.
As the siren songs reached Tholan, he found himself pulled into the trees to investigate. The howls were beautiful to his ears. With each step they became clearer, no longer sounding like wolf howls but like a true siren. Cresting a hill, he drew witness to a sight never before seen by a man. Below him, the moon lit up a clearing. Standing in the center was Hela, her voice raised in praise to the moon. Her pack was gathered around her, their voices raised in applause.
Enraptured by the song, Tholan never noticed to darkness stalking him until it revealed itself. He felt the growl as much as heard it. It rolled over him and sent his heart plunging into fear. Slowly, he turned and found Nightstalker melting from the darkness. The creature’s eyes glowed red and its fur bristled. Like death, the creature circled Tholan.
The hero held his hands up to show he was unarmed and was no threat. Nightstalker showed no care for Tholan’s intent, and immediately attacked. The creature’s fangs bit deep, and its cold touch left his arm stiff. Knowing a fight with the demon-wolf would drive a wedge between him Hela before he could even form a friendship with her, he drew on the power of nature and shifted his form. Flapping his wings, Tholan lifted into the air in the form of an eagle. Circling over the clearing, he witnessed Hela speaking sharply with Nightstalker. The outcome of their argument was lost to the trees.
Returning to the camp, he found it quite for the night, except for his tent. With the ale exhausted, Egil had found his bedroll. The Ulfen warrior’s snores would have drowned out the howls of the wolves even had they encircled the tent. With Hela on his mind and Egil assaulting his ears, he finally found sleep.
Egil’s ale infused sleep was interrupted by the familiar scent of perfume. At first he smiled and sought to sink deeper into his sleep, hoping the scent would bring dreams of pleasure; but instead he felt a slight tap on his cheek. He tried to brush it off, but the tap repeated. Opening his eyes, he found the smile of an angel watching over him.
Isabella smiled, “Hey there big guy.”
Egil was dreaming, and he liked it.
“No, you are not dreaming,” she said. “Look, I have a problem. I have a job to do and you and your friends keep getting in the way. I really hate the cold and I want desperately to return to the southlands. So, do me a favor and let your friends know that if any of you, and that includes you lover, get in my way again, I’ll kill you. Understood?”
The confusion of sleep clouded Egil’s mind. The others continued to claim that Isabella was an assassin, but he just couldn’t see it; or did he just choose not to see it? “Kill us? With what, a frying pan?” He just didn’t want to let go of the fact that she was a barmaid.
Suddenly, Isabella was gone. The tent flap fluttered.
Roused from his sleep, Tholan mumbled, “A frying pan? What about a frying pan?” He smelled perfume and leaped from his bedroll. The alarm was sounded. “Assassin in the camp! Assassin in the camp!” They were able to track Isabella to the edge of camp where her footprints disappeared, only the smell of perfume remained.
Tholan and Egil argued over Isabella. Egil admitted that his girlfriend had been in camp and that she had warned them about interfering with her work. The admittance of a relationship with the assassin drew the ire of many in the camp.
The remainder of the night passed without incident. If Isabella had been there for Varin there was no indication of it, and despite Niira’s prophecy he had survived the night. Egil departed the camp to return to Aki’s, hoping to pass on Isabella’s warning.
Aki’s camp came to life with excitement as word of a lost patrol circulated. To many, the disappearance of friends would bring fear and worry; but to Ulfen warriors it brought the prospect of glory and honor. Up to his point, the patrols had found no sign of the linnorm. Swords were drawn, spears were raised, and shouts of hope rose over the tundra. The men spread out to form a line. As they marched through the snow, they poked every bush and checked under every rock for a lair. After an hour, they found the patrol, or what remained of it.
The snow was red with death. An arm, still clutching a sword, lay in the center of the clearing. The arm was the only body part remaining. The rest of the weapons were bent, broken or useless. Shrubs and trees had been torn from the ground. Snow and dirt had been tossed upside down.
Aki gave immediate orders to fan out and look for signs of the dragon’s location. Thryan stepped away from the warriors and drew on his arcane might. Words of power caused his body to grow light, and lighter still, until he floated upward. He quickly cleared the short thorny trees, only to have fear wash over him. His tongue grew stiff and his hands shook.
Curled among the tops of the trees lay a scaly serpentine body. The linnorm was large, larger than the Tian had expected. Spit dripped from its fanged mouth. Its claws splintered the tree trunks that it clung to. Its three scorpion-tipped tails twitched with anticipation while its large eyes focused on the warriors scouring the bushes below it.
Praying to the gods, the wizard slowly allowed himself to descend from the tree tops. The Ulfen warriors were unaware of the danger lurking over them. Especially Aki. The linnorm had been focused on him.
Thinking fast, Thryan focused on Aki and uttered a spell, whispering, “It’s a trap! The linnorm lurks above you!”
Aki drew back his bow string as he whirled around, seeking the source of the words. The prince had never experienced the words of a Message spell whispered into his ear before. His surprise nearly cost him his life.
As the words registered in his mind, the prince looked skyward and found the dragon descending on him from out of the treetops. He dodged to the right, barely avoiding the creature’s bite even as its tail whipped around and one of its stingers punched through the chest of the man on his right. The prince didn’t hesitate, he drew back his bow and let loose an arrow, in an instant he pulled another arrow and let it fly, then a third and a fourth. Despite his deadly accuracy, three of the arrows deflected off the creature’s hide. The fourth struck solid, but the monster ignored the injury.
With the initial shock of the beast’s surprise attack over, the warrior’s leaped to the defense of their prince. Thorhall was one of the first to respond, his spiked mace struck true. Alrik’s bow attempted to repeat the Aki’s bow feats, but found his arrows could not penetrate the dragon’s hide. Gorreg uttered a spell and his body swelled with celestial energy, doubling his height. The half-orc didn’t hesitate to attack the dragon once infused with the power of his god.
From out of the forest, the monster hunter Bram Segismunnson emerged. He circled the edge of the fight looking for an opening. Either through sheer luck, or by the guidance of Niira, Egil stumbled onto the battle. He hadn’t arrived early enough to warn them of Isabella’s threat, but he had arrived early enough to engage the linnorm. With a smile on his face, and battle in his heart, Egil quickly engaged the beast. Bram fed on the Ulfen warrior’s bravery, and also engaged the dragon.
The battle was swift and ferocious. The linnorm had nothing on its mind but devouring its enemy. It paid little attention to its on safety. As the hero’s pressed, it opened its maw wide. With its jaw cracking, a lump in its throat rumbled and an instant later, fire and rock spewed forth. The molten rock splashed across Aki and two warriors. Aki was able to twist to the right and avoid most of the damage, but the two men flanking him died instantly, their flesh seared from their bones.
Another warrior died to the monster’s stinger tail as Aki dropped his bow and pulled his father’s two-handed sword from his back. The prince rushed in and struck a massive blow to the creature’s maw. The dragon-bane weapon caused the creature to real back with fear.
Thorhall stood next to his prince and used his spiked mace to rack the monster’s left eye. It roared back in pain as the blow blinded the eye.
Bram had found a level of courage the monster hunter had never experienced before. He had fought many a dark monster in the past, but this battle was truly exhilarating. His massive sword took hunks from the dragon’s flesh that rivaled those of the prince.
Gorreg’s weapon did little damage, but the half-orc pressed the dragon from the side, often willingly taking the monster’s claw in order to spare the prince the damage.
Egil thrilled at the battle. The young ulfen warrior stood his ground next to some of the kingdom’s greatest warriors.
Alrik worked the edge of the battle, chanting a ballad of prowess that left the warriors enchanted.
Thryan threw several spells at the dragon, learning that the monster was immune to spells of fire.
It took time, but eventually the warriors wore down the monster.
Looking for an advantage, Egil chose tactics over a direct strike. He took aim at the tree limb the linnorm used for balance and sundered it. As the tree limb shattered, the creature lost its balance and tumbled to the ground.
Seeing the creature was wounded and likely to retreat, Thorhall dropped his mace and pulled his Ulfen sword. In a swift stroke, he pinned one of the dragon’s claws to the ground. Aki and the others took advantage of the monster’s distraction and struck.
As weapons came down and the monster recoiled, a fatal blow was struck. The creature crumpled to the ground. Silence filled the clearing as warriors glanced from their blades to the dragon. In their minds, they had all struck the final blow. Egil felt pride swell within him. Bram had finally felled a mighty dragon. It was not the one he sought, but it was a dragon! Gorreg put credit with his god, but enjoyed the moment anyway. Alrik’s was the first voice to assign credit for the kill.
“Hail the prince! The linnorm is slain!”
Thorhall immediately added his voice to Alrik’s. Bram felt a pang of jealousy. Gorreg joined the battle cry, knowing they would not accept his victory anyway. Egil hesitated, before joining in. Alrik caused the prince’s legend to grow ten fold with the joining of his voice.
Aki accepted the praise and took a moment to lord over his kill before removing its head with his sword. Laevateinn’s legacy grew with the severing of the head. First his father had claimed the throne with it, and now Aki was destined to do so as well.
“By the way,” interrupted Egil to his friends, “Isabella says to stay out of her way, or she will kill us.” Stunned by the interruption, everyone turned to stare at the Ulfen warrior. “What?” he mumbled. “She did.”
The monster’s carcass was butchered; its claws taken as trophies, its hide taken for tanning, its bones taken for carving, its meat taken for feasting, its head to claim a throne.
Word spread before the party and by the time they reached the city, a throng of people lined the streets. Cheers erupted as Aki, bearing the linnorm aloft, crossed the city gates. The crowd swelled and the celebration grew. Suffering under his illness, Aki stumbled under the weight of his prize, but managed to parade it through the city.
The Circle flowed along with the crowd, their eyes vigilant for any sign of trouble, especially trouble coming from Isabella.
Knowing what they were looking for, the Circle noticed a guard moving up behind Aki, his hand rested on his sword. Thryan reacted by incanting a spell. A blast of water erupted from his outstretched hand. Soaked, the guard turned on the team. The crowd held its breath. Aki stopped his trek and Thorhall drew his club.
“Damn,” cursed the guard. With an arcane word, he vanished.
“Not the smartest assassin,” grumbled Hob.
The parade paused only momentarily. Unaware of the truth of what they had witnessed, the crowd quickly resumed their march. Aki was confused, but he allowed himself to be pulled along with them.
“King Blood-Eagle lies dying. The assassin’s sword has caused his wound to fester with disease. My magic has done little to slow it. Perhaps if I had the weapon that caused the damage, I could do more. As it is, I fear he will die quickly.”