The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 8
by "Splatter" Joe Solmo
Grian entered a large tent after Stone Spear and the shaman, Wind Dancer. The interior was only lit by a few candles on an ancient oaken table in the middle of the tent. The shaman made his way over to a stool on the far side. “Come, sit,” he said waving to Grian and Stone Spear then pointing to a bench on the nearer side.
Grian settled onto the bench while Stone Spear stood over his shoulder, refusing to sit. The shaman picked up a burlap sack from behind him and started to rummage around inside of it with his grubby hands. The dwarf sat quietly waiting.
“Ah ha,” Wind Dancer said and pulled a small wooden box from the sack. He opened it and pulled out several stones with symbols painted on them and tossed them onto the table. He looked them over for a few minutes and looked up at Grian.
“Look, we don’t have a lot of time, shaman. Do you have something you want to talk about?” Grian asked. He turned towards Stone Spear for reassurance, but the warrior might have well been a statue.
“Yes, I am sorry. I wanted to do a reading,” the shaman said putting the stones in a line. “I wanted to see what the ancestors think of you.”
“What did they say?” Grian asked.
“They say you follow a path no other has tread. They say that your goal will shock the world as we know it. But they also say that you are true of heart,” the shaman said pulling a stone off the table and back into the bag with each statement.
“There is danger on your quest, my dwarven friend. The ancestors say that the faithful can sometimes be blind to what is in front of them. You must question things you take for truth,” he continued. Now there was only one stone left. This one had a black spiral painted on the gray surface.
“What does that last one say, shaman?” Grian said shifting his weight on the wooden bench. He didn’t care for the shaman’s ancestor’s comment on his faith. Once again he looked at Stone Spear, but he still wasn’t moving a muscle.
“This last one is most troubling, indeed,” the shaman said. He picked up the stone and twirled it in his hand as if biding time while he decides what to tell Grian.
“Out with it, I want to get going,” the dwarf said.
Suddenly Stone Spear moved towards the door. Sounds of a commotion could be heard out in the street. Grian exchanged glances with the Wind Dancer, and they both got up and headed for the entrance flap on the tent.
The bright sun blinded Grian for a few seconds upon exiting, but soon adjusted. Birell and the brothers stood in front of a crowd that had gathered and started pushing their way towards the shaman’s tent. Among them was the woman they found in the cave. She looked down at the ground, as if ashamed.
“What is going on here?” asked Wind Dancer. The group started to all talk at once. “One at a time, please,” the shaman said.
The woman from the cave stepped forward and the crowd split around her. She approached them. “I am sorry. This is all my fault. The story of your healing, sir dwarf, has spread I am afraid,” she said timidly, never looking Grian in the eye.
“My mom is sick. Please help her,” someone said from the back of the crowd.
“It’s my daughter, she has a fever,” another one yelled out, before a cacophony of voices over took the individual.
Grian sighed, he was torn inside. He wanted nothing more than to be on his way to find the Keystone for his god, but could he really turn his back on these sick people. He could end their pain and suffering, he could save lives, if he stayed awhile, but that was time his god had to remain imprisoned. As much as he wanted to leave, he knew he wouldn’t and it would be a long night taking care of the Desert Folk that have welcomed him into their community.
Soon a few of the village’s warriors approached and dispersed the crowd, but only after Grian agreed to look at the hurt and infirm near the bazaar. Even then a few stragglers stayed close, hoping to catch the first glimpse of the miracles the dwarf performed.
Grian ducked back into the shaman’s tent, along with his road companions. They stood around the dimly lit tent as Grian settled once more on the bench. This time he wasn’t alone, Birell sat next to him.
“Do you wish me to continue the reading?” Wind Dancer asked.
“Aye,” Grian said.
“This last stone represents betrayal. Someone you feel a closeness with will betray you. It will affect your life greatly,” he said in a whisper.
Grian and Birell exchanged looks for a second, then Grian looked back at the shaman. “I trust everyone I am traveling with,” he said. “I know they be trustworthy.”
Birell smiled at the kind comment and slapped the dwarf in the back. “I will always be here for you, Grian. Someone has to remind you to brush out that owl’s nest of a beard,” she joked.
Grian laughed and stood. “I thank you for the reading and I will take your words to heart, shaman. I fear I have a long night ahead of me with your folk. Now if you don’t mind…” Grian started to say.
“One more thing, healer. Remember the world doesn’t like change. I would be careful performing these miracles around. Some eyes wouldn’t see it in such a grand light. Some ears listen for others,” the shaman warned.
“Enough of the cryptic talk, let’s find that ale hut,” Sreg said and parted the flaps at the entrance of the tent, flooding it with bright light.
Grian spent the rest of the day looking over everyone he could. Wind Dancer followed him every step, watching what he was doing. Even the most mundane injuries came out to see him for a cure. He sent most of those away and concentrated on the serious injuries.
There was an outbreak of fever he cured, each time taking the sickness into himself. After a few hours he had to rest, as the buildup of toxins were taking their toll on him. The Desert Folk were relentless though, each one thought their case was the most important.
The sun had faded by the time Grian got a chance to eat. The most serious wounds and sicknesses had been cured. They tried to give him gifts, coins, anything they valued for his service but he turned them down. That just seemed to make the villagers revere him more, even though the practical reason he refused was he had nowhere to carry the stuff they offered. The only gift he accepted was room and board…and ale for the night for him and his friends, and the village was more than happy to accommodate.
The leader of the village was out on a hunt and wouldn’t return for several days, but the village promised to tell him of the dwarf’s miracles upon his return. They told him he always had a place to stay in the village. He took the attention with sheepish grace, thanking them for their kind words.
Grian awoke in the morning to find a child, no older than 3 digging through his pack. The would-be thief was unaware the dwarf was awake. He watched the child with a smile for a few minutes as he pulled items out and looked them over with curiosity before discarding them on the floor and digging for the next treasure.
“Find anything good, little one,” he asked. The child’s reaction was priceless. The toddler nearly leapt out of his skin with fright, his eyes doubled in size. It made Grian laugh. “Do not fear, I won’t tell anyone,” he said.
The child just nodded slowly, never taking his eyes off of the dwarf, even as he started to back away towards the entrance to the tent. Grian sat up and began to put his things back inside his pack. As soon as the dwarf’s attention wasn’t on him, the child turned and ran outside. Grian chuckled. To be carefree again!
When the dwarven healer left the tent there was already a small crowd surrounding it. It seemed the sick population never dwindled. Grian gave himself to midday only, then he would leave, even if there were still sick people around.
The brothers spent the morning lining people up in order of the severity of their issues. Dealing with them was almost as daunting as healing them was. Birell and Stone Spear spent their time looking for any supplies in the village that would help them with the last leg of their trip to the Red Rock Castle.
Midday came faster than Grian expected and he had to begrudgingly give up if he wanted to be strong enough to travel. He healed the sickest and injured people first, and felt he fixed all but the most mundane of cases. Still he wished he could heal everyone.
It only took a few minutes for them to get ready to leave, the brothers had everything packed beforehand. They were eager to hit the road. A quarter hour later had them passing a stone formation out of sight of the villagers who lined the edge of town to wave goodbye to the miraculous healer and his friends.
The group continued in silence for a few hours. Grian was exhausted from helping them so he just put one foot in front of the other. He wondered if this was going to be his fate. It was a little unnerving having people embrace his gift instead of chastising him for it. The dwarven views on magic don’t seem to be shared throughout the world. Is it possible the dwarves were wrong? Grian hoped so.
By dinner time they could make out where the castle was on the side of the red mountain range eating up the horizon, its massive peaks rose thousands of feet up in sheer cliffs, as if it was broken off long ago by some giant goliath. The group sat facing the mountains and ate their meal contemplating the best course.
“We should try to sneak in and take the Keystone without them noticing,” Sreg said. “That makes the most sense, the ol’ sneaky in and out.”
“We should talk to them and let them know why we are here. Surely once they learn why they would help us,” Grian said. Everyone shook their head no at him.
“Let Sreg and I scope it out. We have the best chance to not be spotted,” Birell suggested stuffing a slice of apple into her mouth. They wouldn’t start a fire and draw attention this close to the castle.
“That is true,” Zeeg agreed.
“Aye, but I don’t feel right sending others into danger when it’s really my quest,” Grian said.
“I can help them some. I have been working on an invisibility spell. I should be able to cast it on both of them. It should last a few hours,” Skrat said.
“Well it’s settled. I will get my things,” Birell said with a smile and rose from the ground. She grabbed her pack and sheathed her knife she had used to slice her fruit.
“Great, let’s go, we will rendezvous over by those rocks,” Sreg said slinging his quiver of arrows over his shoulder. Skrat pulled them aside and began to work his magic on them. Right before everyone’s eyes the pair faded from view.
“That’s amazing, Skrat,” Grian said.
“Thanks,” he replied to the dwarf before facing the invisible couple again. “Now here is a stone, it will glow red when the spell is about to wear off. You know just in case I was wrong about how long it would take,” Skrat said.
“What do you mean if you were wrong?” Sreg said unseen. Grian saw him take a step as the desert dust poofed into the air at his step.
“This is the first time I have used it,” Skrat explained.
“Let’s go before it runs out,” Birell said and the party watched the dust rise as Sreg and Birell made their way towards the castle. Grian could hear them chiding each other about who would reach the castle first. He shook his head.
“Those two are going to get into trouble, one day,” Zeeg said approaching the dwarf and putting a strong hand on his shoulder.
“Aye lad. They be cut from the same cloth,” Grian responded and started to clean up the dinner mess. Soon the rest of party started heading for the boulders Sreg had pointed out earlier.
Birell was enjoying herself, she was about four paces in front of the ranger as they raced across the sand and rock of the Akridlands. The castle was growing larger with every step. She could make out patrols on horseback trotting back and forth about a mile out from it. There was no way the group would have snuck up on the castle without Skrat’s spell.
She envied the little mage. The elf was no stranger to magic, she had been surrounded by it her whole life, but it was very rare for a mage to be this strong at such a young age. It was nearly unheard of in fact.
Being lost in thought almost cost her the lead. She could heard Sreg huffing and puffing in her ear as he tried to catch the elf. She toyed with the idea of letting him win, or maybe slowing down until he caught up then taking off again, but as they neared the patrols she knew the time for games was over and they had to be careful. Being seen wasn’t the only way to be found.
Birell slowed and walked carefully, keeping a wide berth from the horsemen with their bows. They all wore plate shirts, shining in the fading light of the evening. Birell thought they were supposed to be no more than bandits, but they seemed well organized and funded for bandits. Perhaps a mercenary group turned bandits, she thought.
With Sreg at her side they made it to the towering red rock wall of the castle. It rose a hundred feet above them where archers walked back and forth. They watched as people came and went from the large gate. Most were soldiers from the castle either going to or returning from patrol, but everyone once in a while a small group of merchants made their way to the gate, showing some kind of medallion to the guards posted there. That would be their way in.
Somehow Birell and Sreg had to get their hands on a medallion for the dwarf and the rest of the brothers. They watched until the sun was lost and the shadows grew more permanent. No merchant had left in all that time for them to follow and barter for the medallion.
“We need to do something soon. I don’t know how much more invisibility we have,” Sreg whispered to the elf.
“Follow me,” She replied and crept along the wall towards the guard.
“I can’t see you, remember?” Sreg said, but listened to the crunch of the sand under the elf’s feet. He realized her plan and followed her towards the gate.
They approached the guard quietly, there was one on each side of the gate holding polearms taller than they were. Torches behind them embedded in sconces in the castle wall illuminated the entrance to the castle. The traffic to the castle had all but disappeared with the sun, with the only exception returning patrols of a dozen riders. How many the castle held was a mystery.
Carefully Birell approached the guard and began to side step between him and the wall. Her lithe form fit easily. Sreg was a different story. Birell kicked a rock towards the second guard to cause a distraction. It worked, as the first guard turned towards the sound and the second turned towards the first.
Sreg skittered behind them, his movements covered by the guards’ conversation and the invisible duo entered the courtyard. Just inside Birell saw an open door where the guard house was and ducked inside. The room had a few tallow candles breaking the monotony of the darkness.
On the dirt floor was a small chest next to a wooden table with a ledger on it. A list of names and goods adorned the pages next to a list of numbers. Birell made quick work of the lock on the chest and popped it open. “Just what I thought,” she whispered.
Inside the chest were dozens of the medallions they saw the merchants show the guards. So here is where they registered them to the various peddlers. She took a handful and stuck them in her pocket. “Let’s get these back to Grian and your brothers,” she said to Sreg.
“Sreg?” she whispered when he didn’t answer. Panic started to set in when the ranger didn’t respond. She peeked out the door and saw nothing, but then again wouldn’t be able to see him if he was invisible. Her eyes scanned the left and right of the courtyard, but there was no sight of him.
“Gotcha,” came a whisper directly into her ear. She nearly jumped out of her skin and had to clamp her hand over her mouth to stifle a startled yelp. She swung blindly behind her and connected to Sreg as she heard an “oaf” sound. Served him right, she thought.
“Stop fooling around, we have to get out of here before…” she said and stopped in fear as Sreg began to appear in front of her.
“Oh no,” she said.
“Um Birell, I have some bad news,” the ranger said from the floor, where he fell after her strike.
“This is no good,” the elf said pulling the guard door closed. There was no other exit to the room. They were trapped.
“Relax,” Sreg said standing and dusting himself off. “We can just bluff our way out using those medallions. Easy as pie. It’s a good thing you have me here to take care of you,” Sreg said with a crooked smile.
Birell rolled her eyes at Sreg. Outside the guardroom they could hear voices. Sreg panicked and locked the door. A second later they heard someone try the latch.
“It’s locked, that’s odd,” came a voice from the other side.
“Great now we have to find the captain for the key,” the other voice said.
Birell’s eyes grew huge and she slapped Sreg in the chest with the back of her hand while making a frowning face.
“What was that for,” he asked.
“Why did you lock the door? We could have lied and said we were lost. How are we going to explain why we locked the door?” the elf said angrily.
“Give me a minute, I will come up with something. I work well under pressure,” Sreg said and started to pass the room. “We can tell them we got locked in on accident,” he reasoned.
“We aren’t invalids, I think they would know better, think of something else,” she said.
“You stay here, I will find the Captain,” came a guards voice from the other side of the door. Birell looked at Sreg and shook her head.
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