22 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 22

Chapter 22

A murder most curious.
Abandoned farm field
Wren let her horse break into a gallop.  The tall grass brushed against her legs, whipping against her leather trousers.  The young elf crouched low on her horse, bringing her head beside the animal's neck.  The ground flew by under the horse's hooves.

With the horse's pace steady, Wren let part of her mind wander.  The past few days had been a whirlwind.  Her dark guardian angel returned!  She knew Jyslyn came from one of the Accursed Lands Below, but Wren had prayed every morning since arriving at Wildwood that her angel would survive and return.  And then the priest brought her with him!  It felt childish to think that Kazimier found Jyslyn as an answer to her prayers.  Yet, Wren thanked the Lightbringer during evening services the day she saw Jyslyn.  And to get to help her?  Wren couldn't wait to show her dark angel around, once they got back to Wildwood.

The ground changed, from a farmer's field overgrown with wildgrass to thin brush with rocks poking up from the dark soil.  A few hundred yards beyond that, a thin forest stood, the trees returning after being cut back.  Wren slowed her horse to a trot.  She watched around her, taking in how the land presented itself in a more natural manner, untouched by human or even elven hand.  The horse snorted.  Wren tensed.  She slipped off the animal, grabbing her bow from behind her saddle.  The young elf sniffed the air, just as she was taught.  She recognized the peat coming from the soil, the tangy cedar from the brush.  There was also a scent she didn't recognize, one that wasn't from a plant of the ground.

Wren crouched down.  She strung her bow, keeping it low.  The elf reached for an arrow, keeping it in her hand.  Hiding behind the thin brush, Wren crept forward, making use of all her senses.  Each step was carefully placed, avoiding dry branches and making sure that the ground was solid beneath her.  Wren heard low, harsh whispers, but couldn't make out the words.  She stopped, held still.  The whispering continued, coming from ahead of the young elf and to her left.  Wren nocked her arrow.

Half a dozen goblins appeared from the forest, all of them carrying spears.  Three were in the middle of an argument, with all three pointing with hard gestures, each in a different direction.  The other three kept watch on their surroundings.  Wren ducked down.  Sooner or later, the goblins would see her or her horse.  She worked to keep her breathing even.  This would be the first time she faced any one in battle.

Wren estimated her range.  She raised her bow, angling her arm to get the proper arc.  Her target, one of the goblins keeping guard.  The three arguing should be surprised, the young elf figured.  Wren pulled back on the arrow, feeling the tension of the bow through her arms.  Her target noticed her, his gaze meeting hers.  Wren loosed the bow string.

The arrow flew true, striking the goblin in the throat before he could call a warning.  He grasped the wound, trying in vain to keep his life blood from spraying out.  As he collapsed, the other two alert goblins hefted their spears.  Wren nocked a second arrow.  In her haste to shoot, her arrow flew over the goblins' heads and into the forest.  One of the ready goblins hurled his spear.  Wren rolled out of the way.  The spear struck the ground where Wren had been.

The spear thrower yelled, unmistakably a warning even if Wren couldn't understand the words.  The young elf got to her feet and broke into a sprint back towards her horse.  A second spear fell behind her.  Wren ignored it and focused on her running.  The distance between her and the goblins grew.  Without stopping, she leapt on to her horse.

Wren urged her horse into a gallop.  She retraced her trail back to the fields.  The tall grass wasn't high enough to hide her on horseback.  Wren risked a backwards glance.  The goblins were following, but not fast enough.  With her knees, Wren turned her horse.  Her hands were busy getting her bow ready.  She hoped she was far enough away that the goblins couldn't hit her with their spears.  One tried; the spear fell far short.

With the horse back at a trot, Wren took aim.  Her first arrow hit one of the goblins in the arm, but didn't slow him down.  Wren's second shot struck the goblin in the shoulder.  He bellowed in pain and rage, pointing at the elf.  Wren turned her horse and raced away.

Wren emerged on the road behind her group.  Kazimier was the first to notice her.  He brought the rest to a stop.  Wren kept her horse galloping until she reached the elf priest.  "Goblins!"  The young elf pointed in the direction she came.  "Five of them."

Jyslyn slid off her horse.  "Everyone, stand back."  The dark elf held her arms out in front of her, elbows and wrists bent in sharp angles, grey rod out and ready, as she began a quiet chant.

Wren gave Jyslyn room.  The young elf dismounted and readied her bow.  Kazimier joined her at her side, his hand on the hilt of his sword.  Leomund helped Nyssa get her horse turned around.  The knight had a lance in hand, pointing the weapon straight up.

The surviving five goblins burst out from the field.  Before Wren could pull back the arrow on her bow, Jyslyn finished her chant.  The ground rumbled.  The goblins stumbled as the earth beneath them shifted.  Behind them, a wave formed in the soil, rising up above them.  Jyslyn brought a hand down.  The soil slammed into the goblins, driving them to the ground.  The dark elf dropped to her knees.

One of the goblins crawled out from under the soil.  Wren fired; the arrow drove deep into the creature's side, killing it.  She nocked a new arrow, looking for any movement from the half-buried goblins.  After a few moments of seeing none, Wren approached them, step by step.  Kazimier followed her, passing her when she stopped.  He examined the bodies.  "They're dead," he announced.

Wren lowered her bow.  She helped Jyslyn get to her feet again, then followed the dark elf over to the bodies.  Jyslyn's breathing was heavy, her chest heaving with every step she took.  Wren remained close to the dark elf's side, ready to hold her up if needed.  Nyssa and Leomund arrive a few moments later.

At the bodies, Jyslyn crouched besiude Kazimier.  She pointed at a brand on one of the goblins' arm.  "Gashed Axe Horde."

Wren knelt beside Jyslyn to get a better look.  "But aren't they supposed to be closer to the dwarven kingdom?"

"Yes."  Jyslyn patted down the body.

"What are they doing out here?" Kazimier asked.

"Check the other bodies," the dark elf ordered.  "Look for a long, thin dagger.  Don't touch the blade.  Chances are it'll be poisoned."  She crawled over the body she finished searching to get to the next.

"Jyslyn, what's going on?"  Getting no answer, Kazimier pulled the dark elf around.  "Jyslyn, what is it?  What's the problem?"

The dark elf pulled away from Kazimier.  "It's the Gashed Axe!  My family sent them to find me!"

"How?" Kazimier asked.  "How could they know where you were?"

"That's why I need that knife!"  Jyslyn's hood fell back.  The fear on her face could be seen by all.

Wren pulled the dark elf into a hug.  "They'll have to get through me," the young elf said.  "I'm not letting them hurt you."

"You can't, Wren."  Jyslyn gave a feeble effort to pull away from the young elf.  "You can't."  Her voice trailed off.

"Found the knife," Leomund said.  He held up the dagger, exactly as Jyslyn described it.  He looked at the weapon's tang.  "I don't recognize the mark."

Jyslyn forced herself to look at the blade.  "Let me--"  Her voice broke.  She swallowed.  "Let me see it."

Leomund held the dagger out to the dark elf.  "Here, ma'am."

Wren let go of Jyslyn, but kept a hand on the dark elf's arm.  "Is it your family's?"

Jyslyn turned the dagger over, inspecting it.  "It isn't."  She peered closer at the tang.  "I don't recognize the mark on it."

Kazimier leaned in to see the dagger better.  "But it's like you described.  It comes from your people, doesn't it?"

"It looks like it."  Jyslyn handed the dagger to Kazimier.  "You should hold on to it."

As Kazimier took the knife, Nyssa asked, "Do either of you think this is what killed the body in the barn?"  She ran her fingers through her short grey hair.  "Jyslyn, is your family the only one that uses the Gashed Axe?"

"No," the dark elf answered.  "They're useful to several families.  But I'd recognize their mark."

"If the dagger was made by them."

Jyslyn arched an eyebrow.  "What do you mean?"

"Oh!  I get it!"  Wren took Jyslyn's hands into her own.  "Someone had one of your people make the blade to give to the goblins.  Then they killed that man, but they kept the dagger instead of leaving it behind.  I bet they could get a good price for it somewhere."

"Exactly."  Nyssa ruffled the young elf's blonde hair.

"And get the Niceans upset with the dark elves and start a conflict that way."  Kazimier sat back on his heels.  "Someone is going through a lot of effort."

Nyssa smirked.  "And whoever it is just made a mistake.  They got too complex in their planning."

"And forgot about the nature of the goblins," Kazimier added.  "We better get going.  Jyslyn, are you good to ride?"

The dark elf raised her hood again.  "I am."

"Are you sure?  You taxed yourself with that spell."

"I am sure, Kazimier.  I channeled more magic than I expected."

Kazimier smiled.  "And your arms and legs?  That couldn't have been comfortable."

"That's how spellcasting is taught in the Sundered Chasm.  All wizards do that."

"That explains their crankiness.  I'll introduce you to a friend in the Guild of Mages who can help with your posture."

"We should go.  I don't know how many more there are."  Wren helped Jyslyn to her feet.

Interregnum 2
The Bent Coin, Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
The dark-haired woman sat in a dark corner of the tavern, wrapped in a blanket, leaving her arms and shoulders exposed.  She sipped on her mulled wine, the light of the candle on her table playing across her creamy skin.  Two tanned men, both human, walked over from the bar, a stein in each man's hand.  They sat across from the woman, waiting for her to acknowledge them.

"Good evening, gentlemen," the woman said, her tone low and sultry.

"Good evening, Sesserine," the older of the two men said.

"I understand the Niceans are upset at the loss of their ambassador to the Realm Below the Mountain," Sesserine said.  "There's something missing, though."

"Missing?" the younger man said.  "The Niceans are upset."

The woman leaned forward.  Her blanket drooped.  "They're upset with the dwarves.  That isn't what you were paid to do."

The younger man's eyes drifted down from Sesserine's face.  "You wanted tension.  There's tension."

Sesserine slammed her glass of wine on the table, shattering the stem in her grip.  "I paid you to blame the Accursed elves, not the dwarves."

"Blame the Gashed Axe Horde," the older man said.  "I gave them the knife to leave in the body.  Those imbeciles kept the knife.  I told you that they'd do that."

"You didn't put enough fear into them."  Sesserine shook out her hand.  Blood dripped on to the table.  "I scryed the ambassador.  An elf found him.  All because you couldn't get those goblins to follow orders."

The older man slammed his stein on the table.  Ale sloshed out on to his hand.  "I will not be held responsible for those creatures' failure."  He stood.  "I told you about how stupid those things can be.  How the Accursed keep them on task is beyond me."

"You will keep a civil tongue."  Sesserine leaned back in her seat.

"Civil?"  The older man reached for a wand on his belt.  "Maybe I should teach you civil."

Sesserine smiled.  The tail of a large snake looped around the older man's throat and began to squeeze.  "Yes, civil."  The older man fought to remove the coil around his neck.  His breathing turned to gasps; his wand dropped to the floor.  The snake's tail never loosened until the older man's neck snapped.  He fell lifeless to the floor.  Sesserine turned her attention to the younger man.  "I trust that you will be civil?"

The younger man stared at the body on the floor.  "Yes, ma'am."

Next Week:
Welcome to Silver Trailings

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