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Old 03-30-2010, 11:18 AM   #91
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     One afternoon Tabaar was visiting Reesling when the bard proposed a visit to the certification board.  "I passed my ranged test yesterday, thanks to Treissae's help with the pet vision, and I don't know any further reason they could turn me down."  Tabaar eyed his friend curiously. "Didn't the archery range folks have questions about yer...ability?"  "Nay," Reesling chuckled.  "I had the young lady make her pet invisible before we arrived:  they never had any idea that I was a blind man."  The Elder Mystic roared with laughter. "I always said ye were a rogue in bard's clothing!"

     "I'm sorry, sir, someone not a friend or relation has to vouch for you in order for us to grant a waiver to become a Dirge."  Tabaar let out an exasperated sigh; Reesling sagged in his chair in defeat. "I guess that's it." "No! We'll find a way around this roadblock!" Tabaar began arguing vociferously with the official but wasn't really making any progress when a young human man stepped into the doorway, interrupting the shaman's tirade.

     "Excuse me but I couldn't help hearing what was going on."  Reesling stood up in surprise and recognition of the voice.  "Chennault! I never expected to hear from ye again!"  "I couldn't possibly go without paying my debt," Chennault replied.  He turned to the bureaucrat. "I can vouch for the Halasian bard.  I met him last week and he was a great and capable help to me. Here's what happened...."

     Chennault had always wanted to be a Warden of the Forest, and at last he was realizing his dream through hard work and persistence.  Many people tended not to take him seriously, perhaps because he had a vague look of delicacy about him. He'd grown a beard to try to offset the impression but the illusion remained. 

     He traveled to various locales, honing his druidic skills, but met his match when he tried to take on the vicious Drolvargs on Kylong Plains.  Only a translocation spell spared him a messy death.  Discouraged, the young man sat on the dock and considered going back to easier foes.  But how people would talk...."Look, he's back, of course the wimp couldn't handle it."  Chennault ground his teeth in frustration.  What was he to do?

     The sound of guitar chords intruded upon his self-pity.  He looked up to see a middle-aged Barbarian man astride a Rime icemare riding by playing and singing softly to himself.  In spite of himself, Chennault was intrigued.  He didn't even know that Barbarians enjoyed music, and this one played very well indeed.  Glittering swords hung at his sides, and a huge bow was slung across his back. He certainly looked like a skilled fighter.  The young warden watched with great interest as the man abruptly spurred his horse toward an approaching Drachnid.  He dropped the instrument so it hung from a strap, and drew his swords.  As the enemy closed in, steel flashed and blood splattered, leaving the spiderlike creature's body twitching in the dust.  The Barbarian wheeled his mount and trotted up to a dock official. "Here's my proof," he said and was paid.  There was an idea!  If Chennault could work with this Barbarian, a lot could get done.  So he gathered up his courage and made an approach.

     "Um....hello there sir.  Excuse me but I am also bounty hunting and I think we could work together." The man turned in his direction, looking haughty and regal.  "Ye do eh?  What skills do ye have?" "I'm a Warden." "A druid? Hmm... my wife's a druid too."  The bard smiled as he said this, and Chennault's unease at the big man's strange demeanor eased somewhat.  "What is yer name?" "I'm Chennault." "Well, I'm Reesling, bard of Qeynos. Please to meet ye. Are ye ready to go? What do ye need to bring in?" "Oh yes, Drolvarg weapons," the warden remembered.  "All right, let's go." 

     Chennault followed Reesling across the river and up the slope toward Karnor Castle and soon found some of the werewolf-like beasts.  One spotted them and snarled; Reesling unslung his bow as the Drolvarg charged.  His arrow hit the mark, dropping it in mid-stride.  Chennault finished it off with his sword.  This was so much easier!  They rode and slew all the way to the overlook behind the castle.  Upon a rock stood the obvious leader of the Drolvargs.  "There's one! That's got to be a boss Drolvarg," Chennault said, pointing.  "Where?" Reesling asked.  "Over there!" The bard turned this way and that, and the Warden lost patience.  "It's right there above you on that rock! Come on man, are you blind?"

     Most of us get to wish they could take back what they said at some time or other. Now was the time for Chennault.   The bard wheeled his horse around to face the Warden. "Do ye think that's funny? I don't like being mocked for my handicap!" Reesling snapped.  Chennault stared in horror.  That was why the bard hadn't made eye contact!  He was blind! "Oh gods, I'm sorry I really didn't know, you hide it so well....I'll just go now." "Wait. Ye'll do no such thing. We have some work to do yet."  "But..." "Forget it. Ye didn't mean to offend, so be it. Now tell me what direction to face and what angle the leader Drolvarg is at, and I'll get him down here."  Chennault could feel his face burning bright red.  His only consolation was that the bard couldn't see it.  "Um...all right he's off your left shoulder and ....can you feel the sun? About that angle."  Reesling nodded, nocked his bow and let fly a shot.  A scream of pain and rage split the air, and down the rock came one very angry Drolvarg, only to meet steel blades.  The creature bit the bard on the arm, giving Chennault a chance to use his healing spells.  It was a harder fight than most but the outcome was never in doubt. 

     Back at the dock, they turned in their proof for bounty payments.  The bard  turned toward the Warden.  "I thank ye for helping me out. Always easier with someone along." Chennault gulped. "I'm the one who should be thanking you....and apologizing again for being so dense and an insensitive jerk. I wish there was something I could do to make it up to you."  "I'm not sure there's anything I need," Reesling said.  "But if ye ever are in Qeynos look me up.... or the Elder Mystic, Tabaar Hammersmite. He's my best friend."

     "....so I came here and it just so happened I overheard the discussion about Reesling.  I am not only vouching for him, I would trust him to be the best Dirge around. Please consider this for a waiver."  The official pondered a moment, then shrugged. "All right. Reesling Icereaver, you are hereby granted a waiver. You are as of now certified as a Dirge."  "YES!" shouted Tabaar, thrusting a fist into the air.  The newly minted Dirge was grinning from ear to ear, and the Warden laughed.  "I suppose I made up for my stupid remark?" he slyly asked.  "Definitely!"

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Old 05-10-2010, 02:46 AM   #92
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     Under Halasian rules and custom, as a first-time father, Leeroy would soon have some extra responsibilities. Northmen from time out of mind traditionally presented their firstborn formally to the Clan three days after birth, wrapped in a fine fur harvested by the father himself. Better get working on that, Leeroy thought. It would take time to prepare the pelt and he wanted it right and ready in plenty of time.

     "Anything ye need while I'm away, just ask Tabaar or Reesling and Warlaa." His expression grew tender. "I'll miss ye very much; I'll hurry back as fast as I can, love." He knelt down and embraced the Wood Elf, running his hand softly over her bulging belly. Leeroy chuckled and shook his head ruefully. "If I don't get going now I'll miss the boat. I love ye, Treissae, so much..." He turned quickly as her soft answer nearly broke his resolve. "I love you too, Leeroy," Treissae murmured, as the Halasian swiftly walked down the dock and boarded the ship to Everfrost.

     He hadn't been back since the fateful day he'd been reunited with his uncle and cousin, and the place brought back memories unbidden. Leeroy sighed and walked across the dock toward the skiff storage area. He frowned as he saw something odd down at the very end of the overlook. The air seemed to shimmer there, and strange bits of rock lay everywhere. He picked one up and it seemed to not belong, somehow, so he tossed it toward the strange spot in the air to see what it would do. It vanished with a popping noise. "Huh," Leeroy said, and took a few steps toward the odd spot. It felt like stepping into quicksand, and before he could recover he was abruptly pulled in.

     Awareness of his surroundings came slowly as Leeroy struggled to his feet. What was this place? He grabbed his weapon and looked around warily. No snow was in evidence; in fact, there was grass and trees and pavilions...and strange menacing creatures roaming and flying about. Where was he? One moment he'd been in Everfrost and now it was like he was in another world. Leeroy fought down a rising sense of panic and took a few steps forward.

     Three of the flying objects attacked him and he defended himself, quickly shattering the little globes. Not a friendly place indeed! Then a satyr came walking around the path and noticed the Northman. It was a much harder fight; the creature was very tough...but it dropped dead after a few well-placed blows. Leeroy was thoroughly worked up by now and he strode up the curving staircase to the pavilion to confront a spirit he could see there. "Ye better explain the reception I got...and why I was brought here in the first place," he grated. The ghost woman started talking but at first made no sense. "She has to be protected... oh no, I have failed....what has happened to this plane?" The Halasian frowned. "Who are ye? And what is this place?" "I am - was - one of her protectors. I am spirit bound to what is left of her realm. You can call it the Shard of Love. Oh, what is wrong with this place? I sense such anger, despair, mourning and suffering....can you help me?" implored the ghost. Leeroy heard the words but until now they hadn't sunk in. "By her ye mean Erollisi Marr?" "Yes! Oh, I failed her and she was killed."

     So, this was the realm of the creator of his people...and it had gone terribly wrong without her. Had the people of the North also strayed from what path Erollisi had envisioned for them? "What can I do to help?" he asked. "Talk to the other protectors maybe we can find out what is wrong here." He nodded and walked up the path. Obviously the ghost was confused and had nothing to do with the attacks on him, but he'd have to be ready for more strange things in a place like this. He wanted out, badly, but would have to solve this problem so he could get some straight answers.

     What a place! Even the fairies were twisted and aggressive. Even insects got involved, to say nothing of deer with sharp hooves and nasty tempers. It took him a long time to work his way to the other ghosts, and they were even more confused than the first one, but they did give him some ideas. Leeroy reported back to the first one to see what she said. "I sense a brooding presence that is causing this realm to be twisted. Maybe if you make your way up to the top pavilion to her memorial, you will find something."

     Of course there were some sort of restless spirits guarding the tomb, and they wouldn't let the Northman by without a fight. Once the way was clear, Leeroy stepped back and prepared himself for whatever lay beyond. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open then slipped through quickly. An immense figure faced away from him; at first he thought it was a statue. Then it turned to face him and Leeroy turned pale. It had to be....

     "Who are you to invade my sister's tomb and intrude upon my grief?" shouted the towering being, and rushed to attack the Halasian. Leeroy almost didn't defend himself that first moment and barely got out of the way with his life. Mithaniel Marr, her brother! he was fighting a demigod! He grimly threw himself fully into the fight, realizing that he wasn't likely to survive long. But no Northman ever ran. Ever. Then Mithaniel hit him across the chest with his shield, throwing Leeroy across the room. He heard ribs crack and he had twisted an ankle but got back up quickly as the demigod pressed the attack. It happened again and this time he felt the broken ribs cut into his lungs. Leeroy forced himself back up just as Mithaniel got there, and managed to hit him very hard on the knee with his mace. The demigod almost casually swung his sword and hit Leeroy's shield so hard it was driven back against the broken ribs, hard, and this time he landed in a heap in the middle of the floor, coughing up blood.

     "Enough!" shouted Mithaniel. Leeroy looked up in detachment at the figure. He realized that the injuries he'd sustained were killing him fast, and he tried to speak but only succeeded in choking on blood. Hopefully the demigod would finish him off quickly. Ah, there he was pointing the sword ready for the death blow... "I realize that you, mortal, were trying to get my attention and free me from the chains of grief I put upon myself. I apologize." Mithaniel touched the sword point to Leeroy's throat and discharged some sort of lightning bolt. The Northman felt himself pulled back from the edge of death and healed fully. He scrambled to his feet and bowed deeply, still very fearful.

     Mithaniel turned and walked to the coffin, lamented his mistakes, and used his sword to shatter it. "My sister's spirit is free now, as am I." He turned to Leeroy and looked him over. "You are one of her children. It is fitting that I go back to the Plane of Valor, as I should be there, but first I will make something right that has been wrong for a long time for the children of the North, the children of Erollisi." He picked up a statue of his sister from the front entrance of the tomb and turned to go. "Oh, I have provided you a way back to your homeland," the demigod indicated a shimmering spot nearby. "Good fortune and good life, young man." With that Mithaniel vanished, leaving only a box on the ground.

     He took deep breaths, trying to calm himself. That box sitting there, what was in it? Leeroy peered inside. A very fine silver snow leopard pelt, and something else. It was a staff, very ornate with a red base and blue top. For Valor! was inscribed on it. A treasure indeed. He gathered up the items and walked through the shimmer, and found himself standing on the Everfrost dock. Leeroy shuddered with relief. He just wanted to get home now. But how long had he been in that place? What if it had been days....weeks? There was a ship at dock so he went aboard and paid his way. "Back already, eh?" asked one sailor. "You're just in time for us to shove off and head back." He had only been an hour or so away? Well, he had a tale of epic proportions to tell, and it would be good to be home.

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Old 06-22-2010, 12:28 PM   #93
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     He stowed his belongings in the assigned locker and went to sit on the aft deck.  Sunset brought a freshening sea from the southwest; the crew got busy shortening sail.  "Storm on the way; be very careful," the captain cautioned the passengers.  "Best if you stay belowdecks."  Leeroy found a place to sit.  As darkness fell, the storm hit, causing the sailing ship to rock even more.  It got unpleasant very soon as people fell ill from the motion.  The Inquisitor did what he could to help but the smell was making him queasy as well.   He retreated up onto deck and hung over the rail, waiting for his stomach to relax.  He wasn't looking, and neither was the crew, when the craft broached to and a wave hit the aft deck where the Northman was standing, flipping him headlong over the railing.

    He didn't have time to cry out as he was plunged into seawater.  Leeroy came up coughing and very disoriented.  Overboard! I fell overboard! he realized and shouted for help, but in that same moment he saw the dim outline of the ship in the distance, getting smaller by the moment as it was driven by the gale-force winds.  He was in serious trouble if they didn't tack back and search for him.  Leeroy shouted again but the ship didn't deviate from its course, and soon disappeared into the night.

     The crew never noticed they had a man overboard until about an hour later when a passenger asked where that barbarian priest went that had been helping the sick people.   The purser frowned and did a quick headcount.  One short.  Then he had the barbarians all counted. Still one short.  "Anyone seen the young barbarian who came aboard in Everfrost?" he asked.  No one knew.  It was his worst nightmare - and the captain's - apparently they'd lost a passenger overboard in the storm. 

     Leeroy was a strong swimmer, so that was the least of his worries.  The problem was, he didn't know which way led to land, if any were nearby.  No stars were out for him to navigate by.   Thirst would become a problem very soon, far more so than being adrift.  At least he hadn't been wearing heavy armor; that had been stowed away for the trip.  But he had nothing else but his clothes, not even his weapon.  Maybe they'd come back looking for him; it was the only chance he had before morning.

     "Head back and start looking," ordered the captain.  "I don't care if it takes time or delays the other passengers."  They hove to and began tacking back the way they had come, and it was slow going.  Crew and passengers lined the decks, watching the tossing seas for signs of life.   Once someone spotted something but it turned out to be a whale.   Back and forth they searched without a lot of hope; they weren't sure even where to look but they had to try. 

     The current had caused Leeroy to drift quite a ways by the time faint light colored the eastern sky.  No land was in sight.  He started swimming southeast, hoping he could get to the Antonican shore.  He wasn't looking forward to the sun beating down on him.  And had he been missed? Would someone get word to Treissae?  She would be frantic, and Tabaar would stop at nothing to find him, Leeroy was sure.  He just had to survive long enough to be rescued.

     The captain shook his head. "We've searched for hours and no sign of him.  I have to get these passengers to Qeynos Harbor."  He turned to the purser. "Make out a report of this incident; I'll deal with the authorities myself."  They resumed course and arrived in Qeynos where they were met by security forces.  "There's been an incident," the captain addressed the Halasian guard at the dock. "We had a passenger go overboard in last night's storm and though we searched for him we never found him." The guard nodded and scribbled some notes. "I'll need you to sign this form that we reported the incident as soon as we disembarked," the purser said and offered the guard a scroll.  The Northman signed it and in curiosity scanned the document.  "NO!" he bellowed and dropped the scroll. "Not him! Not after all he's been through!" 

      Tyndall ran as fast as he could, heedless of scattering groups of people as he went.  He pelted through the gates leading to Graystone Yard and down the streets to Tabaar's home.  "Dad!" he shouted as he burst through the door. "What is it, son? Ye look like ye've seen a ghost," the Elder Mystic said. "It's Leeroy! He's missing!" "What? What do ye mean?" "He was on the ship from Everfrost and they lost him overboard," Tyndall gasped out.  Tabaar turned white as a sheet and slumped down in his chair. "Oh, no........Leeroy.......we're going to mount a full-scale search. I don't care what it takes.  But first I have to tell his wife."

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Old 06-24-2010, 09:41 AM   #94
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     Treissae answered the door to find the Elder Mystic and his son Tyndall.  "Come in, what can I do for -" she broke off abruptly when she saw they were not there for a social call.  With a rising sense of dread she waited for Tabaar to speak.  "I'm afraid I have some bad news for ye."  He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and swallowed hard, then looked back down at the Wood Elf.  "The ship returning from Everfrost hit a storm and...apparently Leeroy was swept overboard."

     The pregnant Wood Elf shrieked and collapsed on her doorstep.  Tyndall picked her up and grimly carried her to her bed.  "I'll take over from here, son," Tabaar said quietly.  "Treissae, look at me.  I promise, I swear by my honor and Clan, that I will not give up until he's found, or I will die trying.  The Elder Mystic embraced his daughter-in-law and unashamedly wept with her.  "Whatever happens," he choked out, "Clan Hammersmite is at yer service anytime ye need."

     Leeroy realized that he was in serious trouble about midday.  The hot sun and its reflection were burning his face, and his need for fresh water was now acute.  His lips were cracked and bleeding, and the saltwater was raising blisters where his clothing chafed, further accelerating his fluid loss.  There was nothing in sight but the sky and trackless sea.

     The captain of the ferry ship was still in port on leave until the investigation into the incident was complete; the man had Leeroy's possessions for his next of kin.  "Here you are," he said to Tabaar, "he had these things with him." There was a mace, plate armor set, and an ornate staff engraved "for valor", and one silver leopard pelt.  "Can any of yer crew come along? Or yerself?" the Northman asked.  "I can't leave town but a few of my crew are off rotation and might be available."  "I need the ship, too." "I'll see what I can do."

     "I don't care about the cost; I'll beggar myself if it means finding him," Tabaar retorted to the shipowner.  "I need to rent your boat and the crew necessary to sail it."  He handed over the money and very quickly he had what he needed. Within a couple of hours they were on their way, heading out to approximately where the ferryship had encountered the storm.  Tabaar paced back and forth at the bow, peering into the choppy seas.  Tyndall sat in the crow's nest and did the same.  "Anything at all in the water, speak up and we will investigate," the Elder Mystic had instructed the crew and volunteers.  "Even a scrap of cloth, anything. Anyone finding him will get a reward of fifty platinum coins.....and if ye find him alive, I'll double it!"

     Evening brought a little relief but now it began to get a little chilly.  A light breeze sprung up and faded as a small feather dropped onto the water's surface in front of Leeroy.  He squinted at it as it drifted slowly away from him to the southeast.  Something about it was important, but what? "Come on," he croaked to himself, "think!"  Then an awful feeling of futility washed over him.  The feather was moving the way he thought he was swimming...but instead the current was pulling him north!  The water was getting colder; he should have known.  All his efforts were in vain; he'd gotten nowhere at all. 

     Tabaar neither ate, drank nor slept during the search, only stopping his own lookout long enough to have the skipper change course.  The sun burnt him red and he welcomed the pain.  It was like searching for a grain of rye in a wheat field but he held out hope against all odds. And he would keep searching even if it killed him. A vow was a vow.

     The others gathered for their solemn vigil in Leeroy and Treissae's house.  "I wish I could do more to help than just sit here and wait," groused the Dirge.  "If I could see at least I could have gone with them..."  "We all want to," Warlaa remonstrated.  "But more on that ship wouldn't add to the chances of finding Leeroy.  We just need to hope and pray that they find him. " "Alive and well, the gods willing," Jimbob added.  Kebia looked up from her seat at Treissae's bedside.  "It can't happen too soon. The signs are here; this young lady is going to give birth in a week or two."

     He alternately wept and prayed as he floated in the darkness.  Leeroy was at the end of his endurance and dreaded the sunrise.  He knew he was close to hypothermia, and losing his sense of judgement went with it.  Eventually he would try to slake his raging thirst with seawater which would only bring a slow agonizing death.  "No, I won't go that way," he whispered.  If I must die, let me sleep and not awaken as I slip beneath the waves, he entreated Karana.  His last thought before he lost consciousness was for his beloved: I'm so sorry, Treissae....forgive me.....

    

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Old 06-24-2010, 12:23 PM   #95
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 "Anything at all?" Tabaar asked his son when the younger Northman climbed down to the deck. "No, but I have to...well...." "Understood," answered the Elder Mystic.  He climbed up into the crow's nest while Tyndall attended to personal needs.  Tabaar strained to see anything out of place.  There was so much sea out here!  It went on and on unbroken for leagues.  Finding a lost person was an impossible task, he knew that now.  They could be a hundred miles from where he'd gone overboard, and Leeroy could have drifted for miles also.  Tabaar fixed his gaze on the horizon.  "I promise ye, wherever ye are, yer family will lack for nothing, for as long as Clan Hammersmite endures."

     A dim thrumming slowly intruded on his awareness, resolving into a rhythmic splashing.  Leeroy gradually regained consciousness to find himself floating on his back.  Why was he still alive?  Then the splashing registered with him, and he floundered to get turned toward it.  His feet struck bottom and he saw a desolate shoreline as he fell forward onto his hands and knees.  Land!  He didn't care where he was at the moment, he could get out of the water at last.  He crawled out onto the sand and to his utter consternation found himself laughing hysterically and unable to stop.  A shadow fell over him and he looked up, abruptly sober.  An orc stood over him with a club in hand.

     "We'll get some food and drink out here; I know no one's thinking about such but you all need sustenance." Warlaa went to the kitchen to start a meal; Reesling followed her in and busied himself pouring drinks.  He could tell when a glass was nearly full by the tone the liquid made as it was poured in.   No alcohol for Treissae; hers would be fruit juice only.  "We'll be here as long as you need, dear," Kebia told Treissae.  "Any news, we'll get it to you right away," Jimbob remarked. 

     An orc! Why, Karana, would ye give me hope then dash it with a sworn enemy?  The brutish creature looked at him curiously and tilted its head to get a better look.  "Me think you castaway."  Leeroy nodded warily.  He didn't think orcs were in the habit of talking to their prospective victims but he was taking no chances.  He eyed the surroundings for a suitable weapon, but the only good one was in the orc's hand.  "You want water?" "Aye, it would be welcome." "It over there past cliffs. Big path to dock. No tell other orc I talk to you."  Leeroy frowned as he struggled to his feet.  "Why are ye helping me? Most orcs would have tried to kill me."  "Shaman Barbarian treat me good, save me from fall into water monster pond. Now I return favor."  Leeroy nodded acknowledgement. "I thank ye then and farewell, orc."

    "All right, we're running out of supplies. We need to restock somewhere," the skipper announced. Tabaar argued the point but finally yielded.  "Where can we go?"  "Closest place is Zek. Not a lot to choose from but it's close and will save us time."  "Let's go there then and hurry back out here." Tabaar was losing hope but didn't dare show it.  He would go back out and search again, but expected no better luck than before.....and now it was three full days since the incident.

    The orc's word was good; a stream of fresh water trickled through a narrow channel and into the sand.  Leeroy drank what he could get in the palm of his hand.  It was good actually that he could't just gulp down the water; he knew this but he so wanted to just fall into it and drink until his stomach bulged.  He felt his strength slowly returning and now it was easier to walk.  Which way did the orc say the dock was? Ah, there was a path.  He felt so much more hopeful now; for the first time in a day he dared to consider rescue.  No weapon, no armor, his shirt was shredded to ribbons, his shoes were ruined and splitting open but he was alive. 

     "Here we are," the skipper remarked as he steered the ship into the harbor at Zek. "Have to be careful here; this place is a ship graveyard. Treacherous shoals."  He paused to light a cigar. "I'll go see about purchasing supplies. I can use help loading them. " "Sure, I'll help," Tyndall offered.   "Been some years since I've been here," Tabaar mused.  "The local wildlife is dangerous and as for the orcs....with a few exceptions they're menaces." 

     He'd found a stout branch to use as a club.  Now he didn't feel so defenseless. Leeroy could see the fort in the distance; the dock must be behind that.  Orcs were all over but mostly they paid him no heed, preferring to take up defensive stands near objects that seemed strategic to them.  Maybe it was the guards at the fort that kept them in line...he figured they were there to run out and attack any orc that overstepped some boundary or other. The young Halasian shrugged and stepped through the gate.  Looked like some sailors were loading supplies from the fort's denizens.  And they were many and varied.  Green Hoods, a mercenary Halasian, humans of every stripe, even a Gnome with some weird contraption near the dock entrance. 

     "All right, we've got what we came for, let's head out again."  Tabaar followed the skipper to the ship.  He sighed and looked for Tyndall.  Where had that young man gotten to?  Ah, there he was.  "That's really weird, Dad, I saw someone talking to one of the mercenaries here. Really ragged looking, probably hungry,  might be a good hand to help us search.  I didn't get a good look.  He went into the tent over there."  "Let's have a look."  They walked over and peered in. Yes, the man was wearing a tattered remnant of a shirt, and not much more for pants or shoes.  "What do ye think?" Tyndall asked Tabaar.  "I think...oh...gods....it's not possible..."

     At the voices, Leeroy spun around, startled at the intrusion, then recognition dawned.   His mouth dropped open. "Tabaar! Tyndall!"  They rushed forward and both hugged him tightly, overcome with elation. "It's really yerself, alive and well!" Tabaar stepped back and regarded his adopted son.  "Ye need a bath and clean clothes and a celebration and reunited with yer wife!"  The Elder Mystic embraced Leeroy again.  "We thought we'd never see ye again in this world! How did ye get here? How did ye survive?" Tyndall backslapped the Inquisitor and shouted for joy.  

     In South Qeynos, the Dirge put his hand against a wall to steady himself.  Was this a vision?  In his mind's eye he saw dark water, a desolate beach, an orc with a club, then a dock and harbor, and three indistinct figures dancing around.  How strange. He waited until it faded; it was easy to stumble with that for a distraction.  Everything went back to normal darkness but he had the feeling he'd seen something important.  For whatever reason, it made him feel hopeful of a good outcome with the search for Leeroy. 

     "Here comes a ship and it's flying pennants! Wonder what news they have?"  remarked a dockworker at Qeynos Harbor.  As the ship neared,  passersby saw the deck was covered with streamers, pennants and celebrating crewmen.  At the bow, three Barbarian men stood linked arm in arm as the craft docked.  "Make way, make way for the reunited clansmen," shouted the skipper.  Tabaar turned and handed him a purse heavy with platinum coins. "Divide this among  yer crew. Good sailing to ye and see me if ye ever need a favor," he said.

     "All right, Leeroy, it's yer moment," Tabaar smiled and indicated the front door of the house.  Leeroy opened it and walked in.  First person he saw was Reesling.  The older man frowned and shook his head. "I could swear I heard Leeroy's footsteps," he remarked to no one in particular. "That's because ye did," answered the Inquisitor.  "LEEROY!" shouted the Dirge, startled.  Everyone came running and pandemonium reigned.  "Where's Treissae?" "There she is!" 

     The Wood Elf rushed forward into Leeroy's waiting arms.  He was dirty, ragged, smelt of sea and sweat, sunburned.........and most assuredly alive and home with her.  She sobbed her relief into his shoulder as tears rolled unheeded down his face.  "How did you...survive? What you must have gone through...." Treissae voiced her thoughts.  "Nothing I'm sure compared to what  ye must have endured, not knowing whether I was living or dead," her husband replied.  He turned to Tabaar. "Once we get done celebrating, I have something to tell ye," Leeroy said. "Does this have something to do with the staff and pelt ye were bringing home?" "Aye, it does.  Do ye have them?" "I do, in my house. We'll get to that later. For now, we'll drink to long life....... yers, Leeroy!"

  

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Old 06-26-2010, 02:43 AM   #96
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      "Ye'll need to excuse me for a bit," Leeroy said. "I'm just.....well, filthy."  "Of course," Tabaar replied. The Inquisitor padded into the bedroom, found some clean clothes, and headed to the bath, Treissae following close behind.  "Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.  "Well, if ye don't mind, I can't reach my back, my arms are so sore."  Treissae gasped at the cuts and bruises displayed when Leeroy removed his ragged clothing.  He looked down at himself and winced.  "Guess I got scraped up a bit."  He peered into a mirror and shook his head, then climbed into his bath. 

     "So how did you find him?" Jimbob asked Tyndall.  "He'd somehow gotten to Zek and we were on the dock, loading supplies.  I saw him from a distance but his back was to me and I didn't recognize him.  I thought he was a beggar looking for work and a meal, since he was by the mercenaries. I got Dad and we went to find him...and it turned out to be Leeroy."  "So how did he get there?" "I don't know the details; he said he'd tell us when we were all together."

     The Inquisitor reappeared, freshly washed, chin shaven, and in a clean suit of clothing.  "Much better," he remarked. He'd treated his cuts, bruises and sunburn, which were already fading.  "Now I have two tales to tell.  First, I'm sure ye all want to know how I ended up in Zek and found.  Well, first of all when the storm blew in they had everyone go belowdecks and they were all getting seasick.  I tried to treat them but the situation made me start to get ill myself so I went to the aft rail to try to recover. Then the ship tilted and a wave knocked me over the rail.  They never saw me fall in, and the ship disappeared."

     "I knew I could handle the rough seas if the storm passed quickly, which it did, but what I didn't know was that the current was pushing me north.  Then the sun rose and the glare off the water with the sun combined burned me badly, and I started to get really thirsty.  I wore myself out trying to swim for Antonica while all the time I was farther from it every minute. When I realized that, I kind of gave up I guess... the water was colder and I was starting to lose focus.  I'd heard of what happens to those who drink seawater, and I begged Karana to give me a merciful death, then I passed out."

     "When I came to, I was lying in the shallows of a small cove in Zek.  I crawled up on the shore, still not in my right mind, when an orc accosted me.  All I could think was how here I was out of imminent danger of drowning and now there was an orc ready to kill me. And he could have; I was weak as a newborn kitten.  But instead he told me where to find water and the path to the dock.  He said something really strange that stuck in my mind.  'Shaman Barbarian treat me good, save me from fall in water monster pond, now I return favor'."

      Tabaar jumped up.  "That was me! I was there several years ago and I did indeed save an orc from the spiral pond; we had been fighting and he fell in.  I expected him to resume fighting but instead he took a knife, cut his arm and flung the blood on me, then ran off."   Leeroy's jaw dropped. "Then ye did save my life, again.  I was helpless, an easy mark.  Thank ye so much!"  The others nodded agreement. "What you do right comes back to you and yours," Kebia remarked.

     "Then," Leeroy continued, "I staggered to my feet and found the fresh water the orc had mentioned, not much but I was able to drink enough to recover.  The footpath was well-used and for some reason I wasn't attacked by any of the orcs I saw in the surrounding hills.  It took me a while to get down to the dock area and that's where ye found me."  Tabaar leaned forward and drew a deep breath. "I honestly had given up hope of ever finding ye...or yer body.  I was prepared to spend the rest of my life trying, though...ye must have been saved for a purpose."

     "Aye, I believe I was.  Ye saw the pelt and staff? Those were a gift.  I was in Everfrost, about to go hunting for a fine pelt, when I saw something sparkling. It was a small stone, nothing valuable. I tossed it and it disappeared in midair. I took a few steps forward and got caught in some sort of vortex. I found myself in what I think was another plane.  Weird creatures, ghosts with confused stories, and an elaborate crypt.  If I said I wasn't terrified I'd be lying, when I got to the crypt and found what awaited me there."

     "It was Erollisi's tomb, and her brother was guarding it," Leeroy announced.  Kebia gasped. "Mithaniel Marr!"  "Aye, and he was in some sort of furious mourning state; he attacked me.  If I hadn't jumped aside, I would have died then and there.  As it was, he was way too much for me.  I got in a hit or two, but he broke my ribs then hit me with the flat of his sword so hard it stove them all in.  I was a dead man, no doubt, I was choking on blood.  He pointed his sword at my throat and I just waited for the death blow. Instead he healed me fully."  Leeroy took a second to compose himself.  "Mithaniel broke the coffin, freed his sister's spirit, then told me I had done the same for him.  He noticed I was a True Man - " here he turned to Treissae and touched her affectionately - "and now ye know what we call ourselves, love... he told me he would make things right for the children of Erollisi. I don't know what he meant, though." "I will think and pray on it," Tabaar replied. "As will all of us."

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Old 06-28-2010, 04:19 PM   #97
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Looking forward to seeing where this goes thankyou for the continued enjoyable read.

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Old 07-13-2010, 09:09 AM   #98
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    Treissae's belly seemed to be growing visibly; within a couple days she was barely able to walk. "Bed rest, young lady," Tabaar ordered on the next day's visit.  "Ye must not overtax yerself....Kebia said ye were close to birth."  He frowned.  "I wish we could pinpoint the conception date but I'm sure that's a daunting task," the Elder Mystic remarked and gave a sidelong glance at Leeroy, who blinked then flushed red. "I was young myself once, young man, I understand," he continued with a small smile.  "Treissae, ye are to tell someone if there is anything ye need. Don't get out of bed for anything less than an emergency.  I'll be here any time of day or night once ye do start labor: just send for me."

     She didn't feel too bad once she was lying down, and Leeroy brought her willowbark tea whenever she had discomfort.  He didn't leave the house once, only going to the front door to have messages delivered and supplies brought in.  Otherwise, Leeroy stayed with her, reading books, telling his people's stories and legends, and listening to her tales of growing up in Kelethin.  When he got too tired to stay awake he'd lie down beside her and sleepily declare his love for her, then he'd be asleep before she could reply. 

    A messenger came to the door the next morning with a note from Kelethin; her parents were on their way to Qeynos.  They had planned to come next week but apparently the Elder Mystic had urged them to hurry.  Treissae perused the scroll excitedly.  "It'll be good to have my mother here during the birth," she remarked.  "And Father says they will stay a week!" She sat back with a wince.  "Back's hurting again."  Treissae took a deep breath and tried to relax. Dark circles had formed under her eyes; the baby's constant movement was making it harder and harder to sleep.

    Late that night she came awake suddenly to a cramping pain in her lower back.   It eased up but returned with a vengeance just as she started to drop off to sleep again.  "Leeroy?"  "Mmmph," he muttered. "Leeroy!" He sat up with a start. "What? What is it?"  "I think the baby's coming!" 

     The Northman jumped up and hurriedly dressed.  "I'll go get Tabaar: I'll send Kebia and Jimbob so ye aren't alone until I get back."  Leeroy pelted out of the room and out the front door, down the street to the Stormwalkers' place.  His frantic knocking brought an irritated human shaman to the door. "What is it? Oh, Leeroy! Kebia! Come quickly!" Jimbob looked questioningly at the Inquisitor.  "She in labor?" "Yes, I think so."  The Paladin hurried up to them, carrying a small bag.  "Let's go!" "I'll go get Tabaar," Jimbob offered. "You go be with your wife."  

     It wasn't too long before Tabaar and Jimbob arrived, both out of breath, and Tabaar looking like he'd slept in his clothes, "Because I did," he retorted in answer to Kebia's pointed observation.  Did the man have a sixth sense for impending birth, or was he just compulsive over such an event? Either answer wouldn't have surprised Kebia.  She knew he was determined to see no more tragedies if he could prevent them by any means possible.  "All right, let's see the young lady," Tabaar said, and Leeroy opened the bedroom door.

    She was enormous!  She must have gained even more weight in the past day or two; her belly was stretched taut.  "Treissae, I must ask ye to raise yer dress," the Elder Mystic murmured.  Kebia took up station at the head of the bed on one side, Leeroy on the other.  Treissae carefully tugged up the hem of her dress.  Tabaar took on a detached expression as he palpated her belly, felt her forehead, and used a small metal cone to listen to the baby.  "Hmm, I am having a hard time hearing it clearly. The baby's very active."  Just then a contraction rippled through Treissae's body again, and she gasped with the pain.  "Get me some olive oil," Tabaar directed Leeroy.  The young Halasian returned with a small bottle; Tabaar put some on Treissae's belly and some on his own hand.  "This won't be comfortable; I need to find how dilated ye are," he addressed the Wood Elf.  "Kebia, do ye have a caliper?"  "Aye."  "All right, use it," he directed as he carefully continued his examination.  "A good hand width, human standard," reported the Dwarf. 

     That was an encouraging sign.  Some Wood Elf women were small in the pelvis; luckily, Treissae was not.  But still, the baby would be large indeed from all the signs, even though it seemed to be a month early or so.  "Well, young lady, ye're well along already it seems. Hopefully this is a good sign and means a smooth birth."  He encouraged Treissae to relax as much as she could.  "That goes for ye too, Leeroy. Relax and wait.  Ye're hovering like a bumblebee."  The Inquisitor sat back, abashed.  Tabaar gave him a tolerant smile.  "We'll wait in the other room as long as things aren't progressing much yet."

     Jimbob and Kebia were dozing on the couch while Tabaar slept in a chair, when the bedroom door flew open and Leeroy called out, "Hey! I think she's about to have the baby!"  The Elder Mystic stumbled into the room and beheld a sight: Treissae was red-faced, gasping with pain and effort.  "I must have fallen asleep, I didn't hear her," Leeroy apologized.  "No matter, let's get to work." 

      The labor went on and on, and though the Wood Elf made a huge effort, no baby was forthcoming.  She was more and more exhausted, and Tabaar, though he tried not to show it, was becoming more concerned by the minute.  Kebia came around to look, and she noticed how haggard Treissae appeared.  The Paladin had a close look to see where the baby was; she tapped Tabaar and motioned to the other room.

     "She's got something wrong," Kebia said. "Don't ye think I know that?" retorted the Elder Mystic.  Then he sighed. "I'm sorry, ye know why I'm so touchy."  "Yes, and I want to bring someone to help, someone with very small hands. You see, I know a ratonga maid who..." "Get her!" Kebia turned and ran out the front door.  She soon returned with indeed a Ratonga woman, very small and thin, with tiny hands.  "This is Oksai, servant to my next-door neighbors."  The Ratonga curtsied and followed them to the birthing room.

     "Leeroy, Treissae, this is Oksai, she's here to help."  The Ratonga woman sniffed around and peered at the Wood Elf's abdomen.  "Ah, yous need some help," she remarked and, dipping her hands in the olive oil, went to work, carefully feeling and probing around the birth canal.  "Double blessings on yous," she added above Treissae's gasps and cries.  Leeroy was nearly beside himself with anxiety and all he could do was hold Treissae's hand as she squeezed it tight.  "Double blessings?" he wondered vaguely, but renewed contractions and his wife's travail distracted him from further thoughts on the subject.

      "Ah, at lasts," Oksai proclaimed as she tugged and pushed.  "Nows, Treissae, pushes hard!"  With what little strength she had, the Wood Elf did so, sweat streaming down her face.  Tabaar could now see the top of the baby's head as it slid down into the light of early morning.  As soon as he could get ahold of it he did so, carefully turning it to the side and cradling it as it slid out, accompanied by Treissae's gasping cry.  Tabaar tapped the baby and it fussed and began to cry.  "Aha, it's a girl," he proclaimed, and handed the baby to Leeroy. "Congratulations, son."

      "Double blessings, I says," remarked Oksai again. She was still there probing around......and Treissae was still laboring.  "What?" Kebia spun around. "You mean another?" "Yess!  Here it comes!" To everyone else's surprise, another baby came forth.  "This ones is a boy," remarked the Ratonga as Tabaar finished the delivery, then the room filled with the howls of both newborns.  "Twins! Amazing! Twins are good luck," Jimbob said.  "Congratulations both of ye," Tabaar said as he handed the boy to his exhausted mother. "Let's leave them alone for a while," he suggested, and they filed out of the room leaving Leeroy and Treissae to bond with their little ones.

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Old 07-19-2010, 10:00 AM   #99
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And you still have me as a reader.  Very good story, thanks for continuing it!

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Old 07-22-2010, 09:57 AM   #100
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     He still was in a state of shock; twins??? Leeroy stared in wonder at his wife. How had she ever managed to carry them even to eight months? He'd been under the impression that she was a delicate creature; now he knew better. The babies had settled down a bit and he examined each one closely. They both looked healthy and strong. They weren't as big as a single baby would have been but that was to be expected. Just the fact that there were no apparent complications was reason to be thankful. He felt so......well, protective of these little ones. He knew he'd do anything at all to keep them safe and healthy.   It was finally sinking in: he was a father now!

     Treissae felt so much better now; it had been such a relief to birth the babies. Her distended abdomen had deflated greatly and surprisingly she felt little pain. She looked up at her husband as he gazed at his daughter. "What are we going to name them?" she wondered aloud. "When we picked names we didn't expect this. Do we use them?" Leeroy shook his head. "I want to do something to show my appreciation for my Clan, for Tabaar's help and support, and for personal reasons. Will ye consider this? Here's what I would like to name them...."

     A knock at the front door alerted the others that guests had arrived. "Probably her parents," Tabaar said. "Kebia, will ye go let them in?" She agreed and ushered in not only Melquon and Fanada, but their escort Tyndall, and Warlaa and Reesling for good measure. "Welcome, you're a bit late for the birth but I'm sure they'll be glad to see you." "Thank you, I'm disappointed we couldn't be here earlier. Come, Melquon, let's go see." Fanada tapped on the door.  "Come in," Treissae answered.  Fanada tugged the Headman's sleeve and he gave a sheepish look to Tabaar as they disappeared into the bedroom.

     "Beautiful babies!" Fanada exclaimed. "What are their names?" Treissae and Leeroy looked at each other. "Well," the Halasian replied, "I'll be presenting them publicly to my Clan in three days. That's when I'll announce their names."   "Well, that's different," Treissae's mother replied.  "It's a tradition of my people's; we've been doing it this way for thousands of years," the Northman added.  "I hope ye understand."  Melquon nodded. "I think I do.  We'll be in town for a few days anyhow and I would like to see the ceremony."

     "Treissae's getting tired but she asked that Reesling and Warlaa come in for a few minutes," Leeroy said from the doorway as Treissae's parents returned to the sitting room.  "We'd be delighted," Reesling replied.  Warlaa led him to Treissae's bedside; the Wood Elf had one baby in the crook of each arm.  "Ye're going to be busy feeding both of those," the druid chuckled.  "Reesling, they are one each girl and boy, and the girl has dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and her ears come to a blunt point.  The boy has light brown hair, green eyes, and his ears show a slight point also."  "Can I hold one?" the Dirge asked. "Of course," Treissae replied. Warlaa picked up the boy and held him out, and Reesling carefully reached out and cradled the child to him.  "Ah, he feels healthy and strong."  The bard then ran his fingers lightly over the child's face. "A handsome child."  He handed the boy back and repeated the process with the girl baby.  "Both of them are beautiful," Warlaa told Treissae. "Aye, they are," Reesling agreed. 

      In the sitting room Leeroy was elbowed, backslapped, hugged, and handed a mug of ale.  "A toast to the new father," Tabaar crowed.  Everyone raised a glass.  "Health and long life to ye, yer wife, and yer children.  Patience and forebearance for the little crises, love and discipline for the daily walk of life." "Hear, hear!"  "Long life and happiness!"

    

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Old 07-29-2010, 11:46 AM   #101
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      Leeroy had to double up on everything! Another crib, twice the diapers, more sets of baby clothing.... he got Kebia's and Tabaar's help in purchasing the needed supplies then hired a wagon to haul them home. "If I had room I'd buy a goat too," he remarked. "Treissae has to feed them almost constantly." "Make sure she has plenty to eat and drink, and rests as much as she needs," instructed the Elder Mystic. "I don't want ye two to have to bottle feed them; mother's milk is the best food they can get." The Inquisitor nodded agreement.

      That night Treissae finally got a respite from nursing, and fell into an exhausted sleep. Leeroy was tired himself, and when he caught sight of himself in a mirror he winced at the dark circles under his eyes. He needed to get some sleep himself; tomorrow was the ceremony and he needed to be alert for that. He stripped to his shorts, climbed into the bed and gently caressed the Wood Elf's cheek. Leeroy made himself a vow then and there, that his family was his life, and he would protect and raise the children to the best of his ability.

      A little while later he was awakened by a fussing sound from the boy's crib. Leeroy stumbled out of bed and padded over to see. Ah, a diaper needed a change. He hadn't done any yet but now was the time to learn. There was a pail with a lid nearby, where soiled diapers went, so far so good. He set the baby down on a fresh cloth and pinned the diaper on. It wasn't as snug as he'd wanted it, but it would hold for now. Leeroy checked on the girl baby and saw she was awake although she wasn't fussy. The little chubby arms and legs waved about as the newborn looked at her father, and the young Halasian couldn't help but smile. Then the baby smiled back and Leeroy knew that he only thought he loved his children as much as he could: he fell even deeper in love with them at that moment. He had an awesome responsibility now and he knew this was what his life was all about.

      The boy baby was a bit restless too; he started to fuss a bit so Leeroy picked him up and carried him to a chair. He held the baby cradled in one arm, resting the boy against his chest. The Northman relaxed and leaned back slightly, almost dozing. He came alert with a start; the child was hungry...and was trying to suckle! He laughed softly and carried the baby into the bedroom and carefully set him beside his mother, manuvering him to where he could nurse. Leeroy waited patiently for the child to get his fill. He kept having to stifle a chuckle as he watched. When that baby was done nursing, and it didn't take very long, the Inquisitor took the boy back to his crib and brought the girl to nurse off the other side. Treissae barely roused enough to notice. When the little girl was finally through with her midnight feed, the Inquisitor put her back to bed and crawled back into his own bed and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

     The assembly hall was nearly full as morning sunlight slanted through tall windows, illuminating dust motes and the expectant crowd.   The Elder Mystic walked up to the podium and tapped the floor with his ceremonial spear for silence.  "I welcome ye to this meeting of Clan Hammersmite.  Today we announce and present the newest addition to our family.  Leeroy, please take the stage."  The young Inquisitor stood up from beside his wife, and walked up to the podium, carrying a sizable bundle wrapped in fur.  He turned toward the waiting faces and nodded to Tabaar, who stepped aside and took a seat in the front row.

     "I thank ye all for coming here today.  I am proudly presenting my firstborn today," Leeroy announced as he unwrapped the bundle to reveal both babies, "and there are two!"  The audience clapped and cheered and murmured.  After they had quieted down, Leeroy continued.  "As ye know, today they receive their names and are formally declared Clan members. Treissae and I have decided to honor the memory of those who gave me life." Tabaar's eyes got big as he realized where Leeroy was leading with this. "Clan Hammersmite, I present in order of birth, Leeanora and Roynald!"

      Cheers, foot stomping, clapping and whistles rang out in the hall, and Leeroy knelt down with his children in front of Tabaar. "I finally got ye back for the surprise adoption," he laughed as Tabaar tried vainly to regain his composure.  "Ye're a worse rogue than Reesling there," Tabaar gestured toward the laughing bard as he finally got control of himself.  "I never expected ye to name them for my sister and her husband."  "How could I do else," Leeroy remarked, "I have just fully realized what being a parent is all about, and I hope they are watching me and approve," he added as a tear trickled down his right cheek.  Tabaar leaned forward and patted his nephew on the shoulder. "I'm sure they would."

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Old 08-21-2010, 09:09 PM   #102
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     A couple of months later, Tabaar started having strange dreams:  he saw an icy landscape and yet it definitely wasn't Everfrost.  Shadowy figures moved in the corner of his vision; when he turned to look they weren't there.  A tall figure held up a sword and pointed it his way, causing him to collapse as the scene changed into a thriving village full of Halasians and strange blue Dwarves.  He awoke and to his frustration the details disappeared leaving him with only an impression.  One day he broached the subject to his best friend.  "Reesling, I've been having strange dreams." "Ye too? Are they of a snowy place with a town?  Blue Dwarves?  Mithaniel Marr?"  The Elder Mystic was astounded.  "Aye!  But ye're having the same dreams?  How can that be?"  "Also," the blind Dirge remarked, "Warlaa has had these types of dreams too. Perhaps it's a sign?"

     Leeroy woke up and tried to remember a dream; it was cold there and surrounded by the sea and was so familiar but yet not anywhere he'd ever been.  He checked the twins and for once they were still asleep; so was Treissae.  Good; she was so in need of sleep all the time.  He quietly dressed and made the short trip over to Tabaar's house.  He had some questions about the babies' development, and while he was there he'd mention the dream and see what the shaman said. 

     "Really!  Ye're in good company, son, seems every Halasian in town is having these dreams. Me, Reesling, Warlaa, now you, and I've had a steady stream of folks at my door asking if their dreams are a sign."  Tabaar sat back and rubbed his forehead.  "Just yesterday Tyndall was over here wondering if I could come give a talk at the guard hall about this happening.  I'll tell ye what.  Keep a scroll or paper by yer bed, and something to write with.  As soon as ye wake, pick up the paper and jot down yer impressions.  Don't get up to do it."

      Even with various sources bringing the Elder Mystic their dream information, Tabaar was not sure if he could point to what he so very much wanted to hope this was.  He had been born the very night the moon Luclin had exploded, raining down its destruction upon the doomed city of Halas in the weeks following.  His family as many Halasians had been in the Human cities for a generation or two, but their hearts were in their home city, and when that was destroyed it affected them profoundly.  He thought about what Leeroy had reported from his encounter with Mithaniel Marr.  Could the demigod have found them a new home?  That would be something indeed.  He sighed and stood up to stretch, feeling the stiffness in his joints.  No, not getting any younger, he mused. 

       About a week later a ship came into port with news pennants flying.  The Halasians on board bolted from the deck as soon as they docked, shouting for clan leaders to hold an emergency meeting.   Someone sent a runner around and soon the hall was packed. Tabaar made sure all Hammersmite clan, and any Icereaver, were seated near him.  Icereaver's elder,  a guardian named Elsfade, took her seat of honor by Tabaar.    "Hear ye!" shouted a clan leader.  "This meeting is called to order due to incredible news from the crew of the ship Far Wanderer.  They have found a place that is prepared and blessed by Mithaniel Marr himself, for Halasians!"  The uproar in the meeting hall went on and on.  "It is inhabited already," called out a crewmember. "There are Coldain there!"  "Coldain! The Dwarves from Velious?"  "Where is this place?"  "What is it like?" "We must go there as soon as possible!"  "A home at last!"   Finally the clans calmed down and considered what had transpired. "We have to send ships back," Tabaar  remarked to the room at large.  "Each clan will send representatives.  We must not offend the Coldain, even if they are amenable to ---- what and where is the place, anyhow?"  "It's a floating iceberg thing, it's huge, northwest of Zek and southwest of Everfrost," a crewmember put in. "Thank ye.  Anyhow we must not abuse the hospitality of the Dwarves that already inhabit the place," the Elder Mystic continued.  "And I must say this: it's a dream come true."

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     The arrangements would take weeks to carry out; meanwhile, small schooners and assorted watercraft carried the curious and the foolhardy northward into the rough seas toward the newly-discovered floating island.  "The Coldain say they really didn't have a name for it, but that Mithaniel Marr proclaimed it 'Erollis' in his sister's memory," a sailor had said that day.  Tabaar and the other clan Elders consulted, considered, bought provisions, gifts, building materials, all the necessary items for a colony to be founded.  "New Halas will be built in the spirit and memory of our original city," the shaman remarked, "but we also have to consider the enemies and wild beasts in the area.  There are orcs, bears, many perils awaiting us.  And when colonists start to arrive, some of our forces need to establish camps to protect and acclimatize them to the conditions." 

     A man stood up from near the back of the hall and walked forward.  "I have a question.  How will New Halas be aligned?"  He frowned and continued, "I have a couple of distant relatives who live in Freeport, and I'm sure they'll want to visit the place at least, if the Overlord lets anyone go there."  Tabaar nodded. "A good question.  The Coldain being Dwarves, they'll be very interested in Qeynos and Kelethin as allies, but as Northmen we are neutral in that respect. I wouldn't want to see any harm come to any Halasians who would visit the new city, so I'm hoping the Coldain will agree to an open city, aligned with us, but not hostile to others."  A clamor of voices arose, prompting the meeting leader to bang the floor with his staff to get the room's attention.  "Order! Quiet! .......... Now, I believe Elder Hammersmite has the right of it.  We cannot deny our people access, no matter where they live.  But they will not be able to transact business in the city, nor build homes there, unless they first take an oath of loyalty to Qeynos.  Fair enough?"

     Meanwhile at the castle, things were in an uproar. "Are you sure?  The tower is toppled and he's missing?"  "Yes, Your Majesty, there are many independent reports.  The factions have divided up territories and there are refugees streaming out toward various places."  Queen Antonia Bayle paced back and forth.  "Does this have anything to do with this new place the Barbarians are so excited about?" Murrar Shar shook his head and twitched his ears. "I don't think so. Some of the accounts mention arcane powers and signs of Erudite magic."  "Could it be those Ulteran mages up in Paineel or even Erudin are up to something?  Maybe the Overlord has something they want......hmm.........." the queen turned and came to a decision.  "Send out infiltrators, immediately, to Freeport.  We need to know what's going on there, and get more intelligence on what has happened, and especially we need to take stock of the factions and who will fill the power vacuum." She sighed and sat down.   "The ordinary citizens are going to suffer.  Lucan may have been a power hungry despot, but he did keep his thugs in line.  Now the various groups will run loose and I fear that not only will they infight, but they'll involve helpless civilians." 

     The reports filtered in to the castle, as did quite a few refugees, over the next two days.  Antonia consulted with her cabinet for hours before coming to what was for many there a surprising decision.  "If we find that Lucan d'Lere has been abducted, we may very well have to mount a rescue effort." "What? Save that monster from whoever has him?  Why?" "Yes, he deserves whatever he gets!"  The Queen stood back up and motioned for silence.  "We have to consider the lives of the ordinary people in Freeport.  There will be a bloodbath as the factions disrupt all commerce and destroy livelihoods.  Civilians will be killed in large numbers for revolting, complaining, and just generally being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some of these refugees coming through the gate are already telling horrible stories. Qeynos can be a shining example of doing right, not doing for military advantage, if we somehow restore the Overlord to his city.  And," she continued through the protests and murmurs, we will weaken his position enough that some day a legitimate challenge to his rule may come along and set Freeport on the right path."  She turned to the Guard Captain. "Detri, do you have the list?" "I do, Your Majesty." The man presented her a scroll, sealed with wax bearing the imprint of the Security Force.  The Queen nodded acknowledgment, took the scroll, and held it up. "This here is a list of folks who we have been watching closely.  Most are from Freeport, and have been quietly making new lives for themselves.  Not the new refugees, people who left there before.  Some of them may be of use to us.  They should know the place better, and we will persuade them to help us."

     He was on his way back from visiting Tabaar when he felt he was being followed.   Leeroy looked back and saw nothing, but as soon as he rounded a corner he bumped into a drunk who was stumbling into the street.  The distraction was momentary but as soon as he started on his way again, he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He spun around, surprised, to find three horsemen and two foot soldiers.  Behind him, two more blocked his escape.  "I think you need to come with us," one of the mounted guards said. "What if I don't wish to?" Leeroy stalled. "Nothing was said about bringing you in good shape," one of them smirked.  The young Halasian's shoulders sagged.  He really had no choice.  "Turn around," one of them ordered, and manacled his hands and feet.  Thus hobbled, he was prodded into shuffling toward the gates of North Qeynos.

     "Did you find any of them?" the Queen asked Murrar Shar.  "Yes indeed, milady, we found a few.  Shall we interview them?" "Most definitely.  Make sure they are secured when brought to this room.  Extra secured, so they are off balance and easily worked with."  "As soon as milady and her court are ready, I will begin sending them in. Detri, how about that Barbarian you grabbed this morning?" "I'll have him secured and sent in 10 minutes."

     He was confused and more than a little scared.  No explanation had been given, just marched to the castle prison and shoved into a cell.  He hadn't been roughed up much, only slugged a couple times to get his attention. But what did they want with him? Did they know he was from Freeport? Did they consider him a spy?  And would anyone inform his clan, or his wife, or would he just be reported missing?  His reverie was interrupted by a set of guards. "All right, time for you to answer some questions," one of them said.  "Not here, we have a room set up for the interview."  The other guard unlocked the cell as the first one waited, weapon drawn.  Leeroy shuffled out into the hall, still in the manacles.  The second guard clipped a neck chain on the Inquisitor, then blindfolded him.  Leeroy muttered an oath.  "Be quiet," one of them retorted and slapped him. "Now follow the pull of the chain."  The young Northman had no option but to obey. 

     "May I present the prisoner?" said the guard beside him. A female voice answered, "Indeed, now which one is this?"  "We believe this is a member of clan Hammersmite, one Leeroy by name. Apparently, he is an Inquisitor by trade, and has relatives here.  They have been covering for him, but a little money in some hands loosened some tongues."  Leeroy gritted his teeth.  If he ever found out who had betrayed him to the authorities.......if he lived, they were going to regret their greed.  "Sit him down," said the woman.  "Now, Leeroy, we may have a job for you. It all depends on you.  We need you to help us in Freeport."  The cleric stiffened in surprise, but said nothing.  "Oh come on, take off his blindfold, let him be a little more at ease," the feminine voice added.   One of the guards did so and for a moment the light dazzled the Northman, then he saw who sat across the table from him. "Queen Antonia," he gasped. "What is this all about?" 

     "I haven't seen him all day, Treissae," Kebia said. "He went to see Tabaar and should have been back hours ago," the Wood Elf said.  "I'm worried."  "I'll check with the Elder Mystic," the Dwarf offered.  She headed to Graystone and found that Tabaar wasn't home.  "Maybe working on the expedition," a stranger in the street advised. "Of course, thank you," she replied and headed to the meeting hall.  "Tabaar," the Paladin said when she located him, "Where's Leeroy?" "He left my place a few hours ago. Why?"  "Treissae says he didn't come home yet. Is he here?"  The shaman shook his head.  "No, and this isn't like him." He frowned. "Let me ask around and see."  Tabaar asked a few favors and requested contacts to let him know if anything was found out.  He excused himself from the planning committee and with Kebia waited for word. 

     "We know that you're from Freeport. We also know that you have not signed an oath of loyalty to Qeynos.  You will do that, on pain of death."  Leeroy gaped at the monarch.  He had thought he'd kept a low profile, not so.  "I cannot if it requires me to be mindwiped and retrained as a Templar," he remarked.  "Then you will be excecuted immediately," the Kerra advisor intoned.  "Are you aware," the Inquisitor said tightly, "that I have a wife and newborn twins?  I'm not some sort of monster or spy, I'm a Hammersmite, subject to Clan laws and custom."  "Your Barbarian customs mean little beside the security of Qeynos," Murrar Shar snorted. "Will ye at least listen to what I have to say?" Leeroy pleaded.  "It can't hurt," the Queen said. "Let him have his say."

     "Arrested? The castle? Tabaar groaned with dread. "Just hope he got picked up for something stupid like getting drunk and fighting. Then I'll just be angry with him.  But if they know his status, he could be in great peril." The Elder Mystic motioned to Kebia. "Come on, let's head to the castle and find out what is going on." 

     "Now that's more than the report said, a lot more," Antonia remarked.  "And you say the Teir'Dal mindwiped you as a child?" "Aye, and they stole my parents from me, and my birthright, and my very life, until the day I got my memories back," Leeroy ground out.  "Ye cannot know what that is like, to find out everything is not as it seemed..." "Yes, yes I can, Northman.  I was secretly raised on a remote island, I had no idea I was the royal heir, and when I was suddenly brought here and informed everything I believed about my origins and family was a fabrication, even though designed to protect me, I was VERY upset.  Who could I trust? What was real? It took me years to adjust. So I do have some inkling of your experience, privileged though I may be."  She got up and came around to Leeroy's side of the table.  "Unclip that neck chain and untie his hands," she ordered. "But Your Majesty..." "That was an order, or would you like your new title to be Captain of sewer detail?"  "Forgive me, Queen Antonia," the man said and rushed to comply.  Leeroy flexed his fingers as the circulation came back.  "The Overlord has been apparently abducted," the Queen said. 

      The Northman's jaw dropped. "Yes, and it's not well-known yet.  Suffice it to say the situation's delicate. And we need the talents of Freeport residents to design a scheme to rescue civilians..........and even Lucan himself if we can find his kidnappers."  "Where do I come in?" Leeroy wondered.  "I haven't told anyone here yet, but I am proclaiming it now.  We need you and others like you.  Your training is no longer an obstacle, as long as you do not practice necromancy or the related art of defilation."   The room went wild.  "ENOUGH!" shouted the Queen.  "I order it so: Inquisitors, Assassins, Bruisers, and Coercers are to be allowed residency in this city, if they take the oath of loyalty.  We must not any longer cripple ourselves with quibbling over minor details."  She turned to an aide. "First of all, get him out of that outfit and into some new clothes. Then, we can administer the oath."

     Both of them rushed up the steps only to be stopped by a guard.  "State your business here," she said, sword drawn. "My nephew was arrested and brought here, and no word was sent out. Why would he be held incommunicado?" the Elder Mystic demanded.  "I will find out, sir," the guard replied and her replacement stepped forward as she disappeared into the castle.  "What if they've..... no, I can't even think of that," Tabaar gritted, fists knotted with tension.  Kebia gave the shaman a worried look.  He was probably too close to the truth for comfort.  It didn't look good.  Soon the guard reappeared.  "They are sending him out," she said, holding out a bundle. "Here are his personal effects."  Tabaar took the bundle in a daze.  Kebia could see the shaman was going into a state of shock, unable to function.  There was only one reason she knew of to receive a prisoner's clothing and personal goods.   She kept herself under tight control, not willing to believe the worst until she was sure.  Tabaar on the other hand clearly was about to break down.  Then the castle doors swung open again and out walked.........Leeroy? Yes! It was him! "Tabaar! Kebia! Ye wouldn't believe what happened to me......"

     

    

    

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Old 09-13-2010, 08:51 AM   #104
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     Tabaar dropped the bundle of clothing. "Ye have a way of scaring the life out of me," he said tightly. "I expected to see ye come out in a pine box!" Leeroy stepped forward and put his hands on the older man's shoulders. "That nearly was the case," he answered. "But now I'm a free man, a citizen of this city." He tapped the emblem on his shirt. The Elder Mystic stared in wonder. Leeroy was marked as an oathbound Qeynos cleric......."But ye said ye never would go through becoming a Templar, and ye were warned not to!" The younger man shook his head and smiled. "I didn't. It won't be common knowledge until tomorrow's proclamation, but Queen Antonia has declared Inquisitors, Coercers, Bruisers and Assassins to be allowed to take the oath without retraining. I'm the first of many in a new world, and I'll explain more later. Now, let's get to my house: I'm sure Treissae is worried about me."

     She met him at the front door, and he knelt down to embrace the Wood Elf. Up until now Leeroy had simply taken charge, leaving a surprised Tabaar and Kebia following him, but now the young Halasian found himself racked with sobs as the full import of the day's events hit him hard. He had nearly left a widow and orphans! "What's wrong?" Treissae wanted to know. Leeroy held up a hand but was unable to speak. He gasped for air and fought for composure for several minutes. At last he let out a shuddering sigh and stood up. "I'm sorry," he said, "I'll explain everything. Come in, sit down."

     "First things first," the Inquisitor murmured and walked over to gaze at his children. "Hello, little ones. I missed ye both..." He leaned down and picked each one up in turn to give them a kiss, and again felt that fierce sense of protectiveness. He would do anything in the world for them, and harm would come to them over his dead body, literally.

     The others waited patiently as the young father interacted with the babies, Tabaar showing a half-smile of amused      tolerance. The cleric had come a long way from his rough-edged ways, and being a parent seemed to suit him very well. At last the younger Northman came back over to the others and began to recount the day's events.

     "Really? I never would have thought they'd ever do that!" Treissae said in amazement. "However, the Queen still forbids necromancy or defilation, and she won't allow the twisted Paladins called Shadowknights, nor the common thugs referred to as Brigands as citizens. But the biggest news is this," Leeroy continued, "Lucan d'Lere is missing and presumed abducted by forces from Odus."

     They all began to talk at once, astounded at the news. "It's all I know," the Inquisitor cautioned, "and I don't know if it's to be public knowledge yet." Tabaar snorted. "The grapevine'll carry the news faster than a racehorse," he said. "The whole city will know within a day." "Probably true," Leeroy agreed, "but I think we should be careful what we say, anyhow."

     For a guardian of Qeynos, security is paramount. So when they started bringing in persons to question, no one told relatives, and that included the guardian Tyndall. He only found out by a chance remark at shift change. "Yeah, we took in several of those Freeporters been lurking about the place," remarked a Dwarf guard. "Interrogated them, executed a couple..." "Wait a minute, what did ye say? Do ye know anything else? Names?" the Halasian demanded. The Dwarf tugged on his beard in thought. "I saw them drag in a Kerra, and a Barb...sorry, Halasian, soon after. The Halasian was a spy, they said, that some clan called Hammer-something-or-other was hiding." The guardian blanched and only by a massive effort kept from voicing his dismay. Tyndall knew he could be risking his job, but he had to know. "Cover for me," he told another guard, and ran to the castle. "Any news at all," he begged the gate guards. "Well, normally we wouldn't say anything," one of them remarked, "but seeing that you're a fellow guard, I'll see what I can do."

     "Ah, here we go," the man remarked as the courier handed him a scroll, "yes, we took in two Barbarian men, one of whom was summarily executed when he refused the oath to Qeynos. The other one took the oath and was freed." Wild-eyed, Tyndall spun away from the surprised guard and ran.

     He was distraught and in a torment of shame and despair. He should have somehow known and prevented this! Tyndall ran to his father's house but no one was there. Of course! He'd be with Treissae.........he ran even faster, vowing to himself that he'd do right by Leeroy and support his children for him. When he reached the door, he steeled himself and knocked.

     "Well hello there, brother, come in," Leeroy said with a grin. Then his face fell. Tyndall had staggered back a few steps, turning ashen grey. "Ye look like ye've seen a ghost," the Inquisitor remarked with concern. "Ye can't be alive! They said they put to death the Halasian who wouldn't sign an oath and......" Tyndall's voice trailed off. "I'm most certainly still here," Leeroy answered. "I did take the oath." He reached out and tugged the guard over the threshold. "But as I said, come in." Tyndall grabbed him by both arms. "But.........ye swore never to become a Templar, haven't ye broken a vow?" No, and I'll fill ye in." Dazedly the guard found himself sitting listening to a tale that told by anyone else would have prompted him to call the storyteller a liar.

     Tyndall's relief and elation at finding his younger cousin safe was profound. "I may have lost my job, though; I abandoned my post." "If you explain the circumstances, they may be lenient," Kebia offered. "I'll try but if they hand me punishment I'll not evade it." "Well, son, ye'll be heading to New Halas soon anyhow. Why not just stay on there and work on the building process? None of us would blame ye for what ye did today." "I guess I could do that, Dad." The Elder Mystic nodded. "Ye'd be an asset to the project. The ship will be ready to sail," he told the room at large, "in a week. Since things have changed around here, I will go along too. And that goes for ye also, Leeroy, if ye like. There's no obstacle now." "Well, I want to but I have to first do what Qeynos wanted me to." "And what's that?" "I have to go to Freeport and get some people out. Hopefully I'll be back in time."

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Old 09-15-2010, 11:18 AM   #105
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     Familiar territory it was, not that he had expected ever to see the place again.  He'd quietly walked into Scale Yard that morning, taking note of the changes.  There were only three subjects being discussed: the Overlord's disappearance, the factions and their infighting, and the discovery of Erollis/New Halas.  Word certainly traveled fast.  In East Freeport he cautiously made his way through town, always on the lookout for guards.  The normal guards were merely brutal. These new forces vying for control of the city were not only brutal, but sleazy, bored, greedy, and completely without any sense of honor. They were known to slaughter innocent citizens as a game, and Tribunal help any who protested their presence.

     The contact was supposed to meet him at the Blood Haze Inn. Leeroy was to sit at the bar reading a scroll, and someone would sit down by him and spill an ale on the scroll.  He was to start an argument and demand compensation. The contact would give him money and also hand over a pass to the interrogation center in West Freeport.  Well, it worked that way, sort of.  He got himself an ale and busied himself perusing the scroll.  A red-bearded Human man in his midthirties or so sat down next to him and ordered himself a drink, which he promptly knocked over onto Leeroy.  The Halasian jumped up and began to berate him with a rich variety of insults, demanding compensation for the ruined item.  The Human tossed a few coins on the bar and walked out the door.  Now Leeroy was confused.  Where was the pass? Or had that been a coincidence.  Well, it would be way too suspicious if he was approached again the same way.  So he made his way out the door and into a nearby alley to consider his options.

     "About time you showed up," a voice hissed from behind him.  Leeroy jumped and spun around. The Human man was flipping a dagger and catching it.  "Could've gutted you like a fish," he smirked.  The Northman gave him a dirty look.  "So ye say.   What happened in there?  Where's the item?"  "Didn't you see the bartender signaling someone behind us? We were being watched."  He pointed down.  What Leeroy had taken for a mound of garbage in the dim light was really a dead Teir'Dal.  "Neriak supporter, I suppose?"  "Well, young Barbarian, you're not as dumb as you look. Yes, this was one of them. Don't want to see them in charge. Nasty bunch.  Here's the item you wanted."  The Human handed Leeroy a metal square about the width of his hand.  The Northman recognized it as a security pass.  "I'll wait here; you get him out and I'll cover you while you get him out of town." 

     He showed the pass to the Troll gate guard and was waved through.  Familiarity with the layout of the interrogation chambers stood him in good stead, for a newcomer could quickly get lost in the warren of passageways.  The room he wanted was called "The Library" for the stacks of books and scrolls, all of them pertaining to Freeport law and the Overlord's edicts.  Sure enough, chained to a wall at the back was the hapless prisoner.  Leeroy hurried over and the man raised his head.  Another Teir'Dal!  "You here to help me?" "Aye," replied the Inquisitor, suppressing his distaste for Dark Elves.  "Quick, get these chains off me before they return!"  Leeroy soon had him freed, and turned to go. "Come on, I'll bluff our way out." "I don't think so," replied the Dark Elf. I've changed my mind. GUARDS! Intruder!"  A trap!  And he'd fallen for it like a fool.  Leeroy ran from the room, barreled right through the arriving forces, and out onto the exercise patio.  With the pursuers right on his heels, he took a running leap and caught an overhanging branch, swung up into the tree, dropped over the wall and into the street, and ran off. 

     He took a roundabout route back to where he'd left the Human Assassin, first making very sure he wasn't being followed.  No one was in sight as he casually sauntered into the alleyway.  At first he didn't see the Human, then he noticed the body on the ground. It was him, knifed in the back.  Leeroy's response, honed by years of experience in the harsh environment of Freeport, was to jump back.  This saved his life, as a thrown knife flew through the space he had just occupied.  He had always considered the best defense to be a strong offense, and he charged, mace in hand, at the shadowy figure he saw farther down the alley.  The attacker turned to run, and Leeroy skidded to a stop to cast his most terrifying spell.  A huge skeletal hand burst from the ground underneath the fleeing man and held him fast.  His cry of horror was quickly cut short by a lethal blow from the infuriated Inquisitor. 

     As he clamped down on his killing rage, Leeroy looked quickly around for witnesses or more attackers.  None were visible.  Only then did he turn back to the fallen Human, searching for signs of life as he did so.  He drew out the knife, setting it aside as he closed the wound with a few quick healing bursts.  The man looked to be dead, but maybe the Halasian was in time.  Leeroy knelt in the dirt by the body, closed his eyes and began to beseech Karana for assistance.  Energy grew in the air above him, and he let it build for a few seconds, then he put one hand up, and one hand on the Human's chest.  The energy discharged, crackling through Leeroy in series of pulses and into the body.  He felt around the Human's throat.  Ah, there was a pulse, slow but steady.  Now the Human took a breath, then another.  In a few minutes, he began to mutter and thrash around.  Leeroy pinned the man's arms as he awoke.  It was a good thing; the Assassin tried to attack him at first.  "Stop, it's me," the Northman hissed.  The man's eyes went wide with recognition.  "You saved me! Someone stabbed me, I must have passed out and luckily you came along..."  "Aye, I came back but ye weren't lying here injured.  Ye were lying here dead." 

     The man stared at the Inquisitor with fear in his eyes.  "What are you? Some kind of priest?" "Aye, I am," Leeroy replied. "And I haven't taken yer soul from ye, nor will I exact some sort of penance or service.  I did what I'm supposed to."  "But...I owe you my life! And I don't even know your name."  "I'm Leeroy, of Clan Hammersmite. And yerself?"  "Alistair Clearwater.  I want to thank you, Leeroy, for what you've done.  But....where's the prisoner you were supposed to rescue?"  The Northman narrowed his eyes.  "Someone set me up. I walked right into a trap and I was incredibly lucky to get away with my life."  "It wasn't me!" Alistair protested.  "I know.  But we can't stay here.  Ye're coming with me; yer life is forfeit anyhow." 

    

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Old 09-17-2010, 03:07 AM   #106
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     Once they were well out into the Commonlands, Leeroy stopped and turned to Alistair.  "All right.  Don't think we're safe just yet.  Dropping yer guard out here is a bad idea.  Speaking of bad ideas, it would be one to mislead me in any way.  So I'll ask ye this just once: are ye willing to come along with me to Qeynos?  I'll make sure ye get a hearing and the opportunity to take the oath of loyalty.  If not, if ye plan to run back to Freeport the moment I let down my guard, say so now."  The Assassin gulped and nodded.  "I'll come with you.  I have a confession to make." "And that is?" "I am from Qeynos.  I listened to some stupid Gnome tell me how great life was in Freeport and I believed him. By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late." "It's never too late," the Northman advised.  "But what if I'd said I was going back to Freeport: what would you have done?" "I couldn't let that happen," Leeroy answered.  "I'd have knocked ye out and carried ye if ye tried once, second time ye'd be filling a shallow grave."  He shook his head at the thought.  "Please don't force me to resort to that." 

     They traveled the rest of the day, reaching the Nektulos Forest dock that evening.  Leeroy bought passage to Antonica from the dockmaster.  "We sail in an hour," he was told.  "Might as well board," he told the Human, and found himself a comfortable spot to sit by some cargo boxes.  He leaned back and closed his eyes a moment.  Next thing he knew, the movement of the ship getting underway woke him up.  "By Mithaniel's beard," Leeroy said, disgusted with himself.  Then he remembered the Assassin and looked around.  He was gone.  The Halasian swore in frustration and ran to the side.  Land wasn't far away; he could jump overboard and swim back.....before his recent incident with being lost at sea, he would have, but now he hesitated.  Just then Alistair called out, "Ah, there you are.  I went and got us something to drink...what's wrong?"  "Don't scare me like that! Ye should have told me where ye were; I thought ye'd given me the slip."  "I'm sorry but you were asleep and I didn't want to wake you; you looked so tired." 

     By the time the sun came up, Antonica was in sight, with the spires of the castle visible in the distance.  "How do you know they'll give me a chance? I mean, I betrayed Qeynos, turned my back on my family, everything."  "Well, yer family will be yer biggest challenge.  As for being reinstated as a citizen of Qeynos, that won't be nearly as hard.  I should know.  I was born there but grew up in Freeport."  Leeroy shrugged.  "It's a long story, but I was trained as an Inquisitor."  "Oh, so you came here and they made you a Templar?" "Nay, I came here and hid out for a long time; I didn't know I was being watched.  The other day they arrested me and demanded I take the oath.  I told them I had been warned never to become a Templar."  Alistair gave Leeroy a strange look.  "Then how in the world did you get out?"  "I expected them to take me to the execution chamber, but the Queen herself intervened, saying that they needed people like me, and that - what was it she said? - yes, 'quibbling over minor details' was crippling the security of Qeynos.  So instead of being sent out in a coffin to my family, I was oathbound and released on my own recognizance."  The Human frowned. "I don't get it." "It means I'm still an Inquisitor, a Qeynos Inquisitor.  And she removed all restrictions against not only Inquisitors, but also Coercers, Bruisers, and Assassins."

     "Now, ye've got to trust me.  I can't get ye to the castle in one piece unless ye are perceived as no threat.  That means I have to tie ye up and walk ye there as a prisoner."  Leeroy sighed and continued, "And they are quite suspicious of 2-person 'prisoner walks', so I'll have to make it look good.  In advance I'm going to ask yer forgiveness for what I'm about to do."  The Human frowned in confusion then comprehension dawned. He shrank back but Leeroy already had swung his hand.  The Halasian pulled his punches but still gave Alistair a thorough beating, bruising but not breaking anything.  While the man was still dazed, Leeroy spun him around and tied his hands, gagged him, then shoved him forward toward the main gates.

     "Prisoner for interrogation," he informed the guards.  They swung the gate open and he prodded the now-terrified Assassin through and to the castle steps.  "Leeroy reporting in with a Freeport prisoner for interrogation," he said.  "In three halls to the left," said the security guard. "Wait there."  He shoved Alistair into a chair and removed the gag.  "Now, I'm going to untie yer hands.  Hold still."  "This was all a setup, wasn't it?" the Human yelled.  "You're really with Qeynos security and getting revenge on traitors!  Well, I won't go down easily!" he screamed and took a wild swing at Leeroy, splitting his lip open.  The Halasian staggered back a step and put his hand to his mouth, raising his eyebrows. "I won't say I didn't deserve that.  And no, I'm not a Security member. Sit back down," he intoned, again shoving the Assassin into the chair.  "Don't ye understand what a chance I took bringing ye here?  What if ye had been working for Freeport? I had to be sure ye were the genuine article. Now, hate me if ye like,  but show some cooperation." He leaned down close to the Assassin.  "Alistair, I said I had to do this to ye.  Don't think for a moment that I liked it one bit.  No matter what city ye live in, there will be things that leave a bad taste in yer mouth, even when necessary.  Now, wait here."  Leeroy left and bolted the door, returning soon with a small contingent of castle staff.

      "This is Alistair Clearwater, lately of Freeport," he informed them, gesturing toward the Human.  "He was caught in the middle of a bad situation when I had a rescue operation compromised.  I need to report in; Alistair, tell them everything ye know, all ye remember."  The Halasian left the room and the staff members sat down at the table opposite the Assassin.  "Human Alistair, I'm Lothira Havensroth," said a Half-Elf woman.  "What happened from the time you met Leeroy until now?"  Alistair told them all he knew. He went on at length detailing his experiences. When he came to how Leeroy had found him stabbed and facedown in the alley, they were fascinated.  "Really? He said he found you dead and managed to revive you?  That's not a common gift, not on his part, nor to yourself." "I know.  I still don't know why he bothered; he could have just kept going."  "I'd say he thought you were worth saving, and I agree.  Not only can we use your talents, Human, but it will be good having you back in Qeynos."   After he'd finished his account of the past day, they left the room right away.  The Northman returned a couple minutes later and sat down at the table.   The Assassin wouldn't meet his gaze.  "Look at me, Alistair." He did then and frowned in surprise.  The Northman's eyes were red-rimmed.  "I told them I wouldn't do this for them again," Leeroy grated.  "Never again.  I felt like I lost a piece of my soul when I had to beat ye. Not just from hitting ye, from making ye hate and fear me."  A tear trickled down his face.  "There's nothing that shreds my soul like behaving in any way like the wretched Teir'Dal who destroyed my family, enslaved me, and stole my life from me.  So again I'll ask yer forgiveness, but if ye don't give it, I'll never bother ye again." 

      Alistair had not known what torment the Halasian was going through, had gone through.  He remembered the look on Leeroy's face when he'd announced he had to hurt him; he had looked twenty years older than he was.  "Of course I forgive you.  I owe you my life, after all.......yes!  Why didn't I think about that?"  The Assassin wore a rueful look.  "You didn't go to all that trouble just to throw me to the wolves."  "Nay, I didn't.  And thank ye for understanding.  Now I owe ye something.  I'll help ye get reoriented and all that.  They'll be bringing ye papers to sign and give ye the oath. I have to go home and be with my wife and children, but ye can find me in South Qeynos right across from the Mage Tower, second house on the right."

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Old 09-24-2010, 02:46 PM   #107
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      Treissae had been corresponding with her parents back in Kelethin; she told them of the events and asked their advice.  Her mother pointed out that the children would benefit from being raised in an environment where they were accepted and would thrive.  'Here in Kelethin I'm afraid the fact of their being half-Elven would become an issue.  In Qeynos, hard to say. From what you tell me,  the Halasians are treating the discovery of Erollis as the biggest event since the Shattering.  Why not go there and make it your home?'  Of course, Leeroy would be more than willing to move to New Halas, that went without saying.  But he wouldn't if it meant separating the family.  It would be an adjustment for her, but it would also be new and exciting.  And it could be exactly what the twins needed.

     He walked in the door and she rushed to his willing embrace.  "What's wrong with your lip?" she asked after a moment, concerned. "Nothing much; I got in the way of a fist.  I deserved it, so..." "What do you mean?"  "Well, I'll have to tell ye from the start."  Leeroy did so, walking around the room, watching the babies,  pacing back and forth,  caressing Treissae, reassuring her that he was through working for Qeynos.  "I'd love to move away from here to not feel pressured. But I'm sure ye don't want to live in the ice and snow."  "You might be surprised. I've been asking my parents what they think, and they say that your people are about to be restored to their former greatness, and that I should be there, and our children."   Leeroy stopped pacing and swung around. "Really? I'd think they wanted ye to be in Kelethin." "No, they say our babies would be snubbed there for being half-Elven." "And ye think it won't happen in New Halas? We True Men aren't perfect." "No, but there's more of a future there, and I know that you want to go there, that it's a part of your identity."  The Inquisitor nodded.  "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't what I wanted more than anything else, with the exception of my family.  Are ye sure ye want to do this? It'll be a big change."  "Yes,  I want to see the rebirth of the Halasian culture, your traditions and customs, and I want our children to experience that."

    Tap tap tap.  Leeroy groaned and turned over in bed.  What was that noise?  "Someone's at the door," Treissae said, shaking his arm.  He sat up and reached for some clothing.  "On my way," he called out as he hurriedly dressed.  He stumbled to the door and pulled it open.  "Alistair! Come in."  The Human did so and squinted at Leeroy. "You look like I got you out of bed," he commented. "That because ye did." "At this time of day? Oh," Alistair replied as Leeroy turned red.  "I can come back later, I'm sorry..." "Nay, I was asleep and needed to get up anyhow."  Treissae walked into the room, dressed in a mage's robes.  "Alistair, this is my wife Treissae.  Love, this is the man I rescued from Freeport."  The Human bowed.  "Pleased to meet you.  Your husband is an interesting man," he said.  "Did he tell you he saved my life?" "Well, no..."  "Of course you'd leave that out, Leeroy.  He found me with a knife in my back and somehow revived me."  "I only did what I had to," Leeroy protested.  "No, you could have left my corpse lying there.  I owe you a life, and maybe someday I can repay the debt."

     By the time they got to Graystone Yard it was midafternoon.  "Ah, I see someone I know," Leeroy pointed.  "That's Reesling, my uncle's best friend.  I want to talk to him."  Alistair followed the Inquisitor as he hurried to catch up.  "Reesling, hello, where are ye heading?"  The older Halasian spun around and retorted, "How in the world am I supposed to know, Leeroy?"  The Inquisitor literally fell down laughing.  Alistair was confused then he saw the older Northman carried a cane, and hadn't taken any notice of the Human.  Leeroy got up, still chuckling. "Ye got me that time, Reesling. Tabaar's right, ye should have been a rogue." "Nay, it's hard enough being a blind bard.  I'm not expected to use my swords for much.  Imagine me trying to find an enemy's back!"  Alistair cleared his throat. "Sorry, I need to introduce Alistair, Human lately of Freeport, now a resident Assassin of Qeynos.  "What?  And next I'll expect ye to tell me ye're a Qeynos Inquisitor." "That's right.  I walk freely now about the streets."  Reesling frowned and pursed his lips.  "Well, ye'll need to give me the details," he said.  "I'll do that at Tabaar's house.  We'll have everyone go there."  "Can ye leave a note for me at my house so Warlaa knows where we went? She's out with the Warden, getting supplies for the voyage."  "Of course."

     "Ye know, the Warden's been a great help to us.  Smallish Human but fairly strong; he downed and brought a deer back yesterday.  Dressed it out and carried it a quarter mile."  Reesling swung his cane in a arc as he walked at a quick pace.   "So, Leeroy, are ye going on the first ship?" "Aye, I'll have Tabaar make sure there's room for my family."  "Excellent! We're all looking forward to it," the Dirge said without a hint of irony.  Leeroy stopped and knocked on a door.  "Leeroy!" said another older Halasian, this one with a braided beard.  "Tabaar, let me introduce Alistair. He's the one I brought back from Freeport."  "Hello young man, I'm the Elder Mystic.  Come in, all of ye.  What can I do for ye?"  Leeroy explained at length and Tabaar nodded.  "I'll get the word out."  It took a while but folks filtered in until the house was crammed with people.  While this was going on, Leeroy told Tabaar that he'd be going to New Halas.  "Just what I was hoping. Did Treissae take much convincing?" "Nay, she told me her parents were for the idea." "Good. Now let's hope it all goes smoothly.  Reesling, how about some entertainment if ye would?"

    Alistair hadn't heard a Northman sing before; he had no idea they even did.  But this one did and well; he had a sweet baritone voice and was an expert at stringed instruments.  He sang dirges and ballads, even a love song, until everyone forgot the passage of time and just stopped to listen.  It was enough to transport them all to a different world as Reesling sang the ancient Halasian songs of valor and battle, and it was disappointing for many of them when he finally was through.  Cheers rang out; Reesling enjoyed the accolades as always.  "Attention," Tabaar shouted over the din.  "I need ye to listen to some important news.  Leeroy, will ye take the floor?"  The Inquisitor did so, detailing all the pertinent facts.  "Amazing!"  "Are we sure of this?"  "The Queen, no less!" "Lucan, kidnapped?"   The murmur of the assembly got to be a bit much, and Tabaar rapped his staff on the floor to get their attention.  "It'll be announced tomorrow," Leeroy continued.  "It's a different world now.  And we of the True Men are going to refound our heritage in a new home." "Anyone who wishes to go, may," said Tabaar.  "We won't restrict on basis of race.  I've even had a few of the Frogloks join."  "Aren't they going to find it too cold?"  "It's their choice.  They are after all children of Mithaniel Marr, as we are children of Erollisi Marr.  It would be important to them too."

     "Alistair, this is my wife Warlaa," said Reesling, introducing a Halasian woman.  Alistair bowed.  "So where's the Warden," the Dirge asked.  "Oh, I sent him over to our house to drop off the rest of the supplies. He should be on his way back."  "Good; Chen's a great help.  I still remember how I met him, and how scared he was of me."  Reesling smiled.  "I'd not be a Dirge if it weren't for him."  "Ah, there he is now," Warlaa said and pointed.  In came a Human man, young and with a dark brown goatee.  "Chen! Over here!"  Alistair blinked and looked again.  With the beard, and grown up, he wasn't sure until the young man smiled and walked over to them.  "Chennault! Is it really you?"  Startled, the younger Human looked up at him.  "Who are......Alistair! Brother!"  The two men hugged each other and laughed and tried both to talk at once.  "We thought you were gone forever!" "I barely recognized you with that beard!"  "This calls for a celebration," Tabaar announced from behind them. "Let's all head to the tavern."

    

    

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Old 09-27-2010, 02:23 AM   #108
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     Preparations had been proceeding a feverish pace for days; at last, the flotilla was ready to sail.  Leeroy and Treissae had worked hard getting their essential goods all packed up; Jimbob and Kebia would watch the house for them until they came back to move the remaining items and sell the place.  "What will happen when we get there?" Treissae wondered. "Well, it depends on what ye mean.  If ye mean the reception we receive from the Coldain, that will depend on how we comport ourselves.  If ye mean what will we find there, I expect dangers of all sorts.  Wild animals, orcs,  ice floes, crevasses, avalanches, deep and treacherous waters.   It won't be easy but if we make a home for ourselves there we will have something we have been missing: pride of place."  Leeroy sighed.  "Ye elves should have an inkling of what it is to be a homeless, wandering people. And we have been before; remember stories of the War of the Fay? Halas was taken by the orcs back then; we lived as savages in the snow or took refuge in the Human cities for a hundred years, until we built our numbers up to retake our ancestral home.  Do ye know that we were decimated in numbers?  Some clans are only counted in the afterlife now.  They will be remembered.  We are the people of Halas."

    The ships were packed with supplies, building materials, and passengers.  "When we run up the wolf standard, the other ships will put up their sails as we do, and we will embark," the captain announced.  "We will be leaving port in 10 minutes."  Tie ropes were loosened and cast aside, sailors manned their stations, and passengers cleared the deck.  "We can come back up topside when the skipper says," Tabaar told the assembly.  "As for now, he and the other captains are in charge, until we dock at Erollis."  "How do we know there's a place, a harbor?" someone asked "Good question.  There's a rude dock that the Coldain built up for their small ships; hopefully there'll be enough draft for these ships to not hit bottom.  If not, we all have a couple of skiffs each."  "Where will we live until we build real homes?"  "Well, hopefully ye can stand to live in a tent. Building shelters will be the first priority in New Halas.  Outside the town, just establishing ourselves will be the challenge.  And never forget, the Coldain are already here.  Treat them with respect."

     It took a few days to get to their destination; luckily, the weather held. "Been praying to Karana for good sailing," Leeroy remarked. "I think he listened."  Tabaar nodded gravely.  He already had his hands full with the usual shipboard assorted minor injuries and one broken ankle, sustained by a sailor missing his footing while descending from the crow's nest.  "Do we have everything ready for the ceremony?" he asked.  "Aye, it's all set to be first off.  Where will we hold it?" "Well, I'd like to hold it in New Halas itself.  It'll be a good omen if it goes well."  Tabaar looked at his adopted son.  "Also, I hope that we gain Mithaniel Marr's favor; this is a great and merciful thing he does for the children of Erollisi.  Oh, by the way, we need to make sure that the non-Halasians are apprised of the ceremony."

     The docking area came into sight in late morning.  "All right, please don't crowd the deckhands," the captain shouted as they reefed sail. The following ships did the same as they drew near. "We have the honor of first landing," Tabaar addressed the passengers.  "Of course, other boats have been nosing around here but this is official."  "Sounding 15 fathoms.......12......11...."  "If it hits 8 we have to stop."  "10 fathoms...... steady!"  Now Dwarves came running down the dock from wherever they'd been hiding, and stood waiting for lines to be thrown.  "All right, make fast," called the captain, and the lines were tossed to waiting hands.  The other ships hove to and waited just offshore.  "All right, let's get started," Tabaar told the others.  "Leeroy, ye get the honor of first to step ashore.  Ye know the reason."  The Inquisitor nodded. He'd argued the point with Tabaar and gotten firmly put in his place.  He knew that he had to obey his Clan Elder; that was all there was to it.  "Hold my son for me," he requested and placed Roynald in Tabaar's arms, then without further comment he walked down the plank to the waiting Dwarves.

      "I am Leeroy of Clan Hammersmite," he announced.  "The children of Erollisi wish to ask the permission of the children of Brell to land here and make homes in this place."  He knelt and waited.  A Coldain elder moved forward and looked him over closely.  "I am Ragnir Orebreaker.  We have been waiting for you.  Mithaniel Marr appeared to us and told us we were to welcome you and that he would bless this place, and together we would thrive."  The Dwarf produced a small knife.  "Hold out your hand."  Leeroy did so, and the Dwarf placed the knife in his hand, then laid his own hand over it.  "This is a most sacred knife. It is the symbol of renewed ties, of a reclaimed people, of a future we can share."  He drew the knife out, turning it as he did so, leaving a shallow cut on both their hands.   "We are bound in blood and honor to help each other.  Welcome to your new home, New Halas."  Ragnir grinned then, a startling thing on an aged Dwarf.  "Tell them to come onshore!"

         

      

    

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      The boats had unloaded their passengers and the procession wound its way up the steep path to the town set on the heights.  Everyone carried what they could; there would still be many trips back and forth to be made. But this was the first, and they made the most of it.  Reesling carried a heavy pack and his cane but kept the other hand free to be helped over uneven ground.  He started singing a song that seemed to lighten everyone's feet as they climbed.  Others joined in and the Dwarves nodded approvingly as they led the way.  At last they passed through the arched entry and the town of New Halas lay spread out before them.   The Shrine of Erollisi was in the center, with buildings scattered around.   There was plenty of room for more.   Tabaar and the other elders walked forward and faced the assembled crowd. "Today the sons and daughters of the North have a new beginning.  We cannot have our ancestral city back but it lives in our hearts, and this will be its heir and our shining new city.  All hail New Halas!"

      Everyone got busy, and the enormous strength and stamina of both Northmen and Dwarves did much to hasten the process.   Treissae watched in fascination as Leeroy and Tyndall carried between them entire logs and heaved them up into place as high as they could reach as the new building rose.  Rocks were used, logs, wood panels and beams, and of course furs, fleeces, and woolen blankets.  And it was cold here!  She was glad Leeroy had packed all the warm clothing he had; not that he was using any right now.  But she sure would have been chilly, and the babies were bundled well against the icy breeze.  Warlaa was busy sending out hunting parties and cooking the game they brought back.   Tabaar was directing the building of the healer lodge; it had to be just so, apparently.   And Reesling entertained with his songs and stories; quite a few children had come along.  All in all, it was already taking shape. Not just the town, but the culture's resurgence, the alliance with the Coldain, the future of the Halasians themselves.  No, the Wood Elf wouldn't have missed this for the world. 

     As soon as the roof beam was placed on the healer lodge, Tabaar called a halt to the proceedings.  "Everyone! Now that the sacred lodge is in place, it must be dedicated without delay."  Warlaa placed a pot on the fire, added water, and a mixture of herbs and other things that Tabaar gave her.  The Elder Mystic went into a small building and emerged a few minutes later wearing his bear hat, and a long bearskin robe.  And for the very first time in his life, Tabaar of Clan Hammersmite was wearing woad.  He had it in a shamanic pattern over his face, one that dated back to the time of Heldorm Snowreader.  "Today we dedicate this hall for its sacred purpose and ask the gods and the Tribunal to bless us."  He motioned to Warlaa, who brought him a steaming mug of the brew from the kettle.  The shaman drank it down and swayed on his feet, then took a few deep breaths.  His eyes lost focus and he threw back his head and howled like a wolf.   Not a few people later said how they saw the wolf spirit flitting about Tabaar as he entered the shaman's trance.  Then he dropped the robe on the ground and began to chant something in an ancient dialect; even other Halasians could barely follow unless they were shamans too. 

    "What's he saying, and why is he naked?" Treissae whispered to Leeroy.  "We go before the sacred presence without hiding any aspect of ourselves," he replied. "As for what he's saying, it's something about asking the spirits of the land, the creatures, and those of our ancestors especially to watch over us."   The Inquisitor took a deep breath to steady himself.  There was a presence indeed.  Maybe even Erollisi herself would be here, in whatever form she was now.  The land itself seemed brighter, sharper, more there.  Just then Tabaar collapsed in the snow.  He stumbled to his feet and saw his robe lying nearby.  The Elder Mystic grabbed it and put it on  hurriedly.  "I have walked the spirit world and they approve.  The Healer Lodge is dedicated and open." Tabaar moved over to where the other Clan members were. "I knew I would do that, still was embarrassing to find myself that way in front of everyone. Makes me think of all those bad dreams folks have told me about where ye lose yer clothes in public.  Now I know."  Leeroy chuckled. "Believe me, we understand.  Now we can proceed." 

      Now the vast majority of the new arrivals were Halasian, but there was a smattering of other races, Human, Elven, Dwarven, and even a couple of Frogloks.  So when a scruffy Halfling went wandering through the crowds, performing magic tricks for the children, no one took much notice but to shrug and figure he'd come on some other boat.  "That's strange; I don't remember any Halflings on the manifest." Tabaar dismissed the thought and turned to his tasks.  "Leeroy, I want to let Reesling get a look at this," Treissae said. She hadn't conjured up a pet elemental since before the babies were born.  "Yes, of course," Leeroy said.  "He more than deserves it."  So the Wood Elf brought one up as Leeroy went over and talked to Reesling. "Really? I wouldn't want her to go to any trouble." "It's never trouble, Reesling, and ye know it. Are ye ready?"  Treissae cast the spell and the world around the Dirge opened up from the blackness.  "Ah, beautiful........what is that? The lodge?"  Reesling wandered around, the elemental following beside him.  Just then the Halfling rushed up to him and said, "Here, sir, take this and place it under a seat cover."  He shoved a half-inflated animal bladder into the bard's hands.  Reesling was confused and somewhat irritated.  Then he thought, why not? It might amuse the children. So as soon as he figured out which was Tabaar's chair, he slid the bladder under the pad.   Just in time too; the Elder Mystic was coming to sit down for a rest.  He did so and to the vast amusement of everyone nearby, the bladder popped with a rude noise.  Tabaar jumped up amid laughter and spun about trying to figure out who was the practical joker.  Reesling was doubled over with helpless laughter, tears streaming down his face.  "Ye're the culprit? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but..."

"That's what I was after!" rang out a piping voice.  The Halfling had jumped onto a chair.  "Mith doesn't get to have ALL the fun on this day of restoration!  Enjoy my sacred art of the prank!"  "Bristlebane?"  Reesling gasped.  "One and the same, and here's an even bigger prank!  You'll never remove those glass eyes again!"  With that, Bristlebane vanished in a shower of sparkles.  Reesling looked about him wildly.  Treissae's pet was nowhere to be seen.  He put his hands to his face and blocked his view.  He dropped his hands and cried out in awe.  "No, it's not possible," Tabaar shouted and rushed up to his friend.  Reesling stared back at the Elder Mystic with hazel eyes that shone with the light of the miracle he'd just experienced.  "I'll never say anything's impossible again," the Dirge said in a cracked voice.  "Now I get to make up for lost time. I want to see everything everywhere, everyone who I know or don't know."   The news of the miracle traveled throughout the assembly in seconds. Warlaa left her cooking duties and rushed to Reesling's side.  "Beautiful, I say, and never again do I have to wish to see ye,"  the bard said, gazing into her eyes.  "I didn't even get a chance to thank him!"  "I'm willing to bet that yer joy is thanks enough for the Prankster," Warlaa told him.   "I'd say so," he replied, "but I'll spend the rest of my days thanking him anyhow." 

    

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Old 10-02-2010, 09:28 AM   #110
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      The building-up of New Halas proceeded apace; also various adventuring parties set out to help the Coldain push back the ever-present enemies and establish camps and waystations out on the ice. Ships came and went, bringing building materials, trade goods, provisions and more people. Some went back, but most stayed. Some returned to tie up loose ends, sell property, and say goodbye to those who stayed in Qeynos. Leeroy and Treissae made an arduous round-trip to sell their house, as did Reesling and Warlaa. The Dirge was like a young child in his wonder at being able to see; he had a smile on his face most of the time as he rushed here and there just to find everything there was to look at. And when they all had gotten on the ship to head back to New Halas, who should they find also boarding ship but Raldyr and his family. "Cousin!" Leeroy shouted when he saw the Ranger. Raldyr waved him over with a grin to meet his wife and children. Reesling strode over and waited for the MacQuarrie clansman to notice him. It took a moment but Raldyr jumped with a startled gasp. "No, it can't be........but it has to be Reesling Icereaver!" The Dirge nodded with a grin. "Aye, none other." "But, how..." "Bristlebane persuaded me to play a prank on my best friend, one that got everyone laughing. Then he played one on me, restoring my sight." Raldyr shook his head in amazement. "I'll never understand the gods. First, some hothead stirs up Mithaniel Marr and gets him to give us a new home, then this..." "Well, young man, the hothead is standing right there, and is yer out-clan cousin." The Ranger turned beet red and stammered an apology to Leeroy. The Inquisitor waved it off. "I was a hothead, and almost a dead one. But we'll have plenty of time to talk on the way back."

      Back in their new home, they all worked hard, living in tents as they built homes in the sheltered lee of the cliff area. Some even had a small balcony overlooking the Frostfang Sea. Craftsmen made the treasured furniture, rugs, and stonework in the Halasian style, while the various guilds trained and equipped new recruits and seasoned adventurers. Infrastructure took shape and complexity and soon the call went out for the revival of the Chieftain role. Six were chosen in the days long ago to administer justice and moderate debates, to provide leadership, and had to be the sort of persons who led by example. It would be done in the time-honored fashion, by nomination and ballot. Those chosen were expected to serve. Anyone who had seen their Woading Day could vote for up to six candidates. A person who was not being nominated would do the counts. It took an entire day for all to put in their choices, and when the young girl who was counting ballots finished, she tallied up the marks on a scroll under each candidate's name. There were about thirty-five names to narrow down. Once she had the tallies, she made entries on another scroll. Someone blew a horn as a signal that the counting was done and people gathered around the pavilion.

     "The people of New Halas have spoken," the girl announced. "Yer chieftains are the following: Grethen of MacKendrik, Boannor of Lightaxe, Sigrdrif of MacMarrin, Viroth of Wintergrip, Marthron of Icereaver, and Tabaar of Hammersmite." Cheers rang out and the new leaders were congratulated. "What an honor," Tabaar managed to say after a moment. "I never dreamed of such a thing...." "Ye're definitely liked and respected, Dad; we're not enough in Hammersmite alone to have elected ye," Tyndall pointed out. Reesling came over from toasting his own clan's successful candidate and handed the Elder Mystic, now Chieftain, a huge mug of ale. "To my best friend, may ye hold office in good faith, and may all yer judgements be wise." "Hear, hear!"

     Leeroy and Treissae busied themselves caring for their children and decorating their new home. He'd known she would want some touches of her homeland so he offered her the entire upstairs greatroom as hers to make into a forest retreat. Of course, he wanted to have most of the house as a Halasian theme, in keeping with its construction and style. "I'll have to pay my way around here," the Inquisitor mentioned one day. "I can't just rest with my shield in the rack. In our society, if ye don't work, ye don't eat. Charity is for the helpless only. So I'm going to have to take up my mace and start helping out." He paused, and thought for a moment. "I can also make things. I haven't done so for a long time but I can make spell runes and I can tinker like a Gnome. That's what I'll do. It'll keep me here more with ye and the little ones if I do that part of the time, and go hunting and fighting enemies when I can."

     But of course word got out when Leeroy's fighting prowess was noted, and he was asked to help out more and more with protecting settlers, pushing back the orcs, and culling wild animal numbers. He found the battlefields and knew that he was truly home as he fought back against the insurgence with a ferocity that surprised even him. Less and less each day was he a 'city' Halasian as he employed ancient well-tested methods of hunt and battle.  He squinted against the sharp icy wind and resolved to make himself some goggles. Snowblindness was not only debilitating but painful. Already there had been a few cases, and falls into cracks in the ice, and into the freezing waters, and encounters with wolves and bears. It was a miracle there hadn't been any fatalities yet. It sure provided healers with work, as if they needed the extra labor. And resources. Those would be a sticking point. The Coldain had managed to scrape by here without outside contact for decades, but they were small and took less to maintain, and they had never been numerous. Dwarves just didn't seem to breed fast, unlike Halasians. Many a snickering jest had been made back in Graystone Yard that started a bar brawl over that very subject. Here, the Elders of the Clans had cautioned everyone to be on their best behavior. To destroy the goodwill of the Coldain would be beyond stupid.

      A trading industry would have to be set up, one that shipped Halasian goods to more southerly lands in exchange for the things they could not obtain locally. The six chieftains concurred on this and set to working out details for what was viable for trade, what was too limited to spare, and what goods were desireable to import. First on the list was wood. There were very few trees on Erollis, and those were to be left alone if at all possible. Second, food. There was plenty of fish and game locally, but very little in the way of fruit or vegetables. Third, manufactured goods that could not be made locally now, or for the foreseeable future. In return, there was abundant game to be managed for their valuable meat and fur, and plenty of fish. "Best to set this up with Qeynos right away; later we can expand to Butcherblock, Maj'Dul, Gorowyn, if they have goods to trade," said one chieftain. The others agreed; another phase in the building of their city was set in motion.

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Old 10-02-2010, 11:35 AM   #111
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     They thrived amid the ice as their ancestors had for so very long, and the combination of their hardiness and stamina, along with their greater understanding of the world around them, put the Halasians at a great advantage in a changing world.  Some had dismissed them as hidebound, unable to adapt, but those who did forgot that the so-called Barbarians were the progenitors of the Human race, the most adaptable people in all the world.   Did the naysayers think that adaptability had just sprung up in their smaller, more wiry relatives?  After all, it was the Halasians who had founded Oceangreen, later Qeynos, and the trading post called Freeport.  How easy it was to forget these things among the fantastic stories of marauding tribes from the north, pillaging and stealing their way through the land.  It had been thousands of years since they'd marched forth to make war on other peoples!  Admittedly, they'd spent centuries fighting among themselves.  But they'd learned a thing or two about restraint.

     One cold night when the twins were about three years old,  Leeroy and Treissae had gone to bed but had forgotten to secure the latch on the front door.  Of course, on that night the children awoke and climbed out of their beds, dragging a blanket between them.  Each one wore only the fleece nightclothing that Halasian children normally slept in, and soft booties made of deerskin.  They toddled around the home and eventually Roynald bumped into the front door, which creaked open.  Leeanora peered outside.  "Snow!" she exclaimed, and they both wandered outside to investigate, leaving the door open.  "I got blankie," Roynald said, and Leeanora grabbed a corner of it. Together they began walking farther and farther away from home and into the swirling snow of a winter night.

     He'd gotten so far that day but sunset had come so fast he'd decided to make a hurried camp rather than try to get up into New Halas in the dark.  The Assassin didn't know if Humans were welcome, but he hoped to at least visit.  He'd found an overhang  of a cliff that provided some protection from the elements and he put up his tent there and unpacked his warm bedroll and blankets.  Before he closed the flap he looked up at the sky.  Thin clouds chased each other across a star-studded vault, and fingers of northern lights flickered and danced.  "Beautiful," he murmured and watched for a while before retiring to sleep.

     "Get up! Leeroy!  The door's open!"  He sat up, startled.  Treissae pointed downstairs to the front door. Thieves?  He grabbed his mace and went down fast.   Then he heard a scream from upstairs.  He pelted back up to find the Wood Elf pale and shaking, then he saw what had prompted her agitation.  The twins were gone!

     Just as the Assassin was drifting off to sleep, he heard a strange noise, one that sounded like a small child talking. He frowned and listened for a few seconds. Nothing.  But just as he fell asleep the noise came again, this time accompanied by a small thud of something falling into snow.  "Get up," he heard a childish voice say.  He flung the tent flap open and was astounded to find two Halasian toddlers roaming through the night.  What were children doing out here?  "Hey there," he said softly.  They stopped and regarded him solemnly.  "Aren't you two a little bit cold?"  The girl nodded and pointed to the boy. "He fall down go boom in snow he all wet," she explained.  "I have some warm blankets.  Would that help? Want to stay in my tent until we can get you back to your parents?"  The Assassin's mind was racing.  He'd have to go into the town as soon as it was light, and try to find who these babies belonged to.   The girl led her brother forward and the Assassin held the tent flap aside to let them come in.   "Here, let me wrap you in this," he advised them and piled blankets over them, then set himself to watch them the rest of the night.

     Leeroy's frantic shouts rousted just about everyone in town; Tabaar ran up to him and the distraught Wood Elf.  "Our children got out of the house! I'm so stupid; I left the door unlatched, " the Inquisitor moaned.  "Start looking, people," Chieftain Tabaar shouted.  "Each person check around their own home; if we don't find them we check the whole town."  Folks fanned out and searched.  Reesling rushed to the scene and got the details.  The look on Treissae's face was enough to tear at his heart.  And Leeroy was the picture of frustrated helplessness.  "I'll  get right on it," he said.  The Dirge considered the situation from a unique perspective.  Most folks didn't seem to realize how far children could travel in a short time.  But Reesling remembered how far and fast he had traveled while blind.  The only foe was time for him. For the children, it was the cold.  How far could they get?  He trotted to the front of the house and squatted down, examining the snow and the view, then moved off, tracking.

     Every so often he thought he heard sounds  from atop the hill, but the swirling winds made enough noise of their own to effectively block it.   The Assassin huddled close to the shivering children to keep them warm.  He felt their feet: so very cold, so he started massaging them to bring back circulation.  "I'm sure your parents wonder where you are," he said softly.  "Mama. Papa," said one of them.  He couldn't tell in the dark of the tent. 

    Leeroy literally turned anything movable upside down as his fruitless search grew more frenetic.  His breathing was ragged and he began snarling at anyone in his way.  Tabaar saw this and accosted him.  "Get out of my way!" snapped the Inquisitor, and the Chieftain saw no choice but to stop him, which he did with a staggering backhand.  "Calm down," Tabaar said in a voice that invited no argument, "and get back to yer wife. NOW!"  Leeroy staggered and blinked as his face turned red.  "Ye can't help by losing yer focus," Tabaar said more softly. "We're doing everything we can."

    Reesling headed down the sloping path past the scout lodge.  He thought he saw small faint tracks in the snow but in starlight it was hard to be sure.  He hoped he had chosen correctly; even now it was a tossup whether the youngsters could stay alive this long in this biting wind.  Then he found a spot where there was a small indentation, and the tracks stopped.  He groaned in fear for what he might find, but there was no evidence of wild animal spoor.  Puzzled, he examined the tracks again.  They backtracked to........ what was this?  He poked at it to find it was a tent partly obscured by snow, and he swore in surprise.

   There! Someone was outside!  The Assassin reached for the tent flap and pushed it open to find a middle-aged Barbarian man staring at him in shock.  "What? Did ye find two children? Tell me yes, man, please."  "Yes, and I wrapped them in a blanket, and have been trying to prevent frostbite," the Assassin said in a rush.  The Barbarian  peered into the tent and saw them then, the two sleepy-eyed tykes that had caused the sleepless night.  "I'll need an explanation as to how ye had them," he said. 

     The Dirge had found a Human man holding the children in his tent.  Had the man abducted them?  It didn't look like it; there had been no tracks leading away from the home besides the children's.  Improbable as it seemed, the man's story seemed to be true.  "All right, leave yer stuff here and come with me."  Reesling picked up both children and hugged them.  "Uncle Reesling's gonna take ye home to Mama and Papa," he told them and strode on back up the path, the Human following in his wake. 

     "It's so cold and I just don't know," Leeroy said in a hopeless voice.  Treissae sobbed against his chest as he sought to comfort her but he was about out of hope.  Shouts came from down the path and they sounded excited.  Leeroy bolted toward the source and skidded around the bend to find the Dirge coming his way, carrying the alert and giggling twins.  The Inquisitor rushed forward and  Reesling handed the children to their frantic father. Treissae rushed up and cried tears of happiness as she embraced each one in turn.  Then Leeroy saw the Human.  "Alistair?"  The Human nodded. "Aye," the Dirge put in, "he found the children."  "I am in yer debt, Alistair," the Inquisitor said.   He gave the twins to Treissae then and turned to the Human, and embraced him.  "Ye're like a brother now, what's mine is yers, short of my family."   

     Tabaar examined each of the twins carefully, checking them for any injury or frostbite.  Neither of them had anything more serious than a scraped knee.  "That is entirely due to yerself," he informed Alistair.  "If ye hadn't just chanced to come along..."  the shaman shuddered.  It didn't bear thinking about.  "And yes, ye're welcome to anything Clan Hammersmite can provide."  "I was on my way here when darkness caught me so I found a sheltered place to camp.  I  wouldn't have heard them but the boy fell in the snow and the girl started talking to him."  The Assassin shook his head.  "I didn't know whose babies they were. I'm so glad I could repay my life debt."  "Ye've more than repaid it.  I couldn't have gone on if something had happened to my children," Leeroy told him. 

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Old 10-02-2010, 01:23 PM   #112
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     EPILOGUE

     "Come on, Dad, we don't want to be late!" shouted the young man from a ways down the street.  Tabaar smiled to himself, remembering his own eagerness so long ago.  "Ye heard Roynald, let's get going."  Treissae and Leeanora, along with Tyndall, were already almost to the meeting hall.  The aging Chieftain wasn't as fast on his feet as he used to be but he managed to keep up with Leeroy. "I'm so proud of them," the Inquisitor remarked.  He smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners at the thought of this his twins' Woading Day. 

     There were only the two; Treissae and Leeroy had tried for years but she had never again become pregnant.  They had survived the rigors of childhood (oh that terrifying night when they were still small children, and wandered off, that was still fresh in his mind) and grown into a strapping young man and a tall and poised young woman.  Each showed traits of both parents; the boy was a bit more Elven, the girl more Halasian in her appearance.  Both were highly intelligent and showed an aptitude for magical arts as well as martial ability.  

      Everyone came in and sat down.  Treissae's parents had come; so had Jimbob and Kebia, and everyone who lived in New Halas that had been invited.  "Been a long time since I've seen ye," Leeroy said to the Mystic.  "Ye must be about fifty by now." "Nearly," Jimbob said. "Didn't you have a birthday recently?" "Aye, my fortieth," the Inquisitor said.  "Getting old!"  The crowd hushed as Tabaar walked up to the front.  "Today we begin the ceremony to welcome two young people to the roles of adulthood," he pronounced.  "Leeanora and Roynald Hammersmite are the children of Leeroy and Treissae, and are today fifteen years of age and ready to become members of Halasian society.  It is time to take yer vows.   Ye both will hear information of great import to us, and things that must not be told to outsiders.  This will be a most-binding oath, one that has the severest penalties for violation."  He waited for them to acknowledge this, which they did.   "All right then, in order of birth. Leeanora of Clan Hammersmite, do ye agree to be bound by oath not to speak of today's information to outsiders?"  "Yes, I do."  "Roynald of Clan Hammersmite, do ye agree to be bound by this same oath not to ever speak of what ye learn here today to outsiders?"  "Yes, I agree."  "Then I do declare ye both to be full members of Halasian society.  Welcome  the woman Leeanora, and the man Roynald."

     Tabaar spent hours teaching them of the Halasian people's past, present and future.  For the first time they learned of the events that led up to their birth, the reason for New Halas, and what would be expected of them.  Leeroy hugged Treissae to him as they proudly watched their children's entry into adulthood. "I can't say it often enough, but I love ye," he murmured.  "And I love our children.  And I love Tabaar; I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for him." "Have you ever told him?"  Leeroy frowned.  "Um........I can't remember."  "Then you didn't.  Why don't you do that?"  He resolved to do exactly that.   With some trepidation he approached the Chieftain.  "Thank ye, and...."  Leeroy stepped back a step, embarrassed. "Yes?"  Tabaar asked.  "Well, Dad, I just wanted to say how much I love ye."  The chieftain smiled warmly.  "I love ye too, son.  I'm glad ye finally got up the courage to say.  Now let's go hold the Woading Feast."

    In the great hall, Leeroy and Treissae took the seats of honor as the Woad table was set up.   Their son and daughter were ushered in and seated by them.  Shouts of congratulations and well-wishes were heard and repeated.  "Now it is time for the food," Warlaa called out and began bringing out dishes.  Reesling struck up a jaunty tune and sang while everyone ate and drank.  Treissae turned to Leeroy and asked him how he felt.  He smiled then and gestured to the room full of happy people.

     "It's pride of place, love, a sense of belonging.  I am a part of my people; they are a part of me.  Everyone here who I care about had a part in bringing all this about and giving me, and us, meaning in our lives.  I thank Karana every day for his blessings, and I feel my ancestors watch over me."  He paused and looked proudly toward the twins. "I gained immortality through them.  We made them with love, they were given to us with love.  None of us should ever forget we're part of a community we barely can fathom.   I'll tell ye what a Halasian woman in Everfrost said to me many years ago.  She said, 'we are beautiful and enduring,' and that's the gist of it.  For now and forever, we are Halasians."

          THE END

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Old 10-12-2010, 09:21 AM   #113
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Wow.  Amazing.  My first post I think.

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Old 10-12-2010, 09:40 AM   #114
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   Thank ye very much for yer kind words.  I enjoyed telling this tale, and the encouraging posts from readers over the years really helped. 

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