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kronk9
After two day travel through forest, we finally get to monastery.

It was there.

We all look at each other.

"There it is," Kronk say.

Drow girl, Ralenthra speak next. "So...shall we go in?"

"It's why we came here, right?" Seledra ask. "For the good of Silverymoon."

"That, and a lifetime of hard bunks, moldy food, and considerably less mobility than we're used to if we don't. Oughtn't forget about that," magic person say. He still looking grumpy about not having horse. "Oh yes, and my personal favorite privilege, no conjugal visits. Don't know about you, but I'm especially looking forward to that. And by that I mean, I'm not. I'm not looking forward to it. At. All."

Elf druid look at him like he something she find in piece of bread she leave by rat hole. "You're mouth is moving ahead of the rest of you again. Am I to take it that the great Magnos is afraid to enter a near deserted monastery of Berronar Truesilver?"

"Afraid? Certainly not. Scared? Only slightly less than I am about the no conjugal visits thing."

She smile at that, not the happy kind of smile. "Based on the evidence of last night, I'm not convinced you'd know what to do with that kind of 'visit'. I'd think she'd get rather bored."

"You were interested enough not to leave the tent."

They quiet for a bit, staring hard at each other like nobody else there. But we still there, and they notice after a minute.

Ralenthra biting lip, like she not want to laugh.

Dorn, who is quiet the whole time, look at us like he think we all crazy.

Kronk think he may be right. Kronk just want to go back to bar and drink ale. Or fight some monsters.

Kronk turn back to monastery. "So...there it is."

Ralenthra turn to face it, too. "So...again...shall we go in?"

After another minute, Seledra start towards entrance. "We shall."

"Hope the monsters aren't angry," Magnos sigh, as we follow elf druid.



"What was that about the monsters not being angry?" Seledra say this as she hit lemure with lightning bolt. Judging by scream, it sound pretty angry.

"It was just a wish--arrrgh!" Magnos get jumped by darkmantle from behind him. He had been casting spells from behind.

"Don't you know better than to wish for a thing like that?" Ralenthra say, stabbing the darkmantle.

Kronk help kill the lemure. Other three run off.

"It not come true," Kronk say.

Kronk happy. So far we kill: monstrous spider, three ghouls, some monstrous centipedes, and kobold zombie.

Spider not just any spider--spider was green. Or really brown with green fur on legs. And it was big. Really big, with teeth like werewolf. Kronk not know spiders can have teeth--Kronk only know this one did.

It bite hard; it nearly bite elf druid woman in two. She not like that; she stab it with her sword and it scream. Dorn kill the other one with his blade.

The ghouls not as big as spider, but meaner. They must have been hungry: they go right for heads. Magic person Magnos first to go down:

"Get this thing off me," he scream. "It wants to eat my brains!"

"That's only good for a light snack!" Ralenthra say before her crossbow take off its head.

Magnos actually prove useful when we find centipedes. Kronk not see what he do with his hand, but the centipede that about to swallow drow girl start wriggling and thrashing, like insects under its skin. Nobody make fun of him after that...for a while, at least.

Then there were the zombies. We killed them.

We bunked down for night after that. You can't see sun in here, so Kronk not know what time he wake up. All Kronk know is that he have to piss pretty bad. It happen that way, sometimes.

We were set up in quiet cave. There only one entrance--no back way out, but no way to sneak up on party, either. Dorn and magic person in sleeping bags; magic person snoring. Druid elf and drow are both sitting cross legged, eyes closed, trancing, Kronk guess.

Kronk need to go...BAD. Kronk supposed to be on watch, not supposed to leave. But Kronk can't go in here! Where can Kronk go? Down tunnel we come in through. There side caves, branch off path we take...should Kronk take torch? No, Kronk can see in dark, Kronk not need torch...Kronk go here? No, we probably go that way in morning, that disgusting...how about here? Whoa, wait, that tunnel go straight down, Kronk catch self from falling...how about this one? It empty? YES!!

Kronk get feeling of sweet relief.

But after minute or two, Kronk hear something. It sound alive, but...not living, somehow.

Kronk fought too many things now to know better than to make noise. So Kronk turn around very slowly.

There is thing there that alive, but not living. Top half look like person...sorta. But wrong--face is too long, and there big hole where nose is supposed to be, and arms are all...melted. That top half. Bottom half is just rolling blob.

Now it roll towards Kronk. And scream.

If rest of party was asleep , they not anymore.

And that how we come to fight this thing, and then get attacked by darkmantle while we fighting it. It been full day, and we not even have breakfast yet.



Later, after we defeat the lemure (and after we have breakfast, porridge with warmed up jerky--darkmantle meat hard as stone even after you cook it, and lemure not something you want to eat), we walking through halls. When magic person complain, Seledra point out that he the one who ate everything on the way here.

It weird place. It not like something people made--more like cave. Walls are mostly straight...but not quite. There weird carvings on the wall of things like fishes with legs, and elk breathing fire, and things that might be stars in sky, or mouths of monsters, or something else you not quite remember. And that just what carved there; over top of that, somebody else paint things in red. Kronk can read (sorta), but these not look like any funny letter shapes he know. And the red they in look wrong--like it was inside something besides clay jar. Something that was alive.

"Dorn," Seledra ask, "what IS this place?"

Dorn pretty grumpy, even for dwarf. "It's a monastery to Berronar Truesilver. I thought Nim had told you that already."

"No," she say, "I know what it WAS. But that's not what this place looks like anymore." She point at statue-thing on a table in front of us. "Look at that. It is a religious symbol, but not of Berronar."

"Then what is it a symbol of?" Ralenthra ask.

Elf girl study it for a minute. "It's...a large blade...encrusted with jewels...I think this is a symbol of--"

"The Wyrm of Avarice," somebody say from behind us. We turn and find three duergar blocking our way.

Duergar like really ugly dwarves, all grey skin and thinning hair. These ones all wearing tarnished armor, and carrying axes, bigger than Kronk's, even. They not look like they want to talk; then they prove it by pointing with axe (how you point with axe?) down the hallway we already going down.

Hallway lead to big room with some kind of statue in middle, not well cared for. In fact, it look ancient and rundown; it covered with moss and cracked in places. But it big, and important looking--it must have been impressive when it built, five hundred years ago or more.

"There she is," Seledra say in kind of breathless voice. "Berronar Truesilver."

"So that's the patron goddess of this place? Not well looked after these days, is she?" Magnos say.

"They've defiled her temple," Ralenthra say.

"Our 'revered' mother," one duergar say, "deserves no better." His armor is shinier than the others; he probably the leader. "We follow a different lord. A better lord."

"Abbathor," elf druid say.

Dwarf with shiny armor smile a little; it not pretty. "So you've heard of him."

"I thought you gray dwarves were aligned with Laduguer," she say, somehow looking him in the eye. It pretty impressive--she just as tall as him, but look like willow branch in front of oak compared to his dwarf body.

He almost laugh. "Laduguer is no more generous than the mother of safety. The wyrm blesses us with more material rewards." He gesture around the chamber we in. It dark, and take time even for darkvision eyes to adjust, but now we can see that whole room is full of treasure: bags of coin, jewelry, small statues, some fine art.

Drow girl reach down and pick up a small figure in ivory, with gold flecks. "A figurine from the Dragon Coast. Quite a collection you have, to leave something like this lying around."

One of the other duergar grab it. "Put that down. It's ours!"

"So you've been stealing for tribute to Abbathor," Seledra say. "And you care nothing for anger of the true goddess of this temple?"

"She's had ample opportunity to intervene over the years," the leader say. "It would seem she doesn't care."

"Or maybe she hasn't been made aware of the situation," Seledra say with smile.

She start making hand sign. Kronk seen temple priests do it before. She chant in quiet voice:

Revered Mother, join in our common purpose,
Let us draw strength and safety from truth, tradition...


The duergar start looking panicked. The leader turn to the others and say "Stop her!" But Kronk and Dorn step forward, blades raised, and protect her.

...and hope, cleanse this place of the accursed,
those who succumb to the misery of greed,
and let them know the Wrath of Righteousness,
the power of Berronar Truesilver!


Entire place seem to light up, and we hear some kind of sound--not music, but not quite noise either. It sound most like wind blowing through caves under mountain.

Whatever it is, it scare the duergar--they run like mad to get out of there. Kronk grab the last one before he can run.

As light fades, Seledra lower her arms. "And here I wondered if all those religious courses would ever be useful," she say with a grin.

Kronk push the last duergar to his knees. "Think this one can answer some questions?"

"Yes," she say, marching over. She lean down into his face. The rest of us point weapons at him, except Magnos. He try and load crossbow, but it make funny sound, and he jump when bolt go into floor next to his foot.

Everyone look at him for a moment. He raise his hand at duergar. "Hey. Spell hand. Dangerous."

We turn back to duergar. He get scared again when Seledra grab his collar. "We came to claim a scepter. Silver, with a gem in the center. Do you know where it is?"

"Y-yes," he say, fear in his eyes. "It...it's right over here."

He scramble among the piles of loot and pull something out and hand it to her. Scepter, just like she say. Seledra look at it for a moment, then hand it to Dorn. "Is this what we've been looking for?"

He study it for a minute. "Yes. It's exactly what my lady and I have been searching for."

There a sort of shimmery glow all around Dorn, and then he start to not be there. One minute he solid. Next he not so solid. And next after that, he gone. All that left is a sort of nasty grin that was on his face.

Everybody real quiet for a few moments. Then the duergar speak.

"Was...was he supposed to do that?"



"What in the nine planes of hell!?!" Seledra scream.

"We've been tricked!!" Magnos say almost at same time.

"Where he go?! Why he take scepter?!" Kronk say.

"And I thought there were only seven planes of hell?!" Magnos add.

"No, there's nine pl--who cares!?" Seldrea yell at him. "Where did he go?! He's supposed to be on our side!"

Everybody talking at once. Finally Ralenthra put fingers in mouth and whistle.

Everybody get quiet and look at her.

"Now that I have your attention," she say. "In case you've forgotten, we have an alternative to shouting questions at each other that none of us can answer." She point to the duergar, now sitting in corner and cowering. "Our friend may know something."

We all gather around him. Ralenthra pull blade from some place Kronk not know she could carry one, and put it to duergar's throat.

"Let me tell you a story about the past couple of days I've had," she say sweetly. "It starts with me and my friend Seledra here enjoying ourselves at the Midsummer festival outside of Silverymoon. A nice clear day where I could have good food and some pleasant time away from my troubles. That was rudely interrupted when I got thrown in a cage by a troll who was planning to turn me into snack. It should have ended when the Silverymoon guard came along, but they decided to feel me up as they were helping me out of the cage and found a little piece of metal--something I didn't even steal--on me and threw me in prison. Then I had an ever so pleasant conversation with a nasty man who told me I'd spend the rest of my life in jail unless I journey for days out in the stinking rain with a half-orc who snores--"

"Kronk not snore," Kronk mutter to self.

"--and a bumbling wizard who can't keep his hands to himself--"

"Girls are soft..." Magnos say, look dreamy. Seledra kick him.

"--to stumble through this temple, as you call it, full of some of the most charming creatures who wanted to kill me for no reason except I happened to be breathing within fifty feet of them, just to find a lousy scepter. And once we get all the way back here, we find you. You and your friends, who know where that scepter is. And once we persuade you to hand it over, it's stolen from us by the very man who was supposed to help us retreive it."

The duergar look like his eyes will bug out soon.

"So as you can see, I'm not in a good mood." She push the blade a little closer to his throat. "Now then. It will cheer me up considerably if you can tell us anything that might give us a clue about what the hell just happened."

He very quiet for a few moments. "B-b-but that's just it. I--I don't know anything about where he went. I never saw that dwarf before." He look like he about to wet himself. "Please don't kill me."

Ralenthra have look in her eye like she not believe him. Seledra put her hand over drow girl's. "Rale...forget it. I think he's telling the truth."

Ralenthra hold for a moment, then spin away. Seledra hold duergar by shirt collar. "How did you get that scepter?"

He still shaking. "There...there were some humans and elves...from Silverymoon, I think. They were dressed very well, like they were rich. They gave us the scepter and said to hold on to it. They would pay us ten times what it was worth when they came back to claim it."

"And you were willing to do it?"

"Roryn...he figured on ambushing them and taking their gold when they came again."

"Who is Roryn?"

"Our leader, the...the one with the nice armor."

"I see." Seledra let him go.

We all stand around looking at each other for another few minutes. Magic person finally speak. "Well? So what do we do now?"

Ralenthra start out door. "We go back."
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Cell is dark. Night dark, dark inside even when it still light outside. There torch on wall; enough light to see, but not to see very good.

There dripping water, too. Dark, ugly drip, drip, drip, it drive you crazy listening because there is no other sound, nothing but water and torch burning and empty sound bouncing off stone walls. It like they put it there on purpose. Maybe they did put it there on purpose.

That how it supposed to be in this cell. Kronk know this kind of cell. When they bring you here it mean they're not letting you go back.

Man across table is not really ugly. It just the look on his face.

"So," he say, moving some papers on the table. He taking his time; he's enjoying this. "It would seem, my large friend, that we have you."

His name Tagen, I think. Kronk's heard about him. Important guy in the Silverymoon guard, but secret. Most people never see him. Everyone says Silverymoon is good town, and it is. Dwarves and gnomes and half-orcs are all neighbors here. They help each other; they not fight. In other towns, the only reason someone get that close to someone else's house is to set it on fire.

Silverymoon not have much crime, or have people who hate each other--not like other towns Kronk been too, anyway. It good place.

But even good towns need bad people to work for them. Tagen is bad person.

He look through his papers. "Let me see...you're wanted for questioning in Quaevarr in regards to a theft, have at least two warrants from the Dalelands, and..." He whistle silently. "Oooo-weee. Yes, I think there is still a price on your head in Beliard. They don't take well to murder there."

So that baron framed me. Big surprise.

"Of course, I don't have to answer to any of those claims. You have a very big problem right here, with us. Do you know what this is?"

He put little silver thing on the table. Kronk seen it before; it one of the little trinkets Katri try to hold that noble for ransom, the same one they find on Kronk a few hours ago.

But Kronk not say anything. Kronk look at trinket, then at Tagen.

He quiet for a few minutes, then shake his head. Smile. "It doesn't matter if you know what it is or not. All you need to know is whoever has one and isn't supposed to will be in big trouble." He pick it up, wave it in front of Kronk. "You had one, Kronk. And you aren't supposed to. Care to explain how you came by this?"

Kronk not say anything.

"You're wiser than you look. It wouldn't matter if you told us how, Kronk, you'd end up in the same place anyway. We can't let these little things float around from hand to hand."

He sit back, make a gesture with his arms that take in the room, stone walls and all. "See all this? It's all you're going to be seeing from now on." He give a little smile, more to himself this time. "And keep in mind, that's your best option. The Lady Alustriel can ask for execution in cases of treason, after all."

Kronk know how this game played. He want something. Whole time he just building up to it. And now he sit there with grin on his face, waiting for Kronk to ask, plead, beg to save my life, to please please please not let Kronk rot in here.

But Kronk not plead. Kronk can't help without telling him about Katri, and Kronk not do that. Maybe Kronk stupid--Katri is reason Kronk in here. Katri planted trinket on Kronk, she must have. Kronk not know why she do that, it not like her at all. He could tell Tagen about her; maybe it what he really want. Maybe he let Kronk leave dungeon.

Except Kronk can't do that to Katri. Kronk come to Silverymoon once after fighting with ettercap in the Silverwood. Ettercap is nasty, Kronk never fought one before; they bite you with mouth like a giant cockroach, poison you and you not know it.

When Kronk get back to town, he not have any money. He need cure, not know where to get it. Katri find him, take him back to where she staying that week. She leave Kronk, come back a few hours later with stuff. She give it to me, and Kronk got better.

Kronk only find out later she have to spend everything she make that week for cure. Kronk won't hurt her no matter what she's done now.

Tagen not know any of that. But he patient man. He sit and stare at Kronk for long time. Only thing we hear is dripping water.

Tagen is sitting at table. Behind Kronk are two guards, blocking way to door. Kronk still quiet.

"Never do things the easy way, eh?" Tagen kind of smile to himself. "I thought I'd give you a chance to save your own hide. You can drown, or you can give us what we want."

Kronk puzzled. "Drown? Kronk thought they hang people in Silverymoon..."

Tagen look at Kronk for a minute, then give little head shake now. "I guess I was mistaken. You are as stupid as you look. Stupid enough not to know when you've been tricked."

Kronk feel his own fist tighten. Kronk can't help it. Tagen notice.

"Let me tell you a story. It starts with a little waif of a girl. She has a pretty smile and an easy laugh, and she can lure anyone under her spell. A half-orc fighter, fresh from the country, would be easy prey for a con artist like her."

He relax, settle back into his chair, enjoying his story. "Now say she's worked as a pickpocket for several years, made a decent living for herself, but she's getting bored. She sets her eyes for a bigger prize: Alustriel's sceptre. It's in the Silverymoon Palace, hard to get into; it's protected by magic wards. The only way to defeat them is to have a little piece of metal that breaks the effect.

"She's an excellent thief; it's easy enough to obtain them. She has to get several, of course; she can't be sure if they'll all work. And she might need help. So she gets a handful...say four."

Kronk get up, start pacing.

"But the sceptre is guarded closely; she can't just walk out with it, she needs a replacement, something to take its place while she gets away. So she has a forgery made. She has many contacts in the Silverymoon underground--proprietresses who deal in artifacts, perhaps--and gets her a fake sceptre.

"And then it all falls apart: the Silverymoon Guard, of which I'm a member,"--he give little smile--"catches wind of the plot, and begins to make inquiries. It couldn't have come at a worse time: she now has a bag full of incriminating evidence, and if they catch her, she knows she'll go away for a long time."

Kronk shake head. "Not know what you're talking about."

"Ah, but I bet you do. She needs a patsy. A few of them, in fact, people dumb enough to take the fall for her. And then a coincidence falls in her lap that must have had her singing praises to Mask: the Midsummer fair. A pickpocket can plant a token on people just as easily as she can relieve them of one. So she works her way through the crowd, spreading out the damning things like seed..."

"No, no..."

"Except for the sceptre. To get rid of that, she'd need someone especially big, especially dumb...especially drunk." He pause. "And if he thought she was his friend...so much the easier."

Kronk stop. Turn. At full height, Kronk taller than Tagen by a head and half. Look him in the eye. "You...not...know...what...you're talking...about."

"Oh, don't I? Face facts, Kronk." He narrow eyes. "That little slut set you up."

The table is heavy oak. Make loud sound when Kronk knock it over. "YOU LIE!!"

Tagen step back, not scared, but careful. Kronk pick up chair; Kronk not going to listen to this.

"LIAR!!"

He look almost bored. "Before you splinter me like a piece of kindling, which I'm certain you can do," he say, and sound like he care, "take a look behind you."

Kronk turn. Both guards have crossbows, pointed right at Kronk. Kronk throw down chair, raise arms--Kronk done this before.

Everything quiet. Then Tagen pick up the chair, stand behind it. "We're done here. Take this man back to his cell."

"You mean that's it?" one of the guards ask.

Tagen nod, a little tired. "I think we've learned what we were supposed to."
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"Twenty silver."

"For this?"

Kronk hold bracelet in one hand. It too small to need two. Silver, with some sort of stone, maybe amethyst, set in side. It pretty. Too small for Kronk.

"What am I, a parrot? I already said it's twenty silver, I ain't say it agin."

Kronk grunt. "I can melt twenty silver and have enough to make this thing."

"Yeh, but you woodunt have the jewel, woodja?"

The kid smile, like he been Kronk's friend for thirty summers. But he not Kronk's friend, he not even been alive thirty summers. More like ten. Look clean, too, with a little robe cut to his size, and a traveling box full of jewelry and trinkets.

Probably been selling since he was seven. Everyone pay too much for bracelets and earings because he such a cute little kid gnome. But Kronk seen too much; maybe Kronk's heart is too hard. Maybe the kid's mother is sick at home, dying, needing medicine. Maybe she loves boy, and he loves her, and he take to selling junk at fairs like this to nurse her back to health. Maybe they live pure simple life until terrible disease keep mom in bed. Maybe if Kronk buy this bracelet, kid will have enough to help her, and he give up vagrant life for good.

Or maybe the kid is just grinning little theif who'd slit Kronk's throat if his arms were long enough. Maybe Kronk been hanging around Katri too long.

"Kronk give you four silver."

His little face crinkles up in scowl. "Four?! Yer crazy. I woodunt take less'n fifteen!"

He reach for bracelet, but Kronk hold it up out of reach. "Eight."

"Ten!"

Kronk reach for coin purse. "Deal."

The kid take the coins, and Kronk put bracelet in purse. Lilfen will like it, when I see her again.

It a lovely day for Midsummer fair. Sky is blue, with only a few clouds to shade the birds flying overhead.

Here on festival grounds, it noisy. Many people walk in clusters, talking in happy voices. All kinds of people in all kinds of dress, but they walk around in groups.


Three ladies with gowns and hats with feathers sit on bench and watch people go by.

Four men who look like hunters walk around laughing too loud, carrying mugs of beer and making comments about other women's bodies that make the women blush.

An old couple, man and woman, walk around holding hands, smiling at each other.

And flocks of kids dodge through crowd, laughing, too, but not like the hunters.

And everywhere Kronk look, there are tables and stalls and carts and tents, selling beer and wine and food and fine clothes and cheap clothes and toys and games and jewelery.

There even stands selling weapons, but not kind Kronk would fight with. They the kind rich people who like to pretend they can fight would buy, made from cheap, shiny metal, covered with baubles. High Guardsmen not allow real weapons here; they at all entrances to festival grounds, make sure nobody come in with weapons. They the only ones armed.

Kronk not like leaving sword back at room in Dancing Goat, but Kronk know better than to argue with High Guardsmen. They not that dumb. So Kronk walk around fair without a blade. Almost feel naked. But there not be fighting here today.

That almost make Kronk bored. But it too nice today for Kronk to get unhappy. And Kronk need something to distract self.

Katri is some better, but she not want to talk to Kronk when he go to see her. It just this morning. I go to Xara's store, and sign say store is closed. Kronk knock, and Xara open door after while.

"Ahh. You're here to see Katri?"

"Yes. Is she alright?"

"Well...yes. But...well, she isn't here." She close the door behind her.

Kronk lower brow. "Then where is she?"

Xara fold her arms. "Your guess is as good as mine. She left this morning before breakfast."

"How you know she alright, then?"

"She was fine this morning," she shrug. "I had gone downstairs to fetch some food, and she was waiting at the table. When I got back she had left the table, and her pack was gone."

"And you didn't try to find her?" Kronk's voice getting loud.

Xara bristle. "She's her own person now. She doesn't listen to her...she doesn't take orders from me." She look at ground. "If she wants to leave, I won't stop her."

"Kronk not believe Xara let her run off."

She get ugly look on her face. "Xara not especially care what Kronk thinks." And she snap fingers, and turn to go inside.

Kronk try to lift hand to stop her, but hand not lift. As door close in face, Kronk realize what she doing when she snap fingers; Kronk recognize feeling of hold person spell.

Kronk wait five minutes on her front stoop waiting for spell to wear off, people going by glancing at me. Can't even growl. Kronk hate magic user people.



"You big man."

Kronk look down. There little human boy at Kronk's feet, looking up. "Huh?"

"You big man. Bigger than my daddy."

Some kids afraid of Kronk. Some not. This one not, I guess.

Kronk shrug. "Was born big, I guess."

Kid's eyes widen. He must only be four years old, maybe. "You weren't small when you were born?"

Okay. Kronk have to laugh. Kid not dumb.

Kronk squat down in front of him. He a grubby looking kid. His mother dress him nice red tunic and pointy leather shoes, make him look pretty for fair, but that not last long; now he missing left shoe, and tunic is grimy with dirt. His face covered in white cream; more cream oozing out of something he clutching in right hand. He not scared of big half-orc in front of him.

"No, Kronk not born this big...I start out small, too, like you did."

"Really?" He shove some of whatever in his hand to his mouth.

Kronk grin. "Maybe not quite as small like you, but pretty small...what that you eating?"

"Cream horn. It's good." He hold up hand and show big, sticky mess of cream and crumbling pastry flakes.

"Want some?"

"Thanks, but you can finish that one. Where you get it?"

"Over there. Mommy got it for me at that booth."

"Maybe Kronk get one for himself. Where is your mommy? She proba--"

"Tybalt!" Woman screams from crowd, comes rushing up and grabs kid. "Tybalt! How many times have I told you not to wander off? And after mommy bought you that nice cream horn! Don't be bothering the nice--"

Kronk rise to feet as woman turn to look at him.

"...the nice...orc...oh, dear Eldath..."

Her eyes widen, but not like kid's. She start babbling. "Please...I'm...he's sorry. He's only a child, he doesn't know what he's doing, don't...please don't do anything, he only got away for a minute..."

Kronk has seen it before. The kid isn't scared at all. Still staring at Kronk, even as his mother scoops him, clings to him to her side, to protect him. Or maybe herself.

I smile. "It okay." Kronk reach to pat kid on head. Woman flinches, nearly pulls him away. "He just telling about his cream horn. You go have fun now, okay?"

"Okay, Mr. Kronk."

Woman nod her head, eyes still like saucers. "Yes. Yes, thank you for...looking after my son." She hurry off, still holding her kid to her like he welded there. "Now what have I told you about talking to strangers, Tybalt? Especially strangers like..."

Kronk watch them leave, turn, and head back into crowd.




Cream horn is sweet and tasty, for such a little thing. Kronk is licking his fingers, walking by people who give him funny looks and not caring when there is voice in the air.

In my dreams I'm dying all the time...

Kronk is big half-orc. So why his knees get all wobbly? Because it her voice!

Then I wake its kaleidoscopic mind...

It Thralia! What she doing here? Was she supposed to come here? Yes, Kronk remember gnome person saying something about Sun & Moon playing at fair in Silverymoon? Or did Kronk only imagine that? Kronk doesn't know!!

I never meant to hurt you...

Kronk have to get away from the voice. Have to get out now. Fair not that good anyway. Need to leave...

Kronk move quickly through fair. Not run. But move quick. Move around slower people. Some not get out of way fast enough. Kronk shove them. Not hard, but shove. They angry, but Kronk not notice. There is little kid who told Kronk about cream horn. He being held by mother; mother glare at Kronk. Voice still in the air...

Kronk not sure where he going. Kronk not care. Kronk burst out into open area: lots of people, but no tents. Just big stage at end of field. It where music coming from.

And there she is.

...I never meant to lie...

Kronk want to run, but can't take eyes off her. Her band name is right: she is like sun and moon. Her smile dazzle like sunlight; her hair flow like moonlight.

She see Kronk.

So this..is...is good-bye.

She pause singing, only for moment. Nobody notice, probably. But Kronk notice.

She turn away. So does Kronk.

Kronk need drink now.




"Eight silver on ther dwarf!!"

"Nawr, yer barmy, that orcish fella is ahead by two now!"

Voices of people all around Kronk. Kronk hardly hear them. All Kronk see is face of dwarf sitting across table from Kronk. It ugly face, ugly like only dwarf face can be. His big nose is red and swollen, two hairs growing out of wart on left side. His thin little lips are buried underneath beard like wire bristles, oiled with grease from whatever he eat last. Except now he cleaning it with beer, dripping all the way down to tuft under the edge of table.

He walleyed, too: his right eye looks at you while left eye look over your shoulder. Now he focus right eye on Kronk.

"Neffer met a shcarbeharer yet I couldun' drink unner th' table," he mumble, then spit in empty mug next to him.

Kronk raise half empty mug to him, arm wobbly. "Here mud in your eye, cave-fungus." And Kronk drink it down, and barmaid puts fresh one in front of him, lay hand on Kronk's arm.

"Don't listen to old Rurik the Goat. The only reason he can get all that liquor in is because his mouth is so big."

"Quiet, wench!" he bellow.

"See what I mean?" she smile. Kronk smile back. She looking pretty good. Long hair and big chest in low cut blouse. Almost make Kronk forget.

Kronk try to remember how he get here. Contest. Drinking. That right. Kronk turn away from Thralia singing, needing drink. Halfway across fairgrounds there tent, big banner across entrance: CHEAP ALE. Kronk not go any further.

There are tables in front, lots of people drinking. Kronk get mug of ale, sit down across from ugly dwarf. He have three mugs in front of him.

He sneer at Kronk. "One mug! Why not just go out back and dump it in the latrine? Save ye the trouble of pissin' it out later."

Kronk eyeball him. "What you need three mugs for? Dwarves so short, they run out of room after first one."

People are gathering around us. Ugly dwarf grin. "Bet I can outdrink you, laddie."

"Heh! Rurik's finally found a challenger!" someone behind him say.

Kronk think about seeing Thralia. Then he smile. "You're on."

That about a dozen beers ago. Now ugly dwarf struggle to focus one eye on Kronk. "Ye orcken lot are all alike," he slur, waving one finger. "Thinken 'cause yer so big ye can hold all that booze in yer."

He thump mug on table, getting loud. "Ye seriously think ye can outdrink a dwarf?"

All his buddies around him cheer, yell, pound him on back. He turn to them. "Am I right or am I right?" Rurik smile to self, nod head. Only nod not stop; his head land on table, knock over last mug.

There moment of silence. Then Kronk stand up and roar. Some people groan, some people cheer. Barmaid wink at Kronk. Kronk try to wink back, but eye not work right. It look like table getting closer, and then Kronk feel table under his cheek before whole world gets dim...




Kronk wake up with sun in eyes. Dwarf is gone; so is barmaid.

When you wake up after drinking, first thing you always do is check coin purse. It still heavy; bracelet still inside it. Good.

Kronk pick up pack, not bother to check it. Nobody ever mess with pack.

Sun is lower in sky; it late in day and fair is wrapping up. People walking like they tired, but happy.

Kronk not so happy. Kronk's head hurt. Stomach not happy, either; after a few steps, Kronk have to go behind tent and throw up.

When Kronk step back out, people get out of his way, wrinkling noses. It time to go home. Walking toward exit, Kronk hear another voice that he know.

"Won't someone help a poor, blind child?"

Kronk follow voice; there is 'little boy' begging for alms, eyes covered in dark glasses. He stiffen as Kronk walk up.

Katri's dark glasses are just glass maker's trick. She can see fine from behind them. Her head turn towards me; she forget she's supposed to be blind for moment, then turn back.

Kronk pull copper piece out of purse, drop it in her leather cup. "How is your mother doing, little boy?"

She nod after a moment. "She is fine, bless you for asking."

"And you? You not hurt?"

Again she raise her head, dropping the blind boy act. People walking by turn heads, curious. She shake head briefly, then gather her things. "I am fine. But my ma will be worried. Could you help a poor beggar find his way home," she say, offering her arm.

Once we walking, she lead us off the main walkway, behind place called Gnatkiller's word-Kronk-can't-spell of Exotic Leaves, or something. It smell like smokeleaf there.

Out of sight, she turn to Kronk and pull off dark glasses. "By the Hand of Ilmater, Kronk, are you trying to get me killed?!"

"No! What Katri talking about?!" She turn away. "Kronk talk to Xara, ask where you go. She say she not know."

"That's because I left this morning, before she could say anything. She was probably furious with me..." She shake head again, then look at Kronk, scowling. "You need to stay away from us, Kronk. For our safety as well as your own. If Xara gets in trouble because of those tokens--" She raise hand to jab finger at Kronk, then cry out in pain, grab side.

"You still hurt."

She gasp, catching breath. "Yes."

"Why you leave Xara?"

"Someone came to the store after you left. Someone who claimed to be with the High Guard."

"But he not?"

Katri shake head. "Xara was convinced he wasn't. Kronk, those were lauthal tokens. They're...they let whoever holds them go anywhere in the city. If you have one, the whole magic defense shield on the city...it might as well not be there. They can put you in prison just for having one. And that man...whoever he was...he took them. He must be working with that Lord Aesir." She hold her forehead. "Falcon's droppings, I'm such a fool. I wish I'd never stolen that satchel..."

"Xara couldn't keep him from taking them?"

"She had little energy left after healing me. Anyway, she didn't realize he was using a disguise until he already had everything." She sigh. "She told me what had happened right after he left. I know you told her the whole story, I couldn't add anything to it. But I could tell she was scared. Those tokens are dangerous, even for her. So I left this morning. I thought she'd be safer that way."

Kronk's head hurt worse. Must be the ale. "Why you care so much for that magic-user woman, anyway?"

"She's always looked after me, ever since Talo was killed. I don't know why she should care, but...she always gives me a place I can turn to when I need it. Kronk, we need to..."

Her mouth keep moving, but Kronk not hear rest of what she say because of screaming. From someone else.

"What was that?"

We look out from behind tent. People are running in all directions, and it easy to see why. There is big troll with club.

"Wonderful," I mutter. "And Kronk without sword."

As we watch troll pick up halfling; halfling look like little doll in troll's hand. Katri's fingers dig into Kronk's arm. "What are they doing?"

Troll drops halfling into cage made from rough wood. There other people already in cage.

Katri never been outside city. Kronk has. "They harvesting. For food."

"You don't mean..." Her voice trail off.

Kronk turn to her, push her away. "Run. Get out of here."

She turn to go, and then is lifted into air. Another troll is reaching over tent, picking her up.

NO!

Kronk not have weapon. But Kronk can make one. The tent of herb seller is made from rough canvas held up by wooden poles. Herb seller won't mind if Kronk use one, right?

Troll notice when Kronk hit his foot with tent pole. He look over at Kronk, let out growl.

Kronk sneer. "You want meat? Kronk give you tougher hide than that!"

He drops Katri; she land all fours, start to crawl away. Troll is about five feet taller than half-orc. Bigger and dumber, too. He reach for Kronk, but Kronk too fast: swing tent pole like staff, hit him in side of face with it. He pull hand away from his head, sticky with black blood, and roar.

"You have to fight for this meal, ugly!"

It feel good to fight again, even though Kronk's head hurt. Then pain in head get worse all of sudden. Kronk realize it from club to back of head--another troll.

Drinking contest was bad idea...




"Kronk, are you alright?"

Kronk wake up to Katri shaking his shoulder. We inside troll cage.

"Are we going to be okay, Mr. Kronk?"

It little kid from earlier, kid who showed Kronk the cream horn. His mother still clinging him to her. Eyes even wider now.

"Tybalt...yes, we'll be okay. No need to talk to that orc."

"Half-orc," Kronk mutter.

"Kronk, I think we will be alright," Katri say. "Look."

There maybe a dozen people in the cage. We all gather at bars to look. The High Guard is outside, some on horses, a couple on horses. They driving off the trolls.

Everybody in the cage start to cheer. Pretty soon the Guardsmen surround our cage. They cut out a couple bars to make a door.

"Out one at a time, please. We need to check you for your safety." They start to check us as we each step out.

By now, Katri no longer looks like a boy. They a little rough with a girl in beggar's clothes. But she not have her cup anymore, so they can't prove she was doing anything wrong. They let her go.

She linger while they bring out Kronk.

Both guards are human, half head shorter than Kronk. They look wary about searching half-orc, but Kronk's head still hurt. Too tired to give them trouble.

"Did you have any money on you, sir?"

"Just coin purse..." Kronk reach for it. It not there. "Shit!"

"What about the pack?"

Kronk hand it over. There not anything good in there. Where did change purse go? It had bracelet for Lilfen...

"Sir, can you explain how you got this?"

"Got what?"

He holds out a little piece of metal, shaped like sheild. One of the token things.

Kronk look up for Katri. She not there.

Kronk shake head. "Not know."

"Sir, if you'll come with us..."

They lead Kronk to another cage. This one not wood like troll cage, but portable jail cell. They shove Kronk in.

Inside, there three other people: elven girl in fancy dress--Seledra?--Dhavra, that drow woman, and some little mayfly in robes of magic-user person.

Kronk take one look at them, then turn around and throw up one more time. Afterwords, wipe hand on chest.

Magic user person's eyes dart from one girl to the other. "Looks like his barf is worse than his bite."

Kronk barely hear him as he slump down against bars and close eyes. Kronk has had long day.
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Katri lead us inside building. It half-timber, painted white, but windows are covered with heavy curtains. Inside it dark. All the furniture covered with sheets; there is thick layer of dust on everything.

"The owner is a merchant. He and his family are on an extended trip in Calimshan," Katri said, leading way inside. "They won't be back until Marpenoth."

"And he let you use his house."

She grin. "No."

There are paintings on walls of gnomes and elves. Kronk not know much about art, but they look like they worth money. One is of an female elf in full battle gear, posing with long blade.
Kronk point to picture. "Surprised you not sell this."

"Ah, I would, but these artworks are easy to trace. My fences would never take such a thing. Better to stick with coinage." She smile. "Come on, its drafty in this part of the house. I've got a place set up in back."

She did have place in back. It still the same furniture, but dust covers are folded up. She have a couch to sleep on, and a table with stuff on it: a lantern, set of thieving tools, various bits of paper.

Katri light lantern. "Let's look at what we've got."

She dump stuff in satchel out on table. There was a lot of stuff. Papers, trinkets, little stuff. Kronk pick up piece of paper. There were squiggly lines on it. "Is this writing?"

"It is if you can read elvish."

Katri sift through it, frown on her face. "Look at all this junk. Hardly any of it's worth a copper." She pull out a ring. "An official seal, with the name..." She hold it up to candle. "...Aesir. Well, that might be worth a few coins."

"What's this?" Kronk pick up little metal staff with wings on it.

"I've no idea." She take it. "Looks like a wand or something. Ye gods, do you know how hard magic items are to fence in Silverymoon? I wish he'd been carrying some simple coin..."

While she muttering to self, Kronk keep looking at papers. There is drawing on one. Square with circles inside. Kronk pick it up, turn it around. Can't see what it is.

Katri pull out another scrap of metal. "Do you recognize this?"

It little piece of silver, about size of fingertip, shaped like a shield. Kronk shrug. "Don't know."

"Funny, I could swear I've seen the Spellguard with items like these..."

I hold up paper. "Can you read this?"

She take paper, study it. "Looks like a map or something. You know...it's very odd finding all of this together. I wonder..." She scrunch up her face.

Kronk quiet for a few moments. "What you wonder?"

Katri look up as if startled. "Kronk, this could be bad business. If this is what I think it is, we have to be very careful. I want to see if I can take care of it alone--"

"No."

"Little brother, don't start with me."

"No! Kronk not let you go alone." Shake my head. "Kronk never let someone go alone again."

Katri give Kronk hard look. Then she shake head and sigh. "Oh, very well. Maybe you can even be of some use. But we're going to have to hurry," she say, and begin putting things in drawer in side table.

"Why? What hurry?"

"We'll have to see if we can find the man we stole this from."

*************

Streets are much less crowded now. Sun is low in sky, only people out are shopkeepers closing up their storefronts, a few guards, and one man, looking around shops, searching ground.

He look panicky, like he desperate. Has to find something he lost. It the noble we robbed.

I'm on rooftop, looking down at street. I make whistle sound, like sparrow. It sound Katri taught me. There is another whistle from across the street.

I climb ladder down from roof, into alley. Out on street, noble man is digging through garbage can, pulling out wads of paper and bits of food, getting it all over his hands. They look like clean hands, not used to having garbage on them. The air is cool, and stink from can linger in air, but there is sweat on his bald head.

"Hey."

He look up fast. Eyes widen when he see me. "You!"

Kronk grin. "Yeah. It me."

He not very big, even for a human. But he grab Kronk's shirt in his fists. "What did you do with that satchel? You pulled a scam on me, you and that little blind beggar, didn't you?! Where is it? Where IS it?! I have to get it back, do you understand?"

Kronk push him away, gentle. "She have it."

He turn to look where Kronk is pointing. Katri is standing across street, smiling, in front of alley. She hold satchel and wave it a little so he can see.

"Give me that!!" He start to run toward her, but I grab his shoulder before he get far. "Not so fast," I say as I walk beside him, forcing him towards Katri.

It funny--he was running towards her, but as soon as Kronk walk with him, he act like he not want to go.

Katri is still in her work clothes, but she not have blindfold, or cane, or hat. The man have confused look on face at first.

Katri hold up the bag. "I believe this once belonged to you?"

"Give that here!" Man start to lunge for it, but Kronk grab his arm. Katri pull bag away, smiling.

"Yes, I think we've established its value to you."

He squints at her. "You...you were that blind child..."

"Quite astute, Lord Aesir. Oh yes," she add when his eyebrows go up, "we know your name, don't we, Kronk?"

"It was his seal on papers." Kronk know enough to play along.

"Indeed, his seal and a map of the inner ward. And several lauthaul tokens. You know what that looks like, Kronk? I think he was part of a plot against the High Lady."

Aesir scowl. "What do you want?" he growl.

"For the bag? Why, nothing." She hold out the satchel. "You can have it back for free."

He grab it away, open it. It empty.

"The property inside is another matter," she continue. "I think a man of your obvious stature can afford twenty thousand gold quite easily."

Aesir face her. "How do I know you still have everything?"

She hold up one token. "There are four of these in all. Plus a small scepter, and some papers. Twenty thousand for everything. That's the arrangement."

"Let me see that."

Sometimes a thief keep a little hideout blade up his sleeve, with this gadget that pops it into hand when they need it. Kronk never seen a rich person use one before, but Aesir must have one: he put out hand like he going to take the token, then grab Katri. Next thing, he standing there grabbing Katri from behind, holding blade to her throat.

"Give the scarbearer the token," he grunt, teeth clenched. Kronk put out hand, never stop looking Aesir in the eye. She drop it in my hand.

"Now this is an arrangement more to my liking. There are some very powerful people who want those trinkets, and they'll be very unhappy with me if I don't show up with them in an hour. I have little time nor any patience for your pathetic attempts at blackmail. So here is what we will do. Your scarbearer friend will lead us to where you've secreted my employer's property, I will take what is mine, and we will go our separate ways."

He push blade into her throat a little. There is trickle of red down blade. "Or else we'll find out if our little thief's insides are as red as her hair."

"Kill her and you die."

"If I don't retrieve those tokens, I'm dead anyway."

"He doesn't know where I hid it." Katri's voice is strained. The knife make it hard to talk.

"I say he does."

Aesir not break eyes with Kronk. Kronk not break either, but I look at Katri's face while I'm doing it. Katri is seventeen. Kronk only fifteen [author's note: accurate?]; Katri like to say she my older sister...but fifteen for half-orc is older than seventeen for human.

"Kronk...don't...don't do it..."

She never tried blackmail before. Her eyes are wide. She trying to be brave, but Kronk can see she didn't think it turn out like this. She scared.

Kronk nod to Aesir. "I'll take you."

***********

It short trip back to merchant's house. Kronk lead way though back alleys; Aesir make us go that way, still holding knife on Katri.

Inside, he raise light with flick of his free hand. Must be magic user. Kronk hate magic users.

"Where are they," he growl.

I point. "That drawer."

"Open it."

Inside, everything is there.

Aesir nod. "Good. And now..."

Before I can stop him, he lower knife and drive it into her belly. She gasp, sliding off the blade to floor.

"I'm damned if I'll have any witnesses."

Kronk smile. "You just make bad mistake."

He back against wall as he realize it. Katri was only thing stopping Kronk. He hold knife out like it keep me away. Now it his eyes that are wide.

His hand is puny in Kronk's. I take his knife hand, turn it towards his heart.

"You...you can't...please..."

"Kronk like this arrangement better."

He fight to keep blade away...but it go in between ribs anyway.

It dark now without his magic light. Kronk light candle, trying to find her. Katri is on floor. Blood gathering around her. Kronk gather her up.

"Where...where are you taking...taking me..."

"Healer. You need help."

"No!" She almost scream it, but then start coughing blood. "Kronk...whoever his friends were...they'll be looking...anyway, the High Guard...they'll arrest me."

"Then where..."

She pant for a few moments. Her voice is weak. "Take me...take me to...the Shining Scroll...Brightbuckler Street...Xara will help us..."

Katri pass out. I gather up all we found in the satchel, and head out into street. It nearly deserted.

Kronk wonder what the merchant will say when he find body in Marpenoth.

***********

Shining Scroll look like magic place. Round blue door with silver things painted on it. Inside it crowded. Not much room for half-orc with bleeding girl in arms.

There is a little counter with doorway behind it. A woman come out with hair same color as Katri, but different eyes. She wear dark brown gown, kind that look plain but isn't. She have big smile before she see us.

"Hello, and what spellwork might--" Her face fall. "Oh, dear Sune. What's happened? Katri?"

Katri roll her head towards her. "Xara...he cut me..."

Xara wave her hand and front door bolt itself shut. She clear off front counter. "Lay her here."

Katri groan as Kronk put her flat. Her eyes are swimming when Xara take her hand. She squeeze it while she look at wound.

"This is deep. Infection is a serious concern." She reach behind her, grab bottle from shelf, check it, begin pouring it into knife cut. Katri tighten up, gasp in pain.

Xara smooth hand on Katri forehead. "I know, I know dear heart, but we have to keep the infection from spreading. I'll give you something for the pain as soon as you can handle it." She look at Kronk. "Bring her into the cellar with me. We don't have long to stop the blood loss."

There is stairway down to basement. It big room, very dark, but in smaller room off side, there is kitchen area, a large table, and cot. She clear off table, point at me to put Katri on it. Katri is still writhing. Xara begin to chant something, and there is gentle glow on her hands. She work them on Katri's wound.

Kronk have to ask. "You...are Katri's mother?"

"No. Just an...ally." She not look up from her work.

"She'll be okay?"

She nod. "Yes. But the healing magic will take some time." Now she look at Kronk. "You did well getting her here, but there's nothing more you can do for her right now. There's a seat outside. I'll let you know when she's better."

Kronk turn to leave. Behind me, I hear Katri's voice, very weak. "Xara...I'm sorry..."

"Hush, now. It will be alright."

**************

Xara's basement is full of magic things: bottles with corks, scrolls of paper with squiggly lines, bags and wands and rings and jewelry. There is brown robe in corner, hanging on a hook. Crystal ball sits on table. And on a big perch, there is big black bird, watching Kronk.

Kronk stare at bird. "You think magic lady pay for all this stuff?"

Bird shifted head, made noise: "kaw!"

Xara come out of kitchen area. Kronk stand.

"Is she...?"

"She is fine. See for yourself."

She follow Kronk into kitchen. Katri is on cot, laid out.

"She lost a great deal of blood. The girl needs to rest."

Kronk kneel down, rub hand along her cheek. She shift against it but not open eyes.

When Kronk stand, Xara stood staring at me. Her face was not happy.

"What has happened to Katri?"

Kronk shrug. "It long story."

She gesture to chairs around the table. "We have all night."

We sit, and Kronk tell story. All of it, from robbing Aesir to bringing Katri here. At end she nod to herself.

"Whatever they were planning, it must have been big." She turn to Kronk. "Do you still have the items you stole?"

Kronk still have satchel. We scatter things in it across the table. When she see the scepter, she make sound like curse under breath.

"What is it?"

"Kronk, these things need to be turned over to the Silveymoon High guard. I know Katri didn't want to. She was afraid of being caught. But I know people in the High Guard." She put out a hand. "I know you don't know me. You've trusted me this far with Katri's life. Trust me a little more."

Before tonight, Kronk had never met this person. But she save Katri's life. For nothing. Help her when no one else would. Kronk nod.

"Katri will be alright?"

Xara smile. "Let her rest here for tonight. Find a place to rest and you can visit her in the morning."

Current Mood: worried worried

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It take maybe two days to get to Silverymoon. Kronk not sure how long exactly, sleep one day at Lilfen's, play with the kids. Sort of forgot time.

It feel good playing with kids. Better to see the living than the dead. And kids are alive, mostly.

Except Tymor. Little Tymor have bad cough, getting worse from last time. Kronk worried about it, so is Lilfen. She tell Kronk she'll have to sell set of earrings she have. She show them to Kronk. They gold, little tarnished, with tiny rubies on them.

Her family is playing outside. Tymor is sitting on her tiny front porch, wrapped in the blanket, watching. They can't hear us.

She take earrings back from Kronk, polish one between her finger and thumb. "My grandmother gave me these, Kronk. Said they've been handed down in our family for almost two hundred years." She sigh. "They're not worth much...but maybe enough to pay a doctor for Tymor."

Lilfen is very young. Kronk sometimes forget that, the way she take care of the kids. But as she sat there with those tarnished earrings, her eyes wet, Kronk remember it again.

We had meal, and Kronk slept. In morning, Kronk head north.

There is well a little ways beyond her cottage; it where they get water. Nobody else much use it. Lilfen won't take money from Kronk. She say Kronk and Serd do too much already.
Kronk put all the gold in my pouch, most of it stolen off Drake and his friends in Greenglade, and put it in bucket for the well. It not worth much...but maybe enough for Lilfen to keep her earrings.

**********************

Now Kronk in Silverymoon with no money. Somedays Kronk wonder if he really is the fool some people say.
Silverymoon look like big city from outside, but once inside you realize that just a lie. Silverymoon is really a gigantic city.

There are many streets, all paved nice, not like Everlund. People are all over, people of all kinds: elves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, humans, even some half-orcs. And they are all pretty friendly to each other. They walk along street and greet each other, even smile sometimes.

They still part ways for big half-orc. But some nod and smile, too. Kronk like it in Silverymoon.

There is large park in Southbank. Very tall trees, old growth, as old as any tree in the Silverwood. Maybe even older. Wood is deep, rich brown. It remind Kronk of woods near my home camp, when I still living with orcs. Sometimes Verra take Kronk there when it was nice out. She'd point to animals, tell Kronk their names. Red squirrel. Brown hare. Starlings and finches.

Now there is red squirrel, jumping from branch to branch. It probably live here, never have to leave the park. It temple for Mielikki, people leave offerings of food. Squirrels can live on it.

It nice place here. If only Kronk had money to stay.

***********************

After a few hours in park, Kronk walking in market district. Street is crowded. There are many horses going both ways on pavement, some pulling carriages. Many more people on sidewalks, of all kinds. Women in fine silk, men in robes, men in rags, women in coarse cloth, all in a hurry, all going in different directions. Five o'clock is busy time in market district.

At corner, there is typical confusion. Traffic is trying to cross the street, and people are looking, figuring out who will move next. There are no guards running things. Kronk wonder why, but know it not unusual. Silverymoon so big that guards are often stretched too thin.

"Please, will someone help me?"

There is young boy on corner, dressed in rags. Boy has high cheekbones, and his eyes are covered with dark glasses. He tap on ground with long white cane in right hand. In left hand is leather cup. It look heavy, and it weigh down his arm.

Kronk need money.

"Please, I need to cross the street. My dear mother lives in the south district. She's sick. Won't someone please help me?" His clothes are loose, baggy. His hair is red, in long braid down back. It frizzy and need washing. Most of it tucked under ragged painter's cap.
Nobody pays attention the boy. Someone brushes by the boy, jostles his arm. The cup rattles with sound of metal.

Kronk smile to self.

"I'm trying to get home? Oh, won't somebody help a poor blind child?"

"I help." Kronk takes boy's elbow.

Boy turns to sound of Kronk's voice. "Oh, thank you kind sir. Bless your heart for helping me."

"No problem."

We start to cross street.

He cock head like he listening to my voice. "Do I know you from somewhere, sir? Your voice is familiar."

Kronk shake head. "Not think you ever meet me before. Watch out for man behind us." Noble man, carrying heavy leather pouch, was walking right behind us.

"Yes, I'll be very careful, sir."

Traffic is waiting for us to cross. "And might you be going as far Kelwood Street, sir?"

"No, I not going that far." Kronk glance behind. Noble man is watching closely. Like he know what Kronk planning.

"That's where my mother lives, three doors up Kelwood. I thought maybe you could accompany me."

Kronk wait until we on other corner before I catch boy's foot with my own. He trip and try to catch himself with both hands on cane. He drop leather cup, but Kronk catch it before it hit ground. Kronk get up to run away.

"Hold it there, you scoundrel!"

Someone tackle Kronk, grabbing me around waist. We fall in tangle of legs, but he get up first. The nobleman behind us stand over Kronk.
"You absolute cretin," he growl, "thinking you could rob a defenseless child that way!" He snatch away cup full of coins.

Blind boy is behind him. "Sir, thank you. Thank you so much. Here, I think you dropped something..." He fumbled at his feet for the man's leather satchel. "This."

Nobleman take satchel and hand leather cup back to boy. "Here you are, lad. Every coin accounted for."

The boy looked ready to cry. "Oh, thank you, sir. My mother is so very sick. She'll need these for her medicine. I-I never thought anyone would...would..." His lip was trembling. "Oh, how can I ever trust anyone--"

"Now, now. No need to start thinking that every person you meet is out to steal from you." He turn to Kronk, hands on hips. "Vermin such as this are rare. And we'll make sure they stay that way. The Silverymoon guard will take care of him."

Crowd had gathered around us. Kronk stand up. I taller than most of them, they stand back.

Nobleman pales a little. "Now that you've been caught, y-you just stay here, and..."

Kronk draws blade and growls. Crowd parts. No one wants to challenge half-orc with knife.

Kronk runs off. Nobody follows.

*****************

Kelwood crosses Partridge Lane. On third alley off Partridge Lane, Kronk wait in shadowed doorway.

After five minutes, blind boy comes down alley. He no longer using cane. Kronk step out of doorway.

"Katri is late. Thought you forget your own code words."

Boy grins. "Sorry. That fool nobleman couldn't resist reminding everyone what a hero he was." He takes off dark glasses and looks at Kronk. "Thought I wouldn't get away before the guard showed up. It was only because my dear mother was in desperate need of her son to give her the medicine that he finally shut up."

He took off his cap, shook his hair a bit, and Katri looked at me, big smile on her face. "It was worth it though. I lightened his pouch of two thousand gold and change. You certainly pick a good target."

Kronk smile back. "Mug enough rich men, you can almost smell the gold."

Katri got a glint in her eye. "Nice to see you in Silverymoon again, Kronk."

Current Mood: devious devious

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It good thing there really only one road out of Olostin's Hold, because Kronk not know where he going. One road is one direction.

Things change at edge of Turlang's Wood. Road goes north and south.

What to do?

North lead to Everlund. Last time Kronk in Everlund, they ready to arrest him. That was only...two nights ago? Time move to quick for Kronk sometimes.

Wonder if Kronk still wanted there. Wonder if Kronk really wants to know.

Better off not going to Everlund.

What about south?

South lead to Noanar's Hold. Kronk not feel like getting hunted again.

So road go north and road go south. Kronk not go either way.

What about east? No, east lead back to Olostin's Hold. Not a place to be either.

Kronk could go northeast, around Everlund. Beyond Everlund is River Rauvin. There slippery trail along river. Lead to Moon Pass. Lead to Fork Road. After long while, lead to Anauroch. But first it lead through Jalanthar.

They not like half-orcs in Jalanthar. Last time Kronk there, I eating fried flatgill at the Crowing Cockatrice. Lot of orcs in the mountains, Jalanthar attacked a lot. It make people at Jalanthar loyal to each other, not people on outside. And when drunken human decide to start something with the half-orc, nobody want to be on half-orc's side. Even more not on half-orc's side when half-orc takes off ear from drunken human.

So Kronk not go northeast either. What left?

Road goes north and south and east. Road not go west.

West is the Silverwood and Greenglade and other little towns where people know Kronk. And once inside Silverwood, Kronk can go any direction. Like north to Silverymoon. Kronk not been to Silverymoon for a while.

Maybe it time to leave road.

Current Mood: tired tired

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Ugurth lower his blade to ground but not let go of it. "This hardly seem fair, brother. I came here thinking I'd find one Harper, not a platoon." He sneering, not afraid. "I figured my troops would level this miserable little hamlet by lunchtime. Now we're missing our roasted hen."

Ugurth is not quite as tall as Kronk. Not quite as strong, either. But he still look strong. His tunic made from well-tooled leather. Boots must have cost someone a lot of coin. Probably not Ugurth's coin. He wear silver chain with black jewel around neck. Kronk never wear jewelry.

"What Ugurth doing here?"

"Well, I suppose you not believe I just paying a visit to my dear long lost brother?"

"And destroy town for a visit?" Kronk growl.

He make gesture with hand, lifting sword. "Didn't know where you'd gotten to. Had to get your attention somehow."

One of the twin elves have bow and arrow pointed at him. "Drop the weapon, or I'll take out your eye."

Ugurth smile widely. "Which one?"

Elf not smile. "The left," she say.

He chuckle. "I always appreciate a fine marksman...I'm sorry, markswoman. Maybe you can join my army." He not put down sword, just look her up and down. "But...orc men not like being outshot by a woman. They might want you for...other purposes."

Girl mutter something that sound like elvish curse. She draw back arrow.

"Isioleth!"

Thralia's voice draw everyone's attention. Elven girl relax weapon after moment but keep it pointed. Thralia continue. "Enough bantering. What do you want in Olostin's Hold?"

Ugurth's hair in long ponytail down back. It swing as he turn to face her. "And you must be the fabled Thralia." He nod approvingly. "My brother is fool for letting you get away."

Kronk's face get warm. "Ugurth should stay quiet."

"Thralia should not be surprised by Kronk. He's always had trouble knowing what to do with his--"

"UGURTH STAY QUIET!!" Kronk swing axe at Ugurth, but he ready. He block Kronk with sword, pull it away. But Kronk only fooled for a moment. I bring back axe, ready to bring down on Ugurth's head--

"Stop them!"

Kronk try to swing axe, but something stops blade. I turn and find drow woman has caught Kronk's blade with her own. I look at Ugurth, and someone has caught him with a rope.

He snort. "Always too quick to draw steel, weren't you, brother?"

Thralia step forward. "Kronk, he's trying to start a fight with you, to keep us distracted. Try not being a fool for a change." She turn to Ugurth. "And you. What did you mean you only expected find one Harper in Olostin's Hold?"

He smile, a different smile, one Kronk see before. Same smile he get when he choose Verra for sacrifice. "I think you already know."

Thralia is quiet for a moment. "Ariadne, Meree, Falco, go to the town, right now. There is an old man there named Barundar. Find him immediately, and--"

Before she finish, everyone turns. There is a cry from the town, several people. Smoke is rising in dark cloud.

"What happened?" Someone points. "Look...are those?..."

"KOBOLDS!!"

About six short little creatures are running towards us. Five carry crossbows; the last one have something wrapped in dark cloth. Kronk hears the gnome woman curse to self.

They attack before others have chance to react, but Kronk already have blade out. Kobolds are so small they can get between our legs, break up our group; we can barely hit them without attacking each other. Three of them start fighting with daggers, manage to stab dwarf.

Kronk see gnome woman wrestling with one. "I hate these little things!" she say as it climb on her back.

Battle is quick. Kobolds are not winning; one of them is already dead. Everyone has forgotten about Ugurth. Kronk realize that two are not fighting, just working towards Ugurth. One of them have the thing wrapped in cloth. And then Kronk know what is happening. I turn to where other kobold is untying my half-brother. "Stop him!" I say, reaching for him.

But he grab hold of black jewel on silver chain, and mutter something. A glow starts around them, moving over them.

Ugurth smile. "Too quick on the draw, Kronk." And he disappear with the two kobolds.

Others stand in shock. And while they are standing, last three kobolds look at each other, and then shove their daggers up through their chins.

Everyone is silent for few moments. Then Thralia shake her head. "Damn."

One of the twin elves step forward. "Thralia...he said you knew what he was after. Is that true?"

Thralia lift her head. On her face was look of...pain, maybe? Kronk see a lot of pain. But also look of strength. Look of someone who refuse to stop because of pain. It make her...more beautiful, somehow. Thralia right: Kronk is fool.

She talk to elf. "We'll soon find out if it's true. Everyone to the village," she add to others.

"Why? What are we going to find there?" elf ask.

"A dead Harper."

Some houses on fire, but villagers are putting them out. Thralia march right to shabby little hut at edge of town. Hut is destroyed, but many people in circle outside the hut, surrounding something. Thralia start to run as we draw near.

"Barundar!"

Circle break as she draw close. They standing around a dwarf on ground. He look old, frail, but very wise and powerful, like he was strong when younger. He was very dead. Thralia sank to knees, put arms around him. She start to sob.

"Oh, Barundar, you old fool..."

Everyone stand around, not sure what to do. She rock back and forth, holding him.

After few minutes, Kronk lean down, put hand on Thralia's shoulder. "Kronk...sorry..."

She leave Kronk's hand there for a moment. Then she lay Barundar down careful and stand up, shrugging off hand.

"This was Barundar Foehunter," she say to us. "He was a Harper, a brave Harper...and...a dear friend."

There is muttering among crowd. Some of the locals join us now. "A Harper? Here?" "He couldn't be..." "What in Toril was he doing in this little town?" "Naw, he's our herbalist, helped my son's cough he did..."

"He was exactly what he seemed: an herbalist. It was a skill he knew well. When he retired from the Harpers, he came to live his last days in peace."

"What do you mean he was a Harper?" Old man in the crowd began talking angry. "Why did the Orc's attack him, if he was retired?"

Thralia pause. "I...don't know."

Villagers look suspicious. Like they not believe all she say. Then she continue.

"He had one last request," she say. "Barundar wanted to be buried here in Olostin's Hold. Would you, the people he served for these last several years, accept his body?"

Old man who spoke before step to front of crowd. "Alright. For what Barundar did for us...we'll take him. But we're a quiet village. We try to keep out of the way of war. We're grateful for your help...but..."

"But we'd just as soon you move on by tomorrow," finished another one.

Thralia nod. She look tired.

Villagers move off. She turn to rest of us. "Isendur, Isioleth, I thank you for your help today. Why don't you go to the inn and check on the rest of your party. I'll be along to convey my thanks to them soon." They left. "Ariadne, help the villagers prepare Barundar for burial. The rest of you help the villagers with repairs."

They already start to drift off when she beckon to the dwarf. "Falco?"

He return to her. "Yes, m'lady?"

"Falco, I need you to search the rubble for a dwarven urgrosh. I'm sure Ugurth has taken it, but we must check anyway." She speak in low whisper, but Kronk always could hear good. "And if he HAS taken it..." She trail off.

Dwarf grunts. "I THOUGHT there was more here than my crimson eye could see."

Thralia shake head. "More than you can imagine."

He nod. "I'll get my tools. Stonemason's tools come in handier than anyone'd think."

She walk over to front of Barundar's hut. Kronk join her. So does Serd. We look at front of hut for long time.

"Kronk, you had better leave," she say after a time.

"Kronk can help..."

"I know you can." She turn to us. "I thank you both for your help today. But the villagers aren't going to want help from a half-orc right now."

Serd raise hand. "I'm not a half-orc."

Her gaze turn to him. She look stern. "Surely your aren't. But YOU I've dealt with before, Serd of the Dalelands, as have many of my party. I believe one of them is still concerned about the loss of a certain ring..."

"Oh, is she?" Serd turn to Kronk. "Well, my large friend, I think I can be of little use here. I'm sure we'll meet soon enough." He touch hand to brow, smile, and walk into forrest, maybe a little faster than usual. Thralia still look stern...but maybe look after him a little lighter than at first. Then she turn to Kronk.

"As for you..."

"Kronk...sorry."

"So you've said."

"I know...some reasons why Kronk...turn away from you. It not...because Kronk not like you. Just...I not ever feel about someone like I feel about you. Thought I not ready for...night with you."

"Not ready, hmm? Are you now?"

Kronk shake head.

She nod. "It's just as well. I wouldn't accept now if you were."

Kronk nod. "Sorry."

"You think that helps, don't you?" She turn away, quiet for a moment. "When I offered you my bed, I meant it. I've met very few people like you."

She say 'person'. Not 'half-orc'.

"No one has ever refused me before, Kronk. I didn't know what to make of it. I suppose it should good for me to have a humbling experience. Maybe someday I'll see it that way. But today is not that day. Today I just hurt."

Kronk not say anything. Can't think of anything to say.

Thralia turn back. "Take one of our horses. You should be able to reach Everlund by nightfall." Kronk start to leave. "And Kronk..."

Kronk turn back.

"I didn't need you to save me from that orc back there."

She turn away. But she have that amused look in eye.

Current Location: Olostin's Hold
Current Mood: tired tired

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Without arrows, battle is doing better. The line of orcs is broken up now, Harpers are taking on two or three orcs each. Kronk impressed with how they fight. Drow woman has arrow in side, but she fights like it not there. The Gondsman has collapsed, but the gnome working it is fighting with repeating crossbow.

Serd dismounted his horse. "Dig in, my large friend," he said, pointing at battle.

"Serd not fight?"

"I think I can be of more benefit with this." He open bag of holding, pull out lute. "Go."

Kronk wait moment, then turn into battle. Music come from behind Serd.

Hark, my friends, be brave and true
For long as the summer is long.
Remember well what hearts can do
And let song be heard on song.


Across battlefield, everyone turn to see Serd sing. Orcs not like the sound; they turn to each other with bad looks on faces. Harpers look too, but they seem to get...bigger. Stronger. Like they can fight more, and those who are hurt in less pain. Kronk feel it, too. An orc, still staring at Serd, goes down under my axe.

That when Kronk see her again. Thralia watch Serd, then turn to me. Her eyes are like ice in winter river, clear but cold.

Before Kronk can do anything, other orcs realize what is happening, return to battle. Thralia dodge axe of orc she was fighting. Kronk battling from horse when it make noise, collapse under me. Some orc shot it in neck. He attack Kronk as I fall off.

Oh, raise your sheilds and draw your swords
And make your sabers rattle
Forget not: to harvest peace's rewards
One must plow the fields of battle.


Kronk manage to kill orc. Now I try to fight with injured leg. Not easy going: other orcs decide to gang up on us. They surround gnome woman, but she bring down lightening from sky. Thralia is fighting tall orc with one eye missing. She hit his knee, and he go down. She about to deliver death stroke. But there is other orc behind her, with hump, sword gleaming, she not see him--

"THRALIA!!"

Tis' true that when'ere blade hits blade
That death, she is no stranger...


There is orc between Kronk and Thralia; Kronk kill him, jump over body before it hit ground, swing axe towards humpback orc...Thralia slash one-eyed orc in half...humpback thrust sword at Thralia, going to hit her in side...but she spin around, and his blade cut her leg...Thralia cry out...Kronk bring axe down on humpback...he groan in surprise...and in same instant, Thralia runs her blade through humpback's heart.

He look at us with unseeing eyes, hanging from our blades.

But raise your voice through hill and glade
And fear not in the face of danger.


We both look at each other for moment. Then she pull her blade from humpbacked orc. He collapse in heap.

"What are you doing here?"

Kronk not know what to say. "Here...to help...Thralia..."

She narrow eyes. Kronk is idiot. Finally, she gesture with her sword. "Well...get to work then." And turn to help Drow woman.

Battle continues. There not many orcs left when Serd stop singing.

And forget not: when battle's done
and you clean your blade once more
Remember: give thanks for what you've won
To those who've fought bef--URRGHH!


Everyone turn to Serd. He on ground, lute broken beside him, holding arm. An orc with helmet is climbing on Serd's horse...going to ride away...something familiar about that orc...

"Stop him!" Kronk shout. Serd manage to reach up, grab loose rein of horse. It buck, throw off orc with helmet. He start to run away, but Kronk already halfway there. Orc not get far before Kronk on top of him.

"Kronk say stop!" We fall to ground, wrestle, and I manage to get off his helmet. But he fast; he hit Kronk on jaw, make me see stars. Kronk pull away, and he stand up, he's getting away--

"I believe the man said stop," come Serd's voice.

Kronk look up. Serd, Thralia, and most other Harpers now surround us, swords drawn. Other orc stop, look at them, then turn to Kronk.

He smile. "Well played, my brother."

Current Location: Field outside Olostin's Hold
Current Mood: angry angry

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We could hear sounds of battle on east side of town, towards High Forest.

"Sounds like a ruddy war," Serd say, starting down ridge. "How many Orcs you think Ugurth has with him?"

Kronk shrug. "Not know. From what Durth say, a lot."

"Sounds like. Crimney," he mutter, drawing blade, "nothing like fighting an army." Kronk pull out his axe.

We cross road into forest, moving toward sounds of battle. As we pull to edge of clearing, Kronk now see where sound coming from.

Army is right word. Sixty, seventy orcs advancing across field, blades of axes gleaming. And at far end are maybe twenty people, all kinds, human, elf, gnome, fighting back with any weapon at hand.

"Serd, those people will get killed! They not able to fight this!" Kronk about to ride forward and attack line, when he grab reins of Kronk's horse.

"Wait. Watch." He nod towards fighters. Kronk watch as huge brown thing come out of woods--

"What that thing?"

--brown thing rise three feet over heads of orc soldiers, let out roar, and crash down on three of them, crushing them.

Kronk watch as thing leap towards more orcs. It great brown bear. "That's Qilué, I believe," Serd say, "familiar of Tordrin. I told you, a band of Harpers is more capable against an army than you think."

As orcs try to get away from bear, Kronk realize Serd right. There is gnome shooting lightning from hands, striking enemies down with one hit. Drow woman fights with bastard sword, slicing people in half before moving to next target, and dwarf with two waraxes, knocking down several orcs with one blow. They move like dancers, pretty to watch as clear stream. The drow swings blade against orc in a smooth motion, her face calm, only she not see--

Orc behind her collapse to knees, arrow in back. He was about to swing axe against her. Kronk look where arrow come from and see Gondsman shooting from edge of clearing, operated by gnome. And beside him in tree are two elves, firing two, three arrows at once.

There is air genasi moving around behind front line of defenders, plunging blade into orcs that get through. She move swift and sure, raising blade to strike again, when she stagger backwards. She grab flaming arrow in shoulder and drop sword. More fire arrows rain down on defenders. Distracted, they start to fall back.

"Not good," Serd say. "The orcs are going to surround them if they can't get out from under the artillery."

Serd right. Ends of orc line start advancing, cutting defenders off from woods. Trying to dodge arrows, Harpers let orcs surround them. Battlefield gets confusing to watch. Kronk not sure who is who. And then I see her.

Thralia. She fighting with rapier, taking on two orcs at once. Kronk not know she could fight so well. Even with blades in hand...she beautiful.

But orcs are surrounding her like everyone else. It all be over soon. Kronk start to ride towards orc line, ready to attack line from behind, when he hear Serd's voice.

"Wait!" He point to line of boulders, on hill to right. Flaming arrows come from behind them. "The artillery unit. They must have been waiting for the orc line to get close enough."

They only fifty yards away. Kronk change direction, ride toward hill. "Come on. We can get behind them."

******************

We ride behind hill, working way towards spot with orc artillery. Try not to be seen. Kronk see way into their hiding spot. Signal Serd. We get off horses, creep towards them.

Kronk can hear someone talking in orcish.

"Plan is stupid. Our army strong, not need babies hiding in hills, flinging arrows at people."

"This is Ugurth's plan," say second voice. "He made it when he realized the Harpers were here. It's a good plan, and we follow it."

"Harpers not seem so dangerous to me. And where is our great leader? Where is Ugurth?"

Kronk step out from behind rock, bring axe down on head of orc. Second orc look up in surprise.

Kronk smile at him. "Yes...where IS Ugurth?"

Other orc pick up sword, make noise. Five other orcs behind him rush towards Kronk, but they surprised by noise behind them.

"Death from above!"

Serd leap over top of hill, sword drawn...and fall on face behind last orc.

Orcs not know what to do for moment. Kronk not sure either. Serd pick himself up and shake head.

"Acchh...tripped."

While orcs still standing there, Kronk knock two over with axe. When other orcs turn back to Kronk, Serd roll over and thrust sword through one closest to him.

With only three orcs left, fight not take long after that. Orc who want to follow Ugurth's orders collapsed on rock, bleeding. Kronk hold someone's sword to his throat. "So...what you saying about Ugurth?"

Orc spit blood, grimmace at Kronk. "That he will crush this sorry little camp...even with some half-blood freak helping these Harpers."

Kronk smash his face with hilt of sword. He wince like a molar had broken. "What he want in Olostin's Hold?"

"Don't know," he grunt. Looks up at us. "It been while since we raided a town for women. Hear they have a good-looking druid in town. Maybe he's looking for a nice, soft half-elf."

His neck make nice snapping sound when Kronk break it. "Ugurth hate soft." His body fall to ground.

"So much for interrogation," Serd said.

Kronk turn to Serd. "We still not know what's going on. Ugurth here somewhere."

"Likely. But where would he be?"

"Not know."

"Well, in the meantime, let's help the others clean up," he say, nodding towards main battle. We get horses, work around to edge of battlefield.

Kronk look at Serd. "Did Serd trip on face on purpose? Distract others?"

"Would you believe me if I said yes?"

"No."

He smile. "Well then it doesn't matter much, does it?"

Current Mood: enraged enraged
Current Music: sounds of battle

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We get some horses from friend of Wulgar, leave Greenglade while sky still pink.

It long ride to Olostin's Hold. Kronk not say much. Mostly think about Thralia.

Kronk not want to see her again. Or maybe Kronk does. Maybe Serd right. Kronk afraid of Thralia. But Kronk not afraid of anything, right? Kronk big, strong, fight things. Hurt things. Kronk win when he hurt things.

But Thralia not something to fight. Not something to hurt. But Kronk hurt her anyway. Not even know how. And seeing her again--

"You know, if I had me a copper for every time ye got a stupid look on your face, I could pay for another wand right now."

"What?" Kronk dazed.

"I said you look lost in thought there," Serd say. "Always a risky endeavor." He grin. "Care to share?"

Kronk shrug. "Thinking about...her."

"What a surprise. Not sure you want to see her again, I bet."

"Yeah." Serd always seem to know things.

"You don't have to go, you know. Jaree wasn't mad at you, I'm sure she can find another keg to tap."

"Serd go alone?"

"Well, of course." He pull out sword with a flourish. "How would it look for the greatest swordsman in the Silver Marches to stay out of an epic battle?"

"Like he know he just use greatest swordsman line to bed barmaids," Kronk sneer.

"True enough. But one has to keep up appearances, after all." He put sword away. "None of that means you have to go with me, Kronk."

Kronk shake head. "They need me. They not know what Ugurth like. How he think."

"And you do? You haven't seen him since you were fourteen, and he was just a lad. You thought him dead."

"Still know what he was like. Ugurth...they only have him to make heir. Fill head with stuff about how he important, powerful, pure blood. He would rule all Orc tribes. He..." Kronk fall silent.

"He what?" Serd ask after while.

"In our tribe...we very rich family. We have other orcs for servants. They called servants, anyway. Really, they slaves. They not paid, they not free to leave. They are beaten if not do what they told.

"Mother not want to nurse child. She not nurse me because I not hers. But when she have Ugurth, she not nurse him either. They get servant to do it. She young orc girl, her daughter killed in raid. She nurse Ugurth, and when he not need nursemaid, she look after Ugurth and Kronk. Her name was Verra.

"She treated like other servants. But she nice. Nice to us both. She see how parents treat Ugurth, try to make us tough, and she give us something else. When Kronk not get food, she sneak some of her own to me. When Ugurth get hurt while training with weapons, parents want to leave wounds, toughen him up. But Verra bind his wounds when they leave.

"Parents worship Yurtrus, teach us rites for his disciples. When Ugurth is nine, parents make him perform first sacrifice. We all there: father, mother, Kronk, father's brothers, uncle Krusk. Whole family must be present for ritual. It sign of respect.

"They show him room full of slaves, all bound, all with bags over head. Kronk not recognize them. Ugurth look over the slaves, he point at woman. Clerics pull her from crowd. She start to struggle, but she not strong enough to fight clerics. They tie her to altar, she crying and whimpering through gag, but clerics not care.

"They take blade, make cut below throat. Up and down, toward chest, not deep, just enough to bleed. Then they bring Ugurth up, put vial of black liquid in hands. He raise it over cut, get this look on face like...like...not know. She still crying out. And he pour stuff in vial on the cut.

"Dark stuff fill up the cut. For minute, nothing happen but she tense up, like in pain. And then...and then her blood start turning black around wound...and dark lines like spider web spread out from cut across skin, covers whole body. She scream again, worse than before, and begin to writhe, and then make noise like she need to throw up, but she still have bag over head, and then her back arch up, and she make awful, awful sound, and..." Kronk shrug. "And then she not struggle anymore."

Kronk look back at Serd. We riding over ridge. Path narrow, so we go slow. Serd close eyes, lower head. "Yurtrus' Mark. The plague of one." He raise head and nod to self.

"After ceremony, we all go up to alter, and one of the priests remove bag over her head." Kronk sigh. "And it Verra.

"Kronk turn to Ugurth and say, 'You kill Verra. She take care of us. She nurse you, and you kill her.'

"And he turn to Kronk and look me in eyes and say, 'I know. She tried to make me soft.' And then he walk away."

After moment, Kronk add, "When Kronk look to parents, they nodding to each other, smiles on faces."

We not talk for while after that. Sky is very blue, only a few clouds. In distance, Kronk think he can see hawk. His wings are beating very slowly, and he soar over land like all of it--trees, animals, people, us--is his. He know everything that happen there, and not care.

We ride for few hours, go west of Everlund. Soon we going up ridge over Evermoor Way, not far from Olostin's Hold. Kronk turn to Serd.

"What we do when we get there? We need plan."

Serd ahead of Kronk, get to top of ridge first. "Well, I think our best bet is to ride right in and do whatever damage we can."

Kronk get to top of ridge. "You call that plan? Serd supposed to be master strategist!"

"Aye, I'm that." He point over ridge. "And I'm smart enough to know when strategy will get us nothing."

Kronk look where he pointing. Smoke fill sky over Olostin's Hold.

Current Location: Outside Olostin's Hold
Current Mood: worried worried

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