The Chronicles of Etinerra

Songs of the Bards - Fall 27, 58th Year AD

Hail adventurers!

The Bards have been singing the praises of Marshall Roehm and Duke Reynald since the victory at Yew ten days earlier. The Marshall has been quick to try and restore some basic services and provisions to those who were left. He has also been securing the area around Yew to try and prepare for both a counter-attack and for the coming Winter.

The news of his missing daughter is not welcome to any, though. She is missing and neither ransom or fate is known. It is said she was either taken by the orcs or the cowardly humans in black armor, but it is not know for sure who has her.

The harvest is going very well, and the Enonian markets have filled many of the streets and surrounding fields outside the wall, as animals and produce come by wagon-fulls to head into the other parts of the Duchy and kingdom. It would appear that after 2 years of poor harvests, the Light has blessed the Duchy with plenty.

Dame Oriolt and Marshall Kelvin have invoked a centuries old rule allowing them to declare any worship of deities or religions outside of the Light to be “heretical and treasonous, bringing discord and disobedience to law and Man and therefore illegal in the eyes of the King and His Agents.” They are basing on a local interpretation that any worship outside the Light is “heretical and treasonous.” This has never been done before, and is considered controversional, especially when being done as locally as by a regional priest and a Marshall of a Duke. It is not known what the position of the Church and Duke will be, but the Dame is a strong and well liked priestess in the southern center of the Duchy. She has also declared that the activities of the Lightbringers to be Lawful in the eyes of the Marshall. It is said that several small gatherings of worshipers of old gods have been arrested.

Several bards sing of a strange story of trolls attacking a mine that lies between Enonia and Stouton. The mercenary captain, Ralen Gold and her tough group of men at arms, currently under the employ of Sir Chaddius Reynald, fought the foul creatures and prevented them from a raid, but the rocks they were found with are considered a strange haul. It is not known why the beasts were after a what is considered a scrap ore, instead of the valuable iron that the mine produces.

And finally, the bards are telling of ominous tales from the beleaguered Duchy of Pisces. It is said that the entire “neck” of land between the Southern Sithasten Mountains and the Callisto Seas has been overrun by orcs. This land bridge connects the Piscean lands with the rest of the kingdom. The Southron Ducal council is supposed to convene to determine their next course of action, as they have not received word from the Duchess of Pisces, Duchess Childress.

Village of the Damned
Balto's Journal

While the Marshall marched on Yew (and scored a decisive victory), I learned some important information about the Damned. They can be cured, at least if they have not been sick too long, and if they have strong constitutions. They have no memory of their time under the domination of the disease, and I don’t know how long they must recuperate, but they can be restored.

I get ahead of myself. I tend to do that – and to ramble, my uncle would complain. To the beginning, then:

As we waited in the small settlement now called Jakar, the Marshall and Lord Reynault were moving on Yew. Some of our number had heard the village Truebrugh was besieged by a company of the Damned. Knowing we would be too late and too few to affect the combat with the orcs and black riders, our company (Mazlor, Grel, Boraen and Talvi, Fergus, Ceresei, Pyria, Beladur, and I) rode to the village’s aid.

We arrived and the local gentry filled us in on the problem. The Damned mostly stayed where they had arrived in the fields, but sometimes rushed in at the village. The crops were untended, and those few farmers brave enough to face down the damned had been recruited into their number. The rest of the villagers mounted a watch from the highest buildings and gave warning if the Damned stirred – and some had seen a black rider apparently directing the attacks.

Mazlor was determined to save the villages amongst the Damned through some ritual of healing. Ceresei, who also was a druid, and I took turns riding out with Fergus and Boraen. They stretched a net between them to trap and bring back each of the villagers. Taking each in turn to the local shrine (“consecrated ground,” or so Mazlor insisted), the healing ritual was essayed several times. Almost, I caught the sense of what Mazlor did, but it seemed twisted up in superstition. I think I could manage a cleaner – and thus maybe more successful – call on the healing powers of the land. Still, he saved a few of the villagers; the others were not strong enough to take the shock of the illness and sudden cure.

Having remanded the healed but yet weak villagers to the care of the friends and family, we rode around the remaining Damned to seek out the Black Rider who had been directing them. We hid in a copse and were able to surprise her when she rode up, unsuspecting. While at first loath to tell us much, she succumbed to Pyria’s charms and spilled her secrets.

To wit: There was a significant force of black cloaks nearby. They had been controlling the Damned with a skull on a staff, but that had been claimed by the orcs and taken back to Yew. There had been a major defeat for the Black Riders and the orcs at Yew, and her fellows were cut off from the command structure.

We left the woman with the lord in the village and then teamed up with the town militia to take out the black cloak encampment. Again skirting the Damned in the field, we crept up on them in the night. Boraen sent Talvi ahead to spook the horses, so both we and they would be on foot for the battle. I was amazed at the ability of the villagers – someone’s been hunting! Our archers took out most of the Black Riders, including their magic user. Boraen defeated the captain of the black cloaks in personal combat. We collected the horses and arms and armor and went back to Truebrugh.

Some of us headed for Old Fawn and a decent tavern, and took the arms and armor back with us for sale. The captured horses we stabled in Jakar.

A New Friend?
Life of Pyria

It is early Fall 58 AD and I receive notice that there is a package for me at the Merchants Guild Hall. Going there I find a sealed box waiting for me, intrigued I take it home and carefully open it. Inside is a scroll using magic script. Well nothing ventured, nothing gained…. Reading the scroll I find it is a letter written some time earlier in the summer, the date is our true date, no 58 AD here.

Reading through the letter it seems news of my adventures with the group has reached a secret society of Mages, such that they invited me to join them. They call themselves the Keepers of the Flame of Knowledge. They fought against Chaos and the Dark Magicks during the Shriving, based upon what they have heard they believe I have promising abilities and am on the right side! How could I not take them up on the offer?

A little over a week later, after we return from Truebrugh I receive a visitor, “Joseph”. A short, busy sort of character, constantly moving and shuffling. Letting him into my room I am a little taka aback when he starts to inspect everything and then asks to cast some spells….. Acquiescing, I see hime take two small beads of a wax of some sort, he puts one on the window and one on the door. The spells he casts makes it sound like he and I are having just a normal, mundane conversation… interesting.

We sit down and he tells me about the the Keepers. They are the remnants of the Guilds who went into hiding and continued to fight Chaos the best they could, sharing knowledge and looking after each other. Those who follow Chaos are called Viridi Viola, Joseph called them Vivis, I think that does not conjure up the fear that I believe one should have when dealing with them. How could I not agree to join them, he seems happy with that and tells me to visit him daily throughout WInter at Parabellum’s shop and he will teach me, he thinks he can learn from me too!

There is much to look forward to, but this may limit the amount of adventuring I can do if I have to be close to the shop for daily visits. Still, this may be a small price to pay for the skills I will learn.

Songs of the Bards - Fall 35, 58th Year AD

With the Harvest season nearly over, the inns are full of weary farmers and workers preparing for Winter. The harvests continue to look bountiful which bodes well for the Duchy of Irecia and the Kingdom in general. Marshall Roehm continues to restore order to the lands around Yew recently won back from the Bestials. Merchants are starting to reopen in Yew in small numbers, as are some refugees returning home.

The search for Roehm’s daughter, Anastasia Roehm, has come up short – no body found and no sign of her among the wounded, and only possible sightings of her being taken by the Black Riders during battle. The Marshall is said to be in great anguish over this.

The news from the village of Draycott is more hopeful. The Heroes of the Duchy, having found the path that the strange trolls have used to raid Lord Winright’s mine, not only defeated a small group of trolls, but also rescued elves who had been enslaved by the Bestials! The Heroes have taken the freed elves to unknown locations, but rumors have it that two have been seen with the pagan priestess Jorann in Enonia! Rumors abound that the Heroes found the last battlefields of Marshall Ormin and his army, as well having sighted the now-occupied Castle of Chorlton!

The “Winter’s Edge” celebration at the Chapel of Light has begun, with pilgrims all over the Midlands journeying to the Chapel to pray at the crystals made during the year. As always, the many crystals made in the Chapel are available to Pilgrims to take with them as talismans and decorations to use in their homes to remind them of the Light.

Somber songs and stories are being told of events down south in the Duchies of Southron and Pisces. No news has come directly from the Piscean lands, since the Orcs captured the vital land bridge between the Duchy and the rest of the Kingdom. Some merchant ships which have sailed to other ports have brought news that the Piscean armies are massing for a counterattack. Good news also may be coming from the Southron Duchy that they will also be attacking the Orcs holding the pass.

A Restless Night
Balto's Journal

On the road north to Old Fawn, I and Belaldur and Boraen discussed our philosophies. From very different backgrounds, we all still hold remarkably similar outlooks. We hold ourselves as trusted allies, and we won’t be stealing the bread from each other’s tables. Those we don’t see as friends or kin, though…

And as we rode, we discussed the prospects for mutual profit in checking out the jeweler’s shop and house in Old Fawn. Belaldur had dealt with him, and is sure he hides something. I asked to check the place as we headed to the Hound and Nixie; my initial survey lead me to think a rear entrance would give the best chance for success. We decided Belaldur and I would try getting through the back window, on the shop level, while Boraen held our horses. We’d do a quick smash and grab, ride for the woods, come back and carouse in the bars to throw off suspicion.

Alas, what the jeweler was hiding was that he is well-connected with the Old Fawn Thieves Guild. A warning was writ, for those with eyes to see, so Belaldur and I aborted the break-in. Talvi gained, though – I’d been ready to charm a guard dog, so had a hunk of fresh meat in my pouch. Hoping Talvi may remember I may have the stature of a child, but I’m not her dinner!

Boraen and Belaldur did stop in and pick up the proceeds from the sale of all the armor and arms we;d left with Amifrey – except a couple of bows he’d not been able to fence. Boraen took those back. We rode to Enonia, and glad I was that Boraen held the gold. No one was likely to accuse him of skimming the take.

Over breakfast in Enonia, we heard the news from the South, pretty much all bad. Fergus and I had left a travelling companion locked up in a keep somewhat past Draycott, where Lord Winright was concerned about trolls raiding his mines. Wikton, this companion was, a cleric of some god of metalwork. He had few manners and less patience. Fergus and I talked Ostlen, Belaldur, Boraen, Ragar, Grel, and Pyria to head to Winright’s Keep, where we could check on Wikton, the trolls, and rumors from further abroad. Galub resigned with Belaldur to continue training us in tracking, to which Ragar raised an eyebrow, and Wille and Josef accompanied us, continuing to learn fighting and tactics and a bit more, if the noises from the room they shared with Fergus meant anything! I’ll not begrudge them their fun – the innkeeper’s son in Draycott was happy to see me again, too. The rules against rishathra protect us littlelings from entanglements with the big folk, but it is hard to resist Klaus’ cooking and caresses.

Delayed a bit by some pilgrims on the road ahead of us, we arrived midday at Winright’s Keep to find Raelin’s Roughnecks ranged around. Wikton had been sentenced to work in the mines, but at least he’d kept his head attached. Is it possible he’d learned some tact? But the trolls had continued to raid, and Raelin had not been able to stop them – or do much more than harm the men she threw at them. Promised a substantial reward by Winright, we essayed to do better and set up our smaller camp on the other side of the castle.

First watch that night, Ragar and Pyria rouse us as a group of terrified and emaciated, abused elves darts along the edge of the forest. Pyria callms them and gathers them to our camp. We give them food, and hear of the capture of Coralton and their enslavement by a force of orcs of the red eye – or was it fist? – and allied trolls, goblins, and men. When shown the ore, they told us that it was used to make the deathsticks some of our company had heard of and seen. The elves were exhausted, though, so we settled them in for the night.

I took watch then with Fergus. I heard mounted horses and orcish muttering. Talvi alerted and growled early in the shift, which woke Boraen, who shook awake the rest of our force. He asked Willie and Josef and Galub to keep the elves safe. The rest of us prepared for battle with the 8 orcs who emerged and tried to take back the elves. Night battles are confusing, but I called on the land to limn the enemies by me with faerie fire, which I think helped the archers’ aim. Pyria cast sleep on the center of the force. Talvi raced for the right flank. Those orcs not yet engaged tried to flee, but missiles – magic and otherwise – were flying, and I called on the plants to rise and stop the escape. A couple got away, but Ragar and I dispatched those who had fallen asleep – bloody slavers! Boraen and Beladur tried questioning the one prisoner, but he didn’t survive long enough to tell us anything useful. We gathered in 8 horses, though – enough for the elves to ride back to safety in the morning. I was ready for sleep, and handed the watch over to Boraen, Talvi, and Belaldur.

We weren’t done yet, though – a couple hours later, the trolls showed up. I had already used my spells, but archers with flaming arrows dispatched them. In the morning, bleary eyed but triumphant, we returned to the keep. Much was made of the elves, and we received our reward, but mostly we wanted sleep. The next day, our hirelings began the trip back to Jakar’s Rest, via Draycott and Enonia, with the elves. But the rest of us decided to scout out Coralton, to see what danger was on the other side of the woods.

A longer ride than we’d expected, we came to appreciate Ragar for putting food in the pot – well, me perhaps more than the others. Some three days from Winright’s, we came upon a large human fortress, overrun by orcs. A large patrol surprises Belaldur and Ragar, but they lure the orcs back to the rest of the party, and we use missile and spell attacks to take out most of the force. Boraen jumped on one, Talvi devastated two, and Belaldur neatly stabs one in the back. Pyria slits the throats of those she’d put to sleep, but securely binds one prisoner, with whom we return to Winright’s Keep. Belaldur, Fergus, Boraen, and I ride through Enonia to look in on Jakar’s Rest, and see how the elves and our hirelings are doing. We will need to think on how best to protect all these peaceful folk, and keep the orc taint out of the land. And I will seek out the peace of those goblins Jakar and I rescued.

Songs of the Bards - Winter 5, 59th Year AD

The Inns and taverns were full of celebrations, while town squares and city parks hosted feasts and games in celebration of the Harvest Feast day on 45 Fall. In Yew, the day was especially celebratory, despite the devastation from the Orc occupation. Thanks to Mazlor of the Light and the Heroes of the Duchy, almost a thousand gold crowns were donated for both the celebration and to assist the refugees and freed slaves. The Heroes had gone north in search of Marshal Roehm’s daughter and had freed fifty humans still held by the Bestials in captivity. They found a great treasure during this adventure and generously shared from it to help those in need. Praises are still being sung of the Heroes and of the priest of the Light, who cured a man of blindness, fed slaves from prayer and miracles and helped the Heroes as they bravely fought back dozens of orcs and goblyns.

Winter has come to the Midlands of the Duchy and as the farms and towns settle down for the cold, the Marshal has returned to Enonia. He has left his trusted commander, Sir Ynivax, in Yew to continue to oversee recovery as well as fortify the town and surrounding villages for a possible counterattack in the Spring. Sir Reynald has been sent to Draycott and the lands just south, to oversee the investigation of recent Bestial raids on mines and towns to the south.

There is sadness among some in Enonia. The tavern keeper of the Eagle’s Alehouse – Avael Guntin – died from a strange accident. It appears that she died after the Harvest Feast celebrations when beer barrels fell over on her in the cellar of the tavern. As Avael was not married, the tavern has been closed. After an investigation by the Merchant’s Guild and Enonian constable, it has been ruled that the death was an accident.

Aftermath and Anastasia
Balto's Journal

We returned to Enonia from Winwright’s Keep and Steltin. Mazlor emerged from a meeting at Enonia’s Temple of the Light with grim news of the spreading strength of the Light Bringers, and considering ways to counter their influence. Meanwhile, Fergus, Belaldur, and I learned that Anastasia Roehm had still not been found. The last anyone in town knew, she had ridden into battle at Yew, then disappeared.
Mazlor called on two other clerics to come with us, and we planned to head to Yew via Jakar’s Rest, so we could pick up Willie and Josef, and Golub. First, though we stopped at the keep to talk to Anastasia’s family. I made a good impression on her younger brother, Alaric, but the Lady Sara was a bit alarmed when I suggested I could give him my spare dagger. Belaldur and I also connected with Milos, the keep’s weaponsmith., Mazlor, Fergus, Belaldur, and I kitted up and set off to find Anastasia.
We stopped at Jakar’s Rest and talked with the elves we had protected. They had truly been sorely used, but a season’s rest with good food and care should put them back on their feet. Willie, Joseph, and Golub Then on the road, we stopped by the Abbey of Dame Heather. Mazlor entered the Abbey with Sally and Isty, while the rest of us lunched on what the Abbess sent out. The next day, we reached Timbragh, where we saw the field where the Damned stood had been fenced off. The following evening, we were in Old Fawn. The refugees had moved on, but the militia was returning to town, and supplies for Yew were passing through, as well as the normal commerce.
We stopped the next night at Carbaugh’s Keep. Good food and good company. I’m not sure who all shared the bed with me, but everyone and everything fit! We heard of how the littlelings fought in the fight for Yew. I shared the stories of our adventures. And then Carbaugh told me a littleling folkmoot West of Enonia was planned for this winter!
Marshal Roehm had set up his headquarters at the town hall. Ynnivax told us Anastasia was with a force that had flanked the orcs, then got hit by Black Riders from Upland Keep. He welcomed our plan to search for Anastasia. I tracked down one of her men, Marcellus, in a bar and he agreed to show us the battlefield before he passed out.
The next day we saw where Anastasia had been taken. Marcellus joined our party, and we headed out along the path to Upland Keep. In the early afternoon, we come across a load of lumber – and in the distance, a set of skills. I sneak up, see dozens of emaciated humans, guarded by orcs and goblins, and a construction site. An orc patrol, oblivious, rides by me. I go back to alert the party.
After a short battle, we kill eight goblins and nineteen orcs, capture nine hoses, and then convince the fifty slaves that they are freed. We give them food and drink, and gently question them. Anastasia had been here, they say, but only overnight. And Mazlor finds her sign, showing she was there and the direction she was going – to Upland Keep. We are definitely on her trail.
But these newly freed folk could not be abandoned. We needed to get them safely back to Yew. It was a long walk, with the weakest on horse. We were getting ready for a short meal break when I saw something in the woods. I, Fergus, Mazlor, and Belaldur investigate and find these shapes are armed skeletons! We summon more of the party, leaving Willie, Josef, Golub, and Marcellus to calm and protect our charges. Mazlor destroys many of the skeletons; Sally turns more. We destroy all that stand in our way and find a great treasure, almost too much to take with us. We enter Yew and give some of the treasure to the Marshal and some to the Church to help deal with the displaced persons.
There are so many enslaved and abused by the orcs, streaming into Yew seeking help. And Yew is stripped of food and the buildings are in ruins. So some needs to think what to do, as more of the land and people are liberated.

Into the Thundersnow
Balto's Journal

What we’d learned on our first foray after Anastasia convinced us she was being held at Upland Keep. That strongpoint had a storied history, but in the years since the Doom, it had been abandoned for a short time. Marshal Constantina had begun to restore it, then it was taken by orcs, who handed it off to the Black Riders who had been plaguing Marshal Roehm.

After the Battle for Yew, as the orcs fled to the east, the Black Riders fell back to Upland Keep. When we’d liberated the slave farm, that cut off the Black Riders from their allies, the orcs.But Anastasia and likely other captives were holes up in the Keep with them.

So our party – Grel, Mazlor, Itsy, Sally, Fergus, Pyrea, Ceresei, Belaldur and I – gathered in Yew and kitted up with winter gear and bought supplies for the road. It would be a long journey – poor roads and worse weather. Willie and Josef, we left in Yew to help with the rebuilding of the town. Golub had left our employ, choosing to use his hunting and tracking skills to help feed the folk of Yew.

We stopped off at Carbaugh’s Keep before we left – wonderful food, and wonderful bedmates! Carbaugh allowed two of his fighters, Wynn and Oldac, to sign on with us for the adventure, giving us a bit more muscle in case we ran into trouble.

We sheltered at the slave farm, but found nothing much going on there. The snow was up to my chest by the time we stopped, but as we littlelings followed behind the party, my pony Gypsy and theirs (Hyssop and Red Perry) were able to pick their way in the path blazed by the big ones. The elves hung back with me, the better to avoid hearing about
Tangadorin, and speaking to Belaldur, I learn we share the same birthday – Winter 16! We make plans to have as grand a celebration in Yew as the circumstances allow.

The towns and farms along the way were looted and burned. Perhaps now that the orcs have been driven out, nature can reclaim some of these lands. As I thought this, though, we rode up on near a dozen Black Riders. We exchanged missile fire, then closed with them. I think all of us were injured in the fight, but we prevailed, slaying all of them save one, who I questioned.

Our prisoner, Inya, had ridden with this party out from Upland Hold, seeking supplies from the few populated villages left around here. She’d a hard-luck story but it boiled down to her seeking her fortune and fetching up with the Black Riders, led by a man named Lon. She was more inclined to look for opportunities than worry about law and chaos, so we got on fine – probably would have without the charm spell! She joined us – not without grieving for her lover and mentor, who’d led the band we’d slain – in exchange for her armor, sword (her grandfather’s, and horse. She led us to a nearby hamlet, Sheffield’s Fields, so we could shelter out of the wind and storm.

Grel may talk a bit much on his god, but he is quite personable. He got us permission to stay in the empty barn with our horses, and when the men of the household come out to greet us, convinced them we are no threat, and was invited back to the house to drink and speak of Tangadorin.

The next day, before we left, I gathered our party’s standard rations together and left them for the folk of the house. Mazlor created some food for them as well. Then it is off to an outpost of the Duchy, the village of Pincurth.

Many of the buildings are damaged, but the stone temple at the center of the village stands strong and proud. We were challenged as we come up by the militia, and Mazlor set off unarmed to talk to their leader, a priest of the Light named Geralt. Ordained in Enonia, Geralt knew Jorann, Mazlor’s superior in the Enonia Temple. References checked, we were all allowed into the village. I caused quite a stir in the village, so I quickly checked to be sure my armor is not revealing anything untoward. But no, it is only that my people and the elves have not been seen in these parts for many years and we are nearly forgotten. Still, they remembered to check their purses as I ride by.

We found a couple of fighters who had been serving in Upland Keep (just a day’s ride away) when it fell to the orcs. They had escaped by following a creek through the caves under the castle, then out a crack in the keep’s foundation. The news that Yew had been liberated brought great cheer to the village, and hearing of our battles with the orcs and Black Riders – and the freeing of the slaves – stiffened their resolve to hold out for the Duke. We returned to Yew, bringing with us the women and children of Sheffield’s Fields, and intelligence to guide us in our rescue of Anastasia.

A Song from the Bards - 48th day of Winter
Heard around Yew...

It began on a cold winter’s evening:
He was the crudest elf around,
and she was the most beautiful witch.

She was his woman in a bar,
His beautiful woman in a bar,
His witch and he was Her Pig.

They danced so well together,
At first…
He wanted to drink together, around the world,
He wanted it all.

But then, in a flash, one big mistake
After drinking too much, together
A mispoken phrase, a careless brush of a hand.
It was wicked, so wicked.

What made him so foolish, none will know!
And then it happened:
Oh no! Oh no!

She a witch.
Alas, a witch!
His woman in a bar a witch.
It was dangerous, so dangerous.

The next day he knew his nose was different
He saw that he now had a tail,
His words, mere oinks to her laughter!

But still, she is in his thoughts.
Despite how it all changed that evening,
That cold winter’s evening.

And although his brave friends did save him…
He still pines for that lovely hair and one more dance,
When he thinks of that beautiful witch,
That beautiful witch and the pig of an elf!

Swine Trek, or Hogs and Kisses
Balto's Journal

What a wonderful birthday that was! Belaldur and I parted company early on – he has a thing for human females, while I had gathered to me a few of Carbaugh’s folk. We littlelings stuck to the good wine, while Beladur hoarded his coin and drank whatever pigswill they brought him – more swine than wine, honestly.

I suppose it was good enough, though, as he soon got tipsy and began squealing out sea shanties. Wreathed in pipeweed smoke, capering across the stage, he quite annoyed the bards and the bar staff, and he was pitched out of the Lusty Maiden. He must have picked himself up and gone on to another tavern, but I and Wynn and Oblan and Noro went back to my room at Harriet’s Rest, Noro giggling over the somewhat racy new lyrics to “This Little Piggy.”

The next day, I had a slight hangover, but the two lads and one lass from Carbaugh’s Keep were pert, cheerful, and attentive, and they soon took my mind off the headache. We had a fine breakfast of peppered bacon and spice cake, and I took some to Belaldur’s room, along with a universal hangover cure sold at the same stall. He’d not returned from his night out, and I wondered if he’d finally found a woman willing to overlook his pointed ears. I rooted around in his stuff, but saw no clues. Not trusting the locks in this inn, I secured his pouch of gold, then sought out the innkeeper. He confirmed that he had not seen Belaldur return, that no one was sleeping in the bar, and that Belaldur had remarkably low charisma for an elf. I was a bit worried – Belaldur was a good companion, never squealed on me nor I on him. I hoped he had finally gotten lucky, or passed out somewhere safe.

I alerted the others in my party – Fergus, Willie, and Josef were emerging from a round of wrestling practice, shiny as greased pigs; Ceresei was coming back from a morning stroll with some hog-hazels; Pyrea was at the blacksmith’s, watching her take a delivery of pig iron. Mazlor was occupied at a nearby piggery, blessing the shoats and dealing with an outbreak of swine flu, and was thus unavailable to help us find Belaldur.

My friends and I headed back to nearest bar, a rough spot named the Black Stabbard, where Grel was earnestly explaining a tale of Tangadorin to a table in the corner. When they saw we needed Grel, those three militiamen quickly excused themselves and let us have the paladin to ourselves. I didn’t mind, they’d left behind their bowls of pork and leek soup, and breakfast had been a good couple hours ago.

Grel quickly leapt into action, buying a round of drinks and ingratiating himself with Tyree, who owned the place. As he rubbed the stump where his left hand had been, Tyree remembered Belaldur had been staggering around complaining that the place stank like a pigsty, but then trotted off with a beautiful woman – probably a prostitute, from the way she was dressed. (Personally, I doubted this – Belaldur would not have had such a long dry spell if he’d been the type to pay for company.)

We moved on to the Lusty Maiden. Calloweigh, the owner of the tavern, was in an expansive mood, glad that his gamble of bringing in bards to boost his custom had been so successful. He even chuckled and told me he regretted there was no more hard cider, but we littlelings had drunk his last hogshead the night before. He remembered telling Belaldur that if he couldn’t hold his pipeweed, stop hamming it up and leave, but Belaldur just glared pig-eyed at him and kept singing over the bards. So Calloweigh had his staff pitch Belaldur out on the street, where he wallowed in the muck for a bit before finding his feet and trotting off.

We all went to the next bar, the Charging Bull. The bartender, refilling the jars of pickled pig’s feet, eggs, and onions, told us that Chaz, the owner, was busy with a priest of the Light. But he remembered Belaldur – the bar had been nearly empty when Belaldur came in with the woman. Belaldur bought them each a drink, then leaned forward to ask if there was a party room. The bartender gladly rented the room to them for the night – and they seemed to enjoy it, judging from the grunts and squeals and “Who’s a bad little piggy?” that he heard late in the night. The next day, when he went into the room to wake them and clean up, he found a couple chairs overturned, a pile of clothes and an empty purse on the floor, and the back door gaping open. He showed us. There’d been snow the last several days, so we could see the footprints headed off east, in the opposite direction as Harriet’s Rest. We searched the clothes, found a hidden pocket sewn in them with a letter from Belaldur giving us instructions to claim a treasure should he die. There was no blood, no magic used. Willie examined the tracks and insisted that they were of a woman and some kind of animal. But none of us were able to tell what sort of animal it was.

We followed the tracks as best as we could – the snow was unrelenting – out to the road and past the East Gate. We continued on to the watchtower just beyond, where we shared out food and drink among the guards. Grel chatted them up, learned that a woman taking her pig for a trot had gone down the road to the East – but only one guard, Leon, had seen it, and everyone else told him the hooch had him seeing hogs and fogs, as the saying goes.

But I suspected our wild night out had farrowed a litter of troubles on Belaldur – more and more, I was sure he had been changed into a pig, and I hoped he’d not yet been barrowed. I’m not sure even Mazlor’s ability to heal extended as far as un-castrating!

We went back into town, seeking out a tracker to help us. While even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while, the snow kept falling, and we’d need an expert. At the Lusty Maiden, we were pointed to a man holding forth at a corner table. I heard Grel mutter a quick plea to Tangadorin: “Please, let it not be Galub!” But it was, and as we approached, we realized he was hogging the credit for our recent successes against the Damned and the Black Riders. But pig in a poke that he’d turned out to be, he still knew his business. We hired him on for a month. The next day, we provisioned up and headed out, and I tossed a wineskin to Leon as we rode by the watchtower. Leon squealed in delight: “Hope you find that porker, then!”

And of course, now that we’d brought Galub back into the company, the snow stopped. As we followed the trail, Galub noted that the snow around the woman’s feet had melted back: “A hot lady, indeed,” he chortled. “But she knows the road, never leaves it.” The pig had floundered through the snow, so the path was fairly clear up to Rock Run.

We came upon the village – or what was left of it – in the late afternoon. Not a building was whole, no chimney smoke or candlelight greeted us, and there were wrecked and rotting siege towers looming in the fields nearby. As we explored, we found many unburied bodies – skeletons, or just really piles of bones. Around many of these piles, the snow had melted away – and by one of the piles rooted, not melted, out of the snow, we found some of the bones had been dragged to point to the South. Heartened that our friend, even in porcine form, seemed to have retained his wits, I created fire and we made our camp in the lee of a wall. Looking about for something to supplement our dinner, I found some truffles that had been turned up, no doubt by Belaldur. The next day, Winter 27, we rode on nearly to the northern edge of the Dark Woods. Galub led us up into grove, wherein stood a higgledy-piggledly but stoutly built wood palisade encircling a large tent-like stucture, made of branches and hide and bark. Ash and embers swirled out its smokehole, and we could hear a pig snorting inside. There was a gate in the palisade, but it was clearly trapped and Pyrea warned us it was also ensorcelled.

Ceresie warped wood, opening a gap in the palisade, and one by one we crept in. Grel shouted at the tent, “Release our friend!” The door opened a crack and a spell flashed out to hold Fergus. Grel made an incredible shot with his bow, and the woman at the door shrieked and slammed shut the door. We heard the pig inside, running about, and the sorceress swore at it, then shouted to us “Leave me be or your friend will die in torment!” Grel yelled back, “In a pig’s eye!”, and we began hacking at the door and hides.

Inside the tent, we heard another spell cast, and the roar of a fire. As we crashed through the door and wall, we saw a great bonfire, and a dead pig. I grieved Belaldur, but rationalized that he would make wonderful eating. But enough time to think of that later – for now, we had to pull our own bacon out of the fire – the sorceress had set a trap of burning oil that killed Inya and sorely injured Grel, Josef, and me. The sorceress leapt at me through the flames, dagger extended. Angry as I was, I smashed her square with my cudgel, and killed her. And I took her weapon.

As we looked about her lair, Fergus stirred and the pig awakened – she only had cast sleep upon it. Pyrea claimed all the magical ingredients we turned up. I found a small box containing a tiger’s eye, a piece of polished onyx, a large pearl, and a large aquamarine. Grel tried to take the pearl, but I put all the gems away with the five we found on our last adventure.

I summoned the power to talk with the pig and confirmed it is Belaldur. “Well, that was one of my rasher decisions, “ he said. “I thank all of you – I had thought the only way I would ride the sea again was as a ration of salt pork.” He remembered little of the night when he was enchanted, and he wanted to wash the taste of her slop out of his mouth, so I let him guzzle down my hard cider. And so we had a tipsy pig to take through the snow.

We quickly made a travois from the remnants of the tent, and set him in the middle of it, with Inya’s body, piling up her fur cloak and his to keep him warm. Grel suggested going to Enonia to have Jorann remove the enchantment, but Fergus pointed out we’d have to go through Old Fawn on the way. Why not have Godfrey call on the Light to fix this?

There was a bit of excitement along the way – a wagon on its side with four people standing around it turned out to be a small group of the Damned, and we had a quick tussle before dispatching them all. Ceresei looked askance at me for chanting “Kill! Kill!” – but I do fear these unnatural creatures, more than I do the undead. Willie had been bitten but I found no disease in him. There was only a little coin upon the bodies, and the food in the cart had spoiled. We pushed on for 4 more days through the snowstorms to reach Old Fawn.

Grell, though very articulate, felt his service to an old god would prejudice the Temple of the Light against his request for services. Instead, Ceresei led the grunter to the Temple, where Godfrey had just finished leading worship. He was skeptical, but we offered to pay – so he sent an acolyte to see if this were, in fact, a magic pig. The acolyte was first astonished, then amazed to find we spoke the truth, and led us behind the kitchen. Belaldur was nervous – this was, after all, as much a slaughtering spot as a kitchen garden. But soon Godfrey came up to take our money and brought Beladur into the shed with him for the ritual.

It was not a perfect success. The body changed back, but the shock was too much for Belaldur. In recognition of our services ridding the Duchy of a magic-user, and the promise that we would perform him a service, Godfrey promised to raise our friend from the dead the next day.

And he was as good as his word. Beladur was weak but before being taken to his bed, he whispered his thanks – and to me, said sardonically, “Worst birthday ever! Oh, my loins – We did the piggly-wiggly, you know, but she never let me pork her!”

Soon we heard the choirs and bards singing of Godfrey’s glory. Belaldur thanked Godfrey but shook off his invitation to join in the worship of the Light. We resupplied, took some smoked hams with us for the relief of the poor in Yew, and rode back along the windswept road. We made good time until the snows again closed in, and Belaldur welcomed the extra day of imposed rest. I used the time to contemplate the universe and to prepare a lovely dinner of stirred eggs, some tubers Ceresei dug up, and the oddly named but delicious Canadian bacon.

Thus fortified, we continued on our way, meeting a company of mercenaries on patrol for the Duke and Marshal. Another blizzard stranded us for a day, and we were out of meat – save the hams sent for Yew’s poor. Belaldur did not take kindly to the jokes about how if we’d cured him, we’d have bacon by now.

The next day, though, was clear and bright, and we rode into Yew. Ynnivax had moved his offices to the guard tower, and we reported to him. He encouraged us to think on rescuing Anastasia – “If,” he archly says, "this fine elf is done pursuing porcine pleasures?” – and the other prisoners. Perhaps, too, we could eliminate the threat from Upland Keep, so forces won’t have to be diverted from the big push the Duke and Marshal Roehm are planning for the Spring.