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.