By Brian Flood
Chapter 42 - Kerielle
Within the Hullack Forest
East of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late-Morning, 20th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Velgardrin sits at the eastern edge of the small circular clearing that formerly served as a campsite and is now a funeral ground. His axe is across his lap and he runs a whetstone expertly across its blade, honing it for use against the companions' enemies. Once he is finished, he intends to use his last healing prayer to assist the recovery of the two wounded adventurers left in his care.
To the dwarf's right, along the southwestern edge of the clearing, Malk sits on the ground with his head and back supported against a tree. Amiel rests in a similar position to Velgardrin's left, along the northwestern portion of the campsite.
The two pyres take up most of the center portion of the clearing. They are arranged north-south. Flames hungrily consume the northern pyre and the bodies of Salik and Tiron. The southern pyre is unlit, awaiting the addition of the corpses of those who murdered the two lost companions.
Velgardrin's head jerks up as a movement across the clearing catches his eye. A tall, lean figure steps from the trees bordering the southeastern edge of the campsite and into the small clearing. Clad in shades of green and brown, the intruder's long dark hair is tied back in a ponytail revealing tanned, angular features.
A face that is devoid of emotion looks down the shaft of an arrow that is pointed directly at the dwarf's face. The missile is nocked to the string of finely crafted -- and decidedly deadly -- long bow.
"Do not move," the newcomer announces in a feminine yet cold voice. "I have you in my sights. Do not doubt I can kill you before you can reach me -- or a weapon.
"I smell burning flesh," she continues. "Who burns, and why? Your doing?"
At the sound of the voice, Malk slowly opens his eyes just enough to see. He tries slowly and unobtrusively to reach to his belt for his sling and to locate by sight any nearby suitable stone missile.
Meanwhile, Velgardrin faces Kerielle and says, "In the name erv Him who I serve, the Father O' Battles, Clangeddin Silverbeard Hisself, hold your arrow. This indeed be our doern. We be savern our derd comrades from beirn more erv those livern dead or skeleterns that be by here. And we be tryern to end this evil that makes livern dead and seems ter be from the caves."
As she tries to decipher the dwarf's speech, Kerielle catches some movement out of the corner of her eye. Without taking her aim from the dwarf's bearded face, the archer detects the faint motions in the vicinity of Malk's lap.
Moving her aim to cover Malk, Kerielle commands, "Hold still, paleface. If this one speaks true, I have no quarrel with you. But reach for a weapon, and I swiftly shall!"
Then, she asks of Velgardrin, "Why is he so pale? I hear tales, say your 'livern dead' are pale..."
"Ther simple truth," responds Velgardrin, "be that I herv but one heal ter give ter two who need ert and dern't know yet which needs it most.
"She was stabbed by a vile skeletern and near died," he says in an explanatory tone with a nod to his left at Amiel -- whom Kerielle is unable to see from where she stands.
"An evil backstabbern, throat slashern wimmern and a fighter killed these on the pyre and near killed him," the dwarf continues, his head movement indicating the pale man sitting by the tree. "We be burnern their corpse too -- but without honor ter them."
Velgardrin pauses for a breath and then continues, "If yer dern't be mindern, I was sharpering me axe and would belt it ter make yer mind ert ease."
"Very well." Kerielle slowly releases some of the tension in her bowstring, and lowers her weapon slightly. She is still ready to defend herself if need arises, but is much less aggressive and threatening.
"I have no desire to interfere with honest folk," she tells Velgardrin. "Please see to your wounded."
Kerielle considers the likelihood that the two killed here are Sascia and Ohtar - the one she came to save. However, in her mind, these do not seem any more likely to be the brigands than Mendel's group. She is unsure of whom to trust, and continues to keep her eyes open until she learns more.
"Might I ask your names?" she asks. "I am Kerielle."
Velgardrin rises from his rock perch and gives a half-bow as he introduces himself. “My name be Velgardrin Silverforge. The injured be the bard Malk, and the fair Amiel.”
The dwarf’s brow furrows a bit and then he continues, “Mehaps yer would be wantern to sit a bit with us afore we be headern back ter the keep to recover?”
"You are from the keep?" Kerielle has had enough of verbal feints. Honesty has always been her way, and these strangers certainly do not seem to be acting like brigands.
"I must confess; when I met you, I suspected you of being involved with the brigands that all around these parts fear so much. I ran into a merchant and his guards back along the road to the southeast. He claimed he had been ambushed by brigands and that one of his company -a woman - was slain, while the man stayed fighting them off while he made good his escape. I would not leave a man to fight alone against many, so I came to rescue him.
"When I saw you, and you mentioned fighting a man and a woman, I thought I had found my brigands. But I must confess, now I am confused. You do not seem like evil folk. If the two dead humans are the same two dead humans, I think I must hear your side of the story."
Malk is the first to reply. “Well, my Lady Kerielle, if our story you wish to hear, then you had best sit by me,” the bard suggests in his very best charming manner. “Stories of the life and times of this company are my stock in trade. As you can see, I am in no position to harm you. Put up your bow for a while and come listen to the true tale of the Silver Claws -- a band of brothers and a sister sworn to aid Kendall Keep.”
Kerielle does indeed wish to hear this story. She lowers her bow and goes to sit near Malk -- though not so near that he could easily grab or attack her. She surreptitiously positions herself so as to be able to see the mysterious Amiel.
As she crosses the southern part of the clearing, the archer sees that the pyres blocked her view of a woman who sits against a tree to Velgardrin's left -- at the northwestern part of the clearing. The woman is dressed as a woodsman in scarred black leather armor and a dark green hooded cloak. Her beautiful face is very pale, and bloodstained bandages wrap tightly about her abdomen.
"Very well, bard," says the tall archer as she sits. At this distance, it is now clear she is of elven heritage. "Tell your tale, then. I am eager to hear more of the situation in these parts."
“As you wish, Lady," Malk replies. "Now, if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin my tale.
"My story shall be in three parts. The first shall be the coming together of the company. It is part of the ‘Lay of the Silver Claws’ -- a piece that shall become known throughout Faerun in time. The second part of my story shall concern the naming of the band. The third and last part shall be the story of here and now. With time, it may be the story of the meeting of the Silver Claws and the fair Lady Kerielle, - but I advance beyond my time. As all good stories do, this one starts at the beginning."
Clearing his throat, Malk picks out the meter of the poem and starts to recite in a melodic tone:
In need of friends was Kendall Keep,
Not for them the peace of old times.
Cruel brigands roamed the country,
Stopping trade and lawful travel.
To kill and steal was their game.
Out the word went for true heroes.
Eight the number to step forth.
Sternest Jadale took the oath words,
Charter given to our leader.
Amiel S’Leya is our captain
Beautiful and tall she leads us.
Ranger skilled in field and battle
On to honour she will lead us.
Our Lieutenant Alain Mornswirth,
Warrior skilled of honoured name.
Like a dancer moves he lightly;
Thrust and parry – lunge and strike.
Kendall Keep will be the safer
Whilst his blade works in its name.
Servant of the Lord Clangeddin
Silverforge this true priest is.
Velgardrin his friends do call him.
But only when he gives his leave.
Battle smart and battle skilled,
His red beard the fight oft leads.
Dwarven brother Baulin Redbeard
From his comrades will not part.
Orcs’ a plenty he’s for killing
Or brigands with an evil heart.
Next came Tirondalen - ranger,
Niraldien his elven name.
With the bow he guards the woodlands
Never will he act in shame.
A Mage stood with us,
Red his robes - the red of flame
Hard and feisty is his manner.
Hiding true heart in his frame.
Stealth skills came with wiry Salik
Full of fun yet hard as nails.
Green & black his chosen colours
From the southlands did he hail.
To complete this band of heroes
Needs a bard to tell the tale.
Up steps Malk both dark and handsome.
Keen to see the bandits fail.
Swears to tell of all the heroes
Forth we go in Kendall’s name.
"This is the beginning of the Ley of the Silver Claws, fair Lady," says Malk as he ends his recital. "This is the original band come together for Kendall Keep. Forth we went -- tracking the caravan routes and scouting the sites of vile ambush. Many a foe we faced – not only the living, but foul, fell creatures that should not be abroad on fair Faerun. Those tales are for another time and a more comfortable place.
"The first of our band to suffer a hero’s fate was brave Baulin Redbeard. It is through his deeds that we came to earn our name. This is the next part of my story.
"But my lady there is a price. I am weak and have difficulty standing. My lips are dry from the words you have bid me speak. Would you be so kind as to fetch a poor bard a drink of water? That is the full price I ask to continue with my tale. Surely that is not too much.”
With that, the bard closes his eyes and leans back. As soon as he does so, Velgardrin walks over to him, places a hand on him, mutters an incantation in dwarven as he asks for Clangeddin’s Silverbeard’s blessings.
A silver aura surrounds the bard as the spell takes effect and his wounds mend. Finished, Velgardrin bows slightly to both Malk and Kerielle and then returns to his rock to continue whetting his axe.
"You tell a fine story, bard," says Kerielle. "I think you have earned your price and more." So saying, the elf tosses him her waterskin.
"But please, continue, if you have the strength - I am eager to hear your tale. Indeed, if some amateur accompaniment would not offend a professional, I have some small skill with the flute?"
Kerielle pauses slightly and then says. "I meant perhaps in the future. I have not a flute with me."
Malk takes a long swig from the waterskin. “Thank you for your kindness and kind comments, Lady. Of course you shall here the next parts of the story.
"The next part is another section of the ‘Ley of the Silver Claws’. It concerns how our first hero met his doom and how we are named from the event. Truly, I should be honoured to have your tune intertwine my words. Please play your flute.
"The last part I shall tell as freeform story, and it will bring you to this tree.” And then the bard begins to recite again.
Month of Mirtul on the Eastway
Amiel, Salik, Alain guard,
At the campsite others sleeping.
Who can guess what walks abroad?
First to see the dreadful creature.
First to see the awful sight
Captain Amiel gives forth cry.
‘Rise up band and show a light.’
Alain; Baulin stand to fore
Axe and sword to either side
Our Captain’s voice controls positions
Tiron; Vel supporting flanks
Mage and bard are in reserve
Stealthy Salik moves around
In the shadows unobserved.
In the torchlight – from the shadows
Shuffles forth the hulking shape
Rends the night with awful screaming
Chills the blood of even heroes
Shows itself against the moon
Large and hairy, clawed and beaked.
On and on the creature comes
Screams from hell that split the night.
Axes; arrows; swords and spells.
All the band returns the fight.
Rears up the mighty owlbear
Looming tall o’er Alain's head
Up steps Baulin – swings his axe
First blood to the mighty dwarf.
Attacks go in from left and right
Alain’s blades and Salik's dagger
Slash and thrust and cut and strike.
In revenge the creature turns
Claws extended – dwarf before it
Slash to chest and slash to face
Baulin screams his lifeblood flowing
Like a doll he’s tossed and thrown
Anger fills his fellow heroes
‘Attack, attack’ the captain cries.
All attack to avenge Baulin
Elf and human, dwarf in tune
The final blow from fellow dwarf axe
Brings the owlbear too its doom.
"That is as much as I shall sing of this story," Malk announces. "I thank you for your accompaniment.
"Velgadrin here collected the claws that had so cruelly savaged Baulin. The following day, we were sat in the ‘One-Eyed Cat’ in Kendall Keep discussing names and how we could honour brave Baulin. Modesty forbids me saying who first mentioned the name ‘Claws’.
However, that was not good enough for our comrade. Velgadrin here – stout dwarf that he is -- gave us Silver Claws and that name was agreed upon by the whole company. In honour of Baulin, Alain has been crafting Silver Claws for us all to wear. This is mine.”
Matching his deeds to his words Malk slowly pulls out a necklace made from a single owlbear claw on a leather circlet from around his neck and shows it to Kerielle. After a few seconds, he replaces it carefully.
“Now to complete the tale. We were licking our wounds from another battle – this time with long dead bones. We had located a trail between their lair and the caravan route. We were watching the track as part of our plan to protect the caravan and identify the bandits. We know they have inside information.
"Lo and behold – along the trail comes our fat merchant friend with some very ugly company. You could say that there was a serious disagreement between us. We lost two good heroes -- Tiron and Salik. Our captain was wounded and seems to be drifting in and out of our company.
"Then the gods sent you to us. Maybe Milil sent you right to this tree.
"To our honour, we took some of them with those of us who died -- but not their leader. If you are as fair in spirit as your appear my Lady, we could sorely use some help if the rest of the company agree.” With that, Malk takes another long swig from the waterskin and hands it back.
Kerielle growls. "I like being played for a fool not at all. I think I have some unfinished business with this Mendel.
"Very well bard, if you will have me, I will run with you for a while. I have other vengeance to extract, mark you, a debt unpaid and an obligation which must be met. But for now, let our paths run together. I am Kerielle, daughter of Arathas."
<May the blessings of the Seldarine be upon you>, says the archer in her native tongue -- which none in the campsite can understand.
Velgardrin’s accent waxes gloriously as he responds to Kerielle. “We be waitern on the rest erv the Silver Claws who be bringern the two evil corpses," explains the dwarf. "Perhaps yer might be knowern who they were."
"Aye, dwarf," Kerielle replies, "I can at least give you the names this 'merchant' gave me.
"Ohtar was the man and Sascia the woman - so the one calling himself Devdas called them. Devdas is a sellsword, working for this Mendel - these other two likewise, I think. There was also a woman, Chantel - she looked as if she sold other than her sword to Mendel, if you understand me - but who knows?
"His lackeys claimed Mendel to be a Sembian Master Trader, and I met a dwarf back with a caravan back along the East Way whose tale fits with that. That is all I know."
A dark cloud of a scowl crosses Velgardrin’s face as he responds. “Yers, Mendel is a name I heard as if he be leadern. And ther name Sascia be belongern to the evil, throat-slashern, wimmern that killed these two,” he says with a wave of his hand at the burning pyre.
“We heard the other told to wait fer her and then that one came. I thank the father O’ Battles, Clangeddin Silverbeard Hisself that she be slain. And we be plannern ter burn her on the other pyre lest she be back as a livern dead. I be hatern therm dead that don’t be dead. It dern’t be natural."
Almost without realizing it Velgardrin grasps his holy symbol with his left hand as his right hand caresses his axe.
It is then that Kerielle's elven hearing detects the faint sounds of movement in the forest to the west or northwest, behind Velgardrin. As best the archer can tell, at least two creatures or persons are approaching the campsite from that direction.
Kerielle comes swiftly to her feet, her hands moving in practiced blur of motion as she nocks an arrow and draws back on her bow.
"Ssshhh," the elf commands softly but firmly. "Someone comes. Two or more." She nods in the direction of the woods behind Velgardrin.
The dwarf turns to face where Kerielle pointed, his axe rising to a ready position almost automatically. He grabs his new shield and points at the unlighted pyre with his axe.
"Malk, behind that!" he whispers.
The bard stands and moves to put the unlit pyre between himself and Velgardin. As he does so, he takes his sling from his belt and puts a hand into a belt pouch, reaching for a missile. He readies his weapon just as the remaining members of the Silver Claws step into the small clearing, weary and burdened. Alain carries the unmoving body of a man in clad in chain mail armor. The two young mages, Declan and Nathan, share the burden of the leather-clad woman.
The air in the campsite seems tense. Velgardrin is on his feet. The burning pyre provides a fierce backdrop to the dwarf as he meets the adventurers' return with his feet firmly planted shoulder width apart and his axe and shield in his hands. Malk is crouched behind the unlit pyre and peers over it at his rejoining companions.
All of the arrivals are surprised to see the newcomer in the campsite. It is clear to them that the elf maiden clad in hunter's clothes is a skilled archer -- the arrow notched to the string of her finely crafted and drawn bow is aimed unwaveringly at Alain's face.
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