Tooth and Nail - Part Two
In the morning, the group hunted for fresh meat to supplement their trail rations, before mounting up and heading back onto the trail. The temperature dropped, and it soon began to snow. The companions were afraid that they might lose the trail, and pushed their horses on as quickly as they could. After an hour of hard riding, Riccal Bridge came into view.
As they approached, a huge creature lumbered into view, blocking the road across the bridge. Standing more than ten feet tall, dressed in furs and wielding a massive stone club, the companions realised with shock that they were facing a snow troll.
Overcoming their surprise at seeing such a creature so far south, they dismounted and moved forward cautiously. The troll hefted its club and bellowed, “OOOS THE VERMIN WOT WANTS TA CROSS MY BRIDGE?!”
Uther stepped forward. “We are seeking outlaws who came this way a few hours ago, and need to cross the bridge,” he said.
“WELL YOU ‘AS TO PAY THE TOLL, DOESN’T YA!” roared the troll.
“How much?” asked the Templar.
“A shiny silver penny fer each o’ yer,” answered the monster.
The companions conferred. “We don’t have that much silver,” said Uther.
“Well then, I’ll ‘ave one o’ yer ‘orses fer me pot!” answered the troll, licking his lips.
The group did not like the sound of that, so Uther confronted the monster. “We seek outlaws, on the authority of the Archbishop of York, and command that you step aside!” demanded the Templar.
The troll hefted his club. “NO! ‘OWS THAT FER AN ANSWER, EH?!” he shouted. In response, the group drew their weapons and fanned out for the inevitable fight.
“I’LL ‘AVE YER GUTS FER GARTERS THEN!” yelled the troll, swinging his club.
The snow troll was strong but slow, and the group quickly surrounded the huge creature, dodging the swings of its club. Uther and Tector engaged it head-on, while Manzio circled behind it and Storm and Sophia stayed back, using their magic.
The warriors hacked and slashed at the monster, inflicting several wounds. They were hit twice by the huge club, which knocked the breath out of them, but managed to dodge or duck under it more often than not. Storm hurled lightning orbs, which struck home, while Sophia tried without success to cause the huge creature to fall asleep. Tector dealt a massive blow with his greataxe, almost severing the beast’s foot, while Manzio easily dodged its club.
Storm launched a lighting orb that slammed into the troll’s face, causing its entire head to crackle with electricity. Manzio then used his hook blade to climb up the side of the monster, bringing its neck within reach. Stabbing a gaping wound in its neck with his dagger, Manzio leaped to the ground and tumbled away as the huge troll stumbled, blood gushing from its neck, and toppled to the snowy ground with an earth-shaking thud.
Recovering their horses, which had wandered away from the battle, the group continued along the road. After a while the tracks of the horsemen turned off the trail and into the woods. The companions followed, but with the fresh snow the trail became increasingly difficult to follow. After a couple of hours they could no longer make out the tracks.
Casting about in the deep woods, the companions tried to find the trail again. Their task was made difficult by the thick undergrowth, which also hid a trap! Without warning, a net on the forest floor suddenly sprang upward, enveloping several of the group and lifting them into the air. As the rest of the group looked for a way to free their companions, they heard a lyrical voice call from the wood. “Lay down your arms, trespassers.” Looking around, they saw a slender, fair-haired elf in the trees, aiming an arrow right at them.
“You have been warned,” the archer called, as other elves emerged from the woods, also carrying bows. “Surrender or die.”
Seeing that the odds were overwhelming, and feeling that they had no quarrel with these elves, the group laid down their arms. The elves deftly lowered the net trap to the ground, and the companions were blindfolded at sword- and arrow-point. Roped together with slender twine, they were led through the snowy forest for a long time, stumbling over roots and bumping into branches as they went.
After what seemed an age, they finally came to a stop, and their blindfolds were removed. Dazzled by the brilliance of the winter sun on the snow, they squinted at their surroundings. They found themselves in a large clearing, ringed with great oak trees. And they were surrounded by elves, glad in forest green, with arrows nocked and aimed in their direction.
After a few moments, an elf moved gracefully forward across the snow, barely leaving a trace, and lowered the cowl of her grey cloak.
Gazing at each member of the group in turn, the elven lady addressed them in a low, lyrical voice. “Trespassers. Why have you come here?”
The group explained that they were on the trail of outlaws who had killed a man and stolen something of great value. The elven lady questioned them further, taking great interest in both Storm and Sophia. She asked Storm about his origins, and remarked that it was rare to come across a dragonborn in these diminished days. She seemed to sense something special in Lady Sophia, and spoke with her at length, determining that she was the daughter of Baron Henry de Percy.
As their conversation continued, the lady introduced herself as Dienwe, queen of the elves of Northumbria. She explained that the outlaws had passed through the elven woods, and when confronted they had fled to a haunted ruin beyond the forest which the elves do not approach.
Fixing each of them with an imperious gaze, the queen made them an offer. “My people will aid you, in return for two solemn oaths. First, that you will never return to our forest, unless we bid you here. Second, that when we call, you will aid us in our hour of need.”
The companions conferred briefly, and then each of them in turn swore the oaths. Queen Dienwe gazed thoughtfully at Sophia for a few moments, before speaking in a low voice with one of the nearby elves. After a short while, he brought forth a splendid elven bow, which the queen presented to Sophia. “This is a fine bow, crafted by my cousin and imbued with the enchantments of my people,” the queen told Sophia. “Let this gift seal the friendship between us. May it serve you well, and remind you of us in our time of need.” Sophia thanked the queen and stared in wonder at the fine yew bow.
“My people will lead you to the men you seek,” said the queen. Fare well, until our paths cross once more.”
With that, a small group of elves led the companions out of the clearing and through the woods. They led their horses through deep forest, and after some time arrived at the edge of the treeline.
One of their guides addressed them. “In the next valley lies a ruined stronghold. Your outlaws fled there. Beware – it is haunted by a vengeful spirit!” With that, the elves melted back into the woods.
The companions mounted their horses and rode over the bare hilltop, looking down into the valley below. Half way down its slope, they saw the ruined stronghold the elves had spoken of. Tethering their horses by some trees near the top of the slope, the group descended the slope cautiously on foot.
As the group drew closer to the ruins, hoping to sneak in undetected, five silent figures lurched out of the building. White skinned, frozen, and with bright blue eyes, Uther recognised them as undead wights.
Some of the group tried to hide behind the isolated trees standing on the side of the valley, but it was no use – the wights had already spotted them. At first the companions hung back, firing crossbow bolts, arrows and lightning orbs at the undead. As they closed the distance, Manzio, Uther and Tector drew their melee weapons and charged forward to meet their foes.
The unnaturally intense cold emanating from the wights froze the skin of the companions as they hacked and slashed at the undead. Their blows struck home more often than not, as the wights were slow to dodge and had no weapons with which to parry. But the implacable undead continued to attack, pummelling the companions with fists frozen hard as stone, as slashes that would kill a man had much less effect on their ice-bound skin and organs.
From the rear, Storm hurled lightning orbs while Sophia skewered several wights with arrows from her new elven bow, immediately feeling the benefits of its accuracy and power. Slowly but surely, the companions began to win the battle of attrition, landing more blows on the wights than they suffered in return. It was a long, hard fight that left the warriors of the group battered and bruised, but they eventually prevailed, cutting down the last remaining wight with a combination of axe, arrow, sword, dagger, and lightning.
As they did so, a robed figure ran, screaming, from the ruins. “The Devil himself is upon us!” he cried, sprinting toward the group.
The companions grabbed the man, telling him to calm down while keeping a watchful eye on the ruins. In a thick French accent tinged with desperation, he begged for mercy and protection. Storm asked if he was one of the outlaws who had stolen Becket’s tooth, and he nodded his head in confirmation. “My men were killed by a terrible evil that dwells in these ruins. You have just destroyed them,” he said, gesturing to the corpses of the wights lying in the snow. “I survived only by shutting myself in the ruined tower.”
“I beg you to accept my surrender,” he went on. “My name is Damien of Orleans and I serve King Philip of France.” Quickly searching him, the group decided he was telling the truth when they found a signet ring bearing a coat of arms which they recognised as that of the King of France.
The companions were about to tie up the French sorcerer when a bone-chilling screech split the air. A terrible figure of darkness and shadow swept from the ruins, eyes and mouth glowing red. It rose into the air at speed before swooping down upon the group, emitting another ear-splitting shriek.
Almost all the companions were stunned by the unearthly noise, only Storm managing to resist its supernatural effects. He reacted quickly, realising that he faced a wraith, a powerful undead spirit. Hitting it with a lightning orb, he was pleased to see electricity crackle through its shadowy form, but it swept down on the group, lashing out with black talons of pure darkness.
Manzio, Tector and Uther quickly surrounded it, but even as they rained blows upon it with dagger, sword and greataxe, they were affected by its shadowy aura. The antithesis of the living, the wraith caused life itself to leech out of those who came too close, which included those engaging it in combat.
Sorely pressed, their energy rapidly sapped by the aura of the wraith and the deadly attacks of its claws, the companions battled ferociously. Storm and Sophia, hanging back, struck it with arrows and lightning orbs, and its shadowy form diminished under the onslaught before bursting apart in an explosion of shadowy fragments.
Elated at their victory, the companions ignored their injuries and began to explore the ruins. Damien of Orleans, thankful for his life, led them up a spiral staircase to the tower room where he had taken refuge from the wraith. On the floor were the remains of a small fire and, next to it, a small oak and silver casket. Storm reached down and opened the it, seeing a yellowed human incisor resting on purple velvet. The dragonborn picked up the casket, satisfied that he had what he came for.
The group questioned the Frenchman about the equipment of Brother Richard. He explained that his men had gone down to the cellar, where they had been slain by the wraith, only to return as wights hours later.
Cautiously, the companions descended the stone steps into the cellar, Storm conjuring a flickering orb of lightning to illuminate their passage. The large, filthy chamber was dark, full of ancient cobwebs, and stank of death. Quickly looking around, they found Brother Richard’s well-maintained suit of armour, fine sword, and shield bearing the red cross of the Templar order. They also noticed a heavy oak chest in one corner, with a skeletal corpse slumped over it.
Readying their weapons in case the skeleton proved to be less dead that it appeared, the group moved over to the chest. The corpse was truly deceased however, and they had no problem moving it aside. The chest was locked, and resisted their attempts to open it.
The group eventually decided to force it open. As they did so, a huge fireball erupted from the lock, engulfing them all in flame. Some managed to throw themselves aside and avoid the worst of the blast, but others were badly burned.
After tending to their wounds, the companions looked inside the chest. Inside they saw a scattering of Roman coins, mostly silver but some gold, which were clearly valuable. They also found a large, finely wrought golden goblet, a wand crafted of maple wood and ruby, a golden brooch in the shape of a bull, with ruby eyes, and an incredibly reflective ring of plain white gold.
Carefully removing these valuable items from the chest, the group returned to the surface. Mounting their horses, they began the two-day journey back to York with Damien of Orleans as their prisoner, taking care to skirt the edges of the elven forests, honouring their promise to Queen Dienwe.
The story continues in Parting of the Ways