Chapter #340

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                                  +
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                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic II      +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

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+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1995 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons     +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them...         +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  THE PARTY:                                                       +
+                                                                   +
+  Rillen       17th level human monk                          (N)  +
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+  Date:        7/4/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        late afternoon                                      +
+  Place:       the far reaches of the Frost Barbarian icelands     +
+  Climate:     cold and clear                                      +
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+  "The only thing mightier than the sword is the soul of the       +
+   warrior who wields it..."                                       +
+                                                        - Iroshi   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++






                     CCCXL.  Turning Point





  After a lengthy and somewhat hazardous journey, Rillen has arrived
at the home village of Arnold, Thurnock, and other Frost Barbarians -
including Songa, his true reason for coming here.

Thurnock:  (leads the small hunting party, and Rillen, into his
  village)

  The village was much the same as Rillen remembered it:  a series
of wooden huts and cabins, most of them small but a few of larger
size.  These would be the homes of high-ranking elders and village
leaders.  These buildings were sturdy and well-insulated, the seams
in their construction filled with shaped animal fats and hides, for
even in summer, the typical temperature in these northern lands was
below freezing.  Amidst the village's structures moved farm animals,
or at least the few that the villagers kept.  Most of their food
came from game that they hunted and killed; these hunts often ranged
far to the south and took more than a week to complete.  The villagers
supplemented their diet with fruits and vegetables, either bartered
from passing traders (usually the case) or grown within the walls of
the village.  There were a few types of edible plants that could
survive in the cold ground of the northern lands; chief among these
was a hard, orange, potato-like vegetable called "grunk" by the
people of the north.  Though bitter in taste, this vegetable was
quite nourishing, and could be made more palatable by adding salts
and spices.

  The warrior's thoughts were interrupted by the greetings of the
villagers.  They clapped Thurnock and the others on the back, and
eyed Rillen, marvelling at his black skin while wondering who he was
and why he was here.  Those who had been present last time Rillen
had passed through explained his deeds to the others, causing them
to smile and nod at the warrior.  This was not uncalled for, since
Rillen, Mongo, Arnold, Belphanior, and some of the barbarians had
tracked, fought, and slain a monstrous tiger-like beast several
years ago.  This great hunt, which had been carried out using only
normal spears and shields - no magical items or weapons - had rid
the village of a dangerous predator and gained its people a large
supply of meat, fat, hide, and other natural raw materials.
  As he rode through the village, Rillen sometimes spotted people
who he recognized, and spoke words of greeting, clasping hands with
these barbarians.  There was, however, one villager whom he did not
see, and he began to worry.

Rillen:  (to Thurnock)  I must see Songa.  One way or the other, I
  must see her.
Thurnock:  Of course.  I suppose it's only natural.
Rillen:  (grabs the barbarian by the arm)  Enough of these word-
  games!
Thurnock:  (glances down at the hand that clasps his bicep in a
  powerful grip)
Rillen:  I must know what has happened to her.  (he lowers his voice
  to little more than a whisper)  Please!
Thurnock:  (claps the warrior on the shoulder)  Worry not, friend.
  Nothing has "happened" to Songa.
Rillen:  (looks confused)  She is alive?
Thurnock:  Why wouldn't she be?
Rillen:  (a look of sullen finality settles on his face)  I see,
  then.  She has taken some local tribesman as a mate.
Thurnock:  That's what you think?
Rillen:  That's what happened, hasn't it?  I was gone for too long.
  (he looks distraught)  I _knew_ I should have stayed, last time!
Thurnock:  (he grabs Rillen and shakes him)  What are you babbling
  about, man?  Songa is alive, well, and has no mate!
Rillen:  She is?  She doesn't?
Thurnock:  Hells, no!
Rillen:  Oh.  (he looks around)  Uh...why, then, were Dolf and Rolf
  hinting at such things?
Thurnock:  Rillen...you were right.  You should not have left
  before.  Do you know why?
Rillen:  I have my ideas.
Thurnock:  Songa was smitten with you.
Rillen:  And I with her.  What of it?
Thurnock:  When you left, she was very upset.  After a few days, she
  went out, in hopes of tracking you.
Rillen:  (vaguely remembering the adventures he was having at that
  time, he grimaces)  We were long gone...beyond the ability of any
  normal hunter to track.  Or even an exceptional hunter...
Thurnock:  So she said.  And for almost two years, she has tried to
  forget you.
Rillen:  (sullenly)  Aaa.
Thurnock:  To forget you because she could not have you!  And now
  you've returned.  How do you think she'll react?
Rillen:  There is truly no telling.
Thurnock:  Indeed.  Rillen, Songa is a strong woman and a proud,
  fierce warrior.  Admitting emotions, much less surrendering to
  them, is very, very difficult for one such as she.
Rillen:  And yet she did...
Thurnock:  Yes.  And _that_ is why we didn't speculate about her
  reaction to your return.  It isn't our place, or our business.
  Further, we didn't want to give you hope, when there might not
  be any.
Rillen:  I understand...and I thank you.
Thurnock:  You are welcome.  I suppose you'll be wanting to know
  where Songa's cabin is?
Rillen:  If it's the same cabin as two years ago, I already know
  where it is.
Thurnock:  Err...right.
Rillen:  (clasps hands with the big barbarian)  Again, your help
  and advice was muchly appreciated, Thurnock - whatever happens.
Thurnock:  Good luck, my friend.
Rillen:  (wanders away into the village, toward Songa's cabin)

  As he walked, Rillen marveled at the wisdom and maturity of the
barbarian.  It was no wonder that Thurnock was a village sub-chief,
for at less than forty winters, he was already a great leader and
advisor of men, not to mention a formidable warrior.  There was no
doubt in Rillen's mind that someday, Thurnock would be the village's
chief.
  There was, however, a great deal of doubt in Rillen's mind as to
whether or not Songa would even care to see him.  As he approached
her cabin, the warrior reflected that not all great battles were
fought on battlefields, with weapons.  Mustering more courage than
it had taken him to defeat any dozen foes, Rillen strode up to the
thick door, poised his hand, fidgeted, looked around, and finally
knocked, rapping his knuckles hard on the wooden door.

Songa:  (opens the door)  Yes-

  The huntress fell back, clearly startled.  She was the same as
Rillen remembered her:  tall (about 6'4") and muscular, toned in
a way that no civilized person can ever hope to be.  Her light
brown hair was somewhat longer than before, falling just past her
shoulders, and it framed her rugged, fiercely beautiful face just
perfectly, as far as Rillen was concerned.

Songa:  You...!
Rillen:  (looking vaguely embarassed)  If you wish, I'll leave - I
  didn't come here to upset you.
Songa:  Do you think that's what I want?
Rillen:  (spreads his hands)  I honestly don't know.  I don't know
  what to think at the moment.
Songa:  (puts her hands on her hips)  You'd leave...right now?
Rillen:  If my presence here upsets you, and you wish it, I shall
  leave and never look back.
Songa:  (looks confused)
Rillen:  But that's not what I want.
Songa:  (looks away, to keep Rillen from seeing the look of relief
  on her face)
Rillen:  (looks at the clear blue sky overhead)  So...are you going
  to invite me in or not?
Songa:  Er...yes, come in.

  Rillen stepped into the cabin, and Songa closed the door behind
him.  From a nearby street, Thurnock smiled from his hiding-place
behind a stack of firewood, clearly pleased at this turn of events.

  Within the cabin, Rillen looked around, comparing the place with
his memory of it.  He had certainly had a lot of time to become
familiar with the cabin, since he had lain here for many days while
recovering from nearly being eviscerated by the great beast.  This
tribulation had been a direct result of Rillen interposing himself
between the savage monster and a defenseless Songa.  In fact, he
still bore a trophy of that battle, an eight-inch long tooth on a
thong.  Songa had fashioned this necklace for him while he lay in
bed, recovering, and he had worn the thing ever since.
  The cabin's walls were lined with hides and furs, testament to
Songa's skill as a huntress.  Rather than couches and chairs, as a
civilized dwelling would have had, Songa's cabin simply had piles
of thick furs.  Instead of a table, she used a flat-topped cylinder
of heavy stone.  As far as Rillen was concerned, these furnishings
were at least the equal of any others he had seen.  The cabin, and
indeed, the barbarian lifestyle, was a highly functional one, one
that didn't rely on appearances and pretenses.

Songa:  -parts?
Rillen:  Eh?
Songa:  I said, what brings you to these parts?  What happened to
  your companions?
Rillen:  My companions are back in Greyhawk, where they shall, as
  far as I know, remain.  I'm not here as part of some quest with
  them.
Songa:  Hmm.
Rillen:  (takes her hands in his)  Songa, you haven't found a mate
  here, in the village?
Songa:  No.  None could best me in physical combat.
Rillen:  (does an unintentional double-take)
Songa:  Actually, that was a joke, though perhaps a poor one.  To
  tell the truth, I haven't been inclined to search for a mate in
  the past two years.
Rillen:  Oh.
Songa:  When you left...I wasn't...(she grimaces, clearly searching
  for the words)
Rillen:  Shh.  (he embraces her, a motion initiated by both of them)
  You don't have to say anything.
Songa:  (unseen by Rillen as they hug, she holds back tears)  Why
  are you here?  Why now?
Rillen:  For you.
Songa:  (pulls back from the embrace, and looks Rillen squarely in
  the eyes)  What?
Rillen:  For you, Songa.  I have come here for you, and for no other
  reason.  I have come here prepared to forsake all others, and to
  stay with you, as a companion...as a mate.
Songa:  (gazing at Rillen sternly, with a fierce, proud gaze)  You
  are serious...
Rillen:  (shrugs)  Indeed I am.  (he grips the huntress by her broad
  shoulders)  Songa, I...have grown weary of the constant battles,
  the endless foes, and the wandering.  I cannot deny it any longer:
  I want to stop roaming the world, and instead settle down.  With
  you.
Songa:  You are sure of this?
Rillen:  Never so sure.
Songa:  (thoughtfully)  Well...there is only one problem.
Rillen:  What's that?
Songa:  (playfully)  You must best me in weaponless combat, and no
  man has ever come close.
Rillen:  Oh.  Well, if that's all...

  They embraced, a tighter, more honestly emotional embrace this
time...and this time, tears did fall from Songa's eyes, though they
were tears of joy.





next:   back to Helgate, where more bandits challenge Belphanior's
        authority, the black-tressed she-wolf is named, and Otto
        finally returns
ftp:    ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
www:    http://www.gatech.edu/oit/staff/ns/thomas.miller/adv.html
mail:   tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu  (preferred)
        thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu    (emergency)
notes:  You might be interested to know that I wrote 338, 339, and
  340 (this one) in one sitting.  I seldom do this (write a self-
  contained, multi-episode story arc all at one time) but given
  the jumping-around of characters that I've been doing lately,
  I figured I owed the readers at least one complete tale that
  had a totally resolved, happy ending.
    To be honest, writing this trio of stories, complete with the
  angst that Rillen felt, was easy - I just recalled the couple of
  times in my life when I _didn't_ go for some girl or woman when
  I should have.  You'll never know if you don't try, and sometimes,
  by the time you get around to trying, it's too late.  However, as
  the author of these stories, it was in my power to make it _not_
  be too late, thus the happy outcome.
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