Chapter #627

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Rillen          18th level human monk                                 +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
+   Date:           1/25/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           afternoon                                             +
+   Place:          Djekul, capital of the Fruztii region                 +
+   Climate:        freezing                                              +
+   "I wish there was some other way."                                    +
+   "There never is."                                                     +
+                                       - from _Highlander, the Series_   +

                      DCXXVII.  The King's Ear

  A week ago, Rillen and Songa left their home of several years after
repelling the advance scout of a large force of bugbears.  Riding down
into the plains of Fruztii, they have warned several villages of the
potential danger.  Now, their mission has carried them to a much higher
court:  the huge wooden feasting-hall of Ralff II, King of the Frost

guard #1:  Wait here.  (he walks away)
Songa:  (nods)

  Like almost every adult in this region, the guard stood well over six
feet tall and was powerfully-built.  If Rillen's skin hadn't been dark,
he would have fit in perfectly among these people.  As it was, he didn't
have to look up to most of them, which made him an odd outlander.  As for
Songa, she was more comfortable here, chatting with people about local

Songa:  (to Rillen)  It seems that there have been some problems lately.
Rillen:  What kind of problems?
Songa:  Attacks from the Fists.
Rillen:  Fists?
Songa:  The Stonefists.  They're a warlike people to the west, across the
  mountains.  This has been going on for hundreds of winters.
Rillen:  Like the in-fighting between the barbarian peoples?
Songa:  (shakes her head)  Stonefist has never been an ally.  But what can
  you expect from a land where the rulers are decided by yearly mass fights
  to the death?
Rillen:  Sounds unpleasant.
Songa:  It's a land of madmen, ruled by a madman...Sevvord Redbeard, last
  I heard anyway.  He's been the winner for many years now, a warlike and
  vile tyrant.
Rillen:  Why do they put up with him?
Songa:  They have to obey...or get their heads kicked in.  They have no
Rillen:  The strong and the weak...same old story...
Songa:  Could be.  Anyway, the Fists haven't pulled any major assaults in
  a long time...but that may have changed.
Rillen:  Perhaps the king will tell us.  (he nods at two guards who are
  coming their way)
Songa:  We'll see.
guard #1:  (returns)  The king will grant your audience now.
guard #2:  (gestures)  Follow us.

  The steading of the king was a huge wooden building, with the main
feasting- and meeting-hall at its center and smaller halls built around
it.  The logs that had been used to construct this massive place were
huge, close to two feet in thickness.  The steading itself was situated in
the center of the city of Djekul, capital of Fruztii.  In some ways a
crude and uncivilized place, the city nonetheless had a certain structure
and efficiency which couldn't be disputed.  Rillen might have liked to
live there if he didn't desire total solitude for himself and Songa.
  They were led through a series of halls, the walk culminating at one
end of the King's vast hall.  This chamber was fully two hundred feet
wide, and even more in length; its hundred-foot ceiling was supported by
a number of thick wooden beams.  Unlike many rulers, the king's throne
was mounted upon a dais in the center of the hall.  The huge figure who
occupied that chair watched them as they approached, stroking his beard
  Standing to either side of the throne were various advisors, chiefs,
emissaries, and such - those whose role it was to aid the king in his
decision-making.  Of course, with the barbarians, such aid wasn't always
asked for or heeded.

King Ralff:  (nods to them)  You are Songa, of the village of...of...(he
  whispers something to an advisor)  ...Songa, roaming huntress.
Songa:  (somewhat awed, as she has never actually seen the king of her
  land before)  Yes...

  Some might have expected a fat, old king who lived out his elder years
in his throne.  This wasn't the case with Ralff, who was still, by and
large, a warrior king.  A bit taller than Rillen, he had maintained his
massive figure throughout his middle years, thanks to daily sparring and
occasional combat.  When it came to kings and their roles, the barbarian
tribes took a somewhat different view than most people in the world.

King Ralff:  And this is your husband?
Songa:  (nods)  Rillen.
Rillen:  (trying to look ordinary, as he has no wish to talk to a king,
  much less someone else's king)
King Ralff:  Very well.  I am told that you know something of an invasion?
Songa:  Yes...well, not an invasion as much as a raiding the
  very least.

  She proceeded to tell the king the entire story, from the first sighting
of the bugbear scouts to the discovery of the larger horde.

Songa:  -and so we think that they may be preparing to venture into the
  plains to the west of our lands.
King Ralff:  You think mention scouts, and a few hundred more
  bugbears, but we have seen none of this.
Songa:  We have.  You don't believe us?
King Ralff:  (sighs)  I believe you, yes.  It's simply that a few hundred
  bugbears who _might_ be stalking the fringes of our lands...doesn't
  compare with the hundreds of Stonefist's troops who _are_ raiding us
  from the northeast.
Songa:  (whispers to Rillen)  I knew it.
King Ralff:  The matter may be of importance, but right now, it isn't of
  the _most_ importance.
Songa:  (not too happy about this)
King Ralff:  I do appreciate your bringing it to my attention, though.  It
  must be looked into...and I'll need someone to do the looking.
Songa:  (glancing around)
Rillen:  (gets the gist of this, and sighs to himself)
King Ralff:  (to Songa)  I am told that you are the equal of any man, with
  spear or sword or fists.
Songa:  (holds her head up with pride)  That is true.
King Ralff:  Thus it makes good sense that you should lead the expedition
  to look into this matter.
Songa:  What expedition?
King Ralff:  That's up to you.  Will you accept a commission from your
  king, to go and track these bugbears to their roots...learn what you
  can, then return and advise us?
Songa:  Err...(she glances at Rillen)
Rillen:  (gives her a "why not?" look)
Songa:  I- we will.
King Ralff:  Very good.  You may rest here for as long as you wish.  When
  you are ready to depart, you shall have whatever men and supplies you
Songa:  (nods)  My thanks.

  As she and Rillen left the great hall, Songa had more questions than
anything else...

Songa:  I can't believe he did that!
Rillen:  (shrugs)  It's typical.  No time to deal with something himself,
  so he delegates and leaves the work and planning to someone else.  Smart
  move, really.
Songa:  Why me?  Why us?
voice:  I might have had something to do with it.
Rillen:  I know that voice...

  They turned back toward the king's hall, spotting the huge man who was
walking toward them.

Tarl:  Well met, my friends!  (he clasps hands with both of them)
Rillen:  Tarl!  Fancy meeting you here...
Tarl:  Actually, my king sent me here to advise and assist - that's been
  my role for years now, an emissary to the other barbarian peoples.  I'd
  just about gotten bored with this courtly life, when the word came that
  there were bugbears about.
Songa:  It's true.
Tarl:  (nods)  It seemed like a good chance to get out and do something
  useful, so I volunteered to help.
Rillen:  Did you also volunteer us to help?
Tarl:  Not exactly, but I did make the idea known to Ralff.  He's a good
  king, really, but just a bit busy at the moment.
Songa:  You believe these bugbears to be a serious threat?
Tarl:  I believe they could be.  We won't know for sure until we figure
  out where they came from, and why.
Rillen:  It will be dangerous.
Tarl:  Never stopped me before.
Songa:  Do you still have those dogs?
Tarl:  All nine of them.
Songa:  Good.  That will make tracking the bugbears a lot easier.
Rillen:  How many warriors do you want to take with us for this?
Songa:  Actually, I was thinking...none.
Rillen:  None?
Tarl:  How's that?
Songa:  If we're just scouting, we won't need a lot of fighting power
  anyway...just a simple, speedy group.  The three of us, and the dogs,
  should be enough.
Rillen:  Hmm.
Tarl:  This makes sense...though we may be in trouble if we get caught
  spying on the bugbears.
Songa:  (smirks)  We won't get caught.
Rillen:  When do you want to leave?
Songa:  A day or two, no real hurry.  We warned the outlying villages,
  so that's taken care of.  All we have to do is find the bugbears'
  path and follow them.
Tarl:  It sounds simple enough.

next:      an astounding revelation
released:  4/3/00
notes:     Unlike the first 25 new stories, these won't skip all around.
  Now that I've established what most everyone is up to, I'm going to try
  to stick to self-contained story arcs.

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