Liz had gotten nearly two hours of sleep by the time Kithri had shown up. I had not gotten any sleep since just after midnight of the previous day. We were exhausted, but the energy that flowed through us bolstered our strength. I could tell after the dawn broke across the swamp to our right, that we would pay for this transgression.
We made it to the gates of the Hallowed Fortress soon after and sought shelter within. The frogs that manned the gate were startled to see us, and even more flabbergasted when we demanded they close the gate behind us and prepare to be attacked.
Alfred and Just Jacob came out to greet us before too long and we told of the ambush and the pursuit of the gnolls. They readied the defenses and bade us enter the hall to rest and seek healing. I declined, not wanting all of a sudden, to take Kithri within those walls. It felt horribly wrong to me, as if the very stones watched us, judged her for abandoning the other priests and acolytes seventy thousand years prior.
Instead we camped in the courtyard as the Broken Finger Legion had done a few days prior. Alfred sat with us, promising to watch over my unconscious friend who neither Liz nor I named. He saw something was amiss, but being a true friend accepted the situation without question. Just Jacob also asked no questions of us, but arranged for hot food and clean bandages to be sent out. Then he went to rouse the rest of the armed defenders to prepare for the gnoll attack.
I warned he and Alfred that the gnolls had somehow materialized near out camp, without any clue to how. Alfred said he would help defend us if they showed up, and Just Jacob sent the two remaining brigands out to watch over us along with a handful of large, armed frogs. Their shift in allegiance seemed to be holding just fine. Alfred mentioned to me that basically they went with the most powerful leader that didn’t try to eat them, and kept them fed and sheltered.
Just Jacob arranged for a tent to be erected for us, and we squared Kithri away. Then Liz and I slept for a few hours. As the sun reached its zenith Alfred woke me with apologies. Nebuchadnezzar, the frog cleric had heard of our unexpected arrival and had come out to see to us. He offered some healing when he saw that we were still bearing wounds from our battle and long flight through the night. He did not question the fact I hadn’t healed us, but did look surprised when I refused to let him examine Kithri. I was astoundingly protective of her; to the point of paranoia.
Twice gnolls attacked the fortress, attempting to gain entrance, but they were rebuffed. Each time they left behind dozens of dead. After each battle, Just Jacob sent a group of frogs out to insure that the gnolls were dead and set a huge bonfire to burn their bodies.
On the side he regretted losing that carrion eater that had lived near his old camp, the one who lived in an acid pond. I recalled how we’d dissolved one of the dead ice giants there but did not describe that to Alfred. Who knows which of his kin had been so poorly treated.
The second attack was over so quickly I didn’t even know it happened until I had woken again and Alfred told me of it. We had been sorely pushed by the magic and our bodies had not recovered yet. Both Liz and I ate several huge meals, immediately falling asleep after each. The horse, bless her, ate nearly her weight in grain before falling down to sleep so soundly, she was assumed to have died. Luckily Alfred thought to have them check her breathing before they slaughtered her for the stew pot. I thanked him because we had need of that horse when we fled further.
After another short, two hour nap, I was shocked out of my sleep by the sounds of battle close at hand. Six gnolls had appeared within the walls, just appeared, Alfred said. Luckily he and the brigands, along with the frog guards, managed to dispatch them before they could get into our tent. They had ignored anyone attempting to stop them, allowing themselves to be cut down, apparently with the sole purpose of getting to me and the tent.
Of course, I knew they were after Kithri. Don’t ask me why or how I knew that, Father Mulcahy. Call it intuition, call it divine knowledge, but those gnolls had been hunting Kithri and I would hazard a guess that was part of the reason she had come to us so suddenly, and possibly even the reason she had attempted to delve into my memory so fervently.
When several more hours passed without another attack, I decided it was time for us to hazard moving onward. My dreams were full of bad omens and portents around our being at the fortress. Visions of us fleeing pursuers were strong in my dreams, but we always escaped. Only when we stayed here did we and this entire fortress fall to the ravening hordes of gnolls.
The horse settled the matter. Before I could broach the subject with Liz, this animal whom she named Late for Dinner, came to me and nudged me with her nose until I agreed to put the saddle back on her and prepare to leave. It was easy to guess what she wanted since she dragged the saddle to the mouth of the tent. Liz patted her on the nose, fed her a root vegetable of some ilk she’d acquired from one of the brigands, and began asking for specific supplies.
The wagon of weapons and armor that Just Jacob and the brigands had hidden half a day south of the fortress had been recovered after we had left a few days ago. The gear would come in handy for the defense of the keep, and anything extra could be sold to merchants and anyone who wandered by from now on.
Alfred wanted to start patrolling the road to make it safe for merchants, not unlike what the frogs had been doing previously, and I gave him my blessing, though I told him in no uncertain terms that he did not require it.
Just Jacob and Alfred were to govern this fortress until such time as I called them, and that was what they had agreed to. Apparently me showing up wounded, with wounded friends, and beset by gnolls, had made them both a little wary about making decisions.
I assured them I trusted their judgment and would be going on my own way this very evening. They argued, of course, telling me we were too tired, too wounded, and likely faced more gnolls.
I thanked them and instead of staying, suggested that Liz and I take the wagon and some armor and such to trade at Far Spire. That would also allow me to comfortably carry Kithri under cover of the weather. I told them that staying here was definitely going to see all of us killed, but that if we fled, just the three of us and Late for Dinner, that we had a fighting chance, and that the fortress would thrive.
In the end I had to order them, which seemed to mollify their worries. They gave us an excellent selection of high end gear to trade later, gave us several sacks of the same root vegetable Liz had fed the horse, and a small cask of wine.
Best of all, and I cannot emphasize this enough: they found me a shield that I could work with. Praise be to Semaunzilla (may she keep the gnolls far away).
By midnight we were travelling northward once more, eager to put miles between the fortress and ourselves. Liz and I went on foot, with Late for Dinner pulling the wagon. We would not make the best time, but I was positive it was the act of moving that would protect us at this stage.
More or less.