Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Eight

 

 

Hand troops streamed onto shore from the galley that had already docked, while a twin ship provided cover fire with her forward and aft ballistae.  They could all see Alfred right enough, I mean, he’s rather hard to miss being a frost giant even if he is on the smaller end of their typical height.  Of course, he assured me only last year that he could grow another foot or so.  I hope he’s as large as he’s going to get, frankly.  It’s difficult enough sitting down to a meal with him without getting a crick in my neck.

What really caught the Hand troops off guard, however, were the croakers.  When the enemy can just jump over your defensive positions, or off the end of a quay and onto your boat a dozen strides across open water, you find yourself baffled and confused.  When they bring along half a dozen giant toads that can snatch your weapons out of your hands with their tongues, and even swallow smaller individuals whole, things get a go from confused to chaotic.

That skirmish didn’t last long.  I think Alfred may have taken a ballista bolt to his left leg, by the way he roared and limped toward the crews trying to ready their crossbows.  The ship crew was responsible for his pain, but the marines suffered the brunt of his rage.  Several of the Hand troops flung their weapons down and dove into the bay.  Likely drowned with that chain armor on, but mores the pity.

I saw one giant toad fall under a flurry of bolts, but the enemy was overwhelmed pretty quickly.  The second boat fared no better.  Once the croakers saw that Alfred had the land battle under control they descended on the second boat like a plague.  I had a strong feeling just then that we’d add a crew of croakers to our fleet before the night was through.

I let the sergeant hand pick a squad to follow me down to the docks and we made our way to see to the two prize ships.  With the burning of the Fair Wind, Martin would be happy for a replacement, and those galleys would prove a good trade.  He could rename the first at his whim.  The second would be called something that no one could pronounce.  Croakers would definitely make boarding other ships a sight easier.  Why hadn’t I considered that before?

Well, I hadn’t seen any of these folks in months and months.  Maybe a year for some of them.  My how the world has changed since I left the safety of your caring gaze, Father Mulcahy.  You would not recognize the world.

When he saw me approaching, Alfred came to me, cursing.  There was indeed a rather long bolt in his thigh, and three crossbow shafts in his left arm and chest.

“Most deflected off this fine armor,” he said, tapping his chest where I saw black scales under his jacket.  “Dragon hide,” he said with a grin.  “Black as night, and tougher than steel.”

“I am glad to see you turning that moldy hide of Cassandra’s into something of value,” I said as he eased himself to the ground.  Between the two of us we removed the offending steel tipped shanks and I healed him as best I could   I was bone tired and not nearly as strong as I had been even an hour ago, but it was enough to stop the bleeding and ease his pain a modicum.  He is a stout young man.  He’d tough it out.

Once Alfred was settled and resting, I went to the first galley and boarded, only to find that the reason Alfred had found his fighting as light as it had been, was in part due to the fact that the rowers had revolted and killed much of the crew while the hardened soldiers were making their way onshore.  I had the hobs strike their chains and offered each of them a place in our fleet.  More than half cheered and rejoiced, while a decent contingency opted to try and return home to their families.  I can’t say that I blame them.  Life at sea is not easy, and being a captive rower would not make the rowing as a free man that much more palatable.

I told those who chose to leave that they should stay until we had secured the fortress and we would see to providing them with clothing and food.  Most were willing to take a few days rest as well, and I told them our healers would look after their ailments once the battles were over.  This heartened a few who were recalcitrant to change their minds and join us.  I just nodded and took all who wanted to join, knowing after a full belly and a night sleep, some would opt for home after all.

We repeated the process once the croakers had the second ship to the docks.  I met with their leader, Borcus, a large mottled black and green fellow who had spots running down either side of his wide face.  His eyes were steady and thoughtful as we talked and he agreed that he and his fighters would be claiming the ship as their own and joining me in my adventures if that would please me.

I consented with the understanding that the rowers were to be set free and any that wanted to join would be doing so as free men and women.  Borcus looked affronted that I would think they’d do any less as his people were already among the rowers, striking bonds and supplying succor.  I apologized for my rashness, but Borcus clasped me on my right shoulder and accepted my apology with grave and solemn words.

“We know of your quest, Worldbreaker.  We know of your generosity and your redemption.  We have each one of us been reborn, as if fresh tadpoles, in the image that you have made for us.”  He bowed then and took my left hand between his own two.

“You are he who freed us from our wicked ways and showed us the path to righteousness which you have blazed before us.  We have taken up your cause and do battle against the oppressors in your name as the wise Nebuchadnezzar has guided us since that day you spared his life.”

And I thought back to the Hallowed Fortress and the croaker priest I had spared in order to avoid the slaughter of a misguided and ignorant people.  Who knows what sort of civilization they would have built had they not been influenced by the selfish and damnable interference of certain wizards who now feed the worms.

I shook his webbed hand and our pact was sealed.  The Leaping Tadpole was christened right then in the blood and fire of battle.  She will be a fine addition to our cause.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Seven

 

 

Alfred was gone by the time we finished bandaging and healing all we could.  I made my way back up to the tower to watch as he ran down to the waterfront where one of the Hand’s galleys had docked in order to reinforce the keep.  Someone out there had his thinking cap on.  I was surprised to see Croakers leaping ahead of him toward the enemy.  How diverse the makeup of our allies had become.

The fires of Fair Wind had burned down to the waterline, and only scattered debris floated in place of the once proud ship.  Lookouts reported that longboats from the Tabula Rasa had pulled off all that were capable of leaving the lost ship.  I hated to lose her, or any of her fine crew, but sacrifices had to be made.  This fortress was too strategic a target to pass up.

The entire complex was rather extensive, and the troops here knew more about it than we did.  More than once our troops found themselves trapped in a dead end with the enemy circling behind them by means of secret passages and tunnels.

That’s how I learned that my dwarf companion, Bob was here.  Oh, how I raged when I learned he was deep in the interior of the keep leading a squad, including Aoibhell, a lost High Elf, and the Last Knight of Mordechai, and Brindle the exceedingly intelligent dog the size of a small bear who accompanied her where ever she went.  He was my buddy most days, but as soon as battle commenced, he was at her heels, a terror amongst any enemy she faced.

The uprising in the nearby city had also started, according to our informants, and two barracks had been burned, killing nearly fifty men.  The Hand would not treat the citizens kindly, but most knew what they had instigated.  It was they, after all who had approached us with this idea.  Once our reputation had begun to spread along the coast, more and more recruits began contacting our agents, bolstering our force in numbers I had never considered.  One whole ship, The Bartleby, had stolen away from the main fleet in a storm one evening, and found their way to us, crew, supplies, and critical intelligence intact.  That had been a blow to the Hand, and the turning point in many minds.  They were not popular overlords and their tactics had split the populace of many a town and village throughout their lands.

Funny to think that there was another continent close enough to reach by sail from the only land I had known.  Of course, this sea had not existed in its present state ten thousand years ago, when the world had broken and the cataclysm fell upon the Nine and Sixty kingdoms.  The lands the Hand of the One True God controlled had all been connected to the land of my birth before the intervening land was swallowed by the sea.

Sailors knew the land of my birth as cursed and befouled, rife with monsters and ruins.  Only the smallest settlements existed on the edges, including the only port at Blackstone Landing, and the city and university at Skyfell.  Though that alone was feared for it being a school of wizards.  Magic of any sort was punishable by hanging except in the direst of circumstances, and wizards were especially treated poorly by the Hand.  Which proved to be a surprise when I had learned how the Hand had once helped support one of Skyfell’s forays into the wastelands and ruined cities seeking ancient knowledge.  That was a puzzle I had not unraveled yet.  I had personally killed one of the two wizards who had taken part in that expedition, and the second was somewhere here.  But Tim could wait.

I was outraged that Bob was here and no one thought to tell me.  I hadn’t seen him in oh, so long.  He was the third in the triad with Liz and I, a bond forged of love back when we were trapped in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist.  He had stolen his way into my heart, alongside Liz as the two most important people in my life.

Those days are vague memories, but the connection endured.  We had bound ourselves to one another by means of ancient ritual, open hearts, and undying trust.  Just thinking of his bushy red beard and piercing, blue eyes filled me with a moment of contentment.

Though their efforts in the tunnels below seemed to be helping, as fewer wounded were coming out of the bowels of the keep.  How many levels down this great fortress delved was unknown to both me and the informant who had suggested this target.  Those from the city never came here except to deliver supplies.  Mostly the members of the cult managed their own logistics.  But occasionally one of the officers would take a girl for their pleasure.   Not all who were brought in came voluntarily.  Oh, I’m sure a few did, not all opposed the Hand and their ideals, but enough did.

And so, the Hand shall reap what it sowed.  I liked the turn of phrase, but those are not my words.  Liz said that to me the night I left to be captured by these fiends.  I hope she is safe as well.  Oh, that I could protect all that I love.

I can sometimes understand, Father Mulcahy, why our order eschewed any concept of love.   Connection makes us stronger, but the pain of loss can be great.  And the fear of such, can be more debilitating than any other pain I myself have suffered.

Worship is one thing, and I believe we have the right of that.  We were not made for physical isolation.  Touch is just too important.  As to your belief that love leads to war and ruin, I cannot deny.  For it was the love of Liz that led us into conflict with the croakers, it is also love that saw the rescue of Bob from the dragon.  It is a double-edged sword, and eschewing the whole for fear of a part, is tragic in its misunderstanding for it misses the crux of the matter.  Love makes us stronger by far while giving hope and purpose to the world.   And couldn’t we all use a little more of that?

I for one am glad I have opened my mind to the possibilities beyond the traditions of Keeper’s Monastery.  Just think to Brother Durham if you want an example of why your ways are not viable.

And so, I pace the walls, yearning to hold those I love, wishing I could do more, all the while struggling to accept the reality of what is within my control.

I’ll assure you that span is very narrow.

But I’m sure you are familiar with that truth.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Six

 

 

With Liz assaulting the secondary defensive position I wouldn’t be seeing my gear anytime soon.  I know I just sacrificed flesh and blood to make this all work, but I chafed to be idle nonetheless.  The battle raged inside the keep as well, but with the defenders complacent and expecting the battle to occur at the mouth of the bay, the surprise attack from within their walls was proving to be overwhelming.

Commotion below us in the courtyard brought the sergeant and I around.  Wounded were being brought out of the lower reaches and calls for medics and healers filled the air.

The old hob motioned toward the nearest stair and I took off at a trot, him on my heels.  He wouldn’t say anything, but I knew he was here to act as guard dog to my nearly naked backside.  I was glad for his company.

The first wounded suffered from crossbow bolts and spear slashes.  I was surprised to learn that Bÿglar wasn’t the only ones holding holy symbols and channeling the divine.  As I walked toward the wounded, I saw three goblins and two other hobs performing basic, minor healing.  None of them were nearly as experienced as I was, but those first days with the power to heal were not that far behind me.

An excited whisper ran ahead of me, and by the time I reached the first row of injured, a goblin with a satchel full of bandages pointed me to a group that proved to be near to death.  I nodded at the little goblin, sending him scurrying after other, less severely wounded with a grin on his green face.

The group I found myself among were indeed bad off.  Three wouldn’t live much longer.  I needed more juice than I could muster alone, so I called over one of the hobs that could heal, as he was closest to me.  He came running at my call and knelt before me, his head bowed.

“Get up, man.  What’s your name?”

“Mal..” he choked.  “Malichar.” He finished, swallowing hard.

“Well, Mal.  I need your help.”

He looked up, astonished and I reached my hand out to him.  “These men,” I glanced over and saw two women among them.  “These men and women need more healing than I can do alone.  Let me show you a trick I learned.”

I’ve been impressed before, but this young hob didn’t move.  “Get up, son.  We don’t have much time.”

He looked up, chagrinned and stood, avoiding my touch.  I almost laughed.

“I need you to grab this arm,” I waved the stump of my right arm at him.  “Grab ahold of it good and tight.”

The look in his eyes told me he thought I was crazy, and that he might throw up at the thought of touching me.  Not that he was repulsed, though maybe he was, my shift was covered in filth and blood.  But I could tell he was afraid of me.

“Grab the man’s arm, fool boy,” the sergeant barked.

Mal reached out instinctively and grabbed my arm with a vice-like grip.

I did laugh at that.  “You can ease up just a bit,” I said, quietly.  When he relaxed a fraction, I held up a handful of holy symbols and indicated he should do the same.  His was slightly different from Bÿglar’s, but similar enough.  The shape was the same, but inlaid in the surface of the egg/shield shaped talisman was a blue gemstone mace crossed with a quill.

As he held it up, he glanced sideways at me and blushed.  I never knew hobs to blush so much, but there you have it.

“Now, concentrate on calling the divine to heal these folks,” I said firmly.

“I’m not that strong,” he objected, but I cut him off.

“I’m pretty strong by now,” I said with a gentle smile.  “Trust me.  Together we are stronger than we are apart.”

He swallowed hard again and nodded.  I could feel the trickle of power flowing into him as I reached out for my own.  Having done this a few times before with my first pupil, Abney, I knew how to alter the flow to open up his connection and help him grow stronger, at the same time multiplying my own power with his.

His eyes grew wide, then nearly bugged out of his head as I opened the multiple feeds of divine I channeled.  I knew more gods than he did, apparently.

“Deep breath,” I suggested and I turned, holding my hand out over the worst wounded, a young hob woman with a terrible slash across her abdomen.”

“Concentrate on that young lad there,” I motioned with my head to the boy barely big enough to carry a spear, much less be a full warrior.  “Touch him like you normally would, just keep yourself open.”

He caught on very quickly, and as the wounds on the two began to close and mend, those within thirty paces around us were likewise engulfed in a wave of healing power.

At one time, I had learned that healing another was a sort of intrusion, and that it was polite to get their approval before touching or healing them.  In this case, these warriors had consented when they joined the legion.  Besides, I struggled with the concept of letting allies die because I didn’t have the time to get their consent.

It was just easier to have that conversation before it became an issue.  Once someone was bleeding out, it wasn’t the time to discuss philosophy.

Mal goggled around him, as men and women, goblins, hobs, and humans alike stirred with their wounds drastically improved.  Some, on the very edge of our reach, were less wounded, and recovered completely.  Two were struggling to their feet to return to the battle, but the sergeant went to them and ordered them to lie back down.

I dropped the power first, and Mal looked around, bewildered.  When he saw me double over, hand on knee to catch my breath, he realized just how exhausted he was as well.  He nearly swooned, and did go to one knee, before bracing himself against my shoulder.  Luckily, I expected it, or we would have both gone over.

Cheering rang out from those around us who were hale.  Mal raised one hand to acknowledge the accolades, and he turned to me, a huge smile on his face.

“That was glorious,” he whispered.

“Keep studying and learning,” I replied.  “It only gets better.”

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Five

 

 

Three centuries of hobgoblins, one of goblins, and assorted support staff prowled the keep by the time I climbed on the wall beside Alfred.  Several of the wooden structures inside the walls were burning, unfortunately.  Alfred was amiable about helping gather people to put out the fires.  If we were going to control this keep and the region it influenced, we needed it to be livable and defendable.

While he gathered men and women to start a bucket brigade (they had buckets handy for just such a case.)  Apparently, they had been prepared for that contingency.   What they hadn’t planned on was wizards opening portals in the heart of the defenses and sending through highly trained and battle hardened troops into the soft underbelly.

I loved it when a plan came together.  We’d lose people, that was the way of war, but our losses were significantly smaller than they would have been if we’d attempted to storm this keep.

As I paced the upper wall overlooking the bay below, I saw that squads of goblins manned each of the four ballistae along this wall, while a crew of hobs was attempting to wrest control of one of the two trebuchet emplacements on the towers on the far side of the keep.  The Hand warriors were putting up a good fight.  Just when I started to get concerned, lightning lanced down from the sky and bodies of men in white flew into the air, charred and burning.

I looked away after that.  Nothing to see there.  It’s good when the wizards are on your side.  Usually.

Out in the bay I saw that the trebuchets had been well manned.  Of the four odd ships that Adeline and the pirates had sailed into the bay one was listing badly obviously taking on water, while a second burned, the sails like bonfires.  My ship, the Tabula Rasa fired her own ballistae at another fortified trebuchet emplacement on the far side of the bay entrance.  I could not make out how they fared, but I winced as a great ball of Greek fire sailed out into the bay, casting sparks over one of the two remaining enemy boats, both galleys.  Luckily for them their sails were struck, unlike the Fair Wind that burned out of control.

I couldn’t see if any crew made it off the Fair Wind,  though I’m sure the captain, Martin, would see his people to safety before abandoning his ship.  His sister, Adeline was the commodore of our pirate fleet.  She stood at the helm of the Tabula Rasa, and would see to her own business, trusting everyone to do their best.

“They burn so easily,” a voice said at my side.

I turned to see another of the hobs walking toward me.  He looked so familiar that I stared at him confused.  He paused, grinned at me, and I saw it.  It was that sergeant I had punched in the face that day I arrived to take control of the Night Wing Legion.  Earned his respect.  I was sorry to see that he hadn’t bothered to get those busted teeth fixed.  What an ornery old cuss.  Every one of the officers had been terrified of him, and with good sense.  Though at the time, I thought they were the more daunting.  It’s interesting to me how events change in your mind with hindsight, experience, and quite a few months away from the situation.

“The Fair Wind was a good ship,” I answered him.  I knew the crew well, and the captain was a friend of mine.”

“Is, I suspect,” the grizzled old veteran reported.  “He stayed on until the flames had nearly done him in, but he wouldn’t abandon the ship until those that could make it to boats had gotten away.”

That was a relief, I can tell you.  Adeline would be impossible to live with if my plan had gotten her little brother killed.

“You been keeping watch on the battle there?” I asked.

The sergeant shrugged.  “Your man said you’d be worried about every single one of us that follows you, so I decided it would be better for us all if you knew the state of things.”

Smart man.

“What have you folks been up to since I saw you last?”

He looked at me and blinked.  “Protecting your fortress, though that bone-headed wizard claims it’s his.  Also, Far Spire keep fell to those cowards all dressed in white.  Happened just about the winter solstice.”

I must’ve paled, because he patted me on the arm and made a shushing sound.  “Your fair captain Kershaw got her people and most of the civilians out about the third week of the siege.  Seems they had a series of tunnels that led down to the river they’d been using to harry the besieging army, really boiled their blood, I can tell you.  We sent some folks up to The Hallowed Fortress to find the news, and saw that their whole lot had taken up refuge there, and were preparing for the Hand scum to attempt to besiege them next.”

“What happened there?”  I asked.  How much the world had changed with me off on other adventures.

“Well, turns out some damn fools had taken up pirating, drawing off the army that had just set up shop in the Blackstone, which was just as well.  The governor there was growing a might tired of the belligerent ways the Hand army was starting to treat the common citizens.  They’d have had open rebellion with no real chance to retake the country side if they hadn’t pulled out and headed back to their own lands.”

I watched out over the bay and contemplated how our pirating had somehow taken the yoke off the mainland, that swath of land I had come to know as home.

“Your gal is something, though.” He went on, staring off at the water with no real focus.

“Which one?” I asked.  Now that I had resolved my relationship with Liz, I had returned to my worship and besides Lilith, had several others who would seek me out on occasion.  Adeline being chief among them.

The sergeant looked at me, his eyes coming into focus.  “That lizard folk ranger  you run with.  I never saw someone more loyal than a hob, meaner than a dragon, and more capable than one of those fool wizards.”

I smiled at that.  I bet she’d accept the compliments with a nod, but ignore them all the same.

“Speaking of Liz, you wouldn’t happen to know where she’d gotten off to?” I asked.

Instead of replying, he just pointed.

Out across the curve of the bay, I saw a small group of tiny people moving over the rocks toward the second fortification.

“She’s leading a group to stop that trebuchet from burning the rest of your ships.”

“Oh,” was all I could muster.

And the two of us watched, helpless and amazed as the battle for the bay continued unabated.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Four

 

 

I grabbed the iron poker the bishop had been using to torture me and slipped out of the room after Tim.  Of course, he was nowhere to be seen, jerk.  The hall was filled with strange echoes of fighting in other areas, and smoke from some distant fire.  My pirates knew not to burn the place to the ground, but I have no idea what the hobs were told, or what the wizards were doing.  At least at this point Alfred had stopped banging his head against the keep.

Gods I was glad to see these folks.  I’d missed the motley crew.

I could tell by the way the bodies had been cut down in flight, which way an exit was and followed the dead.  At the third body, I dropped the rod and picked up a cudgel.  Not quite as good as my mace, but it would do in a pinch.

By the sound of things, battle raged hot and heavy in several directions.  I wanted to make my way to the main courtyard and find Liz and my gear.  My hand almost itched holding this base and ludicrously mundane weapon.

I crept forward, through a haze of smoke and dust, searching for something that looked like a way out.  I’d been beaten unconscious before I was brought to the torture room, so I had no real idea where I was going.

That, of course, is how I ran into a squad of the Hand goons hunkered down behind a row of crates firing crossbows into an emplacement of hobs.  Three of the hobs were down, and two of the Hand people were wounded, but they had the upper hand.

Of course, they hadn’t counted on me.  Not wearing armor did have one advantage, I could sprint ahead fairly quietly.  I’d learned a few things from Liz and Lilith over time.  I wasn’t quite the lumbering lummox I had been at one point.  Of the five Hand ruffians, two were wounded, and three were hale.  I fixed that for them.

I assessed the situation and notice that one of the hobs was wounded and in the open, but he could be saved.  But not if he or she took another crossbow bolt.  No one noticed me until I brained the Hand warrior attempting to pop up and fire his crossbow a the wounded hob.  Sucker.  The second one with a loaded crossbow dropped it as he was splattered with bits of bone and brains off my cudgel.  I kicked one of the wounded men, and swung my cudgel around to clip another man, throwing him off balance.  This was all the hobs needed.  One dashed forward and dragged his wounded companion to safety, and two others rushed forward, swords raised high.

Between we three, the Hand squad had no chance.  Before I could even declare who I was, the bad guys were down, and I was being hugged by none other than Bÿglar.  I didn’t understand how he could possibly recognize me the way I looked, but I guess my physical form and the number of holy symbols I wore gave me away.

Once he was sure that my wounds were already healing, and that I needed no assistance, I watched as he returned to his squad and did the most amazing thing.  He healed the two that were wounded.  I stood there dumbfounded as he took out that queer holy symbol that was half Kithri of the sweet loaf, and Semaunzilla (may she embrace her new supplicant, no matter the race).

Bÿglar caught me staring and faltered, a blush rising over his already darkened features.  If I had not spent time with the hobs previously, I would have missed it.  When his people were resting, he set one to watch, and one to loot the enemy’s dead.  Then he came to me, wringing his hands, eyes downcast, as if waiting a scolding.

Instead of that nonsense, I grabbed him by one shoulder, and gave him a tight squeeze.

“Well done, Bÿglar.  I’m proud of you.”

The way he beamed was all the salve I needed for my piteous wounds.  Here was a warrior older than I, who had seen many campaigns, chagrinned and joyful at my praise.  Isn’t the world a funny place?

“Where do you go?” he asked me after a moment.  “Where is your white armor, and your mace?”

I grinned at him.  “I left them with Liz when I surrendered myself to this pestilent place.”

He gaped at me.  “What in the name of the nine and sixty made you do that?”

I patted him.  “No time for tales at the moment.  It’s a thrilling one, I’ll assure you.  But for now, I need to find the courtyard.”

The hobs in his squad stood as one, even the wounded and he smiled my way.  “May we escort you?  The way may be perilous and the enemy numerous.”

I nodded at him, waving my club before me.  “Do you know the way?”

He shook his head.  “Nay, but we know it’s not in that direction.” He indicated the way behind their last stand.  “Store rooms and a dead-end.”

“Fair enough.”  I turned back the way I had come and we took off at a trot.

“Lilith is here somewhere,” I said as Bÿglar moved to jog at my side.

He grinned.  “Sparkle here as well.  What a glorious day this has been.”

“You’ve only been here an hour,” I said.

The crew loping behind us laughed.

“Oh, my dear Merric,” Bÿglar began, adding his own laugh.  “Why do you think you suffered for as long as you did?  This is not our first battle this day.”

I could do nothing but shrug.  “Then it appears we both have tales to tell, once we are back amongst our compatriots.”

We jogged along, finding more signs of skirmishes, but meeting no living foe until we made it to a winding ramp upward.  As we rounded the first bend,  three warrior/priests of the Hand came tumbling down toward us.  The hobs dispatched them with little effort and we topped the last bend to find Alfred leaning over a broken wall.

“Alfred,” I called, thrilled to see my frost giant friend once again.  He turned, but the grin died on his face.

“You look like something a dragon defecated,” he barked.  “What have you gotten yourself into this time.”

The hobs ran off to join another squad fighting twice their number of men-at-arms, leaving me alone with the giant.

“You’ve been hanging around with that surly Rufus weasel gnome,” I observed.  “Your language has grown more colorful since we last journeyed together.”

He blushed, which on him was much more noticeable.  “Johann reminds me of that periodically,” he said, his grand demeanor returning immediately.  “But Blargle is the one who influences my language of late.”

“The rage wizard?”

“And newly minted goddess, don’t forget.  The Green Lady born anew.”

I’d forgotten how amorous she had grown.  They made an interesting pair.  Story time would indeed be adventurous.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Three

 

 

“He was being tortured, idiot,” Rufus weasel gnome spat, glaring at Tim as if measuring whether or not his sudden entrance, took anything away from his own.

Tim turned to the gnome in his weasel suit and shook his head.  “Your suit has grown foul once more,” he said, dismissing his chief rival for supremacy amongst wizards, and turned to me.

“Look at the state of you,” he said, glowering in my direction.  “I’m sure you have a good explanation for this debacle.”

I ignored him and touched myself.  The healing would take a long time, but in the end, it would be worth it.

“You brought my legion?” I asked as the divine mending began to work along my shattered bones.  The feeling was not a pleasant one.

Tim raised one eyebrow but said nothing.

“Good,” I went on.    “I hoped my sacrifice here wasn’t in vain.”

Lilith helped me to my feet where I sagged, the bones in my legs barely capable of holding me up.  I sort of collapsed onto the floor with a grunt from Lilith as she took most of my weight, easing me to something like a graceful landing.

“By all that is holy,” Rufus said, storming over to me and reaching into the interior of his weasel outfit.  Lilith watched him curiously as he pulled out a small phial of a pale blue liquid.  “Drink this.”

She took the phial from him and worked out the stopper before thrusting the thing into my mouth.  It tasted like peppermint, a taste I had only recently come to discover.  Being a pirate had an interesting effect on my diet.

Tim tapped his foot against the broad forehead of the now deceased bishop and made a noise that reminded me of Brother Durham in one of his most frustrated and disgusted moods.

“I knew this man,” he said, eventually.  “Disgusting toad a dozen years ago, I’m surprised he rose so high in their ranks.”

I laughed, a harsh, painful sound that caused Lilith to flinch and Rufus to take a step back.

“Like most scum, he floated to the top,” I said, rubbing my knees.  The peppermint potion Rufus had given me augmented my divine magic in a way that both accelerated and eased the rapid healing I was undergoing.  I’d have to inquire to the making of such for future endeavors.  A few barrels of that would prove handy to have in our excursions.  Healing the crews was an exhausting task on the best of days.

The whole room shook once more, dust and small bits of mortar falling from the ceiling in a shower.

“What is causing that?” I asked.

“Alfred,” Calladil and Rufus said at the same time.

Alfred is our frost giant friend.

“Well, I hope he doesn’t bring the masonry down around our ears.  I want to retain possession of this keep when we are through here.”

Tim swung around and gave me a discerning look.  Then, as if a light had gone on in his brain, his face broke into a sly grin and he wagged a finger in my direction.

“Very clever,” he said, stepping toward me and holding out his hand.  “Quite the strategist you have become.”

I reached up and took his hand.  Lilith helped me and between the three of us I was able to stand.  Tim relinquished my hand and shook his head at me.

“You were always one to sacrifice yourself above those you hold dear.  How do you stand it?”

I didn’t answer him, knowing he didn’t really want to know the precepts of my ethics and morals.  Instead I marched across the room and began pawing through a pile of assorted necklaces, sigils, and talisman that sat atop a closed chest.  One by one I put each on over my head, each tiny weight, a renewal of comfort as my many holy symbols were returned to where I most needed them.

Several had to have their chains mended, and as I had neither spider webs, nor my lodestones, I slipped those into Lilith’s pockets, stealing a kiss from her as I did so.  She only grinned at me and groped my buttocks.

When I broke from the kiss, I motioned with my head over my shoulder.  “I’m sure there is treasure in that chest.”

Her eyes lit up.

“And it’s likely trapped.”

She giggled and scampered toward the chest, all thoughts of me and my recovery gone from her mind.

“The bishop likely has a key,” I said, winking at Rufus who just shook his head.

Lilith ignored my words and pulled a set of lock picks from her belt, setting to her craft.

“Who leads the hobs?” I asked Tim.

He shrugged.  “You know they all look alike to me,” he said, noncommittal.

“Bÿglar,” Calladil said, stepping to the door and looking up and down the hall.  “We are clear here.  Where to, friend Merric?”

Bÿglar had taken up my symbols and created his own version of the various faiths I followed.  He had lived through more than most of his kind, and had a strong affinity for keeping Sparkle Glitterblade safe.  With Lilith Deepflagon in the fore, Sparkle slept in the body they shared, her mind and spirit quiet, watching.

“We should go to the dungeon and free the captives,” I said, looking around for a weapon of my own.  “Did anyone see Liz?”

The others each gave a dissenting nod, except for Tim, of course, who ignored my inquiry.

“I need my mace, my armor,” I lifted the bloody and fouled shift that hung loosely from my scarred body.  “And something to wear that does not smell like offal.”

Lilith gave a cry of delight and the chest popped open with a rather satisfying click.  No poison gas, nor shooting darts assailed her, so I assumed she had disarmed any trap the chest held.  I walked over and glanced over her shoulder.  The chest was full of books, maps and small bags.

The books disappointed her, I could tell, but the bags held fifty gold coins each.  She was pleased with the clink of gold as she stuffed her pockets with the small bags.

“Liz said she’d meet us in the courtyard,” she said, standing and spinning around to face us all.  She had a wicked grin on her face, and a blade in each hand.  “Let’s hope there are some bad guys between here and there.”

And she dashed out of the room with Calladil and Rufus hot on her heels.

I stood my ground and looked to Tim who still studied the now dead bishop.

“You have kicked the hornet’s nest, boy.” He said, reaching into his own voluminous cloak and extracting two frigid bottles.  He pushed one against a small metal lip on the side of his staff, and the cap was torn from the bottle.  I accepted the frigid thing and examined the label as he opened his second.

We touched the long necks together with a satisfying clink and we each drained our draughts in one long pull.

Elvish beer.  Nectar of the gods.

“Definitely hoping this gets their attention,” I said, letting rip a large belch.

Tim shook his head and tossed his bottle down onto the dead bishop.  “Do you know their order eschews alcohol?” he asked me, disgusted.

“Heathens,” I replied.

He grinned and nodded before striding toward the door.

“Let’s see if we can ease the world of a few more of these ruffians, and he left me alone in the room.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day Two

 

 

See, there’s this thing I can’t fully explain.  It’s a red gem given to me by a wizard I know by the name of Tim.  He’s an odd fellow, has access to decent beer, but is often churlish and enigmatic in his dealings with us common mortals.

Anyway, there is this beautiful red gem, long and thin with intricate runes carved on its many facets.  This gem is tied to me through spirit, magic, and blood.  Do not ask me how, for the intricacies of it are beyond my ken, but suffice to say wizards are involved and the depths of those secrets may never be plumbed.

This gem was the basis of the mad plan conceived after a bloody battle one day recently.  It is through the means of this gem that I could be found, could be traced, and even spoken to through esoteric means, hence the plan.

I surrendered myself to this most heavily fortified outpost with nothing but my vestments and my holy symbols, eschewing even my journal for this most dangerous and risky of adventures.

Imagine the look of surprise when the watchman spied me climbing from a small skiff onto the long quay used to accept supplies ferried over from larger ships.  The look on the man’s face when I informed him of the bounty upon my head, and of his good fortune to collect such reward as the Hand of the One True God had to offer.

Nervous, he was, yet greed is a powerful aphrodisiac to a man standing in the mists of a cold dawn, watching an endless rolling sea, and contemplating a life time of repeated mornings.

I did not fight him when attempted to shackle my wrists, for as you know, I am down to only the one.  So instead he shackled my feet to prevent me from running.  With this rather useless exercise complete, he rang the bell, calling the captain of the watch to come forward to assist in my surrender and acknowledge this fine ruffian’s claim to the bounty.

By the gleam in the captain’s eyes, I was not surprised when he slipped a blade between the watchman’s ribs and sent him splashing into the bay, letting out a cry that I had attacked them.

He punched me in the eye, though I gave no response, and kicked me twice once I lay on the ground.  I knew this was but the beginning of the torment that awaited me, but my plan called for such a sacrifice.

I will take another step backward for your edification, if you might indulge me, Dear Father Mulcahy.  For it will make all that has transpired in the last days more palatable to those fraught with terror at my plight.

This keep, this island fortress had no known weaknesses.  From its geographic vantage point it protected the inner coastline of the two main continents from the wilds of the outer islands, and the great unknown beyond the last reach.  Of course, not to be deterred, I hit upon a plan that would be both painful and glorious if it worked, and just painful and deadly for me, if it failed.  Honestly, I was counting on the fact that wizards cannot, under any circumstance, mind their own business.

And I guess by the sounds of battle in the halls, that my plan had succeeded, if a day later than I was completely comfortable with.

I alone could exploit such a blemish on the mighty empire wrought from pain and heretical worship.

Lightning arced down the hall outside my torture chamber and the screams of the dying mingled with the furious calls of hobgoblins in a full battle rage.  I recognized that sound from my previous days as a captain of The Night Wing Legion.

The good bishop threw the door shut against those who assailed the keep, dooming his messenger to a certain death.  I realized in that moment that the fruition of my plan may very well succeed in the truest sense, and yet cost me my life in the end.

As luck would have it, the damnable bishop ran afoul of his own instruments of torment.  The rod he had struck across my face had fallen to the ground in his haste to answer the door, and this tangled his step as he rushed toward me in a killing rage.  If his command was to be assaulted, it seems my use to him alive had suddenly reached its limit.

He cursed aloud as he fell ass-over-tea-kettle, his voice echoing in the pitch dark.  I needed to get my hand free, just the one, and I could heal myself enough to survive what came next, but while my right arm was missing from the elbow down, it had not prevented him from strapping that upper arm down to the table, insuring I was not going to retaliate.

Of course, he hadn’t counted on my friends.  All at once a bright light illuminated the room, causing me to squeeze my eyes shut against the glare.  In that moment, however, burned against the inside of my eyelids, was the image of the wizard, Rufus weasel gnome materializing beside a beautiful Halfling thief and a stout man-at-arms whom I recognized as my friend Calladil.  With a strangled cry, the good bishop fell to the ground, skewered upon Calladil’s blade, while at the same time, Lilith ran to me and began picking the locks that bound me to the table.

“Stupid Cleric,” Rufus weasel gnome spat, standing in a ready position facing the doorway.

Calladil just wiped his blade on the cassock of the fallen bishop and saluted me with his steel.

Lilith kissed me ever so gently on the cheek as she freed my left arm and I screamed with the pain as blood flowed back into long constricted limbs.

At that moment, the door was flung open and a tall man strode into the room, a great staff in one hand, and lightning playing along his left.

It was Timoteus, the tall lanky wizard who could no more mind his own business than stop breathing.

“What sort of mess have you landed yourself in this time, Merric?”  He asked as he crossed the room in four long strides.

Cleric Journal Book Seven: Day One

 

 

Time, the voice of my inner most thoughts implored.  It is time to relent.

And yet the spark in my spirit that spoke of loved ones and righteous deeds held my tongue for one more instance.  No matter the cost, I would never betray those whom I most cherished.  With a disgusted grunt, my oppressor let out his held breath, once again my sheer stubbornness defeating his will.

To say my torturer was displeased went beyond the limit of my caring.  This bent and twisted soul in the body of a princely man pushed irony to the brink of madness for he could nearly pass as my twin.  If one looked beyond his four whole limbs and my own twisted and broken three, the resemblance was startling.  Similar features yes, including a shocking similitude of hair, eyes, smile… yet while those who love me claim my visage is fair to behold and brought forth images of love and charity, this creature’s mien while fair to glance upon, was marred by a malevolent essence bent toward the wretched and foul.

And yet we were both men of worship, men of faith, men of conviction.

As he busied himself with the burning brazier at my side, I saw that the light from the glowing iron skewer altered his features in a rather demonic cast.

Which amused me, even in this darkest moment.  This Bishop of the One True God, this degenerate and blasphemer while hideous and terrible in his petty tortures, held but a candle to the true evil I have witnessed in the world.  I managed a weak laugh for no other reason than to know it would enrage him.

As the iron rod rocked my head back and blood welled in my left eye, I thought of Liz’s voice in my head.

“Quiet, dear one, you do yourself no favors in taunting this fool.”

And of course, she would be right, as she nearly always was.  This was a situation of my own making and she knew it as well as I.  There had been an argument, a near riot amongst the crews of three ships, but in the end, I was the captain, I was the leader of this uprising and my word was law, until such time as one of the others challenged my leadership, but I knew none would.  We are damned or redeemed by our decisions, one after another, and so shall we live or die.

While I remained conscious, it was a near thing.  My head swam as blood filled my left eye and half the world went dark.  My various broken bones and rent flesh had long since lost their ability to wrack my spirit, which I’m sure amused my most obstinate Semaunzilla (may she thrive despite our world of ignorance and pain).  I had learned how to disassociate myself from the weakness of the flesh and preserve a small fortress of sanity within the confines of my mind.  I have concluded that such resolve came from my two years lost in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist, that pocket dimension connected directly to one of the long abandoned divine planes.  Funny I never truly learned which of those oh so empty halls of the once living deities I had found myself in, but the experience had changed me in ways that truly astounded me in their discovery.

My ears had not been punctured in this charade, nor my tongue split or amputated, not as of yet, for this bastard needed me to hear his questions and speak the answers he so desperately craved.  And this, I think, has made all the difference.  He cannot truly break my mind, even as he dances the line of death with my physical form.  His failure to discover our mad schemes will bring down upon his head a form of retribution from his superiors that seems to be the only thing this man fears.  What better balm for my pain than to see his fear growing moment by moment?

For you see, we have been a scourge, these many months, my dearest Father Mulcahy.  A terror on the high seas, as it were.  My compatriots and I have taken to piracy out in the waters of the coastal islands; disrupting trade, scuttling ships, and wreaking havoc amongst those who follow, or collaborate with the Hand of the One True God.

Hence my holiday here in the bowels of one of their most strongly defended keeps in the known lands, on an island fortress impregnable and unassailable.  Feel free to share with Brother Durham the facts of this little tryst.  I hope he cowers in his cell at the mere thought of the pain I have endured.  I will have a modicum of retribution myself when or if I see the man once more, for I am no longer an impressionable child, Father, but a man grown physically and spiritually.

I tongued the gaps where several of my teeth have been forcibly removed and let the shock of that contact keep me from sloughing into unconsciousness.  I would not grant him the reprieve.  His rictus grin turned to me once more, his face a mask of trepidation.  I held my breath, preparing for the next onslaught of pain, when he paused, perplexed.

There came a thunderous pounding upon the door to this chamber, which I believe startled the good Bishop more than myself.  He returned his iron tools to the coals with an angry twitch and stalked toward the door, bellowing curses with each step.  The terrified supplicant at the door handed the great Bishop a parchment and stared beyond the other man to where I reclined on my torture bed.

With my good eye, I watched this junior acolyte quaver in horror at the sight of my mangled and broken form.  Was this the sight he anticipated when he joined this merry band of oppressors?  Had he envisioned his superior was such a callous monster?

Then the room shook with a mighty crash and the fires were snuffed out.

It’s almost time…

The flames of justice scour the sea.

Starting Tuesday, March 21st, the ongoing adventures of Useless Lump and his adventures will return to this space.

Now, with so long a time off, you might think, “Why not start on a Monday, it’s so much more logical and I want my story today, right now.”

Of course, you would be correct in most circumstances, but not in this case.

For you see, Tuesday is the day of war.

Tuesday — Tiu’s day

Middle English tiwesday or tewesday

Old English tiwesdæg “Tiw’s (Tiu’s) day”
Latin dies Martis “day of Mars”
Ancient Greek hemera Areos “day of Ares”

Tiu (Twia) is the English/Germanic god of war and the sky. He is identified with the Norse god Tyr.

Mars is the Roman god of war.

Ares is the Greek god of war.

 

And it is war, my friends, that once more engulfs the broken world.  War of ideology, war of faith, war of justice, and most importantly, war of gods.  Not all who are worshiped are filled with compassion, some thrive on the cries of the defeated and relish in the blood of battle.

So, one more day, I think, to prepare the ballista,  armor the faithful, and let loose the dogs of war.

Tomorrow I will regale you with blood and adventure.  Prepare for chaos as Useless and his cohorts sail the high seas in search for answers and eventually retribution.

Joey… do you like movies about gladiators?

Or, you know… pirates?

Do you like fantasy stories about a naive young acolyte who goes out into a blighted land to seek enlightenment and fulfill a dream quest?  Or the young lizard folk ranger who seeks to fulfill her destiny at the side of a human she loves more than life itself?

How about a story with a sultry halfing thief who will steal your heart, or maybe your kidneys, depending on her mood.  Or a band of pirates out to thwart an evil cult that is spreading across the land and sea.

Let’s throw in wizards and hobgoblins, ancient gods and not-so-ancient ones.  Add a dash of innuendo and empathy and you just might want to read the ongoing adventures of Useless Lump, Liz, Lilith and the whole menagerie of characters.

Coming soon to a blog near you.

Watch this space for further details.