When I awoke I was acutely aware of one thing… I was still alive. It was dark, and I could smell dust and blood. There were cracks of light shining through some sort of burlap bag that was covering my head. I was laying on my stomach with my hands bound behind my back. I could feel the cold metal of the shackles that bound my hands, and wooden planks swaying and jarring beneath me. I could hear the sounds of horse hoofs ahead of me, and I knew then that I must have been in a cart. I remember making a point not to move, I did not want whoever had me to know I was conscious. I took a moment to collect my bearings and assess things.
My father always said; “A soldier who acts without thought is a soldier lost.”
What had happened to me to get me there, of that, I was not sure at the time. Clearly an assassin had tried and failed to take my life. He poisoned me in my cabin aboard my airship, The Dashing Stag. He then dragged me through some sort of magical portal into a dirty alley in some city. It was then that he told me that he was hired by my uncle to kill me, and then he stabbed me through the heart and left me dying in agony on the ground.
What I saw and heard next still resounds in my head as clearly as the moment it happened. Two passions spoke, and I knew not which ones at the time. The first had a voice that was deep and somewhat gravelly, the second was also deep but smooth and spoke in measured, calm tones.
The first voice growled; “He’s mine.”
The second calmly responded; “He is not for you.”
The second immediately snapped back. “He is most definitely for me. He is perfect!”
The first voice, still calm and resonate, stated flatly. “Maybe so… but not today.”
It was then that the pain of death left me, my entire being felt as though it were awash in a bright shining light. I felt calm, and warm, and the coldness was gone as I faded into unconciousness. Now here I was, chained and miserable in some stinking cart, heading who knows where, and for who knows what.
I was groggy, and my head hurt. My shoulders ached from having been in an awkward position for a long time. Still, I knew I had to try to escape if I could. I pulled on my bonds to see if they could be broken. I pulled them tight and strained to break them. As I did, the links clinked together and I winced at the noise.
It was then that the shroud over my head was snatched away, and for a moment I was blinded by the bright light of the sun. A man stood above me, chuckling with a raspy, throaty laugh. My eyes adjusted, and when I saw him, I was able to make out his features. He was pale, thin and sporting a pudgy stomach from too much ale. He was maybe forty summers, with a hooked nose and wild locks of thin, greasy hair. He was grinning at me with crooked yellow teeth.
“The great lord Stillicho!” He laughed.
I could not have been more shocked. Though I had never met the man before, I had no doubt about the ugly face that was before me. The man’s name was Trejack, a slaver chief who had been roaming around Barsaive scooping up hapless name-givers as slaves in the kingdom of Throal… right under the noses of the dwarves who prided themselves on the freedom that their kingdom bestowed on all its inhabitants. Ironically, I had just gone before the king the day of the assassin tried to kil me, and received an official Letter of Marque for Trejack and his accomplices. It stated that I, Stilicho, Ealdorman of Konigsberg, and my lieutenants, Ardor and Kerick, were now authorized by the King of Throal to hunt this man and his allies in the name of the Kingdom of Throal. Getting the letter had served multiple purposes for me. Trejack had enslaved some of my friends, and they sought vengeance. He was a slaver, and a criminal, and capturing or killing him would bolster my growing reputation. Most importantly though, having a Letter of Marque, signed by the king of Throal that stated that I was the Ealdorman of Konigsberg was invaluable to me. It meant that Throal would not recognize my usurper uncle Elfric as Ealdorman, at least as long as I lived. And here he was just a day later, smiling at me while I lay before him bloodied and in chains.
I said nothing. I did not intend to confirm for him who I was. This man was not the assassin who had tried to kill me, nor could he be affiliated with him because the assassin thought he had left me dead. How Trejack found me or knew me was another question, but if given the opportunity I would sow the seeds of doubt in him about who he had.
His grin faltered as he realized I was not going to respond to his bait. He then glared at me.
“You were going to haul me before the justices of the Throalic court, were you?” He laughed again, too loudly, a laugh that lacked complete confidence.
Again I said nothing, but tried to take the opportunity to look around outside of the cart. I began to move my knees beneath me so I could sit up on them. Just as I started, Trejack flipped a wooden cudgel out of his belt as quick as a cat, and I could not react fast enough with my stiff and shackled limbs before I took a shot to the side of my head that would have felled an ox.
Once again, darkness took me.
When I awoke I expected pain in my head from the cudgel. Oddly enough though, I felt no pain and my body had no aches. I was laying on a stone floor in a dimly lit room. The walls were crumbling in places, and though I was no mason I could clearly see areas of it had been patched recently. The only exit was a door made of metal bars. I was in a prison cell. There were places for many others in this cell, it could hold maybe 40 souls, but I was the only one here. There was litte in the room except a few piles of straw, some crumbling stones, and a handful of buckets for prisoners to piss in.
Without making a sound I got to my feet and crept over to a small pile of crumbled wall stones. I was looking for a weapon, and I found one. A stone, broken from the crumbling wall and slightly bigger than my hand. It had a rough edge and rounded back. As perfect a weapon as I could hope for. I remember thinking that my jailors were overconfident and careless.
I scooped it up and carefully made my way to the wall next to the door. I listened and could hear heavy breathing from the hall. I took a peek around the corner and caught a glimpse of a heavily built orc with a mohawk sitting on a stool around the corder, just outside of my cell door. I then heard something from the wall adjacent to my cell. A sound like something rubbing against the stone of the wall on the other side. I gambled and lightly tapped the wall, and at first, I heard nothing. Then I heard a loud scraping along the wall. Something big was over there… really big.
I decided that I didn’t want to mess with whatever that was, and I also decided that the only chance I had of escape was to get the guard to open the door and let me brain him with the rock. So I flattened myself to the wall next to the door just in the shadow where the light from the other room couldn’t shine on me.
I waited a long time, at least twenty minutes, before the big orc finally stirred. I heard his chair creak under his bulk, and then he shuffled toward the door of my cell. I clutched the rock a bit tighter.
“Hey, come over here you.” He growled.
I did nothing. I didn’t move and I remained absolutely still. The orc waited, his breathing heavy. I remember thinking that these orcs must not be used to having just one prisoner in this cell, for it was too big to watch. They were used to having a bunch of prisoners in it whom they didn’t particularly care about, and didn’t have to pay attention to.
The orc sighed. “Get over here or I’ll have to get Ned and you don’t want that.”
He stated that in a threatening voice, but also somewhat pleading. Clearly this orc didn’t want to deal with any trouble, and though he thought I was simply hiding, which I was, he also had a slightest bit of doubt in his voice. He had to know I was a high value prisoner, and I’m sure he was thinking that he didn’t want to be the one responsible for sleeping on the job while I escaped.
“Dang bunda breath hummie. This isn’t going to end well for you, come out now!" He ordered.
He then swore in Orcish. Then louder he shouted; “Odda get over here.”
I heard another orc come from somewhere else in the room. The two stood there for a few minutes muttering about where I could have gone. Odda seemed to think I was just hiding out of sight in the cell, but I could tell that he too was nervous. Finally, the other one who’s name I learned was Grodnag said; “Go get Ned.“
I heard Odda jog off. I noticed I could hear the creak of leather armor as he left, and the jingle of weapons in a belt, so I knew I was dealing with fighting name-givers here. The Grodnag stupidly pressed his face to the bars to try to see in, I could have crushed his face easily with my rock. But I didn’t know if he had a key to the door, so I waited.
“I didn’t want to have to get Ned, but you did this to yourself." He said apologetically.
Then he added; "You had better show yourself hummie, Ned won’t be happy that you’re disturbing his nap. Maybe he’ll leave you alone if you stop causing trouble.”
The threat of Ned showing up was wasted on me. I was guessing Ned had a key on him, which meant that I wanted Ned there, and I would see for myself how tough he was once he got there. Luckily for me, I did not have to wait long.
I heard heavy footsteps of a bulky orc, and I heard a jingle of keys. Then I heard a deep, guttural voice growl; “Get behind me and be ready.”
I heard blades being drawn from scabbards and the beautiful sound of a key hitting the lock and being turned. The lovely click as the door unlocked. Then, the metal grinding of the ill-kept door swinging open. I grinned.
I struck like a lion, with a roar I charged forward from my hiding place, rock in hand. Ned, I saw, was a massively built orc wearing studded leather armor and carrying a broad sword. He was gritting his teeth, ready for my attack and he swung his blade in an arc designed to drive me back. It was the wrong move, I was too close for such an attack. Ned, though a competent fighter was not a warrior. He was not a soldier who trained daily for war. He was a slaver, soft, and used to dealing with helpless and desperate slaves already beaten into submission. Now he faced a man of Konigsberg, a people with the heart of the wolf and favored by Thystonius. His attack was futile.
I got my left arm under his sword arm, and swatted it away as I brought the rock down in a crushing blow atop his head. Luckily for Ned, he was wearing an iron helmet, otherwise that blow would have crushed his skull. Instead my rock crashed into his helmet, denting it badly, and the blow knocked him back into his buddies, and then he stumbled, stunned, and fell to the ground. His blade had fallen out of his hand, and before the others could even react, I had scooped it up. The orc behind Ned, Odda lunged at me with a spear, a crude, desperate thrust that I easily parried. I then counter-stroked with my own thrust, catching the surprised orc in the throat. Blood flowed down his chest as he collapsed to the floor mortally wounded. I kicked him in the face as he went down for good measure.
Grodnag was now in front of me. He had just watch me effortlessly dispatch his comrades, and I saw not fear in his eyes, but the recognition that he could not win. To his credit he did not run or surrender, but he fought defensively, trying desperately to parry my attacks and prolong the inevitable. But he was no match for me, he unbalanced himself trying to block one of my overhand swings, and I knocked him to the floor with a kick. Then, as he was toppling to the floor I brought the hilt of my blade down onto his head, knocking him out cold.
Two more orcs then came charging into the room, a third trailing behind, when the game completely changed. I was tasting freedom and I spun to face my new attackers with relish. Then without warning a loud explosion of sound came from the cell adjacent to my own. Rocks tumbled into the hallway, the cell door had been blasted from the wall along with the stone holding it in place. A huge form crashed into the hall, tangled in the cell door which it had just blasted through. The orc nearest me screamed with fear; “The beast is out!!!”
A massive ogre then untangled himself from the cell door and grabbed the cringing orc in the hallway, and smashed his head like a broken melon against the stone wall. Then the ogre charged into the room with the other two orcs and I. All three of us backpedaled. It scooped up something that looked like a tree trunk laying in the corner and proceeded to smash both of the orcs as I backed into my cell. The beast eyeballed me, then roared and left the room, charging madly down the hallway. I stood waiting for a moment just outside of my former cell, and then I took a moment to remove Ned’s armor, gather up some weapons, a helmet, and a shield. I then dragged Ned and Grodnag’s unconcious forms into the cell and I locked the door with Ned’s keys. I put the keys in a satchel I took off Odda’s corpse, and began to search for a way out.
I made my way through the building we were in. It was an ancient place, with what was once likely beautiful stonework that was now crumbling in many places. Clearly the cell I had been placed in was make-shift. I guessed the structure to be pre-scourge, but I didn’t know for sure. I wandered through the building, seeing dead orcs, more cells, and evidence of the ogre’s rampage throughout the corridors. I found a couple of rooms with useful equipment and food that I gathered up. Eventually I found a stairwell leading up.
I made my way into the sunshine, temporarily blinded by the sudden light. I saw no sign of additional orc guards or the ogre. It was then that I noticed that this was a temple that I had been kept in. What would have been a beautiful place that had fallen into ruin. I stood looking in awe at it, something deep in my soul was tugging at me, telling me there was more too this place. But I couldn’t stay, for all I knew an army of orcs with Trejack at their head was coming back any second. I didn’t know where I was, all I knew was that I had to get out and get out now. It was late in the day, and I didn’t have much time left.
I could see the spine of the Eastern Twilight Peaks off in the distance to the West. Too far away to walk in such treacherous terrain. To my East appeared the Tundersky Peaks in the distance, much too far away. That meant that somewhere not too far to the North had to be the serpent river… and if I could make it to that, I could possibly make my way to Ayodmya… and salvation.
Ahead of me was a well worn path leading away. I could see occasional footprints of the ogre in the dirt. I followed that for a ways, keeping my sword ready. I then saw what looked like a camp in the middle of a cluster of large trees. The road passed through it. There were several tents, a couple of blood stains where the ogre apparently had taken a fresh victim, but no bodies. One tent was smashed in on one side. I saw food, and supplies in it. That was something I badly needed if I was going to hike my way out of here.
I plodded over to the tents, where I noticed many airship anchor marks on the ground. I then realized that this clearing wasn’t just an encampment, but a wind break and cover to hide a ship. A sky captain would take his vessel in here, and drop down below the treetops to drop anchor and stay out of the wind and free of wandering eyes. This camp was probably used for many purposes, but one would undoubtedly have someone on the ground to secure the anchor when dropped. This was probably how Trejack had gotten me here. I ducked into one of the tents. Inside I found a fine travelers pack made of soft, gray leather, possibly Theran make. I stuffed it full of food. Then I filled up a couple of water skins, and grabbed a few other things for the road including a fine bed roll. Just as I was getting ready to leave, I heard footsteps approaching that I knew could only be the ogre.
I did not want to tangle with the ogre. It had easily crushed the orc guards here, and though they were also no match for me, I did not wish to get into a melee with such a creature. I had a long way to go, and I did not know who or what would be pursuing me, and I didn’t want to be maimed or worse. Plus I thought an ogre running around might help deter my pursuit. I decided to stay in the tent and hope the beast would simply pass by.
That did not work out like I had hoped.
The beast plodded into the middle of the camp and stood there. I could hear it sniffing the air, almost like a dog picking up a scent. Then, with a loud ripping sound, the entire canvas of the tent was torn up from the ground around me, steaks and all!
The ogre hesitated for a moment when it saw me, I assume he recognized me not as a hated guard but as a fellow prisoner. However he didn’t hesitate for long, and his club came crashing down. It was a blow that could have killed the Thundra, but I anticipated it. I stepped inside the swing and drove my blade into the arm of the beast, causing him to howl in pain. He then raised the club over his head, winding up for a massive overhand strike. I stabbed upward into his left shoulder, which caused him to lose his grip on his club. The force of his backswing, caused the club to spin around and smack him right in the back of his head. He crashed to the ground in a heap, knocked out but certainly not dead.
I debated what to do about the ogre. I then decided to bind his shoulder wound and be off. There was nothing more I could do for him, and kiling him didn’t seem right since he had aided my escape. There was almost no light left in the day and I had a long ways to go.
I hefted my pack of gear and began heading off into the gray light of dusk.