The Road to Lukescros - Part 1
Things were not going well this trip.
Ralitham looked up wearily from the narrow overgrown dirt road they were following. Nothing to see here but Brum’s broad back, his wild mane of black hair cascading down between the huge greatsword that stuck over his left shoulder and the heavy saddle bags thrown over his right. Since they had lost the horses three days ago, they had lugged all their worldly possession on their backs.
Brum had stopped in the middle of the trail.
“Do you hear that?” the towering barbarian’s deep voice rumbled even in his attempt to be quiet.
Ral listened, expecting to hear the shambling and moaning of more zombie guards. It had been almost a day since they had last encountered a troop of them, and he had hoped they were far enough from the thrice curse village of Three Forks to be past all that.
Not that zombies were a problem, Brum mowed them down with his greatsword like a farmer in wheat fields; they were just annoying to Ral because his rapiers were useless, and he was stuck using a pair of daggers on the foul things.
No, zombies weren’t what he was worried about, it was the pack of wights that had cost them the horses, and they don’t make a sound before they strike. It was the ghouls and ghasts and possibly worst nastiness that concerned him.
What he heard was most definitely alive; it sounded like a little girl crying. His first thought was trap. It was also his second, third and fourth thoughts. His instincts told him the more innocent appearing the bait, the more dangerous the encounter.
Brum looked at him.
“No.” He tried to make it forceful and decisive. Brum raised one eyebrow; this wasn’t good.
“No, it’s not our problem.” He was wasting his breath he knew, and was already talking to Brum’s back as they headed off trail and down into a small valley.
“You remember what happened the last time we followed a woman’s voice into the woods?” He asked.
“I told you not to look.” Brum responded.
“No, you said ‘don’t look, there’s a naked woman in that grove’. What’s a guys supposed to do when you say something like that?”
“No. That was totally your fault. You should have said something like ‘look out there is a nasty nymph’”
“She was actually quite nice… as long as you weren’t running up saying lewd things. And we got your sight restored.”
“After days of you walking me into trees!”
Brum didn’t respond. They had reached a small meadow, mostly overgrown with brambles. Near the center, on a small boulder, a young girl, maybe seven or eight years old was seated, thankfully clothed in a pale blue dress with white lace trim. Her skin was like fine white porcelain and she had long blonde hair the shade of spun gold with a large red bow tied in it. All in all, she couldn’t look more sweet and innocent. This was worse than he thought!
“Vampire.” He hazarded a guess, not entirely in jest.
Brum motioned to the blazing afternoon sun overhead.
“Then changeling, or doppelganger, or shape shifter …” he whispered.
Brum looked at him dubiously. For a brief minute, Ral actually thought he was going to talk some sense into his companion.
“She’ll probably turn into a slathering wolf and bite your hand, infecting you with the gods knows what curse.”
The girl looked up and stared teary eyed, directly in at them. Not only had she heard them at this distance, but Ral had the feeling she could actually see them in the shade of the trees. That settled it; it was time to leave.
Brum was already walking out into the meadow towards the girl.
He watched as Brum strode across the sunlit meadow; the big barbarian’s hands were out and open at his sides, and he was probably trying to smile at the girl. That she wasn’t terrified at the sight of him just confirmed Ral’s suspicions.
He sighed deeply and hustled out after Brum. The big lug needed someone to watch his back; besides almost all of their provisions and gear was in the bags he carried.
“What’s the matter little one?” Brum asked in his best ‘friendly’ voice, which could have intimidated the most grizzled veteran.
“Oh, she’s right! She said I wouldn’t last a week like this… and here it is not even a day and look!” The girl held up her dress, the blue of which matched her eyes.
“Who’s right?” Ral asked. He knew better than to get sucked into a conversation with a creature that was most likely crazy as well as dangerous, yet he somehow couldn’t resist.
“My sister; she said I couldn’t handle it. That I’m just a silly little egg.” The girl seemed to gain some composure talking about her sister. There was a stubborn streak under that cherubim face he could tell. Then she looked down at her dress again and the quivering lip started.
“I was just trying to go to Lukescros like this”, the girl pointed to herself.
“Wearing that dress?”
“It looks very pretty” Brum rumbled.
“It’s ruined!” The girl indicated several small rips at the bottom and an area where the lace was frayed badly. Ral felt sure that this was the point where she would turn into some horrid demon and descend on them in anger over some inconsequential damage they had nothing to do with.
Instead, she broke into tears again. It was the one attack that was likely to fell them, and it looked like Brum was already completely overwhelmed. He had to fight back. Logic was the only way.
“Listen kid, just take it to a tailor and have it mended. There are plenty of shops in Lukescros were we’re headed…” He stopped himself, but it was too late.
“We can take you with us” Brum finished.
“Whoa! That’s not a good idea.” His mind was racing for ideas to dodge the inevitable pull of fate. “You don’t even know us. Out here in the wilderness with a pair of hardened adventurers; it wouldn’t be safe.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” She stood up on the boulder, which brought her almost to Brum’s height. “My name is Mayattari Greymantle; I’m from Thunderspire in the Glittering Isles.” She did a little curtsey. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
Oh no, this was not going well. He had never heard of those places; probably made up.
“I’m Brumblestine, son of Gringlehorst and warrior of the great tribe of Yellcrustir who live in the shadow of the blue mountain.” It was a fairly eloquent introduction for Brum. He must be totally under this child’s spell, Ral had never heard him speak more than a few words or grunts to people he had just met. Ral’s mouth fell open in disbelief when the huge barbarian attempted a crude bow. “My path is brightened by your presence.”
They both looked at Ral expectantly. He felt like he was the crude lout at a ball, rather than the only sane one in this wilderness. When the girl had stood up, he noticed her feet were bare, with several fresh scratches on them, but no signs of the dirt a barefoot farmer’s child would have ingrained into them. There was no way she had walked to this spot like that. And with her fair skin, she hadn’t spent much of her life under the sun either.
“This is Ralitham Quickblade. He normally talks a lot more than this…” Brum began.
“Listen kid, we are kind of in a hurry.” Ral cut him off. “There is only so many hours left in this day, and as it is, not enough to get to town before dark.” It was time to put things straight.
“I’m not sure what kind of fairy princess you are, but you don’t seem like a bad sort, so I’ll give you some advice. The area west of here has been turned into a necromancer’s idea of a playground, and nasty things have been roaming around at night. So summon up whatever magic brought you here, and use it to go to town, or back home, or to the moon; I don’t care.”
“But I can’t do that, it would ruin everything. I need to go to town like this! There is the all Bards competition…” Ral was hoping for a blow up, the big reveal, and a fight. But instead he got more lip quivering and was afraid they were going to go back to crying.
Brum was looking at him like something one would avoid stepping in on the road.
“All right, we are going that way anyway, you can travel with us, just don’t slow us down.”
Might as well make the best of it he thought.
“I don’t suppose you have any money?”
“A pot of gold hidden somewhere around here?”
“A rich uncle in town?”
“A map to a dragon hoard?”
“If I did I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Smart girl.” Brum commented.
He turned and started walking back towards the road. The girl called after him.
“Uh mister Quickblade?”
“Call me Ral.”
“Alright, call me Maya.”
“Do I really look like a fairy princess?”
“Yeah kid, you do.”
She spun around on the rock, doing a little dance and swirling her dress. When she stopped, her smile turned to a puzzled expression.
“Why do you call me Kid? Isn’t a ‘kid’ a baby goat?”
As Ral turned back towards the road again he said over his shoulder. “Goats are the second most annoying creatures I know. I’ll give you one guess what the first is.”
Brum stopped him, handing the saddlebags over. He supposed it was only fair; Brum had hauled them for several days now. But he had never known the big barbarian to get tired from anything before.
“I’m going to carry the girl.”
Great, it was far worse than he had imagined. He thought the kid was dangerous, and she probably still was. But danger they could handle; this kid was trouble; trouble with a capital T.
“You’re going to carry me?” The girl seemed to think that was amusing.
“Sure, I’ll be your horsey.”
Ral was flabbergasted. The mighty Brum? The terrifying warrior who could kill a dozen men with a few flicks of his greatsword? He was going to give this kid a horsey ride?
“Horse? He’s more like a dragon.”
The girl seemed to think this was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. She fell on the rock, laughing and giggling; pointing at Brum, she couldn’t even get out what she thought was so funny.
Just when Ral thought things couldn’t get any crazier, Brum gave a mighty roar that would have curdled the spirits of the most stalwart enemy. Instead of terrified screams, this evoked screams of delight. Grabbing the girl, he tossed her on his shoulders and began running around the meadow flapping his arms.
“Look!” The kid managed to get out between fits of giggles. “I’m a dragon rider!”
The little girl and her pretend dragon charged passed Ral and up the hill back towards the road.
As Ral settled the saddlebags on his shoulder and trudged after them he felt that he had the heavier load; of both gear and sanity.