Keli… short for Keli

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    • Markshire PCs:

    One o’ my favorite things to do in Markshire, is shop! Yup, shoppin’! Fer clothes, mainly.I really likes shoppin’ fer clothes!

    There ain’t no stores back in my old village where you can buy nice garments. Oh, we have a tailor o’ sorts who’ll sew up a simple outfit for you if you hand him a coin or two. Nothin’ fancy, mind you. Barely more than a big cloak with a hole cut into the middle so’s you can poke yer head up through and two smaller holes fer your arms. Mayhap three smaller holes if you happen to have three arms, although I ain’t never seen nobody what has three arms.

    And he’ll include a piece o’ rope so’s yuh can snug up the whole business ‘round yer waist. He’ll waterproof ‘em too. Yup! Ain’t one drop o’ rain ever gonna find it’s way inside o’ one o’ those cloaks he makes, but whatever the hel he rubs into them garments to make them water tight, also makes ‘em smell somethin’ awful!

    I’m thinkin’ it might be animal fat or somethin’ close to that. He only has one choice o’ material and it’s all the same color! Brown! Now I ain’t got the slightest idea where he gets this cloth, but he has yards and yards o’ this stuff layin’ ‘round his shop! Well . . . you guessed it! Everyone in my village is walkin’ around wearin’ one o’ them stinky garments and from a distance, with everyone clad in brown, it’s hard to tell folks apart from one another!

    Yup! The whole village reeks from them damn cloaks and it looks like its filled up full o’ a bunch of foul smellin’ monks what escaped from a monastery or somethin’! When a stranger visits our little hamlet and sees all those people strollin’ ‘round in those garments I’d be willin’ to bet they’re thinkin’ the same thing!

    When they gets a little closer and that atrocious odor o’ all them cloaks begins to offend their nose, for sure they turn right around and start headin’ back the way they came! I ain’t lyin! I’m tellin’ yuh the truth! We don’t get too many visitors comin’ into our little village ‘cause o’ those damn cloaks!

    O’ course it would help some, if folks bathed more frequently, you know? But from where I come from, people only takes a bath once a year. Yup! Tradition they calls it! Come June, we’ll all hop into a tub or even a stream if the water ain’t too cold, scrubbin’ ourselves all over, even behind our ears, sometimes even usin’ a bit o’ soap if we happen to have any, and really doin’ a thorough job o’ it, not missin’ a thing! Well . . . a bath’s gotta last us for a whole year, you know?

    Thing is, nobody seems to care ‘bout all o’ this one way or the other, and I ain’t cared either till the day I found a nice shop in Stonemark, smack in the middle o’ the Beroe District, a few doors down from Berrick’s Blacksmith shoppe, called “Anastasia’s Fine Apparel”.

    Oh geez! What a charming store it is! A huge place, and she’s got mannaq . . . . uh, dummies propped up with sticks stuck into their backs to keep ‘em straight, and they’s just about everywhere you look! And she’s got the most beautiful fineries hangin’ off o’ them! Oh geez! Silks and satins, the finest linins, even wool what was sheared right off o’ Stone Giant’s backs!

    She told me she boils the Stone Giant wool, stirrin’ it for hours in a big iron cook pot filled with spring water what she has sittin’ out behind her shop. When she decides it’s had enough cookin’ she’ll fish it out, let it air dry than she’ll comb out all the knots along with any dead bugs and stuff what might be still clingin’ to it. Then she’ll dye it up in a rainbow o’ different colors! She knits the nicest sweaters outta that wool! Those sweaters’ll keep you warm as toast too!

    Yup! Stone Giant wool! It sure as hel keeps those giants warm! That’s why they can get away bein’ so scantily clad, wearin only those loin cloths while they’re runnin’ about in Thrym’s pass!

    And her shoppe always smells so good! I ain’t sure, but I think she spritzes everything with perfume each mornin’ before she opens the doors!

    Well, I’ll tell ya, I’m a lady o’ means now and I got enough gold saved up to buy just about any damn thing I’m wantin’ and over the last few months I did just that! I purchased every dress and gown Anastasia had fer sale in that shop o’ hers and I ain’t cared an inch ‘bout how much it cost me!

    Anastasia told me I was one o’ her best customers, aside from that dippy lady Paladin, Aels-witch! Oh geez! Well, a girl’s gotta always look her best, you know? Now my magic box is so full o’ dresses and gowns, I can’t close it proper even when I sit on the lid and bounce around on top of it! I even popped one o’ the hinges the last time I tried to squeeze it shut!

    Anyways, I wanted somethin’ special made, just for me. It had to be unique, not an “off the shelf” item. A one of a kind outfit what no one else had. So, after some hagglin’ back and forth with her ‘bout the cost, Anastasia agreed to design an outfit for me!

    She asked me what my favorite colors was and I writ out a list a list o’ ‘em for her. Well . . . because I got a whole bunch o’ favorite colors, you know?

    That settled, she gathered up all the material she’d be needin’ and took some measurements o’ different parts o’ me with a long string she pulled outta her pocket that looked just like the one Sun-Ok uses, what had little white markings all along the length o’ it.

    Then she gave Kareena, her counter girl, a quick smile along with a little wink and the both o’ them set about snippin’ and sewin’, hemmin’ and hawin’, toilin’ away on my special new one o’ a kind clothing.

    Well I’ll tell you, when I walked outta that fittin’ room sportin’ my new outfit, I felt like Cleo . . . uh, Cleopa . . . uh, that lady queen what lived ages ago far south o’ here by the banks o’ that big river!

    Anastasia had crafted me a yellow, wide brimmed hat what was decorated with a dazzlin’ red ribbon and it had a huge pink feather stickin’ outta the back o’ it! My blouse was satin and the same color as my new hat! It was sleeveless too! To show off my arms, you know?

    And she’d sewed up an elegant vest fer me what was a brilliant red, matchin’ the ribbon in my hat! The vest had a lovely weave o’ darker red throughout and was roomy enough so’s I was able to wear it over the new blouse. She’d sewn on fourteen little gray buttons, each one shaped like a tiny skull, in two rows runnin’ down the front o’ it.

    She’d even crafted gloves for me from an old fishin’ net she found layin’ around somewhere and dyed it pink to go with the feather in my hat! The gloves stretched up far above my elbows, makin’ me look so dig . . . digna . . . uh, like very much a lady!

    And oh geez, black trousers made up o’ her softest silk, what stopped at my knees, ending there with a little frilly band o’ material! She’d sewn really deep pockets on either side of ’em too, so’s I’d have a place to store all o’ my chewin’ tobacco! Black patent leather shoes and, ohh, how they sparkled so! You could even see your face in ’em! And Anastaisa dyed the tips a bright color pink, to go perfect with that feather! And to top it off, a fancy umbrella, a light grey color with an exquisite black design embroidered into the top o’ it! Waterproof o’ course!

    I stood there outside the fittin’ room all gussied up in my new finery, fish net gloves and all, proud as a peacock, twrlin’ my new umbrella over my shoulder, givin’ Anastasia and her counter girl a chance to gaze a bit on their creation, you know? Well . . . they looked at me, than at each other . . . and than the both o’ them started roarin’ with laughter!!

    Oh geez! What was so damn funny? Was they laughin’ at me for some reason? I hates it when folks is laughin’ at me! Especially if I ain’t told no joke or nothin’.

    So . . . I quick reached fer my Falchion thinkin’ I’d lop off both their heads and swiftly put a stop to their jollity! But I’d put the damn weapon down, along with my pack, while I was changin’ into my new clothes! And . . .I’d forgotten exactly where I’d placed it! Well . . . I was excited ‘bout the new special clothes, you know?

    Anastasia could easily see I was getting’ steamed and right quick stopped her laughin’, backed up a step and started wavin’ her arms at me!

    “No, no Keli! It’s the buttons girl! We’ve . . . uh, um, enchanted the buttons on your new vest!”

    She glanced at Kareena and I’m sure I seen her wink again.

    “Yes! That’s it lass! Those . . . uh, buttons have a powerful magic in them!”

    I noticed Karenna’s eyes openin’ up wider and wider as Anastasia went on.

    “I’ve a mage who works for me part time! He comes in after four, stays an hour or two, and only comes in two days a week!” she said.

    “He does the enchanting for me! I thought it would be a nice touch Keli! You know, happy buttons? They’ll bring good cheer and wipe the frown off any face that happens to gaze upon them! Some folks will double over in laughter even!”

    Kareena now had both hands covering her mouth and with her eyes as wide as saucers, was staring intently at Anastasia. Her mistress realizing I’d misplaced my weapon and feeling a tad safer because of it had stepped a bit closer to me and she spoke again.

    “Think girl! Why would you not want to spread a bit of happiness around this miserable god awful place? We certainly could use more happiness in Stonemark, and everywhere else, for that matter!”

    Well . . . I thought ‘bout that fer a moment or two and I decided Anastasia was right. I mean, why not be puttin’ a grin or a big smile on everyones’ face what glanced at those buttons and I decided right then, not to be loppin’ off their heads.

    Instead, I thanked the both o’ them for the fine work they done, paid Anastasia a full two handfuls more o’ gold than she’d asked for, gave Kareena a big smile and an even bigger tip, and off I went, into the night.

    I wear’s this outfit often. Sometimes folks’ll laugh, sometimes they just stare, but I’m sure those buttons is bringin’ good cheer to all who gaze upon them!

    I was wearin’ these very clothes a few days ago when I met Jon, Iathouz, and Celadur Ma’fer in that cave what connects the dwarf city with Thrym’s pass. T’was not too long after that, we run into a very brassy dragon! Oh geez! I must tell you ‘bout that encounter!

    But wait! I’ve run outta ink again!

    She grabs a ladle off the table and runs outside to the spittoon full of her tobacco juice ink which she keeps on the porch.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Oh geez, it’s been ages since I took up me pen to jot somethin’ down! Well, mainly ‘cause there ain’t very much happinin’ here in Markshire what’s good ta writ about, you know?

    ‘Cept for me and my good friend Sir Aeton, the gate Guard in Foothold and a few others I sees now and then, there aint’ noboby left in town . . . or anywhere else, for that matter! Nope! Not a soul! I heard most folks is camped out somewhere just outside Lord Mark’s castle, They’s all millin’ ‘round, gettin’ really antsy and impatient, snappin’ at each other, sometimes even drawin’ their weapons!

    They’s all waitin’ for Lord Mark to get that new wagon o’ his up and runnin’! You remember . . . the wagon I told you about a few pages back? The one Lord Mark bought what’s got all the bells and whistles hangin’ off o’ it and the five wheels, each one wantin’ to go its own way?

    You know . . . the one with the huge map what keeps droppin’ down in front ‘o the driver blockin’ his view? Yup! That one! The fancy improved wagon Lord Mark say’s he’s gonna use to take all o’ us off to some better place where the sun’s forever shinin’ and there’s a pot o’ gold sittin’ at the end o’ every rainbow, and it ain’t nearly as cold as it is here in Markshire!

    Between you and me, I ain’t thinkin’ that wagon’s worth half what he paid fer it! It’s too big, too bulky, too hard to handle, and . . . it seems Lord Mark and his friends ain’t got no farther along learnin’ how to drive the damn thing than they wuz a few months back! I ain’t lyin’! I’m tellin’ the truth!

    Well . . . I’m kinda sure what I’m pennin’ down is the truth. It’s hard to tell how far along they is, learnin’ how to drive it, cause they don’t post no up- dates on their progress! Some folks what’s camped outside the castle is even grumblin’ ‘bout wantin’ the money back what they’s laid out fer trip tickets! Yup! There must be at least elevendy three people all signed up fer makin’ the journey, what’s wantin’ a refund on those tickets! ‘Cept fer me . . .’cause I ain’t bought no ticket yet.

    I heard other folks is just driftin’ away, one or two at a time, lookin’ for new places to settle down or new worlds to explore! There’s a good chance those folks’ll never come back and what a terrible shame that would be!

    If ya ask me, Lord Mark could make better use o’ his time developin’ some o’ the land around the “Old” Markshire, ya know? I mean there’s plenty o’ land ‘round this place what could use some developin’ and I’m sure most o’ us would pitch right in and give him a hand! I’m sure o’ that!

    We could even go about fixin’ up that old burned out city what the Titan destroyed! O’ course, we’d have to get rid o’ the damn Titan first and doin’ that would be quite a chore! We could clean out the “Temple in the Medow”, and finally rid it o’ all the evil things what’s lurkin’ in it’s halls! We’d be needin’ an army to do that I’m thinkin’.

    Anyways, I know nobody’s askin’ me and I’m pretty sure Lord Mark would tell me to mind my own business ‘bout the whole thing!

    Sometimes men is like that, ya know? At times a man’ll get headstrong ‘bout a thing, even if it ain’t such a good thing, and not want to let it go.Yup! when a man gets an idea ‘bout somethin’ stuck in his head, he’ll be hangin’ on to it fer dear life and there ain’t nothin’ short o’ a good whack on the noggin’ what can shake it loose from him!

    Well, fer sure, I ain’t gonna do no poundin’ on Lord Mark’s head! Nope! Not me!! But . . . I’m hopin’ mayhap Lady Mark’ll talk some sense into him, ya know?

    All o’ us would fer sure enjoy seein’ him and his wife sittin’ comfy and cozy, atop his “Old” wagon, clippity cloppin’ along the streets o’ Markshire again’! And oh geez, after a new paint job, a little oil on the axles, and grease on the bearings to stop the squeakin’, I’m bettin’ he’d find out that “Old” wagon still works quite well!

    I ain’t forgot ‘bout the brassy dragon me and the boys met awhile back in Thrym’s pass . . . but my hand’s crampin’ up from all this writin’ I’m doin’ and I’m sorry, but that tale’ll just have to wait.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Now I’m gonna get to writtin’ ‘bout the dragon Jon and Iathouz and me run into a few nights ago in thrym’s pass.

    Even though Bal’ynez is boarded by snow covered cliffs to the north, west and south, and the freezin’ Timeless Desert to the east, the dwarven wizards has managed to weave a powerful magic ‘round their fine city protectin’ it from the chillin’ cold just outside its walls. Yup! Those wizards worked it out so it’s always kinda warm and comfortable here! Sometimes quite humid too!

    Because the climate in the city is so pleasant, commander Zawa, who controls the city’s militia, went about settin’ aside a section in the center where he allows the local venders to do their tradin’. And it’s right outside in the open air! It’s called the “Merchant Bazaar” and the first thing me and the boys done after gettin’ inside the gates was to head over there.

    Here each o’ the dealers has set up temporary booths, crafted from what looks to me like red oak. The trees is probably felled somewhere in the Narlynwik forest and I guess the logs is hauled out to the city by wagon, but I ain’t too sure o’ that. The kiosks ain’t fancy, the shelves and counter tops is rough hewn and hastily hammered together, but they’s built sturdy and enable the hawkers to properly display their wares.

    The bazaar’s a noisy place. There’s always an ox cart or three, piled high with all sorts o’goods and it’s clippity cloppin’ along, the driver weedlin’his way from one kiosk to the next, replenishing each merchant’s goods.

    It’s always bustlin’ with people too. They’s wanderin’ about, some just lookin’, some stoppin’ fer a moment to sample a fabric, or heft a new weapon, others to haggle with a merchant ‘bout the price o’ an item what might o’ caught their eye and they’s thinkin’ ‘bout makin’ a purchase.

    And the market’s filled with all sorts o’ temptin’ aromas! They’s comin’ from the big iron cook pots and skillets what some of the merchant’s got set up beside their stands. That odor’s waftin’ up at you and ticklin’ your nose and makin’ your tummy grumble!

    Oh geez! Hot venison stew loaded with potatoes, carrots, onions and assorted spices boilin’ and bubblin’ away! And sweet sausages, laid out in orderly rows on little portable iron skillets, sizzlin’and cracklin’, cookin’ in their own juices!

    All the venders is bellowin’ ‘bout the fine quality o’ their goods, some o’ them even offerin’ a guarantee or a huge discount if you buy their product!

    T’was here at this market we stocked up on supplies’. Healin’ kits, arrows, potions and the like. It’s always a good idea to do that before startin’ any kind o’ journey in Markshire. I mean . . . you never know . . . you know?

    After I changed outta my special one o’ kind outfit with the happy buttons, what Anastasia and kareena had crafted fer me, I bought a few things too. I also stole a bag o’ toasted almonds, a baked apple what was drenched in a brown sugary syrup, and two o’ those plump, sweet sausages right off a skillet what was set up along side Gromk’s stand while he was lookin’ the other way. They was really hot but I managed to make ‘em disappear right under me cloak without burnin’ my fingers too much.

    Well . . . I figured it would be nice to have a thing or two to nibble on while we was sloggin’ along’ through the pass!

    Anyways, off we went, the boys and me, my cloak now bulgin’ with the pilfered goods. We made our way past the guards what the commander always has stationed on almost every corner o’ the city.

    Mayhap it was my imagination, but Zawa’s men seemed edgy ‘bout somethin’. Each o’ ‘em nervously fingerin’ their dwarven war axes, eyes dartin’ about, their jaws set like stone, shiftin’ their weight from one foot to the other, and watchin’ every move we made. We left the market street, passed through Bal’ynaz’s Outer Hall, and made our way to the cave what winds and wiggles deep under the outskirts o’ the city, finally makin’ a connection to Thrym’s pass.

    I ain’t took a breath and kept glancin’ back over my shoulder ‘till we got well into the cave, thinkin’ Gromk would discover some o’ his provisions had gone missin’, then fly into a rage and be screamin’ for Commander Zawa’s Militia, realizin’ I might o’had somethin’ to do with the thievery! I suppose Gromk ain’t noticed nothin’ missin’ from his booth or off his skillet cause no guards come chasin’ after us and before long we was outta the cave and into Thrym’s canyon where I took a big bite outta the sausage I’d filched and began breathin’ normal again!

    For those o’ you what’s plannin’ to do a bit o’ explorin’ in Thrym’s pass I’d recommend wearin’ a good set o’ woolens . . . worn over your flannels what you’ve already pulled on over your linins. It’ll be a bit cramped inside your armor because o’ all that extra clothin’, but for sure, it’ll keep you warm and toasty! Anyways, it ain’t so much the cold in the pass what causes problems for folks. It’s the damn wind!

    Thrym’s wove some magic into it to make it do his biddin’ and that wind o’ his don’t never stop! It’s always there, howlin’ away and soundin’ like a bunch o’ banshies screamin’ at you! Thrym sends it whippin’ and wooshin’ between those canyon walls what act like a funnel fer it, makin’ it even stronger and it keeps tearin’ at your clothes, attemptin’ to rip ‘em right off your back!

    And somehow the wind is always blowin’ smack in your face! Yup! It don’t’ matter none which way your headin’, left, right, up or down . . . east or west! Which ever way you’re facin’ that damn wind’ll still be hittin’ you square in the face! Sometimes Thrym’ll mix a bit o’ sleet in with his wind too! Oh geez! It’s like havin’ a thousand tiny needles tattooing’ away at your cheeks! I mean it! Needles!! If you spend more than a few hours strollin’ ‘round in Thrym’s pass, for days after, your face is gonna resemble chopped liver!

    He must o’ done some powerful magical weavin to accomplish that trick! Well, it’s his pass and I guess it’s up to him to decide whether or not to go foolin’ ‘round with Mother Nature! After all, the dwarven wizards does the same, in keepin’ Bal’nyez so warm and humid, you know?

    I got some friends what’s good at weavin’ magic. Kayla, Faith and Nitha, to name a few. Ain’t none o’ them can weave a spell as strong as Thrym or them dwarven wizards what manage to keep Bal’ynaz so pleasent but they’s fair to middlin’ at it, you know? Evergreen’s good at it ‘too, ‘cept all o’ his weavin’ winds up either hurtin’ somebody or killin’ some poor soul outright!

    The wizard Monty ain’t bad at it either. ‘Cept Monty ain’t too careful ‘bout where he’s aimin’ his weavin’. Oh, you gotta stand far back when Monty goes about conjurin’ up one o’ his spells else you might disappear right along with what ever the hel he’s aimin’ his magic at! You know . . . mayhap that’s what happened to him! I ain’t seen him in a month o’ Sundays! Could it be that Monty went and wove himself right out o’ Markshire?

    Anyways, most folks ‘round these parts is hard and tough enough to deal with the tricks Thrym does with the weather in his pass. I mean, the wind and sleet Thrym conjures up with his weavin’ll make your cheeks sore but that ain’t gonna kill you, you know? Nope . . . but there’s other things in his pass what’ll kill yuh dead as dust! Yup!

    Stone giants fer example! Massive, revoltin’ lookin’ monsters, three, mayhap sometimes even nine o’ them in a group wearin’ only loin cloths, cause their backs is covered with dense hair, what protects them from the cold!

    And as your tryin’ hard to make your way along, battlin’ the wind, those giants is dancin’ ‘round on ledges far above you, hurlin’ pro . . profan . . . profani . . . .uh, curses down at you along with huge stones what they’ve piled up like cannon balls and stashed ‘em within easy reach! And if you ain’t got no shield to hold above yer head to protect you from bein’ squished flat by one o’ those stones, fer sure all that will be left o’ you is a little gore, and a big bloody splotch in the snow!

    Now I’ll be the first to admit there ain’t too much I understand o’ the stone giant language . . . it’s made up mostly of assorted grunts and growls. But I knows when a thing is hurlin’ a curse at me, especially if it’s sailin’ along in my direction with a huge stone attached!!

    There’s even worse things you’ll run into while you’re saunterin’ along in Thrym’s pass besides them damn stone giants. Minions! They’s about the most vile and wicked creatures you’re likely ever to meet up with anywhere in all o’ Markshire! And the Titan’s got the damn things patrolin’ the pass! Those things is so evil they suck up all the goodness around them and obliterate it, includin’ any stray light what happens to be near by! All that’s left is an inky blackness what surrounds ‘em!

    And if I was the bettin’ kind, I’d wager they’d be killin’ you before you’d be killin’ them! There’s a few different kinds o’ minions, mayhap more than two kinds, I ain’t so sure ‘bout it. But I’ve only seen two kinds in the pass. Little ones, what look somethin’ like a cross between a bat and a wyrm . . . and big ones, mayhap the size o’ a worg or a bit larger. I ain’t gonna say no more ‘bout minions ‘cept if you happen to see one, turn around quick and run like hel back the way you’ve come!

    Now when you leave the cave what connects the dwarf city with Thrym’s pass you gotta make a choice ‘bout which way to go. You can travel east toward the town o’ Foothold or . . . you could take the road what winds west. Goin’ west’ll bring yuh right up to the gates o’ Gastlynyk, the burned out city what the Titan demolished.

    Choosin’ the west road would be ‘bout the same as buyin’ a one way ticket to someplace and you better go about sayin’ goodbyes to all your friends and relatives! Mayhap even give some thought ‘bout makin’ out some kind o’ will! Cause fer sure, if you pick that west road what’ll take you on to Gastlynyk, you ain’t never comin’ back again!

    The four o’ us, Jon, Iathouz and me, paused just outside the cave, our weapons ready, lookin’ ‘round here and there, makin’ sure nothin’ was lyin in wait, gettin’ set to pounce on us. We’d already done our choosin’ ‘bout which way to go. We’d planned on takin’ the east road. The road what led to Foothold . . .

    • Markshire PCs:

    We stood outside, glad to be out o’ that fusty air inside the cave. Me and Iathouz had to wait a few minutes while Jon set about patchin’ up a hole in the side o’ his boot. Shortly before, while we was makin’ our way through the cave, a whole army o’ rats attacked us and one o’ them chewed a hole right through Jon’s boot and gnawed off two o’ his toes!

    The four o’ us made quick work o’ the rats, than we stumbled across a body. It was a man and from the looks o’ him, he’d been attacked by them rats too . . . but I guess he ain’t done so well tryin’ to fend ‘em off ‘cause there wasn’t much left o’ his carcass.

    I searched the corpse, takin’ care not wantin’ to get no blood or gore on me, hopin’ to find a few pieces o’ gol . . . uh, er . . . I mean lookin’ for papers what would tell us who he was, you know? Least ways then we’d be able to do a kindness and notify his kin the poor soul’d been ripped to shreds by rats and his body was lyin’ here in the cave, alone, dead as dirt and already beginnin’ to stink.

    His relatives could come out here with a wheel barrow and a shovel; scoop up his remains and cart what was left o’ the lad off someplace to give him a proper burial! But . . . I ain’t found no papers or nothin’ else o’ any value on him, if you get my meanin’. So we let him be, sittin’ there peaceful like, in a pool o’ his own blood, thinkin’ the guards what patrols the cave would find him soon enough and go about cleanin’ up the mess themselves.

    Jon finished up his patchin’ smilin’ all the while, tellin’ us he wouldn’t be missin’ those toes at all! He said he had seven toes on that foot anyways, and losin’ the extra two would give him better balance when swingin’ a weapon and make walkin’ a whole lot easier! He’d not have to be payin’ a fortune fer custom made boots no more, the left boot always havin’ to be a bit larger to make room fer those two extra toes! I ain’t lyin’! That’s what he told us!

    We set off on the road goin’ east in the direction o’ Foothold with Iathoz takin’ the lead, wanderin’ out a good ways ahead o’ us, bein’ he’s a ranger and good at scoutin’ and able to tell if the way is safe fer travel. I ain’t sure, but I think his folks sent him off to the same school where those “Elite Goblins gets their trainin’. But like I said, I ain’t certain o’ that.

    Anyways, it wasn’t too long before Iathouz rounded a bend in the road up ahead and me and Jon lost sight o’ him. Now, if you happen to be amblin’ along in Thrym’s pass, it ain’t such a good idea to loose sight o’ any o’ your friends what you might be amblin’ along with! Navigatin’ Thrym’s pass safely, requires a group effort and loosin’ sight o’ Iathouz was makin’ me and Jon more than a bit uneasy.

    We quickened our pace, attemptin’ to catch up to him. We was still a good ways from the bend in the road when we heard two loud thuds . . . and Iathouz let out a piercing scream! The two o’ us broke into a run, headin’ fast as we could toward the bend in the road where we’d lost sight o’ him, and oh geez! What a horror we seen when me and Jon finally got there!

    Poor Iathouz was stretched out flat on the trail, torn, bloody and moanin’ in agony! A colossal frost giant had waylaid the man and now stood towerin’ over him! The giant had one foot on the ranger’s head and was pushin’ down hard with his boot, grindin’ the man’s face into the icy road what lay below him! The damn giant was doin’ his best to pop the ranger’s skull as if it were a melon and squoosh the life outta the man!

    Iathouz was gaspin’ gurglin’and spittin’ out blood and chunks o’ice from the road what had worked their way into his mouth! He was flailin’ ‘round, arms and legs goin’ every which way, attemptin’ to wiggle out from under the Frost giant’s boot! But at least he was still alive . . . at least that was somethin’.

    Yup, the ranger was hangin’ tight onto a little spark o’ life what was still left in him! Mayhap there was still time to save him! Jon, his short sword poised and ready to strike, quickly darted to the left o’ the monster and I dashed to the right. The giant caught sight o’ the both of us and for a second he froze, befuddled, not knowin’ which one o’ us to set out after!

    In his confusion, he lifted his foot off o’ the ranger’s head. His pausin’ give the both o’ us just enough time to close in quick on him and probably saved Iathouz’s life.

    Straight off, Jon began stabbin’ and slashin’ away at the giant’s left leg, leavin’ it with blood spurtin’ outta at least six different places! I judged the distance me and my falchion’d have to travel, shut my eyes tight — what I always does when I’m gettin’ set to whack somethin’ — and grippin’ the hilt o’ my weapon with both hands I lunged forward swingin’ with all my strength, aimin’ for the damn thing’s right limb and a spot just below where I thought its knee cap ought to be! Thruuuunk!! My falchion smashed into his leg with tremendous force, its keen edge slicin’ through armor, sinew and mayhap carvin’ a good sized chunk o’ bone outta his tibia!

    The shock o’ the blow traveled up my arms and through my neck, jarrin’ my brains and rattlin my teeth.

    He bellowed in anger and pain, the echo of it bouncin’ off the canyon walls and causin’ our ears to ring! Our quick action had hobbled the monster and we’d managed to draw him away from poor Iathouz, however he still was very dangerous! To prove the point, he lumbered at us in a terrible rage, whippin’ his hammer high above his head, his mind dead set on brainin’ the both o’ us!

    Even though we’d crippled him it took a while fer the two o’ us to finish off the creature. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour battlin’ the brute, we toppled him. He fell like a tree, with a whhhump, mortally wounded, his body sprawlin’ crossways in the road.

    Jon, finished him off by openin’ up his neck with his skinnin’ knife, finally sendin’ him off to Garm. We swiftly made our way over to the fallen ranger and found him sittin’ up, already dressin’ his wounds! I’ll tell ya, them rangers is able to recover fast from somethin’!

    We helped him along with some healin’ kits and I give him a few o’ my toasted almonds and a bit o’ the sweet sausage I’d plucked off o’ Gromks skillet. Iathoz gobbled up the bit o’ food and nodded his thanks. Me and Jon helped the ranger to his feet, each o’ us grabbin’ tight on to his arms, attemptin’ steady him but the ranger shook us off, insistin’ he felt fine.

    Iathoz beckoned us to follow him and the four o’ us sauntered off to a spot a bit farther down the path where the snow was still untouched, not disturbed from the battle we’d just fought. Then Iathoz halted and pointed to some depressions in the snow what lay at his feet.

    Me and Jon edged closer, peerin’ down to have a look. Ohh geez! Dragon tracks!! Huge ones! Fresh ones! We could tell ‘cause they was still sharp and crisp. The sun ain’t had a chance to melt ‘em down and smooth out the edges! Even worse, them tracks was headin’ east!

    The damn thing was not more than ten minutes ahead o’ us and on its way to Foothold! The four o’ us looked at each other and then out along the road goin’ east. I glanced back at the way we’d come, toward the dwarf city, and safety, thinkin’ ‘bout the fun we’d had shoppin’ in the bazaar what commander Zawa allows the merchants to keep open all night.

    I shrugged. Ah, what the hel . . . It ain’t often one gets the chance to get fried to a crisp by a dragon what’s runnin’ loose in Thrym’s pass! Iathoz’d already set off, makin’ his way east and lookin’ for more tracks. I fell in behind the ranger, with Jon followin’ up the rear.

    Jon had noticed me feedin’ the almonds and bit o’ sweet sausage to the ranger and he began goin’ on and on ‘bout how he was, “starvin’ Miss Keli” . . . and how I ought to “share with everyone Miss Keli ” . . .! While he was trudgin’ along behind me, he kept liftin’ up the back o’ me cloak with his short sword, hopin’ to get a look at where the hel I’d managed to stash all o’ my food!

    I’ll tell ya! That boy’s a couple o’ dishes short o’ a complete set and the ones he’s got left is all chipped and cracked!!

    • Markshire PCs:

    I could think o’ a whole bunch of other things I’d rather be doin’ than trackin’down a dragon in Thrym’s pass but the creature was headin’ towards Foothold and Odin only knew what havoc that beast would be causin’ if he managed to get past Sir Aeton and his gate guards! We had to stop him! I knew most o’ those town folk by name and cared ‘bout their safety! Good upstandin’ people, all o’ them! Fer sure I ain’t wanted no damn dragon carousin’ ‘round inside their gates and causin’ all sorts o’ mayhem!

    I mean . . . there was children in that town! For sure they was snuggled away all warm and cozy in their beds, with heavy horse hair blankets pulled up to their chins, asleep and dreamin’ o’ sugar plumbs and hard candy! Old folks too! back from a day o’ shoppin’, now goin’ ‘bout boltin’ doors and latchin’ up their shutters to keep out the cold Markshire night! Hangin’ their stockin’s what was all wet and soggy from the puddles they’d stepped into, by the chimney, takin’ care not to get ‘em too close to the fire!
    Most folks changin’ into their woolens, puttin’ on their kerchiefs and caps and settlin’ down to enjoy a cold winter night and mayhap some quiet time before turnin’ in! Some even lightin’ a candle and settin’ it on a little wobbly’ wooden stand with only three legs, what they’d placed alongside their favorite chair and curlin’ up, their feet tucked underneath them, ready to crack open a good book!

    Oh geez, even the odd mouse or two, aware o’ the darkness and bitter cold gradually settlin’ over the town, skitterin’ about, searchin’ fer a bit o’ straw what they’d be able to crawl under to keep warm so they’d not be frozen solid come the mornin’!

    As I trudged along behind Iathoz, I thought ‘bout all that and decided we was doin’ right by followin’ those dragon tracks.

    Besides, I enjoy a nice walk, you know? I don’t mind walkin’ at all! I’m used to it I guess. It seems we’re always walkin’ to someplace in this land. Or runnin’ for dear life . . . when somethin’s chasin’ after you doin’ it’s best at tryin’ lop off your head or take a bite outta your leg! Yup! Walkin’ll keep ya healthy as a horse! It gets your heart pumpin’ and your blood cir . . . circu . . . uh, flowin’ ‘round in yer veins! My grandpa started walkin’ five miles a day when he turned seventy! It was about eight years ago we last saw him. Far as I know, grandpa’s still walkin’ but I ain’t too sure o’ that . . . ‘cause nobody seems to know where the hel the old geezer walked off to!

    We slogged on towards the little town, Iathoz out in front and Jon not lettin’ up for an instant, constantly pesterin’ me ‘bout the cache o’ food I’d hidden under my cloak. Men is like that you know? They’s always pesterin’ you ‘bout some damn thing they’s wantin’. And they don’t give up till they get what ever it is they’s pesterin’ you about! If you finally give in and let ‘em have what they’s after, you might get a little thank you and mayhap a bit o’ sweetness from ‘em, but oh geez, if you run into them the next day, you’ll be lucky if they tip their hat to you as your passin’ by!

    Finally I relented, offerin’ Jon the baked apple with the sugary syrup what I’d pinched from Gromk’s stand in Bal’ynez, figgurin’ he’d stop aggravatin’ me. The little twerp looked at it for a moment, then handed it back, tellin’ me he ain’t liked baked apples too much and might I have somethin’ else he’d enjoy munchin’ on? Oh geez! I hurled the damn apple at him hard as I could! It smacked into his breast plate with a splat, and there it stuck, ‘cause it was all soft and gooey, some of it even runnin’ down his leg, eventually makin’ its way inside one o’ his boots. After that, he ain’t pestered me no more ‘bout food or any thing else for the rest o’ the night!

    A bit farther into the pass, we found a man lyin’ in the road and a load more o’ dragon tracks. Actually, Ithoz stumbled over him; bein’ the wind and sleet what was swirlin’ ‘round the three o’ us was makin it difficult to see more than a few feet in any direction. The man was clutchin’ tight to a short length o’ bridle strap with his left hand. The poor soul was beyond savin’ and already makin’ his peace with Odin. It looked as though somethin’ had been feedin’ on the corpse ‘cause his face was chewed away, along with most o’ his right arm. The lower part o’ him was blackened and scorched, with smoke still spiralin’ off o’ him. His clothes was gone; burned right off his body, and his flesh half cooked. It looked as though someone had skewered the fellow and turned him slowly over a huge fire pit! He smelled somethin’ like a roast chicken. But it was no fire pit what done this to him. This was the work o’ a dragon!

    Not more than fifty paces beyond the corpse we come across the man’s wagon. It was wrecked and had overturned. We ain’t seen no oxen, I supposed they’d run off somewhere, bein’ free o’ the bridle. The crates he’d been haulin’ were smashed, with the contents strewn all about, makin’ an awful mess. It was hard to walk about without steppin’ on a shard from a shattered dish or clay pot, or gettin’ your feet all tangled up in a ball o’ wool or a bolt o’ cloth what had become unraveled in the crash. The man must o’ been on his way to the dwarf city with supplies, when he was set upon. The front axle had broken off the wagon and lay twisted and bent, off to the side o’ the road with one wheel still attached. Most likely when the driver had come under attack, he started drivin’ his oxen hard, doin’ his best to get away. One o’ the wheels must have caught a rut, breakin’ the axle, and flippin’ over the wagon. I hoped the fall had killed the man and he was layin’ there dead as dust before the dragon got to him.

    While me and Jon was pickin’ through the wreckage, Ithoz had wandered off and was carefully studyin’ the tracks the dragon’d left. We stopped our plunderin’ and ambled over to him. “Look here! . . . and here too!” he said, as we approached. The ranger moved a step or two to his left, and pointed to the road. “By the Gods, there’s more than one of them!” he whispered, half to himself, but loud enough for me and Jon to hear. The ranger was right. The dragon tracks was all different sizes, indicatin’ there was more than one we’d be havin’ to deal with. Mayhap three or even seven! Oh geez! Well, there was nothin’ we could do ‘bout that, or the wagon driver . . . and no more we could learn by hangin’ ‘round this spot, so we turned east and continued to push on towards the town. We’d gained ground on the monster and his cohorts. He couldn’t be more than a few minutes ahead o’ us.

    But . . . why did I have this feelin’ the damn thing somehow knew we was chasin’ him and had stopped his march toward Foothold? Why did I sense the beast was now layin’ in wait fer us somewhere up ahead, ready to ambush the four o’ us as soon as he felt we’d got close enough to him? I dug into my pack and fished out a little whet stone what I keeps fer emergencies. I spit a gob o’ tobacco juice on it, smearin’ it around the face o’ the stone with my finger. Than I run the stone along the workin’ end o’ my falchion a few times, straightening out the few dings I’d got in it while whackin’ away at the Frost giant.

    I knew in my heart, that very shortly I’d be whackin’ away on somethin’ else . . .

    • Markshire PCs:

    We ain’t walked more than ten paces, when we came across a big, gapin’ hole in the road what I ain’t noticed the last time we journeyed through this part o’ the pass. I figured it must be Thrym’s doin’. Yup! Mean and grouchy as a badger, that Thrym! Always lookin’ to make things thorny fer anybody what’s trapsin’ through his damn pass!

    Ain’t nobody asked me, but I’m thinkin’ the world would be a much happier place and Thrym would be havin’ a lot better temperament, if him and Thor had sat down and worked things out a little better ages ago, when he run off with Thor’s hammer. What Thrym really wanted to be runnin’ off with was one o’ Thor’s wives!

    I’m sure everyone remembers that tale! You know, the one where the god o’ all the giants, Thrym was wantin’ the beautiful goddess Freyja for his own, but she already was wedded to Thor, and accordin’ to the official story, the one they puts out for public con . . .consum . . . uh, the one what regular folks is supposed to read, Frejya had a happy marriage and ain’t wanted nothin’ at all to do with Thrym!

    Thrym clipped Thor’s hammer, thinkin’ he would be able to trade it back to him, even up fer Freyja, but Thor told him, no dice, and in the end, Thrym and Loki wound up havin’ to make a trip to Thrym’s castle wearin’ disguises, killin’ all the giants in the castle, and takin’ the damn hammer back by force!

    That was kind of an abridged version o’ the story, you know? And the only part o’ it what’s accu . . . uh, really true is the part where Thrym pinched Thor’s hammer, and Thor, along with Loki, wore disguises! The rest is pure malarkey! Thor ain’t never went nowhere near Thrym’s castle, and Freyja . . well I got the real story straight outta me grand ma’s mouth! And she ain’t never told a fib ‘bout nothin!

    You see, what really happened is that Thrym did have a thing fer Freyja, a beautiful goddess who by sheer chance, like I told ya, happened to be married to Thor! But even though she already had a husband, she ain’t liked him much cause he ain’t paid no attention to her whatsoever!

    Thrym was her true love! Oh, she had eyes fer him, she did, and they was involved in a rom . . .uh, a roman . . . uh, they was seein’ each other on the side!

    Anyways, one day as Thor was strollin’ through his lovely garden behind the castle what he kept full o’ pretty flowers in a rainbow o’ different colors, along with assorted shrubbery, he caught the two o’ ‘em . . . uh, well, let’s say Thrym and Freyja wasn’t just sittin’ there under the apple tree havin’ a nice chat ‘bout the weather!

    Thor became enraged and began stompin’ on all the beautiful flowers he’d planted, even tearin’ up the shrubbery and pullin’ down all the green ivy what was growin’ so nicely up the walls o’ the castle! Oh geez! He was in an awful snit! After wreckin’ his garden, Thor demanded Thrym leave the grounds immediately and told him never to come back no more! Ever!

    Then Thor went and socked poor Freyja in the eye; the bruise and the swellin’ lastin’ fer well over a month!

    As he was makin’ his way outta Thor’s castle, Thrym spotted Thor’s favorite hammer sittin’ over a mantle in the main hall, balanced atop two large wooden pegs what Thor had driven into the mortar between the stones.

    And that hammer had some magic wove into it! Thor was able to toss it at an enemy, bonkin’ him on the head, then that hammer’d snap right back into his hand again, allowin’ him to throw it quick at somethin’ else! Thor even had a name fer the damn thing! He called it ‘Mjolnir’!

    Well, when Thrym seen that special hammer what belonged to Thor, he reached up, plucked it off the pegs and hid it away, under his cloak, then ran like hel outta the place! And let me tell you . . . gods can run really fast!!

    Thrym knew how much Thor liked that hammer and he figured if he held onto it long enough, Thor would be dearly missin’ it and he might be able to bargin with Thor ‘bout tradin’ the damn hammer back to him for Frejya! Well . . . Thor wasn’t havin’ none o’ that, but he really liked that hammer a lot and wanted it back. So he sat down with Loki, another powerful god who was a very good friend o’ his, and the two o’ ‘em began plottin’ and scheming’ ‘bout how they’d be able to get back the hammer.

    O’course Thor also wanted to keep Freyja as his wife, ‘cause she was a really good cook . . . even though he ain’t ever loved her one little bit!

    What Thor and Loki done was plan a wedding. Well, actually, t’was the god Heimdall who came up with the idea and he done most o’ the plannin’. Ya see, Thor and Loki wasn’t exactly the two brightest candles in the candelabra, you know? ‘Course the whole thing was a sham. Thor was gonna dress himself up to look like Freyja—which was kinda hard to do—bein’ he was ‘bout three times her size, and Loki would disguise himself too, and would masquerade as Thor’s bridesmaid!

    Then Thor sent a messenger off to Thrym carryin’ a note, along with an invitation. The invite was all fancy with swirly writin’ all done in a neat hand by a calli . . . calligra . . . . uh, some monk what was kidnapped from one o’ the islands far to the south o’ here, who was good at drawin’ letters.

    In the note Thor told Thrym he really missed that hammer and wanted it back so badly he’d decided to settle their differences and he’d agree to swap’ Freyja fer it. Not only that, but he’d arranged a big weddin’ cer . . .cerem . . . ceremo . . . uh, party for the two o’ ‘em so they could be married proper like! The weddin’ was to take place in three days!

    Well, when Thrym read the message his heart began poundin’ and he jumped fer joy knowin’ soon he’d be spendin’ the rest o’ his days with the woman he truly loved! He then began layin’ out his fanciest clothes, preparin’ for the big event, all the while, whistlin’ a happy tune to himself!

    ‘Course all this time no one thought to ask Freyja how she was feelin’ ‘bout the whole thing. Nope! Thor had Freyja locked tight in a little room at the very top o’ his castle! The cell had only one tiny window, and it was placed so high up on the wall, she wasn’t able to see out o’ it!

    She had a heavy iron chain danglin’ from a collar ‘round her neck what was bolted fast to one o’ the stone walls and an even heavier iron belt what was sealed with a big padlock, encirclin’ another part o’ her body! She ain’t had the slightest idea ‘bout the scheme what Thor and Loki was cookin’ up to get back his damn hammer!

    Nope! Nobody told her a thing! She couldn’t even get no information outta the fella what shoved a bit o’ food under the door every mornin’ keepin’ her from starvin’ to death! Poor Freyja spent her days in sadness, sheddin’ tear after tear, pining away, thinkin’ only ‘bout Thrym, about how much she loved him, and wonderin’ if she’d ever see him again.

    Anyways, the big day finally came and that mornin’ Thrym jauntily strode up to Thor’s castle, sportin’ his best finery and even wearin’ a new pair o’ boots! His heart was full o’ joy and happiness, his right arm wrapped tight ‘round ‘bout elevendy dozen long stemmed roses, for his betrothed, and swingin’ Thor’s hammer in his left hand.

    But Thor’s footmen was told not to let him into the great hall right away. Before he could enter the hall, each footman, in turn, was instructed to make a toast to the new groom to be, with a special brewed ale what Thor had brought up from the cellars deep under the castle for the celebration!

    O’ course Thor knew Thrym was never one to pass up drinkin’ a special brewed ale. Well . . . Thor had a whole bunch o’ footmen . . . scads o’ footmen in fact! By the time everyone had finished their toastin’ ‘bout four hours had passed. Thrym’s legs was now kinda wobbly from all that drinkin’ and he wasn’t seein’ so good either. T’was then, the footman led him into the great hall where the weddin’ was to take place.

    Thrym took a seat right next to his bride to be, who o’course was really Thor, made up to look like his beloved Freyja. Poor Thrym was so drunk he ain’t knowed the difference, but did get a little suspicious after watchin’ her go about eatin’ a whole ox all by herself! Loki, playin’ the part o’ Freyja’s bridesmaid, explained to Thrym, all the excitement o’ the day had gotten to her and given her a ravenous appetite!

    Thrym kept askin’ where the hel Thor was . . . wantin’ to thank him for agreein’ to part with his lovely wife. The bridesmaid, who was really Loki, told Thrym that Thor would be along shortly, to claim his hammer and wish them well.

    Loki commented ‘bout the hammer bein’ heavy and surely Thrym was tired o’ luggin’ the damn thing around all day. Loki gestured to a small table with nothin’ on it, sittin’ just behind the bride-to-be — who was really Thor—and said, “Lay it on that table over there, why don’t you!” Sure enough, Thrym got up and plunked the hammer what he stole from Thor, down on that little table!

    Well . . . soon as he done that, quick as a wink, Thor threw off his disguises, grabbed his hammer off o’ that table and began wavin’ it all about, a triumphant look on his face! Than Thor, Loki and a bunch o’ their lackeys ganged up on Thrym, throwin’ him outta the castle for a second time, and banishin’ him forever from it!!

    Now it’s truly a sad thing, but as far as I know, Thrym and Freyja ain’t never seen each other again. That’s why Thrym’s always in such a snit and full o’ meanness I’m thinkin’. In a way I don’t blame him fer bein’ like that, you know?

    I guess Thor was happy as a lark bein’ he got his hammer back and got to keep his wife, but he ain’t never planted nothin’ else in that garden o’ his, what he destroyed. Nope! To this day that land behind the castle still lies fallow and he don’t even go back there no more.

    As far as Freyja . . . well Thor couldn’t’ keep her locked up in that tower forever. I mean, after all, she was a goddess and had considerable power o’ her own. I heard she still cooks fer him though. I also heard she tried to kill Thor by sprinklin’ poison in his meals ‘bout five or mayhap nine times over the years. But . . . everyone knows you ain’t able to kill a god as powerful as Thor with poison!

    Some folks tell me that each time she done it, she did manage to make him dreadfully sick! And those who know, says Thor eats out a lot!

    And there it is! The true story about Thor, Thrym, Freyja, Loki and the damn hammer! Straight off o’ me grand ma’s lips and onto this piece o’ parchment!

    Now where the hel was I? Oh! I know! The hole in the pass! Well . . . anyways, Jon ain’t seen the hole straight off, and woulda tumbled down into it ‘cept Ithoz made a quick grab fer his cloak and yanked him back, away from the edge. Ya know, aside from havin’ a brain ‘bout the size o’ a peanut I’m thinkin’ Jon’s got bad eyes too. I thinks he has that eye ailment they calls guacamole, or somethin’ like that.

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