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A Twin's Travels:
(Author Note: As they travelled through the orc-conquered area of the Principality of Ulek, they had encountered some gargoyles about a ruined temple to Rao, god of Peace, Reason, and Serenity. During the fight, Quarrel was struck down. The player of the twins had Kit immediately pray to the God Rao, pledging his service in return for saving his brother’s life. As celestials came and took Quarrel away, the party continued on their journey eastward into the Pomarj itself.)
Quarrel opened his eyes slowly. His vision was fuzzy and he could just make out a pale shape in front of him. What had happened? He had felt a huge blow … and then nothing ‘til now. He closed his eyes again, spots still swirling before them. He heard a deep mumbling sound, almost a chanting, and felt something cool press against his cheek. He opened his eyes again.
The shape in front of him was coalescing into a face. It was a kindly face that – in younger days – would have been called pretty. He became aware that it was a handsome face belonging to a woman. She appeared to be in her fifties and a broad streak of grey had painted itself down one strong lock of dark brown hair touched with russet. Her lips were moving and it was from here that he was hearing the mumbling sound coming. His addled wits could still not make out exactly what this woman was saying so he closed his eyes again.
He felt her hand, the cool object he had felt earlier, stroke across his cheek and then his forehead. Deep inside he felt warmth, emanating from his chest but dissipating rapidly. Her other hand rested on his chest and it was the source of the warmth. ‘Obviously,’ he thought to himself, ‘I have just been the subject of a healing spell of some kind.’ But if that was so, who was this woman? And where were his brother and other companions? And where was he?
He opened his eyes again and looked up at the woman. He could see her face clearly now. When she saw his eyes open again and that he was seeing more clearly than before, she smiled. It was a warm smile and it made him feel calmer – a little. But when he looked in her eyes, he saw a spark of familiarity. What was happening? The woman ceased her chanting and smiled down at him. “It’s good to see you are back with us Young Leofmund,” she said kindly.
So, she knew who he was. But who was she? Why did she look familiar?
She stepped away from him, out of his range of vision. He struggled to sit up upon the bed he was laying on. His muscles were like jelly. They almost seemed atrophied or that they hadn’t been used in a long time.
He managed to prop himself up on his elbows and he looked about himself. He was in a well-appointed room, well furnished, and finely decorated; yet maintaining a simple serenity in the pattern of its appearance.
The woman was talking to a dwarf serving man who was standing to the side of the room. The two were speaking dwarvish and he couldn’t make out what they were saying. He sat up fully and felt a wave of dizziness come over him.
The woman turned back to him. “Easy now. You’ve been through a very traumatic period and need to take things a little easier for the moment. Peace on your mind and serenity on your soul. Don’t be so anxious my boy.”
Quarrel slumped back into bed. “But … my brother … Where is he? What is going on?”
“Ah yes, the bonds of a twin overcome even that of serene body. Your brother is, I presume, fine. It is through him that you are here and that I have helped you recover your health.”
“But … where am I? And who are you? I feel that I know you from somewhere, but I am sure we have never met.” The woman smiled again. Her smile was warm and friendly and when she smiled, he felt that an immense calm had overlaid the room – except for the niggling thought that half of his being was missing. This was the first time he had ever been parted from his twin. Maybe what she said was true. Maybe the bond was stronger than anyone thought.
“You are in the Keoish capital Niole Dra. You were brought here to me for my help. As for knowing you … No, Quarrel of the Bow, we have not met for many years and you were too young to remember me from that meeting. Yet, I know much of you. You have served your family well. You and your brother have travelled far and learned much.” Then a shadow passed across those eyes that seemed so familiar to him. “You have stood and aided the cause of the greater good at the side of my son for the past two seasons.”
Quarrel started at this and looked at her.
“I am the Lady Bronwyn Fielding, High Priest of Rao in Keoland,” she said looking at him intently, a tear welling up in her eye and trickling down her cheek. “I am Gareth’s mother.”
At this, Quarrel suddenly realised where he had seen her eyes before. Whereas Gareth took after his father in temperament, he took after his mother in looks. This was especially true about the eyes. “Gareth’s mother! Oh Lady,” he started to say … mumbling the words slightly … wanting to calm the priestess. “I am so sorry that your son…”
“Phah!” Lady Bronwyn said, which startled Quarrel greatly. “My son is fine. Praise Rao in his Ultimate Reason.” She placed a calming hand on his shoulder and he quieted, staring in rapt attention to her. “Gareth is alive and well… This I know. He has been transported to another plane of existence. If I know my son, he is trying even as we speak to return to home and hearth. I pray to Rao each night that he finds the path to do so.”
Quarrel relaxed at this. This was the first news any of them had had that Gareth wasn’t lost to them. He turned to the priestess, “But what of my other companions? What of my brother? I was in the Lost Lands of the Pomarj fighting … and suddenly I am here. What has happened?”
“You were struck in a fight and your brother urged that you be brought here for aid.”
“But the fight … did we win?”
“I do not know the details of the outcome. I only know that you won because you are here. It was outside a temple that I had built many years ago that you were struck down. In respect for this service your brother urged the powers of Peace and Reason to bring you here to me.”
“But was I the only one hurt? What of the others?”
“I know not what happened to the others, although I can find out later … only that you were in need of my services. I have done my work and, with the help of Keldar here,’ she indicated the dwarf servant, “will see you back to health and on your way again. It is the least I would do for a companion of my son’s.”
“But why? We were travelling with a cleric of Clangeddin. Why did he not heal me? If I was struck he should have been able to heal me, even if I was brought down to unconsciousness.”
Bronwyn looked at Keldar, then back to Quarrel. “Why, my boy, you weren’t struck down unconscious. You were dead.”
Quarrel’s eyes widened and his mouth opened wide … but no sound came out.
It took almost two weeks before Quarrel was ready and stable enough to travel. He had been burning for days now to get back on the trail and to his brother’s side. Keldar the Dwarf was ever at his side to help him. It turned out that Keldar was more than just a servant to Lady Bronwyn. He was one of three dwarfs that lived in the temple. All performed what were menial tasks. But in his discussions with Keldar he had managed to glean that there was more to their being there than that. It turned out as Quarrel discovered that the three were tasked as bodyguards to the priestess. ‘A debt from an old friend,’ Keldar had said – and would say no more than that except that ‘A good dwarf always repays his debts.’
As Quarrel was getting ready to leave, Keldar helped him get his equipment ready. He had left most of his gear with his brother when the angels, the “Servants of Rao,” had brought him here for resurrection. He had been re-kitted with all the weapons he needed, his rations were packed, and he had a new horse. Keldar would accompany him as far as the border in Ulek. From there, he would travel on, tracking his companions as best he could.
He had talked much with Lady Bronwyn over the past days. He found her company nice, quiet and reserved where her husband was boisterous and loud. She knew much of what went on in the capital and many of the people in higher circles. She knew his father slightly and spoke well of him and his work with the Sylvan Elves. The Lady Bronwyn was just what a high priestess of Rao should be. When he let slip of some of his goals and dreams, she had discussed them with him so that it seemed she drew out all that he and his twin had discussed in the past. She even introduced him to a few of the influential people at court. “Contacts are always useful,” she had quietly confided in an aside as they left the meeting. “The barons seemed quite impressed with the skeleton of you plans.”
Now that he was finally on his way, he felt a new sense of purpose filling part of his being. He turned as he leapt to the saddle, Keldar roughly mounting his pony beside him, to see Bronwyn approaching across the courtyard of the temple. The lay brother holding his bridle bowed to her as she approached.
She handed him a small pouch that, when he opened it, contained five small vials. “A small gift to help you on your way. These should cure any moderate wounds that you may encounter. As for finding that rascal Kenneth,” she smiled with a slight twinkling in her eye, “remember that the best way to find a ‘thief’ is with another thief.”
She turned to Keldar. “See him well to the border, Keldar.”
The grizzled dwarf smiled toothily. “That I shall milady.” Turning to the ranger he said, “Are you ready, Quarrel le Bow?”
Quarrel sighed and, waving to Bronwyn, turned his horse and prodded him forward through the gate. “Yes, let’s ride … and I told you to stop calling me that!”
And so the small party rode through the gate on their way.
Bronwyn waved after them. Then she sighed. “Good luck my boy. The shadows from your past are catching up … and now your future may be tied to more than your plans … or your brother.” As the party rode out of sight, she turned and walked serenely back to the cloisters.
For many weeks now they had travelled. He had crossed the border without difficulty, Keldar knowing many of the dwarves in charge of a section of the line. He had carefully picked up the trail of his companions at the temple and followed it across the Old Principality, avoiding patrols and wandering monsters. The day after he crossed the river and followed the trail through a mountain pass he came across a small hamlet, a mining station set almost into the side of the mountain. From there, he learned that a party of travellers matching the description of his friends passed that way almost three weeks ago.
Four days later he was following the trail into the foothills of the Drachensgrab Mountains when one evening he came across an interesting sight.
He had seen a small glow off in the distance just as the sun was setting one night. Alone, he crept forward to investigate. It turned out to be a small party of goblins that were gathered around a fire. They were all jabbering and laughing. Sitting on one side of the circle was a large bugbear. Two of the goblins were preparing a large spit and the bugbear was directing them in no small way to hurry, as he was hungry. The bugbear’s goblin was a little broken to Quarrel’s ear, but his manner more than made up for any possibility of misunderstanding what he wanted. The ranger began to get his bow ready, laying arrows out on the ground beside him.
It was then that Quarrel saw what they were preparing to roast on the spit. Two of the goblins pushed a young girl into the firelight. She was chained and fell at the edge of the fire, backing away from the flames. She was dirty, unkempt, and appeared to have been beaten in the recent past. Her short dress was spotted with blood stains and mud. Quarrel laid out his last arrows and nocked one to the string of his bow.
The ranger rose to a kneeling position, took careful aim, and let fly an arrow straight at the bugbear. The shaft caught the monster square in the eye and there was a roar of pain as the brute fell over backwards – stone dead from the arrow. Quarrel then began loosing arrows at the goblins, who – after a brief second of being startled at the death of the big bugbear – started panicking as soon as the next shaft transfixed two of their number standing side by side. In the space of less than a minute, twelve more arrows had found their mark in the twelve remaining goblins. Quarrel stood up from his place of hiding, picking up his remaining half a dozen arrows and replacing them in his quiver.
He strode down the hill towards the girl, who was cowering in the centre of the firelight, curled up in a ball and covering her head with her hands. A small keening whine rose from the bundle of fear on the ground in front of him. The woodsman squatted down and, touching her lightly on the shoulder, said, “It’s all right now. They're all dead.”
Slowly the girl’s head rose out of her huddle and looked about her. She let out a small gasp as she saw the dead bodies lying about her. Unfolding herself all at once she threw herself at Quarrel and embraced him fiercely, her chained hands reaching around his back and hugging him close. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she said breathlessly. “They were going to eat me and … and … Oh, thank you!”
Quarrel hugged her and patted her shoulders … ‘Very fine shoulders,’ he thought abstractedly. ‘Soft skin too…’ Wait! He wasn’t Kit and this woman was just rescued from a terrible fate. Still she was very soft and warm as she squeezed him – and it had been a long time…
Taking a deep breath he disengaged himself from her and sat back. She was sobbing now, her dirty hair falling forward over head and shoulders. He reached out his hand and tucked it under her chin as he raised her face to his. “There, there…”
And suddenly they both gasped and two voices cried out at the same time, “You!”
Quarrel sat on the other side of the fire from Lydia. She had cleaned herself up now and she was brushing her shining golden hair, pulling it back slightly from her slightly pointed elven ears. The ranger’s eyes were frowning at her from where he sat. “So, NOW will you tell me what happened to bring you here?”
The former Bandit Queen chuckled slightly. “Well, in truth it’s because of you and your friends that I’m here.” Quarrel’s frown darkened at this. Lydia raised a hand as if to stop him and quickly spoke up. “Now, as far as I’m concerned there is no harm done either way. ‘No harm, no foul.’ We all choose our paths in life and that day I made a bad choice.”
She shook her head slightly and tucked her brush – actually, one she had borrowed from him – into a small belt pouch. Her hair fell forward and almost brushed the ground where she was kneeling, lightly touching her prettily dimpled knees. Gods! He had to stop thinking like that! He’d never understood how his brother could carry on as he did.
“If I had known that elf friend of yours was a bladesinger I would not have started anything. But … I didn’t know until too late. Once the ball was set in motion only Istus knew how things would turn out.”
“How did you come from leading a bandit gang to being the main course for a goblin hunting party?” he asked, handing a bowl of stew across to her. Although he felt he didn’t really trust her, she hadn’t dome anything to rouse his suspicions … and she did need to eat.
“After your group broke up my gang, things went to the Nine Hells in a market basket very quickly. The gang hadn’t been doing too well of late and, when I happened on them they wanted to keep me for … uh … recreational services.” The elf blushed a little at this. “It wasn’t until I sold them on the idea of how they could do better using me differently – as bait – that they came around to my way of thinking. Pretty soon, I was making all the plans … they didn’t have too much of a brain trust … and there I was – Lydia, the Bandit Queen! Not too bad for a former kitchen slave in Highport. This stew is pretty good, by the way.”
“So, I was leading the band. A bunch of them didn’t like that and kept giving me grief. Our little scheme worked well enough and I managed to keep them from committing too many atrocities.” She looked up at Quarrel, a pretty hand and dainty finger rising to wipe a dollop of stew from her ruby lips. “I was never one much for violence.”
“When you and your companions put paid to our little operation, everyone scattered to the four winds. I finally made my way to safety, healed myself with a potion, and began to look for my men.”
Quarrel smiled, his brow softening. “I’m truly sorry,” he said with a tremendous lack of sincerity, “that my friends and I caused you such difficulties.”
Lydia waved him off, setting down her empty bowl and reclining on her elbows. She looked over at him and smiled. “Not to worry. It was my own fault. You and yours only protected yourselves. You just managed to do it a bit more effectively than we were used to.” The elf reached a hand under the breast of her dress and massaged her shoulder where Quarrel’s arrow had struck her. “You’re a damned good shot, you know.”
Quarrel chuckled. This girl was definitely a free spirit.
“Where was I? Oh yes. The men that I finally found gave me a report on just how well you HAD protected yourself. But then they decided that it was MY fault. Some of those who didn’t like following a woman had decided that it was time for a change of leadership. I was fine with that except that they wanted to gain some compensation for what they saw as ‘damages.’ They set on me and before I knew it I was once again chained and on my way to being sold.” The girl shuddered at that.
“The men were familiar with my – um – talents, so they kept a close watch on me all the time. It was probably all the attention they were paying to me that kept them from noticing the goblins until it was too late. The bugbear did most of the damage, but the greenskins certainly made it easier. That was two days ago.” She stared into the embers of the fire.
Quarrel looked at Lydia. She turned to look at him, taking a deep breath. The ranger noticed that as she did, her dress shifted slightly so that he could just see the tip of the scar where Aelyra’s sword had pierced her side. It almost seemed to draw his upwards where one could just detect the beginning swell of her breast. Lydia smiled sweetly at him, “Which brings us to now…”
A few more weeks of travel and the tracker felt he was getting closer. They had come across what Lydia had told him was the Old Slave Road. Here his companions had turned south towards the mountains. The girl was proving quite useful in providing local knowledge and was quite handy in taking care of herself. What had determined him to bring her with him was that one night while they were talking he had let slip that they were looking for someone. Lydia had picked up on this and explained that she could probably help in this. She hadn’t steered him wrong yet. It was odd. And whenever the topic of her previous encounter with them was brought up, she brushed it off, simply saying, “Istus guides us as she will.” It actually seemed she was more concerned (dare he say scared?) of meeting up with Aelyra again. Elves seemed to take this whole bladesinger thing very seriously.
As they approached the mountains, they felt blessed that they hadn’t run into too many encounters that they had to deal with. Quarrel was doing his best to avoid these as they would needlessly slow him down. And … perhaps more important, even though he didn’t admit this even to himself … he felt that without his brother beside him he was incomplete. Kit had always been the curious impetuous one, Quarrel had the mature responsible one. Gods only knew what his little twin brother was getting himself into.
Two nights before they reached the edge of the mountains, just before sunset, they saw a strange sight. Over on the next ridge, travelling in the opposite direction, they saw a small caravan leading a string of horses silhouetted against the orange-red sky. It must be a peddler, or maybe a tradesman. Lydia put forward that it might have been a wayward halfling … admittedly far from the normal routes.
They discussed the mystery, as they had very little else to occupy their time, more intently over the next days before they reached the small steading that stood at the foot of the moutons.
That is, until they day they approached the path into the mountains. In the far distance, at the very foot of the cliffs, just where the path began to rise into the forbidding rock, they saw a lazy pillar of black smoke rising into the afternoon sky.