The Storm

The Storm
The story of Marcus Clearbrook
Written by Michael Tukiendorf

Fritha Stormjarl looked outside at the bellowing wind and snow making visibility almost impossible past 15 yards. She glanced out the window to barely see inside the stable where a stable hand brushed down their foul-tempered pack pony. She and a couple of warriors have been tasked with commissioning supplies from the New Hope granary, while Stanrick Longfang was at the political dinner in New Hope. She should be there, but her people must get fed, and their health is her priority. Food has been hard to come by as of late with the hard winter, and New Hope couldn’t spare much from their stores. So she and her pack went to New Aldoria to see if they could barter for some. She was able to obtain the supplies they needed, but at an exorbitant price. This winter will be harsh for everyone, and this blizzard will not help matters. They would have liked to make it back to New Hope by this evening, but the blizzard forced them to take cover in this lonely inn.

Tucked behind a small hill about 250 yards from the main road was the Hidden Gem Inn. While not large, compared to the inns at New Ardoria and New Hope. It did boast four modestly furnished rooms, and a tap room able to house one score patrons. The large size fireplace was blazing, giving the room a very warm and comfortable feeling. The hard hickory logs being burned gave the room a pleasant nutty aroma. Looking around the inn Fritha imagined on any given day, the inn would normally be busy with local farmers. Tonight the inn is empty, except for the innkeeper, his wife and two sons, and her band. Most likely the locals have declined the treacherous trek through the blizzard to enjoy watered down mead and thin soup. But beggars can’t be choosers, and this blizzard makes us all beggars.

Her warriors are all stowing their gear in the two rooms. Soon they will be down for an evening meal, then to bed. For the amount of snow and wind, they will be digging the inn out before they leave in the morning. The door opens behind the bar revealing the portly innkeeper, carrying a large stack of firewood, oak this time.

“Need a hand Innkeeper?” Fritha asked.

“Nay, I have it. Blast this weather! Has my back all in knots, but I am glad to you and your group for offering to help us dig out in the morning. Otherwise I would be bed ridden for a month, and my wife, bless her heart, is not able to run the inn without me!” He said as he put the oak logs into the now full wood box. “Dinner will be ready shortly, since your lot is helping us out, I asked my wife to whip up a large venison roast from a deer my son arrowed two days previous.” The innkeeper said with a smile.

“Well you have our thanks for taking us in on such short notice.” Fritha said with a slight bow of her head.

“It is no trouble, I assure you! It would be devilish of us to deny honored Ulven folk shelter from the elements. Especially since you open your arms to help us out in our time of need! Now I need to make sure that my son, Jennson, has the all the rooms ready for you and your men.”
Fritha watched as he retreated to the back of the inn, she resumed her gaze out one of the four windows looking at the torrent of snow, swirling and dancing in the wind. The stables have been locked down and the innkeepers other son was making his way to the back of the inn, the Kitchen she assumes and their living quarters. Looking to the road that brought them to this inn, it was mostly covered and drifted over with at least five hands of snow in spots. Tomorrow is going to be a chore, she thought absently. Getting bored of looking outside and anticipating the hard work in the morning, Fritha started turning away. When glimmer faint caught her peripheral vision. Looking back out, down the disappearing road she didn’t see anything. Holding her breath, she counted in her head. There it was again! Faint, but definitely there. Exhaling and inhaling slowly, she searched for the mysterious light. A swirl of snow and blinking of light showed two men struggling to break through snow drifts and make their way to the inn. Another swirl of snow and they were gone in fury of the Blizzard.

“Erik! Bjorn! To me!” She yelled she made her way to the front door. She heard stomping from the floor above, confirming that her cohorts where on their way. She waited five breaths before she tore open the door, and was greeted with piercing winds and chilled temperatures a stole her breath. Ignoring her discomfort she waded through the snow and fought the bludgeoning wind toward where she saw the distraught travelers. Or so she thought.

The wind ripped at her exposed hands and face, threatening to tear off her skin to steal her still warm insides. The cold froze her lungs, making it very hard to breath, the dying light making it very hard to see anything. Hearing the struggling grunts from behind her, confirmed that her companions where close behind her. Seeing nothing, but snow and wind, Fritha stopped, held her breath and counted again. Her eyes scanning everything for any sign. She was about to give up at nine, when she saw a brief flicker three yards away, under a thin layer of snow. “There!” She yelled, pointing at a mound of snow that looking indistinguishable from any other mound.

Bounding over the snow drifts, Fritha reached the spot where she last saw the light. Nothing but snow, except for a small patch of color near the top of a drift. Grabbing at the color; revealed a cloak and beneath it a man. To the right, was another man mostly covered with snow. “Help me!” Fritha yelled as she grabbed under one man’s arms to lift him up. Her companions sheathed their weapons and complied. Carrying both men back, looking to faint light of the inn seemed like it was an eternity away.

Biting wind and chilling temperatures made everything numb. Her hands refused to work, her eyes where blinded by tears, her nose ran freely, her breath came out in great smoke gusts. But she held on and with every step brought them closer to the safety of the inn. Holding her breath she counted again as she approached the stone stairs that lead down to the front door of the inn. Mostly covered in snow, it was chore to not slip and drop her heavy cargo.

The door opened blinding her eyes in a yellow light, and showering her with a gust of inviting warm air. How she want to be inside and away from the form discomfort of the elements. Moving to a chair closest to the hearth she deposited her frozen, unconscious package in the chair and got on her knee to inspect her newest patient. Looking at the innkeeper and his large framed wife, “I need blankets and dry clothes for these men, quickly.” Fritha stated sternly. Nodding causing his long beard to fold into his chest, the innkeeper turned and rush to complete the task. Looking at the innkeeper’s wife, “I need a bucket of hot water for bathing, some warm water for drinking, and another empty bucket.” Fritha instructed. The innkeeper’s wife bowed her head, and went to fetch the water.

Looking at her patient in front of her revealed a human of broad stature, thick eyebrows, strong nose, and patchy beard. His thin lips were chapped to bleeding; his cheeks rosy and wind burnt, and his ears beat red and showed early stages of frostbite. His sweaty, frozen gear is green and brown garb that steamed as the snow slowly melted from his shoulders and back. At his back a medium wooden shield was attached, at his belt a long sword and hatchet were frosted with ice. Removing his weapons and giving them to Erik for safe keeping, incase these men were not of the pleasant kind. Fritha removed his deerskin gloves revealing long, strong hands that had started showing traces of frostbite.

“Erik would you please take these weapons to the room and retrieve my healing bag?” Fritha asked. Erik took the other mans, staff, bag of spell components, and small dagger and left toward the stairs. She looked at the other unconscious man, which showed her that he was a Syndar. With finer features, but not the finest that she has seen. He had lighter skin, pinked and roughed by the elements, raven color brows and hair, and clean shaven. He was of a lighter build, but a wiry build. His vest is of black leather with a bright red tunic, which was soaked through with sweat and melted snow.

Heavy footsteps announced the return of the girthed innkeeper. “Here are the blankets and clothes that you requested, ma’am! I got clothes from both of my boys, I hope they fit.” He stuttered as he put the bundles on the nearest table. “I will bring you and your crew a draft of mead, free of charge! You and your pack have done a very noble thing finding these poor souls before the blizzard claimed them.” He bowed before retiring to the back to get the drinks and food.

“Bjorn, help me remove their soaked clothes.” Fritha said gently as she removed the green garbed human’s cloak.

“Are they severely injured?” Bjorn inquired.

“Not from what I see. Frostbite has started setting in, but nothing that would require my healing magic, or amputation” She said with a shudder. “They look very dehydrated and exhausted. The Syndar looks the worst though, he must have used all his energy to keep them warm and cast the light.”

“Thank Gaia he did! Otherwise, he and his companion would have frozen within the hour.” Stated Bjorn as he removed the crimson tunic revealing a torso wiry and devoid of hair that Fritha anticipated. Removing the human’s forest green tunic revealed a barrel torso with large muscles and a mat of black chest hair, glistening with sweat. Upon seeing the humans bare torso brought back fond memories of Thrand, her mate. Pushing those memories to the back of her mind she shed the rest of his clothing and donned him with the barrowed clothes and wrapped him in blankets. Bjorn did the same, upon finishing he went to the wood box and gathered a couple dried oak logs and tossed them into the insatiable hearth. The fire crackled in response as small flames licked at the dried wood.

More footsteps showed Erik approaching with her healers bag. Following him was the innkeeper’s burly wife with the buckets of water. Looking at Erik, she told him to gather the men and have food and drink, but stay close if I need you. Nodding in response, Erik and Bjorn went to the far end of room where innkeeper had brought out a steamy roast and tankards of mead. Turning back to her task she and the innkeeper’s wife, Sasha she learned, split the steamy water into two buckets and put their patient’s chilled feet into the steamy water. She learned that doing this would relieve the traces of frostbite on their feet and also raise their core temperature. Fritha retrieved healing salve from her pack and started applying it to the wind burnt skin on her patient’s faces.

She finished applying healing ointment to the Syndar, when started applying it to the chap lips of human, when he took a deep breath and started to stir. He opened his eyelids revealing rich brown eyes that darted to and fro, “Where are we?” He stated weakly.

“You are at the Hidden Gem inn; I barely spotted your companion’s magefire in the blizzard. We found you in a drift, and brought you here. Who are you and what are you doing traveling in this terrible weather?” Fritha said as she sat down in a chair.

“Thank the Gods you found us!” He said as he struggled to get into a better sitting position. “I will tell you everything that you wish to know, but I ask that you take my friend and lay him in a bed. He is likely not going to wake till the morning; he was using his magic to ward off the wind and the cold. Lucky you found us though, his magic started fail two hours ago.”

Fritha studied the man for a moment and then tasked her companions to stop their meal and take the Syndar to a vacant room. Grumbling at the disruption of their meal, Erik and Bjorn complied, lifting the Syndar as if he weighed nothing. Fritha then gathered two tankards and a bottle of mead and returned to the human staring at the fire, lost in his thoughts. Filling a tankard with mead for herself, she filled the other of warmed water for the human. She handed the tankard to the human, which he nodded his thanks. “Ok, talk.” She said. And he did…

The water in the tankard was warm, and felt great on his scratchy throat. Looking at the mug showed it was speckled with blood. From his lips no doubt he thought, lifting his fingers to his lips confirmed weeping, furious splits. The Ulven maiden in front of him, his savior, asked for him to talk. Not normally the one to disclose a lot about himself, but this cleric from the look of her bag and attire, saved him and Brodin’s ass. Marcus and his best friend, hell, his only friend, almost died, again! He was so tired, so so tired. She might be able to help us. Not us, me! He thought. “Hope you’re comfortable, this might take a while.” He said.

“I’ve got time, who are you and your companion?” She insisted.

“My name is Marcus Clearbrook, and my friend, the Syndar, is Brodin Fizzlewick. I don’t know a whole bunch about Brodin, other than he is a half Syndar and an apprentice mage. And a decent guy, most of the time. Me, on the other hand, will tell ya whatever you want.” Marcus said as he downed the rest of the water and motioned for the Ulven maiden to fill his tankard up. Fritha motioned for the water. “None of that water, I would like some mead to warm my blood!” He insisted, feeling ragged and exhausted. Upon filling his tankard with golden mead, he started back to the beginning.

“I was born in 240, in the northern forests of Aldoria, near a farming community call Arkos. Nice farms they had there, some of the best in all of Aldoria the mayor would say. They had all different types too! Pigs, cattle, sheep, and a few ranches strictly for Aldorian horses. My father was an apprentice tanner in Arkos, when he met my mother, the Mayors daughter.” Explained Marcus as he gave his savior a knowing wink. She tilted her head to the side and looked like she didn’t get the meaning. “They fell in love, and wished to marry. Upon asking for the mayors blessing, the mayor laughed in my father’s face and exclaimed that his daughters hand is meant for one the rich horse barons that will increase is horses stock and get himself a seat at the capitol. And no lowly, reeking tanner is going to botch his plans for being part of the court!”

Taking a taste of mead, the thick, sweet wine made from honey, prompted Marcus to go on. “My mother was a strong willed woman, and she wasn’t going to be married off to a pansy nobleman… as my father used to tell me.” Memories came flooding back, almost bringing tears to his eyes. The blood from his lips on the mug didn’t help keeping these thoughts and memories at bay.

“They ran away! Never found out how they got away or how they evaded the pursuit of the mayor. But they did. Found a wandering druid to marry them. Settled down, built a house on the furthest edge of the forest. My father became a woodsman, supplying lumber to the local sawmill. I was born shortly thereafter. Along with keeping an eye on me, she would keep a large garden and keep a few animals for milk, eggs, and meat. My mother being the mayor’s daughter had all the best education, to which she imparted on me. And she would always told me that I should look for the best in people.” Taking another drink from the mead in hopes that it would prevent the memories from coming back, it failed. Tears burned Marcus’s eyes worse than the whipping blizzard winds outside. Fighting them back he continued.

“My father always taught me to be strong, independent, self-sufficient, reliable, strong, and a good man. My father taught me to hunt, fish, harvest wood, and always help those who are less fortunate than you. I was about 10 or 11, I can’t remember, but that is when the undead came.” Catching his breath as the memories threatened to render him a crying babe. Marcus saw images of his mother’s throat getting ripped out a shambling undead that had broke into the house. She couldn’t scream as blood fountained from her throat. Father roared in despair and defiance as he picked up his ax and chopped at his wife’s killer. He was quickly overrun by three other undead monsters, ripping holes his garb and his flesh. He screamed out to me to run! I used the crawl space at the base of my bed, and I ran.

Blinking back tears, Marcus came back to the Hidden Gem inn, and his savior waiting patiently for him to continue.
“I escaped the shambling horde to the nearest farm, where I warned the farmer and his wife about what happened. The farmer sent me down the road with his wife, as he went to warn his nearby neighbors. The farmer’s wife and I made our way to Arkos. As we approached, hours later, and the dawn was starting to grey the sky. We could smell the smoke of burning buildings and flesh. Before we saw that the town of Arkos was destroyed utterly. We made our way to the as fast as we could down the main road to the nearest port city Korren.” “Delirious and exhausted from days of quick travel with little food, we made our way to the Korren.” He said as he took another drink of his mead, hands shaking the whole time. “We joined the other masses of refugees heading toward the Korren for shelter. We caught sight of the city walls, and felt a surge of hope. The farmer’s wife started weeping openly and fell to her knees. I didn’t know what she was weeping for, could have been the realization that her husband was most likely dead, or that she might find sanctuary by the gray walls. I just felt numb, dead, my parents were gone, and I had nothing. Then I saw a figure in dirty rags come behind the kneeling, weeping farmer’s wife, quietly slip a dagger in her back and take the bag with our meager rations, spare clothes, and what coin she had. It all happened so fast that I just stared as her body crumpled to the ground and was still. People just moved around us, not caring, their own fears and care their only thoughts. I just stood there, not sure how to feel. Fear, anger, sorrow, I knew not.” Marcus explained as he looked down at his cold, shaking hands. No matter how warm it got or how close to the fire, he always felt cold. Alone.
“I started moving again. For how far and how long I don’t remember. The next thing that I remember is that people where running past me screaming. I looked behind me and saw that people were getting slaughtered by the shambling undead monsters along with the Penitent. One by one the zombies took down the weak and tired refugees. I started running toward the walls. I ran till my legs gave way and I was on the ground, crawling. So close to the walls, not more than 100 hundred yards. I looked behind me and saw a horde of undead zombies shambling toward the naïve Korren walls. What demented entity that drove this putrid army to devour all in its path, I couldn’t fathom. The first one passed me, then the second, and then the third… many more passed me. Fresh and old corpses moved past, groaning for some insatiable need that will be satisfied by reaching the wall and devouring what lies beyond.”

“Then one looked at me, she was maybe my age at one time when her heart still beat. Her golden hair was matted to hear head, and her skin grey. One side of face showed that she was pretty, but the left side of her was face was missing much of its flesh. Most of her cheek was missing, only shreds of putrid flesh covered her baby teeth. The most of the right side of her neck was ripped out, which made her head tilt toward the side where there simply wasn’t any support. She lifted one hand out to me, almost pleading that I could help her. My heart beat frantically; my breath came out in wild breaths. Was this the end? Would I meet my family again or would I be trapped as a shambling monstrosity always hungry for something that I would never find. I put my arm over my eyes as I screamed!”

Finishing the tankard in one long chug, Marcus looked at his hands to see that they no longer shook. He has been staring at the fire for so long that he didn’t notice that all the attendants of the inn was listening to his story of his life. The innkeeper was standing with his arm around his wife, their two boys sitting at their feet. His savior was still sitting, but had her hands clasped with a prayer intertwined between her fingers. Her staunch companions standing on either side of her, their faces grim. “Can I get another mug, please?” Markus stated meekly, suddenly nervous. His saviors left companion complied, his facial expression never changing.

“What happened next?” Marcus heard as he turned his head to the youngest of the innkeeper’s boys. Perhaps no more than twelve years old, his eyes wide with fear and anticipated in what would happen next. Marcus smiled.

“I thought was I finished. The wretched stench of this girl monster stole my breath away, as she positioned herself about to take a bite out of my middle. Then I heard a thunk, I looked from behind my arm and I saw the monster’s head lying on my stomach, protruding from the back of her head was an axe handle. The beard of the axe was buried deep into her head, but she still moved. Very slowly, but still very much active. Then a gloved hand grabbed under my arm and pulled me up from under the stunned, decaying monster. I was thrown over a strong, mailed shoulder and held into place with his right arm. His left arm held a medium size kite shield, which he used to bash his way through the undead in his way. I could only see what was behind him, undead people with their mouths open in a silent scream and arms outstretched pleading to the living to help them. I looked up and saw the massive wooden doors of the Korren loom up above me as we squeezed through a small crack. The doors closed behind us. The iron bindings around the inside of the massive oak beams severed putrid hands that unfortunately got in the way. Soldiers in all sorts of tabards lowered a massive plank that locked the doors into place. Other soldiers pounded wooden spikes into the earth to brace more planks to support the door.”
Marcus took a drink from his full mug of could hear the audible sighs from the innkeeper’s family. All visibly relaxed that he narrowly survived the undead onslaught, taking a deep breath, Marcus continued.

“The knight, at least I thought he was a knight, lowered me to the ground. Looked at my eyes and asked if I was bitten? Am I hurt? I looked at his piercing blue eyes and shook my head no. He looked at my arms and legs and under my burlap smock to see that I was telling the truth. Where was my parents? He asked. I pointed out beyond the walls and said gone. He lowered his head and looked at the wall then down a road to our right. What is your name boy? The Knight asked me. I said Marcus Clearbrook. He nodded and picked me up, and ran down the street, yelling for the refugees to make way.”

Shaking his head, to this day Marcus had no idea why he was spared, why the Knight cared if he lived or died. What prompted him to save him instead of someone more deserving, he wasn’t anyone special, just Marcus. A single tear rolled down his cheek as took a drink. Saying a silent prayer of thanks to his previous savior, who is probably no longer among the living.

“I closed my eye to try escape seeing the panicked faces of the refuges cluttered in the streets. But I could still hear them. The moans, the cries, the screams, the air was thick with fear. After what seemed like an eternity, I smelled fish offal and salt brine. I opened my eyes to see that we arrived at a near empty pier. A few frantic sailors were getting in small fishing boats and sailing boats and taking them into open waters. Braving the open seas seems like a better option than dealing with the undead horde.“

“At the end of the pier there was a single long boat that was still loading supplies and a few people. I heard the knight grunt as he doubled his efforts and ran down the wooden pier toward the long boat. As we got closer to the boat, the knight called out, Crass! The knights footsteps slowed, and he put me down. I looked up and a giant of a man in flowing clothing filled my vision. The knight and I assume Crass, got into a heated discussion about what to do with me. I didn’t hear much of the conversation, because I was looking out in the bay to see a large ship. I had never seen such a large ship, except in the books that my mother would show me. She also told me stories of how brave men went on such ships and went on amazing adventures. I remember tears falling down my cheeks as I thought of my mother.”

A long yawn from one of the listeners stopped Marcus and he realized that he had been talking for a couple hours now and the night must be getting late. The innkeeper whispered to his wife and she nodded sleepily. “Thank you for your help, present and future. But we old folk grow weary and must retire for the evening. To bed with you, boys and wife. Good night.” The innkeeper stated with a half bow. After herding his lethargic group toward the back of the inn which Marcus assumed was their living quarters. Marcus turned back to the sitting Ulven and her two standing companions. Unmoving, almost as if they were cast out of stone. “Yes, the hour goes late. And there is a lot of work to do when the sun comes up. Finish your tale Marcus, but please, keep it short.” The Ulven woman said as she stood up and stretched her legs.

“Right, ummm. I found out later that the giant looking man was in fact Captain Crass, and owed a debt to the knight. To which I found out later was Lieutenant Albert of the city guard. And the good Lieutenant risked his life to save the Captain’s brother from a tavern fire two seasons before. Captain Crass stated that the ship was already over capacity and he couldn’t afford to feed another mouth. I suspected that Crass knew that the lieutenant would stay behind to fight the undead legion. I suppose he wanted to clear the debt, or else the knight’s ghost might haunt him till the debt was paid. Crass reluctantly agreed to take me.”

“As the crew started rowing away from the pier, I looked back at the knight. He was a tall built man with a ripped and faded tabard over rust splotched chain. The shield on this left arm was dented and much of paint chipped away, but it shown clearly in the cloudy sunlight. He raised an arm toward me in a tired wave, turned and lightly jogged down the pier, toward the besieged city. I turned to Captain Crass. He had a long scraggly brown beard with flecks of grey starting to mix in. He had a scar on one cheek that started at his nose and extended down to his jaw line. I remember him telling me that everyone works on his ship, and if I didn’t work I would be thrown overboard. He asked what I could do, what I knew. I told him I could read and write, tend a garden, and catch small game. He said that I was to take all the names of the all the people on the ship, and when rations were dispersed I was to make a note that they received their rations. If someone got double rations or he found out that rations were stolen, I would get flogged the first time and then tossed over the second time.”

“I stayed in the captain’s quarters on a bed of rags. We stayed on the ship for many weeks, I lost count. Eventually we landed on Mardrun, at New Aldoria. I was then tasked with working with the dock master, inventorying stores and rations. I did that for many years, caring for cargo, and honing my reading and writing skills. I didn’t have any family, and didn’t really socialize with people. Only the occasional fishing trip and I would sometimes help out an old tanner slaughter beef for their leather. Most of the time I stayed in a basement room of an inn near the docks. Some nights I worked hauling casks of beer and wine to thirsty patrons. “

“I soon found out that my foreman was embezzling cargo and funds from the docks and selling them to bandits outside the city. One of offloading crew found out and informed the city guards one evening. When he was brought for questioning, the snake pinned the whole scheme on me. I then heard that he bribed the captain and sent the guards bring me in and hang me.”

“I had just bought a new tunic and was returning from the seamstress who I had my eye on, but was to cowardly to ask her to share a meal. I was about to turn the corner to the inn door when I overheard the guards interrogate the tavern owner of my whereabouts. The innkeeper said that he would send his son to get the guards when I returned. So I snuck back into my room, using the hatch at the back of the inn where brought casks of mead and ale. Gathered my things and left the city, never to go back if I could help it. “

“I stayed off the road and made my way slowly through the late fall underbrush going in a southerly direction, toward the New Hope Colony. I trapped small game for my meat rations and drank cold water from the brooks that I came across. No more than two days of leaving New Aldoria, I was just finishing a mid-day snack, when I heard the sound of voices from the road. I feared either the city garrison pursuing me or a bunch of bandits that would liberate me of my gear.

So, I crawled slowly to investigate. I moved behind a large oak and bunch of bushes to see three figures confronting a lone figure. The three figures had their backs to me, but they were dressed mostly in black. They had small capes and I could see that they were fully armed with swords, shields, and bows. These men were prepared for a fight, what type of fight I didn’t know yet. Beyond the three armed men I could see, was the lone figure that they were addressing. He was covered mostly in a thick black cloak, which was pulled far enough forward that I couldn’t make out his face. He also kept his cloak closed so I couldn’t see if he was armed. The lead bandits where asking if the cloaked man was deaf, because they asked him for his stuff or they were going to kill him.

One of the bandits drew his sword and walked to about a yard between him and the cloaked figure. The bandit asked again if he didn’t hear him and pointed his sword in the other man’s face. In an instant the cloaked man flung open his cloak, which revealed bright red and black garb and a small dagger at his side. In the instant that his cloak flew open, a royal blue ball of energy flew from his right hand striking the surprised bandit in the chest. He instantly fell to his knees and screamed in pain. The man in red then took his dagger and cut the staggered bandits throat, producing a stream of crimson blood.

The bandit’s companions yelled in anger and drew weapons. One grabbed his sword, hefted his shield and charged. The second unslung his bow and knocked an arrow. The bandit that charged got there in two strides, wound back the sword to strike the now apparent mage down. Before the weapon came a foot from the mages neck, the mage cast another spell that sent the attacking bandit flying off the road and into a bunch of brambles. The other bandit fired his black arrow at the mage, which he was not prepared to receive, or so I thought. The arrow flew true and would have pierced the man in red’s heart. But as the arrow touched the mage’s garb it broke into a shower of splinters. Obviously some sort of mages armor I assumed, he hasn’t told me much of his spells yet. But the bandit archer wasn’t deterred, he knocked another arrow and was about to aim his bow, when I intervened.

I don’t know why I did it, but I broke my cover and ran as fast as I could at the archer, which wasn’t focused on me at all. I tackled him in the ribs, which I heard his breath leave his lungs and maybe some of his ribs breaking. We fell into the ditch on the furthest side of the road in a heap. I then took my small utility hatchet and buried it in the side of his head. I looked back toward the mage, to see that he had a spell set in his hand that seemed to change colors in the light. I also saw that the other bandit that he pushed into brambles was sneaking behind him. He also saw that he had a spell primed, and instead of going for the killing blow he was going to stun him with his shield.

I yelled for the mage to look out. The bandit’s shield was almost about to connect when he flicked his spell behind himself striking the bandit in the hip. But the motion of iron bound shield grazed the side of the mage’s head. Which sent him flying and he fell to the ground unconscious. The bandit also fell to the ground stunned. I removed my hatchet from the archer’s head and ran to the kill the stunned bandit.

I then checked on the mage to see if he was seriously hurt. Not finding any serious wounds, I proceeded to loot the bodies. I looted a few coin, a sword, shield, and meager rations from the bandits. The mage slowly started to come around, and I held my hands up to signify that I didn’t mean him any harm. He held his head in pain and muttered thanks. I saw some birch trees and went to collect some of the bark. My father always told me that chewing on birch, and willow bark was good for dulling pain. I learned this when I broke my ankle a couple years before the undead attacked. I told the mage to chew on some of the bark to dull the pain. He looked at me skeptically, but complied. The mage then introduced himself as Brodin Fizzlewick, a Phoenix Syndar, and an apprentice mage. He was making his way to New Hope to meet some people. Since we were both going toward the New Hope colony, we decided to travel together. He retrieved his satchel and we traveled together for a week before we got caught up in this blizzard. And the rest you know.”

Hearing his tale come to the end, Marcus felt light headed and somehow elated. He has not talked this much to anyone in many years. He talked with Brodin, but only in spurts. They were always on the lookout for game or bandits. Brodin always seemed like the reserve type anyway and didn’t feel like explaining much. From what Marcus could gather out of Brodin is that he was orphaned as well and was trying to make Mardun a better place for human and Syndar alike. Must be nice to find someplace that gives you purpose, he thought.

Marcus now just noticed that the water that his feet were in has run cold. The fire has reduced down to smoldering coals. Marcus lifted the tankard to his chaffed lips to swallow the last of his mead.

“What are you going to do now?” Asked one of the Ulven men.

“I don’t know really. Go to New Hope and pray I find something. Maybe travel with Brodin and join The Phoenix.” Marcuse said absent mindedly. He doubted the last part. The Phoenix are a pretty well-known group of merchants, and he didn’t have any training in a trade, nor was he Syndar. The only thing he could do was read, write, trap and butcher game. Not exactly the fanciest of professions.

“Nothing is going to get done tonight. I would recommend that you all get some sleep.” Fritha said as she made her way to the stairs.

Marcus nodded and followed her and her companions up the stairs, his bones and muscles protesting all the way. At the top of the stairs he saw one of the Ulven men point to a room. “We put your friend in this room. There is a second bed in there for yourself. We are keeping your weapons till the morning.” Muttering a small thank you, Marcus went into the room. The barely lit room was commonly furnished with two beds in opposite corners, a small table in the center with a wash basin, and a simple wardrobe behind the entrance. Seeing the bed, Marcus dropped the blanket that was keeping him warm all evening and fell into the surprisingly comfortable bed. The last thing he remembered hearing was the blizzard whipping across the little inn, and the light snoring of his friend.

Finally safe… maybe.

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