Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

Hammerfall

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Desprae and Ealord had traveled about an hour when they stopped. Desprae sighed, “This is taking too long. It makes no sense for me to ride and you to go on foot. I think my horse can carry us both.”

Ealord was more than happy to accept the offer. He still didn’t trust the drow, so he got on the horse behind her and was surprised when she didn’t object. As soon as he had mounted, they started again at a quicker pace.

The woods were peaceful in this part of the land, and she allowed herself to relax and enjoy the quiet. She was happy that Ealord wasn’t all that talkative and didn’t ask her any questions. After a while, the woods began to thin out, and there was more light and distance between the trees. They came out of the trees, and there was a gentle slope down to a well-paved and maintained road. She rode down and, once on the road, headed west in the direction Rarsirrien had told her to meet them. She urged the horse into a light gallop, and the countryside zipped past them. She was no longer focused on the landscape; she just wanted to rejoin Rarsirrien and the others.

Ahead of them, the road made a slight bend, and further up, she could see a small cloud of dust. She slowed her horse to a walk and tried to see what was coming along the road.

They didn’t have to wait long. A few minutes later, ten of Ealord’s calvary were upon them. She turned to Ealord, “Best to greet them and explain who I am.”

“I think not.” She felt a sudden jab in her side and looked down to see Ealord’s dagger positioned at her lower back. “I told you I will not help you.”

Once again, Desprae found herself a prisoner and bound. The ten calvary men were all young; she estimated that they were likely conscripts or those with few good prospects in life. The oldest was eighteen or twenty years old in human years. Ealord was the oldest and most experienced, which she felt gave her the advantage. The one who had tied her hands had made two mistakes. They had not restrained them behind her back, and the knots were not tight. She had been slowly loosening the ropes as they traveled. They had also failed to remove her sword from her horse. She wasn’t sure if that was an oversight or if Ealord was testing her to see how she might resist. From the conversation between Ealord and his men, she knew they were taking her to Hammerfall, where Rarsirrien told them to meet. If they are taking her there anyway, then why as a prisoner? “Because you’re a drow,” she thought to herself. After all she had endured, all she had done to prove she was more than the sum of her race, she would always be judged by what she was, never who. She could feel the anger begin to swell within her.

It took two days for them to reach Hammerfall. She brooded the entire time, regretting her decision to help Ealord. She wondered if Rarsirrien and the others had abandoned her as well. By the time they had reached the Keep at Hammerfall, her depression at feeling abandoned and betrayed began to turn to anger and resolve. She had been silent and demurred during the previous days but stood tall and straight when they took her off the horse. She looked at the dark stone walls of the lower keep as they marched her to a cell. The stone was wet, and the air cold. She heard the iron cell door creak before they shoved her through and locked it behind her. She stood silent, back to the door, listening to the guards as they walked away. She looked around the black cell, her drow vision seeing things no one else could. It was damp, cold, dark, and full of — spiders. For the first time in several days, she smiled.

“Ealord!” There was an empty pause. EALORD!” The commandant’s voice echoed throughout the Keep.

Ealord raced up the stone steps from the cell level to the second tier. The commandant’s official residence was a level above the cavalry entrance, and his office window faced out onto the parade ground just inside the main gate. As he reached the second level, a guard was already waiting and holding the door to the inner keep open. He entered, paused to straighten his tunic, and then knocked once on the commander’s door.

“Come!” A voice bellowed.

Ealord stepped in and turned to close the door behind him. He turned back and stood at attention. The commandant was an imposing figure, but the man standing behind him, Ealord recognized immediately. His heart began to race, and he could feel his hands becoming cold.

“Where is she?” Rarsirrien asked.

Ealord remained silent. His mind was trying to take everything in. Had the Drow been telling the truth after all? Who was this man with his commander? Why would he take the word of an outsider?

The commandant leaned forward in his chair, grasping the desk’s edges. “You returned with a prisoner, did you not? A female drow?”

“Yes, sir. We placed her in a cell on the ground level.”

The commandant looked to Rarsirrien and nodded. Rarsirrien then hurried past Ealord and out the door, heading for the cells. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he headed directly for the cells. Aaron, Kirk, and Dread Naught were near the horse stables in the far corner of the keep. Kirk saw Rarsirrien and nudged Aaron. The two ran across the courtyard after Rarsirrien, but he reached the cells before they could catch him. Rarsirrien grabbed one of the guards, “Which cell is the female drow being held in?” The young soldier stared up at him and tried to speak, but Rarsirrien’s sheer size and tone had unnerved the man so much that he could only manage to stammer and point to the far cell.

The cell corridor was dark, and the only light was from the few candles that were in iron holders along the wall. Rarsirrien reached the cell and opened the door with the key he had just lifted off the terrified guard. He opened it with such force that it banged loudly against the bars of the adjacent cell. By this time, Kirk and Aaron had caught up and stood behind him, staring into an empty cell. He began systematically inspecting the other cells in case the guard had pointed to the wrong one in his terrified state.

There were no other prisoners, and all the remaining cells were just as empty. He turned back to the cell and looked around more closely. For a second, Kirk thought he saw the man smile, and then he turned back to them, pulling his cloak around him so swiftly that the draft blew out several candles along the wall, deepening the darkness. He began walking back to the courtyard; his face was just as dark and worried as when they arrived. Now more worried about his punishment for allowing a prisoner to escape, the guard was sitting at his post, his face in his hands, weeping.

“Get Dread Naught, we’re leaving.” He passed Kirk and Aaron and headed directly to his horse.

Surprised, Kirk ran up behind Rarsirrien. “It will be dark soon. Wouldn’t it be better to stay here for the night and start at first light?”

“No. We’ve lost too much time already.” He checked the saddle and adjusted the bags on Desprae’s horse. “We can camp not far from here, just off the road.” He spoke so loud that Kirk and Aaron assumed that he wanted to make his displeasure known to the rest of the keep.

Kirk secured his sword to his horse before swinging into the saddle. He glanced back at the darkened passage leading to the cells and, for a moment, thought he saw a shift in the darkness. In an instant, it was gone, and he imagined it was a trick of the light as the sun was setting.

Dread Naught had already started and was nearly at the main road. The three rode slowly out and caught up with him by the time he had turned and started on the road towards Traziada. They rode for about five miles before Rarsirrien decided on a suitable spot to camp for the night. It was a small dell not far from the road where they could easily hear anyone coming down the road while not being seen themselves. They tied the horses to some large bushes that were going along the edge and then prepared for the night. Rarsirrien was sitting, looking back toward the Keep as if waiting for something.

“I guess I can’t blame her.” Aaron sat down on his blanket. “I mean, being a drow and being hated by most people and simultaneously hunted by your own. She probably figures she’s safer and better off on her own.”

“I don’t know. I was beginning to like her. It doesn’t feel right now that she’s gone,” Kirk said as he finished chewing on a piece of salted pork he had stored in his saddle bag.

Dread Naught was sitting opposite and facing Rarsirrien. “If you ask me…”

“We’re not,” replied the others in unison.

Dread Naught cleared his throat, “You’re better off without her,” he continued. Her kind can never be trusted, not even drow trust one another. Always plotting and conniving ways to gain more power and influence. Selfish and evil creatures they are.” Rarsirrien took out his pipe and took his time packing and lighting it. He looked Dread Naught in the eyes, “You should be careful about what you say about drow around Desprae.”

The Paladin snorted, “Why should I care what she thinks?”

“Because she is a valuable member of this party. And also because there is an elven knife at your throat.”

Kirk and Aaron jumped to their feet, but Rarsirrien just sat there smoking his pipe. “You know you can’t kill him, so you might as well just put it away and find a place to sleep.”

“At least my cell had a bed in it.” Desprae stepped out of the shadow behind Dread Naught. “I may not have been able to kill him, but maybe I could have slit his throat so I wouldn’t have to listen to him.”

“I was worried you might not want to rejoin us.” Rarsirrien exhaled several rings of smoke and watched as they drifted over the paladin’s head.

“Truthfully, I had almost convinced myself not to. If I hadn’t seen you enter my cell, I would have escaped and gone my way. Thanks for leaving the door open; blowing out the candles was a nice touch.”

“If I weren’t a dragon, I probably wouldn’t have seen you either. Your ability to hide in shadows is very impressive.”

“It’s an essential drow survival skill.”

Rarsirrien drew long on his pipe, “You were lucky those soldiers were all young and inexperienced. Otherwise, they would have kept you in a very well-lit cell.”

“Won’t they be searching for her?” Aaron asked.

“I doubt it. The garrison commander is very experienced, and he’s probably guessed by now that she didn’t escape before we went into her cell.” He finished his pipe and tapped it against the palm of his hand to remove the remaining ashes. “We should get some rest; at the best speed, it will take us about two weeks to reach the Dim Forest, and we are running out of time. Fortunately for us, we can travel light most of the way since there are several larger settlements along our route where we can rest and resupply. Once we reach Wood’s Edge, we must purchase more provisions. My pockets are getting a little lighter, so we need to be more frugal. We start at first light.” Rarsirrien turned and pulled a blanket over him.

After a few minutes, Aaron could hear the dragon’s breathing change as he fell asleep. He glanced at Dread Naught, who sighed and then walked a short way to a point where he could watch over them.

They were able to follow the main roads now and make better time. Desprae road with Aaron and kept the cowl of her cloak over her head whenever they came upon groups on the road and avoided being recognized as a drow. In two days, they had reached Traziada. Desprae and Dread Naught remained hidden while Aaron, Kirk, and Rarsirrien entered the town and procured more provisions and another horse. So far, Dread Naught had been able to keep up with the group even though they were on horses, but Rarsirrien wasn’t sure how long he could keep up that pace.

Three days later, they had already reached Proman in the heart of the Gran March. Again, Desprae and Dread waited in hiding outside the city while the others went and acquired fresh food and water. A two-and-a-half-day ride from Proman was Buxton’s Crossing. They blended in with a merchant caravan and took the ferry across. Once again, Desprae and Dread waited on the outskirts of the town while the others purchased what they would need for the next few days.

Rarsirrien’s map showed Ironwall Keep on the road between Buxton’s Crossing and Gralston. For obvious reasons, he planned on not approaching the Keep but decided they should continue to Gralston for the next one and a half days. They purchased enough food to last them the next two days. Desprae and Dread, being forced to spend more time together and being relative outcasts, began to develop respect for one another even though a long-term friendship was unlikely.

Ironwall Keep, like Hammerfall, was not built directly along the road. It sat upon a slight hill overlooking the crossroads between the Barony of Malthinius and the Barony of Dracus. The road northwest to Gralston was less traveled than the east-west road, which led from the fort city of Hookhill in the east and ran westward to a series of forts built along the edges of the Dim Forest. It was used as a main resupply route, while the other roads between forts were purposely made to allow smaller contingents to move along. They continued northwest toward Gralston and stopped when it became too dim to see the road ahead. They took shelter beneath an outcropping of rock not far from the road. They hadn’t seen any other travelers or patrols since Buxton’s Crossing. Aaron and Kirk had gathered some deadfall and built a small fire. It was nearly the month of Wealsun, and the night air had an unusual chill even though high summer was now just a month away. The cooler temperature didn’t bother Desprae, and she offered to take the first watch since Dread Naught hadn’t had much chance to rest since they left Hammerfall. The pace of the past several days riding left them feeling exhausted, so no one objected.

By late afternoon of the following day, they had reached Gralston. They had been extremely fortunate this far and had not encountered persons or beasts. Gralston was a small village with less than two thousand humans and several small communities of elves, halflings, and a few dwarves who worked as blacksmiths. As before, Desprae and Dread Naught found a place not far from the village where they could stay concealed and wait for the others to return with provisions. Rarsirrien decided they would stock up their provisions here rather than in Wood’s Edge because the latter was smaller and more isolated and would likely have fewer resources than Gralston.

Even though the days were getting longer as high summer neared, it was nearing the last light when the three returned. The horses were laden with enough provisions to last them several weeks if they were frugal, but it also meant they couldn’t travel as fast.

Rarsirrien sat by the fire with Desprae and Dread Naught and examined his map. The road between Gralston and Wood’s Edge was less a road and more a well-worn track. They would have a problem navigating it in the dark. They were also less than fifteen miles from the edges of the Dim Forest, so traveling in the dark along an unfamiliar path was not a wise choice. Aaron and Kirk joined them and brought some chickens to roast over the fire. Aaron had gathered some mushrooms and wild onions to sauté in some oil.

“Feast before the battle?” Rarsirrien looked at the forest, but his mind was on what was waiting on the other side. After a moment, he spoke again. “Probably not a bad idea. After we enter the woods and head for the Vale, there won’t be as many opportunities to enjoy such a meal.”

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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