Grimm Tidings

Chapter 21

Running up the tower stairs may have been the worst moments in Grimestoke’s life. Although he was inordinately fond of inflicting pain on others, he had a very low threshold for pain himself. The wound Yolanthe’s arrow had made in his hand was so excruciating he could hardly see. And yet he had to run from that mad dwarf. So he had scampered up the stairs as fast as he could, formulating a plan as he went. When he came to the cul-de-sac he pushed open the trap door and let it fall shut again. Then he ran down the wooden stairs, crawled between two steps, and pushed himself into the shadows. He reached into his jerkin and pulled out one a potion he had stolen from a travelling merchant some months ago. It promised invisibility. He drank the foul liquid off and then watched as his hands faded. He did not turn completely invisible, but close enough. He was translucent, and that might be enough.

He took a deep breath and sat perfectly still as the dwarf bounded up the stairs and shattered the trap door. The half-elf had bounded after him. As soon as they were both on the platform, he slid out between the stairs and tiptoed down the steps of the tower. He made his way gingerly through the great hall, now a slaughterhouse, and finally to Baltrog’s study. When he entered he found the sorcerer just coming out of one of his trances.

“They’re on the tower!” he shouted

“No, Grimestoke,” said Baltrog calmly. “She’s dead. He may have jumped after her. I don’t know and don’t particularly care since it’s time to leave anyway.”

He looked down at his factotum. “You’ve hurt your hand,” he observed.

“Yes,” said Grimestoke. Now that he was safe he was feeling the pain more.

“Good,” said Baltrog. “Consider it a chastisement for your sloppy work today. Now pack the augmenter and meet me at the pier in a few minutes. We’re going on a little boat ride.”

“To Seatorn?” Grimestoke asked.

“Seatorn is tomorrow,” said Baltrog. “Tonight we’re visiting a friend.”

Voltag and Yolanthe spent an hour searching the castle, beginning in the rooms off the great hall and finally working their way back to Baltrog’s study. They were slowed down by a few surviving guards. Most of them ran when they saw the two fighters, but a few put up a token resistance. They died quickly. Yolanthe retrieved her arrows and untied the rope from the shattered body of the bugbear. Voltag found another bottle of the blue liquid that had made his axe blade invulnerable and stashed it in his jerkin.

Baltrog’s study was deserted. They ransacked the place looking for clues to Baltrog’s whereabouts, but could only find coded correspondence and maps. Yolanthe drew the dwarf’s attention to the largest map.

“This is Seatorn,” she explained. “This is the Wall. It really is invulnerable.”

“Looks it,” agreed Voltag.

“Then what is he going to do?” Yolanthe asked.

“He’s mad. Might do anything,” said Voltag. “We should get to Seatorn quickly.”

The two started out of the study when the dwarf noticed a chest on the floor. Without thinking, he opened it. It contained gold.

“By Moradin’s kneecaps!” said Voltag. “He left without his treasure. He’s truly mad.”

Yolanthe peered into the chest. “Baltrog loves fine food and wine. He loves beautiful clothes and objects, but he has never been driven by money. For him, money was just another form of power. Like magic. Since he left this money, he must have all the power he needs.”

“To destroy Seatorn?”

“To destroy Seatorn.”

“Well,” said Voltag, “finders keepers.” He scooped as much gold as he could fit into his jerkin, and followed Yolanthe out of the castle.

Baltrog and Grimestoke walked over treacherous wet rocks, sprayed again and again by the salt water of the waves that crashed a few feet from their path. It was a moonless and windy night, a night in which no one sane would walk the dangerous shoreline west of Tzanasport. Torches would be blown out, the total darkness made tripping a certainty, and errant waves had been known to wash the unwary out to sea. But on the human and gnome walked, their way lit by the green glow of a light spell that Baltrog had cast around their bodies.

“Much farther?” asked the gnome, gasping for breath as he leapt from rock to rock. His injured hand throbbed with every heartbeat.

“Not tired, are we?” asked Baltrog. “Nothing like a bracing seaside walk at midnight to get the blood flowing.”

Their path led them between the sea and a mass of great boulders. At high tide the ocean would cover half of those rocks.

Baltrog pointed to a dark crevice between two of the giant boulders.

“We’re here,” he said, and stepped into the space.

Grimestoke followed, muttering to himself and rubbing the salt spray from his eyes while protecting his injured hand. When a jet of salt water splashed on the wound he let out a small cry of pain.

The green light showed that the crevice was not simply a space between two boulders that had crashed together, but the entry to a sea cave that extended far back from the shore. The floor was of wet sand, dotted with starfish and small crabs that scurried out of his way. The narrow rock walls were encrusted with barnacles and mussels that would rip the skin if one brushed against them. The claustrophobic space smelled of dead fish and salt.

Up ahead a different sort of light flickered. The light of fire.

Following behind Baltrog, Grimestoke found himself entering a larger space, a cave, perhaps some twenty feet round. Torches were stuck in crevasses in the wall. There was an inch of seawater on the floor and more water dripped from the ceiling. Standing in the middle of room, facing Baltrog, was a tall figure completely covered in a long cloak and hood.

“You’re late,” said the figure in a ragged voice.

“I think not,” said Baltrog casually. “Perhaps your hourglass is full of water.” He surveyed the room. “Nice place,” he said.

“Who is this?” asked the figure, raising an arm at Grimestoke.

“Oh yes, so rude of me,” said Baltrog. “This is my factotum, Grimestoke. Been with me for years. Grimestoke, mee , uh, well I don’t think you ever gave me your name.”

“I have no name,” said the man. “I am my master’s slave.”

The cloaked form did not extend a hand or bow, so Grimestoke just ducked his head and muttered, “Charmed, I’m sure,” under his breath.

“Yes, well,” said Baltrog, “This, uh, good master slave here is going to help us with the final stage of our little plan, the isolation of Seatorn,” said Baltrog.

“That remains to be seen,” said the cloaked figure.

“True,” said Baltrog, “So enough with the pleasantries. What I am asking of your master is a complete blockade of Seatorn. No ships go in, no ships go out. Indeed, if all the ships that are presently at anchor in the port were destroyed, well so much the better.”

“In return?” asked the figure.

“In return your master gets the entire population of Seatorn. Every one of them. And all the treasures of the richest city on the western coast.”

“My master has slaves. My master has treasure,” said the man.

“Ah, but does he have control of others of his kind?” asked Baltrog.

The figure tilted its hooded head towards Baltrog.

“Deep in the vaults of the civic hall of Seatorn, there is a wand,” explained Baltrog. “This wand has been the project of the city’s magic guild for almost 200 years now. Its intended purpose is to control your master’s kind, or at least the young and inexperienced of his kind,” Baltrog paused, “He is a ‘he,’ isn’t he?”

The man did not answer so Baltrog continued. “Whatever the case, as you can imagine the trading community of Seatorn are deeply afraid of your master’s kind, hence this project which, I’m told, is nearing completion. Now, I’m sure your master is much too powerful to be controlled by such a toy, but it might inconvenience him having rivals summoned to the Seatorn area, swimming around in his sea. On the other hand, he might find it very amusing to wield such a power himself. Why, he could turn rivals into slaves. He could destroy interlopers. He could build an empire.”

The hooded figure stood still for a moment.

“I will ask my master,” he said finally.

“And when might we expect an answer?” asked Baltrog.

“One hour,” he said. “Wait.”

He turned his back on the Baltrog and Grimestoke and shrugged off his robe. The gnome suppressed a gasp when the man’s flesh was exposed. He was an older man, perhaps in his fifties, but his skin was a sickly pale white as though it had never been exposed to the sun. His back and legs were covered with oval scars, puckerings of the skin that were red and raw at their centers. And there was something wrong with his neck. Flaps of extra skin seem to hang on either side of it, just above his shoulders.

The man muttered something in a language that Grimestoke had never heard, and raised his hands towards the ceiling. He muttered something again, and his arms stretched, the flesh pulling like rubber, another two feet until the man’s palms were touching the ceiling. He muttered something again, and threw his head back to stare at the ceiling. His breath became rapid and shallow.

The man stood in that impossible position for an hour. As Baltrog and Grimestoke waited, the water level in the cavern began to rise. When they had first entered the cavern it had just covered their feet. Now it was up the gnome’s thighs and bitterly cold. The gnome found his teeth were chattering. The tide was coming in. In another hour the passage would be flooded and they would not be able to leave.

“My lord?” whispered Grimestoke.


“Can you swim?”

“Not well,” said Baltrog, apparently unworried.

The man snapped his head forward. He lowered his strangely elongated arms and turned to face Baltrog and Grimestoke. For the first time the gnome had a good view of the man’s face. Like the rest of his body it was covered with the oval scars. One surrounded his left eye socket. The eyeball was missing.

“My master says yes,” said the Captain Bandle.

“Excellent,’ said Baltrog, rubbing his hands together.

“If you betray him, he will make you the lowest of his slaves,” the man said. “Better to be dead. I know.”

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