The Stories Section

Part I:  Chapter 13 The Story so far...
Part Ia: The journal of Anselm

Part II: The Payoff (Back in Wulfheim)

Chapter 13 The story so far:

In his last adventure our hero, Karadoc, defeated Bedwig (aka Gundon) the Giant in mortal combat after an epic struggle, suffering many grievous wounds. Even so, having already vanquished a clutch of terrible Dragons, having cut the dreaded Carbuncle into a hundred pieces, and having overcome a horde of eldritch Demons, his confidence was still high. The victory pay for all these missions was good, and he divided the next two months between resting and travelling.

Eventually he found his way to an unknown land, a place which hinted at former riches and power: this is where we find him. Inevitably, in his quest for somewhere to spend the remainder of his hard-earned cash, he chanced upon a run-down inn on the border of a vast, miasmal swamp. There he met with a gang of dwarves he hadn't seen for a decade: breaking his vow of sobriety, he quickly lost co-ordination and began to stagger. Was it Fate's hand that guided him towards the quartet of men debating earnestly at the corner table? Or was it simply one of those random events that determine our future?

Karadoc has never enjoved the company of humans after a group of them abandoned him to the mercy of an Orc ambush many years ago, so he instinctively reached for his axe. Cursing his luck, he realised it had gone missing in the last few hours, forcing him to fall back on his wits. He smiled as best he could, composed himself and delivered a long speech detailing who he was, what he had achieved, and how much he charged for his services. When he'd finished, he noticed that his audience was smiling, as though they'd found the answer to a pressing problem...

"Right there," the man said. "Across the swamp."

Even though it was late morning and the light was good, I squinted (my eyesight has never been great since my brother Hengest and me had an eye-crossing competition when we were younger. My mother always said it would stay that way), I shook my head.

"Nothing. "

I replied.

He looked angrily at me; the corners of his mouth tightened like a leather belt and his teeth began to grind together like an old sheep chewing grass.

"Across the swamp."

he insisted, like I was deaf.

"The ruin - Wulf and Carolus?"

I stared at him blankly.

"You must remember Dianos?"

It was one of those situations where one more vacant look on my part would have been rewarded with a knuckle surprise. Checking to see if he was armed - he wasn't - I feigned a strategic defence posture. He backed off.

"Let's get down to business."

I said, giving him a winning smile which tailed to penetrate his spongey human skull.

"You're saying if I took a boat across that bog, roughly."

''- northwards, thirty miles -"

"- right. You're saying there's a ruined castle there and I can make money."

"You can keep whatever you find,"

he' snapped, and looked even more annoyed. I waited for him to start foaming at the mouth but it didn't come.

"It's not that simple, though."

he insisted.

"You've got to know who you're dealing with."

I shrugged. If someone wants to shell out the readies to do a hatchet job, why ask questions?

"Let's get it over with then."

I offered. If I'd had my axe handy I'd have left him two toes for standing on, and gone for another jug and knees up; but I was in a good mood.

"Spin me the yarn, beanpole."

He glowered: if looks could kill, I'd have been making the trip home in a basket.

"It's a long story, but i'll keep it short for you."

He emphasised the word 'short' and looked me up and down. Some people don't recognise how near they are to a fist in the face. I confined my annoyance to an exaggerated yawn to keep him fresh: if he got boring I could always cut his legs off.

He coughed, adopted a rhetorical posture, and began.

"It was many years ago now... A much better time, when all was good with the world."

I stared at him hard. One more wistful musing and my dinner would be heading for his shoes.

"This is the tale of Wulf and Carolus."

No fanfares came, and it wasn't hard for me to look unimpressed, so he simply continued.

"Upon the death of his father, Wulf III gained the crown of this land. On the night of his coronation he exiled his half-brother Carolus to secure the purity of the royal blood-line - and ruled for many years. It was not to last. Carolus grew into manhood and avowed to seize the throne as his. In his middle age he returned, disguised, to Wulf's castle, and plotted to overthrow our king. He enlisted the aid of Dianos - a despicable, vengeful creature who had thus far served Wulf as Chief Advisor - and persuaded the Captains of the Guard through bribery and threats to take his side."

I hate to say it, but I was beginning to like this tale. Cheating, vengeance, bitterness a few gold coins and a bucket of blood and it would have made essential bedtime listening. The only part I didn't like was the storyteller, but he went on regardless:

"Carolus was appointed Ward Marshall, holding supreme responsibility for the castle's military organisation. Thus he was able to organise with ruthless efficiency the rebellion that would place him in power. Somehow Wulf got wind of the plot, and when the conspirators stormed his court one evening, his loyal personal bodyguard met the attack and a terrible struggle ensued. Three days of blood and anger spread through the castle like a disease; Wulf with his last few retainers fled to the higher floors of the castle, setting many traps behind him and unleashing his personal menagerie of hideous monsters to thwart the rebels."

"All was in vain. The Necromancer Dianos had anticipated the king and lurked in waiting on the upper floor of the castle. Using the unmentionable powers of the dead he destroyed the remaining bodyguard and left Wulf exposed to the mortal blows of Carolus, avenged at last."

Carolus sounded like the kind of man you wouldn't want with a knife in his hand when your back was turned - I liked him. But all good things must come to an end - which is why this story went on:

"But revenge was not sweet. With Wulf dead Carolus was placed on the throne, where he reigned for a year and a day in a castle that never saw peace - it was a time torn with dispute, with conflict."

"Jealous Captains vied for power; bands of warriors forged and broke Alliances in their quest for dominance."

"On the anniversary night of Carolus' victory a feast was held, but a great evil befell the celebrations. Without warning all the warriors were seized with madness and more blood was spilled. Like a flame devouring what it will, none cared whom they killed in their quest to quench an overwhelming urge to destroy. Carolus, sad Carolus, battled for his life but was trapped and fell under the sword of his own Captain."

"Daybreak brought calm, but it was a hellish peace. Only a few of the castle's occupants remained alive - myself amongst them. My companions and I fled in terror of the previous night. As far as we know only Dianos remains."

For a brief second I thought the story was finished, and I began to pick up my rucksack. Unfortunately, the teller was merely pausing for effect, his eyes wandering as he did so. He coughed again, and continued:

"Over the last two years Dianos has lived alone in the dark castle within this swamp. Ignorance has spawned rumour: some say the castle is still full of monsters, some say it is filled with Lord Carolus' treasure. All agree on one matter: Dianos is now the slave of his Necromantic art, an insane creature, possessed by evil. We have reason to believe he has been abducting people from surrounding villages to satisfy his black practices."

He paused again, and corrected himself.

"But we can't be sure, without further investigation: nor can we be certain that it was he who was responsible for the events of that dreadful night when Carolus died. All we know is that Dianos is a powerful magician, and a terrible opponent. You must not undertake your task lightly."

I shrugged again - giants, Necromancers, what's the difference? Up to this moment no figures had been mentioned, so I got straight to the point,

"And the payment?"

"As I said, some say the castle is filled with Carolus' treasure. This is no rumour: Carolus himself used enslaved dwarves to mine a large fortune in emeralds from below the castle, and there is more gold there than you will see again in your lifetime. Unravel the mystery, purify the castle, avenge us if you will - the treasure is yours to keep."

So, Carolus was a dwarf basher? I might have guessed. At another time I would have kissed the man good-bye with a boot 'n' forehead sandwich - but he'd mentioned gold, he'd mentioned emeralds; and he'd said they were mine for the taking. What was the catch?

In the time I had been thinking of these things he'd drawn a battered book from his leather bag, stained brown with old blood. He offered it to me:

"Take this."

he said, smiling in a way I didn't enjoy.

"Study it wisely. It could prove the difference between a life of riches and an early death."

I took it, and my human companion offered his farewell. When he was gone, I opened the book to the first page. It read 'This is the journal of Anselm'. I read no more: it was getting late, and I had a rowing boat to steal.

Read the journal of Anselm