Monday, July 27, 2020

Wine Cellars: Mysteries of Moldenwood part 3

The morning after...
Dawn came and I came with it. No, not in the way that you think I meant.


I mean that I was up with the dawn. Goodness, can’t a fellow manage a good turn of phrase without it being a double entendre?


I awoke to a beautiful woman, naked, standing waist deep in water and combing long flowing hair whose color I could not and cannot and will never be able to adequately describe. She turned and looked at me and spoke and I knew I was in love and I hoped she was too.

She disappeared from sight for a moment and I heard some splashing. She quickly returned though, bearing a platter of fruit and two plates. She sat down next to where I lay at the water’s edge.

“You’re awake. How are you feeling?” That was all, yet that was all I needed. To hell with the adventure, I thought as she handed me a plate full of food, I will stay here and see how long one can live in paradise.

The morning passed in idyllic fashion. After some time had passed, Brook (the chosen name of my lady nymph (oh yes, that is exactly what I had found out here, and more is my luck!)), having heard my tale over breakfast, suggested that we should dress and seek out the rest of my party. I agreed and went to get dressed. As I did, I heard a din moving toward us through the forest that surrounded the pond.

So a few words about life this morning, as you well know by now I woke up to the loving gaze and embrace of a beautiful woman. It was a transformative experience, to run from certain death into the lustful embrace of love. I felt like a new man. I was overjoyed to hear the familiar voices of my friends in the trees as they called out a greeting to my sweet Brook. I finished getting dressed and stepped out of the reeds, to the adulation of all.

They said some things that amounted to, we are glad you’re alive and now let’s get a move on. I noted the goblin was missing. When I asked about Grit’s absence, Icarus Archimedes Icarus slowly shook his head and said, “Our poor friend. We think he may have perished, and the more’s the pity for he had the key our brave paladin discovered in the cask. Come now though, we must depart.”
Corinth, moved by the spirit of his god no doubt, stood up from where he had been sitting reorganizing his pack.
The cursed tree

“ WE GO FORTH TO FIND THE AXE MAN AND BRING HIM TO JUSTICE,” he roared. We all stared at him for a moment, shrugged, and readied to leave. After a promise to return and a long lingering kiss, I was ready to go and let Corinth face his destiny. We struck out in the direction indicated by Brook and, using her detailed instructions, found ourselves emerging into a clearing that showed signs of recent habitation. Farther away and up atop a hill that started some short distance west of the clearing I saw a strange and twisted tree. Even at such a distance I could feel power whispering from it and  assumed that was where the wives were being kept, but before I could say so a commotion broke out at the far end of the field, with the brush and trees being pulled apart and a group of men stepping out into the clearing.

Rupert, an axe, a challenge.

The twisted tree in the distance emanated some kind of strange energy, true, but no less so than the hulking monstrosity---a massive man draped in furs and wearing worn leather armour and an assortment of mismatched jewelry---that stepped forth from the woods, easily swinging a massive broadaxe as if it were a hatchet. He looked at us, taking our measure, and then he threw his head back and began laughing, great guffaws that started deep inside him and rolled out like thunder. His face was florid and veins stood out on his neck as he laughed at us, his great girth heaving up and down in one piece with the ferocity of his mirth. The solidity of his bulk worried me, it indicated muscle and not fat and it further told me that he was more than capable of handling himself. He was flanked by several rough looking brigands.
Rupert the Axeman & his men

They strode into the clearing and spread out in a casual and predatory fashion. The man with the axe planted the head of the weapon on the ground and leaned into the handle, which groaned only slightly at having to support the man’s girth. A sturdy weapon to be sure. I took measure of the men gathered here and my hand found the hilt of a dagger and surreptitiously palmed it loose of its sheath, ready to be thrown. The man leaning on the axe was absolutely the hardest of them, all of whom looked dangerous. Though he was broad and wide, his arms and legs were strewn with thick corded stretches of muscle and sinew and scars. The scars told me his life was one of strife and his eyes—deep and empty from this distance—spoke of a careless acquaintance with the void, an intimacy with death that I found both compelling and repulsive. In that glance I knew this was ending with someone's blood cooling on the ground. The men behind him also radiated an empathy with and understanding, an intimate knowledge even, of death. They were equally armed to the teeth. I felt my pulse quicken as  Corinth stepped forward.

“We come to bring peace, justice and the word of the gods to this place!” said Corinth. “We ask that you and your men leave in peace and never darken this community again. Do this and we shall not have to force you to pay for your crimes and repent for your myriad sins.” Corinth’s voice boomed out, bold and convincing. Corinth’s bluster was undermined by the tremor in the mace he held pointed at the brigands, and the sweat that was pouring down his face, staining the neck of his jerkin and soaking into the vestments he wore over his armor.

The man threw his head back and guffawed.

“I am Rupert and these are my merriest men,” he said through tears of laughter. “I fear that you have no authority over us. However, your pluck and spirit amuses me and so I shall offer you a deal. One on one combat to decide the outcome of this encounter. If your warrior should slay mine, then we will leave this place and ne’er return. These lands are vast and our work can continue elsewhere, the word can find ears in other hamlets. If we win, we will kill you all and make what’s yours ours. Deal?”

To his credit, Corinth never hesitated. To be clear, it was a credit to his idiocy and fervent commitment to getting murdered and not his bravery. Rupert snorted and made a small motion with his hand "Kendrick, the boy is yours." There was a slithering sound as one of the men unsheathed his sword stepping forward into the clearing until he was a short distance from Corinth, in his right hand he held a vicious looking hand-axe.

"Don't worry lad, it won't hurt. Too much...."

The two men eyed one another for a moment.

Eyes locked.

Grips tightened. Muscles tense, nervously waiting.

The moment stretches out, far too long.

Now movement, now tumult.

Sparks of steel striking steel.

Chaos and blood followed.

Stay tuned for the exciting culmination of the story!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Wine Cellars: The Dwarf Quest - a journey into darkness...

the Elder
Wine Cellars: A journey into darkness...

The dwarf elder looked over the group of short-beards. "I suppose you'll have to do..." he pulled a low stool out from under a table and sat facing them.

"Long ago our Clan waged a battle with Old Crook-nose the Goblin King. We assaulted his lair, and he ours many times in those days, whittling down his warriors as well as our own. But then Crook-nose answered a summons of the darkest kind and moved his clutch off to the castle of Marqest. In a final attack the night before the goblins left, they raided by boat with the aid of evil men allied to the Duke himself."

Battle of Blood Fjord (Ralph Horsley)

The Elder closed his eyes and sighed heavily into his beard. "The battle at Blood Fjord, a humiliating and shameful defeat. It was that day they not only killed King Gravelshaft, but Crook-nose himself made off with the fabled Helm of Ever-full Tankards."

From his pocket the Elder revealed a crumpled letter, he looked at it then flung it into the fire where it flashed with a sharp blue light and the lingering scent of burnt blackberries. "I have recently become aware of a way that we can reclaim our honor, and Forge willing the fabled Helm as well. It is however a most dangerous and terrible quest.... lean close and I will tell you what you must do..."

The Helm of Ever-full Tankards:

This fabled relic is held in high regard by many Warrior-Kings and generals of dwarf armies. The identity of the original creator is lost in time, and many clans have claimed it was their ancestor while the Helm was in their possession. This has become sort of a game among the clans and is taken lightly as long as the Helm is within the hands of Dwarves. However, when the relic is in the hands of an enemy or lost due to unforeseen circumstance it becomes the sole responsibility of the clan that last claimed ownership to retrieve the Helm at any cost, no matter how long it takes even to the complete extinction of said clan.

Helm of Ever-full Tankards
more is coming soon....

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Wine Cellars: Mysteries of Moldenwood part 2

Mysteries of Moldenwood Part 2

The Jumping bag:

As we walked down the path, the day dwindled further towards dusk and I was worried that we would never find the wives of wood or the wood wives or any sort of wife at all. Any quest that took more than a day needed to be worth the effort, and so far--leprechauns or not--this was a bust so far. I started to fantasize about throwing my knife so hard and far that it punctured the sun, and it went squealing off below the horizon only to rise straight back up, turning night right back into day. In my mind’s eye, the day would get brighter and brighter until KAPLOW! the sun exploded from the fatal wound I’d dealt it.
the path

“Jack?” The voice was Corinth’s. It cut through the spectacular fireworks display in my mind’s eye like a dull and dirty knife through fresh butter, slowly and leaving a stain as it went. The stain was boredom, whatever he wanted to talk about would be boring.

“Why were you so unnerved in the clearing? Given the things we have faced together…”

He paused as we both shuddered, memories haunted by cyclopean monstrosities stirring dangerously between us, threatening to be fully remembered. There would be wine and women tonight, I thought. I don’t know how death would be a comfort to my friend, but I silently vowed I would not envy him from the warmth of my bed full of flesh this evening.

After some time had passed, I spoke.

“It came from a place full of the foulest evils imaginable. The wine cellars of the Duke of Marquest to be specific. I was there before I was here and I pray each night that I will not visit there in my dreams. The dreams would not be as bad, but still I would rather dream of anything else. Even Rodrick the Blue.”

At that confession,  Corinth’s eyes grew wide. Of all the odious things that befell us aboard the Darkstar, Rodrick the Blue (either of beard or balls, depending on his mood), caused us the most lasting damage. We both had scars, mental and physical, from our run-ins with the lout.

Before he could respond tearfully, the foliage above us exploded as something crashed down through. We scattered as a bag landed on the path. It bunched itself up and launched itself up into the air, a voice cried out for help from within.

Before any of us could react or caution against it, Grit leaped forward and grabbed the bag. It fired into the air and carried him with it up and through the foliage. There was crashing and swearing and shouting as the bag crashed back through the firmament of foliage. It crashed to the ground in a swirling, dusty haze that obscured the path before us. We looked at one another; Jack to paladin, paladin to owlman, owlman to Jack and without a word we raced together down the path towards the cloud of dust hiding our friend.

As we arrived I noticed that the goblin was attempting to talk to the bag, and without waiting, flipped the latch open. I gasped, not too audibly I hope, as a small devil popped out. There was no doubt it was a devil, there were claws and yellowed eyes and cloven hooves for feet. The face threw me though, for it was very innocent. In fact there was more than just a passing resemblance between the two if you understand my meaning and if you don’t...I’ve nothing further to add, just that I was suddenly worried.
Little Devil

“That awful man stuffed me in this bag,” the creature panted at us.

“And I’ve freed you, so now what?” Grit stood tall, a whole inch taller than the demon, in askance.

“A bargain we can strike, if you’ll let me go with no further bother. I’ve no wish to be here in this cold cold place and longer than necessary. Please tell me terms so that I may continue on my way, a free daemon.”

The devil shuffled anxiously back and forth. I thought perhaps he was worried about being shoved in that sack again. I chose not to engage however, and started looking down the path. I had heard stories growing up, that it was wise to never deal with a devil. That was in fact a tenet of the Jack training. Yes sir, you left them alone and they tended to leave you alone. I was told very clearly one day during my formative years (cue flash back: a younger me, still roguishly adorable sits before a naivish man. His blonde hair is slicked back and his pencil thin mustache is waxed to perfection. He is speaking to me, emphasizing his points with shadow play in the dimly lit room that we are sitting in. A small fire is before us and his shadow puppets tower on the wall above us):

“Never ever mess with a denizen of hell. Avoid their notice as much as possible.” The shadow thief hid from a shadow demon on the ceiling.

“Because if it does notice you…” And the demon discovered the man hidden in the shadows.

“They will not stop tormenting you until they are satisfied, and a demon thinks in centuries instead of days. A demon’s delight and satisfaction may take years to be complete.”

The demon on the ceiling laughed, deep belly laughs full of wickedness and evil intent.

I walked away then as the goblin and the daemon bantered and bartered and eventually terms were reached, but I was well down the road.

Some things are best left unheard, as ignorance is bliss, especially the words that drip from a daemon’s tongue and I was happy to leave them to their wheelings and dealings.

In the distance I could hear thunder. I looked to the horizon and saw not a cloud in the sky. Well, clouds yes. But big fluffy ones and no dark and threatening monstrosities in the distance.

The thunder came again, low and from the forest. Grit was finished, and walked over looking pleased. I did not see the daemon. The rest of the party headed down the path with me, towards the whip crack of thunder in the trees. 

Meboyoh and the great canoe in the sky:

The CRACK-SNAP  sound led us to our most peculiar sight yet, a flying gnome. 

That is correct, a flying gnome is what you just read. Upon further rumination, and a need for utter clarity, maybe flinging or falling gnome would be more accurate. Here’s what we witnessed:

A tree in the distance as we approached the source of the thunder suddenly appeared. There was no tree and then suddenly there was, whipping back and forth as if in a high wind. We looked on, enthralled by the sudden appearance of a tree.

None of us saw the landing, but we did hear it; a raucous crash behind us as something plummeted into the ground from on high. We rushed, as a group, to see what was going on.

There was lephre 1 gnome in the crater the impact had left. We stared in silence until the immobile figure slowly stood up and started dusting itself off. Great clouds of chalky detritus and soil formed a cloud bank around him.

“Whoa,” said Grit. “That was amazing!”

He spoke for us to a bird. The small person strode through the clouds swirling before it. It walked right up to us, clouds, eager to remain relevant, streaming after.

He stuck his hand out to Grit.

“Meboyoh’s me name, ‘n’ flying is me game,” he said proudly as Grit tacitly reached out and accepted his greeting.

“What do ye keen?” he asked, taking our measure one at a time. I took his measure in return.

He was a squat and hairy dwarf (yes, Corinth had to tell me to stop casting about for pots of gold.) and he reeked of sap and pollen and he was covered in both substances from head to toe which painted him with swirls of color over his rough leathery hide (Corinth’s description and not mine). His eyes were the same color as the sky and they were focused on the owlman. He grinned broadly and I saw that his smile was shattered by many many impacts and looked to be made of loose white pebbles all broken.
Meboyoh (by Brian Froud)

“You’re trying to fly,”  Icarus said meeting the gnome’s gaze.

“Aye, I am,” he spat the words more than spoke them. “Ken ye assist me in reaching the land in the sky aboove us?”

We all looked at one another, puzzled.

“It is the land above us. I know it is there, I just have to get high enough to reach it. Or you could give me a ride?” he asked looking  imploringly at Icarus. His plea was met with a slow head motion indicating that Icarus was in no mood to fly anyone anywhere.

“Then plan B me lads. Help me pull down this massive honker of a tree o’er here and I will grant you any favor I am able to before I ascend to the heavens!”

“We are on a quest,” said Corinth. “We seek the stolen woodwives and to rid this land of the axeman Rupert in the name of my lord God AJSKAHDKJA 2. Can you aide us?”

The gnome nodded. “Aye, I can. I know exactly where they are, I saw them the first time I had my hands on the Great Canoe in the sky. 3

After we agreed to help him, Meboyoh spoke of an enchanted tree where the wives were being held.

“It lies a fair way away in that direction. I can see it from the air and I can say with certainty that ye lads will find it with nary a bit of  trouble. Now the task at hand!”

With that he set about scouting the area and finding the biggest tree he could that met whatever conditions he was searching for.

“This one here’ll do the trick,” he said and started to climb a tall and bendy Over tree 4. When he got to the top he dropped the ends of a long rope down to us and tied the middle around the top.

“Now run, lads! Straight back until she’s touching the ground!”

So we started running and—lo and behold—the tree did in fact drop down to the path.

It was easy, so easy. And it was fun. I remembered being a boy, long before the days of conscription as a pleasure mate and longer still in the days before I donned the Jack mantle and struck out on my own. Instead I remember running through a field, my family there. We are trying and failing to fly a kite. I remember the pride I felt as it went airborne with my mom and dad and brother and I all running like mad in the shadow it created as it eclipsed a small part of the sun.

I felt that same pride now as the tree touched down and Meboyoh settled himself at the end of the bendy tree and waited.

It was not a hard thing to do, to let go and grant him his desires. He flew then and his shout of triumph and glee echoed down to us. That and only that.

Meboyoh never came back to earth.

Of night and goats and night flights:

Night fell quickly in the woods. One minute we were walking through twilight and the next I could not make out my hand in front of my face. We walked on in silence, each of us regretting our decision to press on. Each of us regretted our decision to not pack a torch. Now, about what comes next...I am nothing if not a faithful correspondent of the truth and as such I hope what I share will be met with understanding and not derision and judgement. Here goes:

In the duchy of the Duke there is a persistent rumor. One that, upon hearing for the first time,is easy to dismiss. “Watch out for it, there’s no telling what might happen if it gets a hold of ya!” and also:
“That fair bit of bleating might be the last sound you hear, well other than the sound of your soul crunching between its teeth as it eviscerates you, physically and spiritually.”

So while it's easy to dismiss, there starts to be a whispered pattern. A web of fear and awe of the Caprinae variety formed of myth and rumor. At least until you are there, in that haunted stretch of land that make up the grounds of the Duke’s complex. There, you believe anything is possible. I know, after seeing only a little of what lurks in that hellish place, that the rumors are more true than false. I know. I know that the goat, the one a masked man came to the Duchy seeking vengeance against and revenge on, is a demon of the highest caliber. Everyone knows.

I tell you this now not to excuse my behavior, but to give good reason for my actions.

The clearing was full of darkness and the sound of chewing when we entered it. A word from the Owlman and the clearing filled with a cold and silvery light that flickered gently. The goat stood there before us, chewing thoughtfully on something and regarding us not with eyes but with pits full of darkness and deceit, The strange silvery light highlighted the saliva dripping from its maw, and glinted off the dull ivory of its hooves and horns. It bleated. I saw another form in the gloom behind this first goat. Two silver eyes gazed into my soul from the darkness. Two. There were two goats, and the one that lived on the grounds of the Dukes manse was too much a demon for the rogues and wayward adventurers that came yearly to die or seek their fortunes.

THERE WERE TWO GOATS SO...I did what any sensible Jack would do. I blindly panicked and let my feet do the walking and the talking. I do not know for how long I ran, nor in what direction, but I did hear a voice, silvery and full of starlight, and I ran to it. I found arms waiting for me in the darkness.

First there was fear, there in the darkness.

Then there were soothing, comforting words.

Then lips.

Then love.

Part 3 coming soon......
1 Full disclosure I thought he was also a leprechaun, but I heard Corinth call him a gnome. I will have my pot of gold, but it looks like it will have to wait a bit longer….
2 It’s his God, and it’s his business. So no I will not write out the name, it’s best never to mention the gods, lest they take notice in you.
3 Wink, wink.
4 I have no actual idea what sort of tree this was so that’s what you get. You can go now. Seriously that’s all I have to say. I am not here to amuse you with rich anecdotes at all times. Go. Away. Ugh. Fine. Here. Is this what you wanted? Is it?!?