Read Greyrawk (Book 2) Online

Authors: Jim Greenfield

Greyrawk (Book 2) (2 page)

BOOK: Greyrawk (Book 2)
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

"It's hard to say precisely, but your family seemed to fit in this land. The crops never failed, the livestock did not fall to disease. Nature and the Greyrawk's seem to have had an affinity for one another."

"Interesting. I assume then that Belderag shows no such gifts?"

"No, and that's only one of the problems we have with him. But I should say no more about it. Speak to Lord Nunderburg if you wish to know more. Do not stay in the hills after dark. There are fell creatures that have crept out of the dark places of the world since your grandfather's death."

"Thank you for your words, Master Festin. I wish you Godspeed."

"And to you, Lord Greyrawk." He rode away before Greyrawk could correct his salutation.

 

Greyrawk sat on a large rock at the base of the hill until darkness fell. He was not inclined to stay on the hill and yet he could not bring himself to ride to Nunderburg Castle. He was not as committed as he thought to reclaim his heritage. In many ways, he would prefer to ride away, forget his past, father, and grandfather. He closed his eyes and pressed his thumbs against his temple. The thought of his grandfather's sword a trophy on Belderag's wall did not go away. It was an insult. An insult that must be answered for by Belderag.

"Come, Spirer." He led his horse down the hill to the road below. The sun was low in the afternoon sky and the clouds were high and few. He decided to ride north to Nunderburg's castle and put many miles behind him before night. He passed many people on the road with their carts but they did not meet his gaze and only noticed his sword. Not one person greeted him and although it was not odd in itself, people of the land seemed to have a downcast aura around them. He sensed the despair and hoped it would not cling to him. He stopped by a tree just back from the road and ate some food and let Spirer nibble some grass. The land was beautiful and even Greyrawk Mountain was beautiful in its wild appearance. He felt a cooling breeze from the rise of twilight and mounted his horse to cover the last miles.

It would be a clear night and the stars lit the darkening landscape before him. He mounted his horse and sat for several minutes, then turned northward. The evening was quiet and he heard animals in the fields. The land seemed prosperous enough. Did it profit from Belderag's rule?

There was a slight sound behind him just off the road. It seemed like a voice, or perhaps music; water running over rocks in a stream. But there was no stream.

He decided to walk his horse for a while. The night was cool and quiet. He headed north, still undecided on what his goals were. He knew Jaele waited for him back in Peradon but did he really want to give up his sword and live as an innkeeper? It was a pleasant life but here was a place named after his family. What could be better than reclaiming that land? He had money; perhaps he could buy the land back. It was a good thought.

The gentle music stopped and a hissing began. At least he thought so, but he could never clearly hear the noise. It seemed to move around him just out of reach. But it made his skin crawl.

He quickened his pace as his heart pounded. Perhaps he would not reach Castle Nunderburg after all. It was already getting dark. Festin had cautioned him not to tarry after dark. He walked fast and considered mounting his horse. Then the night became absolutely silent.

The creeping flesh feeling continued. He felt certain he was followed. Slowly he drew his sword. His sheath was lined with cloth to keep the blade silent while being drawn. His skin tingled and his pulsed pounded in his veins. His left hand tightened on the blade handle and he rose to the balls of his feet. Wiggling his right hand fingers rapidly, he rubbed his tongue over his teeth.

A dark shape flung itself from the darkness and Greyrawk whirled to meet it, his sword drawing blood. The creature howled and spun away. It began circling. It the dimming light Greyrawk could not see exactly what he was fighting. It was man-like, but moved on all fours, as fast as a cat and as large as a wolf. It jumped forward so fast Greyrawk barely hit it with his sword as he turned aside. A claw-like hand tore his sleeve and a trickle of blood seeped from the lines on his forearm. Repeatedly the creature drove into him but each time Greyrawk's sword bit deeply and the creature snarled with pain. Black blood dripped off the white blade of his sword. The creature heaved with heavy breathing and vanished.

Greyrawk listened for several minutes but heard nothing to alarm him. He saw to his scrapes but they proved minor. They did sting but he ignored them. His horse had bolted when the creature attacked and Greyrawk saw its silhouette a few score yards up the road. The horse had calmed and nibbled on the grass as he approached. He took some food out of his saddle pack and ate it, drank some water and sat on a rock tending to his wounds.

 

His unrest grew. The creature had returned and by the sound more than one creature stalked him. He drew his sword and let them come. He swung his sword and they backed away but he felt an unfamiliar tingle in his fingers; was his wound poisoned? Again, they rushed him and again he drove them off. Again.

Greyrawk's arm ached. He swung his sword more against these creatures than in many skirmishes as a mercenary and he was winded. The creatures hesitated. Greyrawk felt the muscles burning in his arm but knew he had but one more chance to drive them off. He shouted as he drove forward. The creatures roared and attacked. Suddenly a shape crashed into them, a long spear jabbing and piercing their dark hides. Greyrawk struck his foes repeatedly, somehow aware of his companion whose lance brought bloody pain to the creatures.

Greyrawk decapitated one and another fled. His companion drove off the others. Greyrawk took a good look at her. She seemed insubstantial, like a ghost, but the tip of the spear was very real and bloody. Her hair was dark blue! She appeared human but her skin was a pale blue and her features had a feline quality that Greyrawk couldn't put words around. She saluted him and he stared into her copper eyes, then she vanished completely into the air. Greyrawk stumbled to his knees. He looked all around him, but he was alone on the hill.

Castle Nunderburg sat amidst a lake fouled with lily pads and water birds. It was a scenic setting but at night, its charm was lost. It was not as large as Castle Greyrawk had been but the gate was solid and new wood and hardware was evident. The masonry had been repaired in several areas and the castle looked as secure as when it was built. Surrounding the castle was a small walled town. The gates were closed and no light showed from within the town. There was a single sentry on the castle wall when Greyrawk rode to the gate.

"Hold. Who goes there?" At the sentry's words, two more men appeared on the wall both with arrows notched, ready to fly.

"I am a friend calling on Lord Nunderburg."

"No friends travel after dark. Leave or we shall loose our arrows."

"I was waylaid by bandits else I would have arrived earlier," said Greyrawk.

"Speak your name, friend."

"Greyrawk."

"Greyrawk? It cannot be! They are all dead. Are you a ghost?"

"I am flesh and blood. I was taken to Herada when a child, before my Grandfather died. I was raised on Anavar."

The sentries spoke among themselves. The gate opened and three guards gestured for him to dismount and enter the town. They escorted him the short distance to the gate of the castle. Their leader turned to Greyrawk.

"I shall speak with my Lord and return. Do not approach further until given leave." The guard walked quickly across the drawbridge and the gate opened for him. It shut firmly once he entered.

Greyrawk waited in silence. Above him on the wall stood a bowman with his arrow notched. Finally, the gate opened. Flanked by guards, a slender balding man extended his hand.

"Greyrawk! Welcome! I am Walter Nunderburg."

"The pleasure is mine, Lord Nunderburg," said Greyrawk, grasping his host's forearm. "I am Ian Greyrawk."

"Please be my guest for dinner. It is well you saw fit to stop here tonight. It is not safe to be abroad at night. What brings you to my home?"

"I was visiting the ruins and ran into an old family friend, Festin the blacksmith. He suggested that I seek your acquaintance. I did not realize the distance was so great. I did not plan to knock on your door in the darkness." Greyrawk glanced at the guards.

"I see. I see. Come inside. We may speak more freely there."

A stable hand took Greyrawk's horse and Nunderburg led Greyrawk by the arm up the steps of the keep. The large fireplace lighted the interior. Meat was turning on a spit. Several people stood when they entered.

"Leave us," Nunderburg spoke to the servants. Two men and a woman remained.

"Ian Greyrawk, may I present my wife, Lady Teresa Nunderburg, and my brothers, Roderick and Charles." The woman was many years younger than her husband as were his brothers. Lady Nunderburg was fair, slight of build with eyes that burned with intensity. Greyrawk felt her glance go right through him. Charles and Roderick were twins, darker and broader than Lord Nunderburg. Roderick's cheek was scarred and his smile was a grimace.

"Greyrawk?" said Charles. "I thought they all died."

"No. Mary left with a young son before the last months," said Nunderburg. "Father wrote that in his journal."

"You claim to be that boy?" asked Roderick chuckling. "I don't think there's any Greyrawk treasure left on that hill. Belderag's picked it clean. You'll have to come up with another angle."

"I am Ian Greyrawk. Whether you wish to discuss it civilly or at the point of a sword makes no matter to me."

"Come, come," said Nunderburg. "I do not want trouble under my roof. If he says he is, that is good enough for me. You certainly have the Greyrawk size and coloring. Hmm, you do resemble old Arayr. We will not quarrel about this." He kicked Roderick sharply.

"Then our family shame comes back at us," said Charles. "Greyrawk, do you know of what I speak?"

"I do. Your father did not back my grandfather as he promised."

"More eloquently put than some words we've heard on the subject," said Nunderburg. "Your grandfather's supporters cursed us and some avoid us even to this day. They blame us for their woes, as if your family could have made a difference in their misfortune. Our father is dead and yet we are blamed for his actions. Or inaction if you prefer."

"You have been injured?" asked Lady Nunderburg, noticing the tattered sleeve. Greyrawk met her eyes and decided against what he was going to say.

"Bandits to the south. I drove them off."

"Bandits?" said Nunderburg. "Where's that Hagmock? What do we have a sheriff for if not for controlling bandits?"

"Probably in Gornst, drinking wine with Belderag," said Charles.

"No doubt, no doubt. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only noble concerned with the safety of the land. Everyone is so centered on their own dealings."

"They have not been as fortunate are we have," said Charles. "Our lands yield twice what the others have claimed. They use Father's failings to curse us for our luck, as if Belderag makes our crops yield higher."

"And we pay more taxes too," said Roderick.

"Why have you returned to this land?" asked Lady Nunderburg to Greyrawk.

"To see the old castle and find out for myself what happened there. All my childhood all I had was stories of that place. My memories were few and unclear. I felt it was time to return here and walk where my father and grandfather walked. I didn't think it would affect me so strongly. I hadn't thought of it before but perhaps I could buy the land back."

"Never," said Charles. "The Greyrawk's are gone from Cresida and Belderag will keep it that way."

"For one thing, Belderag would never sell it to you," said Roderick. "And if he did he would charge too high a price. You'd never be out from under the debt."

"Of course Belderag might enjoy that aspect of it," said Nunderburg. "Having a Greyrawk under his thumb might bring a smile to his sour face." His brothers laughed.

"What are your immediate plans?" asked Lady Nunderburg.

"For tonight, I merely wish a dry place to sleep. Tomorrow, I am not sure. I might ride into Gornst and see the town."

"Careful," said Charles. "Belderag is likely to have you brought to him under guard."

"On what charge?"

"He doesn't need any charge," said Roderick. "He is the law around here and no one contradicts him. The king leaves him alone because of the wealth of the area. Belderag pays a nice sum to the crown. I can't recall the last time I saw an envoy from King Alec."

"I understand the King frequents northern Anavar more than his own kingdom," said Charles.

Greyrawk nodded.

"The climate is more to his taste in the Anavar."

"Have you seen the King there?" asked Nunderburg. "He travels south frequently as the seasons change. The damp air in the Amloth winter bores into his old bones."

"Three times. Even got close enough for one of his guards to push me away."

"Much closer than I've ever been," said Nunderburg. "But you must be more careful here. Do not get so close to Belderag for he will act quickly and cruelly against an opponent."

"I don't claim to be an opponent."

"Your very presence claims it," said Charles. "Understand what we are saying Ian. You are a Greyrawk. Your family was Belderag's only threat to his power thirty five years ago. In the years since he has tightened his grip on northern Cresida. He is very solid in his control of this area. He would not risk the chance that you would oppose him. There are people who dislike Belderag and would latch onto you as a figurehead of their cause even if you don't draw your sword. Give Belderag the chance and you would vanish and if he were wrong, it was on the side of caution. And you would be soon forgotten."

"Or at least he would set you loose without your horse or weapon into the north hills at dark," said Roderick.

"I've been warned against night travel. The creatures that roam the hills, what are they? I've seen shadow moving in the distance, but I hoped it was my imagination." He decided to keep his first-hand knowledge secret for now. His hosts glanced at each other, unsure how to proceed. Finally, Lady Nunderburg spoke.

BOOK: Greyrawk (Book 2)
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durrant
Jack's Black Book by Jack Gantos
Under His Spell by Favor, Kelly
A Gentleman Never Tells by Juliana Gray
The Playmaker by J.B. Cheaney