June 28 , 2010


The Grimlindian Chronicles, Part 2


The guard at the city gates does not attempt to stop the stranger entering Nuthollia, for his job is to keep people inside the city and no person would enter the city voluntarily unless he were an agent of Grimlindus.
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Nuthollia, the capital of Neuthonia, is no longer a trading metropolis. Its remaining inhabitants are usually hiding indoors, trying to escape Grimlindus's violent soldiers—the tall blond northerners, bandit warriors and Knights of Destruction, as well as goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds and ogres from further east on the steppes. While contact with these soldiers is dangerous and unpredictable, the soldiers do keep the city's economy moving, the trade continuing. So Nuthollia's inhabitants, the original Neuthonics as well as countless released prisoners-of-war, attempt to earn a meagre living in fear and dread.

The stranger is Ærnwulf, the tall barbarian who had been learning sword-skills in the cold hills of the Borderlands. He is dressed in heavy furs. His long, straight, black hair is tied back by a broad cloth that completely conceals his forehead and from which hangs three beaded feathers. His heavy broadsword is strapped to his back, partially buried within his fur coat, while a number of knives are strapped to his chest and belt. A two-headed tomahawk hangs from his belt. He is accompanied by Caleb, the huge wolf that is as large as a small pony and which has a thick mane of grey fur. Man and wolf survey the cold, snow-covered streets, looking beyond the unhappy houses to the dark palace standing on a hill near the centre of the city. They turn away from it and head into one of the darker and less inviting neighbourhoods, where even Grimlindus's soldiers would think twice before entering. The houses are closer together than elsewhere; the streets disappear into narrow alleyways and blind corners. Open doorways and boarded windows show that many of the residences are empty of normal occupation. However, a quick survey inside would reveal hiding squatters, ruffians, thieves and muggers.

The man and wolf stop in front of a building that is deep within this neighbourhood. This building is similar to all the others, dismal and grey. It has a heavy steel door with a small window at face height, covered by a shutter. The man thumps on the door and the shutter is pulled back, revealing two dark, slanted eyes.

"What do you want?" says the bouncer.

"Where are your mistresses?" asks Ærnwulf, with a heavy, northern accent. "They are busy. Who wants to know?" "I was sent by Cleosius the warlord, to purchase something which was stolen from him. They are expecting me." The shutter is slid shut and Ærnwulf hears muted discussions behind it. The shutter slides open again. "You are early!" snaps the voice and the shutter slams closed. Ærnwulf thumps on the door again, his blows echoing inside. The shutter is pulled back again.

"Can I wait inside?" he asks. The door opens, revealing a seven-and-a-half foot monstrosity, which bends over inside the small front room; its hairy frame fills up the doorway. Bugbear! thinks Ærnwulf, staring at the hairy giant-goblin, which would tower over one of its smaller goblin or hobgoblin cousins.

"Come inside," it snarls, "but the wolf stays out there." After re-locking the door, the bugbear leads Ærnwulf along a dimly lit corridor, before arriving at a small room, furnished only with a hard-backed chair.

"The mistresses are busy,” the bugbear growls, “but I will send someone to fetch them when they are, um, finished. Would you like a drink while you are waiting?" Ærnwulf waves the bugbear away and sits on the chair. In a moment, he becomes completely motionless, his keen eyes surveying every inch of the room. He waits, becoming tenser as he looks at the low ceiling and the walls. After a short time he stands up, goes to the door and tries the handle, finding it locked. H
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