Arnulf and Rhiannon landed next to Piorun, still lying face-first in the mud. Arnulf helped him stand up and asked if he was alright. Piorun shook his head and wiped his face with the almost clean part of his sleeve. “Don’t worry, boy, we Dwarves are naturally talented at falling! But now –“ The shouting of the guards above interrupted him. “Oh, they’re still here... Quick, to the stable!”
They ran inside and Rhiannon quickly untied her thin bay courser, nodding towards a grey mare next to him. “Take this one, she’s sturdy.” Arnulf untied the mare and looked around trying to find Piorun. He finally noticed him in the corner, wiping his face with a large kerchief. He was standing next to what seemed to Arnulf as the largest goat in the world. Piorun, his face finally clean, packed the kerchief back inside a pouch on the goat’s saddle and noticed Arnulf’s confusion. “Ha, never seen a Visogoran ibex? It’s the main way of transport for us, the horses are lanky and unpredictable beasts. Too damn tall, too.”
Rhiannon snorted loudly and jumped onto her horse, motioning the others to follow her. They rode out of the stable right into a group of guards coming from the tavern. Rhiannon and Arnulf managed to jump over them, but Piorun and his ibex simply ploughed right through. Piorun turned in the saddle and shouted several words in Dwarfish which Arnulf assumed were obscenities, since they made Rhiannon chuckle. They quickly passed the ruins of the town ramparts and soon were out of the rain which was only contained to Mournwall and its immediate surroundings. Away from there, the sky was clear, and they could see countless stars shining above.
Piorun sighed. “Well, seems like we won’t have any roof tonight. Boy, I hope you have a sleeping bag or something similar?” Arnulf shook his head, ashamed. This made Piorun sigh again. “Pa majku mu.... You Long-Legs are always so horribly unprepared for a trip! I can’t believ –“ He noticed Rhiannon looking at him and stopped berating Arnulf. “Bah, never mind. Mournwall is too close anyways. We’ll just keep going.” He filled and lighted his pipe, leading his goat forwards. “So, you got any good travel stories?” Arnulf looked at him “I... I might know a few songs, but I don’t have a harp.” Piorun laughed. “A harp? Why of course, I’ll pull one straight out of my ass! Should it be able to play by itself, maybe fly in the air and drop golden eggs? Don’t be silly, boy, just tell us a story to keep us awake! Or, you could tell us about yourself. It’s a stupid thing to travel with a stranger.”
Rhiannon rode next to Arnulf and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about Piorun, he’s just a normal Dwarf, loud and paranoid. But he has a point, we should know more about you. After that, you’ll hear our story, or at least the important parts. Deal?”
Arnulf smiled weakly and blushed, avoiding eye contact with her. “D-deal. But I’m warning you, it’s probably quite boring.” Piorun started laughing but he choked up on the pipe smoke “Hah, I can’t possibly be any more bored than I am right now! Speak, boy, and don’t worry!”
Arnulf straightened his back and cleared his throat. “Alright. My story begins...”
Rhiannon gasped and jumped out of bed just as Piorun knocked on the door. After realizing it was just another dream, she walked to the door and opened it. “You up?”, the Dwarf asked and entered the room, followed by another man.
“This boy is Arnulf from whichever shithole he mentioned –“
“Yes, that one. As I was saying, he has a proposition for us. He joins us and helps with our jobs, and in return we help him find some guy.” Piorun looked at Rhiannon and figured out she had another nightmare. As they usually happened before important events, he began to fear Rhiannon’s response. It came soon enough.
“You are looking for an old man, long beard, shoulder-length hair. I saw him. He is with a woman. Except that woman isn’t an actual woman. She bound and blinded him, not necessarily in a literal way. We’ll help you, if Piorun agrees.”
Arnulf and Piorun were both speechless, but Piorun quickly recovered. “Are you sure about this? We don’t have to help –“ Rhiannon raised her hand to stop him. “I saw Him. He was laughing again. I know you think it’s poppycock, but I have to do it. I have to finally find Him, and this Arnulf... he apparently has some connection to it all. I guess he didn’t tell you about necromancy.”
Piorun slowly turned to Arnulf. “Nec – Necromancy?! Is that the ‘medicine’ you mentioned? Raising the dead? Are you aware that thing is illegal now?! They exhibit your kind on stakes on the city walls! There are more unicorns in the world than the fucks I give about the laws of Men, but stab me in the arse with a hot poker if I want to have every single guard, inquisitor and judge chase me whenever I get close to a settlement! Get out, we’re not interested!”
As he went to push Arnulf out of the room, Rhiannon raised her hand again. “Calm down, nobody will chase you. The scent of death is very faint, he hasn’t dabbled in it for at least seven months.”
Arnulf was completely lost. “How... how do you know I’m...”
“A necromancer? Easy. I’m half-Waerg. We have good noses, and certain other traits.” She moved a lock of her dense red mane to show a bright yellow left eye with a dark, almost black pupil. “See? I’m a filthy half-breed. I have to wear an eyepatch most of the time or they’ll cut my head off. Piorun has no issues in travelling with me, although I’m a lot more conspicuous than you are. But maybe it’s because your trade insults the Pale Lady?” Piorun snorted and crossed his arms. “Fine, fuck it. You can come with us, but you better have some money to pay a room and dinner. Also, for your own well-being, I sincerely hope your medical skills include preventing death rather than just undoing it.”
Then they heard something. Loud knocking. Piorun jumped to the window. “Only one kind of people knocks on the door of a clearly open tavern...” He looked down at the street. “Mater im krvavu... Guards! And when actual crime is happening, ‘the rain is too strong’! So, what do we do now?!”
Rhiannon started putting on her trousers and boots. “Calm down, maybe it’s just a rou – “ Suddenly, the sound of heavy steps coming upstairs reached them. “Fuck, it’s not a routine check-up. Piorun, grab your stuff, we’re leaving.” She grabbed Arnulf and dragged him to the window. “Can you jump down without ending up with your knees higher than your neck?” Arnulf looked at her and nodded. “Then do so.” But before he could get through the window, Piorun ran past him and jumped out, falling on the ground with a heavy ‘thud’. Rhiannon pushed Arnulf out and they both jumped out just as the door opened.
The weather was foul, as it usually is in Mournwall. Arnulf was standing in the street, his cloak drenched by the unceasing downpour, and looking at the large tavern in front of him. The townsfolk were scurrying around in their tar-covered cloaks, more than accustomed to the peculiar weather.
Arnulf remembered the story of the Mournwall massacre. Some centuries ago, when High King Sigmar was still a living man, he had been betrayed by one of his vassals, Underking Eric III. As punishment for Eric’s betrayal, High King Sigmar attacked Mournwall, leaving nothing but the blood-stained remains of once-mighty ramparts. Ever since that, not a single spring day in Mournwall was without rain. Unfortunately for Sigmar, he ultimately lost the war and Eric crowned himself the First Emperor of Men.
The rain interrupted Arnulf’s thinking and the suddenly cold wind made him hastily cross the street and enter the tavern. He took off his wet cloak and tossed it at the part of the room obviously designed for that, judging by the tiled area with a drain in the middle. The main room of the tavern was spacious, with enough tables to accommodate a whole company of soldiers. Almost all of the places were taken, as the spring was the time for mercenaries to gather at the White City in search for well-paid jobs. Arnulf was looking for a specific pair of mercenaries, and soon enough he spotted one of them, or rather, spotted a thin, wispy column of pipe smoke rising towards the rafters. He approached the table at which there was only one person, a Dwarf in slightly dented but well-maintained armour and a fur hat with two long feathers, almost a trademark of the Stout Folk.
“Are you Piorun?” Arnulf asked. The Dwarf took the pipe out of his mouth and looked up. “That would depend on the name of the one seeking Piorun, boy.” Arnulf introduced himself. “I am Arnulf of Ostenberg. I want to hire you and your companion. I am looking for someone, and according to what I’ve heard, you are the ones for the task.” The Dwarf smiled. “Arnulf, eh? Don’t remember pissing of an Arnulf before... Alright, I really am Piorun. And I can guess that what you heard can be summed up by ‘prophetic bloody dreams’? If so, I must tell you that it doesn’t work like that. It’s not just ‘Pretty please miss, can you dream about my wife, I wanna see where she goes each night?’ So if that’s why you’re here, tough luck.”
“Actually, I wanted to offer you a deal. I will go with you, and you can help me find the person I’m looking for in between your other assignments.”
Piorun looked at him and twirled his moustache, contemplating the idea. “Boy, seems to me like you’re offering us a bowl of shit to eat without even bothering to give us any spoons. I see your offer like this: we drag your sorry arse around, share our supplies with you, help you look for this mysterious person who, for all I care could be the king of the fucking Moon, and I don’t exactly remember you mentioning any money either.”
But Arnulf was persistent. “I am skilled with magic and I have spent six years learning medicine. I can’t offer you any money, but I can be useful to you as compensation for, how you put it, ‘dragging my sorry arse around’. I may not be a skilled warrior, but I have my talents.”
Piorun smiled again. “Well, aren’t you a tough one to get rid of? Doctors aren’t really my kind of people, especially magic-casting doctors. But seems to me like we’d get along nicely after a while. However, I must talk to my companion first. She’s upstairs. Now, are you coming with me, or shall I have to drag your sorry arse to the room, Mister Arnulf of wherever you said you were from?” The Dwarf started laughing, got up and went to the stairs. Arnulf followed him to the second storey of the tavern where the bedrooms were. They approached the door and Piorun knocked.
“Nonnie? Nonnie, are you up?”