The Chops of the Beast

Chapter Five of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

The Chops of the Beast

We washed and changed out of our travelling clothes before coming to the baron’s table, eager to see if his larder matched his expensive taste in furnishing. He did not disappoint. We ate such a feast as one might hope at the table of a nobleman, far better than one might hope to find in the remote vales of the Dim Forest. A small army of servants busied themselves serving us fresh hot bread from the oven, golden-crusted but soft and airy on the inside, a fine vegetable soup with savory broth, a whole roasted boar, sizzling hot from the spit, and wine and ale to slake the thirst of Wenta.

Among those seated with us at table sat several knights of the Watch. Some of these personally knew Sir Belvenore and had ridden with his father in years now past. The lord baron himself, we learned, had in times afore, served beside Commandant Petros on the field of battle. The baroness sat to the right side of the baron, and despite myself, I often caught myself gazing fixedly on her. Her glance met mine on more than one occasion, and I sensed a fearsome soul behind her burning eyes. Her eyes spoke to me of wild untamed places, uncleared spaces and fading lands where fairy folk dwell, far away from fields and gardens where plows furrow the soil and sewers cast seed.

The Tale of Orlane

Having satisfied desire for food and drink, attention turned to business. The baron inquired after our affairs. I stood to my feet and bowed in the courtly fashion before speaking: “I have come to you, Lord Wulurich, by the command of our Most Resolute Magnitude Commandant Petros Gwalchen of the Gran March, who has bid me relate my tale and present these documents, recently obtained from the lair of a foul naga witch, deep in swampy Rushmoor.”

I related the whole tale of how my companions and I had come to the village of Orlane and found its inhabitants under the sway of the naga’s enchantment, how we travelled to her hidden lair in the marshlands, how we struck her down, how our companion, Felligan, a wood elf who once resided in these tracts of the forest, had fallen most bitterly. I related how, among the documents discovered in the naga’s lair, we laid hands upon certain maps and items of correspondence which indicated an alliance between the serpent queen of the Rushmoors and an unknown goblin lord of the Dim Forest. I told of how the corrupt temple in Orlane, under sway of the naga witch, had traded children of Farvale for goblin soldiers of the Dim Forest.

Moreover, I narrated the whole tale of how we were attacked by goblins on the outskirts of the Dim Forest and how we lost our horses and how the fort of the Watch was found overrun by goblins. Then I spoke of the unhappy state of affairs among the people of Roanwood, and I put the problem before the baron.

To all of my words our host listened most attentively, often interrupting to ask for further details or clarifications. He took a most sincere interest in all that transpired in faraway Orlane and, before replying at all, he carefully studied each of the documents we had recovered from the naga’s lair. As his eyes searched the maps and cryptic communications, I let my eyes drift over to the baroness. Her face remained utterly stoic, but her eyes blazed hot.

Help for Roanwood Village

At length the baron looked up and remarked, “An amazing tale, and one well told! Whatever became of the powerful old wizard that travelled with you? Ramne was his name? Does he yet live and breathe?”

“Verily,” I replied, “He still dwells in his hermit’s grove in homely Orlane.”

Myron, who had employed an illusion spell to disguise the misshapenness of his features, snorted rudely and objected, “One never knows where Ramne might be. Near or far! He is an ally of the Circle of Eight, and he goes where he will. He is like the wind. Here. There. Wherever he wills. Always close when we call him.”

I thought this a strange comment, and I gave Myron a menacing glare. Surely Myron knew as well as I did that the old wizard never left his hermitage unless absolutely compelled to do so, and to claim he was a colleague of the so-called Circle of Eight was an absurdity.  

“And the half-elf brothers that travelled with you into the marshes? Where are they now?”

I opened my mouth to reply but Myron cut me off, leaving me with mouth gaping open. “Near at hand,” Myron answered. “Not far away at all. A short distance. Hastening now to meet us and accompany us on our way back.”

Again, I thought this strange. Why did Myron spin such lies?

The lord baron rolled up the maps and documents from the naga’s lair and handed them back to me. He leaned close to me and said, in a confidential tone, “I have long been concerned over the multiplication of goblins in the forest. This is not the first rumor to have reached us about a new lord over the dens beneath the Goblin Trees.”

Now Sir Belvenore spoke up, “My lord baron. The fort at the forest edge has been overrun!”

“A tragedy,” he replied without hint of surprise. “My men reported the incident, and we have already sent to Hookhill for fresh men to replace the fallen. These goblinfolk have grown bold, indeed. A shame on us all. When a goblin is raised from a pup, it can make a very worthy servant, but if left among their own kind, they run amok like savage beasts.”

“It’s bad luck to spare a devil’s son,” Bruin interjected impolitely.

Sweet Cirilli Finla plucked up her courage and spoke her mind, “My lord baron. We have no one else to whom we might appeal. Can you help the poor folk of Roanwood Village? Have you any wolfsbane in your stores that you might send back with us to administer to the afflicted?”

The baron and the baroness exchanged a worried look. Turning to Cirilli, the baron said sympathetically, “Poor child. How you must have suffered in that horrid cage!”

Cirilli recoiled at the comment but quickly recovered herself. She asked again, “Have you any of the wolfsbane herb at all?”

“Indeed, my lord baron. The matter is most urgent. My own poor sister suffers the disease,” Ivan said gravely. He added, “Are we not your own people?”

The baron sighed deeply, “This affliction sounds to my ears as if some curse has been levied against the village Roanwood. Take all the herb you like from our stores if you believe it will benefit them, but a powerful spell that can break the curse is the needed thing. We must send to Hookhill at once and request a visit from the high priest of Heironeous. Surely he will come if we implore him. I will write a letter this very evening describing the situation and explaining the urgency, and I will dispatch two of my knights by first light, mounted on fast horses, to deliver the request personally to the commandant.”

At these kind words, we did thank the lord baron graciously. I felt relieved that this might be the end of the matter and I might soon resume my journey home.

Myron’s Suspicions

After these many nights sleeping on the road, I eagerly anticipated a soft bed. Again, the hospitality of the lord baron did not disappoint my expectation. The baron’s servants put us in four rooms. Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful shared a chamber. Bruin, Myron, and Ivan shared a chamber. Cirilli had her own room, and I received my own private chamber as well. I found a small chair, a desk, and comfortable bed waiting for me.

On rising, even before I had even finished my devotions, Myron entered my chamber without so much as a knock or an “excuse me” and snapped his fingers at me. “We need to speak,” he hissed through the veil masking his face.

“At this moment, I am speaking to the gods,” I retorted.

“Did the gods tell you that our host is the lord baron of werewolves himself?” Myron snorted at me. He snatched the psalter from my hand and tossed it aside. I briefly toyed with the idea of losing my temper, but I settled for expressing my frustrations through condescension, “Tut-tut good sir! Did you deduce this by your own brilliance?”

“Yes,” Myron sat down on my bed. “Consider the facts. He lives in the middle of this murky forest, isolated from human habitations, like a wolf in his den. He makes goblins his servants, preferring their company to men. Our tale of slaying the naga inspires fear in his eyes, and he especially fears those heroes, Ramne, Llywaine, and Dorian, and seeks our assurance that they are nowhere near his lair. He wears gloves to conceal the length of his fingers; even at the table he wears the gloves. What more evidence do you need?”

“What about his eyebrows? Not especially bushy. The eyebrows seem quite normal,” I countered.

“He plucks them and trims them,” Myron replied.

“How do you know?” I pressed.

“I can tell.”

“How can you tell,” I wanted to know.

“Listen priest,” Myron sputtered, “I’m not going to argue with you all night. I’m conducting my own investigation and assembling the evidence, but if you want to know the truth of the matter, find your girl Cirilli. She knows.”

With that, Myron left my room, muttering invectives under his breath. I picked up my psalter and resumed my devotions, fully intending on speaking to Cirilli at breakfast and asking her about her suspicions.

Bacon and Hobniz

I did not see Cirlli, however, until much later in the day. Instead, I found myself taking breakfast alone with lord baron himself. Just the two of us sat at the table. A single servant came in and out of the room serving hot bacon, a bit of lamb, and blackened toast.

After exchanging morning pleasantries and commenting on the fare, I ventured to ask his lordship, “Did the riders set forth yet for Hookhill?”

He assured me that he had already dispatched two knights on the errand. I thanked him for his concern. Our conversation turned back to matters regarding the fate of the naga witch. He showed interest in every detail of the story, and he asked about her necromantic high priest, Garath Primo, but I did not know many details to share. I told him again of how we slew him and how he very nearly slew us all first.

While we conversed over the hot bacon, mutton, and toast, I studied the baron’s face for some sign of monster lurking beneath the skin. I could see no monster, nor could I at all discern if the space between his eyebrows had been plucked clean. I felt foolish for letting Myron unsettle me with his suspicions, but all the same, I breathed a silent prayer by which I might detect evil if it be present. At once my skin began to crawl with it. Whether or not the Lord Baron Wulurich was a werewolf I could not discern, but I had no doubt that some malicious dark evil seethed within him.

As if sensing my unease, my host leaned close to me and softly whispered over the table, “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to gobble you up with my morning bacon, little hobniz?”

I forced a smile and stammered, “Tut-tut.  If that is your intent, I only hope you will fatten me up a bit first.”

The lord baron laughed at this, as if I had made a great joke, and he poured me a cup of hot water for my tea. For the rest of the morning we spoke of mundane matters and politics, and he showed himself to be gracious host. He quizzed me about matters in the Barony of Farvale, in Geoff, and in the city of Hochoch. He spoke about his own troubles in the Dim Forest, managing scattered villages of men, keeping the road free of orcs and ogres, and the meager tribute he could expect from woodsmen.

I ventured, “If I might be so bold to ask, whence came the baroness to this hall? How did the baron win the heart of such a fair elven maid?”

“She is no elf, nor was she a maid,” he laughed derisively. He would say no more about the baroness, nor did decorum permit me to inquire further.

The Baron’s Largess

After breakfast I took Bruin and Sir Merciful to the stable with me to check on the welfare our steeds. We observed several goblin servants carrying on their chores as if they were farm hands and laborers back in Orlane. Here was one fellow, feeding the livestock, another fellow beating out a rug, a gobliness collecting eggs from the hen house, and so forth. Our horses we found well cared for, fed, watered, walked, and combed, but one thing troubled me. I expected to see two empty stables. Instead, I counted the same number of steeds as I had seen the night before when we left our horses in the hands of the devil boy.

I found the lad and asked him, “What time did the riders depart this morning, and what steeds did they take?”

He shook his goblin head and bared his fangs in an apologetic smile, “Sorry sire. No riders departed this morning nor any other morn for many a day.”

I did not see Cirilli until dinner. Once again the lord baron and the baroness hosted us at the table and placed a great spread of food and drink before us, if not as lavish as the night before, no less abundant in quantity. Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful dominated the conversation at the table, exchanging stories, news, and gossip of all the happenings in the courtly houses of the Gran March. The lord baron proved himself to be well-informed on all the goings and comings and intrigues of court. Speculation about the troubles in faraway Furyondy occupied much of the evening.

At length, I excused myself from the table.

“We are delighted to have company. We rarely have visitors this deep in the forest. We hope you will see fit to stay another day or so before you return,” the baron said magnanimously, but the solemn-eyed baroness never spoke a word.

I smiled, bowed, and thanked the baron for his gracious hospitality, but, secretly, I thought to myself, “The sooner we leave the house of this evil man, the better.” I would have preferred not to spend another night in the hall lest he slay us in our sleep and indeed gobble me up.

Don’t miss chapter six of Under the Goblin Trees. Subscribe to Greyhawkstories.

Artwork by BobKehl: Werewolf

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