The Dead Marshes (Part 4)

Morgrim watched the Dead Marshes come to life as dawn finished rising and the daylight hours begin. It was an overcast day, but enough light was filtering down for them to see the marshland for a good distance all round. Rolling hills and clumps of trees and bushes were more scattered around then he had seen in similar marshes before. The stink of the rot and stagnate pools had gotten stronger and seemed to be in every intake of breath. Morgrim watch gnats and other small flying insects crowding the air, which also contained singing birds, croaking frogs and the rustling of other animals.

Ahead of Morgrim, the four kobolds were quickly walking and chattering amongst themselves. They seemed perfectly at home and even though they were still walking on the wooden log pathway, sometimes one of the kobolds would veer off and walk in the tall grass or at the edge of a pool. They scampered back quickly enough and would shoot him curious looks, before joining in the jabbering conversation with the others again.

Behind Morgrim, he was aware of his friends taking a somewhat guarded approach to their walk across the marshland. It seemed some of them – especially the half-elf- believed they could be attacked at any moment, even from the kobolds or something else. The dragonborn sisters were talking in low voices in their own tongue, but keeping their eyes searching for any trouble. Grub, bring up the rear, was muttering to himself and chewing on something. He didn’t seem bothered by their present situation, but Morgrim knew better than just to assume that.

‘How much longer to the castle?’ Morgrim called loudly.

The kobold’s chatter died down and the one that had spoken before and seemed to be their leader came over to him.

‘It-s-s two passing-s of the day and ones of the night,’ the kobold hissed, ‘we have camp half-ways-s. Heading there.’

Morgrim nodded, suddenly feeling the weight of the journey ahead.

‘Two days and a night?’ Cerseia questioned, striding to join them.

The kobold bobbed his head quickly and made a hu hu sound.

‘Are we really trusting them?’ she asked, turning to Morgrim.

‘For now,’ he replied, ‘I know you don’t like it…but sometimes…’

‘Why don’t we just get there ourselves? This pathway must go straight up to the castle. Why do you need them?’ Cerseia pressed, trying to keep her voice low, but failing to do so towards the end. Her eyes shot to the kobold leader.

He turned his head away, ducked as if she had made to hit him and hurried back to his friends. He spoke something quickly to them and they slowed down.

‘They can help us,’ Morgrim explained, ‘they might know a secret way into the castle and they might have friends they can rally to aid us. This is a compromise, Cerseia. I’m sure if they turn against us you can easily handle them. I need you to trust me right now,’ Morgrim paused then shook his head slightly, ‘At least try to anyway,’ he added.

Cerseia sighed and pulled a face. She glanced around, but didn’t say any more.

They walked in mostly silence for the rest of the day and by the time they arrived at the kobolds’ camp they were all exhausted. Morgrim eyed the spot they had been led to, it was little more than a flattered patch of marsh grass, which contained two small badly made wooden huts and a stone circle for the fire. Sinking before the circle, Morgrim watched the kobolds gather sticks and make a fire. Two of them left soon after, disappearing into the long grass that surrounded them.

Katliana and Konniana joined him at the fire, Cerseia took up a watchful position close by and Grub inspected the huts. He shuffled over a few moments later and sat down next to Morgrim. They all watched the fire greedily burning through the dry wood.

‘Here, here,’ the lead kobold said at Morgrim’s elbow.

He looked down to see the scaly hands holding him a small, but deep wooden bowl which contained a clear liquid.

‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘Water. It-s-s goods. Not Marsh-y.’

Morgrim took the bowl and swirled the water around. He sniffed it and then took a sip. The kobold had been right. The water was clean and tasted fine. He drink deeper, discovering a thirst he hadn’t know he had. He felt another elbow digging into his other side and looked over the bowl at Grub’s face. Quickly stopping, Morgrim swallowed and handed him the bowl.

Grub drink deeply as he had just done and finished the water off. He let Katliana take the bowl from him and watch her stare down at it.

‘I think we need some more,’ Morgrim pointed out.

The kobold came over, took the bowl and hurried off again. This time though Konniana followed him and found that just opposite them was a clear stream. Strangely, it was untouched by the marshland. The kobold rushed passed her and delivered the bowl to Katliana, before going over to the other remaining kobold and hissing at him.

‘There’s a clean stream here,’ Konniana called over.

They all came over and drink their fill from the stream. Upon returning, they found that the other kobolds had come back and brought some dead animals with them. These were prepared and placed on the fire. The smell of burning meat and wood filled the coming night.

‘Do you have name?’ Morgrim asked the leader after a few minutes.

‘Kak. I-is-s chief,’ came the reply.

‘I’m Morgrim.’

Kak nodded and handed him the tail of a snake on a stick, ‘not-s- much,’ he said almost shyly.

‘Thank you,’ Morgrim responded and began eating.

The kobolds passed everyone else a stick with cooked meat on the end and they all eat together. Afterwards, the kobolds curled up together and fell sleep.

‘I am taking first watch,’ Cerseia replied and got up.

‘The huts don’t look so bad,’ Grub cut in, ‘I’m going to sleep in one of them.’

Morgrim nodded and watched them both leave.

‘You should sleep,’ Katliana said gently.

‘I will,’ he replied.

Morgrim woke up to the calling of a bird. Pushing himself off the ground, he glanced around. The kobolds had the fire going again and were cooking more animals. The dragonborns were just waking up too and Grub was coming back from the stream. Morgrim’s eyes flickered around, but he could not spot Cerseia. Just as he was about to ask for her, she appeared out of one of the huts. Without saying anything, she walked out of the camp and towards a clump of trees.

Stroking his beard, Morgrim rolled his shoulders and climbed to his feet.

‘We-s- be off-s s-soon,’ Kak said to him.

Morgrim nodded and wondered off into the tall grass.

A good few minutes later they were back on the pathway again. The new day stretched out before them and though they were feeling somewhat refreshed, tiredness loomed over them. The kobolds were happy enough and seemed braver today. A number of times all of them vanished in the grass for growing periods of time. However, Morgrim was not worried and realised they were discovering their newly found freedom. His companions seemed on edge and very quiet, but Morgrim did not blame them for being so as they were fast approaching a possible difficult fight.

Hours of walking later, they spotted the grey stone walls of a tower castle on the horizon. Seeing this filled them with more confidence and eagerness and the pace was picked up. As they drew closer, Morgrim saw that it was only a small castle and fast crumbling away. There was nothing surrounding it and the place looked abandoned. Coming to a stop in a dip before the castle’s arched gateway, Morgrim gathered everyone together.

‘Do you know a hidden way inside?’ Morgrim asked.

Kak nodded, ‘arounds the backs. S-safe.’

‘And the wizard?’ Cerseia asked quickly, ‘are you sure he’s in there?’

‘Yes-s. S-sees!’ Kak cried and pointed upwards.

They all looked over and saw a dim light in one of the tower’s windows.

‘Hes’s s-studys, booo-ks.’

Morgrim nodded, ‘lead the way.’

Kak made the hu hu sound again and ducking down, crept off to the side. Everyone followed behind him, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Kak lead them along the side of the castle and to a back door. He easily opened it and waved them all inside. The passage way they entered into lead them to a store room like space. Wordless, Kak pointed to another door then upwards, before walking on.

Morgrim nudged, Konniana and Cerseia before him then slipped back beside Grub, so that Katliana was between them. Slowly, they made their way through the castle and Kak staying true to his word, brought them into the wizard’s study. The door of which was open and they could see the piles of books stacked on tables, chairs and the floor. Looking passed them and deeper into the room, they could see a figure bent over something in the far corner.

A voice tickled their ears and they heard a mash of words. Morgrim turned to Cerseia and pointed to her then the figure. Understanding with a nod, she drew her sword almost silently and walked carefully across the floor. The others held their breaths as she did so and got ready to attack.

Cerseia eased her blade onto the figure’s robed shoulder, ‘Don’t move,’ she said in a low voice.

The man jumped, twisting around and throwing the book he had been reading at her. Cerseia whacked it away, slicing through a number of pages which fluttered to the ground as the book landed with a thud behind them. The man wedged himself into the corner with his hands flat against the wall, stared at her, then reach for a short sword at his belt.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ Cerseia hissed and confirmed with a glance over her shoulder that her friends had come to join her.

‘Are you the dark wizard of this castle?’ Morgrim asked as he eyed up the man.

He looked fresh out of childhood, very pale, skinny and nothing like what Morgrim had been expecting to find.

The man nodded, ‘I am Ralnon Sirleach and you have invaded my home!’

‘Have you been stealing treasure from the nearby villages and towns and using the innkeeper of the Blue Horned Goat to obtain it and pass it on to you?’ Morgrim demanded.

‘What? No! How dare you accuse me of such a thing!’

‘You are just a boy, aren’t you? Cerseia jumped in, she still had her sword pointed at him, ‘you are not a real wizard. Where’s you master?’

‘There is no one else! I lied, all right. Please don’t hurt me!’ Ralnon shouted.

‘Let him go, Cerseia,’ Morgrim said gruffly.

She dropped her sword, but did not move away.

‘Why are you here boy? And what do you know about the stolen treasure? Do not lie to us again or my friend here might let her sword slip just a little.’

‘I came to study. I really want to be a wizard and I have some powers already. I found out on my second night here that the innkeeper was using the cellar to store the treasure. He doesn’t know I have been staying here. I hide ever time anyone comes here,’ Ralnon explained.

‘But what about the kobolds? They said you had enslaved them and taken their marsh.’

‘Yes, well. I had to…do something about them. I knew the innkeeper already had them under his command and I sort of used that to convince them he was actual working for me, so they were my slaves too. I didn’t harm any of them though.’

‘Great,’ Grub grumbled, ‘we came all this way for nothing and I was ready for a fight too.’

‘We could still kill him,’ Cerseia counted and she jabbed the tip of her sword at Ralnon’s throat.

The boy squirmed and tried to move away, but he was now pinned to the wall, ‘please. I said I was sorry and I’ve told you anything I know! Just, please!’

‘So, it was the innkeeper all along,’ Katliana put in.

‘You were right after all,’ Konniana added.

‘The kobolds are free now,’ Morgrim cut back in, ‘and they get their marsh back.’

Ralnon nodded as his face desperately pled with Cerseia to let him go.

‘Let’s leave,’ Morgrim spoke and arranging his warhammer as he walked out the room.

‘Are you sure you want to let him live?’ Cerseia’s voice drifted over to him.

‘His just a boy and I believe what he said. Come on let’s go back to the inn and get our things. We need to report back as well.’

Grouchily, the others trailed after him and as they passed Kak, who had been hiding on the stairwell, Morgrim told him he was free and his marsh returned. Happily, the kobold turned and ran down the stairs. The high jabbering of his and his friend’s voices followed them out of the castle.

Stealing a last look at the place, Morgrim sighed and gripping his Warhammer began walking down the pathway and back the way they had come. Cerseia came to his side moments later and he was aware of the others keeping pace with them.

‘I still can’t believe it,’ Cerseia cried out.

Morgrim half shrugged his shoulders.

‘How can you be so sure?’

‘Did you see that boy? He looked almost ready to just fall on your blade. And what did he have to gain by lying? Though I’m still not sure that the half-orc came up with all of this…’

‘Where else can we look for the truth?’ Katliana asked.

Morgrim shook his head, ‘it’s over. It’s time to move on again.’

‘Maybe some place without a marsh?’ Grub called up from the back.

‘Maybe,’ Morgrim replied and lead his company out of the Dead Marshes.