HellCraft_small.jpg (2412 bytes)

Pastorale for Strings and Timpani
1998-1999 by Vic Sagerquist

Chapter 4: Evening; Refugee Camp

Red Vex was handcuffed to a tree, with her hands behind her back. It was Griswold's turn to watch her. "Don't think I don't remember ye," he told her. He had been warned about her powers and kept his distance. Red Vex would have told him that he didn't need to bother. Blasting him with a Bloodstar or sending him into Lust Frenzy would only get her killed or molested or both, and she wasn't in the mood. Since the effect of the Collar of Submission had worn off, however, she didn't feel she was under any obligation to volunteer any information.

"You and that sister of yours arrived with Caravan a half year ago," Griswold continued. "Posin' as dancers, ye were. Lazarus was a good man, a holy man. How did ye tempt him into betraying us all?"

Red Vex couldn't resist such an obvious opportunity to bait the blacksmith. "How do you think?" she asked him, arching her back and bouncing her ample breasts at him.

Griswold quickly averted his eyes, but Red Vex knew she had him going. Something to work on a little later.

"That's enough of that," said Solo, coming up behind her and reattaching her chain to the collar. "Go get something to eat and get some rest, Gris," she said. "I'll take over."

"All right," said Griswold, and then he said to Red Vex: "Ye'll get yours."

"I can't wait," leered Red Vex.

"Leave him alone," Solo ordered. She didn't bother to utilize the collar's power. She figured it was enough for Red Vex to know that she could. She detached the wristbands from one another and released the demon.

"Should I thank you?" asked Red Vex sarcastically.

"Just put this on," Solo gave Red Vex a cloak. It had a slit up the back to accommodate her wing. "I need the boys watching you, not staring at you."

Red Vex put the cloak on. There were three buttons at the bottom of the wing slit to fasten the loose ends together. The cloak was thick and loose and hid Red Vex's charms adequately.

"That'll do," said Solo. "Back to your tree for the night."

Not ready for a confrontation, Red Vex obeyed and Solo refastened her wrists.

"Can I speak to you for a moment, Solo?" asked Gillian approaching them. She was carrying a long box.

Solo stepped away from her prisoner. "Sure, what can I do for you?"

"I just wanted to thank you for trying to find out the truth about my grandmother," said Gillian. "She was a Bard like yourself, you know. In her youth. Perhaps you've heard of her, her name was Giselle."

Solo shook her head. Most Bards worked as long-distance messengers or freelanced for Scribes Guilds. They tended to be solitary individuals whose paths seldom crossed. In fact, Solo was a very common name for Bards.

"She and my grandfather adventured together for many years before he was killed in battle. That was when I was just a baby. As he died, my grandfather passed his sword along to my grandmother. It's an ancient and magical weapon," said Gillian opening the box. Inside was a great curved blade, nearly six feet long. "My grandmother adventured for a few more years after my grandfather's death until she settled down and became the Master Scribe of Tristram. She claimed that the sword contains the essence of every warrior who ever wielded it competently in battle, and that it transfers some of that skill and power to anyone who is able to wield it competently herself. She always felt that part of my grandfather is in this sword. In fact, she called it The Grandfather."

Solo was touched by the gesture, but had to turn Gillian down. "I'm sorry Gillian. I truly am. But that sword looks about four inches taller than I am. I'd need both hands to use it, and I don't think I'd be all that effective."

Gillian smiled. "Just try it."

Solo shrugged and lifted the great sword out of its box. It was solid, but remarkably light, and it was balanced perfectly. If she closed her eyes, it was almost as if she was wielding a short sword. She turned away from Gillian and tried a few moves with it. The sword practically wielded itself; it was deadly accurate and could dish out devastating damage.

ear3.jpg (856 bytes) "My grandmother had a dream with giant slithering creatures in it. . . . That was the night before the Zerg invaded."

"When the Zerg were closing in on us," said Gillian, "my grandmother insisted that I save The Grandfather instead of her. She cast Flame Waves and Lightning Walls from her sickbed to cover our escape. The last thing I heard were Flash spells..." She shook her head, trying to dislodge the memory.

"She must have been a remarkable woman," said Solo.

Gillian smiled. "She was. She had Second Sight, you know. Wait, before you say anything, my grandmother had a dream with giant slithering creatures in it. She also saw Pepin running from a house in the town. That was the night before the Zerg invaded, she made me pack and warned me to be ready for the worst."

Solo practiced with the sword for several more minutes while Gillian watched her in silence. "This sword is wonderful!" Solo finally enthused. "This has got to be the second most fun you can have with one hand!"

Gillian looked puzzled. "Funny, that's what my grandmother always used to say. I never understood what she meant."

Solo laughed. "I think I would have liked your grandmother."

"Well, if the legend is true, then part of my grandmother is in that sword too. May it serve you and her memory well."

Solo strapped The Grandfather's scabbard to her back and sheathed the ancient sword. "Thank you," she told Gillian. "I'll do my best to honor this weapon and your grandmother."

ear3.jpg (856 bytes) She had always meant it as a way of being courteous when she was working for Ogden, but it had earned her more wise-ass remarks than she cared to think about.

Later that evening, Dolt approached Gillian. "I have a favor to beg of you," he said, skipping any social niceties or preamble.

"How may I, I mean, I'll be glad to help if I can." Gillian had been trying to break herself of the habit of saying 'how may I serve you.' She had always meant it as a way of being courteous when she was working for Ogden, but it had earned her more wise-ass remarks than she cared to think about.

For his part, Dolt Lungren was not much for witty repartee. As a rule, he did not like people much, and liked conversation even less. It was an attitude he inherited from his father, for whom most social discourse had ended in swordplay. "Since I arrived here," Dolt gestured at the camp around them, "and found that Tristram had been razed by the Zerg, I've had the feeling that I am somehow cheating death."

"Well, it was lucky for you that you hadn't arrived a few days earlier," agreed Gillian.

"No, it's more serious than that," said Dolt. "I can't shake the feeling that, somehow, I was meant to die in Tristram. Lately, each hour that passes feels like one that I wasn't supposed to have." He fiddled with the healing potions tucked in his belt pouches. "Tomorrow, Griswold, Solo, the monster..." He gestured over at the tree where Red Vex was bound. It was Adria's turn to watch her... "and I are going into Tristram..."

Gillian was the first to admit that she was nave about many things, but she had worked at the Tavern of the Rising Sun long enough to know that when a grim-faced warrior approached her talking of his impending doom, a proposition usually followed. Some were romantic or poetic or heart wrenching; others were charming in their clumsiness. Most were direct and fairly vulgar. They all boiled down to the same thing. A good many of the young women of Tristram were happy to oblige such requests from the right individual. Unless Caravan was in town, the prospects for entertainment in Tristram were usually pretty limited. Gillian was reminded of Farmer Lester's unfaithful young wife, Glorianna. She called it "the Fleshdance," and it seemed like she would do that dance with just about anyone. She had vanished - like so many others - shortly after the troubles began. Gillian wondered whatever became of her.

Dolt Lungren by the HeroMachine

For her part, Gillian's usual response was to be warm and sympathetic, and to spike her would-be suitor's drink. Eventually, the warrior would be drunk and tired enough to be escorted home by one of the town guards to sleep it off in peace. For those individuals who were particularly persistent or vulgar, Gillian kept a powerful laxative behind the bar. After a couple of doses of that, they'd be far too preoccupied to bother her anymore.

Gillian wondered how she was going to deal with Dolt, but he surprised her. His request was not of the physical nature that she had expected. "I would be..." Dolt paused, searching for the right words. Although there was no history of diplomacy, or even asking, in his family, Dolt wanted to do this correctly. "I would be grateful and honored if you would keep my name for me."

Gillian blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"My immortal name," said Dolt. What was that word that people used when they were asking for something? "Please..." That was it. "Please keep it for me." He thrust a tiny scrap of greenish-brown parchment into her hands.

Gillian looked at it. On it was written, "Dolt Lungren." The 't' in "Dolt" looked funny, though. It looked as if it had meant to be some other letter, and only wound up being a 't' by accident.

She was puzzled for a few moments and then remembered something her grandmother had told her about Fundamentalist Scribes Guilds. In some lands where the literacy rate was low, the local Scribes Guilds held great power over the people. To those people, reading and writing were considered magic, and Scribes were considered sorcerers or priests. Some of these guilds were known to offer their blessings to their subjects by writing down the subjects' names. For a price. Gillian's grandmother had not thought much of such guilds. She had referred to them as a bunch of loonies in her more charitable moments.

Whatever they were, Gillian knew better than to question another man's faith. Especially when that man carried a giant axe and had biceps as big around as her thighs. She accepted the parchment in the spirit in which it had been offered. She opened the box that, until recently, had held The Grandfather. Nestled in the bottom of the box was a leather-bound book, one of Jarulf's Almanacs. It was not one of the originals by Master Scribe Pedro, of course. Nonetheless, it had been in her family for generations. Between its pages, it held locks of hair, dried flower petals, notes, poems, and other mementos of lives gone by. Gillian opened the book and slipped Dolt's name in.

"There," she said closing the book and wrapping it up again. "That will keep it safe until you return." She smiled warmly at the Barbarian warrior. "And you will return."

Dolt returned the smile, but not the warmth. "Thank you," he said.


Back to Chapter 3
On to Chapter 5

Originally published to alt.games.diablo January 4, 1999

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