Embers of Hope Chapter 5: The Demise of Streamdale

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The four men continued their battle against the raging flames while they waited for reinforcements. The wind had begun to pick up and was blowing the flames into the valley but it was spreading slowly because of a recent rain.

Near sunrise Landry returned with twenty more men to help them battle the blaze. Urgently they fought the flames slowly reclaiming the town. When the caravan arrived that afternoon they had cleared a quarter of the town. With the added hands they began to battle the blaze more quickly. By evening the majority of the small town had been extinguished and only a few larger buildings still burned.

As they set about preparing the bodies for burial Zaradanoric laid the book on Johns cart and helped move the bodies. After a few hours they stopped for a meal, Zaradanoric and John sat shakily eating with their soot stained hands. Katherine and her new friend walked past without even looking at him but Zaradanoric was to exhausted to even care. After he finished eating he laid his head on a rock and fell asleep.

Several dreamless hours later Zaradanoric was raised to wakefulness but Maggie and John. They walked to the town square and surveyed the charred bodies laid in a row. The rest of their party gathered around the bodies as John commenced the final rites of the deceased. Tears rolled down every face because many were friends with the people of Streamdale and now they were gone.

After the final rights the men buried the bodies into proper graves and gave them headstones. Then everyone gathered back in the square because Zaradanoric was going to read the journal he had found.

After the people had assembled Zaradanoric began reading, “This is the journal and words of Zechariah Birchette farmer and scout of the community of Streamdale. I’ve read this through so I have found the dates that pertain to the puzzle here. It doesn’t answer all of our questions as to why and how but it fills in many blanks.

This first entry was about a fortnight ago. After chronicling normal farmer items, he makes this note ‘Found a buck dead in the forest today it was a large one with mysterious claw marks on it. Despite being dead only a day or so decay was in late stages.

Then three days later he wrote this, ‘I stumbled across some sort of bizarre shrine. Odd tokens and items littered all over. Need to tell the mayor. The animal deaths are continuing now some of them are livestock.’

Then two days later he led a search party, ‘We discovered several shrines and possibly a pile of bones. Nearly a dozen animals were killed last night. Staying overnight maybe we can find the culprit.

             Awakened near midnight to see a massive wolf trying to kill one of our horses. Warded it off with fire. Something is wrong the horses are spooked.”

Zaradanoric paused his reading and leafed a few pages before continuing, “Then they returned and there was discussion of more animals being killed and what to do. Additionally there was an argument on how to proceed but defenses were started soon after. Then five days ago, around the time we entered the northern fields from the North Downs he wrote this, ‘Decided to hold the town. We are building more fences and walls. I’m going to round-up the outlying farmers. Extra note saw some sort of creature running near the vale of the woods. Could have been a goblin but they haven’t been seen in years maybe I am just tricking myself. Some of the trees are chopped down or withering.

At the end of that trip he gathered all the farmers except for a few in the outlying community of Lakedeep. An expansion community to the north. He notes that they had a wall of stone and were prepared. So they could have survived.

The interesting section comes the next day, ‘They came and my eyes do not deceive me. Orcs and goblins from the mountains have attacked. Skirmishing in the town because we had no time to make a wall. The town is burning and a captain named Baral has come to kill us. Why? He said just for fun. If I hurry I can hide

An hour later Zaradanoric finished recounting the story. He sighed and looked up before speaking, “Now we know the demise of Streamdale. I say that we venture north and see if Lakedeep survives. Judging by the bodies the people fought bravely. They did not go quietly. Lets take a day to recover and clean the town some. Lakedeep may have some relatives so gather what can be. John and I will travel tomorrow.”

After a long day of work, a hearty meal, and another dreamless night, Zaradanoric awoke and gathered his supplies and what belongings the townspeople could find. Then he woke John and the two prepared to head north.

As the sun crept over the mountaintop, Zaradanoric and John followed the trail headed north. As they walked north the trail of destruction became more evident with abandoned camps and shrines lining the road. They decided to destroy the shrines on the return trip because the air of evil was palpable.

As noon approached they ate some cram and drank water while they paused for a moment. Zaradanoric observed, “That had to have been a sizable pack of goblins and orcs to overwhelm a town of seventy people that fast. That isn’t random its planned and that scares me.”

John only nodded and remounted his pack and they headed up the trail again. By the evening they could see no end to the trail.

Zaradanoric spoke softly, “John, I think we should keep going. I am not comfortable with staying in the open now.”

“Aye, me neither lad. Hopefully Lakedeep should nah be to many leagues ahead.” John replied.

They lit torches and continued up the trail. As they walked though they felt like they had some hidden company. Zaradanoric faked a stumble and heard a different pattern of footsteps that weren’t so quick.

He gave John a look and handed him his torch. Zaradanoric ducked off the trail a short distance while John continued walking. As the burly northerner’s eyes adjusted he saw two figures following their path. With surprising stealth for a man of his size, Zaradanoric slid onto the path. He charged the two and tackled them both.

Holding his gloved hands over the pursuers mouths he shouted, “Come here John, lets see what the catch of the day is!”

As John returned with the torches, Zaradanoric observed he was holding a young man and lady. He quickly let them go and picked them up.

“John, these ain’t goblins they are one of us! I’m sorry for the scare sir and ma’am things haven’t been right in these parts.” Zaradanoric humbly apologized.

Much to his surprise the woman threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. She began to sob and spoke happily, “You’re not orcs or brigands! Do you hear that Andrew? It means they aren’t in the valley anymore. We have some safety brother!”

She released his neck but held to his arm tears of joy running down her face. She brushed her wild blond locks out of her face, which served no real purpose because they returned immediately, and curtsied.

“My name is Claire Bramblebrush. This is my brother Andrew. We were scouting the vale for orcs and goblins. It has been a harrowing few weeks. We hail from Lakedeep and while we survived the onslaught we still suffered casualties. Please come with us. My father will want to talk to you.”

Andrew looked at them for a moment and a slight grin appeared on his face. He said, “Aye come on dad will want to talk to you for sure. Just follow us.”

As they headed up the trail, Zaradanoric took an immediate liking to the now excited, blond Claire. She wanted information from the outside world and had a curiosity and hunger for knowledge. Under her wild blond hair Zaradanoric noticed that she bore a harp and a short sword that confused him. While he told her of what he knew, Zaradanoric realized he knew very little of the outside world himself.

Still confused about his new companions equipment Zaradanoric asked, “Claire, why do you carry both a sword and a harp? I could understand one or the other but not both.”

She turned to him and grinned before replying, “I could ask why you carry a woodsman’s ax that is clearly doesn’t fit you however I’ll answer. Simply, I’m training to be a minstrel but my father doesn’t care for it much. Now my turn, what is with your brogue? You clearly aren’t from Bree or one of John’s folk. You look better by a league then he does!”

As she broke into musical laughter, John sighed and asked, “Claire are you Ruth Bramblebush’s daughter?”

“Aye, she’s my mother. Why do ya ask?” Claire replied.

“Come here me darling niece!” John shouted. He wrapped he up in a big bear hug.

“Gerroff me you stinkin lump!” Claire said playfully. “Mamma warned me buot Aunt Maggie’s husband. Said you were sweet but stupid as the day is long. This is your nephew Andrew and you have two more nieces who have never met you at home.”

Zaradanoric felt happy for John having met family for the first time but inside he felt hollow and it hurt. He kept a smile on his face to not ruin the good time. John and Andrew set off again talking animatedly while he and Claire continued behind them.

“So back to my question Zara, I’m gonna call you that. Your full name is just to long. Where do you hail from?” She inquired.

Zaradanoric felt a little happier and replied, “I hail from tha North Downs. I’m a highlander and we have the thickest brogue.”

“Ah that makes sense. Well look at that! This is home! Welcome to Lakedeep.” Claire announced.

Before them stood a fascinating town. There was a thick wall with houses built into the wall and presumably more buildings inside. Light emanated from windows in the walls and music sounded from inside. At the base of the wall a massive river flowed through a portcullis making a moat.

Claire stepped forward and shouted towards the walls, “Ahoy Lakedeep! Scouts returning with friends!” She turned to her uncle and Zaradanoric and remarked, “Give them a minute and they will lower the gate. Then you can come in and meet my dad and tell him the good news.”

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