Before we left for Rhorton’s Grove we decided to leave our horses (Snowflake, Rusty and Bubbles – Though Vera insisted that its name was Steelmane but I had heard her calling the horse Bubbles on our way to Shiboleth, it was quite endearing I have to say) in the care of a local stablemaster. They would just break their legs in the swamp. I think we struck a rather good deal. 6 gold a horse for six days and the seventh for free and the stablemaster promised us that if we weren’t back in a week he would take the horses to the local shrine of Pelor where we could fetch them when (if) we returned.
We also rented a mule to carry our stuff because we didn’t dare to leave anything behind. We decided to call him Dandelion. We left him in the care of Rusk and they seemed to be fast friends. The poor old soldier was clearly better with animals than humans.
So we set forth. The weather was nice while we walked through the fields where people were harvesting for winter and the upcoming harvest festival. The way to the edge of Rushmoors was unbelievably dull. No one stopped us or questioned where were we going. Everything was calm and peaceful but I couldn’t help the feeling that this was just a calm before a storm. Something was happening and it was going to change all of our lives forever.
We could smell the swamp before we saw it. It wasn’t exactly a bad smell, just something very distinctively swamp. The edge of the swamp was fenced by tall rushes and we could see people cutting the rushes and piling them on barrows. We stopped by one older man to ask for directions and I saw it best to wait behind Dandelion while Rusk and Vera did the talking. I had noticed that most people, especially the common folk, were often scared of my appearance. I couldn’t blame them. I would be scared too if I were them.
The man told them that it was about two days and on the halfway there there was camping site. The route, he said, was quite clearly marked. Before we continued he warned us about lizards and other creatures that lurked in the swamp. It was good to know. We thanked the man and continued our journey.
I can’t begin to describe how much I hated the swamp. The worst thing wasn’t the bugs, gods know I had gotten used to them in Westkeep and they were much bigger there too. No, it was the water and the mires. Of course I had known what it would be like once it got clear that we were going to go to Rhorton’s Grove but I had forgotten how bad it was. Before midday our boots were soaking wet and every inch of my body was itching with mosquito bites. I made a mental note to remind myself never to step on another swamp again if got out of this hellhole alive.
In the front of our little line Rusk was having trouble with Dandelion because he refused to move. We stopped and Rusk struggled with the mule a moment and then there was a yelp and Rusk disappeared. He had fallen in a mire and the only thing we could see of him was his hand that was holding Dandelion’s reins. I’m ashamed to admit that I did nothing to help. I just stood there frozen to the spot while Vera dragged Rusk up without breaking a sweat. After I had recovered from my shock I took a moment to admire Vera’s strength before kneeling next to the coughing and vomiting Rusk. He smelled of corpses.
While I was hovering around him like a useless twat Vera lay her hands on Rusk muttering prayers to her godess and then gave him something to drink from a small vial. Holy water, she explained. Rusk looked pale and like he would vomit again when Vera told him that he had rot fever. A fever that came when you swallowed pieces of a corpse. Quite disgusting. I had rather strong stomach but still that made me feel a bit sick. I wonder what poor soul had drowned in that mire. I shuddered at the thought.
Once we got Rusk up and going again (though he was still pale and feverish) we continued towards the camping site. I hoped that we could still get there in sun light. I wouldn’t want wander around the swamp in the dark, as if it wasn’t dangerous enough. The rest of the day was uneventful and full of mosquitos.
I have never been so happier when we noticed the land getting dryer and finally reached our camping site when the sun was casting its last rays on the tops of the few trees that subsisted on the swamp. It was marked by large rock and there was a little fireplace and a lean-to that was raised from the ground. We tied Dandelion on a tree so it wouldn’t wander off and Rusk insisted taking the first watch. I would take the second one and Vera the last one.
After we ate some of our rations and Vera made as nettle tea from the nettles she had gathered from the swamp me and Vera went to sleep. I fell asleep almost immediately. A days walk in the swamp really wore one out. I slept like a log until Dandelion’s neigh woke me up.
After a moment of disorientation I saw two lizard-like creatures attacking us. One was trying to pull Rusk down with it’s spear and the other was getting closer to me and Vera. I stood up and drew out my knife. I took a step forward to attack the lizard but then my foot slipped sending me tumbling down into a pond next to our camp.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe and there was dark water and bubbles everywhere. I didn’t know which way was up and I could hear my heart thumping wildly in my ears. I did all I could not to panic. I tried to gasp for air but I only got murky swamp water in my mouth. When I finally felt the bottom of the pond I managed to kick myself up towards the surface. My lungs felt like they were on fire when I finally reached the surface after a time that felt like forever. I gasped for air and flailed about in almost panic until felt solid ground and managed to drag myself to the bank.
Soaking wet and shivering I hid myself under the trees while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down. The fight was almost over and Rusk was shooting an arrow after the last lizard creature. I felt like I could move again and tried to sneak around to catch the creature when Rusk’s arrow missed it’s target. However when I got close enough to hit the creature it dived in a small pond and disappeared.
I stubbornly stood and waited by the pond for the creature to appear again. That was also my excuse to calm myself down after the dip into that pond. I did my best to keep all the unpleasant memories at bay. I didn’t want to go there right now. Preferably never.
Finally when it seemed that the lizard wasn’t going to reappear I walked back to the camp. Rusk and Vera asked if I was okay and I tried to assure them that I was quite fine, thank you very much. Though I had to admit to them that I didn’t like water and I couldn’t swim. Vera’s kindly asked question if had almost drowned as child hit just bit too close to home and I saw it best to keep quiet. Let them make their own conclusions.
The creatures turned out to be Troglodytes and Vera had killed the one who had tried to get us. Her first kill, I heard. I felt sympathy for her, I truly did. First kill, whether it was an animal or a human, was always difficult. I should know. Vera seemed a bit shocked and I offered to listen if she wanted to talk about it.
The Troglodyte had some kind of necklace and the tooth that hung from it was a crocodile’s tooth. Vera also collected the foul smelling musk in the vial that had previously held the holy water. After that Vera and Rusk went back to sleep and I stayed up and tried to dry my clothes by the fire. The rest of the night was peaceful if you didn’t count the ruckus that came from somewhere north-west.
In the morning we continued towards Rhorton’s Grove. After a few hours we found another Troglodyte. Luckily it was already dead but unfortunately it didn’t take away the horrible smell. The musk was gone but it had a similar necklace to the one we got last night and Vera decided to take it as well.
Again we walked few hours in peace until we heard some noise from the rushes. We didn’t see anything but I decided to take a look. Just in case there were more of those Troglodytes. Quietly I sneaked around the rushes and redyed my crossbow. There, knee deep in the water, stood a strange looking man dressed in Troglodyte skins (whose name we later learned was Olyn, at least suspect they were the same person). I pointed my crossbow at him and asked what was his business.
The man’s eyes were large and bug-like and to be true he looked a bit crazy. His words didn’t make much sense, only that he was hunting the Trogolodytes and something was making the Lizardfolk anxious. We decided that it was for the best if we all went to our separate directions and didn’t bother each other.
Once again the rest of the journey was uneventful and we had already started thinking about finding a camping place when we smelled the pleasant smell of bog lilies. We had finally arrived to Rhorton’s Grove.
(To be continued)