Virtue’s Forge – ch 9 – by Ulf Berht – narrated by Asclepius - Echoes from the Caverns

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Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a further instalment of this wonderful story by Ulf Berht, entitled

“Virtue’s Forge”
Background music by Smartsound

” Chapter 9, “Landfall”
“Land ho!” the watch cried out. “Three points off starboard.”
“The Isle of Wonders,” announced Kaia, as Merlin came on deck. “We will be up the Brisach River and docking at Lochbrier within the hour. Merlin, Cook, Mr. Abrams, Tuey, Chin-ho, and Scott, with me. Pack light. We can only go so far upriver before it’s overland.”
”Captain, having a map of this trek of ours would allay some fears I have of being stranded in some domain as yet unknown to me.”
“Merlin, Cook here is a native of The Grunvald and can guide us to Desolis. But a map you shall have. Cook! Would you be so kind as to make up a map for our fearful wizard.”
“Aye, Captain,” said Cook. “Although, if he finds himself in need of a such map, I fear what remains of his life will be short.”
“You may be right, Cook. Just oblige me.”
“Aye, Captain.”
Merlin had little to do save watch as Kaia and her crew docked their boat and transferred the few supplies and equipment their little band could carry. The bridge at Lochbrier blocked the course of all but small vessels, so at least a day of rowing upstream lay ahead. Just before embarking on this leg of the journey, some much appreciated kegs of beer appeared on the dock. “This will make rowing more palatable,” thought Merlin.
Rowing was expected of all onboard save the captain. Four rowed while two rested, drank beer, and watched the river go by. Tuey and Chin-ho even broke into song, easing the passage of time and weary muscles. “I have rowed more since arriving here than I have in my entire life,” thought Merlin. “Some good will come from this should I ever have to swing a sword.”
Cook signaled a stop just before the Brisach made a major turn to the northeast. “With your permission Captain, we camp here for the night and head inland at first light,” he said.
“That will no doubt be agreeable to all,” Captain Kaia said as the dory’s keel crunched on the gravel shoreline. “Cook, Mr. Abrams, stay with Merlin and me. Tuey, and Scott, return to the crew in the morning. Mr. Chin-Ho, accompany them but ensconce yourself in Lochbrier for a week or two, then rejoin the crew. See what a few tongues, loosened by gold, can bring forth.”
“Tomorrow night we will be in bandit country, so there will be no fires. Before we leave tomorrow, pack enough of the rations. Prepare for at least two days’ march.”
“Carry on, Cook,” said Kaia. “Abrams and Merlin, with me.” She unfolded a map. “This has more detail than yours, Merlin, but is essentially the same. The Pass through the Vauban Mountains, here, is north by northeast of our position. That will be where we might expect Ulf to be. The pass and the area around the Sequanna Colossus is firmly in bandit control and must be avoided. Even our rendezvous in the Barrens contains some risk, so be ever alert.”

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