Yep, it's that time of year again, kids. Ol' Dreamfish, myself and mystery guest soon to be revealed have cooked up another encounter of truly epic proportions, in our noble, never ending quest to promote the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Anyway, the prologue:
Prologue: The Shadow of Koles Lorr
"There's gold up there, you know," Jabbartha said. His brow furrowed as he formed his grim expression. "Gold."
Hans Ohlow shook his head.
"It's not gold. Stop bloody calling it gold. If you just called it what it bloody well was, we wouldn't be standing here now, in the freezing wind, up to our knees in mud and shit, staring at ... well, nothing. It's not gold!" Hans thrust his hands into his pockets and stared into the distance. His companion, Jabbartha Hhut, shook his head. Of all the scouts he had ever come across, never had he met one that complained so much about being outside.
Both dwarves stared out across the plain.
Oh great. More complaining, thought Jabbartha. Keep going, mate - I've got nothing else to do either.
"...I can't think of a single purpose for this place. Why would the gods make such a forsaken stretch?" Hans poked a tuft of grass with his boot. "It's only purpose is to be bloody wet. Wet grass, wet mud, wet air. Wet dwarves. And it's not even bloody raining."
"It's not raining yet," Jabartha said. May as well set his expectations now.
"Doesn't matter. Even if you do find this bloody wagon, all your stupid gold" - he quoted with his fingers - "is just going to be soaked through or stuck together in one big clump. I don't know why everyone thinks it's so bloody great anyway."
Both dwarves fell silent.
Jabbartha cleared his throat. "Any-"
Hans cut him off. "And it's a stupid place to put a tower, too! How long's it been here?"
Jabbartha looked up at the tower. Koles Lorr. "Ages. We didn't build it, actually. It's a human build. Prob'ly why they abandoned it. Wasn't up to much."
"They probably all hanged themselves after a week with putting up with this!" Hans kicked a clump of earth. He soles squeaked in the wet as he watched the muddy clump sail into the misty air. It's depressing squelch on landing did nothing to cheer him up.
Jabbartha was getting tired of Hans now. "Look. I don't want to be here any more than you do. Right? So do us all a favour and go check out that tower. That gold is out here somewhere, and if it was me on a night like last night, I'd have taken up in that tower too. So get out there, get the cart and the gold, and lets all of us go home, okay?"
Hans spat his disgust at the order.
"It's not gold," he mumbled under his breath. He signalled to the other rangers to follow him.
"Who is this chap again?" King Pinne lowered his spectacles and looked down at the writ of office he had been presented with.
"Sir Loyne, your majesty. He claims to be a paladin of Yasmar Nodrog," Muz Shipeez said. Muz had served in King Pinne's court for many decades now, and knew better than to infer his doubt about Sir Loynes credentials, but the fact was that he knew of all the families that needed knowing of, and the Loyne's of Gird were not a family he'd ever heard of before.
"Is he in the book?"
"No, Your Majesty, he has arrived unexpectedly."
"No, no - not the appointment book. You know - the names book that you look at all the time?"
Muz smiled. This was good news, if the King was thinking like this already. "No, Your Majesty. Sir Loyne is in neither the Great Family Tree nor the appointment book. I did find a a match on Yasmar Nodrog, though."
The king brightened. "Brilliant. Never heard of him either. Do we have a temple for Yasmar here?"
"Not that I'm aware of, no -"
"What's he do anyway, this Yasmar Nodrog? What's his godly job?"
"He is the god of food-"
Muz blinked at the interruption and let out a slow breath. "Yes, Your Majesty. Food. And rage, it seems."
"Food and rage?"
The king removed his spectacles and started chewing thoughtfully on the frame. "I would have thought we would have a temple to the god of food, surely?"
"It seems that we like to keep food out of our worship, Your Majesty."
"Mmmm...well, I suppose we'd better let him in and see what he has to say for himself."
Muz nodded. He had already gathered the King's Guard to the audience chamber, just in case. He signalled to the doormen to open the doors and admit the king's visitor.
"Oh, and Muz?" King Pinne whispered.
"Yes, Your Majesty?" Muz looked straight ahead.
"Maybe we should have a worshipful celebration of this Yasmar Nodrog. A little food and beer. You know - show some respect?"
"All in hand, your Majesty. All in hand."
"Not sure about the rage part just yet."
Both dwarves watched as the trumpets announced the arrival of Sir Loyne.
"Don't worry, Your Majesty, I have a feeling the rage will come soon..."
A small, unfortunate dwarf tottered behind Sir Loyne, struggling with a huge banner that towered over him. The banner was too tall for the dwarven hall, resulting in the poor dwarf having to drag the banner pole along the ceiling, as close to upright as possible.
"King Pinne!" Sir Loyne bawled, stretching his arms wide "Ty!"
King Pinne winced. He liked being called King Pinne. He hated his first name. It sounded so... common. His eyes widened in horror when he realised Sir Loyne wasn't stopping there.
Sir Loyne stepped up the dais, gripped the dwarf king's shoulders and hefted him onto his feet, where he proceeded to crush the bewildered king into a punishing bear hug. Sir Loyne winked at Muz over the king's shoulder. King Pinne glared furiously at his guard over Sir Loyne's.
"Ty! So good to see you! Brilliant to see how well you've done for yourself!" Sir Loyne dropped the flustered king back into his throne and waved expansively at the throne room.
King Pinne readjusted his crown, wondering why the hell none of his guard had done anything about this ruddy lunatic just wrenching him from his throne. The way Sir Loyne had clapped him on the back was tantamount to assault, as far as his shoulder blades were concerned. He'd have to have a word with them later on.
"Er..." he mumbled. "Yes, done alright, I suppose-"
"Alright?" Sir Loyne boomed. Before King Pinne realised what was happening, the giant dwarf reached out and grabbed the king's crown, planting it neatly on his own head. The room gasped.
"Alright, you say? You're a blessed king! This is fantastic! Bet the beer's good, eh? None of that cheap stuff for you anymore, eh?" Sir Loyne poked the startled king in the ribs and laughed.
"Ahem!" Muz cleared his throat.
Both dwarves looked at him.
"His Majesty feels that guests should refrain from wearing his crown at the first visit, although he would be happy to forgive you this small oversight given the nature of your joyful meeting just now," Muz said through his forced smile.
King Pinne nodded. "Yes, yes. His Ma... er, I... would like to get his crown back. If that's alright?"
Sir Loyne clapped both his hands on the king's shoulders as he laughed. "Of course, of course. So silly of me - you are the king and must be respected and all that. Of course!" He presented his head to King Pinne with a grandiose bow.
The king clutched the crown with nervous hands and placed it gingerly on his head, as if it were now somehow too hot.
"Anyway, I'd love to stay and chat about old times, Ty, but we've got urgent business to attend to." Sir Loyne swivelled round and stepped of the dais before turning to look at the king again. "It turns out that I need your help. And when I say 'I', of course, I refer to Yasmar Nodrog! We have a holy commission for you!"
King Pinne blinked. Muz shivered in an effort to maintain his composure.
"Sir Loyne, your dedication to the business of Yasmar Nodrog is both legendary and exemplary, I'm sure. Perhaps even Yasmar Nodrog would allow a humble, weary servant and his retinue time to rest and recovered before resuming the no doubt arduous duties required in his service?" Muz raised an eyebrow as he asked the question.
Sir Loyne raised an eyebrow in return.
"I am tireless in my service of Yasmar Nodrog."
His tone was frigid - all his jovial warmth was drowned out by the sudden cold silence in the room. The King's Guard clutched their weapons, desperately hoping nothing would come of this. Some looked at each other, unsure of what they should do. If Muz made the crazy giant angry, he could sort it out himself, as far as they were concerned.
He cocked his head. "But, he is the god of food. And to eat is to worship. Waddaya say, Tendhe? Bit of grub before we hit the road?"
The dwarf carrying the banner nodded eagerly.
The mood in the room lifted as Sir Loyne's demeanor softened.
"This is my boy, by the way," Sir Loyne said to the king. "Tendhe Loyne. Carries the banner, see? For the Loynes."
King Pinne gulped. "Uh, good to meet you." He turned to Muz and pleaded with his eyes.
"Excellent! We've laid on a little spread for you and fifty members of your party. His Majesty would love to discuss your holy commission over a little meal and perhaps a light after dinner smoke?"
"Fifty members?" Sir Loyne repeated. "No need for that - just the two of us, now," he said, pointing at Tendhe and himself.
"Oh?" Muz looked puzzled. "I see. Might I enquire... I mean, surely you're not travelling alone?"
"Of course not, you funny little dwarf," Sir Loyne chuckled. "We left Gird with a whole army."
"I see. I can send messenger to your camp to summon them?"
Sir Loyne snorted. "Unless your messenger can summon them from the grave, I'd imagine he'd find that task quite difficult. They're all dead, now. That's why we stopped here."
"Stopped here." Muz repeated.
"Yes. To get some more."
"More?" the king asked, his voice faint.
"Yes, more dwarves. Mine are all dead. So I've come to get some of yours. But come, let's go to this meal you've prepared. Lots more to round, eh?"
Muz staggered as Sir Loyne clapped his hand over his shoulders, herding him towards the door.
Sir Loyne just wanted everything he could lay his hands on. It just so happened that as Sir Loyne gained entry into the king's armoury, he noticed a tunnel leading to the massive forge and workshop, where Big Dog, the clan's largest stone thrower, was being serviced.
"I'm having that," he said, to no-one in particular.
There had been protests, of course. Hans, as the lead scout, had pointed out the futility of chasing a fast orc column with warmachines in tow. It would be impossible.
"Ah, but what if they establish a fort? What would we do then?" Sir Loyne had challenged.
"If they've established a fort, we'd set up watch and send runners to get the warmachines, if they were needed. They are orcs, don't forget, so the word fort is relative."
Sir Loyne had looked thoughtful and Hans thought for a moment that Big Dog would stay, but that was not to be.
"Bring it along. I can feel it in my bones - we'll need it for sure."
So now the only chance they really had to catch the orcs depended on the weather. Fortunately, the weather had been atrocious, and there was every chance that the could also have become bogged down.
The team of rangers were waiting for him at the tower. He looked up at it and took in all of its wet, grey misery. There was nothing frightening about the tower, it just looked cold. He shivered as a gust of wind whipped around the tower base, throwing his cloak open.
"Right boys, just like we did in the drills. On my signal, you kick the door in and step back," Hans pointed at Vitter Minsey, who nodded. He looked at Minn Spye "You go straight in and head right. I'm in right behind you, then you come in behind me and head left, with you two closing after us, okay?"
The other dwarves nodded and moved into position. Two on the right of the door, three on the left.
"Go," Hans whispered.
Both King Pinne and Muz sat silent for a while, letting the description of the loss to the orcs sink in. By the sounds of things, eighty dwarves had died.
"What was in the wagon?" King Pinne asked.
"Gold dust. Just like gold dust."
King Pinne and Muz looked at each other.
"Gold dust, you say?" the king muttered eventually, stroking his beard.
"Eighty dwarves, you say?" Muz muttered, knotting his.
King Pinne leaned forward now, staring Sir Loyne directly in the face. He'd had nine pints so far, and it was much easier to stand up to Sir Loyne now. Also, Sir Loyne seemed to much nicer, now. "Tell me more about this gold dust."
Sir Loyne returned his flagon to the table and wiped his beard with the back of his hand. "S'not gold dust. I said it's like gold dust."
"Yes, yes, but just as valuable, you say?"
Sir Loyne looked at the ceiling in thought. "Yes. Very valuable. Especially to Yasmar Nodrog. And the good human folk up north. Love the stuff, they do. They'll pay loads for it."
Having just taken his tenth pint, only a few words of that sentence hit home for King Pinne. Valuable. Love the stuff. Pay. Loads.
"We need to get that gold dust."
Sir Loyne assumed a very serious expression, and nodded slowly. "Yes we do."
"If I might interrupt, Your Majesty," Muz said, turning to Sir Loyne. "You said it's like gold dust, so it evidently isn't. My lord's question is simply this: if not gold dust - what is it?" Ten pints from King Pinne's personal cellar had injected bravery beyond compare into Muz.
Sir Loyne blinked at Muz, before bursting into raucous laughter.
"Of course, of course! You funny quaint mountain dwarves would've never heard of the stuff!"
The two other dwarves joined in the laughter. How funny and quaint they were, each realised! An eleventh pint had materialised in front of all three, which they clanked together and downed.
"Let me tell you about gold dust, boys. Holy, blessed gold dust from the east..."
Kahn Narbis looked down at the brown powder spilling from the bag. In the flickering firelight, it looked a bit like gold. He frowned. "Wot's Milliog say?"
Sensei Milliog emerged from the darkness. "Same as Krunk. Dunno." He shrugged. "I was gonna ask Trammer."
Kahn raised an eyebrow.
"Er..." Krunk stammered. "I mean, ask you to ask Trammer. 'Cos...you know..."
"Oh right. Come to that, 'as it?"
The other two nodded apologetically.
"I hates askin' him anything. You lot better be sure or I'm breaking something."
Krunk and Sensei Milliog eyed each other. If neither of them could work it out, then surely they were safe. Kahn would have to ask Trammer. They nodded in unison.
"Righto. Follow me," Kahn said, grabbing the bag. The other two fell in behind him as he marched to the other side of the camp. The rest of the orcs just dropped themselves wherever, resting and sleeping in their rags and armour. Even Kahn didn't worry about tents and the like when travelling - it was only the tribe's irritable, aged shaman that bothered with tents. Kahn opened the flap and stepped in. Krunk and Sensei Milliog skulked in behind him.
Trammar Zzole was an ancient, leathery orc, who after nearly fifty years of magic, was widely considered to be completely barking mad. Surely no orc could mess about with magic for that long and not go insane, spectators reasoned?
He sat in the middle of the tent floor, holding what appeared to be a human skull, rocking backwards and forwards and mumbling cheerfully to himself. Every now and then, a whinnying giggle escaped his cracked lips and he rocked a little faster, before the light in his eyes died down and he settled again.
Kahn slapped the wizened old orc's bald palate respectfully.
"Oi!" The old orc cried as he snapped out of his reverie. He looked wounded as he rubbed his head. "Wassat for?"
Kahn dropped the bag in front of the wizard. "D'ya know wot this is?"
Trammer poked the skull up against the bag, using his hands to make as if the skull was sniffing. "Waddaya reckon, Seesaw?"
The skull didn't appear to do anything. Trammer lifted it to his ear. "Say that again?"
His audience leaned in, hoping to hear some of the mystical chatter Seesaw was whispering to Trammer. The tent fell silent as all four orcs strained to hear anything.
"Ssshh!" Trammer hissed, causing the other three to step back in shock. He positioned the skull directly in front of him and fixed it with a stern gaze. "Come now Seesaw. Don't be stubborn. Tell Uncle Trammer wot it is." He shook the skull a little before ramming it face first into the bag again.
Krunk and Milliog both leapt in fright. Kahn stepped back slowly.
Trammer giggled. "He sez it's a bag! See, you can put stuff in it! Like this powder. That's a great place to put powder. In the bag! Good Seesaw!" He patted the top of the skull.
"What's. In. The. Bag. Fool." Kahn growled.
Kahn grabbed Trammer by the neck and dragged the old wizard to his feet. "Tell me what the bloody powder is or I'll pull your eyeballs out and stuff them into Seesaw's empty sockets, you shit stain!"
Trammer's eyes widened as he considered the implications of Kahn's threat. "It's snuff," he blurted.
"Yer. Snuff. Look, I'll show ya."
Kahn released the wizard, who already seemed to have forgotten the potential eye transplant just mentioned. Trammer grabbed a little pinch of the snuff, showing the other orcs.
"Here, take some like this. Don' worry, it's safe."
Each orc moved forward and also took a pinch.
"See, so now you puts it to your nose, like this." He watched carefully to make sure all the orcs had their snuff in the right position. "Then, alls you do is sniff it in, like so."
They all watched as Trammer closed his eyes and drew in a massive breath, vacuuming the powder through his nostrils.
The other orcs watched in fascination. First, his eyes shot open, and he coughed. Then, he breathed in as if to sneeze. but nothing came. He closed his mouth and blinked, breathing out slowly.
Then Trammer Zzole's head exploded.
Sir Loyne grinned. "Aye, that it does. Well, curry goes with beer. Curry powder's crap on its own. Got to make it into the sauce, you see? Also, you can use the sauce with fried potato cubes. That's especially popular up north. I'm sure that's what this shipment would have been used for."
"Fried potato cubes?" King Pinne was very quickly realising how limited his palate was. "Never heard of that either. How come you know all about this?"
"Yasmar Nodrog, of course. He shows us the way," Sir Loyne responded, looking up and opening his hands to the heavens. "You need to establish a temple here, you see."
The dwarves fell silent, contemplating this deep philosophical truth.
"Curry powder." King Pinne mumbled, lost in thought. "Culinary gold..."
Muz nodded in agreement. "We need to get it back. For Yasmar Nodrog!" He lifted his flagon high into the air.
"For Yasmar Nodrog!" the other two repeated, thrusting their own drinks into the air.
"I dunno," he said as he scratched his head. "Not sure I wanna put this in my nose anymore."
Krunk wiped bits of brain and snot off his face. "Yer, mebbe we sleep on it and have some more snuff tomorrow?"
Milliog nodded. "Yeah. Lets sleep on it."
He looked down at the body as Kahn and Krunk stepped out of the tent. He heard Kahn shouting orders for someone to do something about the mess. Now that Trammer was dead, he supposed that he had just become the tribe's shaman. He dug a bit of what later turned out to be a bit of Trammer from his ear, before reaching down and picking up Seesaw.
"Better make sure I've got another head," he said to the skull. "Just in case."
He signalled to Vitter, who had just emerged from the door, to come closer. He pointed on the direction of the shouting and whispered, "Orcs?"
Vitter cocked his head and listened for a while. "I think so. Really close...probably a couple of hundred yards, really."
The Loane Rangers had all gathered on the parapet now, and took in the news with excitement and trepidation.
They'd found them.
"Let's go get that gold, boys," Minn said.
Hans put his head in his hands in despair.
"It's not bloody gold..."