Trumps of Winter

45 - The Ogre Refugees

A complicated and muddy errand of mercy.

The bogatyrs return to Captain Ironjoy’s Winged Pike, and the tiefling is quite happy to depart swiftly. Over the course of the quick ride downriver to Schuka, they decide not to open the whispering book until they’re safely on land. Anfisa points out that if some horrible evil is unleashed from the book, then the citizens of Schuka will be endangered, but the consensus is that they’d rather not risk it on the open water, which is a plan that meets with Gennadiy’s approval.

When they arrive at Schuka, they find the townsfolk are very nervous and tense. A passerby tells them that a band of ogres has arrived from the north, maybe fifty strong. The ogres have camped outside the town walls, and are not yet causing trouble, but they demand to talk to the Tsaritsa. The bogatyrs quickly find Vasil Vargavich and ask him if he knows anything more. Vasil tells them that the ogres are from Blue Scar mountain in the north, and they seem to be starving. They haven’t plundered the outlying farms or homesteads, but are so hungry that they’re boiling bark and pine needles for soup. Everyone is concerned it’s just a matter of time before they grow tired of waiting for Tsaritsa Silverchild.

The bogatyrs focus first on their primary errand — and the need for heartier food. They eat a meal in an inn, and decide on their first question for the Whispering Book: “Who currently possesses the Black Chalice?” The book turns several pages, and breathes out the response Lenya Burodovir. The name is not familiar to any of the bogatyrs, but they dutifully write it down.

With that settled, the group returns to the tense streets of Schuka. Kazimeer sets out to inquire about the name Lenya Burodovir, intending to call on the sorcerer Holak. Mika vanishes again on an unspoken errand. Gennadiy and Anfisa travel to the northern wall, where they hear the ogre chief outside bellowing his demands to the town again. They look down and see the brutally scarred ogre, a wizened ogre woman nearby, shouting at the walls. “Where is your ruler?” he roars. “Where is the Moon? Does she have no allies to speak for her? Where is the Comet or the Knight?”

Gennadiy tenses at that question, while Anfisa nods. “I guess I’m going out,” she says. Gena sends a messenger to find Kazimeer and let him know the two are parlaying with the Blue Scar ogres, and then he follows Anfisa outside the town walls.

The Schukan guards are glad to defer to the two renowned warriors, though everything is still very tense as the approach the camp. A pair of the ogre chief’s guards intercept the two, but the old ogress notices them and calls out to the chief. “That one rode with the Comet. She’ll do.”

The Blue Scar chief, a scar-fisted brute introduced as Brutzin Gristlehammer, seems disinclined to accept the go-betweens at first. He again demands that he must speak with the Tsaritsa herself. “The tsaritsa is not here,” says Anfisa. Gristlehammer stamps in frustration. “Everyone keeps saying that!

Anfisa and Gena, and Kazimeer once he arrives, manage to talk the ogres into remaining patient — stressing that the tsaritsa must take time to travel, and that she will be much more helpful if the Blue Scars have not robbed or harmed her people in the meantime. The negotiation becomes more tense, though, when animals appear from the woods around the ogre camp, encircling the ogres in a threatening fashion. The bogatyrs see Gullet race over to line up with the animals, where he proudly stands alongside a burly wolf with silver shoulders — and a truly massive owlbear with gray in its fur and ruthless eyes. Uncle Ripper himself has arrived.

The three tell the ogres to remain calm, and then go out to speak with the animals. They carefully approach Gullet and address him directly, allowing Uncle Ripper to overhear without challenging him. The talking wolverine is gleefully anticipating the possibility of a fight, and tells the bogatyrs that one of the ogres killed a talking stag for food — not something the beasts of Miska can ignore.

The bogatyrs ask what can be done to prevent the fight from breaking out, and for the first time, Uncle Ripper speaks. “We need a sign of the ogres’ submission,” the immense owlbear rumbles.

“A hostage,” says Anfisa.

“That would suffice.”

The silver-shouldered wolf speaks as well, saying that the hostage would come to no harm among the animals. Anfisa, Kazimeer, and Gena promise to do their best to convince the ogres to cooperate. “Ugh,” groans Gullet, “diplomacy.”

The three return to the ogre camp with the beasts’ message. This nearly sends Brutzin Gristlehammer into another tantrum, and he grumbles that the stag’s killer — a young male called Tozmog — will have to make amends in his own way. He almost sends Tozmog out as the hostage, but his advisor recommends not having the most hated ogre in the camp go out to the beasts. Anfisa settles the issue when she mentions that the hostage will be well fed. The Blue Scar chief struggles with the notion, and then calls for a young ogre girl, pale with hunger but wearing finer garments than most. The girl’s parents surrender her with some emotion, and it is clear to the adventurers that this is the chief’s granddaughter.

The bogatyrs take the young ogre girl back to the line of beasts. The silver-shouldered wolf takes charge of the girl, and leads her into the woods. With that, the circle of beasts recedes back into the forest for the time being — with the exception of a disappointed Gullet, who attaches himself to the bogatyrs again.

The three then turn their attention to the problem of feeding the immense refugees. The giant catfish that drew the river-barge Mistress Angekka come to mind; there are reputedly other great river cats in the water. Anfisa volunteers to rally the local fisherfolk to make nets; Gena offers to return to the ogre camp to help keep them reassured; and Kazimeer resolves to help get a message sped even more quickly to the Tsaritsa.

Gennadiy takes Gullet with him into the ogre camp, hoping that the belligerent wolverine will be less trouble if he’s not left to his own devices. He asks the Blue Scars to tell the story of their travel. The ogres describe a winter much harsher in the mountains than it is in Miska. Ordinarily they rely on a herd of caribou that passed through the area this time of year, but the herd never arrived this season. When they send hunters out to search for signs, they found the herd slaughtered — and the bodies poisoned. Gennadiy nods solemnly and says that it sounds like the work of those in service to the Ruin.

“We can’t fight the dragon,” Gristlehammer says ruefully.

“Nobody can fight alone.”

Anfisa moves among the fisherfolk of Schuka, rounding up everyone she can find who is too nervous about the ogres to sleep. They gather materials for great nets, and Anfisa joins in the hours of net-weaving.

Kazimeer travels to the guest quarters of the sorcerer Holak. Holak has, of course, heard of the ogrish presence outside, and he worries about the potential chaos. Kazimeer asks if there’s any way Holak could help get a message to Tsaritsa Silverchild. Holak produces a few sheets of paper, which he explains are enchanted messages he uses to communicate with Alsvedun the Magnificent. He doesn’t have very many, but he could perhaps spare one — in exchange, if possible, for the opportunity to ask a question of the Whispering Book. Kazimeer agrees, and Holak instructs him in the use of the paper. Once the letter is written, the sheet of paper folds itself into the form of a sparrow, and flies out the window for High Miska.

The nets are finally done in the hour before the sky begins to lighten in the east. At the same time that Anfisa is making her way back to the ogre camp, an ogre makes an unwise decision. A young tribesman, too hungry to think straight, creeps up on Gullet and attempts to steal away the small animal. Gullet immediately bites into the ogre’s hand, and holds on even as the shrieking nine-foot brute thrashes madly about. Chaos breaks out in the camp. Gena attempts to intervene and is elbowed directly in the eyes. He falls supine and stares at the lightening sky for a few minutes, watching a shaken-loose Gullet fly overhead, a blood trail behind him.

Anfisa and Kazimeer arrive to the camp in chaos and swiftly intervene. While Kazimeer throws out a vision of dancing lights to distract the Blue Scars, Anfisa cuts off Gullet’s rampage of vengeance and sends him back to the inn with a threat of “or no fishguts for you!” Gena and Anfisa are able to then recover the ogres’ focus, reminding them of the danger of incidents involving the talking beasts. They recruit some of the strongest and heartiest to aid them, and then the bogatyrs lead their impromptu fishing expedition to the river.

They travel a little ways downriver, trying to avoid the Schukans’ traditional fishing territory. Gena takes a boat out into the river with one side of the net while Anfisa and the ogres take the other side on the shore. They place a line around Kazimeer’s waist, and the starmetal sorcerer walks directly into the river.

Soon Kazimeer has found their first potential catch. The catfish is the size of an ox-drawn cart, but Kazimeer sends it into a deep slumber with a single spell. The ogres’ inexperience and lack of dexterity makes them not as much of a help as hoped, and it takes a heroic effort from Anfisa and Gennadiy to eventually get the sleeping catfish onto the shore. The ogres quickly set to butchering the immense fish, furtively stealing a few mouthfuls when they can get away with it.

The sky is lighter when Kazimeer finds a second giant catfish, which is less torporous. It swims directly for him, but he swiftly puts it to sleep as he had the first. Again it’s a painful process dragging it to shore, but Anfisa distinguishes herself. The second catfish is likewise butchered, and between the two, there is enough meat to heavily laden the sledges the fishing party brought. They drag the meat all the way back to the ogres’ camp, to one of the heartiest and crudest displays of joy the bogatyrs have seen.

The ogres’ feast lasts for hours, and is a mess from top to bottom. But once the refugees have food in their bellies, they settle down and display great gratitude. Brutzin Gristlehammer pledges that his people will be good as they wait for the tsaritsa.

Exhausted and muddy and splattered with fish blood, the three bogatyrs return to Boyar Ulgradov. The elderly boyar is utterly delighted with their success in pacifying the ogre refugees, and reveals that he received a communication from the Tsaritsa less than an hour ago. Tsaritsa Kascha Silverchild has agreed to aid the Blue Scars, and forces will arrive to escort them to High Miska. That task accomplished, the bogatyrs decide to find Mika and determine their next steps.



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