If you missed part 1, it's here.
Wolfgang & Salamatu
Chapter 1: The Hunt (Part 2)
Time passes. Lunch is taken, and the courtiers’ spirits revived. The dogs lap at the water and play, slowly getting their energy back. The hunt begins gradually to revive itself. At length the King stands and belches, takes one last swig from a flagon of ale that one of his minions has produced from somewhere or other, and announces that it’s time--at last--to hunt some boar.
The hunt remounts, and the dogs are released. They spend some time searching and then seem to come upon the scent. They bound as one deeper into the woods, crazy with canine enthusiasm, and the party follows swiftly. A horn is blown. Boar is sighted--or at least the signs of boar. Wolfgang neither knows nor cares which because he has let the hunt leave him behind. The King has made his point, and Wolfgang has allowed himself to be seen in conversation with his liege. Honor is served. The actual mechanics of the hunt do not interest him, nor does he think his absence will be noted by lords whose Houses make House Amadeus look like a smallish visitor’s chateau.
Off to one side, Wolfgang sees Salamatu sitting with the large wolfhound he’d noticed before, gently scratching the beast’s ears. The hound itself is enormous. It looks a little like a shepherd but has longer hair, most of which is blonde, and it is as large as a fully grown mastiff. Like Wolfgang, Salamatu seems to care little for the actual hunt. She and her dog have both reclined on a rock that overlooks a short cliff behind them. Her horse is tethered nearby. The three together seem relaxed and content as they soak up the shade provided by a stand of beech and maple trees. The trees give way at the edge of the embankment, allowing an overlook view of the valley below. Despite the view, Salamatu seems only to have eyes for her dog.
Wolfgang finds himself stammering for something to say. “That is a, uh, very nice hound you have there. I saw you with him before, but I didn’t notice him back at the grove. Is he yours, or did you somehow charm him as we were riding up from the valley?”
Salamatu turns and looks at Wolfgang appraisingly, and for a moment, he wonders if he has made a mistake. Then she closes her eyes and leans back against the rock once more. “This is Zen. He’s… well, I guess you might say he’s my partner. He’s not real fond of crowds, though, which is why I left him alone when I went into the grove.” She sits up and eyes the dog. “Go say hello to Wolfgang, Zen.”
Zen turns and pads forward. Wolfgang can see both intelligence and a certain warriness in the dog’s gaze. Wolfgang forces himself to hold still and stay calm. Zen must weigh a hundred pounds at least, and he looks as though he can tear through a man’s arm in an instant. He looks like he might want to. Still, Wolfgang holds out a hand, hoping he appears more confident than he feels. Salamatu would never allow the dog to attack, surely? Zen pads forwards again, and Wolfgang goes to meet him--until suddenly the dog starts growling.
It is the only reason that any of them survive.
Wolfgang looks up in time to see a great hairy arm begin crashing down through the trees, and then he is leaping forward, crashing into and through Salamatu, carrying them both in a heap down into the stream bed below. Salamatu shrieks and tries to push Wolfgang away, but they slam hopelessly off-balance into the water beneath, and everything becomes a muddy tangle. Wolfgang rolls and turns, scrambling to his feet, trying to put himself between Salamatu and whatever it is that has just burst into the clearing. He reaches across and drags Commitment clear of its scabbard. A syllable of the ancient language of dragons passes his lips, and his power surges, wreathing his blade in deadly green flame.
The beast is standing there--hulking--fully fifteen feet tall and monstrously misproportioned. It is grey skinned and hairy, grotesquely male, and it’s eyes buldge yellow from beneath the massive prominontory of its enormously sloped skull. Long monkey-like arms hang down from inhumanly broad shoulders, both arms and shoulders rippling with muscle and vein. Salamatu’s horse screams and rears, and one of the troll’s great hairy hands closes around its head and neck, sending the horse into a fit of panicked spasms. The troll growls as it pulls itself fully over the embankment, and the sound is like rock grinding at the base of a dwarven mine.
Wolfgang cries out in defiance, traces a sigil in the air, and speaks another word of power. Thunder cracks and detonates, exploding in the troll’s face and pushing it back. Salamatu’s horse screams, stumbles, and goes down, but the troll doesn’t seem to notice. It turns to face Wolfgang. Its eyes narrow as if it has only just noticed him. It lets out a bellowing war cry. Despite himself, Wolfgang falls back a step.
As Wolfgang was dressing this morning, he thought briefly of his father. In deference to the heat, Wolfgang chose a loose cotton tunic and vest, knowing as he did so that his father would be rolling in his grave. Sir Anston Amadeus would not have approved. He would have insisted on combat leathers at least for a ride outside the city walls. “Chainmail would be better.” Wolfgang can hear it as though his father is standing there, speaking to him now. “Wearing it is good practice, and besides, a gentleman should be prepared for anything.”
Right as usual, Father.
For better or worse, though, Wolfgang and his father are not exactly the same kind of man. Sir Anston fought his battles with strength and skill and steel. He possessed all three in rare abundance. He was an armor-clad rock at Gaevin’s Grove and on a hundred other fields besides, turning battles with the physical strength of his arm and his out-sized personal magnetism. Compared to Sir Anston’s cold steel competence, Wolfgang is a boy playing a sport meant for men. Nevertheless, Wolfgang is all that’s left to stand for House Amadeus. His skills are not his father’s, but he is far from helpless.
Wolfgang traces a sigil for protection in the air with the first two fingers of his off-hand. He speaks another word of power in the ancient language of dragons, and the sigil bursts to glittering life, becoming an eldritch shield as strong and steady as any creation forged of oak and steel. In his other hand, he can feel Commitment’s anticipation for the coming fight.
“Come on then, ugly. What have you got for me?”
The troll surges forward, one arm lashing down, claws extended for a death-strike. Wolfgang pivots, blocks with his shield, and is thrown back by the force of the blow. He stumbles, tries to riposte and catches the claws of the troll’s hand with Commitment as it’s coming in for a follow-on strike. There is a sizzle, and the troll screams, swinging wildly with its other hand. Wolfgang again moves to block, but this time the troll connects solidly with the sigil-shield, launching Wolfgang bodily across the little clearing. He smacks his head against a tree trunk and loses an instant as sparks fly across his vision. Then the troll is upon him, bellowing again, both hands coming in to tear his head from his shoulders. Wolfgang has a final moment to be thankful that his lack of chainmail has not been the difference between life and death.
The troll stumbles and goes down to one knee before it can follow through. The hesitation is momentary, but it is enough to allow Wolfgang to roll away. Wolfgang gets back to his feet, looks, and sees that the troll has a pair of arrows in its right calf, that this is why it stumbled. Behind it, Salamatu is pulling another arrow from her quiver, knocking it to her bowstring, and drawing for another shot. She lets fly and takes the troll through the shoulder, again on the right side. Only then does Wolfgang realize that he’s lost concentration on his Shield of Warding. The spell shield has disintegrates; he’ll have to finish the fight with nothing more protective than his favorite cotton vest.
Looks like I should’a worn that chainmail after all, Father.
Salamatu draws again, but by now the troll has turned to face her. It will take two long strides, and then she’s finished. No archer can face a troll in close combat and live. Wolfgang sees the troll struggle to its feet, and he can feel its rage like a palpable force. Then he’s diving forward, Commitment held in a reverse grip. The blade slams down, takes the troll fully through the back of its calf, green flames surging and sizzling with the smell of burnt meat. The troll bellows and whirls, mindlessly backhands Wolfgang away, but still the damage is done. Salamatu’s next arrow takes the beast through the neck. It stumbles. Wolfgang is slow to get back to his feet this time, but when he calls for it, Commitment comes flying back to his hand. His other hand comes up, two fingers extended, and he is about to trace a sigil that will call down a bolt from Zeus when he hears a horn bellow.
The hunt has returned.
The King sits on his charger, somehow already wearing the royal breastplate, and even as Wolfgang watches, a pair of pages run forward with His Grace’s lance and helm. The King grabs the helm impatiently, slaps it down onto his head and slides the visor into place. His lance settles into the crook of his arm like a fitted piece, and then he sets spurs to his horse’s flanks.
Wolfgang can only stare. The glory of the kill will go to the King.