The Howl of the Carrion King
Bree awoke that night to the sound of an eerie howling.
“What was that?” she asked Trevvis, who lay naked beside her.
He groaned. “What was what, Star Flower?
He frowned and rolled over, turning his back to her. “There’s howling every night.”
She sat up as another loud howl pierced the night sending a shiver up her spine. She frowned. “And you don’t care what it is?”
“We’re in gnoll lands, Star Flower. There is always howling.”
Bree shook her head and stood up, pulling on her pants, boots and a loose blouse which still possessed a few buttons. “Not like this,” she replied, but Trevvis had already fallen back asleep.
She left the room, walking quickly past the cloister walk, through the ruined nave, and out into the cool, dark night.
Dashki sat outside, taking his turn on watch. His head was tilted slightly and his eyes were closed.
“What is it?” Bree asked him.
He gazed at her, his eyes almost reflective in the moonlight, and licked his lips. “That is the howl of the Carrion King.”
“The Carrion King?”
“He is a brutish gnoll who united a great deal of tribes under his banner. They say he leads them from somewhere within the Brazen Peaks.”
“And it’s his gnolls who are in Kelmarane?”
“So it seems.”
“Do you know what they are saying?”
“Conversation doesn’t travel over such long distances, only the noise itself.”
“Then why call out each night?”
“He’s checking. Making sure his forces still live, and still obey.”
Bree nodded. It made sense. “Are all the gnolls in the region under his control?”
Dashki frowned. “Yes, though it was not always so. The Three Jaws Tribe is one who chafes under his rule, though they flourish under him all the same. He also controls the Al’Chorhaiv, the Circle and the Wormhollow gnolls as well as many small bands of raiders.”
“How do you know so much about the gnolls of the Brazen Peaks?” Bree asked after a moment. “I thought you were from Solku.”
He frowned and gritted his teeth. “You think I would have come this far into gnoll lands without knowing their affiliations?”
“No, I just – “
“Just thought I was stupid?”
Dashki snorted. “You mock me.”
Bree got up and turned to leave. “Never mind.” There was plenty of better company.
“Tell your friend to stay away from the Princess.”
Bree smiled. “Jealous, Dashki?”
He stood up, turned to her and stepped within arms reach. “There are not many women on this caravan.” He sneered and grabbed her by the wrist. “It would be in your best interest to see the Princess unattached.”
“Let go of me, Dashki, or you will regret it.”
“Oh, your man will come save you? He snores so loud not even your screams would wake him.”
Bree tore her wrist from his grip and punched him in the face, sending Dashki sprawling to the ground. “Keep your hands off of me,” she spat.
He growled, but did not make a move against her. She turned and headed back inside.
“Keep down your braying tonight, woman, else I might take it as an invitation,” Dashki called at her as she walked away.
She scowled, but didn’t respond. That was the last time she would bother trying to be nice to him. The dog. She stalked away angrily, cursing under her breath.
“Hey, Bree!” Santon called to her, as she passed through the cloister walk. He was wearing only loose linen pants and was coated with sweat. “I didn’t think I’d see you up so late. Fighting with Trevvis?”
Bree shook her head. “Fighting with Dashki.”
Santon smiled. “Isn’t everyone?”
Bree’s frown lessened. “I suppose. What are you doing walking around so late? Did Almah get sick of you already?”
“Our business was concluded.”
Bree scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Excuse me?”
“I told you it was strictly business.”
Bree frowned in disbelief. “I’m sure.”
He shrugged. “Best not besmirch the reputation of our employer.” he said with a wink.
Bree scoffed. “Oh yes, because everyone will believe you were alone with Almah, until late at night, talking business.”
“I also read her fortune.”
Bree laughed. “Really? From what, the tone of her grunting?”
“Well, aren’t you crude this evening!” he chuckled. “But, if you must know I read her palm.”
“Really?” Bree asked in disbelief. “What did it say?”
Santon shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Bree laughed again, “So she kicked you out for being a fraud?”
He smiled. “No. I left.”
Bree raised an eyebrow in shock. “You left? By choice?”
“Yeah, I figured Garavel would like to sleep in his room, instead of in the hall.”
“How kind of you,” she said sarcastically. “I’m sure he was thrilled.”
“Hey!” Santon protested. “I’m a nice guy!”
Bree rolled her eyes. “Sure you are.”
Santon reached out a hand, touched the top of her head, and messed up her hair. “Aren’t you sweet?” he taunted.
She frowned. “Cut it out!”
“Oh, I almost forgot!” He dug into his pocket and pulling out two items. “These are for you.”
Bree opened her hand and accepted a tiny box, no more than the size of her fingernail, hanging on a leather cord, and a silver ring shaped like a wreath of feathers. “You’re giving me a ring?”
Santon laughed. “There were some items around here that we couldn’t find a home for. They didn’t belong in any of the graves, or in the chapel. This is your share. Nes says the box is some kind of relic dedicated to that Lucky Drunk of yours, and the ring can protect you from harm when you fall.”
“When I fall?”
“For next time you decide to take a dive from the rafters.”
“Keep the ring, Santon.”
Santon shook his head. “It’s yours.”
“You almost died when you fell, not me.”
“Only cause I broke your fall.”
“Just keep it. You’re a drunken preacher. You’ll need it more than I do.”
“Fine, fine. Just be sure to get some sleep tonight, we’ve got lots of work ahead of us tomorrow.”
Bree snorted. “You should take your own advice.”
Santon sighed. “It’s hard to be as in demand as myself. But, I think I’m done with women tonight.”
“I’m sure Brotis will have something else to say about that.”
“She can say all she wants. I’m going to sleep.”
Bree laughed as she entered her room. “Good luck.”
Santon chuckled before disappearing behind a wall. “I mean it! I’ll go sleep by the camels if I have to.”
Bree shook her head and slipped into bed beside Trevvis.
Through the walls she heard Brotis complain. “What were you doing up with her?”
“Oh, quiet, Brotis, we were just talking.”
“Well, I’m talking to you now, don’t roll over!”
“I’m going to sleep, Brotis.”
“I’m not finished with you,” Brotis purred.
Bree covered her ears. Ugh. She didn’t need to hear this!
“Haven’t you had enough, yet? I heard you all night with the guards.”
“You mean while you were with that rich whore?”
“Okay, Brotis. I’m done.”
“Where are you going?”
“Away. I’m going away. To sleep.”
Through the walls Bree heard Santon get up, and Brotis follow.
“You’re going to her, aren’t you?”
“Honestly, I was going to see Dashki, since he’s the only man you won’t spend time with.”
“Well, maybe I will.”
“As you wish,” Santon said with a laugh. Bree saw him stalk angrily across the cloister walk from her bedroll.
“Just let him go,” Utarchus groaned. “You’re keeping everyone up.”
Beside Bree, Trevvis started snoring – a jarring sound like a rumbling storm that easily drowned out Brotis’ complaining – and, for the first time, Bree was thankful. She smiled and slowly drifted off to sleep.