‘Wyatt’s band were cornered’ said Fllegm. ‘Only the five remained, and barely so. Their armour worn and broken, their swords danced and chimed to bluntness, their bones weary, yet they remained resilient, shields raised high and feet pressed firmly into the blood-soaked footholds of the cliff edge. To their backs, the deathly drop into the storm swelling waves of the tyrant’s sea; to their front, the fearsome colossus Braegar Bluetail making his steady, implacable approach.’
‘Roar’ said Kezra. ‘I’m cornering you!’
It wasn’t the correct line. Mrs Grinn saw Fllegm tighten his grip on his sword and frown. Beccus shot him a warning look, to which he reluctantly shook himself back into character.
‘It was in that moment that Sir Wyatt spotted his satchel, strewn on the ground beyond the wyvern’s feet. He counted his blessings, that despite his horse’s demise, the load it had carried still somehow remained.
‘Lady Dran’ hollered Fllegm in the voice of the heroic wyvern-slayer. ‘The sedatives!’
‘I see it Sir Wyatt!’ said Beccus. ‘But I can discern no way to pass without the dragon seeing me.’
‘Then we will keep it from doing so. Sir Liddle!’
‘Leave it to me!’ shouted Kenneth.
‘Using the skills gained during years raised as a circus acrobat, the youngest of Wyatt’s men leaped onto the highest ridge of the cliff with grace close to that of a leopard.’
Kenneth eased himself onto the low wall belly first. From this prone position, he was unable to swing his legs over to find any purchase. He flapped his arms like a lame goose, stuck to the ridge of the wall by his armour. With a steady rocking motion, he levered himself off back onto the floor. He took a moment to stretch his limbs and assess how best to climb up. A few feet away, Kezra waited patiently. Turning around, the old knight perched his rear on the wall then brought his knees up gently. Squatting for longer than Mrs Grinn thought necessary or comfortable, he eventually found he could lean on the higher section of the wall to straighten out again. He was about a third of the way up the wall he needed to climb before he held his hand out to show he needed a breather.
‘I can help you up if you like’ offered Kezra as herself.
‘No, no’ said Kenneth. ‘Just a little steeper than I thought it would be. I can do it.’
‘Let’s just say that’s high enough, yes?’ said Fllegm. The inflexion on the words inferred that it was intended to be empathetic, but the tension in his throat made it into something more abrasive. ‘Just say the line please.’
Just a moment, mouthed Kenneth, leaning over with his hands on his thighs. Beccus prepared to run, just waiting for her queue. ‘Over here you great brute’ the knight yelled once upright again. ‘Try and get me if you think you’re fast enough!’
‘Gar! Oh no’ snarled Kezra. ‘I’ve been distracted.’
Beccus sprinted towards the bag behind the hobbling dragon’s feet. Snatching it up mid-run she dived behind a rock, cradling it to her front.
‘Despite Sir Liddle’s unparalleled agility, he could do naught to avoid Bragaer’s swinging tail, which caught the boy on the side, casting him dead to the rocks below.’
‘Thwack’ said Kezra nudging Kenneth with her dip-died tail. Kenneth unsteadily feigned his own death then hobbled down the side of the wall, out of view. Kezra giggled to herself and stomped her feet in glee.
‘However, the young acrobat’s demise was not in vain, for in his sacrifice he had given his mentor Lady Dran enough time to retrieve the bag. The weathered swordsmith darted to a hiding spot amongst the rocks, shedding a single tear for her young apprentice, but in doing so, missing the best opportunity to re-join her group. To her dismay, Braegar had turned his attention back to her.’
‘Aha!’ said Kezra. ‘Now I’m going to squish you.’
‘Sir Wyatt!’ With the end of the strap in her hand Beccus swung the bag around her like a hammer and launched it directly to the space ten feet to the left of the rest of the party. In that moment, her whole body visibly cringed. She squeezed her elbows into her sides as the bag sank beyond the edge. Hoping that Kezra was too focused on her own role to notice, Mrs Grinn twirled the wands of winds concealed in her sleeve, encouraging the bag to veer around and up level of the cliff just enough so that Olen could lean over and snatch it from the air.
‘And squish!’ said Kezra, bringing her wing down slowly onto the armoured woman. Beccus splatted onto the rocks dramatically.
Olen slung the strap of the bag over her shoulders, making the satchel look as small as a bum-bag. She half-smiled at the witch and the bard. The next turn to ‘die’ was hers. As Kezra turned to face the three last survivors, Mrs Grinn, flashed her sight towards Beccus, making sure she had rolled out of sight of the dragon just as Kenneth had done. Three to go. Almost There.
‘The sleeping potions are back in our possession’ said Mrs Grinn as Wyatt’s advisor Sir Brynn. ‘We have a chance!’
‘The time is now’ said Fllegm as Wyatt. ‘At arms men! Charge!’
They charged forwards, swords raised and roaring and all in slow-motion (Fllegm’s next line was a fairly long one and they didn’t have that much ground to cover).
‘Seeing that this would be the only chance they had left, Sir Wyatt and his last two men surged forwards to meet the dragon in one last epic clash of swords and scale. Wyatt’s second-in-command Sir Pan ducked under the wyverns swinging claw, but the wise Sir Brynn was not so agile, his previous injuries hindering his reflexes. And so, that last connection Sir Wyatt had to his father was cast against the rocks, his back broken in twain. Seizing the opportunity, Sir Pan dived through the…’
‘Right’ said Mrs Grinn ushering Kenneth and Beccus behind a wall. Now that Sir Brynn was slain, the witch was free to set-up the next part of the plan. She funnelled them through a low archway bristled with roots and damp soil leading them to a ridge of underbrush that laced the base of the castle structure. They pressed through the thicket cautiously as to not let their armour clatter against the jutting stones and reaching branches. Mrs Grinn held her hand out so that the pair following her paused. Through a hole in a sunken wall they watched as Kezra lifted her head high with parts of Olen sticking out either side of her mouth. The dangling torso of the orc spotted them and gave them a thumbs up.
‘Upon devouring Sir Pod, the great Braegar was unaware he had at the same time swallowed a pouch containing one of the most powerful sedatives Urph has ever known.’
‘Oh mo!’ said Kezra through a mouthful of orc. ‘I’be swawwow beh pohshum.’
‘Put me down Kezra’ gasped Olen. ‘Put me down, then say your line.’
The dragon’s head disappeared from view and Mrs Grinn hurried her group down a cluster of broken steps that flanked the cliff edge. Where the steps once led had been lost to the ageing of stone and the wrath of storms, instead, there was nothing but long drop into the sea below.
‘Here’s good’ said Mrs Grinn.
‘Here?’ asked Kenneth. ‘Are you sure there’re no rocks down there?’
‘Yes, I’m sure’ said Mrs Grinn with what she hoped was conviction. ‘Sure as Urph is round.’
‘Yeah, at least I’m pretty sure it is. Travel far enough and you start seeing the same thing over and over. What else could it be?’
‘You could have a wheel on the piss’ suggested Beccus.
Mrs Grinn paused and considered this. She gazed down the sheer drop into the crashing waves below, rethinking a little.
‘Okay, I’m less certain of the round Urph thing now, but you can trust me on the no rocks thing. Anyway, it’s only a worst-case scenario that we’ll need to jump. Now take off your armour, it’ll drag you under if you keep it on. I’ll fetch the others.’
The witch climbed back up the bluff, leaving them with an assumption that they would be wise enough to follow her advice. When she came out from under the archway, Olen was waiting, clutching her chest. Her breastplate had been crimped like pastry, making her armour look more like a sweet wrapper than wrought steel.
‘How’s it going?’ she asked the orc. ‘Is Kezra asleep yet?’
‘Erm, sort of’ said Olen. ‘You may want to see it for yourself, the wyvern-slayer’s having a bit of difficulty back there.’
‘Right’ said Mrs Grinn. ‘Follow the path down that way, then follow the stairs. I’ll see what I can do.’
‘Hey witch’ said the orc grabbing her arm before she could pass. Olen brought her head close to the witch’s ear, almost as if to whisper a secret. ‘If it comes about that Fllegm has to sacrifice himself for our survival, tell him that we’ll dedicate plays in his name.’
‘That’s very sweet of you’ said the witch. ‘But hopefully we shan’t need to.’
‘Oh, I don’t think any of us will actually write anything, we’ve got our own lives to get back to, but the idea of it might push him to martyrdom, and if that martyrdom gives the rest of us a better chance of it then I’d say that’s a win-win.’
‘Glad to see you’ve warmed to each-other over the years of imprisonment.’
‘Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish bad of him’ said the orc waving her hands in dismissal. ‘I’d consider him a friend and he at least deserves a noble death. But he’s an actor, you know, this is probably the best chance he’s gonna get for it.’
‘Just go’ said the witch. Olen shot her a pair of thumbs-up and stooped into the thicket.
The witch prepped her wind-staff and peered through an arrowslit in the wall. Fllegm was standing over the head of the dragon, his sword raised to kill but frozen in place. At first, Mrs Grinn couldn’t fathom why Fllegm hadn’t yet taken the plunge. One quick motion would free them all from servitude. Then she saw it. The dragon was shaking, her tail twisting to and fro, curling up like a clench fist. She appeared to be struggling to breathe, to be choking…
No. She was laughing.
‘Kezra,’ said Fllegm through gritted teeth, ‘you’re breaking character.’
‘I’m sorry’ chuckled the dragon with her eyes pursed closed. ‘I can’t help it.’
‘Breagar Bluetail wouldn’t be laughing at this point, would he? He would be unconscious and still.’
‘I’m just nervous. Give me a second. I can stop, I can stop.’
The dragon settled. Fllegm raised his blade. The dragon then snorted fire and erupted into an even more rambunctious cackle.
‘Kezra seriously’ shouted Fllegm. ‘I can’t kill… I can’t kill you when you’re chuckling.’
‘Sorry! Sorry! I’ve just never been on stage before. I can do it, give me a sec.’
‘Kezra’ called out Mrs Grinn softly as she crept out from behind the wall. ‘Take a deep breath in, then just pretend you’re alone on a giant dragon-shaped mattress. Yeah?’
‘Ooh, I’d love a dragon-shaped mattress’ purred Kezra with her eyes still closed. ‘Can it have a bed-stand shaped like dragon wings?’
‘Whatever you like.’
‘And dragon-scale patterns on the underside of the duvet and pillowcases?’
‘Yes, that too.’
‘And can it have dragon for ‘Kezra, the mighty’ emblazoned on the sides?’
‘It’s your imaginary bed Kezra, however you imagine it, that’s how it is.’
The dragon took a long inhalation of air and then slowly slumped to the ground. This time, she stayed still, almost as if she were already dead. Fllegm raised is sword again. Even the wind calmed, (though that may have been due to Mrs Grinn’s subtle attempt to still the waves below with her staff). Time seemed to stop still. Then it kept on being still. And then remained still for a few seconds more than was appropriate. Fllegm turned to the witch like a child lost at the market looking for their mother, his blade still in the air.
‘What are you doing?’ mouthed Mrs Grinn.
'I can’t do it’ he mouthed back. ‘She’s too pure.’
‘She kidnapped you and held you prisoner!’
‘She didn’t mean to. She doesn’t realise that she hurts people.’
‘Do you think Five-Armed-Tim would agree with that sentiment.’
‘Probably not, no.’ He bit his lip. His eyes were so wide it looked as if his eyeballs were wanting to escape from his face and his squinting brow and cheeks were doing all they could to keep them in. ‘Oh, sod it!’
He plunged his sword down. Any remaining tension in the dragon’s body slowly went limp and the steady motion of her heaving chest emptied its last breath. Fllegm didn’t stay before the dragon any longer. He turned away refusing to look at her, his bottom lip creeping up over his mouth, shaking so much he almost tripped.
Mrs Grinn gave him a sympathetic nod.
Fllegm replied with an exhortatory shake.
Mrs Grinn raised an uneasy brow.
Fllegm returned an apologetic cringe.
His sword was clean of blood, Mrs Grinn realised, and beyond him as he hopped down the ridge, the witch took notice of the dragon feigning her own death, her tongue sagging out of her gaping mouth…
…and her eyes wide open. Kezra raised her head, her spiny brow ridged with puzzlement.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Kezra, the confusion stricken on her elongated face.
‘Um,’ Fllegm hunched his shoulders and froze like a schoolkid, caught passing notes in class, ‘Kezra, Braegar is supposed to be dead right now. Your eyes should be closed.’
‘Dragons die with their eyes open, everyone knows that’ she said. ‘Why are you sneaking away?’
‘I’m not sneaking. I was simply, no, I was simply about to gather stones to make a cairn for the fallen warriors, yes, a monument to their sacrifice. Anyway, Braegar wasn’t a dragon, was he? Braegar was a wyvern. And wyverns die with their eyes shut.’
‘I don’t know why that would be the case, dragons and wyverns both have the same heritage, we all die in the same way. And why would you build a cairn? That’s not historically accurate at all! Hey, where is everyone anyway?’
‘We’ll promise to write songs about your sacrifice Fllegm!’ yelled Mrs Grinn as she darted down through the sinking archway.
‘The hell you will! If anyone’s gonna write songs about me, it’s going to be – Argh!’ Fllegm’s last word was cut off as a fireball burst through the wall beside him, scattering the ancient cobbles like packing foam. Trusting that the bard was able to keep himself safe, the witch tumbled through the thicket, letting the momentum of the slope carry her and hoping to the gods that her feet would be quick and nimble enough to keep her going. Grasping roots snagged on her armour twisting her torso side to side. She heard stone grumbling as something leaped onto the high wall beside her. Loose bricks toppled down across the path and bouncing off the witch’s helm. There was a sudden wave of heat from above as Kezra blazed fire across the underbrush. Mrs Grinn daren’t look to see how close it had come. She slid down an earthy bank on her bottom and dropped onto the stairs below.
‘Worst case scenario?’ asked Olen as the witch landed in a heap.
‘Yup, in the drink we go!’ said the witch, tearing off whatever armour she could remove quickly, rolling back and forth on the floor.
‘Your hair’s a bit on fire’ said Beccus.
‘Separate problem, same solution’ said Mrs Grinn, her breastplate now removed and taking Kenneth’s hand to help her up to her feet. ‘There we go, all together now. Five… Four…’
A flaming bard bulleted past them and flew off the cliff.
‘I guess now!’ she yelled, and they leaped off the edge.
There was a lot of screaming and a face-full of wind and then they were suddenly all wet. Mrs Grinn breached through from the underside of the water with a gasp and span her head around to count her companions. One orc, one bard, one lady, one old man. Good. She drew her staff and pointed the end of it down, forcing a dome of wind into the surface. A basin of air stretched and grew in the water, drawing the party together by the slope of it. They sank down in the breathable pocket, and above them, at the speed of sinking rock, the water closed in over the dome, leaving them enclosed in the bubble. The sound of crackling fire and crashing stone was cut off into a low rumble.
They drew no words, only haggard glances at one another as they treaded water at the base of the bubble. Olen held onto Fllegm to help him fight against the weight of the armour he carried. The water around him billowed up as steam. The pocket of sunlight refracted and spread into the ripples of the waves above. Finally, after a lot of nothing, they came to rest at the base of the cliff. They collapsed and sat down on whatever rocks or sand dune would allow them.
‘So, what happened there Fllegm?’ asked Olen, rubbing the bruises on her chest. ‘I’m assuming you didn’t kill her then.’
‘She was being all endearing; I just couldn’t do it’ said Fllegm, his face as pale grey as the stones they sat on. ‘So, I stage-stabbed her and hoped she’d play dead long enough for me to sneak away.’
‘Well that’s idiotic of you’ snapped Kenneth. ‘Everyone knows that dragons die with their eyes open.’
‘I am aware now Kenneth, thank you.’
The distant rumbling of the enraged dragon subsided into the dull pressure of water. Olen took the bottle from her satchel and watched the faux sleeping draught drift out from the top and splash up into the ceiling. A crab scuttled past them like everything was normal.
‘How long are we to wait down here?’ asked Beccus.
‘Until we, know for sure that Kezra has left’ said Mrs Grinn. ‘Or until we’re about to run out of air.’
‘And how long will that be?’ asked Beccus.
Mrs Grinn shrugged. ‘Never had to worry about it before. Guess we’ll find out.’
They heard the underside of a distant and substantial displacement of water. The edge of the bubble rippled. Fllegm watched the crab turn face and speed off in the opposite direction that it had come in from, pursing through the water’s edge like it was a veil. There was nothing to do. They had no weapons any longer; they had either been thrown while jumping or dropped while treading water.
‘Guess she knows more or less where we’re hiding’ said Olen.
A dark shape approached from beyond the smoky blue. Mrs Grinn tightened her grip on her wind staff wondering how on Urph she was going to use it in any way that could hold back a fully-grown dragon. The idea would come to her in time. It was odd, maybe it was because Kezra’s forelegs were still wrapped up in a harness but the shape of her looked rather like something else…
‘My gods’ exclaimed Kenneth. ‘It can’t be.’
Mrs Grinn’s wagon trundled to a stop with the front door pursing through the bubble’s edge. Nobody spoke. The handle turned.
‘Hey guys!’ said Torra, swinging the door open. ‘Guess what I found.’
Everyone cheered in joy, albeit very quietly, just in case the dragon was within earshot. The cat Mrs Berrit snuck past the dwarf girl’s legs to greet her old friend but then saw all the water and hissed back into the wagon. The witch hurried them all inside while they expressed their thanks to one another.
I was very bored exclaimed Mrs Berrit silently once the door was closed, as if it was the witch’s fault she had nothing to do for the past few days.
‘You were the one who let me be picked up by a dragon’ pointed out Mrs Grinn.
Again, I was very bored. She hopped up onto the counter and proceeded to tear apart Mrs Grinn’s favourite tablecloth. A project she appeared to have been working on for some time now.
Once the door was sealed with a special paste Mrs Grinn took the compass the dwarf girl passed to her and directed the carriage out into the deeper parts of the sea, hopefully away from where the dragon would be searching for them. Torra gave each of the party a towel and a cup of tea to help with the cold of their clothes. The erstwhile property of the great Kezra chose wisely to spend their first hours of freedom staring out into the abyss and thinking of nothing for a while. Mrs Grinn left them in Torra’s care and ambled over to Mrs Berrit, feigning heading in that direction for something else.
‘Look you’ she said to the cat while she re-stacked shelves. ‘I’m sorry I called you names. You’re a big help, now and again, I should show you more appreciation. You saved my arse more than a few times at this point.’
She looked over her shoulders to see the cat’s response. Mrs Berrit was playing with a crab that had grievously followed them into the wagon, seemingly ignoring her.
‘Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me. This is normally the point where you also apologise for the bad stuff you’ve done, so we’re on the same page.’
It normally would be, yes agreed the cat. She said no more. The crab’s claw was torn off in her jaws.
‘Look Bea, we’re not going to resolve anything if we don’t talk.’
Edwina dear, I’m torturing a crab right now. I get you’re depressed, or something, I’m not really paying attention. What do you want?
‘Doesn’t matter’ Mrs Grinn sighed. ‘You play with your crab.’
The witch returned to organising her scattered and broken possessions, trying in whatever way she could to finally impose some sort of system. Wands, in this cupboard, apothecary materials in this one, staffs in the wardrobe…
A scruff of fur passed along her front. Mrs Berrit looked up at her from the countertop, her wayward eyes directed over either shoulder. The cat dropped the carapace of the creature along in front of the witch.
She then hopped down and away into the storeroom.
Mrs Grinn smiled. This was as much of an apology that could be ever expected from Mrs Berrit. An equivalent measure for the ordinary person would be along the levels of loaning a kidney. Such gifts were few and far between, even if they weren’t that great of a gift in and of themselves. From the other room she heard the involuntary theatre troop plan how they were going to tell this tale, what details were to be left out and what others were going to be embellished. She picked up the crab in front of her and studied it.
It could make a good pencil organiser… maybe.
Written by Calvin Lowe
Concepts and ideas from the collective consciousness of Alastair Fleming and Calvin Lowe
But then, there was an epilogue...
Kezra was lying on her back in the wet part of her home, where the rain pooled under the crack in the cavern, trying her best to fathom what had just happened. The most she could come up with was that they had somehow outsmarted her. However, it was well-known that dragons were too inherently clever to be outsmarted, so this couldn’t be the case at all.
She gnashed her teeth on an interesting tree she had picked up on the flight back, tearing its pretty white bark off in a thrashing motion.
They must have been confused. That witch must have seduced them. They were safe here; they would have never left had the witch not tricked them into doing so. It wasn’t fair. Why had she taken her friends? Now she had no-one left to talk about all the cool stuff she had. There’s not much point having cool stuff at all if she can’t talk to a friend about how cool they are.
She flung the tree across the cavern and then flopped her head into the water, letting her chin sink right to the bottom.
She would get new friends. Cooler friends. One-of-a-kind friends. Friends that wouldn’t ever leave her, that she would never let out of the cavern or at all near a witch. They would do cool stuff and reimagine great battles and events (and she would join in this time as that was actually quite fun) but they wouldn’t leave home to do it, they’d do every play in here, in the cavern. And what’s that shiny thing? That’s new!
She prodded the distracting item out of the water with her nose and into the light. It must have come from the witch’s wagon or something, as it was certainly not anything she had picked up herself. It was a chest maybe, or a large box. Its sides were sculpted into a large spiral that rounded the lid of it. As she tilted it and admired it in the light it would be at once lilac, pastel pink, and a pale green depending on how she held it or from where she looked. At its front was a diamond shaped lock that lacked a hole for a key which appeared to hold the sliding lid of it shut. But it was not the pretty colours that attracted Kezra to it, nor the keyless lock or its shape or its strange and sudden appearance in her home; it was the tingling sensation she got from it, of ancient powerful magic, more so than even herself. This was a very special item. Something she got the feeling she was never meant to possess.
‘I’m keeping you’ she purred. ‘I’m definitely keeping you.’
Coming soon, a new D&D Actual-Play podcast set within the world of Grinn & Berrit, the Messrs Fleming & Lowe present to you:
The Salt of Urph
Starring Alastair Fleming and Calvin Lowe as your colluding Dungeon Masters,
with Smo Ariyella, Thomas Toth, Ben VT and Sam Wheatley as our oblivious players
Ideally coming late October...
The Vague Grinn & Berrit Chronology
Social Media Guff