Faces of the Enemy—Chapter I, Part I
[From the notes of a conversation between Herpin Stiggerwurt and Scholar Aspirant Malcolm Herngir, of the University of Altdorf on the 13th of Erntezeit, in the 2524th year]
Aye, I remember them folk, came through here almost fifteen years ago. It was in the 2512th year, on the 22nd of Jahrdrung, it was the night I got this here scar on me forehead. I was working the bar at a coaching house called the Coach & Horses Inn. It had been a quiet night, only two coaches in at the time. One of the coaches, from Four Seasons, left despite the late hour. They nearly ran over those folk you’re interested in. The blonde one, Kettle, he tried to flag it down and almost got mauled for his trouble. The whole lot of them, like you described them, came into the courtyard after dusk. It was obvious they had been walking the road even with the little bit of rain we had been having. Bert was the first to meet them, he was our farrier then, he said that they were looking for a coach. At the time, he was refitting the one we had there and had to direct the big girl, Cricket, inside to inquire about the drivers. I was buggered by their determination but, we found out later, they was all en route to Altdorf. See, they had heard of Prince Hergaard von Tassenick’s offer of employment for his expedition to the Grey Mountains. Yeah, that one. I had seen the handbill myself and almost hefted a blade for it, twenty Crowns a day he was offering. You can bet that was sure to put a lively step in these folks!
Cricket thanked him and headed inside and that creepy ol’ Morrian had the last word. He waved goodbye to poor Bert, telling him that peace of Morr was upon him! Well that damn near stroked the man out, he headed home right then and set to praying thinking the Gate was open to him and the priest was letting him know. The rest of them all followed that Cricket into the inn. They came in wet and ornery, arguing with the Morrian about suitable goodbyes and he was trying out some other benedictions. Too bad each of them were as ominous as the last and it was only Gustav’s interruption that kept it from going further. Gustav Fondleburger, me boss, he was all over them. Inquiring about rooms, getting them set into a table and gathering up drinks.
Now the elf, you know how they can be, he asked for some strange elvish liqueur, something called a spritzer. Good Gustav knew nothing of the strange elvish brew and Gaylord had to content himself with a simple wine. Vander and Tallas got cold waters for their throats but it was beer for the lass, the dwarf and the criminal. Gustav was relentless in his pursuit of custom, harping on the good smells that his spiced mutton had lifted into the air. The food was ordered and the innkeeper was disappointed at our friends thriftiness as they all chose to sleep in the common room for pennies. Not even Gustav’s entreaties to Miss Cricket would dissuade them from racking it with the local drunks.
Now it’s important you realize that they all were not alone, you see, there were others within the common room. The Coach and Horses was usually a bustling place but it would have to be said it was quiet this night. Although it was far from empty. At the bar, nestled up to it like a perfumed tick, was a man in fine clothing. At least as much as they could tell from his rear. I’m betting a quarter-Karl that Cricket may have spent some time checking that out… maybe the elf too. Further into the room, the two drivers were easily found by the keen eyes of the fellows. In black and red uniforms, with Ratchett Lines insignia, the two of them were working hard at extinguishing their beers. You ain’t never heard of Ratchett Lines? Figures, the line done went belly-up about two years later but you’re gonna have to wait for that story. But it’s true that the other lines, Four Seasons, Red Arrow, Castle Rock and the others were slowly pushing the Ratchett house out of business around this time. Set back in a corner, we wouldn’t be too crazy to admit that much of the group’s attention was drawn to three womenfolk at a table. Damned if it weren’t a well-dressed lass, all primped and buttoned, her maid and a brawny woman sporting a iron-banded club coupled with a scowl. Near the fireplace, a lot less attractive, was a skinny man in his twenties, nose buried in a book. He was an odd duck, only had wine and bread, was reading ever since the coach came in.
Now Cricket the lass, a learned coach professional, knew that it would be best to get to the drivers and attempt some form of bargain right away. Having a bit of history with the type, she knew that the beer would be flowing before long. All of the group had agreed that a coach to Altdorf was their best bet to meet up with Prince Von Tassenick. The big girl ordered a round of beers for the drivers and headed over to pay her respects. Now, you’ve met coachmen I assume, so you can imagine their expressions when a hefty woman showed up at their table with beers! Gunnar and Hultz were their names, veterans of the Altdorf road, and they looked Cricket up and down with eyes far better suited to some Araby fleshhouse, if you catch my drift. Well, Cricket disabused them of that notion right quick and got down to business. Seven crowns they was asking for the trip to Altdorf. Trying a little charm, for she had very little, Cricket was hoping to get the price dropped some. The drivers held out and she finally relented on a fair trade, at least to their eyes. Twenty crowns for six passengers to Altdorf but Cricket would be responsible for readying the coach in the morning. Gunnar had no more than six teeth in his head but they all gleamed at this deal. But, just before they shook on it, the drivers noticed that she was about ten crowns light and she was forced to go back to her table to round up the funds.
It seemed the Elf and Halfling were all about trouble. Gaylord Galadriel and Tallas headed on over to chat up them ladyfolk. Now, I ain’t seen many elves but the way this went down is beyond me. Turns out the damned pointy-eared fool was all about the lady’s dress. Now, the Lady Isolde Von Strudeldorf was her name although our boys ain’t learned that yet, this lady was all perfumed and dolled up. So you can imagine her disdain at these folks coming up to them. The bigger girl, the minder for the lass, had to pat her club and convince the Elf that trading the names of tailors wasn’t the best of ideas.
Now around this time, Vander had traded glances with the dandy at the bar. No, not them kind of glances, I’m not talking about the elf. Ya see, the Bretonnian had come in on that same coach as the others. I could see he had an odd gleam in his eye and didn’t much like the look of him. What type of man wears powder on his face and paints on little beauty marks? That’s a woman’s occupation so he wasn’t sitting right with me at the time. Clad in his black robes, the Morrian headed up to the bar to speak to the finely dressed young man. A quick conversation led to Vander’s discovery that the man was not from the Empire. The man, his name was Phillipe Desmartes, implored the Initiate to join him in an alcoholic beverage but to no avail. Once it was determined that Vander was with the others, Phillipe managed to invite himself over to the table. Now, I’ll tell you, the man was a Bretonnian, as the others soon learned to their regret. Have you ever heard one of them speak, like they have molasses jammed up their noses! Well, this here Phillipe introduced himself to the others. Now, Kettle was pretty interested in this guy, as you’ll find out later should you keep my beer here from going dry. But they all was a chatting except for the Dwarf, he had taken to the food like it was his last meal or his first in a few years. Frankly, to hear ol’ Gustav tell it, the Dwarf managed to clean every last scrap of his meal in laudatory time. Well, Kettle had been asking all about the man. Turns out he was in the Empire after leaving his own country, he termed it as “female troubles”, which most of the men could sympathize with. Maybe not the elf… but I’m getting far afield on that one, ain’t I? All in good time.
Well, Cricket had swung back by the table and gathered up three crowns from everyone to pay the driver’s and headed back to their table. It weren’t no surprise to see them order up several rounds of beers for themselves. She tried to talk ‘em up but they weren’t interested in much more than filling their bellies with sweet, sweet beer. A bit put-off, the woman headed over to Gustav and inquired about the chances of a wake-up call. Ya see, Cricket may have been a stringer for some time but she hadn’t realized that it was an independent coach house. Gustav wasn’t responsible for them making their schedules. At about this time, Cricket looked back at the table to see Gunnar and Hultz pouring the beers down their throat and realized the following morning could be a problem. Seeing not much else to amuse herself with, she decided to head over to the stables to look over the coach. Funny thing here, after spending some time with them drunks, Cricket up and got herself a private room after all. And the Elf, getting bored with all the humans or some such, decided to head out into the woods. Don’t ask me why, they just do that crap from time to time. Weirdos.
Now Phillipe had been jawing it with Kettle, Tallas and Wilbur Tunnelcrafter for a bit before he couldn’t resist any longer. He slid a deck of cards across the table and moaned about his luck ever since arriving in the Empire. Now, you and I likely know that a Bretonnian is about as trustworthy as half a Tilean but these boys ain’t never met somesuch before. Now, Tallas the Halfling, he takes some convincing but Kettle, his eye is all over the fine blackpowder pistol stuffed in the belt of the dandy and he’s all about it. But the Bretonnian wants to play for silvers… too rich for these guys. They manage to agree on six pennies a hand, a simple game of poker. Things went well quickly for the Halfling, he won two hands right off the bat. Kettle picked up the next one and then Phillipe managed a hand. Now this here dandy was a weeping and-a wailing about his lost coins. Tallas decided to quit while he was ahead and earned some nasty looks from Kettle. What about the Dwarf? I told you, he was eating and drinking like it was the Great Famine. He wasn’t interested in no cards. Well, Phillipe gets them to increase the ante a bit… I hear it was a silver piece but the winner had to buy a round for the others so it likely comes out to about nine pennies a person. Tallas got out of the game. Phillipe won three games in a row and Kettle was starting to get a downright serious look on his face about this time. The Norlander may have made some nasty remarks to the Halfling at this point, the story is kinda fuzzy, but Tallas joined back in again as Kettle started chatting up the man.
Turns out, Phillipe is on his way up from Nuln, by way of some town called Weigdorf from the south. He was a passenger on the same coach that they had just gotten their tickets too! The Bretonnian waved his hand at all of them and mentioned that they were all passengers on the same coach. The women, the dorky kid… all of them. At this point, Tallas was getting irritated as he did his counting… eleven folk in one coach! Kettle wasn’t nearly that interested and kept his hands on the cards. Around this time, Tallas won a hand of cards and quit with a twinkle in his eye. Ya see, this story is told a couple different ways but I was actually there. Lots of people say the Halfling saw some chicanery with the cards on the part of the dandy. Me? I’m inclined to think it was a cover for our next turn of events. Because, really, all he did was quit playing and sit back to smile and watch the Norscan and the Bretonnian play cards. Yeah, yeah… the Dwarf was still eating. Now the Norscan, and I know this as fact, was staring hard at the Halfling. I’d say he was just mad that he was the only loser at the table but that’s just me.
That darned Bretonnian had won about a half-dozen hands before Kettle pulled any silver off that table. Now, get this, Phillipe gives a big yawn and figures they should up the stakes for a last game or two. Now I don’t know what Kettle Thorson is thinking around this time but he just smiled and agreed. Sure enough, Phillipe won the hand and started to sweep the pot when Kettle slammed his big meaty hand over the pile of coins. Now Phillipe was shocked and confused, you ever heard a shocked and confused Bretonnian? It’s like two cats thrown down a well for noise. There was all sorts of a commotion now. Ya see, Kettle was confused. First, he accused the Bretonnian of cheating. Then he asked the Halfling if he, the dandy, had been cheating. So the Halfling starts smiling at him and the Bretonnian starts spluttering. J’accuse, indeed!
I ain’t gonna say that Phillipe made any kinda bad move here. It just didn’t happen that way. It started with Kettle Thorsson. I can say, I seen a boatload of knife fights in my time, and a fair number of sword duels but that damned blondie had one of the quickest draws I’ve seen. One second people were shouting about cheating and false charges, the next that damned boy had his blade whistling over the top of the table. That Phillipe just about lost his beauty mark that moment, not that it mattered in the long run, but you had to give him credit for fast reflexes. He leaped back from that table like a snake and drew that pistol out, leveled it at Kettle’s head and belched brimstone and fire!
Not that it did much good. See here, that’s the bullet I dug out of the wall the next morning. Clean missed that Northers head and he was damned lucky, I tell you. The table was getting pushed all over at this point and Tallas bolted for the other side of the room. Vander, silent as the grave that one was, pushed himself back from the table and dropped a hand axe into his fingers. No noise, no threats. Pretty much the opposite of Kettle who was swearing it up something fierce. The thunder of that pistol was deafening in the confines of the common room but Kettle stuck to the matter at hand and lashed out with his blade again. That darn Phillipe got tagged that time, blood sprayed from his left arm and he stumbled back. I gotta say that most everyone had forgotten about Wilbur the Dwarf. Like most miners, he was packing a full-on pickaxe and he launched it with great effect. Now maybe it was a combination of chaos and mayhem or maybe it was the fact that the Dwarf was short and the table was high but he swung that thing around and pretty much cleared the table. It didn’t get near the Bretonnian in the slightest but it did send all the crockery and leavings from the meal flying in all directions.
Where was I? With every other fella with half a brain, I ducked behind the bar quick as could be but still got kacked in the head by a flying mug, that’s where this scar come from. It bled something fierce it did. So, pottery, food and drink are all over the place. That Halfling retreated to stand between the fight and the three women although I doubt they was very thankful for the chivalry. The bookish guy was huddled in a corner, cradling his books as best he could. That Kettle, a mean-ass look on his face, jabbed forward again and slashed the dandy’s chest and that was all he was willing to take. Phillipe bolted, straight across the room and out the front door. Both the Dwarf and Kettle swung at him as he ran but hit nothing but air. Bang! He hit the front door like a storm off the Sea of Claws and just kept on running.
Now the Elf and Coachwoman were outside and surely they heard the whole thing. The Elf didn’t do nothing but watch from the trees until he saw the caravan of folks behind the dandy. The door took some frightful abuse that night as first Kettle, then the Dwarf and even the Morrian burst out into the courtyard chasing after the dandy. He headed for the stables before realizing they were on his heels and bolted straight out of the courtyard gate and into the woods. Gaylord stepped out of the trees, all feminine fury and stuff, shouting at him to stop but he just kept on running. The Elf fired an arrow but it didn’t do more than lodge itself in a tree. Cricket was watching the whole thing from the stable and just shrugged, deciding that things were well in hand.
There was a quick chase through the woods, tripping over roots and dodging low-hanging branches. Sure enough, the Dwarf fell behind quickly but Kettle was right on Phillipe’s tail. He managed to give it a burst of speed and pushed the man, sending the two of them rolling to the ground. They both came to their feet, covered in dirt and leaves. It was that silent Initiate, Vander, who moved first and swung with his axe. Phillipe had whipped his sword out and caught the Morrian’s blow but it left him open to Kettle. His blade, must have been filled with rage at that point, did some fearful work on the dandy. Came in on a downward sweep through his head, into his shoulder and his chest, there was a fearsome spray of blood that drenched Kettle and all his clothes. And that there was how a Brettonian met his doom in the forests of the Empire!
The Dwarf, Elf and Morrian all stood around pretty confused and wondering what in Sigmar’s balls happened, see? That Kettle said he was cheating at cards and they were all a bit worried about the law coming down on them. The Morrian got right to work, pulling out his raven icon, and muttering soft prayers so that Morr would accept his soul. Everyone else was arguing about what they were gonna do about going back to the inn. Kettle was all for just leaving in the night but the others, they wanted their ride to Altdorf. The thug had to admit, with a bit of shuffled feet, that he hadn’t really thought the whole thing through before acting. Being a bit of a larcenous fellow himself, he wanted to steal the coach and head to Altdorf. But the Elf and Dwarf weren’t taking to that so well and the Morrian was just as uncomfortable. Well, by this time, there weren’t nothing left to do so they left the body in the woods and headed back to the inn talking something fierce. The main discussion centered on whether they should return armed and fearsome or sorry and contrite, guess they decided on a middle ground as they strode into the common room without a concern. Well, that weren’t the main discussion really, seems Kettle had taken that fancy pistol and a heavy purse from the dandy which the others were wanting a share of. The Morrian at least figured that some coin to the innkeeper was a good idea. Kettle weren’t too happy but agreed, after dumping himself in the horse trough to wash some of the blood off.
Good ol’ Gustav met them at the door, wringing his hands and eyes wide. Kettle talked faster than him though, something I ain’t seen since, and told him of the cheating and such. The rest of the custom had all fled to their rooms by that time. Now Kettle, again not thinking things through, first said that the Bretonnian had got away. He reconsidered though and told the whole story. Even showed the innkeep the two decks of cards he had pulled off the dandy as if it were proof utmost, claiming who would keep two decks of cards unless they were a cheat! Gustav was a good man though and abided no cheats so they just decided to leave the body in the forest. And that was pretty much it, Cricket stayed in her room and the rest were in the common room. I got out of there as quick as possible.
Now the next morning, that would be the 23rd, the weather weren’t improved in the least. Cloudy, wet and cold it was, not a day to be walking so it was good that those folk had secured a coach. Wasn’t long before they were all gathered in the common room, eating at rashers and bread, waiting on Gunnar and Hultz. Now Cricket was stomping about, pissing and moaning like Irda in her flow, all about the damned drivers. See, they were nowhere to be found. And damned if the woman didn’t buy breakfast for a few folk that morning. Well, thems that helped her get the carriage ready like she had bargained. Turns out her friends weren’t all that interested in doing manual labor. Not sure what it is about a sword that makes folk think they’re too good for an honest day’s labor. So she and some of them headed out to ready the coach while the others ate their meals.
Wasn’t long before she was back and still no sign of the Coachmen. All the other passengers were there as well and waiting. The Lady Isolde was getting damned impatient and she had likely found out that she was to be riding with these ruffians. Her minder was all a-stroking that club of hers whenever someone looked sideways at ‘em. Now Cricket pounded like hell on them drivers’ door but got nothing for her trouble but some groans. I heard her yell down to Gustav to get a damned key or he’d be buying a new door! Sure enough, they all came down to the common room. Gunnar and Hultz looked like death drenched in ale and smelled it too.
Took a bit but they finally got the coach loaded, Gunnar and Hultz near asleep on the driver’s seat and then there was a bit of trouble. See, the drivers had oversold by a bit. Only room for two of them in the coach as the bookworm and three ladies piled right in. Tallas jumped right in and was followed by the now only slightly bloodstained Kettle. They were warned right off by that minder, Marie, to keep their hands to themselves. I thought that Kettle guy was gonna do something silly but he just shrugged and got comfortable while the others were piling on top. Cricket found that Gunnar had slipped off in the confusion and Hultz had passed out. Took a bit of effort to wake him up again and she threatened to take the whole coach without Gunnar. Hultz knew enough to warn her that was robbery pure and simple but Cricket was all out of patience. She barely blinked when Hultz swung his blunderbuss to point right at her, point-blank and all, to dissuade her.
But damned if she didn’t jump down from the coach and start back towards the inn to look for Gunnar, swearing something fierce. Now Hultz was all paranoid and he kept that blunderbuss trained right on her back, as well as he could all squinting. The Elf, Gaylord, was a bit concerned and he was behind Hultz. Figured he’d disarm the driver, he snatched at the blunderbuss. Boom! Yeah, you can bet how that went down. Hultz had been hugging that trigger tight and it went off. The damned thing blew out three of the inn’s windows and Cricket just barely managed to toss herself to the ground to avoid the blast. That Gaylord starts yelling up a storm and Hultz is yelling right back at him. The passengers inside are yelling, I tell you it was a frightful racket! Then Kettle hopped out of the coach, pulled himself up and slammed the driver right there in the jaw! Knocked him clean out! Them black gloves looked a bit padded or weighted if you know what I mean.
Now Cricket is just in a fury, Gustav and the passengers are wondering what the hell is going on. Gaylord slipped the blunderbuss behind some packages and muttered something about Hultz slipping and falling. Well, no one really wanted to argue with them so we figured it was best they just get on their way. Kettle and Gaylord decide to go find Gunnar, and they follow the stink to the outhouse. Seems the driver barricaded himself in there. A peek through the slats showed Gunnar in full glory on the throne, trousers around his ankles and a fearsome stench. A bit of work on the latch and they dragged it open, bet the Elf got himself a good look, and they hauled him out of there. A bit of tugging and pulling got the man back to the carriage and Cricket took the reins with an air of disgust. But at least the coach pulled out and headed out of here.
I gotta tell you, we were all glad to see the backs of their heads.
[At this juncture, Herpin Stiggerwurt was not done with his tale but for chronological accuracy, we will return to him later. The small group headed out of the Coach and Horses Inn in the late morning on the 23rd of Sigmarzeit in 2512. My research has determined the following series of events.]
The road to Altdorf from the Coach and Horses led out of the Five Sisters region and due west to the crossroads at the main Middenheim-Altdorf road. The gathering was a bit apprehensive about their journey as the two drivers had recovered and had taken back the reins. The weather had definitely turned for the worse with a driving rain that was so common in the upper Reik during these Spring months. The road was muddy and rutted, and the travel was not so very comfortable. At least for those unfortunate enough to be on top, who were getting properly soaked. Upon reaching the crossroads, it would seem that the Lady Isolde Von Strudeldorf and her attendants had experienced quite enough of our daring adventurers. They disembarked at a coachhouse owned by the Four Seasons line to wait for a different travel experience. The adventurers and their coach stopped briefly to dress the horses and then continued down south towards Altdorf. The distance is believed to be about fifteen leagues between the coachhouse and the Imperial capital.
They had left the Four Seasons house a little after noon on that day with the weather continuing to disappoint. The Initiate, Vander, had taken the opportunity to head inside as well as the Dwarf and Cricket. The Elven hunter, Gaylord, had remained outside in the rain with the drivers to lend his eyes to their task. Naturally, I doubt that Hultz was pleased about this turn of events but nothing untoward occurred. Once inside the coach, Vander and Cricket sought to make small talk with the young man who had been privy to all of their recent escapades. He introduced himself as Ernst Heidelmann, an aspiring medical student. Naturally this caused some interest in the Morrian who inquired about his course of studies and the book he was currently reading. Ernst relayed that he was going to attend physician’s school at the University of Altdorf. The book which was causing such interest for the young man was Eiglendorf’s Workings of the Body and Bile, a seminal work on the healing arts. When the Morrian asked to see it, the student was much offended and refused. Heidelmann indicated that he had spent great amounts of money on his books and would not part with them. Kettle thought this was a bit rude but Vander took it in good humor, understanding a bit more about the value of books. Surely, he inquired, there was something that he could borrow simply to pass the time. Again, he was rebuffed. There was some inquiry as to why he did not get off the coach with the ladies and Ernst indicated that he was on a tight schedule to get to Altdorf. Seeing little cause to continue, the companions subsided into grumpy silence as the road bounced them to and fro within the cabin.
It was a couple hours past noon when fate seemed to strike a blow against our intrepid friends. Gaylord Galadriel peered through driving rain to the road ahead as there seemed to be some shape in the road. He stood up to get a better look, bracing himself against the pitching of the coach. As the coach drew closer, it was a body lying in the mud of the road center. Near it, to the Elf’s surprise, was a crouched man in tattered clothes. Now Gaylord warned the drivers but the coach approached quickly regardless. As they came closer, the sharp elven eyes were horrified to see the creature, for that is what it revealed itself to be, as it turned its head towards the coach. Once a man, the flesh of its face running off of it like wax in a flame. Its eyes were bright and mad and it was sucking the flesh off each finger of a severed hand it held within its claws. A mutant!
Now, as any historian can relate to you, the influx of mutation and rot within the Empire is oftentimes hidden and ignored, no time was this more prevalent than in the preceding decade. In the cities and villages of our beloved Empire, children were occasionally born with severe mutations that marked them as unclean from birth. Many of these children were so badly mutated that they were unable to live or killed at birth. Many parents, however, are unable to bring themselves to dispose of their offspring in such a cold-blooded manner and hide or abandon them in the forests. But not all of them die. Some are found and reared by Beastmen or their own mutated ilk, living as murderous scavengers in the dark forests of our lands. And many folk, reviling Chaos their whole lives, are beset by stigmata of mutation in their later years. These individuals are found and burned by their neighbors or witchhunters or flee into the forests. There they join bands of marauding mutants and darkspawn. This fact, which we now know as certain, was hushed up in the days of this tale. But it was true nonetheless.
And so it is that, a mere forty miles from our beloved capital, the coach had come across a mutant set on its cannibalistic meal. The mutant bared rotted fangs at the coach and began racing toward it. Gunnar cried out in terror but Hultz held tight to the reins even as the horses began to race uncontrollably. The coach’s speed increased and it began to bounce up and down upsetting those inside. The mutant raced to meet the coach with murderous speed and Gaylord strung an arrow and let fly in a split-second. The Elf’s aim was true but the arrow merely sank into the meaty portion of the creature’s body and slowed it not a whit. The screams and yells had drawn the attention of others and they began peering out the window, grasping for balance from inside the careening carriage. Gaylord, his arrow fired, had lost his balance and a particularly large bump sent him flying. The mutant lurched forward to the side of the maddened horses and launched himself onto the driver’s side of the coach. Gaylord went flying through the air into the trees on the side of the road to hit a stout trunk and slump heavily to the ground. From within the carriage, the yells and shouts of the passengers did little of good.