Part Two of the Necromancer of Bern
Reginald was half dead when he limped into the city of Bern. The wounded knight had walked several miles in the brutal cold seeking shelter. Even for being so late at night, he was surprised to find the streets deserted. He could not explain why – but the very air was filled with deep and pervasive dread.
A measure of relief filled him as muted music reached his ears and soft light bathed the street ahead. Unsteady steps carried Reginald through the threshold of the Broken Spoke Inn. The sudden exposure to warmth dizzied him. Wearily he collapsed into a chair by the inn’s hearth. Clumps of slush fell around his feet, thawed layers of ice that fell from his shoulders.
It took a moment for him to notice the sudden lack of music and voices within. He looked around. Every man and woman in the room stared at him. It dawned on Reginald what these frightened people must have thought. A stranger limping in from a blizzard, seemingly dead on his feet, reminded them of the something they’d witnessed before. These people knew of the horrors that stalked this land. Fearful gazes said everything unspoken words did not.
Only when he met their fearful expressions with a very human scowl did the patrons reluctantly return to their drinks. The locals still eyed him suspiciously above the rims of the pewter mugs they drank from. Reginald forced himself to ignore them and concentrate on getting warm. He stripped out of his cloak and surcoat. He hung the ice-encrusted garments on the back of his chair and rubbed his pale hands. It was a miracle they weren’t frostbitten.
Reginald flagged down a server who was doing her best not to notice him. She finally acknowledged his presence and agreed to fetch him some beef stew. Meanwhile some of the men had gathered around a table across the room from him. Looks very similar to the ones he received from the two peasants on the wagon were shot his way.
“Just let me get some warm food in me…,” Reginald muttered despairingly under his breath.
But the gathering group of men had no intention of letting that happen. Reginald could see them working up the nerve to confront him. He balled up his fists as they rose from their table and approached. He struggled to remain patient; these weren’t nobles or warriors he must tolerate.
Fine woolen cloths and well-shod leather boots marked them as craftsmen and skilled laborers.
A collection of stonecutters, tailors, and merchants would seek to remove him. The noble within Reginald bristled at the audacity of these commoners. But he couldn’t afford a fight right now…
“What is your business in Bern…mi lord?” One of them asked. The last two words were thrown in as an after thought.
Reginald’s eyes narrowed angrily. Part of him wanted to thrash the man who now looked very nervous. The other part just wanted to be left in peace. He took a deep breath before answering,
“If you must know, I was on my way to Dijon.”
The man’s eyebrow arched doubtfully, “By the looks of it, you were walking there. A lord such as yourself surely has a horse?”
The other men around him nodded their heads in approval, gaining confidence as they continued to question him.
“Look, friend. I can understand you mistrust of strangers, but I’m not here to cause trouble. All I want to do — ”
Reginald was interrupted, as another man shouted, “Then why is there blood on your cloak?”
The knight groaned inwardly. Of course. It made more sense now. The cloak he wore upon entering the Broken Spoke was still spotted with his blood and the gore from the slain imperials. Attempting to explain the truth would only cause more uncertainty and fear. Reginald shook his head at the absurdity of his situation and in doing so noticed a familiar face in the crowd.
Ustus! The old man who left him stranded in the pass. Here was a fragile hope he could grasp onto. He attempted to waive the gnarled figure over, but much to his irritation, the old man looked away. Ustus was trying to ignore him!
“Ustus! Come here and help explain what happened,” Reginald ordered impatiently.
The locals in the inn all turned as one to look at the frightened old man sitting amongst them. Apparently he frequented the Broken Spoke enough to be known by name. He coughed into a wrinkled hand nervously before speaking in a shaken voice,
“We were on our way here, but got stopped. One of those…things blocked the way. He (Ustus pointed to Reginald) stepped out of the wagon and even more of the dead appeared. They stalked out of the woods and mists. It’s like they came for him.”
Reginald laughed bitterly, “You failed to recall a few things, Ustus. Do you care to mention how I fought them? How I battled those monsters as you left me in that wretched place?”
“I didn’t see anything! Didn’t waste any time leaving once I saw them dead things gathering,” the old man lied.
Reginald was beside himself. Ustus had seen him fighting the first dead German soldier. Why was he lying? Did the worthless bag of bones really think he summoned those things there? And if so, why would he have fought them. The whole thing was ridiculous and the knight struggled against the urge to draw his sword and dispatch the deceitful cur.
“Listen to me you wretched little peasant! If you won’t at least speak for me truthfully – be decent enough to return my goods. I imagine they are still sitting in the back of your wagon,” Reginald demanded.
The murderous look the knight gave Ustus broke the old man’s defiance. Ustus looked down at the wooden floor nervously. The timid little man tried to find the courage to answer. The inn was silent again. Small groups of men quickly exited the building. They left either to avoid conflict or to arm themselves for one. Reginald was beside himself. He had done nothing to garner such disdain. If anything the cowardly old man who trembled like a leaf in the wind deserved it.
“Th –The stables. In the back of the inn. My wagons there. Just take your things and leave me alone,” Ustus stuttered.
Giving the fearful old man one last look of disgust – Reginald belted on this surcoat and cloak. He didn’t concern himself with the stew he ordered. There was never any intent of serving him food here. Amidst whispers and hushed murmurs he left the warmth of the Broken Spoke. With gritted teeth, Sir Reginald stepped out into the unforgiving cold once more.
Reginald recovered his pack from the old man’s wagon without incident. However he was still cold, weary, and wounded. He needed to sit by a fire. Not only to warm himself, but the clothing and armor he wore. Not wanting to risk further encounters with the locals – he sought a place where he could rest without being noticed. His feet carried him to a blacksmith’s workshop.
No one could see the building from the street, being tucked behind what was most likely the owners home. No light illuminated the interior of either building.
Relieved to have some shelter, Reginald ducked into the building. The workshop was still drafty, even with the wall panel that ventilated the building being closed. He wasted no time retrieving his flint and steel striker from his bag. There were enough scraps of wood to create a small pile of tinder amidst the coals of the forge. Sparks from the flint lit the darkened space in flashes until the tinder caught flame. Reginald quickly manned the bellows to fan the flame. The fire soon spread to the coals and warmth filled the small space.
The workshop was filled with the soft orange glow of the forge. Reginald once more stripped out of his damp cloak and surcoat. He then unknotted the leather straps of his chain mail armor. With the armor removed he could see the damaged sections of rings in the dim light. The right sleeve wasn’t too bad. The spiked mace that struck his arm had only stretched out or broken a few rings.
The section that draped over his leg was much worse. A large section of rings were entirely gone. Either ripped away when the spearhead clipped his leg or fell apart during the long trek to Bern. The smithy more than likely had spare rings somewhere within the shop. He’d look later.
The only thing he could do now was sit with his back to the wall. Attempt to sleep near the forge for warmth. He reached up and pulled down a smithy apron he draped over himself as he pulled his legs in close to his chest. Shivers racked his bruised body and he struggled to keep from coughing – afraid to alert anyone of his presence. But Reginald was already being swept away in tides of darkness, an inky black sea of exhaustion that claimed him.