The Children of Stron – part 42

Table of Contents (spoilers)

read part 1

read part 41

The Desolate One, Shane told the squad around the smoldering embers of the previous night’s fire, was some manner of undead knight that lived in a not-too-distant swamp. Just a skeleton now, the Desolate One wore a suit of magical plate armor and bore a greatsword with him. Within his skull’s empty sockets were pinpoints of light that could peer into your very soul, it was said.

The Desolate One was so named because he spent his nights morosely splashing around his swamp, dragging his sword listlessly behind him while moaning and crying. On sunny days he would flop down in the mud and allow himself to be swallowed up in its putrescence. Sometimes, in the light of a full moon, the Desolate One would recite poetry about his lost love.

“Poems?” Knuckle sneered.

“Yeah,” Shane said. “Once, when I was a lad, me and some others spent a night in the bush listening to it. Ye know, on one of those stupid goofs lads will do when they’re growing up to prove they’re brave.”

“Were they any good?” Pinch asked.

“The poems? I dunno. What do I know about poems? All about his heart torn in twain and inner voids and oceans of sorrow and stuff.”

“Sounds pretty gay,” Knuckle said.

“It’s sad,” Earl said from where he was sitting like a swamp gnome under a downwind tree where Shane had put him. “But it’s a good kind a sad, ye know?”

“Shut up,” Shane told him, but without much heat.

“So ye live just down the way from an undead knight? No one thinks to do anything about it?” Pinch asked.

“Well, what are we supposed to do about it? He stays put. Can’t leave the swamp, is why. It’s said that he’s bound there by whatever went down that made him undead in the first place. Father Nate knows about it. Says the Church is aware, too. Back in the day, paladins and knights would come round and try to take him out, but the Desolate One killed every one of them. Now we just let him be. Except for those of us too stupid to know any better,” Shane said pointedly at his brother.

“So, Earl,” Choke said. “What happened last night? You said this undead called to you?”

“Yeah!” Earl nodded eagerly. “Like, with the mists!”

“Don’t start with that!” Shane snapped.

“Let him speak, please,” Choke said sharply. “Powerful undead will often put humans into their thrall, with charm effects or otherwise, to use as servants. We should get to the bottom of this. So, Earl, you visit with the Desolate One sometimes?”

“Yeah, sometimes. I just go there and hang out with him when the mists take me there. Not that much. He never pays me no mind.”

“So was this the first time he’s fetched you to run an errand for him?” Choke asked.

“Well… uhhh… not really. There was one other time, but that’s private,” Earl said, staring at the ground miserably.

“Don’t worry, Earl. We understand that you didn’t have a choice. But we need to hear about what you did for him. Don’t be scared, we won’t get mad.”

“Okay, but it’s private for him, right? I guess he’d be embarrassed about it, is all.”

“I think that’s fine. Don’t worry about that. Now, what did you do for him?”

“Well, he had me fetch one of Widow Perkins’ frocks for him. So I stole one off her wash line and brung it to him.”

“A frock? You mean a dress?”


“What for? Why did he want that?” Choke asked.

“Well, he’d made this woman for himself, see. Outta a log, and sticks, and grass, and mud, and stuff. Then he put the dress on it and sung songs to it. Then… then…” Earl started giggling, unable to contain himself.

Choke was about to prompt him to continue, but realized he probably did not want to hear it. However, Earl managed to get to it by himself before Choke could rally himself sufficiently to distract him.

“Then, he tried to give her a poke! She even had a poke hole down there! Like, in the log, right? A knothole from where a branch had been, in a crotch between where two bigger branches were. It looked like a woman’s poke hole, right? Just wood, instead of, ye know lady. A wooden poke hole! Yeah…” Earl drifted off in reverie, idly pulling on his erection through his breeches. Eventually he went on:

“So, yeah, he tried to give her a poke. But he’s just a skeleton now, right? So he gets that front crotch piece off his armor, and then can’t find no pecker in there, and I guess he remembers, because he starts moaning and crying up a storm! And he’s all, ‘the years have robbed me of my manhood! I have no lance with which to pierce your fundament, my love! It has rotted away to filth, as you have!”

As Earl quoted the Desolate One, his voice changed and he enunciated the words clearly and properly.

“That’s what he said, huh?” Peep asked.

“Yeah! I remember it real clear! I don’t know what it means, and all, but it sounded real good. Real romantic.”

“Yeah. Sounds delightful,” said Peep.

“I think you were right, Earl. This story was private and embarrassing,” Pinch said.

“Yeah!” Earl agreed.

“This guy sounds pathetic! Morose motherfucker! Trying to fuck a log in a dress and then crying about it,” Knuckle laughed.

“Sounds like a pretty normal man to me,” Peep said. “Most of ye’ll have a go at a tear in a fur cloak if ye have half a chance.”

“Ye shouldn’t believe a word of this!” Shane interjected. “He’s making stuff up, that’s all.”

“I don’t know,” Choke said thoughtfully. “Do you really think Earl could come up with that speech all by himself?”

Shane grunted in disgust and stomped off into the trees to have a piss. While he was gone, Choke turned his attention back to Earl.

“Okay, Earl, so that was the only other errand you did for the Desolate One?”

“Yeah. Until today.”

“Okay, then. So, he called you to him last night and asked you to give something to Otilla for him?” Choke asked.


“Did he know her name?”

Earl shook his head emphatically. “Nah. He called her something else. Don’t remember what. But he meant her, that’s for sure!”

“Okay. And is that it there? What you’re holding?”

“Yeah,” Earl said suspiciously, drawing away from Choke a little.

Choke turned to Peep: “Otilla, do you want to see what he has for you there?”

“Sure! I never had no one give me a swamp present from no undead knight before. Let’s see it!” Peep said to Earl as she went over to him and crouched down. Her posture was friendly enough, but Choke could see she had her right hand in her boot where she kept the dagger she had lifted off the man whose throat she had cut in Spitzer.

Earl turned to face Peep on his knees with his eyes downcast, and held his gift out to her with both hands. Peep grabbed the rawhide chord which dangled down from it and backed away from Earl.

“Well, that’s pretty!” Peep exclaimed as she tightened up on the chord to have a close look at what turned out to be a big, steel ring. Even as muddy as it was, it was obvious that the ring was untarnished, with its polished steel edges glittering. The front face of the ring was a four-spoked Wheel of Stron.

“Don’t touch it,” Choke cautioned. “It could be cursed.”

“He said to give it to ye, Otilla, with his compliments,” Earl said, his voice once again changing in tone as he perfectly pronounced the word, “compliments.”

“Is that all he said, Earl?” Choke asked.

“No, sir! He said that if Otilla and her retainers have the time, he begs her indulgence in permitting him an audience. He would speak with her on the matters at hand.”

“He said all that?” Pinch said, exchanging a serious look with Choke.


“Earl, how is it that you can remember exactly what the Desolate One says? It is word for word, is it not?” Choke asked.

“Yup! I dunno, sir. It’s just that what he says really gets inside my noggin and sticks in there. It’s like when yar staring into the fire in the dark and then look away and ye can still see the fire, right? Only with words, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Pinch said, giving Choke another look.

“Yeah, I can vouch for that,” Shane said. “When me and my palls were out there listening to him whinge and moan all night, that poetry of his got burned into our minds real bad. I can still hear it, if I focus on it, which I do my best not to, of course.”

“Well, alright, then,” Choke said. “Was that all the Desolate One said to you?” he asked Earl.


“You are sure about that?”


“Well, thank you then for delivering the gift and the message, Earl. I think we should be on our way to see Father Nate immediately,” Choke said.

“Yeah, thanks a lot, Earl!” Peep said. “By the way, ye said earlier that ye have special mushrooms that ye sometimes trade. D’ye have any extra shrooms right now?”

“Oh yeah I do! D’ye want some, Otilla? For true?” Earl said, his face lighting up like the sun.

“Yeah, I’d love whatever ye can spare, man,” Peep said.

Choke cleared his throat sharply at Peep, who glanced his way questioningly before remembering herself:

“Oh, right. Well, Earl, I aint gonna be showing ye anything, holes or otherwise, but I’d be happy to pay ye in coin for some of yar shrooms. Would that be okay?”

“Oh no, Otilla! Ye don’t need to pay! I’m more than happy to give them to ye!” Earl said, leaping around like a frog in his excitement.

“Nah, I’ll pay ye. It’s only right. Tell ye what: I’m gonna go wash this up,” Peep held up the ring on its chord. “While I’m doing that, gather up what ye can, in a pouch or whatever. Then I’ll pay ye what’s fair. Okay?”

It was just another few minutes before the squad was once again ready to depart. Peep cleaned up the Stronian Wheel ring and tucked it away in her coin pouch. By the time she was done, Earl had returned from his tent with a little package of hallucinogenic mushrooms wrapped up in a scrap of deerskin. Peep was well-pleased when she opened it up to have a look.

“Woah! This aint just shrooms, man! Ye’ve got violet caps in here, too! Where did ye find these?”

“Otilla, that’s my special secret,” Earl said proudly.

“No shit it is, man. Talking mists, indeed! No wonder yar running around out there seeing the future. Shit, son! Score!”

Peep opened up her coin purse and pulled out a number of bigger copper coins for Earl.

“Oh no, Otilla! Please! I don’t need,” Earl blubbered.

“Yes ye do. Ye take them,” Peep pressed the coins into Earl’s filthy paws. “Ye hold onto them, clean yarself up, and maybe someday ye can find a hairy poke hole of yar very own to have some fun with.”

“Oh, thank ye, Otilla! Thank ye!”

“That’s alright. Just don’t go touching on me now. Back up. Yeah, that’s better. Ye take care now, Earl,” Peep said kindly as she mounted up and put her pouch of shrooms away in her saddlebags.

“Okay, ye take care yarselves, now,” Shane said, giving Peep an uneasy look. “I’ll start to spreading the world about… well… everything, I suppose.”

“Thank you, Shane,” Choke said. “Our thanks to both of you. For your hospitality and everything else.”

“Think nothing of it. And about Earl, and that one in the swamp,” Shane said, looking rather upset. “I know ye gotta do what ye gotta do about that. But, please, try to go easy with Earl on it, if possible. He don’t mean no harm with it, is alls I’m saying. If the Church has to get involved, I just hope ye can put a word in for him. The fool don’t mean no harm,” Shane finished, his voice getting very quiet as he did.

“I am sure he doesn’t,” Choke said. “Don’t worry, whatever Father Nate says about this whole affair, we will all do our best for him, I am sure. Okay?”

“Thank ye, sir,” Shane said. Then he turned to Earl, who was still goggling at the coins Peep had given him. “Earl! It’s time to say goodbye to the good people. Smarten up!”

“Oh. Right. Thank ye! Thank ye, Otilla. Thank ye, everyone!” Earl said brightly.

“Thank you, Earl,” Choke said as he and the others kicked up their mounts to begin riding away.

“Goodbye! Goodbye!” Earl yelled as he ran after them, waving his arms wildly and sending his coins flying off into the grass.

“Watch yar money, ye fool!” Shane yelled at him.

The squad rode off and left the brothers to it. They rode down through the meadow and around the stand of trees that shielded the cabin from view of the valley below. In just a couple of hundred meters, they were able to rejoin the Tanglefoot Trail right at its very end, where it came out of the forest and became a track in the grassland.

“Those two are a fuckin piece of work, huh?” Knuckle laughed. “Hairy poke holes and undead knights fuckin logs! What the fuck?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what to make of any of that. D’ye think that dread knight really fucked a log in a dress?” Pinch asked.

“With everything else that we’ve just learned, this is your first question?” Choke snapped.

“Okay, there is the ring, too. What’s an undead doing with a Stronian ring?” Pinch asked.

“Well, Shane did say the Church was sending paladins and others into the swamp to kill the thing,” Choke said darkly. “It’s probably got all sorts of Stronian kit.”

“So, why did it want to give it to Peep?” Pinch asked.

“Maybe he’s tired of fuckin logs and has a nice frock set aside for you to wear!” Knuckle guffawed.

“Ye laugh, but I think that’s exactly what the fucker’s thinking,” Peep said.

“Well, what’re ye worried about, then? It aint like he’s got a pecker no more. He wrote a whole poem about it!” Knuckle laughed.

“Yeah, see, that’s the fuckin thing with this whole mess!” Pinch exclaimed.

“Whad’ye mean?” Knuckle asked.

“Well, if it weren’t for that poem, or whatever, I’d just think that Earl was making up the whole bit about the log. Or, that it was something he did all by himself and then got confused and thought the Desolate One was the one doing it.”

“Fucking a crotch in a log does seem more Earl’s style,” Knuckle admitted.

“Right. But how’s he gonna come up with the whole sad routine about not being able to fuck it? What was it? ‘I have no lance to pierce your fundament with. It has rotted away to filth, like you have!’” Pinch said.

“That’s good! Catchy!” Knuckle said. “But, if I was undead, and my pecker had rotted away to nothing, I’d probably moan about it whether I was trying to fuck a log in a dress or not. See, maybe Earl found that log with a nice-looking twat in a crotch of branches, and then he did his thing with the dress, right? Then he hears the dead knight whinging about his lost pecker, and he mixes the two things up. Shane said he does that all the time right?”

“It doesn’t matter who, or what, molested a log!” Choke cut in irritably. “The important matter at hand is that a powerful undead summoned its human minion to give a magical ring to Peep. And has requested an audience with her.”

“Well, sure, that’s important too,” Peep said with a big grin signaling her clear intention to pester Choke even further. “But it aint like this log woman business aint important neither. What I’m worried about is how much thought Knuckle has put into it. Ye been working overtime on that theory, buddy.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t put nothing past Earl, that freak,” Knuckle said. “D’ye know he offered me up an assfuck last night?”

“Earl? Did he now?” Pinch exclaimed happily. “How was he?”

“Fuck you! He didn’t offer anybody else his ass?”

“Nope!” Pinch said.

Choke remained silent, staring off into the distance with a deep scowl.

“So he was sweet on ye, Knuckle. Nice!” Peep said.

“Yeah, I guess yar his type,” Pinch laughed. “Big, dumb, strong buck with a tiny pecker! Best of both worlds when yar looking to get assfucked, I reckon!”

“Yeah, fuck you! I got plenty! I’d a tore him up!” Knuckle bellowed.

“Yeah, yeah, sure ye woulda. Sure ye woulda,” Pinch said. “So, when did he make this generous offer?”

“Last night, when we was all bedding down. I went for my last piss and he pulled me up on my way back,” said Knuckle.

“Shit man, ye shoulda taken him up on it! The way he was grinding his ass on that tree last night, he’s got some nice moves. He’d do half the work! Push back into ye real sweet,” Pinch laughed.

“Ha ha! Very funny! From him, that kinda move I don’t need. I aint into no man ass! And ye’d best be grateful I aint, Pinch, or else yars woulda been plundered long ago!” Knuckle shouted.

“I always heard that for ye prick wielders a hole is a hole,” Peep interjected. “Wet and round is all it takes.”

“Where’d ye hear that?” Pinch asked.

“I heard it from lots of bruisers. But, speaking of wet and round,” Peep said, her tone changing. “That ring that Earl gave me. What makes ye say it’s magic, Choke?”

“Oh, have we finished discussing the more important matters of last night?” Choke snapped. “Are we ready to trifle ourselves with the Desolate One’s intentions towards you?”

“Yeah, I think that’s all run to ground,” Peep said. “So, about the ring…”

“Well, it is obviously steel, right? But untarnished. It has been in that swamp for who knows how long and it is still as bright as the day it was forged. That means it must be magic,” Choke said.

“No shit!” Peep dug into her coin purse and pulled the ring out on its chord. She dangled it in front of her so that its fine edges sparkled in the sunlight.

“Don’t put it on!” Choke snapped. “It might be cursed!”

“I know! Ye said that already. I aint stupid. So we’re gonna get Father Nate to check it out, right?”

“That’s right. We have much to discuss with him. Let’s just hope he’s around,” said Choke.

“Yeah, no doubt,” Peep agreed.

The four lapsed into silence, lost in their own thoughts as they spurred their mounts up into a comfortable jog, heading for Father Nates’ church in Callic.

read part 43

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