Anja and the Druid

Chapter 3

Druid and Desert

Ostrode was the scene of Anja's next surprise regarding her new self. Up to now she had only seen herself either fully dressed or in poor light. After locking the door, she removed cloak and sword and hung them on the back of the door. the room was fairly roomy but sparsely furnished, opposite the door was a window through which she could see the rapidly darkening sky and the glow from brands lighting the street below. To her right stood the now brimming bathtub, with a neatly stacked pile of towels on a shelf nearby. A small table with a pair of chairs stood between window and blazing hearth, dominating the rest of the room was a four post bed with heavy drapes and a stout blanket chest at it's base. The walls, as was typical, were half panelled in oak with white washed walls reaching to the exposed beam ceiling, a single oil lamp joined the fire in an effort to light the room, suspended centrally from a beam.

She shrugged the mail vest off over her head and sitting on the bed, pulled the high boots off of her feet. She crossed to the window and closed the shutters and only then, still with her back to the light, did she strip tunic and chemise in one swift move. Intent on submerging in the tub, she shucked her hose and pants in similar fashion before almost vaulting into the tub. The serving girl had added soap crystals and anja lay in bliss, luxuriating in the bubbles and steaming water, the effects of the last couple of days walk began to soak away.

It was only when she started to lather herself with soapstone that she noticed the design on her left leg. From her left ankle to inner thigh, etched into her skin were orchids and other exotic blooms spiralling in technicolour about her leg. With initial shock, she had but rarely seen tattoos; she took stock and actually some delight in exploring this exotic decoration. Her right leg did not as she thought, carry the twin but a quick peruse of the rest of her, she discovered that the design carried onto her back and terminated by her right shoulder blade.

Another beautiful design entwined her right arm up to the bicep and both of her nicely full breasts carried gold rings in the nipples and a ring of thumbnail size blooms around the aureole. This being her first real chance to explore her 'new' body, she spent the next thirty minutes examining her mobile gallery and it was only as she washed her face that the annoying spot on her nostril was revealed as a ruby stud.

She had by now resigned herself to accept what had befallen her and to make the most of the situation, there was after all not much she could do right now. Finding some rudimentary cosmetics, she decided to see how well the 'new' anja brushed up. Unpacking the kit bag, she removed the silk shift and after washing and drying as best she could her blonde tresses, donned the fresh garments and tried on the spike-heeled shoes. They of course fitted and despite some initial trepidation, after two trips round the room, she had mastered the art of walking in them.

It was approaching nine, when after several attempts at hairdressing and an application of eyeliner and lip stain, anja teetered into the lounge where her companions sat nursing tankards of ale. They were the only guests this night and both Pieter and Dav broke from their conversation as she entered. They both remained apparently transfixed as she crossed to the table and eased herself into a seat.

'There is a woman in there then' Pieter managed after a moment, a glint in his eye.

From clues she had already picked from his earlier discourse with Dav, she knew that anja, the original but rarely wore 'womens' clothing, it not really suiting her lifestyle but when she did....

'As well you know'

They continued with for anja, invaluable small talk, as it brought her up to speed with several tantalising snippets. Their host served dinner, fine slabs of beef, potatoes, carrots and peas with a rich gravy, they ate heartily and a dessert of baked fruit pudding and almond sauce was devoured with just as much enthusiasm.

By the time they had finished eating and drinking it was after zwolf and the three retired without much further ado. Anja realised during the evening that she did in fact know in her subconscious plenty about the 'real' anja of this body and for that matter, her companions. Thoughts of the 'old' dark haired anja, the part time accountant housekeeper were becoming more difficult to recall. Somehow even that memory seemed false.

Next morning dawned bright and clear, anja was woken by the cries of street traders already plying their wares. The food and drink of the previous evening and the feeling of security that Pieter seemed to pervade, had allowed her to enjoy a good nights rest. Getting out of bed, she crossed to the window and opened the shutters, returning to the bed. She again ran through in her mind the last little day's events; she reinvestigated the decorations adorning her body. Hearing voices down the hallway, she roused herself and quickly donned her 'travelling' garments, then carefully but quickly packed her bag. Buckling on her sword, she checked the room for possessions then proceeded to the lounge where the others had again beaten her to the food.

They consumed a hearty breakfast and discussed the day's march that would take them into the Tirzle Mountains via the Ober Pass. Soon after eight of the clock they departed the inn and spent time in the market purchasing provisions. Leaving her companions to the shopping, Anja took charge of the Mogwach and walked to the parapet that marked the edge of the drop down to the Os, whose course they had followed for two days.

From this viewpoint she could see to her right, the Osthorn and almost straight-ahead, the peak of the Tirhotte and could just make out the pass itself. Down to her left, she could see Ostrodehafen and in the distance she could just make out the Osbrucke where they would later cross the Os.

Her companions found her and they distributed the provisions between their packs, fresh bread, fruit, cheese and a couple of skins of wine. Although the morning was bright, it was a bit chill with a light breeze coming down off the mountains. They descended from the town and in full daylight Anja could better see the tumble of timbered buildings that formed the bulk of Ostrode.

Taking the east road, they continued down stream to Ostrodehafen where a motley selection of sailing barges nestled at the quay, then followed the road along the riverbank until reaching the Osbrucke midmorning. They stopped for refreshment at the Bridge Inn before crossing the four stone arches of the impressive bridge that took them into the Oswalde and then away from the River Os.

Their goal for the day was the inn that stands overlooking the Tirsee just beyond the summit of the pass. To get there, there was a climb, which in a series of large loops climbed from the wooded river valley through the forest and out onto the open mountainside and on to the summit a further 800m higher. In local terms, some called it insignificant as other passes climbed much higher, but its steep, ragged path made even a good crossing difficult and never less than a full day's march.

Pieter and Dav seemed to have a never ending repertoire of tales and stories, which were recited non-stop, occasionally halting their progress to demonstrate some move made in combat. Anja was never a story teller, but she listened with fervour, soaking up all the information she could and several times found herself the defendant in some fencing demonstration from Pieter, to her surprise but no one else's, she did so with some skill.

By noon they were well into the forest and coming upon a small clearing, they stopped for lunch. Dav had picked some fungi to supplement their rations and the meal was eaten in good humour. Since crossing the river they had seen no one, but as they prepared to continue, a man leading a pferde came down the trail.

He continued on down the trail when he saw them, his heavily laden pack animal trotting patiently behind.

'Greetings trader'

'Greetings my friends' his reply to Pieter's opening was open

'How is the trail higher up?'

The man was of average height, but the furs he wore made him appear of considerable bulk, his ruddy face surrounded by auburn beard and a tangle of slightly darker hair.

'It is fine friends, but for a landslide near the summit, men from the inn were clearing it when I passed this morn'.'

'What of the weather?'

'Apart from cold you mean. It is good for the season, I must get to Ostrodehafen before nightfall, I must get along.'

'Good journey trader'

And to you sirs, ma'am'

And with a cheery wave the man was on his way. Raising bags to shoulders and calling the scavenging Mogwach to heel, the small band struck out up the trail. By mid afternoon the trees were starting to thin and soon disappeared altogether as the path wound it's way relentlessly upward.

Anja stopped several times to turn and take in the view back over Ostrode and beyond to the Black Mountains of home. The switchbacks became closer and tighter as they ascended until by early evening the peak of the Tirhotte could be seen clearly and the pass summit too hove into view, still high above them.

It was almost seven of the clock as they reached the summit and a further half-hour before they reached the inn. The lake below gave a near perfect reflection in its still waters of the Tirhotte in the now dying light. The air had quickly turned cooler, swiftly as the sun slipped behind the peak, giving that piece of granite the appearance of having a halo.

For a second night they were the only guests at an inn, however the landlord employed several men for labouring jobs such as clearing the landslide the merchant mentioned, for which service a small toll was charged. With the gloom gathering outside, they cosied down by the hearth, the travails of the day having extracted its own toll. After eating they each retired to their beds, the Mogwach following Anja and providing her with some added warmth on a cold night in a draughty inn.

After breakfast they set out on the difficult descent to Obergau. At first the way crossed a small plain, some several k's across, then the path started its steep descent, entering the first of over a dozen loops making the descent. The morning was again crisp and clear, the rarefied altitude bringing an added sharpness not experienced down in the valleys.

The going on this side of the pass was much harder, the path being mostly single track with many loose boulders strewn about. The path crossed the fledgling river Tir more than once as it cascaded down toward Obergau. By midday the route evened up a bit and shortly thereafter they stopped to eat and rest weary calves and ankles, sore from the downhill scramble.

Pieter had indicated on the way to Ostrode that they would not be meeting with the druid for several days yet.

'Where do we meet the Druid?'

'He will come to Obergau and meet us at the monastery'


You recall that don't you? well I know Dav does'

The Saurienne let a chortle answer for him.

'We shall stay in their guest house until the master arrives, perhaps four days time'

Pieter and Dav then recounted the tale of their last visit some three years previous. It would appear that an incident occurred between Pieter, a young lady and a lay brother from the monastery. Anja missed the comic side of this tale and just watched as her companions collapsed in tear inducing laughter.

They shortly resumed their journey, descending toward the tree line at a steady pace on a fast improving trail. Pausing briefly at a point overlooking what was now the Tir Gorge, they quickly descended through the Wald above their destination. The small market was packing away by the time they entered the town whose population covered a wide selection of bipedal types, both human and ahuman, Sauriennes, dwarves, gnomes, elven types and one or two Anja could not immediately identify.

They proceeded through Obergau, then turned west toward the monastery a few kilometres south of the town. Soon they were approaching the low buildings fronting the compound of the religious settlement. The Abbey of St Olaf of the Rock was an imposing structure, the east tower rising to @ 50 metres and the whole building constructed of the local red granite, pierced by many hexagonal stained glass windows.

The guesthouse by contrast was a low, two-storey affair consisting of forty cells for the guests containing a bed, table, chair, lamp and a copy of the holy book, 'The words of the Apostle'. Below the cells were toilet facilities, kitchens and refectory. They were each allocated a cell that would provide their beds until the Druid arrived. Leaving weapons and armour in the cells, they joined the dozen other guests for the evening meal of lamb stew, basic fare but wholesome. The other guests consisted mostly of pilgrims with a couple of merchants from Kaltenbach, several days down the valley.

None of their group were religious, so when the others left for evensong in the cathedral church, the threesome went for a walk around the compound, then seeing that the service had finished and people were headed for their beds, they too returned to their cells for the night.

Next morning the companions met at breakfast, a simple affair of gruel and ale, after which they headed toward the town. Anja had decided that morning that if their route in the coming weeks was to be mountain based, she would need more clothing, and the discovery of her money pouch containing ample funds hardened her resolve to be better equipped.

Unlike the last few days, today was overcast and chilly, the valley of the Gau funnelling the mountain winds, creating a stiff wind in their faces. The Mogwach remained in the care of the lay brother acting as guest keeper, so they went unencumbered by anything but their personal arms which never, or should I say rarely left their sides. They each made suggestions as to how they could spend the days waiting for the Druid, the Saurienne suggested I side trip to the Breithorn, Pieter wanted to visit old haunts. Anja suggested a compromise by spending a day in the town and tomorrow they could explore the Breithorn trail and take it from there. By the time they reached the town they had agreed on this course of (in) action.

To Anja, first priority was to purchase the clothing she expected to need in the next few weeks, better to be prepared. So it was that this unlikely trio entered an outfitter just off the square. Pieter headed immediately to the armoury to check out what was on offer, he disappeared into the back room muttering something about a new belt knife whilst Dav found a seat by the door to wait out his companions.

The proprietor, a small man, balding with eyeglasses perched on his nose, only glanced briefly at the new arrivals. Although apparently engrossed in his bookkeeping he nevertheless would miss no opportunities for a sale. Anja first sought out some breeches that would offer a bit more protection than the leggings she wore, selecting a pair in a deep maroon she headed for a rack of work shirts. After much debate and asking both storekeeper and Saurienne for their opinion, a cream and blue check shirt went on her pile, a pair of fur lined mitts completed her requirements from this store. As she completed the deal, a beaming Pieter returned to the front of the shop with a newly purchased knife, which everyone had to inspect.

They headed toward the square and were only sidetracked by a quick jar of ale in the 'Fat Merchant' on the corner. Leaving the men checking out the market stalls, Anja headed for the haberdasher on the far side of the square. The square was positively humming with activity despite the occasional flurry of snow from the grey clouds overhead. She located more underwear and selected some hose to match her frocks, something she had overlooked when packing for the trip.

On her way back across the square, she stopped to look at the statue, which overlooked the proceedings. Obviously a fairly recent addition to the square, it depicted a woman, apparently of royal mien in a long gown and brandishing a bow. It was whilst she was trying to decipher the inscription that her friends, she did now think of them as such, arrived bearing hot pies. Seating themselves at the foot of the statuary they set about the pastry containers, then washed them down with milk from a passing vendor.

Pieter then led the way into the back streets of Obergau; they drifted down lanes, with occasional browsing at the window of some artisan or other. After lunching in a small riverside hostelry, they continued, watching a smith at work here, buying spares from a Fletcher and sitting for a while at the fishponds.

By mid afternoon they had settled back into the 'Fat Merchant' where many others were already enjoying the atmosphere of the cosy inn. Serving girls kept everyone well supplied with ale as the stories passed back and forth, Anja now matching the men pot for pot although with her sketchy memory of things recent, she left the story telling to others to relate. They dined at the inn before returning in a merry condition, to the guesthouse. The second day of waiting was passed by crossing the River Gau and exploring the Breithorn trail, lunching by a spring overlooking the town and monastery before returning back down the trail they had climbed. The day having turned out surprisingly warm, they stopped for a swim in the Tir before returning to their accommodation for their evening meal, which as was usual in the refectory, was a stew.

When they descended to break fast on the third day, a tall, dark man was already sat eating by the huge hearth. Without knowing how, Anja knew that this was The Druid, the Master, the man they had come to meet. He was clothed from head to foot in black with straggly black hair and a neatly trimmed beard to match. They each sat and received their ration of gruel, the Druid not moving his attention from his own portion as he completed the job of eating.

He waited until they in turn each finished eating and were sat expectantly before he spoke,

'It is good to see each of you again, I trust you are all well?'

Dav replied for them all

'Yes, we hope we find you likewise in good health'

'Indeed, indeed. Pieter, you have brought the Mogwach?'

'Yes, the steward has been caring for it.'

'And Anja, the Oaes Par and your gown?'

'I have them both'

'Then I will fill you in on the details. I shall start at the beginning, if you have questions ask. You know of Anafreid of Obergau yes?'

The three listeners nodded in confirmation, Anja then recalled the statue from the square although in truth she knew not the tale.

The older man continued

'Then I shall pass most of that tale and pick it up near it's conclusion - after Anafreid slew the Gorgon in the Southern Desert, she rejoined the king at Blausee which is where the popular tale ends. However what few know is what happened next. Two months later a stranger came to the citadel seeking audience with the Queen, which was granted. When the man, a dwarf in fact, was presented to Anafreid he presented her with a sapphire. It was said that it would protect the owner and their domain from peril for two hundred years, after which time the dwarven nation might call in the favour in the form of assistance if it was so required. Queen Anafreid thought it seemed a good deal, after all she and hers would not themselves see that day, so she duly accepted the stone.'

The listeners nodded to that statement.

'As is the way often, the stone was misplaced and over the years it's whereabouts were to be found all over the continent. However the dwarves knew where it was at all times, indeed it was they who told me where it lay not ten days ago, indeed Anja you have possessed the stone for some time now'

'The Oaes Par?'

'Yes indeed, the king of the dwarves, Anaglypta, asked me to bring you and it to him, for they are in need of your assistance. '

'But how can we, I, help? Are they at war? What use is the stone?'

'Patience, patience dear girl. Three moons ago the heir to the dwarven throne, the Prince Vymura, was off exploring in the eastlands, he met a girl, Mercedes by name and they were to be married. However before preparations were very far advanced, a raid took place and both Vymura and the girl were taken along with some others. The dwarves and Anaglypta in particular feel that now is the time to call in the favour to Anafreid. Although he would not force you, he asks for your aid in locating his people, son and the fair Mercedes, five in all. The stone will act as your identification and aid in finding the captives.

I have spent several days making enquiries to help in this quest but what I have discovered is neither much or very encouraging. Such a group passed through Funfbrucke and then departed on the Konig Eric Pass toward the Southern Desert'

'That is all?' asked Pieter.

'Yes, I'm afraid so, what say you Dav?'

'I shall go if the others wish to'

'And you Anja, the decision is yours'

'How does this fall to me? I'm not even descended from Anafreid?

'Well it doesn't really, Anaglypta just thought it was worth a try, to appeal for help openly would be to lose face.'

Anja sat in contemplation for a while, trying to read the others expressions. She weighed the information up and whichever way she read it; she had little real choice. To maintain her own honour she had to go, to keep the honour of the memory of Anafreid she had to go and anyway lives were at stake so she had to go.

'What of the Mogwach?'

'It is the boys pet, it may help to find the young man as I cannot give you much of a description'

'Are you to come?'

'No, I return to Anaglypta, if you require my assistance use this' he drew a seeing stone from his sleeve and passed it to Anja.

The girl looked once more to her companions and reading assent in both pairs of eyes, she confirmed their acceptance of the task.

By now it was approaching midmorning.

'I will depart after lunch for Anaglypta, if you want me, I shall be in the abbey'

With that the Druid stood and silently left the room.

Dav commented first 'not our usual brand of work'

'No indeed' Pieter addressed the girl to his left, 'well boss what now?'

Anja was still a bit amazed that she had consented to this madcap affair.

'We leave with the Druid, we have a long walk ahead, first to Funfbrucke, then who knows. We'll meet here at fifteen minutes before noon.'

They each returned to their cells to pack and make ready for the journey ahead. Pieter sought out the Druid, but gained little more of use. The others collected the Mogwach, which apparently answered to Ogen, then securing fresh supplies from the steward and leaving a goodly donation in the poor box, they joined the Druid outside the lodge and departed as the sun reached it's zenith.

The next three days passed without incidence, the party camping out each night as accommodations on the valley road were sparse, even where other trails joined it. On the fourth day they descended Gau Gorge and it was late evening when they arrived in Funfbrucke. The Druid left them to gain passage on a barge travelling the Great Canal north, the party settled in at an inn in the Unterbrucke area of town, right next to the fourth of the towns five bridges that crossed the Gau.

Their route would now take them between the Sentinels to the Citadel made famous in the Anafreid story, and then they would follow the Konig Pass south. None of the group, except perhaps Ogen, slept well and that added to the air of tension the following morning as they acquired fresh supplies and broke fast. It was as much as anything an air of anticipation and they were all eager to depart on the climb to the citadel at Blausee.

The Sentinels, Oberalp and Unteralp, were always in sight as they climbed the well-maintained path upwards. It looped carelessly about the Blauhorn under the gaze of the Hohehorn and by midday of another dry, bright day they were on the approach to the Sentinels. Two hours later and they started the descent to the Blausee and the citadel overlooking it. The goat and sheep herds were returning home as the companions entered the impressive walled town.

None of the party had been here before and it was with both awe and a degree of caution that they followed the road up to the gate. Even in these peaceful times, the walls were constantly manned by the Royal Guard and everyone entering or leaving was stopped and questioned. Below the immense walls several tents stood, a small group of nomads were sat about a small fire alongside.

The travellers approached the immense walls behind a flock of sheep and so their entry was delayed slightly. The guards at the gatehouse looked them over and waved them on and they moved into the darkly shadowed warren that made up most of the citadel's interior. With Pieter en point, the little group moved through the honeycomb of streets, ostensibly looking for a lodging house. Such accommodation was soon located and rooms secured for the night.

After a meal at the boarding house, Ogen was assigned guard duty over their belongings and the rest of Anja's party departed to see what they could find out. The streets were now much quieter and were lit by gas lamps at regular intervals. The trio spent several hours that evening visiting the taverns, bars and whoring houses of the town, in an effort to gain some, indeed any information that would help in their task. Their best efforts were however without success, they gained nothing concrete and on that negative note they returned to their lodgings, the Mogwach awaiting their return as alert as on their departure. By the time the late watch made their rounds, they were each under the bedcovers if not actually asleep.

When Anja awoke next day, the citadel was already buzzing with activity despite the early hour. She joined her colleagues for breakfast over which they discussed their next move. Dav was uncommonly quiet during their discussion, Pieter as usual having most to say. They settled on a resumption of their southward trek, after first obtaining ample supplies - the next habitation was many days trek away. Anja continued making enquiries while they procured their provisions to no avail, apparently if their quarry had come this way, they had been invisible!

The day was well started when the friends passed back through the gatehouse of the citadel to resume their journey. On Dav's suggestion they paused at the nomad camp, as it turned out the best decision so far made. After exchanging pleasantries, Dav asked the camp leader, a burly individual by name of Alzun Hammad, of those they sought.

'Indeed friends, we have seen such a group but two days ago, but not here'

'Where then?' Pieter enquired

'It was up in the pass, near the Hohe See, they were camped as though awaiting someone.'

They could not have asked the gods for much more.

'If you are to follow, take great care' Alzun went on 'they looked of sour disposition'

'Thank you friend' Anja replied, presenting the nomad with some fruits as was custom at such exchanges.

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