They came from Zelkor's Ferry

Ulman Dark

You wander back past the ferryman’s house and look north across the
small peninsula which holds the settlement. From here you can see the
remains of a stone wall along the far side of the spit of land, giving some
small amount of protection to any attack that might come from the river
on the north. It is at least head high in most places, and taller and in better
shape where it meets the guard tower at the gate. The wall is only a few
tumbled stones along the east side of the peninsula, though, and nothing is
left of it in the area of the dock.
Built almost up against the wall on the north side, as far away from
the rest of the settlement as it is possible to get, is a large wooden house:
the home of Ulman Dark. It seems a bit odd that it stands so far from the
other buildings, when some of the ones to the south are built literally on
top of one another. You head north across the common space and realize
it is grassy on this end, though it is mostly dirt near the inn and stables.
The house ahead must be at least two stories tall; it is as tall as any other
building in the village. There is a stone stoop, and two stone steps up to the
front door. The main floor has no windows but the upper level has some,
or at least you see two at the front.
Just as you near the house the door opens and a woman pauses in the
doorway. She is dressed in dark leather and holding a black crossbow,
with long auburn hair held out of her face by a woven band. A quiver
hangs at her side, its strap around her neck and lying between her breasts.
Her brown eyes survey you coolly, and then she smiles.
“So, have you come to see the necromancer in his lair? Come to hire
the services of the great Ulman Dark?” Her voice seems slightly mocking,
but that may be your own misperception. “You don’t look injured yet, so
perhaps this is just a preventive measure? Always a wise choice, acquiring
a healing draught before you need it. Just don’t use very many at a time
– not even Ulman is always quite sure what’s in them, and too much of
a good thing could kill you.” The woman turns gracefully, poised on the
doorstep, and calls back into the house. “Ulman! Someone here to see
you.” She leans her shoulder against the door frame for a few moments,
the crossbow negligently dangling from her left hand.
A man dressed in black appears in the doorway behind her and speaks
in a deep voice. “Kanndra? I thought you had gone out to shoot that nasty
crossbow of yours.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? It isn’t the weapon that’s
nasty; it’s the woman who wields it.” The woman – Kanndra – gives the
necromancer a smile and a significant glance, then steps lightly down the
stairs and walks around the west side of the house. By moving that way
slightly yourself, you can see a large barrel sitting against the north wall,
a target painted on it. The outer white and middle yellow rings are nearly
untouched; you see some marks in the inner red ring but if there are any
hits in the center black circle, they are not visible from where you are.
“Welcome to the abode of Ulman Dark.” intones the man now alone
in the doorway, and you give your attention back to him. He is tall and
slender with pale skin, as if he spends very little time out of doors. His
black hair brushes his shoulder and falls into his eyes and his dark eyes
are shadowed, as if he never gets enough sleep. “Please, step inside and
let me tell you about my services.” He ushers you in, and then closes the
door behind you.
It seems very dark inside, and your eyes try to adjust. Suddenly the
room is flooded with more light; two hooded lanterns on the wall which
were mostly closed have been opened to their fullest. You squint briefly
against the bright light and see Ulman Dark seat himself on a tall, high-
backed chair in front of the lanterns. His face is in shadow as he begins to
speak in his smooth voice.
“I have studied extensively in many cities, and in the wilderness where
few others have ever set foot. The knowledge of the stars is mine, and the
animals of the night, and the plants that bloom in darkness, and things
that grow in dark places. I have studied the persons of humans, elves,
dwarves, and many other races; I know what makes them live, and I
know what makes them die. I understand what herbs and substances are
necessary for a body to heal itself, and I combine these rare ingredients
painstakingly into a healthful draught than can help alleviate an injury
or wound. In addition, there is more I can do!” Dark’s voice increases in
volume slightly with his excitement. You also become aware of a rhythmic
thumping outside, every several seconds, which seems to underscore what
Dark is saying.
“My great knowledge of the body allows me to recognize many diseases
both terrible and common. Through the use of such practices as leeching,
and purging, and the application of plasters and the imbibing of nostrums,
it is possible that I may help the afflicted to cheat death, and live, though
the most deadly disease try to say me nay.”
He grips the arms of his chair and leans forward. “Yet more amazing is
the possibility of removing deadly poisons from the body. I have studied
poisons extensively indeed and know that few have a certain cure. But
many may have a cure! The procedure is complicated and difficult,
requiring precision and concentration, and the application of certain very
rare ingredients. It can only be effective at all if begun within hours, lest
the poison have too tight of a grip to shake.
“Any of these services is available to anyone, for a most reasonable
fee. There is no need to appease a particular deity, or appeal to the good
nature of someone who may disapprove of you. I ask only for payment
in advance, for my best effort will be expended and my stores depleted,
whether or not I am able to battle back the ravages that may come upon a
body. I am able to make no guarantees, for I am not a god nor aspire to be
one, that I should promise to cure all the ills of men. I can but do my best,
but my best is very fine indeed.” His voice softens and becomes intense.
As he leans forward his face is somewhat illuminated, and his eyes look
very dark. His deep voice continues, persuading you of his abilities.
“The most amazing of my services, though, I have yet to mention. My
studies, which some deplore as ‘black magic,’ have granted me a measure
of power over life and death. The temples of the gods keep their secrets
well hidden, but I have found that it is possible even to restore life to
a body, after life has fled.” The sounds outside have stopped and it is
suddenly very quiet here, as if everything is holding its breath in the face
of this incredible claim. Dark continues in a hushed voice. “I cannot go
into more details, for this procedure is my own secret, one thing that only
I know, one gift that only I can give the world. However, it is costly,
and horrendously difficult, to the point that I myself may be physically
devastated by the procedure. Here again I can make no guarantees, but
many an unfortunate adventurer has been brought to my door lifeless and
cold, only to be restored to his or her comrades with joy after my own
humble efforts.” He has drawn your attention with his recitation, made
you feel the tension and triumph he describes, and so you are startled with
Dark suddenly rises to his feet, silhouetted against the lamps.
“Now go!” he says, gesturing toward the door. He turns and with a
gesture closes the lanterns, plunging the room into darkness. You hear his
steps and then he flings open the door, giving enough light for you to make
your way out. As you are stepping out, he urges you again. “Go on into
your adventures and come back when you must, and from my knowledge
and skills I will endeavor to provide you with what you need.”
Just then Kanndra Dark comes around the corner of the house, her
crossbow held carelessly over her shoulder and her quiver empty. She is
panting slightly, and sweating from her exertion. Her graceful movements
make every step look as if she is dancing. “The bolts are stuck again,
Ulman, but the guards say they will get them out for me.” She stands
close to him and looks up at him with a smile. “Have you concluded your
conversation? Do you then have some time for me, before I have to go?”
Dark gives you another intent look, then turns his gaze back to his wife.
“Come, my dear, let us make the best use of our short time before you
leave,” and turning his back on you he firmly closes the door.
Raised voices around the corner catch your attention, and you walk
around the house to find three men arguing over a clutch of crossbow
bolts stuck into the target barrel. All three are dressed in leather pants,
plain shirts, and brown tunics with short sleeves, on one of which is embroidered a simple pattern of a river and a boat.
“One thing I don’t want is Kanndra Dark unhappy with me again,” the
first one says with a shudder. “That tongue of hers could flay a bear alive
and make him beg her to just stab him rather than haranguing him more.”
“Let’s see if we can get the bolts out without breaking them,” the
second one suggests more calmly. “She wasn’t very happy with our results
yesterday.”
“I am never doing anything to get a price on my head,” the third man
says, digging at the bolts with his dagger, “if there’s a chance in hell that
Kanndra Dark might be the one to come after me. I heard, before I came
here, that she poisons her crossbow bolts with something exotic. That
way not only is her target injured, he’s confused, or weak, or forced to
cooperate, depending on who’s telling you. I didn’t credit it at the time,
but now seeing who her husband is, I can believe it.”
“It’s true she’s a mite sharp-spoken,” the second man begins, and the
first one snorts at the understatement, “but watching her fire that crossbow
is a thing of grace and beauty. I’d be happy to watch all day, but we’d
need to get her more than one target so she doesn’t feel a need to put all
the bolts into one bull’s-eye.”
The two who are not engaged in digging bolts out of the target notice
you watching, and motion you over. “Come take a look at this target!” one
calls. “It’s some amazing shooting.” You stroll over and see that what you
thought was the dark center of the bull’s-eye is instead the fletched ends
of closely packed crossbow bolts. Evidently the shooter had put the bolts
through the center of the target, directly next to each other. Up close you
can also see differences among the three men. The one who spoke to you
has light brown hair, closely cropped, and is a bit more heavy-set than the
others. The second man is a bit younger and taller than the others, with
dark blond hair, while the fellow attempting to remove the crossbow bolts
has brown hair liberally sprinkled with gray and is slender but appears
strong.
“That Kanndra Dark,” the younger man says. “The first day she was
here, she had us set up a target for her. After a few shots she got us to
weight it with a log. Her bolts really tore up the barrel that day since she
kept hitting in the center or close to it. Yesterday she shot the center right
out, but wasn’t this precise.”
“Yes,” agrees the brown-haired man, “And asked us to get her bolts out,
and then gave us a tongue-lashing when we broke half a dozen of them.”
“Today I think she hit more than just the exact center,” continues the
blond, “but it’s hard to tell with the middle of the target completely gone.
I’m Tancred Malgun, by the way, one of the guards of Zelkor’s Ferry. You
just arrived this morning, didn’t you? I saw Captain Skorma talking to
you earlier. This fellow here is Corbel Grambien, and our friend who is so
handy with a dagger is Bernhard Caxton.” Bernhard gives a nod over his
shoulder and keeps working.
“Kanndra Dark always causes a bit of a stir when she’s here,” Corbel
remarks. “She’s married to Ulman Dark right enough, but she’s a bounty
hunter and so she’s away a good portion of the time. She’s here for a few
days every couple of months, maybe, though I understand she’s been gone
as long as six months at once when she had to chase some fellow right out
into the desert down south.”
“I’ve heard she’s cruel,” Tancred says in a hushed voice, looking over
his shoulder at the house behind him. “When a person gives her a lot of
trouble she tortures him before she turns him in, or kills him slowly if the
reward is for him dead. I dearly admire that red hair of hers and she moves
like a dancer when she has a sword in her hands, but a poisonous snake is
graceful too and probably a lot less dangerous.”
Bernhard straightens slowly, a dozen bolts in his hand, and motions for
Corbel to take over the task. “You two wouldn’t remember this,” he says
quietly, “because it was before Bristleback hired you, but one time we all
saw what Kanndra Dark can do.” He glances at you, to be sure you are
listening as well. “You know Ulman does healings for people, though he
uses his own strange methods. Well, one time a healing went awry and
it laid him out so that he was terribly weak. The folks he was trying the
healing for weren’t happy with the results; not only did they refuse to
pay him for his effort, they stole a goodly amount of money from him
and some other stuff. They just rode out of town, and the rest of us didn’t
know what had happened until the next day. Then we found Ulman and
took care of him but there was nothing we could do about the theft – until
Kanndra arrived that night.
“When she heard what had happened, she became like a scorching
flame. Just her look would have started straw on fire! You think her tongue
was rough yesterday? That was nothing compared to what she had to say
about those thieves. She looked everywhere in and around the house. She
questioned Igor and Vort, and searched the stables, then rode out of here
like a streak of dark lightning.
“Evidently that group hadn’t gotten far enough away. Of course, there
had not been anyone to warn them that Kanndra would be coming after
them.” Bernhard narrows his eyes and gives you a thin smile. “Not that
a warning would have done them any good. By the time Ulman Dark
was back on his feet Kanndra returned with not only his missing things,
and some other useful magical items, but also a present: six nicely-tanned
human skins. Someone told me later that he used them to bind a set of
new books for his notes. He just wasn’t able to make the books very large
because he had to work around holes in the skins in several places.”
Corbel and Tancred just stare at Bernhard, their eyes a bit wide at this
announcement. Corbel clears his throat.
“Here are the rest of the bolts; why don’t you,” and he passes them to
Bernhard, “leave them on her doorstep? I’m sure she’ll find them there.
I’ll be sitting on the other side of the barracks.” He turns to you. “You’re
welcome to come, too. It just seems safer over there all of a sudden.”

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