Bartelby was sitting back on his pony, reigns in hand, plodding along the road, with his face to the sky. Bartelby did this to feel what little sun was coming through the gloom on his face. He was also listening. Practicing his sense of hearing, predicting the road ahead based on the changes in sound of his trusty pony’s hooves on the dirt and rock.
Something wasn’t right. He heard the sound just after Knickers did. Knickers is the name Bartelby gave his pony because of its 4 dark brown legs that end in a white spotted torso. Someone was yelling. Not along the main road mind you, far off to the left, past the brush, filled with tiny thorns, and over the low hill covered in trees.
“Poor Knickers,” Bartelby thought as he tightened up on the reigns to the left and lightly kicked his heals to spur Knickers into a gallop off the road and on through the brush.
Cresting the hill Kickers had quite a few burs sticking to the area that gave him his name. Bartelby too had quite a few dry hangers on, sticking out of this boots and hardened leather pants. But neither Knickers or Bartelby paid them any mind. From the sounds, they both knew what lay ahead. For now they could hear the groans of the zombies and the cries of at least two people that were fighting them off.
Bartelby made the half-tisk, half-clucking sound that reminded Knickers to push forward. Down the hill the pair progressed as quickly as possible, gear bouncing and rattling all the way down. Bartelby made a mental note to tighten up the bundle better; to last longer than a 10 minute gallop.
The group heard Knickers and Bartelby coming. It helped a bit by distracting the zombies, who were trying to claw their way up the side of the wagon. The two remaining riders of wagon had created a make-shift barricade to defend against the zombie’s “claws”. The skin had worn away on many of the zombies and the bone finger tips were leaving gashes in the wood and starting to cut through.
Bartelby dismounted while Knickers was in a slow gallop. Knickers began to instinctively slow until Bartelby’s hand came down on his rump, causing him to pick up speed. The clanking of Kickers passing by the zombies drew half of them away, running after the pony.
Bartelby thrust his shortsword through the back of a zombie head, clear through to the other side. Simultaniously he plunged the dagger in his left hand through the top of a second zombie. “At least they aren’t fresh,” he thought as black ichor oozed out of the skulls.
That seemed to get the attention of the remaining undead shells of former men. Two more were down before Bartelby had to defend himself. They were slow, but a dozen slow hands eventually find their mark. Unless of course you are Bartelby Roundbelly.
The shock, surprise and disbelief on the faces of the two men at the top of the wagon showed through the anguish and fear that was clearly present.
As the last Zombie fell, the fading clanking of Knickers started getting louder. Bartelby rolled his shoulders, sheathed his weapons, tucked in his shirt and drew his blades again.
Bartelby smiled as he saw his pony friend in a slow gallop coming back. The look on Knickers face was clearly fear. Bartelby couldn’t help but feel bad for chuckling at the sight of a small horde of zombies following hurrying after the clearly faster Knickers.
One important thing about zombies, they don’t all rot at the same rate or in the same places; some are faster than others. If these things were anything but zombies Bartelby would have had some pity in his heart for what he did. Two by two the zombies fell. Bartelby engaged and disengaged, running around trees to surprise the witless evil things. It was graceful but gruesome. A dance of black ichor with an occasional fountain of blood out of the newly raised zombies.
What Bartelby didn’t understand and was troubling his was why were the zombies attacking, who raised them and who was commanding them? Was he in the territory of a necromancer? Was it THE necromancer he was looking for? Perhaps the wagon riders would be able to help him. Perhaps not.
Only one of them was still alive when the last of the zombies were dispatched. One of them had bled out from deep gashes on his thigh. Grego, the remaining survivor, was injured but not in danger of dying. Not like the two horses who were flayed open in front of the wagon or the other 4 people that had been on the wagon.
Grego was grateful and blathering praise over Bartelby as he scrambled from his makeshift fort. Grego tumbled to the ground in a heap, still blathering. Bartelby couldn’t help but smile as he helped Grego up off the ground, taking great pleasure in at least saving one life. Bartelby put a finger to his lips, silencing Grego.
The two, without another word, knew the distasteful task ahead. They gathered Grego’s group into the wagon and hitched poor Knickers to the yolk. Grego was nearly twice Bartelby’s height as they walked along the narrow dirt trail leading Knickers
It was getting close to sun-down when Grego spoke again. The village was over the next rise and Grego asked Bartelby to be his guest in his home.
The wagon was already late with the load of supplies from the city. Most of the villagers were out to meet the wagon as the sun was setting. Bartelby held back Knickers while Grego informed the villagers of the tragedy and gathered volunteers to bury the dead.
Late in the night, after the dead were buried, the volunteers headed to the largest building in the center of the village. Glumly and without a word, under torch light, the men unpacked the supplies. Pouring out those tainted by the zombies.
Bartelby was shown a room and everyone solemnly went home. The next morning breakfast was brought to Bartelby and his roundbelly certainly enjoyed the feast presented.
Once he was full, Bartelby set out to solve the mystery of why the wagon was attacked by zombies in daylight, gloomy as it was it was still daylight. No one had the answers. The supplies on the wagon were standard, nothing magical. No one had any stories about grudges with the village. Grego was a fountain of information, but unfortunately the information was not helpful.
Bartelby put together that the supply run was the usual seasonal delivery of farmed, trapped and crafted goods to the city and the usual purchase of goods that were much rarer in the village. The fine wine that Bartelby was being served was in fact one of those supplies. The harvest had been good and the village was planning a celebration. Instead the following day was going to be the funeral. The woman folk were silently preparing food and the children, when seen, were sobbing at their loss.
Bartelby was already a day behind schedule, so he decided to pack up his belongings and get back on the road. If the overland route wasn’t easily traversed he would end up two full days behind. As he was leading Knickers out of the stable, Grego and some other men from the village stopped him. They insisted that he stay for the funeral. Bartelby explained that he had a funeral of his own to attend. One that he was already late for and had to make up time. Four days of travel by pony remained. In the end Bartelby relented. One more day was worth the good food (and that wine) and he really didn’t want to insult his hosts. After all, he earned being treated like a hero for a day. He would still meet his obligation to the Professor. He was sure of it.
Except, that night did not go as planned. Bartelby was awakened in the middle of the night and his heart sank a bit. The groans he heard were not from something alive. Oh how he wished it was the inn keeper and his wife, but unfortunately the zombies had returned.
The screams and yells soon followed. Bartelby was already down the stairs and silently disappearing into the night. He stayed downwind, hidden, low and silent. The darkness of night did not offer him protection when dealing with the undead. He had to conceal himself as if it was mid-day. This time, Bartelby was not looking to engage the zombies. This time he was looking for the necromancer.
Given that all he saw was zombies and they were relatively weak, he knew the necromancer was not THE necromancer he was looking for. But, he also knew that he could best this evil, power-hungry defiler of the dead on his own, if he had the moment of surprise.
With every scream and cry that was silenced, Bartelby knew was the end of a precious life. He had to keep on task. He knew he would not stand a chance if he revealed himself before he saw the necromancer. Oh how he regretted his decision to stay in the po-dunk village. Even more so when he heard the panic of his beloved Knickers. The fight lasted for a while. Knickers was trained well and had great spirit. Bartelby figured Knickers ended the unnatural life of at least 6 zombies before he was silenced. Now Bartelby was upset.
Bartelby saw the necromancer, up on the narrow trail, the same spot Bartelby stood when he looked down on the village for the first time. Bartelby could only keep one thought in his mind, “That fiend is going to pay.”
The next 20 minutes were difficult. Hearing screams and yells rise and fall while carefully sneaking toward his foe was fueling his resolve and simultaneously weighing on his heart.
As Bartelby reached striking distance he saw zombies dragging the dead husk of Grego to the feet of the necromancer. The necromancer reached down and pulled a charm off of Grego’s neck. At that moment he knew that Grego brought this blight to his own village. He had somehow acquired a magical “lucky charm” that drew the attention of this young evil fiend.\
While the necromancer was reaching to put the charm on his neck, Bartelby struck. The longer blade found a kidney and pushed through the intestines and out through the appendix. The second, shorter blade, slid between the shoulder blades and the ribs, piercing the target’s heart. Bartelby knew he had done his best and life was leaving his foe’s body. One more slice of the longer blade separated his foe’s head from its shoulders.
Bartelby snatched the amulet out of the air, turned and ran. Not out of fear, but out of sorrow. He did not stop until he was able to feel the sun on his face and was too exhausted to feel sad. Bartelby smiled as he laid in the grass with the sun on his face, losing consciousness.
Alone, without his companion, on foot, Bartelby was determined to make his way to the Professor’s funeral. Not just to mourn the Professor, but to mourn the loss of Knickers, Grego and his kin and those he lost so long ago in his own village.