Azrak couldn’t argue with the logic that searching in the village would be safer, but he wondered about the prospects of finding a ring stolen by a gnoll within the confines of a dwarven village. He had little time to ponder this riddle as presently a cry went out from the edge of Mudstone village gave way to the muck of the swamp. The dwarven soldiers fell into a formation as the caption hollered at them. Azrak hustled along behind them as they charged toward the alarm. A troop of 20 gnolls were rushing towards the village in frenzied attack.
The two forces met like crashing thunder, blade ringing against blade. A few figures fell to mix their blood in the fetid mud. The rest mixed into a chaotic cloud of jabbing swords and swinging axes. Azrak threw himself into the fury with relish. His hammer pummeled down upon the head of a gnoll who stumbled backwards then lay motionless in the mud. As more gnolls fell, their nerve began to break and soon they were retreating. The caption shouted for pursuit. Azrak hesitated to dash into the swamp water. He tossed his pack onto dry land before doing his best to catch up with the warriors.
The gnolls picked a zig-zag path through the swamp, keeping to shallow water but the dwarves closed. Mounting a short rise, the gnolls made last, desperate stand. Their higher ground was not enough to hold off the dwarves who soon stood over the vanquished bodies of the gnolls. Azrak picked over the bodies but found none wore rings. He half-wished one of the gnolls had survived to be questioned.
On the slog back through what they called Doomwood Swamp to Mudstone village, Azrak asked the captain, his gray beard now caked with muck, if he’d ever heard of a ring of protection. The grizzled leader looked at him like he was crazy and asked, “What? You want to know if I’ve heard of a common magical ring that any idiot can make?”
Azrak was surprised and glad to hear that the dwarves found magical rings to be so easily made. “How do I make one, then?” he asked.
“You really don’t know? Well, it’s just that you draw three circle before speaking the magic word. The first circle must be blood red, the second golden and the third black.”
Azrak’s nose wrinkled with irritation. “No! The kind of ring you wear!”
“Oh, that’s different. The only ring I know how to make is a ring of power.”
“What does that do?” Azrak wondered.
“It holds a bit of the power of Doomwood. The more powerful wearers can harness it to many things, but anyone might use it as a power over death. Dangerous, but maybe a force for good if worn by the right dwarf. Those foul creatures they call elves, they say, can use them to make the dead rise again.”
Perhaps this ring of power would be as good as Azrak’s stolen ring. He asked, “How do I make one?”
“Oh, well, you simply carve it and get it blessed by a priest, but the trick is getting the wood. Aye, wood, I said. You’ve got to get the heartwood of a treant, which you will find somewhere out there.” He gestured vaguely towards the swamp. It was hard to tell how truthful the old dwarf was being. Azrak wasn’t even sure what a treant was, though nothing in Doomwood Swamp seemed particularly safe. As they returned to the village and Azrak bunked down with the soldiers, he thought hard about whether he ought to try to find a treant to slay or if he ought to look for more clues to his stolen ring.