The fourth day of Autumn dawned cloudy and cool. Shortly after we left Roehm’s men behind, a heavy rain started. We slogged forward through the mud. I heard a commotion from the rear guard, and turned to see that Fergus had been pulled from his saddle! Willie was throwing off a rope, and men popped up around us demanding we stop in the name of Dame Orielt.
We tried to talk our way through, but they would not let us pass without swearing service to their crusade. We’d a mission of our own, thank you very much, and tempers flared. One of their bowmen shot Willie as his horse shied, and that was all it took. In quick succession, Pyrea put the three in front to sleep, I entangled one off to the side, Talvi went on the hunt, Beth shot down one bowman that I had slowed for her. Wikton hammered away but kept calling on the foe to surrender.
And the battle was pretty much over. Boraen slit the throat of the three sleeping tribesmen, a bit profligate with his subjects if you ask me, and certainly ignoring the good advice of Marshall Roehm. Ah well, dead men cannot raise the hue and cry. As I saw Beth looting the man she’d killed with my help, I decided to show Tasso and Luna how to check the bodies of the slain for treasure.
As the entanglement subsided, the remaining tribesman tore free, only to stare down Wikton and his hammer. Wikton encouraged him with the help of some rope to stay and answer questions, commanding him in turn to talk (nothing useful) and to betray (which only confused the captive).
Boraen came over to help with the questioning. The man worked for Ulfamark, the Bearman. Ulfamark was determined to avenge himself on the corrupt and cruel tribesmen who had betrayed him in the rite of adulthood.
Determined to force more from the man, Wikton and Boraen began breaking limbs. Wikton chillingly promised to injure and heal until the man complied or went mad. This only increased his defiance – Boraen was unworthy to be king, but how like the others he was! Boraen’s face suffused in anger but he called on Meesha to heal this man. His heart wasn’t in it, though – the man was left with a broken foot. I looked back at him, thinking to heal him myself, but he’d already gotten one hand free enough to make rude gestures.
Tasso was appalled, as in truth so was I. Meditation might help my turmoil, but this trip was certainly not doing it! We had a long whispered talk. Tasso was distressed I had not stopped Boraen from killing the helpless, or torturing a bound prisoner. He knew of war – had fought at Yew, in fact, a battle I had missed. But there were right and wrong ways to fight. Far from fighting chaos, we were creating it! I confided I had the same thoughts, but was not sure how to stop the humans from their cruelty. And I had done a poor job protecting Tasso or Luna from their violence, as well. We pledged to keep each other honest, and I suggested his path may lead him to a druidic circle, not a thieve’s guild. I gave him 3 gold pieces to reward him for awakening me to my complacency and complicity.
We left the main road for a farm to market track a bit north of Steltin. As we headed west/southwest, we saw in the evening gloaming a wagon of travelers coming our way. It was a troupe of very bad musicians – so bad that it crossed my mind they might be spies or rogues. They gave no notice of my signs, though, as they chatted with us convivially about the lands around Steltin. Boraen and I sent them to plague Winright and they kept on up the road. Luna suggested that they were such bad musicians, maybe that was how they made a living, and her guess was confirmed by the innkeeper when we stopped for the night.
We’d disguised ourselves as travelling merchants. Pyrea became Lady Arrington, I her father’s most trusted business advisor, Sen Orgrego. The Sens were a large and prosperous clan, so my name would not cause suspicion. And of course merchants would need to know of troops or tolls ahead, so our questions would seem natural.
On the evening of the eighth day of autumn, we saw the Dale Woods in the distance. We’d skirted Riverton, certainly, but in so doing, had gotten turned around. The Dale woods were north, a small group of buildings to the south.
As we approached the buildings, a clamor of barking started. I cast speak to animals on myself, but what the two dogs were saying was, “They are going to kill us! Hey! Get away from here! Masters, make them leave!” I told them, we are merchants, no one is going to kill you!” Human heads peeped out at us, and a large man called off the dogs. “Yes, yes, you will not let them kill us,” barked the younger dog.
Ogre was the man’s name, and he had some wildmen in his family, it appeared. Pyrea assured him we were just merchants trying to get across the river, without having their horses or goods taken to support the war effort. We all decided to be civilized, and Ogre’s four sons, crossbows carried but uncocked.
We ask Ogre to build a raft to get us across. We’ll pay good money, and leave him with a ferry that could compete with the toll bridges. Meanwhile, I fish and forage with Tasso and Luna, who thaw slightly towards me. Beth gets on with the dogs famously, and goes out hunting with them. Nan, too hunts, and she brings down a deer.
And in the evening of the final day, I talk to the three other remaining members of the Enonia Falcons. We all were distressed by the torture – it reminded us of what orcs did. And Fergus had been troubled in his sleep for many nights after killing helpless captives in our fight against the Black Brotherhood. Here was his chance to make amends for that.
The Falcons would be a force that stood for something. We would protect the helpless, starting with our vow to prevent the slaughter or abuse of prisoners. The druid in me exulted in this –my mission is not the protection of the woods, but preserving the flock against predators.
And strategically, this made sense, too – everyone would be needed to drive back the orcs, and the more unity we could achieve, the stronger our forces would be. No need to make more enemies, we had enough!
The eleventh day of autumn, we rafted over to the Southron Duchy. This is the first time I have set foot outside the Duchy of Irecia, but any musings on that were interrupted by a bittersweet parting between mother and son: the younger dog, Lee, refused to leave Beth, and his dam was both wistful and eager to see him make his way in the world. Ogre might have raised a fuss, but, “His ma’s been mated with another fine watchdog. I’ll keep the best of the litter,” he confided to me.