Players Involved: Andrew (Popon), James (Manon Sèverin), Mark D (Rufio Bateu) and Dan (Jace Korsus)
“I don’t even know why this is a conversation we’re having. Llael needs our support, and we’re going to give it to them.”
The Broken Thorns, one of the many mercenary companies Llael currently employed, rarely agreed on things quickly but this conversation had been raging on for the entire afternoon. Nerves were frayed and tempers flared between the two opposing arguments. Lady Sèverin, noblewoman of Llael and member of the Amethyst Rose, was taking the lead on one side, and Rufio Bateu, Ordic “hero” was leading the other.
“Look Sèverin, I know your loyalty to the crown is all-important to you, but just because you were assigned to us, doesn’t put you in charge! The fact is the Rhullic folks have a better claim to the land then Llael does, and are willing to pay just as much.” argued Rufio bluntly.
“I don’t care about the money, it’s about securing a future for my people. If Alain Di Malayse believes Llael is in danger from Khador then I believe her, and this could be a way to save my people, you have to understand that!”
“I understood everything until you said you don’t care about the money” mumbled Jace.
Manon Sèverin shot him a look, but as he was arguing her point she left it at that. The noblewoman was at her wits end arguing the point with Rufio – She knew full well that his disapproval of would be tyrants and disposers was fueling his argument – The fact that the land to be explored had been dubbed by many the ‘Stolen Land’ didn’t help her cause. She put her head in her hands and sighed.
“Rufio, I get where you’re coming from, I do, but these are my people we’re talking about here. I can’t just turn my back on them because the Dwarves showed you some paperwork about owning the land once.”
“It was theirs Lady Sèverin. It was their land, and now Llael and the rest of the Iron Kingdoms are looking to tear it apart and divide it among themselves like they have that right. Even Popon agrees with me, and he barely speaks our language.”
Popon, an Idrian raised from a young age among the Efaarit, looked up from the bowl of stew he was eating, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve quickly.
“He speaks truth. Dwarves own land, land is dwarves. We give land back to dwarves. Simple.”
Manon screamed through gritted teeth, losing her fair composer for a second before recovering. “I’m sorry, I am but the Dwarves gave up their claim to the land long ago when they abandoned it. We’ve been playing go between the different sponsors now for three weeks – Some of them have already hired other bands and gone on their way. If we don’t make the choice now, we won’t even be an option. We go with Llael.”
“Where is Cedric? Should he not be here for this?” questioned Jace. He was an usually quiet man, but this suited the company well, and his skill with a blade was undeniable. “He is our esteemed academic after all.”
“He’s busy elsewhere,” snapped Rufio “apparently he doesn’t have the time for this. And anyway, he told us to sort it out between ourselves.”
“Only because he knows we’ll make the right decision!” argued Manon, “He’s from Llael too for crying out loud, do you really think he’s going to go against his country and king because some dwarf showed us some old paperwork?”
Rufio stood up and crossed his arms, and Manon Sèverin sighed again. It was going to be a long night.
The journey to the ‘Stolen Lands’ was a quiet one, partly as Sèverin was entirely correct in her assessment that most of the other companies had already left, and partly because the first two weeks involved travelling through the Bloodstone Marches, a desolate desert as soon as you passed the town of Ternon Crag. Still, at least they were in good shape and had finally made the right choice Sèverin thought to herself. And the benefits had already started to pay off – Instead of having to make camp for a few months, or construct a makeshift place to stay, Alain Di Malayse had put her considerable purse-strings to work in acquiring them sole rights to accommodation at Olegs Trading Post. From what the letters said, it was an old fort that had been re-purposed some time ago, and was the last frontier of the Bloodstone Marches. It didn’t get much trade, but apparently it was more to do with the seclusion, and giving brave adventurers from Ternon Crag somewhere to stay before venturing into the wilderness. In any case, beds and clean water easily outweighed any agreement they could of made with the dwarves as far as Sèverin was concerned.
Cresting the hill, they finally saw Olegs in the distance. The families that accompanied the Mercenaries cheered, and Sèverin was glad that they were relieved. They had spent the last couple of days bemoaning the heat, accustomed as they were to the Umbrian winters. Woodsmen and their children, the two families had agreed to make up the Vanguard and help provide what help they could to exploring the lands. Once they were set up, the rest of the village would follow. It made sense to Sèverin, but she could see Popon was struggling with the concept.
“They are all family, they all should come. I don’t understand how you are all so easy to leave each other.” he questioned.
“It’s not a case of leaving, it’s a case of looking ahead Popon. Surely you get that, you’re here and not with your tribe after all.”
“My case is special. I am not Efaarit, I merely serve where my tribe wishes. I am here and they are there. I find it hard without them. To choose to be away, it makes no sense to me” Popon sighed.
Inwardly, a part of Sèverin agreed. She already missed Llael, and although the Llaelese-Umbrians were technically of her homeland, they reminded her little of the life and loves she knew. She took a deep breath and smiled at the man.
“Maybe together they can make a better world and future for their family. Maybe we all can.”
Popon mused on this for a while, but seemed to cheer up a the the idea. By the time they reaches Olegs, he seemed much more understanding of it all.
“So you don’t even know about the bandits? Bloody typical!” yelled Oleg as he stormed off. His wife Svetlana tried to diffuse the situation.
“Oleg, I’m sure even if they don’t know, they can help us, right? We can’t go on losing all our wares and supplies to these thugs, or we’ll end up destitute. If you help, you and your company can stay here as long as you like, free of charge! I’ll throw in two meals a day as well!”
Oleg looked at his wife incredulously, and seemed as though he was going to retort until her sharp gaze gave him cause to reconsider.
“Aye, what she says. Help us and we’ll do what we can fer you and yer crew.”
“What kind of numbers are we looking at? And when?” inquired Jace, his hunters mind already planning as he scanned the fort and its defenses.
“The last time there was 6 of them, and one of the women. They usually arrive the beginning of the month”
“Beginning of the .. That’s tomorrow for Morrows sake!” said Rufio exasperatedly, but Jace was already moving on. “Women? What women?”
“The hunter women. The bandits had tried it on before, but we’d put paid to them. About three months ago though, two women dressed in furs and wooden masks came with them, and told us that ‘The Stag Lord’ ruled these lands now, and we better pay up. Oleg tried to argue, but by the Creator they were fast. No sooner had he reached for his blade than one of them had but a spear through his shoulder. He hasn’t been right since, bless him. We’ve paid them ever since.” cried Svetlana, her voice turning to a whisper.
“Right, we need to figure out who or wha-”
“It’s Tharn.” stated Jace. The others looked at him for an explanation.
“I’ve encountered them before, although not these particular ones. They’re Tharn hunters. Call them Bloodtrackers. If they’re here, then there’s a War-chief here. Probably this Stag Lord. Chances are he’s just cowed the other bandits in the area under him.”
“Is this a problem?” asked Rufio, “as I don’t fancy being eaten anytime soon.”
“Depends. If the Bloodtrackers come tomorrow and we kill them, we’ve attacked him. He’ll retaliate. The bandits though aren’t Tharn. Killing them just proves they’re weak, and we probably won’t get much hassle for our troubles.” spoke Jace.
“So,” spoke Sèverin “whats the plan?”