After slaying the green dragons which dominated the Cleft-Rills region our heroes took their gains and bought some more oxen to haul their wagon which they packed for the trip to the west coast and the city of Chago. The trip would probably take months if not most of the current year maybe arriving in Chago the following summer if they wintered somewhere between. They decided to take the Trade Road traveling north through the North Gate Pass (another mountain pass) into the Hill-Lands to follow the Coastal Mountain Range West then through a southerly valley into the Falmark from the north. The Falmark being a small 30 mile (approx. 510 square-mile) stretch between the Cleft-Rills region and Hirok-Nor a more civilized western region. They figured it approximately a 250 mi trip and should take just over a week of constant travel if all went well. Dead-Eye had also picked up a protégé named Vorwulf a ranger/archer whom was more proficient with his bow than Dead-Eye but less so with a sword.
On their travels westward they ran headlong into a rainstorm which delayed them by about a day, after that they noticed a young dragon tailing them which appeared to be a larger than normal grayling with red-spotting whom they later shot at (Bers missing horribly with her crossbow) wounding it badly causing it to break off and a pack of wolves which had prowled into camp nearly dragging Vorwulf off and definitely would have if Dead-Eye hadn’t shot the wolf that had him locked in its jaws. Just before entering what should be the Falmark they were ambushed by a large gang of highwaymen led by three identical Hill-Giant brothers wielding iron staffs with a Half-Naga/Human lieutenant with a fighting spear and a chainmail clad human captain with a steel cap along with 10 crossbow wielding ratlings led by the human captain taking cover behind a hedge. All had yellow waist sashes and faces covered by yellow handkerchiefs. The battle lasted 2 rounds with Bers running back to drink a potion after getting clobbered by one of the giant’s iron staff and Dead-Eye dodging a similar blow with Vorwulf taking cover in the back of the wagon covering them with his bow. The third giant smashed the new recruit and held him on the ground with his staff. The Naga dropped unconscious from his wounds at the end of the first round and died convulsively in the dust of the road. Eventually two of the giants took a great deal of damage as had all three of our adventurers with the least wounded giant snatching up the small banded chest which was full of what Cris deemed “worthless” potions taken from the green dragons lair and the highway men broke off and fled.
Finally, at the end of the seven-day stretch starting from Fertum Dreyhawk they arrived at a fork in the road both ends of which went west nestled between trees of the Low Wood. They observed a marker stone at the fork which was fairly large though nowhere near the size and height of a menhir. It was badly pitted and worn by time, lichen spotted and patched with moss. It was covered what appeared to be graffiti some of which may have been useful information but Bers and Dead-Eye were still illiterate at this point, they had Vorwulf read it finding the terms Falmark with a west directed arrow as well as the name Fort Ebernel scratched deeply beneath that. The stone also revealed that the northern lying road was the Old Road and warned of a swamp. The sun had begun to dip behind the trees and the mountain immediately east was creating an early dusk. Dead-Eye sent Vorwulf to find a campsite. He found a shallow hollow off of the road.
During the night on Dead-Eye’s watch a thick rolled in around midnight so thick that he could barely see beyond 10 feet. Put on guard by the lack of visibility he sighted a large shape bearing down on him. After avoiding the swing of a polished black wood club he caught sight of the 8-foot tall powerfully built nude male torso lacking a head and neck before him. He yelled waking the other two and all could feel the unnatural cold that the creature emanated. The wagon oxen seemed unable to move and lowed miserably. The fight went quickly with Dead-Eye getting in a killing shot with his bow after backing away Bers stepping in forgetting that she was unarmored. The creature immediately dissipated as did the thick fog that had covered the camp. Dead-Eye warned her not to touch the club which sat gleaming where it had fallen. During the last watch Bers drowsed and suddenly a hideously wizened creature stood before definitely female and probably a faun as she had horns. The thing cackled and the fire flared temporarily blinding her and when her vision returned the hag had vanished. Come the dawn she shared her story with the others and she went to check on the club when Dead-Eye wasn’t looking. All she found was a rotten piece of moist wood.
An hour or so after breaking the tree line of the forest for a second time, the road comes out of the tree line then goes back in, they came to a motte and bailey structure flying the flag of a rampant rooster against a field of purple lying in the crotch of another fork in the road. The guards said that the southern turn was the South Bend and to avoid the swamp to the north beyond the ridge and Hag’s Walk. It was a death trap. The guards directed them west continuing on the Trade Road to Fertum Ebernel which flew the same flag as the fort with the town of Falton directly south of that which flew the green serpent biting its tail against a field of brown. By late afternoon they reached Fertum Ebernel and entered a crowded bustling main drag. They walked past a band of actors entertaining a crowd.
Dead-Eye: “F*@k them let’s get to the tavern.”
Bers: “Aww. I’m watching.”
The entertainers were a family of jesters telling to what amounted to fart-jokes against a painted backdrop. His toddler-age son hobbled from behind the gaudy canvas and he held him up for the crowd to see whom clapped as it seemed the end of his routine.
Bers: “Aww, how precious!”
A cloaked figure sat by the covered wagon by the backdrop which Dead-Eye had identified as a hedge-wizard in disguise attracting his pupil’s attention as he was “eye-balling” them and the wagon as was the rather large wolf at his feet which had a strange air of intelligence about its yellow eyes. As they continued to mix in with the bustle they talked to random passerby to try to get their bearings and a little information about the area. They stopped a grizzled farmer smoking a little oak pipe. They asked him about the area.
Farmer: “Well”, he champed at the stem of his pipe, “y’ave already passed the swamp did ya? Now yer gonna wanna stay out of the Fool’s March to the north.”
Dead-Eye: “Fool’s March? What’s that?”
Farmer: “People see the Will-O-Wisp at night flirting all over there, spirits ya’ know of the dead warriors that sunk there long time ago. A spring suzerain it is. Looks dry as a bone but underneath’s a quagmire sure as death. Sometimes in summer, gett’n close ta that time, we that is me a few other kin folk, go diggin’ but not too deep mind ya. Ta find a sword or helm to sell, fetch us a few fliks.”
Dead-Eye asked after the best way west, they were headed for the coast.
Farmer: “Well”, he took a few tokes from his pipe, “the best way west as far as I’d know, and I don’t know much ‘bout that, would be to follow the Trade Road as it turnt ta’ tha’ north skirtin’ the Witch’s Wood. You mind me and stay outta there. That hag she’s a mean ‘un. But as I syas, stay on ta’ road and you’ll come to the Mountain Pass.”
They continued on towards the tavern only to stop as a group of men carrying their shirtless, bloodied and limp companion by apparently looking for a healer. Looking to where the men came the adventurers saw a small fenced in ring where stood an Arborean, a tree-man with bark-skin and wooden body, stood holding a silver helmet.
The Arborean: “Is there no one to take up my challenge only 1 silver piece to challenge my skill, if you win then the whole purse is yours! You may even wear this helm as I will only use my fists!”
A Spectator: “Yeah! Well, what ‘bout yer woody hide there fella!”
The Arborean: “I have these,” he held up pair of steel gauntlets from his belt, “to even the odds!”
Bers: “Ooh! I’m gonna fight ‘em!”
Dead-Eye: “Wait! Let’s see what he can do first. Besides we’re gonna want to do some hiring.”
Bers: “Oh yeah.”
It didn’t take long for a challenger to come forward, a brawny half-faun who happily donned the helmet and pitted his apparent wrestling skills against the Arborean’s wooden fists which pummeled his helmeted head into the dirt in two turns. The crowd cheered and a money changed hands. They approached the Arborean and got his name, Grik-Watervane of Granfor and he and his companions were for hire so our heroes arranged a meeting for later that evening in the tavern. Vorwulf was sent by Dead-Eye to secure a space in the Merchant’s Quarter as Bers and he were going to the tavern.
As they entered the tavern a drunken mountain of a man with blacksmith’s tools jangling from his belt stumbled into them. Drunk and distraut he blubbered, “My wife, my wife!”
Bers: “What about your wife?”
Drunk Blacksmith: “She’s-she’s..”, he broke down and began blubbering incoherently.
A scrawny dark haired fellow appeared from behind the blacksmith. Dead-Eye saw the skinny man’s eye’s which were yellow with slit-pupils hinting at a gypsy heritage (Southern Nomads).
Scrawny Man: “I’m sorry I’ve just come to fetch my friend back to his drink. I’m Wetl and my friend is Dravor. His wife has run-off with an Ivoran actor last year and just before winter she hopped the last caravan out with him.”
The Blacksmith (ruthlessly): “I’ll kill ‘em too if I ever get my hands around his neck!”, holding up two clenched fists.
Wetl bowed with a slimy grin before he led his friend back to their table. The tavern was small and narrow crowded with long wood-plank tables. Bers noticed the jester from before sitting at a table by himself eating a meal. The three sat at a table where they could keep their backs to the wall at Dead-Eye’s behest of course. The group noticed while they waited for their food and ale that Wetl, the scrawny guy, was leaning over the table whispering into the blacksmith’s ear and didn’t seem to be drinking at all. After a little while Wetl moved over to the jester’s table and seemed to engage the jester was slighter than himself in a quiet conversation. It wasn’t long before Dravor the blacksmith stomped over the same table and thudded next to the jester. This is when our heroes began paying attention to what was going down.
Wetl: “You’re an actor!”
Dravor: “You’re an ACTOR!?”
Jester: “Well, not really.” in a noticeable Ivoran accent shrinking in his seat.
Wetl: “Then we should kill you, it’s only logical.”
Jester: “You’re funny”, an exaggerated smile broke his face as he began to sweat.
Wetl: “You’ve gone pale. Something on your conscience?” He pulled a knife.
The jest looked around helplessly as the rest of the patrons gazed back scowling at him.
Jester: “You want to hurt me? Why? Have I done something to anyone? I’ll just leave and never come back!”
Bers (to Dead-Eye): “Oh no! Are we going to have to fight again?!”
Dead-Eye: “Shh. Do what I do.” He unfastened his sword pulled it slightly from the scabbard all the while keeping his grip on it. Bers picked up her ax as stealthily as she could and set it across her knees.
Wetl (pointing the knife at the jester): “Go on! Get up there so everyone can see you!”
The jester climbed quaking and unsure on top of the table and Wetl and Dravor forced him to perform a jig while they threw his half-eaten meal in his face and washed it off with his mug of ale.
The tension drained out of the air and Cris and Jen’s (Dead-Eye’s/Vorwulf’s and Bers’ players respectively) shoulders dropped with a sigh.
Dead-Eye and Bers relaxed as their meal was delivered to the table on several large wooden platters and in wood pitchers. Come evening the group fairly drunk but still stuffing their faces were met by the Arborean pugilist Grik and his two companions. The first was the cloaked figure which had been sitting on the jester’s caravan, a human mage named Wentum and the wolf they had seen at his feet named Rgrha who was wearing a gold necklace. The wolf turned out to be a sentient animal with the ability to communicate telepathically much like an Arborean. They had come here from the south and were both, Wentum was from the southwest from the foot of the Gohmar (mountains), from a small region in Granfor. After a little small-talk they struck a deal to employ the three as body guards and magical consultation. Night fell outside and the tavern began to lock up so our intrepid bunch left to the Merchant’s Quarter. Suddenly a crack like thunder ripped through the street and the image of a horrible hag appeared in the middle of the Fertum wreathed in blue flames and large enough for all to see. “I will send my vengeance slithering to punish you all for trespassing on my land!”
Bers: “Crap! It’s the one I saw in our camp last night!”
Dead-Eye: “That’s it let’s get out of here … in the morning.”
To Be Continued…