Lilykai Kodel, Ratik Ranger

Beyond the Borders
Hoth strategy

I rise before dawn and grab a quick breakfast before going to the meeting point at the front gate. As hoped, I am the first to arrive. The air is crisp and the clouds high, it looks like the snowfall will be later in the day today if at all. Of course we are heading on a northwest route that will be taking us into the Griff Mountain Range (and out of Ratik’s borders) so regardless of the weather here, I imagine we will be seeing more aggressive conditions.

As I look back towards the garrison I see Martume approaching with a rather off looking character. He is tall, and human, but his armor and weapons are not of Ratik. The layered metal plating and twin thin swords on his back are somehow familiar even though I’m sure we’ve never met before. When he nears and I can see his face I realize that I have read about his country and culture before. My traveling companion is from The Scarlet Brotherhood. When he stops he slightly bows to me (I return the gesture). Then he begins speaking. His dialect is both rapid and clipped and I struggle initially to understand his greeting. I believe he has introduced himself as either named Ronin or his designation/title is that. I can’t quite tell and as I’ve said ‘I beg your pardon’ one too many times already; I just nod and hold out my hand as I respond, “Lilykai Kodel…Ranger.”

“Well, now that introductions are out of the way, we should begin,” Martume exclaims as he claps his hands together and smiles broadly. It’s at that moment that chicken makes a rather noisy appearance coming from the gate. The phrase ‘mad as a wet hen’ comes to mind as I see Chicken approach Martume. He goes to her, him, it…and I can only catch snippets of the conversation. If that’s what you call what I’m watching between an old man and a chicken. I try to eavesdrop, “….no, you have to stay…..[low bocking]…I know what I said……You need to stay and protect the garrison.” I hear a loud ruffling of feathers and a huff and chicken is marching back towards the gate. This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

“Ranger, if you could lead the way?” I nod and begin jogging in the direction we’ve already noted on our maps.

In spite of it’s odd construction “Ronin’s” armor is remarkably quiet. There is a faint clicking/occasional clacking noise, but it is not nearly as noisy as I would have thought it would be upon first glance. I am wearing my snow walkers on my boots so the deep snow is not slowing my progress. But I can hear Ronin breathing heavier in his effort to keep stride. I angle our path towards the nearest copse of trees and pick up a little speed. I arrive slightly ahead of the other two and am using my hatchet to cut small green branches as they approach. “Help you out a little in the snow,” I mutter to Ronin as he stops under the tree, catching his breath. I nod to the snow walkers I’m wearing. I glance at Martume and notice that he’s not sinking into the deep snow like he should. I make a mental note of that along with the fact that he’s wearing exactly what I last saw him in and doesn’t seem to be cold in the least. Interesting.

“What about you Martume? Need a pair?” I ask, purely out of curiosity, as I’m fashioning the first one. “No, I think I’ll be fine.” He answers mildly as he watches me like a hawk. I think Martume puts the ‘Observer’ in Royal Observer. I look down and focus on what I’m doing in order to hide my smile. For whatever reason I find Martume more interesting and entertaining than intimidating. Before I start the second one The Ronin (I still haven’t decided how to address him) asks me how to make them. I show him how to hold the green branches together and bind them with the rope pieces, how to weave the smaller pieces into a “net” of rope and branch, strong enough to withstand holding his weight while running. It takes a little longer since I’m explaining to him how to construct it; but I notice Martume, who at first seemed to be in a hurry, patiently waiting and watching our interaction. I strap on my own and stand ready to depart once more a few minutes later. “Well,” I say while looking into the distance, “whatever time we lost making those we’ll make up pretty quickly this afternoon. It looks like we’re in for even deeper snow drifts in the direction we’re moving.” And without another word I start running.

I wasn’t sure how our progress would be; an old man in a bathrobe and a stranger from a strange land are untested traveling companions for a Ranger. Having anybody travel with a Ranger is unusual, we’re loners by trade and sometimes by choice. I am surprised to find I don’t mind traveling companions. I always looked forward to going on my run solo….having only myself to depend on….but the solitude does get….lonely. So for now, as long as they’re not slowing us down, I’m rather happy for the company.

A couple of hours later I get my bow ready and pull away from the others a little. Sure enough, once I am a bit separated from the group I am able to spot a couple of fat hares on a berm just beyond the hill I’m cresting. Before they have a chance to move I’ve let loose a pair of arrows and the hares are mine. I wave to Martume and the Ronin to continue in the direction we were moving while I retrieve them. As I’m gutting and cleaning the rabbits on the hill, packing them in a waterproof bag with snow so they’ll keep for dinner, I notice some odd tracks and a lone feather in the snow several feet away from me. [perception roll 9, that’s with bonuses] The area we are traveling in is rather uncharted. There aren’t any farmsteads or population of any kind out this way which means there isn’t a need for any regular patrols and I would guess no Ranger has ever ventured this far either. So the wildlife is probably very…wild. I decide it is best if I stay near my charges and not let them venture too far without me. I hurry to follow their tracks and catch up.

The afternoon light is waning, I start looking for a nice clearing for us to spend the night. My normal habit it to find a stand of trees with one large enough for me to climb into and sleep at least 10’ off the ground. My worst nightmare is to awaken from a sound slumber by being mauled by something. Teeth and claws sinking into my skin is not a good way to start the day. However, thinking about those two climbing up into a tree is so absurd I have to work to stifle laughter. After another hour of travel I spot a nice area off to the east of where we are heading and start to angle there. When I stop I notice Martume inspecting my choice. It must pass muster because he simply nods once and sits off to the side in the snow, legs crossed.

“Can you get us some firewood?” I ask Ronin while handing him my hatchet. He nods, drops his gear unceremoniously where he was standing and walks off into the forest. He is obviously used to sleeping out so I hold back from telling him exactly what kind of wood to get. I drop my pack in the tree well closest to me, retrieve the bag with the hares and begin to skin and prepare them for a stew. I have some potatoes and carrots in my bag to go with it. Ronin returns with a nice stack of wood rather quickly and gets a fire started as I finish my preparations. I notice that Martume hasn’t moved in this whole time and has his eyes closed. Somehow I doubt he’s sleeping.

Dinner is warm and filling, our tents are set up near the bases of the trees, I only travel with a half shelter and I set that up for Martume who isn’t carrying a thing. I rarely use it (tree!) so it’s not a big deal for me to go without cover. I’ll just curl up at the base under the low bows and be quite comfortable. A good, deep, tree well is better than a tent any day to me. The Ronin and I decide to split watch duties, each taking 6 hour shifts. I take first watch and the night goes easy. I awaken Ro to take over, and crawl into my bed, falling asleep before my head comes to rest on the ground. The next morning I awaken to the smell of bacon and eggs. I crawl out to face the bright and shiny face of Martume grinning cheerfully. I look at the two pans going over the fire and then at Ro, who catches my eye, looks at the food on the fire and shrugs at me. My mother taught me to never look a gift horse in the mouth, and I think this is very fine advice. “Wow, smells great. Thanks for making breakfast, sir.” Maritime just smiles wider, stirs the eggs and flips a little bit of shell out of them into the fire. Oh goody….crunchy eggs and burned bacon.

We’re moving steadily through snow drifts when I start to get a bad feeling. The forest doesn’t feel right to me [17, successful insight roll!]. I realize I haven’t seen any movement or heard the chatter of any birds, squirrels or any creatures at all…small or large. The wrongness persists and I find myself unconsciously reaching for my bow and slowing my pace slightly. All my senses are on alert. Seemingly from nowhere a huge creature lunges in my direction. From behind me I hear swords slide from their sheaths as know that Ro sees it too. Before I can even think about it I’ve lodged 2 arrows in it’s midsection, not slowing the beast one bit. It is huge, at least 8 feet tall, has a furry body (he stands upright) and a bird head. Or to be more specific an owl head. It continues its charge at me and wildly swings one of it’s huge clawed paws, barely raking my shoulder as I dodge out of it’s way at the last minute. It is exceptionally fast and agile for a creature of its size. I barely dodge it’s second swing and by that time it has spotted Ro, standing solid with his swords, and charges at him with it’s beak.

Ro stands his ground until the very last second when he spins away to his right (away from my line of fire) and slashes at the creatures leg. He makes good contact and it lets out a screech and staggers as it’s weight becomes too much for that leg to hold completely. It recovers it’s balance enough to spin and face Ro again, ready to strike with it’s claws. Unknowingly, however, it has made a fatal error and placed itself between my bow and his swords. I quickly drive 2 more arrows into it, this time deep into it’s neck. As is flinches from their impact Ro is able to slip his blades deep into it’s abdomen and release it’s steaming entrails onto the snow. It collapses in a heap, dead.

Martume pops out of nowhere grinning madly. “That was very well done! Wow, that’s a big one!”

“A big one what?!” I say incredulously. I look at the Ronin who has the same disbelieving expression on his face as I do. I ask him, “Have you seen one of these things before in your land?” He shakes his head slowly back and forth while muttering something in his native tongue.

I turn to Martume and repeat myself, “A big one what?” And I gesture furiously at the heap of dead thing laying before me. “Well, that of course. Come on, we better get moving. They usually travel in pairs. Mates.” And then he starts jogging in the direction we were heading before this interruption, leaving Ro and I just staring at each other with our mouths open. I throw my arms out to the side in an exaggerated gesture of exasperation and start following him. I run with an arrow nocked for at least an hour before starting to relax. Just as I do there is a grunting and rustling in some undergrowth to my right. I spin towards the noise and let loose my arrow, hitting whatever it is. It then screams and bursts out of the bushes, only to be met with my second arrow. The wild boar falls dead, sliding near where I’m standing with an arrow lodged deep in its head, through it’s eye [20!!]

As I’m field dressing the boar I have The Ronin keep guard. We have traveled many miles since the crazy animal bird creature, but I’m not willing to take any chances on another coming along while I’m busily carving up this pig. After I’ve cut apart and packed away the best portions of the meat for Ro and I to carry we go further towards our mystery destination. According to Maritime we will be arriving near the site late this afternoon, right before dark.

We start up the base of the Griff Mountains, in less than an hour the terrain has increased to a 20% grade, but we remain in forestland. Right before the end of the day we come across an unnatural tree line. It is apparent that there was a major catastrophe here. To the North and South of where we stand (facing west, into the mountains) we can see where the natural tree line is. In front of us, however, is complete devastation and chaos. There is no centralized point of the disaster, no direction of debris to establish where the devastation began and ended. It’s simply absolute bedlam. Trees look as though they were ripped from the ground and tossed aside, root ball and all, some tree trunks appear to have been simply exploded, other large swaths are burned to cinders. This was an old forest, many of the trees were as big as 6 to 8’ across, they would have been around 100 feet tall. Yet they looked tossed about and burned like tall grass in a meadow.

I open my mouth to ask Martume what we are witnessing when he cut’s me off with “Shhhh, dragon country.” I freeze and I see Ronin visibly pale. No one I know in Ratik has personally experienced a dragon attack, there hasn’t been one recorded in over 75 years. But we’ve all heard tales of the death and havoc they bring. This forest debris is proof that the stories are true.

It is the end of the day so we pull back, away for the scene of destruction. As we camp both Ro and I are on edge. We cook up a roast from that boar, so at least we eat well tonight. The smoke from the fire and the smell from the food put me more on alert rather than less. To me, it’s like a beacon saying ‘Come get us!’. Clearly, the tree fall area has me nervous. We each take a long watch this night, but nothing untoward happens. [this was before the transfer to 5e, it wasn’t out yet, so there was no Alarm spell at the time…you just kept watch and hoped they didn’t have stealth]

The next morning Martume is up and ready to go early. He seems all business today, definitely a change of temperament. “Take me to the edge of the tree line to the North of here, then wait.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “What do you mean just wait? Just hang out in the trees and hope you come back? I’m supposed to help protect you, right? I mean…HE’s your guard, right? This just doesn’t seem….safe.”

“I will be fine, but I need to go in alone. For your protection.”

That just sounds ominous to me. I’m not sure who I should worry about more. “What should we do if you don’t come back?” I’m starting to raise my voice.

“If I don’t return in two days you should go back to the Garrison and let them know I’m gone.” He responds mildly.

I think to myself ‘I will never show back up there empty handed, you better come back, or I’m going in there after you’; but I nod to him as if I’m taking orders. He starts away from us and Ro and I head back towards the camp. Neither one of us has much to say, we’re both very much uncomfortable leaving Martume to go in alone. I scan the horizon as we are moving and note a Glacier that runs between the mountains. It must be unnaturally cold there to hold such a solid chunk of ice so massive. I dismiss it as nothing more than The North. It is a mistake I won’t make again.

As dusk approaches Ronin and I stoke up the fire even hotter than before. We’ve kept it going all day but as the night approaches the cold is starting to come on strong. We take turns keeping watch for Martume (and dragons!) and gathering wood for our stockpile. Dinner will need to be cooked soon so we’ve started preparing the fire for pots and pans. Ronin and I haven’t said much all day, it’s been a companionable silence between us punctuated by an occasional suggestion or quip. I think both of us are just on edge knowing what lies beneath the mountain before us.

Our silence serves us well. In the midst of the cracking of the fire we hear a completely different cracking noise, louder and deeper. Both of us turn to face the darkening forest, our hands on hilts and bow when out of the trees a colossus made of Ice and Frost emerges. It’s long blue arms swing out before it. It’s fingers shaped like the deadliest of ice sickles, honed to a sharp pointed claw. It’s preternatural howl sounds like something between an ice floe smashing into rocks and the howl of a Nor’easter wind.

We stand stock still in shock for a brief moment before I break to the left and try to put two arrows into the creature, they glance off. The beast seemingly unharmed. Ronin swiftly draws his blades as he charges, the metal ringing off of the ice; barely biting into it. He rolls away just as the creature slashes at him, a glancing blow that digs into Ronin’s armor but does little damage. In that moment we both know we’re in trouble.

Locking eyes we turn and run through the forest dodging between trees to slow the colossus down so that we can swing back for slash and dash attacks. We are barely harming it while I’ve taken a deep slashing wound to my side. I’ve discarded my bow as useless, the arrows completely ineffective against the ice monster. Our swords are barely better and we find ourselves being hounded further and further away from our camp.

I get an idea and pull a flask of oil from my pocket. Tossing it to Ro I yell, “Follow me! I have a plan.” In truth I haven’t much of a plan other than Ratik’s favored saying when dealing with the abhorrent, ‘Fire Cleanses All’. I race past the monster, making sure he sees me and follows. Ronin and I are much faster than it is through the trees and we have outpaced it quickly back to camp. “Throw that when you think is right” I yell to Ro as I stop and pull out my grappling hook. I hold the rope loosely in one hand while I ready the hook in the other. The creature bursts through the trees hot on our train and I have seconds to throw the hook around its leg. My throw is true (19!) and the hook swings around both legs, entangling him in the rope, which I then pull tight, locking everything into place. The colossus stutter steps before it’s forward momentum begins pulling it down like a mighty cedar. Ronin jumps from cover and breaks the flask all over the torso of it, before joining me at the rope. Before it has fully landed we are pulling with all out might towards the campfire. We drag the creature into the heart of it, the oil and wood cracking and popping from the ice and fire. Quickly we throw more and more wood onto the flames until the creature thrashes no more. We keep the fire high and an alert vigil awaiting more attacks but the only thing to emerge from the woods is Martume, looking grave.

In spite of the roaring bonfire beside me, his next words chill me to the core.
“She Has Bred.”

[Player note: Yes, I was inspired by the Rebel stand on the Ice Planet Hoth. What can I say….it works for AtAt’s and Ice Trolls!]

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Sgt. Lily
A Day Off

“Ranger Lilykai Kodel, effective immediately you have earned the rank of Sergeant. Congratulations. Additionally, you have been given a special assignment. Let me introduce you to The Royal Observer”

They all salute, except The Royal Observer, who simply nods and finishes his banana. I return the salute to the Commander and Sergeant, accepting my new stripes. I have a sneaking suspicion this has something to do with thwarting an assassination attempt on Baron Mordecai.

Before I lower my arm from my salute Tamikos stares hard at me. For a moment I think I did it wrong, when she says fiercely, “Where did you get that bandana?” She spied it peeking out from my coat sleeve I suppose.

“Ummm” I frown and stall for a moment trying to decide how much to disclose. “It was a gift.”

Martume’ approaches as Tamikos continues, “The last time I saw a bandana just like this it belonged to a farmer who’d been killed near here. I saw to the family’s burial.” Martume’ has taken my arm and is pulling up the sleeve to look more closely at the bandana. I get a feeling he knows something but says nothing.

I look at her, “Your deserters did it?”

She nods, “Shortly after we noticed they were gone we saw smoke from the nearby farm. The whole family had been murdered. We tried to follow their tracks but it had snowed over them. How did you come to get this in your possession?” She narrows her eyes at me.

“She brought their bodies in” Sgt. Peka interjects, nodding in my direction.

Martume’, who is still studying the bandana says, without looking up, “You didn’t kill them did you?” I shake my head. “Did the Vengeful Walker see you?” I nod. “Ahhhh, he had an aura of revenge against evil that has been transferred into this token. He left you this as a gift after completing his mission. It will protect you from true evil.” He looks up at me as he releases my arm, “Did you try to stop him?” I shake my head no again. Earlier his tone was jovial, and blasé. Now his voice drops low, with a foreboding quality, “That’s good, trying to stop him would have been…….unwise.”

Tamikos has been listening intently to the exchange, I can tell she has decided to let the subject rest, for the moment. But she’s still not too sure about me.

“Now, let me see your map!” his jovial tone is back again. I reach in my inner coat pocket and pull out my Ranger Map. It is standard issue with all known landmarks and homesteads of the north on it, all the places I’m supposed to check in. I spread it out as instructed on the Commander’s desk. He then pulls out an older version from somewhere in his robe and unrolls it on top of mine. His map is much different. Where mine shows the garrison, the farms I’ve seen and those to come in the east; his has the same garrison, fewer farms and a dwarven hold at the border of the Griff Mountain Range where mine has none. He nods at our maps and points to the hold. I think I know where I’m heading next…a lost dwarven hold! This is my kind of special assignment!

As I am rolling up my map, making a note where to add the lost hold on it, Commander Tamikos asks Sgt. Peka to show me to the barracks where I can stay tonight and the mess hall. Which sounds fantastic, I’m famished. As we are leaving I hear Martume’ ask Tamikos if she would like some hibiscus ginger-root lemon zest mushroom tea. I glance back to see the look on her face which is somewhere in between aghast and disgust. Guess she’s not a tea lover.

Sgt. Peka takes me by the barracks on our way to the mess hall so I can drop my gear off. I leave my pack, but keep sword, bow and quiver. Apparently that’s normal for Rangers as he doesn’t seem to register it as strange. Peka is nice and we make small talk, him pointing out the various tents of the tent city within the walls of the garrison. Two of them are the equivalent of Inns, except one is for men and the other for women, allowing for privacy I suppose, since there are no inner walls. There are also some merchant stalls that have closed up already. He drops me off at the Mess and bids me goodnight as he finishes his rounds, he’s on patrol tonight. Because the garrison is constantly busy the kitchen serves dinner late and I can get plenty to eat. They have the luxury of beef, pork and venison for dinner. I enjoy a hearty steak with potatoes and carrots. It’s been a long day with little to eat and I’m making up for it now. And lots of bread, I miss warm bread the most. No one sits with me although they sneak looks when they think I’m not paying attention. I overhear some men at another table talking about going to Rollo’s. Remembering Peka’s tour, I know that it was the largest, and loudest, tent in the yard….ahhhh, the bar. It’s late, my belly is full, and my legs are tired, so I’m off to the bed….no drinking for me tonight.

The next morning I sleep in a bit, at least for me. It’s just as well, the crush for breakfast in the Mess is over by the time I arrive. I am having a huge breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes, bread, ham…and lots of tea) when the second in command joins me. Captain Moonshadow, like myself, is a half-elf. He is also a priest, but not of St. Cuthbert, which is most common here in Ratik. It’s nice that this garrison has it’s own healer, there aren’t a lot of priests in service right now. I’ve heard that almost every regiment had an active priest/healer during the Horde Wars, but over the decades their numbers have decreased. The Captain has been in the service for awhile. He’s probably close to the Commander’s age, and by the sound of it has been assigned to Griff Mountain since before Tamakos was appointed here.

I remember the merchant’s jewelry I’ve got in my pack and bring it out to show the Captain and ask whether he had seen the man before. He does remember him, the merchant passed through quite awhile ago, long before winter set in. He had a shop in Marner, was a magical weapons dealer, but doesn’t remember his name. Moonshadow thought he might have been going to the Dwarven hold up in the mountains. We discuss what would have brought him out all this way but neither of us can determine anything conclusive. “He looked a little rough, like he’s been sleeping in the wild. His clothes were like he wasn’t prepared for the weather here.” We both think it’s unusual for a merchant, or anyone for that matter, to make it this far north and west without being properly prepared for conditions. I thank him for the information and ask him to note the merchant’s passing in their reports, as I will in mine, in case anyone comes looking for him.

Captain Moonshadow then proceeds to tell me about The Royal Observer. Apparently, this is a little known position in the realm except among commanders and those in charge of things. The position is, based on his description, second in command to the King. In fact, Martume’ is supposed to perform his duties outside all chains of command, including the King. The Captain describes him as one who works independently and above all others so he can see the “bigger picture” of threats to the realm. I say, “He looks like a crazy old man in a bathrobe to me.” Moonshadow smiles and replies, “Don’t let him fool you, there is a method to his madness.”

“I better go see when he wants to leave then, don’t want to seem lax in my duties.” I thank the Captain for his insight and bid him good morning. He tells me to find him before leaving the garrison, he has some healing potions for me, “You’ll need them.” he says ominously. I hope he’s just pulling my leg, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case.

I find the Royal Observer outside the walls of the garrison inspecting…….the grass. What little is peeking out from under the snow by the outer wall anyway. There is a chicken following him around. As I get near the chicken jumps onto his shoulder and seems to be talking….uh, bocking at him….and he seems to be talking back. Oh, boy. He turns to me “Ah, Sgt. Kodel. Good to see you this morning.”

“Good morning to you, sir, uhh Royal Obs-“
“No, no.” he interrupts. “No need to address me like that, just call me Martume.” he leans in and whispers to me conspiratorially, “it helps me keep my cover.”

I can’t help but think ‘your cover as a loon in a bathrobe?’ no problem. I wonder if my face betrays my thoughts as he chuckles quietly and says,

“and this is Chicken. He’s…well, he’s chicken.” The chicken on Martume’s shoulder stands up as tall as a regular sized chicken can and says “Bock, bock.”, with it’s little chest thrust out proudly. I think to myself…..’what was in that tea this morning.’

“Uh, nice to meet you Chicken….” the end of the sentence lilting up like a question. Like I’m wondering if this is what I was supposed to say. They both bob their heads in unison and Martume graces me with a very large smile, so yes, I think that was what I was supposed to say.

“Well, Martume, sir….when did you want to leave? I’m pretty much ready when you are, I just have to restock some gear and drop off my report.”

“You have all day to rest Sgt. We’re waiting on another person. There is a Royal Guard coming to join us as my…….guard. We’ll leave tomorrow in the morning. Just meet us at the front gate.”

“If you already have a guard, why do you need me?” I blurt it out before I can help myself. My curiosity, and lack of tact, has gotten me into plenty of trouble before. In fact, that might explain why I’m stuck out here in the North on my first run. I probably said something I shouldn’t have to someone important. I’ve still not puzzled it out yet, though.

Martume holds up his hand in a calming gesture and says, “You are my scout and my tracker. And you are the guard to my guard, and to me, and to chicken.” “Bock, bock,” chicken adds with certainty. And Maritime nods along with him…her…it. I need a drink.

“Ok, then. OK….I guess I’ll meet you out here? By the gate…tomorrow.”

“Yes, we’ll see you then.” Maritime suddenly speaks in a sage like quiet tone. There is clearly more to him than meets the eye.

I’ve not had a day off that was not due to the receiving of grave wounds in……months. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I take the time to go through all my gear; oil my weapons and clean them. Re-string my bow and go through my quiver, re-fletching arrows as needed. I clean my coat out, all the pockets (especially the food pocket, crumbs were accumulating), clean and condition the leather (I do this with my boots too, along with re-lacing them). Finally, with all my gear maintenance complete I have to do what I have been putting off to the last, sew. There are several tears from the wolves that need repair and some Sergeant stripes to attach. An hour and a thoroughly punctured thumb later I am finished and ready for a sorely (thumb!) deserved drink.

It’s mid-day by the time I’ve completed my maintenance so before hitting Rollo’s I go to the garrison stores to replenish my rations, arrows and other incidentals, which in my case is extra clothes and socks. I’m going through clothes much faster than I expected, between the torn fabric and blood there is really nothing worth repairing. All of my supplies are noted in a ledger that I sign so that the Ranger Corp can be billed. The taxpayers money at work….new socks for the Ranger! I feel a little guilty at the amount of gear I have to replace but the private doesn’t even flinch at the long list of items I’m signing for. Maybe this is normal? I also swing by to see the Captain in the main office and receive 5 (!) healing potions. He’s too busy to chat, but not to busy to ominously say ‘Good Luck’ while grinning mischievously.

Next, pack in tow, I hit the bar. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a drink, since Hausen Hold, which feels years away right about now. In fact, if he’s got some whiskey I’ll refill my flask! I step into the large tent, it’s about the size of a barracks tent. Along one end is a full wooden bar, and there are tables scattered around the open space. There are a few soldiers, not many at this time of day. They all stop their chatter to stare. I can’t quite tell if it’s because a) I’m a Ranger b) I’m a girl, or c) I’m half-elf. Their Captain is C so I’m leaning heavily towards a combination of A and B together. I take an empty stool at the bar.

The bartender is, as expected, friendly and jovial. “Hello Ranger! Welcome to Rollo’s! Care for a drink?” He has an infectious smile and I find myself matching his expression. “Yes please, do you have wine?” He claps his hands before rubbing them together. “Oh, yes, I have some of the finest wines in all of Ratik, only 3 coppers. I’ll get you a glass.” He brings a bottle up from under the bar and pours a glass, leaving the bottle nearby to attend to the beer keg at the end of the bar.

There are a few things of interest in this exchange. One, three coppers for wine is actually pretty expensive. In Marner you can get a really decent glass for a single copper and a bottle for 3. This doesn’t really matter to me as I just got paid and have nowhere to spend it. I think that’s the case with all the soldiers here and Rollo’s prices reflect that. Two, this is really shit wine. In fact, it’s less wine and more water. I reach over and turn the bottle to see the label and there isn’t one, not surprising. If he knew who he was serving this wine to he might not have been so bold to call it “fine”. [Backstory!] Third, and last, it’s notable that he’s charging me at all. According to my Uncle Eldiss…..a Ranger Captain and most well known Ranger in service, while wearing the coat a Ranger is lucky to ever pay for a drink (which explains a lot of things about my uncle). He says there aren’t a lot of taverns or Inns that will charge a ranger when they know we go into the wild alone every day to risk our lives for the realm. I guess Uncle has never been to Rollos.

I am shaken from my reverie when Rollo hollers from the end of the bar “Nobody take nothing, I’ve got to get another keg.” And then literally disappears behind the bar. Then a see the flap in the tent twitch. What the…..I look around at the other men in the tent who are going about their conversations like the bartender disappearing suddenly is no big deal. Then, out of nowhere, “You want another glass of wine?” As my back was turned he popped right back in front of me. “Whaaa, uh…” I slug the last dregs of my horrible wine. “You have any whiskey?” I ask.

“Alas, no. I can’t seem to get the stuff out so far North.” (I don’t think that’s exactly true.) “And the Captain seems to think that it’s best the men keep to wine and beer” (I think this might be true as his homemade whiskey would probably blind someone.) And that’s what I decided he serves, homemade beer and wine. “So…..another glass?” I nod and put 3 more coins on the bar. This finishes said bottle and actual dregs of something come out of it and settle at the bottom of my glass. My father, if he were dead, would turn in his grave. I school my face to neutral and take a sip…..hmmm. I never considered “gritty” as a description of a wine, I’ll have to add it to my repertoire.

“Rollo! Refill!” comes a loud call from one of the tables. The bartender hollers back that he’ll be right there and goes around the end of the bar. He suddenly drops about three and a half feet. Wait a minute, this guy’s a hafling! My curiosity peaked I stand up from my stool and lean over the bar to see behind it. Sure enough, all along the length of the back of the bar, there is a raised platform. So when he “disappeared” he actually had jumped down and under where I couldn’t see him. Clever.

I don’t finish my horrible wine. In fact, I pull my flask from Bergrat out and swish what little remains of the firewater in my mouth to get rid of the taste. Yes, it’s that bad. I shake my flask, determining how little is left and, wishing I had more to take on the trip, cork the lid back on and slide the flask back into my pocket.

On the way to return my gear to the barracks before dinner I peruse the merchant stalls; there is really not much to see that I can use, I have to keep my load as light as possible. Although running across a book would be nice, I can’t believe I left without one. It just never occurred to me I’d have time to read. But no luck. I do find a merchant with some coffee and tins of tea, I am able to purchase some more tea, I’ve gone through what Falwyn gave me pretty quickly. The merchant, unlike Rollo, does not want to charge me, but takes a couple of coppers at my insistence. He says the standard goodbye that still makes me uncomfortable as I do not yet feel worthy, “Thank You for Your Service!” in a loud voice. I nod and hurry towards my bunk.

I get an early dinner, enjoying the last time I’ll have beef for awhile….and bread. Then it’s early to bed in order to meet Martume (and chicken) early tomorrow morning.

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Intermission
Horde War and Mage background

Game notes update:

I didn’t want to ruin the flow of the last chapter so I thought I’d fill in these details in an intermission from our intrepid Ranger.

The Horde War. When my GM presented me with the description of Griff Mt. Garrison he included that little bit I mentioned about the Ratik Horde War. But I hadn’t been told the background story about the war yet. He filled me in after the session.

The goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, etc., were in the realm fighting and raiding just like they do in the countries and lands that border Ratik. The King and military generals had enough of it and started a systematic purge of the horde monsters from their country. They amassed their troops in the south, routing out all the creatures, their villages and camps, all of them, from the south to the north. They essentially pushed out all the horde creatures to beyond their borders. This happened 2 generations ago. So, Lilykai is part of the first generation to have never had to fight, be at war, with any horde creatures. Baron Mordecai, her parents, her Uncle Eldiss, Martume and the current King are the generation that were younger (her age) when the horde were finally routed out of Ratik. So they were most likely in on the last of war, if at all. In the North, most household’s (the Red Hawk Meadow ones for example) have veterans of that war living there. Which is why most of them are also well armed. In the Ranger and Military academies, most battle and tactics are taught against a horde army example. So even though the current generation has not encountered or fought horde monsters (for the most part, with a few exceptions) they are well trained in fighting those particular enemies and have a lot of knowledge about them. Most of Lily’s generation, have never faced a horde monster in person. So, as a green Ranger on her first run, what you’ve seen her fight is the only thing she’s ever fought. Those goblins she killed raiding the Artus farm….first ones she’s ever encountered.

The Royal Observer. I (the player) had no idea who this guy is. I am told by GM that Lily has heard of the position, but doesn’t know anything specifically about him. Magic and Mages are rare, rare, rare in this country. But she does have a full elf father who came here from the old country so she is aware of Mages and what they are about. Her knowledge is from what her father has taught her, and he has taught her more about what magic is and can do than most citizens of Ratik know their whole lives. As a result her knowledge of “slinging” (Ranger slang for throwing spells) and magic has prepared her to not be surprised or scared when confronted with it. She is not superstitious or suspicious of magic users and Martume. But there are lots and lots of others in the land that are. So me, the player, knows a Mage when she sees one. But Lily, while aware that they exist, hasn’t met one…until now. I do my best to not metagame the girl and just have her explore on her own what Martume is all about. So don’t think of poor Lilykai as ignorant of Mages, just realize that they don’t roam around here in Ratik. Martume will be the first one she’s seen in public.
And think about it, if you lived in a land with low low magic (items, people, things) you would probably keep whatever you can do on the down low yourself. You don’t want to attract unwanted attention.

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Griff Mountain Garrison
Chain of Command

The next morning is clear and bright. It’s still right at freezing which is actually a good thing, the sled won’t get bogged down in the meadow. I’m clearing it out and preparing it for travel when Sybil, holding Luanna, comes around to where I am. “Lily….mama say’s break…” she stops mid-sentence when her eyes fall on the sled. I quickly glance and confirm that the sheet is still in place, covering the bodies. “That’s them, isn’t it.” she states in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Yes” I sigh, “that’s them.”

“Why do you have to take them back? Why not let the wolves have them. That’s what they deserve.” she seethes. The baby is picking up on her emotions and starting to fuss.

I go to her and take Lulu out of her arms, soothing her like I did my little brother when we were kids. “The garrison commander needs to know what happened to the men so I have to report that to her. It’s best that I return the bodies. Also, it serves as a reminder to any others who might consider following their lead. This is what happens to deserters and murderers.”

“Why would they do that? Micha was a soldier there. He would never think of that.” she scrunches her eyebrows as she considers the lumps under the sheet.

“The garrisons take volunteers like Micha as recruits. They also take in convicted criminals who are offered the opportunity to serve to repay their crime. Usually they are low level thieves or something along those lines. I can’t imagine they would make the offer to more dangerous criminals. I don’t know for sure, but maybe these guys had been given a second chance, too bad they wasted it. Their return, dead on a sled, will make a statement to any others.”

She turns to me solemnly. “You made a rhyme.” I chuckle and shake my head, turning towards the yard, I can smell breakfast now. “I do it all the time.” I give her a wink. “Let’s eat.”

Breakfast is a happy affair, we put the seriousness of the situation behind us last night. Emme packs me up food for the next 3 days, it’s quite a distance between the ranch and the Griff Mountain Garrison. Wyn hands me a large tin of tea, I open it and take a whiff….elven tea. This is amazing and enormously expensive. I open my mouth to protest and before I can she lifts an eyebrow and mutters, “Don’t even think about it.” I just nod and grin, putting it in my pack. The men say goodbye first, they are taking horses back to Micha and Emme’s farm to herd their cattle in. They’ve been left to wander these last few days. I say goodbye to all the girls and set off dragging the sled. At the last minute I thought to get some firewood from them, the meadow doesn’t have a lot of trees and limbs laying around, and since I’m pulling a sled anyway, I might as well make it work for me.

I make it a full day without any problems. The temperature is staying low, so the snow is firm and the sled works well. I retrieved my snow walkers before I left the Abner place so I’m not impeded by the deep snow. I make it 32 miles my first day, I’m a third of the way there. I build a decent fire and have tea, dried meat and cheese for dinner, along with some rolls that Emme packed for me. There is no cover out in the field, but I don’t want to sleep near the sled. I dig into a snowbank on the side of a little hill and use my waterproof cloak as a windbreak and fall into a light sleep.

I’m up early and the weather has gotten bad. It is blowing and snowing hard. I stoke up another fire and take the time to have some tea to warm up and some cold sausage before I’m off. Mid morning I hear something coming up behind me and before I know it I’m being pounced on by 3 of the wolves that got away from me before. One knocks me down [crappy initiative roll] but hardly does any damage, I manage to kill it straight away while dodging the bite of another. The third one barely scratches me which puts it within arms reach of my sword, so I make sure it eats it. The last one standing decides that I’m not worth the trouble and it takes off into the heavy snowfall, disappearing quickly. The weather slows me down considerably and I only make it 25 miles today. I stop when I see a small stand of trees in the meadow. I decide I’d rather turn in early and have a tree to climb up just in case more wolves come along.

It’s really cold sleeping in a tree in a snowstorm, and I wake up stiff and barely rested. The next morning the weather remains the same, but no attacks came in the night so that’s a positive. This morning I decide to have a decent breakfast and since I’m in trees I’m able to make a really nice size fire. I use the sled as a windbreak. Tea, oatmeal and ham for brekkie. I’ve got to eat plenty now because I don’t plan to stop again until I reach the garrison. I finish, put out the fire and start hauling the sled again. At least it is sloping all down hill now, I’ll be making good time today.

The weather is no friend of mine. More hard snow, but the wind has let up some. Visibility is still only about 8 feet in any direction. I keep having to stop and brush the snow off the sled and bodies. I didn’t do that yesterday and I realize that was one major reason why I didn’t get as far. I thought I was just getting tired, it didn’t occur to me the sled was actually getting heavier [what can I say Intelligence is Lily’s dump stat….so sad]

It is past dark when I arrive at the Griff Mountain Garrison. This is a large fortress. It’s one of the original garrisons left from the Horde War. So it is much larger than some of the newer ones, like Three Rivers to the east. There is a tall palisade wall with guard towers, a reinforced gate, a couple of barracks, a mess hall, main office with officer quarters, a blacksmith/armory and stables. There is also a small tent city inside where merchants and travelers can sleep/stay, small livestock pens, and a bar. It is bustling with soldiers and civilians alike. It’s the closest thing to a city you will find in the far northeast.

As I approach the guarded gate I am met by a soldier who introduces himself as Sgt. Peka. “Ranger Lilykai Kodel,” I step back a bit to let the rope that’s around my waist go slack and step out of it. I then hand the rope to the Sergeant, “I believe these three deserters came from here.” He looks over my shoulder to the lumpy mass covered in a sheet behind me and I see his face harden a bit. My guess is that he knows that if they’re coming back dead, delivered by a Ranger, there was more trouble than just deserting. He focuses back on me.

“Commander Temakos has been awaiting your arrival. I have orders to escort you to her office immediately.” He hands the sled rope to one of the guards and tells him to deliver it to another Sergeant on duty and turns to walk me to the Commander’s office. It is about 8:00pm and I’m surprised that they are awaiting me at this hour. I wonder if they’ve had a watch out for me for many nights, I’m not on a fixed schedule, but even still….I’m running behind. Can’t help but think I must be in some trouble for something, I would ask the Sgt., but he doesn’t seem to be the talkative type.

We get to the office and Sgt. Peka opens the door and announces me, “Commander, Ranger Kodel has finally arrived.” Yep, I’m in trouble….

I enter the office behind him. The first thing I notice is how incredibly warm it is, there is a blazing fire. Then I see the commander, she stands from her desk and introduces herself. “Commander Corhana Tamikos.” She is taller than me by a head at least, and very fit. We both have the same color hair and length, hers in a ponytail, mine in a braid. She’s probably in her 30’s….late by my guess and the couple of gray hairs I spot. She takes a moment to size me up with her very alert brown eyes, before offering me her hand. I go to take it, glance at mine…wipe it on my pant leg, shrug and shake hers. She briefly lets the corner of her mouth tic up in a stifled grin.

She turns from me and calls to someone in a side room. “Martume, she’s here.” A man comes through the door. The most striking thing about him is the mismatched patchwork weird robe he’s wearing. It’s looks like a cross between a mage robe and a bathrobe. And I’m leaning more towards bathrobe. He’s old, all white hair sticking out everywhere, and a long white beard. And he’s eating….a banana.

Before I can figure out who he is or what’s going on Tamikos goes all commander and shout’s us into attention. In spite of the fact that I am in a completely different branch of the military and technically she is not my commanding officer at all; I snap to attention without thinking.

“Ranger Lilykai Kodel, effective immediately you have earned the rank of Sergeant. Congratulations. Additionally, you have been given a special assignment. Let me introduce you to The Royal Observer”

OK, well I guess I’m not in trouble. I give the weird old man another long look. Or maybe I am.

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Ghost Stories
Protection from Evil

Fuck this.

I quickly decide that I can deal with the bodies and the mystery barefoot man in the morning. As it is I won’t be returning to the Abner house until around midnight, that’s if I don’t have any surprise delays.

I can smell smoke as I’m nearing the house. I barely make out light between the slats of the shutters on the windows. Emme has stayed up for my return. I knock lightly on the door, “Emme, it’s me, Lily. You can open up.” Immediately I hear the bar removed from the door and it swings open. Emme looks tired but happy. Immediately I realize why, “Ranger, is everything OK?” I hear a hoarse voice from the bed.

“Yes, those men won’t be harassing anyone else.” I say to both of them. Micha is sitting up slightly, there is a lump in the bed beside him and a tiny hand poking out from under the quilts, resting on his chest. I smile in spite of the situation. I turn to Emme, “I left them where they fell. I will pack them up tomorrow and take their bodies to the garrison after I’ve delivered you to your parent’s house. She opens her mouth to object but I continue before she gets the chance. “All the animals are dead, they either stabbed them…..for sport….or they just froze. You,” I look in Micha’s direction, “will need at least a week for that shoulder to be usable. And there’s still a pretty aggressive wolf pack wandering around. I can’t, in good conscious, leave you here like this. But I need to move on to my next stops.”

“She’s right.” Micha says from his side of the room. “I’ll feel better if you and Lulu are at your folk’s place. And your mom can help me out with this.” he lifts his shoulder a bit and then winces. He turns his attention back to me, “Thank you Ranger, for….saving me. Em told me what you did.”

“You’re welcome, but it was not a hard decision to make.” I give them both a tired smile. “I don’t know about you two, but I could use some sleep.” I say as I make my way to the fire, Luanna’s blankets are still on the floor, I try to slowly lower myself onto them but instead I crumple like a piece of parchment. I hear Emme take a step towards me, I lift my hand and wave her off as I roll to face the fire and warm up The next thing I know I’m laying on my back and something is rhythmically patting me.
pat,pat,pat……..pat,pat,pat……..pat,pat,pat………

I squint my eyes open a little at a time to see a rosy cheeked two year old playing “patty cake” with my cheek. She notices me watching and erupts into giggles. It is the best sound in the world.

“Lulu, don’t wake the Ranger!” I hear her father admonish her as I awaken fully. He is scooping her up which only results in more delighted laughter. “It’s fine” I say as I sit up. I’m a little stiff from the floor, but nothing I can’t shake off. Emme is bustling around in the kitchen and calls over her shoulder. “I’m making pancakes for breakfast, they’ll be ready soon!” My stomach growls in appreciation. I go to sit at the table, the house is warm and smells delightful from the breakfast being prepared. Bacon is on the table and I snatch a piece before I can stop myself. It’s delicious.

Micha sits across from me with Luanna in his lap, one arm in a sling. He too picks up a piece of bacon, breaks off a bit for the baby and, when Emme catches him and gives him the evil eye, points to me and says “She did it first!”

“Oh, right…sell out the Ranger, see if I ever save your life again.” I quip. They freeze for a moment before we all burst into laughter. Baby Luanna applauds like it is the grandest thing ever. It feels good to relax and laugh after yesterday, but thinking of that reminds me of what I need to do after breakfast. “How do you plan to get to your parent’s place?” I ask them.

“Our oxen were in the pasture with the cattle” Micha begins to explain, “I just need to go up and get them, there’s a small field further west of here where they go. It should only take me a couple of hours at best.” I nod along to his explanation, that is perfect timing for me.

“I need to gather the Bastar…” I pause a moment, and catch myself before I curse in front of the wee one “…..bad guys who started this whole thing. If it’s OK I’d like to use some of your spare lumber to make a rough sled to carry them.”

“Sure, anything you need. I can even help….maybe….a little” Micha says as he examines his arm in a sling. “I’m sure I can use your help.” I reply, much to his relief. I know he feels like he needs to repay me, even though I was doing my job.

We all dig in to a hearty breakfast. And a whole lot of hot tea for me. I’m preparing myself for the task ahead. Micah and I leave together, he heading towards the pasture, me the lumber pile. [Intelligence and Dex rolls…..yes, it takes me a few tries. For every failed dice roll, I come up with an alternate way to accomplish my task, or a reason for the failure (rotten piece of wood), finally I roll 3 successes in a row]

After a half an hour I have a pretty good sized sled that I can use to drag the bodies back to the garrison. It’s daylight now, so the trip to the camp, and their bodies, won’t be as long. I tell Emme I should be back in about 3 hours total. Sooner if I can. I start running where the dead men lay.

There was a fine dusting of snow overnight, but my tracks are plainly visible to the meadow and back. I retrace my steps to the last man, the one I saw killed. As I crest a small hill I can see where it happened about 100 feet in front of me. What catches my attention most, though, is a bright red object in the tree nearby moving in the light breeze like it is waving me down. I go to it first and see that it is pristine, as if newly purchased and never worn. It is lightly tied to the lowest tree branch. I know exactly the last person I saw wearing a red bandana just like this one. He disappeared right in front of me. I reach up to grasp the end and it comes untied from the tree limb as if on it’s own accord. Even though I am warm from running all the way here I get goosebumps suddenly and cram the thing in my pocket. I’ll study it later.

I go to the body. He is stiff from death and cold. I roll him onto the sled. I don’t look at him too closely. I know how he died, I do not doubt what I saw with my own eyes. I drag the now occupied sled to the body by the campfire. I drag him onto the sled beside his companion. I do take a moment here to go through the camp and I find a bag of items that they appear to have taken. There are some coins, mostly coppers and a few silver, a small piece of jewelry, and most notably; a silver brush, comb and mirror. Obviously a set, and obviously not belonging to the deserters.

Thanks to the sled I am still able to keep a brisk pace and make it back to the Abner farm before lunchtime. I go straight towards the barn and start to pull the dead man from the loft. Micha has already been dragging the animals out and putting them in a large fire pit far from the structures. He doesn’t want to encourage wolves by leaving the carcasses abandoned. He insists on helping me even though he has an arm in a sling. I think it makes him feel better to help, so I let him. We pile this body in with the others and cover them with an old sheet so the baby, and Emme, will not have to look upon them.

Then we are ready to leave. The house and barn are locked up tight, we have some preserved and canned food and we start back towards the Belag farm. We’ll arrive soon after dark, barring no encounters with the wolves. I hear them howling in the distance as the sun starts to set but they are far to the east. It is cold enough so that the smell of the dead won’t draw them. I finally start to breathe easy when I spy the lights of the ranch house ahead of us.

As the wagon pulls into the yard I see the door of the house fly open. I have broken away to stash the sled out of view and away from the animals. If these deserters get chewed on by wild animals I’m fine with that, but I don’t want them to lure wolves to the livestock. I use my shovel to half bury them in snow to keep them frozen until tomorrow morning. With these below freezing nights that shouldn’t be too hard.

I’m coming around the corner of the house, looking down as I brush the snow from my gloves and sleeves when I am unexpectedly pounced upon. Arms grab me from front and behind, and squeeze. I startle and tense momentarily before I realize it is Maeglad and Falwyn embracing me, their heads pressed to mine as they quietly say their thanks to me. Once they release me all three of us are hastily wiping away tears.

We go into their house to find Luanna being entertained by Sybil, Micha by the fire and Emme setting the table with more plates. Dinner is about to be served. None of us speak of what just happened during the meal, we’re just not ready to go into it again. After Sybil and Luanna are put to bed, I open up my pack. It is then I remember the items I was supposed to deliver to Emme and hand them over. “So much for being a good messenger” I mutter….Maeglad just refills my wine glass. I then pull out the bag of items that I found at the deserter camp.
“I don’t recognize any of this” says Wyn. “It might have been a wedded gift, it looks like that quality.” She doesn’t know who it might have belonged to though. The five of us solemnly study the once loved items.

“I didn’t kill them, you know.” I start. They all freeze and look at me. I describe what happened: the looks of fear on the men’s faces, the barefoot tracks, the huge man I saw break the last guy’s neck and disappear before me. At the end of my tale I pull the red bandana from my pocket and lay it on the table. Falwyn gasps loudly and exclaims “I know what this is!” We all look to her for answers. “My mother told me about these spirits. When a loved one is taken from someone in a violent way before that person is killed themselves they can become a ‘Vengeful Walker’. They roam the land until they take revenge on whomever or whatever killed the person they loved. That man was probably one of those.”

So, this is now a ghost story. I hold up the bandana, “What is this, though, why was it left behind?” Wyn explains further, “Probably because you didn’t interfere, or because you said you were going to make him face justice. Either way, you were on the spirit’s side. So he left you this boon.”

I shake my head slightly, “ I don’t know about that…it seems…creepy.” She shakes her head and picks it up to examine it further. “No, Lily, you don’t understand. This token has been hallowed. It is intended to keep you safe. You must wear it as protection.” she folds it up until it looks like a cuff, winds it around my wrist and ties it on securely. “Always wear this to keep you safe……protected.”

[Game notes: So this was a weird session, couple of sessions actually. I never killed anything….Ok, let’s explain The Vengeful Walker. This is actually a Revenant as found in the Fiend Folio (1981). My GM just changed up some things and added it to the narrative, made up a story and a new name for it. It is a super powerful monster and as he put it “the smartest thing you did was not try to fight it” apparently, it was way above my level/pay grade. Also, because I not only did not try to get in his way, but tried to reason with it I got an extra, extra boon…the bandana. After we wrapped up the session and xp was awarded (bonus for not fighting the vengeful walker!) I was told “write bandana, protection from evil, on your character sheet.” This marks the first magical item that Lilykai has in her inventory. Seriously. Every bit of her equipment and weapons are regular military issue. Nothing magical….until now. Here are the mechanics of the bandana: evil creatures and people….basically anything EVIL has to roll with disadvantage against Lily. Roll 2 d20’s take the lowest number. This bandana has gone on to save Lily’s ass more than I care to mention. Lily loves her bandana, she hasn’t taken it off in a year and a half game time. She even wears it to fancy dress balls. Because it is magical it still looks brand new.]

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Deserters
Death Runs in Red Hawk Meadow

I pause, looking over the farmstead. I’m currently crouched on the other side of a small berm. Once I stand and start towards the house I have no cover. I listen further for any signs of life and hear nothing but the beating of my pulse in my ears. The shutters and door of the house are closed up tight. This could be a good thing……or. I shake off my hesitancy, unfasten my snow walkers, and walk straight towards the ranch house door. I’m carrying my bow, but without an arrow ready; I don’t want to act like I suspect anything just yet. I step up on the porch and listen at the door. No noise at all.

The silence is unnerving. I walk to the end of the porch to look inside the barn and it’s swinging door. I cannot make out anything beyond the darkened doorway. But on the bright side there aren’t any crossbow bolts sticking out of me yet. If someone was laying in wait they’ve had plenty of opportunity. I go back to the front door and knock. The sound, even though I’m not banging hard, seems deafening compared to the still silence that once was.

“Hello in there! It’s the Ranger, is there anyone inside.” Nothing. Not one sound. I’m watching from the corner of my eye and there’s nothing coming at me from the barn either. I try again, “Hello! My name is Lilykai Kodel, I am an official Ranger of the realm, is there anyone in there?” For a brief moment I think I hear some movement, but it stops. I rack my brain for a way to get through to them. If this is the family, how can they know I am who I say I am. Then I get an idea. “Emme, I stayed with your Da and Mom last night, they’ve sent me with letters for you and some clothes for baby Luanna. Sybil says hello too.”

That did it. I hear quick steps towards the door. I step back a bit and put my hand on my sword in case it’s a trick, but as the door flies open I immediately release it. Before me stands a woman around my age, [Lily is an old maid at 23, she wed the Ranger service] dark circles under her eyes and shivering. I can see her breath even though she’s inside, she has the look of a cornered animal, and I hear a tiny whine from within the room.

As calming as possible, I say quietly “Emme, you’re going to be OK now, I’m here. Let me in and tell me what’s happened so I can fix this.” She moves swiftly and grabs my arm at the elbow, jerking me into the room and slamming the door shut right behind me. My eyes adjust quickly from the brightness of the snow outside to the dim interior of the house. I see what appears to be a pile of blankets shifting on their own, and a man not much older than me in a bed under a large pile of quilts and….clothes. The room is barely above freezing. I can smell the remnants of smoke and see soot here and there on surfaces in the room.

“They came in the night.” Emme starts. She goes to the shifting blanket pile and pulls out a little girl, dressed in everything she owns by the look of it, and cuddles the baby on her lap as she sits on the edge of the bed. “They said they were from the Garrison, and were here to help us,” Emmie starts to tear up “but Micha could tell something was wrong. He was a soldier there. He had his sword and said he didn’t believe them…..and they attacked him. They all got him at once. He hurt one of them pretty badly and got into the house. I locked the door behind him. They tried to get in and couldn’t.” At this point she pauses to collect herself, wiping away tears. “They couldn’t get in so they climbed on the roof and stuffed something in the chimney. They said they could wait us out and if they couldn’t kill us the smoke would. I had to put the fire out and we’ve been locked in here ever since. That was the day before yesterday.”

“Have you heard from them in awhile?” I ask. She shakes her head ‘no’. I have to organize my thoughts. Put my priorities in order. “Let me take a look at his wounds.” I drop my pack and start towards the bed. The baby fusses as I approach and Emme immediately tries to shush her. “Let her make noise, as much as she wants. I dare them to try to come in here.” There is an edge to my voice I have never heard before. At once I fear I might have scared Emme and look into her eyes, I’m met with a flinty look and a wolfish grin. Good. I turn my attentions to Micha.

He’s hurt pretty bad. Cut to the gut, stab in the leg, and a shoulder wound that goes almost all the way to the bone. Emme has wrapped him up pretty well but the wounds are still seeping blood. He seems a little feverish too. The cold might actually be helping him not to bleed out. I have three healing potions in my bag……..but a shit ton of trouble facing me. It doesn’t take me a second to decide. I reach inside my coat to an inner pocket and come out with a vial of shimmering blue liquid. I hear Emme gasp, as she realizes what I’ve got. Lifting Micha’s head and tilting it so I can pour the potion down his throat…. Slowly, slowly….I don’t want him to cough it up or spill any. The guy needs every drop. Once it’s done I let his head rest back on the pillow. He is still unconscious, but he takes a deep breath, filling his lungs….I can see that the wound on his side has stopped bleeding.

I turn to speak to Emme, but before I get a word out she gushes “Thank you so much! I know those are supposed to be for you…..” I shake my head, “They’re for me to do with what I please. Now we need to warm this place up.” I tell Emme that I’m going out and up on the roof to clear the chimney. When it’s done I’ll come down and knock on the door 3 times and she’ll know she can start a fire. Then I go to the barn.

I slip out the front door. It’s about an hour until dusk so the shadows are long which is working in my favor. I’ve left my pack inside so I’m quicker and lighter. I slip into the shadows on the far side of the house and away from the barn. If they charge me, I’ll have some room to shoot. The house is a timber construction, but the corners has been left overlapping so it is easy to get to the top edge of the roof. But beyond that is smooth slate tiles at a good slant. I take my grappling hook off my belt [dwarven made and collapsable!] and snap it into shape. It takes me a couple of tries [Dex rolls] but I hook the lip of the chimney and climb across the roof to it. It looks like the men had tossed in anything they could grab and carry up here. There are several tree branches, a bucket and random clumps of hay. I pull the largest things out and toss them to the ground. The hay I let fall through to the fireplace. Maybe it will help the fire get going. All the while I keep my eyes trained on the barn, waiting for them to come out at me. But no one ever does.

I retrace my steps back down to the porch. Releasing my hook once I’m at the edge again and winding it all up as I watch the barn door from the corner of the house. No movement, no sound. The stillness bothers me more than I care to admit. I’ve only got about a half an hour of daylight left. Which is fine with me, the darkness works in my favor [darkvision]. I creep across the front porch and rap three times quickly as I pass the door, not breaking my stride.

The space between the corner of the house and the barn is wide open. There’s no cover except for the trough near the barn. That’s my target. I bolt, full speed towards the trough and slide in the snow, crashing against the side of it. My bow is out and an arrow nocked, but I didn’t hear a thing as I dashed across and still there’s no movement. If someone is laying in wait, they are very patient. Patient is deadly.

My next advance is through the open doorway. I will be perfectly silhouetted against the dying light outside so again I must be swift. I dart from my hiding place through the door and further to the right, hunkering down low and giving my vision time to adjust.

The first thing I see is carnage in the middle of the barn. It takes a half a beat for me to realize it is a pig, a lone sow. She has been haphazardly “slaughtered” in the barn. I don’t approach to investigate yet. First I must make sure it’s all clear in here. I work around the sides of the barn. The bottom level, this level, is ringed with pens. Plenty of opportunity for someone to lay in wait.

Slowly I creep around the perimeter. In my ears my steps are as loud as an approaching army. At every opportunity for me to be ambushed there is nothing there. By the end of my check I’ve only found dead animals, frozen in their pens. That leaves the second level and once again, the perfect opportunity for me to be vulnerable to attack. I creep up the open stairs. Minding that I place my feet towards the outside of the steps, right over the nails holding them together in hopes of keeping as quiet as possible.

Once again, no attackers come at me out of the darkness. The loft is open except for some bales of hay and bags of feed. I hear scurrying off to my left. I spin, my arrow pulled and ready for release. Breathe…..breathe…….A rat scurries across the floor. I make my way around the perimeter again. I’m saving the stack of feedbags for last. It is the remaining place that someone could make a stand. But by now I know they’re not here. There’s no way that regular fighters could be this quiet for this long. I figure I’ll find the remnants of their stay, nothing more. So I am a little surprised to find a dead body behind the bags.

He’s one of the three, that’s for sure. I go and get a lantern so I can study his corpse for answers. I return from below with the light to a grim sight. Micha did indeed get a couple of good slashes in before they returned the favor. There’s a nice slash across this man’s thigh, he certainly wasn’t going anywhere fast after the fight. It looks like his companions took anything of value, he’s been left with the bare minimum of items, flint and steel, a canteen, and a dagger. Not much more. Not even a blanket. No honor among these thieves it seems. But the most striking thing about his appearance is the look of abject terror on his face. It is literally frozen in place upon his death. I can’t figure out why really, apart from the blood soaked pant leg there doesn’t seem to be any other signs of harm to him. I squat down so that I can look straight on at his face, as much as I’d like not to, and that’s when I see it. There is deep bruising around his throat. No honor among thieves indeed. They decided to kill their companion instead of just abandoning him to his fate. I stand and start down the steps of the barn thinking. Maybe they were afraid he would talk. Maybe he knew what their plans were going to be. Which means they had plans, which means these folks aren’t safe until I find the other two. I pick up my pace and run to the house.

“Emme, it’s Lily. Let me in” I holler through the door as I knock more quietly.” She opens the door and steps aside. I can already feel a little more warmth in the room from the fire she has going. Little Luanna is sitting on a blanket near it. I glance in Micha’s direction and note he’s still unconscious. I get to the point, “There’s one dead in the barn, Micha got him pretty good.” I leave out the part about strangulation. “But the other two got away, I’m going to follow them now before it snows again and covers their tracks. Don’t open the door for anybody but me. If anybody else shows up you tell them the Ranger gave you an order.” I expect her to argue with me over going out again but she just sets her jaw and nods. “I’ll be back, just remember…..only open the door for me, and don’t leave the house.” I hear her bar the door after I’ve closed it behind me.

I take the lantern and go back towards the barn. I can see several footprints coming and going, I follow different sets around and find recent ones that are going straight east into the meadow. After a few paces I realize there is a third pair of footprints following them. I didn’t recognize them at first because, quite frankly, they don’t make sense. The third set is barefoot. Now that I’ve found the trail I douse my lamp and follow the tracks into the darkening horizon.

I’ve tracked them for about three hours. It is a clear night so I’ve been able to follow their tracks pretty easily [three passed observation rolls!….In A Row!!] Before I cross over a small rise I smell smoke from a campfire. I immediately crouch and start to ease over the hill. Just as I’m raising up I hear a blood curdling scream from the direction of the camp. I leap up and start to run towards it. Is there another victim? Am I too late?

As I’m running in the darkness towards the light of the fire a shape charges towards me. I freeze and draw my sword, ready for whomever it is. As he nears I realize from his disheveled appearance that it is one of the deserters from the garrison. “Drop your sword! Don’t……” before I can finish my order he has run full speed past my position. It was as though he didn’t even see me. Then I hear another gurgling scream and continue running towards their camp. As I approach I see a man, his body really, slumped over on his side. I can see that his neck has been broken, similarly to the one in the barn. But I don’t see anyone else, and no one passed me on the way here….it doesn’t make sense.

I look around the campfire and see some belongings strewn about, a broken sword, and I think some of the pig from the Abner place. [Observation roll…..passed!] Then I see more of those crazy barefoot prints. Except this time they are really fresh and I can tell they belong to a really big man. He would have to be well over six feet. How did I run so close past him and not see. I decide to think about it later and just follow those tracks. I run full speed, not having any idea who I am after. I am utterly shocked by the scene that plays out before me.

The deserter that ran past me has been caught. The man that caught him is large, he is a bear of a man. He is wearing overalls and a checked shirt……and no shoes. It is below freezing…how is it he’s running around without shoes. My mind just won’t let that go.

“Heeeelp meeeee.” the deserter’s voice whispers as barefoot man raises him off the ground by the throat. I ready my bow and draw an arrow. “Let him go!” I order. Nothing changes. The deserter is clawing at the arm and hand of the barefoot giant of a man. “I am the Ranger, I will see that he faces justice. Put him down!” I try once again. I don’t want to shoot this man. I don’t know who he is but my internal voice is telling me to hold my shot. The deserter soldier starts screaming. His features are fully contorted in terror.

“DROP HIM!” I scream at the big man as loud as I can. I pull the arrow back, this has to end. Slowly the large, shoeless man turns his head towards me. I don’t want to see his face, I don’t want to see whatever the terrible thing is that makes the soldiers scream. I cannot look away.

The face I see is of a man, a regular man. His expression is the most sorrowful one I’ve ever witnessed. My heart rends at the sight of him. I lower my weapon. I notice the wounds on him; a throat wound beneath his bandana, a wide slash across his torso. They are surely fatal, but there is no blood. As I’m trying to understand he turns back to the whimpering deserter and snaps his neck.

It’s as loud as a crack of a whip and then total silence. There is a soft thud as the body is dropped in the snow. The man then turns towards me, I curse that I had lowered my arrow and bring it up again, though inside I know it is of no use to me. Before he is fully around the wind picks up and he disappears. I am left in total darkness, the cold is creeping in to my bones I have stayed still for so long.

View
Wolf Attack
Neither sleet nor snow......

[How the Hell Did a Pack of Wolves Sneak Up on Lilykai? You might be asking. Mechanics my friends, mechanics….and some storytelling. Roll a D6, 1-2 : you’re surprised. These are the breaks kids, even the best of us lose focus occasionally. At least this was the case in the early days. Once the transfer to 5e occurred, its happened a lot less. But then again, her passive perception is running around 19 right now, so good luck sneaking up on our heroine. But at level….4. Yeah, she got caught day dreaming a bit. But my intrepid GM did also set up the terrain so that a sneak attack is actually a possibility. The Red Hawk Meadow has rolling hills that are deceptively deep. I’ve actually seen hills like this when visiting the site of Custer’s Last Stand. The area looks like open plains but is also actually hilly with deep ravines interspersed. This is how an entire army got caught unaware. Same thing with Red Hawk, which is where our intrepid hero has been ambushed by wolves.]

Well, that sucks. But, on the positive side, this means I won’t have to track them down. The Alpha lunges straight at me before I have time to do anything. I manage to dodge it’s teeth, but take a claw hit. So much for my coat repairs. I sidestep the second wolf that attacks, draw my sword and slice it clean in half [! CRITICAL!]. My next swipe cuts deep into the body of another, but it still stands. I’m able to defend attacks by 2 of the remaining 5, but the alpha comes in and takes a huge bite out of me. Deep puncture wounds to my leg. So I focus my next attack on him, stabbing into his spine before he can pull away fully. He staggers, coming in for another attack that misses. The smaller one that I hit before catches me with a claw and a bite, a third wolf comes in to nip but fails to draw blood, it does catch my side with a claw though. I do a feint at this one and then spin and strike down the wounded one, and stab the Alpha for a second time, he drops. At this point the remaining three growl and posture but when I level my sword in their direction they retreat into the meadow. I briefly consider chasing them, but I’m in no condition for it. My clothes are torn again and bloody so I tear off some strips and bind my leg. My snow walkers are still usable, since they attacked me I didn’t have to do much running around. I tighten the bindings and take off towards the ranch again.

I don’t arrive until close to dusk. I can smell the smoke from the chimney for about an hour before I arrive at the ranch. They have roughly the same set up as the Bilder Ranch. I can see light coming from the windows of the house. The barn is closed up for the night. I knock on the door and announce myself “Hello! It’s the Ranger.” I’m feeling rather tired, and my leg wound is throbbing. I still have some of Yilly’s healing potions left (3), but I’m trying to save them for an emergency….like a snow terror! I’ll be able to dress my wounds properly once I’m inside [herbalism for extra healing!] The door swings open and I am not met with one, bit TWO crossbows pointed at my face….and a man with a sword drawn. I just hold out my bloody hands to show they are empty and shake my head in frustration. I have a bit of a short temper when I’m in pain.

“Ranger!” the older woman yells as she drops her crossbow (lucky it didn’t fire) and goes to assist me inside.
“I’m fine.” I practically bark at her, I soften my tone and ask “May I come in?” I can’t help it that there’s an edge to my voice, I’m currently bleeding on their porch. The man has put his sword down and is also trying to assist me. I shake them off and, remembering Taryn Bilder, say “I gotta get these off” and gesture at my boots.

“Never you mind that, let’s just get you in the house,” the woman replies. “Sybil, untie those things on the Rangers feet”

While my snow walkers are great in the snow, I’m rather like a waddling duckling on the hard flooring of the porch. The younger girl has put down her weapon and kneels to untie the walkers, but it is a complicated series of knots. I tell her “Just unlace the whole boot, I can deal with it later.” I realize that the woman is taking my heavy pack off, while the man is helping hold my weight. I am grateful of their help now, I got hit worse than I thought, and now that my annoyance has worn off the fatigue is setting in.

Finally my boots are removed and they help me into the house. As they are guiding me to a side room with a bed the woman tells me “I’m Falwyn, this is my husband Maeglad, and Sybil…our daughter.” In the light of the house I see that my leg, from thigh to ankle is saturated with blood. Sybil runs ahead and throws a blanket over the bed to protect it I assume, before they put me down. Falwyn shoos her husband out the door and it is then that I really look at her and realize that she is an elf and Sybil is half-elf like me. This is not common here, some elves have decided to make Ratik their home, but not too many. Falwyn puts one hand on my shoulder as she guides me to lay down, her other hand is holding mine as she closes her eyes in concentration and heals my wounds completely. Wow, that was a rush. She still insists that I rest for a bit. Apparently magically healing wounds doesn’t reduce fatigue.

“Rest here for at least 30 minutes, you will still be a little stiff and sore even though the wounds have closed. Do you have spare clothes?” I nod as I have a second set in my pack. “ Good, you’ll want to change into them so we can burn the ones your wearing.” My look of surprise/alarm must be obvious, she shakes her head and points at me “Those are far too gone for cleaning and repair.” She uses a tone of voice that brooks no argument. I look down at myself. She’s kinda right about that.

[Game world note: My GM has established that Ratik is a low magic realm. Alchemists are in the capital (Marner) and the Port of Dunn. Otherwise there are no magic shops and magical items are rare and unusual. People who can cast magic, the Ranger slang is sling, are uncommon and most of them keep it on the down low. Regular people, especially in the North which is more rural and wilderness than other areas of the kingdom, are very superstitious of the whole concept of slinging. It is no wonder Falwyn isn’t known as a healer and it’s actually a pretty big deal that she outed herself to heal Lilykai with magic.]

There is a knock on the door as I’m getting dressed after cleaning up. “I’m up” I respond through the door.

I hear Sybil say “Dinner is ready now, will you join us?”
“I’ll be right out, just give me a minute” I say as I’m pulling on clean socks. I look around and then remember that my boots are on the porch still attached to the snow walkers. I’ve got to get my shit in order tonight, I’m a mess.

I come out with my torn, bloody clothing in my hand. I’ve taken off my chain and left it in the room to clean later, I feel so light without it. Falwyn stops what she’s doing in the kitchen, takes the bloody clothing from my hands and promptly throws them in the fireplace. “Hey!” I can’t hold back by shock. She just shakes her head as she washes her hands in the kitchen sink “Too far gone” she just says. I look to the other two at the table for some back up and they just shrug and look away.

I take a seat at the table. “Ok, let’s start again. Hello, I’m your new Ranger, Lilykai Kodel.” I extend my hand to the man….Maeglad.

He takes it and says “Maeglad Belag. Good to meet you Ranger. You’ve met my wife and daughter Falwyn and Sybil.”

“Everyone just calls me Wyn” Falwyn says as she an Sybil put the food on the table. Wyn also has a bottle of wine tucked under her arm that Maeglad takes from her and starts to open. Wine, yes! Now we’re having a proper meal. I notice we’re having a hearty stew and honeycakes for dinner. The aroma and spices remind me of meals back home where the dishes definitely have a more elven flavor to them, and wine is always served. This is almost like being at home.

“Let me guess, you’ve seen some strangers running around so you met me at the door ready to take care of business” I say as I start to dig into the stew. Like the Bilder’s they look a bit sheepish. “No problem, I understand being safe instead of sorry. And believe me if anyone tried to attack you three, with a welcome like that, they’d be sorry” Sybil snickers into her bowl.

Maeglad nods “Yes, I did see some men in the valley a day ago. They were heading either towards the garrison or maybe Emme’s place if they turn more north.

“Emme?” I ask, Wyn answers, “Emme is our daughter. She and her husband bought a plot further North from here, about 20 miles.” Sybil interjects in a sing song voice “He was a soooldiieer and then Daddy hired him as a hand for a season, and they fell in LOooove, and got married.” Sybil is actually grinning a bit maniacally. It is so funny I can’t help but burst out laughing.

“Is that so?” I say while chuckling. Sybil is about 13 or 14, not quite what you would consider marrying age, but definitely boy crazy age. She nods at me vigorously in the affirmative. “Speaking of LOooove…” I mimic her words and tones precisely as I nod towards my coat. “There are a couple of letters that were snuck to me by two young gentlemen at the Bilder farm to give to you.”

This effectively shuts her up completely and she turns a bright shade of pink. “Really!?” her father says, one eyebrows cocked, in a mock stern tone. “I might need to take a look at these missives myself first”

“Sorry sir,” I say all businesslike. “It is my duty to deliver said messages solely to their intended recipient. I would be falling short if I were to hand them off to anyone except the addressee.” Did I mention that Rangers are also the equivalent of a Royal Messenger, especially out here where mail delivery is practically unheard of. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell other people of the existence of said correspondence.” I look knowingly at Wyn and Maeglad and wink. Wyn brightens up at the subject, though for completely different reasons, “That’s right! You can deliver a letter to Emme for me, and maybe a little something for the baby!”

“Now Wyn….the Ranger has better things…..” I interrupt Maeglad by putting my hand on his arm and stopping him from continuing his thought. “Actually, Sir, that is one of my favorite duties. I am always happy to deliver letters to family and friends for you. And a small package would be fine.”

He can tell by the look in my eyes that I speak the truth. Before you are a fully recognized Ranger you have to spend a year as a Ranger Messenger which entails running to garrisons and picking up Ranger reports or delivering letters and pay packets from Headquarters to various stops on their routes. When you’re acting as a messenger anyway, a lot of people, soldiers especially, use you to deliver letters for them as well (along with a copper or two for your trouble). One of my favorite things was to deliver a letter to home from a soldier or caravan drover and see the relief on the faces of their family when word arrived.

“That would be marvelous, I’ll get something ready tonight” Wyn gushes. We fall into a comfortable silence for awhile…well except for Sybil who is half excited and half embarrassed. She finishes quickly and asks to be excused. I’m not quite done yet, in fact, I’m getting seconds, but I take a moment to retrieve the letters from my coat by the fire and hand them to her on my way back to the table. She actually squeals a little and darts up the stairs to her room. Maeglad rolls his eyes and lets out a huge sigh. Wyn snickers and pats his hand.

I take this moment to ask them about the traveler that I found in the snow terror nest. Had they seen anyone fitting that description or wearing that kind of jewelry? They shook their head no, and recommended I ask around at the garrison. Maybe he had come through with a caravan and got lost. Hmmm, that’s still a mystery.

I also tell them about Ginn’s discovery of the strangers in the meadow two days ago and how the Bilder’s greeted me at the door. “It sounds like those men are moving more to the North.” Maeglad says thoughtfully. “That’s what I was thinking too, based on the timing of them being seen. I’m surprised they haven’t run into those wolves…or maybe they have by now.” He asks me what my plan is tomorrow. “I’m going to go to Emme’s first, and if they’ve seen these guys or not I’ll start criss crossing across the meadow looking for signs of them. It’s just a little odd for them to be moving about but not approaching anyone.” I leave out that I think they might actually be scouting out weak targets and a man, woman and baby is the weakest target out on the meadow. I’m suddenly in a rush to get to the next ranch.

As we retire to the sitting room in front of the fire (Wyn picks up my coat and starts sewing) I ask “So, can you tell me more about Emme and the Soooldiiier?” I impersonate Sybil again. Maeglad fills me in on their ranch. It’s much smaller than the other two I’ve seen so far, they just bought it and started ranching on their own in the last year. They were staying with Maeglad and Wyn up until then. “In the room you’ll be staying in.” Emme’s parents like Micha Abner. He’s a good worker and kind to their daughter. Wyn thinks that Micha got the job as a hand in order to learn the ranch business and court Emme. Both parents apparently approved of him. Micha and Emme’s daughter Luanna was born right before they moved out to their own place. She’s about 18 months now. And her grandparents obviously dote on her as they recount the event of Luanna’s birth and how incredibly adorable she is.

I listen respectfully but as I’m taking all this in I’m feeling anxious to check on the ranch. I bid them goodnight as I need to leave early tomorrow. They understand and Falwyn tells me my coat will be ready in the morning. There was a time when I would argue that she didn’t have to do it, but right now I’m just thankful for some additional sleep.

Early the next morning it is freezing cold. As I’m getting my gear together in the main room (my coat looks great, Wyn cleaned it a bit too) I see Sybil come in with a basket of eggs. She says that her Da is closing up the barn and lighting the wood stove there for the animals. It’s too cold for them to wander today. Not too cold for the Ranger to wander I think. Falwyn has a huge breakfast prepared for us all and once Maeglad arrives we sit to eat. She makes sure I load up on everything.

As I’m finishing and taking my plate to the sink (I was raised right) she goes upstairs and comes back with a letter, a book, and a sweet little knitted jumper. “Do you have room for these?” she asks as I’m getting my pack closed up.

“Of course! Are you sure that’s all?” I note how cute the sage green jumper is. “Well, I’d like you to have this too.” And she hands me a tin. I open it and smell the aroma of a really nice strong tea. “Wow, that is great..but you don’t have to..” Wyn shakes her head. “It’s an honor. Thank you for your Service.” Oh, yeah…that again.
She also hands me a wrapped bundle of leftover breakfast for my food pocket. Pancake wrapped sausages is a wonderful thing.

I brought my boots in last night to warm by the fire and I get my snow walkers hooked up again on the porch and wave goodbye as I trot out of the yard. I can’t see them inside through the reflection of the window, but I sense they are there. I stick to the treeline to make better time to the Abner Ranch. I’m getting there a bit after mid-day and it’s still very cold and crisp.
Not only is there no smoke coming from their chimney but I can see what looks like tree limbs and debris poking out of the top of it. The barn doors swing lazily open and I can’t hear any animals inside. Something is really wrong here.

View
Red Hawk Meadow
...archery lessons

It is late morning and I am traveling through the forest from Lumberjack Camp 13 to the Red Hawk Meadow. My thoughts wander between the service the lumberjacks had for their fallen man (and the unknown traveler) and thinking about my uncle. My Uncle Eldiss, is one of the most senior Rangers, has been awarded the Hero of Ratik Medal multiple times, and has a reputation as a drinking, carousing, womanizer. In short, he is the best of the Ranger Corps. His best friend is Baron Mordecai, whom I noted made no mention of who I was or my uncle at all when I was at his hunting lodge. No preferential treatment for sure. I’m thinking of uncle because, before departing on my run, after an evening filled with a great excess of wine, he sat me down to discuss “the ones you will lose.” He has been training me for this job long before I entered the service. He’s been showing me the ropes since I was 6 years old and in all this time he never once acknowledged that I could ever lose a fight, a trail, my way in the forest, anything. There was never any losing. So I fear I did not take his remarks as seriously as I should have. He probably expected that.

This is the second time I haven’t been able to save someone on my run. It’s the second time I’ve been RIGHT THERE and yet I have fallen short. Eldiss warned me not to get caught up in a cycle of guilt, but it is really hard. And this is really only the beginning, I realize the expanse of months and miles that are before me and shiver…not from the cold.

There are three ranches in the Red Hawk Meadow. They provide most of the cattle for the Griff Mountain Garrison and farms up this way. I’ve not seen large herds of cattle before, there are only farms, orchards, and a vineyard in the valley where I grew up.

I left late so I’m not getting too far today and before I know it, it’s time to look for a campsite for the night. I have noticed wolf tracks in the area. Their pawprints are crisscrossing in the trees, this is their territory. I decide to have a small fire for a warm dinner of leftovers from Chalerin, then sleep up in a tree. I go about 10’ up a conifer and find a large enough limb to stretch my legs out. Taking no chances, I lash my waist around the tree trunk so I don’t plummet to the ground in my sleep. Late that night I awaken to snuffling sounds at the base of the tree and around my campfire. Sure enough I was right, it’s a wolf pack…or some of them anyway. They sniff around mostly where I ate my dinner and then start to leave. There’s really no reason to attack them, I’m far from any homesteads or camps and they really don’t pose a hazard to people this deep in the forest. If I was within a mile from a farm it would be a different story. But there’s a place in the forest for predators like these and as long as they aren’t trying to hunt people or livestock I say live and let live. There are many who don’t agree with my philosophy, but then again they aren’t out here lashed to a tree with me now, are they? I go back to sleep.

In the morning the sun is already well up before me [Lily is a late sleeper if given the chance], I untie and descend slowly. Up a tree is definitely safer, but also colder. I rekindle my fire for hot tea and regretfully….rations. I should have hunted yesterday, but wasn’t in the mood after the funeral. I’m paying for that now as I chomp on tasteless hardtack and dried…..something. The morning is warmer and all the snow is turning to heavy slush. The clouds hang low and heavy….this is going to be a cold, wet day. [weather roll, ugh] I should arrive at the Bilder ranch (according to my map) today, early evening if the weather goes sour…..if there aren’t any setbacks.

In spite of the slushy cold I arrive at the edge of the Bilder Ranch in the afternoon. I can see a neat 2 story farmhouse, a barn with attached large corral, and a grain silo.
I can see the majority, if not all of their herd in the corral and someone, presumably ranch hands or perhaps sons, feeding the cows some grain. Well, to be more precise one of them is feeding the cows, the other has set his bucket in the snow and is throwing a stick for a dog. If this was me and my brother…..I’d be the one playing with the dog.

They don’t notice me as I walk down the hill. In fact, they don’t notice anything at all [guess I’m not the only one blowing Observation rolls, NPC’s do it too!] until I’m knocking on the farmhouse door. At that point the dog tears towards me barking as the door swings open suddenly and I’m faced with 2 people about my parent’s age, the woman has a crossbow leveled at my face and the man a sword at the ready. Well, at least it’s not a frying pan….that’s new. The dog is going crazy barking at me from about 3 feet away. I hold my hands out in a “you got me” kind of way and wait to see what’s going to happen next.

“ROLFE, SHUT THAT UP AND GET THE BOYS!!!” the man bellows so loudly I have an inclination to follow the dog. Instead I turn back towards the couple with my hands still raised in surrender. The woman has lowered the crossbow and is swatting at the man’s arm to lower his sword. “Put your sword down Ned, it’s the Ranger.” she shoots me an apologetic look.

“Oh, oh..sorry Ranger”, the man..Ned says as he puts his sword away. He extends his hand just as I hear the approaching footsteps of the two boys? men? approaching. “I’m Nedhudir Bilder, this is my wife Taryn and my sons Cahir and Ginnarr. Up close I can see that the “men” feeding the cattle are twins, around 15 to 17. Hard to tell their ages as they are awfully tall, but up close they still have boyish faces. But who am I to talk, since I’m half-elf I look about 16 years old even though I’m 22. Everyone thinks I’m just a kid. And as I turn back to Nedhudir I can tell that’s exactly what he’s thinking.

“Is that how you greet everybody who knocks on the door, or is something going on?” I ask them as we start to step inside. It’s not uncommon way out here in the country to be wary of strangers, but even still, crossbow to the face is a little extreme, so I think somethings up.

Taryn looks sheepish as Ned begins to answer, “Why don’t you sit and have some warm stew before we start in” she interrupts and give Ned a stern look. She gestures to their table. I start to take a step inside and hear one of the boys behind me take a quick breath. I freeze moments before stepping my boot inside and see that it is absolutely covered in mud and melting snow. My mother would tan my hide for that, and I have a feeling Taryn might too. I turn and give the boys a grateful look for the warning, knock all the crap off my boots and remove them before coming inside. Based on the looks on both Nedhudir and Taryn’s faces, I made huge brownie points there.

As we sit at the table and I enjoy my stew and cornbread (yay, no rations for lunch!) they tell me that Ginnarr was in the meadow with some of the cattle and saw 3 people from a distance. He thought they might be soldiers from the garrison because they had swords, but they weren’t dressed for the weather so he wasn’t sure. “By the time he came and got me, they were gone.” Nedhudir finishes the tale. “By their tracks it looks like they were heading further in the meadow, towards the other ranches.”

My curiosity is peaked, “Do you get a lot of travelers through here?” Ned shakes his head no. “They could see your farm and house but they didn’t approach?” Ned nods. “Well, they could be on leave and just hunting for fun or something I guess. Just running around for the day, which is why they weren’t dressed properly for the weather”

“That’s what I thought might be the case.” he agrees. Taryn interjects “but we weren’t sure so when you knocked on the door……” Taryn looks rather nervous as she says this. I can’t help but scrunch my eyebrows in confusion trying to puzzle out why she looks so worried, their behavior seems appropriate to me. “….we just didn’t realize it was The Ranger or we would never have….” she gestures at the crossbow leaning against the wall near the door “…met you that way.” she finishes.

Realization hits me then. By the law of Ratik, drawing a weapon on a ranger is treason; and can be, if it is determined to be valid, a punishable offense up to and including prison, hard labor or death. It’s a severe penalty because we Rangers travel alone and practically in constant danger in service to the realm. To draw a weapon on us is the equivalent to drawing a weapon on the King himself, with the same penalties.

I shake my head in dismissal and nonchalantly wave my hand in the direction of her weapon. “Don’t worry about that. I completely understand. I grew up on a farm, my parents are farmers and they would have reacted the same way. It’s only prudent.” To call my family farmers is a bit of a stretch, but it is not completely untrue. I see Taryn visibly relax. She says, “There’s not much daylight left. Why don’t you relax and stay the night?”

Sleeping indoors by a warm fire sounds like the pinnacle of luxury right now so I agree. As I finish eating she notices the horrible stitching job I’ve done on my coat and offers to repair my repairs as it were (she says it a lot nicer). I reluctantly agree as it is part of my armor. As I take off my coat she then sees the horrible repairs I’ve made to my clothing underneath the coat…and insists on fixing (and washing) those as well. I can tell by her tone that there is no talking my way out of this.

Which is how I ended up wearing a stranger’s (her) clothes and teaching Cahir and Ginnarr to improve their archery at Nedhudir’s request late in the afternoon. We set up a hay bale and I draw a chalk target on it.

“Let’s see how you look; draw and shoot.” I instruct them. Each “boy” has their own handmade bow. They’re ok…but not great. Ginnarr’s is much better. Cahir postures a bit and then draws and shoots. The words pathetic and horrible come to mind, but I paste on a smile and look at the target with an arrow sticking out of the ground a couple of feet in front of it and say “I can see where you could use some improvement. You go” I gesture to Ginnarr, who I have learned goes by Ginn. He draws only slightly slower than his brother and lets fly. Well, at least that one didn’t fall short, in fact it flew well past the target, not even close to hitting it.

I keep my head facing the target as I school my features so they are not in a scowl. Shooting like that in the Academy would have caused a 10 mile run…for the whole troop. I turn to face them “OK, lesson one. Don’t release so quickly. You actually need to give yourself a moment to…..aim.” Ginn looks like he’s listening, Cahir looks like he already knows it all. “So, Cahir…draw up and hold.” He does. As expected his arm starts to tremble from the stress quickly. I pull up his elbow “Hold…hold. Now spot the target and pull back a bit more…..” I drop my hand “Release!” He does and it hits the lower left corner of the hay bale, nowhere close to the target marks. He’s thrilled, “Yes!!” he cries out. I see Ginn over his shoulder rolling his eyes.

“Now you.” I motion towards Ginn. [hard G by the way]. “Same thing goes, pull and hold.” Ginn does as I ask, but unlike his brother he does pull the string back far enough the first time. I say nothing for awhile and note that his arm doesn’t tremble like his brother’s did. He practices with his bow more already. I tip his elbow up a little, he blushes but keeps the string taut. “Ok, look down the arrow, see the target and release at your leisure” He holds a moment longer and releases. The arrow sails true and hits between the inner and outer rings I had drawn on the hay bale. He grins hugely. His brother pouts.

“Good, good. Now every day you want to practice just drawing and holding. You should draw, hold, and aim ten times for every arrow you release.” This is the way Eldiss taught me. “Pretty soon you’ll hit the target every time.” I’ve been letting them shoot my arrows so I’m walking out to retrieve them when I hear Cahir whisper (loudly) to Ginn “I bet she can barely hit the target herself!”

I nonchalantly walk back to where they’re still standing, spin, and shoot 6 arrows in the span of less than 10 seconds, all in a circle on the bullseye. [I actually had to roll this…and wonder of all wonders…my cursed dice just rocked it. This was the description my GM had of my rolls/shots] I look at Cahir in particular and deadpan “I got your arrows, you get mine. And get that one you shot out in the field too.” I’m looking at Ginn regarding that last one. I turn to go back in the house and hear chuckling by the barn. I look up to see Nedhudir leaning against it with his arms crossed. He’d been watching all along. He gives me a nod and a half salute. I just smile and nod in return.

I go in the house (sans boots) and help Taryn by setting the table. This is a lot like what I would be doing at home, it’s comfortable to be here doing this. I see my clothes folded along with my mended coat by the fire where I dropped my bedroll. We have a nice dinner of smoked fish and pickled vegetables along with fresh bread…my favorite. They ask for some news which is the equivalent of asking for a Ranger story, during desert (pie!). I tell them the Snow Terror story since I have a shiny new scar to go along with it (Taryn winces at that) but I leave out about the dead men, don’t really feel like going into that part of it just yet. They want more so I also tell them of the Dwarven hold, everybody likes hearing about them. They have met Bergrat before, they provide cattle to them at the Fall and Spring festivals, but hearing details about the hold in the side of the mountain was fascinating to them (as it was me too). It’s finally late enough for us all to turn in. I curl up by the dying fire and fall fast asleep.

I awake early to find that those low clouds from yesterday let go of about a foot and a half new snow overnight. I stand on the porch looking at the expanse of deep snow in the meadow I’m going to have to run through. Then I get a flash of inspiration. As I sit down to breakfast with the family I ask Ned, “Can I buy about 5 feet of rope from you?” I don’t want to cut into my climbing rope for this project. Nedhudir stops eating and shakes his head ‘No’ at me. “Won’t charge you for rope. We are “of Ratik” you know. Don’t charge Rangers for their needs. Anyway, 5 feet of rope isn’t good for much of anything.”

“I think I can make something quite good with 5 feet of rope. You just wait” I say as I dig into a huge breakfast of eggs, ham and biscuits. Half an hour later I’m sitting on the porch with two willow branches and rope that I am unwinding. Once I have the rope completely unfurled I tie the ends of each stick to itself and start to weave the smaller pieces of hemp together to make a net like surface. I would like to take credit for this wonderful design but I actually learned how to make these from our handyman back home. Who ironically, is named Ned. But just plain Ned. I don’t even know if Ned has a last name, I’ve never heard it as long as I’ve lived. Ned is kind of a mad genius when it comes to making things he, or anybody else, needs. And one year when we had really deep snow in the valley he made these snow walkers for us to get around in.

I finish with my last knot and walk to the steps of the porch where I sit on the edge and tie the snow walkers to my boots. When I look up I see four sets of skeptical eyes watching me. A get a huge grin and leap up to the nearby snowdrift where I sink in…about 2”. “Ha! They work!” I call out, standing proudly with my hands on my hips. I suppose I would seem more sure of myself if I didn’t sound so surprised.

“That 5 feet was good for something” Nedhudir says. “Shoulda charged you.” he laughs. Taryn, Ginnar, and Cahir say their goodbyes. Taryn gives me a package of ham biscuits, cheese, and an apple for my lunch and asks me to give their neighbors their best. “Tell Maeglad thanks for the pipe tobacco” Nedhudir calls out while he turns towards the corral. I wave my goodbye and set off towards the next ranch.

Not far from their place I hear wolves in the distance. The meadow has soft rolling hills, it’s not completely flat, and as I crest a small rise I think I see a pack gathered in the distance. But when I come around to the area there is nothing there. Then as I come upon the next rise I find them.

And I am surrounded.

[Game notes: Having my rope proficiency paid off again! Snow shoes….but we wanted to call them something less modern. And yes, I had to do several intelligence (my dump stat…ugh) and dexterity rolls. Why DEX?…because weaving hemp rope into a snowshoe base would require a lot of finger work. I blew a couple of rolls, but that didn’t mean they were a failure, but rather it took me longer to get it right. I have to say that this is something I appreciate from my GM. If I get a brilliant idea but roll for shit (as per my usual) it doesn’t mean the whole idea is a failure, it just means that it takes something more to succeed. That could be more time, or it could be more money/resources. In this case it was time. But…I don’t just get to say “Lilykai makes snow shoes” I do have to cite a precedent (Ned the genius handyman is always a good precedent resource, its one of the NPC’s he created and I call upon often as where Lily gets her ideas) and I also have to describe exactly how she might make them. Which means I get to picture what antique snow shoes look like and come up with a reasonable way I would make something similar with sticks and rope bits. Luckily, close is good enough for success.

Secondly: Archery practice. So…that was unexpected. For the record, at the time, I knew nothing about archery. Other than what I’ve watched on TV and movies. So when the GM says “Nedhudir (wtf name is that!) wants you to give his sons some tips on shooting an arrow”. You can’t, as The Ranger, say “sorry, I don’t really know anything about that.” What you do instead is….gape a bit like a fish…stutter some…and then say “OK, let’s go shooting”. So the rest, pretty much exactly as it’s written above, is me bullshitting my way through how you would do this if you really knew how to shoot an arrow. And why should I bother you ask? BONUS XP!!!! Yes, I found out later that the xp I received for the archery lesson was on a sliding scale, the better I did, the more points I received. Lesson learned. (I did pretty well on the scale)

So, XP for this session was given for 1) being smart enough to think of sleeping in a tree AND lashing myself to it 2) Archery Lesson..that was like 200xp 3) thinking of and making snow shoes and as always 4) overall RP. In this game you don’t have to kill things to get xp. In fact, in the last session I got bonus XP for NOT killing the bear that was trying to fish.]

View
Terror in the snow
Ice, Ice, Baby

We race out of the mess hall, I have to push my way through the crowd. The men are running towards the bunkhouse and I pass most of them sprinting by. A sentry is standing there with his horn. I overhear him telling the first foreman to arrive that he heard a brief scream and saw a woman being carried away towards the river behind a timber pile but he couldn’t tell what had her. The sentry looked for the other watch who had gone to check on the barn and he is missing too. I go directly to the riverbank and can see no tracks. [fuck observation rolls!] I go to the barn and find some tracks that look like bear, but walking only on hind legs. They lead north and a little west through the forest but then start to turn back towards the river. I get to the river and see a solid bridge of ice before me. This was not here earlier. I lose the tracks on the bridge and the ice on the other side of the river. As I am trying to pick up the trail again I hear another scream, that is swiftly cut off. I run directly towards the noise.

It was already getting closer to dusk during dinner, but now in the thick of the forest it is truly dark. I can still see, but any hope of help from the lumberjacks fades with the setting sun. I hear a quieter whimper west of my location and take off towards it, running full speed. Which is why it is too late for me to react when an eight foot tall creature, its ice blue eyes peering from the dimness of the forest, rakes two sets of claws across my torso. Momentarily I feel paralyzed from the cold that permeates the wounds I receive, but I quickly shake the effects away [paralyze attack save!]. I roll away and come up swinging my sword, too close combat for my bow to do any good. I make a sweeping arc low to high across its body and then slice back down across his arm nearly cleaving it off. But the beast takes advantage of my closeness and strikes out with his remaining clawed hand, driving it into my chest and emitting ice and cold straight into the wound. I feel an ache that reaches my very bones, like my blood is freezing in my veins. While his claw remains puncturing my chest I grab his arm, keeping him in place, and force my sword deep into his torso, spilling his guts all over the snow. He finally releases me as he falls dead. I hear the howl of another further away in the forest. I cut this ones head from his body to reassure myself the beast is truly dead.

I lean over and support myself on a tree trunk as I uncork two of Yilly’s healing potions. One more blow from this creature and my run would have come to an abrupt end [yes, folks..it was that close]. What the hell is this thing anyway, I kick it’s dead body as I slink into the forest after the other one, drawing an arrow, readying my bow. I won’t be caught out again.

There is the briefest of movements to my left and I spin and shoot without hesitation. Only after releasing the arrow do I realize that it could’ve been one of the lumberjacks. But it was not. The second creature, covered in white fur the color of the snowy landscape, was trying to sneak around to my flank. Like the other it blends perfectly into the background, and the coldness that surrounds it eliminates my ability to read a heat signature in the dark. But now it’s wounded and pissed so it comes tearing through the clearing roaring it’s displeasure at my placement of an arrow in it’s shoulder. I think the beast expects me to flee so it can give chase and is entirely unprepared for me to run straight towards it, cutting to the left at the last moment, spinning and planting two more arrows into it’s broad back. It screams in fury and spins to strike me down, but I am no longer there. Using my momentum I pushed off of the nearest tree and reversed my course dropping one more arrow into him in the process. There would be two, except my bow string took this opportunity to break. [rolled an asshole 1] The creature falls to its knees, the arrow in it’s neck causing it’s breathing to be labored. I race towards it one last time drawing my sword and driving it through the beast, slicing it’s head away with a final stroke.

[mechanics note: this engagement occurred before the campaign was switched to 5e, hence Observation rolls instead of perception (not that I’m any better at those). The combat is a bit different in that Lily had a 3/2 attack plus she took a sharpshooter/sniper ability which meant she got a free shot if she had an arrow nocked and was within 30’. Which was almost always. The trick with keeping her alive during the first few levels of the adventure was to always have her fighting ranged and make hit and run attacks, never letting the opposition get close enough to strike. Which is why she almost died with the first guy, regrouped and stayed out of range for the second one. And yes, we’re playing with critical hits and critical misses…… I go through a lot of bow strings.]

In the distance I hear the lumberjacks coming through the trees. They may or may not be trying to be stealthy. They’re not talking or yelling….but they’re practically marching, their steps are so loud. I whistle and yell for them to meet me at the bridge. I don’t want them to mess up the snow so I lose the tracks. I meet a small group there and tell them where the creatures are. Four of them, the foremen, insist on tracking with me. They want to retrieve their people. We pick up the tracks of the one that had the girl and follow it to a cave with a large frozen “nest”. The girl is there, packed in frozen ice. She is unconscious with a bad head wound, but alive. A few minutes more and she would have died from the cold. I hack the ice away from her with my hatchet (blunt side!) Hab finds the other missing man that was on watch. He has a long gash across his chest, he probably died instantly. I have the 4 foremen wait in the cave while I scout outside looking for tracks, I can see no other signs that there are any more of these creatures than the ones I killed. I go back in and have Jukka and Ilax take the girl back to camp. I ask Hab and Hadad to break out the dead man’s body while I take a moment to check the nest. I let them know that I will be checking the creatures on our way back to camp. I have a sneaking suspicion that these two things were a mating pair, and I don’t want to run across any little hungry ice monsters in the forest. As I search the cave I see the bodies of some animals, deer, elk, and a smaller black bear. Zebulon was right, there was a reason the animals were avoiding this area. I look back at the other two who are just pulling the body out, “Zeb was right all this time, you know.” I say to them. Hadad actually has the decency to look a little sheepish and Hab nods at me.

Right before I’m about to turn away from the area something shiny catches my eye. I look closely at the thick frost covering the back wall and I can just make out a human form. I chisel away at the ice and break free the body of an older man. He’s wearing light traveling clothes. Based on his clothes I would say he was in the area in the summer or fall at the latest. Hab and Hadad come to inspect him and neither have seen him before. I check his person for any papers or something that might identify him and find nothing. He is wearing a ring, a necklace with a pendant, a bracelet and a pair of ornate bracers. He obviously had some money so perhaps he will be missed by his family. The jewelry is very distinctive so I can use it to ask around if anyone saw this man and knows who he was. I take it and log into my journal what was removed and make a quick drawing of the man for identification. We take his body, along with the deceased lumberjack, back to camp for a decent burial.

On the way back to camp I check the bodies of the creatures and sure enough one is a female. It doesn’t appear that she is pregnant or has given birth so I’m relieved there are no spawn anywhere. I make a sketch of them in my journal for identification later. The two men have crossed the ice bridge and are waiting for me when I come out of the forest. I cross and we agree that the bridge should be cut down just in case they weren’t the only pair in the forest. Using their axes and my sword we destroy the bridge, sending it’s pieces into the river. The camp is awake and active when we return. Jukka and Ilax had filled everyone in. Jukka approaches us and lets us know Chalerin is taking care of the girl and she’s going to be okay.

Then I realize all the talking has died down and all the lumberjacks are looking at me. I am the youngest person here, and inside I feel like the least experienced. I realize that these last few weeks I have felt like I’m barely keeping up with what’s happening around me. But I can’t let them know this…I can see by the looks in their eyes that they are relying on me to make them safe. In spite of the fact that I hate public speaking I take a deep breath, “The creatures have both been dispatched. There were two. I checked the area surrounding their nest and there were no additional tracks. They had been hunting large prey in the forest and have recently begun to move in this direction. Zebulon was right to be wary of that area.” I nod in his direction and if it wasn’t for the fact that we lost a man tonight I think he would be beaming. Instead he just stands up straighter and gives me a nod. I continue, “I will remain here tonight and patrol the camp along with your sentries, but I believe the threat has been eliminated.” There is a low murmur among the men as they look relieved but sad for the loss and go back to their bunks.

“We’ll have a burial tomorrow, I’d appreciate it if you could attend.” Hab tells me before he walks away.
“Of course, absolutely.” I reply. I wish it was my first graveside ceremony, but it’s not.

They have wrapped the bodies in shrouds and placed them near a lumber pile, packed in snow. I go into the mess to check on the girl. It’s one of the cook’s helpers I met earlier but I don’t remember her name. She is crying and shivering, but Chalerin gives me a nod that she’s OK. I grab a hot mug of tea and head into the darkness to start my patrol. To be honest I don’t feel that anything more will happen in the night. I’m pretty secure in the knowledge that both creatures are dead (the whole beheading thing and all) and there aren’t any others. But I realize that by pulling this all nighter it will put the lumberjacks fears to rest, and that too is part of my job, my duty as their Ranger. Finally, a few hours before dawn I decide to get a little sleep. I go into the mess hall, curl up with my weapons and gear right by the door.

After only a couple of hours I awaken to the sounds of the kitchen staff setting out platters and preparing for breakfast. I see that the girl who was attacked is working, I catch Chalerin’s eye and she waves me to her and hands me a cup of coffee. “She insisted” she whispers to me and shrugs. The men start filing in and filling plates, I join the queue and they stop, one taking my arm and leading me to the front of the line. They all have looks of quiet respect, it is very moving and I nod my thanks and get my breakfast.

As I sit and eat Hab joins me, “We’re having the memorial service after everyone has had breakfast. Would you like to say something?”
I can’t help but look very uncomfortable. “I’m actually not very good at public speaking” He cocks his eyebrow at me, “You seemed to be pretty good at it last night.”
“I realized what needed to be said, but that doesn’t mean I’m good at it” I say with a smirk.
“If you change your mind, let me know.” he says, not unkindly. I nod my thanks.

The day is bright and sunny for a change so I decide I’m going to sew up my coat on the outside porch. As I wish Hab a good morning and get up to leave I see the target I shot through last night with my arrow. They’ve moved it, arrow and all, to another place on the wall towards the front of the mess hall. Hab catches what I’m looking at and says “They’re keeping it as is. Kind of like a memento of your visit.”
“You know I usually retrieve all my arrows” I say to him in a mock challenging tone, eyebrows raised.
“Not that one” he replies…then adds “if you don’t mind.”
“Well, maybe it will remind them not to set the other Rangers up with ax throwing contests” I say with a sly grin as I turn to take my dirty dishes away. I can hear Hab’s chuckle behind me.

I spend some time repairing the rips in my coat very badly. Sewing isn’t one of my strong suits. But it will hold together well enough for now. The healing potions I took were enough to heal me most of the way up but the place where the beast hit me in the chest will scar. I am looking at the small star shaped red puckering scar tissue when Zebulon comes up to sit beside me.

“So you saw the beast then” he growls out. I look at him and realize that this is just the way he talks. Like he’s gargling gravel.
“Saw it, tracked it, killed it.” I reply.
“Told ‘em all I was right.” he gestures to the yard where the lumberjacks are milling around and working.
“You were. I don’t mind admitting it. They shouldn’t either.” I nod in the same direction. I reach in my coat pocket and bring out my journal, flipping it open to the pages where I drew pictures of the creatures. “This is what they looked like.”
Zebulon takes the book from me and studies the images closely. “I heard about these once. Called…..” he stares into the middle distance for a moment, “..called Snow Terrors, they are. Supposed to attack you with ice.”
I touch my scar, “I can definitely agree that it felt like getting hit with ice, but it was a claw.” I remember that in the Academy there was a brief mention in our Creatures and Beasts class about Snow Terrors. I think it was something like: invisible in snow, highly dangerous, avoid at all costs.
Zeb and I sit in a comfortable silence for awhile, I pick up my sewing again when he pipes up.
“Knew a guy who claimed to see one of those once before.” he states.
“Really? When? was it recently?” I can’t resist sounding a bit peeved that someone had warned them of these things and it was ignored. Zeb realizes my reaction and waves his hand in a “settle down” movement and starts again.
“No, no, this was goin on…30 years or more ago. When I was young and handsome.” he waggles his eyebrows at that. “Was a young cutter up near the base of the Griff. Came running out of the woods sayin he saw a beast as white as a ghost that came out of nowhere and tried to claw him. Blocked it with his ax and got away. We all gave him a hard time that he fell asleep in the trees and lost his ax in the snow. We gave that guy so much shit. Ended up being a good cutter though, big guy. Eventually retired and gots himself a bar in Dunn. Doing OK now I s’pose.”

After Zeb has trailed off for awhile I add “Sounds like he might’ve been telling the truth. He was pretty lucky if you ask me.”

“Yep. Jolly was always kinda lucky.” Zeb pushes on my arm to catch my eye. I look up and he’s gesturing towards the hill behind the camp. “Looks like it’s time now.” I see Hab and the other foremen gathering at the crest and all the “cutters” walking up to join them.

Zebulon and I walk together to the hill.

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Axes and Arrows
Lumberjack Camp 13, where the big wood is…..

I’m up rather early the next morning. Gotta get moving, I’m already late on my run as a whole and as much as I love feasting with these guys, there’s more work to be done.
Bergrat and Yilly are at breakfast and I join them at their table. Bergrat looks a little
rough around the edges. I must too because he just looks at me, laughs a little, and
slides a carafe of coffee my way.

I pull the flask out of my pocket to add a little hair of the dog to my coffee and admire it
once more. Etched on one side is a mountain entrance with large wooden doors
remarkably similar to the ones I entered here. The other side has a crossed battle ax
and mining pick.

“I wanted to thank you aga-…..” I start, Bergrat interrupts.

“Oh, yes…..I forgot to fix this for you” he snags it quickly from my hand. Before I can say
anything he hollers something out to a runner and the runner and my flask disappear.
“Hey! Wait a minu-” Yilly grabs my hand and shakes her head. I just shrug and start in
on my bacon. Easy come, easy go I guess.

“Where you off to?” Bergrat interrupts my thoughts like he does my sentences.
“Ummmm, the logging camp down river a bit” I take out my journal and fumble the map
out of it. “Logging camp #13”
“Thought they’d be shut down by now” he replies.
“They might have. But I gotta swing by anyway and make sure everything is OK. It’s on
the route so I gotta see. After that is the Red Hawk meadow. There’s some ranches
there.”
“You ever been in that country?”
“Nope, I’ve never been to the Northern District at all.”
“Why’d they send you here then, if you’ve never been out here?”
“Don’t know. Thought it might be a punishment or something. Pissed someone off at the
Academy” I continue to shovel food in my mouth. This could be my last good meal for a
couple of days.
Bergrat chuckles and says something to Yilly I don’t understand. She just shakes her
head and keeps it down. Wily dwarves.

The runner appears out of nowhere. For large, bulky people these dwarves are awfully
stealthy. Bergrat retrieves the flask from her and hands it to me. I can tell by the weight
it has been refilled. Smiling widely I tuck it into an inner pocket. “Nice, thank you!” I say
to both Bergrat and the runner.
“Have to send you on your way with the good stuff!” Bergrat replies. “Keep you warm at
night”

I finish my breakfast, tuck a bit of wrapped bread and sausages into my food pocket for
lunch and get ready to go. Bergrat, Yilly and Drofer see me off. Yilly stops by the temple
and brings me 5 (yes, you heard me – 5!) healing potions. Yes!!! This is indeed a grand
gift. If I run into (literally) any more bears I won’t need to take a week off to heal. We say
our goodbyes and promise to see each other again when possible.

As I open the door to leave I see that Bodus and Gegden are back on guard duty. After
hearty back slaps and goodbyes I begin my descent down the stairs. Before I am out of
sight I turn once more to wave goodbye and I swear I see them give me a crossed
weapon salute. My heart tugs at the sight. Then I turn to continue on.

Since it’s not whiteout conditions this time, and I’m not concentrating on hauling a heavy
ass chest of coin, I can actually see where I am and where I’m going. Damn….this is
high up. I’ve got a bit of vertigo being so high above the tree-line and seeing such a
dramatic steep mountain face before me. I take it slow and easy and cut diagonally
across the mountain face so as not to become a human (ok, half elf) snowball rolling
down the mountainside.

[ rolled some DEX rolls successfully, no human snowball!]
Hitting the tree-line I pick up my pace to full speed. I just feel like I need to MOVE for
awhile. Get the blood pumping.

[Game note: a “house rule” for this particular campaign is that the Ranger Corps, as a
whole, run faster and farther/longer than a normal citizen or soldier of Ratik (think I’ve
mentioned this before) at this point we’ve determined that Lily’s running speed, as a
result is twice what is the “normal speed” would be for her race/class. So, where regular
characters would be 30’/minute at a run, hers is that at a fast walk, 45’/minute at a jog,
and 60+’ (double) at a dead on sprint. The real bonus for being a Ranger is that she can
maintain the 45’/minute for DAYS. But, to do that I will end up rolling CON rolls and if I
blow one I will literally pass out from exhaustion. One of the great things about this
movement setup is that in spite of the fact she has a long way to travel from point to
point, we don’t have to have her running through the forest for a week, we can cut it
down to days. And when she is close to a destination I can choose to run her through
the night just to get there. And yes, we RP every single day. Both travel and other.
Granted, some of the days are: roll for weather (don’t get me started on this….I’ll save
the weather rant for another post), and periodically roll 3d6. Then we get toward the end
of the day and I decide camping/hunting situations and then rest and recover for the
night…..or run through it, depending on the circumstances. Why randomly roll 3d6, you
ask? Well, that took me a good year or two to figure out, so you’re just going to have to
wait!]

As I enter the forest I hear some noise to one side and investigate. It is a black bear and
give it a wide berth. As the day progresses I see more of them. It strikes me as unusual
as they should be in hibernation by now, but maybe the early snows have meant they
had to search for food longer to fatten up for winter. They look well fed, maybe they are
searching out a good cave to winter in. We don’t interact, really there’s no need to mess
with them.

Around three o’clock I finally find the river. This is one of the larger ones that is used by
the lumberjack camps. It is big enough to carry the large timber trees down to the
Father River that cuts through the North District and to the Port of Dunn. According to
my map I should find Lumberjack Camp #13 here somewhere….if they haven’t closed
up shop for the winter. But the river seems to be running pretty strong so they might still
be sending trees down. It is considerably lower than in spring and summer, but still wide
and deep…too deep to cross, and the camp is supposed to be on the other side. I start
looking for a way across as I head downstream towards where the camp should be.
I finally come around a bend and spy some exposed rocks large enough that I can use
them to jump across to the other side. A quiet grunt alerts me to the fact that there is
also large black bear RIGHT THERE upstream from my impromptu bridge. I also spy
[successful observation roll!] a man, lumberjack looking man, slightly upriver and on the
other bank from the bear, watching it. He has a fishing net and I can tell he is deciding
whether or not it is a good idea to compete on this part of the river for fish, with the bear.
I catch his eye and he makes a little noise to distract the bear. I sneak by and spring
rock to rock landing safely on the other side. [sneak roll, agility roll…successful!] Then I
meet Lathron as we shake hands. He’s burly, late 20’s or early 30’s and distinctively
lumberjacky……I don’t know if its the beard, the piney smell, broad shoulders, or that
badass ax he’s carrying, but overall his looks and manners just shout “Timber!”.

He tells me they are getting ready to close up the camp and are stocking up fish and
provisions for the trek down river. We stop and I wait while he pulls in a stringer of fish
from his earlier successes. A little further down we see a small sapling bridge hanging
over the river with some other tree cutters hauling in nets of fish. There is one man
standing apart from the rest and looking off into the forest. I ask Lathron what his deal is
and he tells me “That’s Zebulon, he’s kind of a nutty old coot, but still good at downing a
tree” I look in the direction that Zebulon is staring but can see nothing out of the
ordinary. We continue along the river and come upon yet another makeshift bridge with
men fishing.

As we near the camp a younger man is running out “Tero, what’s the
hurry?” Lathron asks. “I didn’t catch enough and have to go back out boss says.”
Lathron chuckles and tells him to stay closer to the bridges, he ran across a “blackie” up
where he was. Tero nods and picks up his pace again.

At the camp I see large stacks of tree trunks, stripped of their branches
stacked along the riverbank. Being from the valley outside of the capital, I have never
seen such large trees before. I can’t help but gawk. further down there are a series of
log buildings, obviously some bunkhouses, a mess hall, a smokehouse, and a barn with
a forge attached.

There is a group of men working on one of the log stacks and Lathron calls to one of
them standing on the bank. “Haberston!” he yells “Ranger’s here” and nods down at me.
Yeah, I’m feeling like a shorty about now, seeing as every one of these guys are head
and shoulders taller than I am. Quite a difference from Hausen Hold, where I was the
tallest around. The man, Haberston, comes towards me with his hand outstretched.
He’s older than the rest by about 20 years (with the exception of Zebulon), and you can
tell that he’s been doing this a long time, his muscles have muscles. “Nice to meet you,
I’m Ranger Kodel…..or you can just call me Lilykai” “You can call me Hab” he replies as
we shake.

Hab gives me the “tour” which includes a description of their camp crews. They have 4
teams of 6-7 men plus a foreman. He’s the foreman of Team 4. They are currently
loading a group of logs into the river while the rest are catching up on hunting and
fishing. It’s too late in the season to cut more timber, they need to send down what they
have before the river is running too low. I marvel at how large the trees are. “These are
mast timbers” Hab explains. It is obvious by my expression that I have no idea what he
is talking about. He takes a deep breath and starts to elaborate “Ratik is known for it’s
tall straight trees and lumber. The further west you go in the forest the taller and
straighter they become. Camp 13 is the one that goes through the forest and selects
the best trees for ship masts. The rest of the lumber-camps in the north cut wood for lots
of uses, but here in 13…this is where the big wood is.” He looks at me expectantly and I
decide to play the dumb, innocent waif and just look back at him perplexed. He sighs
heavily and turns away…”c’mon, I’ll introduce you to the cook. She can put some food in
you…looks like you need it.”

We go inside the mess hall and I meet the head cook, Chalerin Melvale. She’s in her
50’s, rather stout with a ruddy complexion and brown hair swooped up in a messy bun.
She introduces me around to the women who work with/for her doing the cooking and
laundry service. All in all there are 32 men and these 6 women here. Chalerin is sitting
with 3 other men who introduce themselves as the foremen for the other groups: Jukka
Toki, Hadded Lutz, and Ilax Lika

[game note: yes, these names do make me crazy…thankyouverymuch]

We all shake hands and sit. I’ve only eaten the leftovers in my food pocket all day so I’m
pretty hungry for a late lunch. They are having rabbit and mushroom soup with
vegetables….a heavy stew. The talk at the table is about their progress for packing up
the camp and getting the last of the logs that they can in the river, stacking up the rest
and covering them for next spring when the river is high again. They also mention that
the men are giving Zeb a hard time of late and for each of them to keep an eye on it.
Haberstrom takes a look at my coat, all the crazy stitched up slashes and comments
that my run so far has been eventful. I look at where he’s noticing the bear slashes
across my chest and nod. He says I can tell them all about it at dinner, right now Cook is
kicking everyone out of the mess so she can clean up and get dinner started. She tells
me to wait a bit and she’ll have a bath ready for me soon. The women’s quarters are in
the back of the mess and I’ll be staying there. A bath! Oh, man that sounds nice right
now. Who am I kidding, that sounds great just about any time.

I step outside with the other foremen just in time to hear a group of men (crew #1)
mocking Zebulon. “There’s something out there!” he is saying in a raised voice “Bears
don’t go there either…..something it out there” As the men disperse I approach Zeb and
ask him what he’s seen. “Nothin’ but that don’t mean there isn’t somethin’ there. The
forest seems wrong, and I think I see a flash of movement when I watch close but then I
don’t see it again. But there’s somethin there, I’m tellin ya’.” I nod and ask him to point
me where he’s talking about. He points to the west and north of the camp along the
river. I have a few minutes before the bath is ready so I jog out towards there, but see
nothing myself. No tracks, no indication of anything.

[completely blown observation roll…a 3]

I come back and shake my head slowly. He is perturbed [join the club buster, but I can’t
help a 3!] but I just shrug and tell him I’m keeping an eye on it to placate him. It doesn’t.
He stomps off grumbling. The mess is quiet and I hear the women in the back preparing
the food for dinner. The bath is hot and waiting in the sleeping quarters and it feels great
to soak these tired and freezing bones for a bit. I have a spare change of clothes so I
am able to clean these in the bathwater and hang them to dry overnight. I find where I’m
sleeping and deposit my pack.

The mess starts to liven up as the work crews come in. They are pretty jovial as they
are about to move out of the mountains and to warmer camps. Don’t get me wrong, the
North is the North…this whole area will freeze your ass off. But it is a little warmer as
you get out of the Griff Mountains and more towards the East. The foremen are
discussing breaking out the tents for the move over dinner, and of course they
eventually want me to tell a story. (Ugh). The room quiets and I begin to tell the story of
the Dwarves and the Acid Pudding. (There is no name for that crazy blob so I make one
up on the spot). All in all it is pretty successful and they really laugh at the part where I
throw Banley into the fire (it was funny). So there…story told, my work here is done. I sit
back down and continue listening to Hab discuss the move. The men are grumbling
about not having any ale because of bad rationing, I decide to keep my flask tucked
away.

Some of the lumberjacks call me over to their table, I excuse myself and take my
plate over there to see what they want. They ask about my various coat scars (bear,
wolves, ground locust, goblin) and I give the briefest of answers between bites. Then
they explain to me about their ax throwing contest. I suspect this is the real reason I was
invited over. They point out the target across the room and explain the betting process.
(Oh, I see…you want to take the Ranger’s pay then, huh) I get seconds, Chalerin was
right, I am pretty hungry, and watch them throw. OK, I’ll be frank…very fit lumberjack
men hefting axes through the air and being all manly? This is dinner and a show,
friends.

But inevitably they want me to join. I lay my bet on the table (2 coppers) and
pick up an ax. I get 3 chances to beat the last thrower. It is basically like darts except
with heavy ass axes, the target is across the room, and there’s tables full of people
between you and the target. This is not dangerous at all! Rudhorn & Rovarian (they
sound like they should be brothers, but they are not) set me up with the rules, “throw ax,
hit target” and hand me the first ax. I am strong [Lily’s STR is 17 at this point] so picking
up the ax isn’t a problem…but throwing it over my head…over all of these guys sitting
and eating….and hitting a target? I’m a little worried. I take a few practice swings and
then let fly. [Mechanics: I rolled a 12, I don’t know what the DC is, but 12 isn’t too bad,
right?] My ax sails through the air end over end, as it is supposed to and……..hits the
very edge of the target. The crowd erupts in laughter. I feel my cheeks heat up in what
I’m sure is a deep crimson blush. Rovarian quiets everybody down and makes excuses
that it was my first throw and to let up on the Ranger, she’s just starting. They settle
down. I take the next ax, test the weight of it, take a deep breath, and…….[roll a 9]. The
ax hits the wall and falls off. They die laughing. I’ve had enough so I quickly pick up the
third ax, don’t even practice and send it sailing…..[roll a 3]. It goes barely above the
heads of the men at the table, the handle hits the edge of the table and the ax clatters to
the floor. There is a moment of silence while all the men present (yes, everyone was
paying attention at this point) take a deep breath and burst into laughter all at once. My
whole body is aflame with embarrassment now. As they continue to laugh I throw myself
back into my seat and start eating with my head down. The men think this is hilarious.

Then the ones seated beside me see the quickest of movements, the ones at our table
and the table between me and the target see a blurry object as it passes right in front of
them, the rest just hear a loud bang and the rattle of the target as it vibrates against the
wall….with a Ranger arrow buried deep into the dead center of the bullseye [Rolled a 20
bitches!!!] The room immediately falls into a stunned silence as all eyes fall to the
Ranger who is sitting at the table calmly eating her dinner.

Then a warning horn blows from outside.

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