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.]