“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.