The beginning to an epic quest, and the evolution of a ranger from woodsman to hero.
|Hidden within the forest in the hollowed out body of a great tree lives Brant, a young ranger. Returning home from another small hunting camp to the north with several furs in tow. He lays the small hand drawn cart down and enters the obscured doorway to his home. He feels very comfortable in his forest, but here, here he feels completely at ease.While the outside of this camp looks completely innocuous, inside the walls, once he closes the rough wooden door the entire place is very homey.
He checks the one room cabin over quickly, everything is in its place and it doesn’t seem that any animals have moved in in the last week. A quick trip out to the cart and back to bring his haul in. Several good furs and three fine bear furs, those furs and the herbs and roots he had collected will bring a solid amount at market.
After spending the night in his own comfortable bed, under the furs he has collected over the years, he arises early in the morning. A quick dip in the nearby river to wash up and he’s ready to start his journey to the nearby town of Banik. Loading his cart up and he eats some jerky, closes up the camp again and sets out on his regular trip.
Along old deer paths widened over time with many trips he makes his way out of the forest until he joins up with the hard packed main road. The crisp morning air slowly warms until the air is comfortable and he can take his cloak off. The road is long and empty, no other travelers today, though it is not uncommon along this roads so far from the major cities.
After most of the day has passed and the sun is beginning to settle towards the horizon he comes upon the small town of Osell, his favorite part of the trip. His pace quickens and he makes his way quickly into the small town. Only a few hovels, a longhouse that stores the towns food stores and trade goods, and a small dueling arena are encircled by wooden walls, only recently built. Brant enjoys this small town because there are so few people here, cities have always felt out of place to him. But he enjoys it even more because of Cheryl.
Pulling his cart around back he knocks on the door of one small home. Its windows dimly lit by the small fireplace. Looking around the town while he waits for his answer he sees several of its citizens going about their evening business, farmers coming in from the fields. A wagon from the regular merchat sits idly by the front gates. A few lizard people hurriedly finish their business before returning to the swampland homes.
While he is distracted a young woman appears behind him and grabs him from behind. Not easily suprised he whips the arms away and spins around grabbing her around the chest.
“Lucky I knew it was you or you might have a black eye,” he says inches from her suprised face.
“You could try, but I spent a lot of time with this Ranger fella who taught me how to take care of myself,” she quips and plunges in for a kiss.
She opens the door and the aroma of fresh stew wafts out and his stomach grumbles loudly at the smell.
“Skipped lunch to get here early again huh?” she coyly asks as they enter. “Sometimes I wonder what you are in such a rush for. Like, you might get something when you get here.” With that he grabs her and plants a deep kiss and kicks the door closed behind them, she squeaks and laughs at the surprise.
After a night of good food and laying with each other a crack of light comes through the curtains striking him in the eye. He slowly rises and does his best not to wake her. Stretching from last night’s events he finds his clothes and gear and begins to dress. As he leans over to kiss her, still trying to let her sleep, his light mace twists on his belt and whacks the wooden panel next to the bed.
“Worst… Ranger… ever,” she whispers from the covers. “I swear I’ve never met a ranger who managed to make as much noise as you.” She rises from the bed and offers to feed him some more and make some coffee.
“Next month I’ll be needing to make the trip with you again. Lucky you I have everything I need right now, mr sneaky.” She says sarcastically.
“I didn’t think you would need to go this month. And I wanted you to get some sleep. That slave driver of a boss keeps you so tired,” he says eating some warmed stew and sipping some coffee. “But I should have asked, sorry.”
“No problem love. Just keep it in mind next time around.”
After a little while longer he realizes what time it must be and hurriedly prepares for his trip. Outside his cart is undisturbed as always. Almost everyone in this town knows him. And nearly everyone owns some of his furs or has used the herbs he collects for food or healing. As he bids her goodbye he studies her features for a second. Her brown hair brushes just above her shoulders. A full figure shows she can eat well between, but she isn’t too round. Shes just right for his tastes.
As he turns to walk away she studies him as well. Tall but far from the tallest in town. He is lean and strong, his arms kept strong by his longbow. He wears weathered green and brown clothing with leathers to protect him from the elements and the animals of the forest. His dark brown cloak flows with him as he walks and just before he puts the hood up she smiles at his thick bearded face. His wild hair cut short, is not as well maintained as the thick beard he has worn for many winters now. She wonders if maybe she should go with him this time, or if maybe she should go with him to the forest, this time to stay.
At the gates to the town he finds the merchant checking his wagon over. He brings a few things to the town, but brings back several items the town farms and collects from the swamp.
“Hello Kale,” brant says, taking his hood off and setting the cart handles down. “Catch a ride with you again this month? I’ve got some deep forest pipe weeds for you to try. Tastes like fruit and makes the trip much more pleasant.” He smiles as he pulls a small leather pouch from his belt.
The merchant Kale looks up from his wagon with a scowl on his face. “All you Rangers are the same, wanting a ride here and there for some pipe weed. Whats the matter Brant? Did a wolf try and eat your leg again?” He keeps glaring at him for a few moments. As the moments pass the scowl starts to break until finally he laughs and says, “Come on now, hitch your little cart up to the back and I’ll try not to smash the wheels again.”
The trip to Banik is uneventful and at times very pleasant as the two enjoy the pungent smoke from their pipes, most of the day is spent riding at a good pace until they see the walled town of Banik come into view. The pull into Banik laughing and the guards take no mind of them. Brant bids his friend a good day and unhooks his cart and makes his way over to the farmers market at the southern edge of the town.
As he walks up to the market he is stopped by a friend of his that makes him aware of a trading caravan leaving today. “On a Sunday?” he asks. His friend assures him that it is getting ready to depart in the morning. They were delayed by some repairs to one of the wagons. Knowing he can make more money in the southern town on Tennison with his goods he decides its great fortune indeed.
After finding the caravan and its leader he makes plans to leave with them in the morning and one of the drivers offers to carry him and his gold for a trade of some of the spiced jerky he carries with him and if he would share any meat he hunts along the route.
The five day round trip is wonderfully successful. Getting him much more for his goods than he could have gotten in Banik again. On the caravan he met several other travelers and made good connections for future trips.
On the way home he caught a ride with another driver, this time for free as their load was so light with only one other traveler. As they started their journey they began talking.
“Brant Sharpleaf, of the southern wood,” he said reaching out his hand.
“Cinder Rock Shackleford,” the well dressed man said shaking his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Strange we never met before in such a small town as Banik. But I’ve seen you come and go several times. Wonderful furs you have. I may have a need of a few on your next trip.”
“I don’t often have need of fine tailors such as yourself. Your robes are much nicer than I should ever need in the woods.” he said with a smile. “Your accent, its very strange. You haven’t always lived in Banik have you?”
“No sir,” he said drawing out his vowels, “I’m from the city of ________, down south everyone has an accent like this. Though I’d like to think my accent is still as strong as ever, I do believe I’ve been away too long.”
“Well I really like it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it before.”
“You’ve never been further south than Tennison have you son?” he said, his drawl becoming more pronounced. “Eh, maybe I’ll take you down someday. The pipe weed they grow in the fields down there will do more than taste good, if you know what I mean...” he said trailing off into a chuckle. After a moment he stretched and said, “Man alive I hate the ride home. Its so boring and these wagons don’t have anything good to lay on and nap.”
With that Brant brandished his carved pipe and packed it with his own pipe weed.
“This should wake you up a bit,” he said and handed it over to Cinder. “Oh hold on I should have a tinder here somewhere lets see-” he was cut off.
“No need friend,” he concentrated for a moment and the ground wild tobacco smoked then glowed with heat. He took a deep breath and smiled.
“How… how did you do that without fire?” Brant asked sheepishly.
“Oh I dabble in Wizardry. Mostly concentrating on flame magics. You never know when it could be useful.”
“I see, very interesting. I’ve only seen druid magic from my friend Ulfang. Wizard magic seems more destructive.” Cinder nodded as he took a few more drags off the pipe.
After a time chatting and smoking the pipe a warrior clad in full plate armor riding a caravan horse trotted up next to the pair.
“What is that blasted smell?” he demanded. His glare darted between the two.
“Depends who is asking.” Cinder replied with deep sarcasm.
“I am Vex, and if you don’t stop with that horrid sickly sweet smell I will take it as a slight against me and I will have my vengeance. As is my right so say the lord.” His voice was firm and hard. His voice, and he himself, carried an air about them of anger that always looked for a target.
“I’m sorry Vex. I think we’ve had enough for now.” he motioned to Cinder for the pipe back. With a sigh and a look of disappointment he handed it back. “I am Brant of the southern forest and this is Cinder, the tailor from the southern shores. Are you guarding this caravan?”
“I am here to ensure its safety, yes. If any trouble should arise then I would act with swift vengeance as my God intends.” He said, stiffening in his seat and turning his gaze ahead.
“Guy seems a bit stiff. Maybe he should have some from the pipe.” Cinder spoke half under his breath.
“I do not imbibe such things. Only wine of the vine or made from honey may pass my lips. And I will never drink enough to become inebriated. Such is the way of the weak of Faith.” A short silence followed as his eyes stayed transfixed on the cart ahead.
“Someone up there you know?” Brant asked following his gaze.
“Someone I have been watching since we departed. A rogue I believe. The half elf in front of us. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. I haven’t seen him do anything yet but he is shifty. And to listen to him speak you would think him mad.” Vex’s eyes didn’t move for a long time. As the three rode along in silence Brant looked back at Cinder, the two exchanged looks of concern until Cinder shrugged and they continued along.
When they reached the midway point of the trip and stopped for the night the two new friends set up camp next to each other slightly away from the others as to not incur the wrath of Vex and his apparently Vengeful god. They sat next to a fire with a couple of rabbits on spits over the flames. Just as they were passing the pipe between them again they were caught by suprise.
“Hey guys! How are you? I’m great. Everything over here is great. That all smells great can I have some?” The half elf had appeared off to one side of their camp seemingly out of nowhere.
“Where in the names of the gods did you come from,” Cinder coughed out as he exhaled the sweet smoke.
“Over there,” he pointed at the tree. “I had to make water, lots and lots of water. I had a lot of wine earlier. And then I got sleepy so I took a sniffer. And then I got a nosebleed and got all dizzy like ‘Whoa!?’ you know what thats like right? And then that guy Vex keeps staring at me and I don’t know why… I haven’t stolen anything yet today and even if I did I know better than to take it while people can see me. But anyway I was over there peeing on that tree and thinking about how much the knot reminded me of this girl I knew back in Banik a while back and then I remembered the time she made me dinner and I got hungry and then I smelled your food and started coming over then I smelled that smoke and its so sweet like a fruit and then I was trying to figure out which fruit and I figured it was…”
“Here, friend. Try some and relax. You talk very fast and about everything all at once. Take a moment and enjoy it. I was lucky hunting just now and we have some extra rabbit you’re welcome to if you would just slow down a bit,” Brant cut him off and nearly threw the pipe into his hands.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said taking the pipe and tinder. Placing it to his lips he took a small pull and blew out just a little smoke. His eyes lit up and he exhaled deeply then took a deep drag off of the pipe. The embers glowed bright orange and lit up his face in the dark as he inhaled as much as he could. As his lungs finally filled a smirk covered his face and he let out a coughing cloud of smoke directly into the others faces and collapsed to the ground on his knees.
As the smoke cleared and they regained their sight the looked up to see Vex holding his arm and the half elfs face was red and he had a huge smile on his face looking up at the imposing man. “What are you doing?” Vex asked sternly.
“Getting some Rabbit like they said I could…” the rogue smugly said, like a defiant toddler to his mother.
“I think you were trying to steal that man’s coin purse through the smoke.” The angry voice said loudly.
The half elf looked at Cinder then back at Vex and, pointing to himself, mouthed ‘Who Me?’.
“Enough. I have not caught you committing a crime yet. I stopped you too soon. I should have let you take it then I would have smited in the name of the Lord of Vengeance and left you to the coyotes.” He said dropping his arm. The half elf flopped like a child when his arm was released. “What is your name you strange little Half Elf?” Vex asked.
“Who me? Why do you want to know?” he said almost mockingly.
“So that I can report to my God when I do take Vengence upon you and destroy you in the field of battle.” Vex said with distain.
“Well if you must know it is Ander.”
“Ander what?” he snapped
“Just Ander. We’ve been traveling together a while now and I feel like we’re on a first name basis at this point wouldn’t you agree... friend?” Ander quickly rattled off.
“Fine. Have it your way. But don’t mistake us for friends.” He said. It was getting late and he wanted to get onto guarding against outside threats. He became bored with Ander’s antics and walked away.
“Have a great night buddy! I’ll see you in the morning bright and early! What do you want for breakfast? I have a few eggs I’ve kept safe since we left! I could bring it to you on your sleeping bag! Like breakfast in bed on the roadside.” He said looking down at the ground. His pacing getting even faster, “Oh but we have no bacon… and I think the only bread I have was stale when we left town and that’s no good. Oh but I could make an omelet. That would be scrumptious. Oh and I’ll find some berries and some good mushrooms. Maybe some really good mushrooms so you can see sounds and stuff and it will be great…” he finally finished, exasperated and over excited. His face red and smiling.
“You’re a strange guy.” Brant said plainly. “Still want some rabbit?”
Cinder looked suprised, “But he tried to steal my money man? What are you doing feeding this chump?”
“He didn’t get anything. Besides, I don’t think he would have gotten far. There’s only so many people here and we’re out in the wild. I could track him anywhere and get it back.”
“Whatever man. Just keep him away from me.” Cinder said and grabbed his coin purse tucking it into his crotch. “And hide your coins! Or he’s gonna get everything.”
“Thank you,” Ander said grabbing one of the rabbits and tearing pieces off. They all grabbed some and ate in some silence for a bit. Then Ander looked up, “I wasn’t going to take your coin. I really was just going for the Rabbit. I was gonna take the whole rabbit and run into the woods and bring him back to his family. I’m glad he stopped me. He tastes great and I bet his family doesn’t even miss him. I bet this rabbit was a rabbit jerk. He used to steal smaller rabbits carrots and make fun of them when he ate them.” He paused and looked concerned, “The carrots not the other rabbits.”
With that Cinder looked at Brant with a look that said , ‘Why man? Why?’
After a short time they all go to sleep. Brant and Cinder keeping their valuables close.
In the morning their journey resumed. Everyone being a good mood as this was the last leg and they would arrive home before sunset. Ander, Cinder and Brant rode together and talked at length. They spoke and joked and laughed, making plans for the tavern that evening.
As the sun began its downward descent the walls of the town came into view as they came around a curve. They had made great time and were arriving an hour or so earlier than they had thought. As the gates came into view a strange feeling came over the caravan as they noted, one by one, that the normal traffic of travelers and farmers was not present at the gates. Only Ander was left, staring obliviously into space, unaware that anything was astray.
The cart grew nearer and the few guards at the gate looked relieved that they knew the occupants of the wagon. As they came to a stop the travelers gathered their gear and looked around. The town was eerily quiet. Few of the inhabitants walked the streets, and those that were outdoors were moving hurriedly from one location to another.
“What’s up around here?” asked cinder in his long drawl.
“I don’t know, but we should find out soon. Something has happened. And I’m sure it requires a strong and faithful hand to find its conclusion.” Said Vex, walking towards the nearest guard. The three others followed him.
The town guard was dressed in his full leather armored gear. His simple steel helmet strapped to his chin. The man clad in blue hues looked shaken, gripping the hilt of his steel mace hanging at his belt and watching the gate carefully.
“You there, guard. What is wrong with the people of this town? Where is everyone?” Demanded Vex. His shiny plate armor clanked as if to punctuate the end of his question.
“I,” the guard paused, “I don’t know any details. But there was an attack somewhere north of here.” He looked through the town, down the main street towards the northern gate. He was visibly shaken. There hadn’t been any problems in months and even then the wars of the capitals hardly ever showed up in this back country town.
“Where? What happened man!? Pull yourself together!” Vex said angrily. The guard looked scared, and stood stunned. Unsure what to say.
“Um, maybe there is someone better to talk to huh?” Piped up Brant, giving the guard an out.
“Oh yes! Yes there is a town meeting soon at the Plate and Polarm. Go to the tavern and wait for the Mayor. He’ll know what happened and what to do…” he trailed off. He turned away quickly and moved toward the southern gate. He felt safer there, the attacks were toward the north after all.
“Useless,” muttered Vex, “We need a temple here, then we will have men who can guard this town properly.” He turned to the others, looking them over, “Well, I’m going to the tavern. I want to see what filth would attack this land then I will go to dispatch it. Are you following me?”
The three exchanged knowing glances, this was their home and something must be done to help. “We will go with you Vex,” Brant spoke for the group.
“But we ain’t following, son. We’re all going together is all,” Cinder corrected. He didn’t want to give Vex the idea he was in charge or that he could tell anyone what to do off the wagon train.
With that the four started toward the tavern. At the door they saw that the tavern was packed to the rafters already. The air thick with pipe smoke and the noise of half of the town talking over each other. They began to press in, Vex shoving aside the crowd and the other three following in his wake. As they closed on the performers stage where the normal town meetings were held from Brant saw someone he knew at the stage.
Standing near the right side of the stage stood a forest folk man dressed in a green Ki. A druid whose true name escaped many but to Brant he was known as Ulfang the shapeshifter. Brant tapped Vex’s shoulder and pointed towards the man waving at them
Brant and Ulfang greeted each other and Ulfang was introduced to the party. People continued to press their way in until people were reduced to standing in the light cast outside the door with no view of the stage. A few minutes later from the edge of the curtain appeared a well dressed man with white hair. People began to quiet and he began shushing the crowd and asking for silence. As Brant studied the man he knew as Gelvin, the mayor of Banik, he noticed his fine shirt seemed stiffer than normal. He figured he most likely had his leather armor on underneath his clothes so he could be protected but still look as if everything was normal.
“Can everybody hear me?” his shrill voice carried out across the still murmuring hall.
“I can’t hear nothin’,” yelled a voice from the doorway. Another annoyed voice rang out, “Shut the hell up you bastards!”
“Ok well we’re going to begin. As I’m sure you are all aware by now there was an attack to the north,” he paused, looking over the room as it began to fall truely silent, “The town of Osell was attacked early this morning as the sun rose. Mr. Jenkins here had just began his regular trip back after bringing some special orders to the town the night before. Mr. Jenkins if you would be so kind, please come out and tell the people what you saw.” He motioned towards the same curtain he had appeared from before and the merchant that Brant rides to and from town with appeared.
The apprehensive man came out slowly, starting with a scared expression on his face. As he walked over to the center of the stage he stumbled for a moment on a carpet laid out, but regained his footing and joined the mayor.
“This mornin’ as I was leavin’ Osell I heard this mighty ruckus from their north gateway. There were Lizard folks trying to get in. Lots of ‘em. And they were mad and hissing and then,” he paused, “I heard this great crash and I saw part of their short wall fall down and they came flooding through!” He was getting louder as he went now, “They came a floodin’ through like a damned dam broked an’ there were dozens and dozens of ‘em. I was gonna jump off and help but me horse got so spooked it took off like a rocket and didn’t let up until I was too far away to do anything.” He stopped and looked around at his enthralled audience, then continued, “The last I seen of Osell there were flames coming from the storehouse and there were hundreds of Lizard people flooding her streets.” He looked down at his feet and said with a voice full of sorrow, “They’re all gone now, the Lizard men were crazy an’ they ‘et ‘em all…”
A clamor began to arise within the small tavern as people began trying to talk over each other again. Brant looked back at his companions, he looked genuinely scared, “Those are my friends we must do something!” He turned back to the stage and yelled at the Mayor, “We must do something! Those people need help!” The mayor looked back as he exited the stage and several guards were replacing him and Jenkins, grabbing a guards sleeve he whispered in his ear and left the stage.
Looking back at the group he locked eyes with Brant and came to the edge and bent down slightly saying, “The mayor wishes to meet with you and your men. Please go to his Home on the west of town, do you know the place?” He asked. Brant nodded then spun to his friends relaying the message. With that they shoved their way out of the tavern and back ouside where many of the town were standing in groups talking loudly about their hate for the Lizard People of the marshlands.
Within a few minutes they were at the gate to the Mayor’s home. As they began to open the latch they heard from behind them a gruff voice yell, “One side children!” The group split and spun to see the Mayor being escorted by several guards and the Captain of the guard. A large man dressed in dark blue with scars all over his face. The children often talked of his adventures as a young man before finally being sent to this town and build the guard as the town grew from a few hovels into the proper town it had become.
“We must get the Mayor to safety then we will return for you and whatever business you think you have with him,” his words spouted off roughly as they rushed past him. Somewhere in the middle you could hear the Mayor trying to tell them to slow down and to just bring the group in and save time, but the guards were all hurrying and listening to orders.
After several minutes the Captain came back out to the gate and said, “What do you want?”
“The Mayor asked us to come here from the Tavern to find out what can be done to help Osell,” said Vex. “And if you enjoy your position I suggest you allow us in, lest the Mayor be displeased with the wait.”
The captain walked over and stood across the gate from Vex and eyed him up. They were roughly the same size but Vex was much younger, his armor had few scrapes and still shone bright. The captain spoke in a disdainful tone, ”I work for the King, he sent me here all those years ago and I have seen several Mayors since my arrival. His happiness is none of my concern. If I had more soldiers to spare I would send you away. But your brashness may be of some use still. Come.” With that he opened the gate and led them into the Mayor’s home.
The captain led them down a hall to the Mayor’s office. Inside the room was lit with a fireplace and several candles. The large oak desk had several papers strewn across it and the mayor had a crossbow and a short sword sitting in front of him. “Welcome boys!” He said with something like joy, “I understand you wish to help Osell?”
The five looked to Brant who stepped forward and said, “Yes sir, those people are friends of mine. I have people there. What can we do to help?”
“Thank you,” the Mayor said standing from his high backed leather chair, “Since you are familiar with the area you are probably one of the best suited for this. We know nothing for sure about the attack. I would like you boys to go to Osell and find out what it is that happened. If you can find out the details of the attack and why they are in the town I will give you 2000 gold from my private account.” He turned and looked out the window that overlooked main street and looked towards the north, “Osell is an ally and a neighbor. I can’t spare any guards to go and most people here are simple farmers and merchants. If needed we may be able to get help from another city but I need to be able to tell them something specific.” He turned around and looked over the group, “You boys look fit enough to do some reconnaissance for us! What say you? Do you agree to the terms.”
The five all looked at eachother.
“I’m going paid or not,” said Brant.
“We must provide swift vengeance for our neighbors. It is the will of my Vengeful Lord,” added Vex.
Cinder and Ulfang looked at Brant and nodded. Ander looked at the Mayor and asked, “Is there any hazard pay involved if we fight any of these Lizard guys?”
“No. I have no more saved up. Its this or nothing.” He responded to the rogues request.
“Hmm 400 Gold a piece… Unless you were going to give up your share Brant? You did say paid or not!” Ander said with a smile on his face.
“Ander…. 400 a piece. If you don’t want to go we can split yours between us and you get nothin’. But it's a good paycheck either way…” Cinder spoke up.
“Fiiiine.” Ander said like a child who had given up. “We’ll do it for the 2000 gold split five ways I guess…”
“Good! You all have rooms at the town inn and everything is on us. Eat well and sleep well and meet the Captain here tomorrow if you still want to go.” The Mayor said enthusiastically.
The five made their way across town and to the Inn with one of the guards who handed a sealed note to the Innkeeper who read it, sighed, and said lacking any enthusiasm, “Welcome to Monty's Inn. Here are your room keys. If you wish for room service please leave your order with Bunda and she will see to it.” He turned to leave then turned back said somewhat angrily, “But if you break anything in the rooms I’ll have you paying to replace it! The mayor is covering food and lodging but I know for a fact he’s not covering those kind of shenanigans again!”
The five received their keys though Ulfang said he would not need it. He preferred to sleep in the wilderness over sleeping indoors any day. Brant welcomed the idea of a comfortable bed as much as the rest of the group after a week long trip as they had taken. After some parting conversation they retired to their chambers to eat dinner and get a long rest before the adventure ahead.