The Road Taken…
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
29th of Calistril 4708 AR
It was yet another day on the road. A road away from the civilisation into the wilderness. The air was still chill, but pale rays of warming sunlight penetrated the thin foliage of the trees and seemed to dot the still frozen road with glittering spots. High above from the branches of a tree, a drowsy squirrel followed the unknown travellers with growing interest.
Henry Scaletti did not notice the wonders of nature returning to life on this early spring morning, nor how his own breath, as well as Lucky’s, his trusted mount, turned to fog every time they exhaled. He walked beside the horse. It was too cold not moving on his own, and he knew he could be in the saddle quicker than most would have the time to notice should problems arise. After all, he was a capable horseman, a capable fighter, a capable Sword Lord. That was why he was sent on this mission, wasn’t it? To prove himself a gallant and brave knight that would bring order and justice where none were. He had been given a mission to test his worth – to prove that he was a real Sword Lord. That his place was among their ranks – yes, at the very front – perhaps even as their leader? Most definitely. One day the Sword Lords would ride out under the banner of Sir Henry Scaletti. He straightened his back and tightened his jaw while his deep brown eyes stared commandingly into a future yet to be unravelled. If anyone had looked at the rear guard at that moment, they would have caught a glimpse of the awe-inspiring man the beautiful boy would once become… But none of his companions were in the habit of looking back, and none but the squirrel witnessed the moment’s transformation of Henry Scaletti.
“Why is it called a lone wolf if they hunt in groups?” a delicate female voice cut through his pleasant day dreams and brought him back to the real world. Noble by creed, but not by deed, Henry thought and unwillingly let out a snort as his eyes fixed on the two persons in front of him.
“Because it is used figuratively to express something abnormal,” the Orlovsky replied with a sigh that did not seem as genuinely patronising as Henry was sure it was meant to. Apparently the girl got that as well – at least she simply chuckled and sent the young man at her side a winning, disarming smile. In front of them the gruff dwarf, who was their tracker and guide in the wilderness, mumbled something under his breath. Henry didn’t get hold of the exact wording, but he was certain it was “city slicks” – the dwarf used these words a lot. Beside him, his brown grizzly growled lowly and shook its head from side to side as if it would signify its consent. At the sound of the bear, Lucky rose his head and turned his ears to determine where the sound came from. Henry smiled a little and clapped his companion on its left flank. “Easy, Lucky. Good boy, There’s no danger.”. He was quite proud that he had himself trained the horse so well. Not anything like that wild beast the dwarf, Travin Mongrym, called an animal companion. Henry was certain that the grizzly would attack any of them, probably Lucky, as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
His nervous sentiments were to some degree shared by Daniel Orlovsky, who made sure to keep his pack mule a few paces in front of himself, gathering that the vicious bear would then eat it before him. He had of course tried talking to the little man about that beast of his, but he would just turn away, huffing, “ tha’ Gurul would ‘ever attack anything o’ anyone I don’t want im te attack!” And that would be the end of the argument. This code of conduct was very far from the one Daniel was brought up by. As a noble of the Orlovsky line he was used to the city’s law and order, and especially the civic communication and negotiation that were indeed the hallmarks of his family. Out here, the stubbornness of a crude dwarf was as good as silvery words from human nobles. It wasn’t fair that his own kin had sent him out here – away from the luxurious life of the city with all its pleasures – with this ragtag group, just because of that insignificant misstep. Daniel scowled and let a hand glide through his thick and almost white hair. When he passed through the spots of unhindered sunlight it shone like silver. He was very proud of it – after all, it was a most unusual hair colour, and he liked to entertain the idea that his inner uniqueness manifested in his outer looks. He knew very well that he was haughty, but he was not self-deluded and no one had ever gained anything from hiding one’s light under a bushel – and now that he had to be out here, he might as well gain what he could and then some. Daniel Orlovsky was a man who intended to conquer a world.
Somewhere behind him he heard the hooting of a hawk, and absent-mindedly he raised his right arm which was wrapped in leather bands. He noticed the surprised outburst from the mighty sword lord as a brown feathered hawk swooped close by him seconds before it landed on it’s owner’s outstretched arm. Daniel turned his head to look into the blank eyes of the animal which radiated a surprising intelligence – one greater than most humans, Daniel thought and smiled a little at the notion. “Hunting?” he asked the bird, which croaked confirmatory. He let a finger run down the hawk’s silky-soft chest feathers and promptly it bit him with its razor sharp beak. “Still just a wild animal though,” Daniel concluded with a prosaic shrug that made the bird take off with a shriek.
Erin shivered at that sound. She hated that bird. Unlike the others, she was quite at ease with the bear as well as the horse, but she hated that accursed bird with its intelligent, yet blankly staring, menacing, black orbs and a beak sharper than any weapons she herself carried. And she carried quite a few. Furthermore, it seemed to be the only animal in the group that attacked anyone. And he hasn’t given it a name. At least, he never uses it, she mused and watched the wizard out of the corner of her eye, while she tucked at the reins of her pack mule. The others had given names to their animals, but the Orlovsky had not – like he wanted to establish some dominance over the hawk, which it, apparently, fiercely opposed. Then again, an Orlovsky seeking dominance could hardly surprise her. She had actually feared that their families’ strained relationship would pose a problem in their small group, but it seemed that both reckoned that they were so distant relatives that family politics would be an issue not worth wasting time and energy on. Besides, she had also shown her good will by offering that her mule could carry his things as well, and he had accepted. So she considered it a truce – for now at least. And after all, were not both of them out here in the wilderness to show their own worth? None of them could lay claims to greatness due to their family names – rather, had they stayed in Restov and not heeded the call from the Two-Headed Throne they would have had common and dull lives – married off to nobodies and themselves remained nobodies. For the second time, Erin shivered as she imagined a gloomy past that luckily had not passed. She started walking a little faster. The sooner they arrived at Oleg’s Trading Post, the better. The throne of Restov had promised them a hansom reward for the exploration of the northern part of the Greenbelt, but in truth she already felt rewarded.
Mongrym turned his head to look at the human girl. “Master Mongrym,” she greeted him smilingly as she passed. Erin Surtova was her name – or was it? He knitted his brow as he tried to remember, adding wrinkles to a face that was already weathered by almost fifty years of outdoor living, physical work and harsh weather. If anyone knew about the temper of Mother Nature, Travin Mongrym was the one. He had pledged his life to her violence, hardship, mercy and splendour. And never had he regretted that for just one day. But his intimacy with Nature had also taught him a thing or two about women – they were formidable allies and outstanding enemies and rarely just one of the things. So he had watched the girl that seemed to be ever smiling, waving and winking innocently while braiding her long golden hair and humming different bits and pieces of different songs. But he had also seen those glances of hers when she thought no one was watching her – how their gray softness, that reminded him so of newly sprung catkins, would change into the coolness of a steel blade. She probably did not even know it herself yet, Mongrym mused with a slightly concerned look, but she would become a highly dangerous predator. And the knight and wizard worried about good ol’ Gurul! Mongrym’s deep green eyes rolled in their sockets and he clapped Gurul heartily. They were good friends, and Travin Mongrym gathered that they understood each other better than he would ever understand any of his human companions. Still, he was certain that they would all see and experience wonderful things together, and that was what he had signed up for after all. The humans would probably grow on him anyway, like fungus on a tree…
Daniel was the first to catch sight of the white smoke rising towards the sky.
“Arh, we must be near the trading post,” he exclaimed and pointed out the sight to Henry, who haltered his horse and looked in the signalled direction. “So we are,” he confirmed with a smile. After five days and four nights on the road, he really looked forward to sleeping in a warm bed – perhaps even a warm bath that could remove the stiffness from his limbs.
As they got close to the run down palisades surrounding the trading post, the only tangible sound was the rhythmic pounding of a hammer against wood. The group entered through the big gates and looked around. Everything seemed to be in an abhorring state of disarray and want of proper care. The dismal silence, safe the monotone rhythm of the hammer, only served to emphasise the eeriness of the place. Henry looked up and saw a man sitting on the back of one of the building’s roof. He stared down at the party, but seeing that he had been spotted, he clambered down with a sour look on his face. He was a tall and square man, with brown, coarse hair and piercing eyes. At the moment the glance in them was hostile as well. His strong figure and leathery dark skin told of long days of hard work in the relentless sun. He is tanned even though we’re at winter’s end, Erin thought and quickly glanced down on her own ghostlike pale hand. Slowly he walked towards them, the big hammer still in his hand.
“Ye the guards from Restov?” he asked, his hoarse voice ripe with distrust. Daniel reacted promptly and with a wide smile on his lips he strode towards the man his right hand stretched out to greet their host. “We are the explorers from Restov – here to map these wonderful surroundings of yours. My name is Daniel Orlovsky. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” The man rubbed his unshaven chin for a second or two while he stared at the young man in front of him, who for sure did not look like an adventurer cut out for the dense forests of the Greenbelt. Daniel, however, did not falter, he did not even blink. He simply stood there, the smile still on his face and in his eye, his hand still stretched out prepared to shake the other one’s. He knew that he was being measured, and it was vital not to be found wanting in the eyes of the crude farmer. It seemed like forever, but finally the man shook hands with Daniel. His grip was firm, too firm really, but the young aristocrat did not wince. “I’m Oleg,” the man said with a wry smile.
Encouraged by the success of Daniel, Erin stepped forth with her ever pleasant smile. “I am Erin Surtova and equally pleased to meet you, sir,” she curtseyed him. In return she received a frosty stare and the disapproving words, “by Erastil, who sent a woman?”. He spat on the ground as to underline his point and then turned away. Erin stood dumb-struck. Henry smiled a little, and Daniel outright grinned and padded her on the shoulder, “you Surtovas have never excelled at approaching people from the front.” A less than subtle remark about the Surtova house’s history of piracy. Travin simply grunted – approvingly or disapprovingly was hard to tell.
The small incident was soon mitigated by the appearance of a young, beautiful woman. She came out of what appeared to be the main building. Her facial features were soft and her smile warm and welcoming, though Henry thought he saw a small wrinkle of worry on her brow. “Welcome strangers. It is so good that you are finally here. I’m Svetlana – Oleg’s wife?” she said and stopped beside her husband. Now it was Henry and Daniel’s turn to stand flabbergasted at the sight of the young beauty next to the grim giant. Luckily, Travin was a dwarf with an economical attitude towards words and now he had some to spare. “Nice to meet you too, mam. Me name’s Travin… Travin Mongrym. And this is Gurul. He may look grim, but he’s gentle as a summer’s breeze.” He stepped forth and bowed before her without looking into her eyes. His greeting was through and through awkward, but he had none the less saved the moment, and Svetlana smiled kindly down at him, despite her discomfort due to the bear in her yard.
“When will the rest of the soldiers be here?” she inquired after the introductory greetings. The four companions exchanged glances. “Aren’t you here because of the missives we’ve sent? Bandits have terrorised us during the last many months and we have requested soldiers from Restov to aid us over ’n over again,” she continued the furrow in her brow deepening.
“No. They’re explorers here to charter the surroundings,” Oleg answered her, surprisingly kind, and put an arm around her shoulders.
“But we are quite capable, and more than eager to help,” Henry added quickly as he saw the disappointed look that was about to settle on his hostess’s pretty face, which immediately brightened at his words, and she sent him a radiant, trusting smile. In that moment, Henry thought that smile would be worth all their trouble.
Erin cleared her throat loudly. “Perhaps if you let us in on the specifics it would be easier to help you.”
The bandits had been there regularly every month collecting ‘taxes’, making it impossible for the trading post to prosper in any way. At the beginning they had come in a large group, led by a woman, Svetlana told them and her eyes darkened at the memory. “She even took my wedding ring, that horrible witch!” she spat with an anger that seemed uncharacteristic of her. But their numbers had dwindled a little at a time, and last month they had only been four men.
“When do you expect them to be here next time?” Henry asked the couple.
“Tomorrow noon,” Oleg replied.
“Okay… We better start working then,” Henry sighed.
et lille kort over Brevoy the green belt ligger lidt sydwest for Restov
Hej alle i er velkommen til at lægge detaljer om jeres karaktere ud på forumet, eller tilføje logs eller andre interesante ting.
læs gerne teaseren på forsiden:) enjoy