Mantelderith 6, Year 887 (New Imperial Calendar)

Mantelderith 6, Year 887 (New Imperial Calendar)

Waking up, my host family was still asleep, and after a peek out the tent-flap it seemed everyone else was as well.  I had heard the arguing continue long into the night.  I slipped out quickly and grabbed some more supplies, adding them to the stach and then moving them to another hiding place nearby.  Some people were starting to stir before I could get back to the tent so I pretended to be trying to start cooking breakfast – which earned me a smack from an obese woman with half her head shaved.

I was about to scurry back to the tent when split-nose came and collected the three of us up.  We headed out of the camp, which was a troubling turn of events.  I had a broken piece of pottery with a cloth wrapped around the end to make a “handle” hidden in my sleeve but it was a paltry weapon at best.  I hoped if she turned on us Mags and Phora would be smart enough to join in – surely in a three on one we could overpower her.  Right?

But she wasn’t taking us out to kill us, she took us to the river and ordered us to make ourselves presentable – followed by a tirade about how ugly we were. I was smart enough not to ask why but Mags started crying again as we washed up despite my assurances that we were “unclean” to these men.

She may have been more right than I thought though, shortly after we returned to camp I heard hoofbeats and a rider came into camp – not one of these savages, but a proper looking fellow.  I’m no expert in horseflesh but I’ve spent enough time in the upper echelon to know a good steed when I see one and this fellow had himself quite a mount.  He himself was a jovial looking man in a red embroidered jacket with a distinguished touch of grey in his mildly unruly dark hair.

He talked with some of the Skin-Takers and it seemed that he had hired them to attack our caravan.  I’ll need to find out why.  For some reason these savage marauders were very deferential towards him, almost seeming to be under his sway somehow.  After a few minutes he beckoned and we were trotted out for his inspection.  I was dismissed instantly as a “barbarian-girl” and after intense scrutiny both Mags and Phora were found lacking as well – in their defense though three days of hard travel followed by three days of bondage and beatings isn’t going to make anyone look great.  Mags is plain at best though, even in the best of circumstances.

This was an opportunity beyond anything I could hope for though.  Rushing forward , and nearly spooking the horse, I grabbed his leg and begged him to take me – explaining that I was from Three Rivers and I was only dressed like a savage, that I didn’t belong her.  I promised him delights he had never known.  In return I got buffeted on the head with a riding crop a few times and kicked away.  He calmed his horse and took another look at me.  The Skin-Takers moved to grab me but he stopped them with a gesture – they obeyed him like dogs.

He smirked and asked how grateful I would be to escape these conditions.  I assured him earnestly that my gratitude would know no earthly bounds.  He scoffed but pulled me up in the saddle behind him nonetheless.  He had a few parting instructions for the Skin-Takers and then wheeled his mount and we were off.  The look of betrayal in Phora and Mags’ eyes wrenched at my heart in a way I had never known – I suppose they had no reason to trust.

For the first few miles I clung to him like a drowning woman to a life preserver and whispered sweet promises of love to him, promises that became more and more saucy as time went by.  Eventually one comment so ribald I could actually feel a blush on the back of his neck against my cheek caused him to pull his steed to a stop.  I think he was about to say something but at that moment I stabbed him in the groin with my makeshift pottery knife.

The nice thing about a man in a saddle is that it puts his ballocks basically on a little pedestal, trapped between his body, the saddle, and the horn.  You really can’t miss in that position. I had ripped off the sleeve of my tunic and jammed it in his mouth to stop him from screaming as I made a puree of his man-parts.  He nearly bit off two of my fingers as I held the cloth in his mouth but he was quiet at least.  The horse started to balk at this treatment and I dragged us both off, falling heavily to the ground.  I took the dagger out of his belt and slit his throat before spending a few minutes to calm the horse.

Dragging the dead body of an adult man is a lot harder than that of an old woman but I managed to struggle and stumble my way to the underbrush and cover him up as best I could. I prayed to every god I could think of, and a few I made up, that the horse knew his way home.  I’ve never been much of a rider, coaches are more my speed, but I know enough not to fall off.  Mostly.   We seemed to be following a sort of path which gave me hope.  I used my ring to change my apparel to the torn and dirty remnants of a minor noblewoman – making sure of course to add in a good dose of ripped bodice. 

Maybe half an hour later I came in sight of a large and very impressive looking hunting lodge.  Honestly I’ve seen country homes of titled men that were not as grand.  It even had a palisade and small gatehouse.  A bored looking man in livery spotted me and I fainted dramatically – the falling off the horse faint is a rough one but it’s best not to short-shrift in these situations.  I “came to” on a couch in a sitting room (!) with several people gathered around me, one of whom I recognized – Irda Palus, an influential courtesan with ties to the Widow’s Peep in Cortland, an infamous brothel with a religious theme.  Thankfully she didn’t seem to recognize me, or at least didn’t show it.

I told them a simple tale – the man on the horse, who’s named I learned was Lord Gatz, had come to the camp of the Skin-Takers to pick out a new plaything (gasp from the audience) from their captives but something had gone wrong and they turned on him , cutting him to pieces.  I managed to mount his horse in the confusion and it carried me back here.  The savages may well be on their way here right now!

At first most of those in attended refused to believe Lord Gatz would be capable of something so scurrilous but a somber flat-faced fellow (Duke Silvio’s cousin Aragar) confirmed that Gazt had a deal with the tribesmen and had unsavory delights.  There were maybe half a dozen men in Gatz’s livery who shut the gates and started closing the place up, but I implored them – my two dear cousins were still in the hands of those awful barbarians.  And my father, Count Orlock – who took in said cousins after their father died you know – would reward handsomely anyone involved in their rescue.

The lodge-master Lazarov , a potbellied fellow with a grotesque ratty grey ponytailed advised we stay in the lodge and defend ourselves.  The scruffy looking huntmaster Croster was eager to “have at” the barbarians.  They seemed poised to debate the issue at length despite my beseeching them, when a cry rang out – some of the Skin-Takers had been spotted skulking about outside the walls. I played my final card, saying that any man who would sit idle rather than come to the defense of noble ladies in peril was a poltroon and a wagtail to boot. 

A couple arrows sent the Skin-Taker scouts retreating into the trees and the able-bodied men, and one woman, at the hunting lodge started gathering arms and armor – even the petulant looking young man who had announced himself to me dramatically as poet was preparing to sally forth.

In a quiet moment amidst the hustle Irda came to me and said that she heard I had been killed.  I told her she heard right.  After the war party rode off, leaving me with a few domestics, Irda, Lazarov, and Countess Maritska Ostland – a middle aged woman with a limp – I finally broke down and cried.  I allowed myself to feel the horror of the last three days, just for a moment.

Afterwards I asked Irda to join me in the kitchen, where I ravenously attacked their stores.  I told her I had no idea if the dozen or so men (and one woman) that just left would have any chance against the entire tribe of barbarians.  They were mounted and better equipped, but I don’t have any clue how to guess who might win such a confrontation.  We needed a plan to get away.  Her initial response was to scoff – ten savages were no match for one noble warrior – not that long ago I would have scoffed along with her.

I turned off my ring’s effects to reveal my tattered traveler’s clothes – which I stripped off right there in the kitchen without preamble.  I showed her the welts and bruises that covered my body almost heel to crown. 

“This is what awaits you my dear. This and worse.”

I’m not sure she was convinced but she’s smart enough to know there’s no harm in hedging your bets.  We talked as she took me to one of the rooms and helped me on with some new clothes.  The closest settlement was Gevudan, about 30 miles away – a half days hard riding, if either of us knew the way.   Lazarov laughed at the very idea, thinking it foolish to leave the safety of the lodge, so we focused our attention on the Countess. 

I think she agreed more as a lark than anything else, but the why doesn’t matter, she marshalled the servants and found a handful to accompany us to Gevudan.  She took her sweet time about it though, despite my efforts to hurry her along without seeming hysterical.  Irda started to become concerned as well, we didn’t know each other well, but she seemed to sense that my fear was very real.   Three hours later she was still dilly-dallying when a few riderless horses wandered up to the lodge – one of them splattered with blood all along its face and forelocks.

Shortly thereafter a Skin-Taker youth came into view and started gathering up the horses and eyeballing the lodge.  I ran to the huntmasters cottage and grabbed a crossbow – much more complicated than the one I had used but I figured it out.  My first shot missed and sent him diving for cover.  Eventually he made a run for it.  My third shot took him between the shoulder blades.  Lazarov scolded me for this unladylike behavior and I consider putting a bolt into his chest as well.

This finally impressed upon the Countess the seriousness of the situation and minutes later we were off.  Maritska and her borrowed servants insisted on stopping and making camp when it grew dark but I had no intention of joining them. Traveling in the dark is probably foolish but I couldn’t get a hold of myself – I imagined the Skin-Takers were hot on our heels.

Our horses dragged into Gevudan near midnight where some confused gate watchman allowed us entry.  An equally confused innkeeper secured us rooms and I fell into bed where I instantly passed to sleep.

___________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 5800

Inventory: Signet ring, Ring of Many Garments, noble’s traveling outfit, masterwork light crossbow, riding horse

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler , Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Cardshire Arms manager, Erist priest of Strider, Griselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe

Anti-Revenge List: Dorehe the maid

Rumors : Murderous servants (Reoccurring), exiled noblewoman (Reoccurring), vigilante “Litheria”(30%)

Behind the Curtain – I’ve been rolling for events for the tribe as an organization – just to get something that might help move things forward.  Today I got Famous Visitor.  Escaping from the Skin-Taker camp I treated as a CR 3 skill challenge.  This puts Ela at level 3 taking a level of Rogue – Making her Expert 2/Rogue 1.  I chose the Phantom Thief archetype mostly because I didn’t want sneak attack but it seems to fit pretty well.  I took Iron Will for her feat.