Before meeting up with Sir Vario to head out of town I liquidated my extra magic ring at one of those temporary trade-posts Halflings set up with their wagons. I’ve never visited with the traveling smallfolk before – they noticeably different than the city variety. The lady I was chatting with as we made the deal was affable as any other Shireling but there was a certain air of falsity behind it. Sedentary Halflings are unassuming “salt of the earth” types – these folk seemed cagier and less likable. I got the sense that she felt like she was getting over on me just by making the deal itself. I suppose it makes sense – you send all your jerks away to wander the land and deal with humans so the land itself is only populated by the nice folk. Not a bad system.
When I met up with Sir Vario he was laughing and shooting the breeze with two hooligans. I think they were both half-elfen but they were so dirty and disheveled it was hard to be sure. They might as well of had ‘footpad’ tattooed on their foreheads – their clothing had peculiar buckles and straps that seemed to serve no purpose. And they had spikes on their armor for the God’s sake. Spikes. Do you know how annoying that is? They catch on everything. You have to be seriously delusional to walk about with spikes. When they saw me coming they grinned in a stomach-churning fashion. The one with most of his teeth stepped forward, smoothing out his tattered leather vest.
“Well now, Mister Knight didn’t tell us that you were . . .”
I dismissed him with a flip of the hand. “Don’t bother junior, I’m actually a man. See this belt? It’s one of them cursed magic belts that turns you into a lady.”
The other goon’s eyes went wild “Really?”
“Yes, I’m actually a near seven foot tall Northman with shoulders as broad as an ox-cart. I am gay though, so once I get turned back into my normal form if you want me to go to town on your arsehole I’m game.”
They both stared at me for a moment so I told them in Northern to get stuffed – hearing me speak that ugly language certainly sealed the deal. Vario smiled slightly and shook his head – mounting up on his glorious war-stead with expert precision.
“Leave my henchmen alone.”
“And where did you find these two winners?”
“There’s always a few of these layabouts in any village or town, when you’re going campaigning it’s best to have so fodder.”
I looked at them dubiously “Are they reliable?”
“Absolutely. You can rely on them to be vicious when we have the advantage and you can rely on them to be absolute cowards when the chips are down.”
I wish I had been able to acquire a mount of my own but Arbeven apparently isn’t even a one horse town so I was left to hoof it (pun!) with the two mouth-breathers while Vario rode with grace and dignity. At first Jelista and Lermo peppered me with questions about the North and what is was like being a man in a woman’s body but they ran out of steam before I ran out of lies. They clearly weren’t used to doing much in the way of physical labor beyond raising a bottle of cheap booze to their mouths because even moderately paced walking seemed to have them out of breath in short order. They appeared to be smart enough not to ask Vario for a break though. When we did take a break for “lunch” – hardtack and cheap wine – I watched as Vario lovingly fed his horse.
“Obviously when it comes to saving lives you come first and your horse comes second, but I assume I at least rank above those two right?”
“Yes, although my gear comes third – you’re fourth.”
In the afternoon we spotted something in the distance rising up among the trees. Curiously as we got closer it appeared to be a crude tower of stacked logs – the kind of thing a child would make with little wooden toys only writ real. Horrifyingly, as we got even closer we saw hanging on the side of the log tower was a man tied haphazardly in a chaotic array of knotted ropes. He was alive but looked to have taken quite a beating, although it was probably thirst and exposure that were contributing to his corpselike appearance than anything. I turned to the goons.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Clamber up there and get him down.”
I grant them this, those two can climb like squirrels – sadly they can work ropes about as well as squirrels as well, maybe not even as well. It took a good thirty minutes to get the poor man down, with Vario getting more and more angry. Once we gave the poor fellow down and gave him some water and a little bit to eat he was able to tell us that he was part of a lumber crew whose camp had been attacked by bandits. The goons were horrified.
“Why would bandits do this?”
“Boredom probably. Some bandits are just desperate people who need money, but the ones that are really into it are usually pretty messed up. You spend days or weeks waiting for someone to rob – when you finally get the chance you’re going to go a little crazy on them. Plus you know how us men types are with the torture and our killing and our putting heads on pikes and so forth.”
Vario gestured impatiently “Let’s ride on!”
“Why? Let’s check out the mining camp.”
“Logging camp.” Goon number two corrected me helpfully.
“Let’s check out the logging camp. Maybe there’s something of interest there. It’s not like we’re on a schedule here – we’re following a probably fake map just to kill a few days. There’s no reason to be in a hurry.”
Unhappily Vario agreed and we turned to the east. Jelista and Lermo were curiously solicitous towards the injured logger – helping him along and trying to keep his spirits up. It was an odd thing to see – like a wolf, no not a wolf, like a mangy half-rabid three legged coyote taking care of a duck with a broken wing. The camp was pretty substantial, there was a small trail and several permanent looking buildings – I was expecting more a tents and log-huts kind of deal. How long do these things need to be around for? There’s so much about logging I don’t know. And never want to. The injured logger pointed out the paymaster office, the yardmaster’s quarters, a smithy and a stable. I suppose they use horses for dragging logs and such.
“I’ll check out the paymaster’s, Vario you take a look at the yardmaster’s, you two take a look at the smithy.”
Vario scowled (well scowled more) “Who put you in charge?”
“No one, now let’s get going – we’re on a time-table here.”
The paymaster’s office was a cramped little room infested with sawdust, not sure how that makes sense since this is a lumber camp and not a lumbermill but there’s no one to ask about it now. Slumped over the very fine desk was a corpulent fellow with the back of his head split open. I’m no split head expert (although sadly I’m getting closer every day) but I’d say it was done with an ax. Looks like one of the bandits slipped up behind him and took him out while he was working. People think that their death is going to be some grand event, that there’s going to be some lesson or some meaning. There is no reckoning. No profound moment. You’re alive. And then. You’re not.
One of the bandits must be a real jokester because they had taken the time to go through the paymaster’s ledger and mark all the lumberjacks as dead. Funny? Maybe. Inaccurate though, because there was one right outside the camp waiting for us. There was a lockbox, which the bandits had emptied of course, but that didn’t seem like enough to hold the payroll for this size of operation. The room had a stone hearth, which seemed out of place to me – and anything out of place bears close examination.
Sure enough there was a promising seam. Not being much of a “fiddly” type I decided to go for the direct approach – I pulled a crowbar out of my secret pocket and with the aid of my Belt (mostly the Belt honestly) I was able to pry open a hidden recess full of gold and what appears to be part of a massive ram-horm carved into a, er, well a horn, but you know, the other kind. I pocketed (well sacked) the loot and went back outside to see how my companions were making out. The smithy was collapsed, Lermo was nowhere to be seen and Jelista was jumping about the rubble like a catfish on a pole while three men, bandits presumably, threw axes at him. I headed to the yardmaster’s to see what Vario had found. The yardmaster’s quarters were furnished father nicely for a logging camp, the bed was of fine quality and there were even some shelves. Vario was examining a chest.
“Yeah, I was hoping that it might have a false bottom but no such luck.”
“Wingus and Dingus out there are in a bit of a spot, you want to help them out?”
He kicked the chest angrily “Might as well.”
We went outside and Vario mounted up. The bandits were so busy tormenting Jelista they didn’t seem top noticed an armored knight pounding down on them – not until it was too late. Vario skewed two of them with his lance in the initial charge. The third made a run for it and Vario waited for him to get far enough away so that he could get a good canter going to bash his skull in with his morningstar. One moment you’re alive. The next. Not. Jelista immediately started digging through the collapsed smithy.
“Quickly, Lermo is trapped!”
Vario and I watched him he dug out Lermo, who was shockingly still alive and only somewhat crushed. As Jalista pulled his dusty and bloody friend from the wreckage Vario and I went to check out the stables. They were partially collapsed and once we got over there we saw why – there was a hole the size of a small house dug up from underground as if by some great beast. I turned to Vario.
“What the Hells makes a hole like that?”
“I don’t know and I don’t really care to find out. You?”
I shook my head and we went back to collect our goons. Regrouping with the lumberjack, Arim, we continued on our way north for a few hours before making camp. It’s a sad commentary that the food we took off the bandit’s bodies was actually better than ours. Our two injured members were fast asleep and Verio was fussing over his horse as I sat staring into the campfire across from Jalista. I noticed that he had a small book he was scribbling in.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a journaler.”
He shook his head without looking up “It’s not a journal, I’m a writier.”
I smiled “Oh yeah, what are you writing about?”
“I just got an idea for a story about a barbarian from the North who gets turned into a sexy lady by a mage and becomes the sex-slave of a well-endowed demon prince.”
“Well you know what they say, write what you know. What do you call this tale?”
“Not sure yet, the Erotic Adventures of someone.”
“Sounds like a winner.”
Funds: 340 platinum, 807 gold, 6 silver
Inventory: Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Fake Signet Ring, Map, False Papers, carnelians (2), Bag of Concealment, Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ram’s Horn
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, Claire
Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror,
Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe,
Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family,
Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale
Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna
Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer,
Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium
of Three Rivers