Since the giant wolf monster had referred to Tamad as a ‘beast that walks like a man’ I took a look at him with the magic of my Hood as soon as I got back to camp but there was nothing revealed – he’s just a normal fellow, in as much as the term applies. As long as I had the magic going I checked out everyone else as well, but no one was anything other than what they seemed. Or, it’s entirely possible that the craftmage ripped me off and this Hood doesn’t do anything. Selling magic stuff must be the easiest con around because the people you’re selling to don’t have any idea what’s going on. If they knew magic they wouldn’t need to buy it, but they don’t know magic, so how could they know what they’re even getting? What a sweet scam.
Travel that day was entirely uneventful, which makes three days in a row roving through the woods without being vexed by a stingmoggie or ambushed by a festercreep or annoyed by a floodchaser or some other damn thing, which means that I know today bandits riding forest drakes are going to attack or something. Because that’s how probability work. People, learned people, will tell you that it doesn’t work like that. But trust me, it does. In the late morning Chaplin Stenton rode up next to me and commented that I appeared to be looking much better today – miraculously so.
“The healing power of rest I’m sure. Plus we noble types are a hardy lot, it’s in the breeding you know. Getting sick is really something for those of less gallant stock.”
“That hasn’t been my experience, what with all the inbreeding I’ve found the upper classes to be overall a very sickly bunch.”
I glanced at him with mock surprise “Are you aloud to say things like that? I didn’t know people in your position were allowed to tell the truth about their masters.”
An inexplicably grim look came on his face “I serve no mortal master, only Adariel may command me. It’s time that I remembered that.”
I noticed that for the first time I had seen he was wearing Adariel’s symbol “I had wondered about that, usually you religious types are very obvious in your allegiances but until just now I didn’t know if you were an Adarielite or an Odobeninian or the servant or some other lessor deity.”
“I will admit that in attending to the Baron and managing his affairs I had lost my way, but the Great Lady in her mercy has given me a second chance to attend her will. I shall not waste it.”
I intended on asking him more, but he spurred his horse forward and away from me. Scarcely an hour later one of the soldiers shouted for us to halt. Tamad and the other warrior types gathered together in a conference circle and I rode up to join them, at which point everyone stopped speaking. Tamad did his best to put on a friendly face.
“Nothing to worry about My Lady, just a small detour, we’re discussing the best way around.”
“Around what? A giant wood scorpion? One of those blood mantises I’m always hearing about? Assassin trees? What are we dealing with?”
His polite mask slipped a little “You need not concern yourself My Lady.”
I nodded demurely “Certainly.”
I heard someone shout as I nudged my mount into a canter to move head and take a look for myself but I couldn’t tell if it was Tamad or one of the soldiers. A couple hundred yards ahead I saw what was causing the quick change of course – maybe a dozen wooden crow-cages hanging from the trees. They were crude things, looking as if they had been constructed out of fallen limbs and sticks rather than being worked in any fashion and I had no idea what was even holding them together. However they must be sturdy enough because the men in them apparently couldn’t escape – seeing as how they were all dead from dehydration or exposure or whatever happens when someone leaves you in a cage in the forest to die. A closer look revealed there were no ropes holding them, the contact points were merged into the trees themselves, as if the wood was metal that could be melted and then resolidified. As I was taking in the scene the chaplain rode up behind me and shortly afterwards Tamad and half his fighting men.
“I can see why you’d want to take a roundabout route around this. I wonder if my friends in the green robes did this. It certainly seems like druid bullshit.”
Before anyone else could speak I saw one of the figures in the cages move. My first thought was, of course, that it was some manner of undead monstrosity, but then I heard a hoarse and pained voice calling for help. Which doesn’t rule out a dirty festrog or nasty varcolac but it was enough to make me ride forward to check it out. This turned out not to be a great idea, after moving a few feet into the area between the cage-trees the ground collapsed underneath my mount and after a sickening split-second of the weightless feeling of falling I was slammed into the ground. Thankfully I wasn’t crushed under my steed and even more thankfully I avoided (by complete happenstance) the scattered wood spikes that line the bottom of the fourteen foot sinkhole/gorge/whatever. Have you ever seen a horse fall into a tiger trap? Yeah, you don’t want to, trust me.
It took me a moment to catch my breath, after which I took out my crossbow and picked by way over to the poor animal to put it out of its misery. Afterwards I drank a healing potion to end my much lesser misery in a much better way – which sums the difference between people and animals right there. I dimly became aware of Tamad cursing me out from above.
“I’ll take that howling to mean that you’re worried about me, I’m fine, don’t fret.”
He continued carrying on as I used my Slippers to scamper up the side of the ditch/gully/whatever and up onto the cage with the weakly pleading man inside. He grabbed at me feebly but I slapped his hands away. The man in the cage was a half-orc that looked to be a lumberman unless I miss my mark, and as you might expect he had seen better days. He was desperate for water so I poured some rice wine from my Flask through the bars on his face and then sidled around the tree trunk and then cautiously climbed down onto what seemed like solid ground. I tapped my Walking Stick against the opposite side of the tree, instantly decaying it to rotten weakness and then stepping out of the way as the tree fell over away from the pit. The fellow in the cage probably got quite a rattling but at this point what difference could it make? I used the Walking Stick again to weaked the cage and then ripped it open like a carnival strongman – which I have to admit felt pretty good. The half-orc managed to crawl out as Tamad continued shouting angrily from the other side.
“Why did you do that?! I told you to stop!”
I shrugged, taking a drink from the Flash for myself “I saw someone in need, I’m the charitable sort.”
“Stay there! Don’t move, there could be more traps!”
I saluted “As you command chief.” The half-orc reached for the flask and I slapped his hands away again “Don’t put your lips on there, just hold out your hands.” He did, and I poured rice wine into his surprisingly long and delicate looking cupped fingers, which he drank greedily. “What’s your name?”
His voice was still a painful croak “Rudo . . . I’m grateful for your aid.”
“Yeah well, we’ll see how long that lasts.”
Tamad had dismounted and was making his way around the pit to us with wildly exaggerated care, as if he could feel any potential traps with his foot if he moved slowly enough. I yelled for him to hurry up and he shouted back for me to shut up.
I smirked “It’s nice to see that cloak of good manners finally coming off. Anything else you want to say to me?”
Once he finally reached us he grabbed my arm to lead us back the way he came. Normally I wouldn’t stand for that but the look in his eye told me that if I reacted he may very well pitch me back in the ravine – and aim for the spikes. It galled me to swallow that insult, but nevertheless I did so, I’ve swallowed worse. Rudo was left to trail behind us as best he could, I got the impression that Tamad wouldn’t mind if he got killed by a trap in the least. Once we were all together on the other side Chaplain Stenton started to dismount to hand his steed over to me but Tamad cut him off.
“No, she walks now.”
Before I could respond he rode back to the rest of the grounp, leaving Rudo and I to catch up as best we could. I gave him one of my healing potions as well which seemed to help some but he still seemed very shaky, so much so that I had to get under his arm and help him along as best I could. I tell you this, however long he was in that cage it didn’t do anything for his fragrance, although I suppose at this point in the journey being ill for several day I’m not exactly coming up roses either. He confirmed that this was indeed what the green witches do to “trespassers” and that he had been up there more than a week – he thought if not for a couple days of rainfall he’d be dead as well. As you might expect having two people on foot, one of who was on the verge of death this morning slowed progress significantly, much to Tamad’s annoyance. Around the time he mentioned killing Rudo if we didn’t pick up the pace up my new friend asked me what I had gotten him into.
“I you may wish you were back in your cage before this is all over, this is a real frying pan fire scenario.”
Rudo struggled on as best he could. I mentioned very reasonably that if we doubled on a couple of the horses we wouldn’t be going so slowly but Tamad gave me a look of hatred and contempt that could turn a lesser person to stone. Now that he’s not pretending to be nice anymore he’s gone hard the other way. I feared it would be a death march for Rudo but he managed to endure until we stopped for the day, although he did collapse pretty much as soon as we made camp. Some of the servants made to bring him some food but Tamad waved them off.
“No, no food for interlopers. If she wants him to eat she can give him her food.”
I did so without a second thought, fixing Tamad in my vision as he glared at me. Chaplain Stenton had been watching this all with a disapproving expression.
“Mr. Tamad, this is hardly the appropriate way to treat a member of the Juost household, the Baron has commanded you to . . .
He turned this withering glare at the priest “Commanded me? You’ve slipped your leash old man. The Baron doesn’t command anything now. Silence yourself or I’ll split you in two.”
I nodded approvingly “I guess the kidding around is pretty much over now huh? No more play acting right? You didn’t do a bad job, but the real trick is maintaining it right? Almost anyone can pretend to be someone else for a few hours, or even a few days, but it takes practice to pretend to be someone for a long time. Don’t feel bad, you did okay. You can’t compare yourself to me, I’ve been putting on an act for more than twenty years, it’s not a fair appraisal side by side.”
His lip curled like an angry dog “You be silent too!”
“Or what? You’re going to kill me? What about Kartak? You’re supposed to bring me to him right? If you kill me I bet you’ll be in trouble like a naughty little boy.”
His eyes bulged with rage “Kartak is nothing!”
“And yet here you are doing his bidding. If he’s nothing and you’re his stalking horse what does that make you exactly?”
“You aren’t half as clever as you think you are bagbaure!”
“I never really learned Kostelos curse-words so you lost me there, but you’re probably correct – I’m probably not as clever as I think I am. The thing is, that still leaves me far more clever than you and your entire tribe of backwards hill people I would wager.”
“Nevas jiak parhor!”
I raised an eyebrow “Now that one I understood. With a she-bear you say? That doesn’t sound very fun.” I got to my feet, brushing off my pants and taking a long drink from my Tankard for battle-enhancement “Rudo, your holiness, various servant people, you better clear on out of here if you don’t want to be in a battle. Don’t go too far though, it won’t be long, shouldn’t take more than a minute.” Held my Walking Stick and Tankard in a mock-martial stance and Tamad laughed dismissively, to which I grinned “Yeah, you go on and have yourself a good laugh right now. I mean it’s pretty ridiculous right? Little old me against a big scary man like you? It’s a joke right? Go ahead and laugh. I would do the standard hero quip that I’ll be the one laughing later but I won’t be because there’s really not very much funny about a dead man.”
Tamad gestured “Seize the woman, bind her and gag her mouth, I don’t want to hear another word from her.”
A couple of the soldiers took a few steps for me, but overall they were mostly just looking at one another. Those that did start to move stopped when I activated my amulet and transformed my skin to glittering metal – and who can blame them, I’m sure it’s quite a sight.
“Men of Baron Juost, if you have any loyalty to your lord left, now is the time to display it. This man and his barbarous allies have suborned the Juost family. If you want to throw in with this savage thug and his heathen cronies in bloody defiance of your sworn and true master so be it, but make your decision now and be prepared to live with it. Oathbeakers and traitors you will be, but at least you won’t have to live long with that shame.”
After a moment two of the soldiers came to stand with me while the other four stayed at the side of Tamad. The halfbreed sidled up to him as well, holding what I assume was supposed to be a spear but looked to be a newly fallen branch. Not only was it not straight it had leafs still on for the God’s sake. Tamad himself drew a proper civilized rapier in one hand and then pulled out some kind of ugly primitive Kostelos bone pick-axe thing from behind his back with his off hand. I’m no expert in two-hand fighting but the combination looked awkward as Hells.
“The good news is in short order there’s going to be enough horses for everyone to ride.”
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, potions of cure moderate wounds (3), Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (four cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Red’s Riding Hood
Courtier’s Outfit, noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring, pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring
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, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa