Discussing our plan with Martialla’s trio of bandit followers/dependents Bacca said that not too far from where we were there was an adventuring troupe (or band or plague or whatever you call a group of adventurers). He knew of them because the Consortium often hired them to deal with the various monsters that seem to attack lumber camps on a regular basis. He said that they operated out of an abandoned bridge guard post over the now dry bed of what used to be Arkes River, which sounds like just the kind of impractical thing that adventurers would do. Why use your stolen riches live in a nice house in a place with modern amenities when instead you can live in a ruined guardhouse in the middle of nowhere? I suggested that we leave the woods and follow the road to Arbeven and then from there break off towards the guardhouse but Martialla said that any time she left the forest the bounty hunters were on her within a few hours – even when disguised. She has no idea how they’re able to locate her to so quickly – or why it doesn’t work when she’s in the woods.
“Beyond that, setting aside however they detect you, where you are how do they get to you so quickly? How can they cover that much ground so easily? I mean know the answer to both is magic, but still what’s allowing them to do that?
“I don’t know, the last time I tangled with them I was south of Obsis and they still found me within a couple hours. Before that I just assumed they had people watching the roads around Alleene and they were just ready to ride as soon as I poked by head out, but that made it clear that something else was going on.”
“Well they’re not after me, I’ll just go and hire these assholes while you stay here snug like a bug.”
A dubious look come over her face “How are you going to find the place? You’re not the best at finding your way around. No offense.”
“None taken, it will be fine, Bacca can show me the way.”
The lumberman’s head snapped up, looking frightened “What? Won’t they be out looking for me?”
“Who’s they? There’s no bounty on you.” I put my arm around him warmly “Just stick with me and you’ll be fine.”
“But I’m a bandit, won’t someone try to arrest me?’
“It’s not like you’re going to walk around with a sign that says ‘bandit’ on it. I’ll let you in on a little secret my friend, unless you’re a dangerous wanted woman like my good friend Martialla here all this skulking about in the woods is completely pointless. I get the instinct, because you know you’re a criminal, but no one else does – and most of them don’t care regardless. Unless you try to kill the queen there’s nobody who’s going to care too much about you and what you’ve done. The chances of even meeting any sort of law enforcement people are low to begin with, and if you do so what? It’s not like they know who you are. You’re a lumberman, you’re supposed to be wandering around out here – nothing suspicious about that. The reason criminals get caught is because they act like criminals. Don’t make it seem like you’re doing anything wrong and no one will both you.”
He shook his head slowly “That doesn’t sound right.”
I gave his shoulders a companionable squeeze “Trust me on this, I know what I’m talking about. Well here’s off to Arbeven!”
He looked to Martialla “Boss is that a good idea?”
Martialla smiled wryly “I don’t know, but you might as well go with her, it’s what’s going to end up happening regardless.”
A few hours later Bacca and I were out of the woods and heading south on the road to Arbeven. He’s pretty typical for a lumberman, brawny and rough looking with an unkempt beard and that woodsy kind of tousled hair that comes from never looking in a mirror. He didn’t appear to be carrying any weapons or touting any armor and when I remarked on that fact he said that he left his gear behind because he didn’t want to “look like a bandit”.
“I hope you at least have a dagger hidden on you somewhere. You need to relax buddy, there’s not a posse dogging your steps looking to hang you. And even if there was it would be more dangerous to travel without protection wouldn’t it? There’s bandits around here you know.”
He grimaced “Very funny.”
“Let’s get to know each other while we travel why don’t we? I happen to have my own issues with the Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, we go round and round we do. How did you end up on the wrong side of that ax?”
“I just . . . had an issue with my foreman.”
“What kind of issue?”
He glanced at me for a moment and then sighed “I wanted to marry his daughter and he didn’t approve.”
“And for that you ended up an outlaw in the woods?”
He sighed again, more heavily “I may have called him a donkey-faced son of a bitch and punched him out in front of everyone. Also . . . . Mollienisia ended up pregnant . . . somehow.”
I grinned “Sure, somehow, that happens. So what’s your plan now? You want to bandit enough money to be able to go back and take Mollienisia and the baby away from her cruel father so you can live together and raise a family?”
He looked forlorn “I just want to survive. I think I’d be dead already if Martialla hadn’t found me. I don’t know what’s going on or what to do, I’m just a woodcutter, I don’t know anything about what’s going on. I never wanted to be a bandit. Everything is ruined, I just wanted to do my job and live my life, I never wanted any of this.”
“I can’t imagine too many people set out to be bandits, seems more like a career that you stumble into. I hate to repeat myself, but it’s not like you have a ‘B’ for bandit branded into your forehead, you don’t need to be out here if you don’t want to. You want to live a normal life then do it. When we get to Arbeven get a job and just go back to the old way. You have this all built up in your head to be some big thing, but it’s not. I mean this in the best way Bacca, no one cares about you.”
“The lumber consortium cares, and that’s all I know how to do.”
I had to resist rolling my eyes “If you can swing an ax there’s any number of other things you can do. As long as you’re willing to work there’s people who are willing to pay. Not to mention which you’re still a young fellow, you can learn a trade if you want to. Life is long my friend and you’ve barely just started living it, it’s foolish to think that it’s over already. It ain’t over until it’s over. And not even then sometimes.”
He gave me a curious stance “You’re not at all what I thought you’d be like.”
“What did you think I’d be like?”
“I . . . don’t know I guess. Not like this.”
“Well, I’ll take that as compliment. Now tell me this, what’s your general level of interesting in getting revenge on the Lumber Consortium?”
“Zero, I never want to cross paths with them again.”
Some people have no backbone. A few hours before sundown we reached Arbeven and I sought out the Quiriva’ compound, Bacca gaping like a landed trout as I did so. I wondered if maybe showing up again was pushing the bounds of the goodwill I had built up with them, but the Lord and Lady were overjoyed to see me. I guess saving someone’s life goes a long way to building up benevolence. I was given a much needed opportunity to bath and clean myself up before joining the Quirivas for dinner. Bacca was invited as well but he was so tongue-tied and wrong-footed by this turn of events that I stepped in and sent him to dine with the servants instead – which caused such a look of relief to pass over his face that it was comical. He was acting like he was in the presence of the Queen herself rather than two of the most minor members of the nobility possible – they’re barely more than wealthy peasants for the God’s sake. Dinner was a pleasant affair if for no other reason than to be in civilization again. I’m not sure how I end up slogging through deadly wilderness all the time.
Knowing that the Lord has some interests in the timber trade I told them Bacca’s sad story, leaving out the banditry part, and he agreed readily to take him on as an apprentice carpenter if he so desired. When I told this to Bacca he started openly weeping like a small child, which was highly off-putting. I had him give directions to the alleged adventurer’s stronghold to one of the Lord’s men so they could escort me and he could stay here to start his new life on the morrow. Later while I was enjoying a nightcap with Lady Quiriva she remarked that I was quite the humanitarian.
I swirled my drink, enjoying the moonlight twinkle in the fine liquor “Well what can I say? I’m just one of those people that loves helping people. I can’t think of anyone who’s worse off for having met me. If I do say myself.”
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, 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, Ring of Urban Grace, 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
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), 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, 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