Riding through the night (I should have been bringing word of an impending invasion, that would have made a more dramatic midnight ride) and morning I made Tybhurst by mid-day. The road from Ardint was utterly deserted, eerily so. Makes sense seeing no one at night, but during the day? It made me wonder if the Vielanders had already made their move and I was going to find Tybhurst encircled (enveloped I think the military sorts call it) by enemy soldiers or already captured. At one point in the night I thought that I hear hoofbeats behind me, but it must have been my imagination – the darkness and your own mind plays tricks on you like that. Especially when you’re short of sleep. I stabled my horse at an unassuming inn towards the edge of town and made my way to the market district to trade up some of the equipment I stole from the mayor for items I would find more useful. And of course, some more fashionable clothes.
I found the folk in the Tybhurst market morose and demoralized for reasons unknown, quite in contract to the festive air in Cathars. Three Rivers is basically a prison camp so I understand why people there are walking around like shuffling zombies, but what’s wrong with these people? I mean sure they have to live in Tybhurst, but I’ve seen people in much worse places that were much happier. After my unpleasant shopping diversion I returned to the inn to get something to eat. The bad news is that all they had available was mutton stew with soggy potatoes, the good news is that had fresh peaches, good vodka, and even better coffee.
I rented a room to catch a few hours of sleep and even better news I wasn’t horribly murdered in my dreams. Which is nice. There were no nightmares but it was an odd and not very restful feeling that came over me while I slept. It was like when you’re the audience for a play and you wait and wait and wait and the players never come out to start the performance. It was better than nothing though and I woke up around sundown feeling a little rested at least. I saw out the window that a couple fellows in guard uniforms and some other random people were milling about the stables. It’s hard to imagine that news of the theft could have traveled this fast but on the other hand horse thievery is one of the only crimes people seem to take seriously. Just to be safe I went to a royal messenger depot and stole one of their horses. If you’re going to get hung anyway might as well make it worth your while right?
Riding out of the city I turned southwest back towards Three Rivers and in short order came across a group of seven mounted men that seemed to be a patrolling the road. Aside from being under arms and armor they were dressed eclectically and I would have taken them for adventurers if not for the excellent quality of their steeds (adventurers don’t know anything about horseflesh nor the care and upkeep of animals of any kind) and the fact that they all had copper badges of some kind that featured the holy symbol of Vultur (unfortunately). Since I was cloaked in the guise of a Royal Messenger I stopped to see who they were and what they were about. They told me that the Queen had commissioned and funded a new force of royal road wardens to stamp out the banditry and brigandism that was rampant in the western counties. They had just been deployed recently after three months of training outside of Indlecastle.
You could have knocked me over with the wing of a dragonfly. You see road wardens once in a while in the middle of the Kingdom where there’s nothing dangerous they might have to deal with, but seeing them out here actually patrolling somewhere they could help someone was shocking. Out of all the various government employees road wardens are hands down those with the worst reputation for being lazy grasping swindlers at best and organized criminals at worst. I could see the Queen suggesting that something be done about people being robbed and murdered on the Kingdom’s roadways with relatively impunity but I would have bet heavily against anything coming of that suggestion for a variety of reasons. She only came to the throne fairly recently, I’m stunned that she’s been able to push this through at all, let alone so quickly. I asked the patrol sergeant, a squat fellow with a white beard who seemed to be born in the saddle the way he directed his mount, how they had the manpower for something like this – what with the war on and all.
He launched into a intricate and tedious breakdown of how it worked – something about attachments (or detachments) of cavalry regiments and soldiers returning from the front – I stopped listened pretty quickly but it was clear that he thought the idea was ingenious and was giving the Queen quite a bit of credit for the idea. Once he stopped talking I realized one of his men was favoring me with a rather suspicious gaze.
“I’m surprised that you haven’t heard about this, Merz was heavily involved with this project.”
I have no idea who Merz is, but I told him that I had broken my leg and was out of commission for a while recuperating with family in the countryside. Not a lot of news makes it out that way. I told them that this was my first run in several months. He then went on to express his adduitional surprise that a Royal Messenger would be lollygagging like this – making some noise about how Royal Messengers would never stop for an idle chat like this. I could tell that he wasn’t distrustful of my disguise though, it was just the product of the weird man-pride that causes the different branches of the military to insult and belittle each other. I explained that there were Vielanders in the woods to the south and that shut him up.
Even though the sun was sinking low in the sky the road to Three Rivers was the exact opposite of that to Tybhurst – every few miles there was a lumber crew sweating and grunting and cursing as they wrestled with felled logs in the twilight. It was as if someone had decided that the entire northern portion of the forest had to be cut down RIGHT NOW. I could almost imagine that someone had communicated that the Vielanders were infiltrating through the woods and a general had sent out orders to cut the entire forest down to reveal the enemy. Although they were going the wrong direction for that.
After a few hours on the road though it was too dark for that kind of work, and the sight of men at work gave way to a string of campfires off the road where the crews were settling down to drink themselves stupid and do the whole thing over again tomorrow. One of the camps I passed had a fire built up so high that I could see two shirtless men covered in some kind of shiny grease or tree-slime wrestling with each other as their fellows cheered them on. Just what you’d want to do after busting your back from before sunup to after sundown chopping down trees.
Of course there were no road wardens or lumberjacks around when I needed them. The night was clear enough that the moon was able to provide quite a bit of visibility which allowed me to see a sumptuous and inviting coaching inn in the middle of nowhere. The lamplights were blazing merrily and there was the sound of soft music and the scent of baking fruit pies coming from within. You can say this, fey tricksters may not be subtle but they pay attention to detail. Not being a fool I had no intention of going anywhere near this obvious trap but the fact that it was there was troubling enough. Who was putting it out there and where were they?
I scanned the surrounding area and saw nothing else noteworthy but it was dark and there were any number of hiding places in close proximity. I had just about decided that I would just ride on by and accept whatever risks might come along with that when whoever was lurking out there decided they had had enough waiting as well. Lumbering out of the darkness loped a slouching figure the size of a small hut with massive tusks jutting out from its mouth in a painful looking manner. Due to my experiences in Graltontown with one Piltis Swine I recognized this creature as a cave giant – which as of yet I have to see in any caves. Although I don’t spend a lot of time hanging around in caves so maybe that makes sense.
If you had told me two years ago that I would meet a cave giant in combat and survive, just survive, not even win, I would have called you a remorseless and incompetent liar. But here we are two years later and I did just that. I’ll grant you that the horse did the lion’s share of the work, things would have been much different had I not been mounted. But I was, and more’s the pity for the cave giant. As you might expect a Royal Messenger horse is well trained and well bred – it didn’t shy at least at the smell of sight of a dangerous beast coming our way. It obeyed my commands without any hesitation and was strong and agile.
I’ve never quite grasped why knights like to charge dragons and giants and other monsters with a bloody lance – seems like a terrible idea to me. Isn’t the advantage of being mounted mobility? Why would you run directly AT the thing trying to kill you? That’s what all those poor footmen with spears are for right? I turned my mount to get some distance and then fired with my crossbow. The tusky menace bellowed and charged at us – but it wasn’t faster than a galloping horse. I displaced, got distance, and fired some more. It charged again and the process repeated. If it had been a more canny opponent it might have taken cover in the trees and hurled rocks – giants love hurling rocks – or just tried to use it’s charging to pin me against the trees so I couldn’t easily run away. But it wasn’t. It was actually kind of pathetic to see such a powerful creature lumbering around pointlessly until it collapsed to the ground with dozens of crossbow bolts stuck in its flesh. I shot it a half dozen more times from a distance just to make sure it wasn’t smart enough to play possum before riding up and putting one last quarrel through its neck. It was actually still alive but I figured that wouldn’t last long.
As I turned back to the road and continue on my way south I did spot for a brief second a thin spidery looking humanoidish figure lurking back in the trees watching me, but it slithered away into the gloom as soon as I was able to lay eyes on it. Now the fun question – will the death of its muscle dissuade it from interfering with me further or just make it more determined to do whatever it was trying to do? I hate when everyone else is as vengeful and angry as I am about being thwarted. The difference is I’m being thwarted by my lessors, the people I thwart should be smart enough to realize that they can’t get back at me when I do it to them.
Funds: 7033 gold
Inventory: Light Riding Horse, Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, Nobles Traveling Outfit, Ring of Invisibility
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, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag