It had been days since I last eluded an Imperial hunter. Luck had been with me so far on my lonely voyage. I missed my mother, and oddly even missed home somewhat, though I know I can’t return for the time being. Tonight I found myself at a lonely inn at a crossroads on the western border of the empire. The innkeeper seemed nice enough, as did the dwarven ale merchant here plying his wares. Also present was a young priestess of Pelor, a novice named Piper who seemed a bit at a loss as to her reason for being here. She said she was awaiting a message. The innkeeper’s lame daughter served me a pleasant meal of stew and ale.
I did get a chance to speak with the dwarf at some length as to what lay in each of the other directions than east… east I know, it’s where I came from – the heart of the empire. He told me south was desert and eventually coast with fishing villages. North was the land of the elves and west lay an imperial fort. But beyond that were the mountains, some scattered human settlements and mages (MAGES!, yes!) and dwarven cities deep in the mountains themselves.
While I was eating, another traveler entered, a cloaked and hooded figure, much like myself in that regard. The cloaked figure spoke to the innkeeper and offered to sing for her supper. She pushed back her hood and revealed herself to be some kind of snake or lizard like human with scales and almost hornlike appendages. She sang, not too well unfortunately… her fingers seemed to have trouble with the strings of her lute, but she quickly gave up on that and told a fascinating story of her mother and father’s first meeting. Her tale revealed that her father was a dragon! It was an incredible tale, but it revealed much as to her appearance. She introduced herself as Ceridwen. I used the name Riyu, as I frequently do with strangers. If asked, they can honestly say they had never met anyone named Yuri. I’m sure the empire can detect when someone speaks the truth.
A imperial patrol entered the inn – four orcs with the insignia of the empire on their armor. They pushed around the girl and her father. Finally, when they didn’t get just what they wanted, they pushed the innkeeper to the ground…. I readied my sling, but the dragonish bard stepped up and confronted the orcs. I had to admit, she had some spunk to stand up to them. They drew weapons on her and I was prepared to join in the fight with my sling and help take them down. Not my bravest moment perhaps but I was still trying to stay in the shadows. The bard breathed on them, just like the tales of dragons I’ve heard and two of the orcs dropped to the ground, along with the innkeeper. I learned later they were only sleeping but at the time, I wasn’t sure just what had happened except half the patrol was down.
The other two drew up on the bard and I couldn’t let her face them alone. I drew my rapier and managed to avoid their blades as I took a position to effectively attack them. I hit one and he went down. The bard was bravely fighting the remaining one and I came to her assistance against him as well. With calm determination, the bard finished off the two I learned were only sleeping. Bloodthirsty perhaps a little, but they were an imperial patrol and if any survived, more would have come after us. I just evaded what I hoped would be the last hunters I would have to face. I didn’t need more. I concurred that the act was necessary.
We buried the bodies far from the inn, along with their imperial gear. The bard seemed to know a great deal about horses and we re-branded the patrol’s mounts for our own use. The bard and I talked and decided to travel together to the west – out of imperial lands. I gave the innkeeper a little something extra for his trouble and we promised to leave first thing in the morning. The priestess offered to come with us, saying she had received her message, and it was to accompany us.
Delgorion, for that was the name of the dwarf merchant, told me if I was ever in the dwarven city of Laskon, to look up his cousin Astlof, and ask him about the ‘special dark’. He also told us of an old hermit who lived south of the road who might be able to take us out of the empire, bypassing the fort using old smugglers’ roads. I thanked him and we spent a restive night in the inn. It was impossible to get a really good night’s sleep – every little sound from outside was another imperial patrol, sure to find us and learn of last night’s deeds. As it turned out the night passed uneventfully and in the morning, I slipped the innkeeper a gold piece from among the treasure we’d taken off the dead orcs.
We left at first light, Ceridwen showing us how to mount and ride, neither Piper nor I having ever ridden a horse before. We traveled just barely in sight of the road, well off it enough to avoid any patrols, or so we hoped. For a nervous three days we traveled, jumping at every noise in the brush. While we were camped on that third night, a lioness attacked one of the four imperial horses we were using. We managed to kill the lioness, but not before the horse was badly wounded. Ceridwen calmed the horse enough for Piper to come close and heal the poor creature. We moved on before first light since the noise was likely to draw attention.
The next day we saw our first sighting of water since we’d left the inn. This had to be the stream Delgorion had told us about – the one we were to follow to get to the hermit. Unfortunately, we were spotted by imperial guards at the bridge. We could hear them shouting, but we ignored them, heading south down the streambed. Fairly soon, the shouts were left behind us and we were sure we’d evaded them.
Eventually we came to a shack in the wilderness. Even for a shack, it was barely livable, made of hand-planed planks and animal hides, it was difficult to see what kept it standing. Yet, stand it did. Ceridwen hailed the shack and a gruff voice asked us what we wanted. I let the bard negotiate with the voice and eventually a face and body came out from behind a blind and approached us. We talked a little, and he invited us inside the shack. He seemed highly agitated when we mentioned we’d been spotted at the bridge. He was sure we were followed.
He seemed an easily agitated sort. He did mention he’d served in the imperial army for fifteen years and lost his arm in the service. Eventually he agreed to be our guide to the west, and we camped outside his shack for the night.
It turned out he was right – we had been followed. Two worgs attacked in the night. Worgs it seemed were large, ferocious, evil wolves. I made it light so Piper and the hermit could see. The worgs charged into the camp. Ceridwen’s horse, quite a ferocious beast in his own right (he EATS other horses, not to mention people, if the bard is to be believed), charged the worgs and engaged one of them, while the hermit, Piper and I ganged up on the second worg. They were tough – tougher than I imagine wolves to be, but they did both die.
The hermit started cursing a blue streak when the fight was over. He seemed to think we brought the entire empire down on his head. We decided to leave this place quickly.
I have to remember to ask the hermit his name… poor quick-tempered fellow never did tell us what to call him. I suspect he wished we hadn’t called ON him at all.