So... I've been travelling with this caravan for several days now. On the road, I met two interesting companions. Will, a half-elf, is a hunter. Every morning, he goes out and hunts small game, which he happily shares with the rest of the caravan. Neat fact... both of his parents are half-elves. A second person is Eowyn. She is a scholar and an archeologist of great fame, or at least she says so. She talks a lot, to everyone. She is also an elf, which I haven't seen too many elves. Although this elf has a tail.... kind of weird. Thornwill taught me a lot about nature, but I don't recall anything about elves having tails. Elves might be the only thing rarer than Tieflings in these parts.
Why am I even on this caravan you must be asking? Well, I had to get out of Auguston Citadel... I had to get away from my father. Plus, I wanted to adventure. Agreeing to deliver his letter on the caravan to Etonia allowed us to part peacefully. Sure, there were stern lectures about how I should be more diligent in my Courtier duties, and his expressions of frustrations about me embarrassing him with my decision to leave the court, how selfish I am to not place his needs and wants first, all of the usual. But in the end, I took what little gold I was able to hide from my father, bought an explorer's pack and some leather armor, and I signed on with Charlie Parker's caravan to Etonia. As far as I know, he is probably trying to sell me into another indentured servitude situation and the letter is his contract. Maybe I will just chuck the letter into the fire and "fail" to deliver it...
Charlie Parker, the proprietor who runs the caravan, drove the caravan as fast as he could thought the swamps. Every day in the swamps, early start. Not much time for breakfast, let alone hair and make-up. I use my mending cantrip to fix up even the slightest scratch on my armor or the slightest tear on my garments. Cleaning myself and brushing my hair are a big part of my morning routine. One never knows when I will have to look proper for noblemen and noblewomen, or worse, my dad might spy on me and tell me I’m not being perfect enough. It’s not easy keeping up these standards in the middle of a swamp. The holly sprigs I keep woven in my hair have to be just right. I really need to pick up a mirror at the next stop.
Crap! My brushes! I lost by brushes. I must have dropped them in my hurry to get packed up and on the trail. So I wake up and my hair is a mess and out of sorts. What if a noble sees me? They’ll report back to my Lord that I am out of sorts, not being proper. And then when my dad finds out… Will and Eowyn tried to talk me down a little. They told me we won’t see any nobles. And, if we do see any nobles, they won’t report my unkemptness back to my father. Regardless, I need to figure out something and get brushes before I deliver the letter.
Wow, it is Cross-quarter day in late spring as we pull into Treir. We go to a tavern run by a fine folk named Fenrick and his wife Ethel. Fenrick tells us of his Son, Artie, who is a guard in Etonia. He also provides something called moonshine. It is divine. That and Thorngage Ale. I think I might have drunk not only my moonshine, but maybe Will's and Eowyn's also. My memory is a little hazy there. This was really the first time I really ever had real drinks. As a courtier, we drank watered down wine so that we could stay sober… for our safety, you know. I think they cared a little less about our safety and a little more about we courtiers possibly getting drunk and embarrassing the Court. Since my father confiscated the measly pay that I did receive, I could not afford any bar drinks on my own.
While at the tavern, Eowyn said she learned goblins were forming raiding parties and harassing the locals. Then, Eowyn started talking about Thorngage Manor. She said that we were only a half-day’s journey away from Thorngage. Up until this point, I thought Thorngage was an just an ale, but apparently, it is an archeologist’s dream. She went on about halflings and disappearances and stuff. She insisted we go talk to the mayor and then seek out the manor. With my appearance not up to court standards (has anyone seen my brushes?), I didn’t exactly want to go see the mayor, but I agreed to come along anyway. Not that my ability to convince her otherwise after two moonshines and an ale was working very well.
Shortly after, we stumbled into the Hunters' Lodge. The mayor, Rennie, works out of here. Rennie went to the court in Auguston Citadel once or twice. He embarrassed himself with his lack of etiquette. Rumor is that he tried to elope with the Lord's daughter. Anyway, he's not welcome in Auguston Citadel for the foreseeable future. But really, the important thing about the lodge was... we found snacks! I didn’t get much stew, and I desperately needed food to absorb the moonshine. So I immediately proceeded to the snack tray and started chowing down. With the way I was eating, I would have received a ten-day’s worth of extra shifts if someone from the court had witnessed my behavior. Jung, a hunter, was there in the Lodge. After some light conversation, he started talking about a missing hunter named Tori. While we were trying to find out about Tori, Eowyn continued talking about Thorngage Manor. After a few minutes, we realized Tori had been missing for a least a day, probably longer. Tori needed our help. If I could convince Charlie and the mayor to let us help, we could have a real adventure! Will wasn’t hard to convince. As it turned out, all we had to do was point out to Eowyn that Tori was missing in the direction of Thorngage Manor, and Eowyn agreed to help. Then after a debate about whether to rest or go immediately, we decided to go immediately. I was sobering up and wanted to get underway. Plus, I wanted to make sure we had permission and didn’t upset Charlie.
Well, we finally did get to talk to Rennie. We negotiated a contract to go recover Tori. Well, I was going to go look for Tori regardless of the contract, so long as Charlie approved and we wouldn’t miss the caravan. So, I put my protocol hat on (figuratively, not literally… hats don’t work well with horns). Rennie offered payment of two gold pieces for goblin ears. Will and I got him to agree for information in lieu of ears. I guess the time I spent in the court facilitating long, boring meetings where the lords and nobles worked out contracts paid off. For a brief few minutes, I was in my element. And… the mayor recognized me not for my hair or makeup, but as an equivalent negotiating agent. Cool! And my unruly hair didn’t matter!
I should probably take a minute to clarify what a courtier does. On the surface, it looks like making sure all of the guests have a good time at balls, dances, and banquets. We also had to plan and set up those balls, dances, and dinners. With the help of the cooks and the wait staff, we picked the meals, set up the tables and decorations, and ensured the correct guest met the correct noble at the correct time. This required the courtiers to learn each attendee’s information and sometimes their secrets. The Lord’s Master of Secrets helped with that. Of course, any information we did glean (which was frequent… drunk humanoids can’t keep their mouths shut) had to be reported back to that same person. When poor nobles attended without their spouses (or other partner per their desires), we had to ensure they had undivided attention the entire evening. Sometimes, courtiers had to provide this undivided attention in the bed chamber… I did my best to avoid that when possible. Throughout the day, we escorted the guests through the courts, ran their errands, kept their schedules, delivered their letters… whatever it took to make the nobles’ work easier. I often found myself taking the wives shopping for fine dresses or outfitting the noble with proper attire. Sometimes we had to serve the noble by drafting lengthy legal documents. To help with that, we had instructions. These instructions included practice writing in Elven and Common with proper grammar. We had basic religious instruction to understand religious orders and motivations. We had basic lectures on the Lord’s laws and decrees so that we could ensure the contractual documents met with the current standards. We also had to pass physical appearance inspections daily. Once day, I even helped a nobleman select a sword and armor from the local blacksmith so that he could fight a duel the next day. He probably should have spent more time apologizing and less time running around the courtyard headless (I think it was maybe 15 seconds) (I then had to arrange to have his body returned to his homeland). In retrospect, being a courtier did provide me an excellent education. Of course, my father checked on me constantly. If I didn’t pass physical inspection, he knew almost immediately. If a guest wasn’t exceptionally pleased with my service, my father dispensed unwanted advice on how I could better serve the guest the next time. Fortunately, he learned several years ago that bruises and broken bones kept me from properly performing court duties. So, he manipulated me through gas lighting, broken promises, and lots of extra work for which he--of course--took my pay. Naturally, when my service was stellar, he reminded the Lord of how my effort was to my father’s credit. OK, I have sidetracked this story long enough, back to what happened after we left the Hunters’ Lodge.
We grabbed some extra snacks and headed in the direction Thorngage Manor was rumored to be. After a few minutes of walking, we were in some very deep forest. The canopy was up high, and the trees were almost unnaturally big… maybe as wide at the trunks as I am tall. The forest’s grandeur is a reminder to me that I am expected to maintain the balance of civilization and nature. Thornwill taught me that the sentient races were allowed to harvest the natural world, but only in so much that they do not waste and that they restore and replant what they take. Plus, the Earth Mother teaches that we plant the lands so that the lands may flourish, and then harvest in the cycle of life.
After a few hours, we ran across a deer corpse. As I went up to investigate, Eowyn reached out to grab me…. Right before I stepped into a snare trap. Wow, that would have been embarrassing. Getting stuck in a trap on my very first adventure. A few seconds later, I saw movement in the shadows and pointed that out to the other party members. Will saw it too. He started speaking Goblin to them.
They chatted for about 10 minutes. Goblin sounds very guttural compared to any language I know. Completely unlike Elvish, which sounds elegant. Of course, Sylvan also sounds very elegant. Infernal? Now that language is hard to describe. My mother taught me Infernal. She said I needed to know infernal as a Tiefling. Infernal and Common were the languages I spoke most until my mom died. Since she died, I have barely spoken Infernal to anyone. I still dream in Infernal though. Druidic? Hard to explain… and I’m not really allowed to explain how Druidic sounds anyway.
So where was I? Oh yeah, Goblins. Something about spell components. Apparently, the goblins wanted to barter the deer carcass for spell components. I would have been happy to throw in some spell components, but I didn’t have any. I rely on my holly sprigs to focus my magic. Some of the purists look down upon those who use focuses to cast spells. The mutters words and phrases such as “Gygax” and “true spellcasters have to have the proper components”. I don’t understand all of the fuss. Granted, I can cast spells just the same with my holly sprigs as I can with components. Thornwill my mentor taught me both ways. Components just look cooler (which I can’t discount the importance of looking cool), but until I can afford a proper spell component pouch, it is sprigs of holly for me. Anyway, Will was able to convince them to take a tinderbox instead of spell components. The goblins were happy; we didn’t die; good outcome all around. Thanks Will!
After a bit, we found a dwarf hunter (a dwarf who happens to be a hunter, not someone who hunts dwarves). He was terrified and sheltering up in a tree. He claimed white halflings with sharp teeth attacked him. After some thought, I realized it might be zombies or some other undead creatures that attacked him. It is an explanation that fits the legend. Of course, everyone thinks they know what zombies are. But do they really? People just think zombiism (is that even a word?) just spreads by being bitten by another zombie. If that were the case, the dwarf would be a zombie already. Maybe werewolves spread their disease through biting, but I don't even think werewolves are undead. After some assurances by Will, we get the dwarf out of the tree. He introduced himself as Flint. He was not carrying any weapons or gear. He must have run when he saw the approaching creatures and dropped everything. I guess that is a typical reaction to combat. I hope I am able to keep my calm if I ever have to fight.
A little more travel, and Eowyn spotted the manor. As we traveled through the night, she became more alive and excited as we covered the distance. As we entered the area from the East, the first building was missing its door. Then we found her. Tori's corpse. Not happy... my first adventure was a rescue mission and we failed at that. Well, she was dead long before we arrived. Will and I insisted we recover the body and return her to her family. We move the body close to the fountain in the center of the courtyard, where Jung said he would watch over her. Clearly, Jung was more than a little upset.
After a short debate, Will and I decided to allow Eowyn to continue exploring the manor. After all, we were there. We had enough time to explore for about an hour before we had to head back to catch the caravan on the way out. Eowyn went the second building a used her pick axe to break down a heavy oak door. Eowyn then tried to convince us to take the door back with us. Both Will and I convinced Eowyn to take something smaller. Tori's corpse was going to be hard enough to carry back... the oak door--impossible. Eowyn did impress us with her strength. She handily lifted that door. I couldn't even budge it.
In the second building, I found a lute. Eowyn rummaged through books and scrolls while Will kept watch. I tried to play something on the lute. It didn't sound horrible. Maybe I will keep the lute, at least for a while.
The next building was an open air forge, complete with anvil and tools. We found armor components and some shields. As much as I would like some heavier armor and a sterner shield, I committed to wearing only armor and wielding shields made of natural materials. You see, Druids trust in the Earth Mother and believe she will protect us. By wearing armor made of leather or wood, we show our trust in her and in the cycle of nature. It isn't a solemn oath to never wear metal armor, it is just a tradition and a custom that feels right. Thornwill told me some Druids have been known to wear metal armor, but they are rare and normally followers of other Circles. Regardless, I think the leather armor looks good on me. It fits my body well and accentuates my look... very important if I ever have to defend my actions in front of nobility again. It is not too heavy and allows me to move well. Maybe I could trade my armor out for some studded leather when I get a few more gold pieces. Maybe I could get some armor made of dragon's hide. I heard the dragons hide armor is as flexible as leather but as tough as steel. Of course, I really wouldn't want to encounter a dragon while wearing armor made of dragon's hide. That might not go well for me.
What caught my attention next were graves behind the forge. I walked back there and noticed the graves were dug up, almost as if some evil person was harvesting the bodies to make undead! I warned Will and Eowyn to be on the lookout for an evil necromancer and to not allow such a vile creature as a necromancer to speak. Crap... now I am scaring myself.
The next building was what looked to be the main building around the courtyard. I looked in a window and saw what looked like a mannequin, possibly for trying on the armor made in the forge. Eowyn, feverishly trying to get as much artifact searching done in as short as time as possible, busts the second door open. Crap, undead... here! Somewhere in the back of my head I realized I had better get ready to fight.