Ah, that paladin survived the wights after all… Although I fear Alix, despite fighting bravely, will bear emotional scars for a long time.
Euphoric with relief at their triumph, I became rash and demanded to try one of the mysterious vigour leaves recently given us by Ergosh. We did after all need to find out what effect they might have on us. I confess I half-expected it to be poison. But no such thing! I still grin to think of it. Within moments of ingesting the bitter leaf (for it tasted foul), a fierce energy surged through my limbs and my mind expanded with clarity. I took up my longsword and challenged the mighty Intan to a sparring match, right there in the shadow of the barrow. His righteous pleasure was not long to last, as I forced him first to his knees and then flipped him to sprawl in a clanking heap on the grass. Never have I felt so invincible, although the feeling did not last long, alas.
Since then we travel, but to my disappointment we head west, rather than east towards home. The mountains here are impenetrable, and until we find an eastern route out of these cursed valleys… We had an interesting interlude with some dog-faced humanoids in a valley filled with mist and marshes. They gave us food and shelter and guided us out of the marches in return for weapons. How fortunate I was carrying several spare short swords from the goblin forge — their loss has lightened my pack considerably!
These mountains never cease throwing their weapons at us — I fear they desire us to leave as much as I desire to leave them. We have been attacked by both mountain lions and a giant crocodile in this new western passage. Poor Alix and Intan were lucky to survive the crocodile, which attacked in those darkest hours before dawn. (I acknowledge the irony that it was indeed I who pulled Intan unconscious out of the water.) It is no consolation that this valley is the one on Calwyn’s ancient treasure map (which he guards so carefully). Or perhaps it is a slight consolation. If we must travel west, we might as well discover something interesting while we’re at it…
I’ve nearly been eaten by a crocodile, so I can sympathise with Alix’s new scars, and Intan’s bruises. One moment you’re asleep, the next you’re in agony. And then you’re coming to, wet, in pain, the warmth of magical healing slowly seeping away while everyone tells you how they saved you. It’s not much fun. So Alix, who would right now be croc food were it not for Saffir and myself slaying the beast; and Intan, slapped into insensibility by the beast’s thrashing tail and spared an ignominious death by drowning by Ash’s quick rescue effort: welcome to the ’gator club.
Standing here by the river bank, vapid dawn failing to warm my shivering hide, I can see the lake shimmering in the distance, and the stain in its middle that is the island that may, or may not, hold the secret to our quest. I think of the comrades I’ve left behind, so many now. Of goblins and wights and ghouls, of leopards and snakes and weird jungle creatures, of the strange life-saving, life-taking shaman Ergosh and the foul-reeking swamp-dwellers of the misty land. I think of the weight lost, the scars gained; feel the unkempt whiskers and matted hair; barely notice the torn, threadbare clothing and the ache of muscles that goes all the way to the bone. I look at the island, where it waits in the haze not unlike a crocodile, jaws hidden beneath the surface, and ask myself if it has all been worth it. Will it all have been worth it.
I feel the magic in the rings on my fingers; feel the weight of my grimoire in my backpack. I watch my comrades, who have accepted my sorcery when most others have shunned me for it, breaking camp. To the island, then. And I can’t help but smile.
Shadrath is a benevolent God. He allows most people to worship as they can but even He will not stand for purposeful disregard and so now I feel him calling. I did not mean to disrespect you, Lord, but I got distracted, so many new, shiny things to see outside our village.
Ash and I must return the sacred bowl to our village. They need it to ensure the safety of their homes and the bounty of their crops. And I need to go back and see to the welfare of my children. The twins are being cared for by the Order but a mother always believes only she can care for her children best. What good is it being a priestess of Shadrath if I do not ensure the safety of my own hearth? So back to our village. It is many months since we were there. I yearn to see my home again.
There have been many adventures with outcomes good and bad. We have lost dear companions and gained new ones, but it is enough, for now. When I recover from the crocodile attack, Ash and I will journey with our new companions to our village, regardless of how circuitous the route may be. I have learned new spells and gotten better at wielding familiar ones, I pray Shadrath guards us home. And that the young, brash, well-intentioned and occasionally foolhardy paladin of Phanator — Intan — doesn’t run us headlong into trouble. I helped him fight the barrow wights ‘tis true, but somewhat reluctantly. Shadrath may not tolerate the presence of Evil but he does not expect us to run around looking under every stone. If Evil should come to us or threaten ours, then yes, we will fight it but we do not go poking our noses into hornets’ nests just to see what we can anger. We serve Shadrath and we protect the Hearth, we do not endanger the Hearth by uncovering what is best left alone.
While I have not the pretty words of paladins or rangers from the plains, I will say this: I grow bitter and weary of these open places where we have tarried for far too long. The snow and ice that bites deep into marrow of my bones, the treacherous grasslands that conceal only poisonous snakes and even more poisonous fowl — at least when such is cooked by life-thieving lizard clerics — the wights that guard nought but mysterious potions and less coinage than my light fingers could lift from careless pockets given one afternoon in the streets of any sizeable city, and the humanoids that stink hellish enough to throw half my party off its feet and think it nothing to invite unbidden the sense of their words inside my head by magic. Not to mention the crocodiles. Evil river-dwelling beasts that sneak from their murky depths in dark of night to snatch us from our sleep. Thank heavens the ranger had sense enough to pull our half-drowned paladin from an otherwise watery grave, while the wizard and I rescued Alix from those deathly reptilian jaws. We would all be dead otherwise, now or within a matter of days.
Enough, I say. Enough.
I long for cities again, and people. The breath and bustle and brickwork of them. I am not made for this endless wandering, this near starvation as we survive on little more than what we can hunt, scavenge and beg. Oh, for a bowl of steaming tavern stew, or even a tender haunch of roast rabbit. Not to mention wine. It has been far, far too long since I have partaken in the fruit of the vine — my beloved goddess, Nievor, must surely think I have disowned her! But still we move west. More plains, more water and now an island to which my party seem to think it wise to travel.
An island! What is that but piddling land surrounded by water? Have they all gone mad? Even Cal, who but a few days ago seemed keen as I to return to inhabited places of cobbles and commerce, now proposes we investigate. I shall be outvoted should I object, so what choice do I have? I shall ready my bow and keep my fallen comrade, Rhi, in my thoughts. I admit to acquiring a taste for goblin hunting — a development in which she would have taken great delight! Rhi, I’m sure, would have evaded all the snakes and brought us back many rabbits for supper. I do miss her. It is only Cal and I left from our original band of fortune seekers, and I no longer feel as though our party is united by a single purpose. The cleric and the ranger wish to return home, and the paladin seems to seek nothing but glory for his beloved god, Phanator, no matter the cost. I’m not sure I truly trust any of them…
Yes, our intrepid travellers are headed to a mysterious island featured on an ancient map that may or may not lead them to the powerful gem known as ‘the eye of Varrien’. Stay tuned for the next adventure in a month or so…
Thanks to the following:
- Jason Nahrung for Calwyn’s contribution
- Lita Kalimeris for Alix’s contribution
- Kirstyn McDermott for Saffir’s contribution
Read what our other companion, Intan, had to say about the battle with the barrow dwights in The paladin’s tale.