Interlude 1 - About Ingervale
The Troll Garden

It was an unusually cool spring day in Ingervale. Douglas Smith was working in his father’s smithy; fixing a brooch for Marian Baker and a plow coupling for Abigail Farmer. His father and brother were making a delivery to the south and his sister was working in the back. He watched two travelers approach from out of the northern valley. They were on horseback and towed a heavily packed mule. The man on the left was heavy set and wide in the shoulders, with a horse to match. The other was slight, and rode without stirrups. The style of their beards and clothing made Douglas think they were likely from northern Brevoy. He put down the pliers he was using to fix the brooch and walked out into the sun to approach the riders as they entered the smithy yard.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” He asked.
“We’re looking for smith,” said the larger man.
“This is a smithy. I’m a smith,” Douglas replied.
“Not a jeweler?” The man asked gesturing toward the brooch in Douglas’ hands.
“Not a jeweler,” Douglas replied.

The men laughed to one another.

“But I can fix a clasp for your brooch or bodice if you like,” Douglas added.

Only the smaller man laughed. The larger man shot him a look then nodded to Douglas.

“Thank you, no,” he said with a half-smile. “We have some weapons that need sharpening, however.”
“Sure thing,” Douglas replied. “You can wait here if you like. It’ll just take a few minutes.”
The two men looked at one another as they climbed off of their horses.
“Oh, it might take more than that,” the larger one said.

They began to remove weapons and place them on a nearby table. They each had a sword on one hip and a dagger on the other. One had a smaller dagger in his boot and the other had one on his back, hidden by his cloak. Then they pulled weapons from scabbards strapped to their saddlebags, and from the saddlebags themselves. They set those on the tale. Then they pulled weapons from the mule’s packing, and set those on the table. All in all, they set twenty-one weapons on table of all varieties. Some were recently worn. Some appeared to have centuries of neglect.

“That’s it?” Douglas asked. “There aren’t any you fed to the mule and we need to wait for?”
“Sharp witted question, but no,” the larger man answered.
“Well…I can do the lot for fifty copper,” Douglas offered, “but it’ll take a couple of hours.”
“I was thinking something closer to thirty,” the man countered.
“It’ll mean no money for lunch for me today,” Douglas said, shaking his head, “but I’ll do it for forty.”

The man scratched his head, pulled at his beard, and looked toward his friend.

“Forty it’ll have to be,” he finally conceded.

Then he pulled open his coin purse and Douglas saw that it was filled with gold and silver. The man had to sift through it to find coinage small enough to pay.

“Mind if I ask a question?” Asked the smaller man, speaking for the first time.
“Depends on the question,” Douglas answered, visually counting the coins that had just been placed in his hand.
“Those statues at the entrance to the valley, were those real trolls once?” the smaller man asked.
“It depends on who you ask,” Douglas replied. “Do you have time for story? It’s not too long.”
They both nodded
“Those statues,” Douglas began, “there are twelve of them, they’ve been here since the first Inger home was built here. First thing you should know is that there was an Inger community before this one. It’s another story; but suffice to say, we were given no choice but to leave. Cole Inger was sent to lead a scouting party to find a new land for an Inger settlement. He eventually came by this valley. The popular legend is that a small tribe of trolls was already living here. He and the men that accompanied him attacked one late night, while the trolls were out hunting, and before they returned to their caves. The trolls were nearly victorious. Cole found himself alone and fleeing up the side of the valley, desperately trying to lure the trolls up into the light of dawn that was touching the lip of the valley. The trolls didn’t bite. They turned to flee back to their caves before the sunlight reached the valley basin. But Cole’s party had not been idle the day before. They had spent the day hammering and polishing all the metal they had. Cole rolled out a large polished disc from the bushes and reflected the sun’s rays down at the trolls. That was that.”
“Is that what you believe?” The larger man asked.
“I once did,” Douglas answered. “Now, I don’t know. Some say the statues were here when he got here, and could be trolls or could have been carved. Some say Cole Inger carved them himself.”
“If any of those are the truth, what happened to the rest of the party that he left with?” Asked the smaller man.
“That’s a mystery, isn’t it?” Douglas agreed. “Cole Inger took up masonry years later and changed his family name to Carver. He was the last with the Inger name. So, personally, I tend to suspect he carved them. But I couldn’t begin to guess what happened to those other men.”
“He was the last with the Inger name? So there are no Ingers in Ingervale?” The larger man asked.
“There are no Inger-Folk with the family name Inger anymore. That’s right,” Douglas confirmed, “but we’re all Ingers.”
“You’re an unusual lot, you Ingers,” the large man said as they started to walk off.
“We like it that way,” Douglas muttered as carried the first sword over to the grinding wheel.

Ingervale must move!
Another chapter for the hard-working residents of Ingervale

circa Fall 4709 AR (Absalom Reckoning)

In its history the hard-working community of Ingers has relocated, the last time was a few generations ago. The current Ingervale council called forth its residents to once again move their settlement.

Volunteers are enlisted to explore and reclaim the southern wilderness under a charter from the Aldori Swordlords of Restov. Others have unsuccessfully tried to tame the wild lands of the Greenbelt – Perhaps the Ingers can succeed where others could not.

A band of explorer’s is chosen from the volunteers:

The party will set out at the end of winter to take advantage of the spring thaw.

Interlude 3: Leaving Ingervale
The expedition party leaves the valley

Brian Shepherd stood at the bend of the road that led out of the valley and south, ultimately to Restov. The sun had just crept over the distant mountains and cast a long shadow in front of him. He turned to look toward the dawn light, but turned away as it stung his eyes. So, he kept watch on the road that led down into Ingervale.

It was the cusp of spring, but winter was still holding on strong. A hard cold gust flailed his cloak behind him for a moment. He found the chill invigorating. It was the chill he felt almost every morning as he led his flock up the hillside. He’d be back for them once a new land for Inger was found. Until then, Paul Weaver’s sons would watch over them.
He kicked the bundle of heavy fleece wool blankets he’d carried up to the lip of the valley, his gift to the expedition party. They’d serve well if the weather took a turn for the worse before spring set in.

It was an unusually foggy morning, and he heard hoof steps approach before he saw anything. He knew most of the party, but had never had occasion to speak to Jesse Cook or Jason Brewer. It was an Inger expedition if ever there was one, not a mercenary or sell sword in the lot, just men of practical trades.

He could make out silhouettes, one on horseback, when he heard one of them bleat like a sheep and explain to the other, “I’m trying to make him feel at home.”
Finally, all five came through the fog, Eric Bowman on horseback and the others on foot.

“Good morning!” Brian called.
Everyone responded in kind, and approached.
“I brought one of these for each of us,” Brian said, handing the rolled blankets.
Everyone took theirs, gave thanks, and stashed it among their personal cargo.
“A fitting gift from a shepherd,” Jason said. “I also have brought something to keep us all warm on a cold night.”
“So I have heard about you, Father Brewer,” Brian replied, a slight smile behind his tusks.
“Do you know everyone, Brian?” Douglas asked.
“No, but it sounds as though I was correct in assuming this is Jason Brewer, the tavern priest,” Brian answered, pointing toward Jason.
“I’ve been called worse, but yes, that’s me,” Jason replied.
“Which would make you Jesse Cook,” Brian said, pointing toward Jesse.
“Yes it would,” Jesse replied. “You don’t come to town much.”
“No, I prefer the solitude my trade offers me,” Brian responded.
“Just you and the sheep,” Jesse asked.
“Except when I’m forced to dispatch the occasional wolf,” Brian replied.
“Jesse’s been known to be quite the wolf on occasion from what I’ve heard,” Eric added.
“I don’t even take offense to that,” Jesse conceded.
“Moving out!” Dave Forester interrupted. “We should press on. When starting a long journey, it’s best not to begin with delays.”

Brian leaned to Douglas’ ear.

“Is Dave Forrester leading the expedition?” He asked.
“I don’t know. From all I’ve heard, he’s an excellent guide,” Douglas replied, “so on matters of travel and navigation, he’s probably a good choice to listen to. Do you know him well?”
“I see him more often than I see the rest of you, but we’ve discussed little more than the weather or where I’d spotted some boar to hunt,” Brian answered, starting to walk down the path. “You?”
“About the same, but something tells me we’ll all know each other much better before this expedition is over,” Douglas replied.

Interlude 4: On the Road
Getting to know one another

It was ten hours into their journey, the sun getting lower in the sky. Passing alongside a sparse wooded area was Dave Forrester, Brian Shepherd, Doug Smith, Jason Brewer, and Jesse Cook; in that order. From the south, Eric Bowman came galloping up the path toward them. He drew to a halt in front of Dave and shook his head.

“Alright, who needs the rest?!” Dave called to those behind him.

No one answered, either because they didn’t or because they didn’t want to admit it.

“We’re camping here,” he said, veering off toward a clearing near some oaks to the right of the path.
“Thank gods,” Jesse Cook said. “Why did you ask if you were going to stop anyway?”
“I just wanted to know for next time, in case we’re ever in a fix where we really need to press on, who’ll be the one slowing us down,” Dave explained as he walked.
“Give Jesse a break, Dave. He has to bear the weight of all those lonely hearts he left behind,” Doug joked.
“For coming to my defense,” Jesse said, “I’ll keep away from your younger sister.”
“Really?” Doug asked hopefully.
“No,” Jesse admitted.
“Jesse!” Eric called, riding up to him.

He threw a heavy wild turkey at his feet. It had a broken arrow jutting from its breast.

“I saw it sitting in a tree when I rode up ahead,” Eric explained. “They’re dumb as rocks. I didn’t even need to dismount. The arrow broke in the fall.”
“Perfect,” Jesse said, picking it up. “They’re greasy. I’ll use it for stew.”

Everyone found a place for their gear. In Inger fashion, they all found their jobs and got to work on them. Jesse and Brian foraged for fixings for Jesse’s stew. Dave built a lean-to and Eric got the fire pit started. Doug and Jason collected enough firewood to last what would be a cold night.
The sun was setting as dinner was scooped into each person’s tin bowl or wooden plate.

“Are these carrots?” Dave asked, nearing the end of his plate.
“Yup. Brought some from Inger,” Jesse answered. “They won’t last but a few days, so I figured we’d best use ‘em now.”
“What’s this on the flat bread?” Doug asked, biting off a piece with a snap.
“Brian found some marionberries,” Jesse replied. “I just smashed them into a poor man’s jam.”
“I’ve never eaten this well on the road,” Eric said.
“Half of that bird you gave me was fat and gristle,” Jesse explained. “Tasty, but you’ll have the trots later if you don’t eat some bread with it.”
“On that note,” Jason interrupted, “let’s bring the mood up a bit.”

He leaned to the side and picked up a small bottle with a stopper.

“This is something I call Cailean’s Bite,” he said, holding it up and removing the stopper.

He took a good swig, made an ‘ahhh’ sound, and then smiled wide. He passed it to Doug. Doug sniffed it and winced. Then he shrugged and tossed back a swig. He doubled forward coughing almost as soon as it hit the back of his throat, Jesse’s quick hand catching Doug’s dinner bowl at the last moment. The fit ended after another half dozen coughs and two deep breaths.

“Smooth, right?” Jason said.
“Oh, yes. It’s like a warm mint tea on a spring morning,” Doug said with a raspy voice, before passing the bottle to Jesse.

The pattern continued around the fire; a drink, a suppressed coughing fit, pass it on. Eric was the last victim, and the last to recover.

“How much of this do you have?” Eric said, handing the bottle back to Jason.
“Just this,” Jason answered. “It’s a devil to make.”
“And to drink,” Dave added.
Jason took another swig and smiled again.
“Another round?” He asked, offering it to Doug again.

It made another two and one-half orbits before it was empty. The last of the stew was eaten and then everyone began unrolling their beds strategically around the fire.

“We’ll need to start getting in the habit of keeping someone on night watch at all times,” Dave announced. “We’ll have to do it in Rostland, and if we get in the habit now, there’ll be less chance of anyone dozing off at the wrong time later. Five two-hour shifts, we can take turns on who gets to sleep all the way through, but you have to start breakfast. I’ll take first watch.”
“I’ll take the last watch,” Eric volunteered quickly.
“Why do I get the feeling the shifts in the middle are the least desirable?” Doug asked. “I’ll take the second.”
“I’ll do the next,” Brian said.
Jesse looked over at Jason, who was either already asleep or was pretending to be.
“Well….I guess I’m number four,” Jesse said, shrugging.

Interlude 5: Further Down the Road
The journey to Restov gets tense

It had been a difficult journey, just over two weeks on the road. The Inger expedition began to set up what they hoped to be their last site before finally reaching Restov.

“I don’t suppose we have any meat for tonight’s supper,” Dave grumbled.
“You’re the hunter. You tell me,” Jesse snapped back. Bring me a bird or rabbit and I’ll cook it up. Otherwise, we eat what we have…which isn’t much.”
“I think I chipped a tooth on the flatbread last night,” Eric complained.
“We’re almost to Restov,” Doug said, throwing down a large pile of wood. “I’ve about had my limit of wandering in cold snow trying to find dry wood.”
“Well, you haven’t been good for much else so far,” Jesse commented.
“Okay, I think we’re all a bit tired,” Brian said.
“Maybe it’s something we ate,” Dave replied, “or won’t be eating.”
“If you think you can do better, you’re welcome to try,” Jesse said, walking away from the fire.
“The journey’s been hard on everyone,” Brian stated.
“Not as hard as Jesse’s flatbread lately!” Eric said loudly. “Of course you’re not complaining. Those tusks can probably bite through anything.”
“What would we have done on this trip if we hadn’t had our shepherd?” Jason added. “Pardon me, not that the blacksmith hasn’t been just irreplaceable, what with his specialized ability to carry wood.”
“That’s a fair sight better than your contribution of drinking for the first week. You didn’t even tell anyone you’d had Eric carrying those kegs on his horse,” Doug snapped back.
“They were small kegs,” Jason said, “and Eric knew.”
“You told me those were for trade along the road,” Eric said. “I didn’t know you’d been drinking off of them.”
“Well, we haven’t run into but one trading caravan,” Jason complained, “and they didn’t part with but a cup full of flour. So, what does it matter?”
“If we’re to be guarding one another’s backs in the weeks to come, it matters. We’ll need trust, and trust comes from honesty,” Dave lectured.
“Well, honestly, if we’re Inger’s last hope,” Jesse said, walking back to the fire, “Inger’s finished.”
“I don’t think we have to reach that conclusion yet,” Brian replied, “but I agree that we have so far lacked the leadership on this expedition that could…”
“What the hell does that mean?!” Dave interrupted. “We’re nearly to Restov. We’ve skirted trouble along the way. We’re all here and a day away. I’m the guide, and I’ve done my job quite well as I see it.”
“Is that really all you fancy yourself?” Brian asked.
“You have somewhat portrayed yourself as the man in charge since we left,” Doug added.
“That’s true,” Jason agreed.
“I was only trying to keep us safe on a dangerous journey,” Dave said with some defiance..
“But are you best suited for that?” Eric inquired. “Some of us have seen a great deal of combat, beyond just wolves and boar.”
“I don’t recall this being described as a military expedition,” Brian retorted.
“It’s surprising that you recall anything about this expedition, given that you spend so little time in town with the rest of us,” Jason said dismissively.
“Don’t mind him, Brian.” Jesse said. “He’s grouchy because he’s drying out for the first time in the last year.”
“Speaking of dry,” Eric began, “the flatbread…”
“Good gods!” Doug yelled. “This arguing is getting us nowhere, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. May I offer a truce for all of us?”

Everyone nodded, though tentatively.

“Tomorrow we’re in Restov. Can we just let all of these arguments go until we get there?” Douglas suggested. “We’re all hungry, no fault of Jesse, and we’re all exhausted from a two-week winter trek. So, until we get to Restov; Dave will direct us on our journey, Jesse will cook, and I’ll carry the wood. It’s gotten us this far. Once we’re at Restov, all of that can drop away. We don’t know how long we’ll be there before we get our charter from the mayor. It could take days. That gives us plenty of time to have discussions on good nights’ sleep and with full bellies, and all of our concerns can be discussed again. Some of you are new to Ingervale, others longer. I’ve lived there my whole life. But we’re all Ingers. We’ve been given a job to do. By damned, we’re going to finish that job. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded again, but without pause or doubt.

Waiting in Restov
Receive charter to explore the Greenbelt

Calistril 16th-23rd 4710 AR (Winter)

Spend a week in Restov waiting for an audience with Lord Mayor Ioseph Sellemius. He grants each of the Inger volunteers a charter to create a detailed map of the Greenbelt in anticipation of settling the wilderness. Additional rewards will be granted for reducing the bandit activity in the region.

The party is housed in the Swaddled Otter Inn. The Restov residents seem more concerned with appearances and posturing than hard work (from the Inger perspective). The Sword Lords have a proud history of sword mastery and chafe under their Brevic rulers.

Interlude 6: A Useful Bandit
A formerly repentant bandit learns how far Ingers go to get the job done

Douglas Smith sat on a stump just outside Oleg’s Trading Post. It was good weather, sunny with a cool breeze from the north. He was studying the cold-forged iron longsword he’d acquired in the forest. He’d smithed his whole life, and while he’d smithed many small and crude items without the softening of heat, he’d never seen anything with such craftsmanship forged from such a process. He couldn’t even imagine the quality of tools that would be necessary.

He stood and swept the blade through the air a number of times, practicing the moves taught to him by visiting Swordlords in barter as he’d grown up. Though he’d swung a sword less often than a hammer, he’d incorporated many of their techniques into his fighting with his hammer; and so far, that training had served him well. He swung overhead once then a sharp forward thrust and a spin to his left.

“I think you got him!” He heard a voice yell from his side.

He turned to see Eric Bowman riding his horse slowly toward him. A rope was wrapped around the horn of his saddle, the other end tied to the bound hands of a man who walked behind him.

“I thought you were after pheasant!” Doug called back, sheathing his sword. “Who’s this?!”

Eric rode closer before answering. “You don’t recognize him?” He asked.

Doug looked at the man more closely, until realization flashed in his eyes. “Yes,” he answered finally. “He’s one of the bandits we let go.”

“We told you not to come back,” Doug said, swaggering closer to the man. “Weren’t we clear?”

The man didn’t answer.

“What should we do with him?” Eric asked.

“I’ll take him from you,” Doug said, and Eric handed him the end of the rope from his saddle horn. “Everyone else is out. Was he armed?”

“This.” Eric said, pulling a short sword from his saddle bag and handing it to Doug. “You want me to help you watch him or get him secured until the others get back?”

“You do what you need to,” Doug replied. “I have him.”

“I’ll be back soon,” Eric said. “We need to finish up that plan.”

“I know,” Doug agreed. “Happy hunting.”

Eric nodded then turned his horse and trotted away.

“Well, I guess you’re my company for awhile,” Doug said to the prisoner. “Come on inside.”

The man glared at him a moment, but Doug just walked forward with the rope, strong enough to tug the man along easily. He took him to a back corner of the stable, tied his rope to a beam and pushed him down to sit on a woodpile.

“Get comfortable. I suppose I can wait to deal with you until the others get back,” Doug said, looking around for something to sit on.

The man rolled his eyes and looked around.

“Sorry if I’m boring you,” Doug replied in mock apology. “Don’t blame me. You’re the one that decided to come back.”

The man almost spoke, but held his tongue.

“What? Almost an answer?” Doug added. “Now you’ve made me more curious than patient. Why did you come back? Going back to the Stag Lord? That’d be new. Seems like most of you have been itching to get away from him. You hoping for a promotion, get your old boss’s job?”

No response.

“You might want to consider loosening that tongue,” Doug told him. “I’m a patient man, but not all of my allies can say the same.”

“I’m going to save us both some time,” the man suddenly spat out. “I have nothing to say to any of you, and no threat you make will change that.”

Doug studied that man’s face and demeanor. It didn’t seem to be bluster. The man was truly not concerned for his situation. Doug scratched his beard and began pacing slowly around the prison. He took a deep breath before speaking again.

“You know what? I believe you,” Doug said, nodding. “I do. You don’t seem a bit concerned for your safety. So, I’ll forego any threats. The question is ‘why’? Why aren’t you scared? I don’t remember you being this brave the first time around. Is this a trap? Possible, but I don’t think so. So, what’s changed in you? What exactly have you been doing the last few months?”

The man cocked his head to glare again as Doug circled round his left side.

“Come on,” Doug encouraged. “Certainly no harm in answering that is there? Where did you go after we kicked you out of the area? East? West? North? To Restov?”

“Ingervale,” the man said mockingly.

Doug stopped a moment then continued pacing again. “Ingervale?” He asked rhetorically. “I don’t think so. Still, the fact you bring it up is telling. It’s Restov. That’s where you’ve been. You’ve been asking about us, haven’t you?”

The man gave a dirty smile, though more to himself.

“I think I see where this is going,” Doug said. “What did you learn? Did you learn that we’re not some mercenary or military expedition? That’s true. Did you learn that we’re just peasants, tradesmen; settlers looking for land? That’s true too.”

They made solid eye contact, which Doug took as an acknowledgment that they were in agreement.

“Yes, it’s all true,” Doug nodded, pacing a circle a little faster. “But perhaps you should have stayed a little longer, asked some more questions.”

This time, the man had a questioning look in his stare, a crack in his confidence.

“You see, there’s only one thing that matters to an Inger, getting a job done,” Doug said, slapping a post for emphasis. “That’s why we’re here, you know. We’re being kicked out of our home in the current Ingervale. The six of us have been given the job of carving out this section of the Greenbelt for Ingervale to settle again, and we intend to get that job done. Do you understand how this changes your situation?”

The man’s brow sloped, showing further concern, understanding only slowly creeping in.

“Let me spell it out for you,” Doug said, by now walking at a fair pace, circling the prisoner. “When we arrived, we needed a safe place to base our operation, a place for shelter and food. That was Oleg’s. You and your lot, however, were plaguing Oleg. So, we had to put a stop to that…which we did. We then let the survivors go. Did you not think we had a purpose for that as well, a means to our end? We wanted you to carry the word that this area was protected.”

Finally, his face showed some understanding…and fear. He whipped his head hard to the right to watch Doug’s movements.

“Now,” Doug continued, “it’s a different situation. You have an impression of us, that we’re soft…and that is an impression that we can’t have spread around the land.”

“I…I understand now,” the man said, calming himself. “I’ve made my mistake and I won’t make it again.”

“You certainly won’t,” Doug replied quickly.

The man twisted his body in a sudden contortion to free himself.

“You have one last chance,” Doug said loudly. “Tell me all you know about the Stag Lord. We know of the monthly gatherings and the code words and the amulets. Tell us something else.”

“I can’t,” the man replied, struggling with his own words. “I will carry your message, but I don’t know more about him than you already seem to know. You have to believe me!”

“I do,” Doug replied quietly.

The man’s own shortsword then entered his back and pierced his heart. Death was almost instantaneous. The scream was short. He slumped forward. Doug untied the rope from the post and dragged the body out of the stable. Kestin was just outside the doors.

“I heard a yell,” Kestin said.

“It was him, not me,” Doug replied. “I’m going to ride out and string him up alongside the South Rostland Road, right from that tree at the crossroads…a little warning.”

“So, he’ll still have a use, eh?” Kestin nodded.

“It was the only use he had left,” Doug said, and boosted body up onto a horse.

Interlude 7: Counsel from a Mercenary
The shepherd and smith strategize

Brian washed his plate and cup, his belly full from a dinner of ham hock and sweet potatoes. Doug and Dave were eating on the other side of the fort with Kestin and his men. Doug stood up, nodding to Kestin in understanding. Dave remained seated, talking with his hands in debate. Doug approached Brian with raised eyebrows.

“Trouble with Kestin?” Brian asked.

“No,” Doug replied, “just having my assumptions shattered. We wanted to talk to them about an assault on the Stag Lord. When we heard about Falgrim Sneeg being at his keep, I just assumed Kestin would be onboard with helping us in the assault.”

“They don’t want to help?” Brian asked.

“They want to,” Doug explained. “They can’t. Kestin’s concerned that while we’re there, or if we fail, that the Stag Lord will be back to Oleg’s, and none too friendly.”

“That is true,” Brian admitted.

“It is,” Doug agreed. “That’s why I’m not even arguing the point any longer. They’re guards not hunters. They’re priority is to protect this outpost, ours is to take down a bandit lord. They still want Falgrim Sneeg, obviously. I think we could probably talk Kestin into sending at least one of his men with us, but after his explanation of why they want to stay, he’s convinced me that it’s best that they all stay here and keep Oleg’s safe.”

“What’s Dave over there doing?” Brian asked.

“He’s still trying to convince Kestin,” Doug answered, “but I’m pretty confident he’s not going to make much progress. Kestin’s pretty set. I don’t blame him. Orders are orders. Going with us is a risk.”

“So, without Kestin’s unit, where does that leave us?” Brian asked rhetorically. “We’re outnumbered, in unfamiliar territory, and fighting a mysterious enemy with possible god-like powers.”

“You forgot about the potentially impenetrable fortress,” Doug added.

“How could I forget?” Brian agreed. “A lot of unknowns.”

“Any ideas on how to make some of those ‘knowns’?” Doug asked.

“Maybe we can talk to Jhod at the temple to Erastil in the forest. That temple seemed too close to the description of the Stag Lord to be complete coincidence. Maybe he even knows something about that haunt at Nettles Crossing. I have an idea how that might help us against the Stag Lord.”

“Alright,” Doug nodded. “Why don’t we take off after breakfast tomorrow and ride with some haste. I don’t think I have anything else to add to any plans of attack just yet. My last idea wasn’t too well received.”

“You have to admit…” Brian began.

“Okay. Let’s just drop it,” Doug interrupted. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Interlude 8: Counsel from a Priest
The shepherd and smith seek wisdom of Jhod

Two days from Oleg’s Brian Shepherd and Doug Smith arrive at the Temple of the Elk. As they neared the temple, Jhod could be seen chopping firewood next to the temple’s entrance.

“Jhod!” Brian called out.

Jhod waved back and settled his axe hard into an uncut stump. Then he dusted his hands on his shirt as he approached them.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Jhod asked.

“We’re seeking counsel from a priest of Erastil,” Brian answered.

“Well then, you’re in the right place,” Jhod replied with a smile. “Please, rest yourselves. Sit down next to Erastil’s soothing waters.”

They did sit, Doug making a bit of a ruckus as his armor-burdened frame hit the ground. He pulled open a large sack he’d had knotted around his belt. From inside, he pulled a small package wrapped in burlap and a small keg.

“We brought you some of Svetlana’s breakfast biscuits and some ale, in case you’ve missed it,” Doug said, handing him both items.

Jhod laughed. “I’ve never considered myself a big drinker, but it will be nice to know it’s here should the urge strike me,” he said. “Thank you both. I’m afraid I have very little to offer in return, but you said you were in need of counsel.”

“Yes,” Brian said, “and that will more than repay us. We have been given a charge to dispatch the Stag Lord, who appears to orchestrate much of the banditry in this region.”

“Oh my,” Jhod said with concern. “Yes, I’ve heard of him. I…I mean I have the highest confidence in your success, of course.”

“Of course,” Doug added flatly.

“How could I possibly help you with such a task?” Jhod asked.

“We have scant information about the Stag Lord, but what we do have seems to point toward a connection between Erastil and the Stag Lord. The descriptions we’ve received of him have all mentioned him having a large set of antlers, much like those etched up there,” Brian said, gesturing toward the large carved antlers that adorned the temple.

“Hm, yes, I see your point. It is a fair question, but I fear my answer will not be much help. Erastil is a god of farming, hunting, commerce, and family. He would not willingly condone such activities as banditry and murder. If there is a connection between Erastil and the Stag Lord, it is a corrupt relationship.”

“Are there any weaknesses or enemies of Erastil?” Doug inquired. “Or are there any weaknesses of his enemies? We’re trying to find anything that might translate to a practical advantage for us in a fight.”

“I’m sorry,” Jhod replied, shaking his head. “Nothing comes to mind that would have any application you could exploit. This Stag Lord is already committing the most grave attacks on Erastil’s ideology.”

“Hmm,” Brian pondered, rubbing two fingers around the tip of his left tusk. “Could we ask you some more general questions, nothing about Erastil particularly?”

“Of course,” Jhod nodded.

“Have you heard of Nettles Crossing?” Brian asked.

“No,” Jhod answered. “Forgive me, but my dreams drew me to this region and I am not yet familiar with all within it.”

“Well, maybe you can still help,” Brian explained. “It appears to be haunted. A spirit there demands the body of the Stag Lord.”

“Ah, well, it is not uncommon for spirits to cling to this world in order to seek revenge for some past transgression,” Jhod explained.

“Would such a spirit be chained to a particular place?” Brian inquired further.

“That is typical, yes,” Jhod replied. “They will haunt the location the event occurred or where their body lies, if they were never put to rest properly. You might talk to Oleg about the particulars of Nettles Crossing. He’s lived in the area many years.”

“Of course,” Brian responded. “We should have thought of doing that before we left.”

“Since we’re here,” Doug interjected, “Do you have time for a few more questions?”

“Please don’t hesitate, my friend,” Jhod replied.

“Thank you, father,” Doug responded. “Have you had an opportunity to examine the statue we told you about last month?”

“I have not,” Jhod said apologetically. “I’ve just had so much to do cleaning up around here, but I hope to soon. From your description, I believe it is a statue to Erastil. I would have to meditate at the location for some time to be certain. The Greenbelt was first settled hundreds of years ago, so it is not unreasonable that it might be a remnant of some bygone civilization for the region.”

“I understand,” Doug replied. “We also happened upon a small burial mound to the northwest. Brian believes it dates back to the Tiger Lords of long ago. Is there any chance that it has anything to do with Erastil…and by extension any corrupt relationship with the Stag Lord?”

“Oh, I highly doubt it,” Jhod answered. “The Tiger Lords are named after tigers that used to live in this region. I have never heard that they have any relation to Erastil.”

“Thank you again, and just one last thing,” Doug said. “We ran across a starving warg very close to Oleg’s; plus our horses were attacked by wolves on another occasion, and we ran across quite a lot of wolf tracks down south. Is it possible this has anything to do with the Stag Lord?”

“Well, now this is interesting,” Jhod replied. “Wargs are no strangers to this land; so, by itself, your encounter may not be significant. However, if this Stag Lord does indeed have some sort of corrupt relationship with Erastil, it’s possible that he has somehow bent these beasts to his will.”

“Great,” Doug replied flatly.

“Jhod, thank you again,” Brian said. “We would stay, but we can probably still get in a half-day’s ride and we mean to make it to Nettles Crossing on this journey.”

“Of course,” Jhod replied. “I understand. I wish you both a safe journey, and remember that I am here should you need any injuries dealt with.”

Interlude 9: Counsel from a ghost?
Gathering dust from the Greenbelt trails... and little else

Four of days from the temple, having visited Nettles Crossing, and now with Oleg’s Trading Post visible in the distance; Doug and Brian rode in silence at a brisk pace.

“You know, I’m just going to be the one to say it,” Doug burst out suddenly.

“Say it,” Brian insisted.

“This was a wasted journey,” Doug said.

“Yes, it was, but we wouldn’t know that if we hadn’t gone,” Brian explained.

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” Doug agreed. “We can still detour to the Tiger Lord mound.”

“Do you really think we’ll find anything more than we found the first time?” Brian asked.

“Nope, and I don’t relish the idea of grave robbing,” Doug added. “Still, ‘nothing’ would be about the same as we learned from that days-long journey to Nettles Crossing.”

“There it is,” Brian responded. “Okay, I admit, that one’s on me. I thought it was worth a shot, thought he might actually answer a question…since we’re trying to bring him the Stag Lord’s body, exactly the thing he wants.”

“Well, he’s a ghost. What can we expect?” Doug asked rhetorically.

“I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts,” Brian said.

“I didn’t,” Doug said, “until I saw one come out of the water and talk to me. I’m skeptical, not in denial.”

Hours later, Doug was stabling the horses from their journey. Brian was off picking them both up something hot and fresh to eat. As Doug exited the stable, he bumped into Brian at the doorway. Brian was holding two mugs and two plates of stew stacked atop one another. Doug took a mug and plate.

“I talked to Oleg while I was scaring this up…about Nettles Crossing,” Brian said with some excitement. “A man named Davik Nettles used to run it until he and it were burned to ash. Rumor had it that he’d defied the Stag Lord. Oleg even said that Nettles used to visit the post from time to time and he travelled with three noisy hounds.”

“I don’t see how this helps us,” Doug replied.

“I…don’t either,” Brian said, “but at least it answers some questions.”

“So, not only did we learn nothing helpful in this trip; but also, the only truly interesting information we could have gotten by just staying put and asking Oleg,” Doug declared.

“You’re father once told me that a destination is only half as important as the journey,” Brian said.

“My father would not have said that,” Doug replied.

“You’re right,” Brian admitted. “I gave it a shot. Let’s eat.”


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