A hazy orange sun shined down through the trees, nearly finished burning off the morning mist. David Forester was checking one of the snare traps he kept set along the forest routes he traveled in his station as Marshall of Ingerland. When he didn’t walk the route, his deputies often did. As fortune had it, one trap along his path held a recent catch not yet assailed by other predators. It was a good-sized brown hare, still living. A blow from his ax handle ended its struggles and its life. He detached it and reset the snare. Then with skill that comes from repetition, he bled it out and skinned it in short order. It was the perfect size for a lunch to share with his friend Jhod, who was just another few hours walk through the forest. Dave put the hare into a sack and set out for the Temple of Erastil, Jhod’s home.
As he approached the temple, he could hear laughter. It was loud and it was a man and a woman. The man sounded like Jhod, and it sounded like he’d found himself some good wine or ale. Jhod was known to make his own wine and liquors from pinecones, but he was new at it and his efforts were barely drinkable by anyone but himself. And so weak was its proof of alcohol, it required a lot of drinking of the undrinkable to reach the level of intoxication that David was hearing in Jhod’s voice. The woman’s voice, he did not recognize.
He entered the clearing and, as expected, saw Jhod refilling his cup from a firkin that settled with an empty thump after his pour. He was indeed drunk, barely sitting upright. The woman sitting across from him was either not matching his drinking or could hold her liquor considerably better. She had long brown hair. Her clothes looked well made, but rustic. David raised his hand as he neared them and caught Jhod’s attention.
“David!” Jhod called out, the woman twisting her head around to look. “You’re a day early!”
Dave looked at the woman. She was not a young girl, but certainly not past her prime. She had piercing green eyes, like a reflection of the forest itself. Her skin had been much touched by the sun, but remained smooth and unblemished. Her lips still glistened from the cup she’d just lowered.
“I’ve been taking extra long strides,” Dave replied, opening the bag and lifting out the hare, “and I picked up lunch along the way.”
“Thank, Erastil. I’m famished,” Jhod said, rising unsteadily to his feet, “I’ll get the fire stoked.”
Jhod started walking away. The woman looked from him to Dave, gave a smile and an uncomfortable shrug.
“I suppose we’ll have to introduce one another ourselves. Caspa Morgaria,” she said to Dave, starting to stand.
“Please, please, don’t get up,” Dave said, dropping to a seat on the ground a few feet away from her. “David Forrester. Please to meet you.”
Caspa nodded and smiled.
“I’ve heard of you,” she said. “You’re the Marshall of Ingerland, charged with guarding the frontier from evil and foul intent.”
“That’s a big exaggeration,” Dave explained. “Just who’ told you that?”
“Jason Brewer,” she replied. “He speaks very highly of you.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” Dave continued. “He also drinks quite a bit and his tales get taller as the level in his tankard drops. Speaking of which, just what have you been providing our friend Jhod? He’s usually a lot more polite and, uhm…steady.”
“Some Cheerful Delver Stout from Varn,” she answered, laughing a little.
“You’re from Varn?” Dave asked.
“I am,” she answered. “I am the Ranger Priestess of Erastil there.”
“A ranger priestess of Erastil,” Dave said, glancing back toward Jhod, who was now toddling his way back to them, “I guess that explains how you know Jhod. What does a ranger priestess of Erastil do?”
“Like you, I travel a lot,” Caspa replied. “I observe and inquire, but the matters I deal are of a somewhat more….spiritual nature. I listen to what the people say, what the lands say, what Erastil tells me.”
“I see,” Dave said, nodding his head, “and what have they been telling you lately?”
“That Ingerland is more peaceful right now than Varn,” she replied. “Maybe we need someone like you to keep things under control.”
“Well, I….uhm, I’m not particularly special,” Dave stumbled through, hoping she didn’t see the slight blush he could feel. “That’s the Inger way, you know. We’re not special. We just work harder.”
“So I’ve heard,” she said, getting momentarily lost in thought, “many times.”
“Jason again?” Dave asked with a laugh. “I didn’t realize he was such a zealot about it.”
“Yes, yes, that Jason,” she replied, “always going on and on about Inger values.”
Jhod sat down next to them with a sudden drop to the ground.
“The fire is ready,” he said, reaching for the hare, “I’ll get it on the spit.”
“Are you sure you’re OK to do that?” Dave asked. “Fire, sharp objects, and you right now don’t seem a good mix.”
“Oh!” Jhod exclaimed, finally seeming to realize his state. “Perhaps you should help, yes. Caspa, we’ll be right back.”
“Don’t worry,” Caspa said, standing. “Take your time. I have to be off.”
“So quickly?” Jhod asked.
“I just wanted to stop awhile share some spirits with a good friend, and even made a new one,” she said, looking at Dave. “I have someone I’m meeting nearby. The two of you can enjoy the rest of the brew.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” Dave said, with a slight bow.
“And you,” she said, doing the same. “Jhod, always a pleasure. I might stop by again next month.”
“Please do,” Jhod replied. “Safe journeys.”
“And safe journeys to you,” she said to Dave.
“You too,” he answered.
Jhod and Dave watched her heft her gear and walk out of the clearing, a short wave before she disappeared through the trees.
“Good friend?” Dave asked Jhod.
“Very good,” Jhod replied.
“She’s not….married by any chance is she…or spoken for?” Dave asked.
“No,” Jhod replied with a laugh, but then got quickly serious, “but I don’t believe she’s looking at anyone new right now?”
“OK. Any particular reason?” Dave asked.
“I’d rather not say,” Jhod answered. “Let’s go cook up that hare.”
“It was just a question,” Dave said, somewhat defensively.