IC Thread 1: Ch. 1, Stolen Land
16:00, Oathday, 31 Pharast, 4710 AR, Age of Lost Omens
South Rostland Road, near the southern border of Brevoy, approaching Oleg's Trading Post
Since leaving Restov, you've spent the last week on the road. You have not known each other for very long, your only common ground being your selection for exploring the Greenbelt, a region of the notorious Stolen Lands, under a royal charter issued by the Swordlords of Restov.
Travel has been far from comfortable. Two of you can sit at the driver's bench on the sturdy wagon you purchased with your pooled remaining wealth, the other two sitting on boxes, chests, and assorted makeshift seating in the back of the wagon with your traveling supplies. While you have encountered no danger on the South Rostland Road, the plains have offered little in the way of shelter, and the dank wetness of early spring makes for clammy mornings, brisk afternoons, and cold nights. On the third day of travel a lightning storm delayed progress as you sought shelter in what few trees were to be found. Everything had just started to finally dry out when, on this last day of travel before you reach Oleg's Trading Post, a steady rain began.
Your two loyal mules plod through the mud resolutely, but you are all soaked to the bone. Your important possessions that must remain dry are safe enough in their protective cases or oil-lined sacks, but there is only so much your traveling cloaks can do for you. The afternoon is gray, cold, and unpleasant.
Finally, emerging from the rainy haze perhaps a quarter mile down the road, you can see a sizable wooden palisade, with stout 20 foot tall square towers at each corner. This must be Oleg's Trading Post, a repurposed fort that marks the most extreme borders of civilized territory. South and West of this area begins the Greenbelt, split roughly in half by a large forest known as the Narlmarches, and a rugged sprawl of hills known as the Kamelands. Although modern maps are outdated, a large body of water called the Tuskwater serves as a nexus for most of the major rivers and streams in the area, most notably the Shrike River.
What few travelers you've met on the road (mostly trappers, hunters, and rangers) have told you about Oleg's establishment. Apparently a rather surly man, Oleg lives with his pretty wife Svetlana in near-total isolation. Some of these travelers have mentioned that Oleg has been having trouble with bandits in the lawless region. As you get nearer to the palisade, you see the soaked shapes of four catapults, one on each of the corner towers, each in a state of disrepair. The gate leading inside the fort is open, although there doesn't appear to be much activity inside, save for a plume of smoke rising from a chimney.
Aleksandra Valyreth, Dilletante Swordswoman
Castile sits up by the driver, crossbow on his lap. He keeps the weapon dry with his cloak as best he can, but its largely a futile effort.
He doesn't speak, nor does he acknowledge anyone else speaking unless its to him directly. The rain doesn't seem to change his stern countenance or mood at all, he just keeps scanning the road for trouble.
This has been his way for the last week. He says what he needs to, and nothing more; but is always there when there is work to be done. He doesn't rest at night until camp is set and the animals cared for. After the evening meal he spends about an hour off at the edge of camp either in prayer or reading from the Acts of Iomedae.
He is an early riser, up before the end of the last watch.
Anyone who complains to him about the weather or ride gets a disapproving look.
Sergei spends much of his time driving the cart, as his companions do not seem particularly well-versed in handling work animals. The weather has acted against the foundling group for days, putting him in a grumbling mood.
During the periods of respite from the awful weather, Sergei stretches his legs by hunting, but never going more than a mile or so from the road. Although the northern road is likely safe, there's no sense in jeopardizing everyone with a foolish solo encounter with trouble. While at the wagon sharing meals with his companions, he does his best to speak with them and learn what he can about each person. They seem a motley group of magical and martial folk, and he knew from experience that the best chances of surviving against opposition is to know your own strengths and weaknesses. He observed his companions keenly.
As the wagon approached Oleg's Trading Post, Sergei listened to Tallamor's words and thought of his own tragic history with banditry. "Tallamor is correct. We must be cautious, unlike the trader. He stays within high walls but leaves his gate open to all. That is an invitation to disaster. Remain wary, friends."
Sergei places his longbow next to him within easy reach.
Aleksandra Valyreth, Dilletante Swordswoman
Your wagon passes unchallenged into the muddy courtyard of the fort. There are a number of simple wooden buildings within: a stable, a storage shed, and two log cabins, one smaller, one larger and equipped with a stone chimney. Between the two cabins are two long wooden tables with a pair of benches each, all of them sodden from the rain. As you pull up the wagon in the middle of the yard, you hear the pounding of a hammer. Up above, on the roof of the larger cabin, is a man in a wet cloak, hammering away at the shingles, his breath coming up in poofs of steam. He doesn't seem to notice you.
Before you can say anything, or even begin to unhitch the wagon, a woman steps out of the larger log cabin, dressed in a long hooded cloak. She comes up to you, her face beaming beneath the hood. She is a pretty woman, in her late twenties or early thirties.
"Hello! Hello! Welcome to Oleg's! Come inside out of the rain, would you? My husband will get your mules into the stables, nice and dry. My name is Svetlana, Oleg's wife. Please, do come in!"
In the face of such energetic hospitality, you follow the woman into the larger of the two log cabins. Inside it is dry and toasty warm. The cabin is furnished with rustic decor, simple, but of decent craftsmanship. Svetlana hangs up her cloak, and offers to take your sopping cloaks as well, hanging them on a rack near a crackling fireplace. She pulls up some stools near the hearth, and bids you sit.
"There, let's get you dried up. Such dreadful weather! I've got dinner almost ready, and I even opened up a bottle of wine when I heard you were coming!"
The woman scurries about, clearly happy you've come. Just as she returns with some glasses and the bottle of wine, the front door opens, letting in a gust of cold wind. Removing his soaked cloak, you see a stout, grizzled-looking man with an impressive square jaw and beady eyes. This must be Oleg, owner of the trading post. Wiping sweat from his brow, he looks at you coldly. Stepping nearer the fire, he says, "You must be the lot from Restov."
His wife cuts in.
"Yes of course they are! They're here to help us with the bandits!"
She looks at you excitedly.
Castile will sit near a fire and begin caring for his soaked gear and armor.
"Thank you, madam. What can you tell us of these bandits?"
Svetlana seems to breath a sigh of relief. Oleg gives a grunt and a nod, and turns to walk away towards a room further down the entry hall. Svetlana pours a glass of wine for each of you, and begins speaking.
"The bandits first arrived three months ago. Right around new year's, it was, in the bitter cold. There were a dozen of them, a bunch of evil-looking goons. There were two leaders: a man in a cloak armed with a bow, and a woman with two axes or hatchets. The first time they came, they threatened to burn the trading post down if we didn't turn over all our furs and trading stock. We were outnumbered, so… we let them rob us."
She casts her eyes down, clearly disturbed at the memory.
"They've been back twice since then. They come in the morning, on the first of each month. Each time they came back, there were fewer of them. The second time, it was just the cloaked man with the bow and six of his underlings. The last time, it was him and four of his men."
Oleg reenters the room, carrying a platter. A thick loaf of hot brown bread has been cut into slices, with fresh-churned butter, and a bowl of hearty beef-and-barely stew for each of you (and himself and his wife). He seems to have warmed up to you slightly, now that it's apparent you mean to help them with their bandit problem. He picks up where his wife left off, his voice gruff and gravely.
"We think they're getting lazy. They probably figure we've all but caved in by now. They expect us to have our 'tribute' or 'taxes' or whatever they deign to call it ready when they arrive. Always show up on horseback, they do, and always seem eager to get back to wherever it is they come from. That lady with the axes… she was easily the scariest of the lot. Nearly took off me right hand with one of her hatchets! Then, she took Svetlana's wedding ring right off her finger! Said it was 'payment for not shortening my reach.'"
Oleg's hands curl up into white-knuckled fists.
"Curs, all of 'em! Bastards! They think they can just walk up and bully us into submission! I won't stand for it, you hear!?"
Svetlana places a hand on Oleg's shoulder. His face has turned beet-red with anger, but his wife's touch seems to soothe him. She looks to you pleadingly.
"Please, if you have any kindness in your hearts, or any sense of justice, help us drive these bandits away. They're due to arrive tomorrow morning, usually an hour after sunrise. We'll help you any way we can!"
"Thank you, we will let you know if there is anything you can do."
Castile will calmly go back to tending to his gear. Once the innkeepers are out of ear shot he says in a low voice. "I do not lead this group, but clearly these bandits should be our first order of business. Better, they seem to be willing to come to us. That seems preferable to hunting them in the rain on their ground. We should take whomever leads them alive, and use him to find the woman with the axes."
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