The training of the Threshold Ranger-Knights was going well. The men drank in the lessons I could teach as parched ground takes in the early rains of fall. As I learned each man’s personality and skill, they each learned how to trust one another and work as a team AND as “lone wolves.”
While Gryff held and continued his legendary celebrations the locals were calling Gryffinfest I would take the lads out for a hand of days at a time, hunting, camping, teaching and scouting the lands around Threshold. After, we would return to town with wild game, wild boar, wild onions, potatoes and herbs to help feed the throngs of revelers.
As for myself, I drank in the good cheer rather than the good drink, I wanted to remember always the smiles, fellowship and good natured pats on the back. When out of town I let the smell of evergreens in the chill breeze wash over me as a balm, the song of birds and rustling branches sooth my mind, the feel of natural spring-fed streams refresh my soul and I was thankful to Erastil for all of this. I was ravenous for these familiar sights and sounds as I felt in the back of my mind that I would again soon feel the hands of the gods tug at the leash and the Shadowguard would find itself fighting, alone in some dark corner of the earth against things best left unspoken of. With an inward chuckle I thought to myself, “How did the world go on prior to us putting our lives on the line to save it?” and the slightest smile came to my face at my own dark joke.
On our third excursion away from town, I wanted to take the Ranger-Knights far north then east into the deep wilds in a great loop before returning to Threshold. Three days out I spied something on the road ahead in the distance that boded ill. Motioning Davan, Joop and Karl into the tall grasses we approached an ambush sight. Teaching my charges a patience I myself do not always feel, we took our time before stepping into the open and examining the scene. It was easy tracking a path where bodies and goods were dragged off the road to a lonely copse of trees. Spotting a figure standing at the treeline I split us into two groups and we slowly approached from either side. It turned out the figure was a woman who would never again feel pain in this life as she was already dead, pinned upright to a tree by a black wooded spear of the Norven people. In the nearby foliage more bodies would be found, dumped without care, left for the wilds to claim.
The woman seemed to be a mage of some sort and the comparison came unbidden to my mind that, like my mother, her magics could not save her from determined men with blade in hand and hatred in their hearts. It also crossed my mind that here, was yet another practitioner of magic drawn to this land in recent weeks by some unknown call.
Almost at once we found more tracks leading away from the site as overconfidence had led the attackers to take no effort to hide them. Within a few hours, as the sun was setting, casting the sky in orange and blood red hues we came upon the camp, guards posted and tents of animal skins and canvas to hold roughly thirty men. Burning recognition warmed my blood to a boil as I could confirm that they were in fact, the Scange and their leader, Hrothgar who, a month earlier aided the foul Mendel the Merchant in capturing, enslaving and scattering the Shadowguard. An act for which he would pay with his life. Looking again to the sky, I took it as a sign that blood would flow before the sun would rise again and Thalin called Madwolf would once again prowl the night.
Again, we waited, as we planned, getting familiar the rhythm of the camp and the changing of the guards. Three sets of eyes looked to me for leadership and although it is not something I seek, neither would I shirk the responsibility.
Instructions were given and we surrounded the camp and removed two of the guards allowing myself to approach the camp unseen. The position of the moon and stars told me it was almost midnight as I came to the first tent. Smelling the area with the supernaturally accurate scent granted me by my Wolf Spirit Cowl, I could tell exactly the location of the nearest man within the small tent though he was unseen. As I put an arrow to my trusted Stalker’s Bow I worried about what lessons I was teaching my young Ranger-Knights. The lessons they learned now would stay with them the rest of their lives. Did I want to rise up a troop of protectors or murderers? Remembering the abused woman speared to the tree, the feel of iron chains on my own wrists and not knowing the fate of my companions Rose and Grunkh steeled my resolve. It would be at the hands of rough men in the wilds, away from hearth and home that Threshold would be protected.
And so, going from tent to tent in the dead of night, silent as the grave, I put arrow after arrow into the sleeping raiders of the North until all but the leader Hrothgar were dead without sound. Were I to kill him as well I would still sleep with the peace of a babe knowing this land was that much safer. Although I wanted to ask him many questions, I knew that such things needed to be asked with a subtle expertise that I lacked but my companion Ryn had in spades. I would then take him alive.
Knocking conscious thought from the sleeping man with my elven light blades, I then removed all but loincloth from the man and bound him with rope and canvas. We then gathered what valuables could be found in the camp and proceeded along the Old Road back to Threshold. Let others decide what is to be done with these stolen treasures and the ultimate fate of Hrothgar, I wanted answers and to get back to the warmth of my adopted home.