On the road again. Well, sort of. There’s no real road to speak of in the wood we’re meaning to push through. Which is why we’re on horseback. We’ll be slow enough in reaching The Bracstone Height, and that’s without my old, slow – but reliable! – mule slowing us down. I much’d rather my sturdy old steed than this one here, but I suppose sacrifices have got to be made, don’t they. I imagine Thistle’ll be well taken care of in my absence. That’s some good at least! There’s a bit of confusion here about where we’re going exactly. Not one of us really knows where to find these elves Symen sent us to locate. Patrius suggests we chop down a tree. I really hope he’s kidding. Symen did mention that a batch of men were hacked up good and dead for doing just that. Aldous just seems impatient about this more than anything. Eventually we seem to settle on traversing the Teralian road for a while up until we’re about halfway to Ketelstun. From there we’ll just deviate from the road and cut through the Smalwood. We have made camp out by the road, but the very next morning, here we are, up and at it once again. Our progress, as we thought it’d be, is sluggish off the road.
It’s around noontide that something interrupts our outing. Growling. Distressed growling. None of us take our chances, though, and we’re readying our weapons, half expecting some manner of gnarly beast to charge us. What comes barreling out of the undergrowth catches me by surprise. To be fair, the creature is a beast. And it is gnarly. But it’s a bear. Not quite what we were expecting. By the look of it, there are two of them. Save the first is horrific. The thing’s sopping in blood, completely covered in arrows! It’s immediately clear to me that we’re to help this animal. Patrius is on the same page as me, I think, because he soon is meaning to feed the bear. Aldous, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be too concerned – which is occuring to me as his usual regard for anyone or anything excluding himself. As the bear feeds, I take this chance to relieve it of the arrows stippled on its pelt. In turn, Patrius keeps the animal calm enough for me to accomplish this. We make a decent enough team with our combined efforts.
I don’t at first notice Aldous slipping away in the direction of the bears’ entrance, but after Patrius calls for him, Aldous summons us. He claims to have found the hunter. That was quick! Joining him, we discover a gruesome sight. The grove is battered and spattered with blood. And there’s a rather mangled looking person on the ground in the midst of it all, her throat and face mutilated. Gross. The sight is enough to make my stomach reel! Patrius says there are four others, and that apparently they retreated in the direction we’re heading. Lucky for us! As Patrius goes about robbing this corpse – looting, what have you, the rest of us resign ourselves to simply leveling disapproving looks on him. Nonetheless, we decide to continue on with our journey. Naturally, we should return to our horses to find that the pair of bears we’d just gone out of our way to tend are going out of theirs to continue being tended to. Just what we need! They’ve nicked a good deal of our rations, but I imagine we returned before any real damage could have been done – to our staples and our mounts alike. Leaving the bears to their final parting gift, we resume our trek to Bracstone.
For the second time during the course of our trip, around sundown, we’re startled with noisy clamoring. Save this one is not comprised of any injured bear howls. These sounds are that of combat! What in the world have we wandered into this time. As we assume a position that allows for us to take in an adequate view of the activity, we can see that this brawl is between elves and humans. And what a bloody affair this is!
These surely are the elves we were meant to find. But I wish we could have encountered them on more agreeable terms.
As he is wont to do, the bullheaded Patrius is the first to charge into this battle. Without asking questions, he plows into the nearest human he can find. I am at a loss for words! At once he is stuck with arrows. He really had this coming to him. As we have chosen our side in this fight that hardly concerns us, Aldous and I too engage these men in combat. I sure do hope they are bandits or something because we really don’t know who or what we’re meddling with. The fight wages. Aldous manages to hilt a throwing dagger into the throat of some poor wretch. And, as a reward to Patrius’ attempt at rescuing the stranded elf caught between the men and the origin of the arrow onslaught, the elf attempts to deal him a blow from his scimitar – only to lose his weapon to Patrius’ horse. Once this happens, the elf doesn’t have a chance. The human men rush him and chop him down like one of the trees his kind or so bent on protecting.
In just a few more moments, things begin winding down. The volley of arrows find home in the remaining men. All fall except one. And this one takes my sickle to the thigh, before being skewered in the throat by an arrow. Even though the men are all dispatched, the arrows still seem to keep coming. Apparently, we are seen as the foe here. Fantastic. Three eleven archers finally reveal themselves to us, and, as they mistake us for poachers, we narrowly avoid the same fate as these humans they’d just slaughtered. A combined effort on our part, we manage to talk down the elves – to convince them, at least, that we’re not their enemy and that we have come to relay unto them a message. They agree to take us to their leader. Their Warden. Their… elf king, I take it? They don’t trust us still – so says the arrows they keep fixed on us, but they haven’t killed us just yet. This ia good! Our message must be of some consequence to them.
After a short trip, we reach a valley, marked by a large, decorated beech tree. The thing must be important to them, and while I wouldn’t mind a chance to properly examine the tree, we’re not exactly honored guests here. There’s a small elf fellow, dressed in robes fashioned from leaves, knelt at the base of the tree we’re being escorted to. Praying, I reckon. Unless he just likes speaking to trees. Which wouldn’t surprise me. From what I have observed of these radically nature-nurturing people, it seems perfectly within the realm of normalcy for them to openly interact with wildlife. He and our chaperons partake in a small exchange, and then the old bearded fellow is both examining and addressing us. Somehow he can tell that we helped the bears. Creepy, yes, but so long as he knows we’re on his side! Nonetheless, we get to carrying out our orders from Symen. Or rather, attempting to. After a job of fruitlessly trying to convince the old elf to consent to aiding the effort against the Weylic, he finally seems to relent a bit. We manage to get him to agree to let us prove ourselves to him. He tells us of three other poachers that are giving him and his elves some problems. We agree to deal with them to when their favor. Though I do suggest a different route to handling the men – one that doesn’t include killing them, the Warden and Patrius both seem intent on same final outcome. Finally, I agree to it.
It’s just three men, after all. And if we can get the elves to side with Woodsedge at the cost of three of its villager’s lives, then it’s a price well paid. In the end. I think Symen would understand. Maybe.
In any event, we are to stay the night with an elf named Jocari and go about this feat tomorrow morning. Before bed, Aldous and Patrius both trade their looted daggers for some analgesics. They are convinced analgesics are the most humane way to deal with the poachers, and I agree. Once the trading’s all said and done, we all tuck in for the night inside of the cramped, noisy tent only to wake the next morning to find that a storm’s passed. As we discuss the task at hand, Jocari forbids us to take our horses, and kindly informs us what consequence an attempt at fleeing would bring us. Lovely. At any rate, he deals with the elf called Alvomin as we get our things together. All of us our are uneasy about having to kill these men. But it does seem that we are going to go through with it. Not that there are any other options. None immediately available to us, anyway.
The trip is relatively swift and efficient, thanks to Jocari’s knowledge of the land, and eventually we reach the edge of the Smalwood. At least, I assume we do, because Jocari halts us and points us at some drilled trees. So much anger over a few trees. The elf is against all of us going inside their home without him – he suspects we will betray him. Which, to be honest, considering how on the fence about this we all are… might easily be the case if he leaves us to our own devices.
Even if, really, he IS just one elf. There’s three of us… Well. I suppose, once again, we’ve got to look at the bigger picture! Earn the elves’ trust, and we’re in with them. It is decided, anyway, that it’ll be Aldous that does the deed – that poisons the men. He leaves.
The wait seems long. But in actuality, it can’t have been more than fifteen or twenty minutes. When Aldous returns, he brings news that the hunters are not dead – just sluggish and thoroughly intoxicated. Now it’s Patrius who wants to have a go at soloing the woodsmen. Alright then. If he desires to be their executioners, by all means. Sure enough, we drag behind him anyway to keep an eye on him. The drunk men are sat at the table, there, doing drunk men things. When one of them sets his eyes on Jocari, he springs up – surprisingly agile for a poisoned man! – and begins hurtling at us. Patrius attempts to deal him one but the glassy-eyed man is too quick. Patrius continues on to the next one and takes care of him. Things start getting heated up. Jocari avoids a blow as the woodsman engages him, so I take the opportunity to try and shield-bash the man. And what a failed attempt that ends up being. He pushes me back without too much effort and I stumble. The last two men are swiftly delt their deaths. Jocari seems confused why the men were little affected by the poison – and I am, too, really. Aldous, though, seems to think the analgesic was just slow to work. Ah, well. It’s done now.
Jocari takes Patrius and me back to the dell. For us, our work with the elves isn’t finished. Though obviously we cannot say the same for Aldous. Aldous opted to brave the way back to the Teralian road for whatever reason. Risky thing to do! But I hope he gets there okay on his own regardless. When we return to the Warden, things don’t exactly go the way we had planned. It turns out, that even after all of this, he has no real intention of allying with the Vales. If nothing else, Patrius manages to convince the old elf to lend us some of his men. The Warden grudgingly offers ten of them. And even then, he refuses to send them to Woodsedge. Hey says he will send his small troop north to Redhorne. Though honestly. What good will ten do when the place is entirely under seige. But help is help, I suppose… Even if it hardly excuses us from our crime. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we have been cheated. We killed the poachers, for yes, for ‘the bigger picture’. But, contrary to the petty crimes the elves convict them of, the woodsmen were innocent. Really, what sort of bigger picture can there possibly be when all our efforts were done in vain? Now we don’t have anything to justify our actions. It was murder, through and through. Cold-blooded murder.