Pretty Things

Even a blind man could see the rumblings of war in the far north of the Empire, and even a fool knows to travel in the other direction when danger looms. Such as we find our adventurers moving south along the Stir River which separates Talabecland and Stirland. Beastman raiders from the Great Forest provide an ever-present threat when travelling at night, and so our adventurers take succour at a small wayhouse known as the Strutting Cock Inn but a few days travel south of Krugenheim…

The forests of Talabecland

'A Few Good Men'

"Well met friend, welcome to the 'Strutting Cock'."

At a lonely table, cast in half-shadow by flickering lanterns, three travellers agree to band together for safety on the road. As the spring moon sits high in the night sky two young men and a dwarf discuss a journey south.

The youngest of the three wears brown robes and bears the shaved head of a monk. Brother William is a youth by any standard and looks wide eyed at the men across from him, clutching his hammer sigil. He had been on the road since his monastery in the northern mountains was destroyed by pagan raiders. He travels to Ubersreik, to the great gathering of soldiers there to request reinforcements to help retake and repair his monastery. The mustering at Ubersreik is also what brings Karl Lustenberger, the fair haired young man who sits across from him. Not much older than William he wears his class and his swagger on his sleeve, his mud stained riding boots worth more than the possessions of his two companions combined. As a cavalier in the Emperor's service he answers the call to Ubersreik where a gathering of warriors loyal to Karl Franz is taking place. He is handsome and cocksure, his hand never far from the gilded hilt of his sword. The third individual, although young for his people, wears more years than the other two combined. His black and white beard poking from beneath a worn cloak the Dwarf Durak is on a pilgrimage of his own to see the vast bridge at Ubersreik. Newly freed from an apprenticeship in the mines he wanders the land looking for a new direction.

But the trip to Ubersreik would hit several delays. The first coming in the form of a man in the ground. Emmerich is a dirty and beaten down man literally buried in the backyard of the Strutting Cock. He begs for assistance, claiming to have been hard done by and falsely accused. He had been arrested for banditry but claims to be a simple farmer. Taking pity on him the group agrees to argue his case to the Road Wardens in two days time. Travelling up-river to a small village the group finds his wife, refusing a reward from her at the insistance of the ever-pious William, and confirm his story. The next day Emmerich is set free as the Captain of the Road Wardens hears his case next to the hastily erected gallows. The bounty hunter who captured Emmerich is shamed by the Wardens and storms off, shooting insults in Kazalid as he does.

The second delay comes when Durak goes to check Karl's horse the following morning and finds it gone, heavy set footsteps leading away from the stables and beneath the dark boughs of the forest. Calling in their favour on a surprised Emmerich the group set off into the forest, intent on reclaiming Karl's horse from whomever had taken her. Moving beneath the twisted trees Emmerich sets a harsh pace, his skills as a tracker beginning to make the alleged lie about his past bandit days more and more viable. Eventually the group find the would-be horse thief; Lars the bounty hunter. Agreeing that Lars had gone too far the group storms into his camp and in a flurry of blood and steel the surprised Lars is cut down. Knowing now that the stories of Emmerich past life of crime are true the group part ways with him, his oath to keep to his new peaceful life enough to give them hope for his redemption.

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Finally on the fourth day after their agreement to travel together the trio rejoin the road through the forest. The muddy dirt path runs parallel to the Stir river and many travellers walk the popular route. The going is quick along the road, a few farmers and traders nod their heads as they past and a group of Wardens warn the group about bandits on the road. Karl's eyes shine as he meets a knight upon the road, Sir Cadan, and his dreams of becoming a cavalryman in the Emperor's service grow. Nights are spent in camp just off the road or in the ruins of an old toll house, eating wild game hunted by Durak or fetched from the slain Dwarf Lars' saddlebags. Durak tells stories of his home and the two youths listen intently, the idea of adventure still foremost in their minds.

The dangers of the forest seem ever-present but far away, the howling of wolves and the braying of beasts a mere whisper on the wind. The trip seems to be passing with incident until the group come upon scenes of battle. A dozen dead men and women lie in an open plain, farmers alongside men dressed as pilgrims. But farmers wearing leather armour, and bearing castle-wrought steel. The lone survivor gives his account as William kneels over him administering his last rites. The peasants were not farmers but guards, hired by a local Baron to protect his daughter. The pilgrims were not pilgrims but bandits, passing in plain sight and raiding villages foolish enough to offer them safety.

Leaving the bandit bodies for the crows the group return down the path in a rage. All three are outraged that bandits would pose as pilgrims, let alone that they would kidnap a young girl with thoughts of ransom. The three strangers are bonded by agreement, a shared purpose; the bandits must pay. Following the tracks of the faux-pilgrims the group return to the burned-out toll house and find their work done for them. The bandits, seemingly stopping at the house for the night, had been set upon by a goblin raiding party. Body parts and blood sit around the ruins and signs of still-living bandits being dragged away speak volumes to the intentions of the greenskins.

Of the three only Karl would call himself a warrior but all three agree to rescue the girl from the goblin tribe. Arming themselves with scavenged weapons they head into the forest once again. Tracking the creatures to a cave wall Karl organises a plan. While half of the tribe are away on a raid Durak and William approach, goading the goblins into charging towards them. Hollering and hooting the goblins dash towards them, makeshift shields and stone spears raised. Just as the creatures fall upon them Karl gallops from the tree line. Unprepared the goblins are washed away by the solitary cavalry charge. The mass of the horse breaks their bones even as the unarmoured Karl slashes about himself with his blade. As one turns to flee it is cut down by William's belt knife, the grey-grey blood splashing on his face as it did on Sigmar's millennia ago. The final greenskin is killed by Durak, kicked to death in a frenzy of hatred.

The young girl is inside the cave, her blue dress torn and her flesh bruised from her capture. It is not long before she sits on the back of Karl's horse, terrified out of her mind, as the group rushes away from the goblin outpost. Behind them the chittering of dozens more goblins and the roar of something far worse follow them into the forest.

'Shifting Currents'

With a running leap Karl stepped over the dark, muddy waters of the river and landed with a jolt on the barge. The three bargemen's eyes widened as a second figure landed beside him, a monk in brown robes. The surprise soon turned to glee as the bargemen drew their cudgels and clomped towards the pair…

The riders gallop through the night, the terrified girl clinging to Karl as he pushes his mount to its limit. The dwarf Durak breaks away from the group, unable to match the speed of the mounted warriors. The two ride on along the dark road, the hollering of goblins and the howling of wolves always seemingly just behind them. Smashing through overgrown trees and stamping on the hard group the horses ride until they are exhausted and then keep riding. As riders begin to fall into exhaustion the dawn sun rises over the wooden palisade of Ossino. As the wooden gates open to allow them access an armoured figure rides the other way. The knight, Sir Cadan, had ridden to Ossino that very night, his much faster mount carrying him to the safety of the wall that he now rejected. Riding forward the knight lowers his lance, smashing into the pursuing goblins just beyond the edge of the forest. As the pair dismount and find a stable for their mounts Cadan makes short work of the goblin wolf riders, a stone spear that glances his scalp the only wound the beasts lay upon him.

Getting rooms at the Crowded Swan inn Karl and William enjoy what little luxaries Ossino has to offer. The horses are re-shoed and rested and Karl spends time getting to know the kidnapped girl: Bianca. She has no knowledge of being the Baron's daughter and is, understandably, traumatised by the events of the last two days. Some of the locals question the relationship between the young girl and Karl but an answer of wardship wards off most inquisitive peasants. But not all.

A scream rouses the pair from their beds, young Bianca mysterious absent from hers. Dashing outside with little thought for his safety William notices the girl, trussed like a boar, being loaded onto a nearby barge. Dashing through the muddy town Karl and William leap across the widening gap to the barge, surprising the thickly set boatmen aboard. The boatmen draw their cudgels and a brutal close quarters fight ensues. With barely room to use his long sword Karl battles two of the ruffians while William wrestles with one. As the young monk pushes his dagger into the eye of the man he feels again what he felt in the battle with the goblins days earlier. A sense of calm, of serenity, of purpose. Standing up the final ruffian holds the group back with a dagger to Bianca's throat, the young girl's eyes wide with terror. Try as he might Karl cannot break through his defences before out of no-where the man staggers forward. Taking the chance Karl runs him through, seeing over his shoulder a dirty and exhausted Durak hefting his crossbow.

Returning Bianca to the Swan the group share their tales. Karl and William talk of a mad dash through the forest for safety while Durak tells a story of cat and mouse, of pursuing wolves and hiding under brush as they pass. He had swum across the river further up but unable to find a boat had waited to cross to Ossino. The first barge that came happened to be the one with the girl, a coincidence William asserts immediately is the will of Sigmar. The next morning the group deals with a local road warden who had found the bodies down stream. Giving their case they are divested of guilt, the remaining boatman having the toes on one foot removed for the attempted kidnapping.

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Some days later the group arrive at Hermdorf, home of Baron Radische and hopefully the reward he offered for Bianca's return. Hermdorf, like most towns in the Great Forest, is walled and patrolled by guards. Unlike Ossino however Hermdorf has a strong stone wall and dozens of men wear the sigil of a green salmon. Suspicious that the guards do not wear the crimson boar of Radische the group approach one of his employees, a wealthy man in town who lives in a manse on the hill in the centre of town. It is difficult to get the three dirty and bloody men through the door but eventually they are led to Radische's Seneschal, a man of proper breeding and pretence who explains to them that they are unfortunately just too late. The day before the Baron had been killed in an unfortunate hunting accident and with no living heir the lands had passed to House Z├╝ten. The Seneschal is happy to provide a reward for the group, promising to take care of the girl as if she were his own. Disappointed but pockets full the trio settle in to the Jester and Spear and begin planning their journey to Ubersreik.

Dramatis Personae

Brother William - Sigmarite Monk fleeing the destruction of his monastery.
Karl Lustenberger - Cavalier travelling to join the muster at Ubersreik.
Durak - Dwarven miner dreaming of becoming an engineer.

Emmerich - Accused townsman at the Strutting Cock.
Lars - Dwarven bounty hunter, bastard.
Bianca - A mysterious young girl.

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