Kesten nodded to Teyran, and it became apparently that he had some respect for the old paladin. "I have already set the guards to work but the place will take much time to repair. They are making camp so that we can work some into the night on strengthening the walls. I would suggest that if you plan on staying some time in the keep that you make camp. I would not suggest leaving without getting supplies of food, tents, and the warmest clothing that Oleg brought."
Grendolynn shakes Erostil's hand and then heads off to follow his suggestion. She's also quite hungry. After her meal she'll do whatever work is needed to begin fortifying their position. Trusting someone else to know what exactly to do. She knows what she would do but has little practical experience with construction.
Valeska takes three paces then her tongue is sharp. It will be difficult to trust those who... bully, and then cow on the presence of authority. Teyran... Grendolynn, if these are genuine changes of... heart or head, so be it.
Abrasive as he is, Tad... has been the most consistent of word and action. And I have utterly failed you, Lord Garess. I will endeavor to do better or will remove myself from the expedition as you decide.
Kesten laughs, ”My father was Lord Garess, if you are going to use my name in such away at least call me Master Garess. You have not failed me while I am disappointed by the lost of a source of information to send back to the Lord Mayor; I do not think that it will harm the expedition. We have the man power to restore this place and we hold a valuable position against the enemy which was my intention from the start. Your companions and you will have a defensive position to fall back to if things become dire while out in the wilderness. I would like to have a private word with the group before you depart. How about you have everyone join me for lunch today after the camp has been set up?”
Master Garess, I would be most honoured to partake in lunch with you. Please allow me a moment to freshen up however once the camp has been set up, for I fear I may well be a little... fragrant.
Erostil smiles, then heads around the rest of the men in the fort, doing what he can to make himself useful.
|Swordlord Kesten Garess|
Camp is set within the dilapidated walls of the border keep by lunch time when the smell of the stew that Oleg has rationed for the men can be smelt around the keep. Kesten has invited you to eat lunch with him so he can talk some business with you before you can leave for the Stolen Lands. The soldiers have constructed a small table which has a bowl of stew for everyone and several loafs of bread.
"Eat." Kesten gestures to the bowls as he takes up his own. "I have asked you here on a matter that is personal to me. Most of you may not know but I only recently became a Swordlord when I challenged and defeated my predecessor. Everything became mine with his death as laid out in the Sword Pact, but his apprentice refused to comply. This would not be a problem normally, a breach of etiquette within the Sword Pact, but the man could have challenged me when he felt ready. This is our way of life, except the man fled Restov. I did not worry about him as I figured he had family outside of the city that he would stay with while he honed his skills."
Kesten for a moment appeared to be somber as he speaks as opposed to the usually grinning Swordlord. It appears that he was disappointed by himself or the man...
"I was wrong. It appears that was not the case. I saw the man among the bandits during the raid on the wedding. His name is Falgrim Sneeg, and I would like you to bring him back here alive if you manage to cross him so that I may give him the chance to die a Sword Scion and not a strain on our honor. You will be rewarded handsomely, but if he refused to cooperate and you are forced to kill him then I will understand. You will still be rewarded, but I can't promise that they will be as great."
Kesten grabs a large scroll case and sets it on the table. "A portrait that his Master had commissioned of him that I cut from the frame and brought with me. You should be able to recognize him from it."
|Thadeuzs 'Tad' Orlovsky|
This is the man who trained Valeska? Does the man do anything for himself? He's like Father only without the experience, the power, or the ability to completely ignore everything & anything that doesn't fit into his schemes...
Well, he has that much to be said for him at least, and he did train Valeska.
Does Tad have problems with authority figures? You have to ask?
Tad stands up & leans over to examine the portrait, wincing at the damage done. "You know you could have just removed the frame. Assuming he has surviving family, they might have wanted it, after." Contemplating his words, "Tha portrait, I mean. Well, fer me, less'n I can' wi'out dyin' I'll no kill 'im."
Sitting back down he mutters under his breath in Varisian.
Valeska sits beside Antha and when the portrait is presented, she eyes is critically... as if committing it to memory. All the while, eating quietly. At least as quietly as one can, when eating stew.
Her eyes dart to Tad as he speaks, and mutters.
"I'll admit that I don't know as much about the Swordlords as I'd like" Teyran lied. In truth, he was perfectly, blissfully ignorant of the Byzantine politics of the Aldori Swordlords, and he was especially thankful that Sarenrae didn't seem to mind such polite untruths. "but if this is a matter of honor among your order, then would it not make more sense for you to accompany us and confront him when you meet him? Otherwise it seems like you risk accusations of having a band of thugs rough him up so you could kill him without challenge." Teyran offered nothing to soften the blow his words might have inflicted, not yet. He was no sycophant, and he would not apologize for hinting that Kesten was a coward, certainly not if it turned out that he was.
|Swordlord Kesten Garess|
Kesten shrugged, ”If you recall you were hired because I can't go stomping around in the Stolen Lands without justification. That is why the Lord Mayor brought you into the expedition as freelance explorers. The challenge is a kindness for the man I knew. I am willing to let him preserve his honor and die a sword scion instead of a lowly bandit. The man is a criminal, just one that I feel responsible for. If you bring him to justice then you will be rewarded by Restov, but I am asking you to do him this kindness instead of stringing him up in a tree and I will reward you from my own estate if you will allow me to redeem his honor.”
Falgrim was likely a friend of Kesten's at some point during their training which is why he feels responsible for the man.
"I am nearly certain, Master... Garess will afford this Falgrim Sneeg, an opportunity to recuperate and be in top form. He's certainly waited this long.
Now, if cooler minds do not prevail and the man ends up dead... due to some misguided sense of law or justice that may not look too good, should word get out. You think we'd be cast as a 'death squad'?" A bite at a hunk of bread with a smile.
"I will keep my eyes peeled, m'lord." Grendolynn says between mouthfuls, more interested in the food than money or Lordly honor. "M'lord Kesten, did you bring any engineers with us? Or skilled builders? I'm trying to determine how long it might take us to repair this place..." Turning to Valeska, Grendolynn says, "I certainly hope so. Maybe then the rest of the bastards will just run away and do our work for us. However, if it's me you're worried about I won't kill the man unless I have to."
|Swordlord Kesten Garess|
Morley is a bit off-kilter from focusing on not using his tabard as a napkin, or picking his teeth, etc... Hearing the tension return, he starts to see similar traits in his comrades as he had experienced as a soldier. More often than not, either a brothel crawl or a real fight would bring em together... get them outta their heads for a while...
Morley tries to diffuse and change the subject with a question. "I think we all appreciate the situation.... Master Garess, we haven't had a chance to work out exactly how we're spending our next few days. Anything you need from us that we should keep in mind when we do? Camp 'sposed to be two days out, so you should be safe if we were to decide ta poke around the area for a couple days?"
|Swordlord Kesten Garess|
"I will post sentries so we have some advanced warning if bandits try to crawl up on us. I doubt the camp will have a force adequate to present a threat to the army but if we spend to much time fighting everything in the Stolen Lands then we will have fewer resources when the time comes to take the field against the Stag Lord."
This seems to remind Valeska of something. "Likewise, we shall certainly fail as a group if we do not rein in the niggling and bickering amongst ourselves. It saps too much energy.
We have agreed to come here and do this thing, and should put our personal agendas and vendettas aside. We are here to some higher purpose, greater than any one of us. This does not mean any individual is to be muted or silenced, although with so many personalities and skill sets... moderation in decision making and expertise in role should be emphasized.
To that end, shall we discuss roles? Who wishes to lead or be led, who has a mind for tactics or strategy, what skill sets individuals wish to put forth? We can discuss this again from time to time and things may change, but not during 'an activity'. We should present a unified front."
Valeska looks to the others, and finally to Kesten before returning to her stew.
"Well, as I demonstrated perhaps too ably, I am good at killing things. I am also a passing fair tracker, sneaky and can deal with locks or traps. My father taught me small unit tactics. Nothing too formal, just basic ambushes, flanking and things like that." She pauses to drink some water. "I seek no leaders other than Lady Alexis and Lord Kesten. I will listen to the opinions of everyone here, as I will share my own. But in the end I will only be accountable to those I've sworn oaths to and to my own self. If there is to be any sort of group decision making I feel it should be by majority rule. I definitely agree that we need to act as one in the field though. Perhaps establish some basic standard tactics?"
Sitting next Valeska as the course of the discussion over lunch with Kesten proceeded, Antha kept quiet as some of her companions argued with Kesten. It's better for a foolish woman to remain silent and be thought wise, than to speak and confirm her foolishness. However much I may have played the fool before, the time for foolish things has passed and there is no wisdom in becoming involved in this debate at this point - not least because my reason for doing so would be suspect, anyways, even if they don't know it.
As Kesten talks about Falgrim Sneeg, Sense Motive: 1d20 ⇒ 1 she wondered why he seemed to care so much about something ultimately so trivial against everything else the expedition had set out to accomplish.
When it came to reviewing their skills, she said, "As you all know, I had studied the Art earlier in my life and only recently begun to practice it again. I don't know the first thing about strategy, but my earlier misadventures have left me with some knowledge of tactics and teamwork although I would say there are others of you with an understanding of them more apt to our current situation."
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (9) + 4 = 13
Teyran let the matter drop, still not completely understanding the reason behind Kesten's request.
When his turn to explain himself came up, he stopped eating long enough to say. "In my order we are all taught to command in addition to serving. I have led men into battle on occasion, though it was some time ago."
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (11) + 7 = 18
Arasmes looks at the painting before speaking, "I hope we will be able to return your former friend to you so that he can at least find the redemption of his honor, if not his life."
"As you know, I am a follower of Sarenrae. I can channel her power to heal as well as to burn. My knowledge of true battle and tactics is limited, but I tend to draw upon similes from the teachings of the Dawnflower that may apply to the situation. I am still learning the blade dance of the Lady, but I can still use simpler weapons with a small degree of skill. Like Grendolynn, I am here at the request of the Lady Alexis and agree that unity is key to victory."
|Thadeuzs 'Tad' Orlovsky|
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (2) + 3 = 5
At Valeska's suggestions, Tad's lip quirked, implying amusement though not derision. "Ye're wishin' we be a militr'y op'ration, when what w' are's a gang lass..."
Sighing, "Ugly truth be told, that piece o' parchment & Master Aldori's resources 'r' tha only real dif'rence twixt us'n tha lads we're here ta stretch." Shrugging bemusedly to take the sting from his words.
"As ta settin' roles & sech, 'til we see's what we can do, 'tis mostly air," grinning, "'course 'tis hard ta breathe wi'out air."
"Fer mysel' I'm no woods-wise 'n' I'll lissen ta them as has that knowin'," nodding to Grendoylnn, "nor'm I much fer leadin' men inta battle 'r' thinkin' up tha plans fer sech." Nodding at Valeska & Teyran, "Which 's' why I'll continue ta defer sech things ta you."
"I would ask however, that the next time one of us 'as a recommendation for the group entire & it not bein' otherwise life 'r' death, tha entire group agree ta listen before disregardin' an' goin' back on about their business. It's always possible they might have some'in' applicable ta impart..."
Valeska looks to Tad. "You're just saying that because we attacked strangers, scattered them, killed their leader and took their belongings. Apparently, everyone's good with that... no moral dilemmas, as I can tell.
Well, except mine... but I'll keep my soul to myself when dealing with cut-throats and preachers, thanks.
No one wants to lead, but no one is willing to be led either... and we should all hold hands, or ears and sing hymns whenever choices come up. Lovely. The Stolen Lands are all but reclaimed."
Valeska brings the bowl to her mouth, drinking the last of her lunch. "Damn good stew though."
"Woah woah woah. We didn't 'attack strangers and take their belongings'. We approached openly and informed them we were lawfully repossessing this keep. Then when they threatened to rape and kill us instead of moving on, or asking if they could join us, we defended ourselves. We let all but one of them run away, and after interrogating him, I jumped the gun on his well deserved execution. Which I have apologized for." She pauses to let her truthful account of the events soak in. "If we go to this camp in the woods, what exactly do you see happening? We stride boldly into the midst of the bandits and inform them that they're all under arrest, then put them in manacles and march them back to our camp for rehabilitation? What is that sword on your hip for exactly, directing traffic? This is real life Miss Talanova, not some bard's tale. Tad's right in a way. We're all gonna be killers before this is over with, only difference between us and them is that our actions are sanctioned by law."
|Swordlord Kesten Garess|
Kesten attempts to hold back a chuckle, but the grin on his face is just as telling. "Damn good stew." He turned his attention to Antha, "Misadventures, you? I can't imagine, or I could imagine. I bet one of them could involve a young boy trying to impress and following you up a tree he had no right to be in." He does not keep back the chuckle as he takes another scoop of stew with bread and eats it. "Foolish boy probably broke his arm and then his father carted him off to never allow the boy to return to your estate again, much to his dismay."
Kesten pauses for a moment while he finishes the last of his stew before setting the bowl to the side. "This is a better conversation to have now then while you are bleeding out there."
Looking to Kesten, "Yessir, tactics are not relegated to the field. You taught me that."
Then back to Grendolynn, "Just a different interpretation to match Tad's words. I'm over what happened... But we walk into that wilderness, oath-bound or no, your loyalty is to us as ours is to you.
Point is there's no room for maybe. If you can take the pressure... Leadership, responsibility... hand in hand. Lead or follow, step up or step down."
"If you've got the ballz and head for it, take it... but, don't just be a stick in the mud. That last bit it for each one of you. Think on it, think hard."
Do I have the balls? I guess I must...
Grendolynn nods at Valeska's words and says, "Well I don't know about claiming anything but I think the earlier idea of tracking down their camp and then setting an ambush is a fine one. One of the men, perhaps Morley, could pose as a guard for Lady Antha and for yourself Valeska, with the aim of drawing them into our trap. It shouldn't take more than a few days to find them, and that would give the men here time to fortify things. If we can take out that encampment and possibly capture a bandit we'll likely learn more about this "stag lord" fellow."
Teyran's hand froze midway between s bowl and mouth. He dropped the spoon as his fist clenched in irritation. He hit his hand on the table to acquire everyone's attention. "I tire of this endless bickering. Now I've got more years than probably most of you together, so I'll hand down some orders and we can see how they go over. Grendolynn has the right idea, but there are other steps to take first."[b]
Teyran looked over everyone gathered as he continued, [b]"Anywone that can move unseen through this kind of territory needs to be out scouting as often as possible, at least until we find the camp and know it's inhabitants by name." That last part was clearly an exagerration, but he was on a roll, so he didn't bother to clarify. "Ambushes and taking prisoners is a good idea as well, I certainly want to wittle down their numbers to a significant margin before we finally attack the camp. I do not intend to allow for us to charge into an epic battle at the bandit camp, it is my intention that when we attack the camp, there will be so few left that they will be forced to either surrender or die. Any objections?"
"Well, Erostil. What say you, nip out and have a look about?" Grendolynn asks the bard. Hopefully give me a chance to further make up for that foolish outburst earlier. Maybe working together will make our differences seem less.
He turned his attention to Antha, "Misadventures, you? I can't imagine, or I could imagine. I bet one of them could involve a young boy trying to impress and following you up a tree he had no right to be in." He does not keep back the chuckle as he takes another scoop of stew with bread and eats it. "Foolish boy probably broke his arm and then his father carted him off to never allow the boy to return to your estate again, much to his dismay."
Antha laughed gaily at the memory before sighing, "For all we didn't think so at the time, those were better days than many of those that followed, weren't they?"
Chatting amiably with Kesten over "better days", she kept up with her fellow explorers' conversation. It reassures me to that Teyran will bring his wisdom and experience to bear; they should guide us well in the days to come.
Erostil smiles, that his skills were in such high regard made his feel confident that despite their difficulties, this disparate group of individuals would bind together.
Thank you Grendolynn, I am sneaky enough when I have to be, although I am ill suited to a combat role, therefore those who are more skilled in the use of their weapons might want to stay close.
I believe that we stand on the brink of making history, although what I am about to say is mere conjecture and I might well be wrong. These lands that we are on have been ruled by the strength of whichever petty warlord has taken liberty with it. The land has been left resting for the next group of those who wish to claim it all. Brevoy has a dream to make this land theirs, to change the power balance in these River Kingdoms. I do not know whether it is for the better or for the worse. All I know is that we have a job to do, and the sooner it is done, the sooner we can all go home happy. However, if we are to do this, then we cannot have scenes like we had earlier today. A united front must be seen by those we would call our enemies. I agree that the disagreements we had earlier were my own fault, and for that I apologise. I will however restate that I do not wish to have people killed for no reason, and especially not when they have more to tell us.
None of you have known this unless you had read my mind, but the manner of my conception was not the most peaceful. My mother was set upon by a creature of the night, and impregnated with its seed. She struggled with many many doubts over the year of her carrying, and several times nearly expelled me before I was ready. That she did not do so, and then taught me what I know about people, music and life is something that I am forever grateful for. I am therefore a part nightbeast as the villagers called me. Would you condemn me for it, knowing my past? I hope not. But hopefully you can now see why I will not give up on someone, and will fight on the side of life. Always.
I do not mean to get away from the frivolity of the evening, but there were certain things that needed to be said. and in the meantime, let us work out this plan for an ambush.
In the darkest of the nights, I see as though it were the brightest day, although colour eludes me
"Excellent. We'll be out all night then. I'll be off to get some sleep until then." Grendolynn says, rising from her chair. "M'lord, thank you for the meal." She says, bowing to Kesten. "I'll be curled up over there if you need me." she says to the rest of the group before walking over to the corner where she dumped her pack. She lays out her bedroll and removing her armor, tries to get some rest, anticipating a long night of scouting.
Morley speaks focusing mostly on Valeska. Although his idea is not terribly complex, he uses a roll torn in half and seeds picked out of his apple on the table top to illustrate as he gives his thoughts. "This hideout is by all accounts two days out by foot, yea?. I propose the lot of us ride halfway and find a nice discreet location for a camp. Our skulkers can go on and scout... Don't much like the idea of them bein a full day's ride from us, and we'd be a fair bit faster actin on what they espy."
|Thadeuzs 'Tad' Orlovsky|
Tad barks a laugh at Valeska's assertion, muttering once more under his breath.
No' I think of't, I've seen stranger couplings. Leastways stranger coupling of character..."
Turning back to Valeska, "There! You asked one of us to step forward, the Beatific one obliged." Aside to Teyran, "No offence intended, but it's been my experience that those such as yourself, who hew to such principled standards of behavior, are a bit...
in such matters. Though, truth be known, the only other I can see among us who might suit as well would be the young warrior apprentice there."
Eyeing Erostil speculatively, "So yer sire's a monster aye? Know ye if 'e yet walks?"
At Morley's words, Tad pipes up in acknowledgement. "There's a truth ta that. At least a group they can fall back to an' matters turn sour...
Two 'gainst many's no good odds, no matter what tha ballads 'ould have us believe."
Teyran couldn't help but smile. "You need not worry overly. I have been around long enough to know what is important and what is. . .politics. I won't be marching into Kressle's campd alone and demanding she surrender to me, if that is what you fear. The oath I offered to the Dawnflower demands that the well being of my allies must be placed above the lives of potential converts, and that I am more valuable to her as a living servant, than as another soul in Nirvana. You needn't fear honor before reason from me."
|Thadeuzs 'Tad' Orlovsky|
Tad beams with genuine bonhomie at the two sacrificial lambs.
Da or Aubrey would chew tha two of you up & spit you out. Here's hopin' you stay occupied here in tha hinterlands fer a looong time ta come. T'weren't a fear fer what ye might do, Teyran. Though now ye mention it, that wouldn't hurt ta keep watch fer. T'was tha great flamin' torch ya jest up & lit, like as if ta bellow 'Here I BE, Come & get me!'
Well, it'll be a glorious light while it lasts.
ACT I; Chapter 2: A Virulent Champion
Lunch is over; camp is set. Kesten pushes forward with the restoration of the walls surrounding the border keep, but it requires some of the less sturdy parts to be pulled down. He puts the soldiers to work around the clock and sends out sentries to alert the keep if anyone approaches the expedition camp. Valeska and Thadeusz spend some time sparring amid the open yard that the bandits had once made their home. Grendolynn continues to nap so that she can be rested for the evening when she will be expected to begin scouting the area around the border keep. Kesten and Antha spend some time reminiscing while the others attempt to make themselves useful in helping the soldiers along where they can.
Evening begins to fall when two sentries return to the keep carrying (half-dragging) a man between them. The man appears to be listless as his head rolls around limply. Blood cakes his armor and the front of it appears to have been rent open by something large four-clawed creature. A joust brings a groan from the armored man as if he was in great pain as the soldiers try to lower him to the ground. Someone shouts out for Kesten as the crowd begins to gather.
It appears to be a large bear.
The rends are more consistence with a much larger bear then normally found in these parts. If you hazard a guess you would say a large grizzly bear.