The Kingmaker

"Enter the Stolen Lands, a wilderness claimed by nobles, bandits, and beasts alike. Into this territory the fractious country of Brevoy sends its emissaries, tasking them with subduing the lawless folk and deadly creatures that have made it a realm of savagery and shame. Beyond the last rugged frontier stretches the home of voracious monsters, capricious fey, wily natives, and bandits who bow to the rule of a merciless lord none dare defy. Can the PCs survive the Stolen Lands, bring their dangers to heel, and lay the foundations of a new kingdom? Or will they just be one more fateful band, lost forever to the ravenous wilds?"

The Stolen Lands, a wild lawless place awaiting the hand of strong justice. A politically ambiguous place where many parties vie for control. Into this cauldron of woe walk five heroes-in-the-making to create their own nation. Patriots—but to what cause?

Kingmaker is a Pathfinder Adventure Path role playing game published by Paizo Publishing under the terms of the Open Game License. It provides a rich backdrop for a group of pioneers as they attempt to bring civilization to a wild, untrammeled land. This website is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing.

This blog represents the letters of one of these characters, Marquand, a bitter, righteous man—an Inquisitor defending his faith in the deity Erastil against all the enemies of civilization.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter Four--The Stag Lord

Dear Pino,

We rested until the camp settled down for the night and then went to work, huddling quietly planning our attack. Of course the first thing we did was get into an argument—Lev hoping to talk Akiros, and maybe Auchs, into joining us—Cane arguing to slay them all. I backed Lev on this, wanting to extend amnesty to anyone who would join us, but for the most part my colleagues wanted no part of it.

“Do we really need to kill Auchs?” Lev asked.

“Oh my god!” Cane grumbled, disbelieving.

“Live enemies make armies, dead enemies make graves,” Kelm added with feeling, although without guidance I would imagine Auchs would have trouble making a passable washer of dishes.

“We’re not offering these guys an alternative,” Cane went on. “We don’t have time to dicker with them.”

Lev stared at him for a moment. “Auchs listens to Akiros," he answered stiffly. "If we can convince Akiros maybe we can do this the easy way, and slit the Stag Lord’s throat while he sleeps, then kill the anyone who disagree. Look at it—this fort is on our southern border. We’ll need it and we’ll need men—these men have combat experience, they know the lay of the land . . . “

“They are bandits,” Piea grimly reminded him.

“I like the idea of using this as the southern border post,” Kelm finally allowed, “but if we get men from Kesten won’t they be more reliable?”

“We’re going to need men to go out and break kneecaps for us,” Lev replied, practical to a fault. His generation calls it Realpolitik. In a past life I would have had him drawn and quartered without qualm.

“I’m not against your trying,” Cane said unconvincingly. “Why don’t I sneak upstairs and be ready to give Auchs the old coup de grace if your little palaver with Akiros goes south."

We waited quietly as they departed. Through all this an enormous owlbear sat watching us glumly from its jury-rigged cage nearby. Where the Stag Lord found this fearsome creature, how he captured it, and did he have unnatural relations with it as has been debated for years—now we'll never know these things.

On entering Akiros’s room Lev saw that he lay quietly on his cot in one corner, which was near full with crates and mounds of ill-gotten gain. A lamp guttered dimly nearby as the heavy sound of the Stag Lord's breathing came from the behind a door.

“Step backward real slow friend,” Lev heard Akiros say quietly, without emotion.

“Good evening,” Lev smoothly replied. “There is something I wanted to talk with you about. . . .”

We stood fidgeting outside the door.

“Your master has many enemies,” Lev continued in his wheedling way, “and we're here to end his nefarious career. You would do well to join us lest you fall with him, blah, blah, blah. I'm sure you've heard it all before. Oh, and your Mother sucks eggs.”

Unsure about his strategy, I tensely gripped my sword. Suddenly, the night was pierced by a scream upstairs as Cane disemboweled Auchs, who bawled like a child, calling pitiably for his mama. “I like killing people,” Cane would shrug later in explanation. Immediately Dovan the rogue, who had obviously been biding his time this while, stood dramatically and slashed Piea. “You look good in red, m’dear,” he said with a leer, licking his lips with excitment.

From the back room came a sudden roar. “Raowlerghh!  What are you doing out here?” The Stag Lord had awaken from his drunken stupor and was murderously lurching after Lev. To the Stag Lord it must have seemed like just another violent dream.

Lev turned to run, the crates and stacks of ill-gotten gain blocking his path. He felt the wind from a well-aimed dagger brushing his face as it hurtled towards the Stag Lord—Akiros! Et tu, so Lev’s instincts had been right even if his technique was lacking. Let this be a lesson for you, little Pino: "Man’s motivation springs from his heart, not from his head."

I struck a bandit who reeled away while remaining upright, glimpsing Dovan shoving one of his “brothers” into the path of Kelm’s blade. I then heard the creak of the fearsome owlbear’s cage opening behind me as Piea engaged Dovan in combat, having no luck as the wily rogue dodged her attack with a delighted laugh, which quickly became a yelp of pain as Lev—who had left Akiros to the gentle ministrations of his Stag Lord—juiced Dovan with his new wand of magic missiles.

Suddenly Lev slapped his forehead with disgust. “What an idiot!” he moaned. “Once a day I get to reroll a diplomacy check!”

“Suck it up,” I cried frantically. “Look, it doesn’t matter.” We glimpsed Akiros in the next room desperately stabbing at the Stag Lord who reeled lethally towards him, like the infamous Drunken Master of lore. No going back for him, then.

Invoking holy justice I slew the bandit before me just as the fearsome owlbear emerged like a parasite from its cocoon, grappling Kelm (who had been trying to shut the cage) in its fearsome beak, gnawing on him like Auchs would a pork chop. I know, Pino, that your owlbear doll, Fliffety-Fluffers, is cute and cuddly, but believe me the real thing is a bloodthirsty beast, standing well over eight feet tall and weighing three-quarters of a ton.

In the back, Piea was whiffing like a spinball player with heat stroke. Turning on his heal, Lev ran back into the other room, making an unexpected leap past the Stag Lord (as if he thinks he’s the Cordobles of legend), but the Stag Lord wobbled into his path unexpectedly, striking with a ferocity that belied his state, leaving Lev as staggered as his foe. He then whipped out his bow and hit Lev again, but thankfully missing his second, probably lethal, shot.

“Help me,” I heard Lev plead in a weak voice while, nearby, Kelm was more vocal. “Kill it!” he wept from the slavering maw of the beast. “Oh god, you have to kill it!”

Cane, who had finally joined us after dispatching Auchs upstairs, responded to Kelm's plea by striking the owlbear violently with his blade.

In the next room Akiros stood above Lev, hesitantly.

"Kill him!" the Stag Lord slurred. He probably wouldn't have even remembered this in the morning, or Akiros's betrayal. “Eep!” I heard the fetchling squeak in alarm. Has he turned again? I wondered as the owlbear approached me, swinging Kelm like a rag doll. 

I struck it with all my strength, giving it a fearsome wound. It realized for the first time that it too can die. Cane wounded it again. He had the distracted look of a surgeon removing an infected limb.

The entire scene was chaotic and I lost track of the action that wasn’t right in front of me. Even so, I was startled by the Stag Lord’s angry slurred voice coming from the next room. “Damn you! Kira-thatsnew gimmin dal hell skonk!!” he roared.

I struck the owlbear again as, with a sigh, its eyes lost focus and it fell grotesquely to one side. Cane lowered our barely conscious friend gently to the floor.

“Thus will justice prevail!” I heard myself say unnecessarily. Tradition must be maintained.

“Old reliable,” Kelm gasped in gratitude, but none was needed. I do what I do to honor your father, my friend Jaquizz, whose dream it was to save this land for Brevoy, for Issia, and for his beloved Erastil!

“Sweet life,” Kelm sighed before hoisting himself up to help Piea in her battle with the wily rogue Dovan, who was no longer sneering or rotating his hips lasciviously.

“Damn you Akiros!” the Stag Lord cried from the next room as Akiros made his decision, plunging his blade deeply into the Stag Lord’s side. “I should have killed you when I had the chance,” he gasped, vomiting gouts of blood. “Grahhurrgh. . . .” Cheers filled the room.

“I surrender! I surrender,” Dovan cried just as I was about to judge him most foul. I hesitated, then commanded him to drop his weapons. “Holy crow!” he exclaimed with surprise.

“What do we want to do with him?” Piea scowled, holding her damaged leg.

“That depends on him,” I answered.

“Are we going to take him hostage? Otherwise I’m going to kill him!” she growled. No denying that her blood was up. Ignoring me she looked to the others where there was no mercy for the unrighteous. So be it.

“Akiros joined our side,” Kelm summed up, “and so Akiros lives. Donovan . . .”

“Dovan, chump!” the helpless rogue cursed. "Dovan of Nisroch!"

“. . . hit us with his weapons and that’s why Donovan dies.”

“He did,” Piea agreed. “He hit me a lot. I don’t like him,” with a swift blow from her axe she knocked him senseless. “I wanted to kill him!” she complained bitterly when she saw that he still breathed, if raggedly.

“Not to worry.” Kelm leaned over, matter-of-factly slicing his throat. The battle was over.

“I couldn’t be sure when you first showed up,” Akiros was saying to Lev as they approached. “You seemed pretty green to me.” He looked up at us. “I was wrong.”

Our bounty—

the bandits:
•    7 leather armor
•    7 short swords
•    7 longbows
•    105 arrows

•    1 leather armor
•    2 potions of cure moderate wounds
•    1 potion of lesser restoration
•    1 club
•    8 pieces from a Knights and Dragons game (maybe Little Billee will like these)
•    45 gold

•    masterwork studded leather
•    +1 rapier
•    3 daggers
•    silver Stag Lord amulet worth 20 gold
•    2 turquoise ear rings worth 130 gold each
•    28 gold
•    2 platinum

Lev suddenly appeared with an angel food cake he’d found in the bandits’ kitchen, still warm from the oven, and we shared it hungrily.

The Stag Lord:
•    2 potions of cure moderate wounds
•    +1 leather armor
•    masterwork longsword
•    +1 composite longbow (+2 strength) (to Marquand)
•    17 arrows
•    +1 amulet of natural armor (to Cane)
•    horned helm of the Stag Lord
2 chests, where we found:
  • 1 bolt of burlap
  • old clothing (which I think we’ll donate to good Will, the cleric)
  • iron ring (Marquand)
  • 3 very old crudely stitched leather masks
A third chest contained:
  • 141 gold pieces
  • polished azure crystal, 9 gold
  • carnelian, 80 gold
  • hematite, 13 gold
  • shard of obsidian, 14 gold
  • red garnet, 100 gold
  • pewter belt buckle depicting entwined succubi, 30 gold
  • silver charm bracelet, 60 gold

(I expect you to find out about all these jewels and minerals and describe them for me by the next post.)

Will we be sharing any of this with Akiros?” I asked naively.

“No!” Kelm and Cane said as one. “He gets to keep his life, that’s enough.”

“But his help was the balance,” I said, not really understanding why I was pleading for him. “If he hadn’t changed sides they would be the ones stripping our bodies.”

“Or we’d have his gear as well,” Kelm sneered, turning to go.

“Thanks, friend,” Akiros said to me as we followed. “But it’s unnecessary. My life has always been in forfeit to someone.

“Not so fast fellows,” Akiros called to my colleagues departing backs. “There is still the crazy old coot in the basement.”

“What?” they asked incredulously.

“The Stag Lord keeps him down there. I don’t understand it at all.”

“Let’s go down,” said Piea, wearily.

“Behind a large rock we found a passage. “Be careful,” Akiros said. “He’s dangerous. He’s a druid and an insane devotee of Gozreh.”

“I feel that way, too, sometimes,” Cane muttered darkly.

The cellar was as murky and creepy as you might imagine. Piea and Kelm continued arguing, as they had for most of this day.

“Watch out he’s a sneaky bastard,” Akiros hoarsely whispered.

We peered into the dark space below the keep, wishing our torches reached further into the murk. It was cold and damp as the nighttime air blowing off Lake Reykal the summer you visited my chateau with your family. Your father’s wit was sharp as the air that first night. “Marquand,” he said while staring out over the water, a crescent moon hovering red above the horizon—an improvident omen we ignored at our peril.

“Marquand, surely you see that its the worship of Abadar that keeps us under the thumbs of the ignoble families (he refused to call them noble, despite the penalty). Many of them are incompetent and fools yet, there they are, above us thanks to their birthright alone, not their merit. Think of what our nation could accomplish with the best and the brightest in charge.

"And if society’s at fault," he concluded sadly, "then the deity they worship must, too, be at fault!”

How could I answer? I’d sworn to uphold that society. “What do you expect to find in the Stolen Lands?” I asked him, heart sick.

He sighed, inspecting his glass of Radis de Lune ’04 in the pale moonlight.


A sound crept out of the darkness beyond, like a rake over charcoal, and then a deep thrumming as tentacles (covered with tiny parasites about the size of cockroaches) emerged from the darkness followed by one awesome leg after another. An immense head, faceted eyes as stupid as poor old Auchs’s, and fearsome mandible snickering out to bite, sever, and chew, which it proceeded to do to Cane, causing him to bleed like a knackered steer.

Fortunately, it proved easy to dispatch. Then Piea and Kelm bumbled into a spiders’ nest and were swarmed by villianous poisonous arachnids, fast and small, almost impossible to hit. We slapped and punched the two far more than we did the spiders. To top it off  a savage wolverine appeared and launched itself onto Piea, razor sharp claws slashing at her guts. Exhausted by blood frenzy we killed everything

The wolverine transformed into the shape of a man. “Pathetic,” Akiros muttered.

Was he referring to the old man or us? I wondered, wishing we had captured the old devil, but truly, Pino, I never thought of it until it was too late.

We found a tremendous amount of assorted tools and weaponry worth 6850 gold. There was also a chest containing:

•    4500 copper pieces
•    2052 silver
•    894 gold
•    20 platinum

A large bag contained jewelry worth 2900 gold.

That’s when Cane and Kelm flanked Akiros, angrily demanding his allegiance, leaving no doubt the alternative was death. Lev then spoke in his favor, saying he might be exactly the guy we’d need to do our dirty work someday. They call it nation-building, little one, and it dirties everyone who touches it. Never forget the sacrifice your elders make for you! With little choice, Akiros agreed, which strikes me as not the best way to win a man’s allegiance

We spent several days burying the dead, inventorying, and packing our bounty onto the bandits’ horses. We then headed north, back to Oleg's. I rode for a time beside Akiros but he had little to say, except this:

“I watched after Auchs from the time the boy first showed up,” he said tiredly, a man beyond caring. “Sure, he was dumb and he had no chance on his own. He’d run away from home after killing someone by accident—his cousin, I think—due to his freakish strength, not meanness. He was bug infested and starving when he turned up at our gates. I put him to work and made sure he stayed out of the Stag Lord’s way. He was too stupid to use on forays so he mostly watched the horses. He was just a big, dumb, goodnatured farmboy and you slit him open like a pig and left him to die calling for his mama.”

He looked at me coldly as righteous words died in my throat. “It’s the company you keep,” he shrugged, spurring his horse, “and whether or not you’ve got a piece of paper from some rich men saying it’s all right.”

We made only one stop, to honor our promise to a dead man by bringing him another dead man. We dumped in what remained of the Stag Lord into the water at Nettles' Crossing, waiting as, like an old crocodile, Nettles rose quietly and grabbed him, taking the Stag Lord to his deserved hell below.  A +1 ranseur floated to the surface in payment

We proceeded to Oleg’s where we had the pleasure of returning Svetlana’s ring. She hugged us each in turn as Oleg grumpily allowed us 200 gold apiece in credit. We spent much of the day cleaning up, storing our new possessions, taking care of the horses, and dickering with Oleg over the value of our stuff. Happily I saw that Autolycus had returned safely, feeding him several large carrots to his satisfaction. I also presented Little Billee, who looked fatter and sassier than when we left, with the game pieces we’d found.

That’s when Kesten, looking upon us with sublime satisfaction—the cat that had gotten the canary—read a proclamation from the Swordlords granting us our greatest wish—the right to rule this land as our own, underwritten with 50 build points (worth 200,000 gold). You’re father is truly vindicated at last.

We then retired to Oleg’s dining room to hammer out the boring details of our leadership:

  • Secretary (Baron): Lev Davidowich
  • Councilor: Akiros Ismort
  • General: Piea
  • Grand Diplomat: Svetlana Leveton
  • High Priest: Marquand
  • Magister: Kelm Taslor
  • Marshall: Jhod Kavken
  • Royal Assassin: Kesten Garess
  • Spymaster: Skot Skevans
  • Treasurer: Oleg Leveton (making the fox head of the henhouse)
  • Warden: Cane Alexson
  • Mascot: Little Billee Weaver

The very first thing we couldn’t decide was a name for our realm, so we put that aside for the time. Kelm came up with a plan to finance our startup, counting it as a sixth member of our association when we split up our fund, making 2834 apiece, and 8634 gold in our treasury. You may try adding these figures up for me because it makes my head hurt.

After some time we finally agreed upon a name: The Peoples Union of River Kingdoms—PURK, or "The Union" for short. Apparently, we're still in disguise.

Hope to see you soon,
Uncle Marquand

Monday, March 7, 2011

Letter Three--Little Billee Weaver

Dear Pino,

In the morning we took the opportunity to ask Kesten Garess a few questions about himself and his mission here. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but until he confirms that he belongs to that illustrious family I will pretend not to know.

“You’re the first person we’ve come across who hasn’t asked us to do something for them,” Kelm noted. “That’s very refreshing.”

“Actually there is something you can do for me,” Kesten grimly smiled.

“You want some moon radishes too?”

“If you run across a man called Falgrim Sneed could you pick him up for me?" he continued, ignoring the sarcasm. "He’s a mercenary who was working with our group a while back. Disappeared in the middle of the night with our money. I’ll give you four masterwork weapons for him. The last I heard he was in the Kamelands.”

“What if he’s dead?” Cane asked insouciantly.

“Then it's two,” Kesten replied, looking very bored.

We were preparing to ride when a seedy looking character wandered through the gates. Doffing his hat he showed few strands of dark-red hair plastered over his balding pate. His beard scruffy and untrimmed. “Ahoy!” he called jovially. “I’m Jhod.”

“Jhod?” We leaned towards him for a better look. “Snnneeed?”

“K-Kavken,” he replied, suddenly very nervous. “I’m a simple priest passing through your wild land,” he chuckled. “The game here is bountiful, the land beloved of Erastil . . .”

Holy Erastil had answered our needs. Lev immediately offered him our temple, without even checking his credentials—but it seems to be working out so I won’t complain. And it will give me a chance to work out some fine points of doctrine I’ve been considering.

“I’ve been dreaming of a temple,” Kavken said, still uncertain whether or not we were bandits inviting him along to cut his throat. “I’ve been searching for years. I dreamed of a cliff with a giant bas-relief elk upon its face.”

We showed him our charter—’tis true, just a piece of paper—but enough to convince him, along with Garess’s uniform, that we had the smell of legitimacy about us. Blind faith all around.

Blind leading the blind
Yet Justice, too, is blind
                            —Parables of Erastil

“Are we going to use him for fodder when we confront the Stag Lord?” Cane asked suddenly.

There was an awkward silence. “Sir,” came Jhod’s aggrieved voice. “I’m right here!”

Lev and I smoothed things over by guaranteeing his safety, as Piea and Kelm took Cane away for a gentle word. It gave me a chance to tell Kavken of my own affiliation with Erastil and I found myself traveling along beside him on our journey back to the temple. While we discussed our faith the others listened until they lost interest or duty called them away.

“I was once a devotee of Abadar,” I told him right away.

“What changed for you?”

I sighed heavily, not ready for the sudden rush of emotion that filled me. “Abadar is a wonderful faith,” I replied. “As long as you believe in it completely, as long as it works. But one tiny crack in the facade, one glimpse of what lay behind it—the cruel subjugation that supports it—well, then you either accept the contradiction, the hypocrisy, or you move on. I moved on.”

“Well, my son, Erastil seeks balance in everything. I’m not sure he needs an Inquisitor.”

“Yet here I am,” I replied evenly, “to maintain the balance!”

Jhod was ecstatic when he saw the temple, immediately setting off to clean it up. I helped him after setting up camp outside the Temple area and brushing Autolycus, giving him a carrot for his day’s labor. Later we joined my colleagues by the campfire where Kelm, Piea, and Cane played with dice as Lev kept a wary eye on the perimeter.

We talked about our plans for the temple. “We should talk with Oleg about bringing up a catapult,” said Kelm. “I don’t know why, I have a feeling. . . .”

Meanwhile, Lev was figuring out the logistics of fortifying the place

“But this is a temple of Erastil!” Jhod objected.

We agreed to move our operation a little down the road.

The next morning we bid Kavken farewell, heading northwest into a heavily wooded region. We hadn’t been traveling long when an acorn popped Piea on top of the head. “Hey!” she cried. “It’s those blinking fairies again!”

“I think you made that up,” Kelm replied unhelpfully, too busy staring blindly at his map to have seen a blue dragon bearing down on him much less a fairy.

“We won’t hurt you,” Lev called to the fey in his high, fluting voice. “We just want to meet you. We are friends.”

“I say we kill them,” Cane replied, which seems to be his answer to most things. Lev was incredulous but Cane was just pulling his leg, I think, but it seemed to rile several of our group against the mischievous fey. Still, I agree with Lev and I only wish you were here to act as our ambassador to the fairies.

We heard a distant call for help. Carefully we moved in that direction, watching for any movement. It might prove a good test for my new darkwood buckler. The voice again, closer now but then nothing. A faint piping song, like a lone busker playing flute on Restov commons. Then faint laughter. I guess they’ll have their fun and I can’t say that I blame them. Cane notched his bow with anticipation.

“They can be invisible and quite annoying,” Lev protested, “or you can be friends with them. Maybe we should offer them a bottle of moon radish wine?”

Still arguing we headed west towards our border with whoever is taming that part of the wilds. We found ourselves in a huge blackberry patch in which we discovered a cairn of stone that overtopped an ancient grave.

”You want to dig it up?” Cane asked.

“Nope,” Kelm replied.

“I can tell there’s something magic down there,” Lev singsonged.

“Ohhh,” Kelm muttered, licking his lips.

“I have no respect for remains,” Cane added. “I’m totally fine with digging it up.”

“The soul’s left the body,” Kelm reasoned. “What’s the point?”

“What’s the point of you changing your mind once we find there’s magic there?” Cane laughed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kelm sniffed, eyes more opaque. “I’m an archeologist.”

“Let’s walk the line here,” Lev wheedled. “Dig it up, find what we find, and then make sure that it’s properly restored to its original state.”

“I’m sure whatever spirits are in there won’t mind that at all,” Cane sarcastically retorted.

I already had my shovel out by this point and for the next half hour we took turns digging. What we found were the bones of a long-dead warrior, a few rags clinging to bone. The grinning skull not minding that we were disturbing its slumber a bit, perhaps happy for company after its long sleep. On its wedding finger was a greenwood ring depicting an eel and frog locked in battle—a ring of swimming, which Lev, who swims like a stone, kept.

We then reburied him and I said a prayer to Erastil that he was of the righteous and at peace.

We continued through the briers, finding nothing of interest, although Lev collected a large bag of blackberries along the way that he tied to the back of his horse, soon to be followed by a cloud of frustrated insects.

Headed into a wooded area, Cane stopped suddenly, eyes darting amongst the trees. “Someone’s been here!” he called, dismounting and hurrying over to a large oak tree. “They climbed up here and then leaped to the next tree. . . .” his face dropped and he remounted without another word.

We continued south through the woods for a spell when, in a shadowy glade we found a child’s doll. It was of a king, with a tin crown, like the one you had when you were a small child. Lev warned us away from it for he smelled a trap. Then Piea pointed into the limbs above where a large net full of branches was set to fall as soon as the doll was touched. It was our friends, the fey. Lev carefully disabled the trap and tied the doll alongside his bag of blackberries. Speaking in ancient Sylvan, Lev thanked them for the doll.

Sometime later we found another trap, only this one was already sprung—a trapper caught in his own device, pinned to a tree by a huge spiked log that had swung down. I won't describe more except to say he had been dead for a week.

“Fey did it,” Kelm said with finality. We argued over the meaning of this. Cane agreed with him while Lev was not so sure. When I examined the ropes I saw that they had been severed—it was no accident.

“Original hypothesis confirmed!” Kelm bragged, pumping his fist in triumph. “These things I just know because of the lore of mysteries!”

We buried the hunter before following his tracks east where we found, and disabled, one of his traps. Continuing east we traveled through woodland until we came to an area of thick brambles crossed by many rivulets—the headwaters of Thorn River. Then Kelm was bonked by a tiny pebble.

As he sat rubbing his head Kelm dug through his backpack until finally holding up a piece of hard candy he just happened to be carrying. There was a rustling and suddenly a small horned woman poked her head from around tree. Lev offered her the candy while the rest of us tried to look inconspicuous. Hearing a noise I looked up just in time to see something purple disappear behind another tree.

Finally Lev managed to coax the woman to reveal herself and to our shock turned out to be half a woman and half a cricket, a Grig. I understand they can play their back legs like a fiddle and then you simply must dance to their tune—perfect for the shy boys at your school. Suddenly another creature swooped down from the trees, its wings seeming too fragile to support its weight, a faerie dragon.

With Lev translating we learned that the female’s name was Tyg-Titter-Tut and the little dragon was called Perlivash.

“So you’ve been harassing the trappers,” Lev asked directly.

Perlivash nipped a piece off the candy before answering happily. “Just one.”

“Why him?”

“Bad, bad hunter,” Perlivash frowned. “Cruel-Traps. Set/Forget. Good friends die. We saw that he had accident.”

We offered them assistance in disarming the rest of the traps but they refused. "We’ve been watching you,” he said, giving the candy to Tyg, who shyly bit off a piece. "We saw you at bandit camp. We saw you at moon radish patch. Know hot springs?”

And that’s how we ended up going southwest towards the head of the Skunk River. Sounds appetizing, right? We bade the two fey adieu but could feel their eyes upon us as we approached the edge of the wood. By afternoon we had found its watershed.

“A good place for a fort,” Lev idly speculated.

As we traveled along the nascent Skunk River the smell grew worse until we came to its source the hot springs. We heard something large splashing in the water ahead and quietly slipped our weapons free.

I watched Lev get off his horse, open his sack, crush blackberries on a cloth, tie the sack back onto the horse, throw the crushed berries onto the ground, and tie the still dripping cloth around his face. “To help with the stench,” he said. “I smell blackberries!”

Meanwhile Piea had come back to tell us there were three giant frogs bathing in the springs, “with crazed looks in their eyes.”

Lev’s plan was that we would split up. He and Cane would sneak over to the other side while the rest of us came in frontally, flanking them when they emerged.

As they saw us approach the middle frog croaked its challenge, hopping quickly toward us. Suddenly, its tongue slapped wetly at Piea but she miraculously ducked in time.

Kelm and I both nicked it with our bows as Piea ducked a frog leg and another tonguing as she chopped a piece out of him. Over his croak of pain came an even larger noise as the boss frog angrily hopped our way and Lev and Cane both took the opportunity to miss him.

Piea ducked yet a third attack as I put my bow aside to cast bane on them., which Piea took immediate advantage of. Cane missed twice as a frog leaped upon him, tongue wrapping his head like a warm towel at the barber’s. The largest frog was so angry that it sprained its tongue chasing Piea. Its bulging eyes seemed ready to pop out of his head with frustration. I called down the justice of Erastil on one of them, doing some damage but then it grappled me. Fortunately Piea hit it, and the one next to him, so hard their eyes exploded with a sharp pop. For good measure she then finished off the one that was gnawing on Cane's head.

"I thought frogs didn't have teeth," Cane swore as I staunched the blood flowing into his eyes.

We took the rest of the day off, relaxing in the hot springs before finding a good camping spot upwind. The next morning we started back to Oleg’s. On the way we met a hunter leading a mule burdened with many animal pelts. Could he be Sneed we wondered? He was as suspicious as us, carrying his longbow openly, his short sword within easy reach in the bedroll behind him. Taking a long tug from a skin of sarsaparilla, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Ahoy,” he said. “What news do you have from the north? Oleg’s still stands?”

“Oh, yeah.” Lev introduced us. “You are, sir?”

“Skott Skevins. My friends call me Sure Shot—Sure Shot Skott. Do you have some hobbit leaf on you?” That’s when we noticed his guitar case. “I’ve been writing some songs he said modestly. If I’m still at Oleg’s the next time we’re there we can sing a little Kumbaya. ”

He then told us the dead hunter was named Breeg, “He was scum anyway. Good riddance.”

It took us a day to get back to Oleg’s where Kesten had his troops sweating over the catapults. He expected them to be operational in a few days.

That’s when a small child walked in. He was dirty and very hungry.

“My name’s Billee,” he said, sniveling, “Billee Weaver. Ma and Pa are bleeding and sleeping in the road.” He couldn’t tell us much more. His parents had been set upon by bandits somewhere north. Lev handed him the doll we’d found as Svetlana took him inside to clean up and feed. We asked Kesten if he’d investigate but he grandly declined, stating that it would violate his charter and, besides, there were already patrols on that road, although little Billee’s experience would argue otherwise.

We found that two new proclamations had arrived since or departure. The first offered a small fortune, 5000 gold, for the capture or death of the Stag Lord. The second directed us to settle, through fair means or foul, a troublesome tribe of kobolds for 800 gold.

As we began preparing to once again go out we mulled over Garess’s refusal to seek out Little Billee’s family. Then Kelm said, “You do realize that Garess is a knight and one of the royal family of Garess in Restov, yes?” Well, I admit, I had assumed as much. When I was a judge I had more business with the Lebeda’s and the Medvyed than the Garess, but most nobles are cut from the same cloth. We still don’t know what Kesten is about but we can be sure that his interests and ours will not coincide forever.

We immediately confronted him with our knowledge but he shrugged dismissively, “I came down for the fresh air,” he smiled. “Really, I needed to prove my worth to the family so they sent me down here. ‘You appreciate things more when you earn them,’ as uncle says.”

As your uncle, I can only agree, but in his case I believe they’re pretty words meant to divert.

We finished our preparations as Little Billee watched us intently from the corner of a building he was always threatening to duck behind. I admit I thought of you when I saw him. It’s hard to lose one parent, much less two. I want you to write to him in my name care of Oleg’s Trading Post. He’s about half your age. Make sure you tell him that he’s not alone.

We talked with him more before we left. He offered to ride along but in that we had to disappoint him. He’s a fiesty little guy. After he left Cane discovered that the brat had lifted half of the candy he was planning to take to the fey. “I knew that we should have enslaved him,” Cane growled. While I don’t countenance thievery we had been delayed enough so I let it slide. Maybe in your letter you can warn him about what it’s like to face my wrath.

We headed first to our gold mine to prepare it for Little Billee (kidding, don’t mention the candy when you write him), then southwest across the plain of tall grass until we reached the Thorn River coming from the northwest. We followed it for a while as it descended into a deep gulch between the hills. There we found a rickety wooden bridge crossing it but since it was too weak for our horses we turned east to the sycamore tree where we rested, then southeast to an area bordering the Stag Lord’s land. Using the map we’d found in the mites den the previous week we found a cave’s narrow opening into the hills.

There was a wooden cage by the entrance holding one miserable looking mite. Before we could approach it a familiar looking kobold appeared. “Wait wait wait wait wait,” he called. “It’s me, Mikmek! Put your swords away.”

Although Cane was ready to slit his throat, Mikmek was unapologetic, saying that the statue was sacred to his people and he had to get it back to them. How was he to know that he could trust us? "Humans have been exploiting kobolds for centuries!" he huffed.

Lev figured this was the perfect time to befriend these kobolds so he asked for us to be taken to the chief. Mikmek readily agreed saying, “He wants to thank you personally.”

He quickly pulled three ropes then led us down a narrow passage where we passed single file behind him. The walls were smeared with charcoal and blood. I know that we want to befriend these creatures but every ounce of my body wants to bring a judgment of purity upon them. The images scribed in retched offal reminded me of the reptile statue that Mikmek had taken. I choked back my urge to cleanse! We then passed through a foul anteroom where we were joined by two kobolds who escorted us into a large common area where seven more waited with their chief, Sootscale.

Mikmek introduced us. “Ah, then I owe you my thanks. This statue,” he said, gesturing around the room, “is so important to my tribe,” he continued as he carefully picked it up. “We looked for this for a long time when the mites took it—Tartuk’s treasure,” his face soured with sudden contempt. “It has brought us much trouble and I am here to he rid of it!” To our astonishment he violently smashed the statue to the floor.

The shock we felt was nothing compared to the horror that overwhelmed the kobolds in the room, groaning and weeping most piteously.

Grimacing hugely Sootscale then proclaimed, “The curse is over! We’re free from the curse! Let’s kill Tartuk! We must kill the priest!”

That’s when Lev got his attention. “Why?” he demanded.

“He misled my people,” Sootscale replied hotly. “He has brought much suffering upon the Sootscales. You have helped us before—come with us now!”

We followed Sootscale and Mikmek into the priest’s lair. Horsehide cut into banners covered the walls with demonic sigils painted in blood. A cauldron of bubbling red liquid steamed in the center of the room with a large purple kobold hunched over it, a dark crow upon his shoulder. It had no red marking on its wing.

He turned, first surprised, then angry when he saw us. “Who are these people, Mikmek?” he growled. “You need to leave now!”

By this point Sootscale was frothing at the mouth so anxious was he to be rid of his rival. I would have been happy to let them duke it out but Tartuk cast fear on Piea and we were off to the races—literally, in this case as Tartuk scampered down a dark tunnel in the back.

With Piea shrieking in terror of some imaginary creature we went after Tartuk only to be bottlenecked at the head of the tunnel. Cane took a shot at him but missed again. I’m afraid that, despite his bluster, the lad is beginning to doubt himself.

Tartuk had almost gotten away when I commanded him to halt and he did. “Heretic, we have you now!” I cried.

That’s when the Chief reached him, giving him a sound thwack with his club that echoed throughout the tunnel. Tartuk returned the favor, popping him with his wand of magic missiles. The chief was stunned for a second but swung his club savagely again, scattering Tartuk’s brains across the floor.

I hate to compare my comrades to scavengers but they picked Tartuk apart faster than vultures savaging a sick desert hare:

•    wand of magic missiles 28 charges—Lev has the most use for it
•    bracers of armor +2—Lev again
•    journal—Kelm claimed it while insulting our intelligence

We were about to count the pile of treasure that had been stacked in the priest’s room when Sootscale sidled over. “That’s our tribe’s treasure,” he noted, voice rising. “What are you doing?”

Several of our group begged to differ but Lev, remembering why we were here, stepped up and said, “I think we can leave them their treasure,” he turned to the chief, “as long as you agree to . . . work with us.”

“I can give you these old boots.” Sootscale handed Lev two well-worn black leather boots, like the kind street musicians wear.”

Lev looked at them dubiously. “Are they magical?”


“Okay,” Lev quickly took them.

“There will be diplomacies all around,” Kelm announced to no one particular.

“And as a sign of my good will and good intentions,” he stuck his hand in a small leather sack, pulling out a small band. We gasped in unison. “The mites took this from one of the human people.” He gave it to Lev, a plain brass ring with a single pearl—Svetlana’s, of course.

•    boots of elvenkind
•    Svetlana’s ring

With the boots Lev had so much of the treasure he felt a little guilty, giving me the ring of swimming. Little did we know how valuable it would soon prove to be.

To top it off Piea realized that we were sitting in a silver mine! All the more reason to slay the kobolds but I won’t be the first to say it.

We quickly made a pact with them. They stay where they are and leave peaceful intruders be as long as they don’t settle on their land, or “hex” as they like to call it. We also sketched out our future interests with the Chief and found much potential for cooperation.

“Near where the Thorn and Shrike (which flows from the northeast) rivers meet there is a low area where you can ford,” he said. “It then flows southwest to the Tuskwater, which is a small lake where lies an old ruined fort.”

We decided that it was time to confront the Stag Lord but, easy does it, crossing into the southeast where he was least likely to be. True to our expectations we found nothing.

“I’m going to go ahead and put on the Stag Head’s necklace,” Kelm announced.

“Maybe I should wear it,” Lev answered.

“Well, ain’t that convenient, Mr. ‘wearing everything already’?” Cane said with a sneer.

“I’m pretty good at lying,” Lev answered truthfully.

We then headed west where we came across five wilding kobolds. “Uurgh!” one of them hollered and suddenly we were in a fight. Two of the little ba . . . dboys got the drop on me and your favorite uncle lost a couple more pieces of flesh.

Lev and Kelm quickly offed one each but Cane missed again. “Can he be ensorcelled somehow?” I thought as I staunched the flow of blood from my leg while Cane fumbled arrows like a novice. For my hubris I then dropped my sword like an amateur. Understand this, Pino, the gods are always watching.

Piea chopped one of them in half, spraying his bowel everywhere, then she took down another, but the rest of us did very little damage, Cane tossing his bow to the ground in disgust. Finally, Kelm polished off the last of them.

No one would bury them so I came out later from our camp while the fish stew simmered and put them in the ground. I didn’t bother to say a prayer for their heathen souls but did say one for mine. While on my knees I saw that a large black crow had landed on their mound. Even in the dim light of dying day I could see that one wing had a brilliant bolt of scarlet. It looked at me reproachfully for, in truth, I had buried its supper.

“I can dig one back up,” I said but it didn’t answer, spreading its large wings and taking again to the sky. I spent the next 20 minutes retrieving the kobold that had cut a piece off me leaving him there as tribute to the scavengers. All praise to Erastil.

Life is making a pig’s foot out of a sow’s ear.
                                                    —Parables of Erastil

The next morning we reached where the river empties into Tuskwater Lake. Across it on a hill there was an old fort, enclosed by a tall palisade. Behind was the remains of a large crumbled tower.

“Who wants a vial of centipede poison on their weapon?” Kelm asked mischievously.

I swam across the river securing a rope to the other side to help the others across. Pairing off the good swimmers with the bad, Piea almost drowned before Cane got her back to the far shore where she vomited lustily onto the bank, then immediately walked back into the water to try again. This time she made it easily.

We had to send the horses back to Oleg’s but they seem to know the way.

Dressed as bandits, with Cane reeking of alcohol, we followed a wide open path winding up the hill to the gate. The palisade was three man-heights high, made of thick forest timber embedded into the ground.

“Who the hell are you,” a guard challenged.

“By the bloody bones of St. Gilmorg who wants to know?” we spoke the passwords. I gipped the handle of my sword reflexively.

“Maybe I want to know.”

“Then open up.”

“You got any hobbit leaf on you?” the man asked.

“What do you think?”

The gate squeaked open regretfully. “The lord’s liquor is here!” one of them shouted. We stepped into a shallow courtyard. Barrels lined the interior of the palisades each with a bucket nearby. A dozen flunkies lounged inside, eyeing us greedily.

Fortunately, we just had to look mean, which is easy for me (though never with you, peachpit).

“Aarrr, where is my liquors?” A large, much scarred man wearing a stag’s head came out.

“We brought you eight bottles of . . .” Lev began.

“Give it to me!” he commanded. “Akiros, pay these men twenty gold each,” and he went off to drink.

“Twenty gold each, eh? Haven’t seen you around much.”

“We’ve been up north by Oleg’s,” Lev said, giving them too much information for my comfort.

“There’s been trouble up by Oleg’s,” he frowned suspiciously. “We haven’t had any word form the Thorn River camp in some time. They say there’s a group of . . . explorers in the region.”

“There was a knight and soldiers,” Lev said quickly. One gangsta, with a large tattoo of Rovagug on a flaming stallion upon his arm, snorted wetly. “You guys, look at you. You don’t think I see right through your little disguise?”

Akiros turned to him. “Shut up Dovan, petulant little skunk!”

A gigantic fat fellow they called “Auchs”  farted loudly. “Huha, Dovan, you’re dumb. And you’re from Nisroch! Way to go Akiros.”

“Thanks, Auchs,” Akiros said without enthusiasm.

We settled into a vacant part of the enclave to find what tomorrow may bring.

Say your prayers,
Your devoted uncle,