It was only after they were well out of bow range that Branwhyn noticed Kotoma’s arm wasn’t pulling at the water. Instead, the herder’s arm dangled lifelessly, pulled by the river and bumping against the side of the canoe. An arrow had struck him in the side, slipping through the rib cage and found the vulnerable organs underneath. Nearly on instinct, Branwhyn started to rise to tend to the dead man; but seemingly all at once the pain and weariness from fatigue along with spell born sickness flooded back into his body. Sitting back on the canoe’s aft bench with a heavy sigh or weariness, he left the dead man where he lay. Pulling the oar in, he leaned forward to touch Corinna’s ankle. She was still warm to the touch, still breathing, and she had no wounds that he could see. Slumping down further in his seat, Branwhyn didn’t have the energy to do anything except let the river carry them.
Undertake a Journey w/ Wits(1, 4, 6+3), Strong Hit. I just want to point out that we’ve basically been trying to make this roll for the past four chapters. Talk about being waylaid! Mark Progress – 7/20. Man, oh man do we have a long way to go. As a note, this puts us into the next tier of Gradient Threat, just fyi. And consulting the Oracles for what we find: After a day’s travel, you have arrived at a(n): Exposed Waste and discover a settlement!
As the river took the patched dugout further south, time passed in fitful bouts of fevered consciousness. Each time he awoke with a sliver of lucidity, the sun had shifted or gone down entirely. Each time he awoke they were further downstream; the terrain having changed. When he was lucid, Branwhyn always first bailed water out of the canoe and checked the patch where it seeped in. Then he checked on Corina and ate some small measure of provision. He wasn’t certain it did much good, for at least once when he had became lucid, the taste of bile had been on his lips. He might well be retching up everything he ate. In one fevered moment of awareness, he considered pushing Kotoma’s body over the side, but the herdsman had been willing to help them at least. Disposing of his body in such a way seemed unkind. Branwhyn settled for arranging Kotoma’s body to be more secure in the boat.
There was a mist upon the world, the haze of night not yet burned off by the morning sun. In the gray morning light, when the cool air seemed to sooth his fevered mind, Branwhyn came to realize they weren’t drifting downstream anymore. The oar was in his hands, his knuckles and fingers ached as he peeled them off the paddle’s handle. The canoe bobbed with the water’s swell and bumped against a dock made of round stones. How long they’d been then, he had no notion. There were dark shapes in the near distance, buildings seen through the haze only by the light they blocked. Perhaps this was the town that Kotoma had indicated before being shot by an arrow from one of Brecken’s bandits. Forcing his cold, stiff, and aching joints to move, Branwhyn released his death grip upon the oar and then lifted Corinna’s limp form up onto the cold stones. Dimly he was aware the dock was made of round stones and mortar but had been worn flat with long usage and time. Whatever settlement was here, it predated the coming of the Ironlanders, it was one of the many empty settlements they’d found when they’d arrived a mere two generations past. There was then the possibility that it was uninhabited, or that something other than humans laid claim to the area.
There was little else to be done though. Going on was not a proposition likely to do them any good. Branwhyn needed rest, time to heal, time for his body to fight off the mystically born infection, and time to find a solution to whatever afflicted Corinna. So much time was needed and with that realization came another, that he’d sunk back into the dugout canoe again and stopped moving. With effort, he raised their packs onto the docks before transitioning himself onto the cold stones. Kotoma would, for now at least, have to stay with the boat. Branwhyn didn’t have the strength to move the dead man’s weight. A line and a simple knot secured the slowly sinking dugout canoe to the stone dock. Then with spear in hand – used more as walking stick than weapon – Branwhyn moved towards the haze shrouded shapes and hoped they were buildings.
There feels like there should be a roll here abouts and I’ve been debating what it ought to be. Since we are mostly just hoping to find safety, this is a matter of courage and determination to keep going. Bravery essentially, ergo I’ve decided on Secure an Advantage w/ Heart (8, 3, 4+2), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+9).
As Branwhyn closed in, he began to be able to see figures moving in the haze. Hopefully Ironlanders who were about their morning business. Hopefully they would be friendly. As the closest shape coalesced out of the haze, it formed into a stern looking man with a drawn expression on his face. His gray dropping mustache seemed to only deepen his frown. The man’s brow knit into furrows as he spotted Branwhyn and his hand rested upon the head of an axe tucked into his belt. “Hold fast stranger. Who are you? What brings you to Grimwick? And what ails you?”
A grateful smile touched Branwhyn’s lips and he leaned more heavily on his spear as he felt a rush of relief. He’d expected horrors, Broken, or worse. A guard – even a suspicious one – was more than welcome. “I am Bran . . .” He paused after the first syllable of his name. His name that had multiple times in recent memory been associated with the murders of a Circle further to the south. If that name were known here, how welcome would he be? “I am Bran.” He repeated with more certainty. “I’m a fur trader. Come from Twin Rivers. My daughter and I . . .” He motioned back in the direction of the stone dock, “. . . we escaped bandits. A man named Kotoma helped us, that help cost him.”
Somewhere in his ramblings the guard had softened and approached to offer a steadying hand. “Well met Bran. You’ve come to Grimwick and I am Warden Bohumil and you have reached safety.”
Sojourn w/ Heart (5, 1, 1+2), Weak Hit. We will choose to Mend: Clearing the Sickness condition and taking +1 Health (+3).
A soft muslin cloth, soaked with water, felt chilly as Branwhyn woke. Moving to take the compress from his forehead, he was surprised that his joints no longer ached, neither did his muscles cramp at their use. It was an almost joyous revelation and he found a smile spreading upon his lips. As he began to sit up though, the world swam, and the others aches and pains of his wounds asserted themselves to remind him of their existence.
“Welcome back.” An aged voice commented from across the room. “Not dead and fully healed are far different things. Be still, I’ll be with you in a moment.”
When the world stopped spinning, Branwhyn tried opening his eyes again, this time slowly opening them while not attempting to sit up. The world was far more pleasant through slatted eyelids and soon he was able to open them fully without the light giving him pain. He was in a rectangular stone house, built of the same round stones and mortar as the docks. The rafters were new timbers though and held aloft a thatched roof. From the rafters hung numerous roots and plants, drying in the air. Across the room, an old crone wearing a faded green and brown dress. With withered, gnarled hands, she poured a thin soup that smelled of onions into Corinna’s mouth before massaging the girls throat to get her to drink. Looming over and just behind the old woman was a young, broad-shouldered man, who hovered protectively close.
Apparently satisfied, the old woman leaned back in the chair she rested in and looked over to Branwhyn. “My name is Nazmi and you are in my workshop. This is Marn, my grandson and my legs.” As means of explaining her statement, she pointed to a chair next to Branwhyn’s bed. Marn, pushing up the sleeves of his blue tunic, tenderly lifted his grandmother out of the chair. If the old woman’s thin frame gave Marn any trouble, he made no sign of it. With the effortlessness born of much practice, Nazmi wrapped her thin arms around Marn’s thick neck while he carried her across the room and gently placed her in the chair next to Branwhyn. “So, Bran, how do you come to have a Changling for a child?” The question was asked with all the subtlety of thunder.
With a deep sigh Branwhyn shut his eyes, almost hoping that unconsciousness might claim him again. It did not. When he opened his eyes the old crone was still there waiting as patiently as stone. “I killed the Hag that was her mother. I had sworn to her true father to bring her home and take care of her. By the time I did bring her home, he and his wife were dead. I’ve done my best to care for her ever since.”
“Is that why she has mismatched eyes?” The question came from Marn, the old woman’s grandson. His voice was too loud for their confines, even though he seemed to be making an effort to speak softly.
“It is a sign, but not a definitive one, and not the only one.” Nazmi answered – her tone that of an instructor – before she turned her attention back to Branwhyn. “And why won’t she wake?”
Branwhyn told them of the attacked convoy on the ridge above the river, their struggle against the river, and his suspicion of her hitting her head. From there, the story naturally led to Blacktongue Brecken, the dwarf of a man who led the bandits and who’d tried to leverage Corinna’s life for his own gain. Branwhyn also told of the Elder Wolf and its pack’s attack on the bandit camp – neglecting to mention the ritual he used to summon it – and then spoke of their escape.
Since we are lying by omission, Face Danger w/ Shadow (4, 10, 4+2), Weak Hit. I think the suspicion earned here hampers their helpfulness and thus we will take -1 Momentum (+8). That will also count for success for the Vow: Renew Twin River Southern Trade Route 8/10.
The old crone made a non-comital noise at the end of the tale and eyed him out of the corner of her eyes as she mixed a regent of some kind. It was clear she suspected that he wasn’t telling her everything, even if she wasn’t sure what. “It is good to know we can send supplies upriver again at least. Grimwick is isolated. Trade is particularly helpful, if not quite essential. What of this Brecken, will he follow you here?”
“He might.” Acknowledged reluctantly, he had no wish for Nazmi or her people to suffer but lying to them – or at least lying about a threat to them – would not help. “But he might come here regardless. The Elder Wolf destroyed his camp, killed many of his men, scattered his slaves. He might raid settlements to recoup his losses.”
Nazmi pursed his thin lips into a narrow line and considered Branwhyn for a long moment. Glancing to her grandson, they shared a look where an unspoken thought passed between them. Subtlety though was not the old crone’s forte. “Bran – or whatever your name is – you are far more than a fur trader.” She held up a hand to forestall protest. “You carry a medicine bag with powerful regents around your neck and your satchel has scrimshawed skulls that nearly vibrate with power.”
Apparently privacy of belongings also wasn’t one of her fortes either. His own lips pressing into a thin line, Branwhyn stared back at the old healer woman with his grey eyes. They were another mark – if not a definitive one – of being touched by magic. “Your point?” Trying to put an edge of warning into his tone, it was lacking force since he was still lying flat on his back.
Though Marn edged protectively closer to his grandmother, she was unaffected and unimpressed by the bravado. Snorting derisively, she continued, “We are in need of your help shaman, whether Grimwick believes it or not.”
“And if I don’t, you won’t help us?” Branwhyn elucidated the unspoken threat, the thin line of his lips curving down into a frown.
“Pah, don’t be so dramatic.” Nazmi rolled her eyes and pointed to a chair near the fire. Obediently, her grandson lifted her – she repeated the ritual of putting her arms around his neck – while he moved her to the different position. “Of course I’m going to help, out of the goodness of my heart.” The old woman actually cackled, unable to keep a straight face at what had apparently been a jest. “I’m a healer, I heal people, I could do nothing less. You are Ironsworn and one of a good heart, or you would have killed that changeling long ago. Instead, you call her daughter. You help people, you can do nothing less.”
His frown deepening, Branwhyn considered doing a great deal less. “What threatens Grimwick?” Seeking information wasn’t a commitment, at least that is what he told himself as he asked it. “If you want my help, I need to know more about what is going on.” He had, of late, made too many vows in haste and they had ended badly. It was not a mistake he intended to make again.
Simple Gather Info w/ Wits (4, 1, 4+3), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+10), that tops us out.
“It started when we first came to Grimwick, I was at the awkward age of being old enough to not want to be a girl, but not old enough to be a woman.” Checking on a concoction brewing over the fire, she spoke with an easy freedom of something well remembered. “Like many settlements, we found these buildings but also the catacombs beneath them. The men explored the catacombs and disturbed something, a spirit of some kind. It claims to be a guiding spirit, but I have seen it control three Thanes now and it is soon to claim a fourth. Whatever the spirit is, it does not give guidance, it controls. It does not grant wisdom, it lays waste to the body. Thrice now I have seen the change that the spirit brings to our Thanes, I ask you to protect Cadigan Thaneson. Keep the spirit that controls his father from controlling yet another.”
Closing his eyes, Branwhyn thought through what the old crone was asking of him. Slowly, he sat up in the bed, holding fast to the sides to brace against the dizziness. When the room stopped spinning, he opened his eyes again. “Does this spirit harm the people of Grimwick? Does it demand sacrifice or . . .?” He left the question open, not knowing what a spirit indwelling a human might want.
“No.” Nazmi admitted reluctantly. “It’s rule is hard and strict, but fair. That does not change that it continues to steal the life of those who lead us, a plague from one generation to the next.”
Sins of the father visited upon the son was something that Branwhyn was all too familiar with. Something that Nazmi had not said gave him further pause. She was old enough to have some distant memory of when the Skulde had driven the Ironlanders from their first home across the sea. She’d certainly have recognized that his black hair was a mark of their lineage, but she had not mentioned it once in their dealings. It would not have been the first time that he’d been mistrusted because of his appearance. “You’ve not mentioned my black hair.”
If the non-sequitur question gave the old healer pause, she didn’t show it. “Many were born with black hair in those troubled years and the months following our flight from the Skulde. The child is hardly responsible for the evil that made it.”
Swear an Iron Vow w/ Heart (5, 7, 6+2), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum, but we are already capped.Vow: Protect Grimwick [Dangerous]. This is certainly another delay and we are not dealing with the threat in the north, so we Role to Advance the Threat – 34 The threat works subtly to advance toward its goal, or the danger escalates. Mark menace (3 of 10).
Taking several intentional and measured breaths, Branwhyn rose from the bed, putting his feet upon the ground. The vow welled up in his heart and mind, giving strength to his limbs even before he’d spoken the words. He walked to where his leaf-bladed spear rested in the corner and he touched the cold iron blade to his forehead. “I swear upon iron that I will look into this matter and protect Grimwick.” It was Branwhyn’s turn to raise a hand to forestall protest. “I’ll not bring harm to this Circle by acting without understanding. Now, where will I find Cadigan, his father the Thane, and how does one get into the catacombs?”
Journey to Ragged Coast [Extreme] – 6/20
Branwhyn ap Hugh – Bonds: 11
Health +3 Spirit +2 Supply +2 Momentum +10
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1+1 Shadow: 2 Wits: 3 XP: 19/23
[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+;
[Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward
[Companions] Kindred (Corinna) – Shield-Kin;
Kingmaker [Epic] 3/40
Break the Power of the Broken’s Apostle [Extreme] – 5/20
Mentor Corinna [Extreme] – 7/20
-Rival [Monster Within] – 5/20
Find the Heir of Twin Rivers [Formidable] – 2/10
Renew Twin River Southern Trade Route [Dangerous] – 8/10
Winter Meeting at the Seven Strong Men [Dangerous] – 0/10
Revive Corinna [Formidable] – 7/10
Protect Grimwick [Dangerous] – 0/10
Threat: Corruption in the North – 3/10
Failure Track – 12/40
Bonds: ???, ???, ???, Esyllt the Herbalist, Ironhold of Crow’s Perch, Björn Blacksmith of Greybrook, Valknut, Ironhold of Twin Rivers, Ironhold of Greybrook, Priestess Indirra of Wolves Haven, Old Grey [wolf]