Dusk was swiftly approaching as Branwhyn’s hooded form ducked through the door to the healer’s home. His instinct was that Nazmi would not be pleased with the fulfillment of the vow he’d made her. True, his efforts would ultimately protect Grimwick, but only from the troubles his presence had brought them and that was not likely to rid the line of their Thanes from the possessing spirit which controlled them. Branwhyn’s instincts on the matter were not wrong.
Nazmi looked like she might spit into the bowl of stew that she was in process of handing him. She looked at it for a long time before handing it to her grandson, Marn, to give to Branwhyn. It was spit free when it reached his hands. “I share your concerns for the Thane’s line, but there are too many unanswered questions. For now, Grimwick is most secure being guided by Thane Egil.”
“And so, you leave us more imperiled than when you came?” The old crone accused, pulling the wooden spoon out of the cauldron to point at him. A bit of stew broth flew at him as she did so.
“The world is perilous, and no one can see all paths. It may have been that Grimwick might have caught Blacktongue Brecken’s eye and without my presence to stay his hand he would have already sieged and sacked your town.” He knew that ifs and maybes were not comforting and so he continued, though silence might have been the better option. “I do not abandon you. Corinna and I will go south to seek aid, Warden Bohumil will travel with us. And in all likelihood, I’ll return this way before the year is out. More answers and thus reason for decisive action might be found then.”
Secure an Advantage w/ Heart (5, 5, 2+2), Miss. Mark the miss track. 14 of 40. Pay the Price. Complicates Quest. I think Nazmi lays a Curse on Branwhyn that takes the form of a Burden. Normally those come from Facing Death or Desolation, we will make an exception here. They are always tied to a quest though; we’ll make that roll now. Swear an Iron Vow w/ Heart (7, 4, 4+2), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+3). While I’m here, I’m going to risk Reviving Corinna being done. Fulfill Vow w/ Progress (7, 8, ), Strong Hit. +3 XP. In turn, that feels like a place to mark Progress for Mentoring Corinna 8 of 20.
“I expect stronger commitment from one sworn to iron.” In a rage that gave strength to her wizened frame, Nazmi overturned the cauldron onto the hearth fire.
The flames guttered and died beneath the onslaught of stew. In the shadowed room, the old crone spoke words of power that resonated in Branwhyn’s blood and bones. Shocked by the sudden powerful magics being worked on him, it took a moment before he could respond. The bowl of stew went clattering to the floor, the chair he’d been sitting in followed after as he launched to his feat, his hand moving to the haft of his axe. But it was over, his chance to stop the magic had passed and whatever working the old woman had laid upon him was done.
“Until the curse upon the line of Grimwick’s Thanes is broken; may you plead for help and receive help; just as you have given me.” The old crones gleefully spiteful cackles descended into a hacking cough and then a labored breath.
A candle’s light sparked to live, casting a weak yellow pallor across the room. Marn had struck the light and sought to aid his grandmother. Each breath the old woman took become harder and more strained, Branwhyn had felt the magic she’d used and knew what kind of toll it could enact upon body and soul. Even with the aid of his sight, the shaman knew that Nazmi’s life was now measured in minutes.
On the pallet nearby, Corinna stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and she groaned painful. “Branwhyn?” She called weakly.
Gently, he placed a hand over hers. “I’m here.” The dry lump in his throat was back, perhaps from something that had happened in the tomb, perhaps the heartful response to hearing Corinna’s voice after she’d been unconscious for so long. Likely a mixture of both. With a heavy sigh that turned into a cough of his own, Branwhyn patted his ward’s hand. He spoke without turning to look at the dying old woman and her grandson, “I’m not much of a herbalist Marn, but I can make your grandmother more comfortable.”
The tall and stalwart young man, kneeling before his frail grandmother, bowed his head to help control the anger that shook his hands. “Just go and be done with us.”
“We’ll go.” The shaman assured, “But we will see you again, you’re grandmother has seen to that.”
“A darkness dwells about you.” Thane Egil’s dry graveled voice observed as Branwhyn approached the dock of smooth round stones.
Walking using his spear for support, Branwhyn in turn used his other arm to support Corinna who was not yet stable on her feet. “Nazmi has seen to it that our paths will cross again. She is dying, or perhaps dead by now because of it.”
“I see.” Was the undying Thane’s reply. “Your vessel has been repaired so that your way may sped away from here.” He held out a withered and expectant hand.
Slowly and gently, Branwhyn helped Corinna into their dugout canoe with the carved dragon head at the front. Unslinging both their packs from his shoulders, he passed them down to her. The delay made sure everything save himself was loaded before turning to face the Thane who Nazmi had cursed him over. Harsh but fair was how Nazmi had described the possessed Thane. It was the description of fair that Branwhyn hoped was accurate in this moment. Without comment, he pulled the battered golden Death Mask from his satchel and placed it in Egil’s expectant hand. The two locked eyes for a long moment, Branwhyn’s grey looking into the sallow and wan eyes of the Thane, then the shaman released his hold on the mask.
Thane Egil, or perhaps the spirit that possessed him, nodded in approval. Still holding the golden mask, he clasped his hands behind his back and walked away.
Branwhy slowly and painfully lowered himself into the dugout canoe, trusting to their temporary companion to untie the small vessel. Warden Bohumil, of the stern countenance and magnificent drooping grey mustache, stepped into the boat before untying the mooring. He pushed off with a paddle and took up position at the aft to row and steer. It was clear to see that neither Branwhyn nor Corinna were in much condition to be of aid in that regard. Without complaint, he started to row.
Slumping in the prow of the canoe, Branwhyn reflected on their warden companion who’d first met them when they’d arrived and told him that he and Corinna were safe in Grimwick. He was also the same man who’d been ordered to kill Corinna if Branwhyn had acted against the Circle’s best interests. Now he was their traveling companion to relay Grimwick’s request for aid. The words of the curse Nazmi laid on him returned to his mind, when the time came perhaps it would indeed be best to let Warden Bohumil make the request.
Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (6, 7, 4+3), Weak Hit. -1 Supply (+3). Progress on Journey to Ragged Coast, 7 of 20. River Ford Supply.
Waking to the jolt of the canoe as it slid into the river’s graveled bank, Branwhyn’s eyes shot open and painful sunlight attacked them. Pulling his hood low to shade his eyes, it took him a moment to get his bearings. They had come upon a ford in the river, where the waters ran swift but shallow. Bohumil was unloading their packs and supplies onto the dry land, presumably so that the draft of the dugout canoe could pass over the ford without risking damage. Stretching stiff muscles and aching joints, Branwhyn pulled himself out of the canoe to help. He left Corinna within, she’d awoken briefly at the jolt, but fallen back to sleep almost instantly. The canoe’s draft would easily suffer her slight burden of weight.
“What news from Grimwick?” A voice called from the far side of the river. A trio of wagons pulled by shaggy oxen and led by armed Ironlanders was approaching the ford.
“Ill-news.” Bohumil called back. “The Circle is besieged. A bandit, calls himself Blacktongue Brecken. We go for aid.”
Though Branwhyn would have chosen to be more discrete with that information, it had good effect on what appeared to be a small trade caravan. The name of Brecken was known to them and they had no wish to travel any closer to his hunting ground. The caravanners fell to talking amongst themselves, ignoring the dugout’s occupants, and debating where they ought to take their trade and custom.
“Travel . . .” Branwhyn coughed, covering it by acting like he was clearing his throat. “Travel with us down river. If help is sent – as we hope it will be – your supplies will be much needed and they will trade well for them. If not, you will at least be at a Circle where some trade can be done. And I can even lighten your journey somewhat, we have some items to trade and are in need supplies for the journey.”
Resupply w/ Wits (5, 8, 3+3), Weak Hit. -2 momentum (+1), +2 Supply (+5). That will in turn be progress on the Twin Rivers trade route being open, Progress 10 of 10. Fulfill Vow w/ Progress (7, 1, ). +2 XP.
As Branwhyn haggled using some of the goods he’d taken from the catacombs beneath Grimwick, he also told them that Twin Rivers was sending trade down river again. That news seemed to assure them even more that there would be need for the supplies they carried. Finished with the trade, the caravan agreed to go south along the river, but declined to travel with them as a single group. Perhaps they were concerned by Branwhyn’s cough, perhaps they hoped if any bandits lay in along the way they would be content with their first catch, or perhaps the help they gave was simply not fully what Branwhyn wanted, just as Nazmi had said it would be.
Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (4, 3, 2+3), Strong Hit. Progress on Journey to Ragged Coast, 8 of 20. Dangerous Bog. Face Danger w/ Shadow (7, 7, 2+2), Miss. Mark the Failure track 15 of 40. Pay the Price. Seize Structure.
As the sun sank towards the sea, they found themselves traveling out of the blasted wastes that surrounded Grimwick, but the river slowed as it did so. The minerals that rain and river swept out of Grimwick’s domain drained into rich marshes of the Flooded Plains. This particular river transitioned between the two lands by way of deep and miry bog. The watery plain stretched out before them, a maze-like network of slow moving rivers twisted around thicker bars of bog that only just broke the surface of the water, or waited just below. In the distance on the far side of the bog were sodden timbers, massive trees with grand canopies that grew out of murky waters of the Flooded Plains, only a dark patch on the horizon to their eyes.
“Have you travelled through the Flooded Plains before?” Branwhyn inquired of their taciturn companion.
Bohumil frowned, causing his drooping mustache to sag even further. “Not often. I’ve long served Grimwick, it is my honor and burden to send others. It has been many winters sense I have been sent.”
“You are a man under authority, with men under your authority.” Nodding in understanding, Branwhyn couldn’t help but think of the Valknut, wardens who’d willingly placed themselves under his authority and freely followed him in facing perilous dangers. He’d left them behind, to more freely act. At least that is what he’d told himself. Now he wondered if he hadn’t done it so that he wouldn’t be responsible for their fates. “How do you . . .”
The question was interrupted by the canoe jolting to a halt as if running ground. Sharing a confused look, they each started peering over the side of their small boat to look into the murky waters below. The two men shared a look, but nothing needed to be said. They were held fast, yet they could not see what held them. Both tried with paddle and to push with butt of spear, but nothing freed them.
Branwhyn closed his eyes and sighed heavily, knowing what had to come next. It cause him to cough, his lungs feeling dry and raspy, even while the air he breathed was laden with moisture. He woke Corinna with a nudge at the shoulder. Still recovering, the changeling girl opened sleepy mismatched eyes. Turning her head slowly, she surveyed their surroundings. Her sigh was nearly an echo of his, though lacking the hacking cough. “I hate this place.” Without further complaint, she strung the black yew-bow she’d been given in Greybrook and knocked an arrow while crouching low in the canoe.
Corinna was nowhere near being recovered from her ordeal, though neither was Branwhyn. How much good either of them would be if strength of arms were needed was doubtful in the shaman’s mind. “Be ready.” Was all he said, a comment directed to both Corinna and the Grimwick warden.
As Branwhyn stripped out of his clothes and furs, he thought he saw Bohumil frowning in either confusion or disapproval. The warden understand soon enough and Branwhyn wasn’t in the mood to explain his actions. Nearly naked, the shaman took only his elk-horn knife with him when he slipped over the rail of the canoe into the bog’s murky slow moving water.
Face Danger w/ Heart (9, 5, 3+2), Miss.Mark the Failure track 16 of 40. Pay the Price, it seems obvious right? Enter the Fray w/ Wits (10, 3, 4+3), Weak HIt. +2 Momentum (+3). Clash w/ Iron + Bind (1, 5, 5+1+1), Strong Hit. Harm 4 of 10, +1 Momentum (+4). Take Initiative.
Thick with mud and minerals, the chill water only came up to his stomach. Relieved that his legs weren’t grabbed and he hadn’t been pulled under, Branwhyn smiled in relief. “Well, other than being cold, it isn’t . . .” Cold fingers with a grip of iron grabbed his ankles and pulled him under the water. At least he had been able to take a full breath of air when he’d felt the cold hands take hold. Bending his knees, he drew closer to his attacker. Unable to see in the dark muddy waters, he relied on instinct to target the slash of his elk-bone knife. It connected, splitting open flesh and nicking off of bone.
Secure an Advantage w/ Wits (6, 8, 3+3), Miss.Mark the Failure track 17 of 40. Pay the Price, -1 Spirit (+1). Endure Stress w/ Heart (4, 1, 2+2), Weak Hit. Press On.
Trying to break away, he twisted underwater and pushed off whatever it was that held him. “Stay with me.” It whispered in his ears. “Stay with me and find warmth.” Soft and gentle words, clearly heard even underwater. “Lay down your burdens and rest peacefully with me. Stay.” Words meant to sooth, to sedate, to encourage him to cease his struggles. The siren call was alluring and he so longed to rest. Yet his oaths would not let him. Corinna was not yet ready to be on her own. Twin Rivers needed to be ruled by a Thane and not a Steward. There was the devouring power growing in the north and the doom he’d foreseen that only a united Ironlands could face. He could not rest here. He would not rest here.
Turn the Tide & Strike w/ Iron + Bind.(4, 7, 2+1+1+1), Weak Hit. Harm 8 of 10, +1 Momentum (+5). Clash w/ Iron + Bind (6, 7, 6+1+1), Strong Hit. Harm 10 of 10. +1 Momentum (+6). End the Fight w/ Progress (3, 9, ),
With his free hand, Branwhyn reached out blindly and grabbed hold of something ropy and kelp-like. With a firm grip he blindly plunged the elk-bone dagger at his attacker. He felt the blade slip into flesh, he ripped it free with a twist and plunged it back down again, and again, and again, until that which held him let go. Forcefully, he kicked off, pushing against the creature or perhaps merely the bottom. His head broke free of the water and he took in a grateful breath of air. The deep breath left him coughing. Fortunately he didn’t have tread water and simply needed to put his feet under him. Muddy bog squished between his toes and this time, nothing grabbed him.
Bohumil moved the dugout canoe over to him and then braced the opposite side of the canoe so they would capsize when Branwhyn pulled himself back in.
“You needed the bath.” Corinna mustered a half smile as she passed him his bear-fur cloak. “You were starting to smell.”
Starting to shiver, the shaman gladly bundled himself into the cloak. He’d put his clothes back on once he was dry. “If that is how it works, you get to go swimming next time.”
Mismatched green and golden brown eyes sparkled back at him, her weariness not enough to fully suppress her mischief. Branwhyn smiled back at her, though her unconscious body had rarely been far from him, her presence, her person had been sorely missed. “I missed you daughter.”
Progress Relationship w/ Heart (3, 6, 1+2), Miss. Burn Momentum, Reset (+0). Weak Hit.+1 Relationship 9 of 20. -1 Momentum (-1).
She was of course not his daughter, not by blood. The words had come so naturally out of his mouth, yet a stunned silence fell between them. They were each left alone with their own thoughts for a long moment, the warden not intruding in a conversation he didn’t understand. Only the the paddle pulling through the mire and the bog’s water lapping against the canoe made any sound.
“I was unconscious.” It sounded almost like an apology. With a shrug, Corinna scooted towards the prow of the canoe where Branwhyn huddled in his furs. She nestled in against him, leaning her head against her chest. “If I’d been awake, I would have missed you too.”
Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (7, 3, 6+3), Strong Hit. Progress on Journey to the Ragged Coast 9/20. Wild Foothills. Make Camp w/ Supply (8, 3, 6+5), Strong Hit. Relax: +1 Spirit (+2), Focus: +1 Momentum (+0), Recuperate +1 Health (+4) Also for Corinna (+1).
Branwhyn and Bohumil took turns rowing while the other slept, Corinna was still far too weak to be of help in that regard. It kept them moving, albeit slowly throughout the night. Come the dawn, the bog had given way to a more divided region where both land and water were more distinct. Low hills, wild with underbrush and small game, emerged out of the vast sweep of waters. Rolling islands like the backs of beasts emerging from the waters.
By mutual agreement, they found a hill that was mostly clear of underbrush and landed their small vessel upon it. After dragging it aground, so that the current would not take it, they made camp for the rest of the day and the night that followed. The rest was much needed and served to recuperate weary and aching muscles. While Bohumil had seemed taciturn throughout their travels, he’d either warmed to them or was simply more gregarious around a cooking fire. He told wonderful stories that were utterly ridiculous and almost certainly untrue, save that he told them with a perfectly grave countenance. A pull at his lip and slight curling upward of his magnificent drooping grey mustache was the only sign that he recognized the humor in his own tales, despite the laughter of the listeners. Come the next morning, their spirits were well lifted when they set out again.
Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (7, 1, 5+3), Strong Hit. Progress on Journey to the Ragged Coast 9/20. Peaceful Swamps. Gather Info w/ Wits (1, 3, 2+3), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+2).
Passing beneath the grand canopies of the sodden timbers, Branwhyn steered the dugout canoe into a current that slowly carried them deeper into the placid swamps. Insects flitted along the surface of the water, buzzing in fits and starts, broken by the gulping splash of a fish finding a meal. With a growing concern, Branwhyn worried that he had passed this way before. “Bohumil, what is the next circle to the south of Grimwick?”
“It depends on how the currents carry us.” The Grimwick warden sat in the prow of the boat, Branwhyn’s usual spot, his shoulder leaning against the rough dragon head that served as the figurehead of the canoe. “There are two close to each other. Greymoor is further east, more out of our way, and Mournful Cairn which is perhaps a day closer.”
Corinna, who had been fishing over the side of the canoe turned to look Branwhyn in the eyes. Branwhyn had been to Mournful Cairn before. He’d oppose a Hag that had enslaved the circle by holding their children hostage. The Thane of Mournful Cairn, a man named Wulnar, had tried to kill Brawhyn at the Hag’s behest. In the end, the Thane had escaped, though a number of his wardens gave their lives for him to do so. Mournful Cairn – fearful of harm coming to their captured children – had turned on him next. He’d escaped the Cirlce and hunted down the hag, killing her in her own lair. It was then that Branwhyn discovered that she’d never intended to keep her promise. Many of the taken children were dead and eaten, those that survived had been abused and neglected. The revelation of that truth had destroyed the fiction that the children of Mournful Cairn might return healthy and unharmed one day. The new truth did not endear the people any closer to Branwhyn. What precious few people knew was that Corinna’s mother had been the hag, not that that had earned her any better treatment. She had often received the swamp hag’s special attention, an effort – Branwhyn thought – to make the Changeling girl as malicious and spiteful as her mother.
“We should avoid Mournful Cairn.” Branwhyn spoke in a low tone, as if even speaking the Circle’s name might give away their presence.
Nodding Bohumil clearly recalled the abbreviated version of the story that Branwhyn had told Thane Egil, the one who had sent Bohumil to seek aid. “You are truly that unwelcome there?”
“Would you have killed me?” Corinna asked, breaking into the conversation and turning her mismatched eyes upon the warden.
It seemed he could only meet her gaze for a moment, he looked away searching the slow moving waters for answers. “Upon my Thane’s orders, yes.” He touched the ring of iron he wore around his left bicep. “But I would have taken no pleasure in it.”
Nodding slightly, Corinna gave no sign as to what she thought about the answer. “Mournful Cairn would kill me or Branwhyn without orders, would do so gladly, and think they had done a good and noble thing.”
No one objected when Branwhyn turned their dugout canoe to the east, turning towards Greymoor.
Journey to Ragged Coast [Extreme] – 9/20
Branwhyn ap Hugh Bonds: 11
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1+1 Shadow: 2 Wits: 3 XP: 19/30
-Cursed (Break the Grimiwck Thanes’ family Curse)
[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+;
[Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward
[Companions] Kindred (Corinna) +1 – Shield-Kin;
Kingmaker [Epic] 3/40
Break the Power of the Broken’s Apostle [Extreme] – 5/20
Mentor Corinna [Extreme] – 9/20
-Rival [Monster Within] – 5/20
Find the Heir of Twin Rivers [Formidable] – 2/10
Renew Twin River Southern Trade Route [Dangerous] – 2 xp
Winter Meeting at the Seven Strong Men [Dangerous] – 0/10
Revive Corinna [Formidable] – 3 xp
Protect Grimwick [Dangerous] – 2 xp.
Break the Grimiwck Thanes’ family Curse [Formidable] – 0/10
Threat: Corruption in the North – 3/10
Failure Track – 16/40
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 Gray [wolf]