43 – Coming Full Circle

Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (3, 6, 2+3), Weak Hit. -1 Supply. (+4).  Progress on Journey to the Ragged Coast 10/20. Defended Swamp. Make Camp w/ Supply (7, 8, 2+4), Miss. Mark the miss track 15/40. Pay the Price, well the swamp is defended isn’t it? I guess we get to meet the defenders. Face Danger w/ Shadow (5, 4, 6+2), Strong HIt. +1 Momentum (+3). Gather Info w/ Wits (4, 3, 2+3), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+5).

Bohumil woke Branwhyn with a hand over his mouth and a finger pressed to his own lips. “Trouble.” He mouthed silently. 

Nodding slowly, Branwhyn kept eye contact with the Grimwick Warden to show he understood. When the hand was pulled away, he looked around slowly and spotted the approaching danger. It was a clear night and spears of moonlight made their way down through the canopy of sodden timbers. Passing through one such pool of moonlight was a long narrow punt boat being polled through the water. Three Ironlanders sat in the boat, each armed with bow and arrow, while a fourth steered the craft nearly silently through the waters. To the right and left of the punt were other boats, spaced to be within line of sight of each other, three boats at least and possibly more. Running without torch or lantern at night was perilous, they were either hunting or hunted and Branwhyn guessed the former by the look of them.

Darkly, the shaman noted that every one of the approaching hunters that he could see was missing their left ear. With added urgency, he helped finish the packing of their camp and then was the last to slip into their dugout canoe. As of yet, they had not drawn the hunter’s attention. Silently, Branwhyn and Bohumil mouthed a slow count to one another to sync up their paddle strokes. Confident that they had each other’s timing, they slipped their oars into the murky waters of the Flooded Lands.

Face Danger w/ Shadow (7, 8, 5+2), Miss. Mark the miss track 16/40. Obvious Pay the Price is Obvious. 50/50 who done it? 60. And we’re in a Scene Challenge [Dangerous]. Secure an Advantage w/ Shadow (3, 9, 6+2), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+6). Face Danger w/ Shadow (4, 4, 2+2). Miss. Burn Momentum & Reset (+0). Strong HIt. Progress 2 of 10.

Branwhyn’s oar hit a sunken log on the third stroke and made a very solid thump. He gave an appropriately abashed and apologetic shrug as the other two glared at him. Hunting whistles, sounding like the sharp calls of birds, were like an ill-omen speaking clearly that they’d been heard.

Corinna rose into a kneeling position and with a quick motion knocked, drew, and fired her bow. The arrow flew silently through the night until it impacted loudly against a tree some distance away. More sharp whistles, she might have confused them or gotten them to spread their search. In either case, it gave them some advantage. Making as much use of it as they could, the two men started their silent count again and began to row. This time, no treacherous logs gave them away.

Secure an Advantage w/ Shadow (7, 3, 2+2), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+1). Face Danger w/ Shadow (1, 3, 2+2), Strong Hit. 4 of 10.

After a dozen more strokes, Corinna rose again to a crouching kneel and loosed a second arrow. Again it was not aimed at their attackers, but at a distant tree. The arrow struck with a satisfying crack of wood. How many times would the trick work, Branwhyn wondered. But he knew the answer: until they found one of the arrows or recognized the sound for what it was. The changeling was firing arrows off their port side though, perhaps their pursuers would have difficulty identifying the sound on that side, given they were all missing their left ears. The hunting whistles started to become more distant, hopefully, they were putting distance between themselves and their stalkers.

Face Danger w/ Shadow (1, 3, 2+2), Weak Hit. 6 of 10 Progress, Clock 1 of 4. Face Danger w/ Iron + Bind (5, 9, 6+1+1), Weak Hit. 8 of 10 Progress, Clock 2 of 4. Face Danger w/ Iron + Bind (2, 9, 4+1+1), Weak Hit. 10 of 10 Progress, Clock 3 of 4. Resolve Challenge w/ Progress (9, 1, [10]). Strong Hit.

The sound of pursuit had gone quiet, but as the dugout canoe accidentally passed through a pool of moonlight, arrows suddenly took their place of hunting whistles. There was little choice in course of action now, Branwhyn and Bohumil threw caution and stealth to the wind and pulled with their oars as hard as they could. Branwhyn alone continued the count, now out loud between gasping breaths from dry rasping lungs, and trusted that the warden to keep pace with his strokes.

The pounding of adrenaline made it unclear how long they kept up the frenzied pace. When the healthy fear that put them to flight let go of them, they came by a mutual and silent agreement to simply drift for a while. Branwhyn and Bohumil rested the oars on the sides of the dugout canoe and worked to catch their breath, Corinna – still wary – kept arrow knocked to bowstring, and all three listed for the sounds of pursuit. The dry rasping cough crept up Branwhyn’s throat and brought on another coughing fit. It sparked a new wave of concern for all of them, but it was followed by a wash of relief when they realized that inspite of the cough, they heard no sound to indicate further pursuit. 

The first voice to speak was the normally taciturn Bohumil and his words caught the other two by surprise. “I need to go to Mournful Cairn. That was who was chasing us, wasn’t it?”

Exchanging a meaningful glance with Corinna, Brawhyn reluctantly answered. “Almost certainly. They have a practice of cutting off their left ear. Something a swamp hag made them do.” He motioned to his own ear which was fortunately very much still attached.

“Militant, well organized, well trained.” The Grimwick warden summarized, his magnificent drooping mustached seeming to punctuate every word. “That is the kind of help we need. They are clearly territorial, yet for my Thane and circle, I must try.”

“They might kill you on sight,” Corinna warned, though there didn’t seem to be much concern in her voice. “Or worse.” The changeling girl had been tortured by the swamp hag, who had also been her mother. That connection had warranted special attention and so despite her age, Corinna knew full well what ‘or worse’ meant. That knowledge was not well known though and Bohumil didn’t understand the full weight of her words.

“I still must try. Take me as close to Mournful Cairn as you dare.” It was not a request, but it stopped short of being an order. “Put my feet on something like firm ground and I will speak with them. You go to Greymoor and do the same.”

Branwhyn’s grey eyes met Corinna’s mismatched gold and green, together they shook their heads and sighed. Yet the dugout canoe still turned back towards Mournful Cairn.

* * *

Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (7, 7, 1+3), Miss. As a house rule, I ignore odd matches. Pay the Price. Forced to act against your best intentions. Do we even really need to ask what that means here? Ungrateful peasants.

The horizon, which they could not see through swamp mist and sodden timbers, would be orange and red. Above them, the stars of the night sky had been consumed by morning gray. The sparse light of dawn allowed them to make out the spiked barricades of Mournful Cairn and, just barely through the mist, make out the stone spire for which the town was named. 

Branwhyn had been inside Mournful Carin before and knew its streets were made of planed wooden planks. More specifically, wooden walkways that were on stilts and rose perhaps a foot above the muck and mire of the swamp. It seemed that what passed for firm ground was reserved for houses belonging to the most affluent or at least the most powerful. Countless hovels on poles were littered between which gave the entire hold a haphazard and chaotic layout.

“There is a path,” Branwhyn indicated a winding growth of what looked like moss on the water, “That should lead you to the gates. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t mention my name.”

They had beached their dugout canoe on a small bank of not-to-sodden land. They were going to go their separate ways and Branwhyn for one would be glad to put his back to this place. Proffering his hand to the Grimwick warden, Branwhyn was caught by surprise when the other man drew sword from scabbard. “You’ll pay for your crimes!”

Wishing for the spear in the canoe, Branwhyn took three quick steps back to play for distance and drew the bearded iron ax from his belt. Not far away, Corinna was raising her bow to take a shot, but the conflict was brought short by a voice that Branwhyn well recognized.

“Indeed you will pay for your crimes, Branwhyn son of Hugh and Butcher of Mournful Cairn.” Wulnar hissed as he and three other men stole out of the sodden forest, seeming to walk on water. In truth it was nothing so miraculous, they were men of the swamps and knew well the secret paths that lay just beneath the water’s surface. 

Once the Thane of Mournful Cairn, Wulnar was once also well-muscled and well-scarred. The scars remained but now his frame was lean – like a hungry wolf in winter. The long grey hair, once used to cover his missing left ear, was now pulled back to show it off. His missing right hand, loosed from his wrist by Branwhyn the last time they had met, was a withered husk worn on a leather thong around the man’s neck like a talisman. “I’ve returned home to claim my seat and here I find you as well. What a prize, none will dispute my authority when I return with your head in hand.”

“This man is my prisoner.” Brumhil began, he must have spotted the approach of the swamp men and be playing for their favor to garner help for his besieged Circle. He would be disappointed dealing with Wulnar.

“And now he is mine.” The former Thane hissed, not taking his eyes off of Branwhyn. “Test me now outlander and you will join the fate of this treacherous butcher.”

Taking a long and slow deep breath, Branwhyn forced down the dryness in his lungs and steadied himself to speak. Turning to face Wulner, he stared the man dead in the eyes. “Twice we have crossed iron and you’ve lost something precious every time. Shall we make it thrice?”

It doesn’t feel appropriate to be able to bluster Branwhyn’s way out of the fight altogether, so this is more about shaking Wulner’s confidence, and given Branwhyn’s state, it is definitely a bluff. Ergo, Secure an Advantage w/ Shadow (2, 5, 5+2), Strong HIt. +2 Momentum [+3]. Enter the Fray w/ Heart (6, 10, 5+2), Weak Hit. Take Initiative. Strike w/ Iron + Bind (10, 8, 1+1). Miss. Mark the miss track 17/40. Lose Bind. Of course, it goes away on the first attack of the fight. Wulner was dangerous the last two times, this seems like it should be Formidable by the way.

The former Thane’s eyes slithered about and Branwhyn realized his mistake. He watched the same understanding in Wulner’s eyes. The other man couldn’t back down, if he did then he would be a coward in front of the few men who still followed him. His only choice was to fight and win. “Kill them. Kill them all.” The fallen Thane hissed and took a moment to strap a buckler onto the forearm above the stump of his severed hand. The preparation cost Wulner the initiative to act. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Branwhyn could see that Brumhil had interposed himself between the other men and Corinna. The Grimwick Warden fought aggressively to keep his opponents engaged while Cornnia sought cover and traded arrows with the third. They gave him the chance to deal with Wulner one-to-one. 

Branwhyn charged, sweeping the bearded iron ax to clear away any defense and with his off-hand hand drawing and striking in the same motion with elk-bone knife. Wulner was fast though, faster than Branwhyn remembered, or perhaps Branwhyn was merely weaker and slower. Either way, the former thane dodged out of the way and came up with ax and buckler ready to fight. Then the shaman’s situation got worse, the bear spirit that had been bound in his chest for so long now slipped away. Perhaps it was payment for keeping it so long that it decided to abandon him in the opening steps of a fight. Without its strength, Branwhyn felt the tiredness, the sickness, and the curse way his body down with fatigue.

Clash w/ Iron + Kindred (7, 4, 3+1+1), Weak Hit. Inflict 2 Harm for 2 progress: Wulner 2/10. Pay the Price. It’s Stressful. Not great there. -3 Spirit [+0] and -1 Momentum to chew up the rest [+2]. Endure Stress (9, 9, 5+3), Miss. Mark the miss track, 18/40. This is why I ignore odd matches. -1 Momentum [+1]. And I’m marking Shaken, Yay another debility! Clash w/ Iron (7, 3, 4+1), Weak Hit. Inflict 2 Harm for 2 progress: Wulner 4/10. Pay the Price: Harm for Harm. -3 Health (+1). Endure Harm w/ Iron (6, 10, 5+1), Miss. Mark the miss track, 19/40. -1 Momentum [+0].

The reply was a wild upward slash and Branwhyn danced backward to avoid it. Wulner turned to follow and Corinna seized the opportunity and put an arrow into the man’s back. The leather armor kept the shot from being lethal. But Corinna took fire in return as the other archer seized the unthreatened moment to shoot at her. Her cover protected her, but it was a near thing and at the sight of it, Branwhyn’s heart seemed to jump out of his chest and lodge in his throat. “I’ve got him!” He managed to cry out past the lump in his throat, uncertain if he actually did or not. Hopefully, Corinna would believe him though, and keep herself safe. The battle balanced on a razor’s edge though and the concern for what might happen to her had shaken him.

Wulner pressed in again and through the parries, blocks, and blows, Branwhyn’s mind could let go of the question of what would happen to Corinna should he fall. The lack of focus cost him and Branwhyn got the worst of the exchange. When he stepped back again to play for distance, he was limping and his leg almost gave out at the end of the quick steps.

Face Danger w/ Shadow (3, 6, 5+2), Strong Hit just barely. +1 Momentum [+2]. Strike w/ Iron (3, 4, 5+1), Strong Hit. 2+1 Harm for 7/10 Progress vs. Wulner. That is two strong hits in a row and I’m not sure I’ll get a third and Branwhyn is too injured to endure until we get another. We’re going to finish the fight here and hope for the best. End the Fight w/ Progress (9, 6, [7]), Weak Hit. Per tradition, Other’s won’t forget. Branwhyn is marked for vengeance.

Feigning pain and weakness wasn’t hard, in the moment it was merely an exaggerated truth. Branwhyn breathed in, focused, and when Wulner came in for what he thought was the kill, the former thane found a bear fur cloak thrust into his face. Disorientated, Wulner splashed off the mound of land they’d been fighting on and into the swampy water. 

Standing on higher ground, the shaman used the newfound height advantage to rain blows down at Wulner’s head and shoulders. The bearded iron axe rang off Wulner’s helmet and the elk-bone dagger slipped between layers of boiled leather. Mad with rage, Wulner tried to leap out of the water and back onto the land. His movement was hasty and he landed off-balance. Thrice this man had tried to kill Branwhyn, thrice he’d failed – though this time it had not been by much. Death lingered near, Branwhyn could feel the restless rustle of its wings. Could Branwhyn be more than a bringer of death? Could he avoid the prophetic words laid over him so many winters ago? Could he afford to not keep the promise he’d given Wulner the last time they’d fought? 

Catching sight of Corinna holding fast to cover as arrows splintered the old sodden timber she hid behind, Branwhyn knew the answer to his question. Slamming the head of the axe into Wulner’s stomach, he knocked the man from his feet. Dropping into a kneel, Branwhyn pinned the other man’s one good hand with one knee while the other was slammed down into the fallen man’s chest, pinning him under the weight of the shaman’s body. With his off-hand, he gave the gift that so often welled up in him in dire situations and snaked the elk-bone knife across Wulner’s throat. A new mouth opened over the other man’s jugular, like the bubbling waters of a spring, blood – bright red in the morning light – frothed up along with sucking gurgling breaths only to run down either side of his neck and mix into the swampy ground. The burbling choking sounds of the former thane, now dying brigand, brought the combat to an uncertain end. 

One of Brumhil’s opponents – wounded but not dead – was out of the combat. The other two were the worse for wear, but the sight of their leader dying in the muck took the fight out of them. Cowed under the eyes of their opponents, they helped their wounded companion to his feet and took to their heals, leaving Wulner to die surrounded by enemies. 

Keeping his weight on Wulner’s sword arm and chest, Branwhyn batted away a feeble blow from the buckler attached to the dying man’s right arm, covering the stump where his hand once was. The shaman stayed that way, keeping his grey eyes focused upon the fading light in Wulnar’s. When the light left his eyes and when he gurgled his last strained breath, only then did Branwhyn rise and lift his eyes to rest upon the longhouse on the hill where his conflict with this man had begun.

“You should take him back to his people.” He spoke to Brumhil without looking at him. “Tell them that I killed him if you think it will help your cause. That your Thane has no love for me either. It may win you the favor you need for aid to be sent to Grimwick.”

Secure an Advantage +Wits (7, 5, 5+3), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum [+4]. That roll was to see if the plan is a success. Looks like it is. That counts as Vow Progress:  Break the Grimiwck Thanes’ family Curse 1/10. After all, they have to be alive still so the curse can be broken. I think it is a good moment for Forging a Bond w/ Heart (6, 5, 6+2). Strong hit. We form a bond with Brumhil of Grimwick. +1 Spirit

Brumhil’s eyes drifted from the dead man to Branwhyn and then down to his own sword, the one he’d pulled on the shaman. “I. . .” He was clearly torn between guilt for trying to use Branwhyn to bargain and the duty to the will of his thane.  “It is a good plan. Though they will not love you anymore in Mournful Cairn for it.”

“I don’t think they could love me less. You never hid your motivations from us Brumhil.” The shaman we too weary to lie or varnish words, too weary to either protect or hurt the other man’s pride.  The words would be what they were for good or ill. “I bear you no malice. I suspect that I will see Grimwick again, I hope to see you when I do. Until then, safe travels warden.”

“Until then, safe travels shaman.” Brumhil’s magnificent mustache twitched and he proffered his hand. Branwhyn looked at it for a moment before accepting it. They said no more as they parted, Branwhyn and Corinna taking the dugout canoe and heading towards Greymoor.


Branwhyn ap Hugh
Health +1 Spirit +1 Supply +4 Momentum +4
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1 Shadow: 2 Wits: 3
Bonds: 12 – XP: 19/30

Grave Cough
Cursed (Break the Grimwick Thanes’ family Curse)

[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+;
[Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward
[Companions] Kindred (Corinna) +1 – Shield-Kin;

Active Vows:
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
Winter Meeting at the Seven Strong Men [Dangerous] – 0/10
Protect Grimwick [Dangerous] – 2 xp.
Break the Grimiwck Thanes’ family Curse [Formidable] – 1/10
Threat: Corruption in the North – 3/10

Failure Track – 19/40

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], Brumhil of Grimwick

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