45 – . . . who might be King
Well into the fens, the waterway they traveled was nearly indiscernible from the surrounding bog, at least to Branwhyn, but Leon seemed to know the route well. A clear sign of one who had spent their life in the flooded lands. When they came within view of Greymoor, the grey of dusk hadn’t quite turned to twilight and the buzzing biting insects that drifted in cloud-like swarms hadn’t yet fled the growing chill of night. The settlement was surrounded by a palisade of grey sharpened logs which jutted outward like spears set against a charge. The waterway upon which they traveled, led straight to an opening in the palisade, a net of soaked hemp fibers barred the way. Through it, they could see the settlement was actually built upon a lake and the palisade built upon the shore. Behind the fortifications were wooden houses, raised on stilts above the water and would serve as excellent vantage points to fire an arrow against any would-be attacker. A curious defensive solution, forcing movement inside to be by boat or by swimming.
Noticing their approach, residents in the houses closest took up bows and readied arrows. Making no sudden movements, merely drifting closer to the net, Branwhyn dragged his paddle in the water to bring them to a stop. Slowly, Leon stood in the boat – Branwhyn and Corinna both steadying the small craft – and boy slowly waved his arms. “I’m back and I’m with friends.”
Fulfill Your Vow: Save the Boy w/ Progress (4, 4, ). Strong Hit w/ a match. +1 XP. I think Leon isn’t merely a lost boy, I think he is important to the community. High, Thane’s son; Low, Local Hero’s son. Oracle Says, Hero’s son.
A warden, marked by the boiled leather he wore, stood so that they could see over the palisade. A torch was quickly lit so that the faces of those in the dugout canoe could be more clearly seen. “Leon?” The name made an exclamation of equal parts surprise and relief. “You’re mother will be glad of your return. Did you . . .?” Though cut short, the question was clear.
With slumping shoulders, the boy shook his head sadly. Deflating back to a sitting position in the boat, Leon wrapped his arms around his knees, pulling them close to his chest.
As the gate-like net was lowered into the water, Corinna studied the boy, her head cocked to one side and a less-than-pleased look on her face. Pulling at the oar, the dugout canoe was carried into the waterway streets of Greymoor. Directed by Leon – who was clearly distracted by Corinna’s unconcealed and calculating gaze – they were soon at the boy’s home. A rope later was dropped to greet them and Leon scrambled up it with practiced ease.
There was a moment of doubt, of suspicious concern, that troubled Branwhyn. The Flooded Lands had been a place of trouble for him, his undue reputation from Mournful Cairn surely would have spread here. Was he walking into a trap and bringing Corinna into it with him? His adopted daughter seemed to sense his concern and lay a reassuring hand on his arm. Their eyes met and her confidence put him at ease. With a nod, he steadied the ladder for her and she scurried up. A rope was run down from a block and tackle suspended from one of the home’s rafters, the multiple ties were clearly intended for ferrying up supplies and Branwhyn attached their various bags and few remaining pelts. As it was hauled up towards the safety of the house, Branwhyn secured the canoe to the stilt poles, turned grey by long exposure to lake silt. With their dugout canoe securely moored, the shaman climbed up the ladder himself.
No wardens waited for him at the top, no angry villagers with naked blades, and most of his worry was breathed out with a heavy exhalation. In the growing twilight, Branwhyn could only gather an impression of the woman who worked the block and tackle and was taking off the last of the supplies. She was stout, broad of shoulder, and worked with practiced efficiency. Corinna and Leon had been ferrying the supplies into the house, they had been drawn into the woman’s influence and worked seamlessly for the common goal. As Leon carried the last of the pelts, the woman motioned to the door. “Go inside, you will enjoy my hospitality for the night.”
With an appreciative nod, the shaman did as he was told. Inside, a cheerful fire cooked filets of fish and flatbread. The light and warmth seemed to burn away some of the weariness and it was a relief to pull the heavy bear fur cloak off his shoulders. He hung it on a sturdy peg next to the fire and hung Corinna’s cloak next to his own.
“I’m Ragna, daughter of Padma. You’ve brought my son home and from what I gather saved him from some peril, you are most welcome in my home.” Framed by straw-colored hair, she had a pinched nose set against full cheeks, complemented by an unconscious welcome smile that seemed a touch out of place on her features. Working while she spoke, she arranged and sorted, making sure that everything – including her guest’s belongings – found a proper place. “Give me your names and tell of how you come to Greymoor.”
How Branwhyn responds is important here. Given that this woman is a local hero, how she responds will influence how the community does. So, I think we are Forging a Bond w/ Heart (10, 5, 6+2), Weak Hit. They want something, given Branwhyn’s reputation around these parts, I think she wants assurances. We give it and Forge a bond with Ragna of Greymoor.
“My daughter Corinna you’ve already met and I am Branwhyn ap Hugh.” He realized his mistake as soon as he’d said his name. Leon’s eyes were wide with shock and wonder, trying to look at Corinna, Branwhyn, and his mother all at once.
The surprise didn’t cause Ragna’s smile to falter but instead became fixed in place. Yet, Branwhyn did see the touch of fear in her eyes. The Butcher of Mournful Cairn was in her home. Many in such a situation would have drawn a weapon – perhaps the knife at her belt – or called for help, or simply run. Ragna was a different sort, she took hold of a plate from the table and brandished it like a shield before her. Upon it were the ritual implements of a tradition as strong as iron: bread and salt. “Welcome to my home Branwhyn and Corinna. Won’t you taste of my hospitality?” Instead of strength of arms, this woman trusted in the strength of the traditions of hospitality for her protection.
With one hand, Branwhyn tore off a piece of bread and with a thumb pinched salt to the bread and ate it. Corinna did likewise. Having partaken of her bread and salt, the sacred traditions of hospitality decreed that neither guest nor host could bring harm to one another. In truth, neither Branwhyn, nor Corinna, had been any threat to her; though his reputation clearly spoke otherwise. Even so, he laid spear, axe, and bow aside to set her at greater ease. “Finding your son was a fortunate accident.” The shaman began as he moved a stool closer to the fire so he could sit and draw in the warmth. Sitting, he told first of trade from Twin River’s being restored, the peril Blacktongue Breckin posed to Grimwick and any Circle who the dwarf’s eye might fall upon, of the task laid upon him to send help back the way he’d come, and finally of how he’d found Leon out in the fens. He left out the strange trio of fae wild women, a detail which Leon seemed particularly glad to have been left absent from the story.
I think this is the proverbial singing for your supper. We’re going to use a Sojourn roll to determine how all of this is received. Sojourn w/ Heart + Bond (10, 2, 6+2+1), Weak Hit. 1 Choice + 1 for the bond. Mend (to clear the Grave Cough) and Hearten (to clear the Shaken condition), +1 Health (+3) and +1 Spirit (4) respectively. It doesn’t say the companion benefits from the healing, but I’m going to rule they do, so Corinna is also +1 Health (+3). We will also take this opportunity to Resupply w/ Wits (5, 2, 4+2), Strong Hit, +2 Supply (+5).
The next few days passed quickly, Corinna and Leon spent most of the days together. The boy had a martial bearing to him, even if his confidence hadn’t grown into it fully yet, and Corinna took readily to the rare opportunity to spar with someone younger and shorter. To his credit, Leon learned quickly to not go easy on her. What surprised Branwhyn though, was that Leon’s acceptance of Corinna – in spite of her strange eyes and air of otherness – spread to the other children of Greymoor. Leon’s bravery it seemed, was well complemented by a natural and nearly effortless charisma. For the first time in many months, Corinna was in the company of many other children and she herself could a child again, at least for a little while.
Other than taking the time to trade the few fur pelts they had left for provisions, Branwhyn spent his time recovering in the warmth of Ragna’s home near the fire. He felt as though he were an invalid while he did so, but the rest allowed his body to heal and his spirits to be bolstered.
More often asleep than awake, he nonetheless seemed to find Ragna’s shadow lingering over him more often than not. “You should know,” She began one evening when she noticed him awake, “Thane Hjalmar has returned. He’ll hold a þing, you may speak to him then.”
“Who is Leon’s father?” Branwhyn asked, his eyes searching the fire and looking for the answers and images that danced within.
Gather Information w/ Wits (3, 2, 4+2), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+8). Vow Progres: Find the Heir of Twin Rivers 3/10.
The nonsequitur question threw Ragna off balance and she answered without thinking. “A man who passed through many winters ago now. Håkon by name, he had a noble face and Leon has his father’s hair.” A sad smile touched her features as the memory came to him. “He said he would stay. He didn’t.” The realization dawned that a kind of trick had been played on her and her displeasure showed clearly. Turning to leave, the question that followed gave her pause.
“Will you speak to him on my behalf? Persuade Hjalmar to send aid to Grimwick?” Not rising to ask the question, Branwhyn stared into the fire – not seeing any answer within the flames – but wondering about the new possibility that come into his knowledge.
There is a bond, but in part because of the weak hit we got while forming it, I don’t think Ragna fully trusts the Butcher of Mournful Cairn, so this is a Compel w/ Heart + Bond (5, 7, 2+2+1) Miss. Pay the price, it forces you to act against your best intentions. Drat. For the question that follows, I thought about another roll but decided that we’re going to say since the compel roll failed Ragna isn’t inclined to be helpful. Also marking the miss track, 20/40
“No.” She said simply, but it was not in her character to be so terse. Branwhyn merely waited and Ragna couldn’t help but explain. “Hjalmar and our Wardens raid often, but open warfare is another matter. More than that, what was taken has not been returned. Going to battle would be foolish.”
The mysterious theft again, it had sent the Thane questing and even Leon, still a boy, in search of that which was taken. “And what was taken?” The freckled-faced boy had already let slip that it was a black iron torc, but Branwhyn was curious what Ragna might say about it.
“We don’t discuss it with outsiders.” Her words had a tone of finality. Ragna turned on her heels and walked away. The woman was terribly efficient, and shrewd in her dealings, but brusk and could clearly be difficult to get along with.
Branwhyn rested his chin in the palm of his left hand and closed his eyes. The tenuous negotiations in White Tree came to mind, the back and forth with the village elder, the delays, and becoming embroiled in local affairs. He could ill afford the delay, Grimwick was imperiled, Crow’s Perch was likely on the verge of conflict with Bramblehall, and he had a curse upon his head and an heir of Twin Rivers to find before they would fully join the nascent alliance of Ironholds.
Rising slowly, he worked stiff limbs that he hadn’t used very much the past few days. Moving to his pack, he withdrew a fox-fur mantel and pulled it over his shoulders. Closing his eyes, he started moving through a dance that was more felt than known. Quick careful movements, searching eyes, and careful steps, full of energy and an eagerness for the fun of play and mischief. Dancing before the fire, he and his shadow on the wall flitted, scrambled, pounced, and ghosted around the room.
We are, of course, using Bind w/ Wits (3, 5, 6+3). Strong Hit. +1 Shadow. Check Your Gear w/ Supply (8, 5, 2), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+9) but -1 Supply (+4)
* * *
Branwhyn moved under the cover of darkness, slipping from his bedsheets once he believed everyone else in the home of Ragna daughter of Padma was asleep. Stripping nearly naked, he left his clothes and a fur blanket near the back door of the home and took with him only his elk-bone knife and a rope with a knotted weight at one end and a loop at the other. Just before leaving, he saw the glint of green and golden-brown eyes watching him. He made a motion with his hand, to tell Corinna to linger. If she didn’t know what he was about, she certainly suspected.
Face Danger w/ Shadow+Bind (1, 10, 3+2+1), Weak Hit. -1 Spirit (+3). Endure Stress w/ Heart (3, 1, 2+2), Strong Hit. -1 Momentum (+8) for +1 Spirit (+4). And one more for good measure, Face Danger w/ Shadow+Bind (4, 2, 3+2+1), Strong Hit. +1 Momentum (+9).
Swinging down off the walkway that surrounded the home, Branwhyn slid down one of the broad round grey poles that held the house above the waters. The lake water was cold at night and memories of cill grasping hands taking hold of his legs made him wonder if the people of Greymoor didn’t keep guardians of some kind in the water. It would make their home incredibly dangerous he reasoned and mostly pushed the fear out of his mind as he swam towards the thane’s hall.
Water-slick limbs made climbing the pole difficult, if not impossible and it was part of why he’d brought the rope. Lucky with the first throw, he looped it around the railing of the thane’s hall. Feeding the rope slack, the weighted end lowered, slipping the weight through the loop, he pulled it taut again and climbed the rope. Once on the deck surrounding the hall, he pulled up the rope and slung it crosswise over his torso. He’d need it to get back into Ragna’s home and didn’t want it discovered by someone stretching their legs in the middle of the night.
Fortune favored his endeavor it seemed, the shutter over a window had been left open, likely to catch the cool night air. Slipping up and through, the muscles in his shoulders complained of disuse as he lowered his bare feet to the wooden planks of the floor. The night had been nearly moonless, nearly completely dark outside; but inside the red embers of dying fire provided a modicum of light to see by. A large bed near the floor held the slumbering forms of two people, presumably, Thane Hjalmar and whoever warmed his bed this night. Branwhyn crouched low and looked around the room – divided from the rest of the hall – for an item that belonged to the Thane but that would not be easily missed.
What do we find? Oracle says: Coordinate Nature. I take this to mean something that might align well with Branwhyn. We could use some more iron coins, he is perpetually running low. One more stealth roll seems right, Face Danger w/ Shadow + Bind (4, 5, 2+2+1), Weak Hit. -1 Momentum (+8).
Most trade in the Ironlands was done with bartering, but they had found small flat circles of iron – coins – in many of the settlements that they’d taken over when they’d arrived two generations hence. Some in the Ironlands used them as trade items while others kept them as a collected symbol of wealth. Hjalmar seemed to be one of the latter, as a pile of iron coins was displayed on a table near the bed.
With a terrible slowness, Branwhyn moved across the floor of wooden planks. Gently testing each and every step with his toes to see if the board would make a sound before he trusted to put the weight on the ball of his feet. It seemed like it took hours to move across the floor in a slow deliberate way. There was a momentary debate of how many to take, one would be best and harder to notice missing, but Branwhyn decided on a trio. Luck had been with him so far and the number was an important one. Playing into fate’s hand seemed best this night, or perhaps that was merely the spirit of the fox – a known trickster – that dwelt inside of him.
With his prizes in hand, Branwhyn slipped back out the way he’d come. He dropped the coins into the leather pouch he wore around his neck, the small clink of metal against metal as they joined the other coins that he kept there, the ones he so often swore oaths upon.
Last one to get him ‘home’, Face Danger w/ Shadow + Bind (10, 7, 6+2+1), Weak Hit. -1 Momentum (+7). Finally, the Ritual we did this all to practice, Secure an Advantage w/ Wits + Ritualist (4, 5, 2+3+1), Strong Hit. +3 Momentum (+10). Sway w/ Shadow + Bind (5, 7, 1+2+1), Miss. Burn momentum for success. Strong Hit and Reset Momentum (+1). I think getting Sway in place on the Thane is progress on the Grimwick curse, so Vow Progress: Break Curse 2/10. We’re going to include Corinna in this ritual, using it as a narrative touchstone and perhaps further win her from the monster inside. So, we Progress the Relationship w/ Heart )1, 4, 4+2), Strong Hit. +1 Relationship (10/20) and +1 Spirit (+5).
Branwhyn dried off with the fur blanket when he’d returned to Ragna’s home. He dressed quickly, trusting his body’s warmth to fight off the chill of the cold clothes. The shaman breathed a sigh of relief, the hard part was over. Fixing the ritual in his mind, he started drawing upon the power of his blood. Corinna must have either heard his return or possibly sensed and was drawn to the beginning of the workings of magic. She brought with her his satchel. Without needing to confer, she knew to set out the trio of scrimshawed skulls, each facing outward, their empty eye sockets and rictus grins facing the thane’s hall.
Lastly, Branwhyn took out the three acquired iron coins, not blank like his own, they bore the image of some long-dead man who must have been important to have his image on the coin. The first coin was given to Corinna, she clutched it in both hands and stepped close to him. He pulled her back against his chest so that they – like the skulls – faced Hjalmar’s home. The second coin was placed atop her interlaced fingers, held before her breast. Branwhyn’s hand covered the coin and her fingers, the third coin he held in his right hand. The fox-fur mantled cloak fell around both their shoulders. Together they spoke the name Hjalmar three times into the whispering night wind. On the third utterance, the magic they’d drawn together released and sought out the man they would speak to before the sun had set again. In turn, the wind whispered back of a man who feared the fragility of the image he’d built for himself, a man who needed to prove himself in the eyes of others and did so by pitting himself against the skill of others.
Stepping onto the back walkway of her home and pulling a cloak around her shoulders for warmth and to conceal her nightclothes. Ragna’s eyes narrowed as she questioned, “What are you doing?” The words eere full of uncertain suspicion and she looked around, confusion touching her features.
“Magic.” Branwhyn answered simply and he could feel the knowing and mischievous smile that Corinna wore would be if anything more unhelpful than his own answer.
* * *
I’ve been thinking about the Threat track and the lack of urgency Branwhyn has been in as of late. We spent two nights at a fisher hut last chapter and sojourned this chapter. Time has been passing. Accordingly, the Threat track needs to tick, we’ll do that now. Further, Branwhyn did leave allies behind: Steiner, Molok, the Valknut, and Thane Agnarr of Crow’s Perch to name a few. While Branwhyn is not in a position to thwart the Threat from moving, his allies are. If that opportunity arises, I’ll either roll (via battle perhaps?) to see if they can prevent it, or perhaps I’ll do a side chapter focused on them. We’ll see. Anyway: onward! We Advance a Threat: 09 – The threat readies its next step, or a new danger looms! If you are in a position to prevent this development, you may attempt to do so. Let’s ask the Oracle who has a chance to do something about it: Steiner 0-25, Molok 26-50, Valknut 51-75, Alliance Thane 76-100. Oracle says: Valknut. Interesting, I’ll have to consider that.
Branwhyn ap Hugh
Health +3 Spirit +5 Supply +4 Momentum +1
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1 Shadow: 2+1 Wits: 3
Bonds: 13 – XP: 19/31
Cursed (Break the Grimwick Thanes’ family Curse)
[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+;
[Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward
[Companions] Kindred (Corinna) +3 – 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] – 3/10
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] – 2/10
Save the Boy [Troublesome] 1 xp
Threat: Corruption in the North – 3/10 – Pending
Failure Track – 20/40
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, Triplets of the Shadow Fen, Ragna of Greymoor,