The Path of Kings

Not without a touch of iron(y)

The poacher sneered as he held up the broken trap. “Another sabotaged snare…”, he spoke aloud as he looked around furtively.
“I didn’t used to speak aloud. I used to be a quiet man, silent as the arrow, deadly as lots of arrows.”
Kreeg eyed the trees, the darkness of the forest a mute witness to his poetry, or rather lack thereof.
“Too quiet…You’re too bloody quiet, you…”, he looked around the forest floor, looking in vain for tracks of the one was destroying his traps.
“Nothing, again nothing! As if some bloody ghost is hounding my steps!”

He cursed loudly and broke a branch off a nearby tree and then proceeded by hitting the branch on rock and tree until it was shattered and his hands blooded.

“Ill fortune has been hounding me ever since that she-dwarf and her wretched band showed up! No! No ill fortune! they cursed me, those bastards cursed me! No beast has stepped in my traps for a week! Nothing but destruction not of my making! And never a sign of who dun it!”

Suddenly, a doe darted out of the bush and disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.

“Ha! My luck has returned! That one won’t escape my clutches!”, Kreeg leaped after the deer and notched an arrow as he ran, an almost mad look in his eyes as he chased the animal.

Running, running ever on, his expertise and years in the woods helping him follow the deer’s trail without effort, he leaped brook and tree, giving chase to the beast for hours, day changing to night, until suddenly he came to a clearing.
He stopped in his tracks and his jaw dropped as he saw a great white hart on a hillock. The beast’s silvery fur reflecting the moonlight as it gazed out over the woodland realm it dominated, apparently heedless to his presence.

Kreeg hesitated no longer, he drew, breathing steadily as he aimed at the deer’s heart and let fly. The poacher grinned as saw his arrow fly true, but gasped as the arrow shattered on the beasts chest.
Instead of dropping to the ground and dying, the hart turned its head, its antlers ablaze with an eerie light and looked the hunter straight in the eyes.
Kreeg fumbled for another arrow and let loose, but again the arrow shattered on the beast’s chest. It reared up and let out a defying bellow and it seemed as if the forest echoed the white hart’s rage.

The trapper barely managed to dodge the raging boar that came charging out of the undergrowth. Just as he was about to notch another arrow, Kreeg was startled by a terrible screech that came at him from the skies. He dropped his bow and tried to fend of the ravens that tried pecking and clawing at his face, all the while the eerie bellowing of the hart resounded through the night, seemingly calling on all woodland creatures to take vengeance on the man.

Something inside the man snapped and Kreeg started running, just as a fox snarled and nipped at his calves. Two badgers followed suit and he could swear he heard the growling of a bear. The baying of wolves joined the forest chorus and he kept running heedlessly on.

He tried looking around for something, for anything that might help, beating off the night birds attacking him in a flurry of feathers, his clothes and skin torn from tooth, claw and thorn and cried in relief as he saw the flickering light of torches up ahead.
He turned and ran for the lights, hoping they belonged to a hunting party. He ran and ran, into the woods, leaping through bushes and shoving aside shrubbery, his despair giving him wings.

Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks, a wet, tearing sound and a deep grunt breaking the steady, mournful chorus of the forest.
Kreeg looked down at the boar spear that penetrated his gut, its crossbar lodged firmly against him, his hands feebly clutching the blood soaked shaft as his gaze drifted up at the approaching torches. He tried to breathe, tried to cry out, but slowly he felt the life fading from him as blood bubbled on his lips.
“Apparently not all my traps were dismantled…”, he thought quietly as he died, his last sight of the white hart coming out of the darkness, flanked by two hoovering spheres of light. He could have sworn the beast was grinning.

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Interludium III
Clouds Above Rostland

The spring rains swept down on Silverhall, conjuring rainbows whenever the godrays of the sun pierced through the clouds. The young Illich Lebeda sighed and turned his eye back to the boring tomes that lied in front of him. His mother, Lady Sarrona Lebeda smiled at him in a gentle, but firm way. “Focus, Illich, or you’ll never be the leader your father wanted you to be.”

Illich sighed again. “But why should I spend all my time sitting here, studying dusty books while I could train my sword skills. This way I’ll never become a warrior, and I’ll never be able to defeat the enemies of our House. If I wanted to know something about history or geography or whatever, I’d just ask the magister,” he finished, slightly rebellious.

Sarrona Lebeda laughed. “You still have much to learn, my boy. Firstly, before you learn how to fight, you should know whom to fight. Secondly, never allow yourself to become too dependent on the capacities and knowledge of a stranger, even if he’s allied to our House. So, let us continue. What are the seven ruling Houses of Brevoy?”

Illich mumbled: “The seven great Houses of Brevoy are House Surtova, House Lodovka, House Orlovsky, House Garess, House Medvyed, House Rogarvia and, of course, our own: House Lebeda.”

Lady Lebeda nodded. “Indeed. Now, which of these are our friends and which are our enemies?”

Illich frowned: “House Surtova are our enemies because they are Issians who have usurped the crown. Ehm. And House Rogarvia are our friends because they stand against the Surtovas.”

Sarrona stroke with a hand through her long, golden hairs. “It isn’t as simple as that, my boy. Whilst the Surtovas are indeed are enemies, they have merely usurped a crown which had been already usurped way back in time. Do you remember by whom?”

The child smiled, excited. “Well by Choral the Conqueror of course! He came in with his dragons and laid waste to the armoes of Issia and Rostland, uniting them into Brevoy.” Illich’s gestures evoked fire raining down on helpless soldiers.

“Quite. Yes,” said Lady Lebeda dryly. “So the Brevic entity was born on the blood of our Rostland forefathers, and the Surtovas have profited from the Vanishing of the usurpers, House Rogarvia. This makes the Rogarvias not our friends, but tactical allies against the Surtovas, remember that. As a great House you will only find friends in your own ranks, remember that as well. Apart from House Rogarvia, we have other allies. Do you know whom?

The boy thought and exclaimed: “The Swordlords! Father promised me he would send me to Restov to learn their art!”

“Mmm. That’s right. Unfortunately the death of your father has rendered you much too valuable to be sent off to anywhere outside our control. But the Swordlords are among our most trustworthy allies, and you know why? Not because they have any loyalty to us, but because they hate the Issian usurpers as much as we do, that’s why.” Lady Lebeda said grimly.

“What about the other Houses, mother?” Asked Illich, hoping to show some interest and getting the lesson over quickly.

Sarrona shrugged. “Most of them belong to Issia and will choose the side of the Surtovas. However, if the Surtovas would diminish in power, they would swiftly turn against them to protect their own interests. Now, House Orlovsky is an exception to this rule. They have been close allies of House Rogarvia and benefited greatly from their rule. As the Surtovas took over, their status has decreased, and they refuse to accept Noleski Surtova as the Brevic rightful ruler. In this regard, they are our allies. But we should keep in mind that they are and always will remain Issians. Now, tell me about the other nations bordering Brevoy.”

The boy frowned again. “Well, to the east there is Iobaria, a land of barbarians and nomads, and to the west there is Numeria, also a tribal and barbaric nation. To the south there is the Stolen Lands,” he finished, proudly of himself.

“And do you know why we call it the Stolen Lands, boy?” his mother asked.
Illich shook his head.

“Because these lands were rightfully ours – that means that they were once a part of Rostland – but they have since then been “stolen” by bandits, outlaws, monsters, and the petty rulers of the River Kingdoms.”

“What are the River Kingdoms?” The boy suppressed a yawn, and glanced expectantly outside. The rain had stopped.

“The River Kingdoms are a mishmash of small fiefdoms and city-states. The ones closest to Rostland are Pitax and Mivon. Pitax is a warmongering nation, whereas Mivon could be considered part of our heritage, as many Swordlords have fled to the region when Choral defeated their armies.”

Lady Lebeda leaned back in her chair. “But soon all this will change, my son. Together with the Swordlords of Restov we have sent four expeditions to the south to reclaim the Stolen Lands for the Rostland cause. Baron Drelev and Swordlord Maegar Varn have already established a foothold in the Lands. We’ll need them to keep our southern borders safe.”

Finally, Illich showed some sincere interest. “Why is that, mother? I heard rumors of war brewing… are we finally going to fight the usurpers?” He asked enthusiastically.
Sarrona smiled sadly. “Perhaps, my son, perhaps. Much depends on the outcome of the Land Diet, next month…”

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Spring is in the air.

He rolled up the sleeves of his brown robes as a bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Putting down his knee on the winter rushes, he tightened the string around one end of the bunch and tied it off as his lips moved, reciting the proper incantations as he prepared the wicker effigy.

“People might think you’re crazy if you keep talking to yourself like that.”, a strong voice made him look up and he gave the young woman a kind smile.

“A touch of madness is oft-times the key to wisdom, my dear.”, the old man stood up with a grunt, taking the proffered hand to help him.

“These are the last of roof rushes of the stables, Emrys, will that be enough?”, Kessle threw down the dried straw and as she wiped off her brow her eyes wandered up to the parapet where Ivan was instructing some of her former troops. She quickly returned her gaze to the old man when he spoke to her.

“I believe that will be enough, I have enough here to make the effigy of Old Deadeye and still have some to spare for the pyre.”, his eyes gleamed with mischief as he rested his hand on her shoulder.
“There is one more thing, however, I need two branches for his antlers, and I would like it very much if you brought them to me. I would, however, rest easier if I knew you didn’t venture into the woods all by yourself. Perhaps you should take an escort.”
Emrys grinned as he looked up and waved at Ivan.
“Our captain of the guards perhaps?”

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A Trustworthy Truce? (Session VI)
Fallen Knights and Flying Dogs

After the battle against the wolfmen, the Expedition spent a few days recovering at Oleg’s. In order to deal with the problems of rulership that lie ahead, the heroes chose the Dwarf Hegelinde Stonemark as their leader.

The party decided to grant the bandits and their leader Kessle mercy, on the condition that they swore fealty to Stonemark and joined the cause of the Expedition. On Oathday, the remaining bandits, Kessle, Ivan Ivanovitch, Kesten Garess and his clan, swore fealty to Hegelinde Stonemark. After a ceremony conducted by Emrys, a big feast sealed the covenant. Clan Garess was given the location of Rivercamp along the Thorn River and its surroundings as a Domain.

The next day, Oleg’s Trade Post was visited by Akiros Ismort, who proposed a Spring truce. After some deliberations, the Expedition and the Wolf Lord’s Emissary agreed upon the following terms: for the duration of the Spring season, Clan Wolf would remain in the regions of the Southern Greenbelt, i.e. below (and House Stonemark above the truce demarcation line, which was set some 20 miles below Rivercamp.

After these negotiations, the Expedition continued its exploration of the Greenbelt to the West, as the heroes had heard of the plight of two settlements in these areas. Although they did not yet encounter these hamlets, they made acquaintance with a strange, but friendly fey creature, called Perlivash, and fought a cruel trapper named Kreeg. Perlivash was invited to the Planting festivities, whereas Kreeg was warned by Hegelinde to cease his activities or pay the consequences.

Perlivash also told the party of an evil presence in the forests to the east of Rivercamp in a place of great power. The Expedition decided to deal with this danger and the settlements in the coming days.

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Interludium II Hargulka's Emissary
Trolling the Wolf Lord

Akiros Mort watched how the enormous, ugly green-brown colored creature approached the tent of bear skins he had set up outside the Wolf Lord’s fortress. “Well met, wolfman. Hargulka sends his greetings”, its voice boomed in the Giant tongue.

The fallen knight bowed lightly to the beast. “We welcome the emissary of the Troll Lord.”

The troll grinned, flashing its sharpened teeth. “Of course you do. We have heard of your recent failures.”

Mort shrugged. “The Newcomers have proved to be more resilient than we thought. Our Lord thought it wise to establish a temporary truce, allowing us to rebuild our forces.”

The creature’s blood-shot eyes narrowed. “Hargulka is worried that one of the Gates now fall outside of your power, wolfman. She will be displeased.”

The knight chuckled. “I am sure the Guardian will protect our Lady’s property. It once killed more than a dozen of my men when they ventured too close to the site.”

Growling, the troll retorted: “That may well be so, but your master should know that Hargulka is beginning to doubt his usefulness for our case. If he doesn’t get his act together, Hargulka will come to settle things himself. And if he does, neither wolf nor human will survive the slaughter he leaves in the wake of his campaign against the Newcomers. From now on, your petty lord shall directly answer to Hargulka, who is rallying all forces loyal to Her in the Greenbelt.” The monster spat on the ground before the knight.

Akiros Mort paled slightly, his hand on the pommel of his sword. “My Lord only does Her bidding. We recognize that we are allies in our obedience to Her, nothing more, nothing less.”

Screeching like steel on stone, the troll laughed. “Prove your worth, then we shall see whether to crush you like the weak insects you are, or assimilate you in the grand army we are building. Tell your dogmaster that he has a choice to serve or die.”

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Exploration of the Stolen Lands (2)
Acorns Become Trees

Click here for a detailed look at the explored parts of the political and topographical map of the Stolen Lands.

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Justice like lightning

With two mighty strikes the woman’s axes tore through his defences. Thorismund felt the world turning black, yet refused to give in just yet. “Rot in the Abyss”, he spat as he dropped his warhammer… only to snatch his throwing hammer with one quick flick of the wrist. As he whispered the runes inscribed on the hammer’s head started to glow. In the span of a single heartbeat the world exploded into light. Then sweet nothingness.

As the dwarven priest collapsed, he felt life escaping from him. Snapshots of memories long suppressed reared their ugly head. The mountain citadel’s defenses crumbling. The desperate cries of women and children running for their lives, whilst the men on the walls fell one by one.

One rush of blood to the head later Thorismund woke up. As he dragged himself on his feet, he could see the battle was over. He uttered a quick prayer to Torag for the men-at-arms whom he never got the chance to greet and gave their lives defending the trade post. His eyes narrowed and from the distance he could see several brigands rounded up as prisoners. One of them was frantically trying to keep his face hidden, but his demeanour gave it away.

Something inside the Forgemaster snapped. Did he hear children crying for their mothers in the basement? Was this real or just a phantasm?

Treachery and treason there’s always an excuse for it.

No matter. He had been too lenient too long. Slowly but steadily he startened to quicken his pace.

“I swore an oath”, he grumbled. “You received a chance to redeem yourself. And still you betrayed us! You brought war to the homes of the innocent. To those who toil every day to make an earnest living. Thinking nothing of it to once again loot, murder and rape!”

The dwarf felt as if every vein in his neck felt was going to burst. “Never again… NEVER AGAIN!”

Before anyone else in the party could intervene, Thorismund lifted his war hammer with both hands in the air and charged into the prisoners. With one thundering blow he smashed the brigand’s skull into smithereens.

“Justice will be brought to these lands!”, he roared.

Then nothing.

Nothing but darkness, as he collapsed once again.

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Battle at Oleg's (Session 5) An Orc's POV.
Don't ever underestimate an outnumbered party.

After their inconspicuous attempt at investigating the Wolf’s den, the adventurers suddenly and magically regrouped at Oleg’s tradepost. There, they were visited by a nobleman and his followers from the other province, seeking a new liege. Kesten Garess and his wife were taken along on a hunting trip, to fasten the new bonds between his household and our men. The dwarven and half-orc woman remained to rest and keep an eye on the tradepost.

When the hunting party was half underway, they noticed a small army of Wolves approaching, surely on their way to Oleg’s tradepost. The druid performed some trickery as to distract the troops, after which the whole party made for Oleg’s tradepost, to commence the preparations.

After much deliberation, it was decided that they were not going to win this one on pure strength. Being outnumbered as they were, only trickery could do the job here. Making it look as if the tradepost had been suddenly abandoned or fled from, Kesten’s crew and our adventurers would climb the palisades and hide in sheds. As soon as enough of the army had gotten within the palisades, Neega would close the door and start the ground attack together with Kesten and Thorismund. The then locked-in enemy would surely be slain after which the warriors on the walls could focus on the foes outside of the walls. The main goal would be to capture the two-axed leading woman.

The plan worked flawlessly. After Neega closed the gates, arrows rained down on the Wolves and Kesten’s crew slay many an enemy. Together with the sheer strength and some trickery on the ground, the initial troops were quickly eradicated. Yet the enemy outside seemed suspicious and started climbing the walls. Some adventurers fought bravely and with fear for their lives. In the end, together with the backup, the party was able to slay most of the enemy, capture those left and bind the by-then-unconscious two-axed woman. The question remains. What will the wolf men do, now they know they can be beaten?

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Sphere of Influence (1)
Tip of the Greenbelt

The current sphere of influence of the Expedition, Greenbelt region of the Stolen Lands.

Sphere of influence 1 smaller

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Interludium I The Wolf's Den
Barking Dogs Don't Bite

At the top of the southern watchtower of his crumbling fortress, the man stared somberly over the vast lake, which was faintly illuminated by a blood-shot moon. Behind him he heard the rhythmic songs and ecstatic cries of his followers, who were praying in their animistic rituals to the spirits of the land to grant their comrades a swift and bloody victory over the Newcomers. He grunted and reached with his left hand for a bottle of strong liquor – the only thing these days that kept the dreams at a distance. Memories… He shivered and his right hand stroked the amulet that She had given him. A blessing, not a curse, a return to the authentic primeval… soft words soothing his eternal pain. The man closed his eyes. Time passed. He glanced at the bottle. Empty. He frowned. The singing had stopped.

“My Lord” a voice stammered behind him. Swiftly the man turned around, yet the alcohol slowed down his feral movement in a grotesque manner. “Yes, Akiros, what news from our brethren?” he barked at the man in chainmail. Akiros shook his head. “They were defeated, my Lord. Dovan saw them taking Kessle and some of the survivors as prisoners.” The man growled, throwing the empty bottle at Akiros, who took a step back, evading the projectile. “Incompetent dogs! Kessle told us that they could easily manage the Newcomers.” Akiros spat on the floor. “She was not worthy, my Lord, that much is clear. But what shall we do now with the Newcomers, my Lord? Perhaps I can ride out with Dovan and Auchs and murder them all in their sleep.”

The Wolf Lord remained silent for a while, before he spoke with a hoarse voice. “No. That is not the right course to take. They have carved out a place for themselves in these forsaken lands. We shall offer them a Spring truce. We shall cease all our operations in the northern area between the Thorn and Shrike rivers and offer them the sum of 1,000 gold pieces, and in exchange they will release our brethren and remain within said territory. And you will negotiate this truce for us.”

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