Disclaimer: I own neither the Forgotten Realms nor the cover image.
NSFW Warning: None
Seated astride Shadowflight, just within the eaves of the Wood of Sharp Teeth, Lystra surveyed the open grasslands that stretched to the east of the woodlands. Unlike the lands that comprised the majority of the coastline to the west that were rocky and oft-broken by small ravines and dells, here the land was, for the most part, flat and covered in a healthy growth of plains grasses and small shrubbery. This was the stomping ground of the Elturel Hellriders, she knew, and where she hoped to spot the hunting party with whom Duke Belt rode.
In the days that had passed since her parting with Kivan, she had skirted the forest’s edge. Keeping, for the most part, beneath the heavy overhanging branches of the thick pine and ash trees that made up the bulk of the forest growth along its eastern borders. By doing so she had hoped to get a head of the Hellriders and find a position in which to wait for them to come to her, rather than having to search for them herself over the many miles of grasslands between the Wood of Sharp Teeth and the Reaching Wood many miles further to the east. She highly doubted that they had made it as far south as Berdusk. More likely than not this hunt of theirs was an excuse to carouse and escape the duties of their stations for a while.
She hoped that they weren’t relaxing too much, however. Hunting Wereboars was no small feat, not to mention an entire Sounder of them. There was no way to tell how many of the rowdy lycanthropes currently inhabited the region. For her own part, Lystra had encountered their ilk only once before, when Jaryn had called upon her to aid him in culling their numbers the last time they had grown to a worrisome size. Despite the danger, the hunt had been quite enjoyable for the Half-Elf, mainly because they had been joined in it by Elkern’s Werewolf pack who also sought to drive the porcine menace from the fringes of the forest. Having never encountered Werewolves before either, it had been very educational for her to watch them hunt, particularly alongside her mentor, for whom Elkern in particular seemed to harbor a great amount of respect. When questioned on it later, Jaryn had simply remarked that it hadn’t been the first time he and the Wild Elf Werewolf Chieftain had worked together for the betterment of the forest and that they recognized within each other a kind of kindred spirit. That had impressed her greatly then as there had been nothing quite like the raw power of a fully changed Werewolf in hybrid form tearing the head off of a similarly changed Wereboar.
A chorus of porcine squeals rising from the rainswept plains before her tore the Ranger from her reverie and she looked about, her eyes squinting through the falling rain and rising mists to try and locate the direction from which the sound had arisen.
At first she saw nothing, then shapes began to manifest within the mist, hulking shadows reeling as if they fled from something coming behind them. It was then that she heard the thundering of hooves. Drawing her bow from its sheath on her saddle, she urged Shadowflight from cover just as the first of the mist-creatures manifested itself in plain sight. It was a boar, and a massive one at that, a great crest of thick hairs rising from its back and long tusks protruding from its slathering jowls. As the Ranger approached, angling her trajectory to attempt to get behind the creatures, more and more of them came into view.
Soon after, riders began to appear as well, a great number of them atop powerful steeds, the crests of their helms, fashioned to look like sprinting horses, glinting dully in the muted light, as did the leaf-shaped tips of their spears lowered to harry their quarry onwards.
Lystra angled her charge towards them, guiding Shadowflight with her knees, as she laid an arrow across her bow. She held her shot, however, recognizing what the riders were doing, and deciding to allow their trap to play out.
As she had assumed, the riders drove their prey between the twin risings of two hills where, as soon as the boars were between, men, similarly garbed to the riders, rose from the grass, heavy crossbows leveled.
Barely heard above the cacophony rising from the boars came a series of clicks and twangs as the crossbows sent their thick-shafted missiles into the mass of fleeing bodies. Immediately boars began crashing to earth, their heavy bodies sending showers of mud and rainwater into the air.
At the far side of the small vale, a singular figure rose from the obscuring grass. Lystra immediately recognized Duke Belt for there really was no mistaking the man. Massive he was, broad of shoulder and barrel-chested with an ample gut to boot straining against the confines of his studded jerkin. A mane of wild hair as black as pitch, though streaked in grey, hung heavy about his head and shoulders. This, coupled with his long, braided beard gave the man the appearance of one more akin to taverns than lordly halls and more comfortable in armor than finery. Gripped in thick, powerful hands, he wielded his heavy broadsword with ease as he waded into what remained of the Wereboars.
From there it didn’t take long. The riders had ceased their change and sat calmly upon their mounts at the vale’s far end as the crossbowmen and the Duke finished those few who had escaped the first volley. Slowing Shadowflight to a trot, Lystra approached the stoic horsemen, returning her arrow to its quiver and her bow to its sheath.
“Why not take the shot?” A grizzled voice asked of her from among the riders. Looking in the speaker’s direction, Lystra saw them to be a tall man with a long face and heavy jaw covered with a light dusting of hair suggesting that he normally was clean shaven but his days on the hunt had lent him a light growth of beard. The armor he wore was studded leather over chain, similar to the other riders, but his bore a heavy bronze disk at its center upon which was emblazoned the insignia of Elturel. Though she had never met him before, Lystra knew the man to be Lord Dhelt, the High Rider of Elturel, the figurehead those in Baldur’s Gate whispered was firmly under the thumb of Duke Belt.
Looking at him now, however, wearing his armor as easily as any seasoned warrior, and perceiving the manner in which he held himself, Lystra knew such whispers to be untrue. This man was a leader in whom the trust, loyalty and respect of his riders was well-fortified. Comparing him to the man who was, even then, gleefully severing the head from one of the boars, even as its body returned to its humanoid form, a sure sign that it was dead, it was clear to her who truly ruled Elturel.
“The hunt was over, to let fly now would be to waste the arrow,” she replied.
“Spoken like a true Ranger,” Lord Dhelt smiled. “Who are you and why ride to our side if not to join in the kill?”
“I do not see you joyously plunging your spear into the bodies of your fallen foe,” she countered. “Such effort would be as wasted as my shot. As for who I am, I am Lystra Silverdragon, Apprentice to Jaryn Moorstrider.”
“Then we are truly well met,” he replied. “The deeds of The Moorstrider are known well to us. Deeds of which I am sure you have played a part, being apprenticed to him.”
“A small part to be sure, My Lord,” she replied.
“Modest,” he nodded his approval. “Your mentor would be proud. Are you merely ranging out here or do you have a greater purpose? I would assume the latter given that we have never yet met before now.”
“You would assume correct, I have been sent by Duke Eltan of Baldur’s Gate to retrieve Duke Belt and escort him back to the city.”
“Escort me?” A booming voice demanded, drawing both the attentions of Lord Dhelt and Lystra to the Duke who was swiftly approaching them, his fallen foe’s head still held in his fist by its hair.
“Do you mean to mount that on a wall as a trophy?” Lord Dhelt asked wryly, pointing his spear at the head.
“Eh? I was considering making it into a goblet for tonight’s feast,” the Duke japed before tossing the gruesome piece of anatomy aside and squaring himself against Lystra.
“But on to what the stick figure was saying,” he continued, stabbing his sword into the mud beside his boot. “What makes you think you can escort me anywhere, oh pawn of Eltan.”
Lystra’s face reddened at the jab, as well as the mocking nature of his tone.
“Look lads, the fruit ripens,” the Duke pressed to a smattering of chuckles amongst the Hellriders. “Come little strawberry, I’ll tell you what. If you can best me in a duel I shall allow you to escort me back to Baldur’s Gate and whatever inane need Eltan has of me.”
“As you, wish, old man,” Lystra smirked, dismounting and fluidly drawing Skysinger to the cheers of those around them.
“Very well, men, form a circle,” Lord Dhelt called, “let’s let these Baldurans settle their dispute in true Baldur’s Gate fashion.”
In a matter of moments the riders had fanned out and were joined by their dismounted compatriots to form a wide circle around the Duke and the Ranger.
“Let us see what the tooth pick of yours can accomplish,” Belt roared, lifting his hefty blade into a high guard as Lystra kept her own low. Slowly the two stalked one another, moving with careful, deliberate steps, their gazes and stances warry.
It was Lystra who made the first strike, stabbing in and forcing him to bring his blade down to parry. It was a feint, however, and she quickly drew back to strike anew at his exposed neck. Proving far more agile than his girth suggested, the Duke brought his sword back up to deflect her strike.
“Not as sluggish as you look, old man,” she taunted as she struck anew, only for him to expertly deflect once more.
“The strawberry proves sour,” he shot back, delivering a chop of his own, one which she effortlessly dodged.
Back and forth they went, exchanging jabs with both blade and wit until the Duke seemed to slide in the mud, his leg going out wide and off-setting his center of gravity. Capitalizing on the advantage, Lystra jumped forward, only to realize too late that it had been a ruse. Deflecting her blow wide, Belt rushed in himself and slammed her with his shoulder, sending her tumbling backwards. She hit the muddy ground hard with an ample splash and he pursued, chopping at her prone form. She managed to roll aside and, arching her back, kicked herself to her feet behind her opponent. With a light tap, she laid her blade against the Duke’s shoulder so that its edge threatened his throat.
“Your escort awaits,” she smirked into his astonished face, astonishment that fast turned to mirth as he broke out in wild guffaws as cheers rose from the Hellriders about them.
“Your victory is well earned, Lady Silverdragon,” he congratulated, turning to face her fully. “I suppose that I am honorbound now to return to Baldur’s Gate with you but first tell me, what manner of threat does Baldur’s Gate now face that Eltan finds himself unable to deal with.”
“I’ll let him tell you that himself,” she said, producing the missive given to her by the Flaming Fist Commander.
As Belt unfurled the letter, heedless of the rain that splashed upon its surface, smearing the ink scribbled across it, Lord Dhelt dismounted and trudged forth to join them.
“What does it say, Belt?” The Lord of Elturel asked.
“Eltan has been informed by the Harpers of a great host marching upon the city by way of The Fields of the Dead,” the Duke iterated. “Also it would seem as though the caravan attack that happened along the Tradeway is linked to another along the Coastway that occurred between Beregost and The Friendly Arm Inn. It is Eltan’s belief that all of this culminates in a “clear and present threat,” his words, to the Sword Coast at large and particularly to Baldur’s Gate.”
By this point the parchment had become so sodden and illegible that he allowed it to slip from his hand to the muddy ground at his feet.
“You don’t seem convinced,” the Lord observed.
“Eltan is a mercenary,” Belt replied as if that explained everything.
“Will you go?”
“I lost the duel didn’t I?”
Dhelt chuckled at his words. “I suppose you did,” he conceded. “In that case, your escort awaits.”
As he said these words, he indicated Lystra with an open palm, a sarcastic smirk on his lips.
“Indeed she does, and has become impatient,” the Ranger agreed, sheathing Skysinger and striding back over to Shadowflight to haul herself into the saddle.
“Don’t get too sassy, Ranger Apprentice,” Belt grumbled. “We got a long road ahead of us and I am not above seeking a rematch. If you would be so kind, Lord Dhelt, send a man to fetch my horse, I have a city to rescue apparently.”
* * * *
“I have to admit, Ranger, that I grow less and less fond of this course the longer we tread upon it,” Keira muttered as she stood beside Trotter on the last jutting of dry land before the terrain became sodden and marshy before them.
“The rains must have caused the flooding,” he replied grimly, his gaze drifting to the treetops above the newly formed swampland that hung heavy with thick strands of webbing.
“In any case, we can go no further on our current path,” he continued, turning from the scene and returning to the small camp they had made where their other companions huddled.
It had been a rough road for them, he observed, though that had been evident from the start. Both of them were city-dwellers, unused to harsh conditions with little food and rest. He had allowed them a small fire as they had come across no threats in the past few days, though the presence of the cobweb-ensconced canopies and marshy landscape now made him reconsider such an allowance. In any case, they seemed a bit cherrier with the added warmth of the low, crackling flames. Both huddled close, Tiberius preaching to Katarina once more on the tenets of Lathander’s faith.
This was something the Cleric had adopted over the last few days, something that Keira and Trotter found amusing as it was obvious that the Cleric was doing so merely to calm the young woman while she was merely listening as a way to calm him.
It had been working thus far for them both, so the Ranger saw no need to interrupt and so he stood on the periphery, observing and smiling secretly to himself within his cowl.
“What trail do you recommend if not our current?” Keira asked softly, moving to join him and turning his smile to a frown. Not that her presence, nor the question she had asked, annoyed him, but rather because he had no clear answer for her. He had no wish to delve once more into the depths of the woods. He had no idea how prolific the realm of the Goblins they had encountered was, or whatever other evil they might stumble across by once more leaving the forest’s eaves from which they were under a mile scance.
“We make for the forest’s edge,” he replied, turning from their companions and treading a small distance in that direction. As he did so, he pulled from the folds of his cloak his pipe and began packing the bowl with pipeweed.
“You said earlier that you wouldn’t advise such a course,” Keira pressed, moving once more to his side.
“We have not seen hide nor hair of they who attacked our caravan in over a fortnight,” he countered, beginning to attempt to strike a match. “If they have pursued us then they have become entangled within the mire that is this wood far more hopelessly than we…damnation.”
“Here,” Keira offered, taking the matches from his hand and lighting one easily herself before lowering the flame to the bowl of his pipe.
He allowed her to do so, albeit somewhat skeptically, watching her closely between the rim of his pipe and the edge of his hood. Once his pipe was lit, however, and she had retracted her hand, he inhaled deeply of its vapors and felt himself immediately begin to relax.
“You have been our steadfast guide,” she said, carefully avoiding his gaze. “I have been questioning of you and argumentative in general…it’s just…well I…”
“Captain, are you trying to apologize?” He asked.
“Yes, Ranger, I am,” she shot back in annoyance. “And I think that we have been through enough together for you to call me Keira.”
“And me Trotter?”
“Yes,” she said stiffly, making to turn and retreat back to their companions. Before she could go, however, he caught her hand and, soon after, her surprised gaze.
“Thank you, Keira,” he said, squeezing her digits gently with his own.
They held one another’s gaze for a long moment before she gently squeezed his back then trudged back to their camp with determined strides.
Rendrick watched her go before turning his attention once more towards the east and the road ahead.
* * * *
“You are quite determined to be reconciled with your master once more, arncha?” Belt commented as he and Lystra watched the Hellriders gallop away to the northeast, back towards Elturel.
Lord Dhelt had escorted the pair as far as he was able that day along the eastern eaves of the Wood of Sharp Teeth but had insisted he and his men must head back to their city as dusk began to fall. Duke Belt had argued that they should camp the night together but Lystra had discouraged such a possibility, reminding him that they yet had an almost three day ride back to Baldur’s Gate and would have to ride for a bit through the night if they had any hope in reaching the city within the timeframe Eltan had allotted them, which was “in all haste.”
“I have no masters,” the Ranger Apprentice replied, glancing dubiously at the sky above them, which was fast darkening.
“Come,” she bade him. “With any luck we will crest the forest’s northern eaves before we are forced to make camp.”
“Bah, you are no fun,” he said as he, nonetheless, angled his hefty warhorse to follow her. “I always heard tell that Jaryn’s apprentice was rebellious and fun-loving but now I find you dour and single-minded. Much the same as your mentor.”
“You misjudge me, Duke Belt,” she stated bluntly. “I am as rebellious and single-minded as ever but must complete my mission before I act on such impulses.”
Tymora’s tits I really am turning into Jaryn, she mused as she spoke those words.
“Ah, so I am to understand that this mission is not of your choosing then,” he said conspiratorially. “If so, would it not be so undesirable to abandon it completely and ride off to your next ranging? Merely tell your mentor that you couldn’t find me?”
“That, unfortunately, is not an option.”
“Why not? That is how I live my life.”
“You are literally a lord of a city.”
“One that will trundle on just fine in my absence.”
“Aye, it will, most assuredly, and has, but does it in direction of your liking?”
“Pay attention to politics more than you like to admit aye?”
“What debate are you trying to pull me into?” She demanded. “I have been sent by Eltan, at the behest of Jaryn, my Mentor, to retrieve a fellow Duke of Baldur’s Gate, who has, thus far, decided to act more similarly to a petulant child than a man of his station.”
“You are not used to your Lords acting as actual men then.”
“Eltan, Jaryn, Entar, these are men who demand more from the world and seek to act on par with their demands of it.”
“And you are different?”
“You know that I am, Ranger Apprentice. What adjectives have you heard attached to my name?”
“Smelly, old, windbag…”
“I asked you to not be so sassy,” he said dangerously, so much so that it gave Lystra pause.
“Now tell me, what words have you heard used to describe me?”
“Free-spirited, rowdy, sacreligious…untamed,” she replied.
“Exactly, none of which would describe what a lord should be am I correct?”
“I suppose you are…”
“Then that is the point I seek to make,” his tone had taken on its more flippant tilt it had had up to that point. “I like to fuck my lovers, drink my ale, and kill my enemies. In this we are not so different I would assume.”
“You may assume correctly,” Lystra said, “but, in doing so, you have misjudged me immeasurably.”
“I am not selfish.”
There was a moment of silence whilst Belt contemplated her words before he broke out in mighty guffaws that echoed about the sparse woodlands around them.
“I see that I am well matched,” he said upon recovering from his mirth.
“Yes, and equally in need of rest, I would assume,” she replied. “Come, let us find a place to lay our heads before we are driven to once more crossing blades.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to such sport had you a mind.”
“I wouldn’t have thought that was the direction in which you leaned.”
“Let us agree to both be careful this night so that we might not lose any newfound respect for one another we might have garnered thus far,” she offered.
“Agreed,” he nodded in the fast-falling darkness. “Though I look forward to our further interactions on the morrow.”
“You and you alone,” she muttered to herself and Shadowflight, out of earshot of the Duke.
* * * *
As darkness fell upon yet another day he had spent traversing the seemingly endless rolling hills of the Fields of the Dead, Kivan guided his horse up the beaten path leading to yet another shepherd’s stead’s front door.
This one was similar to so many he had already approached during his time upon the rainswept plain. Constructed of cobbled stone with a thatched roof, small in its appearance and yet no doubt housing a large family by all standards of the Sword Coast.
As he mounted the rise of the hill upon which the homestead was set, the front door of the dwelling was flung outwards to emit an outpouring of firelight from within, a stiff-chinned man filling its frame dressed in simple garb, a lantern held aloft in his outstretched hand to send a pendulum’s paced arch of light bobbing across the hillside.
“Who are ye and what do ye want?” The Shepherd demanded, his voice steady, suggesting that this wasn’t the first time a wanderer had darkened his stoop.
“My name is Kivan,” the Harper replied. “I am a Ranger of the Sword Coast and I seek shelter for the night against this gods-cursed weather.”
“Aye, it be gods-cursed all right,” the homesteader agreed. “Ain’t seen rain like this upon the Field in nigh on a decade.”
“Truer words have never been spoken,” Kivan agreed tiredly.
“What be your purpose upon the Field?” The man pressed.
“I am on a mission from Baldur’s Gate,” the Harper replied, deciding to stick to that which had benefited him most thus far upon his trek through this particular countryside.
“I merely seek a place in which to rest my head for the night so that I might continue on with my mission in the morn.”
“Ye haven’t said what your mission is.”
“Nor will I, lest its revelation tarnish his reputation who sent me on it.”
The Shepherd took a moment to mull over his words before chuckling lightly.
“I suppose ye speak the truth, Ranger o’ The Gate,” he said. “But I can’t rightly invite ye to stay within my hutch wherein my family dwells can I? What if ye prove a deviant?”
“You are fair to ask, Master Shepherd,” Kivam replied, tightening the clasp of his cloak against the rain and wind. “I merely wish to rest within the fold of your sheep if you have a mind to allow it.”
“I ain’t against it, but ye have a mind to keep ye hands to yourself whilst ye are here and want not but what’s been already promised to ye.”
“I swear upon the horn of Mielikki’s blessed mount,” the Ranger said, raising his right hand in solemnity.
The Shepherd chuckled openly.
“Ain’t no cause for swearing no oaths,” he said. “We have been living here long before The Gate cared and we shall be here long after. Ye go ahead and let yourself in ‘round back and we will see about getting ye something to eat.”
Nodding his thanks, Kivan steered his mount towards the side gate of the corral that encompassed the back end of the hill whilst the Shepherd retreated inside, the bobbing light of his lantern extinguishing behind the closing door in his wake.
Dismounting at the corral’s latched gate, the Ranger lifted the reluctant hasp and let himself in. Within, a small number of sheep were clustered near a small lean-to against the back side of the house. After relatching the gate, Kivan led his horse to them, dipping his head a bit to enter the shelter of the well-crafted overhang, the sheep seemingly unperturbed by his intrusion.
After he had settled himself against the hut’s hard wall, the back door to the structure opened and a young girl, perhaps nine years of age, skipped forth carrying before her a earthenware plate upon which sat a small husk of bread as well as a small heap of goats cheese. Approaching the lean-to, she peered within, her large, blue eyes full of curiosity.
“Good evening,” Kivan smiled at her, removing his hood so that he might appear less sinister in the dark.
“Papa says you’re a ranger,” she piped, stepping beneath the overhang and standing boldly before him.
“Your papa speaks truthfully,” the Harper replied, eyeing the food she had hungrily but resisting the urge to reach for it lest he spook her.
“So you kill bad monsters.”
“Aye, I do. Have you seen any bad monsters about?”
“A few months back the Henricksons saw a troll. Papa says we was lucky it didn’t lag about.”
“He is correct, a troll can be a nasty fiend even for a fully armored knight.”
“Have you ever killed a troll?”
The girl eyed him closely for a long moment as if deciding whether or not she believed him. In the end, she smiled and set the plate of food before him.
“I like you, Ranger,” she said before retreating from the lean-to and scampering back inside, the door clicking shut behind her.
As he ate the meal the shepherd had kindly given him, Kivan also prepared his equipment in case he needed to start the next day with a fight, as he had done each night he had spent searching for Jherek’s phantom host. Although he was yet to catch any sign of it, he still would not allow himself to question the likelihood of its existence. He was a Harper and a Ranger, searching out the unseen threats was his creed. Perhaps the host hadn’t yet begun its march, or perhaps they were cloaked by some sorcery. In any event, Jherek had asked him to locate it and until he received different orders that was exactly what he meant to do, though he still wished his Gnomish companion Huvertrov was with him. After spending so many years traveling with the diminutive spellcaster, it was lonesome indeed to now be forced to hunt alone.
He sighed. Continuing to dwell on Huvertrov’s absence did him no favors. Forcing his thoughts from that particular topic, they swept unbidden to another upon which he found it uncomfortable to dwell, Lystra.
The night he had spent with the other Ranger had been on his mind a lot in his travels since they parted ways. Rarely had he felt any emotion akin to attraction in recent memory. Indeed, it hadn’t been since the death of his wife that he had felt much of any desire to lay with a woman but that night with Lystra whilst the storm swept the world about them had awakened something in him. What that something was he was as of yet unwilling to dwell on too deeply, perhaps he would ask Huvertrov of his thoughts on the matter when he saw him again.
Growling at himself in annoyance, the Ranger huddled against the corner of the lean-to, his sword cradled naked in the crook of his arm, his bow and quiver near at hand. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to drift into the Elven sleep state of Reverie, his ears remaining fine tuned to any out of place sound.
As the blue light of predawn first began its coloration of the land, Kivan was pulled from his Reverie by the sounds of heavy boots crunching upon rocky soil. Rousing himself fully, the Ranger cocked his head, perceiving the sound to be coming from beyond the further side of the lean-to, just beyond the corral fence.
Rising to a crouch, he slid his sword home in its sheath and grabbed up his bow. As the footfalls continued around the wall of the lean-to, he slid an arrow from his quiver and drew it back in his bow, leveling his shot just above the fence at the open sky by the lean-to’s corner.
The soft crunching continued as a shadow fell across the corner. The sheep bleated uncomfortably and his horse snorted just as the bestial features of an orc came into view. He loosed his shot, catching the creature in the throat and sending it tumbling away.
Immediately, he was on his feet and rushing to where the beast had stood seconds prior. Reaching the fence, he vaulted over, landing in a low crouch on the further side, whereupon he spotted another orc trudging up the hillside, its gaze questioning as it beheld the Ranger suddenly manifest before it.
Without waiting for its shock to wear off, he loosed a second arrow, driving it expertly through the creature’s eye, before sprinting towards the hut’s front.
Rounding the corner of the structure, he saw a pair of the beasts nearing the hut’s front door. Charging them as they began to turn in his direction, he managed to send another arrow through the first’s chest before he closed the distance. Just as the second one opened its mouth to roar a challenge, he drove his shoulder against it, toppling it backwards so that it fell heavily to the hillside at his feet. Standing over it, he wasted no time in drawing back his bow and driving a missile through its throat.
As the Ranger took his fourth kill, a series of bellows from the hill’s bottom alerted him to the approach of the rest of the warband. Stepping before the hut’s door, he hammered it with the butt of his bow before taking a knee before it, facing down the eight further orcs rushing up at him.
With calm efficiency, he drew back his bow and, in quick succession, began loosing arrows, slaying the last of the creatures just as it crested the hilltop and the door to the hutch opened behind him to emit a very shocked shepherd.
“By Torm’s Mercy!” The man exclaimed.
Rising, Kivan turned to face him fully just as the rain began to fall harder about them and, away to the north, the deep bellowing of warhorns rose with the rumbling thunder.
“What’s happening?” The Shepherd demanded, his wild eyes attempting to take in all that had transpired on his doorstep.
“You must flee,” Kivan insisted, gripping his shoulder and forcing the man to look him in the eye. “Take only what clothes are on your back and run, away to the south, gather all you can and tell them to do likewise!”
“But ye killed the brutes…”
“You hear those horns? That is not the sound of an Orc raid, that is the sound of an army! Now go! I will harry them as much as I am able to buy you time.”
As he said these words, the Ranger strode away to the corral’s gate and unlatched it. Swinging it open wide, he whistled, summoning his horse to his side.
“But, Ranger…ye can’t take on an army!” The Shepherd protested, rounding the side of the hut.
“No, I can’t,” Kivan agreed, hauling himself into the saddle. “But I can distract their advance scouts. These here were foragers, more will come behind, and soon! You must collect your family and flee, now!”
Shocked into action by the insistence in the Ranger’s tone, the Shepherd fled back to the door of his stead, just as Kivan rode forth, towards a wall of rolling mist and the beating of drums beyond it.