The elf’s aggressive pace gave the dwarf no end of troubles, wounded as he was, but Feldard said not a word and did his best to keep up, grateful that as rearguard it was expected for him to fall back at times.
As the party trooped onward towards Xitaqa, Feldard brooded over the twists and turns of his adventures thus far. It was good thing that Hernane had chosen his brother—he realized that now. As much as he might grumble and gripe, Feldard was very much committed to solving this mystery along with his companions.
Speaking of which, they had moved out of sight once more. With a bracing breath, Feldard jogged to catch up with his friends. He looked forward to when the others would call camp.
Hasan led the party until late afternoon, then called a rest, thankful the day had passed uneventfully. The group made camp in the shelter created by the fall of a giant elm, the roots of which still reached out hungrily for earth, water and safety. Miklos looked askance at the millipedes, worms and beatles he would share his bedroll with tonight, but Hasan argued, “Better to have at least wall nearby to protect our backs. I reckon we have passed the lair of the Viper, if this goblin map is true, but we aren’t close to the northern settlements. We’ll reach them tomorrow, if all goes well.”
Miklos and Maruc walked together, the former chattering his way through the forest. Feldard snorted his disgust, the boy seemed to think he was romping in the Duke’s Park with his wetnurse—while Maruc walked without a word. The cleric turned inward, trusting Hasan to guide the party, while he walked with his god, wondering again at Halav’s restoration and thanking all the immortals, but Halav above all, that he, Maruc, lived in this golden time. But Maruc recalled that long days of terror passed before Halav led the Traladaran to their triumph. Does his country face such sorrow again? The cleric quickened his pace, intoning to none in particular, “We must find these beasts and smite them down.” Miklos looked at the man rather queerly.
Ludo daydreamt as he walked along, looking at each of the group in turn he wondered what destiny had bought them together. They seemed alright, except for Feldard he mused, he was a grumpy dwarf, which in his limited knowledge of Dwarfs seem to fit the bill of their kind. Hasan seemed ok even for a Prince, he concluded, it least he was not afraid to muck in with the others. Jerking his thoughts back to the present, focus on the task at hand he reminded himself.
It was good to be out of that cursed petrified wood, even the Dymrak Wood was ok compared to where they had been. As they camped for the evening Ludo crouched down beside Maruc, keeping his voice low “I suggest you keep an eye Feldard, he seem to struggle a little today, I think he needs a bit longer to recover. Perhaps you can lay hands upon him?”
Haggard from the march with a still-healing body, Stephan collapsed on the forest floor, not even bothering with his bedroll. He assumed the stalwart dwarf would take first watch. Stephan’s eye cracked open to see Feldard. He did seem pretty spent himself — despite his dwarven constitution.
His eye shifted to Ludo. Well, he thought, he can probably take the watch. The comforted Stephan and he was soon dosing. But soon a nagging thought pulled him from the depths of slumber. The rogue! We’re letting this new, proven rogue, take first watch! To the others, Stephan still appeared to rest peacefully but in his half-awake mind, great alarms were sounding.
He eventually tore himself from rest (aided by a driving thirst, crushing hunger and full bladder — all demanding attention) and checked on the watch situation. “I’ll take it from here,” he said, relieving Ludo who, glancing at the sleeping Feldard, shrugged and allowed Stephan to take the watch.
* * * * *
As expected, the group reached the human settlements in the northern forest. They arrived a a lumber camp. It was still recovering from the goblin assaults. Bushka was tired but relieved that her ordeal was over. She quickly explained what the heroes were done for her, and the Traladaran lumberjacks rejoiced that the goblins had been decimated. Though much had been lost, they were eager to provide the party with whatever food and supplies they needed.
While at the lumber camp, Stephan set about replenishing his quiver and rations. He also tended to some armor repairs and had a loose seam on his boot mended. And when he was done, he took some time to carve the Sukiskyn emblem into the back of his new shield.
The folks of the camp were a much needed dose of humanity and Stephan found himself up late the night before the continued march. With his fellow Traladarans, he sang several robust drinking songs while imbibing into the wee hours.
In the morning, Stephan assisted some of the lumberjacks with harnessing the horses. His natural horse sense drew him to the task and while at it, he noticed one of the mares was pregnant. The main handler was shocked when he too saw the signs aright.
“You’ve a keen eye for the horse, master Sukiskyn!”, said he. “I’d have driven this poor mare hard today but now I’ll go easy on her. Sure, I’d ‘av seen it in a few days, but ’tis best to know sooner. Thanks to ya.”
With a good night’s rest behind them, they embarked early and resumed their march toward Xitaqa. It was not long before they reached the banks of the Volaga. Upstream from the lumber camp, there was a ford where the river could be easily crossed and the group would be traveling through the moors.
Not long after they had crossed the river, Hasan’s keen vision was the first to spot a squad of eight warriors on horseback. At once, the warriors kicked their horses into a gallop towards the party.