“And so we return to where we started, back to the Iron Ring. I wonder if these men come from Xitaqa. More proof that man and beast are working together,” mulled Hasan. “The deep evil of slavery that these man have pursued deserves our vengeance, although their own scars maybe show manacles was part of their own past. But what kind of man turns on his fellows and joins his captors. Sickening,” the elf finished with unusual vehemence.
On seeing that the remaining bandit would give them no further aid, the elf approached a last time. “Tie him to a horse, Maruc, snared as he is.” The big man looked out from under the webbing in surprise. “Learn this face, slaver. And warn your fellows, if you find them, that Hasan Elyan, Prince of the Radlebb Wood, will break the Iron Ring.” He slapped the horse into a trot and saw the man bounce off toward the Dymrak and the river Kelvin.
Stephan drew a sharp breath upon seeing the marking on the arms of the ruffians. He genuflected to Halav and said “These are slaves to the Cult of Leptar. It is known that the Ring and the cult work together.” In answer to Hasan, “Their minds and spirits are corrupted by Leptar. This is why they join their own captors. And why the fought without concern about dying here in the mud today…”
He shook off the creepy feelings and helped Ludo round up the horses.
“We have enough mounts and but they’ve been rode hard. They will speed our journey, but we should go easy on them for a day or two.” Stephan busied himself adjusting the tack and other gear. The bandits kept the straps too tight causing some painful rubbing on the horses’ flanks. He adjusted the straps to allow the wounds some air. “We’ll have to keep the flies off the wounds,” he said to no one in particular.
Stephan watched the lone bandit diminish in the distance. “That will send a powerful message, Hasan! We shall break the Ring!”
Ludo retrieved his bow and finished rounding up the horses. Whilst in generally poor connection he had seen worse and thought that in a few days they would improve.
Seeing Hasan release a prisoner made him shake his head, after knowing what the Iron Ring did to their prisoners he felt that Hasan was being too kind. A cut throat was all the slaver deserved, nothing more and nothing less. Still what else did you expect from Royalty? Acts of cruelty on one hand, willing to have the masses starve and become homeless over petty disputes with neighbouring Kingdoms and then think that by throwing a party or by showing an random act of kindness that they were benevolent and worthy of their station and rank. Bah the hypocrisy made him sick.
He called to Hasan as he adjusted a bridle, “I think you will regret your actions, he would not show you the same act of kindness. The Iron Ring is blood thirsty and ruthless, you cross them at your peril. Now they know you, they will hunt you down. Far better to leave no witnesses and keep them guessing as to where we are and where we could be heading. Still it least we have some horses, far better for us to ride now that we are out of the forest we will cover more ground.”
“Stephen you know these lands is there anywhere we can go and rest up, both Feldard and Hasan have taken quite a hammering from these slavers, I think we need a place to rest up for a day or two. What about High Forge, we are passing quite close, surely High Forge would be a safe place for a while?”
“Both lay in the wrong direction,” Stephan said as he retrieved his arrows. “We want to head northeastish, to Xitaqa. But of course that leads through the heart of the Moori. Folks say the undead move there. And the land is treacherous. We’ll have to move carefully.” Stephan scanned the horizon. “If we could find a Darine guide, that would help. They know ways through the bogs.”
With battle over, Feldard pulled stuck arrows from his armour and flesh, grimacing at the pain. He bound what wounds he could access without having to remove every last piece of armour.
When Maruc approached to offer assistance, Feldard was too weary to complain and instead accepted the priests aid graciously, (well graciously for him). “Remind me to give half my portion of these treasures we find to the church.”
Watching Hasan, and Stephen tie the slaver to the horse and let him go, Feldard nodded. Feldard cared little as to what happened to the slaver. If he did survive to return, Feldard would kill him at that time.
Glancing about, Feldard noted the horse he’d injured laying on it’s side still in pain and unable to ever walk again. He retrieved his crossbow and put a bolt through the head of the downed horse. The dwarf could feel the breeders angry glare behind him. Feldard snorted. “Would you rather I had left it alive to suffer?”
Without waiting for an answer Feldard, moved off a short distance ahead, loading his crossbow, to keep watch while the others discussed where they would go next.
Feldard snorted again at the Ludo’s notion that he needed rest (true though it was), and Feldard was about to deny it when the question of High Forge’s safety came up, causing the dwarf to pause and frown. Highforge was where Hernane had been headed before returning home.
“Safe or not, we should check out Highforge before continuing on to Xitaqa” Feldard stated. That would give him an opportunity to ensure Hernane was safe. Worry over her would be a distraction otherwise.
He made his way over to the horse breeder with a bit of a scowl. “Help me mount up.” The idea of riding the huge beast was daunting but if it would save his already weary legs and speed their journey he would suffer the amused glances of the others at the sight of him on a horse.
And sure enough, there was amusement aplenty at his ungainly clambering up onto the saddle even with assistance. Dwarves were not meant to ride horses – ponies perhaps but not horses. The stirrups were useless to the dwarf – his legs just couldn’t reach no matter how high Stephen adjusted them. Feldard, stubborn about not riding with another, would just have to keep him self balanced.
“Lets’ get on with this,” grumbled the dwarf as he finally was settled. He nudged his mount into movement.
“Stephen, I understand your urgency to get to Xitaqa, however in our current condition I would think it prudent to rest for a few days in safety. What say you Maruc? I think High Forge would be the safest place, the reach of the Iron ring is long, but even they would hesitate to attack us there.
“Friends, let us to Highforge,” chimed in Miklos. “To rest. To learn what we can of how long the Iron Ring has been seen near the moors. Surely our most noble elven friend’s promise demands that new wariness, but it will win us friends as well. But most of all, let us to Highforge to cross the river. Surely we will have more chance of finding a boat across from Highforge than in the moors.” Miklos swung into his horse, far more easily than the dwarf, and led the party east.
* * * * *
And so it was. The group made their way to the gnome and dwarf community settled in the Wulfwolde Hills. They knew they were close when they started encountering quarries and shafts that dotted the region surrounding the settlement. Arriving in the evening, they found Highforge to be composed of a relatively small number of exterior stone buildings, with the bulk of the settlement below ground level. With Feldard leading the way, the group was not given any trouble from the locals, although having such an odd assortment of races traveling together did draw some stares.