Witch Queen of Perrenland

An adventure in Greyhawk - Fan fiction

The Margrave of Bissel

Rarsirrien led the pair through now empty streets leading down to the docks along the Selintan River. In a few hours this area will be bustling with activity as men work to load and unload barges traveling to and from towns downstream. The river is the lifeblood of trade for the free city. Much of the food comes to the city over water as it is faster, and often safer, than over land. In the early morning everything was quiet and only a few fisherman were preparing their nets for the days work.

They turned down a narrow gasse and walked past a few dark warehouses when Rarsirrien suddenly stopped at a darkened doorway. He pulled a key from inside his cloak, unlocked the door and ushered them inside. Once inside, he locked the door again and led them between crates and boxes.
“Where are we?” Aaron whispered.
“Warehouse.” Kirk answered back.
“Not helpful,” replied Aaron sharply.
“What we’re going to be is dead if you two don’t keep your voices down,” Rarsirrien snapped.
They moved carefully between the rows of boxes trying to be as silent as a thief. Rarsirrien had led them to the back of the warehouse where several large wooden crates were sitting on the dusty floor. He went to the larger one on the right and lifted it up slightly. Underneath was an opening an a ladder leading down.
“Not back underground. I’m beginning to feel like I should have been born a dwarf,” complained Aaron. Still he slid under the crate and crawled down the ladder. At the bottom he found himself in a larger underground room. Kirk followed behind and then Rarsirrien. Before letting the crate back down, Rarsirrien reached into a small sack hanging beside the ladder. He pulled out a handful of dust and dirt and scattered it, obscuring their footprints, then he set the crate down silently.
They were in a comfortable eighteen by eighteen foot room. The walls were lined with glow stones which provided plenty of light. Crates lined the wall opposite the ladder they had just come down and there were several comfortable looking chairs in the other corner.
Aaron was looking at the crates along the wall. They were each marked with elvish runes and a tree. He looked at Rarsirrien, “These crates, they’re marked with the elvish letters ‘
FKC.’” He lifted the lid off one of the crates and removed some of the straw until he could see that there were several bottles carefully packed inside.
Aaron’s eyes widened. “These bottles are from the Faerie Kingdom of Celene!” Elvish wine from Celene was a rare commodity as the elves there made enough to supply themselves but didn’t focus on exporting it the the rest of the continent.
“For some
very special clients,” Rarsirrien replied.
“Bribes.” Kirk looked at Aaron, then to Rarsirrien.
“Business. Sometimes if you need a favor from someone it’s good business to do one for them in return. I keep a few cases on hand just in case the need arises. And right now I think the need has arisen. Besides, they were very well compensated for it.” Rarsirrien took the bottle from Aaron and replaced it in its crate and put the packing material and top back on. “Now, if you don’t mind I think we should be moving on. I didn’t bring you here to hide in my private cellar. I’m sure our pyromaniac friends will be searching my warehouse for us next, if not torching it just to make sure we’re not here. So we best be moving on, but before we do let’s do something about your sword..”
Rarsirrien went to another wooden box which was set against the wall next to the crates of wine and removed the top. Inside were several long swords, each in scabbards and unremarkable in all respects. He removed one and compared it to Aaron’s sword.
“This should fit it well. Leave yours here in the crate. It will be safe here, no one other than I, and now you, knows about this room. As for that hilt, that may require a touch of color. I think I have just the thing.” He opened a tin of what appeared to be silver paint. Aaron dipped the pommel and hilt of the sword into the liquid and withdrew it. The color adhered to the adamantite, but not to the leather. They could see it dry before their eyes and in a few seconds it was dry enough to handle. “That should do for now. No one will recognize us based on a description of that blade.” He closed the container. “Useful stuff for touching up items.”
With that he set the can down and went about moving a stack of wine crates aside and opened a secret door.
“Our new friend has a thing for secret passages,” Kirk whispered to Aaron.
“I don’t care what he has a thing for as long as we can get out of here alive.” With that he and Kirk followed Rarsirrien. They walked along a damp passage for what Aaron judged to be about fifteen minutes. They were close to the river and the moisture content of the soil was very high. It was so musty Aaron was finding it difficult to breath. They must have covered a good bit of distance. At last they came to a round wooden door. Rarsirrien opened it and fresh, cool air rushed in.
The three stepped out into the night air. In the east, the night was beginning to give way to the coming dawn. Sunrise was perhaps another thirty or forty minutes away. Aaron looked around. They were in a grove of trees on a slight bluff. Behind him he could just make out the city wall and before him was an open field leading down to the river road. He could make out no sign of any pursuit. Which didn’t make any sense. Who was the intended target? Was it himself as Rarsirrien had suggested or, more likely, was it someone who Rarsirrien had cheated? Maybe even a jealous lover.
“So what now?” Aaron asked Rarsirrien.
“Well I suppose that depends,” he replied.
“On what?” asked Kirk.
Rarsirrien tugged at his beard. “On who that was, and what they were after.”
“It’s not us, must be you. Cheat someone?” Kirk asked.
Rarsirrien’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t need to cheat. Never had any problems in all my years here until I met you two,” he shot back tersely.
Aaron thought he saw a flash in the man’s eyes and for a moment he would have sworn the man’s eyes changed color. “Who or what isn’t important now. Either way, we need to go back into the city. Kirk and I need to return to our hostel and retrieve our things. If they’re still there. And we need to buy two horses. Ours…died on our journey here.” He decided this wasn’t a good time to mention that they had been attacked on their journey to Greyhawk, since that would have given Rarsirrien more reason to suspect them as the reason for the attack.
“I agree. I should try and discreetly assess the damage to my home. See what I can salvage. Where is it you two were staying?”
“On Horseshoe Road. The hostel near the corner.”
“The Sleepy Knave. I know it. Okay, we go back and we enter the city through the Marsh Gate. Keep to the busy streets where there are lots of people. Regardless of who is after which ever of us, they most likely won’t risk drawing attention by making a move in broad daylight in a public area.” With that Rarsirrien started off and led them south, through the woods until they came out along a field way. Several thatch roofed cottages and well tended gardens lay on either side of the road. The paths were clean and well kept and they made their way to the Marsh Path, then turned and followed it into the city where it became the Marsh Street. This led into the main square where there were already plenty of booths and tents set up and farmers and merchants were preparing to sell their goods.
The trio made their way through the crowd, keeping one hand on their swords and the other on their purses. At the north end of the square was a fountain and a statue of Zagig Yragerne, Greyhawk’s most famous resident and ruler. The way narrowed slightly and became a broad street called The Processional. They followed it past the city gardens and park on the left and past the way to the arena and various universities off to the right until they came finally to Horseshoe Road.
Kirk and Aaron nodded silently to Rarsirrien and then turned left and headed for the Sleepy Knave while Rarsirrien continued on towards the next gate which led to the richer part of the city. Kirk and Aaron glanced northward where they could just make out the top of the wall that divided the noble and wealthy from the more common folk. They could see wisps of smoke drifting skyward from what they guessed were the remnants of Rarsirrien’s home.
They got to the Knave just as a group of halflings were departing. As they made their way past the inn keeper and bounded upstairs he hollered after them, “Quarter hour more and I charge you another night’s stay!”
They found their room undisturbed, which was a relief and bolstered their theory they weren’t the target after all. Otherwise, their attackers should have made their way back here to either wait or search for clues as to where they may have gone. They gathered their belongings together and packed their kits. Slinging their bags over their shoulders they made their way back downstairs, gave the man at the desk a wave and headed back out into the street.
“Which way?” Kirk asked.
“I say we head back to the Processional and then direction Rarsirrien’s. See if we meet him along the way,” answered Aaron.
They started walking back up the avenue making their way through the crowds which were headed the opposite way to shop in the market. As they turned the corner Kirk glanced up and down the street. Then he spotted him. With his height he stood somewhat above the crowd. Kirk tapped Aaron’s shoulder and nodded in the direction of Rarsirrien. The two started walking after their mysterious new friend when they saw him suddenly stop. Before him stood a rather imposing looking and dark figure of a man. Kirk and Aaron slowed their pace as they were only about a dozen paces or so behind him now and were waiting to see how this encounter was about to play out.
“Someone wants to speak with you, Rarsirrien.” The man’s voice was rough and low, but now they were close enough to hear him above the crowd. Kirk and Aaron turned to walk in the opposite direction when three other similarly dressed figures cut them off, shaking their heads.
The pair did an about face and were escorted back to Rarsirrien.
“Now really isn’t a good time I’m afraid. I have quite a lot of house cleaning to do that I really must attend to.”
The hooded figure looked past Rarsirrien at the wisps of steam and smoke that were drifting slowly skyward. “I’m pretty sure it can wait. We’re on urgent business and my employer wishes to speak with you immediately about a serious matter. Your servants may accompany you. I imagine their schedule is also pretty light today.”
“These two are not…” Rarsirrien started to reply but Aaron cut him off.
“We’re all to happy to accompany you. I believe dusting the mantle and cleaning out the fireplace can wait another day,” Aaron managed to say in a tone that conveyed total seriousness. Kirk gazed skyward and remained silent.
Their escorts led them back in the direction of the High and Garden Quarters and then made a sudden right turn into the thieve’s quarter. Kirk touched Aaron’s arm lightly and the half-elf nodded slightly but kept his eyes on the road ahead. He had expected that these men were perhaps associates of one of Rarsirrien’s rivals. But now they were heading directly for the Thieve’s Guildhall.
Not just anyone could stroll into the Guildhall. You have to be a thief on official guild business, or summoned. There was something about Rarsirrien that they had failed to guess. What business could he possibly have with anyone in the Thieve’s Guild? Then he thought back to the warehouse basement. Perhaps this would explain how he had managed to amass all those things.
There were only two guards posted outside the entrance to the guildhall. That didn’t matter, because once inside you would be instantly surrounded and it was common knowledge the guild employed several assassins who kept watch over the more sensitive areas. They were escorted through the open hall and then in the back was a more secure, private meeting room. There their escort paused, knocked once and then opened the door and motioned for the three of them to enter.
Inside was a single dark oak table with twelve chairs on each side and one larger, ornate oak seat with gold and silver inlays at the head of the table. In it sat a man of medium build and stature. He was modestly dressed, not in anything that would be considered typical for a member of the thieves guild. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed as was his beard and mustache. He wore no jewelry or anything particularly distinguishing except for one ring on his left hand. There was something inset in it, but none of them could tell what it was from this distance.
Rarsirrien stepped forward and bowed low. Kirk looked at Aaron and the two managed a somewhat awkward copy of Rarsirrien’s movement.
“Walgar, I didn’t expect to see you here. Most certainly not
“I need your assistance Rarsirrien, but it’s a matter that requires utmost,” he paused, “discretion. No one would think to look for me here. Sometimes it pays to have friends in low places. In this particular case, family in low places. It’s true what they say about black sheep but this time it worked in my favor. Of course, I now owe him a favor and he will eventually come to collect but it may be well worth it.”
“What is it that I can do for the Margrave of Bissel? Certainly, you have access to a more qualified pool of talent.”
Kirk and Aaron both glanced at each other. Margrave of Bissel! They were in the presence of the ruler of Bissel, in the heart of the Thieves Guild in the City of Greyhawk. It was too much to believe - in fact, Kirk was certain that no one would believe him if he repeated this to anyone.
“This is a matter which may require someone with your unique abilities. We have a problem. A potentially grave and serious problem. Over the past year my forces have been monitoring a group of four human necromancers who have been exploring the boundaries of the Vale. It was of little concern at first. The Vale is very well protected along its borders. However, recently I’ve learned that the Witch Queen has made a deal with them and is providing assistance to them to enter the Vale of the Mage. These four are hungry for power and we believe they want to usurp the rule of the Dark One and take his secrets. She has promised them aid and additional power.”
“And what does Iggwilv get out of this in return? She’s certainly not doing this out of the goodness of her heart considering she has neither.”
The Margrave leaned back in the chair and motioned them to sit at the table. From the shadows several servants brought in plates of cheese and fruit as well as glasses of water and red wine. “Please,” he gestured to the food and Rarsirrien filled a glass with wine and took a hunk of cheese and several pieces of fruit.
Walgar continued, “Over the years, the Mage has never made any overt moves that indicate he’s much of a threat to the lands around him. Instead, he has seemed content to remain in his own realm and consolidate his power. So we have coexisted for decades, respecting each other’s boundaries. I believe he has been focused on developing new spells and increasing his own knowledge. Now it is rumored that he has found the secret to immortality. I am certain that is what the Witch Queen is after. These necromancers are just pawns in her attempt to discover that secret. If she should obtain it, the whole of the western Flanaess will not be safe. No telling what horrors she and the Old One could unleash if she need not fear death.”
“My dear Margrave,” Rarsirrien began “I’m flattered in your faith in my abilities but I haven’t the means to take on four necromancers and the Witch Queen of Perrenland. Not even I would dare think about going up against the Mage of the Vale.”
Kirk and Aaron sat listening to all this. They were figuring out that there was a whole lot more to their new friend than he had been leading them to believe. A successful merchant might have the resources he had, might even know the Margrave, but also be powerful enough to even consider taking on the Mage of the Vale? Not all that likely.Unless there was a whole lot more to Rarsirrien than they knew.
“I’m sure someone of your talents and resourcefulness can manage to put together a team. Greyhawk is teaming with adventurers looking to make their fame and fortune. The only real problem you have is time. We know they have already entered our land and are making their way toward the Vale. I can provide you and your party with transportation and assistance crossing our lands. The only challenge you will have is the same that they will face and that’s gaining entrance to the Vale. It’s borders are protected both by its inhabitants and powerful spells. Besides, I don’t think I need remind you…you owe me and I know something about you that you would prefer to remain undisclosed.”
Rarsirrien sank back in his chair. It was the first time either of them had seen any sign of weakness from the man. He had exuded self-confidence and strength from the moment they met, but now it seemed there was a chink in his armor.
“It would appear I have little choice in the matter. How much time do I have?”
“By our best estimates, two days. No more. They lost their horses in a skirmish with a few members of our light calvary when they crossed into our territory.”
“And how many men did you lose?” Rarsirrien interjected.
“All of them. All they managed was to kill a half-dozen horses, but it should give you some idea of what you’re going up against. “
Rarsirrien nodded and looked at Kirk and then Aaron. “Can I count on you two?”
The replies were simultaneous. Aaron looked at Kirk. “Are you mad? The three of us against four necromancers, the Mage of the Vale, and some Witch Queen?”
“We’ll be famous,” Kirk replied with a broad, toothy grin.
“Yes, for our stupidity. Our names will be remembered and spoken as a warning to other foolish adventurers. We’ll both likely end up stuffed and mounted on someone’s wall no doubt.”
“It’s settled then. We’re going. Seeing as how you two owe me your lives, I’ll consider this as repayment.” Rarsirrien’s statement was taken as the final word.
The Margrave stood and pushed the chair back. “Good. I’ll see that you’re provisioned out here and provide you papers of transport that will see you safely through Bissel. Other than that, I’m afraid that is all the official help I can provide you.” He turned and walked towards the door in the back of the room, but paused and turned his head and said “Good luck.” With that he passed through the door and was gone.
“Well, seeing as how we just became two of your partners in this enterprise, I think it’s time that we get to know each other a little better.” Kirk was looking at Rarsirrien, then glanced back at Aaron.
Rarsirrien nodded, “But that conversation can wait until we’re out of here. Better where there are no ears up against the walls or listening at keyholes. I’m sure that this conversation wasn’t as private as you think.”
The three of them were escorted back out the way they came and once outside the one who had stopped Rarsirrien pulled a piece of parchment from his tunic and handed it to the large man. It bore the stamp of Bissel. “He already knew what your answer would be. He may be an old soldier, but he’s also a good judge of character.”
With that he turned and walked away leaving them standing in the street in the middle of the Thieves Quarter.
Rarsirrien took the parchment and tucked into the inner pocket of his cloak. “Let’s make our way out of here before what’s left of our good fortune vanishes.” As he started to walk away he looked over his shoulder at Aaron, “And it’s not some Witch Queen, it’s
the Witch Queen. Iggwilv, mother of Iuz.”
Aaron pursed his lips and made a sucking sound. “Yep. That was it. The sound of what was left of my good fortune vanishing.”
Kirk patted Aaron on the shoulder and started after Rarsirrien. “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“What did we agree on about challenging ‘worse’?” Aaron shook his head and muttered “Worse will take you up on it every time.”
Rarsirrien led them back through the city to a provisioner not far from the Sleepy Knave. He found the stable boy and whispered something in his ear. The boy ran off and returned a few minutes later with a man who was undoubtably the owner. Rarsirrien spoke with him in low tones and it was a tongue which Aaron couldn’t understand. Rarsirrien dropped a few coins into the man’s open purse and about ten minutes later the boy returned with three horses, saddled, and with provisions packed and ready.
“I’m a very good customer here. We should have everything we need for two weeks journey if we’re careful.” Rarsirrien was looking through the packs as if he was making a mental inventory of what they contained. “Thanks Tom!” He hollered, then swung up on the larger of the three horses.
Aaron and Kirk followed suit then the three rode toward the gate at as quick a pace as they could manage in the city. Rarsirrien was leading them toward the Highway Gate. This was one of the few city gates that was open at all times. They slowly made their way through the thongs of peasants and merchants who were entering the city and Aaron caught his first glimpse of the massive gate. It was composed of two doors, each sixteen feet high and twelve feet wide. Secured above was an iron portcullis whose two inch bars were interwoven to prevent any but the smallest creatures from slipping between them.
Aaron rode up to Kirk and leaned over where he could speak without everyone in the street hearing him. “Everyone and anyone is going to see us leaving the city and our direction.”
“That’s the general idea,” Rarsirrien said over his shoulder. “Trust me a little.”
“Very little,” Aaron whispered.

Rangers of the Gnarley Forrest

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The trio had ridden a half day from Greyhawk city without incident. At first, they passed many people and merchants on their way to the great city, but as they continued east the number travelers became fewer and fewer until after they passed through the town of Fork they found themselves alone on the stretch of road. They had spoken little, Aaron and Kirk riding slightly behind Rarsirrien.
They came to a fork in the road and here Rarsirrien paused. Kirk rode up next to him.
“Which way, left or right?”
“Neither,” the large man replied. “From here we leave the road and cross country and make back for the River Road. Hopefully, any watching eyes will think we’ve headed south or east. Plenty of people have seen us along the road who will report our direction to any who ask after us. Perhaps luck is with us and no one will bother looking for us to the north or west. At least I hope not until we can reach the Gnarly Forrest where we will have more cover.”
Aaron sighed. “Well, half day wasted in the wrong direction.”
“Better that than being pursued and harried the entire way to the Vale.” Rarsirrien turned his horse off the road and started back in a westerly direction. “We head back to the river, then ride parallel to the River Road until we’re well south of Ford Keep. We’ll have to avoid the river patrols.”
“I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid I don’t know much about the Vale of the Mage.” Kirk was trying to break the silence and learn some more about their new partner.
“The valley is on the border of Bissel, and several other lands, but Bissel is the one that has kept a watchful eye on who comes and goes from the valley. It’s surrounded by the Barrier Peaks, except for an opening on one end along the Dim Forrest. It’s been said that the Mage was once forced from the Great Kingdom and that he was a powerful wizard even then. Most think he’s content to rule the valley and practice his magic. Some, like the Margrave, are wary of his powers, but none want to risk agitating him. It’s a case of don’t bother us and we won’t bother you.” Rarsirrien paused, then continued, “Besides, he’s enough to deal with. Keeping the valley elves, gnomes, and what ever else lives there in line.”
Kirk perked up and the mention of valley elves. “Valley elves? Never seen a valley elf. What do they look like?”
Rarsirrien jerked his thumb in Aaron’s direction. “That,” he said and kept riding.
Kirk stopped and looked at Aaron, as if seeing him for the first time. “Well I’ll be damned. I always knew there was something off about you but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I always assumed it was the mix race thing.”
“Come off it. Can’t you see he’s yanking your chain? Trying to get you wound up.” Aaron said.
Rarsirrien stopped and turned. “No, I’m not. I’m not making it up either. How many elves you seen around with green eyes? All elves have blue eyes regardless of where they come from, except elves from the Vale…well, them and Drow. They’re the only ones with green eyes. Oh, your friend has some human traits, from his father no doubt, but those eyes are valley elf eyes.”
The trio was now riding nearly due west across the Plains of Greyhawk. There was very little cover, but fortunately the tall grasses easily hid Aaron and Kirk, but Rarsirrien had to remain hunched uncomfortably low over his horse trying to present as small a profile as possible. He knew there was a line of trees, albeit a thin one, between the plains and the river. He calculated that their current tack would take them just north of Ford Keep, but he wanted to reach some cover to hide their movements before turning back south. His plan was to try and follow the tree line down passed the Keep while avoiding detection, then cross the river and head direction Gawkes Mere and the Gnarley Forest.
Once in the Gnarley, he figured they would be safer than out in the open, and he knew one or two Rangers there. Aaron was the wild card. He wasn’t sure how he would be received. He knew next to nothing about Aaron’s father so he figured best to not mention him at all if it could be avoided. After all, for all he knew his father was exiled or an outcast. Better not to invite too many questions, he figured. There was another reason he needed to reach the forrest soon; he was getting hungry. In the distance he could see a herd of large deer. Venison would do he thought.
They rode westward without incident and reached the tree line near the river just before sunset. To the north, Aaron could just make out the ramparts and one tower on a tree covered hill.
Rarsirrien noticed his gaze. “Ford Keep,” he said. “We make camp here tonight and let the horses rest. Staying here we should be able to remain out of sight, which means no fire. We’re close enough to the keep that we shouldn’t have to worry too much. Still, I would rather no one notice us just yet.” He reached into his saddle bag and removed a dark piece of parchment. He sat down under a tall oak and rested his back against its trunk. He motioned both of them over, then unfolded the parchment. At first, it appeared to be a dark-stained blank piece, but once he moved his hand over it outlines of lakes and rivers began to appear, then roads, borders, and even names. It was a map the likes of which neither of them had ever seen.
“A special gift from a sorceress with a fascination for cartography.” Rarsirrien was holding the edges flat while the rest of the map filled itself in.
“I’ve seen plenty of maps, but never one like this.” Kirk looked up at Rarsirrien, “I don’t think I want to know what you had to do to receive such a special gift.”
“No. You don’t.” He leaned forward and pointed to a small red dot that had appeared close the the river, and just south from another dot labeled Ford Keep. “Here we are,” he said pointing to the red dot. “Now the question is once we cross the river do we continue west and then north to Gawkes Mere then pick up the Western Road or,” he put his finger on the left edge of the map and as he moved it to the right the map shifted to reveal lands west of the Selintan River, “do we stay in the Gnarley Forest and head due west towards Verbobonc, north of the Kron Hills, and then find a place to cross the Lortmil Mountains?”
“I didn’t realize just how far and difficult this was going to be.” Kirk shook his head.
“You don’t think there might have been a good reason the Mage of the Vale selected that particular valley? I suppose he doesn’t like to entertain much and wanted to discourage peddler’s and would-be-adventurers from knocking on his door every five minutes.” Rarsirrien’s sarcasm betrayed his annoyance. He took a deep breath and leaned back for a moment and seemed to calm a bit.
“Look, this is going to be a long and difficult journey. We’re going to need more help before we get the the Vale. Let’s face it, there is no way the three of us are going to successfully take on four necromancers head on. We need an angle and a good plan. A few wizards of our own wouldn’t hurt either.”
“What about the Margrave? Maybe he can help us out with the manpower we need.” Aaron looked at Rarsirrien then Kirk.
“I don’t think the Margrave wants to be directly involved, especially in any way that can be traced back to him. He doesn’t want to anger the Mage and prefers things remain status quo right now. He has enough to worry about to his north. If Iggwilv were to become immortal then there would be nothing holding her back from trying to form an alliance with the Old One and move south.” Rarsirrien looked at the two, “Any help is likely to be from an indirect means. We just need to recognize it when it appears and take advantage of it.”
Rarsirrien began to roll the map back up and put it in a cylindrical leather container. “So tomorrow we head west, through the Gnarley Forest then.” He paused and in a softer voice said, “Let’s stay as far north of Celene as we can though.”
Aaron could guess why. He wasn’t sure how Rarsirrien came to possess wine from Celene, but one thing was certain it probably wasn’t given to him. If anyone in Celene knew he was involved then he wouldn’t be very welcome there either.
“Okay. We stay north of Celene but within the forest.” He began unrolling his bedding on the ground at the base of the next tree. No fire meant no warmth and no hot meal so he took a piece of bread and ate that with some water from his canteen to wash it down. Kirk had a small piece of jerky and Rarsirrien didn’t eat anything.
“You two get some rest. I will take first watch, then Aaron, then Kirk.” Rarsirrien stood up and leaned against the tree, then stretched his large arms out. “I’ll take a walk around our perimeter just to make sure things are secure. I’ll wake you in about three hours or so.” With that he started off a few yards into the woods. For a large man, he could move nearly silently when he wanted. Aaron strained to hear where he was at and finally gave up when the noise grew too faint. In fact, it was nearly impossible to hear over Kirk’s snoring. His head had no sooner hit his rolled up jacket that he was using to prop his head up than he was fast asleep.
It took some time before Aaron finally drifted off to sleep. Just before he nodded off he thought he heard a shriek in the distance and the sound of stampeding deer. In a moment it was gone and he told himself it was in his imagination and allowed himself to fall asleep.
It was well after midnight when Rarsirrien finally woke him. He had slept longer than the agreed upon three hours, closer to five. As he was shaking himself awake, he noticed blood in Rarsirrien’s beard. “How’d you get bloodied?”
Rarsirrien rubbed his beard and saw the blood on his hands. “Oh, stumbled over a root in the dark and cut my chin on a branch. Didn’t realize I was even bleeding. Nothing serious.” With that he laid on his own blanket and closed his eyes. About that time his stomach rumbled.
Aaron muttered under his breath, “should have eaten something old man.”
Rarsirrien would have replied but he was trying to suppress belching and so he let Aaron wonder off. There would be plenty of opportunities to put these two youngsters right during the journey. He was cautiously estimating it would take at least two months assuming they didn’t run in to any major problems.
Aaron was awake now and his naturally superior elvish vision was now assisted by a clearing sky and more moonlight. There were no sounds coming from the direction of the river and everything on the plains to their east seemed quiet enough. He thought perhaps he dreamed the sounds he heard. Or maybe it was Rarsirrien stumbling in the dark that he had heard.
The hours passed slowly and uneventfully so he decided not to wake Kirk. He wouldn’t have been able to go back to sleep anyway. The sky was already beginning to lighten in the east. He decided to wake Kirk first, since he had slept the most. They could gather their things together and then wake Rarsirrien. Assuming the were able to pack quiet enough and not wake him in the process.
Evidently the big man was a sound sleeper since Kirk and Aaron were anything but silent as they packed their gear and prepared the horses. As soon as they had their gear stowed, Kirk picked up a branch and tapped Rarsirrien on the foot until he stirred.
“Time to rise. Besides, you were starting to snore loud enough to wake a dragon.” Kirk was about to toss the branch but then noticed how dry it was. He broke it up into smaller pieces and placed them in one saddle bag. He figured it might make good kindling and no telling if they might need it or not, but he felt better being a little prepared. He had assumed they would be moving along the main roads and moving from town to town, but now it seemed the plan was to try and stick more to open country. It made sense for now, in case someone was indeed following them.
Rarsirrien stood up, “I don’t snore.”
Kirk turned to refute the claim, but stopped when he noticed that Rarsirrien already had his things neatly rolled and ready to pack. He would have liked to have seen how the big man managed to pull that off so fast.
As if reading Kirks mind, Rarsirrien strode over to the horses and while packing his things looked at him, “Years of experience, young man.”
Kirk smiled, nodded, then moved to his own horse. “Breakfast and then we ride?”
“Ride first. Breakfast once we are on the other side of the river. I want to cross and then watch our backside to make sure that no one is following us. Might as well make use of the time to eat while we’re sitting there.”
Kirk looked at Aaron, who said “I’m fine with that.”
The look of dismay on Kirk’s face told them both he was hungry now. “You can make it a few more hours. Here, have a piece of bread.” Aaron broke off a small piece of the loaf he had in his saddle bag and handed it to his friend.
“Thanks. I guess better than nothing.”
With that the other two started through the trees in the direction of the river road. Kirk took a small sip of water then urged his horse on to follow them. The sun was still below the horizon, but the morning sky had lightened enough that they and the horses had no difficulty picking a way through the tree line and down to the river. Rarsirrien turned them back in the direction of the Keep. He knew a spot where the channel narrowed and was shallow enough to cross most of the way with the horses. There was only one spot that would be tricky, near the center of the river a channel had been dredged to allow traffic between the NyrDyv and lands to the south. To their benefit, it hadn’t rained in several weeks and so the tributaries that fed into the river had kept it a little lower.
When they ridden just a short way, the river made a slight bend and Rarsirrien was able to see that the river had dropped low enough that the rocks which were normally not visible below the water were now exposed. That would ease their crossing. He turned to the other two. “We cross here. Move along those rocks,” he pointed to the stone just visible above the water, “near the middle there is a channel for the boats. It’s too deep to walk across but the horses should be able to make it. It’s only ten or so feet wide, then there are more rocks on the other side where you can find shallower water. Just follow my lead.”
With that he urged his horse out into the river staying on the stone path until he was almost in the middle of the river, then they could see him lean and put his head near his horses ear. The next thing the knew Rarsirrien’s horse sprang into the river. He seemed to struggle for a few short moments but kept his forward momentum and then they watched as he clambered up on another rock ledge like the one they could see from their side. Rarsirrien rode up on the the far bank then turned and dismounted. He coiled some rope into a loop, just in case one of the other two ran into trouble midstream.
Kirk looked at Aaron, then urged his horse and followed Rarsirrien’s path. Once he reached the middle of the stream and the end of the rock outcropping he jabbed his heals into the side of his horse which sprang into the river. He didn’t cover quite the distance as Rarsirrien’s horse but he had made it a little over halfway. Then his horse slowed. He wasn’t as strong as Rarsirrien’s and with the extra weight and being wet was becoming exhausted. Kirk could sense the animal was beginning to panic and so he began speaking in his ear in a calming voice, yet urging him on. Rarsirrien was already moving out onto the rocks again, starting to uncoil the rope when Kirk’s horse suddenly gave one last effort and managed to reach the shallows and gain footing. He clambered up the rocks and across to the shore, where he stopped and lowered his head. Aaron could see the horses sides moving with his heavy breathing from where he was on the opposite shore.
Aaron patted his horse’s neck. “Well, we’re not going to let those two show us up now. Are we?” They moved out, following the route Kirk had taken. Instead of stopping and lunging, Aaron urged his horse into a light gallop. He thought the additional momentum would help to carry them further out so his horse would have a shorter distance to swim. What he failed to take into account was the algae and slime covering the rocks and before his horse could leap it slipped and slid into the water.
Kirk grabbed one end of the rope from Rarsirrien and ran back to Rarsirrien’s horse and wrapped it around the saddle horn while Rarsirrien moved further out on the rocks towards the center of the river. Aaron’s horse was struggling under the weight and the current seemed to suddenly increase, sweeping them downstream. Aaron would only have one chance to catch the rope from where Rarsirrien was standing. Fortunately, Rarsirrien had a good arm and the rope had enough weight that it sailed out into the river just slightly ahead of Aaron. It landed across Aaron’s horse’s neck and Aaron grabbed it and quickly looped it around his saddle horn. Both Kirk and Rarsirrien held the rope as Rarsirrien’s horse backed up pulling Aaron closer to their side of the river. They were now downstream of the rocks and would have to swim the remainder of the way. Rarsirrien just hoped the animal had enough strength left in him to make it.
Aaron and his horse made it to shore, where the poor animal collapsed to its knees. Aaron got off his mount and immediately started tending to the shaken animal. He was whispering apologies in elvish into the animals ear and promising never to do that again.
“That was close. On the bright side, I forgot about being hungry for a while.”
While Kirk was speaking with Aaron, Rarsirrien was scanning the opposite bank. The current seemed to have slowed to the strength it was when he and Kirk crossed. He peered intently across the river at the opposite shore trying to discern if anyone, or anything, had been shadowing them. He could see nothing, and the sun was just coming up above the tree line, blinding him. He turned back and walked to where Aaron and Kirk were sitting. Aaron’s horse was now standing once again, but he could see that the animals heart was still beating rapidly. He patted the animal on the neck, then rubbed his nose.
“No worried just yet my friend. You have time to rest here but first we have to get into the cover of the trees. Then you can have this nice, juicy, apple.” He led the three horses into the trees and found a small tree where tied them off to. Kirk helped Aaron over and they set up a small camp where they could remain concealed and watch the river.
Rarsirrien wanted to wait another half hour to watch for signs of possible pursuit. He couldn’t accept that he had been the target of the attack. There were too many coincidences for him to feel comfortable about. But if Aaron and Kirk had been the real targets then there should be some sign of pursuit. Yet there wasn’t any. He began to doubt his instincts. He hadn’t been wrong in over a hundred years, was he mistaken now?
He rejoined the others. “I think we can be on our way now. Traveling south along the road would be the quickest, but we’d be in the open and I still feel as if someone is watching for us. I’d like to suggest we move south parallel to the road, but staying under cover here of the trees. It will be slower, but perhaps safer.”
Aaron looked at Kirk. “I don’t think my horse will mind the slower pace after that close call in the river.”
Kirk nodded, finished his last bite and began gathering the few utensils he had unpacked. Aaron had walked back to his horse and was rubbing its nose, then patted his flanks and swung himself up into the saddle. Rarsirrien was already mounted and starting to pick a way through the trees following the road to the south.
They rode for the remainder of the day and just before nightfall and managed to not be seen by anyone, not even the light river patrol near Two Ford. A few miles south of the Two Ford crossing the came to a stream flowing into the Selintan. Here Rarsirrien had them turn back west again. “We’ll put a little more distance between us and the river road before we stop and make camp. Just a mile or so should be fine. We should still have enough light by then to find a suitable place to try and go unnoticed.”
Sure enough, they came to a small clearing surrounded by trees and some denser bushes. It would be difficult for anyone to see them there, except from above. “This should do for tonight.” With that Rarsirrien slid from his mount and stretched.
“Works both ways.” Kirk looked at Rarsirrien, “We won’t see anyone either until they are right on top of us.”
“I guess we’d better hope that our little diversion worked and no one is looking for us out here then.” Rarsirrien pulled his bed roll from his horse and laid it out under the branches of a large oak. “Since you’re so concerned, you can have first watch,” and with that he was already laying on his blanket with his eyes closed.
Aaron unrolled his blanket near Rarsirrien. “That will teach you to open your mouth. I guess that’s the payback for you getting a little more sleep last night. Remember that when it’s time to wake me for my watch.” He removed his cloak and folded it neatly into a square to use as a pillow for his head.
Kirk stood his watch sitting quietly against a tree opposite his two sleeping companions. The lit no fire this evening. There was no reason to, none of them were hungry. He thought back to how he had met Aaron in Old Red all those months ago. How he and his father had someone wandered into the middle of an assassination attempt on a local merchant. Valandil, Aaron’s father, had been killed while saving a city guard who didn’t see the assassin who was about to strike. After that, he had gotten to know Aaron and decided he couldn’t let the young half-elf wander off in search of adventure on his own. He wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, even with all his elven skills. He had been around humans too long.
He stayed awake as long as he could, but when it was becoming too difficult to keep his eyes open he roused Rarsirrien, remembering his deal with Aaron and allowing him to get a few more hours sleep. Rarsirrien didn’t say a word, he just stretched and walked across to the tree where Kirk had been leaning a few moment earlier. He watched Kirk wrestle with his pack for a moment before finding the knot and untying it and stretching his bed roll out on the ground. He shook his head in quiet amusement thinking the guy had had all this time while he was on watch where he could have prepared his bed and yet he waited until he was dead tired to try.
About three hours from dawn, Rarsirrien woke Aaron. “Your watch. I think we can risk a proper breakfast this morning.”
Aaron nodded that he understood. Rarsirrien was telling him it would be okay to build a fire and cook some of the provisions they had brought. He figured that also meant it was going to be a long day riding. He would be right, it was Rarsirrien’s intention for them to make it into the Gnarley Forest by the end of the day. Since they were no longer going to be following the road they would be harder to track, but they would also have to pay close attention to their direction as well.
Kirk was comfortably asleep and dreaming of bacon, a nice thick slice of bread with some butter and white cheese. He opened his left eye slowly and looked about. He recognized the branches of the tree he had lain under, but the most amazing thing was that he still smelled bacon. He sat up, rubbed the sleep out his eyes and stared in mild disbelief at Aaron who was tending a fire and had a skillet with sizzling bacon, a few slices of bread, and…cheese? Where did he get that from.
As if reading his friends expression Aaron pointed to a small pan, “I packed a couple slices of it because I know how much you like it. But it doesn’t keep well so might as well eat it now before it goes moldy.”
They ate they breakfast Aaron had prepared and as they were finishing up Rarsirrien filled them in on his plans. He dowsed the fire with water from the creek and then spread the ash out a little and took a small twig and began it make some marks in the ash.
He drew a jagged line running north and sound then another line moving from the first towards the west. “Here is where we are now, by Yarpick Creek,” he said pointing to the second line. “We follow it west into the Gnarley forest, and if we gauge it right, it should bring us to a small town called Beltander. From there we can pick up the road that goes to Oakvein, and from there on into Celene to Enstad. I plan for us to take the Ulek Pass to cross the mountains. Once on the other side we turn northwest and make toward the Valley.”
“Why not head more due west, skirt the Kron Hills, then come around and head south?” Asked Aaron.
“I considered that, while it allows us to move avoid the mountains in the short term, it takes us through Veluna, and that road passes too near Hommlet for my liking.”
“Why is that a problem?” Aaron looked at Kirk, then Rarsirrien.
“I can see there are some rather large gaps in your knowledge of the history of this part of Oerth. Well, we have time ahead of us. Plenty of opportunities to fill in the gaps in your education.” With that Rarsirrien poured more water on his ash map completely obliterating it. “Lets get packed and get moving. Need to make up some time now.”
They finished erasing as much trace of their campsite as possible and packed their gear. Within a half-hour they were on their way again, heading west. The terrain between the Gnarley Forest and Seletan River was gently rolling grassland and the occasional tree for shade. Not much cover but by late morning they didn’t see anyone or anything along their way, not even anything moving along the creek. After an hour Aaron’s elf vision could detect a thin, dark-green line on the horizon.
“I can see the edge of the forest now.”
“Yes,” Rarsirrien stood slightly higher in the saddle. “You’re right. We should be under the cover of its trees in a half-hour or so. Looking forward to the cool shade of the trees and, “ he glanced skyward, “from any prying eyes from above.”
“Do you still believe that we’re being followed?” Aaron looked up, then searched the horizon around them but didn’t see anything or anyone.
“I prefer to be a pessimist. That way I’m disappointed rather than surprised. I don’t like those kinds of surprises. Actually, thinking about it, I don’t like most kinds of surprises.”
Aaron was looking forward to being back in a forest again. Greyhawk is an amazing city, but all that stone made it feel cold and inpersonal. He was looking forward to being back among green living things and majestic oaks. Evidently, Rarsirrien was also looking to get into the forest as soon as possible as he urged his horse into a gallop and headed for the tree line. Aaron slowed slightly to allow Kirk to come up along side him.
“Where’s he off to in such a rush?”
“Wants to get in the shade I suppose.” Aaron was watching Rarsirrien when his eyes went to something low in the grass ahead of him just before the trees. He stood in the saddle to try and get a clearer view. All the could make out was what appeared to be two mossy clumps in the grass directly in Rarsirrien’s path. “What’s that?” He pointed at the two clumps which were now becoming a little more visible. They both urged their horses into a light gallop. Rarsirrien wasn’t slowing down and he was headed right towards the two shapes laying low in the tall grasses. Then it dawned on Aaron that Rarsirrien’s focus was inside the forest, not on the two objects. He didn’t see them at all.
“Oh hell, he sees something else. He doesn’t see those two clumps. Rarsirrien!” Aaron began calling after the old man trying to get him to slow down. He showed no indication of having heard. Aaron quickly fitted an arrow and let it fly, it went past Rarsirrien’s left ear and lodged itself into the left clump. That managed to get Rarsirrien’s attention, and he turned his head and looked back in their direction, but it was already too late.
The two objects now stood upright, both over six feet tall. Almost the same height as Rarsirrien himself. Their moldy green arms outstretched they knocked Rarsirrien cleanly off his horse, as if he had run full speed into a low branch. He laid there, unable to move having had the wind knocked out of him. Aaron and Kirk were now coming at full speed, Kirk’s sword was in his hand and as the first troll reached to claw at Rarsirrien’s chest, Kirk passed him and the blade severed the arm midway between the shoulder and the elbow, buying Rarsirrien a few seconds to crawl backward away from his nearest attacker.
While the first troll paused, the second began to advance on the still winded Rarsirrien. The first troll recovered and both he, and his severed arm, began advancing on Rarsirrien once more. Kirk was now off his horse and advancing on the first troll from behind. Rarsirrien got his breath back and yelled at him, “No dismembering. They’ll regenerate. Need fire.”
Aaron’s arrival momentary distracted the second troll. He had gotten there just in time to hear Rarsirrien’s warning to Kirk. He had a small flask of oil that he thought would come in handy in case they needed to improvise a torch, and he pulled it from his saddle bag as he dismounted. The second troll was now advancing on him and he took several steps back and while fumbling with the stopper on the flask. It took some force but finally came free just as the troll had closed to within an arms distance. He tossed the flask at the monster, which caught it and, holding it up, crushed it in it’s vice like grip, causing the contents to spray out and coat the monster’s face and upper chest. Now Aaron was trying to get the flint and steel out of his pocket. He has been sweating while out under the sun and the moisture from his sweat caused the pants pockets to stick closed. He had to force his hand into his pocket and in that time the troll managed to grab him in it’s deathly grip and lift him off his feet. It opened its gaping mouth and Aaron was suddenly overcome with a wave of nausea from the stench. He tried to strike the the flint and steel to get a spark, but he couldn’t move very well. Just then, an arrow hit the troll in the back between his shoulders and in that split second Aaron managed a spark. The oil ignited instantly and the troll dropped Aaron and stepped back, batting at the flames on its chest and face.
Kirk had managed to inflict deep wounds on the troll that had been menacing Rarsirrien, buying the big man time to get to his feet and prepare his own weapon for the attack. Neither had anything with which to start a fire, their only chance to inflict enough damage on the monster that the troll would flee to safety so it could regenerate. Kirk heard the arrow that hit the troll that had managed to grab Aaron and he saw Aaron fall to the ground just as the troll’s face became engulfed in flames. The he heard a bow snap and a thud. The troll spun around, facing the forrest again, its back to Kirk and Kirk could see an arrow, but attached to the arrow was a small black pouch. He stabbed at the troll from behind forcing it to turn and deal with him, and just as it did a flaming arrow flew from the forrest hitting and igniting the contents of the pouch which suddenly set the trolls back a blaze.
Both monsters attempted to retreat, but they were now caught between two groups of attackers who were intent on destroying them. As the three battled them and pushed them back towards the forest, they began to attack more viciously. Kirk had forgotten about the severed arm and it had made its way over to him and now grabbed his leg with incredible force. He hacked at it trying to be careful not to cut his own limbs off. He managed to sever the hand from the remainder of the arm and kicked it into a patch of burning grass that had caught fire from Aaron’s oil. It made a sickening sizzle and pop as it burned and let off a putrid green-black smoke.
A group of men and elves emerged from the edge of the wood, pouring more oil on the wounded trolls and setting them alight. Rarsirrien and Kirk lowered their swords, but kept them ready. Grateful for the rescue but hoping that they hadn’t been spared one battle just to land in another.
Four men and two elves, dressed in woodland garb. “Rangers of the Gnarley, I think.” Rarsirrien said to Kirk. The group approached Rarsirrien and Kirk and had lowered, but not sheathed, their weapons. The two elves remained with arrows nocked in their bows, but not drawn.
The larger of the men stepped forward towards Rarsirrien. “I’m Aleyn. You owe us your lives.”
“We are indeed indebted to you.” Rarsirrien sheathed his sword and stepped towards Aleyn with his hand outstretched and open in a sign of friendship. The man grasped Rarsirrien’s arm at the forearm and reciprocated the greeting. Then he released Rarsirrien’s arm and looked at the burning remains of the two trolls. We have been tracking these two for the past three days. Ever since they escaped from a group of Orcs we attacked.”
Rarsirrien looked at the burning heaps and tried to avoid inhaling the smoke that the wind was now stirring about. “Orcs in the Gnarley? That’s not something one hears about everyday.”
“They make their way up from the Pomarj, through the Welkwood, testing defenses and causing mischief. The take intelligence back to their chieftains. The ones we found won’t be returning with any news.”
Aaron, who had been some distance away from both Kirk and Rarsirrien, was leading his horse over to them when the two elves got a good look at him. In a flash their bows were raised with arrows knocked, raising the alarm with Aleyn. Kirk and Rarsirrien moved their hands to their swords, but it was too late. The rangers had their weapons drawn and Aleyn’s blade was already at Kirk’s throat.
“Who are you? What purpose do you have here?”
“I don’t understand,” said Rarsirrien trying to be as calm and diplomatic as possible given the graveness of their situation.
“Traveling with this Valley Elf. Spies?” He motioned for his men to secure the three of them. Before any of them really knew what was happening, they had their weapons removed and hands tied behind their backs.
“I thought Rangers of the Gnarley forest were supposed to be friendly.” Kirk whispered to Rarsirrien, but loud enough for Aleyn to hear him.
“We are to our friends, and those who would be our friends, but we are feared by our enemies.” He paused and looked at Aaron , “And their spies.” He turned to his men. “Blindfold them, put them on their horses, and lash them together.”
Kirk and Rarsirrien were blindfolded and a hood was placed over Aaron’s head. Each horse was led by one of Aleyn’s men.
“Where are you taking us?” Aaron asked.
“You’ll be taken to our lord, the Ranger who oversees this portion of the forest. He will decide what will be done with you. Depending on how you answer his questions.”
With that, they were led into the forest. Aaron’s ears could still pick up the boiling and popping from the troll’s remains. He tried to focus on the sounds of the forest, but he found his heart was pounding in his ears and he could make out little.

Witch Queen of Perrenland
© 2021 David Stempnakowski

© 2020 David Stempnakowski All Rights Reserved. Witch Queen of Perrenland is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.