The Caravan to Oriskonie
It had been 6 weeks since the War of the Wolf began and the Westermarck burned. The Picts rampaged through Schohira. Thandara was harried extensively by the Otter and Alligator tribes. Conawaga was under siege. Plagues disrupted the settlers and the cities were quickly evacuated. Aquilonia sent in more troops, which resulted in Nemedian opportunists testing the flower of the West’s strength. A bounty for Picts was put into effect to bolster support against the savages seemingly unstoppable advances. One silver coin of the realm for each Pict head or scalp brought in. Large bounties were posted for Sagoyaga (1,000 sp), Machk (500 sp) and Dji’ionondo (200 sp). Bounty hunters from across the Thurian continent arrived to try their hand at capturing Sagoyaga and his followers. An Aquilonian knight, Sir Gasparus, son of Gaspar, arrived with his troops and asked for volunteers and scouts to bring in Picts. In between slaying savages Cuana, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith had found much work escorting caravans between what remained of settlements. Their most recent job was escorting a caravan of supplies from Conawaga to the Oriskonie province. The adventurers hoped to make as quick progress as possible as a carrier bird delivered word that Lady Coelia had gained knowledge about the curious Staff of Dekanawidah and needed the parties’ help.
The caravan consisted of 5 wagons pulled by 10 horses. There were 4 mounted mercenaries, and 2 rangers guarding the convoy as well as the adventurers. Late in the afternoon Cuana called attention to the unnaturally silent forest. The Cimmerian told one of the soldiers to spread the word to the others an attack was coming. The soldier was at first annoyed at the foreigner’s orders, but realized the likely truth in Cuana’s words with the unusual stillness in the air and moved to alert the others. The soldier had just turned to the 2nd wagon when an arrow impaled the mercenary. The sky darkened by the stone-tipped bolts that came from the surrounding forest like a swarm of deadly insects followed by the ominous beating of drums. Man and horse alike were hit and the mercenaries dove for cover. A large group of snarling wolves burst forth from the forest biting the caravan guards. Cuana’s greatsword spilled the guts of several of the beasts and the Cimmerian made for the trees to hunt for Pict scalps. Dhak, Xacksmith and one of the mercenaries defended the caravan from the attacking wolves. An arrow through the neck killed the closest mercenary and the feral beasts crowded the Hyrkanian, biting and dragging him to the ground. Tullweim aided Xacksmith, clumsily swinging a bardiche, and cleared a wolf off the borderer with a final yelp.
Cuana reached a group of Picts, and one savage slammed into the barbarian, knocking him to the forest floor. Several Picts surrounded the Cimmerian and rained down powerful blows with their hatchets and clubs. Cuana bellowed out in rage, forced his way back up taking glancing strikes for his efforts, and cleaved into 5 of the savages, ending their miserable lives in scant seconds. Tullweim rushed into the woods after the Cimmerian as Dhak wove necromantic rites which breathed ‘life’ into 5 of the dead wolves. Several of the caravan wagon drivers and horses panicked at the blasphemous, shambling creatures and the caravan line was broken as the horses led their wagons in different directions, one almost crushing Dhak in the process. Annoyed but otherwise unharmed due to his quick reflexes, the Stygian sent the dead wolves straight at the Picts. Between the slaughter of almost an entire pack and the terror of the dead brought back to life the savages resolve melted away and they hastily abandoned their attack. The convoy was quickly put back into order. Scalps and the dead mercenaries were collected and the group pressed on for the Oriskonie province.
They reached the tent settlement of refugees built upon the ruins of a former proper settlement in the last rays of daylight. Sir Gasparus had put his forces to good use pushing back the Picts from the area and was using the still serviceable buildings as a command center. Their was much commotion as the caravan meandered into the settlement. Many refugees cheered as several of the soldiers began distributing goods from the caravan. Fearful whispers were exchanged among the caravan drivers and soldiers of besieged Conawaga. The adventurers were told to meet Sir Gasparus in the still-standing inn. As they traveled Cuana heard a womans voice call out his name. The Cimmerian turned to see Hema, the young woman the party had rescued from Baraccus’ botched attempt at trading women to the Wildcat Picts, pushing through the crowd to meet him. Hema flashed a warm smile and caught the barbarian in an embrace, intimating her fear of Cuana finding a mean end in the wilderness. The Cimmerian assured her he was fine despite her noticing his wounds from the earlier battle. Hema invited Cuana to her tent so she could tend to him and make him a fitting meal. The Cimmerian smiled and told his companions they would have to deal with Gasparus and Lady Coelia without him. Tullweim chuckled at his friends’ leaving and the adventurers moved into the inn.
It was obvious the Aquilonian military had commandeered the Shrieking Owl inn as an officer’s barracks as the only non-soldier in the common room was Lady Coelia who sat at a table with a knight in a mail shirt and breastplate. The young noblewoman warmly greeted the adventurers and noted their wounds. Dhak spoke of the skirmish with the Picts in the woods which attacked the caravan but was pushed back and Tullweim plopped the collection of scalps on the table towards Sir Gasparus. The nobleman arched an eyebrow and said he would have his accountant make note. Gasparus then inquired as to the scalp Tullweim had hanging off his armor and was surprised to hear it was taken from the head of Wanenaka, the Pict who had led the slaughter of Schondara. Gasparus offered 200 silver for the scalp but Tullweim declined stating it was a personal trophy of his recent exploits. Lady Coelia quickly ordered food and drink for the party as Gasparus related his own tales of victories over the belligerent Wolf Picts in Oriskonie. Indeed the knight appeared to be highly regarded by his fellows as his cup was never empty at their expense. Whether it was done out of thanks for Gasparus’ exploits or out of boot-licking to a knight with a reputation for cruelty was not known to the adventurers.
Once the food and drink arrived, Lady Coelia began her tale of what needed to be done with the Staff of Dekanawidah. She spoke of the curious staff needing to be taken to the great Ligurean grove of Nuadwyddon in order to be attuned and ‘awakened’. To that end, the adventurers were asked to accompany herself and Sir Gasparus and retainers to Nuadwyddon. The young noblewoman also noted they would be led by a Pictish guide Sir Gasparus had found, called Arisawe. The female Pict knew where the holy grove was located and could lead the retinue through the trackless wilderness. In the middle of Lady Coelia’s instructions Sir Gasparus’ squire Dion hastily interrupted. Gasparus back-handed the boy for his insolence and Dion apologized to the young noblewoman profusely. The young squire then stammered out that Arisawe required Gasparus’ presence. The knight sneered out a comment about the Pict slut probably wanting more Bossonian whiskey. Gasparus ordered the squire to follow him as his armor was due for maintenance before the morrow’s travel. After they left Lady Coelia was heartened to hear the adventurers eagerness to aid her in awakening the staff. The meal was finished as Cuana arrived, looking as if he had exerted as much energy having dinner with Hema as he had fighting Picts, and Lady Coelia retired to her room. The party was told they could sleep in the common room of the Shrieking Owl and preparations were made for a much needed rest.
Back into the Wilderness
The next morning the adventurers woke early to prepare for their journey. Cuana left the others to inform Hema that he was leaving. The young woman was surprised but the Cimmerian assured her of his return. Cuana stressed the importance of the mission he was taking and Hema nodded in understanding. The young woman then ran inside her tent and grabbed a purple slip of silk, one of her few remaining possessions and wrapped it around the Cimmerian’s neck for luck. Touched by the gesture, Cuana grabbed his coin pouch and pressed half his money into Hema’s hand with instructions to take her sister and flee north if the Picts attacked the settlement again. Hema was fighting back tears as the Cimmerian embraced her for a moment then took his leave.
The adventurers at the Shrieking Owl had packed their supplies while Sir Gasparus barked orders to his retainers. Dion escorted the Pict guide down the stairs. The woman was beautiful by any man’s standards. She wore little other than a beaver pelt loincloth and moccasins adorned with various beaded patterns. The Picts upper body was covered only by evocative designs of blue body paint. Tullweim and Dhak exchanged looks as Cuana returned. The Stygian noted the silk the barbarian wore and the Aesir chuckled. The Cimmerian ignored them as Gasparus ordered the company to depart. Lady Coelia carried the strange staff and Dhak helped her onto her horse. Sir Gasparus mounted his beast and the retainers lifted their heavy packs. The procession traveled out of the refugee settlement without much fanfare. They traveled northwest for most of the day, crossing Thunder river at a shallow point, and made camp before nightfall deep in Pictland.
No fire was braved and cold rations were eaten by the travelers. Cuana and Tullweim furrowed their brows disapprovingly at the abuse Gasparus heaped upon his squire and retainers, though they took no action to stop it. After a somber meal the camp prepared for the night’s rest. Watches were divided up with Tullweim taking the first and Xacksmith the last. As they began to sleep the Aesir noted Arisawe eying a jug strapped to Gasparus’ horse. Tullweim looked the Pict up and down with a smile and Arisawe returned the appreciative gaze. The Picts eyes burned with a fire and passion no woman in a civilized country could match and Tullweim felt the minutes of his watch pass at a glacial crawl. But pass they did and it was with a great relish the Aesir nudged Cuana awake for his watch. As the Cimmerian propped himself up against a tree, Tullweim moved to Gasparus’ horse and grabbed the jug. The Aesir popped it open and took in the heady scent of Bossonian whiskey. He wet his lips with the strong liquor then passed the jug to Arisawe whose hand lingered upon his for a moment. The Pict woman then threw back her head and downed the liquor with a voracious thirst like a man in the desert downs water. Arisawe then set the jug down as her eyes devoured the Aesir. She sidled up beside him and pressed her lips to his. Tullweim was a bit surprised to discover she still had the whiskey in her mouth and was sharing it with him. Cuana shook his head as he saw the Pict woman lead the Aesir into the dark of the forest and the sounds of their passion made its way back to the camp.
The camp was awakened by a scream of pain from the Hyrkanian. An arrow had been shot from the trees and pierced Xacksmith’s leather armor biting deep into flesh. The adventurers were up in an instant and searching for attackers. More arrows were fired into the camp and Cuana and Tullweim rushed to meet their assailants. The Cimmerian caught sight of a savage and tore into him with his greatsword. The Aesir was overrun by another and the Picts followed the attack in a predictable manner. Cuana slashed another Pict allowing Tullweim room to get back to his feet. The Aesir did and then his bardiche found purchase in a savages side. Closer to the camp Gasparus and his squire Dion rushed into the forest as Dhak and Xacksmith readied their bows should any targets present themselves. A painful cry was heard from behind the trees and then the Picts fled the scene. Cuana and Tullweim rushed to where they’d heard the sound come from and found Gasparus on the ground. The knight shouted that the Picts had overpowered him and taken his squire before they fled.