Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 1

It had been close to six weeks since we took our leave of Tarantia, heading west across the vast Aquilonian countryside. We crossed the Shirki river north of Galparan, continuing west into the region known as the Westermark, all the while being favored with excellent weather while signs of civilization became fewer as we continued into the frontier lands. As I have already mentioned, the Aquilonians are always looking to expand their borders, regardless of any existing sovereignties that may happen to lie in their path. The Westermark is one such attempt on their part to broaden the scope of Aquilonia’s lands by using it as a launching point for incursions across the Thunder river into the tribal lands of the Picts.

The Picts – I have developed strong contempt for the majority of civilized men that I have met, but the imagination has to be stretched for the Picts to even be considered men. My people are barbarians. The Picts are less than savages. I will admit begrudging them a small amount of respect for their fighting skills, especially in the forest element that they call home, but they are loathesome in the extreme. They have always been the enemy of my people, constantly raiding into Cimmeria for food, captives, or just for the sport of bloodletting. Thousands of them have died with Cimmerian steel buried in their guts, yet they remain undeterred in their attempts at invasion. Now Aquilonia attempts to move into Pictish lands, creating interesting opportunities in the wilderness settlements for any with a strong sword-arm or forestry skills such as myself.

While in Oriskonie province, we met with yet another familiar face I knew briefly in Numalia, a stout fellow named Fuldonus. When last I saw him, he was in a tavern, blind drunk, clinging to a chair for balance and slurring his intentions to hang up the sword and find a wife. The man who greeted us now stood in complete contrast to the drunkard of Numalia – strong and vital, a piercing gaze and the air of authority marked him as a man who could command others. Indeed, he was now the legal authority of the Oriskonie province. After exchanged greetings, mostly between him and my companions Dhak and Tullweim, and a little catching up on recent events, Fuldonus offered us employment in the form of chasing down a fugitive that he sought. A ranger named Barracus was wanted in a case of a local woman who had been abducted, the fate of whom remained unknown. This Baraccus was said to be in or near the vicinity of a town to the south called Schondara, a settlement by a fortress near the Thunder river, in an area that was notorious for Pictish activity. Each of us were given writs declaring and empowering us as deputies of Oriskonie and charged with capturing Baraccus alive and returning him for questioning in the woman’s disappearance.

We arrived in the frontier town of Schondara to see the place bustling with activity. The town was small, apparently sprung up around the nearby fort which served as the base for Aquilonia’s push into the west. The first thing that stands out upon seeing the town is that everything is made of wood, obviously built from trees felled to clear the area. Another is fur – skins and pelts are not only used for clothing but also serve as currency. I was musing over how many rat pelts it might take to buy an ale in this place when I noticed a man with an eye patch and a staff with a single leaf upon it, standing in an open spare. His good eye was fixed upon me, so I walked over to introduce myself and see if he could provide any information about the one we sought.

Hailing the one-eyed man, I introced myself as an agent of the authorities of Oriskonie, indicating my companions and naming them as the same. His gaze was quite piercing despite the lack of an eye, and I felt myself instantly assessed by the man as he gripped my hand and named himself Gault. When I asked where my friends and I might get a meal and an ale, he indicated a nearby building and named it the Laughing Boar. Thanking him, I invited him to accompany us and join us for a drink, to which he assented and fell into step with us. Seating ourselves at a table, we continued our introductions while looking over the common room and it’s patrons. Gault spoke as our meals and drinks arrived, telling of events in the town and the Picts who lived just across the river. He stressed the constant need for vigilance due to the stealth of the savages, their penchant for cutting the scalps from their victims, and described many of their general traits, already familiar to me from my run-ins with them while living in Cimmeria. I had to smile when he said that he was known to them as ‘the one-eyed death’ because he must have killed many of them in order to impress them enough to name him as such. Interestingly though, he explained that he lost his eye not in a fight with the mewling tribal curs, but in an ambush by an attacking wildcat out in the forest.

We turned the conversation to our reason for coming to Schondara, the need to capture and deliver the man named Baraccus to answer for his crimes. Gault showed a flicker of interest at the name, and when asked he said that he was indeed familiar with the man. We explained the charges against Baraccus and our charge to return him to Fuldonus, displaying the writs of deputization we had been given to provide us with the proper legal authority to do so. Satisfied with their legitimacy, Gault said ‘you’re in luck….’, indicating with a sidewards nod of his head a cluster of outdoorsmen at the far end of the room. ‘That’s him over there, seated at the end of that table’. One quick look showed a man who fit the description given us – Tawny hair, bearded, with a large tattoo of an eagle upon his chest. He was surrounded by several other ranger-types, all of whom were engaged in drinking, eating, and the usual tavern brand of noisemaking. We devised a quick plan – both Xacksmith and I would exit the common room and walk around the building to where there was a closed door set into the wall directly behind where Baraccus sat. We would wait there to prevent him from fleeing, or rush in from that door if we heard fighting earupt from within. We hadn’t long to wait – it was only a moment before we heard voices raised and the clash of arms coming from the other side of the door.

Stepping through the door, I came up upon Baraccus from behind, bringing the flat of my sword down but missing his head by inches, spintering a table in the process. Gault was helping to keep the bouncers from jumping into the fray, declaring our legitimate authority in collaring the ranger. The Nordheimer and the Stygian were engaged with some of Baraccus’ pals, while I kept trying to brain him into unconsiousness. I wound up killing one of his companions by the time we finally took Baraccus down, and the fight itself fairly well wrecked the place. Baraccus was hog-tied and carried out to the room that I was to share with Dhak. Leaving the fugitive to lie on the floor, I laid down to get some sleep, the Stygian keeping the first watch. I was soon awakened by a hammering on our door and realized that someone was attempting to bash the lock open. Leaping up and grabbing my sword, I turned toward the door as it burst open, a small cluster of Picts adorned with an upright eagle feather on their heads and a string of wolve’s teeth for a necklace came rushing into the room. The two that had come within my reach died quickly, but the door stood open and before I could move to close it I was struck by two arrows fired by others that awaited outside in the night.

picts will shun a woman’s bed and seek an oxen’s love instead – from the Mac Fael Libram of Truths and Observations.

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Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 1

The Nemedian Chronicles Cuana