[[From the pages of Liss’s journal, personal notes of adventures from before being set into ballad, for potential later expansion and publication. The events within are more or less true. More or less.]]
[[chapter end mark from earlier writings of the journey to the town and meeting each person.]]
The morning chill in the quiet hamlet was bizarre, when hardly a hard day’s ride away in the capital people sweltered in a severely out-of-season spell. While there was no snow yet, the bite in the morning set crystal frost over the town. In that place the worries of a curse being upon the land were easy to believe indeed. We were hardly awake from our rest when we received a message calling upon us from their high priestess, who honored us by sharing her name of Rosemary.
We were received graciously in their grove, the center of their worship. Rowan was the focus of the holy woman’s scrutiny, of course, and had secrets of her order revealed in the dawning light. While I am unable to share them all, the most important and relevant was the existence of the most sacred of groves, somewhere to the East. Her lips were sealed by necessity, but she could at least indicate it lay to the East.
We spent the rest of the day gathering supplies for our return trip. Rowan herself gathered certain herbs with useful qualities in case of emergency. Our two defenders gathered what food would be necessary for the trip. I hunted the town myself for something to make the trip more enjoyable, finally settling upon a red from the Yulthis plains.. a rare find in such a small town.
When we set off the following morning, our plans hit a painful surprise. Once more the difference between the weather here and the weather in the capital came clear. The small boat that we used to first travel here to find Rowan was surrounded in ice! Too thick to cut through, we instead relied upon ingenuity and strength, creating a sled. Cole was the soul of knightly duty as he volunteered his warsteed to pull the boat and sled along until the air warmed unnaturally, breaking the ice enough for us to use.
The night was uneventful, and after a good meal and wine everyone settled to rest. I took the first watch, staring at the pure stars and wondering what the next day would bring. I had no idea how it would actually begin.
We had hardly begun to start breakfast when our keen-witted priestess of forest felt something amiss. At her whispered warning Cole leapt onto his warhorse, followed as quickly by brave Frederick slipping into the brush and disappearing. Rowan scampered up the tree as easily as any squirrel. I steeled myself and waited for the invasion. From the bushes leapt three barbarians, their faces cruel and speaking of vile promise. They were so distracted by the thought of a single, to them helpless, lady that they missed any other thoughts.
It was the largest mistake of their lives, as Cole thundered down upon them. With one blow the head of their leader went flying past me. The next instant another went down from Frederick’s work. The last found an arrow in his shoulder from our Rowan, and then as he stumbled forward I introduced him to my sword and showed him that not all ladies are without their defense.
Cole and Frederick, experienced both, examined the barbarians to see if they could find out anything of them. But while they were uncultured, they were not without some base cunning. Or perhaps it was all at the hand of whatever fiend ruled them. No matter which, they had nothing to give clue to their home base, and so we had to continue our journey with little clue of where their camp was.
That day our travel was much harder. The river was driven mad by the mix of weathers and so had gone wilder than it was only a few days before. Cole rode his horse nearby on shore as he searched for any more signs of the barbarians, while Frederick and I fought to keep the boat on track and undashed. Noble Rowan spent the trip beseeching her goddess for protection and guidance, and I could swear that I felt the raft shift to currents that made no natural sense.
By the time we arrived in the capital, the heat had become worse than many summers. We were all glad for the soaking we’d been forced to receive on the way to fair Bjornar, truth be told. My boat was safely tied in place, and then we had a further upset, though one pleasing to many I am sure.
Pure, innocent Rowan removed much of her garb to combat the heat, dressed in little more than what a swimming child might. She had little understanding of the nature of the things less pure minds might think at her display. Eyes were pulled to her from all about, while Cole stood in quiet protection of her virtue. Experienced Frederick spoke of his concern for her moving in such a state, though was too gallant to speak frankly enough for Rowan to understand. It took a bit of careful bending of her ear to guide her into wearing something a little more for the next leg of our journey.
Quickly enough we adjourned to my own home. There was no time for rest though. Cole went to spread word to the guard of the barbarians.
[[open page to be filled in with detail, and margin note, ‘Get information from Cole. It sounds as if it were partially successful, but I need more details. He got information on barbarians in the East, but who told him? How? What names can I sprinkle in?’]]
I led Rowan to my own personal library, not as extensive as many, but filled with scrolls about her order and related matters. We hoped to find some more hint of the sacred grove and how we might find it, but they were insufficient to answer our need. Hours of reading gave only dark hints that we would need some more forgotten source of knowledge to help our path.
Poor Frederick took the most painful path while the rest of us were at work, reacquainting himself with a city that he clearly had known once upon a time, but which changed in his absence. He encountered the righteous and their concerns of magic, understandable for people who did not know him and his restraint personally. He was turned from the library and sent back to us, trembling in frustration for the insults thrown at him, and the lack of respect given to someone who helped keep this land safe.
[[Another blank page for later filling in, and margin-notes: Skip us all returning to the library? Honestly, the tale reads better if we just go straight to the church rather than going back to the library only to argue for a minute and then leave as it closes. Perhaps say that we went straight to the church in our outrage against the library. Much better flow to the story that way.]]
I next guided our group to the church, in hopes that they might have some old esoteric knowledge lost to most. They immediately latched on to Rowan as an unbeliever, showering her with disdain that she in her innocence could not counter. I slipped in to divert their attention away from her, and cunningly pointed out that she might better learn more of the world and their own insights into it if they were to open their doors and shelves to her. In her depth of spirit and curiousity, she also offered to attend them and learn more of the One God on occasion as time allowed. Struck between my arguments and her grace in spirit, they allowed us to their most secret study chamber.
It is not mine to speak of what we learned there in detail, of Rowan’s own goddess and her history. Such things are private and only for her to speak of. But it confirmed our direction, to the East, and that the sacred grove would only open to a band in true need, good of spirit.
[[side-margin: Punch this up with prophecy? Later, so that I can tailor the prophecy to anyone else who we also pick up for that foreshadowing flair.]]
And so the night ended for most of our party now knowing our next stage. We were off to further in the East, to search for the barbarian stronghold and for the sacred grove. But for one of our group, the night had bare begun.
[[ten blank pages and note: I need to find out how Frederick was outed as a mage again and captured, and what he was out doing. I should ask at dinner after I ask about Cole’s. I’d best loosen his tongue with wine first. Cole will probably just tell me what I ask, but Frederick is tempermental. Fill in this short chapter when I have his description, and maybe more rumors to temper]]
In the morning we awoke unknowing of what befell our comrade. The morning was light and breakfast was calm between Cole and myself, when Rowan burst in from her morning rituals. Almost breathlessly she told us of the rumors that a wizard had been captured and drug off to be forcefully cleansed and purified of his sins. Though her view of the world was completely at odds with Frederick’s, she was hardly someone to hold a grudge against anyone. And so the three of us grabbed our gear and moved out to learn more of the situation.
At the city square there was no sign of the prisoner in stocks, but plenty of others had gathered under the watchful eyes of the guards to see what might happen. Cole slipped forward to the guards to have the true word without rumor. Bravely he admitted to being a friend of the person imprisoned. However, his previous day’s adventures served him in good stead. The King himself had heard of Cole’s quest to find the barbarians, and invited the company in to speak shortly with him.
[[blank page, side-note: Include glowing descriptions of the castle and King. Steal imagery from older works but rewrite it. Need to reinforce the general feelings and imagination of what each should look like to better tie in to expectations, and thus better fit what people are wanting.]]
The King himself was direct and to the point, as befit a man of so many duties. His concern for his people made him want to ask Cole directly about the barbarians, and his wisdom made him see to the dangerous possibilities of the matter, despite the unconcern of some of the guard. Still, he could hardly gather a force on nothing but one knight’s say-so. Instead he charged Cole to find these barbarians and bring back proof sufficient to the King. Further, he graciously commanded that Frederick be freed. Despite his own father’s death at the hands of a rogue wizard, he was willing to let Frederick live, if at the cost of exile.
And so our group was once more united.