We rose early in the morning and, while breaking our fast, discussed how we planned to get to the Untamed Lands. After long debate, we decided to hitch on with a caravan. There were three groups heading out that morning: a large convoy carrying tribute to the orcs far north; a trading caravan; and a small expedition into the unknown wilds. Lee chose for us, declaring her desire to get paid for our services. As ambassador and himself an orc, Rauk and no problems convincing the trading caravan to hire us.
It was a rocky start, to say the least. We were nervous and distrustful of the other members of the caravan, seeing potential betrayal in every set of eyes, and our closeness made the other guards suspicious of us as well. Rauk especially was paranoid, which put him in the mood to snap at the poor squire girl and hurl insults my way. Ari, lulled by the rocking of the wagon, seemed largely nonchalant by the journey. To settle Rauk and to avoid upsetting the other members, Lee and I volunteered to switch shifts with some of the others, so that a member of our personal group was always awake and watchful (Unfortunately, I must have said the wrong or right thing. I somehow ended up working three shifts). Luckily for me, working so much allowed me to spend more time with our cohorts, and I made some fast friends among the other guards.
Friendships aside, we were not able to befriend one group of guards. They continued to dislike and distrust us, despite my charm and wonderful stories.
Some time into our journey, the caravan was halted. Thargald, an orc scout traveling with us, had pointed out an overturned wagon in the middle of the road. Our group quickly volunteered to scout it out, taking Thargald with us (It was kind of amazing to see Rauk order him, and the orc to simply obey. How much power does Rauk really have over the orcs in the north, anyways? There’s much I still don’t know about him). Ari and Thargald took to the forest on the left side of the road to search for enemies, while Lee stealthed to the right. As Rauk and I cautiously made our way to the wagon, we were startled by the sound of a sudden scream, coming in Lee’s direction. Rauk threw an incredulous look my way, then glared in the direction of the scream. I couldn’t help but scoff into my fist, trying to cover it into a cough when turned that angry gaze at me.
The overturned caravan was covered in blood. The only supplies left we found were of the camping variety. Rauk grimaced at the two corpses we found, bending low to check them over while I kept watch for attackers. Soon, Ari and Thargald met up with us.
“Tracks,” Ari said, “leading off into the wilds.”
“They were dragging something behind them,” Thargald added.
Rauk pointed to the wounds on one of the corpses, and Thargald took a closer look. His features twisted into a look of pure disgust.
“Elves,” Rauk growled.
We returned to the caravan leader to inform him of our finds. With mild persuasion, Rauk convinced the leader to take the caravan with us. Ari and I insisted on bringing the bodies, for proper burial once we reached the fort. Rauk wanted to follow the trail, and it was clear that Thargald supported this decision.
“We can’t abandon these people,” Lee insisted. “We promised to protect them.”
Rauk’s shoulders tensed and he seemed like he was going to say something biting, something about falling into a river, but he eventually nodded, said nothing, and stormed off.
The squire stuck to my side that night.
The next day was largely uneventful. Everyone remained on edge, throwing each other dirty looks and small squabbles repeatedly broke out over insignificant things. Each group stuck to their own, and not even my new friends were in the mood for my company. Thargald, however, had stuck himself to Rauk’s side whenever he wasn’t scouting the way ahead, as if awaiting orders. Rauk muttered to us that night why the orcs were so disquiet: “It is rare for elves to attack this far south. All of you, be on guard.”
Once in sight of Fort Wyrvenskill, it was Lee who pointed out that something was wrong.
“Halt the caravan,” she called, rushing to the caravan leader. “There should be guards! There are no guards!”
Terrified, the leader called a halt. “What do we do?” he seemed to be asking us. Again, we volunteered to scout.
“I’ll go, with Thargald,” Lee said with a decisive nod of her head. “We know how to keep to the shadows. Send us one more in case of fighting. The others will stay here and guard the caravan.” The leader called to a man named Wyatt, who seemed hesitant, but in the end agreed to go.
The three of them noticed first that the gate had been barred from the inside, and all of the signal fires had burned out. They took to the roof and dropped into the courtyard. There, they found stables, and hastily abandoned tools, but nothing to clue them in on what had happened. Finding the fort quiet, Lee signaled us to move the caravan inside.
“I don’t think there are any elves here now,” Lee told us once we had regrouped, “but we should check out the rest of the fort just in case.”
“I’m going with you, this time,” Rauk declared. When my shuffling produced a loud metal-on-metal scraping sound, due to my armor, all sets of eyes alighted on me.
“You stay behind, little bird,” Lee said, giving me an affectionate smile. I shrugged and agreed that that was probably best. Ari decided to stay behind as well.
So we split our group into three. Ari and I stayed with the caravan, ever alert for attackers; Thargald and Wyatt took a passage on the right; and Rauk and Lee began to search the corridor on our left. About a half hour later, Ari and I received a Message from Lee demanding us. We rushed along the path the scout and rogue had taken, and it was not long before we found Lee kneeling with Wyatt.
“Rauk moved on, but this guy needs healing,” Lee told us. Ari knelt with him and did what she could, while Lee and I ran to help Rauk. As we neared, we could hear the sounds of fighting ahead. We met up with Rauk, and rushed into the room to find Thargald locked in combat with a youth. Lee and I stopped and stared in horror—the kid couldn’t have been more than sixteen years, wielding a wicked looking blade and swinging it madly at the orc.
“Put your weapons down!” Rauk snarled, and the two combatants paused in fear. Seeing an opportunity, Lee quickly used Sleep on the boy. As Lee busied herself with disarming the boy and tying him up, Rauk turned to me and Thargald.
“We found the bodies of the guards. They were shoved into a room meant for food storage. The corpses are frozen, and a good deal of them seem to have had their necks broken.”
“But the elves are gone?” I figured I’d double check.
Rauk nodded once. “If they were still lurking, we would have been attacked by now. My thought is that the elves largely used stealth to kill the people here, likely while they slept. And, to make matters worse, I discovered this.”
The orc handed me a logbook, which contained a detailed report on the increase in elven activity. The leader of the fort had been about to send for reinforcements. I frowned in distaste and handed the book back to Rauk.
“I’ll go report back to the caravan.”
Rauk nodded. “Keep any fires burning small, and be on your guard.”
While returning to camp, I passed Ari, on her way to check on the kid.
Later, Lee would recount to me what had happened.
As Ari began to heal the boy’s frostbite, he awoke and attempted to bite her. She leapt away in time, to the sound of the kid cursing and yelling. Lee emerged and tried to calm him down as Ari shuffled quickly out of the room. From the kid’s constant stream of expletives, Lee picked up that most of his anger was towards orcs.
“What’s your name?” she had asked him gently. “Who are you?”
Finn, he told her, squire to the commander of the fort. He told Lee the story of how, one night, elves wearing face paint sneaked into the fort and began murdering everyone, about five days prior. He then told of how orcs had come through the gate after. He had hid himself in the stable for two days, listening to the marching of orcs and elves. He described the facial tattoos that the orcs had. This didn’t mean much to Lee, so she went to Rauk, who was standing guard outside.
When Lee told me this part of the story, her face went dark.
“I’d never seen Rauk look like that before,” she told me. “He was seconds away from killing someone. Probably the poor kid.”
Rauk managed to control himself, breathed deep, and told Lee that these orcs the kid had described were from a clan that should have been wiped out ages ago—a clan that still worshiped gods.
We regrouped, and the news spread of the elves and orcs marching south. As we sat around our fire with the caravan leader and Thargald, Rauk looked disturbed.
“I must bring this news to Skogul Khan,” he said, barely above a whisper.
“How would we even get there?” Lee snapped. “If we head south again, we might run into this army.”
“They’re probably headed to the castle next,” Ari supplied. “We need to go warn them, if it’s not too late already.”
“Heading south again will take too much time,” Rauk growled.
“We’re definitely not goin’ to the castle now,” The caravan leader told us, his voice shaking.
“Headin’ east. Safer that way. Sure would be nice to have you folks along.”
“I can’t afford to leave now,” Rauk said, cutting his hand through the air. “Skogul Khan must be told of this.”
“There are trails west of here that’ll take us through the mountains and to the castle,” Thargald said. “I can lead us. We are sure to face dangers, though.”
“We head west at daybreak,” Rauk said, allowing no argument.
Lee appeared to dislike this plan, worrying at her lip with her teeth. Ari stood and left us to pray. I decided now was as good a time as any to write down the events so far, in case this is the last chance I’ll get to write.