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The Saga of Rache Bladefist:
Rache (pronounced Rah-kee) is from the small, frontier town of Pine Haven in the Timberway Forest, on Ratik’s northern border with the Kingdom of the Fruztii (Frost Barbarians). While technically under the jurisdiction of Ratik, a substantial percentage of the town’s populace is Fruztii due to its somewhat ambiguous locale. Some of these Northmen have lived in the region for generations, while others are more recent migrants. Regardless of their origin, all of these naturalized barbarians live in relative harmony with the native Ratikans, and have pledged their fealty to Ratik’s Archbaron. If anything, the presence of these people within the town has helped to overcome cultural differences, cultivate trade relations, strengthen the Northern Alliance, and given pause to would-be invaders.
One of these displaced Fruztii was Begthora Hlinsdattir, a comely lass who made a living as a serving girl in the town’s only tavern. With a fire in her eye and a razor-sharp wit, she put many a drunken patron in their place when needed, and usually without violence. These same features, along with her looks, made her attractive to many of the town’s men, so Begthora was never short of suitors. One she became enamored with for a short while was a traveling bard of part-Elven decent, and the two romanced for a week or so before he continued on his way. Several other men courted her for over a month before Begthora discovered she was with child. She was unsure of who the father was until Rache was born, and even then only when his Elven features became prominent. The bard’s name escaped her, however, being lost among the many others over the years. Her only memory now is of his face, and his characteristic red feathered hat.
Despite growing up without a father, Rache was never left wanting for love, which his mother gave him at every opportunity. His only regret was being unable to recite the sagas of his father’s exploits like most of the other boys, since he had little knowledge of him. The lad helped his mother whenever he could, and went to work as a kitchen boy in the same tavern. As he grew older Rache hunted game for the tavern’s kitchen, and tended bar on occasion to help make ends-meet. It was while doing the latter that he would meet an enigmatic stranger who would forever change his life. This was Roneth, a Half Elven mercenary from Marner, with a somewhat questionable background. Roneth had come to the Timberway in the pay of the town’s burgher (mayor) to help deal with monstrous menaces to the region.
While relaxing in the tavern, Roneth first noticed the quick reflexes of the young barkeep, even before he recognized him as a fellow Half Elf. The grizzled and scarred veteran then engaged the boy in conversation, curious as to the lad’s background. Roneth was pleasantly surprised at how mature and insightful Rache was for his age, which they both attributed to life lessons he learned while tending bar. The boy’s life had been rather hard, even by frontier standards, but he was thankful for his mother and what little they did have. After several more visits to the tavern (and conversations), Roneth invited Rache to come along on one of his smaller forays against the Orcs and other hostile humanoids that were plaguing the area. While not grandly heroic like in the sagas, the lad acquitted himself quite well for one so young and inexperienced, which really impressed the mercenary.
That was when Roneth decided to take Rache under his wing, and teach him all he could. Having no children of his own, he had no one to pass on his knowledge to, and believed that it would be a terrible waste for all his life’s experiences and skills to fall into oblivion with his eventual passing. The veteran decided to stay on for a number of years in the small Timberway town, mentoring Rache in the more oblique fighting techniques, as well as a few skills of ill repute. Roneth also ensured that his prodigy was literate in a number of languages, including Elven, for he always drilled into Rache that “Knowledge is power.” This relatively stable time came to an end however, when one day Roneth received a letter. After reading the letter, he burned it, and then told Rache that the two of them were headed to Dullstrand to meet some people. While Begthora wasn’t happy with their decision to leave, she bid her son and his torke (instructor and mentor) a tearful goodbye, and prayed they would have a safe journey.
The duo made their way to Marner, where after several days, Roneth was able to book passage for them both on the ship Sea Dancer. The captain wasn’t enthusiastic about making such a long journey in the dead of winter, but his attitude soon changed when the veteran Half Elf gave him a purse heavy with gold. By and large the trip was relatively uneventful, with the exception of the occasional gale, until the southernmost leg. Still substantially north of Dullstrand, the Sea Dancer was beset by several pirate vessels, presumably operating out of the Lordship of the Isles. Unable to outrun their pursuers, the captain decided to beach his long ship and make a stand on land, as he believed this was their best chance of survival. Without much in the way of cover, the Sea Dancers used their beached ship to anchor one of their flanks, then spread out in line of battle to meet their fate. They didn’t have long to wait.
Two of the pirate vessels beached and put ashore their crew complements on either side of the sailors. This gave the freebooters almost two to one odds against the defenders, but the cut-throats had yet another surprise in store for their prey. The ship that remained offshore mounted a catapult, which began to bombard the Sea Dancer, and quickly set it afire. The flames forced her beleaguered crew away from their initial position, and exposed their once secure flank to the enemy. It was at this point that the pirates’ Half Orc leader, Wohadis Blackhair, demanded the surrounded crewmen to lay down their arms and surrender. Not believing that they would survive their captivity, and in true Northern fashion, the Sea Dancers’ captain rejected Blackhair’s offer, and announced that he and his men would fight to the last. With a grunt of satisfaction accompanied by a feral grin, Wohadis ordered his archers to open fire, and personally led the advance.
After the distance was closed, the battle quickly degenerated into a vicious brawl, punctuated by a series of notable individual melees. The defenders managed to gather their resolve and repulse the first onslaught, but the pirates quickly regrouped and struck again without mercy. It was obvious that the Northmen were doomed, and had only lasted this long on stubbornness and pride. Roneth and Rache’s initial plan was to slip away in the confusion after the battle was joined, but the opportunity hadn’t yet presented itself. By this point, however, Roneth had sustained a bad leg wound, in addition to a deep gash in his left side. It was apparent that he would not be able to escape, but he still had hope that his young protégé would have a chance. Shoving a scrap of a blood-soaked map into Rache’s hands, Roneth told the lad to make his way to the port of Dullstrand and look for a human named Fredriss, but to be discreet about it. The wounded torke then ordered his young student to stay close, and make his escape once Roneth had cleared a path for him. Then, with a last defiant howl of Northern fury, the two charged into the bloodthirsty, seagoing brigands.
Following closely in Roneth’s bloody wake, Rache dodged several blows aimed at him before making his successful breakout from the killing ground. He then ran for all he was worth, until he was able to reach a small piece of cover where he could observe the battle with some measure of safety. The remaining Sea Dancers were dying hard, but Rache was still able to pick out Roneth among them, fighting with an expertise and skill that few others could ever hope to match. Unfortunately, his wounds were taking their toll on the veteran Half Elf, and were beginning to tell when Roneth was confronted with Wohadis himself. The two engaged in a duel of epic proportions, dwarfing the rest of the melees going on around them. They slashed, dodged, and parried each other for a full two minutes without letup before the issue was finally decided. Having lost so much blood already, and with his agility impaired by his wounds, the grim and stoic torke was forced into a contest of sheer strength that he could not hope to win. Wohadis settled the conflict once and for all by shattering Roneth’s blades (he fought with long and short sword) with a single blow from his greataxe, with it coming to rest deeply embedded in his opponent’s skull.
While he was shocked and horrified by his mentor’s demise, it also galvanized Rache to keep going and honour his memory by continuing the quest they had set out on together. He also silently vowed that he would have revenge for the death of his friend Roneth one day, in the form of Wohadis Blackhair’s head. The young Northman then struck inland, trying to put as much distance between him and the site of what had turned into a massacre. Cold, wet, and miserable, Rache walked for almost two days until he reached a river, and followed it to the small settlement of Kindersley. Once there, he used his meager funds to secure a safe place for the night, and to buy a few provisions so he could continue his journey south. The next day he set off to Soderham, using the road that was supposed to run the whole length of the coast down to Dullstrand. It was on this road that he sniffed out an ambush lying in wait, and flanked his would be attackers. Rache dispatched the two of them (creatures he had never seen before) in short order, due more to luck than skill, looted their bodies and found over 120 coins of gold. The rest of his journey was uneventful, and he finally reached Soderham, but not until after night had already fallen.
Once in the port town, he secured himself lodgings for the night, a hot meal, and a pint or two of ale. He even splurged the next morning and had a hot bath with fresh water, and a hearty breakfast. Once finished there, he went to the local weapons/blacksmith to sell what he had taken off his assailants the previous day. It was here that, after giving a brief description to the blacksmith, he discovered they were Hobgoblins, a very militaristic and brutal race. Another interesting note was that the captured weapons were of uncharacteristically good quality for Hobgoblin issue, and very well maintained. After selling his booty, Rache then bought some trail rations for his trip, and started south towards Nordford by noon, once again following the main road. By late afternoon, he spotted another possible ambush, and thinking it was a small party, he decided to flank them and reconnoiter the enemy. It was quite a shock to discover that he had stumbled on a well-equipped war band of approximately fifteen or so Hobgoblins, led by a huge officer!
Believing that this was a case of discretion being the better part of valor, Rache attempted to slowly withdraw from the area in as stealthy a manner as possible. As fate would have it, just when he thought he was clear, one of the Hobgoblins spotted him, and an overland chase ensued. Despite becoming fatigued, Rache was able to maintain his distance from his pursuers, and employed the escape and evasion techniques that Roneth had taught him. It wasn’t until just before nightfall that he was able to lose the relentless Hobgoblins, finding a depression next to a small outcropping of rocks that he was able to hide in. By this point, however, he was far from the road and into the highlands, without a suitable bivouac for the night, so he decided to continue walking until he found somewhere he could sleep in relative safety. Shortly after nightfall the young adventurer spotted the light of a small campfire, and decided to investigate, thinking they might be friendly travelers.
Cautiously approaching the area, Rache was able to recognize the beings in the area as Orcs. There were only three of them, so he decided to attempt an ambush and loot their bodies once they were dispatched. On his final approach, the young Northman briefly lost sight of his quarry, and was himself ambushed by the Orcs. Surviving the encounter, Rache realized he engaged only two Orcs, with no sign of the third. Hearing many footsteps fast approaching, the lad hid by the only cover he could find (on top of a small boulder), and waited for them to pass. As it turned out, he had just attacked an outpost for an entire Orc war band that had bivouacked for the night a short distance away. While the majority did move on, several Orcs took up positions adjacent to his hiding place. Shortly thereafter, Rache was discovered, overcome, soundly beaten, and taken prisoner by these barbarous creatures.
When he came to, the Ratiker discovered he was bound, gagged, and leaning up against a tree facing a bonfire, where his captors sat drinking away merrily. He also noticed that he was not alone in captivity, for a young Human male in scale armour was next to him, trussed up in the same fashion. While the Orcs continued in their revelry and became more and more intoxicated, the two prisoners managed to remove their gags, which allowed them to form a plan of action. By this point, most of the Orcs had succumbed to whatever vile liquid they had been drinking, and embraced the slumber of oblivion. Spotting a dagger that had been dropped during a dispute between two of the foul creatures earlier in the evening, Rache made his way over to it, and managed to sever his bonds. Moving quickly, he freed his new-found companion, a young cleric of Pelor named Crellan, and then recovered their possessions. It was during this latter action that the Orc leader began to awaken, only to be met by a fatal blow from Rache’s scimitar, but not before the alarm was raised.
The two managed to fight their way clear, killing several more of the Orcs in the process, and made their escape into the darkness. During a short rest period, Crellan healed them both of their wounds, which proved to be quite fortuitous in light of the next chain of events. While scouting ahead, Rache spotted four Orcs moving at full speed, straight towards him. After shouting a warning to Crellan, the Northman engaged them at range with his shortbow, and then closed to melee with his scimitar. Though he slew two of the abominations, Rache went down after suffering a grievous wound from a javelin hurled into his abdomen. It was then that Crellan finally reached the scene of the battle, and while standing valiantly over his prone comrade, slew the remaining Orcs, despite being wounded himself. Surprised at his own good fortune, the young cleric managed to find a hidden and relatively safe place for Rache and himself to hold up for the night.
After being healed by Crellan and getting some much-deserved rest, Rache went back to the site of the previous night’s battle to loot the bodies and cover their tracks. It was then that he noticed the craftsmanship of the Orcs’ armour (scale mail) and weapons (battleaxes and javelins). After taking the axes and booty back to their makeshift shelter, Crellan noticed the similarities with his own weapons, in the quality of craftsmanship. The pair then struck out for the Highland Forest, planning to make their way south within the concealment and cover offered by its boughs. That was when Rache started thinking he was caught up in something much bigger than himself. He and Roneth had been attacked on a longship carrying no cargo but themselves by very well equipped pirates, and he was consistently running into hostile goblinoid races that were uncharacteristically well armed, with what appeared to be weapons and armour of Human make. Rache began to wonder if it was just paranoia after a streak of bad luck, or was he actually becoming involved in a grand conspiracy full of intrigue.