Winter in Rassilon is a harsh mistress, particularly north of the Icebarrier Mountains, and the free folk who live in the isolated steads and towns of Helegioland, welcome what aid and goods come their way, particularly those they cannot make themselves. This is the service Ulfwald Deep-pockets provides, and while he is a canny merchant, who could probably make more money in the far warmer South, he makes this trip every year in the late winter and early spring. As honest a merchant as one might find.
Each year he started in Hellfrost Keep, the home of the Hearth Knights and the fortress guarding the pass between the Lower Winterlands of Helegioland and the rest of the Hearthlands. This year he received a message from an old friend, one who had traveled this route before, the message came on the wings of a bird as was his usual method. New guards were coming and needed to stay away from Aslov for a spell, so perhaps he could provide the distraction of a job and not to worry, they were quite capable.
It was an odd bunch, that was sent to him, particularly the Dwarf who seemed to think rather highly of the Engro’s rat slaying abilities. Indeed, he went on at length about them, each time the small fellow looked thoroughly embarrassed, and not in the way of someone being humble while heaped with praises. The follower of Tiw was a welcome addition, this route wasn’t needing guards in case it was attacked, it was needing them for when it was attacked, and a divinely blessed follower of the Lord of Battle was a welcome addition. The man who was a bear and a man and then a wolf was a touch unsettling, but his abilities demonstrated their potential value on the trip. The elf and the woman named Aqua weren’t among the ones in the message, but additional help was a sound investment, so he took them on as well.
The trip was easy going to begin with, as it usually was, and the new hires already proved their use by convincing a group of dwarves, who had wanted to travel with the caravan, to lend their axes to its defense. They had been hesitant on the account that defending the noble they were traveling with, one Hauld Austry Giantslayer, meant no aid would go to the other wagons, were they in need. They proved themselves an even sounder investment on the ninth day of their journey, when they reached Drakewood.
The woods were perfect for ambushes, and if ever there was trouble on the march, it would be here, of that, Ulfwald was certain. Sure enough, he proved himself right when two trees were felled directly in the path of the caravan. No sooner had his wagonmen reached for axes to cut the trees down, than did the cries of goblins fill the air. Ulfwald had to admit, he was stout, but his men were better with weapons than he was, even then. The dwarves availed themselves well, not only drawing the brunt of the attack, but their martial prowess was impeccable. The guards he had hired did an impressive job themselves, proving their mettle by slaying more enemies than even the combined might of the dwarves had been able to handle. The merchant was growing fond of these adventurers, and was quite thankful circumstances had led them to him, for had he hired standard caravan guards, he didn’t think they would have gotten out of that scrape without casualties.
Ebenezar came close, he was felled early in the battle to a goblin spear, but he had always been stubborn and clung to life long enough for Aqua to lend him her healing touch. Of the rest, no one was harmed beyond the scrapes and bruises expected of combat, and afterwards, the dwarves took far more kindly to Ulfwald’s new caravan guards. They told each other tales and shared their fire and food with them.
The group came along a party of Shield Knight riders on the 12th day, they were based out of Watchgap Fort, and warned of trouble. Goblins and their like were growing bold, more than their usual enthusiasm for spring raids. Ulfwald had thought something was off with the numbers that had attacked in Drakewood. Even after they encountered two more groups, though those were smaller and just kept distant, shooting arrows before riding off on their wolves, more like what the route was normally like. The Shield Knight Seargent, Sir Tameric, had words with Austry before providing them with their warning and wishing them good luck and safe journey.
Day 17 and the caravan had endured a few more hit and run attacks. Nothing spectacular, though Aqua had to put her healing talents to use a couple times. Now, however, they were near the steads he traded with, particularly that of one of his friends, Oswine Hamasunu. So he decided to make a detour, figuring, and justly so, that a real meal and shelter were worth the day it would shave off of his route. Hopefully there’d be no further surprises, for during introductions he found that Reinn, the follower of Tiw, was a high ranking member of his church, or at least highly honored. Enough so that he was effectively a noble, however low on the ladder his equivalent was.
Pushing those thoughts from his mind, Ulfwald found his mouth watering at the mention of the boar butchered this morning that would be used for their meal. Perhaps he could coax his guards to talk about themselves more, he even dared hope it would be a peaceful stay…