PBeM: Terin Section 7 Chapter 6

Terin climbed the stairs to the hunting lodge’s upper rooms while he listened to the muffled sounds of the argument raging down below.

When Terin had returned to the hunting lodge, the boys that had been sitting in wait earlier were long gone, and the only light came from the partially open doors to the planning room. The thin curtains that had previously concealed the doors were pulled tightly closed, but the thick smell of tobacco smoke permeated the entryroom fit to choke a man down. Whoever the Duke had in there, the Duke certainly wasn’t very pleased. 

Terin expected Duke Arneghast was going over the state of the supply lines from the flat lands. Nothing got the Duke quite as riled up as having to find sources for all the supplies his forces needed, and then getting them to where they were wanted in an orderly fashion. Many was the time when Terin was first tasked to attend the Duke at his residence that the subject of supplies came up; it seemed to be one of the few things the Duke would get irrational about, irritated all out of proportion to whatever concern there may have been. 

Whatever the current cause of the Duke’s anger, Terin hoped that his Grace Duke Arneghast would finish the meeting soon. Glancing back down, as if able to see through walls, Terin recalled the layout of the sandtable. He really wanted one last look at the sandtable, preferrably in the company of Redwulf while they went over the route he considered best.

As he reached the dark passageway at the top of the steps, he felt a sudden queasiness in the pit of his stomach, as if something turned within. For just the briefest of moments, as his thoughts touched on Redwulf, his bowels had felt as if they were filled with water from a mountain lake. Just as sudden the feeling passed, but he knew that feeling well; it was the same that he felt every time he allowed his thoughts to touch briefly on his daughter, Alise, the daughter he had never even seen with his own eyes, until he found her burned and broken body in the arms of his wife, Milia. Dead, dead the both of them and buried under other bodies, the end result of a raid by the Bleeding Bear deep behind the Madrigal forces of the high pass. Dead at the crushed command post of his father, Baron Martin, in the battle that heralded the beginning of the end for the duchy of Madrigal.

He paused for a moment, standing still and silent before the Sword Room door, as he took the few extra moments necessary to settle his breathing and bring himself back to a state of calm. Terin knew that animals could smell fear, they react to it, respond to it. Terin believed that an animal responded more to scents than to sight, and he wanted this first private meeting to set the tone for the rest of the time they would be together. Terin had to begin by ensuring that when Redwulf saw him, he saw the leader of the group that would set out in the morning. It would be a foolish mistake to treat Redwulf as a man that just looked like a dog, and try reason or persuasion on him. Terin was the leader of whatever group set out on the morrow, and one way or the other, Redwulf would have to accept that. Once they got into the mountains, if any of them were to survive what they were likely to find, then Terin had to be confident that there would be only one voice Redwulf would listen to; his own.

Terin forced himself to relax, and then broke through the instincts of his body to relax in truth, at rest but ready to flow in response to anything or nothing at all. The control that is not control, shifting mind, body and soul to an alert but relaxed posture, no fear to open the pores, no rush of blood to bring the shakes, no sweat to raise a stink. The heart of the Path of Mastery; to be clear, calm, and smooth as the flow of a mountain stream.

Riding within his circle of breathing, centered and poised to adapt to whatever lay ahead, Terin felt the underlying excitement of the moment. The unknown lay just on the other side of the door, lying there waiting to be discovered. Just there, on the other side of the door.

This was a trace of the same excitement, the same deep desire to learn that had brought him to leave his family and his certain future in order to take up training and study with the Order of Radiance. To be called a Knight, to stand in judgment over others or act as the law in rough places, to defend those that could not defend themselves and train them until they could stand alone, the romantic life he thought to live and the adventures he would have, all a small part of what had drawn young Terin to his calling with the Order.

But the greatest part of his calling had been the simple need to know. To get out into the world, where the libraries were, and the hidden stores of knowledge. To find the ancient journal a family kept in remembrance of their ancestor, or the ruins that yet held secrets to be discovered and restored. To seek out knowledge of what had gone before, of what men had known of the world, of what they could once do, and bring it back to the light.

Nowadays, Terin felt little of that old excitement. Excitement and enthusiasm had been burned out of him, and all he was left with his duty, and his determination to spare others from what the war had cost him if at all possible. Now, when he studied, it was to search out the ancient ways of war from before the Diaspora. It was to seek out the background and nature of any dangers that might threaten the lives of the common people of the Borderlands, and to see to it that as many as possible were prepared to handle those threats. 

Knight-Commander Geoff of the Caer Mordant chapter house had set him to attend to Duke Arneghal and obey his commands for the time being, but it suited Terin well. The Duke listened to the worn Knight that had, uniquely among the Borderlands, fought the Orcs for years in the highlands, and mastered the ways of the mountains. When Terin brought forth other concerns, such as the history of the Empire and the threat hanging over them from the Elves, Duke Arneghast listened, and took him seriously. Few other leaders among the various duchies would have been so patient with him, or have spent the resources Duke Arneghast did to watch for signs of those threats.

And yet, Terin felt this tremor of what could only be fear in his heart, a fear he thought he was far past. He knew he wasn’t braver by nature than other men, he simply felt no fear for himself because he no longer cared whether he lived or died. But he did care what happened to the people he was sworn to protect and support, and Redwulf represented something wholly new to him. Something utterly without mention in any record or artifact Terin had ever studied or read of, and that covered a great deal of ground indeed, from some of the most respected military collections in the Borderlands.

Terin pushed the door open without knocking or clapping. He was completely in the moment, feeling everything around him, and he knew that Redwulf was waiting patiently for him to open the door and enter in the same way that he knew that in the room just one space down the hall, the Duke’s pet wizard waited in secret, hoping to overhear something useful to him.

Terin stepped into the mean space under the eaves of the roof, and stepping to the side instead of deeper into the room, he pushed the door closed. The room appeared the same as earlier, but without a source for light; Terin’s vision was preternaturally keen in the absence of light, a gift passed down from father to son of his bloodline, one of the more useful gifts that could grace those of Borderlander blood that survived from the diaspora. Even in the near total absence of light, he could clearly discern the drawn curtain, the chair, and the pallet on the far side of room; and the body that sat up upon it, waiting for him.

Terin walked forward softly, and sat in the waiting chair. He was acting purely on instinct guided by his experiences of how to calm skittish animals and people both. He wanted to start by setting Redwulf at ease, to seem to be no threat, but to clearly be dominant and set the pace for the discussion, just short of being an interrogation.

Remaining loose, almost casual in his body posture, Terin asked, “Redwulf, do you feel strong enough to speak with me for a little while? I want to discuss the trip we begin tomorrow.”

There was a pause in the room as Terin waited for a reply, but it was a comfortable moment, not a tense one. Somehow, Terin felt that things were going to be as peaceful as he could wish, although he had no feeling for what he might be about to learn.

There was a low cough from the pallet, and the figure upon it sat up a bit straighter, stiffening it’s back where it sat against the far wall. The voice that came floating across the darkness had a breathy quality, and while Terin wanted to call it akin to panting, it was more like a labored effort to draw enough breath to bring out a complete sentence. “Yes, Baron Trendel, I am here. I have been waiting. I knew you would come.”

Yes, Terin thought, Redwulf spoke in short sentences that had each of them a definite rise and fall, starting out strong but drifting fainter, losing force towards the end.

Terin cleared his throat, and said, “Redwulf, if you would, I would like to know how it is that you speak so well. I had thought from earlier that you were but a short time ago a normal hound, and yet you speak perfectly clearly to my ears.”

The figure on the pallet made a sound that could only be a chuckle, although it seemed by half to be a low chuffing sound, likely to do with Redwulf’s muzzle. The sound felt friendly to Terin, welcoming and inviting him to share a private joke. “I can speak your language well. I offer my thanks to your Duke’s pet snake. It was the efforts of Malvoris that grants me these words.”

There was another of the low, chuffing laughs. “It is not what he intended. When I first came here, he attended me. He promised the Duke he would have my secrets revealed. He worked his arts, and touched his mind to mine.”

The figure on the cot leaned further into the room, and Terin could finally make out the remembered features, the muzzle, a shine off sleek fur, a gleam of the eye from a stray bit of light through loose fitting boards. “Malvoris expected his mind to be stronger than a dumb beast.” 

Redwulf leaned back again, still making his chuffing laugh, and despite the seriousness of the moment, Terin had to join him. Of all the things he had considered, the furthest from his thoughts had been that Malvoris would try to pull the dog’s secrets from him by magic, and have his own secrets taken instead.

Redwulf continued to speak, his words silencing Terin’s laughter of the moment before. “I expected to see you here, but I also wished you would not come. I wished I would be wrong in expecting you. I am sorry.”

Terin eased back in the seat, trying to use body language and scent to convey a reassuring gentleness. How do you smell reassuring? Is that the same as confident, or is confident more intensely physical and threatening? “Redwulf, I made the best time I could, once I received the Duke’s summons. I promise you, there was little chance that I would not come. The Duke has his mission for us, and I will be there beside you every step of the way. I will be there to defend you, should the need arise. You have my word on it, and I do not give my word lightly.”

Redwulf eased back, but his posture seemed touched with sadness, although it was hard for Terin to tell if he was imagining it. Master though he was at reading the thoughts and feelings of any person by how they moved and held themselves, Redwulf was just enough like a human to have him thinking one thing and having to remind himself he had no way of knowing if he was right. Dogs in general, and especially the breed by which Redwulf was descended, the golden retriever, had always seemed to Terin to be possessed of equal parts irrepressible joy and introspective sadness.

“Baron, I was hopeful you would not come, because I saw you here. The visions, the images dancing in my eyes in golden fire. I saw this, I saw your journey. I see you now, not as you are but how you will be, the scales rippling as your skin, the claws over your hands. I see the sword, and the hammer, the black and the silver. I see the flames within you and you are not burned. I am beside you, but I am consumed like a torch. I see these things and so much more, all the time. I have seen them since I was pulled through the fire, and I cannot stop them. Whether I am asleep or awake, the things I see dance before my eyes. I smell them, I hear their voices, they never entirely stop. Sometimes the things I see scare me, but they are true things, and scared or not, willing or not, I cannot turn from watching. Other times are the worst, though. The times when it is not the true images, the pure dreams, but the voice of the other, the one that has guided me here, the one that wants something from us both. The voice that talks to me, knows me, knows my heart. It seeks me out, it tells me what to do, shows me where to go.”

The figure on the bed sat up straight once more, and in the darkness Terin could sense it’s left arm and hand being lifted up from the covers. Of a startling suddeness, a gentle golden glow began to rise from the depths of Redwulf’s left hand, palm first. The glow seemed to start as a small dot deep within the flesh, the outline of bones visible in front of it. The light grew, from a dot to a spot, and on growing to encompass the entire hand much like a golden fungus or moss, the fur glowing from within, lighting the room like a warm summers day, and bringing Redwulf’s eyes into fiery prominence.

While the source of the glow grew larger, the intensity did not. Terins’ eyes were not hurt by the sudden illumination, and he realised that he felt actual warmth on his face and hands. He noticed immediately that Redwulf did indeed have opposable thumbs on his pawlike hands, but rough black pads covered the fingertips, surrounded by the thin fur.

“I am here because I was forced into the fire, Terin. They through me in, and it burned, it burned. They had a harness, ropes, and they pulled me to them through the fire. I had no choice, I was pulled where they forced me to be. I howled, I remember I howled, I was so afraid. I burned, I could feel it, I knew what it was. But as I burned, I felt… welcomed. Loved. I was loved, and it broke the bonds of my spirit. I was free. That is when I changed… and when the images began.”

In the golden glow, Terin’s eyes met the shining eyes of Redwulf, and he found he could not look away. Tears of his own sprang unbidden to his eyes, and he couldn’t for the life of himself have said why.

“When dragged towards the fire, I had feared, and I had howled, but I had still been my master’s hound. I knew it. I could never disobey. He was my master, he was my all. But the love in the fire, the heart of the gold – it broke my bonds. I was free of one master, and found another. A master within myself.”

Terin hated to break whatever spell had started Redwulf talking, but he was gathering up too many questions to hold back any more. “Redwulf, where was it that all of this happened to you? Can you describe what this fire looked like? Who was it that put you in the flames?”

Redwulf looked deep into Terin’s eyes, and said, “We were deep in a room of stone. Stone below, stone above, and secrets all around us. We had come from the master’s greatest hall, deep into his lowest rooms. There was a wall that had been cut into, an opening to grow the keep deeper into the stone. The workers had cut into solid stone, and found an opening that was worked in the rock. An old opening. Worked stone in the heart of the masters home.”

“Oh, sweet Tyr,” Terin murmured aloud, “You’re talking about Torr Baldwin, aren’t you? They broke into some kind of underground tunnels while expanding Mordant Keep, and found something down there. Some of the oldest writings I’ve seen, journals of soldiers that lived in that time, mention something big happening around a single great stone mountain like a fist to the skies. There are at least four great mountains I’ve studied that could have matched the descriptions, but it was Torr Baldwin, the heart of Duke Hope’s power all along.”

Redwulf’s muzzle opened, and he seemed to smile. A shadow passed over the hounds’ eyes for a moment, and then the colors within changed, instantly, flashing from the warm hazel of a moment before to a brilliant emerald green. Terin recoiled back in his chair, startled enough to nearly shout aloud.

The golden glow emanating from Redwulfs’ left hand changed just as suddenly, spreading in an eyeblink to a powerful golden aura that encompassed his entire body. Terin felt as though he were sitting on a chair outside on the brightest and warmest of summer days; he felt the skin on his face and neck, the backs of his hands begin to tingle, as he might if he were starting to get sunburned, back before his skin had weathered to leather.

Redwulfs mouth opened, but the voice that issued forth was in all ways unlike what Terin had heard until now. Redwulf had been speaking in short sentences, starting strong, forceful, but losing breath towards the end of each one. His voice had been rough, and breathy.

This new voice was warm, rich, and powerful in all ways. Terin had heard speeches and attended councils where some of the most powerful and influential leaders of the day spoke their mind, Duke Arneghast, Duke Hope, and Knight-Commander Geoff among them. He had heard men with great charisma speak, men used to command and to lead, men who had trained themselve to use their voice in negotiation as if it were just another weapon to be sharpened and used with cunning skill in battle, with all to win or lose.

This voice that he now heard come from Redwulf was somehow similar to all of those, but greater still, as the sun is greater in brilliance than the campfire in the darkness.

The voice said, “Terin Trendel, listen carefully. I have neared the end of my time with Redwulf, but you are here at last.”

“I am speaking to you through Redwulf. I am the last of the Loremasters, and I am imprisoned within what you call Torr Baldwin, as you surmise.”

“I guided Redwulf to you with very nearly the last of my focused will. He was thrust, an innocent, through the earth mother’s fires. He has been touched by Gaia, and she has chosen to stay with him. Her presence within him, her choosing him as a vessal has let me speak to him at times, guide him when I could, and so I have brought him here where he could meet with you.”

“I beg of you, let Redwulf guide you back to Torr Baldwin. Return to the place where the earth mother’s fire flows as if from a great fountain that never ends. Go there, and STOP THEM. Those who call themselves wizards, in service to your Duke Hope. They are twisting the lifeblood of the mother to become something they think they can use as a weapon, but they have no comprehension of how vast the power is they touch, how terrible the consequences should they meet with any success in changing her nature.”

“I am losing my hold on this world, Terin Trendel. I have held on this long by strength of will alone, but I have been without rest for too long. When I let go this time, I will pass beyond, and there is nothing that can stop that now. But even so, I cannot touch them or anyone else that passes through the fire so long as the darkness and hate is woven around it like a veil.”

“Please. Move as fast as you can, and do whatever it takes, whatever it takes, but strike hard, and stop those fools from succeeding in corrupting the earth mother. I should never have raised it, but in my youth I was proud of being chosen, and foolish in my pride, and I thought that the power I had was meant to be used. Please, don’t let my foolishness be the cause of something that would end in so terrible a fate for the land.” 

Terin sat up straight on the chair, and sought out any hint of deceit in Redwulfs’ eye. It was impossible; how to read the true intentions of a master orator speaking through a golden retreiver? Terin was loathe to accept everything he heard at face value, however.

“If you brought me to this place on purpose to meet with Redwulf and do this task for you, then you have had plenty of time to plan your moves. Why me, exactly? What is it that I can do, what skill do I provide that Duke Arneghast could not have had someone else do earlier?”

The golden glow around Redwulf’s body was fading slowly, but the voice was as strong as before. “You are Terin Trendel, and if you look at yourself as clearly as you see the people around you, you would be able to answer taht yourself. You are a leader respected by the men who serve him for doing whatever it takes to accomplish your mission, no matter the cost to yourself. You are a knight sworn to serve the commandments of the god of Justice, even though you no longer believe the God yet lives. You are one of the deadliest warriors in single combat currently alive. You are a scholar intimately familiar with what little your people know about the history of this land. Finally, you alone among the men of your land have spent years learning to move amongst the stone of the mountains as well as the Orcs and Dwarves can, if not better.”

“Why did I work to bring you together with Redwulf? Ask anyone that knows you for any length of time. You have the skills I need and you will let nothing stop you short of death. And you will open your ears and listen, which is in damn short supply no matter where you are.” 

The golden glow was noticeably dimmer now, and Terin was far from stupid. If the glow indicated how much longer he could expect this Loremaster to remain here, then he estimated he had less than five minutes remaining to get questions answered. But there was so much he wanted to know! Should he ask about the route? How to get in? Redwulf probably already knew that. But what?

Time was fast running out, but somehow he knew this was his one chance to get the answers he wanted  so very badly. Whatever was to happen next, Terin had to seize the chance, and make the most of the time he had left.

Dude, where’s my PBeM?

Okay, here’s the straight scoop on my PBeM writing.

I’m trying to turn the PBeM into a once a week posted on Monday can just check in once and get it kinda thing.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it more often than that once things got rolling, but I would like to emulate the writers and creators I love by getting on a reliable schedule.

I was well on my way for this last Monday… but I play the game straight, and Jame’s character Terin had as his next goal to question Redwulf for insight and background.

I roll for the characters, and Terin rolled a crit. I do things a little wierd, a holdover from my gaming days that Manny could tell you… I do believe in freak luck, in real life as well as in the game. Good luck, bad luck, and FREAK luck.

So, when someone rolls a crit, I have this sliding scale on how significant the crit ends up in terms of affecting the game.

See, If it’s a crit, say the system uses a d20 and it’s a natural 20, I have ’em roll it again.

Let’s use as an example of what I’m talking about, damage.

For a straight natural 20, that’s max damage no matter what. But I have them roll it again.

A low number, say below 8, and the max damage stands. An average roll, say 9 to 12, and it’s possibly double damage.

13 or above, and you start getting into specifics. The woulnd injures or destroys an arm, or blinds the target, or something. Or possibly it hits a vital spot and penetrates into the vitals, or bypasses armor.

And then there’s that rarest of rares, but it DOES happen, the second natural 20.

I let ’em roll again, same deal.

Damage is just an example. It also affects things like… fate. Impressing someone. Intimidating someone. Trying to find secret doors. Looking for the pearl of great value hidden amongst the swine of crap the quartermaster has in his storeroom.

I rolled for Terin, to determine how favorable his encounter with Redwulf would be, a reaction roll coupled with how much Redwulf would trust him, and how forthcoming redwulf might be inclined to be.

Terin got a natural 20.

Followed by two more natural 20s.

So, I have been working pretty had at being honest with the results. That kind of rolling deserves a reward, you ALWAYS want to feel like luck can strike like lightning when you’re playing, and that’s a legitimate part of the game.

On the other hand, I ain’t Monty Haul, and I ain’t prepared to hand over the script and say “Here’s the entire story on a silver platter.”

So, I’ve been doing what has always worked well for me on a tricky creative problem. I’ve been doing other stuff and letting it all just sit in the back of my head, and stuff rises up, I examine it, and then it sinks back again. It’s all bubbling away while I turn everything in the game around, looking for that perfect middle ground between honoring the triple 20s, and keeping the suspense and flow of the story at the right level (by my standards).

Tonight, while drinking Red Dog beer and watching Death Race with Jason Statham, I think I’ve got the right middle ground. So I’ll be resuming writing tomorrow.

Apparently, I can’t just write this kind of stuff to my satisfaction at the drop of a hat. Funny, I never thought I’d get any form of writer’s block, but when it hit, it wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it was that nothing I could write felt… well, felt right. It didn’t feel like the right direction to take, the right thing to say, the right way to say it.

I finally understand that impulse to crumple up wads of paper filled with half written sentences because they’re crap. Granted, I didn’t use paper, but I came back a few times this week, started writing and just stopped, and walked away because it wasn’t right.

Anyway… I’m feeling that sweet spot that i’ve got the tone and the intent right now, and I can move on.

And it’s gonna be EPIC.

Terin: Section 7 Chapter 5

Terin continued to smile as he leaned in closer to the young captain.

With a voice pitched to carry no further than the small room around them, Terin said, “Stop wasting my time and do something, Morgen.”

Something in Terin’s eyes shocked the captain, and he backed away quickly, stopped only when the back of his shoulders hit the wall. He looked more frightened than surprised. Clearly, this wasn’t going according to plan.

Terin gave him a few moments to take some kind of action, but it was clear the young man didn’t have a backup plan if his first one fell through, and was frozen in indecision.

“Morgen, I can’t help it if you’re stupid enough to act on what your friends tell you without checking the facts first, or foolish enough to follow the example of the hot heads out in the eastern kingdoms when it comes to your sense of honor.”

“You’re not capable of angering me enough to challenge you to an official duel, and I don’t have the time to waste killing you in a properly sanctioned fight anyway.  I have a journey I have to begin first thing in the morning.”

“So this is how it’s going to be.”

“You either prove you’re not all talk by taking a swing at me or pulling steel, or you get your sorry ass out of my way. Make a decision, right now. You are capable of making a decision, aren’t you, captain?”

A sudden rush of anger brought a crimson flush to the captains’ fair features, the red climbing high enough to show through the thin blond hair of his scalp.

With a scowl of rage transforming his face into an ugly mask, Morgen fumbled for the dagger at his belt.

Terin watched calmly as Morgens’ shaking fingers finally wrenched the blade from its tight leather sheath, a slight smile playing at the edges of his mouth.

Morgen shifted into what he must have thought was a knife fighter’s stance, then he launched himself at Terin, pushing himself off the back wall to get extra force for the lunge.

Without changing his stance, Terin reached out with his left hand, firmly grabbed Morgen’s outstretched knife hand just as it came within reach, twisted his upper body slightly to the left to twist Morgen off balance, and then used his shoulders to pull hard, keeping his left arm out to push the knife hand out of line and away.

Morgen, already moving forward as fast as he thought he could, found his wrist snatched out of the air with a movement too fast for his eyes to follow, and felt himself yanked forward, his body all twisted up, back arching painfully, flailing out of control, his knife hand pinned in a grip like steel.

As he tried to understand what was happening, flailing away at the air with his left arm, trying to regain his balance, he felt fingers grab a handful of his hair at the back of his head, and the last thought he had was a sudden awareness that what was about to happen was going to really hurt a whole hell of a lot.

There was a sullen wet sound followed by a crunch as Morgen’s face was driven hard into the rough wooden planking of the wall beside Terin.

Terin released his grip of Morgen’s head and hand, and watched with concern as the young man dropped bonelessly to the floor. Using his foot, he nudged the captain’s body around so he sat mostly upright, his unconcious body propped back up against the wall.

Terin leaned down and checked the mans face carefully, and listened for the wet blubbering of his breathing.

“Good, he won’t choke on his own blood. A few teeth lost, a crushed nose, mashed lips. Nothing too serious.”

Terin stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him. He glanced up and down the hall, but of course nobody happened to be there at the moment, as Terin knew from listening for the sounds the boards made when walked upon.

Terin strode briskly down the hall to the doorway leading to the main mission room, still bustling with activity. Corporal Garthan, the same energetic young man that had led him to the briefing room, was back at the desk along with his two comrades, busily working through the returned scouts.

Terin took a moment to watch the activity in the mission room.

From what Terin could see of the situation, someone here in a position of authority was either a graduate of Terin’s training, or had taken the advice of someone who was.

Captain Morgen was unfamiliar to Terin, so he hadn’t been directly trained in Terin’s methods. It was normal for each base or station to have people on duty at all hours to assign or receive missions, but they would all be of enlisted rank except for the one officer placed in overall command.

Any changes as drastic as what Terin had set in place would never have taken root this deep here without the willing and eager encouragement of the man in charge. Even if the Duke himself had lain down the order to adopt Terin’s policies, there were half a hundred ways a man set on blocking them could delay things if he really felt stubborn about it.  

So, what we had here was a man poisoned by ideas of honor from the coastal kingdoms, a man who believed he should hate me for what he’d been told by his peers concerning my personal actions during the withdrawal from Madrigal, but also someone who’s smart enough and open-minded enough to listen to new ideas and training, and use those ideas even if they come from someone he hates as long as the reason for them was something he believed in.

Regardless of what other problems the young fool had, that speaks of someone whose priorities were in line with Terin’s: to accomplish the scout mission of gathering information from remote and dangerous locations, and see those scouts return from their missions alive.

Terin thought over his own actions of a moment before, and nodded in satisfaction.

“A man who puts the welfare of his scouts over his own prejudice is too good to waste by killing out of hand. Much better to give him a lesson and let him decide what he’ll take from it. Next time, maybe he’ll think before he acts.”

“Then again, maybe next time he’ll leave off wasting time on words, and try me with a dagger in the back. Whatever he does, I administered the lesson, what he learns from it is on his head now.”

“And damn it all anyway, I don’t have time for this kind of foolishness right now.”

Terin moved smoothly forward and leaned down to speak closer to Corporal Garthan’s ear.

“Corporal, I’m done with the journals.”

Corporal Garthan jumped a bit as if startled, and whipped his head around to see who was speaking. “Oh! Sorry, your lordship, I’d forgotten that you were still at it. It’s gotten quite late getting this mob sorted out. If you’re all finished, I’ll get things straightened up then?”

The corporal’s voice ended in a question, and Terin nodded affirmative. “Oh yes, I’m quite finished. I think I’ve learned all I could hope to about the area I’m headed for. While you’re clearing the room, I’d also appreciate it if you’d look in on your captain for me. I left him with some serious issues to consider, and I warrant he’ll need some help working them out.”

Terin straightened up, and gave the young man a tired smile. “Please be sure and tell him that if he ever wants to discuss any issues with me again, I’d be more than happy to make time for him just as soon as I’ve returned from my current task. You’ll do that for me, won’t you?”

Corporal Garthan snapped off a sharp salute, and said, “Of course, sir, you can count on me!”

Terin smiled again, and headed for the door.

“I’m sure I can, son. I’m sure I can. Carry on.”

PBeM Converging Forces story post

This weekend, I intend to set aside some time to write a story from the Converging Forces world.

I’m still waiting for James to give me some instructions before I can continue with his storyline, and Manny is still on hold because his next post is a massively significant one with a huge chunk of “oh shit” direction that I really wanted to hold off on until James was either close to the right spot, or dead, or some other wild tangent where I knew it was safe to continue.

BUT… I really want to do some Converging Forces writing.

So here’s the situation.

One thing I haven’t done as of yet, due to this being a PBeM game/story, is tell any stories from the point of view of nemesis or antagonists or other places in the world, or anything that the players themselves would not have access to.

What I’m thinking is of changing that a little. To take a peek on events happening somewhere else pertinent to the story… or someWHEN else.

I’m open to your suggestions on what you’re interested in knowing more of.

Right now, there are a couple things I’m leaning towards, one scene from a LONG damn time in the past, and another of somewhere happening right now.

But if anyone has developed any questions so far that really bug you, or something you’d like a LOT more detail on, tell me and I might write the story on that aspect instead.

Manny, yes this is open for you to suggest as well.

James, you’re banned from participating, you should be telling me what you’re doing darn it!

Who knows, I’ve never tried this kind of thing before, writing short fiction by request. It sounds like a lot of fun… I trust in myself to NOT screw the story up or hose revelations but still write something worth reading.

I may be deluding myself, but I guess we’ll find out together.

Terin: Section 2 Part 4

Terin sat back in the hard chair, sighed and tried to rub the growing headache from his brow. Training or no training, you didn’t turn farmboys and soldiers into draftsmen overnight, and using whittled sticks of colored clay on a hillside in the rain wasn’t the best way to get something you were going to be able to read a month later.

Terin picked up one particular journal he’d set aside earlier, and leafed through it. Even with a second time through, it was simply remarkable in it’s ability to astound. He stopped at one page covered with sketches, and gazed at it intently for all of a minute. Then, he turned the book upside down. No, it was still impossible to make out. It could be a wolf… or it could be a duck. Or perhaps it was a wolf riding a duck?

With a snort of disgust, he tossed the offending book back on the pile, and thought about what he’d learned.

The first thing that came through from the journals was that the valley was still easy enough to get into, it was getting out again that was the problem.

There were many ways into the valley, at least seven seperate game trails that Terin had noted, three lumbering paths cleared well enough to take a loaded carts’ wheels during the dry season, and the main trade route connecting the valley to the rest of the main Doneghal lands that was corduroyed not just to the mouth of the valley, but continued on the entire length, all the way to the southernmost part where Clan MacQuarrie was steaded.

As remote as the valley was from the central Doneghal trade routes, someone that lived there clearly had current influence in or around court. No amount of money would be able to get that big a road project completed without the willing use of part of the Doneghal Militia, and that took pull in high places. Whoever the benefactor was, though, wasn’t part of or even near to His Grace’s inner circle, or there would have been much more information forthcoming since the discovery of the heavy orc presence there. Interesting, but anything to be discovered along that trail lay too far away to do any good tonight.

There were more than fifteen full highland clans making camp in the eastern ridgelines, and they’d brought all of their herds and families with them. That wasn’t a war party; it might be even more sign of what the Duke had spoke of, increasing bonding and building of teamwork and trust between clans. It might even be a major gathering of the clans to form some kind of official bond or choose a leader from all of the tribes.

With that many young orcs about eager to prove their bravery, there should be plenty of bodies to blockade the valley entrance. That’s not what they were doing, though, and it bothered Terin because it was out of character. The orcs had posted only a few small groups of sentries on watch, each group as strong as a company or more, in isolated areas on or near high rock formations with good lines of sight. The orcs stayed out of sight, their presence hidden from travelers entering the valley, giving the impression that all was still normal. With the lines of sight they possessed, they could move to intercept anyone trying to leave the valley with ease, and in great numbers.

One of the earliest scout teams had found that out the hard way, riding along the main trade road into the valley to get the news from the local steadholders, but getting ambushed when they tried to leave after finding Clan Treadwell’s structures burned to the ground. Some of the team had managed to survive the ambush by charging as one into the teeth of the attack, and fighting their way through the orcs and past into the wilderness. The ones that stayed off the trails and worked their way back all agreed that there had been no sign of the orcs at all before the first volley of darts came raining down.

To Terin, the fact that any of the team got past gave him more to think about. Highland orcs were well skilled at setting ambushes. They had honed those skills against the ever wary hunting parties that sought to root them out in the mountains above Madrigal, and he knew that the usual method of orc ambush alongside a trail from a closed canyon would have been to form at two sides of a bend in the trail, and then emplant a forest of sharpened stakes just in front of their positions, dug down low enough to stay strong against the weight of a charger tying to break through. The stakes would be concealed with whatever bushes or snow may be at hand. Too many Madrigal patrols had found themselves surprised by a rain of sharp steel darts piercing man and horse alike, and charged the foe in attempt to break through and past only to ride their horses to death, stuck floundering within reach of axe and maul.

If they weren’t changing the terrain around the entrance to the valley, and they weren’t making their presence known by flooding the area with sentries, than there must be some reason for it. Orcs weren’t stupid. Far from it. Especially the highlanders.

Terin didn’t have enough information yet to make a decision as to motive, but from what he’d read, a solid plan of entry would be to leave the mountains back to the first main crossroads that would lead to the southern trade routes. From there, a fast ride might take them within striking distance of the valley entrance in only two weeks, far better time than a scout movement mission could do. There were several small settlements in Doneghal proper prior to reaching the valley, there would be ample opportunity to stable the horses for the return trip. Terin wasn’t concerned with scouting all the terrain in between to aid future mountain missions; all he needed to do was get into the valley as soon as possible, before the situation had a chance to break.

From there, Terin could see many options. The best information was on incursions down the middle of the valley, and then scouting the eastern ridgelines and upper reaches. Looking over the journals, though, it looked like the orcs had very effective sentry systems set up along the eastern ridgelines, the areas of access closest to their own camps. For the scouting run Terin intended, he’d need to catch the orcs completely unaware, so that there would be no possible reason for the elf to conceal itself, or to act other than typical. A large part of this mission would be to gauge intention and analyze goals from base actions, and to accomplish it, the target had to feel safe and without cause to be on guard.

The Tor Baldwin side, with it’s seemingly sheer lower reaches being so clearly unsuitable for any kind of settling, grazing or timbering, had been left mostly alone as a source of interest for the scout teams. It would have been part of their movement orders, but likely had a lower priority that the eastern reaches. There had been some attempts to see if the valley entrance could be flanked that way, but the two scout teams that had mentioned it showed attempted routes well within what Terin considered a conservative line of attack. It looked like, either from choice or skill level, they had limited themselves to low level bouldering ascents, and hadn’t attempted any free climbing or attempts to make a top lead climb at all. From some of the base sketches they’d made from that approach, there could be at least one upper ridge route that would make for easy travel within what Terin thought he could easily handle. It made for a place to start, and appealed to Terin’s natural instinct to come from an unexpected direction… which normally meant the direction only an idiot would choose to try. With the first true smile of the evening, Terin reflected that he was just the idiot for the job.

With the beginnings of an approach in mind, Terin decided that he’d learned all he could from the scout journals. Pushing away from the table, Terin stood and moved his attention on to the next item to check on; Redwulf’s condition and readiness for the trip ahead.

Terin was more worried than he wanted to admit about Redwulf. He’d studied what he could see when he had the chance, and to his eyes while Redwulf may have held the posture of a man, his fine features were more than just a fur covered person. The joints in his legs where Terin could see them twisted underneath, and the pads and claw tips on his hands spoke of very poor mountaineering potential. Terin had a sudden image flash into his thoughts; Redwulf, trying to climb with the aid of a rope, and being unable to grasp it in his half canine, half human paws. It suddenly occured to Terin that he hadn’t specifically noticed if Redwulf had functional thumbs now, or not.

With sudden consternation, Terin stood up to find his way out of the scout center.

Just at that moment, the crude wooden door was pushed open from the outside, and a tall, blond man in excellently tailored scout uniform was framed in the light of the oil lanterns.

Terin looked the newcomer over, shifting his shoulders within his tunic in an intentional movement meant to ease any stiffness and prepare for action, if it became necessary. It was just one of the affectations Terin liked to use to fool an observer into thinking Terin had combat tells.

The newcomer wore a scouts’ uniform of light brown tunic over dark brown rough-spun trousers, tucked into knee high cross-tied heavy boots. Unlike a normal scout, this one wore rank tabs of silver crossed swords on his high collar, marking him as a Captain, and a captain of scouts in this place meant here was the scout master come to visit the intruder to his domain. 

What led Terin to add false tells on first meeting was the false smile the captain turned his way.

Terin inclined his head slightly in greeting, and smiled in a neutral, noncommital way. “Good evening, captain. I was just on my way out, but I’m glad of the opportunity to thank you personally for the assistance your corporal provided for me earlier. Thanks to his efficiency, and that of your excellent management of the scout system here, I’ve learned all I could have hoped and more about the area I’m headed tomorrow. You have my thanks.”

The man straightened up a little and entered the room, but the false smile remained fixed on his face. Here was a man that had something on his mind, and what i might say matters little, for he’s got some kind of script worked out. 

“I’m glad that we scouts were able to be of service to you, Baron. I wouldn’t want anything to hinder your mission on the morrow.”

Terin’s smile didn’t change, but this told him that he faced one of the officers that wanted nothing more than for Terin to die alone on a mountain somewhere. That made this encounter an easy one, because he didn’t need any difficulties preventing him from leaving on time in the morning. It was far too early to deviate from the plan just eyet.

“I certainly appreciate your assistance, captain. My apologies for the discourtesy of using your bare rank, but when I spoke with His Grace earlier and was assigned my task, he did not mention to me your name. Might I know it, that I may thank you properly?”

The captain noticeably shifted posture just a bit, straightening up unconsciously when reminded of his rank and his ties to his liege lord, Duke Arneghast. This told Terin that he faced someone that had no training or skill at concealing his intentions through body language.

“Of course, Baron. I hope you don’t think me rude for not offering you my name on arrival. As you can imagine, your fame has preceded you, and I have heard so much about you already that I feel almost as though we know each other very well. My name is Curtis, of the Morgan line. My father is Cuspis, Lord Morgan of Glendenshire. As you guessed, I am the scout master for His Grace’s forward scouts.”

Terin mentally sighed to himself, as the cocky young snot let a sneer creep ever more noticeably into his voice. The baron had a mission of importance, it’s true, and would avoid trouble if possible, but there were limits to the insult he was prepared to tolerate within his hearing.

The captain entered the room further, not crowding Terin but circling a little past to see what lay on the table. Picking up one of the discarded journals, Curtis leafed through it briefly, before dropping it on the pile.

“So, you’re planning to venture out into what they call the Valley of Bitter Tears, baron. That’s very good to hear. And very surprising, too. Somehow, when I first heard that banners proclaiming the presence of the Bleeding Bear clan were reported there, I thought that, with your legendary blood enemy finally uncovered, you would be in a rush to flee even farther north in search of a new Duchy to hide in.”

The captain leaned forward, close enough to Terin that he could smell the decaying garlic on his breath. “Of course, I hear that you’ve found a likely lad with the Imperial Scout bloodline to do your fighting for you. It’s not every man that would set out to redeem his honor with a fey blooded bodyguard to shield him from harm.”

Returning to a standing position, shifting slightly in what was clearly a balanced stance intended for defense, Curtis added, “But then, that is perfectly in keeping with all that I’d heard about you. And if things don’t turn out quite the way you’d expect, well, you’re experienced in how to pass through orc lines unnoticed, aren’t you? Just as long as you’ve got a skinning knife to hand.”

With that, the captain’s false smile gave way to the more honest sneer that looked far more natural to him.

What was what? Oh, what was that?

For those of you that have no idea where the last post came from, my apologies. I tend to post thinking that I haven’t had a new reader since I started however many years ago. Which might be true, but you never know.

If you are new(ish) to my blog, then you probably have no idea what the last post was.

I’ve been in the progress of running the slowest moving ‘play by email’ role playing game in the history of the internet, and I publish each turn here on the blog. Yesterdays’ post was the most recent, and ended in the way that it did with the idea that I’m really, no I swear I’m not kidding, really going to post another one very soon.

And not ‘soon’ as measured in geologic time.

The entire thing is taking the form of an interactive novel, with the parts of Terin and Jessie being directed by my friends James and Manny, respectively.

If you’re interested in reading any of the chapters that have come before, the entire thing has an idex on the sidebar of the blog called “Converging Forces”, and you can find direct links to all the chapters posted in order there. Yesterday’s post has already been added at the bottom.

Thanks for your patience, and again, sorry for the confusion.

PBeM: Terin Section 2 Part 3

Terin sat on the plain wooden chair, back rigid and face immobile as he thought over all that the Duke had just told him, and put the rest of the pieces in place from what he already knew.

The situation was now clear.

The Duke had downplayed how well using Terin fit with all the various aspects of what was needed. He had an important mission that required special knowledge meant to be kept to as few people as possible, skills that only surviving the hard way proved you had, a plausible excuse to send a single person or small group where normally at least a scout team would be sent, and best of all, someone that was completely trusted, but outside the normal chain of leadership.

Stories of Madrigal’s lost 9th Company, with Terin as it’s captain, had circulated rapidly once Terin had led his men and the refugees they had gathered together to safety across the southern Mordant lines. Terin had found that, no matter where he had gone from that time to now, word had always seemed to precede him, especially among the noble-born officers of the various borderlander forces. Terin knew well that the most basic of the rumors circulating, at least amongst the officer corps, included details of Terin’s fixation with the Bleeding Bear. The Duke had no need to look far for an excuse to summon him to the hunting lodge; within hours of a scout team reporting the Bleeding Bear’s banner in the high mountains, one of the young snots would have been sure to catch the ear of the Duke, ‘suggesting’ that here was a fine opportunity for Mosley Vale to win back some of the lost honor of his family. Undoubtedly, the officers offended by Terin’s methods would prefer it if he set out to earn back his honor by marching off into the mountains alone, naked and carrying a dagger in his teeth. 

With most of the Duke’s local forces sure that Terin was being recalled to go off to fight the Bleeding Bear in some heroic attempt to redeem his name or die trying, the chances of any of Duke Hopes’ spies ferreting out the true nature of his task would be slim. The gossip mill would spend far too much time telling old stories and hoping for word of his death to spend much time speculating about other possible reasons for his departure.

Even better, for those that knew the Duke well enough to count on there never being just one string to his bow, questioning the servants or other methods of snooping would surely uncover the ‘secret’ mission; tracking Redwulf back to the point of his escape. With a secret mission that strange, and the possible involvement of Duke Hope or his Black Band, it would take a suspicious person indeed to suspect there was an even more important secret lying underneath the rest.

As far as Terin knew, the number of living people amongst the borderlanders that would recognize the significance of an Elven ally living and aiding the orc clans against humans was few. Of those Terin knew of, only Marshall Owen Bradford, Terin’s personal commander and the Chapter Commander of the Order of Radiance in Carringtown, and Duke Arneghal, the leader of one of the more progressive and open-minded Duchies of the borderlands, knew all the details that Terin had uncovered in his researches. There might be a few scholars amongst the Coastal Kingdoms that knew enough to be concerned, but they were too far removed to ever hear mention of an Elf spotted amongst mountain orcs. Nobody could tell what a wizard or their assistants might know of, with all the searching they did for new sources of knowledge, but scattered as they were serving this lord or that, pushed to develop battle magic to try and keep pace with Duke Hope’ Black Band, it was unlikely there was much analysis being given to context if wizards were studying ancient history for inspiration.

This was the kind of mission where you couldn’t just assign a task and trust that it would be completed as normal. It was critical that the situation be scouted thoroughly, to the dregs of the cup, whatever the cost to the scout might be. With a profile like that, you had to take the scout into your confidence, completely. The fewer people that had to be brought in on this particular secret, the better. Using Terin kept the circle of those who knew small, and cut the risk of rumors spreading.

The two most important reasons why the Duke was sending Terin, though, had nothing to do with secrets or excuses. Terin was, as far as he knew, the only person not an actual member of the Duchy that Arneghast would trust with something this important, and the act of using Terin would almost ensure that whatever mission he was assigned, it wouldn’t be taken too seriously. Just as the Duke had said, the borderlands were changing. As clans spread out and claimed land for themselves, as steadings grew and generations were born that looked to what they held rather than ahead to what they could earn, the tight bonds of brotherhood forged between long years of service were loosening, to be replaced by blood ties and provincial attitudes.

The final, and most important reason for the Duke to choose Terin was simply that there was no other man in all of the borderlands that had a better chance of surviving alone in the mountains and returning. 

The whole point of bringing Terin here was to send him out to uncover the facts surrounding an Elf living amongst the orcs, and have him survive to bring that knowledge back for Duke Arneghast to use. Nothing could be allowed to risk failure, and that meant that for Terin to perform his duty, both to the man he had been assigned to serve and to the greater duty he held for the peoples of Felwaithe, he could not pursue his own private vendetta. Not now. Not yet.

No matter how desperately his heart craved vengeance.

The sound of Duke Arneghast clearing his throat broke into Terin’s thoughts.

“Baron, I feel that time is slipping away from us. We’re far enough from the valley here that any news I get is delayed by a month or more. The last three scout teams I sent to penetrate the deepest reaches of the valley are a week overdue. If that thing, Redwulf, had not come stumbling onto one of our forward watch posts, I’d have sent a company out to scout ahead instead of waiting for you to get your ass here, followed by a probe in strength.”

The Duke turned his gaze back to the sandtable, studying the flags and markers as though there was some news they could whisper in his ear.

Terin took the opportunity to watch the Duke’s eyes, and mark where they seemed to fall, while he thought about the missions he was being tasked to complete.

Terin grabbed the arms of his chair for support, expecting to need it to steady himself. Instead, Terin stood with no hint of his earlier weakness. With the knowledge that the Bleeding Bear were finally near at hand, all weakness and pain seemed to have left him. For the first time since sighting the rising of the land that brought the mountains closer, he felt clear headed and without pain. His mind raced ahead clear and sharp, already visualizing the next steps for the coming campaign.

Terin sketched a cursory bow to the Duke, saying, “Your Grace, with your leave I’m going to get started with my preparations. I expect I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning.”

Arneghast turned around, surprise etched on his features.

“You agree to leave at first light, then? You accept my judgment as to the… urgency? The priority?”

Terin met the Duke’s concerned eyes, and while a smile would not come to his lips, there was one in his voice as he said, “Yes, your Grace. I agree… and I understand. Fully. There will be time once the mission is done to pay a visit to old acquaintances.”

Something in Terin’s eyes made the Duke break his gaze away first, and he shifted a little nervously on the carpet, his heavy boots scuffing the worn threads.

“Baron, I want to say one thing to you, before you go about your duty.”

“I know that what you said before was spoken of in the heat of your anger, and I’ll say no more about that. But what you said concerning the noble born amongst my men, that I would speak on.”

Terin faced the Duke impassively, his impatience plain on his face. The thing was said and done, the facts were what they were, and there were things that needed doing to further the completion of his duty. Anything the Duke had to say would be a waste of daylight. But Terin could see from the flush in the Duke’s cheeks that he probably felt he had to say something, to square what he could not change with what his honor told him should be done.

“Baron Trendel, you have every right to be bitter over how my officers act around you, even when given their orders directly from me. But as you go, I want you to think on something for me.”

“When something of this importance came due, you were the man I called to my side, and the one man I trust to see this mission through without distraction. That may be cold comfort, but you have my thanks for living up to being the man I’ve known you to be.”

“One last thing. The valley you’re going to visit. In our records, the steadholders gave it a name. They called it the Valley of Bitter Winds, don’t know why. Don’t let the name be a bad omen for you. I expect to see you return strong and steady as ever from this task. Now, go on with you, and Tyr’s Justice watch over you.”

Terin nodded his head sharply in response, and made his way from the signals room.

Closing the door behind him, leaving the Duke to his thoughts and flags, Terin glanced around the mud room, and saw that there were yet three runners still sitting there waiting for orders or messages to carry.

Terin walked up in front of where the three sat, and, pointing to the first one, said “Go to the route master, and have him prepare two combat trained horses with mountain experience, one strong horse with a very even temperament, two mules, packs and supplies for a month’s hard travel for three. Tell him to have them waiting and ready to go by first light. Do you understand?”

The runner, a young lad with wild brown hair so long and unruly it covered his eyes leapt from his seat, and with a fist salute over his heart, said “At once, milord Baron! Do you need any special provisions?”

Terin shook his head no, saying “Tell him to use his best judgement. Whatever I don’t have, I’ll make, forage or do without. Now off with you.”

The lad saluted once more, and without another word dashed from the room.

Terin turned his attention to the next runner, a smaller, thinner young lad with the sandy blond hair and dark hazel eyes you occasionally saw in the lands south of Mordant, near the border of Madrigal. Directing his words to the boy, he said “I want you to track down where ever my squire has got off to, and tell him his orders from me are to gather his belongings together and make ready for the beginnings of a hard trip at first light. Tell him also to get some rest as soon as his gear is prepared, and eat a heavy meal. He’s not to track me down, I’ll find him when it’s time to leave in the morning. Do you understand?”

The young lad leapt to his feet much as the first runner had, and with a salute and a cocky grin dashed out of the room in his own turn.

This left Terin looking upon the third and last runner, a tall and slightly overweight lad with black hair and the makings of a beard started on his chin. Motioning him to get up, Terin said, “You, my lucky young lad, get to escort me to the Scout Master. Now.”

Terin followed the boy out of the Duke’s lodge and across the square to a long, single story structure dug into the earth. Passing through the doorway, Terin saw that half the structure, the half he entered, was one large room, packed at even this late hour with men in various states of preparation for the trail. It was clear some were waiting to receive their movement orders for the next assignment, while others had just come in and were finishing up their scout journals from the previous mission, awaiting their turn at of debriefing. Such was the comfortable, organized bustle of a scout center near the front lines. Terin felt right at home.

Terin glanced around, noting which lads he recognized from their time at his academy, and which were learning as they worked here on the sharp end. As he glanced around the large room, he was surprised to see the Scout Code he had written to hammer the basics into the heads of his recruits, painted in words of white a foot high on the back wall, one word to a line.

“MMORRR. Mission. Movement. Observe. Record. Return. Report.”

Terin smiled. If it’s simple and stupid but it works, it’s not stupid. By the time new scouts made it throught Terin’s training, they knew that of all of them, ‘record’ is the one task in the Scout Code they’d better never forget. Scouts were trained to record anything and everything about their mission. Route traveled, terrain found, sketches of points of interest, flags, banners, unfamiliar animals or plants, weather conditions along the way and a detailed timeline, all recorded into a scout’s mission journal. And from the looks of things, whoever Duke Arneghast had tasked with running the scouts took the journals Terin implemented seriously.

Good.   

Terin dismissed his guide, and moved through the crowd of chatting men, making his way to the main focus of the room; a large wooden table with three men sitting behind it. At either end of the table, a large stack of what Terin saw were blank journals sat, ready to be issued out. Each of the three men seated at the table were busy signing out scouts, handing over tied scrolls of movement orders from pouches at their feet along with the journals, or signing in scouts on a mission log before standing and leading them back through the single door that led deeper into the building.

Terin realized that the men being assigned missions were the scout team leaders, accepting the scroll of orders and stack of journals for their entire teams. The men waiting to be debriefed, on the other hand, were all of the team members from each of the missions. They were taking the time to get each scouts’ view of a mission, instead of just taking the word of the team leader on what stood out the most. Truly excellent.

One of the men seated at the table, a young corporal Terin didn’t recognize, noticed the Baron standing there and stood up to greet him. With a warm, welcoming smile on his face, the man said “Welcome to the rat hole, my lord. I’m Garthan, lead sorter. How may we help you?”

Terin smiled in return, and replied, “I’m heading out on a mission of my own, corporal, one your scout master might not know of. The Duke just informed me. I need to see the scout journals of the area I’m planning on visiting, and I’ll be needing a quiet place to study them.”

Corporal Garthan bowed his head briefly, and said “If you’ll follow me, my lord, I’ll take you to one of our briefing rooms, where you can work undisturbed.”

Terin followed the Corporal back through the doorway, where he found the rest of the building was divided down the middle by a lone corridor, with several small rooms branching off from each side. The Corporal led him swiftly down the hall, and directed him inside one of the rooms, which Terin found to be fitted with a simple table, a pair of plain chairs upon either side, and no less than three oil lanterns hanging from iron hooks upon the walls, providing plenty of light.

Terin told the Corporal that he needed to see all the scout journals, no matter their age, that came from routes near the mountains to the east of the Valley of Bitter Winds. Corporal Gartham hustled off, and Terin sat down with his back to the wall, facing the doorway, to think through the steps of the journey before him.

Terin always approached everything, whether it was a mission or getting dinner, in the same way. He started by deciding what his next goal was, broke the goal down into the shortest steps necessary to reach it, and then visualized each step in advance. He thought it through from start to finish, what he’d need to do at each point, what tasks might be necessary, what tools might be useful. Then, having developed a solid plan to go forward with, he set out to do his research if time permitted, learning all he could to prepare himself. After that, he trusted in himself and improvised, because experience had taught him that nothing ever went according to plan, but if you didn’t have a plan, you didn’t have a good foundation to start from when it all went to hell. You might never follow a plan your entire life, but if you didn’t have one, you were doomed to misery and pain.

After just a few minutes, the corporal came back in the room with an armload of weatherstained and dogeared journals, indicating either a damn good filing system, or that they’d been seeing a lot of use lately. Terin thanked Gartham, and selecting one of the books at random, started to read.