Lowlanders

Chapter One [Scenes 1-3]

[Scene 1 – The Farmhouse]

Twisting their heads, the others shrug and they all proceed toward the door.

Three more bodies litter the path to the farmhouse, their wounds identical to the first. While the others collect the corpses into a pile, J’onn walks to the farmhouse door, stepping into a pool of blood extending through the archway from the body of a young woman. He enters warily and surveys the scene.

The farmhouse is in havoc. Dried meat, vegetables and furniture are strewn about the main room. The fireplace is cold and a middle-aged woman is slumped beside it. Her heavy shoulders are charred, torso torn and small intestines spilling onto the floor. Bloody writing has dried dripping from the wall above the mantle: it looks like elvish.

“Uh, guys,” J’onn gestures for the others to come in, “do you know what that says?”

Maram[1] entering the building says, “It says Mythal – a name I suppose, although whose I don’t know.”

Harvic casually interrupts “Mythal was an elven God; a protector of the elves.” and begins dragging the bodies from the room. Shortly, he returns, picks up the blood-stained food and a pot. He lights the fire and stove and begins cooking.

From outside, Bjornin yells in “J’onn, shovels?”

“None in here,” J’onn replies, “let’s try the barn.”.

Shortly after they leave, Harvic, not looking up from the stove, says aloud. “I found a key on the man out there. Look around the room, see if it fits anywhere.” Maram, agreeing, searches the room. Near the hearth, she finds a locked trapdoor beneath the rug. Harvic throws the key to her and with a click, the trapdoor opens.

“Just a leather pouch; a few silver.” She throws the pouch to Harvic, who takes half of the money and gives it to her. They re-lock the door and cover it.

[Scene 2 – Eshara]

J’onn and Bjornin walk silently to the farmhouse. As they approach, they hear a scuffling inside. They enter with caution, weapons ready and hear a dull moan and a single thump, as if a person is collapsing above them in the loft. A cow chews its cud in the corner, barely paying notice.

J’onn edges up the ladder, peering over the lofts floorboards. A lithe pair of legs point toward him from a pile of hay. The woman, an elf, is upside down, so he turns her over. She moans quietly and grimaces; the tattoos covering her face accentuate the effect. Aside from the tattoos, she has four large gashes spaced evenly along her flank.

“What do we have here” J’onn muses to himself, “a Dalish.” He grabs her and eases her down to the ground floor, passing the leather pouch from her belt to Bjornin’s waiting fingers. Inside, Bjornin finds two heavy joined chain links, inscribed with runes. As the pair return to the farmhouse with the, Bjornin tosses the link in the air, laughing at the clinking.

“Put it away, simple man. You know as well as I do that magic is trouble.” J’onn glares at his brother, who begrudgingly, puts it into his pocket.

They enter the farmhouse and place the woman onto the floor.

“Look what we found.”

Harvic leaves the food to simmer immediately, walks over, and opens his healing kit. An array of baubles, potions and herbs spill onto the floor. Muttering, he collects a few and sets to work, oiling and packing her wounds with obvious skill. He discreetly tears a few strips of cloth from her tunic to bandage the larger cuts and gashes. The elf is mumbling incoherently.

“Who- where am I? Who are you? What happened? You’re an elf- what..”. Maram mills, staring fixedly at her, agitated by her wounds. The others watch quietly.

“What’s your name?” Harvic asks, but the response comes slowly: ” Eshara ”.

She faints, slightly more relaxed.

[Scene 3 – Interrupted]

As night falls, the wounded elf sighs lightly in her sleep as Harvic hands out the makeshift rations. J’onn and Bjornin take theirs and head outside to dig graves by lamp light.

Several graves later, a hollering from the fields distracts them. A boy, about 16, is approaching from the direction of Vintiver.

“Hello? Who’s there? Is that you Edred? Keltin?”

Waiting for him to get closer, Bjornin walks over, swinging a wine skin. “Hello! Join us, boy. We are having a party, ahahaha!” and ushers the boy inside.

“Wait! You’re not – what’s going on here?! Oh God!” He vomits in the doorway and anxiously speaks directly, “You aren’t supposed to be here. You should come back to town with me. The Warden will want to see you.”

“What’s your name, boy? Do you like wine?” asks Bjornin, blithely ignoring his request.

“Rafael. You really should come to town.” Spotting Maram, the boy begins to chatter. “That’s an elf – what’s an elf doing here? You shouldn’t be here. None of you should be here.”

“Do you want a drink, boy? Do you like wine?” asks Bjornin, grabbing him. Drunkenly, or perhaps otherwise, he pries open the boys mouth and empties the wineskin. Rafael’s struggling lasts only as long as it takes him to collapse from the drink.

“You’d think a town of winemakers would know how to drink, ahahaha!” He takes the boy upstairs, leaving him on a bed to sleep it off. While the others continue their meal, the brothers return to the graves.

A short time later, a single torch appears in the fields, walking toward the house. A woman’s voice echoes over the fields. “Edred? Is that you? Is Rafael here?”

Bjornin, jovial as always, begins to rant at her. “Your boy cannot drink, ahahaha! Do you want to join our party instead?”

“Where is my son?” she yells.

“He is upstairs sleeping. Come to our party! If you have children, you must be buxom and not at all like a tiny-titted elf, ahahaha!” He glances inside at Maram as the torchlight recedes quickly toward Vintiver.

Unfazed, Bjornin and J’onn return to their digging. When a mass of torches broach the horizon, they edge toward the farmhouse door. A man of about forty-five walks directly up to the farmhouse. Four younger men wait about fifteen metres back. A dumpy woman peers intermittently from behind them, whispering constantly.

~ ... ~

Footnotes

1 An elf; inconspicuously present for earlier events, I assure you.

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Prologue

Dusk in the Southron Hills.

Four men are walking up the cobbled road towards the town of Vintiver. It’s clear that it’s been a good harvest this year – the hearths of the outlying farms are singing with smoke and the smell of meat. Tufts of cut wheat litter the road.

The men chat idly about the time of day. It’s late and they agree that they should find an inn when they arrive. Vintiver itself is visible over a small hill in the north. Bjornin thinks he can hear tavern music and turns around exclaiming the virtues of ale as the party crests the hill.

As they come over, a stray bullock stares uneasily from the edge of the road. It is snorting and has a large gash down its torso, a strand of barbed wire stretching to the nearby broken fence. Schnake calms the bull from a distance, lowering himself, and shushing at it. Behind it, he notices crows circling a field and nearby farmhouse, it’s chimney conspicuously empty. He points this out to the others, releasing the bull and guiding it to the other side of the road. Bjornin, still ranting about ale, takes little notice, but when J’onn and Harvic walk through the gap in the fence and head toward the crows, he follows, running to catch up.

As the party walks through the field, they notice sparse flecks of blood along the ground. There is a general hesitation as the object that the crows circle turns from shadow to lump to a disfigured corpse. The young man has large gashes across his face as if a claw struck him – his mouth is torn at the edge and his clothes are bloodied. Harvic, the first to approach makes to assess the mans wounds; while the others are not watching he searches the body, pocketing a small copper key.

“He’s dead”.

The party’s focus is distracted when Bones, J’onn’s hunting dog, begins to growl at an unshorn field. Looking up, the men notice a shadow disappear into the wheat. At the rear, Harvic begins muttering.

Bjornin runs over to the field and begins yelling.

“Hello? Come on out of there you thing you!?”

The dog goes mental and a single wolf explodes out of the field towards Bjornin. Several others stalk out, growling. Schnake, ever the optimist, bellows commands to the wolves.

“Stay!” He readies his bow.

They hesitate, but only long enough for Bjornin to ready his shield and raise his sword.

“You are angry dog, yes!” he yells as three of the wolves continue toward him.

J’onn spits at the ground, then with yellow teeth bared through a grin, charges the fourth wolf with his two-handed battleaxe. The wolf launches itself onto his arm, nipping him.

Bjornin fends off the three wolves attacks with his shield and the butt of his axe as an arrow whizzes past his ear, striking a wolf in the throat. It barks a hoarse, bloody bark and growls at Bjornin, who at this point realises this isn’t an ordinary wolf. It jumps onto his chest, bites him in the neck and climbs across his face toward Schnake.

Meanwhile, Harvic charges past J’onn, connecting his morning-star to the wolf still attached to his arm. The wolf flies off and J’onn cleaves it’s skull in two with a well placed overhand swing. The other wolves growl at the death knell and Bjornin dispatches another wolf with a blazing combination of parries and thrusts. J’onn turns his attention to the two wolves still harassing Bjornin.

Harvic takes the opportunity to throw a shadowy bolt of energy through the darkness into the wolf fighting Schnake whose cutlass barely hits as a mess of gore explodes from the wolf’s side. The warriors feel something warm on their necks and hear a blunt thumping noise and a yelp. Confused for a moment, Schnake figures he hit the wolf harder than he thought and loudly announces his kill. As the other wolves scamper, Bjornin clips one with his sword and leaves it whimpering in a heap nearby – he walks over and skewers its throat.

The warriors check the bodies, noting that, while they resemble wolves, the creatures seem far more sinister. Harvic remembers a story that an elderly elf told him once about monstrous wolves mad with some sort of disease. That must be it. The party gathers their things and move quickly toward the farmhouse; from a distance, they notice for the first time that the door is smashed in.

“What sort of wolf can break a door in?” comments J’onn.

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