To High Lorekeeper Telthaunt,
You have asked me to relate (I prefer the word regale) to you the history of the path that led me to this fine country I find myself living in. If you don’t mind, I will tell this as a bard, including my thoughts and feelings, and not with a clinical precision you are accustomed to. I may not have ever come to utilize any of the more common bardic performances, but I’m still a storyteller at heart…
I found myself sitting in the Turtle’s Maw, a ramshackle tavern in the Docks District in Duhlnarim, Erlkazar. I had discovered that King Korox Morkann had issued charters to explore the regions south and east of the Erlkazaran borders. I grabbed a charter even before I had anyone to travel with me. You knew how I desired to explore the lands of my ancestors past, that of the Thornwood and the Winterwood, the last remnants of the green elf realm of Thearnytaar. I knew this would be the perfect opportunity, and I had an official charter to do so.
As I already mentioned, I was in the Turtle’s Maw. I had placed a number of parchments mentioning my desire for companions to explore what was once known as the Vale of the Reaver. I had been in the Turtle’s Maw for four days when finally some interesting prospects entered the tavern. They first talked to Burthan, the bartender. He had a peg leg and terrible scars on his right arm, which he always showed off by tearing the sleeves off of his shirts. He always claimed that he got the scars from fighting the dragon turtle of the Deepwash. I heard something Burthan said to the taller of the two prospects to the effect of pointing out the location of a brothel that catered to men (by men), and I chuckled lightly before affecting an air of nonchalance as they turned in my direction.
I first looked over the taller of the two prospects. He was human, and at the time I guessed he was of Chondathan blood. He was young, but not too young. I was uncertain what to think of him. He seemed to be “bookbright”, but also carried a nice longsword strapped to his back. His build didn’t scream wizard by any means.
The second was much smaller, a halfling in fact. To be honest, there was little to note about his appearance. He appeared to be a normal halfling by all accounts, though he did have a shortbow (no pun intended) across his back.
The human introduced himself as Virgil Firemane and the halfling as Jamven Mongothsbeard. After some discussion, Virgil said that he was a wizard and Jamven a ranger and that Jamven had been his guide from Cormyr, through the Western Heartlands, down through Amn then into Tethyr and finally into Erlkazar. As they both had talents I thought could be beneficial to the charter’s completion, I hired them immediately. Not long after they entered the Maw, another human entered. This one seemed crazed. Well, more like addle pated. Barmy the planar travelers who visit Sigil would say. I heard him ask Burthan for some zurg, a drug of sorts. When his inquiries didn’t pan out, he came to our table, having seen my advertisement for help with the charter.
He introduced himself as Simon Magus, a monk of Ilmater interested in alleviating the suffering of the world, if only by taking it all upon himself. His interest in zurg was that it would allow himself to physically take on more of said suffering. Knowing that the other three groups who had gained charters had already left to explore their areas, I decided against better judgment to agree to allow Simon to travel along with us.
After some alcohol-related humorous events (including Simon throwing Jamven towards the top of a stack of barrels, only to have Jamven miss catching the barrels and knocking himself unconscious), we found and got on the skiff of my old friend Jherek. The old ranger set sail along the shores of the Deepwash immediately. Along the way, both Simon and Jamven said they saw what appeared to be a small island with black, charred tree trunks on it in the Deepwash, before it submerged. Was it the dragon turtle? To this day, I don’t know.
On the third day out of Duhlnarim, we passed Saarlik. I decided to not tell them what it was exactly that was rumored to live (so to speak) within the ruins of that old city. And I still feel that it was the right choice, to this day. As we were about to make camp for the evening, Simon noticed someone standing along the shore of the Deepwash.
When I gazed upon what Simon saw, I saw a very attractive woman. She wore heavier armor, and was well-armed. Now, I’ve seen many attractive women in my time. Some of them wore armor like she did. Many wore more, shall we say, revealing modes of armor meant more to distract than protect. Most carried various types of weapons. But there was, even then, upon first sight of her, something else I hadn’t encountered before. When we first met, I felt, well, ready to be great I guess. I knew even then that I would follow this woman wherever she wanted to go. She just gave me this absolute sense of calm, of things being right. As time went by, this feeling grew and never wavered.
We all discovered that she apparently knew Simon from Barakmordin, the fortress temple in Tethyr. She also seemed to know of Simon’s rather heretical thinking. She introduced herself to us. Orla Shae. She claimed that she had received a vision from her god, Torm, which led her to the shore of the Deepwash. While you know I’m not a holy man, and I’m not one for believing in holy visions, I was a man who filled a charter desperate for a good sword arm. I did not doubt at all that she fit the bill perfectly.
The next day we sailed down the Wintercloak River as far as we needed to where Jherek let us off so we could start our overland journey to Oleg’s Trading Post on the far northern end of the Vale of the Reaver. It took us two days of uneventful travel to get to Oleg’s. When we got there, we found a middle-aged man working on repairing a roof of a building within the palisade walls. An attractive woman greeted us warmly.
As we quickly discovered, the man was Oleg and the woman was his wife, Svetlana. Immediately, she told us that they had sent word to Erlkazar, asking for help with bandits, and they hoped we were that help. They (meaning Svetlana, as Oleg seemed angered that we were not the requested help) asked us to help with the bandits, who were scheduled to arrive the following morning.
Svetlana informed us that the bandits had been arriving for three months now, on the first day of each month. Each time they took all the goods that Oleg and Svetlana had traded with the trappers and hunters of the area for. The first month, the bandits were led by a woman and a man. The woman seemed to be in charge and the man her second. They threatened first to cut off Oleg’s hand, then to take Svetlana back to their camp where she would have been “entertainment” for the bandits. Finally, they settled on taking Svetlana’s wedding ring, as “payment for leaving Oleg with two hands.” The next two months, the number of bandits coming to the trading post decreased each time, as it was obvious they thought that Oleg and Svetlana weren’t going to give them any trouble.
By that time I think everyone was of the same mind: to help Oleg and Svetlana. This included Simon, who I recall may have thought or said something about the bandits having zurg. Svetlana made us a hearty meal, including wine, and Oleg finished the roof on the building where we could stay while there. After the meal we prepared a plan we were going to implement in the morning. Jamven and I stood on the palisade walls with our bows at the ready. Virgil and Simon were manning the trading post doors, ready to close them soon as the bandits arrived. Orla was in the trading post storage area with the goods the bandits wanted. Oleg stood in the center, ready for their arrival.
On schedule, the bandits arrived, led by the lascivious man, the woman nowhere to be found. He led four other bandits. The lead bandit caught on to the probable trap quickly when he noticed Orla in the storage area and didn’t see Svetlana anywhere. In hindsight, had we tried to disguise Orla as Svetlana, the plan may have worked even better, though also in retrospect it didn’t matter.
The bandits went to attack, but we were ready. Jamven proved to be a great sniper. Simon, even with an injured shoulder, was able to vanquish one of the bandits. Orla faced off against the leader, who continually made crude comments to her through their battle. I managed to take out one of the bandits, and then ran to make sure that Oleg had escaped from battle without injury. It took longer than I thought it might, as we showed our battle inexperience, but we won the day. Oleg and Svetlana were so grateful. They gave us a few potions someone named Bokkun had made for them and told us that we could stay at the trading post as long as we wanted for free, food included! This last offer we made much use of in the days ahead…
On the body of the bandit leader, we found a silver amulet in the shape of a stag’s head on him. Little did we realize the import of this at the time. We all spent some time trying to discern some sort of meaning to it, from historical references, to arcane, to religious, but nothing seemed to fit. After resting for the rest of the day and night, we began our explorations of the Vale of the Reaver.
We took off the next morning, ready to explore. When I say we, I mean Orla, Virgil, Jamven and I. Simon had found some zurg on one of the bandits and was on some sort of drug-induced haze we couldn’t shake him from. We were riding the horses that we had obtained from the bandits, wanting to explore the land as quickly as possible. We discovered the error of our ways two days later when bandits ambushed us. None of our horses were trained for combat, so all were spooked as the arrows flew at us. Orla, Virgil and I all fell from our horses. Jamven (who had been riding sidesaddle after trying to ride his horse normally the first day, the poor halfling) was the only one to remain in the saddle. The bandits didn’t give us much trouble ultimately, and we continued exploring.
In the following days, we found a barbarian cairn which we chose not to rob, we fought a vicious monster that burrowed up out of the ground underneath me and then spit acid at me. I later came to realize was an ankheg. During that battle, Orla nearly died after Virgil chose to enlarge her. I don’t want to make it sound like there was some sort of cause and effect there, just stating what had happened. I’m merely glossing over most of the details of what happened, as most days were spent exploring and travelling and seeing a lot of nothing. But I will expand upon what we saw and did when I think it necessary.
After we returned to Oleg’s to recover from the ankheg attack, we received word from Erlkazar that they had heard of a Stag Lord, who was the bandit leader. Suddenly, the amulet we found on the bandit leader who came to Oleg’s (and another we found on the body of a bandit stuck in a spider’s nest which I killed with one of the best arrow shots of my life) made sense. We finally had the identity of the bandit leader. Now we just had to find him.
Towards the end of our first month of exploration, we finally decided to explore the far western reaches of the Winterwood. I told the group of the legend of the Green Sword, the powerful blade that appears at, as you know, varying times within the expanse of the wood. Within the Winterwood we found a large area rife with bear traps and wolf traps and, well frankly, traps of all kinds. It took an entire day, but Jamven managed to disable all the traps. I fear what would have happened had he not done so. We just needed to find out who was responsible for all the traps.
Finally, a second bandit ambush occurred while we were in the Winterwood. The bandits were easily vanquished. However, I nearly lost my life when Jamven accidentally shot an arrow at me and struck me deeply in my left lung while he was aiming at one of the bandits. If there were any one thing that made me realize just how deadly Jamven could be, it was getting struck by one of his arrows.
From there, we returned yet again to Oleg’s Trading Post, where we rested and then set off to explore yet more of the Vale of the Reaver, and ultimately, to find the Stag Lord…